Category Archives: Bumbling about

Meeting Ming Hai, Abbot of Bai Lin Si, the temple of Zen Master Joshu

To my Zen and Chan brothers, sisters and friends,

As you may know, I spent about 6 months in China last year. I stayed at one particular temple for a two month stay in early spring and another 3 weeks in October. The monk is a Soto (Cao Dong) monk, and his favorite Zen text is the Blue Cliff Record. For one month, I did a pilgrimage through some of the temples and sites that we have all read and heard of through the years. There is a brief travelogue with some pictures on my website,

I also have a much longer narrative that I will put online at some point.

However, I thought I would share the highlights of the conversation I had with Ming Hai, the abbot of Bailin Si, that is, Cypress Forest Temple, in September, 2013. You might find it useful or interesting.

First a little background. Minghai Da Hesheng (that means Big Monk, or Abbot in Chinese) is the disciple of Jing Hui Lao Hesheng (Jing Hui, the ‘old monk’–the equivalent of Roshi–an honorific title for a revered older teacher). Jing Hui, who died almost a year ago at about the age of 80, was very important in the recent history of Chinese Buddhism. He became a monk at the age of 13, and was the disciple and attendant of the legendary Chinese monk, Xu Yun “Empty Cloud”. Xu Yun lived from 1840 to 1959.

As I noted in my recent blogpost, Xu Yun lived through some of the most tumultuous and difficult times in Chinese history. Specifically, he lived through the 15 year long Taiping Rebellion of the 19th century, which resulted in at least 20 million deaths due to civil war and social chaos. Then again, with the collapse of Chinese society and the Qing Dynasty, in 1911, followed by the Japanese invasions and occupation of large areas of China between 1938-45, together with the civil war between the Communists and the Nationalists, China experienced the death of another 20 million people in WWII, as well as the terrible social disruptions that attended all that.

So Xu Yun, we might say, is a Holocaust Survivor of not one, but TWO Holocausts.

Following the Communist takeover in 1949, institutional Buddhism was suppressed, culminating in the Cultural Revolution between roughly 1966-75.He also was severely beaten by Red Guards, but somehow survived that.

Jing Hui was one of several important disciples of Xu Yun.
Hsuan ‘Hua, who founded City of 10,000 Buddhas, was another one you may have heard of.

During the Cultural Revolution, severe repression took place. Jing Hui had trained with Xu Yun, and I would imagine, it was his position within Chinese Buddhism as a notable monk, that resulted in his imprisonment for 15 years in a labor camp.

However, after the Cultural Revolution, and the rise of Deng Xiao Ping as the ideological successor to Mao, a major transformation began to occur, with religious freedom of expression allowed. One of Jing Hui’s first acts was to gather together overseas Buddhists from Japan, Singapore, Taiwan and Korea, to rebuild Bailin Si. That is the temple of Joshu, in English it is Cypress Forest Temple.

Following Joshu’s (Chinese: Zhao Zhou) death, over a long period of decline, Bailin Si, along with many other Buddhist monasteries, fell apart. By the 1970’s all that was left of Bailin Si was a pagoda tower, that had been severely damaged in an earthquake. All the other buildings were gone, leaving just vacant land.

So Jing Hui, prevailing on the desire to rebuild the temple of one of the most important Zen Masters, raised the funds to rebuild Bailin Si. It is now a very active temple in a smallish city outside the provincial capital of Hebei province. It is about two hours on the 180 mile per hour high speed train from Beijing to the provincial capital Shijiazhuang, and another hour by car from the train station to the temple.

Because of my previous trips to China, I had heard of Ming Hai, who has succeeded as abbot to Bailin Si. He had been in a 3 year solitary retreat, however, with the unexpected death of Jing Hui, he was asked to give up his retreat, to step into Jing Hui’s shoes.

I had also had the great fortune to meet Jing Hui and have a dharma discussion with him in 2010, as noted at my website. Several people had urged me to meet Ming Hai as well. So, on my arrival at Bailin Si, I asked to see Ming Hai, but he was very busy. Finally, I got his phone number, and told him that several of our mutual friends had urged me to see him. However, he had left Bailin Si, to visit another temple, preparing for some special occasion, the dedication of a new temple. While Western news reports a lot about China’s economic rise, and building whole cities from scratch “Ghost cities”, what is not reported is a massive temple building program.

Incredibly, he arranged for a car to drive me the hour and a half ride to where he was staying. I was later to learn the good fortune of that trip too.

So that is the background for our meeting.

I started off, by telling him about my background in Zen training, both as a student at the San Francisco Zen Center, and currently as a student of Nelson Foster, who is a lineage holder of Robert Aitken Roshi, who had trained in the Sanbo Kyodan school in Japan.

I had several concerns that I wanted to share with him.
First, I wanted to see if there is some way for Americans and Chinese to meet and share their experiences. Having spent quite a lot of time with Chinese in mainland China since my first trip in 2007, I have observed a tendency for Americans and Chinese to have perceptions of each other that are somewhat skewed.

Because of the history of the past 200 years in China, I think most Americans assume that Buddhism in China is pretty much dead, and that there is little freedom of thought or speech. In the past Communist party members were forbidden to practice Buddhism, but now it is quite acceptable to, and while China has human rights issues, I sense that many Chinese are quite open to discussing these issues, more so than Americans are willing to discuss American political issues.

Second, Chinese think that there is very little Buddhism in America, and often express envy for the democratic processes we are all familiar with.

In fact, Buddhism is now a strong component (though not dominant) in contemporary China. Both educated classes and working class people have large populations that visit and support temples and monks and nuns. In fact, as a pilgrim, I have generally stayed at temples to practice Chan (Zen) for free–I simply make a donation. In only two of perhaps 15 temples I have stayed at, was I asked to pay money. Most temples charge a very nominal $5-10 a day for supervised retreats, and even then, many people who don’t have money stay for free. That is, by donations. Many temples are being built or rebuilt, due to the generosity of donors wealthy and not wealthy. I have observed a really remarkable cultural trait of generosity, and that is what supports not just temples, but friendships as well.

So my question to Ming Hai, was how to overcome these misperceptions of China. I also think it is important for Chinese to understand the political, social and economic issues facing the people of the USA .

Most of all, I wish for a peaceful, harmonious world, or as my Chinese friend Lily Lee says, “A world culture of harmony”. How can we do this?

His answer was that he has met a number of Americans who have come to visit China, and stayed at Bailin Si. For example, Andy Ferguson, who runs South Mountain Tours has brought a number of groups to visit Bailin Si as well as other temples.

