Sunday, September 15, 2019


So my big dilemma today is whether to write something. I was going to write something every day, and make a picture, but yesterday I wrote two pieces since I was in an all-day writing intensive. So I could take a day off.

We read a poem about a pencil. About all the poems that are in a pencil. I remember when we had John Grimes (, an early computer graphics champion, come to talk at our college in St. Louis. He held up a pencil and said, “We’ll never have anything more sensitive than a pencil.”

I’m not sure if he’s right, but it is a pretty amazing instrument. NASA supposedly spent a million dollars to develop a ballpoint pen that would write in space but finally settled on a pencil that worked as well.

What interests me more is that we have stuff inside us that needs to come out. If we don’t let it out, then it dissipates… vaporizes. That’s why I’m writing today.

P.S. This is drawn with a ballpoint pen.

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Case of the Leaking Pen

Karma. I like to define it as the effect of our volitional actions.

Volitional suggests “on purpose.” But much of what we do in inadvertent. We didn’t pay attention. I consider inadvertent actions to be volitional as they were mainly preventable if we had paid attention.

Yesterday I left Gary’s apartment with his pen in my pocket. He didn’t give it to me. I guess I just put it in my pocket. It isn’t the first time. Pens often end up in my pocket, as if, in a previous life, I was a bonafide pen robber.

Today the pen started leaking, staining my fingers like a scarlet letter. All would know of my indiscretion.

Every morning we recite the repentance verse that says,
“All my ancient twisted karma.
from beginningless greed hate and delusion,
born through body speech and mind
I now fully avow.”
It will have a little more meaning tomorrow as I look at my stained hands.

Do I get Gary a new pen? Did I cause the leaking? Was the leaking what we call a dharma gate, teaching me to pay attention, and, of course, to keep my hands in my pockets?
“‘Once when the Buddha was at Jetavana Park, an intoxicated Brahman wandered into the compound where Buddha was staying and asked to become a monk. Buddha requested that some of his monks shave the Brahman’s head and clothe him in a kesa (or the Buddhist monk’s robe). Later, after the effects of the liquor had worn off, the Brahman was astonished and frightened upon seeing that his bodily form had changed into that of a Buddhist monk, whereupon he ran away. The monks respectfully asked the Buddha why he had allowed the drunken Brahman to become a monk only to have him run back home. Buddha answered, ‘For eons beyond measure, this Brahman did not have the heart to leave home life behind, but now, while under the influence, he gave rise to a bit of courage. Due to this, he will, later on, leave home life behind.’” (Eihei Dogen, Shukke)
On somewhat another subject, is the question of whether we should abandon Facebook because they helped the Russians put Trump in the White House? Do you cancel an exhibit of Chuck Close’s paintings because he didn’t treat his models nicely? Is this a matter of winning the battle and losing the war. I’m a little scared of our expectation that Facebook approves right speech and censures wrong speech. We might applause when they suppress ideas that we want suppressed, but what about when they start promoting ideas that we don’t think are right. Will they always be on our side?

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Dialogue with a Squirrel

The Art Institute of Chicago started as a storehouse for plaster casts to support the students‘ need to draw Greek and Roman statues. Eventually, it became a museum of art. I’ve been thinking about training and my long rejection of the idea. And then I met up with a verse on the training of an elephant in ancient India, and misread the verse, thinking they had the same problem with training that I did.

Yesterday I had a little thing going with a squirrel. He was trying to stay cool by laying his belly on a branch of a tree in the shade. I watched him, and he watched me, and eventually, he went back to work, scavenging pecans from our not too fruitful pecan tree, and I going in the house to get more garbage for trash collection day tomorrow.

Squirrels seem to have been well designed. Their natural instincts seem to work. Animals seem to share that quality of being authentic and functional. They don’t need the training to accomplish their higher needs unless they become domesticated.

Elephants do well without us. But when we want to ride them we have to tame them. I’m not sure that they become happier and more fulfilled. I’ll have to ask my elephant friends.

It seems that humans need a lot more work. Our natural instincts get us in all kinds of trouble,  We pass the fridge and eat more than we need for energy. We get infatuated and our life goes astray. We sit on a meditation cushion and drift off into Lala land. Why? Why can’t we just follow our instincts?

We train and train. All of us are doing one ironman or ironwoman after another. I had looked forward to retirement so I could stop trying so hard. I thought I could just be me, and follow every whim. Little did I know I’d have to face one boot camp after another.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Hard or Soft

For about 10 years we have been holding weekly zen writing sessions at the Austin Zen Center. We have it as a MeetUp group, with 850+ members, and also advertised on the Austin Zen Center web pages. We have each time a combination of people who have been coming for years, and newcomers. Last night I started by talking about the difference between consciousness and mindfulness in relation to photography. Ernest Haas (, who came to St. Louis Community College to talk eons ago, spoke about the difference between looking and seeing. When looking, he said, you are merely orienting yourself. I don’t remember what he said about seeing, but he did suggest that is what the photographer tries to do. It seems much like mindfulness.

