Tuesday, May 28, 2019

A Dirge on Living and Dying


(Inspired by 34 years of practice and Edna St. Vincent Millay)

Dirge Without Music by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go, but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, —but the best is lost.
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love, —
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.

More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

Hello, all my old as well as my newer friends. As some of you know, I began daily meditation practice in 1985 when I met my first teacher Swami Chaitanya Siraj and took refuge vows with his teacher that same year. Swami Chaitanya Siraj had studied with Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Osho) in his Indian Ashram for many years and was designated as a teacher in Osho's lineage; additionally, Siraj's path of teaching was wide and open to all of the Wisdom Traditions. In 1989 I met and began practicing with Zen Master Seung Sahn, and in 2001 I became a Dharmacharya, a Senior Dharma Teacher so I have been teaching individual students for 18 years. Also, because I chose to live the life of a mendicant in 2012, doesn’t mean that I don’t celebrate life. I realized while planning this recent trip to Southern California to study with my current teacher, one of many I have had since the beginning, that I am 62 today.

Hwangap (ch: 甲子, py: Jiǎzǐ) is a traditional way of celebrating one’s 60th birthday. The number 60 means accomplishing one big 60-year cycle and starting another one in one's life following the traditional 60-year calendar cycle of the lunar calendar. Many of my old High School friends were born in 1957, just like me, and this means that they were born in the year of the “Red Fire Rooster.” In case you didn’t realize it, 2017 was the year of the “Red Fire Rooster.”

Our Gregorian Calendar is base 10, so a Century happens every 100 years. The Chinese Calendar is base 60, so a Century happens every 60 years. This is based on the 12 Zodiac symbols and the 5 elements, so 12 x 5 = 60.

In the traditional way of counting ages, we begin a new 60-year cycle on New Year's Day, when everyone became a year older. Thus, people who were 60 and had completed their first 60-year cycle entered their second cycle on the New Year's Day when they turned 61 and returned to the same combination of zodiacal symbols that governed the year of their birth. Under the currently popular western method of counting ages, however, one enters one's second cycle on one's 60th birthday. The traditional cycles still remain, but the way of counting ages has changed by one year, so today I am only 2 years old.

In the past, a person's average life expectancy was much lower than 60, so Hwangap also means a celebration of longevity. The celebration party is also a wish for an even longer and more prosperous life. This party is customarily thrown by the children of the person who is turning 60 unless that person does not have any children, in which case there's no party at all. On one's Hwangap family and relatives prepare a big birthday celebration with lots of food.

As far as my Zen Community goes, we had a formal celebration of my 60 years during our July 2017 retreat in Oneida, NY. Changing, changing, changing, is the way of this world, let us all embrace it with love, compassion, and fortitude.

I started practicing Zen in the nineteen-eighties and learned much from my teachers during these early years. Consequently, as I progressed with daily practice, I can remember a few specific instances that occurred in the early nineteen nineties that changed my opinion and set the course for the rest of my life. One of my close mentors in those days was a Dharmacharya named Bridget Duff. She had started practicing with Zen Master Seung Sahn in 1972 in the very early days in Los Angeles. Prior to meeting Seung Sahn, Bridget had spent some time also studying with Jiddu Krishnamurti and experienced some very transformational life-changing events. Bridget was one of the original members of the Los Angeles group and was close to Seung Sahn for the rest of his life.

Bridget is the daughter of two rather famous (or infamous) parents of the nineteen fifty Hollywood scene. Her mother was Ida Lupino and her father was Howard Duff. Her mother was considered the most powerful woman in Hollywood next to Lucille Ball in the late fifties. Bridget grew up as neighbors of the Ronald Reagan’s and her best friend growing up was Patti Davis (Reagan) who was the same age as Bridgette.

In August of 1995, Bridgette had told me that her mother was dying. I had never heard much from her about her relationship with her mom or what was going on between them. Over the next few weeks, she told me that her mother had really alienated her relationship and wanted nothing to do with her daughter. However, due to her advanced colon cancer, she had reconciled with Bridgette and they got to try to reconcile about thirty years of problems over the course of two weeks.

Sometime, about a month later, I was in Reno, Nevada where I had arranged a retreat with Zen Master Bonsoeng (Jeff Kitzes), and a group of students who had been studying with Eido Roshi. I had been practicing with this group as my job had me in Reno at least three or four days a week at that time. I had brought up four of the residents of the Ocean Eyes Zen Center with me to attend this retreat and support the local Reno Sangha. During this retreat, Jeff gave a Dharma talk which discussed his alienation with his father when he decided to follow the Buddhist path.

Bonsoeng was brought up as a Jewish child in California and his father had hoped that he would follow in a banking or business path and support his father’s sense of family values. Bonsoeng grew up in the late sixties Berkeley environment and decided that Psychology and Buddhism was a much better path for him. Bonsoeng said that his father never forgave him for this. He then relayed that follow the diagnosis of a terminal illness, his father was given only a few months to live. Bonsoeng said that he decided to transfer his clients and spent as much time as he could in his father’s last days. Jeff said that the closeness and openness that his father expressed were moving and allowed the two of them to reconcile lifelong differences.

