Friday, June 14, 2013

Running and the art of meditation

Years ago, I used to run. Not marathons, or even very long distances. I pretty much stuck to running 1 mile each time. And I never ran in a race. This was 30 years ago. I was young and full of spit. And I was also running at the time in high altitude. So while not great, I felt pretty good that I could run a mile in less than 9 minutes at 7,000 feet.

And oh yeah, I smoked at the time too. (Sometimes I ran while under the influence of certain, um, chemicals - and in hiking boots)

But my ankles started to get cranky with me, so I stopped running and switched to swimming. Running is so much easier though because you don't need a special place to run. To swim, however, you need a pool.

"Hey Rich, what's this got to do with Buddhism?"

Um, maybe nothing at all. Maybe everything.

Fully worn out is this body,
a nest of disease, and fragile.
This foul mass breaks up,
for death is the end of life.

There you go, does that cheer you up?

Last December, I broke a bone in my foot, a small stress fracture. I did it while walking on a treadmill. Went to a foot doctor who fitted me with new orthotics. Told me I'd be able to run again.

So I was all geeked up and feeling like, wow, I can run again, maybe I'll even train for a marathon!

Then I had a heart attack in March. But that was not going to deter me, particularly when the docs said there was no blockage in my heart to worry about.

I've been training for my first 5K, which is this Sunday, since late April. I'm not quite running the entire distance yet, so my time is between 40-41 minutes. But I'm feeling pretty good about it. I'm finding that I don't mind running so much, and I've learned to pace myself without pressure to run too fast.

I've heard of people who use running like meditation, or they meditate while they run, or they get all Zen while they're running, or whatever. I don't do any of that. I just run, try to pay attention to what my body is doing, the rhythm of my movement, the flow of my breath, even with all types of crazy shit going on inside my monkey mind. To me that's meditation: being aware. For a long time I used to think the goal of Buddhism and meditation was to turn off the mind's internal babble. But now I realize I don't need to try and turn it off; rather, the more I pay attention to it, the more it turns off on its own.

Thinking, at least for me, leads to self-absorption, and that hinders compassion. It's hard to be compassionate when you're obsessed with your self, what people think about you, how you think they perceive you or think about you: It's all a mass of mental knots that stress you out.

"Hey Rich, what's the photo with your post got to do with any of this?"

So glad you asked!

While on a run, I was loping along the east side of Diversey Harbor here in Chicago when I see this raccoon up ahead. As I get closer, the raccoon isn't moving. Dead? No, it raises its head to look at me, but still doesn't move. I jog by, see it splayed out in the grass. It's injured.

I stop about 20 feet beyond it, look at it, see that it's very stressed. We are quite close to Lake Shore Drive; my guess is the raccoon was attempting to cross the drive, got hit, managed to drag itself this far. It's hind legs weren't working.

Without thinking, I just started talking to the raccoon. And I was pretty blunt. Heck, the raccoon was probably going to die, its injuries mortal in nature, so I said that to the raccoon. I think it agreed with my assessment. I called animal control because I didn't want anyone else messing with the animal. People can be assholes. The guy at animal control took my information and said he would call someone from the wildlife division. I told the raccoon; maybe they could help you, I said.

The raccoon started to drag itself across the sidewalk toward the harbor. It was going to deliberately throw itself into the harbor. Was I about to witness a raccoon suicide?

You know the end is near, don't you, I said to it. It's alright, we all have to go someday. Wish I could help you.

I spoke quietly, gently. It dragged itself a little more, then paused at the edge of the cement wall. That's when I took the photo. It paused for a moment, heaving from the exertion, then pulled itself over and plunged into the harbor.

I peered over the edge, saw it paddle with its front legs, the rear legs still useless. I bet that cold water feels good, but if you take off, the wildlife people won't find you and fix you.

It looked up at me as it paddled along the edge. Screw the wildlife people, I don't need them, it said.

Oh, wait, it didn't say anything. Raccoons can't talk. It just looked up at me and swam away.

