Saturday, June 30, 2012


One of the finer words in the English language, for my taste, is the word "malarkey." It has a soft smile that belies its acute thrust. A word to save and savor, like the German "Feuerzeug" or "bestimmt."

With its origins unknown, "malarkey" is defined by an Internet dictionary as:

  insincere or foolish talk: bunkum
 As in...

I believe it is true because it is true.
It is true because I believe it is true.


What Did the Vatican Know; When Did They Know It?

The road to the heaven we long for leads through the hell we have created. However apt that observation may be, still, it does not detract from the grueling nature of the pilgrimage.

These days, the priest sex abuse scandal in the United States and elsewhere appears to be gaining momentum as variety of unchurched legal systems pry loose documentation once reserved for locked drawers. Bit by horrific bit, the lawsuits pile up, the dioceses declare bankruptcy, priest applications dwindle, jury and grand jury testimony reaches the Internet, and the convictions for child molestation and/or associated cover-ups by the minions of the Vatican come to light. Gerald T. Slevin has given one pretty good smorgasbord round-up here.William Lindsey's "Bilgrimage" blog collects bits and pieces, snacks and main courses, as they occur. And there are myriad other sites and sources.

But the other day I received a laundry list of Roman Catholic Church documents that goes some way towards answering the question, "what did the Vatican know and when did they know it." The compendium was offered in the decade-old book, "Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes: The Catholic Church's 2,000 Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse." Patrick J. Wall, one of the three authors of the book, sent the compendium and while I do not generally like relying on someone else's presentations, still these documents from within the church itself were so compelling, so first-hand, so sui generis ... well, I was ten years too late to the party, but the music was brand new in my ear.

These documents were not some sappy, hand-wringing blog. They are actual-factual documents -- some complete with the Latin that Wall and his co-authors translated. What they depict is not just what the Vatican knew about sexual abuse and when they knew it, but also the ethos within which these poisonous weeds were nourished. I would love to write something distanced and measured and sane about all this, but I cannot ... and I apologize.

A host of disconnected metaphors chatters in my mind: To read these documents is to become like a steer in the Chicago stock yards -- stunned at first ... dizzy, disoriented, defenseless ... unaware and strangely uncaring that its throat will soon be slit. The language is so sincere, so enveloping and so ornate that you forget the first rule of honest argumentation: Stand up, speak up and shut up. To read these documents is to enter a Chinese opium den where customers were once described as "biting the clouds." Lulling as a mother's croon. You try to yank yourself back from the sweetness of the melody: "Why doesn't someone announce that the emperor is wearing no clothes?!" But the fact is that the emperor's clothes are so lovely that to challenge the loveliness would be to leave yourself, somehow, unloved and bereft. It is all as beguiling as it is diabolical and cruel.

As a matter of disclosure, I have never been a Roman Catholic. To the extent anyone wants to shoot ecclesiastical barbs, I guess I qualify conversationally as a "Zen Buddhist." I am not anti-Catholic. But my gorge rises at depredation and manipulation of the sort practiced in Rome and evidenced in these documents. The abuse of children is beyond the pale. I do not give a shit about the venue -- religious or otherwise. It is true that it has been a long time since I have wasted much time on any belief system, so perhaps my absence from that compulsive need-to-be-convinced realm has raised my vitriol level. I don't know. I do know I cannot apologize.

No one needs to read what is written here. I just felt compelled to compile it.

Below, listed in chronological order, are excerpts I have chosen at random from the entire compilation. I cannot pretend that they are inclusive or even necessarily the best or most compelling of excerpts. Some relate to abuse. Some relate to the backdrop against which the Vatican consolidated its being and ethos... its views of women, homosexuals, money and other aspects of a prescribed life. The excerpts are just what I can manage. I can find nothing in them that proclaims the "caritas" that is the foundation of Christianity. This is the kingdom of man and it is, like all hellish realms, brightly lit. Of all the documents referenced, perhaps the most astounding is that from 1962 -- an instruction on how church officials are to proceed in cases of solicitation or abuse: It is forty-four pages long, describes situations in which those who were not clerics would go to jail ... and yet makes not one mention of civil authority.

Through the centuries -- CENTURIES -- the church has roundly condemned using its confines as a means of  assuring or coercing sexual pleasure... heterosexual, homosexual and for all I know, dog- or sheep-sexual. But this pious condemnation and the punishments the church has proposed on paper stand in stark contrast to the collusive and arrogant maneuvers the church has deployed in the current abuse scandal. Read 'em and weep! Women, homosexuals, and those unconvinced by the authority and truth of the one true church -- duck and cover! It is all as if, when the church looks in the mirror and asks, "Mirror, mirror on the wall/ Who is the fairest of them all?" the answer is always reassuring. To put it bluntly, it is time to break that mirror.

The other day, I was suggesting to Jerry Slevin that he trim his admirable essays on the priest abuse scandal to more bite-sized morsels. Today, the shoe is on the other foot and the laugh is on me.

My thanks go out to Patrick Wall, a man with far greater tact, acuity, and patience than my own, and to my good friend, the Rev. Kobutsu Malone, who both assisted in the Internet creation of this post and remains the creator and sustainer of The Shimano Archive and Bergen Catholic High School Abuse

A complete list of the documents from which I have lifted excerpts is here; what follows are the excerpts:

309 AD or CE               THE CANONS OF ELVIRA

Can. 13. Virgins who have consecrated themselves to God, if they break their vow of
virginity and turn to lust instead, not realizing what they lose, shall not be given
communion at the end.
Can. 21. If anyone living in the city does not go to church for three Sundays, he shall be
kept out for a short time in order that his punishment be made public.
Can. 28. A bishop shall not take a gift from one who is not in communion.
Can. 33. Bishops, presbyters, and deacons and all other clerics having a position in the
ministry are ordered to abstain completely from their wives and not to have children.
Whoever, in fact, does this, shall be expelled from the dignity of the clerical state.
Can. 35. Women are forbidden to spend the night in a cemetery since often under the
pretext of prayer they secretly commit evil deeds.
Can. 47. If a baptized married man commits adultery, not once but often, he is to be
approached at the hour of death. If he promises to stop, communion shall be given him,
if he should recover and commit adultery again, he shall nevermore make a mockery of
the communion of peace.
Can. 67. It is forbidden for a woman. whether baptized or a catechumen, to have
anything to do with long-haired men or hairdressers; any who do this shall be kept from
Can. 71. Men who sexually abuse boys shall not be given communion even at the end.
Can. 81. Women shall not presume on their own, without their husbands signatures, to
write to lay women who are baptized, nor shall they accept anyone's letters of peace
addressed only to themselves.

a well-lighted hell

The road to the heaven we long for leads through the hell we have created.

However true this observation may be, still it cannot detract from the grueling nature of the particulars. Anyone who doubts this needs only to ask anyone who has consented to his or her own particular hell.

Today, rather than write a smattering of thoughts in the blog, I will put my energies into writing/compiling something that is bound to be too long, too freighted, too mediocre ... and yet I feel compelled and will accede to that compulsion. The topic is, roughly, the sex abuse scandal engendered by the Roman Catholic Church.

It will take hours. I will skip the peace picket line I usually join on Saturday mornings. And in the end, I will have to be content that it is 'not good enough.'

Am I well-tutored, well informed, well equipped? Do I have the patient academic or intellectual credentials? Do I have enough facts to go on? The answer is no. I am a beginner, a tyro. Those who have gone before me are far better equipped, educated, thoughtful, competent, patient, courageous....

But still....

Perhaps it is a bit like spiritual practice -- it really doesn't matter what you know or think or believe. No matter how many wise counselors have come before ... still -- tough shit! -- you can only work with what you've got. It may be shaming to be so stupid, but Stupid R Us ... do it anyway.

