Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"Thinking Doth Make Cowards of Us All"

Okay, it a bit of a liberty from the original
"Thus conscience does make cowards of us all
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action."
But it makes the point; "Thinking" can be torture.

Now make no mistake, I haven't nailed this yet, I don't know the cure, but I sure know the disease. My trouble in the relationship I have with my daughter is certainly too much thinking, to a large extent. Thoughts like - what she should be, what she should be doing, do I like how she spends her time, is she "obeying" me, does she "respect" me, what did that look mean, why can't she just [fill in the blank], she's not grateful for what she has...etc....

All this activity and none of it really arising out of pursuit of "right action."

I said "I don't know the cure," but that's not entirely true. I suspect the cure is to sit regularly, per doctor Nishijima's prescription, "take two zazen a day, once at night and once in the morning." Over time this should cure the thinking illness. Like all red blooded America males (on average) I do not do what my doctor suggests will make me better. But I'm getting there.

I think discussing thinking requires a vocabulary like the Esquimaux's reportedly have for snow, at least 57 varieties. The brain must be active, as all reports so far (with due respect to Hamlet's thesis concerning bourns from which no traveler returns) indicate, for life. Knowing not to drink lava or kiss tigers is also thinking, but very helpful. Remembering that food is in the refrigerator, is also thinking, but again, very helpful. Even realizing a new, better type of shelter from idealistic thought, is a good thinking, I believe. But mulling over what she said or he said. Worrying over how your Aunt will react to dust when she visists. Holding the pain from an arguement six years ago. All these are not good thinking.

What to call it? How about ruminant thinking on abstracts? For those without cow experience, they are ruminant cause the swallow then regurgitate their food to chew it again. Events in the abstract, like being angry, are best not ruminated.

So why an eyelash mite picture? I guess to underscore some of the mystery of life our thinking can never touch. All of us have scores of eyelash mites living entire lives over and over right under (and over) our eyes. Not much thinking goes on with them, I suppose, given their "brain" size...if they have one. And us, like them, are impermanent. Gone in a blink.


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Name Change

I've had to change my blog name. The former one was too self-centered. I really have nothing special to bring to the Buddhist game. I am so flawed. I've had a terrible fight with my daughter. I keep thinking I've got hold of something "holy." I don't. I'm just an "ugly bag of mostly water" and I keep making mistakes, and I'm not happy all the time, nor content. So clearly I don't get Buddhism yet. I feel like I've got to start again. Keep it simpler. Study the precepts and take their warnings to heart. Do zazen more. I can't let myself wallow in self pity. I've got to learn to see the world that's right in front of me, here and now, and take right-action. I'm very sad and I'm afraid to write that here. But this is supposed to be a blog about my zen experience. So here's the peak behind the curtain. I'm not composed or sure of myself. I have a vague optimism that keeps me going. A fantasy of peace and acceptance of things as they are. But I fight so hard. I'm often quite mean. And good. And kind. And selfish. And petty. All over. Every characteristic. And I always worry if I'm doing the right thing. I'm so tired of that. I just want to get along with my daughter. That's it. And it hurts so bad when we don't. Why have all the 'patriarchs' written about kensho and reality and such pointless topics. I need advice on parenting. I need to know what the 'right way' is. When to be strict when to be soft. How to accept myself when my child is deeply mad at me. Maybe I've never properly grown up. Maybe I never got enough external validation from my own parents to be sure of myself. There still has to be a right way forward despite all that. I'm still fully responsible for much? At what point does a child become their own person and make their own decisions on their own responsibility? What a mess of a blog. How embarassing to post. But if there's anyone who reads this that is also unsure, confused, struggling ... please keep going. Please keep looking for the right way. I think it's available. I think it's right under our noses if we can just see correctly. Let go. I think....

Saturday, December 13, 2008

To Un-Ring the Bell

I may be going out too far on a Buddhist limb, but I've come to the conclusion that "feelings" are very real and extremely important.

-The Reality-
As far as I've seen the workings of the mind explained, its all activity in a very objective reality. When scientists strive to map areas of the brain, they use PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scans and other means. The colors of the PET indicate chemical events. A patient looks at a picture of a cat, one pattern is seen in the scan. The listens to music, another pattern. People with too much or not enough of one chemical or another banging around in the brain are depressed, or hyper, or hallucinating, or drunk. Every thought we have is the result of some real physical change in our brain. Some electron moving in a molecule. A molecule folding or running into another.

All thoughts are "reality as it is" in that the events giving rise to what we experience as thought are physically occurring.

The weird bit in this is that our minds (and for minds I mean that undefinable, spiritual thingy) can direct this hive of activity. We can, to large extent, direct how the reaction soup of our brain will churn. Many things are well beyond the complete grasp of mind, like being startled, quick motion of menacing shapes catching our attention, alarm when the floor drop away from under our feet, confusion at a loud bang, and some things are totally in minds control, like choosing which words, if any, to focus on, reminiscing about last Christmas, etc...

Emotions, I think, are events in the brain, part hardwired and part habit where a whole bunch of a particular neurotransmitter gets dumped in the brain and has lasting effect until it dissipates. This is more a representation of what happens, not the real science. Sensory input comes in, and combined with some thought-habits, a bunch of "sad-enol" is released, and, voila, I am sad. In another case it might be "mad-enol" and a get angry. In each case its part hardwire, deep brain, evolutionary protection reactions and part thought-habits.

Depending on our thought-habits the "disturbance" of the emotion lasts longer or not. When something happens and "sad-enol" is released, I can, in part, choose to reminisce on bad things that have happened and spiral down into even deeper sadness. Or in some other way think, think, think and keep the waves of disturbance choppy.

This thesis requires a presumption of a neutral state. Where there are no sensory inputs triggering natural reactions and no thought-habits doing the same. I believe this is "content" maybe even "happy"

-The Importance-
In this thesis, the reaction to anything has a hardwire contribution. The hardwire is the part common among us all of this species, and has served to facilitate our survival. The hardwire must, of course, alos be part unique among us all, just like no two hearts, ears or stomachs are formed exactly the same. So the "natural" reaction for person [A] seeing a bat fly at them might be a 7, and person [B], a 3 on the fear scale.

The Point -> Do not suppose you should suppress emotions. Do not suppose emotions are bad or out of place. They are "real" phenomenon, based in real physical activities in your brain. Do not think a "good buddhist" must be stoic all the time. Achieving a constant, outwardly stoic demenor, for example, only means that whatever naturally arises in your brain, your thought-habits rush wildly to compenstate so that the external appearance is non-disturbance.

But you can influence your thought-habits. You can learn to be surprised, or sad, or angry to the "natural" amount, and not escalate things with your mind's activity on it. This, I think, is the "middle way." When you sit zazen, your nervous system balances. You can experience your brain with no extraordinary inputs. You can learn how your thought-habits influence what goes on in your mind.

Though I do not claim to be able to achieve it consistently, I believe non-thinking is just the state when my self contribution, my thought-habits, are stilled to nothing, and only my natural brain activity is doing its thing. And in a zazen location with no bears, or bangs, or a crying child related to me, my natural brain activity would be very neutral.

So, Uku mentioned in a comment a while back of Nishijima's idea in "To Meet the Real Dragon" that sitting zazen is like striking a bell, the vibrations continue on for much of the day. And if you sit twice a day for a long, consistent, practice, the vibrations harmonize, and reinforce each other, and have greater influence.

I would like to turn that idea around with the model I've got of the brain and thought-habits. We can learn, I believe, to stop all the "motion" we add with our thinking to the events around us. And the more we sit, the more we can carry that stillness as a habit.

We can, so to speak, learn to un-ring the bell.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Right Online Dharma Eye

At the Dogen Sangha Blog you will find the following post from Michael Cross to MMK 14

"A couple of days ago I received an email from Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai informing that the Nishijima-Cross translation of Shobogenzo is now available online."

