Is addiction a fate worse than unremitting, agonizing pain? To many people, the answer is absolutely not—particularly if the sufferer is close to death. But that’s not how our policymakers—and even many people affected by addiction—seem to view the issue.
While use of prescription opioids for cancer and other end-of-life pain is increasingly accepted, if you are going to suffer in agony for years, rather than months, mercy is harder to find. Indeed, it seems a given by the media that because addicts sometimes fake pain to get drugs, doctors should treat all patients as likely liars—and if a physician is conned by an addict, the doctor has only herself to blame.
Previously we mentioned that the pleasure center is a portion of the brain over which we have no conscious control, and that it can be stimulated by a variety of chemicals — some of them produced inside our bodies and some that we introduce from outside. We said that the pleasure center rewards us for activities that it interprets as contributing in some way to our survival, whether they be social interactions, exercising, or more prosaic things such as eating. We also stated that these pleasurable feelings, when pursued too far or for too long can create problems. Now we need to examine how that happens….
There is a well-known Buddhist lesson concerning two monks who were traveling and came to a muddy stream. There they observed a woman who was hesitating to cross, apparently concerned about soiling her clothing.
The older monk approached the woman, bowed, and then picked her up and carried her across the stream. He set her down, bowed again, and he and his younger companion continued on their way.
That evening, while they were eating their rice, the younger monk said, “I don’t understand. As monks, we are to have no contact with women, yet you picked that woman up and carried her in your arms!”
The older monk said, “I put the woman down at the side of the stream. You are still carrying her.”
That’s how we are. We cling to thoughts and ideas, worrying them and twisting them around inside our heads, causing all sorts of turmoil and accomplishing nothing in the way of our journey toward spirituality.
To me, spirituality is about things of the human spirit: understanding, compassion, forgiveness, love, willingness to contribute our efforts to help others, humility (at which I fear I’m not all that successful) and things of that sort. Compassion and forgiveness are especially important, because clinging to the resentments that prevent those qualities from shining forth causes us so much unhappiness.
Compassion is, essentially, seeing things from another’s point of view, and being willing to do what we can to alleviate their suffering. Forgiveness is compassion toward ourselves. It is not about “freeing” the other person from anything, but about freeing ourselves of the unhappiness that is caused by being unforgiving.
Like the young monk, we sometimes carry things along with us after the reality has changed and, in our very human way, often blow it up in our minds until it forms a nearly impassable barrier to true spiritual growth. Not until we realize that forgiveness does not involve condoning a wrongful act, but is simply choosing to accept, and move on with our own lives, can we expect to get beyond it. That doesn’t mean that we have to invite the person to dinner, but only that we need to learn to put down our own burden after we have crossed the stream.
A pair of 72-year-old scientists, saying they have much to be grateful for and little to lose, have formed the Skilled Veterans Corps, enlisting volunteers willing to venture into the radioactive Fukushima Daiichi plant. Officials have accepted their offer.
The Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment has reviewed testimony from experts
and members of the public, relevant Maryland laws and court cases, as well as statistics and
studies relevant to the topic of capital punishment in Maryland. After a thorough review of this
information, the Commission recommends that capital punishment be abolished in Maryland.
The following sections detail the findings that support the recommendations and address each
major issue the Commission was charged with studying
There are still some who question the need for drug and alcohol detox and treatment, who feel that addicts and alcoholics’ issues are moral rather than physical and emotional, and that we deserve what life hands us. There is truly no way to argue such issues. Addiction has been accepted as a disease for half a century, and if folks choose to ignore that, nothing is left to say.
There are, however, good arguments for treatment and detox that have nothing to do with morality. Let’s look at some of them.
A thoughtful, well-written article, by a man who earned the right to his opinion by confronting Texas “morality” at close range. How many of us have thought this carefully about the homicides committed in our names?
It’s time to re-post this; one of my best, IMNSHO:
I was considering the way some of us in the rooms seem to think of ourselves, based on the way we talk. We say, “I’m not a bad person trying to get better, I’m a sick person trying to get well.” Then we continue talking about our shortcomings and defects of character. We say things like “I’m an alcoholic, and my problem is Bill.” (I don’t measure up; I’m defective; I’m a problem.) That is not an affirmation.
