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

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Ghost Dog and Zen at War

In the past fews days I read Zen and War by Brian Victoria, a Soto Zen priest aghast at the complicity of the Buddhist priesthood in Japan with their rulers' warmongering from the beginning of the Meiji restoration through their defeat and subjugation at the end of WWII. In a semi-lucky confluence, I also saw Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, a 1999 film starring Forest Whitaker as an inner-city killer for hire whose absolute adherence to the code of Bushido leads him to become"retainer" to a mobster, with tragic consequences. Combined, the two show us (1) the absolute and empowering nature of Zen practice, and (2) the fact that it takes us more than zazen to know how to choose our path in our social setting, whatever that may be.

Zen at War (Weatherhill, 1997) was written by a Soto priest trying to deal with the legacy of deceit and dishonor left by the Zen establishment, and the Japanese Buddhist establishment in general, at the close of the Second World War. The book provides no biographical background for author Victoria; I hope at some point to encounter more of his personal story. From what little I know of Japanese society, it appears that the post-War generations know little of the mechanics of how their society was led to disaster by the process leading up to 1945. So I suspect that Mr. Victoria was shocked at some point to discover that his adopted faith (and I garner from his name that he is not Japanese), which in modern times has been a voice for peace, was so recently an instigator of a terrible war.

Mr. Victoria's book is a painstakingly researched account of how Buddhism became Imperial Buddhism, and of how it has attempted (or refused) since then, to cope with disaster and embarrasment. To summarize at the risk of misstatement, Zen entered Japan from China around 600 B.C. and with its adoption by Prince Shotoku (sort of the Emperor Constantine of Japanese Buddhism) merged into feudal society where it melded with Bushido, the code of the warrior. Zen, with its emphasis on focused mind and living in the moment, was perfect for sword training. With its lack of a governing deity to provide moral laws and allegiance, it was easily co-opted by the ruling class, and after 1600 became the religion of the Samurai and the Shogunate, co-existing and blending with the Shinto of the people. However by the beginning of the Meiji restoration in 1868, it had become a shell of itself, focused heavily on ancestor worship and coming to the fore mostly at funerals.

The existence of War-Whore Zen seems to have emerged as an accomodation of the growing Japanese equivalent of Manifest Destiny, flowering in Japan's wars with China in 1894 and with Russia in 1905. The book documents which Buddhist leaders (and the other sects, like Tendai and Jodo) did, said, and published what, in their efforts to out-lick each others' boots in support of Imperial Japanese aggression, culminating in World War II. While it is easy to excuse the teachings which came out of Japanese Buddhism in that period as efforts to survive in a wartime society with no history of free speech or of tolerance to political resistance, it is clear that the Buddhist leaders went way, way over this line.

The most stunning message of this book, however, comes with the realization that the peaceful Buddhist leaders of our era are the direct disciples of leaders who for the most part either never apologized at all or did so half-heartedly. If you want to trace your own lineage for such horror, the book provides the means to do so. Suffice it to say that recognized icons of the foundations of American Zen like D.T. Suzuki, and the religious progenitors of Philip Kapleau, were among the worst offenders. Even the most (relatively) abject apologies stop short of saying that war is wrong, and there is a maddening thread of insistence that twentieth century Japanese expansionism was in some way conducted for the benefit of the peoples of Asia.

Ghost Dog is the story of an inner-city Black man who, in his youth, is rescued from a gang of attackers by a third-rate Mafioso. It is never revealed how Ghost Dog comes by his obsession with Bushido, but its message of subjugation to the ruler becomes an attachment to his rescuer which leads him, in combination with his weapons training and high-tech skills. Ghost Dog lives on a ghetto rooftop from which he communicates with his mob boss by passenger pigeon. He is reverend and left alone by the gangs that run his neighborhood. Jarmusch was perhaps wisely omitted how Ghost Dog came by his creed, let alone his skills and hardware; I think our credulity is strained enough. But the character is beautiful. Ghost Dog carries a copy of Hagakure - The Book of the Samurai, from which the films's frequently posted aphorisms derive. He befriends a young girl and gives her a copy of Rashomon, opening to her the door to his adopted culture.