I have no idea what happened to that raccoon. My presumption is the injuries were fatal. I just hope that in its last moments, my presence brought it a little comfort, reduced its stress just a tad as it faced the end. Because, you know, when I die, I hope someone will be there with me too.

And now when I run by that spot on my loop, I put my palms together and bow my head in respect for the raccoon who gave me a lesson on both life and death.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Someone tell Mark Sanford about Angulimala

Mark Sanford is a funny guy. After embarrassing himself and his state - but seriously, is it really possible to embarrass South Carolina?- by carrying on an illicit love affair in the Southern Hemisphere while governor and attempting to throw off discovery by claiming he suddenly decided to hike the Appalachian Trail, he has seen fit to rise from political exile and run from Congress.

As if people would forget about, oh, I don't know, that whole marital infidelity thing.

But Sanford's no dummy, because while most voters will remember their former governor's previous juvenile horn-doggery, they just might ignore that transgression and choose, instead, to view Sanford as an opportunity to throw more obstruction at that evil black president.

We'll have to wait and see how Machiavellian South Carolina voters really are. And if they're not so inclined to give Sanford another chance at public office, we shall then see how Machiavellian Sanford had been. Because in his effort to turn over a new leaf, it appears that Sanford has become, well, Buddhist.

I was enlightened about Sanford's "practice" by this article in Yahoo! News. Apparently after Sanford's political demise, he retreated from the spotlight and began learning about Buddhism and even asserts he has begun meditating; at least that's what he calls it. It's difficult to tell just what type of practice Sanford has begun, what were his influences, and how serious he is about it. The article was scant on detail.

Understandably, people are skeptical. It's likely that the only Buddhist thing Sanford is up to is working a little bit of mindfulness into his life. After all, if he's really taking a serious look at Buddhism, he will need to confront one of its basic concepts: Karma.

Someone needs to tell Mark Sanford about Angulimala.

Angulimala was a murderous thief who killed travelers and cut off their fingers to wear in a gruesome necklace about his neck. Despite the wide-spread fear Angulimala inspired in others, the Buddha successfully tamed this beast and turned him into a monk.

 But Angulimala quickly learned that simply becoming a monk and following the Buddha didn't erase his past, unlike the concept of being "born again."  In fact, even after the Buddha accepted him into the sangha, Angulimala's past continued to catch up with him.

At first, Angulimala couldn’t get anyone to offer him food during his alms rounds because he remained feared and despised for all of his past murderous actions. Even after the Buddha set up an act of truth to show others Angulimala’s new noble birth and he became accepted by more villagers, there remained a group who refused to believe that Angulimala was nothing more than a murderous monster. Whenever he went for alms, these holdouts threw rocks and sticks at him. One time he comes to the Buddha, his head bleeding, to show the Buddha what had happened. The Buddha tells Angulimala to buck up and endure this because he is lucky to be suffering this torment now as the continuing fruits of his past actions rather than to suffer those consequences by spending eons in a hell realm.

Angulimala does buck up and eventually he attains the fruits of the holy life, but it wasn't easy. It took considerable time for him to work through all the karma he had accumulated as a murderous thief.

Will Mark Sanford buck up and comprehend that he doesn't get a free pass? That he may be suffering the consequences of this extramarital excursions to Argentina for years to come? Should Sanford lose his bid for Congress, we shall see whether he continues his dabbling in Buddhist practices, or abandons it as a failed expedient device. And even if he wins, who knows how his past karma will continue to manifest itself. The mere fact that he might win is no indication that he has completed that karmic journey.

As the farmer in a fable about the various fortunes and misfortunes of his son said to his neighbor: "We'll have to wait and see."

Image courtesy of Buddhism - Being Truly Human.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Don't get lost in the details

For 2 years in a row, the date March 9 has brought me face-to-face with the frailty of the human body.

This normally inconspicuous date has also held for me interesting coincidences.

