Sunday, February 17, 2008

Self-will... and a Cup of Tea

From 101 Zen Stories

A Cup of Tea

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor's cup full, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. "It is overfull. No more will go in!"

"Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"

From The Way of Chuang Tzu by Thomas Merton

The Inner Law

He whose law is within himself
Walks in hiddenness.
His acts are not influenced
By approval or disapproval.
He whose law is outside himself
Directs his will to what is
Beyond his control
And seeks
To extend his power
Over objects.

He who walks in hiddenness
Has light to guide him
In all his acts.
He who seeks to extend his control
Is nothing but an operator.
While he thinks he is
Surpassing others,
Others see him merely
Straining, stretching,
To stand on tiptoe.

When he tries to extend his power
Over objects,
Those objects gain control
Of him.

He who is controlled by objects
Loses possession of his inner self:
If he no longer values himself,
How can he value others?
If he no longer values others,
He is abandoned.
He has nothing left!

There is no deadlier weapon than the will!
The sharpest sword
Is not equal to it!
There is no robber so dangerous
As Nature (Yang and Yin).
Yet it is not nature
That does the damage:
It is man's own will!

From Tao Te Ching chapter #24 translated by Charles Muller

Standing on tiptoe, you are unsteady...

Standing on tiptoe, you are unsteady.
Straddle-legged, you cannot go.
If you show yourself, you will not be seen.
If you affirm yourself, you will not shine.
If you boast, you will have no merit.
If you promote yourself, you will have no success.

Those who abide in the Way call these
Leftover food and wasted action
And all things dislike them.

Therefore the person of the Way does not act like this.

From the book Alcoholics Anonymous

Being convinced, we were at Step Three, which is that we decided to turn our will and our life over to God as we understood Him. Just what do we mean by that, and just what do we do?

The first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success. On that basis we are almost always in collision with something or somebody, even though our motives are good. Most people try to live by self-propulsion. Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great. Everybody, including himself, would be pleased. Life would be wonderful. In trying to make these arrangements our actor may sometimes be quite virtuous. He may be kind, considerate, patient, generous; even modest and self-sacrificing. On the other hand, he may be mean, egotistical, selfish ad dishonest. But, as with most humans, he is more likely to have varied traits.

What usually happens? The show doesn't come off very well. He begins to think life doesn't treat him right. He decides to exert himself more. He becomes, on the next occasion, still more demanding or gracious, as the case may be. Still the play does not suit him....

Selfishness - self-centeredness! That, we think is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt.

So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves... an extreme example of self-will run riot....

We are now at Step Three. Many of us said to our Maker, as we understood Him:

"God, I offer myself to Thee - to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!"

Saturday, February 09, 2008

And the Votes are in!

Bo Lipari has the news...

Currently, only one County Board of Elections chose the LibertyVote DRE (Hamilton), three chose Premier’s Automark (Albany, Schenectady, and Rockland), one chose ES&S’s Automark (New York City), and two whose choice is still unknown (Cayuga, Ulster). All other counties have selected the Sequoia ImageCast Ballot Marking Device/Scanner combination. At the moment, no county has picked the Avante DRE.

This is a tremendous affirmation of the job done by citizens here in New York to ensure the integrity of their vote.

After all the lobbying money spent by DRE vendors (particularly Liberty) and last minute lawsuits by Liberty and Avante to get the courts to overrule the State Board of Elections Commissioners the following county-by-county listing (PDF) of choices compiled by Bo is particularly sweet.

Most counties have chosen the Sequoia ImageCast (executive summary pdf).

This list is not locked in yet as counties have until Tuesday, Feb. 12 to change their minds but the results here are absolutely outstanding.

Even Albany County which yesterday appeared to be heading towards DRE's has chosen an Optical Scan compatible system.

Everyone around the state involved in making this happen should be very proud of their efforts. This shows that citizen powered action can change the direction of government and take control of our democracy.

There is lots more to be done but this is a great start.

Something strange and rare just occurred...

I find myself disagreeing with Chris Bowers. Of all the front line bloggers in the progressive community Chris is the one I have found myself most often in agreement with over the last several years in content, analysis, opinion and purpose.

It is with a bit of dismay that I read his piece How I Could Quit the Democratic Party from yesterday and today's follow-up There is no Democracy, just Clinton and Obama.

So it is as a friend and comrade in arms that I enter into this discussion saying...

"Chris, you ignorant slut!"

First of all I am just surprised that you let your anger, disgust, ad frustration get the better of you to then point where you wrote what is essentially a GBCW.

Dude! Things aren't any worse today then they were yesterday, then they were in 2004, then they were in 2000.

In reading your GBCW, not surprisingly, I found that I agreed completely with your view of things. The system is broken. Democracy is good. Oligarchy is bad. Where we diverge is your conclusion.

