Beginner's Mind

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

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Just One More

I know I said I was going to get to work, but someone in Brussels found my blog via this excellent post, so I had to share it.

OK, OK, pushing the Publish Post button, closing all windows, turning off monitor, and getting to work...

Whole New Day

Karen and Ethan are at play group, so Kane and I have the house to ourselves. Kane is napping, after a vigorous morning workout of moose-fetch and tug-of-moose-war. What am I doing? Sitting in front of this silly computer, browsing, browsing, browsing, while my early morning get-organized energy mojo slowly seeps out from under my fingernails and disappears into the keyboard. Next to me is an empty can of root beer that I remember bringing in with me, but I don't remember drinking. I don't even remember belching.

Karen and I are clutter gods, we must be. I think we could create clutter by walking into a (white padded) empty room. It just seems to surround us.

Last night I finished the Level 1 Shambhala training; the next level starts in a few weeks. It's a good group, so I think I will continue on with them. It's been enlightening (pun intended, even if it isn't very funny) to learn new ways of experiencing the world, widening the meditative moment to include more than just the breath. Aside from this, it was also good to feel that initial frustration with meditation; perhaps it will help me help others when I next volunteer in the pain management program.

Looking around the room, I can feel that organizing mojo building again. I've spent enough mindless time this morning. Time for a bit of cleaning meditation.

Why is simplicity so complex?

Music in my head: Moonlight Serenade, Carly Simon

Monday, February 20, 2006

An Analysis of the Prophet Cartoons

Found on IslamOnline, a reasonable analysis of the issues surrounding the controveries of the European cartoons of The Prophet Muhammad.

Sunday, February 19, 2006


(Gosh, it's been awhile since I posted.)

I have one more evening class to go in order to complete the Level 1 training of Shambhala. Attending is the result of conversations with Zenchick, as well as with a former coworker who belongs to the Burlington group.

There are some major differences between Shambhala and Zen. For one, Shambhala is a secular practice, though based on Buddhism. For another, while Zen (at least as it is practiced locally) is strict about the methods of practice, Shambhala is more relaxed. And, at least at this center (though I hear this is true at most of them) there is an air of inclusiveness.

Practicing at the Zen center reminded me of an old Prairie Home Companion "advertisement" for a breakfast cereal called Raw Bits. It takes a real he-man to eat Raw Bits, and therefore, to buy it, you had to apply for the purchase and meet stringent qualifications.

Zen is dark earth tones; Shambhala is bright colors. Zen is about bearing the inevitable pain of sitting; Shambhala wants you to be comfortable, the idea being that pain while sitting is discouraging and distracts from the practice. To sit at the Zen center, you had to be a member, while sitting (and instruction) is free and open to the public at the Burlington Shambhala Center.

I'm not knocking Zen; it works for a lot of people, and works well. But, at least with what was available, it wasn't a good fit for me.

During the sittings at the class I find it difficult to drop my long-time zazen practice and adopt the new, though an interview with the instructor yesterday helped quite a bit.

Unless things get radically unpleasant, I plan to take the next four levels, each being offered once a month for the next four months. There are some Buddhism classes as well, which I hope to sample.

Another attractive aspect of the Shambhala group is the community. There are some social and family gatherings, and finding a group (sangha) with which to practice is a big plus.

So, down the path I go. It isn't really a different path, but now I'm wearing some new shoes. It will be interesting to see how they fit.

Music in my head: no music this morning, which is unusual

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Prophet Cartoons

I've been learning about Islam through a couple of courses, one from The Teaching Company and one via Barnes and Noble University.

For us in the Western world, we wonder, "What's the big deal about comical depictions of The Prophet?" I'll try to explain it as I understand it, and hope my Islamic readers (if I still have any) will correct anything I write here.

Perhaps the best place to start is with a little history. At the time Muhammad was given the Word of God, (Allah - and Allah is the same God as of Judaism and Christianity - more on that in a moment) he was living in Arabia that was populated by people of many faiths, including polytheists who worshipped tribal gods. Often these tribal gods were depicted by images or idols. In contrast, The Word - the Koran or Quran or spelled a number of ways - as given to the Prophet Muhammad taught that there was but One God (Allah), and that He Was the only Infinite and cannot - and should not - be depicted in any manner. This prohibition extends to Muhammed, who is not considered divine but is nonetheless to be emulated by Muslims. Hence, when the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten posted pictures of Muhammad - and the pictures were derogatory besides - the publication had committed a desecration.

You can read a timeline of the story here at The Independent.

It may come as a surprise to some people (it did to me, anyway, when I first learned this years ago) that the Islamic Allah is the same as the Christian God and the Judaic God. Islam considers Moses and Abraham to be founding fathers, as in the Judao-Christian religions. The Qu'ran is said to be the final Word of God; it supersedes the Bible, although there are still Biblical passages that are important. Jesus is considered an important prophet in Islam, though it does not recognize his divinity.

There are aspects of Christianity that are considered wrong in Islam. For example, worship of the Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - appears to be polytheistic to some Muslims. Images of Christ, including crucifixion, are idolatry.

Depictions of revered people are a touchy subject, it seems. Americans may remember the controversy around a photograph of the Crucifixion in a jar of urine. A couple of years ago the Sensei of the Vermont Zen Center objected to a headline which used the phrase "Big Buddha" (a pun on the term "Big Brother") to a story in the local Burlington Free Press. I've seen some of the cartoons that so upsets the Islamic world, and they certainly aren't complimentary.

So what are we to make of this? My opinion of the principles of free speech and freedom of the press remains - these freedoms are paramount (dare I even say it - sacred?). Certainly there are limits, but do the cartoons cross that limit? As I am not Muslim, it is easy for me to say that they do not. What I will say is that the exercise of free speech is not always without a price. If you are going to publish something incendiary (and the Danish paper knew it was), then you should be prepared to weather the firestorm to follow.

I would point out that, in some of the protests, American flags were burned along with Danish ones. We didn't print the images, but somehow we seem to share some of the blame. What does that say of us? It would be easy to dismiss hatred of America with phrases like, "They hate freedom and our way of life!" That is the kind of useless rhetoric that has proven so far to only antagonize some Muslim nations. While we point to the Internet and global press and communications and say, "Gee the world is getting smaller," as a nation we sit behind our nation's borders and pretend everything we do is right, because, to use a phrase from T.H. White, "Might is Right!" Somehow the ability to bomb other countries - particularly small, weak ones - gives us an opinion of ourselves that in reality is blown way out of proportion. I'm not saying we should cow-tow to terrorists (can we please dispense with the simpilistic dualist thinking of talk radio?), but, as Jyllands-Posten is learning now, actions have consequences.

While war with Iraq has been a boon for oil companies (you know, the folks who used to employ our President, Vice-President, and staff), one look at TV news shows that oil is not the only substance that burns.

Friday, February 03, 2006

A Little Light Shines Through

I was doing the grocery shopping this week when I picked up a box containing VapoSteam (Ethan had a cold - he seems to be over it, now). The box was slightly crushed, and as I was about to put it back on the shelf, suddenly, I understood.

Somewhere I read that Sunryu Suzuki Roshi would always buy the damaged and old produce at the market; the stuff about to go bad that nobody buys, and hence it gets thrown away. I remember thinking how noble that was when I read it.

But as I was about to put back the damaged box, I got it. I'm sorry, I can't explain the difference between thinking and getting it, maybe some of y'all have had the experience and understand.

So I came home with a few battered grocery items.

Music in my head: I Always Go Walking, Chuck Pyle