State of Grace

It’s been a while since I have passed along an update on my health. I’ve recently received a few private inquiries, so here’s the dope:

As some are aware, I have liver cancer. Right now I feel fine. The last time I talked about this, I mentioned that I had undergone a procedure which “effectively treated” one of my tumors. That’s medical-speak for destroying one of my tumors. I have another tumor, which more frequently than it used to, let’s me know it is there with small intermittent pain. I am supposed to have surgery, a resection, where they will cut the tumor out and then it will be history, too.

I want to have this surgery about as much as I’d like a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. Not to mention that very idea of being cut open is, to me, scary. And, I’ll be spending about a week in the hospital. But I don’t have much choice.

My real problem at this point is dealing with the medical center. I had a consultation with the surgeon who would perform the surgery on Nov. 29th, and here it is 2 ½ months later, and they still have not scheduled it. I was approved for a transplant in September and yet they did not submit my case to the insurance company for the financial go ahead until just a few weeks ago, some 5 months later. While I realize that I am just one of 250 or so transplant patients the medical center is dealing with, at the same time, this is not like I’m taking my car into the shop for a tune-up. It’s a life and death deal here, and I don’t know how much longer I can go on making allowances for this lack of action, lack of communication, misinformation, etc. (I’ve described only the tip of the iceberg.)

So, that’s the story. I haven’t discussed it much on the blog mainly because I am not completely comfortable putting my business out in public for the whole world to read, although, it is an extremely tiny portion of the world that reads this blog. I am a rather private person by nature and that’s why I don’t waste a lot of space here discussing myself.

But, if things don’t improve with the medical center, I will be very tempted to “out” them and then I will have a lot to say on the subject.

I wish I had an insightful Buddhist perspective to offer about this, but I don’t. It is what is it is: dukkha. Suffering. I think about a passage in the Vajradhvaja Sutra where it says that the heroism of a Bodhisattva is found in the practice of “not being troubled by suffering, by ability to take pleasure in the giving.” To paraphrase Bruce Springsteen, I’m no hero, that’s understood, all the redemption I can offer is in my words, here on this blog. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my suffering, ruminating over the fact that I have cancer. I am trying to live my life without letting cancer control it. Some might see that as a form of denial, and perhaps there is a grain of truth there. Yet, in most cases, suffering only has power to defeat us when we give suffering that power. I may end up physically defeated by cancer, but I refuse to let the suffering itself control my mind and spirit. That’s how I see transcendence.

And The Endless Further blog is a form of giving, and I do take some small amount of pleasure in knowing that a few folks find what I write on it worthwhile and helpful.

Here’s a song I wrote and recorded in 2002. I made it into a video last night. Apparently, I was not in much of a Bodhisattva frame of mind when I composed the lyrics, but it more or less captures the spirit of what I’ve been trying to say here at the end.


“Love’s gift is shy”

Hot on the heels of Tuesday’s Mardi Gras and yesterday’s Ash Wednesday, it’s Valentine’s, that day of romance, flowers and candy and sweet nothings whispered into hopefully receptive ears. . . and poetry.

RTagore3I’ve posted many poems on this blog during past three years, but too few by the man who inspired the blog’s title, The Endless Further: Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), teacher, philosopher, playwright, and sublime poet. Sadly, his works are almost unknown outside of India. But as the great master of the sitar, Ravi Shankar, wrote in his book, Raga, if Tagore “been born in the West he would now be [as] revered as Shakespeare and Goethe.”

In 1913, Tagore was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for Song Offerings, a collection of poems he translated himself from Bengali into English, based on Gitanjali, a collection published in Bengal three years earlier. He became the first non-European awarded a Nobel Prize.

Tagore’s poems are songs, chants. In English, they become prose poems. It is difficult for me, since I do not read or speak Bengali, to tell how much is lost in the translation. Yet, I find that his words are lyrical, and the beauty of his simple imagery, mystical. Many of the poems are songs of a love triangle between the poet, nature, and the divine. Others, however, are of love between two people, a devotional kind of love that transcends mere romance.

To commemorate Valentine’s Day, here are a three selections from Lover’s Gift, published by Macmillan in 1918:


Come to my garden walk, my love. Pass by the fervid flowers that press themselves on your sight. Pass them by, stopping at some chance joy, which a sudden wonder of sunset illumines, yet eludes.

