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September 7, 2010

The Middle Way?

Month 9 of my new format featuring a monthly update on me, my community, and the environment. I'm finally deviating; a lot is going on relative to climate, but as you can imagine, now that I have dedicated all of my time to studying climate, I don't particularly feel like writing about it. I don't know if this is the end of the format


The students are here and Oisin is fully immersed. Everyone is younger than I am, but when I go to the gym my choice of activity can be the equalizer. I can still play soccer and racquetball with younger peeps, but softball would kill me with my lack of vision and the massive time that’s passed since I last swung a bat. When I was a freshman, I was terrible at many things and it didn’t bother me; I just got better. As an old man in the same situation I’m attempting to adopt the same attitude.

Our culture has changed while I was gone as well. Males are much more concerned with their physical appearance than they were in past decades. The males coming out of high school have the same type of unrealistic physical image expectation that women have had for years. I never had to deal with it before, but now I’ve been witness to many examples.

I don’t believe that this process has been direct for men the way it happened for women. I believe women experience cultural events (TV shows, movies, magazines, billboards, music videos, etc) showing or describing females and react by wanting to look like them. Men experience cultural events targeted to men and don’t come away with the same need to look like the male examples, but women now expect men to appear like these exemplary males. This leveling of accountability is changing the way young men (and this old man) feel about themselves and setting a standard for the male physique that is increasingly unrealistic. Welcome to America, I guess. “Sucks to be on the wrong end of that finally.” – Parker from Leverage


Lubbock is a beautiful place. The clouds every day are straight out of a painting. I wish I could paint just to capture them. I’m stunned with every thunderhead and rainbow over the prairie. I watch the sunset almost every night at the dog park and what a pleasure it is to see such frequent natural spectacle. Of course, I’m often distracted by stunning beauty of another sort and I suppose that’s where John Muir and I deviate (well there and about a million other places, but I do wish I could be more like him).

Lubbock is full of distraction with Football, bars, clubs, music and parties. I believe the other residents crave some kind of reprieve from the Llano Estacado and perhaps I will too in time, but for now I’m all stoked about the smallness. It’s great to be out of the big city.

Climate, well OK there's really no climate here

The first Noble truth is “life is suffering”? Are all Buddhists really depressed? I’ve been studying religion again with some renewed vigor lately. More exactly, I’ve been studying the history of religions.

We’re supposed to seek balance between indulgence and denial (The other Noble Truths)? Moderation is the great awakening. You’re telling me Georgia got it right with “Wisdom Justice Moderation”? Moderation is not my idea of Nirvana.

In the Lone Star State we invite trouble in, “Come and Take It”. Maybe I’m a product of my surroundings, but I like the anguish. It cleanses the palate for the next joy.

I don’t think the Buddha meant life is exclusively suffering (in his language: Dukkha) just that we should find effective ways of minimizing suffering and disappointment. Getting back to the history part, I find it fascinating that all of the actual discourses with the Buddha were written down. It’s truly amazing to me that all of this was preserved because it’s an enormous volume of transcripts.

Christianity can boast nothing of the sort. None of the words of Jesus were directly recorded. The only existing teachings of Jesus were brought to us through oral tradition and written down 50 years or so after his death. This is perplexing to me; Jesus lived after the Buddha and writing was well established in Jesus’ day. Most people were illiterate, but you’d think curing the blind and raising the dead would attract a few scholars.

The absence of any actual transcripts can be explained in a variety of ways, for example God’s will and the divine inspiration of the authors, or the church itself burned the originals in favor of what we have now. This would have happened during the canonization process from the 2nd to the 6th century while Rome updated its national religion; and the current Christian New Testament was assembled. This is also when the dates were assigned and symbols were chosen.

The existence of the Buddhist transcripts drastically changes my perception of the life of Christ. I now believe that there must have been written accounts of the actual speeches given by Jesus; if kings came to his birth, surely they brought along at least one scribe. Also, did the three kings have rooms at the Inn? And if so why didn’t they offer up their room instead of spices? No wonder we don’t give practical gifts at Christmas.

I’ve been talking to many Christians of differing denominations here in Lubbock; indeed you can’t avoid the proselytizers on campus. Most of the people I’ve asked don’t believe in the existence of the Buddha. Not that they reject Buddhism (they do, but this is not the point); they don’t believe there was ever such a man as Siddhartha Gautama. And yet, his every word for years and years is recorded while the words of Jesus are incredibly sparse (they don’t exist) in comparison. There’s just no accounting for faith.

Regardless of whether he existed or not, or if you believe he existed or not, the Buddha’s first lesson was a method of evaluating beliefs. He asked us to analyze our beliefs not based on the source (books, respected elders, trusted teachers), or by gut reaction (does this agree with what I already think?), or by reason (science and logical deduction), but instead to judge a belief by its fruit. Does this belief make the world, community, neighborhood, family, self, etc. better. Following this method of evaluation, perhaps a modern Buddha would be Christian.

Song of the month:

This month’s lyrics are from a new song (2009) written by Judah Dadone. I’ve been writing lots myself these past few months and I realized how some songs are really dated and how it’s difficult for me capture modern language in song. I thought this intro was an interesting mix of classic imagery with modern slang.

Lyrics to Hannah by Freelance Whales
     Do me this solid
     If you would pretty lady
     Please grab me a martini
     And meet me on the balcony