Saturday, March 01, 2008

Back in the US, back in the US, back in the USSA

I can't help but butcher some Beatles lyrics as I 'cross the pond' yet again, moving back to the joyful, peaceful, prosperous, and free, yes free, United States of America. 'Twas a very sad goodbye, leaving the roommates in London:
Left to Right: Gianfranco, Sana, me and Sjors behind me, Jim, Shahnaz, Masachi, and Lenart - I'm not sure who's idea it was to have props, but it seems to have worked out ok.
But I received an equally joyful welcome home by my beautiful fiancée, Kelly, in McLean, VA, where we'll be living for a while.

So the plan now is to settle in a bit, enjoy the lack of sirens, mice, random people urinating at the entrance of my living space, and other 'charms' of London. Soon we'll be apartment hunting for a place for just Kelly and I - something in the DC area. And planning: wedding planning, financial planning, life planning, future planning, family planning, world peace planning (nope, haven't got to that just yet) - but you get the picture.

Oh, and I hope to keep up on my studies. I'm technically withdrawn from the college until September, but in academia as with so much of life, what technically is and reality aren't always the same. I'll be in touch with my advisors and should make sure I have something pretty substantial to present to them before destroying the earth a little bit more, I mean flying, back to the UK (oh, and yes I will check on cross-Atlantic passenger boats, for sure).

I also got the crazy idea to write a book. I've been thinking of writing a book seriously for a few years now and this just might be my chance. A dear friend of mine in Missoula, Raven, has published one book and is finishing a second with an excellent niche publisher, Llewellyn, ("New Worlds of Mind and Spirit" is their motto). He thinks they might like something accessible to their audience on Buddhism. I think it would be fun. We shall see....

'Tis all for now. Oh, and I'm switching back to my other blog - American Buddhist Perspective. More there very soon!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Blogisattvas, Bristol, and more...

Last week was another interesting one in my life (for me at least).

HEALTH/STRESS: It began Sunday with wrenching stomach pains and other things a bit on the gross side in Gozo, where I was vacationing. It could have been 'too much sun' from our day out Saturday, or food poisoning as my GP (doctor for y'all in the US) here diagnosed on Thursday. It could also have been just another turn in that Adrenal Fatigue thing I may have. With this I seem to have nearly all of the listed symptoms.
PHD UPDATE: Once back in London I had a meeting with my advisors - a brainstorming session that would hopefully set me on track for the summer to work on my own from the states. It was fantastic. I came away wishing I could somehow smuggle Professors Keown and Caygill in my back pocket back to the states (just pop them out once a week for more brainstorming and pep-talks) :) I'll have to post more on the details, but we came away with a further plan/outline for my thesis, something like:
  1. Methodology
  2. Literature Review
  3. Ethics as a Path
    1. Buddhism (from greed, anger, delusion toward freedom from these)
    2. Kant (from drives, desires and inclinations toward freedom/autonomy)
  4. Case studies: perhaps death and dying, perhaps sex with animals (ha! apparently a bit of an issue for both early Buddhists and Kant - should make for juicy discussion)
I can't wait to be rested enough and have the time to really dig in!
TRAVELS: Now I'm very happily in Bristol, where I did my Buddhist Studies MA. I'm staying with my good friend SJ, who was a housemate of mine back then. I've had the pleasure to meet up with old coursemate Mary and her boyfriend Alex yesterday and today I've just met up with Ken Robinson, a fascinating retired gentleman who has made a home for himself in the Buddhist Studies department here in Bristol. Tomorrow I'll hopefully see my old advisor, Paul Williams, and meet several of the new students before catching a bus back to London.
BLOGISATTVAS: In much more lighthearted good news, I have won a pair of Blogisattva Awards this year. I won a couple in 2006, the inaugural year for them, and was nominated for a few last year. So it was quite a lovely surprise to come up as a winner again this year. I should note that I was on this year's selection committee (but abstained in all cases from voting for myself - of course). The above link will give you the full list of winners - I highly recommend them all! My own awards came in the form of:
  • Best New Blog, 2007: Progressive Buddhism, a group blog with contributions by Ordinary Extraordinary [Justin Farquar], WH [William Harrison], Nacho Cordova, Buddhist_philosopher [Justin Whitaker], odin [Paul Jahshan], Tom [Tom Armstrong], and Joe in 2007.
  • Best Achievement Blogging on Matters Philosophical or Psychological [blog, blogger]: American Buddhist [the combination of American Buddhist Perspective (1/1-9/23/07) & American Buddhist in England (9/23-12/31/07)]; Justin Whitaker
  • Best Opinion or Political Blog Post ["post"; blog; blogger]: "Politics: toward a Buddhist immigration policy"; American Buddhist in England; Justin Whitaker
I'm most surprised by the Political Post award, as it is typically a subject I avoid (half jokingly I'd say I don't talk politics unless I have either lots of energy or lots of alcohol in me). But I do keep up on the news and did see something recently that made me smile. It was when Hilary Clinton said during a debate something to the effect of, "whatever happens next, I am proud to be here on stage with Barack Obama." Now, while everyone and his sister seems to have their own (often cynical) spin on this, I found it to be very beautiful, like a moment of genuine humanity in the otherwise very cruel and ego-driven game of politics. Of course soon enough they were back at it, but that is the nature of samsara, isn't it?

I, for one, will do what I can to see Obama in office next January. But first - the countdown on the right is telling me I have 3 days, 3 hours, and 3 minutes before I touch down in DC - a far more important milestone in my little life for the time being.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Life: Homeward Bound

Shortly before my Malta trip we decided I should cut short my stay in London and get me back to the US, so..... Well, the countdown clock on the right might have tipped you off, but I'm headed back now in just a week.

The plan now?
  1. Withdraw (temporarily - until September) from the college.
  2. Continue to work at my own pace, maybe focus on languages (Pali and German) for a bit.
  3. Get back to DC: rest.
  4. Apartment hunt: someplace between central DC and out in the boonies west of there (like Round Hill, VA - population: 500)
Simple enough? After a very tiring few months in London, I think so. Going from a city map that looks like this:To (potentially) this:
certainly has its appeal. So, adios for now, London. I look forward to resting up and spending plenty of QT with my fiancee. But first, a quick trip to Bristol to see old friends over the weekend :)

* For when we do get that apartment: Feng Shui Tips

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Blakey day

One of my housemates in London is doing his MRes on Blake and at some point came up with the adjective: Blakey. Today I was sent this quote (below) and stumbled across the image below that somewhere out in the Buddha-blogosphere...
To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
There is something humerously ironic about so much of contemporary life; in how true both of these statements from Blake can be (one of simple and profound unity, one of a child's endless desires). Today we had a beautiful picnic, Margaret and Bruce and I, in a protected little cove on the Northwest side of Gozo. There we had just the sound of the sea and the wind, the occasional flower or bit of sand, but mostly we just basked in the sun until the clouds rolled in. It was fantastic, filled with plenty of moments of "eternity in an hour"(the downside being that an eternity in the Mediterranean sun can really knock you out, but anyway).

