Ten Buddhist basics

Thanks to Cassia’s father in my novel What’s Left, she’s familiar with Buddhist teaching and practice.

Here are ten basics.

  1. Siddhartha Gautama: Historical figure who established the teachings in northern India sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE. Often referred to as the Buddha.
  2. Buddhas: Transcendent figures found throughout the universe. Gautama embodies one of them.
  3. Dharma: The law or the way taught by Gautama to overcome suffering or dukka (perhaps better rendered as stress or dissatisfaction). One translation has Dharma as the process itself.
  4. Reincarnation: The state of one’s next rebirth is determined by the fruits of an individual’s karma (actions) in the present life.
  5. Nirvana: An eternal state of perfect peace, bliss, and enlightenment, usually achieved through meditation and breaking the chain of further rebirth.
  6. Boddhisattvas: Figures who have attained nirvana but instead of going their immediately, compassionately reincarnate to assist others.
  7. Sutras: The scriptures (literally “stitchings”).
  8. Three major branches of Buddhism: Theravada, prominent in Indochina; Mahayana, the largest and most liberal branch; and Vajrayana, which emphasizes the magical and the occult.
  9. Tantra: Sacred texts in the Vajrayana branch describing secret methodologies and practices.
  10. Mandalas and tankas: Vajrayana visual images to aid meditation.

Gee, I didn’t even get to koans, those mind-boggling puzzles presented to Zen aspirants.

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What’s happened to Portsmouth?

The Port City is hemmed in by water on three sides, and it’s running out of room to grow.

While the waterfront and beaches are part of the city’s tourism and residential appeal, the demand on downtown real estate has been going up steeply. Literally.

Not all that long ago, Portsmouth was a sleepy little New Hampshire city with a hippie edge and a lot of historic Colonial houses. Unfortunately, the city fathers had jumped on the urban renewal boom in the early ’60s, nearly demolishing one old neighborhood that was instead miraculously transformed into the Strawbery Banke living history museum. Visit it, if you can.

The side opposite the downtown wasn’t so lucky. Much of it, an Italian neighborhood of large Victorian houses with impressive interiors, was razed to make room for a small mall that never took off. It instead became a forbidding asphalt graveyard for private parking surrounding some kind of small bunker.

At least that vacuous mistake and eyesore is finally gone.

I’m not so sure about the replacement, though.

In what seems like one fell swoop, a monolithic set of five-story buildings has popped up to form a forbidding wall along the north side of the downtown.

It’s all new.
But does it leave you with any invitation to walk along this?

It has none of the variety and charm of Congress and State streets that run parallel to it just a few blocks away. It’s largely not pedestrian friendly, preferring instead to maximize every square inch of rentable space, and despite its visual unity has a cookie-cutter quality that bears no kinship to the rest of the district other than brick. Where are the quirky touches that abound so close at hand in the earlier eras?

There is one exception.

This break in the wall has some of the pedestrian welcome you might feel in the North End of Boston. The slight bend in the street and awnings help.

Downtown Dover, ten miles to the north, is undergoing growth of its own and seems to be avoiding this kind of monolithic development, even while going to five stories. Whether we can avoid something similar on the riverfront project on the other side of the Cocheco is another question.

In both cities, these are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for defining the larger community. What does this say about Portsmouth?

Among the characters who are, uh, characters

Yes, there’s the colorful brewer they hire in my novel What’s Left.

Thanks to the TV commercials Cassia’s father creates, everybody comes to know him, or at least who he is. As one line, no longer in the book, described him:

Fritz himself turns out to be something of a ham.

~*~

Look around you for similar folks. Tell me about somebody in your community who’s an effusive character. Maybe someone on television or running a store or waiting on tables. We have a mailman downtown who would fit as he dashes and dances door-to-door, often with an impromptu repartee. Expand my range of possibilities!

Ten notable American religious communes

While monasteries with wider church support are a longstanding institution in Christian history, independent, self-sustaining faith-based communes have made their mark in America. Unlike a monastery, not all of them were celibate.

Here are ten.

  1. Ephrata Cloister. Pennsylvania, 1732-2008. Founded by Johann Conrad Beissel, the pietist group broke off from the German Baptist Brethren (or Dunker) denomination, which largely continues as today’s Church of the Brethren. It had the second printing press in the American colonies. Its celibate emphasis was gradually eliminated.
  2. Moravians. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (1741), and Salem, North Carolina (1753). The denomination dates to Jan Hus (1369-1415), a Czech reformer years before Luther and Calvin led the Protestant Reformation. The American communities initially had common ownership of all property by the church, supervised housing for single men and single women, and likely other communal aspects.
  3. The Shakers. Founded by Mother Ann Lee, it settled in Watervliet, New York, 1774, and spread from Maine to Indiana and Kentucky. Best known of the communal movements, in part for its beautiful furniture and architecture. One village remains.
  4. Hebus Valley. Pennsylvania. Founded by George Rapp, 1824-1906. Christian theosophists and pietists.
  5. Hopedale Community. Massachusetts, Adin Ballou, 1842-1856. “Practical Christianity” with a Universalist base. Utopian ideals included temperance, abolitionism, women’s rights, and spiritualism. Attempted to be part of the surrounding community.
  6. Amana Colonies. Originated in Germany in 1714 and arrived in Iowa, 1855. Communal system ended in 1932.
  7. Bruderhof. An Anabaptist denomination arising from the Hutterites in Germany in 1920, it has communities in Paraguay, Europe, Australia, and the United States (from 1954). Its beliefs are similar to Mennonites – peace, simplicity, adult baptism, and so on. There are currently 17 communities in the U.S.
  8. Hare Krishnas. The best known of the ISKON (Krishna Consciousness) communities is New Vrindaban, West Virginia, settled in 1968.
  9. Friends Southwest House. McNeal, Arizona, opened in 1976. I didn’t even know of this Quaker community, much less of its long life.
  10. Eighteenth Avenue Peace House. Portland, Oregon, opened in 1986. Ecumenical Christian.

Any you’d add to the list?

 

Top Ten, Religion, Spirituality, History, Inspiration,

 

Considering labor

How do we make a living without seriously compromising our beliefs?  The military-industrial complex has extensively penetrated nearly all facets of American society. Not even the universities are immune. And corporations, in their quest for ever higher short-term profits, incur other moral difficulties. Law? Medicine? And so on. Until we as Friends resolve this, we are likely to face either accelerated decline in membership or inability to maintain our testimonies, which are eroding too rapidly as it is.

Where do we turn? Retreat into farming? Farmers aren’t surviving. As the French novelist inquired more than a half-century ago: Where are the shoemakers in the Society of Friends nowadays?

Professionals, as hired guns: rootless, living by our wits: how fast can you dance, pardner?