Why do you think you were elected a precinct captain and subsequently a state democratic party committeeman?

It's because you are a leader. And who and what do you lead? You lead people that want to change/fix the broken system. You lead change. That's your job. No backing down now. No matter how pissed off and frustrated you get. We need you where you are doing what you are doing.

The electoral process in this country is broken. We know that. 2000 showed it all too clearly. Management guru Tom Peters is fond of saying...
"If it ain't broke, you haven't looked at it yet."

How many of us really ever considered hanging chads, butterfly ballots, recount procedures, and the like before Florida 2000? How many of us considered the role of super delegates before this years ever so close presidential primary?

Systems been broken for years. It's just that we are now seeing aspects of the broken process because all of a sudden things are close enough for them to matter.

How broken is the system, I can't count high enough to count the ways...

Partisan Elections officials are broken. The Electoral College is broken. Gerrymandering is broken. Primary scheduling is broken. Florida and Michigan are broken. Iowa and New Hampshire are broken. The caucus system is broken. DRE's as voting technology is broken. Partisan purging of voter rolls is broken. Campaign finance is broken. Media manipulation and propaganda networks is broken. Phone jamming and push polling is broken. Swift boating is broken. A severally weakened legislature is broken. A partisan supreme court is broken. A politicized Depart of Justice is broken. A politicized FEC and FCC is broken. The unitary executive concept is a broken concept.

Half our battle today is against right wing authoritarianism. Half the battle is against right wing ideology and legislation. Half the battle is against corporate and plutocratic dominance. Half the battle is against simple blind greed. Half the battle is just your standard run of the mill power struggle between the republican and democratic parties.

But half the battle is within the Democratic Party. Has been for years. The party that foisted an incredibly weak John Kerry and incompetent Bob Shrum and other beltway consultants is broken. A corporate and plutocratic dominated DLC is broken. A progressive caucus that is the largest caucus in the party and also the weakest and most ineffectual is broken. A small blue dog caucus that is powerful because it sells out the rest of the party to the right wing instead of being neutralized and marginalized for doing that is broken. The primary scheduling system is broken. Super delegates are broken.

We've a lot of work to do. Clinton and Obama are not going to save the day. There is no magic fix. You know that as well as I do. You expressed it well in your concern of the cult of personality surrounding the push for Al Gore. We have work to do.

You my friend are well placed to do some of that work. The last thing we need you to do is quit the party when you are one of the few of us that is as well positioned as you are on your state committee.

The super delegate process is broken? Guess what. Pennsylvania hasn't voted yet. As a state committeeman you are in position to move your state committee and your states super delegates to do the will of the democratic electorate. Exactly how that will should be determined and expressed is up to some debate but you are in good position to make that debate happen. Since that will hasn't been expressed by the voters in PA yet you can't be (accurately) accused of having partisan purposes rather than democratic ones.

We need you to move the discussion forward. Addressing the super delegate situation now is simply a band-aid to a broken process. A long-term democratic fix to the entire process needs to happen as well. You can't do it alone. This is why we urge activists everywhere to get involved in their local democratic committees. We need new, reform minded, blood at every level in every state in order to fix the massively broken system. In the legislatures... and in the party.

The American Experiment is badly broken right now and it is our job to fix it. It is our generations responsibility... but it is also that of every other generation. It is a constant process. The system is based on maintaining certain tensions. They skew one way then skew another. Leaning one way or another is par for the course but right now it is badly skewed toward plutocracy and opening the door for authoritarianism. We have work to do.

You know as well as I do that the Democratic Party is the only viable vehicle available to us to fix this mess. In the process we need to fix the mess that is the Democratic Party as well.

Get pissed. Yell and scream. Go break something.

And then get yer ignorant ass back to work.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Perfect Joy

Is there to be found on earth a fullness of joy, or is there no such thing? Is there some way to make life fully worth living, or is this impossible? If there is such a way, how do you go about finding it? What shouold you try to do? What should you seek to avoid? What should be the goal in which your activity comes to rest? What should you accept? What should you refuse to accept? What should you love? What should you hate?

What the world values is money, reputation, long life, achievement. What it counts as joy is health and comfort of body, good food, fine clothes, beautiful things to look at, pleasant music to listen to.

What it condemns is lack of money, a low social rank, a reputation for being no good, and an early death.

What it considers misfortune is bodily discomfort and labor, no chance to get your fill of good food, not having good clothes to wear, having no way to amuse or delight the eye, no pleasant music to listen to. If people find that they are deprived of these things, they go into a panic or fall into despair. They are so concerned for their life that their anxiety makes life unbearable, even when they have the things they think they want. Their very concern for enjoyment makes them unhappy.

The rich make life intolerable, driving themselves in order to get more and more money which they cannot really use. In so doing they are alienated from themselves, and exhaust themselves in their own service as though they were slaves of others.

