Buddha’s Birthday

Unlike Christmas, which is celebrated in January by many Orthodox Christians or in December by most other Christians, The Buddha’s Birthday holiday varies not only by region or country, but also widely by its date.

The traditional commemoration of the Buddha’s Birthday is often the eighth day of the fourth lunar month. Some celebrate it as Vesak which falls on the first Full Moon in May. In some areas in East Asia, such as South Korea, Macau, and Hong Kong, today is Buddha’s Birthday. This solar-determined date varies year to year. For instance, next year the date will be May 12th, and in 2020, it will fall on April 30th.

Personally, to keep things fairly simple, I celebrate it on the Hong Kong date and Vesak according to Tibetans. This way, my beneficiary monks and I can coordinate our tributes.

“Work out your own salvation. Do not depend on others.” (attributed to Shakyamuni Buddha)

In capsule form, here is what is celebrated by millions of people today.

Some 2,600 years or so ago, near the present boundary between Nepal and India in Lumbini, the young prince was born to the royal family of the Shakya Clan. After his birth, a seer predicted that the infant would grow up to be either a great political emperor or a great spiritual light.

His father wished to have the young man become his political successor, so the young Siddharta Gautama was raised in a protected environment within the palace walls. Every conceivable desire was provided in the effort to have the prince grow into a king and not a spiritual guide. He was militarily trained in archery and the combat arts. Gautama won his wife in a shooting contest.

Before the age of 30, Gautama’s curiosity about the world beyond the palace walls became uncontainable. He finally was given permission to see the area around the palace. The king arranged a carefully planned route in order to control what the prince would see during that special week. Even though the route was censored, it was impossible to eliminate every possibility.

The first day out of the palace, he noticed a person who was severely ill. Gautama asked his valet about this. The valet said that the person was sick and that everybody becomes ill at some points in their lives.

The second day, he came upon a wasted, decrepit, elderly man. The valet explained to Gautama that every person gets older and that if one survives illness or accident, one can expect to become very old.

The third day, Gautama crossed paths with a funeral procession with a corpse being carried to its cremation pyre. The prince was alarmed and asked what had happened. The valet explained that every person will sooner or later die. Even the prince was not immune from this event.

The fourth day the prince noticed a meditating monk. When the monk’s gaze met Gautama’s glance, the prince was mesmerized. This was the prince’s first realization that a deeper refuge from suffering was possible.

Upon this realization, Gautama understood that he needed to take an hiatus from his royal life in order to further explore the meaning of life and to realize enlightenment. He had his valet help him secretly escape the palace, then the prince began his wandering through the land.

During over half of a decade he joined many priests, monks, and meditation teachers who showed Gautama several techniques to enhance the mind’s potential. He finally decided to discover enlightenment near the village of Bodhgaya. He was determined to remain in meditation until he experienced it. “Let my skin and sinews and bones dry up, together with all the flesh and blood of my body! I welcome it! But I will not move from this spot until I have attained the supreme and final wisdom.”

Following six days and six nights of contemplating his mind’s most subtle and enticing obstacles, the prince reached complete enlightenment. On the Full Moon morning, a week before his 35th birthday, Gautama became the Buddha…the Awakened One. Shakyamuni Buddha discovered a radiant, intuitive state of bliss. He had truly become one with everything in the Universe.

During the next 45 years, he traveled through northern India and taught students from all castes and stations in life. The Buddha shared his wisdom and methods with everyone who requested his audience. He was non-dogmatic in his teachings. He always encouraged his listeners to question the teachings and confirm them through their own particular experiences. It is this scientific attitude that is present in many practitioners today.

Even if you are not Buddhist, today can be special. Take a few moments to formally or informally meditate and contemplate on your life. Keep the time personal and focused. Make sure your mental space is simple and non-dogmatic. Be open and have a cheerful Buddha’s Birthday.