Following these two experiences, I looked at my own life and came to some deep realizations. I realized that I was very distant in relationship with both my father and my mother and decided that I didn't want to wait until a few weeks or months before their deaths to have a good relationship with them. I took to heart the teaching of Zen Master Seung Sahn and applied his teaching of correct situation, correct relationship and correct function. I was distant from my parents and we were not very affectionate, nor did we communicate on a very regular basis.

I wrote a very detailed letter to my mother following these two experiences discussing our differences and seeming distance. I told her that she might be uncomfortable but I was going to be a good son, I was going to start hugging her (this had never happened before) and I was going to kiss her (this too) and tell her that I love her (this was a big deal for me so I decided to take the lead.) She responded well to my letter and from this, our relationship began to grow and bear fruit.

We grew stronger in our relationship and I was firm on celebrating all the major holidays with my parents and my family. We had great celebrations for Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. every year without fail, this was my commitment to my family. My mother was diagnosed with spinal cancer in 2002 and it took her life in 2003. I was with her holding her hand when she took her last breath. I can also say that there was nothing left unsaid between the two of us. We had the eight years to sort everything out about our relationship and our history.

I was worried about my father when my mother died and thought he would take a turn and just give up. He didn't and we became close friends and spent some tremendous time together. He became frail a few years later and I spent as much time as I could with him, sometimes months at a time. He lived in the Bay Area and I was living in Los Angeles. I got five years of great time learning and exploring with my father before he finally succumbed to emphysema. I was also blessed to be holding his hand during the final moments, as I had with my mom.

So, what does all this mean? I studied with many teachers and psychologists and looked for insight where I could find it during these years. I found great direction with the Zen Hospice Project and the teachings should be looked at as precepts for living and not precepts for dealing with dying people. Please take these points to heart. We have a very short time on this planet; we can only make changes in the present, so please follow these precepts to allow your lives to flower.

Five Regrets of dying people

1. We wish we hadn’t made decisions based on what other people think
When we make our decisions based on other people’s opinions, two things tend to happen.

We can make poor career choices. There are too many of us out there who studied for a degree we regret or even spend our lives pursuing a career we regret. Whether we are seeking parental approval or pursuing pay and prestige over passion, making a poor career choice is a decision that will live with us forever.

We fail to uphold our own moral compass. When we get too caught up in what our boss thinks of us, how much money we think our spouse and children need to be happy, or how bad we will look if we fail, we are at high risk of violating our own morals. Our intense desire to make ourselves look good compromises our ability to stay true to ourselves and, ultimately, to feel equanimity.

Laozi said, “If we seek for the approval of others, we become their prisoner.” The best way to avoid falling prey to the opinions of others is to realize that other people’s opinions are just that — opinions. Regardless of how great or terrible they think we are, that’s only their opinion. Our true self-worth comes from within.

2. We wish we hadn’t worked so hard
Working hard is a great way to impact the world, to learn, to grow, to feel accomplished, and sometimes even to find happiness, and this becomes a problem when we do so at the expense of the people closest to us. Ironically, we often work hard to make money for the people we care about without realizing that they value our company more than money.

The key is to find a balance between doing what we love and being with the people we love. Otherwise, we will look back one day and wish we had focused more on the latter.

3. We wish we had expressed our feelings more openly
We are taught as children that emotions are dangerous and that they must be bottled up and controlled. This usually works at first and boxing up our feelings causes them to grow until they erupt. The best thing we can do is to put our feelings directly on the table. Though it’s painful to initiate, this forces us to be honest and transparent with ourselves and others.

For example, if we feel as though we don’t make enough money at work, schedule a meeting with our boss and propose why we think we are worth more. As a result, they will either agree with us and give us a raise or disagree and tell us what you do need to do to become more valuable. On the other hand, if we do nothing and let our feelings fester, this will hinder our performance and prevent us from reaching your goal.

4. We wish we had stayed in touch with our friends
When we get caught up in our weekly routine, it’s easy to lose sight of how important people are to you, especially those we must make time for. Relationships with old friends are among the first things to fall off the table when we’re busy. This is unfortunate because spending time with friends is a major stress buster. Close friends bring us energy, fresh perspectives, and a sense of belonging, in a way that no one else can.

5. We wish we had allowed ourselves to be happy
When our life is about to end, all the difficulties we have faced suddenly become trivial compared to the good times. This is because we realize that, more often than not, suffering is a choice. Unfortunately, most of us realize this far too late.

Although we all inevitably experience pain, how we react to our pain is completely under our control, as is our ability to experience joy. Learning to laugh, smile, and be happy (especially when stressed) is a challenge at times, but it’s one that’s worth every ounce of effort.

Bringing it all together

Some decisions have repercussions that can last a lifetime. Most of these decisions are made daily, and they require focus and perspective to keep them from haunting us.

