Bob Schwartz

The Hanukkah Guest: A Story from Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav

“Now, when you bring your thoughts to Paradise, you are there, on that holy mountain. But when your thoughts return to this world, you will find yourself here once again.”

The Hanukkah Guest, a story from Reb Nachman of Bratslav, retold by Howard Schwartz in A Palace of Pearls:

On the first night of Hanukkah, a poor man, who lived alone, chanted the Hanukkah blessings and lit the Hanukkah candle. He gazed at the candle for a long moment, and then there was a knock at the door. When he opened it, he saw a stranger standing there, and he invited him in. They began to discuss things, as people do, and the guest asked the man how he supported himself. The man explained that he spent his days studying Torah, and that he was supported by others, and didn’t have an income of his own. After a while, their talk became more intimate, and the man told the guest that he was striving to reach a higher level of holiness. The guest suggested that they study Torah together. And when the man discovered how profound were the guest’s insights, he started to wonder if he were a human being or an angel. He began to address the guest as Rabbi.

Time flew by, and the man felt as if he had learned more in that one night than in all the other years he had studied. All at once the guest said that he had to leave, and the man asked him how far he should accompany him. The guest replied, “Past the door.” So the man followed the guest out the door, and the guest embraced him, as if to say goodbye, but then he began to fly, with the man clinging to him. The man was shivering, and when the guest saw this, he gave him a garment that not only warmed him, but, as soon as he put it on, he found himself back in his house, seated at the table, enjoying a fine meal. At the same time, he saw that he was flying.

The guest brought him to a valley between two mountains. There he found a book with illustrations of vessels, and inside the vessels there were letters. And the man understood that with those letters it was possible to create new vessels. The man was taken with a powerful desire to study that book. But when he looked up for an instant, he found himself back in his house. Then, when he turned back to the book, he found himself in the valley once more. The guest, whoever he was, was gone. The man, feeling confident, decided to climb up the mountain. When he reached the summit, he saw a golden tree with golden branches. From the branches hung vessels like those illustrated in the book. The man wanted to pick one of those vessels, as one picks fruit from a tree, but as soon as he reached for one, he found himself back in his house, and there was a knock at the door. He opened the door and saw it was the mysterious guest, and he pleaded with him to come in. The guest replied, “I don’t have time, for I am on my way to you.” The man was perplexed, and asked the guest to explain what he meant. The guest said, “When you agreed to accompany me beyond the door, I gave your neshamah, your highest earthly soul, a garment from Paradise. Now, when you bring your thoughts to Paradise, you are there, on that holy mountain. But when your thoughts return to this world, you will find yourself here once again.” And that is how it remained for the rest of that man’s life, and the story has still not come to an end.

Hanukkah: Joy Comes with the Morning

Reading Psalm 30 is a Hanukkah tradition. Not nearly as well-known or widely practiced as lighting the Hanukkah candles, eating fried foods (latkes and donuts) and playing dreidel, but just as essential.

Psalm 30 contains one of the most uplifting of all biblical verses. The sometimes perplexing Hebrew leads to a variety of English translations, but it is best known this way:

Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
Psalm 30:5

Prof. Marc Zvi Brettler explains the connection between Psalm 30 and Hanukkah:

Jewish custom mandates that a psalm be recited for each weekday, and a special psalm for each festival. This custom goes back at least to late rabbinic times, as recorded in the post-Talmudic Tractate Soferim (ch. 18), where Psalm 30 is associated with Chanukah. Ostensibly, the psalm was chosen because the superscription, מזמור שיר חנכת הבית לדוד, refers to the dedication (chanukah) of the temple.

Traditionally, the superscription refers to the dedication of the First Temple, Solomon’s Temple, though some scholars connect it to the dedication of the Second Temple (some psalms are clearly Second Temple in origin). Thus, the connection between Psalm 30 and Chanukah would be a loose one, but the best the rabbis could find—after all, Chanukah occurred in 164 B.C.E., hundreds of years after the dedication of the Second Temple in 515 BCE. Thus, the psalm cannot be referring to Chanukah … or can it?

In fact, I, along with many other biblical scholars, believe that the superscription to Psalm 30 does not refer to the dedication of the Temple (first or second) but literally refers to Chanukah….

A number of points connect this psalm and the Maccabean uprising. First, the psalm describes overcoming, at great odds, enemies—an apt description of the Maccabean experience and the exact situation that led up to Chanukah. In addition, the psalm mentions chasidim (v. 5). The NJPS translates this phrase properly as the “faithful,” the typical meaning of this term in early psalms. Yet we know from both 1 and 2 Maccabees that in the second century B.C.E. a group or party developed, associated with the Maccabees, who called themselves Chasidim, as reflected in the Greek term asidaioi.

In other words, it is possible that someone (on the winning side) after the Hasmonean victory in 164 BCE could have read Psalm 30 and imagined: “David prophesized this about us!” The psalm, for that very reason, may even have been recited as part of the dedication ceremony on Chanukah in 164 BCE since it was seen as broadly appropriate—or even prophetic—to what had happened.

What does Psalm 30 say? In The Jewish Study Bible translation:

Psalm 30

1 A psalm of David. A song for the dedication of the House.
2 I extol You, O Lord,
for You have lifted me up,
and not let my enemies rejoice over me.
3 O Lord, my God,
I cried out to You,
and You healed me.
4 O Lord, You brought me up from Sheol,
preserved me from going down into the Pit.

5 O you faithful of the Lord, sing to Him,
and praise His holy name.
6 For He is angry but a moment,
and when He is pleased there is life.
One may lie down weeping at nightfall;
but at dawn there are shouts of joy.

7 When I was untroubled,
I thought, “I shall never be shaken,”
8 for You, O Lord, when You were pleased,
made [me] firm as a mighty mountain.
When You hid Your face,
I was terrified.
9 I called to You, O Lord;
to my Lord I made appeal,
10 “What is to be gained from my death,
from my descent into the Pit?
Can dust praise You?
Can it declare Your faithfulness?
11 Hear, O Lord, and have mercy on me;
O Lord, be my help!”
12 You turned my lament into dancing,
you undid my sackcloth and girded me with joy,
13 that [my] whole being might sing hymns to You endlessly;
O Lord my God, I will praise You forever.

Whether you celebrate Hanukkah or Christmas or nothing, light candles or tree lights, believe in God or gods or none, this is a message for all seasons and all time. Especially this season and these times.

When we are troubled, with a desecrated temple, death or illness, heartbreak, we can find a path to turn our lament and mourning into dancing. Weeping may linger for the night (many nights), but joy and light come with the morning.

Hanukkah begins on the evening of December 22. Chag urim sameach (Happy Festival of Lights).

Barbara Jordan: “If the impeachment provision in the Constitution of the United States will not reach the offenses charged here, then perhaps that 18th-century Constitution should be abandoned to a 20th-century paper shredder!”

“It is wrong, I suggest, it is a misreading of the Constitution for any member here to assert that for a member to vote for an article of impeachment means that that member must be convinced that the President should be removed from office. The Constitution doesn’t say that. The powers relating to impeachment are an essential check in the hands of the body of the Legislature against and upon the encroachments of the Executive….

James Madison again at the Constitutional Convention: “A President is impeachable if he attempts to subvert the Constitution.” The Constitution charges the President with the task of taking care that the laws be faithfully executed, and yet the President has counseled his aides to commit perjury, willfully disregard the secrecy of grand jury proceedings, conceal surreptitious entry, attempt to compromise a federal judge, while publicly displaying his cooperation with the processes of criminal justice. “A President is impeachable if he attempts to subvert the Constitution.”…

If the impeachment provision in the Constitution of the United States will not reach the offenses charged here, then perhaps that 18th-century Constitution should be abandoned to a 20th-century paper shredder!”

From Statement on the Articles of Impeachment, 25 July 1974, House Judiciary Committee by Rep. Barbara Jordan. Barbara Jordan is ranked by experts as one of the greatest American orators of the 20th century, alongside FDR, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. This speech is ranked number 13 on the all-time list.


Complete Statement on the Articles of Impeachment, 25 July 1974, House Judiciary Committee by Rep. Barbara Jordan

Mr. Chairman, I join my colleague Mr. Rangel in thanking you for giving the junior members of this committee the glorious opportunity of sharing the pain of this inquiry. Mr. Chairman, you are a strong man, and it has not been easy but we have tried as best we can to give you as much assistance as possible.

Earlier today, we heard the beginning of the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States: “We, the people.” It’s a very eloquent beginning. But when that document was completed on the seventeenth of September in 1787, I was not included in that “We, the people.” I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation, and court decision, I have finally been included in “We, the people.”

Today I am an inquisitor. An hyperbole would not be fictional and would not overstate the solemnness that I feel right now. My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction, of the Constitution.

“Who can so properly be the inquisitors for the nation as the representatives of the nation themselves?” “The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men.”1 And that’s what we’re talking about. In other words, [the jurisdiction comes] from the abuse or violation of some public trust.

It is wrong, I suggest, it is a misreading of the Constitution for any member here to assert that for a member to vote for an article of impeachment means that that member must be convinced that the President should be removed from office. The Constitution doesn’t say that. The powers relating to impeachment are an essential check in the hands of the body of the Legislature against and upon the encroachments of the Executive. The division between the two branches of the Legislature, the House and the Senate, assigning to the one the right to accuse and to the other the right to judge, the Framers of this Constitution were very astute. They did not make the accusers and the judgers — and the judges the same person.

We know the nature of impeachment. We’ve been talking about it awhile now. It is chiefly designed for the President and his high ministers to somehow be called into account. It is designed to “bridle” the Executive if he engages in excesses. “It is designed as a method of national inquest into the conduct of public men.”² The Framers confided in the Congress the power if need be, to remove the President in order to strike a delicate balance between a President swollen with power and grown tyrannical, and preservation of the independence of the Executive.

The nature of impeachment: a narrowly channeled exception to the separation-of-powers maxim.  The Federal Convention of 1787 said that. It limited impeachment to high crimes and misdemeanors and discounted and opposed the term “maladministration.” “It is to be used only for great misdemeanors,” so it was said in the North Carolina ratification convention. And in the Virginia ratification convention: “We do not trust our liberty to a particular branch. We need one branch to check the other.”

“No one need be afraid” — the North Carolina ratification convention — “No one need be afraid that officers who commit oppression will pass with immunity.” “Prosecutions of impeachments will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community,” said Hamilton in the Federalist Papers, number 65. “We divide into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused.”³ I do not mean political parties in that sense.

The drawing of political lines goes to the motivation behind impeachment; but impeachment must proceed within the confines of the constitutional term “high crime[s] and misdemeanors.” Of the impeachment process, it was Woodrow Wilson who said that “Nothing short of the grossest offenses against the plain law of the land will suffice to give them speed and effectiveness. Indignation so great as to overgrow party interest may secure a conviction; but nothing else can.”

Common sense would be revolted if we engaged upon this process for petty reasons. Congress has a lot to do: Appropriations, Tax Reform, Health Insurance, Campaign Finance Reform, Housing, Environmental Protection, Energy Sufficiency, Mass Transportation. Pettiness cannot be allowed to stand in the face of such overwhelming problems. So today we are not being petty. We are trying to be big, because the task we have before us is a big one.

This morning, in a discussion of the evidence, we were told that the evidence which purports to support the allegations of misuse of the CIA by the President is thin. We’re told that that evidence is insufficient. What that recital of the evidence this morning did not include is what the President did know on June the 23rd, 1972.

The President did know that it was Republican money, that it was money from the Committee for the Re-Election of the President, which was found in the possession of one of the burglars arrested on June the 17th. What the President did know on the 23rd of June was the prior activities of E. Howard Hunt, which included his participation in the break-in of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, which included Howard Hunt’s participation in the Dita Beard ITT affair, which included Howard Hunt’s fabrication of cables designed to discredit the Kennedy Administration.

We were further cautioned today that perhaps these proceedings ought to be delayed because certainly there would be new evidence forthcoming from the President of the United States. There has not even been an obfuscated indication that this committee would receive any additional materials from the President. The committee subpoena is outstanding, and if the President wants to supply that material, the committee sits here. The fact is that on yesterday, the American people waited with great anxiety for eight hours, not knowing whether their President would obey an order of the Supreme Court of the United States.

At this point, I would like to juxtapose a few of the impeachment criteria with some of the actions the President has engaged in. Impeachment criteria: James Madison, from the Virginia ratification convention. “If the President be connected in any suspicious manner with any person and there be grounds to believe that he will shelter him, he may be impeached.”

We have heard time and time again that the evidence reflects the payment to defendants money. The President had knowledge that these funds were being paid and these were funds collected for the 1972 presidential campaign. We know that the President met with Mr. Henry Petersen 27 times to discuss matters related to Watergate, and immediately thereafter met with the very persons who were implicated in the information Mr. Petersen was receiving. The words are: “If the President is connected in any suspicious manner with any person and there be grounds to believe that he will shelter that person, he may be impeached.”

