Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Eve meditation, Los Angeles

Ashley Wells, Wisdom Quarterly; LA.Shambhala.org

Meditation for serenity, bliss, and insight
The open meditation programs are ongoing, free, and open to the public. No reservations nor prior experience are necessary to attend. Meditation cultivates serenity and compassion. The Shambhala Meditation Center of Los Angeles in Eagle Rock (on Colorado Blvd. at Figueroa, next to Pasadena) is holding a marathon public meditation and dinner for New Year's Eve 2014, from 4:00 pm to midnight. (Nominal charge for dinner, but sitting and party are FREE). Meditation instruction will also be available free. More

New Year: Buddhist Island of Celebration

A.G.S. Kariyawasam, "Buddhist Ceremonies and Rituals of Sri Lanka" (ATI), Ashley Wells, Amber Larson, Dhr. Seven, CC Liu, Pat Macpherson, Seth Auberon, Dev, Xochitl, Wisdom Quarterly
A new day dawns atop the world (Raimond Klavins/artmif/flickr.com)

Sri Lanka is the teardrop-island off India
Sri Lanka is regarded as a home of Theravada, a less diluted form of Buddhism based on the ancient Pali canon. This school of Buddhism emphasizes the Four Noble Truths as the framework of the Buddha's Dharma or Teaching and the Noble Eightfold Path as the direct route to nirvana, the final goal of the Teaching. 

Buddha, Dambulla, Sri Lanka (NH53/flickr)
However, side by side with this austere and intellectually sophisticated Buddhism of the texts, there is in Sri Lanka a warm current of devotional Buddhism practiced by the general Buddhist population, who may have only a hazy idea of Buddhist doctrine.

In practical life, the gap between the "great tradition" of canonical Buddhism and the average person's world of everyday experience is bridged by a complex round of ceremonies, rituals, and devotional practices that are hardly visible within the canonical texts themselves.
The specific forms of ritual and ceremony in the popular mind doubtlessly evolved over the centuries. Likely this devotional approach to the Dharma had its roots in lay Buddhist practice during the time of the Buddha in neighboring India.

Pilgrimage (yatra): Hiking into the clouds of Sri Lanka Gunner's Point (NH53/flickr)
For Buddhism, devotion does not mean submitting oneself to the will of a God or a Buddha or taking "refuge" in an external savior. Rather, it is an ardent feeling of love and affection (pema) directed towards the teacher who shows the way to freedom and liberation from all suffering.

Such an attitude inspires the devotee to follow a meditation master's teaching faithfully and earnestly through all the hurdles that lie along the way to nirvana.
Aukana Buddha, Sri Lanka (visitserendib.com)
The Buddha often stressed the importance of saddha, confidence or faith in a buddha as the best of teachers, the Dharma or Teaching as the direct vehicle to liberation from the cycle of rebirth-and-suffering, and the Nobles (Ariya-Sangha), those taught the path all the way to success, to direct verification in this very life, to enlightenment.

Unshakeable confidence (aveccappasada) in the Triple Jewels -- Buddha, Dharma, and Noble Sangha -- is one mark of enlightenment. 

The Buddha once stated that those who have sufficient confidence in him (saddha-matta), sufficient affection for him (pema-matta) are bound for rebirth in heavenly worlds as a result of that (mental/heart based) karma. But the heavens are not the goal of Buddhists, who instead aim for final peace, the end of all rebirth and death. (Heavenly rebirths mean eventual falling away when the karma that led one there is exhausted). 

Buddha in Theravada Sri Lanka (WQ)
Many verses of the Theragatha and Therigatha, verses of the ancient elder-monks (theras) and -nuns (theris), convey feelings of deep devotion and a high level of emotional elation.

Although the canonical texts do not indicate that this devotional sensibility had yet come to expression in fully formed rituals, it seems plausible that simple ritualistic observances with feelings of devotion had already begun to take shape even during the Buddha's lifetime. 

Certainly they would have done so shortly after the Buddha's final reclining into nirvana, as is amply demonstrated by the cremation rites themselves, according to the testimony of the discourse on the Great Final-Nirvana (Maha-Pari-nibbana Sutta).

