I don't know anything about punk rock and I don't particularly like monster movies... but for some reason I kept looking at this book in the Still Point Bookstore called Hardcore Zen. The subtitle, Punk Rock, Monster Movies and the Truth about Reality, was the source of my hesitance. I wondered if I was going to be able to relate to anything Brad Warner had to say.
I'm about halfway through the book and I have to say... this is one of the best books on Zen I've read thus far. Early in the text, here's what Brad says about questioning authority:
No matter what authority you submit to—your teacher, your government, even Jesus H. Christ or Gautama Buddha himself—that authority is wrong. It's wrong because the very concept of authority is already a mistake. Deferring to authority is nothing more than a cowardly shirking of personal responsibility. The more power you grant an authority figure the worse you can behave in his name. That's why people who take God as their ultimate authority are always capable of the worst humanity has to offer. Zen does not accept anything even resembling that kind of God.
If you aim to tear down authority, doing so honestly means doing so completely. Really tearing down authority means more than just opposing the big government and big business. You need to tear down the very roots of authority. This can never be done through violence of any kind—not ever—because the ultimate authority is your own belief in the very concept of authority. Revolt against that first. You need the courage to take responsibility for your own life and your own actions.
I've been thinking a lot about Warner's comments on anarchy, authority, and and society. I've also been thinking about a book review in the current issue of Shambhala Sun about a book called SHAM: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless.
A few years ago, self-help books dominated my shelves... owning at least 33% of my shelf real estate. I've also written in past entries about how drawn I can be to infomercials... especially the ones about improving your skin and obliterating your fat cells. Today, the self-help books are still in the boxes I packed them in last time I moved, and I can safely say I've spent my last dollar on the latest, greatest workout craze. I've started to incorporate exercise into my routine again, and I do use some workout DVDs. I've just learned that my desire to move, to exercise, is not what draws me to the infomercials... it's that small sadistic voice inside that says, "There's something wrong with you and this will fix it."
Patton Dodd, author of the SHAM book review , begins his review by introducing us to (or reminding us of) Walker Percy's book. Steve says:
The book's title, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book, registered both Percy's dismay at the cultural condition and his hope that the movement would soon self-destruct.
Millions of diet books, thousands of relationship seminars, and one Dr. Phil later, it's clear that Percy's hope was in vain. The self help and actualization movement (the acronym for which, uncannily, is SHAM) is still with us, and with us in force.
I've been asking myself a question in the midst of all of this reading and reflection. Is it really wrong to want to be a better person? On the surface, there seems to be some nobility in it. As I think about it today, though, I think it is egocentric and I think SHAM feeds the ego's need to respond, respond, respond to dukkha—the sense that things are just unsatisfactory, that things would be better if we could just _____ or if we only had _____ or if someone else would just _____ or if we weren't so _____. (I could go on for days with this but I won't. You get the point.)
SHAM tells us that the insidious voice of dukkha is right about it, then tries to give us the tools to address everything that voice is right about... relationships, parenting, life at work, emotion management, our bodies, even our minds... SHAM tells us if we only had the right affirmation, if only we understood this particular rule or shared this certain outlook or followed the right seven point plan, our lives would be better.
I came to Buddhism like I came to most other things in my life... I thought that it would fix me. I thought Buddhism was about learning to be calm in the midst of chaos. I thought being Buddhist was about being good. The more I practice, the more I start to see that good and bad are irrelevant. Buddhism is about being real... about getting right with reality instead of running away from it. Getting right with reality begins with seeing and accepting it. We will never get right with reality if we are constantly trying to change it.