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The Squirming Buddha

The Squirming Buddha

Robert C. Koehler

The world hemorrhages. Refugees flow from its wounds.

Is there a way to be innocent of this?

People are washed ashore. They die of suffocation in humanity-stuffed trucks. They flee war and politics; they flee starvation. And finally, we don’t even have sufficient air for them to breathe.

For words to matter about all this, they have to express more than “concern” or even outrage – that is to say, they have to cut internally as well as externally. They have to cut into our own lives and personal comfort. They have to cut as deep as prayer.


This article is a sob story without any mention of the primary cause of the refugee crisis.

There is a certain country that is responsible for these crises in the Middle East and elsewhere that goes unmentioned. I wonder why.

Iraq, Libya, Syria were peaceful countries until it was decided by certain elements that their leaders were socialist demons that had to go. So now those countries are hellholes with fleeing populations.

Great going USA and lapdog nations.


I found this article provocative if nothing else. Already two posts - both having a go at the bad guys (USA, Wall Street or however one chooses to frame them). Great! What does that achieve? Another post and another finger pointed.

I think Mr Koehler has made a serious attempt to search his soul. What could become possible if others did likewise? Or do WE (oh my god - that awful CDs verboten word) have nothing more constructive to offer than pointed fingers?

The bad guys only get away with it through our complacence - which arguably means WE are all bad guys. Consciousness raising is one easy tool that is available to us 24/7. So to point the finger quite understandably at Wall Street, the oligarchs, the 1%, the elite, or whatever, is fine for making others think… but does not absolve us of whatever complicity we are involved in ourselves. Even if we immediately do nothing about such complicity, voicing it is an consciousness-changing honest start.


Perhaps be Amish?

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Padmasambava, the great Buddhist thinker said it best 1200 years ago.

“Even though all phenomena are empty and selfless, sentient beings fail to realize this. Alas, how needing of compassion are they. So that all those who are the focus of our compassion may attain enlightenment, I must rouse my body, speech and mind to the practice of virtue. For the benefit of all sentient beings of the six classes, from now until enlightenment is attained, not just for my own sake but for the benefit of all, I must generate the mind aspiring to supreme enlightenment.”

This is the answer…change one’s self and change the world.


Hi JohnBoyH,

I agree with you. I, too, believe Mr. Koehler has tried to speak honestly and openly about the feelings of helplessness and impotence when it comes to “how to really help” those less fortunate. .

I live in Humboldt County, CA, and there is no refugee crisis. There is, however, an astronomical homeless population problem with men, women and children (and their dogs) standing on corners, or outside in parking lots, asking for help. Many have been homeless for a long time; even more are suffering from mental illness. It always gets to me because I look at these people and think, my God, they are someone’s mother, father, sister or brother. What if it were someone in my own family? Yet even with all those wonderings and concern, I will not invite a stranger into my home because I’m just too afraid.

Most of the time I can do nothing because I’m trying to survive myself. But I look at the person in need and tell myself how much better off I am than they; then I go through this soliloquy of sorts and determine if I can buy him/her some food and offer a small donation. I don’t usually feel any better. In fact, most of the time I come up short on feeling good and big on feeling helpless to change anything for the better.

I realize that admitting to all this solves nothing. But I agree that Mr. Koehler and his sister are both honest and provocative in this piece. I’ve always found Mr. Koehler to be an incredibly sensitive, compassionate and caring human being. When one possesses these qualities, life on Earth can be brutal. You feel everything that’s wrong with the world.



As far as I know, we only get once around the block. In everyone’s life there is an immensity of need all around us. There are also a lot of us to share that burden. If each of us do something, anything to alleviate some of that burden, then the world would be noticeably more a better place.

Robert took someone in and feels guilty about not wanting to do that again. He shouldn’t feel guilty. He did what most of us wouldn’t. That is all that is needed is that we do something good in our lives. We choose to help or hinder or the third choice which is to not be here one way or the other. To not be in the world but to pretend that we are outside of it. That we can remove ourselves from being human and living among humans and humans help each other or hurt each other there is no none of the above choice there.

Be glad that there is a good mark on your ledger pages that record your one life. Be glad or have sorrow about how many good marks are there on those pages or be sad at how few there are. If you find that there are more than a few or lots and lots of little ones be glad.

The only real concern is when there are mostly bad marks that you feel ashamed of in your life.

And maybe just maybe a life with no marks either good or bad is evidence of an empty life, a life unlived and unloved.

Choose the side you would stand on and I would much rather have helped a friend like did Robert.

But also like Robert… I would feel ashamed at keeping that other $9 dollars when someone had nothing.

Such is life… only at the end are all the marks both good and bad get counted. Which would you rather have more of? That’s all.

Which did you have more of… good or bad?

You get a bad mark every time you voted republican … so too bad!!!


In my city there are always homeless. Over the years you get burned out giving people money because some people act like panhandling is their job and the ones who really need it are shy and avoid others.

So over the years I struggled with how to help and then I realized. You can never get ripped off by a faker when you offer to buy someone a slice of pizza or McDonald’s burger or a cup of coffee etc.

A faker only wants the money. A hungry person only wants the food.

Once I started my “Hey are you hungry? I’ll get you a slice okay?” campaign… I stopped minding seeing homeless people and almost looked forward to buying somebody a slice or a coffee and bagel. I liked helping people who were hungry and wanted to do that at least once everyday. I even made a spare sandwich to bring with me to work which I’d either eat myself or give to someone.

Giving some phony a dollar often made me feel conflicted. Giving someone something to eat never did. If they looked dirty and obviously not faking I always gave them a fiver anyway. Always. I’d get up from where I was to go give some poor soul a five dollar bill because I knew they’d use it for food.

