Thursday, February 9, 2012

The High Seas of Mujo: From Melville to Chin

A great description of my feeling “stuck” was in an excerpt from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick that William posted on Facebook (maybe we’re all going through the winter blahs):

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.

I’m not about to sign up for a whaling expedition (that would be politically incorrect), so I’m wondering about ways for the mind to be set free to roam to seas while the body is mired down to the land of “oughtness.” In our Wednesday study class, I saw the contrast between the seafaring vs. landlubber approaches to religion when we read Joseph Campbell’s metaphoric interpretation of the Bible’s account of creation and story of Adam and Eve. Karen kept interjecting with the literal viewpoint she learned in her fundamentalist Christian past. Although she’s far from that now (thanks in part to the Campbell series on PBS), she said her family and old friends continue to feel that way. (And judging from recent news stories, there are a whole lot of Americans like that.)

I recognize that there’s a lot of comfort in having a religious view that’s dictated down to you and everything is cut-and-dried about how you should act in the world. It’s like feeling the ground beneath you—solid and supporting, never-changing. It’s not just in Christianity, but probably in all religions and cultures there are groups who prefer stability and conformity in beliefs and behavior.

But not for the Buddha and serious seekers throughout Buddhism’s history – they learned through awakening to suffering that life cannot be lived according to set formulas. Our other reading in the Wednesday class was from the last part of Rev. Saito’s article “San Gan Tennyu” (title refers to the process of the three vow-gates that Rev. Saito illustrated by using the story of Helen Keller). Rev. Saito was not afraid to blast the “pre-programmed” kind of Buddhists who see karma only in terms of self-attachment (resigning themselves to misfortunes caused by their bad karma of the past and daydreaming of future rewards for their good karma). The calculating mind of self-benefit has to be broken through in order to be in contact with life itself, the “dynamic, organic, huge net in time and space.” To know life as mujo (“not-always,” i.e. continuous change) is to ride the waves of the open seas.

Adam and Eve were thrown out of the garden of Oneness when they tasted the fruit from the tree of knowledge and starting judging each thing (including their self) as separate and against other things. We still live in the world of relativity and need to be discriminating to function in our jobs and as citizens in particular societies. But the Buddha and teachers such as Shinran keep reminding us of the fallacy inherent in those concepts that divide life up into pieces to be measured and ranked.

We need to be vigilant in calling out the falseness of those concepts when they are used to devalue and subjugate people. Recently Seiichi sent me an article about Frank Chin, the pioneering Asian American writer (photo above by Corky Lee). The article evokes a nostalgic feeling for my young adult days when I was so excited reading about “yellow power” (anyone else remember the newspaper “Gidra”?), taking pride in my Asian roots that I shared with various Asian ethnic groups, not just the Japanese. But Chin is challenging me to question the present-day situation where Asians (as well as other non-Anglos) are still being portrayed as less than full persons by the dominant Western culture. True awareness of Oneness is to recognize the value of each life in all his or her uniqueness, instead of grouping people into condescending categories.

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