Monday, December 22, 2008

Lost in translation. Part II

When it comes to monumental errors of translation, nothing beats the attempts of Western scholars at translating the philosophical and religious texts of the Eastern civilization.
Not only have they had to cross the barriers of language, but also they had to cross the ocean of cultural differences.
Not understanding the culture and customs, the social and economical structures, the whole of the ancient Eastern civilization, means one thing:
The sacred texts of Eastern have been poorly translated and never assimilated.

Lets take the classical and fundamental text of Buddhism, “The four noble truth” Gautama Buddha’s teachings.

The first noble truths universally accepted translation is: “Life is suffering”
I feel like the kid looking at the naked emperor and I just want to shout:
- Doesn’t anybody see that this translation is a total piece of shit?

I don’t know an iota of Sanskrit and I couldn’t do a 5 cent debate on the morphology of the word “dukkha” but here is what I know.
2600 years ago in ancient India the way knowledge was transmitted was through traditions, rituals and ceremonies.
To transmit his teachings, Buddha uses a formula devised by Indian doctors, consisting in 4 steps.
First the doctor would proclaim the name of the disease, or as we say, the diagnosis.
Second he would proclaim the cause of the disease.
Third he would conclude if the disease is curable or not and fourth, he will offer the recipe for the cure.

So what Buddha was saying in the first noble truth was not that “life is suffering” but rather that life has a disease, illness, problem and that problem is “dukkha” whatever that means.
He goes on saying that life has both good and bad, pain and pleasure and that ignorant people are chasing only the good, “sukkha”, sweet part of life and that this obsessive chase of the “sukkha”, whatever that means, is the cause of our disease – suffering.

What does all mean?
Let’s say that that fame, fortune, money, power, status and influence are drugs like; cocaine or heroine.
You take one of them you get high. You like it and you want to repeat the experience, but soon you discover that in order to get the same high sensation you have to increase the dose, so you keep increasing it until you end up dead in an OD.

What we experience is perceived in contrast with the opposite. Every action creates an equal and opposite reaction.
Pleasure can’t exist without pain, light without darkness, sound without silence.
Just like drugs, by ignorant pursuit of what gives us pleasure we are setting in motion the vicious cycle of our suffering.

Of course the scholars have translated all that in: “suffering is caused by desire”
What? Who is the idiot that makes those translations?
Desire is neither good nor bad. You can desire to be healthy, to help poor people or desire world peace.
As a matter of fact there are as many good desires as bad ones. You just take a bad desire turn it upside down and you’ll get a good one.

This mentally retarded translation has caused generations of followers to avoid any desire.
Enlightenment for them is simply pain avoidance and denial of senses.
I don’t understand why you should spend hours in zazen, until your ass aches, when you can pop a handful of ludes and be a stone Buddha in a second!

Buddha has not given us his teachings so we can avoid life or to show off to others how smart and enlightened we are.
Life is full of pain and pleasure, laughter and sadness, highs and lows, good and bad.
Life is not suffering. Life is what you are making out of it.

Go ahead and love with your whole heart! Laugh and cry, do stupid or wonderful things, make mistakes or achieve successes!
Live your life with your eyes wide open and love every moment of it, good or bad!
Celebrate life with every moment in time, live it with every fiber and every cell of your body.
Be the best human being you can be.
That is the teaching of Buddha.
That is enlightenment.
That is Zen.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Lost in translation

Since Christmas is just around the corner I thought I’d write another post related to Jesus.

About 25 years ago, after I got my first job in USA, I bought my very first car, ever.
It was a beauty of American engineering. It had some problems starting up in cold or rainy mornings; it stalled at intersections but only when making left turns and of course bellowed out a plume of smoke and made a racket like a Sherman tank.
You know, the kind of car we emigrants love to flash around.
The other thing we emigrants love to do with our cars, is to fix them in our drive way.
So one sunny weekend morning I was under my brand new junk car fixing some oil leakage, when I bumped my head in the transmission box.
Fortunately it was just a small cut, nothing a strategically placed band aid wouldn’t cure.
Later that day, my friend Kathy showed up and seeing the band aid on my forehead asked me what happened. I told her the story and she became very concerned. She actually wanted me to see a doctor. I told her “Don’t be silly. It is just a small scratch on my fore skin” She looked at me and said “You men forehead?” I said “Yeah. That’s what I said”
It turns out that my translation wasn’t quite what I had in mind, which brings me to my Jesus story.

