El espejo de plata

 

20141011_185813
Yao Sheng Shakya

 

Queridos amigos,

¿Vieron lo que pasa cuando están en un cuarto bien iluminado y miran por la ventana hacia la calle? ¡Pueden ver todo! Si se dan vuelta, pueden ver a la gente, las cosas, los colores del cuarto en el que están y también a los que pasan por la calle, los árboles, las casas…

Pero… ¿y si de pronto afuera oscurece? Al estar frente a la ventana ¡sólo podés ver tu reflejo en el vidrio!

La luna, con su luz azulada, argéntea, no tiene luz propia: refleja la luz del Sol. De la misma manera, las personas reflejan las enseñanzas que reciben. Los budistas llamamos a las enseñanzas de Buda “el Dharma” y las consideramos como un Sol que enriquece e ilumina nuestras vidas. Estas enseñanzas nos enseñan a respetar a los otros, a ser amable, a ser felices haciendo lo que es correcto y lo que hace feliz a los demás.

Si las practicamos con sinceridad, entonces, cuando la noche llegue a nuestras vidas, aún podremos ver a la luz de la Luna, el reflejo del Sol del Dharma. Podremos ver las soluciones a nuestros problemas. Podremos ver cómo estas respuestas que encontramos cambian nuestras vidas, las de nuestra familia, nuestros amigos y nuestra comunidad.

Pero cuando abandonamos el Camino, y sólo pensamos en nosotros mismos… mantenemos nuestra luz confinada a un pequeño espacio solitario. Entonces, la luna refulgente se habrá desvanecido y, a través de la ventana, sólo veremos la oscuridad del mundo y nada más que nuestro pálido reflejo en el cristal.

Una vieja historia ilustra lo que quiero decir…

Había una vez en China, un vendedor de frutas y verduras que era muy querido y respetado por su familia, sus amigos, e incluso sus clientes. En tiempos difíciles, rebajaba los precios a los que más lo necesitaban, o si alguien no podía acercarse a su comercio, él les llevaba lo que necesitaban a su hogar. Siempre estaba dispuesto a donar parte de su ganancia a una buena causa y ayudar con los animales que se perdían en el barrio, perros y gatos que anunciaba con pequeños carteles. Su vida de servicio era simple y esforzada, pero lo llenaba de felicidad por completo.

Pero un día, algo cambió. Incluso las personas más buenas pueden perder el Camino alguna vez… y así sucedió que este buen hombre comenzó a resentirse. Al encontrarse con una persona a la que había ayudado, se dio cuenta de que su abrigo ¡era más caro y de mayor calidad que su propio abrigo! Enojado, se decía “¡los pobres a los que ayudo viven mejor que yo!” Así que nunca más ofreció rebajas a nadie. Tiempo después, el dinero que ofrecía todos los meses como gesto de caridad no fue invertido como él había sugerido, así que, contrariado, dejó de hacerlo. En otra oportunidad, cuando su propio gato se perdió, lo buscó y lo buscó, pero los otros comercios no publicaban los anuncios que él solía hacer. Disgustado con la gente de su vecindad, dejó de publicar los avisos de las mascotas perdidas. Aún más, publicó en su negocio un cartel indicando que cualquiera que trajese a su querida mascota sería recompensado. Pero cuando una mujer se acercó con el animal, la acusó a los gritos de haberlo robado para cobrar la recompensa y la echó a la calle. Pronto, todo se volvió una amargura sin límites. A medida que el amor que lo animaba lo fue dejando, contrató a unos matones para que recobraran cada deuda, grande o pequeña que tenía. En un corto tiempo, su buen nombre dejó de existir. Nadie venía ya a su negocio, menos aún con una sonrisa o un gesto de gratitud. Sus problemas empezaron a apilarse, uno arriba de otro… cómo tienen la costumbre de apilarse los problemas en el mundo material, al que los Budistas llamamos “sámsara”.
Y así, su naturaleza cordial y amistosa se convirtió de a poco en una personalidad oscura, sostenida por la ambición, el orgullo y el rencor que rezumaba constantemente bajo la forma de incontrolables ataques de ira. Ya no sabía lo que era ver la amistad en los ojos de los otros. Más aún, la gente se cruzaba de vereda para no tener que estar en su presencia.

Pero un día, en un iluminado momento, un rayo de Sol atravesó su corazón endurecido por el odio y el aislamiento… “¿Qué es lo que me pasa? ¿Dónde está el cariño que mis amigos y mi familia me profesaban?” se preguntaba. Y así, angustiado al ver por un instante la imagen dolorosa de lo que se había convertido fue a ver a un viejo maestro Zen. “Tal vez, este hombre sabio me pueda decir que es lo que me pasa”.

Luego de presentarse, el maestro pidió amablemente al hombre que lo acompañara hasta la ventana:

–     Mire y dígame que ve

–     Veo la calle vacía, y el parque. Pronto empezará a atardecer. Algunas personas vuelven de su trabajo a sus casas…

–     Ahora, mire aquí y dígame que ve

En este punto el sacerdote alcanzó un espejo al hombre

–    Sólo veo mi reflejo… y nada más

Dijo con algo de pesar el hombre. El maestro hizo una pausa y mirando fijamente a su huésped le dijo:

–    La ventana que te permitía ver el mundo y el espejo están hechas del mismo cristal. La diferencia es que una está limpia y pura permitiéndote ver cada cosa como es, en cambio, en el espejo, el cristal está recubierto con una fina capa de plata… y en esa plata sólo puedes ver tu rostro. Y es así cómo en el mundo material nuestras ambiciones y deseos no son algo intrínsecamente malo, salvo cuando, como la plata en el espejo, obstruyen nuestra visión y nos privan de la vista del mundo y de los otros.

 

Photo credit: Wallconvert.com
Photo credit: Wallconvert.com

A commentary on “Words: As images of God”

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya

For something to be called art, we were taught in freshman English class, it must have four powers: it must make us feel emotion; it must arouse our imagination; it must inspire us to think.  The fourth is the most indefinable: it must have the power to survive.

In 1987, Photographer Andres Serrano, a native New Yorker, born of Honduran and Afro-Cuban parents, produced an art photo he called, Immersion (Piss Christ).
Photo credit: Wikipedia
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Twenty-eight years is probably long enough in today’s nano-second electronic age for the artwork to be considered a survivor.  We’re still talking about it, responding to its emotional impact, and wondering just what it is all about.

It was a piece that was produced in a specific time, a time that we now are inclined to dump into memory’s trash can.  Who remembers the AIDS quilt?

Serrano, a married man, academically trained at the Brooklyn Museum and Art School, and a devout Roman Catholic, cared about Society’s misfits, cast-offs, and all people who were the object of scorn.

Born in 1950, Serrano came of age during the tumultuous days of the AIDS epidemic.  Nobody knew what AIDS was, of course… What was believed was that it originated in African apes and was sexually transmitted through male anal intercourse and these two partial-facts added up to the ludicrous claims made by many religious leaders that it was a divine punishment by God for the sin of homosexuality and by many racists that it evidenced the brute sexuality of Negro men who obviously had sex with monkeys and who were, therefore, the cause of so much misery in the world.

The 1980s were not good years to be a male homosexual.  The mysterious disease spread quickly.  A man could meet a friend on Monday and both would be feeling fine.  By the following Monday one had dropped twenty pounds, and by the Monday after that, had strange lesions on his skin – Kaposi’s Sarcoma.  Within weeks that man would be buried.  Police and other medical professionals often refused to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation for fear of catching the disease. Male homosexuals were virtually unemployable. As dramatized by such films as Philadelphia, even brilliant men with law degrees were reduced to the status of the homeless.  They were not people that anyone wanted to talk to – much less be associated with.   And they died in droves – if anyone remembers the exponential growth of that AIDS quilt. We had a whole class of human beings who were not welcome to sit in a church congregation and who were so jobless that they couldn’t have put money in the collection plate when it was passed. So there they were… completely rejected – and not only by the straight community, but by other homosexual men who, with good reason, feared to be “outed” as homosexual and incur that cruel rejection, or from the also reasonable fear that they could themselves be infected by any physical contact with these potential victims.

My first encounter with uninformed Afro-American men occurred during one of my prison Zen classes.  A few dozen men, who were mostly Black Muslims, came to “set me straight” about a remark I had made the previous week.  I had casually said that AIDS originated with African monkeys; and their leader, who was in agreement with Berkeley Professor Peter Duesberg’s wretched theory that AIDS was not a disease at all but a “harmless passenger virus” that had ridden to notoriety on the backs of conditions which resonated with poor Afro-Americans, i.e., that AIDS was caused by drugs, poor nutrition, and by being used as guinea pigs for all manner of failed medical experimental cures.  Nelson Mandela’s successor, Thabo Mbeki, firmly believed Duesberg’s explanation; and the excellence of Mandela and of Berkeley rubbed off onto this idiocy.

Until that day, I don’t think I ever felt even a touch of what it means to be black and to have to listen to the crap that passed for scholarship and religious guidance.  The leader of the group demanded to know why I was spreading this filth about Afro-American males.  At first, I was speechless.  Dozens of angry men – murderers, rapists, etc. – had crowded into my classroom. My first objective was in getting them to calm down, but then I had to answer their question and the first thing I thought of was sheep.  I asked, “Do you know how sheep are raised?”  Nobody answered.   I said, “Sheep are raised in green-field pastures where they can eat grass.  In the Congo, where AIDS  first occurred, they don’t have green-field pastures.  They have trees which are like overhead pastures. Instead of sheep, they have monkeys that live in those overhead pastures.  People need protein and monkeys provide protein the way sheep provide protein.  Now, when a person wants to eat a monkey it is best to kill it first… and then to gut it.  If the monkey has AIDS and the person who kills it or prepares it to be cooked has a cut on his or her hands and the monkey’s blood gets on that cut, that human being is likely to get AIDS. He or she can then spread it. So what is your question?”  After some mumbling, they all left.  The following week, one Catholic inmate came to talk to me about Piss Christ.

His front teeth had been knocked out – the usual sexual requirement for “fish” (newcomers) in prison life. Slightly effeminate, he said that he had been bullied at school as a kid; ostracized from his family during the AIDS epidemic; and was completely unemployable. He stole some money and I guess the authorities were glad “to get the fag off the streets.” He asked if I thought Piss Christ was blasphemous.  I answered (a bit off point), “No… urine is sterile.  If you submerged a plastic crucifix of Christ in ordinary drinking water you’d surround him with all manner of nasty creatures. But urine is perfectly clean… sterile.”  He had not known that.  I asked him what the picture meant to him and he said,  “When you love Christ and you’ve nothing left to give, but maybe something that was part of you… your piss… well, then… that’s what you give.”

No, it wasn’t ondinism or urolagnia that he had in mind.  It was deeper, much deeper, a kind of “This is my body,” offering.  Maybe you have to remember the Gay Plague of the 1980s to understand Immersion (Piss Christ).  I remember how I had to stand and be interrogated by very angry men simply because I had said AIDS came out of Africa. They had blamed me for a conclusion they had reached and of which I was innocent.  It was they who were ignorant.  I defused their anger because I thought of sheep…  maybe The Good Shepherd came to me.  Who knows?  I’ve thought a lot about Serrano’s photo since then, and I remember that tiny hint of what it must feel like to be threatened, blamed, and punished by the ignorant.  Most of all I remember a sentence that was as Zen as anything I’ve ever found in the Mahayana Canon. “When you love Christ, and you’ve nothing left to give but maybe something that was part of you…”

Art?  You can bet your ass it’s art.  It arouses your emotion, and your imagination, and it makes you think.  Really think!  And, yes, it survives.

Words: As images of God

Yao Xiang Shakya
Yao Xiang Shakya

 

Liz Drawing
An American Buddha by Yao Xiang Shakya

 

I remember when I was a child holding a soft red leathered book, one of those onion-skin paper small books that even a child would know to handle carefully. I did. I held the book in my hand for moments before I opened it. I knew so deeply from a place that is dark and breathless within me that words were revelations of what I call God.  All words no matter how they were put together or arranged held something so unthinkable I still cannot put words together to explain it. I knew that all words have the power to open the eye that cannot be seen. I knew all words have the potential to cheer up the soul. So there I sat on the floor with my back against the bed and began to read the Travels of Marco Polo.

I looked for the face of the invisible in every sentence and when I found it I stopped because I knew I had met the presence of something more important than anything else I was able to imagine. It was and still is unimaginable. It is only lately that I realize that this realization is shared by others who are far better at making failed but heroic attempts to explain this power. I might now call it, at least temporarily, an eye-opener. And as quickly as I call it an eye-opener I want to append, amend and apologize because I know it is not an evenhanded, nor an acceptable name for what I saw.  To call it an eye-opener is my way of putting my jacket on a vacant seat as a place marker, a way to save the vacant seat from impatient patois.

My suspicions are that there are countless, restless canticles that might want to claim the saved seat except I know that each one despite the beauty and form is a borrowed imposter. All words fail to be other than play-actors. It is not in the sense of a cheat, but in the sense of what is true. In comparison, all words up against what-is-true are cheats.  It may be hard to swallow especially if we cherish words but in the light of the second commandment it is a relief.

“You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, nor any manner of likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them, nor serve them. For I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children of the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; and showing mercy unto the thousandth generation of them that love Me and keep My commandments.”

 

Although I wait and at times make an attempt to scribble and bind together an image of what I experienced as a child and what I experience today I know it will be a dim and partial reflection. There is no word, no one word or even a series of words that might claim ownership to an image of God. I might go as far as to say that no artistic expression may claim ownership to an image of God. I know this experientially and my knowledge is both confirmed and relieved by the second commandment.

My experience tells me again and again that everything comes to show me the image of God but everything fails to deliver a graven one; graven meaning indelibly set. In childhood, as today, I see something unimaginable in art even when the tale is fiction. The Travels of Marco Polo is questionable as being a historical and accurate travelogue. In fact, it’s questioned whether or not Marco Polo even existed. It doesn’t matter. The tale delivered the unimaginable reflection of God to a young girl sitting on the floor leaning against a bed.

The best I can do is to do my best to put together words that when they are put together they transcend the contrivances of a material, unfinished form. I am well aware that I am not in charge of any work. I don’t pretend to understand it. But I am aware that with every turn of a phrase a golem, a dumb invention, may be the result.

It is a cultural trend to write, to create an image of God through the creation of a benighted character of such stupidity that the reader is challenged to search for any likeness of goodness in the work. The use of extremes of depravity seems to have no limit along the x and y axis lines of human behavior. I suspect that this trend which seems pervasive arises because it is too difficult to write about godliness in such a way as to capture the reader. It may also be a more sad state of affairs. Writing which underpins every performance in film industry is cavalier. It considers sexual assault, violence and bedeviling corruption as the bread and butter of every institution ever put together by man. Someone recently suggested I watch House of Cards, a hit show as they say about sexual assault, violence and bedeviling corruption in the U.S. government.  Why? Why would I spend what precious time I have watching depravity? Where is the redemption in works where everything is seen through a narrow sexual, violent lens with a corrupted fast shutter speed? The characters are the worst sort of golems, those dumb inventions that insult anything and everyone through vulgar behaviors. They are stupid cartoon-like characters caught in the swamp of the material world with little hope of making it to dry land.

They, however, are an attempt at an expression of God, as broken as they may be they give rise to an impression of God nonetheless. It is the nature of creativity to point to an image of God. The problem for me is that depraved, sexually graphic and violent works suggest an impression of God as unknowable except to those who are already awake. These works, when studied carefully with Buddha eyes, reveal that man is looking for God, but looking for God in all the wrong places.

Readers and viewers cheer the incomprehensible prowess of street-smart characters that lack common sense and little virtue. Competence to get-away with naughty behaviors is looked upon as a humorous dexterity to satisfy the ego-impulses. In reality it shows how mankind at this point in time views virtue between one another as wanton and dissolute.

Photo credit: Wikipedia
Photo credit: Wikipedia

 

In an interview by Bill Moyers with Sister Wendy Beckett, a cloistered Roman Catholic nun, he asks Sister Wendy what she thinks of the photograph of the Piss Christ. It is a photograph of a small, plastic crucifix submerged in the photographer’s urine. Moyer’s asks Sister Wendy about the freedom in art today, that art now lacks boundaries and is this what has gone wrong with art today? She starts by saying “…one could say that’s what has gone wrong.” But in her awakened mind she reminds Moyer’s of a principle of theology. “An abuse should not take away a use. The fact that someone abuses something does not mean that it wasn’t a good thing to start with.” She goes on to say she likes rules but rules should not constrict. “This freedom is a good thing, but that it has gone to people’s heads and they have become very silly is very sad.” Moyer returns to the question of the Piss Christ and asks her directly if she is offended. “Well no.” she answers. “I thought he was saying in a magazine sort of way what we are doing to Christ. He is not being treated with reverence. His great sacrifice is not used. And we live very vulgar lives. We put Christ in a bottle of urine, in practice. It is a very admonitory work. Not a great work.”

She goes on to say whether it is blasphemous or not depends on what you make of it. For her, she sees it as the sad state of God, in practice. She hopes it passes. I concur, I hope the use of graphic sex, violence and corruption pass as well.  In my small, somewhat illiterate view of history, it appears to be an age old tendency of mankind to be irreverent, in practice.

The Piss Christ photograph is now over 25 years old. “Hope,” I have been told is what Mexicans say, “is the last thing to go.”

The Woods (#1)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya

 

As our second offering to our new Tales from the Sangha section, Ming Zhen Shakya, writing as Anthony Wolff (her father’s name) presents THE WOODS, a detective story that involves characters introduced in her 15 novellas series, Zen and the Art of Investigation. 

http://www.zenanthonywolff.com

Synopsis

A baby is kidnapped and held for ransom.  Is it a ploy by the baby’s biological father to obtain money from his rich parents? The detectives are forbidden to call the police.  How can they outwit the kidnappers without resorting to force when the baby is in the line of fire?  Can they survive in a wilderness without an ability to contact the outside world?  Without matches how can they start a fire?  Without equipment how can they find food? And when their truck is submerged in a lake and the kidnappers keep them submerged by shooting at them, what tricks will enable them to breathe?

Salvation means more than mere survival in the reclaimed strip-mining forests of Pennsylvania.  No one knows that more than their ruthless enemies. 

Photo Credit: National Geographic
Photo Credit: National Geographic

The Woods

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

Part One

Thieves of a lower order are seldom motivated by justice when committing a crime.  Their victim is likely to be targeted for no other reason but that he is both rich and vulnerable.  His breeding and commercial importance are irrelevant. But other more discerning thieves have a conscientious regard of justice and select their victim not only because he is rich and vulnerable, but because he has committed some sort of social infractiona loan that was denied; less wages than were expected; a haughty disposition or contumelious nature; or even a failure to respond to a charitable request, however dubious.  Numerous causes lend merit to their intentions.

In the Cayman Islands, two brothers, Tommy and Jack Fielder, tipped their kitchen chairs back and, inspired by ganja joints the size of Montecristos, envisioned the ease with which they could obtain justice and money from the owner of the sloop Sesame. The owner, a con woman they knew as Harriet Williams, had hired Tommy to captain the vessel and three passengers from its berth in the Barcadere Marina in George Town, Grand Cayman, to Cayman Brac Island, some hundred miles distant. Tommy, along with everyone else he knew on Grand Cayman, had always liked the mousy woman who deferred constantly to her oversized husband; but the large man had shrunk in the last months from a serious illness; and while a temperate soul might expect to find Harriet even more solicitous of her husband’s welfare, Tommy, at least, had noticed that her attitude towards him diminished in tandem with his shrinking size and she regarded him with what Tommy thought was… well… contempt.

The third passenger on board the Sesame was a young business associate whom Tommy knew as Willem van Aken. Harriet had seemed inordinately fond of Willem, yet never would Tommy have suspected that anything untoward existed between them – except that when the three passengers went ashore to visit Willem’s brother who lived at one of the highest points on Brac’s mile-wide island, she had drastically changed her appearance.  She mysteriously looked to be twenty years younger and rather glamorous.  She wore lipstick and face powder and combed out the braid that always lay like a sausage at the nape of her neck and she also did not seem to be wearing underwear since her breasts jiggled insouciantly beneath a blouse that mousy Harriet would have regarded as sinful.  There being no port or harbor at the Brac, it was necessary that they drop anchor in an indentation in the shoreline that was near the island’s small hotel; and as they climbed down the ladder into the rowboat that would be taking them ashore, Harriet winked a mascaraed eye at Tommy and said, “You’re a good man, Tom, and there’s nobody I’d rather see take permanent command of this good ship.  So do yourself a favor… do all of us a favor… and say absolutely nothing to the police if you’re asked what you witnessed here at the Brac.  Do we have a deal?” The improbable change in the woman’s appearance lent credulity to the improbable suggestion that she might give him the ship; and Tommy, startled and immediately cooperative, managed to say, “Aye, Madam.  I will know nothing at all.”

It has always been a quirk in the maritime personality that the man who captains a vessel takes a proprietary interest in its welfare.  From royals to rudder, she is his to command; and like a marriage consummated daily, she is his faithful and obedient wife. “Till death us do part,” is a landlubber’s conceit that is never uttered at a funeral service.  A true captain anticipates no elegy more eloquent than the whisper of love that he hears as he goes down with his ship.  Tommy Fielder had learned his skills in the world’s most dangerous profession: he had been for twenty years a fisherman; and now, at the age of thirty-five, having survived hurricanes and rogue waves, he could afford to be a romantic in such matters.  He was sufficiently infatuated with the million-dollar sloop Sesame to suppose that fate had cast them together in some kind of nuptial arrangement.  This, of course, was nonsense.  But the woman he knew as Harriet Williams was a consummate trickster; and she could read him as a wily gypsy reads the mind of an eager ingenue.  Her intimation that he might acquire rights to the vessel in exchange for his supportive silence was an obvious ruse by which she played him.   But time and THC have a way of converting a ludicrous suggestion into a legally binding contract. And Tommy’s hopes grew.

For the few days that he was alone on the sloop, he caressed the cedar rails as he waited, expecting Harriet to return with the Sesame’s title in her hands. He smiled as he whispered to the bridled sails the wonderful adventures they would have when they were properly wed in the Maritime Registry Office. He apologized for being a humble man who would have to live with her as business partners – but it would be as partners of the classiest kind: they would jointly host persons of importance for upscale private parties – a honeymoon perhaps, or for two couples who liked to play bridge, or for academic types who yearned to linger in strange waters as they inspected cenotes and caves, or the adventurous souls who wanted to search old wrecks for Spanish gold.

Curiously, these vagaries became more substantive when Harriet, her husband, and her young business associate, Willem – who in real life was actually her son – failed to return to the ship. And then, quite mysteriously, Willem’s “brother” Claus rowed out to the ship to give Tommy a thousand dollars with the instruction that he hire a few hands and sail the Sesame back to the main island, adding that he did “not care what the hell happened to the ship and did not want to be bothered about it again.”

Tommy summoned his brother Jack who quickly flew to the Brac.  Under ganja’s nutrient rich atmosphere, Harriet’s offer and the thousand-dollar payment grew into the unmistakable evidence of pledged ownership.  Tommy and his brother sailed the vessel back to Grand Cayman, labored to maintain its trim condition, paid various fees, began to live aboard the vessel, and convincingly answered the maritime investigator’s questions about the missing registered owner of the Sesame and also about the events that occurred when the ship had dropped anchor at the Brac.

Tommy responded with crisp authority. “I heard that Harriet, her husband, and Willem van Aken were all picked up by a ship on the other side of the island. Her husband, as everybody knows, was pretty sick and they were going to get him some new treatment.  They weren’t sure they’d have a use for the Sesame again; but,” he added with jingoistic enthusiasm, “she couldn’t bring herself to break her relationship with the good folks here in the Islands; so she thought we could use the ship for private parties until she knew more about her husband’s condition. I thought it was a great idea, and so her and me and Jack agreed to start leasing the Sesame for private pleasure cruises.  Naturally, Jack and me will be aboard for every trip – we won’t let anybody else take the helm.   Harriet has agreed to give us 60% of the profits.”

“That’s gross income,” Jack interjected.  “She’ll pay for the insurance and maintenance out of her end. If all goes well we’ve got an option to buy the Sesame outright.”

“That’s a good deal for you,” the investigator said.  “But let us know as soon as you hear from Harriet.  And if you talk to her, tell her we all wish Martin a quick recovery. But you do realize,” he added, “that without a recorded contract, this ship stays put. It might be wise for you to consider living back on land.  Without authorized permission, you really don’t have the right to live aboard the vessel.”  He said this in such a firm but harmonious tone that no room was left for the dissonance of discussion. Effectively, they had been ordered off the ship.

It was unfortunate that the maritime authorities were so fussy about executed contracts since the brothers did not know how to obtain one. They had not imagined that such legalities were rigidly honored in the tropic’s laid-back environment.  Yet, in his next visit to their on-land apartment, the investigator found it necessary to remind them of international maritime laws. “Seizing the ship of another and using that property for personal gain is a bit more than theft.  Different jurisdictions have their own interpretations of Piracy.”

Chilled by hearing the word “Piracy,” the brothers assured the investigator that they would contact Claus immediately at the Brac.  “He’d be likely to have the necessary documents,” Tom said. “After all, Claus, Willem, Harriet, and Martin had been in business a long time, and after Martin suddenly got so sick and Harriet ended all their business and charitable affairs, she probably dumped all the paperwork on Claus when she took Martin away for treatment.”

Jack added, “Claus, no doubt, is still trying to organize things.” The reason seemed plausible enough.  “We’ll take our Daysailer up there within the week and get things straightened out.”

“That’s a lot of ocean for a 14 footer,” said the investigator. “The weather’s been ‘iffy’ and if I were you, I’d fly. But maybe you can catch Claus down here.  He’s been spending a lot of money on clothes and on furniture for that house of his.”

Before he ended the interview, the marine investigator renewed his request for more information about the events that had occurred when the Sesame had anchored at the Brac. “What do you know about that?”

“Know?” Tommy responded quizzically, “I know nothing.  But yes, I’ve heard a lot of improbable gossip that as a responsible man I didn’t want to repeat.  But if you insist, I can tell you that I’ve heard that a young American woman had been dropped off by a Cuban vessel.  That, in itself, is laughable.  Nevertheless,” he added, “I didn’t see her myself.  I also heard that she had stayed at the old mining house Claus occupies high on the island.  And then an American private investigator named Wagner had come to the Brac supposedly ‘to rescue her’ – that was how people put it – and then the American had taken her back to the U.S. so quickly that the police had no chance to question them about anything.  All this,” Tommy averred, “was crazy compared to the reasonable truth that Harriet was trying to get some new treatment for her sick husband and that young Willem van Aken – who had had a profitable business relationship with them for years, had volunteered to accompany them.”  He shrugged.  “Harriet is so fragile, that if Willem hadn’t offered to help her, I’d have done so myself.”

Such heartfelt affection seemed to satisfy the investigator and he left saying that he’d return in another week or so to visit them again at their home address, and then he used again the “P” word… saying that pirates often met with terrible ends.  The brothers nodded their agreement.

*

Tom and Jack Fielder suspected, but did not know to a certainty, that Harriet, her husband Martin, and Willem van Aken were safely dead.  They also suspected that Claus van Aken had killed them.  But even without murder in the mix, they had an intuitive fear of Claus.  He was different from most islanders… aloof… cold… independent to the point of singly sailing his own ship, The Remittman, a Bermuda sloop that was best handled by at least three crewmen.

There was much that was mysterious about Claus.  As Tommy thought about it, he doubted that Claus could have killed three people alone. With the American’s help, however, it could be accomplished. Given the rocky terrain up at his house, the disposal of the bodies would be a problem. “They’d have to be ‘deep-sixed’,” he told his brother, “since the stench of decaying flesh, not even if it came from the bottom of a mine shaft, would be noticed.”

Jack Fielder concurred. “Yes, the American had to help him.” Both brothers – who were now equal partners in their planned “party-boat” business – agreed that ultimately the suspicions about Claus and Wagner were cause for comfort and encouragement since the dead could not speak and the killers were not likely to be talkative on the subject.

But they had run out of time waiting for Harriet to contact them or for Claus to make them an offer. If he were willing to pay for more silence, they would have enough money to pay for phony documents. But, for all they knew, he might already have legitimate title to the Sesame and a little old-fashioned pressure might get things moving in their direction.  They had already told too many people about their intended business plans – people who were now beginning to smirk at the mention of the Sesame.

The news that Claus was buying clothing and furniture needed explanation.  Tom expressed his concerns at a local pub, and a patron who worked at the post office confided that Claus used another name when he wrote to people in the U.S. Further, when Claus sent little baby cards and gifts to “Master Eric Haffner”  he sent them to the very same address in the suburbs of Philadelphia that he used when corresponding with Miss Lilyanne Smith – who, as everyone at the Brac knew, was the American girl who had spent a few weeks with Claus around the time the Sesame had anchored there.  “That business about her having been dropped off by a Cuban vessel,” his informant confided, “gave Customs the right to open photograph-carrying envelopes; and sure enough there were baby pictures and the Smith girl’s notes in which she called Claus ‘Eric’. There ain’t no doubt about it,” he said, “Claus and Eric are the same man.” To the brothers, this information was surely worth the price of at least part of the Sesame.

Through his connections, Jack learned that Claus van Aken had made reservations for a flight to Philadelphia ten days hence, on October 16th.  All those new clothes, he surmised, were for this flight.  “And if he doesn’t come back for months?” Jack asked his brother. “Then what?”

“I think it’s time we got tough,” Tommy Fielder said.  “Let’s make a quick visit to Claus and if we don’t get satisfaction, we can put a call into cousin Terry… and talk to him about possibilities. And if that bastard Claus doesn’t come through willingly with enough dough to keep us quiet,  then we can really get tough.  These people have money and a big hunk of it ought to come to us.”

Jack agreed. “The guy’s using a goddamned false name.  He must have connections who can phony-up documents.  So let’s just fly to the Brac and confront the s.o.b.   Maybe he wangled title to the Sesame out of Harriet before he killed her.  As he got it from her, we can get it from him.  If he’s not home, who knows what evidence we’ll find if we look around. Ain’t nothin’ stopping us from flying to Philadelphia.  I don’t like blackmail any more than you do, but as a way of making money it seems to work. So does kidnapping.”

“Right,” Tom nodded. “All over Europe people are taken for ransom and nothin’ ever happens to them or the kidnappers. We’ll need cousin Terry’s help, but it’s doable.  Who the hell do these people think they are?  They get us to cover up their sins… or maybe they’re even setting us up to take the rap for them.”  He called the airport and reserved two seats on the next flight to Cayman Brac.

It was not until the following week that the maritime agent returned to inquire about the disposition of the Sesame contract.  “We talked to Claus,” Tom explained, “and he’s going to look into it.  He’s pretty sure that he can help us.”

“Good,” the investigator replied.  “I’ll check back with you next week,” he said, turning to leave. “The annual rental fees on the slip will be due again.”

