All posts by John Maberry

A writer, a lapsed lawyer, a former government employee, a father of two and a 30+ year (in this lifetime) Bodhisattva of the Earth. Author of Waiting for Westmoreland. A happy man and a funny guy.

Memories of a Bodhisattva

Two years ago today, she passed away. Perhaps an unlikely bodhisattva, Jackie brought joy to everyone she met. Bounding down the hall at Hayfield Animal Hospital, enthusiastically wiggling her nubby tail in anticipation of visiting one doctor or veterinary technician or another–so unlike the other pets quivering frantic and fear struck in the waiting room.

She came from the animal shelter, abandoned by her former owner. Nine-year-old Jennifer wanted a dog. Reluctantly we agreed. On a test walk, Jackie flopped on her back to expose a belly for rubbing. We took this to mean that she liked and trusted us. Actually, that was her personality–loving and friendly to everyone. Still, as a 75-pound Giant Schnauzer, she was a fierce watchdog behind the family door–barking furiously at a knock until certain of who was on the other side.

Jackie, Jenn and Dad

Jackie turned out to be my dog–or more accurately, I turned out to be her person. She adopted me. She did gongyo with mom and I every morning and night. If I were a little late, she reminded me that I needed to conduct the Buddhist ceremony.

She had been with us for ten years when cancer struck. She went quickly, without complaint or obvious pain. We took a trip to the mountains of West Virginia her last week of life. She scampered carefree and happy 60 yards ahead of us on the wooded trails, looking back for us to catch up. On the way home she couldn’t keep food or water down. At the hospital, she still wagged her stubby tail in friendly greeting to the staff, but the next morning we had to let her go, after doing gongyo and chanting with her one last time in the family room of the hospital.  In the “Treasure of a Filial Child,” Nichiren Daishonin says, “When the fox of Mount Shita encountered the Buddha’s teachings, he grew dissatisfied with life, longed for death, and was reborn as the god Shakra.” WND, p. 1041. I cannot say if that will be Jackie’s destiny in her next life; but at least a human, I am sure.

What Did We Do Before the Cell Phone

What did we do before the cell phone?

Shopping, walking, driving, so alone.

How did we manage with thoughts only our own?

All those hours we spent–away from a phone.

 

Now we can stop all those things that intrude;

Flowers bright and pretty, birdsongs trilling or tasty food.

Friends or family here with us now–our cellphones exclude;

We talk of elsewhere or talk of elsewhen, the present we elude.

 

© Copyright 2007 by John Maberry

Virtue Is Its Own Reward–and More

A letter in the Washington Post today, “And This Is the Thanks I Get” gave notice that the writer is “out of the wallet finding business.”  She recited three instances in which she received only a token thank you at best, despite taking pains to ensure a lost wallet found its way back to its rightful owner.  It is human nature to expect appreciation from those we confer a benefit upon, especially when there was no obligation to do so on our part and the benefit is significant for the other.  No doubt in recognition of this nature, the admonition “virtue is its own reward” can be found in the writings of Cicero and Ovid, on through English and American writers and no doubt many religious texts.  Buddhism has a slightly different take than this commonly accepted view.

Daisaku Ikeda points out in Buddhism Day by Day: Wisdom for Modern Life, that “Inconspicuous virtue brings conspicuous reward. From the perspective of Buddhism, we never fail to receive the effects of actions, whether good or bad …” In other words, doing good deeds creates good karma or making good causes creates good effects. Significantly, the effect is simultaneously inscribed in one’s life at the same moment as the cause. As is the case with many phenomena, the effects however are not necessarily immediately manifest. So, in practical terms, while it may appear that virtue has gone unrewarded, the reward may simply be delayed. There is no point then in feeling resentment at ingratitude–you will get whatever reward you deserve just not from the ingrate. The ingrate has his own less positive result coming, for the lack of appreciation shown.

Appearance

Looking at a face, what do you see?  The beauty of symmetry, research says, biases our opinions toward others.  Those who more closely approximate perfection receive more assistance, more rewards, better treatment and so on.  The farther from perfection, the less likely is one to receive promotions, raises, the winning votes in an election and so on.  Strangely though, doesn’t it seem that those same beautiful people, if they misbehave in some way–quickly become the object of schadenfreude?  It is as if while we reward their appearance, we envy them and happily revel in their fall from the pedestals on which put them.  In Buddhism, appearance is one of ten factors that are an operational or functional part, if you will, of the workings of karma. 

Like anyone else, I too am struck by the face of beauty.  Yet I am often, not always, able to see beyond the superficial to the genuine appearance that lies beneath.  Bodhisattva Never Despising, an allegorical character in the Lotus Sutra, was said to walk about bowing to everyone he met, saying he could not despise them for they would eventually attain Buddhahood.  The people, in turn, would strike him with sticks or stones.  The worth of individual human beings is always there, beneath the skin.  The eyes, some say, are the windows of the soul.   Whether by looking into the eyes, listening closely to the voice or following the subtle movements of one facial feature or another, I can see the inner beauty, the Buddha, the transcendent worth, the valuable contribution an individual is making to human existence.   It takes no special talent or effort, just a shift in perception that comes with the practice of Buddhism.

Too busy, too busy–I missed posting yesterday and all I can do today is marketing. Yes, but I must. Waiting for Westmoreland, is now available (online only, so far; although you can get in-store pickup at Borders) at Barnes and Noble, as well as Borders.  That is in addition to Amazon.com and Lulu.com.  So if you haven’t got the book yet, what are you waiting for? If you read that, then everything you see here will make more sense. I know that there hasn’t been much here yet, but there will be–I promise.

Memories or the Moment?

From Annapolis, MD, recalling the effects, sometimes, of listening to favorite songs from another time. The pain of memory, things that could–should–might–have been if an effort had been/could have been made at a time that the wonderful soul/spirit stirring music evokes.  Analytical, understanding, observing, deducing, assessing, critiquing, commenting on, but not as often as could be wished–doing.  Time has surely passed with deeds, tasks, desires, etc. undone–Omar says the “moving finger having writ, moves on.”  It is certainly true that it can never be that the past is relived as the past–but, Nichiren Daishonin makes it clear that the effects of the past do not have to be as the causes made in the past would otherwise dictate.  Now and forever is the time to do what I might and still can, if belatedly, do.  Eternity is not a long time–it is no time at all; but only experienced in the moment.  Experienced in the past, it can be joyful or sorrowful; for deeds undone it may mean regret.  Experienced now and forever–eternity becomes opportunity once determination and ichinen merge in faith and practice.  It is never too late to “soar into the ultimate skies of reality!”  (But the time to enjoy it in this lifetime is not unlimited)

Happiness–Relative, Absolute, and does it Fluctuate?

Shankar Vedantam  had a Science page article in the Washington Post today, Is Great Happiness Too Much of a Good Thing?  He begins with an anecdote about an 80 year old man who, after suffering a head-first tumble over the handlebars of a bicycle at age 70, has not only survived the ordeal but finds reasons to feel grateful about life.  The man reportedly feels neither regret nor sorry for himself despite losing the use of his legs due to a spinal injury.  Vedantam goes on to highligh the results of a new study by University of Virginia psychologist Shigehiro Oishi, which superficially seems somewhat out of phase with the anecdote. 

According to Vedantam, Oishi  says that people who experience many more positive than negative events  seem to get less joy from additional happy events — and ever larger bad effects with each negative event. “Getting to ‘very happy’ is like climbing an ever steeper mountain. Additional effort — positive events — doesn’t gain you much by way of altitude. Slipping backward, on the other hand, is very easy.” Vedantam reports.

I find interesting confirmation and correlation to Buddhist principles in relation to this piece.  Undoubtedly most people would prefer to be happy.  But what is happiness?  Is it the absence of hardship?  In the article, Vedantam mentions satisfaction, short-term contentment, global happiness and day-to-day happiness among other things, but misses, I think, taking the critical step of defining terms.  Rapture, one of the states of being (or worlds) in which human beings may move through each day from moment to moment, is something we experience when things go exceedingly well and we are overjoyed–from the mundane effects of the touchdown scored by our favorite team, the taste of a great piece of cake at a happy celebration, or even the peak of an amourous encounter.  All of these fall under the rubric of relative happiness.  As the referee disallows the touchdown for an out of bounds catch, the cake is all gone, or–well you can imagine about the amourous encounter, the happiness is gone.

Absolute happiness, in contrast, is that confidence and conviction–that sense of contentment like that of the 80 year old, that no problems in life cannot be surmounted.  I have no doubt that I will experience frustrations, difficulties, and various negative phenomena on a regular–if not a daily basis.  This is especially true when I am exerting myself strenuosly to accomplish some objective I find important.  I no longer find this reality disturbing.  Yes, it is annoying; but it does not diminish my happiness.  On the contrary, it elevates it.  Having been married twice unsuccessfully, I hazarded a third marriage despite a death threat from my prospective father-in-law.  The outcome has been 27 years of happiness increasing on a day-to-day, month-to-month and year-to-year basis.  That is the power of challenging one’s destiny, challenging the fundamental darkness that would keep me from the path of the Buddha.  Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

Misapplying Logic

If “ignorance is bliss” and “romance is bliss” then romance must be ignorance, right?  No, I don’t think so.  It’s a faulty syllogism.  Right now, a lot of people are concerned about illegal immigration.  They think a rising crime rate is a problem of illegal immigration.  They think immigrants are taking jobs legal Americans could otherwise have.  They think they are overcrowding neighborhoods, draining government resources for education and healthcare.  Are these observations valid? 

Consider who settled Georgia, among other of the original 13 colonies which had a large contingent of convicts from their native land–England.  They worked out OK in the end.  If illegal immigrants have fake social security cards, with bogus numbers, who gets the benefit of any FICA taxes collected from paychecks?  Those dollars go into the U.S. Treasury for the benefit of the Social Security fund.  What jobs do these people take?  The ones no one else wants.  But shouldn’t we care that they are illegal?  Yes, but the whole issue is an overblown distraction, a red herring, an easy target at which to point.  So what?  It avoids thinking and acting on real problems facing America.  A failure to resolve this overblown problem then becomes yet another source of frustration with the government and politicians–avoiding personal responsibility for one’s own success or failure, one’s own happiness.

Credit or Blame

What do the following have in common?  “The Devil made me do it!”  Thank God I got that promotion!”  Or perhaps, “If only we could move to the country, then we would be happy.” 

They all give credit, blame or control to someone or something outside ourselves.  The devil doesn’t make anybody do anything; people choose to do things.  God doesn’t whisper in employer’s ears, advising on who should get promotions.  Why would a change of scenery make life any happier?  Happiness lies in the confidence not only that you control your own destiny, but that you can achieve whatever you want or overcome whatever adversity faces you.  If you are unhappy where you are, going somewhere else just changes the view–not the reality.  This is a small glimpse of the value of a Buddhist perspective on life.  More to come.

Categories

I am cheating, you might say, but it is early in this blogging game. What I have to say today is not really content, just more description of what I will be saying when I do have something to say. All of which is to say that some of the categories I expect to include items on are:

  • War and Peace
  • Applied Buddhism (what is that?–you’ll see)
  • Humor
  • Politics (yuck)
  • Entertainment
  • Writing
  • Financial issues
  • Miscellany

Well, that should be enough for a start.  More tomorrow.