Five precepts for living as taught by Frank Ostaseski (with my interpretation):

Welcome everything, push away nothing.
My first Zen teacher Seung Sahn Dae Jong Sa was quite fond of saying, “Put it all down,” which was his way of saying “welcome everything, push away nothing.” In Zen, we also say things like; “live in the moment” or “be mindful.” Pema Chödron, who is a teaching lineage holder of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, says it from the opposite perspective, “Abandon all hope.” This means to give up our ideas that things will change other than what they are. Abandon the idea that the outcome of a given situation is other than what it is, right now. Face this life with full awareness. Suzuki Rōshi once said something to the effect of: “it’s like going to a restaurant for lunch, and when your lunch is served you say to yourself, ‘I shouldn't have come to this restaurant, I should have gone to some other restaurant. This restaurant is not so good.’ The truth of this situation is that we can only be here now. I still have a little card my first psychology professor gave me from a class on “transactional analysis” I took in 1980 which says, “Even if you don’t like the way it is, it still is the way it is.”

Bring your whole self to the experience.
This means to live our lives with our whole bodies and souls. To be completely present and to pay attention to ourselves as much as we pay attention to others. We have to feel ourselves in each situation, feel our own tension, our own fear, our own apprehension. We need to love ourselves in each moment, especially in times of stress and anxiety. If we pay attention to our inner self, we can relax into the moment and it will be easier to be present.

Don’t wait.
Waiting implies something is going to happen by itself. It also implies that perhaps it can be done in the future. The reality that Buddha taught was that the only moment we have is now. Krishnamurti, who was one of the greatest sages of the twentieth century, talked a lot about this point. He said, “We delude ourselves in thinking that we can change some behavior in the future. It is through our discursive thinking that change can happen in the future. The only moment we have to change anything is now.”

Find the place of rest, in the middle of things.
This means that we must find that place of calm in the middle of the storm. The storm of our lives, the storm of work, the storm of getting our kids ready for school, the storm of someone who is close to us that is dying. It means that within each activity we can find a place of peace and then we can see the truth for what it is.

Cultivate a don’t know mind.
Suzuki Roshi called this beginners mind. In the mind of the beginner, possibilities are endless, in the mind of the expert, possibilities are few. An ancient once said, “Not knowing is most intimate.” This is being here without expectation or idea. This is our essential practice.

Don’t wait, act now, do what you have been avoiding, wake up and re-enter your life, already in progress!

~ Wonji Dharma


Monday, June 12, 2017

Living and Dying (Not Such a Small Thing)


