What to think. What to say. What to do.

First off, I want to apologize to all for my scarcity around these parts. Joan and I have spent the past two weeks in the agonizingly beautiful city of San Francisco being miserably sick. After a round of Z-Pac, I’m in full recovery mode, coughing only intermittently and able to spend several hours at a time doing something other than “resting”. We took Joan to the UCSF Urgent Care facility Monday morning, because she was getting worse, and we found that she has pneumonia. So she’s on a course of more powerful antibiotic, with pretty good prospects for a speedy recovery; so far, they seem to be working, as the Z-Pac did not. I’m back to getting Benno from school in the afternoon and attending to Joan. We should be able to make the trip home without problems (leaving here next Tuesday): SF -> Elko, NV -> Cheyenne, WY -> Des Moines, IA -> Cincinnati, arriving Friday evening.

Surveillance video

For the past two weeks, in between bouts of semi-drugged sleep, I’ve been thinking about the Boston Marathon Bombing, not trying to make sense of it, because there is no sense to be made, but to understand it, because even senseless acts can be understood, and to find the words to express my developing understanding, because the right words must be found to allow the understanding to emerge, and to figure out how I have to respond, because every experience of dukkha insists on a response.

Because I’ve not had a fully working consciousness through much of that time, and because I’ve not had the energy to face a keyboard, a lot of what I’ve thought is still inchoate, seeking the words to express it, and the actions that I think I have to take are still untested. So this is an interim report (but aren’t they all?)

Two young men, by all accounts sane, healthy, and relatively fortunate – not impoverished, or obviously victimized; well-educated; with many who loved them and who had sacrificed for them – struck out in a well-planned and ruthlessly executed act of violence that left many dead or maimed and many more terrified and desperately confused. How can I think about that, without becoming myself terrified or confused? What can I say to others that will, in some way, work to reduce the harm: the terror and confusion. What can I do – is there anything I can do, or anyone can do – to counter whatever poisons brewed this mess?

There are all kinds of places to begin looking for answers to those questions: belief systems, psychological theory, bloggers, twitterers, and pundits. I’ve been looking at all those, and also at the Buddha’s Dhamma, as I’ve come to understand that through study and meditative contemplation of the teachings in the Pali Canon. And I’ve been struggling to condense what I’ve found into a blog post. I’m not there yet—I’d guess that I’ve got a couple more days of work—but I’d like to offer, as a set of readings for Sunday’s Dhamma.now gathering, the following links:

  • Patten Oswald’s Facebook Post. You’ve probably seen this; it was posted within minutes of the blasts and went viral almost immediately. Oswald, as far as I know, is no Buddhist, but his post is informed by the Dhamma; we can’t run away from danger; we must run towards it, look it in the eye, and oppose to the evil we find there—the pride and willfulness and greed and hatred—whatever good we, and those who stand with us confronting the evil, can muster.
  • Nathan is a Zen blogger. I know no more about him, but his post following the bombings does, I think, present an honest and thoughtful take on the events, well-informed by his Buddhist practice. My only difficulty with Nathan’s post is that there is no resolution; while I find almost everything he says to be on target, the post leaves us with little to do.
  • On the New York Shambala Foundation website, meditation trainer Lodro Rinzler offers some practical guidance on how to use a Tibetan compassion meditation practice called tonglen to confront our experience of the bombings.
  • Within the Pali Canon, the opening lines of the Dhammapada, which we looked at a couple of months ago, are still relevant:
    Never by hatred has hatred been defeated—
    Only by kindness; this has been so forever.
  • For a final reading (or an only one, if you’re short of time) I’d suggest the final section of the Satipatthana Sutta, the great Discourse on the Bases of Mindfulness. That section deals with mindfulness of the dhammas; you might think of these as the irreducible components of the Dhamma, as the entire body of truths comprise the Truth, or the individual laws in all the many codes comprise the Law. The five hindrances are dhammas, as are the khandas, the essential elements (Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Space), the fetters (sensual desire, resentment, pride, speculation, etc.), and the four Dominating Facts of Life themselves. As you read that section of the sutta, think of each dhamma in the context of the bombings, of what you know of the perpetrators, the victims, the public response to the event, and your own emerging understanding of what happened and why. Is there a way to integrate that kind of deliberate scrutiny into a program of meditative practice?

I wish I could be with you on Sunday. If we continue to heal and our trip home is without major problems, we’ll be back in time for the gathering on May 5th