Sunday, September 28, 2014

Not Zen 129: The Spokeless Wheel

"There are no precepts, really," the nurse said as he strolled through the cracked-open door. A crowd of people had broken into the storefront.

"That is a dangerous thought." His friend's scowl deepened. He hesitated before he entered. When he finally moved, he jammed his hands into his pockets and kept his eyes on the broken glass that lay all over the floor.

"Look for something besides bandages," the first one said. "They're not having luck with those. We need tourniquets."

"I will not steal. I told you already, that is against the precepts."

"We should try to save the wounded people regardless."

They had come upon a crowd of around twenty people in a panic. Some in the crowd had participated in a demonstration, which had met a counter-demonstration, which had turned into a riot. Stones had been thrown. Shots had been fired. Now there were wounded men and women among the crowd. They and their friends had rushed to the drugstore to seek refuge and medicine.

When they found the doors locked, they broke in. Passers-by helped, including the nurse, who felt he could stop some people from dying if he worked quickly.

"The woman you are thinking of has surely bled too much already," said the reluctant fellow behind him.

"I see iodine." The man pointed to a shelf of bottles. "I'll grab that too. That's helpful."

"This package actually says it's a tourniquet." With an air of regret, the follower noticed the right box. He took two steps, bent, and picked it up. Behind it was another box of tourniquets, and another. The first man rushed over.

"Come," he hissed. He grabbed the rest. "We have to be fast."

Outside, the two men approached a woman who had been shot in the leg. Her friends were trying to stop her bleeding but her heartbeat pushed the red liquid through their fingers. They had not slowed her impending death.

The nurse pushed supplies into his friend's hands. He gave orders to the woman's companions, who were frantic and eager to help. They elevated her leg and held her. He knelt next to her and tied a tourniquet rope around her thigh. He tightened it until her bleeding slowed to a trickle.

"Right," he said. "You say you have experience. So bandage her. Who's next?"

A young man offered his left arm. He had ripped off his sleeve and tied it near his shoulder. The cloth didn't reach his pressure point and he hadn't pulled it tight enough. The nurse's friend elevated his arm while the nurse tied a proper bandage.

Finally, three people rushed forward with a late arrival, a young man who couldn't walk. A white splinter of bone jutted out of his bloodied leg below the knee.

"There are two stretchers in there," the nurse said to his friend. "Go in and grab them both."

"But ..."

"Hurry. This man needs carried somewhere else and so does the woman who was shot. Her friends put a bandage on and it looks good. But she's passed out."

A half-dozen people rushed back into the drugstore. The nurse's friend followed them. He had seen the stretchers, too, behind the sales counter. He gave directions. The other folks shouted in triumph as they carried out the body boards and straps. Then they grabbed other medical supplies. Again, they shouted with glee as they discovered what they needed.

"Why are you crying?" the nurse asked his friend on his return.

"Because they are wounded." His dark-haired friend had to wipe his eyes. He sniffed. "Because they fought other people. Because they stole. And because we theived these bandages and tools."

"We are doing what we can to save lives." The nurse kept working on the broken leg.

"We did it wrong."

"The precepts are a guide to thinking. That's all." He finished cleaning the wound. With a nod, he allowed the young man's friends to lay the blood-matted head down on the road. "They are not a rulebook in some lifelong game. It does not help you or anyone to blindly follow them."

The second fellow closed his mouth. He wiped his face with his sleeve while he watched his friend complete the temporary splint.

"Following the precepts helps others," he responded.

"That's a good point. It shows that you're thinking. Go on, then. I'm almost done here. Pick a precept and I'll explain it as a guide, not a rule."

"One of the five, one of the eight, or one of the ten?"

"Listen to you." The nurse laughed. He covered his patient in a blanket to aid against shock. "This is why I had to say there are no precepts."

"I pick 'refrain from stealing.' It is vital. You cannot refute the rightness of it."

