Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Rage is Empty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 29, 2014

Am I a Jew?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 28, 2014


I’ve become somewhat of an exercise fanatic.

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

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

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

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

Attempting to post on three blogs and Instagram a day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Whose Eye is Beauty In—Beholder or Creator?

Zen says the artist,
the audience,
and neither.

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

Uncle Ed
if it

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 26, 2014

Who Done It?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 25, 2014


I had very few assignments in art school. And when I did, I usually didn’t do them. I thought I was, as my mom claimed to be, a “rank individualist.” Though from the first class I taught, I gave assignments. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

I Will Fly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

God: She is Just a Story

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 22, 2014

My Core Curriculum: The Three Ws

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 21, 2014


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

Perhaps someone will refute 
the latest stats 
on the climate.

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

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

churning away, 
eating their dirt 
like a hungry whatever.

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

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

What then? 
Your thought was wrong. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which isn't 
really true
but what the hell!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Cat Killer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 19, 2014

Buying Flowers for My Wife

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

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

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

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

No wonder my grandkids call me Grandpa No Fun.

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

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

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

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Powerless in Austin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

“Zen is good for nothing.”

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

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

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

Someone wrote that meditation softens one edges. We see this in studies that are being done at universities such as Stanford, where able meditators react far less to stimuli.

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Why Sit?

Periodically I ask myself, why sit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 15, 2014

Renunciation of greed, hate, and delusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Is Buddha Fallible?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Summer Romance

Wow! I’ve been emailing with a group of friends from high school. Last year we had our 50th high school reunion and now we are digging into our past. Collectively we are jogging memories and remembering stuff we haven’t thought of for 50 or 60 years. The line from Edward Weston’s daybooks, “How Young I Was” is taking on a special meaning with these conversations.

Our strongly Christian classmate, “G,” criticized one of our celebrity classmates who recently married a woman that he had a brief summer romance with many years ago. G felt that he shouldn’t have publicized that he had this relationship without being married. He felt that the young might be corrupted.

G’s criticism has occupied my mind for a few days now. I am reminded of my dad’s comment many years ago that there is no morality, only the law. At the time I was ready to strangle him. Now, many years later, I sometimes agree with him. One problem with morality is that it varies from person to person, and from country to country. Is it ok to kill in self-defense? To protect a country? Can you steal if your family is starving? And on and on. 

G's comment has occupied my mind for a couple of days. I thought of the ancient Jewish concept that if you “shack up” (as my mother called it) then you are now married. And I thought of the Buddhist precept that you should not misuse sexuality. My friend’s behavior seemed ok under all these ethical systems. As under my dad’s (no law was being broken), Judaism’s (it wasn’t adultery and it wasn’t a cousin), and Buddhism’s (what was being misused?).

Then I thought about the second part of G’s complaint, that the tale of his romance would corrupt the youth. I’m not a psychologist but I think a kid hearing about a summer romance is a lot healthier than seeing much of the violence and one night stands that permeate the media. The press wrote about the interlude as a fairy tale, updated because Facebook was the means they reconnected.

As the dialogue continues with my classmates, we are bringing to light how bad we were as kids. The things we did might not be the kind of things that we’d tell reporters about. How is it, with the best of parents and schools,
that we weren’t always on the straight and narrow?

I have learned that the frontal lobe of our brain is where our judgements occur…and unfortunately it is the part that isn’t fully developed until we are in our late 20s. Maybe we can use that as our excuse for our inexcusable behavior.

I’ve been intrigued by the need for all the Jewish and Buddhist laws. My wife asked, “why can’t we just do the right thing?” I’m working on the answer. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Put Down My Pack

The soul is a bad word in Zen. I was embarrassed to admit tonight after meditation that we were going to deal with the soul. In the rest of the world a soul is something you cherish. In The Devil and Daniel Webster, Daniel Webster attempts to get back a man’s soul from the devil. It was bartered for a good crop.

It isn't that Buddhists don't like the soul. They don't believe it exists. The praise JustThis really gets to the heart of the matter. There isn't anything to us but our skin and bones. And there is no part that is permanent.

But there are, for me, some inconsistencies in this view. For one, there is our Buddha nature, which some associate with our original being—who we were before we started piling up delusions. And for another, there is the question that is rarely answered about the Buddhist concept of rebirth. If it isn't our skin and bones that are reborn, then what is it that comes around around again? Buddhists believe that everything that we do and everything that we have done in past lives carves a statute of who or what we will become. How does this get passed on? If it is not a physical structure, is it not something very close to a soul?

William Stafford tells us that “to regain your soul” we should put down our pack and inhale glorious nature (my words). He says that “suddenly, anything could happen to you. Your soul pulls toward the canyon and then shines back...to be you again.”

Today I was working out with my trainer, Finn. Letting go is really tough for me. I restrict my movements with my brain. I create sore muscles by protecting them as best I can. Putting down one’s pack—that which (we believe) may sustain us in the future—may allow us to find the delight of this present moment. And in doing so, we may find our soul, or our original nature, as the Buddhists like to call it.

Putting down my pack is my challenge.


How to Regain Your Soul
by William Stafford

Come down Canyon Creek trail on a summer afternoon
that one place where the valley floor opens out. You will see
the white butterflies. Because of the way shadows
come off those vertical rocks in the west, there are
shafts of sunlight hitting the river and a deep
long purple gorge straight ahead. Put down your pack.

Above, air sighs the pines. It was this way
when Rome was clanging, when Troy was being built,
when campfires lighted caves. The white butterflies dance
by the thousands in the still sunshine. Suddenly, anything
could happen to you. Your soul pulls toward the canyon
and then shines back through the white wings to be you

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Burro Rink

When I was a kid in Oregon, I used to run a burro rink. Kids would come, usually with their parents, and they'd give me 25¢ to put them on a burro and let the burro trod around in a circle eight times. The littlest kids I'd strap on, and sometimes either I or a parent would walk around with the kid, especially if they started to cry. The best part of the job is that girls would come and talk with me. In those days this was a poor little town and there weren't any planned activities for kids. I earned $2 a day and managed to save most of it. It was a great job until the state of Oregon intervened and enforced rules about how old we'd have to be to work and what we should be paid.

We were told that burros were a mix of a donkey and a mule, or something like that. I see from Wikipedia that a burro is just a small donkey. In those days, it was difficult to validate all the things we were told. There was a small library in the town, and perhaps they had some old donated encyclopedia. But I never though of looking up all the stuff people would tell me to check out what they said.

For years I believed that water goes down a drain in one direction, and south of the equater it goes down in the opposite direction. I taught this to my students for over thirty years when they were rocking trays in the darkroom. “Notice how the water swirls in the tray. If you were south of the equader it would....” Lo and behold someone recently told me that was a stupid wife's tale. Like the origin of burros, the truth is not what one cowboy tells you.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Dana, and Gratitude for Bill Gates

One of many examples of unintentional giving

“As in Judaism, the dynamics of sacrifice is interiorized and spiritualized in Buddhism, which goes all the way in emptying sacrifice of its physical substance. Thus the perfection of giving, when grounded in the perfection of wisdom, is marked by the disappearance of giver, gift, and receiver. The objectification of any of the three taints the pure freedom of emptiness.”

When I hear the idea of “not separate” I think of the giver, gift, and receiver as being indistinguishable from each other. The giving that Bhante (our Burmese monk who teaches us the words of the Buddha) was referencing in his discussion of giving (dana) was lay giving, as opposed to enlightened giving (as he noted).

Here's an article on the Charitable-Giving Divide
“In 2001, Independent Sector, a nonprofit organization focused on charitable giving, found that households earning less than $25,000 a year gave away an average of 4.2 percent of their incomes; those with earnings of more than $75,000 gave away 2.7 percent.”

I think the fallacy here is that one is talking about percentages rather than looking at both percentage and amount. I assume that much of the giving of those who make less than $25000 is to their churches. 4.2% is $1050 or $20 a week. For many churchgoers, this is the cost for being in a religious community. Many would be embarrassed not to put money in the bowl as it is being passed. Those making $75000 give $2025, almost double. Who is the more generous? Who worked harder or more hours to earn their money? Who invested four to six years of their time and money to get a higher education to earn more? Some look at the person who earns $1,000,000 and asks why they only end up paying 20% of their income in taxes ($200,000), where someone making $100,000 might be paying 35% ($35,000). Is it fair to say that the millionaire isn't paying enough, even if it is 5.7 times what the one who earns less pays in taxes?

The biggest issue I have with the discussions of "dana" is that they seem to gloss over the fact that most of our material world and infrastructure wasn't generated from "an open heart" yet gives us innumerable pleasure and freedom. Artists, for example, create beauty because they have the urges and abilities to do so. Their motivation might not be to enhance our lives, yet our lives are enhanced by their actions. Picasso may never have given a penny to charity, yet our lives are enhanced immeasurably by his actions. Grande Communications, in an effort to make more money and compete with Google, now provides 1 gigabit Internet service. A great gift, in my book, though perhaps not done from any altruistic intention. Are their efforts deserving of gratitude?

