Without Falsehood: Divining the Election with I Ching

Most people think of the I Ching as a method of fortune telling.  It’s known as The Oracle.  I don’t believe in divination, fortune telling, soothsaying – but I’ve found that if you use the I Ching as a philosophical text, as a book of wisdom, instead of divinations you discover illustrations or models of different ways of life, signposts to different directions.

I Ching consists of 64 gua or hexagrams, each one a combination of six broken or unbroken lines.  The text is made up of commentaries by Confucius and others on the Judgments, or decision, and the image (symbol) formed by the lines.

For a lark, the other afternoon I thought I would divine the election.  Usually, when I “consult” I Ching all I do is simply pick up a translation and read whatever is on the page I opened.  Occasionally, I used to meditate on a thought and then throw the sticks or coins.  It’s rarely a formal question that I have in my mind, but for this exercise, the question was “Who will win the 2016 Presidential election and what will it mean for the future of the United States?”  I tossed 3 coins six times and the lines corresponded to this hexagram:

wu-wang2Wu WangWithout Falsehood

Above:  Heaven, the creative, active

Below:  Thunder, movement, perilousness

Alfred Huang translates Wu Wang as Without Falsehood and says that it “literally means untruthful.”  John Blofeld translates it as Integrity, Richard John Lynn (translating Wang Bi’s interpretation) as No Errancy, and John Cleary (in The Buddhist I Ching) as No Error.

Huang writes, “This gua displays the wisdom of holding to the truth – that is, no matter how situations change, truthfulness never changes.  The ancient Chinese did not have a personal God; they submitted to the will of Heaven and resigned themselves to their fate.  They believed that to live and act in harmony with the will of Heaven was the nature and duty of humanity.”

The way of Heaven means the way of nature, and ideally, to be in harmony with the way of nature.

Falsehood seems an apt hexagram for this election.  We are sure that all politicians lie and according to Politico, this year voters must choose between a presidential candidate who lies every three minutes and 15 seconds, or one who lies every 12 minutes.

Yet, Wu Wang represents more than truthfulness.  Another definition is “a person’s prestige.”

The Judgment:  Without Falsehood.  Sublimely prosperous and smooth.  Favorable to be steadfast and upright.  If one’s intention is not truthful, there is trouble.  Unfavorable to go anywhere.

The Image:  Under the sky, thunder rolls; from it all things are accompanied by truthfulness and receive their integrity.  The ancient rulers, in accordance with this, nurtured myriad beings.

Here is Chih-hsu Ou-I’s interpretation (The Buddhist I Ching):

Judgment:  Freedom from error is very successful, beneficial for the upright.  Denial of what is correct is mistaken, so it will not be beneficial to go anywhere.

Commentary:  In politics, a government that restores well-being accords with the way of heaven and if free from error.  In Buddhism, a teaching that restores the true way is the same as the orthodox teachings and is free from error.  In contemplating mind, on returning to original essence, truth is found and confusion is ended, so one is free from error.  All of these are very successful, and beneficial for the upright.

But whether in worldly affairs or transcendental affairs, helping oneself and helping others, it is necessary to look deep into oneself to be sure one’s mind is free from aberration and one’s words and deeds are not mistaken.  If inwardly one denies what is correct, outwardly one will make mistakes; then one should certainly not go anywhere or do anything in this way.

One way to look at it is from the conventional or relative view, which seems to me rather pessimistic, that no matter who is elected President, the country is going to be in trouble.  The notion that it is not beneficial to go anywhere would seem to indicate that the country is not going to move forward, there will be more gridlock and almost certainly, more division.  That is, as long as our leaders remain with falsehood and out of harmony with nature.

There is another aspect of this view to consider and it relates to Lincoln’s words that the American government is “of the people, by the people, for the people.”  If we want better politicians, we need to be better citizens.  Too many of us are kind of lazy especially when it comes to learning about the issues.

i_ching_coins2 “To look deep into oneself” is ultimately about truth as a personal experience.  This kind of truth does not necessarily have to do with conformity with facts.  Maybe we could call it self-truth, or integrity, becoming men and women of principle, cultivating an ethical way of life.  It is, to some extent, what we mean when we talk about finding our true nature or original essence.  It is not separate from the realm of truth, but intersects with all truth.

John Blofeld’s interpretation of the commentary on Wu Wang (Integrity):

Those who do what is right win great success . . . Those opposed to righteousness will suffer and have nowhere favorable to go; for, without integrity, what remains for them?

The I Ching is known in English as “The Book of Changes” and because we can change, those without integrity can chose to develop it, and those with integrity can discover how it is beneficial to find harmony with one’s own truth and be without falsehood.

Read more posts about the I Ching here.


Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail

It is a real shame that Hunter S. Thompson is not around anymore. He would have loved the 2016 Presidential campaign. It is weird enough even for him.

If you do not know who Hunter S. Thompson was, you can read his Wikipedia biography, although simply reading the opening paragraph of his novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas will give you a general idea of what he was about:

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive…” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?”

Hunter-S-ThompsonIn 1971, Rolling Stone magazine sent Thompson out to cover the 1972 Presidential campaign. The result was a series of articles that he collected in the book Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. Some critics have hailed it as a masterpiece of American journalism. When it was published in 1973, the New York Times review said “‘Fear and Loathing’ lets us understand why the men we elect to the Presidency may have needle tracks on their integrity.”

Nothing much has changed in 44 years. The needle marks are still there and some of the folks running this time are more terrifying than the bats swooping down on Thompson’s car.

Hunter S. Thompson practiced what he called “gonzo journalism.” He did not mince his words.  He did not strive for objectivity and he didn’t believe in ‘off the record.’  He was off the wall. I don’t have the book anymore but I did find some quotes at rollingstone.com, including this one:

fearandloathing-campaignSome of the scenes in this twisted saga will not make much sense to anybody except the people who were involved in them. Politics has its own language, which is often so complex that it borders on being a code, and the main trick in political journalism is learning how to translate – to make sense of the partisan bullshit that even your friends will lay on you – without crippling your access to the kind of information that allows you to keep functioning.”

I don’t know if politics really has a code, I think it is mostly bullshit. One piece of BS that I am really tired of hearing, and Ted Cruise is one of the worst offenders, is the idea that Obama has weakened the military. Total crap. The truth is that U.S. military spending is at a historic high and far above what Reagan spent.

I suppose there are political journalists with clean arms integrity-wise, but I don’t know who they are. In recent years, I have gotten my political news from CNN and MSNBC (once in a while for a good laugh, I will watch Fox), but these outlets are more about generating revenue than genuine reporting. And they contributed to the rise of Donald Tramp.

For months now whenever I turn on one of the channels, there he is, with that thing on his head and orange skin, saying something outrageous and disgusting. In America, and probably elsewhere, outrageous and disgusting sells advertising time. If the cable news networks had had any integrity, they would have ignored Tramp. This crude and immature con-man does not stand alone as being responsible for inciting violence and hatred. All he wants is attention and he will do anything to get it. If we had ignored him, he would have gone away. It’s too late now.

But you don’t care about my take on politics. I don’t care much for it myself. Too cynical. Plus, I have no insights or great political acumen. The only thing I know is that just twice in my life were there presidential candidates I truly supported; one was assassinated, and the other is currently the Governor of California, which at least is something.

When it comes to politics, I mostly know what I fear and loath . . . you know, politicians . . . So, I leave the final words to Dr. Thompson:

When the going gets weird, the weird turn professional.”

steadmanArtwork by long time Thompson collaborator, Ralph Steadman.



Principles for Leadership

Etre harcelee par la presse is a French expression that means “to be hounded by the press.” That’s what has been happening with me the past several weeks. The news media won’t leave me alone. They all want to know who I am endorsing in the 2016 Presidential election. To get them off my back, I have decided to reveal the candidate I will support:

No one.

I don’t think I have been so underwhelmed by a crowd of contenders before.

I would love to see a woman president, but to be honest, I have had enough of the Clintons to last a couple of lifetimes. And if you think Obama was one of modern history’s most polarizing presidents, just wait until Hilary wins . . . man, oh, man.

I agree with most of what Bernie Sanders has to say, but I can’t help but feel that anyone who identifies himself as a socialist has little hope of winning a general election in 2016. Besides, Bernie comes off as kind of grouchy and we have enough of that with the GOP (Grouchy Obstructionist Party).

Speaking of which, with the bag of mixed nuts the GOP is serving up this year, the grip on reality has never been looser.

In Chapter 66 of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu says, “If a sound person wishes to become the leader of the people, that person first displays humility before them.”

Lao Tzu’s work contains many other timeless principles for leadership. There are countless seminars and courses, and a multitude of books devoted to distilling lessons from the Tao Te Ching on this subject, as well as daily life. Fortune 500 corporations, including IBM, Mitsubishi, and Prudential, have long used the book as a management/leadership training text.  Our politicians should take a look at it.

I don’t recall where I ran across this but it’s a nice compilation Lao Tzu’s essential leadership teachings:

Lao Tzu’s Principles for Leadership

lao-tzu-2016bThe best leaders are those whose presence is barely known by others.

Leaders value their words highly and use them sparingly.

Because a leader has faith in others, then others have faith in his or her leadership.

When a leader’s work is done, others will say: we did it ourselves.

Govern a great nation as you would cook a small fish. Do not overdo it.

To lead people, walk beside them.

Love people and lead without cunning or manipulation.

The ancient leaders who followed the Tao did not give people elaborate strategies, but held to a simple practice. It is hard to lead while trying to be clever. Too much cleverness undermines the people’s harmony. Those who lead without such strategies bring benefit to all.

By being lower, rivers and seas are able to receive the homage and tribute of all the valley streams, thus they rule over them all.  Therefore, it is a wise leader, wishing to be above the people, who by his words puts himself below them, and, wishing to be before them, follows them.

Leaders go first by putting themselves last. It is from their selflessness that they are able to fulfill themselves.

It is good to empower people, so that no one is wasted.

The best leaders are effective because they do not try to seize power. They are effective because they are not conceited, proud or arrogant.

The wise keep their word and do not pressure others.


Wasted Days and Wasted Nights or Save America with a Sutra

This government shutdown and debt ceiling crisis is the most insane thing I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe that a minority of fanatical elected representatives have been able to wreak so much havoc, threatening to damage America’s credit, its reputation, send the economy back into a recession and imperil the global financial markets, simply in order to inflict a small wound in a President they don’t like.

The Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives

At this hour (12AM PDT on Wednesday) with less than 24 hours before the deadline, it seems that House Speaker John Boehner might finally do what he could have done anytime during the past two weeks and put something on the floor of the House that would get some bipartisan support. Or maybe not. It changes every few hours.

After 16 wasted days and wasted nights, make no mistake about it, we’re at DEFCON 2.

But say a bill is passed, we’ll just end up going through all this again in a couple of months. How we can guard against the further dissolution of our precious republic?

Buddhism has an answer: Get a copy of the Sutra of Golden Light (there’s a link below), and read it aloud, in public. This sutra is supposed to protect countries, and if recited in public, it can rescue any country from any disaster. It worked in 660 CE, when the Baekje Kingdom of Korea threatened the Tang Dynasty of China. The sutra was read aloud in a court ceremony and the Tang Dynasty was protected. If enough of us do the same thing now, who knows . . ?

It’s absurd, of course. However, there are times when I wish some of the fantastic stuff in Buddhism were real, and this is one of those times. If I actually thought reading the sutra in public might end the shutdown and keep the country from going into default, I’d be down on the boulevard with a copy in my hand first thing in the morning. It’d be the bodhisattva thing to do. People are suffering from the shutdown, and if we go into default the suffering will only spread.

The Golden Light or Suvarnaprabhasa-sutra (the full title is “Golden Light of the Most Victorious Kings Sutra”) is not that well known today, but once it was a popular and influential Mahayana text.

A handscroll from 8th Century Japan, enshrined in one of the state-sponsored "Temples for the Protection of the State by the Golden Light (of the) Four Heavenly Kings"
A handscroll from 8th Century Japan, enshrined in one of the state-sponsored “Temples for the Protection of the State by the Golden Light (of the) Four Heavenly Kings”

In Japan, Buddhists really seized upon its central theme, as the ability to establish peace and security in the land, bring rain, and so on, could  make or break a religion. As a result, many Japanese Buddhists held the Golden Light Sutra on a par with the Lotus and Heart Sutras.

The Golden Light Sutra was highly esteemed in Tibet, as well. Today, some Tibetan lamas encourage followers to recite the sutra to end Chinese oppression in their land.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche, head of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition, states,

This text is very precious; it brings peace and happiness and is very powerful to stop violence. It gives incredible protection to the country from violence etc. By hearing this text, one’s karma gets purified.

This text increases success and, especially for leaders like kings or presidents, brings success in guiding in virtue, the path to happiness . . . In whichever country this is taught, the whole country benefits. The king of that country doesn’t get attacked and disease is eliminated, everyone is happy and the country becomes harmonious; there are no quarrels. The king gives religious freedom and is always protected by the devas. It is especially good to be read in places where there is a lot of fighting. As well, there is prosperity and rains come at the right time.”

According to Chapter 12 of the sutra, there existed a royal treatise called “Instructions concerning Divine Kings.” This treatise spells out the benefits that will come to a political leader, a country, and its citizens who uphold justice and commit themselves to leading ethical lives. Conversely, wherever justice is not upheld and ethical living is not the norm,

there will be three things: famine, thunderbolt, and death (by plague). After that there will be no [salvation] or strength in fruit or crop . . . Beings in those territories will become without prowess. Beings will become disease ridden, oppressed by various illnesses . . .”

Bad stuff. And while in our modern age we take some of the things we find in the sutras with a lot of salt, they often contain a ring of truth, and have relevance.

Now, back to the current political matter: In the history of this country perhaps only the Congressional anti-communist witch-hunts of the late 40s and early 50s match the shamefulness of the present situation. I cannot find words strong enough to condemn men and women who would put their ideologies and positions of power ahead of their responsibilities as representatives of the American people. Let us hope that Speaker Boehner can show us he does have the strength of character to do the right thing today.

The Sutra of Golden Light says,

When a leader does not perform the duty for which leadership had been conferred, he demolishes his own realm as an elephant tramples a lotus pond.”

For the Huntington Archive’s complete translation of the sutra, click here.


Marathon Men

Definitely the best part of Sen. Ted Cruz’s marathon anti-Obamacare pitch on the floor of the Senate was his reading of Dr. Seuss’ classic children’s book, Green Eggs and Ham. If you recall Seuss story, Sam-I-Am insists that an unnamed character try green eggs and ham, a dish the character says, “I do not like.” In fact, he shouts, “Destroy that egg! Today! Today! Today I say! Without delay!” Sam-I-Am, being rather persistent, suggests that the character might like them, “Try them, try them, and you may! Try them and you may, I say.” Eventually, the character does try green eggs and ham, and whaddya know? He likes it.

“I have not tried it, and that’s a fact,
but still, I hate the Affordable Health Care Act.”

The irony here is almost too obvious. Republicans have not even tried Obamacare and yet they are sure they do not like it – they will not have it in the House, they will not have it with a mouse, they will not have it in a box or with a fox . . . I believe these latest shenanigans represent the 40th time Republicans have tried to destroy the Affordable Care Act, and with this attempt, they are willing to shut down the government to get their way. Try Obamacare, try it today, you may learn to like it, I say.

Enough of that nonsense. Today, I’d rather focus on a man who completed a vastly different kind of marathon.

It’s not exactly clear what he did during the war; most reports say he was kamikaze pilot, while others state he worked for Japan’s infamous Unit 731, a biological and chemical warfare program engaged in human experimentation and responsible some of the worst war crimes in history. After the war he ran a noodle shop that burnt down. His wife committed suicide. Depressed, utterly miserable, at age 40 he became a Buddhist priest. He wrote popular books, using simple language to explain not only the teachings of Buddhism but his own philosophy that action was superior to wisdom. He met Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in 1995 and explained Buddha-dharma to him.

His name was Yusai Sakai, and on September 23, he died at Imuro Fudodo Chojuin temple in Japan, age 87.

They called him “Superman.”

Yusai Sakai
Yusai Sakai

He was one of only three men to twice undertake the Kaihogyo (“practice of circling mountains”), an asceticism unique to the Tendai sect (the Japanese branch of the defunct T’ien-t’ai school founded by Chih-i). In this practice, the participants walk around Mount Hiei, home to Enryaku-ji, the temple that was once the center of Buddhist learning in Japan, and still home to Tendai today. It is a 1,000 day event stretched over the course of seven years, in which the participants run approximately 50 miles per day for 100 days. Only about 40 priests have actually completed the marathon since 1571.

The Kaihogyo is not just circumnavigating a mountain. It’s a pilgrimage that involves offering prayers at over 200 locations on the mountain. It is said that the practice is based on the chapter “The Bodhisattva Who Never Disparaged” in the Lotus Sutra. Bodhisattva Fukyo went around praising everyone he met and bowing to them, for which he was beaten to death. You can read my rendering of the story here, and an earlier post about the Kaihogyo here.

Sakai was 54 when he completed the marathon for the first time. His second completion was in 1987 at age 61. According to one article that offers a fascinating look at Sakai’s life, and the “Marathon Monks,” he was given the nickname “Superman” because “he once ran – further and harder than anyone in Japan, probably the world, perhaps even the history of the world. Sakai ran to within a breath of death, not just to visit mortality’s brink but to camp there a while. His austerities were so tortuous, it hurts even to recount them.”

Frankly, my idea of a marathon is an hour-long walk in a park. I can understand staying in shape; I can even appreciate training oneself to perfection. Punishing the body, on the other hand, strikes me as the sort of austerity that the Buddha rejected. But then, I’m not really qualified to judge. What’s important here is simply that Sakai was an remarkable individual. His life and his approach to the path to enlightenment was so very different from our own, but many paths lead to the same truth. Some of those paths encircle mountains . . .

Sakai spent his remaining years at the temple where he died of heart failure. He once said, “Leaves thrive when they are fresh green but fall when the time comes. But they are green again the next year. The sight of such workings has made me realize that life is not over when it is finished once but does go on and on. That’s probably the sort of wisdom that Buddha bestows on us.”