Monday, October 31, 2011

Looking For A Shovel

"Evil is not absolute, but has a frightening ephemeral existence which it will not do to ignore. But it is also futile to waste our life lamenting over it. Kṛṣṇa gives it just the status it deserves — as a pointer to the wrong road, as a warning sign, as a beacon to guide the navigator.

"Where does this evil exist? What is sin? How does one overcome sin? Does the Lord forgive us? Can we get the better of our fate? These questions have been discussed endlessly by both scholars and laymen.

"One day I was explaining to a few students the law of karma, vis-à-vis the above problem and remarked: 'If you do not want a seed you have sown to sprout, you must pull it out. For this purpose you will have to dig down to the same depth as originally, to get hold of the seed.'...

"Rajas (activity) based on tamas (stupidity) is sin or evil. In order to cancel it we should resort to rajas based on sattva (purity). The intensity and the ‘depth' should be at least the same in both cases. Should there be any difference, the latter should go deeper than the former."


I'm not a big fan of the concepts of sin and god, but for me these words still ring incredibly true. So, so often, it seems, when people do something that all know is wrong, they try to explain it away with a simple "I'm sorry," sometimes followed up with a gift. If they are lucky, though, the latter is refused, and the former is accepted with the caveat that the person proffering it acknowledge that it isn't enough.

Venkatesananda is correct (of course) — if you don't want the karmic seed to settle and take root, you have to dig down to the same depth it was planted in order to pull it out. seldom is that at the superficial "I'm sorry" level.

To be honest, I don't even know where this post came from; as far as I know I haven't done anything recently to hurt anyone and have no apologies due. Earlier in the evening I was reading an article that talked about the Indian system of dividing life into four stages: student, householder, forest dweller, and renunciant. That carried over for a while, and while eating dinner I was thinking about my apparent transition from the householder to forest dweller stage. It wasn't a transition I wanted or was ready for and when I made the move, my baggage was chocked full of hatred. I have tried for going on three years to put that bag, unopened, out in the garbage each week, but every time I go out to collect the emptied garbage cans I find that someone has set this bag back up by the garage again.

Why won't the garbagemen take this bag. Yes it is huge, yes it weighs a lot, yes it is oversized, but if i'm trying to get rid of it, isn't it someone's job to take it away. No?

And then I read these words by Venkatesananda. If you planted the seed with a shovel, don't expect to dig it out with a garden trowel, unless you are willing to work for a very, very long time and are willing to accept the tears of frustration that come with the excruciatingly slow process. A much better way to get at the seed is to go out and buy another shovel and just get the job over with. Then you can get back to your life.

My seed of anger, or seeds of anger and hatred, are buried a long way down. If you dropped a rock down that well I doubt you would ever hear the splash. Problem is, I'm smart enough to know that the tool in my hand is a garden trowel, even though I try to convince myself that it looks like a shovel. That only makes me stupid on top of everything else.

I guess this is what it means to be human. If I only knew where to buy my shovel.

The Force Is Within

"As long as we remain inspired to discover why we came to this world, we remain youthful. Old age has no power over us when we are accompanied by faith that we have something precious to experience and achieve in this lifetime. This faith sparks a burning desire to know the true nature of the invisible force that lies at the core of our being, and when it wells up, nothing — not the lack of worldly resources, a limited knowledge of philosophy, the absence of a living guide, or even old age — can stand in the way of our inner fulfillment."

Rajmani Tigunait
Himalayan Institute

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Steve Jobs, A Buddhist?

I admit i haven't read, and probably won't, the Steve Jobs biography. But from all the news and book excerpts that we have been saturated with since his death, i also have to admit that i wonder about the man's claim to have been a practicing Buddhist.

First of all, let me say that a piece of me admires Steve very much. Not for his success, not for his sales skills, not for his creativity, but for his willingness to be who he wanted to be. He didn't seem to care whether anyone else liked who he was. He didn't seem to care whether anyone else liked the path he wanted to follow. He didn't seem to care whether anyone else thought he was... well, different, unorthodox, a stray cannon. Steve Jobs knew what he wanted to be and became it. That takes guts and a clear understanding of who you are.

On the other hand, from what i understand, he claimed to have been a Buddhist. Yet, despite that, he yelled at his employees, badgered them mercilessly, ran an organization that had fear as a piece of the culture (for certain groups of employees), publicly insulted and disparaged his competitors, held immense grudges, and kept the hateful parts of his heart completely open to public view and well fed. A Buddhist?

When Apple hired John Sculley, they say the clinching argument in the process came from Steve himself, with the now famous "Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to help me change the world?"

That is a beautiful line and i wish i was in a position to be able to use it myself. On the surface, Steve looks like a wonderful person. But, look below that surface. Change the world? Yes, in many ways, Apple has helped change the world. Technologically. But what i am getting at concerns Steve Jobs, not Apple's technology.

