Tag Archives: beer

Infection!

This weekend I brewed up my first Barley Wine. (Yeah, it’s a beer, not a wine). My apartment now reeks of hops and alcohol. Very nice. As I was brewing, I decided to pop open one of the Dunkleweisens that I had bottled the previous weekend. I knew it wasn’t going to be ready yet, but just wanted to see how things are coming along. First taste? Not good. Now, it very well could be that the beer just needs to age for a while, and that having 2 of my last 3 batches turn out infected has made me hyper-sensitive to the “infected beer smell”, but I’m thinking this batch might get consumed by the toilet.

Beer wort (that’s all of the ingredients before you add the yeast and make….beer) is a perfect incubator. It has all kinds of wonderful sugars for beer yeast to chew on and live off of for a long time. It’s just the right PH, giving the yeast this perfect little enviroment in which to live. And it’s the right temperature, not too hot, and not too cold. Beer wort is such a perfect enviroment, that it is regularly used in labs to grow certain cultures of bacteria. And therein lies the problem.

It takes just a tiny bit of bacteria or wild yeast to creep on in there and set up shop. It’s a home-invasion gone wrong. Sure, your yeast will live and do its whole turning-sugar-into-beer thing, but now it has company. It’s like your 2-cousin-in-law twice removed that comes to stay the weekend for Christmas and never leaves. Pretty soon their trash is everywhere, and your couch smells like feet and Cheetos. Same thing happens to the beer. Beer yeast produces favorable flavors and aromas. Invading bacteria make your hooch smell like band-aids and rubbing alcohol. Not good.

You do what you can to keep the bad bacteria at bay. The night before I brewed the Dunklewesien, I bleached all of my equipment. Then on brew day, I soaked it all in sanitizing solution. I was careful. Very careful. Anything that went into the wort was sufficiently boiled to remove anything harmful. I cooled the wort down to 70 degrees within 10 minutes limiting its exposure to any wild airborne yeasts. Then I tossed it all in my carboy and……. shit. I was 3/4 gallon shy of 5 gallons. How the hell did that happen? So, I dumped in some cold water to top it off, aerated, and pitched the yeast. Done.

I knew that by dumping the cold water in the fermenter, I was compromising the integrity of the beer. I made a rash decision, and likely paid the price for it. Just a little bit of cold water out of the well. Couldn’t see any bacteria, couldn’t smell any. No idea that it was there. But I knew the possibility lingered, and I let it in any way. It’s so easy to compromise and for what? 3/4 of a gallon more? Silly. Not mindful.

Why does compromise come so easy? Especially when we know it will inevitably lead to “infection”?

As for the beer, I shall wait and see. Wait and see.

Cheers.

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Someone said something about Buddhism!

I suppose I’m a bit late to the party, but life kept me away from the internets this weekend for the most part. It seems as though Bill Maher said something about Buddhism, and now people are upset. So I went over to the post in question, read it, and chuckled a little bit.

Bill Maher is a comedian. Some find him funny, others not so much. No biggie. We can’t all like the same flavor of ice cream either. As of the past few years, Maher has really targeted religion and the religious as the butt of his jokes. His movie Religulous focused on crazy people who believe in the different Abrahamic religions, and was kinda funny at times, but largely disappointing. It also seemed like there was supposed to be a point, but then there really wasn’t one. Oh well. In his bit over at the Huffington Post, he starts talking about sex-addiction and Tiger, making some funny points:

But all this talk about sex addiction now – please – sex addiction is just something Dr. Drew made up because he had no other way to explain Andy Dick. And that’s not just me saying that – it’s also the American Psychiatric Association, which does not list sex addiction in its manual; it does not regard it as a real psychological syndrome, like delirium or bipolar disorder or any of the other things Glenn Beck suffers from.

hahaha Andy Dick and Glenn Beck in the same rip?!?! Comedy gold!!!

Moving on.

But before Tiger moves on there’s one more apology he really should make, and that’s to Buddha, for dragging him into this mess and proving once again, that whenever something unspeakably tawdry, loathsome and cheap happens, just wait a few days. Religion will make it worse.

He’s got a point here. People play the God/Jesus card all the time after they get caught cheating/lying/stealing or whatever. It’s actually really annoying, mostly to the people of that particular faith. Tiger said he was re-comitting to his path. I certainly wish him well. Yet part of me thinks that in his forgiveness speech, Tiger was purposefully targeting the Brit Humes of the world that seemed to think he needed Christianity, and Buddhism was a second-class religion when it comes to redemption. If the public hadn’t gotten involved in his personal religion, I wonder if he would have ever mentioned it?

Maher goes on to make some other jokes at the expense of Buddhism. Most of which are gross exaggerations of a limited, superficial understanding of Buddhism:

And it really is outdated in some ways – the “Life sucks, and then you die” philosophy was useful when Buddha came up with it around 500 B.C., because back then life pretty much sucked, and then you died – but now we have medicine, and plenty of food, and iPhones, and James Cameron movies – our life isn’t all about suffering anymore. And when we do suffer, instead of accepting it we try to alleviate it.

Tiger said, “Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves” makes us unhappy, which confirms something I’ve long suspected about Eastern religions: they’re a crock, too.

Craving for things outside ourselves is what makes life life – I don’t want to learn to not want, that’s what people in prison have to do. Buddhism teaches suffering is inevitable. The only thing that’s inevitable is that if you have fake boobs and hair extensions, Tiger Woods will try to fuck you.

ha. Kinda almost funny. I think better jokes could be made here, even if they did offend more than these. Come on Bill, you’re slipping.