I'm not too worried -- the good thing about hell is that it is always well-lighted.

Friday, June 29, 2012

exuberant Buddhists

Just ran across this talk by someone named Koun Franz and thought it had a nice tone combined with some useful information for anyone whose enthusiasm for Buddhism has got them by the throat.

the savvy pissoir

Passed along in email and too good not to save:

Michigan officials are trying to head off the drunk drivers expected to hit the roads during Independence Day celebrations on July 4. They are improving on previous similar efforts by distributing 400 talking urinal cakes (apparently women are not considered the equals of men when it comes to drunk driving).

The urinal cake's message?

"Listen up. That's right, I'm talking to you. Had a few drinks? Maybe a few too many?
"Then do yourself and everyone else a favor: Call a sober friend or a cab. Oh, and don't forget to wash your hands."

when everything is excellent ....

Once upon a time, I got on a subway and took a trip way downtown in Manhattan. I wanted to buy a winter coat, and I wanted a seriously-good one.

The store I went to was aimed at serious hikers, serious explorers, serious outdoor enthusiasts. Besides coats, it had all sorts of equipment whose uses I could hardly guess ... hammers and picks and ropes and belts and metal clasps ... the place reeked of professionalism. And not only did the gear look serious, but the sales people were not just sales people who could parrot the grandiose and over-optimistic claims on various labels. These were people who knew something about the activity for which items were intended ... they knew.

I grabbed a salesman and told him what I was after. "Start at the top of the line," I told him, "and walk me down." I told him I wanted to be warm and I wanted a coat that would reach down below the small of my back and cover a bit of my ass. He heard me out without blinking and did as I requested.

The best coats were goose down filled, had strong zippers and cost something more than $400 ... a sizable price at the time. He led me to rack after rack of coats, getting progressively cheaper. Finally, we had gone the course and stood still.

My mind was still on rack number one -- the most expensive coat. I said as much and added that it was really out of my price range.

"Well, we do have seconds," he replied. "Same coat with some little flaw. They're about half the price." So I asked him to show me one of the blems, the ones that were blemished in some way. He pulled one off the rack. "Show me how it's flawed," I requested. He went over the coat seam by seam, zipper tooth by zipper tooth and finally announced, "I can't find it." This guy wasn't some car salesman. He was a serious person as far as I could judge -- selling quality goods with a quality experience to back up his role as salesman. Still, I was nervous.

"This is a warm coat, right?" I asked, looking for reassurance.

"You'd have to be dead at the South Pole to be cold in this coat," he replied.

And I bought it. The coat lasted for years and was, if anything, too warm for the conditions under which I wore it -- deep winter, sub-freezing temperatures ... this coat seemed to be built for the mirror image of hell... if anything, too warm. It was precisely what I had asked for.

Remembering that day, I thought how nice it was that there was a time when sales outlets thought enough of their products to acknowledge that some were not as good as the best -- seconds that would do the job, but still didn't measure up to exacting standards. There was a pride in excellence and a willingness within that pride to say what was good and what was not quite so good.

These days, everything is excellent and the purveyors can read labels.


It's ridiculous and expensive, but I have a hunch the ridiculousness is worth the price. That, and it was the only thing I found when skimming the news wires this morning, that made me laugh out loud.

Drive-a-Tank is a theme park in Minnesota where people can do what the name implies ... drive a tank. Run over cars. Shoot weapons. Make a wet dream come true.



Draped like some pasha across the chaise longue of advancing age, hookah of memory within easy reach, I puff and recall ...

How many perfections have I sought? I don't suppose there were more or fewer than any other (wo)man. From bank robber to holy hermit, the claws of longing are probably not all that different. Velvet-sheathed or screaming-sharp -- not that different.

Love, success, peace, wealth, enlightenment, strength, originality, applause ... the place of perfection, a place beyond the shadows of uncertainty or sadness, a place where regret can find no home, a place where heart and mind rest as easily as a pasha on a chaise longue.

All the honest perfections I have encountered -- the ones I am willing to dub and knight -- seem to have arisen by accident or out of thin air or magically as if with no reference to any seeking soul. Poof! -- they arose as if belonging to someone else. Poof! they arose and, Poof! they disappeared ... with the whimsey and delight of a teasing child.

Puff, puff, puff ... such an energetic search, so soulful, so full of import in their time an place...seeking, seeking, seeking.

I have underestimated the perfection of failure. It's common enough, I imagine, but still, it was a gross miscalculation. A longing for perfection is bound to meet with failure ... relax, it's as common as boogers in the nose... where else would boogers live?

Practice makes perfect, so practice and pretty soon practice will make practice.

Practice what?

Well, laughter is a good start. Who was ever perfect at laughing ... or failed either?

Pick the boogers all you like ... but laugh a bit. Heaven and hell are minor matters. Laughter lasts forever.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

apostasy and moral cowardice

"Apostasy" is one of those words I tend to bandy about as a child might swing a sparkler after dark. Its spitting brightness may be appropriate, but it's a bit showy as well. And I am wary of too much showiness and too little substance: Sparklers invariably go out.

An internet definition of "apostasy" goes like this:
--  the act of abandoning a party or cause
--  the state of having rejected your religious beliefs or your political party or a cause (often in favor of opposing beliefs or causes)
But the word, if I am not mistaken, carries with it the horror and disdain of the belief system from which the apostate man or woman has separated him- or herself. So apostasy (like atheism) still asserts that which it has come to disdain or disagree with.

I was thinking about this in terms of the Roman Catholic priest sexual abuses arena, a heinous and vile arena which critics like me can be all too facile about when they see it as an apostasy within the self-appointed virtues of Roman Catholicism itself. It is easy to intone: This is hypocrisy: For an institution and belief system that posits kindness of the highest order to condone such abuses must surely qualify as some sort of apostasy. Even Roman Catholics will sometimes grant the point ... even as others scramble to save and preserve the goodness of the church.

So perhaps the sex abuse scandal qualifies as an apostasy within the realms of the church, an apostasy which some honest church men are willing to concede.

But I think such concessions constitute moral cowardice when all is said and done.

I think this because the apostasy of priest sexual abuse demands a wider eye -- one that goes beyond the Roman Catholic Church itself. It is not enough that quite specific crimes within a quite specific venue should be pointed out. That is as far as some are willing to travel -- point a finger at religion or a church and wail volubly... and thus reassert the value and importance of the church itself. On the one hand, it is appropriate to remain on message and give a specific context. But on the other ...

It constitutes moral cowardice.

Why? Because the crimes within the context of the church are not just crimes within that context. They are crimes against the very humanity that gave birth and substance to the church in the first place. Religion, in one sense, has nothing to do with these crimes. Religion is just the fins on the car. Religion is a side issue, and a pretty inconsequential one at that.

The bedrock of the situation is humanity ... nothing sexy or elevated or profound, just humanity. Priest sexual abuse and the efforts to camouflage and hence condone it are not something that requires a church in order to prove its apostasy. A visceral humanity revolts at the idea of grown men manipulating and using children for their own pleasure. And the revulsion extends to the excuses that condone such pleasures. The word "obscene" does not even enter: The gorge rises and the protective muscles flex without any help from words like "obscene" or "apostasy." The reaction is as sure as the finger quickly withdrawn from a burning candle ... instinctive, protective, fearful, assured.

The current flurry of sex abuse revelations will probably have to play out a bit further as examples of Roman Catholic depredation. More trials. More convictions. More news reporting on the apostasies of a particular spiritual persuasion. Let the evidence mount and then ...

