Monday, April 27, 2009

The very weirdest stuff is on Youtube...

Paul Robeson singing the praises of Stalin's Soviet Union...

HT: M.J. Roesenberg, who has a good point w.r.t. Paul Robeson (who if you don't know who he was, well, it's worth a trip to Wikipedia).

Rosenberg's point is be very very careful of whom you have agreement and disagreement. They could be stark raving mad bloodthirsty butchers.

And that's today's nugget of wisdom.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Zen Craziness

I'd missed this bit in last week's magazine...

...Sometimes he was the Zen master Mitsunen (the name meant “Now Mind”), who got up before dawn each morning to sit selflessly for hours in meditation. Mitsunen received dharma transmission, by which teachings are passed from master to disciple, in the Soto school of Zen and was ordained a Zen monk in the Soto and the Rinzai schools. He served as head monk at the International Dai Bosatsu Zendo Kongo-ji in upstate New York in the 1970s; for years he has led Zen retreats in Florida and North Carolina.

Other times he was Louis Nordstrom, a 63-year-old professor, poet and essayist with a round face, a shaved gray head and a shaky grip on whatever guise it was that people employed to navigate train stations and grocery stores. He earned a Ph.D. in philosophy at Columbia (his thesis was on Sartre’s theory of evil), and after giving up the monastic life he chose over tenure, he scraped by on teaching gigs at half a dozen schools, including Yale and N.Y.U. But the anxiety he was mired in in the summer of 2006 seemed deeper than what might be expected from financial or professional insecurity, or the infirmities of growing old, or even the aftermath of a busted marriage — his fourth. For two decades he lectured on the emergence of Western lay Zen, arguing against what he saw as the antiemotional bias of monastic Asian Zen in favor of an approach that integrated psychological experience into meditation practice. But as a pioneer of Zen in America, he had little success practicing what he preached. An antidepressant hadn’t helped much...

ith a wraithlike air, the Zen master accepted a seat on a black leather couch below the colored tumult of a de Kooning print and a photograph of a stone path vanishing around a bend in Kyoto. Lou Nordstrom later said he felt better almost the moment he met Jeffrey Rubin’s gaze. He had come as someone would to an emergency room for a therapeutic intervention.

“I left that first session with tears of joy on my face,” he told me one day last October as we sat with cups of coffee in the mica light of Bryant Park in Manhattan. “What Jeffrey did that first session saved my life. He listened empathetically and nonjudgmentally. He encouraged me to see my fears of acting out as symptoms of an unconscious desire to be seen.”

As the months went by, measured out in 50-minute sessions twice a week, the motifs of his history emerged. There was the surreal and horrific childhood of parental neglect, abuse and abandonment. There were those aspects of old trauma he was unwittingly reinflicting on himself, contriving to be abandoned by wives, disillusioned by mentors, seemingly incapable of taking basic care of himself. And there was the paradoxical role of Zen, which had enabled him to cope with the pain and alienation of his purgatorial youth but which he was now beginning to understand was implicated in his difficulties and may even have been making some of them worse...

Six months into therapy, the psychoanalyst and the Zen master had mapped the abandonment and neglect in Nordstrom’s past. They had explored how the themes were re-enacted in his professional and personal lives and how the same patterns began to surface even in the dynamics of the therapy itself. Nordstrom missed an appointment after a big snowstorm, then missed another because he wasn’t feeling well. Rubin held three sessions with his patient over the phone.

“Please don’t abandon me!” Nordstrom said during the third session.

“I’m staring at an empty couch,” the psychoanalyst said, trying to keep some velvet over the steel in his voice. “You are the one doing the abandoning. Are you abandoning yourself the way you have always been abandoned?”

Sitting on a cushion mindfully does not mean being absent. Studying a koan in a way that closes one off from human contact and experience isn't helping beings that well. You know, 80% of life is showing up, as Woody Allen said.

It is not surprising to me that someone can practice Zen for decades and not realize fundamental parts of one's life where they're stuck.

I myself experience a lot of stuckness, much of it the accretions of decades of mutual stupidity of myself and others.

But for some reason I don't experience not being without tools to become unstuck, because I have become unstuck in some ways.

But it is always time to get unstuck in as many ways as one can, using whatever means are available to do so that saves beings, including the one in your own skin bag, whether that means takes a shrink, a physician or whatever. And the justification of this as Buddhism makes sense if only because of the moral imperative of the famine rescue worker: if the rescue worker doesn't eat many more will starve.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Why we need a truth comission...

I haven't blogged much about politics here lately; it's better handled on Kos, and when I have something political to say, I usually do it there.

But Paul Krugman's right, and his point deserves wide dissemination:

[T]he only way we can regain our moral compass, not just for the sake of our position in the world, but for the sake of our own national conscience, is to investigate how that happened, and, if necessary, to prosecute those responsible...

Still, you might argue — and many do — that revisiting the abuses of the Bush years would undermine the political consensus the president needs to pursue his agenda.

