A Zen had-by

If I don’t do Zen meditation to wipe out deluded thoughts then I must pace around drunkenly, spouting crazy songs. Otherwise in the autumn moon, evenings of springtime breeze,  how to cope with these idle yearnings for the past?
Po Chü-i   •  772-846  •  Burton Watson translation

The last, the first

In Finnegans Wake (auth: James Joyce), the beginning sentence is the last part of the ending sentence. I made this as a t-shirt design, a few people,  bought it online, but they were all from foreign countries, I cannot imagine how this book could be translated into another language— in this sense it is a “pre-print oral communication” book— Joyce motivates you  to read it aloud to yourself and then it makes sense. 

But then again many that do read it spend their time trying to figure out what is about. It provides people with something to do in their life while it requires an interesting commitment  as an entrance fee.

Could you say this about the book?

“Literature should be written to serve one’s own generation, and poems and songs to influence public affairs.”
Po Chü-i


Jindaiji is famous for soba and a New Year’s Daruma festival. In Tokyo temples and shrines are distributed throughout the city and people physically interact with them every day—for some “cutting through the temple grounds” is little more than a shortcut to work or school, and “as long as I am here maybe a small bow for good luck anyway,” —its a personal experience integrated  with a common experience of tradition.

Its not like a church where most people walk by everyday and  are “socially required” to attend as a group one morning once  a week at a specific time; or one day; or one evening; etc. a group experience of togetherness? or submission?


Bizen and Mashiko are two old folk kilns in Japan, “kiln” can refer to an area where there is a tradition of  potters who live, dig the same clay, use similar techniques and create a common class of pottery. Bizen and Mashiko are different kilns and at the same time, individual Bizen or Mashiko potters  have their own personal kilns.

We might say “they have a style,” but its more than a style because ofduration —a relationship between the artist and people who appreciate their work.

Nakamura Kazuki (Bizen) is the grandson of Nakamara Rokuro and Hamada Tomoo (Mashiko) is the grandson of Hamada Shoji—both are grandsons of famous potters.



Pottery is most useful if it can contain liquid. A ki-seto tokkuri and guinomi;  Father and son; Kagame Shugai and Kagame Masakane.


Peeping through the window of a back alley, then through a second  window, across Central  Avenue  SE to the buildings of the university,


No matter how many barriers there always seems to be people who will seek them out . .   some will cross them, while others will cross them while not ever seeking them . .  and others will use them for their person benefit. Each of us need a little bit of each, but not too much.


Waiting for Godough . . . Can you not help yourself when you see, a door, or an image of a door, and not wonder what is behind it? When I was young there was a song chorus:

Midnight, one more night without sleeping,
Watching till the morning comes creeping.
Green door, what’s that secret you’re keeping?
Songwriters: Bob Davie / Marvin Moore


Walking around Russian Hill one afternoon I saw this mother standing in front of her  house with her bundles, waiting, as it turned out,  for her son  . . . I watched her waiting for about 30 minutes, impatiently fidgeting until he showed up in a big black expensive car, and,  talking on his phone.

He parked in the middle of the street,—its on a hill— blocking traffic, got out, walked around to back, opened the trunk, put the stuff in, closed the trunk, escorted mom around to the passenger  side of the car, put her inside, came back around to get in the driver’s seat and drove off—All the while talking business on his handheld phone. 


Umbrellas at Yasukuni, it was raining, there was a  group photo shoot  under a big gate and umbrellas, unwanted in the photograph, and unneeded under the gate, were standing against a pillar.


One day in 1970, these people met, spent the night in an A-frame in Vermont and then moved on. Second from left is “Turtle” of Turtle Trucking in Boston, and the couple on his right . . .


We had met them in Boston, they were from Texas and driving around for the summer and they joined us for a few days; I did not know any of the other people and I never saw them again. Turtle I saw a few years later when I returned to Boston to attend design  school. I returned with no money, my van and a dog, and I worked some day jobs for Turtle who paid me daily until I got a nite job driving a cab while attending art school,  and a really cheap room plus sharing an apartment with two strangers.