If we do not want to be labeled as moral cowards ...

Let the International Court of Justice at the Hague hear the whole matter as what it is -- a crime against humanity. My humanity and yours, irrespective of religious persuasion. That court, assuming enough evidence is marshaled to warrant some trial in the future, will not solve anything. It will not salve the ancient and remaining wounds. It may not even reform those institutions whose depredations are most obvious. But it has the capacity to remind all who will listen that there is something to be said for humanity and that saying it reminds us all of what Abraham Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature."

Moral cowardice and easy apostasy be damned!

the ability to think

This morning, I got an enormous, jam-packed email from and old army friend, James (Barney) Marsh, an economics professor currently doing an academic stint in Berlin, the city we both lived in for a couple years during our military tenure.

Reading the email made me realize how much I appreciated knowing people who could really think. Barney and I don't always see eye to eye on things, but his insistence on marshaling facts when making an argument and his ability to do so ... well, as I wrote him back, it's like swimming in chocolate mousse -- delicious, if sometimes overwhelming. Hot damn! There is someone who can think ... and think better than I can. I am content in the wake of such a person, in this case an old University of Chicago grad who hasn't stopped thinking.

A part of Barney's email consisted of a commentary on a clip I had sent him in which Bill Moyers offered his thoughts about latter day McCarthyism. For those of a certain age, Sen. Joseph McCarthy is a touchstone of disgust ... a man who ruined many lives as he beat his anti-communist drum in the 1950's and thereby elevated his political standing. A scumbag whose fear-mongering took some years to rein in. Moyers drew some interesting parallels and issued some implicit and explicit cautions.

Barney gave a somewhat testy counterpoint to Moyers. Not that Barney favored or would elevate McCarthy's slimy legacy, but rather that he wanted to gnaw the bone more thoroughly, give a wider context ...

I guess what I appreciated was a time when marshaling facts was more important than simply having an opinion about those facts ... a failing I am all to prone to in this blog-driven, slovenly-reporting era. To present a case based on available fact ... however selective the presentation ... and then let the reader draw his or her own conclusions.

Time passes and old men have a tendency to piss upwind.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

most and least prestigious employment

A lot of years ago, a friend told me that he had read a poll that indicated spiritual instructors stood just about dead center between prestige and ignominy in American opinions about employment. Not heroes, not villains ... just somewhere in the middle. My friend did not cite the source and I have no way of knowing whether the assessment were true, but it did make me suspect that story-telling and hope were heart-felt topics ... even if they had disastrous consequences.

The following 2009 list cites Harris Interactive poll and U.S. Department of Labor as its source for gauging American appreciations of employment.

The ten most prestigious professions are listed as:

1. Firefighter 2. Scientist 3. Teacher 4. Doctor 5. Military officer 6. Nurse 7. Police officer 8. Minister/priest/clergy 9. Farmer 10. Engineer.

The 10 least prestigious professions are listed as:

1. Athlete 2. Business executive 3. Journalist 4. Union leader 5. Stockbroker 6. Entertainer 7. Accountant 8. Banker 9. Actor 10. Real estate agent/broker.

This is the kind of Totally Useless Information one might most profitably read while sitting on the toilet. But since the 'blogosphere' is largely informed by bullshit, I thought I would include it here.

untold tears

Did Jesus repent of his beckoning homilies?

Did Moses regret laying down the law?

Did Buddha fall silent in penance?

Did Mohammed rue his holy ways?

What man or woman with steady gait has not told the tale time and again and then, perhaps, withdrawn to some more honest bower ... and wept?

Who would not rejoice in a firmament so full of stars?

But I find solace in untold tears.


Today, my younger son, 18, plans to get his second tattoo. The first one was an artful, non-verbal design across his back at shoulder level. Today's is something he is not prepared to discuss -- the word "faith" on his upper left arm.

Tattoo in progress
I'm not much of a fan of tattoos or labeled shirts or monogrammed hats, but as long as anyone is not doing some distinct harm (raping the cat, bombing innocent civilians, etc.) I think everyone takes his or her own risks, pays his or her own prices, and deserves the opportunity to do so.

I admit to being intrigued by the reasons why my son chose the tattoo he did. What does he think "faith" might mean? Why does he feel a tattoo will be an improvement or greater assertion of whatever he imagines "faith" to be? Does art improve on life? Well, maybe sometimes it does ... I don't know.

I am intrigued by the fact that he refuses to discuss it.

And, simultaneously, I am delighted not to know.

A successful Yakuza knows how to keep his mouth shut.

courage and cowardice

On the Public Broadcast System last night, two political strategists were interviewed as part of an analysis of the tsunami of money washing down on the presidential candidates for 2012. Fueled as much as anything by the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, the injection of funds, both men seemed to agree, would amount to something around $1 billion to win/buy the presidential election.

This situation has endless facets over which endless groups and individuals can wring their hands in dismay. But the part that banged my chimes last night was this:

When the two men, one leaning Democrat, the other leaning Republican, were asked what all that money would be spent on, both agreed that largest portion would be spent on advertising -- television, radio, newspaper, Internet ... advertising. Advertising is the single most expensive component of running for election.

And when asked what sort of advertising that might be, both seemed to agree that the advertising would be negative -- attacking their opponent with whatever verbal ammo they could muster. Neither President Barack Obama nor Republican challenger Mitt Romney was likely to spend money on detailing a program or vision for the nation both would like to head up.

The fact (and I take it as fact) that neither has the courage or substance to stand up and take a stand is a saddening description of the United States. There are probably good strategic reasons for this approach, but the cowardice involved is depressing for the citizens who look to their elected officials for guidance and vision.

Cowardice. Let the merchants loose... the well-manicured, well-spoken, well-educated ... merchants.

I sometimes think I would vote for the candidate who said he was going to bomb the Middle East back into the Stone Age, plaster it with black-top and erect a thousand fast-food stands: At least the candidate would be taking a stand ... however idiotic. But the current state of affairs ranks even lower than the craven idiocy of a war monger.

Against this, against that, against the other ... but where do you stand, what are you in favor of ... what are you in favor of despite the pitfalls and errors that might evolve?

It is despicable. And in its wake, the country itself devolves into a despicable status.

Perhaps both candidates could do us the kindness of taking off the American-flag lapel pins that merchants wear as a means of asserting their palpably suspect patriotism.

Gutless ... small ... merchants with their merchandising.

I imagine we can all take a personal lesson from this sort of all-saddle-and-no-horse posturing.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

hard times

Never mind that Marie Antoinette didn't say it, "let them eat cake" continues to capture the smug ignorance that can exist in well-heeled realms. The "great princess" who supposedly spoke those words was referring to the hungry peasants in the midst of a French famine.

Smug ignorance ... which among us can parry that well-aimed barb? Few (though there are some) exercise it on purpose and yet there it is -- a rousing bias or a casually-dropped word that betrays the speaker.

A few years back I was talking casually with a friend, John, when he observed, "If times are so tough, how come people still drink bottled water?" And today, in the local newspaper, there was a puff piece about a do-it-yourself dog-washing emporium.

Is there anything -- anything at all -- that cannot be viewed as frivolous or possibly even obscene from the point of view of another who is either envious or deeply in need?

And who is worse off -- the one who acts or speaks out of a smug and assured ignorance or the one who finds that action or speech so outlandish?

I'm not sure, but I am sure that I am embarrassed when my lackadaisical ignorance or drooling envy catches me flat-footed.

follow the leader ... the kinhin effect

In Zen Buddhism, there is the pretty straightforward practice of kinhin or walking meditation. The majority of time spent in formal practice is spent sitting straight and silent and often cross-legged, mind focused. It's called zazen. But then a bell rings and participants stand up and go for a (hopefully) mindful walk, one behind the other, always roughly in a circle ... which is to say that when the walk is over, they have returned to the point from which they started ... at which point it's time to sit down, sit straight, focus the mind ... again.

