The International Writers Magazine:
THOUGHTS AND OPINIONS OF A BUDDHIST AMONG BAPTISTS
Reverend Father Antonio
Hernández, O.M.D., A.B.F.
Founder of the Independent Order of American Buddhist Fathers
OF THE MIND: THESE ARE THE CHARMS I FORGED IN LIFE
Ah, the first "Hackwriters" article of the year. How
auspicious! There must be a charm I can get to commemorate this,
along with the other sixty-nine articles I have published here
since that fateful June of 2002. Charm, you ask? Let me explain:
My mother, may she rest in peace, collected many things. People
born and raised in grinding poverty develop the habit. Mother
was never superstitious in the classic or grotesque senses of
the term. She was obsessive about what she collected, if it had
meaning. These things were her talismans, her charms, her amulets.
So, we exchanged charms and mementos often.
It always struck
me as a Jewish custom to collect and exchange little amulets or charms
as gifts. Seems silly to think that way now; everyone has these customs
in one form or another. I came to think of my and my mother's gift exchanges
as like those of the Tsar of Russia, Nicolas Romanov. The Tsar bought
his mother Fabergé eggs, as his father had done before him, and
he bought them for the Tsarina as well. Those eggs were the Romanov
talismanic charms. The Romanovs were some of the most anti-Semitic people
who ever lived and they paid for it.
Guess those Fabergé charms didn't work so well.
In my family, we had collections, we had hoarders (like my aunt, who
loved rubber bands and useless cloth scraps), and my grandmother even
had something like an Indian medicine bag. And I, too, hang things on
my key and watch chains. Two of my most precious charms- both gifts
from my mother, of course- consist of a nickel-plated Mexican police
whistle and a miniature brass steamboat steering wheel. These I keep
on special watch chains, which themselves are talismanic, and are attached
to very special watches.
I am far from superstitious. Immune to the charm of charms, however,
I am not. I inherited from my family this deep love and respect for
the charm-as-talisman. At one time, we were all so poor that anything
we could lay hands on became a charm or talisman. My brother had a lucky
scrap of envelope. I'll never forget the charm I had as a kid: my "lucky"
pen. Keys, pencils, tiny notebooks and calendars- all fair game to serve
as a charm, talisman or amulet. It's as though I was raised in a giant
pack of rats. Notice that I avoid the term "lucky". No one
will ever sell me on a "lucky" anything. Luck does not exist.
Memories do exist. They are as real as anything can be. This why our
language has the neo-Latin word "memento", which literally
is the imperative, "remember!". That is the term I love the
most. Perhaps the term itself is a sort of charm for me: MEMENTO. Whether
it is a rabbit's foot (gross!), a game token, a marble, a scrap of cloth
or a solid gold seal, the charm is the physical manifestation of the
remembrance. Even the so called "pack rat" has some justification
behind which to hide, while navigating piles of garbage that will never
be given to the garbage collectors. Our memories do not require physical
objects of sentimental value. As humans, in fact, we do not even need
"sentimental value" in order to carry on our existence happily.
Buddhism teaches about coveting or strongly desiring things. The tendency
is in our mitochondrial DNA, and is just a temporary "happy high"
we want to achieve. Buddhism teaches that it leads to greed, which can
even lead to murderous impulses. But if this tactile, talismanic sensibility
is what it takes to keep the 'memento spirit' alive, I have no quarrel
with it. Buddhism has some of the most wonderful charms and amulets
Often I have been angered by stupidstitions. But when I handle my rosary,
or reach for my watch chain that has the nickel police whistle, and
open my watch, with St. George killing the dragon on the cover... when
I see my mother's portrait inside the cover... well, quite frankly,
it's more than charming. It's almost like a shield from evil.
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