Monthly Archives: October 2016

It’s Not About The Locker Room

It fascinates me how men have reacted to the infamous Donald Trump Sexual Assault videotape. Some of the reactions, of course, are predictable. The denials, the dismissals, and the levity, for example, are all much to be expected. Ours is a sexist culture, after all. But something else has also happened. Lots of men have stood up and said that they have never taken part in the sexual objectification of women. Progressive, men, liberal men, conservative men, all sorts of men are falling all over themselves denying their own involvement.

I don’t believe it. It strikes me as pretty much the same as Euro-Americans claiming they have never been part of the racism of America. “Nope. Not a racist bone in my body!” “Nope. Never said or did anything like that!” Nonsense. If it were true, then there are actually men in America who, for example, never did even one of these things:

  • Used language like “p***y”, “c**t”, “piece of a**”, and the like to describe women and girls, even when those men were young adolescents;
  • Even once bought soft core pornography like “Playboy” or perused someone else’s copy in order to be aroused by the photos of nude women;
  • Took advantage of a gaping neckline to look at a woman’s breasts;
  • Looked at a woman and imagined what it would be like to have sex with her or even what she looked like naked;
  • Took delight in listening to another man’s bragging about his sexual conquest and identified with him;
  • Stared at a woman’s breasts and found it hard to lift his eyes away from them and look her in the eye, even though he was talking with her.

I just don’t believe there are any American men who have never done none of these things or participated in even one of other the myriad ways we objectify women. I know I have done all six and more besides.

We are missing the point. It’s not about what men do or do not talk about in locker rooms. It’s not really even about sexual assault and rape, as execrable as they are. Sexual assault and rape are the end result of something far more subtle and important: the ways we men deny women their dignity as human beings and then turn them into mere objects to satisfy our sexual needs. Our denying we ever did anything that objectified women is one of the most egregious examples of male privilege I can think of. This is not to say that none of us have worked hard and long to overcome the sexist culture in which we were raised. Many men have done a lot of this work. And that is to be applauded and encouraged.

It is, though, to recognize how pervasive sexist culture is and therefore how difficult this work is. I think we all understand the “rape” part of rape culture. But look at the other word: “culture”. We learn culture as children and adolescents, and rape culture is no different. We men are acculturated to think of and treat women as objects.

Does anyone really believe that acculturation, especially early acculturation, can be overcome easily and replaced by something else entirely? Just because we don’t like it? I don’t believe that. As I look over this part of my own life, I begin to see two things. I see how far I have come over the 71 years of my life, and I see how far I still have to go in whatever years I have left.

For just one example of how far I have to go, I catch myself mansplaining and interrupting women, and I find myself reacting defensively when I am called on it. Though it may not be obvious, this is part of rape culture. It is a way we men objectify and deny women their full human dignity. And that is the real essence of the culture part of rape culture. The rape part is but the result of the culture part.

So, no, it is not about the locker room at all. It is about the reality that we men are acculturated to oppression.

When Enlightenment Fails to Enlighten

I’ve been reading Wild Ivy, the spiritual autobiography of Hakuin, one of the most important figures in Japanese Zen. Unfortunately, outside of Zen circles he is not well known in America. In the 16th and 17th centuries Buddhism generally and Zen in particular was in danger of fading away. Far too many of its practitioners had fallen into the trap of confusing meditation (Zazen) with enlightenment and thinking that all they had to do was sit in the prescribed way, at the prescribed times, and for the prescribed length of time, and they had it. Thus they had become attached to both Zazen and sitting and missed the point of both.

Zazen is a tool to awaken the heart/mind. To be thus awake is to be enlightened. But the goal of Buddhist practice is not even to achieve this enlightenment, this awakening. The point is the letting go of the power attachment has over us. An “enlightenment” that we are attached to is just another attachment, and not true enlightenment after all. Hakuin, more than anyone else in that period of Japanese history, is responsible for the rescue of Zen and Japanese Buddhism from this confusion.

It may strike people that my claim that enlightenment is not the end of the matter, but in fact, it is no more than a tool, a way of getting somewhere. It is, as The Buddha is reported to have put it, the raft and not the shore. If your enlightenment gets in the way of your actual liberation from being attached to the temporary, (to the transient, as Theodore Parker named it), to that which comes together only to come apart again later, then let go of that enlightenment. (“If you meet The Buddha in the road, kill him!”) Because even enlightenment comes apart.

What?! Even enlightenment comes apart?! Of course it does. It is impossible to live constantly in enlightenment. Image what it would be like to live constantly in kensho, satori (two different Japanese terms for the experience of enlightenment). It would be hardly distinguishable from catatonia. We have to come back into the ordinary, day-to-day world of things, of that which is also not-me. Thus the wisdom of the Chinese proverb, “Today enlightenment, tomorrow the laundry.”

Think about it. The Buddha achieved his Great Enlightenment, but in spite of great temptations, he did not stay there. He returned to the ordinary world and lived there for years, teaching his wisdom. A similar story is told of Jesus. He spent 40 days in the wilderness where he found his Jewish version of enlightenment, but he did not stay in the wilderness. In spite of huge temptations, he returned to the ordinary world and spent the rest of his (short) life teaching his wisdom. And a similar story is told of Mohammed. He had several transporting visions, but he did not live in those visions. He always returned to preach his wisdom. And Hakuin? He had his Great Enlightenment and spent the rest of his life teaching his wisdom.

And that is the way it is. We cannot live in kensho. Satori comes to an end. We have whatever enlightenment experience we may have, but we cannot live there. We have our mystical experiences, but we cannot live there. Enlightenment is not meant to be the end of our lives, but the beginning.

Now, I am not a Buddhist scholar. I’m not even a practicing Buddhist, even though my own spiritual practice is based in Zazen. I have even done a little koan work, though since it has been done primarily on my own, I make no claim to have passed any koan. My practice lies somewhere between Rinzai and Soto with a strong dose of my own independent thought and experience mixed in. These remarks are simply my own understanding. I may be wrong, but this is what I think. What do you think?