Thursday, 30 August 2018

The Ride

TulipStair QueensHouse Greenwich Down the banister
The wild schoolboy I was slides
To enlightenment

(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and a generous photographer.)

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

WW: Policeman's helmet

(Impatiens glandulifera. A shade-loving shoreline invasive from the Himalayas, imported to the North Coast as a garden flower, it remains nevertheless undeniably beautiful.)

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Into the Abyss

Abstract vortex 277213

"Lion’s Roar Has Killed Buddhism", screams a recent headline on Brad Warner's Hardcore Zen blog.

Um… そうですね。

Don't get me wrong; I've called down the Western Buddhist press many times here on my own public confessional. Most of what passes for our media is pat, predictable, and embarrassingly bourgeois. Still, such a declaration, as sensational and click-baity as it seems, must be at least a little over the top, eh?

As it happens, not so much.

My brother was reacting to The New Wave of Buddhist Psychedelics, a feature article on the Lion's Roar website that celebrates mind-disabling chemicals as enlightenment practice aids. Its very title asserts the existence of something called "Buddhist psychedelics", magical substances evidently developed by arhat pharmacologists to "get you over".

This is only the latest manifestation of a disturbing foible of Western Buddhism. Back in the 1960s, the hippies, justifiably disenchanted with their childhood religions, went trolling for alternatives. As they imported barely-understood Eastern philosophies from overseas, they were careful to "upgrade" them with their own values, incongruity be damned. Among these were environmental awareness, pacifism, New Age nutrition, gender equality, and sensuality, to name just five.

None of these are strictly-speaking Buddhic, though a strong sutric case could be made for the first two. The next two have to be lawyered up before they slide in, but perhaps the Buddha was suggesting them obliquely, while openly advocating the opposite.

Sly old Gautama. (Ahem.)

But that last one is out. Full stop.

The Baby Boomers were and are famously devoted to chasing sensations. "This I have seen; this I have felt." They wished themselves explorers, pioneers, eagerly barging in where angels fear to tread. (Ed. note: angels actually tread everywhere. They just don't loiter in pointless places.)

Their initial attraction to Zen was the far-out trips they hoped to experience while meditating. Those monks sitting all weird, not moving; they must see stuff, man. Go somewhere, baby.

The fact that zazen is emphatically the opposite of that is one of those contradictions many chose not to acknowledge.

But their favourite terra incognita – famously, infamously – was drugs. Thus the hippies augmented our culture's twin holocausts of tobacco and alcohol with a whole freezerful of new philtres, guaranteed to make you stupid or give us the rest of your money.

When I became a monk, pot was still viewed as a sacramental herb by a significant minority of the western sangha. If anything it's grown in esteem since, though without a crumb of justification; the Buddha was categorical, and common sense concurs, that anything that interferes with the free and natural function of a healthy mind obstructs enlightenment. (Not to be confused with substances taken to bring a malfunctioning brain back to parameter, otherwise known as medication.)

Anyone who's ever known a drug user knows they never make anyone a better person. We don't need to run this experiment an umpteenth time. We can simply validate the Buddha's foundational teaching on the matter, cross it off the list, and continue our authentic practice.

So that was annoying. But what's happening now – retro-chic promotion of acid trip as kensho – threatens to set the cause of ending suffering back fifty years.

Make that another fifty years.

Because it's not just self-imagined "psychonauts" at risk here; if it were, a hermit could just shrug and repeat what he always says to guru-worshipers, religious tourists, nihonophiles, and other posers he meets on the Buddha Way: "It's your karma, dude."

But Zen is important. Critical, in fact. It literally saved my life, and there are many, many others out there who are still desperately seeking it. To plough up their path, to mislead and reroute them into dead-end practices (or worse) is unconditionally the deadliest sin in Buddhism.

Tellingly, there is no precept against obscurantism. (Religion, yo.) But if you want another ten-thousand rides on this merry-go-round, just you keep it up, dharma pusher.

The only skilful response to "Buddhist psychedelics" is the same one we must give anyone suppressing the liberating truth that the Path is in-born, a universal birthright bundled free in every sentient mind, each of which comes into this life pre-programmed and fine-tuned for its single purpose: awakening.

Walking the Path requires no approval or assistance from anyone or anything. The power is inside, and nothing that isn't, is it.

Any other message – any other message – is delusory.

