Saturday, July 31, 2010

interesting and important

Sometimes I think that things are far too interesting to be important. Mostly, the importance is granted a lead position and what is interesting goes begging. But where importance glistens, what is interesting flows.

I guess this is just one of those post-its you can stick up on your mind's refrigerator door. A nudge. And perhaps important for a while. But after 'a while,' things get interesting and there is no denying it.

What brought this to mind was reading some words about 'Beat Buddhism' or some such moniker. I took it to mean the Buddhism found in works by people like Alan Watts and others of his time. I was always a fan -- found importance in -- the old guys of Buddhism and more specifically Zen. Their words nudged me much as Alan Watts' words nudge others.

But I don't think it's so important how anyone hitches up a star. What matters is that they pick their star and then ... for once ... stop screwing around: Dig in, dig deep and find the place where things become interesting and untenable. It really doesn't matter whether someone can spell or discourse on the nirmanakaya. Such things are like posters in an auto garage -- ads for the best spark plugs or brake pads or hub caps. Very important! Yes, very important if you want the car to run.

And then one day -- it might be a Tuesday or a Wednesday -- you wake up to the fact that what is important and what has held your hand through thick and thin ... is much more interesting than its importance. It may be a bit disconcerting at first because finding important topics is our way of asserting our own importance. But a little at a time, with practice, what is interesting takes the reins and giggles and doesn't ask for anything.

Maybe this is to vague, too airy-fairy, too scrambled. But it's what I can manage this morning.

Oh well.

Friday, July 30, 2010


Everything seems to be a fragment of something else, a-part-of and yet complete. For example, I may have read a book and yet remember only some small phrase ... and it is enough to complete the meaning or universe of that book for me.

Or maybe it's a half-erased graffito on a men's room wall: All it says is "or else" or "cotton balls" and what preceded or followed what is legible is now missing or smudged.

Usually, it is detail heaped on detail that makes a convincing story or thought. But after a while, fragments are enough ... the picture will paint itself if I quit picking up paint brushes.

And the fragments are fun, evocative, or confounding -- and often-times far more interesting than the larger context in which they might fit.

Think of it: Square bubbles; loving scars; or maybe just petite peas.

Fragments of smell, fragments of sight, fragments of hearing, fragments of taste, fragments of emotion, fragments of thought ... and somehow it's enough: The symphony's fragment notes become the symphony, which once again is a fragment.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Reading a dissection of age-group interest and affiliation with religious life this morning, I wondered to what extent conformity trumped daring. And more, how would anyone go about rating their own daring?

For example, I can put up a pretty good argument that Zen Buddhists -- or at least the ones who sit down on a cushion and shut up -- are pretty damned ballsy. And yet I hardly think of myself that way. And no one thinks they are especially daring when actually practicing zazen or seated meditation.

Daring seems to be rated either before or after the event ... but not during it. This is the reason so many politicians and priests sound ridiculous when praising the "heroism" of another. At a distance, something may be heroic ... but not when you ask the hero. The hero has been there and done that and knows that s/he never gave heroism a thought at the time.

It seems we can perceive a lack of daring in our own or others' actions, but I think it is harder to see our own very real daring. Does it matter? I don't know.

Just thinking -- a bit fuzzy-headed -- out loud.


Don't mess with me just now. In preparation for an exploratory exam at the hospital today, I have been warned off food, drink and, well, just don't put anything in my mouth. It makes me crabby and, with wife and kids in Philadelphia for a tourist visit, there are fewer diversions, fewer things that would draw my attention away from the facts, fewer points of forgetful solace.

It's not just that I am mildly hungry. What really gets under my skin is that this smooth-sailing habit has been short-circuited. A habit like that isn't easy to break or to want to break. I guess it's about like any other habit -- I want what I want and like what I like -- but just now "food" is under the microscope.

Why must Zen students think that their daily life is somehow not Zen ... that's it's ordinary where Zen practice is (go ahead a whisper it!) extraordinary? That's a rhetorical question, but it is interesting.

Anyway, I have a couple of activities to fill the space between now an 1130a arrival at the hospital where they will look at my liver, spleen and possibly pancreas. I'll shower and do a little zazen ... and gripe. Time flies when you're having fun. :)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


In Zen practice, there is breath-counting...counting the exhalations from one to ten and beginning again.

What could be simpler? What could be more personal? What could be more accurate?

Beginners find themselves stymied again and again. They don't yet know that experts are in precisely the same boat. In breath-counting, experts and tyros collapse in the same heap.

Breath-counting. I don't praise it to the exclusion of anything else, but for those with the determination and courage, what could be better? What could be more direct?

Let others talk and believe and hope and dissect.

wake up!

In the early-dawn light, even before the roosters, the mourning doves were calling and responding, calling and responding today.

I wonder if the birds have an informal roster of who will be first to herald each day.

request for contributions

Received in email this request which I have also posted under "Eido Tai Shimano." Together with Robert Aitken Roshi, Kobutsu has done a lot of the heavy-lifting when it comes to gathering and making available pertinent data as regards Mr. Shimano.

Greetings Dear Friends and Supporters,
The Engaged Zen Foundation needs your donation in order to continue its work!

Thanks to your continued support, EZF has been surviving on the donations of a very small number of individuals and frequent infusion of personal funds. . Just recently EZF was part of two SCOTUS cases as amici curiae. In Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005) Elimination of juvenile death penalty and In Graham v. Florida (08-7412) and Sullivan v. Florida (08-7621) (2009) Juvenile Life Sentences. Since much of the work of EZF now focuses on correspondence practice and providing Buddhist written materials to prisoners, EZF has strived to survive on a shoestring budget.

Only a few weeks ago, Robert Aitken Roshi, now 93 years young, invited Ven. Kobutsu to visit with him at the Honolulu Diamond Sangha for one week. This will be a very important and valuable pilgrimage for Kobutsu as well as Robert Aitken Roshi and the future of American Zen Buddhism.

EZF needs your donations to make this pilgrimage possible. We are calling upon you, our friends and supporters, to assist us in raising the necessary funds --approximately $1,200.00 -- to send Ven. Kobutsu on this important journey.

