Poet Missing Since 9/11
Morgan Gibson (from KJ#51)
have heard nothing from the NonZen Poet since he disappeared last summer
under the awning of Charmy Tanaka's shop near Starbucks on Motomachi
in Yokohama (Kyoto Journal #49). I assume that he is where he always
is, ever on and in the Tao, off of which I continue to wander. Desperately
needing his wisdom, I have looked everywhere in vain for his androgynous
visage and the Dalai Lama T-shirt and silk scarf rakishly worn in all
Loyal readers will recall
that in Kyoto Journal #47 the NonZen Poet addressed an unprecedented
open letter to the Buddha himself, concerning the largest sculptures
of the Buddha in the world, 1,600 years old, at Bamiyan in Afghanistan,
being blown up by the iconoclastic Taliban, who were later relieved
of governing that unfortunate country. Considering that for more than
five hundred years Buddhists did not visually represent the Buddha,
to avoid attachments to illusions, the NonZen Poet wondered whether
the Taliban might practice some obscure form of Islamic Zen: "If you
see a Buddha standing in a cliff, blow him up!"
Since 9/11 has the
NonZen Poet learned not to mess with Islamic Fundamentalists? He apparently
did not learn his lesson after the life of Salman Rushdie was threatened
for messing around in The Satanic Verses, and his Japanese translator
assassinated in Japan. Has the NonZen Poet been done in by pissed-off
Muslims, Buddhists, CIA, friendly fire from peacekeepers, or at least
detained incommunicado by immigration officials who cannot match this
will-o-the-wispy philosophical figment with any passable ethnic stereotype?
He is greatly missed along with countless others of flesh and blood
more painfully missed than he.
Without his guidance I have
been brooding about 9/11 and the War on Terror that is itself pretty
terrible. What would the NonZen Poet say about all this? Could he free
us from Terror of all kinds to bring the peace that passeth understanding?
When I saw on TV the 9/11
plane crash into the Twin Towers, I thought it was special effects.
When convinced that the destruction was real, I recalled its foreshadowing
in countless apocalyptic films. Though horrified, I was not deeply surprised,
for had we not been amply warned by Hollywood? Who could believe that
such an attack could not happen, that America was inviolate as well
as morally pure? Apparently many did, especially in New York.
For most of my life I have
expected America to be attacked. When (age 12) I first heard Chicago
newsboys shout, "Pearl Harbor bombed!" -- believing it to be a Lake
Michigan dock -- I expected my home to be bombed any minute. I have
not felt safe ever since. I expected Nazi buzz-bombs to strike Chicago
after London, and somebody's A-bomb to fly our way after "ours" -- but
not mine -- incinerated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. During the Cold War
we feared Russian bombers zooming across Canada and the mid-West towards
New York and Washington. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, American schoolchildren
hid under desks during air-raid drills. When Red China got its nuclear
bomb, people bet on whether it or a Russian bomb would strike America
first. On and on. So I was not much surprised on 9/11, though I was
properly "terrorfied." Even if the FBI and CIA were competent and efficient,
there is no way of preventing all terrorist attacks -- not only by Islamic
fundamentalists, but by domestic maniacs as well, as in Oklahoma. It
seems that power-mad people in and out of governments are out to get
us, one way or another.
What is Terrorism anyhow?
If it includes government-sponsored attacks on civilians, it then includes
American bombing -- not only nuclear but also conventional, as in the
bombing of Japanese and German cities and villages in Vietnam, Cambodia
and Afghanistan, for instance.
More generally, we do not
like to admit that the human race is an endangered species, increasingly
threatened by nuclear and other environmental dangers. The earth itself
may well be blasted by asteroids; and just as it evolved from the sun,
so it will eventually be consumed by the sun. In this scenario, terrorists
are small bananas.
Expecting death, I have lived
as if peace were possible, though violence is pandemic. Buddhism opened
my eyes to death-in-life and life-in-death, their nonduality. The NonZen
Poet opened them even wider. Terrorists come and go, civilizations rise
and fall, our own among them whoever we may be, but death is always
with us. As the Buddha asked, is there a family that has never known
death? Indeed, each moment, created, dies. Realizing impermanence, insubstantiality,
the ubiquity of death, we may be calmer, compassionate, even unterrified
of Terror. Though neither a Buddhist nor a Japanophile, D. H. Lawrence
said it better than most: "O prepare your ship of death, for you will
was the twelfth and final column in Morgan Gibson's "Philosophizing in
the Void" series for Kyoto
held by the author
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