A Shallow, Self-Serving Comparison Between Christianity and Buddhism

Being a good Buddhist is just as hard as being a good Christian. You have to love/feel compassion for Donald Trump (or Barack Obama if you’re a Republican) and dedicate your life to dismantling your ego.

By the same token, being a bad Buddhist is just as easy as being a bad Christian; except in Buddhism no crucifixion, no propitiation, in fact, no god can save you from yourself.

The good news is that there’s no smiting in Buddhism, no flagellation.

After death, good Protestants enjoy the luxury of carte blanche expiation – complete and utter forgiveness –a get-out-of-hell-free card redeemable at the very last breath.[1] No matter the depth of depravity, no matter the severity of the sins committed, whether it is talking about your spouse behind her back, cheating on her, or even murdering and dismembering her, one size of forgiveness fits all as long as you accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior.

Then you get to spend the rest of eternity in bliss.

In Buddhism, on the other hand, what you get after death is reincarnation, which in the First World means the messy trauma of childbirth followed by the scrapping of knees, getting bullied/turned down for dates, the prelude to ultimately getting your increasingly not-so-tender heart-broken. So you drop out of college, say, find a job working 40+ hours a week in low-level management. You get married, commit adultery or get cheated on yourself, file for divorce, and suffer the subsequent finger wagging of offspring criticizing you for your blatant hypocrisy.

All the while, you’re undergoing the disheartening recession of your hairline or the accumulation of cellulite on the back of your dented thighs.

If you’re really unlucky and live too long of a life, you end up getting warehoused in some Kafkaesque facility with sadistic healthcare workers until it’s time to die alone in a sterile cubicle stinking of chemicals.

Then you get reincarnated and suffer all of it over again.

Of course, I don’t believe in reincarnation except in the sense that the matter that once constituted your body’s going to get recycled. Otherwise, my reckoning is that when you’re dead, you’re oblivious, i.e., no longer sentient, which, given the above four paragraphs, is fine and dandy by me.

One big advantage a believing Christian has over the Buddhist is the comforting idea of an astral parent who, despite his mysterious ways, supposedly loves you unconditionally (until you’re judged at the End Times and are perhaps cast into sulfurous perdition everlasting). Christians can communicate with God, ask for his guidance. During my wife’s three-years of terminal cancer, I thought more than once how nice it would be to be blessed with faith, but as far as I can tell, you either have it or not, and I don’t, nor did she, a woman whose stoicism might make Marcus Aurelius turn green with envy.

Buddhism does offer, however, a set of mental exercises designed to help you, not only to cope, but also enjoy the time you have by being cognizant of the wonder of it all. Buddhism reminds us that we’re riding on a swirling pebble revolving around a fleck of fire hurtling through a vacuum, but also teaches us how to calmly appreciate the painted bunting bathing in that birdbath on the edge of the marsh, an experience ultimately more meaningful than playing Grand Theft Auto or binge watching Season 2 of The Walking Dead.

Of course, Christians can co-opt these Buddhist exercises and meditate, and that would, it seems to me, to constitute the best of both worlds for those who possess the power to believe.

Although I’m a slackass Buddhist, meditation has helped me to cope calmly with the bad and appreciate the good. When I was young, I was jittery, as if Mexican jumping beans instead of blood pulsed through my veins. I was angry at the world in general and at that asshole talking too loud in line in particular. Now, I’m calmer, essentially anger free, and can stand or sit still. Sometimes I’m even able to free my consciousness from the spinning hamster wheel of daily concerns that tend to consume way too much of my fleeting existence.

If you haven’t tried meditating, you ought to.


[1] I’m not sure if US Catholics still believe in Purgatory, but there you do have to suffer for your misdeeds, “confined to fast in fires” until “the foul crimes done” in your life “are burnt and purged away.”

Closet Drama/Musical: Let’s Not Turn the Weekend into a Beckett Play

Translated from the French by Kingbeat Fuller Foster.

A couple in their twenties lounge in a not-all-that cramped studio apartment.  She sits on a ratty couch staring into her device, earbud wires dangling from her ears.  Reclining in a decrepit recliner, he reads the print edition of the New York Times.  A coffee table still life installation: skull, vaping device, utility bills, vintage post cards (Bertolt Brecht, Buster Keaton), an incense burner sprouting three sticks burning simultaneously.