"Fine. I won't attempt to refute it. Who can doubt that refraining from stealing is a good thing?  But saving the wounded is more important." The nurse motioned for the stretcher. Three men and a woman brought it over. They laid it down next to the prone body. "These people and we, too, broke into the store for medicines. They recognize that it was right to do. How can you not?"

"Perhaps they are wrong. Perhaps you are wrong."

"Does it feel wrong?"

Everyone crouched. His friend, too, knelt to lift the half-conscious man onto the stretcher.

"Maybe this is not stealing," said the nurse's friend. He raised his voice as the wounded man cried out in pain. "Most of these people were not taking the medicines for their own benefit. You weren't. The need is urgent. They and you could not wait and maybe let the wounded die."

"I agree." The stretcher carriers took over for a moment. They strapped the young man in place on the board. "But the store owner would not agree. The equipment and medicine has been lost to him. The police and your precepts do not agree with this either. Do you understand?"


One of the stretcher carriers asked if they could carry away the man with the broken leg. The nurse nodded. Another bleeding woman approached. She had received a cut along her arm from fingertip to elbow. The nurse peeled back her sleeve while the nurse's friend, with care and drying tears, elevated her arm.

"The precepts are not a rulebook," the nurse continued. "There are not eight spokes in your dharma wheel. There are no spokes at all. Or maybe there are an infinite number, an endless interconnection between moral discipline and the circle of mindfulness that holds everything together."

"If there are no spokes in the wheel, then I'm lost. That is too free for me."

"You have reasons, I understand. But loosen your grip on your false simplicity.  And tighten this bandage."

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Not Zen 128: Prejudice

"How did you fail to notice?" said the elder karabash dog.  He turned to the other two members of his pack.  They stood over the flesh-stripped corpse of a sheep, one of the flock they had sworn to guard.

"Two jackals led me on a chase," explained the youngest.  His tan coat was smooth and unblemished. The mask of fur around his snout was dark with no flecks of grey.  "I fought them.  They kept laughing at me.  Then they ran off."

"There was a third," said the other.  His skin and fur were thick and brindled.  "When I brought my flock to join my brother's, I heard the growl of a jackal.  I crossed the hill.  At the top, I smelled blood.  When I glanced down, I saw the reason."

"Why did the jackal growl?"

"It was facing down a cheetah.  You know how cowardly they are.  The cheetah had stolen bites.  When confronted, it fled.  Afterwards, the jackal tried to drag off the rest of the body.  I fought him and won."

"Well done."  The elder hated to see any predator collect the spoils of their hunt.  Even if the body had been torn apart, as this one had, every degree of success needed to be met with discouragement.  Otherwise, predators would descend in droves upon the flock.  He could foresee that the next few days would be difficult enough.  The jackals and cheetahs would suspect weakness.

Karabash dogs often battled wolves, jackals, and bears.  It was what they lived for.  They protected livestock and took pride in their successes.  They travelled with the herds, contended with wild hunters, and showed no fear, not even of the bears.  The elder had lost his mate to such a fight although together with her, he had succeeded in driving the bear away.

He contemplated her greatness for a moment.  She had been mother to these two although he did not feel they were the best of her litters.  But then, they had been deprived of her presence, especially the youngest one.  She had been a force for calmness and for determination.  She had sought to protect her pups and her flocks like no other.  There had been no one like her in his life before and there would never be again.

"Some predators can be clever," he told the youngest.  He didn't want to discourage this one by being overly critical.  "In time, you'll learn."

"They are stupid," the lad snarled.  "They are low born, all of them."

The three split up for a while and patrolled the edges of the flock.  Like other karabash dogs, they did not guide herds.  The rams and the ewes did the leading from place to place.  They made decisions in a fashion known only to them.  These sheep, who smelled damp from the recent rain and liked the higher ground today, had decided not to move any farther.  The dogs protected them and nothing more.

