Saturday, October 15, 2016

No Such Thing As Good or Bad

The new bike... I named her Kennedy!
    It's been three months since I hung up my farming boots, and returned to conventional society.  I expected that there would be some culture shock, but the transition was tougher in some ways than I thought it would be.  I spent the first two weeks trying to not feel like a, sell out as I went about daily tasks that most people take for granted.  I bought food from the grocery store, and thought about children starving in developing nations because of capitalism. I rode in cars, and thought about carbon emissions destroying the ozone layer.  As you've probably noticed, I have a tendency to overthink things.  And trading the quiet of the countryside for the bustle of city-life didn't help to quiet my thinking.

     As time passed I did a few things that I hoped would assuage my concern about becoming a cog in conventional society.  I bought a new bike, and began riding the 30 miles round-trip to and from work.  I transitioned from vegetarian to vegan.  And I got involved in front-line activism.  In the past two months I've protested against deer culling in suburban neighborhoods, and  I've collected signatures in support of SB 195 which would make bestiality illegal in Ohio.  I've fasted in solidarity with farmed animals that go days without food when they're sent to slaughter, and I've advocated on behalf of the Indigenous Leaders at Standing Rock Nation who are fighting desperately against the Dakota Access Pipeline.  But it's hit me in the last few days that the harder I try, the more inadequate I feel.

     I never felt this way when I was farming.  I've thought a lot about why that might be, and I think it has to do with the lifestyle that I was living at the time.  Both my activism and my practice felt more authentic when I was on the road... because I was on the road.  My bank account was shrinking day by day, I went to bed feeling cold most nights, and my wardrobe resembled a cross between Mad Max and Old McDonald's.  But it all had a very cool DIY, anarchist feel to it.  Furthermore, there were clear lines and I was on the side of the "good" guys working for free on organic farms and refusing to take part in the racist, capitalist, homophobic system.  

Are house plants good or bad?
     It felt good because I believed in what I was doing, but it also felt good because I had solid ground to stand on.  I had a mission to save the environment, I found purpose in my work on organic farms, and I honestly felt that I had the whole "good vs. evil" thing figured out. But now I'm not so sure.  Because if working on organic farms outside of conventional society made me a "good" person, doesn't that mean that not working on an organic farm and living in conventional society makes me a "bad" person? Thinking about this makes my head hurt... a lot!  And it only gets worse if I continue down this rabbit hole.  For example, I spent eight months working on organic farms (good) that raised nonhuman animals for food (bad).  Now I'm an IT worker who rides his bike everywhere (good), except sometimes I use Uber when it's cold out (not as good/bad), and my clothes were almost definitely made in a sweatshop (bad).  So what does that make me?  Am I a Bodhisattva-in-training or the devil-incarnate?  Am I asking the wrong question?
     Zen Master Seung Sahn used to implore his students to keep a "don't know" mind.   He believed that if they kept a "don't know" mind and cut off all thinking, then their inner wisdom would tell them what to do in each moment.  Not knowing is torture for my left-brained, type-A personality.  But I'm finally starting to see the wisdom in his words.  Because I don't know what's good or what's bad.  Furthermore, I'm starting to realize that thinking in such terms is a trap- not because good and bad don't exist.  They do.  It's just that my flawed, puny human brain is incapable of knowing which is which.  So I'm done trying to figure that out.  But that doesn't mean that I'm giving up on my vows.

     I can't tell the difference between good and bad.  But I certainly know the difference between suffering and not-suffering.  I can definitely recognize suffering in my self, and I almost always know when I'm causing suffering to others.  So that's going to be my marker from now on- living moment to moment while trying to not harm other sentient beings.  I'm going to fail, of course.  I realize now that it's impossible to truly do no harm.  But I think there is still value in trying; especially when trying is the best that I can do.