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“Dishes thou art, to dishes returnest”

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Recommended to listen to while reading

There ain’t never been a more patriotic act for volunteers than dishwashing. The whole history of dish washing is simple and easy for anyone and everyone to comprehend. From the Dawn of time, cavemen ate off of bone plates and drank from seashells. Apparently, legend has it, there were no recycling bins; the term “renewable resource” wasn’t the buzzword it is now. There were no bone or shell recycling plants yet for little Jimmy Grotto to partake in school-wide recycling challenges. And so, the origin of dishwashing came about from the lack environmental awareness of our monkey-ancestors.

               To this day, the art of dishwashing has been passed from some of the field’s greatest. Jesus Christ is most notable; the Bible botched the account of whose feet, or rather what chalice, he was washing that one Passover night. (You can’t say that Jesus didn’t help clean up after the Sadr Supper; it wasn’t kosher to eat and run.) Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto was really a call for the laborers to become more in touch with their roots, that is, dishwashing. Back in the day, supply and demand had obviously not existed, and there was no need for clean dishes. But during the second week of Genesis’ creation story, Adam had to address a more serious issue than original sin; the huge stack of dishes on their kitchen sink.

In his Margaritaville, Jimmy Buffet must’ve had quite a few empty glasses to clean up after that extravaganza. We can only infer that this lyrical genius was pointing to something greater in his songs. That is, the consequences of drinking out of glassware meant that glasses needed to be cleaned. In a not so similar way, Ghandi was known for his fasting. However, this did not mean he was exempt from cleaning up after others if not himself. Taoism’s unknown founder was a dishwasher. And on that note, anyone who has ever eaten a meal at some point in their life has encountered the dish dilemma: Do I clean these dishes or do I slip out the back and run?

The universality of this most sacred (in terms of health) tradition is something to marvel at. In partaking in this elementary act, one gains powerful insight to the greater cosmos of dishwashers. So when I was asked to deviate from my usual service by my superiors to do kitchen duty, I answered the call. Did I know what I was getting into? I sure as hell did! Dishwashing, if it has not been built up already, is the one act that I can string through my past, present, and most-hopefully future acts of service. There’s something rejuvenating about sticking your hands in scalding hot water for the greater glory of sanitization.

And by the way, there’s a reason why there are only men mentioned as some of the mythic heroes of dishwashing. At some point in time, the world became skewed. Somehow, the world’s reflection of itself portrays women performing women work. Today, in a very sexist manner, women are stereotyped as members of Occupy Kitchen. I would like to make a personal testimony that I have bled over dishwashing (quite literally) and find the task to be daunting for the rookies of the trade, male or female.[i] After the first few encounters, one can quickly calculate how many hours x a stack standing at y height will take with z washers.

So there was no surprise on my side when I walked into Mercy Neighborhood Ministries’ kitchen and stared down about an hour’s worth of dishwashing. Ms. Antoinette quickly recognized that I was no newbie when it came to dishwashing. Lessons on how to use an industrial-sized dishwasher are for suckers. By the end of it all, I had those dishes shining like the high-end dishes at the fine dining restaurant I work at back home. It’s inevitable. It’s one’s duty. “Do your dharma” is commonly used phrase in Eastern religions. It means “do your duty.” Do your dishes.

[i] The level of stress a volunteer dishwasher takes on in one load of 2.5 hours’ worth of dishes can take its toll. When I was asked with several other volunteers to do evening dishes in addition to morning dishes, the sight wasn’t pretty. About 30 minutes in, we found ourselves dazed in a mirage of soap n’ bubbles as if we were taking on some task like crossing the Nairobi Desert. In a heroic, maybe more so sporadic, attempt to cheer up one of my fellow volunteers in our grudging work, I blindly grabbed a wet knife fresh from the dishwasher machine. My plan was to emphatically stab the knife into the rubber carton that the cutlery was cleansed in as I shouted a “this is Sparta” line. Let’s just say in this not-so-bright moment, chaos got the better of me as the oddly-shaped cheese knife slid up out of my grip, and through my pinky finger. No cutlery was harmed in this scene. No blood was spilt either, so all health freaks, calm down. (We even ran that batch of silverware back through the washer.)



