Tom Lehrer and the “Vatican Rag”

Passed along in email was this bit of hoary-but-literate humor:

who preserves what?

As far as I know, the Hindu 'trinity' of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva (creation, preservation and destruction) do not have more- or less-powerful presence. They are of equal stature and come as a package deal. Placing one above the others is strictly an exercise in folly.

I am not looking to get into a discussion of Hinduism here: The three tales are just tales that any (wo)man might observe in an actual-factual life, with or without religious tassels. Things are 'created,' 'preserved' and 'destroyed:' Is this untrue? I seriously doubt it.

But it is interesting how one or the other of man's gods can dominate the scene, the heart, the hope, the love or whatever all else during a given time span.

Enormous pains were taken to preserve a self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci during World War II. The picture was said by some to confer magical powers and no one wanted Hitler and the Nazis to get their hands on it and accrue still more power. But even without the magic, preservation was and remains an almost-desperate goal. Vishnu, to use an Hindu prism, was invoked even as Shiva lurked.

Worth preserving even when it cannot be preserved....

In Hawaii, villagers in Pahoa have been allowed to view the inexorable advance of a lava flow that threatens to destroy their homes. Even the extraordinary wealth that might -- but only might -- stem or redirect the flow is flummoxed. Buying off Shiva is not in the cards whatever the intensity of the desire. Slowly, slowly, slowly preservation gives way to a destruction that is painful for human beings who shape tales of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.

Brahma seems to have gotten some licks in at the only women's prison in Israel ... a place that hosted a fashion show as a means of making lemonade out of lemons ... teaching the women a craft that they might employ and perhaps preserve once they got out of the slammer.

And the San Francisco Giants beat the Kansas City Royals and staked out World Series (baseball) acclaim last night. Will Vishnu preserve the moment? Probably not, but it won't be for lack of human trying.

Some things are worth preserving, perhaps, and yet some room needs to be made for the fact that they cannot be preserved. And if they cannot be preserved, neither can they be created or destroyed. What's up with that? Without finding the time to address the issue personally, I think a lot of disappointment is in the making.

Preserve the lessons of the past; preserve the love or anger; preserve the wisdom or ignorance; preserve the friendship or enmity; preserve the stature or ignominy; preserve the wealth and poverty ...

Preserve ... what's up with that?

“Can I Be Your Student?” Part One Million and Seven

be-my-master-and-punish-meIn the past week I have received more “Can I be your student?” emails than I’ve received in years. Is it a full moon or something? I’m really baffled by this. I am also baffled by how each and every one of these folks is unwilling to come sit with me when I offer that as an option.

John Graves, a guy who started sitting with my LA group perhaps 8-10 years ago, said, “It’s easy to sit with Brad. Just show up.”

If you’re thinking of asking me to be your teacher, you need to read this first. Then read it twelve more times. Then stop pretending that’s not you.

After that, if you still think you want to be my student, show up.

I will not call you my student. If you call yourself my student, make sure not to do it where I can hear you because I will tell whoever you’re talking to that you’re lying and that would be embarrassing. But you can sit with me. If you want a nice place to start, come to the retreat I’m leading at Mt. Baldy Zen Center December 5-7.

I’m also leading a retreat this weekend in Utrecht, Netherlands. Show up there.

There’s another retreat coming up in Hebden Bridge, UK. Show up there.

Details are below.

If you answer, “That’s too far! It’s too expensive to get there!” Then you need to face the fact that you don’t actually want to be my student that badly anyway.

This is not a criticism. It’s fine. It’s better, in fact. I don’t demand that you be my student. I don’t even want you to be my student. Not because you’re a bad person or anything, but because I don’t want students.

But look. You say you want to be the student of the famous teacher who lives far away, yet you’re not willing to go to where that teacher is. What does that say about your desire to be the student of the famous teacher who lives far away?

