Learning Karma

Statue of a laughing Buddha

One of the side benefits of going to school is learning.

I have two kids in high school and I am learning stuff from them all the time. And I am not just talking about routinely discovering all of the ways in which I am out of touch with reality.

I am talking about knowledge. Real knowledge.

Of course, through them I am also learning a lot of stuff I once learned when I was in high school but have now forgotten. Things like how to write a paragraph with more than two sentences or how to prove that a circle is round.

But I am also learning about a lot of stuff that I never really learned in the first place.

Like what it means to be human.

You see, among the classes my kids are taking is one innocently entitled Ancient World. Given that my kids are Millennials, such a class could easily encompass haircuts of the 1980s or how disco contributed to the decline of modern civilization.

But to my surprise, embedded within a humanities curriculum that nobly seeks to foster critical thinking around the expression of being human is a study of world religions, including all of the important Eastern ISMs.

Here I am talking about religious and philosophical beliefs like Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and Confucianism.

I am not afraid to admit I know nothing about these particular beliefs. For most of my adult life the only ISM I have actively tried to embrace is Optimism.

And until I absorb the world news each night, I am mindfully successful.

Because here is what I have noticed: when I turn on the television I don’t see fear invoking images and reports involving the actions of Confucius Extremists or Tao Terrorists or the Radical Hindu Right or the Fundamentalist Buddha State. So there must be something to these important ways of living. Surely they know something about being human that others don’t.

Unfortunately, other than once being handed a poppy by a Hare Krishna at O’Hare Airport, I never had much direct exposure to Hinduism as a kid growing up in the Midwest.

And all I knew about the teachings of Confucius was that wise men should not play leapfrog with unicorns. He had many other good one-liners as well.

By the time I was exposed to the concept of enlightenment in college, I was by very definition immediately classified as unenlightened. Unfortunately at this time in my life I also learned the meaning of “blissful ignorance”, which along with beer, I suppose put me on my own unenlightened journey to unenlightenment.

And now as a grown adult, my only experience being one with everything occurs when I am forced to clear out the junk-filled garage to make room for the car.

Clearly I have a lot to learn. Which is why I ask my kids what they have studied in school each day. And sometimes they actually tell me.

Right now they are studying Buddhism. It is hard not to like Buddha. He sits cross-legged on a pedestal with a blissful smile on his face, as if he were awakening from a contented dream.

My kids say that when I sit on the couch in my bathrobe holding a beer watching reruns of Seinfeld, I look a lot like Buddha. They also tell me I look like Jabba the Hut.

But unlike me, Buddha was born 2,500 years ago into wealth and luxury. And unlike me, he realized that wealth and luxury do not bring happiness. And unlike me he spent six years meditating under a tree until he discovered the path to enlightenment. And unlike me, hundreds of millions of people have been influenced by his life and teachings.

But at the risk of being reborn to my next life as a slug, in all honesty, I have to say that thinking about Buddha gives me a headache. If I understand him correctly, the path to wisdom is through meditation. And to meditate I must clear my mind. And to Buddha, The mind is everything, what you think you become.

If this is true, when I set about to clear my monkey mind to become what I think, I will either go brain dead or, if I meditate long enough to grow hungry, I will become a hotdog. Clearly I better start thinking of something important soon.

Fortunately for me, next week my kids move on to classical theology and its impact on Greek and Roman civilizations, and maybe even how it influenced haircuts in the 80s.

But already the side benefits of going to school are taking hold. Because I am finally learning that what it means to be human starts with learning what it means to be human.

I wonder what Buddha would have thought about that.