There are two key covers of the 1972 Seals & Crofts original drifting around reggae playlists, the first by St. Ann, Jamaica’s Jackie Mittoo released more or less contemporaneously with the original, and the second perhaps better-known 1999 version: a rewritten take by Kentish singer Shinehead.

Summer breeze makes me feel fine 
Blowin’ through the jasmine in my mind

…and now Shinehead’s groove-able recreational take on the original:

The soundtrack for ‘The Harder They Come’ should be a foundational album for anyone looking to develop an appreciation for reggae & rocksteady music. Featuring crush island classics like ’007′ by Desmond Dekker, ‘Rivers of Babylon’ by The Melodians, and ‘Johnny Too Bad’ by The Slickers, this re-recording by Scotty of the 1967 hit by Keith Rowe, Tex Dixon, and Derrick Harriott is perhaps the best-known version.

Stop that train, I wanna’ get on
My baby she’s leaving me now.

However even this track is a cover of the 1962 original ska recording by The Spanistonians:

Extra Credit: Big Youth’s haunting version ‘Cool Breeze.’

Thanissaro Bhikku

Was so pleased to read this passage this morning. Thanissaro Bhikku gives clarity to the moment the beginning Buddhist recognizes their efforts at eliminating clinging have been effective, and experience the enhanced clarity that results.  There is so much optimism in this passage: so much hope for those to whom nibbana seems so unachievable, distant, or esoteric:

…clinging is suffering, we simply have to look to see precisely where clinging is and learn not to cling.

This is where we encounter the Buddha’s great skill as a strategist: He tells us to take the clingings we’ll have to abandon and transform them into the path to their abandoning. We’ll need a certain amount of sensory pleasure — in terms of adequate food, clothing, and shelter — to find the strength to go beyond sensual passion. We’ll need right view — seeing all things, including views, in terms of the four noble truths — to undermine our clinging to views. And we’ll need a regimen of the five ethical precepts and the practice of meditation to put the mind in a solid position where it can drop its clinging to precepts and practices. Underlying all this, we’ll need a strong sense of self-responsibility and self-discipline to master the practices leading to the insight that cuts through our clinging to doctrines of the self.

So we start the path to the end of suffering, not by trying to drop our clingings immediately, but by learning to cling more strategically. In other words, we start where we are and make the best use of the habits we’ve already got. We progress along the path by finding better and better things to cling to, and more skillful ways to cling, in the same way you climb a ladder to the top of a roof: grab hold of a higher rung so that you can let go of a lower rung, and then grab onto a rung still higher. As the rungs get further off the ground, you find that the mind grows clearer and can see precisely where its clingings are. It gets a sharper sense of which parts of experience belong to which noble truth and what should be done with them: the parts that are suffering should be comprehended, the parts that cause of suffering — craving and ignorance — should be abandoned; the parts that form the path to the end of suffering should be developed; and the parts that belong to the end of suffering should be verified. This helps you get higher and higher on the ladder until you find yourself securely on the roof. That’s when you can finally let go of the ladder and be totally free.

I described my own version of this process in January:

Co-comprehending the complex of belief represented by the Four Noble Truths/Noble Eightfold Path and this principle of wu wei explained above I was directed out of a cloud of attachments, not into enlightenment so much as out of confusion.

I am of course still on my Way, as are all of us whether we comprehend it or not.

The goal is not to eliminate suffering by stridently adhering to precepts. Rather, the goal is to achieve a singular state where even those precepts become unnecessary. Food, water, air to breathe…these things all people need in measure: even Buddhas. At some level though everything else –your habits, your beliefs, your fears, your sadness– should be carefully scrutinized, and if seen to consist of a cause/effect of suffering be expunged.

Alan Wilson Watts suggested the transformation required by Taoism and Zen practice “is not an acquisitive process of learning more and more facts or greater and greater skills, but rather an unlearning of wrong habits and opinions.” There are rules, but the goal is to transcend even them. Thanissaru Bhikku gives beginning Buddhists a starting foothold still based on the ‘solid ground’ of dukkha, advising them to apply the dialectic of the Four Noble Truths selectively at first. There is never a shortage of targets for this analysis, especially at first. As you find the method effective at rounding off the roughest edges –measurably relieving you of the suffering they caused– your newly-liberated mind expands, becomes increasingly aware of other attachments and increasingly facile in their elimination. In this your mind gathers momentum with the inexorable certainty of a snowball rolling down a mountain, however not by adding weight but by reducing resistance.

Read the remainder of Thanissaro Bhikku’s ‘Introduction to Buddhism’ here.

Photo by flickr user Max Froumentin. All rights revert to originator. Used under Creative Commons license

Photo by flickr user Max Froumentin. All rights revert to originator. Used under Creative Commons license

This is where I am headed, or hereabouts.

The unfashioned, the unbent,
the fermentation-free, the true, the beyond,
the subtle, the very-hard-to-see,
the ageless, permanence, the undecaying,
the featureless, non-elaboration,
peace, the deathless,
the exquisite, bliss, rest,
the ending of craving,
the wonderful, the marvelous,
the secure, security,
the unafflicted, dispassion, purity,
release, attachment-free,
the island, shelter, harbor, refuge,
the ultimate.

— SN 43.1-44

Longtime fans of reggae music will remember the 1989 UB40 cover of the same tune from their ‘Labour of Love II’ disc (definitely worth a re-listen). This 1973 arrangement by Kingston, Jamaica’s Al Brown –a voice you will recognize The Paragons– does dutiful work of earlier 1973 Al Green original. This recording was produced by the esteemed Dickie Wong and released on his Tit for Tat label.

Our love is you and me baby,
that makes the world go round.

Alton Ellis, nominal King of Reggae Covers, does a quick turn-around of this 1970 hit for Detroit, MI’s The Spinners, released to Jamaican radio audiences in 1971. It’s a chill, downtempo version, replete with backing vocals.

It’s a shame the way you mess around with your man
It’s a shame the way you hurt me.

Folks of my vintage are more familiar with the 1979 version by Coventry UK’s The Specials. Dandy Livingstone released the original version in 1967 on the Ska Beat label. You don’t have to listen too closely to hear the familiar sound of Rico Rodriguez‘ trombone in the mix.

Stop your fooling around
Time to straighten right out
Better think of your future
‘Else you’ll wind up in jail.


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