Living and Dying
I started practicing Zen in the nineteen eighties and learned much from my teachers during these early years. Consequently, as I progressed with daily practice, I can remember a few specific instances that occurred in the early nineteen nineties that changed my opinion and set the course for the rest of my life. One of my close mentors in those days was a Senior Dharma Teacher named Bridget Duff. She had started practicing with Zen Master Seung Sahn in 1972 in the very early days in Los Angeles. Prior to meeting Seung Sahn, Bridget had spent some time also studying with Jidu Krishnamurti and experienced some very transformational life changing events. Bridget was one of the original members of the Los Angeles group and was close to Seung Sahn for the rest of his life.
Bridget is the daughter of two rather famous (or infamous) parents of the nineteen fifty Hollywood scene. Her mother was Ida Lupino and her father was Howard Duff. Her mother was considered the most powerful woman in Hollywood next to Lucille Ball in the late fifties. Bridget grew up as neighbors of the Ronald Reagan’s and her best friend growing up was Patti Davis (Reagan) who was the same age as Bridgette.
In August of 1995, Bridgette had told me that her mother was dying. I had never heard much from her about her relationship with her mom or what was going on between them. Over the next few weeks she told me that her mother had really alienated her relationship and wanted nothing to do with her daughter. However, due to her advanced colon cancer, she had reconciled with Bridgette and they got to try to reconcile about twenty years of problems over the course of two weeks.
Sometime, about a month later, I was in Reno, Nevada where I had arranged a retreat with Zen Master Bonsoeng (Jeff Kitzes), and a group of students who had been studying with Eido Roshi. I had been practicing with this group as my job had me in Reno at least three or four days a week at that time. I had brought up four of the residents of the Ocean Eyes Zen Center with me to attend this retreat and support the local Reno Sangha. During this retreat Jeff gave a Dharma talk which discussed his alienation with his father when he decided to follow the Buddhist path.
Bonsoeng was brought up as a Jewish child in California and his father had hoped that he would follow in a banking or business path and support his father’s sense of family values. Bonsoeng grew up in the late sixties Berkeley environment and decided that Psychology and Buddhism was a much better path for him. Bonsoeng said that his father never forgave him for this. He then relayed that follow diagnosis of a terminal illness, his father was given only a few months to live. Bonsoeng said that he decided to transfer his clients and spent as much time as he could in his father’s last days. Jeff said that the closeness and openness that his father expressed were moving and allowed the two of them to reconcile lifelong differences.
Following these two experiences, I looked at my own life and came to some deep realizations. I realized that I was very distant in relationship with both my father and my mother and decided that I didn't want to wait until a few weeks or months before their deaths to have a good relationship with them. I took to heart the teaching of Zen Master Seung Sahn and applied his teaching of correct situation, correct relationship and correct function. I was distant from my parents and we were not very affectionate nor did we communicate on a very regular basis.
I wrote a very detailed letter to my mother following these two experiences discussing our differences and seeming distance. I told her that she might be uncomfortable but I was going to be a good son, I was going to start hugging her (this had never happened before) and I was going to kiss her (this too) and tell her that I love her (this was a big deal for me so I decided to take the lead.) She responded well to my letter and from this our relationship began to grow and bear fruit.
We grew stronger in our relationship and I was firm on celebrating all the major holidays with my parents and my family. We had great celebrations for Thanksgiving, Christmas etc. every year without fail, this was my commitment to my family. My mother was diagnosed with spinal cancer in 2002 and took her life in 2003. I was with her holding her hand when she took her last breath. I can also say that there was nothing left unsaid between the two of us. We had the eight years to sort everything out about our relationship and our history.
I was worried about my father when my mother died and thought he would take a turn and just give up. He didn't and we became close friends and spent some tremendous time together. He became frail a few years later and I spent as much time as I could with him, sometimes months at a time. He lived in the Bay Area and I was living in Los Angeles. I got five years of great time learning and exploring with my father before he finally succumbed to emphysema. I was also blessed to be holding his hand during the final moments, as I had with my mom.
So, what does all this mean? I studied many teachers and psychologists and looked for insight where I could find it during these years. I found great direction with the Zen Hospice Project and the teachings should be looked at as precepts for living and not precepts for dealing with dying people. Please take these points to heart. We have a very short time on this planet; we can only make changes in the present, so please follow these precepts to allow your lives to flower.
Five Regrets of dying people
1. We wish we hadn’t made decisions based on what other people think
When we make your decisions based on other people’s opinions, two things tend to happen. We make a poor career choice. There are too many of us out there who studied for a degree we regret or even spend our lives pursuing a career we regret. Whether we are seeking parental approval or pursuing pay and prestige over passion, making a poor career choice is a decision that will live with us forever.
We fail to uphold our morals. When we get too caught up in what our boss thinks of us, how much money we think our spouse needs to be happy, or how bad we will look if we fail, we are at high risk of violating our own morals. Our intense desire to make ourselves look good compromises our ability to stay true to ourselves and, ultimately, to feel equanimity.
Laozi said, “If we seek for the approval of others, we become their prisoner.” The best way to avoid falling prey to the opinions of others is to realize that other people’s opinions are just that — opinions. Regardless of how great or terrible they think we are, that’s only their opinion. Our true self-worth comes from within.
2. We wish we hadn’t worked so hard
Working hard is a great way to impact the world, to learn, to grow, to feel accomplished, and sometimes even to find happiness, and this becomes a problem when we do so at the expense of the people closest to us. Ironically, we often work hard to make money for the people we care about without realizing that they value our company more than money.
The key is to find a balance between doing what we love and being with the people we love. Otherwise we will look back one day and wish we had focused more on the latter.
3. We wish we had expressed their feelings openly
We are taught as children that emotions are dangerous and that they must be bottled up and controlled. This usually works at first, and boxing up our feelings causes them to grow until they erupt. The best thing we can do is to put our feelings directly on the table. Though it’s painful to initiate, this forces us to be honest and transparent with ourselves and others.
For example, if we feel as though we don’t make enough money at work, schedule a meeting with our boss and propose why we think we are worth more. As a result, they will either agree with us and give us a raise or disagree and tell us what you do need to do to become more valuable. On the other hand, if we do nothing and let our feelings fester, this will hinder our performance and prevent us from reaching your goal.
4. We wish we had stayed in touch with our friends
When we get caught up in our weekly routine, it’s easy to lose sight of how important people are to you, especially those we have to make time for. Relationships with old friends are among the first things to fall off the table when we’re busy. This is unfortunate because spending time with friends is a major stress buster. Close friends bring us energy, fresh perspectives, and a sense of belonging, in a way that no one else can.
5. We wish we had allowed ourselves be happy
When our life is about to end, all the difficulties we have faced suddenly become trivial compared to the good times. This is because we realize that, more often than not, suffering is a choice. Unfortunately, most of us realize this far too late.
Although we all inevitably experience pain, how we react to our pain is completely under our control, as is our ability to experience joy. Learning to laugh, smile, and be happy (especially when stressed) is a challenge at times, but it’s one that’s worth every ounce of effort.
Bringing it all together
Some decisions have repercussions that can last a lifetime. Most of these decisions are made daily, and they require focus and perspective to keep them from haunting us.
Five precepts for living:
Welcome everything, push away nothing.
My first Zen teacher Seung Sahn Dae Jong Sa was quite fond of saying, “Put it all down,” which was his way of saying “welcome everything, push away nothing.” In Zen, we also say things like; “live in the moment” or “be mindful.” Pema Chödron, who is a teaching lineage holder of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, says it from the opposite perspective, “Abandon all hope.” This means to give up our ideas that things will change other than what they are. Abandon the idea that the outcome of a given situation is other than what it is, right now. Face this life with full awareness. Suzuki Rōshi once said something to the effect of: “it’s like going to a restaurant for lunch, and when your lunch is served you say to yourself, ‘I shouldn't have come to this restaurant, I should have gone to some other restaurant. This restaurant is not so good.’ The truth of this situation is that we can only be here now. I still have a little card my first psychology professor gave me from a class on “transactional analysis” I took in 1980 which says, “Even if you don’t like the way it is, it still is the way it is.”

