Tag Archives: creative people

may 2010 buddhist carnival

callirgraphy: zen art

it’s a day late but here it is: my monthly buddhist carnival, serving up interesting little tidbits from the buddhist blogosphere.

we always start with a poem.

how bitter, how blue is the anger!
at the bottom of the light in april’s atmospheric strata,
spitting, gnashing, pacing back and forth,
i am asura incarnate

this is the lament – or perhaps just observation? – of kenji, one of japan’s most celebrated poet. he was a staunch follower of nichiren buddhism who has been accused by some of seriously fanning the flame of japanese imperialism during world war ii. this article by hiroaki sato at the asia-pacific journal provides an interesting insight into japanese culture and history and its connection with buddhism. a great article, and also one that dispels the idea that all buddhists are gentle and ever peace-loving. in addition, this essay is also a thoughtful reflection on the difficulty of translating japanese poetry into english.

buddhism and mental health: PTSD

since this month is mental health month, i’d also like to refer to at least two posts that talk about buddhism and mental health. at wildmind, we find this:

in northern india, the tibetan government in exile has been taking care of monks and nuns who have been brutally tortured by the chinese before they managed to escape to safety in india … there is no ability to provide the years of psychotherapy that might be necessary. the only hope for these people was to create a program of relaxation and meditation that could be taught in a group setting.

… the tibetan program was so impressive to researchers that a group from columbus, ohio, decided to try it out with women who had experienced domestic violence and other similar traumas. the group worked with the institute of buddhist dialectics and devised a program of short lectures and twice daily meditation. the results? significant reduction in overall PTSD symptoms, increase in positive emotions and reduction in fear, shame and sadness. many of the women continued to experience an overall benefit 365 days after the program ended and also experienced improved overall functioning.

(i’ve abbreviated some of this, hope that’s ok, wildmind people)

buddhism and mental health: the pros and cons of meditation
here is a mental health blog from singapore. it’s always nice to find blogs from non-western countries! he offers three different points of view on the usefulness of meditation when dealing with mental health challenges: meditation is definitely useful; meditation retreats can be harmful to some participants’ mental health; and meditation is useful, as long as it is undertaken with the help of a mental health professional.

the neurology of dualism

from mental health to neurology, not too much of a jump. travis eneix makes a very good point about accepting the concept of dualism for what it is:

the neurological structures of the brain are specifically evolved to give us the sense of being separate from our environment. it is an actual felt experience that what you feel as you is separate from things beyond the sensate barrier of touch, and therefore not-you.

with this simple knowledge, hard won by dedicated and caring scientists over the years as knowledge itself evolves, we can immediately take that feeling of separation into account not as a mistake, but as a useful tool for navigating our lived experience. instead of trying vainly to be rid of that sense, which if you listen to the non-dual teachers none of them are, you can view the sense as simply that, a sensation.

open source buddhism

something that travis and i have exchanged a few messages about is open source. the idea of open source has fascinated me for quite a while (actually, i’m surprised i haven’t written much about it. a little bit is here) so i was interested to find this site on open source buddhism. here they explain what it is:

a key component of open source is peer production. this is a form of joint collaboration by groups of
individuals. it relies on self-organizing communities of individuals who come together to produce a shared outcome, result, or product.

this same style of organization, as well as the philosophy behind it, can be applied to buddhism as well. we are living in an era where we have access to extant forms of buddhism and the records and documents of many forms that do not survive in a living form today. for those of us who are converts to buddhism, we do not have a vested national or cultural reason to embrace a specific form of buddhism over another. if one is thai, for example, it would make sense that the thai form of theravadan buddhism would be embraced and followed as a practitioner. …

as a european american, it does not necessarily make sense to embrace a very culturally entrenched form of buddhism. people do this and, for example, take tibetan names, where tibetan clothes, and generally embrace a culturally specific form of buddhism. this is definitely one possible path. an alternative to this is to look at the various forms of buddhism, evaluate the teachings and practices of them, and to work with those aspects that make the most sense within a non-buddhist culture without the history and relationship to buddhism that other nations and peoples already have. …

this is not a call to abandon traditional forms of buddhism but is, rather, a decision to not necessarily be limited by boundaries or practices simply because the form of buddhism practiced in a specific region or period had these limitations.

more about buddhism and open source here.

how important is enlightenment?