Ming Hai noted that when Americans come to see China for themselves, and talk with Chinese Buddhists, they come away with a better understanding and good feeling. We both agreed that it would be good to encourage more Americans to spend time in China. Two of my American friends who went on the tours told me they enjoyed them too. So how can we create the possibility for more exchanges?

Another issue we discussed is Visas. Most people who come to China to see what is happening with Buddhism, stay for a relatively short time. But what about someone like me, who is retired and has more time to stay, or others who simply want to stay in China for a longer time, to go on pilgrimage, stay in temples for longer stay, and so on?

At that point, Ming Hai took out a note book and wrote something down. I asked what was he writing about?

He replied, “I am an Assemblyman (the Chinese equivalent a member of the US Congress), and I want to bring up the subject, of making it easier for people to stay in China, based on religious grounds”.

I was quite surprised. I replied, “Do you know, that in America, you would have to make a $5000 campaign contribution, to get a direct one on one interview with your Congressperson?” “And here I am having an extended talk with you”. Not to mention that he had arranged a car to drive me to meet him. I am not some special person, like a teacher or famous author, just a humble student of the Way.
For him to go out of his way to see me and to see what he could do about making it more possible for students of Chan–Zen–to stay in China, was really heartwarming.

Visas are not easy these days, regulations are tightening pretty much everywhere, but at least Ming Hai was making an effort to promote mutual understanding, and I deeply appreciate him for that.

Ming Hai also wanted to share some concerns he has about American Zen, which I think are worth noting.

First was the issue of ethics. As we all know, there have been a lot of problems in various Buddhist communities over the years.
He may not know of the progress that has been made in these areas, in both the Diamond Sangha as well as the Zen Center. His point is still well taken that there is more work to do, in view of issues with other Buddhist teachers in both Zen, Tibetan and Theravada lineages.

The second issue is his concern about Chan Buddhism seeing itself as separate from Buddhism. In Japan, of course and then in the USA, we have seen differentiation of Zen, Jodo Shinshu, Nichiren, and so on. In China, from my observation, there seems to be less of that, although there are temples where Chan is practiced and others where it is not. I think if I understand him correctly he is concerned about a sort of sectarian elitism in Zen culture.

At Bailin Si, there is a large Dharma Hall and monks do a lot of chanting. Most temples are similar, with chanting and study being more prominent than sitting. I think it would be fair to say that Ming Hai thinks that Dharma study is important and should not be overlooked.

As for meditation, in some temples, monks have their own hall and laypeople sit in their own hall. That is the case at Bailin Si. However, at Yang Shan’s temple and Mazu’s temple, there is one meditation hall for everyone. Likewise, the temple where I have spent the most time, Tong Bo Yan Si, is headed by a Cao Dong monk, and monks and laypeople sit in the same hall. Likewise, at Nanputo, there is a large beautiful Chan Tang, or Meditation Hall, and both monastics and laypeople sit together.

I visited one nunnery, but didn’t stay there. I have heard that there are some nunneries where lay men can stay too. So there are no set rules, that I can see.

Both Yang Shan Xi Yin Si and Bao Feng Si where Mazu taught 1200 years ago, have been rebuilt and both hold meditation retreats. I have been invited to stay and do retreats at all these temples and certainly other Westerners are welcome to join in, too.

My sense is that in China, there seems to be a feeling of a need for preparation for sitting. In the West, and even in Thailand, meditation practice is fine for even rank beginners, like most of us were when we started. Many students practice by sutra chanting, and there are temples where students study the Vinaya assiduously. Or it may be that some Chinese themselves feel they are not ready to sit, and ask for preliminary practices.

One question that I did not ask was about the temple where I met Ming Hai. It had also been rebuilt by Jing Hui, and since I read only a smattering of Chinese, I didn’t know what some posters on the wall said. Later, I asked a monk about the temple. He explained that it was at this temple YuQuan Si, that Wansong, the great Soto Master, spent a lot of time writing the Shoyo Roku, that is, the Record of Ease, or Book of Serenity or Congrong Lu, the main koan collection of the Soto School. In fact that was one of the temples I had wanted to visit. I thought that I was going to miss it due to my travel schedule, and not really knowing how to get there.

So it was by accident, that Minghai happened to be there, and with his kind assistance, I was able to complete the pilgrimage of temples I had planned.

On the other hand, the Chinese say, there are no accidents.

That was how I got to meet Minghai, and see Wansong’s temple.

PS I am returning to China in two weeks and several of my Chinese friends have asked me, how can I help to open the doors to develop friendly relations with Americans. Especially American Buddhists. On possibility is to set up a website or maybe even a forum or organization. If any of you have any ideas, I would very much enjoy hearing from you.

Also, if you know of other people who would like to hear about this, please feel free to forward it.



Filed under Bumbling about

Six Months in China Part Five

Once I arrived in Dun Huang, I had to figure out where to go, I only knew of the Dun Huang youth hostel, which was a good place, since I could connect with other budget conscious  travelers.

It seems that the only way to do any site seeing is by taking a tour. The first day, I took a trip to see the wild desert areas around Dun Huang.

Dun Huang is, geographically speaking, in Gansu Province, more than 1500 miles Northwest of Xiamen. It’s like going from, say, North Florida to Wyoming. The terrain reminded me of the Nevada desert, and the scenery is like Utah.

In fact, this area of China so famous for its part of The Silk Road, is so dry that camels are sometimes used.

China trip 2011 258One of the most popular tourist sites is Whistling Sands/ Crescent Moon Spring, an oasis in a valley formed by sand dunes.

It is a bit pricey to go there, about $22 to look around, and it costs extra money to take a camel ride.

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However, while at the hostel, I met a dreadlocked dude, named William, from Belgium, who seemed to know how to get around the strictures of normal society. We took a city bus, rather than a taxi, to the end of the line, and then hiked in, going around a chain link fence. We climbed up to the top of the sand dune and then down into the park for free.

Later, he came into Chiang Mai, and he told me that after we parted ways in China, he’d gone to Beijing and camped out on the Great Wall, and even lit a fire. All of course totally out of bounds. But we need free spirits like him, dontcha think?

I took a regular tour to some other sites, including the Yardan Landforms, very reminiscent of Utah and the Southwestern USA. China trip 2011 290

On this particular tour, which consisted of going on a bus and stopping for ten minutes to take pictures and leave, we saw an abandoned outpost that looked like little more than a pile of rocks, as well as the very far China trip 2011 271end of the Great Wall, little more than ruins at this time.