The film itself is a classic tragedy, in that the heroe's flaw - in this case, the fact that his code of honor not only leads but obligates him to attach himself to an unfit and unsuitable ruler, the mobster - lead to his undoing. Since I strongly encourage you to see the film if you haven't already, I won't spoil the ending any more than I have. I also have to note that the word Zen is used sparingly in the movie, if at all, although Ghost Dog is depicted several times doing an incongruosly sloppy zazen. But to me, seen in conjunction with the book, the message is that the incredibly powerful nature of Zen practice and its concommitment lack of attachment to outside codes of ethics, lead to a danger of misdirection which can lead to the strength gained by the empowerment of the practice, being used to very wrong ends.

A couple of points have to be made in qualification. The sutras say very little about war. The conjugation of Zen and Bushido is to some extent an accident of history, although one to which Zen is open by its nature. It would appear to me to be a huge error to say that practitioners of Zen are more open to led into "incorrect action" by their "faith" or practice than, say, Christians or Moslems, which historically have much more to account for in terms of misdirected aggression than Buddhists. But as the Zen complicity of this century shows, when they go wrong, boy, they do it in a big way.

I guess my point here is that, as I've been saying, don't get your politics from the guy who teaches you zazen or encourages you to do it, even if it's me. That's a decision you have to make for yourself, and you owe it to yourself to be as informed as you can before you make it. There are people whose every comment on Zen practice I've found through my own experience to be not only helpful, but true, but whose beliefs on the issues facing the world today are naive beyond my comprehension. Zen practicewill enable to become more of who you are, and will enable you to pursue your goals more effectively; that seems to be guaranteed. So you owe it to the world to be very concerned with what you do and whom or what you serve, even if it's yourself. The last thing the world today needs is one more kamikaze.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Lies, Lies, Lies

This is in response to comments on the previous entry, "Apathy." Apparently I overcame the apathy of a handful of readers, which sure makes this stuff easier! Thanks to TheMemoWriter, pk and billgates for their comments. If you haven't read those comments, you can either go to the previous blog entry or follow this link:

I had made the following comment on The Memo Writer's blog: As far as the cover-up, the Bush administration seriously strikes me as pathological; they lie when there is no reason to lie at all. I mean, there actually was one plausible and defensible reason for going into Iraq, but I've never seen it mentioned anywhere.

Please realize that by "plausible and defensible," I mean from the point of view of the U.S. government, which is empowered within limits set by the Constitution to further the interests of this country as it perceives them. With the exception of the power to declare War, interactions with foreign countries are largely delegated to the Executive branch. Three years ago, Bush, with the misguided support of Congress, began his war on Iraq. No, I do not believe the war was justified, motivated as it was. The real problem is that the Bush Cabal lied to us about the reasons.

What I have come down to after years to think about it amounts to a "purloined letter." The reason is the one everyone would have supposed would be the reason, if not for the smokescreen puffed up by the Cabal, and by the inadequate responses of the Democrats. The United States attacked Iraq to set up a puppet government to maintain U.S. presence in the Middle East for the purpose of "stabilizing" oil flow and prices and providing support for Israel. What really galls me is that they never admitted this.

The Bush administration of course has changed its position as to its original entry into Iraq, behind a spin campaign of Orwellian proportions. First there was the ridiculous assertion that Iraq was somehow behind the 9/11 WTC attack. It's been made obvious since then that the invasion of Iraq was planned long before then; what exactly happened on 9/11 is still now and may forever be unclear (and speculation on such can probably get you into Guantanamo), but that tragedy was either fortuitous for Bush or was at least used by him to buttress his ongoing plan. After it became clear that most of the terrorists on the planes were Saudi's, the adminstration concentrated on its famous Weapons of Mass Destruction nonsense. Those Weapons are still hiding out in the mountains with the Easter Bunny. Now that these idiots have through incompetence mired this country in a mess with the potential to be worse than Vietnam, their only excuse is that now that we're there, we can't pull out because the American lives spent so far would be wasted. So let's waste more lives? Send your own sons and daughters!

Unfortunately I, like I imagine many Americans who saw through the Cabal's transparencies, was a little confused about the purpose of the Iraq invasion. All I could tell from the Bush-controlled press was, by process of inversion, what the reasons weren't. What really threw me off was Michael Moore's Farenheit 9/11. Which was a great piece of movie-making, by the way, and was where I first became aware of all the ties between the Bush family and the Saudi's. So I tended to buy Moore's explanation of the motivations behind the war as a kind of familial retribution toward Sadam, and an unwillingness to fully confront the Saudi's, the U.S. allies.

