Hey Jude

Yesterday my mother-in-law Lemin handed me a small hand-written note saying “Beatles Hey Jude“. I was so surprised, as I didn’t think she even knew about The Beatles. I was also curious why she was asking about that song in particular.

I asked (through Rosa) what format she wanted and where she wanted to listen to the song. I wasn’t sure if she just wanted the CD to play or an MP3 for her computer. She wanted something to play on her computer. So I pulled out Past Masters Volume 2 and ripped a copy of that one song for her. I put it on a USB stick and moved it onto her computer and showed her how to play it in Windows Media Player.

At first, it was nice to hear The Beatles playing from her computer. I sang along as I worked around the house. She is loosing her hearing so she was playing it loud enough that I could make it out even in the basement.

She played it all throughout the day. Over and over.

This morning she started playing it again. Over and over. And again when I got home. Over and over. “Hey Jude, don’t make it bad“. Over and over.

It just got stranger and stranger. Why, I wondered, did she want to hear it over and over?

This evening, after her shower, Rosa came down to start working on her computer too. We were both doing work on our computers and not paying attention.

Then Rosa stopped and said that she had had a very strange exchange with Lemin that had left her in a weird state. She told me why Lemin wanted to listen to “Hey Jude”, over and over.

Yesterday, Lemin went to a Chinese New Years celebration at the Chinese (Catholic) Church. Lemin is a very devout Roman Catholic. We were both glad she went, as she has not been very social since her husband passed away 14 months ago.

The reason, Rosa explained, was that someone at the church told her that it was a song about one of the Apostles of Jesus.

I fell out of my chair.

I could not imagine the confusion of ideas that would have led anyone to that conclusion. Lemin was treating it as a hymn about Jude the Apostle, without knowing the real story. “Hey Jude” was written by Paul McCartney not about one of the Disciples but about bandmate John Lennon, who was (in)famously quoted in 1966 as saying:

Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I’ll be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first—rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.

I was so surprised at what Lemin had been told. She stopped listening to the song once she learned that it was not about Jude the Apostle.


Lately I’ve been thinking that I need to make some changes in my life. I am concerned about my stress levels. One of the biggest causes of stress is the organization of the 2012 Ted Powell Memorial Race weekend at Calabogie Motorsports Park. It’s been an uphill battle for months. There are many major issues that need to be resolved.

Additionally, I have felt unfocused and scattered. I need a way to find calm, learn to relax and focus, and deal with the issues at hand.

I also just finished reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Steve practiced Buddhist meditation, although he did not seem to live a Buddhist life – he was a fantastically talented asshole. But he was also incredibly focused. I wondered if Buddhism was a key to that focus.

White Wind Zen Centre
White Wind Zen Centre

A week ago, I found that the White Wind Zen Centre was offering an Introduction to Zen Workshop, so I signed up after some hesitation. The course was today.

The information page asked the participants to wear comfortable, dark clothes that will not cut-off circulation while sitting. I gave this much thought and decided to buy a pair of medical scrubs. I always wanted a pair. When I was in high school the cool kids wore scrubs. I found that only one place in Ottawa sells scrubs so I headed there. They had many different colours but I chose a pair of black bottoms. They were so comfortable. They only had V-neck tops, which I am not comfortable wearing, so I had to find a top. I headed to the new Walmart on Baseline. The parking was a nightmare – they don’t appear to have enough spaces. I bought a simple dark-grey button-up shirt.

Then I left for downtown.

The White Wind Zen Centre is in Sandy Hill, surrounded by a tall hedge. It also has a monastic name: Honzan Dainen-ji. When I arrived, there were two other participants waiting outside on the porch. The centre is a heritage building with a large wrap-around porch. There was a small pond with a waterfall beside the Centre. There was a multitude of birds eating and bathing in the water. The biggest grey squirrel I have ever seen was exploring in the front yard. It was so peaceful; I could have just sat on the porch for hours taking in nature. 
At precisely 1:30PM, the front door was opened and one of the monks allowed us to enter. We had to remove our shoes and socks upon entering. I changed into my new purchases.

There were 6 participants. Our training was conducted by two monks. Both had cleanly shaved heads and wore simple dark tunics. We had a short introduction in the kitchen before we entered the zendo.

