Alternative Nobels and Republics with a small r.

In Monday’s post I mentioned the wonderful Malala Yousafzai who last week became the youngest person (17) ever awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, but have you heard of the “Alternative Nobel”? This is also known as the Right Livelihood Award, established by a Swedish charity and presented annually in the Swedish Parliament.

On September 24, the 2014 awardees of the Right Livelihood Award were announced and they are NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger (The Guardian is a British national daily newspaper founded in 1821).

Snowden is being recognized for “courage and skill in revealing the unprecedented extent of state surveillance violating basic democratic processes and constitutional rights” and Rusbridger for his role in “building a global media organisation dedicated to responsible journalism in the public interest, undaunted by the challenges of exposing corporate and government malpractices.”

Earlier in September, the 1995 recipient of this award, Buddhist activist and social critic Sulak Sivaraksa spoke at the University of Wisconsin in commemoration of 9/11. The eighty-one year old delivered what was described as a “fiery lecture.” He cited the need to create new economic systems as a path to peace, and discussed the individualism of Western economic systems in contradistinction to the more collective Buddhist philosophy:

The capitalist myth of individual emancipation is not equal to the we. The community is made of the individual and the people around the person. Only through realizing the suffering of others can peace arrive . . .”

According to The Progressive, he also expressed his hope that young Americans will less hesitant to question the lifestyles of their elders than past generations:

Young people will save the world from the American empire and make it into an American republic with a small r.”

I must admit that I am not wild about first part of that sentence.  “Empire” sounds so evil, but I suppose someone needs to be saved from us, probably us most of all. That aside, I very much like the idea of a republic with a “small r.”

Sulak Sivaraksa likes small letters. So do I. Lower case is cool.* I have written about Sivaraksa several times. Included in those posts are his thoughts about Buddhism with a small b. He says,

Buddhism with a small “b” means concentrating on the message of the Buddha and paying less attention to myth, culture, and ceremony.

I think having a small “r” republic is much the same thing.  The question, however, is what is meant by message. Many people seem to think that Republic means patriotism, flag-waving, parade-holding, adopting a sort of us or them mentality, nationalism.  All that is message, all right, but it is usually of little real substance.  What I think Sivaraksa means is something less symbolic and more significant, more liberating.  In a republic with a small “r” patriotism is not as important as people and upholding the principle that the supreme power rests with the people and that all people in the republic are equal.

The people in Sivaraksa’s country of Thailand do not have much power at the present time.  It is a country going through a great deal of unrest. The current issue of National Geographic has an article from New York Times ‘ Asia correspondent Seth Mydans that explores the roots of the situation, “Thailand in Crisis.” Accompanying the article are photographs by James Nachtwey and I thought there was one in particular you might enjoy seeing:

13-robot-aide-buddhist-monk-670The caption reads, “Icons of different eras meet as Dinsow, a robotic home health aide, attends to a Buddhist monk. Not all changes sweeping Thailand are so benign.”

* Re: small letters – see this

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The Photographer of New York

One of the benefits of having a blog is that you can use it to introduce your readers to interesting people whom they might not have known about previously. Today it is Berenice Abbott, an American photographer best known for her black-and-white photography, born on July 17, 1898. She learned photography from Man Ray in Paris during the 1920s, returned to American to become the photographer of New York City according to some folks,and taught at the New School for Social Research for over 20 years. She died at the age of 93 in 1991.

Read more about this strong-willed, independent, pioneer of modern photography here, while this site claims to be the official Berenice Abbott archive.

Does not the very word ‘creative’ mean to build, to initiate, to give out, to act – rather than to be acted upon, to be subjective? Living photography is positive in its approach, it sings a song of life – not death.”

– Berenice Abbott

Whether it is a photograph or on film, I’m a sucker for black and white. For certain subjects, the stark images are more compelling, and without the color to distract, it is easier to concentrate on the image. Orson Welles once called B&W “the actor’s best friend” because he felt actors gave better performances in black and white, for it allowed more focus on the actor’s expressions as he or she emoted.

Today, several of Berenice Abbott’s most notable photos:

Penn Station, Interior, Manhattan - 1935
Penn Station, Interior, Manhattan – 1935
Brooklyn Bridge 1933
Brooklyn Bridge 1933
Children at a fair 1967
Children at a fair 1967
Jean Cocteau with a gun 1926
Jean Cocteau with a gun 1926
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It’s a Purple World

In Los Angeles, the Jacaranda trees are in bloom. The annual suffusion of the purple-blue flowers makes this my favorite time of the year. I posted the three photos here a few years ago, and I am re-posting them for the benefit of those who may not be familiar with these wonderful trees. You can find more Jacaranda photos at my photography website.

I’m not sure how many Jacaranda trees there are in Southern California, but I do know, for instance, that the city of Pasadena alone has over 3,500. Although there are 49 species of the tree. The Jacaranda mimosifolia or Blue Jacaranda in SoCal come from Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil and are a less blue than the native trees in those countries.

Jacarandas can reach 60 feet high.

The trees can make a real mess, but no one seems to mind. As soon as they bloom, the flowers begin to drop, covering the lawns, sidewalks, driveways and cars like lavender snow.

Like the sakura or cherry blossoms for the Japanese, the jacarandas to me represent the transient nature of life. They remind me of the phrase chen-k’ung miao-yu or “true emptiness, wondrous existence.”

“True emptiness” because all things are conditioned and transient, and thereby unreal, empty. “Wondrous existence” because life is beautiful, mysterious, and subtle.

According to the light of the profound realization of the silent void emerges the difference of great and small, followed by the consequences of good and evil, and the manifest appearance of phenomena with names and forms; so that the realms of desire, form, and formlessness in the ten directions are seen as clearly as a jewel held in the palm of an outstretched hand. Amidst this the dynamism of True Emptiness and Wondrous Existence permeates all things within the infinite universe.”

– Sot’aesan (1891-1943), founder of Won Buddhism

 More Jacaranda photos at davidriley.org

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Autumn Evening

The first evening of Autumn: beautiful twilight but I missed seeing the satellite flash across the southern sky. This view is Northwest, toward Malibu and the Pacific Ocean.

Surprised By Evening

There is unknown dust that is near us,
Waves breaking on shores just over the hill,
Trees full of birds that we have never seen,
Nets drawn down with dark fish.

The evening arrives; we look up and it is there,
It has come through the nets of the stars,
Through the tissues of the grasses,
Walking quietly over the asylums of the waters.

The day shall never end we think;
We have hair that seems born for the daylight;
But, at last, the quiet waters of the night will rise,
And our skin shall see far off, as it does under water.

Robert Bly

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“In every human heart, there is a Symphony of Nature”

A couple of weeks ago I went with a friend to The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in Pasadena. It’s a private nonprofit collections-based research and educational institution established in 1919 by Henry E. Huntington. He was a railroad magnate and among his many holdings and operations were the famous “Red Car” trolleys here in Los Angeles.

Since our interest that day was on the Botanical Gardens, we just breezed through the library at the end. The collection is rather eclectic. Apparently, it’s the only library in the world with the first two quartos of Hamlet. They also have the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, a Gutenberg Bible on vellum, the manuscript of Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, the first seven drafts of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, and the double-elephant folio edition of Audubon’s Birds of America. And then to show that they’re not snobbish when it comes to literature, there’s a collection of manuscripts and first editions of works by Charles Bukowski.

We didn’t see any of that stuff. We did check out Gainsborough’s Blue Boy, though. When Huntington purchased it for $700,00 in 1921, it became the second most expensive painting in the world. Number One was da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Neither are even in the Top Ten Today.

But we went The Huntington to stroll through the gardens and they’ve got more than a dozen of them, including the Desert Garden, with more cacti than you can shake a stick at; the Japanese Garden, with a Zen rock garden and a bevy of bonsai trees; a beautiful Rose Garden; and the Liu Fang Yuan or “Garden of Flowering Fragrance.”

It was a typical June Gloom day with grey skies overhead, but that didn’t stop me from taking beaucoup photos. Today, I’ll just share three. You can see the rest at my photo site here. The text is from “A Chinese Garden of Serenity” translated by Chao Tze-chiang.

In every human heart, there is a Symphony of Nature . . .

Natural scenery – such as the azure mists on the hills, the ripples on the water, the shadow of a cloud on a pond . . . all of which are existent and yet non-existent, half-real and half-unreal – is the most agreeable to the human heart and most inspiring to the human soul. Such vistas are the wonder of wonders in the universe.

When the wind blows through the scattered bamboos, they do not hold its sound after it has gone . . . So the mind of the superior man begins to work only when an events occurs; and it becomes a void again when the matter ends.

A drop of water has the tastes of the water of the seven seas; there is no need to experience all the ways of worldly life. The reflections of the moon on one thousand rivers are from the same moon: the mind must be full of light.


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