Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve Thought:

There are people such that being nice is not something they know how to do, it's not their "first nature" and "true nature" isn't even on the radar.

May peace and harmony prevail through the new year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The things I missed....

The last bit though leads to some interesting fodder via "Dr." Chopra:

[W]hen I entered the makeshift ICU I saw Maharishi lying unconscious in a bed with IV tubes and a respirator just as I had foreseen. My father informed me darkly that after drinking a glass of orange juice given to him by “a foreign disciple,” Maharishi had suffered severe abdominal pain and inflammation of the pancreas, along with kidney failure followed by a heart attack. Poisoning was suspected. Over the next few days Maharishi’s condition worsened. The pancreas and kidney functions continued to deteriorate, and his heart didn’t improve. My father was of the opinion that Maharishi should be taken to England for a course of kidney dialysis. The Indian TM organization, centered around Maharishi’s nephews, Prakash and Anand Shrivastava, were adamant that no one in the movement should find out that Maharishi was grievously ill. The rationale was that his followers would panic and lose faith.

I found myself torn, because Maharishi had long presented himself as being far from the typical Hindu guru. He did not assert his own divinity. He credited his entire career to his own master, Guru Dev. He seemed indifferent to the cult of personality and the aura of superstition surrounding gurus, which includes the notion that they have perfect control over mind and body and hold the secret of immortality. But deeper than that, Maharishi wasn’t a religious figure. Although he had taken vows as a monk, he brought a technique to the West, Transcendental Meditation, that was entirely secular and even scientific. Indeed, his lasting memory will probably be that he convinced Westerners of the physical and mental benefits of a purely mechanical non-religious approach to consciousness. I was troubled that his falling ill had to be hidden essentially to preserve the image of a superhuman being who couldn’t get sick like mere mortals...

Can a real guru be unfair, jealous, biased, and ultimately manipulative?

For a devotee, the answer is unquestionably yes. The role of a disciple isn’t to question a guru, but the exact opposite: Whatever the guru says, however strange, capricious, or unfair, is taken to be truth. The disciple’s role is to accommodate to the truth, and if it takes struggle and “ego death” to do that, the spiritual fruits of obedience are well worth it. A guru speaks for God and pure consciousness; therefore, his words are a direct communication from Brahman, who knows us better than we know ourselves. In essence the guru is like a superhuman parent who guides our steps until we can walk on our own. Was Maharishi doing that to me?

No, that's nonsense, at least in my tradition. If I don't doubt the teacher to his core (or lack thereof), it's certainly not enlightenment.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Après eux, le déluge

HT: Greenwald.


Robert Fisk:

We've got so used to the carnage of the Middle East that we don't care any more – providing we don't offend the Israelis. It's not clear how many of the Gaza dead are civilians, but the response of the Bush administration, not to mention the pusillanimous reaction of Gordon Brown, reaffirm for Arabs what they have known for decades: however they struggle against their antagonists, the West will take Israel's side. As usual, the bloodbath was the fault of the Arabs – who, as we all know, only understand force.

Ever since 1948, we've been hearing this balderdash from the Israelis – just as Arab nationalists and then Arab Islamists have been peddling their own lies: that the Zionist "death wagon" will be overthrown, that all Jerusalem will be "liberated". And always Mr Bush Snr or Mr Clinton or Mr Bush Jnr or Mr Blair or Mr Brown have called upon both sides to exercise "restraint" – as if the Palestinians and the Israelis both have F-18s and Merkava tanks and field artillery. Hamas's home-made rockets have killed just 20 Israelis in eight years, but a day-long blitz by Israeli aircraft that kills almost 300 Palestinians is just par for the course.

The blood-splattering has its own routine. Yes, Hamas provoked Israel's anger, just as Israel provoked Hamas's anger, which was provoked by Israel, which was provoked by Hamas, which ... See what I mean? Hamas fires rockets at Israel, Israel bombs Hamas, Hamas fires more rockets and Israel bombs again and ... Got it? And we demand security for Israel – rightly – but overlook this massive and utterly disproportionate slaughter by Israel. It was Madeleine Albright who once said that Israel was "under siege" – as if Palestinian tanks were in the streets of Tel Aviv.

By last night, the exchange rate stood at 296 Palestinians dead for one dead Israeli. Back in 2006, it was 10 Lebanese dead for one Israeli dead. This weekend was the most inflationary exchange rate in a single day since – the 1973 Middle East War? The 1967 Six Day War? The 1956 Suez War? The 1948 Independence/Nakba War? It's obscene, a gruesome game – which Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defence Minister, unconsciously admitted when he spoke this weekend to Fox TV. "Our intention is to totally change the rules of the game," Barak said.

There used to be widespread condemnation of Robert Fisk from the folks such as those at Little Green Footballs and Michelle Malkin and their ilk.

It looks, unfortunately, as though Fisk was right all along, and his critics were ...fill in your own blank here.

The fact that Israel and its enablers do not see their role - their interdependency in this situation is one of the reasons this conflagration continues to receive oxygen.

It is well past time to extinguish.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

It's been a 5 days now since I wrote Mr. Rick Warren

My epistle to Mr. Warren:

Dear Mr. Warren,

The gays point out, accurately, in my view, that one would not invoke "civility" to have a Nazi give an invocation and then provide "balance" with a rabbi giving a benediction. As a Buddhist and a scientist I, too, am deeply troubled by your selection to give an invocation at the inauguration. I have seen you espouse your views, and even if you are doing charitable work, would not your invocation be giving tacit approval to the morally unsavory aspects of your "ministry" ? And please, please do not blaspheme by claiming somehow it's a deity talking and not you. And make no mistake about it when I say "morally unsavory": in your "news and views" segments a heck of a lot of ego comes through, and very little loving-kindness.

I will not tell you to reconsider your presence at the inauguration, but I will ask you to realize that there are people to whom you cannot impose your limited moral views, just as I cannot impose mine. Above all such morality as received by "revelation" cannot be legislated.

I will note in closing that your church's website, like many "evangelical" websites does not represent Buddhism accurately. If civility requires anything, it requires honesty, even if, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted, it does not require candor. Please reconsider how your church represents other religious and non-religious views.


It was never about just the gays; take for example, this "sermon", in which some invited speaker purports to teach Warren's "flock" about "cults and other world religions."

Whenever you see conservative "Evangelical" "apologetics" it basically means "lies about other religions."

The guy on that link goes on and on about "what Hindus believe" and "what Buddhists believe," and most of it is simply false. Including "idol worship."

For the record, this Buddhist is not a "pantheist," because it's a category mistake to attribute deity-ness to anything, as far as I'm concerned. This guy is no more an expert on what Buddhists "believe" than he is an expert in stochastic processes. And people pay him for this.

Ah, so. This is what you can do with pop music!

Yeah, yeah, yeah, call me materialist...

but I got an iPod Touch. Some readers may already know this and some may not but:

The amazing point: you can now surf the web, really, and really read & reply to your e-mail (and read Word Attachments) without all the nonsense of booting up a PC (or Mac). You can sometimes read embedded Excel files too, sort of.

Yeah, that's what I wanted it for; not the increased RAM or the video stuff.

The bad part: flash applications don't work except, it seems for Youtube, which works like a charm.

Looking Back...

I can't believe this blog is still going, although it was serious hiatus for several months in 2007.

If you clink on the links at the right, you'll find a whole bunch of dead ones, most of which will have been removed some time in the next month or so, and probably will have new links added (if you have a blog you want listed, let me know).

Which means, inter alia, that this is one of those posts that will refer to things that are not going to be saved, except perhaps via

But it turns out blogging has been useful; it's helped me to "remember" all the weirdness of the past few years; and I think it's truly helped make a small difference in the world.

I can tell that folks have visited my site from literally around this world (in the past month).

So I'd like to thank everyone who's visited and I'll try to improve whatever it is I'm doing here in the future.


Israel's taking advantage of the interregnum of American politics to ram through some nastiness on the Palestinian people.

The Palestinian groups again launched barrages of rockets and mortars into Israel on Sunday, extending their reach further than ever before, and the Israeli government approved the emergency call up of thousands of army reservists in preparation for a possible ground operation...

