Light and air have made a cosmic shift as darkness stalks us earlier each day and a vague chill in even the sunniest shine sends us indoors, closer to each other and those cold viruses waiting in ambush. This feels like 4 o’ clock on a Dharma day, that identifiable moment when the energy that has been keeping a meditator aloft since dawn starts to shift downward with the natural light. The oncoming spooky shadows and intimations of a finish line can make one so fidgety that 4:00 PM is the moment chosen to stop meditating, bang the drums and pray to the protectors. It is a pick-me-up, a wake up call.
Protection would hit the spot right now as the clocks turn backward. Halloween this Tuesday gives way to Election Day the next, as though cramming all the spookiness and fang baring into this tipping point will acclimate us to shivering before winter actually forces us to. The coming days of scary costumes, scare tactics, scaredy cats will be brimming with guiles gone wild. First the kids will dress up pretending to be whoever they’re not and go around begging strangers for candy, then adults will dress up pretending to be who they’re not and go around begging strangers for votes. Then comes snow.
Signs of vampirish desperation brought by the scent of winter scream at you like headline barkers. On my deck in
The front page of today’s newspaper says this year’s Halloween costumes are all short, skimpy and startlingly sexy even for six year olds because, as the manager of a Halloween store is quoted, “sexy is the new scary.” And here I thought it was the oldest one. Actually it seems scarier that the morning after the Hallmark holiday, when millions confront a stockpile of high fructose corn syrup in its most compelling forms, is called The Day of the Dead. The name is a leftover from the ancient Celtic belief that in this cosmic shift of energy at summer’s end, the souls of those who passed during the preceding year want to come back to life before it is too late—like the Democratic Party. And so the eve is dedicated to scaring the rattling skeletons away with fat headed goblins, bribery with sweet things and ghoulish pranks –like the Republican Party. And it seems quite spooky too, doesn’t it, that the morning after the Hellmark clash of the frightens that we call election day marks the start of turkey time.
On this threshold of that season for thanks and giving, the emphasis seems to be totally on giving. If on Halloween the disguised kids trick you into not recognizing their true identity, you’ve got to treat them nicely to something sweet so they go away. If on Holloween adults trick you the same way, you’ve also got to hand over a sweet pay off, like four or six years all expenses paid plus pension. Both ways you are asked to give up all vestiges of intelligence and either way there’s no thanks for you, unless of course you hold to that old aphorism: the Lord loves a cheerful giver —even after considering that no matter what the Republican Party insists, the Lord is not here right now soliciting you either for a campaign contribution or a Mars Bar.
As it happens, this seasonal conceit of deceit is big business. Kids say Boo! You say Who? And all that masquerading trickery and candy treating makes Halloween the second highest holiday profit zone in the GNP, runner-up to the gift giving orgy that is Christmas. This does not even take into account the mountain of money that goes year round into paying people to dress up and pretend to be who they are not so that as celebrities endorsing this and that they can get you to open your wallet the way householders open their doors on Halloween. Not does it factor in paying people to dress up as your representative endorsing this or that check without a balance to get the government to open its treasury. Today’s paper says $500 million has been spent so far on
The appearance of money seems to create its own reality. The other day’s paper said restaurant entrees have flown over $40 with no sides attached because people think expensive has to mean good. And even if they boo that equation, they’re still likely to grab the overpriced $35 entrée as a bargain. Evidently, businessmen are just like God: they too love people who give cheerfully.
This one week in American life when there is at least some focus on the relationship between appearance and reality brings commonality to the United States of America and Tibetan Buddhist dharma. After all, they are both all about appearances —their crassness and their hollowness. It’s just that while Buddhism is dedicated to the belief that appearances are so hollow they can never be reality, America—the land of the see! where showboaters and snake oil salesmen play trick or treat every day-- is dedicated to the idea that appearance can be profitably substituted for reality. Just look at California which voted for The Terminator for governor.
Maybe the mass delusion of kids in costume for Halloween is cute and maybe the mass delusion of Republicans about the war in
This week of make believe in which people put so much effort into making you believe, makes you wonder how different life from sea to shining sea would be if elections took place in spring. That’s when we rush clocks ahead, dance around Maypoles, flaunt eggs as a sign of life and giggle lightheartedly about the silliness of April fools. At that time of year we talk about rising from the dead as a lovely inspiration, no skeletons to scare you as they do now when we eat Snickers and shiver at the news of heavy handed pranks involving fire, blood, smashing pumpkins, robbing for Apples. Now the onrushing dark makes us frightened of things black: cats, crows, spiders, the good folk of
As Spring is the season of hope, fall is the season of fear. Creation leads inevitably to completion, everything in such flux new life is given, nurtured, takes its place in the world—yours, so that you are eventually superfluous, obsolete, spent. Ancient people celebrated not only the year’s harvest of the dead at the food harvest time but feted all souls and all saints—the do-gooder dead, on the November 2nd Catholic memorial day. To remember the dead is of course to remember you are going to be among them soon and that is the ultimate scary, newest and oldest, especially as winter chill and winter kill and flu season all rush in. And so the big annual fear fest, Samsara on parade.
Bang the drum and pray to the protectors. The Tibetan Buddhist ones have skeletons aplenty and are as demonic as it gets. They’re covered with skulls. They’re black, they’re ghoulishly ugly, they’re fang toothed fierce, they’re dripping blood. They can give you the shivers. You are told to offer them a cup of tea, especially around 4:00pm. This is, I guess, a kind of trick or treat placation, although in truth you treat the protectors because you cannot trick them. Whatever your guise or appearance, they remind you that in Samsara it’s always Halloween —a spooky dance of conceited appearances, endless boo-boos, ghostly insubstantiality. You ask them to protect you from mistaking these appearance for reality. You offer tea as you ask them to remove all the obstacles, all the darkness, delusion and disguises you live in, so you can come as you are--a kind of coming out party into the real world. My teacher says if you look carefully at the ferociously fanged mouth of the skull covered bulging eyed black demon protector Mahakala, there is no need to shiver because you will see how broadly he is smiling, happy to wake you up to the idea that you can get there from here.
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