Sunday, September 15, 2019

Pencil

So my big dilemma today is whether to write something. I was going to write something every day, and make a picture, but yesterday I wrote two pieces since I was in an all-day writing intensive. So I could take a day off.

We read a poem about a pencil. About all the poems that are in a pencil. I remember when we had John Grimes (https://id.iit.edu/people/john-grimes/), an early computer graphics champion, come to talk at our college in St. Louis. He held up a pencil and said, “We’ll never have anything more sensitive than a pencil.”

I’m not sure if he’s right, but it is a pretty amazing instrument. NASA supposedly spent a million dollars to develop a ballpoint pen that would write in space but finally settled on a pencil that worked as well.

What interests me more is that we have stuff inside us that needs to come out. If we don’t let it out, then it dissipates… vaporizes. That’s why I’m writing today.

P.S. This is drawn with a ballpoint pen.


Friday, September 13, 2019

The Case of the Leaking Pen

Karma. I like to define it as the effect of our volitional actions.

Volitional suggests “on purpose.” But much of what we do in inadvertent. We didn’t pay attention. I consider inadvertent actions to be volitional as they were mainly preventable if we had paid attention.

Yesterday I left Gary’s apartment with his pen in my pocket. He didn’t give it to me. I guess I just put it in my pocket. It isn’t the first time. Pens often end up in my pocket, as if, in a previous life, I was a bonafide pen robber.

Today the pen started leaking, staining my fingers like a scarlet letter. All would know of my indiscretion.

Every morning we recite the repentance verse that says,
“All my ancient twisted karma.
from beginningless greed hate and delusion,
born through body speech and mind
I now fully avow.”
It will have a little more meaning tomorrow as I look at my stained hands.


Do I get Gary a new pen? Did I cause the leaking? Was the leaking what we call a dharma gate, teaching me to pay attention, and, of course, to keep my hands in my pockets?
“‘Once when the Buddha was at Jetavana Park, an intoxicated Brahman wandered into the compound where Buddha was staying and asked to become a monk. Buddha requested that some of his monks shave the Brahman’s head and clothe him in a kesa (or the Buddhist monk’s robe). Later, after the effects of the liquor had worn off, the Brahman was astonished and frightened upon seeing that his bodily form had changed into that of a Buddhist monk, whereupon he ran away. The monks respectfully asked the Buddha why he had allowed the drunken Brahman to become a monk only to have him run back home. Buddha answered, ‘For eons beyond measure, this Brahman did not have the heart to leave home life behind, but now, while under the influence, he gave rise to a bit of courage. Due to this, he will, later on, leave home life behind.’” (Eihei Dogen, Shukke)
On somewhat another subject, is the question of whether we should abandon Facebook because they helped the Russians put Trump in the White House? Do you cancel an exhibit of Chuck Close’s paintings because he didn’t treat his models nicely? Is this a matter of winning the battle and losing the war. I’m a little scared of our expectation that Facebook approves right speech and censures wrong speech. We might applause when they suppress ideas that we want suppressed, but what about when they start promoting ideas that we don’t think are right. Will they always be on our side?


Thursday, September 12, 2019

Dialogue with a Squirrel

The Art Institute of Chicago started as a storehouse for plaster casts to support the students‘ need to draw Greek and Roman statues. Eventually, it became a museum of art. I’ve been thinking about training and my long rejection of the idea. And then I met up with a verse on the training of an elephant in ancient India, and misread the verse, thinking they had the same problem with training that I did.

Yesterday I had a little thing going with a squirrel. He was trying to stay cool by laying his belly on a branch of a tree in the shade. I watched him, and he watched me, and eventually, he went back to work, scavenging pecans from our not too fruitful pecan tree, and I going in the house to get more garbage for trash collection day tomorrow.


Squirrels seem to have been well designed. Their natural instincts seem to work. Animals seem to share that quality of being authentic and functional. They don’t need the training to accomplish their higher needs unless they become domesticated.

Elephants do well without us. But when we want to ride them we have to tame them. I’m not sure that they become happier and more fulfilled. I’ll have to ask my elephant friends.

It seems that humans need a lot more work. Our natural instincts get us in all kinds of trouble,  We pass the fridge and eat more than we need for energy. We get infatuated and our life goes astray. We sit on a meditation cushion and drift off into Lala land. Why? Why can’t we just follow our instincts?

We train and train. All of us are doing one ironman or ironwoman after another. I had looked forward to retirement so I could stop trying so hard. I thought I could just be me, and follow every whim. Little did I know I’d have to face one boot camp after another.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Hard or Soft

For about 10 years we have been holding weekly zen writing sessions at the Austin Zen Center. We have it as a MeetUp group, with 850+ members, and also advertised on the Austin Zen Center web pages. We have each time a combination of people who have been coming for years, and newcomers. Last night I started by talking about the difference between consciousness and mindfulness in relation to photography. Ernest Haas (http://ernst-haas.com/), who came to St. Louis Community College to talk eons ago, spoke about the difference between looking and seeing. When looking, he said, you are merely orienting yourself. I don’t remember what he said about seeing, but he did suggest that is what the photographer tries to do. It seems much like mindfulness.

“With a bit of mindful observation, we can in fact easily notice how spacious and allowing the mind can be when we are open to differences and variety, and how narrow and cramped the mind can become when we are self-righteous and judgmental. Becoming aware of this difference can serve as a good signpost for noticing when the mind shifts from open-mindedness to closing down.” —Analayo. Satipatthana Meditation. Windhorse Publications. Kindle Edition.

In this wonderful book on one of the two basic sutras by Buddha that explain meditation, Analayo talks about the feminine quality of sati or mindfulness. I suspect that it is the difference between sprinting and long-distance running. I know nothing about either, but I suspect that when sprinting you are trying hard, and when long-distance running you are trying soft. Some of you runners might want to correct me.

Perhaps it is more like someone driving on a long trip and a race car driver racing in the Indianapolis 500.

“Once the crops have been harvested, however, the cowherd can relax and just observe the cows from a distance. All he has to do is to be aware that “there are the cows.” For this distant watching, the simile uses the term sati (Anālayo 2003: 53 and 2014a: 87). I picture the cowherd sitting relaxed at the root of a tree and watching the cows grazing in various places. All he has to do is just be aware of them from an uninvolved distance.”


Analayo is associating the cowherd with the meditator. Part of the reason for the “soft” approach is that the “hard” approach is unsustainable, even for a minute (try to stare intently at something for a minute).

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Dog’s Best Friend

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about someone who changed my life. But my first thought was that it was really me who made the difference. People did various heroic acts to save me from my own doings, but in the end, it was I that changed my life. They did just what they did to me to others with little effect so it was our relationship that was the cause of something happening to me. They tried to lite a candle, but most of the time the wind blew out their match. Somehow their match lit my candle. And usually, it took a fair amount of persistence on both of our parts. Surprisingly, some of these generous folks have now gone on in their lives. I have a nagging feeling with some of them that somehow I disappointed them.

I had a geometry teacher, Mr. Moulton, who said that the best mathematician was the laziest one. He challenged us with proving theorems. It was probably some of the most fun I’ve had in my life. Much of school didn’t make sense. I didn’t have any affinity with learning facts, but I loved math. Something seemed so elegant and clear about math.

Then there was my grandpa. We worked together in the summer. He would let me do as much as I could. I think of him more like my father during those years. He accepted me in a way that my parents did not. My parents always wanted me to do better. My grandpa always admired how I could figure things out.

My parents and my sisters were very verbal. I couldn’t keep up with them. Then there was my art teacher who told my parents that I had made a beautiful photo. He encouraged me for years. He taught me about being creative. He was a gift of the gods for me.

In college, I had some wonderful teachers who taught me so much. The saw in me something that I did not see. All of a sudden I had a voice, and they encouraged me to use it.

