Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

As 2010 rolls out the back door and 2011 comes in the front demanding our attention, i am starting the new year with these two thoughts:

Great love and great achievements involve great risks.
The Dalai Lama

Not all risks are worthy; there are times when not pushing your limits or the status quo are the correct things to do. But not often, in my opinion. As T.S. Eliot says, "Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go."

If you aren't willing to stretch your envelope, if you aren't willing to walk along the knife's edge, if you aren't willing to try and do more than you think possible, then you will never, Never, know where your limits are; you will never know how far you can go in this life. Especially, as HHDL says, when you are looking for great love or great achievements.

Which leads to the obvious question: When is the appropriate time to start looking for your limits and implementing this philosophy into your daily life?

Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.
Mother Teresa

A wonderfully happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year to all. May all achieve their dreams. May all find happiness every day, and find contentment when that is not possible. May peace somehow find a foothold in the world.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Baby It's Cold Outside

A teaching just as true and appropriate today as it was when Tozan was alive in the 9th century:

"In the old days in China there was a priest named Master Tozan. A monk asked him, 'How can we escape from this severe heat and cold?' This is not just a question about sever heat and cold. It is a question about the very reality we are always facing—a melancholy and difficult reality, a reality that is full of suffering. People are sick and in pain; people have lost their homes in disasters and wars and have nothing in which to believe any longer and are suffering in their despair. For those whose belongings have all been destroyed, their refuge in the material world has been shown to be empty and meaningless. This kind of pain is always occurring all around us.

"Master Tozan answered the monk, 'You have to go where there is no hot and no cold!'

"The monk continued, 'Where is that place where there is no hot or cold? Where is that true place of refuge for the mind?'

"The priest answered, 'When it is hot, become that heat completely! When it is cold, become one with that cold—completely and totally! When it is painful, become that pain completely and totally, and when you are miserable become that misery totally and completely! In the very midst of that, go beyond all thoughts you hold in your mind, let go of all ideas of good and bad or gain and loss—let go of all these thoughts—and from there grasp that place of your very own vivid life energy! That which directly experiences that "ouch"—feel that life energy directly, grasp the life energy that feels that pain and sorrow.'

More important than finding a way out of pain and suffering, or trying to find a place where there is no pain and suffering, is to go directly to that place where the pain and suffering are being experienced, to go to where you feel that pain and that sadness directly and totally. Touch that life energy directly and with your own experience. Use that actual direct experience which you have grasped as your base, and stand up strong and firm. This is how the master answered the monk."

The Path To Bodhidharma
Shodo Harada

Remember, though, that "go beyond all thoughts you hold in your mind, let go of all ideas of good and bad or gain and loss—let go of all these thoughts" does not mean you become a brainless, non-thinking zafu decoration. If you find worthless, counterfeit dollar bills in your wallet, knowing that using them will simply get you in trouble, you throw them away, you get rid of them. But you don't throw away all your money; much of it is valuable and needed to function in daily life. What you are being asked to do is become discriminating enough to separate the valuable from the worthless, that which causes trouble from that which is beneficial.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

In The Absence Of A Body

"Questioner: Why is it that we naturally seem to think of ourselves as separate individuals?

"Nisargadatta: Your thoughts about individuality are really not your own thoughts; they are all collective thoughts. You think that you are the one who has the thoughts; in fact thoughts arise in consciousness.

"As our spiritual knowledge grows, our identification with an individual body mind diminishes, and our consciousness expands into universal consciousness. The life force continues to act, but its thoughts and actions are no longer limited to an individual. They become the total manifestation. It is like the action of the wind — the wind doesn't blow for any particular individual, but for the total manifestation.

"Questioner: As an individual can we go back to the source?

"Nisargadatta: Not as an individual; the knowledge "I Am" must go back to its own source.

"Now, consciousness has identified with a form. Later, it understands that it is not that form and goes further. In a few cases it may reach the space, and very often, there it stops. In a very few cases, it reaches its real source, beyond all conditioning.

"It is difficult to give up that inclination of identifying the body as the self. I am not talking to an individual, I am talking to the consciousness. It is consciousness which must seek its source.

