Thursday, 29 January 2015

Forging the Chain

Haflinger horse.

Here's a fun little experiment:

1. Load any Wikipedia article, about anything.
2. Click on the first link in the main text of the article; links in (parentheses) or italics don't count.
3. Click the first link in that article, again avoiding parenthetical or italicised links. Then click on the first link in that article. And so on.

In most cases, no matter what topic you started on, you will eventually wind up at Philosophy. (If not, you probably either clicked on something that was in italics or parentheses, or somewhere you encountered a WP article whose first link took you out of Wikipedia. But this is rare.)

To test this claim, I started with the article on Haflinger horses. (I don't remember why.) Sure enough, after many clicks, I ended up at Philosophy.

I was curious to know where else the technique might lead, so I clicked on the first link there, too. That took me to Reality, then Reality to Existence, Existence to Awareness, Awareness to Consciousness, Consciousness to Quality (hello, Robert Pirsig!), Quality to Property... and then back to Philosophy; I'd finally pi'd out.

So there it is: our Big Bang. Human awareness itself originates in the perception and judging of Property. (A Quality, let us recognise, that only exists in our minds.)

Fellow Zenners, at the risk of being a Paine, I'll say it right out loud: our chains are forged.

(Photo courtesy of Jon Shave and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

WW: Pond in winter

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Outback Kyôsaku

Fan K'uan 002

"Take your inspiration from those who, long ago, went to live in the far-off mountains and practice ascetic discipline in distant woods."

Eihei Dōgen, Shōbōgenzō

(Photo of 11th century painting of the Zhongnan Mountains by 范寬 [Fan Kuan] courtesy of National Palace Museum, The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei DVD-ROM, and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

WW: Coyote crosses the yard

(Poor guy appears to have the mange, which is probably why he showed himself so close to the house in broad day.)

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Shock and Awe

Tumbled gemstone pebbles arp One of my Franciscan brothers in Québec, a friar named Henri, presented seminars on Christian practice to groups of Catholic seniors – of which he was one. He spoke on many topics, but his most popular lesson began with him silently passing out polished rocks purchased at the dollar store. He then read the opening verses of John 8 – the oft-quoted and roundly ignored Gospel passage wherein Jesus intervenes in the case of a convicted adulteress, subject under law to death by stoning. "He that is without sin among you," he says, "let him first cast a stone at her." From there Henri brought the teaching forward, pointing out at last that we all possess the Christ-like power of not-throwing.

Henri was a quiet-spoken man, with a gift for landing a point, and he quickly became famous across the province as « le gars qui fait le truc avec les cailloux » ("the guy who does that thing with the rocks"). His main point was that we all carry a rock through this life, and whereas throwing it is a mean and menial act, not-throwing it amounts to a kind of superpower; in a world where we have virtually no agency, we can always do this, to devastating effect. And no-one can stop us.

At the end of the seminar Henri sent everyone's stone home with them, as a reminder of their potential for violence, and their power to contradict it. (On a touching note, some attendees, aware that the Church in Québec is in financial distress, tried to give theirs back, so he could use it in another talk. Henri assured them the Church could still afford rocks, and they'd do greater service to keep it and remember why.)

Proof of Henri's impact came when he encountered former participants, often years later. Many told him they still had their rock, on their dresser, night stand, bathroom or kitchen counter, or dashboard. More than one reached into a purse or pocket and produced the very one; they'd carried it with them everywhere since that day.

I thought then, and I think still, that weaponising not-throwing is a remarkably Zen concept. And so I share it with you today. Indeed, I say we go Henri one better: let us each not-carry a proper Zen stoneless stone through this delusional world, and not-fling it with blockbusting shock and awe at the drop of a hat.

(Photo courtesy of Adrian Pingstone and Wikimedia Commons.)

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

WW: January evening

Thursday, 8 January 2015

No Hay Camino

Las Medulas 16 by-dpc
Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino nada mas;
caminante no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.

Al andar se hace camino,
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.

Caminante, no hay camino,
sino estelas en la mar.

― Antonio Machado, Campos de Castilla

(English translation)

(Foto de camino castellano por cortesía de David Perez y Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 7 January 2015


(This log washed up the day before I took this picture, after a violent storm. As the declaration of troth it bears is clearly not fresh, it must refer to parties elsewhere, on some other beach. How far away, in time and space, one can only suppose.)

Thursday, 1 January 2015

New Year's Song: Et dans 150 ans

To commemorate this New Year's Day 2015 I offer a meditation on the passage of time. My brother's poetry here is so powerful I first took him for a Canadian. But on second listening I thought, no.