But the answer to that is, what political consensus? There are still, alas, a significant number of people in our political life who stand on the side of the torturers. But these are the same people who have been relentless in their efforts to block President Obama’s attempt to deal with our economic crisis and will be equally relentless in their opposition when he endeavors to deal with health care and climate change. The president cannot lose their good will, because they never offered any...

Sorry, but what we really should do for the sake of the country is have investigations both of torture and of the march to war. These investigations should, where appropriate, be followed by prosecutions — not out of vindictiveness, but because this is a nation of laws.

We need to do this for the sake of our future. For this isn’t about looking backward, it’s about looking forward — because it’s about reclaiming America’s soul.

We - and I mean Americans collectively - most certainly did not torture because of some twisted ticking time bomb "24" scenario, and we did not torture to prevent attacks on Americans. We did not torture because there was no other way to get the truth. In fact, the Bush regime tortured for the precise opposite reason - because they wanted detainees to say anything to make the suffering stop, including anything that might justify an invasion of Iraq.

We Buddhists generally don't bandy the "e" word about, but frankly, if anything's evil, this is evil. Not to the degree of Babi Yar and Oswiecm (Auschwitz), but it's certainly in the same direction.

If you still think there's no need, consider Liz Cheney's denial of torture:

She uses fill-in words which mean everything that torture means, but she will not say the Word, because admitting the Word admits guilt, and describing the act somehow does not bring the guilt that admitting the Word does.

And that's in a nut why we need a truth commission. Because we need to use the Word and its power and apply it where it ought to be applied.

We in America should not torture, not only because it's morally repugnant, but because it is not useful for gleaning information - we learned that in World War II.

And we need to make sure those who ordered such torture are imprisoned.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


There's no good evidence for any kind of a literal reincarnation.

The kids who "remember" their "past lives" were likely led to believe such.

On the other hand...

There are unexplainable aspects of consciousness, which I've seen. They might be mass suggestion, they might be universal consciousness, but for now they're unexplained.

Awareness itself brings about "rebirth," in a sense.

But literal reincarnation?

I don't think it's necessary.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Still here's a comment:

Warner's kinda right and kinda wrong.

He's right: Zen brings up lots of repressed crap. He's also right when he says, "It’s also true that zazen is different from other forms of meditation (if zazen is even a form of meditation) in that it is not directed at any ideal condition."

But he's slightly wrong when he says, "In zazen you allow whatever comes up to just come up as it will, rather than attempting to move the mind toward a specific desired state as most forms of meditation do."

Strictly speaking, the last thing is for those who do shikan taza only, and most of us have to be able to put the mind in a place where we can do that in the first place, at least in the Rinzai tradition.

Wow, David Schuster has quite a double-entendre potty mouth...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Synthesis of the last 2 posts:

I can't tell you that you need a cure if you don't think you're sick. And if you do feel like crap, I don't see much percentage in trying to make you feel worse. Your own sense of being stuck itself is, you know, a noble truth.

On the other hand, I do know what helps me. And I think it's horrible that there's folks who would deny that help to themselves and others in order to use religion to manipulate others for the sake of cultivation or conservation of power by a few. Which, if you didn't click through, is the business model of the "Institute of Religion and Democracy," whose folks have been criticizing folks who are Episcopalian Zen Buddhist Bishops.

I don't of course, see myself as a Christian Buddhist by any means.

Nor ultimately, would I kick some of the folks I think might be hucksters out of the temple.

When you see your own suffering as evidence of being fundamentally OK, (OK, much more than OK) and when you can use that suffering and its amelioration without shoving it in people's faces and telling them how good you are or they should be, then perhaps you're getting somewhere.

And therefore, since I'm not there yet, I could perhaps shut this blog down, but then again I've never claimed that this blog was about anyone who had a zip code in nirvana.

On the other hand, there are Episcopalians ....

to whom I might see eye to eye ...

“The lay ordination was a welcoming rite for me to commit myself to the path to discover why I suffer or why other people suffer,” Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester told the Times of London shortly after his election as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan on February 21. Forrester went on to explain that he took jukai—the lay ordination rite of Zen Buddhism—“[T]o use the practice of meditation to help that suffering.”

And evidently there are some Episcopalians that have a problem with helping one cultivate mindfulness to alleviate suffering...

“The bottom line is that Forrester has embraced something foreign and contradictory,” wrote Greg Griffith, a blogger at the conservative Anglican Web site Stand Firm in Faith. “Call it a faith, call it a philosophy, call it what you will but it is not Christianity. One simply cannot embrace the doctrines of Buddhism—Zen or any other flavor—and simultaneously embrace the doctrines of Christianity.”

“The reality is that this particular meditative practice is not in step with Christian doctrine,” concurred James Tonkowich, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a think tank with ties to the neo-conservative movement and a history of exploiting wedge issues in order to widen rifts in mainline Protestant denominations. “The issue is not whether meditation is good,” Tonkowich said, “it is what is being meditated on.”

