Sunday, September 20, 2015

Beggars Make the World Go Round: The Invisible Pan-Hand(ler)

The fundamental premise of this blog is that begging has had a role in every society across time and space. Perhaps it is an organic by-product of human social order, whether democratic or totalitarian, capitalist or socialist.

Adam Smith, the wunderkind studied in microeconomics, knew very well about the significant role that the Beggar plays in society by his signature study of the "Invisible Hand".

Beggars are by nature invisible until they need to come into the public square to search for sustenance. All of a sudden, in a churning milieu alive with friction born of the heat of economic productivity, an empty "hand" intrudes into the usual rhythmic flow. Like a stone dropping into a body of water, the Beggar's presence may or may not send ripples or divert the flow, whether s/he is standing on a traffic island facing the stopped flow or on a subway platform singing operatic ditties well in tune with a boom box.

In a benign form, the Beggar has an air of lifelessness. We may not see her/him, or we do and then carry the burden of ignorance of something before our eyes. We know what s/he is doing: helping us to reconsider whether we have enough, just enough for one's lifestyle and what to do with the excess. If it's a perfect world, we find something of the latter and pass it on.

But this is not a perfect world, as we learn in macroeconomics. Once regulation sets in, there are distortions to what is otherwise a perfectly natural hunter-gatherer environment. To wit, the Houston Chronicle  provides a public service on how to obtain a Panhandler License.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Clinging With an Open Hand

Reading a report about the progress to health of the beloved Thich Nhat Hanh by Justin Whitaker (July 14, 2015), Thich Nhat Hanh comes to the USA for further treatment, funds sought to cover costs, there is an interesting discussion about clinging ... to life, to teacher ... something Buddhism disavows.  To wit: 

"When I have responded to such misgivings, it has usually been to note that all involved are still human, or to question the use of the term ‘clinging’ here. In Buddhist thought, motivation is key, and yet guessing about or supposing to know the motivations of others is a fool’s game. Perhaps those close to Thay are indeed clinging to him as much as devoted followers of any religious leader. Or perhaps they instead see his message that has reached so many people around the world and wish only to see that message continue in the strongest way possible, through his continuing to teach and write.

"My sense is that too many people have seized on the message of non-clinging (which is a good and central message within Buddhism) and tried to apply it here too forcefully. Like all teachings, it should be taken with some nuance. When driving on a windy mountain road, a good Buddhist clings firmly to the steering wheel.

"Perhaps Thay and his students see his journey as not quite finished and so hold on and work to see it through."

I am reminded of a conversation I once had with a Japanese Zen monk. I advanced my understanding of working / not working toward emptiness and was basically told that by working or not, my concept of emptiness was severe.

Back to the pillow. Opening the hand. 

And the other hand ...

Image: Geoff Livingston. CC Thanks


Saturday, July 11, 2015

Alwaleed Foundation's Leadership

Finally, someone get's it. 

On July 1, 2015, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Alsaudof Saudi Arabia announced he's giving away his entire $32 billion fortune to charity. Here's the announcement.

His gargantuan gift will go to his own nonprofit, Alwaleed Philanthropies, throughout the next several years. There, the dollars will bolster a handful of causes worldwide, like empowering women, eradicating diseases, assisting in disaster relief, ending poverty, increasing intercultural understanding, developing underserved communities. He says he has been inspired by Bill Gates' generosity.
 The foundation's grantmaking is in several areas: Developing Communities, Empowering Women and Youth, Providing Vital Disaster Relief ... and Bringing Cultures Together. As for the latter, it will

  • Involve a university with proven credentials as a center of learning.
  • Focus on research and outreach to promote interfaith and intercultural relations.
  • Promote understanding of Islam in the West and the understanding of the West in the Islamic world.
  • Demonstrate commitment to foster dialogue and discussions.
That kind of understanding will lay off even the most optimistic holy beggar.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Holy Beggar: Oustanding in His Field!

-->When I first met my HB comrade Monk Gigen Ono worked in computer business in Los Angeles, but he then decided to take monastic vows in the Soto Zen Buddhist lineage and return to Japan for training.

He came back a few years after rigorous training at Eiheiji, the headquarters of the lineage, to L.A., his head now shaved and demeanor somewhat more reserved.

We talked about his new life walking through small villages of rural Japan  engaging in the practice of takahatsu, begging. His work takes him him to the front doors of homes upon which would knock and then wait for someone to open. His clothing and dogu, utensils/props, made it perfectly clear to the residents that he was a Buddhist monk and more often than not, he reports, they welcome him in. His purpose was to offer to chant sutras, Buddhist scripture, at the butsudan, the family altar containing the mementos of recently and distantly deceased, for their benefit in the next life. This short ritual, taking about 10 minutes, earns him a few yen and much appreciation.

"What if no one answers the door, perhaps they are not home?" I asked.

"I chant outside the closed door anyway," he replied.

Our conversation occurred when I  had just come back from a job interview with the L.A. Philharmonic, seeking to join their development team ranks. Job hunting is so frustrating, as this blog notes early into its development. I asked him what he thought I could do to improve my chances, and he hummed "Daiku", the beginning of Beethoven's "Great" 9th. We both laughed.

A few years later, I saw Gigen - san again. He was still out on the takuhatsu trail providing folks with a way to stay in touch with the Buddhadharma. In the course of conversation, he asked me whether I thought he would be more sincere looking if he did not wear his tabi, split toe socks, when going out in the snow. Looking at this photograph (not my pal), it does not seem that the woman is looking at his bare feet. 

Even if no one opens the door ...

Remember the Holy Beggar Maxim:  
Don't Forget to
Ask for the Money ... anyhow!
Happy Solstice in the  
Year of the Green Wood Goat / Sheep / Ox*!   
*If I were he, I'd opt for sox made of wool from a sheep.