My sister Gail was always a special soul in my life. She saw me in a very loving way. Somehow I could say anything to her and it was ok.

My wife of 50 years has been such a special friend. We have grown up together and like one another more and more as the years pass. I still miss her when she’s been gone all day and I am so glad when she returns home.

And then there is a dog who actually found me and became my friend for many years. He taught me quite a bit about friendship.


My kids were quite a surprise. From the beginning, they were so smart and independent. They seemed to develop into such fine people through some kind of magical spell.

And I’ve had a few good friends. Each gave me so much in their own ways.

Now I’ve had a number of Zen teachers, again each giving me so much care and teachings. I am grateful for the energies they expend and for the wisdom that they share.

It seems that my only regret is that all these influences are impermanent. Some of these people have died and others gave me what they could and went off in different directions. Luckily, I still have a number of them still around, and find new special ones everywhere I turn.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Fluctuating Emotions

Fluctuating emotions. I made coffee and it smelled good. I planned to take the coffee with me. I was happy. But I left it at home. Because we were late I rushed. I had just bought a new coffee maker and it worked well. I was unhappy because I left the coffee at home. Then at the doctor’s office, they had one of these pods coffee machines. I was a little happier. Usually, the coffee is about 3 or 4 on a scale of 10. This one had better coffee, maybe a 7 or 8. I was happy. Yesterday I taught my grandson to express his feelings on a scale of 0-10. Going to Sunday school was a 3 or a 4. His public school is a 7 or 8. I’m curious about why the difference. (I found out today that he got in trouble at Sunday school because he was too wild. Alas, maybe that’s why the 3 or 4).

It is hard for me to hear him when he’s in the back seat. When we had kids they could survive childhood in the front seat.

I wonder if the grandkids should pursue Bar Mitzvah? Should it be their choice? I’m divided in my mind about it. I don’t like the identification with one being Jewish or Christian or white or black or yellow. I like the idea of being a human being first... not even a man or a woman. But I do like the idea of the kids learning about religion. I rejected history (and religion) most of my life. I didn’t understand that it was who I am. I have an alternative idea that each Sunday I would take the kids to some different experience. But that wouldn’t create the bond and community that the kids get when they do Bar Mitzvah.

I’m always surprised by how many kids quit practicing after Bar Mitzvah. The ones who do come back do so after their kids are grown up. There are exceptions but generally, I see a void of people practicing from 13 to 30.


Sunday, September 8, 2019

Peep Show in Flor.

When I saw Michelangelo’s David in Florence I was unable to look at it. I could just see the hoards of women admiring the 17’ perfect man. Even though he was 515 years old (today) he looked like he was made yesterday. I didn’t realize until reading something today that David was actually 30 when he was finally finished. First one sculptor, Agostino, worked on him before he gave up. Then a second sculptor, Rossellino, worked on him, again giving up. Finally, Michelangelo at age 26 took over the project and, unintimidated by the giant piece of marble, completed the project, despite the mistakes from the earlier sculptors efforts, in two years. Originally David was supposed to be the buttress for the Florence Cathedral, but because 30 years had passed, the marble had become too weak to do anything structural, so that idea was abandoned.

So here’s the perfect man, unable to hold up anything. What’s the meaning of that? If the marble was that soft, how would it have held up anything, even if put in place 30 years earlier?

What can I hold up? We are seeing pictures of the hurricane’s destructive path indicating that not much can withstand wind and water. We say someone is just a lot of hot air, thinking they can’t do much damage. But air can be lethal, as can be water.


Saturday, September 7, 2019

Dantika and the Elephant

K many years ago was doing a multi-projector slide show and it was messing up like nobodies business. She was absolutely calm as she fought with the technology. It was the first time I had met her and I was very impressed by how she handled a very imperfect technology.

A number of years ago the senior Zen teacher, Norman Fischer, was bent out of shape because we didn’t have his books on hand when he came to do a talk. I’ve talked about this many times because I often have that thought that seasoned Zen practitioners shouldn’t “leak”—they should in all situations maintain equanimity.

I read the story of the Dahlia Lama visiting a hospital where there were many with serious illnesses. He cried with each person, but when he left the hospital dropped his sadness and started laughing at a funny joke.

Last night my Zen teacher was bent out of shape because her Apple TV wanted a code that wasn’t appearing on the screen. I told her about K. She said there is no should about how a Zen priest should act.

My chance for equanimity came today. I wanted to go through the new self-serve checkout line at Central Market. A clerk was there to help people. I told him that I wanted to do it by myself. He started pressing my buttons. I said again that I wanted to do it by myself. I started thinking that he was assuming that I was a non-technical old man. He pressed one button too many, and I quit the check out process and started over on another station. I repeated, “I want to do it by myself.”

I’m sure he had the best of intentions and was somewhat shocked that someone might not want help. I’m very conscious of this habit I and others have of giving too much help. I wanted to be challenged by the machine, and I didn’t want another human interaction.

I was aggravated by someone’s good intentions. What I rediscovered today was how I was the source of the aggravation. He just did what he was probably told to do. And I blamed him for aggravating me. That happens to me four or five times a day. Maybe I can get quicker at recognizing the aggravation and then dropping it, realizing that it was I who had created it, not the other person or situation.

Here’s a sweet verse we studied today. Dantika and the Elephant is a story about the first women of Buddhism. She is attempting to tame her mind like the elephant was tamed.



Dantika and the Elephant

translated from the Pali by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu
© 1997

Coming out from my day's abiding
on Vulture Peak Mountain,
I saw on the bank of a river
an elephant
emerged from its plunge.
A man holding a hook requested:
“Give me your foot.”
The elephant
extended its foot.
The man
got up on the elephant.

Seeing what was untrained now tamed
brought under human control,
with that I centered my mind —
why I'd gone to the woods
in the first place.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Certainty and Honesty

I saw my neighbor at 6:15 this am and he asked me as he was driving to his grandson’s school, what are you going to attack today? Or something like that. Then he told me I needed an editor because I sometimes misspell words. I do have Grammarly but sometimes it misses. He says I spelled irk erk, but I can’t find it to correct.

My first thought was to write about certainty, which irks me. Anytime I hear people, including me, spout an opinion, I’m irked. We say doing such and such will result in such and such. Especially in an interdependent universe we never know the result of an action. Pinch your kid and he might end up to be the best kid in the world. Or he might be the worst.

But we do need to act. And we need confidence behind our actions. So how to be both have a “not knowing” mind and also act with confidence? I welcome your opinions on this.

The second item is only tangentially related. I’ve had many jobs this week, between my blog, the temple, grocery shopping for a special occasion, etc. Sometimes I asked the help of others and they didn’t come through. They were rightfully apologetic, but that didn’t help. When I thought I’d have a couple of hours I’d have to jump into my car and do whatever.

I think part of the reason I’m not honest is that I want to be liked. But when I perceive people running over me I’m not liking myself, feeling like dirt, to put it lightly. I told someone today that he didn’t meet my expectation. It was probably as much my fault as his. We both had a different idea of what “earlier” meant. But after telling him what I felt something opened up between us.

My neighbor lent me a book on absolute honesty. My wife and I do that pretty well… most of the time. But others, not so well. I think I’ll practice a little more of that, and not be the guy who always says, “no problem.”


Thursday, September 5, 2019

Job and Satan



Carrie Mae Weens (http://carriemaeweems.net/) gave a talk at the Sheldon in St. Louis about 20 or 25 years ago. I went up to her and said, “you certainly seem angry.” “No,” she said calmly, and then, ratcheting up her mood, “I’m furious.”

It seems some view the world as divided between the privileged and the oppressed. Each “side” has a view of the other. Sometimes the privileged say that the oppressed made bad choices. Sometimes they say they were unlucky. And sometimes their heart goes out to them because they face untold challenges through no fault of their own. I won’t try to summarize the oppressed view of the privileged.

Buddha was privileged, so much so that early on he was shielded from sickness, old age, and death. I was brought up like this, denied going to funerals, denied visiting my sick grandmother, and generally told that sickness is psychosomatic and can be avoided through introspection.

I read the story of Job in college and thought that this was very unusual—someone losing everything they had. This would never happen to me, I thought, because my mother said we can avoid all these things by “knowing ourselves” (as Socrates and Dogen both suggested). My sisters and I would joke that our family doesn’t “do death.” Now I’ve lost my parents and siblings. I’ve lost one friend after another. These losses came from a variety of causes, with some losses caused by people not doing the right things to somewhere the individuals seemed to be very unlucky to somewhere their bodies simply wore out.

My rabbi pointed out today that Job was really a story about satan in addition to being a story about Job. Job had his trust in God that was steady. And in the end, all plus more was returned to him. Satan, who some Jews see as an assistant to God that helps us test our trust in God, learns from this “experiment” that some men do have a solid trust even if terrible things happen to them.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Why do people get so angry?

You aren’t supposed to talk about religion or politics at the dinner table because it is bad for friendship and digestion. These are difficult subjects for many of us, and it is largely incomprehensible to me why people get so agitated. I can understand if someone calls your wife a slut, or says that Hitler was right to kill whomever, but many arguments are actually not of this elk. Yet my philosopher and Buddhist priest friends appear very angry when we discuss politics or economics. I’m totally bewildered why people respond in this way.

Take the subject of wages. We should all agree that if we increase wages to a certain point the business will have to go totally robotic or go out of business, and if we decrease wages we won’t be able to find workers. It is difficult to determine exactly where those price points are. What might work in the car wash industry might not work in the fast-food industry. People will get bent out of shape by what I just wrote. They will say that people can’t live on a meager sum. They will also say that some CEOs make obscene salaries and they should give their money away. All of this is probably true.

We could discuss what are the options for these problems. We generally agree that some people work at less than a “living wage.” We can try to persuade their boss to pay them more, we can force their boss to pay them more, we can supplement their income, or we can say, “tough luck.” I haven’t heard of other short term choices. Over the long term, it is possible to increase their productivity potential with more education so that their boss may be more willing to increase their salary. What I don’t understand, once again, is why someone should be angry in a discussion such as this. With each of the possible solutions, we need to look at the costs and benefits. Doing nothing and having people suffer might be something society doesn’t want to do. Doing something usually involves persuasion and/or government action. Again, there is no reason to be mean or angry here. We can work together to find the best solution.


I love the story of the Indian tribe that would have the elders gather around a table when the tribe had a problem to solve. They’d put a pumpkin in the middle of the table and the elders would pretend that the pumpkin represented the problem. They’d work together to understand the problem and find the right solution. I suspect the same would occur when a boat is on fire. The crew should work together to save the passengers below. There is no need or purpose for the crew to start fighting with each other. They need to use all their energies to find the best solutions.

Eckhart Tolle, in his book, The Egoic Mind, talks about how we identify with our beliefs. So when those beliefs are threatened, our very self is threatened. Because I’m threatened when you challenge my beliefs and you are threatened when your beliefs are threatened, we adopt the fight or flight mentality. Nothing is going to be solved with this strategy (or is it really an anti-strategy?)—preserving the hut (see yesterday’s post: Song of the Grass Roof Hermitage) we’ve built rather than finding the truth.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Song of the Grass-Roof Hermitage


We discussed today the Song of the Grass-Roof Hermitage,

a poem we read once a month.

A few lines especially struck me today.
I've built a grass hut where there's nothing of value.
It goes on to say it is a 10-foot square.

Is this the self that we construct? Do we know that it is only made of grass?

M apologized today for having opinions. Our “self” is but one big opinion. I like the idea that our self is so impermanent. Soon it will be covered in weeds.

Maybe we don’t look so great as we get older. Maybe we are covered with weeds rather than fresh grass.

And now the hurricane comes and the hut washes away. Here today—gone tomorrow.

It is sad but also reassuring that it doesn’t disappear, just that it becomes another grass hut or something else.

Another line that struck me:
Let go of hundreds of years and relax completely.
Our opinions are steeped in hundreds of years of conditioning. We sometimes call this, “All our ancient twisted karma…”

It weighs us down. We can’t move. We really can’t think because we can’t consider the other side.

The next line,
Open your hands and walk, innocent.
Can you feel the huge load that has been removed from your shoulders?

Monday, September 2, 2019

The Obstinate Student

I was asked, “What is the gift I bring as an offering?”

I’m imagining a gatekeeper on planet Earth. Rather than one being born on Earth where the environment is no longer conducive for the first 20 years of life, we are henceforth born on a space station, and then we can apply to be permitted to live on Earth.

In order to come to Earth, we’d have to bring an offering. But remembering an economist that objected to Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” I’m going to ask of the gatekeeper the opposite question, “What gift will I get if I come to planet Earth.” (I’m obviously at risk with this strategy of being banned forever from Earth, but I hear that the air isn’t clean, and hurricanes and shootings abound.)

We do learn in Zen that there is no separation between subject and object, or between gift, giver, and receiver. Yet in this instance, I’m the one who worked hard on the space ship, cleaning toilets three times a day so that I could make this journey. And I’m the one who is leaving my younger comrades so that I can make the trip.

So I ask again, what does Earth have to offer me?


There are a couple of problems here. One is whether there is something that I need. A second is whether Earth can offer me that.

And now I am reminded what a Burmese monk told me, that monks beg to give people an opportunity to give.

So it isn’t so simple. Maybe this really can be about what I can bring as an offering.

And then, if there is no separation between giver and receiver, there is no separation between gatekeeper and applicant.

I do like the original question as I’ve thought of that when advising people who are applying for jobs. People go into a job interview to see what the job will do for them. Employers want to know what they can do for the company.

I guess one of my offerings is that I question the question. The second of my offerings is I return the question to the gatekeeper. The third of my offerings is that I reevaluate if I want to live on Earth.

I do.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Fight or Flight or Is That So?

How Successful People Stay Calm (Forbes)

Years ago I gave B a note to tape above his desk. I thought it was a Buddhist saying but later found out it is not. It said, “Be Calm and Keep Full Control over All.

I’m struck right now about how yesterday we had a man driving around Odessa and Midland shooting people and today we have a hurricane hungry to wreak havoc on the East coast.

The article points out two practices that enhance our fight or flight instinct: drinking coffee and lack of sleep. Another helpful practice is to disconnect from the grid. I like it that I don’t bring my phone into the temple. Other techniques for reducing stress include breathing, reframing perspectives, and reducing negative self-talk. Last but not least the article suggests that we should not try to do this work by ourselves.

We live in a sufficiently inter-connected world that significant objects of stress will occur every day. Our president, single-handedly, has the uncanny ability to generate daily stress.

So what do we do?

Do we just say, “This too will pass.” The shooter will run out of bullets or run out of victims or take his own life or will be shot. The hurricane will move along a path of destruction and then dissipate.

Is that reframing perspectives?

One thing most of us know is that we’d like to have less stress. Most of us know that stress creates untold havoc on our bodies, our moods and on our relationships. Though if you look at the graph in the article, it suggests that some stress is necessary for Optimal Performance. If all is rosy, then Optimal Performance may not occur.

One of my favorite Zen stories is that of Hakuin who is accused of fathering the child of the beautiful young woman next door. When told that he’s been accused and now will have to raise the child, he responds, “Is That So.” A year later, the young mother confesses the truth. They go and retrieve the child that Hakuin has lovingly cared for. Again he responds, “Is that so?”


