CategoriesArchiveSearchRandom
View the archives

or

Search the archives
 

Archive for the 'writing' Category

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016

File under story I will never actually write:
In a not so far off future, an increasingly elderly society is decimated when massive numbers of people over 65 suddenly overdose. After much investigstion to culprit turns out to be a group of young political activists who seek to save their future by eliminating retired people who are cost more and more in public health expenditure and dominate the political process through their numbers. How? By hacking into internet connected automatic pill despensers everyone uses…

Welcome to the aged, connected society.

Do or Do Not, There is No Try

Thursday, April 9th, 2015

This is the second of two posts based on papers I turned in for a class on Eastern Philosophy I took in 1997. This is the second paper, the final exam. For the first paper see here [confusion.cc], for the whole story see here [confusion.cc].

Somewhere between eating honey with Pooh and walking the narrow road with Basho I learned something more than eastern philosophy over the last semester. I learned how to live some of the ideals of the traditions we studied. Words spoken by the Dalai Lama now make sense beyond the words themselves. The moon is the moon and the finger the finger. So my final exam is not a retelling of the books we read in the course of the semester but a the answer to a simple question: what did I learn in Philosophy 260?

Why Worry?

“If it is fixable, then there is no need to worry. If not, there is no benefit to worrying.” These are the words of the Dalai Lama, but the sentiment is familiar to everyone: “Don’t sweat the small stuff”, “Don’t worry, be happy” and a million other turns of phrase. Though I have heard them before I have never really listened to them, until I myself said them.

…About halfway through the semester a friend of mine was in the process of getting a loan for a new car. She was hysterical about everything. Every little detail she worried over, completely stressing her out. She worried so much she was making herself sick. All I could say to her was don’t worry, if you are going to get the loan there is no need to worry, if not then worrying will only make you sick, not help you get the car. Stop. Hold the press! I sounded like some dime store version of the Dalai Lama. But, the more I thought about it the more it finally made since, in a way I can’t explain, and over the next few weeks I repeated if to myself when I worried. I works. It released me from the prison of my worry and calmed me down. The worry didn’t always go away completely but the words became a sort of mantra. My own litany against worry, like the Litany Against Fear which Paul Atreides used in Dune:

“I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

A practical example of how I applied my litany against worry is the written exam for this class. Given that the written exam forms 25% of our grade I worried about it long before the semester drew to a close. Normally I would have tied myself into mental knots worrying about my grade, zapping my concentration and rendering studying a vicious cycle. Applying the Dalai Lama’s words I strove to quit worrying about the grade, I reread the materials and reviewed our class discussions. I spent some time away from studying, spending the last hours before the test discussing other things over coffee with friends, just relaxing. When all was said and done, I got a better grade on the written exam than on the paper I spent so much time on worrying about late into the night.

The Bisy Backson

What is a Bisy Backson? In The Tao of Pooh a Backson is described as a person who goes through life always searching but never finding happiness. The Backson is so obsessed with saving time that they have none to spend and in the end has wasted all their time. This sounds familiar.

I go to school to learn so I can get a good job and make money. Why? So I can buy things to save me time so I can enjoy life. But in the meantime I waste the here and now. Trying to get ahead I take too many classes and work as many hours as I can in between. A quad-shot latte to start the morning is a necessity and it’s never shared over conversation and camaraderie. Drink it on the way to class. Finish the next assignment while eating lunch. More lectures and a six-hour shift. Sleep and repeat. Not allowing any time for myself, for life.

On the other hand I see people I go to school with who are wasting their money, or their parents money. They seem to be here to party. Their textbooks always fetch the highest trade-in at the end of the semester, mint condition, never used. Halfway through the this semester I sought middle ground. I missed, too far to the fun side and I know it. Last year I burnt out because I never did anything but work and study.

Somewhere between the Backson and the Hedonist is a better path that I will aim for. Hopefully I can find this path between the two extremes and walk it to success and happiness.

