I have never owned, or for that matter even touched, an iPad, iPhone, or iPod. I have never seen an Apple computer turned on, outside of a computer store. In regards to much of the technological innovation that Steve Jobs created, I guess you could say that I am iGnorant.

Don’t get me wrong. I love technology. At least, I love using certain types of technology. I spend a lot of time in front of my laptop; however, I don’t necessarily need to understand exactly how it works. No geekhood for me.

I can’t say that I am a real big fan of the culture that Steve Job’s technology has unleashed. Whenever I venture out into our brave new world, I see folks walking around almost zombie-like, heads downturned, focused on the little box in their palm, or strolling through our communal reality impervious to what’s going on around them because they are self-contained, listening to another world through their ear phones.

Which brings up my biggest problem: whenever I see these people with their headphones on or wearing an ear-plug, I can’t help but think of the Bob Dylan song:

Well, you walk into the room
Like a camel and then you frown
You put your eyes in your pocket
And your nose on the ground
There ought to be a law
Against you comin’ around
You should be made
To wear earphones

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Ironically Dylan was Steve Jobs favorite musical performer.

Anyway, it seems that human interaction ain’t what it used to be. Although I don’t think its improved much on the intimate, one-on-one level, I have to admit that Steve Jobs left his mark on this world. And despite my grumbling, I think he leaves behind a very positive personal legacy. I just didn’t follow his career or know much about him. Now I wish I had. I think he would have inspired me.

Think Different: A Mantra for Everyone

One thing I learned just today is that he was a Buddhist. According to an article at ABC News,

Jobs and his college friend Daniel Kottke, who later worked for him at Apple, visited Neem Karoli Baba at his Kainchi Ashram. He returned home to California a Buddhist, complete with a shaved head and traditional Indian clothing and a philosophy that may have shaped much of his corporate values.”

Robert Thurman, who met Jobs in the 1980’s is quoted in the article saying,

I wouldn’t say Steve Jobs was a practicing Buddhist. But he was just as creative and generous and went outside the box in the way that he looked to Eastern mental discipline and the Zen vision, which is a compelling one.”

Thurman makes some other good comments, one of which is to point out that by putting computers in the hands of everyday people, Jobs empowered them.  And there is the “focus and simplicity” that were the “foundation of Apple’s ethic.” Focus and simplicity are the hallmarks of Buddhism, at least in some forms, and, if we are to accept the idea that Buddhism influenced the way Jobs thought and conducted his business, we see how Buddha-dharma can exhibit a subtle and transcending influence on the world. I’ve not thought of it before but I think there can be no doubt that the innovations brought by Steve Jobs helped relieve suffering.

I knew Jobs had some health issues. But I didn’t pay much attention. Apparently, a few years ago he had a liver transplant. Pancreatic cancer got him in the end. Lately, when I hear of people succumbing to cancer it hits me right between the eyes.

Did I mention that Steve Jobs favorite musician was Bob Dylan?  Shows he had excellent taste in music . . .

The problem with earphones aside, I think we all owe him a debt of gratitude. So, thanks Steve . . . and peace, brother.

I have gone from rags to riches in the sorrow of the night
In the violence of a summer’s dream, in the chill of a wintry light
In the bitter dance of loneliness fading into space
In the broken mirror of innocence on each forgotten face

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, other times it’s only me
I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand

- Bob Dylan

Deepak Chopra is one of those guys who gets more than his fair share of criticism. Because he’s popular, he’s an easy target. There are folks who take exception to some of the things he says, especially in regards to science, but frankly I’ve heard Robert Thurman make some pretty wild claims too, and no one uses him for a punching bag. Not that I know of, anyway.

The way I look at it, Chopra provides a service. Because he is popular (and yes, a bit of a huckster), he’s sometimes used as a “talking head” on religious matters, and I think he offers a much needed alternative view. There may be some holes in his dissertations, but to me they seem consistent with the Buddhist view and Eastern philosophy in general, and I welcome almost any alternative to the spiritual dogma put out by the adherents of Abrahamic religions that dominate the media.

Look, up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Superguru!

