“If we are going to teach creation science as an alternative to evolution, then we should also teach the stork theory as an alternative to biological reproduction.”
- Judith Hayes

“Creationist critics often charge that evolution cannot be tested, and therefore cannot be viewed as a properly scientific subject at all. This claim is rhetorical nonsense.”
- Stephen Jay Gould

Recently, the Indiana Senate approved a bill that would allow public schools to teach Christian creationism alongside evolution in science classes as long as the schools include origin of life theories from various religions including Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Scientology.

On the surface, it would look like the lawmakers are attempting to forge a fair and balanced approach. But in reality, this is just nuts.

First of all, whether you want to call it creationism or intelligent design, this theory is little more than fantasy. I don’t think I need say more in that regard. And Scientology? Their creation story is about as crazy as you can get. Something about a galactic overlord 75, 000, 000 years ago who ruled a number of planets, killed all his people and froze their souls (thetans), and sent them to Earth. These lawmakers really want school children exposed to that?

Another small problem: Buddhism has no creation story per se. So, it would be hard to teach. When I say no “creation story,” I am referring to the notion that life and the universe were created by a supernatural being. As  Nyanaponika Thera writes in “Buddhism and the God-idea”,

From a study of the discourses of the Buddha preserved in the Pali canon, it will be seen that the idea of a personal deity, a creator god conceived to be eternal and omnipotent, is incompatible with the Buddha’s teachings. On the other hand, conceptions of an impersonal godhead of any description, such as world-soul, etc., are excluded by the Buddha’s teachings on Anatta, non-self or unsubstantiality. … In Buddhist literature, the belief in a creator god (issara-nimmana-vada) is frequently mentioned and rejected, along with other causes wrongly adduced to explain the origin of the world.”

This notion doesn’t fly in Mahayana either. Nagarjuna explained with his logic that creation would be impossible since there is neither a subject or object of creation.

Now, Buddhism does have a story about a man named Malunkyaputta who approached the Buddha and asked him explain the origin of the universe.  According to this tale, the Buddha refused to answer basically because it would amount to rank speculation. The Buddha was not there at the beginning of the universe, so how could he know?

Malunkyaputta had some others questions as well, and you’ll find more on that at the end of this post.

But back to creationism: I have never really understood why Christians in particular have such an aversion to evolution. It certainly has more of an empirical foundation than their present theory. And why couldn’t God have created evolution? How would that in any way diminish their god’s greatness? Sounds reasonable to me, but no, say the creationists, evolution is false.

From what I have heard in the public discussions about this issue, most Christians are unable to come up with a coherent explanation for why evolution is false. I suspect most of them don’t understand why either, but have come to that opinion merely because their parents and church elders and teachers have told them it’s false. I have also long suspected that the seeds of this aversion to evolution are racial in nature. For instance, when reading about the famous “Scopes Monkey Trial” of 1925, it becomes obvious that those opposed to evolution didn’t mind being related to monkeys as much as they objected to being related to “Negros.”

In any case, I think the bottom line is summed up very well by Claire Vriezen at iowastatedaily.com

Creation stories are not equivalent ideas to tested and refined scientific theories and, as such, should not be taught alongside evolution. They cannot be falsified, nor do they have predictive power. On a further note, the state legislature of Indiana should not be spending time arguing about whether to amend the curriculum to allow for the addition of religious ideas in a science classroom. There are surely better uses of the time and resources of the state legislature.”

Or, as the Buddha is quoted as saying below, “wasting valuable time on such metaphysical questions and unnecessarily disturbing their peace of mind.”

Here’s how Walpola Rahula tells the story of Malunkyaputta in What the Buddha Taught:

The Buddha was not interested in discussing unnecessary metaphysical questions which are purely speculative and which create imaginary problems. He considered them as a ‘wilderness of opinions’. It seems that there were some among his own disciples who did not appreciate this attitude of his. For, we have the example of one of them, Malunkyaputta by name, who put to the Buddha ten well-known classical questions on metaphysical problems and demanded answers.

One day Malunkyaputta got up from his afternoon meditation, went to the Buddha, saluted him, sat on one side of the road and said:

‘Sir, when I was all alone meditating, this thought occurred to me: There are these problems unexplained, put aside and rejected by the Blessed One. Namely, (1) is the universe enternal or (2) is it not eternal, (3) is the universe finite or (4) it is infinite, (5) is soul the same as body or (6) is soul one thing and body another thing, (7) does the Enlightened One exist after death, or (8) does he not exist after death, or (9) does he both (at the same time) exist and not exist after death, or (10) does he both (at the same time) not exist and not not-exist. These problems the Blessed One does not explain to me. This (attitude) does not please me, I do not appreciate it. I will go to the Blessed One and ask him about this matter. If the Blessed One explains them to me, then I will continue to follow the holy life under him. If he does not explain them, I will leave the Order and go away. If the Blessed One knows that the universe is eternal, let him explain it to me so. If the Blessed One knows that the universe is not eternal, let him say so. If the Blessed One does not know whether the universe is eternal or not, etc, then for a person who does not know, it is straightforward to say “I do not know, I do not see”.’

