What’s in a name?

Something that occurred to me the other day…When I was born, my Dad and Mom of course needed to give me a first name. I don’t know if they thought about it the way that I did when my daughter was born, but I know that my Dad absolutely did not want anyone to call me “junior”. This I never really got, but that’s what Mom told me (Dad wasn’t much for talking about such things). Anyway, So I was given the first name Robin. I really didn’t have much of an opinion about this at first, but as I grew, others made it clear that your name defines you, at least to the outside world. Even people who would never meet you or see your face form opinions based on that name they read on that piece of paper in front of them.

As I got to be a teenager, this became an issue for me. The nicknames that friends gave me, such as “Birdman” (which at the time was a name I liked) started to even affect the way I carried myself. But to the majority of people, I was Robin. Add to that the fact that Robin was also used for girls, this name began to exert a sort of negativity in my life. I started to wish my Dad hadn’t insisted on that name.

A neighbor came up with an idea that was just crazy enough to work in order to change my name. She told me to call the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Harrisburg, PA and tell them someone made a mistake on my birth certificate and it should read Robert instead of Robin. Not even considering the fact that it was a lie, I did so, and to my complete surprise, they told me to send the old one back with two dollars and a letter explaining the situation, and they would change my first name. I followed their instructions, and soon my name was Robert.

And so, for the rest of my life I would be Robert Clifford Hindle. I was rather pleased by this, although now I wonder a few things. First, Dad never really registered an opinion about this. Usually if Dad had an issue with something any of his children did, he’d let us know in no uncertain terms how he felt. But on this, he was silent, so I figured that he really didn’t care, although I still wonder if that was really the case.

The people around me took  little time in accepting my new name, but of course, there were non-believers amongst my peers…One particular individual stating I had made up the story (not surprising, it was really what I expected). So I was now Robert to most of the world, although there is a funny story about one of the folks in my old neighborhood that didn’t ever have my name right.

The strange thing tough…Most folks still called me Robb (or Rob, as I always wrote it at the time). So in a way, nothing had really changed. Hmm…This is where my present day is. Most folks just know me as Robb, so the whole name change thing didn’t REALLY change things all that much. The only thing that really changed was my perception of myself.  And now, since I’ve been learning Buddhism, I come to realize that a name is just a human construct, and really doesn’t mean all that much at all, if anything. I’m still Rob (or Robb, depending on how long you’ve known me). The extra “b” came when I was in my early twenties, after I read a short story by George RR Martin,  A Song For Lya, and I unofficially changed my nickname to Robb after one of the characters in the story, and besides, I thought it looked kinda cool.

Now as I look back, it was all about how I thought I was being perceived by my peers and how I perceived myself. Also, my wife has told me she likes the name Robin and wishes I hadn’t changed it. And so… now I realize that this whole bit was just a waste of energy…and to a point so is this post.

But, I digress…Like everything else in life, a name is just a word…In this case a word that people use to identify you. Whether it’s Robin, Robert, Rob or Robb, it’s just a word, and therefore nothing more than a construct of the human mind. It really doesn’t mean anything. And I’m sure that there are still those who have their own names for me that I don’t know about, so it means even less.


Turns out there’s not really all that much in a name…



“I guess I picked a bad time to give up Christianity!”

I found that thought making its way through my mind the other day (disturbing not only from the fact that it was a thought, but also from the fact that it sounds like a line from “Airplane”), and It sort of frightened me. With the political climate in the US these days (all the fundamentalist Christians blowing off steam and the mainstream media happy to broadcast it) it doesn’t take much of a leap from those folks for them to start physically attacking other religions…not that they haven’t already started…Some of our Muslim and Sikh friends have already died due to this sort of stupidity. And the troubling observation I made the other day that the extreme political right wing seems more than a little like the NSDAP from the late 1920’s I wonder….does this bode well for the rest of us Americans who AREN’T Christians? I think not. And we as followers of The Buddha have a poor track record of surviving such dire straights. Of course, The Dharma will survive until we are no more as a species, but is it about to become dangerous to be non-Christian?

