Wisdom Publishing Offers Contract for BFD

Now that I am about to sign a contract with Wisdom Publications for my book Buddhism for Dudes, I am at the end of something that has consumed a lot of my time since 2011 – finding a publisher for Buddhism for Dudes. I can now devote more time to writing, and learning new Buddhist stuff.

 For the red-hot latest thoughts on practical, non-metaphysical dharma in daily life, you might want to check out the website stumbledupon.com and enroll and identify “spirituality” among your interests. I am copy-and-pasting the most interesting “list” articles, along the lines of “20 Best Mini-Meditations.” They’re quite good. It’s useful stuff.

 I do so much need to free my mind of the resentment I feel toward those institutions I opine are perversions of Buddhism: The Pure Land, Nichirin, particularly Soka Gakai, and other followers of the Lotus Sutra. I am not going to lecture you about them here, but you can look it up on Wikipedia and come to your own conclusions. After all, people who chant “nam-myoho-renge-kyo” and expect personal gain are still going to present a Buddhist persona in public, whatever that is. Pleasant and happy. Compassionate and empathetic. Non-complaining. Peace people.

 Personally, my ideal Buddhist persona is a man who lives responsibly and has the courage and potential to “run toward the gunfire,” that is, to be of real use, if not a source of leadership, when the shit hits the fan. A guy who can act out of compassion without regard to his own safety.

I hope that the book I’m working on now, Buddhism for Dudes II: The Noble Eightfold Path, doesn’t take me as long to finish as the first one, on which I worked and researched for six years. Number Two will be two or three times the size of little 75-page BFD, which, according to my editor at Wisdom, the design department intends to have lots of fun with. They’re thinking a mini-format to sell to impulse-buyers in the checkout line, designed to look like a shop manual complete with phony grease stains and titled and by-lined in a military stencil font. The book is so little that it would get lost in the stacks. I want a book guys can carry around in their pockets. I want a book that will be limber and fit in the space between a battle helmet and the helmet liner. Once I explained those things to Wisdom, who at first wanted a bigger book, the light bulb went on, I guess, and saw the merits of selling it small as intended.

 So, as soon as I see the contract, Buddhism for Dudes will no longer be available as a Kindle e-book – until the Wisdom edition is released, which won’t be until sometime in 2015. Since I won’t be “selling” it anymore, so to speak, access to the book will be limited to word.doc and PDF copies of the manuscript I am happy to send through e-mail to anyone who requests it at buddhismfordudes@yahoo.com. It will also be available in a “bootleg” privately printed edition for eight dollars, which includes postage and handling. Or seven dollars if you meet me in certain taverns in Louisville, KY and Knoxville, TN.

I’ll miss my relationship with Kindle, although I will still have another book available, the anthology Confessions of a Buddhist Gunslinger. While BFD was on Kindle, from 2011 until now, it earned me enough money to buy a refurbished laptop computer with a 17 inch screen. Sales have gone flat, though, from a high of 84 copies sold last December to a sluggish 30 – 40 copies this winter and spring. And basically, only British people have bought it. My sales are better in Australia than in the US. But Confessions . . . nobody buys Confessions.

One of Buddhism for Dudes’ best traits (other than lucidity) is its humor. It’s a funny book (On the Precept to refrain from sexual misconduct: Instead of jerking off on the guest towels, try this: paint a skinny mustache across your upper lip with her eyebrow pencil, turn off the lights as you slip into the bedroom and introduce yourself: “Hello. My name is Raul.” You need to say this with a South American accent. “Allo. My name is Rauoooool…”) I’m a funny guy. But funny isn’t easy. BFD II needs to be as funny as BFD I. Funny is hard work. I correspond with a sailor/stand-up comedian named Chris who I hope to use as a humor consultant. As soon as I think that I’ve written anything funny.

 I went on a Carnival cruise to Key West and the Bahamas not long ago, and half the cruisers were college kids on spring break. They made a lot of noise and ran around nearly naked while the sun was up. Most of the “older” cruisers resented their presence and made comments about avoiding spring break next time, but for some reason, the college kids glommed on me and my wife and we had the most incredible night dancing with a big group of kids from Virginia Tech and George Mason University. And whenever we decrepited off the dance floor for a break, the other college kids applauded. When we were worn out and were making our way to the elevators, a (probably drunk) girl I’d never seen before grabbed me and pulled me back onto the dance floor and said, “I’ve been waiting to dance with you all night.”


Why little, toady me? I look like Grumpy in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I didn’t get it, why those kids wanted to spend time with me, and buy me drinks, and give me the best physical workout I’ve had in years on that dance floor? It was like I attracted them. I’ve always been a draw for little kids and dogs and people with mental retardation, but college kids? I gave the Virginia Tech/George Mason clique four copies of the bootleg paperback version of Buddhism for Dudes, and they were reading it in a single sitting and passing them around.

I don’t want to be smug and make talk about a “Buddhist radiance” or something like that that pulls people to me. But I hope that whatever-it-is works in my favor when I go out to sell books next year. I have a history of “being good with people,” but my brain isn’t what it used to be, not to mention smoking marijuana all day to counter the pain from neuropathy and fibro. Due to the lack of confidence that I can be with people and not say something stupid, I’ve become a bit of a hermit. The only time that I go out and be with people is my Wednesday evening yoga class.

 So I was discussing book promotion with my editor at Wisdom (hereafter referred to as my editor), I made mention that I am not as comfortable in public situations as I used to be, and that I live a reclusive life. Would that present issues when the book is released? I asked.

 “Dude,” said my editor, “we publish monks.”

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The Dharma of Deadwood

I would like to pose the argument that the 2004-2006 HBO miniseries “Deadwood” is one of the highest achievements in the arts ever created for the entertainment and enjoyment of guys. This is a claim I would make even if David Milch’s creation wasn’t infused with Buddhist wisdom of the grittiest kind imaginable. Amid the hail of unimaginably foul language, crime, murder, misogyny, inappropriate sexual relations, drunkenness, drug abuse and surliness of the highest order, the wisdom of the Buddha shines out for those tough-guy Buddhists who seek it.

Who needs the Mindfulness Center? I’ve got the entire three seasons of “Deadwood” on DVD – with bonus features and generally inane voice-over commentary.

The series centers on the bone-grinding-on-bone relationship between Timothy Oliphant’s Seth Bullock, a not-too-bright, hotheaded lawman, and Ian McShane’s Al Swearengen, a whoremonger, power-broker and murderer, head of organized crime in the gold mining camp in the Black Hills, which in 1876 grew from an uninhabited gully to a lawless population center of 10,000 men and a few whores in three months. The Dharma of Deadwood has to do with the kinds of things men in the real world must do in order to create and protect the integrity of the community in which they all perform their respective duties. The threat they face is the camp’s absorption into the international mega-industrialized mining operations of John Hearst, played with wonderfully understated evil by Gerald McRainey.

Bullock and Swearengen, diametric opposites on the morality continuum, must meet somewhere in the middle if the community is to survive the onslaught of Hearst, his millions of dollars and his legion of murderers and thugs. Which, of course, they fail to do.

 On the side of law, order, and morality is Seth Bullock, who left a lawman’s job in Montana to open a hardware store in the new mining camp, but he gets sucked into the job of Deadwood’s sheriff. Bullock (a real historical figure who was Teddy Roosevelt’s best friend) has anger management issues that are sometimes expressed in the form of delivering one-sided beatings to otherwise-helpless scumbags. He’s a fighter. He has a duel to the death with a Lakota warrior while trying to chase down Wild Bill Hickok’s assassin. Mister Morally Upright is not beyond slipping it to the hyper-Victorian widow Alma Garrett, a junkie who owns the richest strike in the gully. When Swearengen insults his honor for his sexual escapades, Bullock fights Swearengen. In the grapple, both of them fall off Swearengen’s second-floor balcony into the mud below in the thoroughfare. A melee breaks out between Bullock’s few friends and Swearengen’s toadies. It’s a bloody mess inside the bloody mess that is “Deadwood” the TV series.

 From that point on, the two main characters have to find a way to work together, as rumors of the imminent arrival of John Hearst spread through the camp. Swearengen realizes this. Bullock’s not that bright.

Al Swearengen’s character is contrasted with that of a rival saloon owner, Sy Tolliver, played by Powers Booth. Whereas Tolliver as no allegiances but to himself, and who treats his female employees like warmed-over shit, Swearengen, on the other hand, shows true moments of genuine compassion. After the fight in the street at the point when Al has the upper hand and is about to dagger Seth in the kidney, he is unnerved by the face of a little boy. In stages over the course of the show, Al liberates his favorite prostitute, a woman he literally owns, and probably loves. Among his employees is Jewell the Gimp, played by Jeri Jewell, a stand-up comic who has cerebral palsy, whose character he brought with him from the orphanage in which they grew up.

For me, the most searing scene in the first season was Al Swearengen performing the mercy killing of an itinerant preacher who suffers from a brain tumor. The same guy you see cutting a number of throats over the course of the season, suffocates the reverend with a wet cloth, clinging the suffering man to his bosom like he was a mortally wounded brother, whispering in his ear to “let go.” It was a profound scene that just got me by the balls. It was the greatest act of loving-kindness I’ve ever seen in the movies. It was the only scene in the series that made me cry.

 The other most riveting scene of the series, for me, is in the middle of the third season when Dan, Swearengen’s closest toady, fights the Captain, John Hearst’s personal bodyguard. It was the most brutal fight I’ve ever seen depicted in film. Dan is about to be drowned in a puddle when he reaches back and pokes the Captain’s eye out, and then clubs him to death with a piece of firewood. You can see it on You Tube.

 “Deadwood” is dense and rich, chock full of real faces, colorful characters, and insidious humor. Many of the show’s prostitutes were played by the daughters of technicians or actors who worked on the film. Murdered bodies are disposed of by feeding them to Mr. Wu’s pigs. Mr. Wolcott, Hearst’s front-man geologist, is a slave to sicko-sexual perversions. The show has the only prostate massage scene in television history. The guy who played Billy Babbitt in “One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest,” Brad Dourif, plays the town doctor who is consumed with PTSD from his experiences in the Civil War. Molly Parker’s post-coital nudity in the first episode of the second season is an odalisque worthy of Goya or Renoir. A mixture of fact and fiction, nevertheless Milch did his best to make the series as authentic as possible. The language (“Deadwood” is probably the most foul-mouthed artistic creation in history) is beautifully obscene even at it’s most loquacious, as Jim Beaver’s Ellsworth muses in the first episode on the general state of the human condition: “Well, fuck us all, then, for the limber-dicked cocksuckers we are.” The language is a cross between Shakespeare, Dickens, and a platoon of Marines.