Anyone who has tried such a practice has felt the relief that comes with standing up after a period of sitting down. Aside from anything else, the knees or ankles or hips or back can be screaming for a change, something that will ease the pain. And that's not to mention the mind, which may be likewise anguished or delighted in one way or another. Thank God for kinhin!!!!!!! Thank God for a change of pace!!!!!!

But of course escape is not the only aspect of kinhin ... there are myriad others as well. Like any other so-called spiritual practice, I imagine, each stylized and ritualized activity has a way of reaching out and infusing the rest of any student's life, the stuff that is somehow not spiritual or straight or focused. What was stylized and ritualized dribbles and drips into ... your life and mine ... and that is what is meant to happen: What was special and 'spiritual' ... well, what the hell did you expect: It's your life and your choice ... of course it's going to have myriad meanings and applications and importance. Little picture becomes bigger picture, bigger picture becomes little picture ... what was once wow and special becomes ho-hum and ordinary and vice versa. It's what keeps life interesting and no one wants to be bored. Sometimes I think spiritual life is nothing more than an exercise in boredom control.

Anyway, in kinhin, there is a leader, someone to ring the bell signaling a bit of kinhin, someone to lead the line in whatever circle is chosen ... around and around, mindfully ... until it is time to stop and resume zazen or seated meditation. In kinhin, each student walks behind the student in front of him and in front of the student behind her. Up in 'front,' the leader leads the charge, stage manages the whole thing. The whole exercise is quite relaxing ... following along with no real responsibilities other than not bumping into the person just ahead.

Around and around and around things go. The leader leads. The followers follow ... around and around and around. And one of the things no one can help but notice when walking in a collective circle is that they themselves are the leader. It's nothing sexy. It's just the boring old truth. The one who is 'leading' would be meaningless without the followers and the ones who follow would be meaningless without the leader ... and the whole meaningful/meaningless schtick is really off base. Of course you're the leader. Of course you're the follower. Me too. And ...

So what? Kinhin is just kinhin. Kinhin is just walking. Walking is just walking. Leading is just leading. Following is just following. And ... so what? Isn't it just walking? And doesn't this inform a whole life -- any life?

These observations are mildly interesting as an attempt to equalize all men and all women: There are no leaders and there are no followers. Activists salivate and raise their flags. But it is as a function of mind that they take on a rich resonance.

What was I doing creating leaders and followers in the first place? Around and around and around from moment to moment. Leader moment, follower moment ... the moment doesn't mind. The moment is just the moment. Walking is just walking. Around and around is just around and around. Straight ahead is straight ahead. Relief is just relief. Wisdom is just wisdom. Delusion is just delusion.

And so, in doing a little kinhin, in following the leader or being one, the activity leads back inevitably to what I was doing in the first place ... just walking. Just walking ... minus leader or follower, importance or lack of importance, spiritual life or deluded one. And this 'minus' makes life easier, lighter, less pyrotechnical, less freighted.

You could almost say it's boring.

But it's not.

Myth has it that when Gautama Buddha was born, he took seven steps in each of the four cardinal directions and then, raising his right hand to heaven and pointing his left hand to the earth, said, "Above the heavens and below the earth, I alone am the world-honored one."

Now either he was the most egotistical son-of-a-bitch who ever roamed the earth or he was just pointing out the obvious ... obvious stuff like kinhin.

Your life.

Your call.

Think about it.

Go for a walk, maybe.

Monday, June 25, 2012


Like birds chattering in widely separated trees, this morning there is thunder from the north, thunder from the south, thunder from the east, thunder from the west.

It is as if these bits of rumble and crash were talking amiably to each other ... sometimes emphatic, sometimes subdued ... talking companionably around the breakfast table of this Monday morning.

the sociopath and the voice of reason

It's nice to revisit casual assumptions every once in a while, to check out whether what rolls off the tongue with such casual and assured ease has some basis in reason. Failing to do this allows for a sloppiness and sometimes harm that can be seen, for example, in those willing to say that the Bible proscribes homosexuality or votes Republican or something similar.

For a variety of reasons, I have felt comfortable with the word "sociopath." I'm not sure that the word any longer holds an acceptable place in the realm of psychology (I have a feeling it has been redefined and then re-redefined), but I ran across a list of characteristics of the "sociopath" this morning and felt mildly relieved by its parameters: Yes, that is what I meant, and no, I'm not just a blowhard who knows long words.

On the other hand, maybe I am just a blowhard: A disclaimer at the bottom of the site says, "I, the creator of this site, am not a psychologist and no special expertise in the subject. I created the site as a public service, because no similar site existed in 2003. I occasionally get sad calls and emails. I urge you to consult either a clinical psychologist or the police depending on the problem you face, and wish you good luck." 

So, just because I find the list of characteristics readable and agreeable does not prove I am any more 'reasonable' or 'knowledgeable' than any other person who finds his meanings supported by others and lies back in some comforting, biased mental hammock. But in order to know for sure, I would have to take a degree in psychology ... and even then, what would I actually know about a "sociopath?"

The "sociopath," according to the linked-list, is awash is self-centric behavior that casts aside or manipulates the needs of others. S/he "does not perceive that anything is wrong with them." But in what way does this description not fit ANY person who is mentally afflicted? Of course the specific cruelties of a "sociopath" may set him or her apart from other crazed brethren, but still ....

Puttering along in my mind, revisiting old shoes of assumption, I come to the conclusion that my desire to be 'reasonable' or 'based in reason' is just that ... a desire which, when examined and when particulars are detailed, runs out of steam. But the fact that it runs out of steam does not incline me to lie down for a moral relativism that might be taken as a reasonable outcome. Moral relativism is just laziness dressed in purple.

But there is a corollary that I think is important and this is what I think it is: Needing to be thought of as a voice of reason is aggrandizing without much usefulness. And it is in this vein that I return to my personal revulsion for "sociopaths." I am like the supreme court justice who said (approximately) of "pornography," "I may not know what it is, but I know it when I see it." And what I see makes my gorge rise ... "sociopaths" are simply the "assholes" I have abbreviated them as in the past. They are outside whatever pale I have constructed. They are vile, self-important, anti-social and harmful. And ...

I don't like them.

I don't like them and ... if I haven't got the balls to shoot them and I haven't got the energy or skills to reform them, then the best I can do is ... not act like them. Speak up as circumstances allow, sure, but first and foremost, don't you do that.

PS. As if to drive home my mental mutterings, a friend sent along a blog commentary on the conviction of Monsignor William Lynn -- a commentary that lit my pants on fire enough to write a response ... as circumstances allowed:

"Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater" seems to be one of the fallback Vatican positions when it comes to the abuse of children in its care.

The sociopathic heinousness of the crimes in their particulars and the collusive cover-ups that followed in their wake are excused with the same smooth disregard that was once brought to bear during World War II: "Hitler's not such a bad guy -- he build the autobahn, right?"

One of the characteristics of sociopathic behavior is that the one suffering from a manipulative and cruelly self-centered point of view cannot see or admit to his or her maliciousness. Sweet reason, compassion, gentle promptings or hard-nosed logic are all seen as signs of weakness to be exploited still further by this voracious and powerful manipulator. Yes, indeed, let's look at all the wonderful things that were accomplished ... and dismiss or discredit the long-gone instances of what might occasion shame and repentance in another.

Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. OK ... duck and cover.

