Friday, November 21, 2014

All Roads Lead to Rome.

The Romans were great road builders. They saw Rome as the center of the universe, and wanted to make sure that the little towns didn’t gang up against Rome, so made the roads so that they’d only go to Rome. You couldn't go from one little town to another.

Jim Jordan wrote about religions that there were many comic books and they all said the same thing.

Thoreau wrote, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

I think I mistakenly misunderstood each of these maxims. I heard them say that any-which-way is fine.

If you’ve been in a forest you know that there are paths and there is getting lost. There are “not paths” so to speak.

Thoreau talks about “hearing a different drummer.” He’s not saying that you don’t need a beat… a path. You need to step to the music you hear. But you need to hear music.

Jim Jordan said that there are comic books. Which implies that there are also “not comic books.” Buddha’s enlightenment provided for Buddha (and others) a new comic book.

Rabbi Baker said the other day that we pick our road depending on where we are born and who we are. Roads are paths, and they have the three jewels of Buddhism: sangha (others), dharma (teachings), and Buddha (a sense of the infinite). Without the three jewels, one doesn’t have a compass.

Emerson wrote, “…and the great man is he, who in the midst of a crowd, keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude,” he wasn’t advocating for walking alone (which he did not do), but rather about not being swayed every-which-way by the crowd. He heard a beat. It reinforced the path that he was on.

It is not our challenge to walk alone. It is not to head off the path and get lost. It is to find our road, lined with the three jewels.

And that road will lead to Rome, which is our center—our Buddha nature, our Atman, who we were meant to be, etc.

I believe Baby Boomers were mistaken that any-which-way was a path. We were wrong and lost.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Camas Lilies and Jerusalem

I'm not into lilies today. I moaned that would be the prompt as I drove here.

Earlier I had heard that the fifth person had died in the attack at a synagogue in Jerusalem. A vicious attack, where their shawls were lying in the blood, like the Holocaust, one of the victims said.

Lilies in the field. Are there any such things? The other day someone was telling me that heaven was on earth, and, gazing out on the lilies, we might believe that. But then this or that happens, and... where is heaven?

I did mention to my heaven on earth friend that the idyllic heaven would be boring. Where would the challenges be? Where would the opportunity be to bloom, if everything were already bloomed like the lilies?

Such contrast. A pristine field of lilies, blooming their hearts out, and the shawls, laying in blood, telling a story we don't want to hear.

Do we walk in the fields and feel the wind caress our faces? Do we watch the news with a box of tissues to catch the tears?

My mom didn't want me to see the hellish side of life. She thought the challenges were enough without the sad. She hid an obituary of someone I admired so it would interfere with my schoolwork. We never went to funerals. She always maintained she lived on “heaven on earth.” After she passed, we read in her diary how depressed she actually was. But she didn't want to share that amongst the lilies. We needed our opportunity to bloom, she thought.


Fracking Fracking

Maybe I shouldn’t write about fracking because I know nothing about it. But I’m fascinated how with this and a myriad of other subjects, people take sides. And they often think that those who take a different position are stupid and evil.

Like the other subjects, there are costs and benefits to fracking. The costs are the danger to the environment and the benefit is the cheap oil. Joe might see the environment as the most important value, or Mary might see getting oil or gas for cheap as the most important value.

Saying “I support fracking” at a gathering might get you hugged or stoned. The subtext might be a statement about your values. Is it independence from the Arab nations? Is it cheap oil? Is it the preservation of the water table?

We feel anger or love, depending on how our preferences align with one another. We’ve made a decision and, despite our limited information, attach that decision to who we are. I’m a fracker, or I’m an anti-fracker. And if you aren’t as I am, then I’ll befriend you.

I heard about a tribe of Indians. When there was a disagreement, the elders would sit around a table with a pumpkin in the middle. They’d all work to understand the problem they were facing, represented by the pumpkin. They wouldn’t try to convince others of their point of view. They’d work together to understand all sides of the issue.

Socrates disliked the Sophists because they practiced debating to win rather than as a means to find the truth. It seems when we are convinced about something, we forget the other side. We become irrational in that we insist that the pumpkin is only what we see from one vantage point.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Give Yourself a Break

”Life Goes On Here. I sit as often as possible and attempt—with somewhat limited success—to make mindfulness a part of my daily life.” —from a prisoner I encourage in their Buddhist practice.

Some of the challenging words in his statement, which may be just an expression of his humbleness, are “with somewhat limited success.” If one is aware that they are not being mindful, then they are being mindful of their mindfulness. And if they aren’t aware, they are not aware, but they are still on that continuum of degrees of mindfulness. They are perfect, so to speak.

Dogen wrote: If you wish to practice the way of the Buddhas … you should expect nothing, seek nothing. Cut off the mind that seeks and do not cherish a desire to gain the fruits of Buddhahood. – Zuimonk (trans. Cook, How to Raise an Ox, p24)

Wanting success in our mindfulness takes our eyes off the path and lets the peak of the mountain distract us.

Sometimes we gently put down the tea bowl. Other times we set it down less gently and make a noise. In the former case, we are mindful when we set it down. In the latter case we are mindful of how we set it down. Beating ourselves us because our mindfulness came a little late is not only non-productive but wrong. As I read the other day, we are both the bull and the china shop in the phrase, “like a bull in a china shop.”

We rock! My friend might have said “I sit and make mindfulness my daily life.” In some more challenging words, “as often as possible,” I sense a tang of guilt that he doesn’t make mindfulness a practice often enough, so an excuse is warranted. Again, now pain has entered the picture. Pain of not doing it always. What is creating the pain? An anxiety about not being perfect.

Yet Suzuki Roshi said that we are perfect just as we are, and we could stand a little improvement.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


More than one Buddhist priest has maintained that dana, or giving, is the most important of the Buddhist six paramitas (or perfections). The others are virtue, patience, effort, meditation, and wisdom.

When I hear this, I think they might have a conflict of interest. Are they encouraging me to empty my wallet into the donation box?

I saw a starving kid in Mexico City, so I gave his mom money. Then I followed the mom into a church and she put the money into the donation box.

So then we give her food stamps.

Perhaps she put the stamps into the box, or sell the stamps and put the money into the box.
Once I asked a begger who had a sign saying give me money for food. I asked him if he’d like me to buy him a meal. Get lost, he said.

Giving. Uck!

I went to the Bat Mitzvah today of the daughter of a rabbi. She mentioned that her dad told her that even if one in ten people use your gift meaningfully (food not alcohol) that the gift was worth giving because you had helped someone.
Buddhists say that gift, giver and receiver are one.

Buddhists give without attachment to the gift or the receiver ( And here comes the problem for me.

Given our interdependence, we are not separate. Everything we do affects others. I give to you and you give to me, for you and me are co-conspirators. So does giving even exist?

I had an Israeli philosophy professor in college who said that you shouldn’t help anyone with a guarantee.

After that I went to lunch with some people and one of them reminded me of the fact that when you give a gift you need to let go. When Barnes left his great collection to Philadelphia, he insisted it stay in the same house where he had lived. It took expensive and long legal maneuvering before his wishes could be reversed. Now a beautiful museum exists in a location closer to the population that he wish to educate.

How hard it is to give something without strings! I remember how surprised and envious I was when I heard that the University of Missouri—St. Louis hired someone with the stipulation that they’d find something to do. There was no teaching or research required. Just a paycheck and the individual could decide how to be useful. I used this as my model when I taught. I’d start up programs and courses that seemed needed and/or interesting.

But back to attachment. I gave Bill a packet of sugar, but held on to it. He could never take it. There was no gift. Finally he let go, realizing that I could not let go.

I must work on that, remembering what David Steindl-Rast, said in Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer, “One single gift acknowledged in gratefulness has the power to dissolve the ties of our alienation.”

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Reasonable Man

The rabbi spoke of the reasonable person argument, suggesting that the Palestinian Militants are not reasonable people and therefore peace between the Jews and the Arabs is not possible. Palestinian militants want martyrs and Jews value life. Valuing death as a martyr is not reasonable.

Terri offered the homeless man a half of a sandwich and some veggies. He said that he wanted the whole sandwich. She said no. He walked away, but then came back and asked for the half. He didn’t want the veggies. You and I are reasonable people and say that we’d do things differently. If we were hungry, we’d take what is given. As reasonable people, we would choose the most nutritious items, like the veggies. And then we might save the veggies for our dinner and eat the sandwich now, because it won’t keep without refrigeration. If we were very clever, we’d sell the sandwich and buy some bananas, which is a very good food for the money. And… if we had ideas like that, we'd really be reasonable, and we wouldn’t be homeless.

You might disagree. But navigating life is like playing chess. You make a plan of attack. You consider possible moves that your opponent might make. You think ahead.

I knew a man who was a potter in Mexico. He had 13 kids and a wife. They all slept in one room on sheets of worn cardboard. Every week he’d make beautiful pottery and sell it to a wholesaler on Friday. Then he and his wife would drink all weekend. And they bought expensive whiskey. By Monday they were broke and would start the cycle again. What would a reasonable person have done?

I remember shopping at a grocery that bordered on Ferguson, Missouri which has been on the news. People with food stamps are not reasonable shoppers. They buy food loaded with sugar, fat, and salt. They starve their brains of nutrition. I had a student from Ferguson who had never eaten a raw carrot. “If it isn’t processed and cooked to death, it isn’t food,” she said.

We used to talk about teachable moments. Should there be a required course for people to take before they are given food stamps?

Or should we just give people money and hope they come to their senses sooner rather than later. As William Blake said, “If a fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.”

Actually I think that it is not reasonable to think that there is one reasonable way of looking at things or living life. I suspect that Hamas and the food stamp shopper think they are reasonable. I suspect too that the first step toward peace is to acknowledge that each of them is reasonable.

I know, in my job as dean, some people would have said that I was not reasonable. And I thought they weren’t reasonable. That seems to be more the nature of conflict than a correct perception. I’d go so far to say that I suspect we (the human species) are all reasonable. We just hear the “beat of a different drummer.” (Thoreau)

P.S. My neighbor told me this morning that he sometimes is not reasonable. I asked him if he realized that in hindsight, or at the time of the action. I don’t remember if he answered.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Getting Things Done

I was going to write about “giving” which I’m sure I’ve written about before, and it continues to bug me as a practice and topic. I just came back from Torah study and want to write about “God” because when I hear such things as God is all the “omni-es” (plural of omni-), I get the heebie jeebies.

So I have two topics for the future. Someone once told me that you should leave some work undone each day so you don’t have to start on something new in the morning. Probably good advice, isn’t it?

Anyway, what is toughest, when I don’t have someone yelling at me, is to get anything done. I should have said, toughest for me.

It has been a constant struggle to keep from wasting time. Or whatever it is that I do that takes so much time.

My neighbor claims his time is worth so much an hour, so he weighs a certain task (like returning some toothpaste that he doesn’t like) with what he would get at his billable hour rate (though he’s retired). On the other hand, I have the attitude that I benefit the world by returning some bad toothpaste by letting someone know they shouldn’t stock it… and, though a few dollars isn’t much money, a few dollars added to a few dollars, plus interest, is.

So some don’t jump when someone says they’ll give them a couple of hundred dollars for trying a new credit card. I do, and thus have an embarrassing number of cards.

Which isn’t quite on the topic of getting things done. It is just an illustration of the dumb things I do when I’m not getting things done.

So what do I try to get done every day?

Torah study with drawing.
Writing on this blog.
Record what I eat and eat 26 weight watcher points a day.
Make a photo and put it on

If I miss a day I end up missing a week. It is so much harder to get back on the wagon than to stay on the wagon. That wagon moves at quite a pace and it is hard to jump back on.

Making a photo can be hard. I was out walking and saw some old photos…images that would be okay, but ones that I was doing for others and not myself. So I didn’t take any pictures. Later I’ll go get some propane tanks filled. Maybe there I will find something that I haven’t done before.

In the meantime, thanks for being here for me.

Talk to you tomorrow.