Not content to do everything it can to cruelly obliterate Tibetan culture, China claims to have authority over the religious processes of Tibetan Buddhism. For example, a recent official Chinese statement proclaims: “…all confirmations of the Dalai Lama have required approval by the central Chinese government, which has deemed the process an important issue concerning sovereignty and national security” [ Xinhua Chinese news, 19 July 2015, http://news.xinhuanet.com, edited by Xiang Bo]. The illogical stupidity of this statement reflects the idiocy of a totalitarian regime. How can a mystical Tibetan Buddhist process of choosing the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama be a matter of Chinese sovereignty? Of course it cannot be. How can choosing a spiritual leader who teaches tolerance, compassion, kindness, and love be a matter of national security? There may be some validity in that statement, in that anybody who teaches those virtues is a danger to the evil communist state, which does not respect human rights or value individual freedom. Someday–it may take a long time–the Chinese people will be free of the totalitarian communist government and live in a free democracy that respects human rights. Maybe then Tibet will be free. Hopefully, at that time China will not have succeeded in totally destroying Tibetan culture. Meanwhile, the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism reverberate around the world, spreading joy, guidance, and compassion everywhere.
I asked the kind woman (who helps me with my Spanish) who is the Janitor for our building at work what she thought of Obama’s immigration order. She is an immigrant from El Salvador. I thought she would say something nice about it. Here’s what she said: “Some people come over here thinking everything is free, free, free. They don’t want to work. They are just looking for a handout from the government. They are always pregnant, having many babies. You see cars at the store, big cars, full of people. They say, “Baby food is free. Rent is free.” They just want to have babies, take a handout, and sit around and watch TV all day. It’s good for people who want to work, like us, but a lot of people don’t want to work. They don’t look for a job. The come over here because they believe the government will give them everything. In El Salvador, nothing is free. You have to buy everything.” She said more, but that’s the theme of her response, which was not what I expected.
A few days ago I flew from Frankfurt, Germany to Washington, DC. I was seated in the coach section in a middle seat in the middle of the plane on a sold-out flight. As it turned out, the aisle seat on my right was empty from a no-show passenger. Of course I planned to move to that seat as soon as we were in the air, giving the person next to me and myself more room. As we were taxiing for takeoff, a Chinese woman frantically ran from a middle seat two rows back and jumped into the empty seat next to me. I was stunned and did not say anything until later in the flight, when we exchanged pleasantries. Later I noticed that her passport said People’s Republic of China.
I read a newspaper column today about etiquette. A woman who owns a company that teaches etiquette was interviewed. The article talked about this expert’s advice for dinner. She said that a woman should always put her purse on the floor, not the back of a chair. What about thieves? Is there not a time that a woman in a restaurant would want her purse in view? Or with a strap she could feel on her chair? She also said that one should not butter one’s roll all at once, but butter each bite of the roll separately. Seems rather stupid and inefficient, advice notwithstanding. Mention was made of no elbows on the table! I thought of my French teacher, who said her mother told her that Americans keep their hands under the table so they can draw their guns quickly, like cowboys. Etiquette is relative. What do they do in the many places in the world where children are starving to death every day? Probably not worry too much about etiquette. There are more important things to worry about. In good conscience, butter your bread however you please.
I have book in my library that is 300 years old. It is in French. The book is leather bound. The paper is crisp to the touch, and in very good condition; it has a feel similar to a new dollar bill. What pages there are can easily be read, but since someone has made the book into a safe (with a cubbyhole), not all pages are left in the book. Comparing this book to digital media, how many 30-year-old computer files can still be read? How many emails written have been lost in the digital ether? I lost some books recently when the motherboard was changed out on my Thinkpad Tablet (Android). While I had written a note to the IBM tech who was going to do the repair advising him that I had not been able to get everything backed up before sending it in for warranty service, he did not save my memory. About 25 notebooks I’d been writing in with a digital stylus were lost. Now I’m using a digital notebook program that is easy to backup, but the lesson remains. My paper notebooks, no matter what their age, may take up a lot of space, but they do not self destruct. This robustness of paper has some value. Like photographic negatives or slides, stored properly, it will endure. Digital files, if stored properly, will endure too, but it takes a lot of money and expertise to keep the digital files going in the long term. The technology changes rapidly, and one must keep upgrading the storage media, ad infinitum. Paper can just sit without attention and preserve its contents. The 300-year-old book happens to be easily available on the Internet in digital format. So, at least important or popular works will be preserved digitally for posterity. Still, there is something about paper…
I was reading Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (Shunryu Suzuki, 1970) and came across the following quote (p. 122): Which is more important: to attain enlightenment, or to attain enlightenment before you attain enlightenment; to make a million dollars, or to enjoy life in your effort, little by little, even though it is impossible to make that million; to be successful, or to find some meaning in your effort to be successful? If you do not know the answer, you will not even be able to practice zazen; if you do know, you will have found the true treasure of life. To which I will add: Attainment is nothing. The journey is everything.
Recently I slept in three time zones in three days, being in Paris, France; Cleveland, Ohio; and Las Vegas. I expected the sun to set in Las Vegas at the same time I was used to in Paris the week before, or rather, twilight to end, at around 9:30 PM. The sun set earlier in Las Vegas. While the US is on daylight savings time while France is not, even aside from that the differences in daylight with respect to time are noticeable. Part of this is due to geographic variations. After all, Las Vegas is on California time, yet is further east then LA. Checking the data, here’s what I found for today: Paris sunset: 9:08 PM, Las Vegas sunset: 7:31 PM, Cleveland sunset: 8:27 PM. Quite a variance!
On the way to work I go through three weather patterns, starting at the highest point in Cuyahoga County, heading north towards Cleveland, then west to Brook Park. Today on the way to work I first saw moderate snow falling at my house, then of course no snow in Brooklyn, then, as I arrived in Brook Park, magical snow. The biggest snowflakes I’d ever seen were falling. Their average diameter was the size of a quarter, and rather than fall, they slowly floated down, due to the aerodynamic lift their size allowed. When I arrived at work, when I was getting bags out of the back of my car, one of these “flakes”–if you could call it a flake–floated into my car. I picked it up and removed it. As I was walking to my office building, I stopped, turned around and marveled. The snow looked unreal, like a movie set. The beauty was truly magical. Once inside, I looked out the window. Fifteen minutes later the big flakes were replaced with smaller flakes, as the ephemeral event passed.
For me, changing the oil on one of my cars is a spiritual experience. My frame of mind when performing that task is always peaceful. My heart soars with joy when I work on cars, restoration or maintenance. While I draw on my engineering knowledge when performing automobile work and generally do a meticulous job, I can’t put into words why it brings me so much joy. I could pay someone else to change the oil, although the time spent going somewhere and waiting would add to the expense. Then there is the possibility of incompetent work, which I encounter more often then not no matter where I take a car when I pay to have work done. The odometer on my 1994 Volvo 940 Turbo is not working, so I guesstimate the mileage between oil changes based on my work commutes and other trips. Although this is far from accurate, I have a rough idea. Ideally, I’d change the oil every 3000 miles, regardless of what the manufacturer recommends. “Cheap insurance” many have said, which is true. With adequate lubrication, wear on mechanical parts will be minimal, running almost forever without need of repair. With inadequate lubrication, mechanical parts will wear out quickly. I changed my oil today, knowing that I’ve exceeded the desired mileage interval. Although the manufacturer recommends a 5000 mile interval for this turbo engine (a Third Generation B-230F), that is pushing it. I’m estimating that unfortunately I’ve gone somewhere over 4000 miles, but not over 5000 miles, since the last change. In general, 3500 miles is about as far as I will go between changes without feeling uncomfortable. I’ve seen a chart of oil viscosity versus miles. What happens is that the oil maintains adequate viscosity and protection up until a certain point, then instead of gradually losing viscosity, the viscosity simply drops off, like a stone falling from a cliff. There is a discontinuity on the curve, where a moment before there was adequate viscosity for engine protection, then then next moment there is almost none. The outside temperature when I went to change the oil was in the mid 40s F. I let the car engine idle for ten minutes to let the oil warm up. After changing the oil and filter, I carefully poured the used oil into a container to carry it to the recycle point. As I was pouring it, it poured like water–no noticeable viscosity. Yuck. That’s oil that has been in the engine too long and is providing very little protection. I’ll be sure not to let this happen again. Well designed engines will go millions of miles without trouble, but not unless the oil is kept in good condition, i.e. with adequate viscosity.