Monday, November 30, 2015

Listening to what we say.

"The Times of London interviewed residents of Paris. One 46-year old resident also referred back to the attacks in January on the offices of Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket - "Every Parisian has been touched by these attacks," she said, referring to the latest attacks. "Before it was just the Jews, the writers or cartoonists."

 And shortly after the Paris attack, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said:

"There's something different about what happened from Charlie Hebdo, and I think everybody would feel that. There was a sort of particularized focus and perhaps even a legitimacy in terms of -- not a legitimacy, but a rationale that you could attach yourself to somehow and say, okay, they're really angry because of this and that. This Friday was absolutely indiscriminate."

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Hubris - Self-Centered Delusions

Whether on an individual level, a familial level, a national or international level, we have all seen examples of self-centeredness, especially self-centered hubris (an almost redundant statement), leading to unsatisfactoriness, suffering and harm.

Hopefully, when these situations arise in our life, our skill and wisdom make possible and support appropriate responses - we do not act out of or cease acting out of self-centeredness and hubris but instead act with the compassionate wisdom which is our ongoing practice.

Hubris and self-centeredness, and the resulting harm, are evident in recent American political campaigns by Democrat and Republican candidates, in the weilding of power by political leaders and office holders, as well as in some of the ongoing international conflicts such as those in the Middle East, Ukraine and Southeast Asia.

"Hubris: The Tragedy of War in the Twentieth Century" by Alistair Horne, (the title describes the contents quite well) is a fascinating account of  some of the most pivotal battles of the 20th century, and the actions of the leaders who won and lost the battles.

It is a detailed exploration of how the outcomes of these recent wars have been affected by hubristic calculation and miscalculations by military and political leaders. The hubristic behavior, more than the superiority of resources and initial positions, often had terrible consequences for millions of people, for nations and regimes. What can we learn from this? How has similar hubris affected the domestic political life and policies of the US? How has it affected other nations? How has similar hubris affected our lives, our families, work and behavior?What is our practice with this?

Below is the concluding paragraph of an insightful review:

"The book concludes with a brief epilogue in which Mr. Horne notes that hubris is a social epidemic and not merely an illness infecting warlords or tyrants: “part of the human condition—deep seated, lingering, pervasive and potentially lethal.” The ancient Greeks, he reminds us, understood as we may not the “terrible penalties that befall those who release from Pandora’s Box the dormant bacillus of hubris.”

Here is a review which is critical of the book, though not of the theme:

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Name - A Dharma Talk (11/22/15)

When Friends Are Not Friends - Quakers and Israel

My mother often told me of her childhood in Jerusalem during the 1920's and 1930's.

On Shabbos (Sabbath) she would walk to the nearby Western Wall of the Temple Mount to pray. Several generations of my Ultra-Orthodox family lived in and around the Old City of Jerusalem, on both sides of what would become the temporary boundary when the Jordanians and Israelis divided Jerusalem after the 1948 War. In fact, my mother lived in the vicinity of one of the "Gates" of the Old City of Jerusalem.

During and after the 1948 War, many Arab and Jewish refugees, who had lived on what was now the "wrong" side for their ethnic group, were pressured in various ways to leave and move to the other side of Jerusalem (East or West). Though there were Arabs who were able to stay in West Jerusalem, the Jordanians forced all Jews out of East Jerusalem. A fortified and armed barrier was created between East and West Jerusalem.

We had had family and friends on both sides of this new border. My great-grandfather had been buried in 1943 in Mt. of Olives Jewish cemetery, a more than 3,000 year old burial site, but because of the new border, after 1948 we were not able to visit his grave. In fact his grave was desecrated during the Jordanian occupation of East Jerusalem from 1948 -1967 (along with many other Jewish graves on Mt. of Olives); tombstones and sarcophagus material was removed and some of the materials from desecrated graves were used by the Jordanians for roadwork, building toilets and worse. After 1967, when my family had access to this grave again, we repaired what was destroyed at my great-grandfather's grave. (In this new millennia, my mother is also buried on Mt. of Olives near her grandfather's grave.)

During this period the Quaker American Friends Service  Committee choose to work with the Arab refugees and choose not to work with the Jewish refugees. This is what I was aware of while growing up. I had not investigated this further until recently.

Recently I was sent various materials, including the following additional information about the American Friends Service Committee:

"The Quakers, No Friends of Israel"

"American religious history is filled with examples of faiths whose public perceptions defy deeper realities. The Quakers, for instance, are known as peaceful and supremely benign. Few suspect that one central mission is promoting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (or BDS) movement that opposes Israel's existence.....

 (as I noted above, the Quakers worked with the Arab refugees in Jerusalem and also elsewhere in 1948  through the 1950's.)

The Quakers began to take a fervently pro-Palestinian stance in later decades. In 1973 the AFSC (American Friends Service Committee) called for a U.S. embargo on arms and other aid to Israel, and in 1975 adopted "a formal decision to make the Middle East its major issue." It opened an office in Israel, installed specialized staff members at offices in the U.S., and began advocating for Palestinians in Israeli and international courts. The AFSC treads dangerously close to outright anti-Semitism and "replacement theology," the idea that Palestinians were the "new Jews," displaced and downtrodden."

For the rest of this author's article see his website:

What is so?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Bodhisattva in action: At this clinic in Iraq’s Kurdish north, women who have suffered the unspeakable cruelty of Islamic State slavery come for help

 I will quote only selected portions of this article because of the extreme brutality discussed in other parts.

"There are few therapists working today in Iraq, where mental health is a low priority in a country battling the jihadists of Islamic State, or ISIS. But in a nondescript apartment in this Kurdish city nestled in the mountains of northern Iraq, German psychologist Jan Ilhan Kizilhan runs a clinic for women who are victims of ISIS..."

"...Mr. Kizilhan’s solution is to bring 1,000 of the severest cases to Baden-W├╝rttemberg, in southwest Germany, for a period of intensive treatment. The €95 million ($100 million) “preventative asylum” project is funded by the Baden-W├╝rttemberg state government. For Mr. Kizilhan, himself a Turkish-born Yazidi who immigrated to Germany at age 6, it’s personal.

Islamic State doesn’t see Yazidis like him as human.

“As a scientist you learn that ideology can blind people,” he says. “In the morning they rape children, and at night when they go home they’re loving fathers and husbands.” To treat ISIS as just another al Qaeda-style terror group, he warns, is to ignore the “Nazi-like,” genocidal evolution of its Islamist worldview.

On each of his visits to Iraqi Kurdistan, Mr. Kizilhan interviews dozens of women to identify those most in need of evacuation. Most are Yazidis and Christians, with smaller numbers of Shiite Muslims. He is now close to the program’s head-count limit, forcing him to make wrenching decisions as the women take him on a tour of the depths of Islamic State depravity.

For the ISIS jihadists, slavery and the attendant sexual violence are intended to shatter non-Muslim societies. It is a family enterprise, with fighters’ female siblings and legitimate wives helping control slaves."

For the full article see:

Online there is one site I found that seems legitimate and that has links to help the Yazidi and others:

Sunday, November 22, 2015

United States, Europe and Islamic State

The Islamic State terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere in Europe, the attacks by Islamist affiliates in Mali, Lebanon and elsewhere, have challenged the United States and Europe domestic and foreign policy in ways that had been unexpected by many in and out of political power. In analysing these events and proposing plans for action, a number of different proposals have been made.

The following is from a very interesting and and insightful analysis:

"As former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer recently put it, the U.S. “quite obviously, is no longer willing—or able—to play its old role.”

Mr. Fischer was referring specifically to America’s role as the dominant power in the Middle East, but since the refugee crisis and the attacks in Paris, America’s unwillingness to play that role has reverberations and implications well beyond the Middle East. What the U.S. now does or doesn’t do in Syria will affect the future stability of Europe, the strength of trans-Atlantic relations and therefore the well-being of the liberal world order.

This is no doubt the last thing that Mr. Obama wants to hear, and possibly to believe. Certainly he would not deny that the stakes have gone up since the refugee crisis and especially since Paris. At the very least, Islamic State has proven both its desire and its ability to carry out massive, coordinated attacks in a major European city. It is not unthinkable that it could carry out a similar attack in an American city. This is new...."

"In 2002, a British statesman-scholar issued a quiet warning. “The challenge to the postmodern world,” the diplomat Robert Cooper argued, was that while Europeans might operate within their borders as if power no longer mattered, in the world outside Europe, they needed to be prepared to use force just as in earlier eras. “Among ourselves, we keep the law, but when we are operating in the jungle, we must also use the laws of the jungle,” he wrote. Europeans didn’t heed this warning, or at least didn’t heed it sufficiently. They failed to arm themselves for the jungle, materially and spiritually, and now that the jungle has entered the European garden, they are at a loss.

With the exercise of power barely an option, despite what Mr. Hollande promises, Europeans are likely to feel their only choice is to build fences, both within Europe and along its periphery—even if in the process they destroy the very essence of the European project. It is this sentiment that has the Le Pens of Europe soaring in the polls.

The only alternative is to address the crisis in Syria and Iraq, and with it the terrorist threat posed by Islamic State. But just as in the 1990s, when Europeans could address the crisis in the Balkans only with the U.S. playing the dominant military role, so again America will have to take the lead, provide the troops, supply the bulk of the air power and pull together those willing and able to join the effort."

For the rest of this article see:

Below is an accompanying current report (which of course is already out of date) on the 11-21-15 lockdown in Brussels  due to Islamist terrorist "planning an attack."

And here is an article sent to me today, arguing

The Kurds Can Defeat ISIS if We Provide Incentives 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes - Another instance of government malfeasance; in this case, driving a company serving the needs of cancer patients out of business, with no consequence for the government abuse

I occasionally write about instances of abuses of power by government officials, administrators and agencies - abuses of their public power, given them to serve the public's need. This abuse damages individuals and companies, with little real consequences for the abuser of power. This is an ancient problem as the Latin phrase shows; the phrase means, "Who guards against the guardians' abuses of power."

Below is an article which speaks for itself:

"Sometimes winning is still losing. That is certainly true for companies that find themselves caught in the cross hairs of the federal government. Since 2013, my organization has defended one such company, the cancer-screening LabMD, against meritless allegations from the Federal Trade Commission. Last Friday, the FTC’s chief administrative-law judge dismissed the agency’s complaint. But it was too late. The reputational damage and expense of a six-year federal investigation forced LabMD to close last year."

For the sad details, here is the full article:

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Microbiome and autism

I have previously written about the human microbiome, the flora and fauna living in us that we are just discovering  contribute in many ways to our physical and mental functioning.

Below is an excerpt from article about some recent  and preliminary explorations of the relationship between autism and human microbiome:

"His parents reluctantly began to accept that his gut problems might simply be yet another manifestation of his autism. “We kind of gave up,” says Sharon, Sam’s mother. (Their names have been changed to protect their privacy.)

Unfortunately, Sam’s experience is common among children with autism. About 40 to 60 percent of these children cope with gastrointestinal (GI) problems, ranging from frequent abdominal pain and bloating to diarrhea and constipation. But why and how their distress develops—and what to do about it—remain a mystery.
Despite their pain, these children’s abdominal tracts generally appear normal, says Emeran Mayer, the director of the Center for Neurobiology of Stress at the University of California, Los Angeles. In some children, GI problems may result from stress and anxiety, or emerge as a consequence of behavior. If a child’s insistence on sameness spills over into eating habits, for example, she might not consume enough fiber or liquid, and may become constipated as a result.

It’s also possible that the real culprit of these digestive symptoms is not human at all. Evidence from the past decade suggests that GI problems in some people with autism stem from disruptions in the gut microbiome—the complex stew of bacteria and other microbes that help to digest food, make vitamins, and protect against pathogens. Scientists have found tantalizing clues that the types of microbes that live in the guts of people with autism differ from those in people without the condition.

So far, this research poses more questions than it answers, but the need for clarity is urgent: Against the advice of experts, and in a desperate attempt to help their pain-wracked children, some parents are performing do-it-yourself fecal transplants, overhauling the gut microbiome by transferring stool (and the intestinal bacteria it contains) from a healthy donor into a child with autism."

For the rest of this article, with links to other research and sources see:

Simple meditation formats for young children (and for adults who want to start very simply)

 Here are some very simple and useful suggestions for meditation for young children.

The opening sentences of the review are:

"Asking a child to sit still for meditation doesn’t sound like a recipe for easing stress.

Yet more families are making a few shared minutes of quiet contemplation a part of their daily routines. When handled with flexibility and a sense of humor, they say, the practice can calm their children, reduce stress and anxiety and help them focus.

Meditation is increasingly taught in the West as a secular discipline aimed at gaining awareness, or mindfulness—the ability to notice and focus calmly on thoughts and feelings as they arise, without reacting or judging...."

For the rest of this article and a video see:

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Using the word "Islamist"

On Friday, November 13, 2015, during the terrorism in Paris I wrote,

CONDOLENCES TO FAMILY AND FRIENDS OF THOSE KILLED BY ISLAMIST TERRORISTS IN PARIS ON 11-13-15  May all beings be free of hatred, harming and pain.

There was a comment that I should not use the word Islamist to describe the terrorist.

As I see it, Islamists are those, who in the name of Islam, are intolerant of and violent towards those that disagree with their beliefs and worldview, especially Christians, Jews and other non-Muslims, as well as "heretical Muslims" or other Muslims who "get in their way." Islamists seek to impose their worldview, rules and domination on others. Islamists are a minority of all Muslims, estimated at circa 10 - 20% worldwide depending upon which sources you trust. And Islamists are, to the best of my knowledge, an accurate description of and a shorthand for ISIS terrorists.

In response to a form of the above statement, I have heard that, "attempting to make fine distinctions between degrees of Islamism is a fool's errand. The majority of Muslims everywhere support, or at best are marginally indifferent to, these atrocities," except as it might effect them.

Subsequently, I was sent the following opinion piece which, drawing on the author's experience in Molenbeek, Belgium, the home of some of those involved in the Paris terrorism, addresses this use of the word Islamist. Below is the author's take on the underlying conditions which may make it difficult for some to use the word:

"We live in the age of the sanctified tantrum—the political and religious furies we dare not name or shame, much less confront....

And then there is the tantrum of Islam, another eruption of rage that feeds off our astonishing willingness to indulge it.

Before Friday’s carnage in the City of Light, the world was treated to the hideous spectacle of Palestinians knifing Jews in Israel. The supposed motive of these stabbings was a rumor among Palestinians—fanned by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas—that the Israeli government intended to allow Jews to pray on the Temple Mount.

This was a story the Israeli government adamantly denied and every serious person knew was false. Yet no senior Western leader dared call out Mr. Abbas to correct the record. Palestinian tantrums are sanctified tantrums. The violence they breed might be condemned, but the narrative on which they rest has the status of holy writ. It is no more to be questioned than the Quran is to be burned....

... at the Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton and the two noncontenders for the Democratic presidential nomination each refused to use the term “radical Islam” in referring to the ideological force behind the Paris killings. The furthest Mrs. Clinton would go to naming the enemy was to say “you can talk about Islamists who also are clearly jihadists.”

Apparently, however, you cannot mention Islamists who are not yet “clearly jihadists,” lest some other invisible line be transgressed. To do so might set off another tantrum among people who tend toward violence whenever they are accused of violent tendencies.

Nowhere are Islamist tantrums so richly indulged as in Europe..."

For the further explorations of the article see:

How do we reconcile these various aspects of these present life circumstances - fear, appropriate concerns for safety, combating harm, violence and the need to protect the public safety?

What is our responsibility as a citizen and political actor?

How do we respect varied perspectives and traditions?

What is skillful and unskillful?

What is compassionate?


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Paris Islamist Terror Attack Survivor's account

"Guillaume Maurice, a 40-year-old school teacher from Rouen, in northern France, is a self-described “metal head.” So when Eagles of Death Metal, an American rock band, came to the Bataclan theater in north-central Paris, Guillaume and his wife made plans to attend.

A few hours later, Guillaume and his wife would flee for their lives as Islamic State gunmen slaughtered no fewer than 100 people in the Bataclan, part of a city-wide chain of gun and bomb attacks that left at least 116 people dead.

Before leaving for Paris, 90 minutes away by car, Guillaume phoned his brother Wandrille, a student 20 years Guillaume’s junior, and invited him to tag along. But Wandrille had a date. He declined. The decision may have saved his life.