No. The prosody, the peculiar flow of his French; his unflinching insight, his cool under fire. This-here is a Frenchman.

Except better. Raphaël Haroche's father is a Moroccan Jew of Russian descent; his mother is Argentine. In other words, dude's a perfect storm. Prepare for bone-crystallising kensho.

Having said that, I should warn non-francophones that, as Canadian literary critic Mavis Gallant pointed out, "When poetry is translated, the result is either not faithful, not poetry, or not English." Here the author spins kaleidoscopic metaphors and convoluted word play (e.g., "bad choices" can also be "wrong guesses"; "let's drink to the street trash" becomes "let's leave them our empty coffins" when you turn it a certain way); as translator, I could only pick a shade and run with it. With luck the music and intonations will salvage some lost depth (and soften the stilted, un-English sequence of images) for non-French-speaking readers.

Finally, since the visuals in Raphaël's videos are famous for being a whole second song, I strongly recommend that you first just listen, without viewing, while reading the lyrics (below). That way your own impressions won't get wangled. Then, play the video again and just watch it, without reading. Mind blown a second time.

par Raphaël

Et dans 150 ans, on s'en souviendra pas
De ta première ride, de nos mauvais choix,
De la vie qui nous baise, de tous ces marchands d'armes,
Des types qui votent les lois là-bas au gouvernement,
De ce monde qui pousse, de ce monde qui crie,
Du temps qui avance, de la mélancolie,
La chaleur des baisers et cette pluie qui coule,
Et de l'amour blessé et de tout ce qu'on nous roule,
Alors souris.

Dans 150 ans, on s'en souviendra pas
De la vieillesse qui prend, de leurs signes de croix,
De l'enfant qui se meurt, des vallées du Tiers monde,
Du salaud de chasseur qui descend la colombe,
De ce que t'étais belle, et des rives arrachées,
Des années sans sommeil, 100 millions d'affamés
Des portes qui se referment de t'avoir vue pleurer,
De la course solennelle qui condamne sans ciller,
Alors souris.

Et dans 150 ans, on n'y pensera même plus
À ce qu'on a aimé, à ce qu'on a perdu,
Allez vidons nos bières pour les voleurs des rues!
Finir tous dans la terre, mon dieu! Quelle déconvenue.
Et regarde ces squelettes qui nous regardent de travers,
Et ne fais pas la tête, ne leur fais pas la guerre,
Il leur restera rien de nous, pas plus que d'eux,
J'en mettrais bien ma main à couper ou au feu,
Alors souris.

Et dans 150 ans, mon amour, toi et moi,
On sera doucement, dansant, 2 oiseaux sur la croix,
Dans ce bal des classés, encore je vois large,
P't'être qu'on sera repassés dans un très proche, un naufrage,
Mais y a rien d'autre à dire, je veux rien te faire croire,
Mon amour, mon amour, j'aurai le mal de toi,
Mais y a rien d'autre à dire, je veux rien te faire croire,
Mon amour, mon amour, j'aurai le mal de toi,
Mais que veux-tu?

And in 150 years we won't
Your first wrinkle, our bad
How life screwed us over, and all those weapons dealers
Who work for the men who pass laws for the government
This pushy world, this screaming world
The march of time, the
The warmth of the kisses, and how the rain trickled
And the love lost, and the ways they get you
And so we must smile.

In 150 years we won't
How age subtracts, and hypocrisy crosses itself
The dying children, the depths of the Third World
The asshole hunters who blow away doves
How beautiful you were, and the things ripped away
The years without sleep, and 100 million hungry
How doors swing shut if people see you cry
The universal impulse to condemn without qualm
And so we must smile.

And in 150 years, we won't even recall
The things we loved, and those we lost
Come on, let's drink to the street trash!
My God, we'll all end up in the ground! Such a disappointment!
Just look how those skeletons sneer at us
But don't glare back; don't make war on them
They'll keep nothing of us -- or themselves -- in the end
As well cut off my hands, or burn them
And so we must smile.

And in 150 years, my love, you and I
Will be – softly, dancing – two birds carved on a tombstone
In this high school prom for dropouts, I'm looking beyond
Maybe we'll come back some day; shipwrecked, perhaps
But there's nothing for it, and I don't want to lie
My love, my love, I'll miss
you so
But there's nothing for it, and I don't want to lie
My love, my love, I'll miss
you so
But what can we do?

He's right, brothers and sisters. In 150 years, no-one will remember a thing we've done or said, or that we ever lived; for the vast majority of us, our very names will never be pronounced again.

You can take it for cruelty or compassion, but you can't change it. Our human being survives time like a beetle survives a millstone. And in the same form.

May we all cultivate, in the coming year, that which endures.