Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Better Enso Leaves a Gap

While browsing facebook I stumbled on a wall with a post with this picture. An enso. More commonly done with an ink brush. Most ensos have a small gap. Not all. The post I stumbled upon invited a poem or a proverb to be added, so I guess that woke up my muse after a long work day.

Because of the clean line on the vibrant background I saw the enso for the first time as a line, rather than a circle, and the following thoughts came tumbling out. I don't know if this is a unique perspective or not. I've never read up on the 'meaning of the enso'. I only know that I have always thought of the enso as circle rather than a line.

I now see the enso as a simplified metaphor of duality and individuality. Regarding individuality - I might feel like I am unique because of this shell that defines me, this body, or even my self-concepts, but in reality I am connected to the whole universe (via that little gap in the circle), and even more, I am the same stuff as the universal. The only think that defines me is the tenuous line that makes the limit I declare of myself. Regarding duality - If I see the circle not as forming a new thing, but really just a line within what was already there (imagine a string dropped on the ground that almost touches its tail). How can I say "in" or "out". The "in" is part of the all and the "out" is part of the all. I *can* say "in" or "out" based on my choice/my judgement (represented by the line), but in the enso picture it is clear how meaningless the distinction is.

Thanks to Sunyata Purnamadah whose wall I had stumbled on.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Straightening up Indra's Net in a Neighborhood Near You

Indra's Net is a metaphor of the interconnectedness of everything. I accept this as true, and I think science supports this also. Nothing exists in isolation. Another nuanced aspect of the Indra metaphor is that everything is reflected in everything else. I also accept this as true. I think the Buddhist theory of dependent origination is in line with this. As Browning said, "as the wine must taste of it's own grapes".

There is never any real stasis. All is changing and connected.

What I see sometimes in myself is that I would like to imagine that I am not part of this connectedness. I say "we are all one" but in the next breath I might say "I do not abuse intoxicants" and wax on to ponder if I should give money to someone I have reason to believe might use it to buy intoxicants.

I hear of some behavior I judge as bad, and think, 'I don't do that'. Here Indra's net crashes into a notion of independence. If all things are connected and reflect all others, then we all murder, abuse, intoxicate etc... There is no escaping this.

Using the buddhist precepts does not extract me from Indra's net. They simply allow me to keep my part of it 'clean', or perhaps 'working well'.

Hopefully not stretching the net analogy too far, one can imagine the proper functioning and improper functioning of the net. A net design in harmony, and one discordant. This idea is criticized by the obvious picking and chosing, and so probably needs revision, but it is useful for the point at hand.

Or maybe not (knot!). Maybe I can dispense with 'good' functioning in Indra's net and simply note all is connected.

Falling back to the basic theory of Buddha that there is suffering and presumable we humans wish to remove it, then Indra's web is another expression of Karma. What wiggles here, wiggles there. And worse of all, the suffering acts I bring to the world get reflected back to me by the whole world. A rotten pearl in the net is reflected back by all other pearls to that self same rotten pearl.

Here, I think, is the wisdom and the benefit of precepts. Do my best to keep my part of the net clean and tidy, and that will *tend* to be what is reflected back. The humbling part of the net is that regardless of all my do gooding, I am connected to, and have an influence on, murder, abuse and all other unpleasant human activity.

The 'problem', or perhaps less judgingly, the 'fact' is that any good I do that supports another person can be linked to any bad that person does.

If I give a junkie a dollar and she buys a fix, have I broken a precept? If I pay my taxes allowing the government to fulfill a grant to the Boston philharmonic orchestra such that the third chair violin can afford Montesory school for his wife's brothers son so that a teacher gets paid and buys a drink, and in drunken anger kick their dog, have I broken a precept? The difference, one might argue, is my responsibility which is dependent on my reasonable ability to predict. This may be a Western legal argument in disquise.... about the "reasonable" person.

