James Martini archive

Date : November 2011 (6)

Achievements for Dec 2011

Categories: Journal
Tags: No Tags
Comments: 1 Comment
Published on: November 30, 2011

So starting tomorrow I’ll be working on the following achievements:

  • Stay away for 7 days – Give up soda for a week
    I’ve already done this one but didn’t really do it intentionally so that probably doesn’t count.
  • Starter diet – Give up fast food for a month
    Shouldn’t be hard as long as “over the coals” chicken from AQ doesn’t count as fast food if I bring it home and serve it with side dishes.
  • Grasshopper – Meditate 30 minutes every day for 7 consecutive days
    I’m great during the work week but it’s the unstructured time on the weekends that always blows this for me.
  • Nablopomo – Post in my blog every day for 30 days
    I didn’t do the official one but with the list of lists I just posted I can do a Buddhism blogging month easy.

Buddhism: It’s really just a list of lists

Categories: Buddhism, Journal
Comments: Comments Off
Published on: November 30, 2011
Buddhism is big on lists and when I say big on lists I mean really big on lists.

  • 3 Jewels
  • 4 Noble Truths
  • 8-fold path
  • 5 Aggregates
  • 4 Immesurables
  • 10 Perfections
  • 37 Qualities in 7 sets
    • 4 frames of reference
    • 4 right exertions
    • 4 bases of power
    • 5 faculties
    • 5 strengths
    • 7 factors of enlightenment
    • 8-fold path (again)
  • 3 Marks of existance
  • 5 Precepts
  • 8 Precepts (5 + 3 more)
  • 10 Precepts (because 8 wasn’t enough)
  • 10 Defilements
  • 5 Hindrances
  • 4 Stages of enlightenment

That’s not even remotely all of them, just the ones I can come up with off the top of my head and a little confirmation from wikipedia when I think I’m repeating things. It’s pretty overwhelming when you look at it if it weren’t for the last item on the list.

  • Innumerable Buddhas

Bad Buddhist

Categories: Buddhism, Life
Tags: , , ,
Comments: Comments Off
Published on: November 22, 2011

I occasionally frequently have days when I wonder if self identifying as a Buddhist isn’t a combination of irony and an attempt to pull the wool over other people’s eyes. I’ve been reading a lot more books on Buddhism and Buddhist themed blogs recently and I’m constantly struck by the gulf between my experience and the experience of other middle class white Americans who similarly self identify as Buddhists.

I don’t care about enlightenment. This isn’t false modesty, I don’t doubt that there some state of being in which one perceives and groks the nature of existence but such a state seems so distant from my daily mental locus that it’s like looking at the moon; beautiful but infinitely out of reach. I struggle just to not be a dick to people in my immediate vicinity

I think dharma names are silly. Maybe it’s because I did the whole goth thing back in the 90s and hung out with people who referred to themselves with fanciful names dripping with angst and import (you know who you are). I think it’s great that Rob Wierzbaski from Scranton has taken up meditation and instruction from a saffron robed teacher from the roof of the world. I admire his dedication and the discipline of the vows he has undertaken. When, however, he is referred to or refers to himself as Tendo Dorje I either have to stifle either a smirk or a sneer.

I’m suspicious of dharma transmission. I have a very different and more mundane take on the Flower Sermon. The Buddha silently holds up a flower, everyone is wrapped up in what he means by this, one person, looking at the flower, smiles. I’m sure that somewhere an enlightened tulku just had a shooting pain in his left arm as a result of how wrong I am but it honestly makes more sense to me than mental telepathy.

I masturbate about as frequently as I meditate. Okay, a lot more frequently. I sometimes wonder if there’s really that much of a difference but, in general, I’m far more relaxed after one than I am the other.

I have an Indonesian style Buddha head statue on my desk that was given to me as a wonderful gift by my loving wife. I don’t bow to him. I don’t pay homage to him. Truth be told, I don’t even dust him all that often. I do, however, wonder what music he listens to when I use him as a rack for my headphones.

I guess when it comes down to it there is a lot about Buddhism that speaks to me. The Four Noble Truths make sense although I’ll admit the third is a leap of faith. A lot of the things you’re supposed to strive for as a Buddhist strike me as things we could use more of in the world. Kindness, introspection, inner and outer peace, all pretty good things.

I saw Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back as a kid and wanted to be wise like Yoda. I had a philosophy professor in college who one said I had sainthood within my grasp which is a hell of an ego boost for a twenty-something year old but, in retrospect, is more like a gypsy curse that has taken the form of the 800 pound gorilla of unrealized potential.

Anyway, time to wash the dishes and vacuum the house.

Ten seconds, twenty years ago

Categories: Family
Tags: , ,
Comments: 1 Comment
Published on: November 20, 2011

One afternoon in the early 90s I was walking on the 3rd St Promenade in Santa Monica with my friend Heather when I heard what can only be described as the sound of unadulterated joy. A little girl, about three years old, was getting her face licked by a friendly dog and laughing like only a child can laugh. It was my memory of that moment that eventually led to my wife noticing me and eventually to having a daughter of my own.

I’m going to go tickle her now.

Okay so the Buddha, the Pope and a Rabbi walk into a bar…

Categories: Buddhism
Comments: Comments Off
Published on: November 20, 2011

This morning it was my turn to “lead” the discussion at the UU Buddhist Meditation group (four or five guys that meet weekly, gab, and sit). I spent some time over the last week trying to figure out what I was going to talk about, wrote down a bunch of notes regarding the nature of impermanence etc and finally opted for a version of a joke about the Pope debating a Rabbi. More fun than a discussion of the First Noble Truth and much more in keeping with my attitude towards Buddhism i.e. lets not get too serious and forget that we’re supposed to be working towards being happy.

I’m happy to say I didn’t have to read it but told the story without consulting my notes although it wasn’t exactly word for word. I did, however, add some dramatic flair and the discussion afterwards was no less interesting than any other time.

The Gentle Art of Zen Mondo

The Joshu region of Japan is known for the dry winds that bluster down from the mountains and for the konnyaku plants that grow in the fields. The plants’ potato-like tubers are sliced and dried, then boiled and shaped into deliciously chewy patties, which are also called, simply, konnyaku.

In southern Joshu, on the outskirts of the town of Annaka, there lived a konnyaku maker named Roku. Born and raised in Edo, he might have spent his whole life there, but a tendency to drink heavily, gamble unluckily, and frequent houses of ill repute made that untenable. Having exhausted a lifetime’s worth of credit in just 20-some years, he left the big city behind, worked hard to learn his present trade, and was eventually able to set up his own shop. He had a certain charisma and soon came to be seen as the unofficial head of his neighborhood. Occasionally, young men who had been living too fast in Edo would show up on Roku’s doorstep and he never failed to help them.

Hachigoro showed up in somewhat worse shape than most. Not only had he parted with his last yen, but due to a bout of venereal disease, he had lost all of the hair on his head as well. Roku, though, saw this loss as a possible advantage and said, “I think I may have a job tailor-made for you.”

The nearby temple had been without a resident monk, without a bikkhu, that is, for some time. Gonsuke, the temple boy kept the place tidy, but he was too young to take over as head bikkhu. Hachigoro didn’t know a sutra from a koan, but he was old enough. “And besides,” added Roku, “you’ve got the look. Your head is pre-shaved! Come on, you can wing the rest.”

Thus Hachigoro was appointed head bikkhu. The original plan was to have Gonsuke give him a crash course in the basics of Buddhist ritual and, in fact, they did manage to pull off a funeral together. However, they also spent quite a bit of time over dice, with Hachigoro teaching Gonsuke the basics of gambling ritual. As a result, novice Head bikkhu Hachigoro was grossly unprepared when, one bright morning, a traveling bikkhu appeared at the gate and issued a mondo dialogue challenge.

Gonsuke met this real, bona fide bikkhu out at the gate and returned to the temple pale and short of breath. “Now we’re in trouble,” he told Hachigoro. “You can’t turn him away. In Zen Buddhism, and this is a Zen temple, you know, if a bikkhu is challenged to a mondo dialogue, he must accept. And if defeated, he must hand his temple over to the challenger.” Hachigoro rubbed his bald head and whined, “You mean he’s trying to drive me out of my own temple? That’s not fair. I don’t do mondo!”

The two decided to do the only sensible thing. Hachigoro hid in the closet and Gonsuke told the traveling bikkhu that his master was out of town. The bikkhu replied that he would return tomorrow, and the next day if necessary. In fact, he would come every day for the next year.

When the coast was clear, Hachigoro emerged from the closet, sneezed, and declared that they had better take the statue of Buddha and the other paraphernalia, skip town, and sell everything to an antique dealer. He and Gonsuke were busy packing when Roku came by to see how ritual practice was going. “Zen dialogue?!” he guffawed, “What are you worried about? That mondo mumbo jumbo, how hard can it be?”

“Harder than konnyaku, I’m afraid,” sighed Gonsuke.

“No sweat. I bet the guy’s bluffing. I’ll tell you what: tomorrow I’ll dress up as head bikkhu and we’ll see if he’s for real.”

The statue of Buddha was returned to its pedestal. Next morning when the traveling bikkhu arrived as promised, Roku was waiting for him in the main hall, seated in full regalia with his head freshly shaved.

After a deep bow, the challenger posed his first question: “When wind blows through a pine tree, a unique sound is made. Respectfully I ask, is it the voice of the wind, or the voice of the pine?”

Roku hadn’t a clue, so he said nothing and simply glared. At first, the traveling bikkhu was puzzled, but then it dawned on him that this was surely the advanced, deeply esoteric “silent mondo” technique. He nodded, closed his eyes for a moment, then glaring back, he placed both hands in front of his chest and made a circle with his thumbs and forefingers.

Roku shook his head and held up both arms in a big circle. Next the traveling bikkhu thrust out both hands with his 10 fingers spread. Roku responded by thrusting out his right hand only, fingers spread. The challenger bowed in acceptance, and held out his right hand with just three fingers raised. Roku threw his head back and, with his right hand, pointed to his right eye. With that, the challenger sighed, stood up, and walked out.

Gonsuke had been watching the entire mondo from a crack between the sliding doors. Still, he didn’t know what to make of the exchange, so he ran after the departing bikkhu and asked how it had gone.

“Well, I made a circle in front of my chest, asking your master, of course, about the state of the human soul. He responded with a large circle, meaning “as spacious as the spheres.” Then I inquired about the Ten Directions of the world. He indicated that the Five Great Laws would preserve them. When I asked about the Three Great Teachings, he pointed out that they are always here right before our eyes. That’s when I realized he was far too enlightened an opponent for me. I’ll return years from now, once I’ve attained a deeper understanding.”

Gonsuke was truly impressed. Who would have imagined that Roku, the konnyaku maker, was a Zen expert!?

But back inside the temple, he found Roku fuming: “That bastard must have passed by my shop and seen me working or something. He starts his mondo thing, but then stops, gives me a good looking over and a knowing little nod. I could tell he recognized me, dammit, because he made the shape of a konnyaku with his fingers. He was saying, ‘Your konnyaku’s about this small,’ so I made a jumbo konnyaku with both arms to show him how wrong he was. Then he asks, ‘How much for 10?’ So I show him, you know, 5 yen. Now get this! That bikkhu asked for a stinking discount — ‘Give ’em to me for 3 yen.’ Well, that’s when I told him to stick it in his eye!”

 

 

Achievement Unlocked: The Third Gem’s The Charm

Categories: Buddhism, Life
Comments: Comments Off
Published on: November 13, 2011

My friend Jim has restarted the Buddhist meditation group at the local Unitarian Universalist church. I’d gone previously a few times when it was being run by James Ownbey (so many Jameses) but didn’t really stick with it. At the moment it’s being held at 10am in the office of the minister rather than in the main hall. The down side is that the office faces onto the foyer and the church is quite active before 11am services so concentration is proving to be challenging.

It’s pretty nondenominational in terms of the school of Buddhism. While the previous James seemed more involved with the local Tibetans, Jim is decidedly zen in his leanings. It’s probably best described as Reformed Western Buddhism.

The central UU webside still lists James Owenby as the primary contact and links to a URL that no longer exists. I’ll have to talk to Jim about getting that fixed at some point.

page 1 of 1
Welcome , today is Monday, August 20, 2018