But as much as I still think that the Iraq war is to some extent an attempt to show that W's penis is longer than Dad's (in the guise of supporting Dad), I find it hard to believe that the whole Cabal, the power structure of which W is just a figurehead, would act on that motive, or at least risk and commit all of this country's resources, and the future of the Republican party, as well as the stature of the United States, to it. The real motive becomes clear when you see that the Saudi's, as U.S. allies, had basically gone south. For one, they were the real nest for all those terrorists (and yes, for the people who brought down those planes, I won't hesitate to use that term). Worse, they had become unreliable in their support of U.S. interests in the Middle East. So they were to be replaced by a "U.S.-friendly" (read: puppet) Iraqi "democracy."

Now see, there's a reason we have three branches of government, as much as supporters of today's cabal don't understand that. The Executive branch is designed to be the cop, the warrior, the chess player in the game of international diplomacy and war. Its thinking needs to some extent to be cold-hearted and analytical. Its innate tendency is toward authoritarianism. That's why we have the Legislative branch, which is supposed to be the voice of the people, and the Judicial, for temperance and rationality. A state run by the Executive branch would almost by definition be a totalitarian state, a police state. The weaker the other two branches become in relation to it, the closer we are to Fascism.

So I understand why the Cabal, fully in charge of the Executive, would want to invade and conquer Iraq. Iraq was run by a known murderous dictator who had shown, shall we say, adversity to U.S. interests in the past. This leaves aside of course the question that we trained him and put him in power, which is bound to have really pissed off some people in the "intelligence" community, although they really should have come to expect it by now from the other known failures of our raise-a-dictator program (take a poll in South America). Justification of an attack on Iraq didn't face the PR problems an attack on another middle Easter country would have faced. Iran was a close second, and is still an option, apparently.

To summarize, the U.S. feels it has to have a foothold in the Middle East for the two reasons I stated above. The Saudi's were no longer reliable to provide that, so we decided to make our own country. But the Bush people, warmongers as they may be, weren't willing to take the advice of actual warriors (the military knew the Bush strategy for war wouldn't work, from the beginning), and they screwed it up, badly. So here we are. You know, if I woke up tomorrow and was the dictator of the United States, I'd be tempted to attack someone, too. Power corrupts. So when I say the the real, unspoken rationale was plausibile and defensible, I mean from the viewpoint of the Executive. That still leaves it to the rest of the government and to the rest of us to give the country a conscience.

In other comment, billgates questions my commitment to freedom of speech, in light of this quote from "Apathy": This is my country.... If you voted for George W. Bush, especially the second time, and if you endorse the Patriot Act, if you are willing to give up in one fell swoop 230 years of American democracy, then get out of my country.

Well, first, realize that comment was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, heartfelt as its sentiment may have been. I fully realize that over fifty percent of the electorate (nevermind 99% of the Senate) is not about to get on a boat. It's just that the America Love It or Leave It sentiment as perfected by Archie Bunker always gets used by the right wing; it's only fair that lovers of freedom should be able to use it, too. I mean, yes I support the ACLU most of the time, but things like the threated Skokie march by the Nazi's (remember that?) really bring that kind of support to the stress point. Yes, I absolutely believe in freedom of speech for everyone, including Fascists. So if someone wants to run for office as a totalitarian, they should be able to do so. If the American public wants to elect a President whose avowed purpose is to dismantle the Republic, I suppose they have a right to do so (although I'm pretty sure that trying to overthrow the Constituition is till defined as treason, which it why the Cabal is guilty of treason as well as war crimes). But we all know that's not how dictatorships come into power. If you want to see how it works in the real world, look at Germany in the 30's and at the U.S. in the beginning of the new Millenium. They come to power by instilling fear in the people, by claiming a mandate, and then by abolishing the system which they used to bring them to office. So disagree with me all you want, but be honest about your motives.

Oh yeah, billgates, by "real war" I meant "necessary war." And yes, there are necessary wars. When you're attacked and defend yourself (and defend yourself against the people who attacked you, duh), that's necessary. And I hate to equate that with an unprovoked invasion. OK?

