Do you know what is better than charity and fasting and prayer?

It is keeping peace and good relations between people,

as quarrels and bad feelings destroy mankind.

- Prophet Mohammed


Day 4

Yesterday was my mother's 57th birthday. My wife and I got her an Amazon gift card. It wasn't for that much or anything, but it's hard when there's 5,000 miles between you. When you do one of these gift cards online, your only option is to send it through email. Again, it's the best way since we live so far away. After selecting the amount you'd like to make the gift for, they ask you to add your own birthday greeting. 

I started writing and then paused. What am I going to say that hasn't been said before? Am I supposed the write, "thanks for being a great mother and hope you have a happy birthday" or would something more personal and heartfelt be appropriate? The struggle for me is that I have always written gushy birthday cards and notes. I can make my mother, sister and wife cry in a matter of seconds with some words from the heart. If I continue going for the kill like that, doesn't it kind of lose it's effect?

I'm having the same struggles with memorized prayers, but I digress. (That'll come later.)

I should say that my mother does in fact deserve one hell of a sweet note. Mothers and sons often have a close and special relationship and we are no different. It doesn't matter what country your from or what religion to adhere to. All sons cherish and honor their mothers. Islam, in particular, has very strong instructions for me and their mother. The Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) laid on some pretty solid words in terms of honoring our moms. I thought about quoting the one about 'Paradise being at the feet of mothers', but that's gross. My mom used to have corns down there. I went with this one, instead:

"And revere the womb that bore you, for God is ever watchful over you."

So rather than adding in some trite comment like "Happy Birthday" or "You're 57 years young", I'm going simply say this: I'm blessed to have wonderfully funny, close and modern family which, as it so happens, could not have existed without the grunt work my mother put into it.  It is her masterpiece and I'm can't wait to see the final painting. 


Day 3

Epiphanic moments are hard to come by for many of us. Sadly for me, I often allow my elation from such events to be swallowed as my mind concedes all too eagerly to the trivial distractions of my amplified secular life. By doing so, the pure joy of self-discovery becomes another hapless tick on my increasingly mundane existence. The balance of my psyche is askew and the longer I hesitate to level myself out, the harder it will be to find my much needed equipoise. 

Or, in other words, I need to give myself the space to enjoy the natural high of amazement.

As dejected as that sounds, I wouldn't characterize myself as a person who focuses on displeasure. I don't. I actually have avoidance issues and prefer to lap up felicity as much as possible, yet, in the back of my mind, there's a negative presence lurking about, poking holes in the thrill and excitement of life. This dilemma is not lost on me though. In fact, it's teachable for all of us. 

The point of life is personal for all of us and no amount of religion, education or love is ever going to spell it out for us. The conundrum is this: If we don't allow ourselves to treasure an epiphany, a moment of bliss or a shot of absolute jubilation (sounds like a drink), then what is the point in ever searching for it? Some might say it's about the hunt, not the game. Well, perhaps, but hunting season only last for two months. 

The reason we're here is not only transcendental, it's also exponentially beyond me. What isn't beyond me is the fact that all humans seek happiness. We crave it, fight for it and pray for it. It's time to really enjoy it while we can.

So why so much about epiphany and happiness? Last night, while listening to some lectures I tumbled across this song. 

It encapsultaes the beauty of an epiphany -the moment a person sees the light of something he thought was doomed to darkness. Religious epiphany doesn't have to equate to conversion. That's too rigid for its mysticism and wonder.

The song by Yusuf Islam, i.e., Mr. Cat Stevens, makes the statements that Moses, Jesus, Noah, Mohammed, Adam and Abraham are messengers of Allah. Looking deeper into the religion, that is true. All of them are messengers of Allah and to go one step further,  the decendants of Imran, the father of Maryam (Jesus' mother) who is also the most holy of women in Islam, and Abraham are the chosen people. The common thread that runs through these religions, to me, is always overlooked. 

