Only people in low conditions of life see ghosts. They are not real, just delusions produced by the mind. Spaceships and aliens may be another matter, however. I haven’t seen any myself but I’d sure like to.

Vampires are hot now. I’ve always thought they were cool. Werewolves, too. Unfortunately in Buddhism we don’t have any. Just ghosts. Hungry ones.

They are metaphors, of course. Hungry ghosts represent a life-condition in which one is never satisfied, always craving. Insatiable.

Hungry Ghost realm on the Wheel of Becoming

Actually, they are not quite “ghosts” because they are only half-dead. Their real hunger is for life, but for some reason they are not capable of experiencing it completely. The unsatisfactoriness (dukkha) they feel is the misery of being only half-alive.

In Tibet, “hungry ghosts” (Sanskrit: pretas) exist in their own realm on the Wheel of Becoming (Bhavacakra). In the Tibetan Book of the Dead, it says “At the same time a soft yellow light of the hungry ghosts realm shines before you, penetrating your heart in parallel with the wisdom light. Do not indulge in it! Abandon clinging and longing!”

In Japanese Buddhism there are gaki, spirits who are cursed with insatiable desires, and jikininki, man-eating ghosts, hungrier than anyone in the Donner party. Like all self-respecting ghouls, they only come out at night.

Turn-of-the-century (the 20th) Japanese scholar Lufcadio Hearn, put together a collection of Japanese tales of the supernatural in a book called In Ghostly Japan. Since no Halloween is complete without a ghostly tale or two, here’s an excerpt from the title story:

In Ghostly Japan

Yoru bakari
Miru mono nari to
Hiru saë yumé no
Ukiyo nari-kéri.

Think not that dreams
appear to the dreamer
only at night:
the dream of this world of pain
appears to us even by day.

(Japanese Poem)

And it was at the hour of sunset that they came to the foot of the mountain. There was in that place no sign of life,–neither token of water, nor trace of plant, nor shadow of flying bird,–nothing but desolation rising to desolation. And the summit was lost in heaven.

Then the Bodhisattva said to his young companion:–”What you have asked to see will be shown to you. But the place of the Vision is far; and the way is rude. Follow after me, and do not fear: strength will be given you.”

Twilight gloomed about them as they climbed. There was no beaten path, nor any mark of former human visitation; and the way was over an endless heaping of tumbled fragments that rolled or turned beneath the foot. Sometimes a mass dislodged would clatter down with hollow echoings;–sometimes the substance trodden would burst like an empty shell. . . . Stars pointed and thrilled;–and the darkness deepened.

“Do not fear, my son,” said the Bodhisattva, guiding: “danger there is none, though the way be grim.”

Under the stars they climbed,–fast, fast,–mounting by help of power superhuman. High zones of mist they passed; and they saw below them, ever widening as they climbed, a soundless flood of cloud, like the tide of a milky sea.

Hour after hour they climbed;–and forms invisible yielded to their tread with dull soft crashings;–and faint cold fires lighted and died at every breaking.

And once the pilgrim-youth laid hand on a something smooth that was not stone,–and lifted it,–and dimly saw the cheekless gibe of death.

“Linger not thus, my son!” urged the voice of the teacher;–”the summit that we must gain is very far away!”

On through the dark they climbed,–and felt continually beneath them the soft strange breakings,–and saw the icy fires worm and die,–till the rim of the night turned grey, and the stars began to fail, and the east began to bloom.

Yet still they climbed,–fast, fast,–mounting by help of power superhuman. About them now was frigidness of death,–and silence tremendous . . . A gold flame kindled in the east.

Then first to the pilgrim’s gaze the steeps, revealed their nakedness;–and a trembling seized him,–and a ghastly fear. For there was not any ground,–neither beneath him nor about him nor above him,–but a heaping only, monstrous and measureless, of skulls and fragments of skulls and dust of bone,–with a shimmer of shed teeth strown through the drift of it, like the shimmer of scrags of shell in the wrack of a tide.

“Do not fear, my son!” cried the voice of the Bodhisattva;–”only the strong of heart can win to the place of the Vision!”

Behind them the world had vanished. Nothing remained but the clouds beneath, and the sky above, and the heaping of skulls between,–upslanting out of sight.

Then the sun climbed with the climbers; and there was no warmth in the light of him, but coldness sharp as a sword. And the horror of stupendous height, and the nightmare of stupendous depth, and the terror of silence, ever grew and grew, and weighed upon the pilgrim, and held his feet,–so that suddenly all power departed from him, and he moaned like a sleeper in dreams.