I think the theory of Indra's web puts an end to this arguement, and potential self torture. If everything is connected then I am equally guilty or absolved in each case. True buddhism suggests I should forget about that detail and just strive to always mitigate suffering as best I can understand it in the real moment (vs. the hypothetical moment). The precepts are a great guide, but not rulebook, for doing so.

I vow to keep my corner of Indra's net as clean and suffering free as I can.

Saturday, June 28, 2014


Enlightenment is just turning on the porch light.

"Oh, that's what that is. Silly me."

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Leggo my Ego - 'Cause It's Not Even There

It seems that the Western language of Buddhism is stuck in some fundamental ways in a psychological vocabulary long extinct. I easily read 1 to 5 bits of Buddhist ephemera a day (blog posts, Facebook comments, etc...) that use the word 'ego' as if it means something.

I think that ultimately Buddha, and the many of the great leaders of Zen thought were striving to understand the human 'self'. The self-experience. How the human perception of the world gives rise to suffering. How I interact with my surroundings, how my person was informed by past events, that gives rise to my 'now.' Buddhism is a science, but importantly, a practical science, not a science of wild un-experienceable theories. I love the phrase 'natural philosophy' so I'll marry it with Buddhism. Buddhism, and I think most specifically Zen, is the attempt to really probe human experience as a practical reality, which must admit the role of mind. Zen strives to unravel mind, to step outside mind. To SEE mind.

Therefore Zen does not look well on theories alone. Zen trips up theories in subtle and important ways. "Pain is only the mind a work, I have transcended it" -- until you stub your toe and cry "ouch". You have transcended nothing, Zen teaches.

Zen-speak is very stuck on ego. But serious Zen practitioners (or perhaps l should be more generous and simply say, practitioners who are striving for the truth in the manner I expound above), should be very careful of the idea-set that has "ego" at its center. Zen is a science, and must move forward with new understandings in how mind works and how "self" is experienced in the body.

I think the ancients knew well how "things worked" in the human experience. I think the ancients did their best to express what they saw and knew. It think many translations and subsequent teachers using English have completely mis-colored Zen with the idea of Ego.

Ego was largely invented by Freud and is now largely discredited. It no long has meaning. It was a theory set of how the mind works that is no longer held by most modern technical analysts of the human condition. "Ego" was just a fantasy of Freud that appealed as religion to the tribal lust of a generation. It was not based on scientific method.

Quoting from "Why Freud Still Matters, When He Was Wrong About Almost Everything" (Emphasis added)

"Freudian Fallacies

The primary trouble with Freud is that, while his ideas appear intriguing and even common sensical, there’s very little empirical evidence to back them up. Modern psychology has produced very little to substantiate many of his claims.
For instance, there’s no scientific evidence in support of the idea that boys lust after their mothers and hate their fathers. He was totally, utterly wrong about gender. And his notion of “penis envy” is now both laughable and tragic.
There’s no proof of the id, ego, or superego. There’s also no evidence to support the notion that human development proceeds through oral, anal, phallic, and genital stages. Nor that the interference, or arresting, of these stages leads to specific developmental manifestations."
I may do wrong things, and sabotage myself. I may insist "I" exist. I may be drawn to certain false idea's. But it is not because of a pernicious 'ego' acting in me. The brain is a complex and real system of interconnects of matter, of flesh. And, indeed, modern science is beginning to see in demonstrable ways how the brain is not alone in our bodies in informing our experience of self. Nervous and endocrine systems not between my ears are a significant part of experience of 'me'. 
I am not a theory run by some disembodied rule set, which is what Freud's theories essentially described. E.g., where was the seat of the compulsion he described for me to want to kill my father? In which part of the brain was a knot of neurons consistently formed in all peoples to carry this desire? Of course, in fact, there is none. 
Freuds ideas, including Ego, are a story. A well meant fairy tale of red riding hood and the wolf that tasted of the truth but was not indeed the truth. 
It is time for Buddhists to let go the fallacy of 'ego.' The earth is not flat. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Danger, Will Robinson

I currently think....

