Why Is It So Hard To Be Kind?

portland_rose_gardenYou humans are a strange lot. On one hand you marvel about how complex and marvelous the human body is; on the other hand you can’t wait to commit genocide against all those human bodies. Seems like a contradiction to me, but what do I know? Call me naïve.

You know, Chris McCandless had the right idea but just the wrong venue. Getting away from the craziness of the world is a superb idea, starving to death in a bus abandoned in the Alaskan wilderness is another. It’s probably better to be a hermit in plain site. At least you’re around food and water.

Which brings me to the theme of this post: why is it so hard to be kind? It’s like pulling teeth just to get someone to give you space to enter the road in your car from a driveway. It’s like pulling teeth to get someone to hold the door open for you. It’s like pulling teeth for someone to reciprocate your act of kindness with a “Thank You.” It’s like pulling teeth to give grandma your spot in  the food bank line or your seat at the front of the bus. It’s like pulling teeth to help someone who has fallen. It’s like pulling teeth to give an obviously schizophrenic man a break despite the endless stream of sentences he’s speaking to no one.

Would it kill you to not noisily smack your lips and mouth when you’re eating?

Would it kill you to silence your phone at a restaurant?

Would it kill you to keep your voice down while you’re on the phone in a public space?

Would it kill you to give someone a ride if they don’t have bus fare?

Would it kill you to apologize to someone you’ve bumped into  in the street?

I could go on and on but you see my point. Kindness costs nothing but its rewards are plenty. Then again, I’m probably garden variety crazy.

On Being An Autistic Jain

reincarnation10“I do not know if there is rebirth or not, or life after death. But if it is true, then I would like to be born in India as a Jain.” Albert Einstein, suspected autistic.

One of my interests is human behavior. I am especially interested in how different people interact with each other. I am equally as interested in how a person behaves who has several strands to their genetic makeup and personality. Among other things, I’m autistic and a Jain – autistic by birth, Jain by choice. These two leanings can complement each other and, at times, work against each other. So far, these are a few pros and cons of this unique combination that I’ve discovered.

Pros: The Jain diet is extremely narrow and strict; in essence, I pretty much eat the same thing every day – fruits, peas, beans corn, rice, nuts and granola bars. For an autistic, this is not a problem as they are known for eating the same thing everyday anyway, some at always the exact same time every day.

Autistics tend to eschew modern fashion, so the latest styles at Nordstrom’s or Abercrombie & Fitch eludes them. In fact, some autistics wear the same things day in and day out. I don’t know if Steven Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg are aspies, but they do wear the same thing all the time, at least Steven Jobs did when he was alive. Jains practice aparigraha – own little, desire little. That Jain tenet works beautifully with the autistic ‘less is okay ‘ canon.

Cons: Logic. Some autistics are logical to a fault. Seeing is believing, abstract art is a waste of time. Counting, categorizing, compartmentalizing and collecting things are all pluses in the autistic world. Why play with a toy police car when you can take it apart to see what makes it work? These ideas are at odds with the Jain concepts of Heaven, Hell, the soul, karma and reincarnation because they’re abstract. They can’t be seen or felt; they must be simply believed.

Reconciling this dichotomy is a tricky affair, but my approach is this – Heaven and Hell are states of being. If you’re a gangbanger, or you’re full of hate, or you commit crimes often, or break the law often, or lie, cheat and steal or abuse drugs, then you’re living a life in Hell. You don’t have to wait to die to go into the fiery netherworld; you’re already living in it. Heaven is eschewing negative emotions and having compassion, charity and forgiveness in your life. According to the Jaina Dharma, owning and wanting nothing is also Heaven on earth. At least it is to me anyway.

I reconcile the soul as not being able to be visualized but simply detected. Can I prove that? Not really. I’m just going off the observations I’ve been privy to by animals. Some animals approach certain people without much trepidation, as if they see something good in or around these people, as if they have a positive aura which only the animals can see. Same thing for negative people. Animals avoid them or growl at them because they’re sensing something negative about them. I’ve had animals approach me, and even eat off my hand, when those same animals were too timid to approach anyone else.

Karma probably manifests as coincidence. Some philosophies believe there is no such thing as luck; you create positivity or negativity by your own behavior. If you get into fights a lot, or crash your car a lot, or lose your money from time to time, or trip and fall very often, or always seem to get caught in the rain without an umbrella, then your soul is flooded with negative karma. Since some Jains believe all karma is bad, then your soul is simply flooded with karma. The positivity in your life, then, is a result of the absence of karma.

