Newton said it best. Actioni contrariam semper et æqualem esse reactionem:”
Try arguing with….for every action there is an equal an opposite reaction.
Perhaps the proliferation of those little social network logos – that line of little boxes we find at the top of texts or superimposed upon them – is telling us that we’ve reached the point of diminishing returns – more and more is required to achieve less and less. When the saturation is complete and the movement ceases, Newton’s Third Law of Motion will kick in. And then we can scrape the name off our inboxes, set our filters to a stratospheric level, change all those addresses that made targets of us, and give ourselves cryptic monikers, preferably numbered ones that give no hint of any exploitable affiliation, Seven-of-Nine comes to mind. We will crave privacy, a space of our own around which we can create a ring of fire or a moat.
What we first perceived as a good thing – our own page that would function as a showcase for our excellence as an individual or a family, a site that would be an efficient way to show a multitude of strangers two hundred photographs of our daughter’s wedding – did not produce the kind of envy and admiration that we expected. We looked forward to receiving a host of original comments, but instead we got a few snide remarks from anonymous persons who had posed as friends to let us know that a white bridal dress was supposed to indicate purity. A few well-chosen shots of our little princess baring her breasts in a wet T-shirt extravaganza, or winning first prize in a “¿Quién tiene el castor más espeso?” contest had made some people think that it seemed somewhat improbable that she was eligible to wear white.
Some of the comments were so hurtful, that the bride of whom we were so proud had now become the object of scorn, amusement, and, if we were lucky, pity. How did we react? Did we quit the battlefield and become incommunicado pacifists? Were we made “kinder, gentler” folks who turned the other cheek? Or did we retaliate, responding to one mouthful of anonymous, vitriolic spit upon Right Speech’s sacred ground with our own poisonous lunges, spewed wherever we could aim them?
As to our own comments about other people’s offerings, did we sacrifice honesty just to avoid nasty retaliations and become so bland that we could assert a claim to stasis. Things we hated we called, “interesting.” Boring shit became, “thought provoking.” “Adorable,” we commented on ugly stuff. “You must be so proud.” (If we said anything else, someone might note that we’ve added another cliché to our collection of knee-jerk platitudes.)
And now we find that we check the site less for positive news and more for negative rebuffs. Things that we might have preferred to discuss in a private conversation, are being compressed in toneless type. All in all, the investment in wasted time – not to mention in anger, hurtful feelings, or the malaise of unrelenting dishonesty – is proving to be not worth the effort.
Maybe we thought we could cut back – that belonging to five social sites was a tad too much. We excised ourselves from a few but our happiness did not return. We learned what recovering alcoholics know: “One is too many and a hundred’s not enough.”
The pendulum swings back. A ball thrown straight up in the air will reach a point in which its upward thrust cannot overcome the force of gravity. The ball stops and reverses course with a vengeance. Jung called it enantiodromia – Greek for running towards the opposite direction. It is the natural decay that follows the embrace of the limit. When there’s nowhere else to go, we collapse in a great fall, implode, or dash to the other side.
If we’re unhappy, or anxious, or experience loneliness instead of solitude, we’ll likely consider the world a cruel place; and the irony is that we may still continue to look for approbation from things outside ourselves – out there in the material world – which is the last place we ought to look for approval. We might have tried so hard to be admired and to belong to some coveted group that we maxed-out our credit cards and became a stranger to those who did want and need us. Us… not our status at the club or workplace… just us… tall persons who play pinochle, chess, catch, basketball, video games, tennis, swimming, hiking….and such. We turned up the volume so that we wouldn’t hear the voice inside our head that told us that an excess of material goods and troublesome people is ever the antithesis of Elegant Simplicity, Zen’s Wabi Sabi.
Some of us may feel that those electronic gadgets have become part of our anatomy… that we’re bionic men and women who’d be lost and helpless without them. No. No. We’d be lost and helpless without our “better half” and the kids. Maybe the dog. Ultimately, without our faith and spiritual center we’d truly be lost and helpless.
Perhaps we need convincing.
All right. A quarter-century ago, when this electronic revolution was in full-swing, we put our faith in science. Hey… it got us to the moon. Consider the universal euphoria experienced when mankind was first presented with cyberspace’s possibilities. We assumed that only light would come from that screen, that only good could come from non-face-to-face interactions. While the good did arrive on schedule, nobody allowed for the inevitable dark side of human nature to show itself.
For example, we were told that we’d make our kids safer by giving them cellphones and smarter by giving them computers. U.S. kids became the most electronically pampered kids in the world. In an international test of 15 year old students, the U.S. came in at #36, below average, and even below Viet Nam. Hmmm… well… definitely not smarter. Safer?
The leading cause of teenage death and injury in the U.S. used to be driving under the influence. 2700 deaths and 282,000 injuries annually. Now cellphone use by teenaged drivers results in over 3000 deaths and 300,000 injuries annually. Hmmm… well… definitely not safer, either.
And what else came in addition to this? No, we won’t go into wholesale hacking of personal information, identity theft, or worms, viruses, or spyware. That’s another problem.
Between 2004 and 2008 State and local law enforcement task forces reported a 230 percent increase in the number of documented complaints of online enticement of children. In those same years, they reported a more than 1000% increase in child sex-trafficking complaints.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported that as of June 2014, they had reviewed and analyzed more than 115 million child pornography images since the organization was created in 2002.
What are our children studying on that laptop? Genghis Khan or Genital Piercing? Face it. We don’t have a clue. Yet we let the gadgets replace us and think we’ve met our responsibilities by paying for the stuff.