A moment later, Tom and Jack Fielder called Kentucky to talk to their cousin Terry Rourke, a man of considerable experience.  “Blackmail,” said Terry Rourke, “has a kind of backfire danger.  I knew blackmailers who lost their gig when the person they was tryin’ to squeeze turned around and shot ’em.  A better bet as far as I know would be to kidnap the kid and let Claus be your… like… cheerleader for payin’ up and keepin’ things quiet.  The guy’s got two names, right?  He’s not gonna call the FBI in to help unmask himself.  I’ll think on this and work out a plan.  Nobody will get hurt and we ought to get a couple million at least for borrowin’ the kid for a couple days.  Make some reservations to meet me at an airport motel in Philly.”

*

Eric Haffner, a.k.a. Claus van Aken, had plans for more luxurious accommodations.  He would be meeting his parents whom he had not seen in twenty years.  The Haffners were an old and respected Austrian family of financiers; and Eric, as a young man, had become enamored with members of a small group of sexually perverted confidence men.  Reputation being the indispensable asset of  financiers, the family found it necessary to put distance between themselves and their son. They sent him monthly checks in exchange for his never setting foot in or near the continent of Europe.

But Baby Eric and the absence of other male heirs had softened their resolve; and Eric was finally going to be reunited with his parents at the home of Lilyanne Smith, the mother of his baby son who was going to be a year old in another month.

Wednesday,  October 16,  2013

Tom and Jack Fielder not only looked like brothers, they had the same taciturn disposition.  On land, they drank too much, but at sea, both responded with alacrity when given a command; and when they gave commands, they did so with confidence.  They knew and loved the sea and their only regret was that after years of serving her, they had so little to show for their devotion. The Sesame would reward them for their fidelity if she were allowed to do so.  They proceeded calmly in their determination to help her with the grand reunion.

Their cousin Terry Rourke was of an opposite disposition.  Just having been released after serving eighteen years in a Georgia prison, Terry was an irredeemable alcoholic.  Local farmers donated large quantities of slightly old fruit which they said were intended for dessert menus, but an accommodating kitchen staff either used the fruit to make pruno as a finished product or distributed it as ingredients which the prisoners could ferment themselves. During the winter and spring months, farmers would supply members of the various work details with jugs of ethanol that the men could divvy up as they choose.  Annually, Terry pruned trees and raked orchards and became an alcoholic.  His mind was not yet addled, but his hands moved about uncontrollably, sometimes even looking like they belonged at the wrists of a man who was playing a Liszt concerto. When he was beyond earshot, Jack advised his brother not to put a rifle in the man’s hands.  But Terry already had two rifles which he had stolen from the cleaning room of a sportsmen’s club.  “I got them in Kentucky,” he said, “so they can’t be traced back to me.

“Look,” said Terry, as they ate breakfast in a motel cafeteria, “I got the rifles buried outside town; but what’s more to the point, I got my gal to rent a new pick-up truck for us, and I stocked a cabin in the woods that I rented.  I’m out twenty-six hundred that I borrowed from her folks. You better not be blowin’ smoke up my ass about these people being good for the ransom.”

“Relax,” Jack said. “The Smith girl’s loaded.  Her old man not only sent a P.I. to the Brac to find her but he had them picked up in a private jet. That’s another way to spell m-o-n-e-y.  Claus or Eric or whatever his name is booked a flight to Philadelphia for this weekend. We’re not stupid.  We booked an earlier flight ’cause we couldn’t risk being on the one he came in on… and we needed to be in place before he arrived.  He’ll have to help get all the ransom money together. His people are supposed to have dough, too. So let’s not screw any of this up.”

Not having fully prepared for the Pennsylvania autumn, the brothers had purchased hunting jackets with imitation fur-lined parka hoods at an airport mall sporting goods shop.  The long strands of fake fur plus their tropical sunglasses functioned as masks they thought, and their fear that the bright orange jackets might attract attention were allayed by the shop owner who assured them that since these were the normal garb of hunters, they’d attract more attention without them.  To be on the safe side, they purchased a third jacket for their cousin.

All of the equipment they needed had been obtained by Terry.  Aside from the two rifles he had stolen, he went to a gun fare and obtained ammunition; a grappling hook and rope to scale the estate walls; a powerful stun gun to use on anyone who guarded the baby; several pairs of handcuffs; and from a grocery market, enough baby food and supplies to stock the cabin for a week. Additionally, he purchased a case of cheap whiskey which he referred to as bourbon.  His new girlfriend, who believed he intended to do honest work, had used her good credit to rent the truck, a new Ford F 450.

A possible source of trouble in the relationship occurred when Tom Fielder offered a twenty percent interest in the private-shipboard party business to Terry who also sought a new identity. Tom, tending to spend money he did not already have, had guaranteed him citizenship in the Caymans, one that included a new and virginally innocent identity… an expensive passport, driver’s license, birth certificate… the works.  All things considered, Jack Fielder regarded the offer of twenty percent of their business as overly magnanimous.  Prudently, he decided to wait until the ransom money was paid before he voiced an objection to the division of spoils.

This, then, was their plan.  Terry, who was completely unknown to anyone who lived in the Cayman Islands or at Tarleton House, the Smith’s estate, would watch the house from the rear of the property.  The weather was good so it was a certainty that somebody would bring the baby outside. They’d subdue the person with a stun gun, take the baby into the truck, leave a ransom note… demand a few million dollars for the return of the kid, and use as their hideout a cabin in the Appalachian Mountains.  Terry, despite having been confined to a concrete cell for eighteen years, considered himself a woodsman, and the brothers, as helpless on land as they were useful at sea, deferred to his proclaimed abilities.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

George Roberts Wagner arrived early at the airport gate and sat restlessly trying to think.  When it came to wives, he decided, he was not the overbearing type.  He regarded it as a form of slavery to treat a woman as chattel and in any way to force her to do as he wished. Worse, some men used their incomes as intimidating leverage that would make wives yield to their desires.  “A woman has to do what she wants to do,” he’d announce, “or a man is just financing or otherwise enabling his own betrayal.”  This, especially in the case of his bride-to-be, was a prudent approach since her net worth was easily a million times greater than his.

Lilyanne Smith was an only-child-heiress to a candy fortune and George Wagner was a somewhat disabled police detective who retired to head his own private investigative agency, Wagner & Tilson. George tended to overlook financial matters whenever he offered his pro-feminist points of view.  There were limits, of course, to such liberality, but as of 2 p.m. on that Saturday afternoon, he had not yet reached them.  The plane that carried Eric Haffner to Philadelphia was due to arrive at 2:20 p.m., and the boundaries of George’s cosmopolitan savoir faire would then be tested.

George further tended to regard as only a slight inconvenience that Eric Haffner was the father of Lilyanne’s young son.  On one hand, George regretted not killing Haffner back on Cayman Brac when he had the chance; but on the other, his bride-to-be had begged him to spare the fetal father’s life and it pleased her to know that the crook was still alive. George curtailed the hours he had spent figuring out ways to off the guy and get away with it.  He did not, however, forego the pleasure of such reveries entirely.  But now as he waited for Haffner to arrive, he wondered how he would greet him.  Several years of hating someone cannot easily be removed from memory. George, who took inordinate pride in his own full and naturally wavy hair was startled to see Eric emerge into the waiting area with much more hair than George had remembered.  “Christ,” he whispered to himself, “did he get a rug or are they plugs… or what?”  As Eric came closer George could see that he had not gotten plugs.  To himself he said, “Those chemicals that you rub-in twice a day must work,” and he then proceeded to smile a greeting.

Haffner extended his hand.  “I was expecting my parents,” he said warmly, “but frankly I’m glad it’s you.  You’re easier to talk to.”

“Your German getting rusty?” George asked, forcing his gaze away from Haffner’s hairline. “Don’t worry. Ma and Pa Haffner are starting to pick up our lingo. How was your flight?”

Eric grinned, hearing his high-born parents referred to in such homely terms.  “Boring which means good.  How’s Lilyanne and the baby?”

“Fine.  The baby’s getting ready to walk and talk, and Lily’s been busy with your parents redecorating the guest house so that they… and you… can visit any time of year.”

“What does he call you?” Eric asked pointedly.

“Jeh Jeh,” George replied.  “He calls Everett ‘Pa Pa’ and your father ‘Poppy.’ If properly encouraged, he’ll call you, ‘Da Da’ – if that’s what you wanted to know.”

“It was… and you have my sincere thanks.”

It was not until they were driving back to Tarleton House that George and Lilyanne’s wedding plans were discussed.  “You know,” Eric confided, “that we won’t be there for the ceremony.  Lily invited us, but the Smiths have been too gracious as it is. It would be excruciatingly awkward to have us there for the nuptials.”

“You won’t get any argument from me,” George said.  “Where will you all be?”

“I know you’d like me to say, ‘Mars’; but as it happens they’ve arranged a full social schedule for the Christmas holidays.  They want to show the baby off.  Your in-laws will be staying with us in Vienna, so your honeymoon can be free of worry. Is the wedding still on for November 23nd?”

“Yes.  At Saint Joseph’s Church with a reception at Tarleton to follow.  We’ll be sure to save you a piece of the cake.”

“Hmm!” Eric acknowledged the less than sincere offer of cake.

*

Since  the woodland cabin was less than a hundred miles away, Terry saw no reason to bring anything special for Baby Eric for the time that he would be a passenger in the pickup.  Tom disagreed.  He not only knew more about babies, he thought, but he was counting on his continued good luck and being able to take the child sooner rather than later.  Of the three, he was the most anxious to get each stage of the project completed.

Terry had also honed his literary skills while in prison and would take charge of the communications’ end of the ransom demand. The fear that some recognizable Caymanian accent or figure of speech might inadvertently creep into the negotiations made him the logical choice to do the talking and the writing for the group.

The three men got into the pick-up truck Terry had rented, went to a deserted forested area where they could practice shooting the two rifles Terry had stolen, and then stopped at a gas station’s convenience store to acquire beer, gas, and a baby’s temporary necessities.

While Terry, who was now driving, stayed with the truck, Tom went into the store and asked the clerk to sell him some nappies.  “Nappies?” said the clerk. “Do you mean napkins?”  “No, for a baby.”  “Oh, you mean a bib.”  “No, God damn it, nappies for ‘im ta poop in.”  “Oh,” said the clerk, “Sorry… you want diapers.”  She naturally remembered the man in the sun glasses, orange jacket and fake fur hood that hardly needed to be worn indoors.  Tom also bought a gallon of milk, a couple of baby bottles, and two six-packs of beer.  He saw Philadelphia Eagles’ hooded sweat shirts for sale and bought one for Baby Eric.  He did not intend that it should fit the child, but when it was wrapped around him several times it would certainly keep him warm.  He paid cash for his purchases and left the store.  The clerk was curious enough to look out the window and see the man climb into the dark pick-up truck that was parked at pump-aisle #2.  Another man got out of the truck from the driver’s side, entered the station office and presented a hundred dollar bill to the clerk, telling her he intended to top off the tank.  She said fine, and she turned on Aisle #2’s pumps.  When he went to fill the tank, the first man got into the driver’s seat. She did not see the license number of the vehicle but she did know that the surveillance cameras were fully operative.

From the station they drove to Tarleton House, the address of which the postal clerk had given them.  They were prepared simply to “case the joint” from the property’s rear, but when they drove past the front gates of the Smith estate, they had to laugh at the unnecessary equipment they had brought: grappling hooks for scaling walls, handcuffs and a stun gun.  It all was unnecessary.  A guest house on the property was being renovated and the estate gates stood open to accommodate the constant passage of workmen’s vehicles.  “Even on a Saturday,” Terry remarked. “Time an’a half.”

It was four o’clock Saturday afternoon as they parked in roadside shadows, giggling to themselves as they swilled their beer and, in Terry’s case, “bourbon.” Finally they watched George Wagner and the American Lilyanne proceed down the driveway in a navy-blue pickup truck, exit the gate area unimpeded, and turn towards the highway that led to downtown Philadelphia.  “They’re probably going to Confession,” Tom quipped; and the three men laughed at what they regarded as a definite sign of good luck.

The men did not know who else was inside the various buildings, but at least two of the most serious obstacles to a successful kidnapping were out of the way.

At five o’clock in the afternoon, just as the sun was going down, the various workmen gathered their tools and headed for their vehicles. “Let’s go over this one more time,” Tom insisted. “We gotta make sure we’re on the right chapter ‘n verse with this thing.  Pay attention. If they have motion detectors they won’t have turned them on as yet; and until the last truck is out of the guesthouse parking lot, they won’t close the gates. So get ready.  My guess is zero hour is comin’ up.”

Jack agreed.  “Haffner bragged about his private rooms in the guesthouse and that’s probably where he’ll be at least until dinner time at the big house.  He’ll be sleeping-off his booze-filled flight and since he came to see the baby, the kid’ll probably be nearby with a nanny.”

“Bring the stun gun and act natural,” Tom added. “Let’s just drive up to the parking area outside the guest house and stop there before the last truck or van leaves. Terry can carry in the tool box and put the kid in it.  We tried it out with a radio inside.  Closed right,” he looked instructively at Terry, “nobody will be able to hear him if he shouts his head off. I’ll be in the truck and Jack will be your back-up with the stun gun.  And remember: if it doesn’t work out for some reason, act dumb and say we just came to the wrong address.  Be sure to say, ‘Sorry ’bout that,’ and walk – don’t run – to the truck and we’ll just drive on out.”

Inside the guest house, upstairs, Eric Haffner discussed window treatment for his rooms with the interior decorator his mother had hired.   Baby Eric sat in a playpen downstairs in the living room, watching the colorful shapes of cartoon figures moving on the TV screen, while his two grandmothers were holding drapery swatches up to the windows in the dining room.

Cecelia Smith had intended the guest house to have a rustic atmosphere; but the Haffners were intent on making it a miniature version of Versailles. There would be no hand-dipped candles or braided rugs.  Crystal drops tinkled from the newly installed chandeliers and the cozy wallpaper had already been replaced by heavy crimson silk paneling. Gold leaf accentuated the curvatures of leaves and blossoms that had been carved into wainscoting, ceiling trim, and mantlepiece. The two women lugged the swatch-book around, hoping to find the precise shade of cream that would compliment the crimson panels and not clash with the woodwork or the floors which fortunately were oak parquet that were now mostly covered by silk rugs – imported into Austria from Iran.  The two women actually liked each other and were able to by-pass any nationalistic prejudices by chatting in natural French which both had learned as children.  Cecelia wished that she could just as easily import silk Persian rugs, but what could a person do when politics preempted beauty?  “When you’ve finished re-doing this place, perhaps you’d give me a hand with the main house,” Cecelia conceded.  “I’ve completely overlooked how drab it has become.”

“Of course.  I’d be delighted,” said Erica Haffner as they walked back to the living room. “It will be fun.”  It was then they noticed that Baby Eric was not in his playpen. Just as Cecelia Smith began to remark that perhaps Eric or her daughter had taken the baby up to the main house, Erica found a note in the corner of the playpen.   She read, “Do not call police if you want to see baby alive again.  Get 2 million unmarked bills ready and we will call later about where we will make the change. No police and he stays healthy.”

No one noticed that the big black pick-up truck that had parked at the end of the driveway was no longer there.

(Go to “The Woods” Part Two)

“Tales from the Sangha” section is here!

An introduction to our new section: “Tales from the Sangha”

 

We here at ZBOHY are happy to initiate a new feature – “Tales from the Sangha” one in which our sangha members who have a fondness for writing fiction or, at least, are tempted to try it, can tell stories that amuse or instruct. We all know stories that can make others laugh or can help them to solve a problem or just to pass the time while they’re waiting at the bus stop. We’ll serialize longer stories and hope that the reader’s interest will be piqued enough to return to read the next episode.

We’re all grown-ups at the site – and kids don’t find Zen too interesting; so no one needs to worry about letting junior learn things he ought to wait another decade to learn.  On the other hand, we don’t want to print slanderous stuff.  So keep it fictional…. no real names, please.

We know that most of our sangha members are scientifically oriented and, as such, are trained to use the passive voice.  We have a small instruction letter that we can send anyone who needs to convert from passive thinking, in which he deliberately eliminates himself, to the “omniscient narrator” active voice.  Sometimes just getting started is the problem.

So send those original stories in.  Who knows? Maybe the tales are worth the attention of serious publishers.

Ming Zhen Shakya

Recovering from a Vacation

Abbot John
Abbot John

 

I am still convalescing from my recent pleasure cruise. Everything outside my window is frostbitten.  I refuse to add my person to the scene, and since I cannot muster the will or the strength to crawl under the house to see if any pipes burst during the recent cold wave, I will wait and either get a whopping bill from the water company or my house may start to float away – with more ease than the cruise ship did.

As I sit here cogitating in my usual manner, I am stricken – if that is not too strong a word – by the lies we travelers tell ourselves.. We toss off such fabrications as, “I flew from Atlanta to Los Angeles,” and think that we have encapsulated the modern era’s efficiency.  Nobody confesses to the medieval problems experienced by getting to the Atlanta airport or what happens to the human soul after it touches down at LAX.

To give you a better idea of the route, let’s just say that as a North Carolinian starting a journey at Asheville, North Carolina did not seem a stretch. A straight line flight of 130 miles would take us to Charlotte, North Carolina, whence we would take another 1500 mile flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and then transfer to a cruise ship.  With uncommon confidence  I prepared my shipboard togs… bathing suits and dinner jackets… the usual raiment for  a Zen Buddhist ex-abbot who is traveling in mufti. The good wife had already conjured up “outfits” that Mythbusters lacks the guts to challenge.

As to the sea cruise, the less I have to say about it the more I can protect my illusion of being a social being.  Let me simply confine myself to a few irresistible things about the easy lie of flying from one airport to another as if that had anything whatsoever to do with traveling.

The first little flight from Asheville to Charlotte was canceled due to bad weather, a fact about which we were notified during the night which meant that at 4 a.m. to make our Charlotte connection we had to drive a rented car over terrain that was too dangerous to fly over.  Think about it. Mountains, black ice, and other disconcerting things that go bump in the night.  A benign providence interceded, and the flight from Charlotte was delayed two hours so our struggle with the roads was not in vain.

Until I am more rested, I will not divulge details of the cruise.  Sticking to my topic – a difficult thing these days – I must reveal that the trip back was even more harrowing. Our flight from San Juan to Charlotte was delayed for so long that we were certain to miss our connection to the flight in Charlotte that would bring us back to Asheville.  By the grace of God (or the incompetence of airlines – however you want to look at it) the Charlotte flight had also been delayed which gave us an outside chance of making that connection.

When we finally arrived in Charlotte, we bolted off the plane to find that the plane to Asheville was on the exact other side of the airport (A to E to be exact) and if we ran we could possibly make it. Running has never been my most cherished activity and running with a 60 plus year old woman with Parkinson’s hardly even counts as a running activity. Nonetheless, there we were and off we went. About half way through our slow motion race, my good wife Nanci looked at me and said, “Go!  You can stop the plane for me. Just be yourself when you get there and they won’t leave me behind.” That was all the imprimatur I needed and off I went.

I reached terminal E gate 6 as they were just ending their calls and beginning to add stand-by passengers. I went to the little pulpit where they all stand and give out the orders about when you can get on board the plane to heaven and handed Saint Peter my ticket and began my slow explanation that we would have to wait another 5 minutes or so for my wife who would be right there as soon as the EMT’s got the oxygen mask off her.  This was the easy part.

Then another officious assistant to the keeper of the  Gates, hinted strongly that I was not entirely sane – not because of what I was saying but because his little goddam computer showed that my reservation was for the next day – not the present one. My boarding pass and my ticket itinerary showed otherwise, but he was resolute and told me to stand aside. Since Nanci had not yet arrived I did so pleasantly enough. She soon joined me off to the side of the bimah (switched nouns in deference to Nanci’s faith – for soon faith would be needed).

Nanci looked at me and noticed that something was not right: I wasn’t my usual jovial self. When she asked I shook my head and said “This attendant seems to think our tickets are for tomorrow’s flight.  We are asked to wait.” You can try to imagine what kind of thoughts were going through her head at that moment. She had just pushed and shoved and dragged her right leg through an entire airport only to arrive 24 hours early (according to the demon gate keeper). She started crying. That action, of course, aroused in me my latent Knight Lancelot – my chivalrous persona, my mission as a protector of innocents, and also a few of those rather well honed instincts developed from living on the streets for a certain period in my life. That last part took over.