The way someone hungry says thank you was God’s blessing towards me. I always felt privileged to have helped someone when they really needed it even though it wasn’t really all that much. Feeding people who are hungry feels good! Maybe it is instinctual? Maybe it is God’s grace. Maybe it is just a good thing to do.


I notice in these thoughtful comments that we start by feeling bad and helpless about the refugee situation on the other side of the world, then end up talking about what is right in our neighborhood, and how the truth is we’re afraid to do things that might help, even if only a little. I know that I do the same myself – I read about and feel overwhelmed by all the world’s pain, and so often decide if I can’t solve it all, I’ll do nothing.

I think there probably is a connection between taking a step, whatever it is, to help the one who is placed in front of you, and the ultimate ability to help those on the other side of the world. Everything’s connected, right? Maybe it’s less important what we do than that we do something, overcome the fear.

It doesn’t have to be something painful to us personally. I read this week about 3 teenagers who 'd heard about young people in another country getting infected feet for lack of shoes, and they raised money through crowd funding to buy thousands of pairs of shoes for them. We have collective power to help these days that we didn’t have a dozen years ago. If we each did something that draws on our natural gifts, something even that is fun or joyful – something more than the reflexive handing out of a dollar, something that requires rising a little bit above fear, maybe it starts something in ourselves and perhaps in others.


Good quote from Padmasambava.

1200 years later Mahatma Gandhi said the same thing: "

What I hear predominantly in this piece is guilt. And it sounds like guilt from a man who is generous and kind and engaged and who chose to incarnate (yes, I suspect we live many lives) in this very difficult time and place.

He mentions his Guatemalan friend, a victim of US sponsored terror. For the most part, we have small affect as individuals other than to be kind, envision a different future and lobby lobby lobby those in power. Beyond that, we are worker bees in a hive that must reach consensus to affect real change. When governments do horrendous things that we do not condone, we have minimal power. I have struggled my entire adult life to understand periods like Nazi Germany when the human condition went south with so many people caught up in that madness doing whatever dance they found themselves in. Some in retrospect were brutal, others uncaring, some desperate, some courageous. What did all these different beings in their different circumstances learn from their roles in that drama. And what today are we learning from our contemporary and crazed passion play.

I think negative emotions like guilt cripple us. Introspection however has great value to a point. After that, paying attention to that still small voice within and acting where and how we can is enough.

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It’s a quandary.

Do I mess up my more-or-less orderly and comfortable life to open the door to some destitute person, like Mr. Koehler did with his old Guatemalan acquaintance?

Do I confront our criminals in charge, who are ultimately responsible for much of the suffering in the world, and risk their retribution?

Or do I do as I do now, which is nothing, and live ridden with guilt, and perhaps accumulate god-knows-what ailments internally as a result of my prolonged psychic suffering?

Buddha is squirming alright.

The path of the spiritual warrior is an aching heart of compassion, being willing to lean into the caring, feeling the suffering of others, to suffer with, and then also, to ACT. It does take courage. that is the path of the Spiritual Warrior, the path of the Bodhisattva.
May all beings benefit! is the mantra of the warrior.

Do what you can with what you have, right where you are. It is what all compassionate person must answer. As the Chinese saying goes;
Change what you cannot endure; Endure what you cannot change.

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as soon in this writing, there are only teachable moments in our lives.

Having been homeless for several years, I can tell you, if somebody lives on the street…they need it, whatever your opinion of their demeanor. Do some spend the money on booze or dope? Sure! Its the only vacation they’ll ever get from where they are. Once you give away some spare change it belongs to the person you gave it to. Otherwise, you’re not really giving it…you’re telling them how you want it spent. I spent spare change on food, beer and who knows what. All was appreciated and I needed every dime. Now, when I pay back those who helped me by handing out change, I consider it theirs to use as they wish. I even carry around a 100 dollar bill for when I see someone who really needs it. You should see their faces when I hand it over after they asked for a dollar. Why must the homeless be limited by your idea of what they can have and what they can’t? Nobody on the street is a phony. Some are better at it than others.


I feel the same as you but I always carried fives. It actually didn’t matter to me if someone bought a couple of beers although I’d always ask them if I could buy them food. Many who are dirty and smelly get chased away from food places so I learned to offer to go in a pizza place for them.

There are those who you see everyday whose clothes are clean and different. They aren’t homeless at all. I’ve seen many a scammer and bully who prey on those who have nothing. I’ve also given a twenty (mostly to women. Being homeless is hard and scary for women).

One of the best moments of my life is one night when I saw a homeless guy who had been robbed of everything including his shirt huddled bare chested shivering and I got out my favorite Chamois hvy. weight flannel shirt jac from the back of my car that I kept there and gave it to him. You know when a person means it when they bless you. Loved that shirt.

Always found it was worth the money.

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plantman13 makes a relevant reply but before I read that reply I could identify with your post. I’ve always shunned organised charities as they seem to be full of do-gooder self righteousness. I think money is to be viewed with deep suspicion. It might be the immediate barrier between the hungry and their next meal but that seems to result from the role it plays in our mad world. No other species prevents its kin from food and welfare via such a manipuative tool. Perhaps your (and my) guilt in that area stems from some subliminal awareness that we are ultimately - in part at least - mired in that human sickness.

Never heard of this individual… but then by buddhist thinking I think we are all the same mind manifested as different detail. Your last sentence rings true. Or to play with another idea: you are what you see… so see what you want.

One of Ghandi’s better ideas.
However, quoting Marx (I think) in terms of heros/masters - have none!
This was a wake-up call to me on that front: