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June 2, 2021

From Conscious Culture to Resilient Culture—A Zen teaching about Firewood & Ashes.

For quite some time, I’ve repeated how I have been feeling this vague nostalgia.

I’m not the only one. Thank God.

And this nostalgia is not for parades or red checkered picnic tables and apple pie—but for making meaning, of which there is now distinct poverty.

And in this poverty—there is no thought of excess resources or things to throw away. There is only this dismal and fundamental emptiness.

Not to be confused with a Buddhist emptiness; rather, this is an existential malaise that breeds ignorance, apathy, and sloth.

No, the pernicious, unavoidable emptiness of Zen is not something that tends to encourage any of these things. Compassion arises from it. One realizes—and I put this to you in the most simple terms—that we really are in the same boat.

Of course, today, we appear to be in a flotilla of many different boats, and we are prepared to burn our neighbors into the drink if they disagree with us.

Few fires burn as brightly as revolutionary zeal.

And few things are as infantile and reactive as the rigid ideological adherence of today’s socio-political warriors—on both sides of the political spectrum. Mind you, both are dead set on burning it all down for the rest of us.

The following criticism may be in partially bad form—because it takes up the idea that there is no systemic racism—only system oppression by the elite to control the masses—and part of the program is to turn the working classes against one another.

In this case, White against Black, woman against men, and so on.

These are, after all, the usual bifurcations that tend to turn ordinary people into a mob.

Recently, I read another writer’s sweeping indictment of “White people” and found myself at odds with the insistence that “all White people are devils.”

She was, of course, a White person and an intuitive healer.

First, I question the credentials of anybody who says they can analyze history for functional coherence without lapsing into literal coherence.

But what if someone who says that they can in under 10 minutes (by reading your energy fields, using a signature method) help a person to process, release, and rewrite their self-limiting narrative so that they can transform their lives and become the authentic women they were born to be?

In other words, this person says that they can deconstruct the complexity of a human being in 10 minutes. It is tough not to find that sort of proclamation slightly arrogant.

In the history of psychoanalysis and thousands of ways of looking at personality and personhood—this person has got it down to 10 minutes.

I hope the reader might consider that there is a lot of this sort of 10-minute analysis on Elephant Journal and other publications—and it is symptomatic of our fast-food culture.

I mean, would you like to be figured out in 10 minutes? Isn’t that the problem with racists, nativists, and narrow-minded folks?

They give you a quick read, and they’ve got you? Something similar happened to me several years ago, and I spent the next nine years on medication.

The Buddha himself sat under the Bodhi tree to figure himself out for three years—not ten minutes.

What arrogance does it require to claim that?

Well, perhaps she can. But it takes a bit more than that to deconstruct the trajectory of millions of people. Accepting legitimate criticism is part of a resilient culture of individuals.

More often than not, those who extoll the questionable virtues of the nanny state are those who believe they know what is right for others–and it sounds like many fall in this camp.

Well, I have no idea what is right for others—and I certainly wouldn’t want to foist my ideas on anyone.

If Pepe Le Pew and Dr. Seuss, or bad jokes are a threat to an individual’s ego–I might suggest that an individual needs a lot more help than the creation of a conscious culture.

A conscious adult aspires to cultivate having fewer places arrows can land in, not more fear of arrows–especially one that they can choose to interact with.

The far-left really wants a unicorn farm where anyone and everyone who identifies as special gets extra-special treatment. Well, sorry folks, but that will never happen in a democratically open society.

Perhaps the problem is that we have far too many people who wish to be special—or better said, “Being special has replaced making meaning in the world.”

Still, we have to, by definition, choose whether or not we wish to interact with things that we disagree with.

For instance, I know that Mein Kampf is not a book on my bedside table because I am a moderately intelligent person. I have read it, but I do not rely on it for intelligent ideas. Nor would I keep my children from reading it if they choose to learn about the history of Fascism—that’s the point.

We can’t just wipe these things away symbolically and then hope people wake up.

What is missing from missives (such as the ones I discussed) is that consumerism and the media, not any other “ism,” perpetuate these stereotypes—and consumerism, capitalism, and rent-taking are not going anywhere, anytime soon.

Let’s talk about power and the limits of it.

But to talk about cartoons and children’s books and statues misses the point by miles, and that is sad and a little stupid, honestly.

While the so-called progressive left swoons and is buoyed by quasi-paternalistic displays of alliance with egalitarianism, Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and Instagram pump out more images of “good-looking, conscious people” doing good-looking, healthy things–which is nothing more than yet another veneer over truth.

In the past, we called this bourgeois.

Perhaps we might reconsider creating a conscious culture that panders to infantile needs for recognition–and instead build a resilient culture in which adults are capable of absorbing, understanding, and accepting oppositional forces that they disagree with.

Perhaps our exposure to the less enlightened bits of history can inform that resilience and make civil discourse more robust.

We do not need a playpen with chaperones, a nanny culture; we need an open market square and better schools—and less banality.

A good portion of cancel culture voices needs to grow up too.

What they are doing is policing speech, enforcing acceptance, and blotting out anything that makes them uncomfortable. That is not democracy—and we have seen in Stalinist Russia and Maoist China what happens in these cases.

There is also an abundance of patriarchy, rape, incest, homophobia, and many other distasteful ideas in ancient Judaica, in Homer, in Sapphos, in all of Greek and Roman literature—so who will decide which books are burned this time?

Perhaps instead of worrying about Pepe le Pew, we ought to worry about undying, unilateral support of Israel and sending them bunker bombs to kill children, or that half of the population cannot tell the difference between QAnon and reality, or declining educational standards that have children making repetitive and endless TikTok videos with zero imagination or creativity?

So I ask you, who will burn the books and ban the films?

Is that conscious culture?

Blotting out what we do not like?

Instructing people what to think.

No, that is repression. And repression only builds more animosity and pressure. We must teach people how to think. Rethink this conscious culture—but perhaps take longer than ten minutes to do so.

Who will say that TikTok culture, with its endless, repetitive performance and mimicry is a sign of servility and vulgarity? What about corporate speech-makers, diversity-trainings, and such?


Don’t ask why.

Ask, “What is this?”

Eihei Dōgen (永平道元), the founder of the Soto lineage of Zen Buddhism, said:

“Let ashes be ashes, and firewood, firewood. We should burn the firewood completely and then accept the ashes.”

Dōgen was talking about ridding our minds of mental delusions—the ways we attach our cerebral suckers to unpleasant things or, in this case, to ridding the world of unpleasant things.

There is some wisdom in letting certain ideas, certain ways of being die off. You don’t have to throw another log on the fire if it’s already burning.

Not burning books or policing speech.

After all, the lotus does grow in the mud no matter what we might think of it.


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