Thursday, March 31, 2005
As the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Synthesis Report shows, we are not good caretakers of the Earth. While I do not subscribe to the notion that there was a former "golden age," when man lived in perfect harmony with nature, I do think that part of the problem is in the current worldview informed by the Platonic/Judeo-Christian tradition. Belief in the natural superiority of human beings and justification for their dominion of a supposedly soulless world stem from this philosophical and religious viewpoint.
This worldview is not the only way to look at the situation, however. As Graham Parkes describes in his essay "Voices of Mountains, Trees and Rivers: Kukai, Dogen and a Deeper Ecology," when Buddhism was transplanted from India to China, some thinkers there began to ask - perhaps under the influence of Taoist ideas - whether the Mahayana vow of Buddhahood to all sentient beings went far enough. A long-running debate began in China during the eighth century over whether or not the logic of the Mahayana required that the distinction between the sentient and the nonsentient be abandoned, and that Buddha-nature be ascribed not only to plants, trees and earth, but even to particles of dust. This contrasts with the Christian tradition, which ignored Aristotle's thoughts on the vegetal soul, and in which arguments over the reaches of salvation were restricted to the question of whether animals have souls.
When Buddhist ideas from China began to arrive in Japan, they encountered the indigenous Shinto religion, according to which the natural world and human world are equally offspring of the divine. Shinto, as John Updike describes it, "has no founder, no official sacred scriptures, in the strict sense, and no fixed dogma. Nor does it offer, as atypically surviving kamikaze pilots have pointed out, an afterlife. It is based on kami, a ubiquitous word sometimes translated as 'gods' or 'spirits' but meaning, finally, anything felt worthy of reverence. . . Kami exists not only in heavenly and earthly forces but in animals, birds, plants, and stones." Kami spirits are not only of the ancestors but also of any phenomena that occasion awe or reverence: wind, thunder, lightening, rain, the sun, mountains, rivers, trees and rocks.
Such a mindset was naturally receptive to the idea that the earth and plants participate in Buddha-nature. Kukai (774-835) was the first to elaborate on the idea of Buddhahood of all phenomena and make it central to his thought.
"If trees and plants are to attain enlightenment,
Why not those who are endowed with feelings? . . .
If plants and trees were devoid of Buddhahood,
Waves would then be without humidity."
In later works, he argued for somuku, the awakened nature of vegetation. He qualified this argument by adding that the buddha-nature of plants and trees is not apparent to normal vision, but can be seen by opening one's "Buddha eye." Parkes points out the idea that the buddha-nature of the natural elements can only be seen via buddha-nature was similar to Kukai's contemporary John Scotus Erigena, a Western philosopher whose life overlaps with that of Kukai by 25 years. Erigena argued that the natural world is God "as seen by Himself."
The practical aspect of Kukai's teaching involves entering into what he called the "three mysteries," or "intimacies." By adopting certain postures (mudras), by chanting certain syllables (mantras), and by allowing the mind to enter into a state of samadhi, or concentration, the practioner will come to directly experience participation in the dharmakaya, the embodied reality of the Buddha. Obviously, those who successfully practice such a philosophy, realizing their participation in the body of the Buddha simultaneously with the divinity of natural phenomena, will treat the natural world with the utmost reverence.
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
A landmark study released today reveals that approximately 60 percent of the ecosystems that support life on Earth – such as fresh water, fisheries, grasslands, forests, farmlands, rivers and lakes – are being degraded or used unsustainably. Scientists warn that the harmful consequences of this degradation could grow significantly worse in the next 50 years.
"Any progress achieved in addressing the goals of poverty and hunger eradication, improved health, and environmental protection is unlikely to be sustained if most of the ecosystem services on which humanity relies continue to be degraded," said the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Synthesis Report, conducted by 1,300 experts from 95 countries. It specifically states that the ongoing degradation of ecosystems is a road block to the goals agreed to by world leaders at the United Nations in 2000.
Although evidence remains incomplete, there is enough for the experts to warn that the ongoing degradation of 15 of the 24 ecosystems examined is increasing the likelihood of potentially abrupt changes that will seriously affect human well-being. This includes the emergence of new diseases, sudden changes in water quality, creation of "dead zones" along the coasts, the collapse of fisheries, and shifts in regional climate.
The report highlights four main findings:
- Humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively in the last 50 years than in any other period. This was done largely to meet rapidly growing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fiber and fuel. More land was converted to agriculture since 1945 than in the 18th and 19th centuries combined. More than half of all the synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, first made in 1913, ever used on the planet has been used since 1985. Experts say that this resulted in a substantial and largely irreversible loss in diversity of life on Earth, with some 10 to 30 percent of the mammal, bird and amphibian species currently threatened with extinction.
- Activities that have contributed substantial net gains to human well-being and economic development have been achieved at the costs of degradation of other resources. In the last 50 years, only crop, livestock and aquaculture production, and carbon regulation for global climate control, have been enhanced. Fisheries and fresh water resources are now being exploited well beyond levels that can sustain current, much less future, demands. Experts say that these problems will substantially diminish the resources available for future generations.
- The degradation of ecosystems could grow significantly worse during the first half of this century. In all plausible future scenarios considered by the scientists, progress in eliminating hunger was projected, but at far slower rates than needed to halve number of people suffering from hunger by 2015.
- The challenge of reversing the degradation of ecosystems while meeting increasing demands can be met under some scenarios involving significant policy and institutional changes. However, these changes will be large and are not currently under way. The report mentions options that exist to conserve or enhance ecosystem services that reduce negative trade-offs or that will positively impact other services.
For example, deforestation influences the abundance of human pathogens such as malaria and cholera, as well as the risk of emergence of new diseases. Malaria, for example, accounts for 11 percent of the disease burden in Africa and, had it been eliminated 35 years ago, the continent’s gross domestic product would have increased by $100 billion. Protection of natural forests not only conserves wildlife but also supplies fresh water and reduces carbon emissions.
It is the world’s poorest people who suffer most from ecosystem changes. The regions facing significant problems of ecosystem degradation – sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia, some regions in Latin America, and parts of South and Southeast Asia – are also facing the greatest challenges. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the number of poor people is forecast to rise from 315 million in 1999 to 404 million by 2015.
The over-riding conclusion of this assessment is that it lies within the power of human societies to ease the strains we are putting on the planet, while continuing to bring better living standards to all. Achieving this, however, will require radical changes in the way nature is treated at every level of decision-making and new ways of cooperation between government, business and civil society.
The warning signs are there for all of us to see. The future now lies in our hands.
Tuesday, March 29, 2005
Fortunately, although hundreds have died, it looks as if the impact of yesterday's earthquake in Indonesia was not nearly as tragic as last December's quake, mainly due to the lack of an accompanying tsunami this time around. Due to the great depth (nearly 19 miles) at which yesterday's earthquake occurred, the seafloor did not pulse as much as it did last December, and relatively little wave action was generated.
The Earth moves, the oceans rise and mountains walk. Master Dogen knew this, as did the Buddhist patriarchs before him. Master Kai of Mt. Taiyo said, "The Blue Mountains are constantly walking. The stone woman bears children by night."
Master Kai, also known as Fuyo Dokai (1043-1119), was the forty-fifth patriarch from the Buddha. Having succeeded Master Tosu Gisei, Master Kai preached Buddhism on Mt. Taiyo and elsewhere, until he refused a title and a purple robe from the emperor and was banished. When he was eventually pardoned, be built a thatched hut on Mt. Fuyo and lived there in the style of the ancient patriarchs.
Master Dogen commented on this statement of Master Kai in the Sansuigyo, one of the fascicles in the Shôbôgenzô ("Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma"). San means "mountains," sui means "waters" - rivers, lakes, and so on. Sansui then, suggests natural scenery, or Nature itself. Gyo, means Buddhist sutras. Therefore, Sansuigyo is often called "The Mountains and Rivers Sutra."
Buddhism is basically a religion of belief in the Universe, and Nature is the Universe showing its real form. So to look at Nature is to look at the Buddhist truth (dharma) itself. In Sansuigyo, Master Dogen explained the real form of Nature, giving particular emphasis to relativity in Nature.