A military operation had been forecast and demanded by Israeli officials for weeks, ever since a rocky cease-fire between Israel and Hamas fully collapsed a week ago, leading again to rocket attacks in large numbers against Israel and isolated Israeli operations here.

Still, there was a shocking quality to Saturday’s attacks, which began in broad daylight as police cadets were graduating, women were shopping at the outdoor market, and children were emerging from school.

The center of Gaza City was a scene of chaotic horror, with rubble everywhere, sirens wailing, and women shrieking as dozens of mutilated bodies were laid out on the pavement and in the lobby of Shifa Hospital so that family members could identify them. The dead included civilians, including several construction workers and at least two children in school uniforms...

I've long said that America should just recognize Palestine as an independent country with no strings attached.

If Palestine were Kuwait we'd have invaded Israel and instituted "regime change" long ago.

Israeli officials said that anyone linked to the Hamas security structure or government was fair game because Hamas was a terrorist group that sought Israel’s destruction.

We are all fair game now.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Nobody could have predicted this...

Historically, churches were wary of debt, and many old-line congregations have owned their buildings free and clear for decades. But borrowing by churches became more common in the 1990s, reaching $28 billion nationwide in 2006, including mortgages, construction loans and church bonds, according to Lambert, Edwards & Associates, a consulting business in Grand Rapids, Mich. New companies and nonprofit organizations focused on church lending sprang up, as did real estate investment trusts and other bundles of church loans, which were sold to investors.

The rise of nondenominational churches and a resurgence in the evangelical movement also led to more religious institutions seeking to borrow. Churches were often founded in storefronts or school auditoriums, but as they grew, they built sprawling edifices, including so-called mega-churches. At the same time, some older churches lost members as young people went elsewhere, and had to borrow to survive.

Some in the church lending industry say aggressive lenders pushed church mortgages, too.

“Some of the mentality that you saw taking hold of the residential marketplace probably shifted into the church,” said Dan Mikes, executive vice president of the church banking division of Bank of the West, a subsidiary of BNP Paribas. “Lenders loaned far too much, they loaned into lofty projections of future growth, and they just saddled the churches with far too much debt.”

At least a quarter of religious properties have mortgages, according to an analysis of property and mortgage filings in 115 United States counties completed for The New York Times by First American CoreLogic, a data provider in California.

Geez, maybe someday you'll able to start a temple of your own in some abandoned megachurch.

Friday, December 26, 2008



Thursday, December 25, 2008

Buddhist Christmas...

A country where flowers are priced so as to make them a luxury has yet to learn the first principles of civilization. -Ancient Chinese Saying, According to the Internet

I received a Christmas card this year from one of my more religious Christian relatives which included a note to the effect of, "With God all things are possible!"

At around the same time, I'd had to teach my son about "What to Do When Evangelizing Christians Get Too Pushy."

I have a scroll in my zendo that says something to the effect of "The flower does not need to shout it beauty."

How do we embody empathy and compassion and caring to those who are not satisfied with our religious beliefs or lack thereof? What is the origin of this? Well no doubt craving, attachments, wants, ignorance, greed and perhaps a dollop of hatred are probably somewhere in the vicinity.

If we look deeply into such people, they are Yet More Suffering Beings. And they simply have not seen or been what many Buddhists have seen or been. They simply have no first-hand knowledge that what a "person" is is a lot more cloudy than they think.

As I get more and more into practice, I realize that what is "done" on the cushion is quite useless unless practiced in real life, basically all the time, and when it's done the proper way to deal with Such People becomes automatically clear, and one is neither over-acquiescing to them nor is one an obnoxious butt-head.

A religion where miracles are priced so as to make them a luxury to those who don't believe has followers who have yet to learn the first principles of spirituality.

I hope this season finds all readers of this blog, and all other beings unburdened by want, and selflessly giving and receiving. I know, I know, it won't happen, but I hope at least the 2nd derivative's positive...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I have a new theory about Ken Wilber, Genpo Roshi, and the like:

The clock inevitably ticks.

The above mentioned gentlemen do not want to have a future like Robert Aitken's present.

It's probably a good idea to give to Aitken simply get others to avoid considering egregious money making schemes borne out of desperation.

South Park in my lineage?

I guess so...though I think of Watts more a cautionary tale than exemplary. (Watts' teacher, Sokei An, was a student of Sokatsu Shaku, who was a student of my teacher's father who was his son's teacher.)

(HT: Shokai)

隻手 音声 (せきしゅ おんじょう )

Might be rendered 隻手恩情, but for the commentaries by Hakuin entreating one to listen to 隻手 音声 (which has no sound anyway). The latter would be the "sound of the single hand," the title of Hakuin's famous koan (clapping actually doesn't enter into the sound of the single hand, but I digress). The former would be one hand affection or compassion...

Oh, forget I even wrote anything. Do not read this post, it'll corrupt your mind. I just wanted to use this as a placeholder for the kanji anyway as I googled through to see if there were any commentaries on The Sound of the Single Hand...which would corrupt my mind...

Seriously, all the commentaries in the world, Hakuin's included, are not 隻手 音声. However, I should note that Hakuin's commentaries are a most excellent riff on the Lotus Sutra. If you've ever wondered what you could do with Mahayana texts if you mashed 'em up and played with their style, and morphed 'em into Edojidai paradigms with knowledge and a delicate use of Japanese far beyond your mere mortal capabilities, well, Hakuin's the man. (I've only read him in English, but this maddening complexity comes through: both translators I've read have cited difficulties in translating Hakuin.)

There's 2 or 3 commentaries in English on 隻手 音声 as well, and they ain't it either, and that doesn't mean to cast any negative aspersions on the teacher.

And this writing here? It ain't it either.

The only reason people write stuff like that is to tell other people what orange juice tastes like and how to drink it anyway, because some folks want to find out what others say about the taste of orange juice and how to drink it.

And frankly, it might, just might encourage 2 or 3 people to actually drink the stuff for themselves, and then use the knowledge of that taste to help people.

A Buddhist Christmas Tree?

All those tchotchkes they give out in temples, both foreign and domestic make great ornaments anyway. The one above is from Koufuji (興福寺). My wife would worry that it would "offend Christians," but of course a Christmas tree's not exactly a "Christian" symbol anyway, right? I mean the Christian symbol would be, uh...a cross, right? Anyway, there's also Chinese and Taiwanese temples on our tree, so to speak. But I kind of like the fact that the Fujiwaras put up a temple, and we got a Christmas ornament out of the deal, despite the fact that the Shouwa (昭和) emperor's actions in WWII were less than exemplary.

Monday, December 22, 2008

It ain't a fit night out for man or beast...

One of the odd things or quirky things, or attractive things about the Pacific Northwest, in the Portland Area, is that once every 5 years or so the weather is just right: freezing ice cold winds out of the Columbia Gorge meet a low that just sits off the coast, and dumps copious amounts of snow or freezing rain or ice everywhere, for several days and everywhere is stuck for a week, as the whole weather pattern gets "stuck" in this state.

This is one of those times. I'm reminded of this:

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sledding Practice...

Ryobo Zen An: 両忘禅庵


Cabin fever mashup: Santa and the Foreign Service...

In case you folks elsewhere reading this don't know it, it's about 20 or so degrees out with several inches of snow on the ground - a rarity for the Pacific NW. Luckily we have ample food and beverages. And it may become an ice storm today. Business as usual.

For the morning tea prior to zazen, I consider that if the world actually goes to hell in a handbasket, perhaps I should join the foreign service.

According to the US Foreign Service website, I could do this, family permitting...

And it also appears I was right to tell my son the truth about Santa Claus.
Or at least I have no regrets. Some parent of some kid complained to my son's teacher because their kid asked my kid if he believed in Santa Claus, he told the truth, and the parent complained about their "beliefs" being trampled upon. My son's quite an atheist, but we've taught him to show respect to any and all religious believers, no matter how ridiculous, but Santa Claus?

Geez, that's not even a religion! And my son, in a particularly mercenary, pre-Buddhist fashion, gets the meaning of Christmas: people get stuff. Some people actually give stuff. But there's stuff.

Evidently I'm not alone with the Santa thing...

