Sunday, August 29, 2010


All my life I have been very sensitive of the concept of fairness. I think I have stated before in my posts on anger that I have a very revengeful nature. Certainly if I am wronged or treated unjustly I have a hard time dealing with my anger for that person. I will remember a wrong for years. I will cut out any person who has wronged me; I will ignore them from that time onwards. (I have a long way to go on the spiritual path of forgiveness).
However, if I have deserved a criticism, if I have acted badly, if I have wronged first, that is an entirely different matter. I may grumble, mostly in anger at myself, but I am not infused with the same anger or revenge for that person. Fair is fair.
People who lie, who bear false witness, are the lowest of the low in my eyes. I can’t abide dishonesty and falsehood. Some of you reading this who know me may know what (and who) I am talking about. Anyway, this weekend I had occasion to think about integrity and the malice of those who don’t have any. I looked up some quotes. The following ones are most in tune with my own thoughts at this moment. I will no doubt write more about integrity or the lack thereof in the future. I think it is an important subject.

O, what a tangled web we weave; When first we practice to deceive!  Sir Walter Scott

He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world's believing him. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good dispositions. Thomas Jefferson

There is no vice that doth so cover a man with shame as to be found false and perfidious. Francis Bacon

If you have integrity, nothing else matters.  If you don't have integrity, nothing else matters.  Alan Simpson

He who indulges in falsehood will find the paths of paradise shut to him. Abu Bakir

It is an affront to treat falsehood with complaisance. Thomas Paine

If a man does not resent slight injustices, he will soon be called upon to face giant wrongs. Taoist tradition

'Tis better to suffer wrong than do it.  Thomas Fuller

Take care that no one hates you justly.  Publilius Syrus

If everyone were clothed with integrity, if every heart were just, frank, kindly, the other virtues would be well-nigh useless, since their chief purpose is to make us bear with patience the injustice of our fellows.  Jean-Baptiste Molière

Update: if we believe the author of this quote, then it would seem God agrees with me:

All malice has injustice at it`s end, an end achieved by violence or by fraud; while both are sins that earn the hate of heaven, since fraud belongs exclusively to man, God hates it more and, therefore, far below, the fraudulent are placed and suffer most. Dante Alighieri

Monday, August 23, 2010

5 things you didn't know about Zen meditation

This is a guest post by Louise Baker. Louise ranks online degrees for Zen College Life. She most recently wrote about the best colleges online.

After a hard day at work, we need an opportunity to relax and unwind. An excellent way to clear one's mind at the end of the day is through Zen meditation. This Buddhist practice will help relieve the body, calm the mind, and relax the soul. However, many people are unaware of the fantastic benefits that Zen meditation can provide. These five facts regarding Zen meditation will help you bring calmness to your everyday lifestyle.

1. The Traditional Aim of Zen Meditation is to Discover Your 'Buddha-Nature'

The religion of Buddhism states that all living being possess a 'Buddha-Nature,' or a type of unlimited wisdom, which is accessed by experiencing the mind's most natural state. In Zen meditation, you try to achieve this state by tuning out the outside world and focusing on your inner nature. It is believed that by tapping into your 'Buddha-Nature,' you will gain a deeper understanding of the world and its inhabitants.

2. You Don't Have to Be Buddhist to Practice Zen Meditation

Although the practice of Zen meditation is rooted in religious traditions and beliefs, you do not have to practice the religion of Buddhism to enjoy the benefits of meditating. Many people find Zen meditation's search for inner knowledge to be very relieving after a long day. By retreating into your own mind and ignoring the outside world, you can focus on promoting your own well-being, rather than constantly thinking about the issues you must deal with in your day-to-day life. This break from the trials of everyday life has a remarkably soothing effect.

3. You Can Meditate Anytime, Anywhere

There is no 'right' time or place to practice Zen meditation. As long as you can create an atmosphere within yourself that is suitable for fostering a Zen state of mind, you can meditate anywhere and at any time of day. The important part is that you ensure that you are in a place where you can sit comfortably for at least fifteen minutes.

4. Zen Meditation Can Take Practice

Many people have difficulty achieving a Zen state of mind the first few times they try to meditate. It can be difficult to ignore the distractions that are presented both in the outside world and in your own mind. However, you simply need to practice. In time, you will develop the ability to tune out all other sounds but the wisdom of silence.

5. Zen Meditation Provides Universal Understanding

After tapping into one's 'Buddha-Nature,' many people feel endowed with a new sense of knowledge. Meditation enables you to understand yourself and the world around you, adding peace and harmony to the world.

Image : Nitobe Memorial Garden at UBC by hermida

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Into Great Silence

This is not a review of Philip Gröning’s work: to ‘review’ such a film would be as presumptuous as a book review of the Old Testament. But I will share with you here what I saw and felt in this film in order that you might wish to see and feel it also.

