Sunday, July 31, 2016

Everywhere I Go, Pidgeotto!

"Even so, I dare ask you, what ultimately is the place that is neither hot nor cold? Do you understand? A pair of pidgeotto come to roost in the lovely and bejeweled grassy park, and the pidgeot and his mate appear in our daily life." - very liberally translated from Zen Master Dogen's Shōbōgenzō Shunjū (On Spring and Autumn).  

My understanding is that the pairs of birds are metaphors for our concept of opposites, opposites of all sorts to be sure, but in this case hot and cold.  When they (the metaphorical birds or our sense of duality) come to rest in that place which is beyond sameness and opposition, our daily lives abide in that lovely and bejeweled grassy park.

Also, speaking of birds,
"Generally speaking, we say that mountains belong to some country or region, but it is to those who love mountains that they really belong. Invariably, when those who are wise and understand potential dwell in the mountains, the mountains belong to them; as a result, the trees grow luxuriant and boulders abound, the birds are wondrous and the animals are surpassingly fine." - Zen Master Dogen, from Shōbōgenzō Sansuikyō (Mountains and Rivers Sutra)

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Hot Heat

Each year, on average, Atlanta has 36 days with temperatures over 90 degrees.  Since May 29 of this year, we've had 48 days over 90, and right now we're on a streak of something like 45 consecutive days over 90.  The record for the highest number of 90-degree days in one year, set back in 2011, is 90.  The record seems safe for now, but I don't know the record for consecutive number of 90-plus days.  

It's been unrelenting.  I'm going to have to find a place that's neither hot nor cold.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Life In Hell

If the temperatures aren't enough to convince you that it's hellishly hot, perhaps the sudden appearance of zubats over the dashboard might change your mind. 

"We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like `I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive. . . .' And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas." - Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


Is anyone else noticing the profound difference in experience between watching the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention?  For the former, it felt like I had to endure a lot of angry people (mostly white men) snarling at me, for the latter, it felt like a more diverse group of people expressing their hopes and aspirations.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Never Too Old For Some Home Cookin'

Me and the universe that I know just completed another year.  I look forward to another celestial orbit with y'all. 

Saturday, July 23, 2016


Water can take many forms.  It can rise up to the heavens and become rain and dew, and it can fall to the earth and become rivers and streams.  Human bodies are 98% water, and when water takes the form of our bodies, it also becomes our brain, and when it becomes our brain, water becomes all our thoughts, our memories, our personalities, our hopes, our fears, and our dreams.  It becomes all of culture and civilization, it becomes art and leisure, it becomes fiction, it becomes The Slender Man, and it becomes our perceptions, and at that point, the whole universe, at least as we know it, is all water.

Water also takes the form of myriad other beings, both real and imagined.  Pic related.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Slender Man

The Slender Man is a paranormal character that originated as an Internet meme created by Something Awful forum user Victor Surge in 2009.  He is often depicted as resembling a thin, unnaturally tall man with a blank and usually featureless face, wearing a black suit.

Stories of the Slender Man commonly feature him stalking, abducting or traumatizing people, particularly children. The Slender Man is not confined to a single narrative, but appears in many disparate works of fiction, art and video, mostly composed online. 

Beginning in 2014, a minor moral panic occurred over the Slender Man after readers of his fiction were connected to several violent acts, particularly a near-fatal stabbing in Waukesha, Wisconsin. After hearing the story about Wisconsin, an unidentified woman from Cincinnati told TV reporters that her 13-year-old daughter had attacked her with a knife and had written macabre fiction, some involving the Slender Man, who the mother said motivated the attack.

On September 4, 2014, a 14-year-old girl in Port Richey, Florida, set her family's house on fire while her mother and nine-year-old brother were inside. Police reported that the teenager had been reading online stories about Slender Man as well as Atsushi Ōkubo's manga Soul Eater

During an early 2015 epidemic of suicide attempts by young people ages 12 to 24 on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Slender Man was cited as an influence; the Oglala Sioux tribe president noted that many Native Americans traditionally believe in a "suicide spirit" similar to the Slender Man.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

When we watch a river, it appears to flow ceaselessly. But when we consider it further, we realize that the flowing of water takes on many forms, each depending upon the perspective from which we observe it. Water, as Zen Master Dogen poetically described it, "flows over the earth and out of the sky, now surging upwards, now pouring downwards, streaming along in the bends of a river and coursing through deep chasms. It rises up to make clouds and comes down to form pools."  