On March 9, 2012, I awoke shortly after midnight with a splitting headache. It was the worst headache I ever had in my life. It was as though a large Bowie knife had been shoved through my skull. My vision was distorted by shimmering lights, like an aura. Because I had lived with migraines most of my life, I deduced it was just an exceptionally bad migraine. I took some Excedrin and went back to sleep.

Later that morning the headache persisted. I stayed at home and worked, but the throbbing pain in my skull was getting to me. I took a handful of aspirin later in the afternoon. The pain diminished slightly. I was beginning to notice that I had lost vision in my left peripheral field. It was the normal blind spot I get when having a migraine, so I thought.

The next day, the headache and the blind spot were still there. Perhaps this was not a migraine. I called one of those "phone a nurse" lines and described my symptoms. It was suggested that I get to an emergency room. I drove myself there. They did a CT scan. They told me I had a stroke.

On March 9, 2013, I woke up feeling fine. I went to make the coffee. I returned to my room and started my laptop, started to look through my email. When I heard the coffee had stopped brewing, I went and got a cup. I poured the soy creamer into the mug and then added the coffee like I always do every morning. I took the mug of coffee back to my room, took a sip, set the mug on the side table, then sat in the chair to resume web surfing.

Suddenly there was an intense pain in my chest. It was as if a giant hand wearing one of those metal medieval jousting gloves had gripped my chest all about the left breast and was squeezing with the pressure of an hydraulic vice. The pain radiated to my left arm, went under through the arm pit, then down my arm to my fingers. This intense pain went up the left side of my neck as well to my jaw. My breathing became shallow, I felt clammy.

I knew what was happening. I stood up, went to my medicine cabinet, grabbed an adult aspirin and chewed it. I returned to my chair and focused my mind on the pain, on my heart, on the blood vessel that was shutting down. I waited a few moments, but the pain was not subsiding. It was steady; a black knight had me in his grip and he was not letting go. Mara be damned. I was going to have to go to the emergency room. Again.

I told my roommate what I thought was happening and he and his boyfriend drove me to the emergency room. I never felt like I was going to die. But I was thinking about the irony.

Two hugely significant medical emergencies in my life, both occurring on March 9. In both incidents, I had Phô for dinner the night before. In both situations I had recently picked up my friend Curt at the airport upon his return from Malaysia where he had spent three months. And on both occasions, Curt returned from Malaysia with some type of lung infection.

Coincidences. Silly facts to mess with your mind.

At the emergency room, it had been at least an hour since the symptoms first showed and my chest was still gripped with pain. This is not a hackneyed metaphor. It literally felt as though my chest was caught in some giant vice. My blood pressure upon arrival was 188/107. They gave me a nitro. A swelling headache developed, but the chest pain had only slightly subsided. Morphine was next. At last, the pain was receding.

They drew blood to see if the tell-tale enzymes would show up indicating a heart attack. It could be severe angina or some other less serious event. These enzymes show up when there is heart tissue damage, and the only thing that causes that type of damage is a heart attack. The first draw was necessarily zero, but it would be the second draw that would reveal all.

Nammo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhasa. Say it three times. Say it six times. Say it a hundred times. I wasn't afraid. I knew I wasn't going to die. But I was embarrassed. And I was confused. I don't follow the best diet, but I eat reasonably well and I exercise a lot. My cholesterol numbers are fabulous. My EKGs have been normal. I have never felt chest pain while exercising or exerting myself. All I did was sit down after getting my coffee. Now I was annoyed. They told me I would be spending the night for observation in a regular room. Dennis and Stephen went home to get me some things.

Then the first enzyme test came back. They were canceling my room. They were sending me to ICU. The enzymes were there. I was 54 years old and I had a heart attack. My father was 58 when he had his first one. My brother was 62 I think when he had his, one that required a quad-bypass. But this couldn't be. I knew I didn't have blocked arteries. I just knew it! But what was happening?

