Friday, October 31, 2014

Everyday Zen

An ongoing class and discussion of Charlotte Joko Beck's book, "Everyday Zen". 

Check back regularly for updates:  

(c) 2014 Elihu Genmyo Smith

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

After the November 4th Election

Here is an interesting set of predictions of the post-election political actions and conflicts, no matter what the outcome of the elections:

"With the midterm elections looming, the White House has delayed controversial decisions and appointments. That makes sense politically. The administration doesn’t want to force Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Michelle Nunn, who is running for the U.S. Senate in Georgia, or other embattled Democrats to defend presidential actions right now, or worse, to oppose them publicly. But as soon as the voting is done (perhaps after runoffs in Louisiana and Georgia), several big shoes will drop. Here are the most likely ones.

1) Immigration. How many millions will the president let in? On what terms? One hint: The Department of Homeland Security recently ordered more than four million green cards and visas for next year and says it might order another 29 million for future years. The cards would give immigrants who are here illegally the right to continue living and working in the U.S. legally—and perhaps receive a variety of federal and state benefits. Should the president unilaterally issue these cards, there will be a brutal debate over the wisdom of this policy, whether it extends to welfare benefits, and whether the president has the constitutional authority to issue so many cards without specific congressional approval.

2) The next U.S. attorney general. The president wants a crusader on progressive causes and a reliable firewall to protect him, just as Eric Holder    has done. Rumor has it that he wants Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who has been the point man on racial preferences.

Mr. Perez’s most controversial, and constitutionally questionable, position is his support for “disparate impact” as a measure of discrimination. According to this theory, if fewer blacks or Hispanics are hired than their percentage of the “relevant” population, then the employer must have discriminated, even if all hiring procedures were fair and racially neutral. If the president nominates Mr. Perez, expect a nasty confirmation fight. Even if the president nominates someone less controversial, tough hearings are almost certain."

For the rest of this article see:

In 3 months we can see if these predictions are accurate or not - and what the consequences, in terms of national harmony and well being, are of the actions taken or not taken.

Bodhisattva Action or Greed, Anger and Dualistic Delusion

Public Safety or Self-Centeredness: What are the boundaries and what is the balance?

The following news story seems to speak for itself and hopefully encourages our reflection and clarification  about it and our own life actions. Since this story is ongoing, I may post updates and other links:

Nurse in Ebola Quarantine Flap Says She Won’t Obey Maine’s Isolation Rules

Kaci Hickox Says She Will Go to Court if Restrictions Aren’t Removed by Thursday

"The Maine nurse who traveled to West Africa to care for Ebola patients said Wednesday that she won’t self-quarantine for 21 days, setting up a possible legal battle with Maine, which asserted Tuesday that it has the right to impose quarantines on residents potentially exposed to the virus    .

Speaking on “Good Morning America” from Maine, 33-year-old Kaci Hickox said, “If these restrictions are not removed for me by tomorrow morning, Thursday morning, I will go to court.”

"Maine’s health director said Tuesday that the state didn’t want to impose quarantines on someone potentially exposed to the Ebola virus but was poised to do so if necessary. Mary Mayhew, the commissioner of Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services, didn’t specifically refer to Ms. Hickox in a news conference."

“We are confident that the selfless health workers, who were brave enough to care for Ebola patients in a foreign country, will be willing to take reasonable steps to protect the residents of their own country,” Ms. Mayhew said. ”However, we are willing to pursue legal authority if necessary.”  

And what do medical experts and specialists think and do? Here is a new story:

"Ebola fears have infected a medical conference on the subject. Louisiana state health officials told thousands of doctors planning to attend a tropical diseases meeting this weekend in New Orleans to stay away if they have been to certain African countries or have had contact with an Ebola patient in the last 21 days.

The order came in a letter Wednesday to the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, which made clear it did not agree with the decision. Several doctors, including some from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, now may not be able to attend or present studies at the meeting, which runs Sunday through Wednesday."


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

More unintended consequences of good intentions - and a possible win-win solution for problematic consequences

Knowing my fondness for unintended consequences of good intentions gone awry, the following was sent to me. I especially like the hopefulness of the win-win solutions proposed at the end.

Here are the introductory and concluding paragraphs:

"When the Endangered Species Act passed in 1973, the concern was that iconic species such as the bald eagle would become extinct. The main threats were from shooting, poisoning and trapping.

To address these concerns, Section 9 of the ESA, known as the “take clause,” included language that made it unlawful for any person “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.” This provision seemed sensible, but it has led to unexpected and adverse consequences for the species it was designed to protect.

The government has extended the “take clause” to include the “taking” of habitat that harbors—or could harbor—endangered species. The result is what many private landowners call the “3 S’s”—shoot, shovel and shut up—lest your land could be regulated by the federal government."

Here is a concluding case and solution:

"In 2004, for example, Ranchers in Montana’s Big Hole Valley signed a voluntary “Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances” with the Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the habitat of the arctic grayling.

With financial help from the state and federal governments, the ranchers completed 250 habitat improvement projects including installation of fish ladders, fencing to keep livestock out of riparian areas, and improvements in irrigation efficiency to increase stream flows. Still, conservation groups, such as the Center for Biodiversity, threaten more lawsuits claiming the “Voluntary conservation efforts have failed to address the primary threats to the grayling.”

Aggressive use of the Endangered Species Act by environmental groups has not been beneficial to endangered species or to private landowners. Rather than punish private landowners who conserve wildlife, we should reward them for serving the public’s interest."

For the whole article see:

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) says '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."      

Here is another review:   

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:

Friday, October 3, 2014

Early Buddhism in India

A fascinating account - and visual and architectural record - of early Indian Buddhism by important scholars. Wish I could visit it!


" 1819, a British hunting party in the jungles of the Western Ghats had followed a tiger into a remote river valley and stumbled onto what was soon recognized as one of the great wonders of India: the painted caves of Ajanta. On the walls of a line of thirty-one caves dug into an amphitheater of solid rock lay the most beautiful and ancient paintings in Buddhist art, the oldest of which dated from the second century BC—an otherwise lost golden age of Indian painting. In time it became clear that Ajanta contained probably the greatest picture gallery to survive from the ancient world, and along with the frescoes of Pompeii, the fabulous murals of Livia’s Garden House outside Rome, and the encaustic wax portraits of the Egyptian Fayyum, Ajanta’s walls represented perhaps the most comprehensive depiction of civilized life to survive from antiquity.

The Ajanta murals told the Jataka stories of the lives of the Buddha in images of supreme elegance and grace. Unlike the flatter art of much later Indian miniature painting, here the artists used perspective and foreshortening to produce paintings of courtly life, ascetic renunciation, hunts, battles, and erotic dalliance that rank as some of the greatest masterpieces of art produced by mankind in any century. Most famous, perhaps, are the two astonishing images of the compassionate Bodhisattvas Avalokitesvara and Vajrapani, beings of otherworldly beauty, swaying on the threshold of enlightenment, caught in what the great historian of Indian art Stella Kramrisch described, wonderfully, as “a gale of stillness.” Even today, the colors of these murals glow with a brilliant intensity: topaz-dark, lizard-green, lotus-blue."

Fot the full article see: