Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Wednesday's Mixed Colostomy Bag

You might be curious to know that my SWU students didn't know who Sheik Yassin was. I should have directed them to what is perhaps my favorite Allapundit Photoshopping job.

I'm not sure I should confess the following, but here we go...

The French have a saying: Le coeur a ses raisons que la Raison ne connaît point. The heart has its reasons, of which Reason knows nothing.*

Let me modify the above to apply to my current situation: La bite a ses raisons que la Raison ne connaît point.

The dick has its reasons, of which Reason knows nothing.

Last week, on the second day of classes, a girl walked into my class-- the kind who sets off all sorts of alarms in any culture, who activates dormant glands, arouses the id, clouts the superego over the head and dumps its unconscious form into a closet. The kind of girl who, in your more lucid moments, you know is all wrong for you. You can see right away that she's high-maintenance, has a complex social life, and can have her pick of the pool of available males. She'll suck you dry and leave your husk to bleach in the desert sun.

But the dick, awash in this Aphrodite's pheromones, has taken over-- and all it sees is someone to nail. It'll probably be another couple weeks before I get all the students' names down pat, so I don't know this girl's name. It doesn't matter; the dick has targeted her for spermination. The Police took the Lolita story and gave us "Don't Stand So Close to Me," which about sums up how I feel whenever this chica either looks at me or-- as she did today-- hangs around after the end of class to ask English questions. All the dick sees is huge brown eyes; slim, curvy hips; compact, athletic figure; amazing smile; long, lovely hair.

In case you're wondering: no, I'm not going to let this go anywhere. But I'm a man, this is a blog, and if I can write a couple column-inches explaining to you the absolute evil of my diarrhea, then I think I can give you a wee bit of insight into the twisted workings of the male (or at least one male's) consciousness. For further research in this area, I highly recommend this film, which is waaay the hell over the top, but does provide an interesting glimpse of the fucked-up world of maleness.

[*NB: The negative construction "ne...point" in French is a very strong form of the standard negation "ne...pas." In truth it's "ne...rien" that usually yields the translation "nothing" in English, but I don't see an elegant way around "ne...point" in translating the above proverb. I suppose I could translate it, "The heart has its reasons, which Reason knows NOT." But using all-caps or italics to translate "ne...point" strikes me as something of a cop-out.]

I'm too damn tired to offer you more this evening. Have a day.


Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Tuesday Worldfarts

A quick roundup of my mini-blogosphere:

The Maximum Leader invites you into his time machine.

Another interesting series of photos accompanies this post over at Higo Blog. Unfortunately, the final pic looks to be of Hagrid with a boner. Gee... thanks, Adam.

A moderate liberal take on the Clarke flap at Peking Duck.

Lots of good material at Winds of Change. First: where to assign blame for 9/11? Next: a fascinating (for religion students) article by Robin Burk re: Lord Carey, the ex-Archbishop of Canterbury, who made some rather critical remarks about Islam. I might want to deal with this issue more in my Friday post.

Guest blogger CVE of Anticipatory Retaliation has comments about the Condi Rice flap. His verdict: the coverup is always worse than the scandal. I'd have to agree. Didn't anyone learn from Arnold's grope-pology? Arnold got out there fast when he learned that some women were accusing him. He issued a public, generic, largely content-free apology that left key issues unresolved but performed the strategic work of getting him in office. The more this administration hems and haws over whether Rice should testify, the worse things look. Ditto for over-defensive reactions to perceived threats (I'll let liberals jump all over that statement). Whether we're talking about domestic PR or diplomatic capital on the international scene, these are the kinds of impressions that count. "Style over substance," you say? Of course-- and I agree with you. But that's part of what politics is all about. As the old wisdom goes: Washington is Hollywood for ugly people.

Very interesting Tacitus post on Christian self-perceptions in Jordan and Israel.

Annika has me rolling with this lovely Photoshopping of the new, thickening Britney Spears.

KBJ on reasonable thinking about the Iraq war and just-war theory.

John Moore offers a decidedly different take on the Condi Rice/Clarke issue.

Instapundit sees it differently from Moore.

And now: your Hominid update.

My senses of taste and smell haven't returned yet, but I'm no longer afflicted with chills, fever, nastily sore throat, and slight nausea. I no longer cough up huge, dark blobs of congealed mucus, nor do I find it hard to swallow. Was well enough to teach on Monday, even though I looked and sounded shittier than usual. Today was an improvement over yesterday, but my nose is still stuffed and my voice still sounds much deeper (and therefore sexier!) than normal. Unfortunately, most of the SWU campus seems to have caught my illness, so runny noses, fevers, and coughs are everywhere. I guess this is a good time for... phlegmatic endurance.

Haw haw.

Ah, your silence, your eye-rolling-- they reveal much. Yes, I see I've gotten you so thoroughly conditioned to intense scatological imagery that a simple Disneyfied pun is as ineffective as giving coffee to a crackhead.

So let me tell you about my extremely productive anus, which has been especially entertaining over the past few days.

Although today's glorious jet of diarrhea smacked the toilet water hard enough to produce a sound akin to a moist thud, first prize has to be awarded to yesterday evening's diarrhea, the horrifying results of which I had the good fortune to see-- and therefore to relate to you.

Diarrhea is nature's way of reminding us that, sometimes, There Are Unscheduled Launches. Luckily, I was master of my internals for most of the day, and didn't feel any particular urge to evacuate the plumbing even while at Min-sung's place. But once I got home, the situation changed dramatically, and one of my very first acts upon entering the domicile was to lumber/waddle to the bathroom, settle myself magisterially upon my Throne of Power, and let fly a ghastly torrent of Sauron-scale filth that would have produced a thousand Uruk-hai in the breeding dens of Saruman.

You'd think a man would outgrow the urge to stand up, turn around, and look at his ass's latest attempt at a Jackson Pollock repro. What I saw yesterday was truly amazing: the shotgun splatter pattern-- more violent than usual-- was a full, deep charcoal everywhere above the level of the toilet water, and the toilet water itself was obsidian-black. Even Yoda popped his head into the bathroom and declared, "This place is strong with the dark side of the Force. A domain of evil it is."

The blackness of the toilet water wasn't what struck me: the fact that the splatter pattern above the waterline was so dark-- that's what had me worshipping myself. Normally, the splatter pattern is too diluted to be more than chocolate-brown. The fact that utter blackness speckled and splotched the inside of my toilet bowl was a testament to the absolute purity of my asshole's evil.

Shitting is one of those skills for which the compliment "I knew you had it in you" was developed. It's a skill that, like the game Othello, is "a minute to learn, a lifetime to master." At this point, NO ONE IS RATED HIGH ENOUGH TO JUDGE THE LEVEL I'VE ATTAINED.



Monday, March 29, 2004

Man probed?

Greetings, Hairy Chasms readers. Here is an interesting news headline for you. Vermont Probes Man With 70 Goats in House. It's about time the man got probed. Surely the goats are looking at this as sweet revenge.

Carry on.

Monday Koreafarts

I'm back this evening from my lesson with Min-sung, my nutty 9-year old. It was our first lesson since before Christmas, and it was as though nothing had changed. Min-sung shares my scatological sense of humor, so much of the hour was spent saying "DUNG!" loudly. Min-sung's English is better than that of many of my SWU students; not only is he a natural at picking up the language, but he's also not afraid to make mistakes-- a virtue I didn't possess in the early years of my French language career.

My SWU students appear to be reshuffling themselves: my first and third hours have grown in number (one class went well over the maximum of 15 today), while my second and fourth have dwindled. Same faces, different places. One pretty student, someone I didn't know, caught me in the hallway and asked whether I was teaching a 2PM class; I had to tell her that I wasn't. It's nice to know that people still want to sign up for the course. Maybe my reputation is spreading thanks to the circulation of those digital pics.

Today's survey of Koreablogs must-- MUST-- begin with Kevin of IA, who gets his rant on and lets Korean society have it yet again for its immaturity. I thought that was an interesting strategy, showing the shameful parallel between the behavior of the Norkbot cheerleaders and the crybabies who infest the South Korean National Assembly.

The Marmot reports on something we've all been watching with morbid fascination: pro-remilitarization rumblings in Japan. In this case, the specific issue is preemptive strikes against-- you guessed it-- North Korea. I can't say I blame Japan for thinking this way. It's like the Infidel has warned repeatedly: pressure needs to be on South Korea to help solve this crisis. The Japanese hawks are only thinking the obvious: "If they won't solve the problem, we need to be ready to solve it ourselves."

The Vulture proudly displays a national treasure.

Mike of SEB gets a great snapshot of me at work.

If preemptive strike talk is pissing off North Korea, NK is planning to piss off Japan by issuing stamps that show the disputed island of Tokdo as a Korean territory. (via Oranckay)

Budae Chigae and Infidel on force realignment.

The Yangban has the goods on OOP (Yeollin Uri Dang, Our Open Party) and thinks that the upcoming election might not be an OOP cakewalk.

Owen Rathbone provides some meta-commentary about the upcoming election.

I think we Koreabloggers take turns with this. Today it's Kirk's turn to plot North Korea's mood swings. Kirk, are you ever going to put up that graphic I made for you?

Nelly, ho-ddeok, and komdo over at Andi's place.

Polymath is back in the States and dealing with a whole new pile of bureaucratic bullshit from-- where else?-- the DMV.

I learned something new:

Strip clubs are pretty much standard destinations for any Korean adult male visiting the U.S.

I obviously hang with all the wrong Koreans.

Goldbrick: grudging defender of the guilty!

Kathreb surveys the current state of East Asian politics. She also bemoans Australia's choice to vote "no," alongside the US, regarding the UN High Commission for Human Rights Special Resolution condemning Israel (surprise, surprise) for continued human rights violations, including the recent "tragic" (yep, that's what the resolution says) assassination of Sheik Yassin. Kathreb sees Australia's move as little more than politically motivated "arse-kissing" of the US. Maybe; maybe not. Whatever the Aussie motives for such a vote, I think the US stance is principled. Are there human rights violations being perpetrated by Israel? Undoubtedly. But why haven't we seen an equal number of UN condemnations of suicide attacks in Israeli buses, restaurants, and shops? I'm beginning to think that the crazies might be right: the UN does have an anti-Israel agenda.

The Party Pooper will live to poop another day as he, too, prepares to leap from Blog Shitty into Farts Unknown.

Somehow, in all the election-related hubbub, I think this got missed.


Sunday, March 28, 2004

COSMIC IMPORT, Episode 3: Interlude with Friendly Beasts

Sesame Street slash fiction!

