Friday, December 31, 2010

LACMA Eggleston Exhibit

William Eggleston was the first color photographer embraced by MOMA, and therefore the photography world. I went through the exhibit quickly in LA yesterday while my son, three boys (two his) and my wife patiently waited on the grass outside. I found some terrific work, though nowhere near the greatness of Lee Friedlander who he tends to imitate (except in color). He is able to make images about both light and color, and often makes extraordinary images of the ordinary. I have a feeling that the book is better than the prints, that tended to be so varied they didn't hang together very well. The exception was one room of lightjet prints that were quite mellow. Oh, the picture above I did in the giant elevator as I left the Eggleston exhibit.

Outrage

Here is a photo of a modeling of a 1932 Highway Patrol officer. I'm not sure what he has to do with this post, but cops and violence seem to be partners (cops "fight" violence).

Years ago I had a discussion with a relative about Social Security. I tried to make the point that it is a ripoff. Far more money should come to retirees given what they contribute. My evidence is my state of Missouri retirement pension, where essentially the same donation renders many times the benefits. My relative's point was that because Social Security was not designed as a pension program, and it should not be compared to one. What was interesting to me is that when I shared his comments with a friend he was quite upset, saying that if he had known that this was a public forum he would have become far angrier in his comments.

Jump to earlier today when a neighbor is outraged about Democrats' expenditures. I'm sure that there is some truth to his conjectures. But I'm curious about the outrage and anger. What is that about? Why do we need that? We complain that some in the Middle East are so intolerant, and yet we may be modeling the same behavior. No wonder wars prevail. We can't respect the "other side."

Pumps, Kill the Congressmen, and Sarah Palin


My dear friend send me this email below. Just as I was going to sit down and write about whether or not it was Sarah Palan who pulled the trigger in Tucson... And why Sarah is going to be the Republican presidential candidate, I received her email. But poor Sarah (rich Sarah?) will have to wait.

I've heard the below before—that congressman get some of what they are dishing out. I think it is a terrible idea to make the congressman's job less attractive. We need to give them the same benefits commensurate with the jobs they could be getting in the private sector. Otherwise they will not be congressman, which is at a pay cut from other jobs they could get.

But why, you ask, should health care not be the same for the rich and the poor? Isn't that a slippery slope? What about housing? What about education? Yes, it would be nice if everyone had the best of everything. But the best of everything is a limited resource. So it can either be given out as some chance operation (who would agree to that?) or to those with more funds.

There is another reason why pensions, health care, housing, food, education should not all be equal for all. We'd be limiting the incentives for many to get education and become productive. At a certain point, I stayed at my job because it offered health care. When I was offered a number of years of health care if I left, I did so.

Last, but not least, social security was not intended to be a retirement program. It was intended to supplement savings and other retirement programs. It is not enough for most to live on. Be hard on the congressman and we'll have worse leaders. Is that what you want?

Oh, if you are wondering about the photo above... it made me think of soldiers or congressman, waiting to give energy to its constituents. Kill the messenger and your car won't run.

Email:
This is very eye-opening - and it seems to make sense.It's certainly worth thought and perhaps passing on, as was intended.
Subject: Congressional Reform Act of 2011.
Of the 27 amendments to the Constitution, seven (7) took 1 year or less to become the law of the land...all because of public pressure.
I'm asking each addressee to forward this email to a minimum of twenty people on their address list; in turn ask each of those to do likewise.
In three days, most people in The United States of America will have the message.
Congressional Reform Act of 2011
1. Term Limits. 18 years.
A. Three Six-year Senate terms
B. Nine Two-year House terms
C. Two Six-year Senate term and three Two-Year House terms
D. One Six-year Senate term and six Two-year House terms

2. No Tenure / No Pension.
A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they leave office.

3. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security. All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people.

4. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.

5. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

6. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people -- or allows all Americans to be covered by the same health care system as the Congress.

7. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.

8. All contracts with past and present Congressmen are void effective 1/1/11.
The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen. Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves.

Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work.

If each person contacts a minimum of twenty people then it will only take three days for most people (in the U.S.) to receive the message. Maybe it is time.

THIS IS HOW YOU FIX CONGRESS!!!!! If you agree with the above, pass it on. If not, just delete
You are one of my 20+. Please keep it going.

Elvis Caddie

I asked someone on the other side of the political fence to articulate the difference between the two parties. He said that "them" are greedy capitalist pigs. As we talked further, it seemed to him that some want to redistribute wealth and others want to put it under their mattresses.

Tonight my wife and I went to Mothers. The grocery stores were closed so we didn't have much choice. I started thinking about the owner(s) of Mothers (who I do not know) as a greedy individual who wants to make an extra buck on New Year's day. But wow!, what pleasure this man brings to so many in Austin. And we drove there in a car. Another creation by a capitalist pig. And another "luxury." Hence my admiration for those who can make a buck. They feed their kids and enable mine to go to the store. Clue me in why some of their names are synonymous with sin.

I'm now on the neighborhood steering committee. We recommend to the building commission opinions on petitions to be given a variance. Someone wants to build a room above their garage. They have already maxed out on the square footage of living space on their property. I'm struck by the arguments that have flown across our elist all day. Some are in favor, and some are opposed. Each only mentions arguments that supports their side. Do they want to find the truth, or do they want to just persuade someone to jump onto their bandwagon? I might have mentioned before that some Indian tribe puts a pumpkin on the table when they disagree. Then they all describe all the sides they see in the pumpkin.

Elvis and his giant cars? A capitalist pig? The king of rock? Like many many capitalist pigs, he gave very generously to a variety of organizations. The list is at Graceland.

Disaster

One of my neighbors, describing himself as a conservative Republican, says that our government is criminal because they spent so much money. I'm not in favor of big gov., or of a spending gov., but I refuse to point the finger. I wrote him:

Responsibility is a funny thing. Imagine that all of us have unlimited power... and that we use only a small portion of it. Anything that happens is, in a sense, our responsibility because we could have done more. We could have persuaded people to put on the breaks, to vote for different candidates, etc. Pointing the finger sometimes need to be done in the mirror. Do you know what I mean?

Another neighbor was shocked by my assertion that most people could get along fine without reading, and that most of their information comes via video. I believe that reading is a skill that was developed because we didn't have video, and now that we do, we don't need it. That is, most of us. Students can now make it through k-16 without reading a book. See this article: What is the Worth of Words?

This is not an argument about what I'd like to be true, but rather one that I observe to be true. We spend countless education hours trying to convince kids to learn to read. They don't practice because they get so much more on television. Why not teach them instead to become critical watchers? Wouldn't our time be better spent?

The same is true with algebra. A waste of time for most. And trying to learn algebra keeps so many from graduating college. Who uses algebra? Hardly anyone. Do I love algebra? Yes, but so what. Why not teach kids how to interpret statistics? Or to learn how much they spend when they don't pay their credit card off every month.

Have I stepped on enough sacred cows for today?

Relic

The priest was complaining about the MAC that he needed to use, saying that it was not intuitive. He felt like different computers are made for different types of people. I guess he is right.

I heard something today about a Buddhist choosing flowers over weeds, and that was buddha-nature. So then for dinner I ordered a piece of salmon over rice and my wife had veges over rice, and we split the salmon and the veges. So I chose salmon over weeds, I guess. Or maybe I chose weeds. I don't know.

We went to California last week partly to dispose of my father's ashes. I thought it would be easy. Just find some secluded pier and dump them. Well, besides the illegal nature of the act, nothing is secluded in the San Deigo area. So we split the ashes with one of my sisters (the other one wanted no part of them) and brought them home.

TSA asked to hand check my bag with the ashes. I told him when he asked for the bag that my dad was in there. He said he figured as much. My wife told me to thank him because he handled the ashes so respectfully.