At the crowded Bataclan, Guillaume and his wife found space at the back of the balcony overlooking the stage. It was 10:00 at night, local time, and Eagles of Death Metal was playing its set. Guillaume heard sounds that, at first, he mistook for fireworks.

Then he saw them — two men, indistinct in the darkness of the club. Militants had targeted the Bataclan. In a statement on Nov. 14, Islamic State would describe the historic Bataclan as a place “where hundreds of idolaters were together in a party of perversity.”

“France and those who follow its path must know that they remain the principle targets of the Islamic State,” the terror group added. “This attack is just the start of a storm and a warning for those who wish to draw lessons.”

Guillaume realized the “fireworks” were actually gunshots. He and his wife ran, along with hundreds of concert-goers. Later he would describe confusion, panic. He would recall leaping over wounded bodies, getting blood on his clothes. He would remember seeing a man dragging his gunshot friend from the club."

For the rest of this article and photos/videos see:

Friday, November 13, 2015

CONDOLENCES TO FAMILY AND FRIENDS OF THOSE KILLED BY ISLAMIST TERRORISTS IN PARIS ON 11-13-15 May all beings be free of hatred, harming and pain


by Elihu Genmyo Smith
When we learn zazen, to sit, often we begin with counting breath or another form of being breathing. For many of us these are new practices, new aspects of being human – even though from the moment we are born, we are breathing. If there is anything “needed,” it is only ceasing not-breathing.

Breathing, being breathed is exactly this life – but when entangled in self-centeredness this requires a practice effort of doing –of doing in the midst of always breathing, a practice effort of doing which reveals and manifests non-doing. This is ceasing not-breathing.

Breathing breathes - and yet we can be breathing, we can allow breathing, experiencing breathing. This is breathing empty of breathing.

Though breathing -if we are entangled with doing or not-doing, entangled with self and not self, entangled with like and don’t like - with how well we are doing - then we miss this, we miss non-doing. Without practice effort, doing often further enhances and entangles self-centeredness. In the midst of ongoing change, this very doing then enhances unsatisfactoriness, stress, suffering.

Just cease doing, cease not-experiencing.

No matter how “long” we have practiced, each moment can be beginning practice. Experiencing is non-doing; at times experiencing calls for doing non-doing, at times experiencing requires being done by non-doing.

Everyone alive breathes. And yet many miss this breathing, miss this life ongoing-change.
It is like a pot-luck. The pot-luck is a sharing opportunity of serving and being served. It is this moment life opportunity we all share. But if we refuse to bring anything, refuse to bring and share our self, then we are entangled in doing in the midst of non-doing, then sharing becomes a self-entanglement poison for us. It is not a matter of what or how much we bring, whether it is special or ordinary. Not being able to bring anything due to circumstances is fine, is sharing self in the midst of ongoing change circumstances as is. But refusing to bring and share because of thinking and believing all sorts of things is something else.

Our practice life is sharing. The practice life with others, of the Zen Center, is built around and dependent upon sharing; the sharing of going beyond doing, of doing non-doing; going beyond self and non-self, self and other. Sharing practice is being circumstance as is, whether sitting together, taking zendo positions, samu (“work”) practice activities, the financial contributions to make possible a Zen Center, including a building to sit in, the electronics for this and much more. All of these are our practice - sharing body-mind-universe, being shared as universal life right here.

Sharing “easy” to share, sharing “hard” to share; sharing “what want”, sharing “what do not want”; sharing “comfort,” sharing “painful;” sharing “like,” sharing “dislike;”sharing “inside,” sharing “outside;”sharing “mine,” sharing “not mine.”Occurring, these are this moment opportunity.

Refusing to be our life, to bring our contribution, to share our life – by this we miss this life, even though we might believe we are safeguarding our self, our life, by refusing to share. What do you refuse?

If we refuse, withhold, hold onto self-entanglement, the sharing of life becomes a not-sharing for us; this breathing, the sharing breath of the universe, becomes entangling in greed, in self and other, in fear. These habits result in missing this life, result in unsatisfactory life. Unfortunately, we may do this self-entangling in many aspects of life, with family, co-workers and friends as well as when “alone.” There are many ways of withholding self, refusing to give self to life, refusing this moment, refusing what is called for right now. Withholding self, refusing to give self, we miss life, we miss this that we are.

