Sunday, December 28, 2008

Heaven and Hell

I remember going to church as a child.
All dressed up in my Sunday garb and my uncomfortable “good” shoes, looking forward to wasting another perfect Sunday morning, listening to long boring sermons about going to hell or heaven, you know, the stick and carrot drill.
I always wonder why people wanted to go to heaven. Heaven looked to me like a dreadful place. It was like being condemned to go to church every day for the rest of eternity, and in that context going to hell did not seem to me that frightening.
So my grandparents had to bribe me every week to get me into the church.

So what is heaven?
What is that you work so hard to go to?
Have you ever thought what would your life in heaven be like on a daily basis?
I think this should be a very important question on every mortal’s agenda.
You don’t want to get stuck for the rest of the eternity in the wrong place.
Do you?

I once saw this Twilight Zone episode about a mob hit man that dies in a shoot out with the police. He wakes up in this empty room with this white bearded gentleman next to him.
-Where I am? How come I am not dead and why I don’t have any bullets wounds?
-You are not alive anymore – said the old man – you are quite dead.
-And who are you – asked the gangster
-Well, I am the man that it will grant you every wish.
- Is this some kind of trick?
- No, it is not a trick. This is very real. Go ahead give it a try.

So the gangster asks for a great meal and poof! He gets the best meal imaginable.
Then he asks for money and he gets all the money he wants. Then he asks for a beautiful dame, for two, three. He wants to win at every casino game and have the greatest cars and everything he could imagine. And he gets it.
After getting everything he wants he gets bored. He says to the old man:
-I don’t like this game anymore. I know that every dame will fall for me and I know that I will win every poker hand. It is not exciting anymore. I want to loose this time.
-No problem. Said the old man.
And he losses every hand now, but the gangster is still not pleased.
-This is not working! I know that I’m going to loose and it takes away all the fun.
I thought heaven was supposed to be fun!
-Who said this was heaven? Replies the old man.

Truth is the eternal joy of heavens.
In truth the faithful shall wash his pain and suffering.
In truth he shall wash his tears and sorrows.
In truth the blessed one will find his justice and reward.
And truth will be food and fortune for the hungry and poor.
Truth is the name of God
And truth shall be his eternal reward.

Truth is the eternal flame of hell.
In his searing light the wicked shall become blind.
In his thundering roar his ears shall bleed.
In truth his fortunes and fame shall turn into ashes.
In truth his pleasures and joy shall turn into pain.

Truth is the name of God
And truth shall be his eternal justice.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Who do you trust?

There is this anecdote of an American soldier during the Second World War in France.
One day the soldier went to Pablo Picasso’s art studio in Paris.
He looked around at the strange paintings and finally asked the master:
“Do all women in your village have their eyes on one side of their face?”
The artist laughed and changes the subject.
Later on Picasso asked the young man if he is married.
The solder said “No” but he had a lovely fiancé waiting for him in the states and very proudly pulled out a picture from his wallet.
The master looked at the picture then asked in amazement: “Are all women in your village this small?”

There are three major views of the world:
The artistic view, the spiritual view and the scientific view.
I choose to use the word “spiritual” and not “religious” because not all spiritual views and teachings are necessarily religious and not all religious views and teachings are necessarily spiritual.
I would like to think of myself a spiritual person and not a religious one :)

Now, anybody with a little bit of education and a little bit of common sense realizes that art is not intended to be scientific, or exact.
You wouldn’t say Monet is a bad painter because his paintings are out of focus or Picasso is bad because his portraits are not anatomically correct. Would you?
Only a moron would ask to remove art from our schools curriculums because it is not scientifically sound. Right?

Well, what about religion? Isn’t religion supposed to be for the soul what art is for the soul through our senses? And if that is the case, why are the so called scientists so mad about religion?
Religion is not supposed to be exact, précis, technical. That is what science is supposed to be.
You don’t see artists and spiritualists asking congress to remove science from our schools because it is soulless, cold, dry and drab.
Do you?
I mean who sets the criteria that science should rule human life and behavior?
Who give those guys that power? I don’t remember anybody asking for my vote.