How many of you believe that Jesus had said: “The kingdom of God is among you” or “Ask and it will be given. Seek and you will find” or “Love your enemies”?
Well, I have some news for you my friend. Jesus has never said any of these things, or anything else that is written in the Gospel, because just like me, Jesus did not speak a word of English. As a mater of fact English wasn’t even invented 2000 years ago.
So whatever Jesus had said was Aramaic and that was passed from mouth to mouth, from generation to generation, until finally was translated and written down in Coptic – which is this ancient, ancient Greek.
When finally Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the Gospel was translated to Latin and stayed in Latin for a couple of hundred of years until was finally translate to English.
So what you are reading today is a translation of a translation of a translation of the oral account of what Jesus have said.

Well then, you may say; “That it is irrelevant Buddha” since words are just words.
What it is important is the meaning of the words not the words themselves.

Let’s see.
So, this fellow Jesus pops up in the Middle East 2000 years ago proclaiming the divine nature of the human being - in other words he takes the divine exclusivity from the emperor and the church and gives it to the regular folk - and practically leads a rebellion against the established religion of the day, destroys the temple and renders the clergy not only obsolete but irrelevant.
So what the destitute clergy has to do to regain their lost power?
Change the text of the Gospel!
You take the holly scripture and translate it according to your own interest.
By changing one little word, Jesus turns from “a son of God” to “THE son of God”.
One little word and the whole message and meaning of Jesus teachings is turned upside-down.
With one word the authority and hierarchy of the Church is reestablished.
Jesus is no longer just a schmuck like everybody else and you are nothing like Jesus anymore.
Jesus has been promoted to God presiding over the church, presiding over clergy, presiding over you and 10% of your income, and you have returned to your previous position of member of the flock.
Ta-dah! Problem solved. We are back in business just like before Jesus and the Gospel.

So next time when you read the bible remember that one word “fore head” or “fore skin”, “The son of God” or “a son of God” can make a lot of difference.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Happy birthday baby Jesus!

I got the Christmas blues.
And I don’t mean just being stressed of choosing the right gift for the right person or being tired of hours and hours of shopping or aggravated by the maddening traffic and the bad weather.
I mean, I am down right depressed.

This was supposed to be the “time for cheer and time for joy” the time for “peace and good will towards men”.
What the hell happened with the religion of love?

I know this country is not a Christian country.
There are a couple of weirdos like myself that do not subscribe to that religion but by enlarge America is ruled by Christian folk.
They elect the representatives, our leaders and our presidents. They are the majority and as in any democracy the majority rules.

So how come the corruption, greed and intolerance have become the signature of American policy and life?
What happened to the Jesus teachings?

Don’t get me wrong, I love Jesus.
I think the guy is absolutely right. He got it. He got the answer and that answer is love.
He is a great teacher and one of the few human beings I really admire and one of the few I would like to be more like, in my thoughs and my deeds.
I did not become a Buddhist because I don’t agree wit his teachings. I deeply and profoundly agree with him.
My problem is that I am a very passionate man.
My emotions run wild and deep and I have a hell of a time teaming them up. My emotions are like an ocean; beautiful in fair weather but devastating and lethal in a storm.
I love and hate with the same passion and I can switch from one to another in an eye blink.
I don’t think Jesus is not good enough for me. I believe I am not good enough for him and I rather be a humble and honest Buddhist than a righteous and hypocrite Christian.

So now on your birthday we bring you not silver and gold, not love and good will towards men, but wars and hatred, poverty and homelessness, corruption and hypocrisy, greed and violence.

From all America this is our present for you!
Happy birthday baby Jesus!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Are You Enlightened?

As a Zen student I wasn’t very disciplined. I skipped on my prayers and meditations, argue with my master and I didn’t have any patience.
I wanted to be enlightened, now. If there is a secret to this Zen teachings tell it to me and be done. I mean, what is the point of waiting?
My master had to tell me every day “Be patient, you are not ready yet!”
Worst of all he never told me if I was making any progress or how long until I’d be ready for this big secret to be revealed. So one day I just asked him
- How does one know if he’s enlightened or not?
- Would you live your life any different if God appeared right now in front of you?
Now, I knew the right answer was “No” but I knew he’d knew I was lying so I said “Yes”
- Well then, you are not enlightened yet!
He said, just like I knew he would.
Since then I worked on my enlightenment every day but the answer to that question is still “No”
I mean, if God would appear to me, from thin air, I would be completely transformed,
I would live for the rest of my life without any fears and doubts – After I had changed my underwear.
How does anybody live like that?
They don’t.
I was reading recently about Mother Theresa’s letters in which she voices her doubts about her faith and about God. I know, you might say she was only human after all.
What about Jesus. Remember, on the cross when Satan comes to tempt him?
Even he had his doubts, even he hesitated.
So I gave up on attaining that kind of enlightenment and instead this is what I do.
Every year around this time I do a little enquiry.
What would I do if I only had one day to live?
I would stay home and spend it with my family.
What if I had only one week to live?
I would take a vacation with my family.
What about a month?
Same thing, I would spend it with my family.
What about one year?
Well, that would be different. I would like to pay all of my debt or at least as much as I could and leave my family as financially secure as possible.
What about 10 years?
I would change my line a work. I would start my own business. Probable go back being a therapist again. Or do something creative like painting and sculpting.
So this would become my New Year resolutions. Spend more time with my family, get out of debt, and change my line of work.
And if I can achieve all that I would consider myself pretty enlightened.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Zen Tales - The Golden Goose

In a sunny suburb of Hogtown, there once lived two young geese.
Although since the day they were hatched , Brittany and Jessica were totally different, they grew up as best friends and remained best friends for the rest of their lives.
Brittany was a tomboy, curious and adventurous, always getting in trouble.
Jessica was the quiet type. She loved to play with her dolls more than anything else, but when Brittany called she was always ready to follow.
In school, Brittany was the most popular goose, even though Jessica was as pretty. Jessica always stood behind while Brittany took the center stage.
But Brittany loved Jessica sincerely and fully hearted and they always felt like sisters for each other.
In college Brittany excelled. She was driven to be the best and her parents encouraged and supported her ambitions. Jessica was not interested that much in academic achievements. She preferred to spend her time and energy on more creative ways.
After college, Jessica took a teaching job and pretty soon after that she married her high school sweetheart and moved into a white picket fenced house in the suburb.
Brittany never considered marriage, at least not at that time. She dreamed of a brilliant career and with her parents support she left Hogtown and headed for the big city.
She got an entry level position with a prestigious firm and was ready to climb at the top of the world but the world was not ready for her ascent. She married one of the older executives at the firm but it didn’t work the way she had planed it and it all ended in a messy divorce and her departure from the firm.
She got herself together and started another job at a startup company. She vouched never to get involved with another guy until her career took off.
Meanwhile Jessica had her second, third and forth kid and was busy changing diapers and treating night fevers. After that there was the preschools and the kindergartens and only after all the kids were in school she decided to go back to her teaching career.
Brittany was working very hard too. She pushed herself and pushed herself harder and harder until she was promoted as manager of the egg producing line but after that her career hit a brick wall and no matter how many eggs she was producing she never got another promotion.
Being a career goose was much harder than she had anticipated.
It was by the time Jessica’s kids were ready for college when Brittany had her firs gold egg. It was an instant sensation and it made front page on all newspapers.
Her career took of like a rocket and she started breaking all glass ceilings.
There was a slight problem. The pressure of producing golden egg after golden egg was taking all her time and energy. Now that her career was taking off she had to once again postpone having a family.
Jessica’s kids finished their educations and started their own life and pretty soon Jessica became a grand mother. It was back to changing diapers and treating night fevers.
Meanwhile Brittany reached the peak of her career. After years and years of making golden egg after golden egg she was promoted president of the company.
Although she had some occasionally romantic encounters, she never thought of getting married again. She was too comfortable being alone and marriage couldn’t offer her anything more that she had.
Soon after that her retirement came. It was a big festivity and all the heads of the industry and even some preeminent politicians came to celebrate the occasion.
She was a pioneer and a legend. People did not call her Brittany any longer.
She was simply known as “The Golden Goose”
They all shuck her hand and took pictures. For her achievements she received a golden watch and after that she went home.
Jessica reached her retirement too. It was a smaller festivity but all her friends, children and grand children showed up. They no longer called her Jessica, they all called her simply “Mother Goose”. They all kissed her and took pictures and after that they all went home.
That night Brittany was sitting in her penthouse apartment overlooking the big city and for the first time she felt alone. She wandered what ever happened to her good friend Jessica and on the spur of the moment she decided to go back for a surprise visit.
The next day she packed her things and her golden watch and took the first plain to Hogtown.
It was a joyous moment when they reunited. They hugged and kissed and laughed like two little girls. They went into the hose and spent hours telling stories. At the end Brittany told Jessica about the retirement celebration and pulled her golden watch out of her bag and showed it to Jessica.
- Very shiny. – said Jessica
- Does it say “I love you” when you hold it?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fat Chance! Part II

Coming to America for the first time it is impossible not to be amazed and shocked.
The vastness of the country, the unsurpassed natural beauty the diversity of people, the remarkable economical power and civilization and oh yeah, the way Americans eat are all astonishing.
There is no other country in the world that has a love, hate relationship with food like USA. The world eats to live. The Americans live to eat.
We have taken this simple, every day family event and turn it into a gigantic industry – Like most of everything else in this country.
We have invented the fast food, the drive through dining, the all you can eat buffet and of course dieting. – What else do you expect after all that eating?
Today America is a battle field over who controls your eating habits.
On one side the gigantic, well established food industry, spending millions of dollars on advertising campaigns designed to keep America eating ever larger quantities of food.
On the other hand, the emerging, lean and mean dieting machine, throwing everything they have in the battle against the food industry.
It looks like a classical good versus evil battle, but don’t let the appearances fool you. Although both industries claim to be on your side and looking for your health and well being, health and well being is not what they have in mind. This battle is about the billions of dollars that we spend each ear and who controls that spending. Yes people, this is the sad and ugly truth. They do not care about you, and they do not care about your problems, all they want is your money. The American consumer is caught between the cross fire. Bombarded every day with, TV and radio ads, internet ads, infomercials, billboards, fliers, junk mail and spam. Diet to be skinny! Eat to be healthy! Downsize, super size, we grow every day in size! You are being used and abused every day and before you embark on another new diet, stop and ask yourself this:
Do I want to be the ping pong ball of the food and diet industry for the rest of my life? Do I want them or me to control my eating habits?
It is your choice to have a normal or a dysfunctional relationship with your food and dieting is a highly dysfunctional one.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The thirst for spirituality. Part X

All the cultures and human civilizations have one thing in common.
They all have language, technology, art and spirituality at their core.
While the first two are easily explained as necessities for survival, on the last two I never heard a compelling argument that explains why we need them and created them.
It seems to me that when you have a life as brutal and challenging like the cave men or the Eskimos have, your time and meager resources would be too precious to waste on such frills as jewelry and painting, singing, dancing and story telling.
Why do we need beauty in our life? Why do we need a connection with the spiritual world? Why a boy born in a communist country and raise and educated as an atheist, would search for God to the end of the world?
What is this thirst and hunger we all have?
I spend so many hours contemplating these questions. I search so much to find an answer. All I know is that I need God and I need beauty, just like I need water and food to nourish my body, I need beauty and God to nourish my soul.
It is what defines me as a human being not as a 9 to 5 mechanical device, bills and tax paying machine. I need beauty and I need God. Without them I would wither and die.
And that is all I need to know.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Election Special Edition

It use to be that you didn’t ask a fellow American about how much money he makes or what his financial situation was, or about his private life and for God’s sake never discussed politics, unless of course he was one of us not one of them.
If you wanted to discuss politics you got together with your political friends, people that had the same views as you and basically told one each other how right you were and how wrong the others were.
Of course those other people were never around for the debate.
So slowly after years and years of ignoring each other a huge schism has been created.
America is now divided between us and them, to the point of political civil war.

The other day I went to a kids Halloween party. The kids took over the back yard while the parents gathered into a corner by the barbeque.
To my total surprise 15 minutes into the party, a political debate ensued.
As you might now by now – if you read my posts – I am an X Republican.
Actually I believe I’m still a Republican, my values have never change but my political party some where has lost its direction.
For the first time I witnessed a real political debate, with passionate arguments, under the belt punches and clever setup traps.
The group divided in two opposite combat groups and two leaders arise.
The Republicans were lead by “John” and the Dems by “Jane” – not real names.

The battle started with the same old tired arguments, abortions, gay marriage and guns.
I didn’t even entered the debate because I consider these issues non political and just a distraction from the real problems.
Then the debate got more passionate and focused on Obama’s lack of experience.
I stepped in and asked, “Is experience just time in office and if that, is Fidel Castro the best president of the world, since he’s been in power the longest.
Is Dick Cheney the most qualified person to lead this country because he has the most experience?
My friend John was very disappointed on my betrayal and admonished me for not being a good republican – follow and don’t question type.
I said to him “John, if McCain was the democrat nominee would you vote for him?”
He said “Of course not!” I said “That’s exactly my point, you are voting for the republican party not for the country.”