The language of 12-step groups is the language of seventy years ago–more like a hundred if you consider when the authors got their actual educations. We now know a great deal more about psychology than in the era of Freud and Jung. We also know a great deal more about addiction and alcoholism.
We now have another well-publicized suicide of a gay teenager.
It’s well-known in the mental health field that suicides come in clusters, especially in well-defined groups of teens. I imagine that we can expect to see more gay teens at risk — especially since they might see their “sacrifice” as advancing the cause of gay equality by bringing attention to discrimination.
They might well be right, and that might be a slight upside to the loss of these kids. Still, if you know a teen who might fit into this category, now would be a great time to show some compassion and support. We don’t need sacrifices, we need live people with a conscience. There aren’t enough.
I had a good friend who blew his brains out with his dad’s gun at age about 19, because he was gay, depressed, and got no support. I still miss him.
Apart from their both being Buddhist teachers, one does not often think of Brad Warner and the Dalai Lama in the same context. Over the years, I’ve come to see that as a mistake. Warner and His Holiness have one major thing in common: no matter what they write about, at the end you’ve gotten a good education in basic Buddhist philosophy and practice. They give good Dharma.
One of the things that I find most charming about HHDL’s writings is the way he sticks with the basics. My understanding of practice is that it is about incorporating the Eightfold Path into my life. Many writers and teachers, even Zen teachers, get carried away with the details and seem to forget that Buddhism is about living, not about having scholarly discussions. Both Brad and His Holiness manage to make their teachings accessible — albeit in radically different ways — without getting bogged down in esoterica. I like that. A lot of my own practice has been about getting over myself and my IQ, and they both help me a lot when it comes to simplifying my thinking. Steve Hagen is another favorite for the same reason.
Sex, Sin and Zen* is not an attempt on Warner’s part to pontificate about what “good Buddhists” are supposed to believe with regard to the beast with two (or more) backs. What it really comes down to is a very personal exploration of Buddhist ethics and teachings as they seem to him to apply to situations that he has experienced, or heard, or been asked about. He doesn’t claim to have the answers — is, in fact, excruciatingly careful to make it clear that these are personal decisions — yet he provides a first-class framework to use in thinking about such issues as they apply to us. I mean, this book includes an entire chapter devoted to examining the practice of well-known porn star Nina Hartley, and how she incorporates Buddhism into her work and marriage. It would take a writer with a background in blogging for “Suicide Girls” to even dream of pulling that off — but Warner does, and we feel as though we learned something. (I felt a couple of shifts in my attitudes while reading it, and I consider myself about as sexually liberal as you can get.)
Of course the book is written in Brad’s eminently readable — albeit sometimes joltingly non-traditional — style:
We reflect on the effort that brought us this piece of ass
and consider how it comes to us.
We reflect on our virtue and practice, and whether
we are worthy of this piece of ass.
We consider sexual greed to be the obstacle to freedom of mind.
We consider this piece of ass to be good medicine to sustain our lives.
For the sake of attaining the Truth we now receive this piece of ass.
If you’re too goddamned horny to think straight, then perhaps the best way to avoid misusing sex is to log on to Suicide Girls, or whatever website you enjoy, masturbate furiously, be done with it, and then go out into the world more mellow, less sex-crazed, and less likely to misuse sex in a far more damaging way.
See what I mean?
Sex, Sin and Zen may shock you, it may leave you flabbergasted at the idea that an ordained priest of any religion would think it appropriate to write in the way that Warner habitually does. But you know what? You won’t be bored; you won’t feel you’ve wasted your time; and — unless you work hard** at avoiding it — it will give you a lot to think about.
*Available in your favorite bookstore this Labor Day weekend.
**Hee hee, I said, “hard.”
Disclaimer: the writer was provided a complimentary copy of this book by the publisher.
