January 17, 2009

Dog gone

It is with sadness that we relate the passing of a regular contributor to this blog, Mr. Sandor Sege (pronounced Shandor SHEGG-ay), who died of multiple systems failure.

Mr. Sege was the official Goat Rope Farm canine film critic. A rescue dog with multiple medical issues, some of which were compounded by head injuries incurred whilst chasing squeaky toys, Mr. Sege found enjoyment in watching and discussing cinema.

Regular readers of this blog will be glad to know that Mr. Sege has a number of as yet unpublished reviews. At the time of his demise, he had just completed critiques of The Dark Knight and Mama Mia.

We hope you will join us in wishing Mr. Sege a fortunate rebirth in the Pure Land of Amida Buddha, where he will be able to pursue enlightenment under the most favorable circumstances, a process that is likely to be somewhat protracted.


January 16, 2009

Medicine for the mind

Daruma dolls for everyone! Image courtesy of wikipedia.

Lately Goat Rope has been about Buddhist lore, although you'll also find links and comments about current events. For the last week or so, the focus has been on legends about the figure of Bodhidharma or Daruma, who is said to have brought Zen from India to China and is also associated with the martial arts.

While the legends show Daruma as a pretty fierce figure, he has become a beloved figure in Japanese popular culture and his stylized image is featured in dolls, toys, kites, tops and many other forms.

As mentioned yesterday, one particularly popular form is the Daruma okiagari doll, which bounces back up when it has been pushed over, in accord with the popular saying, "seven falls, eight rises."

H. Neill McFarland in his book Daruma: The Founder of Zen in Japanese Art and Popular Culture explains the deeper meaning of both the toy and the saying this way:

The tactics thought to be implicit in this combination of image and adage, though also enigmatic, are of the essence of Asian philosophy and strategy, either for coping with life's vicissitudes or for practicing the martial arts. Maintain a low center of gravity. This enables one to rise up repeatedly, utilizing the momentum generated by the act of falling. Yield without breaking. Like the supple bamboo bending before the wind, one may practice the resistance of nonresistance (muteiko no teiko).

Thus, one who knows and ponders the cryptic little motto "Seven falls, eight rises" may view the bobbing motion of an okiagari Daruma as a symbolic enactment of life's experiences and contrasts--the ups and downs, the highs and lows, the successes and failures--and prepare to face them with perseverance and resilience. For this purpose, Daruma is said to be a kind of medicine for the mind (shinyaku).

STIMULATING. The economic recovery package unveiled by the US House yesterday actually does a lot of the things this blog has been screaming for over the past few years.

LESS WORK FOR MORE WORKERS. The number of involuntary part-time workers has doubled in the last year, according to the latest snapshot by the Economic Policy Institute.

SMILE AWAY. It might help.

FRIENDLY SKIES? It's hard to believe that all 155 passengers survived a flight that crash landed in the Hudson River.


January 15, 2009

Bounce back

Japanese Daruma doll. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

Lately, the theme at Goat Rope has been Buddhist lore, although you will also find links and comments about current events.

For the last week or so, the focus has been on the legendary figure of Bodhidharma or Daruma, the monk who is credited with bringing the Zen tradition from India to China. He is also associated with the founding of the martial arts of Shaolin kung fu and karate.

If you're familiar with the legends about this person (see previous posts), it's clear that he's a pretty formidable character and perhaps not someone you would ordinarily invite to a party or to Thanksgiving dinner.

It is a somewhat surprising fact of cultural history that the figure (literally) of Daruma would occupy a central place in Japanese popular culture, but there you have it. This wild monk has become a beloved figure not just in works of high arts, such as calligraphy, painting and sculpture, but as a toy, spinning top, fortune telling device, good luck charm, as a figure on kites, etc.

It is a common custom for someone who wants something to happen to buy a little Daruma doll like the one pictured above and color in one eye when trying to accomplish something. Once it happens, the other eye is colored it.

One common figure is the okiagari Daruma, a little egg-shaped figure with a weight in the bottom. When you push him over, he bounces right back, a good symbol of the Buddhist virtue of equanimity. There's a popular Japanese saying that expresses the idea behind it: "seven falls, eight rises." (That's pretty much how judo is learned, by the way.)

In other words, one good way of responding to adversity is to keep on getting up.

That's kinda Zen.

RECESSION ON THE MIND. Here's an item on the psychological effects of hard times.

A GREEN STIMULUS might look like this.

ARACOMA MINE FIRE CASE. The widows of two miners who died at the Aracoma mine fire in Logan County WV in 2006 have opposed a plea deal which would keep prosecutors from taking the case higher up the Massey Energy corporate ladder.

ET, PHONE HOME. Here are the best bets for extraterrestrial life in our solar system.


January 14, 2009

Listening to the ants scream

Image courtesy of wikipedia.

Along with links and comments about current events, the theme at Goat Rope lately is Buddhist lore. The series started last week if you want to go back. While El Cabrero is not a card carrying Buddhist, I've learned a lot from those traditions.

The focus now is on legends surrounding the colorful figure of Bodhidharma or Daruma, who is said to have brought Zen from India to China. As noted in yesterday's post, he is said on arrival to have had a bizarre interview with the Emperor in which it is safe to say he did not make a positive impression.

From there, he is said to have journeyed to the now-famous Shaolin Temple, crossing the Yangtzee River on a reed. Once there, he is said to have sat in meditation "listening to the ants scream" for nine years, during which time he lost the use of his legs, which explains the roly-poly Daruma dolls popular in Japan.

