Let It Go….

Disney-Frozen-Elsa-Let-it-Go

I found this excellent quote from a Buddhist text called the Alagaddupama Sutta: The Water-Snake Simile that I wanted to share:

“Even so, monks, whatever isn’t yours: Let go of it. Your letting go of it will be for your long-term welfare & happiness.”

Sorry, I couldn’t resist the comparison with Disney’s “Frozen”. ;)

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Not What You Think It Is

Lately, I started reading a fascinating book about the life of Tetsugen Dōkō (鉄眼道光, 1630-1682), a monk of the Obaku Zen sect. He was known as a scholar and great propagator of Buddhist texts to lay-people in Japan.

One of his best known writings is a text called the Dharma Lesson in Japanese (鉄眼禅師仮名法語 , tetsugen zenji kana hōgo) which was written for a lay-devotee and is based on the Heart Sutra.

The part I wanted to share was this section:

Even though what we think of as painful or pleasant aren’t really pain and pleasure, because we are deluded, we end up thinking they are. The reason for this is that when a crow, a dog, or a fox sees a dead crow or horse rotting or a human corpse festering, they think it is a rare treat. First they enjoy looking at it, then their enjoyment increases as they smell it and grasp it. They think this is the greatest of pleasures. Seen from the human perspective, this seems immeasurably impure and repulsive. If we were forced by others to eat such putrid things, it would be incomparable suffering. What is worse than being forced to eat them is that crows devour such things greedily, and thing it is pleasant….

What human beings find pleasurable is similar. Because of foolish minds, we are consumed by wife and children, are deluded by wealth, eat fish and fowl, and take this to be pleasant. Viewed from the perspective of Buddhas and bodhisattvas, this looks even more wretched than the crows seem to us from our human vantage. Conjecturing from this, [we see that] what deluded people find pleasant actually brings pain; they only believe it is pleasure. (pg. 99)

Something to consider. ;-)

P.S. a pretty interesting book overall. I hope to write more about it soon.

Edit: Fixed the quote. Somehow a large part of it was accidentally removed during editing. :p

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On Freedom

Recently, I found this quote by the founder of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin, from his book What is to Be Done?

“Freedom” is a grand word, but under the banner of free trade the most predatory wars were conducted; under the banner of free labor, the toilers were robbed. The modern use of the term “freedom of criticism” contains the same inherent falsehood. Those who are really convinced that they have advanced science would demand, not freedom for the new views to continue side by side with the old, but the substitution of the new views for the old. The cry “Long live freedom of criticism,” that is heard today, too strongly calls to mind the fable of the empty barrel.

I don’t necessarily agree with Lenin, but I think he raises some good points. A “free” society seems to favor the loudest, strongest and most competitive, and other people can be vulnerable or ignored. Twitter and other online forums are a good example. It can create a “Darwinian” culture.

Again, I don’t entirely agree, but I see what he’s getting at. Not much has changed in 100 years, just the technology has improved. :P

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Do We Really Need to “Study” Buddhism?

Hi all,

Recently I found this post on Twitter in Japanese and it made me think about some things. I wanted to share it with readers:   

Roughly translated it means:

The mere fact that Buddhist temples is great. The general public doesn’t have to know the difficult doctrines. Just by the fact that the temples exist, people can get relaxation/peace of mind. If you are within the temple precincts you can find even more healing. Over in Kamakura, you can find purification like this. People, it is a deep thing.

I wrote back and said:

深いですね。ただ寺院あるだけで、癒されるのは仏教の実力だと思いますね。

It is deep, isnt it? The mere fact the temples can provide healing just by being there, that is the true strength of Buddhism, I think.

What she said made a lot of sense. Western Buddhists, especially converts like myself, spend a lot of time arguing about doctrine and orthodoxy. I’m guilty of this too, admittedly. As a friend once pointed out, Buddhist sermons in English use a lot of technical jargon and philosophical expanations, while Japanese sermons are more indirect and talk about life more. The teachings in Japanese sermons are there but you don’t get a “firehose” of Buddhist terminology and doctrine. This approach is easier to absorb, I think, less in-your-face.

That’s why I like visiting temples in Japan every time I go. The lady above is right: just by being there you can find peace and healing. When I go to some temples in the US, especially convert-only temples, it feels more ピリピリ (piri-piri) which means people are uptight, a bit edgy. Newcomers are nervous about fitting in, while veterans are worried about their own practice or temple politics.

How can anyone relax in an environment like that?

The verses in the fifth chapter in the Lotus Sutra I think help to illustrate my point:

It [the Dharma] rains equally everywhere
Falling alike in the four directions
Pouring without measure
saturating all the land.

In the mountains, streams and steep valleys,
In deep recesses, there grow
Grasses, trees, and herbs,
And trees, both great and small,
The grains, shoots, and plants,
The sugar-cane and the grape vine;
All are nourished by the rain,
And none fail to be enriched.
The parched ground is soaked,
The herbs and trees together flourish.
Issuing from that cloud
Water of a single flavor
Moistens grasses, trees and forests
Each according to its measure
All of the trees,
Great, medium and small,
According to their size
Can grow and develop.
When reached by that single rain
The roots, stalks, branches, and leaves,
Flowers and fruits with luster and color,
All are fresh and shining.

According to their substance and marks,
And natures, either great or small
They alike receive moisture
And each one flourishes.

This is the true power of Buddhism, I think: to nourish, to heal, to parch. But each person is different, just as each plant is different. Not everyone needs to know complex teachings like mindfulness training, or esoteric teachings. Not everyone cares. Some just want to absorb a positive atmosphere or just feel some stability in their lives. And that’s OK.

Until more Buddhist communities in the West understand this, we will continue to be a fringe group, an elitist social club of dedicated practitioners, unable to translate Buddhist wisdom to the greater community. And that I feel misses the point about what Buddhism is all about.

P.S. Written late one night in a hotel. Apologies for typos, poor translations, and poor format. ;-p

Posted in Buddhism, Religion | 5 Comments

The Mountains Of Japan

Hello,

I found this interesting post in Twitter today.

This is a famous volcano named Sakura-Jima (桜島) which is down in Kagoshima Prefecture. Unlike Mount Fuji, it is a very active volcano.

Speaking of Mount Fuji, I wanted to share this photo a friend in Japan sent me:

This was taken by my friend during Spring Break at Lake Kawaguchi in Yamanashi Prefecture. Great photo. :-)

Enjoy and have a great weekend!

P.S. I hit “submit” on this post too early, and had to fix later.  :-p

Posted in Japan, Travel | 1 Comment

The Onin War

Shinnyodō engi, vol.3 (part)

Hello,

While re-reading a book about the failed Shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa (足利義政), I learned a lot about the Onin War, or ōnin no ran (応仁の乱) that I wanted to share.

The Onin War is something most Westerners would not be familiar with, but it had a devastating impact to Japan that can still be felt today in Kyoto. The war spanned 10 years, and was almost entirely fought within the old capitol of Kyoto, but by the end the city was destroyed and almost all of its culture was lost.

The war began after the Shogun of Japan, adopted this younger brother to be his heir. Yoshimasa had no male heirs, and so this was a common practice. Unfortunately, his wife had a son soon after, which put Yoshimasa in a very awkward spot.

Two of the most powerful samurai families supporting Yoshimasa were divided about which person to support: Yoshimasa’s younger brother, or his infant son. The Hosokawa (細川) and Yamana (山名) clans were already feuding with one another, but this gave them another reason. The two main generals under Yoshimasa were:

  • Hosokawa Katsumoto (細川勝元) – He supported Yoshimasa’s younger brother’s claim to be the heir.
  • Yamana Sōzen (山名宗全) – He supported Yoshimasa’s infant son, intentionally to further oppose the Hosokawa.

