I’m at BWI airport waiting to take a flight from Baltimore to Orlando–going down to my Florida house for five days to check on things. Three weeks ago I flew out of BWI headed to Denver. I ate at Chipotle, ordering tofu, brown rice, both brown and black beans, lettuce, and mild salsa. By the time I got to Denver, I was experiencing serious stomach pain. I had about an hour’s drive to Littleton, CO. In the rental car on the Interstate, I was experiencing such severe stomach pain that it was almost necessary to pull over to the side of the road to deal with the pain. It was excruciating. I won’t describe all the horrible symptoms, but it was well into the next day before I was better. I’ve never experienced anything like it in my life! I filled out an online form to tell Chipotle about it. This was actually a mistake. I should have told the local health authorities, who would take my complaint seriously. A woman from Chipotle called me the next day and told me that she had talked to the manager at the BWI airport location. She said, in a voice like she was telling me I’d won the lottery, “I’ve got great news! No one else who ate there got food poisoning. All the employees eat the food, and none of them got sick.” I told her that because it was an airport location, she would not hear of everyone who got sick–they were traveling to other locations. The conversation degenerated into an argument, with her telling me I got sick, but not from Chipotle food. Her unconcerned, hostile attitude was disconcerting. I’ll never eat at Chipotle again. Interesting that tonight is the first time I have not seen a line at Chipotle at the BWI location. I had a tuna sandwich on rye at Nature’s Kitchen, with mustard, lettuce, tomato, and black olive. It was great! I don’t expect my tummy will be in pain soon, either.
I’m sitting in the airport in Toronto waiting for a plane to Dulles. Gate 97, a sense of deja vu. I was last here a year ago, coming back from a pleasure trip in Montreal (although I was heading to BWI then). This gate is the end of the line of a long walk–a good thing, actually. Going through security, I noticed a sign telling people going through security to keep their shoes and belt on, and to keep things in their pockets (there were many signs saying the same thing). Most of the people in front of me were taking their shoes and belts off. I turned to the woman behind me and said, “Doesn’t the sign say to leave your shoes on?” “They’ll make you take them off anyway,” she said, knowingly. I then looked at a woman in a security uniform on the other side of the conveyor. “Leave your shoes on?” “Yes.” Behind me, people were taking their shoes off, as they were in front of me. Why don’t people read? Here all luggage goes into a plastic bin though.
I am in Brampton, Ontario, Canada on business for a few days. Someone asked me if I was staying in Mississauga or Brampton. I told him Brampton. He said that I should not take Brampton as being representative of Toronto. He was afraid that I would get a bad impression. From what little I’ve seen (being in meetings most of the time), there are many warehouses and lots of trucks on the road in Brampton. This area, not far from the airport, has a heavy industrial look to it–not much artistic architecture in sight. Each of the three days I was here I went to a local mall (Bramalea City Center) to take a walk in the afternoon. Yesterday, I started taking a walk outside. Although it was not too cold, a strong, gusty wind made it seem icy outside, making walking unpleasant (I was not dressed well enough for the cold). Bramalea City Center is a large mall with two food courts and about 1.5 million square feet of retail space. Crowded, noisy, entertaining in a commercial way. Lots of nice stores.
The title is from a bumpersticker. The following quote appears in Buddhism is Not What You Think (Steve Hagen): “The foolish reject what they see, not what they think; the wise reject what they think, not what they see.” (Huang Po) What this means is that often what we think is deluded. If we act on deluded thoughts, we will suffer as a result. For example, if we get angry and harm the mind of someone close to us, our anger is probably because we are thinking something that is not true. That’s a sure way to destroy a relationship. What we see is much easier to accept as true than what we imagine. We never really know what someone else is thinking, unless they tell us (unless we experience telepathy, which is possible if you are close to someone). Trying to figure out what someone is thinking through conjecture, supposition, hypothesis generation, psychoanalysis or simply our imagination run wild is foolish. We waste our time being deluded. Hence, the Zen saying “Don’t Try to Figure Others Out.” If we can’t even figure ourselves out, how can we hope to figure others out?
Not content to do everything it can to cruelly obliterate Tibetan culture, China claims to have authority over the religious processes of Tibetan Buddhism. For example, a recent official Chinese statement proclaims: “…all confirmations of the Dalai Lama have required approval by the central Chinese government, which has deemed the process an important issue concerning sovereignty and national security” [ Xinhua Chinese news, 19 July 2015, http://news.xinhuanet.com, edited by Xiang Bo]. The illogical stupidity of this statement reflects the idiocy of a totalitarian regime. How can a mystical Tibetan Buddhist process of choosing the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama be a matter of Chinese sovereignty? Of course it cannot be. How can choosing a spiritual leader who teaches tolerance, compassion, kindness, and love be a matter of national security? There may be some validity in that statement, in that anybody who teaches those virtues is a danger to the evil communist state, which does not respect human rights or value individual freedom. Someday–it may take a long time–the Chinese people will be free of the totalitarian communist government and live in a free democracy that respects human rights. Maybe then Tibet will be free. Hopefully, at that time China will not have succeeded in totally destroying Tibetan culture. Meanwhile, the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism reverberate around the world, spreading joy, guidance, and compassion everywhere.
I asked the kind woman (who helps me with my Spanish) who is the Janitor for our building at work what she thought of Obama’s immigration order. She is an immigrant from El Salvador. I thought she would say something nice about it. Here’s what she said: “Some people come over here thinking everything is free, free, free. They don’t want to work. They are just looking for a handout from the government. They are always pregnant, having many babies. You see cars at the store, big cars, full of people. They say, “Baby food is free. Rent is free.” They just want to have babies, take a handout, and sit around and watch TV all day. It’s good for people who want to work, like us, but a lot of people don’t want to work. They don’t look for a job. The come over here because they believe the government will give them everything. In El Salvador, nothing is free. You have to buy everything.” She said more, but that’s the theme of her response, which was not what I expected.
A few days ago I flew from Frankfurt, Germany to Washington, DC. I was seated in the coach section in a middle seat in the middle of the plane on a sold-out flight. As it turned out, the aisle seat on my right was empty from a no-show passenger. Of course I planned to move to that seat as soon as we were in the air, giving the person next to me and myself more room. As we were taxiing for takeoff, a Chinese woman frantically ran from a middle seat two rows back and jumped into the empty seat next to me. I was stunned and did not say anything until later in the flight, when we exchanged pleasantries. Later I noticed that her passport said People’s Republic of China.
I read a newspaper column today about etiquette. A woman who owns a company that teaches etiquette was interviewed. The article talked about this expert’s advice for dinner. She said that a woman should always put her purse on the floor, not the back of a chair. What about thieves? Is there not a time that a woman in a restaurant would want her purse in view? Or with a strap she could feel on her chair? She also said that one should not butter one’s roll all at once, but butter each bite of the roll separately. Seems rather stupid and inefficient, advice notwithstanding. Mention was made of no elbows on the table! I thought of my French teacher, who said her mother told her that Americans keep their hands under the table so they can draw their guns quickly, like cowboys. Etiquette is relative. What do they do in the many places in the world where children are starving to death every day? Probably not worry too much about etiquette. There are more important things to worry about. In good conscience, butter your bread however you please.
I have book in my library that is 300 years old. It is in French. The book is leather bound. The paper is crisp to the touch, and in very good condition; it has a feel similar to a new dollar bill. What pages there are can easily be read, but since someone has made the book into a safe (with a cubbyhole), not all pages are left in the book. Comparing this book to digital media, how many 30-year-old computer files can still be read? How many emails written have been lost in the digital ether? I lost some books recently when the motherboard was changed out on my Thinkpad Tablet (Android). While I had written a note to the IBM tech who was going to do the repair advising him that I had not been able to get everything backed up before sending it in for warranty service, he did not save my memory. About 25 notebooks I’d been writing in with a digital stylus were lost. Now I’m using a digital notebook program that is easy to backup, but the lesson remains. My paper notebooks, no matter what their age, may take up a lot of space, but they do not self destruct. This robustness of paper has some value. Like photographic negatives or slides, stored properly, it will endure. Digital files, if stored properly, will endure too, but it takes a lot of money and expertise to keep the digital files going in the long term. The technology changes rapidly, and one must keep upgrading the storage media, ad infinitum. Paper can just sit without attention and preserve its contents. The 300-year-old book happens to be easily available on the Internet in digital format. So, at least important or popular works will be preserved digitally for posterity. Still, there is something about paper…
I was reading Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (Shunryu Suzuki, 1970) and came across the following quote (p. 122): Which is more important: to attain enlightenment, or to attain enlightenment before you attain enlightenment; to make a million dollars, or to enjoy life in your effort, little by little, even though it is impossible to make that million; to be successful, or to find some meaning in your effort to be successful? If you do not know the answer, you will not even be able to practice zazen; if you do know, you will have found the true treasure of life. To which I will add: Attainment is nothing. The journey is everything.