In a way. They have a “citizen journalism” blog site, and they decided that my idea — posting commentary from a practicing lay Buddhist — might be worth
polluting the community with carrying to the masses.
Anyway, here’s my inaugural post.
Greetings, all. This is the first post to a new kdminer.com blog, “Meditations”, the subject of which is likely to be broad, though the content will have one common thread — it’s coming from the point of view of a practicing lay Buddhist.
It’s probably a good idea for me to begin by offering my credentials. I’ve been casually involved with Buddhism for about 20 years, beginning (as many do) with an exploration of Zen — a Japanese style. At the time I didn’t have a lot of direction available to me, so found Zen to be a little beyond my grasp. This hardly makes me unique.
A few years ago (more than half a decade, actually), I became involved with Shambhala Buddhism, which is a Tibetan variant. I found its instructional style much more approachable; Tibetan Buddhism in general tends to be quite enumerative and explicit about meditation stages. Of course, being Tibetan, it also has a lot of deity practice, and that was something I didn’t feel drawn to.
My practice now is ecumenical, and involves elements of Mahayana tradition, with a nod to Theravada as well (the differences are subtle and have more to do with one’s belief about rebirth than anything else). We have a regular practice group called “Sangha” that meets on Sundays at KRMC; for more information, go to http://sangha.nightwares.com/
When I say I’m a “lay Buddhist”, what I mean is that I’ve never been formally ordained as a monk, and I haven’t even taken an official refuge vow. Refuge vows are sort of like baptism, in that you essentially declare yourself as committed to the Buddhist path, “taking refuge” in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. “Dharma” means, essentially, “teachings”, and “Sangha” is the cognitive equivalent of a congregation or community.
To be clear, though, “Buddha” does not mean “god”. The word actually translates more or less as “one who is awake”. Buddhists think that, about 2,500 years ago, a prince named Siddhartha Gautama underwent a process of self-discovery and realization, whereupon he established what we now call the Four Noble Truths. (“Noble” in this sense doesn’t mean “royal”; rather, it means “unchanging”, just as the noble gases on the Periodic Table — helium, neon, etc. — do not mix or combine with other elements. They remain “pure”.) These Noble Truths are:
1. The truth of the reality of suffering;
2. The truth of the cause of suffering;
3. The truth that suffering can cease; and
4. The means by which suffering can cease.
The fourth truth points to what is known as the Eightfold Path. Over time I’ll go into greater depth on each of the Four Noble Truths, and get into details on the Eightfold Path. But I should probably be clear that Buddhists do not believe Gautama was a god; only that he had some very good ideas about dealing with life. He was just as human as anyone else, and when he died, that was it for him. Just like anyone else.
I’m bringing this all up here, now, as a kind of background; I don’t intend to lecture or do any other such thing on these topics.
While there are quite a few different Buddhist traditions, they all share as their foundation the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, and have a few other things in common as well. Of chief importance to me, personally, is that Buddhism is nontheistic — that is, it doesn’t require a belief in a god, and doesn’t require nonbelief in a specific god. Strictly speaking, you can be Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Pastafarian, atheist or anything else, and still be a practicing Buddhist. (For the record, I consider myself an atheist.)
The core practice in Buddhism is meditation, which probably isn’t what you think it is. Meditation doesn’t mean zoning out, shutting down the mind, going into a trance, or anything else of that nature. In the Buddhist context, meditation is actually a heightened state of awareness, an observation of the mind. This can make it surprisingly challenging. It can also make it a bit dull. Working with boredom — or with discursive thinking — is an ongoing process for anyone practicing meditation.
I think that’s more than enough background for now. On to the purpose of this blog: Meditations, or ideas, or perspective.
No one can be unaware of what happened in Haiti, or of the world reaction to it. Some responses were callous (as with Pat Robertson’s assertion that the Haitian people had “sold their souls to the Devil”, and thus deserved the terrible devastation they’ve suffered); some were remarkably powerful (witness the success of the Red Cross campaign to accept $10 donations when you text HAITI to 90999 — the last count I saw had donations at more than $21 million). Some are a little harder to fathom.
Royal Caribbean charters cruises that include a port-of-call at Haiti (I don’t recall the name of the destination, but it’s actually trademarked, if their press releases are to be believed). For now, they’re still putting in there and letting their travelers frolic on the beach.
On the face of it, that seems cold-hearted, at best. It might be better to postpone landing in Haiti, telling the passengers that, in light of the tragedy (~200,000 dead, and counting), the ship isn’t going to be using the island as a vacation or holiday destination for a while. It would seem decent.
Contrarily, consider that the people on those Royal Caribbean ships booked their reservations well in advance, long before they knew a quake would hit; and some of them, at least, are having events (wedding, 50th anniversary, whatever) which are more or less literally once in a lifetime.
This is a hard decision, and what Royal Caribbean did was probably the best of all possible choices: They still put in at the port-of-call, and left it up to the passengers to decide for themselves if they would be reveling on the beach or not. Some have chosen to remain aboard. Others have not. Their reasons are their own, and probably not up to us to judge in either case.
Here’s the extra element, though. Royal Caribbean has promised that all revenues gained from visitors at the Haitian port will be directed into relief efforts.
Also, Royal Caribbean ships putting in to the port will be delivering nonperishable food items, such as dried beans, flour and canned goods. The first ship to put in there delivered “40 pallets” of these essentials, which represents a fairly substantial amount of food. I don’t know how much a pallet can hold, but I’m guessing it’s somewhere between 500 and 1000 lbs., assuming it’s fully loaded — i.e., the freight on it is roughly cubic in volume. It’s safe to presume that future Royal Caribbean ships will deliver more goods. (The first apparently diverted to Puerto Rico briefly to collect the supplies.)
All told, Royal Caribbean has donated at least $1 million to Haitian relief efforts, and it’s reasonable to presume they will continue to do so for a while longer.
Of course, Royal Caribbean has been using Haiti for years as a vacation stop for the fairly wealthy (the extremely wealthy, of course, do not book passage on cruise ships; they have their own yachts for that); it could be argued that Haiti has been abused in the past by cruise passengers. It’s feasible. Haiti is a very poor nation, with essentially no natural resources, industry, or intellectual base. It seems to be easily taken advantage of by wealthy or powerful nations, and it’s easy to make an argument that Royal Caribbean is exploiting a tragedy for the sake of better PR. (I personally doubt that; there is no small number of people who are deeply offended to learn that ships are still stopping by Haiti so their passengers can make use of the beaches. If this is “good” PR, one wonders what bad PR would look like.)
I think it’s worth noting, however, that the Haitian government welcomed the relief efforts, and have encouraged Royal Caribbean to continue bringing ships to their shores. Not for the relief aid, but because of the vital stimulus to local economy that the passengers represent.
To my mind this is an example of a large and relatively wealthy corporation behaving as a good citizen; that is, acting with compassion — while at the same time continuing to do what corporations do, namely, remain in business. Changing course to avoid Haiti would have disrupted at least some passengers’ plans or itineraries, while simply conducting business-as-usual would clearly have been a heartless, thoughtless gesture.
There is no really comfortable middle ground for Royal Caribbean to have taken here; they chose instead to walk a very delicate edge. Of all the options open to them, the course they chose was probably the best possible option for the largest number of people. That means it was a compromise, which means some people aren’t happy.
Had they simply changed their cruise route, though, odds are pretty good that a lot more people would be unhappy.
If Royal Caribbean were your company, what might you have done differently, if anything?
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