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

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Puffy - "Oriental Diamond"

I was all bummed out, then I found this video on Brad Warner's Hardcore Zen blog. Stole it straight off there, as a matter of fact. If this doesn't make you happy, there's something wrong with you!

In the wake of the huge success of the Buddhist Festival, the group I sit with, the Nashville Zen Center, seems to be a dead sangha walking. People come to sit on Saturdays, but won't affiliate with a good teacher and continue to seek one bad one after another, or insist that they can practice Zen Buddhism without a teacher. And actually going to sesshin is out of the question. Ah, well. I am tired of trying to push a rope.

It's good to know that when life gets you down, there are cute Japanese girls dressed as ... what?

Hey, are these Fuzzies?

Friday, September 21, 2007

It's Always Brightest Just Before Dusk

Everyone here in Nashville knows that the 2007 Nashville Buddhist Festival was a huge success. I'm really only announcing that here for those of you who follow this blog from out of the area, so you aren't left hanging by all the build-up. Likewise, I'm not going to recap all the mutual congratulation that's been going on; our shoulders are dislocated from slapping ourselves on the back.

In truth, I think it's quite possible that this year's Festival may be a watershed for the Buddhist community in Nashville. You can check out lots of pics on our website, and you can still buy a t-shirt; likewise, the new NBF Yahoo group has, in Lisa's words, populated quickly and is becoming active. All the existing groups are reporting spikes in membership, attendance and activity, and I think the two newest ones, One Dharma and the Nashville Mindfulness Center, are going to explode. The Nashville Zen Center will probably continue to consist of grumpy old farts, for the most part.

What interested me the most about this years's Festival was the edge of darkness I heard in some of the dharma presentations. From the Venerable Bhante Nyanasobhano, we heard the Buddhist version of fire and brimstone (you don't want to be on your deathbed having failed to strive for enlightenment, and I paraphrase both these teachers). The most interesting moment of the Festival to me occurred when my own Zen teacher, Rev. Taiun Michael Elliston was asked what he thought of "human advancement". His response was "Human advancement? I don't see much human advancement going on today. It appears at this point that humanity is a virus which is killing its host, which makes what we are doing with our Zen practice all the most important. It is important that we strive with our practice to deal with this reality, and that we do it quickly."

That's not exactly what he said; someone has a tape, but I don't, and I don't have that kind of memory. But the key moments in my Zen practice, especially these last three years, is that I keep hearing things from the mouths of my teachers that correspond exactly to what I have perceived to be true through my own practice and understanding, and which makes it obvious to me, that for me, I have found the right practice, and the right teachers.

The morning before the Festival, I read a news article that informed me that the fabled Northwest Passage, a myth which inspired much of the early exploration of this continent five hundred years ago, is now a reality. You can now sail between the Atlantic and the Pacific through the polar waters. Guess why. Some fool will probably think this is a boon for shipping and commercial mankind. Read my lips people, this is indeed the Kali Yuga, and it's going to be shorter than we thought.

Yes, in the backlash from the Festival of Goodness and Light, Ratzaz is stirring. Those of you who have become fans of this blog may not remembers its early days, almost two years ago; the archives are still there.

Someone on the new NBF board just posted that they were afraid that their meditation practice would piss off Jesus. Ratzaz, the true Dark Lord, is shimmering in the depths.

Thanks to Allison Stillwell for the excellent photograph of Michael Elliston. More of her beautiful work can be found on the NBF website.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

False Advertising

OK, we haven't really sunk this low. Click on the pic for the real info.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Truth Is at Your Door

Surely, with the summer we've just had, and the hurricane season just kicking in, no one is doubting global warming anymore. But I'm learning not to overestimate the stubborn ignorance of the American public.

In a half-hour update on the DVD of An Inconvenient Truth, Gore and crew not only update the film's hard data for the year after filming (which was initially done at the time of Katrina), but include a minute or two of footage omitted from the film. The most telling segment is a few seconds of film which introduces the portion of the released movie in which Gore points out the explosion of population growth in the last few years (the number has doubled since I first heard the population of the earth quoted as 3 billion when I was a child). In the recently released intro, Gore's graph begins 160,000 - 195,000 years ago, the current scientific estimate of when modern man appeared on earth. Gore intro's that segment by saying, and I misquote, "I'm always a little reluctant to get into this, they had a little trial down in my home state..."

