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Buddhadharma : Fall 2012
FALL 2 0 1 2 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 13 GARY SNYDER: “DON’T FEEL GUILTY” Barbara Gates and Wes Nisker of Inquiring Mind talk with Gary Snyder about how to relate to the discouraging state of the world. Inquiring Mind: Our techno-toys and the way we live our lives in the modern world are causing great harm to other species of life. How do we extricate ourselves from this often unconscious violence? Gary Snyder: Well, first of all, don’t feel guilty. There’s no point in feeling guilty about our harm in regard to the world. On the most basic level, every living organism lives by eat- ing other organisms. This is what ecology is all about—an energy transfer. We know that we are all impermanent, but we can take sol- ace in the fact that whatever it is that we’re made of will not go to waste. It goes on in different forms. That becomes our final act of generosity to the universe. What I’m getting at here is that the injunc- tion not to do any harm can’t be seen as an absolute as in the Ten Commandments, those black-and-white ethical laws of the Abraha- mic religions. In old Sanskrit, ahimsa means “do no harm” or “cause the least harm.” The precepts in Buddhism are meant as chal- lenges, like koans, in which you keep asking, “How did I deal with that today?” And you don’t beat yourself up because you didn’t do so well. Instead you say, “Well, I’ll do better next time.” This is an important difference between the East Asian approach to ethics and the more absolutist, dualistic rules of the Occidental religions. Inquiring Mind: So we try to do better, but how do we live with the magnitude of the crisis without slipping into fear and blame? Gary Snyder: Okay, second rule: remember the teaching of impermanence. There is no final resolution to anything, ultimately, except the resolution that each of us makes in our own way. You have to have a clear eye and the ability to look at the actual condition of the physical universe and not run away from it. An Occidental approach is to say that it is a fallen universe. Some of the fundamental- ist sects say, “Satan is controlling the place, so let’s get out of here.” Some of the Hindu schools, too, seek liberation from birth and death, becoming totally free of the meat wheel of samsara. Kerouac called it “the quivering meat-wheel.” But I like the Buddhist approach that advises us to live openly, without blame, and to be willing to fight where you feel it is necessary, to give in where there is no choice, and to keep your own balance in the midst of the fray. FROM INQUIRING MIND, SPRING 2012 MISSION POSSIBLE We’re all capable of being bodhisattvas, says Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche. We just need to keep our expectations in check. In the Vimalakirti Sutra, Dü Garab Wang- chuk, the King of Maras, sent some beautiful people to distract Vimalakirti from his medi- tation. So Vimalakirti did a special medita- tion turning all of them incredibly ugly, which made them upset. When he asked them how they had become who they were, and why they were creating obstacles for people like himself who sincerely pursued the path of meditation, they explained, “We were sent by our king, Dü Garab Wangchuk, who was threatened by your samadhi and wanted to distract you. He told us to seduce you, but instead we have become these ugly rags.” Vimalakirti then taught them how negative intentions return through the law of cause and effect to create unwanted consequences. He gave them a lot of other teachings as well, so they became well educated in the dharma and dramatically transformed.