Bring your whole self to the experience.
This means to live our lives with our whole bodies and souls. To be completely present and to pay attention to ourselves as much as we pay attention to others. We have to feel ourselves in each situation, feel our own tension, our own fear, our own apprehension. We need to love ourselves in each moment, especially in times of stress and anxiety. If we pay attention to our inner self we can relax into the moment and it will be easier to be present.
Don’t wait.
Waiting implies something is going to happen by itself. It also implies that perhaps it can be done in the future. The reality that Buddha taught was that the only moment we have is now. Krishnamurti, who was one of the greatest sage’s of the twentieth century, talked a lot about this point. He said, “We delude ourselves in thinking that we can change some behavior in the future. It is through our discursive thinking that change can happen in the future. The only moment we have to change anything is now.”
Find the place of rest, in the middle of things.
This means that we must find that place of calm in the middle of the storm. The storm of our lives, the storm of work, the storm of getting our kids ready for school, the storm of someone who is close to us that is dying. It means that within each activity we can find a place of peace and then we can see the truth for what it is.
Cultivate don’t know mind.

Suzuki Roshi called this beginners mind. In the mind of the beginner possibilities are endless, in the mind of the expert, possibilities are few. An ancient once said, “Not knowing is most intimate.” This is being here without expectation or idea. This is our essential practice.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Come together, right now, and overcome.

This country is galvanized today, and some feel as if they are in a state of shock, while others feel a sense of privilege and bravado. This is not the time to wallow in “why me,” or “why us.”  Blaming others because they voted for the opposition, or didn’t vote for your candidate doesn’t help. Nor does insulting others because of their beliefs, just because you feel somehow cheated or angry. The time for stumbling around with should have, could have, or would have are over. We must focus our attention on this very moment and not some future boogeyman or demon. All of these previously mentioned emotions are what more than half this country stood up against: bigotry, misogyny, sexism, homophobia, and the litany of other issues we stood against. Instead of dwelling on negative feelings, emotions, and actions, we must find a way to channel this energy into actions that can bring real change at a local level.

A simple fact which may be overlooked by many is that 53% of the turnout of voters did not vote for the President-elect; also, the Democratic Candidate actually won more votes than the President-elect. It is a time for solidarity and coming together in our communities, and our tribes, in our families, and our religious affiliations, and stand united to support one another whatever may come. We, as individuals have not lost anything (yet). It is not a time for speculation or fear mongering, it is a time to unite and get closer to our sisters and our brothers who may be affected in the future by previously stated political rhetoric. There is already too much hatred in this country, we don’t need to add to it. I feel this is a time for a real assessment of who and what each of are made of; as well as, what we are, and are not willing to tolerate, and make a commitment. This commitment, first and foremost, must be with ourselves; secondly, we must make a commitment to our individual communities to stand and act with them in both the good times and the bad. However, this action should not be based upon our imaginings or fears, our actions should be directed to real and tangible actions against any type threat that may appear in the future. Furthermore, we must remember the teachings of Ahimsā, or non-violence, which is found in the teachings of Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism; as well as the successful strategies of social change begun by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 20th Century.

Let us not forget that the president's power is limited by a system of checks and balances written into the United States Constitution. The legislative and judicial branches have specific powers to deny or impede the executive branch's actions.

The system of checks and balances was added to the Constitution so that no one branch of government would grow too powerful. The framers of the Constitution saw the complete power that the British monarch had over his country and designed American government to prevent this situation from reoccurring.

Realize that right now it is estimated that the Senate will be composed of 48 Democrats and 52 Republicans. Furthermore, Bills can pass through the Congress with a simple majority vote of 218 votes and currently there are 239 Republican Congressional members, so it looks like there is little hope for Congress helping us. 

Under the current rules of the Senate–which can be altered by a majority vote–it takes 60 votes to proceed to a vote on a bill when some of the sitting senators want to continue debate forever, or filibuster. It has not traditionally been the custom that every bill gets a filibuster and so requires 60 votes in order to pass; plenty of bills in the past have passed the Senate with fewer than 60 votes. In recent years, the filibuster has changed from an occasional gambit to a more routine part of the process. Since the Republicans took back the Senate after the 2016 elections, it may become almost a matter of course that a bill opposed by most of the minority party will have to overcome a filibuster in order to pass.