And finally, I have to comment on pk and TheMemoWriter's conversation about apologies. I agree. And have you ever seen a more half-hearted apology than Cheney's speech in which he supposedly took full responsiblity for shooting his supposed friend? Something to the effect of "I' m the one who pulled the trigger." Duh. Just think what would have happened if that guy had shot Cheney by mistake. And I don't see any reason to think it wasn't just a hunting accident. I do believe there's still a negligent homicide statute in Texas, though. I do believe discharging a weapon toward another human being is at least negligent. Oh, but yeah, Texas. Damn.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do noth-ing."
Edmund Burke.

OK, apparently that popular quote is a paraphrase and can't be found in those words anywhere in Burke's writings. But Hunter Thompson liked it and I like it, and that's good enough for me.

My previous post was either my response, or refusal to respond, to people who were attacking my apparent political activism with regard to my Zen practice. The essence of my response was that zazen makes me see more clearly and helps me do a better job of whatever it is that I'm doing. Zen does not endorse any particular political view, nor does the practice of zazen inculcate one. Enough said.

What I'm addressing here is the criticism I have received frequently (though not on this blog, unfortunately) for being concerned with things I can't change. It's that psychological truth that gets reduced to spiritual babble in that AA prayer, among other things, which encourages you to have the wisdom to know which things you can change, and which you can't, and to not waste your time on the latter.

Which is good advice. I really do try not to worry about things I can't change. I can't change the weather. I can't change the past. I can't change your mind. But I live in a country which is still supposedly a democratic republic, which was the first nation (in our history) founded on the principle that each and every voice matters in the way we govern ourselves. Being a citizen of the United States as it was founded by our forefathers, and for which our ancestors (in my case, my father's generation) fought and died in WWII and other necessary, real wars, is not just about listening to canned news on the Faux channel (and note where Gunslinger Cheney is about to Meet the Press, within the hour as I write this). It's not just about being cannon fodder for a greedhead foreign invasion. It's about participating in a form of government that was, in its time, the greatest experiment ever undertaken in the history of governments, an experiment set up out of necessity to prove a thesis most of the world's population at the time probably thought was absurd: that a free people, given education and access to real information, could govern themselves.

If one more person comes up to me and tells me that "the elections are over, give it up," that person is going to need a foot doctor and a proctologist. Because to change the way this country is governed is not only a right but an obligation of citizenship. The kind of ignorance that tells the populace that they are unable to do anything about the laws that are passed, or the way those laws are enforced, is exactly what the Bush Cabal and the Christian Reich are promoting. If you want to be governed by a fascist elite, there are plenty of countries where you can go. Where you'll never have to make another decision for yourself about which church to go to, or which newspaper to read, or which TV shows to watch. If you go to one of those places, you'll never have to think about right and wrong again. The government and the church (or the lack of one) will make those decisions for you.

But this country is my country. It is the country our father's generations fought and died for. If you voted for George W. Bush, especially the second time, and if you endorse the Patriot Act, if you are willing to give up in one fell swoop 230 years of American democracy, then get out of my country. Because you are an American traitor.

And if you don't vote, what's wrong with you? Apathy will lead us back to the tyranny we fought against, tyranny with so many faces and so many names. If the Clampdown comes, and you didn't try to stop it, what kind of collaborator are you?

Historically as a people we are blind. What's unique is that we have a structure that lets us wake up when we are ready. I just finished watching Vol. 7 of Ken Burns' excellent PBS series Jazz on DVD, part of the context of which is the return of Black soldiers to this country after WWII, soldiers who had fought and seen their comrades die along with the White soldiers (though not beside them, as the military was still segregated). Returning soldiers whom the restaurants wouldn't serve. Not that racial injustice is something I can address summarily in this context. The point is blindness. All these people were opposed to Hitler, but they couldn't see the Hitler in their own minds. This is why thinking clearly is so important.

So just because the Bush cabal hasn't come after you yet, or you think they haven't tapped your phone or looked at your internet searches or checked out your bank account, don't think they won't. Don't think that because you're a White boy who still considers himself a member of the middle class, that you'r invulnerable or immune. Because once they put the boot down they won't stop, and to paraphrase Orwell while we're getting away with paraphrases, the future will consist of a boot stomping on a human face, forever.

