Coming Apart at the Seems
My Rinpoche is now in the West and the monastery in Woodstock, New York was trying to share his weekend teachings via webcam. Unfortunately the feed wasn't steady, at least on my Mac, so I was subject to endless opportunities to experience emptiness that was not the Buddhist kind. I got so frustrated with the blackouts after while that each time Rinpoche vanished into the cyberkaya, I began to rapid fire click and desperately punch the keyboard to make him re-appear. Somehow at some point, I ended up with his video feed streaming behind a series of pointless cartoonish ads for sophomoric shows and absurd beverages, and then it streamed atop a banner that flashed every 50 seconds offering Ads by Google.
So there was Rinpoche intoning on the critical teaching to not be attached to honor or wealth or anything in Samsara because attachment is simply a distraction, a detour from the truth. And there I was, smashing the delete button every 50 seconds to get rid of all those flashing Ads by Google banners trying to seduce and attach me. And in that disconnect between Rinpoche and Ads by Google was the clear realization that the Dharma and our consumer culture share a crucial common bond: they are both relentlessly focused on appearances, obsessed with how everything looks and how you should look at it all. Eyeballs, as they say in the ad trade.
The difference of course is that for Buddhists appearances are nothing. They don't matter because they are not real, have no meaning, don't count for anything. They are distractions of the imagination like a mirage or chimera. We practice meditation to get past them, to deconstruct them down to nothing. We struggle to understand people see what they want to see, not what is actually there. It's all empty space. But to the consumer culture appearances are everything. They are the only things, all that counts and matters and reveals all the meaning you are supposed need to fill the space of your thoughts. Pretty images and peppy talk ("I made a fortune and so can you!") are all about seducing you into somebody else's control so you give them all you've got, and you know how seduction ends: you get screwed.
America is so mired in make-believe that it's actually been fun to watch a culture smitten by the picture perfect face, designer suit and Harvard resume coming apart faster and faster at all its seems. People are very painfully finding out those they trusted are just not into them anymore, that high achiever athletes their kids worshiped like gods are just druggies who couldn't do squat on their own. Executives hire stylists to make them look like power and then the powerful bare themselves in all their pitiful bestiality (Strauss-Kahn, Anthony Weiner, John Edwards and name your overpaid athlete), venal duplicity (name your politician beside I-Rod who just got shunted to Illinois jail, lobbyist, Federal Reserve banker or TV talking head), and profound incompetence (name your economist, nuclear regulator or President of the United States who although incursions in Libya look a lot like war says it's categorically not). It's fun to watch instant celebrities of no substance blow themselves up with some substance abuse or other and watch Jon Stewart trap Chris Wallace at Fox News into finally admitting that network is not what it wants to appear to be: fair and balanced. Pretentious is the same as pretend. Lying is now the truth of life. Almost every day Nobel economist Paul Krugman calls out "very serious people", heat seeking missiles aimed at every camera angle, who pronounce like popes although they actually have nothing coherent or cogent to say about what's really happening. They are stuck on disconnected ideological platitudes, a box into which reality doesn't fit.
The Buddha would agree with Jon Stewart, Paul Krugman and all the other public voices shouting: you can call it what you want; you can call a Marine a pizza, (You can call Scalia a justice although he's beyond blind) but everything will still be what it is. And that's mere flashing appearance of light, ephemera of no import. Let go of them and you get a life, with no Ads by Google.
~Sandy Garson"Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"
Click here to request Sandy Garson for reprint permission.