Module 1


First, read this article, "Pearls Before Breakfast" is on The Washington Post website. :

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

-----from "Leisure," by W.H. Davies

The article I have asked you to read here, "Pearls Before Breakfast," is an interesting observation about life in America. From the point of view of this course the key question this article raises is pinpointed by quotation above, which is inserted midway into the article.

The Buddha asserted that life was unsatisfactory as typically lived. He did not assert that it was NECESSARILY so, just that it was almost universally so. From this point of view, the teachings of the Buddha are about shifting life from unsatisfactory to satisfactory. Not an easy task.

A friend of mine who was recovering from a rather significant surgery sent the article to me. Because of my own hectic life, I had to read it in two parts, over two days. The article made me teary eyed, not because I am a music lover, which I am, nor a snob, which I suppose some people would accuse me of being, but because I took it to be a pretty clear statement of the condition of life for most Americans, perhaps in fact for most people on this planet. And I thought I'd share the article with you at the beginning of this course as a way of rooting the ancient teachings of Buddhism in the contemporary situation.

Yes of course if we are hurrying off to work and are employed in a situation where we do not have an option to stop and listen to the music -- we must keep moving forward from home to subway to office, shop, etc. And probably the outcome of the experiment would be different if Bell had performed for homeward bound commuters. I'm not being critical of people in this situation, I've certainly been one of those people at various times in my life. But what does it say about life, that we can't stop and listen to the music? Or that we would not want to if we could?

The second question, "that we would not want to if we could" might get at the goals of education. That is not an issue for this course, although it might be a worthy point of discussion for a university faculty --- if they were not so busy! But the first question, "what does it say about life, that we can't stop and listen to the music," is at the heart of this course on Buddhism. Maybe we can't literally STOP and listen to the music, but maybe there is a way to listen to life's music while we are walking, or driving. And I don't mean by using an iPod. Maybe life can be transformed so that each moment becomes an opportunity for something other than the usual. This is the Buddhist proposition.

As a sort of "bookend" for this article, there is an article toward the end of the course titled "Zen Driving."  Written in a bit of a tongue-in-cheek tone, it proposes such an alternative in regards to the common and ordinary activity of the daily commute to work. When you get to that article you will know a lot more about Buddhism than you do now. At that point in the course I will ask you to reflect on "Pearls Before Breakfast" when you read "Zen Driving." 


Next, I would like you to view His Holiness the Dalai Lama's public talk given at the West Lawn of the US Capitol in Washington DC, USA, on July 9, 2011. This is a very interesting talk because the entire approach he takes is to frame basic Buddhist values in non-Buddhist language.  Thus the talk serves as an excellent introduction to Buddhist values because it completely lacks Buddhist technical language. Though HH is not standing far from the subway station in which Bell played to an uninterested audience, the events are miles apart in some other ways. Or are they?? Actually, I believe that the Dalai Lama addresses the problem Bell faced in the subway.