Tuesday, November 30, 2004
The islands are located south of the western end of Cuba, west of the island of Jamaica. One of the more interesting aspects of the flight was flying over Cuba, as Americans are denied access to the island nation by the U.S. government. But we can view it from 30,000 feet on our way to the Caymans. I was surprised that Cuba allowed American flights to fly over - after all, what advantage was it to them to allow capitalists a cheaper route to vacation destinations? - until I learned that under international rules, no country can deny another overflight rights except in cases where national security is at stake. Although U.S. carriers heading to the Caymans routinely fly over Cuba, until 1998 Cubana Airline had to make a costly detour over the Atlantic on daily flights to Montreal and Toronto as it was denied access to U.S. airspace.
After passing over Cuba, we began out descent to Grand Cayman Island, the largest of three islands that comprise the British territory (the other two islands are Little Cayman and Cayman Brac). As we approached the airport, I was shocked at my first low-altitude view of the island. It apparently had been hit even harder by Hurricane Ivan than I had imagined. On Sunday, September 12, 2004, Ivan, a powerful Category 5 hurricane with 165 mph winds, battered the Caymans with ferocious 150-mph winds, flooding homes, ripping off roofs and toppling trees three stories tall. While it was nearly a direct hit on Grand Cayman, the eye of the storm did not make landfall, passing instead over water just south of the island.
The Cayman Islands were somewhat better prepared than Grenada and Jamaica, which were slammed by Ivan the week before - though Jamaica was spared a direct hit. The Caymans have strict building codes and none of the shantytowns and tin shacks common elsewhere in the Caribbean. However, the airport runway was flooded and trees were wrenched from their roots.
Hundreds of people had left the Caymans on chartered flights, and most of the 150 residents of Little Cayman were brought to the big island before the storm. Officials reported 3,000 people had filled all shelters on Grand Cayman. Many people in Cayman Brac fled to caves that historically have provided shelter from bad hurricanes.
Following the hurricane, the residents returned annd began the slow rebuilding of their island. However, the Cayamns have been closed to tourism until just two weeks ago - we had arrived only the second week since the island had re-opened to outsiders.
From the airport, we took a bus to the resort, Cobalt Coast, which fortunately had already recovered from Ivan, and braved the waves for a shore dive along the north reef from the pier behind the resort.
Monday, November 29, 2004
Somebody comes into the Zen Center with a lighted cigarette, walks up to the Buddha-statue, blows smoke in its face and drops ashes on its lap. You are standing there. What can you do?
This person has understood that nothing is holy or unholy. All things in the universe are one, and that one is himself. So everything is permitted. Ashes are Buddha; Buddha is ashes. The cigarette flicks. The ashes drop.
But his understanding is only partial. He has not yet understood all things are just as they are. Holy is holy; unholy is unholy. Ashes are ashes; Buddha is Buddha. He is very attached to emptiness and to his own understanding and thinks that all words are useless. So whatever you say to him, however you try to teach him, he will hit you. If you try to teach him by hitting him back, he will hit you even harder. (He is very strong.)
How can you cure his delusion?
Since you are a Zen student, you are also a Zen teacher. You are walking on the path of the Boddhisattva, whose vow is to save all beings from their suffering. This person is suffering from a mistaken view. You must help him understand the truth: that all things in the universe are just as they are.
How can you do this?
If you find the answer to this problem, you will find the true way.
- Zen Master Seung Sahn
That was today's dharma lesson. Today was also a day chock full of conference calls, due deliverables, requests for proposals, and project kick-off meetings. After a four-day weekend, I worked one day this week, and now I'm off for the next four. So in effect, I attempted to swallow one whole week of work in one day. It was a tall glass of water.
Tomorrow morning, I leave for the Cayman Islands. Three days of scuba diving. I'm bringing my camera and will take (and post) lots of pictures, but it will likely be a few days before the posts go on line. So go ahead and take a break - you deserve it. Reading all these posts of mine . . . you're like a crazy person! Go outside, get some fresh air. Go play with your friends. Come back, say, Sunday or Monday, and I should have something posted by then.
Sunday, November 28, 2004
Last night, Kipperkipp and I saw the movie "I Heart Huckabees." I know I'm a little late getting to this film - it's been out since October 1 - but at least I caught it before it came out on DVD, but when it does come out on disk, I am definitely going to buy a copy.
So, if you haven't already, you really have to go and see this movie. Right now. Seriously. Go ahead and bookmark this page if you want to come back here later, but go on over to movies.yahoo.com or whatever source you use for film listings, find out when and where the very next showing is, and then see the film immediately. You really owe it to yourself. It's the best movie I've seen since "Fight Club."
There is a LOT going on in this film, far more than I will attempt to capture or describe here. Besides, I don't want to give too much away, so you can experience the pleasures of discovery your own self. But, I will say that this film manages to both simultaneously reflect and lampoon my own spiritual search, but without heavy-handed or obvious symbolism.
If nothing else, it is worth the price of admission just for Dustin Hoffman's first scene. In an office full of surrealist and abstract props and clues, from Rene Magritte's bowler hat to a chalkboard full of abstract-expressionist rectangles, Hoffamn explains the nature of reality and the illusion of a separate ego-self in a brilliant send up of some of the Buddha's discourses. But where the Buddha used a handkerchief, Hoffman makes it (literally) warm and fuzzy by using a blanket, and refers to the teaching as "the whole blanket thing." May not sound funny here, but it really is on screen. He then gets the protagonist to engage in a practice reminiscent of zazen by zipping him into a body bag and allowing him to slice through (literally, with clever special effects) successive layers of delusion. Much later, the characters achieve a state on non-thinking ("no mind") by hitting each other repeatedly in the face with a punching ball, an act reminiscent of a slap-stick version of the kyosaku.
The dialogue and action proceeds along rapidly, and the viewer is barely allowed the time to let one idea sink in before the movie proceeds to another great scene, then another, then another. I'm really looking forward to the DVD version so that I can slow the whole thing down a little and try to digest it in spoon-size servings.
