April 4 2003
Twilight in America
This morning I was reading Ďa treasury of sublime instructionsí from a high Tibetan lama. America contains symbol ĎAhí, which sounds unborn nature of truth. Itís also symbol at throat chakra. Sometimes when I sit and visualize colors according to my Buddhist practice, I think of American flag and how uncanny it is that they are same. I sit and pray for liberation from physical, verbal and mental afflictions. And yet country I was born into is rocking itself into hell realm. Blood soaked terrain propels more blood soaking and cycle continues; there seems to be no choice. Propelled by afflictions.
In contemplating sufferings of cyclic life in general, they can be broken down into six sufferings. Life is uncertain. We can never find a sense of satisfaction. We have to shed our bodies over and over again. We are born over and over again. What goes up must come down. And we do this alone. We may think we have companions but we die alone. Period.
There are more than 5 billion humans on planet now and few study dharma. Itís a precious jewel more hidden than seen. As Hummer cruises down freeway, with wheels that afford a very high panorama, I pass another SUV smashed in on side, and debris everywhere. Do people see, do they know? They just drive around in their Hummers, with bullet proof shadowy glass protecting bodies that are bound to disintegrate some day. They are bouncing above it all in what some referred to as Ďgodí realm hereÖLos Angeles. Sunny days, wealth, oceans of offerings to yourself. And only yourself. Accumulate, borrow, accumulate more.
I cried at lunch yesterday as a friend told me about a CEO of a well-known movie studio and how much he makes a day; how much he spent to redecorate his office that he doesnít use. How he also had a quadruple by pass. And my mind flashes abruptly to begging bowls penetrating stone fences of Bodhgaya. $10,000 a day to sit in a soft malleable chair and bark at your employees could feed whole of Bodhgaya for half a year! "Itís out of whack", she said. And so do astrologers, psychics, New Age yogis. Yet thereís no visible awareness of samsara and how it all goes round and round. It isnít just about living a comfortable happy existence this lifetime, people. Itís your own future life at stake. Call it Catholic sin appreciation time. It works for them. You reap what you sow. And soÖand so, if you had a clue about fact that your warmongering would take you straight to lowest hell in Danteís inferno, and you really knew this - it wasnít just an antiquated Italian classic - you might really think or realize you are thinking?
I came back from India with an upper respiratory infection. When I finally saw my doctor weeks later, she told me I probably had had walking pneumonia; this was before media people coined SARS. I had been in poorest state of India, Bihar, and air there is notorious, a disease den. People walk streets with surgical face masks. You pick your nose and goop is dark. TB floats through air freely. And people die. Lots of them. Itís not on news. It happens every year. Itís foggy, itís cold, air is damp and so get lungs. I laid in my guest house bed every day wondering if I would get worse or better. I took my Cipro. I didnít even feel strong enough to go doctorís. My dharma friends said if I died there in Bodhgaya, it would be a real blessing. In midst of high lamas and especially His Holiness Dalai Lama. Yes, illness is looked at differently. Itís seen as a purification of past deeds, negative karma popping off. All stored in body. And yet, I come back here and this new mysterious illness is a news breaker. Some Western people have caught disease and are dying. Itís news and itís plummetting airline ticket sales. Thatís news. But that TB kills thousands a year from all over Asia. Is that news?
We live in a land of Costcos, of sterilized supermarkets with pasturized milk, genetically engineered beef, plastic containers, rubber gloves. The supermarkets here donít smell. They freeze you. You should probably wear a ski suit to shop at Ralphs or Vons. We drive Hummers to prevent death. We pull skin taught on our faces to avoid looking at aging process. We think we can defy death. We think that our minds our so powerful. But mind that is contaminated is only as powerful as its contaminates. It canít see. It can only see through its own dirty lens.
I watch TV and see talking shriveled up American men in suits. I think of invention of suit and tie. Clothing symbols of achievement. Wow. We became stiff. A few years back I would take photos of these talking men and sew them into crotch of my warn out underwear. It was part of my art work at time. They were down there. They still are. But they feel old and gasping. I watched Rumsfeld deliver a speech on TV. He could hardly get a breath. They were short heaves and his chest seemed hard and I thought, "that man is suffering so much". And has no idea. As a yoga teacher, I see physical structural ailments much more now. The caved in chest, sagging shoulders, color of skin. Not even a suit or a tummy tuck can hide whatís really going on.
People get so shocked about cancer. Or about this new mysterious disease. Or that old strain of virus coming back. They race against time, their own time. My aunt died a week and a half after I returned back from India. Of pancreatic cancer. Her husband, my uncle, was hating God and that cancer. "I just donít get it", he said, "itís so unfair." My mother cried, "I was dreaming about how much we could do together in future, and now sheís gone. Iím all alone. God is bad." It always surprises me when people get mad at death. According to Buddhist scriptures, weíve died so many times in so many different types of births, weíre bound to this way of existence. Why itís so shocking is because we have forgetten. Weíre bound to. And we want to. Itís not fun to die. Itís most excruciating experience and many teachers remark that very knowledge of this pain is what makes us want to forget. Your body disintegrates and your brain starts to fry and you are hallucinating. The mind is a continuumÖdoesnít die but every mental, physical and verbal act is logged in and those past deeds surge forward. The lord of Death meets you. Whammo. Thereís nothing new or Catholic about what Iím writing. Itís just that with Hummers and Costcos weíve developed a battleground we think we can win on. We can drive over death. Eat him up and liposuction him out of our bodies. We can kill some people in a foreign land and not feel. Not feel. Thatís it. I put my flag on my Hummer and I feel something else. Pride invasion.