Monday, December 31, 2012

a "snow person"

Today, in keeping with the preciousness of the realm I live in, the local newspaper carried a small weather box on page 1.

The box today read:

Cold, good day to make a snow person.

A "snow person."

How precious.

If you put breasts on one and a pecker on another, I suppose you can now be accused of being a sexist.

new year

Elsewhere, as I type, it is already the new year.

I am still stuck in the old year.

How did I ever get so far behind the times?

Would my lot improve if I moved to some place where the new year were already a fact?

New and old are rather strange.

learning to cry

Yesterday's snow brought six or eight inches on top of the four or five that had fallen the day before. My sons had attacked the earlier snowfall, but yesterday's accumulation was on me: My wife and sons had left for a wedding in New York.

Where once I might have sworn a bit and then done what needed to be done, yesterday I was confronted by the fact that cussing was about all I was capable of ... I am simply not strong enough to do what needed to be done. Old age is old age.

Nonetheless, I grabbed a shovel and cleaned off the porch stairs. I had attacked a part of the sidewalk, stopping frequently and resting on the shovel handle, when Joe, my neighbor across the street called out to me.

Joe is in his 60's, but more important, at the moment he called out, he was manhandling a very upscale snow blower  around his property. Joe indicated that he would do my sidewalk and the pile of snow that had accumulated at the end of the driveway.

And it made me want to cry. Literally.

I could recognize from experience that using a snow blower to clean 50 feet of sidewalk and a driveway entrance was really no big deal. Snow blowers, like dishwashers, are miraculously effective tools. But I wanted to cry because what was not a big deal was in fact a big deal to me. "Imagine that!" the welling tears seemed to say. Imagine that someone might help me.

I did not grow up learning what other kids seemed to have learned -- that someone would help, that there was someone to kiss it better, that crying was sensible or useful or cathartic. Other kids -- some of them later spoiled and yet others simply human -- got into a groove that I had never been trained to: That my fears or needs or capacities were worthy of attention. I did grow up in a time when "boys don't cry," but my training went beyond that: Not only was my crying impermissible because of sex, it was just not something that could expect to be requited in the world I inhabited. I suppose I was trained in the way that I was trained because the people who might have trained me, notably my parents, had likewise never learned how to cry and be requited.

Joe made me want to cry.

And why not? There is time now to make up for past omissions. Old age provides the time in which to run out of energy -- the kind of energy required to maintain defenses and rely on explanations and believe mighty, social beliefs. As I can no longer shovel very well, so the explained and belief-strewn context of social life simply cannot cast the convincing spell that it once did. In the literal sense, I am weaker now, and in that weakness more capable of seeing that so-called strengths are not all they were cracked up to be. I may wish to my heart's content that I were stronger, more capable, more in control, but the bare-assed fact is that I am not. And ... here comes the punch line ... what is the matter with facts?

What is the matter with tears? An ego trip? So what? A cry for help? So what? A gloomy admission of incompetence? So what? A time when no one comes to the rescue? So what?

Tears are tears, in joy or sorrow, relief or horror. They are wet and cleansing and ... hell, they are just plain human. Running from tears is like running from the stars ... the stars don't mind. Much of spiritual life is a matter of running from the tears. But the question poses itself -- where could anyone possibly run ... and why was I running in the first place?

Tears don't kiss it better in one sense and yet in another, they are the very kiss anyone might expect.

I don't plan to make tears an elevated habit of some sort, but I believe I will practice a little. It accomplishes nothing and in that accomplishment, accomplishes everything. Perhaps I am not as weak as I thought I was.

Excuse me now while I watch some happy-ending chick flick on the television: Happy endings make me cry these days.

Thank you, Joe.

idiocy and the Internet

OK, so I get out of bed, take a leak, grab a cup of coffee, do a couple of exercises to work some of the kinks out and then open the email box and find ....

A letter posted on the Internet from a professor in Japan. The letter was passed along by a friend in Germany.

A professor is someone I assume has some relative intelligence, some capacity to judge his doings and the doings of others, some capacity to plumb the depths of his own interests and persuasions. An educated person, judging by his title.

And yet this educated person (and he is far from being alone) posts a letter on the Internet and then expects that somehow it will remain limited in distribution -- that what he has written will remain within the confines of a particular circle of interested parties.

Am I wrong or is this just plain insanely stupid ... dumber than a box of rocks ... or perhaps manipulatively naive ... but in any case wussy as a wet mop. The situation leaves me slobbering with incredulity ... bringing new and refreshed meaning to the Internet expression, WTF ... what the fuck?!

If you don't want people to know something, why in god's green earth would you put it on the Internet?

OK, I'll stop sputtering and get to specifics: The posted letter is entitled "An Open Letter to Sherry Chayat, the Zen Studies Society and Other Concerned Persons." It is written by Jeff Shore, a professor at Hanazono University who has involved himself in the long-running scandal surrounding the Zen teacher, Eido Shimano. With Shore's involvement, Shimano's standing within the Zen community (whatever that may mean) and his sexual and financial predations have been brought into clearer focus... not clear focus, mind you, just clearer focus.

Shore's efforts joins the efforts of others (notably the Shimano Archive), to shine a bright light into dark places of institutional Zen. His efforts, like other efforts before, exhibits some desire to be the conquering hero of the whole miasma of a situation (look ma! I've found a solution! I did what others could not! I've got a handle on a handle-less mess ... and deserve imperial applause). No matter ... everyone wants to be king of this rubbish heap and as far as I can see, no one is or ever will be ... it's a joint effort in which each contributes.

But my friend in Germany, the one who sent along the link to Shore's letter, added this sentence: "For whatever reason he [Shore] doesn't want it on the Shimano Archive."

The Shimano Archive is the go-to source for documentation surrounding Shimano's activities. It may contain opinions, but it does not express opinions. It is not some Buddhist play pen, some Internet bulletin board. It does not bow to this and disdain that. It is a collection, plain and simple. And in that role, it collects damn near everything related to Shimano's manipulations and depredations.

Expecting the archive to accede to a ludicrous professorial desire is ... well, it's ludicrous and beyond stupid. The best that can be said for it is, perhaps, that it is manipulative -- precious and manipulative:

If you don't want it on the Internet, don't put it on the Internet ... is that rocket science?

Sunday, December 30, 2012

graves in Syria

Taking their cue from the Boy Scouts, perhaps, Syrian gravediggers have learned to "be prepared."

Where once they dug their graves to accommodate the bodies resulting from the Syrian civil war, now they dig their graves as time permits, with or without immediate customers, because they know the slaughter in Syria will produce more ...

And more...

And more....

only God can pray to God

To repeat:

If God -- or whatever other whatchamacallit name anyone might choose to tack onto the ineffable -- is omnipresent, then, it seems to me, only God could pray to God.

And if only God could pray to God, at least two questions arise in my mind:
1. Why the hell would he/she/it pray about something self-evident? and
2. What the hell does that say about the prayers I offer up in whatever form?

And now, I have to shovel snow.

pan-fried brownies

Caught between the exigencies of a fixed income and the mandates of Christmas and the bills that need paying, the matter of buying a new stove has sent my mind scurrying. I have searched the internet for second-hand possibilities, consulted with appliance repair men and come up against a brick wall: It's $500 or  a little more for something that has any chance of working well ... but in this day and age, it is unlikely to work well for long because manufacturers are not concerned with longevity or quality.

The top burners on the old stove still work, but the oven does not and cannot be repaired ... so there is this vortex of confusion and frustration and inescapability ... $500 or nothing and where is that $500 to be found? Answer: I am stuck with the confusion.

The issue did provide a little humor in the midst of the worry. Without an oven, both brownies and meatloaf were not a possibility ... until ... until...

Until my mind said, "Let's experiment with cooking brownies in a covered skillet." I had no way of knowing it would work, but I did know that the craving for some decent brownies was strong enough to overcome thoughts of ignorance. Store-bought? Yuck!

So I tried it. And it worked. Not perfectly -- there were some burned spots and the consistency of the finished product was not the chewy succulence I had hoped for -- but well enough so that they looked like brownies and tasted, mostly, like good brownies.

"Necessity is the mother of invention."

Maybe now I can take up Three-Card Monte and conjure up the $500.

liberal arts colleges

George Orwell observed that no man is a philosopher on an empty stomach.

Here in the United States, the foothold of the "liberal arts college" is eroding as hunger claims the land. A broadly thoughtful individual -- possibly endowed as well with a dollop of critical thinking -- is no match for the hungers of the times. A merchandiser's mentality, never far from the surface in America, is claiming the lion's share.

How grateful I am to have been well-fed. And how uneasy and a bit sorrowful that my country can come up with no better than thin gruel.

Add it to the refrigerator magnets: "He knows the price of everything and the value of nothing."

in the spiritual shallows

Elsewhere, a blog munchie took on the 'relevance' issue within American spiritual settings. The writer, Mumon K, took as his springboard, a New York Times article assessing the rise of the just-folks approach to spiritual life.

Formal churches that once held a sturdy place in the American community have dwindled, dwindled, dwindled. Their glue has lost its sticking power. Now, there are yoga studios, cafes, and art galleries to mask and puree spiritual messages. People may be 'spiritual,' but they're not sure they want to be 'religious.' Churches, understandably, are panicked. What if you had a belief system and no one believed? Let's re-wrap the package, make it a little more sparkly, and bolster our own vision of ourselves as relevant and caring.

Curlew in the shallows
I don't mean to be dismissive of these tactics. In one way or another, the trend has always been the same for institutions. But what interests me is how much the institutional morphing resembles the morphing that anyone might do within ... seeking out palatable ways in which to address and untangle the questions and uncertainties of their lives. If the spiritual section of the bookstore is a bit too hard core, get to the self-help section, where things are nicer, kinder, gentler ... and require less. Feel-good feels good so ... turn up the music.

I am in no position to be critical of such tactics. I too have wandered in the shallows of spiritual life and for all I know still wander there. Anything else was too hard at the time. It demanded too much. I had no taste or strength for more than belief and relief. Even if it were not the Real McCoy, it was the best McCoy I could muster. Pureed roast beef was what I could swallow, so ... I swallowed it.

At a Zen retreat, or sesshin, I remember a very good-natured fellow once complaining from his heart, "They want to take everything!" It wasn't enough to eat fish on Fridays or refrain from idle chatter or steer clear of harmful sexual contacts or any of the other precepts that defined the spiritual environment. That wasn't enough ... there was more and more and more and more ... until there was no more. This was scary shit. This was deep water ... and how was anybody supposed to swim when they were not entirely sure they could swim? The shallows of belief and relief were benign and kind. But in deep water...? No one wants to drown.

No, I have no criticism of shallow waters. Shallow waters can lead to deeper places ... or ... and this important ... or not. But I do think that people can extend themselves a kindness from within their benign and believing spiritual world ... make a space for the times when the demanding questions can no longer be veiled and soothed. Those times may never come. Belief and relief may be enough to soften the harsh light of daily life. OK. If that's what floats your boat -- yoga studios and art galleries and wise nostrums issued from out of the past -- then float.

But have the courtesy to allow the no-fucking-around questions to rise up and be heard. They will be demanding and full of a pedal-to-the-metal brightness ... a brightness that requires courage and doubt and patience. Each person finds his or her own serious questions. There is no one-size-fits-all ... but the seriousness is the same. "Who am I?" for example. Or, "If I don't know who God is, by what stretch of the imagination can I go on prattling about 'God?'" Or, "If belief rests wholly in the past and if no one can grasp the past, where can I find peace with the fact that I live in the present ... which also can't be grasped?"

Serious questions don't have to arise, but they may. And to the extent that they do, I think it is better to grant them access ... kindly, firmly. There is nothing wrong with the shallows, but not acknowledging the deep is like pretending the blue sky isn't blue. I just hope people will be kind to themselves.

Toe in the water. Ankles in the water. Shins in the water. Knees in the water. Thighs in the water. Genitals in the water. Belly button in the water. Nipples in the water. Shoulders in the water. Neck in the water. Chin in the water ... until, at whatever speed and in whatever time, it is just time to dive.

Kindness works best.

don't lie

In some American Indian tribes, the greatness of a tribe is judged in part by the greatness of its enemies....

Which makes me wonder if the greatness of any human endeavor might not likewise be judged by the greatness of the lies it employs.

Employment, marriage, war, birth, death, improvement, explanation, science, philosophy, etc. -- how flagrant and ornate are the lies that may be woven around their shielded truths? I do not mean this as a form of cranky or cynical criticism. It's just a question.

Going with this flow for a speculative moment, it is interesting that spiritual endeavor is no less prone to weaving vast and intricate tapestries and yet spiritual endeavor (more often than not) carries within it the out-front diktat ....

Don't lie.

If the greatness of a human endeavor is partly judged by the greatness of its lies, and if spiritual endeavor carries within it the prescription not-to-lie, does this make spiritual endeavor a greater or lesser human endeavor? If, when encouraged not to lie, a person lies anyway, does this raise them up or cast them down?

It's not something one man can tell another.

But it can be taken into consideration, I imagine.

killing from a distance

In "Memorial Day," an almost-good 2012 war drama I watched yesterday because it was marginally better than what the TV had to offer and because I wanted an alpha-wave hit, one of the characters, an elderly man, says that he does not agree with the proposition that human beings are no different from others in the animal kingdom.

Human beings, he says, are the only species that kills from a distance.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

quiet times

Silent night, the silence somehow made more silent by the falling snow....

Everyone here headed to New Jersey and New York for a family wedding earlier today, so again the silence seems more silent.

But the wood stove is singing a warming tune and I got out to the zendo to turn on the heat for tomorrow's zazen.

A quiet time followed by a quiet time.

you're right!

You're right!
No need to ask or simper or plead.
You're right!
Can we get down to brass tacks now?

filling empty spaces

Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde won acclaim for creating clouds in empty rooms with a fog machine. (Courtesy: Berndnaut Smilde and Ronchini Gallery)

gay marriage

It's news today, but there is something tiresome about it as well -- homosexual couples getting married.

Today, the place is Maine, where couples got in line for legalized ceremonies. The sighs of relief and the tears of joy were real and betokened an uphill battle that is still being fought.

What is tiresome is the fact that the battle still has to be fought. In 50 years, I imagine people will look back in wonder at a time when two people were not permitted the joys and idiocies of a marital commitment. What is so startling about two people bringing each other joy and sorrow, laughter and boredom, fidelity and infidelity?

Aren't there more consequential things to quarrel about?

Maybe not, but I find something tiresome about it. It's as if the news were to report each day on the miraculous rising of the sun.