In the late afternoon, the elder climbed a hill and surveyed the joined flocks.  He thought about his former mate.  She had loved this spot.  Once, he glimpsed something as it passed through distant trees.  A spotted pattern, it might have been a cheetah.  The sight angered him.  He had respect for all of his foes except those.  The cheetahs never defended their kill, no matter how hard won it was.  They never defended anything.  They were the opposite of his mate.

"I've seen those low-life cheetahs again."  The youngest came up the slope behind him.

"Yes, I know."

"They are the stupidest of all."

"I suppose."

The strong one came last up the slope.  He still reeked of his fight, his bloody triumph.

"No," he whispered. "The cheetahs are wise in their way."

"How can you say that?"

"I have observed them."  His confident stride took him past the others to a sheer rock ledge.  His gaze swept over the sheep below, then beyond.  "I know where they meet by the Kangal stream at the bottom of the next hill.  I can't catch them of course, but I watch them."

"And what do you see?"

"Something I never expected."  He shook his head, at a loss to describe it.  "Come.  It's a few minutes away."

The brindled mastiff led the group to the lopsided, low hill that bordered the water.  Trees lined the banks.  Behind the trees, to the southwest, lay a clearing of tall grass.  It was the sort of hollow in which cheetahs preferred to roam.

The elder dog liked his vantage point.  He could see the sheep, although they were not as close as he usually preferred, and he could see a lone cheetah.  It could see him, too.  Its gaze swept up to where the three dogs lie.  Nevertheless, the lowly predator strode forward into the clearing.  By the edge nearest the water, it lay down.  There, it waited as the dogs did.  Another cheetah arrived, this one from the north.  Then another came.

"We are observed," said the last of the cheetahs.  She gazed up at the dogs.

"They are welcome," said the leader.  He raised his voice.  "Karabash dogs, today we are contemplating the impermanence of all things as represented by our departed grandmother, 'Runs Like the Kangal Stream.'"

"Where is she?" called the elder before he could think.

"She drove away a bear to protect her cubs.  So here we are, alive.  But she died of her wounds.  So here we are, trying to achieve a level of wisdom without her."

The youngest karabash dog snorted.  The elder turned and barked at him.  Startled, the other dog drew back.

After a moment, the elder mastiff made his decision.  He ventured downslope.

"I believe we shall sit in the back, guru of the cheetahs."

The cheetah closed his eyes and waited for the elder dog.

He allowed himself respect and curiosity for this enemy, especially for his enemy's grandmother.  He might have liked to meet her.  He felt a presence by his side.  It was his brindle-coated son.  The fellow stayed silent.  But he carried, still, the lingering scent of bloody victory.  He had calmness, focus, and certainty of purpose.  It occurred to the elder that his brindle-coated son had been right.  He hadn't wavered in his determination about the cheetahs.  In that, he was like his mother.

The youngest caught up to them both.

"How can you tolerate this?" he growled.  "How can you sit so near?  They are lowest of the low.  They have no souls.  You've said before that we have nothing in common with them."

"We have one thing.  It is more than I thought.  Don't let your prejudice blind you."  He interposed his body between the young one and the cheetahs.  He lay down in the manner of the guru.  "And don't worry about their souls.  Sit still now and pay attention to your own."

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Not Zen 127: Governance

c. Pakkin Leung via Wikimedia Commons

"How could this have happened?" the mother of one child asked the school principal. She wiped her face with a napkin.

The fight had occurred over a ball, as many small incidents had before. A girl on one team kicked a red ball out of the field of play. In the shouting and confusion, no one on the other team ran to pick it up. A different group of children grabbed it. They didn't look at the game going on. They began throwing the ball to one another. At that point, a boy on the fielding team ran up to take it away.

The boy holding the ball refused to give it up. The two contestants wrestled over it. They shouted. All the children in the area began yelling at others or calling for help.

It was the kind of playground scuffle that usually got broken up by teachers. However, the teachers in the school had recently been forbidden to intervene. They didn't pull the boys apart. Instead, due to what seemed to be a fortunate circumstance, they requested police assistance.

