Doing laps in the LA Fishbowl

Buddha Head

Last week, I mentioned that I was studying Buddhist precepts at the Zen Center I go to. It’s taken a surprising amount of my time, given that we have to write two essays a week for five weeks, each about our reflections on a particular precept. And I wonder why I’m not writing more? 
What are precepts, you may ask? WELL…
“Had an extra copy, and gave it
to that Indian feller
down the street.”
There are ten “grave” precepts, given by Buddha to his students, about how one should conduct themselves in life. It’s  the Zen version of “The Ten Commandments,” without the Red Sea and the Plagues and the Burning Bush. 
What I like about the Buddhist’s take on these guidelines is that they’re not rigid. You’re asked to view them in three ways: Literally (“Do not lie” means don’t lie. Ever); Relationally (What is the context of lying or not lying? Will your action cause more suffering or less?); and Intrinsically (in the wholeness of the universe, there is no lying). The interplay between these seemingly contradictory views (absolute, conditional and holistic) makes for some lively head trips. It’s kinda like a debate between a Billy Graham, Barack Obama, and the Dude from “The Big Lebowski.”
Just Abide, Man.
Since I’m putting a lot of time and effort into these essays, I thought I’d give myself the creative challenge of doing it in free verse. Yeesh. How highfalutin, I know, I know. But the Sensei did say that you could render these essays artistically, if so desired.  I don’t know how artistic these will turn out to be (remember, two a week, handed in!) but it’s been nice stretching those writing muscles. We’re asked to consider each precept from the three perspectives, and also taking into account body, speech and mind. 
Here’s my first precept. Enjoy!

Precept #1: Non-killing, affirming life
Breakfast is rife with death.
Pork sizzles in the pan.
Opening a cabinet releases
a cloud of moths, marauders of grain,
too many for capture; instead
I swat, directing towards the defilers
murderous intentions, pellet-sized, 
with the wave of a hand.
My son is upside-down, again, loudly
Enacting a Jedi’s demise,
oatmeal untouched.
My hand slaps 
the wood table like a war drum:
Sharp words 
cut the air,
shattering the morning
into a thousand jagged pieces
clattering down into
Breakfast is the most important meal.
He will eat little else the rest of the day
once the meds kick in. 
Animal protein, they say, is important.
It sustains him. His mind. His focus.
His growth. 
Thank the pig.
The farmer’s too, who grew the grain,
the grain itself, reaped and threshed,
deserve thanks.
My son is the pig, and the grain.
The moth is grain, too. Sometimes,
if I’m not careful,
we are the moth.
I’ll seal the bags of rice, and wheat,
minimize the waste
and insect carnage.
My son bends over his food,
eats the pig, and the grain,
accepts a penitent kiss
pressed against his forehead.
“Don’t be so yell-y” he says.
“I know,” I say.
from my cupped hands
a moth into the garden,
where it will disappear
in the white air, or join the ground.
May 7th, 2012 - Still Life Las Vegas


2 responses to “Buddha Head”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Good one James. I like "don't be so yell-y", I look forward to reading the others.

  2. […] between shopping my manuscript around and precept-writing, I’ve been able to get a wee bit of new writing done. I’m in that beginning stage, […]

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