Friday, November 30, 2012


It's not new, but I got hooked all over again watching Bill Moyers interview Karl Marlantes, a Yale grad, Marine Corps lieutenant in Vietnam, and now, after much soul-searching, a writer.

I posted the video a while back, but watching it again tonight made me want to repost it. Marlantes strikes me as a man worth listening to.

bomb-proof toilets

Thank God!

Just when I was getting worried about my safety in Moscow's public lavatories, the Russians have designed a terrorist-proof w.c.

The drive to introduce bomb-proof toilets in the city follows a spate of deadly bomb attacks in recent years.

If nothing else, perhaps this innovation will aid in a worldwide economic recovery as loo-makers everywhere seek to upgrade their product by reducing the scared-shitless quotient.

voodoo's needs suspected in grave robberies

Religion has its needs, and in Benin, tomb raiders have dug up more than 100 graves as a suspected means of providing voodoo with its necessary implements.

The incident is the most serious case of grave-robbing in the West African state, the world capital of voodoo where most of the country's 9 million residents practice a benign form of the official religion.

The incident may conjure up notions of an outlandish backwardness, but it is hard to think of a religion that doesn't seek donations in one way or another.

raping the elephant

Not for the first time, I think this morning that the most popular approach to spiritual life is like the old joke about the ant creeping up an elephant's back leg ... with rape in mind.

Stealthy and savvy, intellect and emotion advance on the objective, collecting and collating data in hopes of attaining or assuring some blessed relief from uncertainty. Tip-toe, tip-toe. It may be just out of reach, but if I'm careful enough and sneaky enough and smart enough, I'll catch the wondrous essence of spiritual adventure while it's not looking and I'll be happy at last.

Another version of this approach can be seen in the wonderfully silly Geico Insurance ad:

With the technologically-advanced night-vision goggles of intellect and emotion, all dangers can be laid to rest, all sorrows melted, all doubts resolved.

When I worked as a newspaper reporter, one of the sine qua non requirements of the job was to 'source' the material included in a story. It wasn't enough to say the mayor was a crook ... you had to find some law-enforcement official to say so and/or point to a law book that described the mayor's activities as illegal. You had to 'prove' it and proving it meant finding others -- credible others -- who would use their credibility to reassure you that yes, the mayor was in fact a crook. Your opinion might be spot-on accurate, but without a source, without a touchstone, your opinion and $2 would get you a bus ride and your editor would throw your story in the waste basket.

Prove it. If you want to rape an elephant, you have to climb a leg. If you want to escape the predators of this life, you'll have to don your intellectual and emotional night-vision goggles. And that's the most popular approach to spiritual life, I think ... proof-by-source, proof-by-reason, proof-by-emotion, proof-by-others.

And there's nothing naughty or bad about it. Intellect and emotion can be wonderful inspirations. Spiritual life amounts to little more than a fart in a wind storm without some sort of proof. But the only problem with employing the usual tools of intellect and emotion in search of that proof is ... well, they simply don't work. Elephants don't succumb to horny ants and night vision goggles don't provide protection once the sun comes up.

Proof is important, but formerly-reliable sources -- the only sources that may be currently available -- just don't reach. Of course, some are content with the kinds of proof that are ordinarily employed and whole lifetimes can pass in thrall to those ordinary sources ... the intellectual and emotional tip-toe-ing that suggests a real whopper of an ant orgasm is possible.

And yet, for some, there is a whispering as from afar: Prove it! If "God" is so important, who is God really? Not, "who is God" according to the usual sources, the night-vision-goggle sources, the horny-ant sources, the everyone-says sources, the holy-and-wise sources ... but really ... at 3 a.m. when the bedroom ceiling is your sole companion.

It may be a scary question, however it is phrased, but still, for some, it becomes a demand that can no longer be papered over with belief and hope. This is a command performance and the only question is what performance is required.

Experience is the only answer. Intimate, fall-on-your-face-and-get-up-again experience. Sure, a red-hot orgasm may be the goal at first ("enlightenment," "heaven," "bliss," "peace" etc.) but as a means of finding an unalloyed source ... well, some find a practice and then, with courage and patience and doubt, practice it. And through practice, experience evolves ... not overnight, perhaps -- though there can be bright-bright openings that come and go -- but bit by bit by bit.

Bit by bit by bit, the proof that was yearned for loses its force. Bit by bit by bit the need to get it on with the elephant recedes. Bit by bit by bit, the need to reassure yourself that blue sky is blue is no longer so necessary. Bit by bit by bit, the night-vision goggles of control and understanding and belief and hope ... well night-vision goggles are extra, aren't they?

Is there someone else who can have an orgasm for you?

Where's the fun in that?

bite-sized Vatican history lesson

For any who might be mildly interested in the Vatican's pedophile abuses, a friend passed along this three- or four-minute history lesson, a pretty good bite-sized morsel of a nine-course meal.

Sorry for the 4-5-second ad that precedes it.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Eido Tai Shimano (Con't) 4

Because of Eshu Martin's recent essay on the Zen compendium Sweeping Zen -- "Everybody Knows -- Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi and Rinzai-Ji" -- and because the Blogger venue on which this blog appears makes it difficult to reach the end of a given topic and leave a comment, I am creating yet another Eido Shimano thread, Eido Tai Shimano (Cont'd) 4. It evolves, like the 3, 2, 1 and the original that preceded it, from a letter I wrote in 1982 and posted at the outset of these threads. That letter is reproduced here as well.

Eshu's article plus the landslide of comments it has elicited is relevant in its similarity to the malfeasances and depredations of Shimano and that similarity deserves to be noticed, I think.


Thursday, November 12, 2009
letter to Eido Tai Shimano
What follows is a letter I wrote in 1982 to Eido Tai Shimano, the chief executive of Zen Studies Society in New York and Dai Bosatsu Monastery in upstate New York. Mr. Shimano is a Zen teacher.

The reason for posting a letter of so many years ago is not to open the old wounds that bled freely in their time. Nor is it to deny that Zen Buddhism in America has made great strides when it comes to the sexual and financial abuses that it has faced and continues to face from time to time. Nor is it to suggest that I have not been a hypocrite. Nor is it to elevate my own status as a rebel or nay-sayer or promoter of some one true virtue. I too love Zen Buddhism both in its directions and in its experiential truth.

I am posting it as a reminder that the past is or can be very much the present and further that the 'scandals' that have occurred involved very real and particular people and that those people suffered in ways that are contrary to Zen Buddhist teaching. Not for nothing did the teachers of the past make upsetting the sangha a no-no. Not for nothing did they encourage repentance when it was warranted. And not for nothing were they aware that in the human sphere, however elevated and adored, the room for error was and remains a very real possibility.

November 1, 1982

The Rev. Eido Tai Shimano
New York Zendo
223 East 67th St.
New York, NY 11021

Dear Mr. Shimano:

Thank you for your creative letter of Oct. 19, 1982 with its equally masterful enclosure of Oct. 21 to Mr. George (Jochi) Zournas. I must say that as I began to read your work I felt some vestigial hope that you might in fact clear the air, turn some metaphorical corner and clarify what, over the years, has become murky with the stuff that Soen Roshi has learned to call your “lies.” By the time I finished reading your words, I was, of course, disappointed if not surprised.

“So much sitting, so many sesshins, so many dokusans…” and still Soen Roshi calls you a liar. Could you tell me why? Is this perhaps another encouragement to “bravely march on?” Coming as Soen Roshi does out of a society that takes pride in indirection, still he uses this most direct word, “liar.” Why? Coming as he does out of a discipline that enjoins confession and straight-forwardness, he calls you a liar. Why? Among the monks at Dai Bosatsu last summer you managed to plant the idea that Soen Roshi was an alcoholic and/or senile. But why would a senile alcoholic even bother to call you a liar? Politics, you say? – because Soen Roshi wants Dai Bosatsu, to become king of the some American Zen castle? If Soen Roshi actually did want Dai Bosatsu, why not give it to him? Do you not owe him a great debt for his teaching, perhaps as Torei felt he owed Hakuin? As a ‘true man without rank,’ with so many sesshins, so much sitting, and so many dokusans behind you, surely you recognize that the toys of Zen Buddhism – the robes and monasteries and power – are only dreams. Could you, a ‘Zen Master,’ be fooled by a dream?

