Thursday, September 29, 2016

budai???

Someone asked me, "Why is Buddha fat?" I thought about this question a lot more existentially than I needed to.

Does Buddha exist? Does God exist? Why do we make God to fit our image? Why do we create spiritual icons? Why is Jesus often portrayed as a bearded white guy when he was not? Where do the lines of history, theology, esotericism, and mysticism cross?

Even without my mind wandering, the answer to the question is nuanced.

I suppose a person must begin by talking about the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. A man who begun his life as a prince, married his cousin, had children, and on his 29th birthday left the confines of his palace to first witness; sickness, old age, and suffering. This led him to the yogic tradition. Where he became a wandering monk, denounced worldly goods, and practiced self mortification. It is said that during this time that Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) ate only one grain of rice and drank only one cup of water a day.

You can imagine what that does to a man's figure.

This ultimately brought him to the epiphany of the Middle Way (or practicing moderation in extremes) and Enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.

Much like the spread of Christianity, Buddhism has separated into various traditions across many countries. There are now so many representations of Buddha that is hard to keep up. One portrayal however, is seen frequently. This "Buddha" is a smiling (or laughing) bald headed man seated with a large round belly often wearing beads or carrying a bag. This "Buddha" is called the Budai.

I have had a hard time really pinpointing the exact history of Budai. In some instances, Budai is said to be representation of the Maitreya Buddha (a Buddha that will come in the future and teach us Buddha stuff). Other times, Budai is attributed to a variety of monks in history that had a more rotund figure often carrying a bag. In Japan, he is known as Hotei (布袋) one of the Seven Lucky Gods or the God of Contentment and Happiness. The Chinese often use small Budai figurines in Feng Shui for good luck, abundance, happiness, success, and good health. It is said that if you place a Budai in any bagua area, you can benefit.

Is this a long answer to a simple question? Yes.

Was Buddha fat? No, At least not according to history. Though, Budai might have been.

What I can say is the following...Budai is adorable and not matter the context I always am happy to see them.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

texas mums and my prom (throwback thursday)

When I first moved to Texas there were many things that baffled me about the local culture. One of those things was the tradition of the Texas mum.

What is this you might ask? Well, I'll tell you. It is an oversized boutonniere-esque monstrosity that young teenage girls affix to their dresses for homecoming. They appear to be something that is between a floral wreath and an equestrian ribbon. Also, there may be a hubcap involved, I am not completely sure.

Photo Courtesy: WeHeartIt
I find the practice completely bewildering. It could be said that perhaps my northern sensibilities get in the way of understanding this tradition. Though, I doubt that. In the entirety of my school career (this includes both junior high and high school), I went to a total of two school dances. My first dance, was literally my first school dance in junior high. I left early. My second dance was prom.

Ah prom, the highlight of a young person's social calendar. Where the popular girls obsess over dates and gown options. And the weirdos? They rebel and resist the prom. Or so Hollywood movies teach us.

I wasn't planning on going to prom for the singular reason that I was broke. To be clear, by the time I was a senior in high school I was basically providing for myself. As in, my parents were more broke than I. 

Now, everyone knows that prom is expensive. There is the dress, the shoes, the hair, the makeup, the transportation, the possible after party, etc. How did I end up going to prom then?

Three days before the event my best friend informed me that I was going. She purchased me a ticket and told me that I would pay her back. My first problem then became a lack of a date, I considered going stag but I decided against it for practical reasons. I really didn't want to have to call a cab to get to prom.

I had my friend survey the boys for those who remained dateless. From that list, I selected my date, walked up to the poor fellow (Sorry Keith), and informed him that he was going to prom with me.

After school, I went straight to the local thrift store and snatched a twelve dollar bridesmaid's dress that was from the eighties. There was a lot of pink satin, lace and bows. When I got home I altered the dress (removing 50% of the design), found some old white shoes, borrowed my mother's antique jewelry, destroyed one of the silk plants on top of my parent's television (so I could put flowers in my hair) and called it a day.

Sorry kids. No mums for me. 

