When Yun-Men said that the Buddha was a dried shitstick, he may not have had the same intent as the movie makers who exploit the “yuk factor,” described in this New York Times article, but from a certain perspective they have a lot in common.
The scatological humor of teenage boys is not often ranked among the more profound human creations, as Yun-Men’s statement is, but both derive their impact from the flaunting of conventional ideas of dignity and propriety. The more sophisticated human culture becomes, the greater our tendency to distance ourselves from the natural functions that we have in common with the “lower” animals.
I’m reminded of how my third wife used to yell at the dog for licking his genitals. He would look up at her as if to say, “There’s a problem?” And indeed there was, at least for her.
Which brings up an even older story: My second wife and I were sitting with her teenaged brother and his friend in a lunch counter in Helena, Montana, when Eddie turned to us as if he were totally unconscious of the green pickle relish he had carefully placed at the opening of one nostril. The outburst of laughter would have warmed the heart of a Hollywood director, or a Zen master.
Ideally, all incidents that arouse our disgust or aversion would lead us to ask, “Where do my ideas of propriety come from?” Going even further, “Where do all my ideas come from? How did I come to see the world and myself as I do?” Some investigation of these questions could lead us to a more light-hearted attitude toward all our sacred cows, not just the yuk-related ones. We might have many more opportunities to alter our mood with a smile, perhaps even a laugh.
Barbara Gates was in Mexico during the Day of the Dead festivities, and describes herself laughing,
“Who knew exactly why, but something felt unbearably funny. The typical unreliability of men? The imperfections of life? The failure of love?” (Inquiring Mind 25th anniversary issue)
Her laughter led to the insight that she had long clung to opinions of the significant others in her life that were far too simple. As she quotes Shakespeare, everything is “Both, both.” Nothing is either/or, people cannot be pigeonholed, and the nature of human beings is both tragic and hilarious.
One of the tragic/comic aspects of our predicament is that we are so disposed to see complex issues in terms of either/or, black/white, true/false. We have great difficulty dealing with the uncertainty of complex situations, and yet we insist on forming some simple-minded opinion, inadequate as it must inevitably be.
We are compelled to explain ourselves to each other despite the fact that we don’t have access to the great bulk of material our brains use in making decisions. Many of our sub-personalities perform actions that make us look ridiculous to our other sub-personalities, as well as to the rational subs of our friends. The mate/sex obsessed sub, the overeater, the shopper, the vain one; all have left our more balanced subs trying to rationalize and make excuses for them once the sane ones regain control of the organism. “I’m so angry with myself!” is an attempt to disavow the behavior of an errant sub.
Despite the shortcomings of our information, we defend our opinions of the sacred and the profane with anger and disdain, stifling the irreverence of teenage boys and elevating our “Holy Ones” above the need to defecate.
Which reminds me of the reflection of a college friend that there were some women who were so beautiful he couldn’t imagine them taking an ordinary shit, let alone having diarrhea. He imagined that their turds must come out wrapped in gold foil, like bonbons.
If you find yourself stuck on the tragic side, just remember to smile at your concerns the next time you take a shit.
Happy Winter Solstice!
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