I forever return to Milton Friedman as he describes the lesson of the pencil. Numerous people with numerous skills all work together to creates a pencil, making it possible for me to make a drawing. None might have had the slightest ambition to “give” yet their gift enables many to have richer lives (monetarily and emotionally). Are they bodhisattvas? Perhaps.

I've created my own parable about giving. Imagine that Schindler had only one ambition in hiring Jews for his manufacturing company, and that was to earn greater profits. He discovered that he could hire Jews for less money, and that they worked hard. On the other hand, Schindler (in my parable) had a brother who was a good Samaritan. He wanted to save as many Jews from the Nazis as possible. In my parable, Schindler was very good at making money, and in his “greed” to turn a profit, he saved hundreds of Jews from the death camps. On the other hand, Schindler's brother was klutz. For every Jew he saves, ten more are shipped off to the concentration camps. I now ask, who is the better person? Many say that it is Schindler's brother. And then I ask, if you were on a space ship taking you to one of two planets where you'd live your life out, and one planet was full of Schindlers, and the second was full of Schindler's brothers, which planet would you choose? Here I usually get the answer of Schindler.

Yes, Bill Gates gives a lot of his money away. But that is a minor part of his humanitarian gestures. His greatest gifts are his contributions to enable us to learn and communicate easily and efficiently. He deserves our gratitude for that. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Is Life Predictable?

There is a sign in the zendo: everything changes, everything is connected, and pay attention. For me, it requires us to be vigilant at all times. We don't know what is going to come our way. Simple jobs can become complicated. Just when we think we have all the I’s dotted and the t’s crossed, we are thrown for a loop.

I took a survey and asked my kids if life was predictable and they said yes. I asked some zen practitioners and they said no...after laughing. Do we live in the same world? Buddha said that when you throw a stick it could land on either end. As cut and dry are the laws of karma, Buddha also said that things just happen.

My first zen teacher said there was no such thing as cause and effect. There are only conditions. If the forest is dry and if it is warm, a condition exists for a fire. A condition also exists for a picnic. To say that the fire was caused by the condition suggests that each time such a condition exists you'll have a fire. We know that isn't the case. The second problem with cause and effect is that it doesn't acknowledge that everything is connected. That doesn't mean that everything is connected to something, but rather it suggests that everything is connected to everything else, as illustrated by Indra's net. Conditions are infinitely complex. Cause and effect suggest that things exist that aren't connected.

My daughter is teaching a class this summer that will end four days before her due date. When she told her doctor today, her plan was met with laughter. How did my daughter know with such certainty how her pregnancy would progress?

We know that erratic and unpredictable parents produce problems for their kids. These kids never learn to trust. Maybe in the end they are more prepared for real life. Maybe our desire to make them feel secure taught them the wrong lesson. The kids who stayed in London during the Blitz were better adjusted that those who were sent off to the country for safety. Was it that they were with their parents, or was it that they saw the other side of life?

I felt a pang of guilt when my kids said that life was predictable. Where did I go wrong? Did I hide the truth from them? Did I know the truth? (To be honest, I had no idea.)

I remember what my wise philosophy professor told me in college. Imagine you are a beach ball floating in the ocean. You can't determine where the ball will go, but you can tap it this way or that and change it direction just a little. Did I believe him? No, as an ambitious 18 year-old, I thought I could do anything if I tried hard enough.

Do I owe my kids an apology? Or do I just wait by the sidelines until they figure it out on their own? 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Disarming the Zendo Bomb

Tonight I thought I had dokusan with Kosho, my zen teacher. Thought, that is, because we do it every couple of weeks and I’m never sure if we did it last week, or two weeks ago. Anyway, it is a private meeting where we are supposed to discuss my zen practice, but usually we talk about something else. The relationship of one’s life and one’s zen practice is inextricable linked. The difficulty with talking about sitting is that what goes on when one sits is, as the koan says, “most intimate.”

For this reason, on the day of dokusan, I work hard to think of some non-practice issue about which to talk. Nothing came up so I succumbed to talk about my meditation...especially focusing on why should I do it anyway? It seems that I ask him this question annually and then rapidly forget what he says.

The way dokusan works is that after about ten minutes of meditation, Scott, the ino (head of the zendo), comes over to me and tells me that it is time. I then get up, bow to the cushion and to the others in the room, and then leave the zendo to go to the Kosho’s house across the street. I like to be done with dokusan in time to come back to ring the bells during service. Sometimes Kosho forgets to tell me it is time to end, so today I decided to set my alarm.

