Insufferable Meditators

On the New York Times, I saw a post titled Being and Mindfulness, and I don’t know why I read it, but I’m glad I did because it wasn’t all about what I’d feared. I had feared another presentation of Buddhism filtered through the New Age lens. There is that, but more to the point, Judith Warner writes:

For one thing, there’s the seemingly unavoidable problem that people who are embarked on this particular “journey of self-exploration,” as Pipher has called it, tend to want to talk, or write, about it. A lot. But what they don’t realize — because they’re so in the moment, caught in the wonder and fascination and totality of their self-experience — is that their stories are like dream sequences in movies, or college students’ journal entries, or the excited accounts your children bring you of absolutely hilarious moments in cartoons — you really do have to be the one who’s been there to tolerate it.

For the truth is, however admirable mindfulness may be, however much peace, grounding, stability and self-acceptance it can bring, as an experience to be shared, it’s stultifyingly boring.

Finally, someone said it!

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More “Zen” in the News

Yesterday the New York Times Carpetbagger blog put up a post with Zen the adjective: L.A. Dispatch: A Moment of Zen. Rev. Danny Fischer has previously kvetched about the implacable writers who use the word Zen in pop-culture because it doesn’t cling to its etymological roots. As I mentioned before, this pop-use of Zen is a little different from the use of Zen as a noun. Anyone who reads this is probably well-aware of this by now, but as for me, I have only just started to realize that this adjectival sense of Zen runs along the lines of “cool”, “dispassionate” or “untroubled”. Somehow, I’m perfectly fine with this. But then again, I don’t identify myself as a Zen practitioner. I haven’t yet scanned anything that the Buddhist language police’s written about this headline, as I’d seen over a similar gripe regarding a New York Times article was that mentioned the Zen Obama. I guess they’ve gotten it out of their system!

Zen Sensitivities

I just read Rev. Danny Fisher’s brilliantly titled piece Zen and the Art of Using the Word “Zen”.Dhyana It’s a good talk about something known in the linguistic sciences as semantic drift, or more simply, changes in a word’s meanings. The specific issue here is the word Zen, originally from Sanskrit dhyana, and it’s (mis)use in respectable mainstream publications like the New York Times. When a Buddhist word is used in a non-Buddhist context, should we be insulted?

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Why Buddhists Don’t Give

One of the major complaints in the probably over-cited Buddhadharma article was that Buddhism is too expensive. Retreats cost so much that centers now offer scholarships. The Buddha Dharma is supposed to be a life-altering experience, so why aren’t Buddhists forking up enough to support their community through simple donations?

One might guess that Buddhist centers have excessive budgets and could use some fiscal restraint, but I doubt this. I’m more convinced by conclusions drawn in Nicholas Kristof’s recent piece, “Bleeding Heart Tightwads.” My favorite part is Kristof’s quote from Arthur Brooks:

“When I started doing research on charity,” Mr. Brooks wrote, “I expected to find that political liberals — who, I believed, genuinely cared more about others than conservatives did — would turn out to be the most privately charitable people. So when my early findings led me to the opposite conclusion, I assumed I had made some sort of technical error. I re-ran analyses. I got new data. Nothing worked. In the end, I had no option but to change my views.”

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The Death of Japanese Buddhism

The story of declining adherence to Buddhism in Japan is certainly old news. I was used to hearing about “funeral Buddhism” in Japan, where families only go to temple for funerals. But apparently even that’s on the decline, according to this article in the New York Times.

The lack of successors to chief priests is jeopardizing family-run temples nationwide.

While interest in Buddhism is declining in urban areas, the religion’s rural strongholds are being depopulated, with older adherents dying and birthrates remaining low.

Perhaps most significantly, Buddhism is losing its grip on the funeral industry, as more and more Japanese are turning to funeral homes or choosing not to hold funerals at all.

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A Meditator in the Garden

Statue of Jizo (NYTimes)
A garden statue of Jizo

More confessions: I am one of those liberal junkies who has the New York Times set as my homepage. And this is why I was pleasantly surprised when when I turned on my computer and my browser opened with Dharma in the Dirt as the feature article for the New York Times.

I’m not used to seeing mention of Buddhism in the news media. And when it is, it’s sometimes a little off target. (If you follow the previous link, note the correction at the bottom of the page.) There are many more opinions about advertising and misuse of images on other blogs.

The article is about Wendy Johnson, a former Green Gulch resident, and her organic garden. I enjoyed this article because (aside from my love for gardening) it didn’t put Buddhism front and center, but as a backdrop. Like other gardeners, I was curious as to how a Buddhist practitioner deals with garden pests. How do you deal with snails and slugs? But you’ll have to read that for yourself…

It’s also worth checking out the great slide show!