The movie's a lot of fun, very funny and very entertaining, and in spite of all the Zen references, not at all heavy-handed or preachy. You really owe it to yourself to go and see "Huckabees."
Friday, November 26, 2004
The rain finally stopped yesterday, and I spent a big part of my Thanksgiving Day raking and blowing away what were hopefully the last of the autumn's leaves. Since the clear weather continued today, I used the opportunity to take a recon hike up Pine Mountain.
However, clear skies by day also mean clear skies at night, and this time of year, clear skies at night means cold weather. The temperature was 38 degrees when I left the house this morning, definitely the coldest day so far this year.
I needed to hike Pine Mountain today because I needed to get out of the city and feel real earth under my feet, but also because I will be leading a hike there with the Zen Center in two weeks (December 11) and I will be out of town (Grand Cayman) scuba diving next week. "Let's Take the Zen Buddhists Hiking" doesn't quite have the ring of Camper Van Beethoven's "Let's Take the Skinheads Bowling," but the former seems to be my fate. Anyway, it's important if you want to lead a successful hike to scout the route beforehand, to remind yourself how to find the trailhead, what the parking situation is, and what the trail conditions are like.
But, as I was saying, the frost was definitely on the pumpkin when I left this morning. I picked up my friend K., who wanted to come along, and we drove south out of Atlanta after the obligatory Starbucks stop and headed down I-85.
Pine Mountain is an anomaly. It's the southernmost mountain in Georgia, but it's not part of the Appalachian chain. It's a quartzite ridge that juts up out of the Piedmont - geologically, some say its a structural window and others call it an anticlinorium - but it makes for a nice hike in a part of the state not known for nice hikes.
It's also near Warm Springs and FDR's Little White House. You also have to drive through Moreland, Georgia to get there. Moreland is the home of the late Lewis Grizzard, southern humorist and columnist, and they even have a "Lewis Grizzard Museum." We didn't stop there, though.
The Pine Mountain Trail is 23 miles long and runs the length of the ridge. However, there's a nice loop trail starting from the western end that's only 6.7 miles and passes by some scenic waterfalls (nothing big - the scale of everything, including the mountain itself, is somewhat modest compared to the grander scale of the North Georgia Appalachians). K. and I found the trailhead after only one wrong turn, and began hiking around 11:00. We found a couple of good sitting spots for Zen meditation along the trail, and even identified a good lunch spot. We got back to the car around 3:00 and back to Atlanta by 5:00.
So, like, you know, mission accomplished and stuff.
Thursday, November 25, 2004
For John Dillinger, and hope that he is still alive:
Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1986 -
Thanks for the wild turkey and the passenger pigeons, destined to be shit out through wholesome American guts.
Thanks for a continent to be spoiled and poisoned.
Thanks for Indians to provide a modicum of challenge and danger.
Thanks for vast herds of bison to kill and skin, leaving their carcasses to rot.
Thanks for bounties on wolves and coyotes.
Thanks for the American dream to vulgarize and falsify until the bare lies shine through.
Thanks for the KKK, for nigger-killing lawmen feelin' their notches, for decent church-going women with their mean, pinched, bitter, evil faces.
Thanks for "Kill a Queer for Christ" stickers.
Thanks for laboratory AIDS.
Thanks for Prohibition and the War Against Drugs.
Thanks for a country where nobody's allowed to mind his own business.
Thanks for a nation of finks.
Yes, thanks for all the memories . . . ("Alright, let's see your arms")
. . . ("You always were a headache and you always were a bore")
Thanks for the last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human dreams.
I will always cherish Burroughs, and will probably listen to his Thanksgiving prayer every year, but it does not really reflect the way I feel today.
Today, I am thankful for my health, to have made it through a half-century on this planet without breaking a bone, without a major illness, without a debilitating handicap.
I am thankful for my home, this nice house I live in, with its trees and leaves, with its location, with its comfort and warmth.
I am thankful for my job, for having a satisfying and challenging career, and for its compensation which provides me health insurance and affords me this home.
I am thankful for all the women who have ever been in my life. Sure, I bitch and moan about heartbreak and loss, but they have all provided me with love and affection when I needed it, and have rewarded and enriched me immeasurably.
And finally, I am thankful for the buddha-dharma, for the Three Treasures, for the Four Noble Truths and for the Eight-Fold Path, and for Zen, Japan's gift to the world.
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
And when it rains, it pours at work, too. Now that the holidays are approaching (four day weekend for Thanksgiving, followed by a five-day dive trip to Grand Cayman next week), clients have suddenly been coming out of the woodwork with short-fuse requests. It's gratifying that business is going well, but a challenge to balance all of their competing priorities with my own.
There was a meeting for the dive trip this evening, but due to the foul weather, only five of the 13 of us showed up. But I got my flight itinerary - I leave next Tuesday at 10:30 a.m.
And that's about all there is to say about today. But allow me to share an email I received today from an old co-worker and friend.
Sent: Tuesday, November 23, 2004 4:45 PM
Subject: Man of the Year Awards
Once again we proudly bring your the Man of The Year Awards. We welcome your submissions for next year.
THE 2004 MAN OF THE YEAR AWARDS
The Third Place Award goes to Sean O'Flanders of Dublin
The Second Place award goes to Abdul Farouk of Kurdistan:
And, the First Place Award goes to Alexive Berchev of Siberia:
Congratulations to all our winners.
Men, try this in America and you may wake up missing Junior and the Twins.
Monday, November 22, 2004
It seems to me that this blog has gone through several incarnations. I started it as a way to put some of my Zen studies on line to share with a small group, but it very quickly morphed into postings of various news clips and other things that interested me. It didn't get autobiographical until late July, when I left for Budapest, but it started to become less of a diary, and more issue-oriented, around the time of the Red Sox-Yankees series and the Presidential election. IMHO, this blog is still in a stage of recovery from those twin competitions, and right now seems to be a goulash of news, humor, autobiography and Zen teachings.
One of the fun things about being spontaneous is that I don't know which way it will go next.
You Are a Life Blogger!
Your blog is the story of your life - a living diary.