Sansuigyo represents one of the earlier texts of the Shôbôgenzô. According to a manuscript of the work thought to be in the author's own hand, it was composed in the autumn of 1240, the year in which he seems to have begun to work in earnest on the essays that would make up his Shôbôgenzô. This was a time when Master Dogen was at the height of his literary powers, and the Sansuigyo is widely appreciated as one of the most elegant of his essays.
Several months before he wrote the Sansuigyo, Master Dogen composed another text of the Shôbôgenzô entitled Keisei sanshoku ("Sound of the Stream, Form of the Mountain"), inspired by a verse by the famed Song-dynasty poet Su Dongbo:
"The sound of the stream is his long, broad tongue;
The mountain, his immaculate body.
This evening's eighty-four thousand verses -
How will I tell them tomorrow?"
In the Sansuigyo, Master Dogen returned to the theme of this poem, to explore in detail the meaning of mountains and rivers as the very body and speech of the buddha. As he says in the opening lines, "The mountains and waters of the present are the expression of the eternal buddhas. Each abides in its own dharma state, having realized ultimate virtue."
The natural landscape that surrounds us here and now is the "expression of the eternal buddhas". The term "expression" (dô genjô) should be taken in two senses: as the words of the buddha and as his practice. In the Sansuigyo, the mountains and waters are at once preaching a sutra that reveals the dharma and themselves putting that dharma into practice.
According to Master Dogen, "Mountains lack none of the virtues with which mountains should be equipped. For this reason, they are constantly abiding in stillness and constantly walking. We must painstakingly learn in practice the virtue of this walking. The walking of mountains must be like the walking of human beings; therefore, even though it does not look like human walking, do not doubt the walking of mountains."
Mountains walk, and when they do, the Earth trembles, like it did yesterday.
Monday, March 28, 2005
Another large earthquake struck off Sumatra in the Andaman Sea today. The U.S. Geological Survey called it a major quake with a magnitude of 8.2. Although the quake was an aftershock from last December's magnitude 9.0 quake, it was a "very serious earthquake in its own right."
Police in Indonesia said hundreds of people may have been killed in collapsed buildings. Tremors were felt throughout peninsular Malaysia's west coast, causing thousands of residents to flee high-rise apartment buildings and hotels.
The earthquake occurred at 11:09 p.m. local time at a depth of nearly 19 miles and approximately 125 miles west-northwest of Sibolga, Sumatra, close to where the last December's tremblor struck. That undersea earthquake, the world's biggest in 40 years,and the huge tsunami it sent charging across the Indian Ocean at the speed of a passenger jet, killed more than 174,000 people and left another 106,000 missing. More than 1.5 million people were left homeless in 11 countries.
A spokesman for the USGS said that today's earthquake might also cause tsunamis. "Certainly evacuations should be occurring. I hope they are," the spokesman said.
Thousands panicked in countries across the Indian Ocean as tsunami warnings were posted. Malaysia urged residents along parts of its west coast to evacuate to higher areas. Sirens rang in the eastern Sri Lankan town of Trincomalee. India and Thailand also immediately issued tsunami warnings in coastal areas. Officials in Thailand later called their warning off, as the only tsunami reported within four hours of the earthquake was a tiny one, less than 4 inches, at the Cocos Islands.
Meanwhile, on the fundamentalist front, the Washington Post reports under the headline "Pharmacists' Rights at Front Of New Debate" that some pharmacists across the country are refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control and morning-after pills, saying that dispensing the medications violates their personal moral or religious beliefs.
This brings up rather disturbing questions as to where this might lead. Would they give medications to people suffering from venereal disease or other symptoms indicative of a "lifestyle" of which they don't approve? Will they dispense drugs for AIDS? What about life-saving antibiotics to people whose religious views conflict with theirs?
Will our medical system become hostage to a group from whom we have to seek approval before we can complete our treatment?
Saturday, March 26, 2005
Let's see, what shall I blog about today? I didn't really do much with this lovely day (the first real spring-like day of the year - the temps were in the 80s and the trees are all in blossom), so no "what I did today" blog. And I'm fresh out of dharma talks for right now. I think I've kicked religion around enought this week, anyway.
I know - I don't think I've blogged about masturbation yet.
Masturbation was apparently invented in 1712. That is the surprising assertion documented in "Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation" (Zone Books) by Thomas W. Laqueur. Of course, that's an exaggeration, because since our primate cousins masturbate, we probably did so from our earliest beginnings. But in 1712, there was a shift in thinking about masturbation which brought it to the forefront of reform by moralists, physicians, and other do-gooders.
The ancients were nearly silent on the subject, and thought that masturbation was simply a method of ridding the body of excess sperm. In Jewish law, spilling seminal fluid was much debated by the rabbis.
The only reference in the Bible that could relate specifically to masturbation does not. Onan's crime is sometimes used as an injunction against masturbation, although the wiser commentators note that masturbation was not Onan's violation (coitus interruptus, and thereby refraining from being fruitful and multiplying, was). Early Christian teaching was that masturbation was nonreproductive, and was thus to be avoided, but it was not a big source of worry.
Then in 1712, John Marten produced his masterwork. Marten was a quack who had written on venereal disease and had been previously jailed for obscenity. But in 1712, he published "Onania; or, The Heinous Sin of Self Pollution and all its Frightful Consequences," and masturbation was never to be the same. Marten's book was basically a big advertisement for his potions, which would cure the horrid vice. Marten's new anxiety filled a need, which Laqueur claims was due to the philosophy of the Enlightenment. Masturbation was of great interest to major writers and philosophers: Voltaire, Mary Wollstonecraft, Swift, Rousseau, Kant and Whitman all thought and wrote about the "solitary vice."
It was not until well into the twentieth century that physicians stopped blaming masturbation for all sorts of illness, and now it is advocated as part of self-discovery. The famous sex shop Good Vibrations declares every May to be National Masturbation Month, and the poster last year had the slogan, "Think Globally, Masturbate Locally."
Those who want warnings on the evils of the practice can still find many religious leaders who will oblige them. Laqueur closes his study with the incident of Joycelyn Elders, who was surgeon general until 1995, when she answered a reporter's question saying that sex education should include teaching about masturbation. In the minds of some moral persons, this seemed equivalent to teaching techniques of masturbation. She had not previously pleased them with her outspoken views on AIDS or pre-marital sex, but she used the M word, causing a rift with that moral beacon, President Clinton, who said that her view of the benefits of masturbation reflected "differences with administration policy." While it amused many that there was an administration policy on masturbation, Elders was out, and the two century legacy of John Marten continued.
Friday, March 25, 2005
Let it be noted that today also marks the third full moon since the winter solstice, Purim, and the Hindu celebration of Holi. L. has been sick all week (flu), and I've spent the past few nights bringing her Kleenex, food, flowers and other essentials. Meanwhile, my antibiotic and prescription decongestant regime seems to be working - I've been able to sleep without stuffiness the last few nights.
Meanwhile, there are elements that appear to be trying to turn our country into a theocracy. Emboldened perhaps by a widely quoted but generally misunderstood exit poll last November that stated "moral values" were the main reason voters elected Bush, these elements have since tried to ban the teaching of evolution in classrooms and have intimidated those teachers who refuse to adopt their unscientific views; have appealed all the way to the Supreme Court the "right" of some southern judges to display the Ten Commandments in public, even Federal, courthouses; have threatened fines and penalties against television and radio programs that don't fit into their narrow view of "decency;" and are now trying to reverse what seems like at least 10 judicial decisions that have declared that a husband can't be denied allowing his literally brain-dead wife to die a natural death, even as they trumpet the "sanctity of marriage" (but which really means that they don't approve of gays).
It is ironic that as our government struggles to prevent Iraq from becoming an Islamic state, we ourselves are allowing this country to be transformed into a religious fundamentalist state. It is ironic that those who generally accept the death penalty, and have few qualms about the innocent Iraqis who die every day due to our aggression, are the most upset that a single woman may die after years of life support. And it is ironic that in those states that protest indecency over the airwaves the loudest, the very shows that they are against get even higher ratings than in more "permissive" states.
Don't let them bother you and don't let them intimidate you. Like all bullies, from playground punks to Joseph McCarthy to J. Edgar Hoover to any talk-radio pundit, they cannot withstand a challenge, or worse yet, to be ignored.
You might ask why I don't take my own advice and just ignore them as well, and simply go about my life and my practice, exercising the freedoms that I have, instead of ranting like some blogospheric version of Frank Rich. Well, I could show restraint instead of provocation, but what with Mercury in retrograde and all . . .
Thursday, March 24, 2005
Picture yourself on a boat on a river. That is what life is like.
Picture yourself on a boat on a river. On this boat, you are pushing along off of the bottom with a pole. You are pushing the boat, but at the same time, the boat is carrying you.
There is no "you" beyond the boat.
By pushing the boat along, the boat is being caused to be a boat. If it were not set in the water, and being poled along, this aggregate of boards and nails might have the form of a boat, but it wouldn't, in fact, be functioning as a boat. If this same coming-together of wood and steel were in the desert, could it really be called a "boat?" It is your poling it along on this river that is causing it to be a "boat."
Picture yourself on this boat on the river. In that very moment, there is nothing other than the world of the boat. Just as your poling is what causes the aggregate to be a boat, the boat is also defined by the river, and the river is defined by the shore, and the shore is defined by the land just as the land is defined by the sky. In fact, everything in the universe is defining every other thing in the universe, and they are all defining the boat, and you are pushing the boat, and at the same time, the boat is carrying you.
There is no "you" beyond the boat. "You" are defined not only by that aggregate which we are calling "boat," but which actually is the whole universe, and not only by the functions of poling and being carried, but also by your form and mass, which pushes the boat a little lower in the river, which displaces some water, which moves some air, which you are breathing in and out.
At this very moment, there is nothing other than the world of the boat, which is utterly different from moments not on the boat. While you are pushing the boat, your body and mind and circumstances and self are all essential parts of the boat; and the whole Earth and the whole of space are all essential parts of the boat.
Life is like this. Just as you are pushing the boat and the boat is carrying you, life is what you are making it, and you are what life is making you. What has been described like this is that life is the self, and the self is life.
- Shokai, based on "Zenki" by Master Dogen
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
About a year and a half ago, I finally took myself to an otolaryngologist, commonly known as an ear-nose-and-throat man, to take care of a sinus situation. For all of my life, I've had trouble breathing, and have snored quite loudly. The snoring has driven many a woman from my bed, and I'm convinced that it has led, if even indirectly, to the termination of many of my relationships.
Before the otolaryngologist, I had gone to a primary health-care physician at Kaiser Permanente, who in turn referred me to a sleep clinic. Even before I saw a doctor at the clinic, they tried to sell me on the idea of sleeping at night with a CPAP machine. CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machines are basically gas masks that delivers high-pressure air to keep your breathing passages open, and are a common treatment for sleep apnea. I told the doctor, when I finally got to see one, that I didn't believe that I had sleep apnea, but he insisted that CPAP was what I needed, and even wrote a pissy letter to Kaiser after I declined to purchase one.
Well, shortly after that I got a new job and a better health-care program, and eventually found my way to the otolaryngologist. He took one short look up my nose and almost immediately said, "Oh, you're definitely blocked. You have a deviated septum." Forty-eight years going through life, and no one had ever told me that.
The surgery to fix the blockage wasn't all that bad, at least as far as any surgery can be considered, and I was out of the hospital the same day and back on my feet in very little time. However, the nose still felt stuffed up - sort of like a bad cold - because of swelling and bleeding from the surgery, but the doctor promised that it would pass soon.
But I was also still snoring.
The swelling and bleeding did eventually pass, but the stuffiness and snoring didn't. I went to a general physician about the stuffiness, and he prescribed various antihistimines and decongestants, which generally weren't very effective. However, one day I tried a 12-Hour Sudafed, and that changed everything.
The Sudafed cleared me right up, and I was breathing better and more fully than I ever had. And much to my delight, the snoring also stopped. My instinct was right - I didn't need the CPAP after all.
The trouble was that I would become stuffy again every 12 hours as the Sudafed wore off, so I had to keep myself constantly medicated, 24/7, or else get blocked up again. This bothered me on principal, but my doctor assured me that there was no long-term problem with taking the medication twice every day, and it sure beat the alternative of sniffling and snoring.
Now, I occasionally wondered what the reason was that I needed to stay medicated in the first place, but the whole thing was working so I didn't question it. So when I traveled from Atlanta to Brunswick to Budapest and back again last summer, I was packing Sudafed. When I was diving in Panama City and Grand Cayman, it was while I was on Sudafed. All of the things that have happened to me as recorded in this blog were all done on Sudafed.
So, naturally, I was disappointed last month when the Sudafed started to let me down. First, I noticed that it was no longer clearing me up as well or as quickly as it used to, and then L. started to complain that I was snoring again, and then it got to the point where I couldn't sleep at night because I'd get so stopped up that I couldn't breathe.
That was intolerable, so today I returned to the otolaryngologist and presented my nose to him once again. At first, he didn't see anything wrong, and I think that he might even have thought that I was being a hypochondriac, but eventually he concluded that I may be suffering from an infection.
"For the past year and a half?," I asked.
"Maybe," he replied. A chronic subacute infection."
So he prescribed me an antibiotic, Omnicaf (cefdinir) capsules, and a prescription-grade antihistimine to replace the Sudafed. I start the new regime tomorrow morning. I hope that I can sleep tonight.
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
In a dharma talk, Dogen said,
Even if you are speaking rationally (1) 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 they 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 very important to bear in mind.
Chapter 1-10 from Shobogenzo-Zuimonki
(1) The original Japanese is dori (Ch., daoli), which means 1. principal, truth, 2. reason, argument.
Monday, March 21, 2005
"Out of respect for Christians and Buddhists, in my opinion, it isn't very helpful to refer to Jesus as a bodhisattva."
The term bodhisattva comes from two Sanskrit words - bodhi meaning "wisdom," and sattva meaning "being." So therefore, bodhisattva literally means wisdom being, or wise man. The three wise men who came and visited the baby Jesus could just as easily be called the three bodhisattvas, especially because they were "from the east" (if they were from the west, they would be called "the three amigos"). In Sanskrit, there would be no translation other than "bodhisattvas" for the wise men. But was Jesus a bodhisattva?
Well, according to almost all Christian beliefs, Jesus was a being (sattva) - it is an important doctrinal point that God literally became man. And it would be doing Jesus a disservice to say that he wasn't wise (bodhi). So therefore, how could it be disrespectful to call Jesus a bodhisattva? I would think the opposite would be more true - it would be disrespectful to say that he wasn't a bodhisattva.
Of course, in Buddhism, the term also has a meaning deeper than a literal "wise man." A bodhisattva is an enlightened person who has vowed to forego his own nirvana until all other sentient beings have also been enlightened. At the end of every Zen service, we chant, "However innumerable all beings are, I vow to save them all" - the bodhisattva vow. And isn't that exactly what Jesus did, give up his own life for the salvation of all others? So how can a Buddhist deny that Jesus was anything but a bodhisattva?
Hitler was a Buddha.
Now, I know that may sound blasphemous and provocative, but in fact, not only do all sentient beings have buddha nature, but all humans are actually fully-formed Buddhas, lacking nothing, perfect and complete. Even Hitler. The problem is that they just haven't realized it yet. And in this ignorance (avidya) they imagine a separation between self and others, and thereby ultimately create great suffering. But the only real blasphemy is to deny any being's buddha nature. Even Hitler's.
Would you take me by the hand
Would you take me by the hand
Can you show me
The shine of your Japan
The sparkle of your china
Can you show me
I'm gonna sell my house in town
I'm gonna sell my house in town
And I'll be there
To shine in your Japan
To sparkle in your China
Yes I'll be there
- Steely Dan
Sunday, March 20, 2005
Today is both the Vernal Equinox (happy spring!) and Palm Sunday. I guess these two days don't always fall on the same date - in fact, I guess that it's impossible to always be the same day of the year. Just a coincidence this time, I suppose.
I don't recall exactly what Palm Sunday commemorates; it has something to do with Jesus' triumphant arrival in some city shortly before the crowd turns on him and has him crucified. All I remember is that you would get some sort of long leaf at church, a frond, to take home and play with, only to realize that there was really nothing you could do with it, so after waving it around for a little bit and trying to whip your sister with it, you'd give up and go on to other things. I guess that Palm Sunday's main significance was always that it marked one week until Easter.