The Monastery of the Grande Chartreuse is considered to be one of the most ascetic monasteries in the world. In 1984, I asked them for permission to film on location. It was said that it was too early. Maybe in 10, 13 years. 16 years later I received a call from the Chartreuse. They were now ready.  – Philip Gröning

‘Into Great Silence’ is a fly on the wall’s view of monastic life in the Grande Chartreuse. It is a film like nothing you have ever seen before because what it sets out to do is make visible and palpable the invisible and the impalpable. And in this it succeeds like no other film you will ever see. How do you tell the story of a life devoted to the invisible Spirit, spent largely in silent communion with God, in menial tasks performed gratefully with a pure heart?

The Lord passed by. Then a great wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord,
But He was not in the wind.
After that there was an earthquake,
But the Lord was not in the earthquake.
After that came a fire,
But the Lord was not in the fire.
After the fire came a gentle whisper.  – Kings 19, 11-13

This is the first of several quotations from the Bible that occur like milestones or guiding stars along the journey of the film. And we are immediately seized by the power and poetry of those words. This feeling stays with us as their meaning is given form in the daily life of the monks. 

One of the earliest scenes shows a monk preparing vegetables in the kitchen. 30 seconds of watching a monk cutting the leaves off celery. One might begin to think to oneself that the director is setting the scene, preparing us for the action to come. But, with great courage, Gröning continues to show us the monk cutting the celery. There is no action to come. This is the action. The smallest of tasks are given their due place in life. It is borne in on us that all our daily tasks are noble and a meditation if performed in the right spirit. We need to slow down and pay attention to our lives.

In my opinion there is absolutely no doubt Gröning was divinely inspired and guided throughout the making of this film. Can you imagine that all the monks’ prayers - the whole monastery’s most earnest prayers - for a happy outcome to their film project would go unanswered? Think about it. Even I feel the breath of an angel over my shoulder as I write about it.

Gröning slows us down in every successive scene and makes more and more obvious the complete disconnection between our frenzied superficial world and this timeless, peaceful world of the Spirit. At first we may feel uncomfortable. Those afraid to be alone, afraid of the void, afraid to think, or afraid to be away from their cell phones for more than 5 minutes, may feel very uncomfortable. But after a while we begin to think that this quiet life is the real life and that other frenzied life is uncomfortable.

Interspersed with the scenes of daily tasks and prayer and silent communion with God are scenes of nature, time lapses of the stars at night, camera angles of the play of shadows on the wooden floor boards, dust specks floating in the light. Scenes that ordinarily might go unnoticed are now presented to us in their own right to make us look at the visible beauty of the world and how it suggests the invisible beauty of the Spirit that created it.

Anyone who does not give up all he has cannot be my disciple.

We try to imagine what it must be to give up all we have and become a monk, a disciple. We fail. These words are old but for these monks they are new and imperative. We look on with a kind of awe. Gröning has no qualms presenting us with several series of 30-second full-face shots of the monks. Humility, kindness, simplicity, forgiveness: all manner of virtues are to be read on their faces as they look us benevolently right in the eye. One might even say God looks us right in the eye.

The ‘aha’ moments are many in this film, although they are no doubt somewhat different for each individual. I found the following quotation particularly poignant. It perhaps sums up the whole meaning of Christianity and the spiritual imperative in its two lines:

Behold I am become human. If you should not want to join me in becoming God, you would do me wrong.

‘Join me in becoming God’: that is what the monks wish to do with all their heart. And their journey, revealed to us by the inspired hand of Gröning, is very poignant and uplifting. Poignant because a life devoted to the Spirit is what we are born to and what we would desire above all things if we only knew it, but we don’t know it. Uplifting because these monks, although only men like us, have been able to choose this path and to follow where it leads.

You shall seek me and you shall find me. Because you seek me with all your heart, I will let myself be found.

I hope I have encouraged you to see this important film. I am sure it will change the way you look on your own life - perhaps at first in small, imperceptible ways - as it has changed the way I look on mine.
I will leave you with the following clip that shows many of the aspects I have discussed and has an excerpt of the beautiful Night Office at the end. (Unfortunately the presentation of the opening quotation has been modified but do not mind it: the rest is worth it).

Monday, August 9, 2010

Wingsuit proximity flying - that crazy guy again

You may remember last October I posted a spectacular video of some crazy guy base jumping with a wingsuit down the north face of the Eiger. I commented at the time that such a practice might be laudable in pursuit of some military objective that would save lives but was foolhardy gambling with one’s life in the pursuit of thrills. The next day, that crazy guy (Halvor Angvik) wrote me a very scientific and reasoned four page reply showing that preparation, knowledge and practice removed much of the risk and that risk-taking was anyway a necessary part of life, at least a necessary part of a life worth living. And I had to admit he was in the right of it.
So now, ladies and gentlemen, let me present for your viewing horror Halvor’s latest video entitled ‘Wingsuit proximity flying – working a line’ in which Halvor makes 5 jumps, each successive jump more hair-raisingly spectacular than the last. I need a coffee.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

How to be alone

Well shipmates, you are in for a little treat. You know the music vid, now know the poem vid. A beautiful, refreshing little video called ‘How to be Alone’ by Tanya Davis. My blog has a contractual obligation to post anything called ‘How to be Alone’.
I will not spoil the surprise for you by making any other comments, but you can trust me, its great.

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)
Kiyomizudera Temple has a large veranda looking out over Kyoto and beyond