The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
 
 
Sunday, December 23, 2012
Spirituality ... Zen ...

I made my usual Sunday morning trek this morning to my local zendo for our weekly zazen. The sensei gave a teisho (i.e., a “wisdom talk”, aka “sermon”) as he usually does. But he made a somewhat unusual observation today in his teisho. He said that he recently decided during one of our sitting periods to observe the sangha members around him, as they sat on their cushions and focused their over-active minds on breath, as per his teachings (even if it was OK for him to take a break from it as to look around). He noticed how serious everyone looked; he described our expressions as being “like people in a cancer ward”.

Yes, well . . . sitting in silence, a person can sometimes sense the texture of being, of sheer existence itself. (That is, if the meditator is not looking around at her or his fellow meditators). One can almost hear the clock of one’s life ticking. One comes face to face with one’s mortality. It is serious business.

But according to our teacher (and his friend, a fellow sensei from a sister Zen sangha in the next county), we should focus on joy during our sittings; we should be smiling.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:51 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Current Affairs ... Public Policy ...

For today, I’m going to list some recent articles that caught my attention, with a short comment on why I think they are worth reading.

First, an article on a conservative commentary site, saying that there is a “new government class” consisting of government workers and retirees, Social Security / Medicare / Medicaid recipients, food stamp recipients, TANF recipients, veterans receiving long-term benefits, etc. These people (including myself) have a vested financial interest in the existence of a government, one that goes over and above the usual social benefits of law and order, military defense, education, keeping the streets clean, putting out fires and responding to other emergencies, etc. I think this all relates to Mitt Romney’s famed “47 percent that won’t consider voting for me” comments at the fund-raising dinner in Florida.

This “government class” is opposed, I would guess, to the entrepreneurial class, who are supposedly burdened and slowed down by the government hordes, given the taxes that they need to pay in order to let us get our checks and benefits. Of course, the article author accuses Barack Obama and the Democrats with trying to expand the “government dependency class” as much as possible, so as to make it politically impossible to reduce government and taxes. This would assure that the entrepreneurial class will be forever limited, such that our economy’s growth rate and overall well-being will not reach full potential; thus, our nation will be poorer and weaker overall than it otherwise would have to be, solely because of the short-sighted political machinations of the Dems.

I gather that this is a popular notion amidst Republicans and conservatives these days. Actually, it is a rather bogus dichotomy.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:27 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, December 16, 2012
Photo ...

Another early winter sunrise over Newark, NJ. “The dawn opened the play, waking the day, causing a silent hooray” (from Emerson, Lake and Palmer, “The Endless Enigma, Part 2”).

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:10 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Friday, December 14, 2012
Current Affairs ... Public Policy ... Religion ... Science ...

There’s an article in the November, 2012 Scientific American magazine by a fellow named Shawn Lawrence Otto that summarizes the strain of un-scientific and even anti-science sentiment that has worked its way into American politics over the past decade or so. You’ve heard of the issues — teaching “creationism” in schools (the notion that evolution isn’t right and that God did directly create human-kind as per the Book of Genesis); barriers to fetal stem cell use; denial of climate change; opposition to government-sponsored vaccination programs; and restrictions on contraception and abortion. Anyone who followed the GOP presidential primary season will note how far such notions have come in terms of public acceptance, especially if they recall the names Bachman, Perry and Santorum (has-been politicos do fade fast, though, don’t they).

This is all somewhat ironic, given that America today is living in such a science-dominated environment. I mean, just where did all those smart phones and tablet computers and Prius’s and miracle drugs and high-tech medical equipment come from? From factories far outside the USA, no doubt; but without all the scientific research done right here in the USA over the past generation or two, they would never have seen the light of day. Science has been very, very good to the economy and standard of living in the USA. So why are so many people pushing back against so many things that the scientists are telling us?

I won’t go into a full-blown examination and analysis of that question here (as I probably don’t know most of the reasons). But I will say this: the scientists and their friends the academic philosophers have really asked for trouble  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:52 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Science ... Spirituality ...

A few days ago, I talked about my current approach to spirituality. Which is to avoid committing myself entirely to any one popular tradition or esoteric approach, and instead to study and digest a wide variety of different writings and doctrines regarding wisdom and faith from throughout the inhabited portions of our planet. I discussed Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism. I should have thrown in Native American spirituality, as I have a few books on that too. However, I forgot to add a very important wisdom tradition that I follow from the modern western world. And that is the faith system called science.

Yes, science is a system of faith and belief. It believes in the regularity, reproducibility and observability of physical phenomenon. It attributes truth to propositions that can be observed, measured and regularly reproduced. It allows “meta-theories” that relate such propositions and phenomenon to other measurable/repetitive propositions and phenomenon. Such “meta-theories” can be falsified by identifying a particular predicted result from the theory, and showing that the actual result from the phenomenon at issue is not the one predicted.

Can these key propositions in and of themselves be proven by their own methods? No. But they are accepted and embraced because  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:00 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, December 9, 2012
Food / Drink ... Health / Nutrition ... Photo ...

I sometimes gripe about how big business is ruining food for the sake of profits. I.e., designing and marketing food products that taste good (in a cheap, instant gratification kind of way) but are not very good for you. But, as to be fair, I need to commend CPC for actually improving a product (after previously debasing it).

