Tuesday, March 29, 2011

GE is not an individual. GE cannot make individual choices. GE cannot be evil or not evil because it is not human.

As I sat this evening I thought about Kate's comments (the title of this post) and also thought about a discussion I had Saturday with a guy where I jumped on him when he said that we weren't computers (I think we are).

From a sociological perspective, a group has a personality like an individual. And so does a company. They do make choices and they can be evil. Just look at a "hanging party."

Individuals are not all that responsible for their choices. They are conditioned to think and feel in certain ways. They are physiologically wired to behave in certain ways... to be nurturing, to be angry, to be selfish.
So are individuals really free spirits? And if they are not, are companies?

And then there is the question of blaming GE because they made use of existing loopholes in the tax law. Since their promise to stockholders was to make a profit, I'm wondering if they'd be shirking their duties if they didn't take advantage of every loophole. People don't invest in GE because they are going to give their profits away. They want dividends or at least reinvestment.

GE paid no taxes... Good for them!

GE made great profits but paid no taxes. They are being deemed evil.

Before you hang them, consider the amount of taxes their employees and stockholders pay. Consider the jobs they create. Consider what we'd be without them.

And evil GE invests money in other countries. That's US dollars that can either go under a mattress, or eventually come back to the US. And, in the meantime, we've helped others. Is that so evil?

See Jon Stewart for more details. Every coin has two sides.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Returned from Taxes

I've been working on tax stuff... trying to get as much as I can back from Uncle Sam. Maybe it will prevent one bullet from being made... and one bullet from being spent. Or maybe the opposite. How can we know?

I went through a period of wanting "thanks"... and then I thought about the times we give food to the Buddha and he doesn't say anything. We should be thanking him because he gives us the opportunity to give. So then I decided just to say thanks... to people who give, and to people who take. Both are gifts. Thanks.

Last night, Pat spoke about anger. I remember a child psychologist who told my parents (when I was a kid and not doing well in school) that I had "extreme hostility toward my dad." It surprised me. I told my dad "did you know about this." He laughed. I thought about that as Pat gave her talk. She said that she didn't think of herself as an angry person... just as a person who sometimes (and justifiably) lets off steam.

I'm noticing lots of anger around me. Lots. Lots of intolerance too. On Facebook, someone was talking about a teacher in Kentucky who was blaming Obama for the recession. Someone wrote about how this was an "untruth." Are there really truths and untruths? Don't you think you could find a very brilliant thinker who would challenge anything we hold to be true. I know a not-so-brilliant thinker who would be glad to do so (me).

One of my classmates the other night said that she was dealing with her hate for Republicans. We were being asked to describe our "tree spirits"... demons that touch our buttons. Usually in the next sentence I hear "and they are so intolerant." Its the pot calling the kettle black. Rage. Rage. Lots of rage in the air.

I'd bring my fire extinguisher next week, but the little dial says, "time for refill."

Monday, March 14, 2011

Suffering: Greed, Hate, and Delusion

We learn from Buddhism that suffering comes from ignorance which breeds greed, hate, and delusion. When we believe that all the good in our life is permanent, and then it changes, we take it personally. We hurt.

And then there is a 9.0 earthquake in Japan. Which was enough, but coupled with a tsunami caused endless suffering that appears to even be impacting Japan's very strong economy.

Is this still an "opportunity for practice?" How does a good Buddhist (if "good" can be applied to a Buddhist) respond?

And what might be a compassionate response? One priest said to me, "I'd say, how can I help?" Most of us suffer. And our suffering borders on the ludicrous compared with those without resources such as water, food, shelter, etc. And what about those who can't venture outside lest they be struck with a bullet or kidnapped for ransom?

