James Martini archive

Tag : achievement (3)

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

Categories: Buddhism
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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
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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.

Achievement Unlocked!

Categories: Family, Fitness, Gaming
Comments: 1 Comment
Published on: August 14, 2011

I’ve tried a number of ways of staying motivated when it comes to exercise and other long term goals. I’ve written the goals out, stuck them to my wall, put reminders in my phone, just about everything recommended to self motivate but in the long run it’s usually failed. I even tried recasting the activities in my mind as ‘leveling up’ various stats i.e. the gamer’s fitness program.

Looking back, everything I always achieved at had some sort of cert, diploma or other badge of completion at the end. When playing MMOs I always set my eye on the high end achievements and every session attempted to make some progress towards that goal. The more difficult the achievement the more I wanted it. The Loremaster? No problem. Hand of A’dal? Now we’re talking.

A few weeks ago I really didn’t feel like going to the gym. I wasn’t sick or anything, just being generally lazy but I went anyway. When I got back I posted the following on Facebook: “Achievement Unlocked: I Lift Things Up And Put Them Down.” It got a few odd responses from friends who either didn’t play video games or hadn’t seen the Planet Fitness ad. I didn’t realize it at the time but I may have finally hit on the perfect motivational tool for hardcore gamers.

I like gaming for the relaxing pass time that it is and don’t get overly wound up by pvp losses or wiping in raids. I enjoy pvp and raiding for themselves and while motivated to win I can accept losses as part of the ebb and flow of the game. Achievements, however, are another matter. A list of achievements does something deep down in a part of my brain that is obsessively neat and ordered. I will choose an achievement and work towards it with each gaming session. I won’t make myself unhappy with grinding but each achievement comes with a set of goals and each play session allows me to take a step towards those goals. In short, it focuses and guides what would otherwise be unstructured game play.

Yesterday, while working on this website, I thought it might be funny to include an Achievements page like those found in most MMOs and on XBox. I jotted a few down and found that as I went more and more came to mind. Joke achievement lists I’d seen on the internet were looked up and merged in and I started looking at expanding the list beyond just fitness. The list currently stands at 24 achievements and is growing.

That doesn’t sound like a big deal but I’ve spent thousands of hours playing games and pursuing achievements over the past few years. That’s thousands of hours of training my mind to hold on to a goal and to shape my actions towards achieving it.

I put the list up yesterday. As I went about my day today I realized that the list was in the back of my mind and that I was sorting out what could be done in the short term and what needed a long term siege approach, which achievements could be worked on simultaneously and which ones it wasn’t feasible to do at the same time. By plugging my goals into the same achievement/reward model I’ve been trained to pursue by MMOs it looks like I can leverage years of conditioning to accomplish real life goals.

I’m pretty sure that after reading this my wife is going to hack my wordpress account so she can add housework achievements to the list.

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