Quote from Suzuki Roshi

May 14, 2015

The basic teaching of Buddhism is the teaching of transcendence or change. Everything changes is the basic teaching and this truth is eternal truth for each existence. No one can deny this truth. All the teaching of Buddhism can be condensed into this teaching. This is the teaching for all of us and wherever we go this teaching is true. This teaching is also interpreted as the teaching of selflessness because our self nature, that of each existence is nothing but the self nature of all existence.

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

Thanks to David Chadwick who puts these up regularly on the What’s New page of his site, cuke.com. I want to add only that you could replace “teaching of Buddhism” with “teaching of Christ” or “teaching of Taoism” or several others. There is only one religion, and it doesn’t have a name.

The Right to Slaughter

May 13, 2015

Many people, I would guess most people, roll their eyes when they hear the term “animal rights.” People see rights as something arbitrary that are bestowed upon us by the government. You vote for your rights. Animals can’t vote, so it’s stupid to say they have any rights. This is an incredibly superficial view of existence, yet pervasive. But the truth is that rights are not arbitrary; they are inherent. In any intelligent, healthy system, it is not the government’s role to bestow rights, but to see that they are protected.

What rights do animals have? For starters, they have the right to live out the laws of their being. That should be plainly obvious. And we human beings have an obligation, a duty, to not get in the way of that. We must create our civilization in such a way that it makes it possible for the animals to do what they do. I’m sure some oaf will be thinking, “Well, we have the right to live out the laws of our being, too. If the animals get in our way, that’s their problem.” But we are a different kind of animal. We have the capacity for huge amounts of free will. We also have the capacity to destroy all life on this planet. That’s not living out the laws of our being. That’s just being greedy and blind. We don’t know anything about the laws of our being. We can’t when all we care about is money.

The preceding diatribe is inspired by the fact that the Army Corp of Engineers has just been given permission by both the Fish and Wildlife Service and a federal judge to begin the slaughter of tens of thousands of cormorants in a nesting colony on East Sand Island in the mouth of the Columbia River. I’ve been to East Sand Island and have seen that colony. Thousands of pelicans and terns congregate there as well. The slaughter has been approved supposedly to help keep the salmon from going extinct. But that’s bullshit. What they’re really doing is trying to protect the fishing industry. They want to kill the birds so that humans can eat the fish instead of the birds. We don’t actually need the fish, but the cormorants do. And they have the right to them. That’s how nature works. And if the salmon are endangered, it’s not because of cormorants. It’s because of us, through our dams and overfishing. The Army Corp of Engineers, which thought up the plan, the Fish and Wildlife Service, which approved it, the federal judge who approved it, and Wildlife Services, who are to carry it out, are all killers in the pay of Mammon. I don’t believe for an instant that there is any environmental concern here whatsoever. And even if there is, it’s incredibly hubristic to think that we know what to do. We’re terrible when it comes to helping nature. All we know is how to exploit it. I, for one, can never give whole-hearted allegiance to a system that does these things.

Look Out!

May 10, 2015

Around 1978 I heard about a book that had just come out called Looking Out for Number One. I was appalled. The title was completely at odds with what had been going on throughout the 60s and early 70s, and it sounded evil to my ears. I still think of that book as the beginning of the change in this culture’s psychology, one we’re still living out. Reagan became president a couple of years later, and he advanced this idea of looking out for number one, and it has been growing as a national belief ever since. The author of the book was a libertarian, and we see libertarianism gaining more and more traction.

I think that “selfish” is what is really meant nowadays when we say “conservative.” So-called conservatives insist that it’s a virtue, that you’re supposed to look out for your country, your family, and yourself before anything else. People who don’t share this idea are viewed with suspicion. But looking out for number one is not a virtue. It’s a biological view of morality—instinctive, unthinking. And people who follow it are quite capable of turning against their country, their mate, or their children whenever it serves their self-interest. Selfish people don’t care about anybody else, by definition. Selfishness gradually undermines any system that embraces it. We’re seeing that happen in this country now. The general atmosphere is becoming increasingly hostile and argumentative, less neighborly. There are movements in certain states to secede from the union. People live in isolation from one another in general. Here in San Francisco, for example, people seldom see the inside of other people’s homes. Some people point to social media as an example of the continuance of community, but I don’t think so. It’s superficial community, if it’s community at all. The culture has lost its memory of what real community feels like. I’ve lived in a few and I’ve always liked them. The only one I’m in right now is the South End Rowing Club, my swim club. It’s the one place I actually enjoying being. It’s not a fancy fitness club. It’s all volunteer, and you can feel it. There’s something greater than the sum of the parts.

So if looking out for number one is wrong, what’s right? I read once that we should look out for the well-being of everything that lives, not excluding ourselves. I think that makes good sense.

Metaphorically Speaking

April 24, 2015

I’ve been working on a metaphor for a certain aspect of human existence. It must be (as you will see) an imperfect metaphor, but it’s my sense of the way things really are. I’m sure someone at some time has laid it out in a similar manner. I’m sending this out because it keeps entering my mind and I feel like passing it along. Here goes:

There are two rooms separated by a long hallway. In the hallway hang a series of curtains, or veils. One of the rooms is filled with light and the other with darkness. The room that’s dark is dark because of its distance from the room with the light and that series of veils. Most of us spend our entire lives in the dark room where everything is murky and confused. But every now and then one of us goes up the hallway, pushing through the veils until arriving at the room filled with light. What’s there is, I’m convinced, beyond description. The person who visits it comes back completely changed and starts telling everybody about the fabulous room of light and how you can go there yourself. That’s all religious instruction is: directions on how to go there yourself. We’re not supposed to take anybody’s word for it.  But few of us ever make the trip. It’s difficult and it can be scary. Who has made the trip? Buddha, Jesus, Lao Tze—a bunch of others. At all times in history there have been those among us who have been there. But during the dark times—such as the one we live in now—nobody wants to hear about it. So those who do know hang back and wait for times to change.

Whenever a self-described Christian or Buddhist or anybody else who hasn’t been there tries to tell you what that room is like, they’re just talking through their hats. They’re getting their information second hand. Western Philosophy is all dark room talk, nothing but speculation—pure guess work. And, of course, in these dark times, a lot of people don’t believe the room with the light even exists, and they mock those who do believe in it. (How would they know?) I don’t pray much. I’m not really sure what prayer is. But if I have a prayer, it’s that we all get one more chance to go down that hall.

Pelican Dreams and the Importance of Nature

April 15, 2015

Judy Irving’s new film, Pelican Dreams, is available now as a DVD, a streaming video, and a download. It’s in all the usual places—Amazon, iTunes, and, as far as we know, Netflix, although I think only as a DVD. (Other people are in charge of distribution and neither one of us has enough business sense to remember all the details.) Judy’s nonprofit company, Pelican Media, has an online store that sells the DVD, and this is, of course, how she would prefer that people view it. The store is at pelicanmedia.org. To go to the store, you can click here. I can’t pretend to be an unbiased observer, but it is a very good film. Surprisingly good. Moving, humorous, intelligent. There is one moment that never fails to choke me up. I’ve seen it 30 times or so, and it gets me every time.

DVD cover for Pelican Dreams

DVD cover for Pelican Dreams

Circumstances have made me less of a hermit lately (you have to be a hermit to write a book) and I’ve been having more frequent encounters with strangers than I usually do. The usual questions come up—where do you live? what do you do? have any kids? what does your wife do? and so on. When I tell people my wife is a filmmaker they usually perk up. “Oh, yeah? What kind of films?” “Documentaries.” “What about?” “Nature mostly.” And then I often see the interest fade. A lot of people see nature as an inferior subject, not worthy of the attention of a serious artist. Nature is nice and all, but all critters do is eat, sleep, and breed. They’re not as fascinating as we human beings. This is the ignorance of an almost entirely urbanized population that is obsessed with money, technology, and celebrity, and fascinated by its own neuroses and addictions. But all life, all the plants and the animals, have a deeper reality than the one we habitually see. There is a poetry to everything that lives, and just as love is not nonsense simply because some people make bad movies or write bad songs about it, neither is nature shallow and boring just because people make shallow and boring films about it. (It’s so pitiful to feel any need to say this!) The beautiful thing about Pelican Dreams is that it captures some of the poetry of the pelican’s existence. And that existence is absorbing in a way that the neuroses of human beings are not.

Cannery Row

April 5, 2015

I’m currently reading an Italian translation of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row (Vicolo Cannery). For anybody who hasn’t read it, it’s a romantic, sentimental depiction of a real place and based on real people, a community of outsiders in old town Monterey, California during the depression. Cannery Row was the popular name for Ocean View Avenue. It’s in an industrial part of town at the waterfront and was home to the old sardine fleet. The fish were abundant then, and Ocean View Avenue was lined with canneries. The main characters in the story are a man who owns a biology laboratory and warehouse, a bunch of bums and winos who spend their days in a vacant lot drinking, a Chinese grocer, and a madam with a heart of gold. The book sympathizes with these outsiders. In the mid-1940s, the sardine population began to crash, eventually putting the canneries completely out of business. The book Cannery Row was so popular that the town renamed Ocean View Avenue after it and turned it into a tourist destination.

Last week, Judy did a special screening of Pelican Dreams at the aquarium in Monterey, and they put us up in one of the Cannery Row hotels. Because I’m reading the book, I was interested in checking out the locations. Today the old canneries have been turned into restaurants, hotels, and upscale boutiques. It’s extraordinarily expensive and quite tacky, like Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. The morning we left I was walking along a bike path/pedestrian thoroughfare that used to be train tracks when I happened upon two homeless people guzzling a bottle of beer. It amused me highly because I was certain that if they’d been noticed by the police, they would have been run out of the neighborhood. Yet they were the only true part of the book that was left.

Easy Way Won’t Help

March 4, 2015

Why Buddha told us the Four Noble Truths is to destroy our easy way of understanding of life, scientific understanding or philosophical understanding. Those understandings are the easy way, you know. Without any effort you can read books [laughs]. Even though you are lying down you can study. Very easy. But it will not help you, actually will not help you.

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi (from David Chadwick’s site about Suzuki Roshi, cuke.com)

Not My Way

March 3, 2015

For several days I’ve wanted to post something about Netanyahu. But I’ve been unable to get past contemptuous feelings and obscene phrases, which are not my way. So I gave up.

Plum Blossoms Again

March 3, 2015

Outside the dining room window
I see plum blossoms again.
The tree is misshapen
from ancient bad prunings.
Because it no longer puts out fruit
I keep suggesting that we cut it down,
replace it with an apple tree.
But my wife says no.
The birds like it, she says.

Different, I guess

March 1, 2015

Taking a break on a long road trip,
sitting in the sun
in an outlet mall parking lot
in Gilroy, California
comparing two Italian translations of
The Catcher in the Rye


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