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!  

The Old Hermit

 Sitting alone and his dorm room, Kenny Wayne was trying to figure it all out. He was a young college student and he wasn’t at all sure what he wanted to do with his life or how he might become successful in the future. He had a part time job in a local pub serving beer and cheeseburgers. But he knew he wanted much more than that. He reasoned to himself that if he always knew the right time to begin a new project and if he knew the right people to listen to and if he always knew the most important thing to do, he might have some reasonable chance of success.

So, he set about to find the answers to those three questions. He began by talking to his friends and people he worked with and some of his customers. He then talked to school guidance counselors and some of his teachers that he trusted and respected. He talked to family members. He asked them all the same three questions.

One business associate told him that to know the right time for every action one must draw up a detailed plan for everything that needed to be done and schedule it on a calendar. Then execute the plan. In other words, plan your work and work your plan he said.

A guidance counselor told him it was impossible to know beforehand the right time for every action. But if you were always mindful of what needed to be done you will know automatically what to do next.

Still others said it was impossible for one man to decide the right time for every action. He should therefore surround himself with the best possible advisors to help him decide.

But others said some things could not wait to be decided by a committee. They needed to be decided at once. But to make the best possible decision it would be necessary to know what was going to happen in the future. What he needed was a fortuneteller or a crystal ball.

There were similar concerns about the second question. Who were the right people to surround himself with and to listen to? Some said he most needed his friends, others said he needed counselors and psychologists and still others said family members.

The third question: What was the most important occupation? Some of his friends said that the most important occupation was science. His sister told him to go into plastics. Others said business, some said arts and still others said spiritual development was the way to go.

After listening to all this advice, Kenny still couldn’t make up his mind. He decided to consult an individual that he had heard about who lived on the outskirts of town. He lived all alone and had the reputation of being a wise man.

The old hermit lived in a forest. Kenny Wayne drove his battered old pickup truck out to see him. It took him about a half an hour driving along the interstate highway to get there. He went alone wearing simple clothes. He parked his truck at the base of a hill and hiked the rest of the way up a steep and narrow trail. The hermit lived deep in the woods.

When Kenny Wayne reached the cabin where the hermit lived, he saw him outside in a field just to the rear the cabin digging in the dirt. Kenny approached the hermit who noticed him but kept on digging. The hermit was skinny and smallish, and each time he stuck his shovel into the dirt and turned it over he grunted.

Kenny walked up to him and said: “Howdy! Mighty hot day today, ain’t it?” The hermit kept on digging. “I came out here to ask you for some advice. I’ve heard you are a wise man and I was hoping you could answer some questions for me.”

The hermit looked up and leaned against his shovel. He had a blank look on his face.

“How can I learn to do the right thing at the right time? Who are the people I most need in my life and who should I listen to? What are the most important things that I need to do in life?”

The hermit listened but did not answer. He spat tobacco juice on the ground and kept on digging.

“You look like you could use a hand. Here, let me take that shovel from you and do a little work.”

“Thanks!” said the hermit. He handed the shovel to Kenny and sat down on the ground.

When he had dug two rows, Kenny stopped and repeated his questions. The hermit again gave no answer, but rose, stretched out his hand for the shovel.

But Kenny did not give him the shovel, he continued to dig. An hour passed, then another. The sun began to sink behind the trees, and it grew darker. Kenny at last stuck the shovel into the earth.

“I came looking for some answers. If you cannot or will not answer me just tell me and I will be on my way.

Just then then they heard a gunshot.

Kenny Wayne turned around and saw a large bearded man come running out of the woods. The man held his hands pressed against his stomach, and blood was flowing from under them. When he reached the patch of ground where Kenny was standing, he fell to the ground, moaning and writhing in pain. Kenny and the hermit undid the man’s clothing. There was a large wound in his stomach. Kenny washed it as best he could with a jug of water from the cabin, and used a towel as a compress to stanch the bleeding. But the blood would not stop flowing, and Kenny had to remove the towel that was soaked with blood and apply another one. Finally, the blood stopped flowing.

“Hold on there, partner, stay with me!” Kenny cradled the man in his arms.

 Meanwhile the sun went down and it had become completely dark. Kenny and the hermit carried the wounded man into the cabin and laid him on the bed.

Kenny looked at the hermit. “If he doesn’t get medical attention soon, he will die. Do you get cell phone service up here?”

“Young man, I don’t have a cell phone. As you can see, I don’t even have electricity.”

He then struck a match and lit a candle.

“Well, I’m going to try anyway.”

Kenny took out his cell phone and dialed 911. To his pleasant surprise the phone worked.

“911, what’s your emergency?”

Kenny Wayne gave the particulars and described where they were located. They were going to have to life flight the wounded man out on a helicopter. The helicopter couldn’t land so the EMT’s had to fasten the man to a basket and the helicopter crew pulled him up on a cable.

While they were waiting for the EMTs to arrive Kenny asked the man what had happened.

“We were stalking you,” he said. “We were going to rob and kill you when you came back down the trail but you were up here all day so we came up the hill to attack you up here. On my way up I tripped and fell and my gun went off and I shot myself in the abdomen. You saved my life. Can you ever forgive me?”

Soon they heard the sound of the helicopter over head as the rotor blades whirred about and the helicopter stayed in a fixed position over the cabin. Just then the EMTs arrived. Kenny got out of their way so they could do their work. By the time they got the man stabilized and secured on onto the basket Kenny was so exhausted, he sat down on the floor with his back against the wall and promptly fell asleep. He slept through the night.

When he awoke in the morning, he was a bit disoriented and it took him a while to realize where he was. He went outside to look for the hermit. Before leaving he wanted another crack at the hermit to see if he could answer his questions. The hermit was in his garden planting seeds in the earth that had been dug the day before.

“One last time, will you answer my questions, old man?”

“You already have your answers,” said the hermit.

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t you see? If you had not had compassion for me yesterday by digging those rows for me, that man would have attacked you on your way down the trail and possibly killed you. So, the most important time was when you were digging the rows. I was the most important person to be with, and to help me was the most thing for you to do. Later, when that man ran up to us, the most important time was when you were helping him. If you had not bandaged his wound and stopped the bleeding he would surely have died. So, in that case he was the most important person to be with, and what you did for him was the most important thing to do. So, the answers to your questions are simple: the most important time is now. The most important person is the person who you are with. And the most important thing to do is to be good to that person. That is your main purpose in life and the secret to success.”

Right Diligence

Buddhism by the Numbers


Right Diligence

Right diligence or right effort is the kind of energy that helps us realize the Noble Eightfold Path. Four practices usually associated with right diligence:

  1. Preventing unwholesome seeds in our store consciousness from arising
  2. Helping unwholesome seeds that have arisen return to our store consciousness
  3. Finding ways to water wholesome seeds in our store consciousness that have not yet arisen
  4. Nourishing the wholesome seeds that have already arisen.

Unwholesome means not conducive to the path. The wholesome seeds of happiness, love, loyalty, and reconciliation need watering every day.

According to Buddhist psychology, our consciousness is divided into eight parts, including mind consciousness and store consciousness. Store consciousness is described as a field in which every kind of seed can be planted. Seeds of suffering, sorrow, fear, and anger, and seeds of happiness and hope. When these seeds sprout, they manifest in our mind consciousness and when they do, they become stronger.

We need to know our physical and psychological limits. We shouldn’t force ourselves to do ascetic practices or lose ourselves in sensual pleasures. Right Diligence lies in the Middle Way between the extremes of austerity and sensual indulgence. Joy and ease are two factors that are at the heart of Right Diligence.

The following gatha can give us energy to live the day well:

Waking up this morning I smile

24 brand new hours are before me

I vow to live fully in each moment

and look to all beings with eyes of compassion.

The practice of mindful living should be joyful and pleasant.  If you breathe in and out and feel joy and peace, that is right diligence.

Based on the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh.

Photo credit: Benn Bell

La Notte (1961)

The Night

La Notte (1961) (The Night) Directed by Michelangelo Antonio, starring Marcello Mastroianni, Jeanne Moreau, and Monica Vitti. I don’t know how I missed this masterpiece of the Italian cinema but I am happy that I did finally get to see it recently on the Criterion Channel. This film is second in the Trilogy of Alienation bookended by  L’Aventura (The Adventure) (1960) and L’Eclisse (The Eclipse) (1962). La Notte is about the dissolution of a marriage through indifference and boredom and the alienation of society in both the bourgeoisie and the upper classes. The film takes place in a 24-hour period culminating at a party at a rich industrialist’s house in Milan. Crisp black and white photography and excellent framing visually projects the loneliness and the alienation of the characters and the boredom of their respective lives.  

Jeanne Moreau’s inner feeling of sadness are well on display as she comes to realize she no longer loves her husband and that he no longer loves her. Marcello Mastroianni is perfectly cast as the husband who walks through life in a daze of bored indifference.

This movie is cold as ice, but it speaks the truth. Highly recommended!

Right Action

Buddhism by the Numbers

Right Action

Right Action means Right Action of the body. It is the practice of touching love and preventing harm, the practice of non-violence toward ourselves and others. The Basis of Right Action is to do everything in mindfulness.

Right Action is closely linked with four of the five mindfulness trainings:

  • The first mindfulness training is about the reference of life
  • The second mindfulness training is about generosity
  • The third mindfulness training is about sexual responsibility
  • The fifth mindfulness training encourages mindful eating, drinking, and consuming

Right action is based on Right View, Right Thinking, and Right Speech, and is very much linked to Right Livelihood. The basis of Right Action is Right Mindfulness.

Based on the Teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh

Photo by Benn Bell