“Close your eyes and forget your name, step outside yourself and let your thoughts drain.” —Slayer, “Seasons in the Abyss”
“Inner Self” has a fascinating conceptual—perhaps even self-referential—parallel in its fraternal twin, “Stronger than Hate.” It begins, “I shall redeem myself from the clutches that grasp at my inner self. No tomorrow shall ease my oppression.” Catch that? No tomorrow, as in zero promised heaven will ease the pangs one currently feels in their psyche. As in: future gravy means squat in regard to those super-dry ‘taters glaring hatefully up at you from your plate; the gravy’s merely conceptual. That steaming, desiccant potato-mess is miserably real; be here now and deal with it, Chief. Summarized in a word: this is consciousness -or at least it’s the threshold of it. Obviously, Max’s inner being was very much a concern to him at that point in his life—as it should be, especially given the volatility of the Cavalera brothers’ adopted home city at the time.
Though it might not have been obvious in the first leg of Fallow Heart’s “Inner Self” analysis, I am sensitive to the influence of socio-environmental impulses upon the tender casing of our identities. It’s nothing to fucking sneeze at and, to be blunt, as oriented as it is around the machinations of mind and spirit, Buddhism generally fails to—at least directly—address the issues of societal malaise. Buddhism’s thrall is quite deeply rooted in territories with astonishing rates of poverty, hunger and prostitution. Thailand, (for example,) has many parallels to São Paolo with a rapid economic boom beginning in the ’70s followed by a grandly destabilizing crash in the mid ’90s both of which radically increased the division between urban and rural communities. Young men left the country in droves seeking gainful employ while friggin’ scads of young women became sex workers in Bangkok, frequently at the insistence of their families. Professor of Religion Donald K. Swearer notes that “although Thailand has over a quarter of a million monks in thousands of monasteries throughout the land, it still has more prostitutes than monks.” (Predictably, the proportion of people immediately impacted by HIV is amongst the highest in the world.)
Sure, there’s a case to be made for the woes of Thailand’s poor resulting in part on the withdrawal of Buddhist conventions and their emphasis on self-sufficiency and contentment in exchange for the insatiable thrum of rampant consumerism in everyday life. Even so, the thought of battalions of monks holed up within their monasteries, apparently oblivious to the flourishing miseries outside of their walls understandably ruffles many an outraged feather, including my own.
But despite all them bedraggled feathers, it’s important to remember and to contemplate the paradigm that the Buddhist offers to their suffering counterparts. The ability to compose one’s own mind along with the choice to live simply, awash in appreciation for the present moment’s caprices rather than the rash wiling away of one’s days, bird-dogging grotty commercial goods is a remedy to one of the more prevalent woes of most contemporary societies even if it’s not an especially satisfying one on paper. Am I vacillating here? Most definitely, killer. I want my home team to righteously dunk on the competition at every front. I want us to win because ‘peace’ as opposed to the unpleasantries that run roughshod outside its margins is obviously preferable.
Tavivat Puntarigvivat, a professor in the Humanities Department at Mahidol University states: “Unlike Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the main concern of religious leaders and philosophers during the time of the founder (Buddha) was not political liberation from social conditions, but personal liberation from human psychological suffering arising from the cycle of birth, old age, sickness, and death. Although the Buddha also taught ethical principles regarding the social, economic, and political well-being of people, the main theme in Buddhism was personal liberation from psychological suffering.” (emphases mine)
I’ll add that it simply isn’t accepted Buddhist praxis to exhort and cajole their communities in order to win followers and swell their fucking ranks. Christians are yoked by their ‘doctrines’ while Buddhist’s allude to ‘Dharma.’ While a doctrine’s basically a religious law instated by so-called ‘doctors’ of the faith, Dharma is most faithfully translated as ‘method.’ It ain’t law and it ain’t even really maxim. Dharma’s basically a circuit board of attitudes regarding how to live a more fulfilling and uncluttered life. ‘Tap into us at your leisure,’ it says. ‘That time, whenever it might be will prove to have been the right one for you to grapple with these slippery concepts, so don’t bother rushing in without warming up first. Breathe in and then out. Embark for us at the moment of your choosing.’ Make sense? Dharma’s not designed to pressure you. It doesn’t have the frame to apply that sort of emotional or psychological duress upon a terrestrial body; the action would run counter to the philosophy’s crux.
MY STREAK OF HATE LEADS THE WAY
When Max utters the above line in “Stronger than Hate,” Dharma wouldn’t consider lifting a finger to persuade him otherwise. ‘Have your guide in hate and be as well with it as you may,’ it might likely say. Mr. Cavalera has declared his own ‘method’ and it is good enough. This is the confusing power—or else power vacuum—of enlightenment.
Does this syllogism mean that the Buddhist must remain passive when encountering turmoil? Must they remain unflinching in the face of its suffering in order to satisfy the palate of the method? If that’s the fucking case, how can we then simultaneously state that we are all an interwoven wickerwork composed of love? How can ‘love’ bear to be so ‘removed’ from its object? It’s admittedly a hard concept for me to swallow, chief. I was homeless in my late teens, holing myself up for many a night, not in monasteries but in ATM vestibules, and roused more than once by a boot to the ribs. I remember those occasional oases of compassion during that time very, very well. I recall the joyful surge of being given a five dollar bill or a bowl of soup from the coffee shop whose premises I tended to haunt. That’s the feeling that I want to allot to those that I interact with now. Does my philosophy ultimately steer me away from that province and the exercise of those blessings onwards to a remote island instead? I’ll admit that I don’t know the answer, friend and I’m a tad disturbed by the prospects. But fuck it; peace must be the end goal, come hither or thither.
