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Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Zen Baggage 

I don't go to the lectures at the Bookworm much anymore, because they have gotten quite popular, so now they require you to have a ticket, but they won't allow you to make reservations. So in order to be sure of a seat, I would need to take a trip all the way to Dongsishitiao just to buy a ticket, and then another trip to attend the lecture. Just not practical. But this afternoon, I happened to be downtown, so I called and asked if they had any extra tickets for the evening.

Turned out to be a very informative presentation. Bob Porter is an American who has had a fascination with Buddhism since his university days. I say "fascination," because, even though he presents himself as a believer, it is evident from his writing, that he is not overly pious:

"It wasn't bad for the first hour or so. We were all still waking up. I kept building incense fires, sticking the pieces of sandalwood into the coals of the incense burner, then sprinkling sandalwood powder over the fire and bowing and chanting in between. At one point, I decided I could build a better fire by crossing the pieces of sandalwood on top of each other, camp-style, instead of sticking them into the coals butt-end first, which was how everyone else was doing it. But a monk saw my doing this and came over and straightened out my little pyre. No playing around during ceremonies."

I don't want to downgrade his sincerity; he lived in a monastery in Taiwan for three years. But it does seem as though he is a very interested outsider looking in. As enlightenment, this evening may have been less than satisfying to the faithful. But as cultural anthropology it was superb.

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