The View From In Here

When I’m not here are you?

When I’m not present, does the world continue?  Or, do things take form and function only at my pleasure?  If I’m not there, does the Amazon plunge over cliffs and glide past cut-banks, does a Raven rasp in a Sitka spruce, does a tornado rip across Oklahoma City, do waves kiss Waikiki, does Sun bake the Gobi Desert?  Do people haggle, laugh, make love, and kill in my absence?  When I sleep, does the Universe exist?

The classic conundrum: If a Douglas Fir falls in the Mt Hood National Forest and I’m not there to hear, does it make a sound?  The pragmatic answer: A falling tree vibrates air molecules, impacting tympanic membranes in my ear, sending electrical nerve impulses to the auditory part of my brain, I “hear”!  The larger question: Do the tree, the Mt Hood National Forest, the Cascade Mountains, North America, Earth, Sun, Moon, the Universe exist when I don’t see and hear?  Or is it all a potential, waiting to collapse as sound and shape at my pleasure?

In physicist Dr. Fred Allen Wolfe’s Taking The Quantum Leap, I learned my grandiose notion has philosophic and scientific support.  It even has a name, “Solipsism.”  The hypothesis that I can only know my experience.  Nothing “outside” may be assumed as “real.”     

Of course, folks far smarter than I have long since recognized the central and crucial role of an “observer” in what is observed.  Robert C. Crease and Charles C. Mann’s The Second Creation; Albert Einstein’s Relativity, “The Special and General Theory.  A clear explanation that anyone can understand”; Paul Cavies and John Gribbin’s The Matter Myth; and Stephen W. Hawking’s A Brief History of Time From the Big Bang to Black Holes seem to point in a Solipsist direction.  Quarks, bugs, trees, cities, continents, Earth, Sun, and Supernova, even you my friend, materialize at my discretion!  I create Reality!

Doing Time

Most prison inmates “do time,” a few are “Lifers.”  Both have more-or-less definite release dates.  We are all lifers.  What to do ‘til we’re released? 

In The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck gives Tom Joad an answer, “Look, Ma, stop your worryin’.  I’m a-gonna tell you somepin about bein’ in the pen.  You can’t go thinkin’ when you’re gonna be out.  You’d go nuts.  You got to think about that day, an’ the nex’ day, about the ball game Sat’dy.  That’s what you got to do.  Ol’ timers does that.  A new young fella gets buttin’ his head on the cell door.  He’s thinkin’ how long its’s gonna be.  Whyn’t you do that?  Jus’ take ever’ day.”  Looking back over eighty-four years, I appreciate Tom’s wisdom.  “Jus’ take ever’ day” at a time.

How do Americans “do time”?  For the majority it is work, entertainment, recreation.  For all it is relationship. 

From young adulthood to our fifth or sixth decade, the average American, does much of her or his time in a “job,” in busy-ness.  Those lucky enough to “retire” lose this copout.  After thirty plus years as a Civil Engineer, friend Kim discovered there are, “a lot of hours too fill in a day.”  Retiring after thirty-plus years as a Professional Land Surveyor, I felt like the hapless Coyote in a “Road Runner” cartoon, realizing he’s raced off a cliff, staring down wide-eyed into a canyon.  Luckily, Diane recommended William Bridges’s Transitions.  I learned I was not alone, I’d survive.  Retirement is a new job.  Getting the hang of it takes time.

For most Americans doing time, entertainment is huge!  We are the most entertained citizens since Rome’s Colosseum.*  From Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, “entertain, to hold the attention of; interest; divert; amuse.”  For billions-of-dollars, professional and college baseball, basketball, football and soccer captivate hundreds-of-millions.  High school sports and Little Leagues keep “Soccer Moms” running and Dads coaching.  Disneyland, Disneyworld, Legoland, SeaWorld, Universal Studios and a thousand “theme parks” entertain hundreds-of-millions.  The Internet, Facebook and Social Media capture the attention of billions.  TV, i-phones, i-pads, laptops, and desktops bring us real-time events from around the globe.