The above was originally a birthday card design. I used to be the "official card-maker" at my old job in DC.

More hot, wet alien-human action next week. I'm sick as a dog this weekend.


Saturday, March 27, 2004

Saturday Swag from Osaka-Kansai International Airport

I'm blogging this from a terminal at KIX, dealing with a funky-ass keyboard, and spending money at a rate of 100 yen (about a dollar) per TEN MINUTES' USE. This reminds me of Europe. Come to think of it, the keyboard reminds me of Europe, where keyboards vary from country to country (any hope for a standardized EU? HA!). Since I'm here for a bit, and today is Saturday Swag, I thought I'd re-paste last Saturday's wares. Also, if you've got friends who're into cryptography, tell them to take a gander at the riddle sitting at the very bottom of my sidebar. No hints. See if you can discover the right decryption algorithm. For the hardcore, this should be easy beans. I'm even thinking about offering a monetary prize.

The folk understanding of karma is, "What goes around comes around." The Korean Buddhist expression for this is captured by the Sino-Korean phrase "In Gwa Eung Bo." The "in" comes from the word "weon-in," which means "cause." The "gwa" is from "gyeol-gwa," which is "result" or "effect." As a pair, "in-gwa" means "cause and effect." The next pair of syllables, "eung-bo," means something like "retribution."

Fart in an elevator and someone might just kick you in the balls.

In this case, I used Korean letters instead of Chinese characters.

Buy an In Gwa Eung Bo mug today!

Visit my CafePress store and shop around!

Buy my filthy, gross, disgusting book of poetry, cartoons, and short stories from Amazon!

Or visit my swag blog, Only the Chewiest Tumors, and order several copies of my book directly from me at a discount!

Bowls of warm bile await you.

Oh, by the way-- for you intellectual types-- I've whipped up what I think is a pretty mean brain-teaser. It's all the way at the bottom of my sidebar. Think you have the mental balls to figure it out? Go on and give it a try. I'm thinking I might want to give away a prize to the winner... what would be a good prize? Free blogging rights to my blog for three days? $50?? Some free Hominid swag (pick any 3 items)?? I'll have to mull this one over.

If you don't see anything you like at my stores, visit the Maximum Leader's CafePress store and take a gander at the fast-burgeoning designs of the very talented Digital Pixi!

Don't forget my previous mug designs:








Friday, March 26, 2004

quick housekeeping notes

UPDATE, 11:30PM: Just got back from my 8-10PM class, which is across town. I think we're going to have to save Rescherian orientational pluralism for next week.

1. I'm off to Japan for the weekend, starting Saturday. Blogging will be light to nonexistent.

2. The family minivan was declared totalled, and a check was cut and sent to the parents, who have used the money as a down payment on a spanking new Honda Odyssey minivan. Dad sends his thanks to all the folks who contributed, and it's my understanding that he'll be sending you a personal thank-you note (this is what I'm hearing from my brother David).

3. Later today (Friday), I'll probably deal a bit with Nicholas Rescher's orientational pluralism, which lies at the heart of S. Mark Heim's neo-pluralistic answer to John Hick.

4. I get the creepy feeling (cf. previous post) that, somewhere in cyberspace, an image of my face is being passed around a giggling circle of college women.

5. Like Allahpundit, Lorianne seems to feel a little funny in the pants. It was only a year or two ago that I learned the female equivalent of the expression "sportin' wood."

Sportin' hood.

That, friends, is deliciously pink and vivid.


Thursday, March 25, 2004

Buddhism/Zen Thursday

Yikes. The crunch is upon me. I just acquired another private tutoring gig (actually, it's my old gig with Min-sung, my 9-year-old: he didn't go to America as planned), which promises to fill up my evenings even more.

I'm nodding off as I type this, so apologies for the mistakes that slip through my periodically malfunctioning anti-errata radar. If I had the energy (not to mention the time), I'd put together a comprehensive response to Dr. Vallicella's reply. Then again, the more I think about our respective stated positions, the more I realize that neither of us (and neither of us is a Buddhist) has actually gone into any real depth about what the anatta (no-self) doctrine truly is, from the Pali Buddhist perspective.

One of the major questions is whether a notion like "relative permanence" makes any sense from the Pali Buddhist perspective. My contention is that it doesn't, but I haven't done enough research (and don't have the requisite facts at my mental fingertips) to make the argument properly. So I'm going to table this issue until I can do some meaningful research on it and do justice to the Pali Buddhist perspective.

One quick note: Dr. Vallicella seems to think I conflated Platonic formalism and Aristotelian formal cause. Having reread what I wrote, I don't think that's the case, because I very deliberately said "or," implying that I realized these were distinct.

A comprehensive response will be a long time in the making. I consider it a welcome research project and invite help from Buddhist readers, especially those versed in Theravada thought and metaphysics.

While U Wait, here's something to feed your scandal-hunger: today in class, I passed around my old Catholic University student ID for my SWU English conversation students to see (part of the lesson was about ID cards). Two girls in the back row of the 3PM class took out their cell phones, snapped close-up shots of my photo, proclaimed me/the photo "cute," then passed the ID along to the other students.

I turned the matter into a big joke, comparing the "cute" CUA ID with my very fat and thuggish-looking driver's license pic, but to be honest, while I was amused, I was also very disturbed by the picture-snapping. As I think this over, I'm not sure why I find the girls' actions disturbing. Since I post my own pic on my blog, and people can "steal" it at will and manipulate it however they want, it's not as though the girls gained access to something previously unavailable (i.e., my image), and I'm not worried about distorted or cruelly captioned pictures of me floating around online. I don't think the girls were being malicious at all (male vanity makes me wonder whether they're planning to show the pic around to friends-- "See? This is our cute English teacher!" --oooooh, you silly, silly girlies), but the incident still bothers me.

Maybe what bothers me is that the girls even thought to do something like that. This was the 3PM class, the last class of the day, and I'd gotten through all my other classes without anyone clicking a pic. Today's young folks are quick with their technology; I'm obviously going to have to announce a "no cell phone usage" rule in all my classes-- policy that's generally assumed at the college level (yes, even here in Korea).

I'm not comfortable with what happened. I should've demanded that they erase the pics, now that I think about it.

What would the Buddha do?


Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Anything Goes Wednesday 2: Mangled English, Jiggly Tatas, and Deadly Beauty

With thanks to John Eckard, who emailed this to me, I present:

Japlish?  Japanglish?

The astute reader will have noticed the sly reference to Harry Potter in the fourth line, and what appears to be a fart reference in the fifth line.

Someone WHO SHALL REMAIN NAMELESS sent the following tittie pic, which I've altered a wee bit by installing, uh, Dharma Eyes:

WEEEEEEEEE!!  Happy New Year's, Terrans!

The Maximum Leader sends me the following pic. I thought at first that he'd found a picture of Andi, but maybe it's someone Andi knows, or knows of:

That you, A?

The caption of the Yahoo snippet to which this photo is appended says:

South Korean traditional art of sword-fighting 'Haedong Gumdo' master Youn Ja-kyung holds a sword in Seoul February 23, 2004. Youn, a 26-year-old woman, has practiced the art since she was 13-years-old and became a master in 1995. Picture taken February 23, 2004. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Ick. Grammar gripe: "13 years old" doesn't need any hyphens.

I like the pic, though. Another example of the combination of eros and thanatos.

Off to do more lesson planning.


Anything Goes Wednesday

Back from my first day of teaching at Seoul Women's University. Surfacing from the deep well of estrogen into which I was plunged this morning and early afternoon, I give my verdict:

Oooooooh, yeah.

But it's just as I expected: the ladies in my classes are all undergrads, and while there may be plenty of hellcats among them, there are some ground rules of human conduct every moral man of 34 must obey:

1. You do not talk about Fight Club.

2. You DO NOT BANG YOUR STUDENTS, especially when they all look "barely legal."

Upon these two greatest commandments hang the Law and the Prophets.

While there were plenty of cuties in the classes, the cutest cutie was one I saw outside while walking home from my final class. I doubt she was staring at me because she found my gut sexy; more likely she was thinking to herself, "Yet another sweaty foreigner bringing the odor of phallocracy and kyriarchy to our abode of sapphic delights. I'd bite off his hairy orchids right here if I could get away with it." I got similar stares while in the Science Building's cafeteria to get a drink. Animal attraction or simply the urge to bite off the foreigner's balls?

In any case, the cutie's lingering stare caused subterranean stirrings. She looked like a grad student, too-- should've snagged her by the elbow and asked her to marry me.

Yes, this might be an interesting semester.

In other news-- I'm experiencing a mini Marmot-lanche and... Anus-lanche? My thanks to both Robert and KBJ for their links, undeserved though they be.

One of the cool things about Anything Goes Wednesday is that I can catch up on cool links I missed on Monday and Tuesday.

Andi's blog has a whole host of posts worth reading; here's a link to the entire blog. Just keep reading. She makes me wonder if she isn't writing a second book, piece by piece.

Rathbone Press has a must-read about "the China factor."

Pythi Master's fisking of Rumsfeld-- with footnotes-- deserves a thorough reading. Wooj made the right decision to wait for his wrath to cool down and coalesce into something more precise and deadly. Rumsfeldians? Your reply? Also of note is Wooj's link to Rumsfeld's meltdown on "Face the Nation," in which he had his own words quoted back to him re: the "imminent threat" issue. I suppose a defender of Rumsfeld could get nitpicky about the quotes, but watch Rumsfeld himself in that clip: he's clearly uncomfortable, and I was left cringing for him, despite being-- sorry, Wooj-- something of a Rummy fan.

I should explain my own Rummy fanitude. It's mainly because I agree with his military philosophy: slimmer, sleeker, better-coordinated armed forces, more oriented to surgical strikes and multifront conflict, with less emphasis on the ability to conduct huge, WW2-style campaigns. Aside from that, I like Rummy for the same reason others hate him: he's not very diplomatic. So yes, he comes off as an asshole; the only question at that point is your attitude toward assholes. And whether it's important for the assholes to be on your side.

Carpemundi sends me the following article (subscription to JP required), which looks at both Teh(e)ran's and Pyongyang's nuclear assholery. One great snatch from this article reads:

The nuclear weapons ambitions of both Pyongyang and Tehran beg the question: how do we reverse nonproliferation violators?

Enforcing treaties in the anarchical world of international politics is an old problem. But in the current era it is all the more important given the risk that nuclear materials can migrate into the hands of terrorists.