Maybe I'm a bit behind the curve, but as a person who was raised in a Christian household, hearing these familiar names and stories really takes Islam from the reaches of the Arabian desert to a place that's much less foreign and certainly more accessible. 


Day 2

What do I actually know about Islam? 

This is something that has actually been haunting me for the past week and especially for the past 40 or so hours. I don't know a thing about the real and true religion of Islam. Being an American in a time of religious strife and global conflict certainly allows for bits and pieces of the religion to be thrust upon me, but outside of sound bites, academic comparatives and the occasional glance at Al Jazeera's opinion page, I don't have the slightest grip on the details of the religion. This project aside, that is not alright with me. I don't like being clueless.

Intellectual hubris is not my thing. I am the first to admit that I am not the brightest of men, but I will stake a claim under the curiosity column. Yet, how is it possible, as a curious man, for me not to know more about a religion that is embraced by nearly a quarter of the world? To me, that sounds irresponsible.

But maybe I'm asking the wrong question, so allow me to change it. Considering my claim to inquisitiveness, how is it possible for me to accept only fragments of an entire religion and claim to have had enough? Sure, I wouldn't verbalize such a statement, but my actions and subsequent ignorant comments and conversations certainly have and perhaps even continue to illustrate my intellectual tolerance. If I don't actively seek to gain a broader and more accurate picture of any subject, regardless of category, aren't I subtly admitting an mental  fill?

As commented by (and linked to) a friend yesterday, there seems to be a growing segment of people (Americans included) who have allowed themselves to be educated only enough to their liking before an opinion is formed and espoused. Worse than adopting an ill-informed position on something, some people take their half-truths on the road with them to inform the peasants of their wisdom. 

Take this email for instance which carried the title, "Can Muslims be Good Americans?" Since it's a hate email, it naturally comes with a presupposition that "Muslim and "good American" can not co-habitat a sentence.

Here is the gist of it:

Theologically - no. Because his allegiance is to Allah, the moon God of Arabia.

Religiously - no. Because no other religion is accepted by his Allah except Islam (Quran, 2:256)

Scripturally - no. Because his allegiance is to the five pillars of Islam and the Quran (Koran).

Geographically - no. Because his allegiance is to Mecca, to which he turns in prayer five times a day.

Socially - no. Because his allegiance to Islam forbids him to make friends with Christians or Jews.

Politically - no. Because he must submit to the mullah (spiritual leaders), who teach annihilation of Israel and Destruction of America, the great Satan.

Domestically - no. Because he is instructed to marry four women and beat and scourge his wife when she disobeys him (Quran 4:34).

Intellectually - no. Because he cannot accept the American Constitution since it is based on Biblical principles and he believes the Bible to be corrupt.

Philosophically - no. Because Islam, Muhammad, and the Quran do not allow freedom of religion and expression. Democracy and Islam cannot co-exist. Every Muslim government is either dictatorial or autocratic.

Spiritually - no. Because when we declare "one nation under God," the Christian's God is loving and kind, while Allah is NEVER referred to as heavenly father, nor is he ever called love in The Quran's 99 excellent names.

Therefore after much study and deliberation....perhaps we should be very suspicious of ALL MUSLIMS in this country. They obviously cannot be both "good" Muslims and good Americans. Call it what you's still the truth.

You had better believe it.

If you want to read a good take-down of the claims made in the email, there are plenty, but the point is that the author of this rant learned only enough so they could launch a childish tirade at a faith that clearly scares them. Just to give you an example of how pervasive this list was, if you were to enter the title of the email into the Google search box, it auto-completes the sentence. 

The whole thing brings me back to the origin of wisdom and knowledge. Many people like to claim they are wise, but how are we to be sure they are really pure in intent?