I was sitting away and the ten-minute point came and went, and Scott didn't come and get me.
Then I realized that my phone alarm was going to go off in a few minutes and disturb everyone meditating. My phone was in my jean pocket.  I'd have to get it out and disarm it. I was sitting next to another priest, Mako, so I knew I would not go undetected. I would initiate, or so I thought, a thought in her head, “What in the world is he doing? Did he forget to silence his phone? He should know better by now.”

In any case, I was able to disarm the Zendo bomb and place it quietly on the zabaton on which I was sitting.

As the time ticked away, I started to wonder if Kosho knew that I was going to ask him about meditation. Did he decide that it would be better if I just sit rather than talk? Trying to talk about meditation might be the last thing I needed to do. Meditation is a bodily activity that isn't well understood by the mind. Perhaps if we could conceptualize it, we wouldn't have to sit.

When meditation was over we walk to the entrance of the zendo and give Kosho a gassho bow. I was the last one since I had to put out the candles. By that time, I was so grateful to Kosho that my dokusan was simply a time to sit. I smiled at him and he smiled back. My answer about why should I sit came this year from sitting, not from talking.

Friday, May 9, 2014

I Turned Out to Be Me

I could have been anything. I knew I wouldn't be tall, but I thought I could be a pro basketball player because the Globetrotters had players like Too Tall (5'2")And during the baseball season I thought I could turn pro and become as good as any of my baseball heroes like Minnie Moñoso. I would just need to learn to hit the ball and a few other minor things. In fact, I could steal bases with vengeance. Which was useful since I often walked because I was so short that pitchers couldn't find my strike zone.

And then there was art. I had delusions of grandeur there too. No goal was too high—even the Sistine Chapel. Somehow I didn't have too many goals for my kids. My son had enough of his own (are kids having goals a guy thing?), while my daughter didn't seem to share so many of our ambitions. (Nevertheless, both kids have accomplished a lot.)

In our Zen Writing class, we read a poem about the poet’s hurt shoulder and how it impacted her rowing. I am reminded of all the things I can't do for one reason or another. Coming to terms with one limitations seem to be synomonous with getting old, or maybe I should say, getting older.  Of course, one of the biggies is that I'm beginning to realize that I can't live forever. But beyond that, there are many things I can't or won't do because I either can't or I realize the consequences.

I used to believe I could fix anything in a house. My father-in-law could do that and he'd instruct me step-by-step. And then he'd grunt when I'd do something wrong. Now that he's not in Austin, I've hired some people to do stuff and discovered that their skill set is way beyond mine.

I sometime think I know a little about computers, but when I think of the knowledge ofvarious friendly geeks whom I know, I don't stand chance in their world. But I putter along and manage to keep things working.

I turned out to be me, I suppose. Yes, I turned out to be me. It was probably my last resort. It was what I'd become if nothing else worked out.

Some people have extraordinary talents. They can do anything. Fortunately or unfortunately, I can just be me. I wish I would have known that many years ago. Then I might not have spent so much energy trying to be someone else.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Ordaining the Big Oak Tree

We ordained the big oak tree tonight. I felt a little funny about being part of that ceremony. That beautiful old oak tree is kind of like a wood Buddha from the 12th century. It has been around far longer that we have, and has experienced many persuasions over the century(s) that it has lived.

Photo by Scott Shaevel
What about its choice? Is this like the Mormons baptizing everyone and their brother? Do we have that right to determine what someone should believe? Should we even baptize a child? Are we regulating its mind before it has the ability to say boo?

Maybe I could sneak over to the tree some night and defrock it. I kind of liked the lack of preferences of that tree. How it reaches out in a myriad of directions giving love to all sentient beings, even those in a blade of grass mentioned in the sutra that we read at the ordination. Maybe, just maybe, that is what the tree is contemplating when it isn't struggling with challenging elements and people.

When I read this to my Zen Writing group, Bill pointed out that when the Zen center moved into our current temple that they saw that the tree was dying and both petitioned the city to move a sidewalk and changed the landscaping to give the tree more water. I started to feel that the tree might now have some major affinity with Zen. I hope so.

After our meeting, I spoke with Scott about the tree. He suggested that it might be a Buddhist for a while, but then, when its tenants change, it might adopt another persuasion. That sounds good to me.

This morning I found a paper on tree ordination in Thailand: http://tinyurl.com/m5tqzl9 Here is the abstract of the paper:
“Abstract: The symbolic ordination of trees as monks in Thailand is widely perceived in Western scholarship to be proof of the power of Buddhism to spur ecological thought. However, a closer analysis of tree ordination demonstrates that it is not primarily about Buddhist teaching, but rather is an invented tradition based on the sanctity of Thai Buddhist symbols as well as those of spirit worship and the monarchy. Tree ordinations performed by non-Buddhist minorities in Thailand do not demonstrate a religious commitment but rather a political one.”
In retrospect, I like that we ordained the tree. We take for granted much of our environment that treats us so well.

Photo by Scott Shaevel

Friday, April 18, 2014

Original Dukkha

Dukkha is:
Disturbance, irritation, dejection, worry, despair, fear, dread, anguish, anxiety; vulnerability, injury, inability, inferiority; sickness, aging, decay of body and faculties, senility; pain/pleasure; excitement/boredom; deprivation/excess; desire/frustration, suppression; longing/aimlessness; hope/hopelessness; effort, activity, striving/repression; loss, want, insufficiency/satiety; love/lovelessness, friendlessness; dislike, aversion/attraction; parenthood/childlessness; submission/rebellion; decision/indecisiveness, vacillation, uncertainty.
— Francis Story in Suffering, in Vol. II of The Three Basic Facts of Existence (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1983)
There are the mysteries. Where did we come from and where are we going?

But there are also very common problems. When are we not only expected to know but to act wisely?

I went to the grocery store to buy a jar of applesauce. I didn't want corn sauce. I wanted applesaucejust like granny made. I bought original applesauce. When I get home I see that it is corn sauce. What is original about that? Did the caveman adulterate apples with corn syrup?

So I call Motts, the people who make this stuff that no one should be consuming, and complain. I ask, What is original about corn sauce? Oh they say, Would you like us to send a coupon for some unsweetened applesauce. Yes, I said, And next time I'll read the whole label.

At the time I thought I had learned something. With my newfound wisdom, I went to buy soymilk. I see the sign, buy one and get the second one for $1 off. I was in. I put two original soymilks in the cart and check out. When I returned home, I started drinking the stuff, and was surprised at how good it tasteduntil I read the fine print. Corn syrup. Once again I was taken by that word original.

Luckily it is the sugary one that my grandson drinks so my daughter took it out of my hands.

Next time at the store I bought some unsweetened soymilk. Today I opened it to drink some and then realized that I should shake it up a bit. Thought I had closed the tab, soymilk went everywhere. I immediately called 800soymilk and complained, Your lid doesn't work. After I read them off a liturgy of numbers the nice woman said she send me a new box.

Why am I so particular? Why do these simple shopping tasks become such horrific and painful challenges?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Joyous Bodhisattva

I mentioned in an email to some old friends that one of their daughters appeared to be a bodhisattva because she befriended a homeless person and helped him out. One of the friends wrote back and asked what a bodhisattva was. I tried to explain that it was one who, finally enlightened, decides to stick around to save the rest of us.

Unsatisfied with my explanation, I decide to read what a Buddhist priest had to say on the subject. A few years ago I had heard an art historian speak about bodhisattvas and could hardly recognize what she was talking about, let alone what religion they were representing. There are many brands of Buddhism. I suspect that that most Buddhists believe that their religion is the real McCoy and that the other practitioners are charlatans.

As Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche explains, “those who take the bodhisattva vow make one simple commitment: to put others first, holding nothing back for themselves....” He continues,
“One of the obstacles to bodhisattva discipline is an absence of humor; we could take the whole thing too seriously. Approaching the benevolence of a bodhisattva in a militant fashion doesn’t quite work. Beginners are often overly concerned with their own practice and their own development, approaching Mahayana in a very Hinayana style. But that serious militancy is quite different from the lightheartedness and joy of the bodhisattva path. In the beginning you may have to fake being open and joyous. But you should at least attempt to be open, cheerful, and, at the same time, brave. This requires that you continuously take some sort of leap. You may leap like a flea, a grasshopper, a frog, or finally, like a bird, but some sort of leap is always taking place on the bodhisattva path.”
I liked the joyful aspect of this practice. Even a guardian angel (as in Drop Dead Diva) needs to have fun. To make giving a laborious and painful task serves no one.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

On Intention

I'm interested in the idea of intention. When we hurt someone is that our intention?  We complain to someone that they did this or that. Let's say they embarrassed us. They think to themselves that they didn't do what they did to embarrass. We are confused about how could they not have realized the effect of their actions. But we usually don't think that through. We do what we do because we are hurting in some way or not getting what we need. Yet, in retrospect, when various parties are hurt, then, and only then, might we realize that the results are different from our actions? That's why we  judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions. We don't know someone's intention. We do know that they might have caused pleasure or pain. If it is pain that they caused, they might eventually see that and ask for forgiveness.