Supposedly Hakuin loses his temple in the process. He is shamed in the small town. But he seems to experience no stress. What happened to him is far more devastating than what has happened to me in the last two days, with a shooting 300 miles away yesterday and a hurricane 1000 miles away today. How did he do it?

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Guns

I’m quite triggered by the whole gun issue. I just came from a meeting with three democratic candidates for the US Senate. They were all for various initiatives to eliminate guns.

In Texas, starting tomorrow, people may bring concealed guns to businesses (churches, temples) unless a sign is posted. And there need to be two signs, one for open carry, and the other for concealed weapons. The letters need to be 1” tall in contrasting colors, and the signs at least 2’x2’ in two languages.
“Businesses are left to post two brand new signs with explicit language in specific languages (English and Spanish) and precise size requirements. In addition, the agency does not provide any templates or model signs. Each letter is required to be at least 1 inch in height – resulting in a large sign (estimated to be at least 2 feet by 2 feet per sign).30.06 and 30.07 of the Texas Penal Code:

30.06 Specific Requirements (as laid out in the above statute):1. Explicit Language Required: “Pursuant to Section 30.06, Penal Code (trespass by license holder with a concealed handgun), a person licensed under Subchapter H, Chapter 411, Government Code (handgun licensing law), may not enter this property with a concealed handgun”2. Must be in English and Spanish 3. Appears in contrasting colors with block letters at least one inch in height 4. Is displayed in a conspicuous manner clearly visible to the public.

30.07 Specific Requirements (as laid out in the above statute): 1. Explicit Language Required: “Pursuant to Section 30.07, Penal Code (trespass by license holder with an openly carried handgun), a person licensed under Subchapter H, Chapter 411, Government Code (handgun licensing law), may not enter this property with a handgun that is carried openly” 2. Must be in English and Spanish 3. Appears in contrasting colors with block letters at least one inch in height 4. Is displayed in a conspicuous manner clearly visible to the public.”
We have the open carry sign at my Jewish temple. Our teacher at the Buddhist temple so far has not wanted signs.

As we walked into the Unitarian church, there were three security guards. They had me lay (lie?) my phone on the counter and then frisked me with some device. I almost wanted to refuse the search and go home.

If I had kids would I want them to go to a Jewish temple with a sign, or to a Buddhist temple that had no sign? My mom said I shouldn’t go to church because I was too impressionable. Now she might say I should stay at home so I won’t get shot. E said that the kids have an insert for their bulletproof knapsacks that show them how to swing the knapsacks over their heads to protect them in case of a shooter. Should I buy these for my grandkids? Would their parents let me?

I’m surprised that it seems the solutions to the gun problem is being left to amateurs. What do the experts say is the solution to this problem? Is there any agreement?

Can you use Australia and New Zealand as models for reducing the weapons in the hands of the public?

Just got a text from E that there is an active shooter driving around in Odessa. Watching it now on CNN. What can we do?


I am so distraught about this.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Right Speech and Shrunking into the Floor

One of the paths to ending suffering in Buddhism is right thought.

But first, here’s a description of the first noble truth of Buddhism that doesn’t use the word suffering:

The first noble truth says simply that it’s part of being human to feel discomfort. We don’t even have to call it suffering anymore; we don’t even have to call it discomfort. It’s simply coming to know the fieriness of fire, the wildness of wind, the turbulence of water, the upheaval of earth, as well as the warmth of fire, the coolness and smoothness of water, the gentleness of the breezes, and the goodness, solidness, and dependability of the earth. Nothing in its essence is one way or the other. —Pema Chödrön, Awakening Living-Kindness

Suzuki Roshi, who is perhaps most responsible for bringing Zen to America, spoke about “life as it is.” That’s what causes suffering, especially when we want it to be otherwise than how it is.

I’ve had some wrong thoughts or lack of thoughts recently that, if I weren’t to acknowledge, nobody would know about. Yet I believe we transmit, even as we walk down the street, much more than we’d like to admit.

At our neighborhood grocery, we need to weigh the produce and put a label on it. The customer at the scale I wanted to use was an elderly lady who was taking way too much time weighing a couple of bananas. Didn’t she realize how much I had to get done today? It was almost that she was moving in a state of suspended animation, whatever that means. I was impatient, though I was pretending to be patient. Finally, we had put the label on the two bananas and turned around, only to greet me and ask me how I was. I guess she recognized me from somewhere. I shrunk into the floor.


Years ago I was impatient with a student who just couldn’t get it right. I wanted to strangle her, but I controlled myself. The next class she thanked me for being so patient with her. I shrunk into the floor.

Worse yet, Sunday I was upset with a woman who stored her special chair in the closet where we put some trays that we frequently used at the temple. It was hard to get the tray in and out… and now there were two of her chairs. Who needs two chairs? I asked myself. A couple of days later we discovered that she had passed into another world. Tonight we gather to celebrate her life, and I will bring the two chairs so more people can sit. I, once again, shrunk into the floor.

It probably is easier to control actions than it is to control thought. Yet thought is far more poisonous. I can’t tell you how I’ve often  I’ve suffered from my thoughts in the three situations above and in many other situations that have permeated my life. A man honked at me when I was slow to go through a traffic turnaround. I honked at a friendly woman who was slow to weigh her bananas. How might I have appropriated responded to her?

Thursday, August 29, 2019

No Politics Today

No politics today. Your comments gave me a lot to think about. In the end, it might be easier to see the problem than the right solution. For example, if your finger is sore, your first thought might be to cut it off. Other than the phantom feeling that might occur, your sore finger will be gone. But that’s winning the battle, not the war.

Last night we did our once-a-month koan study. I chose this koan. Actually, it chose me. I used to look for a koan that I understood. Now one finds me that I don’t understand (which is easier because it is all of them).

Mokugen was never known to smile until his last day on earth. When his time came to pass away he said to his faithful ones: “You have studied under me for more than ten years. Show me your real interpretation of Zen. Whoever expresses this most clearly shall be my successor and receive my robe and bowl.”
Everyone watched Mokugen’s severe face, but no one answered.
Encho, a disciple who had been with his teacher for a long time, moved near the bedside. He pushed forward the medicine cup a few inches. That was his answer to the command.
The teacher’s face became even more severe. “Is that all you understand?” he asked.
Encho reached out and moved the cup back again.
A beautiful smile broke over the features of Mokugen. “You rascal,” he told Encho. “You worked with me ten years and have not yet seen my whole body. Take the robe and bowl. They belong to you.”


A severe face became even more severe. Why? Why did Encho move the cup back? What is a teacher’s whole body? How is the moving of a medicine bowl an expression of the real interpretation of Zen?

When I told G1 and G2 the koan at lunch G2 said she didn’t understand it. Then she told me a story about a man who came late to lunch and his friends asked him where had he been and he explained that he’s a writer and he worked all day and he added a period to something he was working on. The next day he was late again, and he repeated that he was a writer and that he had been working all day. One of his friends asked, “Added another period, did ya?” “No,” he said, “I took yesterday’s away.”

I thought her story was a wonderful reading of the koan. It suggests coming and going vs. no coming and no going. A period coming and going. A medicine cup coming and going. A Zen master still teaching to his last breath. Here’s a similar koan:

Just before Ninakawa passed away the Zen master Ikkyu visited him. “Shall I lead you on?” Ikkyu asked.
Ninakawa replied: “I came here alone and I go alone. What help could you be to me?”
Ikkyu answered: “If you think you really come and go, that is your delusion. Let me show you the path on which there is no coming and going.”
With his words, Ikkyu had revealed the path so clearly that Ninakawa smiled and passed away.

It is something to do with finding the appropriate action or response. The rabbi and I today talked about Christ saying that he was the son of man. The rabbi confirmed that the original words mean “son of Adam” and Jesus, being a good Jew, would have known that. Yet Jesus was faced with disciples who wanted him to be the son of God, so he answered somewhat ambiguously. He could have just said NO, but he had to think of his audience and what would be an appropriate response.