The solution calls for new international standards that would promise nonproliferation treaty violators sure and swift consequences. Embodied in a new nonproliferation action template, enforcement would begin within two weeks of an IAEA declaration of noncompliance. Sanctions against the violator would become progressively more intense and mount quickly:

Weeks 1 to 2, international calls for compliance "or else."
Week 3, suspension of international commerce.
Week 5, ban on international travel.
Week 7, naval and air blockades to enforce all prohibitions.
Week 9, military action.

The very next sentence had me rolling, though, because it's a good candidate for Understatement of the Year:

But there remains a practical problem: the enforcement mechanism.

The rest of that paragraph sounds just as British:

The Security Council would be the obvious candidate. It best represents the cross section of global interests. But as Iraq and North Korea cases demonstrate, the Council has the propensity to dither. Furthermore, the United Nations itself has no standing instrumentality for enforcement.

I love the 9-week calendar approach. But as Aesop asked, and it's the UN's question as well: "Who among us mice is going to put the bell on the sleeping cat?" To appreciate the actual situation, in which powerful UN member states are stymied by tiny North Korea, you have to imagine the mice are the size of Great Danes, but still afraid of the cat.

"Propensity to dither" indeed!


Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Tuesday Worldfarts

It's about 8:30-something in the evening as I type these opening lines for tonight's Worldfarts, and I still don't know what my teaching schedule is going to be like tomorrow. I received a call from the agency boss around 7:30 or so, promising that she'd call again before 10PM to confirm my schedule with me. This seems to indicate, at the very least, that I am indeed teaching tomorrow, which is a good thing, since we hominids have to earn money.

A quick housekeeping note before I inundate you with more bad haiku: you may have noticed some subtractions and additions to the Koreablogroll. First, a hearty welcome to the newcomers (none of whom is, in truth, a newcomer)-- I've blogrolled you because I should have blogrolled you a while back, or because I dropped you for some odd reason (lovely, lovely shrooms) and only just caught the oversight.

Next, while I'm at it, I should explain my blogrolling "policy," such as it is.

I want my blogroll to consist, first and foremost, of daily or almost-daily reads. You're not merely on the blogroll because I like your blog; you're on there because I actually read you. I do not engage in link-whoring, even though this would be great for marketing and Big Cheese status at Truth Laid Bear. If you're a link whore, don't take my attitude personally; it's not meant to be a judgement against your sluttish ways, you Queen of Sloppy Seconds.

Because my blogroll's gotten as long as it has, I've become more and more hesitant to stick names on there, and to be honest, I don't much like being asked for a mutual link these days (no offense to the folks who've asked, but I've probably blogrolled you, anyway, because you have good blogs, so kwi ch'o bi ch'ing asa horu!).

What it comes down to is this: I'm not a symmetrical linker. I link to people who don't link back to me (It Makes a Difference to the Sheep and Ryan's Lair, for example), and it's no big deal. People link to me, and I don't link back to them, and there, too, I hope the asymmetry is no big deal. My opinion of your blog shouldn't matter all that much, anyway: I get a bit more than 100 unique hits a day which, in the larger scheme of things, isn't very much. I'm small beans. If I haven't linked to you, who gives a shit? And lastly, because there are so many damn good blogs out there, the lack of a link isn't an indictment of your blog: you may be among the Damn Good.

End sermon. And now: Worldfart haiku.

Chinese government
like a man who coughs mid-shit
clamps anus on blogs

Thai pork for breakfast
secret ingredient was
Garlicky richness

[NB: the above is an example of "found poetry," a term I recently learned. It refers to crafting a poem out of phrases you find in other texts. A great example of "intertextuality." You PoMo folks getting stiff nipples yet? I knew you would. Let me throw some more PoMo terms at you: how about dissemination? or différance? or aporia? or semiurgy? or simulacra? Are your nipples about to vibrate right off your chesticles? Let's cool you down, then: how about the term that scares all Derridean postmodernists away: TRANSCENDENTAL SIGNIFIED??]

I have no courage
Hello Kitty ate my balls
so I won't do THIS

Adam on Taiwan:
Chinese prick-waving's a joke
and Conrad agrees

also at Conrad's
pictures of a sexy chick
no surprises here

Dan Darling on Clarke
things aren't always as they seem
"...ain't that interesting."

Naked Villainy!
No, I'm not joking.

[NB: The individual permalinks to various NV posts might not be working, so I've provided a link to the blog itself. Start with "Just a Few Brief Comments to the Foreign Minister" and scroll upwards.]

religious studies
run by Nazi stooges! Ach!
ist das Wissenschaft?

sadly, Tacitus
shaves with Occam's Razor, but
damn, it just won't cut

level-headed views
was Iraq a distraction?
go see Macallan

ah, a language rant!
yes, for once I must agree
with Burgess-Jackson!

[NB: I used to be a holy terror in the online writer's forums because I'm a language Nazi myself. I haven't done a language rant on this blog yet, and I've wondered why. Then it dawned on me: blogging isn't the same thing as participating in an online writer's forum. It always amused me when writers, stung by my rants (which were never aimed at specific people, but always at specific faux pas), would shoot back with lame and petulant replies about how they were writing for entertainment, not to be absolutely perfect. I think they were deliberately misunderstanding my position: in a writer's forum, which is about writing, people should be doing their damnedest to write well. People who suck should be ready to hear some corrections, and even we language Nazis need to be ready to take our own medicine when we make mistakes. No one's immune, after all, but there are meaningful differences between writers who tool along heedlessly and those who take the time to produce disciplined work.

For myself, I'll go over a post even after it's been stuck on the blog, and will correct mistakes as I find them, and I find them daily. I consider my blogs to be drafts; I imagine that everything I slap up here is potential material for a book or magazine article. Does it take some nerve to think that way? Yes, I suppose it does, but I also think it helps the writing. If you see a post I've just slapped up, then come back to it twenty or thirty minutes later, you might notice some slight changes-- corrected typos, patched-up locutions, etc. The process never stops, and maybe that's a sign of neurotic perfectionism. But self-expression is something I want to do well, and while some people may feel it's better to concentrate on product rather than process, I don't think those things are separable in good writing.

But going back to the language Nazi thing. I agree with Buddhist process ontology, in which you don't find foundations, and you see phenomena as dynamic. English isn't a reality written in cosmic stone. So when Keith Burgess-Jackson declares, qua fellow language Nazi, that the plural of "dwarf" is "dwarfs" and not "dwarves," I take this with a grain of salt. Or when he says that "forte" must be pronounced "fort" and not "for-tay," as many of us say, I just roll my eyes.

Languages change. Very often, this happens because a bunch of people start making the same "mistake," and the mistake propagates until it reaches some sort of threshold, beyond which the mistake becomes "common usage." Ultimately, I'm not a die-hard language Nazi: it seems silly to side with linguistic liberals or conservatives in an absolutistic manner. Conservatives have a point when they contend that some "standard" form of the language is necessary for us to understand each other and express ourselves clearly. Liberals have a point when they say that treating a grammar book as a set of absolute rules is absurd. Grammar books, dictionaries, and other language references function simultaneously as authorities and as reflections of the current state of the language. If you think this isn't true, then you have to explain why the Webster's Dictionary of the early 1900s looks so different from Webster's Third New International Dictionary.

Consider some examples of sins that grate on my ear but are bound to take over the language:

1. I feel badly that...

From the orthodox point of view, the verb "feel" is functioning as a copula (linking verb), so what comes next should be a predicate adjective, NOT an adverb modifying "feel"! I bash my head against the wall whenever I see this, but so many people engage in this sin that it's little use ranting about it.

The verb "to be" isn't the only verb that can function as a copula. Consider the difference between these two sentences:

a. The plant grew tall. ("tall" modifies "plant"-- the verb "grew" is a copula here; the plant doesn't "grow in a tall manner"-- that's just idiotic)
b. The plant grew fast. ("fast" modifies "grew"-- the verb "grew" is NOT a copula here)

And you need to be careful with "to be":

a. He is good.
b. He is well.

BEWARE!! In both cases, the verb functions as a copula. "Well" in (b) IS NOT AN ADVERB-- it's an adjective describing one's state of health!

"To feel bad" for someone is to feel pity, sorrow, etc. for that person. "To feel badly" would refer, technically, to a dysfunction in one's ability to feel (in a tactile or emotional sense), but "feeling badly" is an awkward way to describe that condition. "Nerve damage" or "post-traumatic stress disorder" might be a little better.

(Jesus, I shouldn't have started this rant-- I could go on for hours.)

Another example that grates on me:

2. Between you and I...

If only I had a gun...

What sucks immense donkey dick about the above is that the problem is so fucking easy to correct. After a preposition, you have the object of the preposition. That means your pronoun, if you're using a pronoun, needs to be in the objective case. Not he-- him. Not she-- her. Not I-- MEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.

He gave it to me. ("me" is the object of the preposition "to")
I placed the gun between her and him. ("her" and "him" are the objects of "between")
This is between you and me. ("you" and "me" = objects of "between")


One rule I routinely ignore isn't really a rule anymore, but people insist on perpetuating this myth: "You can't end a sentence with a preposition." This has been bullshit for many years, mainly thanks to "petrified expressions"-- i.e., expressions whose word order you can't change. For instance, the classic violation:

That is not something up with which I will put!

No one, except someone fixated on the "rule" about prepositions, would ever make a sentence like the above. "Put up with" is a petrified expression. Check a modern resource on this point, not a reference from the 1960s.

I'm also an enemy of cutesy Internet locutions:

"yanno" instead of "you know"
"butt-nekkid" instead of the original "buck naked"
"nevermind" instead of "never mind"
"underway" instead of "under way"

And as KBJ's post points out, there is indeed a difference between "everyday" (an adjective) and "every day" (a phrase functioning as an adverb of time/frequency).

I fuck sheep every day.
(adverb of time/frequency modifying "fuck")

What? You've never done that? Why, that's a pretty everyday thing for me. Try it.
(adjective modifying "thing")

Yes, I could go on for hours and hours and hours... KBJ's post opened the floodgates.

One last gripe:

The whole "punctuation and end-quote" thing bothers me, because people don't seem to remember which country they're in.

In British English, your end-quote goes INSIDE; the period goes OUTSIDE.

He said, 'Let's fuck a sheep until it explodes'.

In America:

He said, "Let's fuck a sheep until it explodes."

I wish to hell that someone would teach this to Steven Den Beste, one of the most notorious violators of the above rule, but Den Beste has already warned people not to correct his English, so I guess we'll just have to shoot him.

