Continuing with the story of Dhamma Brother, Grady Bankhead, we find that the early development of guilt within him pays dividends in yet another way. Recall that its onset began with the death of his little brother who was left in his care by his mother when she abandoned them both on the porch of an abandoned house at the end of a long driveway in the countryside.
… In a similar way Grady has blamed himself about the murder he witnessed. He has experienced tremendous anger and a sense of restlessness about his incarceration. The fear of fully facing and experiencing his anger made him reluctant to sign up for the Vipassana course. …
Does this mean that I was not afraid to face my own anger when I signed for their 10-day course for beginners? What does that imply about those women I saw at this course who seemed to have enjoyed it, extolling the spicy food served for lunch? Ah! Why should they feel anger! They had never been victimized by other women or men. They were actually the abusers and the criminals. Why should they not enjoy sitting and meditating for 10 days in complete silence, when the problem of food has been solved for them!
… But during the course he was able to look at the crime in a deeper way, experience the underlying grief and finally come to a sense of self-forgiveness. …
What might Mr. Bankhead have to forgive himself about? His failure to protect and defend himself, his mind, his body, his spirit, from the harm done to them by his mother initially. That is the source of anger, a well that never seems to dry up. No amount of reasoning that he was only a five-year-old boy is going to remove that sense of failure, nor its resulting anger, of rage, of contempt. And of frustration with those of the helping profession, most of whom are religious, only there in a competition to get more converts to their own faith in a captive environment such as prisons.
… “Until then I had actually justified and excused myself for the crime. …
At the core Mr. Bankhead’s crime is of self-neglect to the point of making friends with criminally minded people. He does not say this in his account. For a very good reason. Once you point your rightfully accusing finger at the one who harmed you, you feel compelled to seek compensation or some sort of mitigation. This completes the circle of exercising one’s identity as a rational human being. Try to do this, and you run smack into rationalizations, excuses, circumstances and explanations, against which you have no defense, except to forgive the attacker. See what just happened here? Now the victim is forgiving the attacker. The attacker gets the initial goodies from her violence and later forgiveness for both the violence and enjoying the fruits of her violence.
… During Vipassana I just couldn’t get away from myself. I had to see it. And one of the things Vipassana teaches you is any negative behavior starts within. The misery starts in here. Then it carries somewhere else. So I’m guilty, even though I never hit the man. …
As you can see, I have a different opinion than Mr. Bankhead of why his misery starts inside him. In order to seek out punishment for one’s own mother, one has to care enough about her in order to nurture the sense of anger, of hatred, of revenge against her. Besides the impracticality of such a course of action, it also grants her more of one’s own resources than she rightfully deserves. In addition, nurturing such feelings over the long haul becomes inimical to one’s health. But forgiveness is morally wrong. Which is why the person’s spirit rebels in myriad ways – drugs, alcohol, overeating, suicide, other pathologies – just the spirit’s way to get the person to use his rational faculty, and find a healthy solution to a most difficult conundrum.
… Now I don’t have to make excuses to myself anymore. I pulled some of my masks off. In my other treatments, I never have been able to do that.” …
Guilt in a victim is built up in layers. It is not a simple matter of finding the perpetrator, accusing her, seeking to punish her and watching it be meted out. No. Before one can rightfully and morally attack the perpetrator, one has to purify one’s own soul. One does this by taking away all the actions where one was at fault from its surface. I call it cleaning the mirror of the soul to be able to see one’s true self in it. You see, in the first flush of realization of having been wronged, the self hides this essential truth by frantically seeking excuses, taking actions, thinking thoughts that puts itself at fault, all the while seeking to balance the wrong done to it by multiple wrongs it does to itself.
Mr. Bankhead says that he was able to pull some of his masks off. That is a necessary preliminary step to take before confronting the mother. His subconscious knows that if she hasn’t seen fit to acknowledge and mitigate her violent actions towards him, then she has accumulated all sorts of anecdotal evidence for why she did what she did, which she will throw at his face in angry and/or tearful justification. It is crucial to have forgiven oneself to the deepest level possible to be able to stand still, thrive even, under such a barrage, and without any scars, walk away into the future. Not for nothing is the still-forming soul afraid of facing such an artillery barrage. It will do anything, bend in any way, to avoid this hard climb up the mountain. Man makes his soul. He is born with the tools to do so. He is not born with it fully-formed, bright and shiny like some gaudy bauble. I recall Ayn Rand stating this idea in Atlas Shrugged, I think as part of the speech of John Galt.
