Sunday, November 10, 2013

I hate you, me.

I read in a blog..."How our minds figure out so many ways to impede our life from bursting forth completely."

There is too much time wasted on this personification ( this anthropomorphization) of a devilish "ego" lurking like a Mr. Hyde in the soul/brain. That's not to say there are not urges, habits, patterns of thought that get in our way. But it is to say all of it is me. And, perhaps more importantly, it is all there because of conditions. It is dependent origination that gives rise to my current self expression, not some trickster "ego" figuring out ways to impede my life bursting forth.

There is no enemy here. Nothing of 'me' that should be rejected. Besides this ego concept hindering me, the greater risk in this is that making a habit of seeing a n'er do well "ego" in me runs the risk of seeing others that way too. Casting them as poor parents of 'self', if they would just put that pesky ego in time out and give it some discipline, it would go away.

I do not yet know how to get to the other shore, from which no "other shore" can be seen. I think there is a needed process in growth where the mind must mess with concept so it can see the mind....where the fish sees it is in a fish bowl. Having that not just understood, but, I'm supposing, incorporated into world view, or perhaps like a snake skin, the whole lot is sluffed off, and it all becomes a bunch of now, greeted in comfort like an old friend.

Layman Pang wrote

"There is no I and there is no other.
How can there be intimacy or estrangement?
I recommend giving up trying to get there by meditation,
But rather, directly seizing the reality at hand.
The message of the Diamond Sutra is:
Nothing is excluded from our experienced world.
From beginning to end,
It inevitably exposes our false identities."

There is "this one" and "that one", but no difference between the two. I and another are both fountains. springs, each bubbling forth a different stream of dependent origination, but fundamentally both springs, both exactly equal. The sky here is exactly the same as the sky there, but the snowflakes from each differ.

There is no closeness or afar-ness between people. Just commonality.

He does not recommend giving up meditation, but rather trying to get there by meditation. There is nowhere else to which to get. Seize "now".

Nothing is excluded. Not even me now, with that I call "faulty" in myself. Even all this "me" is part of the dharma.

Do not make decisions to resolutely live a new way. Accept I am what I am supposed to be. Guide my ox with care in new directions until "I" and ox fade gently away and the hand of thought relaxes.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Venerable Mujin Nobody Roshi

I often see advertisement for speaking engagements and dharma talks where much of the text is devoted to describing the institutional position and years of practice of the speaker, and assigning an epithetic title like "Roshi".

I think this indicates a misunderstanding of basic Buddhist principles, and it confuses me with one of those "elephant in the room" feelings. That is "can't those people see how wrong that is?"

I don't doubt that some of this is simple jealousy on my part. In some way I might wish I was so important to an organization that a.) they would want to put me forward to the public as knowing something about Zen and b.) people might actually show up to hear what I have to say.

But even if that is the case, I think some criticism of the practice, or at lease critical analysis of the practice, is also 'fair.'

The Zen fact, I believe, of the matter is that no matter what institutional title a person has achieved, or how long they have been practicing, or what transmission they have received, it does not mean they are expounding dharma any more reliably than someone who has not. In fact, it could even be true that someone who is practiced at public speaking is practiced at packaging dharma so that it is seemly successfully conveyed to the audience, when in truth this packaging is more of a distortion, and the dharma is not transmitted.

It would be very refreshing, I think, to seen an announcement to the effect of "There will be a speaker at such and such a time. We really like they way they present. Come join us." And yes, I mean actually not naming the speaker.

And things like "Donation:$30" seems to be a confounding Zen hypocrisy.  If you believe in teaching dharma for the merit of expounding dharma, take your dhana as it comes. If you need money, say that. Don't perversely mix the concepts of dhana freely given (or not) and your need (dear guest speaker, or institution hosting her/him) for funds. If you need the bucks, the tag line should be an honest "To support logistics of the speaker's appearance tonight, we are asking each person to give $30 if they can."

I am clearly struggling with this --> If these Zen/Buddhist principles of equanimity, equality, avoidance of picking and choosing, avoidance of entanglement in the delusion of title and and station, etc.. are actually important. Why are they not practiced on an institutional level?

Advertising "transmission" is almost to provide evidence that "transmission" really did not occur, and it was just a political nicety. Completely empty and void of any meaning to the dharma. 