"He has taught you that which [heretofore] you knew not."
(Qur'an 2:239)

All faiths have their own ideas on this one. Christians believe their God to be omniscient while Buddhists are taught that it takes utilitarian observation and analysis to truly understand if something is in fact "wise". Regardless of faith or philosophy there are certain facts that I know to be true and, on this one, Mohammad can help.

If a person is given silence, he is given wisdom.

And to that I'd like to add that a modest person understands the wisdom of silence.


Aside from starting the Quran from the beginning (which was interesting considering Adam and Eve popped up like thirty pages into it--a fact that I did not realize), I'm really trying to focus on the Five Pillars of Islam. Since I'm new to this religion, I'm taking it slowing and trying to understand it all one step at a time.

The first pillar is Shahadah which is essentially a statement of faith. It looks like this...

أشهد أن لا إله إلاَّ الله و أشهد أن محمد رسول الله 

"There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger."

If you're really good, then you'd recognize the text above is also written on the flag of Saudi Arabia.

.In English, it looks a little like this: Ashhadu Alla Ilaha Illa Allah Wa Ashhadu Anna Muhammad Rasulu Allah. 

Interestingly, reciting the Shahadah three times in front of witnesses is all it takes to convert to Islam (video here). Of course, one must be totally sincere in doing it and fully understand the gravity of such a recitation. (It's not like Candyman.) I plan on reciting this many times, but my sincerity will disqualify me at this point since I am not prepared to dedicate myself to Islam (or any religion for that matter).

I'm really enjoying my studies so far and am really working on looking at the beauty that clearly thrives within Islam and Muslims and ignoring my cultural biases. 

السلام عليكم و رحمة الله و بركاته

As-Salāmu `Alaykum

Peace and Mercy of Allah be upon you...


Day 1

Back from break and fueled up. I made plenty of great contacts in the Korea(n) Muslim community (although most of them are not Korean) and although I can't change my schedule to go to mosque on Fridays, the weekend is also packed with worshipers and services. In fact, the mosque that I'm going to can hold up to six-hundred practitioners. I'll be heading there this Saturday after my Democrats Abroad meeting. They have service in Korean, Arabic and English. Great news.


Before I really get started, I want to get the whole Park51 mess out of the way. This past month I have watched and listened to my compatriots spit on the faith of over a billion people on this earth. I have coasted between embarrassment, anger, fear, pity and full-blown astonishment. It is clear that the debate has nothing to do with sensitivity or location. It's about two things: 1) petty election season politics and 2) xenophobia.  The worst part of the whole thing is that the GOP and the conservative punditry out there has married the two and it has created a disgusting environment for Americans to exist in. 

A new teacher arrived at my school this morning. He's a nice fellow from Hanover, PA. I asked him about how it was being back in America, expecting the typical answer that returning expats give which ranges from "I loved it" to "Man, Americans are fat." I did not get that response today, though. What I got was more grim.
"America is miserable. It's sick and only getting worse."
I don't doubt that current economic woes coupled with the midterm absurdity has made for a climate that is less savory than The Wonder Years, but what really concerns me is that this side of America has been hiding in plain sight for decades. The only difference is that the hateful have a forum now. Is America waking up from a dream or are they just in a nightmare?

I am certain that this topic will come up before, during or after my time in the mosque and I will not defend my fellow Americans who have chosen to turn their backs on the most important aspect of our nation's founding. I know how my wife, my family and my friends feel about this situation and all of them are lined up with me. So, unless any new developments occur in regards to this issue, I plan on putting it aside this month. 


I woke up this morning before sunrise and pulled out my paper detailing how to do my daily prayers of which must be done five times a day in the direction of Mecca. I was blown away by the time it took me to read the romanized Arabic. Luckily, the online Quran that I'm reading (as well as the hard copy I'm picking up this weekend after Mosque) has a nice English translation.  There will be plenty more to come on that front. You know, the first day always takes some getting used to.

