Bob Schwartz

Month: April, 2015

Chaos and Order in the Bible

The most important section of the Old Testament, even for non-readers and non-believers, is the beginning, the stories of creation up to the appearance of people. (Stories plural, because there are two different versions of creation in Genesis.)

The second thing that happens in the Bible is that God brings order. But the first thing is the chaos from which that order is brought, chaos presumably also created, and created first.

For most of our religions and their histories, this task of putting matters in good order has been a primary mission. Protocols, hierarchies, calendars, rules. In imitation of God. Orderliness is next to godliness. Order, though, in religion and in our lives, can take on the color of compulsion.

Chaos not only preceded order in the Bible, it became a continuing theme. People are constantly getting lost and tossed around, in floods, in deserts. Being found or finding a way is presumed to be the highest value. And yet the very first moment is not just chaos, but created chaos. Not just a necessary predicate, but a necessary ongoing and perpetual element. No lost, no found.

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Mountains Walking

Jesus, Dogen and Donovan each have something to say about mountains. In some ways the same thing.

Jesus says that faith can move mountains, by which he may mean that understanding the nature of things, including mountains, will allow us to see that mountains are always moving, if we will see it. Jesus is all about what we don’t see that is right in front of us.

Dogen says that mountains are mountains and mountains are walking. If you can walk, mountains can walk. Those without eyes to see mountains cannot notice, understand, see, or hear this reality.

Donovan sings about this reality of mountains appearing, disappearing, appearing.

Jesus

He answered, ‘Because you have so little faith. In truth I tell you, if your faith is the size of a mustard seed you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move; nothing will be impossible for you.’ (Matthew 17:20, New Jerusalem Bible)

Dogen Zenji

Priest Daokai of Mount Furong said to the assembly, “The green mountains are always walking; a stone woman gives birth to a child at night.”

Mountains do not lack the characteristics of mountains. Therefore, they always abide in ease and always walk. Examine in detail the characteristic of the mountains’ walking.

Mountains’ walking is just like human walking. Accordingly, do not doubt mountains’ walking even though it does not look the same as human walking. The buddha ancestor’s words point to walking. This is fundamental understanding. Penetrate these words.

Because green mountains walk, they are permanent. Although they walk more swiftly than the wind, someone in the mountains does not notice or understand it. “In the mountains” means the blossoming of the entire world. People outside the mountains do not notice or understand the mountains’ walking. Those without eyes to see mountains cannot notice, understand, see, or hear this reality.

If you doubt mountains’ walking, you do not know your own walking; it is not that you do not walk, but that you do not know or understand your own walking. Since you do know your own walking, you should fully know the green mountains’ walking.

Green mountains are neither sentient nor insentient. You are neither sentient nor insentient. At this moment, you cannot doubt the green mountains’ walking.

From Mountains and Waters Sutra, Shobo Genzo, Fascicle 15 (1240)

Donovan

The caterpillar sheds his skin to find a butterfly within
Caterpillar sheds his skin to find a butterfly within
First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is
First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is

From There Is a Mountain

Ghosts of Mad Men

In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, Don Draper has come unstuck in time. Again.

In the first episode of the last half season of Mad Men, Don as always walks among ghosts. Because, of course, he is a ghost himself, literally the embodiment of a dead man.

He may sense that he will be happiest when he is whole and most present, but that difficult state is looking ever less possible. His most complete moments were with Anna Draper, the widow of the dead man whose identity he stole. As she was dying, he painted her house, stripped down to t-shirt and work pants, no costume, no pretense. Just love for and from one of the few people who knew him fully and unconditionally.

Don Draper, the real one, is dead. Dick Whitman, the real one, is dead. Anna Draper is dead. Lane Pryce is dead. Rachel Menken is dead. Others are alive but dead to Don.

The ghosts are coming, as they will for those who unwittingly seek and invite them.

Discovering Rachel’s death, Don visits the apartment where her family is sitting shiva, the Jewish mourning tradition. He brings cake, an appropriate gesture of respect and regard. But he admits that he doesn’t know exactly why he came, especially because Rachel’s sister begrudges him his relationship with Rachel when Don was still married. Don weakly explains that he is no longer married to that wife, and almost unmarried to his second wife. He looks over to Rachel’s husband and children, as the minyan recites Kaddish, the prayer for the dead.

Don is beyond wanting a do-over or indulging in what ifs. He wants the ghosts to help him make sense of the years and of the present, which they can’t or won’t do.

Craving Chaos

There are those who crave chaos, and some who create it when they don’t find it. Often they are those with low tolerance for boredom and regularity. They are like explorers and adventurers, who go places and do things that others question: Why are you doing this and why does it always have to be the hard way?

This isn’t good or bad. We need such people, because their constant engagement with challenges can result in remarkable learning, insight, and progress. That is, chaos is the nature of things, and dealing with it is a highly valuable skill. But it remains that those who find value in at least modest regularity and order might find all that occasionally troublesome.