An angiogram done two days later confirmed my belief; there was no arterial blockage. They started talking about a spasm, like a cramp in the artery that caused it to pinch shut, blocking the blood flow just as effectively if it had been blocked with plaque. But there was a problem with this diagnosis. Had it been plaque in the artery, they would cite a source, whether it was my diet or something else leading to the plaque buildup. There were procedures for this, whether surgery or angioplasty, doesn't matter - there was a protocol with that scenario.

Without the plaque, well now, they couldn't tell me what caused the spasm. And without knowing what caused the spasm, they couldn't very well tell me what to do or not do to prevent it from happening again.

It was like the stroke all over again. The stroke was caused by a blood clot - at least that's what they tell me - but they could never identify the source of the clot.

My roommate Stephen said it best: "You are a medical mystery."

Fuck that.

But now, when I chant the Five Remembrances, the significance is hard to ignore. I got things to do. And not silly things. Now the Bhaddekaratta Sutta has meaning unlike anything its held before. And yet I am still the same person. I'm not quite acting differently, not yet. But I am looking at others much differently. And I'm looking for opportunities. Opportunities to help. Opportunities to be kind. Opportunities to smile. And most important of all, opportunities to be present.

Expect some more of the same, but a little bit different.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Healthy prostates and virtual experience

So I thought I would talk about frequent masturbation today. No, seriously, I want to talk about frequent masturbation. And dependent origination. Not for the entirety of this particular post, but for a good part of it. The masturbation part, that is.

One of my favorite YouTube channels (how's that for a transition?) is the Vlogbrothers. These guys are totally cool and very gay friendly. If you haven't checked them out before, you should. They are awesome! And what really got me thinking about the Buddha's teaching on dependent origination was a recent video of theirs, which you may watch below.

This video brings up something very interesting, and that's the question of whether a real experience is fundamentally different from a virtual experience. That's a very Buddhist question, particularly when you consider the Buddha's teachings on dependent origination, also known as dependent co-arising. There are a number of suttas on this topic, but this one linked here I will use for reference.

From a strictly biological perspective, when we "perceive reality," we are really experiencing the past, because no matter how fast our neurons work, by the time we are "conscious" of an event or experience, that event or experience is already over! Adds an entire new dimension to the concept of living in the present moment, doesn't it?

And what we experience as "reality" is just sensation turned into electrical stimuli in our brains via various chemical reactions and the movement of nifty neurotransmitters. We can create "false" realities by manipulating these chemicals in our brain, which is what a lot of humanity does when it consumers alcohol or other mind-altering substances. We tend to label these experiences as not real, but the fact is our brain responds to these experiences, and ergo our mind, as though they are just as real as a real experience.

As the Maha-nidana Sutta explains, everything exists because of what precedes that something. Why do we die? We die because we are born. Why are we born? We are born because of what the Buddha called "becoming," which is a process initiated by clinging, and this is preceded by craving for the thing we cling to, and that's preceded by feeling, which is preceded by contact (as in sensory contact), and that is preceded by name-and-form because we have to label everything, and that is preceded by consciousness, which is, whoops! Consciousness is preceded by name-and-form!

Work that one out sonny!

The Buddha's teaching on dependent origination is critical to his entire teaching, and the simplest way to explain it is nothing arises out of nothing, something never becomes nothing. Which, if you think about it for just a second, is basic physics. Matter and energy are neither created nor destroyed, but only change form. The Buddha said all you have to do is interrupt that chain anywhere along the line and you've done it - you've attained Nirvana and then you will go from being something into being nothing when you die. Because what is the origin or death? It's birth. And what is the origin of birth? It's because we are becoming. And why are we becoming? Because we are clinging, etc.

Which brings us back to our brain and eventually masturbation of the male variety.

If what we experience is nothing but how our brain processes various stimuli, which result in various feelings we have about that experience, is something we really experience truly different from something we virtually experience?

Consider the prostate gland. While the data isn't universally conclusive, the preponderance of data suggests that frequent masturbation in men contributes to better overall prostate health and a lower risk of cancer. Wait, let me back that up. What the studies really are saying is ejaculating several times a week contributes to better overall prostate health and a lower risk of prostate cancer than ejaculating less frequently, as in just a couple times a month. And what causes ejaculation? Well, there's either sex or masturbation. Yes, you can throw in there nocturnal emissions, but they hardly count even as sex.