Realizing that An Inconvenient Truth was edited to avoid offending Creationists gave me a little giggle, but it also led me to understand that the people who doubt global warming, a.k.a. the climate crisis, especially now, are probably the same people denying evolution. Unfortunately, we are in an age in which the rules of Darwin have been abated by the rule of the masses; the best no longer reproduce most successfully, and it will not just be Creationists and the proponents of denial who die in the disasters and plagues to come in the next few years.

As to the film itself, it is indeed a must-see. The first thing I realized when I saw this was that Gore in one sense missed his calling; the man would have been the best college professor you never had. The core of the film is a lecture Gore has given repeatedly, he says over a thousand times and I'm sure a lot more now, about his passion. I will say that it's one of the clearest, most palatable popularized science lectures I've ever seen. With a few forgivable abbreviate leaps of logic, there is no bad science here. And the facts here are facts you should know. As focused as I've become on similar topics in the last year or so, there's a lot here I needed to learn. We're pretty much at the point where if you don't know this material, you're not doing your duty as a citizen of the planet.

The strangest thing about his film, though, is the way the producers have chosen to break up the lecture. Alright, as we see in the update, ninety minutes of straight lecture, even with nifty aids, film and animation, can be a bit dry; but the filmmakers have chosen to intersperse with the lecture segments bits about Al himself. some of which are tangential at best to the thesis of the movie. OK, the bits about his purely personal life are understandable, OK and kind of interesting, especially to a native Tennessean such as myself. It's the bits about Gore's political career, especially the 2000 election, which seem out of place and are a bit annoying. I mean, yes we all know that the Bush cabal, just then coming into its own, stole that election; but while yes, there is very much a relationship between that coup and the current government's policy of ignorance and exacerbation of the world's climate woes, those clips do seem a bit irrelevant and self-serving, as presented out of context. I have to wonder if it was Gore's people. or film editors wanting to ensure the popluarity to the movie by touching all the bases, who included these parts. It doesn't matter; it just comes across as odd.

The main change of impression upon my consciousness from this film was its timeline. It still seems to me that global warming is a symptom of a deeper disease. Gore would agree with this; he states in the coda that it's a symptom of a problem of man's relationship with the planet. This is obvious, but it's a dangerous step backward from reality toward philosophy. Elsewhere, Gore indicates the causes of the climate crisis as overpopulation and technology. True, I guess, but this ignores the fact that the two are inextricably interwoven; we certainly would not have this population explosion without technology, and the technology, as ignored in the film, is going to die when the oil runs out. We will be left with a planet chock full of ill-prepared humans dying of disease, hunger and war. Gore actually seems to satisfy himself with the prediction that the human population will top out, according to current trends, around nine billion! He attributes this to a changing culture of birth and family size on a worldwide basis. I say it's still about rats in a cage. When the cage is full, they pretty much stop breeding.

So if I'm faulting Gore for anything here, it's his optimism. More than anything, what An Inconvenient Truth brings to my attention is that we may indeed die of climate factors before the oil completely runs out and the three factors I mentioned kick in at full bore. Still, if the human race really wanted to survive, they would not only shift to alternative energy sources as soon as possible (and this would help with both the peak oil and climate crisis "problems", obviously), but they would do so with a controlled population reduction. Which is of course a prospect as scary as the problem, if you're one of those whose personal population is to be reduced to say, zero). So which is worse, the problem or the solution? It depends on whether you want anyone to be able to read this blog, or see An Inconvenient Truth, fifty years from today.

As for me, I think that realistically what we have to do is accept reality and just prepare to actually face it, and yes, those are two very different things. Your life, you choose.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Yoga for the Kali Yuga

When it became obvious that the Board for the Buddhist Festival was floundering in the dark when it came to someone to do yoga for this year's event, it became time for me to become reacquainted with my favorite yoga teacher from a couple of years ago, Leah Lillios. Leah recently opened her own studio, Kali Yuga Yoga, in east Nashville, and I'd been putting off checking it out for months; luckily, the Festival's problem became my gain, and not only did I secure Leah's and Kali Yuga's participation for the Festival, I found a great alternative for my own yoga practice.