But this, of course, is not your understanding. Your understanding seems to be that They are all out to get you – you who are blameless in administration, honest in the dokusan room, pure and “fair” and deserving of respect from those who support and make possible your meaning as a person of rank. It is the questioners who are “insane” or full of “intense personal hatred” or want Your zendo or want Your monastery or hate you because you have money and they have not or don’t understand the ‘Japanese’ group and you…you bear it all so remarkably well, so staunch and patient. You are really very good at it: masterful, if not the master.

Besides those Jochi George Zournas mentioned in his letter (those Others who were out to get you), I would like to take this opportunity to recollect some others, perhaps not quite so august, who have left our own sangha. I am not now referring to those who left because they moved or to those who made an easy personal choice, but rather to those who left after some discovery in that beautiful zendo where there is room for our lifelong practice. True, some left in anger or confusion, but what was it they really discovered? Is it possible they discovered what Soen Roshi called your “lies?” I really don’t know, but I recollect them now and express my sorrow at their leaving: Daishin Peter Gamby, Maishin Mike Sopko, Reimon Ray Crivello, Genmyo Elihu Smith, Sojun George Seraganian, Bunyu David Bogart, Roca Lorca Morello (all of whom were residents as Sho Bo Ji with your blessings),Kanzan Bruce Rickenbacker (your monk who memorized the whole of the Diamond Sutra), Daiko Charles Carpenter (another of your monks), Shoro Lou Nordstrom (another of your monks), Kozen Peter Kaufman (another of your monks), Jonen Sheila Carmen (pseudonym), Wendy Megerman, Nennen Merry White, Toni Snow, Reishu Jim Gordon, Shinso Merete Galesi, Ishin Peter Mathiessen, Jean Day, Carol Binswanger, Jochi George Zournas, Wado Vicki Gerdy, Rinko Peggy Crawford and Mushin Frank LoCicero. You will recall, or course, that, over the years, the list has grown much, much, much longer and is filled with people who did not show sufficient “skepticism about rumors,” as you so quaintly put it.

How many of them came to you directly in 1975 and 1979 (when what were humorously referred to as the “Fuck Follies I” and the ”Fuck Follies II” were unveiled)? How many? Was it 10 or perhaps 20? Without any exception I know of, each of those who came to you directly came in a spirit of admiration and love, in hopes of clarifying a delicate matter without public exposure. The situation: your manipulation of the dokusan setting for your own periodic sexual satisfaction (seducing women); treating lovers taken from within the sangha with contempt once you had finished with them; and taking no candid responsibility for your own behavior but rather answering direct, honest and caring queries with, in one form or another, the line you used in a jam-packed zendo in 1975: “It’s none of your business.”

The line of people outside your door is long, very, very long. In my mind, they wait silently – the They and Them whom you so easily accuse of insanity or intense personal hatred. A long line of crazy people outside your door. What brought them there? Even crazy people have their reasons, don’t you agree?

Look! There’s Merry White. Remember her? She was the one who sent a letter to the Board of Trustees in 1979 outlining without rancor your sexual blackmail. It was she who wrote: “Personally, I found his (your) seductions very distracting and jarring during the first Kessei…I wonder now if I would not have been a better student in the long run without it. ... And last year (1978) during my second stay at Dai Bosatsu, it hurt me that he treated me very distantly for quite a while. When he warmed up, it became sexual again. That kind of either/or situation made it very difficult for me (or, I would think, any woman) to be his student. You want his attention and his help, and that, I think, is how it begins. He takes this emotional opening-up, which is normal and right in a spiritual student-teacher relationship, as a sign of sexual readiness.” Clearly the Board of Trustees, your Board of Trustees, took the only possible sane action by never fully discussing the matter and by issuing a letter, signed by Korin Sylvan Busch stating, “we affirm our confidence in Eido Roshi and his leadership of our sangha.”

And there’s Jane Smith (pseudonym)! Remember her? December 24, 1977, Room 1100A at the Statler Hilton after dinner at Mama Leone’s. Remember how the board of Trustees covered that one when Jochi and Korin, at whose instigation I can only guess, spread lies and rumors about Jane – how she was only dreaming of an affair with you? And how even Jane was drawn into the lies and told them on herself because she believed the truth would be harmful to you and to Zen practice in America? She was the same one who commented later in front of witnesses that “he (you) never even said thank you.”

And Carmen!… But of course you will recall this and much, much more.

On and on and on it goes down that long, long line. Person after person, Bodhisattva after crazy Bodhisattva, each of them willing their suspicions to silence. How is it possible they were so willing, so stupid? Perhaps it was because many people begin their spiritual practice with the understanding that the ascendancy they have previously granted to their emotions and intellect is the source of much suffering. Because of that pain, they were willing to set aside their own emotions and intellect (to the extent possible), and to be as faithful and obedient as possible. Perhaps they counseled themselves that intellect and emotion are more delusion. And perhaps they trusted that your emotions and thoughts were not based in delusion. This trust, however misguided, was surely human and understandable. Unfortunately, it was and is open to manipulation and deceit. There are many I know, myself among them, who practiced with you and were grateful to you, until, a little at a time, they began to wonder. In their wondering, they came to you in their twos and threes and tens, not even caring very much that you took lovers on the side, but curious about a wider pattern of contempt and manipulation. No doubt you saw them as insane people out to take your toys. Well, they didn’t get them, did they?

To some you said your Japanese heritage and samurai code of honor kept you from understanding or responding to these puritanical “barbarians.” Isn’t it odd for a so-called Zen Master who has lived in America for 20 years to claim he understands neither his students nor his environment? Isn’t such a person in the wrong line of work? No doubt it is equally insane to suggest that a real Japanese man would know something of discretion and that a true samurai would not exhibit contempt and dishonesty towards those in his own circle of honorable endeavor.

Of course it was more difficult to use this line on Dr. Tadao Ogura, the psychiatrist who offered to act as arbitrator in the present upheaval. He was the one who suggested taking three “impartial” observers from the sangha with him when he listened to the direct testimony of those involved. The group would then have reported to the Board of Trustees, your own Board of Trustees. Perhaps he too was one of the insane ones, the ones who had to be stopped. And stopped he was when Korin Sylvan Busch, at whose instigation I can only guess, let it be known that three “impartial” sangha members could not be found.

The long line outside your door does not say these things. They are silent. They are gone. It is I who say them, I, Kigen. I take responsibility for saying what I have said and doing what I have done. I have company, but I take responsibility for myself. I am one of Them, those Others whose fault it all is, one of the ones who supported you well, offered you gratitude, did his best to practice the Zen Buddhism of the Patriarchs, lied or remained silent for you on numbers of occasions, lied or remained silent to myself about you, endured and perpetuated your deceits, and, finally...went...”insane.”

It is out of that insanity that I also offer you my most sincere and honest thanks. I offer thanks without irony or sarcasm. You have taught me well and I am grateful. Besides the mechanics of Zen Buddhism, you have also taught me what a Zen Master is not – a teaching worthy of a true Zen Master. Although your teaching lacked the creative clarity, the nurturing of the Buddha Dharma, and the straight-forwardness of a truly enlightened man, still I say your teaching was fine. As I value my life, my Zen practice, so I value this teaching.

This is a time for potential new beginnings – yours, mine, the sangha’s. Always new beginnings. I pray now and will continue to pray that each of us may one day face death with strong, even breaths and perhaps a small smile of true understanding.

Thank you and goodbye.

Adam Fisher

It was during that same time period that I heard perhaps the sharpest rebuke I have ever heard in my life. At one point, Soen Roshi was talking face to face with Mr. Shimano and discussing the reported disharmony Mr. Shimano played a role in. Mr. Shimano offered his responses. And Soen Roshi reportedly said sadly, "Now it comes -- dead rock!"

... and no one gives a shit

It's almost a koan, I imagine -- the compelling or perhaps overwhelming sense of outrage or pain or love or joy that can sweep in like a hurricane out of the Caribbean ... and no one gives a shit. How galling, how painful, how utterly and absolutely wrong it can seem.

For example, my hair can suffer from spontaneous combustion at the thought of war and the havoc it can wreak. The sheer and utter stupidity and waste and political chicanery and unkindness can leave me frothing like a rabid fox. But, based on even a cursory look around the globe, there is some reason to suspect that no one (or at least not enough people) give a shit.

