Monday, May 31, 2004

On May 31, 1889, more than 2,000 people perished when a dam break sent water rushing through Johnstown, Pa. In 1962, Adolf Eichmann was hanged in Israel for his role in the Holocaust, and in 1970, an earthquake killed tens of thousands of people in Peru. In 1994, the U.S. announced it was no longer aiming long-range nuclear missiles at targets in the former Soviet Union, and in 2000, Tito Puente died at age 77. Eric Rudolph was arrested outside a grocery store in Murphy, N.C. in 2003.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

On this day in 1431, Joan of Arc, condemned as a heretic, was burned at the stake in Rouen, France. In 1539, Hernando De Soto landed in Florida, and in 1883, a rumor that the recently opened Brooklyn Bridge was in danger of collapsing triggered a stampede that led to the trampling deaths of 12 people. On this day in 2002, a solemn, wordless ceremony marked the end of the cleanup at Ground Zero in New York, 8 1/2 months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and nine climbers fell into a crevasse near the summit of Oregon's Mount Hood; three died.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

On May 29, 1953, Mount Everest was conquered as Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay of Nepal became the first climbers to reach the summit. And it's the birthday of John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), Bob Hope (1903-2003) and Gregg Toland (1904-1948).

Friday, May 28, 2004

Memorial Day

Memorial Day weekend is upon us . . . It's summertime, and the living's, well, tonight, the living's still, like the humid Georgia air outside following this evening's earlier rain. The usual Great Atlanta Memorial Day Exodus was in full force - the office looked like a ghost town after lunch, the phone stopped ringing, the fax machine was silent, and the email quit pinging. It was just me after 4:00 o'clock, so I locked up and went home. Went and sat at the Zen Center, and there was only the ino and I . . . I filled in for him, and let the ino sit for a change . . . Thai dinner later that night. . .

As I post this, I'm feeling very quiet and balanced. A good start to the weekend . . .

Thursday, May 27, 2004


This week's "The New Yorker" arrived today. No Seymour Hirsh stories about Abu Ghraib, but an interesting piece on the institution of marriage:

From "Love Supreme," by Adam Haslett:
"For centuries in Europe, formal marriage was a private contract between landed families, designed to insure that property remained within a particular lineage. In the upper classes, families essentially married other families, forging political alliances and social obligations among relatives and kin. It was during the Reformation, with the emergence of the early Protestant idea of "companionate marriage," that the emotional bond between husband and wife came to be seen as an end in itself. As the noted social historian Lawrence Stone noted, this was a marked departure from the Catholic idea of chastity, which considered earthly marriage a more or less unfortunate necessity meant to accomodate human weakness; "It is better to marry than to burn" St. Paul had said, but he made it sound like a close call. So when the puritans wrote of husbands and wives as mutually respectful and affectionate partenrs, they were moving toward a new understanding of marriage as a kind of spiritual friendship.

It was Milton who took this concept to its logical conclusion. Having married a woman with whom he soon discovered he had nothing in common, he became a staunch advocate of divorce. When the "meet and happy conversation" that is "the chiefest and the noblest end of marriage" ceases, he argued, no authority should have the power to force a man and woman to remain wed. It was hundreds of years before the law caught up with this notion that irreconsilable differences might be grounds for divorce. But what his tracts on the subject demonstrate is that early Protestant thinking about matrimony contained the seeds of our own more radical individualism.

These days, few would disagree that respect and affection are central to a successful marriage. But most of us would add another ingredient, which had long been viewed skeptically as a reason to wed: romantic love. Burton, in his "Anatomy of Melancholy". . . reflected a common view when he described marriage as one of several "remedies of love," which was itself an illness to be overcome. Not until the confessional diaries and novels of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries started to influence bourgeois notions of what Jane Austin called "connubiial felicity" did romance begin its steady ascent in the martial realm. Today, needless to say, the most respectable reason for getting married is that you have fallen in love. We have managed to create an ideal of matrimony that combines both lifetime companionship and the less stable but more intoxicating pleasures of romantic ardor. . .

The philosopher Charles Taylor. . . argues that the trend line runs in one direction: from a self-understanding gained from our place in larger entities - such as a chain of being or divine order - toward purpose discovered from within, through what we consider to be authentic self-expression. . . The choice of whom to marry has become less about satisfying the demands of family and community than about satisfying oneself."