Wow, that felt good: my very first language rant on this blog. It makes me look even more sanctimonious than usual, I'm sure, but if you resent the rant and don't plan on changing your ways, well... bend over, butt-puppy. I've got a rifle that fires dildos.

By the way, if you're going to be even more orthodox than I am and hope to catch me on a grammar/style/usage point, you'd better cite a source for your correction. KBJ's rants re: "dwarfs" and the pronunciation of "forte" aren't supported by the dictionary. I ignore those rants, even though I wholeheartedly agree with him about other things.]

Glenn at "Hi. I'm Black!"
also has a language rant
cornROWS, not cornROLLS!

Allahu Akbar!
Paradise gets a new guest
heavenly pussy

TEACHING SCHEDULE UPDATE: It's almost 11PM now, as I finish this post up. I got a call at 10:10 this evening, just as I was typing the beginning of the language rant, and now I know that I have at least one class from 11:00 to 11:50. Hooray! Apparently, I find out the rest of my schedule just before 11AM tomorrow, as I'm supposed to meet my boss. This doesn't exactly help lesson planning and curriculum design, but lucky for me, I'm the type to over-prepare for lessons. Between you and I, there won't be any problems tomorrow, so don't feel badly for me.

It occurs to me that another myth to explode is the "don't begin a sentence with a conjunction" myth. The only time it's important to follow that rule is in academe. Even there, it's not an absolute. And you know this.

[LANGUAGE RANT UPDATE: For those keeping count, an hour has passed and I've caught about five or six mistakes in this post, some of them pretty damn embarrassing, and many of them were hiding in plain sight inside the language rant itself! So if you were planning on hurling a "Fuck off, Mr. Perfect!" my way, you can take comfort in my imperfection. Besides, I never implied I was perfect-- just more conscientious (and perhaps more linguistically neurotic) than the average hominid.]


Monday, March 22, 2004

Monday Koreafarts

If you glanced at the weekly schedule on the sidebar, you saw a slight revision: the Monday Koreablogger roundup has been replaced by Koreafarts. Part of this is a concession to upcoming time constraints: there's simply no way I'll be able to take the time to do a proper Koreablogger roundup after this coming Wednesday, so instead of committing myself to something I won't be able to fulfill, I'm going to devote Mondays to anything Korea-related, which may or may not include Koreabloggers. I hate to diss the folks on the blogroll; I'd like to think I'm loyal to them, but here as elsewhere, the rude penis of practical reality has crawled drunkenly inside the startled vagina of idealism, so I'd rather permit myself the luxury, à la the Maximum Leader, of shorter posts when necessary.

Today I visited Seoul National University to meet with Dr. Park Yoon-soo, the man who gave the keynote speech at that Korean Christmas Party I emceed in northern Virginia this past December. It's been years since I ventured onto Seoul-Dae's campus; I'd forgotten how big it was. It's a good thing I grabbed a taxi from Seoul-Dae Ipgu Station; I would've been pretty damn late otherwise.

Dr. Park, a man in his 70s, is in the grumbling phase of his new job as distinguished guest lecturer on electrical engineering and semiconductor technology. He's been in America the past few decades, and is shocked and appalled by the byzantine nature of Korean bureaucracy. "Forms to fill out and sign, always more forms!" he groused. "I thought I gave them everything they needed before I moved here, and now there are more forms!" Any expat who's had to deal with the Korean Immigration Office knows exactly how Dr. Park feels. Bureaucratic bullshit isn't unique to Korea (Exhibit A: Northern Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles), but the bullshit here is, on average, deeper and more fetid.

"Nothing I requested for my office has arrived yet!" Dr. Park said, shaking his head and chuckling cynically. His office was bare. An American laptop sat on one table; a Korean computer and printer sat on another. There was an empty bookshelf by the table with the laptop. There was a very nice-looking clock on the wall. A whiteboard hung off another wall. Two pegs, for hanging clothes, jutted out of a third. The paint was a lusterless white. The view out the window gave onto the enormous wall of another building across the way. What a soul-deadening space.

At least Dr. Park's teaching load is fairly light-- two 75-minute classes per week. His speaking and writing obligations, however, are heavier: he's expected to write short articles a few times per week and to give special lectures at various universities in South Korea, which means he'll be travelling a bit. In fact, he's off to Chejudo (poor, poor man) this Friday for a lecture. Maybe he'll lay out a Grand Unified Theory about Rocks, Wind, and Women, Chejudo's three treasures.

We ate lunch at a nearby cafeteria-- my first-ever meal of bibim-bap with brown dwaen-jang sauce instead of red gochu-jang. At our table were three other Korean profs who'd taught for long periods in the States. One gentleman, a Dr. Kim, shook my hand and spoke in perfect, unaccented English-- a skill I'd like to attain in Korean someday, though I doubt I will. Dr. Kim, it turns out, spent many years teaching at Lehigh University, where my buddy Steve got his Ph.D.

[NB: Talk about six degrees of separation: I've mentioned this before, but it never ceases to freak me out. Jonathan Frakes, the actor who played Commander Riker on "Star Trek: The Next Generation," is the son of Dr. Jonathan Frakes, who was one Steve's profs during his grad program at Lehigh. Dr. Frakes retired not long ago; I saw him once on Lehigh's gorgeous campus, and yes, he looks like a much older (and more cheerful) version of Commander Riker. This puts me-- what-- two or three degrees of separation away from the massive Star Trek franchise, five degrees of separation from William Shatner, and six degrees of separation from Leonard Nimoy.

I can tell you're not impressed. Eat me.

Actually, I'm only two degrees of separation away from Nimoy: the Air Marshal, one of my closest friends, saw Nimoy give a talk at Virginia Tech years ago. Isn't that right?]

My meeting with Dr. Park was about getting a job at Dongguk University. He told me he'd do what he could to help, but no firm promises. I'm not really expecting much; poor Dr. Park is still dealing with the shock of Seoul-dae's dingleberry-flavored bureaucracy, and I don't think he's going to have much time to focus on my paltry hobbit-scale needs. Watching Dr. Park, who was so self-assured when I met him in the States last December, look and feel so helpless in what used to be his own culture made me pity him. His situation brought home the fact that professors here, despite their age and prestige, don't always get the red-carpet treatment, no matter what the Confucian ideal is supposed to be.

Let's hit a few bloggers, shall we? And let's try something different, both today and tomorrow: let's do this as a series of haikus.

bloggers "chafe his scrote"
Stavros has no patience for
incestuous links

Kathreb likes her pic
I admit I drool over
women with steel tits

Wooj gets pissed off
thinks Rumsfeld's a fucking prick
I'll let you decide.

topic smorgasbord
Andi rounds up all the news
how was Chiri-san?

our minds are wiped clean--
void of any history
fuck, we're stupid sheep

Al Qaeda's pissed off
claiming they have "briefcase nukes"
they can chew my balls

Chigae in da house
serving up a link buffet
thanks for the shout-out

Infidel at war
also examines China
not just once, but twice!

Oranckay on Noh
ponders Thatcher's underwear
--who's the REAL byun-t'ae?

living skeletons
starving, stultified, oppressed
response? WORK HARDER!

Fuck the Japanese!
That is what Koreans think
and say in cartoons


Sunday, March 21, 2004

SUNDAY COMIC? Maybe not.

Sorry, but I don't think there's going to be a Sunday comic this week. Bad form, I know, but it can't be helped.

You have to be in a wicked mood to draw comics like mine, but I saw "T'aegeukgi Huinalli-myeo" yesterday, and just can't seem to cheer myself out of The Pit of Despair. While I didn't exit the theater a blubbering mess (my buddy's wife had to borrow my Kleenex-- she was a mess, and even my buddy was a bit misty-eyed), I did leave with a very tight throat. We three stepped out of the cinema, piled into the car, started driving-- and no one said a thing for about 20 minutes. When the silence finally broke, we found we had very little to say.

Cinematically speaking, the movie borrows the visual tricks and storytelling tropes you've seen in American war films like "Saving Private Ryan" and "Platoon." "T'aegeukgi" is a morality play that centers on two brothers. It's arguably more complex than "Platoon," in which Charlie Sheen is faced with a fairly straightforward moral dilemma personified by his two spiritual fathers, Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe as the good guy) and Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berrenger as the bad guy).

The symbolism in "T'aegeukgi" (and I have to give Korean filmmakers credit for their talent in making symbol-rich films) often reminded me of the yin-yang symbol at the heart of the South Korean flag. That symbol, the t'aegeuk, or Great Ultimate, shows a cosmos in process, one in which yin and yang intertwine with and imply each other. You see this cosmic tumble in the interaction between the two brothers: the elder brother, already bitter, seeks glory (and perhaps death) in combat. He'd send his younger brother off the battlefield if he could, because despite his gruffness, he loves his younger brother deeply. The younger brother, a gentler and more compassionate soul, simply wants to survive the war and desperately begs his older brother to stop risking his life. This conflict is fairly clear-cut in the first half of the film, but becomes murky and confused-- like war itself-- in the second half.

For me, as the eldest of three brothers, the film was hard to watch because I could put myself in the place of the movie's elder brother. Though I never express this to my younger brothers, I feel very protective of them, and like the older brother in the film, I'd want to send my younger brothers out of harm's way. Sorry if I'm revealing too much, but the elder brother dies to give his younger brother the chance to survive, and I was left hoping that I could be so noble. If anything ever happened to my brothers, I'm not sure what I'd do, though I know I'd feel responsible.

"T'aegeukgi" did a great job of depicting the Korea of half a century ago. It fleshed out, in my mind, many of the stories my mother told me about her own horrifying experience in that war, in which she lost two brothers, and which is still the source of nightmares for her. Mom can't watch "Taegeukgi"; I'd never recommend it to her (though I'm recommending it to Dad).

I suppose what makes this viewing experience different from watching "Saving Private Ryan" or "Platoon" is that World War II and the Vietnam War are over. Here, barely 30 or so miles from where I sit, there's still a DMZ, and technically, there's still a war going on. This isn't over for the Korean people.

Strangely enough, "T'aegeukgi" seems to support my position on Korean brotherhood. Yes, North and South were one people. There's no denying the long and deep historical ties between them. As the movie shows when the older brother loses faith (he thinks the younger brother is dead) and switches sides to fight for the North Koreans, it's possible for those ties to be severed. But if this symbolism is political, then it's also optimistic: the older brother's change of heart, when he rediscovers his younger brother and gives his life to save him, is that brothers, once cruelly separated and devastated by an act of fate, can find and love each other again. That would be my hope for the future as well.

