Thursday, June 30, 2011

Attractive But Probably Poisonous Mushrooms Growing in My Yard

Anybody know this species?  It might be the edible Caesar's mushroom (Amanita caesarea), or then again it might be the hallucinogenic and toxic fly algaric (Amanita muscaria).  Either way, I'm not eating it, I'm just curious.  If it matters, it was growing underneath a magnolia in north Atlanta.

-Sent from my mobile phone

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Here Is What Is

I'll say this: those David Bazan fans sure like to smoke a lot.  It was great to see such a good turnout for a Tuesday night, but with all the smokers present, the back room at The Earl started to resemble a humidor.  I'm not a smoker, but then I'm not exactly one of those faint-hearted people who clear their throat and object every time a cigarette is lit, either. I've breathed my fair share of second-hand smoke and then some, but I think I may have doubled my lifetime intake last night alone.  The woman standing in front of me was chain smoking with such intensity it almost seemed like she perceived her job to be some sort of a human smoke machine, to keep the stage as smoky as humanly possible.

That aside, it was a great show.  Interestingly, during some of his banter between songs, Bazan even mentioned the influence that Brian Eno had on him.  Specifically, he talked about the DVD Here Is What Is that Daniel Lanois made with Eno, although Bazan had to pause to to ask the audience "Do you even know who these guys are?"  Near the beginning of the film, Eno suggests that it should try to show people that art often grows out of nothing, or arises from the simplest of seeds under the right conditions, not from what outsiders might assume are the miraculous inspirations of allegedly brilliant or gifted artistes.  Here is the gist of that conversation:

Bazan basically agreed with this premise, and encouraged the audience to go out and buy themselves some high-end delay pedals and make something, anything, beautiful with them.  Here is what Bazan does with the equipment he possesses:

But, actually, the real reason that I went out last night was to see S Carey, who played a wonderful opening set that was at times ambient and atmospheric, at times gentle and folksy, and at times aggressive and hard rocking.  It's interesting that the drummer of Bon Iver doesn't play drums in his own band, but instead plays keyboards and sings, although he did get up at one point and beat the living shit out a single tom-tom. 

I didn't get home until about midnight, so this evening I'm taking it easy. There are a couple bands playing at The Goat Farm tonight, but there will be bands playing there many more nights to come. Tonight, I rest.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


After a long drought, during which it seemed that all of the interersting shows either got sold out or were held on Monday nights, the redoubtable Earl is back on a streak of great bookings, starting tonight with S Carey, drummer for Bon Iver, opening for David Bazan.  Georgia's Washed Out plays there Saturday night, and Puro Instinct opens for John Maus next Wednesday.  Along with some shows at The Goat Farm, this may be a very busy week.

Here's sort of a half video/half advertisement for tonight's headliner, David Bazan. Oh look, he played at Seattle's Bumbershoot Festival last year (oh look, he played The Earl last September 28).

The video at the top of this post is from opener S Carey, who I guess is getting some solo gigs in before Bon Iver's tour starts later next month (they'll be playing out in suburban Cobb County on July 28).

Speaking of urban sprawl, our friends over at 32 Feet/Second remind us that the United States currently imprisons 2.3 million of its own citizens (one out of every 100 Americans), a number which, were they all counted together as one group, would be the fourth largest urban area in the United States, larger than Atlanta, Boston, Baltimore, and Las Vegas combined. "Jailopolis" is one city where I don't imagine the so-called creative class interact in rich, unexpected and productive ways.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Monday Night Zazen

Uchiyama Kosho Roshi (1912—1998), student of Kodo Sawaki, teacher to Shohaku Okumura,  once pointed out that people are apt to add various expectations to their practice of zazen, so that few ever practice zazen singlemindedly.  It seems that people cannot help setting up various goals or expectations of zazen because they practice it at great pains.  Almost everyone practices zazen with some sort of goal in mind:

"I practice zazen to attain enlightenment and reach a state of tranquility."
"I practice zazen to improve my abilities."
"I practice zazen to strengthen my body."
"I want to become more intelligent."
"I do zazen to discipline myself physically and mentally."
"I wish to become free from fear."
"I'm hoping to calm down and cultivate my mind by practicing zazen."

Yet, as soon as we set up these goals, we separate ourselves from our practice and from our life.  The goal becomes the "object," our current situation the "subject," and our practice the means for the subject to achieve the object.  While this method works in almost all cases in the secular life, for a true spiritual practice, there can be no separation of subject and object, and practice itself most assuredly cannot be what causes that separation, what lies between subject and object.