If it happens, you blog it. And make it as entertaining as possible.
Meanwhile, the New York Times is presenting contradictory accounts of the effects of the Bush Administration on American television. Frank Rich, in his weekly Sunday tirade, pointed out that 66 ABC affiliates, including Atlanta, refused to broadcast "Saving Private Ryan" last Veterams Day for fear that the FCC would punish them for exercising freedom of speech. The American Family Association found that the movie's soldiers used the word "shit" 21 times, and encouraged (some would say threatened) the affiliates not to air the film. The stations that refused to show the movie included not just Atlanta, but Boston, Detroit, Cleveland and Baltimore. "Saving Private Ryan," with its expletives undeleted, was nationally broadcast by ABC on Veteran's Day in both 2001 and 2002 without incident, and despite the protests of family-values groups.
"What has changed between then and now?," Rich asks. "A government with the zeal to control both information and culture has received what it calls a mandate. Media owners who once might have thought that complaints by the American Family Association about a movie like 'Saving Private Ryan' would go nowhere are keenly aware that the administration wants to reward its base. Merely the threat that the FCC might punish a TV station or a network is all that's needed to push them onto the slippery slope of self-censorship before anyone in Washington even bothers to act. This is McCarthyism, 'moral values' style."
Familiar Frank Rich stuff. However, the Times also reports that the four big broadcast networks, as well as Hollywood production studios, say the nightly television ratings bear little relation to the message apparently sent by the voters. The choices of viewers, whether in Los Angeles or Salt Lake City, New York or Birmingham, are remarkably similar. And that means the election will have little impact on which shows are put on television.
With "Desperate Housewives" and "C.S.I." leading the ratings, television shows are far more likely to keep pumping from the deep well of murder, mayhem and sexual transgression than seek diversion along the straight and narrow path. In the greater Atlanta market, where nearly 58 percent of the voters opted for Bush, "Desperate Housewives" is the top-rated show. So if it is true that the public's electoral choices are a cry for more morally driven programming, why are so many people, even in the markets surrounding Bush bastions Atlanta and Salt Lake City, watching a sex-drenched television drama?
Criticism was heaped on ABC last week for its opening on "Monday Night Football," which included one of the stars of "Desperate Housewives" dropping a towel and jumping naked into the arms of a football player. But even while ABC was apologizing for the segment, cable news and sports networks like ESPN (which is owned by ABC's parent, Walt Disney) were incessantly replaying the offending scene. It is a contradiction played out again and again in popular culture, where for all the backlash against everything from Murphy Brown's single motherhood to Janet Jackson's exposed breast, the boundaries of what's acceptable keep being pushed by the increasingly graphic shows on cable.
But what about violence? According to a Kansas company's yearly ranking based on crime statistics, Atlanta was rated the most dangerous city with populations ranging from 100,000 to 499,000 (third place overall). Macon ranked ninth most dangerous in cities ranging from 75,000 to 99,999 population. Camden, New Jersey, which was ranked third last year, took the dubious honor of first place overall from Detroit, which fell to second in this year's ranking, followed by Atlanta, St. Louis and Gary, Indiana.
The rankings look at the rate for six crime categories: murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and auto theft. It compares 350 cities with populations of 75,000 or more that reported crime data to the FBI. Final 2003 statistics, released by the FBI in October, were used to determine the rankings.
Sunday, November 21, 2004
SAMSARA: Existence prior to liberation, conditioned by the three attitudes of greed, anger and ignorance and marked by continuous rebirths (from "The Eight Gates of Zen" by John Daido Loori)
It's been a strange autumn - I don't know if it's been the effect of the three hurricanes (Charley, Ivan and Jeanne) that passed this way last September, or the sudden cold snap that occurred earlier this month, but the leaves didn't really begin to change color this fall until most of the foliage was already down. Although I've been out raking and leaf blowing nearly every weekend since Jeanne passed through, I didn't notice the autumn colors, all chimney red and pumpkin orange, until this rainy morning, when the muted November light finally revealed the season's palette to me.
A kind of sad, melancholy day to reflect upon a life caught up in samsara. I woke up and took a good long while to drag myself out of bed, brew a pot of coffee and do a little bit of reading. I finally made in over to the Zen Center and hung around for the BOD meeting, which lasted until well past 2:00. By this time, the rain was coming down hard and steady, and the fallen leaves clogged the storm drains creating deep puddles on the roads, which splashed up huge wakes of water as I drove through them coming from the zendo on my way toward Whole Foods, Eatzi's and Publix for food shopping.
The dropping of the autumn leaves is the death that allows the shoots to blossom the next spring, which allow the leaves to fall the next autumn and so on and so forth. But this birth-and-death that I'm caught up in doesn't occur before and after my life, but occurs all the time during this very life - it's the rising of repeated waves of greed, anger and ignorance, and the repeated mistakes I make over and over again in this incarnation. It's all the karmic consequences ever committed by me arising from beginningless greed, anger and delusion. And like a tree, I allow the three poisons to drop away, only to see them return again and manifest themselves in my life, which I then endeavor to allow to drop off again, only to see them return again, etc.
In "The Three Pillars of Zen," Philip Kapleau defines samsara as "the world of relativity; the transformation which all phenomena, including our thoughts and feelings, are ceaselessly undergoing in accordance with the law of causation."
Bassui said, "How can you cut off at a single stroke the sufferings of samsara? As soon as you consider how to advance, you get lost in reasoning; but if you quit you are adverse to the highest path. To be able neither to advance nor to quit is to be a 'breathing corpse.' If in spite of this dilemma you empty your mind of all thoughts and push on with your zazen, you are bound to enlighten yourself and apprehend the phrase, 'Arouse the Mind without its abiding anywhere.' Instantly you will grasp the sense of all Zen dialogue as well as the profound and subtle meaning of the countless sutras."