So on the off chance I've been vague about my thoughts on this issue, I'm going to plant my flag squarely and firmly in the open, where even stoned brothers and sisters can't fail to see it:

–––> The teaching that drugs are useful in Buddhist practice is evil.

It isn't a divergent model, a denominational difference, an alternate reading of the sutras, a newly-revealed insight, a simple disagreement among sangha of good faith, a questionable form grandfathered in by centuries of practice, or an inconsistency due to our human nature.

It's the deliberate generation of makyō, with attendant multiplication of suffering and delusion.

It makes the world a colder, more cynical, less compassionate place.

To put it succinctly: these people have joined the other side.

So there ya go, Lion. Looks like you have in fact found one thing psychedelics can accomplish. They can move a freakin' hermit to excommunicate you.

Have you any idea how far from reason you have to fall to achieve that?

Farther, I suspect, than an undrugged mind can take you.

See you on the road, brothers and sisters.

And don't eat the brown acid.

(Graphic courtesy of Hamed Khamees and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

WW: Jackknife clam

(I found this shell on the lower tidelands during a recent very low tide. It came from a jackknife clam [Solen sicarius], close relative of the more familiar razor clam [Silqua patula] of the outer beach.

Jackknives are a great deal smaller and rarer than their larger, edible cousins, and of course, they live in a very different habitat. While similar bivalves are used as fishbait and even food in other parts of the world, I'm not aware of any human use for this species.

It's just cool.)

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Starfish Update, August 2018

Last week I trolled a few beaches in Whatcom County with two droogies from college. We were taking advantage of passably low tides and the bright August weather to reconnect with some of our favourite haunts.

The first was predictably depressing: where the rocks had been encrusted with brightly-coloured sea stars last I saw it – 33 years ago – they now boasted not a one.

So when we arrived at the second, early next morning, expectations were low. But what was our delight to find, first one… then several… and finally hordes of Pisaster ochraceus, the purple shore star.

Signature starfish of the North Pacific, these are the first Pisaster I've seen in years. We all cheered loudly.

And they're adults, which suggests they're either bearing up against the plague or (more likely) haven't yet been exposed to it.

The disease was present, though. We didn't conduct a formal survey, of course, but we did find a single infected individual who was well on the way to dissolving into mush. Interestingly, that was also one of the few immature specimens we found on the beach that day. This is contrary to the usual pattern, but that's probably just a fluke.

Will Pisaster survive on this beach? Seems dubious. But we can hope.

In the meantime, it did my heart good just to see them again, after all these years.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

WW: You've been warned

Thursday, 9 August 2018

One-Mind Kyôsaku

Ginkaku-Ji Temple moss forest walkway (7151830689) (2) If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha.

If you meet the patriarchs, kill the patriarchs.

If you meet arhats, kill arhats.

If you meet your parents, kill your parents.

If you meet your relatives, kill your relatives.

Then, for the first time, you will see clearly.

(The I-hsüan of Lin-ch’i – known as Rinzai in Japanese.)

(Photo of forest trail at Ginkaku-Ji Rinzai monastery [Kyoto] courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and a generous photographer.)

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

WW: Still life with sea cucumber

(Parastichopus californicus. At up to 60 centimetres, the largest sea cucumber in the world, though this one is only about 4 inches extended. Excellent eating, too. As are all but one of the seaweeds pictured.)

Thursday, 2 August 2018


Canada Customs at Osoyoos, 1922 The instant I start an outbacking trek, I'm looking for postcards.

I define as backward those towns that sell corny postcards, spineless those whose cards depict other places. But the cards I buy fly everywhere, under governance of an elaborate formula.

Lovers get the best ones, followed by Europeans, who suffer a debilitating lack of outback. From there, priority hinges on the closeness of the relationship.

The mailing list is as long as the journey, and I agonize, sometimes for days, over which to send whom. But in the end, I'm mostly just talking to myself.

Slipping cards through slots in post office doors and general store counters soothes the rower, the part of me that always faces aft, and reminds others that I exist, a fact I fear they are likely to forget.

(Adapted from Rough Around the Edges: A Journey Around Washington's Borderlands, copyright RK Henderson. 1922 postcard of the Osoyoos custom house courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and a generous collector.)

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

WW: Geoduck

(This is just the end of a neck that can reach six feet in length. As the largest burrowing clam in the world, Panopea generosa is a Herculean labour to catch, made more exciting by the fact that it lives in the lowest tidal zone. Hence the bay is on its way back while you furiously dig.)