"First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me." (Pastor Martin Niemöller)

By the way, here's a link to a couple of very interesting anti-Bush commericals that were too radical for Be patient, they take a minute to load. Enjoy!

This post is dedicated to David B. and everyone else who's made it to 49 without going blind.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Zen and Politics

This one could just as easily be called, "Zazen and Politics," or "Zen and the Person-ality," but I'm writing partly in response to a misperception I perceive in some of the responses to my previous posts, and partly in response to a tempest in a teapot I see going on in a couple of other people's blogs. It's not so much about politics as it is about all of the things that are important to us as people, and how that relates to Zen practice, or to zazen, at least from my perspective.

When I qualify my perceptions in that way, please realize that although I first sat zazen over twenty-five years ago, I've only been back doing it regulary for a little over a year at this point; and although when I began sitting again it immediately felt like something I should do and needed to do, only in the past couple of months have I started to notice an overall difference in my perspective, outside of the practice itself. So I could find myself in disagreement with my (current) self, in the future. Regardless I think there are a couple of points worth making.

I have had a couple of responses to my angrier anti-fascist tirades indicating that zazen should have made me calmer, or that I should've realized there are things I can't change, etc. Fellow Zennies will probably note the error here, and yes these comments were made by non-sitters who want to tell me what the benefits of practice should be. The first thing I have to say to these people is that if you want to see what the benefits of zazen are, you need to try it yourself and not just read about it in a book, because only having begun to receive those benefits, I still cannot verbalize them very well (although I have to try, here). Zazen is not transcendental meditation or New Age white light delusion. The Tibetans sometimes visualize themselves as the Buddha. In zazen I try not to visualize anything at all. I try to be just a guy sitting on a cushion in a room. Whatever thoughts come and go, they come and go and I try not to attach to them. If I'm angry, I try to realize that I'm angry and get a perspective on the anger; but see, I'm not really trying to do anything at all. I'm just sitting there. I learned early on that trying to stop the mind is ridiculous and impossible; the mind does what it does. See why trying to talk about zazen sucks? It's impossible. Any description is in error, by its definition, since it requires language, and the quality of immediate experience is beyond language.

That's enough of trying to describe zazen for non-practitioners. Every week when someone does a "reading" at our sits, I cringe, because I've just finished sitting and only once every blue moon does the quality of the reading even begin to approximate the quality of the experience. So if you want to sit, sit. If you don't or won't or can't, just try not to judge it, because believe me, you don't understand.

The point is, my zazen practice has very little if anything to do with the political content of this blog. I have just recently posted a disclaimer over in the sidebar, hopefully to prevent anyone's projecting my own personal views, beliefs and opinions on to anyone I endorse otherwise, especially the Zen people. Our Zen group had a mini-retreat last weekend; at least two of the nine people who came to sit all day admitted to being some sort of Christian, or at least attending Christian services. And these are the people who are actually practicing zazen, not just walking around claiming to be Buddhists or talking about Zen on the internet. If you asked me who is more qualified to talk about Zen, the ones who sit, or the ones who just read and talk, my answer should be obvious.

Honestly, I think you could be a Christian for life, and still practice zazen and get the benefit from it; and here I would distinguish between zazen the practice, and Zen the religion or philosophy. Because a philosophy is just an attempt to articulate in words things that (in my preception) can't be articulated or even conceptualized within the human mind; a religion is an attempt to reduce the "meaning" of the universe to the level of a man. Both are doomed to fail. Zen is unique among these "belief" systems in that it admits its own inadequacey. It is, to repeat the abused cliche, a finger pointing at the moon and not the moon itself. The more I practice zazen, the less I want to read or even hear about Zen. Experience is what it is, exactly and at that moment.

The history of Zen is replete with examples of contradictory philosophies. It is true that most of the Zen practitioners I know personally tend not to be fans of the Bush administration, but I would never begin to project that tendency to all practitioners across the board. In current times it is more likely due to that administration's ties to the Christian Reich and the suppression of dissent, that tends to make the practitioners of alternative philosophies or religions "dissenters." But look at the Zen "masters" who supported total and complete nationalistic warmongering in Japan during World War II. Leaving aside the whole issue of the corruption of Zen in Japan in those years, how can that be reconciled with the pacifist attitude I see among most practitioners here and now? Or look at the historical link between Zen and the samurai and the warrior class in Japan. Zen (except for some martial arts schools) probably has more links with pacifism in this country due to the proclivities of its early exponents here, than due to anything intrinsic in the practice itself.