Now, I don't want to get off on a rant here, so let me first point out that I generally have little patience for those who define their religious beliefs by bashing the beliefs of others. This applies not only to televangelists, but also to some so-called Buddhists that I've met, who seem more interested in rebelling against their Judeo-Christian upbringing than in really embracing Buddhism. I've also been dismayed to read Japanese Zen masters who try to talk about Christainity, when it's painfully obvious they have no clue what they're talking about. So I offer my comments on Jesus here not to criticize the belief of others, but to provide an alternative view of Jesus as bodhisattva.
If you look at the four gospels and take away all of the obvious mythology (the virgin birth, etc.), and look at the common themes, you'll find the story of a man who lived at the intersection of a nomadic spiritual tradition (Judaism) and a secular world power (Rome). Meanwhile, John the Baptist was whipping up a religious frenzy with prophesy of a coming messiah. Into these heady times comes a carpenter from Nazareth.
The gospels are generally quiet about Jesus' early life, and what little is presented makes it sound like he was a fairly typical carpenter for his time. However one day, this carpenter wanders off into the desert and fasts for 40 days and when he comes back, he is profoundly changed.
Now, we'll never know what happened to Jesus while he was fasting in the desert, but his preaching career began when he returned, and he started saying things like "I and the Father are one." From a Buddhist perspective, it seems that Jesus experienced a profound sense of identity with the universe, much like the Buddha experienced while sitting under the Bodhi tree, and much like Zen offers to everyone.
The primary difference, and the fundamental tragedy of Christianity in my opinion, is that while the Buddha taught that everyone could have the same experience of being one with the Almighty, Jesus' followers claimed exclusivity, that only he could have that experience and no one else. What Jesus himself might have said about that may be lost, although, as Julie pointed out in her email, the Gnostic Gospels suggest that he didn't view the experience as exclusively as the Church later claimed that it was ("if you read the Gnostic Gospels, he spends a lot of time telling his disciples that they are no different from him & that if they want to see the Kingdom of God, they should just open their eyes in the here and now").
Well, as we all know, Rome didn't take very well to the notion of an enlightened mystic stirring up the masses, and they had him killed. Now, the Easter myth states that three days after being crucified, Jesus rose from the dead and appeared again among the people. What I don't understand is, if you accept his return to the world, what did he do with this Second Act?
Not very much. Apparently hang out with Mary Magdalene, convince Doubting Thomas that it really was him, and, strangely, ask for meat. Here, he just made literally the greatest comeback of all time, and no great closing sermon, no profound last teaching, no memorable last words. What a squandered opportunity!
So what I see is the story of a Semitic carpenter who goes off to the desert and experiences an enlightenment, comes back and tries to tell the others about it but is misunderstood and eventually murdered, and his followers, who never really understood his message anyway, begin a religion around their view of his teachings. As the church grows, those accounts that enable and give authority to the church are codified into the scriptures, and those that encourage the follower to think for himself are rejected and later classified as "heresy."
Of course, I wasn't there, so I don't really know.
Saturday, March 19, 2005
According to the calendar, at 7:08 p.m. this evening, the planet Mercury goes retrograde for three weeks. That is, instead of appearing to be traveling across the sky toward the west, it will appear to be traveling in an easterly direction for the next three weeks.
So what does this mean? Nothing, really. It might be gratifying to reflect on how this used to confuse the hell out of pre-Copernican astronomers if you get off on that sort of thing. Astrologers probably ascribe some meaning to the retrograde motion, if you're naive enough to believe in astrology.
I just take it as a good excuse for any behavior I need to justify. You should try it. If you're late for work, just tell your boss that he couldn't possibly expect you to be on time "what with Mercury going retrograde and all." If someone asks why you're dressed the way you are, say "because Mercury's in retrograde." Ladies, if you need an excuse for your husbands, tell them "Not tonight, honey. I can't while Mercury is in retrograde." The possibilities are endless.
This week went by in a blur of seminars and conferences. Wednesday, I went to the first day of a two-day conference for Georgia waste-water plant operators at the new Georgia Convention Center. I can summarize the day by simply saying that waste-water plant operators do not necessarily make dynamic public speakers. There was a keynote speaker over lunch, but I honestly can't recall a word that he said. Thursday, I bailed on the conference and instead went to a one-day seminar for environmental attorneys. Much better. It was held in the Buckhead Westin, the coffee was Starbuck's, and trial lawyers at least know how to speak and attempt to hold an audience's attention.
Here's the conclusion to Julie's email:
What is the role of buddha in zen buddhism, is he a god like figure? What kind of role does he play in the lives of the people of this world?
I can't say what role the Buddha plays for "the people of this world," but I will say in human nature there is a tendency for people to want a savior, someone who can do things to/for them. It's handy to have a being like that around, as responsibility for oneself is a difficult and lonely business sometimes. So, the last words of the Buddha's lifetime are, "work out your own salvation diligently," and yet today there are branches of Buddhism which seem to advocate the idea that if practitioners just pray enough, or say the right mantra enough, they will get what they want, whether it be a Mercedes or an extended vacation in the Pure Land. With Jesus it's the same: if you read the Gnostic Gospels, he spends a lot of time telling his disciples that they are no different from him & that if they want to see the Kingdom of God, they should just open their eyes in the here and now. Yet contemporary Christian traditions de-emphasize this aspect of his teachings and centralize the idea of Jesus and the Church as intercessors.
There is this Zen idea that the Buddha is us, and we are the Buddha. In essence, we are all already just as we should be, but we run around being distracted and thinking we just need to perfect this, study that, get the right teacher, or eat the right balance of whole grain foods, in order to get something we lack. The Buddha's teachings, the Zen teachings, are there to put a stop to this spiritual scavenger hunt. Knuckle down, says the Buddha! Quit goofing off and pay attention.
Could you briefly discuss the origins of zen buddhism/the history of its creation. Just the history specific to zen buddhism?
On a scholarly level, the history of Zen is better learned from books or people besides me. On a personal level, I can tell you Zen comes from a movement within China and then Japan, away from heavy ritual, priestly intercession, and other trappings, back to the Buddha's original teachings about clear awareness in the present moment. So, much as Buddhism itself can be seen as a reform movement within Hindu practice, Zen is a reform movement within Buddhism, and within each practitioner.
So, let's see, that should just about cover everything I wanted to say this week while Blogger wasn't working: what I did this week (check), the crime wave (check), emails (check). As for an answer to GreenSmile's question, I can see that I still haven't addressed the topics about which he was asking, that is, the three wheels and Kabbalic practice, but, hey, you can't expect this finger to point directly at the moon when Mercury's in retrograde, now, can you?
Friday, March 18, 2005
Yes, that cute little tyke is me in an earlier incarnation, circa 1958. No particular reason, other than narcissism, for posting it.
I mentioned a local crime wave the other day. I first became aware of this on Tuesday when I received the following, rather ominous, message from a neighbor:
"I do not have an abundance of details, but can tell you a car was vandalized (windows broken, laptop stolen) around 1 A.M. this morning (Tuesday, March 15), and another car was stolen from the car port. Be alert. Watch out for each other."
That was followed by this email from a resident from around the block:
"My car had money taken out of a briefcase either Monday or Tuesday night. I just discovered it today. Perhaps it happened at the same time as the other break-ins. The car was not locked and was parked in my driveway at the back of the house."
Greetings from the third most dangerous city in America. But who leaves money in a briefcase overnight in an unlocked car?
The day that I got these messages, I had to go to the state environmental offices in the morning to review some files and then I had a meeting at the law offices of a client, but I finished these tasks early enough to do some clothes shopping, and since Bloomingdale's was having a 25% off sale on Calvin Klein underwear, I bought about $100 worth of boxers, briefs and t-shirts even though underwear wasn't at the top of my list, and while I was at it, I went up to Women's Intimates on the Third Floor and got L. a surprise gift of C.K. lingerie (although who the gift was really for is open to debate), then I swung over to the new Barney's store in Atlanta, which was a big disappointment because it's a Barney's Co-op, not a department store, and it basically just sells jeans and t-shirts like some sort of a Gap for Teens, so I went to Parisian and bought three pairs of pants, and then headed home and L. stopped by and was delighted by the surprise lingerie and we went out to dinner at Chops, which, along with Bones, is among the best steakhouses in Atlanta, and we had a lovely time and when I got home I got the first of the messages about the break-ins but I wasn't able to blog about it or about the day because Blogger wasn't working and all I could post was a picture of a woman pointing a handgun so I had to address all of this by trying to squeeze it in to today's post.
