Showing posts from July, 2015

Don't Throw Up In My Okesa

I'm in the Italian part of Switzerland, in a town called Ascona! Hold on while I go buy some gelato.

Okay, now I'm back and eating chocolate gelato. This is important to my spiritual development because I'm trying this new thing where I just enjoy the simple things around me and don't make everything so difficult and serious for myself. The Italians already have this figured out. When we checked into our hotel today, the guy behind the counter said, "Technically I'm supposed to give you a single room and make you change to a double tomorrow, but I'm just going to give you the double for the whole time and not charge you extra because otherwise I have to change the reservation, and that means work, and work makes me unhappy."

I'm not sure why Buddhism exists in Europe, because there is limitless gelato, pasta, fine art, and rolling, green hills. The men smoke cigarettes casually and endlessly, scowl and have huge muscles. I'm not sure how these…

Relationships and Cultural Exchange

I've been living in Asia for almost six years now, but I have only recently begun thinking about the idea of "cultural exchange"-- mostly thanks to one of my brilliant student/friends from the study abroad program I worked on this fall who often spoke to me about cultural exchange and its challenges.

"For cultural exchange to work," he said one time to me, "Both sides have to want an actual exchange."

This might seem like an obvious statement, but its implications are important. When my student said this, he was referring to the experience of being a foreigner in Japan studying Japanese culture and religion. Japan was a "closed country" for centuries-- meaning foreigners were not allowed to enter, just as Japanese were not allowed to leave-- and though this changed over a century ago, Japan remains fairly isolated and racially monolithic. Western countries have a fascination with Japan, and there are lots of tourists who come here. But whil…

Politics "As A Buddhist"

My teacher often tells his students, “You can’t hold two things with one hand.” He usually says this kind of thing to rebellious students like me who are trying to divide our time and energy between the monastery and a more worldly, engaged kind of life. This is also his reasoning for why monks shouldn’t get married or have 9-5 jobs.
So I was surprised when I called him this week to bemoan my current state of monastic failure and he was eerily supportive. 
“I’m just a college student now,” I complained.
“Yes, but you’re studying Japanese as a monk.” We were talking in Japanese and he used a grammatical tense I didn’t know, として、which means “to do a role as something.” Ever since then I’ve been wondering what it means to do something as a Buddhist, or as a monk. Maybe it’s better just to be one thing and leave it at that— to not try to be a student as a monk or a politician as a Buddhist, but to just pick one role and do it well. But of course, what if I can’t chose? 
This week I read a fas…


When I graduated from college, my one goal was to get out of the United States. September 11th happened when I was a freshman in high school, and soon after that came a series of-- what I viewed as-- unjust wars, orchestrated by a president I despised. Although I was an Obama supporter, I was never swept away by the tide of Hope and "yes we can" spirit that hit around the year 2007. In my mind at that time, the system of the United States itself was too inherently flawed-- racist, patriarchal, predicated on unfair distribution of wealth and the exploitation of oppressed people, not to mention an electoral system that didn't even really seem to work-- to ever get too optimistic about the future of America.

And then, when I was a senior in college, this happened:

That's the stock market crashing in 2008.  It happened in October, and after that, there were no jobs... anywhere. I was supposed to be graduating in a few months and I couldn't get a job working at Starbu…