Monday, November 07, 2016

What Sparked Childhood Memories

For Dia de Meurtos I bought a six pack of the little six ounce size Cokes, in the same kind of green glass bottles Coke came in when I was a kid in the 1940s. 

Having a soft drink was a real treat in those days. Soft drinks weren’t kept in the pantry or fridge, and they certainly weren’t considered appropriate for a child under six years of age, and soft drinks containing caffeine weren’t given to children at all. What we were allowed was 'Kayo', carbonated chocolate milk which cost five cents a bottle, which we purchased at the laundry across the street and up the alley. 

The laundry was a big building with high ceilings and doors that opened right up on both ends. It was always hot and steaming and smelled of lavender soap, scorch and hot starch. The floors were rough, and always wet, cement, cool to our bare feet.   

The square galvanized washtubs were arranged in sets of four with a wringer that swung between them. Four or five women took care of about 30 sets of these tubs. It was like watching a dance, as the women in their aprons moved between their groups of tubs, endlessly moving laundry through the four tub sequence that took it from dirty to clean. 

By the time the laundry reached the fourth tub it was nice and clean, and the woman might add starch, or if the laundry was white shirts or sheets or table linens she might add a bit of bluing from a bottle in her apron pocket. 

At the end the clean clothes would have the water wrung out and they’d go into a big basket and a man would carry the basket outside so the clothes could be hung on the clothesline. In one corner several women worked over ironing boards, and it was from this corner that the bewitching smell of scorch and starch arose. 

I would hang over the edge of a tub to see the agitators churn back and forth and watch the clothes rise and disappear again in the dark water,  but my friends were far more interested in the soda machine, and would pull me away. 

The machine that dispensed the sodas was magnificent. We discussed at length how it knew when you had inserted your nickel, because my friends Tommy and Leslie knew boys who had actually tried to remove a soda from this very machine without paying and the machine would not let them!  Tommy said it had to be a thinking machine, a scientific marvel such as only seen in our Flash Gordon Comics. 

The marvellous thinking machine was an ordinary-looking enough box. It was red in colour with “Drink RC Cola” emblazoned across the front and it had a thick lid you had to lift. Inside it was lined with galvanized metal with a series of channels from which soda bottles hung by their tops. The channels ended in a single channel which allowed you to bring your bottle of choice to the front where there was a gate apparatus which could be lifted. You inserted your nickel, slid the soda bottle you wanted along the channel to the end, brought it to the gate, and lifted your bottle out. 

Of course there was first the difficulty of obtaining the required nickel. To do that we collected bottles, raked leaves, pulled weeds and picked bugs off plants in gardens and did all manner of odd jobs. A week’s worth of work, or several days of looking for bottles might net us the nickel needed for a Kayo. All the sweeter for the effort. 

In retrospect, while childhood seems to last several lifetimes to a child, it is but a fleeting moment in retrospect … but it can all be brought back more than 60 years later by a little green glass bottle.  


Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Celebrating Dia de Meurtos (Day of the Dead)


George Eliot said; Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them. 

― 
Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a celebration of pre-Hispanic origins which honours loved ones who have passed  away. It is held on the 1st and 2nd of  November. It is celebrated in Mexico and Central America, as well as in communities around the world where there are populations of people with Indigenous Mexican, Mexican and Central American heritage.

The origins of Dia de Meurtos go back 3,000 years to the Mexica, Maya, Purépecha  and Totonaca Indians, who prior to the arrival of the Spaniards memorialized their ancestors during the month of August with candlelight processions, flowers, incense, puppets and statues of gods, heroes, mythological figures and painted skulls which told the stories of death and rebirth.

After the colonization of the Americas, when the church outlawed many indigenous practices, these Native rituals and celebrations were folded into the Catholic holidays of All Hallows Eve on October 31st, All Saints’ Day on November 1st and All Souls’ Day on the 2nd, with Christian saints replacing the Native figures.

Families still remember and honour their departed loved ones, their “Meurtos”, by setting up an ofrenda (altar), at home, by making a trip to the cemetery to clean and decorate the graves of their Meurtos, and going to church. Friends and family will gather for a meal and, stirred by the photos and mementos on the ofrenda, reminisce about beloved family members who have passed.

Our ofrenda is set up, with the four elements represented,  earth by the food, wind by the papel picado, water in the sherry glass and fire by the candles. Plus there is salt and painted skulls and skeletons that serve as reminders that death and rebirth are a great cycle.

Of course, no ofrenda is complete without flowers. The marigold is the basic must-have flower which forms the arch on every ofrenda. It may be augmented by any flower but it is well-known that the favourite flower of the Meurto is the marigold.  I have added spider mums, peonies and carnations. While copal is the traditional incense I couldn't lay hands on any so I burned pine incense because most of my Meurtos came from areas where the pine is the dominant tree.  A pine log fire was the very scent of home.

The ofrenda honours those loved ones who have passed, so we have photos of family members on the shelves; my parents Charlie and Mattie, Tony’s parents George and Kinette, my paternal grand-parents, Josie and Fred. There’s my maternal grandfather Henry and Tony’s maternal grandmother Marie Theresa. Then there’s a photo of my grandfather Fred’s parents William and Susan Ann, and grandmother’s Josie’s mother, Kizziar. My brothers Hall and Harrell and sister Ruby are also there, and second parents Midge and Barney. Barney was one of my high school teachers, and they became like a second family to me.

Nov 1st is called "Dia los Angelitos" (Day of Little Angels) and the Spirits of the children who have passed are said to visit their families, so on Nov 1st ofrendas are decorated with toys and sweets, for the children in the family who have passed. We have no photos of Isabel, the baby girl we lost in 1971. I found an angel card which I’m letting represent her. I added some small toys, a teddy bear, Babar and Celeste, a doll and cradle (miniatures made by much-loved friends years ago) and of course candy and colourful cupcakes. To her left are Ixchel, Mayan Goddess of women, and her Rabbit companion.

On Nov 2nd the Spirits of the infants return to Heaven and the adults' Spirits come to visit.  On the 2nd items which belonged to the Meurtos are placed on the ofrenda, to make the Meurtos happy to see familiar items.

We have placed a smooth green and grey egg carved from agate, the size of a robin’s egg, which belonged to Tony’s father George on the ofrenda as his memento. George brought it back from Ecuador in the 1930’s. He was a geologist, and he loved shells and stones.