Strangely enough, part of my hesitation came from the fact that although I've been doing yoga since 2000, this is the first time I'd ever been to a private studio. I'd started at the Y, and although as we all know I hate the YMCA, it's just too easy to keep going there once you have that relatively cheap membership and that habit. Not that there aren't still great yoga classes at the Y; they still have the fitness market cornered in Nashville, due to their unconstitutional violation of the separation of Church and State for tax purposes, and it's probably the only place left to get a decent step aerobics class.

But when I started at the local Y in 1997, after they'd helped force the failure of the excellent private workout place I'd been using for a couple of years since moving to Nashville, they didn't even dare call it yoga! They had to call the classes relaxation classes. See the picture of Leah above, and how relaxing that looks? But remember, the Y is a Christian organization, and although I can quite easily visualize Jesus doing yoga, I can't image Jimmy Swaggart or any of his modern clones doing it, and it was perceived as un-Christian. This seems to have changed by the time I started at the Green Hills Y, three years later, as part of my self-prescribed physical therapy after a car wreck.

Anyway, I think those cranky old farts were right, years ago. To me, yoga represents a lot of things, like the unity of body and mind, and finding the universe within oneself, that are antithetical to the life-condemning, dualistic thinking that is Christianity. So if the body is evil and a cage for the soul, and we're just waiting to die to go to a better place, why work out at all, I wonder? There are still a few scourges left, I'm sure.

Anyway, that's got nothing to do with Leah or Kali Yuga. For all I know, everyone that goes there is a closet Mormon. The point is, I enjoy doing yoga more when I'm not in the fake, smarmy environment of the Y, and the Kali Yuga studio is a great place to start. Although Leah's background as I understand it, began with hot yoga (which I avoid, because I sweat a lot and it's all hot yoga to me), I started doing vinyasa (flow) classes with her at the Cool Springs Y in 2004, and that's the basis of the Kali Yuga Yoga Club, which meets at 6:30 on Wednesday nights. That's the discounted ($5) class that also serves as the nexus for the Club, which also participates in events like our Buddhist Festival. It would also be great for beginners, because Leah works with people as they need it, and questions are encouraged, unlike most yoga classes.

One of the first things to attract me to the whole idea of Kali Yuga Yoga was its name. Most religions have the concept of different ages of their teachings. Christians, of course, have been waiting for the world to end any minute since about the year 33. Many schools of Buddhism have the concept of the early, vital era of the teaching (up til about 500 years after Gautama's death), the middle period (the next 500 years, in which the teaching starts to fade), and then Mappo, the age of degenerate teachings in which we live. Now I don't necessarily buy this in terms of Buddhist teachings, although if you read this blog you know that I know that our civilization is going to end in your lifetime, unless you get hit by a bus this weekend. But anyway: Hinduism is based on very long cyclical periods of history called yugas, which are bizarrely immense terms of years. We live in the Kali Yuga; Google it! This is the age of degeneracy and destruction.

So Kali Yuga yoga is yoga for the end of the world, in my interpretation. This works very well for me, since I disagree strongly with many Zen teachers, even some of my own, that things are getting better (sorry, Brad). Yoga, like Zen, is needed now so you can deal with the way things are going to be, in these real last days.

But if you don't believe any of that, that's OK. That won't change anything, anyway. But let me tell you this: this morning I woke up at about 2:30, sweating out toxins, and I had to try for a few minutes to remember what day of the week it was. There were many times in my life when that process was probably not a good thing, but this time it was because I was in such a deep sleep after last night's yoga, and deep sleep is not something I experience a lot recently. In a time in which our food in poison and every thing we touch is made from petroleum or corn, it's an amazing return to the true human condition to get in touch with your body, and hence all of reality, in this way.

To change your world, you must begin by changing yourself. To change yourself, you must accept yourself, and thereby realize that no change is necessary. Kali Yuga yoga, like Zen, is a good way to start.

By the way, Leah is appearing at the Buddhist Festival at as close to 12:40 p.m. as its fledgling stage manager (me) can make it happen. The schedule for the entire event is now posted here. You should come.

Saturday, September 01, 2007


I just finished watching disc 6 of a 7-disc anime series, Chobits. It's fairly well done being it's a few years old; one of the annoying things about watching anime if you're trying to go through their history backwards is that some of the older ones, even the classics like Ghost in the Shell, appear simplistic in their animation styles if not their plots; and certainly this series, like Masamune Shirow's classic stories, have spawned so much imitation, as well as had their ideas actually taken further in constructive ways, that they don't seem as original as they really were.

