Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Rage is Empty


I've been watching the Sopranos, a series about the mafia. I guess in the early days the Italian immigrants didn't display a lot of rage. They laughed a lot, even as they were performing their nefarious deeds. Now it is different.

Both Tony Soprano and his sister display tremendous rage even if someone looks at them in the wrong way. His sister was put in jail because she assaulted another soccer mom at her kids' soccer game. As part of her sentence she needed to take an anger management class. Tony talked about this with his therapist and it was evident that he was starting to consider that such a class would be good for him.

His therapist kept saying that depression was rage turned inward. I started to think about whether rage really existed at that point if it did not show its ugly eye. Was this a transformation?  Sometimes I surprise myself with my feelings. “Where did that come from,” I think? I thought that I was a nice guy and then I thought that!

In my reading of the Torah today, I came across a section when the Lord tells the Jews that if they follow his laws they will defeat all armies and slay all beasts.

It is hard to believe that the Jews were so gullible. Rather I think a better reading is that, in the same way that rage and depression are interconnected, so are our external and internal threats. If we do the right thing perhaps our internal enemies and beasts will be slain.

When we look in a mirror we see ourselves.  If we are five feet from the mirror it will appear that we are ten feet away. We form a connection to the illusion in the mirror, perhaps in a similar way to the connection of rage and depression, or the connection of our external and internal enemies.

We live in two universes. One we create and nurture. The other and bigger one (?), does what it does, presenting us with continual challenges and gifts.

I wrote about this also in another of my blogs: http://kenshinsbarmitzvah.blogspot.com/2014/09/parshat-bechukotai-2nd-portion.html

Monday, September 29, 2014

Am I a Jew?


Years ago I heard a talk by a rabbi titled “What is a Jew?” She presented a number of different definitions, including the common one that you are a Jew if your mom is/was a Jew.

My dad, who also had Jewish parents, told me when he was dying that he didn’t want any services in a church/temple. They asked him in the hospice if he wanted to see a rabbi. “No,” he said, “But can you send a philosopher.”

He told me not to belong to anything. I mostly went against much of what he told me, but I kind of like this one.

Some people, including the head teacher of the Zen Center in Austin, don’t like to think of themselves as this or that…in his case, a Buddhist. When I look at the Burmese monks, I see them as Buddhists. It is a birthright that runs through their blood.

I was about to fill out a form for a temple yesterday and it asked me if I was a Jew. When I came to that question, I stopped filling out the application. Is being a Jew something that I can opt out of? Hitler didn’t think so. In Spain, during the inquisition, you could convert out of Judaism by becoming a Christian.

Is being a Jew ascribing to the tenets of a religion? And are there tenets ascribed to by most Jews. We hear of many Jews who claim they are non-practicing.

Our family had a marriage (actually many) between a Jew and a non-Jew. Both of the families were distraught. My father gave a speech and convinced everyone to be joyous of the union.

If we did a Venn diagram of all humans, Jews should be a small circle inside the human circle. One question in my mind is whether the circle is surrounded with a hard or soft line.

I don’t want to be separated from others who might be of other persuasions. My “community” is diverse. Being a this or that just seems like a limitation…a barrier. So my answer is: No, I wish to be interconnected with all beings and non-beings.

Though one could look at this like gender. I am a man, but I’m still connected to those who aren’t men. So in that instance, “Yes, I am a Jew, and a Buddhist, and an artist.” Hence my name, “Jelly Mosley,” because I change my mind frequently.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Exercise


I’ve become somewhat of an exercise fanatic.

When you are young you mostly think about the moments ahead of you. You never imagine that you are near the end. You buy a box of animal crackers. After eating the first one, it seems like there are many more. You haven't made a “dent.” But soon, there are few left. And then there are none.

You look at yourself in the mirror and you think, “I don’t need to look like this.” Or you get tired of waking up and having trouble getting out of bed. So you exercise.

I’ve tried a few things. Yoga, pilates, qigong, working in a gym with a trainer (actually two). Walking. Swimming. Meditation. I guess meditation is an exercise, of sorts.