Of course society will demand public apologies and reparations. Those that self-identify as proudly belonging to society, enjoy its hierarchical nature and the all-consuming occupation of watching one’s position change within it. When his mother comes to say she is sorry, she is only doing so because she needs her son’s forgiveness. This clearly indicates that she is still not sorry. She is expecting something more from him – his forgiveness. Why? Is it status related? Is it about her place in society? Is it her conscience prodding her, whatever remnants might still remain within her?
The Foreword to We The Living by Ayn Rand continues as follows:
When, at the age of twelve, at the time of the Russian revolution, I first heard the Communist principle that Man must exist for the sake of the State, I perceived that this was the essential issue, that this principle was evil, and that it could lead to nothing but evil, regardless of any methods, details, decrees, policies, promises and pious platitudes. This was the reason for my opposition to Communism then – and it is my reason now. I am still a little astonished, at times, that too many adult Americans do not understand the nature of the fight against Communism as clearly as I understood it at the age of twelve: they continue to believe that only Communist methods are evil, while Communist ideals are noble. All the victories of Communism since the year 1917 are due to that particular belief among the men who are still free.
It is not that Americans do not understand the nature of the fight against Communism. They do. They agree with the Communist principle that Man must exist for the sake of the State. In fact they may go further to say that Man must exist for the sake of the Other, Greater than itself. By specifying this Greater Other as the State, Communism obscures this deeper principle. A religious dictatorship would replace the State with God or with His earthly representative with no qualms at all. If they were sophisticated they’d say Man must exist for the sake of a Higher Purpose. This purpose is invariably tied to the good of some numerical quantity greater than a few, at the expense of the few irresponsible enough to believe in this principle. Irresponsible because by this action they give up ownership and liability for whatever happens to them. In turn this leads to the beginning or addition of more guilt for such a profound abdication.
I am aware of the separation of church and state designed into the Constitution. I am also aware that every year this separation is infringed upon more and more. In 1954 when the words, “under God”, were added to the US Pledge of Allegiance it was in response to the Communist threat of those times. Did the leaders forget the consequences of letting God creep back into matters of the state? Or did they assume that anyone who didn’t believe in God was not a true American, but someone who would turn Communist at any time? I don’t recall any comment Ms. Rand made on this (but I have not read all her works) small but crucial change. I must presume that the smoke generated from the threat of Communist fire was dense enough to obscure its meaning.
In 1958 Ms. Rand wrote this Foreword to We The Living. There was still no comment regarding the changed Pledge of Allegiance. The matter seemed to be still presented as the conflict between Communist Russians and Capitalist Americans – a materialistic conflict instead of a spiritual one – a more accurate description would have been Atheistic Russians and Religious Americans. The Conservatives understood it better, but they chose not to reveal this clarity of perception. No point upsetting and alienating the atheistic and agnostic Americans now, is there?
In 1961, upon listening to John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address where he calls upon his fellow Americans to “… ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. …”, the issues are made crystal clear. I recall an essay of hers critical of the President’s call to self-sacrifice.
If Ms. Rand was smoked by the hot air of superficial conflict between Communist Russians and Capitalist Americans while struggling with the need to earn a living as a serious thinker by maintaining a regular schedule of articles and commentaries, I was smoked by my girlfriends jockeying for my preferential attention for quite a long time. I have to emphasize that it is harder to maintain girlfriends in the proper preferential hierarchy without endangering the moral at the hands of the immoral. Even if I don’t reveal who’s who amongst them, the immoral always know who the moral are.
My friend Safia has one weak elbow joint. Our circle of friends knew about it and made allowances for it. Except for Susan Roth. Earlier I had written about Susan guilting me into carrying her bags by pointing to her elbow (opposite to that of Safia’s weak elbow) and essentially saying, “Mama, I got a boo-boo.” I carry it a few steps, while carrying my own, before dropping it, and reminding her of my warning not to pack so many bags for a four day professional conference in San Francisco. Her elbow only started “to hurt” on seeing me walking faster than her while carrying all my bags without resorting to pitiful looks at passer-bys or Susan herself. Susan was over a foot taller than me. I was struggling not to have my bags drag on the ground (which incidentally increases its weight and the resulting strain on the muscles) as I usually have to. Susan has no such problems. She shortens the strap, but it doesn’t help. She laughs and comments about how short I was. Feeling better about herself, she is now able to carry it herself, but continues to walk slower to keep up the pretense. But she does have a repository of anger and envy within her. With that one action, Susan demonstrated her envy of Safia’s vulnerable appeal to men and my strength of will and presence of mind. As for the anger, she ought to care enough to deal with it without endangering innocent friends.
