Onegaishimasu, as an aikido practioner/student/teacher, I've learned to take a look at the big picture and then- take another look. My experience has been that competition turns everything violent, hence, poetry readings become poetry slams, for example. There's rage and rants and gangsta rap and there's that dang "Vs.". My time in the county jail was spent trying to use a game such as "Scrabble" to share short english words with spanish speaking others. I guess what I am trying to say here is that the Buddha taught something called: "skillful means" and 84,000 ways to start.
My experience is somewhat different than yours, maybe. Poetry readings that turn into poetry slams represent each poet's attempt to produce a piece of poetry that moves the audience more. Rants can offer constructive criticisms and/or critiques of their topics that is, by turn, humorous, satirical and serious. Gangsta rap was actual a genre started by teens to satirize the lifestyle of local "gangstas" in Compton, CA; the original intent of the music was not to glorify that lifestyle, but to highlight the way in which it turned upon violence, materialism, and raw sensuality, all of which is lost upon the [mostly] unknowing consumer.
As a DJ (... or former DJ, rather), I engaged in a lot of "vs." battles with other DJs. I loved 'em. The other DJ inevitably had records I did not, and that forced me to be creative not only in my choice of subsequent track, but also the way in which I mixed it into the previous track. I know MCs, as well, for whom "battles" are an opportunity to be creative in the manner in which they "slammed" the other competitor.
And my wife and I regularly hold a poker night. Although money is at stake and just about all parties were drinking alcohol, at the end people didn't care about counting up their chips, instead donating that money towards my wife and I for having purchased the pizza, chips, candy and beer.
I think that with mindfulness we are both aware of our options at each moment and day of our lives and also understanding of ourselves and the Dharma in such a way that we can apply it in any situation.....Our world view is too many times one with elements of jealousy, impatience, feelings of being unfairly treated or victimized and anxiety. We can also too easily be critical and condemning of others....The only path for those who wish to both practice the Dharma and gain something from it is to live with mindfulness and apply the various steps and teaching of The Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism in and to all things.
Have a read through Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America.
The First Noble Truth is that everything is suffering. As best I can tell, one cannot progress on the Path without really understanding this sobering, realistic truth.
Here's my experience, and take it for what it's worth:
11 years ago I became permanently paralyzed. My kidneys almost shut down, and my legs filled up with about 20 lbs of fluid, which crushed my nerves and left me permanently paralyzed and with a chronic pain condition to this day and probably for the rest of my life.
At the time, I was a Buddhist; and for the most part, I still am. Some people have told me that karma is the reason I am paralyzed; some have said that God did it; others tell me that the Universe must have a reason for paralyzing me. I reject all of the above.
I know that my suffering is my fault. I know that it's not personal but that if I hadn't done X, Y, and Z, none of this would ever have happened. It's been a bitter pill to swallow, acknowledging my part.
I know that "I," really, does not exist. I know "I" is a delusion based upon the temporary configuration of the khandas. But that doesn't really matter. "I" still hurt, underneath all my sophistry.
My saving grace is that "my" suffering is the perfect and most intimate link between myself and other people. It's kinda weird to say this, but people can't get enough of my story. Prisoners, heroes, anybody who's been through adversity can't get enough of my pathetic, sad little story about paralysis. So over the years I've actually grown glad to have it, simply and only because I know that people who are suffering, who are in need, like to hear it and can learn from my mistakes.
So I guess I'm saying: don't discount suffering with simple references to Buddhist philosophy. If there's any one thing I've learned from Buddha, it's that we should all evaluate his thinking in light of our experiences.
And in my experience, suffering is hugely important.
Onegaishimasu, thank you for writing this letter friend, I was wondering where all the bitterness subtly tucked inside all your writings to date was coming from; and now I have at least part of an answer. Grandiosity is a natural part of our human fallibility. In German it is stated as: die welt in der wuste
(the world of wilderness); in Japanese it is: Jugen Jigoku (personal trip through hell). And it does seem, that no matter how far we manage in enlightened learning, suffering remains our constant companion.
If I can reject anything, there must be an I. Who else is it, facing the times of our lives? As Bo Lozoff so aptly put it: "We're All Doing Time". I've recently come across a wonderful anthology: In The Face of Fear . Chogym Trungpa Rinpoche contributes a wonderful essay about blame and bodhi. Raising the bodhi-mind whatever our circumstance is indeed a commendable mission in life; it can help us to rest easy and abide with our lives the way our lives are.
Domo arigato gozaimashita (I have no idea what the transliteration of the phrase is, so I hope that you understand my rough attempt!).
I guess I just want to say: I'll never "rest easy and abide with my life the way my life is." My life has the three marks of existence: it is impermanent. I will die. It is suffering: no way around that. And it is empty of selfhood, though it does a damned good impression of such.
I guess what I was driving at, with the whole "everybody experiences the First Noble Truth" and "I'm paralyzed and in chronic pain, for example," is that...
When my suffering becomes a means to relate to someone or better still a means to help someone, something magical happens. For that moment, I don't care about my life or my paralysis or my chronic pain or my suffering. It's not that I'm OK with any of those things. Rather, my suffering becomes the means by which to alleviate the suffering of others. Suffering becomes its own antidote. All I have to do is say "this is what I did, and these are the results I got. If you want what I have, do what I did. Otherwise, do not."
My paralysis and chronic pain, yes, have made me bitter, impatient, angry, depressed, and a host of other unwholesome or helpful emotions I can't name off the top of my head. If you want to know why I developed those emotions, (1) avoid paralysis if you can; (2) avoid chronic pain conditions, more importantly, and (3) ask me what I did to end up with that result, so that you can avoid the same results.
At the same time, the paralysis and the chronic pain have increased my concern for and interest in others. They have caused trauma which I have survived. They have advanced cynicism, yes, but also an earnest desire for realistic solutions to life's dilemmas. They have shown me faults in how medicine is conducted, psychological therapy is conducted, and the like. Lastly, they have strengthened my spiritual practice more than anything else I have done or do. If these are results you would like to experience, ask me about them and I will tell you how they came about.
Onegaishimasu, sometimes we fit reality to our theories, and sometimes it is the other way around. "Magical thinking" is the current trend expression; "vs." has always been around. The news brings impermanency of the times. I think you are seeing that some of us do feel the pain personally. We come to these discussions from our own experiences, and we get to know the experiences of others.
My point with the First Noble Truth is to say that attempting to justify or explain suffering is itself an expression of suffering. Unwilling to admit that suffering exists, is pointless and meaningless, scares us and hurts us, we come up with platitudes to explain it.
Seeing everything as the Path and a teaching from the Guru is an attempt to get around suffering by giving it meaning. The problem is that I can make you give that up if you let me hurt you with sufficient force and duration. Nor is it something I'd be willing to tell a mother who watched her child die, a Rwandan genocide survivor, or somebody with cancer and 6 weeks to live.
Is it positive/magical thinking? Yes, because it attempts to make the meaningless meaningful. Is it a "skillful means?" In my opinion no, because it's just another layer of mind layered over reality, reinforcing the notion of a self: I am on the Path being led by my guru.
Rather, my experience is that suffering should be seen as it is, in all its horrific glory. It's still possible to learn from it and to use it in a skillful manner (especially as a means to help others); but these start from seeing it for what it is.