Monday, May 28, 2012

When Form and Emptiness Mix

I have now returned from Prague. I have the usual jet that wipes out about two days of usefulness. The trip was very instructive though. Especially telling to me was the Kafkaesque nature of Czech society at least as I experienced it from television and a few on personal interactions - it explains something about my family as I have common ancestry with those folks. It is rare for a western or you can now to see how meanest your television and wonder about it. Are you watching a horror show with a very festive mood are you watching the variety show with undertones of menacing sinister threats sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. On my arrival home I noticed my house is in a state of repair that was entirely unexpected while on travel. So it goes. So pretty much an unusually large portion of things are out of balance right now in my immediate world to say the least. That's why this blog entry may contain references to dogs or hyenas or chickens or water bottles; it's being written with the help of a voice recognition mechanism and I can't trust my proofreading skills entirely at this moment. What a unique opportunity for us all!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tricycle interviews the Angry Asian Buddhist

I'm really glad to see Tricycle publishing an interview with arunlikhati,  which deals with some of the issues of culture and ethnicity that tend to distort some of the way in which "Buddhist media" portrays "Buddhism."

As I commented over at arunlikhati's place, I tend to experience these issues too in odd ways.  The other night before my trip I was practicing Wing Chun with a Vietnamese professional guy.  His French was impeccable, but yes, I was (slightly)  surprised that he was illiterate in 漢字.  (Yes I know Vietnamese has been Romanized since the French, and yes I know Vietnamese isn't a Sino-Tibetan languague, but just because an Asian language has loan-words from Chinese, and just because there are non-Sino-Tibetan 漢字 languages not written in 漢字 whose users are literate in 漢字 doesn't mean that all educated speakers of non-Sino-Tibetan Asian languages know 漢字. )

So it's good to see this kind of dialog taking place.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What does it mean to have no rank?

I travel a lot, as regular readers on this blog know.  At the end of this week I'm traveling to Prague, which is sort of an ancestral homeland of mine (I'm of Polish, Slovak, & German descent, and have relatives in Prague). 

As I often do when I travel, before I go I usually do an internet search to find the "state of Buddhsim" where I'm going.  It's how I found Chan/Son/Zen Temples in Xi'an, Tianjin, Jeju, Seoul...

So I look to see if there's any kind of Zen in Prague. And there is. There's the Kwan Um folks' Prague office. I kind of have a grudging admiration for the Kwan Um folks.  And then there's this guy.

Master Sando Kaisen – Alain Krystaszek was born in 1952 in Noyon in the Oise region of France. He spent his first years in his hometown, and left it at the age of eight, when his father decided to take him to Poland, his father´s home country, to be brought up there. Here in Wroclaw, he received strict education, and the repressive atmosphere of communism of that time left sorrowful feelings inside him. As he was growing up, he kept on thinking more and more intensively about the issues of injustice, anger and human ignorance. The Christian education, he received in Poland while he was ministering for an old bishop, provided first answers. When he returned to France in 1967, he became a guardian of a Noyon cathedral and a guide in the John Calvin Museum. He was even thinking of becoming a priest. But at that time he started to ponder about other things too. He could not accept the idea, that peace and happiness of the spirit could only exist inside the church walls, and that the outside world would be filled with suffering and ignorance.
He ceaselessly continued searching for answers, and he wandered from one group to another. He started to make his living as a musician playing drums. At that time, at the end of the 60s and the beginning of the 70s, France was a place where eastern philosophy was flourishing. Fascinated by martial arts, which he had started to learn in Poland with teachers coming from beyond the Caucasus, he decided to go to China in 1972 where he could practice martial arts in their place of origin. His journey led him through the Himalayas, all across the communist China to a small temple, lost in the mountains of Wei-fang-shan. He practiced kung-fu here and meditated under the tutoring of an old Chinese master, who taught him both the mastery of controlling his body and mind and the traditional Chinese medicine.
When he got back to Paris, he met a Japanese Master Taisen Deshimaru, who had arrived to spread the zen teachings in Europe. He finally found in him a living example of what he had always been looking for, and he decided to become his disciple...

In 1979, he received an ordination for a monk from the hands of his master. His monk´s name became Sando Kaisen, meaning “a lonely hermit”. He devoted himself completely to the practice and transmitting of the zazen position. He studied ikebana (the Japanese art of arranging live flowers), calligraphy (the Japanese art of writing-painting) and growing bonsai. For over twenty years, he pursued his interest in Chinese medicine and kept on improving his kung-fu, up to the point when he realized, that the quiet sitting position surpasses all other practices and leads directly to the realization. That is when he definitively stopped practicing martial arts.
Full of energy, Master Sando Kaisen kept on drawing more and more disciples to himself, he founded one association after another and established many dojos, centres for practicing zazen...   ...© Master Sando Kaisen’s Zen

Of course the name Taisen Deshimaru was kind of a dead giveaway as to why this oddly flattering praise appears here.  It is really hard  to get past that - does this kind of schtick help beings in Central Europe? Maybe it does.  I find it kind of hard to believe however, yet, I'm sure this guy's got "followers." 

I guess the point of this whole thing is Alain Sando Kaisen really has his poop together, and you don't.  I guess.  I mean, the guy can walk on water and swim on land, it seems.

But what possible kind of Zen could you learn from a guy like this? 

You might learn, I suppose, how to meditate in the Soto kind of way (I'd hope at least that.)  But this kind of wording can't but encourage some kind of attachment to Sando Kasisen that is unhealthy.  Someone in the position of authority should maintain some difference from their "students" (clients? partners?), but ultimately there are no kings; nobody is by virtue of whatever karma or effort untouchable, fundamentally and irretrievably separate; there is no divine right. 

Anyway, "Master" Sando Kaisen's Zen is rather unfamiliar to me; it doesn't look very much like Zen from its web presence.

Monday, May 14, 2012

New Post on Zen & the Martial Arts Coming...

I recently came across a few corners of the internet's martial arts areas...and hoo boy do they kind of not get certain things related to martial arts. It's not quite like they're the  コブラ会 ("Cobra Kai" - I wonder if it was ever written that way before...) or something like that ...but they really don't get the premises of 功夫.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day

It's a good day to focus on the Mothers out there.

Bows to all of you. 

There are no words to acknowledge your difficulties.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Shorter version of the last post:

I know that I know what I know.
They know that they know what they know.
I don't know what I don't know.
They don't know what they don't know.
I know some of  what they don't know.
I know some of what they know.
They don't know that what they don't know
includes some of what I know.
I don't know that what I don't know
includes some of what they know.

(Apologies to R.D. Laing)

On not having much to say...or being older...

Well, it seems the Buddhist blogosphere is becoming a little thinner of late.  The Precious Metal blog is closing up shop.   The Reformed Buddhist is really kind of dormant.

And this blog hasn't had that many posts of late.  My rate of posting has gone from a deterministic constant rate process to one more bursty and Poisson-like.   That's my way of saying though it's been 6 days since I wrote a post on this blog it might be that tomorrow you might find thirty or forty posts here, but don't bet your life savings on it.

I'm not  running out of things to write about, but rather these days there are higher priorities.  My 10 year old  is becoming slowly but surely a rather skilled young violinist who knows about Shakespeare.   My wife is doing several things business related. I've got major work things to do, bursts of creativity.  Plus sitting practice, swimming, and 詠春券.

And I could be writing  posts not just on Buddhism.  If you look at the early pages of this blog, way back some 8 years ago (yes, this is one of the oldest, still functioning blogs by an American Buddhist of European descent) it had many political pages.   I don't write many political blog posts anymore, on this blog, and when I do, it might appear on Daily Kos instead of here.  (I've been meaning to do a post over there on Russia Today; remind me to do so.  The post would be about how come the English language version can talk about problems in the US, and how come they don't talk the same way about problems in Russia, and how propaganda is propaganda is propaganda.  But, despite its propaganda issues, RT is a guilty pleasure, unlike the BBC or Fox News or CCTV-9.)

The thing is, there's much I could write about but various things prevent me from doing so.  For example,  much of my current work is practice more and more, but much of it I am not at liberty to do so because of commitments to my employer.  It's because of those commitments that I feel a bit frustrated at times, because I can't tell folks how Buddhism in the marketplace is really like and practiced. Maybe when I retire I can write a book about it. 

But I for one, for now, plan to continue writing on this blog; I think there are important things that should be said, and it seems as long as no one else is doing it, and as long as I can do so without treading on other commitments I've made, I might as well be the guy.   I wouldn't deign to call the perspective I've acquired some kind of "wisdom," because I had to wade through quite a lot of my own stupidity to get where I am now.  A grandfather of mine was reputed to have said, "You'd have to sit three days up a donkey's ass to know what I know," or something like that.   It wasn't quite a boast, but an admission of the kind Zimmerman sang:

An' here I sit so patiently
Waiting to find out what price
You have to pay to get out of
Going through all these things twice.

I especially think those things need to be said when I see a raft of posts in the Buddhist blogosphere that tend toward the uninformed - at least uninformed by what I've been informed by.   It is a cliche that experience brings perspective, and I hate to trot out that cliche as any kind of an argument from authority.   But it remains a fact that so many of those with less experience just don't get "it" -  they don't know what they don't know, and I, myself, know so damned little myself, including, but not limited to the fact that I don't know what I don't know.
I do hope those who are continuing in the Buddhist blogosphere continue to continue - I need to hear others' perspectives, too.  If anyone knows of any blogs to be added to my list of blogs to read please let me know. 

Monday, May 07, 2012

Assorted quick comments on things in the Buddhist blogosphere.

  • Arun, as usual, has an interesting article on the use of the term "ethnic Buddhism," and he's got a point.  Frankly, until I moved out of New York, I always wondered at the white-bread-and-mayonnaise culture portrayed in the media - I didn't realize there was such a culture and it's still rather foreign to me. 
    • Corollary: I wish Charles Prebish's published works were more accessible; as I wrote in a comment, I bet his writings were unintentionally exclusionary decades ago and now could stand to be updated. It's not a great problem.
  • Mental illness is a big problem, compounded by the fact that it resides in a nexus of individuals.  I'm not qualified, I feel bad that Brad Warner feels obliged to comment in this area, and I feel worse that a great deal of mental health professionals are faced with the problems they have, with a paucity of tools and approaches.
  • I could write to Nathan quite a few posts on intellectual property.   But the short answer would be: much IP should be compensated. Some shoudn't be. And as the old saw goes, that which is worthy of compensation is like pornography - you know it when you see it.
  • Watch out for cults.