Zazen should be practiced as shikantaza (just sitting), not sitting with any of the above - or other -  goals.  It goes without saying that zazen is just sitting upright and facing a wall.  The essence of the zazen that Master Dogen taught is to just practice it straightforwardly without adding any coloring to it at all.  Rather than brightly colored and very loud, it is colorless and soundless.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Brightly Colored and Very Loud

I'm not saying that Bill Hicks was a Buddha, I'm just saying this bit of his was pretty damned enlightened.

Yesterday, I implied that conservativism, like its brothers intolerance and xenophobia, resembles a genetic disorder, one which occurs when the cultural DNA doesn't get enough new information due to an insular and isolated suburban lifestyle.  I didn't mean that viewpoints that are different than mine are necessarily inferior, genetically or otherwise.  I'm just saying that everything is caused by conditions, and a Mendelian model describes the origins of intolerance, xenophobia, and conservativism as well as any.  It also explains why some of the staunchest Republican districts are often out in the suburbs. Even left-leaning cities like Boston and Portland have right-wing strongholds in their suburbs.  

The Buddha had a word for the kind of intolerance, xenophobia, and conservativism that I'm talking about here, one we still use every day: ignorance.  In his discourse on the Twelve-Fold Chain of Dependent Origination, he explained how the human condition, including our suffering, sickness, old age, and death, arises from causes, the traced the causes all the way back to their origin - ignorance.  But he never explained the conditions from which ignorance arises.  Some have taken this to imply that the twelve-fold chain is like a circle, and that the ignorance at the beginning of the chain arises from the human suffering at the end of the chain.

It would be easy, but going too far, to say that they are wrong, that ignorance arises from Marietta, Georgia, from Orange County, California, from Morristown, New Jersey, and from the vast suburban tracts of other American cities.  No, looking deeper, ignorance arises from emptiness, and there's a whole lot of emptiness out there in the urban sprawl.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


In 1992, Brian Eno described the circumstances that led to his transformation from an art student to a musician as follows: "As a result of going into a subway station and meeting Andy (saxophonist Andy Mackay), I joined Roxy Music, and, as a result of that, I have a career in music. If I'd walked ten yards farther on the platform, or missed that train, or been in the next carriage, I probably would have been an art teacher now." 

This is the magic of what can happen in cities. Plato found Socrates in ancient Athens, Monet and Cezanne found each other in nineteenth-century Paris, and in the twentieth century, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd found each other in Chicago, Kurt Cobain found Dave Grohl in Seattle, and Matt Stone found Trey Parker in Denver. That chance urban encounter with Andy Mackay transformed not only Eno's life, but popular music has also been forever changed as well.  Is it any surprise, then, that on his latest release, Drums Between the Bells, Eno provides a picture of Sao Paolo, which he describes as "the most city-ish city in the Western world"?

What makes cities successful is not only that they attract scientists, architects, academics, and artists, the so-called creative class, but cities also bring them into proximity with each other and enable them to interact in rich, unexpected and productive ways. This can happen on public transportation or in high-rise apartment buildings and office skyscrapers, not to mention the myriad cultural events and intellectual happenings sustained by cities.

The Buddha taught the interdependence of all things, but in segmented, isolated suburbia and, in a different way, in rural settings, the vast, complex machinery of modern civilization is not always apparent. Separated from each other in detached, single-family homes, commuting in individual automobiles, and shopping in homogeneous and anonymous supermarkets and malls, the spontaneous chance encounters that enrich urban life are gone.  As with genetics, without the influx of new information, the cultural DNA becomes stale, and recessive traits such as xenophobia, intolerance, and conservativism come out.

In cities, the interdependence of society constantly manifests itself, sometimes bluntly and rudely, sometimes subtly and sublimely. We share our roads with the trucks that deliver goods to the market, the can hear the hum of machinery and the rattle and roar of transit and transportation, concerts and festivals occur in our parks, art graces our public space, and we can see the needy on the streets beneath the high-rise towers of the very wealthy.

Our world is a better place for the ideas and innovations that emerge from urban interactions, yet American public policies, such as highway construction, encourage leaving the city, and the reluctance to fund public transportation discourages urban renewal.  It seems that there's always money available to widen a commuter highway (which only encourages more people to drive on it), but never money for streetcars or rail.    

I live in Atlanta, which is going through a healthy re-examination of its urban assets.  While I live within the city limits, my home is one of those detached, single-family houses, partly made affordable by the income-tax deduction on mortgage interest, and I drive to work every morning in an automobile on interstate highways, oddly in the opposite direction from the urban center.