Your tax deductible donations in the amount of $25, $50, $100, $500, or any other amount, can be made to EZF via credit card or PayPal by clicking here:

For those without HTML email, donations can be made from the EZF site at:

Alternately, donations may be made by check to:

The Engaged Zen Foundation
Post Office Box 213
Sedgwick, ME 04676 USA

In dynamic peace, with nine deep bows,
Ryushin Sean Malone, Vice president – The Engaged Zen Foundation


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

one liar to another

An email this morning made me think:

Usually, we mewl and pine for the "truth" and set up barriers against the "lies." But for anyone who is serious about spiritual endeavor, the "truth" is an obstruction: The important part is to get to the bottom of the lies.

As the old saying goes, "If someone tells you 'it's free,' grab your wallet!"

Ditto the "truth."

This is just one old liar talking to another.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Socrates on writing

In the May 13 issue of The Economist, there was an article about Barack Obama's criticism of up-to-date gadgets and the effect they have on society.

More than Obama's somewhat bizarre criticism (he was swept into office partly due to an impressive use of the internet) was a background paragraph and Socrates' part in it:

Socrates’s bugbear was the spread of the biggest-ever innovation in communications—writing. He feared that relying on written texts, rather than the oral tradition, would “create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls…they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves.” Enos Hitchcock voiced a widespread concern about the latest publishing fad in 1790. “The free access which many young people have to romances, novels and plays has poisoned the mind and corrupted the morals of many a promising youth.” (There was a related worry that sofas, introduced at the same time, encouraged young people to drift off into fantasy worlds.) Cinema was denounced as “an evil pure and simple” in 1910; comic books were said to lead children into delinquency in 1954; rock’n’roll was accused of turning the young into “devil worshippers” in 1956; Hillary Clinton attacked video games for “stealing the innocence of our children” in 2005.

The emphasis above is mine:

"... They will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves." To my mind, it is a far-reaching comment.

Far-reaching, but still not far-reaching enough because, I imagine, the oral tradition to which Socrates alluded was every bit as open to a cotton-candy lifestyle as was a world full of written words: If you can remember and recite the words, then you know what you are talking about, right? How many of us know people like that ... including the one in the mirror? :)

Still, I thought it was fun to think how from age to age, the changes keep coming, keep upsetting someone's apple cart, and keep morphing into ... whatever it is they morph into.

getting down to business

Today, while reading a bulletin board on the BBC, I ran into a word that sent me to the dictionary. That was kind of fun. "Deontology" -- the the theory or study of moral obligation ... and not, as I had flash-guessed half-humorously, some advanced and more expensive version of dentistry.

When I was a teenager, my father would occasionally challenge me to spell long words I had never heard of. "Phthisis" comes to mind. They weren't words anyone was likely to use, but it had a kind of stratospheric feel to it ... fancy words in your own language that no one was ever likely to hear again. It had a superior feel to it.

The theory or study of moral obligation ....

Of what use are theory and study? Well, besides showing off unnecessarily, the only use I can think of is to put theory and study to the test. There's probably a long word for that too, but doesn't it all boil down to ...

Put up or shut up?

I don't intend the question in some dismissive, don't-be-an-academic-asshole sense. I mean it literally. Who doesn't have theories and studies running around in the mind? So ... doesn't there come a time when there needs to be a willingness to dive in, to make mistakes, and to find out if something is true or not? Can long-longer-longest words burnish that experience?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

sneaking up on god

Did you ever catch yourself trying to sneak up on your chosen god or realization or whatever? Somewhere, whispering in the mind, is the thought that if you are just good enough, virtuous enough, kind enough, intellectual enough, emotional enough ... if you could recite enough text or build enough temples or expend enough energy ... THEN you would find the prize in hand and all would be well.

Sneaking up on god.

The picture that comes to my mind is of a curled-up, well-fed cat, its eyes half open as it watches the end of its tail and concocts sure-fire strategies for nailing that twitching, seemingly-independent sucker.


unremembered present

Strange thing, memory: It informs and infuses the present and yet is invariably inaccurate. Events and people that were stunningly bright or horrific in their moment are now veiled and blurred by judgment and affection.

"I remember it as if it were yesterday!" I suppose it's true -- those etched arrows or warming shawls -- but yesterday, while inescapable, is gone ... revised, remolded and never really the same. Does anyone say, "I remember as if it were today?"

I think it is in The Dhammapada that it says,

We are what we think
Having become what we thought.

Living in the past is often held up as a fool's errand, but what about all the nitwits running around saying we have to live in the present ... in what way are they any less foolish, any less bamboozled, any less lazy?

For me, this is a serious question -- one for serious men and women who don't lack courage. But it might well be just another philosophical bauble, something to bandy about in a term paper or over a pitcher of beer. Beer is nothing to sneer at: At least you get a hangover for your trouble.

My teacher once mentioned a "pointless point."

The stingy bastard didn't even pass the beer.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

religious corpses

Now and then, I have to remind myself: It is not what people think that matters so much when it comes to important matters -- it is what they believe. In a number of ways, this is pretty scary, but that doesn't change my belief that it is true. All the rational gimcrack in the world doesn't stand a chance when belief is brought to bear.

As a criticism of others, this may be fun, but as an observation about ourselves -- an observation accompanied by investigation -- it becomes useful.

As a newspaper reporter, I once got involved in writing a series of articles about a proposed new school. The school was needed, according to some, and too expensive according to others.

One day, I sat down and created two terse outlines of each position. The boxes ran side-by-side in the paper. No opinions -- just facts. I was pretty smug ... if you put the facts in front of people, they will choose something sensible. I imagined, with my two-box approach, that I had written my last new-school article for a while.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. The superintendent of schools called to say he thought my idea and execution were good, but otherwise ... it was the same ol' same ol'. Same debate based on the same arguments, most of them top-heavy with belief and bias.

Isn't it sometimes the same in spiritual endeavor -- that adherents seek to save the drowning child and grab the child by the throat in an effort to place him or her on dry land? But by the time the child is placed on the land, s/he is dead from strangulation. Instead of a living, breathing, joyful person, what is left after so much effort, is just another religious corpse.

The shape and form of spiritual endeavor really are useful, but somehow it needs to be remembered that killing the spirit with form is not the same as salvation. Dead bodies with well-manicured fingernails sounds pretty stupid to me. I guess the only hope is that determination and courage and patience will show the way to something more lively than a corpse of belief.

Friday, July 23, 2010

no insult

Television is going the way of books -- going, going, gone. There are now so many ads on TV that it is hard to find the show itself. And the slices of story that are offered ...?

