Saturday, May 27, 2023

as if all worlds were there

There's an importance to words, to oaths.

I've retreated to a new concentration. A philologist, semanticist, hermeneutic etymologist, semiotic linguistic analyst. Amant des mots. Ha!

Three scenes from A Man for All Seasons, Robert Bolt’s play about the elevation and martyrdom of St. Thomas More, could have been the inspiration for the monumental task of selecting and editing the writings by and about More that comprise The Essential Works of Thomas More 


In the first, More’s daughter Margaret and (then-future) son-in-law William Roper want More to arrest the scoundrel Richard Rich because, as Margaret says, “Father, that man’s bad.” More refuses on the grounds that there is no law against being a bad man, and that Rich should be free to go “if he was the Devil himself until he broke the law.” After Roper objects to giving even the Devil the benefit of the law, this famous exchange occurs: 


More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? 


Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that! 


More: Oh? … And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you—where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? … Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake. 


In the second, Margaret and Roper encounter More with the news that Parliament is about to pass the Succession to the Crown Act of 1534, requiring an oath recognizing Anne Boleyn as King Henry VIII’s lawful wife, and their children as legitimate heirs to the throne. When Roper vaguely tells More that the oath is “about the Marriage,” More asks, “But what is the wording?” Roper contemptuously dismisses the question, saying, “We don’t need to know the wording—we know what it will mean!” More exclaims in reply, “It will mean what the words say! An oath is made of words! It may be possible to take it. Or avoid it.” 


The third scene occurs after More’s arrest, when Margaret visits him in the Tower of London and urges More to “say the words of the oath and in your heart think otherwise.” But More could not do that because, as he asks rhetorically, “What is an oath then but words we say to God?” And he continues, “When a man takes an oath … he’s holding his own self in his hands. Like water.… And if he opens his fingers then—he needn’t hope to find himself again. Some men aren’t capable of this, but I’d be loathe to think your father one of them.”

Robert Creeley points in a similar direction:

A Token 

                    (by Robert Creeley) 

My lady
fair with
arms, what

can I say to   
you—words, words   
as if all
worlds were there.

Words need not be noisy. Need not be sounded at all. Worlds without verbiage does not mean a wordless world. Words have their own horizon and depth of perception. They know how to be imperceptible and without echo. They are both cataphatic and apophatic. Words are energy wrapped in potential audience.

Words matter.

Hence, this world, and all possible worlds.

Go on.

Say it!

the absurd involves disjunction between what should be logically joined

Is there reason to be concerned that our treasured democracy is in danger?

Did Kurt Friedrich Gödel see something in 1947 that is coming to be in our contemporary political and cultural circumstance? And how is it that we do not have an accurate rendition of what he discovered?

On December 5, 1947, Einstein and Morgenstern accompanied Gödel to his U.S. citizenship exam, where they acted as witnesses. Gödel had confided in them that he had discovered an inconsistency in the U.S. Constitution that could allow the U.S. to become a dictatorship; this has since been dubbed Gödel's Loophole. Einstein and Morgenstern were concerned that their friend's unpredictable behavior might jeopardize his application. The judge turned out to be Phillip Forman, who knew Einstein and had administered the oath at Einstein's own citizenship hearing. Everything went smoothly until Forman happened to ask Gödel if he thought a dictatorship like the Nazi regime could happen in the U.S. Gödel then started to explain his discovery to Forman. Forman understood what was going on, cut Gödel off, and moved the hearing on to other questions and a routine conclusion.[25][26]      (Kurt Friedrich Gödel --wikipedia

Kurt Gödel saw something in the US Constitution that would, eventually, allow fascism and dictatorship to replace democracy here. 

At the courthouse, witnesses would normally remain outside of the room during a citizenship examination, but because Einstein, a celebrity, was involved, and because the judge, Phillip Forman, had administered the oath of citizenship to Einstein, all three men were invited in. In the course of the examination, Forman asked Gödel what the government of Austria was, to which he replied: "It was a republic, but the constitution was such that it finally was changed into a dictatorship." The judge commented that this could not happen in the U.S., and Gödel responded "Oh, yes, I can prove it," but the judge declined to pursue the matter.[2]  (Gödel's Loophole --wikipedia)][4].  

We seem to sneer at the imbecility of some members of both federal and state legislators and judicial appointees. We laugh at the absurdity of their antics as they peck and chip away at the foundations of this edifice of democracy, separation of powers, integrity of oversight, and vigilance of the populace for the smooth correctives built into the structure of democracy honoring "we the people."

My view, from living in the northeastern-most state of the contiguous United States, is a little blurry.

As much as I'd prefer to leave the monitoring and adjustment of democracy to the elected and appointed members of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government, I'm becoming wary and doubtful that the underlying stability of our system is solid.

I can attribute my wariness to advancing age. Maybe affected by regular visits with the dying and periodic sitting with those just dead and awaiting funeral personnel. Also Fridays and Mondays in prison conversing about all manner of things -- from philosophy and poetry to depression and bi-polar suffering. Maybe, volunteering as a patient visitor at local hospital (awaiting re-engagement following covid-19 hiatus) reminding me of the fragility of the human body and species. Or, truth be told, it just might be the melancholic and phlegmatic state of personality walking about in my shoes looking at the attachments and distractions of a wealth and celebrity-driven sociological construct of so much emulation to the right and left of us.

What about Qoheleth?

I have always wanted to see the look on Qoheleth’s face. An innovative thespian on a spiritual quest recently gave me that chance.

A colleague from the theater department at my university had told me that someone was doing a monologue of Ecclesiastes at a local fringe festival. I was excited in a way that betrays my particular nerdiness about this topic. I bought a ticket to Meaningless and sat up front, eagerly waiting to finally meet the sage, whom I had been studying for so many years, in person.

As a scholar of Ecclesiastes, I tend to refer to the book by its Hebrew title, which comes from the name of its purported speaker and author, Qoheleth, and means something like “assembler,” “teacher,” or “philosopher.” I can talk to you for a whole semester about text-critical issues, historical context, translation dilemmas, literary analysis, and debates over dating. That’s not what this show was about. Instead, it immersed me in the mysterious beauty of this harshly realistic book. 

pedia)[Notes 1] Ecclesiastes as a one-man show --In Meaningless, Rodney Brazil brings Qoheleth to life. by Lisa M. Wolfe in the March 2023 issue, Published on January 25, 2023 The Christian Century, 

 Is the meaninglessness, the vanity, of human existence, something not just a trope belonging to Sartre, Camus, Beckett and Ionesco? 

One of the biggest scholarly debates about Ecclesiastes in the past 40 years has been the translation of Qoheleth’s theme word hevel. Ever since Jerome translated the book in the fourth century, the predominant rendering of hevel has been vanitas (Latin) and its derivative “vanity” (English). But what does this mean in 21st-century English? Many of us will internally cue Carly Simon’s hilariously biting lyric, “You’re so vain / You probably think this song is about you.” Or perhaps we’ll envision that piece of furniture called a vanity, with drawers and a mirror. While vanity in these senses is relevant for Qoheleth, neither comes close to the nuances of hevel in the book. Brazil’s play, with its title Meaningless taken directly from the New Living Translation, unwittingly joins this scholarly discussion about how best to translate hevel.

One of the first academic monographs I read was Michael V. Fox’s 1989 Qohelet and His Contradictions. As someone only beginning to engage with biblical scholarship, I found it fascinating and influential, to say the least. Fox’s central thesis is that the book’s contradictions are internal to one author, not the result of multiple voices—something Brazil personifies in his one-man show. Beyond that, Fox makes a case to translate hevel as “absurd” or “absurdity,” depending on the context. He relates this translation to Albert Camus’s idea that the absurd involves disjunction between what should be logically joined. For me, this accurately reflects how Qoheleth uses hevel: to describe work that produces no gain, unsatisfied longing to know the right times of life, a failed test of pleasure, an unfulfilled need for justice. (--Wolfe, ibid)

Don't get me wrong -- we live in a fine country with values, if distributed fairly and equally, that are beneficial and ennobling. But, still, vigilance demands we watch out for the connivers, the grifters, the swindlers, the autocrats, the liars, the scammers, the criminal elite whose goal is to consolidate power, control, and divisiveness into their solipsistic hands and lure their deluded, convinced, and sanctimonious followers into the wake of their luxury cruise.

What did the brilliant logician Gödel see that he reported to Einstein, Morgenstern, and Foram on 5dec47 as he committed to American citizenship?

What do we see in 2023?

And, importantly, what are we committed to these days in our ambivalent observation of our theatrical absurdity?

say it, then withdraw

 There it is

Mourning Dove


Turning earth

in the dream, with my parents, a moment

 We won’t appraise it

At that place, my father said, 

I asked why not, in

The dream, it was a teaching

I was not able to grasp

Friday, May 26, 2023


Pray for

Those discouraged

By life

We are

Waiting for

Your prayer

You are

Kind to

Remember us

an insincere nonchalance

There’s no mystery

Why human beings control

wrest power, divide — 

These are just foolish detours —

Source hides from insouciance 

Thursday, May 25, 2023

manifeste insignifiant

 call me idiot

no, too complimentary --

rather, don't call me

monastery of feathers

 Mourning dove calls light

Wakes neighbors chilly morning

Night office is sung

Wednesday, May 24, 2023


When you sing, you sing

We hear deep passion chanting —

again and over

owing to this cessation of grasping

 [act 1, scene 1]

What are you waiting for?

Who, me?

Yeah. What are you waiting for?

Nothing, really.

[End scene]

(wfh, 24may23)

Were there no grasping of any sort of kind whatever by anyone at anything, that is to say, no grasping at the things of sense, no grasping through speculative opinions, no grasping after mere ritual and rule, no grasping through theories of the soul, then there being no grasping whatever, would there, owing to this cessation of grasping, be any appearance of becoming?

(--Dialogues of the Buddha, in DailyZen )


At last night’s Tuesday Evening Conversation we spoke about Buddhism before therapy, how an American teacher was told in Japan that the students didn’t have problems when asked how problems of students were addressed in Japanese zen meditation environment.

Perhaps the zen teacher meant that suffering is not a personal problem, suffering is suffering. Perhaps he was suggesting that we in the West call personal problems are subsumed under the first two noble truths:

1. There is suffering in the world.

2. Caused by wanting things to be other than they are. 


Our suffering is not a failure of character or moral flaw. Suffering is a fact. It is what accompanies life and being. As the saying goes these days: “It is what it is.” 

Yes, Buddhists have two additional Noble Truths along with the Eightfold Path to suggest a way through suffering. But suffering, I suspect, is not eliminated, but navigated; perhaps, at times, temporarily transcended.

True, so it seems, nobody asked to be born into this life, this existence, (as far as pre-existence can be fathomed), but here we are. It’s not a personal failure to have arrived in this sphere of animate life amid other creatures immersed in systems of habitation, economics, social structure, and biological temporal shelf life.

Someone mentioned her koan last evening. It went something like: “Without thought or opinion, what is this?” Perhaps, better, what she was saying was:

The Great Way* is not difficult for those who have no preferences.  When love and hate are both absent, everything becomes clear and undisguised.  Make the smallest distinction, however, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart. If you wish to see the truth, then hold no opinions for, or against, anything.  To set up what you like against what you dislike is the disease of the mind.  When the deep meaning of things is not understood, the mind's essential peace is disturbed to no avail.  

(-- in, Hsin Hsin Ming,  attributed to Seng Ts'an, the Third Chinese Patriarch of Zen.) 

Whether you say "Life is suffering," or, "There is suffering in life," the fact remains.

We'd also read some James Finley about the prevalence of mild depression in our time and culture. This prompted someone to say "If you're not depressed in these times, you're not paying attention." The sorrow, sadness, and affective struggles during a time of war, injustice, cowardice in leadership, and constant threat of mass-shootings and random dystopian violence -- these factors weigh heavy on human spirit.

Is it so that we make things other than they are by being other than the way things are? Not by "wanting" things to be other? Is this wanting a detached ambivalence, a non-participation, not for good, not for evil?

Is embodiment and actualization the only sane recourse when confronted by experience and suffering?

Is patience, forgiveness, and antidotal embodiment of compassion a way of accompanying suffering through efflorescence to evanescence? 

I'm aware we might not adequately appreciate "suffering" -- why it is, what it is, how it insinuates itself into the meaning of existence. Even a dominant mythology such as messianic literature in the Judeo-Christian story posits that the embodiment of God in earthly manifestation suffers and dies.

Suffers and dies.

Then, the following tropes of resurrection and ascension. As though it were a necessary progression life follows through suffering and death to resurrection and ascension. In the East there is the further suggestion of rebirth or reincarnation. And the cycle turns again.

Go ahead. Ask me: "What are you waiting for?"

If I read my script correctly, I answer:

"Nothing, really!"

Is there nothing to become of me?

Last verse of Hsin Hsin Ming: 


The poem ends with:

Emptiness here, Emptiness there,

but the infinite universe stands always before your eyes.

Infinitely large and infinitely small;

no difference, for definitions have vanished

and no boundaries are seen.

So too with Being

and non-Being.

Don't waste time in doubts and arguments

that have nothing to do with this.

One thing, all things:

move among and intermingle, without distinction.

To live in this realization

is to be without anxiety about non-perfection.

To live in this faith is the road to non-duality,

Because the non-dual is one with the trusting mind.

Words! The Way is beyond language,

for in it there is

no yesterday

no tomorrow

no today. 


(trans. Richard B. Clarke)

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

through the days and nights

This old monk meditates and
Rests in the empty mountains
In loneliness and stillness
Through the days and nights.
When I leave the pure cliffs,
I am distracted by callers
The world of people is first
And always the world of people.

Seigan Soi (1588-1661)

We are so wonderfully flawed. Open our mouths and we speak incorrectly, erroneously, or impertinently. Keep mouths closed and we fail to pronounce beauty, affirmation, or truth.

Ensō dog and I walk mountain zigzagging wooded trail and open field. 

Here in yurt birdsong and cascading brook deepen silence of being-in-nature. Sunlight green leaf blue sky. Irishman who lived here two years left photo of good friend behind stretch lattice wall by door. His friend died on date in Florida restaurant before getting check.

Nature, so to speak, cares only for itself.

If nature were to speak in our patois, it might add “What else is there?”

Everything else, other than itself, is a distraction. It is such because we have made things and animals and people other, other than ourselves, other than itself.

Whereas, in reality, there is nothing-other than itself.

Just as-it-is. Here-and-now. Distinctively one-and-present.

There’s no place to look to find oneself.

Oneself is being looked at, by, and as, itself.

up over down up

 Another sunrise

Car down hill heads into town

Today, yes, today

Monday, May 22, 2023

synopsis of why shamelessness is on sale

 Artifice, he says,

Trickery, is what red tie 

politicians scam —

A blatant cynicism

Absent any redemption 


 Some animal moves

In dooryard setting off light —

They up pretty late

Sunday, May 21, 2023

one and the same

He’s known as the godfather of artificial intelligence. He’s just left his position at Google. He’s concerned about AI.

 “…It’s quite conceivable that humanity is just a passing phase in the evolution of intelligence.”

(-Geoffrey Hinton: Reasons why AI will kill us all, YouTube May 2023)

Who (which or what) among us does not seek more control over their environment and the means of self- (or it-) determination?

That, after reading  Qohelet and Camus: Answering the Absurd, by Christian A. Sanchez.

Absurdity, meaninglessness, or vanity; the fleeting, the incomprehensible, the futile — however you translate the Hebrew word “hebel” in Ecclesiastes — the surround of human existence must confront the appearance of these translations of that experience.

Victor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning” could have been titled man’s search for a way to get through. Getting through the day, getting through the night, getting through your life.

We breathe until we don’t. We strive for our particular form of success. We miss the 3-pointer at the buzzer. We work (or we don’t) until there’s no more work to be done, or, we can’t do the work any more.

Either way, we continue to practice stepping through.

Perhaps Angelus Silesius:

What has been said of God
Does not suffice, I claim.
The Over-Godhead is
My life, my light, my aim.
God is my final end;
Does he from me evolve,
Then he grows out of me,
While I in Him dissolve.
God loves me more than Him;
Than me I love God more.
So He gives me as much
As I to Him restore.
In Spirit senses are
One and the same. 'T is true,
Who seeth God he tastes,
Feels, smells and hears Him too.
In God nought e'er is known,
Forever one is He.
What we in Him e'er know,
Ourselves must grow and be.
God never did exist
Nor ever will, yet aye
He was ere worlds began, and
When they're gone he'll stay.
God Father is a point,
God Son the circuit line,
And God the Ghost does both
As area combine.
God is all virtue's end,
Its mainspring He's likewise.
He too is virtue's cause,
He eke is virtue's prize.
Thou needst not cry to God,
The spring wells up in thee.
Don't stop its fountain head:
It flows eternally.
Who without God as well
As with Him e'er can be,
He is at any rate
A hero verily.
Abandon winneth God.
But to abandon God
Is an abandonment
Which must seem very odd.
p. 295


It’s Sunday afternoon. 

The motorcyclists are out.

So, too, young green leafs.

The wonder of it!

out here










can see

the center

with field







it is