Thursday, January 25, 2007

Airport Security: Getting Slap-Happy?

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling lately, and this includes standing in long security lines at the airport. These days, they make you remove your shoes in addition to any metallic objects you may be wearing or carrying. And then there is the whole restriction on liquids and gels. You cannot bring liquids or gels onto the plane, with the exception of specific medicines, makeup or somesuch. Those exceptions must visible in the top of your carry-on luggage, in transparent plastic bags, separated into 2-ounce containers.

Why is it mandatory to remove shoes when walking through the X-Ray? Because of the infamous shoe bomber, of course. He was the bozo that was caught on a plane trying to detonate some sort of a bomb which he had concealed in his shoe. He is also the reason we cannot bring matches onto the plane.

Why are there such specific restrictions against liquids and gels? Because of some jackasses in the UK who had some plan to bring separated liquid components of explosives onto a plane and them mix them in-flight and thereby blow up the plane.

My point is that these restrictions and regulations are very reactive, and very specific reactions to certain fear-generating events. They are not the result of intelligent analysis that evaluate the risks and then try to minimize the risks or improve the safety of passengers. Apply the cause and effect to a scenario in which some genius tries to smuggle a weapon onto the plane by concealing it in a bodily orifice.

As individuals, we react the same way to our own experiences. A specific experience results in a reaction. Fear reactions can be very powerful, and shape our personalities and future responses to our environment. But experiences of pleasure and pain can also shape our personalities and future responses in the form of likes and dislikes, and graspings and aversions.

Buddhadasa Bhikkhu compared this type of reactive living to being constantly slapped on the face, left and right:

Ordinarily, we are in a condition that is like being slapped left and right, right and left, constantly. Normally, naturally, people are in a state that is like being slapped left and right, right and left, all the time. Do you see? If you don't see even this large a problem, we have practically nothing to talk about. And what slaps our faces left and right? The things in the world whose values condition satisfaction and dissatisfaction, liking and disliking. When we say left and right, we mean that on one side there is satisfaction and on the other there is dissatisfaction. Whoever sees this life as equal to constantly being slapped left and right is beginning to see correctly and is beginning to see in a way that will be of use.

There are many things, which form pairs of opposites or dualities. The first set has already been mentioned- liking and disliking. Then there are gain and loss, victory and defeat, having the advantage and being disadvantaged. There are many pairs, many dualities, dozens of them, and each is a pair of slaps in the face. That is, they bite a person's heart on both sides because they are dualistic. Dualities have two sides, and whichever side comes by, it bites in its particular way. So if we aren't bitten this way, then we're bitten that way. Life goes on like this until we strip it all away by saying, "That's just how it is; it's just that way. It's idappaccayata just like that; there's no I-ego nor things of mines, no me nor myself." When there's no I, no self, whose face is slapped? Because there's no self to have its face slapped, there's no slapping, and thereby there's no condition in which the mind is tormented and suffering.

When the mind is on such a low level that it already is liking or disliking something, take a good look and see if that isn't the same as being slapped left and right constantly. When eating delicious food, we get slapped by satisfaction with the deliciousness. When eating unpalatable food we get slapped by anger and aversion. We can say that this is more pitiful and sad than pity itself. The natural state of worldlings, of those who don't know anything, is a life comparable to being slapped left and right all the time by the things that come accompanied by their opposites.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Everyone is Dying

Everyone is dying. This is a thought that has been on my mind lately.

In the past year, many of my parents' generation have passed on. This includes parents, aunts and uncles of close friends, as well as in-laws. And of course Brad's mother, may she rest in peace. And then there are more that are either terminally ill or close to it. This makes sense, of course, since I am 40 years old, and my parents' generation is in its twilight years.

I just came back from an extended period of travel that included vacation, family visits, and business. When I returned home, I received news that a friend had died in a car accident while I was away. He was my age. He was extremely intelligent and highly educated, and he lived life vividly and ferociously, without compromise. He was a single man, a traveler and an adventurer. He requested that a funeral not be held in his honor but, rather, that his ashes be mixed with those of his departed pet dog, and scattered.

In the news today, there is plenty of discussion of the anticipated cataclysmic effects of climate change and nuclear explosions. But these discussions are really academic. True, we may be able to avert global annihilation over the next generation if we do everything just right. But we will still all die. Everyone reading this will likely be dead within the next 100 years. And the entire human race, and the entire planet, and the entire solar system will also come to an end at some point.

I find it interesting that when a loved one dies, we are sad, but when we contemplate the destruction of the planet or the species, we are fearful. The death of a loved one is a much better indication of the fate we can anticipate for ourselves than the promised consequences of climate change or nuclear war.

The irony is that war and the wanton distruction of the environment result in the very thing that caused them. That is to say that war, greed, and other destructive behaviors are ultimately caused by fear of death and, ironically, they result in fear, death, and more fear of death.

Who said, "You have nothing to fear but fear itself"? I think he may have been on to something.