The Blue Jay of Happiness contemplates wisdom attributed to Shakyamuni Buddha. “With fools, there is no companionship. Rather than live with men who are selfish, vain, quarrelsome, and obstinate, let a man walk alone.”

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There’s a 1980s Sears “LXI” TV in the music room that has not been used for several years. I plugged it in Friday to see if it still works like new. It does. I picked up one of those digital signal converters three years ago, but have not installed it because I just don’t use the teevee to watch programs. So I floated the idea of selling or giving away the old set.

I asked the Goodwill Store if they accepted tube-type televisions anymore. They don’t but they suggested I ask the Salvation Army. They don’t but suggested that I ask Goodwill. I tried the exchange forum on Facebook. Nobody even nibbled. So, I’m stuck with a heavy, bulky tube-type teevee. I can give away the digital converter. Also, there’s a VCR that hasn’t been plugged in for several years. Thrift stores still accept those.

So I sat in the old glider recliner (which is probably obsolete, too) and pondered the situation. The favorite item used by economics instructors to teach about obsolescence is the buggy whip holder. With the advent of the automobile and the decline of the horse-drawn buggy, manufacturers of buggy whip holders no longer had a market for their products. The makers had to adapt or go broke.

Out of curiosity, I reached for the tablet PC (which is also probably obsolete) and searched eBay for buggy whip holders. The category features 20 results for that item. Some of the offerings are for buggy whip holder retail displays. That means a person could possibly still purchase not only a buggy whip holder, but you could also own a buggy whip holder holder. To be fair, as of Friday, more than half of the eBay results are not for antique buggy whip holders. They are modern devices for electronics connectors or flagpole brackets.

I read an article a few weeks ago about the demise of the Compact Disc. Do you remember in the 1980s when pundits predicted the CD would cause the obsolescence of vinyl LP records? Well, who would have predicted that LPs would return a few years ago and that CDs would later fall out of favor? It probably won’t be too much longer that LPs will again decline in popularity. It’s too bad that there are still several dozens of CDs and LPs gathering cobwebs in my house. The same goes for the cassette tapes and a few 8-Track cartridges.

There are few instances that I need to dig out an old LP, CD, or tape. If I’m in the mood for a song, I can find it instantly on the Web. Even the most obscure music is more conveniently available from Internet sources, than from my personal, physical collection.

I try to extend the usefulness of obsolete gadgets whenever possible. Waste not, want not, right?

There’s an old Panasonic all-in-one shelf size stereo that sounds quite nice. It’s getting a bit fussy about which CDs it will play, though. However, the cassette and radio modes work like new. In addition, an old Polaroid tablet PC has been neglected because it’s slower than molasses. That tablet is now a dedicated Internet radio/podcast receiver. It is patched into the “aux” function of the old Panasonic stereo. This frees my other devices whenever I want to listen to an Internet radio station or a podcast at home.

I realized that I have reached the final category of Art Linkletter’s “four stages of man”–infancy, childhood, adolescence, and obsolescence. I still have a landline, my mobile is an old flip-phone, and I enjoy wearing a watch. The ol’ Camry still runs like new and saves me a ton of cash doing so. There are a few more obsolete items around the house that
are still very useful. Maybe I’ll hang onto that old tube-type teevee a little while longer.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes philosopher, professor Marshall McLuhan. “Obsolescence never meant the end of anything; it’s just the beginning.”

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Neighbor Kids

When my first best friend and his family moved to Colorado, I was inconsolable. During the first few years of grade school, John and I were inseparable. I think one of the main reasons we had become best pals, was that we were next door neighbors. We also had plenty of things in common including brothers named Mark. His older brother and my younger brother.

We became “official” best friends when we became “blood brothers” one summer afternoon near the alley bordering our backyards. I’m sure the safety pin was unhygienic but we each had a drop of blood on the pads of our right thumbs, then we squeezed them together to symbolize our eternal friendship. There is something about solemn ceremonies that people need to celebrate milestone situations in our lives. Becoming blood brothers was certainly one of those moments for John and me.

