Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Night Video

Completely unrelated to this video, tonight marks the start of our weekend zazenkai with guest teacher Dae Gak (former disciple of Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn).

A monk once asked, "There's a teaching which has the words, 'The great ocean does not harbor a dead corpse.' What is the ocean?

Caoshan said, "It includes everything."

The monk asked, "Why doesn't it include corpses?"

Caoshan said, "Those who have ceased breathing are not manifested."

The monk said, "Since it includes everything, why are those who've stopped breathing not manifested?"

Caoshan said, "The myriad things don't have this virtue. The cessation of breath has virtue."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Bird Cannot Possibly Be Abandoned By The Sky

In a book called "Sensitive Chaos," Theodore Schwark draws a picture of birds in migration. The depiction offers a beautiful window into who we are, what relationships may really be expressing:
Each bird lies on a wave which is made in the air by the leader who initiates it. The beats of their wings follow the ups and downs of the wave and simply make visible what, as a vibrating aerial form, surrounds and bears them all in the arrow formation. By studying the positions of the wings of the birds flying in this formation we were able to deduce the actual shape of the form. Each bird flies in a fixed position and the form itself unites all the individual birds.

A bird does not need much strength, for it is as though the movement of the wave of air were to raise and lower its wings for it. If one of the birds has an excess of energy it will do more than simply allow itself to be carried along. With the beating of its wings it will strengthen the whole wave, will infuse the aerial form with energy from which all will benefit. Those who would on their own account no longer have the strength to fly, these take energy from the whole moving flow of air. Indeed, even the leading bird itself draws energy from this field. The researcher says: The current error that the bird flying at the apex of the triangle has to work considerably harder than those following it must be corrected. The wave of the field of air streams, created reciprocally by all the separate birds, spreads out in space with the speed of sound and therefore as the speed at which the birds fly is much slower, it precedes them considerably, so that the leading bird can if necessary take energy from the field just as can all the others.

An arrow formation is a totality in which the separate birds lie embedded like organs in a new body that has been created out of air in which, as with the body of sound of an orchestra, a single instrument to a great extent merges into the whole. It is, however, a necessary part of the whole. The separate birds are linked together by the surrounding air as though by elastic threads. We may imagine the separate birds linked together, for instance, through invisible elastic threads. If a bird uses more energy than would be necessary for its propulsion through the air, it tightens the threads which link it to its surroundings and thus imparts to the whole formation its excessive energy of propulsion. If on the other hand, a bird has less energy than is necessary to propel it along within the formation, a tension in the opposite direction arises in the connecting elastic links and the bird whose movements lag behind the movement of the whole field receives from its energy, the energy necessary to its propulsion along with the others. The air which connects the birds like an elastic medium acts like a muscle. It unites the different limbs of the formation into a unity which was not there before and is caused to do this by a higher being, namely the group of these birds. One might almost say that this group, or group soul if you will, manifests itself in the density of air and acts as an integrating muscular system. The elastic properties of muscles are indeed similar to the elasticity of the air. In a muscle these properties of air are simply embodied and made visible in matter. Thus it comes about that during a long flight over many hundreds of miles each single bird elastically connected with the whole flight beats its wings exactly as many times as all the others in the formation. The entire process is an aerial form, an organic whole moving through the air. The bird is a creature of the air. It is born out of the air and entrusts itself to it. It cannot possibly be abandoned by the sky.
Thanks to Myotai Bonnie Treace for showing us this text.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Here is the full statement from Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, on the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy:
I am deeply saddened to learn of the death of Senator Edward Kennedy. As a nation and as a people, we have lost one of the finest, most dedicated, and committed political leaders of our time. Senator Kennedy was a champion for equal justice for every American, but especially for those who have been left out and left behind.

I have known Ted Kennedy for more than 47 years. In that time, it has been my greatest pleasure to work with him in the Congress to try to tackle many human problems, but I am especially gratified by his contributions to the cause of civil rights and voting rights.

At some of the most tragic and difficult moments in this nation’s history, Ted Kennedy gathered his strength and led us toward a more hopeful future. As a nation and as a people, he encouraged us to build upon the inspirational leadership of his two brothers and use it to leave a legacy of social transformation that has left its mark on history.

But more than history can convey, Senator Edward Kennedy held an enduring place in all of our hearts. He was one of the warmest, most considerate, and understanding individuals you might ever meet. He was a wonderful, devoted friend—so caring, so sharing, so giving.

I loved him like a brother. My heart goes out to his wife Vicky, his children, and the entire Kennedy family. He will be deeply missed.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Happy, Happy, Bliss, Bliss

The on-line version of the New York Times has been running an occasional blog called Happy Days about the search for financial, emotional, physical, and spiritual contentment in these difficult economic times. On August 19, the author Robert Wright (The Evolution of God) wrote a nice piece about his experience with Vipassana meditation.

Vipassana, or insight meditation, is one of the oldest techniques of meditation, attributed to Shakyamuni Buddha himself. It is a way of transformation through self-observation and introspection. Vipassana emphasizes gaining insight into the way your mind works and has a reputation for being one of the more intellectual Buddhist traditions, but the insight that is gained is attained in a way that is not entirely intellectual.

Wright describes how his first meditation retreat about six years ago was one of the most amazing experiences of his life. "I came away from that week feeling I had found a new kind of happiness, deeper than the kind I’d always pursued." Yet, as he anticipated an upcoming retreat, he was feeling apprehension as much as elation. "Meditation retreats," he writes, "at this place, at least, are no picnic. You don’t follow your bliss. You learn not to follow your bliss, to let your bliss follow you. And you learn this arduously. If at the end you feel like you’re leaving Shangri-La, that’s because the beginning felt like Guantanamo."

Vipassana is not unlike Zen - Wright reports 5.5 hours per day spent in sitting meditation, 5.5 hours in walking meditation. At a typical Zen retreat, at least at our Center, we spend about 8 hours a day in sitting mediation, and only about 5 minutes of walking mediation for every 25 minutes of sitting.

By day three of his last retreat, Wright was "feeling achy, far from nirvana and really, really sick of the place." But what he hated above all was that he wasn’t succeeding as a meditator. The leaders of the retreat pointed out that one is not supposed to think of “succeeding” at meditating or blame oneself for failing. As Wright learned, to “succeed” he had to quit pursuing success and quit blaming himself for failing.

On Thursday night, the fifth night of the retreat, about 30 minutes into a meditation session, he had a profound sensation of seeing the structure of his mind, directly experiencing the structure of his mind in a new way that had great meaning for him. "All told," he writes, "I don’t think I’ve ever had a more dramatic moment."

