Archive for the ‘Buddhism’ Category

Where the ‘Road’ Began

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018

Photo courtesy of Google

On Monday I spent several hours researching the places Jack Kerouac visited in Rocky Mount. I am not the first to do this work: John Dorfner of Raleigh, N.C., has done the heavy lifting. My goal is to assemble facets of Kerouac in new ways, while adding new information.

If you’ve read On the Road, you know the episode about halfway through where the heart of the novel really begins: “One day when all our Southern relatives were sitting around the parlor in Testament, gaunt men and women with the old Southern soil in their eyes …. a mud-spattered ’49 Hudson drew up in front of the house on the dirt road. … A weary young fellow, muscular and ragged in a T-shirt, unshaven, red-eyed, came to the porch and rang the bell. I opened the door and suddenly realized it was Dean. He had come all the way from San Francisco to my brother Rocco’s door in Virginia, and in an amazingly short time.”

Testament being Rocky Mount, the house is on Tarboro Street. That’s the neighborhood where so many of my friends lived, when I grew up in Edgecombe County. It was 1328 Tarboro Street, just across from the little store where Dad and I used to watch Matchbox car races, about a half mile from Eastern Elementary School, where I attended third and fourth grade. Sycamore Street, Eastern Avenue, and I went to junior high school at Edwards, on Marigold Street.

Changes after desegregation meant that many people left these beautiful neighborhoods – and Edgecombe County became somehow less desirable, in what is called “white flight” – two decades later I returned to my own elementary school to teach French. I loved the children, although the demographics were against them. Their families had few resources; often when I visited their homes I saw roaches, horror movies on play, even in one home a pile of dirt. Parents who drank; and crack that invaded our cities in those days.

We segregate ourselves based on money, skin color, fame. We classify ourselves as “better than,” even when we don’t intend to.

Kerouac knew that. Indeed, On the Road contains the narrative of a man whose first language was French, who never felt he belonged to this or that group; a man who by traveling was able to connect with all people, all places.

The Buddha taught that all life is change. A river is never the same from moment to moment – and yet, it is always the river. On the road, everything always changes, and yet it is always the road.

World AIDS Day 09

Friday, December 4th, 2009

Angels Among Us

On Tuesday, I stepped out after dark to attend the annual candlelight vigil for World AIDS Day. Usually there’s a vigil here in Greenville, and I found one on the ECU campus. It was a small affair, compared to my first World AIDS Day back in 1992.

I was the junior reporter (even at my ripe old age of 31, thanks to my winding career path). So I was given the catch-all assignments. Weekend cops, Elvis postage stamp.

World AIDS Day.

It was freezing and I was running late, and got to the march, where I was met by a joyful, laughing crowd of young men and women. We walked to the Town Common, where we stood around during remarks.

It grew colder every minute and I was trying hard to write, and interview people, and do all the things a hustling reporter should. I was about to crack with the strain of the cold, numb hands, the big crowd, not really knowing what World AIDS Day was or what I would write about it.

A quite attractive young man drew near and allowed me to warm my hands on his candle. He spoke in gentle phrases and seemed to have a glow.

Soon he was walking to the center of the crowd, introducing himself as a person with AIDS. I almost cried at his story. After contracting the disease (which he openly admitted came by not having safe sex), he was spending his final months speaking at schools and to any group that invited him.

This charismatic young man told his story again and again. He was dear and open and nonjudgmental, and I’m sure those young people felt the immediate bond that I did with him. He was inherently likeable.

His name was David Waggoner.

When I found out a couple of years later that he died, I wrote a column about him. His kindness in standing there with a candle while I warmed my hands, his candor about his disease.

Every year on Dec. 1, I remember David, just as I did on Tuesday. If there is an afterlife of some kind, whether in heaven, or through reincarnation, I know David is in a special place of honor. He spoke out about AIDS to rob it of stigma; he gave me a warm human face in place of a fearful acronym.

He no doubt helped hundreds of young people understand that they didn’t need to feel ashamed for anything, for any reason — because we are all the same, human beings, in a big confusing world and we need each other. That it doesn’t matter if we have red or black hair, different skin shades or some kind of disease; and it certainly doesn’t matter who we love.

That was his message to me, and now mine to the world.

‘Reality’ TV

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Here we are, a Tuesday in May. In last week’s Tech Thursday, I wrote about a hike to Wolf Rock, in Stone Mountain State Park, that opened my eyes to the meaning and value of real experiences versus online ones.

