Thursday, August 31, 2017


I do pray for things. Not very often. And only when my resources are depleted. So I'm waiting for the results of a test. I pray. I guess Kevin, with his doctorate in the philosophy of probability, would say that I'm intuitively calculating the odds that I have some incurable disease, and I have figured that there is a chance, if only remote. I'm not sure if my kids or my wife knows that I do this. (I just asked my wife and my son, and they both said I didn’t pray.) They must just think that I'm blessed and that's why things generally turn out so well. Or maybe, Janelle, our class minister, might say, that I'm blessed because I do pray. I never told my parents, either. And now it is a little late, unless I'm mistaken about the power of their remains.

I guess I could pray for the people in Houston. Or at least I could feel guilty for not doing so. I knew a woman who was recovering from an illness. She went to a weekly prayer group, and they all prayed for one another. Against all odds, she is still around 25 years later.

Once in college I was really worried about something and I went to a church that was open 24/7. I put $5 in the box on the wall. Lo and behold, an intervention occurred and things turned out well. So I went back to the church and retrieved my money.

This would be more understandable if things had turned out the way I didn't want them to turn out. Then I could rationalize that I had wasted my money so it was ok to retrieve it. And maybe it did do good.

So I've heard a couple of things this week about karma that were new to me. One is that karma is not action, but rather intention. So my intention was good, perhaps, to put the money in the box at the church. But maybe not so good to take it out.

The second idea about karma is one that I read just an hour ago. And it slipped my mind when I wrote the last paragraph. It said that the rational mind shouldn't try to understand the relationship of karma and action. The effects of karma are not comprehensible. In the article I was reading, it said that karma is mystery. We don't know the effect of our intentions.

Prayer? I'll continue to pray. Will I believe it will make a difference? Some part of me probably will because otherwise I wouldn't do it. But another part thinks it is silly. So let's keep my praying as a secret between us. OK?

Monday, August 28, 2017

Diehard Hidden Lamp

A friend commented that I was a die-hard Hidden Lamp (Sunday group on the Zen matriarchs at Appamada in Austin), referring to the fact that I risked torrential downpours to go Sunday. Though I’ve always been attracted to Zen stories, I’m discovering more and more that they are a wonderfully accessible dharma gate.

I remember a teacher in college telling the class that Sartre’s philosophy was better expressed in his fiction than in his philosophical writing. And I remember, at approximately the same time in the 60s, reading Zen in the Way of Archery, and learning that the way to learn about Zen was through a Zen art. Experience can best express ideas.

It seems that the stories embody the teachings in us. What can’t be expressed by definitions is expressed so well through interactions between people. The problems with definitions are two: 1) they clarify to the point of creating a false sense of understanding. I might say that “karma is intention” or “karma is volitional action.” But It is the karmic experiences we have where we see both our actions and the results of those actions that helps us understand the effects of what we do. I yell at a kid because he broke something and then I see tears running down his face (luckily our grandkids don’t break things) and 2) it is hard to see our actions for what they are by reading a definition. But as we read a story, we can see how people react to their environment that in turn helps us respond to our environment in a more compassionate, less harming, and more meaningful manner.

Compare this story to someone telling you that it is enough just to do an offering and that you don’t need to be given credit. The story touches our entire being. It actually changes our body chemistry. We might identify with the priest, or with Laywoman Pang. Or we might be a fly on the wall, observing the interaction. Or we might be the “ether” in and surrounding the interaction. The experience is different than the idea. Tomorrow we might decide to put our no-longer-needed clothes in the container provided by Goodwill. We might even do that when no one is looking. We might even not congratulate ourselves for not taking credit. We might simply say to ourselves, “Dedication of merit is complete.”

That’s why I'm a diehard Hidden Lamper.

Thursday, July 20, 2017


Photo by Janelle Curlin-Taylor (altered by Kim)


I had an idea that Rich might bring a prompt about flowers. Thinking about flowers, I had a flashback from about 50 years ago. My aunt Reggie, my wife, and I walked by some flowers in Reggie’s garden. She went totally ape over these flowers as she pointed them out to us. She started exclaiming how they were so beautiful ... And she started jumping up and down like gorillas do when they meet a long lost friend. Or when a dog jumps all over her long lost master. I had never seen any human so excited about anything. I am kind of a dead beat and often say to myself, “bah humbug.”