My father was dating Helen. She asked him what was his age. He said, “How old do you think I am?” “65,” she said. “That’s a good age,” he said. I think he was 87 then, but she never knew his age until after he died.

I read about how in a bad airplane crash a body might be in a thousand pieces. But what do you tell a kid? Maybe something like he went away because his life had ended. TMI (too much information) is not always helpful. Christ had teachings to convey. Could he have been successful if people believed he was just like them? He couldn’t lie. But he did say, “Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled.” (Matthew 13:13-15)

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Tax Freedom Day

Tax freedom day

We work until April 16th to pay taxes. I believe that N, A, and I discussed at various times whether it is our collective duty to distribute our income so that all in the United States have such necessities as food, housing, medical care, education, no student debt, secure retirement and more. Bernie Sanders calls this “…justice for all.” (https://berniesanders.com/issues/)

I don’t understand Bernie telling us that it is our “duty” to provide all that he’d like us to have. I wonder, too, how willing employed people will be to work most of the year to provide these goods and services for everyone. I seem to remember N saying that he’d be fine paying more taxes and that others should be willing as well. I wasn’t as willing to lay this obligation on others if they did not choose to be so generous.


I have no problem with our society deciding that we want to provide a comfortable life for everyone if we can figure out a way to do it. When it comes down to the details, it seems it would get more complicated.

I would, however, not see this as a duty but rather as a choice we would make as a society.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Other Side

I didn’t realize that the other side usually refers to where you go when you die. I’m not going to go there. I realize that I always try to see the other side. In college, we were supposed to write a paper on a humanist artist. I picked the least humanist artist I could think of. I didn’t convince the teacher, but still got an ok grade for the paper.


E told me today she didn’t know how she could guide a meditation on the Earth since global warming is so disastrous. I suggested that she consider all those people who will benefit from global warming, like the people in Siberia. J was distressed about our president. It was suggested to her that he was a Bodhisattva in that he was engaging so many people in politics.

My twisted mind always looks for the other side, especially if the first side is sad. I’m not particularly interested in thinking sad thoughts. So someone is crying because their bowl of ice cream is half empty. I like to point out that it is half-full.

Another J came to the temple today using Ride Austin. The driver asked her what she thought of Trump. She told the driver she wasn’t going to give him (not Trump) a good rating. As she left the vehicle he said to her, “have a blessed day.” I was telling Another J and her husband that the trade issue with China is very complicated and Trump is brave to confront it. He said with much confidence that tariffs would sink the economy.

One thing that helps me embrace the other side is that we are not great predictors of the effect of an action. The man who said that tariffs would sink the economy was a scientist. He should know better than to make such a prediction as if it was a fact. We don’t know the effect of any action. It could be that tariffs might be just what is needed for the economy.

I’ve known people who considered divorcing their spouses because they differed in their political perspective. All these topics are not normally in our area of expertise. Do we really know, as amateurs, the solution to the world problems? We are just guessing. We have limited information. And when we guess differently than our neighbor we think that they are wrong, mean, deluded, stupid, and so on. We actually know as little about the situation as they do, and neither of us has a crystal ball.

Often as a dean, I would hear a story from a student, and then a story from a faculty member. Each seemed to be from a different perspective. In the end, it was usually the case that neither had completely upheld their end of the bargain. We tried to make some agreement so they could work together in the future rather than against each other.

The other side is not wrong. Nor is it right. Each side has defined a problem and is seeking solutions. Our lives don’t have to be an exercise in assigning right and wrong labels to every point of view. The person who remembers how Hitler and Mussolini took guns away from certain populations might have good reasons to think a little differently from you or me about the gun issue. Rather than saying, “you’re wrong,” we can work with them to better understand the issue at hand.

Monday, August 26, 2019

In any case...


A nurse, a philosopher and a Zen priest were aghast at my comments about Walmart. (Sorry, but this is sounding like a joke.) Yes, it is sad that the employees are treated as they are, and crazy that the CEOs earn so much. The challenge is what to do about these situations. Whose responsibility is it when someone doesn’t have basic necessities? Is it the responsibility of the government when someone is paid what seems to be an outrageous sum?

The bigger question for me is “being aghast” an appropriate response to an opinion that differs from their own?

In any case…

Walmart and many other companies likely contribute to the destruction of the planet. They sell a lot of plastics. They also buy from companies that have terrible labor policies and conditions. And they also provide a needed service and employ a lot of people. 

I probably own part of Walmart as part of an Index fund that I have. I proposed to a friend that we should boycott Walmart because they sell guns. He replied that those aren’t the guns the shooters are using. They are getting their guns from gun shows and over the Internet.

As a dean, I was torn with the dilemma of using part-time faculty who might make 25% of what a full-time faculty made. We had limited discretionary funds. If we paid the part-time faculty more we’d have to raise the tuition (which could decrease our enrollment in Ferguson, MO). We could pay full-time faculty less, which could cause our faculty to look elsewhere for work. In the end, any change would have its costs and benefits.

Some say that companies are owned by their stockholders and have a legal responsibility to make a profit. At the least, if companies aren’t doing this, they should let investors know what their goals are.

It is a kind of “shooting from the peanut gallery” to demonize certain businesses without considering the good that they do, and the problems they would have if they made profound changes (like not selling plastics). It is easy to say, it is unfair for two people to teach the same course, and one gets 1/4 of what the other gets. It is especially difficult when the part-time faculty member may do a better job than the full-time faculty member. But what is a school to do to fix these apparent inequities?


Antioch and similar schools, built on the highest principles, are having great financial difficulties. It isn’t easy to keep afloat. Luckily, as consumers, we can vote with our pocketbook in various ways. Eventually, companies will listen as we affect their bottom line.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Shame, Ancient Twisted Karma, Hsin Hsin Ming, PaRaDiSe Manifesto, Walmart

As part of another activity, we were asked to do a Hakomi exercise of telling another person twice, “you should be ashamed of yourself.” Once we were supposed to look down, and the second time we were to look each other in the eye. I wouldn’t do the exercise, explaining it was against my principles. When I got home, I asked my wife to do it. She instantly refused as well. This isn’t the first time I refused to do a Hakomi exercise. Once I was asked in another context (by a Hakomi teacher) to stand up if someone had hurt me, and to remain seated if they had not. This was more difficult to refuse, since staying seated could be read as not being hurt, or as not playing the game. At still another venue, I noticed people doing activities without totaling owning the activity. It is as if they either read about the activity or had experienced the activity in another context and decided to throw it at us in a somewhat random way.

I did start thinking about whether I could say to anyone that they should be ashamed of themselves. I wondered about whether I could say it to the recent shooters. Surprising myself, I decided I could not even say that to them. I asked my wife, “could you tell a recent shooter that he should be ashamed of himself.” She said she could do that. But thinking more about it, she said, “I would tell them they should be ashamed of what they did.”

I think that’s an important distinction. Christianity has the Jesus prayer from the Russian Pilgrim book, “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy upon me a worthless sinner.” Judaism doesn’t pinpoint guilt to the individual, but rather to the action. There is a difference in telling someone that they are a mistake and that they made a mistake. In the former, there is no chance for redemption. In the second, there is. Implicit in “you should be ashamed of what you did” is the suggestion that the action was not the person. Sartre made this distinction that one is not this or that, but rather they do this or that.

We have a repentance chant in Zen:
All my ancient twisted karma,
born through body, speech, and mind…
J thought it was borne, which I like much better than born, the word that is used. We are born (maybe 1st time we are born) without twisted karma, and then we acquire twisted karma through our (intentional) actions. The karma shouldn’t be personified. It comes from our actions but it is borne and not born. Here’s a great explanation of the two words.

As the walking meditation continued, my mind drifted to a man I know, Ricardo Turullois-Bonilla, who, in the PaRaDiSe Manifesto, believes he should get the Nobel prize because he has figured out that the reason we’ve shooters is that they were taught dualism in school and that the schools are to blame. I decided at first that he was completely right and that he should get the Nobel prize, and then I realized that choosing non-dualism over dualism is yet another dualism and rather, we should hold each lightly in each of our hands. As it is written in the Hsin Hsin Ming / Trust in Mind:
The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent
Everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however,
And heaven and earth are set infinitely apart. 
Even having preferences about having no preferences is a trap.


P.S. S wrote that I liked Walmart. I might well have written that, though I’m not thinking today too much about my love for Walmart. She said it wasn’t right that their executives make a million a minute (she slightly exaggerated) and their employees make so little. It is easy for us to associate these two activities but I think they need to be looked at separately. If an executive can convince a board that she is worth such and such, I think the CEO would be stupid to say, “but just give me half of that.” If they wanted to give their money away, they are free to do so. But they aren’t “bad” people if they decide to give the money to their family and friends.

The second issue is that of non-living wages. Let’s assume you double the workers’ wages. Now you are paying enough to peak the interest of the recent liberal arts college graduates. So what happens to the people who are working at Walmart? They will be out of a job. Increasing their wages not only does not help the poor workers, but Walmart might need to shut down some stores because they aren’t operating at a profit. It is a problem that some don’t make a “living wage.” But this is society’s problem, not Walmart’s. And with more welfare or a negative income tax, society can supplement the employees’ wages.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Gittie Up, the Dog Says, Gittie Up


Walking as meditation
1 step at a time.
Another step, another time
‘round & ‘round we go.

Is anyone getting tired?
R we 1 or many?
How long have we walked?
How far have we walked?
Miles to go ‘fore we sleep.

Who walked?
Who’s paying attention?
Who’s being attended 2?

Is walking in a circle like life?
Sometimes you don’t get anywhere.
We don’t get anywhere,
walking in circles,
but we are still tired
at the end of the day.

Who walks? Animal,
vegetable or mineral.
Or a
spirit? Whose spirit?

Are we alive or dead
walking like this?
Is the old oak floor
alive and dead, singing
creaks at every step?

Take a dog on a walk,
or pretend to do so, and the
dog pulls you along.
Gittie up, the dog says, gittie up.


Friday, August 23, 2019

Jelly Moses

I was going to write about writing. Or I was going to write about credit cards. I asked mensa wife which one I should write about. She knew the right answer, but she was unable to speak because she didn’t know whether I’d follow her advice or do the opposite. So there are mensas and there are menses, just like there are Apple Geniuses and there are Apple Geniuses. To be an Apple Genius I heard you only need to score a 70.

It is like Buddha-to-be in the Jataka tales. He read the mind of a pirate and saw that he was going to kill everyone so he killed the pirate to save the pirate from acquiring bad karma. I told my teacher about this and she, also a mensa, said that the real Buddha would have figured out a better solution.

So I don’t know what to write about. I had a nice conversation with S this morning about writing and how we not only clarify thoughts but actually evoke new thoughts as well when we write. Once I had a particular position about something and as I wrote about it I realized that the opposing position made more sense. Which is why I’ve come to be known as, “Jelly Moses.”

This is all based on the premise that the solid state of Jelly is Jello. Some don't know that.
Something mensa doesn’t like about me is that I have a lot of credit cards. I’m a sucker for most deals that they give, like $200 if you spend $1000 in the next month. For awhile the deals stopped. I figured they had me pegged. But now they have started coming again. One temptation after another.

So I went to a bank today and they told me that I qualified for a super credit card that beats all the other cards. I wonder what it would be like to have one credit card. It would sure make mensa happy.

So how far do you go to make a mensa happy? Is it dependent on the extent of your love? Is it dependent on how postal she might become if she isn’t happy? Should I ask her? Would she just freeze up again, trying to figure out what answer would give her the best life? I don’t know.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

What is the job at hand?

Today was my weekly Rabbi talk. I told him that I’ve been thinking of God as an emotion. He didn’t say, no, that is wrong. Nor did he say, yes, that is right. Our conversation quickly moved to the continuum from defining God (a.k.a. Jesus) to not defining God (“I am who I am” Torah Exodus 3:14). In any case, we quickly came to the idea that our task in this world is to make it better, not to define God.


Then in Torah study, we read about how you are impure if you touch a corpse and how you must purify yourself starting 3 days after touching the said corpse and extending until 7 days after the touching. Again, he said that at a certain point grieving should end and one should get back to the job at hand, making the world better.

The ancient Pagans spent much of their time with the dead. They would dissect dead cows as a means to prophesy the future.

My mom used to say that life is for the living. This is not to say that some deaths are particularly difficult, such as the death of a child. On the radio today was a woman who accidentally left her child in a hot car. She said she will never get over that.

Let’s not worry about whether God is out there or in here, whether he’s as real as apple pie or as impermanent and imagined as a dream. What is the job at hand?

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Easy Businesses & U R [up] 2 NO GOOD

It seems that businesses either are really easy to work with, or really hard. American Express is easy to work with. I wanted to know if I pay my bill 25 days after the statement date will it be “on time.” So I did the chat. She wrote, “I hope you are doing well.” Anticipating a long discussion, I answered, “I hope so too.” Then I asked her the question. I don’t remember why I thought it was a woman. Some of these chats would take 30 minutes. She quickly and  joyfully answered my question with a “Yes.” She didn’t ask for my account number or my mother’s maiden name. She didn’t escalate the request to someone else. It was simple yes. I wrote back to her that I love American Express, and I am doing well, and I hope she’s doing well too. She responded, “Thank you.”

++++++++++

U R [up] 2 NO GOOD
So my wife said yesterday that she didn’t think there had been any benefit to my 11 or 12 years of meditation. I disagreed. But you know how comments, even if you deny what they assert, bother one. Maybe she was being cranky because she was having a few challenges of her own. Maybe I needed to think about her comment. Maybe she’s right.

I heard the comment at my other zen center that “Zen is good for nothing.” Maybe I should take that at heart.

I wasn’t going to go sit tonight because I’ve had a long day and had to take one package to UPS and another to FedEx. But maybe I was giving up because she said I’m the same person. Anyway, just around the corner now both UPS and FedEx have boxes that take ground packages and I was back home in five minutes.

I didn’t really believe “Zen is good for nothing.” But maybe my mensa wife is seeing something that I’m not seeing. Maybe I am exactly the same person, totally disillusional in my belief that some benefit has come my way from this sitting endeavor.

Would I continue? Should I continue? Was I given false expectations?

Some pray to get on God’s good side so that things will turn out well. Others pray to acknowledge, ask for forgiveness or thank God. I don’t know why I sit.

Last night a couple of people asked me why I’ve been leading this Zen Writing group every week for so many years. I said it was because I like so much the people who come to it.

Why would I ever look forward to going at an unreasonable hour to sit and face a wall? Especially if it was without benefit? Maybe because it is like eating ice cream. Because it tastes so good.

P.S. So I just asked mensa wife if she meant it yesterday. “No,” she said. I thanked her for giving me something to write about.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Not Knowing is Most Intimate

So I’ll have an idea and I’ll tell my wife and my friends and they will tell me I’m wrong and then maybe I’ll write about it and more people will tell me that I’m wrong. I love to be wrong, which is good because I’m often wrong. Way wrong.

So I had this idea that God is actually an emotion. We could call her awe. It is an appreciation of that beyond our imagination and comprehension. If we made a vend diagram circle of the things that we know, it would be a little circle so small that it would only be a dot. And outside of that would be the things that we don’t know. Years ago I heard that the things that we know doubles every six months. You’d think we’d know a lot by know, at that geometric rate of progression. But we learned in grade school that X times 0=0, which means that what we know is still just a dot. Zilch.