I justify what happened next as simply a result of the cowardice of the chivalrous parts of my personality. Chivalry ran for cover when all hell broke loose. The entire frustrating week, from that first flight cancelation, to spending a week on water in what amounts to a huge shopping mall with a casino attached to it, to this final insult of technological insanity of having tickets and boarding passes printed from the same airline for a date that the same airline misprinted on the manifest.   After trying to speak rationally to the attendant who was barring us from boarding our flight, I decided on another tactic and challenged him to a duel. Risking airport security I put my dukes up.  Naturally I knew that it was obvious that I was a gentleman of social security age and that behind me, backing me up like Patton’s 3rd Army was a crippled Jewish-American Princess weeping piteously.  Contest?  There was no contest.  Ask Rommel.   The enemy threw down his paper weapon and handed us new boarding passes as we ran over him.  We chugged down the jetway, triumphant.  My peacock demeanor would have lasted all the way to Asheville had it not been for the strange sight that awaited me when I entered the plane.  Only half the seats were taken.  Sure… Nanci’s seat was fourteen rows behind mine… after all we were together.  But when the plane’s doors were shut, I was the only one sitting in my row.  And she was the only one sitting in hers.  This puzzled me. What was the point of that whole encounter with the Gate Keeper when there were plenty of seats available. What was the goddam point of all this?  What had I missed?   And then my victory over Satan’s minion soured during that short flight.  I had not won at all.  Our luggage was not on the plane.

There is a lesson in this, but as yet I have not discerned it.  When I do, I’ll let you know.  As it is I am immobilized by a subtle existential sadness that hovers over such situations.  My nerves are jangled and tightly strung.  No music is coming from the strings of my lute.

Maybe later..

Welcome aboard!!!

The Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun is privileged to announce the election of our new abbot, Yao Sheng Shakya of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

By profession, Yao Sheng is an Electrical Engineer and works as a University Professor in Digital Signal Processing and Computer Science fields.
He’s an avid reader – right now he is reading Saul Bellow, D.T. Suzuki, and Swami Sivananda’s books on spiritual matters.
He speaks English fluently and is available in both English and Spanish to give individual spiritual counseling at Shiyaosheng@gmail.com
We are all delighted with him and the plans he has to write essays in Spanish so that our Zen Buddhist message will be made more accessible to our Latin American readers.
Together, we all cheer him, saying, “Welcome Aboard, Abbot Yao Sheng.”
Ming Zhen Shakya
keepcalm

Global warming? More inconvenient baloney

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya

 

According to MIT Professor Noam Chomsky, “Journalists who have access to highly placed government and corporate sources have to keep them on their side by not reporting anything adverse about them or their organizations.  Unofficial information, or leaks, give the impression of investigative journalism, but are often strategic maneuvers on the part of those with position or power.”

The good professor has listed ten strategies by which the public is manipulated: Number One is “Distraction.”  Number Two is “Create problems, then offer solutions.”  We needn’t go down the list.  Another MIT Professor, Jonathan Gruber, the primary author of Obamacare, has made strategy unnecessary since after all, he says, “Americans are stupid.” Nobody really needs a Chomskian strategy to manipulate stupid people.
We can therefore relax and get a laugh out of the way the Global Warming Investors (GWI) are now ballyhooing hot bad weather while trying to divert attention from Arctic assaults upon the climate of much of the U.S.
In September 2013, after the GWI had predicted that there would be a very active hurricane season in which between 7 and 11 major hurricanes would hit the U.S., Time Magazine noted that as of September 10th, the midpoint of the most dangerous part of the hurricane season, not a single hurricane had been recorded.  This sluggish hurricane season paralleled 2012. In fact, not a Category 3 or 4 or 5 hurricane had hit the U.S. since 2005’s Wilma.
This anemic hurricane season left us hanging out to dry after being drenched by An Inconvenient Truth‘s intimation that the East and Gulf coasts were going to be the stuff of horror flicks.

What did we hear from the GWI’s Public Relations’ flack?  A focus on Hurricane Sandy (the wide but relatively slow wind Category 2 Hurricane (when it finally hit the Jersey coast) that struck a very expensive area. Within a matter of a few days every GWI group got the same PR release and ran with it:

 

-Climate Central 

How Global Warming Made Hurricane Sandy Worse

-The Scientific American 

Did Climate Change Cause Hurricane Sandy?

-NOVA 

Climate Change and Sandy

-The New York Times 

Did Global Warming Contribute to Hurricane Sandy’s Devastation?

Climateprogress 

Superstorm Sandy’s Link To Climate Change: ‘The Case Has Strengthened’ Says Researcher

– The Week

Energy Department: Global warming made Hurricane Sandy worse

Bloomberg Business (on Sandy)

It’s Global Warming, Stupid

 

Google lists pages of links to the articles of various publications that had read the same PR release and got in step to “distract” us from understanding that the storm’s target happened to be dollar-for-dollar the most expensive neighborhood in the U.S.  Manhattan Island’s subway system was flooded.  Beachfront property in Jersey was demolished.  Had Sandy hit elsewhere, it wouldn’t have gotten noticed.

But Uh, oh… When the northern half of the U.S. was inundated with snow and struggled with sub-zero temperatures, and Boston was establishing a new record for snowfall, what did the Global Warming Investors do to protect their jobs, grants, and portfolios?  They diverted our attention to the opposite side of the country.  Here are a few of dozens of entries as they appeared in Google (from various publications) while 2 meters of snow were still falling and crippling Boston and dozens of other cities. (All of these articles were dated between February 12 and February 16, 2014 at the height of New England’s disastrous snowfall.)

 

-Climate Central

Climate Change Ups Odds of a Southwest Megadrought

Los Angeles Times

Chance of ‘megadrought’ in U.S. Southwest now 50%, study concludes

Livescience

Worst Megadroughts in 1,000 Years Threaten US

Nature

Mega-drought threat to US Southwest

National Geographic

Worst Drought in 1,000 Years Predicted for American West

Modern Farmer

Scientists: The American Southwest Faces a “Megadrought”

Nation

‘Megadrought’ forecast for Southwest, plains

 

On and on these takes on the identical PR release continue.  Megadrought!  Megadrought!   Well! We’ve got more important problems to attend to than some lousy snow in Boston!  But Wait!  When is this Megadrought going to occur?

In the smaller print we read “in the second half of this century.”
So anyone who is alive between 2050 and 2100 should not invest in the Southwest or, as the GWI maps indicate, Mexico and the Great Basin states.  Furthermore, as one of the articles reveals at its conclusion, people should not “lease” solar energy devices. No, they should purchase them outright. (This is another way of saying that we have enough Chinese products inside the house… let’s put some on the roof.)

As the snow continued to fall in Boston and Saint Patrick’s Day approached, the Global Warming Investors’  PR diversionary release came out and all the Global Warming media got their headlines in line:

 

The Washington Post

Officials blame climate change as Vanuatu picks up the pieces after ‘monster’ storm

Radiofree.org

Vanuatu Blames Global Warming as Cyclone Causes Nation’s Worst Climate Disaster in Recent Memory

Stopglobalwarming.org

Did climate change cause Vanuatu damage?

 

It goes on and on as dozens of Global Warming Investor sycophants rant until… Vanuatu?…   Where the hell is Vanuatu?  We had to be shown maps.  Now, no one wants to downplay the island’s misery, but with so much of the U.S. struggling with the effects of bitter cold, it was startling to see so many publications offer up Vanuatu’s problems obviously to divert our attention from that cold white stuff that was blanketing half the country.  Roofs were collapsing in Boston under the weight of unprecedented amounts of snow… and we are given PR releases about Vanuatu?   

With all the scientific publications tweaking the same PR release, few unbiased scientists could shake off their dejection over all that unrelenting “sucker born every minute” hype and tell us what we really needed to know about climate change. To the average person, the fact that the earth’s surface is mostly water makes it seem sort of reasonable to assume that an increase in temperature should cause more water to evaporate and form clouds which will release water as rain and snow.  What we do not know – and would like to be given some non-compromised information about – is how and where this water would likely fall.  Nobody gives a rat’s ass about what the universal average temperature will be.  What we all want to know is how will any of this affect our town, our area of the country?  Is there no one at MIT who can understand that the collapse of the Larsen B ice sheet is fascinating and, no doubt, very very important, but what is more important to the people who pay the taxes that help fund MIT is the danger of floods and the weight of the snow on the roof under which their children are sleeping.  Will somebody please tell us if  those devastating polar vortices are related to increases in greenhouse gases?
Megadroughts? So far none of the Global Warmers has accurately predicted what the weather will be next season let alone seventy-five years from now.
Two issues need to be explored.  The financial debacle regarding Title XVII – “Incentives for innovative technologies” – the government’s program of lending millions to any company that had a product they claimed would contribute to the solution of the Global Warming “crisis;” and the truth about changes in weather that present conditions can cause.  Maybe there could even be a couple of dollars set aside for a chemist and/or engineer who could figure out how efficiently to remove salt from ocean water.
 
Five years ago we expressed a need for some down-to-earth explanations from the scientific community. (Global Warming, Al Gore, And Sycophant Science : http://www.zatma.org/Dharma/zbohy/Literature/essays/mzs/01102010.html
Nothing much has happened except the rash of bankruptcies of Anti-Global Warming companies. See below)
Perhaps people in the northern latitudes who are suffering under the burden of heating costs should be given a break in their heating bills or in weatherizing their homes – if only to keep them from migrating to the Southwest where they will be baked to death from the Megadroughts.  Likewise, people who live in coastal areas might be given a break in order to make their homes better able to withstand hurricanes.  (I recall that in Hurricane Andrew huge areas of new homes were wiped away while the few “Habitat for Humanity” houses (that were built precisely to code) rode the storm out.  As I recall, they looked a little embarrassed standing there while every building for miles around was so much rubble (and the cause for quick bankruptcies by the builders.)  Says the LA Times of September 9, 1992 “Although thousands of homes in South Florida were obliterated or damaged beyond repair by Hurricane Andrew, 27 units built in Dade County by the volunteer group Habitat for Humanity withstood the brunt of the storm.”
Dozens of charitable foundations rake in millions to educate folks about the evils of global warming and the need to purchase the products of companies in which they have personally invested and which obviously haven’t sold too well. The tax free income they generate vanishes into private coffers and into a public relations’ campaign that exaggerates what they perceive as favorable news and diminishes the effects of unfavorable news – illustrating what Professor Chomsky itemized as strategies for such entities: Distract; and Create the problem that you offer to solve.

Here is The Daily Signal’s October 18, 2012 list of energy failures compiled by Schow and Sandoval.  (It’s impossible to find a more up to date list.)  The amounts are taxpayers’ dollars that went down the drain along with many good ideas.