Justice Story: “Impeachment” is attended — “is intended for occasional and extraordinary cases where a superior power acting for the whole people is put into operation to protect their rights and rescue their liberties from violations.” We know about the Huston plan. We know about the break-in of the psychiatrist’s office. We know that there was absolute complete direction on September 3rd when the President indicated that a surreptitious entry had been made in Dr. Fielding’s office, after having met with Mr. Ehrlichman and Mr. Young. “Protect their rights.” “Rescue their liberties from violation.”

The Carolina ratification convention impeachment criteria: those are impeachable “who behave amiss or betray their public trust.”4 Beginning shortly after the Watergate break-in and continuing to the present time, the President has engaged in a series of public statements and actions designed to thwart the lawful investigation by government prosecutors. Moreover, the President has made public announcements and assertions bearing on the Watergate case, which the evidence will show he knew to be false. These assertions, false assertions, impeachable, those who misbehave. Those who “behave amiss or betray the public trust.”

James Madison again at the Constitutional Convention: “A President is impeachable if he attempts to subvert the Constitution.” The Constitution charges the President with the task of taking care that the laws be faithfully executed, and yet the President has counseled his aides to commit perjury, willfully disregard the secrecy of grand jury proceedings, conceal surreptitious entry, attempt to compromise a federal judge, while publicly displaying his cooperation with the processes of criminal justice. “A President is impeachable if he attempts to subvert the Constitution.”

If the impeachment provision in the Constitution of the United States will not reach the offenses charged here, then perhaps that 18th-century Constitution should be abandoned to a 20th-century paper shredder!

Has the President committed offenses, and planned, and directed, and acquiesced in a course of conduct which the Constitution will not tolerate? That’s the question. We know that. We know the question. We should now forthwith proceed to answer the question. It is reason, and not passion, which must guide our deliberations, guide our debate, and guide our decision.

Trump says I am a citizen of American Jewland. I am not.

Newsweek:

Jewish Groups Accuse Trump of Anti-Semitism Over ‘Horrifying’ Plan to Define Judaism As a Nationality

Liberal American Jewish advocacy groups have reacted with horror to reports that President Donald Trump plans to sign an executive order defining Judaism as a nationality rather than just a religion.

According to a Tuesday report from The New York Times, the president is planning the order to help combat anti-Semitism on U.S. college campuses and crack down on boycott campaigns against the state of Israel.

But progressive Jewish groups suggested the reported move is actually anti-Semitic, in that casts Jews as a separate nationality to all other Americans, and arguing it could stifle legitimate criticism of Israeli policies.

The move comes as the president himself is facing renewed accusations of anti-Semitism, after a weekend speech in which he used multiple anti-Semitic tropes and again suggested that all Jews must support for the Israeli government.

The Education Department can currently withhold funding from institutions or programs that discriminate “on the ground of race, color, or national origin,” but not religion, the Times explained.

By defining Judaism as a nationality, the administration will be able to defund institutions seen to be allowing an anti-Semitic environment do develop.

But it will also help the Education Department’s efforts to quell Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions-linked movements, which seek to pressure the Israeli government to improve its treatment of Palestinians and end its continued violation of international law.

Let us parse this craven move as a political and religious matter.

Politically, the vast majority of American Jews don’t like or support Trump. If, however, he can exploit differences in the Jewish communities to weaken that opposition and resistance, his handlers believe he comes out ahead. Support for Israel, including condemnation of BDS, crosses political lines. If Trump is seen as a “hero” to some Jews, that bolsters his chronically narrow support.

Religiously, this is typically careless, as in his not caring or knowing about Judaism, Christianity or any other religious tradition. Or about history. If he did, he would understand that racializing and nationalizing Jews is an insidious matter, used to raise issues of split loyalties and to set Jews apart from “regular” citizens.

Human Rights Day

Human Rights Day is observed every year on 10 December — the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR): a milestone document proclaiming the inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Available in more than 500 languages, it is the most translated document in the world.

Cambridge Soundworks Ensemble Speakers: Retiring Another Audio Component

Note: A while back I wrote about replacing an audio receiver after many years (The STR-AV1010 Is Dead ). It was a sentimental moment, since it played such a role in the soundtrack of our lives. This week another of the venerable audio components is retiring, significant not only to us but to the history of audio electronics.

Above is an ad from exactly thirty years ago, introducing the Cambridge Soundworks Ensemble Speakers. Developed by audio legend Henry Kloss, this was a breakthrough in the way quality speakers were marketed. It was relatively inexpensive compared to big-name brands, and it was being sold direct to consumers, without retail stores in the middle. These days, of course, most consumers buy speakers without hearing them first.

