Tuesday, 31 July 2012

What is this?

Max Erdstein, Global Manager of Google, gave a great talk at the Insight Meditation Center about 'peeling back the onion' through a combination of vipassana and zen meditation. He said that after years and years of zen practice he went on a vipassana retreat and suddenly realized that he did not know how to meditate - and had a consequent breakthrough in deepening his mediation practice.

"The ritual is an elaborate ruse; a kind of kabuki."

The moral of the story seems to be letting go of learning how to do meditation is the way to learn how to do meditation. - To breathe in you have to first breathe out. - In a way, not knowing is a way to 'breathe out;' breathe out the ego-based practices by letting go of 'knowing' how to do something or about something; a kind of learning through 'don't know mind' as Suzuki Rochi says.

In the vein of celebrating not knowing, here is the poem 'A child said, What is the grass?' by Walt Whitman. It is a part of 'Song of Myself' and is one long and hopeful question.

A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child?. . . .I do not know what it is
any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful
green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,
Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners, that we
may see and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child. . . .the produced babe
of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow
zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the
same, I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them;
It may be you are from old people and from women, and
from offspring taken soon out of their mother's laps,
And here you are the mother's laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old
mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues!
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths
for nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men
and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring
taken soon out of their laps.

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
What do you think has become of the women and
children?

They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprouts show there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait
at the end to arrest it,
And ceased the moment life appeared.

All goes onward and outward. . . .and nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and
luckier.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Grow Nothing Gardening

I just talked to a friend in New Hampshire who lost a few rows of lettuce to a gopher one evening and her compost bin to a bear. - I tried to comfort her while klüchscheißing about my radical wild collection ideas at the same time. In part it is an exhaustive rationalization for laziness and in part I really feel i am right. - In any case I didn't get quite enough of it out then, so I'll rant a bit about it here.

'In the vast majority of cases a person will be happier if he has no rigid and arbitrary notions, for gardens are moodish, particularly with the novice. If plants grow and thrive, he should be happy; and if the plants that thrive chance not to be the ones that he planted, they are plants nevertheless, and nature is satisfied with them.' ― L. H. Bailey, Manual of Gardening

I remember in Witzenhausen I was invited to look at a friends newly planted garden in the early spring, the last frost had just passed and he had put out a number of seedlings in the fresh tilled earth. - There they were, tine tender and helpless little baby plants in a sea or upturned bare earth. - I looked up to the edge of the garden and saw fresh spring green nettles and dandelions bulging from the hedge, practically begging to be part of a dinner. I thought about the nutrition available there in that readily abundant food source that nature had provided without any effort on the part of these hard working young farmers and I laughed.

I say we should just eat what grows rather than growing what we want to eat. Why are we dong all of this work?


"I do not particularly like the word 'work.' Human beings are the only animals who have to work, and I think that is the most ridiculous thing in the world. Other animals make their livings by living, but people work like crazy, thinking that they have to in order to stay alive. The bigger the job, the greater the challenge, the more wonderful they think it is. It would be good to give up that way of thinking and live an easy, comfortable life with plenty of free time. I think that the way animals live in the tropics, stepping outside in the morning and evening to see if there is something to eat, and taking a long nap in the afternoon, must be a wonderful life. For human beings, a life of such simplicity would be possible if one worked to produce directly his daily necessities. In such a life, work is not work as people generally think of it, but simply doing what needs to be done." ― Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution

Friday, 27 July 2012

The Bum on the Rods and the Bum on the Plush

Just heard an old recording from U. Utah Phillips reading some poems. - He read a kind of radical
socialist poem by a hobo (traveling worker) named Frying Pan Jack ' The Bum on the Rods and the Bum on the Plush' - I hadn't heard it for years but I used to recite it all the time when I was in my late teens. - I sort of left off with my praise and admiration of lifelong homeless wanderers after spending some time near New York buying them sandwiches and chatting with them. - I heard a lot of deeply disturbing and sad stories in that time and did not meet any enlightened poetic people who saw themselves as free.

Nonetheless, it is a lovely radical uprising poem and extremely timely with the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor.

In the poem the 'Bum on the rods' is a hobo who rides freight trains to get from job to job. Riding the rods is a way to ride on freight trains without getting inside or on top. This was common in the depression era when freight trains had axel rods that a hobo could climb on top of. It was extremely dangerous and killed many people but it was easy to get on and off in a hurry to escape the police.

The Bum on the Rods and the Bum on the Plush

The bum on the rods is hunted down
As the enemy of mankind
The other is driven around to his club
Is feted, wined and dined.
And they who curse the bum on the rods
As the essence of all that is bad,
Will greet the other with a winning smile,
And extend the hand so glad.

The bum on the rods is a social flea
Who gets an occasional bite,
The bum on the plush is a social leech,
blood sucking day and night.
The bum on the rods is a load so light
That his weight we scarcely feel,
But it takes the labor of dozen of men
To furnish the other a meal.

