Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Further Father

I am now the parent of a 14 year old daughter. While I am competent enough at work and in the wide wild world, when it comes to my daughter, I feel that I have very few skills to bring for being her father. Buddhism may have a lot to say about the nature of reality as it is... I wish it had more to say about fathering.

No, Ironman was not a father. But sometimes this is how I feel in my current role. Covered with a hard imposing shell that I can't reach out from and my daughter can't see a real, relevant human being behind.

Where are the practical lessons on being gentle, kind and loving in the Buddhist tradition, but with a daughter? All those isolationists seem like cowards from my point of view today. Most people have to interact with other people to get their daily grind done. Why isn't there more advice on how to do this well as a Buddhist?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Issa Nice Thing

For some reason I really enjoy old haiku's. Particularly with the kana, romanji and English translation all together. Throw in a little cultural insight from time to time and I'm in heaven.

What fun to have stumbled across "The Daily Issa."

Paraphrasing Wikipedia, Issa Kobayashi lived from 1723 to 1828 and in that time wrote 20K haiku.

Here's a sample of what The Daily Issa provides...

New Year's gate greetings--
on each side of the road
tracks of sandals

kado rei ya kata kawa-zutsu wa zo^ri michi


by Issa, 1821

Shinji Ogawa notes that zo^ri are expensive sandals--appropriate footwear for this auspicious day. Though Issa doesn't literally mention "snow," Shinji pictures sandal-shaped footprints in the snow on each side of the road. Though at first I imagined the phrase "sandal road" (zo^ri michi) refers to the clomping sound of sandals, Shinji points out that zo^ri, made of soft materials, don't clomp. Since this is a New Year's haiku situated in the mountains of Issa's home province of Shinano (today's Nagano Prefecture), it is more likely that "sandal road" refers to footprints in snow.
To subscribe, see

A very simple daily treat.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

If You Met Buddha on the Road - Would He Have Coffee With You?

In most societies there seems to be a "proper" arch to life. We go through childhood and become young adults. It is then that some adventure is undertaken which sets the tones of later life. I think many people live this way. In this model, Buddhist seclusion makes some sense. It is like a stint in the security forces of the region where you live. Isolate with like-minded people and do something extraordinary. Then come back "into" society.

For people that have discovered Buddhism later in life this is no longer feasible. Or it is feasible but with harsh consequences that do more harm, I would think, than good. A father or mother should not 'abandon' their family to isolate in a monastery to delve into non-thinking. A tree is in its forest, an ox is in its herd. It is un-natural to remove either to some new place. What fills the gap left behind?

I have often attended an Unitarian Universalist church, but I have not been in a long time... since before I started 'learning' Zen. Our family went last Sunday and it was a wonderful experience. Being among others with a common purpose of contemplating the benefits of simple kindness and peace had me in tears several times. UU's love live music. There were musicians playing violins and drums and other wonderfully 'woody', 'earthy' instruments. What joy. Joy that seems to be absent from the Buddhism I have seen so far.

I find this so hard to reconcile. At this moment, Bodhidarma seems like a fool more than a hero. These stories of historic/legendary Buddhists never seem to express the anguish of the isoloation they chose...of missing their families, and villages and friends....of missing the ebb and flow of society. As with the Bible we have today, the history of the thoughts of early Buddhist must be highly revisionist. The transmitters have decided what the message must be and passed it on with edits that send that message. Like tugs that nudge the direction of a supertanker. It may be only a little bit here and there, but eventually the course can be drastically altered.

Western culture perhaps is more accepting of private anguish and doubt. Some Christians embrace the idea of Christ having fear and doubt and pressing on anyway. The doubtful hero is as strong in Western writing as the resolute, unshaken hero.

Doubt seems to be scrubbed from the history of Buddhism. As the West has started writing about Buddhism we see some of the doubt appearing, but it seems to be absent from the East. We've got a much polished picture of Buddha after it all got good good for him. Buddha post-enlightenment. Buddha after its all clicked into place. I would like to know more about Buddha while he was working on it. Where is the Sutra of Black Doubt? The Song of Loneliness? The Chant of "What the F*** am I Trying to Accomplish?"

Maybe I have to hunt more?


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Idealism Rises From Itself

Any discussion of idealism is, by its very nature, an idealist endeavor. The human ability to form and discuss concepts has provided us with great opportunity for survival. There is no object or structure that is human made that is not the product of and idea made real, the blend of idealism and materialism.

It seems that animals are not idealistic. Their brain processes that result in their behaviors probably could be described in idealistic terms, but if they have any idealistic talents, it is probably extremely limited, else driven by survival forces, they would probably be doing more materialistic things. Manipulating their environment with the same expressive and planning fingerprints we humans put all over everything.

Language is entirely idealistic except for the very base sounds and tones, I think. Words are certainly idealistic. These squiggles of black patterns only have meaning because of the ideas we share in common. There is nothing in the intrinsic material that conveys meaning.

Koko was (is?) a gorilla that learned some language. In this was Koko transformed from a non-idealistic creature to an idealistic one?