The ambitious run day and night in pursuit of honors, constantly in anguish about the success of their plans, dreading the miscalculations that may wreck everything. Thus they are alienated from themselves, exhausting their real life in service of the shadow created by their insatiable hope.

The birth of a man is the birth of his sorrow.

The longer he lives, the more stupid he becomes, because his anxiety to avoid unavoidable death becomes more and more acute. What bitterness! He lilves for what is always out of reach! His thirst for survival in the future makes him incapable of living in the present.

What about the self-sacrificing officials and scholars? They are honored by the world because they are good, upright, self-sacrificing men.

Yet their good character does not preserve them from unhappiness, nor even from ruin, disgrace, and death.

I wonder, in that case, if their "goodnness" is really so good after all! Is it perhaps a source of unhappiness?

Suppose you admit they are happy. But is it a happy thing to have a character and a career that lead to one's own eventual destruction? On the other hand, can you call them "unhappy" if, in sacrificing themselves, they save the lives and fortunes of others?

Take the case of the minister who conscientiously and uprightly opposes an unjust decision of his king! Some say, "Tell the truth, and if the King will not listen, let him do what he likes. You have no further obligation."

On the other hand, Tzu Shu continued to resist the unjust policy of his sovereign. He was consequently destroyed. But if he had not stood up for what he believed to be right his name would not be held in honor.

So there is the question, Shall the course he took be called "good" if, at the same time, it was fatal to him?

I cannot tell if what the world considers "happiness" is happiness or not. All I know is that when I consider the way they go about attaining it, I see them carried away headlong, grim and obsessed, in the general onrush of the human herd, unable to stop themselves or to change their direction. All the while they claim to be just on the point of attaining happiness.

For my part, I cannot accept their standards, whether of happiness or unhappiness. I ask myself if after all their concept of happiness has any meaning whatever.

My opinion is that you never find happiness until you stop looking for it. My greatest happiness consists precisely in doing nothing whatever that is calculated to obtain happiness: and this, in the minds of most people, is the worst possible course.

I will hold to the saying that: "Perfect joy is to be without joy. Perfect praise is to be without praise."

If you ask "what ought to be done" and "what ought not to be done" on earth in order to produce happiness, I answer that these questions do not have an answer. There is no way of determining such things.

Yet at the same time, if I cease striving for happiness, the "right" and the "wrong" at once become apparent all by themselves.

Contentment and well-being at once become possible the moment you cease to act with them in view, and if you practice non-doing (wu wei), you will have both happiness and well-being.

Here is how I sum it up:

Heaven does nothing: its non-doing is its serenity.
Earth does nothing: its non-doing is its rest.
From the union of these two non-doings
All actions proceed,
All things are made.
How vast, how invisible
This coming-to-be!
All things come from nowhere!
How vast, how invisible-
No way to explain it!
All beings in their perfection
Are born of non-doing.
Hence it is said:
"Heaven and earth do nothing
Yet there is nothing they do not do."

Where is the man who can attain
To this non-doing?

- The Way of Chuang Tzu by Thomas Merton

Talking about Power

Great power, not clinging to power,
has true power.
Lesser power, clinging to power,
lacks true power.
Great power, doing nothing,
has nothing to do.
Lesser power, do nothing,
has an end in view.

The good the truly good to
has no end in view.
The right the very righteous do
has an end in view.
And those who act in true obedience to law
roll up their sleeves
and make the disobedient obey.

So: when we lose the Way we find power;
losing power we find goodness;
losing goodness we find righteousness;
losing righteousness we're left with obedience.

Obedience to law is the dry husk
of loyalty and good faith.
Opinion is the barren flower of the Way,
the beginning of ignorance.

So great-minded people
abide in the kernel not the husk,
in the fruit not the flower,
letting the one go, keeping the other.

- Tao Te Ching #38 - Ursula K. LeGuin's rendition

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

On this Primary Day - An Ode to Al Gore

The Turtle

Chuang Tzu with his bamboo pole
Was fishing in Pu river.

The Prince of Chu
Sent two vice-chancellors
With a formal document:
"We hereby appoint you
Prime Minister."

Chuang Tzu held his bamboo pole.
Still watching Pu river,
He said:
"I am told there is a sacred tortoise,
Offered and canonized
Three thousand years ago,
Venerated by the prince,
Wrapped in silk,
In a precious shrine
On an altar
In the Temple.

"What do you think:
Is it better to give up one's life
And leave a sacred shell
As an object of cult
In a cloud of incense
Three thousand years,
Or better to live
As a plain turtle
Dragging its tail in the mud?"

"For the turtle," said the Vice-Chancellor,
"Better to live
And drag its tail in the mud!"

"Go home!" said Chuang Tzu.
"Leave me here
To drag my tail in the mud!"

- The Way of Chuang Tzu by Thomas Merton