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.

Monday, August 12, 2019

What’s Your Number?

What’s your number? I wrote yesterday about essences, and how they basically don’t exist. What we are is mainly constructed by our imaginations. To a vulture feeding on our body, I might just be a tasty delight, or maybe just something to “tide him over” until he finds something better.

A better photographer would have captured his number. It was 18.
It is hot in Austin. Today I went out in the afternoon and then came home and slept. I don’t know why it is so tiring to be in the heat. I think the trick is to stay cool. Luckily our house is well-insulated.

Suicide is an interesting choice. Seems like things can seem so bad that it is better not to be alive. Sometimes it is understandable, and sometimes not. This is a fascinating article (https://www.history.com/news/stock-market-crash-suicides-wall-street-1929-great-depression) contradicting what we’ve believed about stockbrokers jumping from windows when they went broke. “…the number of suicides…in Oct. and Nov. 1929 were among the lowest of any month that year.” I was always curious about that… whether losing money would be enough to get someone to jump out of the window of a tall building.

People come to the temple to try out meditation. Like any self-help endeavor, they think they will benefit and instead find something difficult and uncomfortable. It is more like staring into a mirror for an hour. But the mirror doesn’t just show how you look but how you are. I talked to a psychological nurse practitioner today who told me that he never asks his clients why they are the way they are because they would just feel attacked. We don’t ask ourselves that question in Zen. Rather it is a process of noticing how we are. Are we hot or cold, hopeful or suicidal? And, in the end, we just become ok with however we are, realizing that’s our number. Like the stockbrokers, even though they had lost everything for themselves and others, there was something that kept them going. I suspect that if I asked my 100.5-year-old father-in-law how they survived the depression he would just say, “we did what we needed to do.”

Sunday, August 11, 2019

What is Buddhism? One more try.

There is a story about an atheist rabbi. An atheist Jewish boy is sent to talk to him. The boy observes that the atheist rabbi spends an entire morning praying and attending to other temple practices. Finally, the rabbi turns to the kid and asks him why he is there. The boy explains he was sent to the rabbi because he too does not believe in God. The boy asks the rabbi why he prays and cares for the temple as he does since he doesn’t even believe in God. The rabbi exclaims, “you don’t think I’m going to give up the practice.”

Today, as we were reading Dogen and I simultaneously thought about the rabbi, I realized that “what” like ”why” is the wrong question. A much easier question, and probably the one that the person wanted to know, is “what does a Buddhist do”?

It is an important tenet of Buddhism that things of empty of an inherent essence. If you took a chair apart, molecule by molecule, you’d never get to “chair.” The chariness of a chair is something we add to a certain configuration of material substances. So Buddhism itself is really empty as well of any essence which makes it kind of a sacrilege to explain (some might certainly disagree here).

But what does a Buddhist do? That, on the surface, is easier to explain. Buddhists might focus a little more when doing everyday tasks. They might sit. They might chant. They might read the sutras of Buddha and/or his followers.

In a recent workshop, I took at Dharma Rain in Portland, Oregon, 20 or so of us were asked about the practices in our temples. We found that actually, our practices varied tremendously, and we had very few practices in common. Still, we would say that we share a similar path. 20 artists might do the same in describing their practice. One uses their voice to sing, one uses a camera, one paints, one pots, etc. But they still have a common practice.


Yesterday I reached for some silverware in a dirty pan in the sink and didn’t realize that our very sharp kitchen knife was in there too. I cut my finger and started screaming at my wife for leaving the knife in the sink. I realized later that I should have looked before I leaped, and my sizzling electrodes were the results of not sitting for a few days. I could have looked at my bleeding finger with curiosity and appreciated the beautiful color of my blood.


Today I went to Target on the way to the temple to get some laundry soap for my wife. It was an unfamiliar Target. I finally found the soap, but could not remember how to get out of the store. I was too embarrassed to ask, so I decided to walk the perimeter of the store and eventually I’d find my way out the door to the cushion. Finally, after passing three sides of the store, I found the cash registers and the exit doors. Again, a sign that my focus was lacking. Fortunately, I remembered where my car was parked and made it to the temple in one piece.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

What is Buddhism?

