Tuesday, May 31, 2005

First of all, thank you for allowing me the respite from words over the long Memorial Day weekend. Sometimes, I feel that a picture can point at the moon more directly than even the best-worded, most carefully composed essay. A picture's worth, et cet.

Sleepless, insomniac night last evening. I stayed up and read until about 12:45, but still couldn't get to sleep. When I eventually did finally nod off, I woke again shortly (about 4 a.m.), and couldn't get back to sleep. I finally decided that instead of laying there tossing and turning, to finally get up and go, for like the first time ever, to the early morning (6-7 a.m.) sitting at the zendo.

Driving there was easy, since last Saturday morning they finally got that guy off of the crane towering over Buckhead. Detectives, luring him close with an offer of water, shot him with a Taser and recovered him while he was stunned. End of crisis: traffic resumed as normal for the rest of the weekend.

My first post regarding this poor guy may have been misunderstood. I did not mean to imply that his dilemma represented an "out of the frying pan and into the fire" situation, but instead that all of our lives are much like his situation - we refuse to look back and acknowledge all of our accumulated karma, and at the same time we do not allow body and mind to drop away and make the quantum leap forward into realization, annihilating the concept of ego-self. Spiritually speaking, we're all out there on the crane, wondering what to do.

I was certainly out on the crane last night as I was laying sleepless in bed. Insomnia tends to bring out dark thoughts that are either suppressed or just not considered during the day - my own mortality, personal failures and shortcomings, desolation, loneliness, the whole nine yards. The morning sit helped. So much so that I went back again in the evening for that service, too.

Don't you wish that you had a friendly neighborhood zendo?

Thursday, May 26, 2005

It's getting impossible to drive around my own neighborhood. First, the city is still digging up the water main along Peachtree Road that leaked in front of my old karate studio and created a huge sinkhole - the road is down to two lanes, bottle-necking traffic in both directions, and now the storefront building is collapsing into the sinkhole. Next, they're building sidewalks along the side road off of which I live, reducing that road to a single lane with flagmen holding traffic up in both directions - it took me 15 minutes to pass the work zone earlier this week. And the latest is some guy, wanted for murder in Florida, climbed a crane in Buckhead and has been perched 25 stories up for 24 hours now, refusing to come down and threatening to jump if anyone gets too close. This has completely shut down all lanes on Peachtree in both directions in the very heart of Buckhead. Sheesh, why bother even owning a car? You can't get anywhere!

The compassionate right-wing pundits on A.M. talk radio are suggesting just hiring a sniper to shoot the guy down - apparently, to them a human life isn't worth the inconvenience of not having easy access to high-end shopping. The poor guy is obviously confused - he can't summon the courage to jump, he's not willing to turn himself in to the police, and he can't figure a way out of the predicament he's got himself into.

It might be difficult, but put yourself in his situation. Things are going from bad to worse - you lose your temper and kill your girlfriend, then flee the state. Out of shame or remorse or what have you, by the time you get to Atlanta, you decide to end it all and see this big old crane towering over the city. Somehow, you get past the security and the construction workers and take the elevator up to the top and then climb out onto the crane itself. But once up there, the height is more frightening than you ever could have imagined, and you can't get yourself to jump. But the next thing you know, the police show up and if you turn yourself in to them, then you'll have to face all your mistakes back home in Florida and you just can't do that. And then, as if that wasn't enough, next the media jumps in, and you're on television and the newspapers and the Internet and talk radio jocks want to shoot you and helicopters are buzzing around like you're King Fucking Kong and there's absolutely no way out . . .

To retreat is to face all of the messes that you've made. To proceed is annihilation. To neither retreat nor proceed feeds a media circus. So tell me, what would you do?

The Red Thread koan is much like this. The prologue reads, "As soon as there is affirmation and denial, the mind is lost in a sea of "yes" and "no." To act freely and unrestrainedly, just as one wishes, is the self-styled practice of anything-goes Zen. To sit blankly, in quietism, is the practice of a corpse. To proceed is to miss the teachings. To retreat is to deny the truth. To neither proceed nor retreat is a dead person breathing. So tell me, what would you do?"

Or, to put it another way,
Not falling, not ignoring,
Odd and even are on the same die.
Not ignoring, not falling,
Hundreds and hundreds of regrets.

- Mu-mon (1183-1260), from The Gateless Gate, Case 02

We don't need a sniper to fix this situation, we need a Zen Master!

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

I spent five and a half hours this evening typing laboratory analytical data into a spreadsheet and then playing around with different graphical presentations of the data, and I needed to exercise the right-hand side of my brain for a while. So I picked up a copy of "Zen Masters" by John Stevens that I had borrowed from the Center, with the intention of just breezing through it for the poetry, and if a Zen lesson didn't exactly jump out at me, at least I got another glimpse of the interesting relation between Zen and sexuality.

According to Stevens, the Chinese master Lin-chi used to admonish his disciples not to "love the sacred and disdain the profane." He taught that if they did so, they would never escape from the "whirl of samsara." Ikkyu Sojun (1394-1481), a maverick Japanese master, took Lin-chi's advice a step further, and taught "if you are thirsty, you dream of water; if you are cold, you dream of a warm coat; as for me, I dream of the pleasures of the boudoir - that's my nature." Ikkyu considered himself to be one of Lin-chi's true heirs and called his favorite hermitage "Blind Donkey Hut" after Lin-chi's prophesy that his teaching would be transmitted by "blind donkeys" - stubborn, uncompromising followers of Zen who were not dazzled by fame and wealth.

Ikkyu was sent to be an acolyte at a Zen temple in Kyoto at the age of five. Given the tendencies in the temples at the time, Ikkyu likely was initiated into shudo, the way of the young, but soon lost interest in that sort of thing. However, he became fascinated by the opposite sex, and when he later took a wife he wrote:

Exhausted with homosexual pleasures, I embrace my wife;
The narrow path of asceticism is not for me,
My mind runs in the opposite direction.
It is easy to be glib about Zen - I'll just keep my mouth shut
And rely on love-play all day long.