I know, I know, science is pure, untainted, science is exact, truthful and real, science is perfect and it will deliver us from our folly.
But I remember that once Galileo’s views were held as scientific absolute, truth, then Newton came along and the absolute scientific truth became Newtonian, until Einstein came along and then the absolute truth became relative.

The little secret of the scientific world is that they don’t know shit!
While they are reassuring you they are in total control, behind the scenes thousands of scientists are scrambling to figure out how the hell the things work. – See the CERN accelerator and the promise to figure out the truth.
So to me this so called scientific knowledge is not scientific at all after all. It is just human bull shit like everything else.
– Yeah, I know mine is bullshit as well, but at least I am honest about it!

The scary trend my friends, is that we are relying more and more on science and scientist to determine the faith of human race, but there are grave questions and doubts about science and scientific dogma.
Think about the ethical question DNA research poses. Think about how the modern psychiatry has shaped our social behavior.
Think about how technology has changed our society and way of life.
Can we afford to stay the course? Or do we need a major change of direction?

Before we let the genie out of the bottle, let’s stop and think for a while:
Who do you trust?
The artists, the spiritualists or the scientists.

PS: Please give me some good rebuttal. I’m aching for a debate!

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!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Where is the love?

Rose was hefty 250 lb + of voluptuous blubber flowing out of every piece of her clothing. Her spandex pants clad so tight to reveal every detail of her anatomy.
Don’t get me wrong. I am an Eastern European and skinny is not my idea of a beautiful woman, but Rose was more than rubenesque. She was obese.
That did not stopped Carlos, our security guard, - who also happened to be over 250 lb – to follow her around like a love stricken puppy.
I have no idea what he was telling her, but she was laughing and flirting and purring like a kitten.
I watched them and try to imagine how in the world they would have sex – being their round shapes - but I digress with my sexual fantasy.
It was not long before Carlos proposed to her and they got married.

There are over 6 billion people on this planet.
Some fat, some not, some toll, some small and some midgets and giants.
We have white folks, black folks, yellow, red and green – they visit us from time to time. We have educated, uneducated, rich, poor, smart, genius, stupid and George Bush.
We have beautiful, handsome, plain or butt ugly people and they all have one thing in common.
They all have a mate and they all have sex – other wise we wouldn’t be 6 billion.
Would we?
Yes folks, even the toothless woman you some time see shopping at Wall Mart has a guy who believes, and tells her, that she is the most beautiful woman in the world and given the chance will knock her up in a heart beat.
Love knows no boundaries. Love works in mysterious ways and some how it pairs us two by two, so the species would survive and flourish.
Or if you prefer the other explanation: Love is blind, deaf and dumb.

So in this world that came out of love, and exists for love, how come we have so many lonely people, so many people that seem unable to find their right soul mate?
In this day and age of internet, cell phones, jet planes and global connections why do we have so many lonely hearts, so many broken hearts, and so many sad love songs?
Where is the love?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Acting Naturally

I have two daughters five and eleven and as any father I believe they are the most beautiful and gifted kids in the whole world.
We have a play / office room where the kids play and where the family computer resides.
I go there often when my little on is playing dolls and it would be impossible to work on my computer without being distracted by her play.
For one thing, she speaks out loud all the characters. As an adult I would say she speaks by herself, but watching her I don’t believe that’s true. Her characters are so well developed and they have the most fantastic, imaginable dialogs.
It is impossible for me not to crack up, at which point she realizes that I’m not working on my computer so she comes over to me and ask me if I want to play.
To be honest, playing dolls is not my favorite thing by far, but how can I say no?
The thing I dread the most is that I always get to be the prince and no matter how hard I try, I always screw it up. She always has to correct me. “Dad that’s not the way you do it!”
As you might have noticed from my early posts, I’m not one person that lacks imagination but compared with hers, I got nothing.