Behind, a Batik hanging, concrete block bookshelves.

She [staring down at her device, then removing the earbuds]: Hey, Sam [we can’t see him because he holds the paper open with two hands thrust wide, the paper shielding.  The headline is in Pearl Harbor font:  TRUMP AND MELANIA  DEAD; MURDER/SUICIDE]: Hey, Sam.  Do you still love me?

Sam: No.

She: But I love you.

Sam:  So you say.

She:  We’re five lines into the play and the so-called playwright hasn’t even bothered to give me a name yet.  Have you picked up on that?  Of course not.

Sam:  It’s because I haven’t said your name yet.

She:  Bullshit.  All he had to do is write in the directions above, a couple in their twenties, Sam and Sam, lounge in a not-all-that cramped studio apartment.  Plus, it seems like he got the title wrong.  Ionesco, not Beckett.

Male Sam lowers the newspaper and smiles enigmatically.

Female Sam: I used to think it was so cool we had the same name.  “Sam-plus-Sam= love” I wrote once on a dusty windshield instead of “wash me.”

Male Sam: [almost inaudibly]: In the late middle of the 20th century it sounds like. Nobody talks like that.  No one ever talked liked that.  Except in plays.  [He yawns, turns the page, re-hides his person behind the paper. ] Now the headline reads: Melania and Trump Dead, Suicide/Murder.

Female Sam:  I want you to move out.

Male Sam: [snatching newspaper down, ramming his legs to make the recliner un-recline, his feet slapping on the floor]: What???  Why????

Female Sam: Because you don’t love me anymore.

Male Sam: But I don’t love anyone.  Not MeMaw, not PaPa, not Mom, not Dad, not my shitass siblings, not Brooklyn, my job, not me.  You know what they say.  If you’re incapable of loving yourself, you’re incapable of loving in general. I’m the living proof.  Please don’t kick me out, Sam.

He gets up, heads to the kitchen area, methodically concocts a bloody mary. She has the buds back in, her eyes closed, sways to unheard melodies.

He returns, drink in hand.  She doesn’t realize he’s there.  He touches her arm.  She opens her eyes, smiles.  Takes the drink.

Female Sam [Her smile has turned into a sitcom smile]:  I want you to move out.  In four weeks.

Male Sam [singing to the tune of “Goodnight Irene”]:  My mother wished that I might be/A man of some renown/But I am just as refugee/As I go rambling round boys/As I go rambling round.

Female Sam:  If we had a tv, we could watch the suicide/assassination extravaganza.

Male Sam:  I got an idea.  Let’s listen to the same song at the same time.  We never listen to the same song at the same time.

Female Sam:  Like what? What song?

Male Sam:  “Nobody But Me.” The Human Beinz.

Female Sam: The Human Beings?

Male Sam:  Yes.

From his device the song is bluetoothed to a red cylindrical speaker.

No-no, no, no, no-no-no, no, no-no, no, no-no
Na-no, no, na-no, no-no, na-no, no-no, no, no-no, no
Nobody can do the (Shing-a-ling) like I do
Nobody can do the (Skate) like I do
Nobody can do (Boogaloo) like I do
Nobody can do (Philly) like I do
Well, don’t you know
I’m gonna skate right through
Ain’t nobody do it but me
Nobody but me (nobody but me)
Yeah, I’m gonna spin, I do
Ain’t nobody do it but me, babe
(Nobody but me)
Well, let me tell you nobody
Nobody but me
Let me tell you, nobody
(Nobody) nobody
(Nobody) nobody
(Nobody) nobody
(Nobody) nobody
(Nobody) nobody
(Nobody) nobody
(Nobody)
—Instrumental Interlude—
No-no, no, no, no, no-no-no, no, no-no, no, no-no
Na-no, no, na-no, no-no, na-no, no-no, no, no-no, no
Nobody can do the (Shing-a-ling) like I do
Nobody can do the (Skate) like I do
Nobody can do (Boogaloo) like I do
Nobody can do (Philly) like I do
Ooooooh, yeah
Nobody, nobody
Nobody, nobody

 

Fin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Testy Delirium, Starring Robert Penn Warren and Great Granddaddy Moore

 

Robert Penn Warren

I’ve been trying to slow down, to be a better Buddhist, which means paying more attention, e.g., to things like the sway of sunlight and shadow on the bookcase to my right, what my friend Leopold Bloom would call “a phenomena.”

