Thursday, June 14, 2012

Dirty Zen Laundry

Be Vigilant when meeting New Friends
Be Vigilant when meeting New Friends, Hong Kong, 2010

I am going to do something slightly radical here, and air some dirty laundry from the Zen center where I practice.

While I have been talking to a number of people involved and attempted to verify all the facts stated in the narrative, all opinions and interpretations are my own, as are any errors. I have neither sought nor received permission from anyone to publish this. I do not believe I am betraying any confidences; all of the facts of the matter are already on the public Internet, or have been stated in open forums like our sangha meetings or the Helsinki Zen Center mailing list. Nor am I privy to any great secrets anyway.

The story is about something that happened in our sangha in the autumn of 2010. I have found it helpful to go over all the information I've been able to gather about it and attempt to fit together the pieces, to get some kind of understanding of what happened and what it means. While I don't have much – if any – new information to add to what's already been published on the Internet or in other open forums, I thought others might benefit from my attempt at explaining the events to myself.

So for whatever little it's worth, here's my personal interpretation of what's come to be called "the crisis."

Monday, June 11, 2012

Going Round With A Stick Is Not For Me

IMG_0546-01

Back in November, I blogged about becoming a Zen choir boy. Or second zendo leader, as the official term has it. Now I've decided that going around with a stick on alternate Thursdays was a bit too much excitement for me and stopped doing it.

The role kind of blindsided me from the start. There are little parts to play in the zazen ritual, like banging on the han and lighting the incense, which I was already doing anyway, so when they asked if I could do the stick thing on Thursdays, I didn't really think anything of it and said "Sure, why not?" I like the ritual after all, and am happy to help it along.

I only realized that there's anything more to it a week or so later when I got an email invitation to a zendo leaders' meeting. I was like, Huh? A meeting, for walking around with a stick on alternate Thursdays? From there on out, I felt a bit uncomfortable about the whole thing. Initially it was just about learning how to do the stick thing and the bell thing, but once I had that more or less figured out, the discomfort didn't abate; if anything, it got worse.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

What Is Zen Good For?

Moon Nazi
This is not a real Nazi. He was just going to an Iron Sky themed party.

Whoever said that we are creatures of habit didn't know how right he was.

Over the past few years that I've been muddling my way through beginning Zen practice, I've come across a quite a lot of bad behavior by people who have been at it much longer and with much more dedication than I have. First-hand I've only seen the usual kind of bullshit people get up to when they coalesce into social structures, both within and between them; from elsewhere in time and space there are plenty of examples to be found of the full range of human iniquity.

Zen is demonstrably good at training killers. Japanese Zen—Rinzai Zen in particular—has a close connection to bushidô, the samurai warrior code. Hakuin Ekaku, the founder of Japanese Rinzai Zen, trained samurais, driving some of his students so hard they died from the training. The function of Zen archery was originally to train the medieval equivalent of snipers. One of the founders of the tradition in which I practice, Yasutani Hakuun Roshi, wrote angry tirades in support of imperial Japanese nationalism, railing against the international Jewish conspiracy, and providing dharmically correct explanations of how killing a sub-human in battle is the highest form of bodhisattva action.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Retreat at the Break of Summer

Looping Landscape

I just got back from a weekend Zen retreat. We held it at a pretty idyllic spot; a log house by a lake near Vihti. The gods of the seasons treated us kindly, too—Saturday was the first perfect early summer night of the year. I stood a while by the perfectly still lakeside, with the bright, fresh green of the just-budded birch leaves, birds singing their hearts out, a cuckoo in the distance, the pale blue evening sky, and even two guys in a canoe, fishing.

Yeah, sometimes it really is like that.

Pain

Jekku Yet Again

Hello, Pain, I said
Who are you?

I am your most faithful friend, he replied
looked back at me with brown eyes
and wagged his tail
apologetically
expecting his usual lot from an ungrateful master
—a curse and a kick or another vain attempt
to chase him away.

I love you, he said
I want to keep you safe from Bad Things
I will watch for them
and warn you
my master
when they would harm you.
Before you were born I was waiting for you
When you are no more I will lie on your grave
Watching for Bad Things
that would harm you.

If only I could rend them, or chase them away
or outwit them

or take them upon myself

But I am only Pain
Not very clever
Not very strong
Not very wise

Only Pain
All I have is my voice
So I sit up when you sleep
and watch
and wait
and if Bad Things come,
I whine, or bark, or scratch at your door.

You curse me and kick at me
try to chase me away
Drug me, still me
(or even kill me)
It doesn't matter at all.

I will always love you
I will always be here
For you and the Bad Things.

I am Pain.
I am your Pain.
I will always be here
while there are Bad Things.

Perhaps

Perhaps
you could

train me?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Things Get Interesting In Europe

Happy International Workers' Day (in color)

Things are getting interesting in Europe again. In a good way, mostly, I hope. Congratulations to François Hollande, Président de la République. Not so sure who I'd want to congratulate in Greece though. I sympathize with wanting to kick out the bums responsible for the mess they're in, but voting in actual, card-carrying, Hitler-saluting Nazis is unlikely to make things any better.

Since I got my head around this whole Euro crisis, I've felt that the German-led course of austerity and low inflation is a dead end. Austerity never has begat growth. Never will. Structural reforms, addressing corruption, investing in infrastructure—human and physical—do produce growth, but only in the long term. They won't get you out of an acute crisis unless they involve spending lots of money. It's painfully obvious that Greece and the rest of the Balkans at least are sorely in need of structural reforms, but I somehow don't think a huge crisis with a quarter of the labor force unemployed makes them any easier.

There are alternatives to austerity. The obvious one is breaking up the Eurozone and letting the resulting regional currencies float.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Pulling Coffee

I like shiny

I like learning weird little skills. The past year has been pretty good for that. I've dabbled in joinery, learned the basics of how to clean and oil a watch, and now I'm learning to pull an espresso. Don't get me wrong, I still love moka, but I like espresso too and have been curious about learning to make it for a long time.

Since I enjoy the process of doing things as much as the result and often more so, I chose the most basic espresso machine of them all. For about a week now, I'm the proud owner of an Europiccola, a manual piston lever machine by La Pavoni. The design hasn't changed much since it was first introduced in 1961. Perhaps the most significant change is the introduction of a pressurestat that maintains water temperature and pressure in the boiler with less fuss than the pressure valve and double power switch of the older models. It's quite refreshing to encounter a household appliance these days that assumes you're a responsible adult. There are all kinds of ways you can burn or scald yourself or spray steam and coffee grounds all over your kitchen with it, if you don't follow the instructions.