Why bring up this story now? How Susan acted in that instant was similar to the veiling of perception by the Conservatives regarding the nature of the conflict between Soviet Russia and the United States in the 50s and the 60s. Let’s continue with the Foreword to We The Living.
… To those who might wonder whether the conditions of existence in Soviet Russia have changed in any essential respect since 1925, I will make a suggestion: take a look through the files of the newspapers. If you do, you will observe the following pattern: first, you will read glowing reports about the happiness, the prosperity, the industrial development, the progress and the power of the Soviet Union, and that any statements to the contrary are the lies of prejudiced reactionaries; then, about five years later, you will read admissions that things were pretty miserable in the Soviet Union five years ago, just about as bad as the prejudiced reactionaries had claimed, but now the problems are solved and the Soviet Union is a land of happiness, prosperity, industrial development, progress and power; about five years later, you will read that Trotsky (or Zinoviev or Kamenev or Litvinow or the “kulaks” or the foreign imperialists) had caused the miserable state of things five years ago, but now Stalin had purged them all and the Soviet Union has surpassed the decadent West in happiness, prosperity, industrial development, etc.; five years later, you will read that Stalin was a monster who had crushed the progress of the Soviet Union, but now it is a land of happiness, prosperity, artistic freedom, educational perfection and scientific superiority over the whole world. How many of such five-year plans will you need before you begin to understand? That depends on your intellectual honesty and your power of abstraction. But what about the Soviet possession of the atom bomb? Read the accounts of the trials of the scientists who were Soviet spies in England, Canada and the United States. But how can we explain the “Sputnik”? Read the story of “Project X” in Atlas Shrugged. …
Does the above passage remind you of anything? Of course, it does. This is one of the tactics employed by anyone defending his position against evidence to the contrary. We all do it under stress or deliberately as a standard operating procedure. It seems to be part of our behavioral arsenal. Girls do it. Boys do it. Children do it. Men do it. Women do it. We all do it. And promptly, as some cosmic payback, we begin to believe our own bullshit. Do this long enough and you forget the truth beneath it all. You may have been innocent but now you are convinced you are guilty as sin. You may have been guilty but now you are convinced that you are an innocent, victimized by your very victims. Words become like taffy, to be pulled this way and that. Reasoning operates mostly through the medium of words. So our internal reasoning become taffy in our hands and in the hands of others.
Going back to the Dhamma Brother Grady Bankhead’s story, we find this:
Grady says that the Vipassana program has helped him accept prison as his home. “So today, this is my home. They may transfer me to another prison, and then that is my home. But I’m all right living here.” This resolve to make prison his home and to peacefully accept that reality was sorely tested last year. Grady found out from another inmate, who had seen the story on TV, that his daughter Brandy had been brutally murdered by a man in a motel room. The terrible details of this crime, coupled with his inability to respond to or seek solace from his family, were an incredible test of Grady’s inner strength. But his inclusion in the Dhamma brotherhood and his reliance upon his Vipassana practice provided a source of support.
Further along in the Letters from the Dhamma Brothers it says this about Vipassana and Christianity and Islam.