I can relate to Wright's mixture of fondness and trepidation as a retreat approaches. There are two weekend retreats, zazenkais, coming up at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center with two guest teachers. This coming weekend (August 28-30), we will be graced with the presence of Dae Gak, a disciple of Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn who received Dharma transmission as a Zen Master himself in 1994. And the following weekend (September 3-6), we will have a long weekend retreat (as opposed to a weekend-long retreat) with Seirin Barbara Kohn Sensei, former head priest of the Austin Zen Center who spent 15 years at the San Francisco Zen Center where she received Dharma transmission from Zenkei Blanche Hartman Roshi.

While I'm excited about the opportunity to practice with these two esteemed teachers, I also know that after all these years, I will still experience the aches and pains of long hours of sitting, my monkey mind will still rebel against the idea of "just sitting" (shikantaza) for hours on end, not to mention all the stresses and tensions that inevitably arise from devoting large portions of my time away from my many secular activities (oh, the self-perpetuating torments of a lay practitioner).

At the end of his retreat, still reeling from the Thursday-night experience, Wright told one of the meditation teachers about his insight. The teacher nodded casually, as if it was one of the standard stops on the path to enlightenment, but still very far from the end of the path. Through truly intensive meditation, he was told, the transformation of your view of your mind, your view of your mind’s relationship to reality, and your view of reality itself, can go much deeper.

Yes, but as Morpheus famously asked, "How far down the rabbit's hole are you willing to go?"

Monday, August 24, 2009

Dogen instructed,

Practitioners, only if you subdue the mind is it easy to abandon yourself and the world. Being concerned about your worldly reputation regarding speech and behavior, refraining from doing evil because people will think ill of you, or doing good at every opportunity because people will respect you as a Buddhist practitioner, you are still being moved by worldly sentiments. Moreover, wantonly committing evil deeds shows that you are an entirely depraved person.

Finally, forget evil intentions, forget your own body, and carry out your activities solely for the sake of the buddha-dharma. Just be alert in every encounter. As for beginners in practice, subdue evil in your mind, and carry out good with your body without being concerned whether they are worldly or human sentiments. This is the meaning of abandoning body and mind. (Shobogenzo Zuimonki, Book 2, Chapter 1)

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Continuing the recent trend, I read various selections from Zuimonki at the Zen Center today, including:
A student of the Way must abandon human sentiments. To abandon human sentiments is to practice following the buddha-dharma. Most people in the world are being dragged about by the hinayana mind, discriminating good from evil, distinguishing right from wrong, seeking after what is good while discarding what is bad. This is caused by the hinayana mind. First of all, just give up worldly sentiments and enter into the Buddha-Way. To enter the Buddha-Way, refrain from making judgments based on discrimination between good and evil, don’t hold dear your physical and mental conditions; follow the verbal teachings and ways of acting without being concerned with good and evil. What you think is good or what others in the world think is good is not always good. Therefore, forget others’ views; cast aside your own mind and follow the teachings of the Buddha. Even though your body suffers and your mind is in distress, resolve to abandon body and mind, and practice what the Buddha and patriarchs, our venerable predecessors, practiced, even if it is painful or causes you distress. Even if you think something is good and accords with the Buddha-Way and want to practice it, do not carry it out if it has not been done by the buddhas and patriarchs. In doing so, you grasp the dharma-gate (teachings on dharma) perfectly.
"Human sentiments" refers to both thoughts and emotions based on egocentricity, discrimination, and preference. These are the roots of delusions.

I also read:
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. Even among those who retreat from the world and live secluded in the mountains or forests, there are some who fear that their family, which has continued for many generations, will cease to exist, and who become anxious for their family members or their relatives. Although some people depart from home and give up family or property, they have not yet given up their bodies if they think that they should not do anything physically painful and avoid practicing anything which may cause sickness, even though they know it to be the Buddha-Way. Further, even if they carry out hard and painful practices without clinging to their bodily lives, if their minds have not yet entered the Buddha-Way and if they resolve not to act against their own will even if such actions are the Buddha-Way, they have not yet given up their minds.
Although some merely wish to gain fame as people of bodhi-mind, and not have their faults known by others, the heavenly beings, the guardian deities, and the three-treasures are secretly watching them. What is being admonished against here is an attitude which feels no shame before unseen beings, and covets the esteem of worldly people. You should consider things only for the sake of the flourishing of the dharma and the benefit of living beings, all the time and in whatever situation. Speak after making careful consideration; act after giving attentive thought; do not act rashly. Ponder over what is reasonable in whatever situation you encounter.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

On An Aversive Emotional Response to a Perceived Discrepancy Between a Desired Level of Social Interaction and the Actual Contact Received

In the past, I have described myself here as a "lay monk" without bothering to define my understanding of the term. So to give it a go, I can say that I live alone, no spouse and no children, and try to commit myself to living in accordance with the Buddha-way. That's the "monk" part. But I also hold a job, am engaged in community issues, and allow myself the occasional popular entertainment (e.g., sports, movies, television). That's the "layman" part. But sometimes it feels that rather than enjoying the benefits of both worlds, I'm actually just a not-very-devout monk or merely a socially unsuccessful layman.

Setting aside the first part of that possibility, let's consider for now the second. Long-time readers of this blog may have noticed an absence of posts that begin, say, "I got together with a bunch of my friends last night," or "so-and-so came over today," or even just references to "my friend X." Yes, I interact with members of the sangha, my neo-con co-workers, and my neighbors, but none of them are truly friends - there is no one among them whom I would call or see on an evening just to enjoy their company, and I have no idea who I would call in the case of an emergency (other than 911).

But that's part of the price one pays for wanting to be a monk, a recluse, one in the world but not of the world. For the most part, I do not feel lonely even when I am at home alone; however, loneliness sometimes arises when I am out in public or on certain holidays where sociability is the expected norm. But again, that is part of the price I've accepted to live in the way that I do.

However, according to an article in the current Newsweek, social isolation in adults has been linked to a number of physical and mental ailments, including sleep disorders, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of depression and suicide. Studies have shown that loneliness can cause stress levels to rise and can weaken the immune system. Lonely people also tend to have less healthy lifestyles, drink more alcohol, eat more fattening food, and exercise less than those who are not lonely.

And it seems that I am not alone in my isolation. The article claims that Americans today are lonelier than ever. Between 1985 and 2004, the number of people who said there was no one with whom they discussed important matters tripled. More Americans than ever are living alone, 25 percent of U.S. households, up from 7 percent in 1940.

