Friday, October 17, 2014

Conscious dying - approaching death

In recent discussions with Zen practitioners on dying and death, which is a vital part of practice, I quoted my teacher Soen Nakagawa, "I rarely see someone whose face (and actions) acknowledge 'I will die'."  If we do not live this, practice this, our life and practice are all the poorer.

The pieces on this topic by the surgeon  Atul Gawande in New Yorker magazine have been interesting, and his new book “Being Mortal,”which is reviewed in the article link below, looks worthwhile. If you are interested in this, I encourage you to read the review, and if you find it interesting, read the book, as I intend to when I get it.

Here are excerpts from the review:

"One of Dr. Gawande’s most touching examples centers on the final weeks of his daughter’s piano teacher, who was suffering from terminal, untreatable leukemia. Dr. Gawande persuaded her to leave his hospital and try, with his support, hospice home care rather than passively await the future or seek “death with dignity.” With a combination of pain management and thoughtful physical assistance she regained energy and found the zeal, in the six weeks that followed, to give private lessons again. She also enjoyed a recital organized by her pupils, past and present, wherein they could all express their gratitude to her. Three days later she slipped into coma and passed away peacefully. With Dr. Gawande’s help this patient demonstrated what Cicely Saunders, the physician-nurse founder of hospice care in the 1950s, repeatedly asserted: “Last days need not be lost days.”

"...By making a forceful case for palliative care and hospice services—with their capacity to sustain life’s quality out to the end—“Being Mortal” provides a response to the presumptions of despair that fuel the euthanasia movement."  

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Hatred - the many sides of anger in Syria, Iraq and Europe.

The unrelenting hatred being manifested by the group Islamic State (and even being excused by some of their supporters and media pundits, as well as the tacit or active support of their brutality by states such as Turkey) is an example of unwillingness to face this aspect of human poison - whether we call it evil or something else.

I bring  this up not to point to others but because in clarifying this matter we clarify a fundamental human tendency which we are all subject to and may act out in some forms - unless we practice with this. We are subject to this tendency and reactive habit when beginningless anger "born of body, speech and thought" arises in our life. And it does arise, though hopefully we do not act it out, hopefully in ongoing practice and noticing we do see it for what it is and respond appropriately and as skillfully as we can.

The ongoing killings in Syria by ISIS have overshadowed the long war and brutality of the Syrian government and its allies such as Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that has killed over 200,000 in  recent years. This is the subject of a new exhibit at the United States Holocaust Museum. Below are links to an article and to photos, but be aware of the horrific nature of this matter. Neither "side" in this brutal violence is free of the anger, hatred and resulting brutality.          

For me, these events bring up memories of the controversy around the Adolf Eichmann trial. From new research on this in Eichmann Before Jerusalem by Bettina Stangneth we have the following quote from Eichmann,

“I have to tell you quite honestly that if of the 10.3 million Jews . . . identified, as we now know, we had killed 10.3 million, I would be satisfied, and would say, good, we have destroyed an enemy.”

An interesting review of this book's findings and an exploration of some of the issues involved in evil and complicity with evil, see:              

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Another itteration of Quis custodiet ipsos custodes - Who guards the guardians? When free speech is limited for some because of political witch hunts and partisan persecutions, all are at risk.

A fundamental aspect of American culture that makes possible the life we have, including the exploration and clarification of Buddha Dharma, is freedom of speech.

Buddha Dharma is this freedom of boundless spaciousness of ongoing change - this is our life. Our practice is also discovering and clarifying the ways self-centered clinging limits this moment spaciousness, the ways reactive habits blind us to the boundless life and therefor result in suffering. Our life is joyous ongoing change. Living the bodhisattva life is prajna paramita, is the perfection of wisdom, wisdom beyond wisdom. Freedom of speech and of religion can nurture this life. This bodhisattva life is only inhibited by our clinging to and living out of fear.

Sadly, in many parts of the world freedom of speech, and the related freedom of religion, are severely restricted by governments, media entities, political correctness and elites. At times these restrictions lead to violence and death.

The homeland of Zen, China, has a long history since the 6th century CE development and flourishing of Zen of periods of repression of speech and religious freedoms; Zen practice has often suffered. Similar restrictions of speech, writing, thought, including restrictions focused on Buddha Dharma and various other "religious" traditions, have occurred throughout human history - in India, (the birthplace of Buddha), the Middle East, Europe or elsewhere.In the United States there has also been periods and areas of repression of freedom of speech and of religious choices.

Recently, events such as the use of the government intimidation in the form of the IRS investigations, penalties and actions, the NSA actions and the various actions of other administrative institutions, threaten and repress speech and religious activities. These activities continue to be investigated and litigated in the courts.

When the governmental and media "guardians" of our liberties and of our ability to make life choices become biased and blinded by their preferences and political allegiances, liberties and freedoms are at risk or cease to exist - despite the guarantees in law and constitutions.

Because imposing limits to the freedoms of those less popular, and persecuting them, is also a threat to all of us and a danger to all civil liberties (other than when these limits are for legitimate public safety reasons), I share this article.

The article is about legal persecutions and prosecutions. It is troubling and highlights threats to freedoms which are unfortunately ongoing:

"The criminalization of politics is bad enough—just ask Texas Gov. Rick Perry                                —but a new turn to target citizens as well threatens to permanently warp our political discourse. Like it or not, federal courts will have to intervene to uphold Americans’ First Amendment rights against win-at-any-cost politics.

Wisconsin is ground zero of this phenomenon. A partisan elected district attorney, John Chisholm, reportedly goaded on by his union-steward wife, Colleen, decided to take aim at Republican Gov. Scott Walker after his 2011 “Budget Repair Bill” cut back on public-sector collective bargaining within the state. But Mr. Chisholm didn’t stop there: After an aggressive criminal investigation failed to knock Mr. Walker out of office, the district attorney set his sights on the governor’s philosophical allies, an assortment of conservative citizen groups that supported Walker’s reforms.

The claim was that these groups illegally “coordinated” their speech on the issues with Gov. Walker’s campaign, thereby circumventing campaign-finance regulations. The evidence? Intercepted emails and phone records showing that some of the groups communicated with Gov. Walker’s campaign, mostly on policy issues. That wasn’t enough to bring charges, but it did allow Mr. Chisholm to launch an aggressive criminal investigation targeting Gov. Walker’s supporters, complete with home raids and everything-but-the-kitchen sink subpoenas...."

Federal "district court agreed (and in May) blocked the investigation, reasoning that the District Attorney Chisholm’s theory of “coordination” was unconstitutional and could only have been adopted in bad faith.

In September, however, a panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision, on the view that federal courts have no business interfering in state criminal investigations. While visibly distressed by the John Doe investigation, the three-judge panel assumed that the Club and Mr. O’Keefe could simply ask the state court overseeing the investigation for relief.

Easier said then done. While there is a state court overseeing one piece of Mr. Chisholm’s wide-ranging investigation, that court doesn’t exercise control over other conduct by Mr. Chisholm and his associates and doesn’t have the power to consider a First Amendment retaliation claim. And quashing a subpoena—the relief available in that state court—is no substitute for what the Constitution actually guarantees: freedom of speech without fear of government retaliation based on your viewpoint. In effect, the Seventh Circuit’s decision leaves John Doe’s victims out in the cold, so far as their First Amendment rights are concerned.

Unfortunately, Wisconsin may be an early indication of what’s to come. Just as the Delay prosecution touched off a dozen other politically motived cases, the Wisconsin John Doe investigation provides a template for similar mischief across the nation. It suggests that anyone can lob accusations of illegal “coordination” between an officeholder and his allies—and all a partisan prosecutor needs is evidence of a single private meeting or email to justify an intrusive and aggressive investigation. It’s that easy to tie your ideological opponents in knots for months or years on end. After Wisconsin, the temptation to use the law as a political weapon may prove irresistible.

