Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Time Travel - No Lack of Motion

I'm not sure exactly what this has to do with Buddhism. In part, the goal of Buddhism is to experience/understand reality as it is.

I have a collection of thoughts I carry around in my back pocket that simply fascinate me about reality as it is. And like a ball of string, when I come across a thread of 'knowledge' or 'insight' I add it to the thought. Eventually some of these aggregates reach critical mass and I just have to talk about it. I think this is one of those, and it hooks with the previous phasor post on how our self-ish-ness informs sci-fi representations.

Time travel is an interesting concept. I will not be addressing the whole possibility of it, just one part. The part of where you are when you travel. Have you ever seen the old movie "Time Machine?" A guy had a cool sled with a big roulette-wheel looking thingy on it that would spin. There was a recent remake of the movie that included, I think, Jeremy Irons.

What I liked about that movie is that the machine had an extent of atmosphere around it that would travel with it. A bubble of sorts. The movie took into account geologic activity. When the hero went back in time sometimes he was surround by rock because a nearby erupting volcano covered there place where he was traveling through with lava. As accelerated time went on, we saw the rock erode away from rain etc... I always thought that was spot on.

Some of the sci-fi and sci-fact presentations of time travel represent time as fourth dimension, and posit the possibility of moving in that dimension while the other three remain fixed. That's fine. Keep your same position, just slip down the time axis to earlier or later. I'm cool with that. ...then I started thinking a bit more.

Nothing is still...ever. Of course relative to another object there can be stillness. But time travel presumes an absolute reference frame and in that respect nothing is ever still. Consideration of this stacks up pretty dramatically. Yes, you are sitting still in front a computer reading this (thank you). But...

  • The surface of the Earth moves something like 300 miles an hour (depending on your lattitude).
  • The Earth orbits around the Sun at something like 67,000 miles an hour.
  • The Sun orbits the center of the galaxy at around 490,000 miles an hour.
And now things get really fuzzy. Everyone seems to accept the universe is constantly expanding. I'm not sure if the concept of the "middle of the universe" is valid, but none the less, pick any reference point and our galaxys is zooming away from it at mind bogglingly large speeds.

The point being if you traveled even a few millseconds back in time keeping your current, absolute, position in space, the Earth, and certainly your postion on it, would be far gone. Most likely you would be in space. You most certainly would not be on the same cozy point of this mad pony ride we call Earth that you started from.

It seems that all sci-fi representations of time travel I have seen ignore this fact. They presume, that somehow, the laws of physics let you travel back in time but keep you tethered to your relative, madly changing, location.

There's a lot of relatavistic aspects of this thought experiment I could probably delve into, such as the effects of inertia, but I think the summary outcome is still the same. You might envision a way to slip up and down the time axis, but everything will have moved on (or not be there yet) when you arrive in a new time.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Phasers, Descarte, and "I"

"I" represents many concepts. It can be the address of a certain "ugly bag of mostly water" (a quote from episode 18, Star Trek Next Gen), a reality -> 'I have green eyes.' It can be expression of the idea of separateness from the rest of the universe (what some might call the "delusion of self") -> 'I think, therefore I am.' And, it can be some fuzzy mix of these two -> 'I feel tired.'

The power of Descartes' "I" in our (Western) culture is, of course, very strong. I've had a criticism of one aspect of Star Trek science for many years that I realized this morning is a great demonstration of this cultural prejudice. I have always thought it was interesting how the beam from a phaser knows the extent of a person's body and clothing. A the molecular level, the border of the body is essentially indistinguishable from the clothing over the body, which, in turn, is indistinguishable from the air surrounding the clothing or the ground underlying the shoes. So how do Star Trek phasers "know" to stop disintegrating matter at the clothes.

If it is disintegrating all contiguous mater, the whole universe should go with one shot. If it is stopping because, say, of density differences, then at least all of the ground touching the soles of the shoes should also disintegrate. Of course, writer's can't allow the whole universe to go up the first shot of a phaser, but it is interesting that most of us just accept that there is a neat border around that "self" that is being destroyed.

As a side note, its also interesting that often when a phaser is directed at a wall or door it cuts through what it's aimed at rather than disintegrating all of it.

Many Buddhist practioner's teach us otherwise. They teach that we are just a senient part of the continuous univerise which is the 'all' of reality. We use the concept of 'I' to get represent certain facts or ideas, but it is just a concept. Really we are just a collection of matter, just like my filing cabinet, but we happen to be assemble such that we are sentient.

I now believe Descarte got it backwards. Instead of "I think, therefore I am," in reality "I am, therfore I think."

Set your phasers on "stun."

Sunday, January 18, 2009

One Bright Pearl in Bronze

I sculpt.

A year ago when I was first exploring Buddhism I came across Harry's blog that was then (and is) titled "One Bright Pearl." Harry was going through Shobogenzo chapter by chapter and I happened to arrive when he was coincidentally discussing "Ikka No Myoju" (one bright pearl). It was here I made my first attempts at expressing what I thought this might all be about. And Harry, and others, very kindly entertained, riffed on (this is a good thing) and challenged my musings.

That experience, and what I was getting out Brad's books at the time, brought forth a sculpture that was then very important to me and still is. I regret that I am not a better photographer of sculpture. The snapshot does not carry the correct impact.

This is what I have to say about it now... but there is likely more lurking. This is me trying to interpret and express my work. This is not what I had in mind before sculpting. What I had in mind was an image of this and my task was to make the image real. Now that it is real, this is what I feel the image means.

The focus is the sphere. Of course resonating with "pearl" but black. It hovers a bit impossibly in mid air. It has finite dimension but is intended to feel infinitely small and large at the same time. It is a focus. A center of the universe that is clearly not center of the universe. It's the idea of the center. It's the idea of the whole universe.

