Sailing Home

Using the Wisdom of Homer's Odyssey to Navigate Life's Perils and Pitfalls

Norman Fischer

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This question of denial or deferral also reminds me of an incident that happened at a large conference of Buddhist meditation teachers and Catholic monastics I attended years ago. Pope John Paul II had recently issued some papal document that seemed to denigrate meditation practice, arguing that it was a narcissistic avoidance mechanism, a way of blissing out of this world, possibly a dangerous form of self-obsession or self-indulgence, like a drug. One of the Catholic brothers mentioned this view and challenged a Buddhist to defend meditation, so I immediately rose to speak about how meditation was not a drug; no, no, it was the opposite of a drug, it promoted mindfulness, clarity, clear truthful seeing, wisdom, knowledge, compassion… anyway I went on in this vein. After I had spoken, Joseph Goldstein, the Western Buddhist pioneer, who happened to be my roommate for the conference, rose to differ. “What’s wrong with a drug?” he began. “Don’t we need a drug sometimes?

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