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....