Bassui also said, "If you would free yourself of the sufferings of samsara, you must learn the direct way to become a Buddha. This way is no other than the realization of your own Mind. Now what is this Mind? It is the true nature of all sentient beings, that which existed before our parents were born and hence before our own birth, and which presently exists, unchangeable and eternal. So it is called one's Face before one's parents were born. This Mind is intrinsically pure. When we are born, it is not newly created, and when we die it does not perish. It has no distinction of male or female, nor has it any coloration of good or bad. It cannot be compared with anything, so it is called Buddha-nature. Yet countless thoughts issue from this Self-nature as waves arise in the ocean or as images are reflected in a mirror."
Saturday, November 20, 2004
Last night, I braved the traffic and drove up to Roswell, Georgia in the rain to visit Kipperkip. We ate pizza and watched home improvement shows on HGTV.
Dave and Edna were both patients in a mental hospital.
One day while they were walking past the hospital swimming pool, Dave suddenly jumped into the deep end. He sank to the bottom of the pool and stayed there. Edna promptly jumped in to save him. She swam to the bottom, pulled Dave out and brought him to his room.
When the hospital director became aware of Edna's heroic act, she immediately ordered that Edna be discharged from the hospital because she now considered Edna to be mentally stable.
She went to Edna and said, "I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that you're being discharged because you responded so rationally to a crisis. By jumping in the pool to save the life of another patient, you displayed sound mindedness. The bad news is that Dave, the patient you saved,hung himself in his bathroom with his bathrobe belt right after you saved him. I am so sorry, but he's dead."
Edna replied, "He didn't hang himself. I put him there to dry".
"How soon can I go home?"
A duck's quack doesn't echo, and no one knows why.
In 10 minutes, a hurricane releases more energy than all the world's nuclear weapons combined.
On average, 100 people choke to death on ballpoint pens every year.
Thirty-five percent of the people who use personal ads for dating are already married.
Elephants are the only animals that can't jump.
Only one person in two billion will live to be 116 or older.
It's possible to lead a cow upstairs...but not downstairs.
Women blink nearly twice as much as men.
The Main Library at Indiana University sinks over an inch every year because when it was built, engineers failed to take into account the weight of all the books that would occupy the building.
A snail can sleep for three years.
Average life span of a major league baseball: 7 pitches.
Our eyes are always the same size from birth, but our nose and ears never stop growing.
The electric chair was invented by a dentist.
All polar bears are left handed.
In ancient Egypt, priests plucked EVERY hair from their bodies, including their eyebrows and eyelashes.
An ostrich's eye is bigger than its brain.
TYPEWRITER is the longest word that can be made using the letters only on one row of the keyboard.
A crocodile cannot stick its tongue out.
"Go." is the shortest complete sentence in the English language.
If Barbie were life-size, her measurements would be 39-23-33.
The cigarette lighter was invented before the match.
Americans on average eat 18 acres of pizza every day.
I was hoping to drive down to Pine Mountain today for a reconnaissance hike along the Pine Mountain Trail, but the threat of continued rain prevented me from going. Tomorrow's supposed to be even worse, and besides, I have a BOD meeting at the Zen Center. I'm leading a hike down to Pine Mountain on December 11, so I need to do a quick recon sometime over the Thanksgiving weekend, as I'll be in Grand Cayman the weekend after Thanksgiving.
Friday, November 19, 2004
In an evening talk, Dogen said:
Even if you are speaking rationally and another person says something unreasonable, it is wrong to defeat him by arguing logically. On the other hand, it is not good to give up hastily saying that you are wrong, even though you think that your opinion is reasonable.
Neither defeat him, nor withdraw saying you are wrong. It is best to just leave the matter alone and stop arguing. If you act as if you have not heard and forget about the matter, he will forget too and will not get angry. This is a very important thing to bear in mind.
Thursday, November 18, 2004
"There's an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there's a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe." - Michael Crighton at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club last year.
Before I get into today's blog entry, let me start off by saying that personally I have no problem with Bush's environmental policies. Although he is routinely bashed on this issue, and I feel no particular urge to start drilling in ANWR, I find that, on the whole, his environmental policies are quite defensible. "I guess you'd say I'm a good steward of the land," Bush mused dreamily during one of the debates. I won't go that far, but my major beef has been over Iraq, and the Patriot Act, and the deficit, and "faith-based initiatives," and the whole gay marriage thing. I can go on, but, sorry, my list doesn't include the environment.
It's not that I don't care about the environment - I'm an environmentalist, and I've been making a living at it for over 20 years. It's just that I think his environmental policies aren't as bad as the popular press has led the public to believe. His policies aren't perfect, and I can quibble over this and that, but my disagreements are no more than I had with either Clinton or Bush, Sr.
Today, I came back from a meeting of environmental managers for chemical-manufacturing facilities. The meeting was held in central Georgia, far from the urban atheists of Atlanta, at a fairly pleasant golf course/resort on a lake. At the meeting, I was surprised to see how far my politics have drifted toward the left. Maybe I'm just a non-conformist, but after eight years of Clinton in the White House, my political inclinations were never further to the right. However, four years of the Bush Administration have subsequently pushed me pretty far back toward the left. As I mingled with the environmental managers, rural Republicans all, I realized just how much I've changed since the invasion of Iraq, and how different I've become from my so-called colleagues.
First of all, not unexpectedly, the meeting included a lot of statements about how lucky we were to finally have Republican control of both the House and Seante, both at the State and Federal level, as well as a Republican Governor and a Republican President. Okay, that wasn't unexpected, but I was surprised at how much it stung. But beyond that, I kept hearing denials of scientific fact on environmental issues, statements like most air pollution is caused by natural pollen and not by man, that ozone depletion is a myth, that PCBs have never been proven to be toxic, and that there is no evidence of global warming. I listened to all of this without arguing - after all, my company sent me to this meeting to market, not to see how many people I could piss off.
Over dinner, someone tried to explain to me that global warming should not even be considered a problem. His reasons included the usual misunderstandings about global temperature fluctuations, although he really got my interest when he asked, "You know how, back in the Bible, people used to live for so long? Like Methuselah living to 900 years?"
"Ummm, yeah," I replied.