Across the street, someone built a beautiful house. It took a year, if not more. It is decorated. Some company comes and cuts the grass. But nobody lives there. I don’t know the story.

I heard today about someone’s son who has cancer and he is in remission. We don’t know if his cancer will come back.

What is meant by the koan that ends with, “not knowing is most intimate”? In the Western mind, knowledge is power. We strive to know, and when we don’t know, we investigate further. We assume that our lack of knowledge is the result that we didn’t try hard enough. Or that we didn’t have a powerful enough telescope or microscope or whatever. Students are tested on what they know, not on what they don’t know. Imagine this as a history test, “What do you not know about the Civil War?” That’s what killed the cat (curiosity)!

S wrote that she’s glad that she’s had no experience of God. I’ve always been curious about people who have that experience. And exceedingly jealous. I was glad to hear that Mother Theresa only connected to God for one week of her life. And she’s now a saint, isn’t she?

N questions my theory that believing in God is really an emotion, like love or joy. Some people never have that emotion. I was fortunate to visit a church in North St. Louis, where the congregation were speaking in tongues and falling backward into each other’s arms. Their God was an emotion that ransacked their bodies. This was not a discursive belief that they adopted. It was something that invaded their body like shrapnel from outer space.

If I told them it was just in their imaginations, they’d laugh at me. You’d only have to be there to see that something else was going on. A temporary psychosis. That’s how some might describe it. Mass hysteria? I don’t know. But it was as real as the moon in the sky, which could be some kind of hologram. Do we really know?


I like Elon Musk’s theory that our chances of us not being simulations from some advanced civilization are only 1 out of 1000. Even more surprising is that he is not phased by the idea of being a simulation. He embraces the idea. More than that, he embraces not knowing if he actually exists. And yet he lives his life to explore new technologies and new worlds.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Does God Surpass Joy and Love?

N, in a discussion on Facebook, asked me if God was any more special or profound than joy or love. I immediately thought of conversations that I’ve had with my neighbor about comparing the size of different infinities. Supposedly the set of all the whole numbers is the same size infinity as all the even numbers, but there are infinities bigger than other infinities.

Joy and love are not measurable so they are infinities. God, as an expression of the divine, is also immeasurable. All three of these are so immense that I feel that it would demean any of them to reduce them to less than another thing. In the continuum going from feelings to emotions to states of mind, joy, love, and God can all be states of mind.


 Some say that God is love. Jesus said that “the kingdom of God is within you.” Is this in the same vein that our 1st Zen ancestor Dogen said that when we sit we are Buddha? Could one say that when we love we are God? When we sit, our DNA does not shift to a man who lived 2500 years ago. Yet, when we sit, which may well be something more than plopping ourselves down on a cushion, we become transformed into something much bigger and more universal than ourselves. We enter a new state, almost as if we had traveled beyond. And when we love, we also migrate to this different cosmos, which becomes infinite and timeless. To say that anything is bigger than joy or love when we love or are consumed with joy seems to be wrong. With love or joy, when you enter these states, you are right there at a place that is unbeatable and unsurpassable. So, N, God is not any more special than joy or love. In my mind, this equality in no way diminishes God but rather elevates joy and love to pinnacles that cannot be surpassed.

Mango and Cherry Homemade Popsicle

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Excessive and Moderation

Norman Fischer was asked what was the most important job he had done as abbot of a large multi-location zen center. Unexpectedly he said, taking care of myself. I’ve been hearing those words all week, and finally, this morning, skipped meditation and just got to the temple in time for the dharma talk. It was quite a treat “not to rush.”

I mentioned a few days ago that the Dalia Lama sits four hours a day. Is this a similar effort?

In the Buddhist world, generosity is considered the most important perfection. Norman recently wrote a book on it. So one might have expected that he’d say that the most important thing he did was to serve the homeless, or some such thing.

It is kind of obvious why he took care of himself. For the same reason, when the oxygen mask drops down, you first put your mask on, then your child’s mask. Perhaps it seems a little counter-intuitive at first.


People think I’m abusing myself by eating nine meals a week. It is actually feeling like the opposite. The meals are good, and I’m looking at my next meal with mixed feelings. It seems like abusing one’s body to be in a constant state of digesting food.

People think writing my blog and drawing a picture every day is excessive.

People think sitting every day is excessive.

How about being married for 50 years plus a few days?

There are the moderation advocates. But what is moderation? Really? Buddha’s disciples were ready to throw him out with the bathwater when he broke his diet of 1/2 of a grain of rice a day. He prescribed that the monks should finish eating by noon. They wanted to do an evening begging round, but Buddha said that would be putting too much of a burden on the laity.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

A High-priced Courtesan

“At least according to the biblical account, they had to wander in the desert for “40 years” because they were whiny little bitches who complained to God too much. God condemned them to wander because God is a vindictive, childish, hypersensitive authoritarian.”

N is referring to what Moses reportedly heard from God and his reporting of the supernatural events that are purported to have been caused by God.

I don’t think we need to believe that these are “God’s words” in the Torah, nor that God exists as more than a perspective—a way of viewing life. It is a book of stories that have been very important to some people.

Imagine that “God” was actually “life.” Would this make a difference?

Life has that ability to be kind and mean. One day a woman wins the lottery, and the next her dog get swept up by the street cleaning machine. Joko Beck, the Zen teacher, would say that life makes no mistakes. Many Jews lost their faith in God because of the Holocaust.

I like to think of the God in the Torah as a reflection of those that authored the book. He or she developed through the Torah as the Israelites developed. I love the Torah because it is such an accurate description both of men and of life itself.

What would “obedience” mean if there were no God? For some, they can’t imagine how one could be moral without having the fear of God within him. I disagree, as I believe there are so many examples to the contrary.

We studied today a little verse from one of the ancient Buddhist woman, Aḍḍhkāsī. She was a high-priced courtesan who becomes disgusted with her body.

All of the Kāsi countryside:
My fee was equal to that.
Having made that my price,
the town1 set me as priceless in price.
But then I became disenchanted with my body,
and—disenchanted—dispassionate:
“May I not run again & again
through birth & the wandering-on.”
The three knowledges
have been realized.
The Buddha’s bidding
done.


Here’s more on the “three knowledges”: http://www.buddhisma2z.com/content.php?id=530

Relating to the “belief” in God, can one have these three knowledges and still accept modern science? Can one be a critical modern thinker and accept the notion of God?

Friday, August 16, 2019

God Love Mistakes

The Torah is one big mistake, starting with the fact that their 40-year journey could actually have been done in one day if they had a map and compass (or GPS). And then there are the rabbis that say that it isn’t that we don’t follow the commandments (when we don’t), it is just that we don’t follow them yet.

George Bernard Shaw said you should make your first 1000 mistakes as soon as possible so you can start on your second 1000.

I read about one company that gives its workers a paid vacation when they give up on an idea. Barking up the wrong tree doesn’t benefit anyone.

Maybe teachers should grade by subtracting the right answers from the possible answers. So the As would become Fs.

And then there are Post-It Notes, made with a failed glue.


How many creative ideas came from mistakes? I wonder.

Was the idea of karma developed when people did bad things and then saw the effect. I’ve learned that not telling the truth causes all kinds of havoc.

I did this drawing and the guy standing behind me pointed at a finger that didn’t have a dark blue line around it… so I fixed it and acknowledged it as a mistaken finger.

Am I a mistake?


God love mistakes. We call them dharma gates because they teach us so much. 

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Crickets and the Red Heifer

I walked out the door this morning at 6:09am and a cricket greeted me on my front steps. Then his friend started chirping. They blew the theory that Vaughn had yesterday about the crickets in the clouds.