Now it gets interesting. If someone says to you, "I forgive you" because you've been a louse, do you necessarily feel any better? The perpetrator still feels bad because he messed up, and the hurt one still feels hurt. Things may be a little better. But believing that all is well is a delusion. Words are exchanged but wounds abound. The perpetrator has wounds because they realized that they were hurtful, and the victim has wounds from the action. 

Sometimes we ask for forgiveness. We say, I didn't intend to hurt you. I didn't know the repercussions of my actions. And you say, that's all I saw, the repercussions. How could you not see them? 

One Zen teacher says that everything, even our dreams, are intentional, and another says that they are not. Can we live intentionally? Thoreau said,
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
My third Zen teacher said we want both to be intentional and to not be intentional. If we are too intentional we will plow right through situations without seeing what they require. Maybe a horse with blinders is intentional. Maybe, instead, we just want to open our eyes and do what the situation demands.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

But Mom...he did!

My mother had a very firm rule that we weren't supposed to smoke in our house. I know that she didn't want us to smoke at all but I don't know if she actually forbid us from doing that. I just know we weren't supposed to do it in the house. My parents' friends could smoke and even my sisters’ boyfriends could but not us kids.

Sometimes one of my sisters and I would smoke by exhaling into the fireplace. Because my parents now live in another world, and because they never would agree to have email, I think I'm now safe with that confession. Smoking with my sister was a rite of passage for me. Growing up I had two older sisters. When the oldest went to college I was no longer the odd one out.

Before long my middle sister went off to college and I was the sole kid in the house. I'm not sure how much I smoked in my room after my parents went to bed, cautiously breathing the smoke out the window. One night my mom came in my room and caught me. She made me promise never to smoke in the house again. So what did this smart 15 year old kid do? He got busted the very next night.

Having a father that was an ace lawyer taught me how to wiggle out of tough situations. I told my mom that Confucius said that sometimes it was better to lie. I believe that was his version
of "skillful means" like the Lotus Sutra story about the father who lies to his kids who are in a burning house so that they drop their playthings and not become ashes.

My mom became more interested in my comment than in my smoking. She said, “surely Confusion did not say that.” “But Mom,” I said, “he did!” “Show me,” she said. Well, the next couple days my mom and I scoured the little Modern Library book that I still have, The Wisdom of Confucius. Finally one of us found the saying. I have no idea if I continued to smoke in my room but I did persuade my mom to drive me every night to a college library so that I could study there and ... smoke.

P.S. I am now looking through the book to find the quote. So far, to no avail. But it was not easy to find the first time. I "Googled" it and could only find that Confucius said you should tell the truth. I'll add it to this post if and when I find it.

P.S.S. My cousin, Barbara, found this blogpost on lying in Confucianism and Taoism: http://uselesstree.typepad.com/useless_tree/2006/02/the_ethics_of_l.html

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

You Tell Me

I saw today a photo by Irving Penn of a pile of discarded cigarette butts. The photographer had made this as a large platinum print on beautiful paper. It probably would cost now in the 10s of thousands. I didn't like the series when I first saw it about 30 years ago, but today they made a lot more sense. Maybe I was too close then to being a recently quit smoker and remembered that I used to look through ash trays for barely smoked butts.

I was surprised to read recently that people with OCD aren't actually neatnics. I wonder what that is about.

As I sat down on the doan's cushion at the zendo tonight, I noticed a stick of incense on the floor. My mind was engaged in a vigorous debate of whether I should get up and pick it up. If meditation had begun I would not, but since it had not, I started thinking that our head teacher might be upset if (when) he saw it. I picked it up and put it on the incense table. Then I went back to my cushion and didn't give the incense on the floor another thought. Didn't, that is, until now. I also picked it up because I didn't want it to interrupt and occupy my mind during meditation. Thinking back on the occasion, I probably should have left it on the floor as an "opportunity for practice."

Should I have allowed this broken and renegade piece of stick incense where it wanted to hang out? Was the temple less holy because of its transgression?

You tell me.

Who's in the world?

Xiushan said, "What can you do about the world?" Dizang said, "What do you call the world?"