The Buddha said that suffering was all around us, and yet unnecessary. If we follow the Eightfold path (he said) we can be freed from suffering. Not from pain. But from suffering. That distinction seems to be the essence here. Suffering is a response to pain. There are others. "How can I help?" or "I'm so sorry for your pain" are others. So perhaps compassion might best be a reaction to pain, not suffering. Helping others to understand the difference might shed some of that suffering. We all know of people in constant pain, yet full of love and happiness, enjoying their life to the fullest extent. And others, with barely a misfortune, who wish they never had stepped foot on earth. Is this a choice we can make? I think so.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Another Question

Last week the gentleman asked if zen would make him a better parent. Today, sitting on the same cushion, a man asked why is sitting worth it when other activities seem to be more profitable considering the time involved.

We used to call these teachable moments. Luckily, I was not the teacher. There wasn't time to discuss my ideas of profit, and a quote from the Bible "what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul" would not work since you lose your soul in Zen, discovering that the soul (called "self") does not exist.

The teacher did mention that Zen is not a gaining activity (my words). The problem with saying that "sitting will do this for you" is that if people sit for that benefit they might miss the experience while waiting for the award to come. Doing things for the result never work out too well. And if the result doesn't come, we live the rest of life dressed in bitterness.

Then the teacher said that dana (donations) was important). The next thing I know is that a basket was being passed. That didn't feel good to me, especially at a beginners' class. I think we ought to get drug pushers to teach classes in hooking customers. They give the product away until the customer is hooked... and then they start charging—or so I've heard.

In any case, I politely took the basket and passed it on.

What will next week bring?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

kim the old man tan hat

How did she know? I went to this Greek restaurant down the street from the Zen center to have dinner. I had a GroupOn coupon... that they wouldn't let me use for lunch. There were three young musicians there singing Greek songs. They were good, but the combination of the concrete floor, the loud music (to my hearing aids), and the bright lights led me to order dinner to take out.

The waitress asked if I'd like a Greek salad with my dinner (which included salad). I said sure. Then she hit me with the bill... I didn't realize the Greek salad was more. No problem... I thought. I'm getting this dinner cheap.

Then she gave me the receipt. It said "kim the old man tan hat." "Holy s..t," I thought. So I asked her if that was supposed to describe "me." "Yes," she said, "it is loud in here so we have to describe people."

I came home and sat down to eat. Soon my wife came home and I asked her if she'd like to share. Then I asked her how anyone would think I'm an old man with a hat covering up my bald head. Unfortunately she told me... my grey sideburns, my posture... at that point I had enough and quit listening.

Austin is a town with mostly young people. I like that... especially when I'm feeling like one of the kids. So if you see me, please tell me how young I look... and don't, please don't, call me "the old man tan hat."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Quitting Zen

I quit zen last week. Cold turkey. It had something to do with the reason I retired... to only do art. Did it feel good! Just like "emptying a tea pot" (my teacher's words today).

Then Saturday I sat in on a beginner's sitting class (which I'm supposed to do three times before teaching such a class). I can't remember why I went... having quit.... except that after the class there was a talk that I wanted to hear by a Qi Gong practitioner. At the class, one of the students asked if studying zen would help him rearing his children?

When I observe a class I try not to talk. But I was intrigued by his question. What a great way to evaluate an activity... will it make me a better parent?

As I looked around the room I saw people who had come there for themselves. Or at least, all of them besides the father who wanted to be a better father. Then I saw myself, four years ago, at my first beginner's class (actually it was one-on-one). I went there for myself. Not because I wanted to be a better parent.

After awhile I couldn't contain myself. Sitting is not something we just do for ourselves, but for all. (I can just hear some saying, "but don't sit for me.") I tried to explain how, if we become quiet, centered, focused, or whatever good might come of our sitting, then we might pass that on to others. And them to others. And not just to people, but to other things... even to the sidewalk. Imagine how good a sidewalk would feel if people didn't just stomp on it.

So my Zen teacher had a jerky mouse today. I tried to fix it on his aging computer. As I waited for some program to download we started talking. That's when he told me about emptying a tea pot.