Bisa and I came out of the woods into a field, it had snowed most of the night,  by morning it had stopped when we started out, still it was so overcast that I could not  locate the sun even though I had a good estimate of the time. After about 30 minutes it started snowing again and within 20 minutes our trailing tracks were  being covered.

I knew there was a large pond south east and that I was on the downward slope but the pond was about two  miles away and it was only woods the whole way, with direct east being about 100 miles of trees. And then I came on to this barn, long abandoned but still a road was findable in the snow.


With a single “I,”  “U” can make a wish.


Late January afternoon in Leverett,  MA


China Town, San Francisco,


I like to think I made more mistakes in my life than you did, but probably I didn’t, It was not the  makin’ of  mistakes that was my problem,  it was just not being able to fix my mistakes or maybe I make mistakes beyond my abiilty, or my desire, to fix—maybe they are the same thing.










Should God have been allowed to create Zen?

Once men (substitute “people,” ed.) have adopted the visual dynamic of the phonetic alphabet, they begin to lose the tribal man’s (substitute “people’s”) obsession with cosmic order and ritual as recurrent in the physical organs and their social extension.

Marshal McLuhan,  Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man 

There are questions which have no answers . . . and answers in search of a question.!? The first question I have is “What is an answer?”


Someone asked, “Why it does not matter what zen is?” —if you have to care about what the thing zen is,  then you care, or don’t care, about the thing zen is not.

I made this image during the early 1970s, these would be my neighbors on Belmont St. around the corner from Friendly’s Ice Cream on Highland Ave  in Somerville. It was all triple decker houses, often the “working-class family that owned it would live on one floor, or maybe two, and rent out the rest and some renters had been there for generations.


A family friend, Tomoko, invited us to join her for kodan—traditional Japanese story telling—in Ryokogu, we met at the JR station next to the Tokyo-Edo Museum, went inside for 90 minutes and walked over to the kodan venue.


In real life there was a human voice  but you can only imagine it in the photograph, but  as he tells the story the sound is important especially for me because I do not understand  spoken Japanese.  Still even without knowing Japanese I could hear sounds which were consistent, repeated timed, and pleasingly arranged— a performance.


The audience was sometimes laughing, my sister who was  enjoying it immensely was loudly laughing  and my son was laughing at the same time  with the audience—it felt good to watch my son understand Japanese.

On New Year’s eve, my wife  and  I used FB  to have an streaming conversation with my son who was  visiting my sister, she lives in a suburb of Tokyo. I left them alone for awhile, standing outside the door (unbounded), listening to  the three of  them talking in Japanese.


Koda!! I knew nothing about what he was saying, it did not matter, the sound and expressions were a pleasing enough experience.


In the early morning at Sensoji, people bring their dogs, others come to take photographs of people taking  photographs of their dogs.

I used to live in a smaller midwest city, within walking distance to the city art museum which was on one side of  the newly built interstate which also served to  separate the  city residents by race. The museum was free to enter anytime and browse  for as long as it was open.


There was a painting, BIG, about six feet or  taller —or making I was younger then— from the 19th century of a well dressed couple walking up stairs leading to what appears to be classical gothic architecture, maybe a cathedral — all this if my memory is correct as it was about 53 years ago — and in their trail, on the steps, lay  a burning cigar. The title of  the painting was “The tourists.”


I make photographs of my shadow, including my hand holding  the camera, then take one half of the image. duplicate its,  flop it, and put it together  as a symetrical image. A German philosopher  suggested that each us has an “empirical self” and an “ideal self, ” they are different, the empirical self is what we do, and the ideal self is what we think should have done. These are different, and that failure of  an individual to integrate these resulted in psychological conflicts.


I figured if I make  the image of my shado, one side was the “empirical me”  the other side  the “ideal me,” and when I take one half,  duplicate it  and then put the two together, voila!!   this would be an“ integrated me.”  Only thin is I would not know if it was an integrated “empirical me” or “ideal me.”


I feel like an outsider whenever I visit San Francisco, maybe that is just a reflection of my inability to interact meaningfully with people or their expression as a city, just outside standing at your door.


The Buddha said, “Subhuti, if someone should claim, “the Tathagata teaches a dharma,” such a claim would be untrue.? Such a view of me would be a misconception.*

An inability to differentiate a reflection from a reality was too easy of an excuse.


