Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Of course, she's right.

Kate is absolutely right. Criticizing is just another form of complaining. I asked Anne this morning about criticizing someone for being angry. She said, "yea, I did it once and now she's not my friend anymore." Then I thought about how William Glasser, who I've mentioned before, said that we know to not criticize our friends because then they won't be our friends anymore (we do criticize our family... which is why we are sometimes closer to friends than family).

So it seems we (those who have friends) have a circle of people we don't criticize and then have the rest of the world as a shooting gallery. On the other hand, it is said that we are our own worst critic.

I do know that it doesn't feel right when I hear the candidates badmouthing each other. Susan in Austin (or was it my wife?) said this morning that I feel that way because I'm too sensitive.

What happened to defamation of character? What happened to civility?

Anyway, I decided today to turn over a new leaf. Time for spring in Austin. No more criticizing anyone.

Until tomorrow...

Monday, January 30, 2012

Good question on complaining.

Kate: How is ‘choosing not to complain’ different from ‘apathy’ and/or ‘complacency’?
When two things, like pacifism and complacency, look so much alike, how do you know what you are doing? It is clear, in situations like Occupy Wall Street (in its best light) and the revolt that Gandhi led, that we did not see complacency. But how about the monk who faces the wall of a cave for ten years. Is he accomplishing anything, or is he just avoiding the world's ills?

One could say that if you aren't adding wood to the fire, you are assisting in putting the fire out. My walking neighbor won't talk about the Republican nominations because we are so far from the election. Is he being complacent? Today he said that he didn't like the emotions behind politics. Who does?

Part of not being complacent is being right, being on a side. Another way of approaching "life" is simply to look at both sides and see that each has its costs and benefits. The "pipeline" being proposed from Canada to Houston will do good things A, B, and C and will harm D, E, F. Is this an equanimous approach? Not quite (though I am just a beginner at all this). I found this on the web: "But the kind of equanimity required has to be based on vigilant presence of mind, not on indifferent dullness." Equanimity isn't the result of analysis, but of being "in the moment." It is not stepping backward and thinking, but rather stepping inward and opening one's heart.

Some feel that the world will not be habitable for long if we build the pipeline. Can they do anything but covert action ("as a mother risks her life to save her only child")? Is equanimity an appropriate response when a child (or the Earth) is threatened?

Have I given more questions than answers? Hope so!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Vegetable Soup

Cook lentils, split peas, or beans according to the package.

Cook an onion, 4 sticks of celery in a frying pan or wok. Bok choy too...

Heat up a box of vegetable broth (low salt) and about equal part of water.

Add about 4 carrots, 1 large potato (cut in 1" cubes), and lentils/peas/beans. Even frozen peas or a can of beans will work... but better and cheaper to make from scratch.

If your wife isn't looking, add other stuff that you like (like kale) and she doesn't. Chop it up small so she doesn't catch you.

Put in the cooked onion and celery.

Add a heaping teaspoon of salt, tablespoon of parsley, bay leafs (2), and heaping teaspoon of herbs de Provence.

Simmer until potato is soft.

You can blend some of the soup... but I like it as it is. It is almost a stew sometimes... or you can add water. Hot sauce is good too.

I guess you could add garlic, but since I don't like garlic I'm not going to tell you that.

You now have food for about 4 or 5 days.

Three Perfect Candidates: Political Pacifism

I sat three periods of zazen this morning. I needed that, considering the amount of controversy that has passed in front of me this week. Some of it started when my long-time friend of 49 years, Miss S., called Rick Santorum an asshole. My zen teacher calls us all buddha. How can someone be buddha and an asshole? If that wasn't bad enough, my best commenter-to-my-blog-friend, Kate, said that asshole is pretty tame. She went on to say what might have a little more impact.
I think ‘demonizing’ goes more like, “He is too evil to rot in hell for all eternity. He is Cain, cursed to walk the earth until the end of time. The only reason he looks relatively young is because he eats aborted baby dumplings all the time. If he were Buddhist, he could look forward to being reborn as a maggot in a pile of crap. Farts are too good for him.”
I asked my palates teacher to rename "bomber wings" to "angel wings" in my effort to quiet things down. She complied.

As I sat this morning, I thought (what everyone does even though we are told to follow our breath) about how the Dalai Lama doesn't seem to have anger toward the Chinese who have removed him from his homeland. He writes,
Anger is the real destroyer of our good human qualities; an enemy with a weapon cannot destroy these qualities, but anger can. Anger is our real enemy.
So why do I say that we have three perfect candidates? One makes too much money and doesn't give enough of it back to the other 99.9%. The second has ethical issues. And the third calls a baby that resulted from a rape "a gift" (though he adds the adjective, "broken"). One might say of this almost biblical tale, that these are despicable human beings, using some of Kate's metaphors.

But no, this is an opportunity to see who we are in the face of our dislikes. These men are our brothers. We are part of the same spaceship, whirling through space. Our problems are their problems. They have a different perspective than we might have. But are they fodder for anger? Is anything?

Anger gets in the way of love. It eats at us until we are sick. It keeps us from enjoying life.

"Well, why don't they just change their views and pay more taxes, and then I'll be happier?" you say. That may happen, but then someone else will say or do something that will offend us and we'll be cranky all over again.

We can choose to respond differently.

In some studies done by scientists invited by the Dalai Lama to Northern India it is shown that thinking can change the brain. We can choose not to complain and we can choose not to be angry. The amazing part of this is that we stop being angry people. Our hearts can open up to our brothers and sisters, and we can talk to them rather that throw darts at them. I love that line in the Lord's Prayer, "And forgive us our trespasses,: as we forgive them that trespass against us." It is much easier to be angry. And you need to remember that anger goes in both direction. Buddha said (heard this today in a dharma talk) that when you put more wood on a fire it gets hotter.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Santorum, abortion, and equanimity.