When certain feeling states or action impulses are identified as (effectively) "sin" people tend to feel shame when they arise and will tend to hide or mask them so as to seem not to have them, rather than "deal" with them. To the extent that such feelings or impulses might be toxic, this behavior seals them under an effective scab of pretending, trapping the poison closer to the self where it eats away and does double damage.

When certain feeling states or action impulses are identified as (effectively) common, human occurrences, but which are a little dangerous, I think people will tend to talk about them, deal with them, seek help for them, try to mitigate them. The more they can be open about them, the more quickly they can be expressed (sent out) leaving the safer person behind.

The precepts are a list of potentially dangerous activities. Warning posts of what might cause harm to me. I suffer from all of them from time to time. They are not a list of sins.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

"Marco" .... and how Roshi X made a benevolent fire turtle

Roshi X is a real person. I only cloud his ID with this little bit of fun because I am sure I cannot honestly tell how much of my disappointment is my responsibility vs. his. Sure I feel (more than “believe”) Roshi X could have done better. So this is a post about feelings, really. This is a post of how I feel and not  about what Roshi X really did. It seems after coming up with the term Roshi X, I find it is also an allusion for me to “Racer X”, and, in a similar way to Speed Racer, Roshi X is a thorn in my side who may, nonetheless, wish only the best for me.  

My “Buddhist name” is Nankin Rouren (sorry, Melville), but I haven’t taken that name on fully yet. It is too bittersweet. All the following anger, sadness and regrets associated with that name embarrass me like a gardener who is actually fully tangled in vines but tends to talk about the beauty of the clear and open lotus. Sometimes I think I am a zen mess.

Nearly 5 years ago now, I was browsing in a bookstore for something “uplifting and religious.” Looking for just the right book to help me feel less alien in the philo-spiritual landscape I saw myself in. I considered myself Christian, but only in the sense of Jesus Christ Superstar or The Matrix. I didn’t believe in a man sitting in a floating throne, or divine insemination. I considered myself a Quaker and had long ago joined a meeting…, I liked silence, and queries and kindness and simplicity, but I was extremely “lapsed.” In a cloud of suburban ennui I reached out at random in a book store and picked up Roshi X’s first book.

Flipping to a random page or two I really liked what I read. It was accessible. It made sense. It was not chock full of mystical revelations or saccharin platitudes. I did not have to “just” anything (i.e., “just believe”, “just know”, “just have faith”, “just realize”). It was written from a certain level of mud and water that I enjoy so much in Ryokan. And I wallowed happily in that mud.
So, here was a writer, Roshi X, I could really connect to. What next? Well, long story a bit shorter, I decided to go to one of his sesshin’s. I followed the bread crumbs in his book to hook up with the event. I studied the preliminary instructions dutifully. I wrote all the various notes up into a guide and shared them out to others on the mailing list for that year. I even practiced one day of the schedule at home to make sure I would not go crazy from stilling so much each day.

I went… it was wonderful, the details left for some other post.

So this was great stuff. I was really hooked. I started following Roshi X on his blog. People complained different things about Roshi X, who is a bit of a rebel in the field, and I occasionally became a Roshi X apologist. I read more of his books. I came to feel his message was important and worth sharing.

Coincident with a new book publication Roshi X was looking for places to speak. I offered to help him get gigs and get around in my part of the country. In the same plan, I asked if he could give me jukai. He said yes.

A long season of work ensued. I got the basic sketch of what was involved with Jukai from info written by Roshi X’s teacher. Found the instructions for a rakusu. Diligently gathered real rags to make it from. Sewed and sewed and sewed. Also in this time I used my best project management skills to find speaking gigs for Roshi X. Called around to bookstores and Zen centers, and got him booked in at some good locations. So it was all cool, all wonderful. He was coming, I was going to have jukai.
My rakusu was complete. I pushed to gather authentic props for the ceremony. I traveled several miles out of town to secure a genuine pine branch. I needed an image of Buddha, so I painted one… a very large picture (in all the other mess that has come out of these events, I have no regrets about creating that picture). I carefully brought my wife and young daughter up to speed on what was going to be happening to take all the “cult” edge off that I could. “Daddy is going to be a sort of monk”.
Roshi X came, we travelled.

I drove him from point to point in a very large route: Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas. I received Jukai in my home with wife and daughter as witness.

It was cool.

It was also miserable stressful. It was also traumatic. Sometimes I think I should have never done it.  

The great, and tragic, turning point of the traveling was learning that Roshi X was a big fan of Jesus Christ Super Star.

That album (the studio version, by the way, not the movie sound track), probably saved my life in my teenage years. That’s a separate hundred pages of blog I probably don’t have the skill to write, but that album set me up with everything that gets me through any hard time that has every struck my life in the 40+ years that have followed. All that I carry as hope or compassion or appreciation of mystery comes from that one record. It is very important to me.

One might think, and I certainly did, that this would indicate an inherent commonality between Roshi X and I. Since he is my age peer, I saw it as the harbinger of a great friendship. We had the same philosophical interests, the same love for JCSS, we were the same age. Here was finally the friend of a lifetime.  

But that was not the case.

There was an odd hint in the whole affair that now echoes ominously in my recall. At some point in our travels, no doubt an early point, Roshi X said “you probably won’t like me.” I thought it was an odd and slightly sad thing for him to say at the time. I kindly brushed it off, but in retrospect I think he was right.

In our travels the crushing Buddhist formality really got me.

I stepped wrong. I didn’t know stuff. I felt out of the conversations of wonderful and lofty ideas.
At one Zen center in a beautiful old house in a beautiful old neighborhood…. I joined in for Zazen. I didn’t know which zafu I could sit on. I had no idea how to muck about my rakusu for Chodai Kesa No Ge. They did the damned English version and I did not know it, and couldn’t read their little cheat sheet in the dim lighting of the room. I had no idea how to get in line for Kin Hin. My leg fell asleep in zazen and I felt rushed to get in the fucking line so we can fucking start kin hin. After kin hin, some bell rang. I thought we were done. I went up to my room to get ready to leave. I was completely stressed out and feeling completely out of place and unwelcome . I started sobbing. I am generally not a crier, but this place had pushed me to my limits. I was alone and confused and there was not a soul in this bastion of compassion who was interested how things were going for me. I decided to try a shower to calm down. I was walking heavy footed back and forth across the floor of my second story room from suitcase and bed to shower. I was worried sick about what the “rules” were for washcloths and using hot water, and every goddamed thing I was trying to do. In the shower – more breaking down, more sobbing. Done with my shower, I worried how I should hang the used wash cloth. Do I have to dry off the soap? Can I flush my dental floss or is that wasteful of water? Where should I put the towel? Should I fold it? Should I leave the sheets on my bead or take them off?

My nerves were wracked in this hell of Buddhist “what is the most skillfull” way. Then a knock at the door. The head priest is there and she informs me they are trying to meditate downstairs… could I be more quiet? I could have died, and I think part of me did. Turns out my room was right above the room they use as the zendo. Who the hell knows how much of my trodding and sobbing was heard below, but I felt like it all was. Why the hell didn’t anyone explain to me clearly that there would be another session of sitting after kin hin! Who puts a guest room above their zendo?! This was absolutely a “naked a school” dream in reality. This was the worst social trauma I’ve ever felt since getting beaten up in high school with no understanding of defense.

When we finally got to leave that place I was in such a hurry, I nearly ripped my rear-view mirror off on the gate post of the driveway.

I’m sure everyone meant kinder vibes that what I recall, but most of what I recall was a huge sense of “I don’t fit in.” It didn’t help that I was traveling with an up and coming Zen super star, promoting his books, promoting his story. I was definitely 5th or 6th fiddle. It was kinda cool to be able to ride his rakusu tails a little, but ultimately I feel I was of little importance.

