Believe it or not this started as a reaction to one of the dumbest controversies I have ever witnessed. Recently the folks who make the Instagram app for Apples Iphone made a version available for users of the android phone operating system. TONS of tattooers use instagram so I was considering buying an Iphone when my contract made it available this fall. Now I don’t need to spend money on a new phone since I can use the app as well, but when I got on there I saw a flood of people, people whose only claim to exclusivity is the cell phone they bought, decrying the influx of android users. They were fucking angry that people who used phones from a different company could now use the same application that had been their own private club. This is indescribably stupid, but it did make me think of this whole notion of secret clubs and a belief that there are those better than others.
If you have been around me for any length of time you will have had the misfortune to hear me rant about exclusion. I’m not just talking about the really obvious shit like groups who ban gays (like the boy scouts) or women (like the entire catholic church structure), but the smaller, pettier kinds. In fact, it is these that drive me even more bonkers than the ancient and archaic ones whose elitism and exclusivity are merely the dried dangling dingle-berries of their history. It makes a kind of moronic sense that the Klan would not admit black people or that the fundamentalist religions of the world would exclude people who were born gay, these kinds of groups have been stupid and backward since their inception. I get it, I don’t approve of it, but I get it. If you have been dumb for 400 years the chances are that you aren’t going to be smart any time real soon.
I didn’t used to be this way, in fact I was pretty into being elite, I enjoyed feeling like I was smarter, cooler, or just plain better than other people. When I was a punk I took great pride that me and my few friends were the ones who were too smart to listen to Journey and Hall and Oates, but eventually I begin to feel that I and my even smaller group of friends were even better than the other punks. WE didn’t drink or do drugs, WE cared about how fucked our government was, WE were not the loutish morons who acted like idiot frat boys only with mohawks and spiky jackets. Eventually I began to listen to really weirdo culty sounding doom folk and pseudo gothic creepfests and decided that even my straight edge friends were not cool enough for me. I became the sole member of a very select and exclusive club of one.
I always wanted to be in the group, I wasted no time in shitting on those who weren’t, everyone around me did the same things with their own versions. When I became a tattooer the trend magnified into a truly frankenstein-esque monster! Here, I was now part of a trade that had secret knowledge, arcane masters that only those “in the know” were even aware of. We had, almost automatically, a disdain for the customer who “didn’t get it” and demanded our wonderful genius be put to use tattooing tweety birds and old English. Were were the pirates, everyone else was either a victim or a rival pirate and either way we were the best and “they” (i.e. everyone else) were the worst. Heaven help the poor kid who wandered into our shop asking about being a tattooer! We told them that our talent was innate, that we were “born tattooers” and that if they were not already touched with the golden light like us then they would be nothing, or even worse than nothing, that they would be “scratchers“. (imagine a small, rat like creature clutching a cheaply made tattoo machine in the dingy dirty kitchen of his trailer spewing hepatitis and bad ICP tattoos onto its group of equally despicable cronys). Never mind the fact that I was, at best, a mediocre tattooer and that all this shunning and decrying was to cover my own secret fear that someday, someone, would call me out for the phony I was. The fact is that secret clubs work because most of the members don’t really believe that they are worthy and that only if they hate on enough of everybody else will they be able to keep the spotlight away from their own failure.
Embarrassingly, I even felt like I had joined a cool kids club when I became a Buddhist, but when you begin to actually do Buddhism (as opposed to talking or reading about doing it) a funny thing happens. You see, we all have that voice we use to talk to ourselves. When were making a tough decision or debating two choices, when we doubt our path or actions it is the voice that use to compare, to literally have an internal dialogue. It’s the voice that calls us stupid when we lock the keys in the car or pats us on the back when we get a wicked zinger dig at someone we’re arguing with. Well if you sit zazen regularly a funny thing happens. That voice gets quieter, it gets replaced by something far more sure and something that doesn’t have to convince you its right, you know in your bones that it is the truth. When that happens the bullshit starts to fall off pretty quick.
Years ago I read a Koan that baffled me for a long time in the beginning. In it there is a monk who would wake up every day and talk to himself. He would say
“Dont be fooled by anybody!”
“Dont be fooled by yourself!”
I thought it was just a funny little story of guy trying to stay on his guard against delusion or something. But the longer I practiced the more I began to see that we do talk to ourselves as a separate person, and that most often the person deluding us is US! Once I began to stop and see the world as it really was instead of how it could/should/used to be those two voices turned into one and it was not patient with delusion and bullshit. I dropped a lot of my self flogging/congratulation, I stopped arguing over stupid shit (mostly) and most of all I began to feel that I was the same as everyone else.
Even people I despised, people I knew nothing about, everything. It made sense why a total stranger would risk his or her life to save someone even if it put their own lives at risk, it made sense why vegetarians couldn’t eat meat because they identified with the animal, I got why when someone cut down a tree for no good reason it made me mad. I finally began to understand that exclusion wasn’t just mean or prejudiced, it was delusion. It came from the myth that we were different and caused harm not only to those left out of the “club”, it deeply wounded those who were the “in” crowd as well! The problem is that this is something felt at a level that language can’t express, so saying “I felt like we were all one” doesn’t actually exclude the reality that were are separate bodies with separate t-shirts. But I knew at that gut level that the part of me that wanted to be the cool kid, who wanted to set aside a little piece of the world and call it minewas fading fast, I felt like I had a little tiny taste of reality and there was no room in it for fake partitions and snobbery. I began to feel like all the problems we have in this world are a result of believing in and trying to reinforce the lie that you or I could really separate ourselves from the whole universe like that. It would be like a leaf deciding it didn’t need the tree and jumping off to form a secret club of independent leaves. (when that happens not only does the leaf wither, but the tree suffers too!)