That experience has become something of fulcrum for me now, as I look more deeply at what has true value for me. I’ve examined what experiences allow me to feel more fully human. (And it’s not computer ones.)

So today, a few more thoughts about what’s real and what really matters.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama writes about the Buddhist ideas of Perceived Reality versus Ultimate Reality. Most of the time, we go through our daily routines without much thought, taking care of our obligations, eating and talking with other people.

His Holiness explains the ancient Buddhist idea that what we see out of our visual window is just a skimming, a deformation, even, of reality.

Ultimate reality, the real real, is unseen. It’s the world behind the seen world. It’s a world of inner emotions, human mystery, needs and desires, suffering.

It’s so easy to get entangled in the seen world that we forget to pay attention to this invisible one.

That’s a metaphor for so much about our daily life: The “seen” world also describes the online, the television one, the film one. They are illusion. Sham, or shell.

As anyone knows, I am a huge fan of House M.D., Lost and the film director Krzysztof Kieslowski. Yet do I need to watch a DVD or TV program download every night? Do I need to sit through more Seinfeld reruns?

For every hour of broadcast television watched, expect 13 minutes of commercials. So when I watch a two-hour program, or when I sit down to watch news, then an hour of syndicated programs, an hour of regular programming or more (three-four hours of TV) — I have lost an hour of my life to commercials. An hour I will never have again.

We haven’t had cable tv for years, and sometimes, I must admit, I think how nice it would be to sit in front of Animal Planet, Discovery Channel or even SciFi to watch. Then I remind myself it is junk, ad after ad.

An illusion.

Isn’t peace what we’re really seeking — an engagement in something meaningful?

To be continued in tomorrow’s FD

Dalai Lama in U.S. today

Thursday, May 7th, 2009



Well, somehow I got too busy to notice that His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been in the United States for the past two weeks. So today, a look at some of the highlights of his trip.

In San Francisco, he served food to the homeless at a Catholic mission. His unparalleled ability to find kinship with others led him to remark to the residents that, “I am homeless, too.” He is, since he has not been at his home, the Potala Palace, since 1959.


Potala Palace, Tibet

“Our lives depend on others,” said the Dalai Lama. “Me too. My life depends on others. You are still in human society, human community. Please feel happy and feel dignity.”

After a stop at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, he goes on to speak at an event sponsored by the Harvard Divinity School.

From the Dalai Lama’s news site:

The Dalai Lama is in Boston as part of a four-day tour that includes his visit to Harvard as well as to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for the inauguration of a new center for ethics named in his honor. He will also participate Friday (May 1) in a panel discussion organized by Harvard Medical School titled “Meditation and Psychotherapy: Cultivating Compassion and Wisdom.” On Saturday (May 2), he will speak at Gillette Stadium.

After the Memorial Church talk, the Dalai Lama, accompanied by Harvard President Drew Faust, University Marshal Jacqueline O’Neill, McCartney, and Graham, planted a birch tree in front of the Memorial Church. The tree was a hybrid, a combination of Eastern and Western varieties, created especially for the occasion by the staff of Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum.

“Just as the Dalai Lama illuminates our role as stewards of the environment, compassionate toward all creatures,” said Faust, “so shall this tree shine for all who pass this way, a reminder of our interdependence.”

On May 1, the Dalai Lama spoke at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He inaugurated the new Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values.

On May 2, he spoke at a stadium in Boston and on Sunday, he was in New York city.

Yesterday (Wednesday) he appeared at Crowne Plaza in Albany (from the Times Union) —

With a rock star’s aura and a guru’s mystique, the Dalai Lama captivated the capital city Wednesday, offering a simple message of tolerance, peace and happiness with an impish grin, a deep chortle and playful exchanges.

His underlying theme seemed borrowed from a hit song of an earlier decade: Don’t worry, be happy.

At a news conference in the Crowne Plaza before his talk at the Palace Theatre, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader delivered gentle wisdom whether he was asked about the global economic crisis or climate change.

“Those are man-made problems, and logically, human beings have the ability to work out those problems. We can recover from this economic crisis,” he said.

“When human nature is aggressive and destructive, you get the impression our future is doomed. That is a mistake,” he said, making direct eye contact with each questioner and speaking in a deep voice in English. He only rarely conferred with a Tibetan translator at his side.

