It Kicks off with the Saturnalia

The good folk at Wikipedia assert that on this day in 497 before our common era the Romans first celebrated the Saturnalia. It occurred at the dedication of a temple to Saturn, god of agriculture, and marked the beginning of a farmer’s festival marking the beginning of the autumn planting (warm climate in Rome…) A [Read More...]

the Cheney-Taliban approach

Hurrah for former U.S. Vice-president Dick Cheney, who has parried suggestions that American torture of suspected 'terrorists' (even when innocent) was warranted.

In a bit of irony that is as toxic as it is apostate, this beacon of American exceptionalism has taken a stance that is almost perfectly aligned with the Pakistani Taliban Cheney might claim to abhor ... you know, the group that attacked a school on Tuesday and killed 148 people, most of them children.

Both Cheney and the Taliban, of course, proclaim a true vision which, when it is not shared, deserves to be reiterated through cruelty. It's the principle, dontcha know. If you can't or don't or won't share the Cheney/Taliban true-truth, you are not only stupid and unrealistic, you deserve to be punished. This confection of philosophy is wrapped up in patriotic bows and relies on creating a climate of fear among the populace. And it is in this arena that Cheney, if not the Taliban, is winning. People are willing to be afraid and blame someone else for their fears and torture them out of existence.

Cheney and the Taliban are winning. America loves a winner.


PS. One small example of the inexorable march towards a mediocre lifestyle may be seen in the unwillingness of movie theaters to show Sony's send-up of a plot to assassinate North Korean President Kim Jong- Un. Hackers broke into Sony's computer info and threatened to wreak havoc on the company if the movie were shown. Imagination is not appreciated by dictatorships like North Korea's, from which other countries (U.S., eg?) can learn ever so much..

the end of the Dalai Lama

In a wide-ranging interview with the BBC's Newsnight programme, the 79-year-old spiritual leader conceded that he may not have a successor....
"The Dalai Lama institution will cease one day. These man-made institutions will cease," the Dalai Lama told the BBC.
"There is no guarantee that some stupid Dalai Lama won't come next, who will disgrace himself or herself. That would be very sad. So, much better that a centuries-old tradition should cease at the time of a quite popular Dalai Lama."
I wonder how many will hear such words and dismiss them as mere posturing and immodest modesty. I am inclined to take him at his word ... institutions, however good, have no real staying power. How many spiritual institutions would have the kindness to express such a truth? What good is spiritual life if the best anyone can do is "spiritual life?"

At the same time that I think he is speaking to a real truth, I can't deny that I would miss his playful, honest and no-doubt-manipulative spirit. A kind man is a wonderful thing.

Palestinian dissent … Israeli/U.S. echoes?

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Two-thirds of Palestinians say they are afraid to criticize Mahmoud Abbas, according to a poll, and some of the Palestinian president's recent actions only seem to confirm claims that dissent comes at a price....
Critics say that after a decade in power, Abbas is overseeing a largely authoritarian system with shrinking room for dissent — a claim denied by Abbas supporters who say Palestinians enjoy more political freedoms than most in the Arab world.
I wonder if and whether a similarly-themed story could/would ever be written about Israel (or possibly the United States) and appear in the American press.

December newspaper column

A bit gaudy and conformist, but it's what I could muster for a monthly column.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014 
(Published in print: Wednesday, December 17, 2014)
The traditions, like the lights, eddy and swirl, but among them is a recollection that makes me wince almost 50 years after the fact.

In 1967, I signed on to a three-week tour of the Soviet Union. After reading something like 200 books about the Russian Revolution, the adventure had a certain logic. Russia, in 1967, was anathema to the United States, much as the Islamic State is today: Without an enemy, America would be somehow diminished, somehow less mighty and good. Enemies nourished a sense of self-esteem. Russia was the enemy du jour. I wanted to meet my much-maligned enemy.

Even before the tour group boarded our plane for the 17-hour flight, tour participants were treated to a class in Russian history and culture — a kind of quickie cheat sheet of do’s and don’t’s for first-time visitors. The factoid that stuck with me was the depiction of Russians as people who had a DNA-deep revulsion about giving any sort of gift that was not given in complete openness and love: The Russians, we were told, did not give gifts the way many Americans celebrated Christmas — giving because they ought to.

Eleven days of the tour were given over to sailing down the Volga River on the Prince Yuri Dolgoruki. The ship would dock periodically so that we might get off and sight-see some historical or cultural landmark. 

But one morning, I came on deck to find the ship tied up to a rickety dock surrounded by nothing but green grass leading off into nearby hills. This was, it seemed, to be a day of tourist respite — doing nothing but a bit of hiking and swimming.