I still remember many mundane things about John and his family. They were connoisseurs of onions, the aroma of the vegetable seemed to be a constant presence in their home. The family cat was a grey and white tabby named “Boots” because all four feet sported white fur. To John and his brother’s embarrassment, their baby portraits were displayed on the wall above the teevee set. John and Mark swore me to never tell our other friends because the photos were bare-bottom baby pictures.

The saddest day of my young childhood was the family’s moving day. John, Mark, the parents, and Boots had piled into their two-toned copper with white 1957 Chevy station wagon. John waved a tearful goodbye from the back window, as the car drove away. Our family’s neighbors were gone along with my best pal. To this day, we’ve never again seen each other.

The next year, the Nebraska highway department promoted dad to a job in Lincoln with an office in the state capitol building. Our family moved into a sub-development of “prefab” houses that had been assembled during the early 1950s. There were plenty of kids our age living in our new neighborhood. Jeff, from across the street became my new best pal. Gary, from two houses south of ours liked everybody. The neighborhood’s tattle-tales, Chuck and Chris lived two houses to the north of us. We got along with the tattlers because all of us liked to skateboard down the hilly street that intersected ours.

One of my classmates, Bruce, lived a few houses to the north.  Bruce’s family seemed very cultured because they had lived in Heidelberg, West Germany for a few years because his father taught at Heidelberg University. Bruce was a shy kid with serious allergies. We walked to and from school together when he wasn’t wasn’t suffering from one ailment or another. But Bruce was sick more often than not. Whenever Bruce accompanied me to school, we discussed what we knew about philosophy during that one mile trek.

Michael was Bruce’s next door neighbor. He befriended both my brother Mark and me. Michael was a goofy, fun boy who got along well with everyone. He was also my first Jewish friend. I learned a lot about Hebrew culture because his family kept kosher. Sometimes his paternal grandmother, who also lived in the neighborhood, invited Mark and me to eat lunch with Michael. She had special Gentile plates and utensils that she served our portions on. Michael and I were “second best friends” because he was my brother’s “first best friend”.

I wrote about my childhood friends because I awakened this morning after dreaming about John and my discovery of a very large butterfly. Such a beautiful memory, triggers more of them.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Saudi billionaire Suaiman Abdul Azis Al Rajhi. “How can you satisfy your hunger while your neighbor is spending the night hungry?”

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Struggles With Egotism

My friend Jorge’s husband José, likes to include a quotation in the signature portion of his personal emails. His practice is much like the Blue Jay of Happiness quotes that close my daily blog. The pithy quote that ended his latest email is beautifully topical and germane.

“Intolerance is a form of egotism, and to condemn egotism intolerantly is to share it.”–George Santayana

There is quite a lot to unpack from this string of words. It’s especially relevant in this troubling age of unbridled conceit and egotism. Santayana’s statement appears to be another way of warning us against intolerance towards intolerant people. It’s the folk wisdom that says what we hate about others also lives deep in our own hearts.

That said, as a general rule, average, fair-minded people are repelled by conceit and overt egotistical behavior. This widespread view has apparently been true throughout the ages. In fact, most religions and ethical conditions strongly warn against having unduly favorable self views about one’s own worth or abilities. Overly positive self-regard is also known as pride. In Judeo-Christianity, pride is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

Another aspect of the ego we sometimes encounter is a concept called the “healthy ego”. This is a balanced sense of self-worth that is essential if we are to thrive in the world. The key word is “balanced”. There are the extremes of conceit and humility.  In the range of human behavior, it can sometimes be argued that overt humility is actually a flavor of conceit–especially if the humble person takes pleasure in pointing out her or his own self-sacrifices.