The truth is that a president is as good as the people he chooses for his administration. When McCain choose Sarah Palin as running mate - for his own self interest, disregarding what America needs - I had a bad déjà view, of Bush forcing Colin Powel to resign and giving the job to kiss ass Condoleezza Rice.
Bush is the worst prez in history of USA because he has surrounded himself with incompetent, corrupted ass licking cronies and McCain shows exactly the same judgment.

November 4 is around the corner, and after months and months of grueling political debate the moment of truth is here. What will America choose? I am as curious as anybody else.
My prediction; Obama will squeeze in a victory.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The thirst for spirituality. Part IX

There is something spiritual and magic about old book stores and libraries.
Maybe is just the smell of old books bringing back forgotten childhood memories, or maybe there is a deeper spiritual connection I can’t explain, but every time I am in a library I feel connected to a higher wisdom and my creativity and inspiration take flight.
There was a public library by my apartment building where I would spend hours every day. I would take my stack of books go outside in the park, lay down under a majestic eucalyptus tree and read until my back start hurting.

In that park many days I would see this little old man meditating under a tree.
It was an intriguing little man with a strange smile on his face, like the cat that had swallowed a canary. It was a smile of total satisfaction coming from inside and it ticked me off with its serenity. One day I went and sat next to him in the shade. I said:
- Hi! Are you a Buddhist?
- Yes.
- What kind of Buddhist are you, what do you believe in?
- God.
- Which God?
He stopped for a moment and pierced me with his little biddy eyes.
- I don’t know… how many Gods are there?
- Well, uh, there is only one God.
- So, isn’t that a silly question to ask?
- No, not at all. There are thousand of religions and each one claims to represent the real God. So which one is the real one?
- Do you have a mother?
- Of course I have a mother. Isn’t that a silly question to ask?
- No, not really. There are millions of mothers out there. How do you know which one is your real mother.
So the little man is playing tough. I had to stop and think. Where is the catch? Ok. Lets play along and see where this goes.
- My mother is my mother because she made me.
- So, how come you don’t know who your father is?
I had this strange feeling that I was about to get a higher understanding, of something that had eluded me so many times before. I stood there my wheels spinning at hyper speed.
- You think, you can choose God like you choose a pair of shoes? …You choose the right one and you go straight to heaven, you choose the wrong one and you go straight to hell? …There is no choosing. Nobody has God. No religion, no country, no race no man has God. God has all of us, the Christians, the Buddhist, the Muslims, the Hindus and even the ones that don’t believe in God at all. We don’t make God, God made us. We don’t choose God, God chose us.
Well, I had to admit. That was something I never considered. There is no choice. God is my father and I couldn’t change that even if I wanted to. It is that it is and that’s all it is.
A question still remains. So I asked:
- So how does one relate to God?
- How do you relate to your mother?
- I love her more than anything in this world.
- Well if that’s good enough for your mother I believe it’s good enough for your father too.
- You don’t understand. It is not that simple… What should one think of God and how… how do you believe in God?
- It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what you believe about God or if you believe in God. What matters is what God believes about you. The question is not do you believe in God. The question is, does God believe in you?
I had no idea, no clue, no answer. I felt like a piñata after a Mexican birthday party.
My head, hurt, my heart ache. I stood up and stumble my way back home.
This little guy had just shattered my whole belief system in 5 minutes. I had to get some

I recouped really fast and went back to my new find teacher armed with even more
questions, battling over every argument, from philosophy to politics.
He was a hard cookie to break.
Many time I would find him meditate and out of respect I would sit down beside him and
pretend that I was meditating too, although I would just sit there with my eyes closed
waiting for him to start talking.
One of those days sitting there “meditating” I let my mind wonder and in a flash of
lightning I had the revelation of God. It was such a shock that my whole body reacted
and I believe I groan so loud that I wake him up. I stood there stoned looking at him,
tears rolling down my face. He smiled at me and I knew he knew. I smiled back and he
knew that I knew.

After a life time of searching, after crossing an ocean and thousand of miles, finally I
found God. Not in a church, not in a bible but right here in my hart. He was always there,
all I had to do is say:
- Hi God!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The thirst for spirituality. Part VIII

I didn't want my relationship with God to be an one hour Sunday morning formal affair.
I wanted a religion that was an every day presence, an integral part of my life, and God in his infinite wisdom, and that screwy sense of humor of his, delivered it to my door.

