It’s just about three weeks until December 8, Bodhi Day! Really, it’s just a couple of weeks until December 1st when Bodhi Season begins. Fortunately, at least for those in the U.S., Thanksgiving is just a couple of days before, so we can get the feasting out of our systems for the eight days of meditation.
On Wednesday, Mrs. Hanamoku and members of her watercolor society visited a glass artist. He let them actually make their own. For Mrs. Hanamoku’s first attempt with glass, she made a globe of The Eternal Fishnu.
I was excited to attend the consecration of the glass globe by the Eternal Fishnu.
Many of us in the Pacific Northwest are familiar with the term “apex predator” from the relatively recent re-introduction of wolves into our forests. Apex predators are relatively small in number in comparison to the population of its prey, but its presence or lack of presence results in a disproportionate effect on the environment. That is, not just obviously on the population of its prey, but cascading effects that are often surprising.
The intent of the re-introduction is beyond just merely the romantic notion of wolves once again roaming through the birch trees and howling in the distance. More so, the hope is to reinstate the natural regulation of the forest ecosystem that has gone somewhat out of whack due to cascading effects of the populations of the wolves’ prey going unchecked in a natural manner.
Anyway, the insight of the disproportionate and often surprising effect of apex predators is credited to the pioneering work of Robert Paine. He was a zoologist with the University of Washington who had this flash of inspiration for an experiment on biodiversity. The removal of a particular species can result in dramatic effects, whereas the removal of another particular one has little or no effect. He coined the term, keystone species, to describe the former.
That insight came to him during a little experiment he conducted off the Olympic Peninsula back in the 1960s. The tidal pools he visited were diverse in species. For some reason he wondered what would happen if he removed one of the species. I’m not sure if he started with starfish, but that’s the species he wrote about. It was probably the only species he could easily remove due to the relatively large size, easily seen bright colors, and relatively few number of them.
Believe it or not, that starfish (pisaster) posing with the Eternal Fishnu is an apex predator. Well, at least an apex predator of the tide pools around the Oregon Coast where these photos were taken – the prey being mussels. These starfish played a starring role (pun intended) in Robert Paine’s insights of the disproportionate effect the apex predator. He coined such a species, keystone species. And the sometimes surprising cascading effects resulting from the removal is referred to as trophic cascades.
A great example of trophic cascades are related to subsequent work he did with James Estes. A suprising trophic cascade starts with sea otters and ends with increased erosion of the U.S. West Coast:
Sea otters eat urchins which dine on the kelp of the kelp forests which act as a break of storm waves which mitigates erosion of the beach. So the eradication of sea otters due to hunting means the urchins run wild, decimating the kelp forests, which leave the shore unprotected.
In the case of Robert Paine’s seminal experiment, he hunted down and fling all the starfish around his experimental tide pool into the sea. Unchecked by the apex predator, the experimental tide pool was bullied into a monoculture of mussels.
Why did I stumble across this fascinating work of Robert Paine and James Estes? As with many things YouTube, one thing lead to another then another. But mostly, I was looking for inspiration, ideas, and paths towards how to author business models. As I’ve mentioned many times, I am a Business Intelligence Architect/Developer by day.
The set of correlations and transformations that make up trophic cascades are indeed the genes of a business model. Such mapped processes are what I’ve been working on with Map Rock for over a decade. An obvious business example is something like better quality leads to higher customer satisfaction, leading to return customers, leading to lower customer acquisition requirements, leading to higher profit. But for some reason, after all I’d studied, I didn’t know the term, trophic cascades.
A Buddhist thought before we leave. We must remember that Nature is resilient and that there isn’t only one “correct” way for things to be. For over three billion years Life on Earth has been periodically severely wounded. But she regenerates and comes back to full life.
Perhaps an additional disaster or a certain disaster a few years before or after, or more or less severe, more North or South, would have resulted in no humans at this time or even no multi-celled creatures. But from afar, seen as an entity in itself, She’ll still look more or less the same. Only from “within the weeds”, where our human minds are trained to exist, would things appear to be different.
Well, Mr. Pisaster, it was an honor to have met you!
For 2019, Bodhi Day, December 8, falls on a Sunday. That’s good because I really don’t need to take vacation days off.
As for watching Venus rise in the morning sky, not this year. Venus will rise on Bodhi Day at about 9am. That’s too late to be visible, and it seems to be about that time anywhere in the world on December 8, 2019. Instead, it looks like Mercury and Mars will be visible in the pre-dawn hours of meditation.
The Bodhi Season begins on December 1, 2019. Siddhartha Guatama meditated for seven days under the Bodhi Tree, before his full awakening on the morning of the eight day.