Or ... a small child with nothing but ribs for a chest stares blankly at the camera.

Or ... a man with cufflinks speaks of those who are poor as if they were lazy, greedy moochers.

Or ... a religious institution founded on charity manipulates its constituency to assure that greed is the norm.

I imagine everyone has their own social laundry list of items about which they care deeply ... and that depth is encouraged or dismayed by the fact that others do not feel the same. When it comes to giving a shit, it seems that the agreement of others is an inescapable demand, a proof positive that whatever the topic is, it is worth giving a shit about.

Closest of all to home, of course, is "I hurt ... and no one gives a shit."

But isn't it true: No matter how many people agree and applaud and console, still the situation remains unresolved, un-disposed-of? True, the collective will of a lot of American young people who gave a shit helped to end the Vietnam war ... but somehow did nothing to avert the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan that proceeded without a backward glance.

And from this, if true, there is one single fact that sticks out: I give a shit.

And it's important (at least to me) that I give a shit.

And that, it seems to me, is the point of any really fruitful departure.

How and why and who cares?

Well, I do ... no applause necessary ...

Now what?

United Networks News

When it comes to news, I have come to realize that the BBC, Reuters, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Al-Jazeera and several other sources languish in the shadows when compared to something called United Networks News, a site a friend passed along a while back.

No frills, no pictures, no ads ... just a list of one-liner links to stories. But more than just the stories of enormous import, there are stories from all sorts of sources and touching on all kinds of topics. Kings and queens stand cheek-by-jowl with babies with lollipops. Technology is as possible as politics which in turn is as possible as social trends or speedy cars or economics or Hollywood boobs.

This, for my money, is a news source worth crediting. It doesn't whine or inveigle or spread its legs for the latest feeding frenzy ... it just offers. It doesn't sneak in coded back doors to bring up stories that I would "be interested in."

I like it.

Stephen Batchelor

Because it is lingering in my mind like the scent of incense long since burned out, I return to Stephen Batchelor's small essay, "Buddhism and Sex: The Bigger Picture." I read it first yesterday.

On the one hand, the entire sex/power/religion topic is like being around the nagging child in the "use condoms" ad ... whining, complaining, beseeching and ultimately infuriating.

On the other hand, I have cared about spiritual endeavor for a long time. Its usefulness is, to me, as undeniable as its capacity for bullshit. I may wish as much as I like that this caring would "shut the fuck up," but like some maiden aunt who is hard of hearing, it refuses and hovers and insists. OK, I give up: I like it, however insufferably boring and off-topic it can be.

Once, when I was in the publicity department at a New York book publisher, I wrote a press release for some book and headlined it with a single, bold-faced, large-type word: SEX. I was in the business of trying to bring attention to the publisher's products and, well, "sex" was a good word for those purposes. And when you put sex together with religion (especially here in the good ol' U.S. of prurient A.) ... well, how about that for a cheap-date attention-getter?! We have, I would say, a winnah!

I don't doubt for a minute that everyone interested in Buddhism has an appreciation of the sex/power dynamic that has grievously wounded so many and sent others running for the psychobabble 'healing' hills. There is sorrow, there is fury, there is righteousness, there is ersatz compassion and there is a lot more ... and I have been-there-and-done-that and may yet again. I don't fault any of it since it seems to me to be true.

But what Batchelor's essay did for me was to underscore what I have strongly felt for a long time: If you can't burn it to the ground, spiritual endeavor will always remain about as useful as tits on a bull. There is no burning it down until it actually burns down, but knowing that it is not yet burned down is a good indicator that a much-valued spiritual endeavor has not yet achieved its most useful function. Burn it down: The institutions, the ritual, the support mechanisms, the tears, the bliss, the enlightenment, the compassion, the emptiness, the robes and beads and bells ... all gone. The fire-bombing of Dresden was as nothing compared to this inferno ... an inferno that invites one and all to warm themselves and perhaps toast marshmallows.

Laying claim to a scorched earth is not the same as scorching this earth.

For me, Batchelor's essay lit a bright match.


Of all the spiritual practices that are encouraged, perhaps generosity is best.

Since everything falls off anyway, you might as well learn how to give it away in the first place.

Better a conduit than a king.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

summing up the Zen sex scandals

Observing the various sex scandals flittering around the Zen Buddhist world, someone named "Willy" gave what I considered a perfect summation of the action-reaction that has been seen time and time again as such scandals rose up, were denied, rose up again, were sidetracked again, rose up again....

That summation (found on James Ford's blog) was:

"He ain’t dead, and if he is, I didn’t kill him, and if I had, the bastard had it coming."

PS. And in somewhat the same category, here is Stephen Batchelor's "Buddhism and Sex: The Bigger Picture."

Among the observations I liked best:

As long as systemic inequalities of institutional power remain unchallenged, no amount of soul-searching and drafting of ever more detailed moral “guidelines” will succeed in comprehensively tackling the core issue of the abuse of power.

apocalypse...the end is nigh

Just a very-nicely written article about the past, present and future effects of solar dyspepsia.

court-ordered confessions

An American court ruled Tuesday that tobacco companies must run advertisements that admit that they deceived cigarette smokers.

Each [advertisement] is to be prefaced by wording that the tobacco firms had "deliberately deceived the American public about the health effects of smoking".

I wonder if other courts will consider similar orders for the banks and stockbrokers and rating services and other charlatans who perpetrated equally unhealthy and sometimes fatal deceptions that led to a worldwide economic slump.

Maybe religions could be ordered to 'fess up as well.

Mind you, as a smoker and someone interested in spiritual persuasions, I am not holding my breath.

love and bloodbaths

America -- or at least parts of it -- is being swept up in a frenzy of delighted anticipation as tonight's drawing for a $500 million lottery prize nears.

How delicious!

How wonderful!

How I wish!!!!

Downside be damned! I could pay off the mortgage, pay for my kids' college education, and...and...and.

The fact that there is one chance in 175 million to win makes no difference: Someone's gotta win and you can't win without playing, so ...

Funny how upside frenzies of love or longing blind the mind and heart. Of course there are heads that like to think of themselves as 'cooler,' but that's largely intellectual bullshit: Where a frenzy of love or longing enters, everything gets thrown into a cocked hat. Caution and common sense seem to have taken a vacation in Fiji ... or anyway they aren't around.

As to the lottery, the Associated Press ran a story today about the downside of big winnings: Guilt, loss of friends, confusion, joy, distrust ... but of course the current frenzy only hears such caveats with half an ear, if that: They couldn't handle it but I know I could.

In the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries, the Roman Catholic Church extended to any who were willing to become Crusaders a free pass into heaven. It was like James Bond's 007 designation -- Crusaders were given license to kill or do damned near anything else and those actions would not be subject to canonical sanction or heavenly punishment, the church assured them.

At the time of the Crusades, Christianity and Islam had pretty much staked their claims -- Christianity to northern and western Europe, Islam to the Middle East and the south. Christians wanted access to their holy cities, notably Jerusalem, and were pissed off by the discrimination some Christians had suffered at the hands of some Muslims. The fact that these two religions sprang from the same Abramic roots didn't seem to deter a ticked-off Vatican.

So as an added inducement, the Crusaders got the pope's OK to rape, pillage and slaughter without heavenly reprisal. How about that for an up-side jackpot? Maybe it was a little like the Muslim suicide bombers of today ... automatic martyrdom and manna (including virgins) in heaven. One account from the time of the Crusades described the streets of Baghdad as running (literally) "ankle-deep in blood."

Eventually, the Crusaders got their asses kicked, but that was not before the population of heaven underwent a significant and imaginative uptick. The frenzy of a good deal paid an eventual price.

And I wonder sometimes about the frenzy that might lead someone to take up a spiritual persuasion. The promises are delicious, even for those persuasions that are less prone to imaginative belief: Heaven and hell may be small-potatoes bits of imagination, but they are enough to convince many; and for those who remain unconvinced, there is always "enlightenment" or "peace in the heart" or something equally capable of inspiring a jackpot frenzy. Gimme a 007 rating and watch me go!

No one can see into the future, so avoiding all of the downside repercussions to anything is impossible. But it strikes me as a good habit to get into -- where the upside frenzy comes calling, where the bliss and benefits entice, where glory and honor await ... be prepared for a bloodbath of some sort.

There simply is no heaven without its handmaiden, hell. There is no wealth without poverty.