all of us who have spent some time hanging out with the ideas and practice of buddhism have thought about the place of enlightenment in our lives. here’s how one buddhist teacher, amaro bikkhu, talks about it

we developed a tradition of having a winter retreat during the cold, dark months of january and february. about three weeks into one of these early retreats, i was working very diligently and was extremely focused on the meditation. i wasn’t talking to anyone or looking at anything. every lunar quarter we would have an all-night meditation vigil. this was the full moon in january. i was really charged up and was convinced, “okay, tonight’s the night.”

want to know the rest? go here.

the importance of immediate response

from inexhaustible things:

someone said, “if you give a man a fish, you’ve fed him for the rest of the day. if you teach a man to fish, you’ve fed him for the rest of his life.” whose idea is this? does it match your own circumstances right now? is this piece of wisdom the rule for every instance? how would you behave if it was?

regardless, i responded: if you see someone who needs to be taught to fish, teach him to fish. if you see someone is hungry, feed him.

life can be this simple.

i don’t know what to add.

zen and calligraphy

having started with a poem, let’s end this edition of the buddhist carnival with another view at a creative endeavour: calligraphy.

on sunday chozen-roshi, co-abbot of great vow, gave a wonderful talk pointing out the variety of lessons we can learn from brushwork. the main point that stood out to me was how a skilful calligrapher is attention to each brushstroke, finishing each cleanly and starting each freshly. there isn’t regret, “oh, that stroke was all wrong. i should just give up.” in a similar way a student of zen is attentive to each moment. she also pointed out in calligraphy the delicate nature of various pressures. at times only the thin delicate tip of the brush makes a mark. at other times one presses the whole brush on the paper. in a similar way to live our lives skilfully we learn when to press harder and when to let up.

bryan alexander improv

unable to hear internet legend’s bryan alexander’s keynote address at northern voice (the reverb was awful), i decided to turn it into an experiment. for about 15 minutes, i recorded the words i could hear (maybe every 10th word or so), then i categorized them and turned them into an improv style remix. here is bryan alexander (captured by bionicteaching), and below him, the remix

bryan alexander at university of richmond

good design minimizes confusion and empowers the user. good design is for anyone. so many anyones, they are a whole congregation. the first generation of users talked to nobody. that raised a lot of eyebrows, even frankensister’s. but then, brother, the creature changed, although not into a mouse. the congregation became an audience; there was a different character to it. they changed from puppets to humans – great human characters! “and that character acts,” said kathy sierra to bryan and sean, “it has footsteps! if you do it right, they will pay you the great fee of attention.”

at that point, everyone started thinking and reflecting and more thinking, and they came up with reasons and answers. there were times in 20th century technology, not like right now, where you simply began with two things: a new game, and a moment of confusion. you couldn’t just jump from china to the united states, that would have killed you. you would have become a casualty of science fiction horror stories, landing in the eerie, creepy graveyard that everyone fears. but then it’s never the shininess that pulls us in but the darkness.

let’s get back to technology, like twitter, twitter and more twitter. or turn on the TV, and you have virtual reality! media infects your computer when you download a podcast or some videos from flickr. actually, there are some series of videos i can’t really describe, they’re new gadgets (but really new versions of old machines).

how spirited they are! amazing! what a great way to design things! the intensity sure gets our attention. excellent! it brings up people’s self esteem – aaaah! very attractive, a wonderful gift to the world.

and what is that gift, you ask? it’s text! it’s storytelling. yeah, stories about science fiction, stories about writing stories. their titles can be so good, they themselves bring in large amounts of comments. stories are important. stories are the keynote.

of course, this needs to be explained, even though it’s not explainable. it’s a puzzle but it can be explained in part. you like a sense of mystery, don’t you? it’s a surprise. it brings contrast into your life. surprise is crucial, it’s a shocking shift to suddenly reveal the mysterious, to make it visible. like in a murder mystery. mystery, of course, is a thing of speed. it’s about the hidden chamber, the pregnant pause, the sense of awe and terror that comes with just a few very strange shadows …

and that brings energy into the design, an extra force. the power of it is engaging, it pulls us in. at the same time, we must draw on the balance of power. “it needs to be expressed,” she said, and after a moment of friction, it can be dumped, if only reluctantly.

all of this can lead to addiction. but there are a lot of ways. if you’ve ever heard the twilight, you’ll find out that it’s designed so that the covers are the series. it’s a classic, classic endemic economy that sets you up to trust each other. it can look like a facsimile, and i understand that concerns you.

you are silent now.

but you have the scoop.

good design is mysterious.

juicy paper

white and open,
this sheet for me.
forty-four years now of fascination
and no end in sight.
every time i see an open field like this,
it fills me with anticipation.
dream landscapes, i’m sure, completely sure,
are ready under this thick snow blanket,
ready to form and roll and move at any time.
all that is needed is a pen,
to draw a line, another one, then five, then twelve,
twelve thousand,
across its white expanse.
thick pads of juicy paper:
each sheet a miracle.

(this is another NaPoWriMo experiment: i just went through a good two dozen of my old poems to see which one i’d feel inclined to improve a bit. this one, written in 2005, is an example)

voices – napowrimo day 24

when your voice doesn’t come out
and you hear someone else sing
and more voices run around in your mind
when you see lights left right center
when the rattling comes at you and the heat and the radiation
when you keep beating up your head
how can it work
how are you supposed to engineer a thought
or let one rise up from creation?

prayer to be simple

when i was in germany, i picked up a slim little book of poetry, die gebete der demut (prayers of humility) by french poet francis jammes.  he lived from 1868 to 1938.  the poetry foundation says about him that he was

… best known for his poetry of the natural world, in which he praised the simplicity of country life. his literary standing has always been difficult to categorize; blandine m. rickert wrote in the encyclopedia of world literature: “jammes, who has been referred to as a symbolist, neosymbolist, or naturiste, never belonged to any systematic school of poetry. he always was only himself, in the process creating jammisme, which embraces but one guiding principle, ‘the truth that is the praise of god.’ it is innocence, simplicity, and humility; it extols the beauty of the native soil and the virtues of family life; it is adoration of god and love of all he created.” jammes’s poetry counters french literary tradition, so often associated with highly rarefied, intellectual poetics.

for today’s national poetry writing month exercise, i thought i’d do a translation.  yes, i know, it’s a translation from the german translation into english so i’m sure i don’t do francis jammes justice – but it’s enjoyable nevertheless.  i get a lot out of translation – it really brings me deep into the poem.  so here we are:

prayer to be simple

the butterflies, they wave about,
surrendering to every breeze
like petals strewn by gentle children on a path.
my god, it’s early morning and already
my prayer wants to lift itself to you
with all the blooming butterflies,
the crying roosters in the barn,
and with the crushing beat of the old stonecutter.
under the sycamores with their green palm fronds
you can hear – and cannot see – the crickets:
they sing of your might without end.
the blackbird, restless in black watery leaves
sings a few phrases. she dare not twitter any longer.
she does not know what stirs her fear. gives up
and darts up, quick, in one full swoop
straight through across the ground, away to where
no-one abides.

my god, so gently start again our lives, another morning
like yesterday, like many times before.
just like these butterflies, these stonecutters,
the crickets who live by the sun,
and like the blackbirds who are hiding in the cool dark
with the leaves;
let me keep living, god, my life,
as simple and as modest as i can.

dross – a sonnet

i wanted to stop this insanity
and pushed and cajoled. myself, of course.
no-one else is the maker, the doer,
the procreator of this continuous dross.
dross, people, is a mass of solid impurities
that floats on molten metal.
so this dross, it stuck to me
in the form of wasting my time,
treating it badly, like shit, as if god
had tossed it to me to piss on, cut it up,
crumple it, step on it, just like old dirt,
worse than dirt, unimportant, forget it.
i’m still wanting to stop it. but can i do it
by staying here, on this computer?

napowrimo, day 13: trying to write a poem

turquoise alabaster veins
run through a bright forest of rocks
somewhere in a corner of my
imagination.
the cat makes cracking noises as she eats her food,
the daughter clicks and clickclickclicks the mouse,
and somewhere over in a corner of my
imagination
there sits a little treasure that i want to catch.
the phone rings.
my roommate laughs.
somewhere way back in a corner of my
imagination
i try to fix that glimmer of a dream,
its sparkly colours, quiet sounds,
the mossy smells that come – i think, do they? –
from little cracks made by old, gnarly roots – –
and crash! a plate falls from the kitchen counter.
the dog barks. “mom, can i have twenty bucks?”
those turquoise alabaster veins
fade more and more.
but i know they’re not gone.
tomorrow maybe, or another year.
they’re safely stored away.