What a treat. Check it out.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Simple Satori

I have begun reading Nishijima-sensei's "To Meet the Real Dragon." I found one passage quite astounding, obvious (now that he has put it into words) and liberating. In the Q&A regarding Master Dogen (page 31), in part...

"...we must admit that people have made very strenuous efforts and endured extreme hardhips in their practice. This brings us to the second problem. Why have people made such extreme efforts? I think the reason is that they were looking for something which is not in this world. They wanted something which is not in this universe. The searched an practiced ever more diligently until, at last, they realized that they need not look for anything. This was, for them, the experience of so-called satori: the experience of life as it is. "

Think of Boddhidarma in this context, rumored to have sat in a cave, staring at a wall for nine years. This thesis of Nishijima says to me that he went through nine years of wrong, then finally experienced a moment of right. But it is important to note that he did not *have* to do the nine years previous. He thought sitting in a cave would get him somewhere. He was wrong. He wasted nine years. One day he just saw the world as it is. All that precursor cave-sitting asceticism was his delusion.

You and I don't have to sit in caves. We don't have to retreat to monestaries. The truth is right under our noses, right now. We have Buddha-nature "ready to go" the moment we free it. Sitting zazen helps us balance so in the middle state the bright light just jumps out. Helps the tumblers self-adjust until the lock is opened. Mixes the acetylene with the oxygen till the flame is bright and blue and cuts through our delusion.

There is nothing to do. No trials to endure. No puzzles to solve. No truth to find.

Now I've got to go see if I can make this happen. Maybe if I sit under a waterfall. (ooops - did I not read what I just wrote?!).

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

WARNING - Foolish Ego.

I want to sit twice a day for 30 minutes so I can proudly say "Yes, I'm a Buddhist"

I want to follow the precepts so I can smile to myself and think "Dawg, I'm a Buddhist"

I want a teacher so I can prove to people that "For sure, I'm a Buddhist"

I want all these things to prove I have meaning and significance in the Universe...

I can't accept myself as just part of the Universe...

There's no glory in being a stumbling fool, mucking about playing childish games with Buddhism...

They say that somewhere in this mess lurks true Buddha Nature....

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Further Father

I am now the parent of a 14 year old daughter. While I am competent enough at work and in the wide wild world, when it comes to my daughter, I feel that I have very few skills to bring for being her father. Buddhism may have a lot to say about the nature of reality as it is... I wish it had more to say about fathering.

No, Ironman was not a father. But sometimes this is how I feel in my current role. Covered with a hard imposing shell that I can't reach out from and my daughter can't see a real, relevant human being behind.

Where are the practical lessons on being gentle, kind and loving in the Buddhist tradition, but with a daughter? All those isolationists seem like cowards from my point of view today. Most people have to interact with other people to get their daily grind done. Why isn't there more advice on how to do this well as a Buddhist?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Issa Nice Thing

For some reason I really enjoy old haiku's. Particularly with the kana, romanji and English translation all together. Throw in a little cultural insight from time to time and I'm in heaven.

What fun to have stumbled across "The Daily Issa."

Paraphrasing Wikipedia, Issa Kobayashi lived from 1723 to 1828 and in that time wrote 20K haiku.

Here's a sample of what The Daily Issa provides...

New Year's gate greetings--
on each side of the road
tracks of sandals

kado rei ya kata kawa-zutsu wa zo^ri michi


by Issa, 1821

Shinji Ogawa notes that zo^ri are expensive sandals--appropriate footwear for this auspicious day. Though Issa doesn't literally mention "snow," Shinji pictures sandal-shaped footprints in the snow on each side of the road. Though at first I imagined the phrase "sandal road" (zo^ri michi) refers to the clomping sound of sandals, Shinji points out that zo^ri, made of soft materials, don't clomp. Since this is a New Year's haiku situated in the mountains of Issa's home province of Shinano (today's Nagano Prefecture), it is more likely that "sandal road" refers to footprints in snow.
To subscribe, see

A very simple daily treat.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

If You Met Buddha on the Road - Would He Have Coffee With You?

