Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday Night Video

Here's Laurie Anderson from 1987 - 22 years ago.

I keep forgetting that the future was so long ago,

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Unintended Consequences

So it's all just a matter of how we look at things: I could either wallow in self-pity, or rise up and solve one by one each of the little crises life has thrown me lately.

Today I chose the latter. Bravely (and gingerly) putting on shoes and socks, I drove to work, no small accomplishment right there, and did the best that I could do, with one leg propped up at all times to aid the circulation in my burned feet. During lunch, I went over to the bank and asked why my debit card kept getting denied.

After consulting with the computer, the teller told me that there's a "Hold" placed on my account.

"Why?," I asked.

"Ummm, it looks like someone was accessing your account up in New York."

Well, that would have been me. The teller told me that a note on my account said that a letter has been sent to my house informing me of "possible fraudulent activity" and of my frozen account. I thought that sounded awfully provincial (out of state usage being considered evidence of possible fraud), and wondered why they wouldn't just call me rather than send a letter, but I calmly told her that there has been no fraud, just business travel, and she was able to un-freeze my account then and there.

Fine. One problem solved. I then called my friendly, neighborhood plumber and arranged for someone to come over and fix the leak behind the fridge. He was, naturally, 45 minutes late for our appointment but no problem - I was able to work from home while I had been waiting.

I gave him some time to poke and pull and scratch around, and within a few minutes he yelled out that he had found the problem. "When I pulled the refrigerator out from the wall," he said, "A big old rat jumped out from behind, and he's what chewed through your water line for the ice maker!" He wanted to show me the damage to the water line, but I was much more interested in where that "big old rat" had run off to. The plumber pointed to beneath the laundry room door, maybe a half-inch clearance, and I realized the old rat couldn't have been all that big, and that it was more likely a little mouse. But how could a mouse or, for that matter, a big old rat, come to be inside of my house and behind my refrigerator?


The trap door that used to let my cat come and go freely and of his own will had long been closed ever since he starting demonstrating a proclivity toward bringing live animals into the house with him - mostly chipmunks, but also mice, shrews, birds, even a big old dragonfly one time. This was not acceptable, so for the past several months, Eliot can only come into the house when I let him, and that's when his mouth is vermin-free.

But when I went off to New York for several days, I left the trap door open so that he wasn't trapped alone in the house all day. I assumed that I'd broken him of the chipmunk habit as several months had passed and besides, he mostly brought them in to share with me when I was home. But it seems that there were, as always, unintended consequences of my actions.

When I came home last Sunday night, I saw the initial evidence of the first consequence. One of the two food bowls I had left filled for the cat was empty and in the middle of the kitchen floor, a good five feet from where I had left it. I thought that was odd but didn't give it much thought. But on Monday night, I heard a scratching sound from the now-locked trap door, and looking outside, I saw a raccoon trying to use the door to get inside.

This was a definite first. It seems that while I was gone, the local raccoons learned about the door, maybe by having seen Eliot himself using it. I can then surmise that they came into the house and started eating the cat food from the one bowl, and that Eliot then drove them out before they ate all of his food (and whatever else they could find in my kitchen). It was, most likely, a feisty encounter - housecat versus raccoon - but Eliot seems none the worse for wear, and my kitchen and most of Eliot's food seems to have been spared their pillaging. So score one for Eliot.

The other consequence apparently gnawed its way through the water line behind the refrigerator. The rodent (I haven't caught it, so I can't speciate the critter yet) couldn't have come in with Eliot before I had left (I'd have seen it), and couldn't have been left over from the months-ago time of the cat's open access to the outdoors. It's more likely that Eliot dragged the critter in with him one day while I was out of town and then lost him behind the refrigerator, and while holed up back there, it gnawed through the line and eventually cost me $129.

I keep putting Eliot into the pantries today to try and flush the rodent out, before he goes back behind the fridge and does some more damage. But the cat's not interested and/or the pest has gone elsewhere, but Eliot has now totally and irrevocably lost his trap-door privileges - I hope that he gets used to being a house cat next time I'm out of town.

Let's see, other problems . . . the feet are still burned but slowly healing (a little bit better every day) and my salary's still dinged, but there's nothing much I can do about that in the short term. The barn's still damaged, but after paying the plumbers, I may wait a while before hiring some one else to fix the roof.

With any luck, I might be able to do zazen by this weekend.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Guilty Feet Have Got No Rhythm

". . . And I know I'm never gonna dance again
The way I danced with you . . ."

"Careless Whisper." Seether, covering George Michael on my radio as I drive home from work. Will these burned and blistered feet ever dance again? Will the burns leave scars? Will the limp become permanent? Things I hadn't worried about before, but now the song has me in the mood to worry.

". . . There's no comfort in the truth
Pain is all you'll find . . . "

The First Noble Truth, as interpreted by the former lead singer of Wham! . . .

Last Monday, when I finally got my guilty feet back from New York, I knew that I probably shouldn't have gone into work and spend the day on my feet. I could barely walk, much less fit into shoes. I had my laptop with me and could have worked that day from home just as easily as I could have worked at the office, but upon looking at my email, I saw two ominous messages from my department manager.

According to the first, there was an "important organizational meeting" at 11.30, and all were encouraged to attend. I could blow that one off, but the second message was what really got my attention: my department manager wanted to meet with me before the "important organizational meeting" to first discuss some of those changes with me personally.

My mind immediately concluded that one of those changes was that I was no longer going to be part of the organization. So I dressed the burns as best as I could, forced on a pair of socks and shoes, and limped to my car, driving to work fully expecting to be fired.

I wasn't. But these are hard economic times, and business everywhere is struggling, and I was informed that senior management in the company had all already taken pay cuts, and that I was going to have to take one, too - 10% less, effective immediately. An adjustment to my salary more in line, he explained kindly and carefully, to the company's current ability to make payroll. It's better than getting fired, I realized, even though he had his math a little off- it was more like 12.5% less that I was actually being offered.

After that, I don't even remember what was discussed later in the "important organizational meeting."

The adjustment still leaves me with enough money to pay my mortgage and auto lease, as well as afford groceries and daily Starbucks and Internet access. But I will have to make some adjustments and fore go some luxuries that I have taken for granted in the past. But overall, I'll be just fine.

