Thursday, August 30, 2007
A rant about spirituality
In which V. gets uncharacteristically personal, but really needs to get this off her chest.

I am a Buddhist. I am not a fucking Jedi Master. I am human. Let me stress this again. I am human. This means that I am prone to the full range of human emotions. I get angry just like anyone else. I get frustrated. Sometimes, I really want to just punch someone square in the nuts. Just like anyone else. Because I am human.

A lot of people seem to think that Buddhists are supposed to somehow magically transcend these feelings. A good Buddhist "isn't supposed" to feel anger, or rage, or frustration. This is really pissing me off lately. Yes, Buddhists can get pissed off. Try not to let it shock you.

Strictly speaking, there are These Five Things Right Here that a "good" Buddhist isn't "supposed" to do. I'm talking about lay Buddhists here (read: just ordinary people, not monks. Monks have a load of rules to follow). I'll sum this up for y'all in plain English.

1. Don't kill anything or anyone. Usually this is understood to extend beyond killing to mean "don't deliberately hurt people or animals". This means emotional harm as well as physical harm. Many Buddhists (myself included) practice vegetarianism as an extension of this rule. But not all Buddhists are vegetarian, and that's okay. IMO there's really no such thing as a "good" or "bad" Buddhist - more on that later.

2. Don't steal stuff. Pretty straightforward. Don't take anything that isn't yours. This does not always mean material possessions. I've frequently seen rape referred to as a violation of this precept as well as the sexual conduct precept.

3. The sexual conduct precept does NOT mean "abstain from sex." It means, don't be a jerk about it. Don't cheat on someone who trusts you. Don't have sex with someone else's partner. Obviously don't force anyone to do anything they don't want to do. Sex is perfectly fine. I would go so far as to say sleeping around is perfectly fine, as long as you aren't letting people believe you're looking for more than just casual sex. Be honest about what you're doing, and if you think someone could get hurt by it, don't do it.

4. Don't lie to people. Does this mean you can't even tell white lies to spare someone's feelings? I think that's up to the individual to decide. Sometimes you have to choose between two precepts - you can either lie, or you can cause someone harm. Which is the lesser of two undesirable actions?

5. Complete abstinence from intoxicants. And I do mean complete. One of the key concepts in Buddhism (possibly the most important concept) is Mindfulness. We must retain total autonomous control over our minds at all times, otherwise we are unable to practice mindfulness. This precept is controversial, and one I have pretty strong feelings about. But I'm here to explain, not preach. Buddhists don't typically preach, anyway. We just explain.

So yes. Five precepts. Things that Buddhists aren't really "supposed" to do. Please note that it doesn't say anything about what emotions Buddhists are "allowed" to feel. That's because we're allowed to feel whatever we happen to be feeling, just like anyone else. We're people, not fucking robots. And what happens if you do one of those things you aren't "supposed" to do? Well, you ask yourself why you made that choice, and work on figuring yourself out, and try to be more mindful next time.

Note to my mother: I am a serious misanthrope. I don't like people in general. Yes, this is allowed. I am morally compelled to treat people kindly, and to feel compassion for their general wretched human condition. But this does not mean that I am spiritually obligated to have joy-joy feelings for everyone around me.

I said earlier that in my personal opinion, there are no such things as "good" or "bad" Buddhists. Buddhism is kind of esoteric, in the sense that it's about spending a lot of time trying to figure out your own mind. There are moral guidelines, but they're only guidelines. It's not like, for example, the Biblical ten commandments. It's not like, as a Buddhist, I can be a sinner and then require forgiveness for that sin. I'm either a Buddhist or I'm not. Which means, either I think it's worth trying to be a more compassionate person, or I don't. The operative word here is trying. I believe that the precepts are good common sense ideas about how to live a good life. If you really want to dig down deep into my psyche, those precepts echo the morality I had already chosen for myself before I even discovered Buddhism as a teenager. I don't follow those guidelines because I am Buddhist. I am Buddhist because I follow those guidelines - because I think they have merit and worth and are beneficial to my sense of well-being.

So, you're not a good or bad Buddhist. You're either a Buddhist or you're not. I'm not trying to draw a line between Buddhists and non-Buddhists here. I'm just saying, the only thing that's required to be what most people would consider a "good" Buddhist is a commitment to trying to live a more compassionate life.

Aaagh, it feels good to get that off my chest. I live smack in the middle of the Bible Belt, where people tend to see religious issues very much in black and white. People also tend to be fairly ignorant of beliefs other than their own, which means I get a lot of questions like "You worship Buddha, right?" and "But if you don't worship Buddha, who do you worship?" and "But how can it be a religion if you don't worship ANYTHING?" I suppose these are all good questions in their own way. But it does get tedious. The main thing that bugs me is the popular idea that Buddhists are somehow always peaceful and serene beings who never experience anything negative. Hopefully I've explained that away...
Saturday, August 18, 2007
Christ almighty.
In which V. gets a bit controversial, because she is a woman of strong opinions.