It’s a fantasy. It’s one of those things that’s way off over there in the land of somewhere and someday. Things that are far off in the land of somewhere and someday always seem much more attractive than anything nearby. There’s no smell to those things. There’s no taste. There are no aching muscles in the land of somewhere and someday. There are no frustrations other than fun frustrations that you can heroically overcome. It’s not cold. It’s not hot. There are no disappointments.

There are no traffic jams on the way to the land of somewhere and someday. There are no delayed flights causing you to have to sit in the St. Louis airport for six hours listening to bad muzak. There are no gross road stops with roaches and stinky toilets.

Teachers in the land of somewhere and someday don’t say things you don’t want to hear — except for the fun things you don’t want to hear that you can heroically overcome. They don’t do things you don’t think they should do. They don’t have bad days and tell you to go away. Except in fun ways that you can heroically overcome.

Be content that you have learned that you don’t really want to be the student of the famous teacher who lives far away. It’s fine. Breathe a sigh of relief. Be happy.

Look. I love you. I’m flattered by the fact that you feel like what I wrote has touched you. It’s nice. It really is. I’m not trying to be a big meanie here. I’m trying to help.

But you don’t even really want to be my student. Which — I’ll say again — is perfectly fine. You just have a very strong fantasy, like all of us get caught up in sometimes. Let it pass and move on.

In the next year or so, I hope to have a center established that you can come to any time. Will you show up there? I wonder. I really do.

*   *   *


Oct 30: Book signing 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

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

Eight Truths of a Great Human Being

A comparison between two translations of Zen master Dogen’s treatment of “the eight truths of a great human being.”

Please treasure yourself.

Kosen Nishiyama and John Stevens

All the various past Buddhas were enlightened beings. Their great enlightenment is attributed to their having mastered the eight means to nirvana as human beings. These eight means were clarified by the Buddha Shakyamuni himself in his final teaching before he entered parinirvana.

Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

Buddhas are great human beings. [The Dharma] that great human beings realize is therefore called “the eight truths of a great human being.” To realize this Dharma is the cause of nirvana. It was the last preaching of our Original Master, Sakyamuni Buddha, on the night that he entered nirvana.

Kosen Nishiyama and John Stevens

The first of these “means” is freedom from greed. This results in freedom from the five desires. The Buddha said, “Monks! People with unlimited desires, seeking only the rewards of fame and fortune, will suffer greatly. On the other hand, those with few wants are relieved of suffering and accumulate much merit and virtue. We should know this.

“Unaffected by greed, those in the latter category are neither slaves to the wishes of others nor of their own five sense organs. They gain clarity and quiescence of mind and will unquestionably attain nirvana.”

Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

Small desire. (Not widely to chase after those among objects of the five desires5 that are as yet ungained, is called “small desire.”)

The Buddha said:
You bhik?us should know that people of abundant desire abundantly seek gain, and so their suffering also is abundant. People of small desire, being free of seeking and free of desire, are free of this affliction. You should practice and learn small desire just for itself. Still more, small desire can give rise to all virtues: people of small desire never curry favor and bend in order to gain the minds of others. Further, they are not led by the sense organs. Those who practice small desire are level in mind; they are without worries and fears; when they come into contact with things they have latitude; and they are constantly free from dissatisfaction. Those who have small desire just have nirvana. This is called “small desire.”

Kosen Nishiyama and John Stevens

The second “means” is satisfaction. That is to say to be fully quenched by whatever one is given. The Buddha said, “Monks! Maintain awareness of satisfaction for this results in relief from suffering, a pacified mind and good fortune. Truly satisfied people are content even when they just sleep on the ground. The unsatisfied, on the other hand, show discontent even in a luxurious home.

Generally, the latter kind of person is thought rich and the former poor. In reality, however, the reverse is true. Satisfied people pity the unsatisfied, for the latter are slaves to the five desires. This is the meaning of satisfaction.”

Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

To know satisfaction. (To take within limits from among things already gained is called “to know satisfaction.”)

The Buddha said:
If you bhik?us desire to get rid of all kinds of suffering, you should reflect on knowing satisfaction. The practice of knowing satisfaction is the very place of abundance, joy, and peace. People who know satisfaction, even when lying on the ground, are still comfortable and joyful. Those who do not know satisfaction, even when living in a heavenly palace, are still not suited. Those who do not know satisfaction, even if rich, are poor. People who know satisfaction, even if poor, are rich. Those who do not know satisfaction are constantly led by the five desires; they are pitied by those who know satisfaction. This is called “to know satisfaction.”

Kosen Nishiyama and John Stevens

The third “means” is to enjoy serenity. This means to live in solitude, away from the world of suffering. The Buddha said, “Monks! Those who live in solitude gain the virtues of eternal peace. A quiet person is respected by both Indra, and all celestial beings. He breaks free from attachment to himself, and in this way he severs the root of suffering.

Those who live with others will be hindered by them, just as a tree withers when any birds perch on it. A person attached to worldly desires is similar to an old elephant entrenched in mud—both are unable to free themselves, and both will finally be destroyed. This is the meaning of a solitary life.”

Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

To enjoy tranquility. (Departing from all kinds of noise and living alone in an empty space is called “to enjoy tranquility.”)

The Buddha said:
If you bhik?us wish to pursue tranquil and unintentional peace and joy, you should depart from noise and live alone in seclusion. People of quiet places are revered alike by the god Sakra and all the gods. For this reason you should abandon your own groups and other groups, live alone in an empty space, and think of dissolving the root of suffering. Those who take pleasure in groups suffer many troubles—like a flock of birds gathering on a great tree and then worrying that it will wither or break. [Those] fettered by and attached to the world are immersed in many kinds of suffering—like an old elephant drowning in mud, unable to get out by itself. This is called “distancing.”

Kosen Nishiyama and John Stevens

The fourth “means” is diligence. That is to say constant striving to do good. The Buddha said, “Monks! Be diligent in your practice, for this will hasten realization of truth. For this reason you should be diligent.

A trickle of water, if consistent, wears away rock; practice of the Way, if consistent, wears away the obstacles to enlightenment. Intermittent rubbing together of wood will not produce fire; likewise interrupted practice will not produce enlightenment. This is the meaning of diligence.”

Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

To practice diligence. (It is ceaselessly to endeavor to perform good works, and so it is called “devoted effort”—“devotion” without adulteration and “effort” without regression.11)

The Buddha said:
If you bhik?us practice diligence, nothing will be difficult. For this reason you should practice diligence—as a trickle of water that constantly flows is able to drill through rock. If the mind of a practitioner often tires and quits, that is like [a person] twirling a stick to start a fire and resting before it gets hot: although [the person] wishes to obtain fire,
fire is unobtainable. This is called “diligence.”

Kosen Nishiyama and John Stevens

The fifth “means” is preserved awareness of the Dharma. This means to have correct recollection of the Dharma. The Buddha said, “Monks! Those who seek a good master, a guide to the truth, should preserve right awareness of the Dharma, for this gains freedom from delusion. Heed these words. If you fail to do so you will forfeit its various associated merits.

On the other hand, if you preserve awareness of the Dharma you will gain protection from the five desires, and you will be just like a soldier dressed in impenetrable armor. This is the meaning of preserved awareness of the Dharma.”

Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

Not to lose mindfulness.12 (It is also called “to keep right mindfulness.” To keep the Dharma and not to lose it is called “right mindfulness” and is also called “not to lose mindfulness.”)

The Buddha said:
For you bhik?us who seek good counselors and seek their good auspices, there is nothing like not losing mindfulness. If people possess [the ability] not to lose mindfulness, the bandits of the afflictions are unable to invade them. For this reason, you constantly should regulate thoughts and keep them in their place in the mind. Those who lose mindfulness lose all virtues. If your power of mindfulness is solid and strong, even if you go among the bandits of the five desires you will not be harmed by them—it is like entering a battlefield clad in armor and having nothing to fear. This is called “not to lose mindfulness.”

Kosen Nishiyama and John Stevens

The sixth “means” is practice of samadhi.. This is to say close adherence to the Dharma. The Buddha said, “Monks! Learn to control your mind, for this will enable you to practice samadhi and thereby realize the true state of life and death; furthermore, be diligent in your practice of the various forms of samadhi, for this centers the mind and prevents distraction. A dam prevents leakage of water; likewise practice of samadhi prevents leakage of wisdom. This is the meaning of samadhi.”

Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

To practice the balanced state of dhyana. (To abide in the Dharma undisturbed is called “the balanced state of dhyana.”)

The Buddha said:
If you bhik?us regulate the mind, the mind will then exist in the balanced state. Because the mind exists in the balanced state you will be able to know the Dharma form of the arising and vanishing of the world. For this reason you constantly should be diligent in practicing all forms of balance. When a person gets the balanced state, the mind does not dissipate. It is like a household that values water attentively repairing a dike. Practitioners also are like that. For the sake of the water of wisdom, we attentively practice the balanced state of dhyana and prevent [the water of wisdom] from leaking away. This is called “the balanced state.”

Kosen Nishiyama and John Stevens

The seventh “means” is practice of wisdom. Wisdom is the result of having practiced according to the Dharma that one has heard and considered. The Buddha said, “Monks! A person of wisdom is free from attachment to greed. Engage in self observation, for this prevents loss of wisdom and leads to enlightenment. If you fail to do this you are neither a Buddhist trainee nor a lay person.

A truly wise person is like a sturdy ship crossing the seas of old age, sickness, and death; like a brilliant light illuminating the darkness of ignorance; like good medicine to the sick; and like a sharp ax cutting through the wood of delusion. Wisdom which arises as a result of having heard, considered, and practiced the Dharma produces innumerable benefits to advance oneself in the Way. The truth, once illuminated by the light of wisdom, is evident even to the naked eye. This is the meaning of wisdom.”

Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

To practice wisdom. (To engender hearing, thinking, practice, and experience is called “wisdom.”)

The Buddha said:
If you bhik?us have wisdom, then you will be without greed and attachment. By constantly reflecting on and observing yourself, you will prevent [wisdom] from being lost. This is just to be able, within my Dharma, to attain liberation. If you are not so, already you are different from people of the truth15 and also different from those clothed in white;16 there is nothing to call you. Truly, wisdom is a sturdy ship in which to cross the ocean of aging, sickness, and death. Again, it is a great bright torch for the darkness of ignorance, it is good medicine for all sick people, and it is a sharp ax to fell the trees of anguish. For
this reason, you should hear, consider, and practice wisdom and thereby develop yourself. If a human being possesses the light of wisdom, he or she is—although with eyes of flesh—a human being of clear vision. This is called “wisdom.”

Kosen Nishiyama and John Stevens

The eight “means” is to refrain from frivolous speech. This means to transcend discriminative thought and to earnestly seek understanding of the true nature of things. The Buddha said, “Monks! Frivolous speech clouds the mind and will prevent even you, monks, from realizing enlightenment; therefore quickly cease from engaging in mind confusing frivolous speech. Only those who do this gain the pleasantries of nirvana. This is the meaning of refraining from frivolous speech.”

Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

Not to engage in idle discussion. (To experience, to go beyond discrimination, is called “not to engage in idle discussion.” To perfectly realize real form is just not to engage in idle discussion.)

The Buddha said:
If you bhik?us engage in all kinds of idle discussion your mind will be disturbed. Although you have left family life, still you will be unable to get free. For this reason, bhik?us, you should immediately throw away disturbing idle discussion. If you wish to attain the joy of serenity18 you should just inhibit well the fault of idle discussion. This is called “not to engage in idle discussion.”

Kosen Nishiyama and John Stevens

The preceding are the eight great means to enlightenment. Each of these “means” having a further eight factors totals sixty-four in all. In a broader sense, however, the number of factors is limitless. These sixty-four means were Shakyamuni’s final teaching and form the core of the Mahayana doctrine. Shakyamuni proclaimed them at midnight on February 15; they were his final words. Thereafter he remained silent until he entered parinirvana.

Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

These are the eight truths of a great human being. Each is equipped with the eight, and so there may be sixty-four. When we extend them, they may be countless. If we abridge them, they are sixty-four. “They are the last preaching of Great Master Sakyamuni; they are the instruction of the Great Vehicle; and they are the [Buddha’s] supreme swan song, in the middle of the night of the fifteenth day of the second month.” After this, he does not preach the Dharma again, and finally he passes into parinirva?a.

Kosen Nishiyama and John Stevens

The Buddha concluded with the following words, “Monks! Endeavor to seek the Way, for nothing in this world is permanent. Stay silent for a while, for time is passing, and I am about to enter parinirvana. These are my final words.”

Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

The Buddha said:
You bhik?us constantly should endeavor, with undivided mind, to pursue the truth of liberation. All the dharmas of the world, moving and unmoving, without exception are perishing and unstable forms. Let yourselves stop for a while, and talk no more. Time must pass, and I am going to die. This is my last instruction.

Kosen Nishiyama and John Stevens

We trainees must study the Tathagata’s final teaching. If we do not do so we are truly not a disciple of the Buddha. Still, though, many in the latter day are ignorant of this teaching.

In the past during times of both true and degenerate Buddhism, all trainees studied these means and practiced accordingly. Now, in contrast, the number who are even aware they exist would be no more than one or two in a thousand. How regrettable that Buddhism has declined in this way. Yet still the essence of the Law, intact and uneroded by time, exists and can be found throughout the world. Quickly, therefore, we should begin to practice according to these eight means.

To contact the Buddha Dharma is no mean feat, and to be born a human is equally difficult. To have done both, as well as being born in the Jambudvipa continent, the best of the three continents, as we have done, is extremely fortunate. In the Jambudvipa continent we can see the Buddha, study the Dharma, and enter the monkhood. Those who died before Tathagata entered parinirvana were unable to contact these eight means to enlightenment. We, however, through having done good in previous lives, have been able to see hear, and study them. If in successive lives we continue to study them, our merit will increase, and finally we will realize supreme enlightenment; furthermore, if we proclaim them to others, we ourselves are no different from the Buddha Shakyamuni.

Dogen 1253

Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

Therefore, disciples of the Tathagata unfailingly learn this [instruction]. Those who do not practice and learn it, and who do not know it, are not the Buddha’s disciples. It is the Tathagata’s right Dharma-eye treasury and fine mind of nirvana. Nevertheless, today many do not know it and few have seen or heard it; it is due to the trickery of demons that they do not know. Again, those lacking in long-accumulated good roots neither hear nor see [this instruction]. During the bygone days of the right Dharma and the imitative Dharma, all disciples of the Buddha knew it. They practiced it and learned it in experience. Now there is not one or two among a thousand bhik?us who knows the eight truths of a great human being. It is pitiful. There is nothing even to compare to the insidious degeneration of [these] decadent times. While the Tathagata’s right Dharma is now [still] permeating the great-thousandfold [world], while the immaculate Dharma has not yet disappeared, we should learn it without delay. Do not be slack or lazy. To meet the Buddha-Dharma, even in countless kalpas, is hard. To receive a human body also is hard. Even in receiving the human body, human bodies on the three continents19 are better. Human bodies on the southern continent are best of all—because they meet Buddha, hear the Dharma, leave family life, and attain the truth. People who died prior to the Tathagata’s parinirva?a neither heard nor learned these eight truths of a great human being. That now we are seeing and hearing them, and learning them, is due to long-accumulated good roots. In learning them now, in developing them life by life and arriving without fail at the supreme [truth of] bodhi, and in preaching them for living beings, may we become the same as Sakyamuni Buddha; may there be no differences.

Shobogenzo Hachi-dainingaku
Written at Eiheiji, on the sixth day of the first
lunar month in the fifth year of Kencho.

Kosen Nishiyama and John Stevens

My master Dogen had undertaken to write the entire Shobogenzo into kana, this chapter being the twelfth to be completed. Due to his deteriorating health, however, which finally led to his death, this chapter proved to be his last. I feel a deep regret that the remaining chapters could not be completed. The teachings presented in this chapter were also the final teachings of the Buddha Shakyamuni.

excerpted from Shobogenzo – The Eye and Treasure of the True Law Volume 4 translated by Kosen Nishiyama 1983

Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

Now, on the day before the end of the retreat in the seventh year of Kencho, I have had the clerk-monk Gien finish the copying; at the same time, I have checked it thoroughly against the original text. This was the last draft [written by] the late master, in his sickness. I remember him saying that he would rewrite all of the kana Shobogenzo and so on that he had completed before, and also include new drafts so as to be able to compile [the Shobogenzo] in altogether one hundred chapters. This chapter, which was a fresh draft, was to be the twelfth. After this, the master’s sickness grew more and more serious so that his work on original drafts and suchlike stopped. Therefore this draft is the last instruction of the late master. That we unfortunately never saw the one hundred chapters is most regrettable. People who love and miss the late master should unfailingly copy this chapter and preserve it. It is the final instruction of Sakyamuni, and it is the final bequeathed teaching of the late master.

Ejo wrote this.

Your Brain on Zen

Jim Austin the cognitive scientist and Zen practitioner was passing through Providence on his way to one of the Dalai Lama’s brain science conferences to make a presentation. He is a Brown alum, his daughter lives in the vicinity and he’s both an old friend and a friend of our sangha. So, instead of our [Read More...]

no time for seriousness

Somewhere or other, I read that these are not times for seriousness. The implication seemed to be that with everything else that is going on, getting serious in politics or religious life or whatever other peripheral human pastime was just too much to expect. Economics, war, food, shelter and other uncertainties offered little or no room to rest and relax and reflect in a serious manner.

The sentiment, however wispy, seemed to strike a chord and reminded me of Sri Ramakrishna's observation that Bhakti was best in the kaliyuga ... that when times get hard (the kaliyuga is a Hindu configuration of moral decay and lack of understanding and a sense of collapse and destruction) then baby steps are best ... something easy like loving God. Bhakti Yoga provides that format: Everything is God, so relax and go with the loving flow.

Of course, loving God is not all that easy, assuming there is time or willingness to get serious about it. But before the seriousness and in the midst of the separations of solemnity, love is comforting and inviting and ... well, who doesn't respond well to kind words and a warm fire? Affection and attentiveness from whatever quarter ... it's an ahhh in the throes of ouch.

Having spent many years being wary of the warm-fuzzy approaches to God, these days it's not quite so insistent. As the Anglican Charles Williams once observed, "People believe what they want to believe," which does not, of course, mean that what is believed is worth believing. Individuals do what they want. If God is what anyone wants to do, then I favor it... at least insofar as it is credible to the believer. No need to convince anyone else.

But I remain hopeful that whatever anyone chooses to believe will lead them to a serious place -- a place that does not rely on something else, something solemn, something that is only praiseworthy or good.

It may be hard -- maybe impossible -- to serious up, but what's the alternative. If you don't see at least one thing through in your life, what kind of a life is that?


Yesterday, out of the Internet blue, there was an email purporting to be from a company in Atlanta that was searching out the provenance of a photo I had taken. The company, according to the note, wanted to use the photo of Soen Nakagawa Roshi as partial background for a movie that is in the works.

The request seemed legit enough. At least it didn't begin, "Dearest in Christ" or offer to cut me in on a $27 million inheritance. So I responded briefly and we'll see what happens.

But in the meantime, there was a kind of shifting of perspective. I had taken the picture, I remembered the time and place, I liked the photo ... but it was filed away in my experience and attachment panorama ... pleasant, but mostly unimportant. And yet here was someone suggesting an unimagined importance ... and possibly some money ... and I was flattered ... and other wispy thought patterns.

It was just odd for a moment, but in that moment, suddenly all perspectives got called into question. It wasn't that the perspective about the photo was right or wrong or better or worse. It was just sort of flimsy and tentative, as if you held a piece of clay which did not object to being a bowl or a plate or a statue of a horse.

If anything could be anything, didn't that diminish or at any rate redefine whatever sense of "importance" was brought to bear? And if so, was the heat and weight given to "importance" a bit too much?

I don't know ... it just seemed to bring me up short. Perspective, importance ... I don't know.

fairy-tale facts

A world of wonder can be found in fairy tales that are laced with magical happenings and magical names.

Harry Potter is a latter-day example, but tens if not hundreds of authors have done the same ... entrancing the reader with stuff that barely seems credible and yet successfully invites the reader to be gullible and surrender to this made-up panorama.

In a land "far, far away...."

Sometimes I wonder where all those marvelous and not-quite-credible names and abilities come from and today the tale of a 2.6 magnitude earthquake in Nottinghamshire, England, seemed to offer me a clue:
Residents in Mansfield, Papplewick, Kirkby-in-Ashfield, Sutton-in-Ashfield, Ravenshead, Newstead Village and Blidworth all reported the quake.
Just for a moment, I felt as if I were reading a 13-year-old student tale-teller's attempt to create a land of marvels and magic and fantasized communities. Imaginative? Yes. But straining credulity? Those names are a bit much, don't you think, even for fiction....

I guess only fact could trump fiction.
Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu is a hill on the North Island in New Zealand and it means “the summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one” and holds the title of ‘Longest Place Name in the World’.
Dead Women Crossing, Okla.; Lick Fork, Va.; and Satan's Kingdom (Mass. and Vt.) appear to be aiming at a similar whimsy in the U.S.

children pay poverty’s price

In Great Britain, a nation that can credit itself for its level of civilization, poor children may be promised a state education, but the fees attendant on that education can leave some feeling excluded and stigmatized.
The Children's Commission on Poverty says basics, such as uniforms, school trips, materials and computer access can amount to £800 per child each year. ...
One student said: "I keep telling [the teacher] I didn't have a computer, and then he just kept shouting at me, and I had to say out loud that I didn't have a computer, and everyone started laughing."
But the Brits seem to be less overtly calloused than the Swiss, who, until not so long ago, simply kidnapped children from poor families and placed them as indentured servants on farms.
Thousands of people in Switzerland who were forced into child labour are demanding compensation for their stolen childhoods. Since the 1850s hundreds of thousands of Swiss children were taken from their parents and sent to farms to work - a practice that continued well into the 20th Century. 
These bits of news, spliced into today's important tales of well-stocked wars, hardly speak well of the education received by those shaping and prosecuting national policies ... the ones to whom, perhaps, the homey-nugget of wisdom might aptly be applied: "Spare the rod and spoil the child."

Yes, yes ... "we're doing our best," but every now and then a tart voice reaches out in 'civilized' settings and suggests, "Do better!"

Afghan-Chinese links

BEIJING (AP) -- Afghanistan's new president began a visit to Beijing on Tuesday seeking Chinese help in rebuilding his country and promoting regional stability.
Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai received pledges of hundreds of millions of dollars in aid in a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. He also plans to urge potential investors to help bankroll Afghanistan's development, especially its mining industry....

Afghanistan hopes Chinese investment will help make mining a cornerstone of its economy. Although it has an estimated $3 trillion worth of natural resources, including copper, iron ore, silver, gold, coal, gems and minor metals such as chromite, little has been exploited because of warfare and a lack of infrastructure. China is already active in oil production in the north of Afghanistan.
On Friday, Ghani Ahmadzai is to attend this year's Istanbul Ministerial Process, a regional dialogue on security, economic and political cooperation hosted by China for the first time.
The forum brings together Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, the United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan. The U.S., Britain, other Western countries and international organizations attend as observers.
When was the last time anyone saw a story that indicated the war-willing west was even testing the waters of economic development in countries they were so willing to bomb and otherwise 'correct?' China, whatever its self-serving reasons, seems broadly willing to become economically involved against a time when stability might gain a strong foothold.