Saturday, July 19, 2008

Quiet Graceful Power


I find the most unusual books to read. The latest book outlet find, "The Cruelest Journey" by Kira Salak, I recommend for would-be vagabonds like me and for anyone seeking reassurance either that one person can do great things or that we can rely on each other even in the most barren environments.

Not only did Kira paddle 600 miles down the Niger River to reach Timbuktu, she often relied on locals for shelter and food. She writes of many historical and current issues in the Sub Sahara with a comfortable style and an accessible readability. And! then buys the freedom of two slave girls at the end of her journey. Ms. Salak carried two gold coins the whole length of her trip to give the two girls a start on their new life.

Her trip recreated the planned journey of a little known English explorer named Mungo Park. His journey began but did not finish for the inhospitable terrain and the ferocious local people. He died on the Niger. Some rumors have him killed after reaching Timbuktu, but history just doesn't know. Kira met some of the same ferocious people almost unaffected in the 300 or so years since Park's disasterous trip. She met many people with a third world kindness and generosity that far exceeds what most of us in the first world will ever do.

Kira is an adventurer who holds a PhD in literature. She writes with a depth and ease that anyone wishing to write would do well to imitate. I was greatly inspired by Kira and her adventure. Not only for her fearless grace but for her quiet Buddhism as well.

I think some people misunderstood my epiphany last Christmas. I really haven't changed much at all. There were no signs squinted at from Milvian Bridge. I merely shifted (overtly) one fundamental leg that my personal philosophy stood on. To me it was as casual as shifting a foot I had stood on too long.

I spent 15 plus years calling myself an Objectivist; atheist by default. I was inspired at my cousin's house to look at the leg I had been leaning on. It wasn't where I thought it was.

Objectivism advocates the raw power of the individual. I don't disagree with all of this but, in many ways, I haven't been living my life that way. I have been helped by so many people; in large and small ways. I've managed to help a few, I think.

In my rediscovery of Buddhism [it creeps up at the weirdest places, see above], I found a "faithless faith" that honors a man, not a deity. While many strains of Buddhism are polluted by the gods and godheads of other faiths, at its core, Buddhism is a way of life that accepts cause and effect, and the efficacy of the human mind and senses. It is simply a path, a method, to discover the true nature of our existence. But it does it in a way that includes all of us. Rather than emphasizing a lone pursuit, it is the power in each of us because each of us is all of us. Buddhism is monistic. We are all one. If you're on Myspace, I highly recommend my friend Emily's latest blog. It reminds me of an intriguing comment by Brad Warner, the punk Zen Master, he described 'getting it' post enlightenment, when looking at a stranger, and feeling a recognition "like looking at himself in a mirror."

Imagine how our politics, and our world, would be different if more people had the realization that we are all one; the same. Imagine spending a billion dollars a day helping each other, ourselves, rather than to tear another country down. The Buddha said "If you want to get rid of your foe, you have only to realize that that foe is delusion."

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