Buddhism, Tornadoes, and Flann O'Brien's Writings
The Three
Principal Aspects
Of The Path

Geshe Sonam Rinchen
Translated and Edited
By Ruth Sonam

(Snow Lion)
The original author of the Three Principal Aspects of the Path Je Tsongkhapa was born in northeast Tibet in 1357 and died in 1419.

As with many masters of the time, he travelled extensively, studying under several teachers, spending most of his time in intense meditation. His own enlightenment caused him to formulate the Three Paths, being

  • An active desire to emerge from cyclic existence;
  • A desire to become enlightened in order to help all living beings; and
  • A correct understanding of reality in order to assist other's enlightenment.

The original text consists of fourteen short stanzas, of four or five lines each. It begins with an exhortation to listen "with a pure mind." If there is no desire for freedom, it tells us, there is no way to stop the futile pursuit of "pleasant effects" in life. This desire must be accompanied by "altruistic intention" to help others. Once you realize that "appearances" preclude "annihilation," "You will never be enthralled by wrong views."

These fourteen stanzas have been transformed into over a hundred pages of text by the modern Tibetan scholar Geshe Sonam Rinchen, with explicit reference to each of the stanzas. For instance, to develop compassion, one must feel affection for all humanity. He suggests that we create a mental picture of, first, someone who is neither friend nor foe; then, on either side of this "neutral person," create a pictures of "someone you love dearly and on the other someone you heartily dislike." The point of the exercise is to meditate on the three, and realize that the three are totally alike, because they are living beings who "suffer and lack happiness yet none want suffering and all long for happiness."

In order to create a benign feeling towards all humans, you must realize that "your mother of this life was also your mother countless times before...try to recognize that your father, your brothers and sisters, your friends and even foes have also been your mothers in other lives." Unfortunately, those of us who grew up with a mother who was El Groucho #1 will have a hard time with this one. "Your birth robbed her of vigor and beauty," he points out.

Well, she told us that several thousand times. "When you grew up she gave you her possessions and used her savings that she was reluctant to spend on herself for you," he says. Tell us about it: Mumsie must have brought that one up daily (or twice daily) when, in later life, we were vainly trying to communicate with her. "You don't know how much I suffered," she would say. "Are we going to start on that one again, Mum?" you would mutter. "And I certainly don't want to be a burden to you," she would sigh. "Say it again, please, Mum, so we can dance to it," we'd whisper.

Actually, the more that we think about it, maybe it would have been better if Geshe Sonam Rinchen had left out this "how much your mother suffered for you" business --- at least for those of us who have had that concept drummed into our heads ad nauseam. The thought that we have to go through this song-and-dance yet again with Dad, and Sister Grouch #2, and Brother Iceburg #3 --- all out mother for another 50,000 cycles --- is enough to make a grown man cry.

No matter. If you are into the more obscure points of Tibetan religious lore, this --- or many, many others from the excellent publishing firm of Snow Lion --- will be of great help to you. You can get their complete catalogue by writing to

    Box 6483
    Ithaca NY 14851

Tell them Mumsie sent you.

Their Mumsie.

Or their Mumsie's Mumsie.

---R. R. Doister


Monster Storms of
The Great Plains

Howard B. Bluestein
If you live in the middle of Oklahoma, say in a town like Enid, Yukon, or, God knows, Chickasha --- you'd better get the hell out. You can expect around nine tornadoes a year, the most in the world. Dimmit, Texas, Medicine Lodge, Kansas, and Anadark (Anadark!) OK are scarcely any better: seven a year, on average. Plant City, Florida, along with Tylertown, Mississippi and Saraland, Alabama can only manage to squeeze out five a year, but for some of us who keep our affection for tornadoes under tight control, this is enough.

The worst months are May and June, and the worst time is just before sunset. The worst place to be is where you look up at it and there it is looking down at you, whistling at you. (Some say that when you are right under it, it may also rattle, whine, or sing You're the top.)