But let us thank whatever gods we prefer that this sort of behavior is finally making its way into a legal arena where it can be detailed and adjudged for the unholy human apostasy it is.

-- adam fisher

Sunday, June 24, 2012


There must be a million million albums around the world with exactly the same pictures -- pictures of the kids as they grew from blobs of unformed clay into walkers and talkers and bicyclists and swimmers and runners ... and whatever all else. A million million albums. I know I have such albums of my kids. I delight in looking at them and try not to foist them on others ... after all, there are a million million albums with exactly the same pictures and any real differences only lie in the heart of the beholder.

And then, the other day, there it was, up out of one of those million million albums -- a picture of me as a small child. I recognized it immediately, not so much as me, but rather as an example of a picture in one of those million million albums. It was a recognition of humanity -- instantaneous and touching -- and yet in this case I had irrefutable proof -- a photo of me as a guileless, trusting, happy, wide-open being... free and easy as a puff of wind over a still pond. There was no escaping it and it shot through me like an ice pick.

All of the congealed guile or fumbling understandings I had learned between that moment and this were somehow put to shame. What I wouldn't give to give with as much freedom as I had in that photo ... with all the unfreighted easiness of a dog's wagging tail. But simultaneously I knew without knowing ... if you did it once, it was never lost and the capacity to do it again was always there.

Always there and yet the overlays between that moment and this jockeyed and jostled to be heard, to intone, to enter the spotlight and not be left bereft. "No one can go back," an adult voice whispered and yet the photo answered without rancor, "Horseshit! If you put mayonnaise on the bread yesterday, you can put mayonnaise on the bread today."

None of it had any of the smarmy lubrications that oil up phrases like "be as a small child." This was more direct and factual and inescapable and unwilling to be conned.

So much time, so much energy, so much bobbing and weaving, so much decency mixed with congealed wile ... and I would trade it all in a nanosecond for the nanosecond that was in that photo... a photo that appears in a million million albums around the world.

It was haunting.

Sometimes I think that haunting is not so bad after all.


It's not how wonderful you might be that makes much difference.

It's how wonderful you are.

a perfect day

On the porch, shortly after 7 a.m., outside the door which is ajar, the day is perfect. Cloudless sky, bright sun, a single mourning dove crooning. The sun reaches in and dances on a forearm with the morning cool ... warmcool, coolwarm. Everything is so flawless. It is almost ridiculous, as if an inexperienced high school drama class had staged it all.

But perfection positively demands some imperfection and so I waited patiently for the body to reassert the aches and pains of my age and wondered what thought-ghosts would request attention and solution. It was early yet. I had not had quite enough coffee and so, for a little, the perfection of the day had its uninterrupted say: There is no forgiveness; there is just forgiving ... always.

And then the first of the thought-ghosts tip-toed in, a bit groggy still, but assured of its place in the pantheon of imperfections I would soon insist on: "He's so dumb, he would fuck up a wet dream."

Later, I will go out and do a little zazen. I will leave the door open on this perfect day and the air and light will pour in without a backward glance. It's the beginning of spider season, and here and there in the zendo, critters only slightly less gossamer than their webs will move about, taking care of business. In my imagination, they will forgive me the incense, the candle, the sounding of a small gong, but of course they really have no forgiveness to offer. They are forgiveness like the day. Always forgiveness... like the day ... every day.

Yesterday, in the supermarket, I found myself standing next to an energetically thin woman who was loading her grocery cart with super-saver packages of chicken thighs. She had five or six in her carriage and was reaching for more. "You're really going to feed the troops tonight," I commented idly. She swung into the banter seamlessly, explaining that the chicken was for her dogs. Her face was bright and open and it was a pleasure to listen to someone who just liked what she liked and did what she did. She disabused me of the notion that dogs shouldn't be given chicken ... "that's just the cooked chicken. Raw chicken is OK. And it saves on veterinarian bills. I have never found a bone in their droppings." And when she priced it out, chicken was in about the same price range as prepackaged dog food. Since she lived some 40 minutes away, up in the hills, she was loading up on the thighs, which were on sale.

Bright and friendly as a spider that gives no thought to bright or friendly or the forgiveness that is the day.

A Zen Buddhist monk I have known through email once told me that a Korean monk friend had suggested that perhaps, "suffering is just the resistance to pain."

And as the aches and pains rise up and as the ghost-thoughts heave themselves out of bed, I wonder if it is not also true, "suffering is just the resistance to forgiveness." Not the usual smarmy "forgiveness," but the forgiveness that cannot be escaped, the forgiveness of spiders, the forgiveness of coolwarm and warmcool.

Dumb enough to fuck up a wet dream. Well, wet dreams cannot help their forgiving nature any more than a spider or a mourning dove can. In the brightness of the sun and the perfection of the morning air, who could forgive or be forgiven. To forgive and be forgiven is a wet dream waiting to be fucked up.

Perfectly fucked-up. Don't be shy.

Wet dreams don't mind.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

into and out of the light

A student from the University of Indonesia descends into Jomblang cave at Gunungkidul district, near the ancient city of Yogyakarta, June 20, 2012. Jomblang cave is one of the hundreds of caves in the Gunungkidul district. Jomblang is known for its fertile and dense vegetation and is located at the karst hills that run along Central Java to West Java provinces.

the crumbling walls of goodness

Cracks are appearing in the child-sex-abuse dike. The bricks and mortar of silence and prevarication and righteousness seem to be falling apart after years and years and fucking years of standing proud and tall and virtuous and unchallenged.

In Pennsylvania, former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, 68, was found guilty yesterday of 45 counts of sexually abusing children in his caring hands.

Also in Pennsylvania, Monsignor William Lynn, 61, was convicted yesterday of child endangerment -- a single count that makes him the first Roman Catholic church official to be held legally responsible for a wide-ranging blind eye exhibited by the Vatican.

The actions of both men occurred in the past -- a past that those who wished to forgive and forget were counting on as a means of sidestepping responsibility. The court decisions made it clear that there is culpability for what has been done.

These two instances are small fissures in the fortresses of what has been portrayed as a trustworthy and soaring goodness. Like the infamies of the banks and brokerage houses that pushed the world into a renewed Depression, it remains to be seen if the very foundations of such infamies -- the philosophies that inspired them -- will receive any correction.

I have my doubts. But at the moment, it is enough that the infamies of the past have arrived in a courtroom where evidence is adduced and judgment rendered ... step by step, case by case, infamy by infamy.

Pretending that a good thing has no vile potential is worse than reprehensible -- it's stupid.

Silence and virtue are no longer enough.


who is Carson McCullers?

What a strange and comforting insidiousness -- imagining that I 'know' someone, that I can put that knowledge on some well-kept bookshelf in the mind and take it down as the need arises. It's not a big deal, I guess, but it is a bit odd.

Carson McCullers ©Adam Fisher
I was thinking this yesterday in regards to artists, but I suppose it is true for anyone ... anyone at all. With artists, the summing up comes with a creeping near-certainty that because I know the paintings or novels or music, I therefore know the person ... a person I have never met and yet might like to ... or would definitely not like to.

The immediate cause for chewing this particular mental cud was skimming through an old photo album my mother had once compiled. There were pictures of various people and among them was Carson McCullers. Known as a very good writer at a time when reading was in vogue, I had only known her as a childhood vision ... a person I thought to steer clear of at the age of six or seven or whenever my mother introduced me to her.

Kids know stuff and what I knew was that this was not a person I wanted to be around ... too intense, too dangerous, too haunted and, like all kid-perceptions, too uninterested in me. What did I know of her ghosts? I did not know the word "neurotic" at the time ... but I knew my gut much as anyone might know their gut and hence concoct a 'knowing' that slipped up onto my mental book shelf.