One day, Ikkyu was traveling in an isolated area when he happened upon a woman preparing to bathe in a river. Ikkyu stopped, bowed reverently toward her, and continued on his way. Several passersby who witnessed this unusual scene ran after Ikkyu for an explanation of his strange behavior. "An ordinary man would have ogled that naked woman," they said. "Why did you bow to her?" Ikkyu explained, "Women are the source from which every being has come, including the Buddha and Bodhidharma!" He later wrote:

Follow the rule of celibacy and you are no more than an ass.
Break it and you are only human.
The spirit of Zen is manifest in ways as countless as the sands of the Ganges.
Every newborn is a fruit of the conjugal bond.
For how many eons have the secret blossoms been budding and fading?

With a young beauty, I am engrossed in fervent love-play;
We sit in the pavilion, a pleasure girl and this Zen monk.
I am enraptured by hugs and kisses
And certainly do not feel as if I am burning in hell.

For Ikkyu, the passions were the anvil on which true enlightenment is forged:

A sex-loving monk, you object!
Hot-blooded and passionate, totally aroused.
But then lust can exhaust all passion,
Turning base metal into gold.

The lotus flower
Is not stained by the mud;
This dewdrop form,
Alone, just as it is,
Manifests the real body of truth.

The great Zen poet Ryokan (1758-1831) would beg for food in front of the village brothel. In fact, if the girls were not busy, they would come out and play marbles with Ryokan. When his brother heard of this, he teased Ryokan with a poem:

The black-robed monk
Sports with
Pleasure girls -
What can be
In his heart?

Ryokan replied:

Sporting and sporting
As I pass through this floating world
Finding myself here
Is it not good
To dispel the bad dreams of others?

His brother was still not satisfied:

Sporting and sporting
While passing through this world
Is good, perhaps,
But don't you think of
The world to come?

Ryokan's conclusion was:

It is in this world,
With this body
That I sport.
No need to think
About the world to come.

All of this relates back to the famous Zen story about the old Chinese woman who supported a monk. She had built a little hut for him, let him live there for over 20 years, and fed him while he was meditating. Finally, she wondered just what progress he had made in all this time. To find out, she obtained the help of a beautiful young girl. "Go and embrace him," she told her, "and then ask him suddenly, 'What now?'"

The girl called upon the monk and without much ado caressed him, asking him what he was going to do about it. "An old tree grows on a cold rock in winter," replied the monk, somewhat poetically. "Nowhere is there warmth."

The girl returned and related what he had said. "To think that I fed that fellow for 20 years!" exclaimed the old woman in anger. At once, she went to the hut of the monk and burned it down.

When Ikkyu heard this story, he reportedly said, "If a beautiful girl were to embrace this monk, my old tree would spring straight up!"

Monday, May 23, 2005

Not Cancer

Man walks into the doctor's office and says, "Doc, you gotta take a look at this lump on my lymph gland. The dentist thinks that it might be cancer, and wants to get your opinion."

The doctor feels the gland, asks the man to move his neck this way and that, swallow a few times and so on.

The doctor looks at the man and says, "I don't think you have anything to worry about. I'll have you come back on a few months and see if anything's different, but I don't think it's cancer."

Okay, so it's not funny, but it sounded good to me at the time. The doctor went on and told me that she couldn't rule cancer out, but didn't see the need to go into a needle biopsy for diagnostic lab work based on her exam (and I hope to never hear the words "needle biopsy" mentioned in the same sentence with the underside of my jaw again). If the lump gets bigger or starts to cause me pain, she wants me to come right back in, but otherwise, we just need to monitor it and see what happens.

The doctor was also very helpful about some of my upcoming dental surgery, and even expressed a second opinion on my ongoing sinus situation and offered me an alternative prescription to the Sudafed on which I've been living.

Afterwards, I went to the Zen Center to take refuge in the three treasures. We're having a week-long sesshin, which I am going to have to miss for the most part, but it was good to be there on a Monday night, especially this Monday night, and just be able to sit for a couple of hours, and not have to lead the sutra or deliver a dharma talk.

What's been especially impressive to me the last several days has been the support and openness I've received from several of the sangha. A friend in Athens wrote me a very nice email and shared a little of his wife's struggle with, and eventual overcoming of, cancer. And, on a few posts back, Linda of The Cave blog left a very frank and uncharacteristically candid comment about her struggles. The sangha and the blogosphere both were letting me know that I wasn't in this alone.

So, anyway, we never know what's going to happen next, although we all know that sooner or later, somehow or another, we're all going to die, but it looks like the theme for "Buddha Rhubarb Butter" is not going to be "My Cancer Year," although, damn, that would have made for some good blogging material. I guess it's back to the same old random dharma quotes, pointless personal anecdotes, eco-rants and on-going violations of the U.S. copyright laws.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

"You cannot live sheltered forever without ever being exposed, and at the same time be a spiritual adventurer. Be audacious. Be crazy in your own way, with that madness in the eyes of man that is wisdom in the eyes of God. Take risks, search and search again, search everywhere, in every way, and do not let a single opportunity or chance that life offers pass you by, and do not be petty and mean, trying to drive a hard bargain."
- Arnaud Desjardins

Okay. For those of you wondering about the new blog title, "Buddha Rhubarb Butter" is the name of a song by M. Doughty recorded by Soul Coughing ("And at the salad bar a man stares into the croutons hypnotized by powers of the Bac-O-Bits"). Don't think too hard about it - it just sounded good to me.

Meanwhile, yesterday I went up to the North Georgia Mountains to recon next month's Zen hike. Just north of Dahlonega, at the intersection of U.S. 19 and S.R. 60, I passed the big rock pile literally in the middle of the road known as Trahlyta's Grave. According to "The Ghostly Folklore of White County" by Nathan Couch, Stone Pile Gap is the burial mound of the Cherokee princess, Trahlyta, the fairest and most beautiful of all the Cherokee women. But as age came upon her, her beauty faded and she went to the Cedar Mountain Witch for help. The Witch told her of a spring of water in the mountains that held the power of The Great Spirit, and as long as drank and bathed in the water, her beauty would last forever.

