writing the sutra of our life: a chinese detective, zhuang zi & hard nails

Lokesh, the Tibetan monk, embodiment of Avalokiteshvara and conscience in Eliot Pattison’s Tibetan detective series, says to anti-hero Shan: “Jamyang told us his story…It is but for us to understand it. He left us the sutra of his life. We simply need to learn how to read it.” One of the most compelling detective series […]

Thinking of JFK

He died today fifty-one years ago. I don’t need to see that bit of film showing his being murdered. This is what I find myself thinking of today…

released from Guantanamo prison

MIAMI (AP) -- A Saudi citizen who has spent the past 12 years detained at Guantanamo Bay has been released as the U.S. continues attempts to whittle down the prison population at its base in Cuba.
The Pentagon said Saturday that Muhammad al-Zahrani was sent to his homeland based on the conclusion of a parole-like board that has been re-evaluating whether it is still necessary to hold some of the men as prisoners.
Al-Zahrani will take part in a Saudi rehabilitation program for militants.
He is the 13th prisoner released from Guantanamo Bay this year and the seventh in just the past two weeks. Officials have said there will be additional releases in the coming weeks as part of a renewed push to close the prison where 142 men are now held.
The vagueness of this 'news' story is mind-boggling. 1. Held for 12 years without any judicial redress? 2. What specific charges were made and who underwrote the legitimacy of those charges? 3. On what basis did someone suggest "rehabilitation" might be attained? ... oh hell, pose your own questions.

Put yourself in Al-Zahrani's place. Imagine you no longer lived in the United States and had a right to judicial hearing. Then compare the reaction to 'terrorist' arrests of those even thinking about violent possibilities or philosophies in the United States.

Perhaps there was a good reason to "detain" (imprison) a man for 12 years. But without stating those reasons, without saying much more than "trust me," the incarceration speaks poorly of prospects for American citizens.

seeing the ocean for the first time

A 100-year-old woman got her wish and saw the ocean for the first time. With four children, Ruby Holt had always been too busy picking cotton and working in a shirt factory and trying to make scanty ends meet in Tennessee.
"I've heard people talk about it and how wonderful it was and wanted to see it, but I never had the opportunity to do so," she said....
"We don't have nothing like this in Giles County."
 Seeing the obvious for the first time -- what a pleasure.

operation date set

Not that it can hold a candle to the U.S.' ramping up of combat operations that were supposed to be on the wane in Afghanistan, but this week, a call from the doctor's office fixed the date on which I will have an operation on the nodule on my right lung -- a nodule whose exact cause cannot be named, but must be labeled cancer even if no one knows for sure.

Dec. 1 has been set for the "procedure" which is an operation with a nice name. For four or five weeks, there have been tests for this and tests for that to make sure the heart and body can take the stress involved in the operation. Now, although the heart is less than it might be, the decision has been rendered to take a wedge-shaped bit of lung, together with the nodule which can only be biopsied after it is removed:.

There is no need to open the entire chest, as I understand it. The tests that preceded and kind of danced around the actual problem are now pretty much over and I am grateful: The downside of having an operation (statistically I gather it has a 95:5 batting average and I gather it hurts a bit) begins to pale when I go for one test after another without actually going after the offending arena. The scariest part, to the extent that there is one, is any time I have to spend in the hospital, a place I have come to see as exerting a negative effect on anyone's spirit.

"Comparisons," the old saw once had it, "are odious," but it is hard not to somehow compare my life with the life of those who are in the line of fire at the whim of governments and politicians that can see the upside of perpetual war. It is hard not to indulge in a bit of odiousness.

Oh well, maybe a shower will help.

British ad stirs many minds

OK, so it made me cry -- a British advert that is currently arousing pros and cons. The ad tells a truncated story of what is commonly called the Christmas Truce during World War I. Various sorts of purists argue that the Christmas ad by Sainsbury's grocery chain is disrespectful and historically inaccurate. But the punchline is enough for me: "Christmas is for sharing." Moreover, those who take issue with the ad do not seem to take umbrage at the endless truncated and corrupt advertisements for militarism and expansionism that clot the television and Internet ("heroes" "democracy" "drones" "Army strong" "terrorism"). It's nice to see a little p.r. for something more peaceable.

Millions killed, maimed, and wounded within and without. Real flesh-and-blood people. Your kin and mine. For what? My guess is "for profit," whether Democrat or Republican.