There are a few studies that seem to present conflicting data, such as this one that suggests that wanking too often in your 20s may increase your risk for prostate cancer, while wanking in your 50s decreases that risk. But this article debunks that by pointing out the methodology employed in these studies is flawed.

So I'm sticking with the frequent masturbation is good scenario.

Hence, does the prostate gland care if you're having real sex or just doing the rattlesnake shake? No, it does not! All it cares about is expelling some happy juice on a semi-regular basis. And for that matter, we can add the experience of orgasm to this. Is the sensation of orgasm created from masturbating fundamentally different from the sensation of orgasm during real sex with a real person? While I am extremely hesitant to answer that question, the basic premise would suggest no, there really is no fundamental difference.

Regardless of the stimuli, it all becomes part of the sequence of events the Buddha outlined in his teaching on dependent origination. Our suffering, our dissatisfaction with the transitory nature of our experiences, feelings and of our very lives is wrapped up all the same whether we cling to real or false things.

So no, John, there is no difference between seeing the London Tower Bridge in London while standing along the Thames and seeing the London Tower Bridge in your video.

But I'd rather see it in London than in your video.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Groundhog Day Dhamma

OK, stop throwing shade. I know I'm a day late on this. But when was the last time you knew of a gay man showing up on time for anything? I thought so. I was caught by surprise anyway to learn that it was already Groundhog Day. Somehow I envisioned this momentous event occurring a bit later. Had I known I would have thrown a special fete and bought a new shirt or something. Well, I did buy a couple CDs yesterday.

Anyway, while I was on a stationary bicycle at the gym trying to burn off some portliness I had accumulated during my absence from exercise the past six weeks because of a broken foot, I happened to see on the television screen on the stationary bicycle next to me (yes, those mini TV's are ubiquitous at just about every gym these days) Bill Murray in the scene from the movie "Groundhog Day" when he wakes up the day after Groundhog Day and realizes that he's finally broken the cycle of the same day being repeated over and over, leading him to nearly lose his mind.

Wow, that was a seriously long sentence.

But the point is when he wakes up on the morning after Groundhog Day, he realizes that he can move forward now. The joy it brings him is sublime. He experiences a satisfaction so supreme that he remains motivated to continue walking the same path that led him to cease being the self-centered and selfish prick he had been at the start of the movie.

I have always thought that this movie presented the principle theme of the Bhaddekaratta Sutta extraordinarily well.

o_O What has a movie featuring a corpulent rodent and an insensitive man who continually alienates himself from others because of his lack of compassion and empathy to do with the Buddha's Dhamma, you ask?

A lot more than you may think. And this movie is also instructive when you think about some of the other teachings of the Buddha I mention frequently in my blog posts.

Bill Murray's character, Phil, is a crass and insensitive television meteorologist who has the hots for Andie MacDowell's character, Rita, his producer. But Rita wants nothing to do with Phil because he is crass and insensitive. In fact, Phil's relationships with others are so poisoned by his flippant selfishness that his co-workers tolerate him solely because on air, his audience loves him.

People who are unlikable do not become unlikable in a moment; rather, such a person creates this persona over time with the way he or she manifests his or her intentions into actions or words while interacting with others. It is usually a gradual process, much like slowly adding salt to a large glass of water. If you add one salt crystal to the water, you will not taste it. But if you continue to add salt to the water, it will eventually become so salty it is undrinkable.

Phil is a glass of water so salty that no one wants to take even the merest sip. And the point is Phil has done this on his own through his interactions with his co-workers. As expected, he continues to behave the way he does with the expectation that others will accommodate his selfishness and self-absorbed ego as he and his crew travel to cover a weather forecasting "rat," as he calls Punxsutawney Phil.

