DON'T VIEW BIG FISH (Censorshit Pt. 2)
I’d like to go a little further into what I wrote about yesterday, particularly regarding Jules’ comments about Thich Nhat Hanh’s interpretation of the fifth Buddhist precept. This precept is most often given as, “Don’t cloud the mind with intoxicants.” Gudo Nishijima gives it as, “Don’t live by selling liquor.” I think Kobun Chino’s version -- and this is just from memory -- is, “No selling wine, no drinking wine.” Hanh’s version is, (deep breath of air) “Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I am committed to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.”
This reminds me of a very early piece by Dogen called Hokyo-ki , and known in English as "Journal of My Study in China." This is a series of notes Dogen wrote while in China studying under his teacher Tendo Nyojo. Here he cites a list of activities that Tendo Nyojo said students first starting to study Buddhism should avoid. The list reads:
Don't read or chant too much.
Don't eat onions.
Don't eat meat.
Don't drink too much milk.
Don't drink alcohol.
Don't eat too many olives.
Don't eat fungi.
Don't listen to singing or music.
Don't watch dancing women.
Don't look at pornography or talk about sex.
Don't take medicines for mental diseases.
Don't pay attention to matters of fame and fortune.
Don't be associated with eunuchs or hermaphrodites.
Don't have too much candy.
Don't pay attention to loud noises.
Don't watch herds of pigs or sheep.
Don't stare at the ocean, bad pictures, hunchbacks or puppets.
Always have clean feet.
Don't view big fish
I’ve always especially liked the last one on this list, “Don’t view big fish.” Remember this list was composed 800 years ago in China. Human society has changed somewhat since then. In China in those days, having a pond stocked with big ass fish was a major status symbol. So viewing big fish meant looking at things that caused you to be envious and greedy, like going around Beverly Hills today and looking at big Mercedes Benzes. Most of us don’t have too many chances to meet eunuchs or hermaphrodites these days. Olives are not the rare delicacy they were back then and fungi are not as likely to kill you or send you off on accidental hallucinatory trips anymore. We don’t get quite as excited at the sight of herds of pigs and sheep, either.
Still, in general principle, Tendo Nyojo’s advice is pretty much the same as Thich Nhat Hanh’s. The general principle being, don’t do stuff that’s deliberately intoxicating to body or mind.
This list was given as a general guideline to beginning students who were interested in Zen practice, not as a set of rules carved in stone which all must obey lest they end up in the place with the bad guy with horns and a pitch fork. It’s quite different from censorship, too. Tendo Nyojo never made any attempt to try and get any of this stuff banned. He didn’t even expressly forbid his own students to indulge in them. He just told them that if they were serious about this Zen deal they might want to avoid them.
You may ask yourself, then, why a guy who follows a philosophy that says, “don’t listen to singing and music” and, more importantly, “don’t pay attention to loud noises” can play bass in a punk rock band. I’ve asked myself that too. It used to cause me tremendous worry and grief.
One day I visited Nishijima Sensei and said how I felt about this, and how I felt guilty for spending most of the money I had on CD’s and musical instruments. He just said, “You’re a musician. It’s natural that you would spend money on CD’s and musical equipment.” He also encouraged me to remain in the entertainment business when I told him I was thinking of leaving. In fact, I am certain I’d be doing something else by now if it weren’t for his advice to stick with it.
On the other hand, Nishijima also says, “the best music of all is silence.”
So what the Hell can you make of that? How can anyone follow a philosophy so full of inconsistencies?
It took me a long time to finally get a feel for why this made sense. And I know I’ll never be able to put it into words adequately. You probably need a decade or so of daily consistent Zazen practice under your belt before you’ll get anywhere with this one. But I’m gonna try and put it into a couple of paragraphs which I know most folks are reading while simultaneosuly glancing over their shoulders to make sure the boss hasn't noticed they're not doing the expense reports.
The thing to pay most attention to is this idea of intoxication. What is intoxication? Are you able to recognize when you are becoming intoxicated? Cuz anything can be an intoxicant --including zazen. Watch what gets you high, and when you find yourself getting high, make the effort to regain your balance.
But also don’t just make yourself miserable trying to conform to someone else’s ideas about how you ought to live your life. You need to find out what’s right for yourself. Sometimes this effort involves difficulties. Sometimes you have to quit doing things which you enjoy in order to see what happens when you give them up. Often it’s very hard to do this. But if you discover that your body and mind are clearer without those things, it is your duty and responsibility to give them up.
Anyhow, now that I’ve thoroughly muddled up the whole thing I’m gonna go do some “real” work for my day job.
By the way, about Hunter S., I’ve never actually read any of his stuff. So I’m not talking about HST the writer, but about HST the dude who drank, and smoked, and partied for years and years and then blew his brains out so he wouldn’t have to face the consequences. Please don’t end up like that. OK?