One of the best parts of this trip, was being out where the air is really clean and the sky is so blue. Most areas of China, notably Beijing have serious smog problems. Also, the air is much drier than I was used to in Xiamen and points South. So even though the temperature was getting quite cool, especially at night, compared with the temples I had stayed at, down to 36 degrees Fahrenheit by early morning, it was still a lot more comfortable than damp, raw 50 degrees at Lao Zu Si in late September.

Of course the highlight of the trip was the famous caves at Mogao, or Mogao Ku. As you enter the area of the caves, you will see the main building, which houses a 34.5 meter (about 110 feet) Maitreya Budda.

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Mogao Ku postcard 001

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At this point, you may be asking yourself, what is this huge artistic project doing out in the middle of nowhere. The basic story is that the Silk Road from central Asia to the Far East passed through this area. It is how the legendary Marco Polo made his way to China. At that time, starting around the year 300 CE, there was much trade going on, and Buddhism was one of the “imports” from India and Central Asia. China trip 2011 378

Many wealthy merchants were devout Buddhists, as were soldiers and other people. One way that they could express their devotion, was to go to the rock cliff sides, dig out a cave, perhaps even  sponsor a monk who would live in the cave, or simply build a temple, and decorate it with paintings and images of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas (Buddhas to be), Arhats (perfected beings who reached Nirvana), and various heavenly (or not so heavenly deities).

We are told that no photos could be taken in the caves, due to the damage that constant exposure to flashbulbs could cause. My personal opinion is that, having had so much of its cultural treasures stolen by people throughout the ages, particularly recently by Western collectors and opportunists, that they feel very protective of the sites.

Fortunately, however, there is a very fine museum, which not only explains the history of the caves, but even has a number of caves reproduced, and photos are permitted.

This picture taken in the museum shows how, over time, due to the type of pigment used, the painting became degraded. The right hand side shows what the painting originally looked like.

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Here is a classic sculpture of Maitreya, the Buddha to be in the next age.

China trip 2011 373This is a photo of the ceiling.


One of my favorite Dun Huang paintings is the story of the deer king. My sister, Jiru, had painted a reproduction of it that appears in the lobby of a hotel in Xiamen. Here is her painting.


I was fortunate to see the original at Dun Huang.

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These are some other pictures from the caves or postcards.

Avalokiteshvara a silk painting

Avalokitesvara, a silk painting found in a cave, along with hundreds of other paintings and manuscripts, including the Sutra of Hui Neng

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A Bodhisattva found in Cave 194

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A Flying Figure, cave 158

Following the trip to Mogau Ku, I still had a lot of time before my scheduled flight back. One evening, I just went wandering around Dun Huang City, and found that there are a fair number of shops selling silk or wool rugs, paintings, sculpture and so on. Prices look pretty good, but of course, you have to get there to bargain. But a full size silk rug can go for about $3000, much less, I think than at a shop in the US. While Dun Huang is clearly a tourist town, and there is an element of “tourist trap” about it, it is still a wonderful place to go, and many Chinese expressed their longing to visit there at some point in their lives.

The next day, I booked a taxi with some Chinese tourists to see some other caves.

These are similar to Mogao Ku but farther away. It cost 4 of us $20 each for a full 8 hour drive.

One of the places was a group of caves that was under a different jurisdiction from Mogao Ku, in a place called Anxi.

China trip 2011 402China trip 2011 392The site is quite remote, and stark. New walkways have been built, and the tour guide spoke pretty good English, however, it cost $50 and the cave paintings were in pretty

sorry shape.

The combination of weathering and vandalism, especially during the Cultural Revolution was quite evident.

However, we then went to the Yulin Grottos, which were quite reasonable in price, about $7 for a tour of 5 caves, and the quality of the pictures were very good. For an additional $15 I could have seen ONE other cave which was supposed to be a really fine specimen, however, I felt sort of pictured out for the day and didn’t take them up on the offer. My Chinese companions did, and I got the feeling that it was so-so.

The grottoes are cut out from the walls of the canyon, where a river flows through otherwise barren terrain. The style of artwork is similar to that at Mogao Ku.

Here is a large, 4 foot high incense bowl in front of one of the caves. China trip 2011 437

The Chinese Character on the front is “Buddha”, or “Fo”, as spoken in Mandarin Chinese.

China trip 2011 431This painting was on the outside of a doorway to the caves. It is quite weathered, faded and barely visible.

It appears to be that of a hermit, probably Bodhidharma, though I am not sure.

I had planned to stay for a week in Dun Huang, thinking that there would be a lot more to see, however, I realized that, although one could go back to Mogao Ku, or the other caves, there was not a lot more to see. One morning, I started to talk with a fellow I had met at Mogao Ku, and he told me how easy it would be to take a bus to the Provincial Capital, Jiayuguan. Which just happens to be my friend, Cheng Rong’s home town. It is also the last major station for the Great Wall, and since she had encouraged me to visit there, I cut my stay at Dun Huang short, and changed my train ticket, and took a bus to Jiayuguan.

When I got there, I had no idea where to go, and the bus left me off on a road side. As luck would have it, a group of young Chinese travelers were in the same situation. They did a considerable amount of haggling with a couple of taxi drives, and we proceeded to look for cheap hotels. Several hotels would not take foreigners, so my group visited several until we found one that would. Three men, including me, shared one room, and the women shared a second one. The price, once I split the cost with the other two guys was only about $8. However, there was a problem with the showers. We had no hot water. It turned out that there was hot water but you had to go upstairs to another hotel room. I didn’t understand that, but finally got my hot shower after 30 minutes of mutual misunderstanding with the hotel manager.

Before dinner, we all went looking around at the local market for dried fruits and nuts, which are very popular, and grown in that region. Almonds, walnuts, raisins apricots all delicious for a very reasonable price. And also directly benefiting the local economy. The next day, we arranged with the drivers to take us on a one day trip to the Jiayuguan Fort.

I’m told that when someone fell out of favor with the Emperor, he would banish them to this place. They’d be taken to the fort, and then told to leave. They may have been brought in this type of prison chariot. China trip 2011 451

And left off here, at the gorge beside the Fort.

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The fort was recreated to look the way it must have 500 hundred or so years ago, with many exhibits.

Here is a podium where the Generals would give orders to the troops.

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. Here a view of the outside walls of the Fortress.

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Here I am with my Chinese companions

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The Chinese have a very pleasant way of asking people not to pick or walk on the flowers.

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This is one of the entrances to the fort.

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Here is an exhibit of someone advising, a General, most likely.