With everyone from teachers and celebrities to parents and psychologists weighing in, the battle lines in this debate are starkly drawn. One camp dismisses the Santa story as a pernicious lie that commercializes Christmas, excludes non-Christians and ruptures the trust between parent and child; the other embraces it as a bit of harmless fun that reflects the imagination and wonder of childhood. On both sides, the strength of feeling can be startling. One blogger writes that lying to your children about Santa is a "form of child abuse."

Nor is the sound and fury confined to the online world. I know a couple in Manhattan -- where else? -- who have hired a therapist to help their children cope with the news that Father Christmas is not real.

Santa is also a hot topic in Britain, where I live. Earlier this month, a school near Manchester fired a substitute teacher for telling a class of 7-year-olds that the jolly old man in red did not exist. A few days ago, I brought up the subject with parents at a party in London. One woman stormed off without saying a word. "Last week, a few of us got into a really horrible argument about how to handle the Santa question," explained her friend. "Obviously she's still very worked up."

Of course there is a very Buddhist way to do this: in the same way Kuan Yin is real, a manifestation of our own compassion, Santa Claus could be a bodhisattva of generosity.

But that Santa wouldn't be the Santa, just like it's kind of cheating to call Jesus Christ a bodhisattva (JC may or may not have existed, and certainly not in any way the 4 canonical gospels portray him). That Jesus isn't a Christian Jesus anyway and it's the cultural equivalent of an anachronism to pretend Jesus Christ is a boddhisattva.

So I'll leave you with a Deep Thought: How come one of Santa's reindeer wasn't named Nixon?

Update: the whole flavor of the article in the post is "What does it matter?" and I don't entirely disagree one way or the other; it's just that it made more sense for two middle aged folks to not put up any pretenses around our young son.

But take a look at this comment by "wpguest1":

I cancelled my paid subscription a long time ago due to its virulently pro-athiest, pro-illegal alien agendas. But these themes were only the most obvious symptoms. The underlying sickness was deeper, and even more subtle.

The opening line of a Style article from a while back epitomizes what the Post has become. Discussing how impoverished Peruvians eat guinea pigs, and showcasing efforts to bring this dish to America, the story asks: "Ever wonder whether a cabernet sauvignon or merlot would better complement your childhood pet?" It's a perfect example of the tastelessness that pervades today's Post.

Maybe some people find this stuff "edgy" or "fun" because of the shock value. Or maybe it's just a subtle attempt to replace traditional American cultural values and standards with ones from a third-world underclass - or better yet, from Josef Stalin's special brand of Communism.

The bottom line: like many of our politicians, the Post has lost (or chosen to throw away) its moral compass - all for the sake of a quick buck, or a short term gamble that controversy = "excitement."

Maybe some readers like these changes. But for every joker who enjoys reading this stuff, there are 5 of us who are disgusted. So - the Post is free to print what it wants, but the rest of us are free to cancel our subscriptions because this rag no longer reflects our values.

Pushing out stories that paint wrong as right, and right as wrong - as the Washington Post empire continues to crumble.

Sounds like that strategy of pandering to athiests, illegal aliens, family pet eaters, and Santa haters is really paying off.

I never realized I was on the side of Stalin by telling my kid Santa was a myth!

Oh no!

I'm on the wrong side!

Friday, December 19, 2008

So some folks are upset with Rick Warren speaking at Obama's inauguration

I'll repeat the comment I made here in response to a response by Danny Fisher:

I think that, at the very least, it's an incredibly tacky time to be asking a vocal and obnoxious opponent of gay rights to stand front-and-center to talk to God...

My first response:

- I'm one of those non-theistic Buddhists, so asking Warren to talk to a being whose existence isn't particularly relevant to the Great Matter doesn't bother me.

My 2nd response:

-If such a Really Contingent Being did exist, what better opportunity than to provide him (Warren) with an opportunity to ask for forgiveness.

My 3rd response:

-Warren's going to avoid the dreck anyway; and his dreck goes far far beyond hating gays and equating zygotes to people. Which is kinda what you expect. But it's that utter permeation of his worldview by dreck that will paradoxically keep him in check: it's bad marketing to exhibit hate on a day like this.

Lastly, Warren represents, for better and worse, a significant number of people in America.

The Mahayana vow gives us the koan: well, how the hell are you going to help these a$&h0!13s?

How do we help Rick Warren? How do we help gays, people out on the streets, the pregnant in medical need of an abortion, and all the real-life bogeymen the religious right rails against? How do we help James Dobson?

These are not simply questions in the abstract, but real responsibilities for both ourselves and Barack Obama.

"How the hell are you going to deal with these jerks?" is a good koan; I find I often am forced to practice it very carefully.

But let's consider an article by Michelle Goldberg that Danny Fisher referenced here:

... First of all, [the selection of Warren for the invocation] reifies the image that Warren has been assiduously constructing for himself as “America’s Pastor,” a post-partisan and benevolent figure with a quasi-official role atop the nation’s civic life. When it comes to his public persona, Warren is something of a magician. He has convinced much of the media and many influential Democrats that he represents a new, more centrist breed of evangelical with a broader agenda than the old religious right. This is, in many ways, deceptive. Yes, Warren has done a lot of work on AIDS in Africa, but he supports the same types of destructive, abstinence-only policies as the Bush administration. One of his protegés, Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa, has been a major force in moving that country away from its lifesaving safer-sex programs. He’s been known to burn condoms at Makerere University, the prestigious school in Uganda’s capital, and in his Pentecostal services, marked by much sobbing and speaking in tongues, he offers the promise of faith healing to his desperate congregants, a particularly cruel ruse in a country ravaged by HIV.

The truth is that the primary difference between Warren and, say, James Dobson is the former’s penchant for Hawaiian shirts. Warren compares abortion to the Holocaust, gay marriage to pedophilia and incest, and social gospel Christians as “closet Marxists.” He doesn’t believe in evolution. He has won plaudits from some journalists for his honesty in forthrightly admitting that he believes that Jews are going to hell, but even if one sees such candor is a virtue, the underlying conviction hardly qualifies him as an ecumenical peacemaker. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal earlier this year, Warren himself described his differences with Dobson as “mainly a matter of tone,” and was unable to come up with a theological issue on which they disagree.

If Democrats collaborate in positioning Warren as the centrist alternative to the religious right, they consign vast numbers of people, including many of the party’s most dedicated supporters, to the fringe.

America doesn't have a pastor any more than we have a "football team," or a "religion" or any of a myriad of other things that want to privilege itself and marginalize others.

Obama doesn't have the power, and neither do Democrats, to decide who bigots will use for their mouthpiece. We do have the power to decide our context.

Obama's putting a religious wingnut on his stage, but he's appointing scientists.

From Goldberg again:

Now, many are trying to get Obama to drop Warren. The comments on, the Obama transition Web site, are full of heartbreak and disenchantment.

Well, it looks like a dialog is happening. It looks like context is being filled in.

I'm not sweating this one.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Do read Hakuin

That is, read the earlier referenced work, both for its scholarly background as well as for its exposition of the Dharma.

He's him, not me, and vice versa, and that's a good thing.

A (rough - overlapping) contemporary of George Washington, Hakuin, despite his hard work at expounding the Dharma probably took quite a few more baths than George Washington did.

Roger Cohen reminds me...

Wait, first I gotta get this out of the way:

The first time I went down to Rio in 1986, I flew business class. I was working for The Wall Street Journal. When I got back, I handed my expenses to Eric Morgenthaler, then the bureau chief in Miami.

He had a glass office. I watched him, before he called me in and asked why I’d flown business. Overnight flight, I said, interview with a minister the next morning, blah, blah, blah.

“The Wall Street Journal,” Morgenthaler said with a certain class and solemnity, “flies first class.”

This was apparently a truism as evident as, “You need eggs to make an omelet,” or, “Nobody likes wet socks.”

I flew business class in '79, for a job interview with Hughes in LA.

Cohen wants this to sound like it was some extreme extravagance to fly business class for business then, and even more absurd for the WSJ to fly first class, but it wasn't.

It was the standard to which companies upheld and treated their employees.

Sometimes ya gotta say those things.

OK, back to the regularly scheduled Buddhist/American blog:

The whole financial crisis is about the death of responsibility: the buck stopped nowhere. Everyone profited from toxic paper. Bernard Madoff, he of the alleged multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme, is only the latest example.