I never saw Tony’s mother without the small golden hoop earrings that are clipped to her photo. She took them off and gave them to me before going into the surgery she did not survive in February 1990. There’s also a tiny pair of wooden Dutch clogs, carved in 1901, which belonged to her. They are empty in the photo above (Angelito Day) but on the 2nd I placed a cigarette in each clog, one for George and one for my Dad.

Also on the ofrenda are some of our Meurtos’ favourite foods. Grandma Josie adored chocolate, as did Kinette, so there is chocolate for them. Dad's favourite candy was lemon drops. I couldn't find any so I bought the closest thing, which were citrus jellybeans. Traditionally cooked red (pinto) beans, cornbread, cheese enchiladas, rice and tacos were all favourite foods of my Meurtos, so a plate of these go on the ofrenda, along with fruit, cupcakes and a cinnamon bun (for my mother), and some fancy cheeses for George and Kinette.

A beer and a Coca-Cola, in the small old-style bottle, complete the meal. While the Meurtos can’t eat, drink or smoke, their Spirits are said to enjoy the “essence” of the food and drink on the ofrenda, and if they were smokers, one is expected to put out a cigarette for them - after all they no longer have to worry about smoker’s cough, do they?

My mother’s watch is her memento. She was a tiny person, and the wristband of the watch is so small it appears to be for a child, and a small child at that! I also have one of her aprons in the kitchen, so if her spirit wanders into the kitchen she'll see it there.

Tucked onto the edge of Tony’s grandmother’s picture frame is a teeny gold Crusader’s Cross with “Jerusal__” on it. The the last letter(s) are worn off. This little medal was one of the gifts her brother Albert brought back for her when he went to Jerusalem in 1901. She wore this tiny medal and a an equally tiny crucifix on a fine gold chain around her neck. Her brother died in 1929, so I’m guessing she passed this tiny Crusader cross through her thumb and finger as she prayed for him for 30+ years after his death.

My Dad's memento is a plastic coin case which holds a 1979 John Kennedy 50 cent piece. How many times have I seen him fish that coin purse from his pocket and dig change from it? It says, “Forget Not All His Benefits”. Of course it’s a Bible reference, but I remember the benefits of being raised by such an honourable and decent man.

The skeleton bridal couple represent my mother's grandparents William and Angeline, who died age 21 and 20, leaving my grandmother Molly orphaned at age two.  I don’t have a photo of my mother’s mother Molly, but I put her tin box which originally held dusting powder on the ofrenda. It was a Christmas gift from my Granddad Henry 100 years years ago. Mother used it as a button box all the years I was growing up. You can see it just beyond the vase of pink peonies.

It is in the preparation that we call our loved ones back, buying the ingredients for the meal, seeking out the chocolates, cheeses and beer they liked, going through the family albums and pulling out photos, bringing out keepsakes freighted with memories. Buying flowers, bringing out dishes, candles and the decorative skulls and figures, and at last combining all of it on, or into, the ofrenda. It is an ancient ritual, one that ties us to hundreds of generations of our ancestors. We eat traditional foods, and we remember our Meurtos, and hope they linger to hear our laughter.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

I Should Say Something, Right?

I should say something, right? The question is, “What”? 

A weather report? We had no summer to speak of, only a single weekend without rain. We had a monsoon season, which is good in a way because I’m sure it replenished the ground water supply after a long drought. But the farmers can’t catch a break because we had a very dry, cold spring, then the heavens opened and it didn’t quit raining from late May until freeze-up, when it started snowing, before the crops had time to ripen. Farming in Alberta is a vocation only for a gambler. 

A KIVA report? Our 80th KIVA loan went to Anna and Mary, who form the Gitangu Urumwe Women’s Group in Nakuru West, Kenya.  The lady with the beautiful smile, who is raising her hand in the photo, is Anna. Anna is 51 years old, married, and a mother of seven children. She joined KIVA partner group, Hand in Hand Eastern Africa in August 2014. 

Anna is a farmer, raising maize, potatoes and poultry. Having gone through enterprise training provided by Hand in Hand Eastern Africa, she has been able to commercialize her farming activities. She applied for a KIVA loan to purchase nutritious poultry feed and mineral supplements to maintain a healthy and productive flock. She hopes to obtain a higher income from the sale of eggs and meat in the local market. This will enable her to support her childrens’ education and provide for other family needs.

Road TRIP! Because I haven’t been to Golden in many years, Ian and I took a weekend road trip in September, just so I could reacquaint myself with the place. It was a beautiful drive, on this side of the mountains the trees were at their height for fall colour. Of course I walked off and left my camera sitting on my desk. Once we crossed over into BC and onto the western slopes of the Rockies it was still summer, and everything was still green. 

Golden is a beautiful small town, situated at the confluence of the Kicking Horse and Columbia Rivers. It’s in the Columbia Valley, with the Rockies to the East and the Purcells to the West.  “Downtown”, such as it is, is mostly small shops and restaurants, and is concentrated within a few blocks.  Up on the highway there’s a big box “home supply and lumber” type store, and fast food places, but no other big box stores. 

We spent the time we were there mostly cruising the streets, looking at the neighbourhoods and at the houses listed for sale that we might be interested in. I’d really like to be in a rural area where I can have a big garden, loads of flowers, fruit trees, chickens, a dog and not have city lights drowning out the stars. And I don’t want to smell neighbour’s smoke - especially their marijuana smoke! Canada is about to legalize marijuana. I have nothing against pot, as long as I don’t have to smell it, which I have to do almost daily here. I am allergic to it and it makes me sick. 

Ian really wants to be in town and within walking distance to downtown. He’s very practical. Me, not so much. We’ll see. There has to be something for sale when we are ready to move, or we will have to build. That’s a long process. 

A report on family activities? Also in early September cousins Bob and Pam, from Florida, made a stop in Calgary for lunch and a visit. Bob and I share a 3rd great-grandfather, one Levin Clark born in 1750 of Sussex County, Delaware. Levin, referred to a “Patriot Levin” to distinguish him from the son and generations of grandsons who share his name, served in the Revolutionary War as one of General Daniel Morgan’s Sharpshooters, a small regiment handpicked by Morgan for their marksmanship. He spent the winter of 1776 at Valley Forge with George Washington’s Troupe’s, some of it sick, and in the hospital. After the War he went back home to Delaware to farm and lived to the age of 84.  

Ian and I met Bob and Pam at one of our favourite lunch spots and we spent a couple of hours swapping stories and comparing notes. Being so far from the big family I grew up with is very hard. And though Bob and I had never met before we have corresponded for 35 years, so it was instant recognition. 

Movie Review: Ian and I went to the movies! Amazing! I wanted to see ‘Kubo and The Two Strings’,  which did not disappoint. I feel it’s a movie which will only improve with repeated viewings. It has a lot of Ninja/Samurai-type action for those who like that sort of thing (not me particularly) and some excellent philosophy, while the sheer beauty of the sets and animation kept me attentive through the slow-paced unwinding of the plot. Definitely one to watch again and again. I will be snapping this one up as soon as it is marketed as a DVD.  

Okay, a Buddhist joke just popped into my head. One winter evening the Abbot of a famous temple dressed himself in rags, presented himself at the Emperor’s table, bowed humbly and asked if he might be fed dinner.  The Emperor looked down his nose at the old man and said, “You scallywag! Who do you think you are? Off with you before I have the guards drag you away and cut off your head!”  The Abbot shuffled away hurriedly and disappeared into the darkness.   

The next evening the Abbot dressed himself in his Priestly garments and again presented himself at the Emperor’s table, and again asked if he might have dinner. “By all means your Excellency!” the Emperor replied, motioning him to come closer. “Come sit beside me at the head table!”  

The Abbot, came to the place the Emperor indicated, then proceeded to undress, folding his splendid robes carefully on the chair in front of him as he removed them.

“What, what are you doing?” the Emperor cried in alarm. 

“Oh, I was here in rags yesterday, and you refused to feed me. Today I came in the robes of my office and you are delighted to feed me. So the meal is not for me. It is for the robes.” And he walked from the palace naked.  


I’ll end with coffee. My very good friends A and L in France sent us six one pound packets of very special organic coffees. You cannot imagine the wonderful perfume emanating from these packets, even though they are vacuum packed in aluminum paper.  Organic Medium Roast, Organic Dark Roast, Organic Columbian, Swiss Water DeCaffinated, Organic Ethiopian Limu and Sumatran Takengon. As the Sumatran Takengon is L’s favourite that’s where I’ll start. Oh My Goodness.  Thank you seems so inadequate. Wouldn’t you agree? 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

KIVA Loan 77



KIVA loan # 77 goes to Vivian, a 21-year-old woman who is always full of smiles. She has had to overcome a lot of adversity in her life. However, she has always had the strength to overcome it and is moving forward with her two children.

Vivian is very hardworking and a go-getter. She hails from Kiptere, a remote village in the Kericho area of Kenya, a country where the average annual income is $1,800. Her primary sources of income are vegetable crops and animal farming. She also earns some income through a personal business. Vivian is content with the farming way of life.

Vivian is a very enterprising woman, and although she never had any formal education or formal employment, she has always worked hard on her farm and she has always assured her children and family have had a decent meal.

The Kiptere Kericho area has favourable conditions for farming, and that is why Vivian sought a loan from KIVA to buy seeds and start farming as a business. With good roads, a good climate, and a good transportation network, she is sure that she will be able to be a successful farmer.

We are glad to be able to help Vivian so that she can succeed as a farmer! It’s a great feeling. Try it. Loaning $25.00 to a business person in the Third World through KIVA will give you a glow that’s hard to get any other way.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

When There's Not There Anymore...


We’re house shopping, planning on a return to BC, the Province to the west of us, in the New Year. Our settled destination is at the head of the Columbia Valley, a small town in the mountains called Golden. I’d rather be farther south, but Golden is a convenient three hour drive from Calgary on Canada’s only major east-west highway, so Golden it is. 

I make a daily visit to the real-estate listing site to see if any new listings have shown up, as the pickings are slim in our price range. Today for some reason the site went berserk and interpreted my “Golden” request loosely, and showed me offerings within 100 miles or so. Believe me, it didn’t expand the list all that much. This country is pretty thinly populated. 

But one of the first houses on the list caught my eye because it looked very familiar. The address was 120 km (75 miles) down the Valley in Invermere, a village we lived in some 40 years ago. But, looking on Google Street View, the house was not at the address listed.  Favourite realtor's trick, wrong address. If you want to see the house you have to come to the office. 

It’s an old house, built in the 40’s, and it’s on a five acre property surrounded by lush greenery. The inside is wrecked. The walls are vandalized, furniture is overturned, looks as if it’s been used as a squat. Still, looking at the pictures I have a sense of recognition, even of the outbuildings, the little log cabin and chicken coop on the property, and I keep coming back and looking at that darn house. 

The price is ridiculously low, this much property should be five or six times the asking price. It must be going for back taxes. And while the house is in rough cosmetic shape, and will have to be completely rebuilt from the outside walls, there is no apparent water damage, and in the basement the subfloor is composed of huge peeled pine logs 16” in diameter, with the sawn-off branches still butting an inch or two from the timber. 

I am puzzled. Golden is at the Northern, wet, end of the Columbia Valley. The farther south you go down the Valley the drier it becomes. By the time you reach Invermere, where the agent says this house is located, you have reached high desert. The pines are widely spaced and grass ekes out a starvation existence on gravel moraines dumped there by glaciers. This house is surrounded by thick, fat pines and lush undergrowth. And then I look at the background of the photo the mountain looming behind. 

And I know where it is.  In the early-mid 1970s we lived a few miles from the tiny not-even-wide-spot-in-the-road hamlet called Spillamacheen, BC on an 18 acre farmstead which overlooked the Columbia River and the Purcell Mountains. If Heaven was ever dropped on earth it was here for me. 

Every few days I’d get in our van and drive over to Spillamacheen to pick up the mail. The postmistress was Francis Dunn, a middle-aged single lady who lived with her widowed mother in the house her father had built when Francis was a girl.  The post office was a square building, maybe 16 feet on a side, with a peaked roof. Down the road was the General Store and Gas Station, which comprised the “business district”. Just beyond the Gas Station was Mary Yadernuk’s gate, and her expansive meadow dotted with grazing sheep. Aside from a half dozen houses grouped loosely around the post office and gas station there was nothing more to Spilly. 

But the house. I was talking about the house, because it’s Francis Dunn’s house. Or was. The post office closed many years ago. I don’t know if Francis went elsewhere, or if she stayed on. She and her mother had a huge vegetable garden, and they raised wonderful flowers. I was there many times because we became friends. They were lovely ladies. 

It’s too far from Golden for us to buy. Right now I’m in the third day of “recovery” after a full afternoon out, as we had a medical appointment across town, went out for a late lunch, and then Ian took me grocery shopping.  Having to make 120 km trip to go grocery shopping every week would kill me. Yet I would love to go back there, to the view, to the place. But then again, it's just a view. I might just be going back to a terrible sense of loss, since everyone who was dear to me there, especially Mary, is now gone.  

There's not "there" any more.  



Friday, April 01, 2016

How was I supposed to know you were mad?

I see the angry, aggressive crowds at the Trump rallies and am reminded again and again of the Anaïs Nin quote: "We don't see things as they are. We see things as we are." 


It's easy for Liberals like me to become  incensed at Trump supporters who show up at rallies primed for a fight, but we do well to remember that each of them has a reason, a reason that makes sense to them, to be angry and hostile. You might say they are each like a bear with a broken tooth. Though the pain of the tooth is totally invisible to me, it is nonetheless provoking behaviour which, for the most part, is uncharacteristic in the bear as a rule. 

Journalist David Brooks said something interesting on Charlie Rose a couple of nights ago. Here's a man who's a principle political columnist for the NY Times. He's on PBS Evening News as a political commentator. He's thoughtful and intelligent and he ought to be aware of what's going on, and yet the rage that has fueled Trump's rise caught him completely by surprise. He freely admitted he didn't see it coming, he didn't realize people were angry or were even discontented. 

But how has it escaped Brooks, or any of them, that the American working class has paid the price while 100% of the economic growth in the USA in the last 20 years has gone into the pockets of the wealthiest families in the country? The Guardian reported that the top 1% in the USA are now worth as much as the bottom 90% put together.  

Since the 1980s money has been steadily moving in an upward direction, with what were once well-paying jobs moving off-shore to unregulated jurisdictions, where work can be performed by slave and prison labour if need be, to maintain a large profit margin. 

Jobs that pay minimum wages don’t keep a family fed, clothed and housed adequately, even with both partners in a marriage working two or even three of them, and that equals a lot of anger. Many people have lost everything they have worked for all their lives; homes, retirement savings, college dreams for the kids. They are deep in debt and they have no financial security. They fear for their future, and this fear and anxiety has been honed by the Republican Party to turn against always reliable targets of racial and ethnic minorities and immigrants, and newer ones such as "Constitutional Freedoms", fear of losing one's guns, and "religious freedoms" like the right to pray in school, right to impose fundamental Christian beliefs on school curriculums and ban the teaching of subjects which "disagree" with a Biblical view.  This strategy has backfired in a horrific way and the Republicans are now in a panic, trying to find a way to pull the nominational rug out from under Trump. They raised the dragon and let it out of its cage, and now find it does not obey their command. 

No wonder people are ready to listen to a man who expresses their anger openly, directs it at the targets they didn’t like in the first place and have been told to blame their troubles on for the last 30 years. Now Trump says HE will fix things, HE will make America the way it used to be, back when it worked for them. He bullies dissenters openly, encourages violence, makes his audiences feel powerful and in control. Of course he’s full of shit. He hasn't a clue what politics are about, his "policies" change with the wind, and he’s completely and entirely amoral, but no more so than politicians who stand up and politely promise to fix things but are as superficial and slick as a spray of PAM on a non-stick skillet.   

But we are playing a very dangerous game with our unbridled capitalism. Franklin Delano Roosevelt stepped in and pulled the USA from the brink of democratic collapse when this kind of inequality happened during the Great Depression. In Capital in the Twenty-First Century,   French economist Thomas Piketty argues that "extremely high levels" of wealth inequality are "incompatible with the meritocratic values and principles of social justice fundamental to modern democratic societies" and that "the risk of a drift towards oligarchy is real and gives little reason for optimism about where the United States is headed. 

But back to David Brooks; even now, when he says he’s now aware of the anger at the political system and politicians in general he still believes the Republican Congress was willing to work with President Obama, but President Obama made no effort at all to work with Republicans.

He also thinks there are lots of good jobs out there if you’re willing to look, and there's no lack of opportunity for a poor kid (of any colour or class) to move into the upper middle class if they're willing to work hard. As far as he's concerned the determining factor in a person's success is how much their mother loves them. 

***Seriously***

He actually said there was a study which showed that a man’s success, and how far he rose, promotions, business, military rank, etc. depended not on his education, class, or financial advantage but on how much love his mother poured into him. Also high achievers tended to be people who lost a parent by age 12 and had to pull up their bootstraps and do for themselves.  

Of course this plays into his wheelhouse and supports his philosophy that spending money on social programs is useless, because what the country really needs is more loving mothers. Bless his heart. I don't know if he's drinking too much NyQuil before he comes to work in the morning, or if someone's dosing him with horse tranquilizers, surely the man couldn't be that naive and hold down his job. I mean come on, even Ben Carson is quicker on his feet than that. 

He's the most willingly deluded thing that ever wrote a column inch. One expects the fairies at the bottom of the garden to flutter up and start sprinkling sparkly bits all around him. Love cures everything and money (from the government to the citizen) does no good at all. The only place money does a power of good is in the pockets of the 1% and the 90% can go fish or starve, whichever comes first. 

David, you are gorgeous and I could eat you and your rose-tinted glasses with a silver spoon. Let me pass long some advice from a very wise old man. Trump may not get elected this time but if someone doesn't start paying attention to a lot of hurting people soon Trump will be the least of your worries.

“Do not avoid contact with suffering or close your eyes before suffering. Do not lose awareness of the existence of suffering in the life of the world. Find ways to be with those who are suffering including personal contact and visits, images, sounds. By such means, ...awaken yourself and others to the reality of suffering in the world. If we get in touch with the suffering of the world, and are moved by that suffering, we may come forward to help the people who are suffering.” 

― Thích Nhất Hạnh 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Zen of An Empty Mind

The ability to achieve a mediative state has long been second nature. Like dropping a stone into a deep, quiet well. No need to pay attention to the breath, no chant, no posture but the chair. Awake and aware, but uninvolved in the thousand thoughts that usually crowd the moment.  

Maybe we make it too complicated. There’s no need for all the bells and chants and incense and such, though most of us like the comfort of ritual. But we need to be able to drop into a meditative state without the prompts if needed.   

Only One Head!
I had a funny meditative experience once. Before beginning a new medication which had a potential for producing seizures in those who are prone to such, I had to have an EEG to make sure I didn’t have undetected seizures. 

My appointment was for 7:45 am, an unholy time of day for someone who hates getting up early. Part way through the test the technician said, “I’m going to turn the lights off for 20 minutes. You can rest, but don’t go to sleep.” So I decided to meditate for those 20 minutes. 

When the results came back I had no propensity for seizures but the neurologist reading the EEG noted that I had increased levels of alpha and theta wave activity, and suggested my doctor ask me if I had a problem with alcohol. 

I told my doctor I’d been meditating during the EEG but she looked at me as if I’d just grown a second head. I don’t drink (at all) but I don’t think she ever believed I wasn’t a dedicated booze hound after that. She checked my liver enzymes each time she did blood work, and would say things like, "I can tell if you've been drinking by your liver enzymes." 

Of course meditation creates the same increase in alpha and theta wave activity in the brain as alcohol, but while the neurologist who read my EEG may have come across a drinker or two early in the day, she’d probably never come across a practiced Buddhist meditator at 8:00 am before.  

Thursday, December 31, 2015

How to Deal With People Who Frustrate You

This article comes from the blog Raptitude which has as its byline “Getting better at being human”. It’s an interesting blog and worth following. This post bites close to the bone to anyone working on enlightenment. Okay okay, [True Confessions: this post bites close to my bone. I should read it to start most days.]  

Deep down I knew better, but I couldn’t stop myself.

An opinionated Twitter acquaintance of mine had tweeted a snarky comment that dismissed all forms of self-improvement as new age feel-good fluff. It was such a sweeping, cynical remark that I felt I had to set him straight.

So I hammered out a sharp rebuttal, and felt a little better, but there was still uneasiness. He would surely come up with a counter-attack on what I said, and it would go back and forth until one of us let the other have the last word.

After a few minutes, I got the lesson he was trying to teach me: to let go of my need to be right all the time. I deleted the tweet and he never saw it.

A few years ago I learned an ingenious method for dealing with other people when they’re doing things you wish they wouldn’t do. It’s adapted from a technique by the late author Richard Carlson. It’s easy and works exceedingly well.

You go about your day as normal, but you imagine one difference:

Everyone is enlightened but you.

That includes:
  • The impatient, tailgating driver behind you
  • The intern at work who drinks all the coffee and never puts on a new pot
  • The friend who knows he owes you ten bucks but is waiting until you ask him for it
  • The guy who keeps clicking his pen during the meeting
  • The “greeter” at Walmart who tapes your bag shut every time even though you’re a loyal customer who’s never stolen anything in your life
  • Whoever tagged your garage door last night
  • Your kind old Aunt Sally, who keeps on talking after you’ve said you really need to get going

Imagine all the people in your world are completely enlightened and aware of what they’re doing to you, and they’re doing it only to teach you something valuable. Your task is to figure out what.

A true master won’t simply tell you what he thinks you should know. He’s too wise to say, “Always be patient,” and expect that it will make you a patient person. Instead, he’ll create a lesson that challenges you. He will push a button of yours, and see if you know what to do.

If you knew you were being tested on purpose, what would you do? When your friend was supposed to be here fifteen minutes ago and is nowhere to be seen, what is he trying to teach you? To be patient? To avoid assumptions? Unconditional love, maybe.

This is a very empowering way to field whatever  life tosses at you. It works so well because your mentality changes from that of the know-it-all, the teacher of proper behavior, to that of the student.

If you insist that you already know the sole cause of your frustration to be that other person and their bad driving or selfish attitude, then: 
a) you’ll continue to be frustrated at the whim of others, and 
b) it won’t turn out any better for you next time. 

To habitually regard yourself, like many do, as the knower — the wiser one — in each of these run-ins is to cling to an unenforceable rule that states, “Other people must always behave in ways that make sense to me and are sympathetic to my needs.”

By responding to the behavior of others with the mindset of a student instead of a teacher, you develop a habit of self-inquiry that gradually replaces the habit of condemning others for being less considerate or less refined or less aware than you. You’ll learn to look for the smart move instead of the first one comes to you, and you’ll be building a mental toolkit that can handle just about anything.

The Most Powerful Skills of All

When my enlightened Twitter-mate made his apparently cynical comment, he was presenting me with a precious lesson. I immediately felt a powerful urge to set him straight — a really strong need to make him understand me. At first I took the bait, but after a few minutes I did grasp what he was trying to teach me: Let others be “right.” Cease to cherish opinions.

If you’re somewhat familiar with any spiritual teachings - from the Bible to the Tao Te Ching to The Four Agreements - your new lesson may trigger your memory of a quote or passage that illustrates it, and that passage will then take on a deeper meaning for you. Cease to cherish opinions. Let the baby have his bottle. Love your enemies. You might already “know” them all, but perhaps you’ve never consciously experienced each of them as a lesson in action. Well now you can, and you have brilliant teachers everywhere you look.

The skills your enlightened masters teach are the most powerful and widely-applicable skills you can learn: patience, self-questioning, open-mindedness, forgiveness, gratitude, humility, letting go, and love. If you make a habit of seeing everyone else as enlightened, you will be strengthening each of these potent skills every single day.

Honing these skills will boost your quality of life more quickly than anything else you can possibly do. They’ll create better outcomes at every juncture. Each improvement compounds all the others, for the rest of your life. If you can learn to deal painlessly with critical colleagues after just a few pointed lessons, you are saving yourself untold frustration over the next five, ten or fifty years. The return on investment is astronomical.

Once you figure out what the current lesson is, it’s hard to stay annoyed at its teacher, because you’ll know that only you can drop the ball, by rejecting the lesson. Only you can make you frustrated. And how could you stay angry at one of your enlightened masters for administering such a brilliant lesson?

Only when you convince yourself that you know more than your teacher can you fail to learn.

You’re Headed There Anyway

After a while, you’ll notice that the lessons you encounter will cater to your weak areas with such uncanny perfection, you may begin to suspect that your pathetic co-worker and the perfume-soaked lady on the train really are enlightened. Each lesson will offer you exactly what you need to overcome the trouble it causes you, but only if you are looking for it.

This hints at a powerful idea, which has been suggested by Eckhart Tolle, don Miguel Ruiz, and other spiritual teachers: no matter who you are, the universe is conspiring to enlighten you.

Just as the stones in every fast moving stream will eventually become smooth, rounded discs from years of friction and tiny collisions, it seems we human beings are destined to outgrow our suffering simply because we are constantly running afoul of it. Over time, we can’t help but learn to get better at dealing with what ails us. So each time we butt heads with life — whether it’s in the form of a belligerent customer or a dishonest mechanic - we get a chance to learn something of immeasurable importance.

For many people, this learning takes place only by accident. Over many years, life’s inevitable bumps and bruises gradually clue them in on what works and what doesn’t. It can take most of a lifetime to make a noticeable difference in quality of life, because they don’t see themselves as students. They just want to school everyone else. And that’s an order much too tall for any lifetime.


If you graciously accept the role of student and open yourself up to the wisdom of the enlightened individuals all around you, you’ll be miles ahead of the curve, and your wisdom will be no accident.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Of Course I’m Angry!

As his marriage falls apart, Gabriel Cohen obsesses over all the things his wife has done to make him angry. But a chance encounter with Buddhism shows him the anger is his alone, and never serves any good purpose anyway.

By Gabriel Cohen
Three years ago I was standing in a real estate office filling out a rental application when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a big man enter and approach the realtor. The stranger muttered something, then shoved the young man. I thought he was just kidding — a friend roughhousing? — until he pinned the realtor against a wall and started punching holes in the sheetrock, four of them, circling the frightened man’s head.
Breathless, I ran out to the store next door and urged the woman behind the counter to call the police. “The guy next door is about to be killed!”
I tiptoed back to check on the realtor. Thankfully, his assailant had disappeared, leaving him alive and unhurt, but the man was still trembling.
“Who was that?” I asked. “Some crazy person off the street?”
“No,” the realtor replied. “His ex-wife used to work here. He was drunk, and he was looking for her.”
I walked out of the office into a New York heat wave, a day so hot that the asphalt was threatening to melt. I was in the middle of the worst period of my life: a month before, my own wife had suddenly-without warning or apology-walked out of our marriage.
I thought about that stranger’s anger, and I thought about my own.
I considered myself a generally cheerful person, prone to corny jokes and bad impressions of TV characters, but that jovial self-image had been severely tested during the last few months of my marriage. Our landlord had decided to sell the house my wife and I were renting an apartment in. Though she and I had gotten along well for four years, our search for a new home led to all sorts of disagreements, and then to outright verbal fights (which pointed to other hidden problems in our relationship).
After our marriage fell apart, I trudged through the city streets, praying that I could find an affordable place on my own. I spent endless hours playing a mental loop in which I railed against my ex-wife, her friends, and even her therapist. At around that time, fortunately, I stumbled across a poster for a Buddhist talk. 
I knew little about Buddhism; I saw it as a foreign, esoteric religion full of rituals and chanting, or a New Age fad for rock stars and Hollywood actors. But the title of the talk grabbed my attention: "How to Deal with Anger" (not-as my preconceptions might have led me to expect; How to Bliss Out and Pretend You’re Not Really Angry). Under ordinary circumstances I would have passed on by, but I was suffering and desperate. What did I have to lose?
That very first talk turned my whole world upside down-or right-side up. I was greatly surprised to hear that if I was angry at my wife, my wife was not the problem. My problem was my anger.
I used to think of the spiritual path as a detached, solo journey, like Moses trekking up the mountain, or the Buddha wandering off to sit under his bodhi tree. I imagined how challenging it would be to renounce life’s pleasures and meditate in a cave. Now I realize that life offers a much more common but just as powerful spiritual trial: just try getting along with one other person for the rest of your life. Tie the knot. In good times, the rewards are great: the intimacy, the support, the joy of being loved and of loving someone else. 
Sometimes, though, the positive energy of a marriage seems to derail, to twist, to spiral into a negative whirlwind. It almost appears as if the more good energy you put into a relationship, the more bad feelings come howling out the other side.
In my case, I was sorely tempted to blame my wife for our problems. After all, I had gone into marriage with the understanding that it would inevitably entail struggling through some hard times; she was the one who had refused to put in the hard work that any relationship requires. I thought she was making me feel angry - and heartbroken, and betrayed, and all that other fun stuff. I mean, I knew my anger was an internal feeling, but it felt as if it was coming to me from her, as if it could leap from one person to the other. I didn’t see my anger as a sign of my own irrationality; I thought it made perfect sense. My wife had behaved unreasonably - of course I was getting upset.
As I mentioned, though, that Buddhist talk rocked my view.
It took place in a yoga studio. The teacher held up a book. “How many of you think this exists independently of your mind?”
Everyone in the audience raised their hand.
As the teacher led us to see, though, our only way of knowing the book was there was by filtering our perception of it through our own minds. And that’s true of every single thing in our lives: the objects around us, the people, our concepts, everything. Our entire experience of life is shaped by how we perceive and how we think.
Normally, we believe that we need to reshape our external circumstances to improve how we feel (more money, a better job, a more accommodating spouse), but that’s a huge, never-ending, continually frustrating quest. Buddhism recommends a much more feasible, achievable goal: we can transform our lives by changing how we think about them. As the eighth - century sage Shantideva put it, if we want to avoid stepping on thorns, we can’t possibly cover the whole world with leather - but we can cover our own feet.
Somehow, I realized early on that being pissed off at my ex was not making me feel better. I needed to find a more positive way out of my suffering. The fact that my emotions only existed inside my own head was great news; it meant that they were not dependent on my ex - wife, or how the legal proceedings developed, or on any other external factors. I could improve my experience of divorce by taking responsibility for my feelings, and by learning how to train my mind. And so - like millions of Buddhist practitioners before me - I set out on a journey of internal exploration, observing my thoughts like a scientist peering at electrons buzzing around inside a cloud chamber. I made some fundamental discoveries.
I found that I was not “an angry person” - I was simply a person experiencing angry thoughts. Like all thoughts, they were just temporary, just passing through my head like storms through a clear blue sky. They didn’t have the power to damage the inherent clarity of my mind. And they couldn’t force me to act in an angry way. I learned that it was possible to put a little pause, a breathing space, between an external event and my reaction to it, in order to discover a broader range of options.
As I probed deeper, I realized that - in almost every case - my anger arose out of a deep, internal sense of pain. That feeling was uncomfortable, often intolerable, and I would try to get rid of it by projecting it outward. That seemed to offer some sense of relief, but it had hurt my wife and damaged our relationship.
Often, my pain arose out of a perceived sense of injustice. Like legions of foolish men before me, I believed that being right was the essential thing. When conflicts arose, I argued like an expensive trial lawyer. I won some battles, but I lost the war.
I don’t want to overstate how angry I was. My wife and I actually got along very peacefully and lovingly for the great majority of our time together. I’m generally pretty upbeat and laid-back, and I have friends who say that they can hardly even imagine me angry.
On the other hand, that Buddhist talk made me realize that I was probably underestimating how angry I - and most people - really are, much of the time. We tend to believe that anger is an aberration, an emotion that only arises in exceptional circumstances. But pick up any newspaper and you’ll see how prevalent it is in the world at large: abuse, assault, murder, war. And it’s pervasive in our daily lives. We’re peeved that it starts raining just as we decide to go out for a walk. We’re disappointed that we didn’t win the lottery (even if we didn’t buy a ticket!). We’re irate because our parents didn’t love us enough, or loved us too much. We’re aggrieved that our life is not turning out as we wish or believe it should. Some of us can’t acknowledge our anger; we suppress it and become depressed, or try to salve it with alcohol or food or shopping - or we run away. If you doubt that there’s an unacknowledged current of anger underlying your daily existence, just notice how it flares up the instant someone cuts you off in traffic or steals your parking space. Did it arise out of nowhere, or was it already there?
Among all our spurs to anger, why is a failed marriage so especially powerful? Partly, it’s because our expectations are so high and unrealistic. We buy into a fairy tale that our spouse will relieve us of all our existential suffering and loneliness; we believe that they should make us happy all the time. As Buddhism points out, that’s not love; it’s an ego-based delusion called desirous attachment. When that false ideal falls apart, it’s quickly replaced by disappointment and hostility. It’s much easier to blame our spouse than to acknowledge the fundamental wrongness of our own view.
It’s not a thin line between love and hate; Buddhism says that true love is never the cause of suffering. It’s a thin line between unreasonable expectations and the stinging disenchantment that arises when they can’t be met. A big part of the solution is learning to let go of our expectations of what should happen, and to be more accepting of what life actually brings. As the thirteenth-century Zen teacher and philosopher Dogen beautifully put it, “A flower falls, even though we love it; and a weed grows, even though we do not love it.”
As I developed a practice, I came to understand that my feelings of disappointment and hurt and injustice were all rooted in the same toxic soil: an inflated sense of the primacy of my own needs and desires - what Buddhists call self-cherishing. My anger was a childish wail of complaint: What about ME?
A remarkable meditation called taking and giving helped me start letting go of my self-centeredness and resentment. As I went to more Buddhist talks, I became familiar with the technique of imagining that I was exhaling my tensions and frustrations as dark smoke, and that I was inhaling a clear, blissful light. One day, though, after a talk on anger, the teacher offered an astonishing, counterintuitive exercise. She said that if we were angry with someone, we should imagine breathing in their suffering as dark smoke, and that we should imagine breathing toward them that blissful light. In the early days of my divorce, the last thing I wanted was to imagine that I was taking on my wife’s troubles, but when I tried the meditation, it had a profound effect: it helped me to see her as a suffering person in her own right. I had already found that when my heart was full of anger, it held no room for compassion. While doing this meditation, I discovered that the reverse was also true.
In regard to my big desire to be in the right, Buddhism offered another counterintuitive, helpful method: accepting defeat and offering the victory. Instead of always trying to win, I could surrender my own agenda in the service of a greater peace: I could lose battles, and the war might disappear.
Buddhists say that the antidote to anger is patience. One thing that has helped me move toward that goal has been learning to see that things do not inherently exist in the way that I perceive them (the Buddhist concept of emptiness.) That may sound abstract and intellectual, but it’s easy to apply to relationships. When Zen master Shunryu Suzuki was asked to sum up the essence of his philosophy, he replied with just three words: not necessarily so. If I get riled up now, I repeat those words to myself, a reminder that my perception of what’s going on is undoubtedly incomplete and likely faulty. The anger I perceive in someone else may be arising out of hurt; their seeming stubbornness may cover insecurity and fear.
Did all this new knowledge miraculously enable me to eradicate my anger? Of course not. But at least I started getting better at recognizing it when it first arose, and calming myself before I might act on it.
Eventually, I came to see that anger was a false friend. Though it might seem to bolster me, to save me from depression, to keep me moving forward, it worked against me. Each impetuous e-mail, each vengeful riposte, each passive-aggressive refusal to respond - they all came back to bite me in the end. In fact, Buddhism says that acting out of anger is never the skillful thing to do.
You might think of certain exceptions. What about anger directed against social injustice? And isn’t it necessary and therapeutic to express some anger?
I can think of at least three answers to these objections.
First, anger causes us to perceive its object in a distorted way. We turn the person we’re mad at into an ogre. We become unable to see their good qualities, and we get pumped full of a blinding adrenalin that often causes our interactions to spiral out of control. Anger leads us to see things in a polarized, sharply dualistic way. We believe we’re good; we believe our enemies are evil.
If you think that’s a helpful way to look at conflict, just look at what it has done for the Israelis and Palestinians, Hutus and Tutsis, Armenians and Turks, etc., etc., etc. Of course, it’s important to work against injustice, but we need to do so wisely, with clear eyes and a compassionate, understanding view of all sides. As Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Dalai Lama have so ably demonstrated, a calm mind gets better results. These wise leaders were able to see that, just as our anger is a delusion arising out of our suffering, the anger of our “enemies” is also a delusion, like a sickness in their minds. We should fight the delusion, not the people who suffer from it.
Second, though some therapists tout the benefits of expressing anger in a controlled way, such as punching a pillow, recent research in neuroscience contradicts that notion: if you punch a pillow, you’re actually exercising your brain’s neural pathways for aggression.
Finally, our anger damages us as well as the object of our wrath. It increases our heart rate, elevates our blood pressure, and has other serious health effects. As the saying goes, anger is an acid that corrodes the vessel that holds it. This seems stupidly obvious to me now, but when I was tromping around the streets of Brooklyn running my resentful little mental loops, I failed to realize that they had absolutely no effect on my wife. I was just working myself into an increasingly agitated state - punching holes, in effect, in a wall that only I could see. I was carrying around an entirely unhelpful burden, and I had to resolve to set it down.
In case I needed a more forceful demonstration of the dangers of anger, life soon provided one. A few minutes after I left that real estate office, I came across another realtor. Miraculously, she drove me straight to a fantastic apartment, in a big old Victorian house with a front porch and a back patio, a stained glass window, and even a chandelier. By New York standards, the rent was cheap. It wasn’t until a few weeks later - just before I moved in - that I found out why. It turned out that my landlord had been having troubles with his own marriage.
One night, in a fit of rage, he had killed his wife.
In my new apartment.
The message could not have been clearer: this is what can happen if you let anger win.
Three years of working with Buddhist insights and practice have certainly not turned me into a saint, but occasionally I see evidence of progress.
My writing desk faces a window that looks out on the street. My neighbourhood is generally quiet, but several days ago a stranger parked a luxury car directly outside. After a few minutes, its car alarm started going off — the worst kind, the one where the horn continually bleats. I sat there trying to work, getting increasingly frustrated and annoyed. Finally, I wrote a note, and then I marched out and stuck it under the windshield. (What kind of note? Let’s put it this way: the salutation read “Dear Asshole.”)
When I came back inside, I sat there listening to the alarm. And I stared at my note. It took a while, but eventually my new training kicked in. At first I thought my blast of anger would cause the owner of the car to feel regretful and ashamed; I finally realized that it would only make him angry in return.
I replaced it with a new note. I did my best to keep my emotions out of it. Calmly, I explained that the car alarm was broken. What else did I have to say? I didn’t need to inflate the problem by adding all sorts of self-righteousness and drama; I just called it to his attention, and then I let it go.
At the end of a long path, after extensive mental training, we might hope to become completely free of anger. In the meantime, it can act as a fire that consumes us, or a bell that warns us when something is wrong - not with our circumstances, but with the way that we’re thinking about them.
The choice is ours.
Gabriel Cohen is author of Storms Can’t Hurt the Sky: A Buddhist Path Through Divorce, as well as three novels, including The Graving Dock, a mystery with a Buddhist subplot. He lives in Brooklyn and likes to meditate next to a lake in Prospect Park.  

The Lord Who Looks on the World with Compassion


One of Buddhism's most important tenets is compassion, both for oneself, and for others. Buddhists use many stories and legends to illustrate compassion's many aspects. 

Avalokiteshvara ( "the Lord who looks upon the world with compassion") is seen as representative of the compassion of all the Buddhas. 

According to the legend, Avalokiteshvara was a Buddhist aspirant who was deeply moved by the suffering of the beings he saw around him and he vowed that he would not rest until he had liberated all sentient beings from suffering. 

Illustration by Tomi Um from Lion's Roar (see Blog Roll) 
After persevering at this task for a very long time, helping 
suffering beings one by one, he looked out and realized there were a vast throng of beings whose sufferings he had not yet been able to relieve. His despair became so intense that his head split into thousands of pieces. 

The Buddha lovingly gathered the scattered pieces and put them back together as a body with eleven heads and 1000 arms, each ending with an open hand and an eye in its palm, so that Avalokiteshvara could see the suffering in the world and assist thousands of sentient beings all at the same time. 

The mantra associated with Avalokiteshvara is the one most Westerners are most familiar with, "Om Mani Padme Hum", which is said to liberate all beings from suffering.

                            ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Now we will tell a few Buddhist stories/jokes. Buddhists love jokes. One of the things Buddhists find most amusing is a pompous, self-important teacher, and there is nothing more Buddhists like than using humour to make a point. 

The first is called; The Teacher Learns a Lesson

There was a devoted meditator, who after years of focusing on Om Mani Padme Hum, believed he had attained enough insight to begin teaching. His humility was not yet perfect, but nonetheless he felt himself ready to lead others. 

A few years of successful teaching left the meditator satisfied with his spiritual attainment.  He had no desire to seek further wisdom from others, but when he heard there was a famous hermit living nearby, he felt the opportunity too exciting to be passed up. The hermit lived alone on an island in the middle of a lake, so the meditator hired a man with a boat to row him across to the island. 

The old hermit received him graciously and the meditator was very respectful. As they shared tea the meditator asked the hermit about his practice. The old man said he had no special practice, except for the mantra of Avalokiteshvara, which he repeated all the time to himself. 

The meditator was secretly delighted, the hermit was using the same mantra he himself taught ~ but when the hermit spoke the mantra aloud, the meditator was horrified!

"What's wrong?" asked the hermit.

"I don't know what to say. I'm afraid you've wasted your whole life! You are pronouncing the mantra incorrectly!"

"Oh, dear!," the hermit cried. "That is truly terrible! How should I say it?"

The meditator gave the correct pronunciation, and the old hermit was very grateful. He asked the visitor to leave immediately so he could start chanting the mantra properly right away. 

On the way back across the lake the meditator, now brimming with confidence that he was an accomplished teacher, pondered aloud the sad fate of the hermit.

"It is so fortunate that I came along," he remarked to the boatman. "At least now he will have a little time to practice correctly before he dies." 

Just then, the meditator noticed that the boatman had turned quite pale and seemed dumbstruck, and he turned to see the hermit standing respectfully on the water, next to the boat.

"Excuse me, please," the hermit said humbly, with a deep bow. "I am so sorry to inconvenience you, but I am old and and forgetful, and the correct pronunciation has already slipped my mind. Would you please repeat it for me?"

"You clearly don't need it," stammered the meditator; but the old man repeated his polite request until the meditator relented and told him again the way he thought the mantra should be pronounced.

The old hermit thanked him quietly, smiled sweetly, turned and could be heard repeating the mantra very carefully, slowly, over and over, as he walked across the surface of the water back to his island. 

Life is Transient
A famous spiritual teacher came to the front door of the King's palace. None of the guards tried to stop him as he entered and made his way to where the King himself was sitting on his throne. 
"What do you want?" asked the King, immediately recognizing the visitor. 
"I would like to sleep overnight in this inn," replied the teacher. 
“This is not an inn," said the King, "It is my palace." 
"May I ask who owned this palace before you?" 
"My father. He is dead." 
"And who owned it before him?" 
"My grandfather. He too is dead." 
"And this place where people stay for a short time and then move on - did I hear you say that it is not an inn?"

Gratitude 
Fred: "Why must we bow at the end of a meditation period?" 
Ho Chi Zen: "To thank God it's over."

Clothes Make the Man 
A Zen abbot went dressed in rags to the door of a rich man and was turned away with an empty bowl. So he returned in his formal robe of office and was invited in and served a sumptuous meal. 
Removing his robe and folding it, he placed it on the chair in front of the feast and departed with the words, "This meal is not for me; it is for the robe."

Reader's Digest Zen 
This true story was actually published in one of the humour sections of Reader's Digest many years ago: 
At an interdenominational religious conference in Hawaii, a Japanese delegate approached a Baptist minister and said, "My humble superstition is Buddhism. What is yours?"

A Blind Man with a Lantern 
An old Zen master always told this fable to frivolous students: Late one night a blind man was about to go home after visiting a friend. 
"Please," he asked his friend, "may I take a lantern with me?" 
"Why carry a lantern?" asked his friend. "You won't see any better with it." 
"No," said the blind one, "perhaps not. But others will see me better, and not bump into me." 
So his friend gave the blind man the lantern, which was made of paper on bamboo strips, with a candle inside. 
Off went the blind man with the lantern, and before he had gone more than a few yards, “Bang!” -- a traveler walked right into him. 
The blind man was very angry. "Why don't you look out?" he stormed. "Why don't you see this lantern?" 
“Fool! Why don't you light the candle?" asked the traveler.