Written by Jack Viere

March 22, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Lions, Attachment, Punching a Pooch

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I needed something to be my next blog post victim as I headed north on my Amtrak trip back to Philadelphia; some topic would become my prey. Something easy, agreeable-like when a lion catches an antelope; it’s right because it’s natural. Hmmm, I thought. What’s my blog’s antelope? What’s shooting fish in a barrel for me?

People. An easy target. Look at how pathetic we are capable of becoming. And I’m not pointing out any physical qualities that would suggest our devotion to brand-names, cosmetics, and semper-updatable-technology. No, if I was to go after that topic, that would be like kicking a kitten, punching a pooch, or stealing candy from a baby. I said antelope. That lion has to burn some energy in order to catch his next meal! So I hope what I have to say next doesn’t come off as a kicking a kitten tone.

Attachment. The word doesn’t really seem like a “buzzword” as it does in Eastern religions. I think we tend to see it as a negative harm (not always) when someone becomes too attached in a relationship; “attached at the hip.” Yet,  Buddhism likes to state that the Second Noble Truth (of reality) is the origin of suffering derives from attachment. So, as we  humans, we have so incredibly and profoundly discovered that what we don’t like, we don’t do. What tastes bad doesn’t end up in our mouths a second time. Genius. We evolve. In the instance of attachment equivocated with suffering, we would conclude that we sever all of our attachments to things, peoples, and emotions.

that doesn't taste good

It’s a pretty tall order, hence, so many Americans turn elsewhere for a more comfortable interpretation of reality. (Still, in Christian language, actions deemed as sinful fall into this larger category; the harmful effects of attachment. In this instance, Christianity uses the language of lust, envy, and greed to name a few.) “When greed is our motivation, no matter how much we have, it’s never enough…When generosity is our motivation, we can find satisfaction in the simplest of things.” (Noah Levine, Against the Stream, 97.)

Last night on the Amtrak, I witnessed a lot of needless attachment; individuals being overly possessive of seats, luggage space, and leg room. And I’m not describing the people who just kicked back and relaxed once on board. I was guilty of this too; throwing a bag on the seat next to me to avoid any confrontation with any passerby that even dared to sit next to me. In this scenario, as well as more instances than we would like to imagine, our relationship of attachment to comfort causes suffering. “We begin to understand that clinging, attachment, and aversion are the primary causes of the extra layer of suffering that we create for ourselves.” (Noah Levine, Against the Stream, 85.)

okay, so it wasn't this crowded...

This is where I think my example of shooting fish in a barrel is appropriate. We can clearly see that in blocking the seat, we are being greedy and self-satisfying. And while my focus in this little piece isn’t about to go into depth on what the harms of attachment are, we can deduce that greed and self-absorption have a negative effect on our relationships. By perverting our relationship of attachment for comfort to serve our own needs, we ignore or blot out the needs of others. In this example of the Amtrak, individuals just walked to the next car for the next open seat. No serious harm was done unto the other passengers; most-likely inconvenience at the most.

Yet, beginning with the small things, our relationship with attachment to emotions and desires could cause us to become acceptable of larger hurts produced by unhealthy relationships. Sexism, racism, and social injustice are just a few to name. We like to turn that blind eye that we often turn when we experience something that is morally wrong. What enables us to do so is our subtle but continuous establishment of a sickened relationship of attachment to others. It’s not obsequious to say that a small hurt will lead to a larger one if the smaller one is continuously exacerbated. Pick a healing scab, and you aggravate it to the point where it bleeds fresh blood.

So we are pathetic. Especially when we look around for the origins of the negative ISM’s (like the three mentioned above,) we point fingers and ask questions about slavery in the 19th century that distance us a great deal from the racial tensions that thrive today. There is no mystery where our problems come from; especially those that revolve around relationships.


Written by Jack Viere

November 28, 2011 at 3:48 pm

Map vs. GPS

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Today, there’s a readiness and willingness to accept information from machines at face value with no discernment. Technology is just a machine, a computer at best. There’s no human judgement values, personal experiences, or wisdom in technology. Specifically, GPS’s are not really giving you an actual destination. It’s a computer that is taking you from point A to point B in the GPS’s system. A simple equation. (We use to be able to solve it with a thing called a map.) The problem arises from our believing that the GPS is really depicting an actual, tangible place. It has the undetectable illusion that is presenting the driver with a real place by showing qualities of the destination. Just because a computer can intake data and spit it back out to the user does not mean it discerns like a human mind.

