Monday, January 17, 2022


Reddit is a big noisy room where everyone is shouting. You read people asking the same question over and over. Herds of people can downvote a perfectly good post, because. Karma can't be cashed in and it isn't literal. Nevertheless it's the town square. Sometimes you can ask questions and discuss things. Some provide wisdom and information. There are lots of good pictures of nature. And art. And photography. It's hard to wade through the dreck for all the diamonds. Lots of judgements, sarcasm, trolling. Maybe it isn't worth it.

Here is a list of all the reddit posts asking how there can be rebirth if there is no permanent self. It's quite a list. From 2 months ago.




Sunday, January 16, 2022

Poem from Shtisel (s3e4)

 First Smile - Nathan Alterman

Do not call me with many words Do not call me with a desperate vow I am gathered to you again From all my weary paths I climb to your threshold now Do not call me with many words Everything shrivels and rots But you and the night still live
Momentous are the moments of the end Snuff the candles out The light cries out for rest Enfold me in your silence Distances are adrift And I am breathing air At a raving altitude You! Never have I lived in you! You are my sea, salty savor of my land!
Yes sometimes your memory Will seize me suddenly With a tiger's hungry leap With winds and flying doors With a tempestuous joy With broken-winged happiness

Season 3 Shtisel episodes 1-3

I'm so fascinated with ways of being, a turn of phrase, personality and the way we use spirituality. This show Shtisel is a golden opportunity to look into a culture which I know very little if anything. It's not clear if I'm getting any knowledge by watching the show, I have no reference point. At least with some things, I have reference points. I live next to an orthodox community, and I try to engage people in discussion, but you know, talking at the park while watching kids isn't always conducive to deep conversations. 

Spoilers ahead. I skim various things and got a spoiler myself. But things unfold and so I know one thing is coming. The magical realism of the show includes the presence of the dead. I actually feel a little comforted when I can predict the drama. Like I knew Ruchami would try and get Hunina's father to come to the wedding. He was estranged because his father remarried 4 months after his mother's death, and he left home. But even with predictions you can't know everything that's going to happen. I also like it when unpredictable things happen. I always think about the klangs in Shakespeare. Why is Lady Macbeth so set on her husband being king? Why doesn't Hamlet kill his uncle sooner? Every play has a little klang in it, but it advances the plot, creates tension. And who's to say what is klang we can only go on our limited understanding of the world. I think multiculturalism is built on the idea that no subset group of the world has a monopoly on the truth. Intellectual humility is important to me.

Time has moved forward for season 3. Akiava has a child Dvora, with Lippi. Shulem is obsessed with raising money for the school. Ruchami is his new secretary. Shulem's brother Sucher has reunited with an old sweetheart he almost married. Yossi (Yosa'le) is the one they're pressuring to marry now, daughter of Giti and Lippe, but because Lippe left and shamed the family, the matches are not coming easily. He meets Shira, who likes to go to Ramot Forest to calm her fears. Menucha Kenigsberg has set them up, but she complains he didn't show up. Menucha has lost some weight. He met with the wrong one, and they're Algerian. "They like their fish with more spice." Is Giti a bit of an ambitious Lady Macbeth? She wants her husband to forget that he found the wrong Shira and tell Yosa'le that he couldn't find her. Meanwhile Yosa'le will not accept substitutes, says he's in love. A bit like Akiva, falling hard. Lippe does what his wife tells him to do, and lies to his son. 

There doesn't seem to be a law against scheming to get your way? Shulem tells Akiva that he would do things his mother wouldn't know about, telling him to go forward with the exhibit. Giti gets Lippe to lie all the time. Lippe blows whichever way the wind blows, like Andrew Yang, just spouts what the last person he was around says. But there's a kindness to him. A people pleaser is also a kind person and wants to give people what they want. Somehow that's a bad thing, but I don't think it is. 

Meanwhile Shulem is in trouble because he smacked a kid who stole the conductor's baton. I wanted to slap him, maybe even more so because he was from a traditional culture, but you don't do that in school in America. They caught it on video and put it on the internet. They want him to retire, it appears you can't do such a thing in Israel either.

They show the wailing wall, the Western Wall. A short small injection of more realism. I like it when they read aloud. My daughter doesn't like it when I read aloud, but she's not around all the time, I could do more chanting of the sutras.

The life of the artist is fascinating. Akiva is appreciated for his loving artwork, but what he gives out literally tortures him and his family. Against his better judgement Kauffman gives Akiva the number for the person who bought his painting. He meets with Racheli Warburg.

When he goes to her house to offer 3 paintings to replace the ones of his wife, he identifies a painting by Nachum Gutman. There's been scant history of Israeli painting, and here is one reference. "Gutman helped pioneer a distinctively Israeli style, moving away from the European influences of his teachers. He worked in many different media: oils, watercolours, gouache and pen and ink."

Before the Storm, 1926

Levitan is also mentioned, a reproduction. 

It's been 5 years since Ruchama and Hanina got married. They don't have a child and Hanina wishes to count his blessings, but Ruchama wants to figure things out. There's nothing in the Torah about struggling with infertility, or rather it's not appropriate to ask his Rabbi about such things.

"Sarah only had a baby at the age of 90. Rivka waited 20 years to conceive with Yitzchak. Rachel also had trouble conceiving a baby. The Tanach mentions the wife of Manoach, Chanah, the woman from Shunam and Ruth as other famous women who had difficulty conceiving." (Jewish Link)

"Rachel, like Sarah before her, gives her handmaiden to her husband, hoping to adopt and raise the ensuing children as her own. With Bilhah and Zilpah, this turned out to be a workable solution. With Hagar and her son, Yishmael, it did not work out as well for Sarah."

They have a resource, listed in the article. My first son was born through IUI, what a blessing. But it turns out Ruchama has an IUD because there is risk in her giving birth. And that is a consideration for Hanina who has been brought into the loop by Ruchama's doctor--not sure if that violates the HIPPA rights, but that's an American thing, but I'm sure they have an equivalent in Israel. I'm sure husbands are exempt, it seems this show shows. The head of the Yeshiva says there are idea and non-ideal solutions, surrogacy being a non-ideal solution. He is sweet and says that because Hanina studies the Torah, the solution he will find from himself is based in the Torah. Ruchama likes the solution of extracting the egg and sperm and putting it into a surrogate, and pretending to be pregnant, going to the hospital and coming out with a new baby. Modern science.

Because Buddhism isn't interested in propagating the religion through reproduction, this is not such an issue for Buddhism. Infact, I recall reading in the Pali Canon that when a monk asked permission to give his ex-wife a child, she wants a child even though her husband went off to become a monk, that the Buddha supposedly said it would be better to stick your dick into a snake's mouth. 

Meanwhile Shulem tried to get people to enroll in his new school. They're not supposed to poach students from a rival Cheder. And he's interested in his benefactor Nechama Yoktan. But she can't imagine it yet. The old school threatens him for trying to steal students. He has 11 so far, it's not enough. There is a protest outside his home. He gets his son down there to add to the protest. He tells everyone that his own children are not allowed in the cheder because they did not pass a test, that the new cheder will only have smart ones. People begin to leave a hope they can get into this new cheder. 

This all makes me think about the prohibition in Buddhism about being a schismatic, that bringing disharmony to the sangha is a real party foul. And yet, I can't help but admire Shulem's ingenuity in trying to turn the situation in his favor. You could say the old Cheder did wrong by firing him for slapping down a brat, spare the rod spoil the child. I don't think that way, but he does. 

Nuchem loses his work, his wife, and his daughter, he's indigent. He's gotten his comeuppance, and his brother needs to take care of him. He tries to commit suicide while a social worker is over because Akiva sent someone who picked up the wrong child and when he went right back to correct the mistake he had alcohol on his breath. 

A Vort is a promise. Yosa'le is promised to the Shira, the one he was supposed to meet. There's all kinds of subplots and twists I'm not going to describe. 

Friday, January 14, 2022

Shtisel season 2, episodes 7-12

I'm a Buddhist, but I appreciate all spiritual traditions and I like looking at Shtisel because it makes me reflect on my spiritual life.

Spoilers: To write about the second half of season 2, I must discuss what happens. Shakespeare tells you in Romeo and Juliet that they will die at the beginning and it's still a great story. I don't think you can spoil a great story, but out of respect for other's different views, I warn you the reader about spoilers. 

I read in Wikipedia that the wedding would be called off between Akiva and Libbi, but I kept watching, and there were further twists. To know one thing doesn't ruin a story, the story unfolds in different ways and there are many twists and turns.

Learned a new word: klafte--a naughty or nasty woman. Hana Laszlo plays the widow Menukha, of the match maker Kenigsberg. The patriarch Shulem agrees to marry her and he introduces her around and the grandmother, in the last thing she says to the family, calls her a klafte. Then the videographer who videotaped the grandmother calls her a klafte.

Akiva missed doing his prayers, he called it Tefillin. There's a video on how to prepare yourself for these prayers by putting on boxes of texts on your body. He must pray 3 times a day. They don't really show that. I'd say that's a drawback in the realism of the drama. They have so many good details. The way he flips up his long coat so he can sit down with it. The way they humbly say, "god willing." Some of the culture seems so foreign, writing what to me feels backwards, left to right, and back to front. Of course it's right for them.

In episode 9 Libbi's dad Nukhem drops the bomb on the conditions if they get married. He must quit painting, work as a travel agent, and never ever forget to pray like he did once when he was painting. It goes kind of retrograde because she was the one who appreciates his gift as an artist, and that emboldened him to try and fulfill his potential as an artist.

I think it's a flaw to repudiate art. I know Theravada monks don't believe in art as the path of devotion, but I think it is a way in which beauty can be expressed, and after all, I think the spiritual life is about beauty. I think that's taking ascetic life the wrong way. Aesthetic life doesn't have to be decadent, unwise, indulgent. It might seem that was at times, maybe. But honestly I think the artistic life is where you end up if you're well adjusted, and have the love and support of those around you.

Nukhem is the bad guy. He owes money, he's not a great businessman, and he smokes in a taxi when asked not to, throws the butt out the window risking a fine for the taxi driver, insisting on the non-artististic life. Shulem for his speech taking over Akiva's award ceremony. Libbi for embracing conformity and thinking self expression isn't serious. Giti for not getting to know Hanina before insisting on a divorce. People want their way without all the information and yet it's all about the struggle with themselves. Nukhem had to repudiate his love of music. Giti expects too much from her husband, expects to get her way all the time. She practices humility a little, goes into a pharmacist and asks for nails. It is an exercise to teach her humility. 

There's a fair bit of othering to people who not righteous like they are. You don't have to put down other people to see your good.

Other people can help you to move on and help you develop, or their desires conflict with yours, and they try to change you. Maybe for good or for bad. That's the hard thing, it's hard to know what to do, and nobody is always right, and nobody is always wrong. I used to hate it that my grandmother and grandfather would alway try to convince the other that they are always right. They would like to be listened to but they were. But they were not always right. When they were right, they would rub it in the other's face, to try to get extra. I'm not into that. People give you the credit they want to. Begging for more is just desperate. If people don't appreciate your value, go in another direction.

Giti gets Lippe to go tell Hanina to not come to the house, they are getting divorced. It feels like an outrage to not do things in a certain way, but the marriage was not done in a certain way, so you know. But when she sees how devastated Ruchama is, she gives over the notebook that Hanina wrote notes to her.

There's a kind of bulling ahead, just do what you want to do without collaborating. When people decide to do something they just do it and let the chips fall where they may. Ruchama gets married without consulting the family. Akiva quits painting and ignores the calls of Kauffman. Shulem fires Aliza, she gets another job, she wants a recommendation and then he gives it back to her after he calls off his wedding to Menukha 

Libbi goes to talk to Kaufman. Her father used to love Mahler Symphony number 5 (Wikipedia). There is perhaps a dance with desire, and the attempt to control desire. There's a similar asceticism in Buddhism. That is an explanation about why she demanded Akiva quit painting as a condition of their marriage. I think it's more the relationship to desire. Desiring too much can be a challenge. Desire to flow with nature and to progress on the path to Buddhism is the wholesome desires for me.

With the pairing of storylines Zvi Arye's wife Tovi gives him the go ahead to pursue singing. She seemed cold and didn't want to give him a kidney when everyone else said they would. Now she's allowing for an artistic career. He sings a beautiful song. His wife asks him to sing and it gets her revved up. Tunefind doesn't have a entry for Shtisel, but it is a good song.

Good drama sets us meaningful situations. With the selling of a name of a child, against Giti's wishes, Lippe makes some money. Giti decides to make a restaurant. And who comes in with only 9 Shekels but Ruchama's husband Hanina. After sending her husband to say he could never come to their home, she tells him he can always eat at her restaurant, not knowing who he is.

Akiva has a struggle with his name. First he paints and puts it under another person's name. Then he gets a sweet deal, but repudiates it, and then he wants to have an exhibition but under a pseudonym. He has a dream where he can't tell his mother what his name is, he forgets it. All he can say is, "it's me." 

Zvi Arye decides on his own to give up being in the band. Akiva decides to not get married to one of his potential loves. He's a bit of a romeo who falls hard, but on to the next one. Giti relents about Hanina, she's met him in the restaurant and decides he's a good person not knowing he's the husband of Ruchama. Somehow they find their way to the way they want to be, despite the adversity.