I walked into the hills, inspected a small village composed of Lincoln-log houses, and was on my way back when I ran into five boys, aged about 10 to 12. They looked as playful and full of sass as any boys of that age. We approached each other with an equal curiosity and said some awkward hello’s since neither of us was much good at the other’s language.

And after a bit of distant but friendly silence, I motioned for them to sit on the grass. From my pocket, I withdrew a handful of change — a mixture of American and Russian coins. One by one, I placed coins of about equal value side by side — an American 50-cent piece and a 50-kopek coin; a 25-cent and 25-kopek piece; and so on down to a penny and a one-kopek coin. When I was finished and I could see that they had absorbed what I was saying, I gave each of the boys one American coin.
They looked pleased and I got up to return to the boat.

But about halfway to my destination, I heard a voice calling me from behind. One of the boys came forward shyly and held out his two hands, across which lay a 16-inch bit of twisted black and white twine. Each end was adorned with a black and white tassel.

It was clear he wanted me to take it.

It was equally clear that it was one of his prize possessions — a possession that reached down into his heart. He loved it, but more than loving it, something in him knew that giving what he loved was the way of the world. My gift was 91 cents. His was priceless ... and he didn’t have to think twice before parting with it.

I didn’t want to take the string. I didn’t want to deprive him. I didn’t want to be ashamed of the carelessness with which I had given my gift. And...
I could not refuse his gift. I could not not take it.

I took the string and said thank you. I tried to look calm, but inside I was seething with a desire to take back my past, to reshape it and infuse my gift with more honesty. I wanted to honor my heart as he had honored his own. At the time, I wasn’t up to the task. 

Having given his gift, the boy smiled with delight and scampered away to be with his friends: He had not lost anything; he had not gained anything. He had given and that was the way of the world and a joy. He knew it without any starch-collar instruction — as surely as a mosquito bite itches.

Tradition is nice but common sense is better: The gift is the giving, not the gift.

For years, I kept that string. In the midst of my accumulating of stuff, I always knew just where it was. But I never solved the loss of an opportunity to do as well as what that small boy had done without effort.

And then one day the string was lost. How and where I really don’t know. But it lingers in my mind at times like Christmas, stinging gently, its pedestrian message ever fresh: Give and be happy; receive and be happy.

Be happy.

There’s no time like the present.

Adam Fisher lives in Northampton. His column appears on the third Wednesday of the month. He can be reached at

The Newly Mindful Anderson Cooper

ccmindfulness1920My friend Valerie sent me a link to an on-line story called The Newly Mindful Anderson Cooper. If you’re one of my many readers outside of the US you’re probably as clueless as me about Anderson Cooper, since I don’t watch TV unless I’m visiting someone who has one switched on and I can’t get them to switch it off.

I’m passingly aware that Anderson Cooper is a massively popular American TV guy. I think maybe he hosts a news program. He’s not an actor. I know that much. I also think maybe he’s gay and that his coming out was a big deal. But I’m not really certain and I don’t feel like Googling it.

That’s because I already know what I need to know. And that is that Anderson Cooper is a phenomenally popular TV guy in America and now he’s talking about mindfulness. So he is yet one more fabulously popular American TV guy who is into mindfulness. Usually popular TV guys in the US are into mindlessness. So I guess that’s a step forward.

When I clicked on the link to the story about Cooper, the version I got was sponsored by Viagra, which is a pill that’s supposed to make middle-aged men get erections like 16 year old boys. I don’t know if the gods of the Internet magically made it so that my version got the Viagra ad because they got my age and gender from Facebook or if everybody who clicks on the link gets the same ad.

So when I watched this piece, halfway through it there appeared on my screen an attractive woman in her late thirties or early forties telling me that sometimes instead of curling up with a good book, a gal wants to curl up with a good man. But, she said, about 50% of men over 40 sometimes have erectile dysfunction. Viagra, she told me, would fix that. And she cheerfully reminded me that I only had to take it when I needed it. Then she told me that it might make me die or get a boner that lasted more than four hours for which I’d have to get someone to take me to the emergency room with a massive woody jutting out in front of me.

This same ad then repeated itself at the end of the piece. It fascinated me so much I let it play through again.

Listen, attractive lady! My equipment still works just as well as it did when I was twenty-five. Better! Because I have a clue what to do with it these days. And yet you have succeeded, attractive lady, in making me uptight about it so that the next time I have an off night I’ll be thinking, “Oh God. What if I do need Viagra to get it up? What if the attractive lady in her late thirties or early forties was right? It never happened before but what if it’s starting now?”

