Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Layer 277 . . . Saying Yes, a General Election, 50% Tax, Education (again) and Turning to Zen

Today's hate word/expression is "absolutely!"

Whilst it's OK to use the word as an adjective, as in "it tasted absolutely vile", it's not OK to use it as a stand-alone response to someone when you ought to be saying "yes" or "I agree with you". This is something I've done myself - quite often - and it's time to stop. Habitual users might find this quite difficult.

Why do people do this? It's like a sentence on its own  -  "Abb so lute lee!" Aaarrggghhh!


General Election

The race is on, and it's every bit as stupid as you'd expect. Brown parading his entire 'team' outside No 10. Cameron rushing around gobbing off to the masses, pregnant wife and donkey in tow.

Though credit to Clegg for appearing with just Vince Cable at his side - a message that this election is about finance and the economy above all. He also said some sensible things about his priorities - including education and smaller class sizes, scrapping Trident, reforming Parliament, breaking up the big banks - on the Today programme.


Tax Matters

Yesterday there was talk on the radio about the 50% tax band coming into effect for those earning above £150,000. "It could force some people to leave the country!" said someone.

FORCE? Good! If people really think that having to pay another 10 pence for each pound they earn above 150K is enough to make them up sticks and go to live elsewhere, then good fucking riddance. There are plenty of good reasons for not wanting to live in this benighted country, but that's not one of them. Especially as most of these people have got stinking rich out of our willingness to tolerate them being overpaid and undertaxed these past 30 years - years in which they've also got even more stinking rich out of the property bubble and under-regulation of the City. Especially as a lot of these greedy bastards and their pals actually caused the financial catastrophe. Can't manage on £150,000 plus 50% tax? Oh dear. Fuck right off.


Turning to Zen

And on that note of lovingkindness, I'd like to turn to Zen, since a lot of yesterday's Layer was concerned with Christianity.

Last week my good friend Y bought me a lovely little book on Zen from the British Museum. Here are some extracts.

(It's by Manuela Dunn Mascetti, and published by Evergreen.)

Zen Buddhism is the path by which all dualistic distinctions like you-I, subject-object, are eliminated in meditation. The burning of duality is the ultimate Zen experience. Zen emphasises the importance of this experience, of enlightenment or samadhi. In its unique style, Zen rejects religious practices and the intellectual study of doctrine as utterly useless in the realisation of enlightenment, preferring other methods that allow the grasp of enlightenment with an instantaneous shock of the ultimate truth.

The three traditional methods of Zen Buddhism are haiku, koan, and sayings & stories of Zen masters.

Haiku enlightens in the space of a breath.

Koans are an invitation to leap to another level of consciousness, where ultimate reality resides. By making clear the limitations of thought . . . an inner realisation occurs that transcends dualistic thoughts. The realisation of a koan is enlightenment.

A monk once asked his Master, "No matter what lies ahead, what is the Way?" The Master replied, "The Way is your daily life." This concept is at the very centre of the Way of Zen. The principles that govern the Way are directed toward all of our existence, not just the part that takes place in meditation . . .

The challenge of Zen is to meet each day, each moment, with a clear mind and a cleansed spirit, so that the moment to moment union with existence becomes the highest teaching.

Sitting silently,
Doing nothing,
Spring comes,
And the grass grows by itself.


In the rains of Spring
An umbrella and raincoat
Pass by, conversing.

Yosa Buson

A single petal
Of the cherry blossom fell:
Mountain silence.

Kenneth Tanemura

My mother's soul
Viewing the plum blossoms,
Returning at night.

Nobuko Katsura

What a long Spring day!
Catching yawns from one another
We go each our way.

Natsume Soseki

Casting away the traditional paraphernalia of Buddhism, its scriptures and deities, Bodhidharma succeeded in establishing a school in China where monks practiced the seated, cross-legged meditation advocated by him, and focused their goals not upon the learning of sutras, but upon the realisation of their true nature. This practice was called dhyana - literally meaning 'meditation' in Sanskrit - which was pronounced Ch'an in China and, later, Zen in Japan, where it eventually reached its full flowering and development.

The task of early Chinese Zen masters was to bring Buddhist teaching to life in the here and now, and to show that enlightenment was not a super-human goal to be achieved over eons of time, but a state of being that could be revealed through awareness in everyday life. In order to accomplish their role as transmitters of Buddha's original experience, Chinese masters invented a number of devices, such as koans, to give their disciples an immediate taste of Buddha's enlightenment.

Koans are a living memory of a time long past but still essential to our soul, when mind and logic did not rule people, but intuition and oneness with nature [instinct] were the essential ways of expression and understanding. Koans are like resonating echoes of a part of ourselves that we need to call back to the surface in order to taste enlightenment.  Koans are the art of turning to our own light and being illumined by it.

