Where gentle tides go rolling by

In this, the last post for 2014’s National Poetry Month, a tip of the hat to Richard Fariña, who died on this day in 1966, and his wife, Mimi Fariña (Joan Baez’s sister), born on this day in 1945. They were both important figures in the American Folk Music revival of the 1960’s.

Richard and Mimi were primarily songwriters. Richard did write “poetry,” some of which were collected in the posthumous collection Long Time Coming And A Long Time Gone. That is, as I recall. It’s been a long time gone since I had a copy of that book. Whether Mimi wrote poetry or not, I don’t know.

Now, I am making a distinction between poetry and songwriting that in my opinion is not always valid. I’m sure some within the poetry establishment, whatever that may be, probably look down their nose at the idea of songwriting as serious poetry, but that’s their problem. Poetry has always been lyrical, and whether it was the ancient Greeks or Chinese, or the Medieval and Renaissance poets of Europe and the Middle East, it has often been set to music.

The examples below demonstrate that both the Fariñas were gifted lyricists. Richard was also a novelist, author of Been Down So Long It’s Looks Like Up To Me, a companion piece of sorts to Kerouac’s On The Road.

Together they made some wonderful harmonies. Richard’s voice was clear and pleasing, and while Mimi’s voice lacked her sister’s power and range, it was sweet, and rather haunting I always thought. It’s a shame they are not better remembered today, for they were not only terrific folk singers, they were also among the first of the genre to move into rock.

First, a song Richard Fariña set to an old Irish ballad, “My Lagan Love.”  The song is also rather well known as the first tune ever recorded by the British folk group Fairport Convention.

The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood

Where gentle tides go rolling by
Along the salt-sea strand
The colors blend and roll as one
Together in the sand
And often do the winds entwine
To send their distant call
The quiet joys of brotherhood
When love is lord of all

Where oat and wheat together rise
Along the common ground
The mare and stallion light and dark
Have thunder in their sound
The rainbow sign, the blended flood
Still have my heart enthralled
The quiet joys of brotherhood
When love is lord of all

But men have come to plow the tides
The oat lies on the ground
I hear their fires in the field
They drive the stallion down
The roses bleed, both light and dark
The winds do seldom call
The running sands recall the time
When love was lord of all

Richard and Mimi’s recording:

The subject of these lyrics by Mimi Fariña is rather obvious:

In the Quiet Morning (For Janis Joplin)

In the quiet morning, there was much despair
And in the hours that followed, no one could repair
That poor girl, tossed by the tides of misfortune
Barely here to tell her tale, rolled in on a sea of disaster
Rolled out on a mainline rail

She once walked tight at my side, I’m sure she walked by you
Her striding steps could not deny, torment from a child who knew

That in the quiet morning, there would be despair
And in the hours that followed, no one could repair
That poor girl, she cried out her song so loud
It was heard the whole world round, a symphony of violence
The great southwest unbound

In the quiet morning, there was much despair
And in the hours that followed, no one could repair
That poor girl, tossed by the tides of misfortune
Barely here to tell her tale, rolled in on a sea of disaster
Rolled out on a mainline rail

The version recorded by Mimi’s sister, Joan Baez:

Something else for your musical pleasure, perhaps Richard and Mimi’s best known song:

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Sameness and Nonsameness

Taoism and Buddhism have had a long history of co-existence and interaction. Many of the early Buddhists in China were also Taoists, and Taoism exerted a profound and positive influence on Buddhism. One reason for this is that both Taoism and Buddhism share a non-dual view of reality.

Buddhism expresses this understanding as pratitya-samutpada or interdependence, and in Taoism it is harmony, represented by the concept of yin-yang. In non-duality, there is a quality of sameness to all things, and yet there is also a quality of difference.

The I Ching (“Book of Changes”) is one of the oldest books in the world. Its origins are thought to pre-date recorded history. Most people think of the I Ching as a way of divination, or fortune-telling, but it is really one of the great works of philosophy, and it was used by both Taoists and Buddhists. One such Buddhist was Chih-hsu Ou-i (1599-1655). He began as a Ch’an (Zen) monk, but when he was 31, he gave up Ch’an to devote himself to Pure Land practice as taught by the T’ien-t’ai school. He was also a prolific author, composing numerous commentaries, liturgies, and translations, including a commentary on the I Ching.

The 13th hexagram, Tong Ren (Sky above, Fire below) is translated by Alfred Huang as “Seeking Harmony”, while one of the translators of Wang Bi’s commentary has it as “Fellowship.” In the translation of Chih-hsu Ou-i’s commentary, it is presented as “Sameness with People”. Here is an excerpt from the latter:

Without difference, how could sameness be shown? Make sure the different do not lose their difference, so that sameness can rest in great sameness.

In Buddhist terms, just as sky and fire are similar yet dissimilar, dissimilar yet similar, the various states of being each have their families, each of which acts as one being with one mind.

One mind has all possible states of being inherent in it, and every state of being has every other state of being inherent in it, so there are countless differences in the points of interpenetration of these states of being, which are representative of our states of mind.

So all these states of being are ultimately based on just one mind. This is the final attainment of sameness without sameness, nonsameness with sameness.”

– – – – – – – – – –

Alfred Huang, The Complete I Ching, Inner Traditions International, 1998; Wang Bi, The Classic of Changes A New Translation of the I Ching, Trans. Richard John Lynn, Columbia University Press, 1994; Chih-hsu Ou-i, The Buddhist I Ching (Chou i ch’an chieh), Trans. Thomas Cleary, Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1987.

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Betraying Buddhism

In 1992, Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah (1929–2014), a social anthropologist, published Buddhism Betrayed?: Religion, Politics, and Violence in Sri Lanka, a book that traced the history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and asked the question “Given Buddhism’s presumed nonviolent philosophy how can committed Buddhist monks and laypersons in Sri Lanka today actively take part in the fierce political violence of the Sinhalese [Buddhist majority] against the Tamils [non-Buddhist minority]?”

monk-with-gunThat question is still relevant 22 years later despite that the civil war between the Sinhalese and Tamils technically ended in 2009.  Since then, we have seen the rise of the Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force) in Sri Lanka, and the 969 in Burma. Both are Buddhist extremist groups that promote racism and encourage violence against minorities.

Last month in Burma, 969 followers incited Buddhist mobs to attack offices and residences of international aid workers, prompting the evacuation of almost all non-essential staff and residents. A 13-year-old girl died when police fired into the air to disperse the crowds. The aid workers were targeted because of accusations they are favoring the minority Rohingya Muslim population.

Human Rights Watch in a new report says that Burmese security forces supported by Buddhist monks have “committed crimes against humanity” in a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

To be fair, it needs to be said that in Sri Lanka and Burma, all sides have committed violent acts, but the side I am concerned with here is the Buddhist side, for I am a Buddhist, and racism and violence enacted under the banner of Buddha-dharma is an abomination that should not be tolerated.

Make no mistake about it, these fundamentalists are abusing the dharma, justifying their actions with nonsense about how the presence of non-Buddhist ethnic groups in their countries is a threat to Buddhism, or perhaps we should say Theravada Buddhism.

But it is these Buddhist extremists who are the real threat. By promoting hate and inciting violent acts, they not only betray Buddhism, they also degrade it.

What puzzles me, and I’ve commented on this before, is the silence of the world Buddhist community. As far as I know, and I have followed the situation rather closely, only a handful of Buddhist leaders have commented on the conflicts, and those comments have been rather mild. The Buddhist blogosphere, also, save for two or three exceptions, has been silent.

