bringingupbuddhas

suburban adventures in bu-curious mothering

Category: bu-review

bu-review for kids: the great gilly hopkins by katherine paterson

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I picked up The Great Gilly Hopkins last week at the library because it was recommended by Girl Scouts of America as a good read for Brownie scouts.  I did not expect this fiction novel by Katherine Paterson to offer up a great lesson in compassion for my BUBs.  (I also did not expect to be crying my eyes out over a book written for 10-year-olds, but that happened, too.)

Gilly is an angry 11-year-old who’s been shuffled from foster home to foster home since she was a baby.  She is guarded, sassy, manipulative, proud, prejudiced and destructive.  But under all of that difficulty is a little girl who desperately wants to belong and be loved.  The characters are fantastic, the plot is simple yet powerful.

The language is a little mature for my kids – ages 4,6,8 – but I read aloud and substituted darn for damn and heck for hell.  There was also a point when I had to stop reading the book altogether and offer an in-depth history lesson on racism in America.  (Gilly’s racist mindset is challenged by two black characters, her neighbor and her teacher, who are likely the most well-educated characters she meets.)

I found that my youngest child slipped in and out of attention – and the room – occasionally asking me why Gilly doesn’t live with her mother.  He was obviously disturbed by my description of the foster care system, hence the repetitive questioning.  My middle daughter was also disengaged.  She fell asleep twice while I was reading.  Other nights she ignored Great Gilly altogether and buried her face in Pokemon comics or math workbooks.  But Gilly provided an extraordinary lesson in compassion for my 8-year-old and me… tandem paradigm shifts.

If you are looking for a Buddhist or bu-curious lesson to teach your kids, ask them to point out moments when folks in the story practice compassion, forgiveness and/or acceptance.  It is also a wonderful opportunity to talk about deeper Buddhist ideas, too – basic karmic law, or cause and effect, and Buddhahood, that beautiful shining gem that exists in each one of us, just waiting to be polished.

Here are some great times to stop the story and discuss the above mentioned ideas:

  • the way Trotter consistently interacts with a grizzly-behaved Gilly
  • the assumptions Gilly makes about Trotter based on her physical description
  • how Mr. Randolph responds to Gilly after discovering her indiscretion
  • Ms. Harris’ reaction to Gilly’s card
  • the point Gilly decides William Earnest is her brother
  • the way Gilly took care of everyone over Thanksgiving

I’d also suggest stopping any time you see your child crying and asking him or her how they are feeling and what they are thinking.  In retrospect, I wish I’d done this more, because PG and I spent a lot of time whimpering and blowing our noses through the last third of the book.

Here’s a list of questions that would be great to ask after reading the book:

  1. When do you think Gilly realized she loved Trotter, W.E. and Mr. Randolph?
  2. Why do you think Gilly wrote letters to W.E. filled with lies and false stories?
  3. Do you think it was very hard for Ms. Harris to stay composed when Gilly gave her that terrible card?  Do you think you could have done that?  Why is it important to stay composed?
  4. Was Gilly a bad kid?  Why or why not?
  5. Was Trotter a good Mom?  Why or why not?
  6. Have you ever thought bad things about somebody because of the way they look, like Gilly did?
  7. What do you think is the meaning of Mr. Randolph’s favorite poem?  (Go through it with them line by line.  When they’re done, tell them what you think it means.)
  8. Why and how do you think people were able to forgive Gilly, even when she behaved so badly?
  9. What do you think Gilly learned from living at Trotter’s?  Could you see her applying her lessons in Jackson, Virginia?  Will Gilly be OK without her Courtney?

Last thing to share, Mr. Randolph’s favorite poem, written by William Wordsworth, which sings to my spirit:

“There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,

The earth, and every common sight,

To me did seem

Apparell’d in celestial light,

The glory and the freshness of a dream.

It is not now as it hath been of yore: —

Turn wheresoever I may,

By night or day,

The things which I have seen I know can see no more.

