Thursday, 15 November 2018

Good Video: Summoning the Recluse

Last month I posted a story about Jia Ruhan, the Chinese opera and erstwhile pop star whose life has taken a turn for the eremitical.

Seems she's not alone. Apparently, fundamental monasticism is kind of a trend (not to say fad) in China today, particularly among the young. Turns out industrialisation and a market economy have fared no better there than elsewhere at supplying humanity's essential desires. And the mix of greater access to education and a system that ignores all but material needs has prompted a rush to the mountain.

Well, good on the Chinese. Others' responses to the same burn-out have been notably less rational.

Aeon Video made the brief but very rich mini-documentary above – just short of 11 minutes – about an appealing little skete in the Zhongnans that receives several of these latter-day pilgrims. Deep gratitude to Aeon for making it available to all, free of charge, on YouTube.

Sure looks cool. Wish we had stuff like this in the West. Cultural differences might preclude it, but I'd still like to give it the best and most resolute possible try.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

WW: Old picnic table

(Gathering more than moss.)

Thursday, 8 November 2018

America Needs a Buddhist President

Back in the Duhbya years, a little book called America Needs a Buddhist President appeared on bookstore shelves. It consisted of a poem by Brett Bevell, illustrated with whimsical drawings. (The author's spoken word performance of the poem can be found here, though some of the humour is lost without the cartoons.)

It's light entertainment, but I thought about the premise a lot when it came out. The text plays on Buddhist stereotypes (that we're martial artists, that we're vegetarians, that we eschew contention), often for laughs. But not always; some assertions ("America needs a Buddhist president whose mind is free from desire") are downright revolutionary. And correct.

But the self-congratulatory aspects of some lines brought to mind the claims of Christians in this society where they dominate. That they worship the Prince of Peace. That they're forgiving. That they protect children.

Anyone not completely craven instantly sees through these lies.

And that's why I don't think a census-form Buddhist would make America a better place, either. A real Buddhist, now… But let's face it, a real Buddhist wouldn't even enjoy the support of fellow Buddhists, let alone voters of other confessions. Because a real Buddhist would fail to endorse cynical alibis for unBuddhist ambitions. And that would make us hate her.

But the greatest opening I had, meditating on Bevell's thesis all those years ago, is that I don't even want a Buddhist president. I'd be ecstatic – in tears, even – if America had a Christian president.

I mean an actual Christian. Not a marketplace Christian, or a dog-whistle Christian, or a church-going Christian, but a genuine contrite, practicing Christian.

If such a Christian presented himself for office, I would drop everything and volunteer for his campaign full-time. I'd doorbell tirelessly. I'd hand out leaflets 16 hours a day. I'd say to everybody I met: "Look at me! I'm a Buddhist monk, and I'm volunteering for this guy full-time! You need this guy! We need this guy! VOTE FOR THIS GUY!"

'Course, if a Christian ran for President of the United States, he'd almost certainly be assassinated before he even got out of the primaries.

Because that's what happens to real Christians.

(Graphic of undetermined provenance.)

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

WW: Spinning wheel

(I have a good friend my age who is, among other things, a Sikh and a former airborne commando. One of those other things is spinner and weaver. This is his axe.

How nuts is Ajai about his pastime? He has his own flock of sheep, so he'll never have to depend on wool pushers for his fix. [I assume wool is sold by pushers. I don't really know; I'm just guessing by the persistence of Ajai's textile compulsion.]

In his own words: "I believe I was an old Irish woman in a past life."

Well, there are less constructive karma debts. And more destructive addictions.)

Thursday, 1 November 2018


Gospel in Syriac, Syria, Israel, or West Bank, c. 1700-1800 AD - Royal Ontario Museum - DSC09613

“The Bible was telling me every day: 'Sell all that you have and give to the poor.'

"So I sold it."

Abba Semperion, The Paradise of the Desert Fathers

(Photo of Syriac Gospels courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum, Wikimedia Commons, and a generous photographer.)

Thursday, 25 October 2018

The Psychopath Koan

We Buddhists like to think nobody wants to be evil. We prefer to imagine that evil is learned, a product of environment, and not in anyone's true nature. It's one of the Buddha's foundational teachings: all sentient being progress through multiple migrations to eventual enlightenment.

Sadly, research has confirmed that it's not always so. Psychopaths – individuals born without bodhisattva nature – are all too real. In fact, we now have the technology to identify precisely which circuits in their brains aren't firing, under what circumstances, and map it reliably.

In other words, these people are born with a physical, irreversible intellectual dysfunction, the medical (but not at all the moral) equivalent of Down's Syndrome or FAS. They lack the fundamental faculty of human decency.

And they're not even rare. Researchers suggest 3% of us suffer from this condition. (Or more accurately, the rest of us suffer from it.) That puts one in every classroom, one on every bus, one or more in most businesses, government offices, political caucuses, and religious communities.

And I suspect that number's low. From my vantage, psychopathy is certainly a spectrum, like autism. If 3% of us are outright monsters – serial killers, torturers, financial predators – many more are apologists and opportunists, profiting from serendipitous weaknesses, getting off on less theatrical violence. But whether in whole or in context, none are biologically capable of conscience.

The Buddha didn't know that. The Ancestors didn't know that. But we know that.

So, what do we do?

(Photo courtesy of John Snape and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

WW: Autumn colours

(Rubus ursinus, or tripwire blackberry, is one of the few North Coast natives that put on the dog for autumn. What we lack in quantity we make up in quality.)
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