But that doesn’t mean that a bill needs 60 votes to be approved; it means 41 senators can keep a bill from being voted on. The distinction is worth making, particularly since the ability of the minority to obstruct is dependent on the willingness of the majority to be obstructed.

The legislative branch is responsible for budgeting; it can limit the president's actions by stopping the flow of resources. The president must also have approval from Congress before enacting treaties with or declaring war on foreign nations. Although the president has the power to appoint Supreme Court judges, the appointments must be approved by Congress.

In the judicial branch, judges cannot be removed by the president once installed. The courts also have the power of judicial review, which examines actions from the other branches for constitutionality. If an executive action is called into question, the Supreme Court can annul it.

There are many things that the President-Elect has said on the campaign trail and not all of them he can act on. Also, there will be a transition period prior to anything changing significantly. Saying and doing are very different phenomena. We can use this time to gather momentum in our communities and start to build bridges in an attempt to fortify our positions. 

What are we willing to do to be ready? A good situation, is a bad situation, and a bad situation, is a good situation. Meaning that the winners can easily become complacent in their victory; let us therefore, look upon this as an opportunity to come closer together and unify for the common decency of fairness and equality. We also need to come together with all people, regardless of age, economic reality, education, ethnicity, faith history, family structure, gender identity, nationality, physical and mental ability, race, sexual orientation and life experience. Most importantly let us not become, or take on any of the traits, of that which we fought so strongly to oppose. 


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Sunday, February 28, 2016

George Carlin - I Gave up on my Species


Henry Colman and Jenni Matz conducted the interview in Venice, CA on December 17, 2007.

George Carlin who was one of the Great Philosophers of the 20th Century discusses the state of the world in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries. 
We are on a nice downward glide. I call it circling the drain. And the circles get smaller and smaller and faster and faster. And you watch the sink empty. Huish!
I then we'll be gone. And that's fine. I welcome it. I wish I could live 1000 years to watch it happen. From a distance - so I can see it all.
I remember back in the late 1990's, Seung Sahn Dae Jong Sa was answering questions after a Dharma Talk at Dharma Zen Center in Los Angeles. One of the students asked him how we could all work towards "world peace." Seung Sahn replied, "I think if you ask all the animals of the planet, they will say, 'world peace only possible when all humans beings are dead.'" 

Carlin plays with the same line here, and I am paraphrasing that it is important to save yourself and not the planet because the planet will still be here long after all the humans have died. And he really makes a point with this statement;
We have to change ourselves. And we'll never do that. Because of the dollars now. Cause everybody wants a dollar and a toy. Everybody's got a telephone that will make pancakes and rub your balls. So nobody wants to rock the boat. Nobody wants to change anything.
 Enjoy the wise ones around you while they are alive, because you will miss them greatly once they pass on.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Eye of the Beholder



This is supposed to be a video about creativity with Photography, and unexpectedly they stumble upon the crux of our human experience. We taint everything we see through eyes that are distorting the truth (or reality or the fact) of each and every moment. We cannot help it, it is based upon all the baggage that has been accumulated since the time the Doctor, Midwife or whom ever delivered us smacked us on the butt to take our first breath.

Most of us live our lives, never being able to see beyond the veil of our filtered existence. We think we see the truth in front of our eyes, and yet that truth is based upon our expectations, our biases and our opinions. So here, in this video, we have a group of photographers who are told a fabricated story about an individual, and they try to portray their idea of who they think he is rather than letting all that fall away and just see the image that is in front of them. 

This is how we do violence to each other, this is how we hurt those around us without even understanding that we have violated them. We say interesting things like, "You aren't the person you were when I met you." or "You have changed so much that I no longer know who you are." If we gave our selves a moment prior to opening our mouths and actually thought about either of these statements we would never utter them. Nothing in life is fixed, everything is in flux, including us. And this is the biggest lie we try to convince ourselves of. We look at pictures of Movie Stars when they were young, and we say, "Wow, they sure have aged "either poorly or gracefully."

We desire so much to keep everything static. This would be akin to going to our local favorite place, perhaps an Ocean side, or a Lake-view, or even at the banks of our favorite river. Perhaps we look at the water as being so clear, so pristine and sparkly that we want to take some of it with us. So we get a bucket and scoop it up and take it home. Perhaps we put it out on our porch and go about our business, only to return weeks later and see some slimy cauldron of mosquito larvae invested mold factory. Once we remove anything from its current environment, which is always changing and in flux, we remove its inherent nature and change it.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Global Warming and the Paradox of Judeo Christian and Eastern Theology

Chief Seattle
There is a fundamental issue which I may choose to develop more deeply on this subject; additionally, this appeared suddenly within my purview and I cannot hesitate to share it now. It concerns the sale of land to the United States of America and the Salish Indigenous People's inhabiting the land in what is now known as the State of Washington. This wise sage of a Chief warns the American's and invites them to change and see an alternative view with this letter he wrote to President Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States. 

Chief Seattle (c. 1786 – June 7, 1866) was a Dkhw'Duw'Absh (Duwamish) chief. A prominent figure among his people, he pursued a path of accommodation to white settlers, forming a personal relationship with David Swinson "Doc" Maynard. The city of Seattle, in the U.S. state of Washington, was named after him. A widely publicized speech arguing in favor of ecological responsibility and respect of Native Americans' land rights had been attributed to him. However, what he actually said has been lost through translation and rewriting.
President Franklin Pierce

Please read these words and know that they echo a respect and sanctity that frankly does not exist in the Abrahamic Religions. It is because in "Genesis" it says that "God then gave Man dominion over all things." We are on a precipice, it may tilt and destroy everything we value. The earth on the other-hand will still be here, and perhaps a bit happier we are gone.

Chief Seattle's Letter (1855)

"The President in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. But how can you buy or sell the sky? the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?

Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people.

We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the dew in the meadow, the body heat of the pony, and man all belong to the same family.

The shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water, but the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you our land, you must remember that it is sacred. Each glossy reflection in the clear waters of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people. The water's murmur is the voice of my father's father.
The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst. They carry our canoes and feed our children. So you must give the rivers the kindness that you would give any brother.

If we sell you our land, remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life that it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also received his last sigh. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life. So if we sell our land, you must keep it apart and sacred, as a place where man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow flowers.

Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth.
This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.
One thing we know: our God is also your God. The earth is precious to him and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator.

Your destiny is a mystery to us. What will happen when the buffalo are all slaughtered? The wild horses tamed? What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills is blotted with talking wires? Where will the thicket be? Gone! Where will the eagle be? Gone! And what is to say goodbye to the swift pony and then hunt? The end of living and the beginning of survival.

When the last red man has vanished with this wilderness, and his memory is only the shadow of a cloud moving across the prairie, will these shores and forests still be here? Will there be any of the spirit of my people left?
We love this earth as a newborn loves its mother's heartbeat. So, if we sell you our land, love it as we have loved it. Care for it, as we have cared for it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you receive it. Preserve the land for all children, and love it, as God loves us.

As we are part of the land, you too are part of the land. This earth is precious to us. It is also precious to you.


One thing we know - there is only one God. No man, be he Red man or White man, can be apart. We ARE all brothers after all."

Sunday, November 29, 2015

America is not the greatest country in the World anymore, it could be again if we fix it.

America is not the greatest country in the world anymore from Wonji Dharma on Vimeo.

As we will see later in this post, all the Statements may not be 100% on point, they do however point out that the United States is no longer in a position to say that this is the Greatest Country in the World. And yes all the conservatives reading this most likely will get their panties in a bunch about it. And yes there are numerous videos purporting to disavow any of the claims made in this Fictional Drama; nevertheless, there is a growing malaise which is beginning to eat at the core of this nation. I am not a politician, I am a simple monk who is trying to do no harm, which does not mean keeping my mouth shut about the social injustice which I have seen erode this country since I was a boy. 

My father spent 24 years defending this country while serving in the United States Air Force as a Master Crew Chief on B-52's, you know the ones carrying nuclear bombs. I spent 6 years serving this country in the United States Air Force as a Crew Chief on F-4D's, you know the ones that carried nuclear bombs. 

I have spent the rest of my life in one way or another working on helping others, and also worked in Corporate America at the same time. I am neither Republican, Democrat or Libertarian. I am, first and foremost, a monk who is tired of seeing us create a war on the poor when it used to be a war on poverty in my youth. I am no anti-american, I am a monk who believes in treating everyone with respect, as long as they return it back in the same manner. 

I am sick to death of war, why does everything have to be a war. What happened to negotiation and working towards a common goal? We live in a country divided, it is and has been divided along religious and socioeconomic boundaries. We have a country in chaos, we have people roaming the streets like vigilantes carrying semi-automatic weapons. It is all to make us feel unsafe. We must not give into fear anymore, and we must learn to have a voice that is grounded in love, directed by compassion, and informed by education. This does not allow us to give into hate, violence or aggression; yet, it does not to mean not to defend ourselves with equal fortitude. 

Never give up, never surrender, and remember that it is all good; consequently, there is only one resolve in life and that is to be more loving, please do no harm. - Wonji 
...It's NOT the greatest country in the world, Professor. That's my answer. Fine. Sharon, the NEA is a loser. Yeah, it accounts for a penny out of our paycheck, but he gets to hit you with it anytime he wants. It doesn't cost money. It costs votes. It costs airtime. And column inches. You know why people don't like liberals? Because they lose. If liberals are so fuckin' smart then how come they lose so goddamn always? And with a straight face, you're gonna sit there and tell students that America is so star-spangled awesome that we're the only ones in the world who have freedom? Canada has freedom. Japan has freedom. The U.K. France. Italy. Germany. Spain. Australia. BELGIUM has freedom. Two hundred and seven sovereign states in the world, like, a hundred and eighty of them have freedom....And you, Sorority Girl, just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there's some things you should know. One of them is there's absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we're the greatest country in the world. We're seventh in literacy. Twenty-seventh in math. Twenty-second in science. Forty-ninth in life expectancy. A hundred and seventy-eighth in infant mortality. Third in median household income. Number four in labor force and number four in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: Number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next twenty-six countries combined, twenty-five of whom are allies. Now none of this is the fault of a twenty-year-old college student, but you nonetheless are without a doubt a member of the worst, period, generation, period, ever, period. So when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I dunno what the fuck you're talkin' about. Yosemite? Sure used to be. We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons. We passed laws, struck down laws, for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed. We cared about our neighbors. We put our money where our mouths were. And we never beat our chest. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and we cultivated the world's greatest artists and the world's greatest economy. We reached for the stars. Acted like men. We aspired to intelligence. We didn't belittle it, it didn't make us feel inferior.We didn't identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election, and we didn't, oh, we didn't scare so easy. Ha. We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed. By great men. Men who were revered. First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore. Enough?