You see, I’m a third generation Liberal Democrat. and there are those who would desperately like to see folks like me and *most* of my family go away (violently, if necessary). With people like Mr. Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin and Ted Gohmert as well as many others we don’t yet know about who are waiting in the wings to have their “15 minutes”. I’m not only a bit frightened about my family’s safety, but for many, many others who do not neatly fit into the Tea Party’s view of “true” Americans, whether it is because of their skin color, religion, political leanings, sexual orientation or whatever.

Now I do know that fear accomplishes nothing. It is an emotional energy-sucker of the first magnitude. And it is the favorite weapon of those who would change our world to suit themselves. A few years ago, my wife gave me a gift of a tear-off calendar of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama’s quotes… And to this day, I still have one those quotes pasted up on my desk. It reads, “If you have some fear of pain or suffering, you should examine whether there is anything you can do about it. If you can, there is no need to worry about it; If you cannot do anything, then there is also no need to worry” Good advice, that. and maybe I shouldn’t be worried. But maybe this is a call to do something about it.

And I think that is the point. We all live in a time where tolerance is under attack from those who would promote non-tolerance to make themselves even more rich and powerful. But violence begets violence. If we are to save America (and the rest of the world) from the evil that will surely come from Extremism of any kind, we must do it in a manner that promotes peaceful dialogue and at least for me, expresses the teachings of The Buddha, and leaves no trace of what will grow into an enemy later. And we MUST do it, for to do nothing only gives those trying to eliminate us the momentum to do so.

In the Mahayana tradition there is much use of the term “warrior” in the practice. And if memory serves, it means to be strong in the sense of doing the practice well. And this is something that all of us could learn, no matter what our choice of spirituality is. IMHO, religions all pretty much teach the same things. Things like how you should treat those around you, how to be a better person, and that you should help those who need it.  And in that sense, we all are the same.

And the one thing that just about all religions have in common is the promotion of compassion. Compassion for our fellow humans, the animals, the rock we live on…. There is no good reason not to live a compassionate life. And everyone deserves our compassion! There are no living beings who don’t. My hope is that the rest of us will stand up and take back our world through compassion and love.

Compassion should be our weapon, our shield, and our reason for battle.


Trying to NOT time travel….

I’ve found that one of the most difficult aspects of life in general and being a Buddhist in particular is staying in the present moment. In the kind of so iety that we live in, there is a constant pressure to either look forwsrd to something, or look back at something we either miss or would like to see happen again. As for myself, there have been many people I’ve lost in the recent months, and there are objects and situations that I sometimes find myself desiring. It is a frustrating feeling  when I realize that nothing I can do will return those that have passed, nor bring the things I desire. But then I notice that frustration and remember what The Buddha said about suffering. I remember that nothing is concrete, and all is impermanent. And this helps. There is much work I need to do on myself, and much more to undo.


The love for deadly inanimate objects…

A discussion I had recently has prompted this post. A client (and friend) was making a point about gun control, and thanks to him, he made me think a bit. Now…I still don’t agree with his position on certain types of guns (high-capacity semi-auto “assault” rifles) But it made me realize that we as humans (especially here in the U.S.) have an obsession about certain things that is deeply disturbing. There are groups of folks out there who are lining up for a battle over gun control. Conservatives, NRA members, and others on the “2nd Amendment, you can’t take my gun” side and politically liberal groups on the other. The point I tried to make to my friend was that in my opinion, the only folks who “need” that type of firearm are law enforcement and the military. My point was met with the argument that high performance cars kill people too, so why don’t we ban those as well? There ARE folks who’d like to do that, but that would probably only be openly discussed if someone intentionally ran down a group of innocents with a Corvette.

Yes, dear reader, to the point……….

The facts are still coming to light in the Sandy Hook massacre, and so there is much left to discover. So the possible banning of assault rifles is a discussion best left for when we as a nation has calmed down, and can discuss it more rationally (unfortunately, not ever likely to happen). But…..Maybe we SHOULD be discussing why the young man who did this terrible thing didn’t get the attention he should have regarding his mental illness. Maybe we should talk to the folks in Connecticut about their laws re: mental health. Just maybe, a conversation regarding how many guns does a person who’s NOT a historic gun collector need, and if one collects guns, maybe there shouldn’t be full auto rifles in said collection if they can’t be modified to be semi-auto or single-shot only. Maybe, we also need to address free access to ALL schools. The human who did that terrible thing should have never been let anywhere near Sandy Hook Elementary.