Holy crap! Our Buddhist temple had a table at a gay pride festival. We were very close to one of the music stages. So my head is still reeling from the drum machines. It will take a week of sitting to quiet it down. At least, it seems that way. People would come up to the table and we'd give them one of Sabrina’s jizō stones. The others were much better than me in being a public face. I could barely hear their questions and couldn’t come up with an answer better than “I have no idea.” I wanted to say, “it was a cow that kicked over the lantern.” But instead, I shut up, knowing that they wanted to hear something more digestible. Funny, if I had asked someone, what is Buddhism, and they gave me some absurd answer, I would have bought it hook line and sinker. But I’m old enough to know I’m not the average bear, but rather the crazy one. I remember in my previous life talking at a deans' meeting about how I finally had a really good carrot. I wasn’t talking metaphors. Did you know that there exist carrots that are really carrots? I suspect they were very recently harvested from a back yard garden.


People wonder, what is Buddhism. I used to teach sculpture and when students didn’t know what to do I’d give them the test. We were always able to figure out what sculpture they wanted to make.

Here’s the “what is Buddhism” test.

All questions can be answered with binary answers.

  1. Is it something that existed from the beginning of time, or just with the time of Buddha’s enlightenment?
  2. Is it a religion?
  3. Does it have a god or gods?
  4. Does it preach non-violence?
  5. Will it save the world?
  6. Can you be a Buddhist and be part of another religion?
  7. Why meditate?
  8. Are mindfulness and Buddhism the same thing?


I could go on and on. But unlike the sculpture test, there really are no clear answers. It isn’t binary. In sculpture, you can decide if you are going to make something representational or abstract, bigger than 12” or less than 12”. In Buddhism, there are no such answers. More like life. Did I do good? No clear answer?

There is a concept of “skillful means” where you do what is needed to get the person to the next step. But even that is iffy. It seems sometimes as not being honest. My skillful means was to let the other people talk because they had answers.

Imagine the challenge: you have one minute to talk someone into doing something you like to do… like sitting. What do you say? Especially when drums are beating loudly in the background. I don’t know.


Friday, August 9, 2019

Impermanence and Immortality

I came up with the idea yesterday that we are immortal. My idea is that “we” just morph and morph and morph. No matter is created or destroyed. This is all in reaction to Jeff’s suggestion that because we aren’t permanent, nothing matters. Smart wife (a.k.a. mensa), though a little shaky from her 2nd cataract surgery, says that things matter and things don’t matter. The question for me is “who is me,” especially in light of our recent uncelebration of our 50th anniversary. If I’m changing every breath, then how do I earn the right to have one name and one social security number? Who is it that is xxx-xx-xxxx? Is it my body that never stays the same, and on a molecular level, doesn’t even have any edges?

Is there even a relationship between “things mattering” and “things being permanent”? In the Buddhist view, it matters that we are suffering, and the suffering is unnecessary. That is not to say that sickness, old age, and death are unavoidable. It isn’t “if” but “when.” But suffering in the sense of “out of kilter” is avoidable.

Still, there is the question about “things mattering.” Bertrand Russell claimed that he was prone to worry until one day he realized that, in the grand scheme of things, that whatever happened would have virtually no effect in the grand scheme of things. Yet he worked hard throughout his life to both understand the nature of reality and to communicate that understanding.

Still, there is the question about “things mattering.” I think they do matter in the sense that we love, and in fulfilling that love, we want to make things better and more beautiful. Maybe Russell is right that it doesn’t matter, yet living as if it does makes a better life for both us and others. So that seems like enough of a reason to live a “good life,” whatever that might be.

Vaughn and I meet weekly online to talk about our Zen practice. He lives in Alpine, Texas.


Thursday, August 8, 2019

Cataract Surgery, Robots, Boredom and More Science

I’m at the surgery center with Linda who is having her cataract surgery. It is always difficult for me to write in the morning because nothing yet has happened. Though we woke up at my usual time (5:20am), it seemed too early since it wasn’t waking up to go sit. If I was a different person getting up for oneself or for someone else might be the same. As usual, we stayed up too late last night. Next time I retire I’m going to sleep more. Sleep is good, but kind of a waste of life. Sitting (meditation) is probably a waste of life too. Eating is a waste of life. Hard to figure out what wouldn’t be a waste of life. Working at a job probably is a waste of life too because you are trading work for money, which suggests that if you could be paid for not working that would be preferable. These are the words of a very lazy person, influenced by his 5th-grade math teacher, Mr. Moulton, who said the best mathematician would be the laziest one because he’d find the simplest and most elegant proof.


For many people being really lazy would be very difficult because of the possibility of impending boredom. We make it complicated because if our life wasn’t wrought with problems we’d have the challenge of finding something to do. Buddha had this problem when he was waited on hand and foot. He was not exposed to sickness, old age, or death until he snuck off to see the world.

We go to the store to buy milk. A robot would take the milk from the shelf, put it in the basket, roll over to the check out counter, pay for the milk, rollover to its self-driving car, and go home. A humanoid would try all the free samples, and ponder whether to buy this or that and answer a phone call and notice a beautiful woman with a skirt that is too short and be anything but bored.

Imagine if we could go to the store and buy some milk like a robot and check out and return home. Some might think that is boring. Would we read the carton and memorize all the words stating the manufacturer, the amount of fat, and maybe even the name of the cow that produced the milk? Oh, wait, am I getting distracted by noticing too much. Again, the robot might note the expiration date on the said milk, but wouldn’t pay attention to the name of the cow because one cow is no different from another cow, at least to someone who didn’t know these particular cows.

If it was only this easy to go get a carton of milk. The instructions for programming the robot would be relatively simple compared to what we actually do when we go to the store. And much of what we do is not the task at hand. It is mainly because we get bored easily. At least that’s my take.

The nurse is having trouble putting the IV into Linda. She’s saying that Linda has a good vein, but she’s having trouble threading it. At least, that’s what it sounded like she said. Oh, now she’s trying the other arm. She put a tourniquet on that arm and now is trying to find a good vein. The bad veins are all raising their hands, saying “pick me, pick me” but the nurse is wise to these veins and doesn’t pay attention to them. Now she has some needle in Linda and is injecting something which I assume is beneficial.

Lots of noise now, as patients up and down the corridor are getting prepped. Sometimes I wish I could just turn the volume down, which I say I’d like to do, but would I get bored? And why don’t I get bored when I’m sitting. What could be more boring and yet it isn’t. It is more boring to be in a noisy bar. Should all situations be equally interesting or boring?

Now the nurse turned off the light because Linda has had drops to numb her eye and I guess that dilates her pupil. She’s now cleaning her eye with a micro-macrame or something sounding like that. Something to clean her eye anyway.

Lots of activity to prep someone for a simple surgery. I wonder if the nurse is thinking about other things.

Now I have to pay attention to the instructions for the caregiver.

Back home. My daughter and her youngest came over. We’ve been doing a science experiment the last couple of days where we soaked an egg in vinegar and it was supposed to bounce instead of break. I was happy that the experiment failed. That seems to be such an important aspect of science—that many experiments fail and you have to ask why.


So Linda is getting better, glued to CNN and watching a country that isn’t.

P.S. I went to the grocery to get milk and ended up getting a bunch of stuff, and forgot my favorite staple: bananas.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Victims, Survivors, and Dispensing Stuff

I have two subjects to write about. I’m wondering if they are connected.

What happens to my stuff when I die? And, how do we become survivors of the recent shootings rather than victims?

So “what happens to my stuff…” is about the stuff that is not liquid, like pictures and books. But maybe it goes deeper, like what happens to stuff that occupies my worries and fears? Having just taken a van load of books to Half-Priced Books and getting $100, I realize that there is not much value in used books. The same with my pictures. Since people aren’t lining up at my door for them, they won’t be lining up after I am gone. Hopefully, my kids and their kids will take a few, but beyond that, it is up to them to give them away or recycle the paper. There are always people who run estate sales. They will do the dirty work.

Non-Original Painting with Original Texture 
Though, in the end, all our stuff in an estate sale would just net a few thousand. As we have less and less time left in our lives, I think the critical factor is to breathe and smile (Thich Nhat Han). Our material stuff is usually hardly worth the effort to convert it to cash.

I think the worry about the stuff is really the worry about death. Stepping off the 100-foot pole (a zen koan) is what brave people do.

Now, how can we become survivors of the recent shootings? We are having or participating in a couple of vigils tonight.


It is important for Jews not to forget the Holocaust. They say this is about not letting it happen again. I don’t know to what extent remembering keeps something from happening again. Disasters happen over and over again. When problems occurred at our college our wise president would calmly ask, “what can we put in place so this doesn’t happen again.” That seems like a good question to make the transition from victim to survivor. White supremacy and anti-Semitism are interrelated. Both believe that those that are different from us are a problem. People are now getting their information from such a variety of sources. The supremacists and the anti-Semites peoples each view media that echos their beliefs. Eliminating prejudice is certainly an uphill battle.


