Wednesday, July 14, 2021

YOU ARE INVITED...!

 No more entries in The Buddha Diaries. BUT...

... please go instead to my new blog, now in progress, DEAR HARRY: Letters to My Father, where I'm still "getting to the heart of the matter."

Friday, July 2, 2021

LAST POST

I have decided that, after 2,854 posts since 31 January, 2007, The Buddha Diaries has run its course. Its predecessor, The Bush Diaries (the link is to the last entry) was a high-spirited, light-hearted political blog (it called itself "irreverent") that started at the time of the reelection of George W Bush in 2004. Like most liberal-minded people, I was unhappy with Bush, but it's true that he seems relatively benign when compared with the man who until recently occupied the White House--and still claims he belongs there!

I left The Bush Diaries behind after realizing that I was "waking up with Bush in bed with me every morning." The Buddha Diaries was intended as a return to sanity, a place to explore my growing interest in Buddhist teaching and applying it to my life. The blog remained an important part of my life for many years, and I say goodbye to it with both gratitude and sadness. And, be it said, in truth, with a sense of relief. Having posted daily, or nearly daily for all those years, I have been feeling some guilt for my neglect in recent months. 

There is also the feeling that I have somehow said my say with The Buddha Diaries, and I'm looking for a different venue, a different project to refresh my interest in writing. If interested, you'll find me taking that new direction in a new blog, Letters to Harry, with the first entry posted today. 

The "Harry" of the title is my father, who died more than a quarter century ago. I felt I never knew him very well. I spent the better part of my childhood years, when I should have been at home, at boarding school. The holidays--two weeks at Christmas, two weeks at Easter, four weeks in the summer--were brief respites "in the bosom of the family." After school, after university and a couple of years beyond, I left England for good, and the geographical distance between us discouraged further close relationship. 

So "Letters to Harry" is my attempt to reconnect, connect, really, with the man who was instrumental in bringing me into this world, but whom I felt, to my regret,  I hardly knew. So my new blog is about the search for love, too, about fathers and sons and their emotional bond--or the need for it, in its absence. And so much more. I'd welcome you to join me...

Meanwhile, it's goodbye, Buddha Diaries; hello, Letters to Harry.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

MY FATHER'S FAITH

I always understood the underpinning of my father's religious faith to be rooted in his dedication to deeply-held socialist values (I use the small "s" advisedly). At the time of my birth, in the mid-1930s, he was the incumbent of a "slum" parish in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the north of England. His flock consisted mainly of the working poor--coalminers and their families who had a hard time making ends meet. He was not only their pastoral mentor, he was the vocal advocate for the economic improvement of their lives. A "high" churchman, he loved ritual and ceremony, but more than these he loved his pastoral work and the responsibilities he knew came with it.

These thoughts occur to me on Father's Day (though there was no such thing in England, when I was growing up...) because I have been reading in the newspaper about the conference of the Southern Baptist Convention and the very narrow advantage of the already deeply conservative leadership over their aggressively ultra-conservative challengers. My father would not have recognized the "Christianity" espoused by either of these groups. Even accounting for his understanding and acknowledgement of the psychological and moral complexity of his fellow human beings--and indeed his own!--he would have been hard put to understand the continuing support of these loudly self-professed believers in Jesus and his gospels for a political leader whose most salient features are his lack of human empathy, his shameless dishonesty, his incessant lies and his undisputed moral turpitude.

More even than this, however, my father would be dismayed by a form of Christianity that lacked compassion for the economically and socially disadvantaged--predominantly people of color in this white-first society. The Southern Baptist convention was dominated, the newspeper report suggested, by a virulent storm of meretricious outrage directed at "critical race theory", its intellectual complexities insultingly reduced to the hated acronym, CRT. If I understand it right, critical race theory embraces an acknowledgment of the deplorable history of the repression of Black people in this country and an attempt to address its persistence in the form of institutional racism with fresh, analytical integrity. In my view, a noble, long overdue and necessary goal.

The socialism that my father embraced is widely accepted in Europe as the norm today: a health care system that provides coverage for every citizen, a safety net that addresses the needs of the disadvantaged and the unemployed, a retirement system that assures the security of the aging populations. He would have found it incomprehensible that American working people--and an established curch!--would be so hostile to a form of government that addressed such basic human needs. His reading of the Bible responded to a Christ whose qualities were mercy and compassion, who preached love and abhored hatred and exclusion in all its forms.