My older daughter doesn’t play with dolls; she never had – thank God.
She loves reading and videogames and she loves her stuffed animals, but not to play just to sleep with them.
She also loves acting and singing and my wife has even got her an agent.
I go along with this acting gig, just because they both enjoy it and have fun and they do not take it too seriously.
Part of the acting career is going to acting shops, which once I had the pleasure of getting stuck with.
There were several kids going on a stage doing their little act. Some of them were happy, some were frightened, some memorized their lines and some had no clue. You know, kids! After the kids, the acting coach got on the stage and explained to the kids how they are going to learn “how to act naturally”.
Is acting naturally an oxymoron, ore is just me? I mean isn’t acting the opposite of natural and spontaneous? How can you be spontaneous on queue?
Any way, what he really meant, is that he’s going to teach the kids to act like what other people believe naturally should be like. Which means to tech them to act un naturally.

I have a confession to make. I like to talk to myself. I don’t have the courage to do it in public or in front of my kids – I usually take my dog for a walk when I get the urge to act out my thoughts. I also thought of buying one of those blue tooth thingy that you put in your year, although I do not have a cellular but it would be just the perfect excuse for having a conversation.
I find it ironic that we are teaching our kids to act naturally, when we as adults are nothing but a bucket full of inhibitions, anxieties and phobias. It should be just the other thing around. We should learn from them.

I am learning a lot from my daughters. I am getting better on being spontaneous just being around them.
I just wish I didn’t get to be the prince all the time.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Zen Tales: The Pearl of Wisdom

This is the story of little Ozzy.
He was the 4456th son of Mother of Pearl and of all his brother and sisters he was the smallest oyster in the bunch. He was always a little slow – as oysters go – and nobody thought he would accomplish anything in life.
As expected, when time came to pearl out little Ozzy turned out to be a failure.
All his brothers and sisters proudly displayed their pearls but no matter how hard he tried little Ozzy came out empty.
He was the laughing stock of the oyster culture and ashamed of himself he decided to run away and save his family from humiliation.
One dark night he sneaked out and went into the open ocean.
When the first rays of the sun started shining, tired of pulling his shell all night, he stopped by a big rock and started sobbing.
- Hey! What’s with the crying? – It turns out that the rock was just an old turtle doing his morning meditation.
- I am a total failure and disgrace to my family. I am an oyster without of pearl. Would you please eat me and put me out of my misery?
- Well, I am a vegetarian – said the turtle – But I tell you what. I will give you the pearl of wisdom so you wouldn’t be a pearless oyster anymore.
- The pearl of wisdom, what is that? – asked Ozzy
- It is the most magnificent, amazing, perfect pearl in the ocean. - said the turtle. It will give infinite wisdom to any one that wears it. Just open up and say aaa!
As Ozzy open up his shell the turtle picked up a round pebble and shoved it in.
- How do you feel? – Asked the turtle
- Wow! That feels great, big and heavy. I shell go back and made my family proud.
- Wait, wait! You cannot go back to your family. – Said the turtle.
- This is a magic pearl and if you show it to any one it will turn into a rock.
Very disappointed but very happy at the same time, little Ozzy thanked the turtle and left to look for his fortune in the underwater world.
He decided to be a monk and spend the rest of his life helping the poor and the sick.
Ozzy went from place to place imparting his new found wisdom with anyone he met.
Soon his reputation and fame grew and creatures from all over the ocean, the poor and the rich, the humble and the powerful, came seeking his wise advice.
He was a great teacher and counsel and many generations of disciples followed him.
In time his pearl of wisdom became legend.
After years and years of travel, feeling that his end is near Ozzy decided to go back home.
News of his return traveled fast and all the oysters, his brother and sisters and his little nephews were waiting with great anticipation.
It was a triumphant return and they gave him the highest honors. They all gather around in the town square to listen to his life story. At the end his nephews shouted.
- Uncle Ozzy can we see the pearl of wisdom, can wee see it please?
Oh, what the heck. Said Ozzy to himself. After all I don’t need it anymore.
So he opened up its shell for the first time since he had met the turtle.
And there it was, glowing in brilliant radiance, the most magnificent, amazing, perfect pearl in the ocean.

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.