Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Religion Tour #4, Buddhism

I know a reporter at the Journal Times who invited me to last nights dharma talk. As it was described to me, it seemed the best opportunity to find out a bit about Buddhism.

Now, at the risk of offending the JT reporter, I felt as though I was among people who were "playing" religion, like children might play doctor. This says nothing about my attitude towards Buddhism and everything about my attitude towards the Journal Times. Roughly 25% of the group had a JT connection.

The evening started with the dozen or so people putting on gray robes with a red sash/apron. Thankfully I was not required to wear it. The purpose of this exercise, as it was described to me, was to not be distracting with our clothing choices. I honored their request to remove my shoes. By the way, everyone there was quite nice and welcoming.

My afformentioned attitude can mostly be attributed to the fact that JT city editor Dustin Block led a discussion of sorts. I like Dustin and I think he is a kind and gentle well meaning person, but lets just say it is unlikely he will ever be my spiritual guru. He talked about the peace that he felt when working on a collaborative painting, and about a strianed relationship at work that has improved of late, seemingly a result of Dustin's improved inner peace.

During a question and answer period with the Abbot Linda Somlia, I asked about the likelyhood that inner peace will be of much use when confronted by external hostility. There doesn't seem to me a very satisfactory answer to that problem.

My tentative conclusion here is that seeking inner peace and quiet is can be a wonderful exercise. And inner peace can be helpful in dealing with lifes difficulties. However, in the face of real external dangers, it seems of limitted usefullness.

23 comments:

Preachrboy said...

Wow.

Well, you've certainly got at least one avid reader of this fascinating series. Keep up the good reporting.

Kathy said...

Denis, I think that a religion tour is fascinating and interesting. I've been trying to figure out what exactly it is that you are seeking. After reading this post I can't help but to wonder, "What moves Denis? Can you tell us of a moment that spiritually moved you?" I'm not being sarcastic, and I'm certainly not trying to be disrespectful. I'm just curious. I'm just trying to get a better idea of where you're coming from, or maybe I've already missed the point?

Denis Navratil said...

Kathy, lets just say that I have had an experience, many years ago, that instilled me with faith. Having faith was not a choice for me, rather a gift. Ever since, I have been interested in what other people believe in and why. You could say that I am seeking to make sense of my own experience. Having said that, I am leary of certain organized religions, though not nearly as much as I am leary of radical secularism. I am certain that I have not answered your question satisfactorily, but thanks for asking.

eric said...

Denis, just curious, what tradition did Dimple grow up with?

Denis Navratil said...

Sorry Eric, but I am going to leave my wife out of this discussion. It is not my place to publicize her info. I am sure you understand.

Kathy said...

Denis, you did answer my question. It was just that when I read your post I felt like there was a level of cynicism there, so I wasn't sure where all of this was going. I am also curious about other believes and religions, so I think these articles are great. I enjoy reading about the services in different churches and how they are conducted. Its interesting. I just feel that when it comes to the phisophical side of it you can be a bit satirical. Again, I mean no disrespect. It's just my perception.

eric said...

Denis, 'na bother' as my Scots friends would say. Just wondered if/how it affected you. My wife grew up in Japan, where the Shinto/Budhist traditions are both very different and very similar to the Christian tradition I grew up in. It's made for valuable discussions and lessons within our family. That's what made me curious about you guys, with that said, will respect your wishes and end this line of discussion.

Denis Navratil said...

Kathy, perhaps my writing does not properly reflect my attitude. I tried to make clear that my thoughts on the Buddhism visit were probably mostly influenced by my attitude towards the Journal Times. The religion itself I can respect, though I do wonder how well it can respond to external threats. But seeking enlightenment, inner peace etc... can be very helpful for people. I am certainly not engaging in this exercise simply to mock the beliefs of others.

Eric, thanks for understanding. My wife has asked not to be involved in this blog, so I am respecting her wishes.

Anonymous said...

i would agree with kathy as well. I've noticed throughout reading this blog and other posts from previous months, Denis, you seem very cynical and seem to fixate on the negative or downside aspects of things. I really noticed it on your post about the Dr. Hicks state of the district address. Of course you are free to be who you are, but i guess i'd like to see/hear more solutions and credit through this blog. Of course RUSD has problems, just like any other institution, but they're people who are honestly making a concerted effort to do their part in trying to fix or at least minimize these problems.

Instead of complaining, why not get involved and do your part to help?

Kathy said...

Denis, I want you to know that I am all for tolerance and acceptance. I do not want to sound like one of those oversensitive crybabies. I went back and reread your post to try to pin point why I feel this way, and here it is: So you go to this dharma talk. You were surprised by the number of JT people that are Buddhist(I was surprised also). You were relieved that you didn't have to dress funny. The people were really nice and they didn't make you do anything like jump up and down on one foot while patting your head and rubbing your belly, or eat a live chicken(which is always a plus), or anything like that; so all in all it was a good night!
Dustin Block lead a discussion in which he poured his heart out and shared something personal to him. Yet, you were not moved by the transcending of a strained relationship from the inner peace that he received via a painting. Then you go on to badger the Abbot about the usefullness of inner peace in crisis situation. At this point, all I can think of is how her inner peace must have been shaken as she wanted to smack the person who brought the guy who had a problem with inner peace. Again, this is just my perception of the event, do you see what I'm saying?