In most societies there seems to be a "proper" arch to life. We go through childhood and become young adults. It is then that some adventure is undertaken which sets the tones of later life. I think many people live this way. In this model, Buddhist seclusion makes some sense. It is like a stint in the security forces of the region where you live. Isolate with like-minded people and do something extraordinary. Then come back "into" society.

For people that have discovered Buddhism later in life this is no longer feasible. Or it is feasible but with harsh consequences that do more harm, I would think, than good. A father or mother should not 'abandon' their family to isolate in a monastery to delve into non-thinking. A tree is in its forest, an ox is in its herd. It is un-natural to remove either to some new place. What fills the gap left behind?

I have often attended an Unitarian Universalist church, but I have not been in a long time... since before I started 'learning' Zen. Our family went last Sunday and it was a wonderful experience. Being among others with a common purpose of contemplating the benefits of simple kindness and peace had me in tears several times. UU's love live music. There were musicians playing violins and drums and other wonderfully 'woody', 'earthy' instruments. What joy. Joy that seems to be absent from the Buddhism I have seen so far.

I find this so hard to reconcile. At this moment, Bodhidarma seems like a fool more than a hero. These stories of historic/legendary Buddhists never seem to express the anguish of the isoloation they chose...of missing their families, and villages and friends....of missing the ebb and flow of society. As with the Bible we have today, the history of the thoughts of early Buddhist must be highly revisionist. The transmitters have decided what the message must be and passed it on with edits that send that message. Like tugs that nudge the direction of a supertanker. It may be only a little bit here and there, but eventually the course can be drastically altered.

Western culture perhaps is more accepting of private anguish and doubt. Some Christians embrace the idea of Christ having fear and doubt and pressing on anyway. The doubtful hero is as strong in Western writing as the resolute, unshaken hero.

Doubt seems to be scrubbed from the history of Buddhism. As the West has started writing about Buddhism we see some of the doubt appearing, but it seems to be absent from the East. We've got a much polished picture of Buddha after it all got good good for him. Buddha post-enlightenment. Buddha after its all clicked into place. I would like to know more about Buddha while he was working on it. Where is the Sutra of Black Doubt? The Song of Loneliness? The Chant of "What the F*** am I Trying to Accomplish?"

Maybe I have to hunt more?


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Idealism Rises From Itself

Any discussion of idealism is, by its very nature, an idealist endeavor. The human ability to form and discuss concepts has provided us with great opportunity for survival. There is no object or structure that is human made that is not the product of and idea made real, the blend of idealism and materialism.

It seems that animals are not idealistic. Their brain processes that result in their behaviors probably could be described in idealistic terms, but if they have any idealistic talents, it is probably extremely limited, else driven by survival forces, they would probably be doing more materialistic things. Manipulating their environment with the same expressive and planning fingerprints we humans put all over everything.

Language is entirely idealistic except for the very base sounds and tones, I think. Words are certainly idealistic. These squiggles of black patterns only have meaning because of the ideas we share in common. There is nothing in the intrinsic material that conveys meaning.

Koko was (is?) a gorilla that learned some language. In this was Koko transformed from a non-idealistic creature to an idealistic one?

Sunday, October 5, 2008


Originally posted on Peter's blog, The Stupid Way.
Prajna and precepts seem to be two different types of tools. Prajna only has relevance in an immediate, real, situation. Put simplistically, should I do A or B or something else *now*, given this real thing currently in front of my nose? And even that fails to describe it, I think. There is no choosing. Prajna presents the answer immediately, without question, when the "problem" arises.

The precepts play a different role. The precepts are generalisms. With out consideration to an specific real issue in front of you, they guide how you should head. They are (sorry, gotta try being absolute here just to see if it feels right) never ever appropriate for figuring out your path through an immediate real thing in front of your nose. In that case stop, meditate (even for a second), and see what the real right answer is that maybe prajna will reveal. (well, maybe that is too absolute, but still has the right flavor, I think).

I don't think I could trust a teacher who never got angry, who did not curse, or was never petty, or sad, or such at some point, in some way....or even if they really 'had it together', if they say people that exhibit such 'real' behavior, are not on the right path or such, I could not trust them.

Buddhism has no rank. These titles of Master, roshi, whatever, are social terms, not real terms. That is to say, a cat is a cat, a dog is a dog, and a person is a person. That's it. To say, "he should not be listened to because of x,y,z" .....

Damn, that ain't quite it...

There is no final. right stage in buddhism, I believe as far as relativistic, observed behavior goes. I'm guessing the final stage of buddhism is to act always out of prajna rather than checking a list of rules before each action you take. A person acting out of prajna, or striving to, may seem, at times, angry, or cussing, or rude, or extremely nice. One could say "what is he, he is angry, anger is bad, he is bad" or one could strive to see if the anger, or cussing or rudeness, bore (to borrow a Christian metaphor) good fruit.

As a new father I find that a "rule" I give my daughter one day for one situation may be entirely appropriate, but she can turn it into a justification for something really inappropriate the next day. Though this does mean I need better skills at rule making, it also has taught me that I must teach my daughter to make relative (prajna-esque) type decisions, not to operate from absolute rules.

Dogs howl to warn of danger. That is buddha-nature. If people 'howl' to warn of danger, that could be buddha-nature, or it could be rudeness and anger. Only our own prajna can guide us.

If I personally judge based only on precepts I believe I am headed down the wrong path.


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Short Course

We must all, ultimately, teach ourselves. No description of 'reality' will ever match 'reality.' It must be seen directly. I suppose the/a gateway to this is zazen. Various teachers/masters may have ways of describing 'it' that are more successful for a particular student/seeker than another.

A teacher that says 'yes, I can definitely get you there' however, is against the thesis that 'there' can't be described. A teacher that says 'this is what it looks like to me, but for you it may be different' seems to be more truthful.

We all that are curious about these matters have the ability to get there, finally, on our own. Someone who has been traveling there before us, or is there, that can speak to us in a way that we each, individually, can hear, is a tremendous time saver. If we get nothing but confusion from a teacher, drop them like a hot rock.

If a teacher appears to be antithetical to where you posit you should be headed, drop them.

'There', in fact, is nowhere. Another key thesis is we have the very aspect (nature) already available (within us) to see reality directly (the 'buddhadharma') without the relativism of right-wrong, strong-weak, rich-poor, smart-stupid, evil-kind, etc... coloring what is in front of us.

Arguments over precepts can not be helpful because arguments are a focus on right-wrong relativism.

It simply cannot matter what someone else says. Words do not change 'it'.

There seem to be a very few key points of theory about this game, and those few key points have had thousands and thousands of pages written about them.

The points as I see them today
There is a reality here that we don't experience directly.
Neither good nor bad, just
It is clouded by a habit of relativism/idealism.
Description can not capture it, only direct experience.
Sitting zazen is a practice of experiencing directly.
With sitting we can see how busy our intellect is categorizing, dreaming of the past and future.
[the map is now more murky]
With practice, somehow, with time but suddenly, this veil through which we normally filter 'it' drops away, and we can be in reality.
Then we must take a ain't a fairy tale, it's just reality.

Quoting Frost (probably with error)
"We dance around in a ring and suppose, but the secret sits in the middle and knows."

