Archive for the ‘Zen’ Category

Gassho, Peter Matthiessen

April 5, 2014

Author, naturalist and Zen teacher Peter Matthiessen has gone west.

Jeff Himmelman recently wrote a piece on Matthiessen for The New York Times Magazine — I just read it last night, and a good read it is — and today an obit followed in the news columns.

Zen is a tough nut to crack, but I think Matthiessen did a pretty fair job of it while arranging what seems to have been a graceful departure given his circumstances (more than a year spent battling leukemia). Discussing radical experimental measures that might have helped keep him around a while longer, he said,  “I don’t want to hang on to life quite that hard. It’s part of my Zen training. … The Buddha says that all suffering comes from clinging. I don’t want to cling. I’ve had a good life, you know. Lots of adventures. It’s had some dark parts, too, but mainly I’ve had a pretty good run of it, and I don’t want to cling too hard. I have no complaints.”

Speaking with The Guardian newspaper in 2002, he said that Zen “is really just a reminder to stay alive and to be awake.”

“We tend to daydream all the time, speculating about the future and dwelling on the past,” he continued. “Zen practice is about appreciating your life in this moment. If you are truly aware of five minutes a day, then you are doing pretty well. We are beset by both the future and the past, and there is no reality apart from the here and now.”

In the here and now, Matthiessen’s final novel, “In Paradise,” is to be published on Tuesday.

It’s New Year’s Eve

December 31, 2013

Sit like a cat

We should

sit like a cat

and wait for the door

to open.

—From “Braided Creek: A Conversation In Poetry,” by Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser. This one’s for Chris and Theresa Elizabeth Coursey.

The summer grasses remain

November 12, 2013

I neglected to post something yesterday about Veterans Day, thinking I didn’t have anything fresh to say, and finding the outpouring of social-media thank-yous to the military slightly irksome. I never served, but if I had, I expect I might not enjoy being pandered to any better than I would being ignored.

Like Charles P. Pierce, when I was a squirt I didn’t know anyone whose father was not a veteran. Since the old man was career Air Force, we mostly knew the kids of Blue Zoomies, but in the course of affairs we would meet others; sons and daughters of soldiers, sailors, Marines.

dad2We’d hear the tales secondhand (none of the dads I knew bragged to kids about his service, so the kids bragged for them). This one was at Omaha Beach, that one at the Battle of the Bulge; this one got shot down in a B-29 after bombing Tokyo, that one flew unarmed Gooney Birds out of New Guinea.

It all sounded really cool, especially while consuming a steady diet of war movies at the base theater, like “The Longest Day,” “The Dirty Dozen,” or “PT 109.” And then we got a little older, and a little smarter, and we came to realize that going to war involved a strong probability of getting one’s arse shot off.

We realized that we never got to hear kids tell about their dads who didn’t make it back, because those kids died unborn with their would-be fathers, figments of an unrealized imagination. And we didn’t get to hear about the men who returned from war damaged in body, mind or spirit, or meet them; not until our own war, Vietnam, came along.

Books like “All Quiet on the Western Front” took on new meaning. And there were others, like “Dispatches,” by Michael Herr; “A Rumor of War,” by Philip Caputo; and “Everything We Had,” by Al Santoli.

In “Narrow Road to the Interior,” Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō (1644-94), following a visit to the ruins of Yasushira — and riffing off a line from the Chinese master Tu Fu about how war had left “the whole country devastated,” a place where “only mountains and rivers remain” — wrote:

Summer grasses:
all that remains of great soldiers’
imperial dreams

In “The Poetry of Zen,” co-author Sam Hamill calls this poem “a brilliant indictment of the stupidity and cruelty of war,” one that reminds us how little we have learned over the millennia. How does one say “Thank you for your service” to the grass?

By seeing to it that subsequent generations get to spend as much time as is humanly possible enjoying the sunny side of it, I suppose.

Peace to those to served, and especially to those who never came home.

‘These rulers, so cruel’

October 11, 2013
"The Poetry of Zen," compiled by J.P. Seaton and Sam Hamill.

“The Poetry of Zen,” compiled by J.P. Seaton and Sam Hamill.

I’ve been reading a little poetry of an evening, much of it from the collection “The Poetry of Zen,” compiled by J.P. Seaton and Sam Hamill, and recently stumbled across a couple works that, alas, confirm my suspicions that the assholistic Reign of the Morons Charles P. Pierce has been following so assiduously is nothing new.

The first is “Bad Government,” from T’ang dynasty poet and painter Kuan Hsiu (832-912):

Sleet and rain, as if the pot were boiling.

Winds whack like the crack of an axe.

An old man, an old old man,

at sunset, crept into my hut.

He sighed. He sighed as if to himself,

“These rulers, so cruel. Why, tell me

why they must steal till we starve,

then slice the skin from our bones?