The Buddha’s reply to Malunkyaputta should do good to many millions in the world today who are wasting valuable time on such metaphysical questions and unnecessarily disturbing their peace of mind:

‘Did I ever tell you, Malunkyaputta, “Come, Malunkyaputta, lead the holy life under me, I will explain these questions to you?” ’

‘No, Sir.’

‘Then, Malunkyaputta, even you, did you tell me: “Sir, I will lead the holy life under the Blessed One, and the Blessed One will explain these questions to me”?’

‘No, Sir.’

‘Even now, Malunkyaputta, I do not tell you: “Come and lead the holy life under me, I will explain these questions to you”. And you do not tell me either: “Sir, I will lead the holy life under the Blessed One, and he will explain these questions to me”. Under the circumstances, you foolish one, who refuses whom? (i.e., both are free and neither is under obligation to the other).

“Malunkyaputta, if anyone says: “I will not lead the holy life under the Blessed One until he explains these questions,” he may die with these questions unanswered by the Enlightened One. Suppose Malunkyaputta, a man is wounded by a poisoned arrow, and his friends and relatives bring him to a surgeon. Suppose the man should then say: “I will not let this arrow be taken out until I know who shot me; whether he is a Ksatriya (of the warrior caste) or a Brahmana (of the priestly caste) or a Vaisya (of the trading and agricultural caste) or a Sudra (of the low caste); what his name and family may be; whether he is tall, short, or of medium stature; whether his complexion is black, brown or golden; from which village, city or town he comes. I will not let this arrow be taken out until I know the kind of bow with which I was shot; the kind of bowstring used; the type of arrow; what sort of feather was used on the arrow and with what kind of material the point of the arrow was made.” Malunkyaputta, that man would die without knowing any of these things. Even so, Malunkyaputta, if anyone says: “I will not follow the holy life under the Blessed One until he answers these questions such as whether the universe is eternal or not, etc,” he would die with these questions unanswered by the Enlightened One.’

Then the Buddha explains to Malunkyaputta that the holy life does not depend on these views. Whatever opinion one may have about these problems, there is birth, old age, decay, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, distress, “the Cessation of which (i.e. Nirvana) I declare in this very life.”

‘Therefore, Malunkyaputta, bear in mind what I have explained as explained, what I have not explained as unexplained. What are the things that I have not explained? Whether the universe is eternal or not, etc, (those 10 questions) I have not explained. Why, Malunkyaputta, have I not explained them? Because it is not useful, it is not fundamentally connected with the spiritual holy life, is not conducive to aversion, detachment, cessation, tranquility, deep penetration, full realisation, Nirvana. That is why I have not told you about them.

‘Then, what, Malunkyaputta, have I explained? I have explained dukkha (suffering), the arising of dukkha, the cessation of dukkha, and the way leading to the cessation of dukkha. Why, Malunkyaputta, have I explained them? Because it is useful, is fundamentally connected with the spiritual holy life, is conducive to aversion, detachment, cessation, tranquility, deep penetration, full realisation, Nirvana. Therefore I have explained them.’

Poster of Toshiro Mifune as Musashi in 1955 film, "Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple."

Miyamoto Musashi was a masterless samurai (ronin) who lived in Japan in the 1600’s. An accomplished swordsman, he is said to have engaged in over sixty duels without suffering defeat once. I’ve blogged before about his text, Go Rin No Sho (“Book of Five Rings”), a book on strategy, leadership, and philosophy still studied today. This is Victor Harris’ translation of the final chapter in the book.

Ku No Maki

The Book of the Void

The Ni To Ichi (“Two heavens, two swords as one”) Way of strategy is recorded in this the Book of the Void.

What is called the spirit of the void is where there is nothing. It is not included in man’s knowledge. Of course, the void is nothingness. By knowing things that exist, you can know that which does not exist. That is the void.

People in this world look at things mistakenly, and think that what they do not understand must be the void. This is not the true void. It is bewilderment.

In the Way of strategy, also, those who study as warriors think that whatever they cannot understand in their craft is the void. This is not the true void.

To attain the Way of strategy as a warrior you must study fully other martial arts and not deviate even a little from the Way of the warrior. With your spirit settled, accumulate practice day by day, and hour by hour. Polish the twofold spirit heart and mind, and sharpen the twofold gaze perception and sight. When your spirit is not in the least clouded, when the clouds of bewilderment clear away, there is the true void.

Until you realize the true Way, whether in Buddhism or in common sense, you may think that things are correct and in order. However, if we look at things objectively, from the viewpoint of laws of the world, we see various doctrines departing from the true Way. Know well this spirit, and with forthrightness as the foundation and the true spirit as the Way. Enact strategy broadly, correctly and openly.

Then you will come to think of things in a wide sense and, taking the void as the Way, you will see the Way as void.

In the void is virtue, and no evil. Wisdom has existence, principle has existence, the Way has existence, spirit is nothingness.

To Teruo Magonojo

Twelfth day of the fifth month, second year of Shoho (1645)

From Shinmen Musashi

This is good guidance for Buddhists, or anyone on a spiritual path, as well as for warriors.

Naturally, when Musashi says, “ku is nothingness,” he does not mean it literally. Hidy Ochiai’s translation reads, “Ku is the realm of matters beyond ordinary human understanding.”

In his analysis, Ochiai writes,

The world of Ku is where one can truly know and feel what exists and what doesn’t. One knows and understands all and yet is not attached to knowledge. One is not even attached to oneself, therefore he is free in the truest sense of the word. In the world of Ku, one becomes harmonious with the universe to the extent that the self feels at one with it. According to Musashi, the realm of Ku can be reached though a complete understanding and absorption of the Way of martial strategy. One’s state of mind in the world of Ku is like a shiny blue sky which has no clouds – free from doubt and confusion.”

Ku is the Japanese translation of the Chinese kung, which in turn is a translation of the Sanskrit word sunyata or “emptiness.” Another meaning of ku is “sky.”

In Mahayana Buddhism, ku or emptiness is synonymous with “wisdom.” Dogen, in his commentary on the Heart Sutra says, “To, ‘learn what Wisdom is’ means ‘to be free of preconceptions’.”

One’s mind must be clear to be free from preconceptions. Doubt, fear, confusion – all stem from our preconceptions because there really is nothing to doubt, or be fearful about, or confused over. We just think there is, and so, when we see things clearly, when we wipe away the clouds of our preconceptions, our mind becomes “like a shiny blue sky.”

As Shunryu Suzuki says in Zen Mind, Beginners Mind, “A mind full of preconceived ideas, subjective intentions, or habits is not open to things as they are. That is why we practice [meditation]; to clear our mind of what is related to something else.”

A Japanese monk named Tonna (1289-1372) wrote this poem based on the theme of “Color is no different from sky; the sky is no different from color,” from the Heart Sutra:

Clouds disappear
And the sky clears to deep blue,
But as I gaze up,
That color, too, in a while
Has faded into emptiness.”

Today is Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday. He was born in 1809. American author, poet, editor and literary critic, inventor of the detective story. He really needs no introduction.

If you are familiar with Poe’s legacy, then perhaps you are aware that to mark the anniversary of the writer’s birth, each January 19th since the 1940s a mysterious man dressed in black with a white scarf and wide-brimmed hat has come in the dark of night to leave three roses and a bottle of cognac on Poe’s grave. He is called the “Poe Toaster.”

On occasion, this anonymous man has left notes. A few indicated that the torch had been passed on to a new person after the death of the original “Poe Toaster” in the late 1990s. Over the years, crowds have gathered outside the gates of the Westminster Burial Ground for a vigil, waiting for the mysterious stranger to lay down his tribute. However, this year, he had been a no-show for two years in a row and Poe fans were saying they would hold one last vigil before ending the tradition.

Early this morning the visitor once again failed to appear and thus ends a rather sweet story, one so befitting Poe, whose name alone conjures up images mysterious women, madmen and murderers, premature burials, tell-tale hearts that beat on after death, and ravens croaking upon midnights dreary.

In my small tribute to Poe, here is a poem first published in 1849, some six months before the author’s death. In it, Poe muses about the state of his existence, apparently feeling that so many important elements of life were slipping away from him, falling through his fingers like grains of sand. What should be obvious to Buddhists here is how he mirrors the famous passage from the Diamond Sutra: “All conditioned things are like illusions, bubbles, shadows or dreams; Like drops of dew, or flashes of lightning, this is how they should be seen.” Although, it is highly unlikely that Poe had ever heard of the sutra.

A Dream Within A Dream

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

The Endless Further encourage you to

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I don’t know if it will be one of those days that years later people will remember where they were when they heard the news, or if any flags will be flying at half-mast, but – hope you’re sitting down – Cheetah has died.

Unfortunately, Cheetah suffered from a chronic case of Monkey Mind

Yes, Cheetah, one of the chimps who played opposite Johnny Weismuller (Tarzan) and Maureen O’Sullivan (Jane) in the old MGM Tarzan series from the 1930s and 40s, passed away from kidney failure or liver failure (I’ve seen both cited). Personally, I am devastated. In fact, I’m surprised I can even pull it together to write this post.

Now, I should add this caveat, which is that it is claimed this chimp was one of Tarzan’s co-stars (a number of different chimps were used during the series) by Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor, Florida, who had cared for the monkey since receiving him back in 1960, apparently from Weismuller’s estate. I guess there is no way to prove this one is a bona fide Cheeta (the name in the movies) or not.

It’s estimated that this Cheetah was 80 years old. But Dr. Steve Ross, assistant director of the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, has his doubts. “To live into your 70s is really pushing the limits of chimp biology. Eighty is tough to swallow,” he says.

Well, there will always be doubters. And conspiracy theorists. Was this chimp the real Cheetah? Was there a switch? Did Cheetah die of natural causes as reported? Time will tell if we get answers to these pressing questions.

Well, thanks to Turner Classic Movies, in 2011 I was able to watch once again all the talking (as opposed to silent) Tarzan movies made up to 1969, save for two independent features. Needless to say, in spite of the fact that I’d probably seen each more times than I can count, I enjoyed every celluloid minute. In fact, I’m saving two movies starring Weismuller that I recorded via DVR for sometime when I feel the need to have a Tarzan fix. Maybe tonight, in memory of Cheetah . . .

Tarzan wasn't the only guy to go ape over Maureen O'Sullivan

As far as I’m concerned, Tarzan was one cool dude, even if the premise was entirely unbelievable. You know, raised by apes, etc. In the books, as a teenager Tarzan taught himself how to read and speak English. Equally unbelievable. How was he able to do that? It was because he was a white man and thus possessed a superior intelligence. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan’s creator, subscribed to a sort of warped social Darwinism, where everyone was equal in terms of society but whites possessed superior capabilities. I don’t remember the books being overly racist, but this idea that whites are just a little more equal than everyone else wouldn’t fly today. Jack London had similar notions.

There was an interesting moral context to the MGM Tarzan films (1932-1941). Tarzan never directly caused the death of any person until the 7th Tarzan film (made at RKO). Before then, bad guys were dispatched by elephants, natives or by their own petard. In Tarzan Triumphs, the King of the Jungle single-handedly slays a whole bunch of bad guys. But they were Nazi’s and deserved it. Also according to this moral code, any character who kills an animal or another person white or black, or contributes or stands by and lets it happen, must die by the end of the picture.

Surprisingly, not everyone loved Cheetah. Mia Farrow, Maureen O’Sullivan’s daughter, tweeted: “Cheetah the chimp in Tarzan movies died this week at 80. My mom, who played Jane, invariably referred to Cheetah as ‘that bastard.’” Farrow also notes that “he bit her at every opportunity.” Yeah, but I bet those were love bites.

Cheeta vs The Nazis

from Tarzan Triumphs (RKO, 1942)

This is like deja vu all over again.

- Yogi Berra

The Los Angeles police successfully cleared out the Occupy L.A. camp from the park around City Hall last night. The cops gathered at Dodger Stadium and then boarded over 30 buses, proceeded to downtown LA and, after some hours, eventually moved the protesters from their encampment, while managing to avoid the violent fierce confrontations that marked sweeps in Oakland and New York. Today the streets around City Hall will remain closed to traffic while they dismantle and clean up the Occupy LA camp.

As I’ve mentioned before, for me, there is a déjà vu quality to the Occupy movement. In particular, I am reminded of Chicago 1968 when police rioted against protesters who had taken to the streets as the Democratic National Convention was convening. On  the night of August 28th, police assaulted protesters in front of the Hilton Hotel while the crowd shouted a line from a Bob Dylan song, “The Whole World is Watching.” Well, most of America was, because the event was broadcast live for 17 minutes on national television.

It was the Walker Commission, appointed to investigate the events, that deemed the reaction by loaw enforcement a “police riot.” The commission’s findings were soon published in a book called “Rights in Conflict.” It was a fascinating read and the book is probably still available here and there in used books stores, Amazon, or EBay.

Eight protest leaders were put on trial for conspiracy for their part in the Chicago protests. One of the defendants was Bobby Seal whose treatment at the beginning of the trial is the basis for the line in CSN&Y’s song Chicago, “So your brother’s bound and gagged/And they’ve chained him to a chair.” Seal was later separated from the others, making the Chicago 8 the Chicago 7, and the whole thing was chronicled in a great book, “The Tales of Hoffman” (referring to Julius Hoffman the crazy right-wing judge who ran the trial), which consists mainly (if I remember correctly) of the trial transcripts.

Another one of the defendants was Abbie Hoffman, who was born on this day (November 30) in 1936. Hoffman was a political and social activist who co-founded the Youth International Party (“Yippies”). After the Chicago protests, the Yippies ran a pig, Pegasus, for President.

