Sunday, June 29, 2008


It helps if you search in Chinese characters if you want to find a Chinese-language rendition of the Heart Sutra...

(The first part of the video below is in fact the Heart Sutra...the first 2 1/2 minutes or so...)

Listening and responding to SOS...

Pretty much sums it up, doesn't it?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Peak agarwood

Speaking and agarwood, which is a staple of Buddhist incense, I should mention that the stuff is, uh, endangered, according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). So that's kind of a quandary for those of us (and yeah, I count myself among them) that don't want to destroy the earth too much.

However, unlike certain things, it appears that the folks doing this convention have agreed to, er, study the problem.

It is known- you can google it yourself - that Vietnam is attempting to create sustainable "farm-raised" agarwood. (You don't just raise the trees, you see; the stuff has to rot for a while, and not just any rot, of course, but a special rot which gives agarwood its unique properties).

Anyway, if you do buy the stuff (and I do), treat it with care and do not waste it, and appreciate it. It seems a ridiculous expenditure in these times perhaps (although I can't countenance purchasing the really high end stuff) but on the other hand, there is nothing that conveys what agarwood conveys for zazen and chanting. Yeah, yeah, there is great misery and want in the world, but a zendo is not a space of denial and asceticism, nor is it a place of ridiculous indulgence.

And if there's a way to help foster sustainable methods for producing this stuff, let me know. I can't believe there won't be alternatives found for exterminating the agarwood species; I just hope the folks who are dead set against genetic engineering can deal with it.

Discovery & Dispute

  • The Olfactory Rescue Service are people that are as serious about incense as oenophiles are about wine.

    I have no idea how they get the money to transform all those Shoeyeido agarwoods into ash and smoke, but having done that to samplers once myself I can understand the appeal.

    If you do burn incense for meditative practices, though their advice is generally spot-on.

    As for myself, for zazen I usually use the Baeido 白檀 (byakudan), their sandalwood - heavy version of their daily incense. However, in part thanks to these folks, I've recently found the guilty pleasures of Minorien.

    If you buy the Minorien byakudan, light a stick, and smell, you'll have the South/East Asian analogue of Anton Ego in Ratatouille: you'll be instantly transported to the first time you experienced that scent in a Buddhist or Hindu temple, except that this is purer, more expressive than you will remember.

    I think there's a place for this kind of thing in this world.

  • I seemed to have disturbed at least one Wilberite. (See comments there.) Which was picked up elsewhere.

    OTOH, I'm not alone...I cannot believe though that someone threw "lineage holder" around.

    As though I'm unaware of lineages?

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin is dead...

He was a bodhisattva: the bodhisattva of making young children's television watchable.

As I noted on a diary on Kos:

He narrated many of these children's shows for Americans, and made them watchable, if only because you were imagining him let loose at any minute with a string of profanities, vulgarities, and references to genitalia.

He was also the the bodhisattva of making airport security funny.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Is THIS the very body of the Buddha?

Then why are so many out there trying to sell enlightenment?

Friday, June 20, 2008


Although we all might heed Shosan Suzuki's advice above, I bet nobody who happens by here, with the exception of a couple of folks - and I guess who they might be - have actually made a will.

I recently have had the experience of the fact that life is quite finite - nobody in my immediate family's going to die yet by any means, but as we get older, probabilities increase.

And we are so totally unprepared.

Ah, well, if anyone can do this...

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Where kohdo meets high finance...


According to Brent Clegg, Director of Touchwood the "local" Agarwood industry is "whopping" and his output of tress farmed in Thailand will be targeting the Arabian market. "It's both an interesting and green story including a turn from a deforestation pattern in parts of Thailand towards a forestation pattern and a boon to local villagers benefiting from employment," he said.

What's the catch? "Well I would call it a Private Equity deal and therein lie the usual disclaimers: seek independent legal advice and understand the risk. However, because it is an unregulated agricultural investment it might not attract regulators' attention in some parts where trees are not considered to be 'securities'."

