This blog, Yours in the Dharma by Sandy Garson, is an effort to navigate life between the fast track and the breakdown lane, on the Buddhist path. It tries to use a heritage of precious, ancient teachings to steer clear of today's pain and confusion to clear the path to what's truly happening.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
I like to think I am as mindful as anybody out there, but of course I don't like to think I am old enough to forget things, a lot of things. Especially things that might be cooking on my stove. Frankly, I'm proud to say I finally got so mindful that I'm not mindful of eggs boiling, I now carry around a timer while they are. There's nothing like a clicking plastic chicken to remind you eggs are in hot water.
I didn't do that for the rhubarb. Probably because I was sitting at the dining table not far away, reading the newspaper on my i Pad. Probably because I usually put stewing fruit on a very very low flame and expect the process to be long. Probably because I forgot when I leave the kitchen physically, I forget I'm cooking something. Even when I promise myself I'm not going to forget. Remember, I'm mindful.
"Somebody must be barbequing," flickered through my thoughts after a smoky odor wafted into my nostrils. I went right on sipping tea and reading. I love reading the Sunday New York Times on Saturday night, so I treat myself. It's a lot to read.
Eventually I got up, walked toward the stove and lifted the lid off the rhubarb. !?!?!?!?!?!?****??!!!!!!!!!! Who'd put the flame on high like that? Who stewed my rhubarb in nanoseconds? The white enamel sides and bottom of the cast iron Le Creuset, my favorite reach for perfect size pot, were crunchy black. Deep, dark crunchy black. Screwed rhubarb. A hopeless burn victim.
I stared at the deathly blackness in my favorite reach-for pot. Ruined just like that. By rhubarb. Stupid rhubarb I didn't really need and never should have bought. But it was the end of the season for it and I am a pig for fresh local whatever. Shi...i..taki. Was this a lesson or what? Most women would have shrugged and thrown that hot pot in the trash. Really, who has time to bother trying to scrap burnt crust off the entirety of an enamel sauce pan? We live in the age of New, new new. And a burnt pot is a great excuse to exercise the right to shop for that. But I'm a stubborn old bird, financially challenged, and quite experienced, I'm sorry to say, at scraping and scrubbing the burn off a pot. Especially if it's an old favorite, too old to have been made in China, so made to last. I went at it, with brio, the energy of vengeance. I got the rhubarb scraped out, most of it anyway, and began the vinegar boil. A sangha sister once rescued a burnt pot of mine by showing me how vinegar helps eat off the crust. It didn't do much this time. The white enamel was still pretty much entirely black. Third degree burns. I moved on to the Ajax boil, with the fan on high, and this helped to loosen a bit off the bottom. So I soaked the pot overnight in more Ajax. In the morning light, it was still seriously, depressingly black. But I wasn't going to give up. Not mindful me. I got out a new pad of SOS and applied my might to scrubbing. What a painfully arduous chore. "You must be a screaming idiot," I told myself, "to think you can clean a pot this far burnt. Just throw it away already." But no, I defiantly kept scrubbing, into my second pad of SOS and lost fingernails. I'm convinced of course that the current SOS is not the old SOS I remember. It's evidently been New and Improved when I wasn't looking because it's soft and weak. I really don't care about lemon scent: I want stiffness, coarseness, scratchiness when you need it. But the pad didn't have enough oomph to do more than dislodge teeny little shards of black I'd already loosened with a pastry scraper. Still, seeing how I was getting some of it off I kept going. I wanted victory, a perfect pot. I took to the pastry scraper again and again. I left the pot soak and came back later in the day.
I had done my second vinegar boil, my umpteenth mental fuming, and fourth SOS pad when I realized scrubbing this stupid pot was a whole lot like scrubbing my mind with Dharma. Really. That white enamel underneath the burnt offering was still there pure as the day it left the French factory, and I was trying to get back to it just the way I struggle in Buddhist practice to get back to the pure mind under all my thoughts, emotions and experiences. I was trying to clean pot the way I'm constantly trying to clear away my obscurations and what the Dharma calls the "adventitious stains" of experience. I'd read enough in the New York Times to realize burnt pot "heads" are running/ruining the world.
(This was originally written in slightly different form for The Daily Dot, an online newspaper)
Palo Alto native George Packer
devoted an entire May 27 New Yorker article to how imposition of the whirling
innovation culture known as Silicon Valley has turned into a tornado that is upending not only on
his old hometown but the roots of our whole nation. Despite its relentless
braggadocio about being democratic and uplifting, the newly dominant culture
turns out to be insular, indulgent, inequitable and, so obsessed with algorithms,
uninterested in even brushing against the human world around it. That would not
be frictionless, but rather a dreaded disruption.
Packer’s most startling observation is
"the hottest tech start-ups are solving all the problems of being
twenty-years-old with cash on hand, because that's who thinks these things
up." He finds what the loudest Silicon Valley critic Evgeny Morozov calls its
obsession with solutionism to be just an extension of
Hollywood's obsession with teenage male quandaries and fantasies.
