The Zen of Baseball

Here I am once again testing my theory that if you put the words “The Zen of” in the title of anything, tons of people will be interested in it. Since this is about Zen and Baseball both of which all people love, I expect to get many hits today, and let me tell you hits are foremost on my mind. While many are keeping their eye on and discussing the political races leading up to the November election, there is another race going on that is of paramount importance, and of course, I am referring to the race to the World Series.

The most important question in this race is what will be the fate of the New York Yankees. I don’t believe I need to tell any of the highly intelligent readers of this blog that the New York Yankees are the greatest baseball team in the history of the game, or that many of their players have actually walked on water. For those who may have been residing on another planet for most of their lives, I will list some of the major reasons why the NY Yankees are the world’s greatest baseball team: Babe Ruth, Lou Gerhig,  Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Roger Maris, Reggie Jackson, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and the two greatest managers of all time, Casey Stengel and Joe Torre.

The Yanks are behind in the ALCS to the Rangers and that’s why I’m concerned about getting lots of hits today. The Bronx Bombers need to win the next two games to get into the World Series.  Can they do it? The world waits with bated breath . . .

So, what does baseball have to do with Zen? If you play baseball in Japan, a lot. It seems that the majority of Japanese baseball players are Buddhists, although they may not be Zen, it’s close enough.

Now the Yanks had a great Japanese player on the team for some years, Hideki Matsui, nicknamed “Godzilla.” I don’t know if he is a Buddhist or not, but as far as I am concerned he was a home run king in the true Yankees tradition and why they let him go is beyond me. He plays for the Angels now.

Sadaharu Oh

One of Japan’s best players was Sadaharu Oh, who at the age of 70 is retired. His 868 home runs set an all-time record in that country. In 1984 he wrote a book entitled A Zen Way of Baseball. I have not read it but I understand it’s very good and one doesn’t need to be a baseball fan to enjoy it. Here is a review I found on ESPN.

I looked for but could not find any excerpts from the book online, however I did run across these quotes from Sadaharu Oh:

The efforts you make will surely be rewarded. If not, then you are simply not ready to call them efforts.

The opponents and I are really one. My strength and skills only half of the equation. The other half is theirs. An opponent is someone whose strength joined to yours creates a certain result.

My baseball career was a long, long initiation into a single secret: At the heart of all things is love.

I have to admit that it’s exciting to see the Rangers, on the brink of playing in their first World Series, doing so well. I just hope the Yankees do better.

Abner Doubleday by Mathew Brady

Of course, in order to prepare myself for the possible onslaught of suffering that will follow an unfavorable outcome for my team, I am keeping in mind the immortal words of Abner Doubleday, founder of baseball and existentialist thinker, who once said, “Don’t take the world serious.”

Get it?


The Three Gates of Freedom

Nagarjuna taught that the city of Nirvana has three gates: emptiness, signlessness, and wishlessness. These are also known as the three doors of liberation (vimoksamukha).

Emptiness (sunyata) is knowing that all things in their conventional or mundane aspect are non-substantial.

Signlessness (animittata) is the emptiness of signs. It refers to not seizing upon things in their mundane aspect and using them as objects for clinging.

Wishlessness (apranihitata) is abstaining from actions based on passion and desire.

Nagarjuna tells us that the three gates also correspond to knowledge, wisdom, insight, and that they are called samadhi because the gates cannot be entered without a “collected mind.” Without this crucial element the gates cease to be gates and become only “cases of confusion.” Using samadhi as an expedient, one enters the city of Nirvana free of passion and this is the real freedom, “the residueless of freedom.”

Dharma then is the path that leads to the three gates and samadhi or meditation is the vehicle that carries us along the path and into the city. Those who say that meditation does not lead to freedom  or Nirvana do not understand that in teaching samadhi it was like the Buddha handing us the keys to the car.

The city is not a real city because Nirvana is not a place but a state of mind. The gates themselves are only expedients in terms of emptiness, signlessness, and wishlessness. In respect to knowledge, wisdom,  and insight, these are the glimpses of enlightenment or Buddhahood we collect as we fare along the path. Yet, it should be obvious that none of these things are within our reach as long as we remain in states of confusion. A confused mind cannot think clearly let alone see clearly enough to be able to even make out gates or cities.

In the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra (as translated by Robert Thurman) it reads

What is ‘Joy in the pleasures of the Dharma’? . . .  it is the joy of unbreakable faith in the Buddha . . . It is the joy of the renunciation of the whole world, of not being fixed in objects, of considering the five aggregates to be like murderers . . . It is the joy of always guarding the spirit of enlightenment, of helping other beings . . .  it is the joy of the exploration of the three doors of liberation . . .  it is the joy of acquiring liberative techniques and the conscious cultivation of the aids to enlightenment . . .

True renunciation is done in the mind. It has little to do with what one wears as clothes, or whether one’s head is shaved or not, or one’s lack of possessions. On the other hand, it has everything to do with using the expedient of samadhi.


The Truth About Aqua Buddha

Pigasus, candidate for the U.S. Presidency, being arrested by Chicago police on 23 August 1968.

In 1968 a pig ran for President of the United States. He was the candidate of the Youth International Party, also known as the Yippies, founded by Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Paul Krassner, three guys who were the Merry Pranksters of radical politics.

I don’t know who coined the term “silly season” in relation to our nations political campaigns, but they could have had that in mind. Silly as it was though, the Yippies were trying to make a point. I forget exactly what it was. But running a pig for president has nothing on this year’s silly season which has frankly become mondo bizzario. It’s seems to get weirder every minute and you know what Hunter S. Thompson said: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” Or, something like that.

You’ve probably heard about Rand Paul and this Aqua Buddha business. I want to take this opportunity to set the record straight because there really was an Aqua Buddha, in the comics that is. I am too young to have read any of them myself (they were published in the 1940’s) but back when I was a comic book aficionado, I recall reading about Aqua Buddha published by Cheapo Comics.

Aqua Buddha from Cheapo Comics (1947)

To the right is one of the few surviving panels of this comic. What a coincidence that one of the characters names was Stephen Batchelor, huh?

Anyway, Aqua Buddha was a spin-off from another character, The Green Lama, who actually started out in the pulp magazines. The Green Lama was the alias of Jethro Dumont, a rich resident of New York City, who traveled to Tibet, learned the mystic arts, and then became a crimefighter. His brother, Homer Dumont, instead of Tibet went to Japan where he was transformed from an ordinary millionaire into a super-Buddha, with the usual strange powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men, including of course, being able to breath underwater.

For some reason Aqua Buddha never caught on. There were I believe only ten or twelve issues. Cheapo Comics was a really cheap outfit. They couldn’t even afford a letterer who could spell simple words like “stumbled.”

Some people say that Aqua Buddha was the inspiration for Aquaman, however I doubt this since Aquaman made his first appearance around 1940 and Aqua Buddha didn’t come out until 1945.

In the last three issues, Aqua Buddha had a young sidekick named Bodhi Boy. Kuan Yin also made some appearances as a sort of Wonder Woman type character who assisted Aqua Buddha and may also have had an on/off relationship with him. For a while, Aqua Buddha, as Homer, had a regular girlfriend named Lovey Kindness.

So, now you know who Aqua Buddha was. I don’t know how Rand Paul could have ever heard of him because he is way too young, unless his dad had some of the comics and kept them. My mom threw all of mine away. I had some real gems: early Spiderman and Fantastic Four, the first Daredevil, Superman and Batman comics from the ‘50’s. They’d be worth a fortune today.

I almost forgot . . . you know, many super heroes had trademark phrases they used, for instance Captain Marvel’s was “Shazam!” and Superman always said, “Up! Up! And away!” Aqua Buddha’s was kind of like a mantra: “Boom Chakra Laka,” which Sly Stone later changed to “Boom shaka-laka-laka” and used in the song, “I Want To Take You Higher.” Apparently, Sly is a big Aqua Buddha fan.

That’s all for today. By the way, if you believe any of the above (expect for the part about Pigasus and the Green Lama), I have some prime swamp land in Louisiana I’d like to sell you. I can also get you a bridge dirt cheap . . .


