Friday, August 31, 2012


Early this morning, I escaped Atlanta and the residual heat and humidity from Tropical Storm Isaac for a little vacation and some time off, and arrived in the cool (72 degrees), crisp air of the Pacific Northwest by noon (local time).  This holiday is a repeat of the same trip that I took this time last year, and is serving as a personal affirmation that even though I am now self-employed, I can still enjoy one or two little luxuries and indulgences every now and then. 

The flight itself was uneventful but bumpy until we finally got out of Isaac's reach somewhere near the Missouri/Nebraska border.  After landing in Seattle, I walked to the light rail station, which was a real treat after sitting in a crowded plane for four-and-a-half hours, and took the train from the airport to downtown, and then rode the monorail from downtown to Seattle Center and the iconic Space Needle.  

Of course I rode the elevators to the top of the Space Needle (when at the amusement park, one must enjoy all of the rides).  The observation deck at 520 feet affords great views of the region, including fresh-water Lake Union and downtown Seattle.

A couple of quick self-portraits snapped off with my camera (a popular past-time on the observation deck, as evidenced by dozens of people aiming their cameras and iPhones at their own faces), before attempting one with my own cell phone, which decided on its own to take a sepia-toned Instagram-type picture for some reason. 

After descending the Space Needle, some nice views from the roof of my hotel of Puget Sound and of Mount Ranier somewhere out beyond downtown.

I really have to state for the record that I love this neighborhood (Lower Queen Anne) in Seattle.  There's a really nice row of restaurants right here on Queen Anne Avenue of virtually every nationality (Thai, Mexican, Greek, Italian, Indian, etc.) with ample streetside dining, as well as a number of coffee shops, theaters, music stores, etc.  The police patrol the neighborhood on bicycles, there's ample public transportation, and automobile drivers are courteous to pedestrians.  The evening sky as I type right now is occasionally pierced by the cries of seagulls from nearby Puget Sound as alpenglow forms on Ranier. I'm tired from my early start this morning (5 am) and the time difference, and I'll sleep well tonight in the cool evening air, looking forward to my day tomorrow.    

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


My friend Nick sent me a link to some photographs of Natumi Hayashi, who photographs herself levitating at various places in and around Tokyo.

She has said that it was the English expression "to have one’s feet firmly planted on the ground" that inspired her to take the first photo of herself levitating.  Apparently they have the exact same phrase in Japan, but since she doesn’t consider herself a practical person she chose not to have her feet firmly on the ground in her self-portraits to show how she really is.

“In being free of gravity in the pictures, I am also not bound to societal conventions. I feel as though I am not tied to many things and able to be my true self.” the artist said in an interview.

A few similar pictures, although not by Ms. Hayashi.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My Glamorous Life

9:06 am: Abandoned department store interior, Newnan, Georgia

Monday, August 27, 2012

Dogen instructed, 
Zen Master Daie said, “You must practice the Way with the attitude of a person owing a vast debt and being forced to return it despite being penniless. If you have this frame of mind, it is easy to attain the Way.”  
In Faith In Mind, we read; “The supreme Way is not difficult, just refuse to have preferences.”  
Only when you cast aside the mind of discrimination will you be able to accept it immediately. To cast aside discriminating mind is to depart from ego. Do not think that you learn the buddha-dharma for the sake of some reward for practicing the Buddha-Way. Just practice the buddha-dharma for the sake of the buddha-dharma. Even if you study a thousand sutras and ten thousand commentaries on them, or even if you have sat zazen until your cushion is worn out, it is impossible to attain the Way of the buddhas and patriarchs if this attitude is lacking. Just casting body and mind into the buddha-dharma and, practicing along with others without holding onto previous views, you will be in accordance with the Way immediately.

Sunday, August 26, 2012


You describe it in vain, you picture it unavailingly;
Praising it is useless, stop trying to perceive it.
There is nowhere to hide your true self;
When the universe is annihilated, this remains, indestructable.
- Mumon (1183 - 1260), capping verse to Case 23 of The Gateless Gate

A good Sunday to drive up to Chattanooga.  As an added bonus, I was accompanied by Burt, one of the regular participants of Monday Night Zazen.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

RIP Neil Armstrong

Fact:  When Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, for totally unrelated reasons, I was throwing up in a bayou near the Evangeline Oak, the legendary tree from Longfellow's epic poem Evangeline.