And, on a personal level, Roshi X turned out to seem largely shallow and narcissistic. Though appropriately thankful for my efforts, I never felt a vibe of friendship. In many ways I wanted/needed his friendship, but he did not need mine. The trip was about him, his books, his wonderfulness. {or perhaps my jealousy and unquenchable sense of loss from years ago}

He couldn’t complete the “name panel” on my rakusu while we were traveling so he took it with him when he left. It took a very long time to get done. He kinda lost it amongst his stuff during a relocation. He was pretty uncommunicative after he had left. I felt like I was being taken as a chump and that the rakusu I had labored so hard on was lost. I emailed him to just return it, I didn’t care if it was done or not. To quote myself from all those years ago (pretty embarrassing now, but gives a good sense of where my head was)….

“I don't know what the non-communication thing is about. It certainly hurts. (yes, yes, attachment, blah, blah, blah) . "You win". I will go away. Could you please return my rakusu though? I put a lot of fucking "naive" effort into it.‘

He suggested I “settle the fuck down” and to not presume things of him, “that’s not how this works.”  I never understood what the “this” was he was referring to.    

That exchange was years ago. That shattered most of my hope of being friends with this guy. He has famously said on his blog since then (speaking generally) that he does not want students, and describing how flawed some people are who have asked to be his students. In every word I just hear him disapproving of me.  

This is the sticking point. This is where I feel blind and I want to see clearly. I am uncomfortable about this, and I want comfort. I don’t understand, and I want understanding. I want help framing all this, and I can’t seem to find it.

Roshi X has often written blogs that contain what I read as “it ain’t me, it’s you.” It is often put in (what I think of as) pseudo-loving-Buddhist-non-compassion. “You got to take responsibility for yourself”. “If our interaction made you feel bad, that is your delusions at work”. This triggers in me some old school days memories of “Fuck off, loser, you don’t belong here”

With him, and with all the Buddhist formalities in our trip, I felt scared. The words were nice but the vibe was “you don’t rate”. I was too odd for acceptance. I was the na├»ve newbie. My rakusu was the topic of buzz because it was not uniform, nor the right color. Roshi X is somewhat of an outsider in the Zen establishment, so people even seemed to wonder even if my Jukai was bona fide. “Who did you sew with?”…. I had no answer. I read the instructions and did it myself. …I and not one who has been sitting for 20 years. I don’t sit morning and night. My views don’t seem count in the “heavy” conversations. I haven’t written books, or become a priest, or have the heart sutra memorized.

So this silly name I got with all that trauma is Nankin Rouren. Roshi X likes monster movies, so Nankin’s kanji means “fire turtle” after Gamera. Which I like. The last name is my English name realized with kanji. Contemporary dictionaries render the kanji as “labor union”, but Roshi X was looking at some old dictionary and trying for “bringing benevolence.”

Sorry….this post is falling of the tracks a bit.

Part of this is a great and an almost tearful lament…. I thought Roshi X would be a friend. Would be someone I could finally connect too. If I was creating a profile on I couldn’t have found a better match (at least speaking predictively. In retrospect not so much). But it did not happen. Roshi X,  left after our road trip, and after the rakusu kerfuful there has been really no communication. I feel I was Charlie Brown running to kick the football and Lucy snatched it away laughing. What a waste of hope. What a schmuk…. Is how I feel.  

I think Zen is important. I think Zen has something useful to say. I still sit and read and comment and follow things Zen,  but, to put it honestly, I am afraid of the Sangha…. afraid of a “teacher”. I don’t ever want to worry that a teacher thinks I am “not enough.” I don’t ever want to feel that a sangha is tisking me for stepping in with my left foot instead of my right foot. I’m sick of robes just so and rakusu’s just so and put your shoes here, no toes facing out.... fool! I am sick of black and brown clothes and speaking in hushed tones and false smiling and “we have to have compassion for everyone” knowing full well many curse the garbage folk on the weekend if they don’t but the cans back just so.

I accept that I carry much of this perceived negativity between my own ears.  I want a teacher who reaches out to me. Asks me how I am doing. Who is interested in how I see things. I want a teacher/sangha that accepts anger, despair, silliness and selfishness as human traits and embraces them and gently guides them when, and only if, they happen to be truly unskillful, rather than just because they are contrary to tradition and the way people what the zendo to seem. Where can I find this?

