Well, actually my name is Robert Piccirillo but my nom de plume is Bobby Pickles. Bobby Pickles is an aka, an alias, a pen name, nickname, stage name, whatever you’d like to call it. I’m not the first to establish such a moniker. No, this practice is as old as the hands of time, from porn stars to American-Italians. Many have created pseudonyms, from Mark Twain to Dr. Seuss; social activists, such as Malcolm X; sports icons, such as Ochocinco or Muhammad Ali; visual artists, such as Picasso or Caravaggio; old-school gangsters, such as Bugsy Siegel or Lucky Luciano; serial killers, such as the Son of Sam or Jack the Ripper, superstar criminals, such as Billy the Kid or Butch Cassidy, even The Sundance Kid.
What’s the point of this blathering? Well, that’s a good question. I guess I was just thinking about the overall theme of this episode and I’ve boiled it down to human enlightenment. It’s something that I would describe as acute self-awareness, a characteristic that many of my cohorts and counterparts do not share. I feel it’s a realization of what Buddhism teaches, that age-old mantra, “I am above no one, I am beneath no one, we are all human and we are all going to die someday.”
Actually, come to think about it, “Buddha” was a code-name too, a designation. The Buddha’s given name was Siddhartha. It’s actually a very interesting story, the biography of The Buddha. He was born to a royal Hindu family and was said to have been destined by birth to the life of a prince. His father, who was a great King, wished for his son to become a great king as well; so, he shielded Siddhartha from all religious teachings and from any knowledge of human suffering. He was kept him within the confines of his numerous palaces and he was always surrounded by pleasure. At the age of 29, Siddhartha left his palace to meet his subjects. While en route, his chariot happened upon an old man. This was something that Siddhartha had never been exposed to. So he asked his charioteer, who, explained to him that all people grow old, even Siddhartha will eventually age. And despite his father's efforts to shelter him from him aging, sickness, death and suffering, the prince went on further trips beyond the palace. He encountered a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic (which is a person described as having a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from various worldly pleasures, often with the aim of pursuing religious and spiritual goals). Once Siddhartha realized that he would also someday grow old and get sick and die, and that he was in fact human just like everybody else, he decided to flee his palace for good, and to search for the answer to the following question - “What does it mean to be human?” He recognized that meditation was the right path to awakening, but extreme asceticism didn’t work; therefore, he discovered what Buddhists call the “middle way”, a path of moderation away from the extremes. It was after this that he was famously seated under a Bodhi tree, vowing never to arise until he had found the truth. After 49 days of meditation, at the age of 35, he is said to have attained Enlightenment. Translated, the word “Buddha” literally means “the awakened one” or “the enlightened one”.
The question, “What does it mean to be human”, I guess can be misconstrued as somewhat of a loaded question. A person is not going to be able to attain the appropriate state of mind necessary to answer such an ambitious query - sitting in front of the TV watching cable news, playing video games while snacking on fast food and GMOs. To truly consider what it means to be human, I feel a person needs to venture out of their comfort zone, just like The Buddha did. If said person was an American, they would need to shed themselves of their overdeveloped ethnocentrism, and do a little traveling, encounter different cultures, consume the cable news of another country, experience life from another perspective, do some ayahuasca.
There is a documentary film on Netflix that I streamed a while ago, called “The Human Experience”. The plot of the film follows two brothers living in a halfway house in Brooklyn, New York, who venture on a Buddha-like quest in search of the answer to the question, “What does it mean to be human?” They live amongst the homeless, travel to distant lands and put themselves into various situations, which help shape their outlooks of the world, granting them the insight necessary to realize the truth about humanity and find enlightenment.
I got a chance to sit down for a one-on-one interview with the producer of the film, a gentleman by the name of Joseph Campo, at his office in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Campo is the executive producer at Grassroots films and director of the St. Francis House, which is the halfway house where the two brothers, in the film, reside. There’s obviously a crossover to real life as Campo serves as a surrogate father to many young men who, having run out of alternatives, are looking for a new start in life. The St Francis House, which in 1967, was founded by a Franciscan Friar by the name of Fr. Benedict Groeschel, provides these young men with safety and structure.
Sounds like a great place. Maybe they’ll take me.
Anyway, my conversation with Joseph Campo felt effortless, touching upon topics such as drug addiction, documentary filmmaking, growing up catholic, and of course, what it means to be human.
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