Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Scientific and Technological Literacy and Western Buddhists

I make no secret of the fact that I've got a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering.    I am grateful to the teachers I've had who've been able to impart a way of thinking about the physical world in such a way that I am able to produce technology that can be used.

Because of my background and experience, and because of the state of others' background and experience, I'm more than a bit shocked at the level of scientific and technological ignorance that I find in the on-line writings of quite a few Western Buddhists.1

If politics is the art of the possible, as Bismarck said, engineering might be said to be the study and practice of the technology of the possible. In order to be a competent engineer, it's useful at some point, in some area at least to be a competent scientist.

I really don't feel like naming names here, because it's just not too fruitful to do so, but, instead, let me present a series of bullet points.:

  • The fact that many people are asserting that climate change is not anthropgenic is an indication of political factors in play in the discussion of technological issues.
  • These political aspects of climate change are similar to political aspects that have driven the development (or exploitation) of the commons for centuries.  For example,  read this book on the Great Flood of 1927.  It is no more a "denial of an equivalent truth" of the physics of climate change than it is to deny an "equivalent truth" contrary to the fact that water in rivers flow because of gravity.
  • Technological utopia or technological Armageddon are two sides of the same coin.  One of the "folk theorems" in engineering communities might be expressed compactly as "The Law of the Conservation of Badness."  Everything has a cost.  The trick is to understand what the cost is, and to use that cost to actually help things along, as far as our survival and alleviation of misery is concerned.
  • The idea that "If we only understand X, then everything will be better..." is a form of grasping.  Sometimes a grasping for knowledge and understanding must be done to achieve a certain benefit - as in the understanding of some aspect of mathematics necessary for the design of a radio receiver, for example.  But that understanding simply is limited, and doesn't involve the understanding or considerations of the inevitable side-effects that the actual building and use of that radio receive might have, which have the capability to be both benevolent and malicious. 
  • Having said all of the above, despite our ignorance of many fields of physics, biology, etc. the Scientific Method is still the best tool we have for understanding and predicting phenomena having to do with the physical world.  About other aspects beyond the measurable, science is silent.  If you acquire a knowledge of quantum physics,  it might help you to design semiconductor-based devices, but studying how to cook with garlic might give you more insight into the nature of your consciousness.

Chances are that with only greed, hatred and ignorance driving things, we'll be driven to extinction.  I hope not. As an engineer,  I have no interest therefore in how technology can help propagate Buddhism (per se).  I'm more interested in how the Way can find its way into the technology of the possible.

1. Then again, I'm also appalled at the state of some so-called writers of science who don't have much idea about what engineering is all about. But I'm used to that. Many scientists are not very good engineers, just as many engineers might be good at one area of science, but tend to miss the big picture when it comes to applying science (or not being able to) in other areas.

Monday, January 30, 2012

C. 3000 Posts on: The Impermanence and Irrelevance of Authoritative Narratives

The Blogger thing tells me that this is the 3000th post - which, with a profile post written probably means it's the 2,999th post.  I'm not sure why that's particularly relevant, but quite a few bloggers do post such kind of milestones.  Very few celebrate their 567th blog post. But with millions of blogs out there, you can't rule it out entirely.

As I surveyed the info-sphere this morning to jog my memory into what I was going to write about, I came across a few articles, as I often do.  Two articles of the "authoritative business genre" really spoke to me this morning (here, and here).  Actually they didn't; they didn't speak to me metaphorically; neither did they speak to me literally.  In fact, they whelmed with with their evident irrelevance.  Woe is us - which I think is the right way to say it, but I'm not entirely sure.

One of the articles deals with the "Yin-Yang of Corporate Innovation" or something like that.  The other deals with Wired UK's "smart list" of "people who will change the world."  Let me present additional data to make your day.

Ever hear of the "magazine cover indicator?"  It's what investment market players call a "contrary indicator." That is, in a mainstream (not specialized) business publication, there's a concept well understood by "those in the know" that's being propagated to a mass market of information consumers, that's made people money. Like the famous cab-driver that gave the millionaire stock tips on the eve of the Crash of '29, that's an indicator to cash out, because the "last buyers" in the market are being told of what the Big Play is, and after the last buyers, there are no more buyers.  As you can see from that last link, sometimes the cover's pretty uncanny in its ability to predict the future by reversing the "plaintext narrative" of the cover.

Now considering the Wired UK's article...did you ever notice that the very name of Wired is a magazine cover indicator? I did, a bit more than 12 years ago. The name of the magazine first arose in connection with the wired internet. And if you regularly read this blog you can well understand why I view that as a contrary indicator come true, but even if you don't, the term "Dot Com Bubble" should remind you.  I do read Wired from time to time; it does tell me of things and people I might not normally be aware of.  But whether it's an issue of Wired or Fast Company (is that still around?) or the various industry fora I attend from time to time, my first instinct is to deconstruct the main narrative because that's exactly what the smarter minds than that possessed by me in the industry tend to do.   I've also had the benefit of knowing people who swore by those stories in mainstream publications, only to be found woefully overtaken by events.

Regarding the Times article on the "innovation" while the author of the article throws around a lot of buzzwords ("Open innovation" is a recent current favorite, now fading), the author - and his sources, in particular, it seems, John Kao - fail to express what that might actually mean in today's world, because it sure doesn't mean what's stated in the "plaintext meaning" of the article.

Many companies these days are thinking how to challenge Google or Apple.  And some of them are asking the wrong questions, because in part they don't "get" what how these companies got where they are and they don't at all see how to actually succeed in their endeavors despite what these companies are doing now.  Rather instead they - like the authors of that Times article - are taking away models of innovation from them as though somehow they were fixed narratives.  Well you heard it here first: Google and Apple will each stumble big, and in different ways.    And so will you and I if we continue a cookie-cutter prescription for the way things will be.

There's that exchange from the movie The Matrix whose "capping phrase" has entered our discourse:

Spoon boy: Do not try and bend the spoon. That's impossible. Instead only try to realize the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Spoon boy: There is no spoon.
Neo: There is no spoon?
Spoon boy: Then you'll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.

There are no hard and fast formulas to the way one lives one's life, carries out one's endeavors and enterprises, etc. There's only what we can do with ourselves.  You can get a good view of this through a mindfulness practice - after a while you realize that your preconceived notions are just in your head, and sooner or later, what you thought was "impossible" is in fact possible.

I'll (almost)  finish this post with something I did yesterday - a 書道 of "cloud."   I started doing this a while back with no talent, no knowledge of innate ability and no experience, like everyone who starts anything for the first time.  This one is not my worst ...hopefully I'll get better.   But if I had clung to the thought that I'd never be able to do this at all, I wouldn't have been able to do even this at all.  So there it is...

Now let me finish this post with a final thought for you: Does the narrative of "there is no narrative" apply to this blog post or not?

