Thursday, 29 June 2017

Critical Mass


The difference between one and zero is the whole world.

(Photo courtesy of Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders, NASA, and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

WW: Leather starfish

(Dermasterias imbricata)

Thursday, 22 June 2017

The Cul-de-Sac of Science

This week a Zen droogie slipped me The Philosophy Force Five vs the Scientismists, a terrific graphic essay by Existential Comics. In this gripping tale of superhero1 derring-do, five ferocious female filosophers confront three uniformly male [c.f. “unsupported hypotheses”] cavaliers of positivist complacency.

They’re annoying, those guys. Furthermore, their boorish self-congratulation gains no evidentiary weight by their peremptory tone. (Incidentally, one of them does not bear a striking resemblance to Neil DeGrasse Tyson. So stop saying he does.)

All of which fired my interest, because Scientism is the third wheel, alongside Taoism and Buddhism, of an up-and-coming Western school of Zen that is highly influential here. It’s called “Secular Buddhism” and/or “Atheist Zen”. In it, Scientism replaces the traditional Confucianism, an equally ad hoc, if older and Asian, retrofit I’ve already lambasted elsewhere.

I’ll leave a full workup for another time, but for now I’d like to suggest that evidence-based religion makes as much sense as revealed science. Which we tried for centuries, and some – such as creationists – are still trying to make happen.

To borrow an argument The Philosophy Force Five literally kick down their adversaries' throats: “Science can only tell us how to effectively [sic] pursue a goal, but no experiment has ever told us what we should value.”

What they do not point out is that the latter is also much harder to discover, and requires a great deal more intellect, to say nothing of perseverance, self-control, and courage. Science is in fact not the most difficult brainwork we do, and our compulsion for herding our best and brightest into it may yet prove maladaptive. (Which is Scientismist for "suicidal".)

By my reckoning, intellect, perseverance, self-control, and courage are also the foundation blocks of Zen. Aren't they prerequisite to our much-ballyhooed "don't know mind"? This is one reason I’m suspicious of the anti-religious zealotry of many Western Zenners. Atheist Zen seems about as doable to me as Atheist Christianity.

Please note that I wish my Secular Buddhist brothers and sisters health and success, have no intention of obstructing their teachings or practice, and learn a great deal from the insight they share. My argument is purely theoretical. And theory has no objective existence. See? I told you I was listening.

But as I grow older I’m learning that the market value of the scientific method is greatly diminished by the moral and intellectual laziness of many who claim it – particularly the sarcasm they’ve made a tribal language. In clinical terms, science seems to have died the same death as religion: strangled by the undisciplined ego of its adherents.

I believe we’re now suffering the consequences of this global catastrophe – the simultaneous extinction of insight and inquiry. In the end, it may well lead to our own.

But while you're waiting, be sure to read The Philosophy Force Five vs the Scientismists. It's either brilliantly hilarious, or hilariously brilliant.


1"Superhero" is a registered trademark of Marvel Comics and DC Comics. God I wish I were joking.

(Graphic from the linked web comic by Existential Comics.)

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

WW: North Coast homeport

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Koan: The Dead Man's Answer


When Mamiya, who later became a well-known preacher, went to a teacher for personal guidance, he was asked to explain the sound of one hand.

Mamiya concentrated upon what the sound of one hand might be. “You are not working hard enough,” his teacher told him. “You are too attached to food, wealth, things, and that sound. It would be better if you died. That would solve the problem.”

The next time Mamiya appeared before his teacher he was again asked what he had to show regarding the sound of one hand. Mamiya at once fell over as if he were dead.

“You are dead all right,” observed the teacher, “But how about that sound?”

“I haven’t solved that yet,” replied Mamiya, looking up.

“Dead men do not speak,” said the teacher. “Get out!”

(Case 42 from Collection of Stone and Sand. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and a generous photographer.)

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

WW: The Blockhouse Wars

(On this site stood one of the first homesteads in the neck of Thurston County, Washington, where I grew up. During the Blockhouse Wars of the 1850s – a string of skirmishes touched off by settler abuse of First Nations treaties – the Eaton place hosted one of the tiny wooden stockades for which the era is named. I'm told the ruins of "Fort Eaton" endured well into the 20th century.

The marker was placed, not by any government organism, but by the Freedom Community, a Christian commune established nearby later in the l9th century. It too succumbed to entropy, but persisted as an ordinary village for decades thereafter.

When I was a kid this monument was all but lost under Scotch broom, baldhip rose, and Garry oak, beside a county highway that began life as the main wagon road between Oregon and Puget Sound. While reading history at university I found the plaque by the ancient oak beside it, which I was told was the local hangin' tree. [Oaks are rare on the North Coast; their presence on the Salish Prairie in great number was and remains much remarked.]

In the decades since someone has cleared a respectable little rest stop around the marker, rendering it much easier to find.)

Thursday, 8 June 2017


Mechanical egg timer internals
(The following is a passage from Rough Around the Edges, a manuscript I began 20 years ago. Though my Zen practice was still about six years in the future, it's interesting to me today to read a fundamentally exact description of what the Buddha called "world weariness" – the mainspring of enlightenment practice – written in my own pre-monastic hand. Like the man said, we come by it honestly.)

The problem, the problem. What is the problem?

You're born. Somewhere, someone sets an egg timer. For a quarter-hour you rave like a rich man in a burning mansion, snatching at a vase, a string of pearls, anything to show you lived there.

The timer dings; you're unborn. The necklace falls to the ground.

We get it about wealth. The prophets have all warned us. But there are other treasures just as fleeting.

I hunger for love, to share life, and not to be alone. Except it won't do. Even if you find love, the timer still goes ding. The necklace falls to the ground.

What's the problem? I'm afraid to die alone. But I live alone. I work alone, and most of the time, I love alone.

The seconds tick. The words echo in my mind. A thought occurs:

Perhaps the most valuable thing in that house is the fire.

(Adapted from Rough Around the Edges: A Journey Around Washington's Borderlands, copyright RK Henderson. Photo of the mechanics of egg-timing courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and generous photographer.)

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

WW: Limit of mussels

(My friend Ajai weighs his catch.)

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Hymn to the Red Moon

I see the morning star
Bow low above the plain
And from behind the ridge
The rising sun exclaims:
"I got a new day here!
Any takers?
Go and get your mule, boy.
Here's forty acres."

(Photo of sunrise at Joshua Tree National Park by Rennett Stowe. Red moon over Arkhangelsk by a generous photographer. Both courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)
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