Saturday, September 20, 2014

What is skillfull and appropriate action in the face of climate change ?

This is a week when many people are reflecting on climate change. As not-knowing is our life of practice, the following interesting article seems to combine a thorough exploration of the scientific, political and economic issues involved without falling into the extremes of ideological biases which often mar other reflections and proposal I have read. Below is an extended excerpt of some of the issues and a link to the full article.

As noted the article seems to me to broadly explore many specifics of scientific issues, and political, social and economic ramifications. The author is Dr. Steven E. Koonin, who was undersecretary for science in the Energy Department during President Barack Obama's first term and is currently director of the Center for Urban Science and Progress at New York University.

"Policy makers and the public may wish for the comfort of certainty in their climate science. But I fear that rigidly promulgating the idea that climate science is "settled" (or is a "hoax") demeans and chills the scientific enterprise, retarding its progress in these important matters. Uncertainty is a prime mover and motivator of science and must be faced head-on. It should not be confined to hushed sidebar conversations at academic conferences. 

Society's choices in the years ahead will necessarily be based on uncertain knowledge of future climates. That uncertainty need not be an excuse for inaction. There is well-justified prudence in accelerating the development of low-emissions technologies and in cost-effective energy-efficiency measures. 

But climate strategies beyond such "no regrets" efforts carry costs, risks and questions of effectiveness, so nonscientific factors inevitably enter the decision. These include our tolerance for risk and the priorities that we assign to economic development, poverty reduction, environmental quality, and intergenerational and geographical equity.

Individuals and countries can legitimately disagree about these matters, so the discussion should not be about "believing" or "denying" the science. Despite the statements of numerous scientific societies, the scientific community cannot claim any special expertise in addressing issues related to humanity's deepest goals and values. The political and diplomatic spheres are best suited to debating and resolving such questions, and misrepresenting the current state of climate science does nothing to advance that effort.

Any serious discussion of the changing climate must begin by acknowledging not only the scientific certainties but also the uncertainties, especially in projecting the future. Recognizing those limits, rather than ignoring them, will lead to a more sober and ultimately more productive discussion of climate change and climate policies. To do otherwise is a great disservice to climate science itself."

The full article is here:

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Inheriting karma - our ancestors' lives and behaviors effect the traits that their genetics transmit - and our behavior and lives effect the genes we transmit.

There is new research which shows that how our parents live effects and changes how the genes we inherit are manifested (or not manifested). This means that our ancestors environment, reactions and experience alter what will become our genes, and our behavior alters what will become the genes we pass on to our descendents.

A review of recent research found that "you also can inherit ways in which regulation of her (mother's) genes has been altered by experience and the environment. Such influences can freeze the on-off switch for some gene in one position. Moreover, environmental influences can permanently silence genes, either by destroying transcription factors that activate them or, indirectly, through these still-mysterious micro-RNAs.

In other words, while environment rarely changes the DNA sequence of a gene (i.e., a "mutation"), it can cause epigenetic changes in the gene's regulation. And if that occurs in an egg, such epigenetic markers can be passed to offspring, resulting in "nongenetic transmission of traits." There can be mother-to-child nongenetic transmission of traits related to the normal workings of the body, behavior and propensities toward certain diseases...."

But that is not all!

Older theories held that "epigenetic markers appeared to be erased in sperm, precluding them from transmitting anything except genes. Naturally, this is turning out to be wrong...stressful upbringing caused epigenetic changes (due to those micro-RNAs) in sperm...(research in mice) demonstrates further how the environment can alter biology with multigenerational influences. But more specifically, sperm, and the lifestyles of the organisms that make them, play a larger role in these processes than previously thought."

For the full review article and citations see:

So, extending these beginning research findings, if we needed it, we may someday find scientific evidence which clarifies how even our biological inheritance includes the karmic activity of our ancestors and those they interact with.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Monday, September 1, 2014

Another itteration of Quis custodiet ipsos custodes - Who guards the guardians? Abuses by government agencies that considers themselves above the people and above the law.

"Pan-American Berry Growers, B&G Ditchen and E&S Farms,... were accused in 2012 of suspected wage-law violations. The Labor Department threatened to seize the farmers' blueberry crops until they settled and signed away their right to appeal ("Labor's Blueberry Police," March 18). With crops rotting, the farmers settled, agreeing to pay Labor more than $240,000. Then two of them sued...."

"...Judge Thomas Coffin ruled Labor had prevented defendants from having "their day in court." The growers weren't challenging the hot goods power itself; they were challenging the way it was implemented.

In February, Labor asked U.S. District Judge Michael McShane to review Judge Coffin's decision. Judge McShane agreed with the original ruling, noting the growers had challenged "unique circumstances" involving "a highly perishable product at peak harvest." Labor then asked Judge McShane for permission to appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Last week he denied that request, calling Labor's actions "fraud."
Despite these legal knockdowns, Labor isn't apologizing..."

For the full editorial and links to further news items see:

Regular Mind, Regular Functioning

                                                By Elihu Genmyo Smith

Our life is not about us; my life is not about me, your life is not about you. And yet we often insist that it is about “us”.

No problem, except as we hold to self. Life is very simple - and yet it seems so natural to us to go to a default position of “my” life being about me – so that even though we might agree with life’s simplicity, it is very difficult for us to live thus.

We may even turn practice into being about me, about my likes and dislikes, what I want and need. Zazen is not about me, practice is not about me. Practice is not about what I want or do not want, what I like or do not like, agree with or do not agree with. If zazen, practice, is about me, especially if this is unstated and unacknowledged, then this will entangle, make trouble and difficulties in the habits and reactions we are caught up in. This will result in harm and suffering even as we might continue to “call” it practice.

Life is simple and straightforward, this moment, experiencing this moment; but as soon as this is held to in terms of self and not-self, (in body-mind, emotion-thought reactions and all the ways we feel, sense, react, think or talk about it) then this is carrying self forward in encountering the universe, to paraphrase Dogen – and all sorts of difficulties and delusions multiply and entangle. And we miss this joyous life we are. We can almost say, the more we hold to me the less joy.

Mazu (Baso in Japanese) says, “Truth is not something that needs to be cultivated,” - the truth that is life, being this truth of life, is not something that needs cultivation - because we can’t be other than. Life is the truth, is the way, the whole universe. “It’s just that you must not defile it.” Defile what? Defile this moment that we are.

It is easy to hear the bird singing or the sound of the traffic. Most of the time, we hear sound, we are the sound, are the universe sounding, speaking. And yet, if that sound is the words of people that we know, or even people that we don’t know, saying things that we agree with or disagree with, all of a sudden we find our self entangled in agreeing, disagreeing, correcting, being troubled by, reacting. Of course, we can be troubled by birds and traffic too. Or tune them out to attend to chatter of all sorts, so-called internal, so-called external, trouble our self about it, trouble others about it.

This is what Mazu is referring to as defiling. “Defiling is the tendency of the mind preoccupied by life and death, continuously making up things. By that, it is defiled.” When he says “it,” he means this; spelling it out, mind-body-being. Mazu is in 8th century China, a very different culture, using a very different language. When we use some of these words in English, we bring along our preconceptions and dualism, all sorts of other ideas and preconceptions about body-mind, body-mind-soul, self-world, and so on, without even knowing that we carry those along, except that we live out of those.

“If you want to straightforward understand the Way, Truth, then you should understand that it is your regular mind. What is meant by regular mind? It does not make up things, is without assenting and dissenting, accepting and rejecting, without considering anything as either permanent or impermanent, without discriminating between ordinary and sacred.” Or other discriminations that we get caught up in, hold on to.
And yet we make up all sorts of things – and so practice requires us to notice when and how we are making things up, believing, holding to and acting out of that. Does this occur in your life? If so, how - and how do you practice in the midst of these habit reactions?  We may accept, reject, in all sorts of ways – hindering and defiling this moment, this functioning. In believing, holding to and acting on discriminating, we miss this life, miss this moment, miss this joyous life we are. Earlier I said, the more holding me the less joy, now I say the less allowing this joy, the more holding “me.”