But why didn't I just ask my dad what he wanted done with his ashes. All he said was that he didn't want anything religious because he didn't want to exclude anyone.

We have a dog now (babysitting my daughter and future son-in-law's pup). This is a dog to die for if you want a low maintenance pup. She just sleeps and mopes around a little. Hardly barks unless she's in the yard and some squirrel or cat comes around. Obama was looking at this breed (labradoodle) but ended up with a Portuguese Water dog.

Take care, and good night.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Quote 2 'member

Katagiri Roshi (Jikai Dainin Katagiri (片桐 大忍, January 19, 1928—March 1, 1990)) said, "This is why the universe is Buddha." This is why there is nothing we can do that doesn’t matter, or that we can do carelessly. This is why there is no place where we can spit, no place that we can just disregard. Everything is within this universe that is Buddha."

The priest tonight was introducing a class for chidens (altar cleaners) and was explaining that the practice of altar cleaning is to pay attention. The monk asked the Buddha for three things he should remember. The Buddha answered, "pay attention, pay attention, pay attention."

It is especially important to pay attention, because if you put the hot ashes in the wrong place you could burn down the temple.

I took my first Pilates lesson today. It is meant to strengthen one's core. For about $5000 a year you can have a strong core. I asked what the core was... if it was part of my anatomy... and she said no. Interesting to spend money on nothing. She said that Pilates was in a German internment camp... which turned out to be in England, though there was one at 48th and Ellis in Chicago, very close to where I lived, and where Mr. Obama lived (and Mohammad Ali too).

I'm curious whether an organization could become completely transparent. No closed door meetings. The Buddha taught the 4 elements of right speech. I think they probably apply today. If one follows these guidelines, everything they say can be tacked on a bulletin board.
1. Abstain from false speech; do not tell lies or deceive.
2. Do not slander others or speak in a way that causes disharmony or enmity.
3. Abstain from rude, impolite or abusive language.
4. Do not indulge in idle talk or gossip.
And, especially do not say anything about someone that you wouldn't say to their face. And taking that further, that you wouldn't say to the face of your daughter-in-law's mother. Still further, and more difficult, don't think it. And arrive home from a rush-hour drive with a smile on your face.

Game Over? We'll see.


Too young, too old. Is one ever the right age? I remember, still in high school, when I was at a coffee house in Greenwich Village. I tried to hide the fact that I was only 16, and about as unsophisticated as they come.  And now, almost 50 years later, I go to a coffee house in Austin and feel like a freak who has come come back from the dead. Especially not drinking, I felt very much "out of it." 

So what is it to "belong?" I was always the youngest one. I had two older sisters. I started college when I had just turned 17. I was young. The youngest faculty in my first few jobs. Young young young. Then I went to sleep for 50 years and now I'm old old old.

They (the kids) look at me like I don't understand. Like I'm hopelessly loss, Dang, most of them weren't even born in 1980, some not born before 1990. And they look at me like I'm a dinosaur, apparently with some minuscule brain and a lack of experience in the real world. 

Game over? We'll see.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pie

Kids and grandma/great-aunt

LA parking lot... many different cars.


I wonder sometimes if I can love one thing and not another. Can I really love the flower and not the weed? Can I love one person and not the other? Sure, you say, "I hate weeds and evil people." But aren't they both part of the whole, completely interdependent? When I want things to be different than they are (which really never happens) I am always disappointed in them. When I want things to be as they are, I am always satisfied.

The toughest one seems to be political and religions differences. Why do many have such disdain for those of other persuasions. Last night I was reminded about how the Catholics used to preach that Jews should be hated because they crucified Jesus. I'm glad that "officially" that has stopped. But the shooting of the Democrat in Arizona yesterday is of the same elk. The two party system is a wonderful check and balance for our ambitious plans. And different religions are suited for different people and temperaments.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

"We've righted a wrong."

“We righted a wrong,” said Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, the independent from Connecticut and a leader of the effort to end the ban. “Today we’ve done justice.” 

If only it was so easy to "righted a wrong." What about compensation for those who were either kicked out of the military, and not allowed into the military for coming out of the closet? That would be closer to my idea of "righted a wrong."

Great move from the senate, though they had no choice as it would have been done otherwise by the courts and they would have lost an opportunity to get votes.

What else in our society has "don't ask, don't tell." How many are tortured by the "don't ask, don't tell" message? How about couples who don't express to each other dissatisfaction with their sex lives? How about people who have to hide fetishes that don't hurt others? How about so many secrets we need to keep?

Maybe this will be the start of more openness. The other night a friend talked for the first time about being trained as a hypnotist. It is like a breath of fresh air when someone feels safe enough to reveal a part of who they are.

I propose a new slogan, "don't need to ask, I'll tell."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Less Taxes for the Rich: a Jerk's Perspective

A lot seems to be missing in most of the discussions I read about "cutting or increasing" taxes for the rich.

We have decided as a society that the rich should pay more taxes. We have a progressive tax system, where the more one makes the higher percentage of their income goes to Uncle Sam... and thereby increasing the amount twice (once because it is a percentage of a larger sum, and once because the percentage itself is higher). The rich pay plenty. Could they "afford" more? Probably. Should they pay more?

In reality, the rich have many tax breaks, like being able to inherit assets without paying for the assets' appreciation.

And even with these breaks, 85% of the taxes are paid by the top 25% of the population. As the kids say, "is that fair?" And as you see in the graph above, the "rich" are paying a higher percentage of their income as well. Some say they are being taxed to death. 


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Merry Christmas and Rohatsu at Costco

I received a second inspirational email from M, who had just sat for a good part of a week honor the "awakening" of the Buddha. Yesterday I overdid it working on some shelves and paid for it today with barely being able to walk (I'm better now). I needed to go to Costco and was lucky to find a parking space. It was gridlock everywhere. The aisles weren't quite wide enough for the holiday crowd. I decided this was a good place to "practice (zen)," especially since I didn't sit the usual couple of periods at the temple as I usually do on Saturday morning (it was closed). I'm not sure if it was the Aleve, or the muscle relaxant, or that I'm making some kind of progress... but I was able to meander through the store as if it was a quiet forest. By the end of the journey my back even felt better.

As I left I heard the man at the door who makes sure you aren't stealing saying cheerfully to each customer,  "Merry Christmas." I wondered if this "au revoir" was slightly skewed toward those celebrating the birth of Jesus. I decided to beat him to the draw with a cheerful "happy holidays" (and maybe make a hint that he could be more inclusive). He upped the cheerfulness to another level saying, "Merry Christmas, captain," and touched me on the shoulder. Captain had good ring to it (better than "you're a jerk"), especially remembering that Edward Steichen, who was a captain in the navy, was called "captain."

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

King Corn

Just finished seeing the documentary, King Corn (available via Netflix/instant watching). Wow. So glad I don't eat foods processed with corn syrup. I told my neighbor that the Mayans had died from tooth decay from the corn they ate. According to my friend in St. Louis who knows everything, I was wrong. But another civilization is killing itself with corn and "they is us."

We've increased corn production over four times from our grandparents' production. In the process, we've created a product devoid of nutritional value. Corn is basically made for corn syrup, which is the basis of the fast food/soda industry. Most processed foods contain corn syrup. In the last 30 years we've increased the sugar in our diet by 30%, increasing at the same time obesity and diabetes.

Who finances the genocide? Yes, it is your friendly, loving protector, Uncle Sam. It would not be profitable to grow corn if it wasn't for farm subsidies. The cost per acre is greater than the return, until the subsidies step in. Before 1970 farmers were paid to not produce. Now they are paid to produce more than we use.

The American Indians had a good nutritional product with their corn. What we now have is sugar, devoid of nutrition.

