Thursday, 29 March 2018

Family Problems

Albrecht Dürer - Cain Killing Abel (NGA 1943.3.3671) Last week a sangha sister drew my attention to a dramatic event in the Zenosphere: Adam Tebbe, founder of blog hub/online magazine Sweeping Zen, outed himself as an Evangelical Christian on that organisation's Facebook page.

Details are convoluted, but there's been much calumny heaped on him by earnest advocates of "don't know mind" and "radical acceptance". Which is also par for the course.

In the meantime, the principal is spewing Bible-babble in the Zen forum he built, in that tone-deaf way some Christians have. (When a former colleague muses that the account may have been hacked, he's told, "It's been hacked by Jesus Christ. Have a blessed day!")

As some comments under Adam's confession of faith attest, none of this has endeared him to his erstwhile co-travellers,

I've spent a week sleuthing the thing out – in classic institutional-Zen fashion, public acknowledgement has been nil – and have since developed a throbbing discursive headache. The brother in question is not uncomplicated, and Sweeping Zen has never been uncontroversial. I myself have serious reservations about the way some members use that podium to call down violence on individuals they judge deviant.

With Buddhists like that, who needs Christians?

So I'm not going to pronounce. I take the Ancestors at their word: if a behaviour isn't hurting you, and you have no objective evidence it's hurting others, do nothing. Wait for insight before drawing your own sword and hacking away.

But as regular readers will have divined, I do in fact have a few observations to offer on the phenomenon of Zen re-un-conversion.

First off, it's nothing new. Western Zen is a convert religion. Virtually all of us – 99+%, I'm dead certain – got here under our own steam, as seekers. Necessarily, many of us will continue straight through and out the other side. I confess that sometimes the behaviour of others in the Great Sangha prompts me to ponder doing the same.

Then I remember that nowhere else is better. Enlightenment (and salvation) is about me and what I do, not others or what they do.

Anyway, this is not the first come-to-Jesus the Zen community has seen, even of the ordained. (Among us "true people of no rank", of course.) The brass swept (no pun intended) those under the tatami too, but they happened and I saw them and I so bear witness.

Because hermits don't cover for institutions.

I'm also deeply sceptical of any self-proclaimed religious awakening that expresses contempt for former paths. You often see this in Zenners – we're a convert religion, remember – who smirk and jeer at Christians, Christianity, and even Christ.

Except for the Jews. They're very different. They smirk and jeer about Jews, Judaism, and the rabbinate.

By that measure, Adam has been remarkably even-handed, especially for a Christian. His rambling testimony includes a single brief sneer on Zen, toward the end. I've seen other recently former Zenners exhaustively call down the Lord on us, preaching incessantly about the Devil. (And so reminding me why I'm not a Christian anymore.)

However, he has apparently not done what ethics require and turned over his creation and dependent projects to former collaborators, giving them everything he has of value to those undertakings, and wishing them success and happiness in this life and the next.

The Christianity of our time is so perverted with contention and enemy-think that such loving sentiment is condemned as apostasy, even by mainstream churches. It simply will not do to help, or even fail to hinder, members of another faith.

The notion – indeed, the truth – that all authentic walkers of all paths further everyone's understanding of God; that the work of all honest seekers is vital and good, is buried under a mountain of triumphalist doubletalk.

So fie on the Holy Rollers, right?

But let's be careful not to look too closely at ourselves while all of this is going on. Certainly, let's not look deeply into the way some of us respond to this unexpected (on our path that misdoubts expectation) turn of events.

Sweeping Zen has been criticised by sincere, disciplined Zenners – including Your Servant – for the self-satisfied way it sometimes reacts to inconvenient humanity.

And now that humanity has happened again.

Brothers and sisters in the sangha: may I respectfully suggest that this is just the break we need to stop talking about Zen and start doing it.

(Photo of Albrecht Dürer's Kain erschlägt Abel courtesy of the US National Gallery of Art and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

WW: No-one suspects... the 1970s!

(Until it's too late. #thingsbuddhistmonksdontneed)

Thursday, 22 March 2018

UFO Sighting

When I started writing Rusty Ring, away back in 2011 CE, one of the first fellow bloggers I connected with was the keeper of, a site dedicated to environmental and lifestyle issues. I don't remember who found whom first, but for a while there much ping was ponged between our fora, as each made regular appearances in the other's comment sections.

And then Will stopped blogging. The Internet is an object lesson in Zen; what's here today is gone tomorrow, and by gone I mean "vanished as if it had never existed." As do all things, of course, but online the effect is instantaneous; whereas the analog world generally offers a cushion of time to watch things fall apart and process the changes, the Enlightenment Superpath blanks everything, immediately.

Anyway, Will's blog is still up and worth a visit, but hasn't been updated for some time now.

Which is why the message I received from him this week was especially exhilarating.
"Believe it or not,"
wrote Will,
"after all these years, I still occasionally read your blog. Even more of a 'believe it or not', I still make and hang fudos when I place a geocache and sometimes when out on a hike. So I guess my comment musing on this post many years ago, wondering if my initial attraction would remain intact, turned out to be yes.

"Anyway I thought of you a few days ago when on a hike with my daughter and we came across the fudo in the attached photo. It certainly does not compare to the ones you create or even the ones I put out, but what else could it be?

"I choose to believe that it is what it seems and as it is the first one I have ever encountered put out by someone other than me, I found it strangely moving.

"Below that photo is a picture where, if you look closely, you can see one of the fudos I hung while on a hike several years ago, still surviving well. [See end of this post – ed.]"
Everything works about that email. First, I heard from Will, about whom I have often thought in the intervening years. Second, he's still making and hanging fudos. And third, marvellously, we have evidence – however tenuous – that someone else may be trekking the mountains of Oregon, tagging trail for the Good Guys.

Will's right. Check out that photo; unless it's been Photoshopped, that's a fair-dinkum Unidentified Fudo Object. Why else would someone hang a rusty ring in a tree?

Let's just say that, while it wants substantiation, this may yet be a sign of intelligent life.

He adds:
"And you know, I have found something in the process of making them in addition to hanging them. I do really hope to come across another put out by someone else someday, as that moved me in a surprising way."
That is also my greatest ambition: to happen upon a fudo I didn't make, nor anyone I know. As it was for Will, such a sight would be deeply emotional.

Any road, as I've often said, I may have few readers, but you're the cream of the crop. This-here is just the latest proof.

(Look carefully; can you see Will's fudo, hung years ago and still on-post?)

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

WW: 8-strand flat kumihimo

(In the process of making fudos I generate a lot of scrap cordage. When the quantity gets too unmanageable, I knot it together into one long string, cut it into 8 lengths, and spend a week or two braiding up a spool of flat 8-strand kumihimo, to be used to various ends. [No pun intended.]

The photo above is a single 24-foot example, wound on a wooden frame. The braid is about half an inch wide.

If nothing else, this photo demonstrates how much red yarn I use in my fudo practice.)

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Tuesday, 20 March, is Bodhisattva Day

Mr. Rogers Ofrenda Detail (1805130790) It's happening, droogies! This Tuesday the time comes again to emulate Mr. Rogers and throw down for Bodhisattva Day.



That's pretty much it. No need to wear a colour-coded ribbon or do an interpretative dance or march about in the streets chanting "Hey-hey ho-ho!" or sing a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walk out.

Just wear the wool of compassion.

Or the acrylic. Your call.

Because enlightenment is its own movement.

Again, that's THIS TUESDAY, 20 MARCH. All over the world. Boys and girls. Buddhists and non-Buddhists. People who are legitimately cold and those who are just posing. Crunchy and smooth. Waterfall and window shade.


20 March.



(Photograph of Día de los Muertes ofrenda to Mr. Rogers at Carmichael Library courtesy of Albert Herring and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

WW: Stained glass

Thursday, 8 March 2018


If you'd told me when I was 22 that the day would come when I would cherish my ex-girlfriends, I would have called you mad.

As a young man, I did relationships like a drug. Heroin, to be specific. I loved hard, like diamonds, and lost harder. I wore rejection like a crown of thorns, bled from it like stigmata, dragged it across the earth like the Holy Cross. Cowardice, caprice, indifference, were feminine vagaries I could not forgive.

I was the ex-boyfriend from hell.

I don't know what changed. I didn't hear from my ex-girlfriends for years, and then I did. And I was ecstatic, like a pilgrim who falls to his knees on the far edge of the desert, weeping for the pain, and laughing for the weeping.

No-one was more surprised than I.

So perhaps, sometimes, even I grow up.

Perhaps even heal.

My ex-girlfriends are interesting, caring, engaging women, and a gift to my life. They have great husbands, brilliant children, and there is nothing I wouldn't do for any of them.

