Friday, November 18, 2016

Dudley Patterson & the Trail of Wisdom (Apache)

One day Dudley Patterson, a Cibecue (Western Apache) horseman, was talking to his anthropologist sidekick, Keith Basso. Basso had been hanging around him asking dumb questions for a long time, which is what anthropologists do. Basso had been asking “What is wisdom?” for a few days and finally Patterson said:

The trail of wisdom – that is what I’m going to talk about.

I’m going to speak as the old people do, as my grandmother spoke to me when I was still a boy. We were living then at Tak’eh Godzige (Rotten Field).

“Do you want a long life?” she said. “Well, you will need to have wisdom. You will need to think about your own mind. You will need to work on it. You should start doing this now. You must make your mind smooth. You must make your mind steady. You must make your mind resilient.

“Your life is like a trail. You must be watchful as you go. Wherever you go there is some kind of danger waiting to happen. You must be able to see it before it happens. You must always be watchful and alert. You must see danger in your mind before it happens. If your mind is not smooth, you will fail to see danger. You will trust your eyes but they will deceive you. You will be easily tricked and fooled. Then there will be nothing but trouble for you. You must make your mind smooth.

“If your mind is not resilient, you will easily be startled. You will be easily frightened. You will try to think quickly, but you won’t think clearly. You yourself will stand in the way of your own mind. You yourself with block it. Then there will be trouble for you. You must make your mind resilient.

“If your mind is not steady, you will be easily angered and upset. You will be arrogant and proud. You will look down on other people. You will envy them and desire their possessions. You will speak about them without thinking. You will complain about them, gossip about them, criticize them. You will lust after their women. People will come to despise you. They will pay someone to use his power on you. They will want to kill you. Then there will be nothing but trouble for you. You must make your mind steady. You must learn to forget about yourself.

“If you make your mind smooth, you will have a long life. Your trail will extend a long way. You will be prepared for danger wherever you go. You will see it in your mind before it happens.

“How will you walk along this trail of wisdom? Well, you will go to many places. You must look at them closely. You must remember all of them. Your relatives will talk to you about them. You must remember everything they tell you. You must think about it, and keep on thinking about it. You must do this because no one can help you but yourself. If you do this, your mind will become smooth. It will become steady and resilient. You will stay away from trouble. You will walk a long way and live a long time.

“Wisdom sits in places. It’s like water that never dried up. You need to drink water to stay alive, don’t you? Well, you also need to drink from places. You must remember everything about them. You must learn their names. You must remember what happened at them long ago. You must think about it and keep thinking about it. Then your mind will become smoother and smoother. Then you will see danger before it happens. You will walk a long way and live a long time. You will be wise. People will respect you.”

Basso, Keith H. Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language among the Western Apache (1996) University of New Mexico Press, pp 126-127

Monday, October 31, 2016

Everything You Know About Tibetan Buddhism Is Wrong

But you'll go on believing it anyway.
I just came across Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West by Donald Lopez, Jr, which was published by the University of Chicago Press in 1998. This is not the first book I've read about how Western intellectuals got aspects of Asian culture wrong. It is, however, a decisive take down, with detailed notes and references, of the basic image that Westerners have of Tibetan Buddhism. Including me. Ouch.
Lopez traces the historical and ideological record of the term lamaism, a derogatory label for Tibetan Buddhism, and shows how Western labels came to be used even by Tibetans. He shows how the West came by its translations of the Book of the Dead, which turns out (surprise!) to involve the exploitation of a native culture bearer to serve the ideological agenda of Westerners.
Lopez also reviews the fascinating case of a British ne'er-do-well who pulled off a publishing coup in which he described his life as an especially gifted Tibetan sage. He goes on to excavate the philological history of the famous mantra "Om Mani Padme Hum" and in doing so once again proves the point that Westerners were more than happy to make up definitions when language or cultural barriers threatened Western thought boundaries.
I feel so lucky to live at a time when, even being poor, I have a collection of some of the world's best English translations of Chinese classics and Buddhist literature on my shelf. These were translations that simply were not available until 20 or 30 years ago. In that regard, we can't blame all these progenitors for seeing things their own way. We're just the same - and all better, I think, for the continuing efforts of the translators.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

How Creepy is Woody Allen?

So today there was another story in the news about Woody Allen denying he was a child molester. I happened to have time for a good long read, so I clicked through to some of the linked articles.

I never went to see a Woody Allen picture in the first place because his humor, based on what I knew of it, struck me as somewhat trite and obvious. After the abuse allegations surfaced, I forswore his movies on principle. (Well, to be honest, it probably wasn’t until after he married his step-daughter — which happened like almost immediately.)

The situation was very similar to events that were unfolding at the time with a family member of mine who had married someone with more money and status that had turned out to be an abusive, controlling psycho. In that instance, I was stunned and devastated to hear that psychospouse had actually tried to kill the family member and, having failed, was working hard to make them homeless and take their child away.

There was no doubt in my mind that if such incredible events were unfolding in my life (Ha, ha! back then I was so na├»ve!) there was no way in hell anyone who said the least little thing against someone like Woody Allen would have a snowball’s chance of being heard. There just wasn’t any question in my mind that this guy was getting away with molesting kids because he was a rich, well-connected celebrity.

Now, for the record I would like to say that, like everyone else, I have made a lot of assumptions throughout my life and have learned from experience that my assumptions are generally wrong. That is, if I am lucky. If I am unlucky, they are generally wrong, wrong, WRONG. I should have been wrong about Woody Allen. For decades, this guy has gone around shrugging off accusations of child sexual abuse; for decades, journalists have been asking him about it almost as if the question was pro-forma.

In my head, it was obvious this guy was guilty of probably much worse than had ever hit the news and was using his white boy privileges to buy his way out of accountability. In the news, it was just, like, “Hey, how about those child sexual abuse allegations!” like they're the Mets or something. I, on the other hand, with my powers of assumption (and not unlike people who have never been abducted by aliens yet can make up a believable story about that time they were abducted by aliens) could have told you exactly what happened in that weird celebrity family I actually knew nothing about.

Like I said up top, this morning I had time to indulge in a long read. I clicked a link in one of the pro forma questionings of Allen at some film festival somewhere and landed at one of Maureen Orth’s profiles of the Farrow family in Vanity Fair.

I fucking hate it when I’m right.

After reading a short while, I couldn’t leave the story alone, if only out of the sense that someone must stand as witness when this kind of thing goes on, even if that someone is a nobody. The full story, as reported, matched every single assumption I had ever made about the case, except my picture of Mia Farrow as a person. I’m not into movies and assumed she was just some rando starlet with one of those celebrity things for adopting enough kids for a rainbow. Mia Farrow actually comes across as a fucking hero.

And Woody Allen? How creepy is Woody Allen? Serial killer creepy?

“You can’t say his own therapy failed,” quips Mia’s lawyer Eleanor Alter. “He might have become a serial killer without it.” (from Orth’s 1992 Vanity Fair article)

And people say therapy doesn’t work! Assuming there is no one missing and no bodies waiting to be found, how creepy is Woody Allen? Pedophile sex cult creepy?

If you look at a pedophile ring like The Finders, after emptying the contents of your stomach you will undoubtedly notice that THEY TRIED VERY HARD TO HID WHAT THEY WERE DOING (and apparently succeeded, for the most part).

Allen didn't. Instead, he bought as much credibility as his wealth would allow in the courts of law and public opinion.  He has, I assume (!), bought people in his chosen profession by the bushel. What he has not tried to do is hide his actions, apart from a few see-through lies.

There are any number of ways you can get out of being punished for child sexual abuse if you are rich and famous. Adopt a disguise, move to another country, buy a fake passport, I don't know. It's not really my area of expertise. Or you pull an Allen and not even care enough to hide it, counting on your money and prestige to buy you the way out.

That's some kind of cold shit. It goes past creepy and into the land of actually dangerous. Dangerous as in, I don't care what effect my actions have on others and I don't have to because I'm rich. Said another way, I'm highly delusional and my wizarding powers are so great I can make my delusions real. So how creepy is Woody Allen? Is he Donald Trump creepy? Why or why not?

I leave it for you to consider.
Edit 9/6/2016: I remembered that my relative had said the lawyer hired by their spouse (named Alan) was also Woody Allen's lawyer. Which would explain why the issue  comes up on my emotional radar long after.

In terms of the How Creepy contest, though, I have to admit that Warren Jeffs and the whole FLDS (and Mormonism as well?) far, far outrank Allen. Which is not a good thing. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Acariya Mun’s UFO Experience

Acariya Mun (1870 – 1949) is a famous Theravadan monk who lived in Thailand and is credited with reviving the Forest Monk or dhutanga tradition. He is widely held to have had considerable what we would call psychic powers; specifically, the ability to know exactly what was going through anyone’s head and the ability to converse with nagas, devas and others.

The Forest Monk or dhutanga tradition is a rigorous, ascetic and only loosely institutionalized form of Buddhist practice that focuses on training one’s awareness. This is a form of Buddhism perhaps most closely mirroring Buddhist practice as it was during the Buddha’s lifetime and shortly thereafter.

It just so happens that there’s a very readable biography of Acariya Mun available for free in English. The book is fascinating from perspectives anthropological, mystical, historical, Buddhist, and so on. The author, Acariya Nanasampanno (‘Acariya’ is an honorific), one of Acariya Mun’s disciples, has a very natural, direct, engaging way of telling a moving and incredible story. I especially appreciate that he always mentions where he got his information – if it was from Acariya Mun himself, another disciple, local villagers, or what.

In the first chapter of the book, Acariya Mun is still a young man experimenting with and striving to perfect his technique of meditative practice. This is when he had what a Westerner might interpret as a UFO experience.
“Acariya Mun’s citta [roughly, attention] converged into a state of calm and a vision arose spontaneously. The mental image was of a dead body laid out before him, bloated, oozing pus, and seeping with bodily fluids. Vultures and dogs were fighting over the corpse, tearing into the rotting flash and flinging it around, until what remained was all scattered about. The whole scene was unimaginably disgusting, and he was appalled. 
From then on, Acariya Mun constantly used this image as a mental object to contemplate at all times … he continued in this manner until, one day, the image of the corpse changed into a translucent disk that appeared suspended before him. The more he focused intensely on the disk, the more it changed its appearance without pause. The more he tried to follow, the more it altered its form so that he found it impossible to tell where the series of images would end. The more he investigated the visions, the more they continued to change in character – ad infinitum. 
For example, the disk became a tall mountain range where Acariya Mun found himself walking, brandishing a sharp sword and wearing shoes. Then, a massive wall with a gate appeared. He opened the gate to look inside and saw a monastery where several monks were sitting in meditation. Near the wall he saw a steep cliff with a cave where a hermit was living. He noticed a conveyance, shaped like a cradle and hanging down the face of the cliff by a rope. Climbing into the cradle-like conveyance, he was drawn up to the mountain peak. At the summit, he found a large Chinese junk with a square table inside, and a hanging lantern that cast a luminescent glow upon the whole mountain terrain. He found himself eating a meal on the mountain peak and … and so on, and so forth, until it was impossible to see an end to it all. Acariya Mun said that all the images he experienced in this manner were far too numerous to recall. 
For a full three months, Acariya Mun continued to meditate in this way. Each time when he dropped into samadhi [meditative absorption] he withdrew from it to continue his investigation of the translucent disk which just kept giving him a seemingly endless series of images. However, he did not receive enough beneficial results from this to be convinced that this was the correct method. For after practicing in this manner, he was over-sensitive to the common sights and sounds around him. Pleased by this and disappointed by that, he liked some things and hated others. It seemed he could never find a stable sense of balance. 
Because of this sensitivity, he came to believe that the samadhi which he practiced was definitely the wrong path to follow. If it were really correct, why did he fail to experience peace and calm consistently in his practice? On the contrary, his mind felt distracted and unsettled, influenced by many sense objects that it encountered – much like a person who had never undergone any meditation training at all.”
Acariya Nansampanno (2003), Biography of Acariya Mun, pp. 8-9

Acariya Mun concluded that directing his attention to external phenomena like the translucent disk is a flawed method and from then on centered his investigations on his own body.

I’ve read fairly widely in English translations of various Eastern mythological and esoteric traditions and this is one of the more stand-out accounts of something that might count as a Western UFO. Translucent, hovering disk that shape shifts (or reality warps) and can float you off in a basket? Check, check, and check. Acariya Mun doesn’t exactly call the phenomenon self-negating, but it is described as an endless series of images which even as you chase after them keep changing. Maybe I’m projecting, but by the end of the story it sounds to me as if he decided the whole hovering translucent disk thing is just a waste of time.

Anyway, if you are up for a taste of something new, check out Acariya Mun’s biography. Bhikkhu Dick Silaratano’s English translation is very accessible to non-Buddhists and there’s some good stories in there (like The Hypercritical Naga).

One of many ways to read the book

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Watch My Mum Talk to Aliens

My Mum Talks to Aliens is an Australian documentary that came to my attention after it was posted as an Amazon (prime) video. It’s a video I’d watch again because it represents a new genre in UFO films, where UFOs are put in their social context. This lends a great deal more general interest and in-depth richness to the story of UFOs as well as related phenomena, both explained and unexplained.

In the case of My Mum, the documentary unfolds as if it’s a battle of rationality between a skeptic and a believer, who just happen to be son and mother. Then you see how rationality and logic line up against social and familial bonds. The son is grossly offended by his mother’s lack of rationality, until her lack of rationality is publically insulted in a debate with a skeptic. At that point, he begins to want to defend her, and maybe expands what he considers to be the range of normal a tiny bit in order to still be able to include his mum among the sane.

It’s a very nice illustration of what the sociology of knowledge and science is all about – how what we believe and even why we believe it is, to a considerable extent, influenced by social forces. In My Mum, the son moderates his position about what is normal slightly in order to maintain a social bond with his mother. It’s an object lesson in how people categorize obviously wrong things as acceptable or not (yes, I am positing that obviously wrong things exist) that doesn’t carry the price tag the same lesson might if one of the players was of a minority race or lower income. Ufology is all love and white light that way.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Practicing Martial Arts

This weekend was two for two.

I've slid through most of my life without habitual physical confrontations, which I attribute largely to my demographic attributes. However, for two days in a row now, I've had the dubious pleasure of putting my training to use. In fact, the first thing I did at martial arts practice this morning was to ask my classmates' opinions about how I had handled an assault situation I encountered in a Berkeley park the previous day.

I was helping out the SF Mime Troupe by guarding their stage setup; they were doing back to back shows in the same park over the weekend. I had the late afternoon/early evening shift on Saturday. A white homeless guy saw me reading all by myself near the stage and started harassing me. I was more annoyed and angry than anything. I mean, I knew I was going to be spending time in a Berkeley park; of course I came prepared. Still, I didn’t want to have to hurt anyone.

I told Homeless to go away. He went off to sit with another homeless guy about 30 yards away, where he kept talking about me in a loud voice. His hapless audience – who had, until then, been napping in the sunshine – eventually got irritated (judging from his tone of voice), picked up all his stuff and left the park to his more irascible counterpart. A short while later, Homeless returned in my direction with a different homeless man in tow. They were headed directly for me as I sat on a bench near the stage, reading my journal. Homeless was talking loudly about how I needed company and how he and his friend were going to provide it.

All this took place in daylight in a park full of people hanging out on the grass or playing with their dogs, right near a playground full of children and parents. While I felt like I could effectively prevent things from escalating to actual assault given those helpful conditions, the insensibility Homeless demonstrated to taking such factors into account did make me think of him as more dangerous than his physical appearance would otherwise suggest. In other words, he might not know karate, but there seemed a good chance he was conversant with ka-ra-zy.

Ladies and gentlemen, I wanted to stand my ground. Dude was a sexually harassing, misogynistic asshole who was violating the sanctity of the commons and MOREOVER did not recognize me as a badass who would show him a thing or two about what women are really like. In order for the world to be a better place, he needed to be taught a lesson!

But here’s the thing. The journal I had been reading while sitting on that park bench was from ten years ago when my life was very different. I was basically reading about how much of an asshole I had been due to the fact that I thought I was right all the time. Even when I had actually been right, I had managed to significantly misread the situations I wrote about in the journal, and ended up paying the price for that. I know this because, of course, I know how the story turned out now! Back then, I just knew that I was right, and I thought that was all that mattered.

I train in Filipino martial arts and had at this point supplemented the items I was carrying on my person that day with items that I had put in my backpack that morning “just in case” and other items I always keep in my car and had retrieved from there. I also had the keys to the SF Mime Troupe truck parked a few yards away; when the volunteer coordinator gave them to me, she had said, “If there’s any trouble, lock yourself in the truck and call the police.” I decided those keys were my best weapon in the situation.

Going to the truck, getting in and locking the doors was sort of difficult. I knew that I was right and Homeless and his sidekick were wrong. It felt wrong to retreat, but it also felt like the right thing to do.

Once I was inside the truck, I realized another thing. I had been very angry at Homeless and, from a Buddhist perspective (I’m a Buddhist), you don’t want to let yourself be driven by feelings of anger. In this case, I had successfully not reacted to feelings of anger, but it dawned on me that this is the kind of thing guys, and particularly my martial arts brothers (because they are ones who care enough to make the effort) have to deal with all the time. It was a revelation to me, because when I get angry it’s mostly self-directed (which is a common Western female pattern).

So when we convened for our usual morning martial arts practice in a local park the following day, I was interested to get feedback from my training partners on how I handled the situation. The males immediately commented that this kind of slow-moving assault is not how confrontations happen between males; guys just walk up and hit other guys. There’s no slo-mo, there’s no stalking and talking, there’s no trying to hide violence behind the verbiage of intimacy.

Interesting, I thought. The day before, my focus had been primarily on not letting anger and/or pride drive my response. I wasn’t thinking as much about the gendered aspect of the situation, fraught although it was with gender power dynamics. I briefly wondered if telling Homeless he was exercising White Male Privilege would’ve made him feel better about himself and his position in society. It was Berkeley, after all. There was a good chance homie was a fellow sociology doctoral dropout.

We had a nice, late-summer-morning class featuring mainly wrist locks and stance drills. Towards the end of class the teacher put each of us through our paces on a six-count spada y daga (sword and dagger) drill. Spada y daga typically involves a short rattan stick and a large training knife, but we dispense with the knife so as to practice the trap hand instead. Not long before the end of class, an angry, older white male approached us.

We knew there was a Hostile Neighbor very upset with us for using the local park for our martial arts practice. Our interaction with him had started earlier in the year, when he began screaming at us from his yard across the street. The stick part of our practice made too much noise and woke him up, apparently. HN called the police, but after chatting with us the officer who responded to the call assured us that we were using the park legally. To be courteous to HN, though, we started delaying stick practice to the second half of class, typically after 10 am, and moved the class to a part of the park where hopefully the sound would not carry so much.

Today when the angry, older white male approached us, it was pretty clear this was Hostile Neighbor in person. He asked to talk whoever was in charge of the group. Me being always right, I’m thinking analytically, “Well, that’s either Rey, or I suppose me . . .” and then I start reading the situation. By then, we all turned from the drill we were doing to look at the guy, standing together. This is, after all, Filipino Martial Arts.

Hostile Neighbor started ranting, barely feinting at making a rational argument. In fact, his goal seemed to work himself up into a further state of quaking rage, and he succeeded. I’d seen the same thing years before when I took shelter with family members who turned out to have a secret history of domestic violence. Back then, I theorized that this kind of shaking rage was a precursor to actual physical attack, but I hadn’t stuck around to test that theory. I wasn’t particularly interested in testing it today, either.

There were enough squirrely things about Hostile Neighbor’s behavior in this encounter that I think we all arrived independently at the conclusion that he posed a real threat. For instance:

Instead of approaching our group directly from where his house was across the street, he took a circuitous journey around the park, indicating fear and anxiety, as if he wasn’t sure of the ground he stood on.

He asked to speak with the group’s leader (wait . . . Filipino martial arts groups have leaders? Come on! You must be thinking of Aikido!) but, instead of starting a conversation, he launched into a harangue. The only time he listened to what anyone else said was when he demanded to know where each of us lived, insisting if we weren’t residents of Pinole (the city in which the park was located) we didn’t deserve to use the park. HN being an angry white male and our group, reflecting local demographics, being diverse in terms of skin tone and cultural heritage, I couldn’t help thinking we might be talking to a Trompette. (Trompe (Fr.) meaning deceived, deception; Trompette being a play on words)

After several attempts to speak with Hostile Neighbor, we finally started telling him to go home. It seemed the best possible outcome. He began to walk away, ranting back over his shoulder. Then he took exception with one of us smiling, turned around and started walking back toward our group, verbally asking for active conflict.

I do not know what script was playing in that guy’s head, what twisted, dumbed-down, 21st century version of James Thurber’s Walter Mitty. That some shred of logic was still working in HN’s head was indicated by the fact that when he approached the group again he walked past the teacher (1975 Lightweight Karate Grand Champion of the Philippines) and basically anyone who was tall and/or holding a stick to go chest-to-chest with the shortest member of our group. I know this because I was standing three feet away, flipping my stick. Seriously, dude? You think I’m not gonna fuck with you if you touch my friend?

Fortunately, we were martial artists, half a dozen people with some pretty significant training between us, which in this case resulted in doing nothing. There were no karate chops, no leaping kicks and or ki-ai’s. We stood, waited and watched as Angry White Male deflated his chest and went home, possibly to run a loving hand along the length of his gun cabinet. After a brief consultation, we decided that Meadow Park in Pinole had become too dangerous to use for recreational purposes.

It was just like the day before. Dude walks up full of incoherent anger. It’s messy and illogical and it’s not doing him any good, but if I have to hurt him I want the reason to be right. I want it to be a form of skillful means inspired by some bodhisattva who had perfected all the wisdoms and all the techniques and is also perfect in appropriate use of force. I want to be like Kanzeon, Kuan Yin and Avelokiteshvara, just whipping that frond of mercy out of a vase filled with the waters of compassion and waving it around to making stuff all right. But instead I have nothing, and can only get into the truck where at least it’s less likely I’ll harm another person. And next week we’ll be practicing in a different local park.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Internet Famous circa 1994

According to Google, when I can be distinguished from other people of very similar name I'm most famous for being acknowledged by Debbie Nathan in the forward to her book Satan's Silence and second most famous for . . . well, just type "Feline MPD" into Google. Apparently my article is still the first result. 22 years and going strong! Back then . . . well, say "PINE Is Not Elvis" and say it like you MEAN IT! Back then there were no tab characters; we had to type all our spaces by ourselves. It was terrible! At least PINE brought line wrapping, and somehow we all survived until html was invented and the first conspiracy websites went online. 

I was also into university tunnels and urban exploration, apparently. And of course intellectual analysis of the TV program The Prisoner. Such innocent days!