This Dharma Byte follows on last month’s, titled “An Act of Pure Evil,” quoted from the current POTUS. He was referring to the Las Vegas shooting, which held our attention for about a month. This time, he moderated his comment to “An Act of Evil.” Perhaps the difference between the two events is in the numbers killed, one of many measurables with which he seems to be obsessed, along with the press.
The title is intentionally phrased as a headline you might encounter in the news. As such, it is designed to catch your attention, and to encapsulate the message in as few words as possible. As a headline, it does not have to be true, nor even represent the beliefs of the writer. It just has to cut through the clutter.
One of my habits, which may turn out to be good or bad depending on the day, is to quickly check the latest tragicomic event in the news as I arise each morning. This particular day followed the latest church shootings that took enough lives to get the 24/7 attention of the media, especially the death of the 14-year old daughter of the pastor and his wife, who happened to be away from church that morning. When I hit the remote, a reporter was conducting an on-the-street interview with a member of the congregation, who was saying about the preacher, “He was just...a man of God” if I heard her correctly. The reporter mentioned that the daughter had been killed in their absence, and then asked, while a fuzzy image of a young girl appeared on the screen, “How did they take the news?”
Responding to the intolerably insensitive nature of that question, I immediately hit the off button, and decided to write this piece. My major point is not the wretched state of the news profession, but I believe it provides an appropriate backdrop, a contextual aside, for illustrating one of the many kinds of ignorance that we find cloaked in the cultural memes of today. This reporter is making a substantial living, doing what he does, we may presume, simply because he is on camera. And the organization he works for must think that he is doing a good job, or they would not have his face fronting their program.
That he casually asks such an incredibly rude question — to which we all already know the answer, or really, in all decency, do not need to know — apparently only to wring more blood from the story, seems to capture the character of the new norm of professional reportage. That the photo of the hapless victim is out-of-focus may represent a nod to decency, or perhaps is the only way to skirt around the prohibition against showing victims without permission. In any case, this vulture-like savaging of carnage for profit is detestable, but, again, not the main point I wish to make. Others would argue that he is just doing his job, after all.
The title of this piece implies the classical Buddhist theory of rebirth, which, as I understand it, holds that death leads to rebirth, in almost all cases. Without going into the esoteric dimensions, or the differences between rebirth and reincarnation, the prevalent meme of Buddha’s time, I simply want to present it, rebirth, as perhaps the single doctrine, in Buddhism, that comes closest to a religious belief. Scientifically, it is safe to say, we have little or no evidence that rebirth can be proven, other than the testimony of Buddha himself, according to the story; or that of Tibetan monastics, who famously claim to be able to recognize reincarnated lamas. But it makes as much sense as any of the other beliefs now extant, about life and death, and in particular, life after death. The many teachings on the Zen approach to this issue make it clear that rebirth, unlike reincarnation, is not technically a belief. We may regard it as a plausible alternative to the other beliefs around this fraught subject.