As I’ve done for the past two Bodhi Seasons, I will post a daily message from December 1 through December 8 to guide you along the Bodhi Season. These links point to those past series of messages, which should give you a good idea of what Bodhi Day is about and how to celebrate it:
We’ll probably just do a weekend getaway around the Minidoka area – such as Sun Valley. Last Bodhi Day, the Eternal Fishnu, Rubber Ducky Buddha of Joliet, and I performed a Buddhist service at Minidoka on our way to City of Rocks. We thought it would be nice to do that every year.
Sun Valley is also close to Craters of the Moon. We probably can’t get into the park during those hours, but there are many places near the park that would provide a great view of the early morning sky, solitude, no ranchers angry about hippy trespassers.
I apologize for this clip show blog. It’s a good way to fill in the simple reminder of Bodhi Day 2019 with lots of information from one place.
Please keep in mind that this post is based on the standardized Bodhi Day date of December 8. There is the lunar Bodhi Day, which is a bit of an it depends answer. So that you don’t need to read the post on the lunar Bodhi Day, I’ll say that for 2019, it is on January 2, 2020.
I always thought that the majestic silverswords endemic to Haleakala were related to yuccas or some sort of agave. The photo below is a blooming silversword I took on a trip to Maui back on 2003. Doesn’t it look like a yucca or agave? Especially with that towering stalk of flowers reminiscent of “century plants”. What else could it be?
So a couple of years ago while hiking in Utah, I photographed this blooming yucca below.
I planned to make a farcical Facebook post featuring the above photo going something like this:
Voice: Brah! You from Hawaii!
Me: (Look to my left and see this yucca talking to me.) Yeah, Brah! Wahiawa, my maddah’s side, Kaneohe, on my faddah’s side. What island you from?
Yucca: I not from deah, baht I get cuzins dat leeve on Haleakala! Nevah seen dem fo mee-lee-enz years!
But before I hit Post, I wondered if my assumption about silverswords being a yucca was correct. I’m not sure why I wondered about it. To me it was so obviously related to yuccas that I hadn’t ever before thought to question it.
It took a bit of trial and error to stumble across the key words: silversword alliance. Most of what I learned about the history of the silver swords are from a few Web pages:
To summarize, the majestic silversword appears to be a descendant of a very humble little plant off the West coast of the U.S. colloquially called a “tar weed”. These tar weeds are in the asteraceae family, along with sunflowers and daises. I’ve read estimates of the first asteraceae immigrant landing in Hawaii as between ten million and one million years ago.
But there’s more to the interesting notion of a humble desert plant making a very long journey over an ocean to end up a grand tourist attraction. The silver sword is only one of about thirty descendants of this tar weed immigrant to Hawaii. That is, about thirty very different-looking plants from Kauai all the way to the Big Island. It’s only through recent DNA technology that this has come to be known.
It’s something that the references listed above call adaptive radiation. A single species can relatively quickly evolve to a diverse set of species occupying unique niches. I’m not sure what Hawaii was like a few million years ago, but today climates in the Islands range from tropical beaches, to rain forests, to deserts, to snow-capped mountains, to the high desert climate of Haleakala. That’s a lot of niches to fill.
Coincidentally, on our Oregon Coast trip a few weeks back, we stopped at the John Day Fossil Beds in central Oregon. If you visit the Visitor Center, you’ll see an exhibit on adaptive radiation related to horses. Unless you’re a paleontologist or something, how many times in one day will you think of adaptive radiation?
The fact that many very similar flowers are so profuse in the Southwest Deserts of the U.S. lends to the versatility of this plant. If any plant can be the founder of the species of the Silversword Alliance, it would be the tar weed. All the way from John Day Fossil Beds to the Pacific Shore at Lincoln City, we found many sorts of asteraceae, happy as can be.
I’m not positive if the yellow flower from Southern Utah I photographed below is a “tar weed”. It has the sticky stuff on the green parts, the sunflower-like blossoms, petals that split at the end. Throughout my vacationing around the U.S. Southwest, I’ve noticed dozens of varieties of these plants. I’m at least fairly sure it’s at least related to what I see as “tar weeds” by Googling: tar weed california
Whichever tar weed is the founding ancestor of the Silversword Alliance, and that species is probably long gone, it was hardy enough to somehow make a 2000 mile journey and adapt in multiple ways to a place of highly varied in climates.
Due to over-grazing by introduced goats, deer, and cattle last century, the silverswords of Haleakala are critically endangered. There is an irony in that this descendant of such a humble “weed” as the tarweed is now one of the most coddled organisms on Earth, protected by the Endangered Species Act.