There's a lot more going on in "T'aegeukgi" than I've described. It's a complex film. My buddy's verdict was, "Some things are more important than ideology, communist, capitalist, whatever." I can see where he's coming from. His wife's verdict was, "Sad. So, so sad."

There we are. Now you know why there's no Sunday comic. Am feeling a bit too drained and depressed to stick one up. Much of my weekend has been spent in planning lessons for the upcoming teaching gig, and I think I'll keep doing that this evening.


Saturday, March 20, 2004

Saturday Swag: A MUG DESIGN!!

The folk understanding of karma is, "What goes around comes around." The Korean Buddhist expression for this is captured by the Sino-Korean phrase "In Gwa Eung Bo." The "in" comes from the word "weon-in," which means "cause." The "gwa" is from "gyeol-gwa," which is "result" or "effect." As a pair, "in-gwa" means "cause and effect." The next pair of syllables, "eung-bo," means something like "retribution."

Fart in an elevator and someone might just kick you in the balls.

In this case, I used Korean letters instead of Chinese characters.

Buy an In Gwa Eung Bo mug today!

Visit my CafePress store and shop around!

Buy my filthy, gross, disgusting book of poetry, cartoons, and short stories from Amazon!

Or visit my swag blog, Only the Chewiest Tumors, and order several copies of my book directly from me at a discount!

Bowls of warm bile await you.

Oh, by the way-- for you intellectual types-- I've whipped up what I think is a pretty mean brain-teaser. It's all the way at the bottom of my sidebar. Think you have the mental balls to figure it out? Go on and give it a try. I'm thinking I might want to give away a prize to the winner... what would be a good prize? Free blogging rights to my blog for three days? $50?? Some free Hominid swag (pick any 3 items)?? I'll have to mull this one over.

If you don't see anything you like at my stores, visit the Maximum Leader's CafePress store and take a gander at the fast-burgeoning designs of the very talented Digital Pixi!

Don't forget my previous mug designs:








Friday, March 19, 2004

Religious Diversity Friday: Kaplan, Cobb, Vallicella


See my review of Stephen Kaplan's very interesting Different Paths, Different Summits, a book that offers a creative pluralistic hypothesis based largely on the work of David Bohm. I wanted to return to this briefly today to focus on some of the properties of holograms that make Kaplan's hypothesis atypical.

1. Implicate order and explicate order. The changing holographic images you see would constitute the explicate order of the hologram. The implicate order would be the interference patterns inscribed on the surface of the material being used to create the hologram.

2. Multiple images on the same surface. You can inscribe multiple images onto the same holographic surface, thereby producing many different holograms. Religious implication: one implicate order, many explicate orders. However, Kaplan is firm in the conviction that neither order, implicate or explicate, is logically prior to the other.

3. Wholeness in fragmentation. This has to be one of the strangest properties of holograms. Did you know that, if you break a hologram into pieces, each piece will project a smaller version of the entire image? I didn't know this until I read Kaplan's book. So if you start off with a large hologram of an elephant, then cut the hologram into six pieces, you don't get sections of an elephant-- you get six whole elephants! The religious implication is that every part of reality is a reflection of (or contains within itself) the entirety of reality. This dovetails with how some Taoists used to think. It's also an intuition found in a lot of different cultures.

4. Holomovement. This isn't actually a property of current holograms, though it could become so. The concept of holomovement is necessary, however, for Kaplan's pluralistic hypothesis to hold any water. If you enter the discussion by offering up only a typical hologram as an analogy, someone's bound to come along and say, "But reality isn't static and holographic images are." So underlying Kaplan's argument is this notion of holomovement.

As I said in my review, I don't quite buy Kaplan's hypothesis because it, like all other pluralistic hypotheses, still hangs everything on a single unifying element, which makes it subject to S. Mark Heim's "pluralism that isn't really pluralistic" critique.* Kaplan's model is, as he himself freely admits in describing it, multiple ontologies within a single metaphysic. Kaplan's book is a work in progress, though; he's very good about recognizing strong theological and metaphysical objections to his hypothesis, so perhaps we'll see a revised version of the book in the years to come. It's really an intriguing idea.

[*NB: I take some issue with this critique now, partly thanks to my readings in The Philosophical Challenge of Religious Diversity-- perhaps a discussion's in order for next week?]


A few days ago, Cobb wrote about Donald Sensing's position on gay marriage. Here's the link to that post. I posted the following comment in the thread to Cobb's post:

I'm very much pro-gay marriage, and find the clinging to a specific definition of "what marriage is about" to be futile and foolish. What appeals to me about Donald Sensing's larger argument is that he says, "Look, conservatives-- we already lost this fight long ago. Once people gained the ability to divorce sex from its consequences through birth control, etc., any necessary connection between marriage, sex, love, children, etc. was broken."

Where I disagree with Sensing is on whether this is a good or bad thing. To me, it's perfectly fine. Sensing's a conservative Christian, so naturally, this isn't fine-- it's "against the will of God."

But Sensing's approach gets my respect because it's empirical. He's looking at the situation as it is, not wasting his time pining for how it should be, or making useless declarations about what marriage is or isn't.

My own point of view is very Buddhist on this: marriage is a term describing a reality in flux. You cannot reduce marriage to a so-called set of "essentials." To declare, as Keith Burgess-Jackson does on his philosophy blog, that marriage is "essentially" about children, may reflect past history but says nothing about whether marriage will continue to be this way. Sensing steps in and makes an empirical observation: "Folks, the reality underlying the term 'marriage' HAS MOVED. Deal with that."

I've seen, on your blog, the notion that marriage is "ordained of God." I think that's fine as a religious belief and I wouldn't want to take that from you, even though I disagree because I'm a nontheist. I think what Sensing offers to conservatives is a proper way of viewing the situation: beginning with the empirical and proceeding pragmatically from there, instead of beginning with an indefensible "ought"-stance that has little chance of convincing anyone.

Insistence on what marriage is and isn't is what Buddhists would call "attachment to name and form"-- a classic type of attachment, and debilitating. The best cure is true, direct seeing. I don't think Rev. Sensing is a Zennist in any formal sense (despite his blog's name), but he at least sees this situation directly and truly.

Cobb wrote the following reply:

You cannot be a Buddhist without understanding and conforming to the Buddhist way of seeing things. I've read Karen Armstrong's book on Buddha, does that make me a Buddhist? I see things in a Buddhist way when that way explains things best, but does that make me a Buddhist? No.

When I say 'ordained of God' I mean that in the context of Holy Matrimony, not marriage in the commonly understood way. As well I believe that religions appropriate the value of marriage for their own purposes. I say marriage is ordained of God, just as one could say Relativity is Einstein's idea. It is not really, Einstein merely correctly and properly understood what is right and true of nature. He articulated it in an unambiguous way through the discipline of scientific language and it resulted in the exalted Theory. I am saying this of Holy Matrimony. It is something right and true of nature that various religions have independently verified and they have exalted it through the discipline of theological thought.

What activists for the gay cause are trying to do is overload and/or water down what is meant by marriage, codified in Holy Matrimony, for their own special purposes. I say that it belongs under a separate theory because what is implicit in Marriage is the special responsibilty accorded to the raising of children.

Sensing cops out in an American way I think (if he is copping out at all instead of snidely protesting - certainly he wouldn't disavow his own marriage because of the existence of contraception) because he assumes that the technology changes the value. He accepts the inevitability of contraception in decisions to marry, whereas the Roman Catholic Church does not. This is like bringing a submachine gun to all fights and saying that the value of martial arts and hand to hand combat is meaningless and so are the codes of honor attached to them. What Sensing concedes for conservatives allows hypocrisy. I suggest that the way of the warrior, and similarly the way of traditional Marriage is not dead and remains instructive. I think the burden is on certain feminists in their reconciliation with motherhood to prove how liberating the 'sexual liberation' afforded by the advancing technology of contraception actually is.

Where are the eunuchs in all this?

As for gay couples who adopt children? They fall under the category of foster parents. So what?

I'm not really sure I understand what Cobb's getting at here; his response seems to be all over the place, which isn't usual for him. I've posted this exchange here for Religious Diversity Friday because of the religious tenor of the exchange-- two very different ways of chewing over a problem.

Cobb writes above, "I say marriage is ordained of God, just as one could say Relativity is Einstein's idea." The disanalogy here is that the claim "[the theory of] relativity is Einstein's idea" can be seen as a claim of historical fact: the history books confirm that Einstein did indeed formulate such a theory. Is the claim "marriage is ordained of God" the same kind of empirically verifiable claim? No-- it's a claim rooted in faith and not verifiable in the scientific sense. But Cobb clarifies his position by saying:

It is not really [i.e., relativity is an objective reality, not a subjective formulation], Einstein merely correctly and properly understood what is right and true of nature. He articulated it in an unambiguous way through the discipline of scientific language and it resulted in the exalted Theory. I am saying this of Holy Matrimony. It is something right and true of nature that various religions have independently verified and they have exalted it through the discipline of theological thought.

But this clarification is still disanalogous: whatever the actual reality is, Einstein's theory remains a theory: it's subject to review, verification, and falsification. It could, in principle, be tossed aside in favor of a new, better theory. A theory provides an explanation of reality. When it lacks sufficient explanatory power, a theory is bad. Holy Matrimony, to use Cobb's term, isn't viewed by anyone in this manner. People might see matrimony as a practical reality, or they might see it as infused with religious meaning, but in both of these cases, Holy Matrimony is most assuredly not being viewed as something on par with a scientific theory. Religious notions, as painful history repeatedly demonstrates, are notoriously hard to revise, especially when compared to scientific theories.

But if Cobb is trying to claim that religious notions arise from reality, and those notions are somehow on a par with scientific theory, it should be possible to revise those religious notions, as one does with scientific theories, to reflect an evolving understanding of reality. And this is where Cobb's argument fails: reality does move. As such, religious notions, if they are to retain their robustness, also have to move-- so maybe Cobb is right in spite of himself to equate religious notions and scientific theories! That's how religious notions should be: flexible, revisable, in conformity with changing reality. But at heart, Cobb would like Holy Matrimony to be a fixed a priori reality, something graven in the stone of the cosmos, something containing "essentials"-- why else use "ordained of God" language? But the cosmos isn't unmoving, so nothing can stay graven forever.


[MARCH 20 UPDATE: The link to Dr. Vallicella's response has been updated. it now leads you directly to his response, not simply to his weblog.]