In my spiritual practice, I try not to attach to profit and fame, but to just do my work to the best of my ability and humbly accept whatever reward is offered. This salary cut affords me a better chance to practice that attitude of non-attachment. And also, along with my diminished home value, I am now once again politically in sync with the struggles of the American middle class - I take home less money now to pay full value for a house worth less than it was two years ago. I'm not merely sympathetic to the financial struggles of the middle class, I'm directly practicing those struggles.

And the hits just keep on coming. While I was home yesterday totally immobilized by my burned feet, the refrigerator sprung some sort of leak, and a stream of water keeps running out from the base. The fridge is working fine, and it's likely just a loose connection on the water line to the ice-maker, but I really can't deal with it right now. Even if my feet were healthy, I don't have the tools to pull the built-in fridge out from the wall, and I don't want to take more time off from work - especially now - to pay a plumber on my reduced salary to come fix it. But at the same time, I can't tolerate the constant pool of water ever growing at the base of the freezer.

Oh, and for some reason, my ATM card keeps getting denied. There's sufficient money in my account, but I keep getting "Denied" messages when I try to use the card. It's annoying, and tempting me to run up credit card charges as an alternative means of payment when I really can't afford that, either.

So I was complaining about all of this to one of my co-workers, and he surmised that my "faith" must conclude that there was some spiritual reason for this four-faced whammy of bad fortune: burned feet, diminished salary, leaking appliances and denied access to my own bank account. Was it something I've done to generate the karma that lead to this?

Well, yes, but not at all in the way he thought. I'm not being punished by some unseen deity or cosmic force for "sins" I've committed in the near or distant past. My body is experiencing suffering, old age and sickness merely due to the karma of becoming, of being born. If I hadn't chosen to enter this world of samsara I wouldn't have feet to experience being burned. If I hadn't chosen to earn a living, I wouldn't experience financial set backs. If I hadn't bought a house, I wouldn't have a leaky refrigerator. If I didn't have what is to some people a lot of money in the bank, I wouldn't be worried about access to it.

I tried to explain this to my co-worker, but he didn't understand and thought that I was merely describing guilt. He thought I believed I was being punished for living too well, which in his neo-con fantasy world, is God's reward for a virtuous life. In Buddhism, it's quite the opposite - a virtuous life is the reward for poverty. But he'll never understand, since his sense of well being is predicated on his not understanding.

But why is all of this happening to me at once? Surely, that must be a sign of something. Well, it is, but again not in the way you may be thinking. I perceive things to be this way now merely because I'm choosing to see them this way for whatever reason. If I looked at my life differently, I'd see that I awoke in a comfortable and lovely house, that I got to drive to work in a practically brand-new Lexus, and that I have a job that still pays well, well above the national medium, to sit around all day in an air-conditioned office and have clients pay me to write about what I think of their situations. But instead, when I see one negative thing, my mind becomes critical, and I only see the bad, the "half-empty" part of the glass, and obsess on all that's "bad" ("bad" at least to my current perception of my short-term interests). Who's to say what's good and what's bad?

So there, I got it all off my chest - the sunburned feet, the salary "adjustment," the puddle on the kitchen floor, banking, and karma. Oh yeah, and the barn's still damaged from the tree that fell on it last month, and I've already spent all the insurance money on trimming other trees and now have nothing left to fix the holes in the roof, thinking I was going to be able to afford to pay for those repairs myself.

Of course, I could just blame this whole frame of mind on that George Michael song.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Not For The Squeamish

Please be warned - there are a couple of pretty gross pictures below.

It may seem like I've been doing a lot of complaining lately about the sunburn on my feet. Last Saturday, my birthday, I went to the beach on Fire Island (Robert Moses State Park) and despite my best attempt at applying sunscreen, missed my feet. Saturday evening, they felt hot and sensitive and generally like a run-of-the-mill sunburn, but by Sunday, despite applying some lotion, they hurt even more as I walked around Brooklyn before flying home, and on the homeward flight itself they swelled beyond the size of my shoes. At work Monday, my feet were so sensitive that I could hardly stand to walk on them at all and was limping around the office like the old man that I am. At that point, it was no longer just the red skin that hurt, but the muscles and tendons and even the bones seemed to feel pain. The soreness had penetrated to a depth beyond the reach of my ointments.

I couldn't sit zazen Monday night, but fortunately sensei was there and filled in at the attendant's (doan) spot. I sat in a chair for probably my first time ever at the zendo, and even then still felt pain and once finally seated on the floor for the discussion period, couldn't get back up without lots of help and time.

I'm not normally a complainer, but the pain was getting worse and worse with each passing day, not better like a typical sunburn. My feet were also getting redder by the day, and horrid water blisters began appearing late Sunday evening, some of which subsequently broke from the friction of my attempts at wearing shoes. There are pictures below, but I'm warning you now that they aren't a pretty sight, and I'm rambling on here a little bit so they they don't appear on your computer screen unless you willfully scroll down to see them (you've been warned).

After Monday Night Zazen, I stopped at the pharmacy and bought the following:
  1. Hydrogen peroxide to disinfect the broken blisters
  2. Gauze to cover the blisters
  3. Adhesive tape for the gauze
  4. 2 7/8" x 4" band aids
  5. 2nd Skin Moist Burn Pads
  6. Bactine Cleaning Spray
  7. Burn Jel Plus Moisturizer with Lidocaine

Despite my best application and use of these projects, the condition continued to worsen and I had to call in sick at work today because I physically could put on neither shoes or socks, and barely tolerated supporting my own weight on my feet as I tried to stand. So here goes - this is what they looked like:

Pretty gross, huh? Any young ladies out there want to give me a toe job (LOL)?

New water blisters were starting to form over the old broken blisters, and the swelling was constricting my foot muscles to the point where they were not working properly (hence the pain in walking). I learned on line that when the first layer of skin has been burned through and the second layer of skin is also burned, blisters develop and the skin takes on that intensely reddened, splotchy appearance. This is called second-degree burns, and they produce severe pain and swelling.

That sounded like what I had. According to the Mayo Clinic web site, "If the second-degree burn is no larger than 3 inches (7.5 centimeters) in diameter, treat it as a minor burn. If the burned area is larger or if the burn is on the hands, feet, face, groin or buttocks, or over a major joint, treat it as a major burn and get medical help immediately." This burn was well over 3 inches - it ran from my ankles to my toes, and was over my feet. I read on another first-aid web site that 2nd and 3rd degree burns could swell tissues to the point where they cut off circulation, and if you felt a tingling sensation you should go to the ER immediately before gangrene set in. I felt a tingling in my numb toes and didn't want to lose any digits, so I finally (finally!) called my doctor and made an appointment.

He looked at my feet briefly and declared the burns to indeed be of the second degree, and gave me a shot of penicillin for potential infection of the broken blisters. He also prescribed me an antibiotic and told me to buy some Claritin as an antihistamine for the swelling. He advised me to keep my feet elevated (I already had noticed that they hurt less when laying in bed or propped up on an ottoman), stay hydrated, and to use an aloe/vitamin E skin lotion. He offered me some pain killers but despite the intense pain, I declined (not to be macho, but to avoid even the risk of dependency).

I've been following the doctor's orders and the swelling and reddening are already abating. The Claritin seems to have made the biggest difference (who would have guessed?). If you find yourself with similar burns for whatever reasons, I advise you to follow the on-line advice and seek medical attention immediately. But these are hard times and I know that many out there do not have health-care insurance or can't afford treatment. Out of compassion for the suffering of those, while I still encourage you to do everything possible to get free or affordable help at a clinic, if all else fails, at least buy some Claritin to control the swelling and use peroxide to keep the wounds clean. And see a nurse or doctor.

The Buddha or Dogen probably said something appropriate to my current situation, but you know what? - I'm in too much pain right now to go look it up. I know, I know, but there, I've said it. But I am looking forward to being able to resume my zazen practice again soon.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Suppose someone comes to talk about his business, and asks you to write a letter to solicit something from someone, or to help him in a lawsuit, etc. but you turn down his request excusing yourself on the grounds that you are not a man of the secular world, that you have retired and have nothing to do with mundane affairs, and that it is not appropriate for a recluse to say something that is not suitable to lay people. Although this may seem like the way of a recluse, you should examine your deeper motivation. If you reject the request because you think you are a monk who has left the secular world and people might think ill of you if you say something unsuitable for a recluse, this still shows ego-attachment to fame and profit.

In each situation that you are faced with, just consider carefully; do anything which will bring even a little benefit to the person who is before you, without concern for what people will think of you. Even if you become estranged from your friends or quarrel with them because they say you did something bad and unbecoming of a monk, it is not important. It would be better to break off with such narrow-minded people. Even though outwardly it may seem to other people that you are doing something improper, the primary concern should be to break off your ego-attachment inwardly and throw away any desire for fame. A buddha or bodhisattva cuts off even his own flesh and limbs when someone asks him for help. How much more, then, should you be willing to help someone who asks you just to write a letter. If you reject his request, being concerned with your reputation, you are showing deep attachment to your ego. Although others may think that you are not a holy man and say inappropriate things, if you throw away your concern for fame and bring even a little benefit to others, you correspond with the true Way. We find many examples of ancient sages who appear to have had this attitude. I also consider this true. It is an easy thing to help a little by writing a letter when your supporters or friends ask you to say something which is a little bit unexpected.

So said Zen Master Dogen back around 1245, as recorded by his disciple Ejo in Chapter 19 0f Book 1 of Zuimonki. Ejo responded to this statement, saying, “That is really true. Of course it is all right to tell others what is good and beneficial to them. But, how about the case in which someone wants to take another’s property by some evil means, or someone tries to slander another? Should we still transmit such messages?”

Dogen replied, “It is not for us to decide whether it is reasonable or not. We should explain to the person that we are sending the letter because someone asked us to do so, and tell him to deal with it reasonably. The person who receives the letter and has to deal with the problem should decide whether it is right or wrong. It is also wrong to ask the person to do something unreasonable about matters which are out of our field."

"And, although it is apparently wrong, if you have a friend who respects you and whom you feel you could not go against, either for good or bad, and he requests your support to do something wrong and unacceptable through you, listen to his request once, and in your letter write that you have been asked importunately, and that the matter should be dealt with reasonably. If you treat each situation in this way, no one will hold a grudge. You must consider things like this very meticulously in every encounter or situation. The primary concern is to cast aside the desire for fame and ego-attachment in whatever situation.”

Sunday, July 26, 2009


My plan for the day was to attend the morning service at Fire Lotus Temple, the Brooklyn affiliate of John Daido Loori's Mountains and Rivers Order, the urban sister for lay practioners of his Zen Mountain Monastery in upstate New York's Mount Tremper. But my sunburned feet had swollen up and became quite painful, and it would have been difficult to sit in a cross legged posture and even more difficult to impossible to get back up again gracefully, so instead I slept in and took in the breakfast buffet at the Long Island hotel.

Zen Master Dogen repeatedly urged his monks not to forsake zazen for physical comfort and not to let pride get in the way of practice, but there I was, limping from the omelet bar to the coffee station, avoiding the morning service at Fire Lotus Temple because pressure on my feet would have been uncomfortable and I would have looked conspicuously awkward getting up and sitting down on the zafu. Obviously, I have more work yet to do on my attitude and aspiration.

Following morning zazen, my original plan for the rest of the day was, before going to LaGuardia and flying home, to go from Fire Lotus Temple, located in Brooklyn's Boerum Hill, over to the Pool Party concert in nearby Williamsburg. The Pool Parties are a series of free concerts formerly held at a closed swimming pool in McCarren Park and now held along the East River. This year's series opened with a show featuring the legendary and now reunited Mission of Burma and will close later this summer with Grizzly Bear. Today's show featured Atlanta's own The Black Lips and a band called ". . . And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of The Dead."

Following breakfast, some time spent blogging yesterday's post about Fire Island, and packing, I checked out of the hotel. I wasn't sure if my sunburned and blistered feet were up to standing around all day at a rock concert, but lacking any other concrete plans, I got on the Long Island Expressway headed toward New York City and got off on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. I drove past the exit that would have taken me to the site of The Pool Party concert and eventually got off the BQE in the Vinegar Hill neighborhood to look at the Brooklyn Bridge from the Brooklyn side.

This is a part of the city I had never been to before and didn't know quite what to expect, but as it turns out, I was totally charmed. There was very little traffic along the cobblestone streets on a Sunday afternoon as the area was largely industrial. The lack of traffic allowed a fair number of bicyclists to ride around (although it has to be an interesting experience, to say the least, to ride a bicycle over those cobblestones), and there was a significant presence of tourists walking around with backpacks and cameras.

The area was only a block or two from the East River, and the iconic skyline of Manhattan was visible over the industrial foreground.

I parked the car (plenty of room for free, on-street parking) and followed the direction in which the tourists were walking. Soon, I saw what the attraction was: the very view of the Brooklyn Bridge for which I had been looking.

Walking from block to block, the buildings in Vinegar Hill framed the bridge in several unique ways.

The street-level storefronts were a mix of restaurants and bars, furniture stores and shops for funky sculptures, and other eclectic retail. Graffiti in the area ranged from the banal to the artistic, bridging the gap between the sacred and the profane.

After walking around Vinegar Hill as long as my aching feet would let me, I got back in my car and followed the East River up past the Navy Shipyard and into Williamsburg, occasionally stopping at streets that ended at the river to admire the Manhattan skyline and its iconic buildings.

My find of the day was along one of those dead-end streets, where I came across a d.j. playing ultra-cool acid jazz and trip-hop music to a hip, multi-cultural audience. A summer breeze was blowing in off the water, and I sat down and just soaked in the ambiance. If I wasn't up for spending the day standing in a crowd at a rock concert, chilling out to the sounds of this d.j. and the vibes of this gathering was a more-than-acceptable substitute.

Satori in Brooklyn, with views of the Williamsburg Bridge.

I eventually had to leave for the airport and my trip home. Removing and replacing my shoes for airport security aggravated my sunburn, especially since my feet had swelled from walking around all afternoon. My shoes, a normally comfortable pair of Merrell Jungle Mocs, felt two sizes too small for my swollen feet and the interiors felt like sandpaper, even through my socks.

We boarded the flight just as a thunderstorm hit the city, and spent the next two and a half hours of the tarmac waiting for conditions to change. We didn't even take off until the plane had been scheduled to arrive in Atlanta and were re-routed to a longer flight plan (fortunately, I had been upgraded to first class, which took away at least some of the discomfort). I didn't get home until well after midnight (I posted this the following Tuesday), and finally taking off those shoes and socks after all those hours was probably the most painful experience second only to wearing them for the duration of the flight.

But at least I'm finally back home.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Fire Island

Geologically speaking, Fire Island is a microtidal Holocene terrigenous clastic barrier island separated from Long Island's south shore by the Great South Bay. The island is approximately 31 miles long and varies from 0.1 to 0.25 miles wide. The island is composed of occasionally shelly fine to coarse sand with rare rounded pebbles derived from the Pleistocene glacial outwash deposits of southern Long Island reworked and sorted by the ocean, with grain size generally fining toward the west. From north to south, the island generally consists of back-bay and overwash deposits, dunes, and beach.

Having visited the beach from at least 1965 until 1976, I may be a bit biased, but after 55 years of travel, I firmly believe that if Fire Island is not included in any list of the world's Top 10 beaches, that list is flawed. The beach sand is clean and white and runs uninterrupted for 31 miles. If you have the stamina, I believe you can stroll the entire length of the island. Unlike a lot of Atlantic coast, the Fire Island National Seashore has not been spoiled by overdeveloped, and instead has been preserved as State Parks, unspoiled seashore and several chic, predominantly gay resort towns. But unlike most of Florida, Myrtle Beach, Virginia Beach, etc., there are no long rows of high-rise hotels and condominiums cutting off the beach from the rest of the population.

Having worked all week on Long Island, I stayed over the weekend and went to Robert Moses State Park on the western tip of Fire Island today for the first time since probably 1976. Like when I was driving around my childhood neighborhood, many happy memories came back to me as I drove the Robert Moses Causeway. The Causeway crosses the Great South Bay on twin bridge spans, and at 10:45 a.m., I hit my first traffic jam on the way to the beach.

Zen Master Daokai of Mt. Furong once said, "The green mountains are always walking . . . Mountains do not lack the qualities of mountains. Therefore they always abide in ease and always walk. You should examine in detail this quality of the mountains walking. Mountains' walking is just like human walking. Accordingly, do not doubt mountains' walking even though it does not look the same as human walking . . . Because mountains walk, they are permanent."

My first understanding of mountains walking came from the rocket-like water tower at Robert Moses State Park. As we approached the park in the family car, I would see the tower in the distance, first to the east of the bridge, then to the west of the bridge, and then, on the final approach, right at the end of the bridge. Watching the tower, I could actually see it move from one side of the bridge to the other. Now, common mundane understanding is that this is just a trick of perspective as the Causeway curved, but Zen teaches us that it is always right now and we are always right here, and the universe constantly changes and unfolds around us. If you think that Zen practioners believe mountains and water towers have little human feet and walk around, you are foolish, but if you understand that we perceive the universe not from an ego-centric viewpoint but allow for changes in the world not of the self, you are beginning to understand.

But enough Zen for now - I came here for the beach. I drove all the way to the far west end of the park to Lot No. 3 (Lot 2 was already filled) and found a place to lay in the sun with the water tower now standing behind the dunes. I had bought a little knapsack and sunscreen on the way, but once there I realized that the hotel towel I grabbed on the way was woefully insufficient and bought a proper beach towel for $16.99 at the park concession building.

It was an excellent beach day - sunny and warm and not a cloud in the sky. A stiff off-shore breeze (note the flags above) kept the air cool. The surf was agreeably rough, and I went for a couple of "swims," which actually consisted of me allowing the surf to smash me back to the shore.

The beach hadn't changed much at all. The beach-goers were still very much a family-oriented crowd of mostly white suburbanites. It was actually somewhat quieter than before, as the transistor radios and boom boxes of my childhood have been largely replaced by more discrete iPods (no more suffering through the musical tastes of the adjacent blanket).

The crowd was dressed modestly - the thongs and toplessness of, say, Miami Beach or the Costa del Sol are not yet in fashion at Robert Moses (although, I imagine, that may not be true at some of the sophisticated resort towns like Cherry Grove or Fire Island Pines). But as an adolescent, one of my fascinations with the beach were the bikini-clad bodies of teenage girls, and as an older man in 2009, I found the similarly dressed girls every bit as fascinating if not quite as compelling.

Thank goodness for sunscreen! It being my first time out on the beach this year, my body was blindingly white (think Sean Patrick Flanery in "Powder") and I couldn't even look at my own legs without risking corneal damage. People nearby had to wear two pairs of sunglasses for protection from the glare. I stayed out in the sun for about 3 or 4 hours but didn't burn due to the SPF 45 sunscreen I slathered all over my body. Except for my feet, which I missed for some reason as I applied the lotion, and are now as red as two boiled lobsters (and feel like them, too). It hurts to wear socks.

