Couple things to get out of the way before we begin. I've received a lot of e-mails and comments lately expressing concern for my financial situation. I'm sorry to have made anyone worry. But, really, my financial situation is just fine for now. I'm trying to get rid of stuff because I have way too much*, not because I need the money. I am still employed. For the time being anyway. And if/when that finishes I'll find another job.
Lately in my Zazen I've been watching my brain invent amazing scenarios based on the most trivial of stimuli. Some idea will pop into my noggin from God only knows where and all of a sudden whole worlds of mental stuff are formed. Sorta like the Big Bang. I've even watched myself start to engage in wholly imaginary arguments over wholly imaginary things. This happens at a subconscious level so that I cannot even comment on the nature and topic of these arguments and what-not because they seem to have none. It's only after they form that anything specific can be assigned to them, more or less arbitrarily. It's just a kind of habitual reaction carried out at a very deep level. So I shouldn't be surprised when people invent vast fictional scenarios about my life based on a couple random sentences in a blog. But, much as I thank you for your concern, there really isn't any need for it.
My new favorite book is The Naked Ape: A Zoologist's Study of the Human Animalby Desmond Morris. I found it at an outdoor bookstall in Greenwich Village. I knew the book by reputation as one of those classic books that are supposed to be real good. But that was all I knew.
I just finished it about half an hour ago and I think it's amazing. It would be far better for people interested in Buddhism to read books like The Naked Apethan just about any of the dodgy pieces of muddle-headed philosophizing in the "spiritual" section of your local McBookbarn.
The author, Desmond Morris, is a British zoologist who turned his zoologist's eye on human beings. The book examines humans as animals, a brainy and carnivorous subspecies of nearly hairless primates. His conclusions, for the most part, seem to be almost completely valid. He articulates very clearly a lot of the things I've come across in my own practice. A lot of people were apparently very uncomfortable with the book when it was first published in 1967, and it's easy to see why. Instead of presenting humanity as lofty spiritual beings encumbered with unsightly material bodies it shows us as we truly are, a very successful species of ape.
Of course, in the Buddhist view, humans aren't just animals. But that doesn't mean we're not animals at all. Only that we are something rather different from the other animals. But then again elephants are different from all other animals and so are sea slugs and scorpions and any other creature. Like all other creatures we have a material as well as an immaterial side. But, again deferring to the Buddhist view, these sides are actually one and the same. The fact that we are highly successful primates -- with bigger wangs and boobies than any of our primate cousins, by the way -- is part of our spiritual nature. Get stuck into that one!
Morris' chapter on fighting is especially relevant. Virtually everything I said in my latest article for Suicide Girls comes from the same point of view he expresses there**. He even explains the workings of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems in much the same way Gudo Nishijima talks about them. Nishijima's view is that the practice of Zazen works to balance these two oppositional halves of our autonomic nervous system and that the "dropping off off body and mind" Dogen talks about is actually the equalization of our autonomic nervous system. Morris never mentions Zazen, of course. I don't even imagine he knows anything about it.
The chapter on comfort is also really interesting. Morris compares the development of medicine in human beings to the grooming instinct present in other primates. Most of our diseases, he says, emerge not from real injuries or germs, but from the deep-seated need to be groomed by our fellow naked apes. I've often thought this myself, but wasn't ever really able to articulate it as well as Morris does. This isn't to say that there are no real physical diseases. There are. But we would do well to look carefully into their origins.
Anyway, it's a good book. So go get it.
Check the entry below to where I'll be next week and remember your attendence is required. Seriously. Please don't imagine I get zillions of people at these things whether you show up or not and use that as an excuse not to show up. I don't get that many. If you like what I do, please support it. OK?
*Even though I seem to have generally far less than most people I know my age. I think it's because of the nature of my stuff that it seems like more. My friend Bob, who also has loads of monster toys and things says of his own situation, "My apartment looks like a 13 year old won the lottery" -- which is pretty much what mine looks like too.
**Though I wrote that piece long before I got the book. And how come so few of the people who posted comments noticed that I said it was extremely unfortunate that we still need vast armies to potect our freedoms? This fact must change if we are to survive as a species. But it won't change if we can't own up to it. Anyway, I guess pacifists like to get pissed off about things and fight against those who disagree with them... ***
*** Ironical, isn't it?