Google has the ability to run specific search engines that evolve regularly due to its tracking bugs that automatically find new data to intake.  A person had to preprogram the logarithm for that bug to have the illusion of working self-sufficiently. Technology is the extension of human discernment that is propelled by our seeming growing need for convenience. Technology is NOT its own entity that should outweigh or completely for stomp out the individual’s ability to make decisions, especially those affecting him or herself.

I felt motivated to write out the above reflection as a reply to a classmate’s self-righteous exclamation: “Do you even know how to use a map?” Directed at my professor, I couldn’t help but smirk at his idea that maps are already outdated. Maybe they are, but I thought it was quite the assumption to make. Anyways, to me, it sounded like someone saying, “Don’t you know that 2+2=4?” to a college professor. Of course it was said with the tone inclining some sort of rhetorical question. Our professor said he preferred maps over GPS’s; I concurred at which the classmate proceeded to say that maps are susceptible to being outdated. I don’t think you need Garmin and MapQuest to tell you that, buddy. I think the cartographers  back in the day were well aware of the fact their product was susceptible to change when new information and details were procured from further research. On reflection, this gradual process of receiving and editing new data seems more plausible (in my opinion) than the GPS saying, “Turn left now,” leading you into a ravine, which (I’d argue) most people would do as they have their heads down, texting away on their iPhone 4s’s. When the smoke clears, and we crawl out of the ditch, we would then proceed to say, “Stupid GPS! It did not update itself!”

So basically that argument is whether you trust a map that will become outdated or you trust a voice on a GPS. That’s really not my point because it boils down to preference. (I don’t think a map has ever misled its user into a ditch though…even if the roads are rerouted, we don’t follow the road as intently as a GPS, hunched over, waiting for Mr. Australian Accent to lead us to the next point within the list of directions.)

My point is to question why or how do we find ourselves so ready to accept information from technology. Why do we have a desire to let things take control (like machines) as we sit back and take the passenger seat? Is it really out of convenience? If it is, how are we any better than animals if our rationale is only to make our life more convenience? (Medicine, machines, weapons, computers-making everything a little easier for us, allowing everyone to take the passenger seat and let technology take us for a spin.)

I think Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity all point to being in control of one’s own actions and one’s own mind.

Buddhism: the Eightfold Path has a few points worth mentioning. Falling under a broader category of Mental Development, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration all speak of  self-control. There’s really no presence of those three in our lifestyle when we take the backseat with technology.

Hinduism: the Eight Limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga; I’ve been reading a lot into this in one of my courses. Pratyahara, control of the senses. Dharana, concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness. We might be shutting down our senses (and survival skills at that) when we choose to allow technology dominate our decision-making. We really have no shot of cultivating any type of awareness, more or less the inner perceptual kind that many faiths shoot for.

Christianity: this could prove to be a little more difficult since there aren’t many lists in mainstream Christianity. I’d point out that in the Catholic context (which has many a good list) the Seven Deadly Sins has a little something-something called sloth and gluttony. While that may be a bit extreme in the instance of the GPS, taking the back seat in faith (which is a part of every day life, even when we choose to make it not,) is still letting other people”’ and other things do our work.

On a final note, in summarizing, I don’t think technology is wrong at all; that’d be to argue that all the scientific advances (like medicine-that does fall under that category) were for the worse. Absurd. But in the field of something like medicine, it’s not the meds that are making advances on its own. Its the researches, scientists, and physicians that propel medicinal advances.

So why, then, do we take the back seat?

Written by Jack Viere

November 16, 2011 at 4:47 pm

A Sense of Community

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Noah Levine really hits home the significance of community in spiritual circles in his Against the Stream. “Both inner and outer spiritual rebellion are relational experiences. The revolution cannot take place in isolation.” (Levine, 80.) While more moderately faithful may find the terms rebellion and revolution nonreligious, maybe even irreverent, I find that in this specific instance, his use of such irregular diction stresses a point of emphasis. Spirituality is in itself a rebellion. Metaphysics can be seen as an attempted empirical explanation of the unseen, rationality we possess. (But really, who can pull that out of their brain prima facie?) But believing in the unseen, nontangible stuff that quite a few people believe in could not succeed if there were no communities. Being radical takes a toll on you. You need a support group.