Tortured Tortoise Returns Home (via Yahoo News)

Stories like this make me have even less faith in people than I already do. And that's saying something, because I'm a complete misanthrope. Jose "Tony" Mosqueda is a waste of good oxygen, and deserves far more than three years in prison. Excuse me, "up to three years," which means he'll get probation and a $100 fine, or some other ridiculous bullshit.

Here's a thought. How about we cut up his legs and feet (take off a toe or two), slice his neck, and shove a spike through his back? See how he likes it. I'm serious. Then we can take him out to the ghetto and leave him behind a dumpster. Fuck it, he deserves even worse than that.

Note: if you think I'm being harsh, you probably aren't the kind of person I would want to associate with anyway. Also: if he'll do this to a tortoise, he'll do it (and probably worse) to a person. Abusers of any kind are sick people, and I do not believe that it is possible to rehabilitate persons who are capable of this kind of brutal violence. IMO we should just remove them from society - they're a lost cause.

Update: If you were as moved by Bob's plight as I was, you can help. This Blog has information on how you can help the autistic kid's family pay for Bob's medical expenses, or just make a donation to the Turtle Hospital in general. I think even a dollar or two would be an act of great kindness and compassion.
Friday, August 17, 2007
Holy Crap!
I saw Inland Empire this week, and it was just phenomenal. I'd say it's David Lynch's masterpiece. His films scare me in ways that no horror film can. I don't know why. It's a psychological thing. He shows you these images, I guess they sort of speak to your subconscious mind in a weird symbolic archetypal kind of way. These films are set in a world that is fundamentally wrong, and unsafe, and alien, yet everything seems calm on the surface. Gah, crap. Let's see y'all try to analyze David Lynch.

If you're a fan, I highly recommend this. In fact, I'd say it's compulsory viewing. Like, right now. Go watch it. Go. Now.

If you aren't a fan, you'll hate this. It's so bizarre I can't even begin to think about telling you what it's about. It's about... stuff. And things. But I'd say mostly it's about fear, and being lost inside your own ideas. Yeah, I'm making it sound really great. But hey, if you're already into David Lynch, you know what I'm talking about. It's all disambiguated and non-linear and all that jazz.

Here is a pretty decent trailer for it. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 02, 2007
A note, and a brief film review
As you might have noticed, this blog hasn't been updated much lately. I've been having a medical problem that leaves me fairly exhausted most days, so keeping the blog current hasn't been a top priority. It's not life threatening, but it's sure knocked me on my ass. With any luck, I'll start feeling better soon. So don't write this site off just yet.

So today I had to drive out of town to have some lab work done. I decided to make a day of it and see Sunshine, which I desperately wanted to see but naturally isn't playing in my town. Friends, see this film. It was beautiful. I don't know how to describe it without sounding like a sentimental dork, but it was wonderful and life-affirming and a reminder of our humanity. I cried through about 1/3 of it, and I don't mean I was wiping away a single tear. The waterworks were wide open for this one.

There was a slight horror element towards the end. I don't know how I feel about this. Y'all know I don't like to spoil things, so I won't say too much. Just, the very definition of "plot" means there has to be conflict. You get to a point in the story where SOMETHING has to happen to keep the plot moving forward. So there had to be some element inserted in the plot at this point. I'm just not sure the element they chose was the best or the right one. That said, I'm not sure what else they might have done instead. It would have been a cop-out (again, without giving too much away) to just have their ship malfunction. It also would have been a cop-out to play the Evil Space Aliens card. So if it's not aliens and it's not an equipment problem, it can only be a human element, right?

Anyway, the thing I'm talking about here only takes up a small part of the story towards the end, and it at least does its duty in moving the plot towards the inevitable conclusion.

Oh, I should mention, the score is incredible. It adds to the emotional power of important scenes, and in at least one instance played a direct role in my above-formentioned waterworks.

Other things: Definitely see this on the big screen if you can. The cinematography was perfect. The sun itself is as much a character as any of the actors, and in many shots you find yourself feeling as if you're about to be engulfed by it. Just amazing. Also, the film did a great job of conveying that the sun is beautiful and necessary for life to exist, but it is also fucking terrifying. Before I saw this film, I had this vague impression that the sun is Scary And Dangerous, And Not A Place One Would Want To Be Too Near. After having seen this film, I have a clear impression that the sun is Fucking Terrifying. Isn't it awesome how space is fascinating and scary at the same time? I think it is, anyway.

Ultimately I found this to be a film about the human experience, and making it count. Making it really count, not just talking a lot of shit about making it count. I'll tell you what kids, 2007 has been a great year for films. I might have a hard time narrowing it down to five for my year-end roundup.