Meanwhile, here's more from Julie's email:
Is there an omnipotent existence in the universe? Is it active in the universe?
Well, if you're looking for universal laws within the context of Buddhist teachings, a good place to start is with the law of karma, which teaches that "All beings are the owners of their action, companions to their action, and its results will be their home. All action with intention, be it skillful or harmful, of such acts they will be the heirs. "
We are subject to the consequences of our actions, on an individual level, a family level, a national level, and so on. There's no free lunch and there's no Wrathful God. Karma is neutral, and operates universally. Bo Lozoff, founder of the Prison Ashram Foundation, says that from the standpoint of a practitioner, karma acts as a spiritual Help Wanted ad. If there's something we're blind to in ourselves, then the results of our actions help us to see what we are not seeing. Why do I keep getting irritated at this person? Is it possible I'm actually more like them than I'm willing to admit?
Are there causes of huge catastrophies, such as the december tsunami? Are the reasons of such events simply natural, unavoidable and unfortunate? Or is there something else behind these kinds of events?
To me one of the most pernicious aspects of so-called New Age thinking, and one of the clearest reasons why it shouldn't ever be lumped in with Buddhism, is the vague idea that we create our own reality, and thus, if we suffer at all, it is because we've failed to visualize a suffering-free reality.
The Buddha's teaching is based on the Four Noble Truths, the first of which is "there is suffering." Suffering comes in two flavors: that which is inevitable, and that which can be let go of through practice. The first category includes the tsunami as a natural phenomenon. Conditioned upon birth, we are subject to aging, sickness and death, to separation from what we love, and to contact with what we dislike. This is bad enough! Yet we choose to compound this situation through our misunderstandings of the nature of things and the causes of suffering. If a person mopes around for example thinking, "my suffering is the fault of my parents, for being so horrible to me when I was a small child," then that person is very unlikely to ever accept responsibility for themselves, or to become free of their emotional distortions. The path of practice is essentially a path of learning to let go of the unnecessary suffering we add onto existence through our ignorance, so that we can respond better to things we can't change, like the tsunami.
Thursday, March 17, 2005
Well, if you’re reading this, that means that Blogger is once again working, or I’ve figured out some way to post message text without going through their inconsistent on-line interface.
I’ve been working away from the office for three days now, and while that might be a story unto itself, it’ll have to wait until another day. I've got a lot to say that's all trying to burst out of my mouth simultaneously, but first, I want to respond to GreenSmile’s comments.
Unfortunately, it is, quite simply, not possible to state what Zen teaches about this or teaches about that, just as Zen itself defies definition. To define it is to limit it ("it is this, and therefore not that"), and to make a neat conceptual package that abstracts from the whole and gives only part of the picture. This would not capture Zen, which is rooted in our deepest direct experience. The non-conceptual nature of Zen is apparent in catch phrases that became popular in Song Dynasty China. Zen trainees took their cues from such expressions as:
"No dependence on words or books"
"A special transmission outside the scriptures"
"Direct pointing to Mind" and
"Seeing one's true nature is to become the Buddha."
People talk about “Zen teachings” or “the Buddha’s teachings,” but these are just figures of speech, expediencies for the sake of communication. There is, in fact, nothing to teach. On the other hand, over the last 2,500 or so years, great amounts of “teachings” have been recorded and passed down from Master to student. But keep in mind, these “teachings” are not the thing being taught – they are like fingers pointing at the Moon, skillful means of directing the student toward the truth, but not the truth itself.
In the following email, my friend Julie P. deals with this tricky issue:
From: Julie P.
Date: Wed 3/16/2005 2:49 PM
Subject: Zen Questions
I've just spent a good chunk of today working on answers to a set of questions sent to me by young C. K., an Emory student who came to last Sunday’s newcomers' session. Thought I'd post the dialogue to our group.
Could you describe the Zen Buddhist community further for me. What is it like? Are the people you practice with all close friends of yours? What role does the community play in your life?
As a general point, I’d like to say that I don’t think of myself as a Zen Buddhist - the denomination doesn’t really make much of a difference to me, the way that it might be important to some other people. So my sense of community within Buddhism is more to do with the general idea of sangha - a community of people to practice with, who are each working in their own way to understand and realize the teachings. This is very important in the Buddha’s teaching - this idea that we do not practice alone - that we depend on one another to realize truth. Sangha is the third of the Triple Gems - the three foundations of practice.
Close friendships are always a joy, but that isn’t totally relevant in this context - I almost never see people from the Zen Center outside the zendo, and that is fine. I rely on the Center for a practice community, not a social life.
What are your beliefs on the origin of the universe?
Actually, I don’t think about this very much at all. It’s one of the topics the Buddha put into a wonderful pile he called Things Which Are Not Productive to Think About. Though another way of answering your question is to say that the origin of the universe is in each mind-moment: how is consciousness conditioning what The Universe is understood to be at any given moment?
What are your beliefs on the end of time/death of the universe?
Again, this question doesn’t have much of a bearing on practice, so it’s another member of the aforementioned pile.
What do you believe happens when a person dies?
OK - so this very clearly does have a bearing on practice, if you phrase the question as, “what do you think will happen when you die?” And the answer is a big DON’T KNOW, though I think as a Buddhist there are things I can do to prepare for this inevitability. One is to acknowledge it as an inevitability. Another is to practice “spending time in the neighborhood of death” (my wording). This comes down to a willingness not to ignore death, and to pay attention to death as I encounter it in daily life. In Buddhist countries like Thailand, hospital morgues are teaching facilities which people can visit to familiarize themselves with what dead bodies are like, not from a morbid point of view, but from the point of view that our bodies are themselves of the nature to die. There are a couple of important funeral chants in the Theravada tradition which say:
(for the dead)
All conditions, truly they are transient,
Of the nature to arise and cease
In their cessation, bliss.
(for the living)
Such is the nature of my body
It too will die and lie senseless on the ground
As useless as a rotten log.
Another part of “spending time in the neighborhood of death” is less literal, and involves accepting and fully experiencing the grief and confusion of events such as the breakup of a relationship, an illness, or the death of a friend. Our tendency in this culture is to plaster over painful experiences, to over-medicate and distract ourselves, but Buddhist practice encourages us instead to take the time to be with painful experiences and let them be our teachers. A person who has spent a lot of time getting used to death is much likelier to be able to move gracefully towards her physical death when the time comes. . .
There is more to this email, but I’ll have to continue with this on another day. I want to jump off for now and write a little bit more about this on my own.
At a seminar today, I heard a professor from the University of Georgia who specializes in medicine and public health discuss what he called “The Ulysses Effect.” Basically, this effect refers to what happens to a person who is diagnosed, either correctly or not, as having a life-threatening disease. Ulysses, of course, went off one day to fight in the Trojan War and undertook a long voyage and had many great adventures, some painful and difficult, some pleasurable, but all life-altering. When he finally returned home, he found that both his world and he himself had changed.
It’s like that to the diagnosed. Their life is “normal,” at least to them, and then one day this diagnosis happens and suddenly they’re in a world of hospitals, clinics, tests and procedures, and when it’s all over, they’ve changed. After a battle with cancer, say, the patient suddenly spends less time in the office and more time with family and friends, at the golf course, or even at church. The old world is gone, and they are no longer the same.
What’s happened, in my opinion, is that they had this sudden epiphany of the impermanence of life, and they’ve examined their values, and found the old behaviors lacking. But why does one need to wait for a diagnosis for this kind of life-altering reaction? With the direct experience of Zen, one can clearly see the impermanence of all things, directly realize one’s own mortality, and accept the inevitability of death. And therefore come to live each moment as fully and mindfully as possible.
Don’t mistake these things, “seeing the impermanence of all things, directly realizing one’s own mortality, and accepting the inevitability of death” as the teachings of Zen. These are common experiences of Zen students, but not Zen itself. They’re fingers pointing at the moon.
As I said before, there’s nothing to teach.
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
JustAGirl, who set me up with my gmail account (thanks!), notes that "Blogger is being a retard. Again." She's not talking about me. She's talking about Google's Blogger server, which apparently has been down since last night. Although I was able to post yesterday's picture to my blog, I wasn't able to post the accompanying text (there's IS an explanation of that picture, but now you'll probably never know what it was). Anyway, Blogger will allow me to only get as far as the Dashboard home page, but I cannot access my own files to compose a new post, or to edit posts, or to caption pictures. The only way this is getting posted (and as I sit here typing, I have no assurance that this will actually work), is by captioning a picture using Hello and sending it to Blogger, not a very efficient way of composing large bodies of text.
