See more articles, reviews, fiction and poetry, including more of my writings, at group blog PLUTO'S REALM.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Merry Christmas


Yep, that's Bif Naked to the left. If you haven't picked up on the Bif Naked listings in my links, or the hyperlinks hidden in some of the text, you may not know she's been one of my favorite artists since about 1995. Check out her site and her MySpace page; and soon I'll post the video for "Nothing Else Matters" which you've already heard on the "Celebration" blog entry. Plus, if you scroll to the bottom of the blog, there's another Bif video that's been there for a while.

Anyway, Merry Christmas. It seems like it's been a good year. I haven't heard a damn thing about the War on Christmas this year, which may be a sign that the liars who promulgated all that crap last year have been forced back on their heels and are having to deal with some of the real issues. Plus, I like Christmas, I really do. I have friends who don't, and it's true that all the "commercialization" can drive you nuts. I think what I really like is the real meaning of the holiday, which is the solstice and the Yule. This holiday is a lot older than Christianity, and any fool who thinks it's Jesus' birthday is just that. A year-ending (and beginning) holiday is something we should hang onto in this modern era.

And I say "Merry Christmas" to everybody. The one thing the Christians have right this time of year is that "Happy Holidays" is a bunch of crap. I mean, if you're Jewish and say "Happy Hanukah," that's great. Muslims have a holiday, and we Buddhists do too, and I'll return any greeting you give me. The only one that bugs me is that Kwanza crap; for Christ sake, don't make up a holiday, there's plenty of them already.

But I'm listening to Christmas music as I write this, and I'm looking forward to seeing my family for the next few days. I try to make my Christmas gifts minimal but interesting. I already gave the Rufi their Christmas; the little guys got a truck and HR got a cigar.

By the way, the best pop Christmas music of all time is probably Jethro Tull's Songs from the Wood album; click this link for a video. The best of course is all that great classical music written for this occasion. Talk to ya before then!

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Every Dog Has His Day

Sometimes things gotta work out right.

I don't really write a lot of good news in here; in fact, I don't write a lot of news at all. My cousin Phyllis wrote that she's been following my life through this blog, which made me think what an odd view of my life you'd get that way. I mean, I'm really not writing a newsletter. I didn't talk about my quitting my old job right after New Years last year though I did document my leisure time fairly well til I was forced back into the work place this summer; I didn't really talk about any of those jobs at all, since one of the main things I look for in a job these days is something I can forget about the minute I leave the office (although I like to be good at it while I'm there). I didn't talk really talk about the car wreck I had Oct. 9, although I really wanted to post a pic of the totalled car (I was too stressed in the search for another one that I forgot to take a picture). So you'd think that my life consisted of disjointed events and strong opinions. But I do feel compelled to let the other shoe drop on the Nashville Zen Center.

After all, you really had no autobiographical info in this blog at all until "The Empty Well" back in March, in which I chronicled what I perceived the sad state of aforesaid NZC and my frustration with it. You then followed my exploration trip to Atlanta, my discovery of the Atlanta Soto Zen Center, and my subsequent initiation into Soto Zen. So it really would be incomplete if I let 2006 end without reporting the culmination of all these events to date, in the visit of ASZC Abbot Michael Elliston and his senior student Gareth Young to the NZC.

Sometimes events just seem to be slapping at me randomly, like big bloody insects in the wind when I'm driving a motorcycle through the mountains at night. And then sometimes I reach a peaceful place where they all seem to form a coherent pattern like a movie or someone else's biography. I've been in the latter place the last few days, from which it seems as if my first bungled attempt to orchestrate a Zen event -- and yes, I now admit it was my lack of knowledge and preparation, and my insecurity and consequent unwillingness to take charge and responsibility of that NZC spring retreat that probably led to its objective failure (though I certainly got a lot out of it) -- was a necessary prequel and training for what was pretty much an unqualified success.

Succinctly, the teachers came, thirteen of us at the table (!) had dinner, then we had a very good sit, meet and talk the next morning. Nothing newsworthy here, except that the desire I've had to bring the authentic Soto spirit to Nashville finally paid off. The ASZC leaders were excited about Nashville, and quite a few of the NZC members, whose (in Ellistons's words) maturity of practice and diversity I've finally come to appreciate are desirous of further interaction with Atlanta. I'm planning another trip down in February, and Atlanta wants to come back here, too. Except for some group money I wasted in advertising, it couldn't have gone better.

See, there's nothing gritty for this blog when things go well. One more thing: I really haven't mentioned any of the Zen stuff in here recently, in fact since October. If you're wondering why, it's because I'm finding it harder to write about. More and more, it seems everything I read or hear about Zen, expressed in language is, well, not necessarily wrong, but not quite right. I sit every week after our NZC sits and listen to someone read from a Zen book, usually gritting my teeth (I hope not literally); the readings from Sunryu Suzuki or Thich Nat Hanh (especially) or whoever just seem -- off. I'm currently reading the copy of The Kyosaku, Vol. I of the Teaching Archives of Soyu Matsuoka Roshi, the teacher of Zenkai Taiun Michael Elliston which was inadvertently left at the Barn after the sit Saturday. It's a very good book, for a Zen book, and I'm putting off sending it home til after Christmas so I can read a bit of it until I can order my own copy through the ASZC website. I'm certainly enjoying it more than most Zen books. But it just seems more and more to me that writing about Zen, or teaching about it with words is like writing with a Sharpy on the side of an aluminum coffee pot; most of the words don't stick and what's left is blurry and vaguely wrong.

Hojo (Abbot) Elliston again pointed out Saturday that what people perceive as paradoxes in talk about Zen are only apparent paradoxes; in my own words, they point out the limits of the language, not a problem with Zen. Even here, I'm starting to smell that magic marker so I'll stop. To me the only reason of reading about Zen and talking about Zen is encouraging people to do Zazen; it seems to me from my limited development and understanding that everything comes from there. So the best Zen book is the one that gets you to do Zazen. The one that did it for me was Brad Warner's Hardcore Zen, which cut through all the academia and showed me that someone who thought a lot like me (though also very differently) could benefit from the practice, stripped of all its artifice. I just finished rereading that, and if you're of my generation or younger, and tired of the academic approach to phiosophy or the religious approach to "spirituality", it's still the best.

I feel the same way about Zen ritual; it's just a mostly enjoyable, aesthetically appealing framework for Zazen. I enjoy it. So whatever works, works.

Anyway, enough prattling on about things I've just admitted are not suitable objects of prattle. The Nashville Zen Center is doing just fine at the moment, thank you, and so am I.

Monday, December 11, 2006

More Chicks

It seems the Dixie Chicks are getting a little more respect these days, since a few people in this country have finally started realizing that we all should be ashamed that the President of the United States is not only from Texas, but from America at all. The song for which I posted the video a few months ago is now nominated for a Grammy, and even W.'s dad seems to be ashamed of him.

The movie for which the above is a trailer looks like it'll be worth seeing, for sure. It's not so much that I'm a huge fan of the Chicks' music, although I've always had a lot of respect for the quality of their musicianship, and especially Natalie Maines' incredible voice. Modern "country" has never been much other than music for the lowest common denominator, people who know nothing about music (especially real, authentic country) or about anything else. That's why so many of its stars are drug addicts and degenerates in cowboy hats; their fans are just so easily deceived. So why shouldn't they be easy dupes for the terrorist/fear hype of the Bush administration? In the face of this, the blacklisting of the Chicks after Ms. Maines' insightful, honest and just plain obvious comment was not surprising.

What should frighten you about the blacklisting of the Chicks is that it wasn't so much a government effort (although I'm sure there was some insidious support behind the fervor of ignorance that drove them off the charts) as a spontaneous ejaculation of hate and stupidity from the masses who propelled Kenny Chesney to fame. Fear, hatred and ignorance arise endlessly. How do we help the dregs of humanity prop their eyes open for the next fear campaign? I just don't know. The people burning the Chicks albums are a part of us, after all. Go deep and feel the hate.

I have to admit I haven't even heard all of the album. I understand the Chicks have moved further from country (which betrayed them like it's betrayed all of its real stars; ask Emmylou Harris). Let's just admire them for their courage and their being not ready to back down. We all could learn from it.

Let's face it, if you voted for George W. Bush the first time, you have the excuse of ignorance, but if you did it twice, you're a bad person and need to be punished. I think two years in one of Rumsfeld's prison camps, locked in a cell with Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw would be appropriate.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

What's for Dinner? Part II


Having dined last night on way too much barbeque, I feel constrained to review part of my discussion of vegetarianism in the last entry. Last night's dinner and this morning's indigestion remind me of something that occurred to me a few months ago, not for the first time: For the most part, the less meat I eat the better I feel. Looking back at the last entry, I feel I may have seemed hostile to vegetarianism, which I'm not at all. I'm very pro-vegetarian. Really, some of my best friends are vegetarians.

I admitted I wrote that last one fast, and there were some poor word choices, one of which was, rather than saying vegetarianism was a form of escapism, it would have been more appropriate to say it was a form of idealism. That's only if you're a vegetarian because you are opposed to the inherent cruelty to animals in meat-eating. I certainly understand the position, and as I said, I think we are all a little repulsed by the actuality of the process, or we should be if we are not insensitive to the plight of other creatures. Of course, that's the slippery slope, and knowing what I know about the factory dairy and egg industries, the philosophical position of the lacto-ovo-vegetarian doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It's pretty clear that more cruelty is inflicted on laying hens, especially, than the chickens we eat; in short, the chickens we eat, as abused as they are, are treated much better than their egg-laying sisters because if they were as ill-treated as the laying hens, we wouldn't eat them. It's that bad. So to me, if I were going to be a philosophical vegetarian, it's vegan or nothing.