What I have discovered so far is that while reading the Quran, I can't separate the words from the followers. Generally speaking, Muslims hail from a certain geographical region and with each e-page that I e-turn I can't help but visualize them. I think about their clothes, their faces, their history and, yes, even some of the violence that a minority of them have committed against their fellow man. This is really wrong and intellectually I would never say or do anything that casts a negative shadow on the religion, but I'm starting to wonder if, perhaps, they have also been poisoned against others in the same fashion. Is there a "typical" Jew or Christian?

Allah said, "there is a disease in their hearts" --still learning the proper ways to quote the Quran-- and while he was talking about those who try to deceive Him, I can use it here. 

It's hard to live a life that is free from cultural perception and self-deception. In fact, it's impossible. We are scholars of the senses. Recognizing that, however, is only the first step. The "disease" seeps much deeper than what we see and hear and it poisons our hearts and eventually soils our souls.  For someone to claim one thing like, "I support Park51 because Islam didn't attack us on 911, a few extremists did" and then visualize the negative physical manifestations of some Muslims while reading the Quran is a signal that maybe the heart has been polluted. 

I don't know what it is, but it's sure to be an interesting journey and I'm thrilled to see what wonderful treasures Islam has to offer. 


In case you're wondering what is happening with the Pious One, I figured I should let you know. I'm taking the month of August off to better prepare for my upcoming religions. I was a little frustrated with Jainism because I didn't have anyone to connect with and share in the religion. I don't want that to happen with Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Protestantism. So, this month, I am seeking out groups, buying texts and preparing for a smooth transition into Islam with will take place on September 1st. 


Day 30

Jainism is finally done! I don't say that because I didn't like it. I did. In fact, I loved it. I say that because it was exhausting. Not knowing when the next meal is or where it's coming from is really eye-opening. I've lived a very pampered life and the whole time I never once realized the ease that has been provided for me. Sure, money has helped that, but how our civilization and modern society has evolved really created an environment for laziness, entitlement and avoidance. I can't say that I will always remember my physical pain from the month, but I will remember the lessons the taught me.

From what you experienced, what was the best part of Jainism?

Easy. My mind was re-framed this month in terms of my relationship with animal life and the environment. We always hear that we need to clean up and protect the environment and that result should be enough to motivate people to do something. However, leading someone with a carrot only lasts for so long. What I learned this month was an entirely new way to envision my role in the cosmos. I really visualized the vehicles in which our souls are carried and how important the decisions we make with them are. I have a newfound responsibility on earth and it's not simply for ascetic and health reasons. It's because I am of this earth and could perhaps have existed in a different capacity before this life.   

What improvements, if any, did you witness in yourself?

I don't know if I improved. I caved to temptation with alcohol and many times I got outwardly frustrated with Jainism, but if anything, I think I padded by increasingly bulky trove of patience. It's hard giving up things and it was even harder when people would ask, "What's the point?" It would be easy to give into that, but I didn't. Victory?

What was the most annoying aspect of the religion for you?

Not buying anything was really horrible. Well, maybe it was the constant need to rely on my wife for stuff. I don't know. I'm not a big-spender, but it's hard being a burden to the one you love. 
Did you find that people were receptive to Jainism?

Really receptive. In fact,  I was amazed by the curiosity that many people had. I know that they wouldn't necessarily start to follow the creed, but people really opened up to the idea. In fact, I caught some of my younger elementary school students with Jain information in their bags and "George = 자이나교 (Jainism)" written on their notebooks. All ages of Koreans were into it. 

Would you ever consider becoming a Jain?

Hmmm. Let's put it this way: I will always incorporate the lessons from this month into my life, my family and my future religion. But no, I don't think Jainism is the perfect fit for me. 

Any last comments?

If anything came from this month, it was my "Bridges to Beauty" project. Depending on August rain, I will keep it alive. My wife and I are planning on making it more inclusive to the community in September. We all need to do a better job taking care of this world. We are at the top of this karmic chain and have the gift of reason. We need to use it well.


Day 29

From what you saw and heard, what was the best part of Jainism for you? 

Jainism was a little out of my league. George and I spent many nights discussing different aspects of the religion, but I really had a hard time believing any of it. For me, the best part was George actually allowing his love for the earth materialize through his "Bridges to Beauty" project. I support his activism and passions, so this was great for me. Can I credit Jainism? Why not? 

What improvements, if any, did you witness in your husband?

Again with this one? Can someone else write questions? Alright, I'll play the game. He certainly became even more pensive this month. I know it was hard for him, but I'm proud of the thought he put into small things like taking care of our dog's smallest of emotions or even the spider that has now created a massive web in our bathroom window. Maybe it's this project or my training, but I'm starting to see a mature husband. That's a feat.

What was the most annoying aspect of the religion for you?

That's easy. He couldn't spend any money or buy anything. Guess who had to do all of that? Sure, he got some stuff from students, but I was behind most everything. It makes me happy that we live in a time where there is equality in marriages because this could not continue.

What do you think of the nudity, face masks and shaved hair?

The nudity is tiring. I mean, he sits on our furniture like that. On the bright side, I did get to force him to shower much more than usual, so I liked that. He only wore the face mask a few times and in Asia, that's not really unusual. Many people where masks when they get sick. When you live in a city of 20 million, bacteria and viruses spread fast. The short hair was nice, although it wasn't technically "shaved". Personally, I prefer his hair a little longer. There's no character in short hair. I was proud of him though. He's had hair issues forever.

Do you think Jainism looked different from Buddhism?

Sure. Jainism was very difficult, but honestly, I don't think George liked it as much. He says that he loves all of them, but I got the feeling that he was getting tired of the rules. With Buddhism, there were rules, but not as extreme.  

Would you ever consider becoming a Jain?

Nope. Not only is Jainism really hard to manage in any country besides India, but I don't believe a word of it. George was trying to get me all excited about the karmic levels and I liked learning about it, but there is no way that I could tell people I believe in that. It sounds too much like a movie plot. 

Next month is Islam. Are you excited?

Well, I'm ready. I wouldn't day excited, though. We're both a little curious about what's going on in the Itaewon mosque and considering what's happening in America with all this mosque drama, I'm curious about what they are thinking. 

Any last comments?

All of these religious adventures have been great for me. I didn't even know what Jainism was a month ago and now I at least have the background to understand who and what they are. I might not "feel" it like George claims, but I do "know" it and that has been great.


Day 28

I was talking to my sister yesterday. That's usually a fun time as I've always had an unmatched ability to make her laugh. I think it's a mixture of our genes, similar sense of humor and the fact that when our parents divorced we were teenagers and we ended up sticking together at a time when many siblings grow apart. And as much fun as we can have together, we have never had a hard time sitting down and having a deep conversation. Humor and drama tweak the emotions in a very profound way, so bridging the gap isn't all that difficult. 

Yesterday, we were discussing raising children. She has a head-start on me and already has two children. My wife and I are waiting for a few more years to start popping those guys out. Still, we like to gab about how we're going to raise them and this and that. Being a Jain this month, one of the biggest concerns I have had is the soul of insects and animals. This wasn't a big step for me since I already had a real concern for all creatures. My sister, on the other hand, has always loved animals but feared insects. Sometimes her fear translates to anger which, of course, can lead to dead insects. I mentioned this inconsistency to  her and suggested that I want to make sure that my children (as well as my niece and nephew) protect all forms of life. She agreed, but with a caveat.
"I know that they'll protect all lifeforms. I don't see them killing anything except mosquitoes I guess," she told me.
Mosquitoes have been my biggest challenge this month. When I feel an itch on my bare chest my first instinct in the summer is to swat rather than inspect. I had to change that a lot and when I did inspect and find a mosquito, I would generally push him away from my skin and on his way. No killing.  Even if he was loaded with my blood, I let him go on his merry way. Most people make the claim that mosquitoes do nothing for the earth, but that's not true. They are food sources for many insects and they also help pollinate flowers. What would the point be of letting the spider in my laundry room live is I made it a point to kill all of it's food? By killing mosquitoes, I'm potentially starving and killing other insects. 