It took a tough, versatile organism to make the 2000+ mile trip over a huge ocean to fill not one, but multiple niches via adaptive radiation. What does this say about keeping an empty mind ready to be re-filled? Why is an empty mind, free from clinging to all preconceived notions, the key to no suffering? Because there is only constant change – as the saying goes, All things will pass.
There is no universal template for human, or deer, or even suffering. There are only momentary aggregates of energy. The tarweed seed is such a seed that is 100% accepting of change. So there it is today in the Hawaiian Islands, in many forms of this humble plant, unrecognizable from the fixed, brittle notion of just a tarweed.
Mrs. Hanamoku and I are half-way through a two-day road trip from our home to Lincoln City on the Oregon Coast. We’re meeting up with my step-father, mother, and a few of my step-father’s friends. We’re spending three days with them there, followed by the two-day trip back home.
My step-father has advanced cancer and his prognosis is bad. But it seems to be under control for the moment. So he’s taking a break from chemo to spend some quality time with his family and friends who are in the Pacific Northwest.
Yesterday we stopped at the John Day Fossil Beds for a little bit of hiking. Places such as these where minimal vegetation exposes patterns and shapes forged over a very long time over huge areas paints vivid reminders that our Earthly brain of two to three pounds probably doesn’t know much.
The scale of reality is so immense we can’t begin to imagine it. Even many of my highly skilled software developer colleagues forget that systems are very different when we’re talking about handling a few thousand elements of data versus even a few billion, much less trillions. And a trillion really is a small number!! You have 30 or so trillion cells in just your own body!
Say the words, “Ten to ten to the tenth.” Wasn’t that easy to say? Well, maybe not with all those words starting with “t”. The “ten to the tenth” is ten billion, sort of close to the number of humans currently inhabiting Earth. If we “wrote” that number out with people, starting with me as the “1”, and all the other seven billion people in the world lined up next to me acting as “0s”, that would form a number still three billion zeros short, give or take, of ten to the ten to the tenth – virtually zero!
How valid is that point? Does anything have numbers that big? Yes. Perhaps not in the conventional “counting” sense, such as counting the number of copies of a book sold or the number of atoms in the Universe. It does, however, arise daily in the very real combinatorics issues I deal with that plays a big part in my job. That is, exploring as many possibilities for business decisions as possible.
You’ve probably heard it said that there are something like 10 to the 120 possible games of chess. That’s a really big number – so big that hardly anyone will deal with anything remotely close to such a number.
But chess is a very simple game – a board of 64 squares, 32 total pieces moving 6 unique ways. It’s also sequential, meaning pieces move one at a time as opposed to all at the same time. Remember, we’ve already made a computer program that can play this game better than any human. That means it is a simple game.
The world of business is an incredibly more complicated game. It’s not hard to come up with ten to the ten to the tenth possible ways business evolve. It may not seem like such an impossible task to make decent predictions because we can predict particular things fairly well within the next day, week, or month.
But add up a lot of predictions, all the things that go on in commerce – all those possible actions of seven billion people, thousands of governments at various levels, countless natural phenomenon – even over a short period of time. We end up with even more than ten to the ten to the tenth possible scenarios. All the planning by the Dream Team of planners will do a shitty job of predicting the state of business even a few years from now.
The Universe is vast beyond what we can actually imagine.
What does this have to do with my step-father? Dealing with mortality. There’s a good chance your brain is wrong about what it thinks is going to happen after the thirty trillion or so cells in your body ceases to operate as a team. Heaven or Hell? Reincarnated? Or do you just end right there? Whether or not we believe in an afterlife, our human brains are centered around our instinct to survive.
Personally, I have to conclude that in the unimaginable vastness of the Universe, there’s a pretty good chance there’s some outcome my human brain with this powerful instinct to survive would be happy with. All the matter that have been a part of you and all the matter you’ve affected throughout your life are an intricate part of all that is yet to come. Remember, Hollywood really screwed up our idea of what really happens if even little old you had not existed.
The verse, 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, is often attributed as the basis of our phrase, “This too shall pass.” That phrase is usually meant to comfort us in bad times. However, what if you are near the end and there is no good time to follow? Everything passes from our lowly human point of view. But in the scheme of the Universe, which is much beyond that, everything that has been and will be is there.
In the context of this blog, the word, “unseen”, in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, means that because our brains are puny, just because we can’t fathom something doesn’t mean it’s not there. Have faith that “the numbers” are overwhelmingly on your side – that in the Universe there exists more than your brain can conjure up. As Mrs. Hanamoku very facetiously says to me, “Don’t worry your pretty little head about it.”
In a few hours, Mrs. Hanamoku and I will head out from Prineville over to Lincoln City. During that six hour drive, people at my place of employment will be getting on without me, busy with more planning than doing. That is, worried more about a future projected from past experiences, and not focused on what they should be doing now.