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:

The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,

Hath had elsewhere its setting,

And cometh from afar:

Not in entire forgetfulness,

And not in utter nakedness,

But trailing clouds of glory do we come

From God, who is our home.

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,

Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,

To me the meanest flower that blows can give

Thoughts that do often lie to deep for tears.”

Love it.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

a potpourri today: acceptance, meditation & book review

please join us on facebook to participate in this three-week long meditation challenge:  www.facebook.com/everythingoldisnewageagain

from mine to yours,

vanessa

playing the victim = giving away power

When we’re tied down to the train tracks, we cannot use our power to live our best lives.

I did so well striking out the “ummms” on the first half of this video…  fell off the wagon on the latter portion.  Working on it.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

bu-review: samsara directed by ron fricke

This is not a movie.  It’s a meditation.  Samsara is a breathtaking arrangement of moving pictures depicting spiritual life and landscape around the globe.  Without words or plot, this stirring film manages to tell a captivating story, to evoke high drama and powerful emotion.

There was one part that was really weird:  an American-looking man in a business suit does some crazy shizzle with clay.  It didn’t seem to jive with the rest of the presentation, but at least it conjured a laugh from the audience.  Besides that, I really loved it.

There were two ideas in particular that settled neatly into my mind as I exited the theatre.  The first was a clear image of samsara, or the unending cycle of birth, suffering, death and rebirth.  Not only the human cycle, but the cycle that we create through our own acts.  We manufacture, we use, we throw away. We manufacture, we use, we throw away.  Not only every day things (appliance, electronics, automobiles), but also our houses of worship (ancient ruins, temples and homes).  The second idea that I received fully was that we are all the same.  The film communicated this very simply.  Fricke set up pictures of people from all different races and cultures staring at the audience from the other side of the camera.  Staring into the eyes of another, without inhibition or fear, I could sense connectedness, oneness.

On a personal side note, I snuck out on a Thursday night to catch a showing of Samsara in Cambridge.  I arrived early, nestled into my seat, all alone, took a deep breath and relaxed.  I quickly became engrossed in the film’s imagery, floating around the scenes like hovercraft.  I was abruptly jerked back to Earth when my husband surprised me with his presence, climbing over legs to reach the seat next to mine.  For the next 40 minutes, he shoveled swollen handfuls of popcorn into his mouth and breathed heavily through his nose, occasionally leaning over to offer me a bite or identifying a photo, “That’s in Utah.”   Thanks for being so thoughtful, honey.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

sunday morning dharma at drikung

On Sunday morning, I had planned to visit the Cambridge Zen Center for a long sitting meditation and interview.  Just before I left, I checked online to confirm times and address and noticed a polite suggestion that beginners first attend an orientation on Thursday nights.  Oops.  So instead I headed to the Drikung Center down the street from me in Arlington, the homey one I told you about last week.

I arrived at the center 10 minutes early, welcomed at the door by friendly Lama Sonam, the resident teacher at the center.

“You here first time?” he asked.

“Yes, and I could use some direction,” I replied.

“Okay, I will put you to work.” Lama Sonam pointed to a shelf of small cloth mats and paper booklets then instructed me to lay one of each on the 10 tables lining the room.  “Then go get some tea and sit down,” he suggested as he flip-flopped away down the hall.

I obediently got to work.  While setting up for the talk, I took a moment to settle into the house.  It was much like I remembered the first time I visited, but more familiar, which I liked.  The Buddha room was still adorned with lots of pictures and statues and draping cloths, but this time I was less overwhelmed by the display and more intrigued.  In front of the Buddha statue was a large comfy-looking chair with colorful cushions, and in front of that a table with a small spinning drum, fresh flowers, and some books.  (I learned later that’s where Lama Sonam sits when he participates in talks and lectures, but today his space would remain empty.)   Across from Lama Sonam’s chair were two lines of floor cushions, each equipped with its own mini desk for chanting books and tea.