The point is that people make exceptions to everything. We make exceptions to our own rules and our own morals. People break their rules when it comes to eating well and exercise just like they break their own marriage vows and promises to their family. We constantly allow gratuitous desire to overtake sound judgement and we do so by excusing small infractions because for some reason we dilute ourselves into thinking they are somehow less damning than full-blown violations. If we start making excuses to break one part of a promise to ourselves, then what's to stop us from adding another exception in there? How big does a lie have to get before we realize that we're living it?

I don't kill mosquitoes because they are on the karmic cycle with and therefore my responsibility to protect. They have been in the past, but will no longer be the exception to my rule. No more exceptions.


Day 27

As you know,  I could not attend any services this month, so I tried to participate in several discussion boards and Jain debates. I learned some stuff, but not as much as I wanted. I did, however, get involved with this fellow.
I did a bit of reading on the jains a few years ago, and it sounds like they're social parasites. They do no work, and wander around asking to be fed and cared for by others - a pretty nasty trick if you're in a very poor country. So, it's a typical religious social hack: "see me I'm all holy, feed me and care for me."
Calling 'em like you see 'em, huh? You can't really do that with religion, though. Simply "reading on" them "a few years ago" doesn't really allow you to make wise cracks either, but this reveals something deeper. I've followed this guys comments for awhile (he's not the author of the blog by the way) and it's very clear that he is a straight up atheist and has no real tolerance for any sort of religion. If he wants to be an atheist then I'm totally fine and accepting of his prerogative, however, he is dead wrong in reducing Jain monks to mere beggars too lazy to work and take care of themselves. He will probably call religious people unreasonable, irrational, stupid, blind, gullible, ignorant, weak, scared or something else that's equally offensive.

His intolerance towards the religious has crippled him and rendered him utterly blind to the fact that even though it might not make perfect sense to him, it does in fact make perfect sense to the devout.  Who is he to say otherwise? This is not a debate on the tangible. It's a debate of faith--that which cannot be seen--and while I also like to understand my life and most elements of this world through a scientific lens, it is beyond me to assert so sternly that someone else is doing it "wrong". 

There's more though. This guy opens up an interesting can of worms. Apparently, there are strong connections between liberalism, atheism, vegetarianism and intelligence. For the sake of this argument, let's assume that being religious doesn't mean you're unintelligent as many people (like the commenter above) assume. Judging by voting patterns and survey results, it's pretty clear that if you are in fact conservative in the US, you are probably a Christian of some sort and hold that belief system close to you. Good for you.

My problem with this fellow is that if he is in fact the atheist he has made himself out to be and the trends are in anyway accurate, he very well might fall under the banner of a progressive. Sure, some progressives have a smug sense of self-satisfaction, but one part of being progressive includes tolerance. In this case, however, tolerance for the religious is not a part of his political DNA. That, in my mind, makes his just as bad as people who don't tolerate marriage equality.


People are always going to believe what they want. Sometimes, however, we drift into areas where others might not feel comfortable challenging such strong postulations, but just because no one is there is defend the other side, doesn't meant its wrong. 


Day 26

Confession time. 

Yesterday, I went to the park with some friends. Going to the park, forest, woods, grassy fields, creek, river, lake, beach, ocean or mountains is my absolute favorite thing to do and I'm up for it almost anytime of the day or year. Well, I guess I'm getting ahead of myself, though. Before going to the park, my wife, one of her co-workers and I went to see Inception. Excellent film and even better score. In fact, I can only think of a few scores that I like better: The Mission-my personal favorite, Lawrence of ArabiaPsycho, Last of the Mohicans, Legends of the Fall, Rudy, Cape Fear, Born on the Fourth of July and, of course, Jaws. It made it into my top ten, so that's pretty good. 

After the movie, my wife and her buddy decided to go to a wax museum. I'm not a fan of museums that don't include the names "history", "natural" or "national", so I decided to head to the park to meet some friends. We set up some shading tents, got the tunes roaring and started setting up some of the prepared food that we had brought. Before I knew it, I was tempted by my old friend, makgeolli

Unfortunately, I let it win. All day we sat there; from 12pm to well past 9pm, drinking, laughing and having a ball. By the time I made it home, I was plenty drunk and went straight to bed. Apparently, my tolerance for booze has weakened over the past few years and it has certainly sat out the past few months, so let's just say that I was a mess. My wife, however, wasn't too angry or anything and helped me into bed. 

Getting into bed wasn't the problem though. I woke up this morning at 2am and smiled a little because I thought that it was early Sunday morning. Of course, my alarm went off three hours later and the urgency of Monday landed heavily on my red crusted eyes. I was still smashed, but had no option but to go into work and teach. My first class doesn't have that many students in it and since it's the end of the term, they usually start to flake out. Not today. No, sir. All of them were in there and ready to learn. The problem was, I wasn't ready to teach. My hearing was all weird, my eyes were blurry and I felt like I had to poop every few minutes. I did in fact.

I taught my first two classes and then called it a day. I had to go home and sleep it off. Cancelling classes is easy in my position, so I didn't care about that and probably should have cancelled them all. I did care, however, that I had not only broken my Jain rules, but I did so in such an extreme way that I made my body sick which ended up interrupting my daily responsibilities. That was not very Jain-y of me. 

Or was it?

During my recovery yoga session and meditation this afternoon, I started to think about how sick I was early and how foolish it was for me to intentionally poison myself in the name of a cause--that being "fun". However, Jainism, to me, seems to be more of a punishment or mortification of my body and flesh than a beer. I'm certainly killing myself slowly by partaking in unhealthy habits and behaviors, but don't some of these rituals equate to violence against myself?

Regardless, I broke one of the rules and now am having to pay the price. 



Day 25

The very basis of Jainism is self-denial. Today is the start of my final week as a Jain and self-denial has been pretty darn hard. Denying myself the use of money, option of purchasing items, clothing, cooking, cursing, drinking, meat, fish and traveling have been pretty hard. In Korea, I'm  often duped into eating meat even when I ask for no meat. At many restaurants, the owners will toss my request to the side and instead tell me that "it's better with meat in it" rather than respecting my wishes. It's been hard, but following the Great Five Vows has been rewarding thus far. 

Self-denial is the act of denying things that the self wants. Denying the self is much different and just the other day, the queen of living in denial made her way into the headlines again.

Rather than moving on or admitting her mistake, she dug in.

This woman lives in clear denial of who she is and what she really stands for. She is asking us to celebrate dishonesty and manipulation whenever she gets caught in a lie or deception. The Five Great Vows of Jainism are simple. They are a renunciation of 1) killing living things, (2) lying, (3) greed, (4) sexual pleasure and (5) worldly attachments. Palin lives in violation of every single one of these. She kills animals unnecessarily; she lies; she's greedy; has conflicting ideas on sexuality; and doesn't shy away from flashing her material assets.

The danger with people like her is that her modus operandi is easy to mimic and even easier to follow. Take her Facebook page for instance.

Look at what Mark and Shirley said. They admire her "honest[y]" and what she "stands for". From a Jain perspective, she represents pure evil. From a Christian perspective, she represents the same. However, "representing" something and "standing for" something are much different. Palin claims to stand for a lot of things and that is what people like and attribute to her, but she actually doesn't represent any of those things. 

I think there's a lesson in here though. 