The connection, however, between single living and loneliness is in fact quite weak. Some of the most profound loneliness can happen when other people are present. This is the reason we isolated individuals feel most acutely alone on holidays like Christmas Eve or Thanksgiving when most people are surrounded by family and friends. Loneliness can also be relative: it has been defined as an aversive emotional response to a perceived discrepancy between a person's desired levels of social interaction and the contact they're actually receiving. People tend to measure themselves against others, feeling particularly alone in communities where social connection is the norm.

As an example, college freshmen may feel incredibly isolated during the first quarter of the school year when their friends and family members are far away. By the second quarter, however, most freshmen have found social replacements for their high-school friends. Unfortunately, as we age, it becomes more difficult to recreate those social relationships. And that can be a big problem as America becomes a more transient society, with an increasing number of people who say that they're willing to move away from home for a job. Having moved myself from Boston to Atlanta to Albany, NY and back to Atlanta again, with a one-year stopover in Pittsburgh, I can attest to how much more difficult it has been to recreate those social relationships with each successive move.

As a young man, I would have never guessed that I would have wound up as a 55-year-old bachelor with no children, but that's the way it went. But rather than feel sorry for myself or lapse into depression, instead I have come to accept the hand that fate and my karma have dealt me and have considered how to play it as well as I can. Okay, if I'm to be alone, I may as well accept it and embrace my isolation, and use it to deepen my practice.

The Buddha insisted that to follow the Way one had to leave home and the family. Over most of history, Buddhism has been practiced in monasteries, or by hermits and recluses for whom the sociability of the monastery proved to be too much. But here in the West, Buddhism has increasingly become a lay practice, although not without exception.

I have left home long, long ago and am trying to live a Middle Way between monastic isolation and worldly entanglement. And the fact that I may not have any choice about it merely serves to deepen my resolve.

With an increasing number of Americans now living alone and the problems associated with social isolation becoming apparent, it is my hope that I may be part of a vanguard showing how Zen can help us not merely to survive but to thrive in this new situation.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tanyard Creek Update

Since I posted a "Friday Night Video" a day early this week, today I'll return instead to the saga of Tanyard Creek Park. As I previously noted, some positive progress is finally being made. The multi-use trail will get built, but we now have verbal agreements with the City including major changes in construction access and methods to minimize impacts to the trees and reduce tree removal. Until the agreements are in writing and signed by all parties so that they are legally enforceable, we hesitant to celebrate, but the pendulum now seems to be swinging back toward reason again.

After reporting on the story last week, John Schaffner, editor of The Buckhead Reporter, stated in an editorial:
The second story on page 1 of our last edition dealt with the PATH Foundation, Atlanta BeltLine Inc. and, yes, the city's Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs attempting to totally ignore negotiated plans for the path and construction of the Tanyard Creek-Atlanta Memorial Trail.

What was being ignored by PATH was a compromise that was agreed to last year after years of negotiations between those three entities and the Friends of Tanyard Creek Park, the Atlanta Battlefield Association and neighborhoods surrounding Tanyard Creek and Atlanta Memorial parks.

Literally, hundreds of hours of meetings between the parties, numerous walk-throughs at the parks, designing and re-designing of the trail routes and construction were spent coming to the compromise agreement of last year.

But, in the end, PATH has a tradition of building its trails just the way it wants to, regardless of any agreements it might make with neighborhoods. Ask many who have negotiated in vain with PATH for something better than a cold ribbon of concrete through their backyards and parklands and they will say that PATH's Executive Director Ed McBrayer is the king of arrogance.

Add to the one camp the equally arrogant leadership of Atlanta BeltLine Inc. and the city's Parks Department, which will bow to the wishes to get just about anything accomplished in the city's parks so long as it doesn't cost that department any money, and those Tanyard Creek Park neighbors and friends may have years more of fighting in front of them to preserve the beauty of a historic Civil War battlefield where 6,500 Confederate and Union soldiers lost their lives in part of the Battle of Peachtree Creek.

We can only hope that Parks Department Commissioner Diane Harnell-Cohen can stop messaging and twittering on her cell phone long enough during these new rounds of negotiations to recall she is paid by the taxpaying residents who live around the park and want the trail done right, not by PATH or Atlanta BeltLine, Inc.

One can only hope there is still time for an Atlanta victory on this historic battlefield from the Battle for Atlanta.
This strongly-worded editorial has been making the e-mail rounds. One neighbor forwarded it on to City Councilwoman Clair Muller, currently running for City Council President. In response, Ms. Muller said,
I have definitely involved myself in working to save trees in this fabulous park and was waiting to respond to all the letters when we get to agreement. Dozens of emails about the trail have been going back and forth for three weeks.

Your neighborhood leaders, along with an independent arborist appointed by the neighborhood, have been working very hard to get agreements to save trees and get issues resolved.

On August 10th, your neighborhood leaders and I walked the route again for three hours with the independent arborist who presented construction techniques to Path and we’ve been working all this past week to memorialize the agreements.

Please know that we all are working to get the best for this historic park.
I can personally vouch for Ms. Muller's support of our efforts. Hopefully, the product at the end of this long process will be a well-designed and environmentally sensitive trail, sharing the park with the other users and neighbors who are enjoying it now.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The New Liberals

Through a combination of over-commitment and laziness (too busy when I've been busy and too lazy when I haven't been busy), I've managed to fall a few days behind in my blog. So I've gone and done the middle-class American thing, and got someone else to write it for me! Climate Central obliged on Tuesday, and I got Sensei to write most of yesterday's. And finally, Jon Stewart and the Daily Show came through for me last night.

This piece is so good on so many levels, but I'll just shut up and go back to over-commitment and laziness and let Stewart speak for himself. Those of you who want to see more of Bill-o flipping out can see it on my Live Journal site.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Good Advice

My Zen teacher frequently sends out emails to the entire disciple list answering a question that he was asked by one. In one excellent message, he pointed out that it is not possible to completely empty the mind during zazen, nor desirable as a goal. We only imagine that we have done so through a kind of self-hypnosis. This is what Master Huineng was warning about when he wrote, “One should make one’s nature genuinely empty, yet not cling to emptiness. If you completely empty your mind while meditating it will be just foolish emptiness, dead and withered.” The 50 Warnings in the Sarangama Sutra are also along these same lines.

Sensei points out that the mind (citta) is very powerful and can readily reinforce foolish ego-centric notions of enlightenment and meditation, allowing us to fantasize that we have accomplished something. "It is important to remember that zazen is about non-thinking and non-doing." he writes. "First we have to come to the end of our usual way of knowing and doing (and this requires some jaundice-eyed self-skepticism) and only then will it be possible to wake up to genuine emptiness."

We can neither empty the mind nor make the mind emptiness. Making one's nature genuinely emptiness is not emptying the mind. It is not doing anything. One's nature can become empty only because it is already so; making it so means relinquishing all those ideas we are clinging to (like "emptiness") until the true nature is all that is left. The process is more a subtractive one than an additive one.

