Thursday, 31 January 2019

Not The Only Seeker In Town

So I'm browsing through the Good Value Army, not looking to buy anything, when suddenly I spot 'mongst the random rummage...


It's a seiza bench.

And not just any seiza bench. This one is made by Shasta Abbey, so you know it's up for serious practice. (Note the upholstery and rockered legs. That's quality sit.)

For the uninitiated, seiza means "kneeling" in Japanese. Which the Japanese, as a chair-free people, do a lot of. Which means all Zenners – even non-Asian ones – must do a lot of it, too.

And that's a problem, because as I've pointed out, we Westerners are a chair-bound lot. I'd go so far as to call us crippled, in this respect. (Though that said, I'm told the Japanese themselves no longer inhabit the floor as much as they used to, so that Japanese meditators of my generation and younger often experience similar difficulty in Zen practice today.)

But since Westerners also view cheating as a feat of intellect, sometime around the 1970s we adopted this modest little ruse, which allows a guy to sit like a white man while still looking all enlightened and everything. Truth is, even "kneeling" in this fashion will mess you up; I've often held this position for upwards of two hours, and can affirm that your knees and ankles will gently remind you they're there when it's over.

But wait! The bench is also a crutch to help you stand up! Beat that, anachronistic old zafu!

I've wanted one of these literally since I took the path, because it helps change things up during sesshin and there are other places and times where it's a more appropriate choice than a cushion. It also helps greatly in everyday life, such as when doing a project on the floor.

But sturdy and comfortable seiza benches are expensive, and I have this thing about buying stuff I can make.

In other words, I spent the last 16 years preparing to build one.

Which, as you can see, was very shrewd of me, because I've just scored this deluxe model for less than the cost of lunch. Just waiting there amidst all the wooden salad spoons and beat-up tennis rackets, for an old bald fellow dressed all in black to snatch it up like a thrift-store turtleneck.

Road it took to get here included at no extra charge.

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

WW: Rosehips

(Rosa rugosa.)

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Lynch's Law

EYE WORK 05 An old friend last week posted a link to The Cruelty of Call-Out Culture: How Not To Do Social Change, David Brook's timely and incisive denunciation of our current lynch-mob fad. (The link goes to the original NYT post, which may not be available to all. Sadly I was unable to find an unregulated source.)

In it, Brooks relates a recent NPR segment on two members of the punk scene who were tarred and feathered (virtually, so far), then shunned, utterly and irrevocably, by their erstwhile comrades.

The first target, best friend of one Emily, was accused of "sending […] an unwelcome sexually explicit photograph" to a woman Emily apparently didn't know. Emily instantly turned on him, intentionally busted up the man's circle of friends, and effectively destroyed his life. She's had no further contact with this professed "best friend" since.

And then Emily herself was called out, in her case as a one-time cyber bully, having among other things posted a piling-on emoji to an Internet thread mocking a classmate. More than ten years previous. When she was in high school.

She instantly came in for the Adulterer's Special in her own right and was shunned in turn, as deeply and implacably as her apparently irredeemable former friend, by the same crowd she too regarded and depended upon as family.

At this point some may repress a smirk, but it turns out putting folks' eyes out ain't all that tidy, droogies. Witness:
"[Emily's accuser said the act of denouncing her] gave him a rush of pleasure, like an orgasm. He was asked if he cared about the pain Emily endured. 'No, I don’t care,” he replied. […] I literally do not care about what happens to you after the situation. I don’t care if she’s dead, alive, whatever.'"
Let's be clear. In this man's view, death is a reasonable punishment for flippancy. I think the moral here is, vet your allies carefully.

In further justification of his aggression, this individual declares that he was physically and emotionally abused in the past. In response to which my Zen training has taught me to ask: "By her?"

I'll warrant the reply to that one is less erotic.

Although by Emily's figuring she made moral progress between her bitchy teenage years and conscientious adulthood, let's note that her actions at both ages were identical: flush a pariah and move in for the kill.

