Last night I decided to watch a little television - which is good, because a little television is exactly what I have.
I sat back on the couch and tuned into this mind-numbing animated sitcom about a morbidly obese man and his depraved family. Okay...so far, so good.
I wanted to see this episode because the stupid fat guy's wife is supposedly doing the karate thing. So, here we go. About halfway through the show, I begin to realize that it's a morality play. Believe it or not, the people who write Family Guy are preaching to us about violence.
"Oh my gawd," the wife (whatever her name is) says. "I've brought violence into my house! I'm the worst mother ever!"
Ya know, I can't tell you how tired I am of the people around me (even if they're only 'around me' electronically) misunderstanding absolutely everything. The martial arts aren't necessarily about violence, and it's clear that the show wasn't written by martial artists or by anyone who'd ever embarked on any kind of serious MA study.
Okay. Enough of that. I wouldn’t want anyone thinking that I’m taking something like Family Guy too seriously. But at some point, don’t we need to recognize and address the messages these people are sending us? It’s like there’s this portal in our living rooms, and someone on the other end is incessantly stuffing crap into the wormhole – which is then pouring out into our living rooms. The problem is that it’s a one-way portal, so that we can’t push back.
But we do have the most important ability of all: the ability to turn off the portal. That’s why I like blogging. If you disagree with what I’m saying, you have three options. One, you can turn off this portal. Two, you can leave a comment – although I must admit that I’m bird-dogging the comments carefully. And three, you can write a counterpoint on your own blog, that might be ten times as persuasive as anything I can write here. Point is, you can talk back, making this form of media so much more powerful and important than the television.
But I did also notice one other thing. The television had my attention for about forty minutes. During those forty minutes, I saw thirty-two commercials. And of those thirty-two commercials, something like fourteen were for Barack Obama.
I have used this blog to rail against the stupidocity of television before, but that’s not really my point with this post. I have so many other things to occupy my mind (or at least spend my time) that I don’t have to worry about the nonsense they’re broadcasting on television. So last night I got some work done on one of my modeling projects, and then spent an hour or two strumming the guitar.
Just before I went to bed, I came to an interesting realization. All that time spent doing things, quiet things that require concentration and focus – these were hours spent in meditation. Not a word was spoken during this four hour (or so) time period, and yet I came away feeling like I had a much stronger understanding of things in general. I felt more at peace and more content, and I’d allowed the creative regeneration process to continue in the meantime.
So once I came to my senses (got disgusted is more accurate) and turned off the television, it was an evening worth having.
There needs no ghost, my lord, come from the grave
To tell us this.
Horatio - Hamlet, Act I Scene 5
You know, I used to ask myself that all the time. If I'm gonna be a Buddhist, does that mean I have to shave my head and walk around holding beads and chanting? What are the formal, behavioral rules or guidelines (or whatever)?
There are, of course, formal rules. These are the Five Precepts, which are basic "do nots" for all Buddhists to follow. But when I say basic, I mean they're so basic that you don't really have to even know them to follow them.
No killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, no lying, and no drunkenness (intoxication). These are the only actual written rules I've seen, covering what's expected of me as a lay Buddhist. There are more precepts (many, many more) for monastics, but they don't really apply to me as a lay devotee (no eating after noon, for example, or no coaxing a nun into quitting the convent).
They're so imple and straightforward, in fact, that many Buddhists complicate them a little, in order to clarify their meaning. Does "no killing" mean strictly no committing murder, or does it also mean no supporting the slaughter of cattle by eating meat? Does "no lying" mean strictly no telling a lie, or does it also cover other kinds of bad speech, like boasting and gossiping?
For me, the bottom line is this: You can add all you want to the Five Precepts, but I can't imagine needing much explanation. You know when you're doing wrong. Don't kill. If to you that means don't eat meat, then don't eat meat. Sexual misconduct is pretty straightforward, also. All of the Five Precepts are.
The way I see it, this is good news. You don't need a God, a Bible, Ten Commandments - or even Five Precepts - to tell you right from wrong. You know when you're doing something you shouldn't be doing. And while Buddhists don't believe in a single all-powerful being who doles out the reward of Heaven and the damnation of Hell, we do believe in just deserts, in the form of Karma.
You don't need a supernatural understanding of the principles of Karma to undestand it. You really don't need to follow every Sutra. More skillful behavior, more "right" behavior, can lead to creating conditions that are more favorable for the cultivation of the Bodhi Mind. But we don't have to understand all that to know right from wrong. When Hamlet was done with his conversation with his father's ghost, he returned into the castle, where Horatio and others asked him what the ghost had said. "There's ne'er a villain in Denmark, but he's an errant knave," he said - meaning, to be a villain, to be one without morals, without scruples, is to have lost one's way.
Horatio answered, "There needs no ghost, my lord, come from the grave to tell us this."