“Hasten, hasten, my son!” cried the Bodhisattva: “the day is brief, and the summit is very far away.”

But the pilgrim shrieked,–

“I fear! I fear unspeakably!–and the power has departed from me!”

“The power will return, my son,” made answer the Bodhisattva  . . . “Look now below you and above you and about you, and tell me what you see.”

“I cannot,” cried the pilgrim, trembling and clinging;–”I dare not look beneath! Before me and about me there is nothing but skulls of men.”

“And yet, my son,” said the Bodhisattva, laughing softly,–”and yet you do not know of what this mountain is made.”

The other, shuddering, repeated:–

“I fear!–unutterably I fear! . . . there is nothing but skulls of men!”

“A mountain of skulls it is,” responded the Bodhisattva. “But know, my son, that all of them ARE YOUR OWN! Each has at some time been the nest of your dreams and delusions and desires. Not every one of them is the skull of any other being. All,–all without exception,–have been yours, in the billions of your former lives.”

I was tempted to call this post “The Zen of the Zen of Zen.” Several times now, I’ve poked some fun at how people will use the word “Zen” to market almost anything, from marketing itself to tea and online shopping carts, like some of the products on the right. Without a doubt, it trivializes a great spiritual tradition. But that’s capitalism for you. We can trivialize, and sell, anything. Religion especially. By the way, do have your Copper Magnetic Therapy Jesus Bracelet yet?

I’m certainly not the first to notice, or lament, this unfortunate phenomenon. Some years ago John McRae, a well-known Buddhist scholar, in his book Seeing Through Zen, had this to say about it:

It seems that virtually anyone can claim authoritative understanding of Zen, or at least be comfortable in using the word Zen in works totally unrelated to the tradition . . . we may recognize that, in contrast to the usage within East Asian Buddhism, the word Zen has a very different and much more limited range of meaning in contemporary world popular culture.

The popular usage implies that Zen is simply an attitude of undistracted concentration that can be applied to any human endeavor. If you get fully involved in the task at hand, become one with it, and allow yourself to flow according to its natural rhythms, then your performance of that task will improve accordingly . . . I have seen the word Zen used to described home electronics projects and lines of cosmetic products, in which the word is used in the sense of bare-bones simplicity and ease of use; of course, the latter may also include some “oriental” aesthetics sense for all I know.

Now we understand that “Zen” means “meditation.” Zen is the Japanese transliteration of the Chinese word “Ch’an”, based on the Indian “dhyana” which comes from another Indian word “jhana” which in turn is from the verb “jhayati” meaning “to think closely (upon an object)” [from Traditions of Meditation in Chinese Buddhism, edited by Peter N. Gregory].

But the Zen of Zen lies mainly in the eye of the beholder, since it does mean different things to different people. In general, Zen refers to a sect of Buddhism and “zazen” refers to the approach to meditation they use. In addition to that, there are a whole range of other associations.

While the overuse of the word “Zen” in marketing is pretty dreadful, I suppose there is a positive angle. “Zen” has become such a commonplace word that, hopefully, the strangeness has been taken out of it. There are many people who think that anything to do with Buddhism is very strange indeed. Some of them are convinced that Buddhists are devil-worshipping heretics who are aiding in the destruction of the world. So, anything that helps to deflate that perception must be a good thing.


Zen quotes are real big, too. Almost anything paradoxical or abstruse qualifies as a “Zen quote.” Here are a few actual Zen quotes about Zen:

When other sects speak well of Zen, the first thing that they praise is its poverty.


Life, according to Zen, ought to be lived as a bird flies through the air, or as a fish swims in the water.

D.T. Suzuki

Zen is not something to get excited about. Some people start to practice Zen just out of curiosity, and they only make themselves busier. If your practice makes you worse, it is ridiculous. I think that if you try to do zazen once a week, that will make you busy enough. Do not be too interested in Zen. When young people get excited about Zen they often give up schooling and go to some mountain or forest in order to sit. That kind of interest is not true interest.

Shunryu Suzuki

The essence of Zen is awakening. That is why one does not talk about Zen, one experiences it.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Q: How do you feel about the Westernization of Zen Buddhism?

A: It’ll take a few centuries. At the moment, there are many wonderful intentions all mixed in, but there are some needed corrections. The first needed correction is not to call it Zen Buddhism, but to call it Buddhism, and to say the Zen practice within Buddhism, because that’s what it really is. Zen is just a practice within the marvelous ocean of Buddhist philosophy and practices that is so rich and so sophisticated. From there, we have things which we can give to Buddhism. We already have begun to give much more power to women. We’ve begun to make it a lay practice, a family practice, rather than a purely monastic practice. And we’ve moved towards engagement and action in terms of social issues, in a way that historical Buddhism did not do so much, although to give them credit, there is social activism in contemporary Japanese Buddhism, too, particularly on nuclear power and nuclear war issues. Buddhists are the leaders in the peace movement in Japan, and have been ever since World War II. But the truly non-dualist, non-discriminating, openhearted, playful style of Buddhism will take a while.

Gary Snyder (in conversation with John Suiter)

The only Zen you can find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there.

Robert M. Pirsig

T’an-luan, the Chinese monk acknowledged as the founder of Pure Land Buddhism, was not the first to use the terms t’o-li (J. tariki) and tzu-li (J. jiriki), but I believe he was the first to suggest that “other-power” was superior to “self-power.”

The origins of Pure Land (Sukhavati) are obscure. The Pure Land sutras were transmitted to China from India in the 2nd century, so it had existed in Indian Buddhism for some time prior to that. One theory that I have always leaned toward is that Pure Land has its roots in Persian Sun-God worship.

T’an-luan was active during the 5th to 6th centuries, a time when the notion of the “degenerate age” or Mappo, the Latter Day of the Law, was gaining prominence. Essentially the theory behind this is that people have become so defiled it is impossible for them to save themselves through their own efforts, hence, they must rely on faith in outside or “other-power.” The object of this faith is found in the imaginary Buddha, Amitabha. Believers entrust themselves to the saving power of Amitabha and are taught that if they meditate upon him or chant his name, after they die they can be reborn in the Western Paradise that lies beyond the setting sun.

Pure Land is also called the “Easy Path,” and Nagarjuna is cited as the source of this designation. In the Shastra on the Ten Bodhisattva Stages, he says

In the Easy Path . . . one calls the names of the Buddhas, practicing a denial of attachment to self through reliance upon the compassion of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas and through desire for birth in a realm of purity, where all defiled karma of attachment is transformed into corresponding good through the operation of Emptiness. Included in this path are the Name and the Vow of Amida Buddha.

The authenticity of this work is questionable, although most scholars agree it is “Nagarjunian.” Regardless, it has traditionally provided a major endorsement for what Roger Corless in “The Enduring Significance of T’an-luan” describes as a practice based on the “power of pure mind, manifested in Amita Buddha, [that] is so great that we can trust it to work in us, we do not have to struggle and claw our way up the mountain of the Bodhisattva levels, as the Mahayana normally instructs.”

However, the historical Buddha did not offer teachings that even slightly resemble other-power. Indeed, he was rather critical of spiritual practices that depended upon faith in supernatural beings. He did not direct his followers attention to any higher, holier beings or forces, instead, he called upon them to look within themselves, to be “a lamp unto yourself” and in this respect, the Buddha’s teachings fall under the category of “self-power”. [I really prefer to use “inner-power".]

Corless notes further: “T’an-luan offers a comprehensive program of practice, involving the whole person in body, speech, and mind. Later Pure Land Buddhism, especially in Japan, not only concentrated on a single practice, that of invoking the name of Amita Buddha (nembutsu), it restricted itself to it.”

Here then is one of the chief reasons for Pure Land’s enduring popularity. Worldwide, more people practice this form of Buddhism than any other. It’s simple, and easy, but perhaps not in the way that Nagarjuna meant. Anyone can chant “Namo Omito-Fo” (Chinese) or “Namu Amita-Butsu” (Japanese). Imagine how this must have appealed to peasants of the feudal era who worked from sun-up to sundown seven days a week and who did not have time to sit in meditation for long periods and lacked the literacy required to be able to read the sutras and commentaries. It is said that chanting the name of Amitabha even a single time with sincerity is enough to cause rebirth in the Pure Land.

While, in general, I am respectful of Pure Land, and I even admire the find tradition of scholarship found in the Japanese schools, at the same I must admit that I prejudiced against this approach. I’m sure it has something to do with my long involvement in the Nichiren tradition. In fact, one of the first things I read by Nichiren was a writing entitled “On Attaining Buddhahood,” in which he states,

Continue reading »

That same retreat season, Ananda asked a question about dependent co-arising, and so the Buddha taught the Bhikkhus about the twelve links in the chain of existence.

He explained “The teaching of dependent co-arising is profound and subtle. Do not think it can be grasped through words or discourse . . .

Contemplate the nature of dependent co-arising during every moment.

When you look at a leaf or a raindrop, meditate on all the conditions,
near and distant, that have contributed to the presence of that leaf or raindrop.
Know that the world is woven of interconnected threads.
This is, because that is. This is not, because that is not.
This is born, because that is born. This dies, because that dies.”

from Old Path, White Clouds: walking in the footsteps of the Buddha

by Thich Nhat Hanh

In Gakudo Yojin-sho (“Guidelines for Studying the Way”), Dogen wrote,

Practicing [Buddhism], studying the way, is the great matter of a lifetime. You should not belittle it or be hasty with it.

To do almost anything in life requires learning. From taking our first steps to driving a car, someone had to teach us, guide us, show us the way. In most cases, we understand this and do not resent receiving instruction. To cook a meal it is often necessary to follow a recipe. To arrive at a particular destination, you may need a map. When it comes to spiritual practice, however, some people act as if the reverse applied. They seem overly eager to disregard the recipe, throw away the map, and they disparage those who would guide them, unconcerned that teachers may have more experience and knowledge, which qualifies them to be teachers in the first place.

In Buddhism, particularly, as soon as some people have a modicum of exposure to the teachings, they become experts. Regarding this phenomenon, Dogen wrote,

Nowadays, there are foolish people who memorize the words of texts or accumulate sayings and try to match these words with the teacher’s explanation. In this case, they have only their own views and old words, and have not yet merged with the teacher’s words.

For some people their own views are primary; they open a sutra, memorize a word or two, and consider this to be buddha-dharma, later, when they visit with an awakened teacher or a skilled master and hear the teaching, if it agrees with their own view they consider the teaching right, and if it does not agree with their old fixed standards they consider his words wrong. They do not know how to abandon their mistaken tendencies, so how could they ascend and return to the true way? For ages numberless as particles of dust and sand, they will remain deluded. It is most pitiable. Is it not sad?

Why are so many resentful when it comes to receiving instruction? Most people understand that in learning meditation, for instance, they are steps to follow, do’s and don’ts. No problem. But as soon as a teacher says, “The Buddha taught this” or  “You should try to practice in this way” or anything similar that goes beyond the most basic, they become James Dean for a day, rebels without a cause.

Chih-i said,

Only when you become skilled at churning, can you obtain butter. Likewise, you cannot ascend to the stage of wondrous realization without practice.

Before you can practice, you must learn how. You must receive instruction. Practice in Buddhism is more than just learning how to sit properly in meditation. Buddhist practice is learning how to think anew, to change your mind. If we were thinking correctly to start with, there would be no need for practice at all. Meditation is calming the mind but it’s also training the mind. Training is the skill, knowledge and experience of one who is trained, and in order to be trained one must be taught. But how is that possible when one is unwilling or constantly looking for the loopholes in a teacher’s words?

I’m not suggesting that we should never question the teachings or teachers. What I am suggesting is that there is a way to go about it that is constructive and a way that is destructive. Criticism or rejection of a teachers words simply because they are framed in a way that does not conform to one’s personal tastes does not belong in the former category. Neither does fashioning convoluted rationalizations, or even going so far as to coin new terms to describe what is believed to be the dictations of those with more knowledge and experience. This, to borrow a Japanese literary term, is what I would call kyogen kigo or “foolish talk and dazzling rhetoric.”

No one would try to operate a car without first learning how to drive. No one with an ounce of sense, that is. Why do we think we can operate a spiritual vehicle without instruction or without learning which views conform to the core teachings and which do not?

Here are some instructions: Talk less, listen more. Think better, judge less.

Take it from me. I know what I am talking about. I have to learn this many times. I am still learning it.

While reading or listening, don’t work too hard. Be like the earth. When the rain comes, the earth only has to open herself up to the rain. Allow the rain of the Dharma to come in and penetrate the seeds that are buried deep in your consciousness. A teacher cannot give you the trruth. The truth is already in you. You only need to open yourself — body, mind, and heart — so that his or her teachings will penetrate your own seeds of understanding and enlightenment. If you let the words enter you, the soil and the seeds will do the rest of the work.

- Thich Nhat Hanh

No joy in Mudville tonight, for mighty Casey has struck out . . .

And now, a few words from William Carlos Williams:

The Crowd at the Ball Game

(Published in The Dial, 1923)

William Carlos Williams in 1954

The crowd at the ball game
is moved uniformly

by a spirit of uselessness
which delights them —

all the exciting detail
of the chase

and the escape, the error
the flash of genius —

all to no end save beauty
the eternal -

So in detail they, the crowd,
are beautiful

for this
to be warned against

saluted and defied —
It is alive, venomous

it smiles grimly
its words cut —

The flashy female with her
mother, gets it —

The Jew gets it straight – it
is deadly, terrifying —

It is the Inquisition, the

It is beauty itself
that lives

day by day in them
idly —

This is
the power of their faces

It is summer, it is the solstice
the crowd is

cheering, the crowd is laughing
in detail

permanently, seriously
without thought

Here I am once again testing my theory that if you put the words “The Zen of” in the title of anything, tons of people will be interested in it. Since this is about Zen and Baseball both of which all people love, I expect to get many hits today, and let me tell you hits are foremost on my mind. While many are keeping their eye on and discussing the political races leading up to the November election, there is another race going on that is of paramount importance, and of course, I am referring to the race to the World Series.

The most important question in this race is what will be the fate of the New York Yankees. I don’t believe I need to tell any of the highly intelligent readers of this blog that the New York Yankees are the greatest baseball team in the history of the game, or that many of their players have actually walked on water. For those who may have been residing on another planet for most of their lives, I will list some of the major reasons why the NY Yankees are the world’s greatest baseball team: Babe Ruth, Lou Gerhig,  Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Roger Maris, Reggie Jackson, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and the two greatest managers of all time, Casey Stengel and Joe Torre.

The Yanks are behind in the ALCS to the Rangers and that’s why I’m concerned about getting lots of hits today. The Bronx Bombers need to win the next two games to get into the World Series.  Can they do it? The world waits with bated breath . . .

So, what does baseball have to do with Zen? If you play baseball in Japan, a lot. It seems that the majority of Japanese baseball players are Buddhists, although they may not be Zen, it’s close enough.

Now the Yanks had a great Japanese player on the team for some years, Hideki Matsui, nicknamed “Godzilla.” I don’t know if he is a Buddhist or not, but as far as I am concerned he was a home run king in the true Yankees tradition and why they let him go is beyond me. He plays for the Angels now.

Sadaharu Oh

One of Japan’s best players was Sadaharu Oh, who at the age of 70 is retired. His 868 home runs set an all-time record in that country. In 1984 he wrote a book entitled A Zen Way of Baseball. I have not read it but I understand it’s very good and one doesn’t need to be a baseball fan to enjoy it. Here is a review I found on ESPN.

I looked for but could not find any excerpts from the book online, however I did run across these quotes from Sadaharu Oh:

The efforts you make will surely be rewarded. If not, then you are simply not ready to call them efforts.

The opponents and I are really one. My strength and skills only half of the equation. The other half is theirs. An opponent is someone whose strength joined to yours creates a certain result.

My baseball career was a long, long initiation into a single secret: At the heart of all things is love.

I have to admit that it’s exciting to see the Rangers, on the brink of playing in their first World Series, doing so well. I just hope the Yankees do better.

Abner Doubleday by Mathew Brady

Of course, in order to prepare myself for the possible onslaught of suffering that will follow an unfavorable outcome for my team, I am keeping in mind the immortal words of Abner Doubleday, founder of baseball and existentialist thinker, who once said, “Don’t take the world serious.”

Get it?

Nagarjuna taught that the city of Nirvana has three gates: emptiness, signlessness, and wishlessness. These are also known as the three doors of liberation (vimoksamukha).

Emptiness (sunyata) is knowing that all things in their conventional or mundane aspect are non-substantial.

Signlessness (animittata) is the emptiness of signs. It refers to not seizing upon things in their mundane aspect and using them as objects for clinging.

Wishlessness (apranihitata) is abstaining from actions based on passion and desire.

Nagarjuna tells us that the three gates also correspond to knowledge, wisdom, insight, and that they are called samadhi because the gates cannot be entered without a “collected mind.” Without this crucial element the gates cease to be gates and become only “cases of confusion.” Using samadhi as an expedient, one enters the city of Nirvana free of passion and this is the real freedom, “the residueless of freedom.”

Dharma then is the path that leads to the three gates and samadhi or meditation is the vehicle that carries us along the path and into the city. Those who say that meditation does not lead to freedom  or Nirvana do not understand that in teaching samadhi it was like the Buddha handing us the keys to the car.

The city is not a real city because Nirvana is not a place but a state of mind. The gates themselves are only expedients in terms of emptiness, signlessness, and wishlessness. In respect to knowledge, wisdom,  and insight, these are the glimpses of enlightenment or Buddhahood we collect as we fare along the path. Yet, it should be obvious that none of these things are within our reach as long as we remain in states of confusion. A confused mind cannot think clearly let alone see clearly enough to be able to even make out gates or cities.

In the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra (as translated by Robert Thurman) it reads

What is ‘Joy in the pleasures of the Dharma’? . . .  it is the joy of unbreakable faith in the Buddha . . . It is the joy of the renunciation of the whole world, of not being fixed in objects, of considering the five aggregates to be like murderers . . . It is the joy of always guarding the spirit of enlightenment, of helping other beings . . .  it is the joy of the exploration of the three doors of liberation . . .  it is the joy of acquiring liberative techniques and the conscious cultivation of the aids to enlightenment . . .

True renunciation is done in the mind. It has little to do with what one wears as clothes, or whether one’s head is shaved or not, or one’s lack of possessions. On the other hand, it has everything to do with using the expedient of samadhi.

Pigasus, candidate for the U.S. Presidency, being arrested by Chicago police on 23 August 1968.

In 1968 a pig ran for President of the United States. He was the candidate of the Youth International Party, also known as the Yippies, founded by Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Paul Krassner, three guys who were the Merry Pranksters of radical politics.

I don’t know who coined the term “silly season” in relation to our nations political campaigns, but they could have had that in mind. Silly as it was though, the Yippies were trying to make a point. I forget exactly what it was. But running a pig for president has nothing on this year’s silly season which has frankly become mondo bizzario. It’s seems to get weirder every minute and you know what Hunter S. Thompson said: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” Or, something like that.

You’ve probably heard about Rand Paul and this Aqua Buddha business. I want to take this opportunity to set the record straight because there really was an Aqua Buddha, in the comics that is. I am too young to have read any of them myself (they were published in the 1940’s) but back when I was a comic book aficionado, I recall reading about Aqua Buddha published by Cheapo Comics.

Aqua Buddha from Cheapo Comics (1947)

To the right is one of the few surviving panels of this comic. What a coincidence that one of the characters names was Stephen Batchelor, huh?

Anyway, Aqua Buddha was a spin-off from another character, The Green Lama, who actually started out in the pulp magazines. The Green Lama was the alias of Jethro Dumont, a rich resident of New York City, who traveled to Tibet, learned the mystic arts, and then became a crimefighter. His brother, Homer Dumont, instead of Tibet went to Japan where he was transformed from an ordinary millionaire into a super-Buddha, with the usual strange powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men, including of course, being able to breath underwater.

For some reason Aqua Buddha never caught on. There were I believe only ten or twelve issues. Cheapo Comics was a really cheap outfit. They couldn’t even afford a letterer who could spell simple words like “stumbled.”

Some people say that Aqua Buddha was the inspiration for Aquaman, however I doubt this since Aquaman made his first appearance around 1940 and Aqua Buddha didn’t come out until 1945.

In the last three issues, Aqua Buddha had a young sidekick named Bodhi Boy. Kuan Yin also made some appearances as a sort of Wonder Woman type character who assisted Aqua Buddha and may also have had an on/off relationship with him. For a while, Aqua Buddha, as Homer, had a regular girlfriend named Lovey Kindness.

So, now you know who Aqua Buddha was. I don’t know how Rand Paul could have ever heard of him because he is way too young, unless his dad had some of the comics and kept them. My mom threw all of mine away. I had some real gems: early Spiderman and Fantastic Four, the first Daredevil, Superman and Batman comics from the ‘50’s. They’d be worth a fortune today.

I almost forgot . . . you know, many super heroes had trademark phrases they used, for instance Captain Marvel’s was “Shazam!” and Superman always said, “Up! Up! And away!” Aqua Buddha’s was kind of like a mantra: “Boom Chakra Laka,” which Sly Stone later changed to “Boom shaka-laka-laka” and used in the song, “I Want To Take You Higher.” Apparently, Sly is a big Aqua Buddha fan.

That’s all for today. By the way, if you believe any of the above (expect for the part about Pigasus and the Green Lama), I have some prime swamp land in Louisiana I’d like to sell you. I can also get you a bridge dirt cheap . . .

I love television. I’m not ashamed to admit it. And what a astounding thing it is. I don’t know about you but this week I watched miners being rescued deep underground live some 5000 miles away and folks around the world, from Germany to China were watching at the same time on their TV sets and laptops. We’ve come a long way from the days when I sat on the floor in the living room with my parents and my brother viewing our “modern” grainy black and white set.

Obviously, technology is not the only thing that changed over the course of some fifty-plus years.

On a Sunday night in October of 1957, I probably would have watched Maverick, about those two lovable but somewhat cowardly con men of the Old West, Bret and Bart. But, last night, I watched Dexter, one of my current favorites, which is about a blood-splatter analysis guy for the Miami police department who also happens to be a serial killer. He only kills other serial killers though.

On Thursday nights in 1957, I probably watched Leave It To Beaver, featuring the recently departed Barbara Billingsley as June Cleaver, archetypal suburban mom of the 1950s. This Thursday, I watched Weeds, starring the absolutely hot Mary-Louise Parker as Nancy Botwin, mother of two teenage boys, who in this week’s episode wandered into a roadside saloon and had sex against the bar with the bartender, a total stranger.

Nancy started dealing marijuana after her husband died. Then she started growing it. Her oldest son was the chief grower. She burned down an entire town in Season Three, and after that she was romantically involved with a Mexican politician and mob boss who’s former mistress Nancy’s youngest son killed, on purpose. Now the Botwin’s are on the run from the gangsters and the cops. Nancy is everything but your typical suburban mom and her family is about as normal as the Sopranos.

We’re not in the Cleaver household anymore.

Yes, we’ve come a long way baby, and I’m loving it, and yet I wonder if fifty-three years from now people will still be watching Weeds as they do Leave It To Beaver today (until recently it was airing on TVLand). Even though Leave It To Beaver is dated in many respects, it seems to have a certain timeless quality.

I think what makes the show hold up so well is its naturalness. There was always a moral to the story, but the program never preached. The life lessons learned by Wally and the Beaver were received somewhat organically, as they often are in real life. And there was nothing forced or artificial about the way the two brothers spoke that era’s kid-speak:

Wally Cleaver: Boy, Beaver, wait’ll the guys find out you were hanging around with a girl. They’ll really give you the business.

Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver: But gee, Wally, you hang around with girls and the guys don’t give you the business.

Wally Cleaver: Well, that’s because I’m in high school. You can do a lot of stuff in high school without getting the business.

Ward and June Cleaver had an even-handed approach to parenting. For instance, whenever one of the boys got into trouble they’d ask if Ward was going to “yell” at them, in spite of the fact that their father never once raised his voice with real anger that I can remember.  My parents were not that different from Ward and June. Perhaps that’s why the show seems true-to-life to me. Although, I have to say that I don’t recall my mom ever ironing or doing the dishes wearing pearls and earrings like June Cleaver did.

You can read Barbara Billingsley’s obituary here at the LA Times.

I used to eat frequently at Billingsley’s Steak House in West Los Angeles. I was under the impression that Barbara Billingsley owned and operated it, but now I learn it was her two sons who founded the place. It’s the kind of steak house that’s hard to find these days with dark wood paneling and plush red seats. You never mind waiting for a table at Billingsley’s because you can enjoy a drink or two at their great old traditional bar, which, come to think of it, is similar to the one Nancy Botwin had sex against.

My favorite line from Leave It To Beaver is from the episode when Beaver says,

You know when I shoulda known things were going haywire? When Eddie Haskell was on my side.

You have to know the show and know about Eddie Haskell to appreciate that.

I’m sure that the “Cleaver household” is near and dear to many folks around my age, and so, we note with sadness Barbara Billingsley’s passing, although 94 is pretty good age to go out on. More than any other TV mom, Barbara Billingsley as June Cleaver seemed to be everyone’s mom – either like the one they had or like the one they wanted – and with her death, another little piece of childhood is now lost.

So long, Mrs. Cleaver. Thanks for everything.

And hello, Nancy . . .