New York Times, February 19, 1989:

Now a new approach to speaker shopping is being promoted by a manufacturer who says, in effect: Buy my speaker by mail, sight unseen and sound unheard. If you don’t like it, send it back within 30 days, and we’ll refund your money.

One would tend to distrust such a proposition if it came from anyone less reputable than Henry Kloss, a hallowed name in audio history. During the 1950’s and 60’s – the gestation period of modern audio technology, Mr. Kloss advanced prevailing standards of speaker design with such classic innovations as the original Acoustic Research and Advent loudspeakers, which were among the first bookshelf speakers capable of wide-range sound.

Later he founded KLH, the first company to produce compact components and to make extensive use of transistorized circuits. It was partly Henry Kloss’s ideas from which, a few years later, the Japanese audio industry took its cue and rose to predominance.

I bought the speakers right away. I am not a listener with genius ears, but I appreciate good sound and good value. These speakers have been with us in all our houses, throughout the chapters of our lives. But just lately, I have heard the distortion symptom of one of the speakers failing. It is time for another set.

As with the passing of the receiver, sentiment is balanced with functionality, and so new speakers are on the way. The Ensemble will go back in the same box that arrived at our door those years ago and that they have been moved in again and again. I suspect they will be discarded someday, but not now.

Emerson and Thoreau: Make America Transcendentalist Again

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) and Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) are the most famous members of the mid-nineteenth century intellectual movement known as American Transcendentalism. Few read Emerson or Thoreau these days, unless it is a class requirement, and even then it is doubtful that much attention is paid. (Maybe the hip-hop Hamilton treatment would help.)

We have a crying need to know these American thinkers. In their time, the promise of America was being compromised. Some Americans were tired of being preached at by overzealous, narrow-minded and hypocritical religionists. Some were not being sufficiently nourished by the current culture. Some seemed to be following each other or the latest trend like sheep. Times like these are times like those. So a look back and revival of Emerson and Thoreau might not be a bad idea.


Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind….

What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance


Colleges, in like manner, have their indispensable office—to teach elements. But they can only highly serve us when they aim not to drill, but to create; when they gather from far every ray of various genius to their hospitable halls, and by the concentrated fires, set the hearts of their youth on flame. Thought and knowledge are natures in which apparatus and pretension avail nothing. Gowns and pecuniary foundations, though of towns of gold, can never countervail the least sentence or syllable of wit. Forget this, and our American colleges will recede in their public importance, whilst they grow richer every year.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, The American Scholar


I observe that in our political elections, where this element, if it appears at all, can only occur in its coarsest form, we sufficiently understand its incomparable rate. The people know that they need in their representative much more than talent, namely the power to make his talent trusted. They cannot come at their ends by sending to Congress a learned, acute and fluent speaker, if he be not one who, before he was appointed by the people to represent them, was appointed by Almighty God to stand for a fact—invincibly persuaded of that fact in himself—so that the most confident and the most violent persons learn that here is resistance on which both impudence and terror are wasted, namely faith in a fact. The men who carry their points do not need to inquire of their constituents what they should say, but are themselves the country which they represent; nowhere are its emotions or opinions so instant and true as in them; nowhere so pure from a selfish infusion….

A healthy soul stands united with the Just and the True, as the magnet arranges itself with the pole; so that he stands to all beholders like a transparent object betwixt them and the sun, and whoso journeys towards the sun, journeys towards that person. He is thus the medium of the highest influence to all who are not on the same level. Thus men of character are the conscience of the society to which they belong.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Character


Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify….

The nation itself, with all its so-called internal improvements, which, by the way, are all external and superficial, is just such an unwieldy and overgrown establishment, cluttered with furniture and tripped up by its own traps, ruined by luxury and heedless expense, by want of calculation and a worthy aim, as the million households in the land; and the only cure for it, as for them, is in a rigid economy, a stern and more than Spartan simplicity of life and elevation of purpose. It lives too fast. Men think that it is essential that the Nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph, and ride thirty miles an hour, without a doubt, whether they do or not; but whether we should live like baboons or like men, is a little uncertain. If we do not get out sleepers, and forge rails, and devote days and nights to the work, but go to tinkering upon our lives to improve them, who will build railroads? And if railroads are not built, how shall we get to Heaven in season? But if we stay at home and mind our business, who will want railroads? We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us….

