Last night I was making rice and as soon as I poured water into the pot, I noticed some tiny dark beetles float to the top. This phenomenon isn’t at all surprising, but I felt bad. Because I now knew that I was going to wash these suckers out and flush them down the drain. They would probably all die out once I washed the dishes and sent dish soap coursing through the pipes. So much for generating good karma!
Thanks to Barbara’s Buddhism Blog, I was pointed to a very touching piece by Jeff Wilson, Birth Is Suffering. He paints a new picture of Lord Buddha’s birth story for me:
The Buddha is said to have been born from his mother’s side, which hints at an emergency Caesarian section, and a week later she was on the funeral pyre. Supposedly, the Buddha never knew about death until it became time for him to enter the religious life, but this is blatantly incorrect. He grew up with the knowledge that his birth had been the occasion of his mother’s demise. How could he not have become introspective? In later years, when he said that killing one’s mother was one of the five cardinal sins, he could only have spoken with the knowledge of his own unwilling guilt. It is in the light of his hidden history that we should evaluate the Buddha’s puzzling statement that birth is suffering.
I spent the last week sick in bed at my Mother’s house, and among the panicked bathroom trips and bubbly fever dreams I clawed at a paperback of some of the dialogs of Plato.
It was a book from a critical writing class I took in community college, from one of my very favorite professors who taught me so much of what I know. It was then, reading Phaedo, that I remembered the story of his own encounter with Buddhism.
My memory betrays whether he was a layperson or a monastic, but his teacher had come to Buddhism directly via the first noble truth. He was a trucker, crisscrossing the country with the lived in experience of his own separation and sorrows and the stories of the hardships of others.
He knew this is suffering. Then, probably through some bookstore somewhere, he found the Dharma.
Last week, a dear friend’s dog died. He only had the opportunity to know him for a week: he had been abandoned at a temple, left and unwanted. He only had three legs.
My friend named him Milo after the chocolately drink. The temple took him in, and the devotees washed him, fed him, played with him, and gave him a home.
Then one morning they found him – lifeless, with blood strewn about. Some guessed a coyote had come down from the hills during the night but, regardless, after one week at the temple his life was over.
Just got back off a five hour drive from San Francisco. Some thoughts…
Finally I understand why monks are supposed to sleep on low beds. I’ve been spending the last few nights with a quilt across two zabuton (and a pillow). As a result I would only lie down to sleep for the sake of sleep, not for any pleasure at all! (I still got good sleep.)
I love staying with family because I can waste five minutes of my day by gently taking an ant outside, and no one will question why, and no one makes me defend expending so much effort for the sake of a little ant.
Someone should install a traffic camera at the corner of Oak and Octavia. The city could make millions on those tickets. And maybe it would even be safer.
Much time with family also meant much time speaking our language! I think it’s definitely important to speak another language with family for at least the following reasons.  You can talk about people in the same room without them knowing. (“Don’t nag Mom right now, she’s having a bad day.”)  Language is like a cultural glue. If you have language, you have almost direct access to so many aspects of culture, from recipes to history to religion. If you try to study a culture without its language, learning about it is like crawling the net with a dial-up modem.  Language binds family at a very deep emotional level. You share a knowledge that no one else has.  Perhaps the most obvious reason: if you don’t speak it, your language just might die out.
Lastly, I just came across an article from Urban Dharma with the topic: How will the Sangha fare in North American Buddhism? More about this later. But first sleep, and I shall sleep for the joy of it too.
Tucked in my desk drawer, or somewhere, encased in a plastic sandwich bag and carefully dated, is a note. It is a note about anatta.
The night the note was dated I was shooting pool with an old friend, and being beaten, again and again. The hall cleared up and the people cleared out, walking into the dry early morning air that was rain-slick so recently. I walked back to my car and, pinned under my windshield wiper, was the note:
THANKS FOR PARKING SO CLOSE ASSHOLE
Written in purple ink, with big loopy letters.
So I work at a place where I get to write about religion, and guess what I got yesterday in the mail, totally unsolicited:
That’s right, it is the Annual Religion Newswriters Conference! Apparently! I guess?
I had no idea such a thing existed, and I have a few things to say about it at a latter date but, for now, read more to see some of the convention’s program.
I played the wooden fish for the first and currently only time on May 17th, 2008. I had received a call that same morning half-asking but mostly telling me to do it at a Vesak celebration later that day.
I had never abused fish, gong, nor bell before, and hurried to try and be hastily taught by a friend of mine before show time. Education be damned, I ended up flustering about and striking the thing about twice as much as I should have. Rolling Stone praised my “rock steady baselines and infectious hooks,” but Buddhist chanting it was not. It was one of the most horrifyingly embarrassing experiences I have ever weathered and I regret not skipping town and hopping a freight train the morning of.
And nobody who wasn’t wearing robes knew the difference.
A teacher of mine once commented that Buddhism had no room for hope – and he grounded this accusation on the understanding that hope is wanting things to be different than they are, and that Buddhist practice is about accepting things as they are.
Explained in that way it seems reasonable enough, but something about adhering to a hopeless religion seems iffy, especially when Buddhism has so many things which look like hope, but my own misgivings were much more personal.
I remember that when I first heard that from my teacher I felt very disappointed, because I had adopted a language of hope. I hoped others had nice days, I hope that people got good restful nights of sleep, as well as excellent hockey tickets and doubles from vending machines. Most importantly though, I hoped that good things happened to others, because I desperately wanted to stop wishing people “good luck.”
About a month ago I was invited by the Muslim Student Association at my school to attend a talk given by a professor of Islam. The professor proceeded to give a beautiful image of Islam, its practices and meanings, its encouraging of pluralism over evangelism, and its humanistic values.
I had asked why Muslims were to pray five times a day towards Mecca. The practice itself is awe-inspiring, that upwards of 1 billion people perform this act of faith each day. He said, and reminds me that he has always said, “The nature of humanity if forgetfulness. We need reminders.” Prayer was one way of reminding oneself throughout the day about one’s faith and service to God. That it is done by so many people around the world in common spirit must also be a reminder of the communal fellowship that they all share.
That was all I needed to hear.