Only later would I read the books, sense the beauty, and be thankful for the ghosts I had never known as a child and could never possibly know, even as an adult. Carson McCullers is a 'gifted writer,' the intellect says in a smug abbreviation that allows me to move on to other, more important things, things closer at hand.

Carson McCullers ©Adam Fisher
The writing, the paintings, the music or, in a wider sense, the thoughts and words and deeds of any friend, acquaintance or enemy. And through it all, the sense that I know something and that something is a true -- or at least true-ish -- appreciation.

I know....

And yet the closer anyone comes to what is loved or hated or excites some jet of interest ... closer and closer and more and more detailed and more and more nuanced ... the closer anyone comes, the more apparent the truth also becomes: What I know is really too smug and careless by half. It is what I don't know that is vast and endless and, perhaps, too frightening to behold.

And what is true for 'others' is also true for me -- the reflection in the bathroom mirror, the one nearest and dearest to my heart, the one about whom I may claim to know the most. No matter how hard I may put this person up on a convenient bookshelf, no matter how wily I may be in asserting thoughts and emotions and beliefs and loves and hates ... not matter how much I try to control ... still, it is what I don't know that asserts itself over and over again. I may look myself squarely in the eye and yet when push comes to shove, is it what I know or what I don't know that carries the day, that skips just out of reach, that refuses to sit idly on a bookshelf in the mind.

Carson McCullers ©Adam Fisher
I think that maybe the whole matter is just a matter of getting used to and even enjoying this not knowing ... not knowing me, not knowing you, not knowing Carson McCullers, not knowing what I may claim to know so much about.

It's not a big deal ... it's just easier that way. Imagine -- if you know, then things stop, but when you don't know, anything is possible. Religion, philosophy, psychology ... never mind those stop-gap measures. Never mind and slip into something more comfortable. Grab your popcorn and enjoy the show ... after all, it's all there for your enjoyment.

Who is Carson McCullers?

Woo-hoo ... right?

PS. I put a copyright on these pictures because a book publisher once used a picture my mother had taken of Truman Capote as a book cover ... and never gave her a nod, much less a check. I don't expect either, but I do want any pirates to consider whose gold they are appropriating.

Friday, June 22, 2012

getting pissed off ... period

When it comes to email, I have learned to expect the solicitation of a bereaved Nigerian widow who needs my help with her $27 million windfall. Drugs that are cheaper in Canada, political posturing left and right or a solicitation suggesting I could extend my pecker from here to Cincinnati ... none of this is significantly more annoying than a buzzing fly. I'm a grown-up and simply don't get hooked.

But today I got an email from book publisher Random House that pressed my buzzers in the same way they might have been pressed if I got a mass mailing from the Third Reich assuming that of course I would like to contribute to the construction of the new camp grounds at Auschwitz.

I sizzled and hissed and was anything but a grown-up. The email addressed me as "Adam" as if some cozy, pre-established relationship existed.

I was outraged to have a prowling Internet link me with some kind of support for the Catholic church and its political efforts ... in this case to stop the government from forcing Catholic hospitals to provide birth-control coverage to their workers.

The email quoted Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, in his book that Random House was flogging:

... We've experienced rampant disregard for religious beliefs in this country with the approval of embryonic stem cell research; legal justification for the torture of prisoners; the provision of tax dollars to abortion providers; the HHS mandates, and, most recently, a redefinition of marriage by many of our leading political figures. We can see that there is a loss of a sense of truth here, and objective moral norms -- rules of conduct that apply always, to everyone, everywhere -- and an 'eclipse of a sense of God and of man.'
"Dolan," the email said, "serves as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) which is calling the two week protest on June 21-July 4 the “Fortnight for Freedom.""

Dolan's book, which the email seemed to think I might enjoy, was only 99 cents in its Internet format.

"Rules of conduct that apply always, to everyone, everywhere...." And yet in my lexicon, The  U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had proven itself more than willing to dodge and bob and weave and counter-attack any priest-sexual-abuse allegation or victim ... people who had been children at the time these men of God had broken the trust of those they were charged with uplifting. They had scarred men, women, children and families ... many of whom are now in the sixties and still feeling the lash. They had paid them off rather than concede that the Vatican (and its USCCB arm) knew of these depredations and had done little or nothing more than protect the 'sanctity' of the church and the well-dressed powers within it.

And here was an email asking me to take seriously the arguments of one of the church's top guns, a cardinal. I don't mind granting people I disagree with a hearing, but I do ask for some credibility of standing and this email left me incredulous. I felt that I was being asked to understand that Hitler was not such a bad guy ... after all, he build the autobahn. Only in this case, I was being asked to grant moral standing to an institution whose moral standing was clearly suspect at best and heinous at worst.

Even receiving such an email made me feel dirty. It was childish, perhaps, but that was my reaction.

In as grown-up a tone as I could muster, I wrote to the sender:

Please take me off this mailing list. The track record of the USCCB when it comes to human rights is both deplorable and shameless. If, by some chance, that group decides to become Christian in any more than name, I will happily receive your press releases. Until then, I will confer with and listen to pond scum more readily.
Obviously, I was angry to the point of illiteracy... falling head-long into the kind of irate bias that is pleasant enough, but never solved anything. And yet, I could not repent of my anger. Some things deserve an unequivocal "no," and in my book the moral authority of the Vatican is one of them.

A brief response that did not address me as "Adam" came within minutes:

"Have a nice weekend."

American churches go political

Across the United States, churches are risking their tax-exempt status by crossing the line into partisan politics, according to a Reuters story.

Separation of church and state is an important principle.

Freedom of speech is an important principle.

The only thing I can think is that religious institutions have found a cheap-date way of assuring interest and hence income. Don't they have enough on their plate ministering to the down-home concerns of their believers? I guess not... and naturally they have any number of sounds-logical, convoluted and self-serving reasons for entering the political fray.

"My Reincarnation"

Last night, I stayed up way past my bedtime watching a Public Broadcast System show entitled "My Reincarnation," a documentary about a Tibetan Buddhist teacher whose son slowly and reluctantly accepts his own role as a reincarnated teacher. Film clips used in the production span 20 years. I didn't think it was terribly well made, but I didn't stop watching either: Earnestness of purpose and quality of production are not the same thing.

Why I watched, I'm not entirely sure. In part, I suppose it was an interest in a sociological phenomenon about which I knew little and cared less. I am aware that there are things in life that are outside my ken, some of them magical in their seeming, and it is nice to have them pointed out. But also, I think I was waiting for a shazzam moment in which the movie would convince me to know more and care more and, perhaps, believe it. I came away with no shazzam, but neither did I come away wanting to slip on a comforting conclusion that "it's all bullshit." The thing that touched me most in the movie was not the teacher and not his son, but the adherents who gathered in their dozens and hundreds ... each with a glowing wish etched on their faces and in their supplicant questions. Human uncertainty moves me. Whether Buddhism is the answer to that uncertainty, I don't know.

In the Buddhist tradition I prefer, Zen, there is a willingness to credit something called "rebirth." Anyone who has practiced a bit knows that this is not just some belief or hope. It is just a fact that is as plain as dog shit on the front lawn. The present immolates itself in less than a nanosecond and becomes the past. The past cannot be grasped and yet as the present becomes past, 'something' remains or is reborn. Conversationally, we call this "me." Everything changes always and yet something seems the same. Over and over and over again ... rebirth. Believing in rebirth is not the point. Seeing and acknowledging what actually happens is the point in the same way that seeing the dog shit on the front lawn is the point ... not good, not bad, just present ... and maybe something not to step in.

I suppose that for some it is a short step from "rebirth" to "reincarnation," but it is not a step I am willing to take. Whether I was once an aardvark or the queen of Egypt or might yet be a puma or a valiant general ... these thoughts, whether true or not, whether supportive or not, strike me as TUI -- totally useless information. Mind you, I am perfectly willing to be proved wrong: Why else stay up past my bedtime? But dwelling in or relying on the past in this way -- the "reincarnation" way -- misses or obscures what I consider a more important point, i.e., wherever you go, there you are.

Everyone is a product of their past. OK. Investigating that past is OK. But attempting to delve into what cannot be ascertained by experience -- the past or future, for example ... well, that and a couple of bucks will get you a bus ride. Maybe some feel assured in their witnessing of past lives. It's OK with me but I can't help but wonder how nourishing that information or understanding might be. This life is now. This dog shit is now. This belief is now. This time is now. Investigation is OK ... remaining locked in belief is a poor man's supper.

Well, all this is just a bit of noodling. If I was once an aardvark, I suppose my aardvark will express itself as needed. Past, after all, is present. Controlling the past by intellect or emotion is fruitless. I think I'll just try to keep and eye on things, aardvark and all.

PS. As a bit of whimsey, it seems to me that those who have been 'reincarnated' were always in the spotlight in the past. They were important in one way or another. I have yet to hear someone say, "I was a spear carrier in a Roman legion." Somehow everyone was a general or a Buddhist teacher or held some other noteworthy post. The 'importance' of this past -- whether wonderful or horrific -- seems to form a foundation for a reincarnation. But I sense that that importance, far from being a bit of good luck, is, in fact, an indicator that something was not cleared up, that it formed a trip stone and barrier that now needs to be straightened out with another go at things. Reincarnation seen as a bit of good luck seems to me to be quite the reverse ... more sweat, more strain, more uncertainty, more dog shit. Delusion may be the foundation of enlightenment but delusion can certainly be a pain in the ass... just like enlightenment.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

an interest in Zen

Interesting ....

The less anyone talks about Zen, the more interesting Zen becomes.


A good rule of thumb, I imagine, is this: Don't be any stupider than you have to be.

And yet it is interesting: As smart as anyone might be, there is always room for more stupidity.

Soen Nakagawa Roshi, my Zen teacher's teacher, used to encourage his students to whack him on the head. He seemed to know a thing or two about stupidity ... most notably that there was always room for more.

It's all enough to make even a stupid man reflect.

merchant mind ... a lazy man's rant

I was brought up to evince arguments and adduce facts when I stated a conclusion. Emotive explosions or heart-felt bias were not enough. But with age, the energies wane and, like some Facebook ninny, doing the work that requires attentive energy implies more sweat than I am able or willing to muster. Fuck it! If you want to stick your head in a glue pot, go ahead, see where it gets you. I will not pretend I can help what I cannot help. Or, as baseball manager Casey Stengel once put it more succinctly, "If the people won't come out to the ballpark, you can't stop them."

This creeping, treacly laziness expressed itself this morning in a single word as I skimmed the news wires and did what I could to stay abreast of the world:


Merchant minds. Merchant lifestyles. Merchant mediocrities. Well-heeled or poorly endowed ... still, merchants.

The world, currently in the throes of economic turmoil, is full of it. Children who have received a mediocre secondary school education are goaded to go to college where they can assume a massive amount of debt (since their parents cannot foot the bill) and receive a dwindling education only to find that the world has no work for any but the spiffy. Young people are urged to consider themselves lucky. They use Facebook and Twitter as a means of cementing self-esteem only to find that what is advertised as 'connecting' people has a strange and depressing way of driving them apart.

Politicians, who long for nothing so much as to hold onto their jobs, are driven further and further apart and their lack of shame or sense of responsibility is reduced still further to what war they can start. Surely there will be enough fear among those who pay their salaries if there is another war, another way to instill fear that their sons and daughters might be ripped to shreds ... and fear is the tool used when there is no basis for honest trust. A merchant mentality. I've got mine, mine, mine.

It's a Walmart world ... cheap, barely serviceable goods offered up like the crown jewels of England. And the inability or unwillingness to look beyond the next war or the next election or the next out-foxing of someone else creates what? Merchants is my guess -- people who have a lot, perhaps, but feel somehow cheapened and bereft.

Dumb and dumber.

But I am just an old fart. Too old for knicker-twisting despair. Despair -- more often than not the cheap date of those who might use their energies more wisely.

I don't despair, but I don't like merchant minds, however well-educated.

All that wealth, all that hungry scrambling, all that quid-pro-quo lifestyle ... and what does it produce? Success is wonderful, but now what ... where is the soaring, the peace, the relief? Where is the heaven for which the merchants went through all that hell? What sort of peace is it that relies on war? Where is the realm beyond applause and wily maneuver?

At least whores are honest.

And where is my old-fart, good-news uplift in all of this ... my nostrum for a life not cheapened by whining and merchandising? Shouldn't someone interested in spiritual endeavor have some lollipop for the customers, some choir of angels, some bright and wondrous light, some "joy" or "compassion" or "enlightenment" or crowd of naked nubile virgins serving grapes, some "peace that passeth all understanding?"

Well, I do what I can to restrain my merchandizing instincts.

Don't blame me if you go to bed hungry after refusing to sit down at the dinner table.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Black Moon Zendo

I bought a scanner for Father's Day and one of the results is this compilation of photos ... building Black Moon Zendo. 

Looking back today, it is not a place of soaring beauty or elegant simplicity. There is not a stick of teak or mahogany in it. It is not marked by very fine carpentry. Its elements are largely gifts and hand-me-downs. There were no blue-haired ladies hovering in the financial wings and there was no gathering of people brainstorming the need for a place in which to more-comfortably execute their collective hopes. It is riddled with errors of which I am the author. Not many people ever came to share the space, though I am grateful to those who did. There was no advertising budget and every spiritual institution, of whatever size, needs its Tupperware salesmen. Salesmanship is not my forte any more than carpentry was. I like to think that it did no harm, yet I have done about as much harm as the next fellow, I imagine, and the zendo has its arrogant elements. My teacher, Kyudo Nakagawa Roshi, once said, "Without ego, nothing gets done." Well, Black Moon Zendo got done and I would be a liar if I said there was no ego involved. But today, warts and all, the small place is like old shoe leather in my life -- not new, not shiny, not even very well polished, and yet comfortable as a pair of old shoes. It greets the feet of my life like a very old friend ... nothing special and yet full of a quiet warmth and aptness of a friend with whom I had planned a quiet outing ... something like a trip to a local cafe, to sit in the sunshine, drink cool beer, and let the conversation meander where it might.

Drawing 1997

Eyeballing the space 

Tools of the trade

Getting the kids involved

Tight squeeze on roof

Zendo 3/98

Ceiling 1998

Altar 1998

Daughter Olivia posing

Another dork trying to fly


nothing left but violence?

Passed along in email -- two instances in which violence makes a case:

1. Father won't be charged in beating death.

2. Supporters stand behind priest-pounding defendant.

Violence never solved anything, but it certainly can shine a bright light.

hot times

All the forecasts point to a hot-hot day, with temperatures reaching into the 90's (F).

It's cool and comfortable just now, but soon ... soon I will have to hunker down, bunker down. Once the heat was nothing much -- just something to complain about -- but now it rules and I am forced to slow down.

Gotta do my supermarket shopping early if I am to do it at all. After that, I can throw myself into a mizzling drizzling sweat.


One night, a long time ago, a slight Japanese man came to the Zen center I attended in New York.