"Out of that no-being state comes the beingness. It comes as quietly as twilight, with just a feel of "I Am" and then suddenly the space is there. In that space, movement starts with the air, the fire, the water, and the earth. All these five elements are you only. Out of your consciousness all this has happened. There is no individual. There is only you, the total functioning is you, the consciousness is you.

"You are the consciousness, all the titles of the Gods are your names, but by clinging to the body you hand yourself over to time and death — you are imposing it on yourself.

"I am the total universe. When I am the total universe I am in need of nothing because I am everything. But I cramped myself into a small thing, a body; I made myself a fragment and became needful. I need so many things as a body.

"In the absence of a body, do you, and did you, exist? Are you. and were you, there or not? Attain that state which is and was prior to the body. Your true nature is open and free, buy you cover it up, you give it various designs."

Consciousness And The Absolute
Nisargadatta Maharaj

Monday, December 27, 2010


"Society by itself is non-existent. Society is what you and I, in our relationship, have created; it is the outward projection of all our own inward psychological states. So if you and I do not understand ourselves, merely transforming the outer, which is the projection of the inner, has no significance whatsoever; that is there can be no significant alteration or modification in society so long as I do not understand myself in relationship to you. Being confused in my relationship, I create a society which is the replica, the outward expression of what I am. This is an obvious fact, which we can discuss. We can discuss whether society, the outward expression, has produced me, or whether I have produced society.

Is it not, therefore, an obvious fact that what I am in my relationship to another creates society and that, without radically transforming myself, there can be no transformation of the essential function of society? When we look to a system for the transformation of society, we are merely evading the question, because a system cannot transform man; man always transforms the system, which history shows. Until I, in my relationship to you, understand myself I am the cause of chaos, misery, destruction, fear, brutality.

Understanding myself is not a matter of time; I can understand myself at this very moment. If I say, "I shall understand myself tomorrow", I am bringing in chaos and misery, my action is destructive. The moment I say that I "shall" understand, I bring in the time element and so am already caught up in the wave of confusion and destruction. Understanding is now, not tomorrow. Tomorrow is for the lazy mind, the sluggish mind, the mind that is not interested. When you are interested in something, you do it instantaneously, there is immediate understanding, immediate transformation. If you do not change now, you will never change, because the change that takes place tomorrow is merely a modification, it is not transformation. Transformation can only take place immediately; the revolution is now, not tomorrow.

When that happens, you are completely without a problem, for then the self is not worried about itself; then you are beyond the wave of destruction."

The First And Last Freedom
Jiddu Krishnamurti

Sunday, December 26, 2010

I Was Robbed!

Or was it a gift?

Tonight i watched the best movie i've seen in a couple of years, but i'm not sure why i say that. Yes, in part it was because it was a Chinese movie. Yes, in part because the lead actress was Shu Qi. But more than that, because it was really different.

The movie is titled, in English, "Three Times," and is made up of three short stories, the first taking place in 1966 China, the second in 1911 China, and the last in 2005 Taiwan. Each short follows the relationship between one couple, played by Shu Qi and Chang Chen in all three.

What made it compelling for me was that the dialog was kept to something less than minimal, less than the least you would have thought they could get by with. It is an entirely visual movie and it is pulled off wonderfully. In fact, the entire middle section is shot as a silent film with no audible dialog at all, just subtitles.

I watched the first two shorts on Google Video with English subtitles, only to find out that i had been robbed and the third short wasn't included! I found the movie on the Chinese video site and was able to watch the third, and last, short there, but it didn't have subtitles and i just had to imagine the content of the little dialog that was included — which i always enjoy doing as it adds a whole new dimension to any movie. So, was i robbed? Or was it a gift? Hmmmm...

Wonderful movie and i highly recommend it. Now, if i could only figure out what the third short was about. ?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Hate Leads The Republican House

And John Boehner is going to be the next Speaker of The House????

A very interesting article on the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) web site: SPLC Responds to Attack by FRC, Conservative Republicans

At least some Christian leaders understand the concept of hate. Two paragraphs near the end of the article read:

Warren Throckmorton, a respected professor and past president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association, put it like this the day after my debate with Perkins: “For the most part, the reaction of defenders of the newly labeled hate groups is to avoid addressing the issues the SPLC raised, instead preferring to attack the credibility of the SPLC. Reviewing the charges leveled against the Christian groups, I think their responses are mostly unfortunate and unhelpful. The SPLC has identified some issues which are legitimate and have damaged the credibility of the groups on the list. Going forward, I hope Christians don’t rally around these groups but rather call them to accountability.” After reviewing the SPLC’s list of “10 Myths” about gays and lesbians, he wrote that “much of what is said by Christians about homosexuality is provably false and rooted in ignorance and fear.”

Another Christian website, Canyonwalker Connections, wrote: “Lies are evil. Lies breed fear. … If we repeat the myth enough, maybe it will gain muddy traction and stick. This is what FRC and other Hate Groups do so well. They demonize the gay community. … If the church cannot police our own, perhaps God is using secular organizations to slap His children upside the head? Would not be the first time. I will stand with, beside and in front of my GLBT fellow humans to ensure that they gain equality with me. Family Research Council, you should be more concerned about where you are on God’s list of naughty or nice, sheep or goats. And Southern Poverty Law Center, I applaud you, thank you, really … thank you.”

Hate is wrong. Period. Support the SPLC.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


"Happiness is a causeless, objectless, unspecified sense of well-being. Though not an emotion, it uplifts the emotions. But are not feelings temporary? Feelings are fleeting, but the 'feeling' of true or real Happiness is not. 'True' means it lasts forever. 'Real' means unchanging, undying. Happiness is the sense that nothing is missing or lacking on any level, inwardly or outwardly; that, no matter what, one is perfectly equipped to deal with whatever life has to offer. Happiness is the feeling of endless possibility, invincibility, and unqualified freedom seen in children before they've been compromised by conditioning. Happiness is wholeness, completeness, an unshakable conviction that nothing can be gained or lost. Even of someone or something very dear is taken away, one is undiminished. Happiness is the knowledge that one is more powerful than all the objects in the world and all the thoughts in one's own mind. It is the knowledge that no separation exists between oneself and the world, between oneself and others. Happiness is unconditional disinterested love for the sake of the beloved. It is fearlessness, fullness, inexhaustible inner abundance. And the absence of desire. Especially the absence of desire."

In Meditation: An Inquiry Into The Self
James Swartz

Monday, December 20, 2010

Hunting Invisible Game

I didn't know that Rumi was a game hunter, did you? Interesting.

Little by little, wean yourself.

This is the gist of what I have to say.

From an embryo, whose nourishment comes in the blood,

move to an infant drinking milk,
to a child on solid food,
to a searcher after wisdom,
to a hunter of more invisible game.

Think how it is to have a conversation with an embryo.
You might say, "The world outside is vast and intricate.
There are wheat fields and mountain passes, and orchards in bloom.

At night there are millions of galaxies,and in sunlight
the beauty of friends dancing at a wedding."

You ask the embryo why he, or she, stays cooped up
in the dark with eyes closed.

Listen to the answer.

There is no "other world."
I only know what I've experienced.
You must be hallucinating.

Translated by Coleman Barks
In A Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of Poetry

There are, really, only two requirements for those who accept this journey to truth: One, you have to ask a question, and two, you have to listen to an answer. The question, though, isn't the same for everyone — not all have matured to the same level.

Many get so proficient at tracking and snaring "wisdom," that they never learn there is more nutritious game out there to be found. This "wisdom" that they find so easy to snare not only fills their bellies, but the bellies of everyone they share it with, and they become local heroes of sorts. For the weakest of the seekers, being a hero is too prestigious to pass up and they spend the rest of their lives hunting nothing more than that small game, wisdom. No, for these people the search is over; frozen forever.

But for the strongest, those with healthy eyes, a healthy intuition, and an unquenchable need to catch that most elusive of game, wisdom will never be enough. No amount of fame or prestige can keep them from continuing, from attempting to track a higher game. And for this hunt extraordinary skill is needed because the prey is invisible. Invisible not because it is "out there" but unseen, not because it is "in here" but unseeable — no, it is invisible because it doesn't exist. It IS, most definitely, but it doesn't exist.

We can conjure up images of entire fields of daisies, entire mountain ranges of blossoming cherry blossom trees; we can conjure up images of billions and billions of unimaginably beautiful galaxies, or of friendship and love so sublime that just the thought of it would take your breath away. But conjure as you will, it is still impossible to imagine the world where the ultimate prey wanders freely.