On the other hand, I live in close proximity to colleges such as the Atlanta campus of the Savannah College of Art and Design, and to Georgia Tech, Georgia State, and Emory University.  Emerging institutions such as the nearby Goat Farm and King Plow centers are attempting to push culture forward through comprehensive support of the arts.  The Atlanta Beltline and Peachtree Streetcar initiatives are far-reaching and innovative attempts at increasing the viability of public transportation in this automobile-oriented city.

The Buddha also taught that everything arises from conditions, and without the conditions of the sizable urban population, the intellectual gravity of the universities, and the cultural diversity of the city, there would probably be no Zen Center here in Atlanta, and I would likely never have discovered my spiritual practice.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Brian Eno

No Friday Night Video this week. Instead, I offer three new cuts from Brian Eno's forthcoming album, Drums Between the Bells.

Eno has been hugely influential on me, from his initial glam-rock days with Roxy Music in the early 1970s to the later ambient music experiments, from his collaborations with Robert Fripp to his solo albums.  I think that after coming of age, as it were, listening to albums like No Pussyfooting and Another Green World, to Here Come the Warm Jets and Music for Airports, my mind and my ears were prepared for everything else that followed musically over the next many decades. He challenged and altered my ideas of what a musician was, what music could be, and most significantly, the ways in which the listener relates to the music, the art of perception.

In fact, my current obsession with new music is probably a direct result of the seeds Eno planted way back in 1973.  And in case you're wondering, here are some samples of what his output sounds like now, 40 years later.

Brian Eno - pour it out (taken from Drums Between The Bells) by Warp Records

Brian Eno - bless this space (taken from Drums Between The Bells) by Warp Records

Brian Eno - glitch (taken from Drums Between The Bells) by Warp Records

Drums Between The Bells is a collaboration between Eno and Rick Holland.  They apparently first started making music together in 2003, and since those initial sessions they met infrequently to work on new compositions. In early 2011, following the release of Small Craft on a Milk Sea, the pair resolved to finish the project. The piano and sustained guitar on Pour It Out sound to me as though they were lost outtakes from Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) remixed into a 21st Century post-rock, post-music, post-everything track.  But come to think of it, Eno's music has always sounded like something from the future, and even his older recordings still sound startlingly new and relevant.

The future, apparently, has been around for a while.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

This Can Get Dangerous

I've finally figured out how to post cell phone pictures to my blog directly from my cell phone.   Text and titles, too.  No computer necessary, and no opportunity to deliberate as to whether or not it's a good idea to share them first.

This can get dangerous.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

This, Apparently, Is Chicago

I know that no one is ever interested in the banal details of the discomforts of someone else's travels, but today's trip to Chicago and back was marked by four distinct and separate brutalities, and there's really no point in maintaining a blog if I can't get these off my chest.

Brutality Number 1: The time of departure, 7:30 am, doesn't sound too bad, but a 7:30 departure means that boarding starts at 7:00, which means that I had to get to security by 6:30, which means that I had to get to the parking lot by 6:00, which means that I had to leave the house by 5:30, which means that I had to get up at 4:30 am.

Larks and owls. I'm not a morning person, and what with taking the Zennists out for ice cream last night and all, I didn't get to bed until after 11:30. Today was a big day, and I had to do it all on 5 hours of sleep and waking 2 hours earlier than my norm.

The Second Brutality: The flight itself was uneventful, almost pleasant. I met one of my two clients at the Atlanta Airport and the other at O'Hare. The weather in Chicago was not so much hot (high 70s) as overwhelmingly humid (damn close to 100 percent). We took a taxi from O'Hare to the Sears Tower (now Willis Tower), the three of us squeezed into the back seat, with me in the middle, my briefcase pressed into my chest. The cab had no air conditioning and the morning rush-hour traffic was stop-and-go the whole way. In my blazer and tie, I started sweating and sweating profusely, streamlets of perspiration rolling off my bald head. It felt like we would never get there and by the time we finally did, I was in dire need of some serious freshening up, which we didn't have time for due to the traffic, so we rushed right in, rode a maze of elevators and escalators halfway up Willis Tower, the tallest building in North America, to the 50-something floor, where I gave a Power Point presentation to a roomful of attorneys, even while sweat was still dripping down my back.

Brutality the Third: After the presentation (which actually went quite well), we walked several blocks in the thick humidity to Michigan Avenue, where we had a very pleasant lunch, even if we did sit outside in the soupy weather to eat, across the street from Millenium Park, where Obama celebrated his 2008 election victory.