The Zen masters carry on the vital work of adapting the timeless teaching to the specific needs of times and places. They were the ones who communicated the dharma at the intimate person-to-person level, seeking out people whose sincerity and capacity made them suitable candidates to carry forth the torch of Zen. Analysed as a body of wisdom, the koan collections form a careful and unique study of consciousness, and of the transformation of consciousness into wisdom.

The sound of one hand clapping? . . . Training through repartee? . . .

The study of koans as a system of education would be shut down immediately by government inspectors in today's world: no curriculum; no time limit; above all, no success guaranteed, even to the committed and the intelligent.

The Gateless Gate

The great path has no gates,
Thousands of roads enter it.
When one passes through this gateless gate
He walks freely between heaven and earth.

Case 7

A monk said to Joshu, "I have just entered this monastery. Please teach me."
Have you eaten your rice porridge?" asked Joshu.
"Yes, I have," replied the monk.
"Then you had better wash your bowl," said Joshu.
With this the monk gained enlightenment.

The ordinary Way is samadhi; it is peace of mind. When you are in samadhi, you are simply in Samadhi; there is no searching after the Way. It is an experience, not a conceptual understanding. Samadhi is vast and boundless and beyond right and wrong.

Case 38

Goso said, "A buffalo passes by the window. His head, horns and four legs all go past. But why can't the tail pass too?"

During the practice of zazen our thoughts, emotions and sensations all pass through consciousness as though they were clouds travelling across a clear sky. Consciousness dies away when one enters samadhi during meditation, zazen. The tail is a metaphor for samadhi, or enlightenment, or peace of mind, which can't pass because samadhi itself never passes away.

When you are in samadhi, every day is a good day. You don't ask about the past, nor wonder about the future. You are here, you are now.

People who live with Zen tend to resemble those described in Layer 20.

Our Narrow, Antiquated, School System . . .

. . . is the heading for George Monbiot's column yesterday.
I had a passionate interest in literature, history, foreign languages and the arts, but at the age of 15 I'd been forced, like all students, to decide whether to study science or humanities. From that point we divided into two cultures, and the process made idiots of us all.

The incomprehension with which science and humanities students regard each other is a tragedy of lost opportunities. Early specialisation might allow us to compete in the ever more specialised labour market, but it equips us for nothing else. As Professor Don Nutbeam, the vice-chancellor of Southampton University, complains: "Young people learn more and more about less and less."

We are deprived by our stupid schooling system of most of the wonders of the world, of the skills and knowledge required to navigate it, above all of the ability to understand each other. Our narrow, antiquated education is forcing us apart like the characters in a Francis Bacon painting, each locked in our boxes, unable to communicate.

Our Stupid, Messed Up Education System . . .

Three more sad commentaries on Britain's pathetic mess of an education system, as reported in yesterday's Guardian Education:

Are 'smart drugs' safe for students?

Students are increasingly taking neuroenhancing drugs to fight fatigue and help them concentrate. But how safe are they – and is it cheating?


In search of a fair secondary system

We could turn all secondaries into academies, says Peter Mortimore, to deal with the unfair competition

Say what you like about PM's ideas about teaching and learning, but he's consistently good on fairness and equality, and the causes of injustice in our education system -

Pecking order keeps class system alive

Poverty is not an excuse for under-achievement; it is a factor that contributes towards it, says Peter Mortimore


Sats tests limit children's education, says teachers' leader

Government interference in education and the imposition of national tests deny children a well-rounded education

Ministers are stripping primary school children of their basic human right to a well-rounded education, a teachers' leader warned today.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said national tests for 10- and 11-year-olds, formerly known as Sats, contravene the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Under the Convention, which Britain signed in 1991, children are entitled to a broad education which develops their "personalities, talents and abilities to their fullest potential".

Blower told the NUT annual conference in Liverpool that Sats only gave children the right to pass exams, not the right "to be educated in the round". They reduced children to "little bundles of measurable outputs trained in a mechanistic model of education," she said, repeating words used last month by the children's commissioner, Maggie Atkinson.

Blower said: "The NUT says 'yes' to risk-taking and exciting approaches to learning and 'no' to children as little bundles of measurable outputs."

Which is all pretty much what Oxzen, amongst others, has been saying FOREVER! So how come it's taken the NUT this long to speak up for the rights of children? Let alone DO SOMETHING!!!

Well done Christine Blower and Maggie Atkinson for finally waking up to the fact that our factory schools and our testing system deny our children their basic human rights and fail to properly develop their personalities, talents and abilities "to their fullest potential". What a pity that it's taken so long, that so many children have suffered from what's happened to our schools, and a pity the teaching unions have utterly failed to protect children (and teachers) from the politicisation and industrialisation of education.


And one from the Observer:

Educating children should not be for profit

Learning has always been separate from the forces of the free market. And that's how it should stay

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