Group pictures from Zen events, almost invariably put the "special leader" in the center, with everyone else gathered around, balanced on left and right. Socio-political seniors near the front or center and juniors near the back and sides. I can understand this from a the tribal alphs-leader point of view. I understand why the group would want this to happen. But it is this very, empty, sociological instinct that Buddhism is striving to instruct "against". Each person is equally important in the Buddhist view. Why does the visiting "leader" allow such ranking? Teach a lesson while you're there Ms/Mr. leader. Have people group up as randomly as possible. Don't even tell them its for the group picture, so their tribal instincts will be confounded. It would be refreshing to see a group picture where finding the visiting "leader" was more like a game of "where's waldo."

Regarding titles, they should never be used unless they are functional and in the context of identifying responsibility (hows that for strident.... oh well). "Roshi", for example (though not a functional title, so perhaps not such a good example for the preceding point), is a term of affection and respect. Fine. It does not belong in public announcements. Say it to the Roshi. Say it between colleagues that share the respect. But in public announcements, just use a person's name. Titles used socially rather than personally are entanglements worth avoiding unless they are applied equally. Nonetheless I get how it would be difficult not to call a beloved Roshi, "roshi." I was just going to mention my encounters with Nishijima-roshi who always seemed to respond to everyone as "venerable" on this blog. I cannot help but call him "roshi", but perhaps it would better honor his legacy of "true" buddhism if I did not.    

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Big Head Zen Master

BHZM asks,

Which is more skillful..."I am ignorant" or "you are ignorant"?
Which is more dangerous... "you are fine just the way you are" or "I am fine just the way I am"?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Evolutionary Religious Soup

I think we humans at some point developed a brain capacity that allowed a sense of self, and the facility to 'put two and two together.' This certainly was beneficial to our survival. A side effect, was, I think, religion.

As early thinkers reveled in self, and pondered on how thing links to thing, and noticed some arch to the cause of birth and death, they started hitting questions like "wait, what the heck is going on here?" What is the bigger picture, what is the cause of all this and me. What governs when I die, and war, and famine? Given the data they had, and their level of experience at proving things, religion was born.

Religion is basically a belief in some sort of human affecting agent that is something more than passive, that is, in some angles, human, that cannot be in physical, witnessed, conversation with you, and also includes the ritualistic trappings that go into servicing this agent and the schema of its processes.

The Buddhism I profess, is the Buddhism that acknowledges a great unknown, but does not try to fill it with too many stories. It is the stories we chase that bring suffering. A story being anything that is not 'now.' Part of the puzzle is that this 'now' includes a creature with a disposition to have religion, and that is part of the flavor in the soup.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

To Understand Your Mind, Understand A Tree

I currently understand both the physical structure of my brain, and the experience of my mind as similar to the the structure of a tree's core.

Oddly, this insight came to me while staring "mindlessly" at one of the pre-canned wallpapers available for iPad, which is basically the cross section of a tree's trunk. I noticed for the first time in staring at the image, that there were flaws in the rings. There was a crack or scar that extended radial outward from the core. I began to wonder what trauma had struck the tree to cause such a scar, and what the surface of the tree, the bark, looked like as it grew out over the years.

Before I get to my point, a few memories of tree-like scars.

The first house I ever owned was built on an old farm tract. In fact, the name of the development was "Scofield Farms." In the front yard of the small track-home were a couple hackberry trees. Hackberries are not very lovely trees. Their bark is gnarled, rough, and painful to hold in any way. The leaves are week and have jagged edging. They grow often in multi-trunk clusters and in a formation that is almost painful to see. Sort of like a large scrub-bush than a tree. It is not a noble tree. It is not a pleasant tree. But, it is a tenacious tree, and for that reason I respect them and enjoy them. It is certainly a Texas tree (long live the Great Republic).

A few years into owning this home graced by hackberries, one of the trees fell ill. It was even more hideous in its death throughs, adding grey dead branches to the otherwise gnarled expression. I decided to cut it down. As I became more intimate with the tree in order to fell it and cut it into pieces, I found a never-before-noticed scar at about eye-heigth. It was a piece of barbed wire that pierced right through the core of the tree, or nearly so.

Seeing this odd mix of historic technology and tree, set me puzzling over the history that produced it. I have since notice hackberries used on the fence line of many properties in Texas as I have driven around. I wonder if the trees are grown intentionally on fence lines to help emphasize the border, like so many skinny orcs set to threaten any would-be trespassers, or whether the trees are on the property in more general dispersion, and get trimmed back by the land owner, leaving just those on the property line standing as they are not "in the way."