AND THEN . . . there is Robin Weigart’s performance as Calamity Jane, a great study in contradictions, Keith Carradine as Wild Bill Hickok, Jeffrey Jones as newspaperman A.W. Merrick (who can forget him as Mr. Rooney the assistant principal in “Ferris Beuhler’s Day Off”?), and especially William Sanderson as E.B. Farnum, the slimiest character of them all. You remember him as the spokesmen for the brothers Larry, Darryl and Darryl, or in “Blade Runner” and “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” Deadwood would have been greatly diminished without Sanderson’s presence. His character is the most Shakespearian of them all.

 “Deadwood” provides an unblinking reality that should remind us that, yes, the world is a profane and violent place full of thieves and cutthroats, chicanery and unimaginable greed. Just because you don’t see a lot of that sort of thing in your gated Forest Hills community doesn’t mean that it is not there. Imagine yourself under circumstances where the delusion of safety doesn’t exist. Imagine your life and family and employment in Syria rather than the U.S. or Western Europe. Reality is unrelenting when you don’t have time to entertain your delusions.

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Introspection or Self-Absorbtion

Some people are born skeptics; they’re the lucky ones. Skeptics are the minority, it seems, in a world full of people who will believe, sometimes, the most utter nonsense, if it is to their advantage. Granted, hunger and hyperinflation were contributing factors to the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s. Desperate people will do evil things.

But so will the Blind Faithful, the faceless masses, the compliant ones, the believers. The Buddha was cool with this, so long as the believers followed benign credos that teach loving-kindness and compassion. The red flag goes up when they don’t.

But even comparing Christian faiths, which are brimming with professions of loving-kindness and compassion, to such evil belief systems as Nazism, gets pretty gray around the intersection of the two. Maybe a more contemporary example would better complete the analogy: devout Muslims versus the radical fundamentalists like Al Qaida or the Taliban. But then again, what do I know? I’ve never been to the Middle East, and all my Muslim friends are, well, really nice people.

The point I am trying to make is that skepticism is a healthy thing. The Buddha certainly believed that. But he also said, believe what you wish to believe, so long as it meets the “loving-kindness” criteria.

It is a natural thing for high schoolers and college students to be skeptical of the world (I certainly was), and that skepticism leads them into introspection: where do I fit in, what is real and what isn’t, where does faith factor in, the belief in something that no one can prove is true?

It would be cynical of me to quote Homer Simpson on the subject: “faith is for things that aren’t real.” But I’m going to do it anyway.

Introspection is a good thing. Socrates allegedly said that the unexamined life is not worth living. If you cannot be honest with yourself, and especially if you lead a life based on delusion, then you’re not getting what you should get out of existence (i.e., happiness), and the people who do lead skeptical lives will not respect you. Proper introspection leads to enlightenment, the freedom to live without delusion. There is an enormous expectation for introspection in Buddhism. Buddhist introspection (otherwise known as insight meditation, or Vipassana), armed with knowledge of the dharma, leads you to the conclusion that you are not as important to the functioning of the universe as you thought you were in high school or college, when you were still convinced that you could change the world.

“Do not depend on the hope of results when you are doing the sort of work you have taken on … you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and achieve no result at all. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the truth of the work itself. Gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.”

 Thomas Merton  

Prophet in the Belly of a Paradox


Thomas Merton with the Dalai Lama

Thomas Merton was a radical, quite inspiring Catholic monk from Kentucky who studied Buddhism in Asia, and wrote some quietly provocative pieces examining the common ground between the two. (My favorite is a little collection of essays called “Thoughts on the East.”) The quote above supports the Buddhist concept of anatta, or no-self. All anatta means is putting yourself in the proper perspective. You’re not as important as the things you’re capable of accomplishing on behalf of others.

A couple of thousand years before, the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius said this:

 “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing   itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

 In other words, man up. Be a mensh. Deal with it. You are responsible for your own feelings and emotions, and the fewer you have, the better. Nobody likes a whiner. Do something about it. Hit the next shot without the influence of your previous shot, which you shanked into the high grass and the rest of your foursome laughed at you. Entertain your inner Arnold Palmer. Put it in the middle of the fairway.

Buddhist practice enables you to choose how you feel.

But what if your untrained introspection doesn’t lead you to the conclusion that loving-kindness is the meaning of life? But you keep introspecting. Why am I here what does it all mean if there is no heaven why don’t I just go out and rob banks and grope attractive women?

That kind of introspection can lead to self-absorption. Being self-absorbed is the dark side of introspection. Self-absorption is the gateway drug to neurosis. Self-absorption was the malaise of the last half of the Twentieth Century. Being self-absorbed is a baby-boomer thing, the result of cushy childhoods, and carried over to Generations X and Y like a genetic defect. In school the Millennials are taught to do everything in a team, which I believe is a healthy thing. Maybe the Millennials won’t be so self-absorbed.  They certainly are more interested in Buddhism than we Boomers or our children are.

However, the poets and the philosophers are exempt from the don’t be self-absorption rule. That’s a good thing. The rest of you, get your head out of your ass.

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About Renunciation …

The Buddha tells us that if we want to live a pure life, then there are some things we should give up, or quit doing. Renunciate them. Quit smoking and eating at MacDonalds every day, these things are bad for you. That sort of stuff. Renunciate cussing and gossiping, laziness, and that job as a bouncer at the Meat Market Titty Bar. Blah, blah, blah, yadda yadda yadda. If you didn’t already know the difference between right and wrong, you wouldn’t be reading this.

A big part of the Buddha’s notion of renunciation is social in nature. Renunciating evil has a lot to do with who you choose to hang out with. To be righteous, you should hang out with righteous people, if you want to become enlightened, party with enlightened people. Forego the coworkers you used to get stinking, pants-pissing drunk with whenever the Steelers had a home game.

But that hardly means that you have to hang out with boring nimrods down at the Mindfulness Center. Frankly, I avoid those guys. I am hardly an intellectual; I’m more of a thug, and it rubs me the wrong way when I am among a host of pseudo-intellectual “Buddhists” who say that Buddhism is only for intelligent people.

The most enlightening period of my life was spent almost exclusively in the company of criminals, hundreds of them, military veterans coming out of prison between 2004 – 2007, arsonists, child molesters, thieves, drug addicts, drug manufacturers, armed robbers, and my favorite kind of criminal, murderers. Back fresh from the Buddhism Emersion Experience in Sri Lanka, I was hired to implement a prisoner re-entry program for military veterans, funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. It was called the Incarcerated Veterans Transition Program.

Aye! aye! aye! I could write a book. (I did, actually.) I won’t belabor you with details about the project, which was the most successful prisoner re-entry program in the history of the universe, but I did get to operate a service delivery system using Buddhist principles, and I gained an enormous amount of counter-intuitive knowledge about criminality, and people in general, from the felons I served.

In a sense, former prisoners have a leg up on most other people: they’ve paid for the bad (or stupid) things they’ve done, and have spent a lot of time meditating about their lives. Many of them gained astonishing insight while they were in prison. For some people, some thoughtful people, incarceration can be a blessing.

The most enlightened of my clients were the ones who spent the most time in prison – murderers. I never met a murderer I didn’t like, which I can’t say about all Buddhists. My composite typical murderer friend is an African-American who, like Reuben “Hurricane” Carter, developed a Buddha-like nature during the twenty-five years he was locked away. All he wants is a simple room, a modest job, and a very contained life. “People murder other people for two reasons,” one of them told me, “greed and lust. Most guys like me give up greed and lust.”

I spent hours with these guys, both before they were released, and also afterward for as long as six months. We became friends, and confidants, and I heard the life stories of many, many guys, usually on the road trips we took after we picked our guys up at the prison the day of their release.

I based my system on trust – we invested trust in our clients, and they had to decide whether to maintain that trust or betray it. Eighty-five percent of the guys we got out didn’t betray the trust, and the rest were cocaine addicts.

I know men convicted of child molestation who I would trust to baby sit my granddaughters. What’s that again? Many if not most of the child molesters I served were upstanding citizens with second wives, a drinking problem, and a nubile new step-daughter who is not quite of legal age. Most of them did it only once, most of them never had intercourse with their victims, some of them even turned themselves in when they realized what they’d done, never faced the parole board and served out full sentences. They were men with integrity before they groped their step-daughters, and they reeked with it after they got out. Vietnam combat Marines, never leave a man behind. Even if he’s dead.

On a brighter note, I’ve taken up yoga. I am five-feet-seven and weight 240 pounds, and if I can do yoga, anybody can do yoga.

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Plucked from recent headlines

Don’t you love a good sense of humor?

“Bro, I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms. Something is wrong here Dead giveaway.”

Charles Ramsey, Cleveland, Ohio

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Conceal-carry Buddhists? WTF?

Anyone who knows me, or has read my blog or my books, knows that I am dedicated to sharing the dharma with anyone and everyone who’s interested. It is my blessing to have time, the knowledge, and the inclination to do so. Sharing the dharma is the most meritorious thing a Buddhist can do.

 But in order to share it, as my friend and guru Venerable Embilipitiya Nanda insists, you have to live it. “Keep the Precepts” in particular.

 The Precepts’ expectations are for good people to refrain from taking life, lying, stealing, engaging in sexual misconduct, and taking intoxicants.

 All the Precepts are subject to debate, as sports fishermen take lives, people lie to spare the feelings of others, steal to feed their hungry children, find comfort in the arms of others, and take morphine for pain. Breaking a Precept or two does not disqualify a person from being Buddhist. Intention is everything. There’s a big difference between pan-frying a ten inch trout and shooting up a school.

 Veganism is the purest adherence to the Fist Precept, our admonition to refrain from taking life. An animal not too unlike ourselves must die for your BLT. No eggs, no butter, no ice cream. I wonder what vegans wear on their feet? Cows die to make your Birkenstocks.

 I admire vegans. I really do. What discipline it must take to give up burgers and fillet of sole! But I am not too sure that I would want someone who doesn’t take in animal protein to be my wing man in a bar fight.

I collect and shoot relic firearms, mostly old World War II bolt action battle rifles. We in Louisville are blessed with one of the best shooting ranges in the country. I am a member there, which means I don’t have to pay the ten dollar range fee when I shoot, and I also get to attend their Christmas party. I always meet the nicest people at the rifle range! I started shooting when I was twelve, under the serious tutelage of my father, a rifle team coach at the time for the U.S. Army. And then the Marines, blah, blah, blah, until last month, when I bought my first (and only, I hope) conceal carry firearm.

 This is it. It’s a Diamondback .380.