Of course there's a whole other school of vegetarianism which has nothing to do with animal rights, and is not idealistic at all but pragmatic. It's the school that refuses to eat meat because of health reasons. Especially this morning I am empathetic to this school. I said in the last entry that I thought it was clear that a little meat every now and then is healthier, and there is no doubt that man evolved as a meat-eater (and probably never would have evolved to his present exalted state without it). Without outstanding success as a predator, man never would have had the leisure time to develop agriculture, which was the foundation of modern civilization. So you see it all works together. And we shouldn't forget that all domestic species now raised for food co-evolved with man in a symbiotic relationship. Nevertheless, it's a perfectly valid question whether we need to eat all that meat anymore.

I think it's pretty clear we don't. In an extremely inactive society, we just don't need that much meat. Of course our modern diet is a mess, as best illustrated by the sad plight of the current generation of obese children. Remembering just how few fat kids there were in my childhood, as compared to now, we are indeed in the middle of an "epidemic" as that word is now loosely used. Of course it also appears (to me, again) that the culprit in child obesity is not meat, but a combination of lack of exercise and more importantly the infusion into our children's diets of massive amounts of high-fructose corn syrup (which incidentally never appeared before 1980). So that's a whole other discussion, also very much covered in Pollan's book.

But nevertheless, it appears that a much more suitable diet for today's bovine society would be a diet of whole grains and cruciferous vegetables. It certainly would be better for our digestive systems. The most disgusting twist in food fadism in recent years was the whole Atkins Diet insanity, which thankfully has faded a bit. Of course I did personally witness people losing a lot of weight on this nutball regimen, but hey kids, anorexia and bilemia will work for the same purpose, with similar results -- starvation. Especially with my guts full of flesh and hot sauce, the idea of a nation of fat people stuffing themselves with nothing but meat leads me to images of their digestive tracts from which I am rapidly retreating.

My personal experience is that when I am happy and healthy and getting good exercise and my brain chemisty is firing well, the less meat I eat, the better I feel. When I have been sick or hung over or in some other form debilitated, nothing brings me back faster than meat. So for me meat is like medicine. It is best used sparingly. So find your own level, but give those grains and vegetables a shot.

And then there's our friend the pig (the one who's not currently trying to fight his way through my intestines). After part I, Kate sent me an email which included the following:

I disagree, again, that there's no middle ground between animals "being okay" as in not suffering at all and "being okay" as in not being raised in factory farms or bred solely to be eaten. A similar dilemma with the middle ground between saving the world and offering your actions in a positive way, however small.

That's part of a mini-debate we have over social activism; I think we agree on most principles, but I'm just more cynical. I agree that each person doing what he or she can in every small way as it appears will make the world a better place, and there's no doubt it will make better people of those who act thus accordingly with their compassion, which is what is really essential, since I think civilization and man are going inexorably down the tubes, we are past the point of no return, and there's nothing more important than how you ride.

My response, again in part, was:

We're 100% in agreement on the factory farms. I'm saying that a steer (or a heiffer, for that matter) who's raised on a small farm has a good life until he's killed and eaten, as long as he's fed on grass. Otherwise he wouldn't live at all. Remember these cattle were pretty much created by us (as was the bison, really) from much different animals, for our benefit, and they have co-evolved and adapted with us. The bottom line question is, is is better for them not to live at all, or to live (on a good farm) then die mercifully. They're not going to live in the wild (which would be horrible for them anyway) or be pets (most of them) or gain citizenship. So it's a good farm life, followed by slaughter, or nothing.

And:

The next thought to hit me was, the cattle are actually about the least of the abuses. By far the worst treated (although they're all living in a big animal Guanatanamo) are the laying hens. The chickens we eat, bad as it is, are treated better than the ones that produce the eggs. They can't move at all. And when they're about to die, the lights are turned out and they are given no food or water to force out a few more eggs. I'm going to try to find some farm-raised eggs and chicken.

The only relief to the above is that having lived among poultry, my empathy for them is pretty limited. Not so with hogs. Hogs are smarter than dogs, in my opinion. If we want to stop abusing higher animals, we should start with not eating pork, like a lot of other people in the world. It would make more sense to torture your dog than to raise a hog in a factory farm. Incidentally, these are the one domesticated food creature that could make it in the wild, so a Free the Pigs movement would be the most coherent of all (although you sure would wipe out some ecologies!).


There I go quoting myself because I'm too lazy to rewrite. I'm trying to review the history of the hog, and the internet isn't cooperating with me much this morning, but I do know that hogs are not native to America, having been introduced by the Spanish, who just turned them loose into the woods to be hunted as needed. Whereas cattle are totally domesticated (and again, this is a fascinating section of Pollan's book), hogs are little changed from their progenitors and are in a way just really smart wild animals who are our captives and victims. Surely, surely, we could give up eating them. I surely could at this moment. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

What's for Dinner? Part I


One of the topics I've been wanting to take on since I started this blog is the matter of diet - what to eat. I've been dancing around it and avoiding it and deciding I'm not quite ready to write it because the topic is just so damn huge. I just can't see any way to handle it in one blog entry. It may not seem so big to you in view of some of the things I've taken on in here, but I've probably spent as much time in my life thinking about what to eat as just about anything, and I have at least thirty years' worth of thoughts on the topic trying to organize themselves out of the spin cycle in my head -- hence the title of the book I just read by Michael Pollan, The Omnivores' Dilemma.

I'm not going to really try to review the book as there are hundreds of good reviews of it out there; thanks for the recommendation, Phyllis. The compelling part of this book is that the author comes at the issue of proper diet not through some didactic premise, i.e. vegetarianism or veganism, but the simple open question of, What am I to eat? Because no matter what your moral commitments are, Man is an omnivore and evolved to be one. If your mind tells you you shouldn't be what you are, then you have the trademark problem of the intellectual being and the moral one, the difficulty of accepting oneself.

I was raised in the sixties, on the standard bland American diet of the time, including meat with every meal. It was in the post-hippie world of the seventies and its accompanying spritual movements that I, like millions of others, became tempted by vegetarianism -- not too surprisingly, as most of those movements came from Hinduism. By the time the low-fat craze of the eighties kicked in, just about everyone except Republicans and the beef industry was equating eating meat with evil and stupidity, and vegetarianism with enlightenment. I have always flirted with vegetarianism, even up to the present day; about the closest I ever got was a couple of years without any meat except seafood (just loved it too much to give it up, and how much empathy can you have for a fish?). There were a lot of positive sides to this; I discovered many good vegetable dishes I never would've otherwise, and some of my favorite cuisines, notably Indian.

I don't think there's really too doubt that a little meat every now and then is healthiest in the human diet. Historically, there's just no doubt that we evolved as omnivores, as evidenced by our teeth, our digestive tracts, and the fact that we were hunter-gathereres living on top of the food chain as chief predator long before we invented agriculture. Saying that we didn't evolve to eat meat is about as delusional, as, well, denying evolution. I first came to face the inescapable dilemma of meat consumption in college, as a philosophy major when I took a class called Animal Rights which included of course Pete Singer's classic of the same name. To cut to the chase, the question is, is it morally acceptable for us to eat animals, despite what our physiology tells us.

I came at the problem from a slightly different perspective from many of my classmates since I was raised on a farm and helped raise cattle, hogs, chickens, the whole population, from an early age. I hunted rabbits, killed them and ate them. I knew that I could be looking at a steer one day and eating him a week later. And of course I had pets, mostly dogs and cats. So I always sort of knew the problem was there. What later came to outrage me (I had no idea at the time how accepting most people are of there own delusional natures) was the people who could only eat meat while thinking it came from the grocery store. My own conclusion at the end of the Animal Rights class in 1978 or so was, if you can kill an animal and eat it, knowing what you are doing, then you should eat meat. If you can't you shouldn't because you can't deal with the reality of your own actions. Pollan's book comes to pretty much the same conclusion on a social level, and today I reassert my beliefs.

It strikes me now that vegetarianism is a form of escapism. We think that we can avoid doing harm by not eating animals. If I may slide around on a mobius strip of meaning, it is definitely doing harm to eat meat but that does not mean we should not do it. The fallacy is in thinking that in failing to eat meat, we do not do harm. Yes, it should bother you that something else has to die that you might live. They would die with or without you. Veganism is the delusion that we can make it OK with animals. We cannot make it OK. Neither our lives nor theirs. Neither our lives nor theirs can ever be free of suffering. That is the fundamental truth of life. Enlightenment is the acceptance of that truth, not the avoidance of it. True enlightenment is the end of the search for enlightenment. From birth to death, it's just like this.

Again, I'm not going to recycle all of Pollan's arguments here. I'm going to come back to some of them thought. This blog is being spit, or rather shit out to get rid of the mental constipation I've been enduring on this topic. But let me make a few more points. First, before you eat that steer, look him in the eye. When you feel sorrow in the killing in the eating, you'll understand a little more about what it means to be alive.

On a more mundane note, Pollan's book is (1) an excellent indictment of the way Big Oil and the military/industrial complex have changed our diet and our lives for the worse, (2) a suggestion of what is better (a return to rational scale and sustainable cycles of food production, and (3) a bunch of worthless personal adventures at the end which teach us nothing. However, his chapter on Animal Liberation is the best concise summary of the subject I've ever seen, with all the proper academics referenced. And I must add at this point that sustainable food production will only be possible after the inevitable wars, famines and plagues of the next century.