Eventually, both sides secretly built up armies within the city of Kyoto to attack the other. Neither side had a clear advantage, and neither side could score a decisive victory. The Hosokawa had the support of the Shogunate, but the Yamana clan had 6 out of 7 gates to the city. Each side had 100,000+ soldiers in the city. Even after they brought in more allies and reinforcements, they fought over and over again in the neighborhoods of Kyoto, destroying homes, temples, etc. Battles were fought street-by-street, neighborhood by neighborhood. They even fought at Buddhist temples just to gain some advantage over their opponent.

But after 10 years, both sides were exhausted, weakened and finally gave up.

Old Kyoto was completely destroyed.

According to Professor Donald Keene, the famous Zen master Ikkyū Sōjun (一休宗純) described the destruction in a poem titled “On the Warfare of the Bunmei Era”:1

One burst of flame and the capital—gilt palaces and how many mansions—
Turns before one’s eyes into a wasteland.
The ruins, more desolate by the day, are autumnal.
Spring breezes, peach and plum blossoms, soon become dark.

Part of the reason for such destruction was that old Kyoto was a city made almost entirely out of wood. Further, houses were very close to one another. Even the Yamana and Hosokawa compounds were within walking distance from one another.

During this time, the Shogun (将軍), the generalissimo of Japan and so-called “general of generals”, did nothing.

Yoshimasa lacked any real authority or force of personality to compel both sides to stop fighting, and although he came from a warrior family, he was much more inclined toward the arts. He did not take sides, and did not lead troops into combat during the 10 years of fighting, though some of his relatives briefly did. Finally, Yoshimasa tried to approach the war from the perspective of an aristocrat: remain aloof even in times of conflict.

Thus, Yoshimasa held lavish drinking parties and poetry contests even while fighting raged in the city and Kyoto was burning.

However, one redeeming things about Yoshimasa was that after the War, when he retired as a Shogun, he devoted all his time, money and efforts to culture and arts, and this helped start a new culture in Kyoto: the Higashiyama culture (東山文化). The Higashiyama Culture was short-lived, and war resumed in Japan soon after, but many of the traditional arts that exist in Japan today were from this small period of time, and promoted and elevated by Yoshimasa.

Togudo at Gingakuji

The Onin War was a terrible disaster on a human-scale, and “Old Kyoto” was wiped out as a city and a culture. But out of the ashes arose a new Kyoto culture, that helped define Japanese culture we know and love today.

P.S. More on Yoshimasa’s contributions to art and architecture.

1 I tried finding this in Japanese, but I couldn’t. It was translated from a 1966 book called 五山文学集/江戸漢詩集 apparently.

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How to Play Trek on BSD

Klingons from Star Trek III

Note: This was an old post I wrote about 2 years ago that was lost. I was finally able to recover it and have decided to post it here. Today will be a double-post. Expect another one soon.

Since I got a virtual instance of NetBSD working on my Mac at home with Virtualbox, I’ve been playing with certain classic games. One of these games is the original text-based game trek, which comes by default in NetBSD (and other BSD flavors presumably).

Trek is a tough game, make no mistake. It’s an homage to the original series, and was written when graphical interfaces were not very feasible. However, the original designer managed to make it a game that is both engaging and challenging.

The only trouble is that it’s hard to figure out how to play it now because the documentation is kind of scarce and hard to read. In the case of NetBSD, it comes with instructions in the form of a .me file, but I haven’t yet figured out how to read that file apart from seeing the raw formatting with less.

So this page is a tribute to this classic game, and also helps share some of the basics on how to play. Because the game has been ported multiple times, there are slightly different versions out there, each with their own style of control. So, this post is focused on the BSD port of Trek. Since I am still new at the game, there are plenty of newb mistakes, but I’m trying to write things down as I learn them. Please be patient. :)

Starting the Game

The game begins with a humble screen like so:

Trek title NetBSD

According to the docs, the rule of thumb is that shorter games are harder, while longer games are somewhat easier. This is because you’re given a fixed period of time to destroy all the Klingon ships, and with a shorter window of time, this is pretty hard.

Next you can choose the difficulty level. Hitting ‘?’ here will give you several obvious choices.

Finally you’re taken to the main screen for Trek. The E is you, the Enterprise. The * are stars, and present obstacles. If a photon torpedo hits a star, you will cause the star to explode (go nova). The @ symbol is a planet which you can land on if required (after abandoning ship, for example). You’re also expected to defend them from Klingon (K) attacks, and if they are invaded or destroyed, you lose points, so take it seriously.

Finally, the Starbases, usually 3 per game, are represented by a # (hash). Here, you can dock if you are next to a starbase, and get fully repaired, refueled and so on. Don’t forget to undock though when done. You are expected to defend these just as you defend planets.

Navigation

This was the hardest part for me to figure out, and where the directions diverged most from other ports, I believe. The BSD port uses a 360-degree angle system:

  • 0 degrees is up (north).
  • 90 degrees is right (east).
  • 180 degrees is down (south).
  • 270 degrees is left (west).

Also, Federation Space is divided into sectors (a 7×7 grid) which are divided further into quadrants. One screen, like the one shown above, is a single sector, and contains a 10 rows and 10 columns of quadrants. Thus, if you want to move, everything has to be done in decimal units. If you go 0.1, that means you move one “dot” on the screen (one-tenth of a sector), while moving “1” means you’re moving one sector over. Keep that in mind as you navigate within a single sector.

Thus if you want to move 3 “dots” over, you move 0.3 sectors.

You can either move (i.e. use warp drive) or use impulse. Warp is faster but drains your ship’s energy faster. You can also specify which warp factor using the warp command. Higher warp is yet more faster, but uses that much more energy.

Here’s an example:

Navigating in BSD trek

I decided to do a long-range scan, or lrscan which shows 1 Klingon vessel in the sector to the right, and one below. I decide to attack the one on the right. I had already set warp factor to 5 earlier, so I just issue a move command, go 90 degrees (right) and .4 sectors which will put me just over into the next sector.

Combat

Combat in Trek isn’t easy, but very fun. Like the original Enterprise, you have two options:

  • Phasers (phasers) – use lots of energy, and shields must be down, but very accurate.
  • Photon torpedoes (torpedo) – use less energy, and shields can stay up, but less accurate, limited supply.

Speaking from limited experience, phasers are easier because you can use automatic targetting. Unfortunately, even with that, Klingons still manage to slip away into the next sector. If you do hit a Klingon vessel, it seems that 250-energy or so will usually work. However, if they slip away, some of that will be wasted.

BSD Trek phasers

Torpedoes are great because you can fire a “spread”, with a maximum of 10°, which likely hit your target, but waste torpedoes because only 1 is required to kill a Klingon vessel. If you’re at a right-angle to a Klingon ship, there’s a good chance you can hit it, but at odd angles, it gets more difficult. You can either move to a better angle, or try your luck with a torpedo spread. However, don’t hit stars! Spock gets annoyed.

BSD Trek photon torpedos

Lastly, there is a cloak option which lets you hide from Klingons vessels. This is a great way to sneak up on them too, but it burns through energy pretty quick, so you may want to use it to slip into a sector, maneuver to the right spot, and de-cloak. Federation regulations prevent you from firing weapons while cloaked. But surprising your enemies by de-cloaking close by and firing torpedoes at them is pretty satisfying. :)

Final Bits of Advice

Like many classic games (think nethack), it has a pretty steep learning curve. No tutorials, just what you see is what you get. So, expect to fail many times until you get the hang of it. Once you do, you can then move onto tougher and tougher scenarios until you’re the next Capt. James T. Kirk.

Good luck! Qap’la!

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