Below is an email conversation that I had with my friend "S" about Rick Santorum and abortion. I'm always surprised when people condemn others.
S: this guy is a real ass hole. 
Article: GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum explained his opposition to abortion even in cases of rape during an interview Friday, saying that women who face such circumstances should "make the best out of a bad situation."
Asked by CNN's Piers Morgan what he would do if his own daughter approached him, begging for an abortion after having been raped, Santorum explained that he would counsel her to "accept this horribly created" baby, because it was still a gift from God, even if given in a "broken" way.

"Well, you can make the argument that if she doesn't have this baby, if she kills her child, that that, too, could ruin her life. And this is not an easy choice, I understand that. As horrible as the way that that son or daughter and son was created, it still is her child. And whether she has that child or she doesn't, it will always be her child, and she will always know that," Santorum said.

"And so to embrace her and to love her and to support her and get her through this very difficult time, I've always, you know, I believe and I think the right approach is to accept this horribly created -- in the sense of rape -- but nevertheless a gift in a very broken way, the gift of human life, and accept what God has given to you. As you know, we have to, in lots of different aspects of our life we have horrible things happen. I can't think of anything more horrible, but nevertheless, we have to make the best out of a bad situation and I would make the argument that that is making the best."

(Video above via CNN)
Santorum has crusaded against abortion throughout his tenure as a legislator and presidential hopeful. A recent analysis of his time as a U.S. senator showed an almost obsessive tendency to talk about abortion-related subjects on the Senate floor. His strict views on the issue, as well as gay rights, have repeatedly drawn aggressive pushback from his detractors on the campaign trail.

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Monday, Santorum called Obama's support of women's reproductive rights "radical and extreme," arguing that this was illustrated through the president's recent statement on the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Other hardline anti-abortion advocates have explained their views much like Santorum has. In 2010, Tea Party-backed Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle was asked to explain her belief that abortions were unacceptable even in the case of a girl being raped by her father.
"I think that two wrongs don't make a right," she answered. "And I have been in the situation of counseling young girls, not 13 but 15, who have had very at-risk, difficult pregnancies. And my counsel was to look for some alternatives, which they did. And they found that they had made what was really a lemon situation into lemonade." 
Mr. Kim: I don't think this is so black and white. He's compassionate (in perhaps his limited way) for the well-being of both the child and the mother. Though you and I might direct our compassion in a different direction, I don't think he should be demonized for his view. There are at least three things to consider: the psychological distress that may be caused by an abortion, the distress of having an unwanted child on the mom and the child, and the life of the child. No solution is without costs. 
S: It's clear that he thinks that the moment of conception = personhood. And then it would follow that if you think that since every time you have sex, you might be conceiving (since he also believes that any and all forms of birth control are "unnatural" and definitely out ) then, I guess, even married people [pre-marital sex??? oh my god!!! HELL, FIRE AND BRIMSTONE!!!] should not have sex at all if they don't want kids. But, that too is interfering with what is "natural" and not in [his] book. He seems ready to give others no choice and force his religious beliefs onto others in laws that he would support or veto. I am not sure that is a President's prerogative. Or ??? What about the right to privacy? He would work around that by making it again a crime to perform an abortion? What about the sacredness of medical records? We all have to sign papers now about privacy matters. The medical staff of a doctor can't even confirm with husband/wife an appointment!!! So now, the doctor is going to tell about performing an abortion. That is violating the trust between the woman and her doctor. What about supporting or not supporting personal religious practices: congress shall make no law that supports or does not support any particular religion - [even atheism]. Or? I interpret his religious beliefs are not just for him, but for everybody.
Mr. Kim: Abortion is the perfect opportunity to practice equanimity. As I meditated this evening, I started to mourn for the apple seeds that I throw on the compost pile. How insensitive of me, I thought. Perhaps these seeds should have a better opportunity to sprout. Maybe they will just decay and become dirt.

Abortion is about drawing a line. Actually drawing many lines. We can kill cows but not dogs. We can eat carrots and apples, but not canaries and cats. You could define personhood as when you become an adult, or even when a couple beds down together... or anywhere in-between. Mr Santorum has his views. Everyone has views. Is one view "right" and another "wrong"? Of are views merely fashions, constructed from the world through our particular lens. 

Part of Santorum's religion is to have others do as he believes. Others do not have his religion. Is this a reason to hate the man... to despise him? I think not. Don't vote for him if you want, but why get riled up about it? He draws the line in one sandbox, you draw it in another. Yes, persuade others to do as you do... but don't demonize him. He's a sincere and conscientious human being, as you are.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Kate's comments on prosperity.

Prosperity should appeal to everyone. --- Mr. Kim

True. By definition, being prosperous is good. How individuals define prosperity might be different.
Dictionary.com defines prosperity: 1. a successful, flourishing, or thriving condition, especially in financial respects; good fortune.