Sitting on the porch on this moisty afternoon, I could see rain drops plopping circle-perfect into awaiting puddles. I watched for at least a half an hour, ad-free.

Rain drops do not insult the intelligence.

a little sweat

Strange to think that when Cyrus McCormick completed work on the reaper/combine that would form a basis for the International Harvester Company, it was with the help of a slave, Jo Anderson -- a man who, according to his station, might have done the work that the combine did so much more efficiently -- picking crops in the early part of the 19th century.

At its inception, the reaper/combine was seen as a boon to feeding a hungry and growing nation. Its efficiency in gathering wheat among other crops meant that fewer workers needed to be employed and it sent those workers to seek employment in cities. Ergo, perhaps, the rabbit-warren cubicles of office life.

And yet as I watched a TV show about harvesting on TV last night, there was something saddening about the occasional pictures of men an women trimming lettuce, gathering oranges, away from the cotton fields, and having far less contact with the sugar beets that produce 50% of the sugar in this country.

The show even touched on the tension that existed between those who worked and the machines that replaced them. On the one hand efficiency. On the other, loss of gainful employment.

But more than a paycheck, it seemed to me, there was a loss of dignity as mechanical improvements took hold. There is something to be said for the dirt beneath our feet and fingernails, the sweat that soaks our shirts, and the relaxing sigh that comes unbidden when day is done and the sun goes down. I don't want to make a Walden-esque fetish out of it (let's all sit around preening in our simplicities), but there is some satisfaction in perspiration -- a satisfaction that underarm deodorant can never provide. I think it is good, whatever the chosen profession, to know how to sweat.

But that could just be the old fogy in me.

PS. Forgot to add that the TV program also gave some possible explanations (between the lines) for why it is that store-bought tomatoes suck. After the combine was developed, someone made life easier by creating a tomato with a thicker skin -- something that would withstand the bruising the combine might otherwise deliver. Great for productivity and shelf-life, but if you're anything like me, there is nothing like a real tomato... the kind that invariably dribbles down your chin.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


The only two places where I can think of where pipe organ is a 'perfect fit' or imperative presence are in church and at a baseball game.

There are probably a bunch of others as well, but those two stood out in my mind.

I wonder if there are other settings in which musical instruments are thought of as part of the background or if there are musical instruments for which particular settings come forcefully to mind.

Just noodling.

stuck with the past


A friend sent along a copy of a New York Times article addressing the fact that the past is here to stay -- most notably on youtube and Facebook where people say and show things about themselves that they learn to regret. There is no way to delete such past enjoyments or braggadocio ... you're stuck with the farm and employers, among others, are capable of holding it against you.

A salient quote:

The fact that the Internet never seems to forget is threatening, at an almost existential level, our ability to control our identities; to preserve the option of reinventing ourselves and starting anew; to overcome our checkered pasts.

So the longing -- I would call it a human longing -- to find some place in which to be naked and unfettered (even if it's only long-distance) butts up against the fact that the nakedness is selective and in some cases embarrassing: It's not the whole story and thus the 'ability to control our identities' is thrown into a cocked hat.

There is no forgiveness on the Internet, no recognition that people are honestly more interesting than their well-concocted resumes. So, if I tell you an embarrassing story about myself, you may judge that according to other things you know. But on the Internet there are few if any 'other things.'

The past is inescapable. But it is also ungraspable in any realistic sense. The past is who you were and who you are ... simultaneously. Blush or wail or congratulate yourself all you like, there is no escape.

What then is left? Intellectual or psychological analysis? Selective memory? Convenient brain farts? How can anyone control their identity when push comes to shove? And yet who doesn't try -- sometimes pretty hard -- to control that identity?

Limiting the limitless ... it's an exercise worth investigating. What nitwit thought that up?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

it's not a Depression, of course


This is the easiest to view, I imagine

Or, use youtube and click arrows on bottom right to make more visible/legible:


mediocre excellence

A lot of years ago, when I painted apartments in New York as a means of supporting an interest in Zen, I bought my needed supplies at a single paint store. As for other painters, the store offered a discount to 'professionals,' but that was not the reason I patronized the store. Their discount was not the best, but what made me come back again and again was the fact that most of the salesmen were former painters -- people who knew not only the answers to a lot of practical questions but also the questions that were likely to be asked.

The store's second biggest attraction was the fact that those salesmen were not afraid to say, "I don't know." This meant that I was not left pretending I had an answer for a customer when in fact I did not ... it was good for my credibility. I didn't need a salesman who knew "the right answer" according to what the label on the can said. I needed someone who knew what the right answer was based on the experience that comes from trial and error.

I guess everyone starts with the label on the can -- with the rote answer that will allow the person delivering the answer to cover his or her ass. If "everyone says so," then I'm safe ... it must be true. I think of this as the mediocrity of excellence...a good place to begin, but a lousy place to end.

I thought about this yesterday when seeing yet another of what lately seems like a whirlwind of doctors -- all of them addressing one or another discomfort I am capable of complaining about. Each is important in his own right. Each specialty is important to the entire cause ... and yet yesterday I felt a wave of anger and fear and confusion as a well-intentioned and somewhat harried doctor addressed another facet of this discomforting and painful gem.

I felt no doubt that he had moved beyond the labels on the paint cans of his profession, but he was not talking in a way that accorded with the "me" who sought out answers from him. I didn't even mind if he said "I don't know," but I did not get the feeling he was talking to me ... which led me to distrust him ... which cranked up my already-blooming cranky fears.

True, he could cover his ass. He was bringing his expertise to bear and no one would/could fault him for it: The label plus his experience offered adequate protection. But I was tired and scared and cranky and, with an irrational child inside, wondered when he would start talking to "me."

Perhaps it is a skill that is too much to demand and yet when it's your life on the line, there is a desire to get beyond the mediocre excellences. Yes, it is probably too much to ask or realistically expect.

But it is worth remembering, I think: No one can speak a language other than their own, but they can make an effort to hear and accord with the language of those around them...assuming there is some desire to lend a hand.

It was confusing and I suppose I am still confused.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Since my older son is going through the financial and other fires of getting to college in September, I realize anew that I have not asked the one question I can think of that might give some yardstick against which to measure the institution's seriousness about learning.

"How many students flunked out last year, based on academics?"