After setting up the space, I turned the corner and poured myself green tea and sat down.  While waiting for the talk to start, I noticed my friendly Buddha lady walk in.  She prostrated herself to the Buddha three times then engaged in some friendly chit-chat while others were arriving.  When five of us gathered, we sat down and began to chant, being led by one of the practitioners.

First the group chanted in Tibetan, then in English.  I didn’t participate in all of the chanting, only that which I understood and accepted.  There were many references to people whose names I’d never heard.  So I just kept quiet during those parts.  Then the group sang a few quick songs (more like musical chants) and pulled out a book to read: “The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa“.   We only read a very small part of this book and I was amazed at how much discussion resulted.  Practical discussion.  As the talk progressed, a few more people joined our group and jumped right in on the discussion.  It was a very relaxed and comfortable scene.  Incredibly easy and welcoming.

We broke for 20 minutes and were entertained by a lively guy who brought a coconut to share.  He broke the thing open with a butter knife, very cool.  I was honored to be offered the juice and the others ate up its sweet white flesh before cleaning up and returning to our seats.  We finished with a bit more discussion and purifying meditation.  Breathe in with “om”, crest with “ah”, breath out with “hung”.  This is a purification for body, speech and mind.   While we meditated, we focused on heart center, imagining a spot of blue the size of a mustard seed.  (You can try this at home!  Very easy!)

The bell rang and that was it!  I was going on a whale watch that afternoon so I bolted quickly, asking friendly Buddha lady if she wouldn’t mind cleaning up my space.  She sweetly said, “Go, go!”

On the car ride home I thought about the morning at Drikung and decided it was lovely!  The experience was genuine and easy.  The people were kind, thoughtful, engaging, and extremely patient with me (the rookie of the group).  I was especially touched by a man who said even though he’s a practicing Catholic, he still considers himself a Buddhist.  The health benefits of Buddhist practice have improved his life tremendously and he encouraged me to visit other temples and centers to find what works for me.

I’ll definitely return to Drikung and hope to hear some teachings by Lama Sonam at some point.  Bu-curious can join the dharma talk on Sundays at 10am.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

bu review: deepak chopra’s buddha

I wrote a detailed book review of Deepak Chopra’s fictional novel Buddha about a year ago on Everything Old which, while it is embellished by Chopra’s imagination, is rooted in truth and a wonderfully colorful and soulful version of the life of Prince Siddhartha, the original Buddha.  I’m reposting the crib notes I recorded last year…

September 6, 2011

Do you know the story of Buddha?  Though over the years I’ve learned a bit of Buddhist philosophy, I never took the time to learn about Buddha himself.  Honestly, I didn’t even know if he really existed, which is funny b/c after reading the book Buddha by Deepak Chopra, I found out he did really exist, but then he didn’t really exist either.  This everything-is-nothing philosophy is complicatedly simple.

Here are some spirity crib notes on Chopra’s version of Buddha’s life…

It all starts with a warrior king, Suddhodana, viciously defending his kingdom called Sakya, India, 563 BC.  Though he’s a merciless soldier, he’s a loving husband and worships his wife Maya.  She was unable to conceive a child but Suddhodanna never turned to other women.  One night, Maya had a premonition she’d bear a son.  She rushed to the king’s rooms and 9 months later Prince Siddhartha was born.  Tragically, Maya died shortly after giving birth.

An old ascetic hermit named Asita predicted that this baby would be the Buddha, the One who returns light to the world of suffering.  He visited Mara, a nasty demon who lorded over pain and death, and told him his prediction.  Mara was pissed.  He tried to curse the baby but it didn’t really work.

Meanwhile, a group of high-caste holy men, Brahmins, presented Suddhodana with his son’s astrological charts.  All signs pointed to greatness.  The king was thrilled but there was more.  Siddhartha would rule the four corners of the earth but it was predicted that Suddhondana would disown him as a son in the process, as the boy had a very strong spiritual calling.  Asita confirmed the reports.