In the teaching of a dharma, Subhuti, in the “teaching of a dharma” there is no such dharma to be found as the “teaching of the dharma.”*


Beings,  Subhuti, ‘beings’  are all spoken of by the Tathagata, Subhuti, as no beings. . .


Thus they are called “beings”.*


Know beings,  so I think “if you made as many mistakes as I did in my life, you would _______ . . .”  then it was only the journey to be realized that you did and just did not tell me or I was too _________ to hear it when you did.


Wading through time, does my thinking just serve to protect me from my experience? Knowing by sense or reason?
Noing by reason or sense ?

Hope makes it too easy to forget and too hard to remember.


All I ever have is redemption photographs and maybe some anticipation for tonight’s dream and  who would allow God to do any thing any way.


“Out of context” quotations from The Diamond Sutra are from the Red Pine translation. There is no intent to insult buddha, to proselytize or even suggest I would not no what I am talking about.

When zen, is d’one?

“On a planet reduced to village size by new media, cities themselves appear quaint and odd, like archaic forms already overlaid with new patterns of culture.”
Marshall McLuhan • Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man  • 1964

All of us have our own unique life experiences, if only because in our material universe two things cannot occupy the same space at the same time.


So what! That sounds self evident. Where is  the detail  in the devil, why do each of us not have our own language? why do we share a common meaning for words when our actual experiences are different.

A child experiences a table different than an adult; taller and shorter people experience the table differently, 


Or the customer, the  waiter or the bus person will experience the table differently but we speak or write  the word “table” the same —“Put the box on the table please, ”  and we all understand it even though each us has a different history of experiences with “table.” I guess its convenient⸮.


Why do we speak the same language? Is that a stupid question!

We are raised in a family, living in a society and as we grow up each of us  naturally learns the language,


But to learn to read & write we go to formal school, we also learn vocabulary to expand  that capability beyond the confines of a family experience . . .  or a small town experience . . .  or the confines of a country . . . or advances/creations in technology.


And as hurt feelings  or lawsuits or differing individual  characteristics present, this commonality is not always equally shared among individuals , but then even with differences it is not disagreement about the existence of the word or the thing represented by the word but differences in the meaning of the word.


The differences among people are so small as opposed to what they might be given that the individual experiences are all different.


Words, concept, categories— it is humans who share the ability to create language, or complex language if you think other life forms  have some shared  capabilities  of communication with each,


Life forms do differentiate  and categorize things in the universe,  a requirement for survival and whatever may appear tob e communication is not the same “quality of complexity ” as  the human ability.

A set of pixels once appearing on my monitor repeated.


Another  set of my shado images colored and repeated. I call them blankets because I like Pueblo weaving . . .


“Then weave for us a  garment of brightest;
May the warp be the white light of morning,
May the weft be the red light of evening,
May the fringes be the falling rain.
May the border be the standing rainbow,
Then weave for us a garment of brightness
That we may walk fittingly where birds sing,
That we may walk fittingly where the grass is green.”
from a Tewa song


Just aimlessly putting things into a pattern with no tradition-direction, no established  shared symbols. For traditional societies the visual the basic  elements  of art have had long periods to develop  meaning. modern societies, increasingly artist are called upon  to create new meanings.


One way works to build cultural cohesiveness; the other works to generate diversity.  Can these be combined to have cohesive diversity.

Not when our  minor differences become more important than our major samenesses . .


I wish, I wish, I wish in vane—or vein or vain—

I could even be 10% as good a person as I seem to fool others into thinking  I am.


If we did not have this  quality of language, would we still be able to communicate with each other?  Would we know were not communicating?  Would we know what are missing?
At he end of the day emptiness is form; form is emptiness,


Gate, gate,
body svha.”
from The Great Prajnaparmita Heart Sutra











In light, ten meant to go

The idea of the New Year’s card was to show images of my experiences during the past year, a personal review so too speak.  I usually find myself  beginning with images I think will impress others, then feeling uncomfortable, slowly start exchanging different images until it feels more like myself.