Today I went to my Ph.D. pharmacist to evaluate the supplements I’m taking and evaluating my general health. I asked him why doctors would generally laugh at what he prescribes. He said that doctors don’t review research—that most of their continuing education is listening to doctors who are paid by drug companies. It would be interesting to know to what extent this is true. Then I asked him about weight and BMI scales. He said that they are bogus, that they were developed right after WWII when there wasn’t a lot of food, and they make no allowance for body types or muscle mass. He said that he’d be considered “morbidly obese” where in fact he’s a healthy weight lifter. I wish better and less conflicting information existed. Everyone is an expert and everyone has their own conflicting ideas. Here's a free test he does.




Tuesday, August 6, 2019

That's What I Want

You take an in-breath. Will you be able to take an out-breath? You don’t know. Wherever you are, whether it is El Paso, Dayton, or wherever, whatever might be the probability, you don’t know. This could be a cause for depression. But whether we admit it or not, we all know this deep in our hearts. We are all on death row, and we don’t like to couch the fragility of our existence in those terms.

And then something happens, where lives are prematurely cut off. That makes us remember that our next in-breath might not be followed by an out-breath.

I spent the morning with my grandson who is barely five. I took him to a toy store to get his birthday present. He was very confident that he could scope out the entire store and pick the best toy. I asked him whether it was the best for everyone or the best just for him. He’s just at that age where this made sense for him. He said for me, not for everyone.


Getting a Car Inspection
So he picked a curious toy. It was in a package and it was one of 12 Japanese characters, and he couldn’t see which one it was. But he wanted it, and of course, when he opened it, he didn’t get the one he wanted and got the one he didn’t want... but he wasn’t too disappointed and came to like the one that he did get.

Yesterday I was grouchy, hungry, “caught in a self-centered dream,” as we recite at the Buddhist temple a couple of times a week. I was bent out of shape at something someone had done. I assumed it was done to me, but in fact, as the truth came out, they had tried an experiment and their website didn’t work as planned, and I thought they were being rude where they were just trying their best to find the best way of doing something.

And then I just received a letter from Charles, a prisoner who is now one of the leaders in a Buddhist group. He talked about something that had upset him and bent him out of shape and happily, he didn’t make much trouble because of it, and seemed to be quite happy about that. I suspect it was being out of control that got him in prison.

Last night I was using two computers, one for video conferencing and another for playing a YouTube. First I couldn’t get to the YouTube, and I finally discovered because the battery had died completely (no out-breath) and forgotten the time of day, and therefore couldn’t get on a number of websites. And then the YouTube was playing very softly for no reason, even when I increased the volume all the way up.

I was bent out of shape, and someone shamed me saying that Buddhism should allow someone to have things go wrong and not be crazed. I remember when Katie, a non-Buddhist colleague about 40 years ago was presenting a multi-projector slide show, and the slides were messing up, getting stuck, or whatever, and I was so impressed by her calmness. I don’t remember her slides at all, but I’ll never forget how calm she was.

I want some of that. And sometimes I feel that. And sometimes I’m very frustrated because people are waiting around for something to happen, something different from technology not behaving.

Finally, the technology did work, and we listened to a meditation about dying and decaying. It wasn’t sad. It wasn’t depressing. It was more like stepping on a piece of rotted wood and seeing it dissolve as powder into the dirt. And remembering that once it was a seed, and once it was a strong tree, and once it was a just dead tree, and now it is powder, ready to feed its nutrients to a new tree.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Does Cutting Work?

I told my daughter to tell her kids that you can cut an earthworm in two and each part would grow the missing part. My smarty wife googled it and shamed me, telling me that it wasn’t true. The head would grow a new tail, but the tail would not grow a head. She had never heard about it as a kid. I figured that earthworms in Chicago could grow a head, while those in the middle of Illinois could not.


Then I asked some others and they believed the same thing, not about Chicago vs. middle of Illinois, but that bisecting earthworms would increase their population. So what do I really believe now: what I grew up believing (and didn’t adequately test), or what my wife of 50plus years Googled? No comparison! Though I realize that’s slightly ambiguous as I meant it to be.