Every year, along the AP news wire, there is some brief about how many students have gotten A's at Harvard. It is a very high number. But far from making me salivate over the excellence of such a good institution, I wonder how much they have lowered their standards. My suspicious mind views it as being a little like kindergarten teachers who can offer little more than a sappy, "good jooooob!"

Not that my son is going to Harvard, but the questions are pretty much the same. How many flunked out? And what sorts of bell curves were employed in the collation of all those A's? How much of any yardstick is just a sigh and a reflection that "it's human after all?"

Scientists have less room for head-patting. As often as not, their answers are either "right" or "wrong:" two plus two does not equal five. But for the softer disciplines -- history, English, psychology, anthropology, etc. -- what yardstick is there that encourages the notion that investigation is an unceasing matter and not just a sigh and a "good jooooob!"?

It's the same in spiritual endeavor, I think. There are the scientific approaches -- two plus two equals four, period! (let's have another war!) -- and the approaches that take certain things as given and certain others as open to investigation ... and then there is the approach that the whole thing, from muzzle to butt plate, is nothing BUT investigation ... always.

Pick your poison. But beware of the words, "good joooob!"

Monday, July 19, 2010

pick a topic

OK ... what topic would you prefer? Today was filled with pills and the pilfering others are accused of ... I could use help with a more interesting topic.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

second sleep

Once upon a time a long time ago, the sun rose and the sun set and those under its auspices would sleep according to its rhythms ... "first sleep" and "second sleep." This was true in much of the world, or perhaps as much as cared to give it a name.

First sleep in medieval times was given over to exhaustion accumulated before the setting of the sun. At about midnight, people would wake, pee, do odd chores, make love or float in a kind of hypnagogic ahhh prized for its relaxation, dreaming and religious ... uh ... stuff. Lights (candles, fire pits (no chimneys), etc.) were a two-edged sword -- and often dangerous under thatched roofs -- and stubbing toes must have been common.

These days, patients sometimes complain to their doctors when a solid block of night does not mean "sleep."

How different things must have been, 24/7, within such a pace and ritual. "Primitive" is a dismissive description that might be applied, but I wonder if in those times the need for shrinks was as compelling? I'm not trying to dismiss psychology and those who benefit ... but really, if you slept better, what would be the effect on neuroses/psychoses? Literally, I wonder.

I do like the fact that the twixt-sleep-and-wakefulness was honored as a time for wider and perhaps more wonderful floating. True then, true now -- or anyway I want to say that without knowing.

Well, I just like the ripples that seem to slither and shimmy and glisten in the description, "second sleep."

Saturday, July 17, 2010

blue chips

My next-door neighbor, Joe, is off to Kenya tomorrow to lend a hand with the orphans who are sometimes stricken with AIDS ... and are, even without such an illness, stricken in a stark land.

When I asked Joe how he felt about going, he said he was looking forward to it ... and a bit nervous. Utterly new surroundings, a language he doesn't speak, a poverty that does not fit comfortably into his relatively-comfortable, pink, suburban lifestyle. Joe is risking a change of mind and heart, which is not much of a big deal, perhaps, until you actually try it.

Sometimes I wonder what good spiritual endeavor is worth without the risk. True, Joe is a Christian, so that's some impetus. And Buddhists can talk about risking the ego ... or words to portray putting things pretty much on the line. But there are plenty of people, religious and otherwise, who live as if risk were not part and parcel of their lives.

In college, when I shot a lot of billiards, my favorite partner/competitor was Keith, a guy who would say to me as I would to him, "No guts, no blue chips." In poker, the blue chips are worth the most. Risking a difficult and dangerous shot came with the territory of the game -- a game we both enjoyed and therefore played.

Spiritual endeavor -- a game many may enjoy and some may play. But at what level and to what end? Accolades from others, spiffy vestments, awards on occasion, virtue heaping up like sawdust at the mill, compromises on behalf of what is "good?" People play as they may, but ....

No guts, no blue chips.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Off to the hospital in 40 minutes to get my heart shocked back into a healthier rhythm. If the procedure -- tried twice in the past with varying degrees of longevity-success -- works, I may be able to delete some of the mounting medications that go with age ... a walking pharmacological experiment.

Doctors and pills. Those who are aging know the drill. Those who are not yet convinced they are aging are probably lucky ... if in for a surprise. Strange that as the number of doctors and pills increases, the sense of usefulness -- the reason to see doctors and take pills in the first place -- seems to wane and I get irritated by those bushy-tailed smarm merchants who prattle, "Life is precious." Life isn't precious, for heaven's sake: Life is just life.

so what? now what?

I'm not sure if it's true or simply one of Murphy's laws, but it does seem to me that just about the time anyone gets a job or thought process nailed down, there is no longer the need to perform it.

For example, at a time when I was painting apartments in New York, I positively hated painting shutters. Whether with a spray gun or a brush, there were always drips that formed and needed to be smoothed out. It was attentive, labor-intensive work. My mantra, when painting shutters, always seemed to include George Carlin's Seven Dirty Words You Can't Say On TV.

But one day I realized I had pretty much mastered shutter-painting. Yes, it required attention and yes it was still labor intensive, but the balk had gone out of it. I missed the spots I missed and then went back and corrected them ... it was just shutter-painting. And strangely, the number of apartments in which I had to paint shutters seemed to dwindle down to few or none.

OK, life seemed to say, you know how to do that.

Now what?

Maybe spiritual endeavor is a bit like that -- busting your tail only to wake up one morning and realize, more or less, that you've got that nailed. So what? Now what? And there are those who will parrot, "the way is endless." OK. So what? Now what?

If you've got it right, OK.

If you've got it wrong, OK.

So what?

Now what?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

the belly of the beast

It's not a new picture (2005 I believe), but it first came to my attention last week -- a Burmese python in the Florida Everglades tried to eat a six-foot alligator. The alligator apparently clawed its way out of the snake's belly. Both died.

Pythons are apparently gaining a foothold in the swampy Everglades after Romantic owners found the snakes too big or voracious to handle and dropped them off in the wild. So perhaps some of the Grade B snake horror films are not that crazy after all.

For some vaguely-perverted reason, the picture makes me think of those who create great spiritual-endeavor orders and are zealous about the customs and costumes that accrue over time. Buddhists 'defend the Dharma.' Christians 'defend the church.' Basically it boils down to, "I defend me."

But calling it all an ego-trip would be too simplistic by half. It takes ego to build the organization that will encourage and point things out for others. There is usefulness in reaching out to the human heart that longs for some kind of unity or peace. Many have been helped.