The following is from http://www.zebrafactcheck.com/


The speech contains a number of statements apparently intended as factual statements.  As the first season of “The Newsroom” features real-life news events borrowed from the 2010 real world, such as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, we can test the claims against figures in use in 2010.
“Seventh in literacy”
The CIA’s World Factbook has literacy estimates for the nations of the world.  Wikipedia presents those statistics in a form that allows for easy interpretation.  The literacy estimates actually put the U.S. back in the pack numerically, but taking ties into account allows for putting the U.S. at No. 7.  The nations in the top 40 are all pretty close, well above 95 percent literate.  Andorra, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg all report 100 percent literacy.
“Twenty-second in science”
McAvoy’s speech offers few clues about what measure backed this claim.  Scimago Lab ranks the U.S. a clear No. 1 in peer-reviewed science publishing.  A study released in 2010 dealing with 15-year-old students from65 nations placed the U.S. at No. 22 in scholastic science achievement.
“Forty-ninth in life expectancy”
The 2010 CIA World Fact Book ranks the U.S. at No. 49 in life expectancy—if the “European Union” is counted as a country separate from EU members like Germany and Italy.  Puerto Rico came in at No. 43, including the EU.
The World Bank, using a variety of data sources, ranks the U.S. at No. 39 for both 2009 and 2010.
“One hundred seventy-eighth in infant mortality”
The New York Post’s Kyle Smith had a look at this statistic back in June of 2012 and concluded that somebody read the list from the CIA World Factbook upside-down.
We found McAvoy’s exact statistic at a website run by the Center for Youth Studies.  The site refers readers to the CIA World Factbook for more information.  The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel published a story based on the infant mortality rankings from the 2010 version of the World Factbook, and the numbers confirm Smith’s finding that the inverted ranking is 176, not 178, and the list ranks the U.S. at No. 46 when properly read.
“Third in median household income”
Wikipedia’s presentation of  the 2010 numbers from the OECD places the U.S. at No. 4 for median household income.  That’s from a list of 35 countries.
“No. 4 in labor force”
Photius.com shows the U.S. at No. 4 in labor force for 2010, showing the CIA World Factbook for 2010 as its source.  The European Union beats out the U.S. for third place on the list.
“No. 4 in exports”
Photius.com also agrees with McAvoy’s claim about export ranking, placing the U.S. at No. 4, right after Germany, in 2010.
“We lead the world in only three categories.”
The U.S. leads the world in quite a few categories, including defense spending, largest economy, highest number of annual immigrants, and best higher-education system.
“Number of incarcerated citizens per capita”
Allcountries.com, using information from the United Nations Development Program, ranked the U.S. No. 1 in incarcerations per capita.  The list carried the disclaimer “Because of differences in legal definitions, data are not strictly comparable across countries.”
“Number of adults who believe angels are real”
belief in angels italy brazil
Brazil believes in angels.
We located poll data for only a handful of countries available in 2010.  We also located a number of polls showing that strong majorities in the U.S. believe in angels.  The various polls showed the U.S. ahead of Canada, Australia and Great Britain in belief in angels.  The contest with Italy, relying on data from a scholarly paper by Franz Hollinger, was too close to call, while that same study showed the U.S. trailing Brazil.
“Defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined.  Twenty-five of whom are allies.”
In 2009, The Economist reported that U.S. military spending was highest in the world for 2008, higher than “the next 14 biggest spenders combined.”
For the following year, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute rated the U.S. the top military spender for 2009.  By our calculations, the U.S. spent more than the next 20 biggest spenders combined, but less than the next 21 biggest spenders combined.
SIPRI had not published its rankings of military spending for 2010 during the 2010 calendar year, but for 2010 the numbers again fail to match McAvoy’s claim, with U.S. military spending exceeding that of the next highest 14 nations appearing on the list.

As both China and Russia consistently appear on the lists of biggest military spenders, apparently at least one of them counts as an ally in the reality of “The Newsroom,” considering McAvoy’s claim that 25 of the 26 nations immediately behind the U.S. are allies.  The U.S. has no military alliance with either China or Russia.