Liege of Inveracity
Heaven and Hell—François Octave Tassaert
Jesus commanded that his followers should be ‘in the world but not of the world.’ An ancient Buddhist saying mirrors this concept by stating that ‘Life is but a bridge: cross it, but do not build your house upon it.’ But even though Jesus seems to be in accord with Buddhist Dharma here, the reality is that Christianity, whether through the influence of Emperor Constantine or as dumb happenstance of the internecine argy-bargy that immediately erupted between early Christian sects, has almost always functioned as a kind of astral monarchy. And what’s a monarchy driven to do? It wants to militarize itself, doesn’t it? It wants to go forth and expand its sphere of influence! Classical Christian artwork depicted God’s angels as weaponized and often outfitted in armor. Other pieces suggested that one of the choicest rewards that heaven has to offer is to be able to gaze down upon the unimaginable suffering of those cast into the maw of hell, (one presumes those happy few get to enjoy the show with a carton of popcorn in hand.) If paying witness to the suffering of other feeling creatures is a sort of celestially endowed joy, it begs the question: when Belinda Carlisle informed us that “heaven is a place on earth,” could she have also been alluding to my buddies that used to winnow away their Saturday afternoons watching Faces of Death?
Speaking of: I remember dropping by a friend’s house early one weekend morning to find him in his pajamas, bowl of cereal in hand, absorbing that grody shit all by his lonesome and I felt an immediate, gnawing unease. I mean, that’s something one peeps in the company of friends and a freshly-loaded bowl, right? Not all by yourself in your Battlestar Galactica PJ’s. My ‘inner self’ called that one correctly, ladies and gentlemen. That fresh-faced scamp would go on to spend many moons in lockup down the line for murdering a homeless gentleman over by the railway that fringed our neighborhood. And there but for the grace of ‘god’—as they say—go I.
Onward Christian Soldiers, Marching as to War
The conquest of sovereignty’s around the world have admittedly provided many benefits to our global society. At times, they’ve positively radiated invention, however precipitated that invention was by dent of necessity owing to the sheer toll of conquest. And of course monarchies will also boast a corps of missionaries within their ranks to spread the ‘good news’ that God became a sorry, stinking man in order to inform us all that we could hardly be more disappointing, treasonous lowlifes but, and this is a big one, that so long as we make a backbreaking investment in guilt, lucre and toil we’ll kindly be invited to his dad’s after party. This is the first mortgage, (mortgage rightfully implying ‘death pledge,’ just as the word’s directly derived from,) that most of us Westerners consent to lash ourselves to, ladies and gentlemen. Anti-empirialist activist Jomo Kenyatta recalled that, “When the missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land and the missionaries had the Bible. They taught us how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, we had the Bible but they had the land.” (emphasis mine) And yet the Christian missionary would seem to more tangibly address the cries of the suffering than the stoic monk who responds to every goddamned question with yet another question, (admittedly, very frustrating.)
This is—perhaps undeniably—true. The Buddhist is awash in contemplation. Therefore, for the sake of this discussion’s final lap, it’s worth considering the true meaning of the word ‘contemplation.’ It’s drawn from Latin, (big surprise,) from the word ‘templum,’ the first syllable of which –tem– is culled from the proto Indo-European base ‘temp’ which means ‘to cut’ or ‘to remove from.’ To really contemplate means to enter into the temple. It doesn’t mean to be talked at by some well rehearsed, erudite doctor of spirituality.
Contemplation requires silence; a retreat from the ego. Haven’t you always been told that your body is a temple? Therefore you must cut away the fetters of the waking world and go within yourself for actual respite and response. That is what Buddha taught. No other joys will satisfy beyond their brief, endorphin releasing moment. Those moments evanesce by design but the temple, your temple, is eternal and never fear, Varg will never gain access to any other than his own. You are the son and daughter of the god who has been so frequently discussed all this time.
When Slayer invited us to ‘step outside ourselves and let our thoughts drain,’ they finish—a touch unhelpfully—with the implication that, as we do so, we’ll go insane. Hmm. So, the word ‘sane’ literally means health, be it mental, physical or spiritual. In my opinion, our special, dragon-slaying boys took a hard right turn into the wilderness that I’d like to amend. To step outside of the ego and the rodent wheel along with the bit, spurs and blinders of want and suffering, one should wander inwards, into the startling silence of the temple where they can work loose the binds of the terrible insanity that exists outside the walls of the psyche. This is the inner self that Max, like a bloody-minded Don Quixote, righteously pursued. I realize of course that I’ve not put forth any substantive answers to the questions that I’ve posed within this piece, nor do I need to. The question itself is the path; the answer is superfluous. Thank you Max Cavalera. I thank you so much for everything, (most especially for the bitchin’ tunes.)
“Hatreds never cease by hatred in this world; through love alone they cease. This is an eternal law.”—Buddha