And many have found themselves in the belly of the beast -- clawing to get out, to get real, to breathe fresh air. The constrictions of what was defended and elevated are just too much and life -- a life of unity or peace -- is squeezed out of the organization that promises fresher, more delightful air.

The Bible python encourages, "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin...." Which of the alligators among us could resist such a sensible invitation ... and yet, if we hold it up as something defensible and good, which one of us would not likewise be smothered?

There is nothing so good that it cannot be tarnished; nothing so tarnished that it cannot be good. But this has nothing to do with 'defending' anything, 'preserving' anything.

Each has to get out of the belly of the beast. It's not a joke, even if that belly is warm as hot cocoa.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Just a little mouthwash for the day's somewhat icky accumulations:


Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Before the stock brokerages and banks sold out the American people, there was a TV advertisement whose punch line was, "When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen." The sight gag was that one man is shown whispering to another in a crowded dining room and as soon as he begins to talk, the room goes silent. The implication was that E.F. Hutton had something to say that was worth listening to.

But does/did it? We'll never know, though the economy is clearly in disarray and the brokers are struggling with come-to-Jesus-TV-advertising that will part consumers from whatever money they have left.

Funny how in spiritual life there seem to be two approaches -- A. say things over and over and louder and louder; and B. say it once, quietly, a let it go at that.

I can make the arguments and support the reasons and needs of both persuasions, but I do find it attractive when people say "yes" and "no" and go about their business. Sure, it's all as complex as a ball of yarn or a Freudian wet dream, but in the end, there's "yes" and "no" and work that needs doing.

I knew a Japanese fellow once who lost no opportunity to recall his samurai heritage and his code of bushido honor. These are serious matters for serious people, and yet, for him, it was no more than a solemnity -- a crease in his brocaded robe, another piece of "deeeeeep meaning." There didn't seem to be an E.F. Hutton in the house to whisper in his ear, though he certainly did, like a skilful merchant, come away with plenty of money.

Money and power ... the poor bastard.

Monday, July 12, 2010

shit magnet

Once upon a time -- and perhaps still -- there was an expression, "babe magnet." A babe magnet was a car that would assure the flocking of docile and delicious young women and other awe-struck attention. A "babe magnet" was a guy thing, I think... another, among many, masculine hopes.

I remembered the "babe magnet" this morning when I received yet another reference/blog/paean to the self-centered behavior of some Buddhist teachers. Since I had indulged in such conversation in the past, there was no way I could expect not to be made part of present and future conversations. And yet, receiving it, I felt there really ought to be a phrase, "shit magnet." That's how it made me feel -- like a shit magnet. On the one hand, I really didn't want to be part of it. On the other hand, there was no escaping being part of it.

Others will have fluffy disquisitions on this subject -- anger, sorrow, love, righteousness, vituperation, helplessness ... the list goes on and on -- but what struck me this morning together with seeming to be a shit magnet was this: There simply is no subject -- none -- to which the old axiom does not apply: Don't do the crime if you can't do the time. The devil is always in the details and those who skip over the details or try to bury them under an avalanche of virtue or goodness or straight-spined disdain ... well, it's a great way to short-circuit a half-decent practice and a halfway happy life.

It really is the shit that grows the flowers and so -- even when kicking or screaming or patting ourselves on the back for an outsized righteousness -- well, flowers are nice, I think.

Which is not to say a shower wouldn't help after a bit of gardening.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

no screwing around

This morning, when I might have been doing zazen, it crossed my mind.

Forty years ago when I got interested in spiritual endeavor, the one question I really wanted an answer to was, "Is it (spiritual life) bullshit or not?" I didn't want to know in order to convince or convert anyone else. I just wanted to know to my own satisfaction ... bullshit or not?

No screwing around! No intellectual or emotional concertos. Really -- no screwing around!

And this morning, the thought floated up, comfortable as a quilt in winter ... zazen never let me down.

something for me

Perhaps by upbringing, I was never trained to think much of my own efforts and therefore it came as something of a surprise when I felt a small jolt of honest pleasure when I received an email from a Muslim in Norway yesterday -- a note saying he liked my book and might read it all over again. In that small note, it seemed I had been useful to someone and as you get older, your usefulness tends to dwindle, I think. It's nice being useful to someone, or anyway it felt good to me. A pat on the head is nice. It feels connected, less lonely.

In the practice of zazen, or seated meditation, sometimes a group of people will get together and sit in silence. It's pretty powerful, but I will not wax smarmy lyrical about what cannot really be described. It is enough to say that each and every person helps each and every person whether they know it or not. How and why? I'll leave that to the self-help bookshelves.

And it's the same for those who do not practice zazen -- helping each other all the time, with and without words, with and without gestures, with and without debate. Everything, somehow, grows and where a single blade of grass does not grow, the universe is barren and sere.

But each blade of grass warrants a pat on the head, I imagine. Grass, like cats, likes to purr.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

noblesse oblige

The somewhat herky-jerky Wikipedia definition of "noblesse oblige" (nobility obliges) includes these observations:

In "Le Lys dans la vallée", written in 1835 and published in 1836, Honoré de Balzac recommends certain standards of behaviour to a young man, concluding: "Everything I have just told you can be summarized by an old word: noblesse oblige!" His advice had included comments like "others will respect you for detesting people who have done detestable things," but nothing about generosity or benevolence. He later includes the exhortation that a noble person performs services for others not for gain or recognition, but simply because it was the right thing to do.

How much of anyone's conversation and thought is focused on detesting things that are detestable and finding a home among those who likewise find them detestable? It's quite a social habit, I think -- perhaps even socializing. But it is such thin gruel.

And again I come around to Gautama's alleged encouragement: "It is not what others do and do not do that is my concern. It is what I do and do not do -- that is my concern."

Is it true? -- everyone would like to be thought noble, but few are willing to make the effort that would actualize what is elevated.

2 jokes from across the pond

A couple had two little mischievous boys, ages 8 and 10. They were always getting into trouble, and their parents knew that if any mischief occurred in their town, their sons would get the blame.

The boys' mother heard that a clergyman in town had been successful in disciplining children, so she asked if he would speak with her boys. The clergyman agreed and asked to see them individually.

So, the mother sent her 8-year-old first, in the morning, with the older boy to see the clergyman in the afternoon.

The clergyman, a huge man with a booming voice, sat the younger boy down and asked him sternly, "Where is God?"

