Bob Schwartz

Month: December, 2022

2023: The Year of Poetry

[The poet’s] role, in short, is to help people to live their lives.
Wallace Stevens

I began this day, new year’s eve morning, thinking about poetry.

Chogyam Trungpa, Buddhist teacher and leader, founded a unique university in Colorado, the Naropa Institute. Among its schools is the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. A school for poets was central to Trungpa’s vision. The story is told that when he arrived after escaping Tibet he said, “Where are your poets? Take me to your poets.”

In 1941, master American poet Wallace Stevens lectured about the role of poetry during an era of crisis. The effect of the depression lingered while a new world war had begun. In “The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words” he said:

For more than ten years now, there has been an extraordinary pressure of news . . . at first, of the collapse of our system, or, call it, of life . . . and finally news of a war. . . . And for more than ten years, the consciousness of the world has concentrated on events which have made the ordinary movement of life seem to be the movement of people in the intervals of a storm. . . . Little of what we have believed has been true. Only the prophecies are true. The present is an opportunity to repent. This is familiar enough. The war is only a part of a war-like whole….

What is [the poet’s] function? Certainly it is not to lead people out of the confusion in which they find themselves. Nor is it, I think, to comfort them while they follow their readers to and fro. I think that his function is to make his imagination theirs and that he fulfills himself only as he sees his imagination become the light in the minds of others. His role, in short, is to help people to live their lives.

All of which is why 2023 should be The Year of Poetry. Maybe you read or write poetry sometimes, maybe frequently, maybe not at all. Those who do know its power. Those who don’t will be enriched by it. Who doesn’t need a little help to live their lives?

New Year 2023: Newer people in a newer world

“’Tis not too late to seek a newer world.”
Alfred Lord Tennyson, Ulysses (1842)

The transformation that is coming invites us to re-examine our own lives. It confronts us with a personal and individual choice: are we satisfied with how we have lived; how would we live differently? It offers us a recovery of self. It faces us with the fact that this choice cannot be evaded, for as the freedom is already there, so must the responsibility be there.

At the heart of everything is what we shall call a change of consciousness. This means a ‘new head’ – a new way of living – a new man. This is what the new generation has been searching for, and what it has started achieving. Industrialism produced a new man, too – one adapted to the demands of the machine. In contrast, today’s emerging consciousness seeks a new knowledge of what it means to be human, in order that the machine, having been built, may now be turned to human ends; in order that man once more can become a creative force, renewing and creating his own life and thus giving life back to his society.

It is essential to place the American crisis and this change within individuals in a philosophic perspective, showing how we got to where we are, and where we are going. Current events are so overwhelming that we only see from day to day, merely responding to each crisis as it comes, seeing only immediate evils, and seeking inadequate solutions such as merely ending the war, or merely changing our domestic priorities. A longer­ range view is necessary.

What is the nature of the present American crisis? Most of us see it as a collection of problems, not necessarily related to each other, and, although profoundly troubling, nevertheless within the reach of reason and reform. But if we list these problems, not according to topic but as elements of larger issues concerning the structure of our society itself, we can see that the present crisis is an organic one, that it arises out of the basic premises by which we live and that no mere reform can touch it.

Charles Reich, The Greening of America (1970)

I look back to the time around the 1960s and 1970s not with nostalgia but with evergreen hope. Things in America, and in other places globally, had lined up to pair suffering and tragedy with the possibility of fundamental change. Barely a generation past the end of World War II, a newer country and a newer world seemed within reach. Not without struggle, not without resistance, not imminent, but soon, maybe within a lifetime.

In the decades since, changes have happened, some of them substantial and much more than mere style. But the point Charles Reich made in his best-selling book The Greening of America remains central. What seemed to be beginning then and what he deemed essential was a change of consciousness, the emergence a new person. Some have, some not.

Hopeful, we are waiting.

© 2022 Bob Schwartz

Coffee meditation: Measuring spoons v. pods

“Just a spoonful of coffee is medicine.”
Mary Poppins?

Early morning means counting out measuring spoons of ground coffee:

One spoon of coffee. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six.

Counting, as of breaths, is a part of some meditation practices. This feels like that.

But what, I wonder, if I was a pod person. That is, someone who made coffee with a pod machine. Which I am not. Would that also be a kind of meditation? Like this:

One pod.

Well, yes, maybe. Whether you are counting to six, or ten (a typical meditation counting number), you are also counting to one. Do you see? So whether it is spoons or pods, six or one, isn’t it all coffee?

If you don’t see now, you will. Good morning. Drink up.

Mitt Romney HAD a beard

I just learned that for a short time recently, Senator Mitt Romney, former (and some say future) Republican presidential nominee, had a beard.

The story is that over the Thanksgiving holiday, Romney didn’t shave, his wife Ann thought he looked “cute” and so he kept it. For a while.

Then Senator Ted Cruz, of all people, convinced Romney to shave it. At least that is Cruz’s story. “Of all people” because Cruz has had a beard for a long while, which some think makes him look like a wolverine or other feral animal. You be the judge.

This led me to wonder about Mormons and beards, which turns out to be a fascinating topic. Early Mormon leaders did have beards, but LDS has since had mixed policies. Brigham Young University, for example, has banned student beards since the 60s and still does.

Even with the current cultural embrace of beards, including at work, they are still rare in Congress, and rarer in the Senate.

As for Romney, I’m not sure about cute, but it did make him look a little rugged and real, counterpoint to his usual impeccable dress. He should have learned by now, as many of us have, never to listen to Ted Cruz.

Miracle lamp, miracle birth. Jews and Christians. What does a Buddhist master say about miracles?

Miracles of Each Moment, Kazuaki Tanahashi

“Even when people do not know that fetching water is a miracle, fetching water is undeniably a miracle.”

It is a week of celebrated miracles. The eight days of oil. The birth of Jesus. So it is appropriate to see what Buddhist teacher and writer Dōgen Zenji (1200 – 1253) said about miracles in his masterpiece the Shōbōgenzō (Treasury of the True Dharma Eye).

26 Miracles

Miracles are practiced three thousand times in the morning and eight hundred times in the evening….

Encompassed by the power of great miracles, minor miracles occur. Great miracles include minor miracles but minor miracles do not know great miracles. Minor miracles are a tuft of hair breathing in the vast ocean, a mustard seed storing Mount Sumeru, the top of the head spouting water, or feet spreading fire….

In the inexhaustible ocean of the world of phenomena, the power of buddha miracles is unchanging. A tuft of hair not only breathes in the great ocean but it maintains, realizes, utilizes, and breathes out the great ocean. When this activity arises, it encompasses all worlds of phenomena. However, do not assume that there are no other activities that encompass all worlds of phenomena.

A mustard seed containing Mount Sumeru is also like this. A mustard seed breathes out Mount Sumeru and actualizes the inexhaustible ocean of the world of phenomena. When a tuft of hair or a mustard seed breathes out a great ocean, breathing out happens in one moment, and it happens in myriad eons. Breathing out myriad eons and breathing out one moment happen simultaneously. How are a tuft of hair and a mustard seed brought forth? They are brought forth by miracles. This bringing forth is miracles. What enables a tuft of hair and a mustard seed to do things like that? Miracles enable them to do so. Miracles bring forth miracles. Do not think that miracles sometimes do and sometimes do not happen in the past, present, or future. Buddhas alone abide in miracles….

Fetching water means drawing and carrying water. Sometimes you do it yourself and sometimes you have others do it. Those who practice this are all miracle buddhas. Although miracles are noticed once in a while, miracles are miracles. It is not that things perish or are eliminated when they are unnoticed. Things are just as they are even when unnoticed. Even when people do not know that fetching water is a miracle, fetching water is undeniably a miracle.

Carrying firewood means doing the labor of hauling, as in the time of Huineng, the Sixth Ancestor. Even if you do not know that miracles happen three thousand times in the morning and eight hundred times in the evening, miracles are actualized. Those who see and hear the wondrous activities of miracles by buddha tathagatas do not fail to attain the way. Attaining the way of all buddhas is always completed by the power of miracles.

Causing water to spout out of the head is a practice of the Lesser Vehicles. It is merely a minor miracle. On the other hand, fetching water is a great miracle. The custom of fetching water and carrying firewood has not declined, as people have not ignored it. It has come down from ancient times to today, and it has been transmitted from there to here. Thus, miracles have not declined even for a moment. Such are great miracles, which are no small matter.

Baby Jesus and the Maccabees: A Hanukkah + Christmas Tale

When the Greeks entered the Sanctuary they defiled all the oils that were in the Sanctuary by touching them. When the Maccabees overcame them and emerged victorious, they searched and found only one cruse of oil that was placed with the seal of the High Priest, undisturbed by the Greeks. There was sufficient oil to light the candelabrum for only one day. A miracle occurred and they lit the candelabrum from it eight days.


Mary and Joseph brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God.

“Who are you?” the Maccabees asked.

“I’m Simeon, this is Mary and Joseph, and this baby in my arms is Jesus.”

“What do you think you’re doing in the Temple?”

“It’s a very long story. Manger, shepherds, angels, magi, on and on. The Spirit guided me here, because this child is the Messiah, who will one day perform many miracles.”

“Well, we just had a miracle here. One day of oil has been burning for eight days. That wasn’t him, was it?”

“No, I don’t think he’s performing miracles yet. But soon, I believe.”

“Okay, go ahead and present him to the Lord, as it is prescribed. You’re all welcome to stay a while if you like. You know, we will be celebrating the miracle of the oil for many years to come.”

“Thanks. And I think we will be celebrating this baby for many years too. Happy Hanukkah.”

“Merry Christmas to you.”


מַאי חֲנוּכָּה? דְּתָנוּ רַבָּנַן: בְּכ״ה בְּכִסְלֵיו יוֹמֵי דַחֲנוּכָּה תְּמָנְיָא אִינּוּן דְּלָא לְמִסְפַּד בְּהוֹן וּדְלָא לְהִתְעַנּוֹת בְּהוֹן. שֶׁכְּשֶׁנִּכְנְסוּ יְווֹנִים לַהֵיכָל טִמְּאוּ כׇּל הַשְּׁמָנִים שֶׁבַּהֵיכָל. וּכְשֶׁגָּבְרָה מַלְכוּת בֵּית חַשְׁמוֹנַאי וְנִצְּחוּם, בָּדְקוּ וְלֹא מָצְאוּ אֶלָּא פַּךְ אֶחָד שֶׁל שֶׁמֶן שֶׁהָיָה מוּנָּח בְּחוֹתָמוֹ שֶׁל כֹּהֵן גָּדוֹל, וְלֹא הָיָה בּוֹ אֶלָּא לְהַדְלִיק יוֹם אֶחָד. נַעֲשָׂה בּוֹ נֵס וְהִדְלִיקוּ מִמֶּנּוּ שְׁמוֹנָה יָמִים. לְשָׁנָה אַחֶרֶת קְבָעוּם וַעֲשָׂאוּם יָמִים טוֹבִים בְּהַלֵּל וְהוֹדָאָה.

The Gemara asks: What is Hanukkah, and why are lights kindled on Hanukkah? The Gemara answers: The Sages taught in Megillat Ta’anit: On the twenty-fifth of Kislev, the days of Hanukkah are eight. One may not eulogize on them and one may not fast on them. What is the reason? When the Greeks entered the Sanctuary they defiled all the oils that were in the Sanctuary by touching them. And when the Hasmonean monarchy overcame them and emerged victorious over them, they searched and found only one cruse of oil that was placed with the seal of the High Priest, undisturbed by the Greeks. And there was sufficient oil there to light the candelabrum for only one day. A miracle occurred and they lit the candelabrum from it eight days. The next year the Sages instituted those days and made them holidays with recitation of hallel and special thanksgiving in prayer and blessings.
Talmud, Shabbat 21b

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon;d this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeong took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”
Luke 2:22-32

Testing Teachings

Come, Kālāmas,
do not go by oral tradition,
by lineage of teaching,
by hearsay,
by a collection of scriptures,
by logical reasoning,
by inferential reasoning,
by reasoned cogitation,
by the acceptance of a view after pondering it,
by the seeming competence of a speaker,
or because you think: ‘The ascetic is our guru.’

But when you know for yourselves:
‘These things are wholesome;
these things are blameless;
these things are praised by the wise;
these things, if accepted and undertaken, lead to welfare and happiness,’
then you should live in accordance with them.

Kesamuttisutta (Kalama Sutra)
Translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi

Testing Teachings

Don’t accept what you hear by report, and don’t accept mere tradition. Don’t jump to conclusions based on assumptions. Don’t accept a statement just because it is found in scriptures, or on the basis of general acceptance, or because it is what your teacher says. After examination, only believe and act upon what you yourself have tested and found reasonable.
—attributed to Buddha, Kalama Sutta

The historical Buddha went through a great deal of personal testing and proving and disproving—of himself, of the traditional culture he inherited, of the experimenters of his time, and of the mystic lore he acquired in his search. After his public recognition as an illuminate, the Buddha was honest enough to say that no one should accept his or any teaching or doctrine just because he said so, or just because anybody said so, even be it the elders and ancestors and experts and voices of tradition—because a teaching has to be proven by the test of first hand experience. The test of a teaching and practice is how it affects the individual and whether there is any benefit in that.

Thomas Cleary, Zen in the Pure Land

Out of balance: The me and the others

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I?”
Hillel the Elder, Pirke Avot 1:14

Life is out of balance in America. Life is always out of balance, forever everywhere. It is the dynamic of living. But when it gets too far out of balance, and grows more unbalanced, and efforts at rebalancing aren’t considered or deemed possible, bad things can happen.

This is prompted by the unhappy news that among young Americans age ten to 18, suicide is now second only to accidents as cause of death:

More young Americans are ending their own lives
Suicide is now the second-biggest killer of ten- to 18-year-olds

You can read detailed analyses of how we got here and what might be done. I do not have the expertise or insight to offer actionable solutions. But I have a thought.

We have come to a time when the balance between the me and the others has been increasingly weighted towards the me. Connections with and concerns for the others is diminishing. Not gone, by any means, and not in danger of disappearing. But the tools of self-absorption are everywhere, and the steps from that to self-importance and self-aggrandizement are much smaller than you think.

There is nothing wrong with self-concern and self-assertion. It can be healthy and constructive. But too much can leave one and others isolated from each other, no matter how it seems on the surface. It is not just young people who are isolated, though with their unformed sense of life and sometimes inadequate models and teaching, they are most vulnerable. It is all us.

Yeshua said, Be passersby.

Yeshua said,
Be passersby.
Gospel of Thomas 42

We are approaching an annual Jesus event. While it is the birth and infancy focused on at Christmas, the meaning and teachings of the man are inescapable.

Some take on faith that the words and deeds included in the canonical gospels are an accurate record. Others, applying tools of modern critical analysis, conclude that some of the chronicled words and deeds seem historical, while others are likely not.

Whatever and whoever the baby Jesus grew into, no doubt he was a powerful Jewish teacher and spiritual leader. Followers over the next 2,000 years made all kinds of movements out of him. But movements aside, the wisdom cannot be denied, no matter the listener’s choice of faith or lack of faith.

In my view, and in the view of those more expert, the Gospel of Thomas is the closest we can come to those words of wisdom. Discovered in 1945 among the groundbreaking works in the library at Nag Hammadi in Egypt, this Coptic text is a wisdom gospel—all sayings, no narratives. Some of the sayings are close to those that appear in the canonical gospels, while others are unique.

Marvin Meyer writes in The Gnostic Bible:

Jesus in Thomas performs no physical miracles, reveals no fulfillment of prophecy, announces no apocalyptic kingdom about to disrupt the world order, dies for no one’s sins, and does not rise from the dead on Easter Sunday. His value, rather, lies in his enigmatic sayings, which are pregnant with possibility and power. “Whoever discovers what these sayings mean will not taste death,” Jesus promises. That is to say, one who uncovers the interpretive keys to the meaning of these sayings thinks Jesus’ thoughts after him and completes his sayings in new and sagacious ways. Such a one seeks and finds true wisdom and knowledge.

Bart Ehrman writes in The Other Gospels:

The Jesus of this Gospel is not the Jewish messiah that we have seen in other Gospels, not the miracle-working Son of God, not the crucified and resurrected Lord, and not the Son of Man who will return on the clouds of heaven. He is the eternal Jesus whose words bring salvation.

All 114 sayings in the Gospel of Thomas are worth reading and contemplating. One that stands out is the shortest. In fact, the shortest message ever from Jesus—two words that are an adequate platform for a life.

Yeshua said,
Be passersby.
Gospel of Thomas 42
(Or, “Be wanderers,” or, much less likely, “Come into being as you pass away” (Coptic shope etetenerparage). A parallel to this saying appears in an inscription from a mosque at Fatehpur Sikri, India: “Jesus said, ‘This world is a bridge. Pass over it, but do not build your dwelling there.’”
Marvin Meyer, The Gnostic Bible