Okay, this has been a rapid sequence of disjointed nonsequitors. Maybe now when I come back to the topic I can address its bits and pieces with more coherence and restraint. But dammit, there's just no more intimate relationship we have with our world than what we eat. Sex doesn't even come close. And of course, there's just no way to do it and feel totally good about it unless you're totally insensitive. Such is life.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Birthday Thoughts

First, thanks to Peggy, who is studying computer graphics for this pic. She says it's not her best effort, but I know no one will sue me for copyright infringement.

Yep, it's my 49th birthday. November is birthday season in my life. Probably the only thing I've ever found to be true about astrology is that most of the people who have been close to me in my life have been born in May or November. I'm sure I'll leave some out, but: my ex-fiancee who apparently wants nothing to do with me these days was born Nov. 8; my lifetime friend Robert was docking his sailboat in New York yesterday, on a trip down the coast that began about the time of his birthday, Nov. 14, when Stephanie reached him yesterday morning, on her birthday, Nov. 17. My first cousin was born on Stephanie's birthday, and two of my aunts on my father's side were born this week in the 1920's, as well as my deceased uncle (who was also married to one of those aunts this week many years ago). Someone who used to be close to me was born Nov. 10, but I can't remember who.

Usually the reason I don't blog for a period of time is that I have nothing to say, which is the best reason I can think of. There's nothing particulary blogworthy about my birthday, either, but that's pretty much the point. There is one particular word of wisdom born of almost half a century of experience that I can impart. When I was 17 or so, I remember doing the calculation of how old I would be at the beginning of the third millenium and discovering I would be 42. I imagined that the 42-year-old person would be a totally different one than the 17-year-old. So in other words the person who was doing the imagining would never experience the twenty-first century. I was very right but very wrong.

So although it's true that in one sense the person I am now is not the person I was yesterday, in terms of the sense of self, of the perceiver, of the person who writes your daily autobiography in your head, you are exactly the same person now you will be tomorrow. That sounds obvious on a day-to-day sense, but is surprising when you consider the span of years of a lifetime. I am the same person looking out of slightly more myopic eyes at a different world today, as I was at 17. And at this point I am quite sure that if I make it to 75, I will be the same person I am now in an older body -- or at least I will perceive it that way. I don't act the same way I did when I was 17, I don't look the same, but I'm still me. I still haven't been co-opted by the world. I haven't merged into a role, although I may be better at acting like it. Maybe I'm the same person making different choices. But still me, really.

I am the same me I was when I discovered rock and roll in high school, when I discovered philosophy in college, when I went through the motions against my grain in law school, when I crashed and burned with my idiosyncrasies in the 90's, when I finally returned to my search for that same self in 2004 and survived to write this entry. But I am not the same me who could have been a successful lawyer who didn't burn out from his own frustration, or the person who could have more courageously rejected the path of attempted passing in society and pursued his own path when I was 20 and all the paths were open with a free ticket. Those selves are false, they are fantasy and illusion, they never happened and never will. To compare myself to them is a waste of my time and yours.

Because I am also not the person who never survived. That person, like the others never existed. Several of the possible persons you could have been never survived, but you're not them, or you wouldn't be reading this.

One of my favorite Buddhist stories (which of course I can't recount) ends in the ultimate truth about human life, one monk telling another, "From birth to death, it' just like this." Just like what? This. Everything you are feeling and thinking and seeking right now. It will never be perfect, it will never be fulfilled, it will never be over. This. This same self; even if in some epistemological realm that self is illusory, right now it is here and your point of reference and it is you and it it this.

So you are the cutting edge of the evolution of universal intelligence, and the cutting edge of the universe has to pee and has a bad hip and is worried about the dog and doesn't want to go to work on Monday, and it's living in luxury and hungry and scared, and it's tired and manic and almost half a century from its beginning and its learned enough to engulf the cosmos and doesn't know a damn thing.

Happy birthday, existence. Happy birthday, me.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Celebration / Nothing Else Matters




After all my cyncism and conviction that the American public couldn't find its butt with both hands, something good happens. The Democrats have Congress, which if I know Nancy Pelosi means that nothing from the nutballs will pass for the next couple of years. Don't be too optimistic; the country has been inexorably damaged and will never be the same again. You will never again have the life you had in the 90's; that was the peak. However, maybe we can at least relax a little. This election wasn't a victory for the Democrats so much as the public finally realizing how Bush lied. We are a long way from responsible leadership, but now maybe we can breathe.

Anyway, this is a beautiful video someone made that I found on YouTube. It's Bif Naked's version of Metallica's Nothing Else Matters, with video from this incredibly beautiful game (intercut with Bif's video). I've also posted the Bif Naked website in the links section, as well as her MySpace page in that section (and check out Kate's MySpace there, too).

Enjoy! And hey I'm having fun with these hyperlinks , make sure to check 'em out. I may throw you a few surprises.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Penny for the Guy (and Some Thoughts on Tuesday's Election)


I've been wanting to write a little something about the elections coming up this coming Tuesday, and I couldn't resist the opportunity to do it on Guy Fawkes day.

I don't know how much of a big deal Guy Fawkes day is in Britain now -- I expect it can't be much -- but I've always thought it was sad most Americans never heard of it. Hopefully a lot of us who didn't know before learned about it from watching V for Vendetta, which I will say one more time is one of the best movies of the new millenium so far: if you haven't seen it, go get it today, I can't think of a better occasion. A lot of us of my generation first heard mention of a holiday on November 5 at the end of John Lennon's "Remember" (on Plastic Ono Band), where he chants lines from the popular children's rhythme:

Remember, remember, the 5th of November
The Gunpowder Treason and plot ;
I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.


Actually, Lennon just uses the first line, followed by the sound of an explosion. But that was enough to lead me into the historical research. For a good summary, go here. Otherwise, just know that it Guy Fawkes Day or Firecracker Night is celebrated annually on the day Guy Fawkes and some co-conspirators were caught trying to blow up Parliament. It is widely held by the cynical and the Scots that Guy Fawkes was the only man ever to enter Parliament with good intentions. I think that is an attitude we could carry into the voting booths this Tuesday, but on the other hands we have to hold our noses and get on with it.

There are lots of good excuses not to vote on Tuesday, I realize. First, I'm not at all sure that my vote will be counted. Between blatant election fraud and the uncertainties of the new machine systems, I don't know that anyone's vote is really counted any more. It's clear from the last two Presidential elections that results can be bought, faked and stolen with impunity. But I still think I have to do the best I can to have my vote counted, and that starts with voting. Voting on Tuesday, by the way; I'm just not a fan of early voting. I think the election for better or worse should be a snapshot of voter opinion as much as possible at one particular moment of time. I think early voting strings out the intolerable campaign ads for one thing, and lousy low punches normally saved for late October are rubbed over our wounds from September on. And what would you do if you discovered on November 3 that the "pro-life" candidate you've been salivating over was backed by an evangelist who hires gay male hookers and snorts meth? Of course if you're one of those stupid bastards you'd probably vote for him anyway.

Anyway, although you might not think it, in terms of the American democracy, or what little is left of it, I'm very conservative. I still believe in the Constitution and the axiom that says: If you don't vote, don't complain. If your apathy has contributed to the evil regime now in power and you didn't vote against it -- well, what did you expect them to do?

The main reason not to vote this Tuesday would be the poverty of choices we have. It's clear that the Republicans have been bought body and soul by the corporate greed that is sending us to our doom. It's also pretty clear that the Democrats have been bought by the same evil interests. The last-minute shifting of corporate endorsements to the Democrats means only one thing: that the Democrats are picked to win. Believe me, these interests are not making judgments based on morality. And I have to reluctantly agree that the dominance of the Republicans these last few years has not been solely due to their playing to the lowest urges of human nature (hatred, greed, anger and fear); it has also been due to the lack of any meaningful opposition from the Democrats, who have been mixed even in their reaction to an awful war for oil that has conned many innocent, greedy and desperate Americans to throw away their lives and souls in the service of an earlier destruction for their country and loved ones in addition to the foreigners they have been hired to massacre. The Democrats have been little more than Junior Republicans in these terrible times; they have been afraid to speak out. Or just, lacking all conviction.....

Here in Tennessee, we're faced with one of the dirties campaigns in the country, Corker vs. Ford for the Senate seat which corporate prostitute Bill Frist is vacating in time to set his goals on world domination. Thank god I don't watch TV. This election just demonstrates my willingness this time to vote solely on party lines: I truly detest both candidates. I'm going to vote for Harold Ford, with his family history of graft and corruption and his endless immersion in Washington, a black man running on a very white platform to win in the South. I'll spare you the details, as I'm sick of them. But the truth is, it's time to grit our teeth and do our best to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.

As you've seen in my last blog, I'm pretty much convinced that man's self-destruction, and what's worse, his destruction of the earth as a whole, is inevitable. I would love to join with those spiritual souls and optimtists who still think the planet can be saved. I just don't see it happening; I just don't see man changing his essential nature. Man's greed, his clannish nature, his urge to create endless progeny, and his unceasing lust for dominance have made him the most successful predator ever, and in the end, having eliminated all competition, he preys on himself. I urge those of you who think you can save the future for your children to try, as your intentions are good. Of course, it's the endless urge of humanity to produce more and more children that's right at the top of the list of sins that'd led insurmountably to the final days. But I understand your wanting a better life for them.

The predictions of the Peak Oil and Oldevai theorists indicate that we are just past the peak of civilization, that things will begin a more serious downhill slide by about 2035 and continue til we are back in the Stone Age by the end of this millenium. I am starting to think they are optimistic. The breaking news this week was that by 2045 there will be no more seafood. I certainly could dedicate more that one of these little entries just to that. As if all the earth's seafood could be eliminated without disaster to the rest of our artifically supported ecology. But I don't want to live in a world without seafood, even if it was just that.

The Democrats of course are doing nothing about all this. I can't wait to see how Hillary Clinton backpedals on her support for the war in Iraq. About the only political candidate I've seen that I actually like is Bernie Sanders, the independent candidate and avowed Socialist who is probably going to be elected the next Senator for Vermont. Sander's outspoken opposition to the big corporations and the Oil War has made him uniquely desirable as a Candidate (I'm not a Socialist, but it sure beats the Republicans). I wish the there was a Democrat running here who had half this much salt, but the sad truth is that in the ignorant South he wouldn't have a gnat's chance. That's why I have to hold my nose and vote for Harold Ford and every other Democrat on the ballot, just to rearrange those deck chairs.

There have been a lot of national campaigns, including Presidential ones, where I "threw away" my vote; I didn't vote for Clinton the second time. But starting in 2000, where it could be seen that one candidate was just about as evil as you can get and still reside in a human body, I've had to vote Democrat. Again, what's important, even if you support the evil cocksuckers who've just about run this formerly rich country into the ground in six years, is that you do vote. The evil can be turned around; the apathetic will die unnoticed and unmourned.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Happy Birthday, Ratzaz Diaries!

It's been a hell of a last few weeks, but things have gotten better since I wrote last. I think I share the common perception that just when things are going well, something has to go wrong. On October 9, I went from my previous job, which was always in my mind intended to be provisional, to one which may offer a little more stability, and everything seemed to be firmly if slowly on the upswing. Then, on the evening of October 16, coming home from the first day of the second week of the new job, I had a head-on collision in my 1993 Le Baron a block and a half from my house that left all the drivers and passengers uninjured but totalled my car.

I don't know about you, but shopping for used cars under time pressure is not my favorite activity. Anyway, as I write, I have a car (albeit a high-mileage one) that I like even better than the last one, this one a 1995 Buick Regal 2-dr. with a 3800 engine; the only thing that doesn't work properly so far is the horn, which is just frustrating for someone with my temperament. I'm gonna have to get that fixed before someone runs over me or I blow a gasket trying to shout at some driver who can't hear me. Or then I could give up the shouting, but that's a big order.

So for the first time in two weeks I have the calm and the opportunity to sit down and realize that as of last Monday, October 23, this blog is a year old. Although I write with the realization that I have no proper back-up of this site and the whole year's worth of writing could vanish into cyberspace at any moment, I look back and realize that I've changed over the last year. Firmly esconced in middle age, it often seems that not much changes in a year, but this blog enables me to see that that's not true. It's not so much that jobs, cars, and situations change -- I've always been unstable in that regard -- but that my points of view have. A year ago, I started this blog mostly to relieve the pressure of working in an environment that was driving me crazy, with people I cared about but who couldn't have been further from my perspective on the world, most notably a general manager whose frustration with the inadequacy of his own life had driven him full-blown into Faux News delusion and a passionate hatred of the people in his world who mirrored his own defects. I eventually left there in January and spent a much-needed six months stewing in my own juices and eventually finding some of the enviromental factors I'd been needing, such as my involvment with the Atlanta Soto Zen Center and some very special people, in and out of the Zen world.

I now live in a much larger world than I did a year ago, which relieves a lot of the pressure. There are definitely some people I need to thank, in no order: the people at the ASZC, especially Abbott Michael Elliston, Terry Sutton and Cherry Zimmer; my friend Kate Morrissey, whose MySpace banner now proudly graces the bottom of this page (down there by the hit counter), whose music and friendship has come to mean a lot to me in the last couple of months; my friends Joe Khoury and Kelly Butler from the last job; Nashville Buddhists Jennye Greene, Lisa Ernst and Rachel, whose inspiration prevents me from abandoning all hope of Sangha; my father and my aunts Mary and Mozelle, who all in their very different ways lead me to appreciate the value of the generation Tom Brokaw termed America's greatest, whose absolute steadfastness will never be equalled by us; and my friends through the years, Joe and Stephanie, Tom and Peggy who continue to be there. Then there's the reappearance from the distant past of my friend Jim Lydecker, whose ongoing inquisition into the world during years when I lay dormant both inspires me and lets me abbreviate my research. All of these people have aided in making this year one of growth and, yes, relative enlightenment.

A year ago, I was mostly lashing out at forces I saw as oppressive, particularly the evil empire hidden within the depths of the Bush administration. My perspective has grown, influenced by two factors. The first and obvious one is the sane counsel of my Buddhist teachers (and before I omit him, Brad Warner's persistent sanity in the face of bullshit from every side keeps me grounded, even when I cringe when he mentions politics, which he shouldn't. Ever.). The second is my friend Jim's already-digested summaries of the body of research and prediction which gets lumped together under the sobriquet of Peak Oil). Jim probably thinks I'm ignoring the mass of data and opinion he keeps sending me, which I'm not; I'm just not sure what to say. I'm not going to take the time here to discuss the whole Peak Oil thing, which I've been trying to figure out how to blog for a couple of months because the start-up is huge. To over-digest, man's running out of fossil fuels is sooner than we think and inevitable; and with renewable resources able to support only about 1/17 of the world's current population, the coming disaster is of unprecedented proportion. After reviewing this research, it seems inevitable to me that during our lifetimes, human culture will begin a spiral downward, back into the stone age. If man lives he won't be recognizable as the animal he is now. And with the earth's resources gone, there will never be another intelligent species, ever. We're all there will ever be, and we're blowing it.

My reaction to all this is not Jim's or Kate's -- save the Earth! -- because it just seems to me it's too late. It's gonna happen. We've seen the peak of the curve, and it's our decendents we've doomed to a hellish existence. I guess I take this more calmly than most, having resolved personally to have none. With me it just makes me appreciate the fact of when and how I've lived. Do you really understand how much luxury it takes to be able to do zazen? Our ancestors and now seemingly our decendants have and will spent time fighting other predators in the forest; meditation was not an option or an issue. Seen from that perspective, the Buddha's search for truth is not a universal human endeavor but the indulgence of a spoiled prince. Or conversely, what luxurious lives we have, to be able to squander the same in drug addiction or steak dinners, or oh yeah, the internet.

From a Zen perspective, the only moment is the present one, and history is just a story we tell. Yet it is humbling that to see that in the story of humanity, we are not the protagonists but the spoiled offspring of the same. Our duty to our predecessors is not to save the world; it's too late. The cause of the world's demise is not the Bush administration; although they, at the helm of the world-destroying war machine, are the sword of Shiva, they are only tools of the greed encrusted in the unconscious corporations. And even those vast monoliths of wealth and death are but the embodiment of the same instincts for power, aggression, competition, survival and indulgence which in themselves raised humankind from the jungle to the boardroom.

I am saying that our destruction was always implicit in our ascendance; it is all living-and-dying. There is nothing we can be but what we are. But we can sit silently for a moment to appreciate that fact, and we can use our time wisely. And as I continue to write this blog, now that I have time and peace again (due to the same factors as above), I hope to continue to do that. And just remember, as long as YouTube lives, you can always go the blog entry previous to this and watch Bettie Page dance. That dance may well be the peak of all our endeavors.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

And now for the real Bettie Page...


Just a follow-up to the previous post. I doubt any of you are providing this blog to very young children anyway, but if so, this is probably not the one to start them with. Unless you also supply them with cigars and whiskey....

This clip reminds me of something I saw on a machine for a quarter in tent in the county fair when I was a child; they chased me out of the tent when they saw me watching it. I was terrified of sex for years (OK, months) afterward.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Notorious Bettie Page lacks Punk: Attitude


It would be entertaining though not incredibly challenging to play "six degrees of Kevin Bacon" on these two movies; fortuitously I watched the bonus disc to Punk: Attitude the night after The Notorious Bettie Page, which helped me figure out what was disturbing me about the latter.

Both of these movies are highly recommended. Bettie Page is if nothing else a masterpiece of cinematography; filmmaker Mary Harron has done a great job of bringing an indealized version of the fifties into the viewer's space -- idealized not in a "Leave It to Beaver" or Back to the Future sense, but as actually remembered by those of us with a marginal temporal connection to the time. For me, it's the late forties and fifties as seen in my parent's photographs of their early married days, or in the beach movie or romantic comedies of the late fifties and early sixties. Most of the film is black and white, with occasional very stylized uses of color; for the most part, Nashville and New York are black and white, but we burst into a modern incarnation of technicolor whenever Bettie goes to Miami. This is one of the best examples I've seen of a filmmaker taking you visually into that period.

If anyone doesn't know, The Notorious Bettie Page is the story of a little Christian girl from Nashville who goes to New York to study acting and becomes the pinup queen of the late forties and early fifties. Under the aegis of Irving Claw, the aspiring actress is led further into the underbelly of what passed at the time as borderline porn, the bondage and submission industry. Who hasn't seen Bettie trussed up with a ball gag or in leather corsets and thigh-high black boots? She was the anti-Marilyn, the dark angel of the locker room. Her photos were sold under the counter at the newstand before the industry began to flower and loosen up right after Playboy began publication in the mid-fifties. Shortly after the industry legitimized, Bettie's career was over; Irving Claw was dragged before a Senate subcommittee (by another famous Tennessean, ironically, the McCarthey-esque Estes Kefauver, who has an office building here named after him) for U.S. Postal violations and his livelihood curtailed. As depicted in the movie, after not having to testify, Bettie seems to have either an understanding of or a guilt trip over her deeds and career, and flees back into the arms of Jesus. Movie over.