Obviously I did not make one of these images, that is me in the group image,  upper left, light teal shirt, grey hair —we had attended an afternoon performance of a Japanese story telling, , the woman in kimono is ”the teacher”  in the back on my left is my sister and next is my son. In the front wearing the orange  jacket is Tomoko, a long time family friend.


Entering Yasukuni Jinja, approaching the large stone torii feels like entering a sanctuary for the power and the glory.


In Tokyo where many people walk, a lot, temples and shrines are ubiquitously  integrated into the everyday experience, where people not only pass them every day, they often take shortcuts through the temple/shrine grounds which generally  are a pleasant sensual experience.


Just outside the shrine a natural landscape amidst river and tall buildings.


Al Capone pizza early on an early  Sunday morning,  Haymarket (Boston), about 1972.


The business is now Haymarket Pizza and the neighbor is Dirty Molly’s Pub (Google maps, 01-04-20).


San Francisco: Would  you suppose that these people posed separately?  Both appear visually as if the viewer is right in front of the person, but you cannot be in two places at one time. The same can be seen in many Renaissance paintings which are less stylized with more definitive visual information, and the camera obscura was used as a tool of painters to reduce production time and probably model  costs.


The streets of San Francisco, some people love to have their “photograph taken,“  here I took it from UN Plaza to the WWW.


Musician performing for free  in the UN Plaza . . .


Musician hawking his sounds on Market Street . . .


And another texting himself  to “Feel HIs Spirit.”


Woman waiting for her son on Telegraph Hill. Walking down the hill towards Grant Street  I saw her, and stopped to watch, she was like this for about 30 minutes, her son pulled up in big black  Benz, on the phone, busy, busy, busy.

He got out of the car, dressed in business suit, opened the trunk, put the bundles in, shut the trunk,  helped her get in the front seat, went back around, got in the driver’s seat and drove away, all the while talking business on the phone.

Multi tasking with mom.


Young boy hangs out on  Market Street, he could be sitting zazen—why not?, or then again, or maybe for the first time   Why? Where else does he have to be.


Haight-Ashbury character right out of a Dickens Hollywood movie. Books require a different kind of  participation than movies,  It takes many years to learn how to read while during that time people experience film, TV and now videos. How much does the childhood film experience alter the ability of the adult reader experience, say in reading Dickens?  or about Greece or Rome? or the Bible, or history?


One day this image came out, a reflection off-of , and through, a store window  . . .


And again of-off and through .


Spending a  romantic afternoon, coffee away from the bustle, hanging out together, but still in the neighborhood.


And tea . . .  and chawan.

There was  a little shop in Japan town tucked away in around a less traveled corner, almost what you could call a “pop up,” —it was there awhile and then gone.

He sold tea—matcha, sencha, genmai . . . and had some beautiful tea bowls. There was an oribe tea pot I often wish I had bought, yet I enjoy the memory of  wishing I had bought it, maybe the memory is better than actually owning it.


What I do own, hagi


and kuro-oribe . . .


There is everyday art, such as pottery or textiles, things which you have to use in your everyday life and because of the “Art” your benefit from using goes beyond the functional purpose and becomes a pleasant part of your daily life.

On a short-cut path,
Stepping through water to cross
In the summer rains.
Haiku by Buson, translated from Japanese by Yuki Sawa and Edith Marcombe Shiffert

Below you can see bizen, hagi, mashiko, oribe, seto-guro, shino, setoyaki, and some local  potters. I wash the dishes by hand,


Is there a difference between the enlightened and non enlightened person? Would the enlightened me recognize my nonenlightened self? If I see myself on the road, would I kill him.

Here is a site offering enlightenment through a one word mantra— still even the title of the book is two words, the description is paragraphs of  words and the “personal testimonial recommendation” is 42 words.


It just like zen with all its books telling you how to be enlightened, how to discover your own Buddha inside of you, how to tell you what cannot be told, except for the 6th Patriarch, he was not literate, he could not read, or he did not knead to read, is there any difference if you are enlightened?

Is there a true process and a false process to get there, which is not here, or maybe it includes here— here and there are no different, the same time, the some place, the same thing.

I just need to convince myself to be enlightened, or at least stop meeting myself like this.