They boy's mouth dropped open, but he made no response, sitting there with his mouth hanging open.

The clergyman repeated the question. "Where is God?"

Again, the boy made no attempt to answer.

So, the clergyman raised his voice some more and shook his finger in the boy's face and bellowed, "Where is God!?"

The boy screamed and bolted from the room. He ran directly home and dove into his closet, slamming the door behind him.

When his older brother found him in the closet, he asked, "What happened?"

The younger brother, gasping for breath, replied: "We are in real BIG trouble this time! God is missing, and they think we did it!"
A photographer on vacation was inside a church taking photographs when he noticed a golden telephone mounted on the wall with a sign that read '$10,000 per call'.

The American, being intrigued, asked a priest who was strolling by what the telephone was used for.

The priest replied that it was a direct line to heaven and that for $10,000 you could talk to God.

The American thanked the priest and went along his way.

Next stop was in Atlanta. There, at a very large cathedral, he saw the same golden telephone with the same sign under it.

He wondered if this was the same kind of telephone he saw in Orlando and he asked a nearby nun what its purpose was.

She told him that it was a direct line to heaven and that for $10,000 he could talk to God.

'O.K., thank you,' said the American.

He then traveled to Indianapolis, Washington , Philadelphia , Boston , and New York .

In every church he saw the same golden telephone with the same '$10,000 per call' sign under it.

The American, upon leaving Vermont, decided to travel to Cornwall to see if they had the same phone.

He arrived in Cornwall, and again, in the first church he entered, there was the same golden telephone, but this time the sign under it read '50 pence per call.'

The American was surprised so he asked the priest about the sign. 'Reverend, I've travelled all over America and I've seen this same golden telephone in many churches. I'm told that it is a direct line to heaven, but in the US the price was $10,000 per call. Why is it so cheap here?'

The vicar smiled and answered, 'You're in Cornwall now, boy..... it's a local call.'

Friday, July 9, 2010

world of wizards

I suppose that at the same time uncertainty and sadness impelled me to dabble in Buddhism, there was a concomitant delight in wizards. Every dark tunnel requires a light at the end of it -- how else could it be dark? -- and wizards were an expression of that light.

I was thinking about this last night as I watched the first of the Harry Potter movies on TV. As always I liked being showered with unlikely happenings and capacities that were depicted within the humdrum of what was likely. Wow -- magical shit! The movie was credible enough to me so that I watched several segments between the ads.

I never read the Harry Potter books, but my kids assure me they were good. I did read Charles Williams and (my favorite sci-fi writer) Ursula LeGuin and, although they were a bit more complex than riding broomsticks and defeating trolls, still there was an element of wizardry, of magic, in them both.

Wizardry ... some gob-stopping something or other that is, well, gob-stopping. Turning lead into gold. Flying. The frog turns into a prince. Harry Potter owns a wand and a command or rudimentary Latin and ... well, stuff happens.

And it's a short step -- if it's a step at all -- to those other gob-stopping moments, moments seen an completely new light, moments no one can speak of adequately. A piece of music, a sunset, a look between friends, the softness of cashmere. It's "wizardry" because there are no wizards and yet there it is, plain as the nose on your face.

As a kid, of course, I wanted to be a wizard and have the world at my command. I would change what was displeasing and revel in what was pleasant. I would be the master of all I surveyed. I would be ... the wizard.

But as I watched about as much of Harry Potter as I could take, it occurred to me that real wizardry does not consist in making things different. It consists in the ability to make things what they truly are.

Now THAT would be a trick worth knowing.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

get to work

A bit off my feed today, and I can remember doing much the same in the past, but I would like to think there were people who weren't as sluggish and stupid as I was:

Can we get it straight? All religious trappings -- words, temples, incense, devotions, piety, virtue, and fill-in-the-blank -- are lies. I choose the word "lies" for my own purposes but with some care. Call such trappings "invitations" or "encouragements" if you prefer. I prefer "lies" because it inspires a miffed attention.

And it is out of/within those lies that, in spiritual effort, we realize and actualize the truth. We can discuss it until we're blue in the face and puffed up with soulful, compassion-like stares, but the fact remains ... plain as salt, easy as a sunrise.

For those who are not as stupid as I was ... get used to it and get to work.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

hot day, cool water

Before the trim young woman with the clipboard reached to top step of the porch where I was sitting yesterday afternoon, I loosed the kind of quirkiness that people of my age are allowed: "It's too damned hot to talk politics, so please don't do that. But you're welcome to a cold glass of water if you'd like one."

The temperature was around 100F and the humidity was viscous.

The girl heeded what I said and stepped into the air conditioned living room while I fetched the water. We chatted idly about where she lived and how she got sent out to gather signatures no matter what the weather. All in all, it was nice to be on a human frequency as she sipped the icy water.

After she left, my younger son, who was sitting at the computer in a corner, looked at me and said, "Who the hell was that?" And I could reply truthfully, "I don't know, but I think she was hot." It seemed to strike him strange that I might give someone I didn't know a glass of water -- the kind of thing anyone might want.

Treating people as people first and only later as the agendas they are hawking strikes me as a good effort. Not to make some sort of smarmy rule out of it (there are those who have a be-their-friend agenda ... a kind of icky perversion), but as a matter of approach, when it's hot, everyone sweats irrespective of their personal or political agendas. Whether anyone else is lying or not doesn't matter so much ... it just feels better if I don't lie.

After the trim young women moved on, I found the "Daily Brief" from the Huffington Post in my email inbox. As usual, I skimmed the four or five topics and found one, by Arianna Huffington, whose efforts impressed me. Basically it said, for the good of the nation, we've got to stop soft-soaping the problems at hand. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then, despite all the efforts to blur the edges, it is a duck. It is fraud. It is waste. It is skulduggery. It is collusion at some pretty high levels. How can we expect to solve problems when everyone's running around calling them "issues?" People know it's bullshit and yet those issuing the bullshit know that Joseph Goebbels was right ... if you tell a lie often enough, people start to believe it.

But all of this eats into the fabric of the country -- the trust that is a cornerstone to society. It's too economically hot in this country at the moment -- housing starts down, foreclosures grinding forward, jobs lost, banks hoarding money while advertising their willingness to assist families in very difficult times -- to be blowing feel-good, we're on the mend farts. People are thirsty and the shot-cuff agendas are dry on many tongues.

