Erik and Laura-Marie Magazine

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Location: Las Vegas, Nevada, United States

Zine maker, peace activist, writer, reader, feminist. I like listening to good listeners. Email me at robotmad (gmail).

Monday, May 21, 2007

more about my religion #41

One of the reasons that I respect Vedanta is that it’s non-recruiting. Visitors are welcome, but there is no missionary work. This is important to me because I need to practice a religion that views all religions as valid paths to god. The way missionaries go into other cultures, tell people that their native beliefs are wrong, and use tricks and bribes to win the natives over offends me. Even when better medical care results, or other benefits like more power for women, it’s still culture-destroying. Knowledge is lost forever, and there’s little more patronizing and paternalistic than white people going to another country and telling the brown people that their entire world-view is incorrect.

Related to the non-recruiting, Vedanta is not run on a business model. Giving money is not pushed. We have a bookstore at the Sacramento center, but it’s there as a service to the devotees (somewhere to buy books, incense, and statuary) rather than as a money-making venture. Also, meeting with Swami is free—all instruction in meditation is free. A private interview at Erik’s zendo requires a donation, but Vedanta has no expectation.

The personalities of the leaders vary, but at our center, Swami is calm, detached, and has a live-and-let-live way of being. Many religious leaders I’ve seen through the course of my life remind me of used car salesmen, and they seem to have been chosen as business leaders or actors rather than as deeply spiritual people. I have never seen any Vedantan Swamis who behave in this way.

I love Vedanta the more time I spend with it. It becomes more comfortable, like old blue clothes. The more I know it, the more I feel at home. My problems with gender trouble become less important as a result of my involvement with a religious women’s group, where strong women govern ourselves, and no men are allowed or needed.

That said, I have never felt more like an atheist. I’m an experiment in a super-religious atheist, an example of how to do a religion without any faith.

Some days, ritual feels like superstition. I think insults like, “Why are you waving that stick of incense at that picture? It’s just a picture.” Some days, it all feels like a waste of time. I think, “We should be doing something useful, helping the world.”

Some days, I feel so out of place and ashamed. What would my friends think if they knew I’m such an atheist? I feel like a drop of oil completely separate in a bowl of water. In the women’s group, I love my Samiti sisters, but after our monthly meetings, when we socialize, sometimes I don’t feel like one of them. They speak of Mother as a personal god, who answers prayer and watches over them, in a way that I just can’t accept as true.

Despite all this strife, Vedanta does makes concessions for atheism. Official written dictum at the Tabuco Canyon center in Orange County says that realization / enlightenment can be obtained without belief in god. Our particular center doesn’t state this, but Vedanta’s main prophet, Swami Vivekananda, who brought the teachings from India to the west, was an atheist sometimes, and he’s deeply loved, revered for his loyalty and intelligence. In that sense, I have safety. Skepticism is equated with sharpness of mind.

My best friend in town P, the one who runs the choir, knows I have no faith, and she says that maybe when I’m older, it will come to me. She says she’s found it only recently, and she’s 71. She’s said to me that hard-earned faith is the strongest when it comes, and what she says makes sense, because it didn’t arrive on a whim. Once I do have faith, maybe I can believe it with all my being, but that’s hard to imagine from my current vantage point.

The solution isn’t another religion. I don’t feel drawn to Christianity, though it would be so much easier, for the most part, to accept my local culture’s standard. I don’t feel drawn to any other religions either, though Erik’s Buddhism appeals to me in many ways, and Buddhist ideas become part of my own mind’s way of thinking from so many conversations with Erik about problems and solutions. His perspective is very much Buddhist, and I respect him entirely.

Over the past year I’ve attended two different interfaith events. One was held at a Roman Catholic church, and that was near Christmas. The other was held at a Christian church. Both had religious leaders from various faiths giving short talks, and listening to all of them made me feel secure that Hinduism is the only religion that could possibly work for me. What Swami said made complete sense. I never felt he was watering down the truth or getting side-tracked. He never behaved like a used car salesman, like I mentioned earlier so many other religious leaders do. His understanding of reality most closely matches mine, and Buddhism is a close second, which makes sense—Buddha was Hindu, after all, in the same way that Jesus was a Jew. Some think of Buddhism as an offshoot of Hinduism. I like the way contradictions and paradox are welcome. They can’t be wished away or forbidden away.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

tomato rice #41

Of course you like garlic--we all do. You might think this recipe looks boring, and you want to put garlic in it. Well, you can, but it would be a new dish.

As it is, tomato rice is all about the tomato. Its subtleties and complexities are showcased in this delightful, any-time-of-the-day dish.

one ripe tomato
leftover rice
half a ripe avocado
olive oil

Dice the tomato. Saute it in some olive oil for a few minutes.

Add the leftover rice. Break up any clumps, and sauté them together until the rice is heated through and then some.

Serve with avocado to taste and plenty of salt.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Melanie #41

I was the smartest girl, from Kindergarten through second grade, at my small school, where we wore dresses every day. I read more, did math better, wrote well. I was the smartest girl except for one, my enemy.

Her name was Melanie. She was also more polite and reasonable than me. She was blond, soft-spoken, with freckles, and seemed rich at the time. Her family was a paragon of gentle whiteness.

I went to a slumber party at her big, clean house. She had a huge trampoline, and we took turns jumping in the middle until our moms came to pick us up.

She could sing in French and knew how to weave baskets. “I can weave baskets too,” I said, because it seemed self-explanatory.

After second grade, I went to a new school. But one day, in sixth grade, there was a special event, and we met, just the two of us, in a hallway.

She recognized me, and I didn’t recognize her. She said, “Don’t you remember me? I’m Melanie.”

She wore thick glasses and was no longer thin. Her skin seemed stretched tight on her body, and she had acne. She was so kind to me--gentle and good. “How are you?” she asked, despite the way I had been so mean to her those years ago and called her Mel’s Diner.

I was shocked. I swallowed all my jealousy, and we spoke warmly. We were adults for a moment.

Who knows where she is now, but she’s probably still better than me, which is fine.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

philosophy #41

Philosophy is like trying to get pregnant by talking on the phone. –Laura-Marie