I left the beach at around 3 and drove over to Sayville, where I stayed with my family for a few of what I had previously characterized as the "confused years of the mid-70s." Although a perfectly pleasant little town, driving around Sayville did not arouse the same feelings of nostalgia in me as, say, Saint James or Robert Moses SP. I stopped at the new (relative to the 1970s) Starbucks on Main Street and watched the crowd, called my mother (Hi, Mom!), and let my burned feet relax a little.

The picture below is looking out across the Great South Bay toward Fire Island from the end of the street on which I briefly lived in Sayville.

Oh, by the way, it was also my birthday today. Today marked the end of my "birth year" - the year that my age (54) and year of birth (1954) were one and the same. I didn't do anything special during my birth year, although ending it by literally revisiting my past seems somhow appropriate.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Little House I Used to Live In

As long as I was on the North Shore, after I finished my reconnaissance of the property next to the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant, I drove over to my childhood hometown, the village of St. James (not the town of my birth - Mineola - but the town in which I grew up), and went past my old home, the house that I had lived in from 1963 to 1970.

I expected change. Impermanence is everywhere, and when I tried to find the house on Google Earth a couple of times, I saw swimming pools and patios behind the houses in my old neighborhood that did not exist when I lived there. There was even a new subdivision at the end of my old street. That and with everything I had heard about the housing bubble on Long Island, I was sure (confident, convinced) that my old house had been demolished long ago for some suburban McMansion.

What shocked me was how little things had actually changed. I was able to easily navigate the roads from memory alone, and everything still looked pretty much as I had remembered. Turning on to the street to my old house, the roads were narrower than I had remembered (two cars going the opposite way would be hard pressed to pass each other) and some of the houses had been rebuilt, or even demolished and new homes constructed on the lots. But as I made the old familiar turn on the road, I saw that my old home was almost exactly as it had been when we left in 1970.

Okay, some things had changed - the house is now yellow, although I remember it being painted white. And the hedge formerly in front of the house had been replaced by a white picket fence. And the old circular, gravel driveway, not shown in the picture above, had been replaced with a more practical, paved parking area. But other than that, things had not changed. The frame of the house had not changed - no dormers or additions had been added. The same old barn still served as a garage. The old screened-in front porch, where I had spent many a sultry summer night, was still intact and unchanged. Even the old lace curtains in the upstairs bedroom that was once my parents' seemed to be the same ones that we had left behind.

I had to take the picture swiftly from inside of my rental car, as the owners were home - in fact, they were backing out of the driveway as I pulled up. I did not want to scare them by getting out of the car and photographing their private home. I could have introduced myself to the owners and truthfully told them that I had grown up in their house many years ago and had not been back in 39 years, but thought that a 50-something Zen Buddhist from Atlanta, Georgia was more culture shock than they were expecting on a Thursday afternoon. So I surreptitiously snapped one quick photo (the one above) through the driver's-side window as I slowly passed and wished that I could have taken a wider picture. But to do that I would have had to get out of the car and there was no place to park on the narrow road, and I would have had to stand in the yard across the street, which certainly would have aroused suspicions, if not a call to the police.

As you may guess, the preservation of my old home made me happy, especially since I had expected it to have been changed. So I drove around the block one time and then cruised the roads of my old neighborhood as the memories all came flooding back to me. The hills were every bit as steep and twisty as I remembered, although the nostalgic, old-fashioned St. James General Store seemed to have had some sort of makeover, and wasn't quite as I recalled.

The old beach at the head of Stony Brook Harbor had been allowed to revert back to its natural state, and is now a town park. That's just as well, as it never was much of a beach, anyway. At low tide, in order to get to water deep enough to swim in, you had to wade out past the trucked-in sand and sink into the black, organic mud loaded with snails and razor clams, and hope that you didn't step on a horseshoe crab. Not a pleasant experience at all, and even at high tide you had to get past all the debris floating on the incoming shoreline. Better to leave it as a park, and let nature reclaim what was hers all along.

Rain had started as I left the beach, but I still pressed on and found the old elementary school to which I had walked every school day during grades 4 through 6. Names of old teachers (Mr. Anacherico, Mr. Robinson, Mr. Raso) came flooding back to me, as well as the names of my childhood friends (Robert, Steve, and Doug). Classic, municipal architecture reminding me of simpler, more innocent times.

I continued to cruise around, confidently retracing roads from memory. Train stations, farm stands and retail districts were all where I remembered and more or less unchanged, with only the occasional strip mall and shopping center interrupting the nostalgia. I even found the old prep school I attended during grades 8 and 9. When I was there, it was an all-boys school and required its students to wear a jacket and tie to class every day, including Saturday mornings, and attend morning chapel daily. We were taught Latin and the classics (but not evolution or relativity) but I still learned enough in those two years to cruise through my subsequent years of public education without needing to study until my senior year, by which time my study skills had pretty much departed.

A 1-hour automobile tour that took in 7 years of nostalgia from 39 years ago. Impermanence may be swift, but it's apparently swifter in some areas than others, and not particularly swift at all on certain parts of the North Shore of Long Island.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


East Shoreham is located on the northern shore of Long Island, east of the neighboring village of Shoreham. Despite its official name, East Shoreham is invariably referred to by its inhabitants as "Shoreham," while the adjoining village is often called "Shoreham Village." I visited "Shoreham" today for the second Environmental Site Assessment of the week.

"Shoreham" is also the site of the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant, a $6 billion General Electric nuclear reactor that was closed in 1989 without ever generating any commercial electrical power, the only fully licensed nuclear power reactor never to go into commercial operation. The property I looked at was immediately adjacent to the Plant.

The plant was to be the first commercial nuclear power plant on Long Island and initially had little formal opposition, as the Brookhaven National Laboratory already had multiple research nuclear reactors about 20 miles south of Shoreham. The Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO) purchased 455 acres for the plant in 1965. Although within 60 miles of Manhattan, the site was sparsely populated at the time. They announced the plant would produce 540 megawatts, cost between $65 and $75 million and would be online in 1973. By 1968, LILCO increased the size of the plant from 540 to 820 megawatts.

Construction began in 1973 but cost overruns caused its estimated final cost to approach $2 billion by the late 1970s, due to low worker productivity and design changes ordered by the NRC. Organized crime was also accused of stirring problems with local labor unions.