For a song from some beauty,

they’ll go back on sworn words;

for a song from some tart,

they’ll tear down our huts;

for a sweet song or two,

they’ll slaughter ten thousand like me,

like you. Weep as you will,

let your hair turn white,

let your whole clan go hungry . . .

no good wind will blow,

no gentle breeze

begin again.

Lord Locust Plague and Baron Bandit Bug,

one east, one west, one north, one south.

We’re surrounded.”

The second is an untitled piece from the mythical Han Shan, an eighth-century Chinese construct I first heard of via Jack Kerouac in “The Dharma Bums”:

I stand here and watch the people of this world:

all against one and one against all,

angry, arguing, plotting and scheming.

Then one day, suddenly, they die.

And each gets one plot of ground:

four feet wide, six feet long.

If you can scheme your way out of that plot,

I’ll set the stone that immortalizes your name.

At least it’s an ethos

September 9, 2010
And now, "Bowling for Virgins," starring The Dude.

And now, "Bowling for Virgins," starring The Dude.

Jesus, I knew all it took to get on TV was a near-fatal case of the dumb-ass (insert your favorite stupid TV show here), but this Pentacostal pinhead from gator country has lowered the bar so far that Beelzebub can do chin-ups from it.

I’m not going to link to any of the stories about him, because he burned through his 15 minutes faster than a snowboarder does a bong hit and I’m not granting any extensions.

However, I expect the mainstream media will — the NYT is already going through an extended breast-beating session headlined “When a Fringe Figure Becomes News” in its “Room for Debate” discussion group. My news judgment! O my ducats! Choices, choices. I’m not linking to that bullshit, either.

The Rev. Billy Bob Goebbels reportedly has called off his Koran-burning, perhaps so he can spend more time negotiating for his own prime-time program (a cooking show? What kind of barbecue sauce goes with wood-fired sacred text?).

But fuck ’im, I went out and bought a Koran anyway. My copy is “The Koran Interpreted” by A.J. Arberry. I scored the fall issue of Tricycle magazine too ’cause it had The Dude on the cover. Him I will link to. Is that some kind of Eastern thing, man?

Earth, wind and fire

June 18, 2010
You can plant these on my grave if Palmer Park ever succeeds in killing me.

You can plant these on my grave if Palmer Park ever succeeds in killing me.

Another scorcher today, with plenty of wind and a big-ass fire to the southwest of us (my man Hal Walter at Hardscrabble Times has a pic).

With 90s in the forecast and a long shift in the Velo-barrel tomorrow I decided to get out early for another of my patented weirdo cyclo-cross rides, a two-hour blend of asphalt, concrete, pulverized-granite paths and moderately technical, powdery single-track that took me into Palmer Park, where the cacti and Indian paintbrush are in bloom.

I love riding a ’cross bike in this park, especially when it’s windy, because you can hide from the breeze in its miniature canyons, where the trails are well screened with foliage this time of year. This is both a blessing and a curse, as it dramatically shortens your line of sight, and the park is popular with a wide variety of outdoorsy types — runners, joggers, dog-walkers, equestrians, bird-watchers, stoners, boners and mountain bikers.

So I’m not exactly rippin’ the trails on my Nobilette, is what I’m saying. Life is already plenty short enough, and if I merely get laid up instead of laid out, well, free-lancers don’t get sick days. “A day of no work is a day of no eating,” said Huai-hai. And as you know, I dearly love to eat.

Still, I did manage to clean one section of trail that has had stymied me for the better part of quite some time. And I almost got a second bit, a rock garden that has defied me for as long as I can remember. I had it dicked but spazzed out just at the end, nearly T-boning a trailside tree.

“Damn it!” I barked, just as a couple grinning mountain bikers appeared, headed in the opposite direction. “Don’t mind me, I’m just trying to kill myself here,” I explained, and off they went, effortlessly navigating the rockpile that tried to feed me to a tree.

Five angry men (and one woman)

May 28, 2010
The latest addition to my extensive palmares.

The latest addition to my extensive palmares.

I participated in small-d “democracy” yesterday, having been summoned to jury service in El Paso County’s Fourth Judicial District.

Now, I ain’t lyin’ to anyone here. I spoke very many bad words — and loudly, too — when I got the summons. I repeated them, albeit in different order, when I rang up the court Wednesday night and found out that yes, I was required to appear at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.

I walked downtown instead of cycling (you don’t have to lock up a pair of Sauconys, wear a helmet or carry a pump and spare tube). En route I saw a cat perched on a rooftop, a bathtub full of flowers and a bottle of Arrogant Bastard Ale perched upside down on a brick wall. When I walked into the jury room “There Must Be Some Misunderstanding” was playing. All omens, no doubt. Of what, I had no idea.

Three judges had cases on the white board, so I read a little Zen while cooling my heels (“A day of no work is a day of no eating,” said Huai-hai, first to establish a Zen monastery in China). A clerk erased first one case, then a second, and I was thinking I might get sprung in time to enjoy a nice long bike ride.