I’ve seen quite a few in the greater “buddhoblogosphere” post about this, and about Maher’s comments are coming from a place of ignorance. Well, yeah. Of course they are. I wouldn’t expect someone like Bill Maher to make informed statements about Buddhism, and then turn them into jokes. Because once someone is well-informed on the Four Noble truths, there isn’t much to laugh at about them.  They were also meant for HIS audience, and if you haven’t noticed, the audience he’s targeting isn’t the religous. So no, I’m not really upset at the comments he made.

One of the jokes he made has brought up the same comments over and over again:

And reincarnation? Really? If that were real, wouldn’t there be some proof by now? A raccoon spelling out in acorns, “My name is Herb Zoller and I’m an accountant.” …something?

People are always debating, is Buddhism a religion or a philosophy: it’s a religion. You’re a religion if you do something as weird as when the Buddhist monks scrutinize two-year-olds to find the reincarnation of the dude who just died, and then choose one of the toddlers as the sacred Lama: “His poop is royal!” Sorry, but thinking you can look at a babbling, barely-housebroken, uneducated being and say, “That’s our leader” doesn’t make you enlightened. It makes you a Sarah Palin supporter.

I actually kind of laughed at this one. Any time someone can make fun of Sarah Palin, I laugh. Also, the whole process is kind of well….. funny when you think about it from an outsider’s perspective, isn’t it? But the bloggers were focusing on this comment quite a bit, saying that this practice is grounded in Tibetan Buddhism, and is mostly cultural anyway, so he’s really way off base here.

But is he? Like it or not, The Dalia Llama is the face of ALL Buddhism in the West to non-Buddhist Westerners. Would a joke about  Amitābha Buddha, Daisaku Ikeda, or Robert Thurman really have really flown on Huffington Post? Doubtful. We kind of have to admit that by making the Dalai Llama into such a celebrity and rock star, we’ve also thrown his brand of Buddhism into the spotlight, which doesn’t leave much room for any of the others out there.

All in all, I think it was a moderately funny post on his part. I can handle someone laughing at my religion. I believe in some pretty unconventional (esp by Western standards) stuff, so I have to recognize that others aren’t going to see eye-to-eye with me at times, and that’s alright. I can’t count how many times I’ve laughed at Crazy Church People, babbling idiots, or Magic Mormon Underwear. To now get upset when someone pokes fun of my beliefs would be pretty hypocritical on my part.

Yet, there is a real problem here. Unfortunately, there are people who base their views off of what a comedian like Bill Maher or Dennis Miller or John Stewart has to say. Bill Maher has his version of the “ditto-heads” that flock to his every word, and spread it like a virus. So while I really don’t see anything to get upset with about his comments in and of themselves, the problem really lies with what happens to those comments when they reach the public.

I’ve already seen this happening in some of the comments:

I worship at the Altar of Maher.

Me too. He is a genius. I heard him last night on Larry King. His comments on Palin and Obama, etc., hit the balls outside the fence.

Hey Bill, You are the best at exposing the lack of credibility and believablity
of these crutches going under the name of religion(s)

This is a tiny sample to be sure, used to illustrate my point. But the fact of the matter is that this piece will give people a reason to hate Buddhism, to spread further misconceptions about the dharma, and might turn people away from ever seeking it out in the first place. Using beer as an analogy, let’s say you decide to be bold, and try one of those new-fangled micro-brews instead of the usual lite lager crap. Now let’s say the first beer you try is Stone Mill Pale Ale. You know, the one that looks like it came from a small town micro brewery in Cali? So you get home and crack one open and, EWWWW. It’s freaking awful. Just a little bit more flavor than your usual can beer, but that flavor is awful. Why the hell did you ever think to try something new? Never again.

Of course, Stone Mill is made by Anheiseur-Busch, and is about as far from a local delicious micro-brewed Pale Ale that you could ever get. Your first exploration into something new and exciting just got you burned because you believed what you were buying was somehow a good representation of what you were looking for. But it wasn’t. This is the same flavor that people will be left with if misconceptions about the dharma are left to propagate unchecked. So yes, we should speak up. But we should also take a moment to realize that Bill Maher is a comedian, and comedians will make jokes at the expense of just about everyone, as long as there is an audience for them. I’m not going to take offense at what was said. His ignorance has been pointed out by plenty of others in the buddhoblogosphere, so I’m not going to list all the ways in which he is wrong.

John has a good thread going on about engaging ignorance in Buddhism. I’m trying to figure out what our role is exactly in all of this. Do we simply confront Bill Maher and his misconceptions? Or do we try to get the correct version (not talking about sects/schools here) of the dharma out there in the public to let people see what the Buddha really had to say about suffering? I don’t know if there is an easy solution here.

As for jokes…..

“Sarah Palin thinks the alphabet has 22 letters. She’s so dumb she thinks the capital of China is Chinatown. Sarah Palin is so dumb, she thinks billboards are postcards from giants. The governor of Alaska is so dumb, she thinks soy milk is Spanish for ‘I am milk.'” –“Daily Show” correspondent Wyatt Cenac

oooooh snap!!!

Cheers.

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Serving up some Dharma

CNN has this article about a monk in Japan that is getting a lot of  attention for his approach. He’s a young monk that is using hip-hop, booze, and a casual atmosphere to deliver the dharma. Says one of the patrons:

“Buddhism for Japan is a religion you normally only experience at funerals,” said patron Naoyuki Osano, who comes to the bar twice a week. “But the Buddhist philosophy is wonderful. It’s great to have a place like this for us to learn about Buddhism.”

