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The World's Worst Buddhist

Daibutsu Kamakura pensive
The Daibutsu (Amida Buddha) at Kamakura, near Yokohama, in April 2004.
He looks in a pensive mood, which isn't very Buddhist of him.

If you must have a religion, Buddhism strikes me as a good idea.  By all accounts, it tries to unite the spiritual and the temporal, in a healthy way. 

Should one need the solace of prayer, one could do worse than meditate; meditation is prayer turned inward, rather than upward.  Regular meditation can increase physical and mental well-being.

Buddhist meditation focuses you on yourself, your mind and body.  Is this selfish?  Not at all.  In theory, such deep understanding of one's own being fosters both compassion toward others, and self-reliance.  

(All this compassion doesn't keep you from being a sexist creep, from time to time.  The Dalai Lama maintains that a woman might well become his successor—but she's gotta be a looker, since appearances count.)

So, without wishing to trade-in my broad-church atheism for an actual religion or nuttin', I took Buddhism out for a spin.  Not the whole thing, but a couple of Buddhist precepts.  January was to be a month of ditthi, viewing reality as it really is, not as we wish it to be, and sati, seeing things for what they are with clear consciousness and a sense of truth, as well as being aware of the present reality within oneself, without any cravings for more, nor distatste for what you have.  

IlovesmallstonesA meme piqued me to do it.  Buddhist priest and therapist Kaspalita, along with writer Fiona Robyn, declared that January 2012 become a River of Stones.  Each day, they encouraged readers of their website to write a small stone.  In their words, a short piece of writing that precisely captures a fully engaged moment.  If you read their work, you'll discover that the stones they write, are true gems.

Just what the doctor ordered.  Therapists and support groups tell me that a family like mine—where children were served generous helpings of emotional torture sprinkled with little jimmies of violence—will create adults with a distinct quality of mind.  We have trouble engaging in the moment.  Disengagement with the moment, after all, was once a tool of psychological survival.  The habit dies hard.

Kill it, though, I must.  So I set up a Tumblr for my River of Stones, and dubbed it Der Fluß aus Steinen.  Alert readers will have noticed a link to it on the sidebar.  Readers may notice, too, that it no longer appears.  I lasted eight days. 

It started smoothly enough.  I resolved to capture each stone in a photo, and write of it later.  On January 1, a Christmas three atop a crane on the Odeonsplatz caught my eye.  I imagined that the presents underneath would be Erector Sets for all the little cranes to enjoy.  Maybe Erector Sets were the crane equivalent of toy soldiers, or Barbie.  So far, so good.  Step one on the road to enlightenment.

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Eight days later, I cast a pair of weary eyes around the office.  Mindful of my surroundings and present in the moment, a full pencil sharpener loomed into view.   Should one iron the shavings, to improve the feng shui and attract positive chi, I wondered?   Not exactly On Walden Pond.

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And so, mindful of my surroundings and present in the moment, I gave up.

I could never get the hang of these little moments of exquisite, poetic sensibility.  They're all terribly nice, but so what?  

Let's give it another go, right now.  Around me, I notice a number of things in the room where I sit.  It is a living room.  The prints on the wall hang slightly crooked; maybe they leaned together for a furtive smooch, and hastily composed themselves as I walked by.  

These pictures in mild disarray remind me of a Casanova caught in flagrante, who must dress fast to escape.  One could do a 5-7-5 haiku about that.

A lover revealed. 
He is not quite complete.
His socks took too long.

Talk about unmindfulness!  Not only did I fail to describe what sits in plain view, but I leapt to another, more interesting story, the likes of which I've never experienced in person.  (Call me a coward, I always hid naked in the wardrobe.) 

I chose imagination over observation.  Bad Buddhist!

Haiku purists take a dim view of all this metaphor and narrative.   High haiku must adhere to a strict rhythm—it needn't rhyme, because given Japanese grammar and phonology, rhyming would be too easy to be considered artful.  And it must stick to what the poet sees and hears. 

Matsuo Basho wrote arguably Japan's most famous haiku in 1686.  There have been hundreds of translations of these seventeen simple syllables.  Plainly put, the poem states there is a peaceful old pond, a frog jumps in and makes a splash. 

Call me a philistine.  Call me obtuse.  But...I don't get it. 

My Japanese friends (and my husband, to boot) assure me that I am missing a great source of artistic satisfaction, not to mention the serenity which comes from contemplating a moment of exquisite beauty.  Well, yeah.

I have a long way to go.

In the meantime, imagination provides both diversion and solace.  A certain amount of inserenity can pump you up, just as much as a good whiff of chi.    But you have to dodge a trap—living too comfortably in your imagination, rather than seeking comfort on the panet Earth.  Perhaps that's a discussion for another time.

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