Still, like any investment purchase caveat emptor applies (let the buyer beware). From an investment angle, Clegg says that Touchwood targets "10 per cent of portfolios and 20 per cent annual returns"...

The tree stock consists of: Agarwood, the world's most expensive resinous wood. Touchwood has pat-ented a process supported by Dr Robert Blanchette and Dr Joel Jurgens, both of the University of Minnesota. Their process amounts to the injection of a serum into the Aquilaria Tree after three years of its life and over the following three years it produces Agarwood. The main markets for it are the Arabian peninsula for perfumes and China for herbal medicines.

As an inhabitant of the Pacific Northwest, I've harbored a fantasy that the process by which agarwood becomes kyara could be introduced into trees local to the temperate rain forests here (I have no idea how far-fetched this is, other than that there are temperate-forest cousins of agarwood, if I'm not mistaken).

Why have I harbored this fantasy?

  • Agarwood - or aloeswood - promotes good meditation practice.

  • The best varieties - "kyara" (伽羅) - are the most amazing thing you ever smelled in your life.

  • And therefore they're worth significantly more than gold even at today's prices. If you don't believe me check out Shoyeido's online store here. Those bundles at the bottom of the page ain't your hippie's Nag Champa...

Well, I guess it was only a matter of time before somebody else did the "cultured pearls thingy" to agarwood...

And yes, this is an absurd way for resources to be used, except for the fact that some recognition of a sacred space is not in and of itself a bad thing.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Barack Obama's record...

Just in case someone asks, droogie6655321 at Kos did the homework so you don't have to do it...

I will shamelessly quote nearly the whole thing...

My heart just sinks every time some well-meaning (but ignorant) Obama supporter calls into a radio show and gets heckled by Sean Hannity or whoever about Barack Obama's legislative accomplishments.

This happened just yesterday. Hannity offered an Obama supporter a steak dinner if he could name three pieces of legislation that had Obama's name on them. The caller clumsily changed the subject.

Sensing he had the caller on the ropes, Hannity lowered the bar to a single piece of legislation. And alas, the caller could not name the legislation.

Hannity smugly switched off the caller's volume and said directly to the audience, "Ladies and Gentlemen, checkmate." And Droogie exited his car, entered his house and ate tacos sadly.

Listen, I know how talk radio works. Even if he had been able to list three pieces of legislation, Hannity still would have badgered the caller about William Ayers and Jeremiah Wright.

Hannity is not the issue. The issue is that ordinary people are being told that Obama has a thin resume and has accomplished very little in his Senate career. I have a Republican co-worker who I spar back and forth with on this issue.

Even when I told him of one bill, he said, "Well, that's probably the only bill." It's never enough for some people, but that doesn't mean you should go into the world uninformed.

So here are just a few highlights from Barack Obama's career as a Senator: specific pieces of legislation, what they meant and how they were passed.

The Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act

Introduced by Sen. John McCain in May 2005, and cosponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy. Barack Obama added three amendments to this bill.

While the bill was never voted on in the Senate, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Acts of 2006 and 2007, respectively, drew heavily upon the wording of this bill.

The Lugar-Obama Cooperative Threat Reduction.

Introduced by Sen. Barack Obama, Sen. Dick Lugar and Sen. Tom Coburn.

First introduced in November 2005 and enacted in 2007, this bill expanded upon the successful Nunn-Lugar threat reduction, which helped secure weapons of mass destruction and related infrastructure in former Soviet Union states.

Lugar-Obama expanded this nonproliferation program to conventional weapons -- including shoulder-fired rockets and land mines. When the bill received $48 million in funding, Obama said, "This funding will further strengthen our ability to detect and intercept illegal shipments of weapons and materials of mass destruction, enhancing efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism."

Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006

This act of Congress, introduced by Senators Obama and Coburn, required the full disclosure of all entities or organizations receiving federal funds in FY2007.

Despite a "secret hold" on this bill by Senators Ted Stevens and Robert Byrd, the act passed into law and was signed by President Bush. The act had 43 cosponsors, including John McCain.

The act created this Web site, which provides citizens with valuable information about government-funded programs.