The Finger and the Moon

One koan from or studies of Zen this semester took on greater importance to me, the koan of the finger and the moon:

All instruction is but a finger pointing to the moon; and those whose gaze is fixed upon the finger will never see beyond. Even let him catch sight of the moon, and still he cannot see its beauty.

At first I dismissed this as just another formulation of the familiar “missing the forest for the moon”, and a silly one at that, how could anyone mistake a finger for the moon it points too? But that’s not quite it. Slowly over this semester I have come to understand the koan through my experience with our mid-term paper. I mistook the grade for the assignment.

Instead of trying to learn something I focused on writing a paper that would get me a good grade. I tried to impress my teacher instead of writing a paper. In doing so I fixed my gaze upon the grade and by fixating on it I lost sight of the assignment. It was only after being called out on this by two of my classmates outside of class that I was able to see the mistake I had made. Only now, too late, have I understood that the finger is a necessary tool but that it is the moon itself that is the point. Now I am applying this lesson and a paper on what I learned rather than just writing an “A” paper.

The Big Lesson…

The biggest lesson I have learned in class this semester was not something I got from a book or a poem or a play or a movie. The biggest lesson I learned came from myself. When I registered for this class I anticipated an easy ride. Because I had already taken Religions of the World and Eastern Religions I assumed I would sit back, read a few books, write a few papers and collect an easy A.

Wrong.

My problem was I started the semester with no intention of putting into class anything like the amount of effort that is necessary to learn. At the start of the semester it was clearly stated that we could only take away from this class what we put into this class. Other teachers have said it before yet I always did well even when my effort was less than what it should have been. This semester it caught up with me. I put minimal effort in and will get a minimal grade out.

This is a lesson more valuable to my life than any lesson I have learned in any other class. It is a lesson more valuable than any skill or facts I could learn. More than knowledge it is wisdom. Wisdom I will remember for the rest of my life: don’t ever do anything half-assed, do it right or don’t do it at all. As Yoda said in The Empire Strikes Back, “Do or do not, there is no try.”

In closing

In closing this examination, of myself for this class, I can say that Study of Eastern Thinking has been one of the most informative experiences in my life. One that I hope will be a transformative experience in my life. I have learned simple lessons; about worrying, about losing sight of what matters. Lessons that I hope I can apply to all aspects of my life now and in the future.

As with the essence of Zen, what I have learned I cannot express in words in a way that will make anyone understand. It is not a to be summed up in a word or a phrase. It is a feeling, and feelings must be felt to be understood. I am satisfied that I have, only now in the end, accomplished the objectives of this class, from it to it and everything in between.

Zen at Walden Pond

Thursday, April 9th, 2015

This is the first of two posts from an introduction to eastern philosophy class I took in 1997. I’m only posting this paper to tell a story about my own path to learning. The paper itself is not good, in fact it is quite bad. at best repetitive, poorly organized and altogether lackluster —showing no real insight into the material. For the second paper see here [confusion.cc], for the whole story see here [confusion.cc].

Zen. Simplicity. The feeling of simplicity i feel when reading Zen brings back memories of other writings. Simplicity connected not with a monastery in the mountains of Japan, but in the reflections of life on the shores of Walden Pond in Massachusetts. Life on Walden Pond imparted to me the same feelings of simplicity in living that Maura O’Holloran wrote about in Pure Heart, Enlightened Mind. Simplicity that is in the core of Zen. Simplicity of life living at Walden Pond. Walden helps me to understand Zen by relating to a more western perspective.

Henry David Thoreau’s Life on Walden Pond is a record of his everyday life during two years he lived there, alone, in a simple house he built in with his own hands. Zen is, Master Choa-chou said, “everyday thought.” Walden can be seen as the diary of Thoreau’s search for his version of enlightenment, living simply in the woods. In much the same manner as Thoreau, O’Halloran recorded her personal journey to enlightenment in the letters and diary that make up Pure Heard, Enlightened Mind. By documenting everyday experiences both authors allowed me to glimpse their personal journey down the path of life.

Living in Toshoji Temple O’Holloran learned the things no book could teach her. She learned the lessons of life, practical yet simple. The same lessons that Thoreau learned on the shores of Walden and recorded in his writing. “Walden, in short, is designed as a practical course in the liberation of the reader” (1676), writes Hershel Walker in The Norton Anthology of American Literature. In Walden Thoreau offers his everyday thoughts and experiences to the reader. Within its pages I shared in his journey to enlightenment. The idea that liberation comes through everyday living is summed up in one word in Japanese, “jiriki”. Jiriki refers to a persons attempt to “achieve enlightenment through his or her own efforts (Lindley). Jirkiki to me implies that to reach enlightenment we must learn from personal experience as opposed to what we can learn from outside sources, like books and people.

In Essays in Zen Buddhism, D. T. Sazuki says “Zen in its essence is the art of seeing into the nature of one’s own being, and it points the way from bondage to freedom” (13). In Walden Thoreau says, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essentials facts of life” (75). Thoreau went to live simply. Alone at Walden Pond, without the distractions of others, he could look within himself. The simplicity of life on the pond allowed him to discard the bondage of society, peal back the layers and reveal himself.

To reach the Buddhist goal of becoming one with everything and gaining freedom from the bondage of life, O’Holloran struggled with the idea of “mu.” Mu is the Japanese word for nothing. O’Halloran concludes that she must “embrace mu”. To embrace mu a person must become one with everything. Abandon your ego and explore yourself outside the complexity of society. In modern society, many people have walled their true self behind the complexity of conformity. Thoreau left society because as he said “the life of a civilized people is an institution, in which the life of the individual is to a great extent absorbed” (26). The institution forces most people to conform in each situation, adding a layer of complexity to them. The child whose clothing does not conform is pressured into buying the cool cloths, pressured into conformity. Else he is shunned by his peers, and made an outcast of society.

Our society grows more complex each day. Everywhere we look a new gizmo that promises to make our lives easier, in fact makes it more complex. My world is the ever-changing world of computers, the epitome of complexity, I must spend much of my time learning the new technology in order to continue to use the computer. Because of the complexity of my life the simplicity of Thoreau’s life, on the shores of Walden appeals to me.

Thoreau reduced his life to only the essentials, Hershel Parker, commented of Walden, that “[Thoreau’s] life became a refusal to live by the materialistics values of this neighbors” (1679). Thoreau himself said “I have three pieces of limestone on my desk, but I was terrified to find that they required to be dusted daily, when the furniture of my mind was all undusted still, I threw them out in disgust” (30). The limestone on the desk is like the many things that I buy in a vain attempt to fill my world with beauty, but only clutter my life. Over and over I buy new things to put in my house to make it more appealing. Thoreau’s last of things is what made his life simple. The simplicity made his life appealing.

Thoreau abandoned the object of his life, like the limestone that were not necessities. Mumon, a Zen master said, “the treasures of the house do not come in by the front door.” The “things” that we bring into our house unnecessarily are just fluff, useless. Thoreau said “bare feet are older than shoes, and [one] can made them do” (19). A quote in The Little Zen Companion says “I threw my cup away when is saw a child drinking from his hand at the trough” (133). Both the shoes and the cup are items that perform as specific job, one that we can perform without them. They are examples of the fluff that my life has become filled with. It is the fluff that hides the true treasure of the house. The true treasure that enters the house when we enter, and leaves when we leave. Simple treasure that are always with us.

Our treasures have always been inside of us, but we have filled or lives with complexity and hidden them. Thoreau simplified his life on the shores of Walden Pond, by removing the materialistics treasure, leaving only himself, his treasures. In his writings I glimpsed an undiluted look into his journey to find himself. The simplicity of his life is a beacon of hope in the complexity of my world. Walden left me with the belief that a simple uncluttered life leads us to a simple uncluttered mind. A mind in which we may experience our true selves. O’Halloran, Suzuki, and all other Zen masters an teachers I have read have only help to water seeds planted by Walden. Thoreau likely never new what Zen was but his insights into life would have made him a master of Zen to me. His words taught me the essence of Zen before I know what Zen was, and he continues to help me understand the Zen I read.