Steve was a salesman. He sold desire and attachment. He sold the belief that you were not a whole person if you didn't own one of Apple's products. He sold desire, holding dreams of the "next big thing" just out of our reach for months like a sick man holding bones just out of reach of starving dogs.

Steve convinced the world that we needed to own his product. That life without it was hard to even contemplate. He cut open our hearts and inserted craving directly inside. He convinced millions (or billions?) of people that they were somehow inherently better people because they had an iPod or iPhone when their friends did not. Conversely, he convinced millions of people that they were inherently lacking in some way if they didn't own his product.

Did Steve help change the world? Yes, he helped institutionalize attachment and aversion, greed and craving. A Buddhist? I'm not so sure about that. A dabbler, maybe, but he didn't seem to understand what being a Buddhist really means.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Friday, October 21, 2011

Burning Wood

Sitting in the back yard on a lovely autumn afternoon drinking beer and burning wood left over from the old floor in the back porch that we ripped out and replaced. It's been an all-afternoon project.

Wood from trees that were carefully harvested by someone who's livelyhood depended on that job.

Wood that was cut, sized, and bundled by someone who knew nothing but a life of working in the mill.

Wood that was driven across the country and delivered to the local hardware store by someone who's sole dream as a child was to become a truck driver and see the country.

Wood that was bought, thrown in the back of a truck, and brought to this house by one of the owners long ago.

Wood that was cut to size, trimmed, and installed with immense amounts of pride so that the final product, a new back porch extension on the house, could be showed off to his wife one chilly spring afternoon.

If the newspaper found under the flooring is to be believed the porch was added in March of 1948, but I have no more memories of doing it. Nor of stacking the lumber at the hardware store. Nor of driving it across country and delivering it. Nor of de-barking the trees and cutting them to size. Nor of the day on the side of the hill cutting down the trees.

No, i remember nothing of what I have done as all those other me's, Dave seems to be the only one that fills my thoughts.

But as all the wood goes up in smoke and I watch the flames, my thoughts drift back to who I am when Dave steps out of the way; who I was when the porch was added some sixty years ago; who I will be some sixty years from now when another goofy old man sits in this same back yard burning wood after he/she too has once again rebuilt the porch.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I See Nothing

I see it right there
But what i could it be and
Where could that be found

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Contracting Into Infinity

Expanding inward
It continues ever on
Through that gate not there

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Koi Pond

Finally (FINALLY) finished the job of sealing and waterproofing the foundation of my house. Almost all the dirt is back in place and i'll finish the rest over the next two days.

I still have a few projects that i need to get done before winter weather settles in, so i spent some time today working in the front yard. My sister came over last Saturday and we reworked the path that leads into the yard. We had to change the layout of some of the stones because i put the new cherry blossom tree in the middle of the yard.

As you can see in this picture, the tree is pretty small — about 6 feet tall. You can also see two very small brick flower holders right were the path leaves the front sidewalk. If all goes according to plan, those will be full of petunias next spring.

But, wait? What's that white thing up by the torii? It looks like a pond. Is that possible? Well, look at that; it is. OK, so i put it in this morning so it shouldn't be a surprise. I may tweak the shape next spring, but for now, i'll watch it over the winter and see how i like it. I've always wanted a pond in my yard.

The only thing that would make the pond better, IMO, would for it to have koi in it. I'm afraid it might be too cold here in the winter, though, so won't do it. Besides, they probably require more work and maintenance than i'm willing to give.

But, wait! What are those red things in this pond? Are those... could they be... i can't believe it, i think they ARE koi. Can you believe that?

OK, so they are broken pieces of red brick, bit hey, i'm not very smart so can be fooled pretty easily. I think they look like koi, so that's good enough. :-)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Hate Crimes

Evenings like tonight's are difficult. Ever since shortly before dinner something has wanted writing, has been pushing to come out, distracting all other thoughts all night long. Yet, every time I pick up a keyboard, the fingers refuse to type. It's like a sneeze that is right there, a big, deep inhale and then... nothing. Another sharp inhale, and... nothing. Again, another inhale, and... again, nothing. That's what it's been like all evening and my brain is revolting and demanding "OK already. Either spit it out or get over it and let's move on."

It all started when I was thinking about Kūkai and Dōgen today. As much as I love Dōgen, I have to say that I admire Kūkai just a little bit more. I enjoy Dōgen's teachings more, but as people, as seekers of the truth, Kūkai has always stood apart for me.

When Dōgen realized he didn't have the answers that would satisfy his thirst, he packed up and went to China in search of teachers; he went in search of other people who could impart their knowledge. When Kūkai found himself in that position, he left his teachers and headed to the mountains and beaches of a sparsely inhabited island. Kūkai seemed to understand that the answers he sought weren't to be found in words. Kūkai seemed to understand that he would find what he was looking for by giving up the usual, superficial approach, putting himself in a position where worldly distractions were minimized, and opening himself so that the answers could find him.