As long as you sanction the bum on the plush
The other will always be there,
But rid yourself of the bum on the plush
And the other will disappear.
Then make an intelligent, organized kick
Get rid of the weights that crush.
Don't worry about the bum on the rods,
Get rid of the bum on the plush.


Thursday, 26 July 2012

Grow Nothing Gardening

I just talked to a friend in New Hampshire who lost a few rows of lettuce to a gopher one evening and her compost bin to a bear. - I tried to comfort her while klüchscheißing about my radical wild collection ideas at the same time. In part it is an exhaustive rationalization for laziness and in part I really feel i am right. - In any case I didn't get quite enough of it out then, so I'll rant a bit about it here.

'In the vast majority of cases a person will be happier if he has no rigid and arbitrary notions, for gardens are moodish, particularly with the novice. If plants grow and thrive, he should be happy; and if the plants that thrive chance not to be the ones that he planted, they are plants nevertheless, and nature is satisfied with them.' ― L. H. Bailey, Manual of Gardening

I remember in Witzenhausen I was invited to look at a friends newly planted garden in the early spring, the last frost had just passed and he had put out a number of seedlings in the fresh tilled earth. - There they were, tiny tender and helpless little baby plants in a sea or upturned bare earth. - I looked up to the edge of the garden and saw fresh spring green nettles and dandelions bulging from the hedge, practically begging to be part of a dinner. I thought about the nutrition available there in that readily abundant food source that nature had provided without any effort on the part of these hard working young farmers and I laughed.

I say we should just eat what grows rather than growing what we want to eat. Why are we doing all of this work?

"I do not particularly like the word 'work.' Human beings are the only animals who have to work, and I think that is the most ridiculous thing in the world. Other animals make their livings by living, but people work like crazy, thinking that they have to in order to stay alive. The bigger the job, the greater the challenge, the more wonderful they think it is. It would be good to give up that way of thinking and live an easy, comfortable life with plenty of free time. I think that the way animals live in the tropics, stepping outside in the morning and evening to see if there is something to eat, and taking a long nap in the afternoon, must be a wonderful life. For human beings, a life of such simplicity would be possible if one worked to produce directly his daily necessities. In such a life, work is not work as people generally think of it, but simply doing what needs to be done." ― Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution

Friday, 20 July 2012

Tomorrow

Tomorrow will be another try for a period of 'thinking about not thinking'

How to 'try' to think about not thinking?
It is different than trying.

Vietnam doesn't want foreigners hanging around with a robe and a bowl at the pagodas.
The Yen Tu Police came to the Zen Temple and asked me to pack up and go. - My knees and my doubtful mind thanked them.

I refuse to be one of the bald-headed westerners, walking slowly through the park, having given up on the West.

In them, I see my father preaching from a street-side pulpit in Rockland, Maine
The seventies having ended with a crash and come-down
His long hair cut short
His torn blue-jeans replaced with pleated suit-slacks; benders replaced with worship

Scared the 'jeepers' out of us to come down from Sunday School to see it all
Him standing before the congregation to bless the sweaty, trembling aunts and neighbors, speaking in tongues

Maybe it is a family tradition
Nothing in moderation, not even piety or spirituality
I just prefer robes to a suit


Here is a poem by David Budbill called Tomorrow

Tomorrow
we are
bones and ash,
the roots of weeds
poking through
our skulls.

Today,
simple clothes,
empty mind,
full stomach,
alive, aware,
right here,
right now.

Drunk on music,
who needs wine?

Come on,
Sweetheart,
let's go dancing
while we've still
got feet.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Ryōkan's Poems that are not Poems

I just finished listening to Shohaku Okumura Roshi give two short talks at the Sanshin Zen community on the 'poems that are not poems' from Zen Master Taigu Ryōkan. - Ryōkan is the Han-Shan of Japan. He has an extremely inspiring story - though he came from a very wealthy family Ryokan spent the majority of his life begging as a practice (called takuhatsu).

Shohaku Okumura Roshi shared a few wonderful poems and I looked around for a few more. - Ryōkan was so clear-minded and open-hearted that peace and calm come through clearly in his simple words.

Down in the village
the din of
flute and drum,
here deep in the mountain
everywhere the sound of the pines.

One day he came back to his simple shack from a day of begging and a thief was there taking what little he had. The thief ran when he saw Ryōkan and left behind one cushion. Ryōkan grabbed the cushion and ran after the thief to give it to him. He then wrote this poem:

The thief left it behind:
the moon
at my window.

Most of all Ryōkan was a powerful teacher.

First days of Spring-the sky
is bright blue, the sun huge and warm.
Everything's turning green.
Carrying my monk's bowl, I walk to the village
to beg for my daily meal.
The children spot me at the temple gate
and happily crowd around,
dragging to my arms till I stop.
I put my bowl on a white rock,
hang my bag on a branch.
First we braid grasses and play tug-of-war,
then we take turns singing and keeping a kick-ball in the air:
I kick the ball and they sing, they kick and I sing.
Time is forgotten, the hours fly.
People passing by point at me and laugh:
'Why are you acting like such a fool?'
I nod my head and don't answer.
I could say something, but why?
Do you want to know what's in my heart?
From the beginning of time: just this! just this!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Testing Questions For ‘Genuine’ Progress & Improvement

Here is my own adaptation of a series of 'testing' questions and categories (stuff to think about before you go off and start to do something) that I found very eye opening and thought I would share.

Personal

1. Does it support: empowerment, awareness, creative visioning, values clarification, acquisition of essential literacies and competencies, responsibility, wellbeing and health maintenance, vitality and spontaneity (building & maintaining personal capital – personal sustainability)?

2. Does it support: caring, loving, responsible, mutualistic relationships with diverse people (valuing equity & social justice), other species, place and planet (home & ecosystem maintenance)?

3. Does it support: positive total life-cycle personal development and change?

Socio-Political

4. Does it support: accessible, collaborative, responsible, creative, celebrational, life- promoting community and political structures and functions (building & maintaining social capital & cultural [including economic] sustainability)?

5. Does it support: the valuing of 'functional' high cultural diversity and mutualistic relationships?

6. Does it support: positive cultural development and co-evolutionary change?

Environmental

7. Does it support: effective ecosystems functioning (building & maintaining natural capital & ecological sustainability)?

8. Does it support: 'functional' high biodiversity, and prioritised use and conservation of resources

9. Does it support: positive ecosystem development and co-evolutionary change?

General

10. Does it support: proactive (vs. reactive), design/redesign (vs. efficiency & substitution) and small meaningful collaborative initiatives that you guarantee to carry through to completion (vs. heroic, Olympic-scale, exclusive, high risk ones) and their public celebration at each stage - to facilitate their spread - thereby making wellbeing and environmental caring 'contagious'?

11. Does it focus on: key opportunities and windows for change (pre-existing change 'moments')?

12. Does it explain: how it will effectively monitor and evaluate its progress (broad, long-term, as well as specific & short-term) by identifying and using indicators and being attentive to all feedback and outcomes (& redesigning future actions & initiatives accordingly)?

Adapted from the work of Professor Stuart B. Hill –-Foundation Chair of Social Ecology School of Education, University of Western Sydney

Sunday, 8 July 2012

People Who Have Come Alive

Howard Thurman is a powerful example of human compassion and understanding.
He was a preacher who grew up in the segregated south and started 'Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples' the first non-segregated church in the US.
He was an incredibly hard working activist.

Gil Bailie was a motivated young person wanted to know how best to help in all the civil rights and spreading of compassion and teachings and asked Thurman 'what should I do'...

In a recent dharma talk at the Insight meditation center, Donald Rothberg suggested that Thurman probably had a million places where he knew that help was needed. - He might have sent Bailie to work in a community or to learn a special skill that was especially needed. But, instead, what he said was: "Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."

Made me think to write a little something in praise of the good people of the Insight Meditation Center and the San Francisco Zen Center who have been brave enough to challenge the 'voices around' and follow instead a deep spiritual practice. It made me think to write some words of praise, also to all the preachers out there who are still preaching the 'good news' that Jesus taught, though it has been used for 'spiritual materialism' and 'bought and sold and bought again' enough that it is hard to recognize as our spiritual tradition anymore.

To truly follow the teachings of the Buddha and Jesus, living a simple and quiet life in the midst of an increasingly materialist America is showing a real test of 'coming alive' and my hat is off to them. I am also deeply grateful for the podcasts so that I can glean the lessons of that struggle, while resting easy in simple quietude.

The Journey by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice --
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do --
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

The Best Of Intentions


"I'm sorry, you were saying something about best of intentions... 
Well, allow me to retort."


-Jules


I had the best of intentions when I put in the compost pile in the back garden. I made three of them actually. One a covered pile of green manures, mostly swept leaves from the brick patio that is the back garden, combined with the residues of the plots and the leftover bits of trees and land clearings from the neighbors. 




The Mystery 'Agent Orange' Caterpillar 
Another pile was of sticks, branches and other high carbon things that needed to decompose a bit in the rain and heat before being added to the pile. That one was uncovered. 


I also had kitchen waste compost in a 5 gallon pail that I peed on in the morning and whenever I was home throughout the day. It was, and is still, wonderful. - The rest I had to burn and go back to compost-in-a-bag. 

Defoliated Fig Tree in Mid Summer, Hanoi
What I did, in combination with creating some rich wonderful humus to add to the thriving papaya, banana and passion fruit was to create a breeding ground for cockroaches and a strange kind of fig-tree-specific caterpillar that I am calling the agent-orange-caterpillar. 

Within a week it ate all the leaves off of the four story tall healthy fig tree in the back garden. I was out of town when it took place and since returning I have seen that the 'agent orange' caterpillar does not stop there. Now it is eating the small branches and even the bark. 

I find myself outside, unable to sleep, climbing the tree in the in the early morning with a spray bottle full of garlic, ginger and alcohol. I think the caterpillars like it. 
With the best of intentions I have created a Permacultural nightmare. 

Anyone with information regarding the 'agent orange caterpillar please help. 

The Caterpillar in Question eating a fig branch