Gretchen Moll's depiction of Bettie, regardless of its accuracy, is riveting. You can't take your eyes off her, even when she is clothed (which as you might guess is not for all of the movie). As directed by filmmaker Harron, Bettie is a small-town girl and innocent nudist who is able to doublethink herself into ignoring the darker side of her industry. Let me caution you that the movie is based in part on a book I haven't read, so I don't know how historically or personally accurate the Harron/Moll depiction of Bettie is. The movie Bettie is not so much naive as accepting. At some point I think she realizes the fans of her artistic output are not as pure as she pretends, yet she accepts her role. Much of the mystique of Bettie Page over the years has been that even at her S&M darkest, she retains a look of fun; she never seems to think she is doing anything dirty -- more the naughty girl. However, the short film of the real Bettie stripping included in the bonus materials gives me a slightly different read on her face -- one more conducive with the film's rather banal allusion to possible childhood molestation. Unlike Gretchen Moll's Bettie, the real Bettie has a look on her face I've seen on people in similar roles in the real world.

The puzzling thing about this movie immediately after I watched it was the sense of something lacking -- something that appears in the face of the real Bettie. It is a very literal retelling of her life, literal not in the sense of being accurate, but of being very much an outside shot of its protagonist. Could Bettie really have been that unaware of her social impact and the archetype she helped create? Mary Harron certainly isn't, so it's up to the viewer to figure out why the movie was made this way. The missing link was made more missing for me last night when I watched the second disc of Punk: Attitude. Don Letts' film is the best documentary I've seen yet on punk. Normally, this kind of mass cultural overview disappoints me, so I was reluctant to watch the film, but Letts has done a great job.

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Punk: Attitude chronciles the history of punk from its arising from early rock and roll through the darker side of the sixties, through its inception through seminal bands like the Velvet Underground and the MC5, its natal period during the glam and glitter rock periods of the early seventies, and then its birth in 1975. Foreshadowed by the New York Dolls, my favorite rock and roll band of all time, punk found full expression in the Ramones, the Clash and the Sex Pistols, then after the Pistols' demise went underground into hardcore, and in my opinion, died. The fimmaker makes a case for punk's re-emergence in the Seattle scene in 1991, but I have my own prejudices against that era's icons like Kurt Cobain, perhaps the most overrated dead pop star of all time. Nevertheless, no one who lived through the punk scene of the late seventies and very early eighties can fail to be delighted by the film, and for the rest of you, it's a great history lesson. The film makes points with me by realizing the glam rock connection, including mention of obscure bands like Mott the Hoople along with the obvious like Iggy and the Stooges (but what about T. Rex? what about Slade? What about Wendy O. Williams and the Plasmatics? but I'm nit-picking).

The connection to all this is, watching the bonus interviews for Punk: Attitude last night, who appears, being interviewed along with Legs McNeill about the founding of Punk magazine (the apparent source of the genre sobriquet), but Mary Harron? So the filmmaker who portrays the relatively innocent Bettie was right there at the inception of the punk rock movement at CBGB's. Not being the most sophisticated film fan, I had to go online to learn that Harron was also responsible for I Shot Andy Warhol (a murky film featuring good acting by Bettie Page supporting actress Lily Taylor) and a very good film, American Psycho. I've always that although American Psycho was a very good film, it's nowhere as good as the novel by Brett Easton Ellis, because in the book you're never sure if all this killing is really going on. So in a sense, the film shares with Bettie Page the characterist of over-literal-ness.

One of the elements of the punk rock movement which has survived into the modern mainstream is the incorporation of leather and bondage gear. What began to emerge into the mainstream with Bettie came into the youth movement with the punk movement of which Mary Harron was apparently very much a part, then came to the forefront with Madonna, etc, and is now an element of the youth market. The children of the Senators who hounded Irving Claw out of business are now buying Bettie-style gear for their children.

Punk: Attitude is as an intelligent an interpretation of punk as could be tolerated, and in fact some of the interviews with punk icons like Paul Simenon of the Clash and the Buzzcocks, let along Henry Rollins, start to go over the top, especially when they discuss their literary influences; despite the validity of influences like William Burroughs, Graham Greene, etc., you have to wonder how many of these "influences" were picked up by the speakers post hoc in their increased free time since their punk careers ended. The Notorious Bettie Page is not quite as intelligent but is very watchable, though hollow in an odd way, sort of in the same way Good Night and Good Luck is hollow; there's something more here, some sort of missing ghost in the shell. Perhaps that emptiness is that true import of these pieces in tandem.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Nichiren Revisited

Sorry for the long time since the last post. I've actually had a good month, which partly means that I haven't been motivated to write about anything. So be forewarned that I may find myself writing when I have nothing to say. That actually may be the case with this post, or worse, this one may be ammunition for those of you who think I'm getting soft because I haven't blasted anyone or anything lately. Don't worry, it'll happen. This post regrettably (for that portion of my readers) is more evidence of insidious growing tolerance in my positions. Oh my. I'll be discussing the end of the world soon, so keep coming back.

Anyway, if you've read my previous posts on my own personal history in Buddhism, you know about my experience with the Nichiren sect, or more precisely, with Nichiren Shoshu. More specifically, I was a member of Nichiren Shoshu of America, which was then the American arm of the Soka Gakkai, the international lay organization affiliated with Nichiren Shoshu. I practiced with them from February, 1986, til August, 1988, in Albuquerque. The practice was a very powerful one which led me to form convictions and perceptions which are also realized in my current practice of Zen. The organization was very screwed up, and ultimately demanded so much of its members, and made such absurd demands, that most of us quit; and soon after, the Nichiren Shoshu priests excommunicated the lay organization and its leader, Daisaku Ikeda. I understand that the Soka Gakkai is still stumbling around out there somewhere, and there are some priests in Japan who still are Nichiren Shoshu.

To pause here, please note that I'll be revising my links section in the next few days. If you really like any of my links, please save them to your favorites, because some of them are coming out, though hopefully I'm keeping the good ones. For example, Warp Spasm's blog seems to have been hijacked by an internet drug provider. Whatever it is, don't buy it. Anyway, I'll be adding in some more Buddhist links and blogs, including some links to the blog and website of Rev. Ryuei Michael McCormick. If you want the authentic skinny on anything about Nichiren, please look to him, not me. The instigant for the reflective chance noted in this article was a meeting with Michael at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center's October sesshin this last weekend. As one of the senior students (Marcus) pointed out, I thought I'd never hear anyone chanting "Nam myoho renge kyo" in a Zen Center, but here it was.

Because see, the Soka Gakkai thinks Zen is the devil. Of course, they also probably think Nichiren Shu is the devil, and that's what Michael McCormick is a priest of. Nichiren Shu is the more orthodox branch of the Nichiren school, which is quite popular in Japan, I understand. Their practice to be honest seems a lot like the Soka Gakkai's, but they seem to have a more sane attitute. They don't encourage new converts to chant for money and cars. They don't think Nichiren (who was, historically a thirteenth century Buddhist monk and a rough contemporary of Dogen, main patriarch of Japanese Soto Zen), was the Original Buddha. They seem to be clear of most of the magical thinking which I find to be the main fault of religion in general, and to which Buddhism and even some aspects of Zen are not immune. Then again, that's what Rev. McCormich says, and he may be taking the high road.

I'm in danger of a slippery slope here. A year ago, I might have said that all religion is bad and delusional, and that Zen is good and not a religion. The main thing that leads me to modify this is a new perception of what is known as skillful means. "Skillful means" is used in Buddhism to explain the fact that many of the alleged teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha seem to contradict each other. Some of that seem downright superstitious. Apologists use "skillful means" to indicate that the Buddha spoke according to the abilities of his listeners. So most people can't do zazen, or shikantaza, let's face it. I tried it when I was about 23, and I couldn't do it. But most people can chant "Nam myoho renge kyo," and maybe after they do that for a while, they can sit zazen. That's a rough paraphrase of how Michael McCormick explained his personal progression (he's now studying Zen with Dan Leighton, another product of the San Francisco Zen Center who's now starting his own temples).

This perception came about with my conversation in dokusan with Rev. McCormick as to my frustration with the modern Zen communities I've encountered. We seem to be made up of middle-aged, overeducated white people, for the most part. In fact, Zen is included in the classification of Elite Buddhism, as opposed to the traditional Buddhism of the Asian peoples. Families with kids don't sit zazen with their kids, for the most part. Our Nashville Zen Center is mostly made up of married people whose spouses we never see. One of the things I miss most about the Soka Gakkai was its sense of community; families with children, mechanics and lawyers and teachers and students all chanting together. It really did feel like a big family; I miss it. At the Nashville Zen Center, we sit together, then go away. In a residential community it might feel like a sangha. As it is, it often seems frustratingly empty.

There has been a proposal put to the Nashville Zen Center to participate in a new Buddhist center in Nashville, to be shared by all Buddhists. I pretty much opposed it originally. At some point it becomes the Unitarian church, a bunch of people sharing nothing but the common name of Buddhists. But maybe we need this. Maybe some people need to wave prayer flags and participate in arcane rituals. Maybe some need to chant. And maybe someday when those people grow up they can learn to sit zazen. Hey, even if they don't, it beats the promise of a fiery death in exchange for a heaven full of virgins.

