Soto Zen Buddhist Association Conference, 2014

The 2014 Biennial Gathering of the Soto Zen Buddhist Association at Great Vow Zen Monastery in Clatskanie, Oregon Photographs by Hoko Karnegis

bits of news


An Israeli, the Bedouin whiz-kid intern Othman Abu al-Qiyan, appears to be dead and a lot of people (according
to the Associated Press) are wondering whether he died as a Muslim radical. How could it be that he would be radicalized and throw in his lot with the 'wrong' people?

Othman Abu al-Qiyan is dead and cannot speak for himself. Others seem more than willing to speak for him and to marvel at the mystery of a background that culminated in a death among the bad guys. If he died among the radicals, must he not have been a radical himself?

But as I read the story, I kept wondering why none of the tale-tellers were willing to acknowledge that a medical aficionado is more than capable of recognizing that blood is red, whoever spills it. Is a wound or death a matter of politics or a matter of fact? Maybe the blood attracted the healer as a primary matter ... and the politics was a sideshow.

An activist group in the United States has been carrying out deeds that some might think the stuff of dreams - buying and cancelling other people's student debts.
Rolling Jubilee has purchased and abolished $3.8m (£2.35m) of debt owed by 2,700 students, paying just over $100,000 (£62,000), or as it says, "pennies on the dollar".
Bit by bit, as I feel it, the liberal argument for a college education is eroded. With or without a college degree, hunger is hunger and peasants are peasants. The ethereal wonders of an education -- which deserve some consideration -- lose increasing steam as those with money rake in still more. Colleges turn into trade schools ... which improves the 'bottom line,' of which a college education is largely bereft.

Oh well, the growing popularity of perpetual war may help to right the boat scrumptious inequality ... but not before a lot of blood is spilled.

zendo roof repairs

A week ago, the roofer came and refreshed the zendo roof, thanks in no small part to the donations made as a result of an appeal for money on this site. The picture ain't great, but it's the best I can get on this grey day.

But, picture or no picture, I am sincerely grateful to all those who chipped in. It didn't quite cover the entire cost, but the donations really helped.

As the roofer said on his way out the door, "The roof will last longer than the building." It is nice to think that something, at least for the moment, has been done "right."

Thanks very much.

Carved Into the Universe

Rote Flora, Hamburg

Rote Flora, Hamburg

Jazzy music at Pizza Pazza at the corner of Juliusstrsse and Schulterblatt in Hamburg. The stocky Mediterranean-looking guy behind the counter is surly but figures out what I mean when I say, “Ein slice of funghi.” The guy before me was apparently arguing with him about something. He grabbed a bunch of old magazines from the counter and put down a coin. The surly pizza man yelled after him, holding up the coin. The guy with the magazines was gone. The counter guy rolled his eyes and slid my slice into the oven.

The cobblestone streets outside are damp from the chilled drizzle all day. Next door is the Rote Flora, an old theater that has been squatted since 1969 and now hosts punk rock shows. The few people in Pizza Pazza might have been from there, but maybe not. There’s hipster couple in one corner, a pair of blonde girls behind me talking intently about something important.

It’s just 9:45, but it feels later to me. I’m fighting a cold. Or ebola. Who knows? I just came back from a grueling Q&A session at the Hamburg Zen Dojo. My friend Logan is dead. I’m sick. I don’t want to talk about fucking Zen.

I want to be in Portland getting high on custom grown weed with you, Logan. Watching stupid videos. I want to be back in Akron at the Clubhouse sitting on the bed with you and Laura eating Riscissi’s Pizza and planning world conquest. Why did you buy Stroh’s? Even I know it’s garbage. Maybe there’s something on at the Daily Double. What a shit hole that place was. Even the name made you want to barf.

What am I doing with my life? People ask me questions as if I have an answer for them. I have no answer. I have thirty years of looking at my own soul and finding there was nothing there to look at after all. I took a vow to save all beings. I couldn’t even save Logan from getting eaten alive by his own guts.

Where are we going? Where do we come from? Why are we here? Does anybody care?

Deepak Chopra made himself a millionaire selling fairy tales about consciousness to people who desperately want to believe they’ll live forever. People blow themselves up on busses because someone said that was how to get to paradise. Famous people kill themselves because they just want the fuck out.

And here I sit in a pizza shop in Hamburg, staring out the window.

My teacher told Jürgen Seggelke, who he named Yudo, “Every action you take in your life is carved into the universe.”

My pizza. Carved into the universe.

Does anybody care? We careen into each other like dodgem cars. We plow through fast food suppers that were once cows that lived a few months in mounds of shit before being dragged off to slaughter houses, trusting their captors. Then we act as if it’s all gonna last forever. Watching fucking Duck Dynasty.

Slam! Bam! Crash! After a while we’re just wandering into department stores, shell-shocked at how it all passed us by. Wondering where everything we understood went. Why are the children we raised on a steady diet of plastic garbage so resentful? Why does their music suck? Why doesn’t anyone listen to me when I rage at the darkness that is another chain restaurant replacing the park where I first put my fingers inside someone and heard her whisper, “Oh God, please, yes”?

Why am I doing this at all? Riding foreign trains to places I can’t even pronounce. Trying to figure out if this stuff in the fridge of the apartment I’m in is sauce or toothpaste or something else. Sitting. Sitting. Sitting. As it all passes by. Lighting incense and candles. Bowing to nothing. Chanting the same stupid shit that they’ve chanted since forever ago because maybe this time it will work.

We’re like icebergs, I told them. What we know is just the tip. The rest of us goes on forever below, unseen, unknowable. We can’t understand it. We can only try to accord with it. You can call it God if you want to. Or you can pretend it doesn’t exist and bang into all the other icebergs.

You can make a statue of it and pray to it to spare you from the fate it has already decided on for you. You can wish for money and sex and power and fame.

Don’t stare at me with those “There he is!” eyes. I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

You have made this world. It’s yours and yet you’re asking me to show you the way? What am I going to teach you? Are you even going to fucking shut up and listen if I try? No. You’re not. I never did. Why should I think you would? Don’t answer. Please.

Staring into the darkness of your own mind, what do you see? Are you afraid to look? Of course you are. Duck Dynasty is a lot more easy. There’s a mountain of porn at your fingertips right now. There are things to buy on eBay. There’s Deepak Chopra to tell you it’s all consciousness, that science doesn’t really know shit.

I want some God damned apple pie.

*   *   *

Donate and I can get plane fare to run a memorial for my dead friend. Don’t make me go on Indie GoGo.

*   *   *


Oct 24: Lecture/Movie screening in Groningen, Netherlands

Oct 25: Day-long zazen in Groningen, Netherlands

Oct 26: Movie screening in Eindhoven, Netherlands at Natlab

Oct 27: Evening zazen in Eindhoven, Netherlands

Oct 28: Evening zazen in Nijmegen, Netherlands

Oct 29: Lecture in Amsterdam, Netherlands  at “De Roos” bookstore from 19.00-21.00  (P Cornelisz Hooftstr 183)

Oct 30: Lecture in Utrecht, Netherlands at “De wijze kater” bookstore from 19.00-21.00 ( Mariaplaats 1,  Utrecht)

Nov 1-2: Retreat in Utrecht, Netherlands

Nov. 2: Movie screening in Utrecht, Netherlands at ACU

Nov 6-8: Retreat in Hebden Bridge, UK

Nov 9: Noon – 5pm  Manchester, UK

Dec. 5-7 Three-Day Zazen and Yoga Retreat at Mt. Baldy (near Los Angeles, CA)



Oct. 1 Turku Panimoravintola Koulu, Finland- Movie screening

Oct. 2 Helsinki, Finland – Lecture Event

Oct. 3-5 Helsinki, Finland Zen retreat at Helsinki Zen Center

Oct. 6 Movie Screening in Espoo, Finland

Oct. 8 Lecture in Munich, Germany

Oct. 10-11 Retreat in Munich, Germany

Oct. 12-17 Retreat at Benediktushof near Würzburg, Germany

Oct 18 8:00am – 6:00pm Retreat in Bonn, Germany

Oct. 19 4:00pm 3 Schätze Shop Bonn, Germany

Oct 20 Lecture in Hamburg, Germany

health shit

From 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., I was in the hospital today having a heart 'procedure' performed. Mostly, it was like the army -- hurry up and wait -- except that bit by bit the grey walls of health close ever tighter in my life and, from time to time, are more depressing. Things pile up and I'm damned if I can keep a pleasant face on it all the time.

I will not pretend that my circumstances are special or worse than someone else's. But they are nearer to home and there seems to be less and less room in which to grouse. 

Today's exercise -- a cardiac catheterization -- was not in aid of solving some specific problem directly. Rather it was a test whose result would tell me whether or not I was fit enough to have yet another procedure in which a node on the lung might safely be excised or irradiated, assuming it turned out to be cancer. And there is another doctor's appointment tomorrow -- a look at ears, nose and throat -- to see if there is some connection between the node on the lung and some coughing activities.

It's not like a broken arm where you get it set and be patient till it heals. It's like bits and pieces leading one to the next ... and no sure outcome ... and meanwhile the depressing drabness of hospital or doctor's office becomes a chain-linked social obligation.

I can smile for a while. I can try not to lay my inescapable shit off on someone else -- family, friends, blog, whatever -- but then it just gets tiring. It's like sitting at a bar next to a fellow who can do nothing but talk about baseball. I like baseball well enough, but politics or sexy women or space travel or education might be a nice change from potatoes.

I was a cranky cuss by the time I got out of the hospital ... not least because my wife sat through the whole thing with me. And there is a wispy pall that hangs over the doctor's visit tomorrow.

I pray that I will run into a good dirty joke or holy revelation that will take my mind off the whole matter. In the meantime, I am feeling a bit Fucking-A!!!!

What Unsuccessful People Do Differently

It's autumn here.

How do I do it?  end up looking at these articles on 7 Things Successful People Do Different From You Lazy Slobs?  In any case, here's one smelling up my inbox with sentences like this:
Successful people have a drive, a greediness, a push to get something done you could even call self-centered.
As you know, in my religion greed is considered a poison.  We don't cultivate it. On the personal side, I've known a few entrepreneurs, and I think the description is fair.  They're always alert for a way to make money.  In a particularly cool move, one of them once let us pick up the check for dinner, but asked for the receipt so he could write it off on his taxes.  I am not making that up.

A little further on I get this (I'm rewriting but retaining the essence):
Less successful people let anything drift into their environments—they don't control their lives. The average person only writes down their goals once a year. 
I note here that "less successful people" are "average."  Oh my.  And only make big resolutions once a year.  I, on the other hand, have resolved today to take a shower.  I did resolve to get a haircut, but Kenneth isn't in on Tuesdays. So I tried to schedule a haircut with him so tomorrow doesn't drift like this, but it's not like that - he takes his book home with him.  So I drifted into the environment of no haircut today. Blown around like a fallen leaf.  Lest I get self-critical about this,
More autumn.
I reframed it:  I am flexible.  I see the big picture in a time of the breaking of nations. And hey, what's the hurry?

What struck me most about the article was the difference between the self-centered vows of the Highly Successful and the vows handwritten on a card propped on the windowsill over my kitchen sink.  They are a sort of mantra, a variation on lovingkindness meditation, from Kristin Neff's book, Self-Compassion, which I mentioned recently:

May I be safe.
May I be peaceful.
May I be kind to myself.
May I accept myself as I am.

Such small goals,  in the Eastern tradition of humility.  Yet how large for all those who were abused or neglected or taught always to put others first and ignore their own needs.  And by the way, the vow to be safe kept me from recklessly scheduling a haircut with some unknown person.  Been there.

The writer on Success did say something I agreed with:
Every day presents an opportunity to set and reach goals regardless of how large or small they are.
Recently I read that achieving any goal gives us a good little hit of feel-good chemicals. A kind of starburst in the old neurochemistry.  Small achievements are something I pay attention to, since I am prone to letting myself drift, as the Ambition writer would say, into the environment of a merciless depression, and that doesn't get you anywhere.  Set a small enough goal, like Take a shower.  Do it.  Take a moment to pat your own back.  If you are lucky, you can actually reach over your shoulder and do that, which will make you smile.

That's all I know today.  Please enjoy your drifting.

Don’t Be a Buddhist – Dharma talk

Labels can be dangerous when we mistake them for reality. A subtle one that falls beneath the Buddhist radar is "Buddhist" itself, as in, "I am a Buddhist." In this talk, I caution us about identifying with any label, especially the one called "Buddhist."

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

The Dharma is a Gift

I stumbled upon this link to free Dharma ebooks, published by Pariyatti. There are some really great titles here, such as The Buddha's Path to Deliverance, A Comprehensive Manual of the Abhidhamma, The Discourse Summaries, and many more.  Some are available in epub and mobi (Kindle) formats, but all are offered as pdf's as well. There are even editions in Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian.

The books are straight from the publisher, so don't worry about pirating karma! Pass along the link to anyone you think would be interested. If you can, please leave Pariyatti a donation, found at the top of the link page.

Thanks to Pariyatti for making the Dharma available to all.

JULIA & SAMUEL A Meditation on Liberal Religion in an Age of Crisis

JULIA & SAMUEL A Meditation on Liberal Religion in an Age of Crisis James Ishmael Ford 19 October 2014 First Unitarian Church Providence, Rhode Island Text I went to bed that night as usual, and slept, according to my wont, quite soundly. I awoke in the gray of the morning twilight; and as I lay [Read More...]

laughter as a serious start

Perhaps it is a function of age, but I also have a hunch there is something trend-y in it: Of late, I would rather watch a segment of Jon Stewart's "Daily Show" than pay much attention to what passes for the morning or evening 'news.' Stewart may be "funny," but there is a barbed and factual sorrow that comes with it. It's more like news.

News used to be what was discovered when reporters turned over the rocks of governmental or philosophical positions -- when examining the foundations of war or specific politics or movements was a responsibility that was never fully met, but news organizations did their best. Nowadays, reporters are "embedded" at the whim of those wishing to receive good coverage. Presidential press conferences are peopled by reporters who have agreed not to ask anything hard ... or risk being excluded from the press-conference mix.

So perhaps Jamie Masada, owner of the Hollywood nightclub, The Laugh Factory, has gotten onto something by seeking out the world's "funniest person" -- of getting seriously combative opponents together and encouraging them to laugh. "Forget about guns and bombs and just tell jokes to each other."

Since what passes for news is largely laughable, why not codify that and laugh a little? As a longtime solution to the horrors rained down upon others by 'serious' individuals, it probably has little or no staying power. On the other hand, maybe it can provide a good starting point.