Thursday, December 11, 2008

J.R. Moehringer - The Tender Bar

This book is just great. J.R. grew up without a father, and looking for male models, he found the fellowship of the men at The Tender Bar. The way he writes about these people makes you know them, and love them, just as much as he does.

The book is about people, but also the hard work of growing up. Being so attached to a bar J.R. makes a good job. Reading the last pages I had tears in my eyes, due to the pure beauty of what he writes.

There are a lot of memorable passages. About his father not being cut to be a father, but J.R. wanting to be a father's son (p.150). He says farewell saying "You drive like nuns fuck".

A priest gives advice (p202): "Do you know why God invented writers? Because He loves a good story. And He doesn't give a damn about words. Words are the curtain we've hung between Him and our true selves. Try not to think about the words. Don't strain for the perfect sentence. There's no such thing. Writing is guesswork. Every sentence is an educated guess, the reader's as much as yours. Think of that the next time you curl a piece of paper into your typewriter." (This makes me think of the way of mastery, how you can master a thing only when you no longer have to think about it.)

J.R. makes a mistake writing an article and is all upset. Until Bob the Cop tells a story and ends it with: "Honest mistake. Like I told you, that's why they put erasers on pencils. But J.R., believe me. They do not put erasers on guns." (The USA, hello!?)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Thomas Cleary - The japanese art of war

This is a book about japanese mentality, trying to explain why japanese and western cultures often clash. Some parts, where he goes into psychological explanations, are written in an inaccessible way. But what I like about this book is the quotations from old masters, before the original ideas of eg Buddhism and Zen got distorted and simplified. The overview of Japan's history is very interesting too.

The art of war, as it is called, can be used to achieve anything. It is a guideline for politics, war, craft - basically for life. It is fascinating how ideas dating centuries ago are still valid, but nowadays often seem to be forgotten:

Huainanzi: "There are no wasted people and no wasted things." (p27)

Musashi: "Amateuristic martial arts are a source of serious wounds." (p25)

The art of doing something well is to not think - to master whatever it is so well that you can do it without thinking (p28). Thinking screws things up, basically. (This is an important part of the way of mastery, see my coming entry about that.)

Takuan (p29): "You need to realize that when you practice from the state of the beginner all the way to the stage of immutable wisdom, then you must go back to the status of the beginner again. ... As a beginner you know nothing... you just fight without thinking of anything... But if you practice day after day and month after month, eventually stance and swordplay don't hang on your mind anymore, and you are like a beginner who knows nothing. ... Completely ignorant people don't show their wits, it seems, because they haven't got any. Highly developed intelligence doesn't hide because it has already gone into hiding. It is because of pseudo-erudition that intelligence goes to one's head, a ludicrous sight."

(p32) "As the testaments of Yagyu and Musashi illustrate, warriors followed the Zen teaching on emptying the mind for several purposes: one was to learn the secret of learning itself; another was to learn to act with spontaneous efficiency, free from doubt, hesitation, and fear, in whatever circumstances they might find themselves; they wanted to see realities independently, without extraneous influences; and they wanted to learn to see things before they happened, to make themselves invulnerable to enemies and become masters of their own fate."

Musashi attempted to establish a basis for rounding out the personality of the warrior (p38):
1. Think of what is right and true.
2. Put the science into practice.
3. Become acquainted with the arts.
4. Become acquainted with the crafts.
5. Understand the negative and positive qualitiesin everything.
6. Learn to see everything accurately.
7. Become aware of what is not obvious.
8. Be careful even in small matters.
9. Don't do anything useless.

Shosan (p45): "Be aware of yourself and know yourself. No matter how much you have learned and how much you know, if you don't know yourself you don't know anything. Indeed, if you don't know yourself you cannot know anything else. People who don't know themselves criticize others from the point of view of their own ignorant selves. They consider whatever agrees with them to be good, and hate whatever doesn't go their way. They become irritated about everything, causing themselves to suffer by themselves, bothering themselves solely because of their own prejudices. If you know that not everyone will be agreeable to you, know that you won't be agreeable to everyone either. Those who have no prejudice in themselves do not reject people, and therefore people do not reject them."

Shosan (p47): "Fools disregard their lives for sake of desires. Even though they trouble themselves mentally and physically by their cravings, they are never satisfied, and yet they never give up."

Shosan again (p50): "When people forget they are going to die, and act as if they think they are going to live forever, they do not fully appreciate and utilize the passing months and years. As long as they are like this, they only act on greed, anger and falsehood, turning away from social and family duties, not understanding human kindness and obligation, employing flattery and cajolery, neglecting home and work for useless hobbies and amusements."

Shosan (p51): "Both Buddhist and social principles are nothing but the application of genuine honesty, making reasoning accurate and action just."

Superficiality is bad, "thought of as a loss, or alienation from the autonomy of the 'original mind', which Zen teachings identify with 'buddha nature'. (p54)

In "modern" teachings, speed has often been associated with spontaneity. This is wrong, however. Speed doesn't come from automatic reactions, but from "the precise awakened response of fluid awareness as originally developed in authentic Zen." (p59) (D.T. Suzuki seems to be one of the culprits.) The idea is to not set your mind on anything - not your own body, not the opponent, not any weapon used - but to keep it free, "fluid", ready to be used wherever needed, but never linger on anything. "It is not quickness of action but immediacy of attention that makes this possible, the Zen master [Takuan] writes, emphasizing freedom of mind." (p58)
Takuan continues (p64): "The mind that stays fixed in one place doesn't work freely. A wheel turns precisely because it isn't fixed. if it is stuck in one place, it won't turn. The mind won't work either when it is fixed in one place."

An interestin difference between japanese and chinese culture is pointed at on page 69. The legitimacy of revolution against tyranny is clearly defined in native classical philosophy, where the doctrine of killing one tyrant to save many people from oppression can be traced far back in history. (Makes you wonder when the Communists of China will finally be exterminated, doesn't it?) In Japan, on the other hand, the Shinto bias of political thought represented the ruling classes as racially superior.

Continuing the thoughts about not letting your mind linger, Yagyu says (p74): "The immovable or imperturbable mind is normal. If something comes at your eyes, you blink. This is the state of not being upset. The essential point is just not losing the normal state of mind. To try not to move is to have moved. To move is an immovable principle."

Musashi continues further, describing the warrior's postures of balance (p78): "Even when you are still, your mind is not still, even when hurried, your mind is not hurried. The mind is not dragged by the body, the body is not dragged by the mind. Pay attention to the mind, not the body. Let there be neither insufficiency nor excess in your mind. Even if superficially weakhearted, be inwardly stronghearted, and don't let others see into your mind."

"Because of the extremely long duration of military rule in Japan, the balance in Bushido between Zen and the art of the advantage seems to have tilted decidedly to the latter. ... This book therefore turns from Zen for warriors to the topic of pure strategy." "The 36 chambers", or strategies, are listed starting at page 87. The author is unknown, but he was a master warrior in the classic tradition of The Art of War.

(p93) The Taoist classic Tao Te Ching says, "Knowers don't generalize, generalizers don't know."

"To be sure, the myths of the difficulty of the japanese thinking have contributed most of all to their own authentication. ... their creation and maintenance are among the thirty-six classical strategies..."

On page 96, the subject of moral is touched again: "When people lack a constant means of livelyhood, they lack psychological stability. When they are desperate, people steal. When society is not functioning properly and people are cold and hungry, there can be no end to crime." Well, this explains it all, doesn't it? The riots in Greece, the crimes in the USA and the stability of eg Sweden. The society has to be fare. In fact, in Japan, "a great deal of thought is given to extenuating circumstances in criminal cases". (p97) Maybe this is why the crime rate in Japan is so low?

On page 98, the virtue of modesty touched: "It is best not to pretend to know all about everything. Even if thay do know something, cultivated people do not advertise the fact... When ignorant people make assessments of others and think that they know what others know, they cannot be right. For example, when someone who lacks intelligence but is good at chess sees intelligent people who are not as good at chess, he thinks they are not as smart as he is. And when he sees people who are skilled at all sorts of arts but don't know how to play chess, he thinks he is better than they are. This is a big mistake." "In all actions and attitudes, success is based on singleminded seriousness, while failure is based in whimsicality."

On page 99, Total Quality Control, TQC, is mentioned. This is an important part of the japanese industrial success. An example is given learning archery: "Beginners shouldn't hold two arrows, because counting on the second arrow results in carelessness with the first."

I'm writing about the silliness of believing in any Deist religion ("the case just isn't strong enough") in my entry about The God delusion, but this early writing by the Japanese about the religion the Portuguese tried to shove down their throats is straight out fun (p102):
"According to what I hear of the Christian teaching, there is a great Buddha called Deus, who is the one sole Buddha, master of the universe and lord over all. This is the creator of the universe and all beings. This Buddha came into the world in some foreign land to save people sixteen hundred years ago. His name was Jesus Christ. Ignorant of this, they say, other countries honor the worthless Amida Buddha and Gautama Buddha, the height of folly.
Refutation: If Deus, as the master of the universe, created all lands and all beings, why has that Deus hitherto neglected countless nations, not appearing among them?
Ever since heaven and earth were opened, the buddhas of past, present, and future have emerged over and over again to liberate beings. How many hundred of millions of years would you say this has been going on? What basis of proof is there for saying that Deus never appeared in such-and-such country?
If Deus is the master of the universe, he is sure doing a slipshot job of it if he lets a multitude of the nations he has created be taken over by subsidiary buddhas, suffering them to spread their teachings to liberate beings, ever since the opening of heaven and earth. This Deus is indeed a foolish buddha.
Furthermore, they say that Jesus Christ came into the world and was crucified by ordinary men of the lower world. This is the master of the universe? How could anything be so illogical?
The Christians do not know the unified enlightened state of the true likeness of original awareness. In their ignorance they have taken over one buddha to worship. Their fault in coming to this country to spread devilish teachings and false principles cannot avoid the punishment of Heaven.
There are many ignorant people who cannot understand such simple logic, and throw their lives away out of reverence for that teaching. Is this not a national disgrace? One hardly dare mention what this does to our international reputation."

(p105): "What the Christians teach, on the other hand, is focused solely on a view of the reality of existence, which increases thoughts, worries, and conscious emotions, leading them to to make up a 'creator of the universe', thus reinforcing the habits that make them revolve in mundane routines, while believing this to be the way of enlightenment." Hello!? No wonder so many people is the West is walking around depressed while going to a shitty job and doing "what has to be done"! A tale is quoted in the book, "illustrating the Buddhist teaching that formulations of doctrine are provisional expedients designed to provoke special perceptions, not to be elevated to the status of absolute truths. Everyone is aware that purely subjective impressions and feelings cannot be exactly conveyed in words; Zen teaching takes this to the limit by insisting that the experience of the clarified mind cannot be understood just by descriptions of procedures or results, but must be verified in direct experience."

Some thoughts about nature (p108): "The Shinto relationship of humanity to the environmentis through a feeling of gratitude to the world of energy and matter as mush as for it; the Western Christian relationship is based more completely on a kind of gratitude for the material world, not to it."
The Japanese have a mush closer relationship with the nature than the West has (p111). Christians believe only humans have souls, which Buddhists think is a very cruel and merciless way of thought.

(p115) While the West tends to think about sides, that think they are opposed to one another, from a Buddhist point of view, this makes little sense, as it is not a people or a system as such but the alliance of ignorance, greed, and aggression that is the same problem everywhere.

Finally, to round it off, some sex (p118):
"Several symptoms of alienation of the sexes, all commonly noted by observers of Japan, are linked to this militaristic suppression that began in earnest eight centuries ago: simultaneously stimulated and repressed sexuality, a resulting undercurrent of violence, and acute manifestations of these phenomena in the form of sadomasochism, are quite evidently products of extended military domination. Similar phenomena can be seen in all societies when they are in militaristic phases of their development."

Monday, December 1, 2008

Do the Swedes have balls at all?

I admit I thought Reagan was cool back in the days, but I defend myself by saying I was just a kid. Luckily I didn't stay a kid, but studied the world we live in, the history we have and learned from my mistakes.

That's why I've looked with a growing sense of disgust on how Swedes look up to the USA. It's true it used to be a country that you could look up to - The New Deal and The Marshall Plan to name two examples. Before the negative effects of an economy where people are left on their own was known, it looked like a marvellous place where anybody could succeed. But with the facts at hand we know it's not good having a government that doesn't give a shit about its citizens. That companies shall not be supported by the government. That a system that leads to great divides grows greed, which in the end leads to a society where any thing and any body can be bought.

Now that the "Freedom" of the USA has proven to be a very bad strategy, where the greedy businesses crumble, shocked that chasing for easy fast bucks wasn't a sustainable strategy (they even beg the Swedish government for money!), where people realize that living on borrowed money isn't a sustainable way of life, you might think that also Swedes have come to their senses. But no. What do I read in one of the biggest swedish newspapers, Svenska Dagbladet? One of these Hale-the-USA "liberal" idiots who wants swedish politicians to be bought as well. Makes me want to believe in God and Hell and eternal suffering...

But why is this??? Why do so many people still think the USA is so great? Because the USA have the biggest guns? Because they're not capable of realizing or admitting a mistake? Because they're conservative non-thinkers? Because they too got blinded by greed? Because they haven't got the balls to stand up against "the greatest nation on Earth"???