And then a curious thing occurs. When Phil wakes up the following morning, he soon realizes that it is Groundhog Day all over again. The next day, the same. And the next day, and so on. Phil becomes frustrated because like many of us, he has always expected the world around him to accommodate his actions and character. But the world suddenly refuses to budge.

Slowly, Phil begins to adapt, shown when he learns to avoid the puddle he always steps in every morning. And he begins to see an opportunity to change, although his motivation remains selfish: he wants Rita.

Nothing wrong with starting a new path when motivated by selfish reasons. The point is to strike out a new path and stop doing everything the same way while still expecting different results. Much like the Buddha's teaching to his son Rahula, Phil reflects on his actions and the likely consequences they bring. He seeks a specific result - that Rita will fall in love with him - and so he gradually modifies his actions and his speech until he develops the behaviors that lead him to his desired result.

Along the way, something completely unintended occurs: Phil develops compassion. This is shown through his futile efforts to save a local homeless man and prevent his ultimate death. Phil believes, based on everything else he's been doing, that he can find a way to create a different tomorrow for this homeless man, but despite his repeated efforts, the man always dies.

Phil learns to let go. This is extraordinarily important. Because if Phil doesn't learn to let go, then his initial selfish motivation to change won't fully transform into real human compassion. But he does let go and his desire for Rita is no longer motivated by greed. Phil learns at last how to live within the moment, becoming fully aware that how he behaves right now is creating his future.

You shouldn't chase after the past
or place expectations on the future.
What is past
               is left behind.
The future
               is as yet unreached.
Whatever quality is present
you clearly see right there,
                  right there.

Just as the Buddha taught, Phil eventually realized the opportunity he had to change the direction of his karma, to ultimately erase his karma. We all have that same opportunity to do that. Every day is a new opportunity to become more aware of the present, another chance to relinquish our grip on the past, and recognize that what we think, say, and do in this moment will shape our future.

This is Buddhism. This is the path I strive to follow.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

40 years after Roe

Forty years ago we got Roe v Wade. And the battle has waged ever since. Forgive the length of this post, but I want to share my thoughts on this divisive topic. And while my thoughts are not necessarily "Buddhist" in construction, how I feel about this topic is guided by my Buddhist understanding of how the world works.

First, I must clearly state that personally I believe that taking another person's life, including that of an unborn person, is simply wrong in any and all circumstances -- even in self-defense. I believe that way because killing another person represents an outcome one has hurled him or herself toward through a series of extraordinarily poor decisions that could have been interrupted just about anywhere along the way.

Having said that, should I find myself in a situation that defending my own life means taking another's, I suspect I will fight to the death. But if I should emerge from such a fray victorious, there will be consequences for my actions. Even if I am found legally innocent of any criminal act, I will nonetheless face the karmic consequences of my actions, consequences that may manifest themselves in any number of ways, not the least of which will be an unsettled mind that will on a daily basis struggle with what I did and how I might have avoided it.

I cannot foresee every situation, but I can take steps right now to avoid potential situations that may put me in a position of behaving in a manner contrary to the way I believe. And on occasion, despite my intentions, I do act unskillfully and find myself in awkward situations.

But I got there because of the choices I made, even when I thought the choices I was making were good ones.

Which is a long, round-about way of explaining why, despite my personal belief that taking someone's life, including that of the unborn, is always wrong and never without consequence, I will fight to ensure that abortion is kept legal and easily accessed.

To impose my personal belief on another person about whom I know nothing, about whose life challenges I know nothing, strikes me as a supreme form of righteousness that frankly makes me sick. Yes, perhaps that person made a series of poor decisions, but they were his or her decisions and to suggest that I know what consequences he or she should suffer and how these consequences out to be delivered when my own life is far from perfect - well, I'm not a Christian, but it seems to me that Jesus said something about fretting over the speck of dust in another person's eye while ignoring the rock in my own.