I am not completely bullish. I am fairly plastic. I get that I bring my baggage into the conversation. Coincidentally "firery turtle" may not be far off. I think I know that my life is my responsibility. But I also know that I am looking for a teacher/sangha who wants to help me …. to extend a hand down…. I want a sangha/teacher that lives in mud and water and not in the library with black robes and uniform breathing. Where can I find this?

This is the center of my chaos. It is a poor narrative. It is written ‘cause I am looking for a “Polo” to this clumsy “Marco”. I post it not because I think it is “right” or well written, but in case someone else who is likewise muddled, and stumbles upon it, might feel less alone.    


As I write this I think this perhaps is the most important part of this piece. In making sure I got some of my attributed quotations right, I checked my old email records. I see Roshi X being a decent person. Perhaps his harsh-ish words quoted above were a reasonable response to the harsh-ish words I sent him in my misery. As I said at the start, this is more about how I feel and felt, than what he actually did.
What’s the point? Should I post? I guess so. It might prove useful for someone else, or even me as I narcissistically read and re-read what I’ve put out in public domain (yes….I do that).    


Sunday, February 23, 2014


After trauma, the brain is permanently changed, injured, I n a way that is noticeably altered from past habits, and often in a way that is intrusive, unwelcome, and troubling.

Memories are not some sort of magic. There is no "cloud" for the human brain from which I download what I want to recall.

Memories are a result of physical changes in the brain...a particular arrangement of neurons, or weighted chemical pathways, but none the less physically real.

Whenever something huge and traumatic happens, my brain does its best to record it, or mask it, so that I will tend to survive the current event, and a reoccurrence, if it ever happens again. The triggers for creating such "unforgettable" tendencies are probably a complex coordination of sensory input, endocrine activity, inherited nature, and past conditioning/ learning.

The point is, the changes are a real, physical characteristic of me.

If someone has a scar on their arm, chanting lovely stories of rainbows and kittens does not make the scar go away. No amount of encouragement or love makes the scar go away. Scars can be accommodated, adapted to, acknowledged, and new functionality can be found, but some trace is always there. A new configuration of the person.

Similarly, mental scars probably cannot be "cured" with any amount of happy, positive thinking. But, with realistic acceptance they can be accommodated, adapted to, and new functionality can be found.

This is not a nihilistic point of view. People with great external scars, e.g., missing limbs, can go on to live full, productive, capable lives, but they do not get there by trying to wish away their scar, but rather acknowledging it, and pressing on with a sense of practicality. Some of the scar can be worked around, but other bits are a new baseline from which they can proceed in a new but different fullness.

I should remember this when I am embarrassed by how troubled I feel, or in dealing with other troubled people. Being "nice" and wishing good things, has its place, but first must come clear sight and acceptance.

Wishing for the situation to be different might well be a form of trauma avoidance by the observer, hurt by what the empathetic response is imposing. This observation is not to condem, but to encourage skill.

In the great cascade of cause and effect, the impact of all past causes carriers forward with lesser or greater effect on the Now, but can never be earased. This is Karma.

This is me.
This is where I am.
Now in full light of that, just sit for a while.
In full light of that, what is the next right action, right thought?
What will take the whole me forward in health, rather than just my fantasies and delusions forward in empty wishing?
What is really here, now, beyond even these words?

[apologies if my experience with trauma seems naive to people who have survived even bigger things]

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Snow Reason

We live to make a path in the snow.
To venture out into the wilderness, our guide dog barking and snuffling in the brush.
Out into the wilderness then back home.
A path made.
Footprints left.
No lasting mark, but just enough to give a hint of our existence, our presence, our matter.
In the broad world we have trekked, and then returned home, to re-collect.
Warm. With hints of snow melted into the jacket collar.
Dog sleeping by the fire, paws twitching.