“Religious people often prefer to be right rather than compassionate. Often, they don’t want to give up their egotism. They want their religion to endorse their ego, their identity.”–Karen Armstrong

So the mindful person takes care not to be narcissistic while not going overboard as a “people pleaser”. The wise person is neither a tyrant nor a doormat. We are presented with the temptation of childishly bragging about ourselves and lording over others. On the other hand, we are presented with the equally strong temptation of feeling shame and guilt about our own egocentric natures. We seem to waver or tilt towards one or the other behavior depending on circumstance. It’s easy to understand that in some ways vanity applies to both egotism and insecurity.

It is good to keep this balance between egotism and humility in mind as we try to make sense of news stories about arrogant politicians, religionists, and other celebrities. Awareness of this balance is important as we navigate through social media and our close-up, interpersonal relationships.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this stinger from Barbara Stanwyck: “Egotism–usually just a case of mistaken nonentity.”

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Faux Console …Floral Friday

I do not have a fireplace in my home, nor is there room for a console table, but I do like to have a main focus point in the living room. There are some modular shelving units I assembled back in 1988 that serve a similar purpose. The top of one of the modules is an ideal substitute for a console.

I use the term console because a vintage mid-century Royal Haeger console set is the main feature of any display. The console set consists of a planter and two stylized leopards. Any other items are only there to provide variety. This week, I cleared off the top in order to tidy things up and alter the configuration of the display.

A Kenwood by Shawnee Pottery cone vase was due for a new arrangement–a large orchid fills the bill. The vase had been biding its time in a corner of the den so it finally earned a place in the living room.

The planter piece of the console set shares the rich patterned glaze that finishes the two panthers. Because the arrangement must be semi-permanent, dried elements fill the planter vase.

The finished display includes the Royal Haeger console set, the Kenwood cone vase, and a Viking Glass compote bowl filled with greenery. The side shelf to the left features an antique lamp and an oversize swung vase filled with jumbo felt flowers.

The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders an idea from astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. “The urge to miniaturize electronics did not exist before the space program. I mean our grandparents had radios that was furniture in the living room. Nobody at the time was saying, ‘Gee, I want to carry that in my pocket.’ Which is a non-thought.”

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Etiquette Is So Important

“Etiquette is all human social behavior. If you’re a hermit on a mountain, you don’t have to worry about etiquette; if somebody comes up the mountain, then you’ve got a problem. It matters because we want to live in reasonably harmonious communities.”–Judith Martin aka. Miss Manners  

I am convinced that the vast majority of our problems in the world of humanity would disappear if the vast majority of humans practiced basic etiquette.

No, I’m not thinking about which fork is proper to use nor which stemware to utilize for certain beverages. That particular sort of etiquette is not what I have in mind unless we are to attend a state dinner.

The sort of etiquette that is most important is the behavior that brings forth our innate kindness towards others. We do not need to receive engraved invitations and don formal clothing in order to practice basic good manners.

As Miss Manners has mentioned, “we want to live in reasonably harmonious communities.” The communities include everything from the family unit, to the country of residence, to the international community. The most basic etiquette can be defined as thinking of the well-being of others as much as ones own. In western religious terms, basic etiquette is the Golden Rule tempered with a healthy serving of respect.

I mention respect, because it seems many people do not have genuine self-respect, so they are unable to treat everyone else with respect. It is easy to see this lack of respect when we witness someone acting in selfish, self-centered ways, and when we catch ourselves doing the same.

Have you ever been in the situation when you’re prevented from pulling out of a driveway onto the street when traffic is extremely busy and stopped up? It seems like an eternity will pass until you’ll be able to drive on the street. Then, it happens. A random driver halts his vehicle and gestures for you to proceed onto the street in front of him. Doesn’t that act of good manners make you feel some joy? If you contemplate the other driver’s action, you might imagine that he also feels a little joy because of his decision to allow you access to the street.

The traffic scenario is an example of the true nature of etiquette. It means one intends at, all times, to ensure people we encounter feel at ease. Even at the worst of times, it helps to remember that returning rudeness in retaliation for rude behavior only increases the amount of friction and ill-will in the world. Showing respect for oneself in equal measure with respect for another works in all but the most extreme, rare situations we might encounter in life.