The Buddha taught us also that all our actions have consequence and that we cannot always predict the outcomes of our actions. Besides, there are some things, the Buddha taught, that we really don't need to know. Despite that he gave us tips, such as his guidance to his son Rahula, to avoid making unskillful choices, and with the simile of the salt crystal he explains that we have the ability to mitigate future consequences via our current actions. The Buddha is also quite clear with the story of Angulimala that while we have the option to renounce our past completely and pick up a new, more virtuous life - sort of like being 'born again' - we can never escape our past and the consequences we have set in motion.

Believing this, I know that anyone facing the ominous decision of abortion has been through a series of events leading her to that choice and that she will experience consequences unknown to me - and frankly none of my business - that she may or may not be able to resolve in her current life.

Even if you don't believe as I do, there are societal benefits to having legal access to abortion, and one of these benefits is not always part of the public discussion: The impact legal abortion has on crime.

What raised this connection was a 2001 study that is highly cited within the scientific literature and at the time of its release got a fair bit of attention in the popular press. But since then it has oddly disappeared from the primary discourse. The study notes that crime rates in the U.S. began a decline roughly 18 years after Roe v. Wade, and in states where abortion was already legal and widely available as early as 1970, crimes rights there began a similar decline much earlier than the rest.

While purely correlative, it does strongly suggest a causative relationship when you consider certain key facts about crime: who commits the most crime, and what environmental circumstances are more likely to lead a person to crime than others. Let's start with the last and work backwards.

For starters, it's pretty well established that low income areas have higher crime rates than more affluent neighborhoods; that low-income households produce more members who commit crime; that substance abuse is strongly connected with crime. In my journalism career I've worked with many police chiefs and sheriffs who repeatedly said that if we, as a society, could get a handle on substance abuse, crime would drop out of sight - especially alcohol abuse. While things like meth and crack and other harder drugs certainly are connected with crime, the law enforcement folk I worked with universally said alcohol abuse is the number one problem.

It is also pretty well established that those who regularly commit crime are individuals with a number of behavioral and character flaws. Often these flaws develop in childhood while being raised in highly stressed households, either economically or emotionally. For about 15 years I worked with delinquent and emotionally disturbed children and not a single one of them was unable to sense on some level that their parents just really didn't want them. As one boy told me, "My mother had a choice to keep me or the dog. She kept the dog."

Growing up in that type of environment frequently leads to substance abuse, which law enforcement will universally will say is the sin quo non of most crime. Substance abuse impairs one's decision making skills, and criminal activity is the result of flawed decisions.

Next, who commits the most crime? Crime statistics year after year report the same thing: most crime is committed by young men between the ages of 18 and about 26. In fact, it is mostly young men of color.

Maybe it's starting to become clear how abortion plays into this. Because a reasonable hypothesis to make based on the above information is that there ought to be a decline in the population most likely to commit a crime roughly 18 years after abortion becomes legal, which in turn should result in a decline in the number of crimes committed.

And that's exactly what this country saw. Just take some time and look at this chart. Starting in 1960, the data shows crime continuing to rise along with population. But low and behold, beginning in 1991, we see that trend reversing! And when we look at the specific types of crimes more likely to be committed by a young male - property crimes, robbery, and vehicle theft - the reversal in trend is even more pronounced despite a few stutters between 1991-93. There's even a reversal in murders committed started in 1993.

Granted, this does not on its own suggest a causative relationship, but it's nonetheless worth noting and worth further study. It's quite reasonable to conclude - and Occam's razor would suggest this as well - that with abortion legal and widely available, you have fewer unwanted children born and being raised in highly-stressed conditions that are very closely associated with anti-social behavior such as substance abuse and criminal activity.

In Buddhism, virtually all unskillful behavior arises out of either greed, hatred, or delusion. As a man, let alone a gay man, imposing on women this notion that they must carry to birth all pregnancies no matter how conceived is far more evil than terminating an unwanted pregnancy.

Any woman who faces that choice is facing a terrible decision, and not all of them do so with caprice. In fact, I firmly believe that most do not look at such a choice without it weighing heavy on their hearts and minds.

It is their choice and should remain so.