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

Someone to Watch Over Me

African Adventure

Smile. Your’e in Kenya

The next thing you see when you get off the plane at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta airport after the “Welcome to Kenya” sign is the sign which says, “DON’T TALK TO STRANGERS.” There were other signs I saw along the way during my two weeks stay in Nairobi but I chose to ignore them. In Uhuru Park there was a sign that read, “Beware of Human Beasts, Don’t Be the Next Rape Victim, Every 30 Minutes a Woman is Raped in Kenya.”

Beware of Human Beasts

At the Nairobi Serena Hotel, before we were allowed to drive onto the property, a uniformed armed guard probed the underside of our car with a long-handled mirror. Once inside and checked into our room I looked out the window and saw a uniformed guard standing watch. At a restaurant we went to called The Carnivore, we passed through a security fence which was manned by security guards carrying automatic assault rifles and flanked by large German Shepard dogs straining at their leashes. Yes, I can’t say I wasn’t forewarned.

Nairobi Serena Hotel
Someone to Watch Over Me
Benn and Mary at the Carnivore

I had gone to Kenya on a business trip. Actually, I was traveling with a companion who was there on business attending a worldwide meeting of company officials who were stationed around the globe. While Mary was going to meetings, I was on my own.

Hotel Pool

On the first day I hung out at the Hotel. The Serena is a Five Star Hotel and very nice. I had breakfast with Mary in the dining room and later I had lunch out by the pool by myself. I had a cheeseburger with fries and a Tusker beer. Delicious! After lunch I had a dip in the pool and sat in the sun reading as the water slowly evaporated off my body.

Exit Ghost

After a couple of days of this I got bored and decided to venture out on my own. I am an adventurous sort and had walked the mean streets of some of the toughest cities of America, so I wasn’t too worried.

I struck out midmorning on a beautiful sun-drenched day. The skies were azure blue with cotton candy clouds. Nairobi is a mile high so the atmosphere was crystal clear and every object stood out in vivid colored relief.

Uhuru Highway

I walked the half mile stretch along Uhuru Highway to downtown Nairobi. It was as crowded as any major city might be and traffic was going about in a chaotic fashion. I walked to the corner of a busy intersection crowded with people. I was approached on all sides by people who wanted to sell me things like trinkets or cheap jewelry. A rather large and burley individual who was head taller than me and wearing a tight red T-shirt walked up to me and pounded his chest. “Promote me! Promote me!” He said over and over again, striking his chest for emphasis.

Downtown Nairobi
Nairobi

I just walked away. Soon others were following me and asking me questions. They all wanted to know if I was from the States? Did I know Obama? One fellow dressed in raggedy clothes stopped me and asked for money to buy some rice. I wasn’t inclined to give him any, especially in front of the crowd and all, but I did say to him, “I’m not going to give you any money, but if you will meet me here in one hour I will buy you some rice and give it to you.” He looked a little disappointed but reluctantly agreed.

Accidental Meeting

I continued to walk along the street deeper and deeper into the heart of the city. As I walked along, I noticed another fellow tracking me and falling into step beside me. He was wearing a dark brown suit, but it looked like it had seen its better days. A little shabby with frayed cuffs. He had on a soiled white dress shirt and a thin black tie loosened at the throat. He was wearing black dress shoes that were run over at the heels and in bad need of a shine. “Hello!” He said, flashing me a big smile. “Can we have a conversation?”

“Sure,” I answered. “What did you want to talk about?”

“I like to talk to Americans about politics and history.”

“Ok. What did you want to know?”

“Can we go somewhere and sit down at a table to talk?”

“Where did you want to go?”

“I know a Tea Room not far from here. We could go there.”

I’m starting to get a little suspicious now and I’m not in any big hurry to go anywhere with this stranger.

“Where are you from?” I ask.

“Sudan,” he answered. “I am staying at a refugee camp near the border.”

“I’ll tell you what. I am going to walk around a little bit, you want to meet me here in an hour, we can talk then. How’s that?”

He hesitated a little bit but finally agreed. So, I had the same arrangement with two strangers I had met in Nairobi and I had only been in town 15 minutes! I thought chances are either one or the other or both wouldn’t show up, and I had bought myself a little time.

So, I spent the next hour exploring the city. I went to gift shops, hotels, and had lunch in an outdoor café. I checked my watch and saw it was time to head back to meet my new friends.

I got back to the corner at the appointed time and guy #1 wasn’t there yet. I looked around and noticed a market about a half a block away. I walked over to it and went in. After my eyes adjusted to the low-level light, I saw baskets of various products including rice. The pungent smell of spices hung in the air. I secured a bag of rice and walked out returning to the corner. My new friend showed up with a big smile on his face.

“Jambo!” he said

“Jambo!” I returned.

I handed him the rice. We had a moment then he left.

Now the second guy, the guy with the suit. I thought was going to be a no show. I waited about 15 minutes and was about to leave when he rounded the corner. He greeted me warmly and pointed his hand out in front of him and said, “The Tea Room is down this way.”

We walked about six blocks and I was beginning to wonder where he was taking me.

“Say, where are you taking me?”

“It’s just a little further.”

We walked on another two blocks and my friend became a little more excited as we stopped in front of rather impressive looking two-story structure in the middle of the block with a wide set of steps leading up to the front door.

“Ah, here we are,” my companion spoke to me as he swept his arm up the stairway in the direction of entrance. We had arrived at the Jade Tea House.

We mounted the steps and went inside. Once inside I had the distinct feeling, I had stepped into a time portal. The interior of the Tea Room was dark and the blades of the overhead fans were whirring about pushing the hot air around the room. I felt a little uneasy as I looked around the room. Others were seated around at various tables deep in what seemed like conspiratorial conversation as if they were plotting some crime against humanity or an act of terror. We went upstairs to another level where it was a little brighter and sat down at a table. Soon a waiter come over and we placed our order. We each ordered a cup of tea.

Asim and I started having our conversation about what was going on in America. We worked it around to politics in Africa. There was a presidential election going on in Kenya and we talked about that. Then he reminded me that he was Sudanese and was living in a refugee camp. Oh, boy I thought, here it comes. I had been waiting for this and wondered just how and when he would work it. I figured he’d put the bite on me before it was over with. Of course, I was reluctant to play along. I didn’t like getting played. As we were sitting there, I noticed a lone individual sidle up to the table next to ours and had a seat. It seemed like he was listening to our conversation. He didn’t order anything, he just sat there on the edge of his seat. I didn’t pay much attention to him as I was focused on Asim and how I was going to handle his request. I decided I would excuse myself to the bathroom to buy some time.

When I got back to the table, I decided I would pay our tab and leave. Whatever change I had coming I would let Asim have and that would be it. I called the waiter over and asked for the check. When he got back, I handed him a 50 Shilling note and he brought back my change which I pushed over in front of Asim.

Just as soon as I pushed the money over the guy at the other table jumped up and four other guys, all wearing suits, came out of the shadows and surrounded the table. Two of the men led Asim away, one on each side of him. Two others stood guard and the ring leader came over and sat directly in front of me. His eyes were shot with blood and his breath stank with alcohol. He flashed an ID at me and said he was a police officer with the Nairobi Police Department. I didn’t get a good look at the ID but it looked like an ordinary driver’s license. 

“Why were you talking to that man?” He wanted to know.

“I don’t know. We just met on the street and he wanted to talk.”

“We have been looking for that man. Did you know he was a drug dealer?”

Uh oh! I thought to myself. Here it comes. First the hook then ….

“He’s also a counterfeiter. I see you gave him some money. Why did you give him money?”

“I was just leaving him the change because I thought he might need it.”

“How much Kenyan money do you have?”

“About 20,000 Shillings.”

“Let me see it.” He reached out his hand.

I slowly reached into my pocket and retrieved my Kenyan money. He reached out his hand further and I reluctantly handed it over. He grunted his approval and stared to count it.

“Do you have any American money?”

“Yeah. I guess you are going to take that too?”

He didn’t’ like that. He scowled.

“If you are not going to cooperate, we can take you down to the station with us and make you cooperate.”

I didn’t like that idea. So, l reached back into my pocket and got the rest of my money out and handed it over to him which he promptly proceeded to count. He took out a small notebook and wrote some figures down in it and tore it out. He handed it to me with the amount of money he had taken as a receipt.

“We have a machine at headquarters that can tell if this money is counterfeit.  We will run your money through the machine and if it is real, we will return it to you. Where are you staying?”

I didn’t want to tell him. If I ever got out of this alive, I never wanted to see them again. But I felt like I had to play along so I told them I was staying at the Serena Hotel but I gave them a false room number. Like that would do a lot of good.

After that he stood up and motioned for me to get up. They escorted me out of the building down the front steps to the curb where a car was waiting. They got into the car and sped away leaving me standing on the side walk in a total state of bewilderment. It was only then that the full force of the experience hit me.

I looked up at the sky and the tops of the building were literally swirling around in the blue canopy overhead. Or was it just in my head? I didn’t know.  I became momentarily quite dizzy and thought I would pass out. I had to find my way back to the hotel but I was disoriented and actually quite lost. Calm down, I told myself. At least you are still alive and free at last. Now just assess your situation and you will be fine.

I looked around again and saw in the distance the top of a building I recognized that was in the direction of the hotel. I started walking in the direction of the familiar landmark, navigating by dead reckoning. The closer I got to the building the more familiar were my surroundings. Soon I found myself back on Uhuru Highway and almost home.

When I made it back to the hotel I went right to the room and collapsed on the bed. Mary wasn’t back yet and I feared telling her what happened. I knew she would be furious with me for putting us both in danger. When she finally got back, I told her the story and she was sympathetic but I could tell she was not happy with me. Hell, I wasn’t happy with me either. We spent the rest of the trip looking over our shoulders as we never knew if the rough and rowdy crew would show back up again and cause more trouble.

