I was just at a zen gathering that was meant to talk to the problem of practising without a teacher. We all sat in silent meditation as we waited for the teacher, a well-known monk, to arrive. He never arrived. After ascertaining that he wasn’t lost to the world, we all carried on. I to run for my ferry, and the others for whatever they would do.

In an email exchange M_ said she was surprised she wasn’t disappointed by the teacher’s no-show.

I loved the irony of the situation: no teacher to talk about what to do when one doesn’t have a teacher.

And then just the other day I found a modern-day, technocratic solution to the problem at issue. Please note that I do not recommend the product, I didn’t pay $2.49 for it (nor will I), nor am I getting paid anything by the company to do any advertizing. But I do like the irony of it (I guess this is my day for ironies): plugging ear buds into your head and listening to Buddhist inspirationals so you can ignore what ever reality is directly in front of your eyes.

Here is the link to the Buddhify app.


Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Buddhism

1 – I have been thinking that the Occupy (name here) movement is futile in at least one sense: a whole lot of people are asking the very people who have taken all the money to give some of it back. Why would they do that? The 1% have spent a lot of energy setting up a system that make them and only them filthy rich. Take Egypt, a military commander (the top guy in the 1%) acted as dictator for decades. The Arab spring seemed to throw the dictator over at the demand of the people in the streets. But now a faceless military is dictating things. What changed?

2 – The banks, big biz, and the government, or at least the right wing parts of them, have yelled up and down that government should be run like businesses: lean and mean. They are right in a way. Government could be run like a business. But not the kind usually meant by the right wing. Let me explain: have you ever wondered why the biz/bank class want to limit the size of government? It’s because government can provide services at a very competitive rate. Governments compete with businesses. Like SAM of walmart fame is supposed to have said, destroy the competition.

Government is ideally a co-operative where the members (the citizens) pay a fee (based on a sliding schedule – taxes) and receive services in return. Because the co-op has so many members (the total population), economies of scale should make the government supply services better and cheaper than any smaller business – excepting of course that there is a lot of corruption in government, and except for the fact that we keep voting in people who would rather the co-operative business of government fails.

3 – Another thing. Why does it always take so long for rotten things to change? It’s because things work for lots of people and they don’t want to give up the things that work for them, even if they can see that it is not working for the majority. I suspect that even when the system is not working for one, many think that if they only do this or that they can be filthy rich too. And then when things also get really bad for them (or you, or me) we finally protest. But are we protesting so we can get on the gravy train, or so that everyone gets an equal share? Regardless, at some point the power structure hires lots of people who like playing with guns, and they tend to use these types as a military buffer between themselves and the people. We hope that guns in the streets of America will not happen.

4 – But why all this on a Zen blog? Think of the world as one big sanga, one big place where everyone helped everyone who was suffering, where compassion for others was the norm, where anyone who is suffering was listened to, when anyone who was in pain or ill or hungry had their pain assuaged. Can a Government be a sanga? Only if the people who were elected were well-trained in compassion and practised it on an everyday basis. Government based on the four noble truths and the eightfold path? Or, embody the love of Christianity (while forgetting all that mean-spirited hateful advice from Leviticus).

5 – Which brings me to my last point. I feel very positive about all the liberation movements that are happening now around the world – for one very good reason. People in the Occupied encampments are spontaneously setting up self-help resources, and resources to help others. People are being compassionate. And if they, and we, can keep it up, then there is no reason to think that compassion as the basis for government will fail.

Conclusion – There is only one problem. The government/ banks are not going to set up a compassionate government. They are trying to perpetrate the same system that made them filthy rich and bankrupted everyone else. But why play their game? Step aside. Ignore them. Take your money out of the too big to fail banks and put it into people oriented credit unions and other small local financial institutions. Or make up a completely new system and work it.

Oh yes. I asked what has changed? People are starting to realize that they can make things work for them. That they are not powerless.

I’ve been getting a few comments questioning me about suffering and pain, and so that is what my next post will be about.

