Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist : The Forgetful Man's Ok Oh Review
My sophomore year of high school, the year of so many debilitating, humiliating and otherwise maddeningly unforgettable circumstances, can be pegged as the year that happened directly preceding my junior year of high school. This is not to make light of sequence; to draw unnecessarily obvious statements about how we moniker time. Rather, it all makes sense. It all makes terrible, wonderful sense. My sophomore year of high school was a year spent in Catholic high school, surrounded by the nominally Catholic meaning, among other things, I was obliged to attend religion class, a confounding notion to this day as I don't remember exactly what religion we studied there. I even forget my religion class teacher's name, perhaps Mr. O' Leary, or Mr. Leach. I forget. But I remember him being a tallish, good looking mid-thirty, with an intellectually cropped tousle of sandy brown hair upon a slim face upon where wire rimmed glasses perched on an aquiline nose. I even vaguely remember him favoring shortish shorts, wool socks and Birkenstock sandals. Mr. O'Leary-Leach, as I look back on him now, he of the smudging 30 Something, baby boomer cool, tinkering ever so slightly with ideas of real catholicism, rather than the industrial kind, I think must have been something of a hunk to a certain mid-80's graduate school gaggle of girls. Enlightened, intellectual, groovy in that religious way, he could probably play the guitar pretty well. He had survived the horrors of the eighties and came back out the other side a bit crunchier. But cool. While this was Catholic school, he insisted we meditate rather than pray at the beginning of every one of his classes. He would turn off the lights, tell us to close our eyes and feel every single part of our body, one by one while imagining we were on a warm beach next to the ocean. He was cool. I only bring this all up now as he was also one small tool, employed once, by the Grand Humiliation then fiddling with my life. Just once, only once was he used in that service, and in such a minor way, and yet, his visage is tagged to the inside of my skull just above the left ear next to a ripped poster of Gang of Four. See, Mr. O'Leary-Leach loved John Lennon. He loved John Lennon. He would spout John Lennon lines as ancillary proof of whatever religious topic he was forced to teach. At the beginning of class meditation, he would play John Lennon on the boom box. I can't remember rightly, but I can almost make out a black and white John Lennon poster plastered in the room somewhere. But now that I think about it, that image might be attributed to my oldest brother's curious wardrobe favorites of the time which consisted of a black cardigan, blue jeans, a guitar and a sort of cowboy/sun hat thing that made him look like an adulterous mix of Lennon and Father Mulcahy from M*A*S*H. At the time he too was in his own spiritually post-nascent period, and I wonder now if I don't lump him and Mr. O'Leary-Leach together in other disastrously tricky mnemonic ways. But the fact was, and in some small stubborn way remains, that I didn't like John Lennon. I don't like John Lennon. Which is not totally true because I do like John Lennon. But somehow, in there deep, I don't. Not that I like Paul McCartney. Or Ringo Starr. I guess I'd be a more George Harrison type. Or the Guess Who. Man, the Guess Who were a great band. But one day, in class, I got up the gumption, or what I thought was gumption, to ask Mr. O'L-L why we had to listen to John Lennon all the time. What was so great about John Lennon? The ensuing ruckus I would love to paint as catastrophic. Unfortunately, this is where my story telling capabilities of tangents and commas and asides and all, fail me. This is where there is no pay-off. A moment when I somehow gleaned the kind of snide put-down from an older, cooler smart guy, in front of a room of my peers, a sort of A-bomb of humiliation dropped on my juvenile psyche, and I can't quite remember what exactly happened. But something along the lines of a snorted inquiry about who-might-be-greater-then, a kind of unexpectedly-terrified-realization-of-lack-of-quality-retort, a sort of icy-yet-expectant-silence, a mumbled-sputtering-of-the-name-Bob-Marley, finishing up with a roundly-bombastic-belittling-of-Caribbean-pop-superstar, leaving me, in my own mind anyhow, alone, dejected, and utterly defeated in the shadow of this superior thinker, left adrift in that little room of religious studies without a proper come back, disappointing one and all with my ineffectual salvo, shamed into silence for the rest of the semester (save for the time, a few weeks later Jeff Haggart and I were tossed out class for making drawings of bog men falling into spike-laden suicide pits.) And so it was this drubbing (and a fair few like it) that eventually sent me back into the open arms of public school for my (next) junior year (what I figured would be so different in public school, I still can't describe) where I happened to pull off the rack in English class Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. This book, a huge literary and intellectual success for me at the time, was quickly followed by the saccharine Tao of Pooh (the very source of so much Kelvin Freely fretting) and smattering of paragraphs from a number of hard-to-read Alan Watts books. Some eighteen, maybe nineteen years later, a healthy perusal of drugs, a seminal study-abroad program in the Holy Land, a fitful time in the bosom of Evangelical Christianity, an undergraduate degree in philosophy and comparative religions, a free ordination from the Universal Life Church, a marriage, multiple careers, more unrelated schooling, countless arguments and hassles with a family of true believers, countless more books read on any variety of religious topics to fuel these arguments and the birth of a child, I happen upon Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist by Stephen Batchelor in the window of the bookstore around the corner from my office. Along the way, there have been no other personal or intellectual narratives that match my own personal and intellectual narrative quite so well. And while Batchelor's point of departure is "mainstream" or "religious" Buddhism, the parallel reasoning and thought process can easily be applied to one's reassessing and distancing from any organization of thought. A clear and thorough examination of a spiritual life lived and an interesting insight into historical Buddhism through empirical western intellectual curiosity.
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