While in Western circles, the Catholic Church can be seen as the initial model of spiritual communities, I find this Buddhist point of view capable of tying down some loose strings many nonbelievers (and believers in some instances) may have with communal religion. Levine holds that communities must consist of believers “of both more and less wisdom and compassion than ourselves.” (ibid.) I think for many, those of us in, or having been through any higher education, understand the significance of those who possess more wisdom than us. They are our teachers. They hold the keys to knowledge. Their past experiences have led them (or not) to become more compassionate towards others.

But what about those who have less wisdom and compassion than us? This still might be easy to answer; they can teach us as well if we choose to respond “with understanding and friendliness.” (Levine, 81.) And in the instance of those with less compassion, which I find somewhat more difficult to answer the above question, friendliness really becomes difficult to embody.

Yet, when the going gets tough, such as it does when someone is being a jerk, Levine points out: “community allows us to put into practice wisdom and compassion toward all beings-even the annoying members of the revolution.” (ibid.) I find this the point of emphasis in Levine’s point on community. Personally, I have taken it for granted that my “community also serves as a teacher by challenging us in the places where we get stuck.” (ibid.)

This would be one of those loose strings I mentioned. I don’t think people, myself definitely included, would be able to make the hard right without some sort of support system. What makes spiritual communities stronger and more dedicated is the interlinkage of faith. And in some instances, which I have found while participating in other religious practices that are not of my own faith, you still share that same faith in something unseen (most of the time) that cannot be explained in plain rhetoric.

Believe in the believers!

Written by Jack Viere

November 13, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Is Science Catching Up With Meditation or is Meditation Catching Up With Science?

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You be the judge: is technology finally able to measure the mind’s capacity to meditate, or is meditation finally of some worth as it can be explained in non-religious (scientific?) terms.

Written by Jack Viere

November 7, 2011 at 8:23 pm

Posted in B.K.S. Iyengar, Buddhism, yoga

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Service as Duty? What the Hell?