The issue, to me, at least is efficacy, and if the practice is effective, it is monstrous to use force or coercion to abjure one to abstain from the practice, save for the fact that such a coercer might be ignorant of the effects of what he might be doing.

And yeah, the practices of Zen are effective. Cultivating mindfulness and acting from mindfulness is effective to help people.

Call it Christianity, call it anything you want, but if you're doing this practice, it's probably helping and if you're trying to get people to avoid or stop the practice you're probably not helping, but you might need some help.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Happy Easter...

You may not know or care who Ray Comfort is...and frankly, your life hasn't been all that different either way, most likely.

But this guy, who seems so earnest, does have, I think, the most cogent rebuttal to the "your defective" brand of Christianity I've seen in a while...

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Some findings:

Pride is not an entirely bad thing...

A feeling of pride, when it’s convincing, acts something like an emotional magnet. In a recent study, Ms. Williams and Dr. DeSteno of Northeastern had a group of 62 undergraduates take tests supposedly measuring their spatial I.Q. The patterns flashed by too fast for anyone to truly know how well they did.

The researchers manipulated the amount of pride each participant felt in his or her score. They either said nothing about the score; remarked, in a matter-of-fact tone, that it was one of the best scores they had seen; or gushed that the person’s performance was wonderful, about as good as they had ever seen.

The participants then sat down in a group to solve similar puzzles. Sure enough, the students who had been warmly encouraged reported feeling more pride than the others. But they also struck their partners in the group exercise as being both more dominant and more likable than those who did not have the inner glow of self-approval. The participants, whether they had been buttered up or not, were completely unaware of this effect on the group dynamics.

“We wondered at the beginning whether these people were going to come across as arrogant jerks,” Dr. DeSteno said. “Well, no, just the opposite; they were seen as dominant but also likable. That’s not a combination we expected.”...

Therapists say that in time, people usually do better when they come clean...

But in the short term, projecting pride may do more than help manage others’ impressions. Psychologists have found that wearing a sad or happy face can have a top-down effect on how a person feels: Smile and you may feel fleetingly happier. The same most likely is true for an expression of pride. In a 2008 study, the Northeastern researchers found that inducing a feeling of pride in people solving spatial puzzles motivated them to try harder when they tackled the next round.

Pride, in short, begets perseverance. All of which may explain why, when the repo man is at the door, people so often remind themselves that they still have theirs, and that it’s worth something. Because they do, and because it is.

However much pride may go before a fall, it may be far more useful after one.

Pepto-bismol contains bismuth subsalicylate, and is therefore ...radioactive...OK, kinda sorta radioactive...

Although bismuth-209 is commonly thought to be the heaviest stable isotope that exists in nature, theory suggests that it should be metastable and decay via alpha-particle emission to thallium-205. This decay is not easy to measure because the alpha particles generated have very little energy, which means that the isotope decays at a very low rate.

The equipment used by the Orsay team consists of two “heat and light” detectors that are enclosed in a reflecting cavity and cooled to 20mk. The first detector- containing bismuth-209, germanium and oxygen – undergoes a slight temperature rise when it absorbs an alpha particle. This temperature change is measured in the form of a voltage pulse whose amplitude is directly proportional to the energy released. The second detector, made from a thin disk of germanium, registers the light flashes from alpha-particle events.

The team performed two measurements, one with 31 grams of bismuth in the detector and the other with 62 grams. The scientists registered 128 alpha-particle events over 5 days and found an unexpected line in the spectrum at 3.14 MeV - now attributed to bismuth-209 decay. The half-life was calculated to be (1.9 +/- 0.2 ) x 1019 years, which is in good agreement with the theoretical prediction of 4.6 x 1019 years.

Now, that 1/2 life is admittedly older than the age of the universe, but still!

(HT: Starts with a bang.)

This news about bismuth is apparently not new, but when I read the above post in Starts with a Bang, it said lead was the heaviest stable element, and I knew bismuth was heavier, therefore...

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Fair and Balanced Picture Time...

Well, sort addition to the outing at which I got to roam around Seoul for about 4 hours (at most), I did manage to get to Yasukuni Jina...which was quite a trip, to say the least.
Below are some shots from Jogyesa, one of 24 "head temples" for the Seon (Zen) sect in Korea.

Next came Yasukuni shrine; it was a pleasant day, and maybe it was the North Korean missles, or perhaps it was the cherry blossoms, but the place was packed.

That's about all the sightseeing one can do on the trips I take.

I'd recommend, though, if you're ever in Tokyo, to visit Yasukuni Shrine, and if you're in Seoul, to visit Jogyesa.

Regarding the latter, the reasons are obvious. Regarding the former, forget the propaganda (which alone is worth the visit). Look at the Heian era swords.

And if you ever get the chance, visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and look at the swords from Europe at about the same time.

Unbelievable, the difference.

Too bad they don't let you take pictures of them, though, you wouldn't believe it.