Perhaps most frightening of all, she even condones her own attackers' behaviour, accepting the Gandhic hotbox she helped build as a righteous reaction to her ostensibly inexpungeable crimes. In other words, it seems she has gained little insight from all of this. She's suffered, deeply and grievously, for nothing.

Which is my definition of hell.

As for her tormentor's delusions, let's crack those right now: victims of injustice are more responsible for their actions, not less. Far from green-lighting cruelty, survival obliges you to stand firmly and publicly against the megalomania and mindless brutality that brutalised you. Particularly when it metasticises into an untargetted orgy.

Some commenters to the article claimed that vigilantism is righteous because duly constituted authority has long ignored, condescended to, even criminalised the victims of social crimes. Basically, "bullies must be bullied because bullies won't bully the bullies who bully the bullies I bully."

Now there's a koan. But the Buddha already solved this one for us, 2500 years ago:
"Blood stains cannot be removed by more blood. Resentment cannot be removed by more resentment."
That there's a paucity of justice in this lazy world is woefully clear. That we can secure it by further injustice is the con of a grifter.

Due process and calm analysis – of everything, including intent and context – are the right and left hands of justice. And empathy is its brain. If after patient and thorough investigation a case turns up weak, the accused is usually innocent, at very least of the precise charge or degree. As unsatisfying as that is to those who burn for payback, there is no other route to a just society.

If justice is truly your goal, you have to get off the sofa and build a system that values and compels it. Which is exceedingly difficult to do. But anything less just triples the injustice.

Bottom line: the karmic benchmark here remains the same it's always been: "Am I different from my enemies? Do I eliminate suffering, or create it?"

It's a tough inquisition, and one I freely own I fail on a regular basis.

But it simply will not do to skip it.

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

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

WW: Golden waxy cap

(Hygrocybe flavescens.)

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

WW: Latest invention

(This is a longwire block. It provides a quick means to anchor a longwire antenna – used in ad hoc radio communications – at the transmitter end without winding it around something, which is electrically problematic. I designed it myself and made this prototype from a cheap plastic cutting board. It's entirely metal-free, another necessity.

It's possible – probable, probably – that someone else has had this idea in radio's 100+ years. But I've never seen such a thing, and came up with the principle independently, following a process of problem-solving. Therefore I invented it.

I also designed the lo-viz paint job and the articulated hooks holding it down, made from the same cutting board. [Note original colour.]

The block design needs a few adjustments, but as you can see, we've got proof of concept.)

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Compassion Kyôsaku

Tượng Bồ Tát Quán Thế Âm trong vườn Bồ Tát Thiền Viện Trúc Lâm Trí Đức "[Kitano] was thin and not in good health, but Shunryu was mesmerised by the way he would lay out his bowing cloth and lower himself to place his forehead on it, and above all by the way he would rise up again. He was so frail that every time he bowed Shunryu thought he wouldn't be able to get up, but he did, time after time.

"Eventually Shunryu realised that it was harder for him to watch Kitano bow than it was for Kitano to do so."

David Chadwick, Crooked Cucumber

(Photo of Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva statue in Bodhisattva garden of Truc Lam Tri Duc Zen Monastery courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and a generous photographer.)

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

WW: Jungle creek

(A shot of a creek in the jungle where I sat my 100 Days.)

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Seedling Year

'Pine Tree', Ink and color on paper by Pan Dawei just a foot long, but it'll do
New Year's pine


(Pine Tree by Pan Dawei courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and a generous photographer.)

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

WW: Straight Key Night 2019

(Every New Year's Day brasspounders observe Straight Key Night. During this 24-hour period [1 January UTC, 0000 to 2359], we eschew our fancy-pants electronic keyers – such as the one shoved back against the wall in the picture – and pull out a classic old-style Morse key, for auld lang syne. The example in the foreground above is the very one I started on, all those years ago.

It's been humbling. In my young days OTs [old-timers] complimented me on my skills, but it turns out that several decades of laziness plays hell on one's fist. My New Year's resolution is to remedy that.)