What is Eagle Talon?

While in Japan, I was watchign TV with my daughter when I saw this strange, but hilarious show called taka no tsume (鷹の爪) which means “Eagle Talon” or “Hawk Talon”, whatever.1 Apparently, according to Wikipedia, the show started as an online Flash-animation show by one man. He took stock characters from video games and other sources, and reversed roles: the superhero was the rude, arrogant bad buy, while the “bad guys” were actually heroes.

Unfortunately, there is no English translation, but you can see it here:

One of the main good guys looks like M. Bison from Street Fighter in my opinion. Anyhow, in this episode, the “hero” Deluxe Fighter is visiting elderly people for Keiro no Hi (敬老の日, “Respect for the Aged Day”). One of elderly ladies mistakes him for someone she fondly remembers, but when he acts differently, she gets annoyed. He almost blasts her a couple times, but then decides to play along. In the end, she is dying and admits that she know he was only pretending, but appreciates the effort so she gives him all the money she saved up, which was millions of yen. Just as she dies, the good guys revive her with a special raygun and she lives, thus Deluxe Man loses the inheritence money and blasts everyone.

It’s a very silly show, but fun to watch even if you only undersatnd a little Japanese. I watch it on Youtube regularly.2


P.S. Sorry guys, I accidentally hit ‘publish’ button on this post. I’ve re-written this. :)

1 The Japanese word for “eagle” is washi as far as I know, so I think the English title is slightly mistranslated. Then again, Hawk Talon is awkward to say. :p

2 Unlike Korean media, Japanese media is usually very strict about licensing and it’s hard for people outside Japan to see it. But thankfully Eagle Talon is different.

Posted in Japan | Leave a comment

Buddhism and Vegetarianism According to Venerable Sheng-Yen

Hi guys,

I just wanted to share this video from the famous Chinese monk, Sheng-Yen (聖嚴, died in 2009) about Buddhism and vegetarianism:

I liked this video because it was pretty balanced. He lays out some good, valid reasons why some Buddhists are vegetarian, but he also lays out reasons why some are not. A lot of it depends on which Buddhist tradition, and also the circumstances in your life. It’s a voluntary, pious practice, but not required in Buddhism (unless you belong to some monastic orders).

Anyhow, enjoy!

Posted in Buddhism, Cooking | Leave a comment

Looking Back at the 1999 Seattle Protest of the WTO

In the past weeks, I’ve been closely watching the situation in Ferguson, Missouri and now in Hong Kong on Twitter and the news. Coincidentally, I found some old photos I took from the 1999 WTO protest here in Seattle, and wanted to share them for comparison. It’s interesting how some things have changed (communication, technology) and how some things remain the same (protests and efforts to contain them).

I was in my college years then, and was an idealistic, politically-active young man. Years have passed, and Buddhism, parenting and my experiences in Hanoi, Vietnam1 have tempered this over time, but it’s interesting to look back and remember my life 15 years ago. At the time, I was living not far from the local university, and when the protests started, I decided to take the bus downtown and see for myself. I only had a cheap, portable camera, so these photos are low-quality, but since no one had camera-phones back then, I hope they prove useful for history.

I grew up in the Seattle area, but I was surprised when I arrived downtown; it looked so different. All the major downtown streets were shutdown, and you saw lots of protestors like this:

WTO protest sign

Also, the police had come out in force to block access to the meeting:

WTO police line 3

By the time I arrived, the violence had already ended. However, things were very tense. At one point, I was with a crowd at 5th avenue, between Pike and Union and I remember we were standing face to face with the police here:

Sitting at the police line

We sat down (I took this photo while sitting), starting humming some song (I forget what), and trying to convince the police to join us. They were unfazed, and eventually I left and started looking around elsewhere.

