ROCHESTER, MN -- In the grocery checkout line the other day, holding my milk and eggs in hand, I scanned the magazine rack headlines:
• The Blended Orgasm – A More Intense Climax
• Bite Me! Woman’s Bizarre Relationship With Mosquitoes
• Bomb Blast Near Bhutto Kills 126 in Pakistan
• “Queen of Mean” Leaves $12 Million to Pet Pooch
• Viking Fans Feel the Pain, Again and Again and ...
Has anyone out there noticed how a calm mind evaporates like the dew when exposed to newspaper headlines, magazine covers, and Sunday morning talk TV?
Even the serious Pakistan headline above, mixed into this gruel, is transformed into a jitter-making diversion, a passing frisson of gloom.
Yet there is a sense too in which the Pakistan headline fits right along with the others – that is, in the human insanity being described. The tabloids all-too-accurately report on our obsessive attachments and delusions, on the human condition, just as our newspapers factually report the news.
All of it dispels calm:
The strange human urge to be bitten! Maybe I’ll experiment!
The urgency of news from Pakistan! I must respond to it!
Blended orgasms – wow! How can I get one or give one?
I point to how the mass media transforms calm to agitation, because according to the Buddhist tradition, developing inner calm is the royal road to wisdom, which is the royal road to peace.
Obsessions & Fetters
Therefore, if the mass media -- and journalism as the conscience of the mass media -- is going to contribute to world peace, it will have to help develop calm states of mind among its consumers worldwide.
The Buddhist term for calm is “samatha,” or tranquility.
“Monks!” the Buddha once addressed his orange-robed followers. “There is the case where a monk has developed insight preceded by tranquility. As he develops insight preceded by tranquility, the path is born. He follows that path, develops it and pursues it. As he follows the path, developing it and pursuing it — his fetters are abandoned, his obsessions destroyed.”
Those would be the fetters of ignorance and mental restlessness, and the obsession with forming solid opinions, theories, identities and careers.
Developing calm mind states, the Buddha said, begins the path to peace.
Is the mass media, and journalism as the conscience of the media, following this path?
Is the mass media’s role as a major influence on mass mind-states even explicitly addressed in the codified ethics of any branch of the mass media? If not, why not?
When you think of it, is there any resource on the planet more precious than a calm mind? The human race needs calm minds like it needs oxygen. When calm minds disappear, anxiety appears, and violence lurks close by.
Without a calm collective mind the human species surely will perish as quickly as if the ozone layer disappeared, or the polar ice caps melted tomorrow. And the mass media – when consumed or produced in huge amounts by anxious and scattered minds – is surely one of the greatest manmade threats to the vital planetary resource of calm minds.
Buddhist psychology precisely names the three basic toxins – the Buddha called them “visiting forces” – that attack the naturally calm human mind.
They are the “kilesas,” or defilements, and they come in three main varieties: greed, which is wanting to grasp what is pleasant; aversion, which is wanting to avoid or annihilate what is unpleasant; and delusion, which is ignorance of reality and an infatuation with unreal things.
Mixing these three ingredients in different proportions yields the full menu of poisons that human beings fall heir to – anger, jealousy, lust, fear, anxious planning, tearful reminiscing, giddy blisses, judging, perfectionism, hypochondria, self-pity, martyrdom, horror, depression, and on and on.
As a journalist, my concern is that I know very little about the role that words and images play as a host or vector of the kilesas; or how language might be used to host, transmit, or support calm and wise states of mind.
The idea that as a journalist, not to mention as a person, I unconsciously host or transmit language toxins – kilesas, if you will, destroyers of the precious natural resource of calm – is slightly haunting. So is the idea that my culture offers no training in the public use of language in wholesome, ethical ways.
Don’t get me wrong.
I am 100% in favor of blended orgasms, whatever they are.
I just want to be able to get one, to give one, and as a journalist to tell the world about them – along with the distracting yet important daily news -- while also staying wise, caring and calm.