Saturday, March 03, 2007

plasma, reincarnation, and west aftrican music

So, I donated plasma for the first time Friday before going to a West-African music concert at a coffee shop in Matsuyama, and as I was sitting there feeling the blood leave my body and then get pumped back in again (I had no idea plasma was yellow like urine!), I put my book down and thought of the people who refuse to give plasma or blood for religious or philosophical reasons. What is a good reason not to donate plasma? I suddenly started to feel the nausea of dehydration as well as a strange, cooling taste in my mouth and lungs. Then my tongue and hands started to shake a little. Oh boy, I thought. Sure, I will be weak and unhealthy for the next day or so, but my plasma might save another human life. Why on earth would you want to hold onto all your own plasma or blood? And then I thought of a couple of my friends who practice TM who had a great argument against being an organ donor. You see, in many spiritual traditions it is believed that until your soul (and body) are fully evolved and self-actualized, you are not the greatest help to others (and can actually harm others more than help). It is therefore beneficial to all (not just totally selfish) to strive for your own enlightenment and well being before helping others. It is actually the best way to help others. Couple that with a belief in reincarnation and you have a very concerned self that wants to help others but only after total enlightenment, and therefore at death, when the state of the mind and body effects future rebirth, one wants to be as healthy and whole and as enlightened as possible without some surgeon fucking around with the temple. Leave my body alone, ill get enlightened faster, and then I will be of better benefit to the world. That is the argument.

We can argue, though, that the very mechanism in you that wants to preserve your own well-being, or wants to free yourself before freeing others, that mechanism of self-centeredness is exactly what keeps you from enlightenment, for it keeps you contracted and trapped inside yourself, and it keeps your own self as the center of your awareness and actions. The moment the self-preservation impulse is released, so are you, released fully into non-attachment, into non-seeking mind, and into that space that is beyond your personal self: the transcendental clearing of nondual God Consciousness. And until you can sacrifice your own well being, you are trapped in self-centered conciousness and egoic seeking (a vary narrow, unenlightened identity, as it were). This is why tonglen

is so vitally important in the Buddhist tradition. It reveres that impulse to turn away from suffering or life, which radically helps eliminate the self-other boundary and the non-loving impulse to retreat from others and their suffering. (This then helps cultivate altruistic motivation and compassion within).

There are many stories of the Buddha in past lives sacrificing his body and life for the well being of others, the most famous being when he offered his body to a staving mother lion and her cubs. These selfless acts are believed to be the virtues reflecting the wisdom collected in the karmic stream of the evolving self, virtues that are ultimately the seeds assembled into and supportive of a higher level of enlightenment or buddhahood. Also, of course, is the famous passion of the Christ, which is the Christian meditation to induce an appreciation for suffering and passionate sacrifice for Life and Love, and Lord God.

But, as I was sitting there getting my precious plasma pumped out of my precious body, I couldn't help but feel that selfish impulse. I asked the nurse where new blood is made. “Inside your bones” she said. Really? I find it amazing to think that my bones are like organs that can make things. What the hell is gong on inside me? How do my bones make blood? How does a caterpillar turn into a butterfly after liquefying its body inside a cocoon? Why does a seed grow into a tree? The mysterious force, energy, and biological intelligence behind Life and Growth will astound me forever. It’s a true and radiant miracle that is happening very moment inside my very body.

After donating plasma, African music pulled me away from my coffee cup and into a dance, my arms pushing the air around me, fingers stretched and extended, my legs collapsing into waves of submission to the rythms. I danced and shouted and beat on my body with the drums and thumb harps, shakers, and African string instruments pulsing with my heart inside my mind and body. It was like any good concert: a river of bliss. Even an old lady in kimono was up and dancing by the end. She would shake her open hands at the players as if reflecting back at them the powerful states they were shedding out. Quite a sight.

Tonight I’m going with the Tenseishinbikai church group to Honshu by bus to see my friend perform in the concert I told you about last week. Pictures of the concert hall we’re going to remind me of the Bahai Temple in New Deli.

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