In reacting from “should” or “should not”, right here is self-doing, entangling, unsatisfactoriness. And right here is our practice. Please notice where your practice is.

Experiencing; this is non-doing. And this moment reveals the practice effort needed right now.

Our practice, our life zazen, is not to create a particular state of being, any particular state of being; it is being this moment, being this particular as is, being this particular body-mind-world as is.

We might think practice is to create a certain state, whether to be relaxed, more present, calmer, deeper, more mindful. Looking for these, trying for these, holding to these, entangles; advances self and confirms delusion. Holding to delusion is this arising inexhaustible delusion right now – which is this moment practice, this inexhaustible Bodhisattva vow life - your life here now. Please appreciate it well.

There is no problem using a knife to cut food, using a knife to do surgery. There is no problem using breathing and other practice efforts to be relaxed, present, calm, mindful – but only if we see this for what it is, skillful actions of this boundless life, appropriate and called for as is now. But if we do not see this using for what it is, then we may mix up using a knife for surgery with using a knife to wound or kill.

A capacity to use a knife is an important skill, but this skill becomes harmful when used with self-centeredness, with self-centered anger or with self-centered confusion, when used where not appropriate. We see this “mixing-up” in many realms of our life; clarifying this is similar to clarifying the difference between using medications and alcohol for treating illness and being used by drugs and alcohol in addictions and worse. Zazen, practice, breathing is not to create a specific state, change this moment or accomplish any particular goal.

Non-doing is right here.

Master Zhaozhou (Joshu in Japanese) is asked, “What is this indestructible nature?” Zhaozhou responds, “The Four Great Elements, the Five Skandhas.” He is asked again, “These can be destroyed. What is the indestructible?” Zhaozhou responds, “The Four Great Elements, the Five Skandhas.” (The Four Great Elements is shorthand for the elements of the universe - earth, air, fire, water; the Five Skandhas, literally five “aggregates” or “heaps” in Sanskrit, is shorthand for human existence, body-mind forms and functioning.)
Are you adding doing to non-doing? That is extra.

Are you doing but excluding non-doing? That is lacking.

Practice can be noticing adding, experiencing adding or subtracting. In noticing, it does not matter if it is a “small” or a “big;” ours is taking care of right now as this practice effort needed.

Are “you” doing? If so, who is doing?

Everyone breathes; and yet we can miss this breathing. If and when we miss this, right here is appropriate and skillful practice. Experiencing is who we are – not something extra. And yet, we can miss this if we are entangled in the seemingly “natural” holding to self of myriad forms, holding to likes, to dislikes. Therefore I say experiencing.

Zazen is non-doing.

Zazen, life practice, is doing non-doing.

Skillful means, appropriate action, is this Bodhisattva life, this wisdom compassion; the life practice zazen of non-doing doing, of myriads dharmas manifesting this moment.

When we feel, believe, think we are or have some “thing,” right here is the practice of noticing entangling self.

This arising, self-arising, entangling arising - this is a practice opportunity moment. Arising is this life moment, passing is this life moment.

Master Dogen in Fukan Zazengi (following from an earlier dialogue of Master Yaoshan) includes this zazen instruction - “think not-thinking” (shiryo fushiryo); What is that? “non-thinking” (hishiryo).

Right now we are this unborn Buddha - and we may need to allow this unborn Buddha here.

Right now we are this myriad Bodhisattva - and we must manifest myriad Bodhisattva functioning here.

Being unborn Buddha, therefore we have the capacity to hide this, hide from this – therefore we must allow unborn Buddha. We must “give birth” to unborn Buddha - your life right now. Doing this is your particular wisdom, your particular life practice. Your particular life is boundless life.

This, here, now, is both doing and non-doing.

This, here, now, is neither doing nor non-doing.

This ongoing change, this falling apart, this body-mind-world, this body-mind-world falling apart, this is experiencing, your life opportunity.

Experiencing, we can allow falling apart, not be blinded by this; we manifest this, this manifests your life.

Appreciate and enjoy your life.

© 2015 Elihu Genmyo Smith

Wednesday, November 11, 2015