Just thought I'd share that with y'all.  Carry on.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Dead Ideology

Smell that?  It's not pleasant, is it?  It's the rotten smell of a dead ideology, the stinking corpse of American conservativism, a failed movement.  We're in the last throws, if you will, of the right-wing insurgency.

Be assured, this is not mere partisan posturing. Think for a moment - what would it look like if an ideology were to fail?  How would you know?  First of all, to answer my own, not hypothetical question, there would be no viable leaders.  It's remaining adherents would rapidly become more and more rabid and fanatical, radicalized into a caricature of what they once were. Finally, it will define itself not by what it is - as it no longer stands for anything - but by what it is not.  This is what happens to most radicals, this is what happens to terrorist organizations, this is how the French Revolution devolved into the Jacobins, this is what happened to Communism.  

This is what happened to the Republican Party in America.

Not convinced?  Look at the evidence.  The Republican primaries pitted against one another some of the most pitiable, most un-electable elements of the far-right lunatic fringe, each of whom had their moment in the spotlight and who were quickly dismissed soon after the light revealed them for what they were.  I don't even believe that some of the so-called "candidates" were even serious about wanting to become President, but were using the campaigns and debates for publicity - Donald Trump for his television reality show and his own overblown ego, and Herman Cain for cred for his motivational speaker career.  Seen in this light, it makes sense that neither one of them ever made a lick of sense - Trump with his "private investigators" researching Obama's birth certificate and Cain with his "999" - if you don't really want the job, it doesn't matter what you put on the application.

All Mitt Romney had to do to be the presumptive candidate was to keep quiet and not say anything too extraordinary, and let all the other clowns on stage with him disqualify themselves one by one with their own asinine comments.  It worked, and it worked magnificently.  I'll excuse John Huntsman from this roster, as he seemed to have been a reasonably intelligent man whom I may disagree with on some fundamental issues, but he never appeared to be of a kind with the other lunatics and buffoons on the debate stage with him - and therefore probably never stood a chance of winning.

The trouble with Romney's strategy is that he never had to stand in the spotlight and endure close inspection under that bright illumination.  He's obviously intensely uncomfortable with discussing anything on the record, from his policy positions to his past income tax filings to his career at Bain Capital to his position on rape and abortion  - for the record, I'm against one and for the right to the other, although some on the right could make the statement while referring to different objects.  Romney's basic stump speech now consists mostly of "I'm not that other guy," meaning President Obama, without saying who he is, what he stands for, or what he would do if elected.

Of course, it wasn't always this way.  Back in the 1950s, the decade to which so many conservatives claim they'd like to return, the Republican Party Platform of President Dwight D. Eisenhower called for expansion of Social Security, broadened unemployment insurance, and better health protection for all people. It called for voting rights.  It called for expanding the minimum wage. It called for improved job safety for workers and equal pay for workers regardless of gender.  "Workers have a right to organize into unions and to bargain collectively with their employers. And a strong, free labor movement is an invigorating and necessary part of our industrial society," Eisenhower said.  "Only a fool would try to deprive working men and women of their right to join the union of their choice."

Regarding entitlements, Eisenhower went on to say, "Should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things, but their number is negligible and they are stupid."

"Stupid."  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1956.

That tiny splinter group has now taken over the Republican Party.  They've abandoned any ideals other than every man for himself, and claim God himself (and Ayn Rand) as their authority.

The right, now taken over by that splinter group of preachers and zealots, has taken their ideology to the very precipice of irrelevancy.  It's not that they don't still have numbers, it's that they've given up on even any pretense of governing.  They define themselves and their beliefs almost entirely in the negative - against "Obamacare," against the "welfare state" and the "nanny state," against women's rights, and against minorities, period.  They're not even for guns so much as against gun restrictions.  And don't remind them that in their advocacy of gun ownership, self-defense, and stand-your-ground rights, they're mimicking almost exactly the ideology of the Black Panthers of the 1960s, before that radical group dissolved into irrelevancy.  Even if they've now rejected the Eisenhower of the '50s and the Goldwater of the '60s, the first word alone in "Black Panthers" is enough to keep them forever out of favor with the right.

