Monday, April 16, 2012

one of my high school classmates

When it comes to the cosmic "Where Are They Now?" of the Mount Vernon High School Class of 1987, little to nothing will be written in the book of the angels about yours truly. I've lived a tiny, obscure life and will likely die a tiny, obscure death. Then there's a classmate of mine-- the talented James Connor-- who became an entrepreneurial success in New York while studying Tibetan Buddhism (of which he is now a prominent exponent), and who then sold his multimillion-dollar rebranding business to one of his company's creative directors after fourteen years. He left while he was still on top. Where is Jim now? It's hard to say, but I'm pretty sure he's on a three-year Tibetan Buddhist retreat. Quite a life he's leading.

See more here. And be sure to watch the 2009 Fox interview at the bottom of that page. I'm still trying to figure out when the retreat actually started. Jim's site doesn't seem to have this information, but it may just be that I'm looking in the wrong places.

I admit I'm pretty old-school about the whole God-and-Mammon thing. I distrust the ancient association between religion and money. It's nice to see Jim doing what he's doing-- renouncing worldliness for three years (I'd never say that a Mahayana Buddhist renounces the world), and then moving on to... to what? I don't know, but it's good to see he's not attached to wealth. The Fox interviewers focused on the God-and-Mammon angle, too: they asked Jim whether he was planning to get back into the money-making game after his retreat was finished, and his answer was "no." I hope Jim's sincere. While religion and money are often not-two, history offers overwhelming evidence that money often combines poorly with the human ego. Jim's retreat website shows him tooting his own horn quite a bit; the site is a long litany of accomplishments. He's as much a marketer as he is a Buddhist, I think, and marketing is all about ego. Jim will have to watch himself.

Having just finished a rereading of Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, I'm now rereading Tom Robbins's hilarious Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates. Strangely enough, I'm at the part where the main character, a CIA operative named Switters, is thinking of starting up his meditative practice again as a way to endure the hardship of the Amazonian jungle:

He was out of practice, having meditated with increasing infrequency since he left Bangkok. He was also well aware that meditation was intended neither as a diversion nor a therapy. Indeed, if he could believe his teacher, ideal meditation had no practical application whatsoever. Sure, there were Westerners who practiced it as a relaxation technique, as a device for calming and centering themselves so that they might sell more stuff or fare better in office politics, but that was like using the Hope diamond to scratch grocery lists onto a bathroom mirror.

Robbins gets it wrong about meditation and therapy; there are veteran Buddhist monastics who call their practice a kind of "medicine." But Robbins is probably right to think that meditation shouldn't be used as a way to chain oneself to material things or to social status. If you think your Buddhism will make you better at performing hostile takeovers, then you're just as misguided as Christians who feel the same way about their Christian practice.


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