The casualty is citizens’ ability to speak out on matters of public importance and interact with their elected representatives, rights which are at the very core of the First Amendment’s protections. Federal courts exist to enforce federal rights, particularly when they are under siege by state officials. If the federal judges shirk that duty, it will only embolden those bent on misusing criminal law to silence their opponents."

For the full article see:                            

I have been sent a reference to a book by a legal scholar regarding administrative law and pass along the citation, though without having read the book myself:           

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Catch-22 for Climate Change efforts that can lead to Win-Win or Lose-Lose, depending upon our actions. Can we support skillful and appropriate actions?

In clarifying climate change and what to do, here are some facts that I had not previously thought about until the following article was sent to me. Below are some excerpts which summarize the main points:

"To put it simply: We have forgotten that every product we build is made out of physical stuff with essential scientific properties—stuff that has to come from somewhere. And the stuff that next-generation technologies like electric cars, wind turbines, fuel cells, LED lights and solar energy panels are made of comes from somewhat exotic minerals that must be mined.

Until World War II the elements required for technological innovation had fairly familiar names: copper, because of its ability to carry and conduct electricity long distances, or iron because of its structural properties as steel. These metals, or more properly elements, allowed us to build steam engines and combustion cars and to wire our cities for electricity.

Beginning in the 1970s, though, we began to make discoveries in materials science that formed the basis for small electric motors that could run cars and photon-collecting materials that could generate electricity. Our elemental toolbox moved further down the periodic table, and greater technological capabilities followed.

The connection between the expanded elemental palette and technological progress is not coincidental."

The article concludes:

"If our goal is to minimize environmental harm in the process of acquiring these essential mineral resources, there is no better place than in the U.S., where mining is highly regulated, transparent and based on the safest, most state-of-the-art process. The not-in-my-backyard mentality will also leave America dependent on foreign powers for materials critical to technological innovation, and consequently for our energy security.

The connection between green technology and mining can make the U.S. a world leader in clean energy. Trying to regulate mining out of existence is not only shortsighted but irresponsible. To save our planet we must find ways to use the resources it grants us to do so, and environmentalists can help ensure that we become responsible stewards of green-technology elements."

The article is here:  

And a follow-up summary on studies which have the latest of scientific findings is here:

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Chogyam Trungpa's adopted son infected by Ebola - Practicing with those facing illness and death; being ill and facing death

In case you miss this aspect of the story in the American media, here are details which can support our life practice:

American NBC cameraman with Ebola is 'reincarnation of Tibetan teacher' whose English aristocrat mother married Buddhist guru when aged 16

Colorful family: Ashoka Mukpo,  an 33-year-old American freelance journalist working in Monrovia, Liberia, has tested positive for Ebola, his biological father has confirmed

Controversial: Mukpo's mother Diana and  his adoptive father Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, pictured shortly after their controversial marriage, when she was just a 16-year-old schoolgirl and he a 30-year-old monk

 Ashoka Mukpo, the NBC News cameraman infected with Ebola, was named the reincarnation of a Buddhist Lama. He is seen here in Tibet  at a ceremony where he was enthroned as the ninth incarnation of Khamnyon Rinpoche, the so-called 'Mad Yogi of Kham'

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Anger - the poison of hatred or why anti-Semitism matters for everyone

Anger, or hatred, is considered in Buddhism as one of the three poisons which destroy the quality of our life. The toxicity manifests in many ways. Unfortunately, we often fail to recognize the forms of anger/hatred and their resulting consequences for what they are; at times we even justify indulging in them.

Here is the conclusion to an incisive article by former Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth Jonathan Sacks.

"Anti-Semitism has always been, historically, the inability to make space for differences among people, which is the essential foundation of a free society. That is why the politics of hate now assaults Christians, Bahai, Yazidis and many others, including Muslims on the wrong side of the Sunni/Shia divide, as well as Jews. To fight it, we must stand together, people of all faiths and of none. The future of freedom is at stake, and it will be the defining battle of the 21st century."

 For the complete article see:  

War rules - or rules of war

I am deeply saddened when conflict between peoples, between nations, leads to war.