Republicans are now almost like a whole party of little Mitt Romney's, defining themselves as not being some "other," always on the attack, but knowing that they themselves won't hold up very long against a critical cross-examination.

Look, I know this won't change anyone's mind.  No one on the right will read this and reconsider their beliefs (no one on the right will even read this).  It might just be red meat for the lefties.  But it's nothing to gloat over.  This nation needs a multi-party political system, a two-party system at the very least (although I would like to see even more diversity if possible), and the death throws of one of the two parties, or at the very least its abandonment of a will to govern, is nothing to gloat over.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Beginner's Mind

Beginners mind: “One of the interesting things about having little musical knowledge is that you generate surprising results sometimes; you move to places which you wouldn’t do if you knew better, and sometimes that’s just what you need. Most of those melodies are me trying to find out what notes fit, and then hitting ones that don’t fit in a very interesting way.: - Brian Eno, from a 1979 interview with Lester Bangs

Zen appreciates beginner's mind. As Shunryo Suzuki famously explained, in the minds of experts there is only one correct way of doing things, only one possibility, but to the beginner, the possibilities are endless.  It is only after training in the subject that the beginner starts to "learn" that some of these possibilities aren't appropriate.  It's really more a loss of innocence than knowledge of a craft.

"This happened the other day in this session," Eno explains, "when we were working on a piece and I had this idea for the two guitars to play a very quick question and answer, threenotes-threenotes, just like that, and Fripp said, ‘That won’t fit over these chords.’ He played it slowly, what that meant, and it made this terrible crashing discord. So I said, ‘You play it, I bet it’ll fit,’ and it did, and it sounded really nice, too. But you see I think if you have a grasp of theory you tend to cut out certain possibilities like that. Because when he explained it to me I could see quite plainly that technically it didn’t fit at all. Each note was a discord with the chord that was there, not one note fitted, in the whole six notes almost."

The experts will try to tell us how to live our lives, where to invest money, what we should do with our time, what we should eat, and whom we should obey.  Don't listen to them.  Don't listen to me.  Invent your own life, and marvel at the original and unique results that only you could create.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

An Open Letter

Dear Rep. Akin,

Based on the words above, I'm sure that you've already surmised that I disagree with your recent, well-publicized statements.  But your comments were so over-the-top offensive and Neanderthal, that I'm concerned they've distracted us from the real issue - the truly offensive implications of your stated position.

Specifically, even if you were able to outlaw all abortions, even in the case of incest, rape, or the health of the mother (as was just added to your party's platform), it wouldn't stop abortions from occurring - it would only stop legal abortions from occurring.  American women would simply be forced to seek dangerous, expensive, and illegal abortions, just like they had to back in the 1950s.

Your apparent position, even after you attempted to apologize and clarify your idiotic statement, is still that if a woman were the unfortunate victim of a rape, you would have the government force her to carry and deliver her rapist's baby against her will.  Do you really believe that anybody would do that, or would they instead seek out an illegal procedure, or avail themselves to the whole smorgasbord of  free-market "remedies" that would inevitably appear in the absence of legal abortions?  It is not at all hard to picture many, many tragic deaths - to both mother and child - occurring from such illegal to quasi-legal procedures, tragedies on top of tragedies.

During this nation's grand experiment with Prohibition, it was realized that despite all of the troubles with liquor, the consequences of banning alcohol were even worse.  Why do you think it will be any different with abortion? And what will you have done to the rape victims arrested for seeking or procuring an illegal abortion?  Jail them?  Have the government place them in a facility and force them to give birth?  How would such "baby factories" be morally any different than the alleged "death panels" your party imagined would come out of health care reform?

I doubt this letter will change your mind or even surface in your sphere of awareness, but I still feel compelled to request that, for the sake of the American citizens you took office to represent, please don't continue in these misbegotten efforts.