I have never read any of Chopra’s book and maybe if I did, I might change my mind. His latest one, however, intrigues me. It’s called The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes (HarperOne; June 2011; Hardcover; $25.99; ISBN 9780062059666). Now, if you have read this blog recently, you might have gotten the idea that I am still a bit of a sucker for comics and superheroes. Well, sort of. I haven’t read a comic book in decades. It’s more like nostalgia.

Without even reading his book, I can guess Chopra suggests that it’s possible for us to be spiritual superheroes. A few years ago he was telling people about “The Way of the Wizard” and how “A wizard exists in all of us.” But I can’t come down on him for that. I am guilty of the same thing, as demonstrated by my post of May 10th, Be A Hero of The Mind. On one hand, these are just analogies, nothing to take too seriously either positive or negative. Still, it seems to me that being a mind-hero or a superhero of your own life is more than just some spiritual taffy. Didn’t the Buddha put it terms of a Noble Quest? In the end, isn’t all about being a champion and winning over ourselves?

By the way, when I was six or seven I created my own superhero character. His name was Captain Virtue. The first installment of his saga was entitled, “The Virtues of Captain Virtue.” Sure, it was redundant but this was also around the time I also wrote my first song, “Your Love Gives Me Heartburn.”

Buster Crabbe as Buck Rogers with Philson Ahn and Constance Moore

Superhero movies are in very much in vogue these days. Especially since they can finally do the special effects justice. As I write this, they are showing an ad for the Green Lantern movie on TV. Coming in June. Last week, I caught up with Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer. The effects were spectacular. When I was growing up they were so hokey. If you want an idea of the kind of special effects folks my age had to put up with, check out Turner Classic Movies on Saturday mornings and watch an episode of the 1939 serial Buck Rogers (and stayed tuned for a Tarzan movie). I wasn’t around in 1939, but special effects had not advanced much by the time I was.

Back in my day, you might have been able to make a reasonably decent Green Lantern movie but there was no way you could do the Fantastic 4. Kids today who are into this stuff are so lucky. And while I’m at it, I just have to tip my hat once more to Stan Lee and all the other creative geniuses at Marvel Comics, who in the 1960’s not only came up with great superheroes but also great super-villains. I mean the idea of a being who goes around consuming worlds to get the energy he needs to sustain himself (Galactus), aided by a “herald” who travels the universe on a cosmic surfboard (The Silver Surfer) is just, well, the only word for it is cool. Maybe they are just comic books, but the characters and story lines are a match for anything I’ve read in “serious” science fiction.

Speaking of heroes, another tip of the hat to one of my real life heroes: today is Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday. Being a big Dylan fan, I thought about writing something special but I couldn’t think of anything to say. After all, everything that’s been said about Bob has been said already. Like this:

This panel was published 40 years ago! Good grief!!

Iconic is A Six-Letter Word

As some of you may be aware I am a Bob Dylan fan, and as such I would be remiss if I did not mention the passing of Suze Rotolo, Dylan’s former girlfriend in the early ‘60s who appeared with him on the cover of his second album.

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan was  my second Dylan album. I was in Junior High, I think. I remember laying on my bed listening to this album, staring at that cover, wishing I was older and could go wherever I wanted to, do anything I wanted to – to be free, like Bob Dylan and his girlfriend. Only somewhere warmer than New York City.

You can read Suze Rotolo’s obituary here in the LA Times, and if you do please click on the link where it reads “later had a career as an artist” (or here).She was more than just a former girlfriend, or a Warhol-like icon.

Suze Rotolo passed away on February 24th, from cancer. She was 67.

I once loved a girl, her skin it was bronze
With the innocence of a lamb, she was gentle like a fawn
I courted her proudly but now she is gone
Gone as the season she’s taken

Bob Dylan, “Ballad in Plain D”

Another iconic photo

Jane Russell died Monday. She was 89. When I worked at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in the 1980’s I used to see her all the time. Particularly in the bar. I hate to say it but I always thought she was drunk. Later I learned that she suffered from macular degeneration, which probably accounts for the way her mouth and jaw seemed a bit loose or off-kilter. A little lesson in judging things by appearance.

For the last three weeks I have been watching  Any Human Heart on PBS, based on the 2002 novel (subtitled: “The Intimate Journals of Logan Mountstuart”) by William Boyd. Apparently some reviewers found it trite, but I enjoyed it. The series is about a novelist looking back over his life, spanning his time in Paris in the 1920s to New York in the ‘50s and ’80s London. During his life journey, he meets a number of notable people, including Ernest Hemingway, Ian Fleming and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor – the exiled British king and his mistress Wallis Simpson.

Throughout the series, scenes are interspersed of Mountstuart as an old man, preparing to die, and with that perspective, the revue of his adventures took on a rather sad quality for me. Yet, it’s a mostly upbeat and even humorous program.

Three Mountstuarts

Mountstuart inherited his philosophy of life from his father, who maintained that everything was just a matter of luck. Sometimes you have good luck and sometimes bad. And sometimes, I think that sums it up nicely.

At one point, Mountstuart tells the audience that “every human being is a collection of selves, that change all the time.” It seems to me that is important to remember as we try to nail down this “self’” so that we can destroy it. We are many selves. Each time we display a different aspect of ourselves, it is in a way like taking on another persona. Yet, none of them are truly us. We can be found within the change. Our various personalities come and go, our body gets sick and withers away, and the only constant is change. So somewhere in the midst of these cycles of change, we find our self. We can find it, probably it’s lurking in the coming and going of thoughts.

On this date, 47 years ago:

Some 200,000 people were gathered for “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” an event that was more of a rally than a march. They stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial, where the great man in white marble looked down upon them, and where the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, uttered these historic words:

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

According to biographer Anthony Scaduto, young folksinger Bob Dylan, who was to perform that day along with Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and others, while in a private moment, looked over to the Capitol with a skeptical eye and said, “Think they’re listening? No, they ain’t listening at all.”

Hope and optimism was in the air. The times they were a’changin’. Yet, Dylan had already sensed the dark days ahead.

Only some listened and the country paid a heavy price: riots ignited in cities across the country and the cities went up in flames to the chants of “Burn, Baby, Burn!”, assassinations, student protests over the war in Vietnam turned into violent melees – unrest was as much the tenor of the times as peace and love.

In 1951, the great African-American poet, Langston Hughes wrote:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

I remember a day in April of 1992: I stood on the roof of my building which offers a panoramic view of the Los Angeles basin. The sky to the east was a solid wall of black cloud. Smoke. Plumes of smoke rose from locations all over the city. I went downstairs and on TV was Rodney King, the man savagely beat by the policemen whose acquittals had sparked the riots. Rodney King was speaking to a group of reporters. He looked confused, overwhelmed, like a man caught in a Kafkaesque nightmare. He said, “Can’t we all . . . just . . . get along?”

It seems so simple. If we could just get along . . .

Another Buddhist blogger, Adam, at Fly Like A Crow, wrote yesterday that he was tired of talking about race. I left a comment on his blog, agreeing. I am tired of talking about race. I am tired of racism. I am tired of everything having to be an issue. Tired of no one listening and everyone shouting. I am tired of young people dying in wars that should not be waged. I am tired of terrorism, and really tired of what it has done to our lives and our politics. I’m tired of the way that we can’t get along.

I changed my mind about that comment. I realize now that I can’t stop talking. We can’t be silent when there is injustice in the world. No matter how weary we may be, we can’t give in to complacency. We are interdependent, so when one dream is deferred, all of our dreams are deferred.

The former Mayor of Los Angeles, the late Tom Bradley (an African-American) once proposed the rather controversial idea of taking kids out of the ghettos and barrios and putting them into camps where they could get the kind of education and exposure to positive thinking they deserved. The problem he said was that many children, African-American youth especially, didn’t know how to dream. After being beat down for so many generations, they had lost the ability to dream. Their parents didn’t teach it to them because their parents had not taught it to them.

Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream and almost fifty years later the dream is still deferred for too many Americans. Hate crimes are on the rise. The nation is a battleground and the ominous signs of violent confrontations once again are on the horizon.

Yesterday I also read a piece by Katie Loncke at The Buddhist Channel who said she disagreed with the notion that smiling at strangers on the subway is resisting militarism. But that is just the sort of thing that many people can do in the midst of their busy lives to keep talking. We don’t have to open our mouths to communicate. It seems to me, from my experience, that a smile can be a pretty powerful thing.

Loncke talked about inner work and outer work. I don’t know what that means. The work is both. There is no duality. In Buddhism we call it esho funi – self and environment are two but not two. However, the environment itself is really one. We all share the same environment, this world. When we strive to make it better for others, we’re making it better for ourselves, too.

We need to keep talking, but even more importantly, we need to listen. We should be like Kuan Yin, the Bodhisattva of compassion, the Hearer of the Cries of the World. We need to lay down our soldier arms, lay down our barbs and jabs, our hate and selfishness – lay down these arms so that we can embrace our brothers and sisters, so that we can smile and hold them close, and hear their cries, and smother those cries with our understanding and compassion.

First smile, then listen, and then talk . . .We cannot continue to defer this universal dream.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream . . .

If you have never watched or heard the complete speech delivered by Dr. King on August 28, 1963, here it is:

This is Bob Dylan with Joan Baez at the March singing “When The Ship Comes In” along with a snippet of Dylan doing “Only A Pawn in Their Game” (both songs introduced by the late actor and social activist, Ozzie Davis):

Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood with his memories in a trunk
Passed this way an hour ago with his friend, a jealous monk . . .

Einstein on Desolation Row

Now you would not think to look at him but he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin on Desolation Row.

- Bob Dylan (b. May 24, 1941)

Speaking of Einstein, here’s something that was translated by a friend of mine from a speech he gave in Berlin during the 1920′s:

To belong to those humans who are allowed and able to devote their best powers to the observation and research of objective, non-temporary matters means a special grace.

How happy and thankful I am that I am blessed with this grace, which creates a far-reaching independence of personal fate and of the behaviour of fellow man.

But this independence must not make us blind of the knowledge and duties which binds us constantly to the former, present, and future humankind. Our situation on earth seems strange. Everyone of us appears to be here unwilling and uninvited for a short stay, without knowing  why and what for. We only feel in our daily life that man is because of others. Because of those we love and numerous other beings with whom we are united in destiny. Often I feel oppressed when I think how largely my life is based on the work of my fellow man. And I know how much I owe them.

I never strove for affluence and luxury. And I even feel contempt for it. My passion for social justice often brought me into conflict with people, as well my dislike of any relation or dependence which didn’t appear to me absolutely necessary.

Always I respect the individual and harbor insuperable dislike of violence and of the club. For all these motives I am a passionate pacifist and antimilitarist, I decline all kind of nationalism, even it behaves as patriotism.

Privileges springing from position and property always appeared to me as unjust and disastrous. As well an excessive personality cult. It is true, that I am a typical “one-horse-carriage” in my daily life, but the consciousness to belong to the invisible community of those who strive for truth, beauty, and justice never allowed the feeling of loneliness to arise.

The most beautiful and deepest that man can experience is the feeling of the mysterious. It is the foundation of religion as well as of all deeper striving of art and science.

Who never experienced that seems to me if not a dead person but then a blind person.

To feel that behind the experience of things there is something hidden and unreachable for our spirit, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirect and as a weak reflection, that is religiousness.

In this sense, I am religious. It is sufficient for me to have a presentiment in amazement of these mysteries, and to try with humility to comprehend intellectually a weak reflection of this sublime structure of being.

Donovan and Dylan

Yesterday was the birthday of a singer and songwriter named Donovan Leitch. He turned 64.  In September of 1965 he had a hit with a song called Universal Soldier. He was one of those people who sang about peace and love.

The first concert I ever attended was Donovan at the Loyola Field House in New Orleans. He played solo with just an acoustic guitar. I can still remember how his beautiful voice seemed to float in the air like incense.

Some considered Donovan to be a lightweight, a would-be Dylan, a copy-cat. I gave him more credit than that. He could be rather syrupy at times, and he didn’t have the hard edge that Dylan had.  Even so, to my mind, Sunshine Superman was one of the best albums of that period and I think it helped pave the way for the prog-rock to come.

Donovan was also responsible for turning me onto Eastern philosophy. Partially responsible, along with the Beatles. I think it was in the summer or fall of ’67 that Life magazine ran a big spread of the Beatles and Donovan and the Beach Boys going to India to hang out with the Maharishi. A lot of great color pictures. Everyone looked very cool. I thought Eastern spirituality was very cool, and so did many others. All of the sudden my favorite rock artists started turning out music that was Eastern flavored and they all had their own gurus.  The Rascals got into Swami Satchidananda and Integral Yoga and for the Who it was Meher Baba. I can’t remember the others.

The Beatles disassociated themselves with the Maharishi, after he allegedly hit on Mia Farrow in Rishikesh, which inspired John Lennon’s song on the “White Album” called Sexy Sadie. Donovan became involved with some other guru whose name escapes me now. I think Mike Love was the only one who stuck with Maharishi and TM.

At first, I was merely aping my heroes. I wanted to be cool, too. However, there was something more going on. I wanted to find my own religion. Technically, I already had one. I was a Christian, a Presbyterian to be specific. But at that time I lived in New Orleans and I was disgusted by the way the men in the church I went to acted so pious in the pews on Sunday mornings and then told “coon” jokes outside when the service was over. It made me feel uncomfortable about Christianity. I blamed the religion instead of the men, even as Dylan famously put it, they were not to blame, only pawns in some game. I came to understand that prejudice, as we used to call it, was a form of brainwashing handled down from generation to generation.

In any event, Christianity no longer spoke to me, if indeed it ever did.

The first book of Eastern philosophy I read was a book of quotes by Gandhi.  It’s wonderful to discover something at an early age that stays with you for the rest of your life. That book set the ideal of non-violence in my mind and it has never left.

Indirectly, Bob Dylan opened the door to Buddhism; it was through him that I found the Beat Generation: Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, and Jack Kerouac-the Dharma Bums.

Buddhism made sense to me, although I didn’t understand it very well.  There weren’t a lot of books available on Buddhism then, and the one’s that were around, I found confusing. I didn’t understand Buddhism but it felt right.

The rest is . . . well, a long story, and it’s not what I wanted to write about in this post. I hate to admit this, especially since you have read this far, but I don’t really have any point to make here. I just wanted to say something about Bob Dylan.

Bob also has a birthday this month, on the 24th. He’ll be 69. Wayfaring to the Endless Further with the rest of us, he’s been on the “Never Ending Tour” since 1988 and I’ve seen between 20 and 25 of those shows. I can’t say that I have cared for much of Bob’s stuff since Time Out of Mind, but I hope he keeps on keeping on like a bird . . .

Now in Bob Dylan fan circles right now there is a big hullabaloo over these recent comments by Joni Mitchell,Bob is not authentic at all: He’s a plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception. We are like night and day, he and I.”

She’s right, he is a plagiarist. Always has been. However, that is also part of the folk tradition and the great poetry he’s written by far outshines any individual lines he might have stole. I long for a bit more creativity from Bob these days, but I also imagine it’s tough being the greatest living songwriter and having to come up with new material, which some will invariably  compare to past work.

One thing that has amazed me in the last twenty years or so is how young people are drawn to Bob. I once sat next to this nineteen year old kid at a Dylan concert at the Greek Theater (I was in my forties then) and he was raved enthusiastically about his admiration for Bob like he was the greatest thing since sliced bread. What was it that fired a guy his age up about an old man like Dylan? If you are a Bob fan, you know the answer to that. If you’re not, then it doesn’t matter.

I would like to introduce you to a young man who is also a Bob fan and every Friday on his blog it’s Bob Dylan Friday! He is obviously a guy with excellent taste in music. His name is RT and he just wrote a literary essay on Mr. Dylan, so check it out. The blog is called sometimes rhymes.

Well, that’s all I wanted to say. I know it was “too much of nothing,” but that’s the breaks. Just wanted to tip my hat to Donovan and Dylan. Their music has enriched my life and pointed me in many wonderful directions. Happy birthday to both.

Here’s a YouTube link to Donovan’s song based on the Heart Sutra: Nirvana.

And here’s a YouTube link to me doing a Bob Dylan song (Yeah, I know, I misspelled the song title).