In the zendo or meditation room, we were introduced to the basics of zazen. This is a sitting practice. Everyone sits on a zabuton (like a large flat throw cushion) and zafu (round meditation cushion). During zazen it is important to sit up straight. The key is to form a stable base by creating a triangle with the butt and knees. For example, most people know the lotus or half-lotus position. I was not able to use either so I chose to tuck my feet behind the opposite knee. Our hands must also be positioned correctly.

Once everyone is seated, the zazen begins with three strikes on a bell. The zazen participant will breathe deeply and bow with the strikes.

Zazen is a 30-minute sitting meditation, with eyes open. One must experience all of the sensations. This includes the feeling of breathing, the feel of sitting, the feeling of your clothes, the sounds of the room and what you can see without looking around. It was important not to get lost in thought about the sensations. The purpose was just to experience the sensations without a mental commentary. The zazen ends with another strike of the bell.

Between the 30-minute zazen sessions was a 10-minute walking practice called kinhin. This is a slow walk around the periphery of the room. It also focused on the physical experience, including breathing, the feel of your feet on the wooden floor, the feeling of your clothes, the sounds and so forth.

The first two zazen were done facing the room. The last zazen was facing a wall, which is the normal (non-novice) practice. This was more difficult for me, as my eyes hurt. Although I was at the correct distance, my eyes strained to find focus on the white, textureless surface of the wall.

After three sessions of zazen and kinhin, we left the zendo and went to the kitchen for a question and answer session.

During the practice, I did not understanding the theory behind zazen and kinhin. I was expecting it would be more trance-like, an unguided daydreaming state. Instead we were told to focus on just the physical sensations and not on the mind.

It took a while to really understand this. The purpose is to attain mindfulness. There is much about our lives that are just ideas running around in our heads. Stress and worry are created only within ourselves. Although external influences cause us to feel bad, our emotions are only what we feel in our mind.

The first Buddha started with what is known as the First Noble Truth – that there is suffering and sorrow in the world. We experience pain and sorrow when we contemplate that our life is not as we wish it would be. Although we rarely think about it consciously, we are also afraid of our inevitable death. No matter how hard we wish it, it is not possible to achieve the life we desire for ourselves. The dichotomy is a source of internal suffering.

The Buddha concluded that suffering was not caused by the nature of the world, but rather our reaction to the dichotomy.

The Buddha realized that by being honest with oneself and understanding that everything is impermanent. Our possessions, our desires, our thoughts and our lives are fleeting on the scale of the universe. This understanding is the path to Buddhist enlightenment.

By concentrating on only the physical sensations available, zazen is a starting point to this understanding. Although we think we feel emotions and thoughts, in reality we can only sense (feel) our immediate physical surroundings. All else is created in our minds. This understanding comes from experiencing the physical world without an analysis in our minds.

The teachings of Buddha are much deeper than this, and include the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. The course at the Zen Centre covered only the smallest fraction of Buddhism.

Now that I have taken the course, and have completed some supplementary reading, I need to think about this some more. I need to understand how this fits into my mental framework, and how I can incorporate what I find valuable. My goal is still to achieve a more balanced, focused life and to reduce the stress and worry that I feel.

Ignorance has its costs

I wonder how well the pastor in Florida sleeps at night? When, against all good sense, he went ahead with the burning of the Muslim holy book, it sparked a series of protests that cost the lives of many innocent people?

In the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People“, Stephen Covey used the phrase “when you pick up one end of the stick, you pick up the other”. This suggests being prepared for the consequences of your actions.

In this case, the pastor’s ill-thought-out project triggered violence in Afghanistan that killed more than 30 people. If he had been clear-headed about what he was doing, he should have understood that there would be consequences and that others could use his actions for their own purposes.

In this case, it appears that the protests started peacefully, as people expressed their outrage that someone would attack their religion. Then the Taliban may have become involved and escalated the protests into their violent peak. They used the protests to advance their own political goals, much like the Florida pastor used the media to advance his own agenda and bigotry.

Now, 30 people are dead.


(Originally, I wrote this in September of 2010, but did not post it, as the person in question changed his mind and did not follow through on his proposed burning of the Qu’ran and Talmud. I am posting it now, as the “pastor” changed his mind again and was part of a group that “put the Qur’an on trial“, convicted it and proceeded to burn the Muslim holy book. )

I am so deeply disgusted with the plans of the “pastor” in Florida who plans to burn copies of the Qur’an and Talmud on the September 11th anniversary. I feel ill when I think about someone so completely ignorant. How can any thinking human being be so disrespectful?