There's no word for this unexpected love. It's not possessive, like a lover's, or exclusive, like brother's, or conditional, like friend's.

It just is.

And whatever it is, it brings me endless joy.

(Adapted from Rough Around the Edges: A Journey Around Washington's Borderlands, copyright RK Henderson. Photo courtesy of Peter Dowley and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

WW: Morse code key

(After ten years fighting off my ham radio addiction, I recently dug out my old station and set it up again.

This is my classic brass straight key, the one I first used to get on the air.

Been in storage for a decade. I've missed it.)

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Good Book: Cat Attacks

I didn't want to read this book. And I really didn't want to keep reading after I started. But as I've often said, denial is an unskilful response to danger.

Most of my life has happened in cougar country, much of it in the woods, where I prefer to practice Zen when possible. A few years back I sat 100 Days on the Mountain, an ancient Buddhist ritual, in Washington's coastal jungle.

The cat threat there, of which I was generally aware, comes up several times in my book. (Which is now finished and seeking a publisher.) But if I'd read Cat Attacks: True Stories and Hard Lessons from Cougar Country, I wouldn't have slept once during those more than three months.

Authors Dean Miller and Jo Deurbrouck are careful to point out that human-cougar encounters are extremely rare, and physical contact a tiny blip in that statistic. But they are also conscientious – downright didactic, in fact – in recounting, second by horrific second, exactly what happens in a mountain lion attack.

And though it's apparently impossible to escape a gruesome death if you're alone when the stats turn against you, your chances of avoiding that actuarial convergence drop to zero if you've no hard data on your predator's habits and methods.

Some of which, thanks to Miller and Deurbrouck, I now know:

•    Cougars prefer silent, lightning ambush from behind and above, after extensive stalking at close quarters. When in the woods, turn and look behind you, thoroughly and often.

•    Your predator's single-minded intent is to kill and eat you. This makes your bear-mollifying skills guaranteed death. Instead, if one atypically shows itself before lunging, go big, mean, and criminally insane. This may convince the cougar to go back to just stalking you for now. If on the other hand you make yourself quiet and small and avoid eye contact, you've green-lit a kill.

•    The charge, when it comes, is supernaturally fast; witnesses uniformly report a "brown blur". And its dump-truck impact is instantaneous. So even if you see a lion crouching to strike (which they take great pains to conceal) you have no time to raise or aim, much less draw, a firearm.

•    Though they'll attack groups, particularly children in the midst of one, as readily as they'll strike a loner, cougars rarely turn on rescuers. (It's bizarre, un-prey behaviour that evolution has not prepared them to answer.) So if a companion is hit, come in hot and hostile and fight hard at close quarters, with feet and fists if necessary. Once engaged, a lion may cling stubbornly to its quarry, but they seldom or never accept third-party combat. So keep on hammering until you completely weird it out and it withdraws.

•    Solitary humans have no chance of survival.

This is just a smattering of the practical, unromantic intelligence Cat Attacks contains. The authors' steely pragmatism, while traumatic, gives the work great strength. Particularly valuable is their bullheaded refusal to get sucked into either of the silly postures – "kill 'em all" or "poor persecuted kitties" – one usually encounters when the topic is raised.

To counteract the first, they illuminate in equal detail the harsh reality of a cougar's life, which is astonishingly brutal and getting crueller by the day, thanks to overweaning human arrogance.

As for the second, well… in the same instant a cougar touches you it rips your face off. This allows it to begin eating you without waiting for you to die.

That image brings me keenly in mind of Meditation in the Wild, wherein Charles S. Fisher points out that early Buddhist monks – originally all, and then most, of whom were hermits – had a tendency to enter Asia's primordial jungles and never be seen again. Tigers are even bigger than cougars, and not one whit more sentimental.

These are the conditions that forged our nihilistic Zen world view.

So if you live or travel in the northern and/or western half of North America, read Cat Attacks. Get schooled. Be prudently terrified.

Because when I think of all the times I've been afoot in the rough at dusk – including every day of ango – I break into a cold sweat. One unmoderated by the knowledge that cats also attack people in broad daylight. (Even housecats creep me out now.)

So be safe out there, brothers and sisters.

As safe as this existence allows.

(Note: a slightly updated release of this book came out in 2007 under the title Stalked by a Mountain Lion: Fear, Fact, And The Uncertain Future Of Cougars In America.)

UPDATE, 31 MAY 2018. Coverage of a local fatal attack, with further information on staying safe in the forest, is available here.
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