Recreation offers every-day, individual or group outlets for doing time.  Webster again, “recreate, to restore, refresh, crate anew  .  .  .  recreation, refresh in body or mind, as after work, by some form of play, amusement, or relaxation.”  When not at work or entertained, we walk, hike, run, bowl, swim, golf, camp, fish, hunt, ski, make or find a thousand other diversions.

Finally, we all share the reason for doing time, why work, entertainment and recreation are worth the effort, Relationship!  Webster, “relate, to bring back  .  .  .  Relation  .  .  .  connection or mode of connection.”  Perhaps secretly, each of us know that without other people, working, being entertained, and recreation are meaningless.  Doing time is about relationship.  About People!  About Love! 

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*Afterthought: Could American’s current thirst for entertainment link to concomitant spikes in homelessness, hunger, vandalism, murders, mass shootings, xenophobia, homophobia, domestic abuse and misogyny?  Is America following Rome’s path to collapse? 

Don and Liz

Wednesday, May 12, House Republican voted to boot Liz Chaney from their number three leadership position.  From TV news and the internet, I gather this rebuff was triggered by Cheney’s repeated assertions Donald J. Trump did not win America’s 2020 Presidential election.  The incontrovertible fact is, Joe Biden was duly elected America’s forty-sixth President!  Virtually all the Representatives voting to oust Cheney know this.  So, why be seen as irrational or fools?

I understand maybe half of Republicans, thirty percent of Americans, swallow Trump’s bogus claim of election fraud.  Apparently, in paying lip service to the former President, Senators and Representatives hope to snag these votes in the future.  In my view, if Liz’s insurrection does or does not get traction, folks who continue supporting Donald’s “Big Steal” lie will be sucked down in his inevitable death spiral.

Pluralistic government demands more than one robust political party.  America needs intelligent, sane Republicans.  They are here.

CBS News found that a fifth of Republicans oppose Liz’s removal.  Republican Representatives Ken Buck, Jamie Herrera Butler, Anthony Gonzales, John Katko, Adam Kitzinger, Peter Meijer, Dan Newhouse, Tom Rice, Fred Upton and David Valadao joined Liz in voting to impeach Trump.  Republican Senators Richard M. Burr, Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse and Patrick J. Toome voted to impeach.  More than 100 Republicans, including former officeholders, have signed a “A Call For American Renewal,” imploring the Republican Party, “to rededicate itself to founding ideals—or else hasten the creation of an alternative.”

Charles Sykes’s How the Right Lost Its Mind, which I have not read, appears to addresses the current Republican party’s dilemma.  According to an online synopsis, Sykes asks, “How did a movement that was defined by its beliefs in limited government, individual liberty, free markets, traditional values, and civility find itself embracing bigotry, political intransigence, demagoguery, and outright falsehood?”  An online Kirkus Review answers: “Sometime in the last decade,” writes Sykes, “conservative commentator Matt Drudge began linking to a website run by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.  By doing so, he broke down the wall that separated the full-blown cranks from the mainstream conservative media, injecting a toxic worldview into the Right’s bloodstream. The conservative movement never recovered.”

Crapshoot

I’m not worried that Trumpsters will commandeer America’s government.  They can’t.  They’re outnumbered.  Do the math.  The plurality of non-Aryan, non-Christian, non-Conservative Americans can only increase.  

Nevertheless, a handful of hardcore Republicans remain convinced that white-skinned, “Christian,” men inherit a right to rule America!  Their words to the rest of us, “Bootstrap yourself up!  Every man for himself!”  But, biology, culture and social strictures make the “equal opportunity” premise behind this challenge unrealistic and unfair.  We are endowed with gifts and handicaps.  Then environment kicks us around, bigtime!

I was born during the Great Depression.  Daddy had a small farm in northeastern Utah.  When President Roosevelt brought Rural Electrification to the Uinta Basin, Daddy dug holes for power poles, strung cable, wired houses and picked up rudiments of electricity.  When construction finished, he was hired to manage the Moon Lake Electric Association.  Friday April 13, 1945 the Hanna, Utah, store lost power.  Late in the day, Daddy raced—I’m told always raced.—to Hanna, climbed a power pole, contacted a 7,200-kilovolt line and died.  Ten days after my eighth birthday.

With a Teaching Certificate from Brigham Young University, Mama moved to Altonah, Utah, and taught school.  They married.  She stopped teaching. Sister Judy and I came along.  After Daddy died, we moved to Salt Lake, then Ferron, Mama’s hometown, where she again began teaching.  For seven drudgerous summers, starting at fifty cents a day, I was Uncle Grant’s “hired man.”

I share this brief biography to emphasize how lucky I am!  I grew up among decent, honest, hardworking people.

Life’s a crapshoot!  Born and raised in East L.A., The Hamptons, South Side Chicago or Miami Beach I’d be a product of that environment. For better or worse, physically or mentally handicapped, New York slum or Beverly Hills, physically or sexually abused, LSGBT who would I be?  Not who I am.

For most of us, Silver Spoon in the mouth or a boot in the ass, the white male supremacy, “Bootstrap yourself up!  Every man for himself!” charge is unfair, unrealistic and absurd!

What Happened?

Not many decades back, who imagined that American families would live in their cars, that for millions, home would be a nylon tent beside a freeway fence or plastic tarp on a city street?  In the World’s wealthiest country, who could have believed tens-of-thousand would push their worldly belongings in shopping carts, sleep on sidewalks in a filthy blankets and stand in Depression-Era soup lines?  Who would have conceived that millions of children’s sole source of food would be school, that demand would overwhelm Food Banks? 

Who could have believed that men whose grandparents sacrificed, suffered, and died to save America from Hitler’s tyranny, would wave swastikas, chant “Jews will not replace us!” and salute “Heil Hitler!”  In their wildest nightmares, who fantasized a President of the United States calling Racists, White Supremacists, Neo-Nazis, Oath Keepers and Proud Boys—Not proud men!—“very fine people”?  Who would believe that President would call his Minions to Washington and order them to assault our Capitol, attempting to stop Congresses Constitutionally mandated certification of the States’ Electors?  And, when the insurrection failed, tell his seditionists, “We love you.”?

Who could have imagined American TV news leading with daily gunfire and a monthly massacre?  That Portland, Oregon, would become a combat zone where, trapped in a culture barring them from productive education, occupation and opportunity, young black men would act out their rage by killing their cohorts?  Who envisioned, in the dark of night, under cover of “Black Lives Matter,” mindless white “Anarchists” would smash windows and set fire to private and public property.  

And Drugs!  Seven decades back in my farm hamlet, medicine was aspirin or Anacin for headache, baking soda for heartburn and Ex-Lax for constipation.  Cuts and scrapes got Mercurochrome, Merthiolate or iodine that stung like hell.  Apart from a half dozen chronic cases, for the rest of us Dr. Turman wrote, and Darrell the Druggist compounded, maybe one prescription in five or ten years.  Now I swallow seven prescribed potions and seven supplements daily.  Decades back, drug commercials were unheard of.  Today Big Pharma spend hundreds-of-millions on ads to rake in billions in profits.  A half-a-century back, who would have believed multi-billion-dollar Cartels would service American’s “Drug” addiction?  

After Ronald Reagan’s “Trickle Down Economics,” the crack between Millionaires, Billionaires, and the rest of us became a chasm!  Despite inevitable handicaps from life’s onset, in a country founded on equality of opportunity and responsibility, who envisioned our Middle Class paying the taxes while a President and other Billionaires and Corporations pay none?  Where pressured to get re-elected would compel members of Congress to accept Big Dollar payoffs for Big Dollar favors. 

Referring to rotting fish, Shakespeare’s Marcellus smelled, “Something  .  .  .   rotten  .  .  .  in Denmark.”  That the favored five percent control over ninety percent of America’s—the World’s?—wealth, stinks!  Where did we go wrong?  Can we fix it?

What happened to America?

Please share!

Playing Soldier

In penning “all men are created equal,” it seems fair to say that, given their culture, our Founding Fathers had Caucasian, perhaps more specifically Anglo-Saxon, men in mind.  Over the two-and-a-half centuries since, their Constitution and twenty-seven amendments make clear that, despite the crapshoot of congenital, physical, mental, experiential, sexual, religious, and ethnic issues, the laws and privileges of United States citizenship apply to all Americans!

From the dawn of humankind, however, ethnic, religious, usually male-dominated, enclaves have viewed themselves as superior.  In the last century, Hitler’s Nazis exterminated Jews and other non-Arians.  Mousseline’s Fascists imposed totalitarian government, authoritarian rule, and crushed political opposition.  “Fascist” from “fasces,” a bundle or rods wrapped with a ribbon, holding an ax head, symbol of the Roman Empire’s “magistrates,” holders of the law.  Wikipedia calls Fascism a “far right, authoritarian ultranationalism.”  Since the mid-twentieth century Mao Zedong’s Communism has exercised an ironfisted hold on China.

In our homeland, between Reconstruction and Civil Rights the Ku Klux Klan lynched thousands of Black people.  Today, White Supremacists, Neo-Nazis, Oath Keepers, Proud Boys—not Proud Men?—some who like playing soldier, challenge the notion of ethnic, religious, sex and sexual orientation equality.  These folks appear to share the belief that, within the Democratic party, a nefarious “Deep State” plots to take away Americans’ freedoms.

From the onset of WWII, exactly half of America’s fourteen Presidents were Democrats, half Republicans.  Over three-quarters of a century, which freedoms did our seven Democrat Presidents take or attempt to take away: Speech, Owning and Bearing Arms, Religion, Illegal Searches and Seizures, Assembly, Peaceful Protest, Free Press?  Who has even suggested such an action? 

Today, the only freedom I see under attack is, knowing that a plurality of the poor and non-white vote for Democrats, Republicans plot to disenfranchise America’s underdogs. 

Kleshas

The following is from a grab-bag of reading, teaching, impressions, ideas, quotations, and paraphrases accumulated in my twelve-year investigation of Buddhism.  I write this for myself.  Writing forces me to examine and clarify my thinking.  It may prove a bit “much” for some.  I can’t claim to be a “Buddhist.”  At best I’m a Bogus Buddhist.

To the extent what I write is true and accurate, I am wholly indebted to others.  Where untrue or inaccurate I am solely responsible.  I credit sources I remember and apologize to those I don’t.  Blame my errors and omission on an octogenarian’s memory.

      *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Outside Buddhism, most have never heard of “kleshas” (kleśa).  Buddhists may hold copyright on the word.  They do not enjoy a monopoly on kleshas.  We all are intimately acquainted with kleshas!  Buddhism calls Kleshas “mental afflictions,” the roots of human suffering!

To be specific I fall back on the lazy man’s source.  Wikipedia calls kleshas, “Mental states that cloud the mind and manifest in unwholesome actions  .  .  .  anxiety, fear, anger, jealousy, desire, depression,  .  .  .  ignorance, attachment, and aversion are identified as the root or source of all other kleshas  .  .  .  these are referred to as the three poisons in the Mahayana tradition, or as the three unwholesome roots in the Theravada tradition.”  (Some emphasis added.)  For folks inclined to dig deeper, Buddhist cannon is replete with erudite exposition. 

My teacher, Lama Michael Conklin, identifies kleshas of, “desire, anger, jealousy, pride, and the pernicious relief in the self.”  “Pernicious, highly injurious or destructive: DEADLY.” (Merriam Webster)  Love it! 

Kleshas seem, if not countless, uncounted.  Hence, Buddhism’s affinity for numbers.  Specific, numbered, hence more easily remembered, antidotes render kleshas more manageable.  If you will, a toolbox or formulary for treating mental afflictions.  I’ll consider:
The Four Noble Truths
The Noble Eightfold Path
The Eight Worldly Concerns
The Six Paramitas
The Seven Point Mind Training
The Six sources of Neative Karma in “The Prayer of Chenrezig, Gelong Pena Karpo’s Heart Practice”
The Four Imponderables

The Four Noble Truths
It started with the Buddha’s enlightenment and Four Noble Truths:
1. The truth of suffering.  Suffering (dukkah) is innate to worldly experience (samsara).
2. The truth of the cause of suffering.  Kleshas: desire, thirst, longing greed, craving, attachment (tanha) are the origins of suffering (samudaya).
3. The truth of the end of suffering (nirodha).  The end of suffering is accomplished by renouncing or letting go of tanha.
4. The truth of the Noble Eightfold Path (maggha) leading to the ending or letting go of tanha (attachment) and ending of dukkah (suffering).

The Noble Eightfold Path
Relief from suffering comes by following three divisions of the Noble Eightfold Path:
I. Wisdom or Insight:
1. Right View
The Radiant Buddha said this, view this fleeting world like this, like stars fading and vanishing at dawn, like bubbles on a fast-moving stream, like morning dewdrops evaporating on blades of grass, like a candle flickering in the wind, echoes, mirages, phantoms and a dream.
2. Right Intention
The thought manifests as the word, the word manifests as the deed the deed develops into habit and habit forms into character.  So, watch the thought and its ways with care.  Let it spring only from love born out of concern for all beings.  As the shadow follows the body, as we think so we become.

II. Moral Value or Ethical Conduct:
3. Right Speech
Better than a book of a thousand words is one word that leads to peace.
4. Right Conduct
The road to holiness leads through the world of action. (Dhag Hammaraskjöld)
5. Right Livelihood
Don’t earn you living by means that could harm to any sentient being.

III. Meditation or Mental Discipline:
6. Right Effort
The Radiant Buddha said, “Continue on the Path like an ox pulling a cart through deep mud.”
7. Right Mindfulness
Be mindful at all times.  Be continually aware of your internal environment.
8. Right Concentration
Meditate as if you were peeling layers from an onion or wiping soot from a lamp.

The Eight Worldly Concerns
Dedication to The Four Noble Truths and following The Noble Eightfold Path leads to extinguishing intrinsic Eight Worldly Concerns:
1. Happiness vs. Suffering
2. Fame vs. Insignificance
3. Praise vs. Blame
4. Gain vs. Loss
In Lion’s Roar I read, “eight worldly concerns classify the attachments and aversions that yoke us to samsara, the cycle of suffering.”  Who could deny that these four dichotomies form the heart of human suffering? 

The Six Paramitas
Tibetan Buddhist Master Gampopa’s Six Pāramitās (Perfections):
1. Prajna: wisdom, insight
2. Generosity: Bestow wealth and gifts with an unattached and spontaneous mind.
3. Strenuousness: Where there is effort there is enlightenment.
4. Patience: There is no evil like malevolence and anger and no austerity like patience.
5. Meditative Concentration: Focus mind with mind to discriminating the whole of reality.
6. Ethics and Manners: One should always be one’s own master and always show a smiling face.  Without frowning one should be friendly and sincere to the world.

The Seven Point Mind Training
Chekawa Yeshe Dorge’s Lojong or Seven Point of Mind Training includes a total of fifty-nine supporting slogans or aphorisms:
Point One: The Preliminaries
Point Two: The Main Practice
Point Three: Transformation of Bad Circumstances into the Way of Enlightenment
Point Four: Showing the Utilization of Practice in One’s Whole Life
Point Five: Evaluation of Mind Training
Point Six: Disciplines of Mind Training
Point Seven: Guidelines of Mind Training

The Six Sources of Negative Karma in “The Prayer of Chenrezig, Gelong Pema Karpo’s Heart Practice”
1. Anger leads to the Hell Realm of heat and cold.
2. Greed leads to the Hungry Ghosts’ realm of hunger and thirst.
3. Ignorance leads to the Animal Realm of stupidity.
4. Desire and attachment lead to the Human Realm of anxiety and frustration.
5. Jealousy leads to the Demigod Realm of fighting and quarreling.
6. Pride leads to the God Realm of change and falling.

