Sunday, October 4, 2015


There it was, in the middle of the vast Picasso sculpture exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, a small display case that contained a dozen or so pebbles.  I found myself attracted to them more than any of your typical Picassos--the large, the visually complex, the imposing, the ego-driven... these were just beach pebbles, incised with a line or two to suggest a human face, an animal.  No bigger than your thumb.

And I realized, not for the first time as I looked at them, how greatly I value modesty in art--modesty of scale, modesty of means, modesty of authorial presence.  Which does not necessarily imply modesty of intention or modesty of emotional impact.  It's a quality that speaks to me at a personal, intimate level that means more than all the grandiosity of which we find so much in art.  In writing, too.  It seems no one can write a novel of less than five hundred pages...

I love works of art where I am confronted not with the creator's ego, but with a simple presence that opens a door through which my mind can enter into a contemplation of something far greater than itself.  And am attracted to modesty not only in art, but in the people I meet.  Ego, I can live without.  I try, not always successfully, to remain alert to the subtle--and the not-so-subtle--demands of my own.

I could not but admire the brilliance of Picasso's sculptural adventures.  But I loved his pebbles more.

Thursday, October 1, 2015


... we're off to New York for a week in the museums and galleries.  I'll likely be taking time off from The Buddha Diaries.  Back next week...

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


Noticing the tension that subtly pervaded my body during meditation this morning, I asked myself, What is the tension about?  The answer popped up quickly: It's about getting things done.  Not about having things to do, not about doing them, but about having them done.

Which is an interesting construction, because it implies the need to be done with them.  The delusion, of course, is that once these things are done, there will be surcease on the other side.  Once this thing is done, I'll be able to relax and pay attention once again to the moment.  But of course once this thing is done, there's another thing to be done, and another.  There is no end of things to be done.

The need to get things done is related, of course, to the larger picture of impatience--one of my least endearing and most destructive qualities.  The challenge is to learn to let go of that need, to be satisfied with the doing of things and to abandon the constant need to get them done. That way lies wisdom and serenity.

Like everything Buddhist, it's quite simple and self-evident--and at the same time incredibly hard...

Saturday, September 26, 2015


It's the Apostle, Matthew (7:5) who reports these words of Jesus in the New Testament: "first cast out the beam out of thine own eye..."

I listened, mostly with admiration and agreement, to Pope Francis's address to the United Nations yesterday. I liked his words on the baneful effects of "exclusion." To them, I'd add the notion of "marginalization." I guess that's near-exclusion.

Sadly though--and I'm sure along with many others listening to his remarks--I could not help but recall the exclusionary policy of his own church: the exclusion of women.

Why do so many religions cling to the male-centered traditions of many centuries? Even some branches of the Buddhism I so much admire, and whose teachings I seek to follow, persist in this ancient practice; likewise Roman Catholicism, Islam and others...

Is it out of fear that men must so fiercely protect the territory they have held for so long? Even men of, ahem, enlightenment? To my mind, it does no credit to their beliefs and protestations of goodwill.

I understand that the Pope is bound to some extent by the politics and inheritance of his office. He cannot change everything, as they say, overnight.  He has made gestures,: he has worked to remove the shadow cast by his predecessors over those American nuns who strive so ardently for social justice. I heard it said that he told the nuns, in the course of his present tour: I love you.

Still, there remains a beam in the eye of one who urges others to address the negative effects of exclusion. I am in no position to preach, for God's sake, to the Pope! But I feel compelled to point out this glaring contradiction.

Friday, September 25, 2015


I was reminded, watching the Pope's appearance on the Capitol balcony--perhaps irreverently--of the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert "Rally to Restore Sanity" that Ellie and I attended several years ago.  It was a rapturous crowd of many thousands that greeted the Pope, not all of them, I'm quite sure, Catholics come to acknowledge their spiritual leader. What attracted them, I think, was not religious fervor so much as the desire for sanity in a country (and a world!) whose sanity I have come--along with millions of others, certainly--increasingly to question.  We showed up at the Stewart/Colbert rally for the same reason.

I watched Pope Francis's speech to the joint session of Congress, too. And heard at least some of the punditry that followed. Was it political? Was it inspirational? Was it left, was it right? Did conservatives sit on their hands whilst liberals applauded? Did he step on any toes, transgress his boundaries?

What impressed me most was the quiet sanity of the speech.  It was a speech filled not with flights of rhetoric but rather plain common sense. It was filled, not with polemic, but with praise.  Then, too, I heard none of the post-speech pundits talk about the tone in which it was delivered--a tone that combined conciliation, inner strength and moral authority with calm compassion, unself-righteousness and unfeigned modesty.  These are qualities notably lacking in our current crop of lawmakers and our candidates for the Oval Office, but qualities that we yearn for in our political dialogue, qualities we respect in our fellow human beings.

Francis brought with him to the balcony that bearing--the physical manifestation of his speech's tone of voice.  His presence, it seemed to me, was healing rather than divisive. As a skeptic when it comes to religion, I tend to cringe from blessings that invoke a God I don't believe in; but the Pope's blessing seemed to come not from on high, but from his heart.  It felt genuine, not pro forma. There was a true connection between him and the crowd--even the non-believers he included in his blessing.

There are many things on which I differ from the Pope and the dogma of his church, but these do not stand in the way of my appreciation for one who appears to be a true moral leader in a world that badly needs them. It's evident that he shares much in common with the Dalai Lama, the recipient of a similar adulation and the purveyor of similar common sense.  They permit me to feel that there is still humanity left in the world, and still some hope for the future of our species.  Our instinctive esteem and affection for such people suggests that there is still room for compassion and sanity in the human heart and mind.