This has nothing to do with 'wisdom.' It has everything to do with facts.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

bestiality nicht!

Germany is moving towards reinstating a law against sexual relations with animals.

Bestiality was legalised in Germany in 1969, the same year that gay sex was also removed from the criminal code. After that, sex with animals was only punishable if the animal was severely injured.

It is hard to know exactly how to comment on this latest development... or anyway it leaves me floundering.

"sneaker waves"

Wave at Big Lagoon beach
"Sneaker waves" have been blamed for the deaths of three members of a California family.

Signs near the beach warned of "sneaker waves," the kind that suddenly roar ashore.

Read more:
Signs near the beach warned of "sneaker waves," the kind that suddenly roar ashore.

Read more:
Signs near the beach warned of "sneaker waves," the kind that suddenly roar ashore.

Read more:
"Signs near the beach warned of "sneaker waves," the kind that suddenly roar ashore."

The dog went in first at Big Lagoon beach ... playing fetch ... and was swept away. The son went after the dog ... and was swept away. The father went after the son ... and was swept away. The wife went after her husband and son ... and was swept away.

Only the dog survived.

"the sexiest man alive"

Beneath or behind the unavoidable belly laughs, there is something serious about the Chinese newspaper that ran a fifty-five-page online photo spread based on the spoof-prone Onion's suggestion that North Korea's latest dictator, Kim Jong Un, was the "sexiest man alive."

The People's Daily quoted the American satire publication as saying:

With his devastatingly handsome, round face, his boyish charm, and his strong, sturdy frame, this Pyongyang-bred heartthrob is every woman's dream come true.
Of course American media have increasingly divested themselves of the skepticism and research that used to be a stock-in-trade for news reporting, but the egregiousness of the Chinese paper's blunder takes your breath away. What sorts of minds are being allowed into Chinese news rooms? True, Chinese news media are primarily used to promote a state agenda, but this...? This seems to be dumber than dumb-and-dumber.

Snickering American news rooms might do well to tack this story on the office bulletin board ... and then take a long, hard look in the bathroom mirror.

first snow

Hokkaido in northern Japan got walloped with a snowstorm Tuesday, but around here, the first snowstorm of the year merely tickles and whispers out of the sky.

Tiny bit by tiny bit, car windshields and shrubbery feel the uncaring cold of the color white.

Warren Buffett

Thank goodness for Warren Buffett, a billionaire rich enough to be moral.

Two days ago, in the New York Times, Buffett presented his oped case that the egregiously wealthy should be taxed at a higher rate and that they could afford it and that the nation would benefit from it. "In recent years, my gang has been leaving the middle class in the dust," he wrote.

Will Buffet's suggestions incline the rich to rethink what the widening gap between rich and poor implies? I doubt it. I have a hunch their response will be something along the lines of ...

"Let me get rich first. I'll worry about being moral later."

And of course "later" seldom, if ever, comes.

a conclusive conclusion

What a lot of activities seem to be aimed at reaching a conclusion. There are so many, in fact, that it's hard not to ask "what activity does not seek a conclusion?" Anyone who can take a moment or two out of a busy day of seeking conclusions might want to think about it.

The verb "conclude" is defined by an Internet dictionary as:

-- to decide that something is true after looking at all the evidence you have
-- to officially make something such as a deal or an agreement
-- to end, especially by someone saying or doing something
-- to end something, especially by doing or saying something
-- used for reporting the last thing that someone says
-- to finish something, especially something that has taken a long time

Conclusions, it seems, wrap up the case. Intellectually, this is pretty kool, pretty slick, pretty conclusive. But upon personal reflection ... well, what is that like? Sometimes I think spiritual practice, so-called, amounts to little more than reacquainting this life with a more relaxed world ... a world before conclusions. And why would anyone want to do that? Because conclusions, while sensible in one sense, make no sense at all when it comes to a peaceful life.

When in doubt, reach a conclusion ... that seems to be par for the course. But instead of actually stilling doubt, my guess is that conclusions actually redouble it in secret ways that go unnoticed or are forcibly stilled with still more conclusions.

Well, for all that hot air above, there is the nitty gritty that no one in their right mind would ignore. Projects and thoughts begin with a conclusion in mind ... climb the mountain, get a better job, marry and have kids, wash the car, think through a difficult or painful issue, eat chocolate, become a Buddhist ... and on and on. Ignoring such things would be silly and sometimes leads to painful results. No point in being any dumber than I already am.

The intellectual and emotional mind balks at the very idea that conclusions are over-the-top, extra, and put a distance between the seeker of peace and the peace itself: If things lacked conclusions, if "therefore" could find no footing, if "meaning" and "belief" and "explanation" fell silent ... well, what the hell!? Wouldn't that be monotonous and boring and as bland as Wonderbread? This is an arena to approach gingerly and yet, when conclusions begin to wear out their welcome, it may become an interesting arena.

If "conclusions" invariably posit the word "and," how conclusive could they be? Surely it makes sense to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. Surely it makes sense to think things through. If banging a thumb with a hammer is painful, well certainly that is something to avoid. But it's also unavoidable for anyone using a hammer.

No one wants to be a doofus. Too much shit hits the fan that way.

But on reflection, perhaps it becomes apparent that not-being-a-doofus provides its own shit-splattering wonders. On reflection, it seems pretty conclusive.

So ... maybe it's a good idea, however gingerly, to consider the possibility of a little quiet time ... a time in which to reacquaint this life with the life that never was missing ... you know, the life that does not rely on conclusions.

It's nothing special, nothing conclusive, but it does seem to have some reliable peace to it.

Monday, November 26, 2012

fig leaves

It was several Roman Catholic popes who elevated the fig leaf to literal and metaphorical grandeur, covering the genitalia of a number of offending artworks in the Vatican. Christianity as exemplified by the church hierarchy did a serious number on what was once considered "heroic nudity."

But what may have been inspired by the church during the Renaissance could hardly have lasted without the complicity of others who had a similar sense of everything from evil to eeeeuuuuuw.

And today the fig leaf has been bequeathed to one and all as a metaphor for covering up, for keeping secrets and for hiding things.

It is easy to notice that no matter how many clothes anyone puts on, still everyone is always naked. But strangely, the metaphor doesn't hold up in reverse ... that the more clothes anyone takes off the closer to nakedness they become.

People can wander around naked as a jaybird and still carry with them endless numbers of fig leaves. This is easy to see in others, but can be pretty dispiriting when viewed in the bathroom mirror of the mind: How many fig leaves do I insist on in life? How much do I make up stories as a means of not telling the honest story? Is there any aspect of this life in which I go for the gold -- full, frontal nudity? What exactly is so scary about getting undressed after I imagine I have gotten undressed?

The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden by Masaccio,
before and after restoration. It was painted in 1425,
covered up in 1680, and restored in 1980.
How many tales do spiritual persuasions tell? Tales of monks, tales on nuns, tales of mythic beasts, tales of the wise, tales of the ignorant, tales of saints, tales of sinners, tales of gods, tales of goddesses, heavens and hells ....  The Hindus alone would make Minnesota's Mall of America look like a mom-and-pop shop. Even Johnny-come-latelies like Christianity and Judaism have tale upon tale, beauty upon beauty, encouragement upon encouragement... fig leaf upon fig leaf.

And there is something to be said for never staring directly into the sun. Sometimes looking somewhere else offers a better and more digestible view ... for the moment. Hope and belief, encouragement and inspiration, ritual and festival, tea and cookies after Sunday service ... spiritual persuasions are supposed to warm and succor, aren't they? And the answer from one point of view is yes.

But from another point of view, I think, there is some voice within that longs to know the source, the reason for all these fig leaves and tall tales, the honest essence of what, until now, has been merely believed in or extolled. This is not an arena in which anyone else can enter. This is my question and my longing in the same sense that yours is yours. No ... more ... fig leaves. Is there really something wrong with things as they are -- just naked. Is there really a need to tell tall tales... the ones that encourage and inspire and yet camouflage questions like, "Inspire and encourage for what?" or "Who is this god about whom so many pious tales are told?"

Is there some reason for me to search out fig tree after fig tree no matter how sweet the fruit?

It's a personal matter and a personal choice.

But I think it is one worth making. Fig leaves make for greater sex appeal, of course, but how much sexier does anyone need to be?