I don't really have a conclusion here yet, just a position in a process. I think the first time I mentioned the Nichirens, I drew a rebuttal from a Nichiren Shu follower who quite correctly took me to task for lumping all Nichirens in with the nuttier elements I'd encountered previously. I still don't understand objectively how chanting Namu Myoho Renge Kyo is any different than chanting Namu Amida Butus, except for the intent behind it, and if there's one thing I've learned from Brad Warner's school of Hardcore Zen and from Gudo Nishijima, it's all about action, not intent. Nevertheless, one of the erudite (young) Buddhist scholars I've met had just convinced me that to some extent I should take Nichiren seriously. So there. So you with the little flags can come in too, I guess.

I haven't updated the links yet. As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, keep coming back.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Pluto and the Meaning of a Name

This whole Pluto thing has been cracking me up for weeks now, but it's been bugging me, too, and I finally figured out why.

As everyone knows, unless they've been on Pluto for the last couple of months, in August the International Astronomical Union in Prague voted to strip Pluto of its long-standing status as a planet. Pluto was discovered in 1930 and immediately named the ninth planet. It was originally thought to be largely than it is, and astronomers for years have pretty much agreed it should never have been named a planet in the first place. It's basically a big rock floating around in a weird orbit, usually outside the orbit of Neptune. On September 9, it was assigned the new designation 13430 by the Minor Planet Center.

What's great is the outcry over Pluto. The IAU was deluged with letters from schoolchildren protesting the "death" of this character, Pluto. Suddenly, the story of the planets, and the mental picture we all had of our solar system as this glowing ball surrounded by nine precisely-labelled little balls was gone. Of course, it was never like that in the first place; our system is a messy one, a big nexus of flaming gas surrounded by a small amount of debris orbiting it at great distances, mostly empty space and a bunch of rocks, eight of which now have the requisites the IAU has defined for planets. My point is that we collectively as a culture had given Pluto an identity. We named this rock after the Roman god of the underworld. Then again there's that dog. So for the children, and for all of us, suddenly one of the comfortable characters we've lived with all our lives is gone.

Now we adults know that Pluto is and always was just a rock, and the news stories have mostly been humorous because we realize that the redesignation of Pluto changes nothing. Yet we still have that feeling on the edge of our perceptions that something is missing. What this really should illustrate for us, in a fairly harmless and palatable way, of the value of a name, or more accurately, of the power of naming something.

Someday I'm going to have to address the whole animal rights/vegetarianism issue, a quagmire I'm not looking forward to. But for now let's just stay close to home and talk about our pets. Readers of this blog know how attached I am to my old cat, Ms. Johnson. If you check the archives for last year, you can find pictures of Stephanie's dog Gizmo. They get treated like people. If you scroll to the bottom of this blog, you can watch a blurry cell phone video of two of my dad's beagles, Mona and Lucky.

Mona and Lucky are excellent illustrations of the power of a name. My dad has had beagles for most of his life. For the most part, these old country guys don't treat their dogs like pets. His beagles have names because they are registered purebreds, but until recently they rarely got called by them. They live mostly in elevated cages in a pen behind his house. If they're lucky they get let out a few times a week to run rabbits, then back in the cages. But suddenly, for whatever reason, he asked me to name Mona about seven months ago, then Lucky got a name, and the two get preferential treatment; they get to come out and play like pets. Now some of the older dogs have acquired more personality, in his eyes; they get called by their names and even old Sam's been let out to play with Lucky. Suddenly these dogs exist.

You should realize, these old guys are known to shoot beagles in the field because they won't perform. They've been treated like, well, animals.

Now broaden the scope a minute. I would never consider eating Ms. Johnson (she'd be old and tough anyway), but there are millions of cats everywhere in America, many of whom are feral, and many of whom live like animals. They starve to death, are tortured to death for experiments, or are generally neglected and/or abused. Some actually do get eaten. I can't take all of this upon my head. I can't be responsible for the fate of all cats. I've made the choice, conscious or not, to give Ms. Johnson a name, to respect her personality. She's a person to me.

The bottom line is, and I'm sure the more astute of you are already waiting for me to spit it out, these creatures, like Pluto have been anthromorphized. Go look at your old English textbook for poetic devices. In other words, these pets, like Pluto, have been endowed with human identities and personalities in our little conceptual worlds. Ms. Johnson has no more personality than the street cats I ignore (OK, I can still look at cats whose names I don't know and wild animals like squirrels and temporarily endow them as characters with personalities without naming them, but that's just an extension). The real lesson here is about how we define our realities. Ms. Johnson is real because I make her real, in my world. To some Asian chef somewhere, she is just overage meat. Gizmo, on the other hand, is porky and might be quite tasty. Pluto is a rock.

This is really not about animals, despite the correllary that PETA is basically a result of category errors in human thinking (go back and find the entry on Gilbert Ryle; Wittgenstein to follow). The lesson is about how we view ourselves. Buddhism teaches that the self is not real; it is our little minds' conceptualization of how it perceives and deals with an amalgamation of traits and really, behaviors, actions, that we can deal with in our frames of perceptions as entities. All that is really useful; people act like people, so it helpful for us to think of them that way. But the bottom line is, they're not real. You're not real in the sense that you're any different from me or Ms. Johnson or Pluto, exception by definition. Your definition, and the cultural one you share with the other self-defined humans. You're a useful conceptualization for the material world. Your life is a story you tell yourself. Your whole reality is like that. Tell yourself a different story and everything changes.

So why is this useful? After all, we live the way we do for a reason. Your brain and your conceptual reality can only handle so much input. I can't shake the hand of an arbitrary batch of attributes, but I have the shake the hand of the guy I want to offer me a job today. I can't be responsible for the life of every stray cat, but I can continue to make Ms. Johnson special and allow her her personality. This is why PETA is a path to despair; the responsibility to save all beings is overwhelming, and one quickly learns to start with that same non-existent self, to get it done. But we can extend the logic the other way, into the larger real world, and maybe benefit from some compassion. It is a little odd that your pet's life means more to you than the lives of those millions who died in the tsunami. Why are those who died in the World Trade Center revered, but the thousands murdered by our neo-Fascist government, in the Middle East and otherwise, are ignored? Because we can make the ones close to us real, and the ones far away, most of whom we have relegated to less-than-human status by demonizing them, are de-anthromorphized, made unreal. We couldn't let ourselves or our "heroes" slaughter them otherwise, could we? How about the millions we put in prison?

In fact the animal rights people have a point. Pigs are as intelligent as dogs, scientists tell us. Yet Gizmo eats pork. We have made our definitions and live our realities by them. I'm not saying this is wrong; we just need to realize that our definitions are user-based and always somewhat arbitary. They are necessary to live our cultural lives as humans, but the attributes we stick on animals and planets are not intrinsic in their existence. They are just part of our labeling process, and the labels can be changed, or ignored.

So is Deuce Rufus more or less real than I am? You choose.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Silly Advertising, Gone; and a Comment on Content

Early this morning I finally broke down and took the Adsense link off this blog; if you look, you'll notice it missing, immediately above. I think I put it up there late last year not long after I started this blog, not so much in the hope that it generate any real revenue, but just to see what ads would be placed. The way it works is, when you first sign up for Adsense and add the html code into your template, it gives you a bunch of public service ads; but after the webcrawlers start to cover your site and pick it up, you get ads which are targeted for the content of your site -- by key words, I guess. So I wanted to see what ads would wind up on a blog which consists mostly of anti-totalitarian politics and Zen Buddhism. It's been amusing; at least half of the ads were for things that were explicity or implicitly disparaged in the content of the blog entries I was writing. But at long last I got tired of giving these weird things ad space on my space (although it's free space), and occasionally I worry about whether people who are new to my writings actually might think I was advocating all this crap. So it's gone.

Oh, and in case you're interested, my total earnings for the entire run of the ads is $11.11, of which I will probably never see a penny; I understand they only start to pay at $100.00. If anyone out there knows how to make them cough up my eleven bucks, please let me know.

You'll also be amused to hear that in the course of revising my template to get Adsense out, I screwed up the html and dropped the entire right column to the bottom of the page; then it took me at least half an hour to find the offending code and get it out (it was an extra html command). By the way, I think that's probably what's been wrong with Brad Warner's blog site the last couple of months, so Brad, if by any chance you read this....

One more thing. I'm quite aware that some of you reading this blog started reading it for its anti-Bush orientation, probably, and lately you've been getting mostly Zen stuff. That's just because it's where I've been and where I've been putting my energy. I seem to have gotten tired of beating my head against the wall, and I suppose for the most part I've been preaching to the choir, anyway. I't really just so obvious and apparent what's going on in this country and the world that I don't see how anyone can not see it for what it is. And without going off on a huge digression, what helps me to see more clearly, on this and every other matter, day by day, is my zazen practice. And no, I'm not advocating that everyone practice zazen or become Buddhist, although some people I highly respect and call my teachers say that yes, Zen is for everyone. I certainly respect that opinion, but I won't say that myself until and unless I come to truly believe that through my practice. But I will say that whatever you can do to see and think clearly, do it now, because now is the time. In the current state of the world, we can't afford to live in illusion. The best analogy I can think of is, do you want to be drunk or stoned when the storm troopers kick in your door, or do you want to be able to handle yourself at your best?