Boorish bragging and showing off are good ways to incite the dislike of others. We probably know of some people who consistently behave this way. We judge them as self-centered, childish people. Even if we think we are not judgmental people, this ill-will irritates us deep inside. A braggart is someone who crosses the line between assertiveness and aggressiveness. We can see how assertiveness utilizes good manners while aggressiveness either exploits manners or discards them altogether.

In day to day living we encounter or meet people, practice politeness, become acquainted, or conduct business. It is etiquette and good manners that are the catalysts for successful interpersonal relationships. Imagine this happening at every level of human interaction.

Thank you for reading these words.

The Blue Jay of Happiness shares another gem from Miss Manners. “We already know that anonymous letters are despicable. In etiquette, as well as in law, hiring a hit man to do the job does not relieve you of responsibility.”

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Becoming An LGBT Elder

Slowly but surely the inevitable fact of aging has become a major part of my life. Social institutions now consider me to be a senior citizen. This is a status that can represent “respect for ones elders” or stigmatize from being categorized as an old person.

There are certain benefits that have been earned by older people that are meant to offset the physical and mental difficulties we face more and more as the years go by. In the United States, we become eligible to collect our Social Security Insurance benefits and Medicare that we and our employers paid into.

People who are also categorized as belonging to minorities face additional barriers to well-being. If you are LGBT, you face even more obstacles to your well-being and longevity. The problems of social stigma, discrimination, and social isolation are the biggest challenges to older people who happen to be LGBT.

These are many of the concerns that I’ve thought about for several years and are now facts of my own life as I become an LGBT elder.

We older gay folks are more likely to have been estranged from our biological families or are not fully accepted by our extended biological families. Most of us do not have kids, and we are twice as likely to live alone. While we have become psychologically accustomed to these conditions, the reality is that they have become liabilities as we grow older.

The problems that worry us the most are those that have plagued us most of our lives, prejudice and discrimination. First, we must deal with the troubling trend of new laws that allow and enable people to refuse service to us because of “religious beliefs”. Some gays and lesbians have had to go back into their closets because they rightly feel that service providers would either turn them away or treat them badly if they are accepted.

An overwhelming majority of LGBT elders predicted that elder care and nursing home staff would give substandard care to them. According to AARP, more than 40-percent of LGBT patients reported serious instances of mistreatment or neglect by their caregivers.

When we need assistance from aging services, LGBT-friendly institutions are exceedingly rare. Those that exist are greatly underfunded. A recent survey by SAGE (Senior Action in a Gay Environment) discovered less than eight-percent of state and regional agencies on aging offered services for older LGBT citizens and around 12-percent even offered outreach efforts to us. It is the fear of hostility and discrimination that prevents many of us from even seeking out necessary health care.

There is the problem of financial insecurity that intrudes into many of our lives. SAGE has determined that poverty rates among LGBT elder lesbian couples is over 9-percent and gay male couples is around 5-percent–compared to around 4-percent for elder heterosexual couples. The reasons for LGBT poverty include employment discrimination and retirement plans that exclude LGBT couples the same benefits afforded to everyone else. Also, LGBT partners are prohibited by some state laws from automatic spousal inheritance. Some states require heavy taxes on estates that surviving straight spouses can inherit tax-free.

Thankfully, there is the Internet to help us find allies. Some of the organizations we find, include: the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association Provider Directory, CenterLink (a coalition of LGBT community centers), NCLR (National Center for Lesbian Rights), FORGE (transgender aging network), SAGE, and AARP.

Despite the disparities in social status and treatment, there is still the self-respect and joy of being honest and open about being an LGBT elder. One of the most rewarding options is to become an advocate for the LGBT community and other minority peoples. We have each other and we are thankful for the understanding of our allies.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes former President Jimmy Carter. “We must make it clear that a platform of ‘I hate gay men and women’ is not a way to become President of the United States.”

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