insights

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    Taking A Bath Paid Member

    The next time a community runs low on water, it might hope that monks from the Gaden Shartse Monastery in southern India are in the area. Consider recent events at Esalen Institute, the Big Sur, California human-potential laboratory where Alan Watts and other visionaries held forth in the Sixties. Esalen has been rebuilding its famed clothing-optional, spring-fed baths, which were destroyed in a 1998 mudslide. While digging the foundation of the new $2.5 million facility, on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, workers dislodged a large snake. They hit another snag while attempting to connect the hot springs to the new structure. Geologists, hydrologists, and geothermal engineers were consulted. Perhaps the construction was causing disharmony in the environment, one of the builders ventured.More »
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    The Unknowable Reality Paid Member

    If all that we ever know are the sensory images that appear in our minds, how can we be sure there is a physical reality behind our perceptions? Is it not just an assumption? My answer is: Yes, it is an assumption; nevertheless, it seems a most plausible one. First, there are definite constraints on our experience. For example, we cannot walk through walls. If we try to, we suffer predictable consequences. Nor can we, when awake, float through the air or walk upon water. Second, our experiences generally follow well-defined laws and principles. Balls thrown through the air follow precisely defined paths. Cups of coffee cool at similar rates. The sun rises on time. Third, this predictability is consistent. We all experience similar patterns. The simplest way, by far, of accounting for these constraints and for their consistency is to assume that there is indeed a physical reality. We may not know it directly, but we believe it is there.More »
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    Who Talked to His Bees Paid Member

    The beekeeper was always talking. He sounded as if he had as much to say as his bees in apple blossom season. But all he talked about was what he was doing: Now I’m moving this hive over just a bit. There. Now I’m walking to the clover field to see what we have this year. He went on like this all day long, day after day, while the bees went buzzing about their business as if he didn’t exist. One day a blind pastor was walking through the country hoping to hear a voice from heaven. When he walked past the beekeeper’s place, he heard a strange voice over the buzzing of the bees. The blind pastor stopped to listen more carefully. The sound of the bees was like the golden pillars of heaven in his mind, and the voice of the beekeeper was like the Lord Himself descending from heaven.More »
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    A Lingering Taste Paid Member

    Go is an ancient game of strategy with which I became fascinated during a sabbatical in Japan. Players try to surround certain areas of the board, taking turns to place one stone at a time on an intersection. With so many intersections, the range of possible moves is much vaster than that offered by the sixty-four squares of a chessboard. Thus, at the beginning of a game, one can feel as if several more or less separate contests are going on in the different corners. Gradually, though, the scatters of stones join and coalesce into a comprehensive pattern. This is the phase of a game when one begins to find certain small groups of one color more or less surrounded by larger groups of the other color. Isolated and out-numbered, they seem to have forfeited any future. But as the tides of play swirl round and round the board, reinforcements may arrive for these outriders. Or sometimes the surrounding stones are themselves overtaken and cut off.More »
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    Taking a Bow Paid Member

    Ever wonder what happened to that favorite professor of yours from college? Students of retired Duke University professor of religion Roger Corless needn’t wonder any longer. In his new incarnation as “Dharma Daddy,” Corless has relocated to the San Francisco Bay area with his significant other (“my library”) and answers questions about Buddhism for the Gay Buddhist Fellowship in his column, “Ask Dharma Daddy” (available online at http://www.gaybuddhist.org). A sample of what you can expect: Q: Dear Dharma Daddy: Why do Buddhists bow?More »
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    Learning to Fall Paid Member

    When asked about the problem of responding to violence, the Dalai Lama replied, “Tolerance and patience do not imply submission or giving in to injustice.” What is most important, he says, is not to give in to anger or hatred. If we cannot control others’ actions, we can control our responses to them. Sopa, the Tibetan word for patience, comes from a root that means “able to withstand.” The truly courageous person, says the Dalai Lama, is able to withstand harm without the mental suffering that hatred and anger bring. The violence I suffer every day is the slow, niggling kind committed by a degenerative illness bent on emptying me out one teaspoon at a time. Every day, I relearn that suffering is an activity of the mind. My hours fill with torment or bliss depending on my own degree of sopa, my ability to withstand physical harm while maintaining an inner calm.More »