In Cameroon, among others, the view is somewhat different.

the "sufferin' succotash" diet

If pressed in some imaginary world to choose between Lord Acton, Buddhism and Sylvester, the cartoon cat, this morning I would choose Sylvester: Sylvester was silly and yet seriously on target with his exasperated, "Sufferin' succotash!"

-- Lord Acton (1834-1902), a British historian, is frequently misquoted as saying, "Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely." The actual quote is, "All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely." I may be picking nits, but I find a subtle if noteworthy difference between misquote and quote.

Either way, power is an interesting thing. White-whiners of various stripes can use Acton's observation as a means of deconstructing or just plain dissing the halls of established power -- the halls that leave those not endowed with power gasping and wounded in the dust. The observation is apt ... power does depend on forgetting about the little guy or the little issues that can be so telling and painful for those who can do little or nothing about it. In this realm power forgives itself for its depredations ... after all, there is a greater goal, a greater good and frequently a greater wealth to be considered.

Lord John Acton
The trouble with using Acton's observation as a touchstone for critique is that it frequently skips over the goal or good in question. Complaining is easy, proposing and activating is more difficult because all action requires some power and the exercise of that power leaves us all in Acton's clutches. It's easy to call someone else on their misuses of power, but less easy to activate an agenda that would be free of its own corrupt flaws. (This recognition is one that those in corrupt power frequently employ as a means of further excusing their depredations: "You got a better mousetrap?! Show me!")

There are already enough columnists, blog artists, social 'scientists' (a very peculiar designation) and other whine artists to oversee the social implications of power. What interests me is the individual and how the individual's heart or mind might address power, whether his own or that of another.

And my best guess is this: There is no such thing as an activity that does not require intent and effort. And effort is power and ... "All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely." If this is so, and I think it probably is, then corruption is simply part and parcel of individual activities. That corruption can be wildly or mildly apparent, but to recognize it as part of the scenery is just something worth noticing within. Corruption does not stand in contrast to some well-imagined and much-decorated purity, it is just part of that purity, that scenery, that vision. And for the individual, the recognition -- gentle, yet firm -- simply implies that corrections may be necessary ... so make 'em.

-- Buddhism, for those who practice its sometimes long and arduous hours, is often posited in the mind as a great and desirable purity... a pure land that stands in sharp contrast to the confusions and cruelties of the world at hand, the 'ordinary' world of greed, anger and ignorance. Subtle or gross, how kool it would be to enter a realm of peace and freedom and emotional comfort and decency and ... well, write your own pure scenario. But it requires effort to step from the realm of belief to the realm of action.

Effort to step away from corruption ... through corruption.

In Zen, there is a verse that reads, "There is a reality even prior to heaven and earth ...." For those like me who remain well-watered in the worlds of heaven and earth and all the wonderful and atrocious things that they imply, "prior to heaven and earth" sounds deliciously inviting. And the greater the pain and suffering, the more delicious it can sound.

It's nothing extraordinary -- all spiritual persuasions do the same thing in one way or another ... offer a way to sidestep this veil of tears or this sense that things are incomplete or out of kilter. But there is some intention, some effort and some power required in order to take that step. The longing for what is pure and serene and happy and free and at ease holds out a loving hand ... a hand that requires a corruption of the very promise that is longed for. Spiritual life holds out an alternative to what is unsatisfactory and seemingly incomplete. And yet buried deep within that alternative is the inescapable question, "when was there ever an alternative?" Seriously. Personally... when was there ever an alternative? Finding a satisfactory answer to that question requires some effort, some power ... and some willingness to enter fully into the corruption that cannot be escaped.

Tweety Bird
-- The cartoon character Sylvester was on a similar quest. His endlessly fruitless adventures often centered on attempts to capture and hopefully eat the small bird, Tweety Bird. Through 103 episodes beginning in 1945, Sylvester would plan and connive and figure and devise and ... always come up short. Each new and improved plan sounded excellent in the making and then fell flat in the execution.

And it would be at that point that Sylvester might utter his lisping hallmark interjection: "Thufferin' thuccotash!"

What a nifty interjection -- "Sufferin' succotash!" Silly, meaningless and yet packed with a perfect expression of exasperation. "Sufferin' succotash!" was as close as a cartoon character might come to the equally delicious, "Oh, shit!"

The Buddha was alleged to have said, "It is not what others do and do not do that is my concern. It is what I do and do not do -- that is my concern." Doing requires power -- the power that tends to corrupt ... the corruption anyone might seek to escape in the first place. Without doing, there is just more hot air and spiritual posturing. Doing requires meticulous planning, over and over again, just like Sylvester. Meticulous, determined, courageous, patient ... planning.

Is it any wonder that human beings, like cartoon cats, can be heard exploding, "Sufferin' succotash!!!!"?

And yet because "sufferin' succotash" is as much a part of the scenery as the power that corrupts, what's the matter with sufferin' succotash? Is failure somehow not a success? Sure, caterwauling is part of the agenda, but really, is sufferin' succotash all that bad?

"Sufferin' succotash" makes me smile.

How could a smile go wrong?

Sufferin' succotash!

run like the wind!

I have heard it said that when asked or urged, a horse will run until it dies.

I have not heard it said that a horse vocabulary includes the words, "yes, but...."

A refrigerator magnet seeks to ameliorate confusion and pain with the observation, "Your life is so difficult that it has never been tried before."

As the good horses we all are, do we really need refrigerator magnets?


Run like the wind!

Think, weep, laugh, love, and yes-but ... run like the wind!

Like horses, the wind makes no exceptions.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Russia, China squeeze lemons

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law today that bans adoptions of Russian children by Americans. Fifty-two children whose adoptions were underway will remain in Russia. The law goes into effect on Jan. 1.

The move on adoptions is part of a wider political skirmish in which men in blue suits quibble and demand.

The children, meanwhile....

And in China, the government has approved a rule that those using the Internet must register their names. The rule follows a tsunami of complaints about governmental misconduct.

story magic

The first story idea that ever took me by the throat came as I lay in bed one night. I was in the fourth grade, at boarding school, and the thought crept up in the darkness: Wouldn't it be interesting/funny if a mouse (the protagonist) stuffed a cloth into a car's gas tank and lit it on fire? Why this was funny or interesting I don't know, but I do know that the force of the vision was insistent. It wouldn't let go and, somehow, I didn't want to let go of it.

The resulting explosion was the conclusion to a story I had not yet written or even conceived. But in the darkness, I did what every whole-cloth story teller learns to do ... find out the ending and then fill in the details of the beginning and the middle. I got up the very next day and wrote the story ... my first. It was pretty lame, perhaps, but I was off to the races.

With practice and years, I learned that beginning in the middle or even at the beginning was possible as well: Just find some riveting bauble -- something that might be made out of whole cloth and yet whose impact within was visceral and somehow consuming ... not at all whole cloth -- and build from there.

Like some bit of molten magma oozing out along an already-hardened lava flow, ideas pop up and are bright and fiery and ... well, how the hell did that happen? The question is rhetorical: The delight in the thought itself overwhelms any staid and studied analysis ... fuck that! This is magic and dissecting magic is like dissecting laughter ... churlish and self-serving and flavorless in the end.

There was a fourth-grade mouse, now largely forgotten, but this morning I recognized that the delight and wonder and magic I had felt then -- how the hell did that happen? no, please don't tell me! -- was alive and kicking.

It rose up in the person of a woman detective, Enormous Wainwright, who had come by her nickname on her very first homicide case. Having viewed a woman's bloodied body in the Manhattan living room, she entered a bedroom to find a boy of 10 or 12, the son, sitting on the end of his bed and crying. His head was bowed into his palms, but his body shook with sobs. "I am Detective Priscilla Wainwright," she said evenly as she advanced on the boy. The boy looked up in wild and reddened confusion and said, "But ... but you're enormous." "And you are lachrymose," she replied in neutral tones as she sat on the end of the bed with the boy and put her arm around him. "What does that mean?" the boy asked as if grateful to find any topic that made some sense in an insane world. "It means you are tearful and crying." And this sent the boy into a renewed tornado of tears, shaking against her breast ... and yet tears somehow reassured that in a world of insanity and sorrow there was one thing that made some sense.

President Truman, Jonathan Wainwright, Medal of Honor
Priscilla Wainwright was enormous. Not fat, but tall and strong and smart and, on occasion, fierce. She was a distant descendant of General Jonathan "Skinny" Wainwright, an American soldier who had lived through the dark days in the Philippines during World War II. This was not information Priscilla shared often. She didn't share it because she thought highly of it, but rather because times had changed and World War II had become a history lesson on which too many students got an F ... and there was no need to point out other people's ignorance. It was just her history, much as her six-foot-three-inch frame and the muscles she kept well-nourished and the curiosity she would never surrender were likewise part of her being.

When word got out that the boy had dubbed Priscilla "enormous," the name just stuck. There were a couple of unwise detectives who tried to use the name to her face in good fun, but she discouraged them with a scowl that bespoke other bits of her history -- like the fact that she had once squared off with a very large man wielding a tire iron and promising to split her skull open if she came any closer. The threat was barely out of his mouth before Priscilla stepped decisively forward, caught the threatening hand on its down-swing, broke the man's wrist and had him handcuffed before he could say ouch. No one called Priscilla "enormous" to her face without prior permission. The detectives backed off ... and called her "enormous" behind her back.

Actually, she liked the name. It fit, somehow, and was like her short brunette hair ... appropriate. Not disparaging or elevating, just appropriate. It was OK with her if "Charlie," her lovable and love-worthy bed partner whose real name was Ellsworth, called her Enormous. And it was OK if her superintendent, Jose, called her Enormous. And there were various others from whom she would accept and enjoy the name Enormous, but there weren't many.

With Charlie, it was just a matter of loving tit-for-tat. When the two of them had first begun to be attracted to each other, Enormous had made some passing comment about his byline on a newspaper story he had written. "Ellsworth Rample?" she said playfully. "It sounds like some upscale Protestant scion with lawns that someone else cuts." "How does that differ from Priscilla Wainwright?" he asked with a wry smile. And he was right. Names carried strange baggage and it was curiously incurious that people should accede to the names they had been given. "I think I'll call you Charlie," she announced. "And I think I'll call you Enormous," he replied. And they both smiled and finished off the Italian cuisine they had gone out to eat.

Why it was OK for her superintendent to call her Enormous was not clear to Priscilla. Jose was just a good and open soul who knew how to repair stuff around her apartment. He came from Puerto Rico, had a lot of children on whom he doted, and ... well, he was just a good person in Priscilla's book. And it was good and unusual good luck to know good people.

Charlie did in fact come from an upscale Protestant lineage. His great-great-great-etc. grandfather, Josephus Rample, had looked over the events of 1774 and decided that since God-fearing men were once again gearing up for war, there was no reason why he should not accede to that truth. Rample industries had started out by making cannon balls and other war munitions and today manufactured the drones that kept wars going ... though at a sanitized distance. That was Charlie's lineage he would admit when asked. He allowed the name "Ellsworth" to appear on his news stories because that was his name and because others wanted him to have a name. But he liked it better when Enormous called him Charlie.

Charlie, like Enormous, had been the beneficiary not so much of the stalwart courage or money-making acumen of the past, but rather had fallen into or had be graced or cursed with a habit of curiosity. News reporting, like detective work, relied on being able to connect distant dots and both Enormous and Charlie loved connecting dots ... sometimes seriously, sometimes just for the sheer fun of it. Dots without limit were a large part of the Crazy Glue that stuck them together.

Charlie was shorter than Enormous by about an inch, but there are no height restrictions in bed or in the realm of curiosity. They kept their dancing curiosity a secret between them, the willingness to swoop from jail cells to heavenly hosts without putting either too much or too little emphasis on any of it. They kept it secret because others rose in the morning and went to bed at night clutching specific dots in their hands. Neither Charlie nor Enormous wanted to insult or disdain anyone's cherished stuff. But they were not willing to be hemmed in by such stuff... life was more fun and more enriching than that. Charlie and Enormous were willing to be a dot in their closeness, but was that some reason to accede to dot-ness or to Ellsworth or to Priscilla?

"Lachrymose" -- what a good and diverting and utterly appropriate word when a woman's bloodied body lay in the next room. Dot by dot -- never the same and yet each lying in the others' arms like sweaty, satisfied, smiling lovers.


The only way I could get the mouse and the exploding gas tank out of my head was to go ahead and do it -- to try to make concrete the delight and magic that danced in my mind. Naturally, it didn't work, any more than writing about Enormous and Charlie worked. But giving things a shot is the only way I know to let them recede naturally like some retreating wave that has swished up on the sands and now returns to wherever it came from in the first place.

Swishing spiritual endeavor -- another dot -- sweet and smooth and unstoppable, rolling up the sands and then, once the movement has run out of landward advance, advancing to the rear ... back to wherever it came from ... magicland, perhaps.

Advancing, even when there is no place to get to.

Advancing ... what an Enormous idea.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

cornucopia of clams

A huge colony of an elusive and brightly coloured shellfish species has been discovered in coastal waters in the west of Scotland.
The extensive bed of at least 100 million flame shells was found during a survey of Loch Alsh, a sea inlet between Skye and the Scottish mainland.

the taxman cometh ... wreathed in smiles

Over the past 20 years, a revised approach to taxation in Great Britain seems to be taking hold:
In 2001, Labour finance minister Gordon Brown directed the tax collector to take a new approach which would come to be known in the financial world as an "enhanced relationship." The aim was to lighten the regulatory burden on business. The authority now says it aims to work closely with big businesses in an atmosphere of "mutual trust."
Movement of Landless Rural Workers in Brazil
It is hard not to wonder if that atmosphere of "mutual trust" is not the same "mutual trust" that laid out the welcome mat for stock derivatives and other toxic assets that brought the world to its economic knees.

It is hard not to imagine that this trend is just another step in the return to feudalism.

And another step towards the bloody revolution that shook Russia in 1918.

As the Somali security official once observed about the pirates off his shores: "If you do not share your wealth with us, we will share our poverty with you."



As if to prove that the weather service were right from time to time, five or six inches of snow have fallen on the neighborhood, wrapping themselves with a perfect gentleness around every object they encounter. Streets and bushes and cars and roof tops ... no matter... the blanket accedes to the sleeper's need.


In Japan, I once heard, white is a color of mourning -- white for funerals and other sharp slivers of sadness. I don't know whether this is true, but my mind sympathizes with the notion.

White, like zero, is the purest pure -- the sine qua non that defies all comers and yet is as imposing as a Dumpster. Fine artists would lose their way without white and yet of itself, white D-double-dares in the way that a flame might dare a moth ... so magnetic and needed and yet come too close and it will burn your face off. Perfect ... and in that perfection, boooorrrrrring.

Like some starchy nun, white purely begs to have mud cast upon its skirts. It cries out for the one daring enough to throw a lemon meringue pie in its face. White is the still, smooth lake at sunrise -- the time and place that waits without complaint for some small boy with his perfect skipping rock.

White throws nothing of its own and yet throws onlookers back on their cobalt blues and lime greens and alizarin crimsons. Like religious precepts, white loses its meaning without the fuck-ups and wondrous fantasies that attend upon it. And yet there is some yearning to speak its name, to lead it to some mental corral and speak softly and offer it sustenance and claim it. White is something, isn't it? It must be something ... and yet my 'must' falls on deaf but not unkind ears.

Where, as this morning, all things are white, how can anything be white ... anymore than the black of deepest space could possibly be something as credible as "black?"

The sadness of Japan (if true) makes sense to me -- a sadness tinged with some whispered joy ... sort of the way the Japanese fall out for cherry blossoms in the spring and weep on occasion because ... because... because...

Weeping, like white, has its own reasons and were anyone to know them, that would be truly sad.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

the killing fields

In the news...

-- The Americans are a step closer to selling four unmanned drones to South Korea ... another step in the effort minimize the blood and responsibilities of those committed to war.

-- The commander of Syria's military police has defected to Turkey, saying that the Syrian army had failed to protect the Syrian people and had turned into "gangs of murder."

-- And in Dubai, falconers are training their birds:
In order for the hunters to be able to eat the prey in accordance with Muslim beliefs, it must still be alive when its throat is cut and blood is drained. Once properly trained, a falcon will hold a captured houbara without killing it.
-- Several expensive birds have been stolen from a wildlife park in Sydney, Australia, and, although resale-at-a-profit is imaginable, still I wonder if they might not provide target practice for the falconers in Dubai.

-- And, in a sure sign that serious interest in the Newtown, Conn., massacre of 20 elementary school children is on the wane, an anti-toy-gun campaign has been resurrected in California.

adoptions in Russia

The upper chamber of Russia's parliament has voted unanimously for a bill that would ban the adoption of Russian children by Americans.

The ban, which is woven with political tit-for-tat rancor, reminds me a bit of the Vatican's hoity-toity stance on abortion: We claim the high moral ground, but disclaim all but a token concrete responsibility for the fallout.

Russia cannot or will not adequately care for its orphans -- and in this are probably not significantly different from any other country -- but they'll be damned if they'll give the kids an opportunity for something better among those devilish Americans.

Russian President Vladimir Putin may or may not sign the bill. I can imagine he won't (the unkindness is pretty glaring), but I can also imagine that he will put a political price on his veto ... what'll you give me in exchange for my kindness to children?

And politicians wonder why they make their constituencies want to puke.

better off dead

It may be understandable that religions should posit the notion that you'd be better off dead... better off in a land of milk and honey and virgins and peace and joy and heaven and hell and God and ... all you have to do is drop dead. Vast belief systems are premised and promoted in this way.

Understandable, yes. When what is ineffable is the cornerstone of religion, then some concrete hand-hold is required in order to assure a credulous membership. And what more concrete and in-your-face concern is there than dropping dead? No one knows what happens after death, but the evidence suggests that everyone does it at some point, so weaving a tapestry based on the inescapably assured human experience ... well, it is understandable. A good hook.

But what is understandable is not necessarily what is peaceful. Premising a belief system on what is believed merely assures more doubt ... and doubt is seldom peaceful. So a drop-dead framework, although it may assure and endless supply of adherents, cannot be called drop-dead beautiful, drop-dead joyful, drop-dead peaceful.

I don't intend to rain on anyone's parade here. When belief is as good as it gets, then belief is as good as it gets. But I do think the human mind would be happier with a little more experience and a little less belief.... and I don't mean that anyone should go out and shoot himself in the head.

Belief ... check out the doubt it inspires.

Experience ... check out the story it tells.

Aside from anything else, it'll probably save you some money.

Feigning Training

Scattered like bits of Kitty Litter on the kitchen linoleum of the mind this morning....

-- The Desiderata, which I admire, suggests
Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love...
Whether or not anyone plays the no-abiding-self card, still, how could anyone reach the truth of anything without first embracing the lies?

-- Don't pick your enemies according to their critics' dismay. Don't pick your friends according their friends' delight.

-- Don't feign ... and yet how could anyone assert the truth of what it is not-to-feign without first feigning or lying his or her ass off?

Feigning Training
-- If you want to know something, it is stupid not to ask. But it is stupider still to rely on the answer. Good to ask, better to find out... assuming anyone really wanted to know in the first place. When I asked my Zen teacher what Zen was, he grew irritable and said more or less, "I don't answer questions like that. If I did, then someone might say, 'Zen is this' or 'Zen is that.' If we drink tea together, you drink and I drink ... then we both know the taste of tea."

-- How infuriating it can be to recognize that the years of training and habit-building that went into ferreting out "answers" really doesn't cut the mustard. Early in my Zen practice, I remember sitting at a tea after evening meditation and listening to all those around me ... people who knew a lingo I was not yet entirely accustomed to ... "roshi," "enlightenment," "satori," "kensho," "emptiness" etc. ... and there came a point when my mind exploded in frustration: "Just tell me what I want to know so I can get the fuck out of here!" Luckily, I kept my exasperation to myself, because if I had expressed it aloud, someone might logically (and perhaps oozingly) have asked me, "So...what do you want to know?" And at that point I would have been forced to admit that I really didn't know what I wanted ... all I knew was that I really wanted it whatever it was! And now, looking back over so many years, I am delighted by my explosive reaction. It was right on target as I see it now: But you can't "get the fuck out of here" until you do a bit of Feigning Training.

 -- The spiritually-adroit and the self-helpers may be faking it or perhaps not. There's no knowing. But worse than not knowing if their "in the moment," "here and now," "vast emptiness," "no abiding self," "everything changes," "compassionate," "freedom and love" nostrums hold water is the recognition that my own nostrums stand on equally uncertain ground. Answers are curious critters, but they do seem to play a large role in the Feigning Training.

Love is love.

Tea is tea.

Fake is fake.

Kitty Litter is Kitty Litter... and cleaning it up is a pain in the tail.

How could that be feigned?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

philosophical soccer

Those inclined towards athletic philosophy may enjoy Monty Python's stirring soccer/football match:

U.S. invests in Africa

Not to be outflanked by the Chinese, it seems, the U.S. is sending military troops to Africa to train troops there. The Chinese, if I get it right, have been one of the few rich countries to double down on the economic potential in Africa, and perhaps the Americans simply don't want to be left out ... so they'll invest in war.

Merry ... Christmas!

Like a dusting of confectioner's sugar on a batch of brownies, a small snow decorates the neighborhood this Christmas morning. A tickling, delicate bit of silence.

Merry -- or Happy -- Christmas!

I hate "Happy Holidays!" When it's Christmas, do Christmas. When it's Ramadan, do Ramadan. When it's birthday, do birthday. "Merry" or "Happy" is what counts. Political correctness can go suck an egg.

Lately -- though I wouldn't blame Christmas -- it has come to my attention that a good day generally includes some kind of giving. I mention this cautiously for fear that I will have to sit through a sermon or diatribe on "blessings." Virtue makes my teeth itch, whereas whatever it is I mean by "giving" just kind of lightens the load or gives off some gentle, suffusing light. It's not "good," it just feels good. A smile, a small conversation, vacuuming the floor, laughing with a neighbor ... I don't suppose it qualifies as "giving" in the usual gimme sense, but giving is the best word I can think of. Something happens, the load is lighter, and it is, without emphasis, somehow correct... like snow. Being given or finding the opportunity to give is pretty good, pretty lucky in my book, but if you want a lecture on giving, go to church or read a holy book. It's nice when the load is lighter ... nuff said.

In a gimme sense -- a boy-I-wish-the-Surprise-Fairy-would-visit-my-house sense -- this Christmas finds me wishing for a stove. The old stove's oven doesn't work and so I can no longer cook brownies or roast a chicken. Lately, the cooking has been done on the top of the stove where the burners do work. But at $500-$600, a new stove will have to wait for the scraping together of the bits and scraps of a fixed income. If I were still working, a stove might seem more 'do-able.' As it is, it is less 'do-able.' And I do miss the brownies laced with semi-sweet chocolate morsels and the more general convenience that an oven provides. Compared with others who may lack enough to eat or a pot to piss in, my longing is pretty upscale and out-of-focus ... but that's the nature of the Gimme Fairy.

I can't remember the context or the exact particulars, but there once was a Zen student who complained to his teacher that with all that he had given to the temple, the teacher was pretty ungrateful, not overtly thankful enough. And the teacher upbraided him sharply: "You should be grateful that I have given you the opportunity to give!" he said more or less. In a gimme sense, this is probably off the charts, but in a real sense, I think it is probably on target, a bull's-eye.

A bull's-eye and yet sometimes hitting the bull's-eye is too much and missing the target is preferable. Sometimes sermons and holy books are preferable to ....

Merry and Happy!

Guatemalan Firefighter Hector Chacon, dressed as Santa Claus, stands before rappelling down from the Belize bridge to give toys to children living in the area under the bridge, Guatemala City December 23, 2012. According the Guatemalan firefighters, they have been giving toys to the children living in the neighborhoods under the Belize bridge, a very poor area of the city, dressed as Santa Claus for 15 years. REUTERS/Jorge Dan Lopez

Monday, December 24, 2012

I'm sure ... I think

Since, give or take a little, I already know what I think or believe, you might think I would be enthralled to learn what somebody else knew or believed... no need to rechew what I have already, give or take a little, chewed.

But this hardly seems to be the case. Instead, conversation is more often laced with the old male-blaming joke, "But enough about me. Let's talk about what you think about me." Or, more subtly, there is some attempt to get you to agree with me ... although, give or take a little, I already agree with myself.

It's a peculiar stew ... enough to make anyone wonder how much of what they know or believe is actually what they know or believe. If the fershur stuff requires someone else's complicity, how fershur could it possibly be?

One thing's fershur: When I try to nail down what's fershur in my life, it doesn't seem to be so fershur at all. And that too hardly seems to be fershur.

Does any of this matter?

I'm not sure.

keeping things "private"

Defined in part by an Internet dictionary, the adjective "private" means
-- used only by a particular person or group, or available only to them
-- used about places or situations where other people cannot see or hear you
-- understood by only a few people, not by everyone
-- a private person does not talk to other people about their personal life and their feelings
-- not connected with someone’s work or their public position
-- controlled or owned by individual people or companies, rather than by the government
-- with no position in government or public life

People "value their privacy" or "keep some things private." It can be a pretty serious matter taken pretty seriously. Power and protection -- perhaps these are the cornerstones of privacy: Offensive or defensive perimeters.

I always liked Zen Buddhism for the fact that it can offer a space in which privacy can dissolve. That strikes me as healthy because not only do people keep some matters private from others, they also keep them private from themselves ... and the fortifications that advance or defend some realm inevitably turn into burdensome barriers. Burdens are heavy, and as a hiker might set down his backpack with relief, so a space in which to set private matters down ... well, it strikes me as healthy to know that such burdens are choices. Put it down, pick it up -- your choice.

To find a space in which necessitated burdens are not so necessary ... what a nice gift anyone might give to him- or herself.

Of course, that's just my private perspective.

Taliban time

Of all the scary group-think organizations I can think of, perhaps the Taliban with its white-knuckle applications of sharia law is the spookiest. What I find spooky is the willingness of an organization which lays claim to furthering the will of Allah to impose that vision on others. Girls shouldn't go to school, statues should be eradicated ... whatever their strictures, they are very strict, carry punishments with them, and are not convinced enough to let others convince themselves.

But what scares the crap out of me about the Taliban is not something unusual ... it is the usualness that makes me cringe. It is easy enough to point out the similarities to be found in other organizations or individuals -- a strict adherence to some god, some activity, some way of being, some set of opinions or beliefs. There is comfort and cohesion to be found in the strictures of, say, the Vatican or marriage or the military or political purity or much-announced homosexuality or the Ku Klux Klan or shopping at Macy's or ... well pretty well any social construct.

In the mind, the castles arise, well-mortared and often well-protected, and there is peace throughout the land ... social stability, kinship of a sort, and interlopers are kept at bay.

But there is always a price and that price is that the land was peaceful before anyone started building castles. And so, having built the structures of social stability, their most useful function is to point out the lands beyond the castle walls, the stuff outside the well-mortared box.

In Buddhism, the prince left his castle behind and wandered from one castle -- one spiritual persuasion -- to another, seeking peace of mind. And metaphorically, I think this is true for individuals as well: The stronger the walls, the more insistent is the whispering beyond those walls: What is it, after all, that made these walls important in the first place? Does that importance accord with anything that might resemble an honest peace? It is just a question ... no criticism necessary.

In times of war, bunkers offer wonderful protection. And sure enough the world is full of one kind of war or another. But also, a bunkered life cries out against its constrictions, its safety, its manufactured battlements of belief and philosophy. How many people, for example, are willing to pay major money to take a break in an environment without televisions, computers and cell phones? The less-well-heeled may choose other ways in which to step outside their boxy castles ... but whatever the way, still there is the impetus... what are things like without the walls of right and wrong, holy and unholy, ersatz peace that seems incapable of providing some real peace.

Yeah ... the Taliban are a spooky group in my mind -- cruel and mean-spirited in asserting a righteous and compassionate path.

But I'm pretty spooky too. In my own defense, about the best I can say is that I don't own a literal AK-47.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

a compliment

I've never been very good at accepting compliments, but today I did receive a nice one from a friend in Germany who practices Zen Buddhism:
Thought I'd let you know that an American lady in our group here recently 
borrowed your book from the library. I asked her about it yesterday and she 
replied that, although she hasn't finished it yet, she really likes it.  She 
said "I can't put my finger on it, but it's missing that typical tone that every 
other Buddhist teacher uses."
I'm not sure whether her comment speaks well or badly of the book (paper original or the revised and electronic), but I am happy if someone imagines I'm not the same.

Oh well, it's probably the cuss words.

what if...?

What if there were a war and nobody came?

What if there were a belief system and nobody believed?

Maybe that's as good as it gets in Buddhism: What if there were a belief system and nobody believed?

No man or institution can answer such a question, but individuals are capable of getting an A+ on that exam.

No more what-if's.

and don't you forget!

In a nod to my 10-year-old's infatuation with war movies, my mother once took me to see an adventure about submarines during World War II. About halfway through the movie, she got up to leave, telling me to come home after it was over. But why was she leaving? How could she leave when it was so exciting? How could she ever know what happened in the end if she didn't watch to the end? I was perplexed and flabbergasted all at once.

By way of abbreviated and whispered explanation, she said, "You see that that young guy, the one who doesn't need to shave? Well, before the movie is over, a torpedo is going to fall off one of the racks and injure him." And then she left.

About fifteen minutes later, a torpedo rolled off the rack and injured the actor/submariner.

How the hell could she have known that? I knew she hadn't seen the movie before, so how could she possibly know? I tried putting it in the Moms-know-everything explanation folder, but it really didn't work. How the hell did she know?

In ancient times, before anyone could read and few could write, there was an oral tradition among tribes and civilizations. Stories were told over and over and over again. Each retelling brought with it a subtext of "and don't you forget it." And as a result, people didn't forget and tales passed from generation to generation and cemented to overall story of the tribe or civilization. In more modern books, the same tradition can be seen -- things repeated over and over and over again in books that can be gauged not so much by the number of pages as by the poundage. The repetitions were necessary so that the message would be clear: "and don't you forget that."

And the insistence on repetition is everywhere apparent in ancient spiritual writings. Over and over and over again. "And don't you forget that." But not only is it apparent in ancient writings. Anyone familiar with a spiritual persuasion knows after a while that the same thing is said over and over and over again in different ways ... on Sunday or Saturday or at retreats or on the written page ... same story, same substance, different formulation ... but still ... "and don't you forget." Over and over and over again.

Until, perhaps, one day the dime drops and audiences can get up and leave. The torpedo is going to fall on the submariner. Been there, done that. There's the good stuff and the bad stuff and the encouragement not to take emotion and intellect as the last word and the underlining of kindness and the ineffableness of the ineffable and ... sure enough, the torpedo is going to fall on the kid... "and don't you forget."

And you don't forget.

But of course you do.

Why else would anyone go to the movies or take up a spiritual practice in the first place?

The torpedo is going to fall on the kid. It's your choice whether to sit through the movie or not.

42 years in a coma

Forty-two years in a coma -- time enough to weave a lot of stories, some heart-warming, some not.

Edwarda Bara has died at age 59.

I guess everyone has a few stories to tell, whether they tell them or not.


U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawai'i died last Monday at the age of 88.

Daniel Inouye
He last word was alleged to have been "aloha."

Colloquially, the word "aloha" means either "hello" or "goodbye." What a nice last word. What a nice first word.

More carefully, in the Hawaiian language, "aloha" is said to transmit a meaning that includes mercy, compassion, peace and love.

Carefully or carelessly ... "aloha" ... what a nice last word, whether or not Daniel Inouye actually spoke it.

wrong direction to the right place

I don't know, but...

Is there any human endeavor or yearning that is not founded on going in the wrong direction in order to get to the right place? I doubt it.

Religion, to cite one easy-pickings example, soars and swoops in an effort to eradicate doubt and yet the louder it talks, the greater the silence it seeks to elude. No one knows what happens after death and yet religion's brilliant tapestries assert over and over again ... have no doubt ... milk and honey await, 77 virgins are in the offing, peace is assured where war once reigned. And it's not enough to pick on religious believers with the rueful verse, "You'll get pie/ In the sky/ When you die./ It's a lie." Take religion out of the equation entirely and the numbers tell the same story ... the wrong direction in order to get to the right place. Love, money, freedom, peace, compassion, enlightenment and the occasional Hershey bar.

The wrong direction in order to get to the right place.

It sounds like a gloomy indictment -- which of us wouldn't rather be right, given our druthers? -- until you factor in the understanding that the right place does not rely on right and wrong. If this is the case, as I think it is, then going in the wrong direction is not all that bad. Being wrong is a little like hanging furry dice from the car's rear-view mirror and expecting the car to run better ... no big deal, just a bit ridiculous ... ridiculous, gently spoken.

Ethicists and moralists will balk and whinny, whether in the mind or outside of it: You can't just take right and wrong out of the equation ... that would be immoral and create endless havoc and cruelty. That would be wrong! And they would be right, of course ... right and yet still not in the right place because there is so much wrong yet to do, so much striving and correcting and improving and believing and convincing and explaining....

This morning, I got up from the bed I had slept in over night. I really had to take a piss.

This morning, from the vantage point of the porch, I saw a cat, well-furred against the coming winter, cross the road.

This morning, it crossed my mind that going in the wrong direction in order to get to the right place was nothing out of the ordinary.

Later this morning, perhaps, I will kiss my daughter and her fiance goodbye as they head back to Pennsylvania and later still, perhaps, go out to the zendo and do some zazen ... and hope I don't freeze my keester off.

Have I got it all wrong? Doubt it or believe it ... have I got it all wrong?

I doubt it... but is that doubt or its dancing partner, certainty, necessary?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

the butler did it; the pope forgives him

And in the news ...

-- Pope Benedict XVI went personally to his former butler's room and gave him the pardon expected after Paolo Gabriele was convicted of releasing private papal documents. There doesn't seem to be any word on what Gabriele will do next. What does a papal butler write on his resume as he applies for another job?

-- The National Rifle Association has suggested putting armed guards in every U.S. school in reaction to the massacre eight days ago of 20 school children and six adults in Newtown, Conn. The tragedy has followed a predictable trajectory ... gut-wrenching horror followed inept attempts to explain followed by hand-wringing suggestions that we really need to do something about gun ownership followed by -- bit by bit -- forgetfulness.

-- Not that I can entirely keep up with it, but the National Hockey League seems to be the latest arena in which workers are deciding that having a union is not necessarily the most advantageous course in negotiations with management. The trend is gaining traction around the country ... unions slow the course of growth, impede job creation, and are detrimental to the American economy. Republicans must be dancing in the aisles to have sold this bill of goods to the American worker. Unfortunately, I think, the position will reap a whirlwind when those doing the actual work realize -- as they did in the early part of the 20th century -- that sticking together is the only recourse if they want to feed their families. To imagine there will be bloodshed does not strike me as hyperbole. Assessing the piracy off his shores, a Somali security official once summed up the roots of piracy anywhere nicely: "If you do not share your wealth with us, we we share our poverty with you." Perhaps Argentina is another bellwether.

-- There are places where Islamic sharia law is strictly observed/enforced.

-- And places where a person can be fired for being too good looking.

-- And then, of course, there is the Yuletide caveat: Beware the Dreaded Brussels Sprouts!

Christmas gathering

Last night, the house filled up like a bucket in the stream. My daughter and her fiance arrived from Pennsylvania, both my sons were here and there was an upsurge in the ingenuity required for everyone to have some place to sleep.

My daughter and her fiance had both lost weight as they geared up for a January "elopement" to Fiji, where they plan to marry. My daughter had lost 10-15 pounds and her fiance was down to 270 pounds ... a weight which brings him closer to competing at a 'lightweight' weight-lifting level. Everyone bubbled and bounced off each other in a reassertion of old connections.

Presents gathered under the Christmas tree that is hung with candy canes and lights and has an angel on top.

To describe it all is to paint a Currier and Ives still life of "Christmas" and "cheer" and "family" and other stuff that other people see in other people.

I like the bubbling and bouncing part.


An Internet dictionary defines the noun "trust" in part as meaning
-- a feeling of confidence in someone that shows you believe they are honest, fair, and reliable
-- confidence that something is safe, reliable, or effective
If this is pretty close to the mark, then "distrust" would mean that there was a confidence in the belief that someone was dishonest, unfair and unreliable or that there was confidence in the belief that something was unsafe, unreliable or ineffective.

In other words, distrust requires a trust that distrust is warranted.

Trust can rank pretty high on the totem pole of human characteristics. Politicians angle for trust; religions put themselves forward as trustworthy ... nobody, it seems, wants to be considered unworthy of trust.

And yet, I think, trust and its joined-at-the-hip sibling distrust, are worth a look. What happens to trust or distrust in the middle of a sneeze or laugh? Where do they go? How valuable and certain and trustworthy are they in such a moment? Does anything really deserve or require my trust or distrust? What happens when the exercise of trust or distrust is simply set aside for a moment ... when the capacities are still capacities, but the need to exercise them takes a breather? Does it own me or do I own it ... or either or neither or both/and? If I trust you or you trust me, does that make either of us more trustworthy?

I don't mean to criticize or disdain trust and distrust. Good and bad, silly or sad is not so much the point. But investigating cherished beliefs ... well, how about that? I'd say it's a good exercise. I might even say "trust me" ....

But I know you would laugh in my face.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Eido Shimano's lineage

The following statement from Myoshin-ji monastery in Japan appears on the Shimano Archive:
"Myoshin-ji has received many inquiries regarding its relationship with the Zen Studies Society in New York ever since the publication on 20 August 2010 of an article in the New York Times regarding the behavior of the Society's former director, Eido Shimano."

"On the occasion of establishing the Zen Studies Society, Eido Shimano stipulated that the Society was to have no relation to Myoshin-ji or any other branch of Japanese Rinzai Zen Buddhism. As far as Myoshin-ji is concerned, all along it has had no connection with Eido Shimano, his activities or organizations, including Dai Bosatsu Zendo and all affiliated Zen Studies Society institutions, nor is Eido Shimano or any of his successors certified as priests of the Myoshin-ji branch of Zen or recognized as qualified teachers."
Those who have been clinging (overtly or covertly) to their authorization as handed on by Eido Shimano may find new reason to reconsider their 'authority' and 'authenticity.'

In the past, of course, the mounting chorus of questions about Shimano seems to have aroused little transparent self-examination among those who had their tickets punched by Shimano. But, for those who take lineage seriously, Myoshin-ji is the big bopper of Rinzai Zen.

In the past, those playing Zen have asserted that a "lineage reaching all the way back to Shakyamuni Buddha" was not only credible (a point hardly born out by history), but also provided a reason for their own latter-day authority and, perhaps, wisdom. Similarly, in the past, when lineage has been challenged, these Zen playmakers have been wont to claim, "Oh well, lineage is not that important."

It probably won't be any different this time around, but still, with Myoshin-ji's statement, the world of K-Y Jelly Zen Buddhism becomes a little less credibly slippery.

despite ...

In the midst of a pelting rain and in the throes of grey skies that seem to reach to the earth itself, a flight of Canada geese can be heard honking and unseen in mid-flight.

Good weather.

Bad weather.

Do it anyway.

"From Jesus to Christ ..."

Anyone inclined towards Christianity might want to take a look at "From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians."

A Public Broadcast System presentation by the program "Frontline," the lengthy production is measured and thoughtful and gives some sense of how something called "Christianity" gained currency. Although I didn't watch all of it -- I'm only interested up to a point in Christianity -- still I admired the care in speculation and history that it offered. Serious Christians might be interested too.

Bits a snippets of information -- nothing grand -- stuck in my mind. Christianity is the religion of the culture I live in, so I was grateful for something other than swooning bias, no matter how uncertain the historical footing of the presentation.

Bits and snippets ... Jesus was more than likely not the poverty-stricken simple man he is sometimes portrayed as: In order to do business as a carpenter, the odds favor his having known at least a smattering of three languages ... Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic; when he preached, most of it was done in smaller, less sophisticated communities where preachers were not a dime a dozen; authorities did not object to the miracles attributed to Jesus -- miracles were something they already credited -- but they did object to the suggestion that God was the framework in which they occurred ... God and not the authority of Rome; overturning the money tables in the temple was no big deal -- people routinely criticized what went on in the temple; the notion that a group would have gathered at Jesus' crucifixion is highly unlikely ... crucifixion was a Roman punishment not a Jewish one; it was as grisly in people's eyes then as it is now; it was held in a place reserved for such things, away from populations and yet near enough to serve as a warning; death by crucifixion was slow and painful and resulted not so much from bleeding as from the elements and the slumping of the body and the increasing difficulty of breathing....

And there were other bits and pieces. I am probably not doing accurate justice to what I do recall.

History and archaeology and credulousness were all given a quiet attention in what I saw of the show. In my mind, the show was not a question of  the truth or falsehood of a given spiritual persuasion ... it was a matter of how a credulousness might have been spawned.

Anglican thinker Charles Williams once wrote, "People believe what they want to believe." What impresses me is a willingness to investigate the foundations of that belief, whatever it may be. Belief is such an inspiration for starters and such a hellish acquisition in the long haul. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism ... same stuff, different day: Belief inspires and then, if that's all there is to it, becomes selfish, cruel and destructive.

Anyway ... I thought it was a good show ... FWIW.


Watching the Academy-Award-winning 1986 movie, "Platoon," yesterday, it crossed my mind that it really does take some courage to live this life. This life... not some other life.

The precipitating segment that aroused the thought came in the form of two soldiers discussing their reasons for being soldiers in Vietnam. The white soldier says he came out of a bourgeois family and he wanted to experience what the poor and less-privileged were going through. The black soldier responds that only a rich man could have such a thought -- that the poor always had and always would get the shitty end of the stick. Not a new or novel observation, but it struck me yesterday as an observation worth heeding.

This life is this life. No need to croon for Walden or some "simpler life." No need to yearn for some magical winning of the lottery. Rich or poor -- all that imagination is possible, of course. But getting square with the facts on the ground, the facts devoid of imaginative eyewash ... now there's a task that takes some courage.

Neither a puddle of deterministic surrender nor a well-ornamented course of action can cope with the facts on the ground. Anyone who strives for something different or something improved ... well, that's just one more aspect of facts on the ground, the facts of this moment.

Walking a mile in another man's shoes may be a nice thought -- an imaginative man's thought.

But walking a mile in the shoes anyone might already be wearing ... that takes balls.

begins and ends

Did, as some predicted, the world end today?

I mean, did it happen and I missed it?

If it had ended, how would I know?

Intellectually adroit people may sniff and snort, but I'm not sniffing and snorting at such credulous prophecies, which are usually premised on the idea that the end of the world would mean that I am going to end and wouldn't that be a scary pity?

More seriously, what basis would I have for judging. As far as I can figure out, I have no previous experience on which to judge either the ending or beginning of anything. Intellectually and emotionally, maybe, but not really.

Are the graveyards nothing but upscale kaffeeklatsches where people lie around and say, "I'm dead?" Does the newborn lie in a roomful of hospital bassinets and remark to the next kid over, "I'm alive" or "I began a couple of hours ago?"

What began when and what ended when and who could possibly know it?

Maybe someone else has a better handle on all this "beginning" and "ending" stuff, but I'm not part of that loop.

Let me know if the world ended, will you?

Or didn't ... I'd be interested in that too.

Christmas gift

Received a video in email today and it did for me what others suggest Christmas might do for them ... a melting-melting-melting of sorts... delighted tears ... an open-air performance in Spain of some of Beethoven's 9th Symphony.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

"Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen

 All I can think is, amen!

Hallelujah originally by Leonard Cohen

Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you
To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

There are other versions with other words ... many gopped up with ads.

Reminds me by impact and magic of "Suzanne."