This is not something we can do, sensei tells us, but is what is already the case. It is already happening. The exchange of Zen Master Dogen with Master Nyojo began with "dropping off body-mind" (shinjin-datsuraku) but ended with "dropping off dropping off" (datsuraku-datsuraku). So this again is a matter of subtraction - waking up to the nature of our nature, not having to do anything about it (other than dropping off our misconceptions and misdirections).

Elsewhere Dogen related the process of awakening being to that of a snake continuously molting its skin - the true self is emergent, continuously, moment-by-moment.

Movement in the right direction is inevitable; even when we make a mistake, we learn not to do that again - but only if we are paying dispassionate attention.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Long Hot Summers

Well, this is interesting. . . according to the excellent Climate Central web site, computer models and scientific literature suggest that across a large number of U.S. cities, the average number of days in August with temperatures over 95 degrees Fahrenheit could nearly triple by 2050, and the average number of days over 100 degrees could nearly double.

Here in Atlanta, for example, we typically experienced 11 days in August during the 1980s and 1990s with temperatures over 90°F and 2 days with temperatures over 95°F. By 2050, however, the computer models predict that the number will increase to 25 days each August with temperatures over 90°F and 14 days each August with temperatures over 95°F. And while we typically had no days in August with temperatures over 100°F (our hottest month is typically July), by 2050 we should average 3.

In other words, by 2050, Atlanta's heat will be more like Dallas's now.

By comparison, Boston currently averages 3 days per August with temperatures over 90°F and 0 days with temperatures over 95°F. By 2050, the computer models predict that Boston will be hotter than Los Angeles is today, with 8 days over 90°F and 3 over 95°F.

I'm usually leery of such specific weather predictions. Climate can reasonably be predicted out over centuries and decades, but tomorrow's weather is generally anybody's guess. But Climate Central’s Ben Strauss emphasizes that the numbers are not predictions. “We’re talking about best estimates and averages,” he says. “No matter how close the projections turn out to be, some years will have more hot August days, and others will have fewer.”

Staff scientists drew on regional scenarios from a dozen highly sophisticated computer climate models. The bottom line is that locations across the nation are likely to experience significant jumps in the number of extreme hot days in August and other summer months, from New York to Los Angeles, and from Florida to the Midwest to Seattle, which just experienced an unusual heat wave earlier this summer.

Since 1995, tens of thousands of people worldwide have died in heat waves. Other important impacts include increases in demand for energy (particularly electricity for cooling), and increases in urban and agricultural water demand.

The severity of increases in extreme heat and their impacts will depend on the extent of future use of fossil fuels. We do, after all, have some choice here. How hot it will actually get will depend on the choices we make about energy and transportation in the years to come.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Dogen instructed,

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.

Even among those who retreat from the world and live secluded in the mountains or forests, there are some who fear that their family, which has continued for many generations, will cease to exist, and who become anxious for their family members or their relatives.

Although some people depart from home and give up family or property, they have not yet given up their bodies if they think that they should not do anything physically painful and avoid practicing anything which may cause sickness, even though they know it to be the Buddha-Way.

Further, even if they carry out hard and painful practices without clinging to their bodily lives, if their minds have not yet entered the Buddha-Way and if they resolve not to act against their own will even if such actions are the Buddha-Way, they have not yet given up their minds.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


By now, gentle reader, you should be conditioned to know that when you see the picture above, especially on a Sunday, it means that I went up to Chattanooga today to practice with the sangha up there, and that I enjoyed the drive and was encouraged by the sincerity of their practice, etc, etc, etc. So if you'll spare me from writing about all that again, I'll in turn spare you from having to read all that, and from now on the picture above will be our little "code" about how I spent the day. Okay?

Okay. I didn't prepare a specific dharma talk for the day, but instead just discussed some of the Monday Night Group's Zuimonki studies, specifically (from Book 1, Chapters 18 and 20):
"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."
“Although some merely wish to gain fame as people of bodhi-mind, and not have their faults known by others, the heavenly beings, the guardian deities, and the three-treasures are secretly watching them. What is being admonished against here is an attitude which feels no shame before unseen beings, and covets the esteem of worldly people. You should consider things only for the sake of the flourishing of the dharma and the benefit of living beings, all the time and in whatever situation. Speak after making careful consideration; act after giving attentive thought; do not act rashly. Ponder over what is reasonable in whatever situation you encounter. 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.”
We talked about examples of both hiding our faults and keeping our virtues hidden. For the former, I used myself as an example, and admitted that ever since my foot injury interrupted my zazen practice, I have found it difficult to get back into a practice rhythm again, and that I had felt like the world's biggest hypocrite driving up to encourage the sangha in their practice, when it was I who really needed the encouragement. And Dogen is right, having admitted my short-coming to them (and now here on line), I have found the needed encouragement. Now it's just a matter of seeing if I apply it to my home practice.

As an example of the latter, I used the translator of my edition of Zuimonki, Shohaku Okumura. Modestly, his name is not on the cover of the book, and you have to really read nearly the entire Preface before you realize who the translator was. He has also translated a great many other essential Zen texts into English and written much outstanding commentary, and yet his Center's website modestly does not have his bibliography on line. To get an idea of his output, do a search for his name over at Amazon, and then realize that most of the body of his work is not available in commercial form. But instead of wrapping all his accomplishments around his ego for the esteem of worldly people, he instead humbly continues to promulgate the buddha-dharma solely for the benefit of all sentient beings.

His Zen lesson is as much in the way that he leads his life as it is in the teachings he writes, and for that, I bow in deepest gassho.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Woodstock At Forty

So this weekend's supposedly the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock Music Festival or something. The movie's getting saturation airplay on basic cable, the radio's playing all 60s music, and for some reason, Paul McCartney's playing a concert in Atlanta's Piedmont Park today (the latter may be totally unrelated - the Beatles didn't play at Woodstock - but the concert promoters are letting that little nuance slip by).

I was 15 years old in 1969 and on Woodstock weekend, I had just come back from an epic cross-country camping trip (you may recall that I experienced the Apollo moon landing while throwing up in a Louisiana bayou). At 15, I was old enough to want to go to Woodstock, but young enough to listen to my parents when they told me I couldn't. No one was sure if the concert was going to break into a riot in protest over Vietnam or some such thing, or if it was going to be a Haight-Ashbury, Summer-of-Love orgy of sex and drugs and rock n roll. Either way, my folks decided I wasn't going to be part of it. Had I been just a couple years older, my hope that it would turn out to be the latter would have been stronger than my sense of parental obedience, but in any case, in 1969, this 15-year-old didn't go.