"The 9th Company"

With about the same interest I might accord a detective procedural on TV, I watched "The 9th Company" last night. The Russian/Ukrainian/Finnish movie tells the tale of young recruits sent in 1988 first to basic training and later to Afghanistan in Russia's ill-fated attempt to tame the country that no interloper has ever tamed. The movie was a box-office hit in Russia.

The photography was mediocre, the music was strangely off-topic, and the characters were drawn with about the same care as a TV detective procedural might offer... interesting, but not compelling. That the story was roughly based on true events surrounding "Hill 3234" may have added to impact among the Russians who lost family members to yet another war, but since "another war" is the province of any large and powerful country, the addition meant little. Almost everyone got slaughtered and forgotten in the end ... just as people are in any "another war."

I watched to the end with a kind of lazy sadness. The kids are always the same, irrespective of language. The situations are always the same, irrespective of country. The unseen power brokers are always the same -- wanting something that they are willing to shed others' blood for. The most compelling part of the movie came when an intelligence officer addressed the young recruits, informing them of customs of the country ... as part of their pep-talk, get-informed, wave-the-flag, goose-the-testosterone training. In the midst of his mostly-hooray presentation, the officer said (approximately) with a seriousness that belied the other enthusiastic segments of his talk, "No one ever won a war against Afghanistan. Ever!"

It was all achingly familiar, all achingly painful, all achingly and incredibly stupid. The tale, like the soldiers who peopled it, would be forgotten ... and I could feel the forgetting begin even as I watched the movie.

Where was there ever a war that was adequately remembered ... and by "adequately" I mean remembered in such a way that the lessons might in some way be 'learned.' The answer, of course, is never, and shedding tears of outrage, either literally or figuratively, is a fool's errand. Those who admire or espouse wars never imagine that it is their son or their daughter who screams in fiery agony. No ... this war is a "just war" and the people who fight them are dubbed "heroes" because those who created such vile and insane situations need some solace when they look in a mirror that might otherwise reflect too much too accurately. Calling these policy-makers scumbags hardly scratches the surface.

I sat and watched the movie to the end, feeling a bit like someone with a broken arm: It ached, but it could be forgotten from time to time as time passed and the wound, like the wars, passed.

It was very, very sad ... I do not like losing my children.

But also ... it was life.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

it's just a bit of style

The accepted proof of satori is a set of literary and rhetorical skills that takes many years to acquire. -- From Chapter 1, an essay by T. Griffith Foulk in The Koan: Texts and Contexts in Zen Buddhism; edited by Steven Heine and Dale S. Wright

I am utterly unequipped to judge the accuracy or even meaning of what is quoted above. But I can say that it felt like a delightfully-sprung trip-wire in my mind.

"Literary and rhetorical skills" sound very much to me like the considerably simpler, "style" ... as in the "style" of shoes or the "style" of music or the "style" of writing. Your "style," my "style," his-her-or-its "style."

And the idea that after all the years of Zen practice, the upshot is simply a matter of style....

That really appeals to me.

No big deal ... mix 'n' match ... it's just my style.


If you can't even cope with the finite, what in the wide world of sports makes you imagine you could cope with the infinite?

just one question

Funny how difficulties, after all the sturm und drang, seem to boil down to one thing -- the whole problem summarized and completed in a single word or idea.

Not that the sturm und drang can't be compelling and long-winded, but, when pushed to its limits, the situation gets very simple, somehow.

In the U.S. Supreme Court, for example, the issue of a company's liability in harassment cases will be heard tomorrow, according to Reuters. The degrees and depths and subtleties of harassment may be as subtle as a theologian's oration, but in the specific matter of harassment, the single issue the court is likely to address is the definition of the word "supervisor."

I think the same circumstances apply to individuals as well ... a problem that may be far-reaching and complex and compelling and, when pushed to the extremes of examination, a single adamantine word or phrase will rise to the surface like chicken fat in a soup pot ... floating, gloating, and clear as a bell: Solve this one, single issue and the entire matter will be resolved.

There's no skipping the sturm und drang, no way of hastening to a single key question or statement ... but it's funny how that's the way things seem to end up.

Associatively, for some reason, this brings to mind a joke about a little bird flying around and around a mountain peak in ever diminishing circles until, in the end, s/he flies up her own asshole and disappears.

everyone is peculiar

Gotta put a fire under my zazen ass this morning ... get out to the zendo and sit before I take my son back to his college in New Hampshire.

Sundays are my days to visit the zendo. Just checking in with an old friend. With its imperfect insulation and the on-set of chilly weather and my disinclination to be cold, I save my zazen for a warmer clime indoors.

But Sundays, cold or hot, are the days when I visit this old friend. And today I have to do it earlier because my son is on a schedule.

A peculiar imperative, some might say.

I say everyone is peculiar.

to be free

To be free ... what a crowd-pleaser.

Little or large, the notion sings and soars. From nations to tribes to families to school kids; from mental to physical, "freedom" fits and beckons and gets a free pass ... and yet....

Two nights ago, the pain in my legs was severe enough to wake me shortly after 2 and insist that I relinquish the idea of sleep. I got up and the rest of the day was spent on the fragile edge of things, working out the pain in one way or another. This morning, I got up after a more normal six or seven hours of sleep. I wasn't pain-free, but at least it wasn't the ball-buster of the night before.

And it occurs to me that to wish to be free of pain is a 100%-pure longing in a time of pain... much like the longing to be free of some mental black cloud or to be free from the horrendous clamor of war or to be free of whatever other circumstance seems to chain and chafe.

To be free ... this is no damned joke! This is serious! This is a longing that no amount of idle, blissful chatter can overcome. The philosophy maven or religion-tinkerer may stroke his chin with judicious solemnity and ask, "so what is freedom?" but in a time when freedom is desirable, the only sensible answer is, "why don't you go piss up a rope?!" This is beyond the bonbons of morality. To be free is serious.

But what interests me this morning is wondering ... once the freedom desired is the freedom attained, what becomes of that freedom and where does the pedal-to-the-metal yearning go? To be free was worth fighting for, praying for, sweating for, screaming for. It had parameters, however vaguely defined and they were s-e-r-i-o-u-s.

So ... once "to be free" is in hand, what happens? What happens personally ... I don't want some segue into history or philosophy or psychology. What really happens?

My legs don't hurt as much today as they did yesterday. I have learned not to expect to wake up pain-free, but there are increments of pain and today is better than yesterday. I am free of yesterday's arrows ... and ... if the truth be told ... I forget all about the freedom I pined for. I forget the yearning. I have, so to speak, attained the freedom I longed for and ... I pay it no mind...I am complacent in it... and perhaps arrogant, no matter how much I may mewl about "everything changes."

Those (including me) who make a profession of remembering the 'sacrifices of the past' or 'the victories attained' or "the freedoms won" are pretty boring over the long haul... maybe a little like those who claim to recall the smell of a fart long after the fart has disappeared on the wind.

Perhaps the all-fired certainty about "freedom" is not quite so certain after all. Maybe what is called freedom is like what is called love ... it's just something to use or abuse, but in any case has no meaning other than to give it away... or live it ... whatever the hell it is.

Yearning to be free ... and yet when actually being free is in hand, who in his right mind preens or extols? This is the way things are supposed to be ... until the next time... until yearning raises its head once more ... yearning for ... for ... for....

The Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said, in a case involving pornography, "I may not know what it is, but I know it when I see it." Or that was the gist of his remark. Obviously if I knew anything about freedom, I would not have wasted so many words here. But given half a chance, I can whine and wax rhapsodic with the best of them about the parameters and need for freedom... from/to slavery, from/to anguish, from/to injustice, from/to Sunday....

But, irrespective of my ignorance, I think it's worth a little examination ... yearning to be free when, assuming that freedom is attained, there is nothing at all to claim as freedom. I may yearn to have no pain in my legs, but when there is little or no pain in my legs ... well ... I crank up the yearning machine and forget all about my legs. I am free, it seems, to shackle myself anew and yearn for some new and improved freedom ... again.

Maybe it's a good idea to find the place where "again" is born ... again.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

vileness of war ... set to music

A collaborative effort outside Fort Hood, Texas, puts aching veterans together with singer-songwriters and produces music that touches the mayhem.

