July 19, 2008

Bento Box Buddhism

I am taking a vacation from my "divorce" issue surrounding the SGI, and won't be trying to go to any activities until after I finish my project on August 8. We'll talk after that, OK? So, you can stand down, guys- I won't be trying to chant with my friends in the SGI until I'm done writing the piece I'm working on. I'm trying to write a comedy, and the set of issues raised last week is major sansho shima for my sense of humor.

OK...You may be wondering about the title of this entry. "What," I hear you cry, "is Bento Box Buddhism?" Well, if you look below, you can see a Japanese bento box - it's a style of serving food. Each dish is in a completely separate compartment, walled off from all the other foods -- gastronomic apartheid raised to the level of art:


It's awful pretty, isn't it?

I wanted to post this picture and think out loud about Bento Box Buddhism, because a dear Dharma friend who practices in an adjoining compartment gave me this image. He seems to feel there's something uniquely Japanese about this style of serving food. One big plate, and each food isolated in a separate, non-connecting room, completely walled off from any contact with any other food. I suppose this could be a good thing sometimes - you do want to keep that fish sauce from running into the chocolate cake, after all. But I can't help contrasting this kind of presentation with the way we in the West serve up, say, a holiday meal.

On our plates, the beans and the dressing shove each other aside and complete for which one gets to cover up the turkey. If the butter actually lands on your roll, you've done well for yourself, and the gravy could pretty much soak anything except the apple pie - but that's only because dessert is a separate course. Regional tastes come into play, too -- seafood gumbo in Louisiana and tamales and salsa near the Mexican border.

So, what does this have to do with Buddhism? Well, for some of us, Buddhism is all about keeping ourselves and our practice walled off in a separate compartment, unpolluted by interaction with Buddhists who do not belong to our group. Others of us feel compelled to pour gravy on everything, and mix up our beans and dressing. If, as Mom always said, "it all ends up in the same place", then what difference does it make how our nourishment is served up?

My tummy is growling in anticipation of your thoughts, dear readers...

Byrd in LA

Posted by wahzoh at July 19, 2008 10:20 AM

I guess sukiyaki is Nichiren Shu?

I just had little pieces of roasted chicken breast on rice, with sauteed peppers and some grape tomatoes from the garden, glazed with a sauce of sesame, shoyu, and a bit of sugar.

So, you are still on the same topic, but seasoning it with a bit of ironic humor? Comedy is fun, I have written some political satire. I was best when sleep deprived. I think my humor is too arid some times.

Posted by: robin at July 20, 2008 04:32 PM

I got to thinking. My little sister had a friend who kept her food carefully separated on the plate. If one it touched the another, she would not eat it. I grossed her pout by mixing my corn and mashed potatoes.

Also, come to think of it, the Japanese I knew segregated the beef, yam noodles, tofu and other stuff in the sukiyaki skillet. It did share a common sauce. I guess that was like living dangerously?

Posted by: robin at July 20, 2008 05:02 PM

I can't think of anything more useless than buddhism compartmentalized away from everything and everyone else in your life. Who would advocate such a thing? Not anyone who had a glimmer of knowledge of what they were talking about.

Posted by: clown hidden at July 21, 2008 02:04 PM

Perhaps Byrd didn't want to get me into trouble, but I am the one who uses that analogy.

To be clear, it's not about Buddhism being walled off from everything else. It's about the Japanese Buddhist tendency to wall off the various sects from each other. It is quite unlike the rest of East Asian Buddhism: Chinese, Korean, or Vietnamese. The rest of East Asian Buddhism is more like that Korean dish Bibimbop (sp?) where everything is all mixed in together.

What you will find in a typical Chinese or Korean or Vietnamese temple is this: Pure Land is what most people seem to be practicing. But the monks and nuns follow the pre-Mahayana Vinaya and study the doctrines of Huay-yen and perhaps T'ien-t'ai. The leaders tend to be Zen Masters of the Lin-Chi (Jap. Rinzai) lineage and their Dharma talks tend to take that perspective even when they are discussing Pure Land or some of the other teachings and practices.

The compartmentalization of Japanese Buddhism is in my view one of its strengths - as things got to develop on their own terms. But it is also a weakness as each sect became insular and even defensive and overly dogmatic in its development or eventually lack therof.

Namu Myoho Renge Kyo,

Posted by: Ryuei at July 21, 2008 02:47 PM

Thanks for chiming in, Michael, although I don't know who I could possibly "get you in trouble" with!

I think you have touched on the problem as I see it - that extreme insularity and the building of sectarian "walls" ends up resulting in stunted growth and development.