Wednesday, May 26, 2004


Okay, I'm not going to try to answer "Who am I?" because frankly, I don't know (Quick: say who you are without referring to any other persons). I am certainly no more, but at the same time much more, than the collection of aggregates I face in the mirror every day.

So, I don't know how to introduce my absolute self to you. But in this relative world, I can go on and on about what I like, what I do, where I've been, etc. If you really care about that sort of thing, here's the result of one of those personality profiles I completed for an on-line dating service . . .
I am a: 49 yr old man
Located in: Atlanta, Georgia, United States
Height: 5’ 11” (180.3 cms)
Eyes: Hazel
Hair: Bald
Hairstyle: Shaved
Body type: About average
Body art: Wouldn’t even think about it
Best feature: Eyes
Relationships: Several committed relationships — but now single
Sign: Leo

About me and who I'd like to date: As much as my humility would like to prevent me from talking about myself, here I go: I am a compassionate, romantic, wear-my-heart-on-my-sleeve, single, white male. I appreciate the many aspects of nature, and I enjoy travelling on both a local and global scale. I express my creative side through travel and nature photography, and wish that I had the discipline to apply myself more to writing. As an environmental consultant, I can express my spiritual and aesthetic appreciation for the natural world in my work. Although my work is important to me, and I do spend considerable time pursuing my profession, I take time to take care of myself through working out and balancing mind and body (meditation). I am an active Zen Buddhist, shaved head and all, but do not let that deter you: pursuit of a spiritual life does not shut me out of experiencing the many other pleasures of this mortal world. In fact, quite the opposite - awareness of the here and now actually enhances and heightens my enjoyment of the many wonders around us all the time, even in the so-called "ordinary" moments. Although I have been in committed relationships, I have never been married and have no children.

If you've read this far, I hope that you are a woman with a healthy sense of humor, an appreciation of life and the self-respect to take care of your mind and body. Although Zen practice is not a requirement, tolerance of my practice certainly is, and a successful long-term relationship will most likely be with someone at least partially interested in meditation, compassion and wisdom. And walks in the woods, faraway beaches, good books and good conversation, and long, lingering kisses.

For fun: I enjoy travel, photography, art, scuba diving, indie movies, eating in, dining out, hiking North Georgia and western North Carolina, reading, and listening to all kinds of music.

Favorite hot spots: To give you an idea of my preferences, I took a two-week trip to Corsica and Florence last summer. I also have a timeshare in Freeport, Bahamas. I would like to visit Iceland, the Greek islands, Budapest and the Far East.

Favorite things: I like the trails along the Chattahoochee, browsing used book stores, Nuevo Laredo Cantina, Fat Matt's Rib Shack, Sotto Sotto, Blackstone's and almost any coffeehouse. I like wearing blue jeans with grey t's, jazz, and sitting on a rainy day.

Last read: "The Emergence of Animals" by McMenamin and McMenamin, "Roscoe" by William Kennedy, and "Coming Soon" by John Barth. I prefer the NY Times to the AJC. My favorite magazine is Outside, but I subscribe to The Economist, ArtNews and The New Yorker.

Sense of humor: Clever: Nothing’s better than a quick-witted comeback
Sports and exercise: Exercise occasionally: Running, Walking/Hiking, Weights/Machines
Common interests: Camping, Coffee and conversation, Cooking, Dining out, Movies/Videos, Museums and art, Music and concerts, Performing arts, Religion/Spiritual, Travel/Sightseeing
Daily diet: Keep it healthy
Smoke: No Way
Drink: Gave it up
Job: I've been an environmental consultant for over 20 years. I enjoy my work and integrate my work hours with my personal time. In other words, I'm free for a nice long lunch or a matinee whenever I want, but will also work on a report at night.

My place: Live alone
Have kids: None
Want kids: Not sure
Pets: I don't have, but like Cats, Dogs, Fish, Reptiles, Exotic pets, Horses. I don't like Fleas.
Ethnicity: White / Caucasian. From what I've learned, my great-grandmother was from Liverpool and gave birth to my grandmother in Brooklyn or N.J. Grandmother married a Jacksonville, FL attorney and gave birth to my father in NYC, who married a descendent of the poet Robert Burns.

Faith: Zen Buddhist. The spiritual path is an important part of my life, as is tolerance, compassion and wisdom. For the last three years, I have actively been involved in Zen; however, I also recognize the virtue of other spiritual paths.

Education: I graduated from Boston University with a B.A. in Geology. I stayed on and got my Masters in Geology there, too, but my real education began after I graduated and got out into the so-called real world.

Languages: English
Politics: Non-conformist
Turn-ons: Long hair, Skinny dipping, Flirting, Public displays of affection, Dancing, Brainiacs, Boldness/Assertiveness, Erotica, Candlelight, Thunderstorms
Turn-offs: Tattoos, Body piercings, Sarcasm
So there you have it - me, as best as a dating service can describe it. Full disclosure. Now I can go back to contemplating the absolute self . . .

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

China Gives Hong Kong the Finger

HONG KONG (AP) -- Beijing is lending Hong Kong one of the Buddha's fingers for public display. The relic, held in a bulletproof glass box, was flown in Tuesday afternoon -- just in time for the Buddha's birthday celebrations here Wednesday. It will be shown for 10 days in this largely Buddhist territory.

Saffron-robed monks escorted the finger off an airplane that brought it from Xianyang in Shaanxi province. It was transferred onto a truck decorated in gold paneling and lotus flowers as a band played welcoming music. Senior monks prayed and sounded horns before the finger was driven to an exhibition venue.

Buddha died about 483 B.C. After his cremation, some historians believe his bones were saved by Indian monks and that a few pieces were brought to China later. The finger bone to be displayed in Hong Kong was among Buddhist relics discovered in an underground shelter at Famen Temple near the ancient capital of Xian in central China in 1987.

A senior Communist Party official, Liu Yandong, was set to officiate at an opening ceremony for the finger's display from Wednesday through June 4. The relic is believed to bring peace and luck.

No official statistics are available, but academics say the majority of Hong Kong's 6.8 million Chinese believe in some form of Buddhism, Taoism, Chinese folk religion or a combination of those faiths.

Monday, May 24, 2004

The Dana Paramita

"Truly virtuous are not conscious of their virtue. Those of inferior virtue, however, are ever consciously concerned with their virtue and therefore are without true virtue. True virtue is spontaneous and lays no claim to virtue."

- Lao-tzu, Tao Teh Ching

"People who think of themselves as kind-hearted and sympathetic are truly neither. . . There are many people who spend all their time giving aid to the needy and joining movements for the betterment of society. To be sure, this ought not to be discounted. But their root anxiety, growing out of their false view of themselves and the universe, goes unrelieved, gnawing at their hearts and robbing them of a rich, joyous life. Those who sponsor and engage in such social betterment activities look upon themselves, consciously or unconsciously, as morally superior and so never bother to purge their minds of greed, anger and delusive thinking. But the time comes when, having grown exhausted from all their restless activity, they can no longer conceal from themselves their basic anxieties about life and death. Then they seriously begin to question why life hasn't more meaning and zest. Now for the first time they wonder whether instead of trying to save others they ought not to save themselves first."

- Yasutani Roshi, in "The Three Pillars of Zen"

"In an evening talk, Dogen said, 'Doing good for others because of one's desire to be well thought of or to ingratiate oneself seems better compared with doing evil. However, it is not truly doing good for others since one is still thinking of oneself. One who does good for others or for the future, without being noticed and without considering for whom his acts are good, is truly a good person.

'Having compassion for living beings without distinguishing between the intimate and the unrelated, while maintaining an attitude of saving all equally, never think of your own profit in terms of worldly or supraworldly benefit. Even though you are neither known or appreciated, just do good for others according to your own heart, and do not show to others that you have such a spirit.'"

- Shobogenzo Zuimonki

"Then the Lord Buddha addressed the assembly . . . 'Bodhisattva-Mahasattvas, in teaching the Dharma to others, should first be free themselves from all the craving thoughts awakened by beautiful sights, pleasant sounds, sweet tastes, fragrances, soft tangibles, and seductive thoughts. In their practice of charity, they should not be influenced by any of these seductive phenomena. And why? Because, if in their practice of charity they are uninfluenced by such things they will realize a blessing and merit that is unestimable and inconceivable . . .If a Bodhisattva-Mahasattva, in practicing charity, conceives within his mind any of these arbitrary conceptions discriminating himself from other selves, he will be like a man walking in darkness and seeing nothing. But if the Bodhisattva-Mahasattva, in his practice of charity, has no arbitrary conceptions of the attainment of the blessing and merit which he will attain by such practice, he will be like a person with good eyes, seeing all things clearly as in the bright sunshine.'"

- The Diamond Sutra (translated by Dwight Goddard)

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Satori in Chattanooga

"Fuck!" was the first word out of my mouth when I woke up at 7:17 a.m. this morning. First of all, I had gotten maybe about three hours sleep that night, and I was supposed to meet K. at 7:30 at Starbucks (13 minutes and counting). Second, I thought I had set the alarm clock for 6:15 a.m., but apparently I had forgotten to switch the thing on. Third, although I could technically still make it to Starbucks on time, I had not shaved or showered the day before, so I had a two-day beard growth and looked and smelled like I hadn't bathed since Friday, which, in fact, I hadn't. So, what to do? Meet K. on time, drive with her to Chattanooga all un-shaved and -showered and spend the whole day like that? Hop in the shower, be late meeting K., and arrive in Chattanooga behind schedule? What was I going to do? I had to decide right then (11 minutes and counting).

I opted for the shower. Shaving my head as quickly as I could without drawing blood, I rushed through the shower, running a bar of soap under my arms and through my crotch in a speed-cleaning process that only guys attempt. Rinsed off, and shaved my face without cream. Just as I finished this and was making the bed (my condo is for sale - wanna buy a condo? - and everything has to be just so at all times, especially on realtor-rich Sundays), the phone rang (7:29 a.m. - one minute to go). It was K. of course, but fortunately she had followed the directions to Starbucks that I had given her and so therefore had made one wrong turn and was running a few minutes late herself. I straightened her out (that is, corrected my misdirection) and told her I was a few minutes behind, got dressed, got out the door and was at Starbucks by 7:45.

It's about a two-hour drive from Atlanta to Chattanooga, so we got up there by around 9:30, washed a bagel down with black coffee, and went to the Clear Light Yoga Center on North Market Street for an all-day sitting with the Chattanooga Zen Center. Zazen, zen meditation, is best done with a calm, well-rested mind, but between the three hours (maybe) sleep, the rushed awakening, and the drive north, I was anything but. However, much to my surprise, I was able to settle in pretty well and actually got some good sitting in between 10 and 12.

I have been associated with the Chattanooga group for a little over a year now, and my main purposes in going up there this time were to participate in their first all-day sit and to attend the Zen initiation of two new members. The initiation ceremony was performed at noon, after which we all walked across the street for lunch back at the same restaurant where K. and I had washed the bagels down with black coffee two or three hours earlier. At two o'clock, we resumed the zazen sitting for a somewhat intense three straight hours and were done by five.

Dogen once said that practice and enlightenment are one. That is to say, zazen practice is not a means to an end, and zazen and enlightenment are not cause and effect - they are the exact same thing, a seamless whole, one. Which is to say that sitting in zazen is not like achieving enlightenment, it IS the actualization of enlightenment. The only problem is, while absorbed in the single-pointed concentration of Zen meditation, one does not think "Oh! Look at this - I am enlightened." The very moment a single thought like that appears in one's mind, zazen is over, and enlightenment, as they say, has left the building. So, for at least some of the five hours we were sitting there, K., myself and 10 or so others were buddhas, practicing at a yoga center in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee. Not a bad outcome for a day that had started so rudely.

And I got home in time to watch "The Sopranos."

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Adventuring News

Yesterday, Pemba Dorje Sherpa, a Nepalese professional mountaineer, scaled Mount Everest in 8 hours and 10 minutes, setting a new record for the fastest climb. Mr. Dorje, 27, left base camp at 6 p.m. and climbed all night along the traditional southeast ridge route. Using flashlights, and near the top, oxygen tanks, he reached the summit at 2:10 a.m. The climb broke the record of 10 hours and 46 minutes set last May by his climbing rival, Lakpa Gelu Sherpa, 36. It was Mr. Dorje's second ascent in a week: he had accompanied a Swiss economist, Rupert Heider, to the top of the mountain last week without supplemental oxygen.

