Years ago I went to see David Lynch’s Eraserhead with a group of friends of mine, one of whom was Ted Park, the younger brother of one of my high school classmates, Ron Park. After the film, while we were walking, Ted said to me “I hope this movie doesn’t corrupt you, Mits.” I was quite surprised by this and I just laughed and laughed. I thought it was sweet that Ted thought this of me, but in fact it was quite a strange concern, from my point of view. By that time I’d already seen so much (my father is an artist and my parents often took me to see all sorts of films, art openings, etc., when I was growing up, Kurosawa or Ingmar Bergman or strange art films or performances) that Eraserhead was no big deal to me. But there’s something else, as well.
Some people see me as a somewhat “pure” person, or as one just put it, “incorruptible” — but I don’t think of myself that way at all. To the contrary, I think of myself as, in a way, already corrupted — so totally corrupted that I’ve come right out the other side. A shade of black so black that it appears white again. Of course, I’m exaggerating, but that’s the basic image. My version of “virtue” is not based on trying to preserve my innocence, my lily whiteness; it is based on something very different, being familiar with vice, being one with it, to the point where I simply avoid most of it not because I’m trying to hold myself to some high standard, trying to avoid getting any dirt on my white robes, but simply because I’m bored with a lot of what tempts many people. Been there, done that, in this life or in some previous one, so to speak. I avoid many things people call “evil” just because it’s banal, pointless, simpleminded or uninteresting to me, not because I am exercising some sort of rigid discipline to avoid “temptation”.
It’s a strange sort of approach to virtue which is really a form of worldliness. I don’t drink (very much) not because I am trying to be virtuous but because I dislike the taste of alcohol; I don’t do drugs just because I’d rather do other things, like meditate, etc., but I have nothing against those who take psychoactive drugs in a mindful way, I have plenty of friends who do. I’m not motivated by large amounts of money because it gives you diminishing returns; after you have your basic needs covered, having more money doesn’t incrementally add much to your happiness. And should it seem necessary or worthwhile I certainly would break rules, and I do, quite a lot; I don’t hold to rules arbitrarily but rather to a principle of awakeness. Still, if I don’t see a good reason to break a rule, I probably won’t, because what’s the point? I don’t have a need to rebel any more than I have a need to conform. I think of this, essentially, as related to earlier comments about Eastern vs. Western ideas of virtue; the idea of being “corrupted” coming more from a Western notion of virtue as being “avoiding vice”, being innocent, being a naif; whereas in the East, particularly in schools like Zen, virtue is conceived of more as being skillful, on the ball, savvy.
Of course I don’t claim to be actually incorruptible or without vices or ego or bad habits, etc.; I have plenty of those. In fact I depend on them, I don’t run away from them. I look them in the face, I AM them. So, to the extent possible, I am already so steeped in my own darkness, darkness that goes deep to the whirling void at the bottom of reality, that the idea of being “corrupted” just seems funny — corrupted by what? I’m not naive about the nature of the world, in fact I’m already corrupted, I see and feel it all the time, I accept it and I live with it and through it. I feel more criminal than the criminals — I don’t think of myself as saintly, but rather the king of the crooks; but I’ve learned to play the game better than ordinary crooks, because I skip the stealing part, because it’s pointless. If my behavior looks like virtue in some cases, so be it; but I’m not trying for that. And I let myself follow “temptation” all the time; as I said above, I’m willing to transgress certain boundaries, I’ll break some rules if it seems appropriate, and if that looks like vice to some people, so be it as well. I’m not overly concerned with those labels. Ultimately, I’m just trying to pay attention and not be too wasteful, if at all possible, because wasting life/reality (which includes wasting the life/reality of “others” as well as myself, since there ultimately is no strict boundary between me and you) is, quite simply, about the only true crime I can really think of.permalink |