I like how we tend to think that the last explanation to any quagmire is the correct one. And then the next one. And then the next one.

I’ve had three meals in the last three days and am feeling pretty hungry. That’s a lie, I think. Very hungry. Going at noon tomorrow to one of my favorite macrobiotic restaurants. And I get two meals tomorrow. Do I take the first meal before or after? We’ll see. Oh, just made myself a glass of vegetable broth. That’s “allowed.” No longer hungry.

We read in Torah study today about the red heifer.

In the olden days of the 1st and 2nd temple, the red heifer would be cooked for a purification rite, and the ashes would be given to a woman who had sinned to purge her of her transgressions. But it was a curious procedure, since the perfection of the animal, prior to 8/28/2018, was unheard of.

Our group came up with the idea that the purification actually involves the search for such an animal, rather than with the cooking of the actual mythical beast. Of course, that search was before Google.

I kept imagining a conversation between the Torah writers and some puritans. The puritan women insisted that there be some rite for those bad women. So the writers (men, of course) made up a rite that could never be done to appease them.

I came up with the idea that the red heifer was a prediction of the coming of Christ who was also perfect. The rabbi said he hadn’t heard of such a reading. There are 100s of readings of the Torah, but some (mine) are not warranted, I guess. Though in my heart of heart, in a book filled with failings and indiscretions, why do we all of a sudden have the description of something perfect, without a grey hair? I will keep my reading as a possibility.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

May the Crickets in Alpine Keep Chirping

I discovered that I had $5 in this savings account. I didn’t want to have that credit union (in San Antonio) any longer, so I asked them to send me the $5. Sure they said, but it will cost you $5. Customer service has become binary. Either it exists or not. I suspect and hope that those that don’t have it will go out of business. Honesty also has become binary. It is like the old story about the country that had two tribes, one that always told the truth and one that always lied. You come to a crossroads and you see a tribesman there, and you don’t know which tribe he belongs to. Both would say they are truth-tellers, so asking is a waste of time. You want to know which path will lead to water. What question do you ask?

I told someone how to do something. Then I figured out a much easier way. I sent them the easier way and told them to forget about the original way. Luckily I offered to do the task myself. They got back to me and accepted my offer. That was fortunate because the easier way when I tried it, didn’t work. How important it is to test out theories!!!

On the one hand, there is the almost quiet of meditation. This morning I sat with my friends in Alpine Texas, virtually. http://appamadaalpine.org/calendar/ Mary asked me if there were crickets that she was hearing in Austin. I put my computer on mute and then she said they were there in Alpine. I sat with the crickets in Alpine. It was fun.

On the other hand, there is an active shooting situation in Phili, a mile from where my son lives (though they are not there right now). I used to wonder why the Dalia Lama needed to sit for four hours a day if he was so wise. Maybe it is because the world is not.


I remember learning in a psychology class about the power of intermittent reinforcement.  It actually makes us crazy and addicted too. We are held in a constant state of anxiety. If you’ve played slot machines you see how quickly they get the best of you.

I’ll go soon to the temple to sit for an hour. In the meantime, the police will be figuring out how to stop the shooter in Phili. How might I juggle these two worlds?

I wrote some blog posts and put them on Facebook and no one responded. I made up all kinds of stories about why, and since I’m not able to change what I’m writing…I decided that I’d just continue to do what I’m doing, but still, I was puzzled. And then I discovered that the posts were only being sent to three people! When you select one post to be sent to a select few then subsequent posts are also sent to those people unless you choose to send to everyone. I forgot about that.

It just goes to show how quickly we make up stories when we are confused. I don’t think we can stand to be in a state of not-knowing. May the crickets in Alpine keep chirping.

P.S. Vaughn claims the crickets were in the cloud. Imaginary crickets, so to speak. I've never been so disappointed.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Thanks for Nothing

He arrived early and waited for his shadow to c…

I wrote this earlier at the temple. I arrived way early because I got mixed up about the time. And then Bill, age 91, walked in and we talked about population and other world crises.

I do usually come early. My goal is to be 15 minutes early. I like to “open up.” I like to have the best parking space. I guess I should take the worse parking place. Carl, my first Chan (Chinese Zen) teacher, asked us to think about where we parked. It was a dilemma. Where does a thoughtful person park? I might give the wrong impression to someone arriving late if I left the best space for them. They might think it is ok to be late.

I had the idea today in our discussion that we have to keep the ball rolling. That is our job in life. In some way, we have to keep the ball rolling. Why? Well, in the same way, we could hope that other people will vote for the best candidate, we can’t always trust that they will vote. I’ve been in situations, even in the last year, where no one showed up to a group I was leading, or where I was the only person who showed up when someone else was leading. We can’t wait around for someone else to keep the ball rolling. In Hong Kong, everyone, it seems, is participating. What is China going to do? If they back down they give Hong Kong its independence. If the don’t, they will destroy a wonderful city. The people realize the value of their independence and freedom.

Tonight we are writing about gratitude. Not the kind where you thank Miss God that you got a bicycle for Christmas, but rather another kind. It’s the “thanks for nothing” gratitude. Not when you are sarcastic, but when you aren’t. Earlier today, at the same time that the police were hitting the protesters with their batons, I was quietly sitting in the temple with about ten others. I was feeling a tremendous dissonance between my life at that moment and the life of those protestors in Hong Kong, being up against the police, fighting for the freedom of their city. How could life be so different from one place to another on this small planet? I wondered. 

We listened to Steve Stucky (http://sfzc.org/gratitude), having recently been diagnosed with Stage 4 Pancreatic cancer, talk about his gratitude. He would wake up and sit on the edge of his bed and say the word gratitude. He wrote on his blog, “The ‘practice of gratitude’ for me begins simply with saying the word ‘gratitude’ and allowing whatever arises in thought to be regarded as lovable no matter who or what it may be. This immediately cuts off the mind of personal preference and acknowledges that everything, absolutely everything is fully participating in the fact of my existence this moment. The challenge of this practice often slaps me in the face and sets off a series of seemingly impossible barriers.”

It just flashed through my head what conversation we might have with Miss God when we go to Heaven (if we are so lucky). If we had a long happy life we might thank her, assuming we believe she choreographs such things. But suppose we were unjustly put in prison for life. Supposed we were tortured all our life. Then would we complain and ask for a refund.

Seems the gratitude that Steve is talking about is not thanking anyone for the gifts that he had received in his life, but rather for life itself, in all its many facets. It reminds me of when Jim talked about how he was thankful that he could be sick.

I wrote about suicide yesterday. How bad do things have to get so there is no hope for a better future, where all that can be imagined is dismal? When doing yourself in might be the only out?

I have had a life of privilege and good fortune. For the most part, we are well and have all we need. Not too many people can say that. We have lots of love in our family and never a dull moment. So I feel a bit dishonest saying, “thanks for nothing” because I’ve been given so much. I get a check every month from the State of Missouri that is such a gift. It allows me to do whatever I want.

So I want to have gratitude for nothing. What gets in the way is that my life is so plentiful. If I was in Steve Stucky’s shoes in 2013, I would still have my memories of so many blessings, so I would see those memories as my object of gratitude.

I took an IFS (Internal Family Systems) workshop with him about a year before he died. He was standing right where I am sitting now. That’s weird. It was kind of like being in Rome and standing right where Michelangelo stood. How I wish I had had that experience when I studied Art History.


So I thought writing this would be easier. I thought I could appreciate the moon-faced Buddha just as I could the sun-faced Buddha. Now I realize it is not so easy, especially for someone whose life has been so filled with sun-faced Buddhas. See http://suzukiroshi.sfzc.org/archives/index.cgi/710817V.html?seemore=y if you want to know more about these Buddhas who accept “life as it is,” as Suzuki Roshi would say.

Dropping Linda in Austin