The True Self

Photo by Jay Castor on Unsplash

…the True Self is the self that existed before the division of heaven and earth and before one’s father and mother were born. This self is the self within me, the birds and the beasts, the grasses and the trees and all phenomena. It is exactly what is called the Buddha-nature. This self has no shape or form, has no birth, and has no death. It is not a self that can be seen with the aid of your present physical eye. Only the man who has received enlightenment is able to see this. The man who does see this is said to have seen into his own nature and become a Buddha.

The Unfettered Mind: Writings from a Zen Master to a Master Swordsman by Takuan Soho

Hidden Catholic prayer beads in Walmart products

“Pray for Us St. Peregrine” prayer beads that were hidden in a heavy-duty drain snake box purchased at Walmart.

A few weeks ago, I picked up a drain snake from Walmart. We prefer using them to dumping harsh chemicals down the drain. We’re trying to be more environmentally conscious, and we figure it’s probably better for our health and the health of our pets than Drano fumes.

Yesterday, I finally opened the box. I had some trouble getting the cardboard slide that the snakes were attached to out because they were hung up on something. Turns out it was a set of Catholic prayer beads that had been tucked into the back of the box.

A close-up of the Pray for Us St. Peregrine prayer beads.

I imagine some enterprising individual went around Walmart and stashed these prayer beads in random products to get them into people’s homes and hands. It’s a clever idea. They reach people that otherwise would never think to take one when offered. It was thoughtful, and their heart was in the right place.

However, it’s also a little annoying, because now I have the burden of trying to figure out what to do with them in a way that’s respectful. We’re not Catholic, but I don’t want to dump them in the trash either. I figure I’ll check with coworkers and neighbors and if that’s a bust, then I’ll drop them off at the nearest Catholic Church.

But, maybe that’s part of the plan too! To create opportunities for dialogue between non-Catholics and Catholics.

Harry Potter and the Model Weasley Family

The Weasley Family at breakfast

I’m really late to the party, the first book in the series having been published in 1997 when I was still in high school, but I’ve been borrowing the audiobooks of the Harry Potter series from the New York Public Library and I’m really enjoying them. I think I would have loved them as a kid but I was going through a phase where I was really into church dogma and the Harry Potter series was said to be evil and demonic because it supposedly encouraged children to engage in witchcraft.

Putting aside the question of whether witchcraft is real or not, I can see how the Harry Potter series was threatening to organized religion. It provides an alternative fantasy world that presents a set of moral values in a compelling way and, even when it doesn’t conflict with the church’s vision of morality, it competes for attention. I’d guess Harry Potter is probably winning that contest too, given the success of the books and movies and the ever dwindling levels of church attendance.

I wonder how much of the church’s problems these days comes from an insistence on biblical literalism? It’s been a while since I studied the Bible, either academically or religiously, but I do recall that many of the stories have parallels in other nearby cultures. For example, the story of Moses and the flood is essentially the same story as the Epic of Gilgamesh with modifications to fit the local culture. That alone should tell us that stories in the Bible were meant to be educational rather than literal history. It makes more sense to tell someone that they should be looking at a story in the Bible for moral guidance than to tell them to take it as literal word from God history and expect that story’s relevance to endure over any length of time.

And maybe that’s why Harry Potter does so well. We know it’s not word from God and we don’t face the choice of having to either swallow it whole or throw it out. We can instead appreciate it and think about it and try to apply it to our lives if it makes sense in relation to what we understand to be good and bad.

All of these thoughts congealed in my head as I started to realize how the Weasleys were being presented in the books. They may not have fancy clothes and they may not always get along but they value what’s important in life: their kids, each other, friendship, and (in Molly and Arthur’s case) their kids’ education. In addition, even though they’re struggling they essentially adopt Harry into the family, so there’s a lot of love and charity being displayed there. They share even when there’s not much to give. They’re loyal. They do things together. It’s sort of a model for the proper behavior of a family, especially when it comes in such stark contrast to how Harry is treated by his aunt and uncle. The fact that both Harry and Hermione later marry into the Weasley family reinforces the idea that they represent an ideal family.

I’m only partway through the fourth book and I wasn’t really thinking about the story too deeply until now, but there’s really more in these books than shallow entertainment. I’m not really surprised. I don’t think they would have done so well if they didn’t have something substantive to offer readers.

Coronavirus Journal: Day 28 – Cooking, Jazz, and Corona-chan

So, I stayed up too late last night, I think, because I feel really tired and I have a headache. Coronavirus symptoms, I know, but this is pretty normal for me when I stay up past 2:30 AM.

I spent most of the day cooking. Not that I’m complaining. This is a good time to work on perfecting cooking skills after all. I think I’ve got biscuits down to a T:

A 9″ round pan filled with biscuits about to go in the oven

I’m still having issues with cooking bacon in our cast iron skillet, though. The pan is seasoned well. It’s not that the bacon sticks. It’s just that the skillet doesn’t seem to heat evenly on a gas burner.

The bacon overcooks in the middle while the ends are still near raw
I had to squish the bacon up over the part of the pan directly over the heat. I know the skillet is off-center. I had too much bacon in the skillet to cook it all at once so I had the rest of the slab over on the left side.

I haven’t quite worked out what temperature to cook the bacon at or where on the skillet to position it so that it cooks in the way I imagine it’s supposed to work. But maybe it just doesn’t work like a regular pan and you just have to do this way? Scrunched up over the part of the pan that’s directly above the heat?

Cornbread for tonight’s dinner

I also made cornbread. I finally figured out how to do that without burning it. Later, I’ll fry some chicken. Also in that cast iron skillet. I love that thing. It’s so fun to use even if it’s a little difficult.

I’m taking a break right now. I found this nice jazz livestream to listen to while I put my feet up for a bit. It’s really relaxing. I feel like I’m in a cafe somewhere, like things are normal and I don’t hear sirens outside the window constantly.

I haven’t even been outside in over a week I think. We just go to the grocery and then come home. The statistics for New York City are really bad and I don’t want us to wind up sick. Who would take care of all of our cats? And besides, I have too many books to read and video games to finish to die now! I haven’t even finished “Breath of the Wild” yet. Or The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

Anyway, I’m starting to burn out on trolling Twitter for coronavirus information. The conversation has gotten bogged down by trolls and morons that are peddling conspiracy theories about everything from secret magic treatments for COVID-19 to an upcoming war between Trump’s forces of righteousness and the “Deep State”. Apparently, all of the coverage about the coronavirus from around the world is a hoax made up by “the Libs” to destroy America.

I did find this gem last night, though:

Corona-chan’s campaign for world domination

It’s brilliant. It really catches the popular mood in the US. All of the memes and conspiracy theories are in there. It epitomizes the idgaf attitude towards the pandemic many Americans have shown both visually and through the choice of music.

America loves end of the world scenarios. I think it’s baked into our culture, a leftover from the religious fundamentalism that played a large role in the colonization of the continent. Not that religious fundamentalism is in our rear view mirror, of course. There are plenty of Protestant evangelical/fundamentalist churches out there.

This is sort of a different topic, but I think Christian fundamentalism is dangerous because it encourages decision making based on feelings rather than logic and reasoning.

Don’t think. Just have faith.

Don’t ask questions. Just believe.

Don’t do any research. Just listen to what I tell you.

And that’s how you wind up with groups of people that are ready to believe in “deep state” conspiracies, that COVID-19 is a hoax, and that we’re about to go to war with someone. Not sure who, but someone. Either the Deep State, or China, or maybe us against the rest of the world.

It’s nuts, but it’s fascinating. Trump being elected somehow brought all of this insanity to the surface. I think it’s a good thing. We needed to know it was there. Of course, we could guess that this kind of crazy exists in American society, but now we know for sure. Hopefully, as a result the politicians will take notice and shift some of the national budget away from funding the military-industrial complex and instead boost education, regardless of who wins the November election.

Museum Challenge: The Cloisters at Fort Tryon Park

A sitting area in The Cloisters

Some photos from my trip to The Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park in January:

The Cloisters
The Cloisters is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The building houses a collection of art from Medieval Europe. Because of that, most of the art depicts Christian religious stories and figures. It’s a pretty interesting collection that can be viewed in about 3 hours if you’re not stopping to read every information plaque in detail.

What stuck with me was the collection of reliquaries. It’s fascinating to think that people believed, and still believe, that being close to or touching the body part of a deceased person can confer some spiritual power or good fortune. I suppose it’s not too different from people buying souvenirs in Jerusalem today to bring back with them, or bringing dirt from Jerusalem, because people who were holy may have walked on it.I’m reminded of something I saw in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Like The Cloisters, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a conglomeration of chapels that were joined together. They building covers the supposed sites of Jesus’s crucifixion and the tomb where his body was placed. There is also a stone at the foot of the hill where Jesus was supposedly crucified. Jesus’s body is said to have been brought down off the cross and placed on this stone.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (March 2014)
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (March 2014)

I’m reminded of something I saw in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Like The Cloisters, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a conglomeration of chapels that were joined together. They building covers the supposed sites of Jesus’s crucifixion and the tomb where his body was placed. There is also a stone at the foot of the hill where Jesus was supposedly crucified. Jesus’s body is said to have been brought down off the cross and placed on that stone. While I was there, women came in and poured oil onto the stone and then used a number of scarves to soak it back up. I assume they took those scarves home and distributed them to people who couldn’t make the trip and that they believed there had been some sort of transference of holiness from the stone to the scarves through the oil.

I didn’t take many photos on this trip because I’d been there before. The last time I visited The Cloisters was during the summer. I would definitely recommend visiting in warm weather. The open courtyards are much more enjoyable when there’s warm sunlight, cool breezes, and running fountains. I saw quite a few people sitting on benches and reading. There is also no herb garden during the winter, for obvious reasons.

Because The Cloisters is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, admission is donation based. There are suggested donations, but you can give a nickel and still be admitted to the museum.

Here are some photos from a previous trip:

The Cloisters, Fort Tryon Park, Manhattan
This post is the start of my Museum Challenge series.