June and Nancy: A Tale of Two Moms

I love television. I’m not ashamed to admit it. And what a astounding thing it is. I don’t know about you but this week I watched miners being rescued deep underground live some 5000 miles away and folks around the world, from Germany to China were watching at the same time on their TV sets and laptops. We’ve come a long way from the days when I sat on the floor in the living room with my parents and my brother viewing our “modern” grainy black and white set.

Obviously, technology is not the only thing that changed over the course of some fifty-plus years.

On a Sunday night in October of 1957, I probably would have watched Maverick, about those two lovable but somewhat cowardly con men of the Old West, Bret and Bart. But, last night, I watched Dexter, one of my current favorites, which is about a blood-splatter analysis guy for the Miami police department who also happens to be a serial killer. He only kills other serial killers though.

On Thursday nights in 1957, I probably watched Leave It To Beaver, featuring the recently departed Barbara Billingsley as June Cleaver, archetypal suburban mom of the 1950s. This Thursday, I watched Weeds, starring the absolutely hot Mary-Louise Parker as Nancy Botwin, mother of two teenage boys, who in this week’s episode wandered into a roadside saloon and had sex against the bar with the bartender, a total stranger.

Nancy started dealing marijuana after her husband died. Then she started growing it. Her oldest son was the chief grower. She burned down an entire town in Season Three, and after that she was romantically involved with a Mexican politician and mob boss who’s former mistress Nancy’s youngest son killed, on purpose. Now the Botwin’s are on the run from the gangsters and the cops. Nancy is everything but your typical suburban mom and her family is about as normal as the Sopranos.

We’re not in the Cleaver household anymore.

Yes, we’ve come a long way baby, and I’m loving it, and yet I wonder if fifty-three years from now people will still be watching Weeds as they do Leave It To Beaver today (until recently it was airing on TVLand). Even though Leave It To Beaver is dated in many respects, it seems to have a certain timeless quality.

I think what makes the show hold up so well is its naturalness. There was always a moral to the story, but the program never preached. The life lessons learned by Wally and the Beaver were received somewhat organically, as they often are in real life. And there was nothing forced or artificial about the way the two brothers spoke that era’s kid-speak:

Wally Cleaver: Boy, Beaver, wait’ll the guys find out you were hanging around with a girl. They’ll really give you the business.

Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver: But gee, Wally, you hang around with girls and the guys don’t give you the business.

Wally Cleaver: Well, that’s because I’m in high school. You can do a lot of stuff in high school without getting the business.

Ward and June Cleaver had an even-handed approach to parenting. For instance, whenever one of the boys got into trouble they’d ask if Ward was going to “yell” at them, in spite of the fact that their father never once raised his voice with real anger that I can remember.  My parents were not that different from Ward and June. Perhaps that’s why the show seems true-to-life to me. Although, I have to say that I don’t recall my mom ever ironing or doing the dishes wearing pearls and earrings like June Cleaver did.

You can read Barbara Billingsley’s obituary here at the LA Times.

I used to eat frequently at Billingsley’s Steak House in West Los Angeles. I was under the impression that Barbara Billingsley owned and operated it, but now I learn it was her two sons who founded the place. It’s the kind of steak house that’s hard to find these days with dark wood paneling and plush red seats. You never mind waiting for a table at Billingsley’s because you can enjoy a drink or two at their great old traditional bar, which, come to think of it, is similar to the one Nancy Botwin had sex against.

My favorite line from Leave It To Beaver is from the episode when Beaver says,

You know when I shoulda known things were going haywire? When Eddie Haskell was on my side.

You have to know the show and know about Eddie Haskell to appreciate that.

I’m sure that the “Cleaver household” is near and dear to many folks around my age, and so, we note with sadness Barbara Billingsley’s passing, although 94 is pretty good age to go out on. More than any other TV mom, Barbara Billingsley as June Cleaver seemed to be everyone’s mom – either like the one they had or like the one they wanted – and with her death, another little piece of childhood is now lost.

So long, Mrs. Cleaver. Thanks for everything.

And hello, Nancy . . .