Given all the recent evidence on how fructose sugar can help to cause diabetes, I have been trying to cut back on sweet things. But I still have occasional need for syrup, for baking or to help sweeten a desert or a breakfast item. What can substitute for honey or fruit juice or maple syrup (or powdered sugar, the ‘cocaine’ of sweeteners)? All of these are high in fructose. Well, I now use Karo Light Corn Syrup. It’s relatively low in fructose and higher in glucose and other kinds of sugar that don’t seem to be as bad for one’s liver, pancreas and insulin metabolism. It says on the bottle, 0 grams high fructose syrup. Karo Syrup is definitely not intensely sweet like honey or maple syrup, but instead delivers a slower, more mellow form of sweetness. Which I’m starting to like.

But that’s not how Karo Syrup always was. Recently, I came across an old bottle of Karo Light Syrup on my shelves.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:00 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Friday, December 7, 2012
Religion ... Spirituality ... Zen ...

I was once a practicing Catholic who went to Mass every Sunday. However, it’s kind of difficult to be a modern, somewhat-well educated adult in the USA these days and still put up with the Big Catholic Church and all its quaint, antiquarian / medieval ways. So, for a while I became a practicing Episcopalian who attended Eucharist every Sunday. That was OK for a while, but at some point the whole idea of Christianity seemed . . . well, something of a mythologically-based approach to God, too heavily mythological.

For a while then I also tried being a practicing Quaker, one who went to the Meeting every Sunday. The Friends were OK, I liked the silent meditation . . . it was just that there wasn’t enough of it (people keep getting up to talk when you’re supposed to be sitting in silence). And there was something rather quaint about the whole Quaker set-up too, a bit stuck in the world of George Fox in 17th Century England and William Penn in 18th Century Philadelphia. Sometimes even pacifism can be a cop-out . . .

Thus, for quite a while, I just sat home on Sundays. But I didn’t feel right about that either. So now I’m a member of a Zen sangha that sits zazen every Sunday. Not that I find Zen to be without its own quaintness and mythology. We still pay homage and pay to the Buddha and his followers. But then again, I never heard anyone at the zendo say that we are Buddhists, and that we “believe” in Buddhism. That’s the nice thing about Zen; i.e., it rejects all “ism’s”, and all “ist” thinking. It is not an accident that there is no “Zenism”, and that we don’t call ourselves “Zenists”.

Nonetheless, most Zen leaders (we still have “teachers” and priests and leaders; Zen does not seem to overcome the needs of the ego) appear to  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:04 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Monday, December 3, 2012
Public Policy ... Society ...

There’s an interesting article in the November 2012 Atlantic mag about the inept military leadership provided by today’s Army generals (“General Failure” by Thomas E. Ricks). Mr. Ricks suggests that today’s Army high command should be more aggressive in replacing generals who aren’t getting results on the battlefield — as the Army did quite frequently during WW2. He presents a well-detailed, well-documented argument to support his contentions, with various examples of ineffective military leadership in the recent Iraqi and Afghanistan campaigns. (Interestingly, Ricks does not mention Harry Truman’s dismissal of General MacArthur; but I will do so here, to point out that political leaders also got involved in firing the top-dog soldiers. Arguably, MacArthur’s sins were different, not on the battlefield but in the political arena; but good generals need to know how to play the political game just as effectively as they can calculate artillery positions).

Ironically, this article came out just a few weeks before former General David Petraeus (as CIA Director) was sacked for marital infidelity. In the article, Mr. Ricks cites General Petraeus as one of the few good generals the Army had seen in the Iraq and Afghanistan battles of the past decade. Recall that in WW2, the golden age of general “relief” according to Ricks, it was well known that many of the top brass were having extramarital affairs. But so long as they were winning battles, everyone involved was content to look the other way.

Mr. Ricks does not deal with the fact that the world of political and military leadership is quite different today than it was  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:42 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, December 1, 2012
Photo ...

I posted picture last week of a church cross that was tilted by the roaring winds of Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy. I soon found another one, just a few miles away in Newark, NJ. This is at the Goodwill Rescue Mission. The Goodwill center is said to do much good for the needy, but the raging winds and driving rain blow against both the good and the bad.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:43 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Spirituality ... Zen ...

Although I consider myself a fairly serious Zen practitioner (I sit zazen for 2 hours every week at the local zendo, and I occasionally attend a mini-sesshin), I’ve been remiss in attending “daisan” or “doksaun”, i.e. the regular face-to-face meeting with the teacher. Given how important these meetings are within the Zen tradition, perhaps the truth is that I’m just not such a serious Zen practicioner; perhaps I am ultimately doing my own thing, making my own kind of Zen. Which the great Zen traditionalists would say is no Zen at all (Zen tradition – a bit of an oxymoron?).

Well, my own Zen is certainly a Zen somewhat detached from the koans. I have much respect for all those enigmatic little stories, and have made effort to study and learn from them. But as to being on a traditional multi-year course of formal koan interpretation under the tutilidge of a certified teacher . . . no, that’s not where I am right now.

Regardless, I do feel the occasional inspiration to sign up with the sensei and make the walk over to the interview room during the 3rd or 4th sitting for a short talk. Just this past Sunday (our main zazen happens on Sunday mornings) I had something I wanted the sensei to comment on.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:33 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
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