Mrs. Hanamoku and I attended the Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple’s Obon Celebration for 2019 yesterday afternoon. It’s one of the highlights of the year for us because we can eat a wonderful bento – as good was what we’re used having grown up in Hawaii.
OK, OK … I confess. I had two of these in one sitting! Gluttony. That’s forgivable, though. It’s natural to gorge ourselves on seasonal items while it’s there because it won’t be there for another year … as opposed to gorging on Big Macs which we can get at any time. Yes, I will keep telling myself that … hahaha.
We had these perfectly made “mochi-balls” for desert. Although this person sharing our table thought that rice, beans, and sesame seeds “sounds disgusting”.
However, we’re not otherwise very into the obon festivities itself. Neither of us get down with the odori, but do enjoy the taiko drums and on some years a martial arts exhibition. But I can do a good impersonation of my grandfather belting out “Tanko Bushi” – I never appreciated that he was quite a good singer in that style.
We did sign up to “adopt” an obutsudan in need of a home. We signed up for one last year, but they were all quickly taken by congregation members. Obutsudan really are treasures. They were the spiritual center, mini temples, at Buddhist family homes. For the modern tastes and sensibilities, though, these old obutsudans don’t quite fit in. If we were chosen to adopt the obutsudan, it will be considered the spiritual center of our home as well.
An interesting although trivial point though, is that the Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple belongs to what is known as the “Pure Land” sect of Buddhism. I’ve written that I grew up as a Shingon Buddhist, known as Esoteric Buddhism. But it dawned on me yesterday that that isn’t exactly true.
My mother’s side of the family were Shingon Buddhists. In fact, during my youth, the extended family of my mother’s side dominated the congregation of the Haleiwa Shingon Mission. My father’s side of the family attended the Honpa Hongwanji, a beautiful temple off Pali Hwy in Honolulu. But I ended up regularly attending “Sunday School” with my mother’s side of the family at the Shingon mission.
I believe the only times I’d been to the Honpa Hongwanji was for weddings and funerals on my father’s side of the family. However, when we stayed over at my paternal grandmother’s house, at each of those many stay-overs, we prayed at her obutsudan before going to bed. She taught us to repeat a few times what phonetically sounded like “Namman dao-tsu”, but I recently learned is probably “Namu Amida Butsu”.
Recently, while browsing through the Internet, I learned that the Honpa Hongwanji is indeed Pure Land Buddhism – like the Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple. Not once had I heard that term growing up. All I knew of Buddhism back then, from either sect ,were non-English prayers and chants – completely meaningless to my monolingual brain (pidgin doesn’t count … hahaha).
So I do have a heritage in Pure Land Buddhism. This doesn’t matter at all really. But somehow this genuine heritage helps me to feel we can offer the obutsudan a genuine “home”.
Mrs. Hanamoku and I refer to ourselves just as Buddhists. In Buddhism, there is a recognition that the world is so rich and complex that we really need lifetimes to see everything from every angle. No matter how much we know, it’s like how a huge number like a billion is virtually zero compared to the number of atoms in the Universe. The reality is that we don’t even have to try to have a beginner’s mind – what we know in our human brain is virtually nothing already.
Each sect of Buddhism, and we believe that includes ALL spiritual teachings out there, is well expressed by a saying I learned from a dear Bahai friend: “The same light, but a different lamp”. For this moment in space and time, we happen to explore the insights from the Zen point of view; for me, particularly as taught to me first-hand by the Eternal Fishnu.
This morning Mrs. Hanamoku discovered that the first Magic Plant Flower of 2019 bloomed!
We’ve had Magic Plant since March 2005. It has provided us with these incredible blooms every Spring.
Mrs. Hanamoku and I found Magic Plant back in 2005 when we lived in Redwood City, CA. We found Magic Plant on a walk, tossed on the side like trash, no pot, eaten up by snails. Mrs. Hanamoku took it home with us and I lovingly planted it in a pot.
A few months later, a little red dot appeared. We watched it for a few weeks grow into some big bud. You can see what the buds look like in the photo above.
Then one night, Mrs. Hanamoku had a thought that this is some sort of night-blooming cereus, similar to the ones we know well growing on lava rocks in Hawaii. Sure enough, there it was, at least six inches across, as showy a shade of red/purple/orange as can be imagined. We were so thrilled. We never saw such a flower.
The next year, Magic Plant has 23 blossoms! I suppose since we enjoyed just that one so much.
Even though the individual blooms last only about two days, Magic Plant does continue blooming for almost two weeks. The Rubber Ducky Buddha of Joliet says that this period is a blessed time. A time to meditate on the gratitude of an abandoned, snail-eaten, pot-less plant that found a home.