Wednesday, 30 November 2016

WW: Winter on the point

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Pháp Dung's Timely Teaching

Meditation (17451472849)
I'm not much of a rock.

As a Zenner I aspire to be unmovable. The patron of my practice is a fellow who's made a career of it. And I often exhort others – principally here – to remain calm, to look deeply before acting, to avoid multiplying suffering by making a bad situation worse.

In the blogosphere, no-one can see your hypocrisy.

The fact is, I have a warrior spirit. I want to horse up and ram a swift lance through as many jerks as I can jab before one of them takes me out. Call it an ethnic weakness, but I am by nature a doer, a get'er'doner, and especially a defender. When arrogant pricks start kicking folk around, my first impulse is to cut them off at the knees.

Literally, if possible.

Which means that recent events have handed the monk I decided to be fourteen years ago a steep challenge. By way of meeting it, I've largely withdrawn into meditation and monastic discipline these last weeks, to sit with my conflicting values. If you were to ask me what honour demands in these times, depending on time of day you'd either hear, "Look deeply, understand, and proceed like a grown-up," or "Behead the mofos."

I'm working on that second thought.

And in that task I've greatly been helped by this Vox interview with Pháp Dung. As a senior student of Thich Nhat Hanh, he's received a great deal of training in mindful activism (a concept that conventional Zen considers oxymoronic, but one that Thich Nhat Hanh founded a lineage upon), as well as holding his ground under fire.

As I've found the student as lucid as the teacher, I pass his teaching on here to brothers and sisters who find themselves in the same dilemma.

I guess anybody can be a Buddhist when it's easy, eh?

(Photo courtesy of Moyan Brenn and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

WW: Winter from the water tower

(Something about this shot just grabbed me. Also gives me deep Christmas vibes, but I suspect you have to be from the North Coast – or maybe the UK – to pick that up.)

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Tough Love

Once, when I was in Grade 2, my teacher had all of us save our milk carton from lunch. Afterward we folded it into a flower pot, filled it with dirt, and planted a single bean in it. Then we lined up our little pots on the windowsill and waited.

To nobody's surprise, within a week each had produced a shoot. Our teacher then divided us into groups and issued new orders. Group Number 1 got to leave their bean plants in the sun and care for them as usual, but everyone else had to stop watering theirs, relocate it to a closet, sit it on the radiator, or the like.

I was ordered to put mine in the refrigerator.

What happened next remains as vivid to me as this morning.

I have a loving, if independent, nature, and in the few days I'd been tending it I'd conceived an affection for the bright green tendril striving upward. I also wasn't a moron. What seven-year-old doesn't know what happens to a living thing in the faculty room fridge? Years later, as a teacher myself, I could have prepared a better lesson plan than that during passing period. Using nothing more than what I had in my desk.

On a Friday afternoon.

I hung back as the rest of my group came forward, hoping she wouldn't tally us. But she did.

"Robert?" she demanded. "Where's Robert? Don't you have a plant?"

I mumbled the affirmative.

"Bring it here."

I hesitated, carton in hand.

"Do you hear me? Bring it here."

"But…" I stammered, barely audible. "I don't want to kill it."

"What?" she snapped, incredulous.

I raised my eyes.

"I don't want to kill it."

At this point my teacher pitched what can only be called a power tantrum. "Oh, I see!" she snarked, enraged beyond self-respect. "Everyone else is participating, everyone else has to do what they're supposed to, but Robert (her voice dripped) doesn't want to kill his!

"Everybody look at Robert! He's not like us! He's special!"

I began to sob, and she continued to demonstrate why I have so little respect for authority. (And possibly why my attitude toward women was for so long uncharacteristically hostile.)

"You put that bean plant on the cart THIS INSTANT!" she commanded.

I did. But I didn't stop crying for some time.

Half a century later, I'm just starting to catch a whisper of public commentary about the state of empathy on this backwater planet. Not much. Not enough. But a few writers, here and there, are beginning to question the fitness of our souls to ensure our continued survival.

Empathy is the defining human strength, the single advantage that pushed our fangless, clawless arse to the top of this heap.

But we have a knotty relationship with the stuff of our success. The "toughness" and "courage" we admire in leaders and ourselves amounts most often to cruelty, self-centredness, and indifference. Those who betray a glimmer of "weakness" – empathy, compassion, sophistication, humanity, evolutionary superiority – are abused and ridiculed. The rest of us are conditioned to look on silently.

Which is why empathy needs claws and fangs.

In my life I've consistently been punished more severely for empathy than for cruelty. When guilty of the latter, I've been disciplined; when the former, I've been humiliated, ejected, and blacklisted.

Therefore, it's increasingly critical that decent, fully-evolved human beings learn the difference between insensitivity and just pissing others off. We must refuse to pipe down when advocating forgiveness, generosity, and the objective analysis of karma, regardless of sneers and threats. The alternative is what we already have, what's killing us progressively faster: government by the least human. Whether national, local, or in some grade school classroom.

Most importantly, we must actively patrol the state of empathy in our communities, and teach future generations to honour and protect their own evolved souls and defend those of others.

So check it out, bitch: this entire species depends on the beans we produce.

Stand aside, please.

(Adapted from Growing Up Home, copyright RK Henderson. New Life [photo] courtesy of Juanita Mulder and

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

WW: The grand prize

(Regulars will recognise this as the origin of my profile picture. It's a giant Chinese fishing float, blown from recycled bottles. We seldom find glass balls at all any more; ones this size are exceedingly rare. There's another like it – but not as nice – for sale in the village for $80.)

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Courage Kyôsaku

Blue Fudō

"To dwell in the three realms is to dwell in a burning house."


(Photo of The Blue Fudo – National Treasure of Japan, Heian period [794-1185 CE] – holding his ground in the fires of Hell, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and a generous photographer.)

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

WW: Autumn ride

Thursday, 3 November 2016



Some time ago I had the good fortune to spend a month in Guatemala. While in the ancient capital I visited the tomb of Hermano Pedro, a Franciscan saint who looms large in the faith and history of that country and region.

Preserved there is Pedro's old cell, wherein visitors can meditate on the meagre possessions of a man who gave his life to advocating for and serving the poor. It boils down to one change of clothing; a chair and a walking stick; a bed sheet and sundry devotional items; and a human skull, used by Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu monastics in times past to keep their head in the game, so to speak.

But what really caught my attention was his cilice collection: instruments he used to scratch, flog, and rip his flesh. There was a hair shirt, a rope knout with big, mean knots, and a steel contraption that looked remarkably like a small chain harrow. This last turned out to be worn beneath the shirt, to much the effect you'd imagine.

Later, describing this visit to a close Franciscan friend, I teased him about the equipment I'd seen. Why, I asked, had he never shown me the torture devices he'd been issued on his own ordination?

"Since my brother's day," Pierre answered, "our Order has learned that chasing pain is a waste of time.

"If you just sit quietly and wait, suffering will find you."

2010.05.13.172409 Iglesia San Francisco Antigua Guatemala

(Photos courtesy of Opus Dei Awareness Network [contemporary cilice], Hermann Luyken [Hermano Pedro's tomb and chapel in Antigua, Guatemala], and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

WW: Sand dollar

(Dendraster excentricus)