Hardly a man takes a half-hour’s nap after dinner, but when he wakes he holds up his head and asks, “What’s the news?” as if the rest of mankind had stood his sentinels. Some give directions to be waked every half-hour, doubtless for no other purpose; and then, to pay for it, they tell what they have dreamed. After a night’s sleep the news is as indispensable as the breakfast. “Pray tell me anything new that has happened to a man anywhere on this globe,”—and he reads it over his coffee and rolls, that a man has had his eyes gouged out this morning on the Wachito River; never dreaming the while that he lives in the dark unfathomed mammoth cave of this world, and has but the rudiment of an eye himself….

Shams and delusions are esteemed for soundest truths, while reality is fabulous. If men would steadily observe realities only, and not allow themselves to be deluded, life, to compare it with such things as we know, would be like a fairy tale and the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments. If we respected only what is inevitable and has a right to be, music and poetry would resound along the streets. When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence, that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality. This is always exhilarating and sublime. By closing the eyes and slumbering, and consenting to be deceived by shows, men establish and confirm their daily life of routine and habit everywhere, which still is built on purely illusory foundations.

Henry David Thoreau, Where I Lived and What I Lived For

Bodhi Day

“Bodhi literally means ‘awakening’, but is commonly translated as ‘enlightenment’. It denotes the awakening to supreme knowledge, as experienced by the Buddha as he sat under the Bodhi Tree at the age of 35.”
Buddhist Translation Society

Today is Bodhi Day, marking the enlightenment of the Buddha. It is not merely a reminder of something that happened. It is an inspiration for what can happen. Difficult, not necessarily achievable, but possible. Or maybe not only achievable but actual.

Millions of words have been spoken by, attributed to or written about the Buddha.

Here are a few.


If the mad mind stops, its very stopping is bodhi.
Śūraṅgama Sutra, Buddhist Text Translation Society


It is said that soon after his enlightenment the Buddha passed a man on the road who was struck by the Buddha’s extraordinary radiance and peaceful presence. The man stopped and asked, “My friend, what are you? Are you a celestial being or a god?”

“No,” said the Buddha.

“Well, then, are you some kind of magician or wizard?” Again the Buddha answered, “No.”

“Are you a man?”

“No.”

“Well, my friend, then what are you?” The Buddha replied, “I am awake.”

Teachings of the Buddha, Jack Kornfeld


The morning of the Buddha’s enlightenment at the foot of the bodhi tree, he was so surprised. He had been meditating for the whole night. In the early morning, at the moment when he saw the morning star, he declared, “How strange! Everyone has the capacity to be awake, to understand, and to love. Yet they continue to drift and sink on the ocean of suffering, life after life.”
Sutra on the Middle Way, Thich Nhat Hanh


The back of your hand is affliction, and the palm of your hand is bodhi. Realizing bodhi is just like flipping your hand from back to palm. When you turn affliction around, it’s bodhi. Afflictions are the same as bodhi. Birth and death are the same as nirvana. If you understand, then afflictions are bodhi. If you don’t understand, then bodhi is affliction. Bodhi isn’t outside of afflictions, and there are no afflictions outside the scope of enlightenment. And so I very often cite the analogy of water and ice. If you pour a bowl of water over a person’s body, even if you use a lot of force, you still won’t hurt the person. However, if the bowl of water has turned into ice and you hit the person in the head with it, the person may very well die. Bodhi is like the water; afflictions are like the ice. If you melt ice, it becomes water; when you freeze water, it becomes ice.
Flower Adornment Sutra, Buddhist Text Translation Society

Peyote Pilgrims

“Imaginatione and historie are a fine paire.”
Made up old-fashioned quote

Some believe that the accounts of the first Thanksgiving feast in 1621 have been sanitized to leave out an extraordinary detail. Somehow, it is thought by some, the Native Americans at Plymouth had traded for peyote from Southwestern tribes and shared it with the colonists at that famous three-day meal.

First, here’s the version we have, from Edward Winslow in Mourt’s Relation, published in 1622:

Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which we brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

The omitted mention of psychedelics explains much. For example, the outlandish hats and clothing we associate with the pilgrims in fact did not exist in that community. Instead, it is possible that those in the midst of an experience began sketching the ridiculous fashions they thought they saw. “Tall hats with buckles,” William Bradford said. “Oh wow, such hats reflect our reaching to heaven.” “Awesome!” the others who were still capable of speaking might have exclaimed.

Happy Thanksgiving (yes, we all still call the holiday that).

Dawn, again

Dawn, again

The first sip of light
can be so sweet
wonder waiting
untold possibility
once more
no promises
not even a seen sun
just a slip of blue gray
unnamed day

© Bob Schwartz