(That happens to me every time I do a nine year stretch in a lotus position.)

Another legend claims that he ripped off his own eyelids when he found himself dozing during meditation. From these grew the tea leaves that later monks would use to deter sleep.

The story goes that he refused to teach anyone until Hiu-k'o, who would become the Second Zen Patriarch in China, cut off his arm and presented it to him as an offering.

Body parts were presumably expendable back then...

Bodhidharma tersely asked him what he wanted and the student asked the monk to pacify his mind. "Bring it to me and I will pacify it," he said. When Hiu-k'o stammered that he couldn't find it, Bodhidharma replied, "There, I have pacified it for you."

His story ends on an appropriately weird note. One legend has it that he died at the ripe old age of 150 or so and was respectfully buried. Everything seemed normal until a government official reported a cordial meeting with him on a journey to Central Asia. Bodhidharma was reportedly heading back to India carrying a single sandal. When the tale was told, Bodhidharma's tomb was opened.

It contained one sandal...

Those old Zen guys had all the fun.


HEALTH CARE. This report from Families USA highlights the need for WV to expand its Medicaid program to cover more adults.

THE MUSIC OF "PEANUTS." Was there a message in Schroeder's music?

URGENT ANCIENT GIANT BIRD DOO DOO UPDATE. You know you've been waiting for it. Read all about it here.


January 13, 2009

Smart or smart aleck

Don't take a job interviewing class from this man. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

The theme at Goat Rope these days is Buddhism and some of its lore, but you'll also find links and comments about current events. The series started last week. This week's posts are about the legendary figure of Bodhidharma or Daruma, who is said to have brought Zen to China and is also associated with the martial arts of Shaolin and karate.

As yesterday's post related, the legends say that on arrival he had an interview with the emperor that didn't go all that well. In response to his questions, the monk told him that the ruler had acquired no merit from building temples and translating scriptures; that the essence of Buddhism was "vast emptiness;" and that he (Bodhidharma) had no idea who he was.

In his defense, his answers, however abrupt, were in line with classical teachings:

*No merit. Someone who does good deeds solely to gain karmic brownie points is probably lacking in true compassion or generosity. This attitude has been called "spiritual materialism" and is kind of like wealthy Christians through the ages who tried to buy their way into heaven.

*Vast emptiness. When the Buddha attained enlightenment, he was said to have seen that all things were empty or insubstantial (anatta), meaning that things come into being and pass away as conditions change. In the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, Emptiness (sunyatta) could be understood as pure potentiality from which all things come. The Heart Sutra, a key text in that tradition, states that "form is emptiness and emptiness is form itself." So, yeah, that's pretty much it.

*No idea. Finally, Buddhism teaches that people lack a permanent self. What we think of as the self is a constantly changing bundle of form, sensations, perceptions, mental reactions and consciousness. Clinging to the illusion of a permanent self or ego is a cause of suffering. Who is anybody, really?

Was he being a good teacher, a smart ass or a little of both? You be the judge.

HOMING IN. Here are some ideas on how to help with the housing crisis. On a related note, the number of homeless people is increasing in WV.


UNNATURAL SELECTION. Humans are messing with evolution and that's probably not a good thing, according to research detailed here.

HEALTH CARE. A new report by Families USA shows the benefits of expanding Medicaid eligibility in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia.

LOVE AND ANTI-LOVE POTIONS are discussed here.

HOPE IS THE THING WITH FEATHERS, but some dinosaurs had them too.


January 12, 2009

Vast emptiness

The Zen patriarch Bodhidharma, in a calligraphy by the Japanese Zen master Hakuin (1685-1768). Image courtesy of wikipedia.

Lately this blog has been on a dharma jag, as in a series of posts on various aspects of Buddhist lore, although you will also find links and comments about current events. At the moment, the focus is on the legendary figure of Bodhidharma or Daruma, as he is called by the Japanese. Some traditions indicate that he was of Persian ancestry.

He was said to have brought Zen to China and is also associated in legend with founding the martial arts traditions that survive today as kung fu and karate. The first part may have actually happened; the second...not so much. In Zen lore, he is the focus of some colorful legends and here is one of the best:

After making the perilous journey from India to China (exactly how is not known, although it's cooler to imagine him trekking over the Himalayas), he is said to have paid a visit to Emperor Wu Ti around 527 AD. What followed may have been the first of many bizarre dialogues in Zen history.

The emperor told of the many Buddhist temples he had founded and sutras or scriptures that were translated at his orders and asked Bodhidharma how much merit he had accumulated. Our monk replied, "None whatsoever."

That probably wasn't what Wu was looking for. He asked what was the ultimate principle of Buddhism. Bodhidharma said "Vast emptiness."

Exasperated, Wu demanded to know just who this barbarian thought he was. To this, Bodhidharma cheerfully answered that he had no idea.

Needless to say, he didn't hang around the court a whole lot longer.

SIGN OF THE TIMES. The WV State Journal reports that schools are seeing more students sign up for free and reduced lunches.

GETTING WARMER. A new study further undercuts the claims of climate change skeptics.

STIMULATE WHAT? Here's an op-ed by yours truly about the elements of a strong stimulus package for the economy. And here's Krugman's latest on the same.

HONORING A PIONEER. J.R. Clifford (1848-1933), a native of Williamsport WV (then Virginia), was an African-American Civil War veteran and attorney who won a major battle against discrimination in education. He will be honored this year with a postage stamp in his memory. Many West Virginians in recent years have worked to raise awareness about this civil rights pioneer.