Around 2:00 a.m. this morning, the police and fire departments arrived at the late Hayes Valley Farm to remove the humans who had taken up protest-residence in the doomed trees. During the four-hour extraction, there were some cries and screams, and the occasional small-crowd cheer. (At what? A fleeting victory as a wily treesitter evaded the inevitable? We’ll probably never know.) The official vehicles came and went without sirens, the officials without megaphones.
The operation ended just as our sesshin, and the buzz-saws, began. So many complicated precepts here: To not take life (the woodcutters). To not take what isn’t given (the occupiers). To not speak ill of others, to not praise self at the expense of others (both sides).
How to make sense of such a complicated, fraught scenario? Nagarjuna’s Four Distortions don’t provide answers, but they do provide helpful paths of inquiry:
1. Seeing the impermanent as permanent
“The trees should be left there forever.”
“Developers are always greedy.”
2. Seeing the impure as pure
“The protesters have the moral high ground.”
3. Seeing the selfless as having a self.
“I care about trees and you don’t.”
4. Seeing suffering as blissful.
“Sitting in this tree/arresting these people/developing condos makes me happy.”
(All quotes are hypothetical.)