Isn’t that what Ebenezer Scrooge would say in that Dickens' A Christmas Carol?

My grandkids started calling me grandpa no fun, until I adopted the name myself and took the fun out of that.

Reggie's excitement about the flowers was especially poignant because she had experienced a couple of tragedies. Normally our family didn’t do tragedy. Experience tragedies, that is. One of Reggie’s sons turned out to be severely disabled and then Reggie had a surgery that limited the use of one side of her body. And yet she was all there, like a cheerleader, telling that flower how beautiful she was and how much joy that flower had given her. Joy to die for, as the curious expression goes.

I was in a store the other day and the free sample lady gave me some chocolate and said it was to die for. I said that if you died you couldn't taste it. At first she tried to object, but then she looked at me and said, “you're right... It is something to live for.”

I was jealous of how Reggie could get so excited over a flower. Part of me thinks that one thing is just as beautiful as another. I decided one semester in college to photograph the ugliest thing in my life. It was a beige coffee cup from the vending machine in our art building. Finally I started to make beautiful images by cutting it up (which I took as cheating a bit). The Dallas Museum of Fine Arts owns one of the prints (link). But never did I jump up and down over that not-so-beautiful cup.

My painting teacher at the time, who was a great influence on me, claimed his greatest discovery was that corners pick up dirt. He would get excited about that idea. I never saw him excited over flowers.Though Indian turquoise jewelry tickled his fancy.

This takes me to the sirens that sang so beautifully that they'd lure the sailors into the rocks. Do flowers do that for some? Some find peace in flowers. Reggie, on the other hand, found ecstasy. I don't remember the flowers themselves. But I sure remember Reggie, and marvelled at her enthusiasm for these flowers of hers. Here’s a documentary on Reggie:

P.S. After everyone read their writing about flowers, and two women complaining that their lovers had been so inept at giving them the right flowers, and another saying that she and her girlfriends give each other flowers (because men don’t have a clue?)… I scooted over to Central Market to get my wife flowers… only to find that there was a power outage, and CM said I could come in, but could not buy anything. A week ago my wife had bought herself flowers and pointed them out to me, saying “look at the flowers I got from you.” I had the combined thoughts that I was glad she was getting what she wanted… and a little guilt that I wasn’t the one to get them.

P.P.S. Easy to please a woman? I asked her what kind of flowers she wanted today. She said carnations. But by the time I got to the store this morning, I wasn’t sure what she had said. So when I came home, I told her I couldn’t remember if she had said carnations or what. She said “carnations, but that she didn’t like all carnations.” So I took a picture of the ones “I had bought her last week” that were starting to wilt. She also said there were some other flowers she liked, but she forgot their name.

P.P.P.S. We did an exercise the other day at a Zen temple. We each took three minutes to describe a gift we had received in the past. What was surprising was that it was not the gift that had really touched us, but really it was the connection that had formed with the giver. The gift itself of little consequence in the interaction. What are we really saying when we pick apart the gift?

Saturday, May 20, 2017

What to Do

In the Kalama Sutta, Buddha talks about what to “go by.” I hesitate to use the word “believe” because Buddhism is not a doctrine (doctrines are true because one believes them... a circular proof).

“Now, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are skillful: these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’ — then you should enter & remain in them.” (Perhaps the koan “If you meet the Buddha, kill him.” (Linji) is saying the same thing.)

I find this close to John Dewey's idea of experience as education. We learn by observing and doing (often even failing). I loved the way that Jon Boorstin spent days observing on the set of All the King’s Men before helping out. He ended up with a key role in directing the film.

My cousin, Mark Kriss, and his sons, Jesse and Peter, created a polling platform for capturing meta-knowledge. They created a way of evaluating a situation by giving weights to opinion givers. I think we do this naturally. We trust the opinion more of someone who has an established reputation in a field (the wise) than a person who does not.

You can see their work at They also found significant the variation between one's opinion and what one believes are the opinions of others.

For example:

“None of the experts believed that black carbon emissions would reduce 50% in 2030, yet they believed that was the belief of some of their colleagues.”