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.