So my less specific advice is, clear out the cobwebs, get your head on straight, and walk erect through the darkness, 'cause that's where we're heading. Although I would love to believe those optimists who think the world is entering into a better age, this contradicts everything I see around me. I think it's pretty obvious that things are gonna get worse before they get better. Be prepared.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Illumination Mountain

On September 3, 2006, at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center, at about 11 a.m., my initiation as a Zen Buddhist of the Soto sect took place as scheduled. In the absence of the abbot, my Zaike Tokudo ceremony was performed by three senior students. I had been a little apprehensive about that, but afterwards I came to appreciate that it was a real gesture of acceptance by the sangha. Cherry, Terry and Phil, I can't thank you enough.

Thanks also to my friend Nat who made it down from Nashville to attend the entire sesshin and witness the initation (actually he was already in Atlanta for business but was demoted from the Weston to sleeping in the Zendo for the occassion, where he battled imaginary fleas). That's me third from left, and Nat fifth from left. Terry, the ASZC tenzo (cook/innkeeper) is on the extreme left; Cherry is between Nat and me. The others are all students or disciples at ASZC or elsewhere in Georgia.

As part of the ceremony, I received a wakesa (that's a symbolic robe for lay initiates, the ribbon-like thing around my neck in the picture), some beads, and my Buddhist name, Kozan (diacritical mark missing in this font), which translates as the title of this blog entry. I'm not yet sure about all of the implications of the name, but it sounds heavy. I spoke briefly to the ASZC abbot yesterday; I'd thought he was in on the selection of the name, but he sounded surprised when I told him what it was, and said it was a lot to live up to. I guess I need to grow into it. I thought maybe they picked it because my head is shiny and I need to lose weight. Oh, well. Typically, the Buddhist name is used as part of one's name in relation to sangha activites (i.e., this month's sesshin was led by Honen Phil Hutto). Unfortunately, the pairing of any Japanese name with "Bob" sounds weird. "Kozan Bob" sounds like a Japanese movie cowboy.

There is a lot more to tell about the initiation, but I think I'll let it leak out over time. I have a feeling the implications of the vows will taking some working out, and working on. In a certain sense because the vows aren't commandments, but ongoing commitments to action, the ceremony itself is ongoing. I'm quite aware people go through ceremonies like this all the time and don't take them seriously. I guess it's all a matter of what you want to make of it.

Oh, Phil is missing from the pic above because he took it. He appears below. No, I don't know why I'm clutching my camera case in the bottom pic; tokudo shock, I guess. Oh, again, the woman on the far right in the top photo is Kate Morrissey, a guest from the Athens Zen Center, who took the pic below (me and the senior students after the ceremony). I've added a link to Kate's web page in the Links section to the right; Kate is a singer/songwriter/pianist who'll be peforming in Nashville next month, among other places. Check out her music and tour dates on the page.

More to come.

 Posted by Picasa

Friday, September 01, 2006

Meetings with Rev. Hye Wol Sunim

Posted by Picasa Rev. Hye Wol Sunim was first ordained in Sri Lanka in 1977 and took robes in the Korean Zen tradition in 1984. Rev Sunim studied with Buddhist masters in Sri Lanka, Thailand , China, Australia, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan . He arrived in the US in 1991 and is currently creating a Meditation Center in Acton, California. He translates Pali text and teaches the early Pali canon.

Over the course of the last year, I have had the fortune to have several meetings with Rev. Hye Wol Sunim, who just likes to be called Sunim. I have noted his recent presence in Nashville in several recent blog entries. To recap, I first heard him speak when he represented the Nashville Zen Center at the (then-) annual Buddhist Fair here as a guest speaker. More recently, he has been in town for over two weeks as the guest of one of our NZC members, and I have attended several "sits" with him and have had the opportunity to speak to him alone or in small groups on several occasions. What has emerged is an impression of a remarkable man who has lived a life steeped in Buddhism, to an extent most of us could not imagine. His dedication is more than inspiring, but it has taken me a while and a few conversations to figure out what his life and teaching really is, and it is inspiring, if not something any of us could hope to duplicate.

My understanding from reading what I can find on the web is that Sunim has received transmission in two traditions, some kind of Korean Zen (I am fairly ignorant about the different schools, although I know the NZC rituals are based on one of them, which I think is Kwam Um) and Vipassana (a Theravada tradition which is most familiar to some of us through insight meditation). The blend of these traditions is not that unusual or incompatible; the meditation practices of Zen and Vipassana are more similar than those of any other two Buddhist traditions I have encountered. In fact, an offshoot group of the NZC (which I believe is called One Dharma and meets elsewhere here in town) is, I think, based on this same blend. What makes Sunim's teaching and work more remarkable to me is my discovery in my latest conversation with him that he is not so much trying to blend two traditions as to go beneath and behind the traditions to study and teach the original teachings of the Buddha. To the extent that he does this, his teaching is both outside of either tradition and the start of its own.

I am relatively certain that Sunim's method is not unique. After all, he is a Pali scholar and a Buddhist scholar, a man who has the ability to go back and look at the Sutras on which all schools of Buddhism are allegedly based, in the purest form in which they can be ascertained. My understanding from my conversations with him is that he certainly respects the traditions of the schools of Buddhism for what they are, but he thinks that the teachings of the Buddha are beyond all these traditions; that the traditions are merely the stepping-off point, the discipline which begins the road to final realization. He has had the ability to go back and read the sutras in their earliest extant forms and from those derive what he believes to be the true teachings. My own Pali being weak (i.e. nonexistent), I am unable to verify or quarrel with any of his opinions on this, of course. I do admire the devotion and purity of this approach.

Even I know there are problems endemic to trying to ascertain the teachings and intentions fo the Buddha Gautama from these texts. First, he lived to be 80 (reputedly dying of bad pork, by the way) and taught for 50 years. His teachings, which comprise the sutras, are as numerous as the sands of the Ganges. Pretty much all of the schools of Buddhism have seized on one of these sutras as the "highest" teaching of the Buddha, relegating all of the others to "provisional" teachings intended for those of limited understanding. Some schools, like the Nichiren schools have extrapolated beyond the sutras themselves; Nichiren contended that the title of the Lotus Sutra (Myoho Renge Kyo) was itself the highest teaching. Zen contends that the truest teaching of the Buddha occurred outside of the sutras, a wordless transmission from master to disciple embodied in the passing of a flower to Mahakasyapa.

Then again, there is the problem of preserving texts. Even when we get to the oldest texts we can find, how do we know they are accurate? How do we know which were authentic teachings of the Buddha and which were not? Even with my limited knowledge of the subject, I know that Buddhist scholars admit that many sutras could not have been written in the lifetime of the Buddha. The same problem exists in most or all religions. Modern Christianity really cannot be said to have existed before the Council of Nicea in 453 A.D.; before that, Christianity consisted of multiple inconsistent sects, some of which taught doctrines which were absolutely refuted by the Council, and some of whose doctrines differed from the teachings which came to be accepted and embodied in the Bible by minsicule degrees about which only a scholar or a fanatic could care. The political motivations of those who chose what came to be orthodox doctrine can be (and is) debated ab nauseum, but are way beyond the scope of this blog entry. Christians really should read the Aprocrypha to understand more about the choices that were made in ascertaining the "true Word of God," and by whom.

Of course I realize, as I prepare to leave later today for Atlanta for sesshin and for my initiation on Sunday, that Soto Zen is something that evolved after the time of the Buddha; Chan Buddhism originated in China, became something different in Japan, and has become a new animal in the United States, whether it wants to admit it or not. Nonetheless, I am drawn to it as the school and discipline which works best for me. I also see a clear differentiation between Sunim's life work and the teaches and practices of those who want to combine traditions. Like Brad Warner, I find it amusing when an American teacher claims to have mastered three or four traditions, all of which their true adherents devote their lifetimes to and rarely claim to have mastered, by the age of thirty or forty. The martial arts are analagous. Sunim is different, and impressive thereby; he is not combining Zen and Vipassana, but rather going behind them to determine what the original teachings were, to the best of his ability, and his ability is more than mine will ever be. I am 48 years old. I will almost certainly never learn to read Pali. I will most definitely never sit is week-long, 24/7 sleepless sesshin. Sunim has done both of these, although he now thinks that the later is not useful, a counterproductive form of asceticism.

All of the above (my understanding of Sunim's work) came as a result of my question to him about the importance of posture in zazen. Soto teachers that posture is paramount, which comports with my own experience; I had noticed that in the lesson he had just given for some rank beginners, he made no attempt to correct their really lousy posture. Bad posture in zazen is rampant in the NZC, and is almost certainly a result of the fact that most of the newer members have learned to sit without correction and without teachers. My posture is not the best, but it gets worked on every time I go to Atlanta. Sunim says that the posture is the means to an end; a lot of Soto people would say that the posture is in itself both the means and the end. In typical enigmatic Zen fashion, from my own limited experience, I would say that both are true.

One thing I am sure of is that all of us who are students need teachers; not cult leaders, not masters, just someone to give us feedback on our progress. Coaches, if you will. It's a life thing; you can't see yourself from the outside. Yes, you need to rely on yourself and what you learn for yourself, ultimately. If your teacher's teachings begin to contradict your own experience, you must go with the truth you perceive, and reject those teachings and perhaps ultimately that teacher. Yet is is assinine to continue to reinvent the wheel. It is very good to have help along the way. Soto Zen provides that for me at this time, but it is more than helpful, it is deepening, to meet other teachers along the way. For this, I will always be grateful to Sunim. He will have his own followers; I believe he has blessed my pathless path, and whatever it is worth, I would similarly bless his.

Now stop reading and thinking about this and go sit.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Prelude to Initiation

Just a note of resolution to the petty angst of the previous post. As it turned out, Rev. Sunim's visit has turned out to be productive in a lot of ways, and even if the bulk of the Nashville Zen Center can't see it to do more than attend some Saturday meetings, the one I attended last Saturday with Sunim and a larger-than-usual group (including one new guy who definitely came on the right day) was very good and helped ameliorate my previous gripes and reservations. Plus, I got a chance to spend some time with the monk himself, and came to appreciate his sincerity and experience. It doesn't hurt that he came to be and made a point of personally approving my Atlanta connection, and asked me to try to make the connection for the rest of the group, which has been my agenda for the last four or five months anyway.

Plus, this weekend's Labor Day sesshin in Atlanta is all sorted out, at least for me, and I have resolved to go ahead with my Zaike Tokudo ceremony at 11 a.m. Sunday morning, September 3. The Tokudo ceremony is a Buddhist lay initiation ceremony at which the initiate formally enters the Buddhist path by taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, and adopting the Three Pure Precepts and the first five of the Boddhisattva Precepts. There's also some symbolic shaving of the head and such. The ASZC page on this ceremony can be found here: http://www.aszc.org/ceremonies/Jukai.html, and the text of the ceremony is http://www.aszc.org/ceremonies/JukaiCertificate.pdf.

This ceremony will formally enter me into a Zen community at long last, although it is a community which is geographically over four hours away. That's OK; I've been around them enough to know that it's a community I want to belong to. I probably should be a little antsy-er than I am about taking vows. I got lucky enough never to take the one most people take, after all. But I have taken a couple of sets of "religious" vows I didn't adhere to, and while I'm not exactly consumed by guilt, I'm entering into these with a sense of conviction I haven't had before.

First, please realize I've been baptized into the United Methodist Church, twice, and even joined the damned thing in junior high or high school, I don't remember. I'm not sure why I ever went back to church for a while in adolescence, since I'd known that their beliefs were a crock of shit since I was no older than nine. I still have no idea how anyone with a rational mind could ever swallow that garbage, and I never did. Peer pressure, I guess.

Then in 1986 I went through the formal initiation into Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism and joined the Nichiren Shoshu of America, which after my departure in 1988 became the Soka Gakkai of America after its leader was excommunicated by the priests of Nichiren Shoshu. At that time I received the Gohonzon, or great object of worship, which I still have around here somewhere. Looking back on it, I don't know why I embraced that Buddhism of nam-myoho-renge-kyo as I did; I don't think I ever believed that stuff either, but I was so unconsciously eager to embrace some form of Buddhism that I jumped at the chance to become involved. I think I had some sense of having abandoned Zen in San Francisco earlier in the decade and being unable to go back to it. I don't know why I didn't find a local Zen group or the Tibetans; they were surely there. I did take a stab at Tibetan Buddhism in 2004 before I found the Nashville Zen Center, but by that time my appetite for that kind of silliness had diminished. That's all been covered in earlier entries, and I'll leave it alone.

Anyway, a couple of my friends from Nashville should be in Atlanta for my ceremony which is nice, and I only regret that the Hojo (abbott) will be unable to meet them, and vice versa. However, I get initiated without having to return to Atlanta the next weekend, and I trust the students. They have built a nice Buddhist community, and both Sunim and Brad Warner have recommended that I pursue the connection for the whole group. So I will.

Anyway, these vows. What do they mean? I won't analyze them in detail here, though I may do so later. Taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are obvious. The three Pure Precepts are to not do bad, to do good, and do good for others. Okay. and the first five Boddhisattva precepts are don't kill, don't steal, don't engage in sexual misconduct (as if that were a problem), don't lie, and don't cloud the mind with intoxicants (that one actually translates, I understand, as don't live by selling liquor).

As opposed to the Christian Commandments, violating these precepts will not win me a ticket to hell. The precepts are meant to serve as guidelines for social rules in a Buddhist community to make it work, and in the individual sphere to keep out conflicts that will interfere with the benefits of practice. But vows are vows, and I don't do that kind of thing lightly anymore.

I think I mentioned before my friend with 25 years in AA who ventured his opinion that a lot of people who succeed in AA do so by using AA as an excuse not to drink. Unless you've been close to the situation, you won't understand what that means. But the analogy for the instant situation is that if you want to change your behavior and live differently, taking public vows to that effect may be a very effective crutch. We'll see.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

More on the Twisted Path

Posted by Picasa It just doesn't get easy, does it?

This photo was taken at the same time as the one which introduced my March 13, 2006 entry that I called "The Empty Well." If you're new to this blog, you might want to read that one; in my opinion, it's one of the better ones, and a good intro to this piece, as it concerns my frustration with the current state of Zen Buddhism in Nashville and in my life.

Luckily for me, things changed after that. About three weeks after that I took it upon my self to visit the Atlanta Soto Zen Center, and found a sangha and an environment which better suited my appetites to go a little deeper into living with Zen that the weekly coffee klatsch that NZC seemed to me to have become. All this has has been chronicled herein; this is the update.

Currently two events which could either or both be major are affecting (or not affecting) the Nashville Zen Center. First (from my perspective), the NZC has cancelled its fall retreat, based primarily on its belated realization of its poor showing last March and the unwillingness of a sufficient number of members to commit to anything (and upon the unavailability of its usual leader, Sandy Stewart of the North Carolina Zen Center, an excellent teacher who perceptively has found something better to do with his time). In lieu, it appears or has appeared that a number of NZC members are to accompany me or themselves to the ASZC for its September sesshin, September 1 - 3. Problems here, too; the main point of this trip was to meet the abbot of the ASZC, Michael Elliston, who has just returned from a 90-day or so stint in Austin, for reasons to0 complex to go into here. Now it appears the abbot will be out of town again, which doesn't bode well for the interface I had hoped to finally begin between the two groups.

At any rate, at the request of the ASZC tenzo I posted a couple of days ago on the NZC Yahoo group for confirmations for the Atlanta trip. No responses so far. So we'll see. As you might guess, my expectations are low.

To recap my March experience and blog entry, at the spring retreat for the NZC, exactly three regular NZC members (and one occasional member, who visited for part of a day) showed up; there were three other visitors. This was for the retreat led by Brad Warner, the man I credit with bringing me back into Zen after about 25 years, whom we brought in from California. The three members who attended were Nat, Jennye and I, who all busted our butts to make the retreat work for the members who didn't bother to attend. I won't beat that dead horse any more.

But now Jennye is having a similar experience with a guest she has invited in. Each year (until this year) the NZC has participated in Nashville's Buddhist Fair, which is or was a cooperative effort between the Zen group, the Tibetan group (actually, two of them) and a Vipassana group.
It seems to have been the tendency for each group to invite an out-of-town speaker to the group, and last year we lucked into having a Zen teacher in town who represented us. The Rev. Hye Sunim, a monk trained in Korean Zen as well as in other traditions, appeared and spoke for us, and met with us for a dharma talk at our next meeting. Sunim (as he likes to be called) has been teaching in Los Angeles, and is at this time again in Nashville and available to the NZC.

So everybody at NZC was excited that Sunim was coming. Everyone wanted to meet with him. He sat with us (with them; I was out of town) last Saturday at our only remaining weekly meeting, and will do so again this Saturday; reports are that the meeting has slightly more than usual attendance. Yet as of yesterday, NZC members had failed to attend any other functions with him, despite intensive and repeated notification. Luckily, members of another Buddhist group, ironically an offshoot of our group and with members also interested in Vipassana, have been attending. [An odd sidenote: the NZC when it meets is at least 90% male. I dropped by to see Sunim Tuesday night after work, and was the only male in attendance. Buddhism for women? I don't know what it means, if anything, just found it interesting.

On the other front, I am scheduled to finally undergo an initiation ceremony in Atlanta on either Sunday, Sept. 3 or 10. At that time I will finally, after years of practice off and on, adopt the precepts and the layman's vows appropriate to Zen. Obviously this is something I am looking forward to, as in case it means not just formally committing to Buddhism but also adopting or being adopted by a sangha. But even this has gotten complicated. The ASZC normally holds the ceremony twice a year, in September and March. I am told that traditionally the ceremony is held at the end of a monthly sesshin, at which time the initiates and the sangha have been sitting fairly intensively for a day or two. Next month, the sesshin is scheduled for the first weekend of the month as usual, but the ceremony was scheduled for the second Sunday. None of the senior teachers seemed to know why.

Now of course we know why; the abbot was scheduled to be out of town, which was apparently unknown to some or all of the students. I had had some discussions with the tenzo (innkeeper) to the effect that it would be nice to have the initiation on Sunday, Sept. 3 so that I didn't have to come to Atlanta two weekends in a row, and so that should any NZC members really make it to Atlanta, they could be there for it. To shorten this up a bit, it appears that largely for my benefit, there are now two initiation ceremonies scheduled, one for the third and one for the tenth. I'm honored, of course.

When I first started writing this blog entry yesterday morning, I had written the abbot and the tenzo and not yet gotten responses; after hearing from them, I'm going ahead with the initiation on Sept. 3, which will be performed by one of the students. I don't want to insult the students, and hey, it's just an initiation, not a dharma transmission or something. I'm just proud after all this time to be taking official vows and refuge.

I'm quite aware that this entry loses focus at the end; sort of like a real blog entry, huh? Yesterday I was agonizing a bit over whether I had insinuated the ASZC into compromising their schedule, and if my connection with the abbot and the school had been thereby compromised somehow. Today, I'm not worried about it.

Hey, and night before last my AC went out, and now it's fixed. Maybe that was the whole point after all.