Irresponsibility has also characterized Detroit. I don’t see how you restore responsibility with a bailout. Obama has a deeper task than changing the economy; he has to change the culture.

Rather than adopting European subsidies, put billions toward more inspiring European examples: a high-speed railroad network or universal health care.

Here's your take-away, which Roger Cohen hasn't seemed to articulate:

  • American policy both domestic and foreign was put into place to manufacture and sell petroleum.

  • Americans put this policy into place. Americans did not put into place policies that made high speed rail possible, nor livable cities without cars, nor other alternative ways of living that did not rely on petroleum to make living easier.

  • The automobile industry, its employees, its unions, its management, its dealers and customers represents a subset of this group of Americans who put this policy into place.

  • Americans - all Americans have only themselves to blame and all Americans will have problems if we don't have industry (profitably) serve us rather than the other way around.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

There's so much to dig around in at "Big Mind"

I just bought this book of some of Hakuin's writings. I haven't read much yet, but he does stress the holding required to keep a koan. This holding literally takes years to nurture, but nurture, yes you can, but it takes literally years to do.

For those of us with some experience in this area, then there's reasons why "Big Mind" is leaden with concerns, and most of them have to do with the fact that we know - and we can empirically demonstrate (e.g., via physiological metrics) - that a skill is cultivated.

From the "Big Mind" site:

The Big Mind Big Heart approach to life is a method of self-investigation that is straightforward and effective, and it will open your heart and mind to the fullness and richness of life. It’s a new combination of tools, a blend of Western psychology and the Eastern traditions passed on to us, and it’s been developed for the express purpose of helping us to better understand the mind and the nature of human life.

You won’t need previous experience. Big Mind Big Heart DVD’s, books, workshops and retreats are lively, engaging, thoughtful and profound. Everyone gets to have their say, as we try on intriguing new perspectives, see what they tell us, and share our insights. Genpo Roshi leads the process, like only a Zen Master can, with humor, wisdom, compassion and deep sincerity.

  • An approach to life sounds suspiciously to me like a religion. I don't have anything against that, but lets put the cards on the table.

  • My practice is "straightforward and effective," but then again disciplines tend to make you disciplined.

  • Everyone gets to have their say, as we try on intriguing new perspectives, see what they tell us, and share our insights. When's the last time Merzel had an insight or an "intriguing new perspective"? Why do I get the feeling he's selling Chevy Vegas in a land in which Honda Civics rule?

Like I said, this stuff makes its own gravy...


Is it any surprise that a modern Zen Master would find a way for modern people to use the ancient insights of Zen to improve their lives? Genpo Roshi is a man who has accomplished over 35 years of Zen meditation practice, a man who’s a certified Zen Master. He’s also been a champion athlete, and is a devoted husband and father, a successful businessperson, and the respected author of five books. He is the creator of the Big Mind • BIg Heart approach, and is the Founder and Abbot of Kanzeon Zen Center and Kanzeon Sangha International. His whole adult life has been dedicated to raising consciousness since 1971, when he had his first deep realization and subsequently became the student of Taizan Maezumi Roshi, the founder of the Zen Center of Los Angeles.

  • Is it any surprise that a modern Zen Master would find a way for modern people to use the ancient insights of Zen to improve their lives? Because, like you won't, ...??? Seriously not a resume.

This. Just. In.

Oh my dog he's channeling Robert Tilton.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Not for nothing but...

Everything having to do with the "Kanzeon" Zen Center international is now mapped into "Big Mind."

It wasn't even done neatly, it seems.

Raises questions.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Why would this be the case? Is this a *good* thing?


[S]ince September, pastors nationwide say they have seen such a burst of new interest that they find themselves contending with powerful conflicting emotions — deep empathy and quiet excitement — as they re-encounter an old piece of religious lore:

Bad times are good for evangelical churches...

Part of the evangelicals’ new excitement is rooted in a communal belief that the big Christian revivals of the 19th century, known as the second and third Great Awakenings, were touched off by economic panics. Historians of religion do not buy it, but the notion “has always lived in the lore of evangelism,” said Tony Carnes, a sociologist who studies religion.

A study last year may lend some credence to the legend. In “Praying for Recession: The Business Cycle and Protestant Religiosity in the United States,” David Beckworth, an assistant professor of economics at Texas State University, looked at long-established trend lines showing the growth of evangelical congregations and the decline of mainline churches and found a more telling detail: During each recession cycle between 1968 and 2004, the rate of growth in evangelical churches jumped by 50 percent. By comparison, mainline Protestant churches continued their decline during recessions, though a bit more slowly.

The little-noticed study began receiving attention from some preachers in September, when the stock market began its free fall. With the swelling attendance they were seeing, and a sense that worldwide calamities come along only once in an evangelist’s lifetime, the study has encouraged some to think big.

My gut feeling is that many people want to be told what to do, what to think.

A manifestation of aversion, perhaps.

Perhaps anhedonia made flesh.

People quoted in the article give one explanation that they have a more "personal" experience in those Churches compared to Catholic and "mainline" Protestant Churches (there's a nice school of thought that says that evangelical churches aren't Protestant, but this is probably too much detail for this blog post). A Catholic clergyman says their congregations "get more stuff easier" in evangelical churches. An economist who recently made the link between evangelical churches and bad times noted that it's because evangelicals are lower class, compared, I guess, to other religious groups. OK, the article didn't exactly put it that way, saying instead, "evangelicals as a whole still tend to be less affluent than members of mainline churches, and therefore depend on their church communities more during tough times, for material as well as spiritual support."

Why are they fighting over bodies? Why are we supporting the down and out based on a religious identification? Wouldn't those without a "faith community" be suffering just as much, if not more?

My wife often talks about going to a church on Christmas, to get my son to see what the Christians do.

I have no problem with it, though as long as it'd be on the agenda, I'd want to take them to the best of what Christianity has to offer. On the other hand, of course, I'm a Buddhist.

But for the life of me, I cannot see the point, I cannot stomach, it borders on ghoulish this concept of salivating in response to the misfortune of others so that your pews will become full.

I might just do this Christian church thing for my son this Christmas, but ideally it would be a majorly non-evangelical church. A liberal orthodox church would perhaps be the best trade-off of ceremonial practice and sensibility, but that church likely doesn't exist, unless you count Episcopal churches as orthodox (but then there's the cake or death thing). And it would be the Christian opposite of an evangelical church.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

"It’s the spartan living style and firm scheduling ..."

I missed this; I guess I was busy yesterday...

Zen Mountain [Monastery] is just one example of an ashram or monastery in upstate New York that promises to recharge the mind and spirit of its guests with a combination of simplicity and meditation, served up on a tight schedule. At least half a dozen of these spiritual retreats are tucked away among the Catskill Mountains.

Most have been around for several decades, but until recently their visitors were mainly practicing Buddhists, serious yoga students or devotees of an ashram’s guru. Today, these spots are attracting clientele from the surrounding metropolitan areas who’ve had limited interaction with Eastern religions, yoga or a spiritual guru. Like Mr. Malkmus, who spent several months before his trip clocking 60-hour workweeks, more nonbelievers are coming to experience the rigors of an ashram or monastery as a way to escape...

It’s the spartan living style and firm scheduling at these retreats that make them increasingly popular as an alternative vacation option. Harried urbanites can spend whole days without making a decision or facing a crisis, without trying to find a cab in the rain or worrying about a client. The activities are predetermined and tightly scheduled: meditation, chanting religious verses, doing chores around the property and silent self-contemplation.

The retreats’ accessibility to several metropolitan areas and their affordability also enhance their appeal at a time when the economy is weak.


Seriously, a vacation option at a time when the economy is weak?

It's about your friggin' life, dammit.

Ah, but perhaps I'm being bit too harsh...

It’s generally stress — whether personal or job related — that drives guests to choose one of these spiritual getaways, according to surveyed clientele and the staff at ashrams and monasteries.

Well, the first Noble Truth does have to do with suffering...

And besides...

...Jokei Kyodo, a resident at Dai Bosatsu, said the monastery is not a resort for guests looking to put their feet up. “I had a lady who called me recently and said she had a few extra vacation days she needed to use up,” she said. “We want people to come here and make a commitment to our Zen practice, which isn’t exactly comfortable.”

I have stayed at both ZMM and Dai Bosatsu; they're good places for an introduction to Zen and for practice back in NY.

But here, in Vancouver WA, I have recently completed what I like to thinnk of as "Rohatsu in place," from Sunday to Friday.

No, I didn't sit with Jundo, though I get that.

What I did was increase the amount of sitting to 5 periods per day, and work. And do family obligations. Mindfully, as much as possible. Maybe this is nothing for some folks; but for me, who generally only sits 1/2 hour per day due to time & family constraints except when my teacher's in town, it's a big difference.

And it made a big difference.

It had always slightly bothered me that I didn't do such a thing, and hadn't had an opportunity to do a real retreat in years. In addition, I had done retreats, and it had always intrigued and nagged at me that I couldn't duplicate the seemingly Herculean feats at sitting by myself.

Who the hell was I kidding?


I thoroughly, unreservedly recommend such a practice in the future - maybe Jundo's thing works in the same way, because it's virtual, sitting yourself, you come smack dab face to face rubber meets the road with that egotistical whining, petty monkey-mind ox.

Makes you more tolerant of the folks who might follow some folks whose practice smells like bad fish.

On the whole, very good for you, I'd recommend this as a really cost-effective "get-away," except for the fact that it's the opposite of a get-away.

It's about your friggin' life, dammit.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Nah, we're not obsessed with stuff anymore...


The throng of Wal-Mart shoppers had been building all night, filling sidewalks and stretching across a vast parking lot at the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream, N.Y. At 3:30 a.m., the Nassau County police had to be called in for crowd control, and an officer with a bullhorn pleaded for order.

Tension grew as the 5 a.m. opening neared. Someone taped up a crude poster: “Blitz Line Starts Here.”

By 4:55, with no police officers in sight, the crowd of more than 2,000 had become a rabble, and could be held back no longer. Fists banged and shoulders pressed on the sliding-glass double doors, which bowed in with the weight of the assault. Six to 10 workers inside tried to push back, but it was hopeless.

Suddenly, witnesses and the police said, the doors shattered, and the shrieking mob surged through in a blind rush for holiday bargains. One worker, Jdimytai Damour, 34, was thrown back onto the black linoleum tiles and trampled in the stampede that streamed over and around him. Others who had stood alongside Mr. Damour trying to hold the doors were also hurled back and run over, witnesses said.

Good stretching exercises

Here, whether or not you sit.

Friday, November 21, 2008

If there were a Christian monotheistic deity...

Why would he permit this?

HT: PZ Meyers

AP spin of the day: Pro-Vatican.

This is why I don't believe most of what I read in the news...

Nov 21st, 2008 | TOKYO -- Samurai warriors, housewives and children were crucified, thrown into hot springs and tortured, but refused to renounce their religion. Japan's extraordinary but relatively unknown history of Christian persecution is finally receiving recognition in a beatification of 188 martyrs.

The upcoming ceremony on Monday bestows honors from the Roman Catholic Church that are one step short of sainthood for Japanese killed from 1603 to 1639. The ceremony is expected to draw 30,000 people to a baseball stadium in the southwestern city of Nagasaki.

These 2 paragraphs are true, as far as it goes. What is not stated, though, not mentioned at all in the article or by the Vatican is what on earth might have driven the Japanese to do these things??

Well, the years 1603 to 1639 might be a dead giveaway.

Anyway, see here, here, and here. Yeah, Wikipedia, but the first 2 references should show the Wikipedia one's pretty noteworthy here. From the first reference:

[W]e should also take note of a few Bud­
dhist anti-Christian scriptures that provided material for Buddhist criti­
cism and strengthened its prejudice against Christianity. The first major
Buddhist anti-Christian work was Ha-Daiusu or Ha-Deusu [Refutation
of Deus],24 written in 1620 by Fabian Fucan, the apostate Jesuit brother.
Fabian had previously written an apology for Christianity, Myōtei
mondō [Myōtei dialogue],25 which purported to demonstrate the superi­
ority of Christianity over Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shinto. Ha­
Daiusu represented a sort of formal retraction of his previous defense of
Christianity;26 it was a passionate and eloquent expression of Buddhist
anti-Christian thought, reflecting the Buddhist-Christian controversies of
the previous decades and the Buddhist animosity toward Christianity in
the early Tokugawa period. In Ha-Daiusu, Fabian rejected the Christian
doctrines in seven steps, describing God and his creation, reward and
punishment, the fall of the angels and heaven and hell, the fall of Adam
and original sin, God's promise to send a savior, the incarnation and the
life of Christ, and, finally, the commandments and the sacraments. The
Christian doctrine was, according to Fabian, not only ridiculous and
childish, but dangerous, for absolute loyalty to God implied the right to
revolt. In the First Commandment "lurks the intention to subvert and
usurp the country, to extinguish Buddha's Law and Royal Sway," he
warned. "Quick, quick! Put this gang in stocks and shackles!" With
Fabian's inside knowledge of Christianity as a previous Jesuit brother, his
refutation naturally made a decisive impact on the Buddhist community
and became a source of information for later Buddhist attacks on Chris­

From the 2nd reference, a bit more apologetic to the Kirishitans:

Had the Jesuits remained contented to preach religion perhaps expulsions and martyrdoms might have been avoided. The Jesuits as this time, however, were anything but humble missionaries. They meddled in politics, attempted to influence trade to their own advantage, and even attempted to rule. The most egregious example is the accession of Nagasaki. The Jesuits did not hold this important port for long however. Hideyoshi was shocked to find them there and quickly added Nagasaki to his own domain. Other examples are seen in the Jesuit approach to the emperor or volunteering manpower to Hideyoshi. All these actions appeared subversive to the bakufu, which, indeed, they were. When the Tokugawa finally unified the country, one of its first acts was to expel the Christians. Of course, I hope no one in this seminar will confuse this with a "closed door" policy!

I think we in the US often discount the fact that after a long and brutal civil war, the first thing a government might want to do is ensure that subversives don't re-open a can of worms. I mean, that is why there were Radical Republicans during Reconstruction in the US, and (unlike Japan) the triumph of the racists at the end of Reconstruction delayed development of the US national view of its people for decades.

Let me put it another way: Hideyoshi was right to crush Christianity - it threatened to re-ignite civil war.

And the Vatican has never renounced its intent to meddle in state affairs for its own worldly ends.

In fact, the Kirishitans are still lying about it:

The beatification follows a 27-year effort, including research and documentation of the martyrs' lives, which began with a visit by Pope John Paul to Japan in 1981, Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins said Friday.

"They died for their faith -- not for economic or political reasons," said Martins, who is in Japan to attend the beatification on behalf of Pope Benedict XVI. "They died 400 years ago, but they send us an important message."

Christianity in Japan began with the arrival of Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier in 1549. At first, missionaries were welcomed and Christianity blossomed, growing to as many as 200,000 followers, according to the Catholic Bishops Conference of Japan.

But in 1587, shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi ordered the missionaries expelled, although the order was not immediately enforced. A decade later, the crackdown began, and 26 Christians were crucified.

Why wasn't it enforced at first? Likely Hideyoshi wanted to see if the incitements to burn Buddhist temples (mentioned in the original edict) were going to go away, and evidently they didn't.

One can admit that what the Japanese did was brutal, but it was not done in a vacuum.

A little bit of levity...

Sarah Palin's oblivious to the first precept as applied to turkeys...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Now you know where the news is going....


Publishing online means operating at half the cost of a comparable printed paper, but online advertising is not robust enough to sustain a newsroom.

And so financially, VoiceofSan Diego and its peers mimic public broadcasting, not newspapers. They are nonprofit corporations supported by foundations, wealthy donors, audience contributions and a little advertising.

New nonprofits without a specific geographic focus also have sprung up to fill other niches, like ProPublica, devoted to investigative journalism, and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, which looks into problems around the world. A similar group, the Center for Investigative Reporting, dates back three decades.

But some experts question whether a large part of the news business can survive on what is essentially charity, and whether it is wise to lean too heavily on the whims of a few moneyed benefactors.

“These are some of the big questions about the future of the business,” said Robert H. Giles, curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. Nonprofit news online “has to be explored and experimented with, but it has to overcome the hurdle of proving it can support a big news staff. Even the most well-funded of these sites are a far cry in resources from a city newspaper.”

Evidently we have a local one in Seattle, Crosscut.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Jing Hua Wu: Hear of him? He's a metaphor...

If you weren't continually watching TV, or if you didn't live in the SF Bay Area, or if you're not Chinese or close to any Chinese you might have missed this story:

There was no indication that Jing Hua Wu posed any danger when he walked into the offices of his Santa Clara employer Friday, a few hours after he'd been fired. So there was no reason for three top company officials to refuse his request for a meeting.

But some time after Wu and the three executives went into a room to talk, police say, the 47-year-old engineer pulled a 9 mm handgun and shot all three dead.

Nineteen hours later, a Bay Area manhunt ended when police cars swooped into the parking lot of a shopping center at El Camino Real and Grant Road in Mountain View. Wu was unarmed and made no attempt to struggle, police said, when officers piled out of the cars at 10:45 a.m. Saturday and handcuffed him in front of the Home Consignment Center store...

Police identified the victims as Marilyn Lewis, 67, of San Jose, who was the company's head of human resources; Brian Pugh, 47, of Los Altos, who was vice president for operations, and Sid Agrawal, 56, of Fremont, who was the company's co-founder and chief executive.

Now a few years ago, this would have made front page news, but I guess now it's just commonplace, although it's quite a rarity for the Bay Area.

And as it turns out, this happened to be a lot closer to me and my family than I'd have wanted - despite the fact that this happened in the Bay area and we're in the Pacific NW.

Seems Jing Hua Wu owns/owned houses. Rental properties. In the "Greater Vancouver WA" area.

And I happen to know one of the agents involved in the transaction.

Suffice it to say that we spent Saturday morning, before we heard of this, talking to Vancouver's finest, who didn't seem entirely aware that there might have been a rampaging mass murderer on the loose.

We joked that they'd have to contact the tenants and tell them they had good news and bad news. The good news was that they might not have to pay next month's rent.

The bad news was that their landlord was a rampaging mass murderer.

Luckily they caught him.

And so the collapsing economy and the collapsing real estate market, has collapsed get rich quick schemes, and created a little Columbine nearby, 6-degrees of separation-wise.

Speaking of Compassion: 5 Wishes???

Why the hell is it so difficult to get a "5 wishes" document that is user-friendly editable?

Whatever. I know how to "Insert 'Annex A' here and all that. There are benefits to having lawyers in the family.

Now I'm not dying, though someone in my (more extended) family is, and there's other serious stuff going on. And so I've had an opportunity to see the "death procedure" that hospitals follow.

And I give the effort a "B-," which needs there's significant changes that need to be made.

As an example of what needs to be changed, IMHO:

I wish to be cared for with kindness and cheerfulness, not sadness.

Sorry, but if I'm on my way out, it'd be a bit presumptive of me to tell my caregivers whether or not they should be sad or not.

I'd prefer kindness, of course, but if you can't be sad from time to time when somebody to whom you're close is dying I submit you have more problems than can be covered in a "5 wishes" document.

Also, "Wish 5" needs some work:

  • Buried or cremated are the only options?

    (Hey, just because there's Buddhist themes running through this blog doesn't mean I can't be an aficionado of le bad taste from time to time!)

  • "I want memories of my life to give them joy and not sorrow." See the point above. I've done stuff in my life about which I'm not entirely happy, to say the least. Like a lot of folks. I want my successors to grieve if that helps them, and to think happy thoughts if that helps them. Geez.

  • "I want my family and friends to look at my dying as a time of personal growth for everyone..."????

    Look, such things are unique once-in-a-lifetime events in which are opportunities to be a mensch and all that...But if it's me, dammit, I'm not "growing," I'd be what they call dying.

    Do the folks who made this up have a scintilla of an idea how trite and fluffy that sentence sounds???

  • No, I do not think "death is a new beginning for me." Hitting Lotto might be a new beginning for me, but I tend to agree with Mary Roach ("The way I see it, being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship. Most of your time is spent lying on your back").

  • Finally, if I have a long, horrid illness, I want my friends and family to remember me that way as well as well as when healthy. You don't stop being you with a dying, and it seems kind of disrespectful to not acknowledge that fact.

But, in a larger sense, all of this seems problematic to me. Are our lives to be reduced to polling results? Do you want a) the plug pulled, or b) the plug left in? Only one choice, please.

Naturally, like all legal document there's inevitably going to be corner conditions that make all this worthless anyway, so it's best to be sure the folks close to you know you, and therefore, it's best to have folks close to you.

That's my humble opinion; you may have another.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Spend, Baby Spend

Also read Paul Krugman. He's got a Nobel prize and all that; it's good for you:

[W]ith no possibility of further interest rate cuts, there’s nothing to stop the economy’s downward momentum. Rising unemployment will lead to further cuts in consumer spending, which Best Buy warned this week has already suffered a “seismic” decline. Weak consumer spending will lead to cutbacks in business investment plans. And the weakening economy will lead to more job cuts, provoking a further cycle of contraction.

To pull us out of this downward spiral, the federal government will have to provide economic stimulus in the form of higher spending and greater aid to those in distress — and the stimulus plan won’t come soon enough or be strong enough unless politicians and economic officials are able to transcend several conventional prejudices.

One of these prejudices is the fear of red ink. In normal times, it’s good to worry about the budget deficit — and fiscal responsibility is a virtue we’ll need to relearn as soon as this crisis is past. When depression economics prevails, however, this virtue becomes a vice. F.D.R.’s premature attempt to balance the budget in 1937 almost destroyed the New Deal.

Another prejudice is the belief that policy should move cautiously. In normal times, this makes sense: you shouldn’t make big changes in policy until it’s clear they’re needed. Under current conditions, however, caution is risky, because big changes for the worse are already happening, and any delay in acting raises the chance of a deeper economic disaster. The policy response should be as well-crafted as possible, but time is of the essence.

Finally, in normal times modesty and prudence in policy goals are good things. Under current conditions, however, it’s much better to err on the side of doing too much than on the side of doing too little. The risk, if the stimulus plan turns out to be more than needed, is that the economy might overheat, leading to inflation — but the Federal Reserve can always head off that threat by raising interest rates. On the other hand, if the stimulus plan is too small there’s nothing the Fed can do to make up for the shortfall. So when depression economics prevails, prudence is folly...

All indications are that the new administration will offer a major stimulus package. My own back-of-the-envelope calculations say that the package should be huge, on the order of $600 billion.

Also this bit:

Actually, before I get to the math, some concepts. Nearly every forecast now says that, in the absence of strong policy action, real GDP will fall far below potential output in the near future. In normal times, that would be a reason to cut interest rates. But interest rates can’t be cut in any meaningful sense. Fiscal policy is the only game in town.

Wait, there’s more. Ben Bernanke can’t push on a string – but he can pull, if necessary. Suppose fiscal policy ends up being too expansionary, so that real GDP “wants” to come in 2 percent above potential. In that case the Fed can tighten a bit, and no harm is done. But if fiscal policy is too contractionary, and real GDP comes in below potential, there’s no potential monetary offset. That means that fiscal policy should take risks in the direction of boldness.

So what kinds of numbers are we talking about? GDP next year will be about $15 trillion, so 1% of GDP is $150 billion. The natural rate of unemployment is, say, 5% — maybe lower. Given Okun’s law, every excess point of unemployment above 5 means a 2% output gap.

Right now, we’re at 6.5% unemployment and a 3% output gap – but those numbers are heading higher fast. Goldman predicts 8.5% unemployment, meaning a 7% output gap. That sounds reasonable to me.

So we need a fiscal stimulus big enough to close a 7% output gap. Remember, if the stimulus is too big, it does much less harm than if it’s too small. What’s the multiplier? Better, we hope, than on the early-2008 package. But you’d be hard pressed to argue for an overall multiplier as high as 2.

When I put all this together, I conclude that the stimulus package should be at least 4% of GDP, or $600 billion.

I was in Fred Meyer's last night, at around 7:15.




And they're offering 20% discounts on $50 spending.

This economy is making these stores look like a neutron bomb hit them.

I tend to believe that things are much worse than are being reported with the measurements being enunciated.

As a Buddhist, this is not about economic ideology one way or the other, but it is purely about using skill to alleviate suffering.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Last night was history

Monday, November 03, 2008

Barack Obama for President

I'm not a clergyman, and have no legal constraints that keep me from advocating a change from the horrid policies of most of the past 40 years.

"Conservatism" was always about denying living beings oxygen, and convincing them it was in their best interests to suffocate, metaphorically speaking.

It's time practices associated with such a cynical and vicious philosophy were relegated to the time in which we assign events which would be unspeakably horrid if we were to do them today.

Barack Obama's far from perfect, and has articulated far more centrist positions than we need right now, but he's not going to destroy the country as quickly as the party which brings the word "repugnant" to my mind.

And don't kid yourselves. It's repugnant to fund death squads who murder union organizers. It's repugnant to destroy the middle and working classes. It's repugnant to position the military as the only "viable" career option for the youth in a country where everything is bought or sold as a result of imported petroleum. It's repugnant that in the (formerly unchallengeable) economic powerhouse of the world, we can't have a health care system that equals that of the French. Or hell, the unemployment benefits of the Germans.

The other side is not on the side of angels, but it's time this country went in a different direction. It's time people who advocated for the people were actually in charge of the government, who put into power supreme court justices that understood that ideological prohibitions of marijuana is not worth destroying someone's life.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Is there really enlightenment?


That's yet another simple answer to a simple question.

Friday, October 24, 2008

in case you ddn't know what I was saying...

also while I'm at it

And also while I'm at it...

I'd like to record this a la 1980s Billy Bragg, as solo, highly distorted electric guitar, and with a much more bass voice than Ochs:

And while I'm at it...

If you've seen this:

I hope you appreciate this:

I generally detest Al Yankovic, but I'm a sucker for palindromes. Especially these days.

What I missed growing up on Long Island...

If it were now, they'd sue the Beatles for theft of intellectual property.

I would.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

No, Brad you must get your hands dirty...

Brad Warner sometimes is spot on with what he says, particularly about Buddhist trendiness and other nonsense pretending to be Buddhist.

But he's not exactly spot on here...(which I found through his blog of course.)

It’s none of my business who you vote for. I’m sure you agree with that. But I’ve been pretty horrified by what I’ve seen from a number of American Buddhist teachers who think it is their business. Way too many Buddhist teachers and Buddhist centers in this country think that Buddhism and liberal politics are one and the same. Four years ago when Dubya won a second term I was contacted about contributing to a book about “Buddhist reactions to the re-election.” Writers were invited to talk about feelings of loss, disenfranchisement, and powerlessness as if not a single Buddhist in the United States had supported the Bush campaign. I wanted to write about how amazing Bush was just to provide some balance. Trey Parker said the most punk rock thing you could do in LA was walk into a party and say, “I think George Bush is awesome!” Same in the world of American Buddhism. The book never came out. Good.

My own teacher’s teacher, Kodo Sawaki, said, “The right wing is completely wrong. The left wing is also completely wrong.”

Both wings may be completely wrong, but that doesn't mean that there isn't one obvious choice to make. There is one path more likely to lead to greater suffering than another.

I don't have time or space for a digression on existentialist ethics here, but to me Buddhism is heavily informed by existentialist ethics starting from the position that we're all in this together.

We're going to get our hands dirty one way or the other. No choice is indeed a choice. Obama's nuclear policy will almost certainly backfire at one point, but will likely lead to less starvation overall.

So while I can sympathize with Warner when he says:

Just don’t get your panties in a bunch if your guy loses or celebrate the ultimate triumph of good over evil if he wins. I‘m sure all of you politicos reading this will say you already know that. But any scan of the TV when the results are announced will prove otherwise. All that elation and all that hopelessness ripple outward like a wave.

I would also emphasize that what is going on right now in the United States is, to put von Clauswitz's dictum backwards war continued by other means. It's a surrogate virtual civil war, dammit.

And the stakes really are that high, and to take a "punk" insouciant attitude is simply not possible if you're paying attention.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

After a while, there are constraints that limit you...

Why Buddhism?

Fisher's answer quoting Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche is I think, not enough. See my post below.

But beyond that, after a bit of practice, you realize that there is no other way in which skill can be applied to alleviate and transcend suffering.

Why Buddhism?

I think Kafka had a good answer, though it wasn't obviously about Buddhism:

"Alas," said the mouse, "the whole world is growing smaller every day. At the beginning it was so big that I was afraid, I kept running and running, and I was glad when I saw walls far away to the right and left, but these long walls have narrowed so quickly that I am in the last chamber already, and there in the corner stands the trap that I must run into."
"You only need to change your direction," said the cat, and ate it up.

Surely we can do better than Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

Friday, October 17, 2008

What it is...

There's a Whole Bunch of Crap happening right now; much of which I can't really mention here.

But having read a number of Buddhist blogs over the past few days, and informed by the major Crap in which I'm wading at present, please keep in mind:

  • It's not about "bliss."

  • It's not about "flashing on Big Mind."

  • It's not about appreciating a cup of tea. At least not in its entirety.

  • It's not just about Burma.

  • It's not about being trendy.

  • It's not about having or not having a philosophy of mindfulness.

  • It's not about expressing some religious alternative to monotheism.

  • It's not about having the true bestest Buddhism.

It is about the fact that suffering is ubiquitous in this life, and there is a cause of suffering, and there is transcendence of suffering and a means of transcendence.

This ain't hype fortunately. Because when you're wading through a Whole Bunch of Crap All at Once, chances are, the ability to mitigate suffering if not entirely transcend it proves to be useful to yourself and those around you.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Go to page 211


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Sound of One Hand

It's more than a sentence. The capping phrase is kind of obvious...

What is the Sound of the Single Hand? When you clap together both hands a sharp sound is heard; when you raise the one hand there is neither sound nor smell. Is this the High Heaven of which Confucius speaks? Or is it the essentials of what Yamamba describes in these words: "The echo of the completely empty valley bears tidings heard from the soundless sound?" This is something that can by no means be heard with the ear. If conceptions and discriminations are not mixed within it and it is quite apart from seeing, hearing, perceiving, and knowing, and if, while walking, standing, sitting, and reclining, you proceed straightforwardly without interruption in the study of this koan, you will suddenly pluck out the karmic root of birth and death and break down the cave of ignorance. Thus you will attain to a peace in which the phoenix has left the golden net and the crane has been set free of the basket. At this time the basis of mind, consciousness, and emotion is suddenly shattered; the realm of illusion with its endless sinking in the cycle of birth and death is overturned. The treasure accumulation of the Three Bodies and the Four Wisdoms is taken away, and the miraculous realms of the Six Supernatural Powers and Three Insights is transcended.

From p. 164, Yabukoji, in The Zen Master Hakuin: Selected Writings, Translated by Philip B. Yampolsky, Columbia University Press, New York and London, 1971.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Stuart Lachs: just listen

If you don't know who he is, and you train in a Zen Buddhist tradition, you should know who he is.

Listen here.

There's a reason Stuart Lachs has went to all those Zen centers all those years.

And still practices Zen.

Damn, I've been lucky.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

If you're going to vote in November or know somebody who will

You need to read this bit about McCain in Rolling Stone.

At Fort McNair, an army base located along the Potomac River in the nation's capital, a chance reunion takes place one day between two former POWs. It's the spring of 1974, and Navy commander John Sidney McCain III has returned home from the experience in Hanoi that, according to legend, transformed him from a callow and reckless youth into a serious man of patriotism and purpose. Walking along the grounds at Fort McNair, McCain runs into John Dramesi, an Air Force lieutenant colonel who was also imprisoned and tortured in Vietnam.

McCain is studying at the National War College, a prestigious graduate program he had to pull strings with the Secretary of the Navy to get into. Dramesi is enrolled, on his own merit, at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in the building next door...

On the grounds between the two brick colleges, the chitchat between the scion of four-star admirals and the son of a prizefighter turns to their academic travels; both colleges sponsor a trip abroad for young officers to network with military and political leaders in a distant corner of the globe.