The irony is in just how much work it took to find this blissful simplicity: a train, a plane, a mini-bus, a ferry, and a car. So maybe I'm a bit like that little child, too - only now waving down with a big grin from the moon.
On a not so Blakey but related theme (Buddhism), I had a chat with one of my housemates before I left last Tuesday: a Korean woman named Soyoung, an artist and Taoist. She observed that people here [London] talk a lot about fixing things in the world, the problems out there. But nobody seems to look at themselves. I agreed.

Our little college seems to be cause-central, but it is all (how to put this kindly?) superficial. One example is the Burma protests last fall. They threw together some people to join the London march, but half bailed out, and those who made it just seemed to be there to take pictures (you can see them all in my photos - ha!). A discussion on the topic I attended wound up being led by a socialist reporter who ranted about the "Western Imperialists' hand" behind all of this. I brought up China (the country most funding the oppressive military junta) and was shot down with the response that we can't really look at the big countries on this one - we must organize the student movement!

Mentioning "the movement" seemed to push a button in many of the students because they began buzzing and nodding in agreement. The idea of blaming "Western Imperialists" but not looking at the big countries pushed some of my logical consistency buttons and I kept quiet for the rest of the rally, or discussion.

Anyway, back to the story. So, Soyoung, the Korean woman, tells me this and I say, "Yes, but for me at least I can empathise. I need quiet and time to really look within - when I do get that, I get very introspective and I become creative and thoughtful and all those wonderful things. But when the world is a cacophony as it is here, the body seems to be on high alert and every sense organ (including the mind, which for us Buddhists is a sense organ) is turned outward."

She thought for a moment, and then said two very profound words:

"lotus flower."
For those who haven't had "Buddhist similes 101" the lotus flower is a symbol of the purity of perfect awakening emerging from the muck (they like to grow in gross muddy ponds) of ordinary life. Sort of like the Western idea of "every rose has its thorn" or something like that.

So, me being "smart" and not wanting to be one-upped spiritually, I came back with, "well, even a lotus needs decent conditions, right? It can't grow in rock." All of which I thought was very clever - yes we need to see ourselves as overcoming the muck of daily life, but we do need proper conditions to do our spiritual work...

She didn't have to think much this time. She just rolled her eyes and said:
"philosophy!" and laughed...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Life: Whirlwinds Strike Again

Sometimes life moves fast, sometimes it moves slow.
Grace happens when we move at the speed of life.
Suddenly life around this sentient being is getting awfully fast. I'm just 45 minutes away from my train to Gatwick airport, where I'll depart for a three-hour flight to Malta, then a quick taxi ride to the ferry where my good friends Margaret and Bruce expect to be awaiting me to accompany me to their place on the island of Gozo. Yay!

Then, seven days in Gozo. I'm bringing only my camera and three books: Kant's Metaphysics of Morals, A book on Buddhist Ethics, and -get this- a novel (I haven't read one of those in who knows how long). Oh, and a notebook and a journal.

After that, a day or two in London - meeting my advisors - and then on to Bristol for four days to visit SJ and other friends from my MA days. Then just two more days in London, one really, and I fly back to the US - for good (on the 28th). Just in time to see my beautiful fiancée lead a Socrates Café in McLean VA (fitting, as it was at such a Café that we first met!).

So... the whirlwind cometh (again). And, provided I keep up with it, not much should be rattled up and it looks like it will drop me back on earth right where I need to be.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Living: memed

I've been memed - Patia has tagged me with the 4 Things meme.

4 Jobs I've Held:
  1. Dish washer, prep cook, cook: Yat Son Chinese Restaurant, Helena, MT
  2. Bookkeeper (the old IGA grocery store in Missoula where the Good Food store is now)
  3. Tutor for first-year medical students in Medical Ethics, Bristol, England
  4. Program Coordinator, the Center for Ethics, Missoula, MT

4 Movies I've Watched Over and Over Again:
  1. Pink Floyd: The Wall
  2. A Beautiful Mind
  3. Ashes and Snow
  4. The Peaceful Warrior

4 Places I've Been:
  1. Aran Islands, Ireland
  2. Honolulu, Hawai'i, USA
  3. La Alhambra, Granada, Spain
  4. Florence, Italy

4 Places I've Lived:
  1. Helena & Missoula, Montana
  2. Cheney, Washington
  3. Bristol, England
  4. London, England

4 TV Shows I (used to) Watch:
  1. Mr. Ed
  2. Gilligan's Island
  3. MacGyver
  4. Discovery Channel (everything)

4 Radio Shows I (used to) Listen To:
  1. G. Gordon Liddy (AM conservative talk radio - I 'monitored' his show when I worked in commercial radio in Helena, MT)
  2. KBGA College Radio 89.9 (everything - undergrad days in Missoula)
  3. BBC News and Commentary (Bristol, UK)
  4. NPR (everything - especially News, Pea Green Boat & Prairie Home Companion)

4 Things I Look Forward To:
  1. Spring (yes! - borrowed from Patia)
  2. Our next president (YES - also borrowed from P.)
  3. Teaching again, and most of all....
  4. Seeing my love, Kelly, sooooon!!!

4 Favourite Foods:
  1. Indian Curry
  2. Salmon
  3. The Cosmopolitan Bohemian meal: artisan bread, Italian cheese, Australian wine
  4. Potato Soup

4 Places I'd Rather Be:
  1. Anywhere with Kelly
  2. Watching the sun set from Mount Sentinel (Missoula)
  3. Admiring the BIG Sky over Helena, MT
  4. see #1 above

4 People I email regularly:
  1. Kelly
  2. My mum
  3. Bristol Friends
  4. Ali in Missoula

4 People to Tag:
  1. Chris
  2. SJ
  3. Tom
  4. Greg

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Living: return to nature

Epping Forest pond reflection

I spent much of today in Epping Forest with friends. Oh, the blessing of nature...
We drank greedily of the blossom-sweet air, breathing in birdsong and the chatter of leaves skipping across the moss-green carpet. Tiny, colorful rocks demanded my attention as if I were a child, and laughter poured out of crevaces long covererd by London soot. We wandered, not lost, but free - free from paths and the pretense of time and destination.