Vipassana and Christianity and Islam
”… take advantage of this wonderful, scientific, nonsectarian technique. Nobody asked you to convert yourself from one organized religion to another organized religion. The conversion is, rather, the conversion of the mind from bondage to liberation, from ignorance to enlightenment, from cruelty to compassion, from misery to happiness. This is required by one and all.” – S. N. Goenka
“I saw through Vipassana that I was not giving near as much attention and awareness to my salat [five daily Islamic prayers] that I could and should, and that I would be getting much more from it if I did. I compared the attention and awareness I was able to develop through Vipassana and I said, ‘Wow, I haven’t been giving this much attention to my salat, you know, and here I almost didn’t participate in Vipassana because I didn’t want to forego my five salats a day.’” – Omar Rahman
“I wanted rehabilitation over a whole lot of defects in my life. My attitude for one, my sense of respect for others was low – even though I sincerely believed in God, I still didn’t have what I needed to live peacefully regardless of conditions (prison).” – Willie Carroll
I am sure that it is completely unintentional on the part of the Mr. Rahman and Mr. Carroll, but their comments reveal something about their respective religions. Mr. Rahman wanted to jealously guard his five prayers a day that enables him to develop attention and awareness, a harmless concern. Mr. Carroll wanted rehabilitation without fully understanding its meaning along with the serious hard work involved in obtaining it. Furthermore he admits that his belief in God didn’t generate any respect for others within him, a matter that could be a potential source of danger to others. A religion that holds up the sacrifice of the virtuous (the Crucifixion of Jesus) as a model can and does play havoc with the human being trying sincerely to practice its teachings. From seeing oneself as a sacrificial animal it is a short step to seeing others as sacrificial animals. Where is the need for respect for others then?
Mr. Goenka was the latest teacher of the Vipassana technique of meditation. I hear that he died a couple of years ago. When you attend the ten-day course of silent meditation for beginners you will hear his voice on tape walking you through the hours of meditation. My best memory is his story of Gautam Buddha upon attaining enlightenment. On that instant, Buddha laughed at the gods, at one God, of the past, of the present, of the future. He saw through all their games to enslave his mind. In one full instant he saw his past lives and his future lives as a series of cycles chaining him to the transitory to keep him from seeing the essential. And so he laughed. His laughter marked his liberation.
Reminds me of the opening scene from The Fountainhead. Howard Roark laughs with the joy of freedom upon being expelled from architecture school.
Howard Roark laughed.
He stood naked at the edge of a cliff. The lake lay far below him. A frozen explosion of granite burst in flight to the sky over motionless water. The water seemed immovable, the stone – flowing. The stone had the stillness of one brief moment in battle when thrust meets thrust and the currents are held in a pause more dynamic than motion. The stone glowed, wet with sunrays.
The lake below was only a thin steel ring that cut the rocks in half. The rocks went on into the depth, unchanged. They began and ended in the sky. So that the world seemed suspended in space, an island floating on nothing, anchored to the feet of the man on the cliff.
His body leaned back against the sky. It was a body of long straight lines and angles, each curve broken into planes. He stood, rigid, his hands hanging at his sides, palms out. He felt his shoulder blades drawn tight together, the curve of his neck, and the weight of the blood in his hands. He felt the wind behind him, in the hollow of his spine. The wind waved his hair against the sky. His hair was neither blond nor red, but the exact color of ripe orange rind.
He laughed at the thing which happened to him that morning and at the things which now lay ahead.
He knew that the days ahead would be difficult. There were questions to be faced and a plan of action to be prepared. He knew that he should think about it. He knew also that he would not think, because everything was clear to him already, because the plan had been set long ago, and because he wanted to laugh.
He tried to consider it. But he forgot. He was looking at the granite.
He did not laugh as his eyes stopped in awareness of the earth around him. His face was like a force of nature – a thing one could not question, alter or implore. It had high cheekbones over gaunt, hollow cheeks; gray eyes, cold and steady; a contemptuous mouth, shut tight, the mouth of an executioner or a saint.
He looked at the granite. To be cut, he thought, and made into walls. He looked at a tree. To be split and made into rafters. He looked at a streak of rust on the stone and thought of iron ore under the ground. To be melted and to emerge as girders against the sky.
These rocks, he thought, are here for me; waiting for the drill, the dynamite and my voice; waiting to be split, ripped, pounded, reborn; waiting for the shape my hands will give them.
Then he shook his head, because he remembered that morning and that there were many things to be done. He stepped to the edge, raised his arms, and dived down into the sky below.
He cut straight across the lake to the shore ahead. He reached the rocks where he had left his clothes. He looked regretfully about him. For three years, ever since he had lived in Stanton, he had come here for his only relaxation, to swim, to rest, to think, to be alone and alive, whenever he could find one hour to spare, which had not been often. In his new freedom the first thing he had wanted to do was to come here, because he knew that he was coming for the last time. That morning he had been expelled from the Architectural School of the Stanton Institute of Technology.