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 12

I have a short week this week, so I'm in pretty high spirits. On top of that, my wife surprised me with tickets to Vietnam for six days in September, so that'll be pretty fantastic. We've already got the guest-house lined up and I'm eying a few Vietnamese-style motor scooters that we'll rent while we're there. I think a few insects might be in trouble down there, but I'll be a Jew that month, so it doesn't matter now does it? 

I'm getting used to this walking around nude business. I get home, shed the clothes and that's it. Done with it until tomorrow. The only part I don't like it when my dog stares at me though. I feel like he knows that I'm doing something different, but since he can't say anything I don't really care. He's naked, too. 


This morning I was in class and like every Monday morning, my curious students ask me how my weekend was and if I learned anything new about Jainism or life. For some reason they believe that I am much smarter than I actually am and apparently all spiritual questions must be directed at me rather than their priest or resident monk. I'm actually not an authority on anything at all. I wish I could say that I'm a jack of all trades (and master of none), but I have a feeling that only the latter part applies to me. I try to make myself interesting though. At least my wife loves me, right?

Yesterday, I was thinking about how humans are primed for God, gods or a certain deity that has been relevant to their own existence on this rock. We're primed through our friends, family, culture, schools and even language. In the English language for instance, we have a lot of expressions that include the word "god", however, there are no such expressions in Korean. Why? Perhaps because Korea was traditionally a Buddhist nation and America has certainly been dominated by Christians. We don't even realize that we've been primed for a certain religion most of the time, either. It just happens.

That priming pretty much restricts the depths of spiritualism many humans will allow themselves to venture into. I asked a Catholic student, a Buddhist student and an agnostic student whether they preferred a practical religion or a notional religion, but before I did that, I tricked them a little. I randomly listed qualities of each type of religion without identifying their origins. Students discussed why they liked what they did and even defended their position. Then, after they had fully supported their own reasoning, I revealed which trait went with each type for religion and again, I asked them which one they preferred. All of them changed their position and went back to their original (and primed) point of view. That is what priming does to our minds. It limits us.

I used to hear people say, "I'm spiritual, not religious..." and I always let it go because I too used to use it when I didn't want to get into a conversation about my personal take on religion. I have yet to call someone on that, but I have a feeling that their statement could be changed around to say, "I'm spiritually inept, not religiously fervent." Maybe I'm being too harsh, but I'd love to hear someone discuss spirituality without discussing religion. 

Or maybe I have this all wrong.

When I was in the third grade, I had a teacher named Inka Goell Odom. She was a German-born immigrant who used to tell us stories of her house being bombed during World War II. Being the age that I was at that time, I never thought much about it, but Goell (her maiden name) is certainly a German name, but it might even be an old Hebrew name. (Then again, it might be an old Jain name as well, so who knows?) I wonder what the actual details of her departure from Germany were. According to the Yellow Pages, she still lives in the same house she did when I was nine, so I guess I could give her a ring and ask her. I won't though. She might not remember me and that would be embarrassing. 

Either way, she fittingly taught European history and focused heavily on the arts and cultural scene of Western Europe. We discussed everything from Monet and Mozart to Robert the Bruce and Henry VIII. In fact, it was in her class that I first watched Amadeus.  And while she sounds like she might be all about the Battle of Hastings (1066) and Magna Carta (1215)--both of which she taught me--she had another side to her. Whenever our class was asked to sit quietly, she wouldn't trust us to actually do it, so she would have us meditate. 

All of the other classes would be going wild, but not us. No sir. We had to sit in a tantric circle chanting "Oooommm" over and over again. I clearly remember how odd I felt that it was. Why are we doing this? Why can't I play? However, after doing it several times a day for nine months, I started to see the value in it. It was calming. Technically, I have yet to do any Oooommm-ing for this project, but I really dig meditation. Maybe, that is what I could call being "spiritual, not religious".  Of course, the problem is that it was religious. Tantra is a form of worship and is part of many religions! I do it everyday as a Jain. Just because you don't know it's religious doesn't mean that you can claim detachment from religion. 

Or maybe there's something bigger at play here. 

Maybe, it's that every religion offers a little of what we need. I know this to be true and so do most people. Yet, we sometimes refuse to allow ourselves to listen to others and especially other religions. Religion is not a competition. It's a way to define, explain and comfort our souls.  

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