Best, Wahzoh

Posted by: Byrd in LA at July 21, 2008 04:22 PM

That's excately it, Byrd - "stunted growth and development" in the name of loyalty and the idea that one teaching is "superior" to another. Frankly, I couldn't care less. Actually, I had a bento box for lunch. It was delicious, and I love eating Japanese food from the box. But that's where it ends. I am no longer interested in compartmentalizing my mind. We get enough of that from our culture - school systems, media, political systems, and many mainstream religions. The last thing I need is a compartmentalizing Buddhist practice. But, that is excately what I practiced for years, and it made me very unhappy.

And that's all I have to say about that.


Posted by: Ashley at July 21, 2008 04:39 PM

I moved near Rochester New York in October. Where I live is a wonderful place with deer, rabbits, foxes, birds, flowers, snow (of course) and the worst cuisine (in general). The worst of the worst is the Garbage Plate which every greassy spoon offers. You take a greasy cheeseburger or sausage meat sprinkled with cheese and mix it with home fries, mustard based coleslaw, beans, macaroni salad and brown gravy or some other concoction. Even if you start with the best chopped meat and chedder cheese, mixing it up like this, it becomes practically inedible. This is analogous to mixing the exalted Myoho renge kyo and Shakyamuni Buddha with mentor/disciple, daily or weekly guidance, heritage through the transmission to the successive presidents or high priests, Nichiren as Original Buddha...you get the picture.


Posted by: Mark Rogow at July 21, 2008 06:49 PM

They Go where they Go

I fear no enemies;
just the hair I forgot to shave;
and the keys I forgot to pack.
I have no enemies at my back,
Because I face the mirror.

They can go where they want to go,
Their lies have left me cold.
They can tell all the lies they want to tell,
In the end they only lie to themselves.

If fear no enemies, but those I cannot see,
If I open my eyes, I can see fine.
I have no enemies, just friends of mine.
They have things to teach, though not what they think.

They can go where they want to go,
I have learned all I can from them.
If I want to learn how to push a rock up a wall,
I would keep following them, watching my rock rise and fall.

I fear no enemies. I miss no former friends.
If they want my company I'm still around.
But I won't go where they want me to go.
I want to enjoy life, not live in fear.

I love them still, they taught so much!
How to chant, to read sages and their words,
and think for myself.
That is why I can go where I go now.

When I think with a tear, I fear their fate.
That is why I won't go where they want me to go.
Life is for living, both sharing and giving,
And I don't have time for nonsense.

I go where my guide takes me.
I can walk paths emblazoned with hope.
The sun and the moon are on my side,
And thank heaven I have no need to hide.


Posted by: Chris at July 21, 2008 07:42 PM

Isn't that like the Nichiren Groups all walled up from each other, but they smell the same, and you can dump them in the same bowl, and eat them together. (With Soy Sauce and Wasabe)

I would put the "lettuce alone" a plate by itself, and eat it as Honeymoon Salad.

Chef Maltz

Posted by: Bruce Maltz at July 22, 2008 05:07 PM

I wish I was as good a writer as Byrd and I knew how to express what I'm about to convey in the spiritually dignified manner that she deserves.

I live in the same building as Byrd. I was mentioned in one of her previous blogs about her cats. Sadly, Byrd has passed a way. I knew Byrd in a neighborly way. I thought Byrd had a wonderful, wonderful, heart. She was an evolved and conscious intelligent, loving, soul.

From what little I know, Byrd passed away quietly and unexpectedly at her home in solitude. Byrd's passing was discovered on August 6th, 2008 by her neighbors in the Coop where she lives. The police (who called a coroner) indicated that according to a perscription they saw in her home, she had seen a doctor on July 25th for a heart issue.

I just thought I would share this information here, so you, her friends could pray, meditate, and support her spirit in its passing.

Also, Byrd had three cats. Although I'm guessing a family member of hers will be handling the details, if there is anyone of Byrd's friends who would be able to provide a loving home for any or all of her cats, I presume that Byrd would appreciate that.

God bless.

Posted by: Byrd's neighbor at August 7, 2008 02:15 AM

I had this feeling a few days ago. and was already sending prayers. I think being shunned by her long term 'friends' in Soka Gakkai must have hurt Wendy very deeply. She had been a tremendous source of encouragement to me for several years now. Her comments, as are Greg's, and Barbara Pike's, will be missed in the on line Buddhist community.



Posted by: robin at August 7, 2008 07:46 AM

I am stunned and saddened. We are all poorer for Byrd's passing. I hope and pray that she is not.


Posted by: Andy Hanlen at August 7, 2008 08:46 AM

I really did worry about Byrd the past few days
and hope this isn't true...but if it is the world
has lost one very fine person. We've also lost one
of our Sangha. Patty

Posted by: Patty at August 7, 2008 08:55 AM

I am so sorry to hear about this.