Eventually I ran into these guys, the Anarchists:

Anarchists at WTO protest

The one woman on the left spotted me, so I didn’t stay long.2 But they were getting ready to do more protests. You can see their handiwork here:

WTO Anarchist vandalism

Again, I wandered around for a while. I think this is Pine Avenue facing south, again blocked by the police:

Police Line

Midday, there was a large parade that went through and I remember seeing many, many different political groups marching together: trade unions, environmentalists, feminists, socialists, etc. I even saw a parade girls who were protesting topless and wearing body-paint. This wasn’t nearly as exciting as you might think. :P

By afternoon, things started to die down for a while. There was a lot of heckling of the police, who didn’t push people out of downtown until evening,3 but neither side really moved. You could hear Bob Marley music playing at one street corner, Anarchists wandering around, curious people like myself, and some very strange “fringe people” in general. One strange guy kept making crow-cawing noises at the police. I couldn’t figure out why he was doing that, and I didn’t like his vibe. Anyhow, after hours of this, people were getting tired or bored. Somehow I managed to miss the violence both in the morning and evening, so I have no interesting pictures.

However, I hope that readers will find comparisons between now and then interesting. You can see the rest of the album here.

So, was it worth it?

For me, it was my first and only experience with a mass-protest like that. I was definitely opposed to the WTO, and free trade, and I still am because I feel it’s hurting smaller businesses and small farmers. The NY Times has a good, balanced article from 2013 on the subject. Lenin’s work Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism was written 98 years ago, but still remains eerily true of the world economy now:

As long as capitalism remains what it is, surplus capital will be utilised not for the purpose of raising the standard of living of the masses in a given country, for this would mean a decline in profits for the capitalists, but for the purpose of increasing profits by exporting capital abroad to the backward countries. In these backward countries profits are usually high, for capital is scarce, the price of land is relatively low, wages are low, raw materials are cheap. The export of capital is made possible by a number of backward countries having already been drawn into world capitalist intercourse; main railways have either been or are being built in those countries, elementary conditions for industrial development have been created, etc.

On the other hand, I also feel that change is inevitable, and sometimes change is pretty painful. For example, when the automobile was invented, the horse and carriage industry probably suffered greatly. However, the concentration of power and risk of exploitation is definitely a cause for concern 15 years ago, and it still is today, and will probably remain that way 200, 500 or 1,000 years from now when we are all dead and are bones are dust.

Thus, it is an ever-present struggle: to assert the needs of the people and restore balance where needed. The key is to remember why we do it. If we do it out of rage or anger, we pay the price in the long-run. If we do it for the betterment of younger-generations and the community, then people will be benefit.

At least, that’s my opinion. Opinions are like noses: everyone has one. :)

1 I am often reminded of a quote from the TV Show, Babylon 5, where the character G’kar warns his people not to overthrow a dictator and setup another one. I am unable to find the quote though, alas.

2 I’ve never been a confrontational person. Some might say I am a bit of a coward. :)

3 I had left by this time. Walking around downtown all day made me tired and hungry, and I think my wife was getting worried about me. No great revolutionary, am I.

Posted in Politics, Seattle | 6 Comments

What is the Buddha’s Pure Land? Another Perspective

Yesterday, I kind of had a small epiphany with regard to the Pure Land in Buddhism (浄土 jōdo in Japanese). The Pure Land is an interesting subject of discussion in Buddhism. It’s a big part of East Asian Buddhism, and a popular focus for lay Buddhists because the Pure Land is intended to be a refuge from the ups and downs of this world, but it also is a place where one can progress in Buddhism much more easily. However, Western Buddhists frequently criticize it as a “cultural” phenomenon and not true “pristine” Buddhism, so it’s regularly ignored. I’ve seen some Western priests dismiss it or joke about it.

Anyhow, a couple weeks ago, I was reading about the famous restorer of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, Rennyo (蓮如, 1415-1499) who wrote this in a letter to followers:


….Over and above this, what should we take to be the meaning of reciting the Nembutsu? It is a response coming from one’s indebtedness [to the Buddha] (御恩放射) thanking him that one is saved through birth in the Pure Land by the power of faith in the present. As long as we have life in us, we should say the nembutsu thinking of it as a response of thankfulness.

(Gobunsho, letter 3, 御文書、一帖の三 猟漁

I’ve read this phrase before and thought it pretty strange.

But then, my little epiphany came after staying at my friend’s Catholic priory in Oregon a couple weekends ago. The community of priests there asked for no money, no donation, anything. My daughter and I were welcome to stay there for free. It was a nice room too with all the basics we needed. Because they freely provided this room and board for us, I wanted to give something back. I went and bought some pastries from a nearby bakery and left them in the priests’ kitchen, and we also attended Mass, and tried to be good guests.

The Pure Land of the Buddha is much like this too. The historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, tells people in the sutras “Hey, if you need a place to rest and recover, go stay at the Amitabha retreat center”.

Shan Tao's White Path and Two Rivers

So you call up Amitabha Buddha and you tell him you want to stay at his place for a while. Amitabha Buddha says “sure, come stay with me as long as you like. It’s free”.

You go there, and it is a really nice place: beautiful garden, free food, meditation classes, even free wifi!

You think to yourself “I don’t deserve this! I should do something to pay back all their kindness”. You want to do the right thing. So, you start attending the meditation classes, and you offer to help in the kitchen. No one expects anything, but the kindness of Amitabha Buddha really warms your heart and you want to help in some way. Or, you want to show appreciation by participating in the meditation classes.

When I was first exploring Buddhism, my interest was really in Zen only. Pretty typical for many people who first explore Buddhism because Zen just looks so cool. But I found I was never that motivated, and frequently lost interest, or pursued other religions. Then, when I visited Japan in 2005, I encountered a Pure Land temple named Chion-in which is a famous temple in the city of Kyoto. I saw a monk there chanting before a statue of the Buddha and was fascinated, so when I learned about the Pure Land, I was really moved by the story of the Buddha, the Pure Land and how anyone could go there. So, I started reciting the Buddha’s name (namu amida butsu) that night and kept doing it for years.

But people will say “How do you know the Pure Land exists?” or “Isn’t it just a Buddhist heaven?” or “Is this even real Buddhism? You’re not doing any Buddhist practices!” and so on.

I don’t think it matters though. If the Pure Land really exists or not isn’t actually that important. The story and imagery are important. If you moved by the imagery, and want to go there, then that is the same as being there. Why? Because either way, it’s in the heart. Whereever you go, the Pure Land is there. The kindness and beauty of the Pure Land provide a kind of spiritual refuge from the ups and downs of life, and the kindness of Amitabha Buddha who freely offers the Pure Land motivate people to do more good. I found it’s often inspired me when I felt discouraged in life.

The fact that the Pure Land is offered so freely to anyone who just recites the Buddha’s name is something inspirational, which is why it is so popular in East Asian Buddhism. Western Buddhists may not appreciate this point until they experience hardships in their lives, and feel very discouraged. It is hard to explain but kind of profound in a way.


Posted in Buddhism, Jodo Shinshu, Jodo Shu, Religion | 2 Comments

Astronomy and Why I Am A Buddhist

Recently on Twitter I found this post:

If you can’t see it, click here. This is a picture of the Milky Way Galaxy (銀河系, gingakei in Japanese) from the perspective of the International Space Station. Out there are millions and millions of stars, and millions of planets too.

I’ve always been fascinated with space, but when I was younger, I often felt a sense of contradiction between what I saw out there (space) and what I was taught in religion as a kid. I felt that I was somehow forced to choose between what an ancient book said and what the world around me said. Of course, I wanted to choose science, but I didn’t want to live without a spiritual structure either.

Even in my college years, when I experimented with a lot of other religions (Catholicism, Islam, etc), I still felt this tension and would get a little frustrated.

Then, I remember one time my wife1 and I were sitting in a cafe and somehow we ended up talking about evolution and Buddhism. Something she said (I can’t remember anymore) gave me one of those powerful “ah ha!” moments. And from then on, I became really interested in Buddhism. A year or two later, we visited Japan after we got married, and that convinced me even more.

