Is and Is Not

Scene from Sesshu Toyo’s Long Scroll

The following is from Sam Hammill’s translation of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching written some 2,500 years ago:

Beauty and ugliness have one origin.
Name beauty, and ugliness is.
Recognizing virtue recognizes evil.

Is and is not produce one another.
The difficult is born in the easy,
long is defined by short, the high by the low.
Instrument and voice achieve one harmony.
Before and after have places.

That is why the sage can act without effort
and teach without words,
nurture things without possessing them,
and accomplish things without expecting merit:

only one who makes no attempt to possess it
cannot lose it.

A Lemming Named Desire

Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal and Wife Geri

If you’ve seen Martin Scorsese’s film Casino about the mob days in Las Vegas, you’ve seen Sharon Stone in the role of Ginger McKenna as well as Robert DeNiro as Sam “Ace” Rothstein. Throughout the film, names were changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty. The actual characters were named Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal and Geri McGee Rosenthal.

Between 1976 and 1983, Rosenthal was in charge of four casinos that were secretly skimming profits to Chicago and other Midwestern mobsters. As a nationally known sports bettor, he had in 1969 married a Vegas showgirl named Geri McGee.

Vegas Showgirl Geri McGee

Geri was one of those tall, lovely showgirls for whom most men would sell their souls. Not that Lefty had not sold his soul early on, but hooking up with Geri turned out to be a nightmare. Although Lefty and Geri had two children together, Geri started taking drugs and having a not-well-hidden affair with mob enforcer Tony “The Ant” Spilotro (played by Joe Pesci in the film).

As her marriage began to implode, Geri had a very open break with her family and took thousands in cash and jewelry that Lefty had in a joint safe deposit box to prove his trust in Geri. She left for Los Angeles and was dead within months of a drug overdose. Lefty, meanwhile, was the victim of a car bomb, which, fortunately for him, he escaped without major injury. But shortly after that, he was finished in Vegas and moved on to Laguna Niguel, California, and then Boca Raton, Florida, where he died in 2008.

Sharon Stone in the Role of Geri

As men, most of us dream of falling for a long-stemmed beauty like Geri McGee, but it rarely ends well. There’s something about the whole mechanism of sexual desire which seems to militate against long-term happiness.

Thirty-Six Streams

The following selection on desire is taken from the sayings of Gautama Buddha known as The Dhammapada:

If you sleep
Desire grows in you
Like a vine in the forest.

Like a monkey in the forest
You jump from tree to tree,
Never finding the fruit—
From life to life,
Never finding peace.

If you are filled with desire
Your sorrows swell
Like the grass after the rain.

But if you subdue desire
Your sorrows fall from you
Like drops of water from a lotus flower.

This is good counsel
And it is for everyone:
As the grass is cleared for the fresh root,
Cut down desire
Lest death after death crush you
As a river crushes the helpless reeds.

For if the roots hold firm,
A felled tree grows up again.
If desires are not uprooted,
Sorrows grow again in you.

Thirty-six streams are rushing toward you!
Desire and pleasure and lust ...
Play in your imagination with them
And they will sweep you away.
Powerful streams!
They flow everywhere.