The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs

You’ve probably heard the story of the goose that laid the golden eggs. The version I first heard had it that: There was a serf who had a remarkable goose that started laying eggs of solid gold. The serf in question, having no right to anything at all except the right to do what he was told, inevitably had to give the goose to the Lord. It was either give the goose or have the Lord’s thugs take it from him and give him a beating in the process. So now the Lord has the goose, and it lays a gold egg nearly every day. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the goose lay two eggs a day? The lord starts force-feeding the goose, and indeed, for a little while, the goose lays two gold eggs a day. The lord decides that three eggs a day would be far better, so he ups the feeding. The goose dies of heart failure because it got too fat.

Another ending: The lord decided that if he could figure out why the goose was laying gold eggs he could make all the geese lay golden eggs. Bright idea. He dissects the goose and learns nothing. Dead goose = no gold eggs.

This type of outcome is suggestive of what is happening due to America Capitalism today. In chasing money through the manipulation of money (rather than through making, maintaining or developing things), the country’s infrastructure (the gold laying goose) has been dismantled and the American system is generating less and less wealth. The poorer people of American are having to tighten their belts as they become poorer while the richest plot to corner the biggest share of a shrinking pot. The American nightmare.

Why did all this start running through my head last night at 2:30 a.m.? It was due to the news I had heard earlier, that the information highway was in danger of being sold off to big corporations who want to control your and my access to websites. Internet access providers will increase our upload and download speeds but only if we go to the big corporation sites who pay for faster speeds. Conversely, internet providers will slow down our upload and download speeds if we try to go to small, less wealthy sites that cannot pay the big bucks. Desire for incredible wealth is turning the internet into TV. Soon we will be able to turn the internet on and watch, but we will not be able to get to anything we really need. In China the government wants to control what you think by stopping you from seeing other ideas. In America the corporations want to control what you think you need to buy by controlling the ads you see. It is totally possible that in this new wwworld order, zen blogs will load slower and slower.

Why am I thinking about this in the middle of the night? Isn’t this kind of stuff (people trying to control other people) always the way of humanity? When was it any different?

It’s all about desire. The desire to get the universe to do what we want it to do so that we can have a perfectly pleasant and worry free life. Big corporations are no different in this than individuals because corporations are made up of individuals. Individuals desire impossible things, and so do corporations.

I stare into the darkness and watch my mind trying to plot the perfect blog that will make everyone sit up and become enlightened. But I don’t take any of my metal monkey business seriously. I just watch it flow on by. I know whence comes my desire to make perfect everything in the world, but to analyze it fully here would take pages, novels. At the most superficial level, I can say that my training by the Catholic church included the idea that because Christ, by the age of 32, had saved all the souls of the world, I should have done the same. Doesn’t help that the Bodhisattva vows include the idea that we should save all entities. I tell myself that attachment to Buddhism, or to its rites, injunctions, vows, precepts, and advice, can cause problems with self-worth every bit as deep as the problem caused by that pesky idea from Catholicism. Whenever my early desire-program, to save all entities, pops up in the dead of the night, I try to let it run its course without getting involved, obsessed, attached. Or I get out of bed, which is always tiresome at such a late(early?) hour, and go read a book. Then I can get back to sleep.

But the need, the desire, to save all beings can be traced back to the desire to control the universe and make it treat you (me) in such a way that you(I) will no longer suffer. If everyone was enlightened (saved) then the world would be sweet for me! But we can’t make people enlightened. All we can do is act in such a way as not to cause more suffering. That is the only saving we can do. Be an example of non-desire, of non-suffering, of non-attachment. Ho!Ho! Ho! Another aspiration to get attached to.

Why can’t we see that desire is useless? We can never get what we desire. No body can. The mind is not capable of parsing the infinite variables affecting reality sufficiently enough to allow a plot or a plan to bring about any specific and finely detailed outcome. In other words, any time we try to make something happen, we fail to the exact degree that we try to make the event happen in an exact manner. Yes, we can decide to go on a picnic, but we can’t make the ants stay away, nor can we make our picnic partner fall in love with us over the egg salad sandwiches, nor can we control the weather.

