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Jerry Katz
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#1823 - Wednesday, June 9, 2004 - Editor: Jerry  

"I was born a poor boy in the South, I'm black, I'm blind, I once fooled around with drugs, but all of it was like going to school. And I've tried to be a good student. I don't regret a damn thing." --Ray Charles



ignorance and  illusion

Neither ignorance nor illusion ever happened to you. Find the self
to which you ascribe ignorance and illusion and your question will
be answered. You talk as if you know the self and see it to be under
the sway of ignorance and illusion. But, in fact, you do not know the
self, nor are you aware of ignorance.

By all means, become aware, this will bring you to the self and you
will realize that there is neither ignorance nor delusion in it. It is like
saying: if there is sun, how can darkness be? As under a stone there
will be darkness, however strong the sunlight, so in the shadow of the
"I-am-the-body" consciousness there must be ignorance and illusion.
Don't ask 'why' and 'how'. It is in the nature of creative imagination to
identify itself with its creations. You can stop it any moment by switching
off attention. Or though investigation.

~Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

from AllspiritInspiration



"Within this fathomlong body is found all of the teachings, is found suffering, the cause of suffering, and the end of suffering."


From the book, "After the Ecstacy, the Laundry," written by Jack Kornfield, published by Bantam Books

from Daily Dharma         

Culture Watch

Holy Warrior Nuns, Batman!

Comic books take on the world of faith and spirituality.
by David Wade



Before Neil Gaiman became a New York Times best-selling author, he wrote a comic book series called The Sandman. In the course of its 75 issues, which he began in the late 1980s, Gaiman explored issues of depth psychology, the relevance of ancient mythology, the sources of Shakespeare's inspiration, the subtleties of Oriental calligraphy, and the relationship between dreams and death. At its heart, The Sandman series explored the diminishment of faith in the modern world and the need for a reconnection with enchantment in our everyday lives.

Clearly not the "Biff! Bam! Pow!" comics of an earlier generation.

A new type of comic book has emerged. It's often visually edgy and sensitive to a niche market, and it's reaching new audiences. With this new brand of comic book displayed alongside titles of the large comic publishers in more than 4,000 comic shops nationwide, an aging fan base can find ideas and themes explored in more mature and visually sophisticated ways. Comics now explore issues important to adult readers - in some cases with more violence and sexuality. At the same time, many are more thoughtful and subtle in their storytelling than the traditional comic book. This genre has become so popular that even the publishers of such staples as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the X-Men, and Spiderman have created comic lines that mirror this new style. It is in this context that comics have found an audience with which to explore issues of myth, religion, faith, and spirituality.

Prior to a boom in independent comic publishing in the 1980s, religion - especially Christianity - in comic books manifested mostly as evangelistic vehicles, Sunday school material, or maudlin stories of "good" boys and girls versus "bad." They were often sponsored by denominations or mission societies. It was, as one writer put it, Christian propaganda. At its very worse, it was Chick Tracts - a line of comics infamous for vicious anti-Catholic rhetoric and frightening and sometimes sadistic views of what awaits the "unsaved."

Now there are many small presses dedicated to the creation of comic books with Christian themes. Some are visual representations of storylines similar to those found in the Christian best-seller This Present Darkness, by Frank Peretti - muscular, sword-wielding angels doing invisible and dramatic battle against hordes of demons who prey on believers and unbelievers alike. Some, like Pakkins' Land: Paul's Adventure, by Gary and Rhoda Shipman, find inspiration in fantasy with a moral context, along the lines of C.S. Lewis's Narnia tales.

PERHAPS THE MOST obvious use of comics as a religious vehicle is in the telling and translating of biblical stories. There have been "graphic Bibles" around for generations, but now fresh interpretations represent this new type of exploration.

The American Bible Society, a major religious publisher, created Metron Press as an experiment to communicate orthodox issues of faith through a modern means of graphic storytelling. Their most successful effort to date is Testament, a 120-page retelling of some of the Old Testament's most iconic stories by an unlikely religious raconteur - a bartender. The work is produced by 20 of the industry's best-known illustrators and written by Jim Krueger, an author of Marvel Comics' Earth X series (which explores issues of divinity, eternal life, sin, and retribution using the X-Men, the Hulk, Spiderman, and many other of Marvel's main characters). The artistic styles are diverse; some use naturalism and humor, others draw on inspiration ranging from classical art to Oriental history. Some of the artists are practicing Christians; others are not.