Kathy said...

Denis, you posted while I was composing so I didn't see your response before I posted. Denis, you're fine. I understand. I really do enjoy your writing and engaging in a discussion, sometimes debate with you. It's always interesting to me to see things from someone else's view. Keep on doing what you're doing and I'll look forward to it.
In regard to the post about RUSD, I read your commentaries in the JT and they were right on target. I believe that many people in RUSD are trying to make things better. However, intention only gets you so far. We need decisiveness, transparency, and accountability all of which are lacking in this district. The extreme waste of money, time, and resources at the expense of our children is absolutely abhorrent to me. People like Denis dare to question it and call it out. I, personally, am grateful for that. Thank You Denis!
I'm sorry to have strayed from the original topic. Anyway Denis, I hope I didn't offend you. I was not trying to do that. At the end of the day I'm glad that we can have these discussions. I hope that I haven't shaken you in your journalism per se? Keep writing.

Denis Navratil said...

No Kathy you have not offended me. It is hard to accurately relay the events of the evening. But I doubt that the Abbot felt badgered when I asked her a question. I think asking questions was the point of the evening. My question went something like this:

"I can understand the value of peace and inner peace, and that it can be helpful in handling interpersonal conflict, or at least our responses to it, but I wonder if you can talk about those people who are not reasonable and who wish to harm others. How would a Buddhist respond to those situations?"

So I don't think that I badgered her or that she felt as though she was being badgered. With regard to Dustin Block, I think it is great that he is feeling more peaceful internally and that relations with a difficult co-worker has improved, but it is true, I was not particularly moved by it. Is that bad?

Now I know that you have added another entry into this discussion, and you seem to have a better understanding of where I am coming from, so you don't need to respond further, unless you want to of course. And this is why we have discussions, so we can understand each other. Thanks for being reasonable.

Denis Navratil said...

Anon, thanks for your comments. I find this negativity charge very interesting. You are correct that I am a critic of RUSD. I have carefully considered the problem, which I think is systematic, in that the system empowers politicians, bureaucrats, union leaders, but in doing so takes power away from parents. I have proposed a remedy on numerous occasions, vouchers and or tax credits for private schooling. Now reasonable people can disagree on the proper remedy for improving our schools, but am I engaged in negativity simply because I disagree with you. Are you negative because you don't like school vouchers, assuming you don't? So it may seem to you that I am simply complaining, but to me the only way we will get any real school reform, we will first need to acknowledge the problems and then address them in ways that will work. So a change in thinking is a prerequisite to a change in action. I am engaged in efforts to change the way we look at the education problems in our community. If you see that as merely negativity, there is probably little I can do to change your mind. But, as always, I appreciate hearing from those who disagree with me. Thanks for your comments.

Denis Navratil said...

Oops, I called the problems in education as "systematic." I think the right word is systemic.

Kathy said...

O.K Denis, but now I'm dying to know her response...

Denis Navratil said...

Her response was quite reasonable. She said that there is little that Buddhism can do to stop others from perpetrating harm. She gave an example wherin she would use her stick (for some reason she was carrying a stick) to smack someone on the head if they accosted her in the parking lot after the dharma. This would have been a last resort, of course. Her husband, also an Abbot, added that a Buddhist will look at their own culpablity where problems exist. I took that as a geopolitical kind of response, as in the U.S. should look at its actions, as they may help explain the violence directed at us. I don't think either were annoyed by the question, and if they were, then I would ask what use is their Buddhism if a reasonable question were to cause such internal distress. But, just to reiterate, their responses were reasonable and peaceful, as I expected.

Anonymous said...

You're not engaged in negativity because we disagree, disagreements eventually lead to solutions (most cases) so disagreeing is good in my opinion. You mentioned vouchers and credits, it sounds like a potential remedy for the school issue, but i've never been convinced that private schools provide a better education for students (sorry to get off subject from your religion tour, which is interesting as well). I think it depends on what your individual definition of "a good education" is.

From my experience with my own children being enrolled in a very reputable private school, the private school tended to be more problematic than public school for a variety of reasons and i ended up taking my children out of private schools and into public. I feared because of the multiple bad experiences at the private school, my kids would grow to completely hate a school environment which would obviously have major impacts on the quality of their lives in the future. Taking them out of the private school was the best move for my children and the change in their attitude about school was almost immediate. Because their negative attitude and perceptions have changed about school, which i attribute to a public school setting, they're excited about learning and the fact they have learned something that they didnt know the day before.

I'm curious as to why is it assumed that private = better when most private schools are not reflective of the real world in numerous aspects.

A child's education is dependent on the parents, teachers have a role of course, but not even remotely on the same level that parents should have in the mental and physical growth of their children. So with that, i think a child can be successful in a public school as their is case after case of decision-makers within this city who are public school products themselves...