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Wait. What? Service is a duty that we as human beings, social creatures,are supposed to perform? Get out of here! I want my Facebook! I worked hard inthis capitalistic society. I ain’t giving nothing away to nobody that ain’tearned it. I don’t care if it’s my time, my prayers, or money. I sure as hellain’t giving freebies away.
               Immanuel Kantstrings his metaphysics through Christianity’s New Testament teachings. “Thisvirtue is greater when the benefactor’s means are limited and he is strongenough quietly to take on himself the hardship he spares the other; then he isreally to be considered morally rich.”[1] Thisclearly originates from Mark’s Gospel of the widow’s offering.[2] Fromthis mixture of metaphysics and theology, Western society is heavily predisposedtowards a distanced relationship with others. Nevertheless, whether it isthrough daily interactions, service, or familial relationships. We have duties.To others.
               Today. We haveJesus as God on earth doing the impossible; loving one another as I have lovedyou, turning the other cheek. Saints are those individuals that aim for thatinverted, unworldly perfection.
Language is a powerful, manipulativetool in both the philosophical and theological arenas.[3] Languagehas created this everlasting Schism over good works as means for salvation,which is to suggest the profundity of the Saints is dulled. Still, somewherealong the way, we become caught up that we all can’t be Saints. Similarly, worksas the pinnacle aspect to our very being, our purpose or goal in life, issomehow bogged down by this Schism. What we get today is some watered-down versionof what coincidentally happens to be the Corporal Works of Mercy; done out ofthe sake of our…for our…
Our what? Our Christian-human nature? No.Christians cannot even agree on whether the implicit biblical language that stressesour human nature is to serve others through works or to be some sort of resultfrom that very nature.
               But wait. Oh,there happens to be this other half of the world called the East. And what isthat one Jewel of three called in Buddhism? Dharma is it? Transliterated asduty? And there happens to be six qualities of it too! The first being: Svakkhato. “The Dharmais not a speculative philosophy, but is the Universal Law found throughenlightenment and is preached precisely.” (Thanks Wikipedia!) Is this to saythere is no gray area in what’s to be done in the Buddhist tradition?[4] There’s noastonishment in duty being part of our nature when it’s esteemed as theUniversal Law. 
               Yet, I could sit here and drawparallels between Buddhism’s interpretation of dharma as well as Hinduism’s; the Tao Te Ching, Christianity’s Beatitudes-allof which are interchangeable for what is to be seen as life’s duty (or a guidefor it.) It’s no mere coincidence that world religions share similarities onthe emphasis of duty. What’s irksome, though, is philosophy’s-particularlyWestern philosophy as seen through Kant’s metaphysics-assertion to rationalizeour duty when all along it’s within the very essence of our being. Not to takephilosophy out of its historical context, as it seems to be so often in orderto continue being dubbed meritorious in modern times, but the emotionalrelationship that the religions listed above (and others) foster existed longbefore metaphysics enabled the world to empirically understand human nature.
               I don’t know why it is incrediblydifficult for humans to grasp that our essence implies “relationship” as ourdistinguishing feature. (Distinguishing us from animals with that rationale wepossess and so many philosophers like to draw out as profound.) Where does onehuman come from? The sexual relationship of twoother human beings. And while hermits intentionally deny themselves topartake in that inherent, rudimentary distinguishing feature-that is to say therelationship-mass society liveseither in harmony, disharmony, or an amalgamation of both. I heard thatmorality is the balance of the relationships shared in a community. Morals arethe pillars that uphold society. This is to say morals are a measurement of thegravity of relationships (e.g., a stronger communal support for morals impliesa more united community.) From our relationships derive our world; we eitherchoose to establish and nurture our relationships or to cripple and damagethem.
Therefore, morality, the same found within world religions,implicates we have a duty to others. We can call this service, we can call itlove. Language of today suggests that what we now deem as charity, thismindless, almost worthless giving of financial aid, is of lesser value.[5] (Lesser whencompared to social justice enacted through service.) Language of yesterdaysuggests that charity comes from the Latin word caritas, and as any Christian might get giddy over, caritas derives from Greek’s agape. What we know about agape in the Christian sense is that it’sdefined as love of fellow man.[6]
Social justice. We can similarly use language to tracejustice to iustus, which we can breakdown to ius, meaning law. What Ireally like about this etymology-dictionary site I am using as a point of referenceis that it takes ius a step furtherto ious. “‘Sacred formula’…thatoriginated in the religious cults.”[7] Here we arepresented with several points I would like to emphasize. Some circles,particularly theocracies, enact certain morals as laws. Second, this etymologyemphasizes the bridged gap between human nature and morality with religion. Itis no mere coincidence that Kant intertwined beneficence with the widow and thecoin.
Nonetheless, the misinterpretation of charity of today (Imentioned above,) is incorrectly separated from social justice. Themisinterpretation itself is enough grounds to suggest that the truer sense of charityalone holds more value than the misconception of this sort of aimless giving.But the fact that social justice has roots in this concept of sanctity can befurther driven by charity’s truer meaning of love of fellow man. Social justiceis charity. Charity is social justice. Because human nature, emphasized bymorals, is to foster a relationship with others, both charity and socialjustice combined are to be seen as an intrinsic duty.  
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[1]Immanuel Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals. Mary Gregor, trans. (New York:Cambridge, 1991.)
[2] 41 Jesussat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowdputting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in largeamounts. 42But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.43 Calling his disciples to him,Jesus said, “Itell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all theothers. 44 They all gave out of theirwealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had tolive on.” (Mark 12:41-44.)
[3]If I might add, I personally findtheological language more focalized and straightforward than philosophicaljargon. Here’s why. Theology aims to explain nature in a way for believers tounderstand and follow. Philosophy is a constant dialogue that is questioningnature’s qualities. Both, however, evolve from inner circles of either faith orreason that propel their explanations forward. Theology’s objectivity differsfrom philosophy’s in that faith enables for a more accepting reception ofevolution because it happens more rarely. Philosophy cannot be pinpointed byits believers and subscribers because it is often subject to change.
[4] Yet, there still are divisions in Buddhism.
[5] My classmates made this distinction when the wordsCHARITY and JUSTICE were written on the whiteboard. Charity became thisseasonal tithing during the holiday season; lowered to a sense of tangible giving.Justice was therefore elevated to the only giving (of time) of value.

Written by Jack Viere

October 29, 2011 at 8:13 pm