Eventually our empty stomachs reminded us of our mortality and we descended again to earth and to London...
Sometimes we are lucky enough to be given a sign of how life is supposed to be. And we're luckier still if we see it.
A few years ago a friend passed me on a Sunday morning as I sat beneath a tree in front of my Missoula apartment. He called from his car window, "why aren't you at church?"
I just smiled, looked up for a moment, and said, "I am."
Justin + sunshine + nature = happiness. (add good friends to flavor)

Friday, February 08, 2008

Living: Insight from the Dalai Lama

Today's words from the Dalai Lama calendar from my brother are worth meditating on:
If a person's basic state of mind is serene and calm, then it is possible for this inner peace to overwhelm a painful physical experience. On the other hand, if someone is suffering from depression, anxiety, or any form of emotional distress, then even if he or she happens to be enjoying physical comforts, he will not really be able to experience the happiness that these could bring.
The point here, I take it, is that what is 'out there' around us is not nearly so important as what is 'in here' in our own minds. Dharma teachers are often quick to tell stories of travels in India and Tibet, amongst the poorest people of the world, where they were greeted with kindness and joy - and often gifts - in contrast to the folks in wealthy western countries where people are stingy and cynical.

Yet I think it is equally important to state that we all need good conditions to cultivate the serenity and calm which is naturally inherent within us. Even a Pope or Dalai Lama, in the midst of utter chaos, will find life incredibly difficult. Think of the sixth Dalia Lama, raised in turbulent times, shrouded even from potential teachers for many years, a virtual prisoner well into his teens. Or of Pope Pius XII in the chaotic years of WW II.

We all need the initial conditions for happiness: some degree of peace and quiet, safety and sufficient nourishment. But beyond these, and these are amazingly readily available if we search for them, it is upon us to do the work of cultivating the inner peace which is the mark of the sage, the yogi, the sensai.

In are difficult times, it is always fair to seek greater comfort. This is part of our human nature and the realization that we all have difficult times. Even as hard as it is to seek help, it is equally wonderful to be asked, and to be trusted in another's time of need. This is the beauty of humanity: we care for each other. Even when our reasons escape reason, we care. And we want to help.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Living: Sunseeking

For about six months now, I've been a subscriber to Dr. Mercola's twice weekly newsletter, thanks to a recommendation by Kelly's friend, Liz, on their blog. I would very strongly recommend it myself; his no-nonsense advice and copious research, not to mention headlines like Soft Drinks: Disease in a Can have won me over.

One of Dr. Mercola's commonly discussed topics is the fact that most of us in the developed world do not get enough sunshine. That's right, not enough. I don't know about you, but I grew up with the message that 'too much sun can give you cancer' but nobody told me that 'too little sun can give you cancer too' - until now (another article, and another). And for the cancer we do get, the most common cause is our poor diet (too much processed food, filled with too many - sometimes carcinogenic - additives).

But, beyond cancer, too little sunshine obviously puts many of us (myself included) into quite a funk. As for dealing with these winter blues, Dr. Mercola has some great suggestions:
  • Get sun! A light-box or full-spectrum light bulbs will also help. Two years ago I flew to Hawai'i for a week and felt like I was walking on clouds for about three weeks even back in Missoula. In six days I'll be visiting friends on the tiny island of Gozo, Malta, where the forecast is for plenty of sunshine and highs in the 60s. And I've just ordered a six-pack of the above bulbs for Kelly in DC.
  • Exercise more - and keep it fun. Even when I don't feel like it, I still manage to get to the gym four or five days a week. Sometimes I'm there for as little as 20minutes, but even then I feel good that I went. Often enough, though, I manage 40minutes to an hour and walk out feeling really great.
  • Avoid comfort foods! Starchy/sugary foods actually stimulate quick bursts of serotonin (the 'good mood' hormone) in our brains, so we do feel good when we eat them. But it's a short-lived high, followed by a blood-sugar crash and (often enough) feelings of guilt for our indulgences. Eat more fresh veggies - green stuff especially.
  • Sleep! Our bodies follow the rhythms of the day pretty darned well, producing the 'sleep hormone' melatonin earlier as the days grow shorter. Unfortunately, most of us have lives and schedules that don't allow us to listen to our bodies and sleep more in winter months. Change this! Cut back activities in the darkest winter months as much as possible - your body, moods, and friends will thank you for it.
  • Get more Omega 3s. These are fats (that's right, you're supposed to eat more fat!) found most commonly in fatty fish like wild salmon (but NOT farmed salmon), and also in some vegetable products such as flax seed and rapeseed oils and walnuts (a good webpage).
  • Change your routines: pamper yourself; journal/reflect on your day and life; get out to the country - or out of the country if you can; clean (especially if this is new to you); listen to good music, etc. I've been LOVING my new noise-canceling headphones, listening to uplifting pop music and to the gayatri mantra (see below) - a wonderfully soothing and uplifting Sanskrit chant.

Beatles: Here Comes the Sun

Nina Simone: Here Comes the Sun

Richie Havens: Here Comes the Sun

I hope you like this song as much as I do! :) I grew up with lots of Richie Havens, too, so it brings me a smile just to hear his voice.

The Gayatri Mantra
May all beings be well,
may all beings be happy,
may all beings be free from suffering.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Living: Reflecting

I received this as an email today. Somehow it just seems perfect (more to follow):



Hello everybody, we are starting on a new issue of Smiths, the themes are Reflections/Home (working title.) We are asking you to reflect back on your lives, and give us submissions of the contemplative kind, in any form: stories, articles, objects, postcards. Etc.

Often going home, away from the whirlwind of uni life, is a good time for this kind of reflection, and with the majority of us not coming from central London, going back to our home towns for a stint with our parents can be quite a sobering experience. We want you to tell us about your other lives, what you get up to away from Goldsmiths. With the media often being London–centric, this issue of Smiths is the definitive non-London issue.

Some examples of articles we would like submissions about..

- Photos of ‘home’.
- Reviews/interviews with people you knew who are now in bands (whether they are famous or still local).
- Interesting traditions from your hometowns.
- Fashion photography (perhaps examining the ‘makeover’ process some people undergo when coming to a new city/uni).
- Postcards from your hometowns, perhaps with stories etc on the back.
- Any experiences which are very much nostalgic to you now.

