The bodies harboring our unruly appetites are unruly in and of themselves — they are as weak and fallible as they are strong. In many ways, our bodies are completely unknowable, but oh, how we try to master our unruly bodies, nonetheless.
-- Roxane Gay from the online essay collection “Unruly Bodies”
In my last post I discussed how nobody has control over another being and that brings me to the topic often pointed out in Jodo Shinshu – how little control we have over our own life.
It only takes an injury or illness to experience the “insubordination” of the body to the commands of the mind. Besides cancer and the side effects from treatment, I’ve got aging and weight issues to remind me how my body keeps disobeying orders from my mind.
But as Shinran and other teachers in the Pure Land tradition realized, the reality of life is that we have very little control and understanding of our own heart/mind. People see only the very tip of the iceberg of who we are, but we ourselves don’t see much further down. So much of why we think, say and do the things we do is unexplainable, what Shinran calls “shuku-go,” karma accumulated during and way before our lifetime. The Pure Land teachers were able to read deeply into the Buddha’s teachings to hear his complex presentation of reality while so many in the other Buddhist traditions only grabbed onto the preliminary instructions. They are like the child who hears the teacher say, “Now let’s settle down, children, and get started on the lesson,” and responds with, “Ok I’ve been sitting still for two minutes which means I’ve completed the lesson and earned an A.”
Now I’m beginning to appreciate Kiyozawa Manshi’s sense of humor with all his talk of “self-cultivation.” So much of it is when we talk to ourselves, “Let’s not screw this up – careful, careful…. Oh shoot, messed up again!” Somewhere in that deluded sense of our self is the “superego” that thinks it clearly understands the great picture and knows the proper thing to do. But in reality, our heart/mind is like a mischievous little imp, out to trick and trip us up in frequently unexpected ways.
[comic by London artist Natalya Lobanova]
My unruly spirit is going gangbusters during this current crisis. As much as I tell myself, “Take the high road,” and “Don’t let it bother you,” my unruly spirit is saying, “Let’s see how depressed we can be,” and “Make them hate you more by stirring up more sh*t.” I’m far from being the poster child for “how to find inner peace with Buddhism.” But if anything, I’m the reason there is hongan (innermost aspiration) and nembutsu (calling of life itself). When you’re a wretch, how amazing Grace is – to keep one going forward with a faint spark of joy and gratitude.