Post-Script: It's now 11:15 p.m., and Blogger is apparently finally back on line, although now it's too late and I'm too tired to write too much. My attempt to post the paragraph above was only partially successful, since I hit the "enter" button on my keyboard to start a new paragraph, but instead it sent the text on line before I had a chance to edit the text, or even finish my thought. Frustrating.
Anyway, I had a lot to say about the last very interesting couple of days. Also, I wanted to respond to GreenSmile's comment to my Monday post, share an email and even report on the local crime wave (a rash of car break-ins and thefts on my block). But all of that's going to have to wait until tomorrow or later as long as the creek don't rise, the City manages to keep the felons behind bars and Google keeps its server on line.
Monday, March 14, 2005
Actions themselves are neither good nor bad; only the intention is important. If you think something is good, it is good; if you think it is bad, it is bad.
"When the Buddha was alive, there was a prostitute called Pass-a-million. Every day, she sold her body many times. Every day, many different men came and had sex with her. But any man who had sex with her would become enlightened. So she was only using sex to teach Buddhism. When a man came to her, he had many desires. But after being with her, he had no desires, he understood his true self, and he went away with a clear mind."
- Zen Master Seung Sahn
Bodhidharma said, "Self-nature is inconceivably wondrous. In the dharma where there is nothing to grasp, nothing to take hold of, 'not giving rise to attachment' is called the precept of refraining from misusing sexuality."
Master Dogen said, "When the three wheels are pure and clean, nothing is desired. Go the same way as the Buddha." The three wheels are the body, mind and mouth. Greed, anger and ignorance are pure and clean. Nothing is desired.
Twice yearly, the Zen Center holds the Zaike Tokudo or lay initiation ceremony for those wishing to receive the precepts and formally enter the Buddhist path. This is an important and powerful event in the life of a practitioner and in the life of the sangha. This ceremony, historically known as "entering the stream," has been performed continually since the time of the Buddha. In the Soto Zen tradition, the ceremony continues to be offered exactly as set down by Master Dogen in his text Kyojukaimon (Instructions on Giving the Precepts) more than 800 years ago.
During the ceremony, participants undertake the Three Refuges (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha), the Three Pure Precepts (Do No Harm; Do Only Good; and Save All Sentient Beings), and the first five of the Bodhisattva Precepts:
1. Affirm life; Do not kill.
2. Be giving; Do not steal.
3. Honor the body; Do not misuse sexuality.
4. Manifest truth; Do not lie.
5. Proceed clearly; Do not cloud the mind with intoxicants.
In zazen, we directly experience our self-nature and can see how inconceivably wondrous it truly is. As we come to understand how complete we actually are, we realize that there is in fact nothing to be attained, nothing to grasp, nothing to take hold of. With such a realization, how can one not observe the precept of honoring the body?
Sunday, March 13, 2005
Bob McKeown: "Canada didn't send troops to Vietnam."
Coulter: "I don't think that's right."
McKeown: "Canada did not send troops to Vietnam."
McKeown: "Uh no. Canada ...second World War of course. Korea. Yes. Vietnam No."
Coulter: "I think you're wrong."
McKeown: "No, took a pass on Vietnam."
Coulter: "I think you're wrong."
McKeown: "No, Australia was there, not Canada."
Coulter: "I think Canada sent troops."
Coulter: "Well. I'll get back to you on that."
McKeown (in voice-over): "Coulter never got back to us -- but for the record, like Iraq, Canada sent no troops to Vietnam."
- from "The Fifth Estate," Canadian Broadcasting Company, January 26, 2005
But the real domestic responsibility is going to be the Unsellable Condo in Vinings. The realtor went over to the UCV to hang a "For Sale" sign, and came back with good news and bad news. The good news is that the asking price for the identical unit next door to me is $20,000 more than I'm asking. The bad news is that before we can show the now-empty UCV, I need to re-clean the bathrooms, the kitchen, the refrigerator and the freezer. The carpets need to be steam cleaned, and the living room walls, mantlepiece and built-in shelves need to be painted. She didn't notice, apparently, that the toilet in the master bath leaked, the repair of which was one of the tasks on my winter holiday "to-do" list that never got done.
Now that it's almost two-and-a-half months since the holiday, let's review the list once again and see how much I've got done:
1. Fix computer. Not done. It's still running like shit (but it is still running). I'm leaning now more towards just getting a new computer.
2. Change address on driver's license/tag registration. Not done. According to Georgia law, you have 30 days after you move to change the address on your driver's license and to change the county sticker on your tag. I'm still driving around with the UCV address on my license and with Cobb County tags, even though I moved last August.
3. Fix toilet in condo. Not done.
4. Get duct tape marks off car. Done!!! Score one for the team . . .
5. Join a gym. Nope. My idea was to focus on running and karate, and join a gym this spring, so I guess that now is the time.
6. Buy living room furniture. Well, I'm getting there. The sofa arrived in February, and I got the carpet today, and made at least a start toward window treatments.
7. Buy mirror and sconces for bathroom. Not done. Wires are still sticking out of open holes in the wall.
8. Yard work. I made some progress on this task over the holiday, but very little since then, other than moving some downed branches following the ice storm. I'll probably hire some professional landscapers to remove last autumn's leaves.
Now, I have to add the following tasks to the list:
9. Fix up the UCV. Re-clean the bathrooms, the kitchen, the refrigerator and the freezer, steam clean the carpets, and paint the living room walls, mantlepiece and shelves as the realtor suggested.
10. Body work. The doctor says that now that I'm 50, I need to get a colonoscopy (oh, boy!). While I'm at it, I need to get a dermatologist to look at some moles and other "interesting" things growing on me. And finally get a dentist to fix my teeth.
11. Reading. Knock off all those books that I bought on January 30 and stay up to date on The New Yorker and The Economist.
12. Writing. Write more than just this blog. Publish a few technical papers for work, and maybe even a few articles for the Buddhist press.
13. Arithmetic. Do my income taxes. Straighten out some of my finances. Collect monies owed me.
Actually, I'm exhausted just thinking about it all. Now I need a nap. I'll start on these tasks tomorrow.
Saturday, March 12, 2005
The search for the fugitive accused of killing a judge, a court reporter and a sheriff's deputy in a courthouse rampage ended Saturday morning when the man surrendered peacefully after a SWAT team cornered him in the Gwinett County apartment of a woman he had taken hostage.
Before his arrest, the fugitive might have killed a fourth victim - at 8:30 a.m. this morning, carpenters found an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent shot dead at his unfinished Buckhead home near Lenox Road. Two people visiting Atlanta for the SEC tournament were assaulted, possibly by the fugitive, Friday noght on Lenox Road, not far from the house where the agent’s body was found.
The agent’s house is not far at all from where I live, and I had crossed Lenox Road just a few blocks south of where the agent’s body was discovered not once, but twice, Friday night as I went to and from the Zen Center for the evening service.
Also, the meeting in Doraville that I went to yesterday, when I saw the messages alerting motorists to the car the suspect was believed to be driving, was very close to where he had taken the woman hostage and later surrendered to the police. I probably couldn’t have crossed the fugitive’s path more times if I had tried.
Greetings from the third most dangerous city in America.
The Atlanta police suffered a public embarrassment when the green Honda that investigators believed the fugitive had car-jacked and used in his escape was found in the very parking garage where he commandeered it more than 12 hours earlier. Authorities had issued an all points bulletin on the Honda, broadcasting its description and license plate number over television, radio and the highway alert network. But about 10 p.m. Friday, someone noticed the car in the garage and notified the police.
Today’s hike itself could not have been nicer. The weather, after a cool and cloudy week, was perfect – sunny and in the 60s up in the mountains (76 when I got back to Atlanta). The turnout was relatively small – only five of us – but we had all hiked together before, so we were an intimate group, very comfortable together. We had the trail to ourselves most of the time, only encountering a very polite group of college boys taking a spring-break backpacking trip and the expected crowd on top of Springer Mountain.
The next Zen hike will be June 11, if the creek don’t rise and the City manages to keep all of its felons behind bars.
