Wednesday, 30 September 2015

WW: Buddha's footprint

(In a downtown sidewalk. Dude gets around.)

Thursday, 24 September 2015

3 Things I Need To Stop Doing

Tibetan - Phurbu-cum-chopper - Walters 511448 - View A
Decrying the forms of others. (Inwardly, I mean; at least I don't do that market preacher thing, where you call down others aloud, as if that's going to advance anyone's programme.) Sadly, some don't share my life experience; they cling to forms I find fatuous and unproductive. If only they were as insightful as I, they'd stand a chance of being as enlightened as… (wait; where was I going with this?)

Exactly. I hold my practice to a high standard; I crop out stuff that sets me back, and embrace stuff that works. But there's this annoying corollary: others realise similar progress doing things I've thrown off, or never fell for in the first place. The fact that these forms make no sense to me is immaterial. Zen is a results-based religion.

But critiquing others provides that power rush we monkeys crave. It's heroin we distil from the opium of ego.

Confusing form with practice. When I sit for a long time, I feel like a good monk. If the session is unsettled, or short, or I don't maintain a schedule, I begin to feel like a sham. To some extent, this is useful; it keeps me on the path. But the fact is, enlightenment is non-attachment. And playing look-how-Zen-I-am is attachment to approval, if only your own. Throw in onlookers, and you multiply the delusion exponentially.

Zen is about acceptance. Sometimes you can't sit as well, or as often, as you'd like. Others you can, but you don't. But sitting is just a form. Practice is looking deeply, understanding cause and effect, adjusting what can be adjusted, and letting the rest go.

I can only do what's humanly possible, whether that's limited by outside obstacles or my own shortcomings.

Confusing religious conviction with political or social values. Like everyone, I selected my religious path largely because it complemented my existing beliefs. Zen practice has helped me grind off some sharp corners, but my principles are essentially the same ones I was born and raised with.

Fact is, morality is human and individual; religion can influence it, but is powerless to establish it, even in the ostensibly devout. It's too easy to mine scripture for self-justification, or sign your liability away to some charismatic leader who will, you implicitly believe, take the karma hit if her teaching turns out to be unskilful. (She won't. It's like your tax return: you can't sign away liability.)

Yet I tend to view those who cause suffering while espousing some other religion or theory as benighted; if only they possessed the Awesome Buddhist Truth, like me.

So what am I to do about Asia? Buddhism's been going on there for 2500 years. In many Asian countries it is, or was historically, the dominant faith; it packs at least swing-vote sway in virtually all of them to this day. So nirvana on earth must have been established somewhere in Asia by now.

Go on, Google it. I'll wait.

Right understanding means distinguishing between virtue and religion. Zen doesn't recognise any secret Masonic handshake that gets us out of dutch at the hour of our death. You either practice, or you don't. What you choose to call yourself while doing so is immaterial.

Thus the world is full of satanic Buddhists and angelic nonbelievers. When everything goes to hell, I'd rather answer to a Dietrich Bonhoeffer than a Saw Maung.

This is the irony all seekers must meditate upon and transform into insight.

(Photo of Tibetan delusion chopper courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Walters Art Museum.)

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

WW: Largest and oldest chestnut in the US

(The plaque below lays out the basics of the story. This American chestnut [Castanea dentata] is thought to be the largest, and possibly the oldest, left on the continent, after an introduced blight killed off virtually all of the once-ubiquitous trees. Because they're not native to the North Coast, this one had no peers to communicate the fungus. Today it's the centrepiece of a cemetery in Tumwater, Washington.)

Thursday, 17 September 2015

The Buddha's Practice

"In the morning, I take my bowl and robe and go into the village to beg for food.

"After my meal, I go into the woods, and gather some grass and leaves to sit on. I sit with legs crossed and a straight back and arouse mindfulness.

"Then, far from sense pleasures and bad states of mind, I do jhana."
The Buddha, according to the Anguttara Nikaya 3.63 (1).