Originally posted as a comment on Dosho Port's FB page. Inspired by his pictures from walking his dog in the snow....

Sunday, January 26, 2014

No Unchanging Self: The Plastic Pachinko Machine

Much is written about the NON-existence of "Unchanging Self". Semantically this nominal is not so inaccurate [though I wonder about this sentence, itself]. The problem arises with the analogies then given. A recent one I read likened ones self to a stream ever changing and flowing. It is in such extreme analogies that I think there is some harm. People may assume their experience of self is 100% mutable. That if they only did the right magic stuff they could suddenly become entirely different. That old fears and scars and modes of suffering could be made to vanish.

A further harm in the analogies is that it gives a sense that my experience of self is fundamentally nothing; a chimera, a ghost, a lie my ego insists on telling because it is undisciplined and immature.

The first point to be clear about is that the locus of self is absolutely fixed. I experience 'me' via my brian and the associated physical neurological and biological systems in my body. I will grant that perhaps there is some new frontier in fine detail related to this in the recent findings regarding bacterial and perhaps even viral 'bioms' that encompass human bodies (each person carries more cells/objects [for viruses] with 'foreign' DNA than 'self' DNA), but generally speaking my experience of 'I' is limited to the physical extent of my nervous system. And more importantly, how 'I' gets represented to my consciousness is entirely occurring in the various organs of the brain.

If this is accepted, that 'self' arises from the physical structure of the nervous system, grossly represented in the brain, then 'self' is changing only to the extent that the physical structure of the brain is changing. The physical structure of the brain is largely un-changing.

I repeat, the physical structure of the brain is largely un-changing.

Additionally, it is also important to understand that he brain is not a homogenous bowl of jello. Yes, I doubt anyone actually thinks of it this way, but compared to what it really is, I think for many it might be the "same difference."

The human brain has evolved over eons. It might be even better to say that the brain which is now human has so evolved, because the structure of the human brain has been carried forward by the species that predate humans in our evolutionary chain.

The major steps in brain structure are more layered, than homogonized. That's why I like to think of the structures of the brain as 'organs', though 'regions' is likely more correct, the exact physical boundaries being uncertain. Some specifics from the brain-organ-soup are autonomic system, brain stem, medulla, limbic, visual cortex, audio cortex, pre-frontal cortex [this list is a bit of a cock-up so here's a link to a nice Wikipedia list]

So, the point becomes that a very large percent of the brain is fixed in structure. The means by which I experience sight, is essentially the same throughout my life. The means by which I hear, beat my heart, 'know' to breath, is largely fixed. Many of my base characteristics are also fixed. How I process fight or flight, how I wake up and become drowsy (e.g., the circadian rhythm). And there are structures more or less permanent that formed when I negotiated high-stress (i.e., important) events in my life. The wounds from early experience such as a fight in childhood, or significant lack of parental care. My biology, DNA inheritance, and early experience all layer in my brain, giving rise to my 'self' (see earlier posts such as "sub-conscious karmic oxen", and "to understand your mind, understand a tree").

There is also a part of my brain that is plasitc. From a high frequency plasticity which deals with ever changing sensory inputs such as sight and sound and location and position and temperature; to a lower frequency plasticity dealing with long and short term memory.

My feelings, my sense of what is going on, my suffering, is a complicated mix, I think, of my underlying fixed aspects and the more plastic aspects of my brain. It's rather like an inverse pachinko machine. An 'idea' (a neurological impulse wave from) gets launched by my sensory and other primitive reaction organs and starts its way towards consiousness. It gets pinged and bopped around by various neural connects (the pins in this pachinko machine) that are both essentially fixed (e.g., the structure of my medulla) and plastic (my cortex), until it ends up as a thought or action that I can experience consciously.

Perhaps this has been too much of a walk into minutia, so back to the point.....

Much of how I experience life is fixed. However, with practice I can exercise ways of thinking that, in a sense, either allow me to add new layers of pins in my pachinko machine, or bend the ones that are there so the same sort of situational inputs are experienced differently in my consciousness.