Beyond the direct biblical story, some of the most interesting explorations of religious life and faith in comics, such as those in The Sandman, are found in unlikely places.

Will Eisner, who wrote and drew a tongue-in-cheek detective story titled The Spirit during the 1940s for the Sunday funny pages, came back into the field of graphic storytelling in the 1970s after years in commercial art. His gift to the genre was the first self-proclaimed "graphic novel," A Contract With God. In it, Eisner explores the lives of the people he remembered from his youth among an impoverished but colorful immigrant community in the Bronx. His stories explore issues of life, death, faith, and failure with all the warmth and complexity one would find in fine fiction.

With Contract, Eisner broke the superhero mold. No costumes, no super powers; both the heroic and the villainous lived in tension within his characters. With this breakthrough came a new exploration of issues - including those of faith - that no one thought would be found within "funny books."

The offspring of Eisner's groundbreaking work is found in Vertigo Comics, an imprint of DC Comics, the home of Superman. These comics have had a love affair with Christian eschatology since day one, according to Vertigo writer Mike Carey. Titles such as Hellblazer, Preacher, Sandman, and Lucifer have all drawn on Christian imagery and ideas for some or all of their setup, characters, and backdrops.

But these comics aren't suitable for Sunday school. Often heavy with violence, Vertigo comics and others of their type deal with issues of salvation and damnation, and justice and retribution, in a visceral manner. Their characters live and often suffer greatly in an environment washed with despair. But against this backdrop, every occurrence of hope shines and every act of selfless love glows.

SOME OF THE most directly Christian characters in comics - and most interesting - are women. Catholic nuns have had numerous incarnations. A few years ago, Antarctic Press's Warrior Nun Areala drew much attention in the mainstream press. Employing the manga style of Japanese comics, Ben Dunn created a complete society within the Catholic Church of "magical priests" and "warrior nuns." They were equipped with traditional Christian as well as occult powers to fight the church's fight against evildoers throughout history, including an extended battle against Hitler during World War II. A darker manifestation of this idea is The Magdalena. Image Comics created a historical story that dated from the crucifixion when Mary Magdalene began a secret lineage of women warriors who fought against the enemies of the Lord while struggling with authorities within the church to control and manipulate members of their order.

One of the most interesting examples of the Christian message in comics is found in the character Shi, a young biracial woman. Her father was a Japanese Buddhist and her mother an American Catholic. After the murder of her father, young Shi is raised by her grandfather to become a vehicle for vengeance. But just as Shi is about to take revenge on her father's killers, the Catholic teachings of her mother return to her and call her away from a life of violence.

None of these comics directly call their readers to repentance or make demands about church attendance. In fact, few of them have much good to say about established religion in general. What they add to the experience of their readers is the call to a life lived with at least one eye open to the possibility of an enchanted universe - a place where the spiritual world is alive, active, and intervening in the affairs of humanity. This intervention isn't in the form of brightly costumed messiah surrogates who can leap tall buildings in a single bound, but in the lives of fairly ordinary human beings, imperfect and often conflicted in their motivations, who are struggling to find meaning in their lives beyond the dulling drone of the culture's demands, the sudden storms of violence that threaten to overwhelm their worlds, and the limitations of life boxed in by not enough justice, not enough joy, and not enough hope. Out of this context, they become heroes. Just like you and me.

It's not just biff, bam, and pow anymore.

David Wade is a free-lance writer living in Mt. Airy, Maryland.

contributed by Mary Bianco to NDS News



Keeping your natural commitments

portions of talks by Jerry Katz given to a general audience

I was born May 16, 1949. It was a nice spring day. May 17, 1949; it was another nice spring day. Let's move right on to May 23, 1949. It was a nice spring day.

Have you noticed that someone can tell you every detail of their life and you don't feel you really know them? And someone else you exchange a few words with or look into their eyes and you feel you've known them for a hundred years?

I'd like to combine those two ways of getting to know someone by telling about a few events in my life and try to find some inner meaning in them and sharing them with you.

I grew up about 20 miles outside of New York City in a place called Paterson, New Jersey. It was a good childhood. But I was different. I saw things in my own way. I'm 12 years old and sitting in religious school class. So far I've failed every test. I don't listen. I stare out the window at a busy street and watch the number 8 bus come every few minutes. Pick people up. Drop them off. As dusk falls sometimes I catch when the streetlight comes on. That seems significant for me, for some reason. It's as though I'm privy to some secret of the city. Meanwhile the teacher is teaching. Yet I've never seen a bus name Genesis, Exodus or Leviticus stop and pick up a lady waiting in the rain. Not in my experience, not at my age. The class is over. I leave the house of worship and I'm free. I go outside. Now I'm in my House of Worship. Bus fumes are like the incense in my house of worship. Papers gathers alongside the corner store like pages of my book of worship. Everything seems momentous and nothing is more important than anything else. A few years later I realized that way of seeing things could pay off.