“Pay more attention to inner values,” he said. “Money alone is not sufficient. Those people whose only concern is money get much more disturbances when the global economy collapsed. People with a happy family and a happy community get less disturbances.”

Tibet: 50 Years of Exile

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009


Today marks 50 years since the peaceful Tibetan uprising that resulted in the exile of His Holiness the Dalai Lama from his homeland.

Yet even today, China continues its brutality against the Tibetan people, and has launched more harsh crackdowns


The Dalai Lama has spoken on behalf of his Tibetan brothers and sisters on his Web site.

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the Tibetan people’s peaceful uprising against Communist China’s repression in Tibet. Since last March widespread peaceful protests have erupted across the whole of Tibet. Most of the participants were youths born and brought up after 1959, who have not seen or experienced a free Tibet. However, the fact that they were driven by a firm conviction to serve the cause of Tibet that has continued from generation to generation is indeed a matter of pride. It will serve as a source of inspiration for those in the international community who take keen interest in the issue of Tibet. We pay tribute and offer our prayers for all those who died, were tortured and suffered tremendous hardships, including during the crisis last year, for the cause of Tibet since our struggle began.

In Dharmsala, India, in the north of that country where the Dalai Lama has taken refuge for a half-century, the Associated Press reports great sadness on his part.

China has launched a “brutal crackdown” in Tibet since protests shook the Himalayan region last year, the Dalai Lama said Tuesday in a speech to mark the 50th anniversary of the failed uprising that sent him into exile.

Tibetan culture and identity are “nearing extinction,” he said in this Indian hill town, where the Tibetan spiritual leader and the self-proclaimed government-in-exile have been based since shortly after fleeing their homeland. “The Tibetan people are regarded like criminals, deserving to be put to death.”

“These 50 years have brought untold suffering and destruction to the land and people of Tibet,” he told about 2,000 people, including Buddhist monks, Tibetan schoolchildren and a handful of foreign supporters. The group gathered in a courtyard that separates the Dalai Lama’s home from the town’s main temple, and monks blowing enormous conch shells and long brass horns heralded his arrival.

Among the most unsettling news of all is a report that another Tibetan monk living in Tibet has set himself ablaze to protest the oppression.

Visit for more information.

Photo by Ng Han Guan / AP

Counting on Karma

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

This week I’ve had some close encounters with karma and faith.

So what is karma?

Karma introduced itself to me with a swift kick in the pants. The year was 1993 or 1994. I went to a sandwich shop with those bins of bulk raisins and malt balls. I got a bag of raisins and forgot to pay for it … just outside the door, I discovered my mistake, and instead of returning to pay, congratulated myself for getting away with it!

That night, my car was broken into. Wallet, purse, gym bag all stolen.


Now I’m not saying there’s a big mean deed-o-meter out there waiting to punish us … but it showed me that the rules I choose to live by are also the rules that will choose me.

It’s not a punishment. It is, however, a registration. An action will generate a certain effect … that’s a basic law of physics, but I believe it also applies to choices, morals and values.

So went my first lesson with karma.

Today, I have a greater understanding of karma. I see that the more I extend goodwill to others, the more I will experience.

Now that’s not why I do it … I find it invigorating to extend good wishes to people who wish to do me harm. The first few times it’s frightening as I thought, If I wish them well, will it somehow empower them to harm me?

Guided by teachings of our great prophets — Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, Martin King, His Holiness the Dalai Lama — I began taking risks that way. I first tried it when I would say a Serenity Prayer for people who wronged me … I heard that if you said it twice a day for two weeks it would dispel a resentment for wrongdoing. It works generally in less than a day.

I read a book by Emmet Fox, “Sermon on the Mount,” and it was transformational. I started praying for people who wished me ill.

These days, there are people who threaten everything I believe in or value. At first, I only offered quiet, restrained prayers, moderately sincere. I meet them and realize they’re mere human beings, with fears of their own. It becomes easier, then,, to wish them happiness without suffering. Perhaps if they have less suffering in their lives and hearts, they will not go after me.

More about karma next week.

Dalai Lama & Vaclav Havel

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008


This week, His Holiness the Dalai Lama is visiting Prague, at the invitation of former president, dissident and poet Vaclav Havel.


It’s hard to imagine a greater pair than these two, and they are both personal heroes.