I can’t prove karma but maybe it’s as simple as “you reap just what you sow/that old saying is true.” That’s Bob Marley and I think he had it right. I’ve been trying my level best to do good, be charitable, eliminate negative thoughts, avoid bad situations, etc. Not easy in this world; all I can do is give it a shot. So far, though, I’ve tended to find things in the street that I’ve needed: gloves when the weather was freezing cold, bottles of water when I was dying of thirst, money when I was broke, a large piece of denim for the hole in my pants, etc. I’ve had someone take off his sneakers, which just happened to be my perfect size, and give them to me because the ones I had had turned to shreds. I’ve gotten a sleeping bag just when I needed one for sleeping in my car. Finding food in the street is a common occurrence for me as well as finding a place to plug this laptop into in public.

Reincarnation, unfortunately, is still a matter out of my grasp. My autistic logical mind says, “Prove it.” Right now the only way I can reconcile reincarnation is the knowledge that all matter is not created or destroyed, just altered in form. A dead body dissolves into the ground or the sea and becomes part of the elements – food for other animals, calcium deposits, carbon footprints, etc. Can my soul find a new life in another’s body? Sounds like a good idea. I wish I could prove it,


Secrets are Ropeless Bondages

One of the things I’ve appreciated about Jainism is the freedom I get from it. If I wanted to I can strip naked and walk down Main Street without caring that people are seeing me in the raw. Of course, I’ll get arrested and placed on a sexual deviant list, but at least the embarrassment won’t bother me.

That was an extreme analogy about freedom, of course, but what I’m actually referring to are keeping and holding secrets like they were flawless diamonds. I’m learning to be transparent and not be tied down by secrets. Just watching what I have to say, and being careful to whom I speak those truths, will just make me feel like I’m going to burst into flames. Secrets feel like an additional weight around my ankles. They lock me in place and limits my movements to the point I’m purposelessly creating my own prison. Plus, in the end, it doesn’t matter how many secrets I harbor anyway. They won’t keep me from dying.

The second of the five Great Vow of Jainism is satya – truth. Speak the truth always unless to do so will harm someone or others. That’s a fairly tricky proposition to me because I don’t know what will harm someone or others. It’s not like truth is a knife although it cuts like one. But If I’m not bound by secrets I’ll sleep better, avoid needless ulcers, and according to Jainism, free myself of the karma that binds to ones soul that prevents the continuous cycle of life and death. Metaphysics aside, having no secrets is one less burden on my shoulders. I’d rather be free. I’d rather not be forced to look over my shoulder constantly or wonder what someone is thinking. I think I can be better than that.

Non-Violence Is Easy. Non-Possessiveness is More Challenging To Me.

Bus PassNon-violence is easy. Don’t pick up a gun and shoot anyone. Don’t pick up a sword and chop anyone. Avoid violence and negativity in thoughts, words and actions. I don’t hang around much people anyway so it’s relatively easy to temper my negative passions that way. If someone does cross my path and says or does something negative towards me, I have to remember to stop and think (as our right hand symbol suggests) and thank the person for allowing me a chance to test compassion and forgiveness, in essence, test my Jainism, if you will.

Lessening possessions is another matter, though. Obviously, I can’t walk around naked like our Digambar monks. What I do possess are eight shirts, one pair of pants, one pair of sneakers, an Obama phone, my car and my computer, both of which were purchased used. I suppose that’s already relatively little by today’s standards but I think I could go even further.

Since I need my clothes, what I can give up are my car and computer. That’s gonna be tough, though, because they keep me going through the day, especially the computer. I watch movies on it, watch terrestrial TV on it, surf the internet, converse with other Jains and Autistic people on it, write my short stories on it, listen to music on it, etc. In the past I’ve even created music on it as well as edited videos on it. In short, it’s been very good to me these past 30 years or so, so abandoning it will be difficult, indeed.

Giving up my car is an easier matter. Seattle is rife with transportation so, technically, I can get away without it. Of course, since I also sleep in my car, I’ll have to keep it till an apartment comes along. Once I do get a place I think I’ll give the car up. That’ll leave me with just my laptop and clothes. In any case, I don’t mind walking. I need the exercise anyway. I’ll just have to manage with the occasional bus pass now and then. I think that’s doable.