Beginner's Mind

"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few." - Shunryu Suzuki-Roshi

Sunday, May 30, 2004

What a gorgeous spring day. I sat on the back deck smoking a nine-holer and watching the green waves of grain that is my backyard blow in the breeze. The birds were distressed that I was intruding on their dining room; a few brave avian souls managed to get some seed while I was there. There was a redpoll who wasn't too shy, and some evening grosbeaks. The goldfinches were having none of it; they stayed in the trees and twittered.

I am enjoying the temporary bachelor status. Karen is in Maine visiting with a friend. It is good for both of us to have some time apart.

This time next week, if the fates favor it, I will be camped next to the Willowemoc in the Catskills. It's an annual trip. Last year the weather was miserably cold and the fishing was poor. Hoping for better this year. The long-range forecast, the last time I checked, looked favorable.

The Zen Center celebrated the birth of the Buddha today, I had some kind of stomach thing and didn't make it. My practice has been really suffering for some reason. I will be making a concerted effort to get back on track when I get back.

Wherever you are, I hope you are having as peaceful a day as I am having.

Off to the shower - I reek of cigar smoke.

Music in my head: What do you get when you fall in love?, Dionne Warwick

Looks like Vermont is back in the news.

While I will do so when I am traveling, I do not shop in Walmart here at home. The big boxes have destroyed open land in nearby Williston, and, despite being a shopping Mecca, their property taxes are as high as anywhere in the state.

One notable exception is Maple Tree Place, a shopping area that promotes small shop ownership, and is not just big boxes and parking lots.

But the mom and pop general stores are hurting. To counter the threat of big boxes, they need to provide a friendlier service, something that runs counter to New England reticence.

Music in my head: Hey, Joe, not sure by who.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Just when you think it is safe to get back into the water, you find out further danger from an organization such as this. Thanks to Reflections in d minor for pointing out the link. As she advises, be sure to check out the FAQ.

Music in my head: Music from a TV commercial. And, yes, Keri, I have an excrutiating headache.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

How about this? From Bob Woodward to Zen Master Dogen.

For some people their own views are primary; they open a sutra, memorize a word or two, and consider this to be buddha-dharma. Later when they visit with an awakened teacher or a skilled master and hear the teaching, if it agrees with their own view they consider the teaching right, and if it does not agree with their old fixed standards they consider his words wrong. They do not know how to abandon their mistaken tendencies, so how could they ascend and return to the true way? For ages numberless as particles of dust and sand, they will remain deluded. It is most pitiable. Is it not sad?
Students should know that the buddha way lies outside thinking, analysis, prophecy, introspection, knowledge, and wise explanation. If the buddha way were these activities, why would you not have realized the buddha way by now, since from birth you have perpetually been in the midst of these activities?
Students of the way should not employ thinking, analysis, or any such thing. Though thinking and other activities perpetually beset you, if you examine them as you go your clarity will be like a mirror. The way to enter the gate is mastered only by a teacher who has attained dharma; it cannot be reached by priests who have studied letters.
- Dogen, from Moon in a Dewdrop, edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi.

Heady stuff, this Dogen. Probably a bit beyond my reach, yet. But, to reach the stars, you gotta look where you are going, right?

Music in my head: Some song I only partly heard on the radio (sorry, not much more to report).

Sunday, May 23, 2004

The last few days have been spent reading Bob Woodward's book Plan of Attack. This is the second book on politics I have read in a row, and the last for awhile. Such things leave me with an odd and unpleasant taste in my mouth.

Right off I have to say I am impressed with the book in that it is a straight reporting of the events leading up to the war. Woodward does not editorialize, though the opportunity is certainly there. He conducted lots of interviews, including over three hours with President Bush. He also had access to covert operations conducted in Iraq (after they were complete).

Now, let me repeat that I am not a supporter of the second war with Iraq. After I have read the book, I am still convinced that there was some poor judgment on the part of the decision makers.

Furthermore, the book shows where Bush deliberately lied and mislead the country on the plans for war. War with Iraq was planned very early in the administration, and in several instances Bush stated there were no plans for war even though there actually were. Bush left the impression that, during the negotiations with the U.N. that he was giving diplomacy a chance to work, when in fact he had already made the decision to go to war.

But, given the situation concerning war, the President, in my opinion, would have put many American lives in danger had he stated from the outset that planning for war with Iraq was underway. Such plans must be made in secret.