Friday, March 11, 2005
As you've probably heard by now, a man on trial this morning for rape, assault, kidnapping and several other felonies grabbed a deputy sheriff's gun in an Atlanta courthouse and opened fire, shooting the deputy in the mouth and killing a Superior Court Judge and a Court reporter before fleeing. The deputy is expected to survive.
The suspect then escaped, gunning down a second deputy outside the courthouse, this time fatally, and carjacked at least one vehicle. He also pistol-whipped a journalist during his escape.
Police in Georgia and neighboring states launched a massive manhunt for the man, appealing to the public to report any sightings. Electronic highway messages were posted with information on the vehicle the suspect was believed to be driving.
I was unaware of all this at 11:30 a.m. while I was driving over to Doraville for a meeting, and wondered what all the highway signs were talking about. The signs were still up as I headed back from the meeting at 1:30 p.m.
According to the press, "Police said they did not know what had provoked the shooting." Well, I'll go out on a limb here and say that maybe it was because he was on trial for rape, kidnapping and other charges.
Thursday, March 10, 2005
It's a long drive from Atlanta to Brunswick (4 1/2 - 5 hours) and I should know - I did it today. Twice.
I had to go to Brunswick to look at a piece of property and do a little research for a client, and even though it was only about two hours of work, it was a long day with all of the driving.
Now, there are flights from Atlanta to Brunswick, but they're so infrequent that the day would have been just as long anyway, but with most of the time spent hanging around the airport terminal. Just as long and just as boring.
When I drive to Brunswick, I like to get off of the interstate as soon after Macon as I can, and take the back roads (U.S. 23 to 341 and then on to route 25 into Brunswick), passing through the occasional small town (Cochran, Eastman, Baxley, etc).
I used to do this drive frequently back what seems like lifetimes ago. In the early 1980s, I would head to Brunswick on Monday mornings to go supervise a drilling crew and return on Friday afternoon. I would drive a Georgia DNR pickup (I was assigned a Ford F-150) with no radio. It was explained to me that the taxpayers of Georgia saw no reason to buy state employees a radio to listen to while they were on official business. So, I would bring along a classic boom-box and set it on the floor of the truck and play cassettes of all my early-80s New Wave favorites (Talking Heads, Gang of Four, Romeo Void and Ian Dury come to mind) as I headed down to Brunswick.
Those memories came back as I drove down today in my Jeep Grand Cherokee listening to CDs of my current faves (on this trip, it was mostly Soul Coughing, dj Cheb i Sabbah and Elvis Costello's "The Postman"). The alert reader will probably notice that I've changed more than my music has.
But in addition to the drive and the music, memories of past relationships also came back. As you can imagine, being on the road five days a week took its social toll, so I was often heading south full of anxiety on Monday, and speeding back as early as I could get away on Friday.
As I drove today, I recalled working in 1983 on a long-term pumping test in Brunswick right after Anne had left for Denver, after sharing an apartment with me for a couple of months, and how I kept trying to call her at night from my hotel (this was way before cell phones) and became frustrated by not reaching her. Something like 17 attempts only to hear the phone ring and ring with no answer, and the hotel still wanted to charge me $3.75 for each of the "long-distance calls."
I also thought of the trip along the same route that I took last summer with L., going to and from Saint Simon's Island for the July 4th weekend. And rushing back from Brunswick later that summer on my way to catch a flight to meet her in Budapest, and having to buy her cranberry juice on the way.
Before I left this morning, I had sent L. an e-mail, but then realized as I drove down that I would not be able to read her reply until I got back home (I don't carry a Blackberry, and there aren't any internet cafes in Cochran, Eastman, Baxley, etc). Then on top of that, the battery in my cell phone died, so I couldn't make or receive any phone calls. What if she were trying to reach me?, I wondered. How would she interpret my lack of response? So on the way back home, I drove as fast as I could, even getting a speeding ticket in Dodge County, anxious to get back into the communication zone, and frustrated once again that work was getting in the way of my personal life.
Which is fine when you're in your 20s, but a little unseemly when you're 50.
When I got home, I found that L. had sent me a nice but non-committal reply to my e-mail, requiring no answer, and there were no messages from her on my voice-mail.
It's a long drive from here to Brunswick.
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
"It is not enough
It is just a habit
Nostalgia, it's no good
Our future was in the past"
- Gang of Four
On this day, March 9th, in 1796, Corsican Napoleon Bonaparte married Josephine, and in 1862 the ironclad warships Monitor and Virginia (formerly the Merrimac) clashed to a draw after five hours of battle at Hampton Roads, Virginia. On this day in 1997, The Notorious B.I.G. was killed at age 24 in a drive-by shooting in L.A.
And it's Mickey Spillane's, Bobby Fisher's, Emmanuel Lewis', Linda Fiorentino's and Juliette Binoche's birthdays.
"It is not enough
Here we go again
I'd like to see something new
It's all so familiar
I wanted to be a good wife
I wonder if I've lived before this life
Or seen it on television
I can't stand the repetition"
Hunter S. Thompson is still dead.
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
The Unsellable Condo in Vinings is now back on the market. Remember the UCV? Well, I stopped by Coldwell Banker today, and gave the realtor a key, signed way too much paperwork, and now it's back on the market again. Wanna buy a condo?
I stopped at the condo on the way home from work, first time since last December, just to see how the place was holding up. It wasn't looking very good. They're apparently in the middle of some sort of repair and painting project, so each building looks half unfinished. Plus they apparently dug up the parking lot in front of my building for some reason and left bare gravel where the asphalt once was. U-G-L-Y. I think it's going to be on the market for a while again.
On top of that, the unit right next door to mine is also apparently now up for sale, if the "For Sale" in the window is any indication. So not only is it a hard sell to start with, but now my vacant unit has to compete with a fully furnished unit right next door.
Actually, it's hard to believe that I actually lived there once. It now seems so . . . well, not me. So I ask you, what has changed? The building . . . or me?
Before Coldwell Banker, I had lunch with sensei. He shared this exchange of letters with me, which I am now sharing it with you:
I am working up a presentation and I have run into the question as to whether "Original Nature" and "Buddha-Nature" are one and the same. I believe they are but I can't find a source that directly says they are. Can these terms be used interchangeably? If the answer is very complex, I believe I will leave it out of my presentation at this time. If the answer is both yes and no, as so many answers are, I can live with that. If the answer is silence that will be really interesting. In any event...thank you for reading this.
Very good, Don; you will do well in your presentation.
Yes, these are virtually interchangeable, and should not be a source of confusion or debate. The former is actual while the latter is also a matter of right aspiration or view.
The buddha in buddhanature is not the historical Buddha (thus no capital) but it means "awakened nature," the same awakening that Buddha experienced and is innate in all human beings, though not in all sentient beings.
The original nature is that which we share with all sentient beings, and would be analogous to "somokushin," or hridaya in Sanskrit, the "mind of grass and trees" expounded by Master Dogen in "Hotsu-Bodaishin, Establishment of the Bodhi-Mind," chapter #70 Shobogenzo (Nishijima and Cross) Book 3, P.265. This in my opinion is one of the most important fascicles of Master Dogen, clarifying the Buddhist theoretical underpinnings of reality.
Beings with innate buddhanature do not necessarily know it. This means they have not awakened to it, but the original nature is there. Buddhanature is meaningless for all practical purposes unless one awakens to it. Original nature is skewed toward realization of buddhanature but will not necessarily realize it in this lifetime.
Another fascicle, "Bussho, Buddha-Nature," #22, Book 3, p. 1, you should probably read to understand buddhanature as action, not as a static state of existence.
Monday, March 07, 2005
I got the following email from my Mom today:
Today was my thirty year anniversary at BU. My boss bought me a rose.
followed by this one from my sister (the one in Boston):
Hi everyone. Today was Mom's 30 year anniversary at BU. I think all she got was a rose so please be sure to send her an email or give her a call to congratulate her on all of her hard work and dedication to the University. I know a mention in the blog would be greatly appreciated!
After 30 years all you get is a ROSE!? Well, in that case, a little shout-out on the blogosphere isn't too much to ask for. I'll bet she can't wait until her 50th anniversary when she can get that blow to the head with a sack of flour!
Sounds to me like someone in Human Resources was asleep at the switch. What kind of Dickensian hell has the American workplace devolved to, anyway?
I can sympathize - I had to log in my contract-required eight hours today, but then went off to open up the Zen Center. Right now it's raining cats and dogs outside - the streets are already starting to flood.
Speaking of parental units, yesterday, my Dad left for Ireland. He wrote, "We're going to Ireland the 6th of March for one month. St. Patrick's Day in Dublin, Ireland. Wow, that's heaven!" And, "Ireland should be fun. I'm going to find out my mother's birthplace - someplace in Northern Ireland. They say you can get that information in Belfast. Mary Augusta Reilly. Born August 10, 1898."
(I think it's safe to post her full name and D.O.B. despite the risks of identity theft on the internet, since she's been dead for over 40 years.)
Let's see, what other family news is there as long as I'm at it? Jonathan, my nephew, is still nine years old, and is showing every indication that he plans on remaining nine years old until his next birthday. Next month, I'm going off to San Francisco to visit my other sister, not the one in Boston, but the one in, well, in S.F. I plan on taking in a few Buddhist services while I'm out there, see the sights a little, and attend to some company business. One week. I hope she can stand it.
In a non-family matter, "Anonymous" posted the following comment to my June 11, 2004 blog picture of Ray Charles today:
I really like this pic. I like how it shows him in his younger years.
Well, I'm glad that you like the pic. You and approximately 10,000 others . . .
Sunday, March 06, 2005
Frequent site visits pay off for lucky East Coast resident.
This morning, at 9:51:23 a.m., someone on the eastern seaboard of the United States of America used Internet Explorer 6.0, running on a Windows XP system, to go online through Charter.com and logged on to the Water Dissolves Water blog site.
That person, whomever he or she may be, became the 10,000th visitor to the blog.
Congratulations. As a reward, I will stop posting Jimi Hendrix pictures.
That visitor did not reach the site through a web search for Ray Charles, Norah Jones, Jimi Hendrix or Courtney Love pictures - or through any other image or word search - but logged on to the site directly. He or she most likely had the site bookmarked.
I say "most likely" because the same person also visited the site at 11:08:23 p.m. last night and 11:26:32 a.m. yesterday morning; 6:11:42 and 9:24:44 p.m. Friday night; 6:20:30 and 9:37:06 p.m. Thursday night; and 5:02:57 and 10:09:25 p.m. Wednesday night.
At the time of the 10,000th visit, I was in sesshin, sitting through the last of the morning zazen periods before the 10 o'clock dharma talk. I was probably thinking more about the pain in my knees than about who might or might not be logging onto the web site just then.
The dharma talk itself was an outstanding discussion on vijnana (consciousness) and Kyogen's Man in a Tree koan by my friend and teacher, Arthur. Afterwards, L. and I had lunch at Alon's and saw the Romare Bearden exhibit at the High Museum, during all of which we may or may not have broken up again, but at this point, I can no longer keep track (nor am I sure any more of whether or not we were "together" to have broken up in the first place). No hard feelings, no tears or remorse, just an acceptance of what is.
I don't blame the 10,000th visitor for any of this.
Saturday, March 05, 2005
Friday, March 04, 2005
Sitting and facing the wall in sesshin, following the breath, the mind still wanders.
I received an email newsletter today from a conservative advocacy group "debunking" the "myth" that water might become a scarce commodity in Atlanta. "What rubbish," I thought as I sat on the cushion. The author pointed out that all the water the City consumes from the Chattahoochee River is eventually returned to the river "just as clean as when it was withdrawn" following wastewater treatment. "Really?" I thought. Has this person seen the river downstream of Atlanta? Go to the Upper Chattahoochee River upstream of Atlanta, wade knee-deep into the water, and take a deep breath of the mountain air. Remember what that smells like. Next, get into your car, drive past the city, and stand by the river downstream of the R.M. Clayton Sewage Treatment Plant. Now take a breath but try not to gag, and for God's sake, don't actually go into the water, whatever you do! Hepatitis, e coli, cadmium, chromium, nitrates, hormones and other endocrine disrupters, etc. are all in there waiting on you. "Just as clean," my ass, I thought.
But what good is an imaginary argument with someone who's not even there? And why was I having this "argument" during sesshin? So I dropped that line of thought, but shortly afterwards I found myself thinking about my upcoming travel schedule. Drop those thoughts, and another set of associations pops up. Or my mind starts humming the bass line of a Miles Davis tune, something from "Jack Johnson," I think. Or I start wondering when the bell that marks the end of the sitting period will ring.
Mr. "Just As Clean" even tried to argue that the lack of natural soil cover in the urban environment was a good thing, resulting in more flow in the river, because it allowed rainfall to return to the river faster than the slow, cumbersome and inefficient natural method of percolating through the earth and returning to the river via groundwater. I guess it never occurred to him that "more flow in the river" is usually referred to as "flooding," and a lot of folks aren't too keen on that. But, oh, I noticed, I'm apparently back at the debate again.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that the sesshin wasn't good, or that my sitting wasn't profound. In fact, quite the opposite. I'm just being honest here, and my sitting was in fact very quiet and focused precisely because I saw that these thoughts were coming up, and I just watched, and allowed them to go on, and sat with them, accepting, observant and compassionate.
Sesshin starts again in the morning. I need to go to sleep now.
Thursday, March 03, 2005
Today is the ninth birthday of my nephew Jonathan. So, please allow me to depart for a day from the usual blogging, whatever that might be, and wish Jonathan a happy birthday.
Here's a picture of me and Johnny on Christmas Day 2003 looking through the picture book that I gave him.
The kid sure loves his Dogs. . . .
Here's the obligatory Jimi Hendrix picture (good guitar face) . . .
On that note, for those of you keeping score at home, the rankings are now Jimi Hendrix, 7 site visits; Ray Charles, 6; Courtney Love, 2; and Mount Everest, 2. Other single search-word hits include:
"dear mr. fantasy" songwriting credit
west australian time zone
aluminium company directors in malaysia @yahoo.com 2005
creation of adam
how to tell which dissolves into water
messina earthquake and tsunami
old pictures of the roseland ballroom of the 1930's
pictures of mount everest
sumatra tsunami scientific research paper
taoism spirited away
what happend in 26 of december 2004 in india about earthquakes
which dissolves better in water
which soap dissolves the fastest
Also, it's worth noting that at the current hit rate, I expect to receive my 10,000th site visit this Sunday. I wonder what I should do to commemorate this event.
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
SOME people do not believe global warming is happening; some believe it is happening, but that it is the result of natural variation; and some believe it is being caused by human activity. A paper presented to the AAAS by Tim Barnett, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, provides further evidence that the third camp is right.
Most published research on climate change looks at the atmosphere. That is partly because the records are good and partly because it is in the atmosphere that the human-induced changes that might be causing it are happening. One of these changes, which would promote global warming, is a rise in the level of so-called greenhouse gases (particularly carbon dioxide) which trap heat from the sun and thus warm the air. Another, which would oppose warming, is a rise in the quantity of sulphate-based aerosols, which encourage cloud formation and thus cool the air by reflecting sunlight back into space. Dr Barnett, however, thinks that the air is the wrong place to look. He would rather look in the sea. Water has a far higher capacity to retain heat than air, so most of any heat that was causing global warming would be expected to end up in the oceans.
And that was what he found. In a follow-up to a preliminary study published four years ago, he looked at ocean-temperature surveys made over the past 65 years. He confirmed that the sea has got warmer since the 1940s, and particularly since the 1960s. Furthermore, it has done so from the top down. At a depth of 700 metres, things are almost unchanged. But surface temperatures in all six of the ocean basins he examined (the north and south Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans) have increased by about half a degree Celsius.
So the Earth has, indeed, warmed up over the past few decades, as most climatologists already believed. But the actual pattern of temperature change in each of the six ocean basins is different, and that diversity allowed Dr Barnett to test the idea that people, rather than natural phenomena, are the reason for the warming. He took two widely respected models of the world's climate (which couple events in the atmosphere with events in the sea, and take account of both greenhouse gases and aerosols) and played with their variables in different ways. He tried mimicking the effects of the natural variability caused by feedback loops within the climate, and also the effects of small changes in the sun's output and the consequences of volcanic eruptions, both of which affect the climate. But the only changes that produced patterns of heating which matched reality were the man-made ones. And the match was good in all six basins. Which is confirmation, in Dr Barnett's eyes at least, that the guilty party in global warming is industrial man.