“The best laid plans of mice and men/ Gang aft agley.” Sometimes our plots seem to succeed; but at second thought, the desired outcome never meets up with our expectations. When we finally win that long desired golden fleece, all sorts of worries creep in: will someone try to steal it, how much can I get for it, and is the buyer trying to fleece me? How may people can I beat up to get them to work for me for free before they start a revolution? And why doesn’t he/she love me like I want? If only….

Attachment to any desire is a mug’s game. We can’t think up a sure-fired path to any outcome, and outcomes keep changing long after the attainment. In desiring something we are exercising our imaginations. But our imaginations are not powerful enough to encompass the infinite number of smaller details, small events, that go into making any one thing happen. How then can we work up foolproof plans to save all sentient beings? The only tools we have is to make sure we are not attached to any specific outcome, and to work hard at finding out how not to engage in our own suffering.

And now, surfing backwards through time about 2500 years: Buddha was doing his thing, and the Ancient Greeks, approximate contemporaries, were doing theirs. Socrates was being interpreted by Plato in this book The Republic. Near the beginning of Plato’s long dialogue, Thrasymachus argues with Socrates. Thrasymachus claims that the ‘good’ is what is good for one self and never mind anyone else. Plato tries to argue that Thrasymachus is wrong, that the good is what is good for everyone. As far as I can see, the rest of the Republic is Plato’s attempt to prove Thrasymachus wrong. He never does.

Plato is often cited as the node through which all western philosophy passes. All the philosophical questions that concern us today were anticipated by Plato/Socrates. In terms of how to do the good, no one in the last 2500 years has been able to prove Thrasymachus wrong. And in not being able to be proved wrong, a lot of people act on Thrasymachus’s advice. One possible way Thrasymachus could be proved wrong, and the argument Plato ends up with in the Republic, is to invent a metaphysics. There are only two possibilities of defeating the idea that the good is nothing but self-advancement and self-interest. Either we invent a religion (and you know of the kind of damage people are capable of doing in the name of religions), or we rely on a person’s inherent need for goodness for all. And this completes a circle back to the story about the goose that lays the golden egg. The good never came into it.

In the armed forces there is a principle known as the facts on the ground; only the officer on the ground in the event can interpret the orders as they apply to that event. If necessary, the ranking person can change the orders because orders given at a remove cannot anticipate changing circumstances. Even if philosophy cannot prove that the good is what is good for all, the facts on the ground give us a good idea of what is real.

Capitalism as it is practiced in America funnels wealth into the hands of fewer and fewer people. This means that more and more people become poorer. But instead of talking about the good (it spanks of dichotomy and dualism), let’s change the concept into Buddhistic principles and talk about suffering. The state on the ground in America tells us that large and increasing accumulations of wealth increase the amount of suffering for increasing numbers of people. One would think that the opposite would also be true, that the wide distribution of wealth would help alleviate suffering. In Plato’s terms, to alleviate suffering would be the good.

Another leap of topic, but germane perchance.

Check out The Price of Sugar for an extreme example of accumulation of wealth and what it leads to in terms of suffering.

And now, to get to the point of all the previous: Awareness. How can we really know what the facts on the ground are? If we understand that we live in the new global order, are not the facts on the ground everything that happens on the earth? How can we know what suffering is unless we know how the world works, unless we know how people act towards each other, unless we know why people act in the way they do? And unless we know how people act and why, how can we alleviate their suffering?

The big questions for today, kiddies, are: do any of my actions increase the suffering of others? If I eat sugar from the Dominican Republic, am I increasing the suffering of others? What is the suffering that causes someone to think that by doing harm to others they are doing the good? How can I do the good? (Hint: The Eightfold Path.)

All essays on these and related topics are already long past due.

And now I am going to back to making bread, my task for the day.