Suddhodana wanted his son to be a warrior king like him, so he and the kingdom’s high Brahmin, Canki, composed a plan to keep Siddhartha’s spiritual tendencies smothered by disallowing him to encounter any type of suffering until the age of 32.  Suddhodana banished every single old, sick, disfigured or ugly person in the the kingdom.  He sent them to a place just beyond the kingdom walls called “The Forgotten City”.

Siddhartha lived happily for many years but his pull toward heaven was strong.  He asked big questions and felt deep compassion.  His temperament was mild, not one of a warrior, which disappointed the king.  When his older cousin Devadatta was imported from a neighboring kingdom to teach the prince toughness, Siddhartha was in for a shocker.  This kid was an asshole.  He threw rocks at Siddhartha, teased him, threatened him, disrespected his best friend, a low-caste stable boy named Channa.  The demon Mara tapped into Devadatta easily and planned to use him to rub out the future Buddha, but Mara did not leave it all up to Devadatta.

Mara continued to shadow Siddhartha over the years, too, and crept into the prince’s thoughts formally, encouraging him to become his student.  But so did Asita, who appeared to teach him how to meditate like a yogi and find stillness.

On Siddhartha’s 18th birthday, Suddhodanna threw him a coming out party for the neighboring (enemy) kingdoms, complete with mock battles.  Siddhartha reluctantly participated.  He was an excellent athlete and well-trained warrior so he easily bested his opponents in all matches, and did so without armor.  In his last show of competition, he accidentally pierced his opponents neck with an arrow and the man died.  Devadatta publicly chided him and Channa stepped in to defend.  Siddhartha came between the two and forced the challenge back to himself.  He and Devadatta duked it out.  The prince won, sparing D’s life, and had a godlike moment when he envisioned himself jumping off a cliff in complete peace and heard the words Surrender and be Free.  Channa lived, too, but not without punishment.  Low-castes can be killed for even breathing on a high-caste.  The king whipped him brutally and spared his life.

So in revenge for complete humiliation, Devadatta, the total SOB that he was, found out that Siddhartha had a crush on this girl named Sujata.  Devadatta went to her room at night, raped and killed her, then secretly tossed her body in the river.  Thinking there was a chance she could still be alive, Siddhartha and Channa escaped the kingdom walls to search for her.  What they found instead was The Forgotten City.  Siddhartha couldn’t believe what the king had done to control him.

For the next decade, he spent his time helping the poor.  During this time he also got hitched to a woman named Yashodhara and had a son named Rahula.  He would not stay to watch his family grow, though.  His spiritual calling overwhelmed him and he gave up his worldly status, changed his name to Gautama and retreated to the jungles, forests and mountains of India.

He sought Dharma, gurus, wisdom.  He studied under an ancient hermit and learned to meditate for days on end.  He became frustrated by a monk named Ganaka who challenged his desire to serve others, he met gurus Alara and Udaka who taught him the wisdom of ancient scripture, but Gautama was still not enlightened.  Nobody seemed to be.

So he retreated to cave on the edge of the Himalayas with five ascetic monks who believed he knew the path to enlightenment.  They were in and around that cave for five years.  Gautama basically spent the entire time in samadhi, a deep meditative trance, and the fab five had to wash him, feed him, and keep him propped up.  The monks knew Gautama was someone special and were devoted to his teachings and promise of enlightenment, but the brutal elements and starvation wore them down.  One by one they left Gautama, who would’ve perished if not for a young girl named, get this, Sujata, who climbed the mountain looking for the god who lived there and could bless her upcoming marriage.

When she found him, she nursed him back to health in her dead grandmother’s old shack.  Once he recovered fully, he spent some more QT in samadhi under a pipal tree outside the shack.  There he met Mara and they battled through spirit.  At last, Mara tried to coax Gautama into his trap with an offer of marriage to his three beautiful demon daughters.  Gautama smartly accepted the girls on conditions that they never be desired by or lusted after by him, and that they must learn to love.  The girls turned into demons and disappeared.