Put another way, Dōgen seemed to go to China to find out who he was. Kūkai went to Shikoku to find out who he was not. A man crossed the Inland Sea by boat, but no one got off the boat, no one wandered the island, meditating on mountain peaks and beaches, until no one had the strength to walk on his own, even though Kūkai was always right there with him.

How is it that by subtracting one from one you come up with infinity? How is it that by spending forty days and nights in the desert you come to see that you were never alone? How is it that by doubting knowledge you see the truth? How is it that only by letting go of the limited individual "you," you awaken to the limitless potential of who you really are?

How did Kūkai come to see this so clearly while most of us fight it so ardently? And that's where my fingers run out of words. There's more to this story and that's what's not coming out.

I hate nights like this.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Snowballs In October

It started out simply, late last month, with the two easy tasks of redoing my downstairs bathroom and reworking a stone pathway running up my back yard. From there it was supposed to move to landscaping.

I found a nice pedestal sink on sale for $40 so tore out the old one in the bathroom. Since the landscaping only entailed moving bushes and plants from other parts of the yard to the back yard and rearranging what was already there both jobs should have been inexpensive and easy. What more can you ask?

The job started to snowball out of control soon after i noticed someone working on my neighbor's deck and asked if he had any ideas for fixing the back porch/sun room that was falling off my house. I wasn't really serious at the time, but he came by later and convinced me that he could fix it and that we (i had to help) could do it at a price i could afford. The bathroom job and the back pathway were both underway but now had to go on hold.

Then the snowball made its first appearance.

Once we had the walls jacked up and supported, and then the floor ripped out, i decided that it didn't make sense to put a new floor back in until i sealed a portion of the foundation along the back wall so i could go back to a dry basement when it rains. I had planned to do that job next year but now would have had to rip the floor back up again when i did, so it didn't make sense to delay. All that was required was about 10 feet of wall. More money, but i could do the north wall next year and spread the cost for all three jobs (porch, back wall, & north wall) over two years.

Then the snowball picked up more speed.

First, the guy who was doing the porch was going to help me dig and we would seal the foundation by ourselves. Unfortunately, after the first hour of digging, he didn't came back. Now what? So i called and got some estimates from professional companies. But, and here was the next place the snowball picked up speed, if i hire the job out, i might as well have them do both the back wall and the north wall at the same time.

OK. More money, but i found a company with a price i could afford (how many times can you say that before the cumulative effect is too much?) and they agreed to let me dig the trenches around the house before they started. With less than a week before they were scheduled to start their work, i realized i wouldn't get the digging finished so had to hire a couple of guys from the company to help with the final two days of digging. Two very long days of back-breaking work, but we got it done.

Then the snowball picked up even more speed.

Once the foundation was exposed we were all in shock at what we saw. A good foundation should look like this:

Granted the tuck pointing isn't brand new, but this is what my wall looks like above ground level, and it looks pretty good. The builders of the foundation took their time to do a good job. Obviously. Nice rectangular stones, with plenty of mortar.

Once we got below ground level, it still didn't look real bad. Until the wall was power washed and all the mud removed, that is. This is what we found behind the mud:

Below ground level, any size stone was laid in place in any position with small stones stuck in cracks and gaping holes everywhere. There was little or no pattern in any of the stones. With all the mud removed, there were gaping holes everywhere, small stones falling out here and there, and not one drop of mortar anywhere to be found. None. It looked as if one small push would bring the foundation down.

The snowball headed straight downhill from there. Forget waterproofing the basement, simply on stability grounds i see no way to get around having the entire wall tuck pointed so that the foundation is not simply a collection of stones stacked up but an interlocking wall that should continue to hold my house up. More money.

So, now i wait for the tuck pointing to be finished. Then we go back to the project of sealing the walls and back-filling the trenches. Then we go back to rebuilding the floor in the back porch. Then we go back to the pathway in the back yard. Then we go back to the landscaping. Then, finally, i can install the pedestal sink and replace the toilet.

This snowball has picked up so much speed, i'm getting dizzy.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Truth of The Matter

I never thought i'd agree with Pat Robertson on anything, but find myself eating crow and admitting that we both agree on something.

In a recent interview, Robertson said:

"The truth of the matter is politics is not going to change our world. It's really not going to make that much of a difference."

He's right. Absolutely. 100%. Change, when and if it comes, can only come from "we the people." The government can mandate, obligate, stipulate, and all those other things, but we, as a society, will not change until it comes from the hearts and minds of the people.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Party On The Other Side

Through that gate-less gate
By invitation only
Request yours within