If that attractive lady can get me to think about Viagra, maybe handsome Anderson Cooper, successful media personality, can get America to think about mindfulness. Maybe pretty soon Viagra customers and potential Viagra customers and the attractive ladies (or men in Anderson’s case, if I was right about his gay-ness) who love them will all want to try out some mindfulness to go along with their Viagra and their potentially deadly four-hour erections. And wouldn’t that be just great!

Anderson Cooper interviewed Jon Kabbit Zinn, whose name I refuse to look up the proper spelling of even though it would only take a couple seconds, just like it would to confirm whether or not Anderson Cooper is gay or has a news program because FUCK YOU INTERNET! And FUCK YOU 21st CENTURY CONVENIENCE! FUCK YOUR INTOLERANCE OF ANYONE WHO DOESN’T IMMEDIATELY KNOW THE FULL STORY ON EVERY POP CULTURE MEME! I didn’t even know Green Day was being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Green Day can get inducted, but killer cops can’t get indicted. What the hell kind of world is this anyway?

So Anderson Cooper’s life was changed by mindfulness. And Jon Cabbage Zen-Master got another couple of minutes in front of America. And no one is worth listening to unless Anderson Cooper has interviewed them on the fucking Internet. And mindfulness must be good because fucking Ander-fucking-son Coo-fucking-per went on a retreat and it changed his white, successful, TV person life.

And I’m going to be roasted over the coals by fifteen commenters to this blog piece (just wait a couple days and scroll down) because I did not praise this event to the heavens and thank the Lords of Mindfulness that Jon Cleavage Zipperhead is leading the masses to the True Way of Commercialized Viagra Swilling Meditation for the Upper Middle Classes.

And the same day — the very same day — some Taliban fuck-nuts go and shoot up a school. Probably because God told them to do it.

God can suck my dick.

And I won’t even need a dose of Viagra. Take that, attractive lady in her mid-thirties or early forties!

So yeah. Whatever. Anderson Cooper is into mindfulness now. Hoorah.

And hashtagging will save the planet. And love is all you need.

And my point is, I DON’T HAVE A FUCKING POINT. Not everything has a fucking POINT. Not everything has to have a fucking point.

You probably don’t need Viagra. You probably just need to stop watching TV commercials that make you so nervous that you lose your boner and end up thinking you need Viagra. And maybe we should all lose our boners until such time as fuck-nuts stop slaughtering children in schools.

What does it mean when Viagra is trying to sell us mindfulness? Who is profiting? That’s what I’m curious about. Obviously Jon Crabmeat Zit is gonna get 30-bazillion more sign-ups to his next mindfulness retreat as a result of this coverage. Maybe one guy will show up to a class of mine because Jon Cumberbund Zed’s thing down the street was full up. It’s trickle down mindful-nomics.

I’m not mad. Not really. It’s funny and it’s tragic and it’s stupid and I want to laugh and puke until I cry, that’s all. I’m just filtering that and giving you this little piece of zentertainment to chew on.

I love you.

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Thank you to everyone who participated and helped out with the retreat at Mt. Baldy recently! Without you, it doesn’t happen. In case you missed that one, you can now sign up for the next one April 24-26, 2015.

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Your donations are always appreciated! Like I’m gonna get anything after writing a piece like that one…


A Short Meditation on Pets and Reincarnation

A Pug Encounter the Five Remembrances for the First Time!
In all Buddhist traditions, we honor a teaching called the five remembrances in which we recall that we are all of the nature to grow old, to have ill health and to die.  The realization that all which is dear to us is of the nature of change and therefore that there is no way to escape being separated from them is the beginning of wisdom as we see it.  It is actually because of the impermanence of things like our beloved pets that they are precious, and calling this fact to mind daily helps us to not take them or ourselves for granted.


The true nature of our pets is the same as the true nature of ourselves, and the true nature of the cosmos itself.  All forms are forms of this same true nature, and from the realization of that nature we can say that we are nether born nor do we ever die.  

And so our beloved pets, and family, and loved ones who have passed away are at once gone and we grieve their loss, and their true nature is intimately right here, right now.  

Of course the tale of my individual soul meeting my beloved pugs individual souls (I live with three) in heaven again once we are all dead is perhaps a compelling one for some.  But for me it is at best a wishful tale, and at worst a way of bypassing a difficult truth which in my view we would be much better off squarely facing together.

So as my oldest pug Louie has a harder and harder time navigating the day with each passing year, I hold him close and comfort him.

And love him all the more.  

And when he is gone I will grieve for him for the rest of my days.  And when I see another pet owner I will hold both them and their beloved pets with a deeper compassion than I do today.  

And yet, if I listen to the sound of the winter wind sweeping over the empty corn fields and subdivisions I will hear him still.  

He just won't come to me when I call him.

- Rinsen Sensei, Abbot, Buddhist Temple of Toledo

PS: Does a Pug have Buddha Nature?

time-lapse at Yosemite

Passed along in email: A 200+ mile backpacking experience through Yosemite National Park captured by Colin Delehanty and Sheldon Neill. This project was filmed over the course of 10 months. We spent a combined 45 days in the park capturing the images in this video. Published on Feb 27, 2014.

Imperfectly Zen

Recently a friend asked me how I've dealt with the 48-hour-cycle of depression I've had for some time now ~ good day/bad day.  I had to tell her I haven't conquered it, though it went to rest during these last two months that included two cataract surgeries, a heart cath (without anesthetic), and frightening shortness of breath caused (it turned out) by a major UTI, which entailed a six-day hospital stay.

The hospital stay in the nice new Heart Hospital was actually the nearest thing to a vacation I've had in a long time; I just put it in there to impress you. The cycling depression didn't bother me much during that busy time.  Inbetween being tested this way and that I enjoyed sitting at the window and watching the Life Flight helicopters come in.  I thought a lot about sudden death. I also thought about depression as a spiritual ailment.

My first inkling of this idea was from Parker Palmer many years ago, his little book, Listen to Your Life,which has become a classic. There he talks about his own disabling major depression, how he learned through it that the way he was living and working was not the life for him.  He had not found his own life and work.
The black cat of depression
I think the word "work" there is important.  It can be hard to do any kind of work when you're really depressed. But we all need to feel useful, even when it's all we can do to stay alive. The women's sitting group that meets in my home has given me work to do, in the sense that there is something I do for other people on schedule.  It was frightening to undertake it.  It has helped to understand that leading the group is not about me.  I'm not giving a performance, I don't have to shine. It's about them - giving them a chance to meditate with friends, to hear the dharma, to talk about their own spiritual lives.  In Zen terms, I took my ego out of it.

I've found that the best way to put aside the dark thoughts and feelings that come unbidden to people with depressive disorders is always just to do the job in front of me (though sometimes intellectual tasks are beyond me).  One of the women talked about this last week, how she moves through her own unwelcome thoughts when she's cooking by putting her mind back on the task.  I've found this is a really good idea when I'm trying to chop carrots - not my fingers.

For me, another key to doing anything is that I don't do it perfectly.  My house is never perfectly clean (oh, I hear my Mother turning over in her grave).  When my group meets, I sometimes forget to put the tea water on. Last time I forgot about the chants altogether until after we got our tea, and so had the wonderful woman who helps me set up.  So we did a chant at the end.  Call it Imperfect Zen.

It happens that leading and teaching on this small scale are part of my way, and they are not for most people, depressed or not.  But there are opportunities to give to and serve the world in every single life. They are there even when we are crippled by depression. When you go to the grocery store, you can smile at the older child who isn't getting the attention the baby gets.  You can let someone cut in ahead of you on your way home. You can give yourself time to walk around the block, a change of air.  You can share a funny dog video on Facebook.  At your worst, you can "like" a friend's post.

It's the holiday season - you can wear a Christmas sweater - you can't possibly look as bad in it as that poor cat.  You can call someone and not talk about how bad you feel, but instead ask how she's doing.  If you're on the phone, not on Skype, you don't need to wear a Christmas sweater, but can stay in your gloomiest bathrobe.  Nobody needs to know.  No matter how the call feels, congratulate yourself after you hang up. You're a nice person.  It was good of you to try.

The bowl and the telescope


I sometimes get the question as to why we have so much talks, texts and interactions in our tradition. 
I have two analogies as an answer to that one.
First, only meditating is like putting a bowl of milk on the table and expect it to become butter. 
You have to churn in order for it to turn into butter, thats where the interactions come in.
Next, Meditation is like an giant telescope turned inward. 
Theory, talks, texts are there to point out what you should look for.
You might have an very big and shiny telescope, but if you don't know what to look for...
The same applies to the other way. 
You might know, in detail, what to look for, but without a telescope to look into, how will you find it? 

 Personal realization is the key. 
This is your Journey, so just fasten your seatbelts and enjoy the ride.
We must each and all find our own way to the realization. 
Noone else can do it for us. 
We do this by reading texts like this, experiencing the world, observing our mind, our thoughts, the world around us. 
Doing it this way we come to truly understand the nature of us. 
Of you.

Thank you for your practice.