Interesting. At first, I thought this whole idea was stupid and disingenuous. It all seemed kind of hokey and not unlike those proselytizing Christian vans that roam the city filled with “cool kids” that wanna hang out and talk about Jebus. Surprising from someone that runs a blog called Home Brew Dharma? Yeah, I could see that. But if you have read what I’ve said about the 5th precept before (here, here, and in the comments here) you’ll know that I’m actually not a huge drunk!!! Wow!!! I’m not going to go into the 5th precept here in this post as I’ve already directed you to my thoughts on it, which haven’t changed.

But maybe there is something to this. I can’t speak of the cultural aspects of Buddhism in Japan or how it is incorporated into everyday life. From the little I’ve read/heard, it seems as if it is more of a passive aspect of the average Buddhist’s life there. So maybe an approach like this is what is needed there. It’s a way to get Buddhism out of the temple and integrate it daily into the lives of everyday people. It’s helping people to discover and engage in a new practice, or maybe bring an inactive practice to the forefront of their lives.

Group Dharma Transmisson at the "Tipsy Co-ed Mountain Retreat Center"

I also wonder what the “bar scene” is like where this monk is at. I doubt it looks much like the bar scene that I experienced in college. I’m guessing it’s more of a relaxed atmosphere where the level of conversation high and the level of intoxication is generally low? Without more information, I don’t want to make anymore uniformed judgements. I’ll just say that if it helps to spread the dharma to those that want to hear it, and can help people lessen their suffering (even a little bit) then I say go for it. Is it unorthodox? Yeah. But maybe that’s what the community needs there. I for one, am all about Dharma Drinks.

Cheers.

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Recipe for Disaster/Lesson in attachment

Recently I made a Pumpkin Ale. I started to brew, and while reading the directions for the third time, something dawned on me. The directions asked for me to steep about 12lbs of pumpkin, and then place the pumpkin (it was in a cheesecloth) in the bottom of the primary fermenter. No problem if you’re using a plastic bucket as your primary fermenter. However, I have a 6 1/2 gallon carboy that I use for this. The opening on the carboy is about 2 inches wide. Do the math on that one. So instead of placing the pumpkin in it’s cheesecloth in the fermenter, I had to shove it all down in there loose, so it just floated in the wort. This didn’t prove to be a problem during fermentation, but come time to transfer the beer into the secondary, it was disastrous. I was only able to get about 2.5 gallons or so out of the carboy before my hoses clogged and I was stuck.

 Rather than enjoying 5 gallons of pumpkin ale for Halloween, I’ll have about half of that, and I’m not even sure if it will turn out. Hands down the worst time I’ve had brewing (and the messiest).

 At first, I was pretty pissed. I had gotten up at 5am just to start brewing this beer a couple of weeks ago. I had put a lot of effort into it. And then this happens. I was not my usual chipper self after transfering it into the secondary. Usually I at least feel a sense of accomplishment. But this time I was disappointed, upset, and sad. I planned on sharing mass quantities of this beer at a Halloween party. Now I’m not sure if that will happen at all. I had high hopes for this ale. And that’s the problem. 

The problem is in my attachment to what may or may not have been. Rather than just brew, and let things play out, I got all excited and anticipated something wonderful. I made up an unreasonable scenario in my head. And of course, when those expectations weren’t met, I suffered.

 The next day I came to my senses, and just shrugged my shoulders about it. Maybe it will turn out and I’ll enjoy it with friends. Or maybe it will suck and I’ll have to pour it down the drain. Either way, it’s kinda out of my hands. Getting all worked up about it either way isn’t going to help things. All that will lead to is suffering. If I focus on how bad it could be, I’ll suffer right now. If I get my hopes up and then get let down by some bad beer, I’ll suffer then. And even if I get my hopes up and it turns out that the beer is fantastic, I’ll still have suffered. Why? Because rather than focus on what was happening right now, I was off in la-la land day dreaming about a future that doesn’t even exist. Creating a false reality. That’s no way to live. When I look back on the times when I dream up scenarios in my head, I always feel a sense of regret about it. I know that I shouldn’t be doing that. I know that I wasted time on a day dream. I feel childish and stupid for it. But that’s what my journey into Buddhism is awakening me to. At least now I can acknowledge these lapses in awareness for what they are.

 So, I’ll bottle it up tonight, and in a couple of weeks we’ll see how it turns out. Luckily, I’ve got about 45 bottles of Amber Ale that did turn out well. I’ll post a recipe for that one later this week, or maybe next week after I’ve tasted one that has really had a chance to finish. Cheers.

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Motorcycles, Beer, and Change

The last batch of beer that I bottled didn’t turn out so well. It was an American Brown Ale (I currently have a batch of Amber waiting in the fermenter, and a batch of Pumpkin Ale I’ll be brewing next week). And I screwed it up. I was off daydreaming about hops and Barley Wines and wasn’t being very mindful of the mash. I let the grains get way to hot, and some tannins were extracted (in beer, tannins = bad usually). So I ended up with some quite astringent beer. Besides that, the flavor was alright, but it was probably the worst batch I’ve ever made.

 What pissed me off about it all initially was the fact that I used the same system that I did before. I approached it in a different manner (which had a slight astringent problem, but nothing this bad) and got the same damn results. I’m not going to get into details about how my brewing method, as that would be even more boring than the rest of this post. Basically, even though my intention was to make a better ale by switching a few things up, I still fell into the same pattern as before and ended up with shit beer.

I’m fond of quoting Robert Pirsig. He’s the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. If you haven’t read it, please do. It’s easily the most overlooked work of philosophical literature of the last 50 years*. I’m currently obsessed (yup, an attachment) with Zen and the Art, and the whole way he approaches thought in it. After I was done beating myself up over my lousy batch of ale, something he said came to mind.