Since then, I’ve never felt that same tension between religion and science like I did before. Sure, the stories and characters in Buddhism might not be real, in the material/historical sense, but they are real because they teach us something, because they inspire us, and because they represent truths that we know exist.

So, whenever I see the night sky, I often wonder if there are Buddhas and Bodhisattvas on other planets. Maybe they have 8 arms and green skin. Maybe they’re Klingons.2 Who knows?

But it’s a fun possibility to consider. :)

1 We were still dating at the time, but even then I often respected her view of things. She is my bodhisattva. :)

2 Buddhist sutras in Klingon language would be pretty funny.

Posted in Astronomy, Buddhism, Religion, Science | 1 Comment

Good Friends and Visiting Portland

“The friend who is a helpmate, the friend in happiness and woe, the friend who gives good counsel, the friend who sympathises too — these four as friends the wise behold and cherish them devotedly as does a mother her own child.” –Sigalovada Sutta (DN 31) translated by Narada Thera.

Recently, my daughter and I1 took the train down to Portland, OR to see an old friend of mine. I’ve known this friend since high-school and we keep in touch regularly. He is an ordained Catholic priest and since we were young, we enjoyed discussing religion and Asian culture with each other. We also watched a lot of Star Trek, Simpsons and Kung Fu on TV together which was a lot of fun. However, after college, he moved to different states training, so we rarely get to see each other in person anymore. This was a good opportunity to see him again, and see Portland.

Portland is a very nice city, similar, but maybe a little smaller and more relaxed. My friend told me that he thinks Portland people are more polite than Seattlites, which I tend to agree with. Also, unlike Washington State, Oregon has no sales tax (shōhizei in Japanese, 消費税), so I was surprised how cheap everything was: food, souvenirs, etc.

We took the Amtrak train down to Union Station in Portland, and after that we visited the Chinatown there. Here is a quick photo (sorry for the glare) of the Columbia River that seperates Washington State and Oregon:

Columbia River 2

After we met my friend, we visited the Lan Su Garden nearby, which was very pretty:

Lan Su Garden Bridge

Lan Su Garden in Portland 6

The garden has many buildings, including this one, which looks like the study room for a Confucian scholar:

Lan Su Garden in Portland 5

Or these stone tiles:

Lan Su Garden Tiles 2

Later, we went to the famous Powell’s Bookstore. The bookstore was massive, and had a large selection of new and used books. We found books for my daughter, my son and myself. Here’s my daughter reading a book:

Book Reading

And here’s some of the Roger Zelazny books I found (I purchased a few):

Powell's Bookstore Zelazny

My friend let us stay at the priory behind his church overnight, but we also took some photos too:

And here was a lovely statue of the Virgin Mary:

He also showed a few relics. This is a tiny, tiny piece of the cloth that Mother Theresa wore:

Mother Theresa Relic

…notice that the caption is written in Latin too. ;)

My friend the priest also showed us his office, which had a lot of traditional Latin liturgy books (like okyō お経 in Buddhism):

Latin Liturgy


Latin Liturgy 3

My friend explained that the Catholic Church isn’t one church, but actually a group of churches around the world that all have certain things in common, plus follow the Pope as their leader. The Roman Catholic Church is the largest group but there other churches such as the Byzantine Church, the Armenian Church, Chaldean Church, etc. So, because there are many churches there are many ways to do mass. These different rites require training but my friend is certified by the Vatican to do 8 different rites, which is somewhat unusual for priests.

That night, while my daughter slept next door, my friend and I had a long, interesting discussion about religion. It’s always nice to have a good, trusted friend you can talk with about such things, and can share deeper insights into life and such. One good friend is worth more than 10 “buddies”, I think. We shared experiences with Catholic mysticism and Zen/Pure Land teachings as well. I hope to share some of these insights in upcoming posts. :)

Anyhow, the next day (Sunday) my daughter and I attended an 800-year old, traditional Latin mass called the Dominican Rite. Most Catholic Mass are in the local language, but many churches will still have a few traditional masses for people who are interested. The Dominican Rite was a bit too long for my daughter (90 minutes) but it was interesting because it was different than the regular Mass I’ve seen before.2 Seeing the mass reminded me of the Middle Ages somehow. Also, since I grew up Mormon, I have never heard a Church service in Latin. As a language nerd it was interesting.

