June 23rd, 2010

Dhammapada (22) - The Dark

Feel shame only where shame is due.
Fear only what is fearful.
See evil only in what is evil.
Lest you mistake the true way
And fall into darkness.
See what is.
See what is not.
Follow the true way.
Dhammapada (22) - The Dark

This collection of verses represents the sort of "warning" that turns me off so completely on the monotheistic religions, especially Islam and Christianity.  Sometimes i think of religion as a "protection racket," pointing out dangers and evils i would not have thought of on my own, then trying to sell me insurance against those dangers and threatening me if i don't buy it.

If the only way a person can sell me his "goods" is by making my "bads"  sound much worse than they are, then i really have to question the value of the product he is selling.  But along with every "bargain" that i wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole there is a package that fits my need--the silver lining in the storm cloud, the rose in the thorn bush, or to use Jefferson's metaphor, the pearl in the dung pile:
be ashamed only of the shameful
/be afraid only of the fearful
call evil only that which is evil
see what is, see what is not.
and make fewer mistakes on the way.

how much of my shame is because i have done something shameful and how much is because i violated someones expectation?
how much of my fear is due the fearsomeness in the world, and how much to my frightened mind?
How much of what i see as evil is evil and how much is prejudice?

May i be guided on the path by love, not fear
May i be guided by wisdom, not prejudice or opinion.

Generic Meditation Issues: Night

I was reminded by a bygone post on contemplatives how much i enjoy walking abroad at night.  In my pre-teens and teens my family lived at the edge of the rain forest, well, actually in a little town carved out of the forest.  Night came early, it was usually raining, during war time, artificial lighting was subdued, even non-existent, sometimes there were not even moon and stars.  My parents, being either trusting or negligent. let me wander; and sometimes i would wander all night in the town or in the woods or on the road.  I could think about whatever i wanted to think about or just walk, almost always alone.

Night was a frontier then, almost everywhere in the world, but certainly in a small Alaskan town.  The inhabitants of the night were few and strange.  (I did not realize it at the time but i was strange also).  I met the town's only African American one night and we became friends although he was 40 years my senior.  Most people would have denied that any Black people lived in the town' like me he was more comfortable with the night.  I don't know what my other friends, or his, if he had any, would have thought of our friendship.  But it would not have mattered, for this was night' and night and day were different, as different as night and day.  The rules of the night were different, less formal, fewer, based on the fact that we were all deviant in some way--janitors, sentries, whores, loners, drunks.

When i moved stateside to Tacoma, then Denver, then, later Seattle, and then to Boise, i found that local night cultures were more similar than were day cultures.  The cities were more diverse than Ketchikan had been, but night is night, and in the fifties and sixties it was still a frontier.  There were no goths or zombies; but we were strange. (although, thank goodness, i never met anyone who was Blue Velvet strange, although some of us were surely criminals and even more certainly mentally ill.)

After marriage i became 99.9% diurnal, but the night still beckons me.  I will probably walk Niki tonight in near total darkness on the excuse that it is too hot until the sun goes down.

Night, darkness, is often associated with evil,  with wild nature and dangerous animals. with chaos, anarchy.

But i notice how often night turns up in the poetry of Catholic and Sufi mystics.. John of the Cross is a paradigm

On a dark night
Inflamed by love-longing--
O exquisite risk!--
Undetected I slipped away,
My house. at last, grown still.    (Mirabai Starr translation)

God is hidden from our sight anyway, so there is little to lose and much to gain by worshiping in the dark.

At night all cats are grey.  Night brings a calm equality to the earth, a gentle cloak, like snow, but warmer, covering everything, making everything one thing.  Are my clothes better than yours?  Your face prettier than mine? who knows..  At worst we are sillouettes, at best invisible--what could be more spiritual than that.

As long as i am silent and motionless, you need not know i;m there.  Only when our hands stretch out to one another for the benedictory prayer are we aware of each other's presence.-- and that touch is powerful--so much more meaningful that a handshake over a contract.