I also now believe that Bush and his administration (with the exception of Colin Powell) really believed that Iraq had WMD and furthermore was in contact with al Qaeda. I do not believe that Bush lied about this, at least not knowingly. While the intelligence from Iraq was sparse, Director of the CIA George Tenet was convinced that the weapons existed. According to Woodward, Tenet stated that the case for WMDs was a "slam-dunk."

There's also some insight into why post-war Iraq has become such a nightmare. Bush was told by Iraqi exiles that the US would be welcomed as liberators, and to some extent that has been true. But he did not understand that the exiles were unpopular within Iraq, for they had not suffered under Saddam's regime as had the rest of the Iraqi people.

All in all, the book presents what happened and allows you to draw your own conclusions. It is a fascinating story. While I am no fan of President Bush, I am more impressed with the leadership that he showed, and his willingness to take responsibility for his actions.

Music in my head: nothing there this morning

Thursday, May 20, 2004

I have just finished reading Against All Enemies by Richard A. Clarke.

The last part of the book merely bolstered what I already suspected; that invading Iraq was a huge and costly mistake. Not only did it cost American lives; not only did it help plunge our government into a dizzying amount of debt; not only did it damage our relations with our allies; it did nothing to improve our security and instead provided support to al Qaeda's recruitment efforts and to organizations like it.

The book also outlines a reasonable set of steps we could have taken in the shadow of 9/11. It also reports on the steps that have yet to be taken to protect ourselves at home and abroad.

But the bulk of the book is an insider history to the steps taken by counterterrorism experts within our government from the late 1980's and through the 1990's. It shows how unhelpful our allies the Saudi's have been (as well as how they were helpful). It shows how close we came to going to war with Iran in 1996. There's a significant section on how our government overcame bureaucratic turf wars to provide security for the Olympics in Atlanta (and other similar events).

What I found interesting is how the whole subject of terrorism was put on a back burner by the current Bush administration. Bush put an entire level of bureaucracy between him and counterterrorist experts. When actions were taken after 9/11, Bush used plans that had been largely drawn up during the Clinton administration.

Ultimately, does Clark say 9/11 could have been predicted? He does say that there were signs that something was up, but that no one knew the particulars.

I understand that the Bush administration has reacted to the book buy attacking Clark's character. Perhaps Clark was obsessed with al Qaeda, but he had enough information to justify it.

Yeah, this is just one person's view. But he was there when it all happened. He does not seem to give a partisan view (though the actions of some Republicans - not all - that he describes might provide evidence of partisanship if you really wanted to believe it). Even if you don't agree with his conclusions, the book provides a fascinating history.

Music in my head: Soak Up the Sun, more Sheryl Crow

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

It seems like wilderness is defined as a place where no humans live. But here in Vermont, much of what is now wilderness was once the living space of shepherds and farmers. In human history terms, that occurred not so long ago.

At the turn of the 20th century much of Vermont was cleared and used for farming. There was a thriving culture of raising sheep, and there were a number of mills turning wool into cloth.

So, today there aren't many areas of old growth forest. But, you can hike through seldom visited areas and come across the remains of old stone walls. When clearing the land, the settlers would remove the stones from a field and build walls along the edge of the property. There is a stone wall in the woods behind my house that is close to being the property line between me and our southern neighbor.

But now the state is something like 80% forested. When exploring the forest now, not only can you find stone walls, but also cellar holes and even the occasional stone chimney. The chimneys look especially odd, sometimes, because, other that it and the fireplace it surrounds, there is almost no evidence that anyone ever lived there. You can also occasionally run across the rusted remains of an old plow or other farm implement.

So, time here seems to run in circles. The wilderness still holds clues of the mystery lives of dreamers and schemers who came to conquer the Northern Forest. But though it was knocked back, in the blink of a geological eye the woods have gotten back up and is now thriving.

Music in my head: Pachelbel's Canon

Monday, May 17, 2004

Dogen, quoted in the summer edition of Buddhadharma:

Who are beginners? Are there any who are not beginners? When do you leave beginner's mind? Know that in the definitive study of the buddhadharma, you engage in zazen and endeavor in the way. At the heart of the teaching is a practicing buddha who does not seek to become a buddha. As a practicing buddha does not become a buddha, the fundamental point is realized. The embodiment of buddha is not becoming buddha. When you break through the snares and cages [of words and concepts], a sitting buddha does not hinder becoming a buddha. Thus, right now, you have the ability to enter the realm of buddha and enter the realms of demons throughout the ages. Going forward and going backward, you personally have the freedom of overflowing ditches, overflowing valleys.

Music in my head: After reading this, my mind is quiet.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

OK, first of all I mean no disrespect for Catholics or people on low-carb diets.

But, it came up during breakfast this morning that the diner was unusually full due to First Communion. It was pointed out by some smart-ass that having a big breakfast would not leave enough room for the wafer. "I'll just have the blood, thank you."

And then it was mentioned that there's a niche that has not been explored by the Atkins people, namely that the communion wafer was "Atkins friendly, for those on low-carb diets." And since the wafer represents the body of Christ, well, no need to go there.

Always working an angle.

Music in my head: All I Wanna Do, Sheryl Crow (she's been in my head a lot, lately)

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Here's a fun site, an e-magazine entitled Zen Unbound. And I don't just recommend it because they link to me :)

Oy, am I full.

My wonderful and talented wife made stuffed peppers this evening. Usually I do the cooking, but she had a hankering for peppers and so she made dinner.

The bell peppers were stuffed with ground chicken, lots of mushrooms, white rice, and diced tomatoes with basil, garlic, and onion. Then a tomato sauce was mixed in. She stuffed four huge bell peppers (of different colors, even) and put the remaining stuffing into a baking dish over which she put the peppers.

I guess it was a lot of trouble; she asked me to remind her never to make it again. Too bad...oh! were they good.

Today we installed the new air conditioner. It was much warmer yesterday, and I probably should have done it then, but, oh well. After a windy thunderstorm blew through it got very cool outside. We have opened the windows. Out my window now the apple trees are in bloom. The peepers (little frogs) are singing like crazy.

In only three weeks I will be in the Catskills for my annual fishing trip. Over Memorial Day weekend, Karen will be visiting a friend in New Hampshire. So, vacations, on different days and not with each other. Now that she isn't working, we spend a lot of time together now. It's been nice.

Especially for this evening's dinner!

Music in my head: A Change Would Do You Good, Sheryl Crow

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

I heard a curious phrase today. I hope I am remebering it correctly.

"The control center for your life is your attitude."

Music in my head: Every Day is a Winding Road, Sheryl Crow

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

This morning the pain washes over me like a snow-fed stream flowing over a round river rock. Outside, the clouds are gone and everything is shiny with last night's rain. Across the yard there are dozens of gnat swarms, swirls about three feet high and a foot wide, which in the sunlight look like excited clouds of dust motes.

I fill the feeders again this morning. The rose-breasted grosbeaks have arrived. Since I started feeding seed with corn, the blue jays have also come back. Shortly after putting up a peanut suet cake, a downy woodpecker has become a regular visitor. The nuthatches seem to enjoy it, too.

A soft breeze blows, and rain soaked half-grown leaves give up their moisture in a sudden shower. The huge red maple that spreads over the back deck is fat with seed. Before long the seed pods will start to fall, whirling down like helicopter blades and spreading throughout the premises.

It will be warmer outside than it is inside today. I look forward to opening the windows and letting in the pine-scented air. Before the day is out I hope to have the hummingbird feeders filled and out, ready for new and old arrivals.

Today I must find comfort from without; within there's only pain. It seems so odd that, with spring in full-throated song, I have the urge to crawl into bed and curl up fetus-like in a dark room. Do the opposite, I've been taught. Who knows? Maybe today I'll air out my waders, fill up that new vest, and try enticing a few trout with my shabby self-tied flies. Or just find a trail somewhere and take a much needed walk.

Outside my window I see bees buzzing around one of the apple trees. Soon that tree will be in full bloom along with the others, little white promisary notes for red bounty in the fall.

Music in my head: A little ditty from a sour cream commercial. Aaarrrrgggghhhh!

Monday, May 10, 2004

Roshi Philip Kapleau passed away on Thursday May 6th at 3:30 pm. He was the teacher for the Sensei at The Vermont Zen Center.

I never met him, having only recently joined the Center. I have read one of his books, The Three Pillars of Zen, and have a couple more in the reading queue.

Our center will be holding chanting services this week.

There is more information on his life published at the Zen Within journal community.

Music in my head: sorry, nothing playing today.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

I've been spending time reading Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. I finished it just before bedtime last night.

What usually happens when I read Heinlein happened again in this book; the first half of the book is really interesting and the story moves along at a good pace. Then, the second half slows down with a lot of philosophizing and I have to force myself to read the rest. The same thing happened recently when I read his first novel, just now published, entitled For Us, the Living.

The version of Stranger I just finished is the original, uncut version. But if you haven't read it, but plan to, you may want to stop reading from here on in. I may spoil it for you. Although you will not grok the novel until you have read it yourself. If you don't grok the word "grok", you will after reading it.

What I found interesting is that the Man from Mars, after reading through various religious texts and texts on religion, comes to a conclusion akin to the philosophy of Gnosis and Buddhism. We are all God, and to know Him we must come to know ourselves. This runs counter to the majority opinion that God is something separate from us, which ultimately gets Smith in trouble. Of course, it isn't the difference of opinion that causes the violence, it is the loss of power by the leaders of the "God is separate and superior" sects. His ideas are similar to the idea in Buddhism in that we all have Buddha nature and are all Buddhas to be.

As is usual in Heinlein's books is that there is casual nudity and casual, polygamous sex among his characters. And he spends a (to me) too-large section of the book justifying it.

I hope I haven't lost too many readers by not posting for a week. As Michael Smith would say, "Waiting is."

Music in my head: Boys of Summer, Don Henly

Sunday, May 02, 2004

It's dark outside now, and cooler. There's a slight breeze, but it doesn't seem to be cutting the heat trapped in the house. It still feels wasn't that long ago that it was so severely cold.

From the pond a some yards from the house I can hear the peepers' choir belting out the amphibian equivalent of the chorus from Beethoven's Ninth. Aside from that it is quiet.

My thoughts turn to things political. Just when I think things have hit bottom, this news of abuse of Iraqi prisoners comes through. Macroscopic World had reference to a blog which says it is written by an Iraqi woman, who has thoughts and feelings about the whole affair. In the recent Zen Center newsletter there is a story from a man whose son is now in Iraq. Son says things are worse than they appear on the news, and that we are hated over there. This is just going to make things worse. This is the kind of abuse from which we supposedly "liberated" Iraq.

I feel so disgusted, it drives me to distraction. Think about it. Our men and women in uniform did these horrible acts in front of a camera. I mean, how dumb can you be? And it makes me wonder, what about those soldiers who aren't under the scrutiny of the BBC? It seems unlikely that this is an isolated event.

But I want to believe so hard that these are the actions of a deranged few, and not part of a widespread mode of behavior. Aren't we supposed to be the good guys?

The peepers keep singing, the breeze sneaks in through the windows and ruffles the papers on my computer disk. There's too much of this world I don't think I will ever understand.

Music in my head: Handsome Molly by Bill Morrisey.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Sorry for the hiatus.

I was reading the offerings from the One Spirit monthly when I ran across this phrase: Getting back to nature.

For some reason, in this country nature has come to mean all those things untouched by humans. If it is built by or grown for humans, it isn't "nature." Where did we ever get such a loopy idea? Nature has come to mean in forests, grassy plains, mountains, the sea-shore, all those places that do not have human habitation.

This leads to what I think are the two biggest problems in thinking about our environment. The first problem is comes from the people who chase the all mighty dollar and see the environment as something to be conquered and controlled. The second problem comes from those who see the environment as something that needs to be protected from human activity.

Since most of our culture and identity is wrapped up in dualist thinking, maybe this shouldn't be a surprise.

But humans are animals and biological beings. Therefore the actions of man are natural, too. We breath the same air we pollute, drink the same water that we taint, as do the birds, the bees, the bears, and all beings. That nature only exists in parks and sanctuaries is a false thought.

Don't get me wrong; I am all for a clean environment (despite what the clutter in my home would indicate) but for the sake of everyone and everything. But nature resides in the high rises, ticky-tacky suburbs, and neighborhoods; it rides the subway and the bus, takes planes, trains, and automobiles; shops in the big-box stores and the neighborhood grocery; goes to movies and reads books; flies kites and plays baseball.

There is no word that is the opposite of nature. Nature simply is. "Things as it is" as Suzuki would say. And the sooner we acknowledge our naturalness, we will come to have a better appreciation for the works of man, both in his presence and away from it.

Music in my head: I'm Movin On, Hank Snow