"I'm going to the Middle East," Dramesi says. "Turkey, Kuwait, Lebanon, Iran."

"Why are you going to the Middle East?" McCain asks, dismissively.

"It's a place we're probably going to have some problems," Dramesi says.

"Why? Where are you going to, John?"

"Oh, I'm going to Rio."

"What the hell are you going to Rio for?"

McCain, a married father of three, shrugs.

"I got a better chance of getting laid."

Dramesi, who went on to serve as chief war planner for U.S. Air Forces in Europe and commander of a wing of the Strategic Air Command, was not surprised. "McCain says his life changed while he was in Vietnam, and he is now a different man," Dramesi says today. "But he's still the undisciplined, spoiled brat that he was when he went in."...

Then there's torture — the issue most related to McCain's own experience as a POW. In 2005, in a highly public fight, McCain battled the president to stop the torture of enemy combatants, winning a victory to require military personnel to abide by the Army Field Manual when interrogating prisoners. But barely a year later, as he prepared to launch his presidential campaign, McCain cut a deal with the White House that allows the Bush administration to imprison detainees indefinitely and to flout the Geneva Conventions' prohibitions against torture.

What his former allies in the anti-torture fight found most troubling was that McCain would not admit to his betrayal. Shortly after cutting the deal, McCain spoke to a group of retired military brass who had been working to ban torture. According to Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former deputy, McCain feigned outrage at Bush and Cheney, as though he too had had the rug pulled out from under him. "We all knew the opposite was the truth," recalls Wilkerson. "That's when I began to lose a little bit of my respect for the man and his bona fides as a straight shooter."

McCain crashed his plane too many times.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Nansen cuts the cat...


Ms. Palin is getting ready for the debate at a time of enormous uncertainty about a highly complicated issue, the unfolding crisis on Wall Street, which makes preparing for the face off especially hard.

And the McCain campaign appears to be leaving nothing to chance. Ms. Palin will spend her preparation time at Mr. McCain’s vacation compound in Sedona, with her husband and children.

I guess they don't have to go to school.


If you get beyond the cultural bias, you might see something...

But none of Nansen's monks can say a word and he kills the cat. Is it fair to kill a living creature just to make dramatic point? A fair question, but one that will toss you right back into the midst of the monks' original argument.

That night when Nansen tells Joshu what happened, Joshu immediately puts his sandals on his head and walks out. What do you make of that? How is putting your sandals on your head "saying a word" of Zen? The danger here, of course, is if we think Joshu's gesture has some deep, esoteric "Zen" meaning. People have interpreted that gesture in all sorts of ways. Some say it's a way of illustrating how topsy-turvy the arguing monks thinking was. In Aitken Roshi's commentary on the case, he says that in old China putting your sandals on your head could be a show of mourning. Maybe a Catholic would automatically make the sign of the cross when hearing about a death. Whatever it "means," it was simply Joshu's spontaneous response to the story, and the immediacy of that response stands in stark contrast to the monks (who up until then had no shortage of words) standing around speechless when asked to "say a word".

Traditionally, Nansen and Joshu are said to each wield a sword: Nansen the sword that kills; Joshu the sword that gives life. Nansen's sword cuts through all thought, all dualism. Nothing is left. What then? Joshu shows how we must respond from that place of no thought. It's not enough to empty our heads of dualistic thinking, we must act.

And, no, no way, no how, the kid's education is not less important than whether Ms. Palin can get to snooker Americans and wind up vice president; she's still snookering Americans.

Life is still suffering, and may be imposed for any of a variety of reasons or no reason at all.

Let's say a word at the right time.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Don't get me wrong:

Kenshou (見性) really does happen. It'd be a big deal, except for the fact that it's damned true that nothing changes as a result of it (nor needs to change).

It also doesn't happen because you shell out $50K to someone.

A point I've been making, although not here:


Maybe next time, we will listen more closely to financial theorists who think in abstract, general terms. Consider the Long-Term Capital Management debacle in 1998, when the Federal Reserve leaned on financial titans to rescue a massive hedge fund and stave off global fallout. Lots of people hold that the moral of the LCTM story was the failed thinking of two of the firm's founders, Robert Merton and Myron Scholes, both of whom were Nobel Prize-winning financial theorists. In fact, the collapse of LTCM was largely due to the overconfidence of bond trader John Meriwether and some of his other LTCM colleagues, who were gambling in the markets. The disgraced Merton has been working for the last decade trying to build better risk-management systems, mostly to little avail. Maybe he will be heard now. People still seem to want to trust businessmen who have made bundles and have a huge investment bank behind them, rather than listen to experts who are thinking about the fundamentals of risk management. We would have been better off this month if we'd been ignoring the former and listening to the latter.

There's nothing inherently wrong with derivative securities, constructing products that hedge, and so forth. They are like glass or knives: they can be very useful or very harmful. Used properly derivative securities can indeed reduce exposure to risk, provided all sides of the transaction are properly capitalized.

But use 'em for pure leverage, and therein may lie perdition.

But people will use them for better risk management, because they can be used that way.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Teachers, teaching, instant enlightenment, etc.

I've been spending entirely too much time in the comments section of Hardcore Zen lately, mostly because I share Brad Warner' is it we say in le monde de la société...ah yes, concern about Genpo Roshi.

Especially here.

Many of the Soto folks think we Rinzai folks expect that with ridiculously rigorous training we can "speed up" "getting enlightened."

It doesn't work that way.

See here, for example.

The instructions to the first koan (公案) couldn't be clearer. No, really.

You have to build up to the point where the "enlightenment" happens.

And nowhere does it say you have to shell out $50K to do it.

Monkeys and public speaking

Josh Marshall delves into primate anthropology.

Monday, September 22, 2008

I just heard Bernie Sanders on the radio saying...

The richest 400 families in the USA made about $679 billion during the current Bush regime.

I understand that financial crisis might cost upwards of $700 billion.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


I appreciate all the good work some folks are doing on the net for the Buddhist stuff & the idealism & spirit of folks such as Danny Fisher, but there's been some trillions of dollars of net worth lost so a few lucky duckies can pocket billions, and I'd just note that it kinda causes lots of suffering in its own right...

Update: Danny Fisher: no blank check for Wall St.

Yes. Sign the petition.

I did.

Why the bailout is bad for dummies...

a) no oversight for treasury department, b) no way to tell how much is the "right" amount to pay for these toxic securities...

This Naked Capitalism article is worth reading.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Void bless 'em

This type of story used to be the kind to get blood boiling. Now I think it inspires envy more than anything else:

To understand what it’s like to work on the railroad — the Long Island Rail Road — a good place to start is the Sunken Meadow golf course, a rolling stretch of state-owned land on Long Island Sound.

During the workweek, it is not uncommon to find retired L.I.R.R. employees, sometimes dozens of them, golfing there. A few even walk the course. Yet this is not your typical retiree outing.

These golfers are considered disabled. At an age when most people still work, they get a pension and tens of thousands of dollars in annual disability payments — a sum roughly equal to the base salary of their old jobs. Even the golf is free, courtesy of New York State taxpayers.

With incentives like these, occupational disabilities at the L.I.R.R. have become a full-blown epidemic.

Virtually every career employee — as many as 97 percent in one recent year — applies for and gets disability payments soon after retirement, a computer analysis of federal records by The New York Times has found. Since 2000, those records show, about a quarter of a billion dollars in federal disability money has gone to former L.I.R.R. employees, including about 2,000 who retired during that time...

“Short of the gulag, I can’t imagine any work force that would have a so-to-speak 90 percent disability attrition rate,” said Glenn Scammel, long one of Capitol Hill’s top experts on railroads. “That defies both logic and experience.”

Why should Carly Fiorina be the only one to _____?

Seriously, yeah, yeah, yeah, but public sector employees aren't the ones ripping me off.


Regarding this comment on this other article: My work - intellectual property created by me - appears in more cell phones than either Brad Warner or Gempo roshi have sold books by about a factor of geez, I dunno, somewhere between 100 X and 1000X.

It doesn't mean much, Buddhism-wise, of course. On the other hand, if you want your cell phone to work...