It seems from my limited experience that zazen should make you better at whatever it is you do. I notice in myself an increased clarity of mind and maintenance of perspective, and that took a while to develop. I do see things more clearly than I did a year ago, and I tend to realize more that I'm feeling something, when I'm feeling it. That doesn't stop me from having emotions. I do think that being able to "drop back" and see myself as well as my environment, and myself in my environment, helps me to avoid being ensnared in illusion. That's true whether the illusion is intentionally projected by others, or whether it comes from my own inevitable filtering of experience through my senses and my mind. So whereas before I may have had a vague feeling that something was wrong, now I can see clearly that something is wrong, and I can tell you about it. I can also see myself operating in that context.

So, the "political" writings on here are expressions of the Bob J. personality. Zazen does not make that personality go away; and if elements of what I perceive in zazen are filtering through to the Bob J. personality, that take time. The only difference is that I see that the personality is there (sometimes). Sometimes I just observe that personality. At the deepest level at which we maintain individuality the personality is different from the self. At a deeper level, the self disappears entirely. But as I've said before, someone still has to go out and act in the world, and that someone is the personality. That personality may change over time, but in a way it is an independent entity. For me, the benefit of zazen is still about perspective.

So can you be a Christian or a Republican or a samurai and still be doing zazen correctly? The answer seems to me, absolutely. The other impetus I had to finally write this particular blog entry came from a discussion in the blog of a Zen teacher I revere, in which the Zen master came out with some extremely (politically) naive opinions about the end of the Cold War, U.S. dominance, and apparently a worldwide police state. And this is from someone who has practiced zazen for a lifetime, and who helped reform Zen in Japan from the rotten mess it was in after WW II. The lesson I have learned from this, I hope, is that Zen will never make me infallible. It will never make my opinions right. Although I feel that I now can see more clearly, and I am more convinced than ever that the U.S. citizenry couldn't be more deluded and shallow if they were drugged, I have to realize that that is the perception and opinion of Bob J., and not the judgment of God or the universe.

One of the ironies in in my authorship of this blog is that I really do not consider myself a political person. I have always voted because I believe that if you don't at least vote and try to do what's right, even if the whole mechanism winds up being hijacked by you-know-who, you don't have a right to complain; however, although I've never voted Republican, I haven't always voted Democrat. If the current political decision was the typical Tweedledum vs. Tweedledee decision we've usually had, I wouldn't be so outspoken or emphatic, and this blog might not exist. If my Zen practice has anything to do with my "political" writings here, it is that it helps me see through the fog. And boy is it foggy out there. I'm looking thorought the fog at the iceberg, and meanwhile everyone's still drinking and dancing and the band is still playing. There are some Democrats rearranging the deck chairs. So here we go.

Postscript: In a totally irrelevant move, I'm giving you this link to my favorite Super Bowl commercial. Everyone's looking at it, so it may be slow to load. Just click here:

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Lighten Up, People

I've been trying to keep from comment-ing on these distrac-tional news stories, but this one is both apparently true and interesting: the hysteria set off in the Muslim world over a Danish cartoon's depictions of the Prophet Mohammed. Embassies are burning! A Jordanian published who reprinted some of the cartoons has had death threats. Also apparently, this is mob action and not government censorship, albeit occurring in places where the government and the mob are seized by the same hysteria.