Chobits is a series that actually starts out slow to me, but by the time you get to discs 5 and 6 its originality and talent really show. This series was first brought up to me by a friend at the second Buddhist retreat I ever attended. She's a doctor, and she was intrigued by what the basic theme of the series - the nature and viability of personal and romantic relationships between humans and their personalized computerized creations. Chi, seen to the left, in one form, is a persacom; most of the PC's in this world, which also function as phones, search engines, and servants, seem to be in the form of attractive young women, which creates some interesting dynamics. Sure, these themes go back to Blade Runner and all sorts of classic sci-fi, but they become more relevant to us as our computers become a bigger part of our lives and the theme is not so far-fetched.

If you're interested in these themes, there's a lot of good anime and sci-fi for you, but I'm not going to try to summarize here. You should be aware of all of Shirow Masamune's work; he was a manga artist and writer whose visionary works deserve much more than I can give them in this article, but check out the anime versions of his Ghost in the Shell, Appleseed, and others.

The thought process that that discussion set forth in me, that still continues, is, what does this tell us about the nature of all of our relationships? Is it hard for you to believe you could fall in love with a machine? What if the machine was in no way perceptibly different from a human? If you don't think this is possible, the first thing that jumped out at me is how much this explains about our relationships with animals. While having a romantic relationship with a sheep is still frowned on in most circles, my point is this:

If you've been following this blog for a while, you've read a good bit about my cat, Ms. Johnson, who's 17 years old. At the moment, her odds of making it to 18 seem poor. If you'll remember, she had a stroke last year; she seems to have had another little one, or maybe a series of them, and last night I found her face down in the litter box again. She seems less out of it that last year; she maintains her appetite and thirst, and she still likes to be petted, but she just can't walk, although she can stumble and drag herself about. At some point, she is going to be unable to walk at all, and at that point, or at some other point, I'll probably have to make a decision about euthanizing her. Now I don't have any qualms about euthanasia if a person is able to make his own decision. A cat, like a person in a coma, can't. Now I don't have any of the qualms of the nutballs in the religious Right about the right to die. To me it is the one decision each of us should have the inviolable right to make. But even if Ms. Johnson could entertain that concept, how could she tell me? After all the loyalty she's shown to me for all these years, I don't want to kill her if she wants to live, or to keep her around if she's in pain.

But this isn't about that; although Ms. Johnson's very much on my mind tonight. The point is, I had a cheeseburger for dinner. Now I don't know if a cat is smarter than a cow or vice versa, although I'm sure there are studies that reach a conclusion about that, as if we were able to truly measure the intelligence of another species, or even of our own. But I know that a pig is smarter than either of them and I had a sausage biscuit for breakfast yesterday morning. I've discussed this issue, of our willingness to not only kill and eat animals, but to raise them under unnecessarily tortuous, horrid conditions, just for that purpose. In no way can Stephanie's love of her dog Gizmo and her fondness for pork chops be justified; it just exists.

And we really don't go that far. We'll preserve the life of an aging, ill man with no consciousness left, at terrible pain and expense; yet we're hire the young men of our country, with lies and delusion, to go murder innocent civilians in another country. We wouldn't think of being rude to our neighbor, yet we'll imprison people of another culture with no charge under mind-crusing conditions and torture at Guantanamo. Not of these polarities are justifiable; they just exist.

My conclusion is just that our attachments have nothing to do with their objects; they only appear to do so. In other words, your love for someone has nothing to do with any merit that person, animal or thing possesses or even appears to possess. Your attachments, like your desires are free-floating, determined by your needs. Ms. Johnson is no better than the pigs who are raised in disease-laden pens, yet I will cry when she dies, and I will, against my better judgment, occasionally eat one of those pigs.

I have long thought that all of our joys and fears, our good days and bad days, our suffering or satiation, are like this, free from external cause, more dependent on our brain chemistry than our experience. And further: what does this tell us about who we are? If this is true, can the identities we perceive as ourselves be said to exist in any objective sense?

I think not. But this blog entry is way too long already, so I'll leave you to feel it out for yourselves. I've been chewing on this for years and have yet to find the answer. But if the things we love are really just constructs in our heads:

What about the Rufi?