Yesterday I had practice discussion with a Zen teacher and was describing how I was angry at what someone had done, and she suggested that I try to look at who was it that was angry. When I saw the picture of the worm, I thought about her question. Maybe I could just cut the anger off. I wonder if people who are cutters want to do that. Just cut the anger off. And then it will go away.

Certain places and people seem to be triggers for anger. They don’t do things as I would like them to be done. Someone believed that I didn’t pay for a workshop, so they circulated a signup sheet with a comment next to my name, “Did not Pay.” I’m not positive my credit card payment went through because I have a vast amount of credit cards and don’t have the time to check, but I do have a note from them that I did pay. But whether I paid or not is not really relevant. There are other ways to tell someone they are delinquent than public shaming.

So I wrote to them that they embarrassed me. In accordance with their typical practice, so far they have not responded.

But anger. In Zen, we talk about equanimity and tolerance. Why can’t I just say that some people are different than others? Why can’t I forgive someone for not realizing that they meant no public shaming... they simply wanted me to know that I didn’t pay and they didn’t have time to send an email.

So let’s say I was a Bodhisattva and my path was to save all beings from suffering. What would I do then? First, I’d not be so concerned about what I was feeling as what they might be feeling. If someone is not thinking and they hurt your feelings, what do you say? If you say, “you are not thinking,” you might hurt their feelings. Will you ease their suffering?

This would all be laughable if it was the first time that poor communication occurred. But every interaction with this institution has the same result. Perhaps I am just overly sensitive? But when I am treated well in some communities I feel especially hurt by others.

I remember a situation in another community where someone was given a single bed sheet for a double bed. There are options and possibilities here. One could just return the single sheet and ask for a double. Or they could use the single, being thankful for having a sheet. Or they could stomp their feet and feel insulted and unliked.

We can choose. But what response makes the world a better place? Letting someone walk all over me doesn’t work. Going postal doesn’t work. Is it enough to tell someone how you feel? Should I have just assumed that they met no insult when they said, “didn’t pay.” Should I now follow up with a second email or phone call and ask them what they discovered? Or wait it out?

P.S. Planarian flatworms are able to reform their entire body from slivers just 1/300 of the animal’s original body size. Ain’t that a miracle!

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Wild Party for 50th Anniversary

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Those words are empty unless they are followed by actions. The shootings in El Paso and Ohio could have had some benefit if they had resulted in some positive actions. How bad do things have to get before gun laws will change? How long do things have to change before schools change their “core curriculum” to one that includes the love of fellow humans, other beings and the earth? I’m frightened to go to a gay pride festival next weekend. Might there be another shooter there? Will be all be homebound given the danger of public places?

We made it!!! 50 years of matrimony. It was touch and go (what does that mean?).

Anyway, we had an elaborate celebration. All the invited guests came (Linda and Kim). I bought sunflowers and Joan gave us sunflowers. And the gourmet meal (ice cream, blueberries, and banana not shown). Here are some pictures of the wild party.



Saturday, August 3, 2019

Reality and Imagination

Spent the day with Norman Fischer at his dharma talk and workshop. He spoke about imagination in zen. I like the way he spoke of imagination as what is needed to approach reality, but I'd go a step further and eliminate this idea of reality altogether. Whose reality? I think we'd do better just admitting that we each have created a world. Period.

This is my last day of not being married for 50 years. It is odd to imagine having other people as teachers or even wives. I don't know if other people do this. Or even if you are in a parking lot and you wonder what it would be like to have a different car than the one you have. I'd rather have my dream car, which is the Mercedes Jeep. As to teachers, it is a rather tricky business. Do I want this teacher or that teacher? Norman Fischer would refuse to be a teacher but rather called himself a friend. The real teacher one has is themselves. And especially the mistakes that one makes is the ultimate teacher (if we don't repeat them too many times).































But I would almost choose my wife of 49 and 364/365 years except that she reads my mind too often. So I almost don't need to think because she's thinking of the same thing. But actually, this is good because someday I might stop thinking and then I can ask her what I would have thought of if I could think. So, unless something changes in the next 83 minutes, I think it will be great to make it to 50.

I've gone about a week now with nine meals a week. It seems like it would be torture as we think we need to eat every few hours, but really it gives me a lot of energy. People didn't eat three meals until the 1700s. Ancient Romans ate one meal a day. Hunter/gatherers ate less often than that. I don't think our bodies are meant to eat and digest continually.

I do need to remind myself to drink more water. The drink of the gods.


What I Desire