The pillar is not just a stand. The pillar is a stream, a coalescing of all things. Like a miniature black hole, the sphere is drawing all material into the pearl. The pillar is that stream of mater. The pearl is drawing mater from the surroundings and it is about to become something. It already is something, it is already everything just as it is, now..... Created from the universal material that is the same in all 10 directions. In a blink it will be gone.

The base is part of the sculpture, not just a platform for presentation. If you notice the pillar is an elongated pyramid, a triangle, you will see the three classic Buddhist symbols of square (base) triangle (pillar) and circle (sphere).

I don't know what those symbols have meant or are supposed to mean in the scholarly Buddhist context, but I have always like that triad of symbols and this is what they mean to me in the context of this sculpture.

The square is the concrete materialistic world. It is matter and the laws of physics that govern it. It is the 4 basic elements fire, air, water and earth (yes, I know some cultures put forward 5 basic elements...o well). That is not to say the square is purely materialistic. It represents the concepts of materialism what we use. It is, therefore, also idealistic.

The sphere is reality as it is. It is perfection. It is "God.". And, of course, it can not escape being just the concept of these. It is the entire unified universe. The "all-ness" that we are all part of.

The triangle is the balance, the logic, the understanding that links the physical reality we are in with the cosmic realitiy of the all.

Okay, that's probably enough. I don't want to put of people with too many obscure musings.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Buddha-nature is not a state of is not a way of thinking. It is a state of being... it is not dependent on thinking. A sentient being realizing (making real) Buddha-nature is most certainly thinking, but that is not the Buddha-nature.

It is easiest (?!?!) to practice this in zazen but it is possible to live this way always.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Matrix of Reality

The Matrix is probably the most significant movie of my life. That sounds rather extreme and perhaps naive, but it is, for all I can tell, true (so far). But it's not because the exact theme and plot of the movie is particularly "spot on" for me. It's because the movie is so rich in various visualized metaphors.

I'm a big fan of Christ. But it's really difficult to learn about who he was and what he said and did without the centuries of spin that humans have been laying on his story. The Bible has him saying, (I forget which book) "the kingdom of heaven is at hand." The gospel of Thomas (booted from the Bible by Nicene editors) has "the kingdom of heaven is all around you", or something to that effect. When I saw the Matrix, I suddenly "got" what that might mean. Heaven is right here, right now, if we could just see it. Its much like how Neo "wakes up" to reality in the movie. I was even more thrilled to see model mark of Morpheus's ship in the movie, "Mark XIV Number 14." But, of course, the movie is not a complete Christian metaphor. Guns and Kung Fu are not extremely biblical.

As I've learned more about Zen Buddhism, I see many parallels between what Christ is reported to have taught and what ZB teaches. Particularly the bit about "the kingdom of heaven is all around you" lining up with the idea that we all have Buddha Nature available to us here and now if we can just learn to 'see' it. The Matrix may even have more fitting metaphors for ZB, like the choice of delusion, or seeing reality as it is (red pill or blue). And, of course, Kung Fu is credited to Bodhidarma.

But.... all of the above preamble was to get to the hallway scene near the end of the movie (shown above). This is where Neo finally 'gets it' and can see the matrix as it is. A great soup of data, 1's and 0's, all linked together and performing per programming. As I said earlier, the metaphor is not neccesarily consistent with Buddhism throughout the movie, but this one scene, I think, does a nice job of expressing the interconnectedness of 'reality as it is.'

I was reading "To Meet the Real Dragon" last night. On page 42 Nishijima sensei writes,

"Human kind and nature are but two faces of one thing. That one thing is reality. That one thing is the real situation of our lives; it is the great universe itself."

As I read this, the above scene from the Matrix sprang to mind. Reality is one thing. One thing. Not a way of looking at a bunch of separate things, but all one. It suddenly is making a bit of sense. Just like with the hallway shown above, where the walls, the people, the floor, the ceiling the wires, the air is all one thing. The bits of the one thing are swirled and aligned so they appear to be separate, but to stomp the floor is to stomp the walls. It's all connected.

This led me to think of the big bang.

In the first micro/nano/femto/octo seconds, the theory goes, all matter was in some superheated primordial uniform state. Everything, all reality, all the is-ness, was pretty much consistent in structure (appearance) in the 10 directions. The mind has to think of borders with this image of the banging universe, like a balloon expanding, but there were no borders. To have borders is to presume inside and outside, and there is no outside for all of the universe. But in those early moments it was all the same, and very hot. As time has moved on, it has gotten lumpier, with apparent borders on atoms and molecules and objects. We tend to see it as differentiated lumps of stuff. A collection of separate things.

But, as Nishijima says, and the Matrix demonstrates, it is really all one thing.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

4 Sale

I feel I'm bogged down with possessions. I want to get rid of "stuff." This is very difficult. Each piece I pick up thinking "I've got no need for this," something jumps and grabs and calculates inside of me, its possible dollar value, and how cool it is, and how its mine, mine, mine. I can't get rid of it. I have an office full of a myriad things I "like" but which bring me little more than abstract, "idealistic" comfort. A link to an idea, a memory, an admiration of design. I have got to cut more, but its more than just cutting and clearing material things that is at play here.

I don't want to get rid of something just so I can say I have an empty room, and imply I am now a better person because of it. There is clearly something at work in me that collected all this stuff. That helped me "survive" because I have all this stuff. My therapist has led me to see that all behaviors, even 'bad' ones, serve a supportive, protective, purpose for me. I've got to suss this out for myself regarding stuff, or the room with be full again in another year or so.