The clouds associated with tornadoes, Bluestein tells us, have certain characteristics. Our favorite is one called "Mamma." No --- it's not Mumsie (see above) but, rather, a weird, delicious set of underhangings of a cloud formation that look --- bless me --- just like a mass of mammaries, a giant army of breasts just hanging there, waiting to drop something on us. But usually it's not milk, but one of those evil looking spirals that, according to the author, in their center may reach in excess of 700 miles an hour.

If you have to have the misfortune to be in, say, Oklahoma City on May 31, 2000, at 5:33 in the afternoon, watch out for shelf clouds, wet microbursts, penetrating tops, and anvils. These all, it is said, are predictive of up-coming tornadoes --- although the author admits that he is sometimes hard pressed to identify any of these formations.

Tornadoes have been studied to a fare-thee-well by the U. S. Government through the aegis of the National Severe Storms Laboratory --- which has a reputation for being quite severe when tornadoes show up without an official government storm permit. Through the aegis of the NSSL, it was found that thunderstorms of a special type (supercells) will produce hail and "are prolific breeders of tornadoes." Pre-tornado characteristics can also be spotted with Radar, and with this, NSSL and its predecessor organizations were able to begin a program of prediction and warnings, giving heart-failure and little comfort to the denizens of what has now come to be called "Tornado Alley."

The author gives us extensive charts and graphs and lovely photographs of tornadoes and their Florida beach-side cousins, waterspouts. In fact, there is a dandy photograph of a spout on page fifty-five which Bluestine casually notes he took from his hotel room balcony in Key, Biscayne, Florida, "while attending his first professional conference." Obviously he loves his subject, and his subject loves him. He is not without a bit of scientific archness, like,

    Fig. 2.5: A comparison of (a) a saturated, buoyant, convective-cloud top with (b) a head of cauliflower...Stare at (or view time-lapse movies or videos of) the top edge of a vigorously growing cumulus cloud or towering cumulus to visualize the turbulent motions at the edge of the bubble. Any resemblance between the buoyant bubble and a head of cauliflower or a human brain (not shown) is purely coincidental.

--- Ignacio Schwartz

The Best
Of Myles

Flann O'Brien
(Dalkey Archive)
Flann O'Brien wrote for thirty years for the Irish Times under the sobriquet of "Myles na Gopaleen." His early columns were written in Gaelic, but the later ones only in English. He was a literate but garish punster. He often attributed quotes to George Chapman, Shakespeare's contemporary, and the Romantic poet, John Keats, and even his worst puns spring from a familiarity with English literature, as in this interchange between the two versifiers,

    Keats was presented with an Irish terrier, which he humorously named Byrne. One day the beast strayed from the house and failed to return at night. Everyone was distressed, save Keats himself. He reached reflectively for his violin, a fairly passable timber of the Stradivarius feciture, and was soon at work with chin and jaw.

    Chapman, looking in for an after-supper pipe, was astonished at the poet's composure, and did not hesitate to say so. Keats smiled (in a way that was rather lovely).

    "And why should I not fiddle," he asked, "while Byrne roams?"

In his columns, Myles would often introduce round-about dialogues with The Plain People of Ireland --- his own Greek chorus --- as in this discussion of languages:

    The Plain People of Ireland: Isn't the German very like the Irish? Very guttural and so on?
    Myself: Yes.
    The Plain People of Ireland: People do say that the German language and the Irish language is very guttural tongues.
    Myself: Yes.
    The Plain People of Ireland: The sounds is all guttural do you understand.
    Myself: Yes.
    The Plain People of Ireland: Very guttural languages the pair of them the Gaelic and the German.

As you can guess, affection for Myles must be a rather specialized avocation, one that takes some patience. Much of his writing dwells on the usual drollery of the 30s and 40s --- drinking, wives, drunken husbands, movies, city government, women in general.

Still, those who care for 20th Century wit swear by the author's comic novel At-Swim-Two-Birds. Even S. J. Perelman said, drolly, that Flann O'Brien was "The best comic writer I can think of."

--- P. W. McFenley

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