Recently there has been discussion on a couple of Buddhist blogs about what this phenomenon should be called, whether terms like “Buddhist terror” or “Buddhist extremism” are justifiable, or whether something more “nuanced,” like “Ethnocentric Buddhism” would be more appropriate. This was started by a scholar, Dr. Paul Fuller, and I know academics must analyze and classify, but frankly, when considering the plight of the Rohingya Muslims, called by the UN “one of the most persecuted minorities in the world,” debating what label should be used to describe the Buddhist campaign against them seems rather trivial.  One thing is clear, what these intolerant monks are preaching cannot be called Buddhism.

I feel that if Buddhists who are a bit more enlightened were to engage the extremists in dialogue (the Buddha’s preferred method for conflict resolution), or if the Buddhist world united in one voice to basically tell these folks either to start acting like Buddhists or disrobe, there is a possibility they could be turned around, or if nothing else, made to think twice.  There is no central Buddhist authority to compel them to do anything, but world-wide Buddhist condemnation might have some effect.   At the very least, those of us who discuss Buddhism on blogs and other forms of social media could do much more to raise awareness about the situation.  To remain silent is, in my opinion, also a betrayal of Buddhism.

Aung San Suu Kyi dialoging with Muslims in 2012 (EPA)
Aung San Suu Kyi dialoging with Muslims in 2012 (EPA)

Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi has received her share of criticism for remaining largely silent about this situation. I have no doubt that as a Buddhist and a human being, she deplores these crimes. After all, she has stated many times that “democracy must include everyone.” She has also said that she can accomplish more by working quietly behind the scenes for reconciliation than by making public statements. This seems to me a wise strategy, considering that she is no longer a political dissent but an elected member of the Burmese Parliament and can dialogue not only with the persecutors and their victims, but also those who wield the real power.

Speaking of Suu Kyi, the other night I finally saw The Lady, the 2011 biopic about the Nobel Laureate. As I recall, the film received mostly negative reviews at the time of its release. Condensing a person’s life to a two-hour movie is always difficult, but I was satisfied and inspired by French Director Luc Besson’s effort.

Michelle Yeoh as "The Lady"
Michelle Yeoh as “The Lady”

Michelle Yeoh, who made her name as a star of Hong Kong action films, gave a strong, emotional performance. I thought she captured Suu Kyi perfectly, and from what I read afterward, she studied about 200 hours worth of audiovisual material on Suu Kyi and learned Burmese so that she could deliver Suu Kyi’s political speeches authentically.

One of the real-life characters in the film, U Win Tin, a writer and co-founder of the National League for Democracy Party with Aung San Suu Kyi, died Monday at the age of 84.

At the very end of The Lady, a quote from Aung San Suu Kyi appears on the screen:

Please use your liberty to promote ours.”

Ultimately, there is no “your,” only “ours.” The sufferings of the Rohingya Muslims and other minority groups are our sufferings. For those who think of themselves as Buddhists, the abuses of a small group of extremists committed in the name of Buddha, is our shame, and our business.

We, who live in more democratic societies where we enjoy the right of free speech, should use our speech to promote human rights and freedom for all.

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Baldwin’s Blues

An article about James Baldwin inspired this post. I was familiar with James Baldwin the novelist (Go Tell It on the Mountain) and essayist (Notes of a Native Son), but not James Baldwin the poet. LA Times book critic David L. Ulin tells us about Baldwin’s poetry in this in-depth piece titled “James Baldwin, poet? But of course.”

James-BaldwinBaldwin is unquestionably one of the major American writers of the last century. An African American, a bisexual, an expatriate, a civil rights activist, his writing represented the voices of those who American society then and now marginalizes, neglects, and often persecutes.

The occasion for Ulin’s article is the recent reprint by Beacon Press of Baldwin’s poetry collection Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems, originally published one year before his death in 1987.

For more about Baldwin’s life and writing, I recommend you read Ulin’s article linked above, or Baldwin’s Wikipedia entry.

For today, continuing the celebration of National Poetry Month, here are two excerpts from Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems.

Amen

No, I don’t feel death coming.
I feel death going:
having thrown up his hands,
for the moment.

I feel like I know him
better than I did.
Those arms held me,
for a while,
and, when we meet again,
there will be that secret knowledge
between us.

Conundrum (on my birthday) (for Rico)

Between holding on,
and letting go,
I wonder
how you know
the difference.

It must be
something like
the difference
between heaven and hell
but how, in advance,
can you tell?

If letting go
is saying no,
then what is holding on
saying?
Come.
Can anyone be held?
Can I—?
The impossible conundrum,
the c lo s ed c irc le,
why
does lightning strike this house
and not another?
Or, is it true
that love is blind
until challenged by the drawbridge
of the mind?

But, saying that,
one’s forced to see one’s definitions
as unreal.
We do not know enough about the mind,
or how the conundrum of the imagination
dictates, discovers,
or can dismember what we feel,
or what we find.

Perhaps
one must learn to trust
one’s terror:
the holding on
the letting go
is error:
the lightning has no choice,
the whirlwind has one voice.

Excerpted from Jimmy’s Blues & Other Poems by James Baldwin.  Copyright 2014.  Published  by Beacon Press.

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Ritual

Some folks are keen on creating a Buddhism without ritual. They equate ritual with religion, even though Buddhism as it has existed for thousands of years can be either a religion or not a religion, depending on one’s point of view. And that is what the whole question of ritual boils down to – point of view, or more precisely, how one understands ritual and its relevance to our journey.

There are some Buddhist rituals I am not overly fond of, and my method of dealing with these rites is simply not perform them if I can help it, and then move on. Sometimes, though, I’m at a temple or a dharma center, and I feel it is necessary to be respectful and follow the principle of “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” I’ve found that even when forced to engage in some ritual I don’t like, I somehow manage to survive.

We perform rituals every day. Just the act of getting up from bed in the morning is ritualistic. Most of us have our own routine for this. Getting dressed, going to the restroom, making coffee or tea or breakfast, we usually have a certain procedure that we rarely alter. Sex is a ritual, and you don’t hear too many people complaining about it.

There is actually very little in human society that isn’t ritual. Rituals serve to connect us to one another; they help strengthen community, link individuals with society. The great mythologist Joseph Campbell once suggested that when a society loses its capacity for ritual, it begins to disintegrate, and he said there is a constant need to invent new rituals to keep societies moving forward.

Even in those Buddhist groups striving to create dharma sans ritual, when they meet, they generally follow some set format. If they ring the bell to signify the time to begin meditation, that’s a ritual.

I’m not crazy about doing full-body prostrations, but I do like bowing. You know, the little half-bows with palms pressed together. To bow to another is not necessarily saying that person is superior to you. When two people bow to each other, it’s a sign of respective equality.

A teacher of mine once suggested that one could view bowing as a way to touch the spirit of Bodhisattva Fukyo (“The Bodhisattva Who Never Disparaged”) in the Lotus Sutra. One day, Fukyo went around and bowed to every person he met. As he bowed, he would say, “I deeply respect you.” People thought he was strange and a mob beat him, almost to death. Yet, as a result of his sincerity in performing this personal ritual, he extended his life span by two-hundred-ten-thousand-million billions of years and taught the Buddha-dharma to countless beings. Those who had slighted and condemned Bodhisattva Fukyo eventually became his followers.

It’s a myth, but it has a rather obvious point. Fukyo saw that all people have Buddha nature, that they inherently possess the nature to become a buddha. The practice he engaged in is called raihaigyo or “bowing in reverence.” Fukyo represents the true spirit of the bodhisattva, and his ritual is one we should all perform in daily life, the ritualpractice of treating others with respect.

Bowing to statues and objects may be a slightly different matter, but here is Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki’s take on that subject:

[When] you bow to Buddha you should have no idea of Buddha, you just become one with Buddha, you are already Buddha himself. When you become one with Buddha, one with everything that exists, you find the true meaning of being. When you forget all your dualistic ideas, everything becomes your teacher, and everything can be the object of worship.”

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