2016 New Year’s resolutions

That time of the year again.

Reflecting on what I have done. This year I went back to my old temple to visit my teacher, Harada Tangen Roshi after a 25 year absence. Unfortunately, he has been weakened with age and I was not able to meet him. I hope to go back again soon and continue my practice. His disciple (I ashamed to say I have forgotten his name) met us and looked after us.

Zen is an important part of me. It has influenced my life and outlook. I even gave a talk on Zen and language learning this year. They are not so different. Indeed, Zen is part of everyday life, part of the ordinary. And this is what makes Zen extraordinary. I am still in awe of the understand of Zen.

So I guess that is why my resolutions always revolve around Zen.

This year, I resolve to focus like I (am supposed to) do in Zen. What happens on the cushion is no different to what happens off it. That is what Zen is about. If you think meditation is something done on the cushion that is a misunderstanding.

And because I shouldn’t make too many promises, too many resolutions, I will end it with just one.

Happy New Year and I hope 2016 will be more peaceful one for all. Let’s try to make the world a better place.

Lessons on Right Speech from the Miss Universe 2015 Contest

Long ago, a pretty girl lived next door:
She used to pick mulberries in a distant grove,
Returning with her white arms full of
Gold and silver branches.
She sang with a heart-rending voice
And sparkled with life.
Young farmers put aside their hoes when they saw her,
And many forgot to return home when she was around.
Now she is just a white-haired granny,
Burdened with the aches and pains of old age.

Ryokan (1758-1831)


We spend our time idealising beauty and youth. And sometimes we forget even our jobs when in the presence of such. Even more we spend time pitting the beauty of one country with the next as though they are comparable, measurable.

Putting this point aside for the moment something more problematic is literally the wrong speech, the mistake or slip-of-the-tongue perhaps even wishful thinking on the presenter’s part. The expectations as well combine to the subjective, non-existant pain of losing even deeper. What we say and do have consequences. It is important that we be mindful of ourselves to speak correctly and know when to refrain from speech. Much of the outrage of having both Miss Colombia and Miss Philippines’ moment of glory stolen really carry pain that will last longer and deeper than we think.

Nuclear versus fossil fuel power

In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident Japan had gone quite literally all non-nuclear for a while. The country had switched off all of its nuclear power plants in what amounts to a knee-jerk reaction to the disaster that still is happening now and will for many more decades to come. In its place we turned back to using coal importing more than we ever had. And all of the sudden nobody in Japan cared much about climate change and global warming anymore.

The question should never have been about whether we choose nuclear or fossil fuel for our energy needs, but rather how we can reduce our energy usage in the first place. Whichever we choose to use we are still using too much energy for the good of the planet.

And now that the dust (or is that nuclear dust) has settled from Fukuyama we have turned on the nuclear tap again to quench our nuclear thirst.

Nothing ever changes, does it.

Doing things for humanity; now doing things for the planet – Sebastian Salgado

I love photography. I love photography for its power to contain what we feel in the stillness of a single moment. I particularly like black and white photography. I like it because by removing colour the photographer forces the viewer to focus on the details, on what is happening in the scene, on the content of the photograph. And no one does this better than one of my favourite photographers, Sebastian Salgado.

Salgado began as a social documentary photographer focusing on the people and societies, particularly that of the poor across the globe. But according to the following video he had seen too much violence, too much bloodshed, that so affected him that he literally became sick, mentally and physically.

At the advice of his doctor he had to stop putting himself through such torture. As a viewer we can close the books and stop viewing the photographs that he captures. We only have the moments of silence that he shows us, ones which we control as viewers. But for Salgado the tragedy is a streaming memory that does not stop with the shutter. It was for this reason that he gave up photography and returned to his hometown, to his family in Brazil.

The back story is that he grew up on a farm with his seven sisters that once was covered by 50 percent of rainforest. There they had abundant food needing only to go once a year on a 60-day round-trip journey to sell their cattle. But when he returned after his long absence as a globe trotting photographer what he had found was that almost all the rainforest had been destroyed, that the land had been left bare. This caused the rainwater to run off the land much quicker than is needed leading to desertification of the land (his analogy was that of his bald head which dries in seconds). And it was with this discovery back home that he began to work to reforest his land he had now inherited.

Salgado after this period in his life he had taken up his camera again and shifted his lens towards nature and animals. His message hasn’t change because he is still concerned about how we can arrive as a species. Only now he is doing this from the point of view of how we need to live in harmony with land and nature.

Salt of the Earth (page in Japanese) is showing in Hiroshima right now.

What you see is only in the frame 

Life is like a camera lens – you only see the things in the frame. The rest beyond the edge of the frame is part of the world carefully shown to us, and sometimes we choose to ignore

The pair of jeans says it all. 

Ergo cogito sum

The more I think about it the more I come to the conclusion that Descartes has it wrong. It is not cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am) but ergo cogito sum (I am therefore I think). 

It is the sensing then perceiving that makes the world. Without this contact between the object world and the mind objects nothing would derive any meaning from an inanimate world. 

All that I am is this perception of my relationship to the world.