The first anti-Shoreham demonstration took place in June 1976. On June 3, 1979, following the Three Mile Island incident, 15,000 protesters gathered in the largest demonstration in Long Island history. 600 were arrested as they scaled the plant's fences. Protests became increasingly intense following the 1979 Chernobyl tragedy.

In 1989, a deal was made to decommission the plant and pass the $6 billion construction cost to the Long Island ratepayers by adding a 3% surcharge to all electric power for 30 years. LILCO eventually merged with Brooklyn Union Gas to form the KeySpan Corporation, which in turn was acquired by British-owned National Grid two years ago. The State took over the electric utility (socialism, anyone?) by forming the Long Island Power Authority. The Shoreham site is still vacant.

In 2003, local residents objected to an $800 million proposal by American Ref-Fuel to incinerate New York City garbage brought to the Shoreham site by barges. The project did not advance. Area residents have also opposed a ferry terminal at Shoreham because of road traffic. So 45 years after the idea was first conceived, 6 billion dollars, and the takeover of the power authority later, all that remains to show for the effort is another large, spooky industrial relic, unlikely to be redeveloped any time soon.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Pilgrim State

Pilgrim State Hospital was once the largest psychiatric facility in the world. Built in 1930 on nearly 2,000 acres of Long Island for 12,500 patients, at its peak the hospital treated 16,000. No hospital of its kind ever had a larger population. Today, I got to perform an Environmental Site Assessment at a power plant on a portion of the Pilgrim State grounds.

I'm not a complete stranger to the facility. I was born in Mineola and lived on Long Island for the first 16 years of my life, but until today, except for a few, frankly rather confused years in the mid-1970s, I have not been back to the island since I left.

As a pre-teen, I used to ride past Pilgrim State on weekend family trips to the beach. The place always creeped me out. Maybe it was the imposing architecture or just the sheer size of the facility, but in my boyhood mind Pilgrim State became a sort of Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane, and I could imagine (or perceive?) psychic waves of panic and anguish streaming from the grounds. The car couldn't pass the nightmarish place soon enough.

My perceptions were not entirely unfounded. According to the appropriately spooky urban decay web site, Opacity, many types of shock therapy were performed at Pilgrim, such as insulin shock therapy, in which the patient is injected with large doses of insulin to induce convulsion and coma. In 1940, Pilgrim State started using electric shock therapy, passing electric currents through the brain to induce grand mal seizures as a treatment for schizophrenia and mood disorders, and the hospital has recently been under investigation for forcing this treatment onto patients. Pre-frontal lobotomies were performed at Pilgrim starting in 1946, and through 1959 as many as 1,000 to 2,000 lobotomies were performed in Building #23 (the facility is also Site No. 23 on Opacity; 23 enigma, anyone?).

I was afraid of the place as a child, but as a teenager, some friends and I found a spot where we could sneak onto the sprawling hospital grounds and ride mini-bikes around and between the unfortunate patients: slow-motion droolers and walking zombies zoned out on Thorazine, electro-shock therapy and bizarre surgical procedures. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest meets Night of the Living Dead. It might have been part of an adolescent rite of facing what frightens us and proving our courage to our peers, but I know now that we only succeeded at increasing the suffering of the most distressed, and I'm lucky that my karma hasn't yet caught up with me for that.

But instead of being in a straight jacket myself, today I took an early morning flight to LaGuardia and drove my rental car on the Long Island Expressway past Mineola (I'll have to enter the city of my birth some other time) and on out to Pilgrim State. Today, the hospital is largely abandoned, although some smaller areas are apparently still active. As I drove on the access road to the power plant, areas looked like Mother Nature was trying to reclaim the hospital as if to heal the damage Man once inflicted upon himself there.

The power plant employees told me that there are occasional rumors and reports of massive redevelopment projects for the site, but nothing ever seems to come to fruition. Several buildings have been partially or totally demolished; however, they said that the demolition occurred before asbestos assessments or abatements were performed, and now huge piles of asbestos-containing demolition debris stand as monuments to the odds against the site ever being beneficially reused.

So the hospital today has the post-apocalyptic look of an abandoned military base. Driving around, the grounds looked more like what I imagine post-Soviet Siberia looked like, rather than the Long Island of my fond childhood memories.

But I've changed as well, and now I feel not fear or loathing, but nothing but empathy for the patients who used to spend their days wandering aimlessly around these lawns.

Tomorrow, I get to perform another Site Assessment here on Long Island, this time at a facility adjacent to a nuclear power plant. Now that I think of it, maybe my karma didn't turn out so well after all.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Monday, July 20, 2009

If you haven't had enough of Zuimonki yet, here's the passage (Book 1 - Chapter 18) from tonight's post-zazen discussion:

In an evening talk Dogen said,

Most people in the world want to show off their good deeds and hide their bad deeds. Since this frame of mind goes against the minds of the unseen deities, their good deeds go unrewarded, and their bad deeds done in secret bring about punishment. Consequently, they conclude that there is no recompense for good deeds, and little merit in the buddha-dharma. This is a false view. We must certainly revise it. Do good things secretly while people are not watching, and if you make a mistake or do something bad, confess and repent of it. When you act in this manner, good deeds you have done in secret will have recompense, and wrongdoings will be revealed and repented so that punishment can be dispelled. Therefore, there will naturally be benefit in the present, and you will be sure of the future result.

At the time, a certain layman came and asked, “These days, although lay people make offerings to monks and take refuge in the buddha-dharma, much misfortune occurs; for this reason evil thoughts have arisen and people think they should no longer have faith in the Three Treasures. What do you think about this?”

Dogen replied, “This is not the fault of the monks or the buddha-dharma, but of the lay people themselves. The reason is as follows. For example, they revere and make offerings to monks who observe the precepts and eat in accordance with the regulations (one meal before noon) while in public eyes, but they withhold offerings to shameless monks who break the precepts, drink liquor, and eat meat, judging them to be worthless. This biased discriminating mind goes entirely against the spirit of the Buddha. Because of this, their faith and reverence is in vain and there is no reward. In various parts of the precepts-texts, there are admonitions against this frame of mind. You should make offerings to any monk regardless of whether or not he has any virtue. In particular, never judge his inner virtue by his outward appearance.