The degree that it does or does not I don't think can be known at this time.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

A couple of confluent responses from me to responses from others...

  • You can read the back and forth with Rev. Fisher and in comments on the Rev. Fisher's blog.  I think I overstated it by at least implying that Amnesty International's works are symbolic only. But not by much. The response I got was interesting to me; I'd think it'd be easy for Buddhists to get the gist of Christopher Hitchens' polemics against Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama, even if some of Hitchens' other words and behavior were contemptible.  Or at least  some Buddhists would have read Nietzche.  That is they'd read that there's often unskillful selfish motives behind what we like to call charity.  In the case of the death penalty, far more mileage has gone to ending it in the US by lawyers and legislators cleverly chipping away at the way in which it's enacted than by people with stickers.  And I completely stand by what I wrote about Amnesty International and Stalin.  To be caught up with the case of the single individual as a series of "victories" without support of a strategy to extinguish the death penalty is not too far, metaphorically speaking, from sctraching one's foot through one's shoe.  In short, I'd cut a check to the ACLU before I'd cut one to Amnesty, but I could see people of good will doing both.  Just don't confuse one with the other and consider both "effective" at ending the death penalty.  One, remember, is demonized by the right wing in this country for a reason.  The other is not, also for a reason.
  • I don't get certain things in the new improved "Western" Buddhist world.  The generally friendly Twitter exchange with Hokai Sobol (here, here here, and  here)  still reverberates in my head. I'm sorry Hokai; the Asian forms are like musical instruments or musical arrangements. Moreover, "Asian" and "Western," as I noted as well (and the link that  Hokai re-propagated), are not separate categories.  Geez, "Thank" and "Zen" share the same proto-Indo-European root as far as I know based on at least some relatively recent linguistic work somebody's done.  Now naturally styles of forms evolve and adapt culturally and regionally.  Nobody would say that Cajun cuisine is a maladaption of (a) French cuisine, though.  And I didn't even begin to get into the points of: what about Asian immigrants to the West? Their children? The mixed children of Asians and Westerners?  Admittedly Sobol's coming from the Shingon tradition, one in which I know less about than Zen.  But I do know this: with the exceptions of the Pure Land - derived (and to a lesser extent Nichiren and Zen) schools, most Japanese Buddhists know very little about these other sects of Buddhism. The temples in Nara are all related to sects that have very little presence in Japan today.  The idea that  forms and concepts of these older schools are "Asian" today doesn't even work in Asia.

Some wise guy or gal once wrote or said "Things are not as they seem. And just the opposite is true."  I admit I'm in a somewhat strange situation in that my contact with "Asia" - whatever that means - is far greater than most Westerners.  All of us are improvising as we go along.  Cultural categories are fluid. If one doesn't get it, one may become unintentionally funny, especially in regards to Buddhism.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Effective Action

Some stood at the window cried "One tear
  I thought that would stop the war 
But someone is killing me"
That's the last hour to think anymore... 

                                                                                                                                    - Jefferson Airplane

I might have been a bit too critical in indirectly referring to the Reverend Danny Fisher as a "cause junkie,"  but I did have to take issue with his line "It occurs to me that I didn’t do anything about the late Troy Davis and his case at this blog, largely because I was so incredibly busy at the time of his execution by the state of Georgia." 

While it's true that SOPA & PIPA were recently shelved (not out of the minds of lobbyists yet - lobbyists are still being handsomely compensated for trying to resurrect this assault on the internet), it is not "because" any one individual "at his blog" "did" anything.

Symbolic gestures against something or for a cause are just that. Symbolic. Amnesty International has had the success it has because they stumbled upon the same thing that Joseph Stalin did: one death, one atrocity is horrible, but a million deaths are just a statistic.  

I could see giving them money.  But the nuts and bolts of effective action is actually organizing, planning, preparation, and execution. (Though not the kind that Amnesty International opposes, of course)  That takes work, whether it's action to do your j-o-b or action to make that utopia on earth you've always dreamed about.

Yeah, the Reverend Fisher is sometimes a cause billboard. And I'm just a guy writing the blog at the moment, inter alia.  There's bigger work to be done.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Natural Unnaturalness

Somewhere or other, Brad Warner's going to mention to this post.  I mean, he'll want to, because I could see Warner  could use the words "central" and "autonomous" nervous systems here, and say "See! Nishijima roshi meant this."

Well, he probably did; it's just that the medical terms don't actually convey what I think is referred to here.

Via Buddhist Geeks on Twitter, I came across this article on "Freedom and Choic."  which is  by Ken McLeod. McLeod writes:

Most people equate choice and freedom. It seems so reasonable. Freedom means you are free to choose, right? It means you are free from restrictions. If you can't choose, then you are not free. And it would seem to follow that the more choice you have, the more freedom you have.

But it doesn't work out that way....

What does choice give you? One answer is that choice makes it possible for you to shape your world according to your preferences. All this does is to enable you to fashion a world that is an extension of your own patterns...

Choice is a dubious blessing when it comes to spiritual practice, in fact, when it comes to any creative endeavor. Great art is often the result of restriction, in form, in materials, in themes, etc. The restrictions concentrate attention and spur creativity. It is the same in practice. How do you increase your capacity in attention? By eliminating all choice. One posture. One object. Rest right there. No choice. And, as all of us know, it's not easy...

What is freedom? It is the moment by moment experience of not being run by one's own reactive mechanisms. Does that give you more choice? Usually not. When you aren't run by reactions, you see things more clearly, and there is usually only one, possibly two courses of action that are actually viable. Freedom from the tyranny of reaction leads to a way of experiencing life that leaves you with little else to do but take the direction that life offers you in each moment. Hence, the illusion of choice is an indication of a lack of freedom.
I really don't follow as many of these "modern" teachers as others but here's Mr. McLeod's bio on Huffington Post. I hadn't known my world was roiled by him.  Based on the blurb written there I can guess why, but that's the subject for a whole other blog post. This post is about that section just quoted.

Mr. McLeod's incorrect, or at least very poorly phrasing what he's trying to convey. Freedom in the restricted sense of being the result of training is not the experience of "not being run by one's own reactive mechanisms."  It's something else.  I'll let another teacher explain it for you:

Bruce Lee could have made a comfortable living, I suppose, as a "spiritual" teacher, but he was simply in this clip trying to explain the point of martial arts training.  But then this is a metaphor for life: to have the instinctual in harmony with the consciously controlled should be the goal of practice.  That's what I mean: Brad Warner can use this quote whenever he talks about Nishijima and the autonomous nervous system.  It's just that a lot of this instinct I think arises and coexists in the central nervous system, and that's why I still find Nishijima's terminology unfortunate.

You're not going to get rid of a reactive mind, of instincts, of emotions, it doesn't matter how much training you do, whatever type of training you call it.  And it's not the point of such training either. Eventually it's not a point of being run by the conscious mind or by the instinctual mind, but of them working together in harmony.

Somebody trips you up. You do not want to rely on anything other than where the instinctual mind has chosen, that is, the choice made by  that stuff wired into the cerebellum.  You learned that stuff likely before you were 3 years old, and your instinct has it right!  Similarly with jumping in a pool.

At least part of the point of training is eventually to have different reactions when otherwise "buttons would be pushed," to use a phrase I detest, but which I use here to convey instinctual reaction that would have adverse consequences.  And part of that of course is not to be too upset about being upset that one will suck for a long time before getting to that point. Where one is right now is that harmony between the consciously controlled and the instinctual. It's just that practice/training should make that harmony more effective, whether it's in the Buddhist sense of being able to effectively practice the Way or in the martial arts sense of effectively extinguishing a dangerous situation.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

On Chanting

I generally don't do that many posts about practice in the Zendo.  I generally don't do it because I've found others' material to be sufficient for me. 

But oddly enough for the life of me, I can't find right now exactly what I'm looking for.

I recently finally read one of Brad Warner's books, Sit Down and Shut Up.  I also don't read a lot of so-called modern teachers' books, for the simple reason that I haven't gotten through the older teachers' books first, and most of what I'd read of modern teachers seems, um...recycled?  I don't mean that in an accusative way, but rather it more or less duplicates what's already there.  Consider this the review of the book I'd been meaning to do for a while: Sit Down and Shut Up is, despite its meanderings, in many ways a better book than Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. Yeah, it is, for what both purport to do: explain Zen in the Soto flavor to a modern audience.  By that I mean that its linear structure, humor, use of the Japanese language characters, etc. make the practice for more well explained than Suzuki did.  It also benefits from the lack of a section of how the poor author had died and was such a great master that...yada yada yada.  Warner's a "slob like one of us,"  who had the  fortune of being from a part of Ohio I'd bet people in Ohio joke about.

It also occurs to me that a Rinzai version of this genre ought to exist too.   Maybe it already does; maybe it might need to exist in some form on this blog, but from a lay person's perspective.  Seriously though if you want to read about what Zen (Soto-flavored) Buddhism is, Warner's book is pretty good and pretty knowledgeable.  I've some differences with him here, and there, but they're relatively minor.  So consider this an endorsement of that book from yours truly.

 Anyhow, where was I? Oh yeah, chanting. Barbara of the White Plum tradition has this to say on ritual:

Rituals in Buddhism are a upaya, which is Sanskrit for "skillful means." Rituals are performed because they are helpful for those who participate.
Of course, if you are new to Buddhism you may feel awkward and self-conscious as you try to mimic what others around you are doing. Feeling awkward and self-conscious means you are bumping into your delusional ideas about yourself. Acknowledging those feelings and getting beyond them is vital spiritual practice.
We all come into practice with issues and buttons and tender spots that hurt when something pushes them. Usually we go through our lives wrapped in ego armor to protect the tender spots. But the ego armor causes its own pain, because it cuts us off from ourselves and everyone else. Much Buddhist practice, including ritual, is about peeling off the armor. Usually this is a gradual and gentle process that you do at your own pace, but you will be challenged to step out of your comfort zone at times.

She then points to James Ford, (from within the Soto/Sambo Kyodan traditions) who says:
These rites are the family form of this community. Daido Loori, our cousin in the dharma, tells us how "generally defined, liturgy can be considered an affirmation or restatement of the common experience of a community." He explains how "all of Zen’s rites and rituals are constantly pointing to the same place, to the realization of no separation between the self and the ten thousand things. Zen liturgy is upaya, skillful means. Like zazen and all the other areas of our training, it functions as a way of uncovering the truth which is the life of each one of us."... It is our tradition to chant it in a Sino-Japanese form, a liturgical language created by pronouncing Chinese words in the Japanese manner. Here we find ourselves letting go of the meaning, and just chanting. Taizan Maezumi explains something of this. This quote is a little long, but it's helpful. Maezumi Roshi tells us:
Chanting is an effective means of harmonizing body and mind. Chant with your ears, not with your mouth. When chanting, be aware of the others who are also chanting. Blend your voice with their voices. Make one voice, all together. Chant not too high, not too low, not too fast, not too slow. Take your pace from the senior practitioner, who will take the initiative. Chanting should not be shouting. When a person chants like that, he chants as if only he exists and no one else, which is not so. Always adjust yourself to the others, rather than expecting them to adjust to you. Then there is harmony. Chant as though each syllable were a drop of rain in a steady shower. It is very mild, consistent, and sustained.
Chanting functions the same as all of our practices in Zen. On one level, we can see that the sutras we chant have their own content; they mean something. Some, like the Heart Sutra for example, are especially concise and packed with deep meaning. But again, apart from the texts, the act of chanting is in itself an absolute practice, simultaneously expressing and creating an inner state of consciousness. And as we chant together and hear each other chanting, we are helped further in joining our minds. This is harmony. This is practice together.

See what I mean about existing authors being "sufficient?" Well, I take that back, because I think there's things to add to this:

  • In this chanting, it is not, despite appearances, an invocation to anyone or anything separated from those chanting. It is not like a Christian invocation to a deity "out there" but rather to that which is far more immediate.
  • That being said, the chanting does point to a metaphysical assumption, namely that the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and ancestors being invoked are immediate, and are not entities entirely separate from those doing the chanting.   This assumption I do not find unreasonable however.   These chants and rituals came from somewhere, conditioned by conditions that brought about their arising.  My hearing and my chanting of myself with others, brings us at least in part with the mind of many ancestors of my lineage in exactly the same way as a good chi sau ( 黐手, or "sticky hands") presents to my consciousness the mind of my sifu and his ancestors.  That's pretty damned intimate.
  • Rinzai chanting is different somewhat from the Soto flavor, as I touched briefly upon in this post a while back. In particular, there's more ki (qi, or 気) emphasis through breath in our chanting. It makes it more physical.  It's actually one reason I'm more drawn to Rinzai practice, at least as it exists in the US.
  • It need not be said, but I'll say it anyway: Korean, Vietnamese and Chinese chanting are different than the Japanese forms, and tend to be more "musical" than the Japanese forms.  That sort of fits with those temples' approach to Buddhism (even Zen/Chan Buddhism) as being more rococo, or more colorful than the Japanese counterparts.
  • Much of what's been written in this regard might seem to be an apology for That Which Clearly Has Supernaturalist Origins, as a way to bring in the supernatural through a back door, so to speak. I'm sure PZ Myers thinks that way.  But if Myers has been to the theatre (or a movie) or a musical performance, I wonder if he seriously thinks that those performative acts are invoking the Muses. No actually I don't; nobody save for a few out beyond the fringes fundamentalist monotheists seriously thinks that performance is "demonic."  
  • More to the point, Myers would do well to read at least some modern language theorists, who are sort of pointing in the right direction here. One J. L. Austin said, according to Wikipedia, that
    A "performative utterance," Austin argued in How to Do Things With Words, cannot be said to be either true or false, as a constative utterance might be. It can only be judged either "happy" or "infelicitous" depending upon whether the conditions required for it to succeed have been met. In this sense performativity can be said to investigate the pragmatics of language.
    Now I take some issue with the "happy" or "infelicitous" part of that (that's pretty limiting, isn't it?), but the basic direction here seems right: the point of the performance as performance is not necessarily to be "right" in the same sense as a physics lecture's content is correct (though a good physics professor is quite a performer). But even a lousy physic professor's teaching performance in no way invalidates his content. The purpose of the content of Zen Buddhist chanting is to point to the Fundamental Point, the Original Face, and the performance as chanting is to realize and express that.
  • Finally, there's a point that I think every teacher I've read has simply not seen, or forgotten, or perhaps they're inherently for more enlightened than I can ever hope to be and don't even need to make the pont.  When chanting in this foreign "language" the syllables don't have the cadence and structure of English (or for that matter, Japanese or Chinese, or even Pali, now that the Chinese Japanese ancestors have had their way with these things).  It takes real mindfulness to focus to Chant the East Asian forms of the Great Compassionate Dharani correctly just as it takes takes a great deal of mindfulness to use a sharp knife correctly.  I remember the first time I chanted it, now over 20 years ago- the thought that popped into my head was, "Ah, it's a  tongue-twister! How clever!" It brings about a more mindful state because you'll trip over yourself, vocally, that is, if you're not paying attention.
OK, that's my bit on chanting. It's just my few words; again, do your own homework.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Upcoming blog post on chanting

It's about time I wrote a post on chanting. It probably is one of the more off-putting things about Buddhist services to some people - though I don't quite get why, other than it's "strange" to those who are more familiar with Christian religious services, perhaps.

Also too is the issue of what the chants mean. Why chant? Isn't the content of the chanting invocation of supernatural thing or other?

My answer of "maybe" , and "maybe not" - might not please atheists such as PZ Myers, but then again perhaps Mr. Myers has been to a movie or a play.

But it's worth exploring in greater depth than I can give it time at this moment. Probably around Tuesday though I should have something more meaty on this.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Re-thinking our positions

(In honor of the SOPA blackout, this blog post won't contain any hyperlinks. While I'm confident what  I put here will stand on its own merits without hyperlinking, I think hyperlinking really does enhance the internet's "pinball effect," to use a term I encountered in one of James Burke's books. On the other hand,  I could, of course be telling you any ol' kind of crap, and you'd just have to take my word just as right wing extremists  take Ron Paul's word that he authored every word of his Survival Report because it said so at the time,  and everyone should just wink and nod about that stuff when Ron Paul's trying to get elected president.  Or something like that. Do your homework.  If you want to know what SOPA and PIPA  is - besides the latter being a naughty word in Greek -then look up SOPA & PIPA on the Google and  also please vent on the Facebook page of "Remove Jaime Herrera Beutler,"  or on her own Facebook page because the latter Congressperson is falling way behind in her job performance.  And that's it for today's PSA.)

I recently finally decided to try out Pandora radio's "comedians" feature, possibly as a result of seeing a recent PBS episode of "Make 'em Laugh."  I have been listening, in particular, to Lenny Bruce (described, delicately, by Pandora's "artist info" as having a "Northeastern" sensibility or such.)  I think Mr. Bruce would have demurred: He was a Jew, I think he would have pointed out more accurately.

Mr. Bruce is widely respected by today's comedians, because he was such an artist with his voice; his style was heavily influenced by jazz.  That much you can get from the old Dustin Hoffman movie "Lenny," and from that movie you also get he died of a heroin overdose and that he was hounded by the government for saying naughty words.  The last bit wasn't quite true. He was hounded by the government because he was such an acute critic of their authoritarianism.  One bit left out of the movie was a bit where Bruce is doing a dead-on caricature of a Southern/Southwestern used car salesman, who was selling a WWII era German car that was only used "to drive to the furnace."

You can't say that on TV today.

I bring up this incident - my exposure to Lenny Bruce via Pandora, that is - because it is re-thinking my view of Lenny Bruce, most of whose recorded material I still probably haven't heard, and because it will (eventually) get to a point about Buddhism and everyday life. My "original opinions" about Bruce were largely formed by the aforementioned movie and a Simon and Garfunkel song ("A Simple Desultory Philippic, or How I was Robert McNamara'd into Submission") which contained the line "I learned the truth from Lenny Bruce" sung in sarcasm. My original opinions were formed this way because throught the 60s and early 70s Mr. Bruce's material was effectively blacklisted from mass media, except for whatever LPs were in print at the time.

Simon should repent of that song.  History has shown that he couldn't hold a candle to Bob Dylan, despite Mr. Simon's own considerable talents. 

Lenny Bruce, despite his personal failings, was a craftsman with his voice, and influenced the following generations of comics.  If you go to Sarah Silverman's Youtube website, there's a video of her giving a "confession" which is both hilarious and G-rated. If you think her thing is easy to do, try it; it's not.

Barbara on her Buddhism blog mentioned the fact that the brain "source codes" its information when it stores it, to bring up the fact that we should constantly question what we experience (and memory is an experience).  I thought of this when I was hearing Lenny Bruce and the used car salesman bit. It's amazing how our preconceiving notions and biases seep into everything we do and think and experience.

Paul Simon probably won't read this blog, but it's interesting how I used to have a higher opinion of him than I do now, and for "the other two Jewish folksingers of the era," namely Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, well, the latter two have eclipsed him.

History and perception are funny that way.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Right speech does involve some degree of being truthful, not truthiness.  I'd have appreciated it if Rev. Fisher had picked up a couple of the points I make below, but I guess that's my perspective.

I hope this isn't seen as picking on Danny Fisher or Rohan Gunatillake  in particular, but this interview with Rohan Gunatillake is problematic for me.  More particularly, I've issues with this bit:

You're very clear in the FAQs on the website that buddhify is not meant to be a comprehensive meditation system. Can you say something about your understanding of the limitations of format--like a mobile app? Also, are there things you think are not fully appreciated yet about what a format like an app can do?
As you say, buddhify is not a complete system since that is not what it has been designed to be. It is an accessible and different approach to teaching meditation to new audiences.
While some of the more tech-wary members of the practitioner community see digital as a threat to dharma practice, I think this fear is misplaced.  I'm a firm believer that technology can only augment, and not entirely replace, other forms of teaching and delivery.  Nothing beats face-to-face teaching from a qualified instructor, nor indeed the support of a local community you connect with. But the fact is that for many people, even if they do have a local community, it's not for them - that's certainly why I myself have found the community around Buddhist Geeks so valuable since even in London there wasn't really a scene I felt was speaking my language.  Digital tools can, of course, take meditation and so on to a scale never possible before and for many people.  This is especially true, I think, for Gen Y: to have an online community or a digital training tool can feel better and more relevant than a local one if it is designed well and the content is strong.  It might even feel worth the trade-off of it not being local or physical.
And when it comes to buddhify, I'm very clear: all it tries to do is introduce people to meditation, and says that if people want to explore more they should do that through deeper more personal modes of delivery such as more advanced courses, the great meditation literature we have, and also local teachers.  As meditation providers, we all need to know where we sit in the system and what our limits are - that's really important to me.
Something I'd also just like to add is that people underestimate the power of a mobile phone.  It is a very intimate device - with us pretty much all of the time - and very personal and tactile.  Therefore it is in a way much more suitable as a vehicle for teaching meditation as things like laptops.  How we relate to our mobile phones was part of the design thinking behind buddhify for sure.
"Urban" is an important adjective for you in much of the work that you do. Can you say something about what you mean "urban," and the importance of that distinction for you?
Yes, urban is perhaps the most important word when it comes to buddhify.  So much of the meditation tradition - especially in the Theravada/insight/vipassana school that I know the best - is designed for forest or remote or retreat environments. As such, many of the meditation delivery models we see are just taking systems designed for a rural or stylized environment and placing them in an urban one and expecting them to work perfectly.  They don’t...

 First, let me say right off: if Rohan's making money from this (or even if he's doing "the socially responsible" thing) and pointing people in a general direction towards a practice that keeps them from going into murderous psychotic rages against those with whom they dwell, great!

But...as a guy who's been practicing for a while, who's practiced in urban settings as well as rather far from the madding crowd, as a guy who's certifiably tech savvy, I've got a perspective. 

I've a colleague who's Gen X, who's been doing some new popular video game.  It's apparently "very real;" in his description of the game he said, "I've gotten really good at shooting arrows." I replied, "I don't think so."

Augment? It's not the same thing.  It's like "augmenting" real strawberries with artificial strawberry flavor on some level.

Buddhify is no more a threat to Dharma practice than shooting an arrow in a video game is a threat to archery.

Maybe it's useful in a bompu Zen kind of way, but a Buddhist  Dharma practice it ain't.

Rohan's idea that "urban" must be an impossible venue for mindful practice is also pretty wide off the mark. I used to practice at both the Zen Studies Society and the MRO Zen center when the latter was in downtown Manhattan. Both were pretty noisy due to the urban environment.  With both practice would extend after the sitting quite well - it's possible to be very mindful on the subway.

Last night in 詠春 the training place was quite cold.  In quite a few martial arts the training is done under rather non-ideal conditions, for obvious reasons if you think about it - real life is a non-ideal condition.  It's also where we are.

So it is with many traditions of practice. 

Like I said, for what it is, it's probably OK for what it is (though I've a general reservation about "guided meditations" in general, as I've written before), but it doesn't even augment Buddhist practice.  It's more like it's like the Sil Lim Tao (小念頭)app on my iPhone - it's useful as a beginning tool, but it's no substitute for watching it done by Ip Man or Ip Chun on Youtube, let alone being instructed by a guy who's been doing it for over 40 years.

One more point I'll make, and it's on this sentence:

The history of meditation is one of evolution and change and this is just another chapter in that.
 That's a pretty grand statement, but I must point out the the "history of meditation" - like lots of other histories (economics, social ideologies, etc.) is also one of fads. Proof is in the pudding,  they say.  Hope the pudding's good, but doubt's part of the practice.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A confluence of things leads to a pretty sober conclusion...

 The fish don't see the water in which they swim...I read that in Dogen somewhere, so it must be true. Now  I'm mashing up critics of Dogen with Sarah Silverman now. Go figure.

No seriously, my point is it's amazing how many people with influence in the world are not quite devoting ourselves to making real, tangible things, and all the skills that flow from that; even in the Zen-inflected sub-culture in which we live.  I mean, my whole career has been directed toward the monetezation of ideas...though in my case the do wind up in products that make the other stuff possible.  But it seems we're not quite aware of that odd position in which we find ourselves, kind of like city-dwellers of ancient times who'd forgotten how to hunt.

"Somebody else" is doing the farming, the tool-making, the hunting, the defense, the medicine prescription and administration, the educating of the young and the whole host of other things that actually make life feasible in this world as we know it.  Or at least that seems to be the case, if you'd read what is generally considered in the Buddhist blogosphere.  It's not overall true of course, but umm...living the way is not 80% of what you find written and talked about in the Buddhist blogosphere.  It's there in bits and pieces, though...military Buddhist bloggers, Barbara's occasional forays into everyday living as a Buddhist, Shokai's exploits,  etc.  But like I said, what's written about is largely what's not lived and done and made: the expression of being born as suffering, growing is suffering, growing old is suffering, dying is suffering, and there's a cause to all that suffering, and its transcendence and its way of transcendence.

Forgive my impudence, but I think there's no app for that.

I don't know if that's winter blues talking, but it's interesting to me that the dearth of opportunity itself in the economy and our unwillingness to discuss it is manifesting itself this way that removes the real everyday from the agenda for discussion.

 I'm no survivalist by any means, but I think it's important that people know how to do some basic things: like cook and clean, teach their kid math and science and some kind of art (I am woefully inadequate and fall short in the art department), how to take care of their body, etc., and perhaps even to make tangible things, and grow vegetables or something like that.  
Everything of course can be taken away, and will be eventually, but even so, given the resources we have, maybe we as a society are becoming too dependent on stuff other people make.  I mean, somewhere in that is the "Right Livelihood" ethic, right?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

What is"Zen" anyway?

And, is Zen the same thing as zen?  Ah, I won't touch the second question here - I'll use both interchangeably.   As for the first question, I suppose you could go to Wikipedia or Google or something and get a variety of answers.   But I thought on this blog it might be a good idea to explore the question here.

There's a blog - The Worst Horse - that devotes quite a few bits of storage to the notion of finding examples where Buddhist terms and imagery, including "Dharma," "Zen" (or is it zen?),  Buddhas, etc. are used for commercial gain or pop culture. (His latest entry on electric butter lamps, though, is an amusing misfire: There's a whole host of Chinese and Vietnamese (and probably other ethnic groups') temples that actually use electric lighting as "candles" and other lighting on the altar.) 

There's also - I found this out this week - a foundation called "Urban Zen" which is apparently associated with charitable activities, and some forms of meditation and yoga. 

Is that Zen?

A special transmission outside the scriptures;
No dependence on words and letters;
Direct pointing to the mind of man;
Seeing into one's nature and attaining Buddhahood.


The special transmission of Zen is the realization of the Buddha's enlightenment itself, in one's own life, in one's own time. This experience has been realized by Zen students and confirmed by their teachers for over 2500 years.

Central and indispensable to Zen is daily Zazen practice. It is this practice that is the "direct pointing to the mind of man." Zazen melts away the mind-forged distances that separate man from himself; leads one beyond himself as knower, to himself as known. In Zazen, there is no reality outside what exists here and now. Each moment, each act is inherently Buddha-nature. While sorrow and joy, anxiety and imperturbability cannot be avoided, by not clinging to them we find ourselves free of them, no longer pulled this way and that. With this self-mastery comes composure and tranquility of mind, but these are by-products of Zazen rather than its goals.

Zazen is a Japanese term consisting of two characters: za, "to sit (cross-legged)," and zen, from the Sanscrit dhyana, meaning at once concentration, dynamic stillness, and contemplation. The means toward the realization of one's original nature as well as the realization itself, Zazen is both something one does - sitting cross-legged, with proper posture and correct breathing - and something one essentially is. To emphasize one aspect at the expense of the other is to misunderstand this subtle and profound practice.

It's kind of interesting to me that Shimano (presumably) phrased it this way, especially since folks like Hakuin, Suzuki Shosan and others (I'm Rinzai, mostly) emphasized that the practice should take place in the midst of activity as well as on the zafu.

And in that activity - whatever the activity - if "done right" there is practice.  Though I would profer that being a corporate raider and causing suffering, or being a mass murderer or (insert any other time of person who does a heinous act) and such can't be practicing when they're being greedy, hateful or ignorant.

This "special transmission outside the scriptures" of which Bodhidharma (presumably) wrote is the transmission of this activity - in the same way that  詠春 (Wing Chun) or 書道 (shodou - Asian calligraphy) or yoga or playing the violin or learning to live peacefully with people who grate on your nerves is transmitted via experience outside of writing and words.  And this "direct pointing  to the mind of man" is the mind that just does these things, and does them for the benefit of all beings.

I've no idea whether or not the realization of the mission of the  Urban Zen Foundation really is that kind of Zen or not.  But I do know practice is bigger than that.  And that practice is realized by the cultivation of skill required to actually help all beings.  Their heart seems to be in the right place (that's a lousy phrase, but you get my drift), but I must admit that my reaction on seeing some of their stuff is "Nice charity work...some New Age oddness...but is this trivializing Zen practice?"

I could be wrong.

I'm not really in Donna Karan (benefactor of the foundation)'s target demographic (must avoid linking to a Bill Hicks video on marketers...oops too late).  As an engineer who's now in his 50s, I've developed an esthetic about clothes that kind of excludes that sort of thing, without getting into details.  OK, I'll put in one detail: clothes should fit, be easily maintained and last nearly forever.  They should be kind of a cross between whatever the heck the Shakers would produce if they were around to make clothes in these times and if you had your own tailor.  Oh, yeah, and they shouldn't look outrageously "different" in terms of matching one's social demographic.

Sorry for the digression.

I don't know if the kind of Zen done by "Urban Zen" is or is not the kind of Zen I aspire to incorporate into everything I do; neither do I know what kind of Zen or practice anybody else on the internet does/is or does/is not do/is.  Eventually I suppose it all points back to my practice - what kind of Zen am I practicing?

A lot of people will tell you a lot of things about a lot of topics on this here internet.  Kick the tires; do your homework...especially on yourself.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

詠春 and non-violence; continued...

One of the things I've noticed about the few months I've been doing 詠春, besides how much I continue to profoundly suck at it,  is that of the people who come in new, quite a few don't stay. 

I've no idea why unless there's some economic or health or other scheduling imperative (e.g., family obligations) as to why they don't, which is understandable.  For the others I've no idea.  I mean, if you were tone deaf and you could take guitar lessons from Eric Clapton or violin lessons from Itzhak Perlman, wouldn't you avail yourself of the opportunity?

Of those that do stay, the astounding thing to me is that even with my profound suckiness, even with people who actually have some prior martial arts training, I can in sparring "have my way" with most of them.

For small minority of those newcomers, however, as well as all of the more experienced ones, this is profoundly not the case.  And in pretty much all of those instances, the main stumbling block is my own mind, which brings me to the point of this post.

It's all well and good for folks to want to advocate for non-violent solutions to everything; I think it is the hope of the planet.  But...

If you can't skillfully defend yourself - even just simply to the point where you can gain a momentary advantage to run away - to what extent is this noble position of non-violence a justification for wanting things settled on your terms (i.e., you don't fight no matter what and which might include the loss of face, but hey, maybe you're used to that)?  This is maybe one (of many other) reasons why I think the best practitioners of these arts are pretty relaxed people - nobody's going to walk away unscathed if they're dead serious about messing with them, and even if you run away, it might not involve the loss of face.  Or even if someone starts something, it can be finished in a way that allows for a quick and lasting end to the conflict.

I'm not advocating some kind of return to the early '80s Bernhard Goetz right-wing over-reactions to the impotence one accustomed to non-violence in everyday life feels when confronted with violence.    But it does occur to me that the reflexive calls for "non-violence" and abjuration of all forms of skill which might be useful in fighting situations just might be a form of pride which might be as dangerous to one and others as a cockiness which takes on all comers no matter what the consequences are.

Or is it?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Quick quotes for the day...

I came across this; I think it's from Tropic of Capricorn, because I remember reading it before.  Henry Miller's writing might seem very politically incorrect today, but these words are just so what's good about being human:

 Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty.

Then I came across this; a quote from Jack London, and it's really quite an expression of non-separation, and, uh, why I'm politically left of center.:

A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog. 

That's it for today.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A true dialogue with "western science"

One the one hand, there's folks like PZ Myers.  On the other hand, there's the Zennist...

In the Dalai Lama’s continuing dialogue with Western science, I would not be surprised to read one day that neuroscientists have decided that Buddhism’s pure Mind or One Mind is not real.  In other words, Buddhists have been deluded for over twenty-five centuries!  Poor Buddhists, like the Dalai Lama, really don’t grasp the nature and function of mind/ consciousness that, in fact, mind is an epiphenomenon of the human brain.

The Scientific Method  is  what I presume the Zennist rails against, because "Western science" is a body of knowledge, and you can no more have a "dialogue" with a body of knowledge than you can have a war on drugs or terror.

And all the Scientific Method is good at is is measuring, observing, and testing hypotheses that are within the realm of that which can be verified by the Scientific Method. It's a closed system.  Anything beyond that is metaphysics, as most of us scientific or not, in the Buddhist blogosphere get.  While it's understandable why folks like Myers and Dawkins have the metaphysics they do - and as far as we can describe with words, there's always the possibility they're right1, as far as their being right is important - the Scientific Method is still a closed system.

The only reason the Dalai Lama admires the West is because the West is good at a few things like inventing (I have in mind Thomas Edison).  Take the examples of fly screen, refrigerators, washing machines, radios, airplanes, ballpoint pens, to name just a few items among countless others.

The Zennist really ought to read my blog more.  Or at least he ought have a dialog  (Or is it dialogue? He ought to have at least one of them) with people who you know, respond and interact,  even if only online. And just 'cause he doesn't, and evidently doesn't read Matt Taibbi either...

I give credit to the Dalai Lama for  thinking a bit more about the West than refrigerators and such.  Not entirely good and rosy and all that, but then again, I don't think about the "East" that way, either.


It is only the Buddhists who have dared to plumb the mystery of thought, itself, and behold its clear light substance.  By doing so, they have declared the universe is only Mind; what we are perceiving, in other words, is mind phenomena.  Unfortunately, the West has been derelict in this undertaking.  Westerners see no benefit in seeing the clear light substance from which our thoughts are made from.
 This is probably neither completely true or false, but it's the sort of statement that I'd hope Buddhists avoid making, because no matter how bone-headed a non-Buddhist can be, it detracts not one iota from the degree to which Buddhists can be bone-headed, including but not limited to yours truly.

1. Note: In no way is this contradictory to my comments here, as I see it.  That there can be something transcending  and ecompassing my notion of "me" and "you"  in no way invalidates the very real point that folks like Myers and Dawkins would make about all the historical bits about me and you stored away in our brains don't really exist after our deaths, except insofar as the ripples of cause and effect (you know, karma) perpetrate throughout space, time, beings, nonbeings, form and emptiness after said  deaths.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

If some is good, more must be better!

I'm sure others will say something about what the NY Times pronounces on yoga, but isn't the moral of the story sort of obvious?

Having said that, as a result of reading that article I'm inclined to sit a bit in though the 正座 position (vajrasana-like, but without twisted knees), though it might offend certain people.

I hope it's not a Buddhist Theme Park they have in mind...

LUOYANG, Henan - "It's unusual to see exotic Buddhist buildings at such an ancient Chinese temple. They're so delicate and look so different from the traditional Chinese temples next to them," said Tang Chan, a 22-year-old college student, looking at the Indian shrine at Baima Temple.
The Baima Temple - White Horse Temple - aspires to be not only the oldest, but also the largest and most international Buddhist temple in China.
Henan province, in Central China, has approved a plan to expand and renovate the temple into a 1,300 mu (87 hectare) cultural park over eight years, the largest in China by then. It currently covers 20 hectares.
The almost 2,000-year-old temple is creating an International Temples Zone to showcase 10 exotic shrines from foreign countries, said Wang Xiaohui, director of the religious affairs bureau in Luoyang, where the temple is located.
The Indian shrine opened in May 2010. A Thai shrine built in the 1990s is being expanded and will open in April. 

In case you don't know, Baima temple -  白馬時 - or Hakubaji in Japanese- or White Horse Temple - is a famed temple that is said to be the first (or one of the first) Buddhist temple(s) in all of China.   When I had visited there last summer, I had actually seen the Thai and Burmese shrines there, but it was the "Chinese stuff" about the temple that kept my attention e.g., the place where the Sutra in Forty Two Sections - the first sutra said to have been translated into Chinese - was translated.  The Sutra in Forty Two Sections was also the first sutra translated into English by D.T. Suzuki around about the time when he went to the US with Soen Shaku.

Now in reality it won't be like Buddhist Disneyland - I mean, when you're there its obvious you're among antiquity that predates Hagia Sophia in Istanbul so anything they add will look pasted on. And probably they'll want to keep some kind of Chinese feel to the overall place anyway - it is China, after all.

But despite the impermanence of everything, I don't see the point of speeding up the inevitable.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Woo advertisers & this blog:

Google chooses them; I don't.  Just like when some weird righist ad appears on a lefty blog. If you choose to click through the advertiser, and buy what they're selling, that's your business.  Caveat emptor, and all that.  But unless I specifically endorse it (Feather razor products, why not advertise on my blog?) I don't vouch for it.

PZ Myers goes somewhere he shouldn't...

I'm a Buddhist kind of guy that deprecates the usage of the word "spiritual" because it means more things to more people - as well as less things to more people-  than I wish to convey with my practice.   Here, Professor Myers goes over the line wth someone who himself goes over the line, as far as "spiritual" things and "Buddhist" things are concerned:

Take some woo-inclined individual, put their brain to work on some incompletely understood process, and it’s pretty much guaranteed that they’ll come back to you utterly convinced that mundane physical events are ultimately confirming evidence for whatever metaphysical nonsense is poisonously wafting about in their heads. And now we have a wonderful example of this kind of sloppy stupid bullshit right here on freethoughtblogs.
I have no idea why Daniel Fincke is indulging this Eric Steinhart character, but he’s had a number of guest posts lately that are raving mad rationalizations for ‘spirituality’, whatever the hell that is. Here’s an example.
Spiritual exercises typically involve mental preparation for performance through visualization or emotional preparation for performance through arousal regulation. Visualization involves working with mental imagery while arousal regulation involves conscious control of physiological and emotional arousal (it involves neocortical control of the limbic system and autonomic nervous system).
Now I haven't read Fincke, and frankly I've no problem with calling certain practices "preparation for performance," since that's sometimes largely what a practice is.  Sometimes - oftentimes - the practice is the performance itself.   But I actually agree with Myers that this is a bunch of pseudo-scientific gobbldey-gook.

Just practice!  You don't have to justify to me or anyone else why you're doing it.  But Myers goes on:

Notice the scientific justification of “neocortical control of the limbic system and autonomic nervous system” — sure, that’s the core of your brain that is involved in arousal, and we know that from scientific experiments and observations. But look what he does: he calls these spiritual exercises.
They are not. They are physiological exercises. They do not manipulate “spirit”, they change the physical state of the brain. But these glib pseudoscientific quacks just love to borrow the language of science and slap the label of “spiritual” or “Wiccan” or “transcendental meditation” or “Buddhist” onto them. It’s intellectual theft, plain and simple: it’s woo-meisters doing their damnedest to appropriate natural phenomena to their cause. It’s the same thing as when Pat Robertson ascribes a natural disaster to the wrath of a divine being — he’s pointing to reality and claiming it for the kingdom of irrational supernaturalism.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Spiritual, physiological, blah, blah, blah. Just practice!

I really don't mind if you call them "spiritual," "physiological," or "performative" exercises. (Heh, folks like Myers could do well to read more po-mo stuff - they'd get more words.)

Point is, if you don't mindfully practice, you won't mindfully perform anything whatever it is and whatever you call it, and your chance at attaining any skill is worse than a shooting craps.

I realize that not all Buddhists - maybe most! - don't have the viewpoint I have here,  but Myers should understand that not all Buddhists are woo-meisters.

Updated shortly after I wrote the above:
OK, now I've read Fincke, and I understand a bit why Myers is peeved: it looks like a justification for applying "spiritual" things to "atheist" things.  Once upon a time I thought "spiritual" wasn't a bad word, and my embrace of Buddhism was an attempt to reconcile the "spiritual" aspirations I thought I had with the reality I encountered.   Eventually - via practice - I realized that the aspiration itself was an issue - which meant the "spiritual" could be dropped as well.  But having said that, I still take issue with Myers.  There ought to be no problem with an atheist doing meditation; ask Stephen Batchelor, or me.  I don't call it "spiritual;" I don't know what Batchelor calls it.  But the meditation is good practice for the practice of actually being there in your day to day life, whatever adjectives you might append.  Myers would do well to ...um...pay attention.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Traction in the rain...

Last night, as I was heading out the door for my drive to wing chun class, I breathed in the air; the air was just right.  It was also just right the night before, when there was no rain.

You can smell it in this part of the Pacific Northwest: the air is alive. It is darkest January, and the air is alive.

In much of the USA, and certainly in almost all places I can imagine North of me - even in New Mexico, if I recall correctly - wintertime takes on a gray, dark, cold demeanor.  Sometimes it happens here too.  Yeah, now and then we get snow.

But so far this year it is a mild winter. It's dark early, and yeah, there's the rain, but the idea of unrelenting cold for the next 8 to 12 weeks...doesn't happen here.

I have traded off the wonderfully predictable summer heat and humidity of the Northeast for the mild stasis of the wet and dry seasons of the Pacific Northwest.  It's a good tradeoff.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Looking back at blogging, Buddhist style...some 7+ years on

I look at some of the early posts on this blog, and I'm slightly (but not entirely) appalled.  There was a heck of a lot of propaganda back then, and the content of this blog was, I think, more necessarily political then than it is now.  Back then there was still a sort of koan going on in my head, which was basically, "How political does a Buddhist get?"  It's a complementary question to "Why hasn't the revolution come?"

I'm still much more political in my speech and writing than, say, Brad Warner and others who wish to be "centric" but who don't get that revolution both outside and inside isn't always a bad thing,  just as long as nobody gets hurt, and property becomes more equitably distributed, and people that labor aren't ripped off while those that cannot work are cared for by society.

I had read a bit more about these things perhaps than others. 

But in the intervening time many things have happened.  Today the New York Times sort of trumpets Willard "Mitt" Romney's "victory by 8 votes" in the Iowa caucuses, and my first thought was, "Ya think they don't steal elections now in America, righties?"  My second thought was "Why am I reading this?" I mean, Matt Taibbi nailed this thing before it happened.  Our "elections" are pretty much as meaningless as those of regimes which are decried in the American mainstream media. (There was a curious scene in the Iowa caucus results being broadcast on CNN, in which a military Ron Paul supporter started saying something about how Israel can defend itself...until "technical difficulties" "disrupted the audio feed" or something. I'm sure it was a coincidence.)

Nowadays, though I think "revolution" will take care of itself; I think "the personal is the political" is best expressed - as well as it can be with politically controlled media - with a movie like "Ip Man."

The personal is still the political. It's largely a mind thing first and foremost. Anyway, sitting...

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Why 書道 is so difficult, and why I do it

It was over 8 years ago that I met Sogen Roshi, who at that point had had some medical issues. He was a pretty accomplished calligrapher in Japan; and he graciously made for me 2 works. To see him work, putting his "spirit" into the works, was simply amazing to me. Years earlier I had gone to Zen Mountain monastery on a beginner's retreat, and there was about an hour or so where calligraphy was practiced. I'd thought I had no capability in this area, but one of the folks there had encouraged me, saying in essence that one's "capability" in this area was a preconceived notion, especially if one hadn't done it before. So, after seeing Sogen Roshi do this, I was quite intrigued. This man could put ink - handmade, mindfully made ink - on paper with a brush and he could leave himself everywhere. 

After returning home I started every now and then to use the 書道 set I'd acquired a couple of years earlier. And it's difficult. Forget the issues of stroke order in 漢字  - stroke order is vitally important to writing the characters, but it is hardly even the beginning of doing this well. There is also the issue of "seeing" the characters on the paper before they're written, getting each character in proportion to the next. Then there are the variables of the type of brush being used, the type of paper being used, the quantity of ink on the brush, and the viscosity of the ink, what part of the brush is being used, and how much force is used to apply the inky brush to the paper. All of these play a role in how the ink is transferred to the paper, and each encounter of human, brush, and paper is unique. So yeah, it's good mindfulness practice. But beyond that, like 詠春拳, it's something difficult, and it's good to learn something difficult outside of one's own experience.  Oddly enough, though, the selection of subject matter seems to be pretty easy compared to the execution of it all.

I hope in the coming year to do much more of it.  Thankfully every now and then something gets on paper that's better than I thought it would be.  I also keep meeting experience when I do this, and practice continues that way.  Hopefully that's true in my day to day interactions with others as well.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Still more 書道...

No birth no destruction...
Seriously this is substantially harder than it looks...which is why a) it looks quite amateurish to me, and b) I'm not boasting of this...just showing whatever I've been able to do here.

書道 - Finally...Correctly Rotated

Now, in case, uh, my writing's even sloppier than I thought, the meaning should be apparent.
It has to do with this: It's the bit in the Heart Sutra that discusses the relation between form and emptiness.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

書道 12/31/2011

Well, evidently I've not figured out how to rotate the photos, now, have I?

Happy Happy New Year...but in general, Asian television is, uh, an acquired taste

Yes indeed, happy happy New Year.  And, since I woke up way too late, here I am reading the NY Times...and what do I find?

he agency regulating the industry, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, or Sarft, is not shy about imposing limits on dramas, either. Last year, it expressed disapproval of spy dramas and time-travel shows. In late November, it surprised the industry by mandating that as of January, commercials cannot be shown in the middle of television dramas. “The whole point here is that Sarft is trying to get TV station presidents back to the roots,” said a person once involved with “If You Are the One,” who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “What are the roots? TV is supposed to be the mouthpiece of the party in the country. You’re supposed to broadcast propaganda instead of sensationalistic content.” 

 The joke here is that American television broadcasts sensatinoalist content and propaganda.

And, having seen more than my share of Chinese as well as Japanese and Korean television...I got to say, with the sole exception of NHK's BS programming of movies (and, the sumo wrestling stuff, and some of the go shows, and a sole documentary here and there) Asian television is every bit as much of a wasteland as American television.  Not only that some of the worse aspects of American television have actually come from Asian television - including the way people are made to look foolish to sell products in commercials that have announcers that shout at you.  I don't want to be "entertained" by having people shout at me to get me to buy some junk - I buy too much as it is.