Occasionally people find the stuff I write interesting enough to comment. One reader made some remarks yesterday that I found intriguing, and I thought I’d share his comment and my response with you.
The question of “Who Is A Buddhist” seems to occupy some folks’ minds quite a lot, since I see blog posts and articles about it all the time. (BTW, don’t forget to visit my commentator’s blog at the link below; it’s really interesting.) I don’t quite understand what all the fuss is about, and hadn’t given it a lot of thought. However, this gentleman’s question caused me to toss the idea around a bit.
I’d be curious of your take on my religiosity or lack thereof. It seems we share much but that you may be a bit more tolerant. Today I did a post asking if I am a Buddhist? which toys with the concept of orthodoxy, atheism and such. I liked this post. Thanx. I will follow you for a while.
Thanks for writing. It is an honor to have a reader who obviously takes such questions very seriously. Let me say from the outset that my opinions are only my opinions, and that I make no claim to guru-hood, roshiosity, or lamary. That said, I do think about it some.
First of all, it seems to me that a Buddhist does at least some of the things that Buddhists do, and believes at least some of the things that Buddhists believe — otherwise, calling oneself that would be meaningless. However, the attempt to quantify the whole thing would seem to indicate a grasping and attachment to names and labels that is not consonant with Buddhism (at least in terms of basics).
Second, there are as many Buddhist sects as there are Christian or Muslim. That renders the concept of “buddhism” pretty vague. I am of the Zen pursuasion, since my lack of religious belief and desire to experience my path with as few trappings as possible give it the most appeal. My approach, therefore, is as far from that of one who practices in some of the more esoteric areas of Tibetan Buddhism (for example) as a Quaker is from a Eastern Orthodox Patriarch — or the Archbishop from an Indio practicing the Central American variety of Catholicism, and consulting the local brujo on the side. On the other hand, from the Zen point of view I’m a touch aberrant, because I do not practice with a sangha, although I have taken the Precepts and sit zazen.
Third, there is the issue of tradition v. adaptation of Buddhist beliefs to modern conditions. Many practitioners believe that practice includes deep involvement with and discussion of the suttas and other writings. I believe that this is a good thing, but that one must live in the modern world, and that rational people approach teachings with that in mind. I am also mindful of the fact that there is absolutely no reason to believe, as Brad Warner is fond of pointing out, that there weren’t plenty of bullshit artists back in those days — just as there are today — who wrote about things from their ivory towers or thrones of personal aggrandizement without having actually lived the kinds of lives about which they pontificated.
Non-attachment is not about discarding the things of this life. It is about living life from moment to moment, dealing with issues as they arise, and neither coloring them with personal preference nor clinging to the results out of unwillingness to change. It’s about staying in the present and allowing ourselves to see its reality, letting it flow past and being concerned only about those things that we can (and need to) influence. This requires flexibility, and involves some number of unpleasant experiences such as having to change our minds about things (to which we might prefer to cling, because we feel comfortable in old mental clothes that are well-worn and broken in). In short, Buddhism is about practical reality, change, and — of its essence — is non-doctrinal. We adopt certain guidelines for living, certain practices that make it easier to follow those guidelines, and then we live them in our lives.
Which brings up my fourth point. If we are comporting ourselves with compassion, tolerance, kindness toward others, willingness to learn and change, living a balanced life, and are forgiving, loving and know how to laugh at ourselves and live joyfully when life affords us the opportunity, it doesn’t make any difference what we call ourselves. We are following the Middle Path whether we know it or not. If we are not living that kind of life, we probably need to make the changes and practice the skills that make it possible, and it makes no difference what we call the result of that, either.
So, I have no opinion about whether or not you are a Buddhist, and I don’t think it’s anything you should be worrying about, either. Adopt some guidelines that look good to you. Try to live a good life. Don’t mess with folks if you can avoid it. If you can’t avoid it, do as little harm as possible.* Be compassionate. You have my permission to call it anything you want.
*In fact, that’s the whole thing, right there.
