Saturday, August 13, 2011

"Yes, Many Buddhas"

I once visited a monastery outside of Hong Kong called "Ten Thousand Buddhas." Don't be impressed: it was more of a "Ripley's Believe or Not" museum than the Shrine of Lourdes. Right in the lobby, sitting cross-legged, was the body of a man covered in gold leaf. This was the founder of the monastery, who had declared that his body would never, ever rot, so the monks had seen to it that this miracle was properly displayed. There he sat, in a small plexigas box like a hamster, not rotting, although I suspect he had help with his hair and eyebrows, which were thick and luxuriant. He looked pretty rotten to me, but then, I wasn't a believer.

What was remarkable about this place was the seemingly endless array of small statues of the Buddha, each one in a different pose - ten thousand poses, to be exact. Shelf after shelf of the Buddha with his hands in the air, the Buddha inquisitively resting his head on his hand, the Buddha relaxing with one knee up and an arm thrown across it . . . on and on it went. They were everywhere you looked - you couldn't swing a saffron robe without knocking one over.

Finally, I asked one of the monks, who spoke limited English, "Why so many Buddhas?"

"Ahh, yes," he smiled and nodded, then said sagely, "Many Buddhas."

Did I miss something? Was this one of those baffling parables I'd seen on re-runs of "Kung Fu?" Before I knew it, the kind monk would be asking me to snatch the pebbles from his hand.

I think about that Zen moment when I pointlessly ponder human behavior: Why did they do that? Why is she being so insensitive? Why is he being such a dick?"

Then, I hear the voice of the monk solemnly intoning, "Yes, many dicks."

I don't think the point of the monk's lesson was, "People can be dicks sometimes." But what came through loud and clear that day was that sometimes you just have to accept what's in front of you, whether it's a gold-leafed non-rotting body on display, or statues of the Buddha in ten thousand poses, or dickish behavior.

There is wisdom and grace in the realization that, "Yes, many dicks."

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Vexing Paradox of the Empty Box

Imagine a Venture Capitalist listening to a pitch for a new service: For a small fee, customers would have to wait in long lines during restrictive hours, adhere to the company’s rigid restrictions at the risk of being turned away, and still have no guarantee that the service they paid for would actually do what they wanted it to do.

The VC would silently shred the prospectus in full view of its author, then quietly buzz for security to escort the poor soul from the building.

Yet that’s exactly what the Postal Service expects us to do. But, to paraphrase the ad for a city that has adapted beautifully to change, “What worked in the 19th century should stay in the 19th century.” The P.O.’s creaky approach rules out an IPO any time soon. It may sound like a good idea to hang on to an institution because it’s been with us so long, but we tried that with things like segregation and not letting women vote, and, sorry to say, it just didn’t work out.

Nobody expects the Postal "Service" to be efficient, but recently, I was caught in the bizarre, Zen-like conundrum of trying to mail an empty box. What is the sound of one empty box clapping? The situation was a paradox wrapped in a riddle sealed with cellophane tape.

What I had was an oversized, empty box of Kodak film, a old-time camera store display piece for a shutterbug friend of mine. My friend requested I send it as is, rather than collapsing it and causing wear and tear on the seams. Simple, right? Yet, apparently, no one at the P.O. had ever encountered a hollow, three-dimensional, rectangular object before. To say the clerk was flummoxed is an understatement. Here is the actual dialogue:

Me: (putting Kodak box on counter) I need a box . . .
Clerk: You have a box.
Me: No, I need a box so I can send this box.
Clerk: (suspiciously lifting box) But it's empty.
Me: That's right.
Clerk: You want to send an empty box?
Me: Yes.
Clerk: You'll need a box.
Me: (mentally screaming) Are you Abbott or freakin' Costello??

Since the Kodak box didn't fit their standard shipping cartons, they kindly offered to sell me a much bigger one. How nice of them: the cost of the box and postage would have set me back more than twice the normal rate. Just to mail an empty box!

Did I mention they don't even sell those little foam peanuts you need to fill the space inside?

Heck with that, I thought, and set upon a banker's box with a cutter and tape. I built a box from scratch, slicing and sticking and winding up with a pretty good container. So there.

Or so I thought.

Sorry: it turns out the Post Office doesn't accept homemade shipping boxes if they have any markings left over from previous use.

Great. Box cutter and tape once again in hand, I sliced more cardboard and used it to cover the writing on the sides. Heaven forbid the mail carrier get confused and accidentally deliver it to "Weyerhauser."

By the time I had covered every outer marking with cardboard and tape, my poor empty Kodak box weighed more than a pound and change. If anyone ever wanted to annoy Al Gore with campaign discouraging recycling, this package could be used on a poster. (I already have the slogan: “It's Only Earth - Why Bother?“) It was the sorriest, most forlorn example of "Re-Use" ever.

I let my friend know ahead of time that this pathetic package was hurtling its way toward his home.

That is, if the Postal Service actually delivers it.