The person in question is the senior pastor of a church in Florida. This church has previously put anti-Islam signs on the front lawn of his church and congregation members sent their children to school wearing T-shirts with anti-Islamic messages on the front. The pastor invited Christians to participate as a way of remembering the attacks in 2001.

I am stunned by such displays of overwhelming ignorance.

I really dislike ignorance. Ignorance, in contrast to stupidity, to me means that a person has chosen not to understand something. It is a choice that a person makes to be ignorant. There is a world of knowledge and information available to anyone. It’s so sad when people choose not to use the available resources.

WTC Memorial Lights from the Empire State Building
WTC Memorial Lights from the Empire State Building

The event is timed to coincide with the anniversary of September 11th. The implication here is two-fold. The first is that followers of Islam were the cause of that tragic attack. The second is that only Christians died in the attack.

On the first point, you need to ask, at what point does a persons activities no longer reflect the values of his or her community? The 19 terrorists murdered 2,977 people of all races, religions and countries. Why should those 19 people still be considered followers of the prophet after committing an atrocity of such a scale? Would Christians consider someone like David Koresh (his Branch Davidian followers killed 4 federal marshals) or Rev. Jim Jones (he forced 909 of his Peoples Temple congregation to commit suicide) to represent mainstream Christian values? No, of course not.

A related argument is to ask if it is right to judge the actions of a community of about 1.5 billion people based on the actions of 19 people? Would it be fair to judge Christians based on the actions of David Koresh or Jim Jones? Would it be fair to condemn all Roman Catholic males as ephebophiles or pedophiles because of 4,392 priests allegedly involved in the Catholic sex scandals in the United States?

No, that would not be valid. And so it must also be when it comes to September 11. It is time to stop associating 9/11 with Islam. There was widespread condemnation of the atrocity by Muslims around the world in the hours and days after the attack. The Islamic community made it clear that they did not support the actions of those 19 so-called Muslims or the al-Qaeda leadership.

The second fallacy from the “pastor” is that only Christian Americans died on 9/11. In fact 2.1% of the people killed on September 11 were Muslim. That’s three times higher than the Muslim population in the U.S. (0.6%). About 15% of the victims were Jews. The victims likely included Hindus and Sikhs and atheists and agnostics. More than 90 countries lost citizens.

The actions of this pastor and his followers are a symbol of the rising Islamophobia in America. Another example is the campaign against the Park51 community centre, also known as Cordoba House, in New York City. It made me just as ill when I read what was happening there too.

Freedom of religion was one of the founding reasons for the existence of the United States. It is a basic human right – to practice a religion without fear. The early colonists fled the enforced religions of their birth countries to seek religious freedom in the New World. It is protected by the First Amendment in the Constitution, which also forms the first part of the Bill of Rights.

When they attack another religion by physically destroying their holy book, these Floridian religious bigots are going against the very freedoms that their ancestors sought and worked so hard to achieve.

By turning against the founding principles of the country, they do a great disservice to their countries heritage of free and open religion, free from persecution and government interference.

I also feel that so many of the people who have such hatred or fear of Islam do not understand the deep connections between the three Abrahamic religions. I doubt that this pastor is aware of these connections.

The Dome of the Rock, the location of the First and Second Temple and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Dome of the Rock, the location of the First and Second Temple and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Muslims, Christians and Jews all pray to the same God – all are monotheistic religions. Jesus was a Jew, born of Jewish parents. It was at the Second Temple, the most holy place in Judaism, that he threw out the moneychangers. He was crucified on the start of the Jewish holiday of Passover, a celebration by the Jews of their release from slavery in Egypt by Moses. The Prophet Muhammad is buried in Medina with an empty tomb next to him for Jesus, who was considered a great prophet in Islam. When Muhammad made his night journey (Isra and Mi’raj) to heaven, he met Moses, who counseled Muhammad to petition Allah to reduce the number of Salat prayers from 50 to 5 per day. According to tradition, the Foundation Stone, which is currently inside the Dome of the Rock, is the spot where God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, and was the location of the First Temple (the location of the Ark of the Covenant), and Second Temple (the location where Jesus threw out the money changers) and is the spot where Muhammad ascended to heaven during Isra and Mi’raj. According to tradition, Abraham and his son Ishmael build the Kaaba, the most holy place in Islam, towards which all Muslims pray during the Salat.