Contra Hominid! For those of you who've been waiting and praying for Dr. Vallicella's reply to my critique of his paper, HERE IT IS! The BigHo gets his ten lashes. Follow the link and scroll down a bit, then look for the sea of red ink-- it's just like I'm back in grad school again! Dr. Vallicella emailed to say that he'll be appending a specific permalink to his reply for more direct access to it. When he does, I'll update my own link accordingly.

I'll want to review Dr. Vallicella's response in depth later on this blog, but I need to chew it over a bit. Some very quick & superficial thoughts:

1. I was glad to get a fuller explanation of "relative permanence," but I'm still not convinced this concept addresses the Buddhist perspective, or is in any way meaningful to it.

2. Although Dr. Vallicella ably defends his critique's narrow focus (i.e., concentrating on a specific exchange in the Milindapanha-- you'll recall that I complained about this), I think there are still problems with trying to critique the anatman (no-self) doctrine with only a single Buddhist dialogue as the focal point of critique.

Dr. Vallicella makes pronouncements about Buddhist metaphysics (series of unconnected moments, etc.) that can't have been extracted from the dialogue in question, then uses those concepts (some of which are debatable, as I argued previously) in the service of his critique of the dialogue. Is this proper? I'm not convinced it is. If you're going to bring in extra-textual concepts, you've got to pay more attention to the larger context in which the intra-textual concepts reside.

A good question to ask oneself is how much of a doctrine is being delineated in a given snatch of text before assuming one has enough data on which to base a critique. To conclude on scant evidence that a doctrine is indefensible/unpersuasive is to arrive at a potentially false conclusion. In this case: does the Milinda-Nagasena exchange in question provide the critic with enough information to understand the anatman doctrine in toto? My answer is no, it doesn't. We need to read around more. And the moment we decide to bring in data from outside of that text, we widen the scope of our critique. Fairness would require a lengthier treatment of the issues and problems: as many of the sources of a "doctrine" as possible should be considered. Anatman is a doctrine with many textual sources.

To be fair in this way is to exhibit charity in interpretation, I think. For me to crack open the Bible, read the directive of Deuteronomy 23:1 (NRSV; in Catholic Bibles it's 23:2) completely out of context, and draw negative conclusions about some doctrinal point in Hebrew/Jewish ethics might be "focused," but it would be unwarranted. By the same token, a critique of the anatman doctrine as laid out in this one dialogue strikes me as weak from the beginning. Does the dialogue in fact sufficiently "lay out" the doctrine? It's a pretty short dialogue, so I think this is a legitimate question. While holy men might be able to perform lengthy exegeses spun out of a single word of scripture, philosophers need to be a bit more attentive to issues of context, fairness, and comprehensiveness in their analyses and critiques.

[By that same token, Dr. V might argue, I need to realize that he addresses Buddhist issues in more than one research paper. That's only fair. My critique of Dr. V's paper also requires that I read more of Dr. V to get a feel for the larger context of his thought. More on this as it happens; Dr. V doesn't have many Buddhism-related papers online yet, but they're on the way.]

3. I think Dr. Vallicella has rightfully pointed out some of my own missteps in arguing against his thesis, and he's also right to ask for clarification about some of the terms I use. Part of the problem here, on my end, is a sloppiness born of inexperience. I'm woefully behind when it comes to terms and concepts in Western philosophy, and it's in discussions like these that my ignorance is in full view. This doesn't embarrass me a bit-- I engaged Vallicella because I'm a slob looking for a free education in Western philo, and I'm getting one.

There is, however, a meta-problem in discussions like these: because Buddhism arose and developed in one environment, and Western philo arose and developed in another, very different environment, there will always be the danger that interlocutors from either side of the fence will talk past each other. (I'm referring mainly to philosophical discussions like this one, but what I'm talking about is equally applicable to interreligious discussions.)

More than that, there's always the chance that arguing the Buddhist case entirely on Western philo terms is an unnecessary concession to the Western side (by parity of reasoning, vice versa is also true). Trying to make a Buddhist conceptual square peg fit into a Western conceptual round hole is bound to generate static. My point is that it's possible that one can explain a foreign concept only so well before the strictures of the discussion itself preclude further explanation. (How do you bridge the conceptual gap at that point? What role do intuitive, empathetic, and imaginative leaps play in Western philosophical discourse?)

Consider, for example, a staple of Western philo: the principle of non-contradiction. How, exactly, are you going to apply this principle to an analysis of Zen thought and discourse? You can't, and still expect coherent, useful results. People will try, of course: Mortimer Adler, in Truth in Religion, wrote a very rational but very ignorant passage about paradox in Zen thinking which, to a Zennist, would look like idiocy: Adler obviously didn't "get it." The "getting it" in Zen is nondiscursive, nonrational, and nonlogical (not irrational and illogical). If you're planning on having a meaningful Zen discussion, you're going to have to throw out the principle of non-contradiction. It's the only path to sense in Zen. Adler's approach, relentlessly faithful to his philosophical tradition, brought all the wrong tools to the table, from the Zennist's point of view.

The same is true in the opposite direction, of course, and that's the tone underlying Vallicella's response to me. I freely admit there's plenty I don't "get" about Western philo-- terms I haven't learned, concepts I haven't mastered. My hope is that this exchange, which is already very fruitful, will continue to push me to see things from different perspectives. At the same time, I do have my own perspective, a nondualistic one, that makes me skeptical of concepts and arguments that sound implausible even after a second and third hearing. Such is the case with that notion of "relative permanence," which still sounds like a fancy way of evading the fundamental issues to which the Buddhist thinkers addressed themselves.

Dr. Vallicella might be a Zen master in disguise, however. In his response to my contention that the self is constructed, he asks, "Who constructed it, then?"** That's a very Zen question!

"Who is this typing now?"

"Who is eating this food?"

Of course, the Zen master isn't asking these questions for lofty philosophical reasons. His intention is ethical: to address the issue of suffering and show you where its roots lie, and to bring you back to here and now, where you should always be.

I want to think more about Dr. Vallicella's response, and perhaps next week I'll try to formulate an answer. I begin my heavy teaching schedule next Wednesday, so I can't guarantee how long or substantive any of my future blogs will be. My thanks, in the meantime, to Dr. Vallicella for his reply.

[**NB: You'll note that, for Dr. Vallicella, this question very likely presumes a single, unified, transtemporal "who" (or what) acting as the constructing agent. Why this presumption? To me, it's not a given at all.]


Thursday, March 18, 2004

ZEN WITH NO BUDDHA: An Analysis and Critique of Ray Grigg's The Tao of Zen

[NB: This is a paper-- a long paper by blog standards but fairly short by academic standards-- I wrote back in 2000. Skip it if the subject doesn't interest you. In this paper (which could stand some revision; my position on some matters has shifted a bit), I'm evaluating Ray Grigg's contention that Zen is basically Taoism with a superfluous Buddhist cortex. Ultimately, I see some merit in his thesis, but am not convinced that Buddhism is superfluous. To the contrary, I find Buddhism to be quite integral to Zen, and while Grigg makes a clear distinction between "Zen" and "Zen Buddhism," I don't think the distinction holds, except maybe superficially. This paper appears, in slightly revised form, in my book Water from a Skull.]

It is a commonplace among scholars and "night-stand Buddhists" alike to summarize Zen's origins with a bumper-sticker aphorism such as "Zen is what happened when Indian Buddhism went north and met Taoism in China." Usually this is uttered along with the caveat that, as in all matters Zen, such is not the full truth. It is not quite so commonplace, however, to read, as Ray Grigg so bluntly puts it in the preface to his The Tao of Zen, that "Zen is Taoism disguised as Buddhism."[1] The immediate implication is that if Buddhism is a disguise, it is not relevant to the question of what comprises the essence of Zen, to the extent that one can speak of essences in Zen.

This, in fact, is the tack Grigg takes through the rest of his book. His thesis is neatly summarized in the preface: Zen is Taoism in Buddhist clothing, and "Buddhism is the historical wedge that has separated Zen from its Taoist source."[2] While acknowledging that Taoism and Buddhism share certain thematic affinities that, together, facilitate the melding of the two into Chinese Ch'an and eventually Japanese Zen, Grigg is far more fascinated by what he perceives to be the deep affinity between "pure Zen" and "original Taoism."[3]

The rest of this discussion will proceed with an overview of the major points of Grigg's argument, passing through an examination of Grigg's possible biases when discussing original Taoism, then moving to a fuller examination of the question of what constitutes "real" Taoism, followed by a brief overview of what other thinkers have had to say on the matter of what Zen is. The discussion will conclude with a direct examination of the plausibility of removing Buddhist elements from Zen while somehow retaining Zen's Zenness.

Overview of Grigg's Argument

Zen is Taoism disguised as Buddhism. When twelve hundred years of Buddhist accretions are removed from Zen, it is revealed to be a direct evolution of the spirit and philosophy of Taoism. Indeed, the literature known as the Lao Tzu and the Chuang Tzu begins a continuous tradition that can be followed through the Ch'an of China to the Zen of present-day Japan. The formative writings of early Taoism are essentially the teachings of Zen.[4]

Thus begins The Tao of Zen. The first step in Grigg's argument is to note that, especially in the West, a curious but very telling distinction in usage has crept in between the terms "Zen" and "Zen Buddhism."[5] Westerners' "nonsectarian sense of Zen" is a "fresh and innocent response" that is "uncomplicated by the traditional interpretations and assumptions which have seen Zen as an inseparable part of Buddhism."[6] Evidence of this separation can be found in the many "Zen [and the X] of" expressions that have come into prominence in English: Zen of tennis, Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance, Zen and the art of drawing, etc. While populist, this new usage harks back to a very old Zen admonition "about the folly of becoming too attached to any system of understanding-- even Buddhism, and especially the religion of Mahayana Buddhism that has housed Zen in China and Japan for centuries."[7]

It is Grigg's opinion that the "Buddhist accretions" are to blame for Zen's having moved away from its roots. The addition of rituals over the centuries "[has] created a formal practice that is stiff, austere, and monastic, qualities that are the antithesis of Zen's essentially organic identity. Once the trappings are removed, however, Zen returns to its original Taoist character."[8]

Although Taoism and Buddhism share certain similarities, Grigg's most radical assessment excludes any possibility of their equation:

...the similarities between original Taoism and pure Zen are far more striking: the simplicity, the directness, the intuitiveness, the paradoxes, the importance of being natural and the prevalence of natural images, the skepticism about words and explanations, about institutions and dogma. Zen is Taoism.[9]

The Way to which Zen refers is none other than the Way (Tao) to which Taoism refers, an idea supported by many other thinkers. Because the Tao is at heart undefinable, this very vagueness is what affords both Zen and original Taoism their robustness and richness. It is "the source of their wisdom and profundity."[10] The core writings of original Taoism are, as Zennists say of Zen, "nothing special"; they are "descriptive rather than prescriptive, instructive rather than sacred."[11] Whatever religious quality they possess is not so much inherent as imputed.

