Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The illusion of wealth and happiness

While going through a box of books I found a 1999 copy of the Kyoto Journal, a rather special issue with articles on Donald Ritchie, homelessness in Kobe, and Princess Mononoke. But what caught my attention was a long essay titled "Buddhism and Poverty," whose author argues that the developed world's poverty reduction efforts, carried out through such organizations as the World Bank, the UN, and numerous NGOs, are largely ineffective because they proceed from ignorance of the human condition.

We are at the most profound level, David R Loy believes, trapped by dualistic thinking. Developed socieities exist only in relation to undeveloped. Success to failure. Wealth to poverty. Neither can exist without the other.

The poverty of others is ... necessary because it is the benchmark by which we measure our own achievements. Unless there are losers, we cannot feel like winners. Unless the undeveloped are unhappy about their lot, we are unable to feel happy about what we have, unable to rationalize the things we have had to put up with in order to get there, unable to excuse the negative consequences of our economic development. In this fashion too what we perceive as a poverty problem is due to the tinted lenses of our wealth/poverty spectacles — and what is colored most of all by those lenses is our own self-appearance. To live in a commodified world is to recognise that we too are commodified, and as we know the value of commodities is determined by price comparison. Who earns more, you or me? We can rarely ask this question because it cuts too deeply, to the source of our self-esteem. This also applies collectively, to the way we see others.

The rest of the article is worth reading and can be found here, though you may have to enlarge the font in your browser to make for comfortable reading.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Finding Happiness

It seems rather intuitive.

Follow the heart to happiness.
Follow the herd to dissatisfaction.

This is what researchers at the University of Rochester claim to have found in a small study examining intrinsic and external forms of motivation in 147 recent university graduates. Students that focused on achieving personal goals self-reported as happier than those who focused on socially defined goals such as wealth, status, or fame.

While this study doesn't prove anything, it does suggest something we all feel, that chasing the dreams of others is often frustrating and unfulfilling. A similar study on older subjects, people with a lifetime of experience doing both, might show something else entirely, that over the course of a lifetime, even personal achievements are trivial concerns. As Dolly Madison said at the age of 80 to a young niece:

There is nothing in this world worth caring for.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Shakin': Oita Earthquake

Here you see the chart from Yahoo Japan's Earthquake page, a regular feature of the weather section, with details of last night's quake in neighboring Oita Prefecture. While a pretty good shake at 4.6/7, there was no damage here, nothing falling from shelves, just a tremor to wake us from sleep.


Monday, June 15, 2009


[I thought:]
"Plowing the field with plows,
sowing the ground with seed,
supporting their wives & children,
young men gather up wealth.

So why is it that I,
consummate in virtue,
a doer of the teacher's bidding,
don't gain Unbinding?
I'm not lazy or proud."

Washing my feet,
I noticed the water.
And in watching it flow
from high to low,
my heart was composed
like a fine thoroughbred steed.

Then taking a lamp, I entered the hut,
checked the bedding,
sat down on the bed.
And taking a pin, I pulled out the wick:
Like the flame's unbinding
was the liberation of awareness.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Thanks for the music

We closed CDJam today, almost four years since we started in the late summer of 2005. Sales were always a steady dribble, enough to pay the cyber rent. A few artists recovered their start-up fees and made a small amount of money. For ourselves, I think we about covered our costs.

It was fun while it lasted. It gave us a chance to meet many wonderful people, Japanese customers and overseas artists alike.

And it really wouldn't have happened without Mutsumi, who did an incredible job writing and translating the CD descriptions, doing radio promotions, and managing the orders and accounting. Otsukaresama, Mu-chan.

We are now beginning the task of contacting each of the artists, paying royalties, returning CDs, and disposing of unclaimed inventory, the boring, tedious side of business.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Elephant Man

I used to teach The Elephant Man to some of my university reading/writing classes. We read the graded novel (pictured), watched excerpts from the film and the students wrote a number of pieces from the point of view of the characters (Joseph Merrick to his mother, for example) or on parts of the story that invite reflection (was Dr Treves motivation for helping Merrick primarily selfish, was Merrick's death an accident or suicide). I also had the students do creative projects, which mostly turned out to be some kind of illustration or painting. One boy who said he wasn't very good with pen or brush brought me this clay figure of Joseph Merrick (based very obviously on the book's cover illustration).

While going through some boxes today I was a bit saddened to find him forgotten. It's not a lovely figure, but it has a certain charm (probably colored by nostalgia).

I'd hate to chuck Mr Merrick. I know there are some Elephant Man fans out there. If you find this before it's too late, please write and adopt him.

Never, oh never
Nothing will die
The stream flows
The wind blows
The cloud fleets
The heart beats
Nothing will die


Monday, June 1, 2009

My days at home

Looks rather tasty, doesn't it?

This is what I do most days, make lunch. We're eating two meals a day, breakfast at around 06:30 and lunch at around 14:00. In between and after we snack. If Mutsumi is working, she'll have a bento at noon and whatever I had for lunch at around 18:30. Makes for a light stomach at bedtime, a sounder sleep, and an appetite in the morning.

I've also learned a bit about shopping. Used to be Mutsumi did most of it and so I never got to know the store like she did. If you're just shopping once in a while for a particular meal, you don't need to look through the entire market. But if you're there a couple of times of week buying for every meal, you start noticing stuff, like sesame paste. Never saw that before, but there it was. You also start noticing the fluctuation of prices. Only a few weeks ago 3 apples were 290 yen. Last week they went up to 350.

I'm not a regular among the oka-sans and oba-sans just yet, but I might if I keep this up.

That's not likely to happen, though, as it appears I'm off for a warmer climate. Much warmer. Like 20 degrees warmer. High temperatures in Damman, Saudi Arabia this week are in the mid to low 40's.

More on that later . . . ;-)