Ring, ring, goes the bell. I opened the door and there they were.
The lovely bunch of people standing in front of me chirped in unison; " Good morning! Have you find Jesus today?"
Oh yes, my spiritual life was about to take a turn to the wild side.
If the "churchists" - I call the people that worship God by going to church once a week - were bad enough in their religious superficiality. My new found friends - I called them the "bibleists" - were the exact opposite. Religion was what they did 24/7. To be more precise, the study of the bible, which for them was a constant endeavor. They studied it so hard that the most advanced of them would reach a point that all their conversation was nothing but bible quotations.
They use the bible to justify anything and everything that was advantageous to them and their cause. You wanted a male prostitute, no problem, drugs, incest, theft, no problem. Jesus had already died for your sins and if you joined the bibleist you got yourself a free pass to heaven no matter what you did in this life.
And people wander why the moral fiber of America is falling apart. Well, when there are no more consequences to your acts, what do you expect?
On the other hand, if you didn't join them, no matter how decent of a human been you are, you were condemned to a faith worse than hell.
But even worse than the eternal damnation was trying to get out of the gang.
Once you joined them, it was like getting herpes, you have very little chances to get red of it. So I had to change my residence and disappear for a while until they lost my scent.
For now my church was an old book store and my temple the neighborhood library. My sermons were by Nietzsche and St Exuperie, my hymns by Mozart and Bach.
It looked that my quest for God had come to a dead end...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The thirst for spirituality. Part VII

So the coming Sunday I was all ready to go to church.
Imagine a Che Guevara all dressed up for a rollerskating disco night - a Steve Martin wild and crazy guy with beard - popping up at the neighborhood church for the Sunday morning mass. I was an instant hit!
The sermon was boring and uninspiring, a reading from the bible fallowed by a long and forced attempt to a moralized interpretation of the scripture. Then some guy passed the collection basket - which was a total surprise for me - I didn't have any money so I felt like a real shit head with the basket propped in front of me for what it felt like an eternity. After that the congregation split, with most of the people leaving and a few, mostly elderly ladies remaining for a cake and soda type of gathering.
I thought this was the moment for my pledge for help. "You should have come here last week, we had our monthly charity" They told me. But I don't want charity. I need help getting a job. "Why don't you come back next month, we'll have another charity" They answered.
Something was going on. The people were unwilling or unable to relate to me, or I wasn't able to express my need. I don't want charity I need help! I went back home very disappointed and depressed, my hopes and plans have totally back fired.
My girlfriend stopped by that noon but I was to bombed to go out. "Do you really, really want to get a job?" She asked. No! I want to be an unemployed bum and have you pay for all the diners and movie tickets for the rest of my life. What kind of retarded question was that? She took a minute to gather her strength and then she said: " If you want to get a job, you have to cut your hair, trim or shave your beard, get a blue or dark suit, white shirt and tie." And why was this such a big secret that nobody wanted to tell me? "They didn't want to hurt your feelings." So, let me get this straight; seeing a man crumbling in despair and poverty was OK but for God's sake don't tell him to shape up cause it might hurt his feelings?
I don't get it.
So I took her advice and, bingo! I landed a job.
I went back to the church for another Sunday morning mass. What a difference a job and a 3 piece suit makes! I was welcomed and even asked to help with the next charity event - being that I could speak immigreeze. I said to them: What the immigrants need is not a fish meal but the knowledge and skill to fish for themselves! Bad idea. It didn't go well with the natives. It turns out the only thing they were interested in was the handouts, the "charity work" as they put it. The one day a month when they will have something to do with the needy without getting too close or too involved with their lives.
I realized that church was just a place where they went once a week for an hour to bribe their way into heaven. Going to church had nothing to do with spirituality, it was just a way to wash away the guilt so Monday morning they would go back to their Northrop jobs, building stealth planes and intelligent bombs. - Isn't that an oxymoron, "intelligent bombs"? Aren't bombs inherent stupid?
Any way, this church going thing was not what I was looking for. I didn't want to join a religion just to buy my sins off and get a free pass to heaven. I wanted Gods acknowledgment of my existence. I wanted Gods love and presence in my life 24/7 not only on a Sunday morning inconvenient intermission.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The thirst for spirituality. Part VI

After learning English, my second most important task was to get a job.
I thought that having a college degree would make it easy, but all I got was “You’re overqualified for this position” or “We will call you back” which they never did.
I had only negative experiences and I was getting a little scared and depressed. What was I doing wrong?
One Sunday morning a compatriot friend showed up to my door and said to me “let’s go to the church. Today they have a big handout for the immigrants”
I hated the idea of handouts; all I wanted was to be off welfare and be on my on feet. I thought; what the heck, if they are willing to give away food and clothing, how hard would it be to get some advice. Besides I needed some urgent divine intervention in my life, so a trip to church seemed like an excellent idea. So way to church we go.
The church was a pleasant surprise. Unlike the old European churches of massive stone, dark and gloomy with the constant reminder of impending death on every corner, the American church was open and luminous like a celebration of life. The people were extremely nice handing out the care packages especially to the families with children. I tried to approach some of them on a more personal level but there was a strange resistance, a feeling that they did not wanted to stray from their charity mission, so I backed off, went inside the church and pray.
It felt really good and for a moment I felt like I finally find a home for my wary, tired soul. I decided to come back again the next Sunday.
My friend was very disappointed in me “I can’t believe you didn’t get your package. You could have saved your money and buy some beer and smokes” But I wasn’t thinking of beer. I was thirsty for something more…

Monday, October 20, 2008

The thirst for spirituality. Part V

All new coming immigrants have a choice to make: Live in the little enclave of their native community or embrace and fully integrate into the American society.
The people that come over here solely for financial gains stay in their community. They choose a life on the fringe of society and legality, taking advantage of the welfare system and funneling all the money they make back into their former country, on the hope that one day they will go back and live a life of leisure.
The others, like me, learn the language start a career, pay taxes and usually don’t want to have too much to do with their fellow countryman, unless they share the same ideal of American integration.
My first priority after settling down was to learn English.
The best tools to learn English are a TV and a dictionary. For the first 6 month I lived with my TV on 24/7. It wasn’t only to learn the language but also a window into the psyche and culture of the American people – at that time I had no idea how distorted that representation was.
I discovered Johnny Carson and “The twilight zone” and one late night I discovered “Tele Evangelism”
That night I laughed so hard I thought I’d burst a seam. I thought to myself: This is really brilliant! This stuff is even better than “Saturday night live” But then after a couple of nights I realized that it wasn’t a skit.
Those people with the healing of the crippled and the blind were dead serious.
My first encounter with American spirituality was a shock. In the country that had the most Nobel Prize winners and had put a man on the moon, this three ring circus was the best they could offer?
According to these morons God had not finished his job after 7 days – as I knew from my little biblical knowledge. God that had created the universe and life as we know it suddenly on the 7th day became impotent and called upon the televangelists to do his job. That job mainly involved collecting money. Lots and lots of money – apparently God not only lost his powers but also was totally broke.
I couldn’t stop the words of Karl Marx from popping to my head “Religion is the opiate of the masses”.
I wasn’t just disappointed I was totally disgusted.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The thirst for spirituality. Part IV

My first glimpse of America: I’m glued to the plane’s window looking at the emerald green lawns, the houses and the glittering pools. One in every backyard! My god, this must be where the rich people live. After about 30 minutes of the endless Los Angeles suburban sprawl, my brain starts searing. I ponder in awe: If all those people are millionaires, where do the poor people live? And this is just the beginning.
If I would tell you I started my life from zero it would be an understatement. I have left behind, everything I had and known; family, friends, my job, home, my culture, my language. And here I was all alone in a strange land, without speaking a word of English.
I did my shopping by pictures. Here is a can of beans, b-e-a-n-s, beans, and another word down. Imagine my shock getting on the pet food isle for the first time. Here is a can of cat. CAT??? It takes me a minute or two to realize …they have can food for the pets!
Welcome to the land of plenty!
You my think it must have been the hardest, most terrible, awful, time of my life. Hard yes, but also the happiest time of my life. It was the time of infinite possibilities, the time of unbounded hope. I would wake up in the morning with a smile on my face, ready to take on the world, and I would go to bed exhausted and some times hungry, but with the same smile on my face. This was the time of miracles and wonder. I was living my dream.
You see, I believe I was born American. I had life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness flowing in my veins from the first day. It just happened that I was born at the wrong time in the wrong place.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The thirst for spirituality. Part III