The father who seems to be pushing Akiva ends up accepting him for who he is. He tells the story of an almost engagement he had, where the woman told him he will push his sideburns behind his ear. He said when there are conditions, then they don't accept you. He was happy his son didn't accept conditions. Akiva points out that his mother was always pushing him. But Shulem says she wanted him to study more, shower more, be kinder to others. But she had no preconditions. As much as he loved Lippe, Nukhem was also the father in law. He thought he would make Akiva a serious Jew, that Shulem was indulgent, misguided. A screw up. When things don't go his way, he yells at his son. Shulem's feelings are easily hurt. 

Another reversal, Lippi wants to be with Akiva, wants him to be a painter. Akiva is on TV and discusses his painting. Shulem doesn't want a representation of his wife to go into a museum and goes to Kaulfman. But to raise the money he sells the plot of land he brags to his brother, that his brother doesn't have. Little does he know that he sells the plot of land to his brother to buy the painting. A brilliant twist in the tale. Libbi is disgusted when he brags to her about buying the plot, she realizes that she wants Akiva. I won't spoil the very end, you'll have to watch.

It's hard to get all the names right. The Wikipedia entry isn't very good, you're even invited to improve it. Google tries to autocorrect Menukha to Menucha. It's making me want to see more Israeli films and shows. Or adding a F to Kaufman.

I'm a Buddhist, and while I have exposure to some Jewish culture through my stepfather, and through friends and acquaintances. I'm not about to convert or anything like that. Conversion isn't really done in Judaism, maybe for marriage. I do know a few people who converted. But there's no universal creed to convert to Judaism is an ethnic religion you're born into. Is this my wannabe anthropologist aspect? Have I fallen into the grips of a novella, am I just emotionally wrapped up in a soap opera? Is it spiritual at all? I don't know, I'm in the stage of life where I'm more into the questions, not the answers.

Building a culture of spiritual intensity that includes family isn't the Buddhist way. You renounce family and go for refuge to the 3 jewels. It's hard to see how this religion will spread if it destroys family. If the Buddha had his way, civilization might die out. If everyone converted, became a monk and followed the way of the Buddha, there would be no more children. So I assume that the plan isn't that it's for everyone. Indeed the path is subtle. If you believe the story of the life of the Buddha, he did not go forth until he was 29 and had children. A former friend used to be impressed with someone if they found Buddhism when they were younger than 32. I was 35 when I found Buddhism in 2002.

I had the thought that I want to care about my life as much as a drama, but I'm crying for my life, my sorrows, my journey for self definition, my frustrations and confusions. Catharsis is about the built up emotions inside you. 

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Shtisel season 2 first 6 episodes

One thing I like about a family drama, of any kind, if portraying humans throughout the lifecycle. Not just the pretty hollywood types suffering their glamorous problems of insisting on more because they can. The spiritual life is highly valued, it is defined as study of the teachings.

Once we've gotten to know the characters, you can see the deeper problems interact with the culture that surrounds them.

SPOILERS: Imperfect summary up to episode 6, half way through the season:

With Giti, she is upset her husband Lippe sold the name of their child for money. He invested the money for his children, but she's not even given that information. He is the man and can make such choices. He wants the money back, but the investor says he would lose now, the markets go up and down, he has to keep the money in the market for a while. He gives in and insists on the male role. 

Giti's daughter Ruchama gets married. They study the Torah, and they know if he puts a ring on her finger with adult witnesses, then they are married. But families have not been contacted, they are informed. Giti doesn't even take it seriously. The father Lippe is outraged, but when he goes to do something about it, he sees them talking nicely together and goes.

Akiva is interested in his cousin Libbi, but they're not sure if it's Kosher. It isn't the genetic taboo risk the originally thought it was, that was more about siblings getting married, but there still is a modern taboo against it. Libbi thinks Akiva should be an artist, it's wrong to waste god's talents. His father thinks it's not a real thing. He gets caught up in a scheme where he paints for another person in the first season, and his painting of a failed connection is in the museum, but not under his name. Libbi sees him for who he is and accept him, but she doesn't think he's serious and she's serious. She goes back to Europe without getting a setup. Akiva reaches out to Libbi in Europe and is told to shut it down by her. 

The matchmaker dies, and everything is thrown into chaos. Akiva is labeled a "screw up" because he's 27 and still not married. The matchmaker's wife is more subtle, but she retains his verbiage, and maybe there isn't another phrase for someone who finds it difficult to marry in that culture where you are set up, and can just join someone seemily easily. 

And yet Ruchama joins easily with a fellow she sees studying through a window, and the family is shocked they were not in the loop. The fellow decides she's too much of a distraction and that he really just wants to study. They are so young, but they have to get divorced because they technically got married.