As you can see, the temperature was only 78 F, which doesn't even hint at how it felt. After lunch, we took another cab back to the airport for the day's third brutality. Same story, just different direction: no air, traffic, three of us crowded in the back seat, profuse sweating.

The Final Brutality: We had a long wait at the airport before our flight home, but I passed the time answering emails on my Droid and taking a little nap. The plane boarded on time, but then idled on the tarmac for two full hours waiting for clearance to take off. To conserve fuel, the pilot turned off the engines, shutting off the air conditioning in the plane, which quickly heated up in the humid Chicago air to the same temperatures I had enjoyed in the taxis. The pilot advised us to close the windows to keep the sun from warming us up even more. After two hours, though, we finally got clearance to leave, and the engines started up and the air came back on, but it was still another two and a half hours before we finally got back to Atlanta (which felt cool and dry by comparison). By the time I got home at 10:40 pm, I had been up for 18 straight hours, the last four and a half of which were spent sitting in a cramped plane, and had been repeatedly dehydrated, hydrated, and dehydrated again.

I know. Everyone has travel stories like this, and yours are probably even worse, if for nothing else, because they happened to you. I'm not arguing that mine was any harder to endure - instead, I'm sending you my sincerest sympathy.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Monday Night Zazen

Monday Night Zazen, but no Monday night dharma talk this week. Rather than talking about the dharma, we instead celebrated the sangha, the harmonious community, by all going out after the meditation service for some ice cream (actually, frozen yogurt).

It proved to be an opportunity to all learn a little bit more about each other, enjoy each others' company, and interact in a more relaxed way.

Don't get used to this, I warned. It may not be until the next summer solstice that we do this again.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Okay, as lame as it is to blog about a television show, I'll come right out and admit that I've come to enjoy HBO's Game of Thrones. Quality-wise, it's right up there with other classic HBO series such as The Sopranos and Six Feet Under, and epic-wise, what with its fully-realized medieval world, its Machiavellian story lines, and its wildly entertaining plot twists, it's right up there with other sword-and-sorcery fantasies such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Tonight's the last episode of the first season, and I've actually found myself looking forward to watching it, along with no small pang of regret that it will be the season finale. So today I will post the small collection of Thrones-related pictures that I've accumulated before the season ends and they become forever irrelevant.

It's a little disturbing that in this season's apparent theme of honor versus ambition, ambition seems to triumph (barring any last-episode recurrence of one of those aforementioned wildly entertaining plot twists), but as with all quality series, it has created a full cast of characters who, if not always likable, then are at least consistently interesting.

Which brings us to the matter of the actor Peter Dinklage and his character Tyrion Lannister. Dinklage has triumphed in the challenging portrayal of a complex anti-hero and has superbly played what must be for him the role of a lifetime. I have not read the books upon which the Game of Thrones series has been based and so do not know the outcome of the series or even of this season, but I have come to hope that if any character does win the titular game and triumphs in the end, it would be Dinklage's unlikely Tyrion, at once both the most disadvantaged and at the same time most intelligent character in the entire cast.

As Simone Weill once wisely observed, "Imagination and fiction make up more than three quarters of our real life." Therefore, I see no reason not to enjoy some well-crafted fantasy and fiction once in a while.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Swimming With the Sharks

Few things are more uncomfortable that wearing wet clothes, and I was soaked to the bone. My feet were wet, my shirt was wet, even my underwear was wet. It was time to go home.

But I've started ahead of myself. When I first arrived at Candler Park for today's Midsummer Music Festival, the weather was hot and sunny. Rain had fallen earlier in the day, and the evaporation made the afternoon heat feel even more humid. Finding parking in the Candler Park neighborhood proved to be a real challenge, due both to the size of the crowd already there (and taking all the good parking spaces) and the neighborhood residents, many of whom understandably put up "No Parking" signs and barriers in front of their houses to preserve their own parking rights for later. I wound up parking at the Edgewood Candler MARTA station a couple blocks away from the park itself, and walked to the festival stage. I felt good about not being invasive in other people's neighborhoods and as a side benefit, I got to walk past the old location of the Atlanta Soto Zen Center on the corner of McLendon and Oakdale, the place where I first started my current Zen practice.

When I got to the park, music was already playing, the food and beverage vendors had arrived, and games of bocce ball, hacky-sack, and bean-bag toss were in progress.

The band on stage were called The Dirty Guv'nahs. I didn't know them, but they played a sincere and straight-forward brand of very American rock 'n' roll.

But the main attraction for me and my reason for going was to see Philadelphia's Dr. Dog. A few drops of rain fell just before they took the stage, but the clouds and the moisture were actually more of a relief from the afternoon's heat than a deterrent. As the band started playing, the rain stopped, and the people rejoiced.

Dr. Dog's music would not have sounded out of place had this festival been held in 1972, what with their guitar-driven riffs, catchy melodies, and 4/4 rhythms. But on a hot summer day, with a young crowd and Red Stripe Beer as the festival sponsor, their retro sound certainly hit the spot. Beach balls bounced through the crowd, and the audience clapped to the beat. Those who knew the lyrics sang along to the easy-to-identify choruses ("Where did all the shadow people go?").

A good time seemed to be had by all.

And, so it went, all fun and games until the rain came back. Unlike earlier at the start of the set, when the rain was a gentle reprise from the heat, the latter event was a soaking downpour that drenched the audience.

But we didn't let it stop us. Very few people, your humble narrator included, left, and instead we stayed out in the rain and just resigned ourselves to getting soaking wet. "The rain is falling, it’s after dark, the streets are swimming with the sharks," the band sang, and everyone laughed at the appropriateness of that very song at that very moment. There was no real cover from the rain to run to anyway - the stage was set up in the middle of a big field - so we let the rain do its worst.

At one point, a manager came on stage and whispered to the lead singer that they had to end their set after the next song due to approaching lightning. When the band finished their impromptu finale, they got a thumb's up from the manger to continue anyway (the rain seemed to be letting up). But even as they continued, darker still clouds began approaching the stage, and during about the third song after their false finale, the plug literally got pulled on the band and they had to stop their set right there and then as the real deluge began.

With no music to keep us at the stage, we all ran for whatever cover we could find. There was a big VIP tent set up near the stage but we still weren't allowed to share their shelter even in the storm. I wound up under the canopy of a vendor's booth, in this case, the weekly Atlanta news and entertainment paper, Creative Loafing. From our canopy, we watched the inevitable spectacle of young men diving and sliding across the inevitable mud puddles.

The rain fell and fell hard for a good 20 minutes before finally letting up. After it finally finished, I wandered back out and around, carefully avoiding the mud slide area (the young men had resorted to grabbing reluctant volunteers out of the crowd). Once the rain was safely over, power was resumed to the stage and the (recorded) music started back. I walked up to the stage and saw that it was almost completely bare and that it would be a good long while before the next band (JJ Grey and Mofro) would start.

So this is where we started. I was soaked to the bone, my clothes felt heavy and uncomfortable, and I was just no longer in the mood to hang out and listen to music. Nothing against JJ Grey, or Robert Rudolph and the Family Band, the evening's headliner, but enough was enough. I only wanted to get out of my wet clothes, get something to eat, and get comfortable once again.

Of course, if I'm going to pull off my big trip later this summer, I'm going to have to learn to overcome these minor setbacks. But then again, if I'm going to pull off my big trip later this summer, I don't want to burn myself out in June.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

“Orange is red brought nearer to humanity by yellow.” —Kandinsky

As far as I can see, Zen Master Dogen mentions neither the color orange nor the fruit anywhere in the Shobogenzo. The closest he comes is a reference to the honey locust in his fascicle Senjō (Instructions On Washing), specifically, "Next, take a honey locust in the right hand, dip it in a small tub of water, and scrub it between the hands."

Honey locusts are produced by a tall leguminous tree of the same name (Gleditsia japonica). They are long twisted pods containing a sweet edible pulp and seeds that resemble beans. Some, however, have translated the Japanese term for honey locusts as "oranges," as in "Next, take some cleansing powder made from ground orange seeds in your right hand," etc.

Just in case you were wondering. Also, this:

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Early last week, I announced here that I had learned, from Andrea Estella herself, that Long Island's Twin Sister will be having a new album out later this year. Then on June 9th, I learned that they've been signed to Domino Records, the label of Animal Collective, Dirty Projectors, Owen Pallett, and other groundbreaking artists, and have a new album, In Heaven, coming out. Nothing in the press release indicates the album was recorded in a beach house in the Hamptons, so I still don't know if In Heaven is the project that Estella told me about, or if she was referring to some next album.