We would also like you to submit photos which could be on the front of a postcard for New Cross, the photos would need to encapsulate how you feel about New Cross (and surrounding areas), a postcard you could send to someone who doesn’t live here. 4 winning photos will be chosen and published as pull-outs in the magazine.

Please note- We would like submissions of the above things, but this is in no way a final list. PLEASE BE CREATIVE with your ideas around this theme, remember you can write about ANYTHING as long as you feel it links to the theme in some way, and as stated before, submissions can be in any form.


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Living - moving?

Today I visited another hall of residence for a potential move, Raymont Hall. It has some pros and cons I'll need to mull over for a day or so; feel free to chime in with advice.

  • It's on a quiet road in a residential neighborhood, I now live on a major highway in a busy neighborhood.
  • The room would be a bit bigger with a nice desk, my own toilet and shower, and a larger window, overlooking either a quiet internal garden/courtyard or facing out where it would get several hours of direct sunlight.
  • Laundry services are on-site; right now I have to walk a couple blocks to do laundry.
  • It's 15 minutes' walk from college, I'm about 5 minutes now (a small thing).
  • The kitchens there are filthy; the kitchens here, despite the mice, are immaculate in comparison.
  • No internet in the rooms (this may be a pro though if it means I get more work done).
  • It is $30/week more in rent.
The people there (and thus potential noise from them) are a bit of a mystery. I know a couple people living in the hall, but none near where I would be (A2 or A18). I really, really like the people in my hall, so I would be leaving them and the daily kindness and support that they give me.

There is also the fact that I'll only be in London for about six more weeks (my ticket to DC and, more importantly, Kelly, is purchased for March 25). Of that six weeks, I already have a week booked in Gozo (many many thanks to Margaret and Bruce!), and will spend about eight days in Bristol this month and next (many many thanks to SJ!). So that only leaves about four weeks, twenty-eight or so days. Is it worth it to move for so short a time? I know I'll survive here at Batavia Mews; but I also know I won't thrive. At Raymont I might thrive, or then it could worse somehow...

Anywho... something I'll mull over for a day or so. Please feel free to give thoughts or things for me to think about. Thanks.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Living - Goodies from Home

Today a bit of joy came in the form of a package from my folks in Montana. Enclosed were three things: a Christmas card from our jeweler with nice photos of Kel's ring, a daily Dalai Lama calendar from my brother, and noise canceling headphones I ordered.
Mo Anam Cara, Gaelic for My Spiritual Friend (or soulmate). Kelly recognized this spiritual bond between us from our very first evening together.

Claddagh: Heart, hands, and crown. "Let love and friendship reign." With an emerald in the heart for our soul-home, Ireland, the Emerald Isle.

Wow, silence! Or at least very close.

Dalai Lama wisdom to come - soon! I also took a walk today to some other potential flats to live in but they weren't so great. Tomorrow I'll see another one where I hear they have authentic sunshine, a garden, rooms with balconies and they serve you Piña Coladas at sunset. Ok, I made up the Piña Coladas part but the rest is true I swear.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Quote of the Day:

Primum vivere, deinde philosophari
First live - then philosophize.

(from my daytrip to Cambridge with housemates)

Friday, February 01, 2008

Reflecting on Aristotle, (1 of 4)

I've just read the chapter on Aristotle in "Ethics in the History of Western Philosophy" and found his thought to be incredibly close to that of Buddhism. A major part of my thesis, it seems, will be in showing some of the key differences and why Kant may provide coverage of those differences. I also found Aristotle to be incredibly close to Kant...

Some notes (those in black are roughly exegesis, in red are my thoughts/interpretations):

First, while in Plato we find a "radical and sound alternative" to Athenian democracy (the same democracy that exhausted itself in a 30 year war with Sparta and executed its greatest thinker, Socrates), in Aristotle we instead find a detached and conservative ethics. Aristotle's work is less a critique of his society and more an attempt to raise up and clarify its highest attributes. Aristotle's three works on ethics: the Eudemian Ethics, Nicomachean Ethics, and the Magna Moralia are all closely related to politics rather than strictly individual ethics.

Happiness, or flourishing (eudemonia) for Aristotle is to be accomplished by building a rich inner life as opposed to the (perhaps later Stoic) ideal of simplifying one's needs and expectations. Aristotle asserts that man is by nature a social/political creature, and that one cannot flourish in isolation.

To distinguish which goods lead to happiness and which do not, Aristotle asks what is the particular nature of humanity, apart from all other creatures. The oft cited analogy is that of asking what is the nature of a knife apart from other kitchen utensils: it cuts. A good (or virtuous, Aristotle uses the same term, areté) knife cuts well. Humanity's special nature, that which sets us apart from other creatures is our employment of reason, our ability to act either rationally or irrationally.

'Ok,' you might think, 'it is our best nature to act rationally, so we ought to do that, right?' Well, strictly speaking, no. This is a case of the philosophical problem known by the fancy term: the naturalistic fallacy, aka. the is/ought problem. The problem is the reasoning that just because something is that it therefore should be that way. A simple example to illustrate this is to say, 'ethnic cleansing and perhaps soon genocide are again happening in Africa. We can say this 'is' a fact but certainly we would not say it 'ought to be' that way.' Some things that are, are wrong.

Aristotle gets around this by positing the virtues as the principles by which to judge whether something is good or bad. Reason is on the is side (of the is/ought divide). So reason itself cannot be employed to determine the rightness or wrongness of an action: you could have a very reasonable war criminal and a fairly irrational (but otherwise harmless) store clerk. What is needed as an logically external standard, and that is the virtues. They are external because they flow not from human nature per se, but from the practical nature of society and thus may vary from one society to the next.
In the next post I hope to finish the exegesis on Aristotle, covering his discussion on the relationship between moral and intellectual virtues as well as his determination of what makes an act right.

Third, I will point out some of the continuity and difference in Kant's though. And finally I hope to finish with a comparison of some of these ideas in Aristotle to Buddhist ethics.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Quote of the Day:

From my friend Kristy back in MT:
It's too bad that London isn't more fun for you. I envisioned you wearing your long black coat walking up the steps of a museum but I've changed that mental picture to you living in a ghetto and cooking noodles in a small dirty kitchen with a bunch of dirty people all waiting to take a shower.
That pretty much sums it up!

