Sunday, October 12, 2008

Good Buddhists Don't Have ADD

I’ve been in Colombo for a few days now. Mostly lying low at my brother’s house, emailing my friends, and wondering what I’m going to do with myself for the next few months. I have a few leads though: my friend Nisreen has asked me to be on the volunteer staff of the Galle Literary Festival (Galle is a city SE of Colombo) and wants to assign me the task of booking transportation for 26 authors who will be coming to the festival in January. They’ll be coming to Sri Lanka from all over the world and frankly the job sounds like a nightmare, but I want to keep busy and I’d like to be involved with the festival so when she asked, I said “sure.” Also, my aunt who is on the board of the Center for Women’s Research has asked me to edit and help finalize some reports on domestic violence for the organization. Not the cheeriest of subjects but I’m happy to put my skills to use for the cause. And my friend Riyaz (Nisreen’s husband and my brother Nilan’s best friend) is trying to put together a sort of film society with the help of Sam, someone I met last December who is a distant cousin of mine and a documentary film-maker, and thinks I should become involved in that project. They’re hoping to have a film festival in the same vein as the literary festival and have already screened a few grim-sounding documentaries with moderated discussions afterwards. And since I happened to have brought my DVD of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” with me to Sri Lanka, I’m sure I can contribute heavily to that endeavor.

Last night I went to the neighborhood Buddhist temple with my aunt to hear the weekly lecture. The program started with a few minutes of guided meditation. I find that during meditation of any kind, the best thing to do, contrary to popular belief, is to really let your mind wander; I mean, a person can focus on their breathing for only so long – it’s breathe in, breathe out/inhale, exhale – there’s really no place to go from there. So I spent the few minutes having spiritual ruminations like, “I wonder what monks wear under those robes… I can’t believe I wore sandals when my toenails aren’t polished… Am I going to get West Nile virus from all these mosquito bites?... Will Nilan’s cook make that awesome crab curry again soon?... If a monkey bites you, what kind of medicine would you get?...” It’s possible that I wasn’t really meditating the way the Buddha intended. Once the guided meditation was over, the lecture began. It was on Mindfulness. Buddhists seem quite obsessed with the concept of Mindfulness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for paying attention to life, and I actually believe that when you are mindful of the body, as the dude giving the lecture said, and concentrate of every little thing – walking, eating, listening, breathing – something does happen on a physical and psychological level that probably does bring one closer to enlightenment, but the guy lost me when he talked about being mindful “…in everything… even going to the bathroom…” I… um… yeah. There are certain things that I really believe you should just do (so to speak) without giving them too much thought. But I’m glad I went to the temple. I think most Americans have a very romanticized view of Buddhism and don't really think it's a religion just like all the others, complete with doctrine and rituals that believers are expected to follow. I talked to my aunt about that on the way to her house afterwards. It turns out that one of the previous lectures at the temple this year had been on that very topic. She said that a lot of people, not only Americans, embrace Buddhism for the practical help it lends to their lives in the form of mediation and other stress management tools, but agreed that that’s not the ultimate point of the religion.

My aunt’s cook had made chicken curry and snowflake-shaped, savory pancakes for dinner. I can honestly say it was a meal that would bring anyone closer to nirvana.

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