Speakers' Corner, Hyde Park, London
Speakers' Corner, Hyde Park, London

The three great monotheistic religions are deeply tied together through tradition, history, geography and devotion to a single God.

(This is an important topic to me, and because I wanted to adequately express my feelings, I’ve spent about 8-10 hours writing and rewriting. I also did not specifically name or link to the pastor or his organization because I don’t want to provide any more publicity – it seems that this might be the true root cause of his actions)

Papa's Baptism

My mother-in-law, Lemin (I call her Mama), is a devout Chinese Roman Catholic. Christianity was brought to China starting as early as the Tang Dynasty in the Eight Century. Her family’s beliefs date back possibly as long as Yuan or Ming Dynasties.  However, it has often faced persecution, particularly since the take over by the Chinese Communist Party in 1949. One of the reasons Lemin married my father-in-law Jinduo (I call him Papa) was to gain some protection from persecution; he is a typical non-religious Chinese.

Lemin prays multiple hours per day. She prays for Jinduo to get better, as he is very ill. He has rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes. Recent blood tests have shown that his liver and kidney functions are down 25%. Our doctor estimates that he has about 2-years left before his body completely fails.

Lemin is his full-time nurse, as he needs help to do everything – get up, use the washroom, brush his teeth, eat and move between the bed and his wheelchair. With this 24-hour supervision, she also the only person he talks with. No one visits him. It is very sad.

A few weeks ago, out of the blue, Rosa and I were told that Papa wanted to be baptized. Mama must have been talking to him about this for a very long time. Papa doesn’t really believe in God, as far as we can tell. He is certainly not indoctrinated into Christianity and I doubt he knows and understands the basic tenets of the religion.

It seems evident that he is scared of dying. He must understand that his time is growing short. He is weak and in great pain during the entire day. He is dependent on mama for everything. He can no longer walk or push himself up or move from the bed to his wheelchair without great help.

Three weeks ago, Peter, a deacon with the Ottawa Chinese Catholic Church, came to visit all of us to discuss the baptism and to see if his family (meaning Rosa and I) supports Papa’s decision. Rosa and I both agree that we support his decision and will do whatever we can to help out. We said that if he wishes to go to church, we would book ParaTranspo to take him to church and back. However, that doesn’t appear to be his desire – plus the church service is only in English, which he does not understand.

When I was in Los Angeles, Rosa let me know that the baptism would happen when I returned. I asked that it be held on the weekend so that we can prepare and so that we can invite others to come too.

Chuxiong Huang performs papa's baptism.
Chuxiong Huang performs papa's baptism.

Today we had the baptism ceremony. Chuxiong Huang was the Chinese priest and he was assisted by Peter the deacon. Other attendees included the family of one of Papa’s health-care attendants, a family from the church and another woman from the church.

The ceremony took about 15 minutes. We all stood in the living room while the rites were performed. Even though it was performed in Chinese, Papa didn’t seem to understand very much, which is not unexpected for someone without any education and indoctrination in the Catholic Church. He was baptized and took his first communion.

Afterwards, everyone stayed for some snacks and to talk. When Papa grew tired, I carried him upstairs to sleep.

Updated the essay

I thought of one more case I wanted to cover in the essay Why I am An Atheist. The case is a corollary of Clark’s Third Law – a sufficiently advanced being having local control over the evolution of humanity.

The case does not change the thesis, as the lack of free will comes from this, and without free will, I can declare myself an atheist because it’s all I could possibly be.

The essay has now been updated and re-published.

Why I am An Atheist

I’ve been an atheist for as long as I can remember. Over all these years, I have spent a lot of time thinking about this subject. My reasons are mostly gut-feeling – I just don’t believe in God. I never have.


I’ve spent weeks on finally putting down my thoughts on this subject. The desire to write this essay was one of the driving forces for creating this web site – so that I could have an opportunity to put down on the page all these ideas I’ve had in my head for years.

I don’t intend that this will change anyone’s personal belief. It is only my thoughts, and there are no other expectations. I feel strongly that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, just as I reasonably expect that others will allow me to have mine.

The essay is called Why I am An Atheist.