 “But to tear down a factory or to revolt against a government or to avoid repair of a motorcycle because it is a system is to attack effects rather than causes; and as long as the attack is upon effects only, no change is possible. The true system, the real system, is our present construction of systematic thought itself, rationality itself, and if a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a systematic government , but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government. There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding.”

 I could easily write 20 or more pages on just this paragraph alone. I’ll probably reference it numerous times throughout this blog. But what I want to talk about now is approaching change. There certainly has been a lot of talk about “change” lately in the news, ever since President Obama took office. But how much change can we expect from him, and the political party that he represents? I say none. Nothing real. No real solutions to our problems. The root cause of our problems will not be addressed. This time we’ll use a blue band-aid, and in a few more years, it’ll be a red one. But band-aids to little to address the real cause of the affliction.

 We hear all the time about how “if it were a free-market system, things would be different.” Well, sorry. News flash: THIS IS a free market system. It is a free market system that led us to our present state. It certainly wasn’t communism, or totalitarianism, or anarchy. It was a free market system. It is this system that led to the controlling lobbyists. It is this system that led to a for-profit health care system. It is this system that led to Enron, the housing market crash, immigration problems, the wealth gap, the rampant depletion of natural resources, and just about anything else you can think of. So to make changes within the system, and expect another outcome is ridiculous. Eventually, it will all get fucked up, one way or another. A free market system must create disparity to survive, for if everyone were equal, there would be no motivation to progress anything.

 If we can’t make changes within the system to progress society, what then? According to Pirsig, we must change the whole thought process and rationality that created the system in the first place. We must not only throw out the present system, but throw away the rationality that produced it in the first place. Why? Obviously, that rationality was flawed. We could expect no less than yet another flawed system if keep the same patterns of thought in place. Our American Revolution simply handed over the crown to the American Government, and the American Banking interests. Meet the new boss……

 Here’s an example of a time when bucking the system worked, and proved beneficial to humanity at large. 2500 years ago in India, the prevailing rationality was that in order to achieve enlightenment, and end your cycle of rebirth, an aesthetic lifestyle was pretty much your only option. That only through extreme, disciplined aestheticism would you ever be able to achieve the clarity necessary to rid yourself of the illusion of self. Siddhartha Gautama tried this for many years. He tried everything the other aesthetics taught him, and he still did not reach his goal. So rather than find other methods within that system, he threw out that whole system, and figured out that the “middle way” was the true path to enlightenment. It was this break through that allowed him to realize his goal, and it wouldn’t have happened if he didn’t change his rationality and approach.

A lot of bitching takes place on the Interwebs about “changing” a lot of the world’s problems. It is hopelessly non-constructive and self-defeating. Not only do people not propose any real, actionable solutions, they’re pissing in the wind when they do manage to think of something constructive to say (and not only that, they don’t get off their asses to do anything about it). We can’t hope to rid the world of poverty in our current free-market based societies. It ain’t gonna happen. It is built into the system.

 Many people have found the Zeitgeist movie online. Not as many have seen the second movie, or been to the Zeitgeist Movement website. Now, you and I may not agree with what they are proposing. That isn’t the point here. The point is that they are proposing a completely different system, (a solution!), a completely different rationality and unheard of approach; and they are being ridiculed for it. The main reason? People’s attachment to the status quo. Humanity has been so entrenched in this “me me me gimme gimme gimme money is the only motivator” system and way of thought for so long, that we can’t even comprehend how a different system would even be possible. But if we want real, actionable, sustainable change, we must embrace the total destruction of our present way of thought. It is imperative that we begin looking at society in a different manner altogether. We must throw out the Lockes and the Kants and the Platos and the Smiths, and start fresh. We need a new philosophy. I’m not saying that the Zeitgeist people have all the answers, but they are heading in the right direction. (on a side note, the second movie is much better than the first, as it deals less in conspiracies, and more in solutions).

If you really want a better batch of beer, you can’t just change up your recipe. You have to change your entire brewing method, and even your thought before you develop your brewing method. For this last batch, I did just that. Hopefully, it will be much more enjoyable, and I’ll be able to proudly share it with family and friends. Cheers.

 

*A comment exchange that took place when this post was first published and I felt was relevant to post here:

Anonymous said…

“…most overlooked work of philosophical literature of the last 50 years”? That strikes me as telling people you just discovered they sell dog food in cans!

This book has sold 5 million copies in nearly 30 different languages. There are serious philosophical societies that have formed to focus solely on Pirsig’s ideas. He is an international celebrity in the world of philosophy. Most university philosophy departments recognize his work, and most read his books.

How is that “overlooked”?

September 24, 2009 10:18 PM

Adam said…Yes, certainly a poor choice of words, as that really didn’t convey what i meant. The book was a huge success; it says so right on the cover and obviously I can read.

I wrote this post over a few different days, and left out something that i was about to touch on. While it may be the greatest thing since sliced bread for the philosophy folks out there, it certainly hasn’t yet found it’s way into the real, actionable world, and i think it really needs to. This is what I started to talk about when I said overlooked. The more i think about it, the more i believe this is another post altogether.

Thanks for pointing that out anonymous commenter. I see the confusion that could and has caused.

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One more thought on the 5th….

So just one more thought on the fifth precept, and then I’ll leave it alone.

