The Two Truths

Buddhism by the Numbers

The Two Truths

According to Buddhism there are two kinds of truth: Relative Truth and Absolute Truth. We recognize the presence of happiness and the presence of suffering. One day we realize that suffering and happiness are “not two.”

  • Where ever there is joy there is suffering.
  • Suffering and joy are not two.
  • Our life is the path
  • We enter the path of practice through the door of knowledge
  • All conditioned things are impermanent. They are phenomena, subject to birth and death.

In the Discourse on the Turning of the Wheel of Dharma the Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths of suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path. In the Heart Sutra, Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara tell us there is no suffering, no cause of suffering, no cessation of suffering, and no path. Is this a contradiction? No. The Buddha is speaking in terms of relative truth and Avlakiteshvara is teaching in terms of absolute truth.

The Buddha recommends that we recite the Five Remembrances every day:

  1. I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.
  2. I am of the nature to have ill-health. There is no way to escape having ill-health.
  3. All things dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
  4. My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand.

Waves

  • When we look at the ocean, we see that each wave has a beginning and an end.
  • If we look deeply, we can see a wave is made of water.
  • While living the life of a wave, it also lives the life of water. When a wave touches her true nature, which is water, all her complexes will cease, and she will transcend birth and death.
  • Liberation is the ability to go from the world of signs to the world of true nature.
  • What is essential is to be our best while we are here.
  • All formations are impermanent.

Based on the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh

Photo credit: Benn Bell

The Painted Bird (2019)

Movie review

I don’t review every movie that I see, only those that I have a strong reaction to, good or bad. Had I seen The Painted Bird in 2019 when it was first released, it would have jumped to the top of my Top 10 list. As it stands, it is very high on my all-time best film list. A rare bird indeed.

The Painted Bird (2019) is a film by Vaclav Marhoul based on the novel by Jerzy Kosinsky. It runs just short of three hours and is unrelenting in its depiction of the horrors encountered by a young boy as he makes his way across war torn Eastern Europe trying to find his way back home. If it were not for the occasional modern references such as a plane flying overhead, or a vehicle on a road, we would think the action was taking place in villages found in the middle ages.

Central to the story was a starling that was painted white and released back into its flock only to be pecked to death because it was different from the others. This is the analogous to what happened to the boy who was subjected to unimaginable horrors along the way because he was different and didn’t quite fit in and wasn’t from around wherever he found himself to be. And one could say that is true of minor groups not fitting in to larger groups such the Jews of Eastern Europe and in Germany.

This is a movie of cruelty, inhumanity, and bitter truth. It is not an easy watch. As a matter of fact, when the film was shown in Venice large parts of the audience fled the theater. But the film has to be admired for the unvarnished truth it portrays and the artistry and craftmanship that went into its making. The acting is superb by all the participants. All the characters were believable and real. The crisp black and white cinematography by Vladimr Smutny is extraordinary. Each frame is composed as a masterwork of inspired creativity and shades of grey.

I can’t recommend this film to everyone due to its strong content, but it has my rating as an artistic achievement.

The Killers (1946)

Movie Blurb

Burt Lancaster

The Killers (1946) is a better than average film noir based on the Hemingway story of the same name. Starring Burt Lancaster as the prize fighter Ole ‘Swede’ Andreson, Ava Gardner as the femme fatale Kitty, and Edmond O’ Brien as the insurance investigator Reardon. Directed by Robert Siodmak. The first thirteen minutes are pure Hemingway and, in my opinion, the best part of the movie. The rest of the movie is quite good too, but that first part was very impressive. The rest of the movie is an expansion of the original Hemingway story and told in a series of flashbacks. Excellent performances by all, this was Lancaster’s first film and made him a star.

Ava Garner
The Killers

Red River Gorge

Natural Bridge State Resort Park

Natural Bridge State Resort Park is in Kentucky along the Middle Fork of the Red River, next to the Red River Gorge in the middle of the Daniel Boone National Forest. The Natural bridge is the centerpiece of the park.

I had occasion recently to hike the original trail from the Hemlock Lodge to the summit of the bridge. I made two ascents. One on the afternoon I arrived and one early the next morning. What a difference a day makes.

Here are some of the pictures I took:

Hemlock Lodge
Suspension Bridge
Trail Head

View of the bridge from below
Rocky Trail

My Walking Stick

Carved in Stone
Between a rock and a hard place
View from my Balcony

Two men and a dog at the pizza place that night for dinner
Slade Church of God
Hemlock Lodge
In the forest
Overlooking the Gorge
Cotton balls
A View from the Bridge
Reflecting Pool
Narrow passage
A Light in the Forest
On Top of the Bridge
Early Morning
The fog is on the mountain
Chairlift up the mountain
A view of the bridge from afar
Natural Bridge from Below

Night Writer

Last night I had dinner out with friends

But the best part of the evening

Was the ride home

It was 71 degrees and the night was dark

I had the windows open and the moon roof too

Jazz on the radio at full blast

Seventy miles an hour down the long-lost highway

The wind was in our hair and on our skin

Wow! Said my friend when I pulled in front of her bungalow

At midnight in a screeching stop

That was exhilarating!

Right Livelihood

Buddhism by the Numbers

Right Livelihood

  • Right livelihood is earning a living without needing to transgress any of the Five Mindfulness trainings; not dealing in arms, the slave trade, the meat trade, the sale of alcohol, drugs, or poison, making prophecies or telling fortunes.
  • A job that involves killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying or selling drugs or alcohol is not right livelihood.
  • Making weapons or profiting from others superstition is also not right livelihood.
  • People may have superstitions such as believing that their fate is sealed in the stars, but by practicing mindfulness, we can change the destiny astrologers have predicted for us. Moreover, prophecies can be self-fulfilling.
  • Creating art can also be a form of livelihood. A composer, writer, painter, or performer has an effect on the collective consciousness. Any work of art is to a certain extent a product of the collective consciousness. Therefore, the individual artist needs to practice mindfulness so that her work of art helps those who touch it practice right attention.
  • As we study and practice the Noble Eight Fold Path, we see that each element of the path is contained within the other seven elements.

Based on the Teaching of Thich Nhat Hahn

Photo by: Benn Bell

Requiem for a Used Car Salesman

I lost my brother yesterday, here is what I had to say

Chris Bell with Shaq O’Neal just after closing the deal on a Cadillac Convertible

Eulogy for Chris Bell

Dear family and friends…. we are gathered here today to honor the memory of our fallen brother. We few…we unhappy few…unhappy because he passed away…but happy to be here together to cherish his memory…we band of brothers, and sisters. We will remember this day and our brother long after he is gone and passed.

Chris Bell was a crackerjack car salesman and a closer. And for anyone in the business you know what that means. For him, there was no rock bottom to the life. He was way out there on a shoeshine and a smile and a devilish mustache.

His signature greeting was, “Hey, do you want to make a deal?” Then he would hit you with a killer smile and a laugh to light the heavens like he was Burt Reynolds or somebody.

He was serving his country in the US Army when he volunteered to participate in the Vietnam War. Wartime service is a tradition in our family and we are very proud of that fact. We are a family of warriors. And we all fight the good fight in our own special ways. Chris fought in Vietnam. And there he was exposed to the chemical defoliant Agent Orange which ravaged his body and his mind and robbed my brother of his fortitude and his vitality.

But Chris persevered and continued to live his life as best as he could, the mere shadow of his former self. For he was a man of considerable charm, character, and charisma before he grew ill.

But then again, we are all mere shadows, poor players, who strut and fret our hour upon the stage and then are heard again no more.

We loved our bother and we are sad to see him go…but we know that he will continue on in our hearts and in our memories. And he will continue on in the universe like the leaf that falls to the earth without any idea of its dying and is born again by decomposing at the foot of the tree and nourishing the tree. Everything dies and that’s a fact, but everything that dies someday comes back. Nothing really goes away, and so too, will Chris live on.

The last voyage is the longest and the best. Look homeward, Angel, and may you rest.

Concluding poem (Based on Thich Nhat Hahn’s I Have Arrived)

I have arrived. I am home.

Dear ancestors, dear father, dear mother, dear sisters and brother, dear friends, I have arrived. I am home. I can touch the paradise of my childhood and all the wonders of life. I am no longer concerned with being or non being, coming and going, being born or dying. In my true home I have no fear, no anxiety. I have peace and liberation. My true home is here and now. I have found true happiness.

Rancho Notorious (1952)

Movie Blurb

Rancho Notorious (1952) Directed by Fritz Lang. Starring Marlene Dietrich, Arthur Kennedy, and Mel Ferrer. A western that is part western, part revenge thriller and part mystery and all Marlene Dietrich and Fritz Lang. In this cult favorite Vern Haskell (Arthur Kennedy), a Wyoming ranch hand, seeks to avenge his fiancé’s rape and murder which occurs during the course of a robbery early on in the film.  The only clues he has is a mysterious place called Chuck-a-Luck where the killer is supposed to be headed and a name which might be a person, place, or a thing: Altar Keane. The plot only becomes more convoluted from there. Vern helps the outlaw Frenchy Fairmont (Mel Ferrer) escape from jail and Frenchy leads him to Chuck-a-Luck, a sort of robber’s roost run by the infamous Altar Keane (Marlene Dietrich).

Altar Keane is kind of a dominatrix who holds sway over all the outlaws that hole up at her place and demands 10% of their take in any illegal activities for providing them protection. She dominates all the men harshly except for Frenchy with whom she shares her bed. However, she takes a shine to new comer Vern and that is where the trouble comes in. Vern, for his part has to determine who at Chuck-a-Luck is the killer he seeks. He also falls for Altar Keane. Messy? You bet, but that is what makes it so fun!

Rancho Notorious is full of familiar faces like William Frawley (I Love Lucy), George Reeves (Superman) and stock player Jack Elam. It was originally titled “Chuck-a-Luck,” but studio head Howard Hughes made Lang change it to “Rancho Notorious”, fearing American audience wouldn’t know what Chuck-a-Luck meant. However, it had absolutely nothing to do with the film.

Shot in Technicolor, run time 89 minutes, aspect ratio 1.37:1.

I viewed it on the Criterion Channel. It’s also available on Amazon.

Three Colors: Red (1994)

Movie Blurb

Irene Jacob

Three Colors: Red (1994) Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski starring Irene Jacob, Jean-Louis Trintignat, and Frederique Feder. The Blue, White, and Red in the movie titles stand for the French Tricolors, representing Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. I just watched them back to back and that is the best way to view them, I think. That way you can see the thematic links between them all even though each film stands on its own. I had seen Blue years before but had forgotten it and was pleasantly surprised as I started watching it and the previous viewing returned to me. Some of my friends like Blue the best but my money is on Red. They are all equally well done. What I liked about Red was the depiction of the parallel lives of the characters and the missed connections. Marvelously well done!  

Right Concentration

Buddhism by the Numbers

Right Concentration

The practice of Right Concentration is to cultivate a mind that is one-pointed. There are two kinds of concentration, active and selective. In active concentration, the mind dwells on whatever is happening in the present moment, even as it changes. The following poem by a Buddhist monk, Huong Hai illustrates active concentration.

              The wind whistles in the bamboo

              And the bamboo dances.

              When the wind stops,

              The bamboo grows still.

              A silver bird

              flies over the autumn lake.

              When it has passed,

              The lake’s surface does not try

              To hold onto the image of the bird.

When we practice active concentration, we welcome whatever comes along. We don’t think about it or long for anything else. We just dwell in the present moment with our whole being. Whatever comes, comes. When the object of our concentration passed our mind remains clear.

When we practice selective concentration, we choose one object and hold onto it. During sitting or walking mediation our attention is focused on our object.

  • We concentrate to make ourselves deeply present
  • Right concentration leads to happiness, and it also leads to Right Action
  • Samadhi means concentration. To practice samadhi is to live deeply in each moment.
  • Mindfulness brings about concentration
  • Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration lift us above he realms of sensual pleasure and craving, and we find ourselves lighter and happier.
  • There are nine levels of meditative concentration. The first four are the Four Dhyanas. They are on the form realm. The next five levels belong to the formless realm.
  • After the fourth dhyana the meditator enters into a deeper experience of concentration.
  • The object of the fifth level of concentration is limitless space. According the Buddha’s teaching, nothing has a separate self.
  • The object of the sixth level of concentration is limitless consciousness.
  • The object of the seventh level of concentration is nothingness.
  • Level eight is neither perception nor non perception
  • Level nine is cessation. Cessation from ignorance in our feelings. From this level is born insight. When someone practices well, the ninth level of concentration shines a light on the reality of things and transforms ignorance.

The Buddha taught many concentration practices. To practice the Concentration on Impermanence, every time you see your beloved see her as impermanent and do your best to make her happy today. The insight into impermanence keeps you from getting caught up in the suffering and craving, attachment, and despair. See and listen to everything with this insight.

According to the Lotus Sutra, we have to live in the historical and ultimate dimensions of reality at the same time. We have to live deeply our life as a wave so we can touch the substance of water in us. We walk, look, breathe, and eat in a way that we touch the absolute dimension of reality. We transcend birth and death and the fears of being and nonbeing, one and many.

Live every moment of your life deeply, and while walking, eating, drinking, and looking at the morning star, you touch the ultimate dimension.

Based on the Teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh

Photo: Benn Bell