Some terrible childhood trauma-remembering bundle of neurons might still fire off when an analogous situation is presented to me in my adulthood, but I may be able to layer some new pins (or bend some existing ones) that divert the conscious result from panic to "okay."

It may even be possible that I can change the gross course of the panchiko balls so that sensory experience comes more directly from 'mechanical' rather than 'interpretive' parts of my brain. i.e., so that I can learn to see, hear, experience without using my judgement channels (my judgement organ pathways), but get a more direct feed from my visual or audio cortex.

There is a very large part of the self that is, indeed, permanent, and a very important aspect of the nature of experienced self is that it is also plastic. Self does change and it can be retrained. But I am here. and I am permanent. Not in the geological sense of time, but in the sense of having substance while I am. I am a pachinko machine to be reckoned with*.

[* for Chief Inspector Endeavor Morse, "I am a pachinko machine with which to be reckoned" ????]

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Are These Grapes, And Are They Sour?

There is a Buddhist author whose recent book I enjoyed. I decided to join his mail stream. It never seemed to have any direct information, but notices of lots of courses I could attend, and videos and tapes to buy. 

I received notice of a retreat I could attend; "a rare opportunity." But I had to meet at least one of these qualifications....

1. Have attended Heart of Living Levels 1, 2, and 3 (all three levels) and completed the practice requirements
2. Have attended the Way of Liberation Level I or Mahandramudra Level I with  and completed its practice requirements or will complete them prior to the retreat
3. Have completed the full preliminary practices (the 4 x 100,000 ngondra)
4. Have received pointing out teachings from a qualified Buddhist lineage holder (a tulku or rinpoche)
5. Have had a daily meditation practice for at least five years and attended either group or solitary practice retreats (with 6+ hours of formal meditation practice each day) under the guidance of a Buddhist teacher for a total of at least thirty days

Sid' (aka "the Shyak") taught in open fields to whoever could attend. Ticking off boxes to "get there" is widely taught as not-the-best-way. Realization can come from hearing a stone bounce off a stalk of bamboo. 

This sort of qualified or exclusive monasticism is as deluded as chasing dollars on Wallstreet. 

I am told Buddha is within us all, and that I am exactly who I am supposed to be. 

"Realization" is available to anyone at any time. There is no course that has to be taken. No initiation rites that clear the way. 

Our primate minds dream up all sorts of connections that try to explain the mystery. This has served us well where there actually existed some cause-and-effect relationship for us to map. There actually was a reason for the death rate in the herd to climb when that cat was in the area. That was a very helpful theory. On the other hand the number of virgins in a volcano does not actually affect its likelihood to spew forth. That was a not-so-helpful theory. 

If I meditate for 30min morn and night.... If I have exactly 3/8" between stitches in my rakusu... If my voice trails off just so at the end of Chyodai Kesa no Ge....  *THEN* I will be the stuff that is ready for enlightenment. These are all deluded theories.

When the hand opens
What I am doing is what I am doing
When the hand opens
What I am doing is what is occuring
When the hand opens
What is, is
When the hand opens
..... mu .....

The turning step, the open hand, are not conditions locked up that require a specially shaped key to access.

The practices matter. It is much more difficult to see the gentle bud rising from the mud in the middle of a war, but the practices are not the place, and they are not the only path. 

Adopt the practices that are helpful. Ignore those that are not. Be open to these distinctions changing. 

The practices are not "the grape", and they can indeed be sour if done for the sake of getting grapes. The grape is never out of reach. Just extend your hand and pluck it.  

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

As If You're Really There

I recently read of some research showing a person's brain reacted just as if it was in the real situation when the person was reading an engrossing book.

I suspect writing to blogs and FB and the like also feels as if it were the real thing when one is really caught up in it.

Likewise when I am talking with someone face to face it probably feels like I am really interacting with them, but I am not.

I am trapped 'behind' my brain and mind which tweeks and colors and interprets all inputs to and outputs from an ever changing 'self'.