Maybe we should also look at ourselves…..we seem to have this need for, as George Carlin once said, “stuff”. I am as guilty as many regarding this, too. I could certainly do better by not grasping for stuff I don’t need or stuff I want. The Buddha stated it the origin of suffering comes from Craving for sense-pleasures (kama-tanha): this is craving for sense objects which provide pleasant feeling, or craving for sensory pleasures. (Wikipedia). Suffering certainly caused more suffering in Connecticut that December day.


Suffering at both ends of a gun

Regarding the shootings at the elementary school in Connecticut…..I’ve heard a lot of emotional statements from friends, relatives, complete strangers……Certainly, there are very few who don’t have an opinion on this, and of course, so do I.

There are folks who believe that gun control is the answer. Some think the shooter was failed by society and his parents. Others question the lack of security at the school. Many believe that the news media’s treatment of stories such as this is the issue. All valid points. But, I think that there is not a single one of them, acted upon differently, that would have changed anything. This is a tragedy of numerous and varied causes. All of the reasons listed above were factors, and as time goes on, I think we’ll find out there was even more to this than is currently known.

Here’s the part that will upset many…

I think that the shooter was certainly psychologically damaged. And that may end up being the least reported issue. I do not justify, condone or in any way am I trying to lessen his responsibility in all of this. But he was definitely disturbed (his actions prove this) and I am sure that he was suffering greatly before Friday…but no-one noticed. Someone needed to help this guy and didn’t…now all of those people are dead, their families are suffering, the entire country is in mourning.

When The Buddha spoke of suffering, I don’t know that he ever envisioned something like this… But this *is* certainly suffering. And this sort of thing is happening much too often to continue without action. Compassion…the sort of thing that all religious traditions teach, would have been helpful in avoiding this. Sadly, many people were failed last Friday morning…

And we all suffer for it.


Cloud Atlas….my take

I’ve just finished reading the book Cloud Atlas. I picked it up since I had heard that it had a Buddhist message. I can happily report that the book is quite good, and well-worth the read. It starts out a bit slow, but if you stay with it, the overall story is fascinating. I won’t spoil it for you dear reader, but the general plot is about reincarnation and how past lives influence the future ones. Karma, to be specific.

I do plan to see the movie when it comes out, since I thought the book was so good. As a matter of fact, I intend to read the book at least once more, since I usually get more from the second read than the first!

Anyway, Even if you aren’t Buddhist, I recommend Cloud Atlas. Nice story with interesting characters, and and a good message.


Through the Buddhist Wormhole……..

I was watching Science Channel recently and one of it’s most intriguing shows, “Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman”. This particular episode delved into an interesting and rather Buddhist concept…emptiness. For those of who who aren’t familiar, the Buddhist concept of emptiness basically states that nothing is real because nothing stays the same for more than a few nanoseconds. Think of it this way….you’re standing on a riverbank and you decide to step into the river. You can’t step into the river because it changes constantly; the water is flowing by you, cutting the earth below it, depositing  even more around you as you stand there. Therefore, you can’t even step into the river once, because it’s not a static thing. The idea is that it is not something we can define and make a solid, non-changing thing is all in our collective heads and therefore doesn’t exist…..at least how we think it does.

Well, this episode featured a scientist (Dr Robert Lanza) whose opinion is that all around us is just a construct of the human mind. Biocentrism says that everything around us is just a figment of our imaginations and is quite possibly different to every living thing on the planet making NONE of it real. Sounds a LOT like emptiness to me.

And I believe that this is why Buddhism comes so naturally to many in the scientific community…..There is no one asking for faith in something you can’t see, feel or touch. You can check and see if it works (specifically what The Buddha says) for you, and if it does, that’s great, but if you don’t that’s OK too. And yes, the concept of emptiness IS difficult, but can be grasped by someone willing to explore it.

And honestly……..it just makes sense.