Life behind the iron curtain was very predictable. The daily routine almost mechanical. You go to your assigned work in the morning, pretend to work for 8 hours – the slogan was “you pretend to pay us, we pretend to work for you” pretty much like government work over here. You get out work, go sit in line for a couple of hours, and if lucky get some meat, or sugar, or if really, really lucky even coffee! But we kept up our spirits and often joked about the appalling conditions. Do you know the recipe for a communist sandwich? One salami ration coupon, between two slices of bread! Then you go home and turn on the TV to watch the party approved politically correct international news. The news were pretty much on the same subject: the horrible life of the American worker. The announcer would start with some sensationalistic remark on the always worsening conditions of living in US. “Workers strike in US!” Cut to some Detroit auto worker getting out his car, picking up a sign and getting in the picket line. Then for good measure, some beautiful dreamy sequences of communist paradise – that we were supposed to get some day soon, hence another slogan “from misery to misery, to the final victory” That was supposed to make us happy about our superior way of life but all I could think was: That fat American bastard, has a fat American car and he’s going on strike??? Nobody in my family has a car, nobody in the whole neighborhood! You finish your supper, brush your teeth and go to bed. There is no prey, no thanks giving. God his dead and you are alone in the darkness. Sleep is the sweet suicide that kills the pain of the day; we sleep and dream of the land of plenty... America.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The thirst for spirituality. Part II

In my first year of high school in social studies we started the course titled “scientific socialism” all you ever wanted to know about Karl Marks, Engels, Lenin and Mao. BTW I recommend “The Capital” not a bad reading. The only problem with any perfect social order is that it can’t exist. Nobody seems to realize that in order to have a perfect society you need to have perfect people. So what started as a good idea – the Bolshevik revolution – got high jacked by an asshole, psychopathic maniac –Stalin – and it ended up with the Gulag and the genocide of 20 million Russians. (Pretty much the blue print for all subsequent communist revolutions) On the third year we started another course titled “scientific atheism” also known as Christianity’s dirty little secrets and crimes against humanity that you’ll never hear in a Sunday morning sermon. It was a collection of gory details of inquisition tortures, murder, rape and pillage of the crusades, more of the same of Spanish conquistadores, greed, lust and corruption of the Vatican and church clergy and so on. Like I said a lovely collection of historical facts designed to turn us against God. Of course the problem was that God didn’t have anything to do with what the church did so the anti divine argument didn’t have much traction. So they bring in the ultimate anti God weapon: The scientific argument. I remember this teacher asking the class “Have any of you seen God?” I raise my hand, and then answer “Do you have a mind comrade teacher? He replied “Yes of course” So I asked him “Have you seen it?” A puerile argument I may say, but it landed me in the principal’s office. I was not allowed any more comments and questions if I were to finish high school. So pretty much I had to burry my question and quest for a latter day. So to college I went. The halls of higher learning, the temple of truth. BS. Things just god from bad to worse and I was on a collision course with the authorities. They said that I was corrupted by the capitalist ideology and propaganda; they called me an antisocial element and an instigator. Pretty much I had kept my big mouth shut and pretend that I agreed with them. It was at that time that de idea of defecting came to my mind. It was just a dream but the seed was planted and the future was set even if I didn’t know it then.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The thirst for spirituality. Part I

I was born and raised in Eastern Europe at a time when the iron curtain was still separating the globe in two different ideological worlds. I remember as a kid going to church with my grand parents. What a drag! (they had to drag me there) The church was dark and scary, with paintings of hell and all those weird looking saints with big piercing eyes starring at me. The smoke from the candles and incents was so thick it was giving me a headake each time. The sermons were long and boring and I hated dressing up in my Sunday clothes and those insufferable shoes. When I left my grandparents farm I vowed never to go to church again. It was in high school at that age when you start asking questions about the world around you and the meaning of it all, when I went to a local church everybody was talking about. I went because I was searching for God or at least some answers about him. At the pulpit there was a young priest all fired up, talking about the coming of a revolution of the spirit. The people were mesmerized. Somebody from behind approached me and whispered in my ears. “You look like a smart kid, you shouldn’t be here, go home!” There was something ominous in his voice. I turned around and he gave me this intense look, then turned around and left. I went home and told my folks the story. They forbade me to go back. The punishment for going to church was expulsion from school. That for you, my fellow Americans is what separation of church and state meant in a communist country, and I see the push for that kind of separation going on right here right now. Of course you have a choice they said, you can choose between public education and church. I never went back. The young priest got “transferred” and I forgot about him. But those questions have remained and that thirst for spirituality never quenched, no matter how hard they try to turn me away from God.