May you be well, 


Monday, August 20, 2012

Dogen instructed,
There is a proverb, “Unless you are deaf and dumb, you cannot become the head of a family.”  
In other words, if you do not listen to the slander of others and do not speak ill of others, you will succeed in your own work. Only a person like this is qualified to be the head of a family.  
Although this is a worldly proverb, we must apply it to our way of life as monks. How do we practice the way without being disturbed by the slandering remarks of others, and without reacting to the resentment of others, or speaking of the right or wrong of others? Only those who thoroughly devote even their bones and marrow to the practice can do it.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

On Kindness To Strangers

"Would you like to wake up every morning with happy, positive thoughts?," asked the brochure the Jehovah's Witnesses left me.  The brochure did not define what "happy, positive thoughts" meant, not to mention "you," and Buddhists have a different concept of "awakening" than the Jehovah's Witnesses.

One of the occupational hazards of being an urban monk and trying to be kind, generous, helpful, and cooperative with everyone you encounter is that the poor Jehovah's Witnesses, who are so accustomed to having doors slammed in their face, rude demands to "go away," or just being ignored, mistake your kindness for interest in their religion.  Instead of coldly telling them "no" when they ask if I have a minute, I invite them in out of the Georgia afternoon heat, offer them something cold to drink (they always decline - whether it's against their custom to accept charity or they're mistaking my offer for alcohol, I do not know).  When they give me their literature, Watchtower magazine or brochures, I accept without making a promise to read it that I know I won't keep.  I remember their names, and greet them by name when they arrive.

I imagine their task is not easy.  So much rejection, occasional threats of violence, and displays of intolerance, hostility, and ignorance.  It would be nice, I imagine, to occasionally come to a house that let's you cool off in the air-conditioned interior for at least a minute or two, offers you a cold drink even if you can't accept it, and says "thank you" for your time.  As a bodhisattva, I try to provide that reception.

The problem, as I said, is that they mistake my kindness for interest in their religion.  I'm always careful to remind them that I'm a Buddhist, that although I respect their beliefs, I don't necessarily share them, and no, I don't think I can make it to the Kingdom Hall this Sunday.  But actions speak louder than words, and they come back with more magazines (even though I honestly admit that I hadn't read the last ones they left), bibles, even free passes to their annual convention.  Based on their comments, it appears that they consider me a near-convert who needs just the right "bump" to turn me over to their side.

One could argue that it might be kinder to be more assertive in my disagreements with their faith, but as I said, I think they get enough of that already from others who are not me.  If they leave my home smiling and  thinking "maybe. . . " their day just might be a little brighter, and they might wake up the next morning with happy, positive thoughts (whatever that means).

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Free Prism Riot!

The Hindu tradition of Holi is a celebration of color to commemorate the new season. People meet in the streets dressed in all white, putting aside social norms, celebrating and dancing as coloured powders fill the air. Attending a Holi celebration in India has long been one of those "bucket list" items for me, and one that I've resigned to never accomplishing, at least in this lifetime.

Prism Riot is the name of an event held earlier tonight at The Goat Farm to recreate the spirit of Holi.  The event was put on by an organization called Saiah Arts International, whose stated mission is to exchange ideas and knowledge creatively, impartially and without barriers.

The courtyards of The Goat Farm were festooned with festive fabrics, and most people wore white.  The cost of admission included a bag of colored powder, but you could buy more bags of powder, and squirt bottles and water balloons full of colored water, from Saiah vendors.  They did a brisk business.  The music was a recorded Subcontinent dance mix, augmented by a live percussionist on a traditional Indian drum.

The colors didn't actually start flying until 8:30 pm, but some people got hit early (white's a tempting color when you're holding a squirt bottle of colored water).

8:29 pm: Countdown at T-minus ten seconds and counting . . . 

And GO!

Dancing and splashing random people with colored powder and water ensued for the next hour or so.  Everyone's pristine white clothing quickly took on multicolored, psychedelic patterns.

I think it's safe to say that everybody had a great time.  For all the fun, it still wasn't the same as celebrating Holi in Agra or Kashmir and doesn't qualify for crossing the festival off my bucket list, but it wasn't a bad way at all to celebrate a Saturday evening in Atlanta.  

Back home, I was able to wash the colors out of my white pants, but the white shirt will now forever be reserved for Phish reunions and Deadhead gatherings only.