Which ever way it is, hackberries and Texas fence lines often co-mingle, and there is where we find barbed wire, and perhaps the genesis of the scar I found in my front yard.

I can well imagine that the fence pre-existed the tree, and then a hackberry berry fell in an unfortunate location, and the sapling grew up into the wire. It did not divert left or right, but through some chance of alignment, or sheer "will" of the tree, it grew straight up into the wire, incorporated the wire in its flesh, and with no apparent ill-effect on its ability to grow, kept growing.

I probably should have kept that section of wood when I felled the tree. My memory of it is easier to store, though and came quickly to mind as I wondered about the scar in the wood in the iPad wallpaper. That, and a pear.

A few hundred more words could tell you about my favorite high school English teacher, Dixie Lee Shannon/Hinton/Marmalejo. A wonderful woman who rescued me from the hell of Houston suburbia in so many ways. She collected broadsides and had one based on a poem by John Updike called "A Pear Like A Potato" that hung in the kitchen of her guest house that I would visit occasionally.

The basic story behind the Updike poem was musings on the scars observed on a pear that had perverted its normal grocery-store-based image from that of a green skinned standard lightbulb to that of a green skinned potato. Updike saw similarities in the pear's history and the history of his (of our) lives. The scars make us who we are, they record our history, and perhaps most significantly to my beginning thoughts, they remain as we continue to grow.

Now back to my point.

The flesh of tree's trunk is not, as you know, of uniform nature. It is ringed, and each ring records, in some way, the events for each year in the trees life. I can see the seasons march as I scan from the center outward. When there was more rain. When the warm season was longer. Etcetera. But rings are not perfect circles. You can see the impact of larger, or perhaps more physical, effect on the tree recorded in how the rings waver and clump on one side or another.

And here is the observation that hints towards my main point. The position and structure of all the outer rings depends on the position and structure of all the inner rings. The later experiences of the tree give a shape to the tree that entirely depends on its previous experiences. This is dependent origination. The tree does not start fresh each year with a clean slate of a trunk. It must build on what has happened in the past.

A tree cannot instantly straighten a course sent leftward by some obstacle or injury last year. A tree cannot make past years more prosperous so it can have a greater diameter to build on this year. A tree cannot eject the barbed wire it has grown around for the the last few years so it can start afresh without memory of it.

But likewise, a tree is not entirely static. Every patient arboreal expert knows that every crooked tree can be straighten. It takes careful planning, and the right support, and it cannot be accomplished in one season, but it can be done. In many cases it can be done so well the the requisite braces and ropes and supports can eventually be removed so that the tree is growing straight on its own.

But even in the case of a straightening a troubling curve, the history of the curve remains forever in the body of the tree. It is not "removed", it is not "forgotten", but it is accommodated. Its impact is respected, and carefully adjusted to.

I imagine the metaphorical extension of these tree notions to the mind is pretty obvious. I think these ideas and lessons hold true for how I experience my life. The optimistic, and often masochistic, retort of "just get over it" is a physiological impossibility, I think.

In some way, I believe the brain lays down memories by altering physical structure in the brain. Neurons connect in some specific way to result in what I experience as "me." Trauma's in my past are probably particularly hard-codded. This make evolutionary / survival sense. It is more beneficial to me if I remember things that threatened me that those that were neutral or pleasant.

The slings and arrows I endured as a child are the early rings in my 'self' as realized in my neural connections. As I have aged, and worked on seeing, understanding, and healing those wounds, it is a process like the addition of rings to a tree. I can't erase the scars of past years that are trapped in my grey and white matter, but I may be able to "set things straighter" with the correct study, and support.

Likewise, I think the evolution of the human mind in a physical sense follows the same metaphor. Our brains (the structure through which I realize and experience my 'self'), was not realized afresh for our current modern human structure. Instead, like the rings of a tree, the human brains capabilities are layers of adaption and survival. My brain contains structure that is purely "functional" and has no functional "self" left over from the species history when we were more animal than human. Then, through the chance of beneficial mutation, brain "layers" developed that give rise to consciousness, and the sense of self.

The importance in this is that I must accept there are aspects to my self expression (by which I mean how "I" present to you in the world, as a whole, not just my verbal expressions.... my whole functional expression as a human) that are old, and "crude", and out of reach of my conscious control, and perhaps often very necessary to my current continued survival.