“With a bit of mindful observation, we can in fact easily notice how spacious and allowing the mind can be when we are open to differences and variety, and how narrow and cramped the mind can become when we are self-righteous and judgmental. Becoming aware of this difference can serve as a good signpost for noticing when the mind shifts from open-mindedness to closing down.” —Analayo. Satipatthana Meditation. Windhorse Publications. Kindle Edition.

In this wonderful book on one of the two basic sutras by Buddha that explain meditation, Analayo talks about the feminine quality of sati or mindfulness. I suspect that it is the difference between sprinting and long-distance running. I know nothing about either, but I suspect that when sprinting you are trying hard, and when long-distance running you are trying soft. Some of you runners might want to correct me.

Perhaps it is more like someone driving on a long trip and a race car driver racing in the Indianapolis 500.

“Once the crops have been harvested, however, the cowherd can relax and just observe the cows from a distance. All he has to do is to be aware that “there are the cows.” For this distant watching, the simile uses the term sati (Anālayo 2003: 53 and 2014a: 87). I picture the cowherd sitting relaxed at the root of a tree and watching the cows grazing in various places. All he has to do is just be aware of them from an uninvolved distance.”

Analayo is associating the cowherd with the meditator. Part of the reason for the “soft” approach is that the “hard” approach is unsustainable, even for a minute (try to stare intently at something for a minute).

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Dog’s Best Friend

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about someone who changed my life. But my first thought was that it was really me who made the difference. People did various heroic acts to save me from my own doings, but in the end, it was I that changed my life. They did just what they did to me to others with little effect so it was our relationship that was the cause of something happening to me. They tried to lite a candle, but most of the time the wind blew out their match. Somehow their match lit my candle. And usually, it took a fair amount of persistence on both of our parts. Surprisingly, some of these generous folks have now gone on in their lives. I have a nagging feeling with some of them that somehow I disappointed them.

I had a geometry teacher, Mr. Moulton, who said that the best mathematician was the laziest one. He challenged us with proving theorems. It was probably some of the most fun I’ve had in my life. Much of school didn’t make sense. I didn’t have any affinity with learning facts, but I loved math. Something seemed so elegant and clear about math.

Then there was my grandpa. We worked together in the summer. He would let me do as much as I could. I think of him more like my father during those years. He accepted me in a way that my parents did not. My parents always wanted me to do better. My grandpa always admired how I could figure things out.

My parents and my sisters were very verbal. I couldn’t keep up with them. Then there was my art teacher who told my parents that I had made a beautiful photo. He encouraged me for years. He taught me about being creative. He was a gift of the gods for me.

In college, I had some wonderful teachers who taught me so much. The saw in me something that I did not see. All of a sudden I had a voice, and they encouraged me to use it.

My sister Gail was always a special soul in my life. She saw me in a very loving way. Somehow I could say anything to her and it was ok.

My wife of 50 years has been such a special friend. We have grown up together and like one another more and more as the years pass. I still miss her when she’s been gone all day and I am so glad when she returns home.

And then there is a dog who actually found me and became my friend for many years. He taught me quite a bit about friendship.

My kids were quite a surprise. From the beginning, they were so smart and independent. They seemed to develop into such fine people through some kind of magical spell.

And I’ve had a few good friends. Each gave me so much in their own ways.

Now I’ve had a number of Zen teachers, again each giving me so much care and teachings. I am grateful for the energies they expend and for the wisdom that they share.

It seems that my only regret is that all these influences are impermanent. Some of these people have died and others gave me what they could and went off in different directions. Luckily, I still have a number of them still around, and find new special ones everywhere I turn.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Fluctuating Emotions

Fluctuating emotions. I made coffee and it smelled good. I planned to take the coffee with me. I was happy. But I left it at home. Because we were late I rushed. I had just bought a new coffee maker and it worked well. I was unhappy because I left the coffee at home. Then at the doctor’s office, they had one of these pods coffee machines. I was a little happier. Usually, the coffee is about 3 or 4 on a scale of 10. This one had better coffee, maybe a 7 or 8. I was happy. Yesterday I taught my grandson to express his feelings on a scale of 0-10. Going to Sunday school was a 3 or a 4. His public school is a 7 or 8. I’m curious about why the difference. (I found out today that he got in trouble at Sunday school because he was too wild. Alas, maybe that’s why the 3 or 4).

It is hard for me to hear him when he’s in the back seat. When we had kids they could survive childhood in the front seat.

I wonder if the grandkids should pursue Bar Mitzvah? Should it be their choice? I’m divided in my mind about it. I don’t like the identification with one being Jewish or Christian or white or black or yellow. I like the idea of being a human being first... not even a man or a woman. But I do like the idea of the kids learning about religion. I rejected history (and religion) most of my life. I didn’t understand that it was who I am. I have an alternative idea that each Sunday I would take the kids to some different experience. But that wouldn’t create the bond and community that the kids get when they do Bar Mitzvah.

I’m always surprised by how many kids quit practicing after Bar Mitzvah. The ones who do come back do so after their kids are grown up. There are exceptions but generally, I see a void of people practicing from 13 to 30.


So my big dilemma today is whether to write something. I was going to write something every day, and make a picture, but yesterday I wrote t...