Relics in housed in white stupa, Ruwanwelimahaseya, Ramagama, Sri Lanka (wiki)
The Buddha in a sense encouraged a devotional attitude when recommending pilgrimage locations, namely, the four places that can inspire a confident devotee: where he was born, attained enlightenment, delivered the first sermon, and attained final nirvana (DN.ii,140).
The Buddha did discourage the wrong kind of emotional attachment to him or anything, as evidenced in the case of Ven. Vakkali Thera, who was reprimanded for his obsession with the beauty of the Buddha's physical appearance: This is a case of misplaced devotion (S.iii,119).

Ritualistic observances also pose a danger that they might be misapprehended as ends in themselves -- instead of being used as they should be when employed as means for channeling devotional emotions into the right path to the ultimate goal. 

It is when they are wrongly practiced that they become impediments rather than aids to the spiritual life. 

It is to warn against this that the Buddha has categorized them, under the term "devotion to mere rules and rituals" (silabbata-paramasa), one of the Ten Fetters (samyojana) binding one to samsara, the Wheel of Rebirth and Suffering, and one of the four types of clinging (upadana). 

Where Buddhism arrived from ancient India, Mahintale, Sri Lanka (NH53/flickr)
Correctly observed, as means rather than ends, ritualistic practices can serve to generate wholesome states of mind/heart, while certain other rituals collectively performed can serve as a means of strengthening the social cohesion among those who share the same spiritual ideals.
Ceremonies and rituals, as external acts which complement inward contemplative exercises, cannot be called alien to or incompatible with canonical Buddhism. To the contrary, they are an integral part of the living tradition of all schools of Buddhism, including the Theravada.
A ritual may be defined here as an outward act performed regularly and consistently in a context that confers upon it a religious significance not immediately evident in the act itself. A composite unity consisting of a number of subordinate ritualistic acts may be called a ceremony. More

Happy New Year from Wisdom Quarterly

Do we live in a police state?

Tom Tomorrow (thismodernworld.com)
Mind if I swab your cheek to profile you on our DNA database, boy? I didn't think so.
Checkpoints, documents, DNA tests
AirTalk, KPCC FM (SCPR.org, Dec. 30, 2013)
Jack boot, duck step (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
The LAPD will begin administering "voluntary" [failure to comply could mean a 12 month suspension of driving privileges] cheek swabs that detect drug and alcohol levels at their DUI checkpoints on New Year’s Eve.
[The pretext for invasions of privacy are always clothed in socially useful ambitions.] "Sobriety" checkpoints have traditionally included tests to determine whether drivers have consumed alcohol, including breathalyzers, but the new cheek swabs also pick up on drugs, including cocaine, marijuana, and ecstasy.

[The individual may not be intoxicated, but any trace level or false positive can lead to arrest. What is most likely to determine arrest? Race, age, clothing, obedience level, not this inadmissible test. Cheek swabs are not yet admissible in court, so jails will fill with targeted groups while others, even those who are genuinely incapacitated, are allowed to slide.]
You saw her; she came at me with that flower!
Different drugs can be detected by a cheek swab after various amounts of time. Cocaine and marijuana are traceable for up to 24 hours, ecstasy and meth for three days, and alcohol for just 12 hours.
Drivers stopped at DUI checkpoints may be asked to take the oral swab test, but can refuse. If the police suspect the driver to be intoxicated and arrest them, drivers can still refuse testing and have their license suspended for 12 months, otherwise a blood test would be administered to test for drug and alcohol levels. More

Police State?
Chase Madar
We're here to "protect" you (KC)
The term “police state” was once brushed off by mainstream intellectuals as the hyperbole of paranoids. Not so anymore.

Even in the tweediest precincts of the legal system, the over-criminalization of American life is remarked upon with greater frequency and intensity.

You’re probably a (federal) criminal” is the accusatory title of a widely read essay co-authored by Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th Circuit of the US Court of Appeals in Pasadena.

