Precious Ramotswe who runs the Number One Ladies Detective Agency says there is nothing that can't be solved by sitting down with a cup of tea. So I am sitting with a mug of her favorite red bush, puzzling over what it means when headlines line up like Zen Haiku:
Lehman Files for Bankruptcy
Merrill Lynch to be sold
Millions Without Power
What if Viagra doesn’t work?
It does seem as if reality struck, blowing up
Maybe Precious would figure out that unsupervised kids took off on a joy ride drunk with glee, ran a whole bunch of red lights, and inevitably crashed in a huge ball of Armageddon fire. A Buddhist might conclude that impermanence means composites inevitably fall apart, that everything comes to an end, even binges of good times. Either way puts us into the Bardo, or regrouping interval. Here appearances supposedly come nonstop just like Hurricane Ike tailgating Hurricane Gustav and the New York Times editorial headline: 'Never again', again.
“Just as the appearances of this life are produced by states of mind,” my teacher Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche says, “so are the appearances in the bardo… produced by states of mind…and negative states of mind produce negative appearances or experiences.” Precious would probably find this the sort of clue the author of her trusty detective manual would applaud. And useful to boot.
In this bardo of the desire realm, it certainly is scary. Bulimia killed a culture that binged fervently, then shamelessly vomited up everything it consumed. So it's tough to tell the difference between the supersized appearances of an obesity epidemic and all those endemically swollen Wall St. egos and profits. There's just this endless terrifying vision of the union of high fructose corn syrup and high falutin finance, dancing in the dark of derivatives. What you don't know can indeed hurt you.
In the horrifying deficit bardo of animal stupidity, financial deficit, national deficit and value deficit appear on paper, Nature deficit in books and on psychology panels. In luminous union, these have become all pervasive truth deficit. Frank Rich appears in the New York Times saying, the pipeline to reality has been clogged by the detritus of truthiness. Maureen Dowd appears claiming reality's been shipped back to junior high, in Alaska where frozen visions of cheerleaders and muscled jocks constipate the brain. The difference between virtual reality and virtuous reality has been totally obscured.
In the bardo of hungry ghosts, experts cry out that the country must quickly give more credit where it isn't due. Plastic must catch fire. People must get out and buy stuff they probably don't need. Only when consumers create more personal debt will the country be saved and born again. Shop so it doesn't drop does not make it idiotic to be patriotic. Or is it patriotic to be idiotic?
From my vantage point behind a tea cup, this looks like the bardo of the gods, those doomed to fall from pride. All those folks with a grip on winning as everything, the only thing, suddenly go blank when they top the charts. They get so dizzy from power, they can't see the appearance of then what? They can't see that winning a trophy for a football season is not the same as winning a trophy election. One is the end, the other the beginning of now what.
Well, for one thing the appearance of more headlines:
Houston Is Without Power
Hedge Funds Face Chaos
The Right to Smear
Tainted Milk Sickens 53,000 Babies
In this bardo of jealousy all nice and green, nobody can see the Great Panic of 1837 when the balloon of unprecedented and unregulated land speculation burst, causing a painfully convulsive contraction that squeezed out almost half the banks in all the states, and shrank the money supply by a third, an altogether dismal record yet to be matched despite challenges like the Great Depression.
In 1888 a historian put that 1837 panic this way: “The American people with one consent gave themselves to an amazing extravagance of land speculation. There is no longer dispute that the prostration of business in 1837, and for several years after, was the perfectly natural result of the speculation which had gone before. The enormous extension of bank credits during the three years before the breakdown was rather the symptom than the cause of the disease. The fever of speculation was in the veins of the community before “kiting” began. Bank officers dwelt in the same atmosphere as did other Americans and their sanguine extravagance in turn stimulated the universal temper of speculation. …
“It is difficult to rightly apportion among the statesmen and politicians of the time so much of blame for the mania of speculation as must go to that body of men. They had all drunk in the national intoxication over American success and growth. Every pretense of a politician, whether in or out of the Senate chamber, that the government could by devices of financiering avoid this necessity of long physical repair, was either folly or wickedness. And of this folly or even wickedness there was no lack in the anxious spring and summer of 1837. (The Panic Of 1837, by Edward M. Shepard)
And of this folly or even wickedness, in the anxious September 2008, there is no lack of headlines.
Wall Street in massive bailout
Suicide bomb guts hotel
Toll expected to rise
California Budget full of financial sham
Rail Workers retire early, then claim disability
And the biggest:
Republican Campaign Continues
Despite being a Pack of Lies
Look: Burn this after reading appears everywhere.
The bardo teachings warn that panic in the face of frightening bardo visions rapidly propels a person, somewhat automatically, toward what seems the safe harbor of familiarity. Seeking instant solace this way in the same old, same old wipes out any chance for improvement the next time around. So when John McCain arises as the worn out union of temerity and emptiness, he appears as salvation to a people who have run out of energy.
According to the Buddha, mind has 51 states. America has 50. It was a community that needed organizing. A community organizer in the form of the black and white Barack Obama appeared --with, of all things, calm abiding. Since the WMDs turned out not to be in Iraq but right here in the bank, the rise of a black man to the top of the political crop surely brought about shock and awe, did it not?
Dharma teaches interdependence. Every action ignites reaction, every desire a new desire in the chain of human karma. Gurus talk about collective karma. Political textbooks say a people gets the government it deserves. The comedian W. C. Fields said: “Nobody will ever go broke underestimating the taste of the American people.”
I wish I knew what Precious would say. My teacher says, “People are so terrified of the bardo… they dislike hearing about it or thinking about it. (I would add, writing about it to convey a convulsive sense of nightmare.) It may be from one point of view, the bardo is terrifying, but from another point it is not." From that point, I suppose, the good news is that bardo teachings promise one second of realizing emptiness, compassion or the absolute truth of it all can liberate beings from recycling through more suffering. Possibly, Precious would say this simply means realizing truth that is virtuous always ends, like virtuous does, in "us."
Then too, perhaps she'd say the even better news is that the bardo is the real deal for all those Americans dying to be born again.
"Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"
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