My close encounter with His Holiness in Atlanta came when I left a seat on the gymnasium floor seconds before he walked by, giving out hugs. I imagine that in my next incarnation I’ll get one of those hugs.

My close encounter with Mr. Havel was more premeditated: At the Karlovy Vary film festival, a friend whose Czech was better than mine said, “He’s watching that film by one of his friends right now.”

My experience as a news reporter said, Go. I entered the screening room and started looking for guards. I saw two or three suited gents standing by a door … so I went to the other side of that door. And waited.

Sure enough, the film ended and Mr. Havel came out of the semi-hidden exit, and stood right beside me.

Imagine this: I was speechless.

He stood there with a suited gent or two, and smoked a cigarette. I hovered nearby. I didn’t introduce myself or anything. How do you say: I’m not worthy!!

For the 3,000 or so folks who heard him speak at the Sparta Stadium, I can attest it will be moving.

Tibet Update 5

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008


It could only happen under totalitarianism: the world’s most iconic mountain is under the heavy hands today of Chinese police.

The Associated Press reports that Chinese officials say they are targeting crime at base of the mountain, which lies on the border between China and Nepal. It is part of the mythic Himalayan Mountains, which encircle several nations including India and Tibet. Still, the move smacks of something more sinister: Since when do we have armed police surrounding Yellowstone?

BEIJING – China’s border police have significantly beefed up their presence at the base of Mount Everest amid rising visitor numbers and increasing cases of theft, prostitution and gambling, state media reported Tuesday.

The influx of people to the area has brought increased crime to the north face of Everest, and Chinese authorities last year pledged to boost the police presence following reports of thefts of food, oxygen tanks and climbing gear.

Visitors to Everest also complain about unethical guides, tricksters selling defective oxygen bottles, prostitution and gambling on the Tibetan side.

A former police post housed in a trailer has been upgraded to a full police station, complete with a modern 19,375-square-foot (1,800-square-meter) facility situated at 17,060 feet (5,200 meters), according to the report on the Tibet Daily’s Web site.


Meanwhile, Tibetans in India are asked to show extraordinary patience as they recommit to the “Middle Way” as encouraged by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.



Special Tibet Update 4

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

Tuesday, Nov. 25: Special Update from Tibet

Chinese police appeared in force in a Tibetan village, determined to show China’s intentions to control the country on the heels of a week-long conference of Tibetan exiles in northern Inida.

This story comes from the Associated Press, by Harles Hutzler, AP writer —

XIAHE, China – Chinese paramilitary police with riot shields and batons abruptly took up posts Monday on the main street of this Tibetan town, disrupting the bustle of Buddhist pilgrims in a reminder of China’s determined control of the region.

With some Tibetans pushing harder against Chinese rule, the communist government is determined to pacify the area.

The show of force Monday was meant to deter unrest while a local court sentenced a group of Tibetans for taking part in large anti-government protests in March in Xiahe, a small town abutting a sprawling complex of golden-roofed temples. MORE

Read the story here

UPDATE: Read another AP account here, with map of the area

Tibet Update 3

Monday, November 24th, 2008

On Sunday, His Holiness the Dalai Lama repeated what he calls the Middle Path for Tibet, that is, resisting the call for independence but pressing for autonomy.

This Middle Path, he says, is the only way for now, but he warns that the next 20 years could be a time of great danger if Tibetans make the wrong decisions.

He also said yesterday that he had no plans to retire. That is great news for the world. He is 73 years old, and says, “It is my moral responsibility till my death to work for the Tibetan cause.”

It reminded me of the words I heard from him, spoken with fierceness, that he would work for others “until my death.”

Since 1950, the Chinese have brutally subjugated Tibet and now are infiltrating the land of snows with junk culture — similar to the way we have infected the world with fast-food restaurants and franchises. China has brought the globe its own oppressive “first-world”-type hegemony, which combines totalitarianism with capital and wealth. As the world becomes richer, it becomes much more dangerous and potentially bad. Let’s face it: Evil with money is genocide.

You get similar results whenever you combine ignorance, spiritual and intellectual, with riches. Among those Gandhi noted in his Seven Blunders of the World that Lead to Violence: Wealth without Work, Commerce without Morality and Politics without Principle.

To read more about His Holiness, visit and click on “news.”

MSNBC has several articles: update on conference here

HH rules out retirement here