So the other night I had dinner with two good friends in Commons (the dining hall at Bates- a blast from the past for someone off the meal plan). Our discussion spanned all sorts of topics and of course religion was one of them (you would have to understand the crowd- a religion major and a philosophy major). But anyway, I began to speak about how I felt being raised Buddhist has profoundly shaped me as a human being. And not in a “holier-than-thou” way but in noticeable and (I think) special ways.
It manifests very much in certain situations. For example, I tend to “get Buddhist” when I lose things. Impermanence man. And usually I can let things go that way. However, this year for the first time I lost something that no amount of Buddhist rationalizing could temper the sense of loss I was feeling. The object that was lost: a fake fur stole. Now this was a fake fur mass that one drapes around one’s neck and it creates a luxurious fur collar. It made me feel about 75 years old and glamorous. In short, I loved it. But anyway, I mistakenly took this fur stole out with me to a show on a Friday night. A tip for all Bates students: don’t bring anything you like out with you on a weekend night. It will be gone. And you will be sad. Like I was when I couldn’t find my fur stole after the show. I lamented the entire night and into the morning. When I woke up still depressed, I decided a simple acceptance of impermanence wouldn’t cut it. Buddhism wasn’t enough. I needed to feel the sweet warmth of that stole around my neck, not find the Middle Way. So I hopped in my car to drive over to the place where the concert was held for maybe it wasn’t stolen and I would find it and could move on with my life. As I was driving there, I saw a mass of fur by the side of the road. It was my stole! I can’t tell you how happy I was! I leapt out of the car and put it immediately around my neck. It smelled a bit as I had just taken it off the ground and it had been outside all night but it was my stole. It was great.
Another situation where I “get Buddhist” is when animals are involved. I remember once my sophomore year getting really angry at a black fly that was making all this noise in my room and I snapped and chased it around with a book for about 10 minutes and finally when I smashed the book over it, crushing it completely, I paused and then burst into tears. My weapon was the Jungle Book. I also remember going into the basement at home and seeing a GIGANTIC spider. And I mean gigantic. So of course I ran to my mom and she came down with a cup so we could rescue it like a good Buddhist mother-daughter team. However, when she saw it she freaked out. And then when we placed the cup over it and it was so large that its legs got smashed by the cup we both freaked out. And so we looked for an excuse to rid the earth of this terrifying being. We settled on the cats, no one else is in the family, we have no toddlers or new borns or even sensitive 13 year olds. “Oh the cats” my mom said, “we HAVE to get rid of this spider, it could hurt the cats!” “Yes!” I cried. “You know how Stimpy is so old and Bizou is sensitive and Hobbes is just kind of stupid.” It was obvious we had to protect them. So we got the Raid. And as we sprayed it and watched it writhed we felt like the worst people in the entire world. We couldn’t even dispose of the carcass. It was terrible.
So, based on my past, you can only imagine my turmoil one morning when I walked into Carnegie Science building for class and I saw a cricket in the hallway. Crickets are so ugly. And they jump. High. And far. So I stood there and stared at it and I pondered whether I should save it and if I did I would be late for class and perhaps would have to explain that I was trying to trap a cricket in the hallway because it was a sentient being and was trapped and it’s friends and family were probably all on the third floor getting experimented on or fed to pythons or whatever science majors do. So I turned my head away and walked past. By the time I reached the classroom I had decided I needed to go back. So I grabbed my Religion Research Seminar notebook and headed back to the hallway. It was crawling around and I tried to save it, I really did but it was hopping and resisting and I just couldn’t do it. So I justified leaving it in the sterile hallway because perhaps that was “just its karma”.
Oh Buddhism, you complicate my life in so many ways but you also make it easy to write off bad things that happen. Chalk it up to karma. That spider was obviously some evil-doer in its past life, hence why it got killed by my Raid handling mother. Same with the black fly. However, it gets more complicated when you start to think about human beings. Could the starving people of this world really all have racked up bad karma in their past lives? I don’t buy it. That’s a question I constantly ponder. I hope I’ll come find some sort of satisfactory answer to that question someday. Maybe lying on the side of the road looking like road kill like my fake fur stole. Sigh.