Grigg concludes his preface by focusing on functional distinctions between Buddhism, Zen, Zen Buddhism, and Taoism. He refuses to use Zen and Zen Buddhism interchangeably. Buddhism, whose original, philosophical form contains "some Zen," more usually refers to the religious tradition such as that exemplified by the Mahayana school, in which the Buddha has been deified and his teachings have become dogma. Therefore:

Zen refers to pure Zen, the practice in Chinese Ch'an and Japanese Zen that is likened to original Taoism but is wholly devoid of Mahayana Buddhism's religious allusions. Zen is also devoid of the inner analysis that is so characteristic of Indian Buddhist philosophy. Zen Buddhism, therefore, is the unlikely combination of Chinese and Indian sources; it began in Ch'an as a mixing of Taoism and Buddhism, and currently exists in Japan in the same combination. Because of the ubiquitous quality of Zen, it can be found in Zen Buddhism, but Zen and Zen Buddhism are not equivalent terms.[12]

By the same token, Grigg's operational definition of Taoism refers very specifically to Taoism in its philosophical or contemplative form as sourced in the Lao Tzu and the Chuang Tzu. "Except for their historical distinctions, Taoism and Zen are terms that can be used interchangeably."[13]

The rest of The Tao of Zen supports the thesis laid out in Grigg's preface with a twofold approach. Part One covers the historical connections between Taoism and Zen, and Part Two is devoted to an examination of their philosophically similar elements.

In Part One, discussing the historical connections between Taoism and Zen, Grigg begins with "biographies" of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu. He then briefly covers the history of Taoism and of Buddhism in China, devoting the rest of Part One to the rise of Ch'an and Zen with a nod to great figures like Bodhidharma, Hui-neng, Nonin, and Bankei.

A major theme in this historical exploration is Grigg's repeated assertion that Buddhism (by which he means those Mahayana practitioners with the most commitment to Buddhism as an institution or religion) has engaged in a constant effort over the years either to preserve or manufacture historical links with India in an effort either to justify a kind of "apostolic succession" of patriarchs, or simply to create a stronger link with Zen Buddhism's Indian roots.[14]

In speaking about Bodhidharma and Hui-neng, for example, Grigg notes that very little is actually known about either of these great figures, which made them easy targets for hindsight reinterpretation. About Hui-neng and the historical forces of the time, Grigg says:

Since the operating principles of Taoism could not integrate with either religious beliefs or Buddhist philosophy, they were overwritten by Buddhist ideology and methodology. The result has been a tangle of misrepresentations... There was a Hui-neng. He was thoroughly Chinese. But he was unlikely a Buddhist, although later efforts attempted to make him one. All the evidence suggests he was an archetypal Taoist, or at least he was invented as such by the Chinese need to express its own character through him.[15]

In his subsequent overview of Buddhism in Japan, Grigg notes that Shinto had done much to predispose the Japanese consciousness to the naturalistic themes in Taoism and Ch'an.[16] Like the Chinese, especially the Taoists whom Grigg terms "Quietists" (i.e., Taoist practitioners who remained faithful to philosophical Taoism), the Japanese prize naturalness and simplicity; accepting this new Zen "[flower] in the garden of Buddhism"[17] was, therefore, relatively easy: "It is sufficient to note that Taoism and Shinto, when they met, would have felt comfortable in each other's company."[18]

Two significant chapters conclude Part One: "Zen Without Buddhism" and "Everyday Zen." In "Zen Without Buddhism," Grigg argues that Japanese Zen Buddhism is the result of the long and sometimes uneasy coexistence between Chinese Mahayana Buddhism and Taoism, as they coexisted in Ch'an.[19] Given Taoism's this-worldly orientation and Buddhism's otherworldly alignment, how were the two traditions able to meld as well as they did? Grigg offers two basic reasons: first, the Taoism of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu was possessed of both a paradoxical and inclusive spirit, perhaps a reflection of the often syncretic nature of the Chinese mind; second, when Buddhism entered China, "it was reshaped to fit the Chinese mind." Chinese Mahayana thought "was more practical, more earthy, and more immediate."[20]

Despite the ensuing cohabitation of these two thought-systems in Ch'an, it would be incorrect to attempt to trace Zen directly to the original teachings of the Buddha. Grigg offers three reasons why: (1) doctrinally, Chinese Mahayana Buddhism is "not the austere silence of Gautama sitting alone," especially since Gautama was not Buddhist, and his search for truth had an existential motivation as opposed to a religious one; (2) stylistically, the Buddha's teachings are highly systematized, lacking the freewheeling, spontaneous, illogical tenor of Zen; and (3) historically, as mentioned above, pious fabrications have effaced most or all reliably traceable links from the Buddha to the Zen patriarchs to Japanese Zen.[21]

The Buddhism in Zen Buddhism represents all that is structural and institutional, while the Zen is nothing less than Taoism in its original or Quietist form-- the philosophical Taoism sourced in the Lao Tzu and the Chuang Tzu.

The chapter titled "Everyday Zen" is less a historical treatment than a philosophical capstone to Grigg's historical argument. (It is not the final chapter; that chapter spends some time discussing Zen's arrival in the West, initially as Japanese Zen Buddhism, but rapidly evolving-- or reverting?-- into the more originally Taoist "Zen" that has become practically a household word.) "Everyday Zen" is a more focused look at what Grigg perceives to be the Taoist temperament of Zen.

Zen, like Taoism, is natural and intuitive, so ordinary that it is easily missed. This is why Zen without Buddhism seems so close to Taoism. When stripped of formality and returned to its natural shape, Zen is earthy and ordinary, nothing special. [...] ...a total, undivided presence transcends the duality of here or somewhere else. [...] Immersion in the everyday is the essential practice of the Taoist sage."[22]

In Part Two of The Tao of Zen, Grigg systematically notes the philosophical similarities between philosophical Taoism and "pure" Zen. While this discussion occupies fully half of The Tao of Zen, it is easily summarized if one understands Grigg's approach as an explication of the qualities he feels epitomize both original Taoism and pure Zen. Those qualities are wordlessness, selflessness, softness, oneness, emptiness, nothingness, balance, paradox, non-doing, spontaneity, ordinariness, playfulness, and suchness.

Grigg's Biases and the Notion of "Real" Taoism

Grigg quotes extensively from thinkers and scholars such as Alan Watts, Shunryu Suzuki roshi, D.T. Suzuki, Philip Kapleau, Victor Mair, Christmas Humphreys, Thomas Merton, and others. D.T. Suzuki in particular is a cruel favorite; Grigg engages in posthumous debate with Suzuki at several points throughout The Tao of Zen in order to highlight Suzuki's Mahayana biases-- the better for the reader to see Mahayana Buddhist revisionism in action. But Grigg also seizes upon Suzuki passages indicating a grudging admission of Zen's Chinese tenor, so Suzuki is puppeteered into engaging in a morbid debate with himself. Alan Watts, whom Grigg avidly terms a "modern Hui-neng,"[23] is quoted mainly for his "iconoclastic" spirit and for those passages from his The Way of Zen and The Spirit of Zen that explore the temperamental incompatibility of institutional Buddhism with Zen's Taoist bent.

What is most striking in Grigg's book is his refusal to discuss Taoism's evolutionary history except in the most general of terms.[24] Grigg sniffs at what Taoism has become: namely, the religious, magical, folk Taoism that adds nothing to Grigg's thesis.[25] Implied in this refusal is the assumption that original Taoism, the Quietist, philosophical variety to which Grigg makes repeated reference, is real Taoism.

It is appropriate at this point to examine the question of what makes a thought system "real." What is "real" Christianity? Or "real" Islam? If, for example, Muslim terrorists are featured on the American news to the extent that peaceful Muslim apologists must explain that the fundamentalist strains of Islam do not represent the "real" or "true" spirit of Islam, what then qualifies as the most representative form of Islam?

If it is recognized that a religious tradition acts much as a living organism does-- growing, evolving, multiplying, fighting, dying partially or wholly, changing over time-- can one ever speak of a "real" form of that tradition? The Christianity of today is so diverse that it is no longer safe to speak of Christianity as if it were a monolithic entity. Polymorphic present-day Taoism may have strayed from its philosophical roots, as Grigg contends, but upon what grounds can Grigg treat philosophical Taoism as more "real" than its modern incarnation? By extension, how is it possible to speak of a "true" Zen?

It is perhaps safest to assume that Grigg is positing the original = real premise without seeking any deep justification for his stance. His larger point is, after all, simply to highlight the essentially Taoist character of Zen, and he is obliged to start somewhere. However, his chapter on Zen's entry into Western culture is very telling on this point: the West's egalitarianism, secularism, and individualism have acted as a paring knife to peel off the structured, ritualized, institutional cortex of Japanese Mahayana Buddhism (very hierarchically East Asian in character) and left Zen in a more or less pristine state where it can be examined à l'occidentale.[26]

Much is implied in this argument. The most important implication is that the West in recent decades has arrived at a point where its own religious explorations are at a sort of dead end, and the usual answers no longer suffice. Enter Far Eastern thought which, because it is generally devoid of an overtly (mono)theistic aspect, has been able to penetrate the Western psyche more or less quietly but steadily. Because modern Western thinking has been so profoundly shaped by scientific skepticism, Grigg may well be implying that Zen's being "nothing special" is a virtue in an age of doubt. Karen Armstrong has described the Western experience of God as "traumatic,"[27] filled with intense emotion, drama, and not a little magic. It is entirely possible that turn-of-the-century science-fueled cynicism has made such drama hard to swallow. At every turn, Zen proclaims its ordinariness and commonsense nature; for a Westerner weary of the monotheistic fireworks display, calm profundity might appear as a relief. In France, the best-selling Le moine et le philosophe (The Monk and the Philosopher) serves as an example of the French intellectual hunger for a religious answer other than a staid, moribund Catholicism.[28]

Of course, the West does not lack for a love of magic or superstition, but this love usually stands in diametrical opposition to the scientific impulse that presently occupies a position of increasing prominence in the West's collective psyche. Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World plants itself firmly against what Sagan saw as humanity's continued and disappointing fascination with self-bamboozlement:

The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance... The plain lesson is that study and learning-- not just of science, but of anything-- are avoidable, even undesirable.[29]

But his book also serves to highlight the starkness of the contrast between religious and scientific thinking that continues to haunt the Western mind. Zen and original Taoism are welcome in the West because they straddle the boundary between religion and science: there is nothing about Grigg's pure Zen or original Taoism that is antithetical to scientific thinking. Religious Taoism will probably never be as welcome in the West as original Taoism for the simple reason that its religiosity bears a recognizably magical odor to a Westerner. In this sense, it is perfectly legitimate to read Grigg as implying that original Taoism is more real... to a Westerner.

