Sarah Jessica Parker: Hollywood's Newest Jew-Bu?
PR-Inside.com, August 19, 2008
Vanishing from public view to her discreet Irish hideaway, superstar Parker seems to be seeking tranquility down a path that many of her faith have trodden in the past
New York, NY (USA) -- Stressed by her latest challenge as producer of not one but two new cable shows, and dismayed by continuing rumors that her marriage is incontinent, superstar Sarah Jessica Parker seems to be finding tranquility down a path that many of her faith have trodden in the past: Becoming a Jew-Bu.
<< "Sex and the city" star Sarah Jessia Parker: America's newest Jew-Bu?
On a recent vacation to her family's vacation cottage in Ireland, Parker was spotted tucked away in a cozy corner of classy Nancy's bar in Muckros, reading a copy of the Sylvia Boorstein classic, 'Funny, You Don't Look Buddhist,' while sipping a glass of moderately chilled white wine and watching the world go by.
Fellow drinkers enjoying a late-night booze-up with Parker and her husband Matthew Broderick at the spit-and-sawdust style Corner House Bar in nearby Ardara noted Parker avidly perusing 'Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung?: Inspiring Stories for Welcoming Life's Difficulties' by Australian lama Ajahn Brahm.
And at charming Kitty Kelly's, less than a mile from their Irish vacation home, the two were seen were seen wearing matching tops and avidly swapping intellectually challenging phrases from 'Words of Wisdom,' the latest book by best-selling Buddhist author Lama Surya Das, a childhood friend of CBS honcho Les Moonves when the two American boys were growing up Jewish on Long Island.
What's a Jew-Bu? 'It's a synthesis of Judaism and Buddhism intended to grasp the best of both religions,' explains one Hollywood power-player who has been a Jew-Bu for the past decade. 'It combines Buddhist thought with Jewish theology and structure, in effect incorporating Buddhist traditions such as meditation and chanting into traditional Judaism.'
Famous entertainment industry Jew-Bu's include Leonard Cohen, Goldie Hawn, Kate Hudson, Jerry Seinfeld, Gwynneth Paltrow, Larry David, Jeff Goldblum, Al Franken and Whoopie Goldberg, among others.
'Buddhism fills a void left by her traditional Jewish faith,' confides a close friend of Parker's. 'It's a way for her to understand and diminish personal suffering, let go of fears, and to get pieces of mind. She still appreciates the strong community and traditions of Judaism, but wants to discover the wisdom of another religion without abandoning her born faith. She enjoys getting mail.'
Adds another close confidante: 'Sarah travels a lot, mostly by air. And in the Jewish mystical tradition -- where Judaism comes closest to Buddhism -- God exists on many planes.'
The first trickle of Jews began to convert to Jew-Bu practices about 50 years ago. The beat poet Allen Ginsberg was among them, and wrote, 'Born in this world/ you got to suffer/ everything changes/ you got no soul.' By the 1970s, there were enough Jewish Buddhists for Ginsberg's guru, Chogyan Trungpa, to talk about forming the Oy Vey school of Meditation. Now Jew-Bu's are the largest group of converts in the West, with all the hallmarks of an established movement. Armfuls of literature pay tribute to their conversion experiences: "The Jew in the Lotus," "One God Clapping," and, of course, "That's Funny, You Don't Look Buddhist!"
There is even a joke in the Jewish community about a typical Jewish mother who travels to a remote Buddhist temple in Nepal. Eventually granted an audience with the revered guru there, she says just three words: 'Sheldon, come home.'
'It is true that an enormous number of Jews are converting to Buddhism,' said one Rabbi who prefers to remain anonymous. 'I think they feel weighed down by the laws and rituals. Judaism is very good at camaraderie and community, but it doesn't leave a lot of space for the individual or for spirituality.'
'Sarah likes the fact that Buddhism, which she uses more as a philosophy than a religion since it doesn't have its own God, is packed with simple wisdom, including the notion that most human suffering is caused by our resistance to accepting our lives just as they are right now,' concludes one close friend of the vacationing couple. 'Sarah feels that we spend so much time scrutinizing the past and worrying about the future that the present evades us. Buddhism is all about letting go.'
Last year I turned 50. In celebration of this milestone, I went to India on a pilgrimage called: In the footsteps of the Buddha. Led by two Buddhist scholars, eleven other pilgrims and I traveled to the sacred places of the Buddha, sitting early each morning in Buddhist Temples and monasteries for meditation and studying Buddhist sutras as we traveled the land of the Buddha.
We saw where he lived his first 29 years as Prince Siddhartha in Kapilavastu, before he abandoned this protected life to become a spiritual seeker. We hiked through mustard fields to the cave in the Dungasiri Mountains where the ascetic monk Siddhartha practiced severe austerities while searching for a way to reach enlightenment. In that same cave, we sat in meditation. We went to Bodh Gaya, to the site where Siddhartha reached enlightenment while sitting in meditation under the Bodhi Tree and become known as the Buddha, which means "one who is awake." We spent time at the Bodhi Tree, and at the Mahabodhi Temple. On the day I turned 50, we traveled to Sarnath where we spent the day at Deer Park, the site where the Buddha gave his first sermon after his enlightenment to the five ascetics with whom he had practiced. He gave a teaching on the Four Noble Truths, the Middle Way and the Eightfold Path and his five fellow seekers became the first monks of his order.
We circumambulated the Dhamekh Stupa. We moved on to Rajgir, where we meditated and had a teaching in the bamboo grove that was given to the Buddha by King Bimbisara, and where the first Buddhist monastery was established. We hiked up Gridhakuta hill to Vulture Peak at sunset, enjoying meditation and the reading of the Heart Sutra, relishing the space and beauty that the Buddha also loved. In Kushinagar, we spent time in the Saal forest where the Buddha died and attained Mahaparinirvana at the age of eighty. We viewed the large golden statue of the reclining Buddha at the Nirvana Temple, and saw the Nirvana stupa built over the spot where the Buddha died along with the Makutabandhana Stupa marking the Buddha's cremation.
This year, I turned 51. I spent my birthday with my husband at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut where we spent 24 hours eating, gambling and drinking.
Does this mean I am on a downward spiral? That I am encountering a patch of bad karma? That any glimpse I may have had of nirvana or enlightenment has evaporated into a swirl of cigarette smoke and ringing slot machines and the smell of enticing whiffs of perfume?
Not because I’m being easy on myself, but I’m going to answer my own question with a resounding NO! In fact, I think that my pilgrimage to India and my jaunt to the casino both taught me lessons that are quite similar.
In India I learned a great deal, but one event stands out in my mind. It took place in Bodh Gaya, the place where the Buddha attained enlightenment. Our group was gathered together on the grounds of the Mahabodi Temple near a small lake where Tibetan prayer flags hung from trees fluttering in the breeze and spreading blessings to the world. One of our teachers was giving a talk on one of Buddha’s sutras on suffering. The twelve of us were gathered in a semi circle listening to the teaching. The woman I was sitting next to (I’ll call her Jane) was clearly not feeling well. She had been very sick for the past couple of days with stomach issues, a common occurrence for travelers in India. As the teacher continued to discuss what the Buddha meant by suffering, and how to work with suffering, I watched Jane clearly in pain and holding both her stomach and her head. This went on for a time, and I began whispering to her, asking if she wanted some water or if there was anything I could do for her. The teacher looked up and seemed annoyed by our whispering.
“What’s going on there?” he asked in a bit of a gruff manner. I explained that Jane was not feeling well at all.
“What do you need?” the teacher asked her quickly, wanting to get back to the topic he was covering.
“I need to go back to the monastery,” Jane answered weakly. The teacher said that wouldn’t work right now, and to lie down on her meditation mat. I remember being really annoyed. I kept thinking that here was this Buddhist scholar, leading this pilgrimage, and so clearly missing the point. What good was discussing the Buddha’s teachings on suffering, and sharing his wealth of knowledge on the topic, if this world renowned Buddhist scholar couldn’t see suffering in real time, right in front of him, and respond compassionately? My head and heart started questioning whether I should have gone on this pilgrimage after all and how disappointed I was with this teacher. Just as I’m sure I was making my blood pressure rise, I stopped. I realized that I had let my expectations of a person and a place inform how I would experience it. At that point, I remembered the Buddha’s dictate to: BE A LAMP UNTO YOURSELF. I realized that while this encounter had felt like a huge disappointment – this well-respected teacher was talking the talk but perhaps not walking the walk – it also brought me closer to my own inner wisdom and what the Buddha taught - and allowed me to be a lamp unto myself; it allowed me to let go a little more of looking to others to shine the light on the road and lead me down the spiritual path. Like the Buddha taught, I moved more into my own truth, and understood that being a Buddhist scholar didn’t mean you were perfect. It only meant that you were human.
Fast forward a year later and I am planted in front of a slot machine with my glass of Chardonnay and enjoying the combinations that are coming up and paying out at the first slot machine I sit down at. I am now up $200 and I’ve only been here for a short while. I am already fantasizing about the big payoffs to come…flirting with the idea that maybe this time I’ll win the progressive, all $1,235,000 of it!
Now it’s an hour later, and I have played down my winnings to zero. The rest of the evening follows in the same vein; winning and losing, hoping and despairing. A bit like the 2nd Noble Truth that the Buddha taught: there is suffering because we crave things and are attached to things and ideas and the way we want the world to be. But the things we crave and desire won’t lead to happiness because they are impermanent: we are attaching our happiness to things that are by nature transient, and hence we suffer.
The next morning in the casino, I decided the answer to my problems with the slot machines was that I had yet to rediscover that first machine that offered such a great ride. Surely, if I could just find that machine again, I would regain what I had lost the night before.
So we set off on a pilgrimage to find that machine. At Mohegan Sun, there are three different casinos and they all pretty much look the same. We couldn’t remember where that machine was. We remembered the name (Vegas Hit), how there were four of those machines in a circle, but we couldn’t recall if it was in The Casino of the Wind or Casino of the Earth, or Casino of the Sky (which sounded very much like the colorful Tibetan prayer flags where blue represents sky, white symbolizes air, red stands for fire, green symbolizes water and yellow is for Earth). So we set out to find the elusive slot machine that I knew held the secret. I put all of my hopes on that machine, and so I walked through the Wind, Earth and Sky casino with as much passion as I held walking in the footsteps of the Buddha.
It took us a long time to find it. In fact, I was getting convinced that the slot machine didn’t exist anymore; perhaps it was just an illusion to begin with? But my husband, convinced that I needed to recapture that hope and excitement the slot machine had offered yesterday lest he have to listen to me complain the whole way home, walked with me over and over through the maze of black jack and roulette tables, passed the singing of the slot machines and through the cigarette haze that accompanied us on this journey (as opposed to the early morning fog I grew used to in India, walking in the mist to a Buddhist temple to sit for meditation).
Just when I was ready to give up, Steve found it! There it was, the answer to my prayers. It glittered and beckoned and as I approached it, I knew it held the potential to give me what I wanted; if not eternal happiness or nirvana, at least a pay off that would make me feel better about my birthday losses. I put in a $20 bill and began waiting for this magical slot machine to do what it did yesterday, to give me winning combination after winning combination racking up the dollar amount on the machine.
Only a few minutes later, my $20 had turned to $0 dollars. How could this be? Wasn’t this the special machine? I had done so well on it yesterday – I had been convinced that if I just found it again, I’d come out a winner.
How are these birthdays similar, you might ask? Well, they both offered me similar lessons and realizations. We all carry expectations; we want things to unfold in a certain way. When the teacher on the pilgrimage failed to meet my expectations of how I thought a Buddhist teacher should be, I experienced disappointment and my own internal suffering about the incident until I realized that it was up to me, not a teacher or a scholar, to connect with my own inner wisdom and truth. And the casino? How many of us return to what worked for us one day, convinced that the outcome will be the same the next day, and suffer needlessly when that doesn’t happen?
You can travel far to learn this lesson, or you can learn it right at home. Life is transient, all is impermanent, attachment leads to suffering. Living a skillful life means finding balance regardless of the circumstance you find yourself in. Cultivating and practicing compassion and wisdom are the key to guiding the journey.
From India to the casino, I learned: Wherever you go, there you are…you can bet on it.
Now I have to figure out what to do for my birthday next year. Any suggestions?