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I guess if you were a rich merchant, you probably wore clothes like this in Ming Dynasty (500 to 700 years ago).

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There were quarters for the officers as well as rank and file soldiers, also quarters for family. Here, perhaps an officer’s wife in a room devoted to calligraphy. Amazing that nowadays I still see rooms like this.

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Outside the fortress lay the Great Wall of China, itself, which stretches from Beijing all the way to Jiayuguan, about 1000 miles. Mao Ze Dong himself has said that “Anyone who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man”. Well, I didn’t know about this quote at the time, but I had felt like climbing the Great Wall is something that I just HAD to do.

So I went outside the fort and started climbing. It is several hundred steep steps, I counted about 700.

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The Wall at that section is designed as a loop, so that you can climb up on one end and come down on another end. I thought we were a little short on time, so I had to hussle. But my Chinese friends told me to slow down. It didn’t matter, I love hiking and the vista was great once arriving at the top. Down below, I could even see a caravan walking along.

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Of course, once I reached the bottom again, I could see that it was not a real caravan, just an example, but you get the idea, anyway, it was fun.

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Also, when I reached the bottom of the Great Wall, there was a place where you could get a gold (not real) medallion, that had your name engraved on it. My English name didn’t fit, so I had her do one with my Chinese (Buddhist) name, in two short Chinese characters.   So now, having climbed the Great Wall,  I can say that I am a true man. I have arrived!

Here is one medallion, a large one, that says, “If we fail to reach the Great Wall, we are no heroes.”

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The next day, I met Ma Hai Ge, a friend of Cheng Rong, who has a small lingerie shop in the city of Jiayuguan. He graciously took me around to see some of the sites, as well as treating me to one of the local delicacies, barbequed goat meat. Followed by a heaping plate of thick Gansu province noodles. When he invited me for dinner after those two appetizers, I demurred. I was stuffed. He was too! He was showing the standard Chinese friendship and hospitality, which I have found so often in my travels. From Jiayuguan, I was set to go by train, first to Xi’An and then take a second train to Wuhan.

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Filed under Bumbling about, Thoughts on Zen and Buddhism

Buddhism for the new and curious

A talk given at the request of two Indian friends, to a group of psychotherapists, January 6th,2011.

When Dogen Zenji, the Japanese monk returned from China, he brought Zen Buddhism from China to Japan.

From a psychotherapeutic standpoint, you may be interested to know of his formulation of Buddhism-” To study Buddhism is to study the self to study the self is to forget the self, to forget the self is to be enlightened by all things”

You might say, that in spiritual or psychological terms, the world is either your adversary, or your therapist, depending on your point of view.

When the Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, having trained in meditation under the greatest teachers of his day, 2500 years ago, he realized that “All beings have Buddha nature, it is only their delusions and attachments that prevent them from seeing it.”

So, we can see that psychology and Buddhism have a lot in common, namely, liberation of ourselves from the hindrances and blockages that so many people experience. While we all know that there is a lot of emotional distress these days in our modern society, we shouldn’t think that it is only in these times that humans faced trouble.

A questioner once asked the Buddha:

Inner tangle, outer tangle, this whole generation in a tangle, who will succeed in untangling the tangle?

If the questioner thought things were tangled up then, he had not even considered Bank statements, business and professional licenses, investment schemes, and geopolitical politics! Or nuclear meltdowns.

The Buddha answered by saying, the person who, with determination and wisdom works on it, that person will untangle the tangle.

But the question then arises, “How do we go about this”?

And what is the thing we can Zen? Zen has become nowadays a term associated with trendy fashion statements. I saw a poster in the Taiwan Airport, saying “Find your Zen”, they were selling some fashion item.

But actually, Zen comes from the Chinese word Chan. And Chan comes from the Sanskrit word, Dhyana, which means “meditation”. Thus the Zen school of Buddhism emphasizes the practice of meditation to achieve the goal of spiritual and psychological freedom. Strictly speaking, as such, it uses, but does not depend on words, books, etc.

One time, the Buddha was in front of the assembly of monks, nuns, and laypeople. He held up a flower. No one understood his meaning, but then his Disciple, Mahakasyapa came forward and bowed. The Buddha affirmed that their wordless exchange showed a meeting of awakened mind with awakened mind, and so Mahakasyapa became the 2nd Zen Ancestor after the Buddha Shakyamuni, so the story goes.

It is fair to say that much of this is legendary, some historically true, some made up to fill in the blanks, but nevertheless, meditation has been central to the work of spiritual freedom throughout the centuries.

Whether in the case of the many Indian saints, such as Ramana Maharshi, or the zen masters, Tibetan lamas, Daoist sages of China, and even Native American shamans, sitting crosslegged shows a common thread in those who wish to develop themselves.

Of course, crosslegged sitting is not totally necessary, as there are other practices such as the various schools of yoga, chi gong, tai chi, etc. And one of the principle common threads is that of Mindfulness, or recollection.

Why is this? because our minds are essentially out of control.  Let’s try an experiment. We’ll sit quietly for a few minutes, and starting with each breath, breath in, and on the out breath, breathe “one…then on the next out breath…two, up to ten, and then start over at “one”

———OK, so how many of you, after a short time, either lost count of your breath, or noticed other thoughts irrelevant to the exercise, creep in?

If you did, guess what………..You are normal!

Just as it is the heart’s job to pump blood, the mind’s job is to think. However, if we can learn to train our minds to think in a certain way, we will no longer be at the mercy of our thinking, feeling, and psychological and cultural conditioning.

That is why mantras are a popular form of practice in many religions. The mind is said to be like a young calf, jumping around all the time, but if we tie it to a post, it will gradually settle down and become calm.

The mindfulness exercise or recollection we practice, is the rope we use to tie it, and with patience and persistence, the many thoughts and feelings we experience, we can catalog and understand, and eventually tame our minds.

However, if you try holding a mantra or your breath in mind as you are walking down the street, driving your car, or doing other common activities, you may find that it is quite difficult to do so. While sitting with no other  activity, though, it is easier.

After about 1000 years in India, there was a certain Prince in Southern India, who, like the Buddha, also gave up his throne, and became the Indian who brought Zen Meditation practice from India to China. Up until then, Buddhism in China had been mainly scholasticism, the study of Buddhist doctrine, or the description in words of the Buddhist experience of reality, or the practice of devotional recitation of various names of Buddhist luminaries.

Bodhidharma, so he was called, used one scripture as doctrine, but also emphasized that ultimately, it is up to each of us to cultivate ourself and realize our true nature. He is spoken of as the First Patriarch, or first Ancestor of Zen in China.

The Sixth Ancestor, named Hui Neng was a good example of the concept of nonadherence to words, letters and doctrine. An illiterate woodcutter, he supported his poor mother, his father having died while he was young.

One day, he heard a monk reciting from the Diamond Sutra, a short but key text in Chinese Buddhism (incidentally, printed on woodblocks about 800 CE, and thus the first printed book) and his mind was enlightened. He inquired where the monk came from, and learned that he was a student of the 5th Ancestor. ” Due to my good karma in past lives, I heard of this teaching, and I was given ten Tael (coins) to maintain my mother, who advised him to see the 5th Ancestor.

I once asked my teacher, “Hui Neng lost his father at a young age, his mother was miserable, and he was an illiterate woodcutter, yet, on hearing the Diamond Sutra, he realized his Essence of Mind”.

I also lost my father at a young age, my mother was also miserable, but at least I had a good education. And yet, Hui Neng heard the Diamond Sutra and was immediately enlightened. While I have been beating my head against the wall these many years, trying in vain to to be enlightened. So what is the difference between Hui Neng and me?”

My teacher said, “Hui Neng heard the Diamond Sutra and was enlightened, and you have been beating your head against the wall.”

So now I think maybe for starters, I should stop beating my head against the wall, trying to attain something!

Well, anyway, I am not alone, for Hui Neng soon found that he faced serious envy from the other practitioners at the monastery, many of whom had, no doubt also studied Buddhism for years. His teacher advised him to lay low for 16 years, and he left the monastery and lived in the forest for years. However, at one point, he was being pursued by a tough soldier, General Ming,  who was seeking the return of the 5th Ancestor’s robe, which he felt was not rightfully Hui Neng’s.

He was about to overtake Hui Neng, who was hiding behind a large boulder. Hui Neng said, “the robe is only a symbol, and not worth fighting over, so if you want it, take it, and left it on a rock. But Ming, the soldier had enough presence of mind, to say, “I came for the truth.”

Hui Neng, replied that he should just sit quietly and calm his mind. And then after a time, Hui Neng said, “Now show me your Original Face, before your parents were born”.

It is sometimes used as a meditation subject “What is your original face, before your parents were born.” It is said that at that point, Ming had a breakthrough.

To do this, to break through, we must be in the here and now.  A friend and I were talking about another story the other day, about some one who was reborn for 500 lives. The story is reminiscent of the movie Ground Hog Day, where the hero of the story wakes up and has to go through the same day every day, until he finally sees why he is stuck.

Interestingly, Zen uses stories to stimulate our mind to look at things in new ways, and free ourselves from the preconceived notions that bind us.

A zen master used to give lectures periodically, a common practice, and an old man used to show up to listen. One day, the old man stayed behind. “I used to be the abbot of this temple, but because of a mistake I made, I have been reborn as a fox for 500 lives, only appearing here as human for your talks.”

So what was the problem the abbot asked? “When someone asked me about Karma, [ the law of cause and effect, as represented by “as you sow so shall you reap”], I said enlightened people are not subject to karma”. “Ok, now ask me the question, the abbot said.

“Is an enlightened man subject to karma or not?” 

“An enlightened man does not disregard Karma” retorted the abbot.

At that point, the old man was enlightened, and said that he was now released from the body of a fox.

The abbot then called the monks together and told them to prepare for a monk’s funeral. They were all puzzled since no one was even sick. So the abbot took them on a walk around the mountain and poking under a rock, found the body of a dead fox. He then told them the whole story, gave the fox a monk’s funeral.

So from a therapeutic point of view, we can look at this story and consider its meaning. Maybe it is “why do I do the same behavior over and over again?”

Why do I feel stuck in my life?

However, from a Zen point of view, if a Zen teacher gives you this story, also called a Koan, or “Public case”, and you keep this story in mind, you will probably start to see your own life story in a different way, a way that frees you from your conditioned response to it.

In other words, what we think is neurotic behavior, suddenly becomes an understandable response to perhaps some situation that we could not handle earlier in life. We can forgive ourselves for our state of mind, and more important, accept the behavior of others such as parents or spouses we didn’t get along with, but not take it personally. Likewise, if we have done things that have hurt others, through our own arrogance, greed, anger, fear or ignorance, those issues will come up so we can deal with them and (hopefully) not repeat our own mistakes.

The key point, is to not get caught up in doctrine or dogma.

As Bob Marley said,

Free yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds….

or Bob Dylan:

It’s all right Ma, it’s life and life only.

We study the self in order to forget the self, and are liberated by all things.

Suddenly, everything becomes “OK”, or “things just as they are”.

This practice, which involves becoming more intimate and gentle with ourselves, through mindful awareness and employing sitting meditation as the cutting edge of developing awareness has been used for at least 2500 years in Buddhism and certainly in many other spiritual and psychological disciplines.

Constellation therapy, gestalt therapy, Jungian therapy all have similar aspects to them.

The key is learning to see our life, just as it is, without denial or feelings of victimhood, or superiority, but in a different way, where we take responsibility for ourselves.

One useful step to take is to own our own body and mind, by taking stock, through meditation, the Zen stories, and the various sutras–Buddhist scriptures–are all useful tools, but the real work is really up to us, to untangle our own tangle.

Indeed, teachings of any kind, from Aesop’s fables, to the Bible, can serve as metaphors or lenses to gain some insight into ourselves.

It is said that the Buddha’s last words were

All concocted things disintegrate

Work out your own salvation with diligence.

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Bodhgaya-Massive Cognitive Dissonance

January 2011

So after staying at the Bodhizendo, the Zen Center whose teacher is a fine, very kind Jesuit priest, who trained in Japan with the same teacher as Robert Aitken Roshi, I have come on pilgrimage to Bodhgaya, where the Buddha realized Enlightenment. I have sat under the Bodhi tree (replanted 1000 years ago), wandered around, talked with lots of people –Thai, Indian, Westerners, Tibetans, Chinese, and so on.

As the pictures attached show, inside Mahabodhi Temple (pictures taken at night), it is Sukhavati, the Pure Land. Outside, it is the land of the hungry ghosts.

The poor people are inveterate beggars, who are criticized as lazy and dishonest, which why they can’t pull themselves up. All true.

However, they seem to forget that LOTS of money disappears before it gets to its intended use.

Also, these people are told, that due to their past bad actions, which were from a former life that they cannot recall, they are only fit for the worst jobs,   cleaning toilets, picking up garbage, etc.

Question; If you were told over and over that you are only fit to shovel shit and garbage for the rich, would you be very motivated, especially since the education system and the social system are heavily stacked against you?

I pointed out to a young Indian graduate student that in Venezuela, illiteracy was lowered from 70% to 5% in just a few years. So change is possible but it has to come from the top via reform, or outright rebellion from below.

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Leaving Bodhizendo

1-1-11 – Well, this is my last day at BodhiZendo, the Zen meditation center in India. Met a lot of nice people, it is in rural southern India, so saw some villages and villagers and the local small town and small city nearby.

Overall I had a nice time, but the country seems to trail behind China and Thailand as far as liveablitiy is concerned– a lot more visible poverty, a lot of garbage all over the place.

Cows wander the streets like dogs, eating whatever they can find, and then I guess people drink the milk.

The center here is pleasant and very clean. The teacher is also a good person who is letting people stay at the center for only $190 a month, as well has running a Montessori kindergarten for very poor local kids who are there free of charge, all run by donation.

On Friday, I go to Bodhgaya, where the Buddha sat under the Bodhi Tree,  via a trip to Calcutta, where I stay for two days with two Indian  psychiatrists, husband and wife, that I met here.

I am not very fond of Indian food, it is too spicy, and not enough decent quality fruits and vegetables. I guess I will see how it is in the North at Bodhgaya, where there may be more food choices. I hear the Tibetans come there in droves in January, so it will be a chance to see what buddhist culture outside the USA is like.

Be well,


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Report from China

16-10-09 –

Hi to my Zen Friends

I just wanted to fill you in on some of my latest thoughts and experiences here in China. I have been here in Xiamen, across the strait from Taiwan, but on the Mainland of China, for about 9 months now.

On Fridays, I usually go and hang out with my good friend, Meioguangfashi, the monk whom I met while traveling in South China in 2007, the monk who encouraged and invited me to come to China, to “share my practice”. Meioguangfashi is a highly regarded artist in China, as well as an authority on Chinese antiques, art and culture.

Yesterday, I showed him a printout of the homepage of the Honolulu Diamond Sangha, with a picture of several students in the Zendo, sitting with teacher Michael Kieran.

It was Michael who gave excellent talks in Rohatsu sesshin in 2003, I think, about the controversy between Hongzhi and Da Hui, basically, as I understand it between Silent Illumination or Soto Practice, and Koan, or Rinzai practice. Hats off to Taigen Leighton for his research on this, which Michael cited in his teisho.

So Meioguangfashi commented, “Oh they are practicing Japanese way”

Eric: No
Meioguangfashi: Yes
Eric: No
Meioguangfashi Yes
Eric: No, they are practicing Song Dynasty Chinese Buddhism, most likely practicing Dahui style as taught in Japan.

He is probably the best learned Chinese buddhist I know, and he was aware of the controversy I mentioned above.

I then brought up the issue of the Wumen Kuan. We had spent time with a monk I had met at Xuefeng temple (Seppo). He practices a form of breathing meditation, rather than the highly prevalent chanting of Amitofo–Amitabha Buddha of the Pure Land School.

But in talking about Joshu’s “Does a dog have Buddha nature?” His definitive answer was that Joshu’s meaning is, that it does indeed have Buddha Nature (“Fo shin”). My admittedly limited understanding from the point of view of  the Wumen Kuan, is that it is very different.

So Meioguangfashi told me that in fact, the WumenKuan had been destroyed during the Qing Dynasty 300 years ago, due to the ascendancy of the Dalai Lama with the imperial government of China at that time. Very few monks study it, and study isn’t encouraged.

Thus, two of the most important texts in what we know as Zen Buddhism, were destroyed.
The Blue Cliff Record in I guess the Song Dynasty, and the Wumenkuan, in the Qing.

That explains a lot to me about why I have encountered so little practice that looks like what I have come to think of as “Zen” or “Chan”.

It also raises issues with me as to “why” this happened, and why chanting Amitofo is clearly prominent. I’d say that zazen has a lot more in common with Theravada practice than with many of the Mahayana practices which are far more devotional (though certainly Theravada has a lot of chanting especially in popular Buddhism).

I guess, people really don’t like sitting around accomplishing nothing.

It also makes me appreciate Suzuki Roshi’s description of Zen Center’s practice as “Hinayana Practice Mahayana Mind.”

I also feel I have to speculate, that the ascendancy of devotional practice,, with its emphasis on chanting and ceremonies, has an element of social control as well as a diminishing of the intense questioning characteristic of Zen.
Indeed, Chinese I talk with tell me that in school, they were taught that Buddhism was used to control the people before the Peoples Republic was established,

Not that events since then have resulted in social control, of course. (As an aside, Communism is considered a religion here, and that when you register with the government, you cannot be both Buddhist and a member of the Party)

Sometimes a Chinese will tell me that Buddha is his god, and they are astonished when I say that Buddhism has nothing to do with belief, much less a belief in god, but is a method  of deep inquiry into ourselves and the world, as science is in the physical world.

I have read enough Pure Land Buddhism to see that it certainly does put a lot of emphasis on ethical training, which is excellent. And it is also true I think that intense Pure land practice as seen by eminent monks like Hsuan Hua leads to far greater spiritual development than laggards like me.

Nonetheless, the deep inquiry used in trying to understand koans points to the deconstruction of all views, which the Buddha said is the fundamental cause of suffering, attachment to views. Not the replacement of views with another view, that chanting the name of Amitabha will result in liberation.

There is a strong view in China, that despite the past 200 years of great turmoil and trauma, that the dharma is strongest here in China, whereas, in my observation over these past few years, Thailand Burma and even our benighted USA have more access to meditation instruction, certainly available to foreigners. [As of 2011, I may have to change my views on this, and will be returning to stay at several temples from May to October, 2011.]

In the end, nowadays, the Chinese are mainly interested in creating a better material life for themselves, and one of my monk friends here noted regretfully that modern Chinese culture is being overwhelmed by seeking material comfort–money–rather than asking questions about the meaning of life.

On the other hand, I have not met some of the monks that Red Pine has told me about, and I hope that I will be able to meet them in the next couple of months, before I go back to  Thailand and on to India, where there is a branch school of the Sanbo Kyodan School, the parent organization of the Diamond Sangha, which Aitken Roshi founded, and of which I consider myself a student.

As for my future here in China, that is its own Genjo Koan.

Palms together,

Eric Arnow

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An IRS Audit as Spiritual Practice


I had just cancelled my contract with Shelley and Jan, who had been handling my affairs in America. Shelley’s assistant, Jan, would check my mail box, deposit checks from my business, deal with a few bills now and then, and let me know of any important items like license renewals, insurance premiums due, that sort of stuff. Not much really.

I am living a Thoreau like existence here in Asia. Having worked in the insurance business for 18 years after I left my Zen monkhood behind to learn how to deal with the “real world”, I longed to get out of the rat race.

So I sold my house, and taking the lead of the big corporations, downsized myself—my expenses that is, cutting them by about 80%. But Shelley had just raised her rates, and getting charged $200 one month on my $800 a month income was not sustainable. So in mid September, I let her know I was on my way to China to visit my new Chinese friends and their monk/teacher, whom I planned to help with some translation work and to just enjoy our Zen discussions, and that I would not be using her services any more

And I am thinking, “So here I am in China again—wow what a life—what a blast, spending my time as I please, no financial stress, no job stress, and out of the Armed Madhouse, the title of journalist Greg Palast’s book, and his nickname for my country the USA.”

I thought I’d never hear from Shelley and Jan, but what to my surprise when I got to China, I went to an internet café to check my emails, and saw an email from Jan.

“Notice of IRS Audit”. Gulp.

I opened the email and saw an attached letter, dated September 19th. “You must respond to this notice within 10 days”. That meant the deadline would be September 29th, only Jan had been on vacation and hadn’t checked my mail, so I got the notice after she sent me the email on October 2nd. Not a great way to start an intimate relationship with your IRS auditor.

“Xiaojunjie (my Chinese friend), I gotta problem. The government is after me. They think I must pay them more taxes!!” What had I done to deserve this, other than being utterly disgusted with a daily diet of stolen elections, wars based on lies, etc. etc? Sure, I’d written a few letters to the editors, and had a couple of articles put on the net that were critical of the Bush administration, but little ol’ me?

“I gotta call the government man right away. Please help.”

I had a mobile phone for use in China, but it didn’t reach the US. Xiaojunjie and his wife are two smart people. In this communist country, Xiaojunjie makes his living as a stock trader, and his wife Cao ze dung has a management position with the Bank of China, in Shanghai. Fortunately, she was home for a visit, and she managed to reconfigure her mobile phone so I could call the USA and reach the agent. Since there is a 15 hour time difference, I had to call him at 11PM, in order to reach him at 8 AM California time.

“Hello, can I speak with Abe Michael (not his real name), please.

“This is he. ”

“Hi, my name is Eric Arnow , and I must apologize, for not getting in touch with you sooner. You see, I am in China right now, and I just got your letter via email. By the way, how should I address you? You can call me Eric. ”

“You can call me Mr. Michaels, or Abe.”

“Fine, you can address me as Eric and I will address you as Abe.”

” So when are you coming back for the audit?”

“Well, I am here in China helping this monk I met. I plan to stay for a month. And then I am going on a meditation retreat for two or three months, and then I plan to go back to China to study Chinese.”

“Well that is all very interesting, but how are you going to get me the information we have requested?”

What was in question was my self employment health insurance deductions, my Legal and Professional fees—that is my tax prep fees and the fees I had paid Shelley, as well as my Capital gains and losses. I had hired H&R Block to do my taxes in 2005, the year in question, but they also wanted my tax returns for 2004 and 2006.

“Abe, I have promised the monk that I would help him this month, and afterwards, I will get back to Chiang Mai Thailand where I live and get all the info together and send it to you. Would that be OK?”

“All right, call me when you get back to Thailand or wherever it is you are staying”

I replied, “Thanks so much Abe. I REALLY appreciate your giving me some time to take care of this.”

Whew!! I was off the hook for a month anyway. The next day, I spent at my friend Yeshufa’s internet café, composing a letter to Abe, and copying and printing off the emails showing that I had indeed gotten notice three days after the deadline to respond.

Then Yong Hui took me on his motorcycle to the China Telecom office, where we faxed all the stuff. A one month reprieve.

OK I admit. I am paranoid. The CIA and Bush are personally out to get me, I thought.

Given the stories floating around of no fly lists, people getting tasered, just for asking politicians pointed questions and so on, why shouldn’t I be?

But then I thought. “Look, Eric. Calm down. What have you actually done wrong? Who is this guy, Abe, probably just some guy trying to do his job. Don’t take it personally. Remember, your practice of unconditional loving kindness?”

I reflected on another chance meeting I had had with an IRS guy on an airplane flight.

I was on my way to Hawaii for a meditation retreat, when I saw this portly fellow sitting next to me with a handout titled, :”IRS money laundering guide”

So I said to him, “say, you wouldn’t happen to be with the IRS would you, I see you have that handout.”

“Yes”, he said sheepishly.

“So what do you do?”

“I go to CPA’s Lawyers, Check cashing places and so on to inform them of these illegal practices and their responsibility to notify us.”

“So give me an example”.

“Suppose you are a check cashing company, and a kid comes into your shop with $1000 cash. What would you think?

“I guess, let’s see, he is a paper boy and he has saved up his money and he is going to buy a new super bicycle”

“No, he is splitting $10,000 that a drug dealer has made into small amounts and is laundering it”

So I said, ” Gee that’s interesting. Do you know about the fact that the Department of Defense cannot account for $2.3 trillion? Robert Lieberman, the Deputy Inspector General for the Pentagon gave a report to Congress on it.”

The IRS guy was taken aback. “Nooooo, nooooo. That’s not true”

“Well, I have seen the report myself, and it is on the Congressional record, I don’t think the guy is committing perjury, do you?”

“Noooo, noooo, it can’t be.”

It was time for me to get off the plane. ” I wish you well in your career. Bye bye”.

So here I am with my poverty level income being audited for possible tax violations.

And here was someone in IRS management who is obviously totally CLUELESS about the astronomical amounts of money being stolen from us taxpayers, training people to chase down paperboys. Pathetic, just Pathetic.

OK, calm down , calm down. He is he is just trying to do his job as he has been trained—or perhaps a better term, indoctrinated to do. We must show compassion for these folks. Think of it from their standpoint. They are constantly trained to be suspicious, and probably under various types of pressure that then gets passed on down to the people like me, who are obviously intimidated by one of the most powerful agencies in the world.

A close business associate of mine had told me that he had hired a CPA for his insurance agency (that I had quit the year before). Both his and the parent company’s investigation cleared the guy, but it turns out he had a criminal history.

So one day, the IRS stormed into my friend’s office, took away all his files and computers, and he was fired from his position with the company. A year later, after a thorough investigation, the IRS gave him back his stuff. “You are in the clear. Sorry for the inconvenience”.