 I think that maybe what is most important to remember about Buddhism is not the Four Noble Truths, The Lotus Sutra, The 3 Jewels, or any of that. I think the most important thing to remember about Buddhism is that it is about suffering, and how to end it. That being said, my drinking a beer now and then is not a huge cause of my suffering. In fact, it causes very, very little suffering in my life and the lives of my family and community. I’m more concerned with my setting up false expectations, my mindlessness, my rush to anger and judgement, my procrastination, my attachments. These are of great concern to me, as they are the major causes of my suffering. For now, I’ll focus on those, and worry about the drinking at some other point, if ever.

 *note – If you’re an alcoholic, or drink just to get fucked up on a regular basis, you might want to start there.

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To Brew or not to Brew… The Fifth Precept

So lots of talk lately on the Buddhablogosphere regarding the precepts, especially the Fifth. Being that my blog is titled “Home Brew Dharma”, I believe I need to add my 2 cents.

Here is what the Buddha said: “A noble disciple gives up wines, liquors, and intoxicants, the basis for negligence, and abstains from them. By abstaining from wines, liquors, and intoxicants, the noble disciple gives to immeasurable beings freedom from fear, hostility, and oppression. By giving to immeasurable beings freedom from fear, hostility, and oppression, he himself will enjoy immeasurable freedom from fear, hostility, and oppression.” (AN 8:39, IV 245-47)

 So, seems pretty clear. If you want to be a noble disciple, you need to give up the booze and drugs. Why? Because of the consequences. There isn’t anything inherently bad in any type of intoxicant, it’s the consequences of taking said intoxicants that is the issue here. Intoxicants lead to mindlessness when abused, and the Buddha was trying to get people to be more mindful. This is hard enough to do when sober, let alone hammered. 

Back in the Buddha’s time, it was the rice-wine guzzling, opium smoking low lifes that he was targeting. You see, it’s impossible to follow the eight-fold path while you’re intoxicated. Pretty simple. You can’t be mindful when you’re wasted. Not a big surprise. And it’s hard to have right concentration when you’re staring up at the ceiling of an opium den contemplating the purpose of your pinky toes.

 It’s not only while someone is intoxicated though either. Alcoholism affects a person’s entire life. It brings them immeasurable suffering, but it also affects the people in their life, and society as well. The same thing with habitual drug users. There is no doubt to the far-reaching suffering that lifestyles such as these create.

 What about those of us that practice moderation? Where do we fall in? Is it possible for me to come home, and enjoy A beer? I think so. Remember right intention? I think that applies to the situation at hand. Are you drinking just to get wasted? Or are you treating that one beer like you would anything else in life; something to be savored, and something to be mindful of. I think a case can be made for a more skillful approach to drinking.

When I say I’m going to have a Scotch, I don’t mean a bottle of J&B. What I mean is I’m going to pour an ounce or two of some Glenlivit over some ice, and sip on it for an hour or so. See the difference? Where is the “fear, hostility, and oppression” in that? What are the consequences of my sipping on that ounce of Scotch? I’ll probably enjoy it. I won’t become intoxicated, or even slightly buzzed. Sure, I probably won’t have ultimate right concentration while I’m doing it, but I’m not in that state now, and I doubt many of the bloggers are either while they are busy blogging.

 I’m not trying to change Buddhism to fit my needs. I’m not trying to make excuses. And for those of you who have given up drinking altogether, great (as long as you are doing it for the right reasons). I do agree that intoxication will throw you off your path to finding your own Buddha nature. But I also don’t think that having a beer every now and then disqualifies me from being a Buddhist, especially if I approach it in a skillful manner.

 And as far as drugs are concerned, I think Maynard James Keenan said it best, so I’ll end with a quote of his: “I think psychedelics play a major part in what we do, but having said that, I feel that if somebody’s going to experiment with those things they really need to educate themselves about them. People just taking the chemicals and diving in without having any kind of preparation about what they’re about to experience tend to have no frame of reference, so they’re missing everything flying by and all these new perspectives. It’s just a waste. They reach a little bit of spiritual enlightenment, but they end up going, ‘Well, now I need that drug to get back there again.’ The trick is to use the drugs once to get there, and maybe spend the next ten years trying to get back there without the drug.”

Cheers.

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The Eightfold Path: Right Livelihood

So if you haven’t noticed by now, Buddhism is all about suffering. It isn’t about salvation, god, moral absolutes, everlasting life, reincarnation, ancestor worship or anything else. It deals with suffering. And the next “step” on the Noble Eightfold Path is making sure that the lay people aren’t adding to their own or the suffering of others through their occupation. It is Right Livelihood. 

Before I continue, I suppose that the word “right” needs a definition. In Buddhism, there is no divine law giver. No man on a mountain with stone tablets, no guy in the desert with a magic rock. Buddhism doesn’t concern itself with absolute morals. Remember, it’s all about suffering here folks. So when the term “right livelihood” is used, what I should really say is “skillful livelihood”. You see, since there are no moral absolutes, and Buddhism only concerns itself with suffering and how to end it, we define things by how skillful they are. If they reduce suffering, they are skillful. If they increase suffering, they are unskillful. I hope that clears some things up. 

So the Buddha said there were a few types of occupations in which you should avoid, because they were unskillful. The first is dealing with weapons. Weapons never decrease suffering. They inflict pain, death, and totalitarian authority. So don’t make them. Don’t sell them. It’s that easy. 

 The next is don’t take a job that does its business in human beings. So, no prostitution (sorry, pimps included), no human trafficking, no slave trading. Don’t buy children or adults. These are pretty simple so far, yeah?

 

oops- wrong hooker….

 Next is don’t take a job in which the business is meat. Specifically, anything to do with carcasses. Don’t be a butcher. Dealing in meat is dealing in death. Don’t be a taxidermist. By the way- taxidermy freaks me out. It’s one of the most unnatural things I’ve ever come across in my lifetime. It’s gross.