He who looks inwardly at the self revels in the self;
He who revels in the self looks inwardly at the self

I personally don't think Sarah Palin is evil. I do, however, think she's a dangerous leader insofar that she doesn't know her true self at all and that ignorance--whether it's willful or not--creates this faux-reality where she can represent some of the most evil and despicable ideals in this world, yet appear to be stand for what people think is admirable. 

Here's an example: A person can stand for the idea of marriage and since they perhaps have been "happily" married for over forty years, people believe that it's true and rarely seek any more information. However, if you were to ask that person why he is "happy" or even his wife about the details of their relationship, another story might emerge. In fact, he might turn out to be Larry Craig.

Sarah Palin claims that she stands for abstinence-only education. People see that and assume she stands for a more conservative approach to sexual education and some Christians might even believe that she is on their side. However, a closer look at that stance conflicts with the reality which is that she knew her teenage daughter was having sex in her own house and chose to do nothing about it until it was time to collect politically. 

Living in denial is pretty dangerous, Sarah.


Day 24

It's my last Saturday as a Jain. My wife and I were going to go to a water park, but when the entire population of Seoul and the surrounding province also realizes that the rainy season is coming to an end, that makes for hellish traffic and even worse lines. I had a student who went to one of them last week and he said that he waited for two hours to take one of the slides. I asked him why he did that.
"I was with a girl and she wanted to ride it, so I had to wait," he told me.
Typical. I'd do the same thing for my wife, though. Part of becoming a Buddhist and Jain has been learning the value of patience. We have to embrace patience and its tests with enthusiasm, but that doesn't change the fact that I'm shocked adults actually wait that long for something as pointless as a slide or a roller coaster. As a child, we don't know the value of time, so wasting it didn't seem like it was much of a problem. And I'm very well aware that when I have children, my wife and I are going to have to endure hours and hours of mind-numbing queuing just so our children can feel excitement for thirty seconds. 

Still, why do adults do it? 

After all, you're not learning anything from it, nor is it a new experience that could change you in any profound way. Aside from masturbation, drugs and alcohol, I think the thrill people seek from roller coasters and water parks is one of the highest forms of self-gratification we can find. And in some respects, it's worse because we waste so much time in preparation. Jain take:
The self is known with difficulty; having known it, it is difficult to constantly bear it in mind; for the man who does so bear it in mind, it is difficult to refrain from sense gratification.
I know my self well enough to know that the thrill I get from riding a roller coaster does not outweigh the time lost waiting for it.
So long as a man does not know the self, he indulges in sense gratification; the yogi, averse from sense gratification, knows the self. 
Alright, but I know my self, yet would still go and waste all that time if my wife wanted to go. I won't lie and say that I am totally averse to sense gratification that I get from drop tower rides and even if I were, is it wrong that I want to allow my wife to enjoy it?
Some men knowing the self are forgetful of their true nature and wander about in the four states of existence; fools engrossed in sense-gratification.   
I guess this is me. I know my self and still choose to do my best for my wife which, in some way, is gratifyingly satisfying. 

What I'm getting at is that sometimes, we can't follow the path. Life presents itself in many different lights and creates all sorts of obstacles that are impossible to avoid. Next week, my wife's cousins are coming in town and they want to go to an amusement park. Next weekend also happens to be the start of the unofficial vacation week in Korea. Everyone will be at Lotte World and that includes me.

What are my options though? 

1) Complain that these children are being too sense gratifying and suggest we all do yoga instead?

2) Pay for them to go with my wife while I stay at home doing something less gratifying?

3) Go, but sit down and read scripture the whole time?

4) Wait in line with the kids, but skip out just before it's my turn so as to avoid gratification?

5) Go with the kids, wait in line with them and ride with them because that's what a good husband does for his wife and her family?

It's not a hard decision, but where does one draw the line between loyalty to others and the liberation of ones soul? My student ended up having a horrible time at that water park and he  now regrets going. Would he have regretted NOT going even more?