Reflecting on this, I recalled the three Characteristics of Existence, as taught in Buddhism here in Thailand. First, is Suffering. If you are alive, sooner or later shit happens. Second, impermanence, whether you want some condition to last or not, everything changes. Third, not self. The world is essentially out of control, nothing exists in and of itself outside of numerous vastly complex conditions.

The point being: Relax.

I had done my taxes the best I could, and if the IRS decided to take my money, whatever.

One time, the Zen monk Ryokan went for a walk, and when he came back to his mountain hut, thieves had taken everything he had. Sitting at night, he thought, “Oh if only I could give them this beautiful full moon.”

That is freedom.

From the Diamond Sutra:

Subhuti, [one of the Buddha’s monks] thousands of lifetimes ago when my body was cut into pieces by King Kalinga, I was not caught in the idea of a self, a person, a living being, or a life span. If, at that time, I had been caught up in any of those ideas, I would have felt anger and ill-will against the king.

“I also remember in ancient times, for 500 lifetimes, I practiced transcendent endurance by not being caught up in the idea of a self, a person, a living being, or a life span. So, Subhuti, when a bodhisattva[a person aspiring to Enlightenment for all beings] gives rise to the unequalled mind of awakening, he has to give up all ideas. He cannot not rely on forms when he gives rise to that mind, nor on sounds, smells, tastes, tactile objects, or objects of mind. He can only give rise to that mind that is not caught up in anything.

A woman in Afghanistan was serving breakfast to her family, when an American bomb fell through the roof , killing her husband and children, she somehow survived.

One time, Suzuki Roshi my first Zen teacher and founder of the San Francisco Zen Center said, you people are so lucky, you shouldn’t complain so much all the time. You know sometimes people get their heads cut off. I didn’t understand at the time, but in light of what we hear nowadays, I do now.

Considering these real life and apocryphal stories, I had to put things in perspective.

Show compassion for the IRS guy, he is only fulfilling his function in the vast expanse of the Universe.

When I got back to Chiang Mai, I had my work cut out for me. I had to go through 6 years of stock trades, and three years of health insurance premium payments, and get invoices for all this stuff. What a headache!! It took over 6 weeks to call all the various brokers, vendors, and so on to get original receipts. Plus, I called H&R Block to find out how they calculated the “Schedule D gains and losses”.

“Hi Eddie, this is Eric Arnow, you did my taxes in 2005. And now I am being audited by the IRS. Can you please provide me with your calculations, since they didn’t appear on my actual tax return?”

“I gave you everything already”, he replied.

“Then please let me talk with your supervisor”, I said.

“Dave, I am being audited by the IRS after you guys did my taxes. What gives?”

Dave sputtered, “it’s a fishing expedition”.

Well that may well be the case but that didn’t help me with the audit. So I said, “I really need to have the Schedule D calculations”.

Dave said he didn’t have them. So I asked for Eddie again.

“Eddie, I don’t see the calculations, how did you arrive at the number on my tax return. Did you even DO the calculations???”

Eddie hesitated and then said, “No”.

Isn’t that just great. I specifically asked them to do my return since the Schedule D is the hardest part of the return, and now I find I paid them and they didn’t even do it.

So I demanded to speak with the office manager. “Eddie didn’t do the calculations, I need to get my money back.” I demanded and got her name and address, and faxed my demand for a refund. Shortly afterwards, a check without comment from H&R Block arrived in the mail for a full refund.

As an aside, I recently got a call from a woman with H&R Block. “Hi I am with H&R Block, do you need help with your taxes this year?” I told her the whole story, including the fact that in my demand letter for a refund, said that Eddie should be disciplined for gross errors and omissions. “So what happened to Eddie?” I asked. “Oh he got a promotion to management.”

See what I mean? Out Of Control

But now I had to tell Abe, that the calculations on my return were made up, basically , and that I would do them myself.

In doing the calculations, I saw that, although I had significant losses that year, they were not as bad as I thought, owing to one pretty large gain. I had bought Allied Capital’s stock in 1999 and with reinvested dividends it had tripled in value by 2005. Why the heck did I sell that stock? Well, I had had to because the brokerage firm I was using had done some extremely bad work, violating trading rules that put me at severe risk, so I had to sell everything and close the account.

But seeing how I had actually sold several stocks out of impatience that later doubled or tripled was a big lesson for me. And on further checking, I learned that the big gain for that year on Allied Capital was not a fluke. The company paid a 10% dividend and has had an annual return of 17% over 40 years!!!

This audit was becoming a great teaching tool for me, forcing me to look at my own investing psychology. I really owe Abe a debt of gratitude!

So I finally, with many phone calls and repeated requests for documents from my bank, from Shelley and several other sources of info, got everything into the mail.

I also, to show Abe that I really did do the translation work with the monk, sent a photo and an ink drawing he did with my translation and comments.

The photo was that of “the House of the Ancients” at a monastery we had visited, a memorial to two great Chinese scholars 500 years ago. My caption for the photo was,

“Open your own treasure house and use those treasures”.

I called Abe in mid December, having mailed all the documents. “Hi Abe, how are you? I have sent all the documents, so when should I hear from you?”

“I am going away for three weeks and won’t be back until January 7th. But I still have to review them, so don’t call me until January17th.”

“Gee, Abe that is great, because as you recall, I have been planning to go on my meditation retreat. So this works well. I want to say that I really appreciate your giving me the extra time and I hope you have a good holiday!”

I called him back on January 17th, at 11PM. “Hi Abe! How are you?”

“I’m OK, I haven’t had a chance to go through your stuff yet.”

“I see, well I just want to let you know that I put this all together and that I am acting in good faith with you.”

“Yes Eric, I know that because you could have waited to call me after you came back from China but you called right away.”

“Abe, I would like to say that I don’t think I made any mistakes but I am certainly glad to work through everything with you. I don’t really think there is much there for you. After all, my rent here in Chiang Mai is $60 a month. So should I call you back in a week?”

“No that’s OK, I have a lot on my plate, since I came back, with other cases. Save your pennies on phone calls, I will send a letter out by February 1st”.

“”OK and thanks again for your patience in letting me stay in China and doing my retreat. Bye for now.”

I don’t really know how this will all turn out. I haven’t heard back from Abe. He is really a nice guy, I wish I could take him to lunch. After all, I learned an important lesson in investing from him, albeit indirectly.

Making friends with people that you wouldn’t normal think of as a friend can be a truly mind altering experience. Now if I could just have a little chat with George and Dick and Condi.

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