Democratic Republic of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act

This law helped specify US policy toward the Congo, and states that the US should work with other donor nations to increase international contributions to the African nation.

The bill marked the first federal legislation to be enacted with Obama as its primary sponsor. Following this legislation's passage, Obama toured Africa, traveling to South Africa, Kenya, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Chad. He spoke forcefully against ethnic rivalries and political corruption in Kenya.

Honest Leadership and Open Government Act

In the first month of the 110th Congress, Obama worked with Sen. Russ Feingold to pass this law, which amends and strengthens the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995.

Specificially, the changes made by Obama and Feingold requires public disclosure of lobbying activity and funding, places more restrictions on gifts for members of Congress and their staff, and provides for mandatory disclosure of earmarks in expenditure bills.

The House passed the bill, 411-8, on July 31. The Senate approved it, 83-14, on Aug. 2. At the time, Obama called it "the most sweeping ethics reform since Watergate."

Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act

Following the Republican-sponsored voter intimidation tactics seen in mostly black counties in Maryland during the 2006 midterm elections, Obama worked with Sen. Chuck Schumer to introduce this bill.

The bill has been referred to the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary. Obama said of the bill, "This legislation would ensure that for the first time, these incidents are fully investigated and that those found guilty are punished."

The Obama-McCain Climate Change Reduction Bill

The Obama-McCain bill, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., would cut emissions by two-thirds by 2050.

Iraq War De-Escalation Act of 2007

Introduced by Obama, this binding act would stop the planned troop increase of 21,500 in Iraq, and would also begin a phased redeployment of troops from Iraq with the goal of removing all combat forces by March 31, 2008.

Explaining the bill, Obama said it reflects his view that the problems in Iraq do not have a military solution. "Our troops have performed brilliantly in Iraq, but no amount of American soldiers can solve the political differences at the heart of somebody else's civil war," Obama said.

Amendments to the 2008 Defense Authorization Bill

Obama worked with Sen. Kit Bond to limit, through this bill, the Pentagon’s use of personality disorder discharges in the FY 2008 Defense Authorization bill.

This provision would add additional safeguards to discharge procedures and require a thorough review by the Government Accountability Office. This followed news reports that the Pentagon inappropriately used these procedures to discharge service members with service-connected psychological injuries.

"With thousands of American service members suffering day in and day out from the less visible wounds of war, reports that the Pentagon has improperly diagnosed and discharged service members with personality disorders are deeply disturbing," said Senator Obama.  "This provision will add additional safeguards to the Department of Defense’s use of this discharge and mandate a comprehensive review of these policies."

The Comprehensive Nuclear Threat Reduction provision

Working with Sen. Hagel and Rep. Adam Schiff, Obama authored this provision, which would require the president to develop a comprehensive plan for ensuring that all nuclear weapons and weapons-usable material at vulnerable sites around the world are secure by 2012 from the threats that terrorists have shown they can pose.

A provision from the Obama-Hagel bill was passed by Congress in December 2007 as an amendment to the State-Foreign Operations appropriations bill.

"It is imperative that we build and sustain a truly global effort under an aggressive timeline to secure, consolidate, and reduce stockpiles of nuclear weapons and weapons-usable material to keep them out of the wrong hands. The comprehensive nuclear threat reduction plan required by this provision is an important step in that effort," Obama said of the provision.

These are just a selection of the bills that Obama has introduced and co-sponsored. You owe it to yourself to be able to cite a few of these off the top of your heads so you can give people the gist of them when they challenge the Senator's accomplishments.

At the end of the day, I will take Obama's good judgment over McCain's longevity in Washington any day of the week. It's more important for a politician to learn from his or her mistakes than it is for them to present the same old failed ideas over and over and expecting a better result.

It's true Obama is a relative newcomer on the politican scene, but he has already accomplished much in the areas of nuclear non-proliferation, government accountability, environmental responsibility and others.

So get out there and let some people know what our guy is capable of. Don't be caught unaware when someone asks you for your candidate's resume!

Bookmark this, follow the links, share with friends. Wash, rinse, repeat. Always repeat.