Monday, May 15, 2017

I Am The Poison

Ke ryo shin shi          假令身止
Sho ku doku chu       諸苦毒中

Even if my body is immobilized
In the poison of various sufferings

(from the verse “Tan Butsu Ge” in the Larger Sukhavativyuha Sutra)

I was going to title this post “rethinking poison as a metaphor in Buddhism” but it’s better to state my conclusion up front and let you know this isn’t a leisurely musing about figures of speech.

In many Buddhist passages there is a warning to avoid poison such as the Dhammapada saying, “An unwounded hand may handle poison… as there is no evil for one who does not commit evil.” And in the Tannisho we hear Shinran saying, “Just because you have the antidote doesn’t mean you should drink more poison.” But these passages could be interpreted in a dualistic sense – there are evil things (acts, thoughts) which I should keep out of my system in order to have good spiritual health.

But if we look to the fundamental Buddhist teaching of transcending the ego-self, then it is the sense of “I” which is the real poison destroying our life and the lives around us. So my struggle cannot be trying to get rid of the poison of “I” but to accept that it is already in my system. Even if it grows rampantly to kill off my individual life, I have been given the assurance that all of my karma (thoughts, words and deeds) is embraced by the Unbounded Life (aka “Amida”) even as the elements of my physical body become a part of the “white ashes” of the world.

In trying to research treatments, I’m so sick of hearing how everything is poison – chemotherapy is poison, junk food is poison, sugar/salt/carbs/oils etc. etc. are poison, deodorants and toothpaste are poison, tomatoes are poison, all meat and dairy products are poison, peanuts and cashews are poison, tap and bottled water are poison, any food that is not organic and raw is poison and worse yet, alcohol and caffeine are poison. Also, some say all these unregulated “life-saving” drugs can also be poison when they are administered by mentally unbalanced hucksters outside of the U.S.

Should I take in more poison to add to the decades of poisoning my body as I shared fun get-togethers with friends, relatives, fellow seekers and scholars? Should I cut off all ties to those who would tempt me with poisonous treats – or I can I maintain a stoic abstinence around people who are relishing those treats?

I’m afraid poison is all I leave behind – all the hate and resentment I’ve felt and expressed towards others, all the cruel acts that injured people mentally and physically. I have to accept that is the legacy I leave behind. I won’t be like Aurora, the teenager I knew at the temple thirty years ago, who spent her last months giving of herself to various uplifting causes, including helping corral the little Dharma School kids at the temple for us flustered Dharma School teachers.

This may be my last post for a while (and may not be up long as the temple censors come calling for me). Maybe it’s fitting that my blog got going when I went to Texas to take care of my dying sister and now it will become the journal of my journey into nothingness.


  1. Great post.

    Two things come to me as I read I once said to my grandmother when I was a teenager that I didn't want to wear synthetic fabrics. She said "Synthetic? Where do you think it comes from Mars?"

    And the other is my grandfather got very sick. He was in the hospital just after having surgery for cancer and he was feeling very depressed and suicidal. In fact, he was feeling so suicidal he started thinking of how he would do it. A nurse came along and saw he was up in the night and crying. They began to talk and he said he just wanted to get home and take his dog and go into the garage and turn on gas with hose into interior in his car and go to sleep. He did not want to "fight cancer" or be in pain, or feel guilt and fear. He also said he felt very bad regrets for being so awful to his wife. He said he was grumpy and not nice and complained or fought with her.

    This was a guy who was a "grunt" in WW2 and there he was in terrible hand-to-hand battles which seem so brave....yet he was terrified of this new challenge. I couldn't understand why he was afraid NOW. It was like the line in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid...."Why, you crazy...the fall will probably kill you!"

    The nurse said. "You're not dead yet. No one knows how much time they have and it's never too late to go back home and start being kind and compassionate to your wife. Change your self. See if you change yourself if that changes the way you look at this situation."

    My grandfather told me this story in the back yard, whispering and saying "Don't tell your grandmother." While he was nursing a gin and tonic. He had really softened his whole manner around the house with my grandmother.

    At some point, my grandfather noticed that life was a pendulum. Dark and doubt may be part of what we must experience but as time passes so we also might have better days and maybe even returning to a set point. The middle way from fluctuating between extreme events and emotions. If life is suffering and we have swings of fortune or difficulty. We don't know how the series of events might be with us or others who know us.

    In some ways my grandfather saw the return home and his recovery as a second chance to be more compassionate. He was already a nice to see him approach compassion as something infinite was very inspiring to me.

    1. Thanks for sharing and for deleting the earlier version with all the typos. Gassho