Gautama emerged as the Buddha, a living god.

As Buddha, he could bring back the dead and right the wrong.  His powers were miraculous.  He found his fab five and returned to Sakya where a battle was raging beyond the kingdom walls.  He entered the gates and reconnected briefly with his wife and child, enlightening them with one embrace, then headed back outside to take care of the battle, which was in full swing.  The fab five were scared entering the battle scene but Buddha assured them that they could end war with words.  He beamed radiant light and awed the soldiers.  He told the people that they write their own futures, they just have to decide to live it.  The men put down their swords.  Miraculous.

He did, however, allow Devadatta and Channa to violently settle their long-standing personal battle.  The warriors nearly killed each other but because of Buddha’s grace and wisdom, both survived.  Suddhodana, though old and a little nuts, was still king.

Buddha spent the rest of his life teaching his Dharma.  He had a large following that included people from high and low castes, monks and royals.  Even Devadatta and Channa joined him.  He brought yoga to the world and released it to all levels in the social hierarchy of India.  His love knew no boundaries.  His story actually reminds me a lot of Jesus’ story.  The biggest difference being Buddha was able to live a long life and spread his teachings.  He died at 80 from eating bad pork.  (Huh?)

***********

Chopra brought Buddha to life beautifully.  What amazes me about this storyteller is that he presents dialogue and history and spirituality confidently and convincingly and without judgment; in order to do this he’s got to have complete understanding of his subjects and his spirit.  And he does.  He is an extraordinary man.  Some of my favorite quotes from the book:

“This world is nothing more than desire, and every desire makes me run after it.  Why?  Because I believe that it’s real.”

“The dust holds its shape for a fleeting moment when I throw it into the air, as the body holds its shape for this brief lifetime.  When the wind makes it disappear, where does the dust go?  It returns to its source, the earth.  In the future that same dust allows grass to grow, and it enters a deer who eats the grass.  The animal dies and turns into dust.  Now imagine that the dust comes to you and asks, ‘Who am I?’  What will you tell it?  Dust is alive in a plant but dead as it lies in the road under our feet.  It moves in an animal but is still when buried in the depths of the earth.  Dust encompasses life and death at the same time.  So if you answer ‘Who am I’ with anything but a complete answer you will have made a mistake.”

“The fire of passion burns out eventually.  Then you dig through the ashes and discover a gem.  You pick it up; you look at it with disbelief.  The gem was inside you all the time.  It is yours to keep forever.  It is buddha.

My ultimate fave and the one I tell my kids every day:  “Winning and losing are the same thing.  Both are nothing.”

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

bu-review: the arlington center

Okay, Boston’s Bu-curious, this one’s for you.  I visited The Arlington Center in (ahem) Arlington Center today.  It’s a yoga and meditation studio at 369 Mass Ave.  I chose a guided meditation class for my first experience, and it was terrific.  Chip Hartranft, author of a new translation of The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali and founder/director of TAC, leads a 90 minute medie for about a dozen practitioners on Fridays at 10am.  He is articulate, sincere and gentle in his guidance, and welcoming to each student, new or experienced.  The room is clean and bright with lots of benches, mats, blocks and bolsters to keep students comfortable during the session.  Visitors only need to bring their Bu-curious minds and 17 bucks in cash to partake in a bit of Zen.

The Arlington Center offers other classes:  Iyengar, Vicaara and Kripalu, yoga for kids and cyclists, Pilates and Tai Chi are a few titles on the calendar this September.   I’m looking forward to attending some upcoming workshops onsite, too:  Listening to our Callings, a two-hour lecture on Sunday, September 9, and Breathwork, a two-hour class on Saturday, September 29.  Join me if you can or check out their online calendar of events to find another topic that peaks your senses.  Drop-ins are welcome.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

p.s.  I’d be so grateful if you passed this blog along to like-minded peeps!  I’d do it for you!  🙂