Instead, I went to the movies, alone, and watched "Monterey Pop" for a surrogate Woodstock experience. Granted, not quite the same thing, but the movie did feature Woodstock performers Canned Heat, Country Joe, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin and, to my great anticipation, Jimi Hendrix. I already had a couple of Hendrix albums, but in those pre-MTV days, I had not yet seen him perform, either live or on tape. I didn't know what I was in for. Hendrix climaxed the Monterey Pop movie, just as he did the Woodstock Festival, by literally setting his guitar on fire at the end of his set.

What that 15-year-old boy couldn't have comprehended, sitting alone in the dark with his box of popcorn, was how much he would still appreciate Hendrix 40 years later. R.I.P., Jimi.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday Night Video Update: More Major Tom

It looks like I missed an entry in the Major Tom saga. This song is a 2009 cover of Peter Schilling's Major Tom (Coming Home), which itself was an update of David Bowie's 1972 Space Oddity, which was a re-recording of his original 1969 novelty song. This cover is by an Oklahoma band called Shiny Toy Guns and is probably recognizable to most as the music in a recent Lincoln MKZ commercial.

That about says it all. A song that started life as a Kubrick- and Apollo-inspired fantasy soon became an androgynous coming-out parable, eventually morphed into a New Wave, synthipop dance number and finally went on to sell Lincolns to baby boomers. Where do you go from there?

This is a fan-created video and the creator (Buck Productions) did a pretty god job. I do have one minor complaint, however: near the end, the on-screen lyrics state that Major Tom sees that "now the life commands 'This is my home.'" I always thought the lyric was "now the light commands, " which makes more sense in a "go towards the light" kind of way.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Is There A Mouse Living Under My Refrigerator? (and other late-night concerns)

A couple weeks ago, I had some plumbers over to my house to fix a leak apparently coming from beneath my refrigerator. It turned out that, as I had suspected, the leak was coming from the water line leading to the ice maker, but what I didn't expect was that the line had apparently been gnawed through by a rodent.

Pulling the refrigerator out from the cabinets, the plumbers had shouted, "Watch out! There's a rat!" and told me that a "big, old rat" had run out from behind the refrigerator and slipped beneath a pantry door. But the fact is, although I saw the leaking water line as well as evidence of gnawing on the plastic backing behind the refrigerator motor, I never actually saw the "rat" myself.

I've been looking for the rodent ever since and have seen no sign of droppings, no nests, and no gnawed boxes of food, even though I keep several bags of cat chow on the pantry floor. Eliot the cat hasn't chased anything around the kitchen for a long time. And the crack beneath the pantry door is far too small for a "big, old rat" to slip beneath.

So what evidence do I have that it was really there? Do I trust the plumbers, or were they just skittish, having pulled out dozens of refrigerators at dozens of homes, and by that point had seen it all? Maybe they were half expecting to see a rat, and panicked at the sight of a shadow or the first dust bunny (there were several of those behind the fridge). The plastic backing may have been chewed through years ago - it was the first time I'd ever looked at it - so the strongest evidence is the leaking water line itself.

Or maybe I had just hired a couple of overly cautious plumbers; maybe the plumbers simply liked teasing their customers. But in any event, I had convinced myself that there were no longer any rodents living in my house. Many years ago, back in the early 90s, I lived in a (barely) converted old barn in upstate New York that was next to a chicken coop and, trust me on this, I had mice then (and red squirrels that lived in the walls) and I know what evidence of rodents looks and sounds like. I didn't see any of those tell-tale signs in my house.

But then late last night, maybe around 1:30 am, I awoke to a strange sound coming from the kitchen (my bedroom's off the kitchen due to a peculiarity of the floor plan). It was a sort of non-rhythmic bumping sound, not like the gnawing sounds I remembered from the barn, but like something small being pushed around in in close quarters. The sound wasn't loud, but it sounded like it was coming from beneath the refrigerator and my mind immediately thought, "Mouse!" I got up to investigate with Eliot right behind me and we slowly snuck up on the fridge, but when I stepped on one particular floorboard, it groaned and the sound suddenly stopped.

Eliot didn't seem at all intrigued by the sound, and when I pulled the refrigerator out (after watching the plumbers, I realized how easy it was to do that) he wasn't even interested in looking behind it. In short, he wasn't acting at all like a cat in close proximity to a rodent. I pushed the refrigerator back into place and went back to bed.

But not to sleep. Soon, the same sound started up again. Stealthily, this time carrying Eliot who didn't understand what the fuss was all about, I approached the refrigerator again, this time taking care not to step on that one particular floor board. I got right up next to the fridge as the noise continued - clearly something was moving under or behind there, even though Eliot still showed no reaction at all. I shook the fridge, rocking it on its footings, and the noise stopped but nothing scurried away. I pulled it out again, but saw nothing run off like the plumbers had reported.

I went back to bed a third time - it was now well past 3 am - and tried to go back to sleep, although the noise had restarted as if to taunt me. At 4:15, I got up once more and angrily shook the fridge, trying to make the noise stop so I could get some sleep and this time the ice maker made a little gurgling sound, like that of an air bubble moving through a hose, almost a burp if you will.

Could the noise have been just the ice maker, or some other refrigerator malfunction? That would explain Eliot's absence of interest. But why is the sound only at night? And why does it stop if it "hears" me approach? Of course, the sound is sporadic, so the "stopping" might just be coincidental, and my mind assigns the effect of it stopping to the cause of my approach.

So, in short, I had a terrible night's sleep, and when the alarm went off at 6 am, it felt like I had been up all night, which was darn near the truth. My tired butt was dragging all day at work.

Even as I'm writing this, I'm listening for that sound to return and, naturally, don't hear a thing. Only tonight will tell.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Brighter and Cheerier

If this picture looks familiar to you, you've been reading this blog way too long. It's from a September 2005 entry, wherein I was complaining about various electronic devices in my house no longer working. It was around that same time, although not recounted in the 2005 post, that my computer monitor also went out. The monitor, a cheap, bottom-of-the-line flatscreen from Office Depot, was purchased only about a year earlier, replacing a big old warhorse of a CRT monitor purchased back in, like, 1999. But when the cheap flatscreen went out, the CRT was pressed back into business, and remained my computer monitor ever since.

I'll say this about that old monitor - it refused to die. Every month, the screen faded a little more and the image got darker and darker, and then highly annoying stripes began appearing over my screen, but just like the frog who doesn't notice that the jacuzzi's getting warmer, I was gradually adapting to the deteriorating image quality.

Until today, when my new HP2009m flat-screen monitor arrived UPS. The new picture is much brighter - almost too bright for my eyes, accustomed to the subterranean darkness on the old screen. But it makes everything look cheerier and happier, and in turn I'm cheerier and happier. And also, I quit using Microsoft Internet Explorer for my web browser a week or so ago and am now using Google Chrome. It is much quicker and cleaner, which also makes me happier. Sensation giving rise to perception giving rise to emotion . . .

Meanwhile, the Tanyard Creek Park debacle finally made the newspaper. You can read the article here. However, in keeping with my brighter mood due to my brighter monitor, I can also share some good news regarding this sad affair. According to an email I received this morning from one of the participants of the TCP negotiations,
"The negotiations with the PATH Foundation and Parks Dept seem to be progressing. On our initial walk through to get consensus on the trail adjustments required by the Tree Conservation Commission, we were denied all requests and they had not appropriately erected the tree protection fencing. The subsequent letter I sent to Council members and endorsement by others in the Community Group may or may not have shifted the attitudes of the PATH/Parks folks, but now we seem to have quite a few changes happening. The letter made its way to [editor John] Shaffner and was printed in part in the Buckhead Reporter last Friday. We had made a conscious effort to avoid all press while we were negotiating in good faith with the city, but we had exhausted all diplomatic routes with the city.

We now have verbal agreement including major changes in construction access and construction method to minimize impacts to the trees and reduce tree removal. HOWEVER, until we get it in writing and signed by all parties so that these changes are legally enforceable, I hesitant to celebrate. Brian Daughdrill, the attorney representing the Community will be drafting the agreement. Because the agreement will be along the lines of a Private Development Agreement or Letter of Understanding between the CHCA [Collier Hills Civic Association] (maybe also Brookwood Alliance) and the PATH Foundation, we will need to circulate it to the board for approval before I sign it.
So, in keeping with the brightness metaphor shining through this post, there finally seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


The meetings of the alliance of local neighborhoods had become stale and lifeless in my humble opinion - the membership lulled into passivity by the routine of the monthly meetings and the similarity of their agendas. So last month, I shook things up a bit with a Power Point presentation intended to give the group a renewed sense of purpose and to inject a little excitement back into the membership. I may have over-amped the presentation a little though, as although several members did respond as I had hoped, some others took my swipes at the status quo as personal attacks and were quite offended. Not my intention. Not at all.

Tonight was the first meeting of the alliance since my pyrotechnics of last month, and . . . I didn't go! Not that I was afraid or ashamed to show my face, but I had conflicts due not to one, but two other community meetings - the Executive Committee meeting of the Beltline advisory board, followed by something called a "Citywide Conversation About Community Benefits Principles."

As the Executive Committee meeting, we talked about important issues, but issues far too complicated and arcane to discuss any further here. The city-wide conversation was the latest attempt of the City planners to attempt to engage in some level of public participation, a task they have not exactly excelled at in the past. Although I may have accomplished more had I gone to the local alliance meeting than I did at the city-wide conversation, I felt I needed to be at the latter just in case anything important was announced. It was also good to revisit with some of my former colleagues from past community participation projects, and to reach across the city to re-acquaint myself with the diverse community of, dare I use the phrase?, community organizers in Atlanta.

Zen Master Dogen once said that if there's something you can do for the benefit of others, even if it's a little unorthodox for a Buddhist, you should simply do it, and set aside any thoughts of ego attachment. I take that to mean that if you can help your community, and give some of your neighbors peace of mind knowing that you're watching over the City planners hatching schemes for your neighborhood, then you should do it, even if your ego prefers to attend another meeting to follow up on the impact of your prior presentation.

Monday, August 10, 2009

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.

What is best for the sake of the Buddha-Way and for the benefit of others should be considered in each situation. Forget personal profit and do not be concerned with your reputation.”

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Blue Nation

According to today's Frank Rich column, we are being told that Obama's poll numbers are approaching free fall. Shouting matches are erupting at town hall meetings to discuss health-care changes, and Beltway pundits claim that if the President fails to deliver on health care, he’s toast. But Rich points out that "many of the bloviators who spot a fatal swoon in the Obama presidency are the same doomsayers who in August 2008 were predicting his Election Day defeat because he couldn’t 'close the deal' and clear the 50 percent mark in matchups with John McCain.

Meanwhile, according to, data from the first six months of 2009 finds only four states showing a sizable Republican advantage in party identification, the same number as in 2008. That compares to 29 states plus the District of Columbia with sizable Democratic advantages, also unchanged from last year. Massachusetts is the most solidly Democratic state in the nation, along with the District of Columbia. Utah and Wyoming are the most Republican states, as they were in 2008.

The map shows each states in which one of the parties enjoys a 10 or more percentage point advantage. States with between a five- and nine-point advantage are considered leaning toward that party, and states with less than a five-point advantage for one of the parties are considered up for grabs. It's interesting to note that in America, the left is associated with the color blue and the right with the color red, while everywhere else in the world, it's completely the opposite.

Most states are currently Democratic in their party orientation, with the greatest number (30, including the District of Columbia) classified as solidly Democratic, with an additional 8 states, including Georgia, leaning Democratic.

The leaves the Republicans as a four-state western party (Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Alaska), as relevant to the rest of the nation as Mormonism. Even Montana is up for grabs with a 2% Democratic advantage. For all the Republican's emphasis on the Deep South, only Alabama is leaning Republican, while Mississippi, with only a 1% Republican advantage, is considered up for grabs. Texas amd South Carolina are also up for grabs with 2% Democratic advantages.

Since Obama was inaugurated, not much has changed in the political party landscape at the state level -- the Democratic Party continues to hold a solid advantage in party identification in most states and in the nation as a whole. While the Republican Party is still able to compete in elections if they enjoy greater turnout from their supporters or greater support for its candidates from independent voters, the deck is still clearly stacked in the Democratic Party's favor for now.

According to Frank Rich, the best political news for the President remains the Republicans. It’s a measure of how out of touch G.O.P. leaders like Mitch McConnell and John Boehner are that they keep trying to scare voters by calling Obama a socialist. "If anything," Rich writes, "the most unexpected — and challenging — event that could rock the White House this August would be if the opposition actually woke up."

Friday, August 07, 2009

Friday Night Videos: The Evolution of Major Tom


I missed the anniversary, but 40 years ago last month Apollo 11, the first manned mission to the moon, touched down. At the time, I was throwing up in a bayou in Louisiana, but that's another story for another post.