I'm able to not eat anything made with corn syrup. I even buy a new ketchup that isn't made with corn syrup. Vote against corn syrup by not buying foods processed with it. It will save your life and those you love.

This is a public service announcement!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Quantifying Compassion

Martin in St. Louis is their non-smoking guru. He wrote an email about efforts by the casinos to allow smoking in the casino tavern. He mentioned that smoke would be worse for the employees than the customers.

Something didn't sound right about that. I started comparing the compassion one might feel about one thing vs. another. Imagine a mother loses one child, and another loses two. Do you have more compassion for one of the mothers than for the other? And suppose your friend loses her wedding ring (not intentionally). Do you grieve less for that than for something else? Or take joy. Do we really have levels of joy? Or are joy and compassion states that we put ourselves in? Places where we feel for the other  to our limits.

Back to the employees vs. customers. It is conceivable that an employee might be injured more than a customer, but because of the number of customers vs. the number of employee, the total injury for each group might not be so different. I think we'd want to advocate equally for both groups, feeling empathy to each as they coat their lungs with non-friendly vapors and particulate matter.

Is Forced Health Care Constitutional?

This is certainly a slippery slope. We now mandate education and social security. One could ask, is health care just another thing that is good for us, and therefore everyone needs to do it? Or, might education and social security be the new villains, with the Supreme Court deciding that no service/product/insurance can be mandated according to the Constitution. Time will tell.

Monday, December 13, 2010

I'm a Jerk

My last post had a comment, "You're a jerk." Imagine the freedom that assessment might give someone to know that they are a jerk, and, better yet, to learn that the secret is out. No more pretending. Yes, I'm a jerk. How else can I explain my countless episodes of jerky behavior?

On the other side of the coin, we are all buddhas, whatever that might mean. We just need to awaken to who we really are, which in my case is a jerk (I guess).

I had two interesting interactions yesterday.

I went to a doctor's office and started to sign in. But no sooner had I put the date down, the nurse called me. So I put the pen down and went over to her desk. Another nurse came by, and kept looking at me and at the sign-in list. Finally she said, "you didn't sign in." I looked at the sheet and then told her that as soon as I was called I dropped the pen and came. "Did you learn that from your mother... to always do as you are told?" "No," I went, "my mother would turn in her grave if she knew I was so obedient. But then again, she's not in a grave, she's in the ocean... that is, most of her. The rest we are going to put in the ocean with my dad's ashes two days after Christmas." "Why the ocean?" she said. "Well, they loved the ocean. They'd walk by it every day."

Then I went to get a haircut with my barber, Phyllis. The young kid before me didn't have enough money to pay for his haircut. He was two bucks short. Phyllis told him to go and get some money from an ATM. He wanted to give her what he had now, but she said no, she'll wait for the whole amount.

As my haircut proceeded, I noted that the young kid had not returned. I asked Phyllis if she always gets paid in these cases. "No," she said, "a couple of times I probably didn't." And then she added that sometimes she just forgets. She said that the man upstairs takes care of the people who don't pay.

I looked at the ceiling and wondered if there was a second story I didn't know about. Then I realized what she was saying... that God makes everything just in the end.

So I asked her, "what if the young kid met a starving man and gave the money to him. Would that be OK?" "NO," she answered, "that would not be right! But then, God would take care of him if he did that."

So a month ago I was told by the Jesuit priest and Buddhist teacher Robert Kennedy that "God does not interfere" and now by Phyllis the barber that "God makes things right." Is it possible that both are true?

P.S. As I was leaving Phyllis the young man returned with the money. God is off the hook. Or maybe not. I forgot to ask the young man if he had found any starving men to give the money.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

More Notations

I read the other day in Steve Hagen's Buddhism, Plain and Simple, "But how can you be truly happy when you have a death sentence on your head?" This is the theme of this issue of JustThis, Austin Zen Center's Zen journal. What I find amazing is that a part of me believes it is the most important question and yet another part doesn't care about my death sentence. Do we hate a romantic interlude because it is going to end? Of course not. William Blake wrote, "...But he who kisses the joy as it flies/ Lives in eternity's sunrise."

I have known people so fearful of death that they are afraid to live. My grandpa said he didn't want any more dogs because it broke his heart when they died. (He lost his wife and true love after only a couple of years of marriage.) Perhaps there is a limit to how much one is willing to mourn.

So I asked my wife this question and she said that you just have to live in the moment. I wondered if this is a delusion, ignoring the elephant in the room. Is there another way? Can we revere the elephant and revere the moment at the same time? I don't want to forget that impermanence is keenly married to death.

On another front, I was glad today that I voted for Obama. I thought he did a good job acting in the best interest of the country even if it meant not being the pawn of the democrats. In the end, the countries' votes are probably more valuable to him than the democrats favor, but still, it was a good move. I'm always in favor of tax cuts too, especially since it is the only way that government will be smaller.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Merit... not!


The story above, about King Sirisanghabodhi, tells of generosity at its extreme. The former king is given lunch by a man who tells him that there is a bounty on the former King's head. "Great," the former King says, "you can take my head to the new king and pay yourself for this lunch, and then use the remainder as a generous gift from me." What someone will do for merit!

Imagine a letter from your favorite charity, asking for your head, rather than some manageable sum of money!

Yet Bodhidharma was not so generous with Emperor Wu. He told the poor fellow that he would get no merit for all the good things he had done, because he had done them for merit. What an insult this must have been for the Emperor!

So we are supposed to be good, but not for any gain. How different from our Western culture where we tithe to improve our chances for a good eternal life. What priest would say, "give generously, and know that nothing good will come from your generosity"?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Various Notations

A number of issues are rattling around in my mind.

1) In the Costco magazine, a lawyer wrote about how it is reasonable to default on one's mortgage if your house is worth less than what you owe. One of his arguments I had not thought of: that banks do the same. Of course, this is the two wrongs make a right argument, isn't it? Another person wrote a conflicting piece, pointing out the credit problems one has after defaulting... and how, in some states like Florida, the banks can go after you for a number of years.

2) My neighbor wrote me again about sinning and forgiveness. I'm curious if these concepts, over the long run, have produced more compassionate and/or happy human beings. If so, does that justify us holding on to such concepts? If not, should we dispense of them?

3) This week is, in Buddhist temple land, Rohatsu. It is the celebration of Buddha's awakening, the word some like to use for enlightening.  Good Buddhists sit for the week. I'm planning to sit a little each day, but not from 6 am to 9 pm. Today is the anniversary of the passing of Suzuki Roshi, the priest who came to America in 1959 and founded the San Francisco Zen Center. The difference between awakening and enlightening is that the former refers to one discovering who they are while the later suggests discovering something external.

4) I've been thinking about dualism in a number of contexts. Here's an article I found on the Buddhist perspective on dualism. I like that the earth and the sky meet at the horizon. A Zen friend is developing a course in Zen birdwatching, where "being with the birds" will be encouraged rather than "identification." I'm starting to realize how much of my thinking is "either or" which keeps me from hearing the birds. Does that make sense?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Forceiving, the other half of the forgiving equation.

Forceiving, a new word (actually new definition for old word), refers to the act of being forgiven. The process being forgiven requires forceiving.

How does one act when they have been forgiven? Do they just repeat their previous actions? Or do they repent, feeling compassion for the hurt they imposed.

We are told to forgive. But we are not told anything about forceiving, the act of accepting forgiving compassionately.

I did find an historical use of the word "forceive" in the William and Mary Historical Quarterly. It appears to be similar to the word "deduce." So now a new meaning to an old word!

So why a drawing about sin? Well, somehow that has been brought into the equation by my neighbor who says that forgiving implies sin, except you need god to really sin.

