Zen and the Art of Smartphone Maintenance

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Buddhism in Sri Lanka

For someone to say that they just want the Zen Enlightenment, without all the ‘normal’ Buddhist suffering is like a doctor—or patient—who only wants elective surgery, no cure for the common cold necessary, thank you. Of course that can be done, as thousands of the bored wealthy among us do, the elective surgery and the Zen enlightenment up at the Zen Center up on the hill, BUT: there’s only one problem…

…that ain’t Buddhism, not really IMHO. It’s hard to have true Buddhism in a Christian country. Twenty Christians practicing Buddhism as a second language will be a very ‘Christian-y’ Buddhism. So that’s more like New Age such-and-such, or Transformational something or other, as American as apple pie a la mode du jour.

There’s more to Buddhism than meditation, too, which is what Zen specializes in, that and the ‘crazy wisdom’ of unsolvable riddles designed to trick your mind into Enlightenment, the Sudden Enlightenment of stopped thought. That IS the goal of meditation, after all, isn’t it, to stop all thought, all linguistic thought, if only for a little while? I’d say so, though there IS some scuttlebutt about accessing other worlds—yeah, right….

But any Zen master worth his prayer flag (wait a minute; that’s Tibet) knows that Buddhism is first and foremost about the prevalence of suffering on this plane of existence, and the methods to relieve it. Everything else is ‘flavoring’, here mostly the prepackaged seasoning necessary to make Buddhism more acceptable to western-oriented and especially American palates, e.g. the Eternal Now and the Eternal Wow and the Oneness with Everything that mainstream Christianity won’t sign off on. There’s another problem: that ain’t Buddhism either, not really. This is what the Buddha said:

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” 

Unity can only be manifested by the Binary. Unity itself and the idea of Unity are already two.”

That’s it pretty much.  So the Buddha never said much about Oneness with the Universe or the Eternal Now, both romantic notions that owe more to so-called New Age spirituality than Buddhism, be it Paul Tillich or Eckhart Tolle, or quantum physics or shamanism, with early references coming from the likes of Edwin Schroedinger (he with cat), Alfred North Whitehead and Black Elk—but not Buddha, not really, not much. There’s nothing wrong with all these romantic notions and metaphysical mash-ups, of course, as long as they aren’t used merely to conveniently justify modern hedonistic consumption patterns.

Like it or not, for me Buddhism is all about control, of body and soul, and the reconciliation of the two, hence meditation—duh. Simply put: there are two ways to deal with all the cravings and longings and desires and ‘needs’ typical to any teenager anywhere in the world: 1) The American way: Go for it! Give it everything you’ve got! Don’t stop believing! Never give up! Follow your passion! or 2) the Buddhist way: Wait a while. It’ll pass. Give it some thought. How much do you really need, anyway?

“The best defense is a good offense”–Vince Lombardi, Sun Tzu, Donald Trump, etc. If you’re American, then you’ve heard that statement all your life, while possibly never even pondering its meaning. It means, of course, that aggression—constantly—is the best strategy, in which case protecting a home base is secondary, since your enemy will be long dead and gone already. Welcome to America, in a constant state of aggravation. “There’ll be no rest for the wicked,” remember? Is that what you want? I’d like to submit another possibility:

The best offense is a good defense. In other words: aggression is never necessary, only whatever minimal temporary violence is absolutely necessary to protect you and yours, the less possessions and the less violence the better. This is the path of Buddhism. Now an obvious criticism would be the inherent passivity, and I would’ve likely agreed with you at one point not too long ago. Things are different now. Buddhists aren’t the ones responsible for global warming. Capitalist Christian Democracies are. Something needs to change soon, before it’s too late. Think about it…

p.s. Are smartphones ‘maintained’ or merely thrown away and replaced?  Now there’s a Zen koan fo’ ya’…

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