The two police officers were visiting the building to give a talk. One of them got the call to action when a teacher rushed into his room, shouted there was a 'terrible fight' on the playground and that he was needed. The officer, as he'd been trained to do, put in a call to his backup before he went to assist.

When he arrived on the playground, he was surprised to find the fight still going on. A minute had passed and he was aware that even a minute is a long time for a tussle between children. He was more surprised when he reached out to the boys rolling on the ground. They were big for their age, the size of small adults, and strong. They knocked him off of his feet.

That was when the second officer arrived on the scene.

The accounts of the witnesses differed wildly at this point. But even the police agreed that this was when they responded as if the children were adults. First, they each tackled a combatant. One of the boys grabbed at the female officer's weapons. The officer used a stick to beat him back. Both boys tried to defend themselves from the police sticks. Both were beaten further and a teacher who tried to intervene received a head wound from the second officer. The children were further beaten, handcuffed, and arrested. The police filed charges against them for assault, battery, and resisting arrest.

Although the children were taken to a hospital along with the wounded teacher, armed guards accompanied them. When the parents went to see their children, they were turned away by the guards and told to see the school principal, who had recently arrived.

"They're children," insisted the parents to the principal. "They're not adults. Children."

"They've been charged as adults."

"How is that even possible? It's simply not true. How are they allowed to suddenly decide that our children are grown up when no one else has?"

The mother of the larger of the two boys pointed out that he was mentally challenged and normally gentle. He had never been involved in a playground incident before.

That evening, pictures of the beaten children appeared in the news. Within an hour, the guards were called back to the police station. Nurses admitted the parents to their children's rooms. The next day, charges were dropped. Instead of talking about how wrong the teachers and children had behaved, the police spokesman at a press conference said the department would focus on what the officers had done wrong.

The larger child had been admitted unconscious. He remained in that state due, doctors stated, to head trauma. Two days later, he died in his hospital bed with his mother by his side.

She and the principal returned to the hospital several times to visit the remaining, recovering boy and his parents. They were surprised to overhear, over a news broadcast on the hospital television, that a source within the police department said the officers in the school child beating had done nothing wrong. The investigation of the incident had been conducted quickly and would soon exonerate both officers.

The parents and principal asked to speak to someone from the department. It took two days but the Deputy Chief of Police agreed to come to the hospital for a talk. He admitted to them that the news leak was correct. The investigation had found nothing against the officers.

"They've done nothing wrong? Nothing? They killed my boy."

"They acted as they were trained to do."

"They used deadly force against unarmed children."

"That's unfortunate. We'll change our training to prevent this sort of tragedy. But again, they did as they were trained."

"Then the whole department should be punished."

"How?" The Deputy Chief chuckled. He glanced at their faces and took a deep breath. "That isn't practical. There's no way to punish the police department without hurting public safety."

As she shook her head and fell into tears, the school principal spoke up.

"We punish schools when they perform poorly. Why don't we do it to other public departments?"

"How, smart guy? Shut down police stations?"

"We could do that as easily as we shut down schools. Why not? But there's another way. You could do it personally. You could de-fund the job pleasantries. Take away the department coffee machines or your rewards program. Withhold the fanciest equipment from your new fitness center. Take out the music player."

The Deputy Chief started to say something but he paused.

"That sounds good to me," said the father of the recovering boy. "We should strip away the luxuries for law enforcement organizations when they misuse their force. Give it back later as they improve."

"But …"

"Just as an individual is punished for misusing martial arts and hurting others," the principal continued, "a law enforcement organization should be punished for misusing force."

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Not Zen 126: Cooperation

Three former teammates seated themselves for lunch. Each set down a plastic tray on the black tabletop. One placed a stack of napkins in the center for all to use. Another tossed in flatware. This wasn't the fanciest place or the best food, they all agreed, but it was quick. The restaurant was no more than a five minute walk from any of their offices. It had become their place to meet.

"Good to see you guys," said the woman. She unwrapped three straws and popped them into their drinks, each in turn, hers last. 
"Whoops. I forgot to grab condiments," said the fellow who usually had that job. He stretched over to a nearby, empty table and swept off the salt and pepper shakers.

"Are we getting lazy?" the first man asked, the one who had brought napkins. "We've let more than a month go by without talking."

Two years ago, they had worked together for a large company. Each had left for a better offer in a smaller company. Now they headed technical service teams. As leaders, they kept busier than they'd been before. But they kept in touch.

It didn't take long for them to trade shop talk about how they were doing, the advances in technologies, the contracts they'd won and lost, projects they'd barely gotten done, and other projects in which they'd succeeded beyond what they'd dreamed.

"It's no secret that the government is putting out a combined contract," said one fellow as he picked up a napkin he'd brought. He wiped his mouth.

"Yeah, everyone in the business has been reading the request for proposal," his friend agreed. He cut another piece from his steak. "That's the biggest contract of the year so far. We're bidding on it, of course. I'm in charge of our proposal team."

"Some of the industry giants are going to compete." The woman took a sip from her glass. "They mentioned it to me last week. It's big enough to attract them. They're putting together bids."

"Ugh." The fellow who'd brought it up set down his food. "That means none of our companies stand a chance."

"Speak for yourself." Next to him, his former teammate chewed on his steak. He folded his arms and leaned back before he paused to conclude, "We'll underbid everyone."

The other two stared at him for a moment. They glanced to each other, then down to their lunch plates.

"You can try," the first fellow ventured after a moment. "But do you meet all of the requirements? My company is a few positions short, I think, or we have to send a couple of our folks to get certified in skills we don't have on board. I wouldn't mind us teaming up on a joint proposal."

"Are you crazy?" His friend opened his mouth in a burst of laughter. His teeth gleamed. "Why would I team up with you? We're competitors."

"Yeah, but we could team up to compete against the bigger companies."

"But then I couldn't win the contract for my company, could I? Even in your best case scenario, we'd have to share the spoils. The benefits of winning wouldn't come totally to me."

"That's right." Slowly, he nodded. "That's partnership, I guess."

They ate in silence for half a minute. The fellow responsible for condiments got up to get sauces he'd forgotten. At that moment, the woman turned to her remaining companion.

"Is that offer you made to him open to my company too?"

"Of course. You're at such a high-end company, I didn't think you'd be interested. I should have asked you first, shouldn't I?" He shook his head and scowled at himself. 

"There are eight expertise areas listed in the contract," she said. "It occurs to me that your company has the best expertise in two areas. You really do. We're a leader in three of them, I'd say. And by that I mean we're better than even the big companies. You know it's true."

"Yeah, although the big ones are pretty strong at everything."

"But not they're not best. They won't be better than us combined for this bid."

"The government might not trust an offer that doesn't come from a big company." He sighed.

"Maybe. But we can have the best qualified bid. That's something." Her eyes lit with excitement. "Even if we lose, the agency will see our expertise levels. They'll probably ask one of the big companies to outsource work to us. After all, we're leaders in key areas."

"Yeah, even a loss could be a win." He had to acknowledge that everything she said was right. "Are you up for a working lunch on this tomorrow?"

"I'll draft a bid to review."

A month later, when the proposal deadline arrived, it turned out that the company with the lowest bid was deemed under-qualified. They did not show the proper areas of expertise. Their proposal was dismissed in the first step of the evaluation process. In contrast, the combined effort of the two smaller companies won the contract. Their proposal survived even a challenge from the bigger companies and a rebidding process.

As the contract was awarded, the executive who had lost his bid received a demotion.

"You were a fine engineer," his boss said as they walked from his former office to his new desk. "But you don't seem ready for an executive position. You're not the competitor we're looking for."

"I'm more competitive than anyone!" he complained.

"Really." His boss eyed him skeptically. "Then why didn't you get us on the winning team?"