"Twin Sister," their new label claims,
"create the kind of hypnotic pop you've been dreaming about since Galaxie 500 fizzled, cut with Tusk-era Fleetwood Mac thump, and a shot of Lynchian weirdness for good measure. They're slack yet focused, a spark in the dark distance on a desert highway where speed is relative. Formed in Long Island two years ago, Twin Sister want to make music which you could feel comfortable cheating on someone to."
You can listen to Bad Street, a track from In Heaven, here:

Monday, June 13, 2011

Monday Night Zazen

Shakyamuni Buddha once said:
Should you meet teachers who expound supreme enlightenment, do not inquire into their family pedigree, do not look at their personal appearance, do not despise their shortcomings, do not be concerned with their behavior. Simply, out of respect and esteem for spiritual wisdom, feed such persons daily with hundreds of thousands of ounces of gold, bestow upon them food fit for the gods, make them offerings to meet their needs, and scatter celestial flowers upon them as a reverential offering. Thrice every day—morning, noon, and evening—reverently bow to pay your respects, without letting any feelings of resentment arise in you. When you behave in this way, there will undoubtedly be a way to enlightenment for you. From the time when I first gave rise to the intention to realize Buddhahood, I have trained and practiced in this manner so that today I am realizing supreme enlightenment.
On an unrelated note, the picture above was painted by the (sad to say) late South African artist, DJ, and philosopher Leon Botha. In addition to being one of the world's oldest survivors of progeria, Botha was a painter, video artist, and turntablist performing under the name DJ Solarize. He was once quoted as saying, "I am a spiritual being, the same as you, primarily. Then I'm a human being and this part of the human being is the body, which has a condition."

Bothra died June 5 of complications of his progeria condition at age 26.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Zen Master Dogen instructed,
It is said in the secular world that a castle falls when people start to whisper words within its walls. It is also said that when there are two opinions in a house, not even a pin can be bought; when there is no conflict of opinions, even gold can be purchased.

Even in the secular world, it is said that unity of mind is necessary for the sake of maintaining a household or protecting a castle. If unity is lacking, the house or the castle will eventually fall. Much more, should monks who have left home to study under a single teacher be harmonious like the mixture of water and milk. There is also the precept of the six ways of harmony (unity of body, mouth, and mind, keeping the same precepts, having the same insight, and carrying on the same practice). Do not set up individual rooms, nor practice the Way separately either physically or mentally.

Our life in this monastery is like crossing the ocean on a single ship. We should have unity of mind, conduct ourselves in the same way, give advice to each other to reform each other’s faults, follow the good points of others, and practice the Way single-mindedly. This is the Way people have been practicing since the time of the Buddha (Shobogenzo Zuimonki, 4-13).
I like that analogy of sailing together in a single ship. The sailing today on my monthly voyage up I-75 to the Chattanooga Zen Center was calm and serene, and the weather warm, although some afternoon showers did cool things off a little bit. And the party on the far shore of Tennessee was larger than usual, despite (or possibly because of) the Bonnaroo festival up in Manchester, Tennessee, and despite (or possible because of) the Riverbend festival in Chattanooga itself.

The single ship is scheduled to sail for the other shore of Chattanooga again on Sunday, July 10. Fresh crew is always welcome.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The most difficult part of practicing complete, perfect enlightenment is finding a guiding teacher. Though beyond distinctions such as man or woman, the guiding teacher should be one who has completed the training and is beyond description. Such an ineffable person is not of the past or present, but may be a good counselor with the spirit of a wild fox. He may be a guide and a benefactor, and is never unclear about cause and effect. He may be you, me, him, or her.

Having met with a guiding teacher, we should abandon our secular involvements and, without wasting a moment's time, we should strive to pursue the truth. We should train with consciousness, we should train without consciousness, and we should train with semiconsciousness. We should learn to walk like a Buddha, as if our very heads were on fire. When we train in this manner, we can get past our distractions and delusions. The patriarchs of the past are not anything other than our selves, and the masters who gets free of body and mind are already ourselves.

Attaining the essence and receiving the dharma invariably arise from sincerity and belief. Sincerity never arises from without, and there is no way for sincerity to arise from within. Sincerity simply means attaching more weight to the dharma than to one’s own body. It is to get free from the secular world and to make the state of truth one's home. If we attach even slightly more weight to self-regard for the body than to the dharma, the dharma is not transmitted to us, and we do not attain the truth. Those resolute spirits who attach greater weight to the dharma are not unique and they do not depend upon the exhortation of others (adapted from Shobogenzo Raihai-tokuzui, 1240).

Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday Night Video

Toronto's Broken Social Scene have released a video for their song, Sweetest Kill. The twisted "love story" stars the lovely Bijou Phillips and lends new meaning to the phrase “until death do us part.” It's pretty far from what I had visualized when I first heard the song.

After spending most of this summer touring their native Canada, Broken Social Scene will undertake a brief, two-week, U.S. tour. Sandwiched between Seattle's Bumbershoot Festival and Austin City Limits, the tour will bring them to Atlanta's Tabernacle on September 13.