"The music is a way of moving emotion and images and ideas out of you, into an objective form where you can see what it is, where you can express it," [Dr. Jerry Wesch] says, "where you can face and honor what's happened to you. And the process has been amazing."
A lot of hell.

A little bit of heaven.


(Reuters) - A woman in Sweden has been charged with engaging in sexual activities with a human skeleton and could face jail time for disturbing the peace of the dead, a Swedish prosecutor said.

As grotesque anyone might find this case of necrophilia, the notion that anyone could actually define the "peace of the dead" strikes me as more grotesque (not to mention ridiculous) still. The woman faces a maximum two years in jail based on the imagination of others.

new cardinals, new blood

Cardinals wear red hats to symbolise their readiness to shed their blood for their faith 

Pope Benedict XVI created six new, non-European cardinals today.

Analysts say it is unusual for the Pope to select only non-Europeans.
The Pope has said his choices aim to show "the Church is a Church of all peoples, [and] speaks in all languages".
 ... The Church estimates less than a quarter of the world's Catholics live in Europe.

I am always a bit wary of those who are willing to shed their blood for their faith. Too often what they mean is that they are willing to shed someone else's blood.

in the land of jackals

In ordinary circumstances, seeking out reliable sources makes sense. No one calls a doctor when the car refuses to start any more than anyone contacts a car mechanic when aches and pains come calling. Finding a credible source makes sense to historians and academics alike. And the ordinary way is to rely on reliable sources ... and failing that, to find the biggest body of agreement about a given topic: If "everyone says so," then perhaps I can and should say so too.

But I think spiritual endeavor is different.

This morning, for example, I was trying to remember the source of the Zen Buddhist encouragement,

Having some attainment is the jackals yelp. Having no attainment is the lion's roar.
And the source turned out to be one of my favorite Zen guys, Ta Hui (1089-1163), who, according to a book about him, was said to have said:

The ancient worthy says, "Having some attainment is the jackal's yelp; having no attainment is the lion's roar."
By ordinary reckoning, here is a reliable source ... a book about a Zen teacher who is therein quoted as saying something. In one sense, I can feel a sense of relief: 1. Ta Hui, to the extent that books depicted him, always struck me as a straight shooter, a person whose counsel I might take; 2. If it's in a published book and I hold that published book in my hands, then lots of people must agree ... publishers do not seek out works that won't excite agreement (even in the form of disagreement) and hence truth. In the ordinary, reliable-source sense, I can rest easy ... a snappy line positing a snappy position.

The only problem with this sense of relief and easy agreement or star-struck awe is that the encouragement is allowed to die a smarmy and mediocre death: A hug-festival of belief or hope is hardly the same thing as knowing what is true. It may be nice to find a credible source, but is credulousness any way to pursue a serious spiritual endeavor? Wouldn't this be a realm of jackals that could do no better than to feast on the prey of others? Jackals are capable of killing and eating small animals of their own, but frequently are sustained by the efforts of more capable hunters.

Well, probably I am wrong to single out spiritual endeavor when questioning "reliable sources." This is not the only endeavor that requires more than a relief-prone laziness. As the American humorist Will Rogers observed,

There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.
 The put-up-or-shut-up's of life are hardly limited to spiritual attachment. But perhaps because I am interested in spiritual life or perhaps because of the apparently-benevolent resting places that spiritual 'sourcing' can construct, I do think that too often the lions of spiritual life go begging while beggars dine on the scraps provided by "reliable sources."

Jackals are lean and sinewy and swift, much like the expositors of one spiritual persuasion or another... the jackals of this mind. They growl and quote and suck marrow from fallen bones.

Are they reliable sources?

There is no way of knowing.

But just because someone else is a fool is no reason to follow his reliably-sourced footsteps.

Roar a little.

Friday, November 23, 2012


Blood drips from the nose of a Kashmiri Muslim boy while he flagellates his head during a Muharram procession in Srinagar, November 22, 2012.
REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli 
[Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar and "is one of the four sacred months of the year in which fighting is prohibited." Self-flagellation, in which some Shia Muslims indulge during Muharram, is apparently not considered fighting.]


I love it!

A (for the moment) honest-to-God unidentified flying object over Denver, Colorado. It's not a plane, not a helicopter, not a drone, not birds, not bugs .... although there are several super-secret military installations in the neighborhood.

The link goes to a news story on the subject. There are plenty of other home-made versions of the same thing on the Internet.

Most people open their mouths in order to relay what they know or think they know.

I just love it when someone opens up and says, "WTF?!"

a song of sixpence

 An old nursery rhyme goes:

Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened the birds began to sing,
Oh wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king?
The king was in his counting house counting out his money,
The queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey
The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose!

A rare Colonial Massachusetts silver coin found by an East Hampton woman in an old potato field almost 23 years ago was auctioned for more than $430,000 last week in Baltimore.

Pussy Riot redux

As if it weren't disheartening enough that members of the Russian punk rock band "Pussy Riot" were sentenced to two years imprisonment for their performance in a Moscow cathedral, now one of the young women has been transferred to solitary confinement ... at her own request.

The BBC story couches the reasons for the transfer in well-oiled, non-specific wording:

Prison officials said she had been moved because she was unable to get along with other prisoners at the Berezniki penal colony, some 715 miles (1,150km) north-east of Moscow.

Prisons the world over are places of raw nastiness. Sexual and physical abuse are par for the course. But of course it is easier to be non-specific ... it makes looking in the bathroom mirror easier: Social disorder deserves punishment, but looking closely at that punishment snaps back on the one meting it out. Let's not go there, right?

An email from a friend this morning 'shared' a story about a Texas man who had received a life term in prison after his eighth driving-while-intoxicated conviction.

Texas, a tough-on-crime, fuck-all-communist-sympathizers, big-on-'Godliness' state, has proven once again that the distance between Moscow and Austin is little more than a stone's throw.


"Edgy" is a pretty nifty word.

For one thing, it is short. Since more people know short words than know long ones, there is a certain social comfort in it.

Digging down just a little bit, "edgy" seems to refer to the fact that some things have "edges." Houses have edges; streets have edges; cars have edges; shoes and fried eggs have edges; airplanes and rock formations have edges; noses and receding hair lines have edges; etc. etc. "Edges" allow people to have coherent and sometimes raucous conversations. "Edges" create books and the thoughts within them.

But the word "edgy" refers to something beyond the imagined literal boundaries of things. "Edgy" carries with it an anxiety mixed with longing ... sort of like a kid who is dying to find out what it would be like to stick a fork in an light socket. "Edgy" travels to the far reaches of comforting social agreements and peers into the great beyond -- the place that edges were constructed to hold at bay. This is a place that can be as naughty and delightful as stealing a forbidden cookie and as frightening as standing on the lip of some Grand Canyon that drops off further and further into depths that cannot be known.

Sometimes there is a conscious longing for what is edgy and sometimes what is edgy comes calling without an invitation. The Democrat recognizes that a Republican tenet is convincing ... or vice versa. The smitten teenager finds some nook within a 'boundless' amour ... a shadowy place where what is irritated and critical lurks. The godless reach the edges of godlessness and find god beckoning even as those filled with holy trumpets find devilishly sour and convincing notes.

It's all edgy shit ... a flat earth that suddenly finds its edges and ... and ... and...

And recoils in horror, perhaps, scrambling to remortar crumbling walls, turning up the volume to drown out the melodies of doubt, claiming to embrace with beloved philosophies what cannot be embraced ...  after all, only things with edges can be embraced.

This is really edgy shit ... fun stuff to run on other, more credulous and well-edged souls, but less enjoyable when the edges and edgelessness lie within: Who would I be without my edges? Wouldn't I just fly apart like some pinata smacked by a well-aimed bat? And, to stick with that simile for a moment, what sort of candy could I expect from having stepped into this Grand Canyon's maw?

A Zen teacher was once asked what was meant by "the Middle Way." Without hesitation, he replied, "It means the extremes." And the same is true for edges and edgelessness ... the edgy world that sings a hundred edgy songs, that beckons and repels with equal ardor, that begs for attention even as anyone might squeeze the eyes shut.

Good and evil, tall and short, joy and sorrow, holy and unholy, anguish and bliss, sweet and sour ... the edges dance with edgelessness. Those ensorcelled by edges may lay claim to edgelessness. Those hypnotized by edgelessness may lay claim to that which is edged. It's all as icky as it is ennobling... but it's part of the dance.