The father has women throwing themselves at him, but he has trouble moving on. Seems like a universal experience, difficulty of moving on from a good relationship that is over. But the matchmakers widow takes his plate away and he decides they should get married.

Poor Zvi Arye's wife won't offer her kidney for him, she fails the love test. There really isn't the expectation of love in these marriages, but somehow it creeps in on one side or the other. After a partner dies, people don't want to remarry, it's a burden more than a joy, and once it's done, people don't enter back into it lightly.

I have taken to kissing the Dharma book I read before I read it, when I pick it up. The reverence for the texts is something I could import into my routines.

I have tried to create more routine prayer. There is a street that when I walk down it, I recite the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum. The Jewel in the Lotus. 

When they say, "God willing", I think there is an effort to accept circumstances, that the world runs a certain way and you can't really step around it. I'm projecting of course, I take that lesson from Buddhism, that circumstances are circumstances, and only a fool tries to will the way they work into a different way. I like acceptance of reality, not distorting it with politics or personality or craziness. 

Monday, January 03, 2022

failed at digital asceticism

I failed at digital asceticism. I deactivated facebook, and then I needed it to sign in to play chess online, and that's been on of the wonderful discoveries of the pandemic for me. A few later I reactivated Twitter. I didn't get very far. I tried doing the 24 no online stuff for a while (Friday sunset to Saturday sunset). I read a lot more. I find it really frustrating not to be able to look things up. I like not having to remember what I want to look up. I like the instant gratification of information.

Like my efforts to quit alcohol and marijuana, there are many thoughts that support the addiction. It's a complicated psychological phenomena. I do like watching the mind in various situations. 

In AA alcoholics are self diagnosed. Digital addiction, information addiction, and whatnot will block other functioning, the regular functioning. What is my digital addiction inhibiting? I don't know yet. I'm going to look for it though.


Your attention didn’t collapse. It was stolen


Spoilers for season one. There are 3 seasons, and I'm about to finish season one.

I'm watching Shtisel, a show from Israel. It's an orthodox religious society, and yet there is a sensuality. It got me wondering if challenging asceticism is just moving the goalposts. Now TV is always excitement and sensuality, so perhaps it says nothing of the society, maybe it's more about what excites hope. People fall asleep, don't really say their prayers. There is constricting rituals and limitless freedom.

In traditional societies marriage is about propagating the species, not love. The fight for integrity is the struggle in a secular and a traditional society. We can gaze at each other and wonder, but each has strengths and weaknesses. The pressure to be enthralled by a person is an unrealistic expectation. To live without someone without being enthralled all the time, doesn't mean there aren't little moments of love. 

It seems like the propagation of the species might be important in Israel, as they've just recovered from the slaughtering of 6 million Jews during the holocaust. One person can't replenish the tribe, but there's a kind of unspoken urge to propagate propagate, trying to right past wrong. Such a burden. 

There is almost a Amish approach to technology. Akiva lives in a neighborhood without internet. Another woman's son pulls out her cable from her TV, and makes her go to a lecture by a Rabbi instead of watch her show.

Seeing your child married, working and raising a family is the goal of a parent in a traditional society. The propagation of the tribe. For all the propagation it's not very sexy. 

There's a real "obey your father" vibe, similar to the one when you read the Bible.

One man flies off to South America to work and leaves the family, leaves his religious paraphernalia and gets involved with a woman outside the religion. A shiksa. He couldn't live without companionship and he doesn't want to be alone in a foreign country. So he leaves the way of life, stranding a family of 5 without a father. And yet everything is family. Family, family, family. 

I really like the show, I guess I have Shtisel-mania. There's an intimacy and gentleness, a sensuality. 

I feel like every religion has a continuum of fundamental to liberal, and it's interesting to see how the fundamental end of the spectrum operates. I'm not sure what this really says about ultra orthodox Judaism. The filming crew had to wear orthodox clothes to film in the neighborhood. 


NY Times review


Unpacking the Immense Popularity of Shtisel

Television Review: “Shtisel” — A Charming Look at Jerusalem’s Ultra-Orthodox

Sunday, January 02, 2022

Amitabha Sutra

It took me 19 minutes to read aloud the Amitabha Sutra. This version has some great photos in it. I stopped at times to reflect. I looked up avaivartika, which means Bodhisattva without regression. I worked to have sincere effort. I worked to fully, or perhaps maximally attend. 

I watched this lecture by a nun in Hong Kong. 

I read the Wikipedia entry on the sutra. I read the Wikipedia entry on another longer sutra.

I can listen to other Pure Land sutras read.