The last time they played Atlanta, I had tickets but couldn't go because of a sudden case of the flu. As it turns out, I probably won't be able to make the September 13 show either for reasons I can't disclose quite yet, but a hint arrived in the mail today (see below). It's all good.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Even though Zen Master Dōgen urged his monks to "give up the world, give up your family, and give up your body and mind," he also had great praise for practicing laypersons throughout Shōbōgenzō Zuimonki.

In a chapter of the Kana Shōbōgenzō titled Raihai Tokuzui ("Prostrating Oneself to Attainment of the Marrow," that is, revering that which has arrived at the truth), Dōgen says, "There are disciples of the Buddha who, as laymen or laywomen, have a husband or a wife: even though they have a husband or a wife, they are disciples of the Buddha, and so there are no other beings equal to them in the human world or in the heaven above."

In Raihai Tokuzui, Dōgen insists that the true value of a being lies in whether or not it has arrived at the truth. It matters not whether the being is a man, a woman, a child, a devil, or an animal - if it has the truth, it should be revered wholeheartedly. In this attitude, we find Dōgen’s sincere reverence of the truth, and his view of men, women, and animals.

In ancient China, the term "householder" referred to men who had not left their families. Some of them lived with their wives while others were single, but in either case they were immensely busy with secular work. "Nevertheless," Dōgen wrote, "if one of them has clarified something, patch-robed monks gather to do prostrations and to ask for the benefit of his teaching, as to a master who had left home. We also should be like that, even toward a woman, even toward an animal."

The celibate, monastic practice that has characterized much of Buddhist practice for millennia was also usually, but not always, patriarchal as well. This has unfairly presented a barrier to practice for many women. In this text, Dōgen sets out demolish the barrier altogether.

"When a person practices the buddha-dharma and speaks the buddha-dharma," Dōgen wrote, "even if a girl of seven, she should be considered a guiding teacher and the benevolent parent of all living beings. We should serve and venerate her as we do the buddha-tathāgatas. This is just the time-honored form in Buddhism. Those who do not know about it, and who have not received its one-to-one transmission, are pitiful."

The text of Raihai Tokuzui is in two parts. The first part, delivered to his monks in the spring of 1240, deals with being willing to learn from any who give voice to the dharma, be they male or female, human or animal, living or dead, animate or inanimate. The second, given in the fall of the same year, specifically addresses various questions on learning from women. For unexplained reasons, the second part was not incorporated in early versions of the Shōbōgenzō, but was kept under lock and key in Eihei-ji, Dōgen’s temple. This may be due in part to the strong tone of this section ("pitiful"), which might be misunderstood as being improperly critical of the practices and attitudes of other monks and other Buddhist traditions.

When read in context, however, it is likely that Dōgen’s initial talk on gratitude towards those who teach the dharma, which includes female monks, garnered some negative reactions, and he seems determined in the second part to rid his monks of any and all negative, conventional, non-Buddhist cultural attitudes towards women, including those arising from some long-standing practices within Buddhist communities.

"Nowadays," he said, "extremely stupid people look at women with an incorrect prejudice of women as sexual objects. Disciples of the Buddha must not be like this. If whatever may be perceived as a sexual object is to be hated, do not all men deserve to be hated too? A man can be the object, a woman can be the object, what is neither man nor woman can be the object, and dreams and fantasies, flowers in space, can also be the object. A god can be the object, and a demon can be the object. It is impossible to count all the possible objects - they say that there are eighty-four thousand objects. Should we discard all of them? Should we not look at any of them?"

If we hate whatever might become the object of sexual desire, Dōgen is saying, then men and women will all hate each other, and we will never have any chance to attain realization. He also tells stories of women teachers of the past.

Nun Myōshin was a disciple of Kyōzan. On one occasion, Kyōzan was looking for a new Chief of the Business Office. He asked the retired officers and others, "Who is the right person?" They discussed it back and forth, and eventually Kyōzan said, "Disciple Myōshin from the Wai River, though a woman, has the spirit of a big stout fellow. She is certainly qualified to be Chief of the Business Office." All the monks agree. So at length Myōshin is assigned as Chief of the Business Office.

While she is posted at the business office, seventeen monks from the Shoku district form a group to visit teachers and seek the truth, and, intending to climb Mount Kyōzan, they lodge at dusk at the business office. In a nighttime talk, while resting, they discuss the story of the Hui-Neng and the wind and the flag. The words of each of the seventeen men are totally inadequate.

Meanwhile, listening from the other side of the wall, Myōshin says, "Those seventeen blind donkeys! How many straw sandals have they worn out in vain? They have never seen the buddha-dharma even in a dream."