 

 

The fellow in the daguerreotype is one of my late wife Judy’s ancestors. In those days, posing for a photo was serious business. You had to be very still. Very few people sit still nowadays. I don’t know his name, but I can see a resemblance between him and Judy’s sister Becky around their eyes. Judy knew who he was, I think.

 

No one thinks about this man anymore, except for me, and now, for a second, you.

* * *

Thirty something years ago, a newlywed living in Rantowles, I ran across a poem by Robert Penn Warren, still alive at the time, a poem about old age in which he mused that when he would die so would all living memory of his grandfather.

I sat in the same room with Robert Penn Warren once in the early ‘70s when he met with about 20 or so students to answer our questions. David, the TA who taught me fiction writing, asked Mr. Warren the first question, if he thought a formal education would have “ruined”[1] Ernest Hemingway.

“How in the hell should I know,” was Warren’s rude answer, barked loudly, in a tone bordering on exasperation.

* * *

Although I was only five or so, I remember when my great grandfather Luther Moore died. There was an article about him in the paper because he had been some minor elected official and ridden a bicycle all over Bishopville in his 90s. I met him once at my other great grandfather’s house in North Charleston.

When he arrived, Grandfather Luther, shouted, “I’m blind and deaf so there’s no need for any of you to come and try to talk to me.”

After their opening salvos, I didn’t engage with either Robert Penn Warren, a fellow redhead, or Grandfather Luther, who may have had a thick head of white hair or been as bald as an emu egg – I don’t remember and there’s no one alive to ask. Both old men were scary, angry about something, maybe simply about about being old.

* * *

What shall I do with this absurdity—

O heart, O troubled heart—this caricature,

Decrepit age that has been tied to me

As to a dog’s tail?

If Yeats had been a better Buddhist, he wouldn’t have written these lines. We would be more impoverished but he more content.

Which is ultimately more important? Does it matter?

But then, here’s how the poem ends:

Now shall I make my soul,

Compelling it to study

In a learned school

Till the wreck of body,

Slow decay of blood,

Testy delirium

Or dull decrepitude,

Or what worse evil come—

The death of friends, or death

Of every brilliant eye

That made a catch in the breath—

Seem but the clouds of the sky

When the horizon fades,

Or a bird’s sleepy cry

Among the deepening shades.

Oh. Yes. Om. Amen.


[1] He pronounced it “rue-int.”

 

Lethargy

Marle, Edward; Lotus Eaters

 

Surely, surely, slumber is more sweet than toil, the shore 

Than labour in the deep mid-ocean, wind and wave and oar; 

O, rest ye, brother mariners, we will not wander more. 

Tennyson “The Lotus Eaters”

 

In 1957, when I was five, I came down with rheumatic fever and was bed bound for two months or maybe even longer. (I can’t remember, and there’s no one left living to ask). I do know it was long enough for me to have forgotten how to ride a bike.

During the period of my incapacity, my mother borrowed a piece of furniture designed especially for the bedridden called a secretary. With me propped up on pillows, my legs stretched out underneath, the secretary provided a platform for coloring, putting together puzzles, and playing board games (which adults allowed me to win out-of-pity). It also provided me a stage to perform plays with my Zorro hand puppet (complete with mask and cape). I can’t remember if there was another puppet or not. It seems as if Zorro monologues delivered by a lisping five-year-old affecting a Mexican accent might get pretty boring.

On the non-Humanities side, my uncle Jerry bought me an erector set, which was about as appropriate a gift as presenting Donald Trump with a copy of Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. I recall lots of screws dropped, uncomfortably discovered when I rolled over, but I don’t remember a project ever being completed, which brings to mind graduate school and that phantom thesis on Auden’s poetry in relation to painting.

no fun ahoy

 

Anyway, I wonder if spending such a long period in bed with only 60 months-of -being to my name negatively affected my personality or character, if I can point a finger at my fifth year and blame rheumatic fever for my sloth.

