Suffering?

I am reading a great book called Sailing Home: Using the Wisdom of Homer’s Odyssey to  Negotiate Life’s Perils and Pitfalls. It is by Norman Fischer a Zen Buddhist teacher and monk, who grew up Jewish. It is a thought provoking book and a great one for the “return” in which we engage later in life – the return to ourselves.

For me, at least so far, the return is beautiful. Fischer is less positive on the journey believing it to be full of angst, facing our demons, looking inward and finding much lacking. I guess I have a positive self view, always have, and have found the return introspection to be fulfilling, rich, rewarding.

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Cape Kidnappers, Te Awanga, New Zealand

While there is a lot to be liked about Buddhism I have never been comfortable with how they ascribe so much of life as suffering. I understand what they are saying and I also understand how embracing their approach to life can make it less troublesome. But I also think that we learn from our difficulties and trials and tribulations. Ultimately, death, which Buddhists see as the ultimate loss, is a gift that can help us appreciate life, appreciate when we are healthy, without pain. Buddhists correctly say we will lose everything we have in life, ultimately life itself. They counsel appreciating things but not becoming attached to them. This is smart but I don’t see it as suffering when we lose something. What is wrong with a little melancholy? Doesn’t it provide a counterpoint to joy, a way to better appreciate your joy in a way you couldn’t with a joyful-only life?

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From the greenhouse at the Wellington Botanical Garden, New Zealand

I wonder if the hint of glumness in the book reflects Fischer’s Jewish roots. It’s ok – I am not antisemitic. There is much I love about the Jewish faith: a ton of wisdom in their teachings and outlooks and stories. But there is also a bit of a downcast, woe-is-me kind of take on life. So I think that the negative aspect Fischer brings to bear about life doesn’t represent life – certainly not mine.

Still, I am truly enjoying the book. I have a long way to go in it, but based on what I’ve seen so far, I think I will enjoy it to the end. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some wonderful kernels that come out of it.

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Wellington, New Zealand waterfront

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