Of course, Mazu’s expressions aren’t all-inclusive. But he is encouraging us to be this moment, this mind, this mind-body-world that is our regular functioning. Not something special that requires special abilities. Just responding to all beings right now is the entirety of the way, the truth. Way and truth are both English translations of the Chinese word he is using.

Sayjng it differently, his teacher, Nanyue (Nangaku in Japanese), states “It is the Dharma eye of the mind-ground that sees the way/truth.” The mind-ground is the ground of our very being. It is our functioning from morning to night. This is truth, this sees the truth. So, “turning”, so to speak, from holding to the agreeing and disagreeing and all the other forms of self that we impose, “turning” from that to the mind-ground of the regular functioning, or being just this moment, allows us to see, to awaken to this very way, truth, that is our life. It is nothing else. Our life is nothing but this.

“The way, truth, itself is the Dharmadhatu, the Dharma world, the world that we are. None of its numberless, excellent, manifestations goes beyond the Dharmadhatu. Where it not so how could we speak of the teaching of mind-ground? How could we speak of inexhaustible light?”

Sometimes we say that sitting, practice, involves turning the light on itself. Or, being the mind-ground that is the light; a nice practice is turning this very light to see who/what is. Not by figuring it out but by allowing awakening in the midst of ordinary functioning, ordinary mind/body.

It is only missed when we add on and are caught up in attachment to the flavors of self in all the many forms, (though this is not done consciously most of the time). We do it out of the habits of cause and effect – and miss simply being this moment. So, zazen is this opportunity, this experiencing moment.

Being this moment, and seeing skillfully, appropriately, what is called for, if anything. If we are sitting upright, there is nothing called for to be just sitting. Or there might be something called for depending on your particular practice and life. This is what we explore individually and clarify as we settle “in” this world revealing us, allowing the world to encounter this moment, and allowing our self to be, to reveal, this moment encountering, awakening. This intimacy of “not-two.”

Some might think that the ways that we have of entangling are more complicated in modern culture. Maybe that is so. But Mazu and Nanyue are pointing out the difficult that humans have. It doesn’t make a difference where and when because this is a human tendency - as soon as we hold self, as soon as we carry self forward in all our activities.

It is neither good nor otherwise - except that attaching to and holding to defiles our life. And by defiles, Mazu means it creates stress, suffering and harm. How we do it is important, yes. It is different if you are riding a horse, or a motorcycle or a car, or flying a plane. But fundamentally, they are all the same. Of course it is different in different languages and different cultures, some things generate more self-addiction, if I say it that way.

Here is an extreme example. It is one thing if you like to have a coffee every morning. It is another thing if you shoot up heroin every morning. The entanglements involved are different. And the consequences are different. And the consequences in terms of harm and suffering are different.

But the fundamental point is about what we do, in all the various ways, each moment, to entangle and defile this truth, the regular mind functioning that we are. And what we do in our encounters that result in harm and stress.

Even to add labels like perfect gets us in trouble. Mazu made a point…”Without discriminating between ordinary and sacred. The bodhisattva’s practice is neither the practice of the common person nor the practice of the saint.”

This is really our practice, being ordinary, being everyday, and yes, forgetting self. Just in ordinary things. Everyone eats and drinks -and we have the opportunity of forgetting self which arises in the midst of this or of being caught up.

Everyone uses the bathroom, dresses, washes, and yet we can be this moment, be awake, be the dharma eye of the mind-ground of washing, pissing, shitting - manifesting the truth. Or we can miss it.

One of my teachers’ teacher, Soen Roshi’s teacher Gempo Yamamoto Roshi, had eye problems and poor eyesight. As his practice he did pilgrimage in Japan going from temple to temple. Once he was at the side of the road, pissing into the side of the road, and at the sight-sound of bubbling urine, he awakened in this ordinary activity.

Soen Roshi said “Most important sitting is when you are shitting.” I don’t say it to be scatological but to point out that our everyday activities are the opportunity - just this moment.

Mazu says, “To understand the truth, simply understand that it is your regular mind, mind-ground functioning. And the dharma eye of the mind-ground is the inexhaustible light.”

Since I cited Nanyue, who was Mazu’s teacher, let me end with a brief dialogue. Mazu asks his teacher, “Can this seeing (of the Dharma eye that sees the truth) be attained by becoming something or losing something?” He’s asking for all of us when he asks this. Is there something we need to become or is there something we need to lose?

Nanyue says, “If the way is seen in terms of becoming or losing, in terms of putting together or dispersing, it is not truly seeing, being the way, the truth.” There is nothing lacking this moment.

© 2014 Elihu Genmyo Smith

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Being As Is - A Dharma talk

World media attention and inattention regarding Israel

With another ceasefire in the war between Hamas and Israel, and hopefully an end to these hostilities, there appeared an interesting and lengthy analysis of the nature and biases of media attention to Israel and the results in terms of attitudes regarding Israel, the Palestinians and other states in the region.

Below is an extended excerpt. If you are interested, the full article is linked to at the end.

"...How Important Is the Israel Story?

Staffing is the best measure of the importance of a story to a particular news organization. When I was a correspondent at the AP, the agency had more than 40 staffers covering Israel and the Palestinian territories. That was significantly more news staff than the AP had in China, Russia, or India, or in all of the 50 countries of sub-Saharan Africa combined. It was higher than the total number of news-gathering employees in all the countries where the uprisings of the “Arab Spring” eventually erupted.

To offer a sense of scale: Before the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, the permanent AP presence in that country consisted of a single regime-approved stringer. The AP’s editors believed, that is, that Syria’s importance was less than one-40th that of Israel. I don’t mean to pick on the AP—the agency is wholly average, which makes it useful as an example. The big players in the news business practice groupthink, and these staffing arrangements were reflected across the herd. Staffing levels in Israel have decreased somewhat since the Arab uprisings began, but remain high. And when Israel flares up, as it did this summer, reporters are often moved from deadlier conflicts. Israel still trumps nearly everything else.

The volume of press coverage that results, even when little is going on, gives this conflict a prominence compared to which its actual human toll is absurdly small. In all of 2013, for example, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict claimed 42 lives—that is, roughly the monthly homicide rate in the city of Chicago. Jerusalem, internationally renowned as a city of conflict, had slightly fewer violent deaths per capita last year than Portland, Ore., one of America’s safer cities. In contrast, in three years the Syrian conflict has claimed an estimated 190,000 lives, or about 70,000 more than the number of people who have ever died in the Arab-Israeli conflict since it began a century ago.

News organizations have nonetheless decided that this conflict is more important than, for example, the more than 1,600 women murdered in Pakistan last year       (271 after being raped and 193 of them burned alive), the ongoing erasure of Tibet       by the Chinese Communist Party, the carnage in Congo       (more than 5 million dead as of 2012) or the Central African Republic      , and the drug wars in Mexico (death toll between 2006 and 2012: 60,000      ), let alone conflicts no one has ever heard of in obscure corners of India       or Thailand      . They believe Israel to be the most important story on earth, or very close.

What Is Important About the Israel Story, and What Is Not

A reporter working in the international press corps here understands quickly that what is important in the Israel-Palestinian story is Israel. If you follow mainstream coverage, you will find nearly no real analysis of Palestinian society or ideologies, profiles of armed Palestinian groups, or investigation of Palestinian government. Palestinians are not taken seriously as agents of their own fate. The West has decided that Palestinians should want a state alongside Israel, so that opinion is attributed to them as fact, though anyone who has spent time with actual Palestinians understands that things are (understandably, in my opinion) more complicated. Who they are and what they want is not important: The story mandates that they exist as passive victims of the party that matters.

Corruption, for example, is a pressing concern for many Palestinians under the rule of the Palestinian Authority, but when I and another reporter once suggested an article on the subject, we were informed by the bureau chief that Palestinian corruption was “not the story.” (Israeli corruption was, and we covered it at length.)....."

Here is the full article: