20 November 2017

Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life

A friend posted this on Facebook and it reminded me of studying this wonderful text.

The source of all the misery in the world
Lies in thinking of oneself;
The source of all the happiness in the world
Lies in thinking of others.  

​ ​

This is probably the most often quoted passage from Shantideva's "
Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life
," which is one of the truly key Mahayana (Indo-Tibetan) Buddhist classics. (8th Century). I was struck after reading this text that it is far more important than, say, Thomas a Kempis's "
Imitation of Christ
" as a practical guide to spiritual life and happiness, yet, when I was in high school, "Shantideva" wasn't even an entry in the Encyclopedia Brittanica. If you don't know of this wonderful text, give it a try. It stands up beautifully in translation and is one of the most accessible Buddhist scriptures (except for Chapter Nine, which deals with Emptiness, and which is pretty inscrutable to us Westerners, whose inner knowledge is usually pretty limited) (!).

I am not religious, but I am inspired by the purity and essential goodness and intelligence of Buddhist teachings. Not the supernatural, deities and guru yoga and all that, but the core teachings on how we make ourselves and others unhappy, what we can do about it, and how to live a life in the world that is ethical and spiritual, in the sense of being the best human beings we can be, by practicing the most essential, even cosmic, virtues: lovingkindness, compassion, taking joy in other's happiness, and equanimity (the so-called "Four Limitless Qualities.") To me, these are the real essence of Buddhism, and nowhere are they more beautifully expounded upon than in Shantideva's  classic text.

Legend has it that Shantideva was a scholar at the famous Nalanda University in what is now Bangladesh
in the 8th century.
​(You didn't really think universities were invented in the West, did you?) ​
He was thought of as a do-nothing and know-nothing by some of his fellow scholars, because all he did was meditate. They thought he must be rather dull. So, as a trick, they connived to have him be required to give a teaching on Dharma, thinking to embarrass him, since they assumed he knew nothing, as he rarely spoke. As part of the trick, they took away the ladder for the Throne, which was very high. When the date came, Shantideva (remember this is a legend) entered the Gompa (Meditation Hall). Seeing that there was no ladder, he sat in the Padmasana posture, levitated up to the throne, and began reciting this very text, which he delivered over many hours in its entirety. Those in attendance were humbled and blessed to receive such pure wisdom, and were quickly cured of their petty jealousies.

Makes a nice story. And it really is a wonderful spiritual guide.
​ And now it's available in a dozen different translations in English. ​


Musica lætitiæ comes medicina dolorum.

19 November 2017

Oregon Symphony, November 18, 2017

Beethoven: Symphony No. 2
John Adams: Absolute Jest
Paul Hindemith: Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber

The concert was quite interesting. Johannes Debus conducted. The Beethoven 2d symphony, which is quite charming, was very well played and came off with good effect. But the other music in the program was actually more interesting. John Adams's Absolute Jest, which is a sort of Metamorphosis of themes of Beethoven (especially from the late quartets) was excitingly played and multifaceted. I am not always a fan of Adams (though I tend to like him better than Glass and other American so called minimalists), but this work rewards attention. The use of a string quartet as a solo group, sometimes pitted against the orchestra, sometimes interwoven with it, each commenting on the other, is very well done and gives the work some meaty texture. The last piece, in some ways the model for the Adams piece, was the Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber, by Paul Hindemith (1940, written after he emigrated to America to escape the Nazis). I have heard this before, and found it rather conventional mid-century neoclassical fare, but this performance was so electric and sparkling that I heard the music in a whole new light. Hindemith is not a "popular" composer. He wasn't a serialist or doctrinarian, and some of his music is quite charming, but it doesn't yield its charms all that easily. This piece was originally supposed to be a ballet, and the choreographer really just wanted an orchestration of some dances by Weber (1786-1826), but that fell apart, because Hindemith had other ideas. These aren't arrangements; it's a unified work that uses its source material as a springboard. You have to pay attention, get in touch with the thinking behind it, let it seep in. This was a thoroughly rewarding experience overall, and let's face it, Classical symphony orchestra concerts in our postmodern era do not always rise to that level; frequently, workaday competence is all you get. Not this time... these musicians were engaged and thoughtful, as well as masterful, and the result was just great.

05 November 2017

Tulsi Gabbard on military intervention

I don't agree with everything Tulsi Gabbard has said or done, but these words bear repeating and should ring from the lips of every politician, in essence, every time they address this subject. (From recent New Yorker profile; she said them at a speech to a veterans group).

"Too often we have found, throughout our country's history, we have people in positions of power who make offhanded comments about sending a few thousand troops here, fifty thousand there, hundred thousand there, intervening militarily here, or starting a war there — without seeming to understand or appreciate the cost of war. If our troops are sent to fight a war, it must be the last option. Not the first."


Musica lætitiæ comes medicina dolorum.

03 November 2017

Read this much of Krugman today

 Even if you don't make a habit of reading Krugman, you should read this much from today's column:

"why should tax cuts even be on the table? We have budget deficits, not surpluses, and lots of unmet needs for future spending. U.S. taxes are low, not high, compared with other wealthy countries. Predictions that tax cuts will lead to rapid economic growth have been wrong time and again. And by large margins, voters want taxes on corporations and the wealthy to go up, not down.

"The ruling theory among Republicans seems to be that going into the midterm elections they need a "win" to offset their failure to repeal Obamacare. I guess this might be right, although it's a theory that reveals extraordinary contempt for voters, who are supposed to be impressed by the G.O.P.'s ability to ram through policies that only benefit a tiny elite.

"However the politics turn out, this is remarkably terrible policy, devised via a remarkably terrible process. Most Americans realize that Donald Trump is a very bad president; they need to realize that his party's congressional leadership is pretty awful, too."

01 November 2017

Not really all THAT complicated

If Clinton had been elected, and you read that Chelsea had accepted a meeting back in June of 2016 with a Russian lawyer with connections to Russian intelligence to discuss help with the Clinton campaign against Trump, and she'd accepted in her response with "I love it," actually held that meeting, with the Chairman of the campaign present; and then a few months later another staffer pleaded guilty to meeting with a Russian "professor" with ties to the Kremlin who promised "dirt" on Donald Trump, then lied to the FBI about it, do you seriously think there would be any question about whether or not Clinton should be impeached? Not to mention that, in this reverse world scenario, her campaign manager (who'd had to resign in disgrace), and his protege, would be indicted for money laundering after accepting millions and millions of dollars for influence peddling from pro-Russian Ukrainians and Russian oligarchs. 

This is exactly what has already happened with Trump, in the real world. There is clear evidence of collusion by the Trump campaign with a hostile foreign power, including the cooperation in the use of illegally hacked DNC emails, which are a "thing of value" under election laws. Very serious crimes, involving compromising our national interest in favor of the interests of a hostile foreign power, have been committed, and it is all but impossible to believe Trump himself didn't know about it, or that he hasn't been lying about it for months now. Impeachment is inevitable. It isn't really all that complicated. 

Nouveau Quatour

Here's a link to a phone video of part of our chamber music concert last week. Taken by Brad. The harpsichord is all but inaudible, unfortunately. 


Musica lætitiæ comes medicina dolorum.