Friday, January 9, 2015

Buddha Never Drove a Car

After meditating for weeks under a bodhi tree, the Buddha taught that

     1.  Life means suffering
     2.  The origin of suffering is attachment
     3.  The cessation of suffering is attainable
     4.  The path to the cessation of suffering is the eightfold path 

 I agree that the origin of much of our suffering is attachment.  But I am not sure that the cessation of suffering is attainable, especially if you are one of the 1+billion people who drive a car.

I once owned an olive green 1970 American Motors Hornet.  It was my first car.  I bought it after my senior year at Appalachian State for $800 using college graduation money my parents gave me and a loan.  I drove it to and from the mountains during graduate school.  It was the car that Melanie (my wife) and I drove away from the church on our wedding day and during our first year of marriage.

But, I never loved that car.  I was never attached to it.  Yet, I suffered.

It had windshield wipers that wiped the windshield based on the speed of the car.  So, in a drenching downpour or a blizzard, I would have to drive 55 miles per hour in order for the wipers to keep pace with the storm.

It had an alternator that constantly lost its connection to the battery and to this day I have nightmares of a red alternator light glowing in the dark on a lone deserted road.

It did not have air conditioning and it was designed in such a way that the heat from the engine would blow directly into the car if the windows were rolled down.   So, in the summer, you were actually better off with the windows rolled up.

The defroster had a mind of its own and would decide to work only after I had driven up interstate 77 with my head hanging out of the window on those cold, frosty winter mornings of January 1977 (the coldest winter in 100 years) on my way to work.

When I sold that car to a wheeling, dealing, car dealer (famous for his "We're Dealing!" slogan) for $200, I felt that I had received the better deal.  And I never turned to look back at it on my way home.

So, in a way the Buddha was right.  Unattaching myself from that car ended a lot of suffering.

Since that time, I have owned other cars.

A Chevette that suddenly lost all power (especially on interstate highways) and no mechanic on earth could find the reason.

A Cutlass whose paint slowly started developing spots that grew larger and larger.  The week after I had it repainted, it was wrecked beyond repair.

A Buick whose check engine light glowed and glowed and glowed; aggravating me nearly to insanity.  Then, the horn began to blow on its own, for no reason, especially in rush hour traffic, making the check engine light seem like a minor problem.

And the list goes on.

If the Buddha had driven a car, maybe he would not have had to meditate so long under the bodhi tree to discover the origin of suffering.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Doll

I am 61 years old, and it never ceases to amaze me when I learn something new about my parents; something I had never heard before.  And this past Christmas my mother shared a new story with me.

My wife and I were standing in her bedroom talking to her when I noticed a doll on a stand on a table near her dresser.  I could tell it was an older doll with long braided hair and a "Gone with the Wind" look about the way it was dressed. 

"That doll looks like Scarlet O'Hara." I said.
"You've seen her before," said my mother, "haven't you?
I could not remember seeing this doll.
"This is my doll." she said.  "She didn't always look like this.  I have had to replace her hair and her dress."
"How old were you when you got her?"
"Oh, I've told you all this before, haven't I?"
"No." I said. 

So, she told me this story:

Mom was raised on a farm during the depression, where work was long and times were hard and there was always a baby in the cradle.  The women worked in the kitchen and the house all day while the men were in the fields from sunrise to sundown. Money was tight, so clothes and gifts were almost always hand-me-downs and homemade.  Her mother and father cut corners wherever possible.  A lot of hard choices had to be made.

She was nine years old when her father came to her and said, "Mavis, your mother tells me that you don't believe in Santa Clause any more.  Is that right?"
She stood, not knowing what to say.

"Well," said her father, "I guess that is my answer."  You know that when you stop believing in Santa, Santa stops coming to see you.  So, don't expect anything this Christmas."

"But Daddy," she cried after him as he walked away, "I'll believe.  Let me have just one more Christmas." Her father kept walking as she ran after him, "I'll believe, I'll believe".  Suddenly he turned and looked down at her.

"Ok", he said.  "I'll give you some money and you and Virginia (her older sister) can walk to town and buy your own gift.  But this is your last Santa Clause".

The next morning was cold and gray as mom and Virginia walked the 3 miles to downtown and peered in the store windows, looking for her last gift from Santa.  They looked and they looked and finally they came to a store window filled with dolls. 

"All of the dolls were so beautiful." said my mother.  "But there was one doll that had fallen over onto her face.  She was laying there, like she was crying while all the other dolls looked out of the window smiling.  And it felt like this doll was feeling what I was feeling.  And even though I could not see her face, I knew I had to have that doll."

She went into the store and pointed the doll out to the person behind the counter.  The money her father had given her was almost exactly the cost of the doll. 

And as she and Virginia walked home that day, my mother held that doll close to her; a child holding on tight to the magic of Christmas. And the cold of the day seemed to disappear.