The one and only picture that I have from my prom.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

the national anthem and how things change

If you haven't heard, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat in protest during the National Anthem. He said he would not honor a song nor "show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color." After a discussion with those affiliated with the military, Kaepernick has chosen to genuflect; as to not disrespect fallen warriors. 

Since then, there has been much debate and polarization towards the subject and I have been thinking a lot about the issue. Let's break it down in parts.

Part 1: The history of the National Anthem

The national anthem itself comes from a poem called, "The Defense of Fort McHenry". The poet, Francis Scott Key, was inspired by the American flag after a marine battle against the British he witnessed in 1812.

Here is a stanza from the poem,which was not included in the anthem itself. But, ironically did have mention of slavery.
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havock of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash'd out their foul foot-steps' pollution,
No refuge could save the hireling and slave,
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave;
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.
It wasn't until 1931 (more than one hundred years later) that "The Star-Spangled Banner" became America's National Anthem. The Star-Spangled Banner was brought to congress six times by John Charles Linthicum. He spent ten years spearheading an,"one man mission" to have the song recognized as the national anthem. It wasn't until a petition was signed by veterans and woman came to perform the song in front of Congress that the bill was finally passed. Interestingly, another song "Hail, Columbia" that was the more popular national anthem. The song was created for George Washington's inauguration and is much more appropriate for including all races in American nationalistic fervor.

This is the chorus from "Hail, Columbia".
Firm, united let us be,
Rallying round our liberty,
As a band of brothers joined,
Peace and safety we shall find.
Part 2: The history of nationalist etiquette

There are no specific laws regarding the national anthem for civilians. However, there are very specific requirements in regards to The Flag Code and the national anthem.
A civilian is expected to stand and face the flag (if there is one) and place their right hand over their hearts. Military personal and veterans should stand and salute. 
There are other mentions in the flag code that would cause most of this country to serve jail time (if it was at all prosecutable).
  • The flag should not be used as "wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery", or for covering a speaker's desk, draping a platform, or for any decoration in general
  • The flag should never be used for any advertising purpose. It should not be embroidered, printed, or otherwise impressed on such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes, or anything intended to be discarded after temporary use. Advertising signs should not be attached to the staff or halyard.
  • Ordinarily it should be displayed only between sunrise and sunset, although the Flag Code permits night time display "when a patriotic effect is desired" and the flag is illuminated. Similarly, the flag should be displayed only when the weather is fair, except when an all-weather flag is displayed.
We have this idea that tradition and etiquette is completely unmovable. Yet, it is us that decides what suits (or doesn't suit) our needs. Even out practice of saluting has changed over the years. If we were still staunchly connected to tradition we would use the Bellamy Salute.

Children Performing the Bellamy Salute                Image Courtesy: Mental Floss
The Bellamy salute was known as the flag salute until Italian fascists and Nazis began using similar salutes. In 1942, Congress amended the flag code replacing it with the aforementioned right hand over the heart.

Part 2: The history of protesting

Any action of peaceful protest in this country is an American utilizing their undeniable rights. 

Protesting is a way for the marginalized to gain power and our forefathers wanted it this way. Because they too were marginalized.

I cannot help making a comparison to Rosa Parks and her choice to make a stand (or a sit as it is more appropriate). She represented a sentiment. Her act was one of many. She and others like her, gave voice to those who couldn't. They brought about change. This can be seen in the actions of protesters around the world such as, the Chinese in Tiananmen Square or even Gandhi's salt march protesting British rule.

I mean, would America be the same without the Boston Tea Party? That action and many others like it were a way of us separating from British rule.

Part 3: Final thoughts

The issue seems to be that people are offended by a man who would disrespect our national anthem. A national anthem with racist roots. A national anthem that was not the popular choice. That this man could deign so low as to step outside of our ever changing rules of nationalist etiquette. That he would use his rights to give a voice to the popular sentiment of his peers.

I have heard people say that because Kaepernick is in the NFL, that he should be held to a higher standard. He doing just that; creating a higher standard. He his giving a voice to those who don't have one. Or as the great Martin Luther King once said, "There comes a time when silence is betrayal."