Looking back on it now, some the statements that Hoffman and his “partner-in-crime” Jerry Rubin made come off as pretty juvenile, but then, it was their intention to be as outrageous as possible. Hoffman once penned a book entitled, “Steal this Book.” I think I actually purchased my copy.

Here, for your edification, and entertainment pleasure, is a portion of Abbie Hoffman’s testimony at the Chicago Conspiracy trial. Mr. Weinglass, by the way, is the defendant’ attorney, while Mr. Schultz is a government attorney, and The Court is the aforementioned, Judge Hoffman.


MR. WEINGLASS: Will you please identify yourself for the record?

THE WITNESS: My name is Abbie.  I am an orphan of America.

MR. SCHULTZ: Your Honor, may the record show it is the defendant Hoffman who has taken the stand?

THE COURT: Oh, yes.  It may so indicate. . . .

MR. WEINGLASS: Where do you reside?

THE WITNESS: I live in Woodstock Nation.

MR. WEINGLASS: Will you tell the Court and jury where it is?

THE WITNESS: Yes.  It is a nation of alienated young people.  We carry it around with us as a state of mind in the same way as the Sioux Indians carried the Sioux nation around with them.  It is a nation dedicated to cooperation versus competition, to the idea that people should have better means of exchange than property or money, that there should be some other basis for human interaction.  It is a nation dedicated to–

THE COURT: Just where it is, that is all.

THE WITNESS: It is in my mind and in the minds of my brothers and sisters.  It does not consist of property or material but, rather, of ideas and certain values.  We believe in a society–

THE COURT: No, we want the place of residence, if he has one, place of doing business, if you have a business.  Nothing about philosophy or India, sir.  Just where you live, if you have a place to live.  Now you said Woodstock.  In what state is Woodstock?

THE WITNESS: It is in the state of mind, in the mind of myself and my brothers and sisters.  It is a conspiracy.  Presently, the nation is held captive, in the penitentiaries of the institutions of a decaying system.

MR. WEINGLASS: Can you tell the Court and jury your present age?

THE WITNESS: My age is 33. 1 am a child of the 60s.

MR. WEINGLASS: When were you born?

THE WITNESS: Psychologically, 1960.

MR. SCHULTZ: Objection, if the Court please.  I move to strike the answer.

MR. WEINGLASS: What is the actual date of your birth?

THE WITNESS: November 30,1936.

MR. WEINGLASS: Between the date of your birth, November 30, 1936, and May 1, 1960, what if anything occurred in your life?

THE WITNESS: Nothing.  I believe it is called an American education.

MR. SCHULTZ: Objection.

THE COURT: I sustain the objection.


MR. WEINGLASS: Abbie, could you tell the Court and jury–

MR. SCHULTZ: His name isn’t Abbie.  I object to this informality.

MR. WEINGLASS: Can you tell the Court and jury what is your present occupation?

THE WITNESS: I am a cultural revolutionary.  Well, I am really a defendant—full-time.

MR. WEINGLASS: What do you mean by the phrase “cultural revolutionary?”

THE WITNESS: Well, I suppose it is a person who tries to shape and participate in the values, and the mores, the customs and the style of living of new people who eventually become inhabitants of a new nation and a new society through art and poetry, theater, and music.

Lemme tell ya, that trial was a laff riot, which is always much preferable to a police riot or any other kind. At the same time, it painted a portrait of the shape of things in the United States at the time, and it wasn’t pretty. Nor is it now.

So, what, you may ask, is The Pixilated, Protest-Powered, Great American Déjà Vu Machine? Well, I’m not at liberty to tell you that. All I’m allowed to say is that it’s similar to Mister Peabody’s “Way Back Machine.”

“Oh, Mister Peabody!!”

Here’s the headline in today’s LA Times: “Shootings, pepper-spray attack mar Wal-Mart Black Friday sales.” I’ll wager that before the day is through, there will be plenty more.

Shootings? Pepper-spray? Shopping rage? No wonder it’s called Black Friday. But why? Shopping on this day is supposed to be a positive experience. It’s supposed to be fun, with everyone full of the holiday spirit. Black Friday sounds horrific. Like the 1940 film by the same name where mad scientist Boris Karloff implants the brain of a gangster into a professor’s.

Since the day is the official start of the Christmas season, you’d think they’d call it Red and Green Friday or anything less depressing.

And yes, it is starting to look a lot like Christmas, unfortunately. Yesterday, as I traveled back and forth to a vegetarian pot-luck dinner, I noticed quite a few street corner lots being set up for Christmas tree sales. It reminded me of this poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, from his volume of poetry, A Coney Island of the Mind, first published in 1958:

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candycanes and breakable stars

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were gilded Christmas trees
and no tinsel Christmas trees
and no tinfoil Christmas trees
and no pink plastic Christmas trees
and no gold Christmas trees
and no black Christmas trees
and no powderblue Christmas trees
hung with electric candles
and encircled by tin electric trains
and clever cornball relatives

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no intrepid Bible salesmen
covered the territory
in two-tone cadillacs
and where no Sears Roebuck crèches
complete with plastic babe in manager
arrived by parcel post
the babe by special delivery
and where no televised Wise Men
praised the Lord Calvert Whiskey

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no fat handshaking stranger
in a red flannel suit
and a fake white beard
went around passing himself off
as some sort of North Pole saint
crossing the desert to Bethlehem
in a Volkswagon sled
drawn by rollicking Adirondack reindeer
with German names
and bearing sacks of Humble Gifts
from Saks Fifth Avenue
for everybody’s imagined Christ child

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no Bing Crosby carolers
groaned of a a tight Christmas
and where no Radio City angels
iceskated singles
thru a winter wonderland
into a jinglebell heaven
daily at 8:30
with Midnight Mass matinees

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous Mary’s womb again
where in the darkest night
of everybody’s anonymous soul
he awaits again
an unimaginable
and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the craziest
of Second Comings

Frankly, I have my doubts about Christ coming back anytime soon. Assuming that he did indeed ascend from the earth some 2000 years ago, by my calculations, if he was moving at the speed of light he would have only traveled 11,749,203,343,584,000 miles so far. Now, it takes 100,000 years just to travel across the Milky Way, which is about 5,878,570,000,000,000,000 miles wide. So, sad to say, it looks as though Christ is

I couldn’t resist it. Today, November 19, is World Toilet Day. Seriously. There’s even a web site.

The World Toilet Organization, sponsors of World Toilet Day, say that 2.6 billion people, “or roughly 40 per cent of the world’s population do not have access to adequate sanitation.” The idea behind World Toilet Day is to raise awareness. It’s the perfect set-up for some bad jokes of course, but in reality, it’s a serious matter.

CNN reports,

This sanitation crisis is not only an affront to dignity. It results in the release of hundreds of tons of feces and urine each day directly into rivers, lakes, landfills and oceans, creating an immense human and environmental health hazard. Every day more than 4,000 young children die from sanitation-related illness. Fully half of the hospital beds in the developing world are occupied by people whose ailments can be traced to poor sanitation.”

In the past, toilets and related issues were not talked about. There was a time when they couldn’t even show toilets in movies and on television. Some of us are old enough to remember those commercials with Mr. Whipple (see below), who had to whisper the words “toilet paper.” I guess now that we can talk about toilets openly, it’s means we’ve evolved as a culture.

But the severe lack of toilets worldwide is just one aspect of a greater sanitation issue. The World Water Council, an international intergovernmental and NGO network dealing with water policy topics, says that

[More] than one out of six people lack access to safe drinking water, namely 1.1 billion people, and more than two out of six lack adequate sanitation, namely 2.6 billion people (Estimation for 2002, by the WHO/UNICEF JMP, 2004).”

The WTO calls World Toilet Day a time to celebrate. I guess that means that while it is a somber issue overall, it’s still okay to have some fun with it. So here goes . . .

Some great toilet quotes:

“Castro couldn’t even go to the bathroom unless the Soviet Union put the nickel in the toilet.”

Richard M. Nixon

“It is better to have a relationship with someone who cheats on you than with someone who does not flush the toilet.”

Uma Thurman

“It is difficult to produce a television documentary that is both incisive and probing when every twelve minutes one is interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits singing about toilet paper.”

Rod Serling

 “All my good reading, you might say, was done in the toilet. There are passages in Ulysses which can be read only in the toilet – if one wants to extract the full flavor of their content.”

Henry Miller

“You know an odd feeling? Sitting on the toilet eating a chocolate candy bar.”

George Carlin

Some famous toilets:

The original cover for the Rolling Stones album "Beggar's Banquet"


Marcel Duchamp turned the toilet into art with "Fountain"


John Lennon's toilet fetched $14,740 at auction in 2010


NASA's space toilet cost $19 million


Some famous Toileteers:

Phi Zappa Krappa


Angelina Jolie posing


Comedian Lenny Bruce died while shooting up on the toilet



Mr. Whipple: "Please don't squeeze the Charmin!"


BTW, if you are into this, you might want to visit  The Toilet Museum.

Look what’s happening out in the streets
got a revolution got to revolution
Hey I’m dancing down the streets
got a revolution got to revolution

- Jefferson Airplane

Marking two months of protests, Thursday was declared a “Day of Action” by the Occupy Wall Street movement with demonstrations across major cities nationwide remonstrating against financial greed and corruption. In Southern California, the LA Times reported: “In what police called an ‘orchestrated series of arrests,’ nearly 100 police in riot gear moved in to arrest 23 protesters who locked arms around tents in the middle of Figueroa Street . . .”

Meditator arrested in Oakland

“Orchestrated series of arrests” is another way to say “civil disobedience.” More about that below, but first, the city of Oakland, California has taken a hard line against the protesters. There has been violence and then Monday, police forcibly evicted demonstrators from their camp in the downtown area. According to the San Jose Mercury News, “Oakland police arrested [Pancho] Ramos Stierle before dawn on Monday as riot police were clearing out the Occupy encampment at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza. He and two other activists had been meditating for hours in the plaza’s amphitheater as police surrounded the camp and ordered everyone to disperse.”

Criminal charges against Stierle have been dropped, but because he is an immigrant, the cops turned him over to ICE. As of Thursday he has either been released or will be released pending a hearing before a judge. In either case, he is facing deportation. His case has become a bit of a cause célèbre (Free Pancho).

I don’t know if Stierle is connected with any particular spiritual group or whether he’s just a guy who wants to meditate for peace. It doesn really matter to me, and I certainly support his aim and his actions as far as the protest goes. I am not, however, all that sympathetic to his status as an immigrant. Apparently Stierle’s visa expired in 2008, which, as far as I understand things, makes him illegal. I know this is an unpopular view, but frankly I’m not convinced that people who are in this country illegally should enjoy the same rights as citizens and legal immigrants.

That aside, when you engage in civil disobedience you have to expect some consequences. The authorities do not like civil disobedience. That’s an eternal truth. I wish Stierle the best, but I assume that he is an intelligent person and knew what he was getting into.

At the same time, I do wonder if everyone really understands what civil disobedience is all about.

Civil disobedience is the time-honored act of the “professed refusal to obey certain laws, demands, and commands of a government, or of an occupying international power.” (Wikipedia) In this current movement, we’re talking about multinational powers.

I think it is safe to say that a good majority of acts of civil disobedience are designed to provoke an “orchestrated” arrest. At the very least, those who engage in such actions should be cognizant of the possibility of arrest and/or persecution by the authorities. To put it in Buddhist terms, civil disobedience is Bodhisattva action. It invites suffering for the purpose of making a statement against suffering.

Gandhi, whom we can look to as sort of an expert on civil disobedience, called his revolution ahimsa (non-violence) and satyagraha (truth). His brand of protest was grounded in spirituality, and marked with the force of compassion and acceptance of resulting suffering. Gandhi wrote,

Complete civil disobedience is rebellion without the element of violence in it. An out- and-out civil resister simply ignores the authority of the State. He never uses force and never resists force when it is used against him. In Fact, he invites imprisonment and other uses of force against himself . . .

Civil disobedience means capacity for unlimited suffering without the intoxicating excitement of killing.”

Nearly a hundred years earlier, Henry David Thoreau, in his 1849 essay, On Civil Disobedience, put it bluntly:

Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison. The proper place to-day, the only place which Massachusetts has provided for her freer and less desponding spirits, is in her prisons, to be put out and locked out of the State by her own act, as they have already put themselves out by their principles.”

Gandhi behind bars

Thoreau went to jail for refusing to pay what he believed was an unjust tax. Gandhi was imprisoned in 1922, 1930, 1933 and in 1942. All together, he spent 7 years in prison. In the early days of Gandhi’s activism, in South Africa, he tried to organize resistance against the Registration Act. On September 11, 1906, at a mass meeting with some 3000 Indians, Gandhi warned the assembled to expect repercussions: imprisonment, beatings, fines, and even, deportation. He also told them,

I can declare with certainty that so long as there is even a handful of men true to their pledge, there can be only one end to the struggle, and that is victory.”

Goldman Sachs on trial


The OWS is calling their movement an “American Revolution.” Chris Hedges is an American journalist who has specialized in writing about the Middle East and is now involved with OWS. Last Thursday, Hedges, Cornel West and others held a mock trial of Goldman Sachs in Zuccotti Park. Hedges was arrested. Tuesday, he wrote on Truthdig,

Welcome to the revolution. Our elites have exposed their hand. They have nothing to offer. They can destroy but they cannot build. They can repress but they cannot lead. They can steal but they cannot share. They can talk but they cannot speak. They are as dead and useless to us as the water-soaked books, tents, sleeping bags, suitcases, food boxes and clothes that were tossed by sanitation workers Tuesday morning into garbage trucks in New York City. They have no ideas, no plans and no vision for the future.

I support the Occupy Wall Street movement. I only hope everyone understands what it really takes to engage in civil disobedience, what it means to be a revolutionary. I hope the mistake that was made in the 1960’s is not made again. The Anti-War movement disintegrated after the Kent State massacre in 1970. All of the sudden protest kids realized, “Hey, you can get killed doing this!” I think in our collective unconscious we decided it might be better to just stay home with Sweet Jane.

Both Thoreau and Gandhi would no doubt subscribe to the notion that it is every person’s duty to protest injustice. That also belongs to the eternal, ultimate truth. But in the conventional world, let’s face it, not everyone is going to join in, and perhaps some should not join on the front lines. Those who have a lot to lose by catching the attention of law enforcement maybe should think twice about putting themselves at risk as Stierle did. I would imagine there are numerous ways that someone can support OWS, and in the future, if the movement comes together and gains a measure of organization, some of the most important roles will be played behind the scenes.

The iconic revolutionary

But if you are going to take center stage, man the barricades, stand on the front lines, then you’d better know that, as CSN&Y sang, to find the cost of freedom, you must “lay your body down.”

Revolution is serious business. Che Guevara once said,

In a revolution, one wins or one dies.”

Find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground
Mother Earth will swallow you, lay your body down

- Crosby, Still, Nash and Young


Street photo: occupylosangeles.org
Stierle photo: occupyoakland.org
Hedges/West photo: occupywallst.org

The Lady, a biopic on Aung San Suu Kyi starring Michelle Yeoh, is scheduled to be released in the U.S. on December 2. I haven’t read any reviews but I did read that the film has been banned in China. No surprise there, I suppose. And I also saw that the Lady herself told the Wall Street Journal on Monday, “I’m not really interested [in the film] and haven’t thought of looking it up on the Net or whatever.”

With her first born son, Alexander, in Nepal, 1973

Now, I did see the trailer on TV a few weeks ago. I got the sense that they’re marketing the movie as a love story. It’s a shame that filmmakers still feel the need, or are forced, to go in that direction. Yet, Aung San Suu Kyi’s true story is a great love story, and tremendously romantic. After all, this is a woman from Burma who fell in love with British scholar (born in Havana), got married, and was starting a family and living a sort of idyllic life in England, all of which she ended up having to sacrifice in order to stand up for democracy in her native land.

Suu Kyi and Michael Aris, 1973

I picked up Suu Kyi’s book Freedom from Fear, first published in 1991, today at my friendly neighborhood thrift shop. At a buck fifty, I couldn’t resist. The first thing I did of course was check out the photos in the middle of the book. Many of them of a very young Aung San Suu Kyi. Gazing at these pics, I could understand how Michael Aris could fall “instantly and madly in love with her” (according to a family friend). Not only did she posses a brilliant mind, she was cute as hell, too. Still is.

So far, I’ve just skimmed through the book, reading passages here and there. Like this from the essay ‘In Quest of Democracy”:

The Burmese people, who have had no access to sophisticated academic material, got the heart of the matter by turning to the words of the Buddha on the four causes of decline and decay: failure to recover that which had been lost, omission to repair that which had been damaged, disregard of the need for reasonable economy, and the elevation to leadership of men without morality or learning. “

That could be describing the situation here in the U.S. right now. We need to recover something that’s become lost in America. We need to go back to a time when business wasn’t only about greed, when companies would take their profits and reinvest in their businesses. We need to go back to when there were controls in place to check against rampant greed. It is obvious that some very powerful people are standing in the way of repairing the economy, and as well, opposing any attempt to make it reasonable and equitable. As far as our current crop of leaders go . . . well, less said about them the better.

Back to Freedom from Fear, this is from “Towards a True Refuge”, which according to the book “is the text of the Eighth Joyce Pearce Memorial Lecture, composed by Aung San Suu Kyi in the fourth year of her house arrest, and delivered on her behalf by her husband Dr. Michael Aris on 19 May 1993”:

Loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity, Buddhists see as ‘divine’ states of mind which help to alleviate suffering and to spread happiness among all beings. The greatest obstacle to these noble emotions is not so much hatred, anger or ill will as the rigid mental state that comes from a prolonged and unwavering concentration on narrow self-interest. Hatred, anger or ill will that arises from wrongs suffered, from misunderstanding or from fear and envy may yet be appeased if there is sufficient generosity of spirit to permit forbearance, forgiveness and reconciliation, but it would be impossible to maintain or restore harmony when contention is rooted in the visceral inability of protagonists to concede that the other party has an equal claim to justice, sympathy and consideration. Hardness, selfishness and narrowness belong with greed, just as kindness, understanding and vision belong with true generosity.

Mountain trip in Bhutan, 1971

Freedom from Fear, a collection of writings, speeches and interviews, is mostly about politics, with a few history lessons and some great little dharma talks here and there. So far, I’ve seen almost nothing of Aung San Suu Kyi’s personal story. I don’t know as much about it as I’d like, but as I indicated, I find it romantic, and tragic, and inspiring. I hope someday she can write the story herself.

But, I have a feeling that is an endeavor that doesn’t interest her much more than the biopic does. So I guess we’ll have to wait for the “definitive biography.” If I was writing it, or the author’s editor, I would tempted to called it Aung San Suu Kyi, A True Bodhisattva.