Then one day, a rejected suitor named Wahsega kidnapped Trahlyta and held her captive. Kept from the magical waters of the mountain, she faded in front of the young brave. Her last wish was to be buried amongst the mountains she loved so much. And there she lies, under a pile of stone, and they say if you place a stone on her grave good fortunes come to you. But it's also said if you remove a stone, you will suffer the curse of the Cedar Mountain Witch. Twice in history men have tried to move the stones to build roads. Both times horrible accidents happened, and people were killed. And that is why the roads were built around her grave. The water in the area, Porter Springs is still said to hold healing powers.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

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.

Friday, May 20, 2005

"What we're talking about is getting to know fear, becoming familiar with fear, looking it right in the eye - not as a way of solving problems, but as a complete undoing of old ways of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and thinking. The truth is that when we really begin to do this, we're going to be continually humbled."
- Pema Chodron

Thursday, May 19, 2005

That C Word

As I said, yesterday was my first visit to the dentist in a while.

If you haven't met me, I'll tell you right now that I have fucked up teeth. My folks had me in braces for a while when I was a pre-teen, but for some reason, they decided to have them taken off before the treatment was done. This seemed like a win-win situation at the time - my Dad got to save money that he was spending at the orthodontist, I was rid of the bane of my existence at that time, and both my folks got to stop listening to my belly-aching.

But the treatment wasn't done, and the teeth were still crooked, but what didn't bother me as a young boy didn't bother me in my drug-addled teens, and made me only mildly self conscious in my 20s. In my 30s, the crooked teeth were a definite liability, but nothing that kept me down, but by my 40s they became a downright embarrassment. So I neglected them even further and often avoided the dentist for years on end at times, which, of course, only made the situation worse.

So anyway, this year I finally resolved that I was going to deal with the whole situation and get the teeth cleaned, straightened and healthy, be it by appliances or by replacement, and I made an appointment last month at a dentist that L. had recommended.

Now, as you can imagine, I'm self conscious enough about my teeth in front of lay people, but showing them to professionals like dentists, dental assistants and dentist office receptionists is just unmitigated hell for me. But you gotta do what you gotta do, and the pros were, well, professionals and treated me well through the reception, through the x-rays, and through the cleaning.

Then came the consultation with the dentist himself.

Now, first of all, he was great. Nice manners, nice style, nice guy, but that's not the issue. The problem was, as he was examining me, looking from the x-rays to my mouth, he was concerned about the wisdom teeth, and feeling my neck and throat, he found a lump on my lymph gland.

"Is it sensitive?" he asked as he pressed on it.

It was - not painfully so, but I could feel a tenderness. So I asked the obvious - what would that mean?

"Well, it could be an infection from an abscess or something beneath the wisdom tooth" he said. "Or it could be cancer."

The "C" word. Damn that Bermuda triangle!

The doctor seemed fairly concerned and said he was going to make me an appointment at an oral surgeon. "It's not urgent," he said, "but I want you to go this week."

Well, that was impossible, because at the time, I still thought that I was going to be driving to Brunswick later in the day, but the doctor insisted that I go no later than Monday. So, now I have an appointment to go to the oral surgeon at 2:45 p.m. on Monday and let her see if she can determine the cause of the lump. That should make an interesting blog entry.

So here's what I'm looking at - according to the dentist, if it's an infection, I'll probably be facing wisdom tooth extraction and some gum surgery. Regardless of that outcome, he wants to replace a bunch of my old fillings, sees a potential root canal or two, and wants to pull my four lower front teeth and replace them with a dental implant. The upper front teeth will probably be capped.

No one's saying anything about cancer yet, but here's what I've found on line: "The lymphatic system is a series of microscopic vessels that drain fluid away from the tissues and return it to the blood system. Throughout this system, there are small organs called lymph nodes and there are clusters of these nodes around the body, especially in the neck, groin and armpits. The spleen is also part of this system. The lymphomas are divided into two main categories: Hodgkin's disease and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Hodgkin's disease is most likely to be diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40. The cause of the disease is unknown but there is some evidence that it may be caused by the same virus that causes glandular fever. The first sign is usually firm but painless swelling of the lymph glands. Swelling of the lymph glands is a natural response to infection, but in this case the glands are also tender to touch. Other symptoms include tiredness, weight loss, severe night sweats, fever and generalized itchy skin."

Well, that describes me pretty well. I had no idea of the presence of the lump, never felt it, but it was tender to the dentist's touch. And maybe the recurring fevers and fatigue weren't residual symptoms of the flu after all.

"Hodgkin's disease affects the lymph glands and may be hidden in deeper parts of the body as well. Your doctor will want to know whether these lymph glands or nodes are involved as this will influence the kind of treatment required. Common tests include: removal of an affected gland for investigation, a bone marrow sample taken from the back of the hip bone, X-rays and CT Scans.

The treatment of Hodgkin's disease normally involves radiotherapy, chemotherapy or both. The type of treatment depends on the number of clusters of lymph glands and the types of cells involved. For some patients, radiotherapy may be all the treatment they require to be cured. The patient will attend a specialist center as an outpatient for six to eight weeks. Chemotherapy is usually given as injections into veins and tablets may also be prescribed. It is usually given on an outpatient patient basis at three to four weekly intervals over a period of four to six months. Chemotherapy may make patients lose their hair but it will grow back over the next few months. Chemotherapy may cause sickness but doctors will give additional medicines to prevent this."

Well, nothing to worry about there - I already shave my head bald, so how bad could it be?

Then finally, here's the good news: "Even though this is a serious disease, there is a good chance that patients will be cured, especially if the disease is detected early."

So maybe I have Hodgkin's disease and maybe I don't. I will face either possibility with equanimity. In the meantime, there's nothing that I can do about it so I might as well enjoy my life and not worry about things that I have no control over.

It's a Zen thing.

My magnolias still aren't blooming but now the ones near my office are.

The Atlanta Water Department is still digging up the leaky water line on Peachtree in front of my old karate studio.

Saturday, I'm off to the north Georgia mountains for a little recon prior to the June 11 hike with the Zen Center.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Dentists, Lawyers and Other Pains

It was kind of an interesting day today, in a sort of out-of-the-office kind of way. I spent the morning at the dentist, probably my first appointment since late in the summer of 2003, but I can't even get myself to blog about that yet. Just suffice it to say that I can still taste rubber gloves in my mouth.

In the afternoon, I had a meeting with some lawyer clients of mine. Now, despite the title above, I'm not going to make lawyer jokes. I get a lot of my work from lawyers, and I'm one of those apparently rare persons who actually likes lawyers. I guess that what we have in common is an enjoyment of arguing.

But anyway, the meeting was a sort of good news/bad news affair, at least professionally (and also personally, at least a little). I was planning to drive down to Brunswick, Georgia (four-plus hour drive) immediately following the meeting for two days of environmental sampling, but learned that the trip was cancelled - the litigants apparently decided to mediate instead of allowing me to obtain my samples. That was bad professionally - I could have used the two days' billable work - but nice personally - as I said, it's a long drive and I wasn't going to get back until late Friday evening. However, there was more good news - the attorneys had well over two days' worth of billable work for me preparing a quick-turnaround report on another case, so the long and short was I walked out of the offices with even more potential billable hours than I had on backlog walking in, all without a long and tedious drive to Brunswick.

Well, as long as I was in Midtown, I met with some colleagues of mine for some happy-hour drinks and appetizers (I stuck to the tapas, since I don't drink). Upon settling in, though, I was dismayed to discover that we were apparently seated directly below an air-conditioning vent spewing ridiculously cold air out onto us. I started to get seriously cold and rolled down my long sleeves, but the others didn't seem to mind as much. Sure, one woman eventually put on a sweater, but it got to me to the point where I finally had to excuse myself - I was starting to shiver and just wasn't enjoying myself, so I said my "goodbyes" to everyone and drove him.

The sun was still up and the car felt nice and toasty from the thermal energy as I drove home. However, when I got back to my nice shady home, I felt the chill inside and wanted to sit outside just to stay warm. Eventually, however, I found myself in bed, fully dressed and under the covers, when the obvious finally dawned on me - was I coming back down with a fever from the flu again?

I don't know. Suddenly, I started to get exceptionally tired, another symptom of the flu, but fortunately I didn't experience the excruciating muscle pains that were the illness' cruelest touch. I fell asleep by 10 o'clock.

Obviously, I'm writing this the next day. I felt fine in the morning so I still don't know if the chills and the fatigue were yet another, albeit short, relapse of the flu, or just too much time under an air conditioner and not enough sleep the night before.

I once read somewhere that the ages of 50 to 52 are a sort of "Bermuda triangle" of your life. If you can make it through those years healthy, you'll probably live to a ripe old age. But it's also when you're most prone to injury, illness and bad luck, and if anything is going to shorten your life, it manifests itself in those three years.

Well, I'm fighting my way through the first year of the Bermuda triangle, and damn if I'll let this flu rob me of me golden years. But as if that were all I have to worry about . . .

Monday, May 16, 2005

As I previously noted, this Saturday will mark one whole year of Water Dissolves Water. Yup, the big one-year anniversary is coming up. I'm considering doing a couple of things: first, I may just quit blogging all together. Or I may leave this blog for posterity and start a new one (I'm thinking, for a title, "Buddha Rhubarb Butter"). Or I may just go blithely on as if there were no benchmark date.

Tonight, I gave a version of The Seamless Tomb post for my talk at the Zen Center. It was well received, and to my surprise, sensei was there. He pointed out that "relying on grasses" may be a reference to the 10,000 things (as numerous as blades of grass), and that the "countless common people" sinking into the ground may not be in tombs, even seamless like I suggested, but may instead be realizing oneness with the world. I think we're both pointing to the same thing, though.

Today is also my Dad's 74th birthday. He got back from a month in Ireland recently, and reports that he wasn't able to learn anything more about his mother's genealogy, as there are far too many records of Mary Reilly's in Ireland to count. Anyway, Happy B-day, old man.

Re-reading the first paragraph, it now sounds to me like I was self-consciously asking for people to beg me not to stop posting. That wasn't how I felt when I wrote it, but that's how it sounds to me now. Anyway, don't bother replying, I'm too much of a ham to stop writing, and too vain not to tell y'all where you could still find me (if I even change a thing at all).

Sunday, May 15, 2005


"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."
- John Muir

I spent the better part of yesterday afternoon engaged in mortal combat with the ivy growing all over my backyard, which was just as well, because it rained much of today.

I have a nice patch of woods in my backyard - all I can see out my back window are trees and green - which is a rare luxury living in the City of Atlanta. However, the trees create shade - which is also nice living here in the hot and decadent dirty South - but that shade prevents me from maintaining a lawn, so much of the property has been taken over by english ivy.

Which is fine - I have no particular fondness for mowing. But the ivy is taking over some trees, even the large ones, and if it succeeeds in killing the trees, limbs and branches and eventually trunks will come falling down onto my house.

So I took a hand clipper and one set of pruning shears and started cutting the ivy off at the roots. Based on the look of things back there, I don't think the previous owners have done this in years - there were ivy stems one-inch thick that were growing roots into the bark of the trees. Taking it down took a lot of determination.

After about a half hour, I managed to liberate the first tree, and went on to the next. Slowly, I gained a full appreciation of just how many trees are actually growing back there. Each with its own particular ivy problems and unique Gordonian knot to be untangled.

I sweated, I grunted, I struggled and I poked myself with the clippers a bunch of times before I finally got too tired and hungry to continue. I learned not to grab and yank on a hanging vine until I had determined whether it was ivy or a thorn bush. I would say I got about half of the trees in the backyard done, or to put it another way, I cleared the ivy off of the trees in about a quarter of the property.

Ivy has its own unique smell, and my hands and clothes reaked of the odor. The mosquitoes found me about halfway through the chore and I donated serum to their reproductive process, or whatever they suck blood for. No sign of snakes, and believe me, I kept my eyes out for them as I waded through ankle-deep ivy.

But the work is done, at least in that patch of property, and I have the feeling of satisfaction that one gets after a hard day's work as I gaze out the back window at the now-bare trunks rising up out of the sea of ivy.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

The Seamless Tomb

"For [following] the family style of relying on grasses and the mind of grasping trees, the best place to practice is the monastery. One rap on the sitting platform and three hits on the drum expound and transmit the subtle, wondrous sounds of the Tathagata. At this very time, what do you Koshoji students say?"

After a pause, Dogen said: "South of the Xiang River and north of the Tan, there is a golden country where the countless common people sink into the ground."
- Dogen, Dharma Hall discourse No. 1 from The Eihei Koroku, Taigen Dan Leighton & Shohaku Okumura, translators

Koshoji monastery was on the outskirts of Kyoto and was thus accessible to lay students. The Japanese word for "monastery" is sorin, literally "shrubs and woods," referring to a gathering place of monks or a residential practice place. Although "relying on grasses" and "grasping at trees" are usually Zen expressions for relying on mere intellectual understanding, here Dogen is playing on words, and uses grasses and trees positively as the forms and lifestyle that are used for practice in the monastery.

"South of the Xiang River and north of the Tan" is from a poem by Tangen (Danyuan Yingzhen), describing the style of his master, the National Teacher Chu (Nanyang Huizhong), himself a disciple of the sixth ancestor. National Teacher Chu was probably close to 100 years of age when the Emperor asked him, "One hundred years after you die, what would you wish?"

According to the Book of Equanimity, the National Teacher said "Build me a seamless tomb."

The Emperor replied, "I beg you, what style of tomb would that be?" The National Teacher remained silent for a while, and then asked, "Do you understand?" The Emperor said "I don't understand."

The National Teacher said, "I have a Dharma disciple by the name of Tangen who knows all about it." Later, the Emperor requested the meaning from Tangen, who replied:

"South of the Xiang River and north of the Tan
Yellow gold within fills the whole country.
A ferry boat under the shadowless tree.
In the crystal palace, there is no one who knows."

"South of the Xiang River and north of the Tan" denotes all of China, which to the Chinese was like saying the whole world. Together with the second line, the meaning is that wherever you are can be a golden country. There is no difference between heaven and earth.

National Teacher Chu used to advise his monks to not think in terms of good or evil. If our minds try to distinguish even a hair's breadth of difference, then there is a seam, and heaven and earth are infinitely split apart. To the National Teacher, the whole world was a seamless whole, and the seamless tomb he is telling the Emperor to build is the realization of this seamless nature of reality. He is telling the Emperor that 100 years after he dies, he wishes that all sentient beings, starting with the Emperor, attain realization of the seamless reality of the dharma.

In his discourse, Dogen is telling his monks that the monastery is the best place for their style of practice. In relative terms, this would be correct. But Dogen's mind does not discriminate, is not stuck to the relative. So after a pause, he reminds his monks, and possibly the lay practioners in attendance, that all the whole world is in fact nothing less than the Buddha land itself, and that even lay practioners can realize the National Teacher's seamless tomb. This is the truth in absolute terms. The best place to practice relying on grasses and the mind of grasping trees is in the shrubs and woods, but in all the golden world common people can realize their own seamless tombs.

Driving to the zendo last night, I saw that the Southern magnolias along Briarcliff Road are already starting to blossom. Here, their yellow leaves are still dropping.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Three Haiku by Ryokan (1758-1831)

The thief left it behind -
The moon
At the window.

Counting days is like snapping
One's fingers -
Every May passes like a dream.

Have you forgotten the way to my hut?
Every evening I wait for the sound of your footsteps
But you do not appear.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

This is the picture that ran in the Atlanta newspaper today of my karate school. A 16-inch water main along Peachtree Road first leaked last January and washed a gaping hole out from under the sidewalk. The building's brick foundations washed away, and the damage worsened with successive breaks and attempted repairs.

Workers turned off water to the area Monday. They were planning to take four hours to replace a 15-foot section of the pipe, which has been in service since 1917. But one of the valves gave way early Tuesday, shooting water back into the hole that had been open since January. Water shot under the building and drained into nearby Peachtree Creek, carrying soil with it. The hole in front of the karate studio had grown large enough to swallow a car. As many as 500 homes and businesses in the Peachtree Battle and Peachtree Hills areas were without water throughout the day.

Atlanta's Watershed Management Department has jacked the building up, and now they're working on shoring up the foundation and building a retaining wall before they can get the main repaired. All this work will probably take another two or three days.

Three northbound lanes of Peachtree Road near Peachtree Creek are closed. Transportation officials have been squeezing northbound traffic into a single southbound lane except during the evening rush hour, when two of the three open lanes will be designated for northbound traffic.

The city called the rupture of the nearly 90-year-old pipe an "unforeseen catastrophe." I call it a big mess.

UPDATE: 8:27 p.m. - Driving home from work tonight, I was momentarily slowed by the traffic resulting from the Peachtree Road lane closures near the sinkhole, before I turned off onto Peachtree Battle Road and came home by way of Northside Drive. However, it's a little ironic and certainly not intended that today's post was about a triffling inconvenience, when a similar but larger calamity has occurred. I just opened the On-Line New York Times and saw this picture of a retaining wall collapse on the Henry Hudson Parkway in northern Manhattan:

The landslide sent tons of dirt, rock and trees onto the roadway, snarling traffic for miles around and leading to the evacuation of nearby buildings. Although the Police and Fire Departments said there were no immediate reports of injuries, they are using thermal imaging gear to determine if anyone is trapped under the debris. I pray that no one was been killed or injured by this catastrophe.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Dirty South

Among my other trees, three or four Southern magnolias grow in my front yard. Southern magnolias are a landscape staple here in the southern U.S. They are stately broad-leaved evergreens that just scream "Old South."