"Well, when you think about why that was, you've got to consider Noah's flood. For it to have rained 40 days and 40 nights, there must have been a lot, and I mean A LOT, of water up in the atmosphere beforehand."
I was wondering where this was going, too.
"Well, for that much humidity to remain in suspension, the atmosphere had to have been a lot warmer back then. After all, cold air doesn't retain nearly as much moisture as warm air, right? So, before the flood, it had to have been a lot warmer than it is now, and at that time, people were living a lot longer that they do today. So maybe global warming's not such a bad thing after all. Maybe it's a blessing from the Lord to increase and enrich our lives, and has nothing whatsoever to do with greenhouse gases."
Now, you may be thinking that he was pulling my leg or trying to get a reaction out of me, but I swear all this was said with a straight face. Worse yet, the sermon was starting to attract a crowd, most of whom nodded in approval and agreement.
Now, here in the atheistic urban jungle, professionals do not discuss religion, or faith-based opinions, at business meetings. Sure, you might hear someone mention that he or she attends such-and-such church, or statements that one's business ethics reflect their "Christian values," but certainly not anything like this. However, I fear that our President's faith-based style is encouraging his more rural followers to express any fool thing that pops into their head. Who knows, maybe it's the Lord telling them to speak?
If urban atheists embrace environmentalism as a substitute for traditional Judeo-Christian values as Crighton suggests, then rural believers have no need to make such a substitution and reject environmentalism. At some level, environmentalism might even be considered a challenge to their faith. So now we're moving toward a country of urban environmentalists with no need for religion and rural fundamentalists with no need for environmentalism. If you've got Jesus, why do you need John Muir?
Dinner was served, salmon and steak, and as he dug in my new friend wondered aloud if the salmon might not contain too much mercury, in a mocking tone that implied that only a damn fool would think that fish bio-accumulate toxins like mercury. This was all getting to be a bit too much for me. After eating, I excused myself, wished everyone a good night, and went off to my semi-comfortable room for the night, feeling like more of an alien than I have since my craft first landed on this planet.
The rhetoric seemed a little less pronounced this morning, maybe because everyone was just too tired, or maybe because I was simply numb. The meeting was over by lunch, and I headed home to be back among the urban athiests of Atlanta.
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
As a follow up to part of my post of Nov. 7, I would like to copy the following from another blog (in other words, I'm too lazy to post anything new today):
Tragedy at Tak Bai
Lost in the flurry of last-minute presidential election maneuvers, Tak Bai didn’t even register on the radar of most American media outlets. Thus few people are aware that the global ferment of politicized radical Islam is about to broach a new front--or that its targets this time are Buddhists.
The south of Buddhist Thailand is the country’s Achilles heel, a restive region that abuts Muslim Malaysia. A significant number of people in this area are Muslims, and many among them perceive discrimination from the Buddhist majority. In what has become a very old story told with slight variations around the world, this feeling of isolation and disenfranchisement leads some to advocate for a state of their own. As feelings run high and rebels start to attract attention (sometimes through violent means), the authorities panic and respond with force, setting off a new round of protests. And thus the vicious cycle of local samsara is set in motion to revolve perpetually.
Just such a situation has persisted on a major scale in Sri Lanka for decades, with the Buddhist Sinhalese and the Hindu Tamils locked in a karmic process that has no clear conclusion. Now the stage has been set for misery in Thailand. Violent incidents by Muslim separatists have escalated dramatically this year. Often such attacks are targeted at Buddhist icons as the symbols of non-Muslim culture. Taking a page from the insurgents in Iraq, Thai Muslims have kidnapped and beheaded Buddhist monks. Others have stormed police stations. The situation has been growing more heated, until finally everything was set in place for the tragedy of Tak Bai that took place last week.
When approximately 2,000 Muslim youths gathered for a protest in the southern town of Tak Bai, the mainly Buddhist military police snapped. Most of the protesters were partially stripped, forced to the ground, and had their hands tied behind their backs. Many were beaten. Then trucks were brought in to relocate the youths. They were picked up and bodily thrown into the vehicles, stacked horizontally in piles (hands still bound behind them), and taken off. When the trucks reached their destination six hours later, seventy-eight of the prisoners were dead and many more were wounded. Some had suffocated, some died of heatstroke, while others had their necks broken. Pictures filtering out of Thailand resemble a grisly cross between the genocide of Rwanda and the humiliations of Abu Ghraib. As horrible as this incident was, it will probably be only a prelude of pain to come. Because in our modern globalized world the truth of interconnection is undeniable, and all local conflicts become world wars. Just as the separatists who beheaded monks took their cues from Iraq, the sudden flexing of brute force against Muslim prisoners will likely provoke a response from places much further afield than Thailand.
Osama bin Laden and his comrades are constantly searching for new indignities against Muslims in order to exploit them for political and ideological gain. Now with a prime recruiting tool in the truly horrific actions of the Thai security forces, it won’t be long before money, arms, and perhaps trained guerrillas begin trickling into southern Thailand. And as the struggle heats up, the American military will likely respond in kind, offering weapons and expertise against “a common enemy.” Thailand’s woes won’t likely approach those of Sri Lanka, since the percentage of Buddhists to non-Buddhists is dramatically higher. There simply isn’t any chance that the separatists will win. But that doesn’t mean that both sides won’t reap considerable misery in whatever conflict follows on last week’s events. And in the process, Thailand’s famously happy and relaxed culture is sure to undergo disturbing shifts. Buddhism is already political in Thailand, where the king is a religious figure and his birthday a major holiday. Only time will tell whether the country’s Buddhism will become linked to intolerant nationalistic platforms, as it has in Sri Lanka, or whether a more compassionate dhammic solution is found.
Meanwhile, in a world characterized by the mutual interpenetration of all things, this is far more than an isolated local incident. There is no “over there” that Americans, Buddhist or otherwise, can safely hide behind. Much of the fund-raising for the extremely violent Tamil rebellion in Sri Lanka comes from North America, while Thai troops have taken part in the “Coalition of the Willing” that has brought moderate amounts of freedom and up to 100,000 civilian deaths to Iraq. As we look at Iraq, at Tak Bai, at Ground Zero, at Sri Lanka, at Afghanistan, and try to tally the scorecard of victories and defeats by our allies and enemies, we need to reflect on the pernicious effects of exporting war in the name of peace and sowing chaos in the name of freedom. The Dalai Lama often exhorts us to look upon all beings as our mothers, and to generate loving-kindness toward them for the nurture they gave us in innumerable previous lives. But there is another way of phrasing this infinite inner togetherness that all beings share, a way which is starker but perhaps more appropriate for the times we live in. If all things rise dependent on one another, if in the timeless past every person has held every possible relationship in regards to every other one, then as we survey the latest headlines with dismay, another formulation grimly rises before us: all beings have been our victims.
originally posted by Tricycle Blog at 11/1/2004 11:40:21 AM
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
The Bush Administration suffered still more resignations today: CNN and MSNBC reported this morning that Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson will both resign. The two resignations are the latest in a series over recent days as Bush prepares for a second term. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, Education Secretary Rod Paige and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham all said on Monday that they will leave. Commerce Secretary Don Evans and Attorney General John Ashcroft announced their resignations last week, meaning six of Bush's 15 Cabinet members are leaving. At least three of the Cabinet chairs are expected to go to White House insiders, reflecting Bush's desire to send only trusted lieutenants to implement his policies and to extend his influence government-wide.
In this regard, Bush has chosen National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to replace Powell as America's top diplomat. Rice, 50, has been one of Bush's longest-serving and most loyal cabinet members. She had worked at the National Security Council for former President Bush and went on to be provost of Stanford University before working in the current president's 2000 campaign. It had been rumored that she was considering a return to California or was hoping to replace Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary.
At an anniversary dinner for the Nation magazine, McGruder caused the mostly anti-war audience discomfort when he said, "I've met Condoleezza Rice and called her a murderer to her face." On the nationally syndicated television show "Black Forum," he repeated the charge, arguing that Rice, as one of the administration's "biggest hawks," advised the president on a war that led to the "slaughter of innocent people in Iraq." Some of the panelists assembled in the Washington studio winced at the remarks. The low-key McGruder, 29, asserted that he has a right to his opinion.
"She's a murderer because I believe she's a murderer," he said coolly.
Monday, November 15, 2004
On the home front, Kipperkipp sent me an email link to the Atlanta Pet Rescue, which had pictures of all the doggies up for adoption. Well, they were awfully cute, and I love dogs. In fact, I love them so much, that I don't have one. It wouldn't be fair to the pooch to keep one with my lifestyle: I work late most days, only to turn around and go out many nights. A dog needs to be played with, and I would only have a couple of hours (on a good day) to play - I'm afraid a dog would feel ignored, and be lonely. Dogs needs kids to play with, or at least someone with the time and energy to devote to them.
I once had a cat for a while, but even an independent cat gets lonely with my lifestyle. Karma the cat came wandering into the zendo during the August 2003 sesshin, and I caught her as she scampered up the aisle between the sitting meditators. As I carried her out the door, I held her close and rubbed my bearded chin against her head, and when she started purring, I thought "Shit! Now I've got a cat... "
However, a feral kitten has a lot of energy, and she was so starved for attention when I got home, and so disappointed when I would just change my clothes and head back out the door. So, a week or two later, to give her some company during the day, I captured her brother playing outside of the zendo, which wasn't hard because he had a broken leg.
L. and I took the broken-leg brother (Joshu) to the vet, who put a pin in his leg and told us that he couldn't play with Karma, his sister, for at least six weeks while the leg mended. To make matters worse, he put a funnel collar on Joshu so he wouldn't pick at his stitches. Given the situation, L. kept Joshu at her place and I kept Karma, so the plan to have the two provide company for each other didn't quite work out. Instead of one attention-starved cat on our hands, we now had two to maintain.
Eventually, though, Joshu did recover, and the two were finally allowed to play together, but by this time, each had gotten territorial over their own homes. It was apparent that Karma was happiest at my house, and that Joshu was more comfortable at L.'s, so that at best they only got to visit one another when L. and I visited one another. It seemed we were always arriving at one another's house with a cat-carrier bag slung over our shoulders.
After the Christmas holiday, those visits became less and less frequent. Poor Karma had no one to play with all day, and I'd come home and see her staring out of the living room window, waiting for me to return. As soon as I walked in, she'd criss-cross my path meowing, wanting to be picked up and held, and would sit by the door pouting when I headed back out. Not a happy cat.
So, when L. and I finally separated, I decided to give Karma to her, so that Karma could play with her brother Joshu all day. Even though L. travelled more than I did, and was probably home even less, I felt it was more humane to the cats to let them play together all day than to keep them apart in typically unoccupied homes. Last summer, when my ex-g.f. L. briefly became my former ex- etc., the two cats seemed healthier and happier than they had been at any other time, so I think the decision was the right one.
Friday, November 12, 2004
"Our practice cannot be perfect, but without being discouraged by this, we should continue it. This is the secret of practice." - Shunryo Suzuki
November's new moon occurred at 9:27 this morning, and it will be waxing until the next full moon on Friday, November 26.
Thursday, November 11, 2004
I got the first stripe on my white belt at karate today. For those of you who know anything about karate, that's about the equivalent of "I managed to walk in the front door and not fall on my face or have the door slam my ass." But, hey, a journey of a thousand miles starts with but a single step.
We practiced sparring, taking turns quickly flashing a target (a hand-held pad) while our partner tried to punch it. We also had the option of trying to strike our partner with the pad instead of offering it up for a blow. The partner never knew which would be coming - an opportunity to strike, or the need to block or duck. "If you think, you die," the instructor said.
That is, if you take the time to think about what you have to do (i.e., punch, duck or block), it will be too late -- you'll either miss the target or get hit with the pad. The response has to be totally reflexive - no mind. In this respect, then, karate is somewhat like zen. Trust your instincts, both practices teach us, don't try to analyze or rationalize your every move. Just be in the present moment, give up ego-attachment, and do what comes naturally.
Mind and body are one. The Japanese word "shin" means both mind and body - no difference, no separation. "You" are not your thoughts or your memories or your personality any more or any less than you are your reflexes, your musculature or your gall bladder.
If you look at the brain, most people's idea of the residency of the "mind," you'll see that it tapers down at the base and runs down the spine. And from the spinal column, the entire nervous system branches out throughout the rest of the body. So where does the brain actually end, and the rest of the body begin? It's an arbitrary distinction.
Where does the mind end?
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
Attended my first Collier Hills Civic Association meeting tonight. It was interesting to meet some of my neighbors and to learn about some of the issues going on in my new neighborhood: construction of sidewalks (hurray!) on Collier Road will begin in December; a new medical office building will be going up in Piedmont Hospital that will increase traffic on Collier Road; new developments in the area, one getting started to the south of the Collier Hills neighborhood and one planned in the north end of the neighborhood; and road improvements on Northside Drive.
On the way home, I called Kipperkipp and we had a nice conversation that lasted over 90 minutes. We made a date for dinner on Saturday night.
Tuesday, November 09, 2004
Attorney General John Ashcroft resigned in the first of a string of departures expected before President Bush is inaugurated for a second term. Mr. Ashcroft's resignation will end one of the more controversial tenures in the attorney general's office in recent decades. To his critics, he has been willing to skirt the Constitution to fulfill his and President Bush's concept of national security.
"The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved," Mr. Ashcroft wrote without a hint of irony in a five-page, handwritten letter to Mr. Bush.
Here was the reaction in Missouri:
"Hell yeah! Did you hear that? Ashcroft resigned! He's going....
[face falls, pregnant pause]
Meanwhile, back here in Georgia, the Cobb County school district is placing stickers in biology books saying that read, "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."
A lawyer for the school district said it was silly to consider the stickers a promotion of religion. "It doesn't say anything about faith. It doesn't say anything about religion," he said.
The parent who led a petition drive that pushed for the stickers, Marjorie Rogers, testified that the stickers were needed because science books discriminate against people who believe men were created by God, not through a slow process of natural selection. "My problem is that only Darwinian evolution is presented. None of the criticism is presented," Rogers said.
Georgia is 49th in the nation in education, as measured by SAT scores. Without a proper education, how does the Cobb County school district expect students to "critically consider" their own textbooks? Ask a preacher? Of course, a critical lack of education goes a long way toward explaining Ms. Marjorie Rogers.
This is what scientists mean by theories: In the scientific hierarchy, theories are higher than fact, because theories explain facts. Facts are simply individual, isolated, verifiable observations or experimental results. Evolution is a theory that makes sense of millions of facts of natural history -- the age of the earth, the succession of fossils in the fossil record, the genetic capabilities of organisms -- and as such it ties things together in an extraordinary way that has been equaled by few theories in biology.
Should evolution be critically examined? Yes. Everything in science should be critically examined. If the disclaimer were to urge that all scientific theories should be critically examined with an eye toward the evidence and contrary points of views and so forth, it would have my complete agreement. However, the Cobb County disclaimer singles out evolution as the only theory that should be critically examined in science. There are counter-arguments to just about everything in science. The mistake of the disclaimer is to single out evolution for special attention and special criticism as if it alone among scientific theories is uniquely weak, uniquely shaky or uniquely suspect. That is definitely not the case.
Monday, November 08, 2004
After last weekend's sesshin, the Rev. Teijo Munnich spoke at Emory University tonight. Which was fine, except that I couldn't go because Monday night is my evening to open the zendo. Which was fine, except that since she was speaking at Emory, I had no one show up for services. Which was fine, I could leave early, or so I thought until one person finally did arrive.
Which was fine. The one person, Mike, was a former Monday-night regular, and it was nice to see him again. We sat for the regular one-hour service and had a nice chat afterwords.
I got home from the zendo at around 9:30 and found a most intriguing email in my inbox. I'm a little uncomfortable vis-a-vis posting an email from a stranger without prior consent. Anyway, the author, let's call her Kipperkipp, described herself as follows: Happy in my own skin, on a good day I stand 5'4" and weigh 120 lbs. (on the same good day). I have longish brown hair and blue eyes. I'm an artist -- painting and sculpture - and am also an armchair anthropologist, which provides endless fodder of subject matter for my work. The primary focus of my art has to do with multi-cultural stuff - religion, mythology, human practices and ideas that are in contrast to the cultural constructs that we live in. Know what I mean? Because the economy is what it is (el sucko), I've recently put the art career on hold to work in public relations for a gimongaloid soft drink company.
Now, that's interesting . . .
Sunday, November 07, 2004
There's not really much to report today. I didn't go back to the sesshin this morning because when I woke up, my legs were so sore I could barely walk. I don't know if that's from the sitting yesterday or from Thursday's "Night of 1,000 Kicks," or a combination of the two, but the idea of going back for more sitting just seemed too painful.
So, with nothing else to report, here's some random things I saw on the Internet today:
SEATTLE (AP) — A lava formation inside Mount St. Helens' crater has a new, glowing protrusion the size of a 30-story building. The protrusion, which glows red at night, has risen by 330 feet in the past nine days, pushed up by magma, or molten rock, within the volcano, scientists said Friday.
"It seems like every time you think you know what's going on, (the volcano) twists and does something different," said Jeff Wynn, chief scientist for volcano hazards at the Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver.
The overall lava formation began building last month and has grown to roughly the size of an aircraft carrier, 900 feet long and 250 feet wide. Magma is reaching at the surface at the rate of 7 to 8 cubic meters — about one large dump truck load — every second!
I'm almost reluctant to post this one, not because it's somewhat macabre but out of fear of creating or furthering the delusion of "us" and "them" - that is, of reinforcing the impression that I am concerned about this because "I" am on one side and "they" are on the other. But anyway, here's the story from the AP wires:
BANGKOK -- Nine Buddhists, including two policemen, were killed in a series of shootings in southern Thailand's bloodiest 24 hours since a government crackdown on a riot last week left 85 Muslims dead. The slayings heightened anxiety yesterday among Buddhists over apparent revenge attacks in the mainly Islamic region, including the beheading this week of a local official.