  To a guy like me who has been, basically, in sniper school since my early teens, it’s a piece of crap. I’m a long gun guy as a rule – target no bigger than twelve by eighteen inches, out to two hundred yards. I took the DB380 to the range last week, shot at an eight inch target 25 yards away, and hit the target exactly once. The only other time I shot it was in an indoor range at seven yards. Most of the 25 rounds I shot were in the target, a silhouette the size of a football player. I was aiming at the center of the breastbone, and basically shot out the guy’s liver before I began aiming over his left shoulder in order to hit the target where I wanted. In other words, it shoots low and left. I can adjust for windage, but there’s not much I can do about the elevation short of aiming high on purpose. It’s called “cheating” to make an adjustment like that, and I don’t like doing it (although I’m good at it). I have a pellet rifle that is so accurate I can shoot five round groups with all the holes touching – offhand with no bracing – at seven yards. Those groups are always about two or three inches to the left of the POI (point of aim). So I have to cheat right.

 I make no apologies about being a “Buddhist gun nut” since the Buddha himself was a champion archer. I know a number of tough guy Buddhists who keep, and sometimes carry, guns. I have trained and applied to become licensed to carry a firearm in public so long as it can’t be seen by anyone – CCDW we call it in Kentucky.

My conceal carry instructor told me I would undergo a change of consciousness when I decide to arm myself – an acute awareness of the presence of the firearm. In other words, mindfulness. It’s quite a phenomenon, being constantly aware that the lump in my pocket could hurt or kill someone. And with a gun in my pocket, the instructor told me, I become hyper-aware of the circumstances around me, with regard to the one and only reason I am taking this step in life: to potentially save lives.

I meditate seriously about running toward the sound of gunfire. It is what I am trained to do, and I take this responsibility seriously. Recent history has indicated that shooters intent on random killing of as many people as they can, can pop up anywhere, anytime. An old ex-jarhead with a nine millimeter stuck inside the waistband of his pants could have saved a lot of lives in that movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. As a Buddhist I am content to die, and when I do, I can think of no better way to check out than defending and saving the lives of innocent others. I’ll take a bullet for anyone.

Whether or not I can rationalize carrying a firearm from a Buddhist perspective, I can certainly see the value in some well trained, sane, level-headed and willing individuals, i.e., military veterans for the most part, to conceal-carry. Not that I am against “civilian” conceal-carry, and I imagine that the civilians outnumber the veterans considerably. But there is a big difference between people who are combat-trained and those who are not. Combat training is as much about preserving the lives of your buddies as it is about killing the enemy. It’s about manning up.

I dunno. Maybe if I ever found myself at the Jefferson Mall and a shooter goes off, maybe I’ll shit my pants and run away screaming like a little girl.

 And if you’re clever and lucky and the shooter doesn’t run away at the first sound of responding gunfire (which is what usually happens), maybe you can close in on him close enough to the shooter to stop him, even with a pea-shooter like the DB380. And even if he gets you before you get him, you may very well have interrupted him long enough for people to get away.

But the point is not to shoot the killers. The intent is to scare them away. Bad guys run away from the sound of gunfire just like regular people do. Make sure you know where the warning shot will go. You don’t want to shoot a bystander with a poorly-placed warning shot.

It is incumbent upon some people in society to serve as protectors, who would risk their lives and karmas to keep others safe. We should be prepared.

 You probably noticed that my DB380 is half-orange. The lower assemblies of many “sub-compact” semi-automatic pistols are made of plastic, so in addition to basic black, you can get a Diamondback in both orange and pink. Ruger has a sub-compact that’s purple.

I think my gun dealer was glad to get rid of the orange pistol. It was marked down $25 from the black one. I showed it to my wife and daughter. Both laughed and said that it looks like a toy. “Good luck holding up a liquor store with that,” my daughter said. “They’d laugh you right out of the store.”

 But I have a feeling that once I get my permit, having the inaccurate little thing in my pocket is going to open up many adventures in mindfulness, something I need more and more of as I age. I need a boost to my awareness of what’s going on around me, and maybe the 8.8 ounce lump in my pocket will do that for me.

 I’ll let you know later, right cheer in my blog. I don’t carry a gun to shoot bad guys. I carry one to scare bad guys off.

(Editor’s note: the orange gun had to go, and the blogger swapped it for a Charter Arms Pathfinder revolver chambered for .22 magnum. He blew the center out of a target the first time he shot it. He received his permit and goes nowhere unarmed.)

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How to Love Everyone

For healthy followers of The Path, Loving Kindness (I will refer to it as “LK” or “metta”) is the first of the “concept” meditations, that is, focusing your concentration on an idea rather than a bodily function – breathing.

 Concept meditation is a nice change-up from your normal breathing meditation, not necessarily a replacement for it. But as you master your meditation skills, you ought to spend more time in “concept” meditation. LK is just the first one. There are lots of good concepts in the Buddhist world to meditate on.

LK should be an obsession for Buddhist practitioners. Remember, Buddhism isn’t something to believe in, Buddhism is something to do.

 You gotta start somewhere if you want your mindset to reflect the mental discipline you are developing through your meditation practice. Just as with the ideas presented in the Noble Eightfold Path, LK sensibilities develop all at the same time. There are several layers to Loving Kindness.

 This is best illustrated by learning a chant so simple I’ve heard five year olds do it. The first stanza goes like this:

 May I be free from danger.

May I be free of mental suffering.

May I be free from physical suffering.

May I be well and happy always.

 It trips off the tongue in English. Try sitting in meditation and going over this, over and over again – or better, say it out loud.

 May I be free from danger … if you follow The Path, you shouldn’t find yourself in unneccesary danger. Much danger comes from hanging out with doofuses who do stupid, dangerous things. I just saw the movie “Jackass” not long ago, which I watched with my daughter. Of course we laughed our asses off at it (scarily, at the same things). But that was professional stupidity. What’s worrisome are the doofuses who draw inspiration from such entertainment.

 May I be free from mental suffering … don’t you know people who are so dysfunctional that they make themselves miserable? Take the skinny bitch who goes on and on about how fat she is, and how she needs to lose twenty pounds. Or the guy who can’t control his anger. They are victims of delusion. The skinny bitch has no clue what her friends are thinking when she talks like that, but it is usually the equivalent of “go fuck yourself.” The pissed off guy thinks it’s healthy to express his anger instead of keeping it bottled up, which means he has no idea what his anger does to him physically, particularly to his heart.

 And almost always, even a pissed off doofus regrets his anger later.

 Maybe they were abused or beaten; maybe it’s a part of a person’s temperamental make-up. Speaking from experience, as my work has put me in contact with scores of people who were abused, dozens of abusers, people with serious mental illness, and many military men who have suffered the horrors of combat. Guess what? Only a fraction of them (fifteen percent, maybe?) are messed up.

 Buddhism is about transcendence. Transcendence means an experience from which you profoundly learn something that changes your life. I’m not much of a believer in “spirituality” as I am not, nor ever was I, spiritual, at least in the sense that something has come TO me and anointed me with spirituality.

 “Spirituality” to me means mental discipline and the realization of the truth, so that you can find happiness in helping others and showing them some good-old LK, and while you’re at it, quit thinking about yourself so dadgum much. That’s the secret of life, dude. Lose yourself in your love for others. Pissed-off guy and the skinny bitch function under the delusion that they’re the center of the universe. But they can change, can’t they? Sometimes they can. Some choose not to, or don’t know how.

 May I be free from physical suffering … may I be well and happy always.

 Wishful thinking, since Buddhists try to be acutely aware that they will fall apart and die in pain. But keeping an optimistic point of view in spite of sickness and mortality is helpful. Why do Buddhists “train their brains” so much? Because it is the ultimate safeguard against death – losing their fear of death by living in the real world, which is where most people do not abide.

 But that’s just part of the chant. The rest repeats itself, but “I” is replaced with –

 May my family be free from danger …

May my teachers be free from danger …

May my friends be free from danger …

May my community be free from danger …

May my enemies be free from danger …

 And finally, may all living beings be free from danger, may they be free of mental suffering, physical suffering, may all living beings be well and happy always.

 I am not going to belabor these points, since I’ve belabored them plenty in previous blog entries, but I do want to pick out a few “metta” examples “plucked from the headlines,” so to speak.

 May my friends be free from danger …how many of you were touched by he outpouring of love shown to University of Louisville basketball guard Kevin Ware after he shattered his right leg during the NCAA regional final game against Duke? Speaking as a die-hard University of Louisville sports fan for nearly forty years (I got a master’s degree from there in 1976), I have never, ever seen a basketball team so firmly bonded together, with such unselfish love shown both on and off the court. It was that bond (and Luke Hancock’s four consecutive three-point shots at the end of the first half) that made the Cardinals champions.

 And so how does the practitioner put “may all living beings be free and happy always”  into practice? I am bedazzled by a little act of kindness done by the entertainer Pink. At a performance, she saw a fan crying in the audience.

 Pink to a crying fan: “Honey, do you want this frog? Will this frog and this Rice Krispie treat make you feel better?”

That’s how: one Rice Krispie Treat at a time.

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Buddhism and Ballerinas

According to the Buddha, it is desire that causes most of the world’s suffering. Things rise and fall away, nothing lasts, and the party eventually will end. Change is the only constant in the universe.

In early February me and five other tough guys went into rehearsal for Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet (henceforth referred to as “R and J”) with the Louisville Ballet.  We were recruited to be stage extras, peasants and party-goers and monks and the like. Most of the stage extras (including numerous women and girls) had multiple costume changes, and were kept busy. But I was cast in the plum stage-extra role of Friar Lawrence.  I was cast because I’d done the same role ten years before, and also because I’m a fat guy with a beard.  I was born to play Friar Lawrence.

Many of the extras, especially the woman who played Juliet’s nurse, had far busier and more complex roles than mine. I had four entrances in three acts. As the ballet opens with the “first market scene” I strolled all the way across the stage in front of everyone, bewilderingly reading my prayer book until a couple of young boys running through the square almost knock me down. I blessed them and continued across stage at a snail’s pace, blessing anyone within ten feet of me. Later in the same scene, after a wicked sword fight, I came back on stage to perform last rites for a little girl who was killed in the crossfire, and agonize over the corpse of one of the other tough guys, who got to be dead.

In Act II there is a lovely sequence in which I marry Juliet to Romeo (I was on stage alone for the first minute), and in Act III there is the “poison scene” in which I provide Juliet with the potion that will make her appear to be dead. In other words, I had a lot of “face time” with the Juliets (there were two of them). In the course of my duties their hands touched mine, and twice I got to raise the kneeling Juliets by their sweaty shoulders, spin them around, and then touch their backs as I guide them, respectively, to Romeo, and later the crucifix we pray before in the poison scene.

My Juliets were, respectively, from Siberia and LA – she is Hispanic. The Russian girl danced with a Romeo from Massachusetts, and the Juliet of Mexican extraction danced with a Romeo from Puerto Rico who originally was a boxer. He was flabbergasted that I remembered the great Puerto Rican fighter Felix Trinidad, “Tito” to his adoring fans, including me.

Prima ballerinas like Natalia and Erica have odd, angular bodies, “bony” is what the average tough guy would use to describe them. They’re almost like ugly ducklings who turn into the most beautiful, graceful swans imaginable when they step out onto the stage.

And then there is a whole mess of other ballerinas (and male dancers, of course) who aren’t knobby-kneed and bowlegged like the primas. They actually have thighs and butts. And they’re all conventionally pretty – beautiful young women who would turn the head of any man. In other words, I spent a month surrounded by pretty girls. Yeah, I know I’m being sexist. Go bugger yourself. My state of mind didn’t suffer one bit for being around those gorgeous young people.

Back stage for Romeo and Juliet

They’ve spent years of training in order to make public spectacles of themselves. They are superb athletes who are meant to be looked at. Their work clothes (leotards) are form-fitting. Hanging out with ballerinas is like hanging with a really cute football team. They work hard. They sweat a lot. The painter Edgar Degas once said that ballerinas look like flowers, and smell like horses. My experience is that they don’t smell like horses, but they do smell, and they have a smell of their own.

Yeah, right. You spend a month with them and not be besotted by their beauty.

Buddhism is about controlling your mind and your thoughts and desires. Tough Guy Buddhists may experience emotions, but they’ve spent years practicing how not to show them. Emotions, even the good ones, are the enemy.

So as rehearsals went along, and I got my blocking and movements down pat, I was increasingly urged by the Juliets and the ballet master to emote, to try to actually feel the feelings that Friar Lawrence felt as he helped screw up Romeo and Juliet’s lives. Finally, the ballet master insisted that I BE Friar Lawrence, to inhabit him. “Natalia and Erica ARE Juliet, so you have to BE Friar Lawrence.”

Aye, aye, sir!

I’ve never tried to “method” act before. But I was ordered to feel the feelings Friar Lawrence should feel. It was scary! Erica, the finest actor I’ve ever seen in toe shoes, coached me a little. I wanted to know that my face and body showed genuine emotion, and that I wasn’t being unintentionally creepy.

Thank you, Erica!

At first, even looking into their eyes and making meaningful and prolonged eye contact intimidated me. But after awhile my knees stopped trembling and I was able to see Juliet’s eyes instead of Natalia’s and Erica’s. Maybe their heavy theatrical eye make-up helped, but it just made them seem all the more beautiful.

So here’s what Friar Lawrence has to show in the <ten minutes he’s on stage: inattention, benevolence, horror, puzzlement, reverence, enlightenment, happy for someone else’s happiness, disapproval, acquiescence, pride, holiness, hopefulness, empathy for someone else’s anxiety, confidence, piousness, determination, and profound sadness as he watches Juliet walk away for the last time he will ever see her, no matter what the ultimate outcome of the story.

I will never, ever make fun of another performer who says that acting is hard work. My eyes got misty every night she walked away, and again when she killed herself at the end. But then I had to go onstage again and take my curtain call, and the spell was broken.

OK, sometimes I cried, if crying is defined by tears descending down one’s face. My wife said she was worried that I might become depressed after the show closed, because I’d had so much fun.

On the last night of the run, I was sitting backstage waiting for Juliet to die. The funeral scene had just been played. During that scene, ten black-robed monks troop through the Capulet family crypt, carrying big, fake candles. Five of them were dancers. They entered from stage right. But the guys on my side were the tough guys entering and exiting from stage left, where I was sitting.

On closing night they all went “commando,” that is, they didn’t have anything on under their robes. And as they finished their onstage business and passed by me on their way to the dressing rooms, each of them flashed me a bare leg and hip.

Friar Lawrence loves Juliet.

I will always love Juliet, as I’ve loved all Juliets since Olivia Hussey in 1968’s “R and J” movie by Franco Zefirelli, and Natalie Wood in West Side Story.  But loving Juliet doesn’t mean that I desire Juliet. Quite the opposite is true. And if I don’t desire her, then I can love her without reservation.

This is Buddhism. Loving unconditionally is Buddhism. Suppressing and eliminating desire is Buddhism. Those are the objectives, and the closer you approach the objectives, the happier you will be.

It’s as simple as that.

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Three Buddhists Walk into a Gun Shop…

There is Buddhism in this story, and other delightful things like Tennessee taverns and, of course, firearms. I’ve been feeling well (I think it’s the vitamin D I’ve been taking), so I’ve actually been out and about lately.

So, like, a couple of weeks ago I was sitting in Sutree’s High Gravity Bar on Gay Street in Knoxville, guzzling a delightful Mountain Ale made in Asheville, North Carolina. It’s fine beer with a complex, pleasant flavor.

Two barstools to my left sat a little troll-like fellow, with some fine ink (tattoos) on his arms extending to his fingers. I told them that I admired the workmanship of his illustrations, and then along came this fellow’s wife, who sat on the barstool next to mine, and she had incredible ink too, including the most beautiful tattoo I have ever seen: a rose-shaded Madonna on the inside of her left arm. Even my wife was impressed. Not Madonna the performer. Madonna the mother of Jesus.

So come to find out that the inky guy was “the Saint,” of Saint Tattoo on North Broadway in Knoxville – the best tattoo joint in town. It was the same shop where I got my Buddha tattoo six years ago, but it was under different management then.

I found out, once he found out that I was a former Marine, that he was an aficionado of “old school” tattoos, and had a collection of old military tattoo patterns, many of them of the Marine “eagle, globe and anchor” emblem. Maybe it was the beer, but he offered to “do” me one for really cheap. Tattoos are very expensive, and his offer was more of a gift to an old serviceman than good business sense. The Saint loves Marines. Of course everybody loves Marines, but the Saint really loves Marines.

And at noon the next day, he gave me a doozy, a World War II-era design, a gorgeous eagle, globe and anchor high on my left shoulder.

The second factor that ties into my story: the supply of cheap surplus ammunition for the Mauser rifle is getting pretty hard to find. I used to be able to get 70 rounds of it on stripper clips in a bandoleer for twenty bucks out at the rifle range. But not anymore. My hobby is target shooting, but if I wanted to keep shooting my Mauser, I was about to go from BANG a quarter, to BANG a dollar. It was time to do some horse trading.

I bought the Mauser for $210, and at this writing it had appreciated to $400, thanks to the gun industry’s paranoid fear of the Obama administration. So I figured I could trade it off for something fun and cheap to shoot. I had in mind a civilian, bolt action target rifle in the .223 caliber. .223 bullets are cheap.

So he other day I loaded my “swap-ables” into the trunk of my old Malibu and, as I had to go there on other business anyway, drove to Radcliff, Kentucky, to scope out the gun shops there.

I ended up at a place called Fort Knox Tactical and Firearms, situated just outside the main entrance to the military facility the gun shop was named after. The owner, bearded and shaved head and otherwise looking just like a gun shop owner, liked my Mauser, and when I told him what, more or less, I was looking for, he pointed me to a carbine-sized rifle hanging on the wall.

It felt good in my hands. It felt like an M1 carbine. It only weighed five ponds. It was a single-shot .223, a break-barrel just like an old single-shot shotgun. It even had a pull-back hammer. It was just what I was looking for.

“It’s got two barrels,” the owner told me, “the two-two-three, and it’s also a 20 gauge shotgun.” It was a Rossi matched pair, with 22-inch barrels, the “youth” model, manufactured in Brazil.

We fell in love with each other immediately, and he traded me even for the Mauser.

There was another customer in the shop, and as I filled out the paperwork the feds make you do whenever you “officially” transfer ownership of a firearm, and the owner was doing the same thing, he joined us the general banter, as all three of us were former servicemen.

“Hey, you guys want to see a cool tattoo?” I asked, referring, of course, to my acquisition from the week before. I had to remove my jacket and shirt to show them, and roll up the sleeve of my tee shirt. But along the way, the customer caught sight of my Buddha tattoo on my left forearm.

“Are you Buddhist?” he asked me. I told him that I was. “Well, so am I,” he declared. “I lived in Korea for seven years.”

“What?” growled the gun shop owner. “You guys are Buddhist? I am too!”

The general banter went immediately from guns and lies about military careers, to dharma.

Three guys in a gun shop, and all of them are Buddhist. What’s the odds of that? Go figure!

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Halloween Buddhist Style

It’s been awhile, I know. I haven’t been well, and much of my time has been focused on a book-length project.

The Dharma does not fail us, even when we’re sick as a dog. My health? Semi-crappy. My energy? Non-existent. My libido? Hiding in my sock drawer. Cognition? Reduced. Social life? Full of anxiety over saying something stupid, or losing my train of thought in the middle of a sentence. My outlook? Retirement. Time to write? All the time in the world. Proclivity for writing? Strong.

And I’m still funny.

Summer, 2008

Things perked up for me quite a bit last night. I was invaded by my monk friend and fifteen Burmese and Nepali trick-or-treaters. Some of the kids were new to me, others I have known since 2007 when they emigrated from refugee camps in Thailand and didn’t know a speck of English. Now some of them are in high school; one graduates this year. Her name is Paw Day, and I’ve known her since she was twelve.

I am so proud of her! Her English is impeccable, and she’s developed a throaty, low-register voice that reminds me a lot of Lauren Bacall. She rode herd on a passel of little kids as they raided my safe neighborhood in search of candy and goodies. These kids can’t afford store-bought costumes, but they make pretty good zombies. We had a pizza party when they got back.

One of the little Nepali girls, a sturdy kid about eight years old, got a nasty, bloody scrape on her leg when she inadvertently got pushed down our front steps. In all my years of knowing these refugee kids, I’ve never, ever seen one cry. And this little girl hardly winced as Paw Day and I doctored her up. It was both an opportunity to help treat a wounded child, and was also a hands-on first aid lesson for Paw Day, who did all the work. She washed the wound, smeared it with antibacterial ointment, put a gauze pad over it and wrapped her leg with an ace bandage to hold it in place.

Remarkable beauty

Those two hours when the kids were around last night really energized me, and the pain I feel all the time mostly went away. I’ve spent entire summers with some of these kids, and had a blast doing it. We addressed the one area I knew they all needed additional practice in, word-attack skills, and otherwise did crafts and art, ran around in the temple’s enormous back yard, we even had a science program offered as a National Honor Society project from a Sri Lankan high schooler on the fast track.

And we also meditated and did our “namo tassa’s.” It is my monk friend’s project to keep these children Buddhist. The Christians sing and have better food, but Venerable Nanda’s ministry has been directed to the “projects” where most of the Asian refugees continue to live.

I love those kids. Having them around brought me great joy, and my idiot dog was ecstatic that she had so many kids to play with, and so much pizza crust to eat.

I don’t know. Maybe it was adrenaline. But I was around people I love who wouldn’t give a rat’s ass if I said anything stupid. Even so, I didn’t.

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