Thus I should not feel shame because I cannot eradicate anger, or fear, or loneliness-in-a-crowd from my personality profile. These things may be arising from more primitive structural brain "rings" that are there, and will remain forever there, as part of my expression.

However, that does not mean I must always be someone who shouts when angry or cowers when fearful or isolates myself when feeling out-of-the-crowd. I can both pick the next physical, and perhaps even mental, action when these feelings arise, and perhaps even retrain myself, with proper care, support, wisdom, etc... and awareness of how these "lower rings" operate, to experience the same stimuli differently in the future.

This brings me back to my favored metaphore also that my mind is like a man, stuck riding often unaware, on the back of an ox, and wondering why him setting his mind to a task does not end up heading in the desired direction. I must accept many of my brain-rings are ox-like. I can train them with repetition and patiences, and probably kindness, but I can't expect them to modify just because I "will it so" in this instant.

To change myself, perhaps I should first find an crooked tree and learn to change its course to straight. I will probably be more successful when it comes to me.

To accept myself, I should do so with the same relaxed certainty I would a crooked tree - it is that way because of its history, its karma, its dependent origination, not because it has weak will.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Muddy Shoes

I cannot cast off the nature of life and death.
it sticks to my shoes like dirt and mud.
But leaving my shoes at the zendo door.
I meet my true self like an old friend.
Done with zazen, I put on my shoes again for my walk in the world.
At home, I think of my old friend and give my shoes a brush here and there, and they are cleaner.
Each day a little dirty.
Each day a little clean.

Saturday, June 22, 2013


Yes, yes, I suppose I could slam the magazine of a compassionate and equanimous composure over from the hypothetical, day dreamy brain game rack to the full on life style rack. But then what would I do...walk the world like some sort of urban Kwai Chang Cain?

Okay, fine, that's what I'll do....just move this puppy over... but wait....wait....I'm detecting a fault in the AE35 unit...there's a 100% chance my ideas of compassionate and equanimous composure will fail within 72 hours...

There is no decision, no sudden change of mind, to get me "there." I *am* there. It's right under my feet. This *is* one bright

See it?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Fooled Ya

I could put on a convincing show. I could suppress anger, and fein compassion, and dress just so, and speak just so, and tick off my eight fold path checkboxes...and not be one iota closer to realizing Buddha nature.

Better to be exactly who I am with as much authenticity as possible, fully wallowing in the three poisons, while I strive to uncover my Buddha nature, than to cover my true self with a Buddha nature costume.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Dharma From "Dialogue On Two World Systems"

"Therefore Simplicio, come either with arguments and demonstrations and bring us no more Texts and authorities, for our disputes are about the Sensible World, and not one of Paper."

Sunday, April 7, 2013

End of Suffering

I read a news story today that the mentally troubled son of a mega-church leader committed suicide this weekend. His dad is reported as admiring the bravery of his son who ten years ago asked his dad why he couldn't just die now and end his pain.

I like many aspects of Christianity, and I consider myself a christian, but in a very qualified sense. I think Christ was onto something very good that has been usurped and hideously twisted in many ways since his death. One of the most dangerous offerings I think the mainstream Christian Church offers is the idea of self-aware life after death.

I worry that too many people avoid taking steps in the here and now to alleviate their own suffering or the suffering of others because they believe they will have a blissful, self-aware eternity after death. "Kill them all and let God sort out the good from the bad" is an extreme example of this logic.

Self- aware life after death will not happen. With the collapse of brain function comes the collapse of self. The self as I experience it is the biological activity between my ears and throughout my body. When my body dies, so do "I".

People may remember me. My impression on the myriad things of the world will persist. But "I" will not "know" it.

I think the true message of Christ was to guide people to relieve suffering in the here and now. This was clear problem to oppressive rulers who would rather people put up with tyranny now and dream of freedom after they were dead. And so, twisted by manipulative revisionists, or simply by people ignorantly following the persistent tenets of other religions that existed a the time, a happy, self-aware life after death became a plank of the Christian platform.

Everything is connected in Indra's web. Suffering now, sends effects rippling into the chain of cause and effect, now. To ease suffering now is to "calm the web" and bring more peace to the world in all ten directions, immediately.

Address suffering now. Don't wait.