I haven't seen much on American reactions to all this, but I don't watch the mass media much anymore. I have seen some voices of tolerance from Muslims who don't live in the radical countries, and I would imagine that most of America feels a condescending amusement at the whole thing. After all, we live in a country with a history of free speech. I imagine that most Christians feel the same way, since Christian cartoons have not been uncommon, and have been tolerated if not appreciated by reasonable Christians as part of the price of living in a country with our First Amendment. Personally, despite having some fairly vicious urges to counterattack when the Christian Reich wants to limit my own expression, I really do understand a genuine Christian's or Muslim's offense at expressions, including cartoons, which are designed to be offensive as opposed to merely humuorous. Contrary to what some of you probably think, I don't hate Christians. There are a lot of good people who believe in and espouse Christianity doing good things in the world. Religions has its place in society; it supplies a morality and a social framework for people who are unwilling or incapable of doing the personal work that is required to coming up with their own understanding of right and wrong. In a society where literacy is dimishing, education is censored and subject to political pressure, and self-reliance is discouraged, the masses do in fact need an opiate. More concisely, they need a frame of reference. The morality espoused by the New Testament is fundamentally good. The fact that the Christian Reich ignores its own Commandments just shows that they have betrayed the tenets of their own religion. I would rather live in a place where the populace is controlled by the genuine Christian faith than by, say, the Russian mob, the Politburo, or a Muslim theocracy.

No, the root problem with Christianity is that, like Islam, it relies on a fundamental delusion. Once you buy the biggest lie ever told, you'll swallow anything. But I digress; I'll have to address that one soon.

Of course, I am assuming that most of the Christian world is perceiving the Islamic cartoon scandal with a superior detachment. The scary thing is that some of that probably agree with the rioting Muslims. It's true that in the modern world, there are no zealots like Islamic zealots, or if that's not true in individual cases, it's obvious that no group of zealots has been so successful in banding together to seize political power and eradicate rational opposition. But once again, Christians with attitudes of superiority in the current situation should remember, or maybe learn, history. During the middle ages, it was the Muslim libraries like the great one in Constantinople (Istanbul) which preserved the works of the Greek philosophers while Christian nut jobs,in their most successful incarnation ever in the form of the Crusades, ravaged and destroyed the great books of Europe. There never would have been a Renaissance had not the Muslims preserved the legacy of great Western thought against the cultural descendants of the ancient philosophers. How dark would our own times be without the revived virtues of discussion and reason, as exemplified by Plato's successors, to combat the ignorance of the Dark Ages and the medieval Church? I don't see how the Western democracies could ever have arisen without the Muslim world's preservation of our true heritage for us.

But don't feel too superior yet. The forces of ignorance are at work here, too. In the midst of the deluge of press on the Muslim cartoon controversy, I couldn't help but note a minor thread in the media about NBC's backing down to "Christian" pressures in the same vein on a Will & Grace storyline. That sitcom, which jumped the shark a couple of years ago and is still playing the guest celebrity card to try to get some ratings in its dying season, was to feature a storyline in which Brittney would play a "religious conser-vative TV personality" co-hosting a cooking show with the character Jack. The name of the show was to be "Cruci-fixin's." Meanwhile the American Family Association, a (guess what) Christian nut group based in Tupelo, Mississippi (!) protested and has effectively killed the storyline, having promised a protest, especially since the episode was to have aired right before Good Friday. This is the same enlightened watchdog group which claims partial credit for the demise of The Book of Daniel. I never saw Daniel, mostly because I rarely watch network TV, but it seemed to be a rather enlightened comedy about a pill-popping priest with aberrant children. Nut jobs had apparently gotten the series dropped by a number of local stations like the one here in Nashville. God forbid Christians have something to think about while they're laughing and mindlessly buying approved products.

So see, we're not so different after all. Mob pressure is mob pressure.

Sometimes it all makes me glad to be a Buddhist. True, Buddhism has its reactionary elements. There are people practicising primitive forms of Buddhism that put them in the league of the Muslim mobs and Christian Reich in terms of sheer delusion, if not in militancy. There are sadly, people worshipping the Buddha, in contravention of everything Gautama ever stood for. But for the most part, Buddhism is not a cult of the person like Christianity and Islam. Not many Buddhists would be very upset to learn that their favorite Sutra was not written or spoken by Gautama, if it works for them. It would not destroy Buddhism if we were to learn that the historical Buddha never lived at all. And talk about cartoons! All those little fat Chinese Buddhas? Anyone really worship that? How about the (ex-) Shoney Big Boy?

So really, people. If you're unable to percieve the humor in gentle cartoons or caricatures of the things you hold sacred, at least try to tolerate them. Sometimes I think that humor is the true essence of spirituality, or at least a vital part thereof. So lighten up.