Other Thinkers On Zen

Where do other thinkers stand on the issue of Zen's Taoist nature? Do others agree with Grigg's contention that Mahayana Buddhism has done much to obfuscate the truth by forcing a link between Zen and India?

In his An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, D.T. Suzuki says the following:

Buddhism in its course of development has completed a form which distinguishes itself from its so-called primitive or original type-- so greatly, indeed, that we are justified in emphasizing its historical division into two schools... As a matter of fact, the Mahayana, with all its varied formulae, is no more than a developed form of Buddhism and traces back its final authority to its Indian founder, the great Buddha Sakyamuni. When this developed form... was introduced into China and then into Japan, it achieved further development in those countries. ...At present the Mahayana form may be said not to display, superficially at least, those features most conspicuously characteristic of original Buddhism.[30]

This seems to play into Grigg's overall argument, particularly to the idea that Suzuki is a Buddhist apologist intent on defending Zen Buddhism's Indian lineage. Suzuki's remarks also support Grigg's contention that the character of Buddhism was changed when it entered China, thus facilitating the eventual coexistence of Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism in Ch'an. But what Suzuki says next seems to undercut Grigg's thesis:

...there are people who would declare that this branch of Buddhism [i.e., Mahayana] is in reality no Buddhism in the sense that the latter is commonly understood. My contention, however, is this: anything that has life in it is an organism, and it is in the very nature of an organism that it never remains in the same state of existence. An acorn is quite different, even as a young oak with tender leaves just out of its protective shell is quite different from a full-grown tree... But throughout these varying phases of change there is a continuation of growth and unmistakable marks of identity, whence we know that one and the same plant has passed through many stages of becoming.[31]

By this reckoning, Buddhism's acquisition of Chinese qualities (of which a Taoist bent would be one such quality) would reflect an organic process that keeps its Indian traits at the core of what will eventually become Zen Buddhism. Here, Taoism is arguably the cortex and not Buddhism.

If nothing else, Suzuki's writings do not easily lend themselves to Grigg's argumentation, which explains Grigg's understandable ambivalence toward Suzuki. Moreover, what Suzuki is saying is important as a critique of Grigg's reasoning, whose weakest link resides in his repeated implication that pure Zen need include no Buddhism. If Taoism propounds an organic understanding of the world, this understanding should be applicable to a thought system's evolution through history. It is therefore possible to interpret Taoism's "uneasy" coexistence with Buddhism in Ch'an and Zen as perfectly "easy," with the tension ascribable not so much to a concerted Taoist resistance to an imposed Mahayana Buddhist structure as to Taoism's natural "squishiness." Taoism would have bumped gently against any thought system with which it had had to cohabit. Such is its nature.

Wing-Tsit Chan agrees that Buddhist meditative techniques took on a decidedly Chinese cast. In speaking about the use of shouting and beating in Ch'an, Chan says without irony, "This type of mental training is utterly Chinese."[32] Along with other scholars, and consistent with Grigg's thesis, Chan too remarks on the this-worldly character of Chinese thought as opposed to the otherworldly cast of Indian thought.[33] More: "[Ch'an] Meditation was not understood in the Indian sense of concentration but in the Taoist sense of conserving vital energy, breathing, reducing desire, preserving nature, and so forth."[34]

Alan Watts, whose quotes do in fact serve Grigg quite well, does, however, make a distinction between Taoism and Zen when he says in The Spirit of Zen, "... it must be remembered that Zen is not always a gentle breeze, like decadent Taoism; more than often it is a fierce gale which sweeps everything ruthlessly before it, an icy blast which penetrates to the heart of everything and passes right through to the other side!"[35] One senses here an emotional immediacy and urgency quite unlike the almost placid metaphor of Chuang Tzu dragging his tail in the mud like a happy tortoise.

Grigg is in good company when propounding the distinctly Chinese quality of Ch'an and Zen Buddhism, but there is some doubt as to the degree to which other scholars' and thinkers' words can be of service to Grigg's larger argument: that pure Zen is original Taoism, and that Mahayana Buddhism "is not Zen."[36] Both Suzuki and Watts make statements that can be interpreted in ways both friendly and antagonistic to Grigg's thesis, and it is difficult to see whether their writings move beyond an affirmation of Zen's Taoist roots (already acknowledged by scholars) to an active support of the outright equation of Taoism to Zen.

Zen Without Buddhism? A Concluding Critique of The Tao of Zen

Grigg's most compelling argument for Zen's being original Taoism is probably summarized in his chapter on Zen Buddhism's arrival in the West.

When institutionalized Zen Buddhism came to the West, it found itself disconnected from the stabilizing traditions of the Japanese culture. As it interacted with different attitudes and values in its new environment, it began to reconstitute itself. It relaxed its formality, and changed shape and expression. [...] This did not happen dramatically but it did happen quickly. It was evolution accelerated, the consequence of similar but different traditions from the East finding themselves in close proximity to each other in an atmosphere of open and trusting exploration. The similarities between Zen and Taoism became more apparent and their differences were defined more softly.[37]

Along with this, "...things changed because the Japanese system could not sustain itself in its new cultural context. The greatest changes took place in its formal expression: in its hierarchy, its institutional structure, and its Buddhism."[38] Zen is moving from its formalized Mahayana Buddhist incarnation to a practice that might be described as "less structured, a lay form of practice"[39] that still retains the essential Taoist spirit.

Nevertheless, the strongest critique of this view is, ironically, the organically (and perhaps inadvertently) Taoist critique implicitly offered by D.T. Suzuki in his acorn analogy. Zen Buddhism's "historical accretions" are not merely accretions; they are absorbed into and have become part of the essence of Zen. Robert Pirsig offers a brilliant example of how this is so in the idiosyncratic language of his book Lila, in a passage that deserves to be quoted at length: would guess from the literature on Zen and its insistence on discovering "the unwritten dharma" that it would be intensely anti-ritualistic, since ritual is the "written dharma." But that isn't the case. The Zen monk's daily life is nothing but one ritual after another, hour after hour, day after day, all his life. They don't tell him to shatter those static patterns to discover the unwritten dharma. They want him to get those patterns perfect!

The explanation for this contradiction is the belief that you do not free yourself from static patterns by fighting them with other contrary static patterns. That is sometimes called "bad karma chasing its tail." You free yourself from static patterns by putting them to sleep. That is, you master them with such proficiency that they become an unconscious part of your nature. You get so used to them you completely forget them and they are gone. There in the center of the most monotonous boredom of static ritualistic patterns the Dynamic freedom is found.[40]

This reasoning indicates an intimate fusion of Buddhist religious structure with Taoist notions of compliance, and is still readable, without contradiction, in a purely Taoist way. Grigg may be right to claim that a crucial element of Taoism is its spontaneity, but he misses the Zen paradox that, if Zen can truly be found anywhere, it can just as easily be found in ritual practice as in any other activity or phenomenon. Taoism's natural Brownian motion guarantees a bumpy ride for whatever thought system cohabits with it, and there is nothing insurmountably antithetical to Taoism in Buddhist praxis. If anything, Pirsig's passage is an example of how nameless, formless original Taoism can meld with a fellow passenger during a long journey. Along with Suzuki, it is possible for us to affirm that Taoism's addition to and fusion with Mahayana Buddhism is part of a larger, organic, natural evolutionary process.


1. Ray Grigg, The Tao of Zen (Boston: Charles E. Tuttle Co., Inc., 1994), xiii.

2. Ibid., xiv.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid., xiii.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid., xiv.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid., xv.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid., xvi.

13. Ibid., xvii.

14. Ibid., 9, 109, etc.

15. Ibid., 109-110.

16. Ibid., 119.

17. Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ (New York: Riverhead Books, 1995), 9.

18. Ray Grigg, The Tao of Zen (Boston: Charles E. Tuttle Co., Inc., 1994), 122.

19. Ibid., 128.

20. Ibid., 132.

21. Ibid.

22. Ibid., 167-168.

23. Ibid., 136.

24. Ibid., xvi-xvii.

25. Ibid.

26. Ibid., 173-179.

27. Karen Armstrong, A History of God (New York: Ballantine Books, 1993), xxii

28. Jean-François Revel and Mathieu Ricard, Le moine et le philosophe (Paris: Editions NIL, 1997), 13.

29. Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World (New York: Ballantine Books, 1996), 25-26.

30. D.T. Suzuki, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism (New York: Grove Press, 1964), 31.

31. Ibid.

32. A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, trans. and ed. Wing-tsit Chan (Princteon: Princeton University Press, 1969), 429.

33. Ibid.

34. Ibid., 425.

35. Alan Watts, The Spirit of Zen (New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1958), 59-60.

36. Ray Grigg, The Tao of Zen (Boston: Charles E. Tuttle Co., Inc., 1994), 127.

37. Ibid., 173.

38. Ibid., 174.

39. Ibid., 176.

40. Robert Pirsig, Lila (New York: Bantam Books, 1991), 440.


Armstrong, Karen. A History of God. New York: Ballantine Books, 1993.

Chan, Wing-tsit, trans. and ed. A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy. Princteon: Princeton University Press, 1969.

Grigg, Ray. The Tao of Zen. Boston: Charles E. Tuttle Co., Inc., 1994.

Nhat Hanh, Thich. Living Buddha, Living Christ. New York: Riverhead Books, 1995.

Pirsig, Robert. Lila. New York: Bantam Books, 1991.

Revel, Jean-François and Mathieu Ricard. Le moine et le philosophe. Paris: Editions NIL, 1997.

Sagan, Carl. The Demon-Haunted World. New York: Ballantine Books, 1996.

Suzuki, D.T. An Introduction to Zen Buddhism. New York: Grove Press, 1964.

Watts, Alan. The Spirit of Zen. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1958.