Nope. The third case was the charm, and our jury questionnaires went upstairs. After a bit half of us were cut loose and the rest of us paraded upstairs for a grilling by the judge, the prosecution and the defense.

We numbered 14 and the case (driving under restraint) only needed six jurors, so I figured my chances of liberation were still pretty good, seeing as I am a journalist of dubious repute and a renowned scofflaw with a long, well-documented history of traffic violations, all of which I cheerfully confessed.

Nope. Selected. Balls, I thought. The way this is going I’ll wind up foreman on the sonofabitch.

While some last-minute legal maneuvering took place, the six of us chatted in the jury room. Besides me, we had a Spanish teacher, two construction types (one unemployed and recovering from a workplace injury), a telephone-company retiree and a mortgage-loan person, our lone female). We discussed our jobs and the lack thereof, injury and recovery, TV shows, kids, spouses and pets, bicycling.

And then the judge popped in, doffed his robes and told us we were free to go. Seems the trooper who cited the defendant had made an audio recording of the traffic stop and neglected to mention it to the DA’s office. Judge, prosecution and defense all listened to it, the defense said it couldn’t proceed, and shazam: Continuance. Off you go.

Six hours after I walked into the courthouse I was walking home in 90-degree heat, thinking about what the judge had said. He told us that it’s easy to feel cynical about the state of the nation, to be discouraged at the incessant mudslinging that has replaced political action, to wonder when you vote whether it really makes any difference.

When you serve on a jury, he said — even if you don’t actually get to hear the case — you are participating in an act of patriotism, small-d democracy in its purest form, the sort envisioned by the Greeks. A group of strangers convenes on behalf of the common good, listens, decides and disperses. There is no question that your vote makes a difference, your voice is heard.

True, the process was cumbersome. A couple dozen folks had their schedules upended for an hour or two — or six — and driving under restraint is not exactly the stuff of a “Law and Order” episode. The defendant looked vaguely disreputable, the way I did not so long ago; ponytail, beard, sunglasses.

Still, it was a reminder that the the least of us can go toe to toe with The Man if he has the balls for it, and that the State is not infallible. Call it a six-hour civics refresher. I even got a diploma. They misspelled my name.

What is the sound of one fat lip flapping?

January 5, 2010
Don't do something ... just sit there.

Don't do something ... just sit there.

Faux News dingbat Brit Hume has tromped in the Dharma with his big ol’ Bible-beatin’ feet, saying that the errant Tiger Woods should abandon Buddhism and come to Jesus, sparking fits of enraged zazen at sanghas worldwide.

Like Steve Benen at Political Animal, I couldn’t care less about Brit Hume, Tiger Woods, golf and industrial Christianity as promoted by a fake “news” network that is less interested in reality than is The Onion.

But I take a very un-Buddhist glee in watching loudmouthed nitwits step on their own dicks, as long as they aren’t me. But of course, they are.

Image lifted from CafePress.

Ho ho ho, Baby Jesus!

November 25, 2009
Turkish seeks Jesus in my drawing board's lamp.

Turkish seeks Jesus in my drawing board's lamp.

We haven’t even sat down to Thanksgiving Day dinner and the pulpiteers at Focus on the Fambly are already trotting out their annual Christmas In Peril fantasy. Focus Action spokescreature Carrie Gordon Earll breaks it down for us in Palinesque style (and I’m not talking Michael here):

“The eradication of Christmas is a politically correct idea that we can’t have sacred ideas in our culture.”

Uh huh. Can someone please ask Spock to pop round with his Universal Translator? I assume it handles Cretinese.

The more I see of industrial Christianity, Bibleburg style, the more I like Zen. You never see a mob from the local sangha berating the manager of a Best Buy because he won’t hang banners inscribed with the Four Noble Truths on Shakyamuni’s birthday. George Carlin had this crowd nailed, you should pardon the expression.

Meanwhile, thanks for all the music recommendations. I’d forgotten how much I like some of your suggestions, especially The Band’s “The Last Waltz.” Wouldn’t you know the sumbitch isn’t available on iTunes? Yo, Carrie, forget about that eradication-of-Christmas bullshit — we got a real problem right here.

Does a Blue Zoomie have Buddha nature?

October 13, 2009

While I was mired in a weather-related funk I missed an interesting NPR “Morning Edition” story right in my own back yard. It’s about the Buddhist chapel at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Sarah Bender, who leads the AFA’s Buddhist program, is also the resident teacher with Springs Mountain Sangha, the local Zen outfit. Buddhism and Death From Above might seem incompatible to some, but Bender says no: “People in the military come up — for real — against questions that most of us just consider abstractly. The questions of Buddhism are the questions of life and death. So, where else would you want Buddhism than right there where those questions are most vivid?”


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