P.S. I think I've search my whole life for my will. What I like about Buddhism is that we are Buddhas... we just don't know it. So, in Buddhism, we search to find that Buddha in us. So it is back to searching for our own will, but searching in the realization that we are part of something much much bigger. As big as big is. And then, bigger. Much bigger!!!!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Forgiveness Meditation

Even though we are one we can hurt eachother, he said.

Colin gave this out last night when he gave his dharma talk on forgiveness:
For the harm you have done to me, knowingly or unknowingly, I now forgive you.

For the harm I have done to you, knowingly or unknowingly, please forgive me.

For the harm I have done to myself, knowingly or unknowingly, I now forgive myself.
As one meditates with these thoughts they hopefully would be closer toward this state of forgiveness. What a weight it would take off of our shoulders!

So much good energy is expended on grudges. IMHO (in my humble opinion) grudges that focus on people being who they are. WDYE (what did you expect? (I made that one up)).

My neighbor said that we can't forget because whatever we forget is always in the back of our minds... so I guess we need to do something more severe... like FORGIVE. Do it now. Please!

Thanks!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Forgive and Forget


Heard a good talk tonight on forgiveness. As I listened to it, I thought that Buddhism would be worth it if it could help just one person forgive another.

In the Lord's Prayer we hear, "And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us."
There we ask God to forgive us, but we could just as well ask that of others.

In the moment there is no forgiveness needed. Without judgement there is no forgiveness needed. When we believe that our memory is real we need to forgive since we attach ourselves to our conjured up past.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Is "action" the miles to go that Robert Frost spoke of?


Robert Frost wrote, "But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep." Until Melanie mentioned "action" in her comment on my last post, I didn't really consider that important part of the equation. Could it be that the "miles" that Robert Frost spoke of were the work that went with the promises? I had always thought of promises and miles as unrelated. But maybe not.

Today we took out a shelf in the closet to replace it with another shelf. Then I had to do drywall repair. I missed working with my hands. Haven't done that for awhile. It felt good!

Started counting my breaths again while meditating. Some people recommend this for people just starting to meditate. Others do it their whole lives. The challenge is not to create a self who counts the bodies' breaths, but rather to integrate the counter and the breather.

Some are saying that if we tax more we'll be able to pay off the deficit. I read about a couple of studies on this showing that the government spends somewhere between $1.29 and $1.58 for every dollar they tax. Reminds me of the students who drop out of school to earn money to go back to school. They end up in debt.

Today I finally rang the bells at the right time during a Japanese chant. It was partly because we chanted slow enough that I could find my place. Now the challenge is not just to make noise, but to make music. And not just with bells, but with the rest of life too... even with the clerk at the grocery who thought I should play the lottery because my groceries came out to be exactly $20 (she thought that was a good omen). She said that she wanted to win the lottery. I told her that it has been the kiss of death for many. She said that she would disconnect her phone. I said "good luck."



Monday, November 29, 2010

Two great ideas: Talk!!!! and Talk!!!!

This morning I asked my focused wife for help with my room reorganization. I was flustered. I was feeling out-of-sorts, ready to throw something against the wall. So I said to her, can I tell you how I'm feeling... and did. Talk!!!!

Then we ended up taking a van load of stuff to Goodwill and making a lot of space. The fluster disappeared. Wow! And next to Goodwill is a good Thai restaurant. We had a wonderful lunch. And it was a lot cheaper than the one in LA that was $253 per person... plus $10 for parking!!!!

Then I got a call from a sister that indicated confusion in the world. Someone had a different idea about something... and then my brilliant niece talked to the someone... and now all is well. Talk!!!!

Such easy stuff... talking!

I heard that some Christians believe that one shouldn't meditate because the devil might invade one's consciousness. This more or less happened to the Buddha the night before his enlightenment, but he fought her off. He talked to her and told her to get loss. Talk!!!!

And I did something a little different tonight in the temple. After the wood rapped twice on a stump, I was supposed to hit the bell once. But right before I did it, the head teacher said, no, I should hit it twice. That's what I like about Zen. The schedule keeps changing.

So you have a problem? So you aren't feeling good about something? Talk!!!! Talk!!!!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Making Art

We had a discussion the other day about practicing. In this case, it was "sitting." But I kept thinking about practicing art. And how Jerry Savage (one of my teachers) said that in ten years, only one out of a hundred art school graduates will still be making art.

I often hear from former students who aren't making art. They feel a little apologetic, and I sometimes think that I failed them.

And I think of John Cage, who was asked by his Buddhist teacher for a greater commitment and he said, no, he had promised his music teacher that he make music.

Most of the people who continue throughout their lifetime to make art are pretty good. They might have gotten that way through lots of practice, though maybe it was the other way around.

Today I was re-befriended on Facebook by my first art muse. She had grown up with parents as artists, so she had learned the ropes from birth. And now it is almost 50 years later. How time flies!

When the current Buddhist head teacher here was applying for the job, he said that we all practice perfectly. That's a common Zen statement (that we all are perfect). And the second part of it is that we could stand some improvement.

So why the guilt? We admire mechanical men who seem to be in control of everything. Yet, when push comes to shove, we might eat a second piece of pie, knowing that if we were better, we would have just enjoyed the first piece twice as much.

This week I built some shelves in my closet. It was something I've wanted to do for a couple of years. Art is like that. We admire people who are productive, yet sometimes we just procrastinate.  And sometimes we just repeat ourselves, making it look like we are still breathing (and fertile).

Any ideas here, anyone?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Drugs


I ate a piece of turkey. It was just a breast that was cooked so I didn't have a chance for any of that greasy skin. My mom used to tell me that I was goin' to hell in a hand basket. Maybe I would have if there had been greasy skin.

The surprising thing about the slice of turkey was that 1) it was good and 2) I instantly recognized the taste as if I had of eaten it yesterday. And 3) (don't tell) I had the urge to storm the fridge and eat the entire carcass and get grease all over my face. I guess it is time for Veggie Heaven or Mr. Natural (my favorite Austin veggie restaurants).

We spent the day with a blind dog who got around very well. He could even catch a bouncing ball!

And we moved forward on my daughter's wedding planning. Looks like things are shaping up nicely.

Happy Thanksgiving!

No Dogs Allowed

No Pets

Kim at Padre Island

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

To Turkey or not to Turkey

Seems like every Thanksgiving I wonder if I should eat turkey. I like turkey, esp. the greasy skin. So why don't I eat it?

I like too a number of other things walking the street. But I refrain.

So I've been thinking about whether not eating turkey is based on a principle of some kind, or whether it is just a rather arbitrary point on a continuum.

There is a famous bio-ethicist, Peter Singer, who won't sit at the table with people eating meat. There are probably others who won't sit at the table with such an extreme bio-ethicist, esp. one born the same year as I was.

So imagine a bowl of eye-ball soup, made with human eye-balls. The eyes look out at everyone at the table, and winks when someone is too obvious with their stares. Not many of us would sit at this table.

At the other end of the continuum, imagine a table of vegan fare, captured in the wild by Jainists who carefully sweep the path before they walk, making sure not to step on anything living. I suspect not many would eat at their restaurant, but who would object to anything that they serve? (Probably someone.)

So we are all somewhere on this slippery slope. Where do we draw the line? We don't eat the family dog, but we do eat the family chicken. I guess each of us has to decide for ourselves what we'll do or not do.

In the meantime, think twice before inviting Peter Singer to dinner.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bodhisattva Vow

Some take the Bodhisattva vow to save all sentient beings. I have an uncomfortable feeling about this... partly from my experience, the other day, of sitting in the parking lot and marveling at all the good things ordinary non-bodhisattva beings have done. Then tonight, in my second favorite Mexican restaurant, I had a similar thought. Surrounded by things made either by beings trying to feed their mouths or kids, and food made from growing things, I didn't see any Bodhisattvas at work. Yet I saw goodness in everything I looked at...unintentional goodness. Or, maybe everyone is a bodhisattva. That must be why I love them so much.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hard-wired Dana and the S.E.C.

In the NYTimes today I read, "The S.E.C. (Security and Exchange Commission) is considering making stock and insurance brokers put their customers' interests first."

Who could be against this rule? Maybe the stock and insurance brokers. Maybe me.

The problem, as I see it, is that it would encourage too much trust in these guys (and gals). And trust that has not been earned. I'd rather put it out there that stock and insurance brokers are very interested in making lots of money and you should expect that, and carefully chew on everything they tell you.

One of the best teachers I've know hated his job and just did it for the money. But he knew his stuff and knew how to teach. As long as the money came in, he did a great job.

Here's the original article by Milton Friedman where he wrote that the social responsibility of business is to make a profit. This is probably the most controversial and least understood statement that he made.

Continuing on the theme of dana (Buddhist for giving), I heard some interesting facts about ants yesterday.

1) They feel and smell through their feelers.

2) They have two eye sockets, each containing lots of eyes. (Imagine what things must look like!)

3) When they find food, they leave a scent trail so others can find it.

4) They have two stomachs, one for themselves and one for their buddies.

I wonder what we have that is for the benefit of all beings? Are we hard-wired for generosity? How?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hello... it's not a Zen temple.

Hello...

I've been around a bunch of young kids lately... doing comedy theater. I'm surprised the extent to which they are hooked on smoking (various stuffs), drinking, and junk food. How is it that they have (or believe they have) indestructible bodies? What happens to all the evidence that none of this (esp. the drinking and pot) will enhance their performances?

Hello...

Am I just an old fuddy-duddy? I wake up each morning wanting to feel a little better than I feel. I would like to eat greasy ribs and pizza. But then I would have to deal with the effects of that, esp. throwing away clothes that still fit (though barely).

So I was asked to be part of a writer's group to work on some more sketches... and wrote back that I'd like to do that... but I didn't think the actors should drink before and during performances. I loved the way Liz Taylor pretended to be drunk, but it isn't so appealing to see people who can't stop laughing because they just had a little too much.

Good-bye...

Which is probably what my writing teacher will say to me, telling me that drinking is part of comedy. I told my wife about my note to her... and she said, "well, it's not a Zen temple!"

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Talking to the Dead

J: Grandpa, can you talk to someone who is dead?

G: Yes. You just need to have the right service, and the right phone. And the dead need to have that too.

J: So you can.

G: Well, not really.

J: How come?

G: Well, we are waiting for you to build the phone and start the service.

J: Can I get started now?

G: Never a better moment than now.

J: How do I do it?

G: You'll just need to start at the beginning. But why do you want to talk to the dead?

J: I want to tell them what I want for Christmas.

G: Oh. You know that the Buddha wasn't interested is such matters. He thought that we had enough to do with the living.

J: But what did he know. Did he have Christmas?

G: You have a point there, smarty!

Friday, November 19, 2010

"I" or The Persistence of Memory

We pay a lot of attention to our memory. As we navigate through life, we access it frequently to figure out what we think about something. Or even, to determine what something is. Or, why?

We construct "I" from our memory. Not from facts, if there are any such things, but from an ever changing view of how we think it went down. Someone says, "who are you" and the wheels start turning. Let's see, I was an Eagle Scout, and I helped that woman who was drowning, and I went to Mid-Good U, and and and... That's "I." That's what, according to my 4-year old grandson, was constructed at the moment of conception. The delusion I carry around is that "I" that was intact from my beginning. And now "I" continue to live its life.

Imagine if my brain is switched with another person's. Who would "I" be then? I guess it would depend on who remembered what.

But not so fast. Memory includes what I've done and how I felt about that (yet invisibly stitched together). So I stepped on a nut and cracked it, perhaps curtailing its possibility to become a tree someday. I might just remember randomly crushing a nut... or I might remember crushing the nut... and feeling terrible about it. Then I might go to a psychoanalyst and pay $10000 to feel better about stepping on the nut. That would be a changed "I." Wouldn't it? Or maybe just an evolved "I."

When I retired, I wanted to awake one morning fresh. As a new "I." I wanted to face life and see what "I" might do, not based on any preconception or plan, but fresh. Today is a new day.

I haven't been able to do this. The baggage continues. As well, the memory says, you promised so and so you'd do this. Or, my memory says, "when you do that (or don't do that) you don't feel good about yourself." Goofy?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Trust Dilemma

Not trusting anything or anyone certainly is no way to go through life. It is called "paranoia." That is why I like the idea of trusting that people will be as they are. Generally people will care first for their own paycheck, or at least for their own job. So a realtor who represents you will often (perhaps unconsciously) urge you to buy a more expensive house than you might need, because their commission is higher. And your trusted financial advisor will often advise you to buy and sell your assets because that's how she gets paid. There are exceptions, of course. I do know that the realtors and financial advisors who stay in business are often the ones who are as they are. They would rather take home a bigger check rather than a smaller one.

Are these bad people? Only if we expect them to have our self-interest first. They didn't get into these business so they could give money away. Our problem comes when we expect them to be our best friends. (As I say this, I feel gratitude for our fine realtor who brings us wonderful pies each Thanksgiving.)

I was surprised to hear a priest tell me that one of his biggest challenges is to attract a congregation. Here is a person committed to saving all beings (or some variation of that), and at the same time, focused on being fiscally responsible. A contradiction? Even zen temples have competition. May the best one win. (Did I hear something about "no gain?")

Milton Friedman insisted that we should eliminate the requirement that doctors are licensed. One of his reasons was to break up the monopoly of the AMA. But another was his belief that we don't pick doctors based on their license, but rather on their reputation. And if they don't perform well, there are the opportunity for civil suits. Will anyone hang out a shingle? Maybe. But will they have patients? We'll see. How is it that we trust our doctor (or not)?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Whom can you trust?

A magician puts $50 into an empty box, puts the lid on, and offers it to the audience for $20. He gets a taker, who discovers $1 in the box. Is this fraud? Should magic be regulated? Is a sucker born every minute?

I watched a recent documentary (Inside Job) on what is called a financial crisis. And, after feeling that some on Wall Street appeared a little shady, went to the grocery to get a prescription filled. I patiently walked the aisles (waiting for the filling of the prescription) only to discover that their computers were down and they didn't know what to charge me. The pharmacist said we could pick a number... like 20. I said I like 6. He said no so I left. (Note: when I got home I looked up the drug and saw that it should have cost me $35! I decided I wasn't worth that.)

Anyway, after hearing how fraudulent the Wall Street guys were (in the movie), I wondered if everyone is equally fraudulent, i.e. not really caring about their customer. I started looking at the cereals and reminded myself that they are selling very little nutrition (and lots of calories) for lots of money. Whom can you trust?

We do have government organizations watching over food. Food that is not our friend. Why do we think that the government will run (i.e. regulate) Wall Street any better?

There is an adage that if a deal is too good to be true, it probably is. Or that as interest increases, so does risk. Lots of people didn't watch what they were doing on Wall Street and got in trouble. Unfortunately some of those who probably deserved to get in trouble were able to exit smelling like roses.

Now, back to fraud. It is real, it does exist, and the awareness of fraud is the basis for making Wall Street honest. One problem with regulating (or over regulating) is that sometimes it justifies actions that shouldn't be justified.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Where did the beauty come from?

What is the transition between things as they are (with objects, molecular structures; with thoughts, bio-chemical reactions?) and things as they seem (happiness, joy, love, anger)?

I sit in a parking lot and see all these things. None made with anything but self-interest (perhaps). And yet, the things provide pleasure, opportunities for human interaction, joy, and sometimes negative emotions.