On Wednesday, a Nepalese woman climber, Lhakpa Sherpa, climbed Mount Everest for the fourth time from the Tibetan route, becoming the first woman to climb the mountain more than three times.

On Thursday, Shiroko Ota, a 63-year-old Japanese woman, died after becoming the second-oldest woman to climb to the 29,035-foot summit. She slipped not long after she began her descent, only about 1,000 feet below the summit. While her safety rope broke the fall, Ms. Ota fell unconscious and her climbing companions were unable to pull her up. She died dangling from the end of her rope. By radio from Japan, her family members urged the five other climbing members in the group to leave her body and descend to safety. An attempt to recover the body was planned for Friday. Ms. Ota started climbing mountains when she was about 40 and conquered Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's tallest mountain, in 2001.

Also on Friday, a Tibetan climbing association found the bodies of three South Koreans after they were reported missing earlier this week as they descended Everest. Two had suffered exhaustion and became disoriented in the thin air of the high altitude; the third got lost while trying to rescue the others.

Since 1953, a total of 1,373 people have climbed Everest from the Nepali and the Chinese sides. During that half century, 178 people have died on the mountain - a mortality rate of 13 percent. There are currently 64 expeditions on the mountain, racing to reach the summit before the climbing season closes, probably in 10 days.

Meanwhile, back in the jungle, four men and two women finished a 4,160-mile journey along the Nile River, navigating the world's longest river from its source to the Mediterranean Sea in what is believed to be the first time in modern times. The team, led by Hendri Coetzee, a professional whitewater rafter from South Africa, had set off from Jinja, Uganda, where the Nile flows out of Lake Victoria, on Jan. 17 and paddled and rowed through rapids for the first 940 miles. A crocodile chased one of the rafts below Murchison Falls, and the team heard a leopard walking around the camp while they were sleeping on the bank in Murchison park. In northwestern Uganda, the rafters paddled nonstop for 48 hours to avoid the Lord's Resistance Army, a group known for kidnapping and looting. The team was also quite tense when it crossed into southern Sudan, because of the civil war there, and had to cross about six different front lines because control of the river alternated between government soldiers and Sudan People's Liberation Army rebels. In Padak, southern Sudan, they took on outboard motors for the rest of the river, stopping for sightseeing, fuel and food, and to obtain security clearances.

On April 28, adventure guide Pasquale Scaturro and film-maker Gordon Brown, accompanied by an IMAX film crew, became the first explorers to complete a full descent of the Blue Nile. The group traveled 3,250 miles, filming the journey from the river's headwaters in Ethiopia to the finish line of Alexandria, on Egypt's Mediterranean shores. Equipped with two 16-foot, self-bailing inflatable rafts and a hard shell kayak, the group faced monster rapids, malaria threats and the war-torn shores of Sudan. Scaturro, a Colorado-based geophysicist and leader of the expedition, is best know for leading blind climber Eric Weihenmayer to the summit of Everest in 2001.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Everything Is Unique

Everything is unique, nothing happens more than once in a lifetime. The physical pleasure which a certain woman gave you at a certain moment, the exquisite dish which you ate on a certain day - you will never meet either again. Nothing is repeated, and everything is unparalleled.
- The Goncourt Brothers

Zentetsu Philip Kapleau, Roshi, author of The Three Pillars of Zen and founder of the Rochester Zen Center in upstate New York, died on May 6, 2004 from complications of Parkinson’s disease.

Philip Kapleau left the US and moved to a Monastery in Japan in 1953. He spent the next thirteen years undergoing rigorous Zen training under three Japanese Zen masters before being ordained by Hakuun Yasutani-roshi in 1965 and given permission to teach. Roshi Kapleau’s book chronicling his training in Japan, The Three Pillars of Zen, was published in 1965. Still in print, it was the first practice-oriented book on Zen training in the West and has been translated into twelve languages. In June 1966, upon returning to the United States and as a result of interest generated by the book, he was able to found the Rochester Zen Center.

In addition to The Three Pillars of Zen, Kapleau’s other books include The Zen of Living and Dying, Zen: Merging of East and West, To Cherish All Life, Awakening to Zen, and Straight to the Heart of Zen. He is survived by his wife, deLancey Kapleau, and his daughter, Sudarshana Kapleau.