For love’s gift is shy, it never tells its name, it flits across the shade, spreading a shiver of joy along the dust. Overtake it or miss it for ever. But a gift that can be grasped is merely a frail flower, or a lamp with a flame that will flicker.


She is near to my heart as the meadow-flower to the earth; she is sweet to me as sleep is to tired limbs. My love for her is my life flowing in its fullness, like a river in autumn flood, running with serene abandonment. My songs are one with my love, like the murmur of a stream, that sings with all its waves and currents.


I would ask for still more, if I had the sky with all its stars, and the world with its endless riches; but I would be content with the smallest corner of this earth if only she were mine.


Life is a Carnival

“Life is a carnival,” sang The Band on a recording from their 4th album that featured horn arrangements by the great New Orleans musician Allen Toussaint. “Life is a carnival — believe it or not.”

Deep inside, I am a believer. So was the Buddha, and he said so.


Not in those words, of course. Actually, in his first dharma talk, the Buddha said that life is very un-carnival like, that life is suffering (dukkha). The first of the Four Noble Truths. With the other Truths, he said suffering has a cause, there is freedom from suffering, and then he laid out a path to obtain that freedom. Now, assuming that Buddha understood non-duality, and I think we can, then it is fair to say that he was implying that life is also not-suffering. It’s a bit of a stretch to get to the carnival bit, but I’m using that as a synonym for happiness, joy, and not-suffering.

This first discourse of the Buddha is found in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (“Wheel of Dhamma”). In this text, he calls the search for worldly pleasures, the Ignoble Quest, and naturally, the opposite of that is the Noble Quest. The sutta talks about “the renunciation of the Bodhisattva,” which in this case refers to Gautama before he became Buddha. The sutta says, “it occurred to the Buddha to renounce worldly life, and become a recluse.” Which he did, practicing extreme austerities, yet we know from this same text that that he came to realize that it was better to avoid extremes, whether it be severe austerity or indulgence in sensual pleasure. This became his Middle Way, the path between extremes.

Still, the Buddha and his bhikkhus lived what we would regard today as a rather austere life. That was another time and it’s not realistic to think that we must fare on the Way exactly as they did 2500 years ago. Besides, there is a deeper understanding of renunciation to consider.

I once heard the Dalai Lama say, “True renunciation is a state of mind. It does not necessarily mean that someone has to give up something.” Suffering, too, is largely a state of mind. When we recognize the inevitability of suffering, when we know that suffering is sometimes necessary, that in the long run the experience of suffering can contribute our growth and overall well being, that’s when we can truly transcend it. Not an easy task, at least I haven’t always found it easy. True renunciation is overthrowing the state of mind that acquiesces under the domination of suffering. It’s the inner revolution where we topple one state of mind and replace it with another, the liberated state of mind.

One who is free from the sufferings of existence, which are fixed in graspingness, is said to be liberated, and attains through infinite, immeasurable, countless ways, worldly and transcendental, showers of happiness and bliss.”

Kshayamati Sutra

The kind of happiness I’m talking about is not a temporary or limited happiness, but one that is deep and lasting. “Life is a carnival” doesn’t mean to view our existence as some sort of traveling amusement show. At the same time, it seems that there are many people in this world who see their life as a painful austerity that must be endured, and that is the crux of the malaise we call dukkha or suffering.

Speaking of carnivals (how’s this for a segue?), tomorrow in New Orleans life will be a carnival, with a capital C. Yep, it’s Mardi Gras once again. Or, Fat Tuesday, the day that immediately precedes Lent, for Catholics that annual season of fasting and penitence in preparation for Easter. Since Catholics are expected to give something up for Lent, they decided to have one last day-long orgy of hedonism.

It’s good to give something up every so often, but it’s good to have some fun, too. Here’s an opportunity to get in the carnival state of mind New Orleans style, with one of my favorite Mardi Gras songs as performed by Al “Carnival Time” Johnson:



Sudden bloody terror.

I had planned for today a post about anti-heroes and outlaws, some thoughts spurred by my viewing this week of a 2010 French mini-series about the terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal. I’ve decided at the last minute, here at midnight, that it much of it might seem inappropriate given the events in Los Angeles Thursday. An ex-LAPD officer has been on a murderous rampage this week, and his shooting of three police officers, one of whom died, Thursday morning has generated the largest manhunt in LAPD history. The search for the fugitive ex-cop hunting cops is receiving national attention.

I must say that while I am saddened and outraged by the apparent ambush on the police officers, I am also disturbed about the police shooting of two innocent women delivering newspapers in Torrance, victims of mistaken identity. Evidently, the two women were traveling down the street in a vehicle that resembled the murder suspect’s and had their lights off. One woman was shot in the hand and the other in the back. They’ll be okay, yet it must have been a narrow escape as the LA Times reports that “the blue pickup was riddled with bullet holes and what appeared to be newspapers lay in the street alongside.”

I understand that in the aftermath of attacks on police, it is a stressful time for officers in the field and that emotions and adrenalin run high. At the same time, it is hard to imagine how two small unarmed women, apparently of Asian ethnicity, could have posed such an imminent threat to the officers that they would have to open fire on them.

And, of course, we deal once again with needless death caused by a sick person with an assault rifle. Yesterday’s events strike a crippling blow against the theory that people need guns to protect themselves. It doesn’t help. The police officers had guns and yet those weapons provided no protection.

I believe we should strive to become a society without any guns. In Japan, it’s illegal to have a gun, period. Their police don’t carry guns. Britain has the toughest gun control laws in the world. Most of their police don’t carry firearms either. The gun deaths in those two countries each year is but a fraction of the annual gun deaths in the United States.

Wednesday’s post was on guns, and normally I hate to do two posts in a row on the same topical subject, but sometimes that’s the way it turns out. Have a good weekend.

C2Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, aka ‘Carlos’: What are these dumb Japs up to?
Galeriste: What’s going on?
Galeriste: Time’s up. No one’s dead.
Galeriste: Isn’t Furuya in Holland?
‘Carlos’: So what? There’s no plane or crew! It’s useless.
Galeriste: What will you do?
‘Carlos’: Act for them. Algerian-style. Sudden bloody terror.

Carlos (2010)


Happy hunting?

Back in the olden days (circa 1973), when I was a progressive rock DJ, I did a telephone interview with Ted Nugent. Now for those who may not know, Nugent is a somewhat legendary rock musician from the Motor City. He had just signed a deal with Frank Zappa’s record company and released an LP titled “Call of the Wild.” I was looking forward to doing the interview because he had been the lead guitarist for the Amboy Dukes, who even further back in the day had put out a great single and album, “Journey to the Center of Your Mind.”

I was working the evening shift then, and we dialed the number to Nugent’s ranch in Michigan, and did the interview. Call of the wild is about right. The guy was completely nuts, and frankly, rather disturbing. He went off on a tangent about guns, hunting, and killing. Very uncool. At first I thought it was an act, then I figured out, it was for real.

Ted Nugent hasn’t changed much over the years. Nowadays, he’s almost more well-known for his right-wing oriented outrageous statements on various issues, but mainly on guns, hunting, and killing, than he is for his guitar playing. In a magazine interview in 2009, he said, “I’m stymied to come up with anything funnier than people who think animals have rights. Just stick an arrow through their lungs.”

Most recently he was quoted on CNN as saying that hunting is “Zen meditation in its definitive form, plus you get meat out of it.” Evidently, he was laughing as he said it. It must be a joke, but I don’t get it, and I don’t think Ted knows much about Zen. If he did, he might have heard about the precept “Do not harm,” which is a polite way of saying, Do not kill.

I have a problem with hunting. A week or so ago, President Obama said it would be a big mistake to dismiss “the traditions of hunting that trace back in this country for generations.”

Well, sorry POTUS, but I do. I have no respect at all for the “tradition” of hunting. I fail to see how killing animals qualifies as a sport. The word “sport” carries with it a connotation of fairness. There is nothing fair about hunting. I can think of few things more barbaric.

Every living thing has a right to life. No one has a right to kill. Hey Ted, wanna shoot an animal? Buy a camera.

This would be an excellent place to insert an inspirational Buddhist quote about respecting the dignity of all life, but I would rather post something else. It’s supposed to be funny, and in the overall context of the movie, it is. In this context, it’s poignant. From My Cousin Vinny: