Monday, December 24, 2007

Reflections on the day before Christmas

Our house in rural Virginia, where I often spend weekends and holidays, includes a “silo.” Silo is in quotes because it only looks like one. Once, a dairy barn stood where the house now stands. It included a sixteen foot diameter Silo, which we hoped to incorporate into our new dwelling.The restoration was too costly, so we built a new one on the site of the old. Why must it be that it is so often more expensive to tear down old things, however beautiful or functional, and replace them with new, rather than preserving the old?

My study is on the second floor of the new silo. It would be difficult to imagine a more perfect setting for reflection and writing. From four windows, I can see paddock fences, standing stalls for horses and, more distantly, the homes of four neighbors. This morning, I arose early for a period of meditation and reading. I shared the experience of twilight becoming daylight with a family of four deer.

This year’s end, I set for myself the goal of a non commercial Christmas. Surprisingly this is not so difficult. I have no television, listen only to public radio, podcasts and audio books. I stayed away from shopping malls. My principal presents were checks and donations to the Heifer project. This lifestyle is more difficult for families with young children. Children are principal targets of commercialism’s blandishments. Parents want to “do the right thing.” Post Christmas day comparisons, responding to the question, “what did you get?” can be invidious.

Now, many of the toys that parents buy for their children are made in nations of the Global South. Not infrequently, children may be part of that manufacturing process. Their parents could not afford to buy the toys their children, though they might not want to either. It might be good if each toy was accompanied by a picture of who made it and under what circumstances.

I have been listening to an audiobook entitled “The Universe in a Single Atom” authored by the Dali Lama. It is a deep probing into the relationship between western and Buddhist views of science, consciousness and ethics. Fundamental to Buddhist thought is the “Four Noble Truths”

The four noble truths, briefly summarized, are these:
(Quoted from:

1. Life means suffering.
To live means to suffer, because the human nature is not perfect and neither is the world we live in. During our lifetime, we inevitably have to endure physical suffering such as pain, sickness, injury, tiredness, old age, and eventually death; and we have to endure psychological suffering like sadness, fear, frustration, disappointment, and depression.

2. The origin of suffering is attachment.
The origin of suffering is attachment to transient things and the ignorance thereof. Transient things do not only include the physical objects that surround us, but also ideas, and -in a greater sense- all objects of our perception. Ignorance is the lack of understanding of how our mind is attached to impermanent things. The reasons for suffering are desire, passion, ardour, pursuit of wealth and prestige, striving for fame and popularity, or in short: craving and clinging

3. The cessation of suffering is attainable.
The cessation of suffering can be attained through nirodha. Nirodha means the unmaking of sensual craving and conceptual attachment. The third noble truth expresses the idea that suffering can be ended by attaining dispassion. Nirodha extinguishes all forms of clinging and attachment.

4. There is a path to the cessation of suffering.
There is a path to the end of suffering - a gradual path of self-improvement, which is described more detailed in the Eightfold Path. It is the middle way between the two extremes of excessive self-indulgence (hedonism) and excessive self-mortification (asceticism); and it leads to the end of the cycle of rebirth.

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Anonymous steveincrystalpalace said...

Toys with pictures and bios of the people who made them on the packaging is a shatteringly good idea. I was going to say, an idea that could get you carted off to Guantanamo, but after a moment's reflection, I guess that in the bowels of the great corporations PR departments someone is already working on the idea-simply an extension of the way that smart western companys vie with each other now to be seen as more green and more ethical...oh well, it was a nice idea anyway.

8:20 AM  

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