Dancing ... how about them apples?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

"Thought Moments"

Time for a reprise of a video I like ... sorry about the short ad that has been appended at the beginning.



Is "and" really possible?

I doubt it.

But I imagine I'd better check it out first.

"Sandy Island"

If it exists, how come it doesn't exist?

Or maybe the question should be turned around: If it doesn't exist, how come it exists?

Either way, scientists are puzzled by a South Pacific island that shows up on all sorts of sophisticated maps and yet -- when sought out by ship -- proved not to be there.

It's the kind of conundrum any serious meditation student might find consoling.

righteousness and the one true way

The other day, in the dentist's office, I ran into Jasper, a 25-30-ish man with a determined thinness and a righteousness that can't still the doubts that righteousness attempts to paper over. I had known Jasper from my days on the Saturday morning peace picket line and, as we sat waiting our turns in the dentist's office, he wondered why I hadn't been out standing on the picket line.

"I'm getting old and fat and lazy," I explained lightly.

"There are a lot of people there who are older than you are," he replied by way of mild accusation. The implication was that they made the effort and I should too. He didn't know how old I was (or much else about me) and somehow it was not incumbent on him to gather the facts before he came to his conclusions.

"I try not to tell others how to live their lives," I countered.

But the observation sailed by Jasper. Righteousness makes little or no room for deviation from the one true path. I ought to know ... I've been there too. But the burnished certainty of this twerp annoyed me nonetheless. Jasper is smart as a whip and talkative as a magpie and the effort of righteousness is to imagine you can out-think and explain and control this unfolding life. Righteousness is like talking to a latter-day Republican ... even when they're Democrats.

It's a load of shit, but there is no talking someone who is determined to sit in shit out of it. So I imagine we were both grateful when our names were called and we headed off for our respective dental assignations.


The Zen teacher Ummon (c. 862-949) once said, more or less, "When you can't say it, it's there; when you don't say it, it's missing." La-la-landers of all stripes will explain this if you ask them. That's why they're called La-la-landers. Nevertheless, I think of Ummon on Thanksgiving Day ... Ummon, the chef who offers up a scrumptious meal on an empty plate... the kind of plate La-la-landers will tell you is empty.


-- Comes up nippy and clear.

-- Finds the rest of my family in New Jersey having made it through two intense days of mourning and churching and burying (Matt, 23, died last Friday) and now faces a holiday celebration that may be as tasty and warm as any that preceded it and yet this go round, the warmth accentuates the chill.

-- Finds the stove here still on the fritz. Next week, small-appliance maven Dave will come and replace broken parts, but for the moment, cooking brownies is out of the question and frozen sweet-and-sour chicken is on the microwave menu.

-- Finds my body reacting badly to a new and improved cholesterol medicine -- one that, after four or five others, stood some chance of not producing the aches and pains that are sometimes side-effects to so-called statin drugs. Now the aches and pains kick in anew.

-- Finds the television advertising an orgy of "Godfather" movies later in the day. If I can get by the dialogue I almost know by heart, I may watch one or another and remember that Mario Puzo, the author of the best-selling, page-turner novel, once wrote a couple of small books about Italian immigrants in New York ("The Fortunate Pilgrim" was one) ... and they really were very good tales even if they didn't make much money.

-- Finds me remembering actor Jack Palance in the frothy B-comedy "City Slickers." Palance played the part of Curly, a gnarly cowboy whose wisdom contrasts with the ignorance of the city slickers who have arrived in his western domain to partake in a 'real cattle drive.' It is Curly who advises that the "meaning of life" is ... "just one thing."

"One thing." What's the matter with a gaily printed dress? What's the matter with a burnished cuff link or a well-oiled lawnmower? What's the matter with a shoe lace or an empty Coke can? What's the matter with desperation? What's the matter with La-La Land or empty plates? What's the matter with Thanksgiving? What's the matter with what seems to have something the matter with it? It may be hard to pay attention for the first time in this life, and it may seem advisable to take up this spiritual persuasion or that, but frothy, B-comedy wisdom strikes me as right on target....

Enough, in its actuality, to make any (wo)man happy.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


The rest of the family is in New Jersey, mourning the loss of Matt, 23, who died in a car crash last Friday. Matt was the son of my wife's sister, Molly and her husband Jim. I stayed at home so as not to be a burden.

My daughter called today to tell me about the two wake sessions, the church service and the burial. My daughter was exhausted not just from the car rides she had taken out of Pennsylvania but mostly from the emotional strain of so much sorrow focused in such a large group.

And at one point, she said, her grandmother and my mother-in-law approached the open coffin and spoke to the corpse, saying in grief-stricken tones something like, "I would have done it for you."

What parent or grandparent would not feel the same? How gladly they would give up their lives that the children might live and flourish. How impossibly, incredibly wasteful, somehow, that the young should die while their elders did not. There is no rational expression for the feeling ... it's all been a tragic mistake somehow!  Come back and let me go in your stead!! Take me! Take me!

I have danced on the Champs Elysee.
I have held newborns in my arms.
I have helped to slaughter cattle.
I have saluted generals.
I have laughed till the tears rolled down my face.
I have fussed and fidgeted in spiritual life.
I have seen kindness and offered what I could.
I have run over a dog by accident.
I have been wracked and uplifted.
I have loved chocolate and people too.
I have learned to crack a bullwhip.
I have won a trophy at billiards.
I have written and rewritten.
I have been outraged.
I have been delighted.
I have learned to kiss a woman's hand.
I have seen pigs born in the middle of the night.
I have never learned to yodel well, but that's OK ... I tried.
I have ... I have ... I have... I have ... enough.

Take me! Take me!

The whole situation is like staring at a matte-black wall. No light reflects. No answers appear. No surcease is offered. Everything is just black-black-black... endlessly black.


There is no grief.

There is just grief.

love, hate and icons

I thought Brad Warner made a pretty good observation when he wrote on his blog:

Everybody loves a lynching. Even you. Trust me. You do. (Yes, I’m talking about you.) So when we find someone who falls into our own personal category of “lynchable” we are ready to go after him.

The comment arrived in the wake of the supermarket-tabloid advertisements that Warner seems to list with every post -- events, get-togethers, talks, etc. His brisk and sometimes boisterous style of writing makes the advertisements less sludgy than most and he has a nice and unpretentious way of offering Zen possibilities ... which, in this instance, touched on the sexual foibles of the 105-year-old Joshu Sasaki Roshi and his 'outing' on Sweeping Zen by Eshu Martin.

Everybody loves a lynching. Of course a literal lynching might be too much for the Buddhists who like to imagine their own tender-heartedness, but metaphorically speaking ... well, there is in fact this triumphant voice that growls, "hang 'em high!"

What's that about? I don't mean to say it's good or bad ... get out the tsk-tsk machine ... I just mean, what's that about?

My guess lands somewhere in the realm of the love-hate relationship anyone might have with the icons of their lives. And the greater the adoration, the greater the blood-lust when it arises.

Icons limit and what limits chafes. Most of the time, the chafing is put on the back burner because the love is so compelling. But when, for whatever reason, that love seems to have been betrayed, then all the previous chafing kept on the back burner comes rushing back like an avalanche gaining momentum and power ... roaring for redress and repentance and a return to earlier, more loving, times.

Everyone loves a lynching.

Everyone loves an icon.

What's that about?

"the greatest country in the world"

Here in the U.S., the worst drought in fifty years has driven up food prices. Everyone's paying more for a loaf of bread or a pound of hamburger or a box of Cheerios.

For some, the bite in the family budget means little more than complaining over white wine. For others, it is more compelling since white wine dropped off the comestibles list long ago.

And for those least endowed financially, the drought means that the food banks that provide something to eat are getting squeezed.

This summer's crop-damaging weather in the U.S. farm belt has driven up costs for everything from grain to beef. That means higher prices at the grocery store, but it also means the U.S. government has less need to buy key staples like meat, peanut butter, rice and canned fruits and vegetables to support agricultural prices and remove surpluses.
Most of the products from those government purchases are sent to U.S. food banks, which then distribute them to food pantries, soup kitchens and emergency shelters that are a lifeline for people who struggle with hunger - including low-income families, senior citizens and people with disabilities.

