We’re starting off this week’s Buddha Buzz with a pretty clear example of religious intolerance in Hudson, Wisconsin. Don Chering, a Buddhist, put up an American flag and a string of Tibetan prayer flags on the day that his son left for U.S. Army basic training. The flags stretch across the front of his house and over his garage door.

From the Hudson Star Observer.

Soon, his landlady contacted him with an order from the Homeowners Association in charge of the housing complex where Chering lives to remove the flags (it’s unclear as of yet if they are requesting that the American flag be removed as well). 

The association’s rules say that nothing can be attached to the exterior of the townhouses—but as Chering points out, many of his neighbors have Christmas lights up, and none of them have been contacted by the Homeowners Association.

Chering is refusing to remove the flags, saying,

We’re a community, and they want to homogenize everybody. We live side-by-side as Christians and Buddhists. Outside are Christmas lights, prayer flags and an American flag. That’s how we should be living in this country. That’s what our founding fathers intended for us. We shouldn’t be pushing each other around. We shouldn’t be forcing our beliefs on other people. And we sure as heck shouldn’t be stopping other people from practicing their beliefs respectfully, in a way that doesn’t hurt anybody.

Though Chering’s plight hasn’t made it past the pages of the Hudson Star-Observer, somebody else’s has made it all the way to major news organizations: Young Kim, owner of a jewelry store in Brooklyn, has taken Indian-made swastika earrings off her shelves after a customer posted a picture of them online and the controversy went viral. 

In particular, City Councilman Steve Levin and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer have denounced the earrings as hateful and anti-Semitic, despite the fact that the earrings were meant to portray the Buddhist, Jainist, and Hindu symbol, not Nazism (which reversed the Asian symbol and tilted it at an angle.)

Naturally, it’s a tricky issue, and brings up a lot of questions about cultural context and sensitivity. Swastikas were around for thousands of years before the Nazis appropriated the symbol, and are still pictured all over Asia. At the same time, the Brooklyn neighborhood where the jewelry store is located, Greenpoint, has a large Jewish population and has had a recent upsurge in anti-Semitic hate crimes—it’s not surprising that there’s been such a strong reaction to the earrings. (Although the politicians’ comments aren’t helping much: Stringer called the earrings “an insult to any civilized person.”) 

Considering the levels of misunderstanding on all sides, we can all give the situation, and everyone involved, our understanding and compassion. 

A recent article on the Huffington Post, “The Science of Giving: Why Giving Feels So Good,” by Diana Rico, might lend us some motivation for doing so. The piece gives a comprehensive overview (as far as I can tell at least…I’m no scientist) of where that “giving-high” comes from, biologically speaking. 

From the article:

We’ve all felt the high that comes from giving, the “natural gladness” Baraz talks about. Recent science suggests there is a biological basis for it. In 2006, neuroscientist Jorge Moll and a team of National Institutes of Health researchers gave subjects some money and a list of causes to which they might contribute. They found that the mere thought of giving money to charity activates the primitive part of the brain associated with the pleasures of eating and having sex. Functional MRIs indicated that donating money stimulates the mesolimbic pathway, the reward center in the brain, which is responsible for dopamine-mediated euphoria. 

Rico continues, “It is somehow heartening to discover we’re hard wired for behavior that all the great spiritual traditions have urged for centuries.” Well said! The article is long, but well worth the read—Rico includes so many examples of heartwarming generosity that you get that “giving high” just by reading the article.