11/17/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Media Monk

Wednesday night is monk night. I like to go see Rev. Kusala at the International Buddhist Meditation Center in Koreatown here in Los Angeles. I found him thanks to his podcast, when I was really underground last fall and was craving some sort of steadiness in my brain. Lucky for me, he turned out to be appearing live, three times a week, miles from where I live, in a lovely old craftsman home where he leads discussions and meditation for whomever shows up. People show up all the time who've found him this way.

Kusala is not your average bald, introspective, quiet monk. He is a large, friendly, open man, a forceful presence, a hippie-era Westerner who was never quite a hippie himself but who came to the Dharma as an adult. He also happens to be a media maniac. For instance: He was excited when Hulu started serving up episodes of Father Knows Best and urged us all to tune in to see the retro-ness of it all. Often, he'll wax rhapsodic about The Matrix.

Last night, he came into the zendo with a DVD of Altered States to lend to one of his students. He played us a song he'd written on his ukulele, and read some distressing poetry from some early Buddhist nuns, women who'd been battered and lovelorn before they took their vows. (A couple of nuns had been ordained in the very spot where we sat the day before, thus the connection.) Then he moved on to talk about Starsky and Hutch at length. That was a setup to plumb the career and multiple marriages of David Soul. And that was to illustrate a point he often makes, that if you could only squelch your desire for sex, you could end your suffering. That we think relationships are going to be our refuge, but to be able to self-actualize and be our own person in the world is what's most important. The intimation was that perhaps David Soul had not done this.

A lively discussion ensued. Several of my fellow students took issue with the suggestion that relationships, intimacy, always equal bad news. One young woman said they do all cause suffering, but they're worth it. One older man said emphatically that she was wrong. Everyone agreed that becoming a monk or nun isn't for everyone.

Okay, what does any of this have to do with my new cable television hookup? Besides the fact that Kusala told me, when I shared with him the news, that Star Trek is on every night. (I forgot the channel.) He's able to balance the tube in his room with reality better than I seem to, to turn it on and off as an entertainment device and not see it as a source of anxiety.

He also talked about a book he's mentioned before, Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin. I'm going to order it up from the library today, even though I'm fairly sure I know what this wise man will say. I'm definitely not going to watch Star Trek. I do feel like I should finish watching the DVD about the early radio evangelist and media sensation Aimee Semple McPherson that I got from Netflix weeks ago. (She lived up the street from me in a different direction than Kusala.) What a waste to pay for the service and not use it.