I have a couple of yogurt cartons on my desk filled with random objects (pliers, tweezers, knife, emery board, etc.) In one sense, these are just structures. And in another sense, they are dancers creating form, movement, and emotion.

At the moment of conception a life starts (maybe). We sense that was the beginning of "I." And yet what is the connection between I and the physical organism?

These are the questions I have that put me in a quandary. How can the two intertwined worlds coexist without any apparent connection to each other?

Tonight I heard that when the hands join in gassho it symbolizes the bringing together of the different parts of the body.

Maybe it is the delusion that things are what they seem that keeps us sane?

You put dumb old words on a piece of paper and you might have a "knock-out" poem. Where did the beauty come from?

Any ideas?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

I'm Stuck

"What did your face look like before your parents were born?" is a zen koan that I've also heard as a question that a wise teacher asked to trip up a wise-ass student, "who were you before you were born."

I asked this to my four year-old grandson and learned that he is quite convinced that he has always been who he is. So then I asked, "at the moment of conception, when you were smaller than the head of a pin, were you who you are now?"

"Yes, he answered"

And at the moment right before conception, when you didn't exist, you were not who you are now...right?" He nodded "yes."

Buddhists believe this idea of a permanent "self" is one of our delusions. My grandson doesn't agree. But I didn't think it fitting for me to tell him an opposing view. He's got to figure this one out on his own.

And then there is this question. If "self" is created at the moment of conception, then does it disappear at the moment of death? He saw no problem with that idea. (We framed it in the context of the mice in his house that we were trying to send off to another world.)

And if you think this post is bad, you should thank me for not yet writing about the downfall of capitalism from a libertarian perspective, which is actually where I'm stuck.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sarah Palin and NPR

I failed trying to explain how I love NPR and I also don't think the government should fund it. And it is partly out of that love that I worry that whoever holds the purse strings might dictate content. Why do some have such faith in government to do the right thing?

In the meantime, I went to a birthday party in New Jersey at Bounce U for my grandson's five year-old friend. I spent a while in the car while his little brother was finishing his nap. I thought about all the stuff I saw from the passenger seat of a car in a suburban parking lot... and how most all of it wasn't created out of love or generosity or loving kindness... but rather out of fairly selfish (Adam Smith used the word "domestic") aims.


Then I went to the party and actually slid down the slide and bounced around. I started wondering about all the life that was at this party. Where did it come from? It wasn't the product of people with only domestic aims. It was exhilarating... the noise, the exciting, the laughs. Wow! Wish I was five.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Production

B=Boss, M=Me

B: I need to talk to you about your production.

M: Yea, boss. I knew you'd be proud.

B: Proud. You are as close to being fired as they get.

M: Fired. I've been making ducks like you wouldn't believe.

B: You don't even know what production is.

M: Yea, Boss, it PROvides DUCks to the world, and I have been faithfully doing that.

B: And I have warehouses filled with them. The world is saturated with ducks.

M: But do they have duck smart phones and duck sex toys?

B: When I go on my sales trips, I step out of my car and I see a "closed" sign appear on the door of every store. Right in front of my eyes. The sign goes on and the lights go out.

M: What is it that you want me to make?

B: Anything but ducks.

M: Ok, how about geese?

B: That's a leap.

M: Farther than more ducks.

B: Yea.

Panhandling

I received this email from R in response to some comments I made about those who hang around in parking lots in well-to-do neighborhoods and say they're run out of gas.

Thanks for your thoughtful questions about panhandling. I've wondered the same about our obligations. In general, when one parts with a gift, one should completely part with it (and not nag the recipient about how it's being used). I think we view our gifts to panhandlers differently, more like an investment - we don't personally reap the return, but we expect that the recipient will reap a certain kind of return (food, drink) and not something we deem frivolous (beer, smokes). This is especially true in cases where the money is solicited for a particular need, like gas to get home. If we learn the money's NOT used for gas, we have a right to be upset. If we give in response to a general request (like a guy at a traffic light), I think we have to be even more aware that we can't follow our money. We're trusting the recipient to do what he or she needs with it and to define that need.

What I've decided is to offer food to folks on the street corner, on the theory that without fuel, the brain can't make any other good decisions. I know this is true for me, so I assume it's true for others. Sometimes it gets turned down, which is fine. I appreciate the honesty. And I have tampons for the women.

"Can you spare some change" has morphed into "I live on 40th street and need some money for gas to get home." Yes, I think it is the dishonesty that gets us, though we know, or should know, that the subtext is the same.

I had concerns about the health care bill because it assumes that we know what someone else needs. The same with food stamps. Perhaps someone needs rent money more than health insurance. They might be very healthy, but living on the street. Health insurance might be the modern equivalent of "let them eat cake."

Once, in Chicago, someone asked me for some money for food. It was infront of a fast food restaurant, and I offered to buy him a hamburger. He said, "get loss." Recently I offered a very intelligent but homeless man a loaf of white bread. "No," he said, "I only eat high quality carbs." The Buddha supposedly died of bad pork that someone gave him. Did he know it was bad? Yes, but ate it so as to not insult the giver. Monks beg, supposedly, to give people an opportunity to give.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Doan (Zen Bell Ringer)

H=Her, M=Me

H: So you aren't perfect. Is that a reason to burn yourself in effigy?

M: No, far from it. But it is a reason to reevaluate my career options.

H: So what do you do as doan (Japanese: 堂行) that is so difficult?

M: I time the sitting and then I ring the bells during the zen service.

H: What can be hard about that?

M: Well, there are two bells... a big one and a small one.

H: Is that for big mind and little mind?

M: You're learning, but I doubt it, but kind of because the big bell is for the priest and the little bell is for everyone else. And in a sense you could say that the priest might represent big mind just a little more than someone who is not a priest, though I suspect that any priest worth his robe would deny that.

H: What can be hard about hitting a bell?

M: Only two things. Hitting the bell correctly... and... at the right time.

H: Is that all?

M: No. Hitting the bell the same way, time after time. And hitting it so that it makes music, and hitting it so that you aren't hitting it, but more dancing with it. And not day dreaming.

H: That's five things.

M: And hitting it in the right patterns.

H: How hard can that be?

M: Well, some people learn quickly. Obviously they were reincarnated from ancient bell ringers.

H: And you?

M: I was reincarnated from... I don't know. Something that didn't play the bells. Maybe a monkey or ape. Something that jumped around a lot.

H: Don't put yourself down. We don't want any hari kari.

M: Must be my genes that cause the problem. I could blame my age... but I think I'm learning new stuff as slowly as I ever did.

H: How do you know what bell to ring?

M: There is a schedule. But the chant is in Japanese... and I loose my place as quickly as you can say Jack Rabbit.

H: And when do you hit the small bell?

M: At the beginning and end of zazen, to indicate that the sangha should get ready to bow, to indicate that they should bow, to indicate that the chant is coming to the end, to indicate that it really is coming to the end.

H: And what about the big bell?

M: Oh, that indicates that the chant will soon start, that it will start now, that it started, that the priest has bowed to the mat or to the alter.

H: Is that all?

M: Pretty much!

H: Do you know how... but clutch and do it wrong?

M: All the time... well, almost all the time. But that's perfectly okay... I guess.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Funny Feelings and other Meanderings

It gives me a funny feeling voting a week before the election. Suppose I don't live that long. Would they still count my vote?

I'm in my second comedy class now (almost my third because I'm also "sitting in" on a class.) And I still don't know what makes something funny. But I do love the contrast to Zen, which isn't funny...yet. Maybe one day I'll figure out the humor there. What is funny about "Death comes unexpectedly, How can we bargain with it" (Bodhidharma)? Yikes, saying that is a little funny, especially as we are personifying death... and talking about "it" with a deep raspy voice.

If your dad acted like Archie Bunker you'd leave home as soon as you could. Yet, seeing your dad in Archie Bunker makes you laugh. What gives here? I saw a sketch the other night where a woman was a new clerk in some kind of government office, trying to be conscientious and nice to the public (lots of smiles), while at the same time enduring devastating criticism from the peanut gallery. She flipped back and forth between the two roles, entertaining the audience to the highest degree.

I had a strange thought today. What if I was okay just as I am? Not even perfect, as Buddhism teaches (though needing a little improvement)... but just okay... not needing to change or improve.

Geeze, we imagine that our heros (Robert Frost comes to mind) couldn't be any better that how they were or are. We couldn't imaging Robert Frost wanting to change who he was one iota (whatever "iota' is). But then we have all heard about revered accomplished people who carried around a lot of insecurity. I remember the story of Jane Fonda confessing to Katherine Hepburn how frightened she was on a set (especially on set with Katherine in On Golden Pond. Katherine Hepburn then told Jane how petrified also she was each time she walks onto a set...even that she'd often lose her lunch. So I don't know where this "okay" will take me. It is funny how we normally don't think others are not okay with who they are. They all put up such good fronts. And we love them for just as they are, not for something they might become.

If you buy a penny stock, you like it for what it might become (i.e. Sun, Ford, or Sprint). But the people we know and like are generally just right... for us, but sometimes not for them.

Now back to the voting thing that I'm going to over-think a little more. Not really, but I was thinking about a march for or about something (march for peace). If you have 1000 people, no one staying home makes a difference. And take pollution. It doesn't ruin the countryside if you throw your wrapper out the car window. Yet we don't do it (hopefully) because of the cumulative effect of everyone doing it. I eat something and leave a dish on the sink. It doesn't make the kitchen look like a pigsty. Or we eat one hamburger. Are we then responsible for the cows that create 20% of the world's pollution? And on and on. It is an honest to goodness quagmire... how all these minuscule acts add up to have such powerful consequences.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

So what's wrong...

So what's wrong with a benevolent dictator? I'm not advocating such a thing but realize that most governments are a dictatorship, especially if you include families and businesses. And they are all benevolent. Just ask them!

Some argue that I should vote because if I didn't, no one would. Yet that isn't the case, is it? If someone is drowning in shark infested waters I don't need to jump in for the man to be saved. But someone does.

Which brings me back to the credit card dilemma. What is wrong with just paying the minimum? Imagine that the credit card had an unlimited cap and the death tax is 100%.. and one's heirs are not responsible for their debts. Why am I better off paying the minimum rather than the full amount. Yes, die with as much debt as possible. Isn't that what Uncle Sam does? Fortunately or unfortunately all my assumptions are unfounded.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Don't Vote...more questions.

Six people have encouraged me to vote in this election. In Texas, one is allowed to vote early without any explanation. The polling booths have been open for awhile. So, hoping the nudgings would go away, I complied. I feel like a  sucker though, led by the masses to believe that my vote will make a difference, when in reality it probably won't. And I'm especially despondent that I voted for a fix the roads bond issue that was advertised that it would not raise taxes. I told my wife about it and she gave me a gentle sucker look.

One of the persons, my friend Joan, assumed that all her Facebook friends would vote for Democrats. I wonder if she would have encouraged me, knowing that I might not.

One person promised that their favorite candidate wouldn't be the nasty fellow that he was appearing to be in the campaign... and that, when elected, he'd become an advocate for all things good.

A colleague, Buck, and I once had a discussion about voting. I said, "Rich (I didn't call him "Buck" to his face), suppose that there were three candidates, A, B, and C. A was a popular and evil contender. B was not a favorite, but had a chance to keep the evil contender out of office. and C was brilliant, but didn't have a chance. Who would you vote for?

I said that it would be a waste of a vote to choose C. He said one always had the responsibility to vote for whom they believe is the best candidate. I asked if you had a chance to keep Hitler from being elected (supposedly in the first election that he won, he did so with only one vote), would you vote for someone better but not your favorite. He said absolutely no.

So where do we get these rules? I'll do this, but not that. I won't fight a small battle to prevent a bigger battle. I won't get sell a stock because it might go higher. I won't engage in politics because it is corrupt.

What a breath of fresh air it would be if we could just look at new situations for what they are. My friend told me today that when we see something more information goes to our visual cortex from our brain than from the object. We don't really "see," do we? 

Which leads to another question, "how should I vote?" Most people would say that, given a choice of voting for someone who'd benefit the country or benefit themselves (but not both) they'd say that good people should vote for those who'd benefit the country. I'll have to ask Buck if that's what one should do. Imagine if everyone voted for their own benefit. Wouldn't the greater good ultimately be served?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Right Livelihood... Questions.

"Right Livelihood is, first, a way to earn a living without compromising the Precepts. It is a way of making a living that does no harm to others. In the Vanijja Sutta (this is from the Sutra-pitaka of the Tripitaka), the Buddha said, "A lay follower should not engage in five types of business. Which five? Business in weapons, business in human beings, business in meat, business in intoxicants, and business in poison."

Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh wrote,
"To practice Right Livelihood (samyag ajiva), you have to find a way to earn your living without transgressing your ideals of love and compassion. The way you support yourself can be an expression of your deepest self, or it can be a source of suffering for you and others. " ... Our vocation can nourish our understanding and compassion, or erode them. We should be awake to the consequences, far and near, of the way we earn our living." (The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching [Parallax Press, 1998], p. 104)

A friend of mine was quite judgmental about option traders, esp. the successful ones. He felt that they didn't really produce anything, so that they were evil.

I didn't agree with him, though I don't remember what argument I conjured up.

There seem to be two issues here. One is about resources. Is the option trader making the best use of his resources for the betterment of all things. Does one really need to do that? Does one only need to do that if they want to be a good person? The second issue is whether or not it is evil to make a living buying and selling for a profit. I knew a man, Lynn (RIP), who used to buy and sell forklifts. He never actually saw the forklifts. He'd buy them, sight unseen, and then sell them to someone, also sight unseen. Seems like forklifts can be judged by their age and hours of use. Was Lynn evil, making a living finding new homes for forklifts?

And suppose that Mother Theresa confessed that her motive in serving the poor was to earn a fine home in Heaven or maybe to earn some merit to be reborn as a buddha, while the owner of a casino ran his business to give joy and excitement to our lives (thus relieving suffering).

So much for suppositions. The Dalai Lama was asked if one should fight a small war to avoid a big war. I like his answer: that one never knows what will come from something else.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Dad, Promise You won't get Angry

D=Daughter, F=Father

D: Dad, promise you won't get angry.

F: Of course, an opportunity to broaden my Zen Practice.

D: Well, I'm in love with this man.

F: That's nice. What's his name?

D: Stan the Man.

F: His last name is Man?

D: I don't know his last name.

F: You just met him?

D: He wouldn't tell me his last name. He said we should trust each other without too much information being exchanged. I'm been "with him" for a year now.

F: You're not...

D: No Dad. We take the necessary...

F: What then.

D: You know your car?

F: Yes, sure do.

D: He borrowed it... and kind of disappeared.

F: Oh what a shame. I was going to give you that beauty, but then my mechanic told me the brakes were about shot and one day you wouldn't be able to stop it.

D: Dad...

Friday, October 22, 2010

Flush or Don't Flush?

A=Archie, E=Edith G=Gloria M=Meathead (Michael) J=Joe

E: Archie, I'm flushingggg...

A: Haohohohoh.

E: You complained about people flushing when you are taking a shower.

A: So telling me doesn't help.

E: At least it wasn't a surprise, Archie.

A: Surprise or no surprise... Scalding water is scalding water.

E: You don't want me not to flush, do you Archie?

A: Just wait and do it later.

E: But Archie, you complained about that last week when Meathead didn't flush.