 

  1. Evergreen Solar ($25 million)
  2. SpectraWatt ($500,000)
  3. Solyndra ($535 million)
  4. Beacon Power ($43 million)
  5. Nevada Geothermal ($98.5 million)
  6. SunPower ($1.2 billion)
  7. First Solar ($1.46 billion)
  8. Babcock and Brown ($178 million)
  9. EnerDel’s subsidiary Ener1 ($118.5 million)*
  10. Amonix ($5.9 million)
  11. Fisker Automotive ($529 million)
  12. Abound Solar ($400 million)*
  13. A123 Systems ($279 million)*
  14. Willard and Kelsey Solar Group ($700,981)*
  15. Johnson Controls ($299 million)
  16. Brightsource ($1.6 billion)
  17. ECOtality ($126.2 million)
  18. Raser Technologies ($33 million)*
  19. Energy Conversion Devices ($13.3 million)*
  20. Mountain Plaza, Inc. ($2 million)*
  21. Olsen’s Crop Serv.and Olsen’s Mills Acquisition Co. ($10 million)*
  22. Range Fuels ($80 million)*
  23. Thompson River Power ($6.5 million)*
  24. Stirling Energy Systems ($7 million)*
  25. Azure Dynamics ($5.4 million)*
  26. GreenVolts ($500,000)
  27. Vestas ($50 million)
  28. LG Chem’s subsidiary Compact Power ($151 million)
  29. Nordic Windpower ($16 million)*
  30. Navistar ($39 million)
  31. Satcon ($3 million)*
  32. Konarka Technologies Inc. ($20 million)*
  33. Mascoma Corp. ($100 million)

*Denotes companies that have filed for bankruptcy as of October, 2012.The 2009 stimulus set aside $80 billion to subsidize politically preferred energy projects. Since that time, 1,900 investigations have been opened to look into stimulus waste, fraud, and abuse (although not all are linked to the green-energy funds), and nearly 600 convictions have been made. Of that $80 billion in clean energy loans, grants, and tax credits, at least 10 percent has gone to companies that have since either gone bankrupt or are circling the drain.The conservative approach would have allowed the common sense of Green Energy to mature in the free market.  Yes, there would have been government loans and grants – but in a smaller, slower, more considered process.

 An Inconvenient Truth hysteria no longer allowed the free market to proceed naturally with the commerce of products.  Every idea was suddenly a finished product. The government was no longer the handmaiden of industry, it was its banker and, as such, became invested in its success, its Public Relations’ agent.  A good idea was never allowed to grow naturally with the trial and error of personnel, material, and methods.  Instead, millions were diverted to young companies that suddenly were burdened with the weight of inexperienced administrators, bureaucrats, politicians, stockholders, community leaders, and competitors – both foreign and domestic – that often sought to appropriate intellectual property, key employees, and government connections.

Why couldn’t we see the subtle differences between slick operators chanting “Global Warming” and the honest scientists who were trying to develop Green Energy? (and maybe even do that salt-from-sea-water extraction.)

And finally, was it really necessary for Apple’s Tim Cook to show how completely insensitive and arrogant he is when he suggested that people who didn’t accept his views on Global Warming should sell their Apple stock?  His words lived on to mock the millions of American fathers who didn’t own stock in Apple and who were biting their knuckles trying to figure out how to pay the heating bills they incurred just to get their families through endless nights of sub-zero temperatures…  especially when they couldn’t go to work because so bloody much snow had blocked their front doors and streets.

ZBOHY elects Argentine Abbot! Letters To The New Abbot

Our new Abbot: Yao Sheng Shakya
Our new Abbot: Yao Sheng Shakya

ZBOHY elects Argentine Abbot. Shi Yao Sheng of Buenos Aires has been elected to ZBOHY’s top position. He brings the Dharma to thousands of Spanish speaking visitors to our ZATMA website. In the following section various members of the Order officially welcome him to his new post.

 

Estimados miembros de la Comunidad ZBOHY,

En primer lugar, quiero agradecerles a todos por su interés en nuestro sitio. Aquí encontrarán abundante material de lectura acerca de la práctica del Budismo Zen. Afortunada e imprevistamente, he sido elegido Abad de la Orden Budista Zen de Hsu Yun (ZBOHY, por sus siglas en inglés), lo que implica que llevaré adelante el mantenimiento y actualización del sitio web, tareas de edición y coordinación de actividades, entre otras responsabilidades. Es mi intención para este año que podamos mejorar la estética y presentación de nuestra páginas, así como incorporar más contenido en español (a través de traducciones y producción de ensayos nuevos).

Desde mi humilde posición, no espero más que poder ayudar a los practicantes del Budismo Zen a apreciar y profundizar su práctica, allanar sus dificultades, despejar sus dudas y asistirlos en todo lo que me sea posible para su realización personal.

A modo de bienvenida compartiré con Ustedes una serie de ensayos cortos sobre conceptos básicos del Budismo Zen, los cuales iré publicando en sucesivas entregas. Los animo a escribirme en caso de que así lo consideren.

Finalmente, quiero agradecer a la comunidad de maestros, sacerdotes y laicos de ZBOHY quienes han confiado en mí para esta tarea.

 

En el Dharma,

Yao Sheng Shakya


 

From Abbot John (Yin Din Shakya)

Abbot John
Abbot John

 

We have arrived at a pivotal point in our ZBOHY-ZATMA history at which we’re privileged to welcome a new abbot from South America,Yao Sheng of Buenos Aires. Abbot Yao has been a member of our sangha for many years. Well-versed in the Dharma, he is also, by profession, an electrical engineer and university professor. It will not be easy to fill Abbot Ken’s shoes, but he has the will and the skill to succeed. Yao Sheng is enthusiastic about presenting our Dharma Path to the many Latin American citizens who seek Zen’s Way to Enlightenment. We share his enthusiasm, wish him well, and congratulate him.

Abbot John (Yin Din Shakya)


 From Chuan Yuan Shakya

Chuan Yuan Shakya
Chuan Yuan Shakya

Damos as boas vindas ao nosso novo abade, Yao Sheng Shakya. Temos plena

confiança que sua competência será mais que suficiente para enfrentar os desafios que temos por vir.

Agradecemos ao Abade Yin Cai por sua dedicação e excelente trabalho nos últimos anos.

Chuan Yuan Shakya(Je)


 From Shi Zheng Fo and Shi Chuan Chao

Chuan Chao
Chuan Chao
Zheng Fo Shakya
Zheng Fo Shakya

For Yao Sheng:

Congratulation Reverend Yao Sheng! We join with the rest of the sangha is wishing you the best of luck in your new post.

Naturally, we will all miss Abbot Ken and the good work he has done for the last few years; but the prospects of introducing Latin American languages and sangha members to our website will help to compensate his loss.

We’re all excited about broadening the reach of ZBOHY’s zatma ministry and we look to you with confidence that you will guide our sangha and website readership to a fortuitous increase.

Once again, Good fortune to you in your endeavors.

Zheng Fo Shakya (Audrey) and Chuan Chao Shakya (Hal)


 From Ming Zhen Shakya

 

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya

Hola Abbot Yao!

At last I can practice my espanol. Welcome to the hot seat. Ken will be staying on to contribute his technical advice and (we hope) his writing, so things may go easier than expected for you.

You’ve been with us for so many years that it seems strange to welcome you to your new post. We all wish you the best of luck; and naturally, we’re all here to help. Don’t hesitate to ask.

Kind regards,

Ming Zhen Shakya (Em)


 From Shi Yao Xiang

 

Yao Xiang Shakya
Yao Xiang Shakya

Welcome Aboard Abbot Yao Sheng!

Your acceptance of this position assures all of us that ZBOHY-ZATMA will continue to be a strong presence in the global world of the internet.

I’d like to extend a warm welcome as you take the seat of The Abbot of ZBOHY-ZATMA.

I look forward to your vision and leadership and wish you all good luck!

And a final thanks to Kenny for all the heavy lifting. Good, good luck in your emeritus status.

Yao Xiang Shakya (Liz)


 From Yao Xin Shakya

Yao Xin Shakya
Yao Xin Shakya

 

L’Ordre Bouddhiste Zen de Hsu Yun a le plaisir d’annoncer l’élection de son nouvel abbé, le révérend Yao Sheng Shakya.

Nous souhaitons le meilleur dans sa nouvelle tâche à notre homme de Buenos Aires. Puissions nous l’aider de notre mieux, dans la simplicité et la convivialité qui caractérise notre ordre.

C’est avec avec une sincère gratitude que nous remercions le révérend Yin Cai Shakya pour l’admirable bienveillance et la délicate attention dont il fit preuve dans sa charge d’abbé.

Puisse cette nouvelle année être également celle du renouveau pour notre ordre et chacun d’entre nous.

Bravo encore à notre nouvel abbé, qui sait qu’il peut compter sur les amis de l’ordre.

Yao Xin Shakya (Luis)


From Yin Shan Shakya

Yin Shan Shakya

Yin Shan Shakya

For Yao Sheng:

I warmly welcome Yao Sheng to take the highest of high positions with our Order as abbot. With the Buddhist world, in and out of the U.S., becoming more multicultural, Abbot Sheng will help us in growing our outreach and support the millions of Spanish speakers to celebrate the Buddhist teachings world wide. I look forward to working with Abott Sheng in the months to come. May all be happy!

Amitofuo,

Yin Shan Shakya (Jeff)


 From Fa Geng Shakya

Fa Geng Shakya
Fa Geng Shakya

Caro Yao Sheng Shakya ,

Mi hanno detto che potevo scrivere in italiano, e mi fa molto piacere.
Volevo farti i miei ed i nostri più sentiti Auguri e Congratulazioni per il tuo Incarico di Abate del nostro Ordine.
Il mio cognome e’ abbastanza diffuso in Argentina, ed un giorno mi piacerebbe venire a conoscere la tua città ed i miei parenti che ci vivono. Anni fa misi in scena uno spettacolo con i Tanghi dedicato al mio bisnonno Francesco Antonio che arrivò li’ nei primi del 1900.
Da dieci anni camminiamo insieme ed ora si aggiunge il mio gruppo romano di Attori che sperimentano Teatro e Zen.
Domenica avremo la nostra prima Sesshin e siamo molto contenti.
Ti auguriamo di svolgere al meglio il tuo incarico e speriamo di poter aprire una bella amicizia d’oltreoceano.

Namo Amituofo
Fa Geng Shakya ed i ragazzi dell’Hokke Sangha di Roma (Teatro e Zen )


Surrender to Retirement

Abbot John
Author: Abbot John

Retirement has not lived up to its billing.