We got out of the country with no further incidents but I learned a valuable lesson: Don’t talk to strangers.

Cancel Culture

From the Desk of the Editor

Cancel Culture. Is it a thing or is it not a thing? Or is it market forces just working things out? Or is it just the next level of political correctness working itself in? I guess if you are the person who gets cancelled it is a thing. Especially those high-end individuals who get their show canceled or lose their cushy job. But what about the rest of us poor slobs working somewhat lower in the social hierarchy? To us, every day is Cancel Culture. We stand to get fired every day our existence. Say something wrong, do something wrong, boom! You are in line at the unemployment office. I used to have a boss who was fond of saying you are only as good as your last time at bat and one aw shit cancelled out ten atta boys!  One morning at a production meeting after a pretty miserable night’s performance on the factory floor he went around the room and singled out everybody one by one and threatened them with their jobs. When got to me he paused a minute, I had just been transferred and hadn’t been there long enough to fuck anything up. But in the spirit of not leaving anybody out he said to me, “…and I ‘ll send your ass back to Houston!”

Well, I worked there another 12 years and got a couple of promotions, so I didn’t get canceled. But I saw plenty of others get cancelled. And for them it was real.

Now, I am of the opinion that if you are a high-profile entertainer or a TV personality and you said some shit 20 years ago that you regret saying, you probably should not get canceled. There has to be some room for personal growth, redemption, and forgiveness. If you are a high-ranking editor at New York Times and you publish an opinion piece by a US Senator that is unpopular that should not be grounds for dismissal. There is nothing more sacred than free speech. If we lose that then what are we? Mice or men?

When you lose your job that is like corporate capital punishment. You have to be able to make living. If you mess up bad on the job, or do some questionable shit, yes, you should be held accountable. But it should not be permanent exile. Unless that shit’s real bad, in that case, it’s off to Siberia with you! And if you are Bill Cosby or Harvey Weinstein, then it’s the slammer!

Let’s use a little common sense and not go too far out into the field of political correctness lest we get bogged down in the Cancel Culture.

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

TALES FROM THE FOREST

Poem

I was in the woods dark and strange

resting on a bridge

when out of the air did there appear

a maid so fair

Are you lost? She asked

No, I’m not lost, I just don’t know where am

She smiled

Well, all who wander are not lost, she said

Can you show me the way out of these woods?

Yes, this way

I followed her for a while in silence

What is you name, I asked finally?

Beatrice, she answered.

RIGHT SPEECH

Buddhism by the Numbers

Right Speech

The classical explanation of Right Speech is 1) Speaking truthfully. 2) Not speaking with a forked tongue. 3) Not speaking cruelly.

  • Right Speech is based on Right Thinking.
  • Deep listening is at the foundation of Right Speech
  • Compassionate listening brings about healing
  • When communication is cut off we suffer
  • The Bodhisattva Kwan Yin is the one who hears the cries of the world
  • If you really love someone, train yourself to be a good listener
  • You must use loving speech
  • You need to practice more walking meditation, more mindful breathing, more sitting meditation in order to restore your capacity for compassionate listening
  • When you begin to understand the suffering of the other person compassion will arise in you. Compassion is the only energy that can help us connect with another person. The person who has no compassion in him can never be happy
  • Writing is a deep practice
  • Silence is a time for looking deeply. There are times when silence is truth and that is called “thundering silence”
  • Words and thought can kill. We cannot support acts of killing in our thinking or in our speech. If you have a job in which telling the truth is impossible, you may have to change jobs. If you have a job that allows you to speak truth, be grateful. To practice social justice and non-exploitation, we have to use right speech

The Fourth Mindfulness Training is training oneself to listen with compassion

  • May my words be as beautiful as gems, as lovely as flowers
  • I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening
  • Words can create happiness or suffering
  • I am determined to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope
  • I will not spread news that I do not know to be certain and I will not criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure.
  • I am determined to make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

Based on the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh

Photo credit: Benn Bell

DEATH IN VENICE (1971)

Movie Blurb

Death in Venice, directed by Luchino Visconti and starring Dirk Bogarde, is based on the Thomas Mann novella of the same name. A Gustave Mahler like character, named Gustave, goes to Venice for a rest. There he becomes infatuated with a teenaged boy who for him personifies his very idea of purity and beauty. The movie deals with the themes of death, beauty, decay, youth, old age, art, and oddly enough the plague.

Slow moving but exquisitely beautiful to watch. Some say Venice has never been so beautifully photographed. The score by Gustave Mahler is divine and is in perfect combination with the majestic beauty unfolding on the screen. There are long stretches with no dialogue, only visuals and music.  A true classic of the cinema.

Available on the Criterion Channel or Amazon Prime.

Make Ya Last Stand

Poem

It sorta depends on where ya sittin’

as to where ya stand

the view from the gallery is better than from

below the bleachers

and if you live in a mouse hole – yo

you been living in hell

and if you live in a mansion

you never can tell

you my need an automatic weapon

to make ya last stand.