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

WW: Sorb jelly

(Just the thing on bannocks, hermit bread, and scones.)

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Hermitcraft: Champagne Plums

Here's a quick hint from Rob's Hermit Kitchen:

The plums have ripened here in the Northern Hemisphere, and those with trees are being inundated by their annual surfeit of sweet, juicy fruit. Plums (also called prunes or damsons) are relatively labour-intensive to preserve, and other treatments are either specialty projects (wine) or not especially compelling compared to other options (jam).

But here's something you can do with them that's delicious and easy:

  1. Place a number of fresh, unwashed plums (any kind) in a non-reactive bowl.
  2. Mix up a slip of flour and water, about as thick as pancake batter, and pour it over them. 
  3. Cover the bowl and leave it to work for a day or two.
  4. When the batter is bubbling merrily, remove the plums with a slotted spoon and rinse them clean.
  5. Eat.
Why are they now so succulent, and slightly tingly(!)? And what's up with that batter?

Well, to begin with, the powdery white "bloom" you see on dark plums is yeast. (Yellow varieties have it too, it's just not as visible.) So when you immerse the fresh fruit in flour-based batter – a nutritional Prunes Viktualienmarkt Munichmedium – the yeast goes nuts and multiplies like crazy.

Meanwhile, water from the batter soaks into the plums, causing them to swell and opening tiny fissures in their skin. Dark streaks of plum juice in the cream-coloured batter attest to this process. (Some plums may actually split wide open, leaving little doubt about what's going on.)

Yeast from the working batter penetrates the broken plum skin, hits the sugary juice inside, and begins to ferment.

Then you eat it. I don't know how much alcohol this process creates, but it isn't much; I've eaten many of these in a sitting without feeling any effect at all.

When the plums are gone, you're left with a unique and tasty sourdough starter that makes great pancakes and coffee cake. In fact, with a little advanced planning you can pit the fermented plums, poach them in a light syrup, and use them as filling for some epic crêpes made from the batter they just came out of.

So have at it. Rarely do you get so much good for so little effort.

Prunus mume in the market

(Plum photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons users Sakurai Midori and Zebulon.)

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

WW: Hermit flag

(The Bandana Banner signals a practicing hermit.
Here flying on a boathook.)

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Career Opportunity

MD de la Roca

I recently speculated that hermits might be going mainstream, and now a friend apprises me that a Catalonian heritage-preservation association just posted a vacancy for a hermit at the ancient hermitage of Mare de Déu de la Roca (Our Lady of the Rock). The successful candidate stood to receive €1.000 for a year's service, described as "all the proper functions of a hermit". (According to the trust, these amount to showing visitors around, playing hôtelier, and not acting out of character; the announcement makes no mention of striving for transcendence, but to be fair, religious institutions rarely do that either when filling ordained positions.)

This sort of thing is actually not new; the same friend earlier directed me to the Wikipedia entry on Europe's one-time garden hermit market, wherein aristocrats supplied one of us (or someone pretending to be one of us) with rustic lodging in exchange for service as a living garden gnome. But few of those billets approached the cachet of the Catalonian opportunity.

Because the announcement is mute on spiritual matters, it's hard to know how they're defining "hermit", as opposed to "guy in a robe overseeing food service"; one gets the feeling they're really looking for a national park-style re-enactor, a college kid who wears a costume and does schtick for tourists. But I'm going to guess that Roman Catholic convictions are compulsory; it's hard to picture a waraji-wearing Zenner getting that handshake.

Nevertheless, this could be someone's entry to the lucrative and fast-growing field of eremitical monasticism. Too bad the deadline was Monday. But chin up: it looks like we're entering a seller's market.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

WW: Mystery of the cranes

(These are two of the cranes that the Port of Olympia bought a few years ago to unload ships. When I asked how they were delivered, I was told, "Why, by ship, of course." Leaving me with this troubling mystery:

How did they unload the cranes?)

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