At the time, I was hip-deep in a terrific solemnity about Zen practice, enlightenment, compassion and the like: Zazen, or the seated meditation that receives some emphasis in Zen practice, was the credible, pedal-to-the-metal way to attain true understanding... other ways might exist and be useful, but for me, zazen was the golden fleece.

The slight Japanese man had been invited to talk to the assembled students who practiced zazen. His thesis and emphasis: Singing offered not just an example of enlightenment, but enlightenment itself. And as an example, he had all of us get up off our meditation cushions, gather round, and sing "You Are My Sunshine."

It felt strange and childish to be singing a simple, simplistic, so-easy song in the middle of a spic-and-span meditation hall with its beautiful altar at one end and meditation cushions the only other real adornment.

When we finished the chorus, the teacher of the zendo put on an arrogant smirk as if he had been humoring a small child by allowing this Tinker Toy exercise. How could this song possibly measure up to the highly-disciplined zazen he instilled in his students as they clawed and scratched their way towards  'enlightenment?'

And I, being hip-deep in a terrific solemnity about Zen practice, snickered and sneered within ... just like the teacher who taught pedal-to-the-metal zazen and coincidentally (or more likely inherently) taught sneering and snickering. I looked down and imagined I was lifted up.

But today, so many years later, I would like to apologize to that slight Japanese man for the stupidities of my youth (I was perhaps 35 at the time). Apologize not because I agree that singing is the one true way, the perfectly anointed way, the way most likely to inspire attainment, but because I agree that singing is a one true way, a perfectly anointed way, and a way most likely to inspire enlightenment. Perfection is an equal-opportunity employer ... if you doubt this, just try to find the time or place or circumstance that is not perfect.

I hesitate to say this -- to make my apology -- because "a way" so often inspires ecumenical and idiotic drivel and, worse, laziness," but my desire to apologize overrides my fears. Any way can inspire both geniuses and idiots, dolts and those with an iron determination. Every day is a good day ... it's nothing fancy ... it can't be helped.

Before any snake-oil salesman said "joy," there is joy. Before any smile-merchant advertised his wares, there was smiling. And before any singing, there was song. What is it like in the 'before' time, the home no one ever left? Well, singing is a good way and a true way, assuming anyone might allow it... and even if it doesn't work, still it's a bit of reprieve in uncertain and tearful times.

Perhaps it is like the old Baptist hymn, "How Can I Keep From Singing?"

Or not.

Anyway, I apologize.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"Puttin' On the Ritz" in Moscow

Received in email:

Who could have thought that in 2012 young people in Moscow would put on a "flash mob" happening, dancing to an *83 year old* *American song* written by a Russian born American-Jew (Irving Berlin) whose last name is the capital of Germany...


easier than herding cats?

Farmers herd a flock of ducks along a street towards a pond as residents drive next to them in Taizhou, Zhejiang province, China, June 17, 2012.
REUTERS/China Daily


The over-reaching greed of stock brokers and bankers is beginning to make itself felt in the homely tomato patch and among the corn rows.

In Spain, cops are now on the lookout for stolen produce and farmers have created their own night patrols.

Hunger will do that for a man.

confession and absolution

I am sorry for the things I have done.

I am sorry for the things I have left undone.

I am proud of the things I have done.

I am proud of the things I have left undone.

It would surprise me if one or more of these rivulets of thought had not crossed a majority of minds at one time or another. Sometimes with more force, sometimes with less ... but still ... some version.

And to the extent any or all may have whispered and nudged, trumpeted or thrown out its chest, isn't it a pretty good pointer? I think so.

What is the common denominator for these mirror images of sorrow and delight? It's just "I," isn't it? Nothing sexy or profound or refined -- just "I."

And from this assessment, assuming it's true, I think it is fair to infer that some investigation of this "I" is warranted. Buddhism has a pretty good format for such an investigation of despair and delight. In Zen Buddhism, for example, there is the teacher Dogen:

To study Buddhism is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things. To be enlightened by all things is to be free from attachment to the body and mind of one's self and of others.
But I am not interested in touting Buddhism here. Buddhism provides a good format for investigating this "I," but since this "I" is wider than any format, since it is more interesting and pervasive than any religion or spiritual overlay, since the human heart comes in so many flavors and with so many differently-stated concerns ... well, flogging Buddhism is not the point. The point is the human heart.

In high school, one of my best friends was brought up Catholic. As high school students, the two of us were as overwhelmed by hormones as any other. We too tried on one persuasion or another in that vast teen-aged struggle to become adult and powerful and assured.

Bill and I were part of the 'downtown crowd,' a group that hung around in Greenwich Village in New York, a group that was impressed with the Beat Generation writers and poets with their go-to-hell iconoclasms. The rest of our high school class qualified as the 'uptown crowd' -- those who lived in snazzier places like Park Avenue and were dutifully conformist ... at least in our eyes. We wore black jeans and black T-shirts in our hours away from the classroom (where everyone wore a tie and jacket). We were kool ... or anyway we worked pretty hard at it. In our world, where Kerouac and Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti were enshrined and adored, religion was a snare and a delusion -- the kind of conformity worthy of the uptown crowd ... the sissies and sycophants and anyone else who was not as kool as we were.

And yet one day, Bill and I were hanging out in his minuscule bedroom talking about this and that and he told me that he had stopped going to church. I didn't ask how that sat with his Catholic parents, but I did imagine there must have been some heart-felt and perhaps heated discussions about it. I sensed in Bill's admission that we were in a serious realm -- a realm way beyond kool, a realm where there were real wounds and not just judgmental or philosophical ones. I don't remember all the particulars of the conversation, but I do remember asking him gently if there was anything he missed about the church he had decided to leave. And Bill's face went soft and open and tender ... nothing kool or assured ... just an open heart.

"Yes," he said. "I miss confession."

And I ached for my friend. Never mind if it were true in any church-y sense, still, if someone honestly believed that he could bare his inmost errors and then be absolved ... Jesus! Who wouldn't take some of that? To have the weight lifted, to feel it slip away like woodsmoke rising from a campfire. Living as I was with an alcoholic mother, living as I was in the throes of the wracking uncertainty that is a teenager's lot, how could I not wish to be forgiven, to be washed clean, to be relieved and feel relief. I ached for my friend because I ached for myself, I suppose.

"I miss confession."

And more concretely, I miss absolution. I miss a place of lightness and light, a place I longed for and wished for and was somehow certain (though I was never entirely sure why or how) existed. To be fresh as a daisy in the summer sun, free and dancing in the warm breezes ... with no backward glances. Jeeeeesus!

Experience in life teaches lessons that may or may not be learned -- that, for example, there are no ornately-decorated closets into which anyone might step and receive an absolution from an authoritative and disembodied voice. No man or god can offer an adequate absolution to anyone who is honest. This is not a criticism. It is just experience. Somehow, assuming anyone ingests the lessons of this life, there needs to be an absolution within ... and it goes miles beyond the absolutions of the kool, the forgiveness of the proud or the desolations of the uncertain. Smug religions may harness this longing for their own purposes, but that manipulation or 'kindness' does not mean the longing is any less keen or compelling.

What then? What choice is there but to set out with purposeful stride to realize and actualize what once was little more than wishful thinking. Pick a road, any road, and then follow it. Keep and eye skinned for the potholes, but do not be dissuaded by some trip or fall, cut or bruise. Follow the 'I' road, the heart road, the road that both beckons and recedes. Confess and confess and confess some more, irrespective of absolution. Find the space in which the need to puff out the chest or dissolve in tears is superfluous.

Who am I?

For once and for sure -- who am I?

Cough it up! Quit being kool or confounded ... just cough it up!

Ain't that a daisy-cutter?!