 

 Next is don’t take a job in the poison industry. In today’s world, this one is a bit more complex. Most of the chemicals we use on a daily basis are poisonous. A lot of the products we use build up in our system and can wreak absolute havoc on our bodies. Check out this blog for more info on that. If the Buddha were alive today, I think he would look at our industrial empire and see suffering everywhere. While all of this technology has helped society out immensely, no one can argue that it hasn’t also added to our suffering. I’m collecting my thoughts on this specific topic, and will post about it soon. For now, look at the industry you are in. Are the things you make poisonous? Are they adding to suffering (unskillful) or reducing it (skillful)? 

  Lastly, and I cried a little at first when I found this…….. don’t take a job that deals in intoxicants. Shit. Yes, intoxicants include drugs and alcohol, and anything that prevents you from maintaining your mindfulness. I’ve heard that Tich Nat Han has taken this and applied to many of the things we now take for granted in our busy, modern lives, and how they are intoxicating. He’s next on my list of authors to read. So umm…. where does this leave me in regards to home brewing? I’ve always wanted to work at a brewery and (pipe dream) possibly own one someday. Maybe…….

 Well, one of the five precepts in Buddhism (it’s a list of things you’ll do/won’t do as a Buddhist – another post) is not to take intoxicants. I’ve also heard it as “I will not take intoxicants to the point of intoxication”. I might be on to something here. If I take this precept, and only drink one beer, that’s ok. I’m not drinking it to get drunk (right intention) and I’ll still be sober (right mindfulness). But how would I promote this while working at a brewery?

 

 I’ve got an idea. Maybe I should start my own brewery. Deal in bottle conditioned ales only, kind of like Chimay. Encourage people to savor the beer, to experience it. Discourage people using it to get wasted. Only sell the beer in 22oz bottles. And I’m talking quality ales here people, not King Cobra or Mickey’s. This could be the key. Do what I love, and promote a more skillful approach to brewing. That might just work.

 Currently, I know that my job lessens the suffering of others. I help people communicate with each other that normally wouldn’t be able to. My company provides a great service to those in need (and wish for me not to mention them here). What about you? Think on that, and ask yourself what your occupation did today to help end suffering. Cheers.

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The Eightfold Path: Right Intention

When I brew a beer, I’m not doing it to win a medal. I’m not doing it win the admiration of friends and family. I’m not trying to get a high alcohol percent so that I’ll get wasted when I drink them. No. When I brew beer, I do it because I enjoy brewing beer. I enjoy the entire process. The sanitation, the measuring, the endless waiting, the focus on detail. It is an extremely Zen activity. I approach it the same way some would approach a Japanese Tea Ceremony. No motion is wasted. No thought wanders beyond the brewing process. You see, I brew beer for the craftsmanship aspect of it. And yes, I do try to get a quality product each time. But my intention is never really on what will happen to the beer once I taste it. It can’t be. My intention lies in my approach to the process.

 Right intention is the next “step” on the Noble Eightfold Path that I’d like to discover and discuss. Right intention can also be translated as “right thought” or “right resolve”. Basically, are your intentions good or bad? What’s the origin point of this particular thought or action? Right intention forces us to look at the why behind the things we do. Why am I driving this Prius? Is it so that my friends and people on the street will see me in a better light? Or is it because I care about the purchases I make and the impact they have on this planet?

 Not to rant, but one of the things I really disliked about my time living in Bellingham were the Yuppies. It was mostly Yuppies and college kids in that town. And all the Yuppies thought it was such a great thing to shop at the local Co-op and buy organic and Go Green! The problem is they would drive their Hummers and Escalades to the Co-op. They had no idea what organic, or local meant. They were shopping there because it was trendy. So they could impress their friends. Sorry, but this is not right intention.

 So what else does right intention mean? It’s about doing things that are pure, renouncing that which is wrong, selfish, full of attachment. Is your intention in line with the Four Noble Truths? The rest of the eightfold path? If not, better re-evaluate. In Buddhism, it isn’t just about the action. It is also about the intent, thought, and purpose behind each action. It must come from a “right” place.

I’ll be discussing “right” vs “wrong” in a latter post. Cheers.

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What happend to the beer I brewed?

So about a year ago I brewed a very tasty Belgian Golden Strong Ale. I drank just about all of it, but saved a 22oz bottle for my wife. She was pregnant while the beer was good for drinking, and I wanted to leave her some to try. So the other night we popped it open and she loved it. I had a small bit in a glass as well. I had no idea where this beer had come from. This was not the beer I last tasted 6 months ago!

 What happened? Time. It was the same beer, from the same batch I brewed a year ago. But this was so much better! So much more refined. Better head, richer flavor, a full and complex aroma. All it took was time. You see, there is still a bit of live yeast that travels into the bottle, and when you add the priming sugar, this yeast eats the fresh sugar and carbonates your beer. But this also finishes the process. With time, all the flavors you had hoped for develop, and you end up with (usually) an awesome final product.

 Awhile back I bottled a batch of American Brown Ale. It’s been bottle conditioning for a few weeks. So what makes this beer an American Brown? There’s a list of parameters that it falls into based on color, gravity, flavor, bitterness, aroma, etc…. It’s just an easy reference to classify the wide array of combinations you could come up with. Humans like to classify things. It makes it easier to communicate, and we are social mammals. There’s nothing wrong with that.

 The problem arises when the classifiers take the place of the true object you’re trying to classify. For example, saying that “I’m a college student” or “I’m a delivery driver” is inherently false. These classifiers are not what you truly are, but just a description of one aspect of your life. Your true self is ever changing, ever in motion, and ever evolving. Your true self is not your occupation, skin color, or hair style. These things are simple human attachments and qualifiers, nothing more.

 Ever bumped into someone you haven’t seen in years? Like 5, 10, or 20 years? It’s almost as if you’re bumping into a different person, isn’t it? You even have to re-introduce your self in a way. Why is that? Time. Impermanence of self. I talked before about finding self. But, where the hell is it? It doesn’t seem to remain constant, does it? Are you the person you were 10 years ago?

 I’m not. In fact, I’m thinking of holding a funeral in his honor. He will be missed by some, (though not most if I remember correctly). But that person no longer exists. Goodbye. I won’t be seeing you. He’s taking the spiritual equivalent of a dirt nap.

 So, if there is no constant self, what the hell are you? If there is no constant beer, what the hell did I just brew, and what’s gonna happen to it? Let me first say that I haven’t a clue about whether or not there is a “soul”. I’ve never seen, heard, or touched one. I’ve yet to hear a concrete explanation as to what it is, what it’s properties are, where it resides, what it’s purpose is, and why I don’t know it exists. So let’s just forget about that, shall we? Maybe that’s for another brewing session. So who/what the hell am I? Well, I’m not any of the superficial me. I’m not really the physical me. The physical me is changing at a rate and quantity I can’t even begin to fathom. Do you know how many of my cells have lived, multiplied, and died in the time it’s taken me to write this? That’s way to big a number to play “99 bottles of beer on the wall” with.

 So, ok. I’m not really the physical me, since it’s in such a rapid state of change that pinning me down would be nearly impossible. Like my beer, the hundreds of thousands of yeast cells living out their natural life cycle are what is making up it’s physical properties, and it’s in a constant state of flux.

 With all of this physical chaos, it’s no wonder my mind is a mess. Hmmm… maybe I’m my mind. My thoughts. Nah, that’s mostly ego, and the mind’s survival mechanism playing itself out.

 Am I my traits? No, because those change as well. I can remember how much of an asshole I was 10, or even 6 years ago. Thankfully, with the help of time and graduating from the school of hard knocks with an AA in skating by, I was able to realize that being a jerk off wasn’t what I wanted from myself.

 This isn’t getting me anywhere. What about the beer? OK, when I brewed the whole batch, it was all the same. Only time made the difference. It was tasty, effervescent, probably the best beer I’ve ever had. But only after a year or so. The first versions I drank weren’t quite as good. But it was the same damn beer.

 OK, what’s different from me now than before? I’m slightly more responsible, much more handsome, quite humble, and generally a much calmer person. But all of these things I’ve learned over time. It was my past experiences that shaped who I am today. Remembering them helps to provide an anchor to these past experiences, so I may draw upon them to better myself in the present moment. Getting closer now….

 So, my past experiences, thoughts, feelings, these are what have helped shape who I am today, but they are NOT me. The “me” of a year ago is no longer. The “me” that started writing this blog no longer exists. So, again, where/what am I? What about that yeast that’s in the bottom of the bottle, “finishing” the beer? What is it that is “finishing” me? Is it my past experiences? The knowledge that I’ve gained? My emotional self? Maybe my evolving ego and mind?

 What I have come to believe is simply this:

I am the impermeable Adam. I exist in the moment before I realize I exist in the moment I exist in. It is when I realize that I exist that the person who existed in the moment before has departed. It is effortless, mindless awareness that allows me a window into myself.

 And then Attachment.

 Attachment has made you believe you are that selfish person you were 5 years ago when you didn’t share that cab with that stranger you were standing next to who was going to the same neighborhood you were. Attachment has made you believe you are a fat person. But you are not a fat person. You are a person who is fat. You exist independently of your weight issues, your impotence, your compassion. You are impermeable. The words your mind uses to describe you are subjective and not absolute. They are not universal law. You are subject to change at your own discretion.

 Knowing that there is no constant self is liberating. You no longer fit into a frame or mold. You are no longer the person your mind has created. It is also a little weird. If there is no constant self, what is it that is changing?

 Back to the beer. What has changed? The beer is still only water, hops, barely and yeast. That’s it. The only thing that has really changed is a bit of biological process, and my own subjective qualities I’ve placed on the beer. Kinda like myself in a way. A few cells die off, a few glands secrete some juices, and I construct a model of who I am in my own mind. This is me. I’m not a home brewer. But I do home brew. That’s the difference. Cheers.

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Transfer of Essence

Today I transferred a batch of ale into the secondary fermenter. The reason you do this is to separate the beer from the yeast cake. Beer is made up of 4 main ingredients: Water, barley, hops, and yeast. The yeast is what transforms the sugars in the barley into beer. Without yeast, you’d have terrible tasting, acrid, cloudy water. Yeast really is the life of the beer. So why would you want to separate the beer from the yeast? Good question.

Too much of a good thing in this case can have unpleasant results. After a few days, the active fermentation has subsided and most of the yeast has settled to the bottom. Fermentation will continue however, but not like it did at first. After a few days, you need to separate the beer from the yeast. I have a 6 1/2 gallon carboy that holds the beer at first, then I transfer to a 5 gallon version. If you don’t do this, the beer will have too much yeast flavor and sediment. It will be cloudy. So for a more refined product, this is a necessary step. 

Personally, I’ve taken this step myself. I transferred myself once upon a time. I lived in Michigan for the first 20 years of my life. My family was there. My schools were there. My friends were there. The “nurture” part of my self was constructed there. My ideals, outlook, inner voice were all a product of my environment. It was my yeast. 

After about 18 years though, my yeast began to settle. It wasn’t sustaining me any longer. It didn’t provide me with what I now needed to finish the process of self. For this, I needed to seek another container. Another environment. A new opportunity for nurture to shape my essence.

 I’m still not sure what the last straw on the camel’s back was. You see, it wasn’t my friends. It wasn’t my family. It wasn’t my job or my apartment. It wasn’t any of those thing that were stifling me. It was me that was stifling me. You see, even when you transfer the beer, millions of the yeast cells still travel with it. So some degree of fermentation still persists. It was this part of me that I couldn’t remove that was stifling me. Causing me to mentally suffocate. 

I hated this part of myself. It was lazy. Apathetic. Unemotional. Detached. Depressed. Irresponsible. The list goes on. I realized that even if I removed myself from the container that created this self, part of that self would travel with me, like the yeast.

 Yet if I could leave some of that part of self behind, was it possible to leave it all behind eventually? To no longer be burdened by the self that I was? I had to try. So I left. I left that container as abruptly as I had entered it 20 years prior. This fresh start would be what I needed. Heading west where the air was fresher. The ideas were fresher. My essence could be fresher. Yet there was still that part of my self that was traveling with me. What of it?

 There is one cardinal rule when home brewing. Above all, make sure everything is sanitized. Sanitation is the most important step you can take to ensure a quality product. It only takes a little bit of wild bacteria or yeast to enter your beer to ruin the whole batch. Ruin the whole purpose. Fermenting ale is about one of the most perfect habitats for bacteria. It’s the perfect temperature, there is plenty of food, it’s safe. When you transfer the beer, you are leaving your beer vulnerable to contamination, which is why sanitation is key.

 On my travel I broke my phone, and scattered the pieces. I left no trail as to where I might be headed. I only brought the clothes and books I really needed. I avoided strangers. I avoided contamination. This journey taking me to my next container was an important one. I needed for it to be free from anything that might contaminate my newly found self. It would not take much to ruin a trip like this. A call home. Befriending the wrong types of people. Getting caught up in the drama of the strangers the accompanied me on my journey across the country. Taking a bus was risky enough.

 So now years later, after I’ve fit into the new container, I have to wonder. Is is really a new process that my self is going through? After all, when the beer is transferred, some of the yeast goes with it. So it isn’t really a new fermentation taking place, is it? It is really the same fermentation that has transpired since the beer was created. There are really only two differences. First, there is the new container. Smaller, more tailored to the final outcome. I have to imagine this is where my self is currently at, in this new container. Second, the saturation of the yeast. It’s easy to see the layer of yeast in the primary fermenter. You can see the process that has transpired over life span of the ale. You can clearly see what effect that original, life giving yeast has had on the beer. Now (after the beer has been transferred from the primary) the beer isn’t so inundated with that which made it was it is today. Now I am detached from the environment that made me, me. Yet part of that self is still present, and that might be the real problem.

 The past and your original nurturing environment is a quick anchor to who you believe yourself to truly be. We all have this aspect of self. It’s the “I” we refer to in our minds when we speak about ourselves. But this is not the real “I”. The true self is the one in our minds we refer to when no one else is around. It’s the real “I” that we cannot lie even to ourselves about. No matter how much bacteria we allow to creep in, no matter how many containers we transfer ourselves to, we cannot escape this “I”. The self. It has always been there. This is what drives some to a life of addiction. They try to cover up the real self with superficial highs. Some of us are trying to escape it. Others are ignoring it. But none of these are healthy or rational options. The only sane thing to do is to accept your self. Fully. Unconditionally. Your self is perfect. It is with this realization that one can begin to truly transform one’s self. Once you can accept your essence for what it is, you can really bring about change in your life. You can get rid of all the bacteria you’ve let in. You can begin to see the container for what it really is: just an empty space that is incomplete without that which fills it. You are not your laziness. You have become lazy out of fear of reaching your full potential of self. You are not beautiful. You have attached beauty to yourself for fear of your true self being ugly. 

I suppose the hardest part is finding that true “self”. The real “I”. We enjoy contaminating ourselves. We’re afraid to face who we really are. I don’t know why this is. Maybe it is a survival mechanism our ego has developed to keep us focused on anything but accepting ourselves and each other for who we truly are. Our mind and our ego like to make us believe it is something that it is not. Our mind likes to think our self is Bad, or Good. Perverted or Pious. Lethargic or Ambitious. But our true nature, simply put, exists. It is. It cannot be good or bad. Those are human attachments. The beer is not how it tastes. That is not what the beer is. The beer is just the beer. It is water, barley, hops, and yeast. And it’s quality does not lie in any of those individual parts. It cannot. For beer is made up of four parts. The quality (or lack thereof) can only be seen or perceived when the sum of all those parts is present. Your quality or lack thereof is only seen when the whole you is present. It is not seen in your liver or teeth.

 So we must take a knife and cut away all of the layers of false self we have covered our true self with. We need to find our true quality of self again. We have built layer upon layer of false self that focuses on the individual parts. Your hair. Your teeth. Your ego. Your attitude. Your intelligence. None of these things separately make up the self. Not one of these things determines who you truly are. Because when we are able to find our true essence, and accept it, then we can truly enjoy our self. We can be at peace knowing we are perfect just the way we are. That the essence of who we truly are cannot be contaminated. It cannot change depending on the container. It simply is. When we reach this realization, we can then begin to deal with the individual parts as individual parts, and not the self.

 As for the beer, well, it is simply those four parts. It’s essence lies when those four parts are combined. If it becomes contaminated, it will still resemble beer. It will still look like beer. Although it’s true self might be hard to taste, it is there in the bottle, waiting to be discovered. Cheers.

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