This Sunday, for example, I felt like not getting out of bed (as opposed to not feeling like getting out of bed), like lying there the entire day, like maybe calling Bert’s Market to deliver some camphor-soaked handkerchiefs. I had essays galore to grade, sheets to wash, groceries to buy, a garage in desperate need of sweeping . . .

Got the lotus-eater’s blues,

Too lazy to put on my shoes . . .

[Not to be continued].

le temps perdu dans le temps 1 (acrylique)
artist: Paul Vigne Pavi

 

A Paean To Ireland, Sort Of

View from A Rented Cottage in County Clare, photograph by Wesley Moore III

Although I’m certain I have a drop or two of Irish blood, I’m not of the Catholic immigrant variety with distant cousins in Kerry or Donegal. Nevertheless, ever since I saw at the age of seven Darby O’Gill and the Little People, I have loved that “little green place” and its soulful inhabitants, its poetry, music, fairies and leprechauns, its abundance of foxgloves, and those mountains in the distance so vaporous it looks as if you could puncture them with your forefinger.

And, oh my god, that rainbow I encountered in 1978 outside of Limerick!

Judy Birdsong Preparing Supper in County Cork, photograph by Wesley Moore

Ireland was the first place I went abroad at twenty-five, and I have been twice again since. In the previous century, Judy, our boys, and I rented cottages, burned peat, shopped at the butchers, drank and listened to music in the pubs, climbed Ben Bulben’s back, and crawled our way up Croagh Patrick.

Ned Moore descending Croagh Patrick, photograph by Judy Birdsong

We got to know our neighbors, so hospitable. Here below are the boys helping John Joe O’Shea shear a sheep near Bantry Bay on the Berea Peninsula in County Cork.

Ned and Harrison Moore and John Joe O’Shea shearing sheep

What truly astounds me about Ireland, though, is how an island the size of South Carolina could produce so many literary masters– Swift, Goldsmith, Yeats, Shaw, Wilde, Joyce, Beckett, and Heaney, to name the ones who come immediately to mind.

Despite his kooky mysticism and rightist politics, Yeats is my hero, and despite his arrogance and sometime meanness, Joyce is my hero.

Joyce, of course, had his issues with his native land. For example, Dubliners isn’t exactly what you would call a flattering portrait of that city. I’m currently on Disc 30 of the Donal Donnnelly/Miriam Healy-Louie recording of Ulysses, “Episode 16,” the so-called Eumaeus episode when Bloom and Stephen seek refuge in a cabman’s shelter after Stephen has been punched out by an English soldier.

An old tar, DB Murphy comes into the shelter and asks Stephen if he knows Simon Dedalus, Stephen’s father, and Stephen says, “I’ve heard of him.” The seaman answers, “He’s Irish [. . .] All Irish.” Stephen “rejoins” (to use Joyce’s dialogue prompt) “All too Irish.” As a Southerner, I can certainly identify with Stephen’s love/hate relationship with his native land.

Anyway, listening to Donnelly read Joyce’s rich broth of Anglo-Saxon and French-derived words, I have gotten the cadences stuck in my head, and to purge them, I’ve composed this negative ditty, trying to stick with only Anglo-Saxon, through which I mean not to stereotype my Irish brethren but merely to make music out of misery.

 

Manic Irish Reeling

Slop flung from a window above

Splatters on stone in globby plops.

 

Curses, fists, flung and shook,

Shuffling brogans, baleful looks.

 

“With a high ro and a randy ro and my galloping tearing tandy O!”

 

After toil a stop at the pub,

Reeking redbearded guzzling swabs

Fritter away their coppery coins

Picking scabs by swapping tales.

 

“With a high ro and a randy ro and my galloping tearing tandy O!”

 

Baggy-eyed mothers fret

Greedy sucklings at their breasts,

Keening toddlers at their feet,

Their stillborns gone, but not forgotten,

Their overripe love on the road to rotten.

 

With a high ro and a randy ro and my galloping tearing tandy O!”

 

Out in the street across the way

Waifs and strays banding about.

Rail thin curs and scrawny cats.

Yelping and mewling till the sun comes up.

 

“With a high ro and a randy ro –

 

Hit it!

 

“With a high ro and a randy ro and my galloping tearing tandy O!”