Posted by: Bruce Maltz at August 7, 2008 09:18 AM

I had this sensation for several days that Wendy {Byrd} was gone. It was not like her to not comment, anywhere, for this long. I also had a sort of vision, that I can not explain here, not now, a few nights ago.

First Barbara Pike, then Reverend Greg, now, evidently, Byrd; three of my favorite people in cyberspace. I can not describe how sad I feel right now. Sometimes, some people, try to make something out of these sort of untimely events. I hope they might reflect on that. Life really is dukkha; but we can also find an absolute happiness that is wholesome, blissful, constant, and authentic. I think Barbara, Greg, and Wendy must have found that.

I think being shunned by her long term 'friends' in Soka Gakkai must have hurt Wendy very deeply. However, my perception was that she was more hurt for them than for herself. This what we call Metta Karuna. Those words are not easy to translate. Metta / maitri is similar to the concept of agape. It is a real, palpable, spiritually healing force. The kanji translation is 慈 {ji}; which literally means pity, have mercy on. I think that points to universal selfless empathy. It is the love of a mother for her child, expanded to all living and non-living beings. Karuna means compassion, to see the suffering of others as our own. The kanji translation is 悲 {hi}; which literally means sorrow, lamentation, to grieve. It is the sorrow a mother feels if her child suffers; again, extended to all.

Wendy has been been a tremendous source of encouragement to me for several years. Someone expressed hope that this might be a joke, that it was not really her neighbor who posted at her blog. I guess we all shall know soon enough. Assuming this sad news is true, she shall be missed.

Posted by: robin at August 7, 2008 09:29 AM

The online community has lost a great friend. How very sad.

Posted by: Vanya at August 7, 2008 10:16 AM

Dear friends of Wendy "Byrd" Ehllman,

I would like to confirm that the posting of Wendy's passing is factual. I understand that with the open accessibility of the internet and the blogosphere, that one could and should be skeptical.

Here are some contact numbers to help you confirm the information about Wendy's passing for your own verification.

Carmen. She is the Office Administrator here at the Co-Op where Wendy lived and she is aware of both the Police and the Coroners office being called yesterday on Wendy's behalf.
(818) 765-2302

Carmen gave me the number that the Coroners office left for her.
(323) 343-0714

Wendy's longtime friend David Riley contacted me earlier today, and he may also have further information and confirmation.

Additionally, either the North Hollywood or Van Nuys Police Station maybe be able to provide verification, since it was the Police who called the Coroner.

Wendy "Byrd" Ehllman was a very blessed soul, and she will be missed.

God Bless.

Posted by: Byrd's neighbor at August 7, 2008 10:30 AM

I am shocked right now at reading this notice!

I wish to express my sincere condolences to their families.

I use to come daily here, sometimes twice a day, looking for her gentle comments.

I am sure Byrd is enjoying right now with the emanations of our masters Great Sage Nichiren, Shakyamuni Nyorai, and all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas, in the Eagle Peak.

Byrd wholehearted believe in that, she had a great and admirable searching spirit, and must have reached the rewards of a sincere practice. Great Sage Nichiren himself promised that.

I will miss so much her comments by the human warmth and the spirit of Bodhisattva that characterized her.

Despite that I feel so much her departure, I think
now Byrd had entered Nirvana, becoming the same as the Dharmakaya, what a wonderful thing! And as it is writted in Lotus Sutra, Buddhas and bodhisattvas always stay here!

Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Gue Kyo,
Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Gue Kyo,
Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Gue Kyo!

Posted by: Gnomegang at August 7, 2008 11:29 AM

I can not grieve for a future that will never be, but only feel the love and warth from the illumination of a life well lived. And yet right now the world seems more hollow. Bon voyage, Byrd, I'll see you in the sky.
clown hidden

Posted by: clown hidden at August 7, 2008 02:28 PM

You are remarkable Byrd!
I wish you all the best!



Posted by: Gunther at August 7, 2008 03:25 PM

Byrd, you will be missed by all who had the privilege of knowing you. I have been talking with people all day about your passing and the feelings are unanimous. Your kind heart, your unbounded joy in even the most simple things, your lack of pretense, this is what we all remember. I am so happy that we got to do the retreat and little did I suspect it would be the last time we would be with you. You were a good friend and a dear person. I imagine you on Eagle Peak Right now and I am sure you are getting a translation or some other technical information that you weren't quite clear on here on earth. I imagine how happy you must be to catch up with all the bodisatvas from throughout the ages, oh the wonderful discussions you must be having right now. I know you are completely in the moment, wherever or however that moment is.

Posted by: Jean Anker at August 7, 2008 09:21 PM

Farewell my good friend. Thank you for all the kindness and help promoting my books and work. You were/are a treasure. Time for me to cry, not in sorrow, but in appreciation for a life well lived and one that was truly loved.


Posted by: Charles at August 7, 2008 10:58 PM