I run across people, on the Web and elsewhere, who seem directionless. They don’t seem engaged with their lives. Some seem simply to exist passively, with little pleasure and no discernible joy. Others flail around at this and that, become intrigued or outraged by every small thing that crosses their path and may, briefly, stop off and register their interest in some way. However, when push comes to shove, if you ask them what moves them, what their passion might be, they are often unable to answer. If they do, it’s often with a caveat: too old, too young, not enough time, can’t afford it, and so forth.
There is a temptation to think of those folks as shallow and superficial, but that is an arrogant (not to mention judgmental) attitude. It is not up to me to weigh the importance of someone else’s life, their degree of satisfaction and joy, or their lack thereof. I do, however, see folks who I believe could be happier, and I suspect that’s because they haven’t looked deeply enough into themselves. They haven’t identified the one or two things that they feel strongly enough to act on, instead of reacting.
I think everyone needs such an avocation: not a job, not a hobby, but something that is so important to them personally that they would work at it — whether or not for pay — in preference to many of the things that we conventionally think of as “fun.” Self-fulfillment is a basic human need, and I believe that in order to be happy we must pursue it in some way. We may not be able to change the world, but we can change our little corner of it, a little bit. We may not be able to affect history, but we can affect the future of individuals.
We can drive a disabled vet to the store or to the VA hospital. We can read to someone who is unable. We can volunteer as a Big Brother or Sister. We can call up a church, a charitable organization, a library, and ask if they need people to help with anything at all. We can volunteer at a local nature center and turn our love of critters or plants into an enthusiastic presentation that will engage budding naturalists. There are hundreds of such things that we can do, if we but look for them — things that allow us to make a difference that we can see, that is tangible, that can bring us satisfaction and fruits that we probably can’t imagine yet. The people I see doing these sorts of thing nearly always seem fulfilled and happy.
I’ve got mine. It’s not posting links on blogs or Facebook, not even writing essays like this. Those are things I do when I’m distracted — and I have a lot of distractions — but I also have time to pursue my “bliss”, as Joe Campbell used to say. It doesn’t matter what I do. What matters is what you do. I’ve found mine.
Have you? Will you look? Will you at least think about it?
It’s remotely possible that even those folks who consider themselves “serious” Buddhists may not have gotten around to reading the Nigrodhamiga-jataka (part of the Pali Jataka, a collection of 500 stories about the Buddha’s earlier lifetimes). Somehow, I find myself able to forgive such lapses. However, in addition to being a renowned writer of, among other things, childrens’ books, Rafe Martin has apparently delved into it — at least the first few stories.
Martin’s latest book, a slim volume entitled The Banyan Deer, is a not-too-modernized retelling of one of the Jataka tales (number 12). The writer has stayed with the common construction of Buddhist parables and allegories, building on the central theme, step by step, until the lesson is completely delivered. This repetitive form is common in oral storytelling. The repetitive and progressive structure helps listeners learn the stories themselves so that they can pass them along in their turn.
The Banyan Deer has an archetypical theme that speaks to all compassionate hearts, especially those of children. Martin tells the story of the deer king Banyan who, through his compassion for the members of his flock, turns the heart of the human king who has been hunting them and convinces him to spare them and their descendants from further hunting. This teaching and conversion theme is another that is common in Buddhist folklore, and it carries a message that is critical to Dharma in the present day.
Too long have I lived with danger
to let it fall so heavily on others.
How can I abandon them and be
at peace myself, knowing that my
freedom was bought at such a price?
…”Imagine that,” said the young deer.
“Yes, imagine it.”
Rafe Martin has told a story that is especially suited for reading to children. It has the feel of one of those tales from my childhood that I constantly nagged the adults to read to me again, pleeeeease? Don’t get the idea that it’s just for kids, though. Its lesson addresses the major problem in the world today, and its concepts of interbeing and compassion could well be our salvation in a physical sense — no metaphysics required (nor desired).
The Banyan Deer, by Rafe Martin
Wisdom Publications, Boston, 2010
Order it from Amazon
Clarification: The publisher provided the writer with a complimentary
copy of the book in return for this review.