We also never figured that we’d squander the small amount of time we had to spend on our spiritual life on the venom and the drivel of social networking. It is not merely a question of time lost; it is a question of spiritual deprivation. Are we happier at work, at home, at play?
If we’re not, and we notice that we feel chained to our desks like an animal whose foot has been caught in a trap, and now know why animals sometimes gnaw off their foot to get free, perhaps we’re ready to step back and consider ourselves survivors.
Those of us who fell victim to being baited by the nasty element out there in cyberland – whether or not we posted it – may have to be reminded about the Lex Talionis. Here is noted psychiatrist Karl Menninger on the subject:
There are certain laws governing the activity of the conscience with which we have come to be familiar from clinical experience. One of them is that the ego must suffer in direct proportion to its externally directed destructiveness. It is as if that part of the destructive instinct retained within the ego had to carry on within the microcosmos of the personality an activity precisely comparable to that which the ego is directing toward the macrocosmos outside. If the individual directs an attack of a certain nature upon some person in the environment, the conscience, or super-ego, directs an attack of the same nature upon the ego. This formula is well known to us in social organization in the form of the lex talionis, the intuitive basis of all penal systems.” He later adds, “One more fact or ‘law’ about the conscience: a sense of guilt may arise from other than actual aggression; in the unconscious a wish to destroy is quite equivalent to the actual destruction with regard to exposing the ego to punishment.”
What to Menninger is a “super ego” is to us is our interior Buddha Self or Buddha Amitabha, yes, the Buddha of Infinite Light. This says, then, that what we sow we reap: we’ll get dark deed for dark deed, and dark thought for dark thought. And we won’t necessarily get them back in the same form. We won’t ever know why we tripped over something, or depressed the accelerator in a known speed-trap, or put our keys where we couldn’t find them, or forgot to mail something important on time. We’ll get paid back for the nasty little things we do or think. If we can understand it better by calling it Karma, then let’s call it Karma.
But we can also aim for good results and share a good laugh, a good meal, a good game or movie with people who really do care about us. We can have a mind that doesn’t seethe with resentment and jealousy, but rather smiles to itself about how good life is.
Heaven and hell exist and they exist here and now, inside our own mind, and we can choose to live in one place or the other. So, unless we’ve been decapitated, we carry our heaven and our hell with us wherever we go. We can cease these blindfolded interactions and instead come face-to-face with a little self-imposed discipline. We can set an example for spiritual indomitability.
The first rule: Don’t have “friends.” Just be friendly to everyone. Maybe we can argue with Sartre when he said, “Hell is other people.” But why argue? Let it go. If we don’t accept invitations, we don’t have to reciprocate. We can have our own picnic with our own family and if others drop by, we can welcome them. And we shouldn’t think we’d be hurting someone’s feelings by not specifically inviting them.
Years ago there was a candidate for Congress who sent out invitation-threats. He did very well indeed when he said, “If you send me a donation of $25.00 I promise not to invite you to my political fund-raising dinner.” Twenty-five dollars was a lot more money in those days than it is now. Evidently, people thought it would have been cheap at twice the price. He didn’t have to serve anybody tough chicken and reconstituted mash potatoes.
Fear drives us to attend most social gatherings. Fear, anxiety, pride, or networking greed… pride at wanting to show off or talk about material-world accomplishments; fear that our absence may occasion gossip or all sorts of terrible suspicions. This is no way to live.
So….sign off, shut down, and come back to Zen. We don’t need to use our spiritual practice as an excuse to withdraw. Just by announcing that we’ve initiated a spiritual program, we will cause a multitude to step back and do all the withdrawing that is necessary. When people can’t influence and control us… when something bigger and more powerful than they is in our lives… they bail out.
Now, literally, for the love of heaven, we can tell our fellow employees that our work-day ends when we leave our place of employment, and then we need to find the guts to leave our cellphone in the glove compartment when we park our car at home. Whether we’re a bachelor or the head of a family, we have certain rights to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
If we prefer to get our happiness at work rather than at home, we need to get our priorities examined. It may require a period of adjustment to sit at our table and watch all those strange faces look at each other; but after a week or so we’ll know the name that goes with the face, and also when small people say, “Hey, Dad!” we’ll know who they mean.
Each reader is now clamoring for information! “How am I to get started in a real (not phony) Zen regimen? Ok.
Start a small morning routine. If you want to do it in private, go into your bathroom ten minutes earlier. Start with the Sun Salute.
Learn one of the chants given here….or here.
Learn one of them well enough to laminate the text and take it into the shower. (Don’t bring a CD player into the bathroom and don’t try to learn the chants while driving.)
Spend a few quiet minutes reading about Zen. Try: The Seventh World of Chan Buddhism
The pdf file can be downloaded from various sources on the web. Just look up, “The Seventh World of Chan Buddhism” by Ming Zhen Shakya.
Above all, learn the Healing Breath given in Chapter 10. Secondly, watch the diet. Get in shape.
And if anyone has a problem he or she wants to kick around privately, write to any of our priests. We have no fees or dues or charges of any kind. ZATMA does not accept donations; we ask only that nobody supposes that what is given freely is also worthless.
The Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun: Zen and The Martial Arts isn’t a blog. A problem that could use some Zen elucidation will get the needed attention. Contact us at email@example.com.
Remember, the Path’s two important rules: Begin and Continue.
Image Credit: Fa Ming Shakya