But there are other exercises. Attempting to eat 26 weight watcher points a day. Another challenge.

Attempting to post on three blogs and Instagram a day.

Attempting to do 365 (minus a few) drawings from the Torah.

Attempting to know my grandkids, maintain relationships with wife, children and assorted relatives and friends.

These are all exercises. Practice, as they call it in Zen.

I retract my first sentence. I’m an exercise fanatic.

I wonder what my life would be like if I did nothing.

I had imagined a much easier retirement. I’d get up in the morning and wonder, “what shall I do now, what shall I ever do.” (from the Wasteland by T.S. Eliot)

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Whose Eye is Beauty In—Beholder or Creator?


Zen says the artist,
the audience,
both,
and neither.

And is it in the eye
or the mind…
or the visual
cortex?

Uncle Ed
asks
if it
matters?

My wife says
you know better
than to ask
me that.

To be honest,
It is all beautiful
to me, this
life of ours.

Try to construct
a more interesting
mix of this
and that.

Always a surprise,
and a challenge.
Always a miraculous
sight to behold.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Who Done It?

“I like your drawings” or “You have such a beautiful grandson” or “your kids are so talented.”

I was told years ago that when someone compliments your art you should say “thank you.” That was supposed to take the place of what Gomer Pyle would say, “ah shucks.” Or making some excuse, like, “well, it would be better if I had of sharpened my pencil.”

This got more difficult when people would compliment things that I didn’t make, as in “I like your wife.” Do you say thanks? I certainly didn’t draw her into existence.

Once someone asked my dad if I did good art and he said, “some people think so.” I’m still curious where that remark came from.

Though I’ve been doing similar pictures since the 5th grade, I really don’t take credit for them. A few days ago I was trying to dig into the “does G_d exist” question. When I hear that question I start marveling at the exquisiteness of the universe and then, whether I say yea or nea, I know that what exists is far beyond my comprehension. Can we take credit for creation if we didn’t create the creator of our art?

In the same way, I’m repeatedly surprised by my art. I can’t for the life of me understand where it comes from. It feels as if some agent has possessed me and takes control of my pencil, camera, or whatever. Even when I say something (or write something), I have no idea where it came from. It is the miracle of birth, I suppose, where two relatively stupid forms join and become something stupendous. The whole is bigger than its parts. Much bigger.

I’m curious about others. Do you take responsibility for what you do? Are you possessed in those creative moments by something you don’t understand?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Prompts

http://pleasenowords.blogspot.com/2014/09/615.html
I had very few assignments in art school. And when I did, I usually didn’t do them. I thought I was, as my mom claimed to be, a “rank individualist.” Though from the first class I taught, I gave assignments. 

I work much better with prompts. I thought it was the fact that I was often collaborating with others, but really working with someone else is easier for me because an idea is suggested.

In our Zen Writing group we read a poem or tell a story. I resisted this for a while. “Why should I follow the prompt,” I thought? 

One thing that we develop in school is a bag of tricks to use when we are blocked. One trick I’ve use is to draw a nose. A nose needs a face. A face needs a body. A body needs a friend and something to stand on. Hence, a drawing is almost finished.

Prompts abound. I look at my bookshelf and see prompts calling out to me. Odyssey, Digital, Clean, Naked Lunch. All great prompts. 

I guess I was afraid that if I used someone’s prompt I wouldn’t be doing “my” art. That was a false worry. The prompt still needs to be processed through and by me. It is in the limitations that one reveals themselves. 

I once asked one of my teachers, “Why did you never tell us what to do?” He replied, ”You don’t know how much I told you what to do.” I learned then how a teacher can give prompts in subtle ways. He can look at your photograph and say, “Oh, I see you are interested in line.” Now he has brought the idea of focusing on lines to my conscious mind. Next time I’m out making photographs, I’ll look for lines. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

I Will Fly

Anthropomorph III (Ambivalence)—Donna Dechen Birdwell
The first woman
arrived in the night,
after the sun
fell asleep.

She popped up
like a bean stalk,
with feathers
on her arms.