I had said, “And if there’s anything you really need me for, just call,” thinking that nobody expects such a remark to be taken seriously. I was mulling this over as I drove north up the East Coast just before the great blizzard. I was still mulling on the way back from Jersey when I decided to switch trains of thought and began to formulate a magnificent essay on the problem of atheism, hubris, and arrogance. Its foundation swirled around Kant’s pure and practical reason with a splash of Karl Jaspers in the mix. After four hours of driving and fine tuning I hit the cloud cover and lost my train of thought. I’ve been trying to get it back for the last three days but alas I fear I’ve lost another opportunity to drive the sword of discrimination into the heart of the opaque. That’s how it goes here in the mountains. I spend a week or two in and around NYC and the cauldron begins to boil and bubble but by the time I hit the mists of the mountains I can’t get a fix on what the trouble was.

While I was in Jersey I managed to escape being volunteered to go to Louisiana where I once lived for a year or two. Maybe more. Time kind of gets away from you down there. I think it was the one time and place in my life I could have mutated into a serial killer, had I cared enough about anything to actually kill it. God it was hot and muggy down there. I do recall thinking that I had fallen madly in love. Being out on one of the ever-present balconies sets you up for that kind of thing. It’s kind of like losing track of your three year old in the mall. A kind of tunnel vision sets in and you get real focused real fast. So I recall the infatuation but not much else except the sweat.

At least my timing had been good for the Jersey trip. I got back on a Saturday night without incident. Every winter trip before this one has usually found me stuck on the top of some mountain ridge in a soup of watery foggy elements, reducing visibility to a minus 5 feet. This time I made it home with only one short delay at the Tennessee border where I hit the cloud cover and had a small wait to collect a bit of courage before proceeding. A little reflection, thinking about what a great life I’ve had, found me deciding that I’ve lived longer than I ever thought I would. This thought bolstered me and with a strong tightening of the sphincter muscle, off I went into the great white ocean of fog feeling a bit like Ahab except that I, of course, was trying to avoid the whale.

All of this cogitation made it necessary that I play golf in Myrtle Beach with a group of aging men and their unravelling dreams. Between the warp and woof I had time to return to the topic of atheism which invariably exasperates me. I don’t know how or why this recent vitriol about The UnBelievers has gotten so much attention. I suspect, though I haven’t verified, that it is a result of our post 9-11 phase where fundamentalist religious views are seen to be existential threats. I remember a time (maybe the early 80s or 90s) when the newest scientific theories were abundant with references to eastern metaphysical thinking. The Tao of Physics and The Dancing Wu Li Masters come to mind. The authors spent a lot of time trying to explain the newest quantum mechanical theories using metaphors rife with age-old Hindu cosmologies. Suddenly those explanations fell out of favor only to be replaced by fundamentalist theories the tone of which was very angry. Everybody had an opinion.

Yes, it is true. A quantitative expansion results in a qualitative contraction. My cynicism bears witness to every media platform’s assertion: “Content is King.” Alas there is no content to the content. We deep thinkers are being driven underground by the avalanche of nothing and buried in the detritus. It used to be that originality always contained a hint of refinement, a certain distillation of that which came before. Nothing now but noise, the louder the noise the more originality is claimed for it. Is it even possible now to sit quietly in a room and let the vapors fall, as we play with the incredible aloneness the universe bestows for free. We are now all Borg.

Thoughts such as this are the inevitable result of driving through Jersey in the winter. It often reminds me of springtime in Berlin.

This brings me to the penultimate assault on my senses and the fallacy of retirement. In one way or another business traps the retiree. I was happy mulling things when I received some bankruptcy papers from an old client along with the request that I read them and either accept or decline the plan to pay off his debts to the company. Ninety pages of the most impossible slog that ca be imagined… what a talent these lawyers have for obfuscation, inveigling, and denial. Words, words, and more words… all these words and nothing was said. As a lawyer I would have been a natural.

In the midst of this I was asked by a brother in the Dharma to help him give a Dharma name to one of his new disciples. I didn’t know what to say. I’m more of a Shakespearean “what’s in a name” kind of guy. I don’t have much truck with names. Starting with my Roman Catholic system, from confirmation to seminary, through my Shaivistic and Zen lives I’ve collected a string of names like European royalty. I’m going to have to go for cremation or spend a lot of money for a big headstone to contain my moniker. If I remember correctly I’m now known as John Edmund Patrick Gavin Satya Das Yin Din Puetz. Ex-Abbot. The Chinese names are supposed to reveal something about a disciple’s personality or occupation. “What does the guy do?” I asked, and I was told that he was “an emotional and passionate lawyer.” Uh, oh. I shuffled the bankruptcy papers and suggested, “Howling Wind.” That didn’t go over too well so I digressed and asked, “Wasn’t some Zen sage called ‘Cold Mountain’ or was that a movie? Cold Iron Bound was a Dylan song.” As you can tell I had begun to free associate and ramble.

This led me into my last foray with the reality of retirement. I am certain now that my way is doomed to be Carlito’s Way. “Just when I thought that I was out, they pull me back in!”

In such a mood as this I tried to fill out all the paperwork regarding Social Security eligibility. More indecipherable legalese. I succeed in getting knocked off the government website twice and had government clerks hang up on me four different times. In my last call, after an hour of meaningless drek I was told by the clerk to change my language. I tried to tell her that English was the only fucking language I knew… but that didn’t fucking help. She disconnected the call and I am left having to go to the local government agency office in person and, while being on my best behavior, to make another attempt.

As I postscript I will add that one of the reasons I moved down here to retire was the great golf course that is situated nearby. It appears that the owner is losing money and wants to close it down so he can develop the land into condos etc. – unless we can come up with a plan to keep it open. What is meant by “a plan” is “come up with more money.” A meeting was scheduled and I was volunteered to attend as the members’ representative. The one who volunteered me obviously thought that being the reigning club champion I would actually care enough to do something about it. However, this gentleman failed to take into consideration my narcissistic view of history. What better thing than to be known as the last and forever reigning champion of High Vistas (ha ha). All conditional things are impermanent and all things are conditional things. This should be quite a meeting.

Gotta go. My wife is out in the garage screaming. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Abbot John

Eating God: The Universal Principle of Conversion

Yao Xiang Shakya
Author: Yao Xiang Shakya

I rise at 4 a.m. to the sounds of a whimpering, sick but hungry old dog.
In the kitchen’s silent semi-darkness, I place medicines and supplements into his bowl and mix them with his food. As he watches, I recall the question, “Do people really believe that bread and wine can turn into flesh and blood?”  I answer, “Why shouldn’t they? I trust that what I’m mixing into his food will strengthen his heart muscle and boost his immune system… that they’ll change his body and blood for the better. Conversion,” I whisper, “is a universal principle. Everything converts.”

I don’t know exactly how the change occurs, but I do know the medications, food, and even the water convert into something that is undying and timeless. Everything is recycled as if it is the first time. It is all fresh in the transfer from the bottom of the bowl to the bottom of his belly. I see his breath change, his cough diminish and his appetite grow stronger. I’m cheering for him as he eats. I’m witnessing something sacred.

I hear the doubter say, “Well, that is the result of science! The pills are supposed to work. That is not the same as bread and wine changing into the flesh and blood of some dead person.”

I point to the warnings on the labels of his medications. “Nothing is foolproof here,” I say. “I can’t claim certainty. Certainty is not the nature of the universe. If it were there would never be a plane crash. We love certainty, even while knowing that it has a downside which we often overlook: it kills our inner need to revere and to know what is sacred. It makes us smug, and whether in science or religion, it leads to a sense of superiority that alienates us.”

The doubter persists. “What does this have to do with bread and wine, flesh and blood?”

I repeat that conversion is a universal principle. We eat because we believe that physical food nourishes the physical body.  Just so, we also believe that food consumed with spiritual intent can strengthen the spiritual body.  It also undergoes conversion in the process.

Scientists must avoid getting stuck in a paradigm. In the 1960s Thomas Kuhn explained the revolutionary measure of establishing a “paradigm shift,” i.e., a new proposal that could absorb facts from old competing, deadlocked theories as it created a fresh interpretation. When we’re not open to change and refuse to see merit in anything beyond our viewpoint, we commit ourselves to a stale reliance on controversial opinion, a reliance that lacks the grace of tradition.  No benefit can accrue from the attempt to disprove spiritual truth by applying scientific material-world criteria.

On the other hand, we can find insights into material’s conversion into spiritual “substance” in many works of art.  One particularly good one is the film Babette’s Feast, a dramatization of Isak Dinesen’s short story and winner of the Academy Award for best foreign film in 1987.  The story only seems to be a simple tale:

Two aging spinster sisters, pastors of their small church, are locked into their own austere interpretation of the Gospels. As the years pass, their congregation dwindles.  They gain no new converts.

Babette, a political refugee from France, comes to their door, asking for help.  Penniless, she is willing to work in exchange for room and board.  Although she has once functioned as chef of a famous restaurant in Paris, she agrees to serve the flavorless gruel that the sister’s abstemious lifestyle requires. Her old life behind her, she lives happily with the sisters.

In that old Parisian life, however, a faithful friend continues to spend a few pennies each year on a lottery ticket for her. After nearly fifteen years, Babette’s ticket wins ten thousand francs.  She can afford to return to her old life, but she instead spends every cent she has won on a feast for the sisters and the few remaining members of their congregation. To show her appreciation for all that they have done for her, she plans to help them experience the joy of fine cuisine.

As the ingredients for the many courses arrive, the sisters and their friends begin to regard such excess as sinful.  They agree to eat the food, but think that propriety demands that they not “enjoy” it.  Such pointless discipline fades when a distinguished man – one of their youthful lovers – attends the feast.  He knows the culinary lore, and with great appreciation describes every dish. The food is so delicious that all the spinsters’ reservations dissolve, and they suddenly are free to escape the bondage of rigorous views and to embrace spiritual redemption. Love and all life’s enjoyments are now present at their table.

Asked if she will now return to Paris, Babette explains that she hopes to remain with the sisters.  Besides, she has spent all her money and has no place else to go. She will not regard herself as being poor.  She is, after all, an artist and, she explains, “An artist is never poor.”

The feast is of one woman’s self-sacrifice and gratitude. It arrives in the form of the body and blood of spiritual redemption, laid upon the sisters’ table as so many wonderful dishes.  All that was needed was their willingness to open their minds to savor it.

 

-Yao Xiang Shakya