Did Climate Change Create the Perfect Storm?

As you probably aware, Typhoon Haiyan was one of the biggest tropical storms in recorded history, with the strongest storm surge since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The Philippines has been devastated.  The last report I heard was that currently 2 million people are hungry, and it’s a race against time to provide aid before many of them die.

You can lend support by contributing to the Global Red Cross Response Effort.

As Haiyan made landfall, representatives of more than 190 countries were gathered in Warsaw to work on a new UN framework to address the global climate problem. Yeb Sano, head of the Philippines’ delegation, broke into tears in front of the representatives as he talked about the impact of the storm on his country and called for the world to accept “stark reality” of climate change.

It’s too early to say how climate change affected Typhoon Haiyan, or if it did at all. Climate change is a phenomena that resists preciseness. More powerful, more devastating storms appear to be one consequence of global warming, yet in the Atlantic this is one of the quietest hurricane seasons in 20 years, and storm activity is about average in the Pacific.

Doubters and deniers of climate change may want to use that to strengthen their hand but a new report from the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change leaked ahead of its official release date warns of potential disasters, calling Earth “a planet in peril.” According to the LA Times, the international panel of scientists say,

“Climate change will disrupt not only the natural world but also society, posing risks to the world’s economy and the food and water supply and contributing to violent conflict . . .

The report describes a planet in peril as a result of the human-caused buildup of greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution, where glaciers are shrinking and plants and animals have shifted their ranges in response to rising temperatures. As global warming continues through the 21st century, many species will face greater risk of extinction, marine life will shift toward the poles and seawater will grow more acidic . . .”

Global warning deniers claim that the scientific community is divided over the question of whether climate change is largely man-made or not. That’s not true. The scientific consensus is overwhelming in support of global warming.

The real question is what we, as individual inhabitants of the planet, everyday citizens, can do to help rectify the situation. One step is to educate ourselves about climate change and raise the consciousness of others. If we love this planet, then we must be an advocate for it. Raising the consciousness of those who are uninformed about the issue or want to dismiss climate change can be effective. Recently, we’ve seen how a change in attitude has powerfully affected issues such as marriage equality and medical marijuana.

And there’s more. The Vietnamese Zen teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, says

“We should speak more of spiritual pollution. When we sit together and listen to the sound of the [meditation] bell . . . we calm our body and mind. We produce a very powerful and peaceful energy that can penetrate in every one of us. So, conversely, the same thing is true with the collective energy of fear, anger and despair. We create an atmosphere and environment that is destructive to all of us. We don’t think enough about that, we only think about the physical environment.”*

In other words, we need to deal with the root causes for climate change, which is our lifestyles, our consumerism, our lack of respect for nature and all living things. Thich Nhat Hanh warns that “Without collective awakening the catastrophe will come.”

Because the world and its people are linked in a chain of causes and conditions, the awakening of one person contributes to the awakening of the planet. And we need to awaken now.

“We need to live as the Buddha taught us to live, in peace and harmony with nature, but this must start with ourselves. If we are going to save this planet we need to seek a new ecological order, to look at the life we lead and then work together for the benefit of all; unless we work together no solution can be found. By moving away from self-centeredness, sharing wealth more, being more responsible for ourselves, and agreeing to live more simply, we can help decrease much of the suffering in the world,”

from the Buddhist Statement on Ecology 1996.

– – – – – – – – – –

* Zen and the art of protecting the planet



Heart Sutra: The Heart Within The Heart

It hardly needs to be said that the Heart Sutra is one of the most popular and influential Mahayana sutras. And it is certainly the shortest of any text called a “sutra.” Kukai, the founder of Japanese Shingon, wrote “while brief it is essential and though concise it is profound.” Kukai maintained that the sutra encompassed all the Buddha’s teachings, or at least, all those in the Mahayana canon, a view shared by a more contemporary teacher, the Korean Jogye Seon master, Seung Sahn:

“The Heart Sutra has only two hundred seventy Chinese characters, yet it contains all of Mahayana Buddhism’s teaching. Inside this sutra is the essence of the Diamond Sutra, the Avatamsaka-sutra, and the Lotus Sutra. It contains the meaning of all the eighty-four thousand sutras.”

As I’ve observed previously, people have a tendency to focus on the sutra’s treatment of emptiness, often at the expense of the other themes, the Bodhisattva path, the practice of compassion, and Prajna-paramita or Transcendent Wisdom (the sutra is called the “Heart of Transcendent Wisdom”, after all).

The Heart Sutra is also an exposition on the Two Truths. To refresh our memory on this concept, let’s recall what Nagarjuna wrote in “Fundamental Verses of the Middle Way”:

“The teachings of the Buddha are based on two truths, the relative and the ultimate. Those who do not know the distinction between the two do not understand the profound meaning in the teachings of the Buddha.

The ultimate truth cannot be taught except in the context of the relative truth, and unless the ultimate truth is comprehended, liberation is not possible.”

Over-emphasizing the teaching of emptiness in the Heart Sutra is an example of misunderstanding the Two Truths. It’s seizing the ultimate while neglecting the relative, often a source of confusion.

Emptiness by itself is neither ultimate reality nor ultimate truth; rather it refers to the relative truth. This is what the sutra means by “Form does not differ from emptiness; emptiness does not differ from form,” telling us that emptiness is simply looking at phenomena from a different perspective – things do exist but in combination with causes and conditions. We know that emptiness itself is relative because it, too, is empty (sunyata-sunyata).

Through the series of negations (“Within emptiness there is no eye, ear, nose . . . no wisdom and no attainment with nothing to attain.”) the Heart Sutra denies all that Buddhism holds sacred. Ultimately, all Buddhist doctrine is relative, conventional truth, empty.

But then the sutra turns around and negates the negations, pointing to Transcendent Wisdom and the Bodhisattva Path: “Therefore, the Bodhisattvas rely on Prajna-Paramita . . . and awake to complete and perfect enlightenment.” Although all that is relative is empty, without the relative, the conventional, there is no path to the ultimate.

It is said that when Transcendent Wisdom is in harmony with emptiness-knowledge and compassion, there is suffering, but no sufferer; there remains no thinker, no thought: this is the state of non-duality, the bodhicitta (thought of awakening), and the luminous truth.

When the Heart Sutra refers to emptiness, it’s actually in a form of shorthand. What the sutra is saying “empty of self-being” (sunyata-svabhava), and this, Nagarjuna says, is the true nature of all phenomena. Without that which is empty, there is no emptiness.

Pretty heady stuff, or as Nagarjuna put it, “extremely profound and difficult to understand.” How does it relate to our daily lives? Frederick Streng says emptiness is ‘freedom.” In Emptiness, A Study in Religious Meaning, he wrote,

This is a freedom which applies to every moment of existence, not to special moments of mystical escape to another level of being, nor to the freedom attained by priestly activity at a sacred time and place . . . To know things as they actually are, frees the mind of presuppositions and the emotions from attachments. Thus this freedom is also a purification process; it removes such evils as hated, fear, greed, or nimiety . . .

In removing such hindrances there is no fear and no illusion, as the Heart Sutra states. The path is cleared and there is nothing to prevent us from engaging wholeheartedly in the practice of wisdom and compassion, the Heart Sutra’s ‘ultimate’ truth.

“The true heart is wisdom; wisdom is the true heart. Because prajna can be translated “true heart,” the two hundred fifty or so words of this sutra are the heart within the heart – the heart within the six hundred chapters of the prajna text of the Great Prajna Sutra”.

-Hsuan Hua, Ch’an Buddhist teacher



The untimely demise of my now old computer necessitated the purchase of a new one. Actually, the old PC didn’t die completely, only the screen. Either the conductors or the graphic board. The second time in a row this has happened to me, so I knew it would cheaper and better in the long run to get a new PC rather than try to repair poor Yorick, alas I knew him well.

Anyway, to make a boring story short, I got a good deal at my friendly neighborhood Best Buy. And now, I have graduated from Vista to Windows 8. Vista was a mixed bag at best. So far, Windows 8 seems like an improvement, but there is a learning curve.

Windows 8 has no Start button down in the left hand corner. The Start menu is completely different. Instead of a vertical list what you get is a horizontal array of colorful squares identifying various apps and features. You don’t boot up to your desktop anymore. You access the desktop from the new start menu that evidently is named Metro.

It’s a bit annoying at first, but I adjusted in short course, and where there are inconveniences (getting to the Control Panel and your Documents is a pain), there are also conveniences, so it’s about equal in that department.

However, there is something definitely wrong with the way Windows 8 displays graphics. They are distorted, elongated. Photos on the PC and just about everything on the Web is affected. Even desktop icons. For instance, the icon for Firefox is a globe and it should appear round, not oblong. I took the PC back to Best Buy. They thought I was crazy. I looked at other PCs and they’re all the same in Windows 8. Screen size or resolution doesn’t affect it. I know I am not crazy. I work with images all the time. I know how they are supposed to look, and I especially know how the images I create are supposed to look. Images, icons, apps, all look stretched, like cyber taffy that someone had yanked on from both ends. I do not find it aesthetically pleasing. Everyone and his brother has complained about the Start menu but apparently no one minds or has noticed this problem, as I haven’t seen any posts on the Web griping about it, and believe me, I’ve looked.

Cutting to the chase, I hated the way this blog looks in Windows 8 so much, I had to change it. The appearance was rather minimalist before, even more so now. I won’t be including too many of the beautiful photos I have taken, and since my version of Photoshop won’t run on Windows 8, you won’t be seeing any more of the mind-blowing graphics I used to create. Not that anyone ever seem to notice how absolutely incredible they were.

Well, enough whining and immodesty for now. If by chance anyone knows of a fix for this graphics problem, please leave a comment. If you have a gripe or a wonderful insight about Windows 8, that’s cool too.


The Lord of Stones

Our world is rich in symbols. Symbols are not natural. We create them to signify referents. A symbol can be simple or complex. It can be a word, a sound, a painting, a combination of musical notes. Many symbols, such as verbal language and mathematical symbols not only point to referents but also serve as a means of communication.

Spiritual or religious symbol are plentiful. There are literally hundreds of symbols used in traditional Buddhism, from mudras (hand gestures) to mandalas (graphic representations), enso (circle), the lotus flower, the Buddha’s footprints.

vajra5The vajra is a symbol that represents the indestructible quality of awakening. To the right you see a four-pronged or ‘crossed’ vajra. Originally, the vajra was the emblem for the lightning bolt and a weapon used by the Indian god of thunder, Indra, to slay his demon enemies. It is said that the Buddha took the vajra scepter from Indra and closed its open prongs, transforming it into a peaceful symbol.

Vajra is also associated with the diamond, which is precious, brilliant, and the hardest substance in nature. In Tibetan Buddhism, it’s called dorje, meaning ‘lord of stones’, embodying the fixed and unshakable nature of the awakened mind, the radiant and pure excellence of inner illumination.

the fuel between thirst
& becoming
brings heartburnings

the intense aspiration
brings the rain
of great mercy
extinguishing the fuel

mind becomes
a moon mandala
from one’s heart
a wisdom being emerges

the lord of stones
unborn no essence
& sweet w/in
the candescent light

om sunyata-jhana vajra-svabhava t’mako ham
om the diamond-nature which is emptiness-knowledge