Thursday, November 26, 2015


Here's a sad acknowledgment, crystallized into an insight at some moment during this morning's meditation: as a young man--and, in truth, through much of my life, I knew only how to stimulate and satisfy myself; and did not realize, then, how shallow that satisfaction was.

I suspect this is true of most young men.

I wonder if it might be true of men at large, no matter their age?

Which may sound trite, but I have always believe'd that sex is the hidden engine that drives all of our lives. I'm convinced that it exercises a profound, if often unacknowledged effect on every other aspect of human life, including the larger and apparently unrelated ones; today, perhaps, on the many crises we are experiencing throughout the world.

We men should consider ourselves, as a gender, fortunate, that women have been learning to reject our "protective" care, to take care of themselves, and to demand their needs be met.

Together, with consciousness, mutual understanding--and with love--we might yet save the planet. And that would be something to be thankful for, this Thanksgiving Day.

Sunday, November 22, 2015


What would Buddha do, in the face of the violence we are witnessing in the world today?

"Evil" is a word not much used in Buddhism, at least in the fairly extensive reading I have done over the years; but to call such dreadful acts "unskillful" is surely less than adequate.

Violence, as I understand it, is justified when it comes to self-defense. A Buddhist is not required to cower before physical threats and accept the harm done to him.

But what kind action is called for in defense of others? In defense, let's say, of those women described in the NY Times article to which I offered a link yesterday--women abused and violated by ISIS "warriors"? Or the many thousands of innocents who suffer persecution, torture, execution at their hands? Or the victims--and the future potential victims--of their terrorist attacks?

In theory, I'm a pacifist. I hate violence, whether at the personal or the international level. I am shamed even by the small acts of physical violence I have committed in my life. (I'll admit it, on occasion I crush ants; and I swat mosquitos mercilessly.)

But we Brits, along with our allies, were right to face down the Nazi threat, its terror tactics, its slaughter of innocent lives. Comes a point where you cannot, morally, stand by when confronted with the worst of human behavior. When violent, military response is the only option left to you.

So where do we stand now, in the face of an organization committed to violent conquest and the suppression of everything we consider to constitute humanity? If he had bombs, would the Buddha drop them? If he had "boots" to "put on the ground", would he send them in? (Incidentally, it's despicable, I think, to reduce those human lives to military footwear. I've heard those words too often.)

I don't have the answers to these questions. But think it right to ask them. I am, after all, complicit in the affairs of humankind.

Saturday, November 21, 2015


This story in today's New York Times should shame all those who proclaim their opposition to our country's welcoming even a handful of refugees from Syria.  Should we protect ourselves at the cost of all compassion? The shameful vote in Congress to make it all but impossible for refugees to reach our shores, along with the equally shameful refusal of (almost exclusively Republican) governors--these are symptoms of the kind of sickness I write about below.  When compassion dies, so does humanity.


In the light of recent terrorist attacks, it seems that in the modern era we humans have managed to create armies of severely disaffected people who threaten to destroy the appearance of civility we so painstakingly constructed. Exposed, now, is the dark underbelly of our species, where fear, hatred, vengeance and murderous intentions thrive. Perhaps not coincidentally, on what might appear to be the upside of human endeavor, in the "civilized" world, materialism and greed combine to threaten the very planet we live on.

Useless to look to our military power for the solution to these problems. Current circumstances expose the limits of its effectiveness to anyone with a clear mind. Not all the smart bombs in the world are smart enough to root out the malady that besets us.  Instead, we need to look to ourselves, to our own humanity.  We need a radical redefinition of what it means to be a human being, on a planet that teems with ever vaster numbers of our species, all hungry, all in need of shelter and the basics of good health--clean water, not least, but rather the most needful of all. We need a radical new understanding of how we can all live together in this narrow space.

Is there some Buddha now being reborn, who can lead us into this new enlightenment?  I personally hope so.  But even if there were, would anybody listen?  Christians, some of them at least, await the return of Christ.  I don't think that's going to happen before they learn to practice what their "savior" taught. Do Muslims await the return of their prophet? I have no knowledge on this subject, though surely no sane person could believe he would condone the vile, barbaric actions of fanatics who justify them in his name.

Given how we have managed to distort the teachings of our religions, I'd argue that we can no longer look to them to help us out of the global crisis we have created on our own, without the help of any God.  It behooves those of us who live with the daily comforts of the civilization we have built to look more closely, and more critically, into our own hearts and minds, to understand ourselves a little better than we do, and to be more honest about the state of our own health.  We many find that the malicious virus of the terrorists by now infects us all.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


I was listening yesterday to the television pundits' response to President Obama's news conference about ISIS and Syria--I think it was in Turkey--and I heard the word "defensive" used over and over again, to describe his tone.  I happened to have heard a part of the news conference, and that's not what I heard. I heard a calm and well-reasoned defense of the president's strategy to combat the scourge of fanatical terrorism. To describe this defense as "defensive" took it out of the realm of reason and into the realm of personal inadequacy.

Too many Americans equate reason and thoughtfulness with weakness.  Too many of Obama's critics speak of "crushing" the terrorist organization--or some word to the same effect--as though we had not learned well enough by now that an ideology is not susceptible to military "crushing." Kill enough of its adherents, and others rush in to fill their place.  Impossible to bomb it out of existence, as some would have us do. Impossible, even, to invade it out of existence with those "boots on the ground." We have spent too many years, at the cost of too many lives and limbs, to be seduced by this notion.

The simple fact is that ISIS is a hydra.  Cut off one head, another hundred grow. It's a poison, whose infection only spreads with aggressive attacks on its toxins. Easy to bloviate about how it should be eradicated; much harder to make that happen.  Obama's approach, it seems to me, is the right one: step in with scalpel-like precision where it makes sense to do so.  Where, as he says, it will "work" in some productive, demonstrable way, to make a difference.

Reason, though, is too often overridden by the emotions from which political opportunists derive their strength. "Crushing" is a method that appeals to the vengeful spirit that surely exists in every one of us. "Bomb the shit out of them," trumpets Trump. "Save the Christians," bleats Jeb.  This, however, is precisely the spirit of those we wish to defeat.  I'm grateful, myself, that we have a president who comports himself with dignity and responds to all this with a cool head and clear mind.