Any compassionate person would wish prosperity for all. The question is the means toward that prosperity. And what is the cost in terms of money and freedom?
I doubt it will be from taking from the rich and giving to the poor. --- Mr. Kim

Is ‘taking from the rich and giving to poor’ different from ‘redistributing resources more equitably among all peoples’?
Both statements are biased. And each in a different direction. I question who has the right to make giving to charity a law.
Are we talking opportunity or assets? --- Mr. Kim

Assets equal resources. Access to resource is opportunity. The absence of resource is lack of opportunity.
Equality of opportunity infers better access to education, health care, fresh air and water, etc. for all. --- Mr. Kim

Education, health care, fresh air and water are resources. Access to resource is opportunity. Equality of opportunity is Equality of ‘resource’. Resource equals assets.
The advantage of improving resources is that then everyone's assets can grow. Who should be the one doing this? Who can best do this? Who knows best what the individual needs?
I can't think of communist/socialist societies that have provided prosperity and equality of opportunity. So I'll say that Karl Marx is not good. --- Mr. Kim

I can’t think of any society were there is peace and goodwill toward all beings. Does that mean Buddha is not good?
I think the division of labor and the free market have contributed greatly to peace and goodwill. Not necessarily "intentional" goodwill, but knowing that you need your neighbor for your survival encourages you to treat her well.
Kennedy had it wrong when he said, "...ask what you can do for your country." --- Mr. Kim

Because he should have said . . .
He should have said, "ask what your country can do for you." That is the basis by which many people will vote. I like better Abe Lincoln's "Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth." The cumulative effect should be awesome of everyone voting for a president that would make them more prosperous. Wouldn't everyone become more prosperous and therefore the country would be more prosperous? And prosperous in the way that people want to be prosperous. There is a "virtue to selfishness" as Ayn Ryan's book indicated.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Karl Marx: Is it good or bad? Prosperity and Equality for all.

Kate asked if sounding like Karl Marx is good or bad. I've been thinking about that. And Mr. Obama will be talking tonight about how he (the government) will provide prosperity and equality should he be reelected.

Prosperity should appeal to everyone. Everyone, that is, except the environmentalists who might infer that if we have more then the environment will be further depleted. Prosperity is a goal for many. We believe that we'll be a little happier and will suffer a little less with prosperity.

How can the government provide prosperity for all? I doubt it will be from taking from the rich and giving to the poor. That will (superficially) help the poor, but will not contribute to the prosperity of the rich. We'll hear tonight how the government will increase prosperity. Most of what the government does, when it does anything, is spend money. Whose money? Our money, of course. So to increase prosperity, there must be a "value added." They must spend our money more efficiently than we can. For example, when I go to the grocery, I get $10 of fruits and veges. If Uncle Sam takes my $10 and buys me groceries, the inference is that I'll get $11 of fruits and veges. My suspicion is that I'll end up with about $3 of corn syrup... but we'll see.

Equality. That's a big one. Are we talking opportunity or assets? Robin Hood provides equality of assets. Superficially, I believe, because Robin Hood destroys incentive. Why should I try so hard if so much will be taken from me? Or should I hide my $$$ on the Cayman Islands so that I can take care of myself on a rainy day. Equality of opportunity sounds great to me. I suspect that we have more of that in America than has ever existed in any country ever... and we have a long way to go. I'm hoping Obama will have some good suggestions on how equality can be provided. Equality of opportunity infers better access to education, health care, fresh air and water, etc. for all.

I can't think of communist/socialist societies that have provided prosperity and equality of opportunity. So I'll say that Karl Marx is not good. But more importantly (in my view) is that the shortcoming of the planned society is that we have less freedom to pursue our aims. I might have tremendous skills to practice medicine, but tremendous interest in making bad art. I'd rather live where I can pursue bad art. In a planned society, my life will be dictated by the boss. Kennedy had it wrong when he said, "...ask what you can do for your country."

Saturday, January 21, 2012

$20,000 an hour

Yesterday a Facebook commenter to my previous post pointed out that Romney earned $20,000 an hour last year, suggesting that no one can be worth that much. Yet he was paid that much. Worth in economics is what the market is willing to pay. The Museum of Modern Art reopened their doors a few years ago charging $20 admission. They are still packed. Is it worth it? Obviously, if people are willing to pay that.

Anonymous wrote,
The wealthy executives and people who have accumulated wealth have done so because they have taken some of the financial worth of their masses of employees. They've already taken money from the bottom, and higher levels of taxes at the top acknowledges that fact and re-balances the system."

This statement could have been written by Karl Marx. The inference that wealth was accumulated because employees are short-changed is highly contentious. "...taking money from the bottom..." suggests that companies should pay their workers more than the going rate. For the vast number of publicly owned companies, paying employees more would mean that the stockholders get less dividends, the companies would have less cash on hand, and/or CEOs would get paid less (or perhaps all three). Either of these actions would start a vicious circle. If the stockholders get less dividends, the stock and the profits will go down. Then there would be less money for the generous CEOs to give away, presumably to rebalance the system. And the CEOs, perhaps not being so altruistic, would go to work for a different company willing to pay them more.

I don't expect to settle this argument. I do wish more people would voluntarily share their riches with those less fortunate. It seems that the great benefactors usually choose to give to the truly unfortunate, or to cultural or educational institutions. And maybe some will pay their workers enough to "balance" the system. I can not think of a business that does that, but maybe one does exist.

Or another note, I would mow my small lawn for $5. Yet, even with the great unemployment we have, I can not find anyone to do it for less that $20. Why is that?

Why is life not fair?

Last year, [Apple] earned over $400,000 in profit per employee, more than Goldman Sachs, Exxon Mobil or Google. Much of this money could be distributed to their employees... or it could use the money to hire workers to make their products in USA (instead of China). Is this what they should do? What would happen to their stock if they did this? And what would happen to their research and development?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Romney pays a lot of taxes.

I just read Taxes at the Top, by Paul Krugman. He dished out his usual garbage, this time talking about how little in taxes Romney pays. Let's say that Romney made 387 million last year. At 15% that would be almost 58 million in taxes. For most of us, that's a lot of money. I suspect it goes way way beyond the benefits he derives from the Federal government. In addition, he pays state tax and sales tax, and a host of other taxes embedded in the prices of the items he buys. Let's say that someone who earns 100,000 pays at a 37% rate. They might end up paying 20 or 25 thousand. That's 3-4% as much taxes. Please tell me, Robin Hood, why Romney should be paying more than he is? I think 58 million is plenty.

P.S. This is not a paid ad for Romney.

P.S.S. I'm not voting for Krugman.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Answering a question about buddha nature with a question.

I asked, "if everything changes why doesn't buddha nature, which is unchanging and eternal, change?" Kosho answered, "does it matter?" I said "no." The crowd laughed, and we went on to the next question.

It was an easy out for me. Kosho implied from the question that he thought the answer was no. But is it? Janie came up to me afterwards and said that medieval Jewish scholars debated this question and she would send me the name of a book about it. But until then...

Perhaps the changing world is the relative world (in Buddhist terms) and buddha nature exists in the absolute world. And, so I'm told, both exist together. Things that we really value, like love, don't (in themselves) come and go. Our "love" for something may cease, but the "love" itself doesn't disappear.

Buddha nature is both an ideal and a reality within ourselves. It is the part that we come back to when we are authentic. It is the response of a mother protecting her only child (from a sutra we chant). Though Buddhists claim they are without goals, I think it is a goal to meet and entertain this buddha nature part of ourselves. It is who we are.

Perhaps for those who believe in rebirth it is that part of us that we can't get rid of... the sticky part. Maybe it allows us to measure change. Without it there is only dukkha. Yes, it does matter both that it is and that it doesn't go away. Very much so.

And... if buddha nature did change, and did go away... then we would have to deal with that. It would be a different hand of cards.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

It isn't what you plan.

I told a priest about a Southern India vegetarian restaurant. He said he didn't like Indian food... and then went on to tell me the other foods he didn't like. I asked him about the Buddhist idea of "no preferences" and he said that he tries. Then he asked the head priest if he liked nut bread, knowing that too much of that was served at the monastery where they used to reside. The head priest said that he liked it (or maybe he said he hated it). In any case, I asked, what about the buddha who had no preferences? He said that all those buddhas are dead.

Yesterday I had big plans. I was going to pick up an art work from an exhibition, get an "over 65" bus pass, buy some secret ingredient (tapioca flour)  for my soon to be successful (I hope) experiment with making perfect non-gluten bread, and see the Henry Horenstein photo exhibit. My challenge was not to waste a lot of time or gas.

I knew that you got the bus pass from the main office for Austin Metro. It was on the East side of Austin. So I went there, only to find out that I was wrong... it was downtown. I thought of the positives... that I had now seen a part of Austin new to me, and I had an opportunity here to have a disappointment and to let it "roll off my back" as Jeanie told me to do once in St. Louis.

Then I took off to the Horenstein exhibit (which I enjoyed tremendously). Animals shot at zoos and aquarians. I thought it was between where I was, and downtown. I set my GPS to the new location, and discovered that I passed downtown towards the west side to get there. Oh well, I thought, next time I'll know better.

Then I went to pick up my artwork, which was not only in downtown Austin near the other Metro office, but included free parking for the day. After returning to my car and wrapping the work in my yoga mat, I decided to walk to the Metro office. I got the pass, and then realized that I would have to ride the bus six times over the next two years to pay for it ($3). I was then within walking distance to a couple of museums. So I walked to the first one, which turned out to be further than I remembered. This is good, I thought, I get to walk more. On the way I found a third museum. It was closed while they were setting up an exhibit.

Then I got there (or at least where Google said it should be, and found a deserted museum. I checked Google again and concluded that when it merged with a second museum it had actually dissolved into nothing. Oh, great, I though, another opportunity to not get disappointed.

So then I went to the museum that it had merged with. I didn't think I'd have to pay there because I had donated a work to them for a future exhibit. I got there and the door had a padlock on it. I figured that this must be the wrong door... so I walked to the other side of the museum and found the door locked. Then I walked back to the locked door and read the sign. Not open until today. Another opportunity to enjoy the nice sunny day in Austin, I thought.

At City Hall, where I had my artwork, I got to see the folks who were occupying City Hall. Countless sleeping bags were set up on the steps, and two guys were throwing a football back and forth. Four cops were giving a hard time to a guy who'd been drinking. Throughout  my walk through the downtown area I found an interesting assortments of street people and home people. It took a second look sometimes to tell the difference.

Finally, I returned to my car at City Hall, and drove off to Natural Grocers to get the Tapioca and some organic short grain rice (much better than long grain). I found also some non-gluten pretzels... that I shouldn't have bought... and if I bought, shouldn't have eaten. But I did and I did.

This might have sounded like a shaggy dog story... but it was really a great day. Lots of disappointments took me to see things I've never seen, and an opportunity to "go with the flow" rather than to lament that life isn't how I planned. 

P.S. Thanks to Angela for telling me about a cool new 99¢ iPad program called "Artpad" that I used to make the image above.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

More on Vulture Capitalism

You raise some interesting questions in the tradition of "Uncle Miltie," but the memory of what Carl Icahn did to TWA and by extension to the St. Louis metropolitan region gives me the creeps. I remain suspicious of these takeover artists. H.

It is interesting how different things are seen from different vantage points. For the worker and her family who loses a job because Romney does what he is hired to do, the takeover is a disaster. For the companies that prosper and hire more people, Romney is a breath of fresh air. Growth is painful. Maybe sometimes it probably doesn't need to be as painful as it is. But who knows?

The other objection to Romney's work at Bain capital is that he charged so much for his services. This complaint takes me back to Christ kicking out the money changers, explicating the view that making money is evil, and the more money one makes the more evil they are. In my book, letting companies fail is evil if someone could save them.

You might think that I'm advocating Romney as a candidate. Not at this point. I'm just bothered by the attacks on vulture capitalism and making money.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Vulture Capitalism

Someone quoted the Dalai Lama the other day saying that the essence of Buddhism was being kind. Or maybe it was being nice. Or maybe it doesn't matter.

Yesterday there were criticisms of Mitt Romney because he failed with his assistance in the takeover at Kansas City's Worldwide Grinding Systems steel mill. Newt Gingrich claimed this was the wrong type of capitalism. He did not acknowledge that Romney was hugely successful as a takeover artist and in the end probably created far more jobs that he lost. What would kitten capitalism be? Would you go into a failing company and tell everyone that they could keep their jobs, and that nothing would change, and hopefully things would get better?

In this case "nice" or "kind" is not so obvious. Is "have a heart" always the best policy?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How to post a comment on a blog post.

Some have asked how to post a comment on a blog. The secret is to click on the word "comments" which is circled in red above.

Then you pull down the "jump menu" and choose who you want to comment as. If you want to be anonymous... and/or you don't have a Google account, you can choose anonymous.

Then click Publish... and... your response will be deeply appreciated. I can't read your mind, so if you do have thoughts about something I've said, I'd love to hear them. 



Monday, January 9, 2012

What was Buddha Thinking?

The RISD Museum Buddha
by Pujakins

The large wooden Buddha
Sits placidly in a quiet room
Far from his native land.

No priests tend his temple.
He smiles on museum visitors
Peace in his glance.

Once he contained prayers
Dropped through openings in his lotus legs
Does he miss his worshipers?

I sit quietly on a bench
Breathing in his vast presence
Breathing out awareness of peace.

On Mondays at noon I go to one of my favorite classes. There are five of us, and a Zen priest, Kosho. We each read from a book of quotations... and then we interpret the quote. Usually Kosho will comment, leading us toward a deeper understanding.

Today I sat on the other side of the table and faced this Buddha above. He silently meditated despite our stumbling over such concepts as the difference between pain and suffering, the significance of ordinary things, and the importance of this moment. Buddha (or, as my wife pointed out, a photo of a statue of the Buddha), sat quietly and did not flinch as we revealed what we call in Zen our "beginner's mind."

I felt there were seven of us in the room, with Buddha teaching by example. 50 years ago I read the Tao statement, "He who speaks does not know. He who knows does not speak." The Buddha didn't say a word during the entire class. Normally we don't speak either, except when it is our turn with the quote... or during the the last 10 minutes. But our minds go a million miles a minute, generating countless "dukkha" as we think about what we'd like to say about someone else's quote, what we did earlier in the day, and what we'll do after class.

We disband sharply at 1pm. The Buddha doesn't get up, doesn't flinch, and doesn't even gloat that he no longer needs to struggle with such concepts. How did he figure things out? Did he one day have "beginner's mind?"

I do not know.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Dialogue with Angela on Freedom, Veganism, and the Environment

Is there a new priest at the zen center who is vegan or recommending that Buddhist followers should be vegan? I just wondered if that had something to with you going back to vegan? Are you off cheese too?
I haven't eaten cheese for a long time ... except in some weak moments.

No ... I believe that all the priests other than Trevor eat meat. And Trevor is gone.

I'm feeling much more peaceful not eating meat.

Remember that the monks asked Buddha if he'd make vegan a rule. He said no ... that we'd have to eat what is given to us. And he died from eating bad pork ... that he knew was bad, but did not want to insult the giver.

So the stories go.
I think each person should do what is right for themselves:)
How about if that means depleting the Earth of its resources. I heard yesterday that if everyone on Earth lived as we (Americans) did, we'd need five Earths.

Imagine we are on a ship. There are limited resources on the ship, and we want the ship to go on as long of a journey as possible. We start with the premise that we'll all be free to use and to refrain from using resources as each of us sees fit. Then the environmental committee, charged with creating a sustainable environment, notices that we are depleting resources at an alarming rate. What do we do?

I believe that laws are a last resort, but certainly necessary in a case like this. In Austin, we are just allowed to water our lawns once a week when there is a shortage. I do not see an alternative to some laws like that one.

Each of us is free to follow or break the law. But, obviously, there are usually consequences for those who break it.
I think back on that anime presentation we went to where that man talked about the people in the future mining the landfills for plastic. Who knows what is in the future?

People should be taught to be more mindful of the earth for their own future. It is not enough for them to care about the future of their children. If they were led to believe that they would be reborn on earth to live in the mess that they created then they might be more mindful. Instead they are taught that they will be reborn in heaven where things are good, so they just trash up where they live now. Sad, but the reborn into a living creature and eating the flesh of the living is all mixed into that equation. Who can say what is right and wrong? Who is qualified that walks on this earth? That is what I would like to know.
I like your point that the concept of Heaven doesn't encourage people to take care of Earth. Unless we say that part of the resume that one turns in on judgement day will include how they took care of their spaceship (Earth).

Who is qualified to make judgements? Nobody knows anything for sure. But we need to be able to predict consequences in order to live. I don't drive 100 mph because I predict it might lead to disaster. So I listen to myself and others about the risks of various behaviors and act accordingly. Those who like the "rush" from risks live dangerously. Others live more conservatively.

It isn't a matter of absolutes like right and wrong. It is a matter of “it seems that this (or that) behavior will lead to these consequences.” We are constantly making decisions based on our sense of what might happen if we do or don't.
If I can keep my hummingbird feeders full for the hummingbirds that are stuck here for the cold winter and I can keep my flowers alive for the monarch butterflies that are stuck here too and I do not use poison on my yard and not eat other living flesh animals, then I am doing what I can in a small way. If everyone did something in a small way to make the Earth a better place then it would add up to something big :)
We certainly need a mix of all kinds of people doing all kinds of things. Some say that the situation is too critical on Earth for people to just go about their business. We generally go to war when we see no other options (as trying to stop Hitler in WWII). I do not know if we are at the point where we should drop our paint brushes and blow up industrial complexes. And I have no idea if that would make things worse (though I suspect that it would).

I agree that if everyone did something small it would add up to something big.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Born again Vegan

This is my second day of being a vegan, after about a six month break. Before that, I did it for about ten years. I lost track it was so long.

I do have a rather serious problem: I have a bunch of frozen food in the freezer that might have meat in it. Unlike most of life's problems, I guess the solution is pretty easy. Eat it? Throw it away? Yes... that's what I'll do... throw suspect food away.

And another problem: I am getting closer at making good non-gluten bread and the recipe requires two eggs. So tomorrow I'm going to get some egg substitute... and then hope for the best. My wife is having a some people over on Sunday and I'm going to make bread to go with the soup.
So why did I become a vegan again?

Five reasons I can think of:

1) It is better for the environment. There are lots of facts I could give. This is one about the comparative water use to produce a pound of beef or a pound of corn:
Just a pound of beef! Conservatively taking 2000 gallons (I've read elsewhere that it can be as much as 5000 gallons) as the means for producing a pound of beef, think about how much 2000 gallons of water is. How much water do you drink in a day? A gallon? Half a gallon? How many gallons of water do you think you use when you shower? 30-40 gallons? Every time you flush the toilet in a day, how many gallons? 15-20? Every time you wash your hands? 2-3 gallons? Let’s go for the high end and say that the average human uses 100 gallons of water in a day. After 20 average days of your use of water, you would have created 1 pound of beef. 1 pound. You could conservatively eat for 2-3 days on a pound of beef. Now think about the fact that it is possible to take four times as much water to create a pound of beef—80 days worth of your daily water consumption to make 1 pound of beef. The water that you use over about 3 months time will produce a pound of beef. ONE POUND. 
Now look at the alternative. A pound of corn is grown using 100-250 gallons of water. How long will that last? 2–3 days? Obviously a pound of corn would get boring and it isn’t nutritionally sound, but if all you had was a pound of corn, you could eat it over 2–3 days. Now looking at the high end, if we’ve reasoned that the average American uses 100 gallons of water a day, how many days worth of water would it take to make a pound of corn? 2–3 days. And how long could you live on a pound of corn? 2-3 days. (http://enviroveggie.com/)
2)  It is more healthful:
There is abundant evidence that vegetarian diets are more healthful than the average American diet, especially for preventing, treating or reversing heart disease and reducing the risk of cancer.1 Research has shown a low-fat vegetarian diet is the single most effective way to stop progression of coronary artery disease or prevent it altogether. Several other health conditions, such as diabetes,2 obesity,3 gallstones,4 and kidney stones,5 are much less common in vegetarians. The health benefits of a vegetarian diet may be linked to the fact that vegetarians tend to eat less animal fat, protein and cholesterol and more fiber and antioxidants.6 Simply put, the fewer animal foods and the more varied, whole plant foods consumed, the healthier the individual will be compared to the general population. (http://www.vegsource.com/articles/veg_definition.htm)
3)  Eating non-meats is not connected with violence and animal maltreatment. It surprises me when I hear about someone going to jail for mistreating a dog or cat, but never hear about any penalties for slaughtering a pig or cow. I don't think one can be a peaceful human being and at the same time be an accessory to hurting animals. 

4) Meat is expensive. Better meat (like animals that have been treated well with healthful diets) costs even more. Pounds of potatoes that can be grown on an acre: 40,000. Pounds of beef produced on an acre: 250.

5) It reinforces the idea that Earth (and its animals) are not solely for the benefit of humans. I like to think that we share Earth with our furry friends.

Not convinced? See http://www.consumercide.com/js/index.php/food-supply/39-necessarily-vegetarian/379-how-to-win-an-argument-with-a-meat-eater

Any of these ideas would be sufficient. And I remember that Hitler was a vegetarian and the Dali Lama (on the advice of his doctor) ate meat. That helps me realize that those who make other choices are not evil and I'm sure that can find five good reasons for their indulgences as I found with mine.

More questions about "No Self"

Note: I had to cancel my Netflix subscription to write this. I started it up about 4 days ago... and since them I've been addicted to Breaking Bad. And then, 12 hours later, I reinstated my subscription. Maybe the series will end. 

Now for the questions...

I'll do my best... though I'm just a beginner at all this. I'm sure others will correct me.
You said, (earlier) “…that which is changing, …” So isn’t the “that” the “self” even though it changes?
This is one of those cases where language doesn't cut it. "That" was the best word I could think of. I don't think "self" is normally thought of something that changes. It is more the platonic form that is the essence of the object. I see no convincing evidence that there is this thing which carries on throughout our lives.

Buddhists speak of the relative and the absolute. Here is one of many discourses on the subject. The relative is the world of Sansara and the absolute is the world of Nirvana. The relative is supported by our senses. It is the "Cyclic existence, the beginningless and endless wheel of rebirth. The world, the realm of desire." The absolute is supported by enlightening experiences. It is "The ineffable ultimate in which one has attained disinterested wisdom and compassion." (Quotes from http://sansara-nirvana.tripod.com/) The challenge is to hold both of these "worlds" in your mind simultaneously. We need the relative to navigate, and we need the absolute to relieve suffering. The acrobat trusts his skill, but is prepared, should he fall, to not land on his head.
I know that you said that your parents were different to you than to each of your siblings. I get that. I know that I am different to each person I come into contact with because my response is based on how everything about me relates to everything about that other person.
However to me, I am still the same person, I have the same sense of self now as I did when I was 5.
For whatever reason, we believe many things that are not the way things are. In what sense are you the same person? You've heard that every seven years your atoms are exchanged with new molecules. Click on the link to read of Rudolf Steiner's idea that not only do the atoms change but our personality changes as well.
When I was a small child, at about 5, I had an experience that was very clear. I had an instantaneous sense or awareness that I existed. It was almost a physical sensation. I am. I exist. And with it, I was also aware that it was different from not existing. But the not existing did not lack an awareness of not existing. I think this is why I asked about this.
Is this like Descartes, "I think therefore I am"?
If the “self” is consciousness, then consciousness though evolving, is still consciousness, the same consciousness, which upon death is also reborn.
It is not the same if it is changing. I'm today different from you today. You today are different from you yesterday. But as to rebirth, I have no idea what happens upon death other than how the effect we have had on people continues.
Also you said, that though “Zen people aren’t very concerned with rebirth at death…[and]…few say you are not a Buddhist if you don’t believe in it. 
So isn’t the real point is not whether we are reborn or not or whether we create good or bad karma, but whether we live to cause less or more suffering.
We don't "cause" suffering. We can cause pain, but suffering is more about how we respond to pain.
And wouldn’t it follow that to desire to live to cause less suffering, that we must not only experience suffering in our own “self” but also to acknowledge the self in each of us in order to care whether one’s suffering is eased?
Sounds like you are talking about compassion. But imagine that you aren't a separate being but interconnected with all things. Your suffering continues until all suffering ends. Compassion doesn't end suffering as much as it eases the pain. What a person does with their pain is up to them.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

No Self for Dummies

I was feeling guilty for not explaining "No Self" better to H and C. I was driving along and then it hit me. "Self" is actually much harder to understand than "No Self" because it is invented much as G_D, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Stork... are invented. Where is this "Self" to which we are so attached? When was it born? Does it die? Is it fully developed early on?

Having realized that "Self" is totally a construct of our mind I realized that "no Self" is a much clearer view of this changing entity ("I") that, as well, is also a construct of our mind.

Sorry, C, that I couldn't do it in 30 words or less. Another challenge.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

This monologue hurts my brain...

My friend Hans wrote that about my last post about "no self."

Exactly, Hans. The brain cannot comprehend very much. It is the wrong tool for the job. Our western delusion is that we can figure things out with brain power. Socrates (the epitome of Western thinking) said that it is better to be dead because then our heart (emotions) won't get in the way and we could see things clearly. I doubt that he found that to be true after he took the hemlock.

Our brain constructs lots of garbage—convenient ways for us to understand the world and for us to relieve suffering. It is not our best friend, yet we rely on it "to sort things out."

Just as I posted yesterday that everything changes I read that "Buddha Nature" is eternal and never changes. Now that hurts my brain.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

My understanding of "no self"

My main question is this: If there is no "self" ("The "self" is itself a mental formation - a product of mind. It is therefore empty of inherent existence."), then what does Karma, or the result of our actions attach to? And further, what is reborn if not the self?
I know big questions. Can you answer them in 30 words or less? : )
Key to Buddhism is the idea of impermanence. Things are always changing. There is no self in the sense that there is no abiding (enduring) entity. Our karma attaches to that which is changing, and our karma (or actions) contributes to those changes.

Suzuki Roshi was one of the most important Zen teachers who brought Zen to America. He said,
"The teaching—the teaching that [laughter]—the teaching that everything is changing—in Japanese, shogyō-mujō[1]—or Chinese shogyō-mujō—teaching that everything is changing. This teaching can be—could be understand in two ways: the one—the teaching as the law of the truth. This teaching is always true, you know, whether we observe it or not. The—so—if everything is changing, that means non-substantiality. There is no substantial being, you know. We are only composed being from various elements. So we are non-substantial being. (a) Non-substantiality."
When I discuss my parents with my sisters we realize we each had different parents. Each of us constructed different parents, and our parents evolved and responded differently to each of us.

I like this description of rebirth from Wikopedia,
"Rebirth in Buddhism is the doctrine that the evolving consciousness (Pali: samvattanika-viññana)[1][2] or stream of consciousness (Pali: viññana-sotam,[3] Sanskrit: vijñāna-srotām, vijñāna-santāna, or citta-santāna) upon death (or "the dissolution of the aggregates" (P. khandhas, S. skandhas)), becomes one of the contributing causes for the arising of a new aggregation. The consciousness in the new person is neither identical nor entirely different from that in the deceased but the two form a causal continuum or stream."
Aggrevates are form, feeling, perception, mental formation or volition, and consciousness. It is the way that we experience the world.

The word "stream" is key in the quote above. One thing leads to another to another to another. 

Rebirth happens throughout our life, with each breath, with each time we walk into a room, with each day of our life. Zen people aren't very concerned with the rebirth at death, though a rare few say you are not a Buddhist if you don't "believe" in it. Even the Buddha said that we had enough to think about in this life (to reduce suffering). He was not interested in what happened next.

The real issue to me is how do we know things. Is it with the discursive mind, or is it the heart and intuition? You know that part of you that makes artistic decisions. "That's too close... that's too red... that's shape needs to be a little sharper." The difficulty in teaching art is that there is no way to really explain any of this. I was asked, "how do you know when to take a picture?" I had no idea how to answer that question. A famous violinist was asked how he did this very difficult movement. He could never do it again.