But I'm suppo'd to be the "decider"!
A Republican appointee, Kozinski surveys the morass of criminal laws that make virtually every American an easy target for law enforcement. Veteran defense lawyer Harvey Silverglate has written an entire book about how an average American professional could easily commit three felonies in a single day without knowing it.
The daily overkill of police power in the US goes a long way toward explaining why more Americans aren’t outraged by the “excesses” of the war on terror, which, as one law professor has argued, are just our everyday domestic penal habits exported to more exotic venues. It is no less true that the growth of domestic police power is, in this positive feedback loop, the partial result of our distant foreign wars seeping back into the homeland (the “imperial boomerang” that Hannah Arendt warned against).
Look, young lady, whistleblowing is a crime!
Many who railed against our country’s everyday police overkill have reacted to the revelations of NSA surveillance with exasperation: Of course we are over-policed!

Some have responded with resentment: Why so much sympathy for this Snowden kid when the daily grind of our justice system destroys so many lives without comment or scandal? After all, in New York, the police department’s “stop and frisk” tactic, which targets African-American and Latino working-class youth for routine street searches, was until recently uncontroversial among the political and opinion-making class.

The United States of Fear
If “the gloves came off” after Sept. 11, 2001, many Americans were surprised to learn they had ever been on to begin with.
A hammer is necessary in any toolkit. But we use our hammer to turn screws, chop tomatoes, brush teeth. Yet, the hammer remains our instrument of choice, both in the conduct of our foreign policy and in our domestic order. The result is NOT  peace, justice, or prosperity but rather a police state that harasses and imprisons its own people while shouting ever less intelligibly about freedom. More

Story first appeared at TomDispatch.com and alternet.org. Follow TomDispatch on Twitter, join on Facebook or Tumblr, check out the newest Dispatch Book, Ann Jones’ They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars — The Untold Story.

World News

Tropical winter: Thailand, snow in Vietnam

Wisdom Quarterly; P. Gosselin (No Tricks Zone, Dec. 20, 2013), The Daily Sheeple
Donkeys freezing to death where they stand in Turkey during cold anomaly 2013
Annual Badwater Ultra Marathon Held In Death Valley's Extreme Heat
Climate extremes: saving Death Valley
A flurry of Middle Eastern and Asian news sites are reporting an “unusual” cold sweeping across vast areas of Asia and the Middle East.
The Thai online Pattaya Mail reports “Hundreds of thousands of residents of northern and northeastern Thailand are suffering from the current cold snap, with many areas having been declared disaster zones....

Human Head Found
It's sunny in  80s in wicked Hollywood
“Some 100,000 people are suffering from the cold and in need of winter clothing. ”
The German language Thailand-tip.com reports that the “Meteorological Institute forecasts temperatures in the north to fall another 4-7°C by Thursday.”
Snow in Vietnam
Asia Forecast_2The Asian Correspondent reports that residents in North Vietnam “were treated to a rare sight Monday: snow,” writing that “the white stuff” is a “rare sight in this part of the world.”
Not only is Southeast Asia being hard hit by unusually bitter cold, but also vast areas of Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. Some of these regions are typically famous for very warm temperatures. More
Temp Anomaly
Asia to remain gripped by bitter cold. Forecast anomaly for next seven days (wxmaps.org)

Monday, December 30, 2013

The genius of Da Vinci and the Tao (audio)

Wisdom Quarterly; Dr. Fritjof Capra, Mitch Jeserich (Letters and Politics, Dec. 30, 2013)

Fritjof Capra's new book Learning from Leonardo: Decoding the Notebooks of a Genius presents an in-depth discussion of the main branches of Da Vinci's scientific work. What was it?

Da Vinci pioneered fluid dynamics [the Tao being the way, the flow, the path of least resistance], geology, botany, anatomy, mechanics, aerodynamics, [ecology, eco-designing, war and weapons engineering, vegetarianism, pacifism, art most famously painting the "Mona Lisa" but, notably, not the social sciences or any political or economic phenomena].

Most of his astonishing discoveries and achievements in these fields are virtually unknown to the general public. Dr. Capra's thesis is that, at the most fundamental level, Da Vinci always sought to understand the nature of life. This has often escaped earlier commentators, because until recently the nature of life was defined by biologists only in terms of cells and molecules, to which Da Vinci had no access.
Popes were more like Roman emperors
THE POPE of Da Vinci's day, in tune with the corrupt Holy Roman Catholic Church he led, was absorbed with mistresses, children, and imperial wars. He was not concerned with Da Vinci's heretical ideas, like his view of the "soul." Da Vinci thought it akin to cognitive psychology's view of cognition [or the Buddha's detailed analysis of citta, the process of consciousness, as an interdependent process]. Galileo, a century later, would face a much different pope and inquisitive Church that allowed no deviation from its dogma.
Mona Lisa and Leo (gregoryherpe.fr)
The enigmatic Leo Lisa (lewets)
But today, a new systemic understanding of life is emerging at the forefront of science -- an understanding in terms of metabolic processes and their patterns of organization. And those are precisely the phenomena which Da Vinci explored throughout his life. The book has been published in three editions in three languages.
Fritjof Capra, Ph.D., physicist and systems theorist, is a founding director of the Center for Ecoliteracy in Berkeley, California. Dr. Capra is the author of several international bestsellers, including The Tao of Physics (1975), The Web of Life (1996), The Hidden Connections (2002), and The Science of Leonardo (2007). He coauthored Green Politics (1984), Belonging to the Universe (1991), and EcoManagement (1993), and coedited Steering Business Toward Sustainability (1995). His most recent book, Learning from Leonardo, was published in Italy and Brazil in 2012 and will be published in the United States in 2013. He is currently working on a multidisciplinary textbook, The Systems View of Life, coauthored by Pier Luigi Luisi and to be published by Cambridge University Press. See bibliography for book details.

The NSA's new TAO of Spying (video)

Wisdom Quarterly; Der Spiegel, Glenn Greenwald, Amy Goodman (DemocracyNow.org)

Glenn Greenwald and story on the NSA's TAO of Spying starts at Minute 25:30
The TAO, in NSA terms, refers to a unit of hackers it hires, trains, and continues to develop, the office of Tailored Access Operations.

NSA can "watch every keystroke [we] make"
The German publication Der Spiegel ("The Mirror") has revealed new details about a secretive hacking unit inside the National Security Agency called the Office of Tailored Access Operations, or TAO. The unit was created in 1997 to hack into global communications traffic. 

Hackers inside the TAO have developed a way to break into (hack) computers running Microsoft Windows by gaining passive access to machines when users report program crashes to Microsoft [both installing malware and getting the cooperation of Microsoft], according to Glenn Greenwald.

Panel backs major curbs on NSA
In addition, with help from the CIA and FBI, the NSA has the ability to intercept computers and other electronic accessories purchased online in order to secretly insert spyware and components that can provide backdoor access for the intelligence agencies. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer and journalist Glenn Greenwald join Democracy Now! to discuss the latest revelations, along with the future of Edward Snowden.
Greenwald is the journalist who first broke the NSA spying document revealed by Edward Snowden. Snowden now lives in Russia for safety. He was previously a columnist at Britain's The Guardian newspaper and is creating a new media venture with Laura Poitras (who is forced to live in abroad because England is redefining journalism that reveals a country's secrets as "terrorism"), Jeremy Scahill (author of Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, which is also a movie), and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

Peruvian Buddhism, oldest in South America

Ashley Wells, Xochitl, Wisdom Quarterly; Annie Murphy, The World (PRI.org/BBC)
Peru is a land of ancient mysteries and Japanese Zen immigrants (apoturperu.org)
Buddhist meditation in Peru (pri.org)
A small group of people from the Japanese community recently gathered at the temple in Lima to chant and make offerings to their deceased relatives.

On the altar were plates of sandwiches and cakes, even a bag of Lay’s potato chips.
One of the unintended consequences of Peru’s booming economy is that life in the capital is becoming more stressful. Lima is covered in construction sites, competition for the best jobs, and housing is brutal, and traffic is horrendous. Still, people there are finding creative ways to relax in the midst of all that. Some of them are turning to Buddhist meditation.
In 1903, Zen Buddhism arrived (SZ)
The oldest Buddhist temple in South America is just outside Lima, in a town called Cañete. It’s one large room with tile floors that feel cool under bare feet. The enormous altar is filled with incense, flowers, and small wooden statues that represent members of Japanese families that started migrating here in the early 1900s. Some families have also chosen to leave actual remains, in urns wrapped in knotted bundles of white cotton.

“Those urns contain remains of the first immigrants who came to Peru,” says Carmen Toledo, the temple caretaker, pointing to a few urns on the highest shelf.

She tells me that after Brazil, Peru has the second largest Japanese population outside of Japan. They hung onto a lot of traditions, Toledo says, building this temple and also incorporating Japanese food into Peruvian cuisine. More

Two suicide bombings kill at least 31 people in Volgograd
Buddhism arrived very early

Tear gas flies as Thai protests heat up

Wisdom Quarterly; Papitchaya Boonngok (AP via news.yahoo.com, Dec. 26, 2013)
Billionaire brother and former Thai PM is thought to control his sister, the current PM
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra
BANGKOK - [Armed and dangerous police attacked protesters who only had rocks to throw. Protesters are trying to halt preparations for new elections, but police are fighting them in the Thai] capital on Thursday [Dec. 26th] as they escalate their campaign to topple the country's beleaguered and untrustworthy government.

Buddhist flags flying in Thailand (WQ)
At least 48 people were wounded, most of them unarmed protesters, three of them armed police officers, authorities said.  Security authorities fired [deadly] rubber [coated] bullets and tear gas toward the demonstrators, who were attempting to force their way into a sports stadium being used [by] candidates to draw lots for their position on polling papers. [Protesters do not want rigged elections that simply promote the status quo.]

Protesters throw back tear gas canisters shot at them by police (Sakchai Lalit/AP/MORE)
The protesters failed to halt the proceedings inside the stadium, where representatives from 27 parties drew lots. But four election commissioners had to be evacuated from facility by helicopter because of the fighting outside. Police Col. Anucha Romyanan urged the demonstrators to assemble peacefully and said "attempts are being made to escalate the political situation by causing violence."

The clashes were contained to the area around the stadium but stretched into the morning. It was the first violent incident in nearly two weeks of daily protests on the streets of Bangkok.

Westerners stay in their ghetto, Khao San Rd
The protesters have been demanding that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra step down since mid-October [because she is felt to be a puppet controlled by her corrupt brother, the former PM billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra, who is in exile outside of Thailand to avoid arrest as she attempts to pardon him and allow him reentry] and street unrest has occasionally broken out. They oppose the polls scheduled for Feb. 2 because Yingluck is seen as sure to win them. More

World News
Protests against Bangladesh elections turn violent Armed forces and opposition activists clashed in Bangladesh's capital on Sunday, leaving at least one person dead, as thousands of police took to the streets to foil a mass rally calling on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to cancel upcoming elections. Reports said authorities had detained hundreds of people in a crackdown... 

New species discovered in 2013 (photos)

Wisdom Quarterly; LiveScience.com 
While 2013 may not have been the year that saw a Sasquatch shot dead (that happened in October of 2010) or a Chupacabras captured alive, the past year boasted a surprising number of newly-discovered species. From the adorable dwarf lemur (pictured) to the ghastly ghost shrimp of Catalina Island, California, a vast array of remarkable new animals and plants were found in both remote locations as well as more familiar locales (some near the LAX runway). For a look at 13 of the most breathtaking animal and plant discoveries of 2013, check out this gallery at LiveScience.

COMEDY: "Saturnalia" by Jimmy Dore (audio)

Wisdom Quarterly; Jimmy Dore (jimmydorecomedy.com), Wikipedia edit
Greco-Roman: Ruins of Temple of Saturn (eight columns to the far right), with three columns from the Temple of Vespasian and Titus (left) and the Arch of Septimius Severus (center)

In Roman mythology, Saturn was an agricultural deity who was said to have reigned over the world in the Golden Age, when humans enjoyed the spontaneous bounty of the earth without labor in a state of social egalitarianism
The sexual revelries of Saturnalia (held around the winter solstice and the famous date of Dec. 25th) were supposed to reflect the conditions of the lost mythical age, not all of them desirable. The Greek equivalent was the Kronia, an Athenian festival held in honor of Cronus (Greek Kronos. More
In the most classic and well known version of Greek mythology, Cronus or Kronos (Greek Κρόνος) -- not to be confused with Chronos (the personification of time) -- was the leader and the youngest of the first generation of Titans (Buddhist asuras), divine (deva) descendants of Gaia (Mother Earth or Bhūmi), and Uranus, the sky (space). He overthrew his father and ruled during the mythological Golden Age, until he was overthrown by his own son Zeus and imprisoned in Tartarus.