However, in the spring, the Southern magnolia drops many of its oldest leaves as new growth begins. The older leaves seem to suddenly turn yellow throughout the entire tree before dropping, and the leaves decompose very slowly.

This particular trait - dropping leaves in the spring - does not encourage universal devotion to the tree. Awlnawl Says Tim writes, "I have one in front of my house here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon and I hate it. Such a dirty tree. The ground is covered with huge thick leaves. Instead of doing spring stuff like new plantings I get to rake or blow leaves. I'll trade it for a Douglass Fir any day."

Magnolias struggle during dry spells, so it's a good idea to keep them watered so they won't be forced to drop even more leaves. A good layer of mulch helps maintain soil moisture. One way to hide a magnolia's considerable leaf drop is to allow the branches to grow all the way to the ground so that fallen leaves can be swept around the base of the tree.

Another approach is to just not care or at least pretend not to care - it's good to practice your leaf-raking skills in the off season, right?

Here in the Dirty South, there's always something to be raked. Droppings have their season, just like anything. In the autumn, it's leaves and pine needles. In winter, ice storms drop whole branches and sometimes even fell entire trees. In spring, you've got your blossom petals, magnolia leaves, etc. And in the summer, frequent, sometimes violent, thunderstorms will knock down surprising amounts of leaves. It never stops, so I just try to become one with the practice and keep on raking, not to accomplish anything (they'll just drop down again), but because it's what you do.

It's a Zen thing.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Caption Contest

This picture is real. According to the headline that ran on ABC News Online, "Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, lends a hand as U.S. President George W. Bush drives Putin's 1956 Volga after their meeting in Novo Ogarevo, outside Moscow."

I'm speechless . . .Does anyone have a better caption?

Monday, May 09, 2005

Deceiving the Teacher

"This mountain monk has not passed through many monasteries. Somehow, I just met my late teacher Tiantong. However, I was not deceived by Tiantong. But Tiantong was deceived by this mountain monk. Recently, I returned to my homeland with empty hands. And so this mountain monk has no Buddha Dharma. Trusting fate, I just spend my time. Morning after morning, the sun rises in the east. Evening after evening, the sun sets in the west. The clouds disperse and mountain valleys are still. After the rain, the mountains in the four directions are close. Every four years is a leap year. A rooster crows toward sunrise."
- Dogen, Dharma Hall discourse No. 48 from The Eihei Koroku, Taigen Dan Leighton & Shohaku Okumura, translators

I've recently gotten over my intimidation, and have started reading the 722-page Eihei Koroku, Dogen's Extensive Record (or at $65.00, "Dogen's Expensive Record"). The book is outstanding, with many volumes of Dogen's Dharma Hall discourses (expect more of these here in the future), koans and commentary on koans (in verse!), and poetry, all with insightful footnotes. The 71-page introduction is almost worthy of being a book by itself.

Greensmile: Your little "Ah Ha!" moment was the "mind that sticks to nothing." But when you tried to figure it out, that was the mind that sticks. You wonder if you understand much really. That is good. Enlightenment is not far off. . .

Joshu began the study of Zen when he was sixty years old and continued until he was eighty, when he realized Zen. He taught from the age of eighty until he was one hundred and twenty.

A student once asked him: "If I haven't anything in my mind, what shall I do?"

Joshu replied: "Throw it out."

"But if I haven't anything, how can I throw it out?" continued the questioner.

"Well," said Joshu, "then carry it out."

I never really used to believe those Zen stories about teachers living to be 120 years of age. I figured they were just legends, not to be taken literally. But recently, you may have seen a news story about a woman in Brazil who is 125 years old, and still going. Human beings really can last that long. Amazing.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Happy Mothers Day!

In a comment on my May 7 post, gay news ed said...
"...Thanks for the post and no, you don't look all that gay. Really, you don't."

Oh come on, Ed. Doesn't it count for something that I've got a picture of a naked man on my banner?

Saturday, May 07, 2005

The Gay Blog

"I long to accomplish a great and noble task; but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble." - Helen Keller

Well, it looks like my 15 minutes of internet fame has passed. After going virtually unnoticed for several months, this blog finally started getting some hits last December. However, the several hundred hits this blog used to get daily in February and March has settled down sixfold to 30 or so per day. The top referrals to this blog are now no longer Google image searches for pictures of various musicians (Ray Charles, Courtney Love, Jimi Hendrix and Nora Jones), but:

1. The Executioners Thong,
2. Notes in Samsara,
3. Zen Filter,
4. The Cave, and
5. The Gay News Blog.

The first three are just about tied in the number of hits, and the order changes from day to day, but the last one, the Gay News Blog, came as something of a surprise to me. Unlike the first four blogs, there is very little Buddhist content on the GNB (actually, none that I could find), and up until this entry, very little discussion of gay issues in Water Dissolves Water.

Over on the sidebar there, I offer links to blogs that have links to me. At first, I was reluctant to put up a link to the GNB, not out of any objections to the long-running blog itself, but out of concern that others might mistake my sexual orientation if I did.

Throughout my life, I have often been accused of being gay. My own father still has doubts about me, probably tracing back to my failure to take an interest in Little League baseball when I was young and extending to my current bachelor status. My sister once called me to say that she figured the reason that I hadn't come home for Christmas for several years in a row wasn't because I was having too much fun on my time off away from the family, but was that I had come out, and was now such a flamer that I wasn't even capable of butching it up for the holidays and trying to pass for straight, and was embarrassed that I would be outed (the real reason probably had more to do with not having to answer to ridiculous accusations like that more than anything else).

I once learned that the idle minds of several gossips in an office in which I used to work had been keeping a list of evidence that they considered to lead to the conclusion that I was gay. First of all, they pointed out, I had never been married. Well, true enough, but I could argue that was because I liked women too much, or liked too many women, to settle down with just one. (It should be noted, though, that I once heard that some statisticians had estimated the gay populations of various cities by counting the number of unmarried men over 35 from the census data. So to my amusement, I was included in their estimate of the gay population of Atlanta.)

Their second reason was because one year I had "chosen to take my vacation with another man." Again, guilty as charged, although I would not have phrased it that way. A friend of mine, the married father of two boys, and I went on an ultra-macho backpacking trip in Alaska, and although I did use some of my vacation time for the trip, their turn of phrase made it sound like we were off on a cruise to Aruba, sipping fruity tropical drinks side by side in chaise lounges.

Finally, they pointed out that I chose to wear my hair short. I have no idea what that had to do with anything, but I told them that I didn't get my buzz cut because I was gay, but because my live-in male companion liked it that way.


Of course, on the other hand, L. thought that I was a homophobe, one of those false and unflattering perceptions she tended to assign to me, largely based on a one-time reluctance to go see a gay-themed movie at a local art house. So, I always figured that these conflicting opinions sort of canceled each other out, and didn't pay too much mind to either one. As the Buddha once said, if someone spreads a false rumor about you and you become upset by it, it's as if they shot at you with an arrow and missed, but you picked up the arrow and started stabbing yourself with it.

All of this, of course, leads to questions about the role of homosexuality in Zen, and Zen attitudes toward homosexuality. A few weeks back, I talked about Kukai and early ecological thought in Zen Buddhism. However, it should also be noted that according to Wikipedia, "Over the centuries, Kukai became the object of various folk traditions. One of them credits him with the introduction of the homosexual tradition to Japan. In the 1100's, we begin to see mentions of Kukai as the father of nanshoku, or male love, which he is alleged to have brought from China together with the dharma. Throughout the medieval and pre-modern period his monastery, Mount Koya, was a byword for the practice of male love . . . This tradition may have been inspired by the countless erotic relationships between monks and their acolytes, known as chigo, and recorded as love stories known as chigo monogatari."

Romantic homosexual love and desire has been recorded from ancient times in Japan; indeed, love between men was viewed as the purest form of love. While homosexuality has never been viewed as a sin in Japanese society and religion, and there is no specific legal prohibition, western religious thought and a desire to appear "civilized" have historically influenced the way that homosexuality has been viewed both by the modern Japanese government and the population at large.

In ancient China, none of the major religions condemned homosexuality as a "sin." Confucianists believed that a man should behave according to somewhat traditional male gender roles, and a woman likewise. To beget children (especially sons) was a very important duty for a man in traditional Chinese society. So a man who only had male lovers was not considered very dutiful. Also, transvestitism was considered to be contrary to Confucian natural law. There were some historical accounts of emperors who used to dress themselves in women's clothes, and this was always interpreted as an ill omen. On the other hand, the list of sinful deeds in Confucianism does not include homosexuality. As long as a man does his duty and sires children, if it was his private thing to have other male lovers, than so be it.

Taoism emphasized maintaining the balance between Yin and Yang. Although each man was regarded as Yang (masculine), every man also has some Yin (feminine) in him too, according to the natural balance of Yin and Yang. So the presence of some feminine behavior was not viewed as unnatural for men at all. In this view, homosexuals can even be regarded as something very natural, in keeping with the natural balance of things.

In Buddhism, all desire was considered to be an impediment to enlightenment, including sexual desire (regardless of being homosexual or heterosexual). Therefore, much of traditional Buddhism has been practiced in celibate monasteries. However, in ancient Japan, neither native Shinto beliefs nor the Japanese interpretation of the Chinese religions contained any specific prohibitions against homosexual activity. In fact, Buddhist monasteries appear to have been early centers of homosexuality in Japan. Although Kukai was said to have introduced nanshoku into Japan after returning from Tang China in the 9th century, he does not discuss this theme in any of his major works. It should also be noted that any sexual activity was expressly forbidden by the Vinaya, or code of monastic discipline for Buddhist monks, and Kukai was an enthusiastic upholder of the Vinaya.

However, enough monks seem to have felt their vows of chastity did not apply to same-sex relations that the chigo monogatari stories of affairs between monks and young acolytes were quite popular, and such affairs were lightly joked about, at least when the passions did not rise to the level of violence, which was not uncommon. Jesuits missionaries were reportedly aghast at the "sodomy" that they encountered among the Buddhist clergy.

From religious circles, same-sex love spread to the warrior class, where it was customary for a young samurai to apprentice to an older and more experienced man, whose lover he would then become for a number of years. The practice was known as shudo, the way of the young, and was held in high esteem by the warrior class.

As Japanese society became pacified, the middle classes adopted many of the practices of the warrior class, in the case of shudo giving it a more mercantile interpretation. In the Edo period (1600-1868), kabuki actors often doubled as sex workers off stage. This was especially true of those kabuki actors who played female roles. Young kabuki actors, known as kagema, became the rage - they were celebrated in much the same way as modern media stars are today, and were much sought after by wealthy patrons, who would vie with each other to purchase their favors. Kagema often worked at specialized brothels called kagema tea houses.

Today, many anime and manga contain gay male content, variously called shounen-ai and Boys Love (or just "BL"), or JUNE when it is more romantic, and yaoi when more sexual. These are marketed primarily to women from schoolgirls to housewives, and are commonplace in bookstores. Lesbian content is much less widespread but does exist, and is known as shoujou-ai when romantic, or yuri when sexual. However, yuri is a more common catch-all term than yaoi. Some manga, generally appealing more overtly to prurient interest, are directly aimed at the gay market. These, however, are uncommon and generally not found except in specialty shops.

Anyway, having said all that, I welcome readers of the Gay News Blog to Water Dissolves Water and gladly put the link in my sidebar. If the small minded want to draw conclusions about me by who links to me and to whom I link, that's their business, not mine. The buddhadharma has nothing to do with sexuality or celibacy, with homosexuality or heterosexuality, but everything to do with tolerance, compassion and wisdom.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Water Dissolves Water

The problem with committing to maintaining a blog on a daily basis is the underlaying conceit, inherent in the very concept of blogging, that you actually have something interesting to say every day. Actually, a web log is really nothing more or less than a diary, and when I use the word "diary," I'm reminded of two things. First, I think of the 19th Century Brittanics who maintained journals of their adventures across the Empire ("These Zulus really are to be commended for their most remarkable attempts at providing a proper cup of tea each afternoon, despite the unpleasantries with their tribal neighbors"). Secondly, I think of sixteen-year-old schoolgirls from my past who kept "top secret" diaries in decorative clasped-and-bound books of pink paper and thematic covers ("Dear Diary, Brad is acting like such a jerk today . . . "), or whatever - I was never priviliged to read them.

In the case of the former, their swashbuckling lives and nonplussed manner provided daily fodder to maintain their journals. The latter, however, usually found that after a week or two, they were really just saying the same thing over and over ("Brad is still such an idiot!") and got bored of the effort. In any event, for the Brittanics, their lives were the subject and the journals merely the record of their lives. To the schoolgirls, the diary itself, literally the book, not the contents, was the subject ("See? I've got this cute little book, therefore, I must be cute, too, and have a life") Libra ergo sum?.

Sometimes, I wonder which type of diary "Water Dissolves Water" actually is. Is it the medium or the message? Am I blogging to share myself with tout le monde, my experiences, ideas, dharma insights, politics and humors, or am I just crying out, "Hey! I'm here!?"

This is a rhetorical question. Please don't answer this.

It is worth noting that this blog has now completed its 12th month. One year. The actually anniversary will be May 21, the date of the first entry, although the conceptual DOB is May 6th, 2004, when Philip Kapleau passed away while I was reading his "Three Pillars of Zen" and I first thought about using the net to record quotes and readings from my dharma studies. Nowadays, I can hardly recognize what this blog has morphed into - it seems partly diaristic, partly dharmic, partly ranting and partly (poor) humor. It serves as a letter to home, as part of a dialog with a few other bloggers, and as a mnemonic for readings and scriptural passages I wanted to record.

Anyway, today, absolutely nothing happened in which I can find any avenue for crafting a blog entry. I went to work and had a most unremarkable day. Nothing much really happened - I did not save the world, nor did I reach any compromise that jeopardized the health and safety of the planet. I did some paperwork, prepared for next week's client reception, cashed my expense check from the San Francisco trip and bought an airline ticket to Chicago for next month. Other than that - bubkes.

No great dharma insights presented themselves to me. I didn't read anything noteworthy on global warming. I didn't make any new friends. I didn't wreck my car or succumb again to the flu. This uneventfulness left me neither copacetic nor depressed, neither satisfied nor unfulfilled.

So, therefore, I can only offer this Seinfeldian "blog about nothing." Thanks for reading. Enjoy your day.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Happy Cinco de Mayo

Cindy tells me, the rich girls are weeping
And she tells me, they've given up sleeping alone,
And now they're so confused by their new freedoms
That she tells me they're selling off their maisonettes,
Left their Hotpoints to rust in their kitchenettes
And they're saving their labours for insane reading.

- Brian Eno, from Cindy Tells Me (Here Come the Warm Jets, 1974)

Now that I'm free, what shall I do with my freedom? Should I take a cue from Cindy's rich girlfriends and abandon materialism for sensuality? Perhaps I should follow Norway's example and pursue the arts:

OSLO (Reuters)- In a victory for nightclub owners over Norway's tax authorities, an Oslo court has ruled that stripping is an art form, just like opera or ballet. The court ruled that stripping should be treated like any other artistic stage show, ranging from stand-up comedy to opera, for which tickets are exempt from value-added tax (VAT).

"I'm very pleased. Ninety percent of the guests here tell me that what I'm doing is art," said a stripper at the Dream Go-Go Bar in the city of Trondheim.

Tax authorities had demanded more than 1.0 million Norwegian crowns ($159,500) from the Blue Angel Club in Oslo in unpaid VAT, arguing that strippers were not artists and so tickets to their shows were subject to VAT, normally 25 percent. Lawyers for the Blue Angel, which contested the VAT demands, argued that undressing as nurses, police women or flamenco dancers demonstrated artistic flair. Tax authority lawyers said audiences were attracted to the shows by nudity, not art.

"Of course stripping is art," said Magnus Morland, owner of the String Show Bar in Oslo. He said the ruling would let clubs operate with better margins and did not rule out cutting the 150 Norwegian crowns ($23.93) entry fee.

Cindy tell me, what will they do with their lives?
Living quietly -- like laborers' wives...
Perhaps they'll re-acquire those things they've all disposed of.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005


Greensmile said, "I am sorry to hear about L. I hope that with the loss comes a measure of freedom."

That's an interesting concept, and surprisingly, one that hadn't actually occurred to me. Although I had hardly felt constrained while I was with L. (we both gave each other lots of space), I was not free from my own desire. I was shackled by my attraction, both libidinal and intellectual. This made it all the more difficult during the numerous times we were on hiatus. For example, when I attempted to date others, my desire for L. kept getting in the way of even initiating a successful new relationship.

So, yes, I'm now free to see who I want, and do and go wherever I please, but I pretty much had those freedoms all along, as did she. However, I am only now getting to the point where I can begin to free myself from desire, and with that freedom comes a clearer perception of the way things really were between us. And that clearer perception, in turn, further dissipates the desire, and the whole process is now approaching a tipping point to where I can truly be free.

One of my complaints about L. was that I felt that she never really saw me for who I actually was - I felt that she kept assigning false assumptions and prejudices onto me, and then looking for any behavior on my part that would reinforce those false and unflattering perceptions. However, it had never occurred to me that I was not seeing the real her, either. While she kept looking at me through the unflattering end of the telescope, I was wearing rose-colored glasses. So as it turns out, neither one of us were basing our perceptions on the reality of the situation.

We saw each other for almost two years, but that time included a cumulative nine months or so of our various hiatuses. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, "I'm not saying she treated me unkind, she could have done better, but I don't mind. We just sort of wasted our precious time, but don't think twice, it's alright."