The Chinese scholar Wen-tsu once remarked, “It is the way of water to rise up to the heavens and become rain and dew, and to fall to earth and become rivers and streams.” What he meant was that although water is not aware of its potential, it is still fully capable of realizing its potential.  When human beings drink water, its potential is to become part of our bodies and minds, and water can become aware of its potential yet still be fully capable of functioning as rain and dew and as rivers and streams.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

This is your tatami mat:

This is your tatami mat on zazen:

Any questions?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Magmar Versus The Beltline

One has regarded life carelessly if one has failed to see the hand that kills with leniency.  - Friedrich Nietzsche

Monday, July 18, 2016

Now that I've got the tatami mat, I finally expanded the home zendo to include a second zabuton and zafu.  While I recognize that posting this picture smacks of spiritual materialism, I mean it as an offer to come sit with me.  That white wall needs a lot of attention.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Friday, July 15, 2016

The floor of the Sloppy Floyd building is intact and apparently has been moved to Fort McPherson.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The big dig continues (even if it's not through the floor of the Sloppy Floyd building).

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

We're Not As Divided As We Seem

Tuesday, as I was attending an early-morning meeting in the James "Sloppy" Floyd Building, President Obama and former President George W. Bush were spoking at a memorial service for the five police officers murdered in Dallas last week.  Despite my grogginess from being up so early, I actually found the words of both men comforting.

Bush appealed for unity. "At times, it seems like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates too quickly into dehumanization. Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions." 

Obama acknowledged the pain of the shooting. "Faced with this violence we wonder if the divides of race in America can ever be bridged," he stated. "Dallas, I'm here to say we must reject such despair. I'm here to insist we're not as divided as we seem. I know how far we've come against impossible odds," the president said.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Time & Place: Lobby of James "Sloppy" Floyd Building, Downtown Atlanta, 7:45 a.m.

"What the heck am I even doing up at this hour," I wondered, "much less downtown as state employees arrive at their offices?"  

Life is funny like that. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

We Go Biking

As comedian/actor/motivational speaker/mystic/messiah/whatever-the-fuck-he-is Russell Brand once noted, an immigrant is merely someone who used to be somewhere else.  "I was over there and now I'm over here," and America freaks out.

We were a country that faced down Italian fascism, Nazi stormtroopers marching across Europe, one of the most diabolical dictators in history, and Japanese fanaticism and kamikaze pilots, and beat them all, winning the war on all fronts in six years. We've been in Afghanistan, one of the poorest nations on Earth, for 13 years now, and there's no end in sight, but someone sets their shoes on fire on an airplane and we freak out and suspend the Bill of Rights in the name of "security."

I'm not advocating militarism, but I'm trying to point out how much stronger we were as a nation when we weren't letting fear and paranoia guide our actions and decisions.  

The huddled masses coming to our shores with their different skin tones and funny headwear don't scare me - it's the bigoted, powerful men with artificial hair who want to suspend our liberties and drag us into new for-profit wars that make me lose sleep.

[Rant over.  Normal blogging to resume soon.]  

Sunday, July 10, 2016

We Be Bait

There is a spiritual crisis affecting America and resulting in the spate of killings we've been seeing, and it's not a loss of faith in a supreme being nor is it a degeneration of morals and values, as some pundits on the Sunday morning talk shows would have it.

The spiritual crisis is the loss of common identity with our fellow humans.  All the talk I hear on the television and all the opinions I read on the internet talk about "police" and "civilians,"  "blacks" and "whites," "liberals" and "conservatives,"  "gun restriction advocates" and "second amendment supporters," "straights" and "LGBT," and even "men" and "women."

As if we weren't all Americans, or more to the point, human beings, or even more broadly, sentient beings.

The unawakened mind wants to divide everything up into smaller and smaller pieces, and then we mistake those arbitrary divisions of our minds as natural divisions that actually exist in reality. And then we choose to defend one side or the other, which often means criticizing or even attacking the other side, sometimes violently.  

An expression of compassion for the poor, unfortunate, and eminently undeserving policemen who got shot last week in Dallas is usually taken as a protest against the Black Lives Matter movement, and an expression of support for the Black Lives Matter movement is interpreted by many as a provocation and threat against the police.  

At the risk of sounding like Rodney King ("Can't we all just get along?"), can't we acknowledge that there is a problem with the recent killings of dozens of men of color at the hands of a few bad policemen, and at the same time mourn the loss of some good, hard-working policemen who had nothing to do with those killings?

Our sense of identity is based on a separation from others, and if we identify ourselves by our separateness (see "American exceptionalism"), or others by their separateness (see "illegal immigrants"), we'll never find common ground. 

Friday, July 08, 2016

We Trip Balls

Here's the thing, and I'm going to just come out and say it as plainly as I can - enlightenment is not some distant state, attainable only after years of practice or meditation or prayer or yoga.  It's right here, on the very tip of our tongues, staring us right in the face.  It's that thought just beneath the busy chatter of our minds.  It's the dropping of that last veil.  It's finally just letting go and allowing ourselves to awaken, even as we cling to the illusion that we're asleep.   