Her feet rooted,
unable to go
and nothing to see
and only one job to do:

to wonder.
What else might there be
and are there others
like me?

Are things like this
or different?
Will I get tired...here?
And where is here, anyway?

I hear something—my feathers are blowing.
Why can't I remember
where I came from?
My mind is empty.

I reach in
the darkness
to see
what else is here.

I lift up one foot
and then
another.
I can take a step.

But where am I—
where will I go?
Oh I see something now—
over there.

How bright
that is!
What comes next?
I will fly.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

God: She is Just a Story

A high school classmate who embraces Judaism recently wrote me that he is still undecided about whether G_d exists. M, a friend at the temple here, claims he doesn’t believe in G_d, but sees himself as a Jew through and through.

I asked a Catholic colleague, who has a PhD in Philosophy, whether she’d still believe in G_d if I could prove that he/she didn’t exist. “Of course I would,” she said. “Why?” I said. “Because I’ve experienced him,” she replied.

I can imagine that we could experience many things that our bodily senses might not perceive. Love is one of those things. Being depressed is another. Perhaps there is some chemical change in our body when we are in love or depressed, but perhaps too, those changes could occur when we aren’t in love or depressed. In any case, all that is verified is that a change has occurred, not that love, depression, or G_d exists.

I believe that if we took apart every molecule in the universe we wouldn't find love nor depression nor G_d. Nor do I know people who believe this. If we were hunters or fisherman, we’d come back empty handed. And many believe that does not matter.

When we say, “I don’t know if I believe in….,” what are we really saying? How can you not believe in a belief? You construct a story that shapes our conception of life. What is there to not believe? It is a story. Just a story. And for some, a life-changing story. But still, just a story. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

My Core Curriculum: The Three Ws

My niece, Abby, was visiting last weekend and talked about her issues with the core curriculum in her daughter’s Los Angeles charter school. 

To me, core curriculums contradict my idea of charter schools. I don’t object to schools separating what is core, and what is not, but I do not like the idea of “core” being suggested by outsiders. Are we sure enough of what is “core’ to impose our beliefs on others?

One of my retirement projects is to figure out what I will teach the next time around. I have little evidence that I’ll be 23 again, with the opportunity for another lifetime in education, but still … it is an interesting pastime. And I’m grateful that I was never presented with many, if any, guidelines as to what I was supposed to teach. I hope the next time around I’ll have the same luxury.

The stuff we teach isn’t always what people need to be learning. We prepare students to work (though many businesses reeducate their employees to make them productive). We sometimes prepare students to think (though that’s hard to show). How well do we teach them to move through life, to observe clearly, and to be patient? That question prompted me to replace the 3 Rs with the 3 Ws (walking, watching, and waiting). 

Yesterday I was fortunate to have a private qigong lesson because the others in the class didn’t show up. We mainly focused on tai chi walking which morphed into walking in general. There is so much to be learned about walking. Where is our weight? How does our weight shift from one side to another (like water, like sand)? How is our core involved? How do we hold our head? Are our feet pointing forward, to the inside, or to the outside? What about our arms—where are they? How are they moving? But walking is much broader than that? How do we move through the grocery store in a way that is respectful to others, so that we aren’t a jerk. How do we move from one station in our lives to the next? Are we able to leave one thing as we go to another. Some teachers have their students meditate for five minutes at the beginning of class. That helps the students' mind to catch up with their body. In the Kung Fu series, Caine, the Shaolin Monk,  remembers how his teacher told him he’d be ready to leave when he could walk across the rice paper without making a sound.

Listening and watching is another skill that I’d place in a core curriculum. Ernest Haas, the photographer, distinguished between “looking” (merely orienting yourself), and “seeing” (really getting what is in front of you). The challenge of learning to draw to mark on the paper what is in front of you. Our minds fool us. Tennessee Williams never graduated from college, but he could listen and depict how people behaved. A classmate, Jon Boorstin, got started in the film industry by patiently watching what was happen on sets. His observations indicated that he could see. Without inhaling you have nothing to exhale.