Shakyamuni Buddha tried to head off an impending war between Kosala and his own Shakya clan. He tried to stop the advancing Kosalan army by meditating under a dead tree in the face of the advancing King Virudhara. It was customary that an army had to retreat if they came across a holy religious man. Therefore, King Virudhara ordered his army to return home. King Virudhara mounted a second assault and a third assault, but each time met the Buddha. The fourth time (some texts say third time), however, the Buddha was not there, having decided it was fruitless to intervene, and King Virudhara's army destroyed the Shakyas, Buddha's family and clan. We do not hear what, if anything, Buddha told the Shakya's to do in the face of the advancing army, whether and how to fight them. We do hear of the Buddha's mourning of the deaths of his kin.

We know that the guidelines for monastics, home-leavers, forbid warfare and we know some of the counsel the Buddha gave to the rulers (and princes) who consulted him (many of whom did engage in warfare and other similar political activity).  We also know that throughout history there have been Buddhists, both monastics and lay, involved in wars in many ways, whether defensive or offensive. There have been others like Emperor Ashoka who gave up military activity (Ashoka did this after conducting particularly bloody wars and having extended his empire through that method). There have been all sorts of comments, critiques and theories regarding these matters - exploration of which is beyond the scope of this piece here and now.

It is clear, as with the case of the Buddha, that in many circumstances, ancient and recent,  unless one is willing to be brutalized, [some absolute pacifists would counsel allowing self and others to be brutalized and killed rather than fighting] by another nation or group determined to wage war as in the case of Hitler, Stalin, Putin, Bin Laden, ISIS or...  (you can fill in those you wish to include in this list) there is no way to avoid war.

For reasons I will write about at another time, I have often had difficulty with the underlying theories and ideas related to the various "laws of war" - all the more so with notions such as proportional responses and limitations on the use of force.

Below is an extended excerpt from an article by a controversial legal scholar - controversial because his positions do not easily fit into categories of left - right or other such attempts to pigeonhole thinkers.

"Last year the Obama administration issued, with considerable fanfare, a new military policy designed to reduce civilian casualties when U.S. forces are attacking enemy targets. This policy required "near certainty" that there will be no civilian casualties before an air attack is permitted...."

"...Now the Obama administration has exempted itself from its own "near certainty" standard in its attacks against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. In a statement on Sept. 30 responding to questions by Michael Isikoff at Yahoo News, the administration said that in fighting Islamic State, also known as ISIS, the U.S. military can no longer comply with Mr. Obama's vow last year to observe "the highest standard we can meet..."

But it is not without good reason that the Obama administration is doing this.

"When Israel does attack military targets such as a rocket launcher or a tunnel entrance, and kills or injures civilians, Hamas operatives stand ready to exploit the dead for the international media, who are ever ready to show the victims without mentioning that they died because Hamas was using them as human shields.

Now ISIS and other jihadists in Iraq and Syria are beginning to emulate the Hamas strategy, embedding fighters in towns and villages, thus making military strikes difficult without risking civilian casualties. That is why the Obama administration has exempted itself from its theoretical "near certainty" policy, which has proved to be unworkable and unrealistic in actual battle conditions involving human shields and enemy fighters embedded in densely populated areas."

"...As the president is learning, war is hell. The possibility of waging it with "near certainty" of anything is a chimera.

There must be a single universal standard for judging nations that are fighting the kind of terrorism represented by ISIS and Hamas. The war against ISIS provides an appropriate occasion for the international community to agree on a set of standards that can be applied across the board. These standards must be both moral and realistic, capable of being applied equally to the U.S., to Israel and to all nations committed both to the rule of law and to the obligation to protect citizens from terrorist attacks.

The decision of the Obama administration to abandon its unrealistic "highest standard" pledge indicates the urgent need to revisit anachronistic rules with which no nation can actually comply, but against which only one nation—Israel—is repeatedly judged."

Mr. Dershowitz is a law professor emeritus at Harvard University.

The comments online following this article are especially interesting and at times thought provoking. For the full article by Alan Dershowitz see: