Tuesday, 31 December 2013

WW: New Year's sunburst

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Street Level Zen: Resolution

Ostrich 057

"I know how hard it is in these times to have faith. But maybe, if you could have the faith to start with, maybe the times would change. You could change them. Think about it. Try. And try not to hurt each other. There's been enough of that. It really gets in the way. [...]

"However hopeless, helpless, mixed up, and scary it all gets, it can work. If you find it hard to believe in me, maybe it would help you to know that I believe in you."

-- God

(Portrait of bemused ostrich ["Silly-looking things." -- God] courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Trisha Shears.)

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

WW: Christmas pudding

(Burn on, my dawgs. Happy Holidays to all.)

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Christmas With the Devil

Last Christmas I shared my Perfect Chai, for the greater enlightenment of all sentient beings. But I left them hungry. So this year, I offer my Sourdough Devil's Food Cake. It's sourdough. It's cake. And it's devilishly unique. (Which is à propos, since as Spinal Tap have pointed out, Christmas is all about the Devil. What was it Christopher Guest said? "Merry Christmas – poke, poke!" Full video embedded after recipe.)

Anyway, without further, here 'tis:

Sourdough Devil's Food Cake

1 cup sourdough starter, well-hungry
1/2 cup flour
2 individual packages instant cocoa mix (preferably "dark"; quantity equals 1/3 cup. Or substitute 1/4 cup cocoa powder, 1 tablespoon dehydrated milk, and 1 tablespoon sugar)
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup prepared mayonnaise (or separate one egg yolk into a 1/4 cup measure and fill the rest with oil.)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon grated orange zest
flour to stiffen
1 teaspoon soda mixed into 1/4 cup flour

Liberally grease an 8-inch pan. (Cast iron serves sourdough best.)

Stir together all ingredients except soda mixture, and beat till smooth. Add flour (ending with the soda mixture) as necessary to make a stiff cake batter. Beat hard to release gluten. (Batter will take a dull sheen and become ropey.)

Scrape batter into the greased pan, cover, and allow to work at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes.

Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until a pick comes out clean. Serve hot.

Sourdough devil's food cake can be served as is, or with whipped cream, ice cream, or hard sauce. Cold pieces taste better if microwaved for 30 seconds; reheated in the oven in a damp paper sack; or on a rack in a covered skillet, over a tablespoon of water, at medium heat.

And it goes great with chai.

(The video here-below was taken from the 1992 reunion disc Return of Spinal Tap. Prepare to bang your head on some metal, or whatever people do to this music.)

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

WW: Asian helmet

(This is one of those compact white hardhats that workers wear in Asia. This one turned up on the high tideline after a gale. I picture a seaman offshore, fighting his way across the deck. He turns to check something, and flip! -- no more helmet.)

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Buddha is the Reason for the Season

Irish Christmas card, ca. 1880
Know any Scrooge-sans? You know, Zenners who pout all December because it's Christmas and they're not Christian. If so, you might point out that Christmas is a secular holiday thousands of years old, bent to religious ends by the Druids and their contemporaries, long before Christians got their prideful hands on it. But some sangha just have a giant chip on their shoulder about the Church, and so become the jutting jaw we hear about every year in the carol. You know: "Four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a big honkin' juttin' Zen jaw." In so doing, they surrender all Yule to a fanatical fringe that speciously demands ownership of it, and their own religious convictions to crass competition.

We Boreals have a deep physiological need to confront the terrifying cold and black of Dark Solstice, and so the symbols of light and fire, of evergreen, ever-living, winter-fruiting vegetation, and general contempt of death and fear, crop up repeatedly throughout our hemisphere. It's perfectly logical to find religious significance in natural phenomena, the only indisputable scripture there is. That's why Rohatsu – marking the time the Buddha sat under a symbol of the cosmos for eight days straight and was reborn in the laser light of the morning star – is in December. The Jews commemorate a lamp that burned for eight days without oil; Greeks and Romans sacrificed to the Harvest God, who dies every year and is reborn the next. And Christians celebrate the birth of their Saviour – bringer of light, defeater of death – though he was actually born in March.

