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(Dec. 11, 2008)

          The other day, Dec. 8, was Bodhi Day---the Buddhist holiday commemorating the moment that Shakyamuni, or Siddhartha, attained enlightenment while sitting beneath a sacred fig tree (eventually dubbed a bodhi---enlightenment---tree.)
          Well, I’m a card-carrying Buddhist (literally), and while I’ve never sat beneath a bodhi tree, I’ve stood admiringly under a few, and the only enlightenment I’ve managed has been, “What a lovely tree.”
          This little beatific epiphany, of course, is always quickly supplanted by thoughts of how trees are butchered for paper towels, and Kleenex, and to make way for cornfields in order to pump lots of girth-expanding syrup into everything from Ketchup to Coke. Not to mention biofuel. Raindeforest.
          So, my sliver, my little twig of enlightenment. . .pfft. Disappears. Cut down by my own uncompromising, egotistical view of the way things should be. And that’s my problem, see---perhaps my whole problem in life. When my old man first spied me in the newborn ward of Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital, he said that I seemed to be focusing on my surroundings, and that “you didn’t seem to like what you saw.”
          Yow! Talk about ego. "'Ere sleep we rub from infant eyes/We are forever what we are. . ." ---Sadakichi Hartmann.
          The way I look at it, ego is like a float on a fishing line. You catch a piece of enlightenment, and try to reel it in, but it puts up a fight and pulls the float entirely underwater for a second or two or three. Then the damn thing always---always---bobs right back to the surface, and enlightenment slips off the hook. It’s the-one-that-got-away.
          In other words, I’m a seriously crappy Buddhist. I get the drift, intellectually---the gist, the hoodoo, the crux. Well, at least I think I do. Well, sometimes I do. At least on Tuesdays. Maybe some Friday mornings. Early.
          But I can’t put it into practice. At least not very well, and not for long. I’m really more of a Dude-ist. I don’t transcend, I get trampled. I don’t rise above; everything gets a rise out of me. I’m just an ordinary screwed-up ego-deranged bipedal highly evolved monkey-minded doofus looking for an easy time.

Buddhism: Siddartha under bodhi tree.

Dude-ism: Tree of enlightenment, fuck yeah.

          Consider my little sojourn the other day to run some errands that would be charitably described as “mundane.” Just simple stuff, or should be---all mucked up by my ego. At CVS Pharmacy (why isn’t it Sav-On anymore!), I bought some hot plasters for my unenlightened back, and a large envelope. In order to pay with a plastic card, I had to negotiate yet another vexing touch-pad system of “please press the green button” and “do you want cash back” and “please hit ‘enter’.”
          I managed to get through this without swearing out loud after having to “swipe” my card three separate times in order for the store to swipe my money. Bravo to me. (Buddhism.) But when I saw that I had been electronically swindled into giving a buck to the St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, I was miffed. I said to the checker (or payment consultant, or whatever they call them now), “I don’t like being tricked into giving a buck to a hospital.”
          Humbug. Are there no workhouses?
          A few minutes later I entered a pet store in order to buy a particular type of food that Winky the Criminal Cat might not regurgitate. Ten feet inside the door, a giant kid of perhaps eighteen confronted me, shouting, “Can I help you FIND something, SIR?”
          I mulled a Dude-ist response:
          “You know, even if you could, man, I wouldn’t ask you, dude, because you have almost blocked my way, dude, and shouted in my face in the tone of a demand. I know they tell you to do this, but I also know it’s not a courtesy. What you’re really saying is, ‘I know you are in the store, dude, so don’t steal anything, dude, because I’m watchin' your ass.’ Dude! This makes me sick.”
          Or I could be more lyrical:
          “You could help me find my lost youth.” (Eccentric Dude-ism.)
          But I know the kid doesn’t find anything wrong with his question. He’s just doing his dude-ist job, and I should be big enough to play along and say, “No, thanks very much.” (Buddhism.) But I can’t. My ego won’t allow it. So I merely stare at him, wide-eyed, as if he is John Belushi risen from the dead, singing “Soul Man.” He looks disconcerted.
          Moments later, after the third straight employee in this joint asks me if I “need help finding something, sir,” I lose it: “Sure, you can help me find some goddamn money to pay for this cat food.” I get no response.
          I’m incorrigible, I really am. Even Buddhist priests---senseis--- tick me off. Take, for instance, a little inspiring talk that I heard recently at a local temple. Paraphrasing:
          A monk was out for a walk on a busy street in Japan. Wearing street clothes. Cars turned in front of him, behind him, honked at him, yelled at him, etc. But when he went out later that day on the same street, this time in his yellow saffron monk’s robe, drivers stopped, smiled, bowed their heads, gave him the right-of-way. The message here, the sensei said, was that the robes signified the Buddha dharma (teaching), and this beautiful symbol elicited humility and kindness from the drivers.
          Balderdash, I thought. It elicited hypocrisy. The drivers should always regard any pedestrian with respect, whether they are holy, homeless or Rupert Murdoch. (Well, I take that back. They are free to run down Murdoch. Dude-ism.) That they suddenly behaved well because they perceived someone to be sacred is phoney, empty. All this was, of course, more mental Dude-ist ranting. The ego raging over things not being the way they should be.
          But then I started thinking. . .at least something was causing these people to behave with a measure of civility and sanity. Something was enabling them to momentarily abandon their lust, their territoriality, their snarling get-out-of-my-wayness. Perhaps a few of them even understood a bit of the Buddha dharma, and were not merely reacting superficially to the appearance of a “holy man.” In other words, in some small way, for a minute or two, these people had become “enlightened” in their behavior. So what if they needed such a ham-handed reminder as a yellow robed monk to jar them out of brutishness! Humans need all the good will they can find, whatever the source of inspiration. (Buddhism.)
          Then the float bobbed back to the surface. But how pathetic, maddening, tragic, outrageous it is, I thought, that people require such stupid, symbolic prodding in order to comport themselves with a little mutual respect! It irritates the hell out of me that most have such little regard for the well-being and safety of others. The driver of the ubiquitous tailgating SUV, for instance, who cuts around me in a blind rage, has no inkling that he/she is putting our lives in danger. Which makes me wish to see the SUV driver and his/her cell phone, cigarette, latte. . .well, I’ll leave the image to you.
          Dude-ism, again! The ego refusing to be dragged underwater by big, slippery enlightenment. But wait. . .
          I had a sudden realization---almost. . .a tiny. . .enlightenment! Prince Siddhartha also must have been a Dude-ist, if not one of the greatest Dude-ists ever! I mean, he must have been deeply disgusted with humanity after he left the palace at age 29 and saw beggars and sick people for the first time in his life. He must have been seriously pissed at the sight of such inequity and cruelty and ignorance. After all, it caused him to renounce his splendid royalty, and spend the next few years wandering, starving, begging(!)---before ultimately finding his way to that sacred fig tree, where he sat for 49 straight days, trying to find sanity. Yes, ol' Sid must have been big-time, righteously p.o.'d over the foibles, injustices, cruelty, stupidity of his fellow beings, in order to devote years to trying to emotionally and philosophically cope with it all.
          And that, of course, is the difference between Dude-ism and Buddhism. Siddartha dedicated his life to overcoming his exasperation---transcending it---and teaching others to cope. Buddhism.
          Me, well, it’s all I can do to dedicate minutes on end to coping, and teaching. . .myself. Dude-ism.
          I wouldn’t last a day under a bodhi tree.
          But I’ll tell you, it’s a lovely sight.

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