Huffington had done her homework, broken a research sweat. It wasn't all sincere and heart-felt opinion masquerading as something worth listening to. I have no idea how precisely true what she had to say was, but it was clearly an effort worth listening to.

A sip of cold water on a hot day.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


An oppressive heat wave has settled on the eastern part of the United States. Not just hot, but humid ... damn near viscous. Like a profound cold, there is a quiet, mortal threat that comes with the heat ... or perhaps that is just an indicator of my age.

In Zen, there is a saying: "When it's hot, sweat. When it's cold, shiver." And at a time when the muscles and mind were stronger, this has a kind of courage-in-the-face-of-adversity feel to it.

But the heat does not respond to braggadocio of youth and can-do capacities. Zen is for sissies waving the flags of bushido. But heat ... heat is serene and without endeavor. It does not kill on purpose. It does not encourage life on purpose. To call it implacable is just a polysyllabic ego trip ... another one, full of meaning and importance and ... me.

Meaning ... what is it like when things mean neither something nor nothing? Since I am a sissy, I do pray that the air conditioning keeps working, that there is no power outage, that I will neither sweat nor die.

But the heat?

Drip, drip, drip....

Monday, July 5, 2010


Crossed my mind:






enlightened sky?

As a means of encouragement, who has not sought out people and places they would then describe as "enlightened?" It's a bit like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall, but that doesn't stop people -- sometimes with enormous fervor -- from trying.

And as a means of encouragement, who has not sought out people and places they would then describe as "not enlightened?" The same difficulties rise up -- trying to nail Jell-O to a wall -- but once again, that doesn't stop anyone from trying.

Certainly encouragement is something we could all use: The current state of affairs is often uncertain and painful. Encouragement, effort, discipline -- all useful things.

But also ... isn't it a little like running around announcing the sky is blue when the sky is blue? What would "enlightenment" be without enlightenment? Could it be "not enlightened?" But that doesn't compute when the sky is, after all, blue.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

wars ... if you missed them



another time, another place

In the clean and cool of the early morning on Main Street, four or five cars are parked where I want to park -- near a shop that sells ersatz bagels that are marginally better than Dunkin' Donuts but still lack the heft and heroism of a real Jewish bagel. I park, walk to the store, buy a dozen bagels and then return for a leisurely ride home.

On the streets, there are few cars and fewer pedestrians. At a crosswalk, several people look each way before moving towards the church on the other side of the street. On the radio, a young man (or is it a woman) issues enthusiastic dicta about the need and enthusiasm for creating new communities -- the kinds of gatherings not so wedded to the acquisitiveness of the parents who gave birth to those who seek less acquisitiveness. A breathy optimism issues from the radio speakers.

Yesterday, at the fairgrounds, there was a colorful tent and banners advertising a circus within, but this morning the field is empty and green, not even an elephant turd to mark the spot. Outside my house, Joe is just getting out of his car as well and we chat a little. Today is a big day for him: He and his wife Pat are going for a two-week trip to Kenya to visit an orphanage ... children left behind when the parents died of HIV-AIDS. Joe and Pat are not allowed to bring medicine or much else with them. They cannot speak the native Swahili, but they are going anyway as part of their Christian, or perhaps just human, leanings.

In the southern U.S., vacationers are staying away from the Gulf of Mexico in droves, trying to steer clear of the oil spill that is spilling and spilling and spilling into the Gulf and some of its gloppy results are washing up on what might otherwise be tourist-packed shores.

Funny how strong the yearning is for something else -- some other state of affairs or other words that bind or other visions that heal or other acquisitions to acquire. Something else ... and yet no matter how far and fast anyone might travel, still there is the quiet steadiness of the mirror, the home port that cannot be improved.

Isn't it an accomplishment worth noting -- the green grass; not an elephant turd to mark the spot?

Saturday, July 3, 2010


Look! This world is vast and wide. Why do you put on your priest's robe at the sound of the bell?

-- Ummon


Received in email under the question, "And what happens when the next solar flare wipes out the satellites?"

1984 has arrived!

This is awesome reading especially those of us who have seen the
changes in our life time. Whether these changes are good or bad
depends in part on how we adapt to them. But, ready or not, here
they come!

1. The Post Office. Get ready to imagine a world without the post
office. They are so deeply in financial trouble that there is
probably no way to sustain it long term. Email, Fed Ex, and UPS have
just about wiped out the minimum revenue needed to keep the post
office alive. Most of your mail every day is junk mail and bills.

2. The Check. Britain is already laying the groundwork to do away
with checks by 2018. It costs the financial system billions of
dollars a year to process checks. Plastic cards and online
transactions will lead to the eventual demise of the check. This
plays right into the death of the post office. If you never paid
your bills by mail and never received them by mail, the post office
would absolutely go out of business.

3. The Newspaper. The younger generation simply doesn't read the
newspaper. They certainly don't subscribe to a daily delivered print
edition. That may go the way of the milkman and the laundry man. As
for reading the paper online, get ready to pay for it. The rise in
mobile Internet devices and e-readers has caused all the newspaper
and magazine publishers to form an alliance. They have met with
Apple, Amazon, and the major cell phone companies to develop a model
for paid subscription services.

4. The Book. You say you will never give up the physical book
that you hold in your hand and turn the literal pages. I said the
same thing about downloading music from iTunes. I wanted my hard
copy CD. But I quickly changed my mind when I discovered that I
could get albums for half the price without ever leaving home to get
the latest music. The same thing will happen with books. You can
browse a bookstore online and even read a preview chapter before you
buy. And the price is less than half that of a real book. And think
of the convenience! Once you start flicking your fingers on the
screen instead of the book, you find that you are lost in the story,
can't wait to see what happens next, and you forget that you're
holding a gadget instead of a book.

5. The Land Line Telephone. Unless you have a large family and
make a lot of local calls, you don't need it anymore. Most people
keep it simply because they're always had it. But you are paying
double charges for that extra service. All the cell phone companies
will let you call customers using the same cell provider for no
charge against your minutes.

6. Music. This is one of the saddest parts of the change story. The music industry is dying a slow death. Not just because of
illegal downloading. It's the lack of innovative new music being
given a chance to get to the people who would like to hear it. Greed
and corruption is the problem. The record labels and the radio
conglomerates simply self-destruction. Over 40% of the music
purchased today is "catalog items," meaning traditional music that
the public is familiar with. Older established artists. This is
also true on the live concert circuit. To explore this fascinating
and disturbing topic further, check out the book, "Appetite for
Self-Destruction" by Steve Knopper, and the video documentary,
"Before the Music Dies."