This is the heritage my father left to me, in the way I view the world. And this is the father's heritage I would wish to leave to my own children and grandchildren. It is no longer, in my case, a heritage of Christian faith, but rather a belief in mutual respect for the dignity of every human being and a sense of shared responsibility for our common welfare, of obligation to do what we can to constantly improve the quality of life for all of us.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

SANGHA

I have lapsed in my attendance at what used to be our regular sitting group here in Laguna Beach. Our "sangha", as we used to call it, had been going for many years. I myself joined the group somewhere in the mid-1990s, perhaps 1994 or 1995, in a lovely home surrounded by a lush garden filled with subtropical greenery. We were privileged to have the noted Thanissaro Bhikkhu ("Than Geoff"), abbot of the Metta Forest Monastery down south, as our friend and once-monthly teacher, and it was with his gentle, always humorous guidance that I had my introduction to the dharma.

When the owners of that original location moved, a handful of us--six or eight, or sometimes more--continued to meet every Sunday at another location, in the home of one of our long-time members that overlooked the Pacific Ocean through a cluster of elegant eucapyltus trees. Before Covid, our practice was to convene to sit in silence for an hour, then spend the next hour in conversation--whether profound discussion of some aspect of the dharma or the exchange of purely personal experiences in meditation, or sometimes merely a chat about whatever happened to be on our minds. Sometimes even politics!

With the arrival of the coronavirus, of course, we could no longer meet in person. It was not long before Zoom came to the rescue in the form of a weekly Sunday venue with a half-hour's sit led by Than Geoff and a dharma talk or question-and-answer session that followed. It seemed initially like a good idea, an adequate, if less-than-ideal substitute for "the real thing," and I joined in on my computer for a few weeks before, first, missing a Sunday here and there, and--though I could not help feeling disappointed in myself--finally opting out altogether.

It has been a long time now since I sat with the group. It was now much larger, with people from many different parts of the country, it seemed, all lovely faces in those little rectangular boxes--page after page of them--very few of whom I recognized. I found myself missing the intimacy and the sense of community in our little sangha, the communal act of breathing--if not quite in unison, than at least all together--in a shared present moment. I came to understand that it was this, much more than a serious dedication to the study of the dharma, that attracted me and assured my commitment to those Sunday sits.

More than this, I have come to realize that it was, as much as anything, about love--a profound sense of brotherhood and sisterhood amongst those of us who met each week to share the experience of meditation. The loss has been one of the attendant costs of the plague that has beset us, this past year and more; and I am left wondering, now that the Zoom "parisa"--no longer, now, a "sangha"--is established, whether we shall ever return to what we had before. As I approach my 85th birthday now, in little more than a month, I realize how keenly I am feeling that loss--and how much I treasure the less dharma-oriented group I have assembled in our Los Angeles neighborhood. There, too, we have resorted to Zoom; but I know that, come the fall, we'll make the effort to reassemble in person in our home. Until then, I'll look forward to that moment.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

D-DAY

I'm sad to say that D-Day slipped past me with barely a thought this year. This morning I woke up remembering, two days late. I was 8 years old at the time. My boarding school had been evacuated from the South Downs, in Sussex, to temporary quarters in the Lake District, a safe distance from the military action. The school itself had been turned over to the armed forces for training purposes--the tank tracks we discovered churning up the ground all around the school on our return after the war were evidence of that, as were the clips of live ammunition and various other delightful boy toys we continued to discover in the undergrowth for months, even years later.

Meanwhile, up in the rocky hillsides and the woods around Ambleside, at the northern tip of Lake Windermere, there were many "Huns" that my friends and I would attack and kill with our long stick "rifles" in the course of our war games, only distantly aware of those thousands of men whose real lives were being ripped from them on those beaches to the south, across the English channel.

Americans, to me, were exotic gum-chewing, Lucky Strike smoking creatures from another world. We watched in awe as their convoys of trucks and Jeeps roared through our village. (Did you ever see "Hope and Glory"? That was so much my boyhood...) Our chant from the roadsides, "Got any gum. chum?" was more than just a trite cliche. We actually stood there shouting the words, and the men would throw us fistfuls of Spearmint pack with big American grins. How many of those men I have often wondered, never lived to return home to their country?

We Europeans--I can't help thinking of myself as one still, after nearly 60 years of living this side of the Atlantic--have so much to be grateful for, to America and Americans. It's a sad, sad feeling, these days, to remember that time, and to want so much for all that goodness and generosity and, yes, joy, to return to the many American hearts that seem to have turned sour and bitter, to long for those broad, unstinting, self-confident grins that represented, for me, as a child, what it meant to be American.

Perhaps, one day, the bitterness and bickering will cease and we'll rediscover what Joe Biden promises to be "the soul of America." I hope so. I truly do. Because I know it well enough, from those distant times, to miss it.