Although monks in this degenerate age look somewhat strange in their outward appearance, there are worse minds and deeds. Therefore, without discriminating between good monks and bad ones, respect all the Buddha’s disciples, make offerings and take refuge with a spirit of equality. Then you will surely be in accordance with the Buddha’s spirit, and the benefits will be extensive.

Also, consider the four phrases, ‘unseen action, unseen response; seen action, seen response; (unseen action, seen response; seen action, unseen response)’. There is also the principle of karma and its effect in the three periods of time; karma returning in the present life, in the next life, or in some later life. Study these principles very closely.”

Sunday, July 19, 2009


It has been several weeks since I was responsible for giving the Sunday dharma talk at the Zen Center - since the weekend zazenkai at the beginning of May. But all that changed today, as my turn on the rotation finally came around again.

Since the Monday Night Zazen group is nearing completion of the first book of Shobogenzo Zuimonki, my talk was a summation of Zen Master Dogen's teachings in Book 1. The redoubtable Shohaku Okumura summarized the teachings of the entire book in the introduction, so the task for me was to simply provide examples from Book One of Okumura's summary. The talk went something like the following:

Shobogenzo Zuimonki (very roughly translated as "Instructions to the Monks") consists of short passages from dharma talks, sermons, one-on-one teachings and casual conversations between Master Dogen and his disciple, Ejo. The talks occurred between the years 1235 and 1237, shortly after Dogen wrote Bendowa, and reflect Dogen's frame of mind at that time. In Bendowa, Dogen wrote:

“According to the unmistakenly handed down tradition, this buddha-dharma, which has been singularly and directly transmitted, is supreme beyond comparison. From the time you begin to practice under a teacher, incense burning, bowing, nenbutsu, as well as the practices of repentance or of reading the sutras, are unnecessary. Simply practice zazen (shikantaza), dropping off body and mind.”
Shikantaza is zazen which is practiced without expecting any reward, even enlightenment. It is just being yourself right now, right here. Dogen similarly expounds on the importance of shikantaza in the first few chapters of Book 1:

"The true practice which is in accordance with the teaching is nothing but shikantaza, which is the essence of the life in this monastery today (Book 1- Chapter 1)."

"For true attainment of the Way, devoting all effort to zazen alone has been transmitted among the buddhas and patriarchs. For this reason, I taught a fellow student of mine to abandon his strict adherence of keeping the precepts and reciting the Precept Sutra day and night. . . Practitioners of the Way certainly ought to maintain Hyakujo’s regulations. The form of maintaining the regulations is receiving and observing the precepts and practicing zazen, etc. The meaning of reciting the Precept Sutra day and night and observing the precepts single-mindedly is nothing other than practicing shikantaza, following the activities of the ancient masters. When we sit zazen, what precept is not observed, what merit is not actualized? The ways of practice carried on by the ancient masters have a profound meaning. Without holding on to personal preferences, we should go along with the assembly and practice in accordance with those ways (1-2)."

"For a Zen monk, the primary attitude for self-improvement is the practice of shikantaza. Without consideration as to whether you are clever or stupid, you will naturally improve if you practice zazen (1-4)."

"Ejo asked, '. . . [W]hat thing or what practice should we choose to devote ourselves to among the various ways of practice of the buddha-dharma?' Dogen replied, 'It depends upon one’s character or capability, however, up to now, it is zazen which has been handed down and concentrated on in the communities of the patriarchs. This practice is suitable for all people and can be practiced by those of superior, mediocre, or inferior capabilities. Now, each of you should practice exclusively and wholeheartedly. Ten out of ten of you will attain the Way' (1-14)."
Dogen also talked about the importance of seeing impermanence and parting from egocentric self:

"To learn the practice and maintain the Way is to abandon ego-attachment and to follow the instructions of the teacher. The essence of this is being free from greed. To put an end to greed, first of all, you have to depart from egocentric self. In order to depart from egocentric self, seeing impermanence is the primary necessity (1-4)."
In Shobogenzo Bodaisatta-Shishobo, Dogen also notes:

“Free giving (dana) means not being greedy. Not being greedy means not coveting. Not coveting means, in everyday language, not courting favor."
Egocentricity was defined in one of Okumura’s footnotes as “Assuming there is an ego existing in the body which is a temporal compound of various elements, thinking it to be eternal or substantial and attaching oneself to that ego. . . This is a fundamental delusion. Our practice is to see egolessness and the impermanence of all existence, and to live on that basis without greedy desires. Concretely, our desires manifest themselves by seeking fame and profit. This is why Dogen put emphasis on practicing the buddha-dharma only for the sake of the buddha-dharma, without expecting any reward, i.e. fame and profit."

Dogen describes impermanence in Zuimonki as follows:

"Our life changes moment by moment, it flows by swiftly day by day. Everything is impermanent and changing rapidly. This is the reality before our eyes. You do not need to wait for the teaching of masters or sutras to see it. In every moment, do not expect tomorrow will come. Think only of this day and this moment. Since the future is very much uncertain, and you cannot foresee what will happen, you should resolve to follow the Buddha-Way, if only for today, while you are alive. To follow the Buddha-Way is to give up your bodily life and act so as to enable the dharma to flourish and, to bring benefit to living beings (1-20)."
Impermanence is also usually used in a negative sense, although Hui Neng, the Sixth Patriarch, said, “Grass, trees, and bushes are impermanent, and are nothing but Buddha-nature. Human beings and things, body and mind are impermanent, and are nothing but Buddha-nature. The earth, mountains, and rivers are impermanent, because they are Buddha-nature. Supreme awareness (Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi) is impermanent, since it is Buddha-nature. The great Nirvana is Buddha-nature since it is impermanent.”

From the foundation of seeing impermanence and parting from egocentric self, numerous practical attitudes are derived:

Following one’s teacher and the Buddha’s teaching: "To learn the practice and maintain the Way is to abandon ego-attachment and to follow the instructions of the teacher. . . If you gradually abandon your ego-attachment and follow the sayings of your teacher, you will progress. If you argue back [pretending] to know the truth, but remain unable to give up certain things and continue to cling to your own preferences, you will sink lower and lower (1-4)."

Being free from personal views: "In the tradition of the patriarchs, the true way of understanding dharma-talks [on Zen practice] is to gradually reform what you have known and thought by following your teacher’s instruction. . . If you continually reform your discriminating mind and fundamental attachment in this way according to your teacher’s instruction, you will naturally become one with the Way. Students today, however, cling to their own discriminating minds. Their thinking is based on their own personal views that buddha must be such and such; if it goes against their ideas, they say that buddha cannot be that way. Having such an attitude and wandering here and there in delusion, searching after what conforms to their preconceptions, few of them ever make any progress in the Buddha-Way (1-13)."

Concentration on one practice: "It is not possible to study extensively and obtain wide knowledge. Make up your mind and just give up trying to do so. Focus your attention on one thing. Study the things you have to know and the traditional examples of them. Follow the way of practice of your predecessors. Concentrate your efforts on one practice. Do not pretend to be a teacher or a leader of others (1-5)."

"Impermanence is swift; life-and-death is a vital matter. For the short while you are alive, if you wish to study or practice some activity, just practice the Buddha-Way and study the buddha-dharma. Since literature and poetry are useless, you should give them up. Even when you study the buddha-dharma and practice the Buddha-Way, do not study extensively. Needless to say, refrain from learning the Exoteric and Esoteric scriptures of the teaching-schools. Do not be fond of learning on a large scale, even the sayings of the buddhas and patriarchs. It is difficult for us untalented and inferior people to concentrate on and complete even one thing. It is no good at all to do many things at the same time and lose steadiness of mind (1-11)."

"Even people in the secular world must concentrate on one thing and learn it thoroughly enough to be able to do it in front of others rather than learn many things at the same time, without truly accomplishing any of them. This holds all the more true for the buddha-dharma, which transcends the secular world, and has never been learned or practiced from the beginningless beginning. We are still unfamiliar with it. Also, our capacity is poor. If we try to learn many things about this lofty and boundless buddha-dharma, we will not attain even one thing. Even if we devote ourselves to only one thing, because of our inferior capacity and nature, it will be difficult to clarify buddha-dharma thoroughly in one lifetime. Students, concentrate on one thing (1-14)."

Having compassion or parental mind and working for benefiting others: In Shobogenzo Bodaisatta-Shishobo, the Four Exemplary Acts of a Bodhisatva are identified as kind giving, kind speech, helpful conduct, and manifesting cooperation. These acts are also discussed in Zuimonki:

"Do not use foul language to scold or slander monks. Even if they are bad or dishonest, do not harbor hatred against them nor abuse them thoughtlessly. First of all, no matter how bad they may be, when more than four monks gather together, they form a sangha, which is a priceless treasure of the country. This should be most highly respected and honored. If you are an abbot or a senior priest or even a master or a teacher, if your disciples are wrong, you have to instruct and guide them with a compassionate and parental heart. . . Even though you may be an abbot or senior priest, it is wrong to govern the community and abuse the monks as if they were your personal belongings. Further, if you are not in such a position, you should not point out others’ faults or speak ill of them. You must be very, very careful. When you see someone’s faults and think they are wrong and wish to instruct them with compassion, you must find a skillful means to avoid arousing their anger, and do so as if you were talking about something else (1-7)."

"Even if you are speaking rationally and another person says something unreasonable, it is wrong to defeat him by arguing logically. On the other hand, it is not good to give up hastily saying that you are wrong, even though you think that your opinion is reasonable. Neither defeats him, nor withdraw saying you are wrong. It is best to just leave the matter alone and stop arguing. If you act as if you have not heard and forget about the matter, he will forget too and will not get angry. This is a very important thing to bear in mind (1-10)."

"It is rather easy to lay down one’s own life, and cut off one’s flesh, hands, or feet in an emotional outburst. Considering worldly affairs, we see many people do such things even for the sake of attachment to fame and personal profit. Yet it is most difficult to harmonize the mind, meeting various things and situations moment by moment. A student of the Way must cool his mind as if he were giving up his life, and consider if what he is about to say or do is in accordance with reality or not. If it is, he should say or do it (1-15)."
Gainingless-ness: "Once you have entered the Buddha-Way, you should practice the various activities just for the sake of the buddha-dharma . Do not think of gaining something in return. All teachings, Buddhist or non-Buddhist, exhort us to be free from the expectation of gaining a reward (1-9)."

Not seeking fame and profit: "The primary concern is to cast aside the desire for fame and ego-attachment in whatever situation (1-19)."

Okumura’s footnote from Chapter 1-4 explains “Our desires manifest themselves by seeking fame and profit. This is why Dogen put emphasis on practicing the buddha-dharma only for the sake of the buddha-dharma, without expecting any reward, i.e. fame and profit.”

Giving up worldly sentiments: "Students of the Way, you must be very careful on several levels in giving up worldly sentiment. Give up the world, give up your family, and give up your body and mind. Consider this well (1-21)."

Living in poverty and not clinging to food and clothing: "Students of the Way, do not worry about food and clothing. Just maintain the Buddha’s precepts and do not engage in worldly affairs. The Buddha said to use abandoned rags for clothing and beg for food. In what age will these two things ever be exhausted? Do not forget the swiftness of impermanence nor be disturbed vainly by worldly affairs. As long as your dewlike human life lasts, think exclusively of the Buddha-Way and do not be concerned with other things (1-16)."

"Someone asked, 'According to the Buddha’s teachings, should we practice begging for food?' Dogen replied, 'Yes, we should. Yet we have to take into consideration the customs and the conditions of each country. In whatever situation, we should choose what is best for the benefit of living beings in the long run and for the progress of our own practice. As for the manners of begging, since the roads in this country are dirty, if we walk around wearing Buddhist robes, they will become soiled. Also, since people are poor, it may be impossible to beg in the same way as in India, that is, at every house along the street with no regard for whether they are poor or rich. [If we cling to such a way], our practice might regress and we would be unable to function magnanimously for the benefit of living beings. Only if we keep practicing the Buddha-Way in a humble manner following the customs of the country will people of all classes support us by making offerings of their own accord and will practice for ourselves and for the benefit of others be fulfilled' (1-20)."

So all of that, in a very large nutshell, is what Dogen teaches in the first book of Zuimonki - by praciticing skikantaza and concentrating on the impermanence of all things, we will eventually let go of egocentric views and attain a true understanding of the Way. Practically, this is accomplished through zazen and from freeing ourselves from attachment to fame and profit, from worldly sentiments, and from expectations of gaining any reward (spiritual materialism); by concentrating on only one practice under the guidance of a good teacher and letting go of personal views; and cultivating the four practices of a bodhisattva (generosity, kind speech, helpful conduct and cooperation).