Month: February 2018

A student once asked [the Zen master Joshu]: “If I haven’t anything in my mind, what shall I do?”

Joshu replied: “Throw it out.”

“But if I haven’t anything, how can I throw it out?” continued the questioner.

“Well,” said Joshu, “then carry it out.”


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Notes from Theology on Tap

Zen is steeped in Buddhism, which means its roots are in pantheistic monism: God is the world and all is one. The same spirit (Brahman) occupies everything. All is Brahman: I’m Brahman, you’re Brahman, that chair is Brahman. If you think you perceive a distinction between you and the toilet, you are caught in illusion.

Zen seeks to crash through all distinctions. No subject-object, no me-you. There is just being.

“If you meet the Buddha, kill him.” If you see something distinct, especially something that seeks to convey meaning, you’re experiencing a mistake.

Put aside the theological error. That doesn’t concern us tonight. What is more important, what makes Zen relevant to a Christian, is its approach to smash through the illusion (or, more accurately, what it thinks is illusion). Its approach answers in large part those three mentally tricky examples I started with tonight.

Again: If you meet the Buddha, kill him. Zen doesn’t want you out there, looking for the Buddha. If you’re looking for something, you’ve impliedly fallen into the trap of thinking you’re not the Buddha and the Buddha isn’t you. Again, no subject-object.

Zen doesn’t even care much about pantheistic monism. To think about it is to get caught in the subject-object. Many commentators say Zen isn’t metaphysical at all – not religious at all. It’s just an ethic, a way of living, an attitude, a school of psychology. It’s many things, but it’s not religious, many argue. I tend to agree with them.

The Zen approach is: “Just.” Just look. Just enjoy. Just see.

Have the eyes of the little child: The little kid never thinks about the enjoyment . . . or rage or whatever. He just is. We know that, starting about age four, children start to understand themselves as separate beings. … Read the rest


misc-rambling-picMiscellaneous Rambling

Ceiling. TrastevereWow, glorious weather! Last night, I put up two short low tunnels at the production site. The plan: accelerate the drying-out process, so I can prepare the beds under the tunnels in two weeks, recover them with the tunnels thereby adding heat for weeds to sprout, burn them off with the nifty Red Dragon 2-3 weeks later, then plant the beds for an early spring crop of greens. We’ll see.

Ceiling. TrastevereI also discovered last night that the rock hard topsoil that I couldn’t penetrate with a pick last May can be penetrated perfectly with a shovel now. The melted snow has obviously saturated the top soil, giving a consistency very similar to ordinary soil in, say, June. I was able to expand the production site tillable ground by about 100 square feet last night, just be using my shovel to extend and add compost to eleven rows that used to be hard as a rock. I’m heading back out late this afternoon, then taking Meg (turns 17 today) out for her birthday.

Ceiling. TrastevereBaby 5 is 17. Man, I’m getting old.

Ceiling. TrastevereWhy are $2 bills so rare? Because people think they’re rare so they hoard them, thereby keeping them out of circulation. But they’re not rare. You can get them at any bank.

Ceiling. TrastevereI’m increasingly becoming a big fan of Jordan Peterson. If you haven’t been turned onto him, I strongly encourage you to give him a try. A good place to start: This Econtalk podcast interview with him (2/19/18). Great stuff. … Read the rest


Time to Retreat

Ceiling. TrastevereWell, the Cursillo was definitely better than the first three retreats that left me flummoxed, but I didn’t like it and couldn’t even finish it. I guess I’m not retreat material, which means I’m not a good Catholic, based on everything I hear from places like EWTN (“Everyone should make a retreat,” you “need” to make a retreat, etc.). I simply don’t know what to make of it, except that I’m simply not Catholic.

Ceiling. TrastevereBut I want to emphasize something: I am definitely the odd-man-out here. The retreat last weekend was chock-full of men better than me. The Cursillo brings many people to appreciate what they have in the Church and to lead their lives in accordance with that appreciation. It’s a very good thing, and I believe in it (and made a donation to the movement before I left). It simply, however, isn’t for me. Other than the speakers (who dripped appealing sincerity . . . they could’ve been lecturing on the proper way to paint a latrine and I would’ve been taken by their sincerity), the whole weekend is set up in ways that aesthetically and mentally grate against my personality. It’s nothing personal because it’s all personality: One retreat form isn’t going to fit everyone (cue Dave Mason).

Ceiling. TrastevereIn that “Etc.” link above, Fr. John McCloskey writes, “Take along the New Testament and at least one spiritual reading book that you intend to finish by the end of the retreat.” Whaaaaaaat?! I’ve never been to a retreat that, other than time for sleeping at night and time for showering, leaves you alone for more than twenty minutes. I, seriously, had troubles finding time to defecate on Friday (I need 21 minutes). But hey, jimmy crack corn, and I don’t care: I ain’t never … Read the rest


Cursillo weekend. Just this today:

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Brews You Can Use

Drinking in China: The Qingdao Beer Festival. According to the author, it’s a terrible festival: boring, bad food, bad beer. It’s a good, humorous read, but if you just want a few of the highlights:

Beer brewing in Qingdao began in the early 20th century when the Europeans carved up China amongst themselves. The Kaiser’s Germany got Qingdao, and settlers there did the exact same thing they did in Wisconsin: they opened a brewery. . . .

This is a civilization that has never known the expressions, “After you,” “You can’t smoke here,” or “Please lower your voice,” and it was all on noxious, shoving, ear-shattering display. . . .

Eric Grochowsky, 35, a math teacher at the international school, said the Chinese were big drinkers and have their own ways of getting shitfaced. “They definitely have their own rituals,” he said. “They toast to something, then bang back whatever they’re drinking. They want to pass out, it’s a machismo thing.”

This is most interesting drinking story of the young year: The Case of the Hidden Cases of Canadian Club. Starting in 1967, Hiram Walker & Sons started hiding cases of Canadian Club around the world for treasure hunters to find. It generated a huge amount of PR interest, and the gimmick continued until 1981. As of today, eight of the cases still haven’t been found and no one, including the company, know where they are. All we know is, six of the locations can be deduced from the old ads: the Yukon Territory, Loch Ness, Tanzania, Robinson Crusoe Island, the North Pole, and Lake Placid, NY.

I’m at the Cursillo, where, I’m reasonably certain, they won’t be offering much to drink. I wrote this post earlier in the week and programmed it to … Read the rest


A Bullet Life of JRR Tolkien 1892-1973

Father died when Tolkien was 4. When he was 8, his mother became Roman Catholic, to the fury of her relatives. They withheld financial support in hopes she’d renounce the Church. She didn’t and had to go to work. She died four years later due to lack of money for medical treatment. She left her two sons under the guardianship of the Oratorian priest Francis Morgan.

It’s a sad story, but you need to understand what it meant for Tolkien. As a young adult, he wrote of it: She “was a martyr indeed, and it is not to everybody that God grants so easy a way to his great gifts . . . giving us a mother who killed herself with labour and trouble to ensure us keeping the faith.” One scholar writes of this: “Cliches about the influence of devout mothers do not begin to describe the force of an inheritance like this. . . . Tolkien saw his actual mother collapse into what proved a diabetic coma whence she died six days later . . . Whatever he did was going to be Catholic. . . . to think of Tolkien’s labours as somehow removed from his church is thus as absurd as thinking of them as somehow removed from his life.” Owen Dudley Edwards, Edinburgh University.

He was an intense Catholic the rest of his life. Professor of philology at Oxford.

Now, combine his Catholicism with what he did in Middle Earth. Middle Earth was a “sub-creation,” a phrase Tolkien used in a famous essay he wrote on faerie tales. In that essay, he said ‘sub-creation’ involves the creation of an imaginary world as much as possible along the lines God might have used, had he decided to create it.… Read the rest


I am intrigued with the points made by Gabriel Marcel in his book, Man Against Mass Society, a book that came out in English in 1962. Modern society is, to Marcel, mass society, a society where public life is relentlessly presented to us as reality, but it is not reality because people in public are never being true to their real existence. If people accept it as reality, they are accepting a false reality—which is, ontologically speaking, tantamount to accepting nothingness as reality.

I realize this is an odd concept, so it might help to explain by reference to another existentialist thinker, Soren Kierkegaard, who wrote about the “leveling” that takes place in society. When people are in public, they never behave like their “authentic” self (the self in touch with reality, with God; the recollected self). The public, therefore, does not truly exist. The perceived public is merely a bunch of people who don’t really exist (because they don’t exist while in public), hence the public is not real. When people turn to the public for guidance into morals, ethics, etc., they are turning to a non-entity. As people increasingly live in public—as is the case in mass society—they turn to a non-entity for their signals on how to live. The signals cannot help but be banal—not because the individuals are shallow (though in mass society they increasingly are), but because the individuals while in public are shallow. When people are forced into the public, they must struggle mightily to ignore the shallow signals, so they can live an authentic self—if at all possible, recollecting themselves while in public, but at least recollecting themselves when the work-a-day world gives a few minutes of peace.

In mass society, nothingness is king, with the result that relativity rules. … Read the rest