The latest violence started Wednesday night with the shooting deaths of a police sergeant in the southern province of Songkhla and two civilians in nearby Narathiwat. Yesterday, police Major Kaow Kosaiyakanon was killed when a man posing as a customer entered his grocery store, shot him and fled. A gunman also shot to death a motorcycle salesman, 42-year-old Taweesak Monthong, and seriously wounded one of his co-workers elsewhere in Yala, police said. Also yesterday, two railway employees were fatally shot while inspecting tracks in Narathiwat. In Pattani province, a district official was shot to death, and in nearby Songkhla, a Buddhist monk on his way to a religious ceremony was fatally wounded by a motorcycle gunman.
Police said they suspected Islamic insurgents were behind the attacks, but no arrests were made.
Finally, here's some upcoming concerts in Atlanta you might consider checking out:
CAMPER VAN BEETHOVEN / CRACKER
C.V.B. first emerged from small-town California's counter-culture hub, Santa Cruz, with the debut "Telephone Free Landslide Victory." The 1985 album featured the much-beloved single, "Take the Skinheads Bowling," an ode to the therapeutic nature of hurling a 15-pound ball at helpless pins. Two albums later, C.V.B. signed with Virgin Records and released "Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart" in 1988. In the group's 1989 release "Key Lime Pie," vocalist David Lowery espoused about laundromats, cul de sacs and crotchety old men dreaming of winning the lottery. Cracker's self-titled debut yielded the hit "Teen Angst," and the band's sophomore release "Kerosene Hat" continued the run with the hit "Low." These songs were mixed blessings for Cracker. While they raised its profile, they got the band lumped in with other flavor-of-the-month hit-makers, inviting a quick fade. It's a shame. Lowery writes witty, harsh and sometimes apocalyptic songs about relationships, fame and shady characters, and Cracker has consistently produced rock-solid albums. (Variety Playhouse, 1099 Euclid Avenue in Little Five Points. 404-524-7354, Fri., Nov. 12 at 8:30.)
The last time Los Angeles’ beloved Afro-Latin-and-beyond style-mashers released an album, it was September 11, 2001. While most bands in the United States responded to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by canceling their concerts, Ozomatli's multi-racial crew who have never been shy about their commitment to social justice, progressive politics, and anti-war convictions - decided to keep their dates and keep playing. “Music is the key to every culture, the beginning of an understanding,” says trumpet player and co-vocalist Asdru Sierra. “September 11 really pushed us to delve into North African and Arab music. For us, music is a language far more universal than politics.” Street Signs, the band’s first full-length studio album in three years, bears this new Middle Eastern influence out in typical Ozo style, by mixing it into their trademark blend of hip-hop and Latin styles. On the album, the band is joined by Eddie Palmieri, the legendary Latin jazz and salsa pianist, their original MC Chali 2na (now of Jurassic 5) and their original DJ Cut Chemist, veteran Moroccan sintir master Hassan Hakmoun, the acclaimed French-Jewish gypsy violinsts Les Yeux Noir, the Prague Symphony (yes, The Prague Symphony), Los Lobos singer-guitarist David Hidalgo, new MC Jabu (formerly of 4th Avenue Jones) and guest drummer Mario Calire (formerly of The Wallflowers). Throw in a board mixologist who’s worked with everyone from Justin Timberlake and NERD to Michael Jackson and Prince (Serben Ghenea), and engineers who’ve collaborated with the likes of Beck, Santana, Jack Johnson, and Cypress Hill (Robert Carranza and Anton Pukshansky), and you get what is easily the band’s most vibrant and ambitious project to date. (Variety Playhouse, 1099 Euclid Avenue in Little Five Points. 404-524-7354, Sat., Nov. 13 at 8:30.)
CALIFORNIA GUITAR TRIO
Paul Richards of Utah, Bert Lams of Brussels, Belgium, and Hideyo Moriya of Tokyo first met in England at one of Robert Fripp's Guitar Craft Courses in 1987. After completing several of these intensive courses, the three toured worldwide with Fripp's League of Crafty Guitarists. Wanting to continue together after the League had run its course, they all convened in Los Angeles and founded The California Guitar Trio in 1991. Fusing their individual backgrounds in classical music (Lams), rock and jazz (Richards) and surf music (Moriya), the newborn CGT began to play in coffee shops and then in more prestigious venues (e.g. The Troubadour and House of Blues) honing their intricate original compositions, surf covers, and classical re-workings. In 1993, the trio released their first full-length album, 'Yamanashi Blues" which features brilliant interlocked acoustic instrumentals such as "Kan-non Power", surf tunes, and Bach pieces. With a whirlwind of instrumental styles fusing classical, rock, blues, jazz, country, as well as the quintessential California musical genre surf music, the CGT's stunning virtuosity and sly sense of humor have earned them a rabid following and wide notoriety, with significant crossover in the progressive and acoustic music scenes. Their music has been used as a backdrop on The Weather Channel and ESPN, and most notably during the television coverage of the 1998 Winter Olympics and the 2000 Summer Olympics. (Red Light Cafe. 553 Amsterdam Ave. 404-874-7828. Fri., Nov. 19 at 8:30)
McCOY TYNER TRIO WITH PHAROAH SANDERS AND RAVI COLTRANE
McCoy Tyner is one of the most revered and influential jazz pianists and composers of all time, constantly expanding the music’s vocabulary of color and harmony. His Trio includes bassist Charnett Moffett and, on drums, Eric Harland. For this performance, Tyner will be joined by the great tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and by Ravi Coltrane, son of jazz giant John Coltrane and a dynamic saxophonist in his own right. "With [Tyner’s] new trio and the tenor saxophonists Ravi Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders as guests, one saw a band that mattered, not just historically, but now.” — The New York Times (Rialto Center for the Performing Arts. 80 Forsyth Street. 404-651-2981. Sat., Nov. 20 at 8)