The Four Imponderables
As I see it, Buddhist teachings revolve around aspiring for and achieving Four Imponderables:
1. Kind-heartedness
2. Compassion
3. Open-hearted Joy
4. Equanimity

Unqualified to hold forth on any religious or spiritual tradition, I’m compelled to believe that all credible systems of human ethics and precepts must, in its peculiar teaching and vernacular, diagnoses and prescribes means for alleviating human suffering, kleshas.

Sigmund Freud described the objective of Psychoanalysis as “making unconscious conscious.”  Transporting Freud’s remedy to the street, Neuropsychiatrist Abraham Low’s Recovery, Inc., now Recovery International, affords aphorisms for spotting and reframing irrational thoughts: That’s when I started to work myself up.  Don’t take your own dear self too seriously.  Symptoms rise and fall and run their course if we don’t attach danger.     

I see kleshas at the heart of Judeo-Christian “sin.”  Jesus Christ’s entire ministry recognizes and prescribes antidotes for kleshas, relief from suffering.        

Relief!

Thursday, April 14, President Joe Biden applied Teddy Roosevelt’s “big stick” to President Vladimir Putin and fellow Ruskies! 

In a sharp about-face from his predecessor’s kissing up to the Russian President, refusing to confront Vlad about meddling in America’s elections and giving the Kremlin classified—secret?—information, Joe’s initiatives put the boot to a dozen Spooks, target thirty Russian entities, bar U.S. financial institution from purchasing ruble-denominated bonds and call-down the Russian President for his “Solar Winds” cyber espionage and attempts to keep pal Donald in the Whitehouse.    

What a relief! 

Guard Mount

Korea, January 12, 1962, 3:00 a.m.

The six-foot-one, black, SFC Sergeant-of-the-Guard kicks a foot-rail on a steel cot. “Drop your cocks and grab your sox! Third Relief out!”

Beneath the corrugated-steel arch of a Quonset, the foot-ends of cots define an aisle.  Since midnight, ten, rumpled, olive-drab forms have lain—as if lifeless—on bare mattresses.  On the concrete floor, insulated rubber, white “Bunny Boots” constitute Privates’, PFCs’ and Spec- 4s’ only concession to sleep. ‘

Kicking a second bunk, “Garcia move yur ass!”  The seventeen-year-old Mexican’s feet find the floor. 

Hair matching the burnt umber of tobacco-stained teeth, a six-foot, Mississippi bayou draftee gropes beneath a bunk. 

Sarge, “Move it, Clark!“   

The redhead looks up.  “I can’t find my boot.” 

“If it wasn’t hooked on, you’d lose your fuckin’ ass.”

Sarge walking back up the aisle.  Turning a key in a padlock, he releases the steel bar securing M-1 rifles in a wooden rack.  A clatter of metal against wood as Third Relief retrieves its weapons.  A dimple-faced New Yorker studies serial numbers on steel breeches.  “Twenty-twenty.  It ain’t here.  Two, zero, two, zero. Who’s got two, zero, two, zero?”

The bayou draftee is on his knees,  “It was here, under my bunk.  Some asshole kicked it?”

At the rifle rack, Garcia points, “In the corner, behind Sarge’s desk.”

From the far end of the room, “Where?”

“Not your fuckin’ boot.  Fat-ass’s fuckin’ gun.”

“Where?”  The New Yorker looks to the Mexican.

Garcia points, “In the corner, behind the desk.”

From the far end of Quonset, “Did anybody see a god-damn boot?”

Sarge opens the front door.  “Third Relief!  Mount up!”

Recalling the ten-degrees outside, like sheep who know the guard dog can bite, soldiers clog the doorway.

“Red!  Drag your raged ass up here!”

The tall PFC steps into the aisle, minus one boot.  “I can’t find my fuckin’ boot!”  Looking right and left, he ambles up the aisle.

Sarge meets him halfway.  “How do you lose a boot?”

“On purpose!”  Red’s mad, “I threw the son-of-a-bitch away ‘cause my foot got too hot!” 

Walking back toward the doorway, Sarge drops a boot on the foot of a bunk. “Should make ya walk without it.”

“Where was it?”

Sergeant-of-the-Guard walks out.