In the same year, David Bowie, obviously influenced by the Apollo missions and Kubrick's 2001, recorded his first version of Space Oddity, the story of Major Tom, an astronaut who gets lost in space somewhere around the moon. There's not much to the storyline, really, but back in '69 Bowie produced a nerdy little low-budget film to go with his novelty song (as a medium, rock video hadn't yet come into it's own). To me, there's something charming about this rare and naive little clip, and if you watch no other video in this post, do watch this one, if for no other reason than its cheesy YouTube production values and to see how far music has come in the past 40 years. This clip is probably the reason for this entire post.


After Bowie became a star and adopted his Ziggy Stardust character, he re-recorded Space Oddity and jettisoned the older version and his little low-fi movie like Major Tom jettisons used booster engines. Since his revamped little novelty song had became his first big hit (second in the U.S., after Changes), he had a whole new video of it shot in his Ziggy Stardust persona. This is the version with which most people are now probably most familiar.


Eight years and at least three Bowie personae/incarnations later (Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, The Thin White Duke), MTV was finally providing an outlet for music videos on basic cable. Note the slick, if dated, MTV production values here. Bowie, dressed this time as Pierrot for some reason, revisits and updates the Space Oddity story to report that Major Tom's now a junkie.


And three years after that, it was finally up to German Peter Schilling to reimagine the Major Tom story, setting it to a danceable synthpop beat for the Nouvelle Vague set. By this time, the sketchy little story had taken on nearly mythic proportions, and Schilling fills in some plot details and manages to simultaneously be both iconoclastic and reverent as he recounts Major Tom's plight and envisions a paradise that features roller-skating carhops with bad 80s haircuts.

One idea, 14 years of music and video. Talk about post-modernism . . .

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Tanyard Creek Park

Of course, as long-time readers of this blog know, it's not just the Beltline Advisory Board that I've been asked to join for the benefit of my neighbors. To help shore up support for the community's interests, I have also gotten involved in the local coalition of neighborhood groups and have become immersed in controversy there after a presentation that I was asked to give to them last month. The neighbors are also very concerned about the effects of a proposed multi-use trail planned to be paved through Tanyard Creek Park, a former Civil War battlefield and the only remaining piece of undeveloped greenspace in our neighborhood.

This latter issue is one of the most polarizing ones in which I'm involved. Everyone has a strong, passionate opinion about it, including myself, and no one seems to be "neutral." The trail proponents have tried to assure us that the planned trail is compatible with the greenspace nature of the park, and told us to just look at what they did in Atlanta's Mount Arabia Park for examples of the styles of trail they're planning for Tanyard Creek Park.

I Googled and Binged "Mount Arabia" and found this picture of what the area looked like before the trail was developed:

This is a typical example of the lush, green forest that grows on the Georgia Piedmont, characterized by red clay soil over gently rolling topography. Not all of the flora are native species, but the ground cover provides a habitat to a great many species of fauna.

Here's the same area after the trail was laid:

"Pave paradise," to quote the song, "and put up a parking lot." Not much habitat apparent here. Now imagine the trail above running through Tanyard Creek Park, shown at the top of this post. Not exactly compatible, I think you'll agree.

But maybe I'm not being fair. That's the entrance to the trail, and parking has to go somewhere, right? "If you want to make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs." So what does the trail look like a little further along? Here's another picture:

Okay, a little greener and at least we've got some shade, but the boardwalk (which, by the way, Tanyard Creek Park won't be getting, despite our requests; we're being offered nothing but concrete ) and it's side rails completely separate the user from nature. No feet on soft ground, but just a conveyance designed to get one through the park as quickly as possible, without veering off course and with as little communion with Mother Nature as possible.

Of course, that's just my strong opinion, reinforced by ego-attachment. But I'm a moderate on this issue. Many neighbors are passionately opposed to it, and are suffering greatly at the thought of losing their beloved park.

What would Dogen do? Counsel them of the impermanence of all things, including a Civil War battlefield, or work to their benefit to help protect the park? Like the Buddha before him, Dogen leaves it up to us to decide. “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."

All the time and in whatever situation, we are advised to consider things only for the benefit of all living beings. Dogen says we should "speak after making careful consideration; act after giving attentive thought; do not act rashly." In other words, a little mediation wouldn't hurt.

"Ponder over what is reasonable in whatever situation you encounter."

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Presentation

Back to civic duties: today I participated in a presentation about the Beltline Advisory Board to the Fulton County Board of Commissioners, along with about a half-dozen fellow board members. The presentation was televised on the community-access channel. The Board were in their chambers, sitting at their stations behind a large semi-circular desk, and we approached the podium before the Board like Dorothy and her friends as our images were broadcast on a giant screen before us. I slipped a thumb drive into a laptop computer that had been set up for us, and began the Power Point presentation that I had prepared.

Afterwords, since the presentation was in the morning, rather than drive all the way up to Marietta to work, I completed the Environmental Site Assessment reports on the two Long Island properties from the home office.

Zen Master Dogen once asked his followers what they would do if “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." If they were to turn down such a request on the grounds that they were not men of the secular world and that they have retired from mundane affairs, Dogen said they should then examine their deeper motivation. According to Dogen, if they rejected the request because they thought of themselves as monks who had left the secular world and people might think ill of them if they were to say something inappropriate for a recluse, this shows ego-attachment to fame and profit.

"If you reject his request being concerned with your reputation," Dogen said, "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.”

Neighbors concerned about the Beltline's impact on our neighborhood had asked me to participate in the project's community involvement process, so I joined the Advisory Board - not a simple task as it required an appointment from governing bodies. So, for the benefit of my neighbors, I attended many community meetings and spoke at various groups until I finally got the required nomination. Once on the Board, other members asked me to chair the Communications Committee and prepare the Annual Reports and provide various presentations, and I did as asked for the benefit the Board.

Dogen advised “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."

The challenge for me is to keep the ego at bay. As I take positions and advocate for various causes, the ego tends to attach to those positions and causes at the expense of equanimity. They soon appear more important than they actually are, merely because my ego has attached itself to them. And as I stand before our elected leaders and local celebrities, it is a challenge not to develop an inflated sense of self importance. The primary concern, Dogen said, should be to break off ego-attachment and throw away desire for fame. We can do this, I can do this, by just practicing beneficence to others and letting go of ego-attachment.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The South: Two Views

Friday Night Videos aren't early this week, but there's an important (I think) piece in this week's New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell about Jim Crow, the 50th anniversary of To Kill A Mockingbird, and the failure of Southern liberalism. Registration (i.e., a subscription) is required to read the article, or else you can get the Cliff Notes version by watching Jon Stewart rant about South Carolina.

In an evening talk Dogen said,

“Nowadays, almost all people, both lay and clerical, want to make it known to others when they do something good, and prevent others from noticing when they do something bad. Because of this, they lose correspondence between their inner and outer selves. You should aspire carefully to make the inside correspond with the outside, repent of faults, and hide your real virtue. Do not adorn your outward appearance. Offer good things to others and accept bad things yourself.”