The bibliography is missing, but as I still have most of these books, except the Norton Anthology. Here is what I have:

My time has passed

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

Walking in the forest, I found a shovel sitting by a tree. So I dug a hole. A little way down I found a bone, maybe a leg bone. Maybe human. I took the bone to the old woman who lives up the street. She deals tarot cards, reads palms and talks to the dead. The old woman told me it was indeed a human bone. She told me it had a violent past. Then she lit candles, burned incense, spoke in tongues, and communicated with the dead. Sitting in her living room surrounded by B-movie props I felt the air turn cold. A voice from the other side spoke; ‘leave me alone. My time has passed.’ The old woman held out the bone for me and said, “bury it back where you found it.” So I returned to the forest, to the hole I had dug and I tossed in the bone. I picked up the shovel and filled in the hole. Then I took the shovel back with me and put it in the shed. Some stories were not meant to be told.

Comm 100 – Persuasive Speech

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

The Dalai Lama’s remarks [news.bbc.co.uk] on the 50th anniversary of his flight from Tibet and the failed uprising against the Chinese Communist occupation reminded me or a long delayed project; transcribing my 1999 speech — originally written for a communications class — about the plight of the Tibetan people. So, here we go. I just going to transcribe the outline I used for the speech (given in class and several times in Amnesty meetings around the DC Metro area). In 1999 there wasn’t the crazy cool Internet video there is today, so I actually had to show the video’s linked to below using a VCR and I had to go and buy them from Save Tibet [savetibet.org] in downtown DC! Anyway, here is the speech:

Brian Beggerly
Comm. 100
Persuasive Speech
Specific Purpose: To persuade my audience to take personal action to end the situation in Tibet.

Main Idea: China has and continues to violate the human rights of the people of Tibet.

INTRO

SHOW “WHY ARE WE SILENT [savetibet.org]

— What you just saw was a public service announcement prepared by the International Campaign for Tibet, the actors and actresses were reading passages from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

— The Declaration was passed by the United Nations in 1948 and subsequently ratified by all member states. Today all 188-member states are legally bound by it’s articles.

— The 30 articles of the Declaration are designed to guarantee the basic human rights of all citizens of the world.

Rights like:
— Freedom of speech
— Freedom of religion
— Freedom from torture
— Freedom from arbitrary incarceration
— and many others…

— Yet China, the largest country on Earth, a country with a permanent seat on the UN Security council, has been in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for over 50 years, almost since the day Eleanor Roosevelt first read out the worlds of the declaration to the world.

— China has and continues to violate the rights of many of it’s citizens according to Amnesty International’s latest annual report. The plight of the Tibetans in their own homeland, occupied for half a century is especially dire.

— And since the governments of the world, including the government of the US with it’s supposed moral leadership, seem not to care about the people of Tibet, it is up to us, to you and I, to ordinary people all over the western world to stand up and do everything in our power to put a stop to China’s Tibet policies and abuses. To put a stop to what Russian defector Alexander Solzhenitsyn described as

The most brutal and inhuman communist regime in the world.

BODY

  1. It began in 1949, only a year after China ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the communist Chinese army invaded and quickly overran the mostly pacifist country of Tibet.
    1. The invasion was uncontested by the rest of the world despite the fact that the Dalai Lama, the spiritual and secular leader of Tibet, requested help from the free world; the UNITED STATES, BRITTAN, INDIA and other all ignored the pleas for help and protection.
    2. For ten years the Tibetans struggled to live under Chinese rule, but as time passed the Chinese began to take away the basic aspect of Tibetan Culture one-by-one.
    3. In 1959 when the Chinese government outlawed the practice of religion in Tibet, the Tibetan people revolted. The Tibetan people did not use violence as a means to revolt, instead the pacifist Buddhist people gathered in the streets and sang religious songs and chanted anti-Chinese slogans…
    4. The response from the Chinese was swift and violent. Half a million Tibetans were killed. The Dalai Lama and nearly one million other Tibetans fled Tibet on foot, traveling across the roof of the world — the Himalayan mountains into India to seek safety as a political refugee.
    5. Over the past 50 years China has done as it pleases in Tibet. Committing uncountable atrocities with complete immunity. According to the Tibetan Government, exiled and today based in India, and numerous human rights organizations around the world:
      1. Over 1.2 million Tibetans, approximately one-fifth of the population, has died as a direct result from China’s policies in Tibet.
      2. Hundreds more languish in prisons and labor camps, enduring what the Chinese authorities term “reeducation”.
      3. More than 6,000 monasteries, temples and other cultural and historical buildings have been demolished and their contents pillaged. Today, less than 300 monasteries remain.
      4. Today China uses the Tibetan Plateau as a testing site for nuclear weapons and as a landfill for it’s toxic and nuclear waste.
      5. In 1995, Nagawang Choephel, a Fulbright Scholar, and a Tibetan, returned to Tibet to document the religious practices of this native people as part of his Doctoral Thesis. He was arrested and charged with promoting anti-government activities, based on his videotaping of religious ceremonies. He remain is a Chinese prison today.
      6. Then there is the case of Gedhum Nyima, recognized in 1995, at the age of 6 as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, the second highest religious figure in Tibetan Buddhism, was abducted from his home along with his entire family on May 17, 1995. He and his family have not been see or heard from sense, he remains the youngest political prisoner in history.
      7. The worst atrocities in Tibet are inflicted on the nuns. The nuns are the heard of the continuing peaceful struggle for freedom. In recent years hundreds of nuns have been arrested for gathering to sing religious songs and for possessing pictures of the Dalai Lama. They are kept in prisons without trial where they are systematically starved, tortured, raped and executed in an ongoing attempt to break the will of the Tibetan people.
      8. To show what the people of Tibet have been enduring for half a century the International Campaign for Tibet released their video “The World isn’t Listening” in 1998:

        SHOW “THE WORLD ISN’T LISTENING [savetibet.org]

  2. In recent years, and especially since the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Price for Peace, the world has begun to look more and more into the realities of China’s occupation of Tibet.
    1. Today there are many organizations working to inform the world of the atrocities which continue to be committed by the Chinese government. Including:
      1. The International Campaign for Tibet, based here in DC publishes many resources to educate people on the situation. Both the videos I have shown tonight were provided by the International Campaign for Tibet.
      2. Amnesty International, based in London, with offices around the world engages it’s members in letter writing campaigns to attempt to gain freedom for the prisoners of conscience in Tibet.
    2. Thou the actions of these and numerous other grass roots organizations around the world has helped to focus more attention on the situation in Tibet there is still a long way to go.

CONCLUSION

Why should we care about what happens to this remote, isolated, third-world country of Tibet?

According to the International Committee of Lawyer for Tibet;

World peace shares it fate with the outcome in Tibet. A peaceful resolution of the Tibetan struggle will send a message to the world community that international disputes can be resolved peacefully through the rule of law. On the other hand, if such a resolution does not come about, the message to other peoples is that only war, terrorism and violence will force effective international attention on our situations.”

Each and every person who believes in human rights has a responsibility to act to help end the atrocities in Tibet. What good is a belief in human rights if countries can ignore them at will? Elie Wiesel said it best when he said:

If to be free is the most important goal of all, the to help someone else to be or become free must be the most sublime and rewarding of human endeavors.

Here’s what you can do:
— You can seek out the organizations which work for a peaceful resolution, help them, learn from them and help to educate others.
—You can exercise your rights as Americans by addressing our Representatives and Senators in Washington, telling them that the US should use all it’s economic and political power to help the oppressed people of Tibet.
— But most importantly, you can vote with your wallet; refuse to by goods made in China. It’s hard but there are alternatives and if there are not, ask yourself if you really need that new gadget or that pair of shoes more then an entire country needs it freedom.

Because the old saying holds true;

“IF YOU’RE NOT PART OF THE SOLUTION, THEN YOU’RE PART OF THE PROBLEM.”