It's the 90's in Nova Scotia. My wife and I have a 3 bedroom flat in Halifax on Willow St. One of the rooms is very small and I keep all my books in there and spend hours reading and staring out the window. This time the bus said for its destination, 'nonduality.' That's the name of the philosophy I'm interested in. I'd say to my wife that it would be great if I could talk to other people about this topic. She always said that someday I would, though neither of us knew when or how. But my wife always encouraged me to do what I was doing and that some day there would be an audience. Neither of us new about computers or the internet. But when I found out about the internet I saw that Dolores, my wife, could be right. Through the internet I did meet another person. Then another and another. Soon a community of 85 grew. Then hundreds. Then thousands. A website was started that gets 5000 hits a day. And that's an example of how staring out the window and following an an interest outside the mainstream, could pay off.

~ ~ ~

excerpt from another talk...

Ten years ago I was smoking two packs of cigarettes a day and weighed 40 pounds more than I do now. At the time I was not aligned with my natural commitments. When my life changed and I was more aligned, the cigarette habit and the weight dropped away. That's what I want to talk to about today. Keeping Your Natural Commitments.

People have commitments to spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, pets, the workplace, the church and so on.

Those may or may not be natural commitments for you. However, natural commitments are shared in common by everyone: Eating, sleeping, breathing. There are others, such as thinking, feeling, communicating.

At times do you feel you have drifted from your nature as a person, from your real self; feel disconnected, or find yourself doing things that you know aren't good for you? I do. All the time. And sometimes you feel that if you can go out in nature and be among the trees and the quiet that it would bring you peace of mind. And it does.

What I call Natural Commitments are the trees, rivers and natural landscape of who you are. If you resort to them on a daily basis you'll get the same peace of mind as if you went away in the country for a few days. If you see your natural commitments as sacred as those such as Indians or Original People see land, then your non-natural commitments will be seen for what they are and will, in time, drop away. They'll be shed. They'll be consumed by your natural landscape, just as trees and vines cover and eventually rot an old billboard on an old sideroad.

Let me review what natural commitments are: eating, breathing, sleeping. Think, feeling, communicating. There are others and I'm not going to dwell on any one of them. Today I can only give a sweeping view of the natural landscape of a person in terms of commitments.

Knowing what your natural commitments are, how do you relate to them in the proper way such that your non-natural commitments, your bad habits and the things you're doing that really aren't 'you', will drop away? Henry David Thoreau said, "Live each day as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each."


  Poverty, blindness didn't stop him


June 12, 2004

Our position is: R&B legend Ray Charles used music to pull himself out of poverty.

Myriad words will be devoted to discussing the role the late Ray Charles played in transforming popular music by remixing blues, jazz and gospel music into modern R&B. A few obits will even mention that "the Genius" overcame poverty and blindness to become an icon of pop culture.

Yet few will note how he bootstrapped his way to the pinnacle of modern American music. The life Charles lived proves that one can overcome desperate financial straits and disabilities with high expectations, hard work and a willingness to take risks. Such an idea is heresy for many Americans, who think the impoverished are condemned to misery. That many of the poor manage to join the middle class, if not achieve fame and fortune, rarely factors into such thinking.

Charles grew up in a home without running water, watched his younger brother drown in a tub and lost his eyesight to glaucoma by age 7. His home was dysfunction personified; his father lived under the same roof with both Charles' mother Aretha and his first wife, before abandoning the household.

Yet as Charles wrote in his 1978 biography, "Brother Ray," he didn't grow up with lowered expectations. His mother taught him how to stand on his own, teaching him how to chop wood and cook his own meals. From the owner of the Red Wing Café in his hometown of Greenville, Fla., Charles learned how to play the piano. While learning classical music at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, he spent his free time imitating Nat King Cole.

Realizing he would never achieve success as a bit player in other people's bands, he quit a gig with blues singer Lowell Fulsom and struck out on his own. As he struggled as a solo act, he realized that he had to stop imitating his idol Cole's silky styling and be a true original.

"I knew I had to have faith in myself. I had to buy my own line," wrote Charles in "Brother Ray." Exactly.

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