Someone asked, “Surely, we should maintain an attitude of hiding our true virtue and not adorning our appearance. And yet, for buddhas and bodhisattvas, it is essential to have great compassion and benefit living-beings. If ignorant monks or lay people find faults, they will become guilty of slandering the priesthood. Even if they do not understand true inner virtue, if they see monks of good appearance, respect them, and make offerings to them, there must be some merit which brings about happiness. How should we think about this?”

Dogen replied, “Although you do not adorn your outward appearance, it is irrational to become self-indulgent. If you carry out bad deeds in front of lay people on the pretext of hiding your true virtue, this is certainly a terrible violation of the precepts.

“Although some merely wish to gain fame as people of bodhi-mind, and not have their faults known by others, the heavenly beings, the guardian deities, and the three-treasures, are secretly watching them. What is being admonished against here is an attitude which feels no shame before unseen beings, and covets the esteem of worldly people. You should consider things only for the sake of the flourishing of the dharma and the benefit of living beings, all the time and in whatever situation. Speak after making careful consideration; act after giving attentive thought; do not act rashly. Ponder over what is reasonable in whatever situation you encounter. 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.” (from Shobogenzo Zuimonki, Book 1, Chapter 20)

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Tanyard Creek Park (above) is one of the largest stretches of unimproved greenspace in our neighborhood, and a significant Civil War battlefield. I don't normally post email I've received, but the author (a friend of mine) wants to get the word out about our attempts to save the park, and I couldn't summarize the current situation at our embattled neighborhood park any better than with her own words:

Dear Councilmembers Muller, Shook and Norwood,

I am writing this message to inform you of the current situation with the Tanyard-Atlanta Memorial Trail and ask that you please intervene to prevent what independent experts are now saying will be disastrous consequences to the trees in our parks along this proposed stretch of trail.

As you know the Community Group consisting of the surrounding neighborhoods and Friends of Tanyard Creek Park has been involved in the ongoing conversation and planning of this trail for many years. Our most recent public engagement with PATH [the trail developer], Parks and Atlanta Beltline was a walk through that we did yesterday to work towards fulfillment of the Tree Conservation Commission rulings and hopefully have the advice of an independent arborist taken into consideration to truly minimize the impact of the trail construction on the trees in Tanyard Creek Park, the Howard Park and Atlanta Memorial Park/Cathedral Woods. The oral report provided by the private arborist, Spence Rosenfeld from Arborguard, was sobering to say the least. Spence was not paid by the neighborhood but instead volunteered his time to help us because he wants to see the best outcome for the trees. In addition he brought David Deschamps, a construction arborist who also works with Arborguard whose sole professional focus is arboreal consultation as it relates to construction. They both agreed that the current standard construction plan that has been submitted to the city and approved by every part of the planning process can be significantly improved in many places, and in one area of the trail in particular, along the creek in the Howard Park, the design plan as it stands now will have disastrous consequences to the trees, one of which has been designated a historic tree as it is the largest of its kind with in the perimeter of I-285.

You may not be aware that Arborguard was called in by Dekalb County to create a tree prescription plan for the South Peachtree Creek Trail after PATH was found in violation of tree ordinances and other environmental laws last year. I request that you talk to David about what the South Peachtree Creek area looked like after the trail had been constructed when he went in to visit the site to prepare his report, and how the planning and construction could have been done to prevent what happened. As a result of what happened at the South Peachtree Creek Trail, Arborguard has subsequently been hired by Dekalb County on the front end of trail planning to ensure that future trail design and construction plans are as minimally invasive to the trees as possible.

Clair [Councilwoman Muller]- you must recall the ordeal that arose with John Sacha over the section of PATH trail that was built by Sagamore and Peachtree Battle. After trees had been cleared with no prior notification to the surrounding residents, John Sacha complained and the Director of the Bureau of Buildings was brought in at your request to intervene. He determined that the trail had been over engineered. For the benefit of the other councilmembers I am including a link to the letter prepared by John Sacha to Mayor Franklin detailing the problems faced with that section of trail. These are the same problems we are facing now and the same problems faced at the South Peachtree Creek trail site.

Clearly a precedent has been set by the PATH Foundation and the standard construction techniques that the municipalities are allowing them to use. Subsequent to a number of Superior Court rulings against Dekalb County and the PATH Foundation stemming from the South Peachtree Creek trail issues, Dekalb has woken up to the fact that they needed to set the standard for trail construction and not leave it up to the PATH Foundation’s discretion. While PATH made have built a positive reputation on rails-to-trails conversions such as the Silver Comet Trail where there is an existing cleared rail corridor with easy access, where standard construction techniques may be appropriate, these same designs and techniques are not appropriate in our forested in-town parks. Delicate measures must be taken to surgically insert the trail to minimize tree impacts. THIS IS THE POINT THE NEIGHBORHOODS HAVE BEEN TRYING TO MAKE FOR YEARS. We are not a bunch of NIMBYs as Ed McBrayer [Director of PATH] would lead you to believe. We just want the trail and the construction plan to be designed in the most environmentally sensitive way possible.

Looking at the previous trail examples at Sagamore and South Peachtree Creek I think bad precedents have been set. Looking into the crystal ball we can expect the same outcome or worse with the Atlanta-Memorial Trail going forward under the current plans. What we heard yesterday from representatives of the PATH Foundation, the Parks Dept including its Director, and Atlanta Beltline were comments that they can’t possibly make changes now because the plans are complete and they are too far along in the process to make changes. This thinking is very concordian. Just because so much has been invested into an inappropriate plan doesn’t mean it should go forward. It took acts of the Superior Court in Dekalb County to shift the county’s attitude and correct the planning process for future trails, and ongoing litigation against the PATH Foundation is continuing to result in judges rulings in favor of the plaintiffs. Please don’t let the trail situation in the City of Atlanta follow the same course.

Please don’t just take my word for it. Contact Spence Rosenfeld and David Deschamp and ask them for their independent opinion on the plans for the Tanyard-Atlanta Memorial Trail as they currently stand and what cold be done to improve the plans and minimize the tree impacts.

Clair - I am now begging you to please intervene and cut the losses on the money PATH has invested in the plans to date, and start over and get this done right. I think I speak on behalf of our Community Group when I say we all want a trail we can be proud of, not a legacy of disastrous tree loss. The Howards’ vision was to share this beautiful property with the public because of its natural beauty and links to other parks. This is the legacy they intended to have preserved not destroyed. We need strong leadership at City Hall to make this situation right before it is too late.