Good lasagna is a wonderful thing.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Discourse on the Four Noble Truths

The 2 Extremes to avoid
devotion to indulgence of pleasure in the objects of sensual desire
pursuit of sensual happiness in sense pleasures
addiction to indulgence of sense-pleasures
That which is devoted to sensual pleasure with reference to sensual objects
devotion to self-torment
pursuit of self-mortification
addiction to self-mortification
that which is devoted to self-affliction

Vibhava-tanha (craving for non-becoming) is wishing & e.g.
Wanting not to become sick, old, ugly, foolish etc;
Hoping not to become dead, poor, despised etc;
Desiring not to become bored, unsatisfed, confused etc.
In general: Craving for future not-(be)coming of all unliked states!
It is commonly present & dominant in mental states such as:
Fear, anxiety, worry, feelings of insecurity & various concerns!
It is basicly the mirrored opposite of craving for becoming of all
liked states such as craving for becoming rich, young, beautiful etc.
They are thus equally effective as the primary Cause of Suffering!
See also:

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

stuffed zafu

I had bought a buckwheat hull stuffed zafu. Thought it was great compared to the sofa cushion I was sitting on. Turns out it was not so great. Too short. Too conforming. In half lotus my left thigh bore down on my right foot and cut off circulation. I stuffed the zafu this last weekend with some synthetic doll-stuffing (in addition to the hull already in it). It is much better now.

I think, at a minimum, a zafu should be at least as thick as your thigh when you are sitting on it.


Monday, September 29, 2008

"Words, Words, Words. I'm so sick of words" {My Fair Lady}

I was reading some translation of an old Chinese Zen {Ch'an} patriach last night and wondered how much they sat and what they had to say about sitting.

What get's captured of the patriarchs, and what most people focus on is the words of buddhism. But buddhism, I think, is not in words. It's in action, and mostly in sitting. Wouldn't it have been great if every patriarch/matriarch left a record of their sitting also!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ku Shu Metsu Do - Four Noble Truths

From the heart sutra
ku shuu metsu dou

The Four Noble Truths. From Buddha's first discourse. It hinges/focuses on suffering {duhhka / duhkha}

Duhhka is known as one of the three marks of existence - These three marks of existence—duhhka (the awareness of pain), anicca (the awareness of the fleeting, momentary nature of experience), and anatta (the awareness that we are identified with a separate self, which is ultimately not real)—are in fact marks of relative, manifest experience, the deep contemplation of which can reveal the absolute, unmanifest Reality of this and every moment.


In the above it is interesting that it is translated as the awareness of pain. The implication seems that pain itself is not a mark of existence, but rather awareness of pain.

Note also that they are qualified as the marks of relative experience. They are not absolute reality. Letting go of them (their ceasing to be present in my life) does not mean "I" no longer exist, but that "I" experience the absolute reality of reality. ... I guess.

"This is the term I’ve chosen to translate the Pali dukkha. It’s a difficult concept; its literal meaning is “pain”, and if it’s used in speaking of ordinary events, that’s what it means: “the man was shot by an arrow and experienced dukkha“. But when the Buddha speaks of the truth of dukkha, the cause of dukkha, the cessation of dukkha, he is speaking of something much more complex and wide-ranging than simple physical pain. He’s speaking of the ultimate unsatisfactoriness of our existence in an impermanent world—regret, despair, frustration, the folly of ambition, human frailty, the vanity of pride. We’ll be spending a good deal of time throughout the course exploring the various applications of the term dukkha.


Pain: dukkha. The basic everyday meaning of the word dukkha as a noun is "pain" as opposed to "pleasure" (sukha). These, with neither-dukkha-nor-sukha, are the three kinds of feeling (vedanā) (e.g., S iv 232). S v 209-10 explains dukkha vedanā as pain (dukkha) and unhappiness (domanassa), i.e., bodily and mental dukkha. This shows that the primary sense of dukkha, when used as a noun, is physical "pain," but then its meaning is extended to include mental pain, unhappiness. The same spread of meaning is seen in the English word "pain," for example in the phrase, "the pleasures and pains of life."

Painful: dukkha as an adjective refers to things which are not (in most cases) themselves forms of mental or physical pain, but which are experienced in ways which bring mental or physical pain. When it is said "birth is painful" etc, the word dukkha agrees in number and gender with what it is applied to, so is an adjective. The most usual translation "is suffering" does not convey this. Birth is not a form of "suffering," nor is it carrying out the action of "suffering," as in the use of the word in "he is suffering."