Well, that solves a murder mystery: how
the past, like a political dissident, has been disappeared. Given that the vast
majority of teenaged boys live in a cocoon totally absorbed by their burgeoning
physical prowess and how to deploy it for most dazzling effect, the past was
time of dependence on Mother. Forget about it. Absolute libertarianism has to
be the goal. And surprise! That's Silicon Valley's main buzzword. It cascades
through Packer’s prose.
Now I know why I just spent a
long day trying to stash an enormous set of late 19th Century, gold-rimmed
handmade Limoges china that was priceless when my great uncle purchased it as a
young groom. All effort to sell it failed. The 21st Century has made its
fragile elegance a different kind of priceless: totally without value.Dear friends on the Atlantic seaboard
who for decades specialized in six and seven figure exquisite America antiques
are being thrown out of business by the same cultural shift. Ditto a dear
friend on the Pacific rim who has folksy Asian art that perfectly expresses
humanity, not machinery. Antiques today, she says, means '50s and '60s stuff
made in the rise of technology that erased the human hand. (Yes, handwriting is
now being expunged from school curricula.)
And now I know why guys at the end of the Millennium proclaimed the
end of history. Virtual reality has become the new New World and people are rushing to
evacuate the hard reality of the past like exiles fleeing Haiti, or Republicans
expunging all memory of W.'s era. Pretending or perhaps fantasizing that
yesterday has no tendrils of relevance reaching out to us today, techies serve
history on the menu as your own last 20 minutes wandering around the Internet.
The fight to be top of the elite crop in
Computerstan, this breathless world of nonstop newness where there is only tomorrow, has become such a hot war, insider
Jaron Lanier now asks in book form: Who owns the future? I think he should ask a
geezer from the now despised past, someone like Grandma who's seen it all. I suspect she knows because I am
her and I know with age comes perspective, which can be defined as hindsight, the
handy calibrator of foresight. Back there in the not to be named once upon a
time, I learned the more things change the more they stay the same,or in the
language of Computerstan: history just goes around repeating itself like a meme
on the Web.
So my answer to Lanier’s question is: the
owners of the past have purchase on the future. There is no difference between
the colonizing of the New World America and capitalizing of the New Internet
World. They are simply different iterations, a recycling of the same old
American dream. This country was founded not by pious Pilgrims, but by the
irrational exuberance of a gold rush: giddy Brits hungry to fish profits from
the discovery of huge cod schools in the Gulf of Maine. Salivating to be lords
of luxurious fiefdoms, England’s newly gentrified merchant class scrambled to
establish onshore plantations in the new world so they could own it. With
dreams of unfettered monopoly, ambitious syndicates relentlessly seduced
fishermen and would-be fishermen with scabrous settlement offers to populate
the land and work the sea for free. After profits from the first shipments paid
the syndicate back for its investment, profits from subsequent shipments would
be split and everyone would get rich quick.
Of course only the moneymen ever saw the
money. Sent to a New World after signing indenture contracts, the help were
abandoned entirely to their own devices. Those who didn’t quickly meet the
profit expectations of sponsors who, it must be said, knew absolutely nothing
about conditions on the ground, were callously abandoned and left to die—of
exposure. Ditto 200 years later in the railroad barons’ rush to seduce
Scandinavian farmers to create the breadbasket of the Midwest. And let’s not
forget the plantations of the South dependent for their glory on slaves.
Old or new, it's Samsara we've got here. Same old same old. Once upon a time the landed gentry, that
quaint old-fashioned 1% who still live happily on Masterpiece Theater,
controlled the fields of food, and the leftover 99% had to work its land to
eat. As we know, when capitalism launched the Mercantile and Industrial Ages,
that arrangement went buy buy. The branded gentry owned the fields and
factories that produced things people needed as well as the stores that
purveyed them. To eat, everybody else had to get on board or on the assembly
line or in the cubicle where they simply became a cog in the assembly line of
Karl Marx tried to engineer a good-bye
to the blood sucking, manicured moneymen and transfer wealth to the candid
class, the 99% who do 100% of the work. And we know how that worked out. Yet we
also know when the Iron Curtain fell and capitalism won, computers barged in.
Bygones were suddenly gone bye-bye.
Well not quite, it turns out. The whiz
kid, whiz-bang whizzes of Computerstan like to swear they've changed the world
for good, in both senses of that word, because they've sent old-fashioned,
plutocratic exploitation bye-bye. Ha Ha. As Packer points out, these people
spend so much time staring at computer screens, they are going blind. In the real
old world where most of us still live, the new New World has a clannish gentry that
owns almost all the fields that provide food for thought, those wide-open
computer spaces the rest of us, as desperate as our ancestors to survive, work
in and glean.