N.B. Tips for overcoming adrenal fatigue: Laugh as often as possible since this increases the parasympathetic supply to the adrenals.

Back on and in search of Buddhist Ethics

I am happy to say that I feel like I am recovering from my recent stress overload and I'm getting back to work. I may have been (and still am to some point) suffering from adrenal fatigue syndrome, which I take to be a fancy name for stressed out (with no break). According to some, this is the most under-diagnosed illness of the 21st century. From the link above:
You may have Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome if you are experiencing any of these symptoms:
  • Fatigue, lethargy
    • Lack of energy in the mornings, and also in the afternoon between 3 and 5 pm
    • Often feel tired between 9 and 10 pm, but resist going to bed
  • Lightheadedness (including dizziness and fainting) when rising from a sitting or laying-down position
  • Lowered blood pressure and blood sugar
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering (brain fog)
  • Consistently feeling unwell or difficulty recovering from infections
  • Craving either salty or sugary foods to keep going
  • Unexplained hair loss
  • Nausea
  • Alternating constipation and diarrhea
  • Mild depression
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Unexplained pain in the upper back or neck
  • Increased symptoms of PMS for women – periods are heavy and then stop (or almost stop) on the 4th day, only to start flow again on the 5th or 6th day
  • Tendency to gain weight and inability to lose it – especially around the waist
  • High frequency of getting the flu and other respiratory diseases – plus a tendency for them to last longer than usual
The bold ones are symptoms I've definitely had. If you find yourself nodding as you go through the list, check out the above link for tips on lifestyle and diet changes that can help out.
Current Studies:

Right now I am clarifying my reasons for choosing Kantian ethics to help shed light on Buddhist ethics. Part of that involves working with Howard Caygill here, a Kant specialist, to formulate a very rich and subtle understanding of Buddhist ethics. This means getting beyond "Kant the formalist" where the Categorical Imperative is seen as the basis of his ethical system.

Kant is usually presented as giving only these abstract formulations: act so as to treat all rational beings as ends and not merely as means, act upon maxims such that you could will that these maxims be universal, etc. These sound nice, but also seem hopelessly detached from our daily lives, and thus pretty useless as ethical guidance. However, statements like this make up only one tiny corner of Kant's ethical world. It has been the error of countless thinkers after Kant to single these out as the essence of Kant's ethical thought and to ignore the rest.

At the same time, Buddhist ethics seem to have some similarly hopelessly detached notions such as non-self (anattā) and dhamma, a term that can be variously translated as: law, eternal law, the liberating law, the underlying law of reality, duty, morality, thing, the teaching, the Buddha's teaching, and so on. And just like Kant's Categorical Imperative, these are not terms that are helpful to everyone on the Buddhist path (a householder, for instance, is often simply taught to follow the five precepts and cultivate generosity).

However, for the philosophically minded, which in the Buddha's day included himself, many learned Brahmins, and his own monks and nuns, a fuller understanding of the nature of reality is needed. This philosophy was not for its own sake, but because the Buddhist goal of nibbāna is equated with seeing things as they truly are (yathā-bhūtaṃ). This seeing certainly needs to be accompanied by active moral cultivation of the precepts and pāramitās or virtues. Yet it may be said that one who is swift along the path without seeing quickly goes astray.

So my thesis will posit that such notions as no-self and dhamma form a sort of conceptual light at the end of the tunnel for those traversing the Buddhist path. This is how Kant saw the moral law and his Categorical Imperatives, as ideals to be sought after rather than formulas to be calculated. And so with dhamma. While at first it may seem like a hopelessly vague or abstract term, perhaps a relic of Brahmanism that modern Buddhists can be rid of, it turns out to have deep soteriological value as a goal toward which to strive.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Tuesday's Lessons

Well I'm happy to report that most of the angst underlying Sunday's post seems to have gone away. It's hard to say exactly how or why it left, or what brought it on in the first place. But some things I've learned that might help for the future:
  1. Kelly and I have lots of wonderful, amazing people in our lives that both want us to be happy and have great advice and helpful solutions.
  2. I need a regular meditation practice; I've had one here twice a week for a few weeks, but more would be good.
  3. When I'm stressed my inclination is to withdraw. This can be okay, even good, at times. But at this time, me withdrawing is the exact opposite of what Kelly needs. I need to keep her informed with what's going on here (even when it's not pretty).
  4. I'll be much, much better when I'm out of London!
Right now I'm on the fence regarding moving out. I was leaning toward it but then my housemates all told me how sad they'd be if I left (some making reference to things I have fixed, others not). (to them - Thanks) One even offered to call Kelly and tell her they'd be sad, and how it's pretty horrible here, but that it's only two more months. To those who have offered me places to stay for a visit outside of London, YES and YES. So no move, but some travels. And some more meditation. Now back to our previously scheduled programing of Buddhist ethics and Kantian drivelings.... :)

Oh, but one last note. One of my great professors back in Montana, Albert Borgmann, offered his students a sort of 'key' to or formula for happiness:
  1. Think about the things that you do that make you most happy
  2. Think about the people that you are with when you are most happy
  3. Think about the place where you are most happy, &
  4. Remember these three.
I've got great people here (and many more that aren't here), and I am blessed to be able to study the subject that I love, but the place here.... well.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Sunday Night Ramblings

It's noisy in (my part of) London. I hear sirens day and night, going right by my flat about every 10-15 minutes. I am told that the next neighborhood (Peckham) has the highest gun crime rate in England. We (four blocks away) are close behind.

It's noisy too in my flat. The walls are thin. I can hear/take part in conversations in the next room over or the hallway, or with the people a floor below me. What's worse is that my room is next to the kitchen. I'm growing to associate food with noise. I know exactly when half of my flatmates eat. I'm growing to dislike people who eat late.

Our sink clogged this week. My flatmates wait for it to fix itself (like it did before). And it will, again, after I scoop out the water, plunge it a bit with my hands, and eventually buy drain cleaner to pour down two or three times. (this time even that isn't working)

A couple times this week I've made precious progress on my ph.d. thesis and upcoming (March) panel presentation. But at this rate neither will be ready in time.
And, worst of all, Kelly and I are quarreling. Some of it is small stuff like dessert selections for our wedding. Sometimes it's bigger though, like how we handle and what we need under stress. We have only known each other for seven months, so these changes can be frightening. When we first met she was, to use a label commonly placed on her, a superwoman. She had grace and confidence and inquisitiveness that I found… intoxicating. I couldn’t wait each day just to see her again (thinking about it reminds me of how much I love her and how grateful I am to call her my fiancée). I was apparently not so bad off myself: meditating, living close to nature, grounded.

Today, however, we are far apart from one another. Both of us are in spiritually toxic environments, her in DC and me in S.E. London. The other night I was disturbed around 2am by some young students returning to a neighboring flat when one of them screamed at our security guard, “Wake up! I’ll git you sacked! I’ll git you sacked!" and to his friends, "Eeeez sleeeepin’!” All of that (and things not appropriate to post here) was repeated several times as his friends apparently corralled the young man into this flat.

Deep down I know this is all a lesson. And that life is flux, and that we mustn’t cling.

But I still get frustrated. I didn’t come here for lessons. I didn’t come to learn about contemporary issues in British immigration and gun crime. I didn’t come to learn about navigating relationships in difficult times. I came to get a (bloody!) university education. I came, and paid – oh so much money – to be free to be immersed in the ambrosia-like waters of Buddhist Ethics; to eat, sleep, and breath Buddhism and philosophy.


Gosh oh golly, I guess life had its own plans for me.

The important thing, according to my Kantian-Buddhism, is not how well I do here or the particulars of my relationship with Kelly at any given time. The important thing is staying connected with my core - grounded, acting instead of reacting, observing and smiling. It is when we are connected that we succeed. It was being grounded that (I believe) helped me get here in the first place, and made me so handsome and irresistible to Kelly not so long ago.

Breathing, listening... at about 2:30 each night the sounds of the city are replaced by song-birds outside my window. They make me laugh. They remind me of home. At the same time they bring me here, they teach me to let go of how I want it to be and to love how it is.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

A compass in stormy seas

Taken from Charles Muller’s Resources for East Asian Language and Thought
Translated during the summer of 1991 by Charles Muller
Revised, July 1997
1.The Tao that can be followed is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the origin of heaven and earth
While naming is the origin of the myriad things.
Therefore, always desireless, you see the mystery
Ever desiring, you see the manifestations.
These two are the same–
When they appear they are named differently.

Their sameness is the mystery,
Mystery within mystery;

The door to all marvels.

(The above is borrowed from Zen Frog
Read more)
Sigh. I take solace in eternal wisdom like this when the seas around me grow stormy. I just watched the movie, V for Vendetta, in which one of the quotes is:
"...artists use lies to tell the truth, while politicians use them to cover the truth up."
I might add to that something like:
"philosophers hold to truth for dear life, while Buddhists accept all truth - and move on."
In those terms, when life gets a bit hairy, I become much more of a philosopher and less of a Buddhist. But, my love of wisdom, my philo sophia, comes when, through philosophizing I come to the realization that I must move on.

I read today in Howard Caygill's book, The Art of Judgement, on Kant's 3rd Critique, that Kant envisioned philosophical critique as the activity of self-orientation.

I think about what that means: the activity of self-orientation. I think its essence demands that I say nothing more here; perhaps it's like a koan - not meant to be answered, but used to smash through old truths and allow the new ones. Ah, but I've said too much. Shhhh...

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Life: Global Warming, Polution, and Interconnectedness

Last summer I helped organize the 2nd annual Environmental Ethics Institute in Missoula, MT. Above is Don Brown, former counsel to President Bill Clinton, speaking about the moral implications of consumption in wealthy nations. Brown, who I found out also considers himself to be a "Buddhist-Kantian" (that's two of us so far), spoke passionately about the duty and responsibility of the rich and powerful. I was saddened that, even there, many in the audience responded with phrases like, "not my fault," and "not my problem."

It seems that evidence of human-caused global warming and environmental destruction are everywhere these days. We again saw record breaking heat this summer in Montana and now I guess we have a record-hot January in London, causing premature blooming of trees and flowers. It's difficult, with all the news and statistics and conflicting diagnoses and prescriptions, to know just what to do. For me it was helpful to take the ecological footprint test again. I took it last June and, living in beautiful Montana, discovered that I consumed enough to require 3.8 planets. This time around I guess I'm doing a bit better, down to 2.7 planets. What I make up for in compacted living and not driving anywhere, I seem to lose in having my food imported from all over the world: bananas from Costa Rica (I think I'll give up on these again), apples from Italy (not so far I suppose), fish from Indonesia and Siberia! Speaking of fish, I've been trying to eat more of it to boost my energy levels - mentally and physically - with good success. The downside is that, along with the global warming problem, humans are dumping tons of toxins into the environment, toxins that eventually make their way back - to us.

The other night, some of my flatmates went to a dance performance nearby, in which the choreographer was commissioned by the government to make a statement on the environment. The result, Glacier, brings to the audience the painful struggle and death of animals caught in oil and the gradual melting of glaciers, signifying the steady death of society.
Glacier will paint a glistening and sometimes disturbing picture of society reflected on an icy surface which is gradually thawing away, beautifully distorting the mirrored image. (from their website)
It ends, I am told, with one of the performers frozen in ice with lines of oil being injected into her with intravenous needles.

But, on a more optimistic note, recently my friend Margaret invited me to take part in Earth Hour 2008, which I definitely would love to participate in (sound good, Kelly?).

Speaking of the 2007 Earth Hour in Sidney, Australian actress Cate Blanchett stated, "it's very rare in the pace of modern life that we stop and think about how much we consume and the way we live our lives... so, I think it's a beginning."

A beginning indeed, and a momentous one. The video is, to me, amazingly moving and inspiring. March 29, 8pm. It puts a smile on my face to think about.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Kant and Buddha on Happiness

In my (slow but sure) continued reading of Harvey's article on Free Will [view] [print] I have found another in-road into Kantian analysis and thought.

~ Kant ~

For Kant, happiness is something we make ourselves worthy of by following the moral law. That moral law, importantly (and oft misunderstood) is not something 'out there' - as in religious or political laws or rules. The moral law comes from us. But it is also not subjective, it is objective (and universal) because it is based in what we all share as humans: reason. Reason for Kant is a term of art. It isn't used as we use it today, in the instrumental sense: 'he reasoned his way through the situation,' or 'accountants are very reason-based people.' There, reason can be replaced by 'calculate'.

In Kant, reason is the faculty which takes us beyond ourselves as subjective, limited beings. It is what compels us to do the right thing even when we cannot explain this to others. It is the faculty by which people saw that slavery was wrong even when religion and politics sanctioned it. It is the faculty through which we see the dignity and irreducible value of every other human being (and, some would say that it eventually reaches to non-human animals as well).

You can see why Kant is so easily and often misunderstood. It is easy to read him without understanding his use of terms.

In any case, that is Kant on Reason (in a nutshell). By employing our reason we learn to see things from others' perspectives, we learn to see the good and dignity in others, in short, we quit being so selfish. For Kant it is our selfishness, and our selfish use of reason (here as mere calculation) that is the main cause of suffering in the world. The second cause of suffering is merely following the dictates of others.

The 'good Christian' for Kant was the one who, using his reason, determined that there must be a God and that one really ought to act for the benefit of all people as much as possible, utterly regardless of whether this will bring you benefit or not. A good Christian was not for Kant one who worked to please or impress the priests or parishioners or to master the dogma. Similarly, the good citizen realizes, through reason, the importance of a flourishing and stable society and the danger of revolution. The good citizen is not the one who carefully or mindlessly follows rules. Sure, impressing people and following rules have their place, but for Kant, doing the right thing (morality) would always trump either of these - and morality is the proper aim of all of us.

~ Buddha ~
It is in this fathom-long carcass, (which is) cognitive (sanynyimhi) and endowed with mind (-mana-), that, I declare (lies) the world, and the origin of the world, and the stopping of the world [nirvana], and the way that goes to the stopping of the world (S.I.62). {in Harvey, p.75}
Harvey comments on this thus:
Within the confining parameters set by a certain meaning-world, one has some freedom of action in accordance with one's degree of awareness and reflection. A more full and accurate meaning-world, closer to seeing things as-they-really-are and thus less affected by ignorance, opens up new possibilities, which are closer to the experience of nirvaana-the unconditioned (asankhata).

My Kantian-Buddhist angle on this would say that our degree of awareness and reflection is roughly the same as Kant's use of Reason (in the non-calculative sense). The more irrational we are, the more we are slaves to a very narrow meaning-world - generally determined by our religion or political persuasion and the people we have regular contact with. Our use of reason (generating awareness) allows us to rise above this, giving us a 'more full and accurate meaning-world.'

Our suffering is so much a result of our concepts - our attempts to box in the world and make it predictable (my friend and fellow blogger, Nacho, often remarks on the fact that Buddhism seems to be the only religion to stress the moral importance of accepting uncertainty). And where do we get these concepts? From other people and social, political, and religious institutions.

But this is not to deny the importance of institutions and other people. We need both of these. The problem only arises when institutions and people claim to give us some sort of certainty, or we seek certainty in them. This is a problem because change or flux is fundamental to reality. And flux (anicca) is fundamental to seeing-things-as-they-really-are (yatha-bhuta).

, it would seem, is the fullest acceptance of flux - or fullest recognition thereof. It is a rising above the happy-one-moment, sad-the-next that dominates samsaric existence. This is a true happiness, one unconditioned by the vicissitudes of daily life, one which runs much deeper.

So for both Kant and Buddha it seems that happiness is a result of disentangling ourselves with the ways of the world around us in search of something deeper. This 'something deeper' was for Kant the 'moral law' and for Buddha the dharma. For both this was the goal of a good life. For both, bad things could still happen - living morally or according to dharma is no guarantee that things will be hunky-dory. The Buddha still had to confront angry elephants, a serial killer (angulimala), and his jealous and murderous cousin devadata. In recognizing this, Kant was quite clear that living a moral life is no guarantee of happiness - stuff will still happen - but it does guarantee that we are worthy of happiness, that is, we can rise above the stuff as it assails us.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Life: wandering 'round London

London can be a dark and dreary place, especially these days when we seem encased in clouds and the sun, when it does cut through, sets around 4pm. 'Tis even drearier to sit around my flat (see my earlier post), or the Goldsmiths library, or most anywhere else in my neighborhood.

Luckily I have adventurous flatmates. Sjors (pictured) is one such flatmate. Born on the tiny Dutch island of (insert unpronounceable Dutch word), Sjors has since sought a life of international travel and artistic media stuff.

Yesterday we ventured south and west on foot up Telegraph Hill and then on randomly until we found Nunhead Cemetery. The place was amazing. First thing was saw? A fox! After that we meandered up its main avenue toward the burnt-out church in the middle.

I'm not sure why, but I always feel a little extra sense of peace when I'm in cemeteries. Perhaps its the R.I.P. mantra engraved on so many headstones. Perhaps it's an extra jolt of awareness that there are bigger problems in the world than those I face each day. Perhaps it's knowing that I'm surrounded by people who... can't really talk to me. It has all the people-feeling, without the people-noise. I get that in churches too - the big, quiet churches where no one talks. 'Tis nice.

In any case, I came away feeling refreshed. Last weekend we ventured to Blackheath, a very nice (posh, villagy) area not far from here. I think we're starting a tradition.

Oh, I can't help but toss in this poem I found on the Brockley wikipedia page (it seemed appropriate on so many levels):

Linton Kwesi Johnson mentions Brockley in his poem "Inglan Is A Bitch". He spells it "Brackly" as this is roughly how it sounds in Jamaican patois:

dem a have a lickle facktri up inna Brackly
inna disya facktri all dem dhu is pack crackry
fi di laas fifteen years dem get mi laybah
now awftah fifteen years mi fall out a fayvah

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Buddhist Ethics, Free Will, and the logic of Karma

It seems like it's been forever since I've posted on Buddhist Ethics, and almost that long since I've done any work on it. Oh well. We're moving past that slump now with a bit from an article fresh off the press (well, electronically, and it may be a few months old, hard to tell). The article is:
"'Freedom of the Will' in the Light of Theravāda Buddhist Teachings" by Peter Harvey [view] [print] from the 2007 edition of the Journal of Buddhist Ethics.
I should note a big kudos to Asaf Federman, a former coursemate of mine at Bristol (and soon-to-be co-panelist, more on that to come), who is cited frequently and approvingly by Harvey.

The one point that I wanted to post today was Harvey's modern logical extension of of the Buddhist concept of Karma.
While the idea did not exist in the pre-modern era, contemporary Buddhists are able to say that, as one gets one's genes from one's parents, and one gets one's parents from one's past karma, then any genetic influence on character, and thence behavior, is itself a mode of karmic influence. (p.47)
This is something I discussed a bit a while back. In that post I discussed the Buddhist five niyamas*. Though it is never, as far as I know, made explicit in primary or commentarial literature, I think these sets of causality may be seen as nested, that is, all that falls within a narrower category necessarily falls within the next larger. One example of such nesting is found in the similar categorization in the natural sciences, which may go something like this:

1) all that is, is determined by laws of quantum mechanics
2) within that is the category of (observable) classical physics
3) within classical physics are organic things governed by biological laws
4) certain biological things appear to have mental states*
*since the mental is so poorly understood in Western thought, no proposal that these be governed by laws has yet caught on.

Notice that this is a sort of 'bottom-up' nesting, from the littlest things to bigger and bigger. Many materialists will simply leave it at biology and say that mind is 'reducible' to that level (thus avoiding messy talk of mind all together).

And here's the Buddhist model (with my nesting interpretation):

1) all that is, is within dhamma-niyama
2) within that is a category of (moral) action, the kamma-niyama
3) within kamma-niyama are mental actions, citta-niyama
4) only within mind (citta) are organic or cyclical processes, bija-niyama
5) and within that is the category and laws of mere matter, utu-niyama.

The Buddhist nesting theory is 'top-down'. It starts with the big, abstract stuff, dhamma, and works down to the material world. This makes matter itself a consequence of cyclical processes, which one could stretch to (match with contemporary physics and) say that the creation of universes itself is a cyclical process and it only within these that matter may be produced. More difficult to match up with any Western thought is the idea that organic or cyclical processes themselves are an outcome of mental actions, or that those fall on moral foundations.

Yet in Buddhism, at least in Tibetan expositions I have heard, everything does rest on moral, or karmic, foundations. Even our non-volitional actions, like rolling over and hurting a bug in our sleep (or a mouse if you're me), can only happen because our karma led us to have this body and live in this place. Yes, it would be silly (not to mention pedantic) to attribute every little thing to karma - to some past deed.

Later in the paper, Harvey explicitly asks: Is everything due to karma? (p.50) He suggests, that it is not karma, but other forms of conditioning that can be the cause of experiences (p.51):
At S.IV.230-231, the Buddha discusses the various causes of the experiences (feelings/sensations: vedayitāni) that a person might have. They can originate:

in phlegm the winds (of the body) ...from a union of humors (of the body) ...born of a change of season ...born of the stress of circumstances ...due to (someone else’s) effort (opakkamikāni)… and some things that are experienced here, Sīvaka, arise born of the maturing of karma.

It is thus seen as incorrect to say that, "Whatever this person experiences, whether pleasant or painful or neither painful nor pleasant, all that is due to what was done earlier."

But how does this match up with Harvey's logical extension of karma above? Certainly if we wish to say that things caused by "(someone else's) effort" are not due to karma, then wouldn't our conception (so clearly a result of our parents' effort) be not karmically caused? It seems to turn on how you interpret the Pali canon passage cited above. I take it to say that it is incorrect to attribute every experience to some (particular) past action (karman). Harvey is interpreting it as saying that there are experiences for which karma (our past volitional actions) has no causal role.

But then another question comes to mind. If being born as a human is due to karma, as all schools of Buddhism emphatically claim, then aren't all experiences in this human body due to that same karma? Now, that is emphatically not to negate other causal factors. If I have a belly-ache, it makes more sense to investigate the Thai food I ate last night, not what I did in a past life. I take this to be what the Buddha was suggesting here.

It is said that in this passage the Buddha was specifically refuting Jain theory. This fact supports my interpretation. The Jains focused so heavily on karma that they sought both to create no new karma (through an ultra-minimalistic lifestyle) and to burn off remaining karma through austerity (tapas). In this context we can see that the Buddha is simply giving a less radical, more common-sense teaching: "maybe you are sick because of the 'changing of the seasons' or because someone sneezed on you, (in cases such as this) don't worry so much about karma." He is not making the more radical claim that there are certain things in our life completely outside the sphere of karma.

* niyama = conditions, constraints, or laws - see p.199 of Keown's Dictionary of Buddhism, 'Fivefold Lawfulness' or 'natural order' in Nyanatiloka's Buddhist Dictionary, p.135.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Life: My house is famous

(Jan 16 update: I just found a poster from one resident offering anybody $300 to take their place (lease) at Batavia Mews. Yikes! Not only is it unlivable, but we're trapped! And residents are paying other people to take their places!)

This week my flat, Batavia Mews, made the front of the London Student newspaper.

The story focuses on the mouse infestation that has run rampant through the flats for the last six or so months, and also discusses a couple other problems students have faced: electrocution (from faulty wiring) and dirty mattresses.

Here at flat 4, we have had a few of our own problems:
  1. No heat until mid-October
  2. Clogging sinks
  3. Clogging shower drains
  4. Three days in December (19th-22nd) with no heat or hot water - (meaning no showers and lots of cold, stinky flat-mates)
  5. Loud cleaners (who come with friends and/or chat on their cell phones in the kitchens - right next to my room)
  6. Broken cabinets (one in the kitchen just fell off its hinges over a week ago, yet to be fixed)
We also live right on a major thoroughfare, meaning people with rooms on one side of the house (with old, thin windows) hear traffic noises day and night - the traffic never really stops. And then their is the nightclub half a block away, providing a persistent 'thump, thump, thump' of bass on Friday and Saturday nights, and the heavy 'fire' doors that are rigged to slam shut - they have mechanical arms that are supposed to prevent this, but most of those are worn out, and the creaking hinges (I'm looking for WD-40) and stairs and paper-thin walls and floors.

Hmm... Is that all? I think so. I really don't like to complain, especially about somewhat trivial matters when so many people in the world have it so much worse and I should be spending time on loftier academic-type things. But, I'm afraid that conditions here have made other thought and work and relationships quite difficult.

A friend of mine, when I told him that London was draining me, commented that he thought a Buddhist could be happy anywhere. I suppose this is a common misconception, that we can somehow retreat from the world around us with meditation or chanting or some such thing. On the one hand, I could retreat inwards to some extent, focus on immediate tasks and cultivating calm and metta. I think I did this three years ago when I was in Bristol.

But going underground and inward for a bit is not always so easy with the "householder's" life. The struggle for balance is an almost daily one, between the solitary academic Buddhist and the community and family-oriented guy from Montana. Both sides love nature and silence, and both are far removed from these in Southeast London.

And I sigh, sitting in my room listening to the banging of utensils and cupboards in the kitchen - and sirens from streets below, looking out over a grey, blustery day in London.

Where is my mind?
In the kitchen?
Watching over Kelly as she sleeps 4000 miles away?
Watching a summer sunset from my favorite perch near Missoula?
Where is my mind?