A temple servant present at the time overhears Myōshin criticizing the monks and informs the seventeen monks themselves, but none of the seventeen monks resents her criticism. Ashamed of their own inability to express the truth, they at once prepare themselves in dignified form, burn incense, do prostrations, and request her teaching.

Myōshin says, "Come up here!" The seventeen monks approach her, and while they are still walking, she says, "This is not wind moving, this is not a flag moving, and this is not mind moving."

When she teaches them like this, the seventeen monks all experience reflection. They bow to thank her and have a ceremony to become her disciples. They then go straight back home to western Shoku.

In the end, they did not climb Mount Kyōzan.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Last Monday night, during our discussion about arguments, it was stated that although it is possible to sometimes practice at least a modicum of self-restraint when disagreements arise about the dharma, or about work, or among friends, it is much more difficult to exercise that same level of self-restraint when disagreements arise with our spouse or significant other. It's one thing to just walk away or say, "Maybe that's so," without clinging to our own views when talking about, say, reincarnation, but it's another thing altogether when your wife or husband says, "I want a divorce."

Of course, the Buddha found a neat away around this problem and merely required his followers to leave home and live in celibacy. Throughout most of its history, Buddhism has been practiced in monastic settings by celibates or near-celibates, away from the distracting presence of family and lovers. Zen Master Dogen once instructed his monks to "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," he said, "there are some who fear that their family, which has continued for many generations, will cease to exist, and will become anxious for their family members or their relatives (Shobogenzo Zuimonki, 1-21)."

It's really a modern, and largely Western, development that Buddhism is practiced largely by laypersons still engaged in society and with their families. This is not a bad thing, in fact, the buddha-dharma probably would not be widely propagated today if celibacy and seclusion were the requirements for entry.

In fact, the attachments and distractions presented by family and relationships and family can provide teachings in themselves, by showing us the limits of our patience, or our willingness to let go of attachments, or of the depth of our renunciation. They can also engender intimacy and loving kindness, and help us develop a compassionate heart and mind.

However, many people feel isolated and removed from the rest of the world, and grasp on to their loved ones and families for reassurance that they're not alone. But this is fundamentally a deluded view, as it presupposes a separation between the self and the rest of the world. Worse, as soon as something appears to threaten these imagined ties to the external world, they become anxious and panicky, and fight back. The ensuing quarrels can often endanger the very relationships we're fighting to protect.

Once we externalize the world and feel separate from it, we feel isolated and threatened, and so instinctively we try to grasp it. This grasping creates anxiety or pain. Reb Anderson encourages us to first recognize that "Most people are anxious, but they think they're not supposed to be, so they pretend that they're not. They walk around thinking, I'm fine, but little things show you that they don't feel so fine. If you scratch their car, they fly into a rage. Or if you tell them that they're going to get fired, they break down in tears. Things like that show you that they're not so unafraid (Being Upright, p. 22). "

You can tell a lot about a person from their attachments, and you can tell a lot about their attachments from their fears. I certainly have my attachments and my fears, but in the context of this discussion I suddenly don't feel so comfortable revealing them here (of course, attachment to privacy in itself reveals fears).

So when our wives or husbands suddenly announce, "I want a divorce," it immediately feels that we're on the frightening verge of becoming completely isolated from everything else, even though our dharma teachings tell us otherwise. Also, when we don't get what we want, namely that happily-ever-after marriage, that's a form of dukkha (suffering).

In the context of our conversation about arguments, someone wisely noted that one of the problems is that we cling to an idealization of a perfect relationship, one without arguments, like the nice, tidy relationships we see on tv. When discord and disagreement does occur, it reveals the fallacy of our fantasy, and we suffer for our clinging to unsubstantiality, to an impermanent, lovey-dovey state of affairs. We should, instead, be patient with the state of disagreement, even with fighting, and recognize it as the yin of passion's yang. We shouldn't cling to a false ideal of eternal bliss and harmony. There is practical wisdom in this, but it still misses the larger point of the delusion of separation of self and others.

The Buddha's solution to avoiding this delusion was to leave home and practice in the exclusive context of the sangha. Zen continued this monastic tradition, but eventually opened the practice to allow marriage and/or committed relationships. Western, layperson practice has to establish a way to keep us from falling to pieces when everything else does.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Sometimes It's Better Not To Post At All

Although we may try our hardest to wake up, strategizing, analyzing, and thinking about it, truly realizing ourselves is a matter of completely relinquishing our struggle. And completely means completely.

Meanwhile, I've taken another step this evening toward my top-secret trip, buying my airline tickets.