The Lord loves a cheerful giver and so
do all those Valley folks making a mint off user-generated sites. They've created the land of
the free and made it the home of the brave. Before Packer chimed in,
best-selling author Scott Turow used a Sunday Times megaphone to sound
the alarm for the “slow death of the American author” thanks to “the new,
global electronic marketplace rapidly depleting authors' income streams.”
What’s different this time, what’s ended
in history, is that no matter how much we produce, the overlords don’t have to
give back even a cent so we can survive. Billionaire site owners don’t have to
care if we don’t have money, as so many have so publicly lamented, to pay our
rent or, ironically, broadband costs to perform for them. The Internet does its
joyful best just as the Atlantic Ocean once did to liberate them from seeing any
consequences of their behavior.
In times past, a web or a net were traps
a body could get snared in and that has not changed. The 13th Amendment insures
no one is dragooned into involuntary servitude, but the Valley venturers
figured out voluntary is okay, so it's the loophole they're driving their
profits through. The draconian contracts professional content providers are
required to sign force them to give up absolutely everything, including their
ability to protest the slicing, dicing and pricing of their own name, face or
material as it spins forever in the widening circle of aggregators and virtual
life, even when it brushes dangerously against, as famed statistician Nate
Silver put it, the Fair Use guidelines of copyright law.“You hereby grant …publication and
reproduction rights throughout the universe in whole or in part in any and all
media now known or hereafter devised (the “License Rights”)…the foregoing
License Rights are granted in perpetuity.”
By definition, a contract should be a
quid pro quo, but it’s hard to find one in website provider docs that say:
“Each of your Contributions will be original and solely created by you as a
“work-made-for-hire” specially ordered or commissioned by us…deemed the sole
author of the Contribution and the owner of all rights whether now known or hereafter
devised (including all copyrights and all extensions and renewals of
copyrights) in and to the Contribution, with the right to make all uses of the
Contribution throughout the world and all changes in each Contribution. Without
further obligation to you and without limitation, we may use, reproduce,
publish, sell, perform, distribute, display, exhibit, edit, change, add to,
take from, translate, reformat, make derivative works from, or reprocess the
Contribution in any manner.”
The sheer brazenness of giddy media
lawyers denying “talent” any shred of right to the end of the universe, gives
indentured servitude that breathtaking imprimatur of our time:“new and improved.” Not even Stephen
King can write anything as horrifying as the gleeful contempt in: “To the
extent permissible under applicable law, you waive all “moral rights of
authors” that may exist or any similar rights. We … are not obligated to
provide attribution to you in connection with any Contribution or to display,
use or otherwise exploit any Contribution.”
The sharing, the equality and democracy so proudly touted as the mesh of the web comes down to: we give, media company
takes-- so its shares rise. Oops, wait. They do give. As they keep saying to seduce
us to sign up, we get exposure! We get to build name recognition! We get to
show our stuff! "We unfortunately can't pay you for it,” Atlantic.com told
disgruntled Nate Thayer, “but we do reach 13 million readers a month."
Arianna Huffington lures her unpaid bloggers with reports of 250 million
Eyeballs are the latest in American
snake oil salesmanship. Content providers are encouraged to perform a bizarre version of
American Idol: we are put into gladiatorial contests to knock out eyeballs for
the overlords of the Internet terrain. If enough people bother to click LIKE,
we get even more exposure because the Caesars can sell our work to other sites
that, as they say, “curate and repackage.” Yet still not a cent for rent in all
that exposure or compensation from all that “repurposing”, and as any medical
professional knows, people who can’t get food, water and warmth can, like the
original colonists, die from exposure. If we don’t “like” being exploited serfs
required to go at it for no pay, no worries. This is the 21st Century! There are
thousands of others breathlessly hungry for algorithms that promise 15 minutes
of name recognition, the forspeis of celebrity.
People poised to profit from the automobile revolution, the oil revolution and other introductions of new technology are all the same in their self serving, self-centered giddiness over being the be-all and end-all. Packer piles up quotes about how the
nobles of Computerstan think they are saving the world by solving its problems
efficiently. He also piles up damning quotes about how blind these ignobles
are to the real human problems their mechanical problem solving has created. In
other words, the folks of Silicon Valley and their self-justifying logic do not compute.
Author of How To Fix a Leek and Other Food From Your Farmers' Market, new edition published May 2011; and Veggiyana: the Dharma of Cooking, published September 2011 by Wisdom Publications. Founder and president of Veggiyana, a charitable effort to feed Buddhist monastics and schoolchildren in India, Nepal and Tibet. On Facebook as Prima Dharma Cook.
This is a blog of essays from the Buddhist perspective of Sandy Garson.
Visit my web site Yours In The Dharma, where I try to make sense of the bewilderment in daily life. I meditate aloud on how the teachings of my guru Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, the golden rosary of his Tibetan Kagyu lineage and the Buddha himself come alive in the headlines and heartaches to rescue us all from suffering.