tariki, corpses, t-shirts

Over the past couple of months, I have not felt a particularly strong urge to blog. I’ve been compelled to write. Some of that has ended up in other places, but most of it has ended up in stuff that I hope to have published in that old-timey medium called “books” (all fingers and toes crossed). So my writerly impulses have been satiated elsewhere, offline. Moreover, to paraphrase Grandpa Simpson, I used to pay attention to the news and read blogs, but they angry up the blood. So, in an effort to be self-compassionate, I’ve been keeping my head down a lot lately.

At any rate, for whatever reason, a couple of things passed my way recently that I found particularly thought provoking, so I thought I’d devote more than one hundred forty characters to them. These two items deserve a bit more than my usual digest posts; they deserve more than I have time for truth be told. But here’s to hoping that the act of sharing information is, at least today, good enough and these two items get the attention they deserve.

The first is near and dear to my heart, and it’s about tariki. Tariki (他力) literally translates to “other power,” and is a central concept in Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. And it’s a bitch to explain. When you try to explain it, almost immediately people stop listening and start hearing overtures to Christian concepts of grace; their eyes glaze over, and they think you believe in the Tooth Fairy or, worse, God, and you can almost see them getting ready to speed dial Stephen Batchelor. You think I’m being hyperbolic. But I’m not. I actually saw this happen in person last month when Rev. Harry Bridge was giving a guest talk at the San Francisco Zen Center. After explaining all about Shin Buddhism, during the Q&A, one woman said to him, angrily, that what he described was more like Christianity than Buddhism. “So you’re just supposed to give up?” she asked incredulously. When Harry started talking about Sakyamuni in terms of the Dharmakaya, she wasn’t having any of it. “The Buddha’s dead,” she said forcefully. Okay. So. Her mind wasn’t open to this particular teaching. Moving on.

With this experience fresh in my head, a dialogue popped up over on Echoes of the Name and Blathering Nonsense. Jon wrote:

the problem i have with this approach is i can’t help but feel it places emphasis on the wrong point. we should ask ourselves why Shinran Shonin encouraged an abandoning of practice – ultimately, what it boils down to is not the external form of practice itself per se, but the intent behind such an act. entrusting isn’t really about abandoning practice, it’s about abandoning reliance on the ego-ridden self to bring about enlightenment. whether your practice is zazen, ngondro or riding a unicycle backwards through Times Square singing yankee doodle dandy really shouldn’t matter, what should is the letting go of a goal-orientated fixation.

A lively back-and-forth ensued on both their blogs. And I greatly enjoyed reading all of it, my mind open to new perspectives on the dharma. So, you know. Gassho, ladies and gents.

In other Internet news, this t-shirt hit the streets today. I saw it early this a.m., smiled, thought about Buddhist meditation in charnel grounds, and went about my business. Rod “the Worst Horse” Sperry also saw it and almost whipped out his Visa card right then and there. And then he thought about it more deeply and wrote this lovely, thoughtful piece for the IDP’s blog. You should it. It’s great.

As many of my friends and family know, I’m a fan of XKCD. And science. So my lovely and talented wife bought me one of these t-shirts a while back. I love it. It pretty well sums up how I feel about science. But I have a hard time wearing the shirt. I find myself thinking about where I’ll be in public while wearing it. I’ll defend the “workiness” of science if I have to, but I also know that having someone yell “bitches” at you isn’t necessarily the best way to get one’s point across. You’re going to loose some folks on principle. Plus, and like Rod, maybe I’m just getting old. I keep thinking about little kids seeing me wearing the shirt and then their parents having to explain it to them.

What I like the most about Rod’s piece is that he’s acutely aware of other people’s perceptions of what he wears. Whereas sometimes we know exactly who our audience is and exactly how to speak to them and exactly what they need to know, more often than not, we don’t. This is especially true with a t-shirt like this. While the underlying teaching of this shirt is important, not everyone is ready to receive it. And it is this “knowing your audience” that is at the heart of upaya, the teaching of skillful means, and, by extension, compassion. Sometimes one’s students need to be shaken. Sometimes they need something else entirely. And in my mind it is a mark of true compassion when someone knows the difference, as Rod does. Kudos, sir.

(Of course, far be it from me to stop anyone from wearing said shirt. And far be it from me to stop anyone from buying it, thereby supporting the IDP. Or, for that matter, buying the one from XKCD and thereby supporting science.)

Thanks Internets. I owe ya one.

One thought on “tariki, corpses, t-shirts

  1. Hi Scott, thanks for the mention and i’m glad you enjoyed the dialogue.

    i fear i rushed into my statement ‘i don’t think there is such a thing as jiriki as far as genuine Dharma practice goes’ a little headstrong…in as much as jiriki refers to the mind reaching out to attain something, i still stand by it. but as Kyoshin pointed out, in terms of our awareness of our own ignorance, our encountering ki and acknowledging it, this is very much a vital and inseperable part of practice and i wouldn’t wish what i said to be taken otherwise.

    it’s a complex issue and i agree, a bitch to explain. perhaps because tariki is firmly rooted in the realm of the experiential we’re bound to fall somewhat short from the start…i don’t know…

    anyway, just to clear the air…


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