Denis Navratil said...

anon, certainly kids can get a good education in a public school. You have had a better experience in the public schools. Others may feel like the best option for them is private schooling. The problem that I think needs to be addressed is the lack of options, especially for those of limitted resorces. Anyone can get a public education if that is what they prefer. However, everyone can't get a private education if that is their preference. I would like more people to have the private school option, but only if that is what they prefer. Customer choice will improve education in Racine.

eric said...

Two cents on the tangent education discussion: 1)I once heard a study quoted on NPR that stated what public schools did measurably better was provide better security, NOT higher GPAs/SATs 2)Private schools almost by definition do bring together families that value education 3)"when most private schools are not reflective of the real world in numerous aspects" - some real world aspects may not be desireable in school.

There is no one size fits all school, they vary, alot. If you have a choice, you can find the one that fits you.

Anonymous said...

eric, the info you provided was interesting
In regards to the study results. You state that
"some real world aspects may not be desireable in school". Obviously, outside of violence and other criminal behavior in school, is that good for our kids? Sheltering them from the real world that they will eventually face as children through adulthood?

That is one of my biggest issues with private schools. You can only hide the truths of reality for so long, and by doing so, what are we teaching our kids? Are they being taught to runaway from adversity and challenges? Are we teaching them to think of themselves as superior to every other kid because they attend an "elite" school? Are we creating an us against them mentality when sheltering these kids? Are we teaching them to not interact with other kids because of where they live or what school they attend?

The attribute i personally liked most in public schools was the diverse mix of students. Public school setting enabled me to develop long-term relationships with people i probably would never have met otherwise. It also provided me an opportunity to be exposed to a vast array of lifestyles and cultures firsthand. I was friends with jocks, preppies, punk rockers, burnouts, nerds, blacks, whites, hispanics, asians you name it. It truly shaped me into the person i am today and gave me a respect for all people regardless of their circumstance. Sounds like i'm preaching, but this is what is sorely lacking in private schools and i think this lack of diversity eventually leads to the discriminatory and prejudiced behaviours when these kids grow to be adults.

I've been researching the voucher/tax credit issue, and i've found it interesting that i have yet to hear or read anything from an actual private school official about attracting these potential students. So far, its just been individual people, not the schools themselves promoting this effort. If anyone can lead me to some information, it would be appreciated.

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eric said...

Anon, must correct something I mis-stated, "I once heard a study quoted on NPR that stated what PRIVATE schools did measurably better was provide better security, NOT higher GPAs/SATs". Since you highly valued your public school experience, why did you enroll your children in a private school,(only to withdraw them later)? I too am a product of the public schools. Our kids also attended very good public schools in two different states, a Dept. of Defense school overseas, and now a private school. Old friends, my contemporaries, new acquaitances, and old teachers almost to a person advised us not to send our kids to RUSD. Class size and student misconduct were sited as the main reasons. Having the school look like a cross-section of the community is great, as long as there are not significant problems in the community that come to school. That seems to be where RUSD is now. RJT has stated RUSD student population has decreased by approximately 25% over the last 30 years. Private schools and home schools are providing a safer environment with smaller class sizes (no shootings outside basketball games). The school we send our kids to is exteremly diversified, but it looks more like the global community we have to compete in today rather than the city of Racine. For the longest time I held similar convictions to yourself regarding the positive real world experinces of public schools. Having exposed our children to multiple good public school systems, I can tell you RUSD should aspire to be more like them or the private school our family currently enjoys - not the other way around.

Kathy said...

I attended a private school from 1st-8th grade. I went on to attend and graduate from Horlick. My personal private school experience was absolutely wonderful; and the education I received was superior to public school in the areas of math, science, reading, and english. I chose to go to a public school for the experience of diversity as well as a broader selection of courses offered.
People can say that private school children are sheltered, and to a degree that is true. I don't believe that that is necessarily bad. I feel it a privilege that while I was being "sheltered" in a private school that I was able to ride that wave of childhood until I was ready to move on to adolescence. As a mother with children in this district that has been my biggest sorrow. I feel that my children have been exposed to too much to fast and I feel like their childhoods have somewhat been cut short because of it. I know that this is supposed to be their real world experience, but the real world is scary for adults, it makes me sad.
Two factors that I miss about private school were 1)Failure was not an option 2)There was discipline and control in the school/classroom. Earlier this year, my son was pushed down the stairs at school. His assailant remains in the system because he has a right to a public education. This would not be tolerated in private school. I believe that the safety factor is a real concern in this disrtict.
Now I know that some of you are thinking "If our schools are so terrible then why don't you send your kids to a private school?" My husband and I have been round and round about this; and despite all of the bad things, our children have had equally wonderful experiences in RUSD. We both love this community and believe that our district has the potential to be great. So we do what we can to do our part to support our children, our schools, and our district as a whole. The bottom line is that we need to make some changes. Some serious changes. I too believe that school choice could really change education here in Racine. Dr. Hicks(RUSD CEO) would like to run this district like a business...then I think a little competition should be just what the Dr. orders(not that he has anything to do with it, but it could make things really interesting).