Friday, February 27, 2009

Arbeit Uber Alles

Sorry for the long gaps. All I do is work and fly back and forth so I don't have much time to post and not much to say.

I did get to volunteer at an animal shelter in Brooklyn. That was pretty cool.

Congrats to my Cousin Madison for making the Honor Roll, my Niece Kate for posting more beautiful art on the web and my Niece Lindy for loosing a tooth.

I got to see my parents and all their animals recently and as always that was an adventure. Everyone seems to be doing fine.

Take care.

Monday, February 9, 2009


Hey. I've been planning to read An End to Suffering by Pankaj Mishra for years. It came to me recommended highly and I moved a borrowed hard cover copy to Australia and back. When the loner insisted I return it (unread) after 3 years, I protested, but relented and ordered my own copy from Motivated by the long flight to Minneapolis and the guilt of a task long procrastinated, I finally started in on this book.

I hate to go all Jean Teasdale on you, but finishing this book was an End to Suffering in it's own right. I know this will be perceived by some as close-minded and evidence of my lacking cognitive skills, or an open mind but it would be difficult to fake liking this book.

To be fair, as a disclaimer, I read this book in a series 20 minutes stints over a number of weeks from the time I board a plane until the time when electronic devices are allowed, and it has been pointed out to me that this may not be the most peaceful manner in which to contemplate the role of the Buddha in the modern world.

The first 150 or so pages are Mishra switching haphazardly between the history of Western Academic pursuit of Buddhism and his own wanderings as a young man infused with a heaping portion of self-importance. (Look, I don't miss the irony (hypocrisy?) of the last sentence being blogged about in my once upon a time semi-travel blog that is essentially now only an open-journal, but I readily acknowledge that this blog is only interesting, if at all, to people who personally know me, and I have no intention of having the blog bound and published by Picador.)

There is a tolerable stretch in the middle where Mishra summarizes the teachings of the Buddha. I find the part about life being filled with suffering pretty compelling. The bit about reducing the suffering by extinguishing desire seems about as probable to me as my working on my game enough that they draft me into the NBA, but I guess it's an admirable goal. There is an interesting summary of the core tenants of the Buddha's teachings and how he is reported to have arrived at these realizations.

Then around page 214 Misrha drifts back into travelogue, mentioning every detail of his trips around India and around the world to London and the US, intertwined with the journeys of the Buddha. This 'I travel, the Buddha travels' structure seems pompous and arrogant. Furthermore, Mishra's need for completion is his own enemy (or mine?). Buddha reportedly lived to around 80 (in a time when most died around 30) so he wandered around India a lot, receiving free alms meals from people, gathering converts and teaching lessons. 80 years worth of wandering around and it doesn't seem much was left out, and I'm left struggling to choose the most significant happenings.

Then there's all the Nietzsche. Mishar seems to think that throughout time, the most effective critic of the teachings of the Buddha was Nietzsche, so that if these criticisms can be countered all will be embraced. I've never bought in to Nietzsche well enough to need the dragon slain, so these sections tire me.

The book then makes its ties into 9-11 a bit awkwardly, seemingly to include the element of current political significance an editor might ask an author to wedge into a book to help with sales. The book ends up weakly. I read and reread the last 4 pages trying to take some significance out of them. Perhaps it is that all we truly have is our own state of mind in the present, and that this, anyone can have regardless of social status or political power, but I remain unconvinced that the mental proficiency required for this can actually be achieved by many.

So, maybe I just couldn't receive the message, or the level of argument was too academic, but in general I found each new page of Mishra's writing to be a painful chore and I would not recommend this to anyone with less than a serious interest in the topic. Fin.

In other news. Lots of work. Taxes. Running intervals. Bad hamstrings.

I went to see Wendy and Lucy which was beautiful and sad.