A: That's Meathead. He leaves it for all to see. Meathead.

E: Ok, I get it. Flush but don't flush. Wait but don't wait. Clear as air.

A: I don't know why this should be so complicated.

E: No, I understand.

A: Will someone open the door... The doorbell is ringing.

E: Yessss Archie.

A: Who's there?

E: It is the plumber, Joe Bazooka

A: What does he want.

E: Money for Sarah Palan for President.

A: A woman can't be president. Woman and negros... they aren't made to be president.

G: Dad, we have a black president. And we will have a woman president. And you...

A: That OhBomba is no president. He is a miscount. And when we do have the wrong kind of person to be president, Edith and me are moving to Russia.

M: Archie, you never give anyone different than yourself credit for anything. What grade did you finish in school. Or did you ever go?

A: When I went to school, they taught us important stuff. Like respecting your elders. What you guys learn is the reason the world is in such bad shape.

G: Dad, I wish you were like a fine wine... but you are more like a warm beer.

M: Yea, instead of getting better with age, you are more prejudiced...

A: Prejudiced... I just know where these unamericans are taking us... and that is why Edith and I are moving.

E: Archie, I'm not going to Russia. I'm staying here with Michael and Gloria.

A: And I suppose you are running for president too. God help us... (Archie stops yelling and comes down the stairs) Hey Joe, you still here? You weren't supposed to hear all that. Just a family getting along.

J: That was evident, Archie.

A: Hey Joe, Can you fix our shower so the water doesn't burn me when an inconsiderate flushes?

J: Sure. Anything for a beer and a hundred dollar bill.

A: The beer will do, but I could just lock the other bathroom when I go up to take a shower.

J: How about your kitchen and laundry?

A: How about this Sarah Pay...land. Why are you promoting a woman? They have too much promotion as it is.

J: Wife said that I either get some dollars for her, or she's going off to work for her.

A: I guess, knowing that, we can still have a beer together.

J: Sure Archie, let's go to the tavern.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Save but don't Interfere?

M=Me, O=Other

M: Actually save is not save.

O: That Jesuit Priest said "God does not interfere." Is that what you mean?

M: I'm not God, but if God doesn't interfere, neither should I.

M: That's it. Save but don't interfere.

O: So you are not a Christian missionary.

M: Not one bit of that.

O: So what's this about "walk on the Earth as if it is your mother's face." How do you walk on your mother's face?

M: With a lot of attention. Being careful not to make any indentations.

O: So it seems like a paradox. You say "save all sentient beings" and then you say "do not interfere." You can't have your cake and eat it too.

M: I'm not eating cake these days.

O: The cake will be eaten without your assistance.

M: I guess your question is "how can you save by not interfering."

O: Sounds like "laissez-faire" to me.

M: That has gotten a bad rap, esp. in liberal circles.

O: So what do you mean?

M: Well, imagine walking through the forest and not disturbing a twig or leaf.

O: But one leaf is soon to be eaten by an insect. Don't you want to save that leaf?

M: As much as I care for the life of the leaf, I also care for the life of the insect. I shouldn't save one from the other. That's interfering... and if it isn't for God, it isn't for me.

O: Sounds like you are playing God by not interfering?

M: No, just trying to let the forest be as it is. Enough will happen to it without my assistance. It doesn't need me.

O: How about to keep others from interfering?

M: Now we're talking!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Imagine if politicians took the Bodhisattva vow.

K: What would it be like if politicians took the Bodhisattva vow?

L: How about if husbands took the "be quiet when your wife is asleep" vow?

K: Unless you are talking in your sleep... you're awake!

L: Okay, what is the Bo-whoever vow?

K: To save all sentient beings.

L: And you really want a politician in office who wants to do that. I'm going to hide out.

K: Don't you want to be saved?

L: If I was drowning, I wouldn't be able to pick and choose my savior. But most of life is more subtle. Who knows what I need?

K: But you're drowning just the same, even on dry land.

L: Maybe, but tell me this... and then can we finish this discussion tomorrow?

K: Shoot.

L: If my suffering is caused by my trying to make things permanent, what could a politician do besides taking away all that I adore?

K: I'm not sure that would cure your suffering. In fact, the suffering would become more visible.

L: So what could this politician do?

K: I think the question about politicians taking the vow referred to a mindset.

L: That's one of your typically ambiguous answers.

K: Well, for one, the politician would not do things to appease certain special interest groups or for popularity.

L: Though he might rationalize appeasement as "skillful means." If he's not in office he can't relieve suffering. Therefore anything he does is justified.

K: Yea, or at least he might say that. Good night.

Next morning...

K: Are you up yet?

L: It is still dark.

K: But you aren't talking in your sleep, are you?

L: No, but one day... pow... right in the kisser.

K: A bodhisattva politician wouldn't do that. Would she?

L: Maybe... remember what you said about "skillful means."

K: You know, it is sounding like politicians are bodhisattvas, and everything they do could at least be interpreted as an attempt to save all beings.

L: I, for one, am thankful that they aren't more skillful. What fun would it be if we just walked around smiling?

K: Yea, Martians would assume that we had just legalized drugs.

L: What are you going to do today?

K: Just mostly suffer. And you...

L: Same...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Smile Won't

L=Linda, K=Kim, B=Buddha

L: Why are you smiling?

K: Buddha said when you realize everything is perfect...

L: Shh... no Buddha stuff... I have a headache.

K: I'm smiling because that's something people do when they like someone.

L: Sweet. How can everything be perfect if I'm late and I can't find my keys?

K: Just a second, I'll ask Buddha.

K: Buddha, she wants to know...

B: Yea, I get that every day. How can we smile when things aren't the way...

K: That's it, wise man.

B: Easy. Just a minor paradigm shift. All you need to do is to like things as "it is."

K: What's to like about being late and not being able to find your keys?

B: You want to argue with me or relieve suffering?

K: To be truthful, I'd like my wife to see me smiling and not be so suspicious.

B: So you are late?

K: No, she's late. I'm smiling.

B: I don't really understand this "late" business. How can you be late if you are "in the moment?"

K: But she has a job.

B: We all have jobs... being aware of our minds. Is she late for that?

K: No. She sits in a gallery and smiles when people come in.

B: Why does she smile? Because everything is perfect?

K: No, she smiles because if they see a friendly face they will associate that with the objects in the shop, and then they'll buy something so they can bring the smile home.

B: She should smile because everything is perfect.

K: But maybe it isn't perfect, especially if she can't get to the shop because she can't find her keys.

B: The shop will wait. The smile won't. Realize how perfect this is. She's able to be where she is... just because she can't find her keys. How much better do things get?

K: Buddha, you are the eternal optimist.

B: Realist...

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Middle Way

K=Kim, L=Linda

K: Grrrrr....

L: Grey?

K: Grey nothing. I'm mad.

L: Why?

K: No one thinks the right things.

L: Grey.

K: What is this grey thing?

L: You said "Grrrrr...."

K: That's because I was pissed.

L: What about?

K: For starters, tax.

L: What's wrong with tax? You put money in the kitty and then you get to share the pizza.

K: But I don't want pizza, and besides, I don't like cats.

L: Cats???

K: A joke... you said "put money in the kitty."

L: Ha Ha.

K: So Grey?

L: Yes, it's the middle way.

K: What do ya mean?

L: Look at tax differently.

K: Ya want me to stand on my head. Right is right and wrong is wrong.

L: Who taught you that?

K: I don't know. Maybe the Bible.

L: You never read the bible. If you had, I would have never married you.

K: So what's this about grey?

L: Just realize that all these opinions are neither right nor wrong.

K: Taxes are wrong.

L: No, they do good things and they do bad things.

K: How can that be?

L: Grey. Everything is a shade of grey.

K: Oh!