The most interesting thing about Zen for me is learning to understand without analyzing. Someone like Mr. Wikopedia could have all the right answers to your questions, yet would not really know anything in the same way that art historians do not know how to make a painting. As much as they know about the artistic process (much more than we do), they had no idea how to generate and develop an artistic idea.

Anger: Decision or Emotion

But Kim, anger isn't a decision, it's an emotion. Taking action from anger is a decision, but that is not synonymous with the raw emotion. I think a person who never gets angry is either someone who has become enlightened, or else is someone who doesn't know or admit to their anger. Every human swims in the same pool of raw emotions, and I hear that enlightened beings once did too. I think that pretending, avoiding or debating whether or not to be angry is also part of being human. But it's not going to get us into heaven (wink). That's mental activity trying to decide something good or bad about human nature. I think. :)

But the main point for me is what's underneath. In my experience, sadness & fear are under or coupled with anger, so I say it's even practical to listen to the anger. It's a matter of care, to notice the fear, discover the connection, and take action that will help. After all, we aren't striving to be robots, it's an open heart we want more of. I think that making good decisions that effect life on Earth can only come from having the capacity to feel all the feelings, because raw emotions are our barometers that direct us in life, whether we know it or not.—Ginger

Decisions seem to come from the conscious mind, while emotions from the unconscious. Yet we read that several seconds before we make conscious decisions the outcome can be predicted from unconscious activity of the brain.

One question to me is whether we can do anything consciously. Can we make decisions? Can we control our anger... or our love?

Sometimes we are waiting for a parking space and someone sneaks into an open space that we've patiently had our eye upon. Some will be furious. Some will even say something rude to the space stealer. Some might try to give them a black eye. This would definitively be taking action from anger.

And some won't be angry at all. They will just say to themselves, "time to find a new space."

How did those people get that way? Good parenting? Good teachers? Smarts?

Probably a combination. I don't think the person is necessarily "repressed." They may realize, like my GPS often does, that it is time to recalculate.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Angry about the pollution

A friend wrote me that reading about pollution made her angry. I know I've written many times before about anger, but I'll do it again.

What struck me, as I though about her anger, is that two things have happened. One is that there is mercury in the ocean that has become part of the fish that we eat. I first became aware of the effects of mercury from the Minamata photos by Eugene Smith. The second thing that has happened is that someone is angry because there is mercury in the ocean.

Many say that the anger is good because it leads to attempts to clean up the environment. But who cleans up the anger, which is a kind of pollution itself? Is it necessary to be angry to act? You see a speeding car coming toward a kid in the street. Do you need to be angry to pull the kid from its path?

Here's a good link on anger, with quotes from the Buddha and the Bible.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Seafood Watch

The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a website that lets you know what seafood you should eat. The two issues seem to be the sustainability of the fisheries, and the mercury in the fish.

Environmental Defense Fund has issued a consumption advisory for longline-caught albacore tuna due to elevated levels of mercury. No consumption advisories are listed for troll- or pole-caught albacore as these methods catch younger tuna with lower mercury levels.

This sounded much easier than I thought until I started looking for Pacific Sardines. Word from Monterey is that you should only get Pacific sardines, because the Atlantic fisheries are eliminating the sardines by catching too many of them. And guess which ones cost more. At Costco, good sardines are a little more than a $1 a can, but they are from Morocco which is a no no. So I passed them by, and went to three groceries before I found some from the Pacific. $3.78 a can!

So what did I do? Quit eating sardines. The same with tuna... after I finish the three cans that I already have.

There was an artist, Mr. Otis, who would only sell his paintings for cans of sardines. Since he was from the Pacific Northwest, I'm hoping that his sardines were the good kind.

So what would you do if you liked sardines? Eat your wallet, or the Atlantic sardines?

Banks aren't the culprit.

I read something the other day about banks.  (click on link to read article). It has bothered me since I read it because I don't believe banks are doing the wrong thing by investing money rather than lending money.

At the beginning of the article Stiglitz talks about the bailout. He says that we did it because we were told that the American economy couldn't function without the overnight lending. I don't know if this is true, but if it is, it indicates how, after years of any service, we become a slave to that service provider.

Then he says that the banks used some of their money for bonuses. This suggests that we gave them too much, and/or that they didn't need as much as they said they did. I hope that they lose some credibility over this. You give your kid your car keys... and the car doesn't ever come home. You then hesitate the next time they ask for the keys.

He speaks of the lending rate being close to zero. This was done so the government could borrow lots of money, and also so the government wouldn't have to pay lots of interest. But for the average Joe, it didn't mean easy money. Not for buying a house. Mortgages are still hard to get. Car loans are easier and cheaper. That is because the car companies know that they won't sell cars unless they can entice people with low interest and low downpayment. Cars can be repossessed easier than houses (esp. with used cars being sold at a premium), so it is good business to loan money on them. House mortgages are a risky investment for banks. Why should banks take chances for a low rate of return?

Stiglitz admonishes the banks. He says they aren't doing their job. I think they are. They are making a profit for their stockholders (as their charters suggest). It isn't their job to be charities. And if we criticize them for not engaging in risky investments, as home mortgages are (especially at low rates), aren't we really contradicting what we accused them of in the past... of engaging in practices that are too risky. How can they win?

This is not to say that people don't need mortgages. It is just that the price of mortgages is artificially low, so that banks (rightfully) don't want to do them.

People pay much higher interest on their credit cards. At some cost, maybe someone would start to loan more money on houses. But I don't think we should point at the banks as the culprit.

Anatomy Lesson and Love