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Today I killed time in the jury ...

Posted Nov 18 2008 12:12am

Today I killed time in the jury pool room at the St. Tammany Parish courthouse. Yes, I’ve got jury duty this week. I have three major strikes against my being selected: First, I am a lawyer. Second, I work for the federal court system. Third, I sat on a death-penalty jury in 1984. None of those amount to legal disqualifications, so to the courthouse I went this morning. I get to go back there tomorrow.

Now for some bad haiku, based on yesterday morning:

Cool, gentle wind blows
January in the park
Pine scent fills the air

Damp Sunday morning
Fire engines with lights flashing
LDS building

Despite the fire engines, it didn’t look like anything too terrible had happened to the building, thus my lighthearted attitude.

I came across a poem this morning while sitting in the courthouse that I found quite lovely, though a bit depressing:

A falcon hovers at the edge of the sky.
Two gulls drift slowly up the river.

Vulnerable while they ride the wind,
they coast and glide with ease.

Dew is heavy on the grass below,
the spider’s web is ready.

Heaven’s ways include the human:
among a thousand sorrows, I stand alone.

– Tu Fu (712-770)

The portions of the poem referring to animal actions remind me somewhat of the LDS temple film and its line about all life being created to live out the fullness of its creation and have joy therein. I’m no scholar of ancient China, but I can’t imagine that life there was terribly pleasant for most people, not even poets.

However, the thought of standing alone amidst sorrows is rather depressing, even as a impermanent, transient state. I do know that feeling, but my impulse is to reach out rather than to stand entirely alone. As a matter of spirituality, I understand that ultimately each of us works things out individually. Nobody – not even my own DW – possesses my unique mind or spirit. I suppose that is in part what Tu Fu is getting at when he says he stands alone.

But why must he stand among sorrows? Perhaps because Buddhists teach the four noble truths: 1) life is suffering; 2) there is a cause of suffering (mostly delusions and attachements); 3) there is an end to suffering; and 4) there is a path to the end of suffering (namely, Buddhism). Suffering is defined to include everything in the life of an unenlightened individual. But if Tu Fu has achieved enlightenment, he should not see anything in his own life as sorrowful, should he?

Mahayana Buddhists, including Zennists, teach that the “Self” is actually a life-force (emptiness) that forms the substance of every sentient being. Thus, because his Self includes everybody and everything, Tu Fu cannot achieve Nirvana (end of suffering) until everybody else does. Therefore, Tu Fu stands amidst the suffering of the unenlightned. My question is this: If the concept of the Self set out above is correct, then can a Zen Buddhist ever truly say that he stands alone? Moreover, I wonder whether there is a certain ego-centric element is this concept of standing alone. That would be a delicious irony in a philosophy that eschews ego and emphasizes ego-abandonment. Just a thought.

It might be nice if Buddhism had a more positive vocabulary to express its core concepts. The notion that everything is suffering kept me at a distance for a while, until I came to an understanding of what that meant. Also, the loneliness suggested by Tu Fu, while not false, could perhaps be designated with some other label. Finally, it seems a little odd to label the life-force of the universe “emptiness.” But I digress.

I sense another Zen concept in the poem – that of just doing whatever it is you’re doing at any one time, and nothing else. The animals do what they do; they don’t do anything else. People, however, are different due to our ability to think and delude ourselves into believing all sorts of crazy things and to become attached to objects and concepts.

See what happens when you get nailed with jury duty? Don’t you hope you get your summons in the mail really soon?
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