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 15

Day 15, kiddos! Halfway through Buddhism! Time to get pumped, right? Well, not really. To tell the truth, I'm really enjoying my time as a Buddhist. I'm discovering that I'm acting in a much more planned and thoughtful manner. I'm more aware of others and am absolutely more careful about what I say and do. All in all, I'm actually quite happy. I know that the ethics I have chosen to adhere to this month might have seemed extreme at first, but they have all laid a solid foundation for a more pensive and productive lifestyle. In fact, I'm lucky to have started this project with Buddhism. It asked a lot of me, but set the stage for my coming year. When I started this I knew that I would end up getting attached to certain religions, but the anticipation of what lies ahead is more than enough to keep me going.

Who would have thought that I'd be excited about an evening full of meditation and bowing?

And while my spirits are high, I'm still a little sick. I picked up some medicine at the pharmacy yesterday (remember Korea has an excellent single-payer healthcare system) and even though I was a little apprehensive about taking it with food after 12:00pm, I decided to follow the "Middle Way".
There are two extremes which must be avoided. First, there is the extreme of indulgence in the desires of the body. Second, there is the opposite extreme of ascetic discipline, torturing one's body and mind unreasonably.
Withholding much needed nourishment from the body would be an extreme and honestly, a foolish thing to do. I took my second round of meds at about 10pm last night with a small raisin granola bar. I felt a little guilty. It was the first time I had eaten after noon in fifteen days. The medicine was typical for Korea; a small pill and a pellet-like concoction that was supposed to tame my cough. I woke up feeling alright, but all throughout the night I was walking back and forth from the bed to the toilet. I guess there was something in the medication that made me pee a lot because not only was I relieving myself often, but the amount of urine streaming out far surpassed my liquid intake. I'm talking like two-minutes of uninterrupted flow.

Regardless, it's early afternoon and I'm feeling better. I'm in my classroom sitting at my desk. This is my "me time". I treasure this time. I lock the door so no pesky kids try to sneak in, open the windows wide and just relax. Sometimes I write on this blog and other times I write on my other blogs. Sometimes I read and sometimes I listen to music. Often times, I sit in silence. For those of you who live in America or in a small city, don't take silence for granted. I have been living in this megalopolis for four years and almost never have a moment to myself. There's always people walking by or a car honking.

I remember a lecture in one of my Biological Anthropology classes that discussed the connection between the unnatural colors we see in the city (and presumably civilization) and the destruction of the human eye. I think it would be safe to assume that the ears could react in the same way. And if our eyes and ears are being destroyed, I think it makes sense that that could have an effect on our overall happiness. Silence is a good thing. Cherish it.


Last night I was studying and came across this passage:
To follow Buddha, one must possess five qualifications: good health, confidence, diligence, sincerity of purpose, and wisdom. If one has these qualities, then regardless of gender, it is possible to attain Enlightenment. It need not take long to learn Buddha's teaching, for all humans possess a nature that has an affinity for Enlightenment.
I was quite impressed. As a male feminist (yeah, that's a thing), I was honestly surprised to read such a thing. Let's face facts here, organized religion doesn't have the best reputation when it comes to gender equality. I don't need to list the cases in which women have seen their rights crushed by the mean-spiritedness of institutionalized male dominance, but I think it's worth pointing out that when Buddha was alive (from roughly 560 BCE to 480 BCE), women weren't exactly being treated too well. Babur was busy spreading Islam in the region and soon Christianity would swoop in and take its toll on womens rights. And even though India was uncharacteristically progressive on this particular front, this still seemed pretty revolutionary for the time.

That is, until I got about to the parts about wives. First of all, I guess I should say that I've only been married for two years. I'm still trying to figure this whole thing out for myself, but there are a few lines that don't sit well with me.
When a young woman marries, she should make the following resolutions: "I must honor and serve the parents of my husband. They have given us all the advantages we have and are our wise protectors, so I must serve them with appreciation and be ready to help them whenever I can."
I don't like this. I hate the thought of anyone serving anyone else and this passage reeks of the same oppressive batch of rotten neo-Confucianism that so many young Korean women still get sucked into today in "modern" Korea. It really is a "delicate kitchen dance" over here that's full of empty bows, forced smiles and backhanded compliments and the resulting resentment that stems from such a nonsensical and shallow arrangement makes genuine care and respect almost out-of-reach. Culture is not an excuse for violating human rights.

Having respect for all people should be paramount, but when pledges like the one above are canonized and forced upon followers, the original intention is skewed. There's nothing wrong with respecting and helping in-laws. That's a given. My wife, for instance, has the utmost respect for my family, but she doesn't respect them out of obligation. She does so because of their genuine kindness and warmth. They earned it for themselves and not once did they expect something in return. Respect shouldn't be prescribed. They didn't expect something from her, nor were they waiting to be assisted. Human relationships shouldn't be quid pro quo.

At least the Dalai Lama has left the door open for a woman to be his successor. I'm sure China would love that.


  1. Uh....

    "she respects them because they earned it"

    that IS a quid pro quo....

    I think you're looking for a different Latin phrase?

  2. No, I meant quid pro quo. I just wasn't as clear as I could be.

    They earned her respect through genuine kindness and warmth. Nothing was asked for or expected.

  3. You are a true son of the Enlightenment and Western values (views on women, for one). The trick will be finding a faith that reconciles that cultural and intellectual tradition with a new one.

  4. I knew this about you, George. Fairness is supreme. That is sometimes a tough pill to swallow in a very unfair world.

  5. Damn straight it's a thing. Good for you George.

    Buddhism is so contradictory when it comes to women, because on the one hand, like you said, both sexes can achieve enlightenment. On the other, certain orders of Buddhist monks hate women more than almost any other religion.

    We weren't allowed to go near the monk sections on Thai ferries for fear that we may get too close, fall and touch one, and then they would be filthied by the touch of a female. I don't think Buddha would have approved. I hope not.

  6. Blaming Buddhism isn't that fair, though. We all know that people ruin religion and in the case of East Asia, the oppressive culture ruined the people who, in turn, ruined the regional religion.

    Buddha would not have approved. He spent a lot of time discussing the transiency of our bodies. That alone makes our biological makeup irrelevant.