After Mass, my daughter was a little anxious (she is only 7 years old, afterall ;) ), so we went to Washington Park, which is a very beautiful park on the west-side of Portland. It had a very large playground, and a lovely rose-garden too:

Portland Washington Park

After this, we had to take the train back to Seattle. My daughter had a lot of fun, and slept on a train a little bit. I was happy to see an old friend, share a deep discussion, and to spend some “Daddy-Daughter Time” too. Plus I came back with a lot of old Roger Zelazny books. ;)

Portland is a lovely city, and well worth visiting for a couple days/nights.

1 Little Guy is still a bit too young to travel, and my wife wanted some quiet time. When we came back, she was happy and glowing. Husbands, if you want happy wives, make sure to give them enough personal time! :)

2 In my early twenties, when I was first dating my wife, I was seriously interested in becoming Catholic for a few years, but something my wife once said ignited my interest in Buddhism more. Plus our first trip to Japan in 2005 really convinced me that Buddhism was the right path for me.

Posted in Language, Latin, Religion, Travel | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Children Over Parents: some Buddhist parenting advice


Since this is the Fall Ohigan week here on the blog, I wanted to do another Buddhist post. This one is about my little boy, whom I call “Little Guy”. He is now 11 months old, and likes to crawl around the house and explore. Unlike his sister, he’s very active and curious. Lately, he discovered one of my daughter’s baby dolls. He was curious at first, and poked the doll’s eyes, mouth, and such. But now he loves to play with it, and will crawl around the house dragging the baby with him:


The doll is kind of heavy, but he uses one arm to crawl, and the other drags the baby. :)

He even likes to sleep with the baby now.

My wife and I think it’s very cute. So, we decided we will buy him a doll for his 1-year birthday (coming soon) because this doll belongs to his older sister.

I know that some fathers wouldn’t want their sons to play with dolls or any girl toys because they believe their son will become too feminine. But when I see that my son is so happy, I think it’s great. I think it will help him be a good father someday too.

But more importantly, his happiness is my happiness. If my son and daughter are happy and safe, then that makes me happy. My pride as a man is irrelevant. I don’t care if other fathers think I am strange.

Oftentimes, parents project their hopes and fears on their own children (even if they are not aware they do this), but sometimes this can have negative effects on your children. Your children might feel pressured, or frustrated and then resent you later. A parent might push their kids to do sports they don’t like, then the kid will drag their feet and not want to do it. Then the parent will get angry, and the kid will resent things more.

It’s important to give children structure and discipline, but you have to have the right reason. Are you doing it for your own benefit? Are you compensating for something? Or are you doing it for the child’s welfare?

In an old podcast, the British monk Ajahn Brahm once said that you don’t own your kids. You are taking care of them temporarily, but they are separate people and will move out of the house someday and become adults. So, your obligation as a parent is to give them a safe, structured and positive home, so they can grow up in a good environment. Do not worry about your own accomplishments or your own self-image.

Just remember, you don’t own your children. But you are responsible for their happiness. :)

Namu shakamuni butsu

P.S. This advice is true for one’s wife also! Fathers, you can’t change or control your wife. You don’t own your wife. You can only control how you react to her. So react with more kindness. You’ll see a positive difference.

P.P.S. If you are going to get a doll for a child, the French “Corolle” dolls are great. My daughter has one she still plays with, and when we visited Paris many years ago, we bought many accessories at a children’s boutique. The quality is great, and they are durable and easy to wash. That is very useful when your daughter drops her baby in the mud. ;)

Posted in Buddhism, Family | 1 Comment