Not everyone needs to drive a Lexus or own a Rolex, but there is something degrading about living in a country that does not assure everyone a decent diet. The "greatest country in the world" is significantly less great.

the honest broker

Thanksgiving, an annual celebration due tomorrow here in the U.S., is traditionally a remembrance of the season's harvest and a time to say "thank you very much." Irrespective of the confused or imaginatively-endowed entity to which those thanks are directed, still it is nice to take the time to say thanks. In this country, a big meal with a turkey front and center is the repast most frequently advertised ... turkey, a rather dry meat that no amount of basting can moisten. No doubt the turkeys are not forgathering to say thanks for the holiday, but people often are.

A couple of days ago, Dave, a big man with a small-appliance-repair business, came by to fix the stove here. The oven wouldn't light and the immediate result was that I ruined a perfectly good batch of brownies.

Dave replaced a worn-out part and ... it seemed all was well until yesterday when I tried to remake the brownies that had gone awry. When I turned on the oven, it became apparent that Dave's fix had not fixed the stove, which turned on, reached a certain heat and then crapped out.

When I told Dave on the phone what had happened, he said he would come by again today. He was contrite about what he had charged me for what didn't work and that contrition made me admire his approach to life. He said he would be willing to refund some of my money. Instead of finding an excuse, he shouldered the responsibility. It's not that I think he is to blame -- the stove is old -- but just the notion that he would stand behind what he had hoped to do was something for which I gave thanks.

Queen Victoria's bloomers
As we talked on the phone, it occurred to me that I might have to get a new stove, an expense I really don't want to shoulder. I went on the Internet and looked over gas stoves. And as I looked them over, I read the reviews of one model and another -- people's views of what they had bought. Over and over again it was apparent that what was new and up-to-date might cost quite a lot but invariably had cheap flaws. New-and-improved seemed to be invariably afflicted with the old malady, greed: It might look new and shiny and up-to-date, but the quality was lame... tinny parts, an exterior that got red hot as the oven heated up, etc.

In England, a pair of Queen Victoria's bloomers (Brit.: pants) sold at auction for 360 pounds. Who knows what anyone is going to do with the ginormous bloomers (bragging rights seems likely), but they were made of linen and monogrammed  with the requisite VR.

Linen -- a fine material made to last. Extravagant in one sense -- does anyone need their underwear to have a name tag? -- still, Queen Victoria died in 1901 and presumably had made some use of the bloomers before that time and yet here they were, over a century later, in good enough shape to be sold for 360 pounds.

OK, "buy cheap, get cheap" and "you get what you pay for" and "caveat emptor," But such well-crafted warnings lay too much of the burden on the buyer and too little on the seller, for my money. Am I old-fart wrong in believing that there are people like Dave willing to sell the best product they can and, more, take responsibility for it? Honorable people? It may be too much to ask or too much to suggest, but still I ask and suggest it.

An honest broker can look himself in the eye. A rich broker has lavish excuses. But more than whether or not a rich broker can bamboozle me, there is the demeaning aspect of what the rich broker is willing to do to himself. It is not just a matter of whining about ethics, it's a matter of what anyone is willing to do to him- or herself ... sell their decency for money. Everyone would like to think they are decent and honorable people, but where the excuses pile up higher and higher and higher, what becomes of that decency?

OK. It's a choice and no one can choose for anyone else. Whining proves nothing. But as a matter of what brings a little peace to this life, I think honest-brokering is best. Not that such honesty guarantees a happy result (the stove still doesn't work), but it does support a less excuse-prone life, a tinny lifestyle.

Thinking about the stove and its options, I have pretty much decided to pay Dave the better part of a new stove to bring the old stove back to life. Like Victoria's bloomers, the stove is old, but its basics are better than what is new and improved.

And besides all that, I would rather be disappointed working with an honest broker than I would paying some shiny store with shiny excuses.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

basket weaving

Death -- one of the biggies, dontcha know -- came calling today in the person of a woman on the other end of the telephone line.

She was interested in finding someone willing to join in an ecumenical discussion of death planned by her group on some future date.

I helped her out as best I could, saying simply that I don't do 'ecumenical' and not saying that I no longer get off on spiritual hug-festivals in which dissecting the obvious can go on for hours.

If someone asks me, then we can talk as one dead person to another. Nothing wrong with fearing death as far as I can figure out.

But weaving baskets is for crazy people ... or used to be. Why weave baskets when there's nothing anyone could possibly put in it?

pictures on the wind

The Muslims, I understand, have a proscription against making statues or art that depict "sentient living beings." And this is most especially true when it comes to depictions of Allah or his prophet Muhammad.

The proscription -- especially as it relates to the gods -- strikes me as understandable.

But what I don't quite understand is this: If, as I think, words are nothing more than pictures on the wind, why would anyone be willing to 'talk' about those gods?

Why, for example, would not the arbiters of Islam castigate or simply correct followers who said things like  "Allahu Akbar" ["Allah is great/greater/greatest"]?

the blessing of blasphemy

Accused blasphemer escorted to jail
In Pakistan, the case against a mentally-challenged 14-year-old girl accused of burning pages of the Koran has been dropped. The case against the cleric who accused her will move forward. Nevertheless, the girl and her family are not free from the anger of those who once thought the girl had committed blasphemy.

It amazes me -- and scares me shitless -- to imagine living in a world where a religion is allowed to truncate the very human spirit it might claim to nourish.

The human mind is, to my mind, blasphemous by nature ... and thank God for it. A spiritual persuasion that cannot take this into account with benevolence in its teachings is a truly frightening corruption.

Still, I don't imagine picking on Pakistan is entirely appropriate. There are places and persuasions and individuals in the United States that are similarly inclined ... and not all of them are ingrown ignoramuses on the surface.

the complacent traitor

Looking back, historically or personally, it may seem that it was the traitor who had things right -- the rapscallion who whispered or roared against the corruptions of complacency, the one who found sometimes egregious flaws in a status quo and then set out to correct them.

Last night, on TV, a much-wrinkled man who had lived through the Dust Bowl in America's farmland, issued a summing up of his survival when he said, more or less, "I swore I never wanted to be a farmer or broke. Well, I'm not a farmer and I'm not broke."

How hard the wealthy may have striven to become wealthy. How hard the uneducated may have worked for an education. How hard the enslaved may have fought to become free. How hard the football player may have worked ... or the father or mother or ... well, make your own laundry list.

Worked and sweat, sobbed and moved forward, experienced uncounted wounds and remained determined. Within and without, trying to change this and improve that so that then ... then ... then what? Isn't it true that whatever the implicit or explicit goal, it was the traitor who lit the fuse -- the one who knew first-hand the flaws of what was and worked hard for what might be?

Out of the dulling complacency and into the vibrant and bouncy light ... all thanks to that rambunctious traitor.

And yet is there anything more dispiriting than the complacent traitor ... the one who has mistaken, like his complacent forbears, his own bouncy complacency for peace? Endlessly, dullingly, complacently in a state of rebellion. Endlessly right ... the kind of right that by its nature must continue to set up and nourish the wrong. Or, for the complacent, vice versa... the war-mongers who call it peace when they return victorious and lay down their arms; the kind of peace that simply relies on and inspires another war.

The white picket fences of peace. The white picket fences of war. 

"Complacent," says an Internet dictionary, means

too confident and relaxed because you think you can deal with something easily, even though this may not be true
The traitor, within or without, rises up against the white-picket-fences of the past ... wonders in whispers, perhaps, or roars with indignation. Where there was "yes," a "no" asserts itself; where there was "no," a "yes" asserts itself. Complacency is not peace: It is too smug by half and too wounding in its smugness. To arms! To arms!

Blessings on the traitors in our lives. Blessings on our very own tree-shakers and limit-destroyers and iconoclasts. Is it not they who show the way? I think they do ... and yet too ...

Complacency is not peace and a lack of complacency is not peace and so these wondrous barbarians -- these traitors -- are required to go further still if peace is what they desire. A traitor faces the very real necessity of betraying the role of a traitor. Not only is the complacency of the socially-acceptable not acceptable ... the complacency of the socially unacceptable is wearying and wounding as well.

Intellectually, this is all pretty kool. But of course the intellect, like the emotions, cannot really hold a candle to the experience of the matter ... the fear, the determination, the courage and cowardice.

What would anyone sacrifice for peace?

Who says something needs to be sacrificed?

Such questions require some first-class traitors.

Or maybe not.

I don't know.