The very act of trying to reach it is to imagine that it's further away than it actually is, and is therefore to move backwards away from it.  But even as we move backwards, it follows, and it's still right there.

But even these words muddy the water - I've already said too much.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

We Get Stumped

"I did that," says my memory.  "I could not have done that," says my pride, and remains inexorable.  Eventually - the memory yields.   - Freddy Nietzsch

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

We Get Beached

We are most dishonorable towards our god: he is not permitted to sin.
Shouldn't the god who invented three-day weekends, Las Vegas, and thong underwear be allowed to enjoy them as much as we?

Thanks and a tip of the hat to Friedrich Nietzsche for the quote.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

We Get Started

The charm of knowledge would be small, were it not that so much shame had to be overcome on the way to it. - Friedrich Nietzsche 
So it turns out that it is indeed mathematically possible for Moulay Ismael to have fathered 888 children, which makes the Biblical accounts of  Rehoboam's 88 children sounds not so implausible, of for that matter, Gideon's 71 and Ahab's 70.  

But what about old age?  In the Old Testament, it is claimed that Adam, the first human being, lived for 930 years - nearly a millennium, which is a little hard to accept. But according to the Book of Genesis, Seth, Adam’s third son, lived for 912 years.  A person named Jared is said to have lived 962 years, and Noah was 950 when he died.  The record holder is Methuselah, who lived to be 969 years old. 

Although not nearly as unbelievable as the Old Testament accounts, there are some pretty hard-to-accept claims in the Chinese traditions.  Zen Masters are said to have lived exceptionally long lives, and Bodhidharma, the First Chinese Patriarch, reportedly lived to be 150 years old, while Joshu lived to be 120.  These might be exaggerations, but Zen Masters do tend to live long (vegetarian diet, low stress, and they usually don't drive in cars), and if you want a modern, if scandalous, example of the longevity of Zen Masters, Joshu Sasaki died just last year at 107, but in 2013 was still sufficiently active that he was accused of groping and sexually harassing female students at the age of 105.  

The Buddhist tradition has some pretty unusual claims at the other end of life as well.  The Buddha is said to have named his son Rahula, which by some traditions means "fetter," as the Buddha realized that with the birth of a son, he would be forever shackled to family life (Father of the Year material, that Buddha).  But in other traditions, Rahula is translated as "obstacle" because it is claimed that he remained in his mother's womb for six years before he was born. 

And this is not even the most extraordinary case of late birth. There was Lao Dan, who is said to have stayed in his mother's womb for eighty-one years (patient mother, there). Then there was the famous case in China of Lao Lai Zi, who had white hair and eyebrows when he was born and could talk from the moment of birth. He was born old, but nevertheless, he still acted like a child and was very rambunctious. 

Modern research would probably reveal that these supposed late births were actually cases of progeria, popularly known as the "Benjamin Button disease," combined with the lack of accurate record keeping and birth certificates at the time.  If it appears that a child had been born "old," rumors would have it that he must have grown old in the womb, and with time those rumors became legends, the legends became accepted as fact, and when they got recorded in the anthologies and koan collections, the "facts" became scripture.  If an ancient Zen Master looked 150 years old, and there was no documentation to disprove it, then everyone soon accepted that he was 150 years old.  It's not a case of miracles or divine intervention, and a little science and knowledge shed on the matter might reveal some interesting things.  

Monday, July 04, 2016

Interdependence Day

Since you're probably curious, Elisabeth Oberzaucher and Karl Grammer of the University of Vienna, who used mathematical simulations in The Case of Moulay Ismael - Fact or Fancy? to determine whether and how Moulay Ismael the Bloodthirsty, the Sharifian Emperor of Morocco, managed, during the years from 1697 through 1727, to father 888 children, concluded that it's mathematically possible that the Emperor could have reached his notorious reproductive success, and with fewer copulations than assumed so far.  Thus, the historic reports could be fact and not fancy. 

Moulay became Emperor in 1672 at the age 25 and was reported to have four wives and 500 concubines. Daughters by his four wives were allowed to live, but daughters born by his concubines were suffocated by the midwifes at birth.  But Moulay Ismael earned his title "the Bloodthirsty" by the extreme measures he took to ensure paternal security. Men who merely looked at one of his wives or concubines were punished by death.  Among the concubines, any suspicion of adultery was severely punished, often by strangulation by the Emperor himself.  This applied even to former concubines who had already left the harem, which they had to when reaching the age of 30.  

Oberzaucher and Grammer's mathematical simulations show that the size of the harem is less important than previously thought. A harem of 65 to 110 women leads to the maximum reproductive outcome. Increasing the size of the harem beyond that point increases the costs without additional reproductive benefits to outweigh them, highlighting the importance of cost-benefit calculations. 

Having a harem of 500 concubines might have been due to other considerations than maximization of individual reproductive outcome. For example, it could have been a means to remove the additional women from the reach of other men, thus depriving them of reproductive potential. This is a classic case of hoarding of commodities, making Ismael a successful capitalist.

As a point of comparison, there are several figures in the Bible who had multiple wives and concubines and fathered large numbers of children.  We read in 2 Chronicles that Rehoboam the son of Solomon had taken eighteen wives and sixty concubines and fathered twenty-eight sons and sixty daughters.  Gideon had seventy-one sons "who were his own offspring, for he had many wives" (Judges 8:30-31) and Ahab had seventy sons (II Kings 10:1).

Records aren't available, as far as I know, regarding how many children the Founding Fathers, those privileged, white, eighteenth century slave owners, had by their slaves but I'm sure the answer is more than zero but less than the Biblical 70 to 88 or Moulay's ambitious 888.

Anyway, it's July 4th, Interdependence Day, so let's just forget about those pesky facts about slavery and genocide and war and covert operations, and renounce knowledge for knowledge's sake, and just celebrate our heritage.

Happy Fourth everyone!

Sunday, July 03, 2016

On Science

"Knowledge for its own sake" - that is the last snare laid by morality: we are thereby completely entangled in morals once more.  - Friedrich Nietzsche 
Today, we say "science for the sake of science," and scoff at science and make fun of the experiments and studies of scientists.   

For  example, every year the Ig Nobel Prizes, a parody of the Nobel Prize, are awarded by the Annals of Improbable Research.  Last year's winners included Elisabeth Oberzaucher and Karl Grammer of the University of Vienna for using mathematical techniques to determine whether and how, during the years 1697 through 1727, Moulay Ismael the Bloodthirsty, the Sharifian Emperor of Morocco, managed to father 888 children.  A group of researchers from Harvard also received a prize for determining that nearly all mammals, regardless of size, empty their bladders in about 21 seconds (plus or minus 13 seconds).

People like to laugh at these kinds of things and taken out of context, they can appear funny.  But some like to ridicule science in order to discredit science in general and to promote their own moral, religious, or political views.  

A few years ago, those opposed to abortion, even in the case of rape, came up with the stunningly unscientific concept that rape cannot, or at the least, very, very rarely does, result in pregnancy.  Not only does this opinion ignore all common-sense and scientific understandings of conception, it fails to explain why there are so many light-skinned black people in Alabama, as W. Kamau Bell once asked.  But if that's the view your political or moral position requires you to take, you probably don't want Viennese researchers looking too deeply into the case of Moulay Ismael the Bloodthirsty, because it seems unlikely that all 888 of those conceptions were consensual.
Curiosity is applied by scientists to all of nature and the universe, and to erect barriers as to what is or isn't deemed appropriate for research is to stifle all of science.  An understanding of one aspect of nature, no matter how obscure or seemingly insignificant, sheds light on every other aspect of nature.

In the book Vermeer's Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World, author Timothy Brook explains  that "When Indra fashioned the world, he made it as a web, and at every knot in the web is tied a pearl. Everything that exists, or has ever existed, every idea that can be thought about, every datum that is true—every dharma, in the language of Indian philosophy—is a pearl in Indra's net. Not only is every pearl tied to every other pearl by virtue of the web on which they hang, but on the surface of every pearl is reflected every other jewel on the net. Everything that exists in Indra's web implies all else that exists."

Saturday, July 02, 2016

We Get Trashed

After the initial meeting with a good teacher, we never again need to burn incense, to do prostrations, to recite Buddha's name, to practice confession, or to read scriptures.  Just sit and attain the state which is free of body and mind - Zen Master Dogen

A thorough teacher takes things seriously - even himself - only in relation to his students. - Friedrich Nietzsche

You are your own best teacher.

Friday, July 01, 2016

“Awareness cannot be practiced. There has been some confusion between awareness and mindfulness. They are related, but distinct. Sati, or mindfulness, implies there is action of the mind. We purposely set ourselves to pay attention to our minds. We exert effort. Awareness is different. Awareness is devoid of any action. The mind simply "awares." There is no action here, only a collected and spontaneous awareness that just "sees." Here, mindfulness is the cause, and awareness is the effect. You cannot practice or train the effect. You can only practice something that will cause it. We have to start with mindfulness so that awareness may arise in us.

-- Thynn Thynn, in Living Meditation, Living Insight