In other words, they celebrate the effect of Christ's coming, not its fact, but sadly that's more insight than many contemporary Christians can muster. And so they've made the Season of Peace a battleground. "Jesus is the reason for the season!" is not a cry of gratitude; it's a rebuke to people who take their kids to see Santa Claus.

So it's game, point, and match to hatred. But wait, here's Team Zen, taking the ice! Will they make this a game?


Some Zenners campaign to remove Christmas trees from airports; razor Christ-themed carols from school "Winter" concerts; even ban Santa from the mall. (I don't even know where to start with those.) Others just wall themselves up in their little cells and chant loudly in fake Chinese to fend off any errant strains of Bing Crosby that might filtre through their double-glazing.

This in spite of the fact that Christmas is the most Buddhist of holidays; arguably more, actually, than it ever was Christian. It's Sekito Kisen all over again:

Darkness is a word for merging upper and lower,
light is an expression for distinguishing pure and defiled.
The four gross elements return to their own natures like a baby taking to its mother:
fire heats, wind moves, water wets, earth is solid;
eye and form, ear and sound, nose and smell, tongue and taste—
thus in all things the leaves spread from the root.
The whole process must return to the source.
Noble and base are only manners of speaking;
right in light there is darkness but don’t confront it as darkness,
right in darkness there is light but don’t see it as light.
Light and dark are relative to one another like forward and backward steps.

Read this chant – possibly for a first honest time – and tell me it ain't a fair-dinkum Zen Christmas carol.

The only reasonable Zen response to the ancient rite of Jul is acceptance. Acceptance of its universal origin; of its truth; and crucially, of the Dharma, which clearly passes right down the middle of it.

We are in the delusion-slashing business. I respectfully suggest we apply those skills, now they are more vital than usual, to restoring the true meaning of – and demilitarising – Christmas.

May we look deeply, every one.

(Photo of Irish Christmas card courtesy of Shirley Wynne and Wikimedia Commons, from an album of Christmas cards collected by Georgina Pim of Crosthwaite Park, Dun Laoghaire, Dublin, between 1881 and 1893.)

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

WW: Wintervision

(As documented by Tara Lince.)

Thursday, 5 December 2013


When I sat 100 Days on the Mountain, I cached about a hundred pounds of a cereal I'd invented for the purpose, a mixture of rolled oats, dehydrated milk, dried fruit, and nuts. A splash of cold water, and it provided both bulk and balanced nutrition. It also tasted good, which is an important nutrient for the morale. I called this fall-back manna "zenola".

As weeks went by and bowls disappeared, it occurred to me that a more clever man than I might have converted this stuff into cash. Hence the above advertisement, scratched into the daily log. Top to bottom and left to right, it reads:

"Z E N O L A !"
"Part of this complete enlightenment!"
"Bashôo says... 'If you have no Zenola, I will take it from you!'"
"... another fine product from Hungry Ghost!"

The trademark of this Buddhist-friendly food company is a ghost with a napkin tied around its neck, holding a spoon and, uh... spork, apparently. Corporate slogan: "No matter how much you get, it's never enough!"

I'm sitting on a gold mine here. Dealership enquiries welcome.

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson.)

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

WW: Aboriginal clam gun

(I recently found this well-used First Nations clam gun [right] in the surf. It's in fine shape; the tape is apparently just padding. I've no idea why it was discarded.

The blade is pitched much more steeply than the boston gun [left]; logical, since these shovels pry sand more than scoop it. And its heavy steel is welded up three ways from Sunday. The store-bought design, wielded by Old Settlers like me, is much lighter, but that's its sole advantage. The physics are clearly inferior, and the flimsy blade cracks after just a few outings.

Nine thousand years of experience will tell.)

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