Friday, June 8, 2012

The Frustrated Buddha

There are many words that could be used to describe who I am as a human being in this world.  Ones that spring to mind would likely be different depending on the person doing the describing, and I'm humble enough to know that some may not necessarily be complimentary--but I'm certain that the word 'pious' or any of its even somewhat-related synonyms would make it into the Top 100 that anyone, friend or foe, would choose.

I recently heard a statement that nature is not cruel; it's indifferent.  I grasp hold to this statement as I make thin attempts to make sense of this world, a world where my friend Summer struggles to come to grips with having so many hospice patients under the age of 50 dying of cancer; a world where Maya Thompson channels her overwhelming grief at losing her perfectly gorgeous youngest son Ronan into action; a world where my friend Meghan isn't here to raise her three babies.  I should not personally know two completely unrelated people, one in his thirties and one who was only five, who have died from brain tumors.  And three more under the age of 40 (including my own brother) who have had cancer, but thankfully the roulette wheel turned up a non-fatal kind.

And cancer aside, of course there's a whole host of other devastations that could turn any eternal optimist into a Debbie Downer.  

I can only make sense of this life and its everpresent attendant, grief, with reserving my...piety, if you will...for life itself.  For our Earth, and how lucky we are to be here with the people we love for the time we're given.  
A friend gave me this in college, and it hangs in my bedroom by my closet back in Denver.  I can't think of a more true statement.

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I think the first tape I ever bought was Beastie Boys' Licensed to Ill (it was either that or Huey Lewis' album Fore!, but I'm going to go with Licensed to Ill to keep my street cred).  During a road trip that summer of 1986, my brother and I tortured regaled our parents with our rendition of Paul Revere (that to this day I still know every.single.word. to, even though I can't remember what I made for dinner last night).

Adam Yauch, Beastie Boys band member and practicing Buddhist, passed away last month after a three-year battle with throat cancer.  I read a Rolling Stone interview with Yauch's friend and fellow band member Adam Horovitz, and this statement caught my eye:

Did the comfort he took in Buddhism help you deal with his illness and passing?
I don't believe Adam was afraid.  Bummed out, yeah.  But I can't think when I ever saw him afraid.  We got jumped in Brooklyn one time, so we've been afraid in that sense.  But, man, he hadn't been afraid in a long time.  That gives me peace. Read more:

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Scripture is offered in Australian schools, so I signed the boys up for Buddhism.  I don't care for attaching myself to any organized religion, and I feel strongly that the boys should make an informed decision if they should ever decide there is (or isn't) a particular belief system they should follow.  That aside, Buddhism feels less like a religion and more like a philosophy, and there are principles that are useful for making one's way through life.  I know you could in theory say that about any religion, but Buddhism seems to lack the absolutes and judgment about how one should live their life that have soured my view towards the rest.

Alex has expressed frustration at attending Buddhism classes, but he unfailingly cracks me up in his earnest, wholehearted protests.  Imagine a true, verging on teary-eyed, complainy voice as you read these gems:
  • "We watched a cartoon movie about the Buddha and it was so fake!  He was born and then just started walking right away; that would never happen in real life!"
  • Him: "All we do is chant 'Lumbini Garden'!!"  Me: "What is Lumbini Garden?" Him: "It's where the Buddha was born.  I saw a picture and it's just grass; there's no flowers at ALL--what kind of a garden is that???"
  • "I can't even tell my Buddhism teachers apart!  They dress the same and have the same hair!" (they are monks who wear robes and have shaved heads)
Still, I catch him incorporating little Buddhist things into his day now and then, more so than Jackson.  And if it can help him navigate his way through the world, deal with grief, and be a better, more conscious person, then I think it's time well-spent.


  1. Jennifer SilversteinJune 8, 2012 at 8:13 PM


    I have a framed quote next to my bed that I clung to as I tried to get back from the stroke (I think it's from GI Jane).

    I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.-DH Lawrence

    The idea that in nature things happen and you can choose what to do with the circumstance.

    Miss you guys.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Jenn--that is a powerful quote, and you are an inspiration for sure.

  2. after a recent trip to Thailand i came home with a teachings of budda book, that im slowly reading, but it has always intrigued me. but i signed my kinda boy up for scripture because that isn't what i would teach him at home so wanted him to have the choice and opportunity to know about other views and religions however i feel the same its more about life and guiding than perching, that i have no idea if our school offers Buddhism.

  3. Love it - thanks for sharing.

    As I deal with technology every day my new mantra is from something called "contemplative computing"...The Buddha says pain is inevitable but suffering is optional, with technology we should see it that connection is inevitable, but distraction is optional.

    Not as powerful as cancer and strokes, but something I'm clinging to to keep me sane. I may need to pull out my old books on Buddhism...

  4. What an inspiring post that really made me can be easy to give in to Debbie Downer at times i know. How wonderful though that your little one is learning Buddhism...i didn't know that was an option in the school system or do you mean you signed him up to private classes? A lovely blog you have here...thanks so much for stopping by mine, we do indeed live close to Mullumbimby...i hope you enjoyed your road trip!

    1. Jode, our neighborhood school here offers 8 or 9 different classes for Scripture--but it is a very multicultural school, so maybe a more homogenous school wouldn't have the same breadth of choices.

  5. I believe that religion gives many people a great deal of strength and peace in their life. I envy them. I am yet to find one that makes sense to me - I lack the suspension of disbelief required for "faith". But Buddisim comes awfully close to something I could follow. I have trouble with the reincarnation bit, but I mean really - who knows? Me, probably, next time round.... I'd like to be a well kept dog!

    1. I always say I'd like to come back as one of my father-in-law's chickens!