7. Television. Revenues to the networks are down dramatically. Not just because of the economy. People are watching TV and movies
streamed from their computers. And they're playing games and doing
all lots of other things that take up the time that used to be spent
watching TV. Prime time shows have degenerated down to lower than
the lowest common denominator. Cable rates are skyrocketing and
commercials run about every 4 minutes and 30 seconds. I say good
riddance to most of it It's time for the cable companies to be put
out of our misery. Let the people choose what they want to watch
online and through Netflix.

7. The "Things" That You Own. Many of the very possessions that
we used to own are still in our lives, but we may not actually own
them in the future. They may simply reside in "the cloud." Today
your computer has a hard drive and you store your pictures, music,
movies, and documents. Your software is on a CD or DVD, and you can
always re-install it if need be. But all of that is changing. Apple,
Microsoft, and Google are all finishing up their latest "cloud
services." That means that when you turn on a computer, the Internet
will be built into the operating system. So, Windows, Google, and
the Mac OS will be tied straight into the Internet. If you click an
icon, it will open something in the Internet cloud. If you save
something, it will be saved to the cloud. And you may pay a monthly
subscription fee to the cloud provider.

In this virtual world, you can access your music or your books, or
your whatever from any laptop or handheld device. That's the good
news. But, will you actually own any of this "stuff" or will it all
be able to disappear at any moment in a big "Poof?" Will most of the
things in our lives be disposable and whimsical? It makes you want
to run to the closet and pull out that photo album, grab a book from
the shelf, or open up a CD case and pull out the insert.

8. Privacy. If there ever was a concept that we can look back on
nostalgically, it would be privacy. That's gone. It's been gone for
a long time anyway. There are cameras on the street, in most of the
buildings, and even built into your computer and cell phone. But you
can be sure that 24/7 "They" know who you are and where you are,
right down to the GPS coordinates, and the Google Street View. If
you buy something, your habit is put into a zillion profiles, and
your ads will change to reflect those habits. And "They" will try to
get you to buy something else. Again and again.

All we will have that can't be changed are Memories.


It's the Fourth of July weekend here in the United States -- Independence Day. As usual on flag-waving holidays, I put the flag out in front of the house. Several of my neighbors are similarly inclined, but most are not.

And after all the years of putting out the flag, I honestly cannot say why I do it other than that I think it is nice to find little ways to take stock of where you are and where you might have been. Just reflect -- not wave the flag necessarily.

Flags stand for ... well, they stand for whatever you want them to stand for. Heroism, patriotism, vulgarity, victory, greed, kindness, honor, skulduggery. There may be those who insist on a single glowing meaning, but people like that give me the collywobbles. Flags are just people, dressed differently ... being who they want to be and, with luck, considering whether being that way really assures any peace.

I still don't know why I put the flag out, but it's a sunny day and there is a gay color in the breeze.

Igor's optimism

Although I am not much of a fan of the "organ recital," still, when the music's playing, there's not much to do but hum along.

Last night, I went to a sleep-medicine clinic, was wired up like Frankenstein's monster, and left to sleep under the long-distance watchful eye of some minders. The object of the exercise was to determine if sleep patterns had anything to do with some current heart irregularities.

And after the TV had worn me out enough and I turned off the lights, it occurred to me that many of the steps taken to date had been aimed at assuring I would not feel worse -- that whatever was ailing would be held in check.

But at what point, I wondered, could I expect to stop feeling "not worse" and actually start feeling better? Was this an actual possibility or, given my age and condition, was "not worse" the best that could be expected?

Medical Jesuits might say that "not worse" IS better, but that's a little too facile for me ... too convenient for them and their need to feel effective.

It all makes me remember the comedy "Young Frankenstein" in which Igor says brightly, "Could be worse. Could be raining."

Friday, July 2, 2010

group-think, lone wolf

Funny in spiritual endeavors: On the one hand, you are encouraged -- even implored -- to find-out-for-yourself. On the other hand, the rebellious child within bristles at the idea of anyone's telling them what to do ... I can do it my-SELF!

Group-think religion vs. the lone wolf! Happy-happy-happy vs. growling within. Gnashing of teeth vs. saccharine prostrations. Certainties from every corner.

The other day, a woman asked me what the physical set-up of her home altar might be, how should it be laid out. She wasn't being cranky, just curious.
Since she was serious, I tried to be serious too. Keep it neat, I said; keep it simple, I said; keep it clean, I said; if you can afford it, make sure this space is not used for something else, I said. Maybe a picture, maybe a statue, maybe some water, maybe a candle, maybe a fresh flower, maybe an incense bowl ... whatever it was, this was a space in which to keep your promises.

My group-think was ladled out for her lone wolf.

I wonder how long it takes for practicing students to get the drift: there is no group-think and there is no lone wolf.

But there is this.


Thursday, July 1, 2010

dress-up Jesus

Once upon a time, the Los Angeles Times, a fairly-influential west coast newspaper in a time when newspapers were more or less serious, ran an article speculating about what the Christian personality Jesus might have looked like.

It wasn't some smarmy, blog-bolstered bit of speculation, but rather relied on the results of archaeologists and other scientists familiar with the time and place. In other words, it was fairly-well-founded guesswork.

In the article as I recall it, Jesus turned out be roughly five-feet-six-inches tall, nut brown and sinewy. This image contrasted sharply with the Hallmark calendar/Easter card depictions of a pink man with a snowy beard and doe-like, caring eyes.

At the time, I read the article from end to end -- not because I was especially curious about what Jesus might look like but because it made me wonder what happens in spiritual life after anyone dresses up their heroes. Is anyone better off or more convinced because they know what someone looks like? Does it support them in some important way?

And of course clothing is not the only way to dress up our chosen dolls. Ideas and precepts and bits of wisdom twinkle along the boughs of imagination or 'proof.' There are stories to be told, some more credible, some more miraculous, than others. So even those who forbid images, like Muslims, are not exempt.

Having dressed our heroes, is there a next-step -- some effort to disrobe what has been so carefully robed or are the dress-up versions really enough to sustain and support what is clung to?

Just noodling here, trying to see how and why our advisers might gain a greater force according to what they looked like.