My wife is a Buddhist from Siberia. Her entire family is. I’m not religious, but my exposure to Buddhism, through her, has made it seem the most appealing of all religions.
I do have to clarify though that Buddhism isn’t a religion per se; it’s a practice, like yoga. Regardless, Buddhists do seem happier than other followers of other belief systems. I grew up Christian and Christians certainly don’t seem happy. I mean, how can you blame them when there’ are women who believe they should do whatever they want with their own bodies? And people doing unspeakable acts in the privacy of their own bedrooms! The horror.
However, as I discovered, Buddhism isn’t without its shortcomings either. Through my wife and mother-in-law, I was introduced to a couple of Buddhist monks and I just didn’t get their deal, man. At all.
In the small Siberian village my wife is from, people argue vehemently for the high privilege of hosting a monk inside their home. These monks are men (always men) who have sacrificed decades of their lives to study Buddhist history, prayer, and the power of meditation. To have one choose your home to stay in was divination truly reserved for only the most deserving. In Siberia.
In the US, however, this idea didn’t translate so well. There was a monk coming to New York where we lived. My wife was beyond elated. The monk’s mission was to build a temple in Brooklyn and she would get to be a part of it.
First, the monk was going to call her from the airport…except he never did. She waited all night for him to call, but having found better accommodations elsewhere, he blew her off. Instead, a different ex-Siberian met the monk and his wife at the airport. (Yes, they’re allowed to marry.) The story, we later learned, was this guy met the monk and his wife at their gate and carried their luggage to his car. After driving away, he asked the monk where they planned on staying. The monk explained that he planned on staying with him, of course. Not knowing how to refuse, the guy agreed to take him and his wife into his home.
This did not go over well with his own wife. She was American. I could only imagine her shock at having her husband return home with this strange man and his wife, informing her that both of these people were now going to live there for as long as they pleased. In the meantime, the guy and his American wife would sleep on the couch, giving the monk and his wife their bedroom. This guy and his American wife were also responsible for feeding and cleaning up after them. The excruciating awkwardness that poor guy must have gone through. That closed-door stream of apologies and pleading for understanding after the monk handed the guy’s wife a load of dirty clothes to wash, informing her he would like pancakes for breakfast.
Predictably, it took less than a week for her patience to vaporize. She told her husband to get these people out of her home or she would call the police and have them do it. The monk was shamefully asked to leave. Only then did the monk see fit to finally call my wife. Speaking to her from a hostel, he expressed how profoundly wounded and confused he felt at being turned out like that. Talk about a culture clash! He truly had no idea why this had happened to them.
Feeling bad, my wife invited them over for dinner, a heartfelt gesture of sympathy and reverence. Unfortunately, for this monk, a homecooked meal simply wouldn’t do. No, he wanted dinner in a nice restaurant. My wife and I were not making great money at the time, so it was not a stretch to have called this a financial hardship. We managed anyway by finding a cheap but respectable Pan-Asian restaurant in our neighborhood.
Though my wife had to do a great deal of translating, the meal and conversation were pleasant enough. As I was preparing to ask for the check, the monk said something in Russian to my wife. She turned to me and told me, “He says he wants dessert.”
I was floored. See, the way I was raised, if another man bought you dinner, especially you AND your wife, then “I want dessert” was not something that should ever come out of your mouth. Of course, though I kept my mouth shut and paid. Thing was, I actually kept my mouth shut the rest of the night. Hiding my annoyance was impossible.
The monk and his wife ended up returning to Siberia, likely resplendent with tales of how rude and unappreciative Americans were. Also, what did this “holy man” do after we bought him and his wife dinner? He trashed my wife to her whole family, claiming she was too “rough around the edges” for me, and I was too sensitive. Oh, and his strawberry shortcake didn’t have enough strawberries.
Anyway, I wish I could say that was an isolated incident. Oh, no. Nope.
Seven years later, we purchased our first home and, as was the tradition for any Buddhist, we were required to have the home blessed by a monk. My mother-in-law arranged for a different monk, who happened to be visiting America at the time, to come to our condo.
This monk was sumo wrestler-huge, his wife only slightly smaller. This time my wife and mother-in-law took them to dinner. I was invited but chose to stay home so they could freely speak Russian. According to my wife—not as a complaint because she would never complain about this—the monk and his wife went hog-wild. Multiple salads, multiple appetizers, sirloin steak, and multiple desserts. Apparently, the famous Buddhist “life is suffering” axiom was for other, less enlightened monks.
Later that night, we awoke to a crash from the second bedroom. We rushed over and discovered the monk and his wife had broken the bed. It was a cheap IKEA snap-together, so this wasn’t as surprising as it might’ve been. Still, fucking thing was split right down the middle, like someone had taken an ax to it. The next day, the monk blessed our new home while his wife sat in the kitchen eating what remained of our cookies.
Actually, to the monk’s credit, we HAVE been blessed in this home. Been here a year and good things are happening.
Last I heard, both of these monks mentioned were still in Siberia and being regularly harassed by military authorities for having visited the US. Apart from that, they’re fine. Everyone is. God, apparently, provides. Or someone will anyway.
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