Kyle at the Reformed Buddhist has a post on the horrors going on the world which are almost completely airbrushed out of US media by broadcasting fluff and gossip. I commented that there was once a great radio engineer (who had the occasional bizarre right-wing view, e.g., opposition to the metric system) who called such media fluff and gossip a "interference." In communication systems and radio engineering, we call interference as "unwanted received signals" or often, when the interference is unintentional, as "noise."
Funny thing is, our brains do that to ourselves or at least my brain has a tendency to do that. By "that" I mean make "interference." Habit and diversion - these were, in the West, noted by Blaise Pascal as forms of "interference." Regarding diversion Pascal wrote (in French of course!)
Nothing is so insufferable to man as to be completely at rest, without passions, without business, without diversion, without study. He then feels his nothingness, his forlornness, his insufficiency, his dependence, his weakness, his emptiness. There will immediately arise from the depth of his heart weariness, gloom, sadness, fretfulness, vexation, despair.
As men are not able to fight against death, misery, ignorance, they have taken it into their heads, in order to be happy, not to think of them at all.
The only thing which consoles us for our miseries is diversion, and yet this is the greatest of our miseries. For it is this which principally hinders us from reflecting upon ourselves and which makes us insensibly ruin ourselves. Without this we should be in a state of weariness, and this weariness would spur us to seek a more solid means of escaping from it. But diversion amuses us, and leads us unconsciously to death.
Regarding habit Pascal wrote:
What are our natural principles but principles of custom? In children they are those which they have received from the habits of their fathers, as hunting in animals. A different custom will cause different natural principles. This is seen in experience; and if there are some natural principles ineradicable by custom, there are also some customs opposed to nature, ineradicable by nature or by a second custom. This depends on disposition.
I agree with Kyle's point that the misery of the world very far surpasses our ability to even know about it, especially with the media with which we have been so fortunate to be able to have. But we do this in 100 tiny ways to ourselves. Sometimes, it's out of necessity. Other times, it's out of blissful ignorance. Sometimes marriage vows are read as:
I, ____, take you, ____, to be my (husband/wife). I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life. I, ____, take you, ____, for my lawful (husband/wife), to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.
Imagine if these vows were more descriptive, at least statistically. Perhaps in addition to this, if there was a sentence reading such as "I understand that, if you live to the age of 55, that between the ages of 55 and 64 there is a 10% chance of you dieing by any cause whatsoever, including a 3.2% chance of death due to a major cardiovascular disease, and a 3.7% chance of death due to a malignant neoplasm" the reality behind these flowery marriage vows might sink in - like those warning labels on cigarette boxes. On second thought, no that probably wouldn't work - people would just ignore that too, just like people ignore those warning labels cigarette boxes. Habit and diversion again, are pretty powerful ways to get one's self to avoid seeing how one is and what needs to be done.
But my point, I hope, is obvious: Whenever you meet someone, you're meeting someone who's going to die. Any time you meet someone, you meet someone who either has just been born and is just finding out about the world in which he lives, or has been survived enough to have hopes and dreams and aspirations, or who has had them and may have lost them, or was, by luck of the draw, rendered too insentient to ever have had them, but is still sentient enough to be alive and present on this planet at the same time you are. And you are meeting someone who will have been able to have an obituary written about them.
To put it in a more Zen context, as Case 7 of the Hekiganroku points out:
A monk asked Hōgen, "I, Echō, ask you, Master. What is Buddha?" Hōgen said, "You are Echō."
Now, what is the list of things I've got to do today? Or more to the point, what do I have to remember to do today that goes against my ingrained habits, desires for diversion, and actually helps folk here?