PS. And here's folk singer John McCutcheon's song about the same topic: "Christmas in the Trenches."

the ‘inclusion’ racket

For whatever reasons, I seem to have circled back to the old aspect that might roughly be described as "inclusion in Zen Buddhism." How come there are not more minorities, more women, more poor people, less educated -- more people who are not a bunch of middle-class white guys and gals with too much time on their hands? The question, usually stated less baldly, can really bring on a case of social discomfort: Doesn't the kindliness of Buddhism mean that I should exert myself and my practice (however wobbly it is these days) to put a more palatable welcome mat out in front of Zen Buddhism's door?

My answer is no.

This doesn't mean I haven't tried the techniques of tacking on psychology or social action or even hugging teddy bears as a means of inducing others to try what I consider a very good tool in anyone's battle against uncertainties or attempt to find a bit of peace in this lifetime. As I look back, I see this as a thinly-veiled acceptance of the Christian culture in which I live -- a Christianity that encourages its participants to sell the Tupperware of 'the one true faith.' Oh yes, it may be much subtler and more accepting and better dressed in Buddhist terms, but it's pretty much the same shit on a different day.

I have nothing against psychology or philosophy or social action. They can be very good tools. But individual lives are not credibly eased in these realms, and so I maintain some doubt that Zen should be dressed up in such clothes as a means of sucking outsiders in and seeming to make Zen more "inclusive" or, on a personal level, somehow better.

Zen, to my mind, is inclusive, but it is not inclusive because anyone says so or offers a cozy potluck supper on Saturday. To suggest otherwise is to set up a barrier where the object of Buddhism is to clarify if not remove all barriers. Naturally, a little social intercourse is part of the spectrum but imposing a feels-good inclusiveness can really screw the pooch over the long haul.

It is one thing to speak your piece and quite another to imagine others need convincing.

Bottom line, as best I can figure it: Trust the suffering. Selling blue sky when the sky is blue hardly seems sensible, not least because it doesn't work and those whose relief and release are the point are more likely to miss the point ... or not.

As New York Yankees manager Casey Stengel (or maybe it was catcher Yogi Berra) said: "If people won't come out to the ballpark, you can't stop them."

Dick Turns Eighty Four

Dick Smothers turns eighty-four today. He & his brother Tom were pretty important cultural figures in the great uproar that became the “nineteen sixties.” Their brief two-year run “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” poked the authorities in a time when that was not done on television and pointed viewers in important directions. I have a vivid [Read More...]

“Zen” and “awakened”

Elsewhere I was reading the words of someone who said that it was hard for would-be Zen students to find the circumstances in which to interact with someone who was "awakened."

I have a lot of sympathy for this longing -- to keep company for a while with someone who has cleared the weeds and planted a little peace. For a time things can be so confusing, so unprotected, so lonely. Crossing the threshold and deciding to give spiritual endeavor a serious try is not for sissies. Everything that went before needs a more careful attention and anyone can find him/herself in a widening pool of regret. The old stuff is impossibly heavy and the new 'Zen' stuff is impossibly bright.

What I wouldn't give for a teacher! Please, please, please!

I too have squirmed and yowled and praised loudly as a means of trying to subjugate an ineffable brightness. I have wept with joy ... literally. I have found myself in places that are impossibly impossible and been scared to death or dancing.

An "awakened" teacher or chum would be an incredible blessing... someone to be "Buddha" to my stumbling efforts.

Everyone works through this at his or her own pace, framing the issue in a way that seems to make sense from wherever "here" is.

I think Zen is a lucky endeavor in this realm. It is lucky because while it makes room for people who insist on speaking of "enlightened" or "awakened" individuals, still it does not fall prey to such bright lights. Go ahead, imagine what you like; turn "Zen" into some feel-good gimcrack; worship and weep and laugh; seek out an awakened teacher; be a Christian or Muslim or Hindu or Jew ...

But Zen offers to right the foundering ship with the practice of zazen or seated meditation. It's not sexy or monastic or awakened -- it's just seated meditation. Sit down, sit straight, sit still, shut up, and focus the mind. Just do it -- don't praise it.

Yes, supports like "awakened" may be cozy and psychological analyses may cuddle up to "Zen." Go ahead. Knock yourself out, but practice and see what happens.

How the hell could you designate an "awakened" person as "awakened" if you weren't awakened yourself? This would amount to a public-relations form of spiritual practice ... you better, me worse, without ever examining the premise of the conclusion. Zazen is a real benefit in this regard.

It sure is nice to have company, but it's also nice to get down to the most factual common sense.

A Winter Herbal Meditation