The third “W” is waiting. Siddhartha talked about waiting as one of the three skills he could do. Events occur at different times. Sometimes we don’t like to wait. When we are twelve we want to be sixteen. Often we have to wait. When I first started to meditate I would wait for the bell to ring, indicating the end of that meditation session. That eventually wore off when I realized that the job at hand, coming back from my thoughts, was a full-time job. There is a lot of waiting in the photographic darkroom. Every process is timed. Even getting a good print takes waiting. You analyize your first print and go from there. The most challenging is “waiting for death.” If you do it hard, your eyes will be glued to the window, watching for the grim reaper. But softly, you’ll realize that your breaths are limited, and then embrace and let go the breaths one by one. Like letting birds free, one by one. It was found that when you present six year olds with a choice of one cookie now, or two cookies in 15 minutes, that the kids who choose the two cookies will do better in school. They have learned to wait. 

Like waiting,  we think that walking and watching are all a matter of trying harder (Avis’s motto—We Try Harder). I suspect the opposite is true. An American Indian knows that it is a soft gaze that lets you know when some prey or an enemy is coming into your territory. Maybe the phrase, “trying soft” is more like it. 

In any case, those are my three Ws. It takes a lifetime to learn these (or maybe two…I’m not even close). Yet they seem essential before you can tackle any other task.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Blocked

I don't know what to write.
I could eat something. 
I could see if the news has changed. 

Perhaps someone will refute 
the latest stats 
on the climate.

Or maybe
that new threat to our country 
will strike us dead.

In the meantime,
I can't do the dishes. 
They are in the KitchenAide

churning away, 
eating their dirt 
like a hungry whatever.

You might think, oh, 
it is better to be silent 
than to ooze senseless words.

But suppose, 
through no fault of my own, 
something meaningful comes out.

What then? 
Your thought was wrong. 
Completely!

I like to imagine 
all the seemingly useless lives 
that were on the wrong track, 

barking up the wrong tree, 
like all the alchemists
trying to make gold out of this or that... 

and then for the few, 
something happened and we became 
more civilized, or less...

depending on
how you look at it.
So, I'm so blocked,

with nothing
at all to say,
except that [I know]

you can't get wet 
unless you go out 
in the rain.

Which isn't 
really true
but what the hell!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Cat Killer

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. And I thought I was doing a mitzvah by giving flowers to my wife. But ... discovering that these flowers were poisonous to cats suggested that I might not know the effects of my actions.

We don't have cats but I know that every time I've buy something I encourage that product's production. So my generosity makes me a cat killer, of sorts.

Should I put a sign on the door, beware of lilies if you are a cat?

Psychologists have noted that often when one does a mitzvah their next action is more likely to be a bad action. A recent study showed you were 3% more likely to be bad if you had just been bad. It seems similar to the idea that a New Year's resolution told to others often is not followed. We have fulfilled our social obligation by announcing our good intention so now we don't need to do the act. That's enough to contemplate keeping away from people who have recently done mitzvahs, isn't it?

I recognized I wasn't very nice after giving my wife the flowers. She commented that her glasses were dirty, which reminded me that my glasses were dirty, so I got up and cleaned them. She was upset because I got up quicker than she and so she had to find another sink to clean her glasses while I cleaned mine. I'm not sure this is ground for divorce, but I do know that I wasn't very thoughtful, believing (unconsciously) that the flowers gave me the right to use the sink first.

I think this whole event, as minuscule as it was, taught me that a gift doesn't have to be a bouquet of (cat killing) lilies, but it could be, as Wordsworth wrote, ...his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.

I spent the other evening at the University of Texas, and was struck by how kind and thoughtful were the students. When I was lost, three students stood around with their Androids and tried to find where I wanted to go. But the most unusual event was the woman who was standing in front of me on a crowded bus. She asked if I minded if she stood in front of me. “Of course not,” I told her.

My challenge today is not to give any overt gifts, but just to be thoughtful like the woman on the bus. I want to recognize what spaces I might be invading. What might I do to make others more comfortable? Just because I can get off the couch faster doesn't mean I get to wash my glasses first!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Buying Flowers for My Wife


I asked my neighbor when you should buy flowers for your wife and he said, “Anytime.” Then I asked if you should get her flowers because you wanted something or because you were bad. “No,” he said.

I knew an artist who bought jewelry for his wife because she posed for his paintings. That seemed a little bit tit for tat (or visa versa).

I'm not too good with gifts. My parents didn't get it. They would insist that they gave me everything that I needed, so why should I need anything else?

And I think of Milton Friedman’s diagram about how we spent money most wisely when it is our money spent on ourselves, and least wisely when it is a third party’s money spent on someone else. I would get a number of presents from my in-laws that were things I didn't need. I’d then spend a copy of days after Christmas returning things. Somehow they got wind of this so they just give cash that I appreciated more.

No wonder my grandkids call me Grandpa No Fun.

I asked my wife when I should buy her flowers. I wanted to be sure it would not seem like prostitution. (I've been watching the evil Tony Soprano lately and my mind is going “to hell in a hand basket,” as my mom would say.

Anyway, my wife said I could “just” buy her flowers someday. I really surprised her today by doing that, though I have to admit that I was trying a little bit to appease her because she said she gets mad at me all day when I go to bed so late (which I often do).

Is there any pure generosity, with no thought of any gain? One of my Zen teachers speak of giver, gift and receiver all being one. I really like this. If I'm stuck in the idea of one person giving a gift to another then I'm always going to be having thoughts of gain and loss. But if I get pass that and see the giver, gift and receiver of all being inexorably interconnected, then giving is purer. Or, as I see Mother Teresa, she gave because giving needed to be done. In one of the chants at the Zen center, there is the line “The four elements return to their natures just as a child turns to its mother….” Ideally there is no gaining thought in those situations. Our compassion tells us what needs to be done.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Powerless in Austin

The power went out. Immediately we review what parts of our lives require power. We have cell phones. I call the power company to report that we are powerless. They say they already know. I ask how many people are powerless. They say 2800. “Oh, that isn't so bad,” I think. When will it be restored, I ask, knowing that they can't possibly know the answer? “We don't know,” she said, adding, “would you like me to call you when you are restored?” “Sure I say,” and I give her my number.

I tell my wife we have a side burner on the BBQ that can boil water for coffee. “No,” she says, “let's go to Kirby Lane.” “Ok,” I say. “I'll call them and see if they have power.” I call, no answer. “How about Consuelos,” I ask, adding “but they have terrible coffee,” “How about Upper Crust?” I ask. “I could bring my own gluten free bread.” “Well, if you are going to do that we could go to the pastry place. They have better coffee. Or we could go to Magnolias.” She looks up their menu and sees that they don't serve breakfast.

“But we can't use the coffee grinder.” “I have a manual grinder,” she says. I put the water on to boil and come back into the kitchen. “Would you hold the grinder while I turn it,” she asks, “it was hitting my knuckles.” I hold the grinder and comment, “This isn't easy. Here, let me hold it and you grind. How about if I use my power drill,” I ask. “No, you might hurt the grinder.”

We finish grinding. The water is at a rolling boil and we make a great pot of coffee. I had cut up some fruit last night and quickly get it from the fridge, keeping the cold from escaping, and a piece of my gluten free pumpkin/banana bread. She starts reading her book and I go into my room and adjust the shutters so I can see. I am in a quandary whether to start my Torah study or to write something for this blog. I decide to write.

A few minutes ago I hear my printer go on. “The power is on,” I yell. She doesn't answer. Though perhaps I didn't hear her since I haven't put on my hearing aids.

The other night in Zen writing we used a poem about window washing for a prompt. I liked it because this mundane activity of washing windows was such a good metaphor for meditation.

Around three in the morning we woke to lightening and thunder that seemed to last for an hour or so. I remember thinking that I had never experienced a storm of that duration.  When nature shows her strength I'm struck how, despite our technological advances, I am still at her mercy. I am on the grid, so to speak. I can attribute storms to our thoughtless behavior or I can just say it is one of those things that just happen. In any case, it alters my habitual patterns. What I normally do in a daze no longer works. I am left to think in a new way, confronted with new problems that need fresh solutions.

And then the power turns on and I revert to being my robust and independent self (or so I believe), programmed for many years by my repetitive life patterns.

Thanks, powerless, for nudging a challenge into my lifeless body. And thanks, City or Austin Utilities, for so quickly restoring our power.





Wednesday, September 17, 2014

“Zen is good for nothing.”

Sometimes I'd hear this at the Zen temple. What a great sales line!

Bodhidharma (http://www.usashaolintemple.org/chanbuddhism-history/) told the king, when asked if he gained merit from building temples, that he would gain no merit.

Buddha did care about one thing: to end suffering. I think that when we talk about "no gain" we are referring more to Bodhidharma's insistence that doing things for merit doesn't create merit. We aren't saying that there are no benefits for meditation, or even for following the precepts (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dhamma/sila/pancasila.html).

Someone wrote that meditation softens one edges. We see this in studies that are being done at universities such as Stanford, where able meditators react far less to stimuli.
http://blog.bufferapp.com/how-meditation-affects-your-brain

One could say that they want to respond to stimuli. Fully. I think there is a difference here between being fully in the moment, and being at the effect of the moment. We don't want to be a ping pong ball, thrown around from one paddle to another. The table experiences the same game, but from a somewhat different perspective.

If I bought my wife flowers so that she'd do something nice for me, I'd be engaging in prostitution. If I made art to make money, would I also be selling my soul to the devil?

Buddha saw meditation as an advanced practice that would come after the first four paramitas. (http://www.rigpawiki.org/index.php?title=Six_paramitas). Wisdom would be the outcome from meditation after the first four were already accomplished.

Someone asked, “who sits?” I love that question. As long as it is I who sits, I'm going to continue to do a cost/benefit analysis.

We'll see what sitting brings in a couple of hours from now.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Why Sit?

Periodically I ask myself, why sit?

If I told someone I sit and face a wall for 35 minutes they would call the men in white suits to take me away. It is crazy.

Of course I am doing little harm compared with some other vocations and avocations. Especially if I don’t think about what useful work I might do during that time. My wife goes out and pulls weeds. Or reads a book. She actually was in a sitting group at one time, but now is anti both sitting and exercising. “Too much to do,” she says.

I decided to quit qigong on Sundays so that I could sit, but then decided at the last moment to go to another qigong class. The funny thing was that the new class involved a 45-minute standing meditation. It was breathtaking to be moving so slowly and intentionally.

Am my feelings a fair test about whether this or that is a beneficial activity? If so, perhaps a drug cocktail might be the better.

The poem (“What the Window Washers Did” by Margaret Hasse) talked about two window washers on either side of a window, squirting on Windex and then wiping the glass clean until the dirt disappeared. Somehow I thought of sitting when I heard that. No, I don't think the poet had that in mind, but we take from a poem something unique depending on who we are and what are our needs at a given moment.

I walk around steeped in three poisons: greed, hate, and delusion. In the busyness of life, I don't see that. I act and respond like an automaton. I am never able to watch the movie of my life because I am often somewhere else, either thinking about the next action, or lamenting about the last.

So I sit to polish the glass. It is dirty on both sides: the inside and the outside. Maybe it is like compassion. I feel for another. But it is much harder is to feel as another is feeling. To step outside of my stories and into someone else's shoes, and to see how they are suffering.

My neighbor says he's not suffering. Suffering is a bad misunderstand word. Wordsworth wrote, “Getting and spending we lay waste our powers. Little we know of nature that is ours.” That is the suffering I am talking about (some say “dukkha”). I look out a window and see that the glass is dirty and I believe that if I were just to clean one side it would be enough.

That is a delusion. But how could I know that there is dirt on both sides of the glass until I clean one side? How can I let the sunlight in to bath my life with joy? What kind of work can allow me to be both on the inside and the outside, polishing the glass until it disappears and there is no separation between the other and me?

If there were an easier way, I'm sure I would have heard about it. Continually the glass gets dirty. And, if I want to see clearly, I need to polish both sides. I need to sit. And I thank the sun for waiting patiently to be my guest.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Renunciation of greed, hate, and delusion

Barbara said the renunciation was the most important aspect of Buddhism. I suspect, like with “suffering,” that renunciation is often misunderstood. We talk about renunciates who deny themselves all the “good stuff” including dance, laughter, sex, drink, etc. But I suspect that this is not what Barbara was talking about. Buddha rejected living on 1/2 of a grain of rice a day. Perhaps his story tells us the physical renunciation is not the answer.

Yesterday I read about a test given to five year olds. They were given a cookie and told that if they didn't eat if for 15 minutes they would get two. The ones that were able to control their gluttony were destined for higher SAT scores. Were those that could sit still for 15 minutes the renunciates?

I don't think so. It seems that Barbara was talking about renouncing the three poisons: greed, hate, and delusion. It is more a mental state than a physical state. It is more about not being attached to the “good stuff.” Maybe when we can take it ... or leave it, then we can really enjoy it.

Some people can leave food on their plate. I'm not able to do that. I need rules. Current I eat 26 weight watcher points per day. My new rule is to write down food (using the iPhone app “iTrackBites”) before I eat it. For me, the self-control is freeing. I'm choosing to not make constant decisions about what I'll eat and not eat.

When we renounce greed we can embrace generosity. Not seeing ourselves as separate, we are free to share. And actually, it is hardly sharing, but rather giving to our larger selves.

When we renounce hate, we embrace love. And embracing love is accepting things as they “is.” (Suzuki Roshi used “is” rather than “are” to suggest that we are all part of one.)

When we renounce delusion, we realize that what we see and think is only that. It is what our mind has created. It may or may not describe a world that we can't know.

I think my food rules teach me not to go with every whim. I love chocolate soy gelato at Central Market, yet I usually walk by it, eyeing it lovingly, and realize the consequences of eating it. Will that help my SAT scores. I doubt it. (Note: later I went and bought a small container of the gelato. And, unfortunately, I forgot that it makes me cough.)

My food rules teach me a little about renunciation. Leaving the thoughts alone that arise when I'm meditating teach me a little as well. Not getting mad (leaking) at someone calling me to sell insurance is a form of renunciation.

Renunciation can be practiced any time or place. I saw some beautiful little flowers today. I dismissed the thought that they too will die. I enjoyed them, and then walked on, looking for the next gift.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Is Buddha Fallible?

Lately the news has been getting me down. Between Ebola and the war in the Gaza Strip, I can hardly stand up. When someone says they don't listen to the news I feel a certain jealousy, thinking that no one deserves that kind of peace when so many are suffering. And then I think they are being irresponsible, as if to say, if you listened you could affect change and all would be well.

I like to tell this story about a girl who needs help but is turned down by a yogi in the sixth realm of consciousness. “Don't bother me,” the yogi says. “I'm almost there.”

I've been thinking about the difference between the Buddha, the man, and the Buddha, a stone statute. Did you know that stone and bronze statutes came about six hundred years after the Buddha lived? Earlier, there were sculptures of his feet, but nothing else. Feet are very special. After the Buddha ate, his attendants would wash his feet. That's a bit different from what we do, isn't it?

So the question came up about whether the Buddha was fallible. I thought he was not, but then my teacher said that not only was he fallible, but that he [my teacher] would never follow someone who wasn't.

So there are Buddhas and there are Buddhas. The stone ones probably don't make too many mistakes. They sit there and don't flinch no matter what we do. On the other hand, the human Buddha needs to negotiate every turn in the road.

The Dalai Lama was asked if he got excited when he saw a beautiful woman. I expected him to say, “of course not, I'm way beyond that.” But instead he said, “Of course, and then I realize the ramifications of an involvement with her.”

So would a perfect Buddha be like a stone? Would he always say the right thing? In fact, if he were really good, wouldn't he be able to end suffering instantly?

The bluebird sings, reminding us of a different world than that of disease and Israeli Hamas cease-fires. Is the bird irresponsible for not paying attention to the ills of the world? Is there a little message in the bird’s song that could resolve some of the world's conflicts? Perhaps!