Just because you can't see it, though, just because others tell you that you're searching in vain, doesn't mean it isn't there. Wean yourself off anything you have ever heard, ever been told, ever believed. Wean yourself off everything and search. Persevere. Ask questions. Again. Again. Again and again. And listen, quietly, patiently, sincerely, openly.

When you learn to sit silently, you will hear it's footsteps and catch a glimpse.

When you learn to track silently, without moving a step, you will be able to grab hold.

When you learn to hold silently and with an open hand, it is yours to lead home.

This is the prey the wise seekers track. And even if they never eat again, their bellies never go empty.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Struttin' Your Stuff

Lao, Lao, where are you???? I've got it!! Lao! Where are you???

Whoa, buddy, what's goin' on?

I've got this second section of the trail figured out. It just dawned on me.

What the heck are you talking about.

The movie!

What movie........?????

We could make a killing off this trail. Picture this....

OK, cue the music...

As the music starts the henro is looking at his map on the side of the road just outside one of the temples. Panic flashes in his eyes, his wrist flies up, and he looks at his watch. Back to the map. Back to his watch. Back to the map. Back to his watch. Down the road, back to his watch. Oh no..... is he going to make it to the next temple before they close? He crams the map into the pocket on the side of his pants and heads down the road at a quick pace. Determined. Ignoring everything around him. The pace feels good. Then.... panic sets in after about 2 minutes and he wildly picks up his pace, his mind in shambles; oblivious to all but the pace. Then, all of the sudden, at around 3 minutes, he sees a couple of old ladies walking towards him, and in an effort to look dignified he   jerks   to    a     slow,     leisurely     pace, punctuated with a few



in order to bow in return to the ladies' bows. He keeps walking, and after a minute it looks like he is clear again and no one is looking.... andheboltsagain, offToTheRaces. Chaos, speed, seeing nothing, confusion, but making good time. Then at about 6 minutes, man... can you believe it.... a couple more old ladies.... slow    back   down    to     a       crawl, almost a strut, he is an exalted henro afterall... strutting by the ladies, pull up short

and bow,

strut some more, pull up short

and bow,

strut some more,... the coast is clear, .... no one seems to be looking.... and they're off, amaddashforthenexttemple....... Lao, i'm telling you this is a great idea. This section of the trail is easy to figure out.

Dave. Are you using drugs again?


What the heck are you talking about? Do you even know what you're saying? When did you start living in fantasy land?

What, you don't like the idea?

Dave, what would you be without all your questions?

I haven't been asking questions......

That's not the point.

???..... Well, i thought it was a good idea.

Dave, i wanted to talk to you today about the discipline needed to get through this section of the trail, but i'm not sure you're in the appropriate frame of mind. Let's meet back here in the morning.

.... I thought the strutting was a good idea!.....

Yea, yea.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

I Wasn't Ready!

I wrote about Nick Vujicic last year, but i have to say it again, i absolutely LOVE this man and his message. (Or this one)

As the title of the video behind the above link says, look at yourself after watching it. Look very carefully. Intently. Thoughtfully. And see all that you have.

Refuse The Reward

Dave, my friend, where have you been? I haven't seen you in a couple of days.

Sorry, i've been busy around the house, and, to tell you the truth, mulling over what you've been telling me.

Well you're back, that's the good news. So, are you going to answer the question i asked you last time? You ignored it on Thursday.

What question? You didn't ask me anything.

Sure i did. Even had a question mark after it, and as far as i know everybody recognizes that as the sign of a question.


Hey, don't worry about it for now. Just think about it later. So where did we leave off? You've accepted the aspiration to develop bōdaishin, committed to using the henro trail to break off your love affair with yourself and to become a bodhisattva in order to help all sentient beings, and committed to walk the entire trail or die trying. Sound about right?

Sounds like what you've said, but i'm not sure it sounds like what i can do.

Ha, ha, ... don't worry, nobody is expecting perfection. If you were already perfect, you might not even need to walk the trail — although you probably still would, but for other reasons. Becoming a henro takes time and that's what walking the trail gives you. Time to think, time to experience, and time to simply Be, unbothered, with few hassles, and in a protective and supportive environment.

We spend countless hours of our lives making up unbelievably incredible stories of what life is, what life should be, what OUR life should be like, and on and on, and then getting angry when it doesn't turn out the way we said it should be, the way we planned it. We get furious at the audacity of life to ignore our stories, the stories that aren't just important to us, but essential,. We get furious at life's willingness to play out differently than we thought it should.

The purpose of walking the henro trail is to put ourselves in an environment that allows us to give up that relentless focus on ourselves. To put ourselves for an extended period of time in a state where we let go of our usual ego-centered way of thinking that cherishes ourselves above everyone and everything else.

As Kōshō Uchiyama implies in his book Opening The Hand of Thought, walking the henro trail is an opportunity for discovering the life that is connected to everybody and everything. It is an opportunity to see each and every encounter in each and every moment as what your life truly is.

To do that, you have to surrender to the trail, surrender to the henro's life, release the need to analyze everything, to categorize, and subdivide all of your experiences. You allow the trail to pull you along at its speed, with its priorities, with its daily schedule, in the direction it pulls you. You drop your goals and plans, allowing the trail to dictate your days instead of you trying to do it yourself.

As you do this, the trail will protect you. The trail will be marked and maintained. Strangers will offer assistance and advice. Lodging and food will be found. The temples will be visited. All without your need to be in control. The henro's practice is simply to surrender to the trail and accept its protection.

The aim of the first section of the trail, the Hosshin no Dōjō, was to begin this process of surrender. Letting go of your plans, your hopes, your goals. Letting go of your usual deep seated need to be in control. It was to begin the process of letting all your thoughts, your analyzing, your discriminating, ... let all of that go. The first several weeks was to slow you down, both mentally and physically, so that you would arrive at the Shugyō no Dōjō calm, quiet, and open.

As you being walking this second section, you should have given up any goals you had, given up anything you had hoped to gain by completing the walk. You know what your aspiration is, but beyond that you have no personal goals; you will simply walk, day after day, accepting the experience as it comes.

In the Shōbōgenzō Zuimonki, Dogen says this about this frame of mind:

Zen Master Daie said, “You must practice the Way with the attitude of a person owing a vast debt and being forced to return it despite being penniless. If you have this frame of mind, it is easy to attain the Way.”

In the Shinjinmei [1] , we read; “The supreme Way is not difficult, just refuse to have preferences.” Only when you cast aside the mind of discrimination will you be able to accept it immediately. To cast aside discriminating mind is to depart from ego.

Do not think that you learn the buddha-dharma for the sake of some reward for practicing the Buddha-Way. Just practice the buddha-dharma for the sake of the buddha-dharma. Even if you study a thousand sutras and ten thousand commentaries on them, or even if you have sat zazen until your cushion is worn out, it is impossible to attain the Way of the buddhas and patriarchs if this attitude is lacking. Just casting body and mind into the buddha-dharma and, (practicing) along with others without holding onto previous views, you will be in accordance with the Way immediately.

Don't assume you know anything. Don't assume you know nothing. Don't assume you are a good henro or a bad henro. Don't make any assumptions. Simply be open as you being this section. Another quote that's pertinent for this stage of the walk is from Suzuki Roshi's Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind:

The practice of Zen mind is beginner's mind. The innocence of the first inquiry—what am I?—is needed throughout Zen practice. The mind of the beginner is empty, free of the habits of the expert, ready to accept, to doubt, and open to all the possibilities. It is the kind of mind which can see things as they are, which step by step and in a flash can realize the original nature of everything.

This is going to be a tough section of the walk. Physically it's much easier than the first section, but mentally it will demand a lot of you. The key is to practice diligently with both your body and mind. To persevere no mater what, to keep the faith, the belief that the henro trail will show you what you need to see, when you need to see it, even if it's not obvious each and every day.

This is the Dōjō of Shugyō, the Dojo of Practice, of Discipline. Next time we'll talk about what that means.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Eeny Meeny Miny Mo

Hey Lao.


You got a minute?

Can i finish this paragraph?

Sure, go ahead.



OK. Thanks. What'cha need?

Can i ask you a personal question?


Doesn't it ever bother you being old and stupid?


Not even a little? Not ever?


Don't you want anything out of life?

Sure, i'd love to win a lottery or something for a set of season tickets to the CSO.

That's it? I mean something big.

I'd like to put up new gutters on the house next spring if i can come up with the money. That's big. And of course there's those two tea cups i want.

Come on, you know what i mean. Big. As in it could change your life.

How about that Asian woman we saw at the coffee shop a few weeks ago? She could change someone's life.

Lao, i'm trying to be serious here.

So am i, she was...


Ok, Ok, why don't you just tell me what you want me to say. And besides, not everyone thinks i'm stupid. Those kids i tutor a couple times a week think i'm pretty darn smart. Well, one or two of them do at least.

You mean those elementary school kids?

Yeah, that's why i can fool them so easily. :-) I even have one convinced i know the entire multiplication table through 9x9 by heart. Ha! I can't believe she fell for it.

Lao, you're hopeless sometimes. Forget it. Can i ask one last question about the Hosshin no Dōjō before we go into the next section of the henro trail?

Sure. Who would you be without all your questions?

??? Well... anyway, i don't understand how just walking can chip away at who i think i am?

For starters, as soon as you start the walk you will lose your identity as 'Dave." From the moment you step foot on the trail you will be looked at as Ohenro-san (Mr. Henro, Mr. Pilgrim). That's what everyone will address you as, that's what they'll refer to as when they talk about you, that's how they will view you and judge you. You will not be 'Dave' with all the identities, the stories, you have buried in you head, you will be a henro, walking the henro trail, and nothing more. The rest of your stories become irrelevant.

In addition, the physical difficulty of the walk will also chip away at your stories. There will be times when you are simply too tired to continue thinking as you normally do, when you are so tired that the stories drop away and all you can do is think about taking your next step. Times when the pain of blisters, sore shoulders, whatever, is so distracting that your entire focus is directed at only one thing — taking that next step, getting through the pain and keeping on going.

On the other side of that coin, there will be times when the scenery is so particularly beautiful that it absorbs you and you find yourself as nothing but a pair of moving boots experiencing experience, with no stories to be found.

Then there is the numbing effect of 'routine;' doing nothing other than walking, all day, every day, day after day. After a while this becomes your life, this completely takes over how you see yourself. Being isolated from what used to be your normal routines, the stories about yourself that came as part and parcel of those routines start to fade into the background. After a while, what's important to you each moment of the day has nothing to do with what used to be important; what's important is that simple routine of looking for your next meal, looking for your next night's lodging, looking for your next bath, and looking forward to another good night's sleep. That's it. That becomes your world, and in the narrowness of that world the old stories loose their interest, their focus, and their importance.

Before setting foot on the trail your life is one constant game of Eeny Meeny Miny Mo. You go through your days constantly choosing who you want to be: Eeny Meeny Miny Mo, now i'm going to be the happy Dave; Eeny Meeny Miny Mo, now i'm going to be the angry and unhappy Dave; Eeny Meeny Miny Mo, now i'm going to be the old man Dave, Eeny Meeny Miny Mo. now i'm going to be the athletic bike riding or running Dave, Eeny Meeny Miny Mo, now i'm going to be the volunteer Dave, Eeny Meeny Miny Mo, now i'm going to be the unemployed Dave, Eeny Meeny Miny Mo, now i'm going to be the spiritual Dave, Eeny Meeny Miny Mo, now i'm going to be the [whatever]. You live your life bouncing around from story to story, never getting past the final movie credits and letting the stories end, seeing who you really are.

But, once on the trail, as i said, the walk can let all that stop. The stories become harder to find as the one role of Henro predominates. That's still another story, don't misunderstand, but in this case it's a better story because it's one that brings you closer to who you really are. We'll talk about that as we move into the next dōjō.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


An interesting interview with Glenn Greenwald on the Democracy Now website about Wikileaks. Includes this great quote:

"Whatever you think of WikiLeaks, they have not been charged with a crime, let alone indicted or convicted. Yet look what has happened to them. They have been removed from Internet … their funds have been frozen … media figures and politicians have called for their assassination and to be labeled a terrorist organization. What is really going on here is a war over control of the Internet, and whether or not the Internet can actually serve its ultimate purpose—which is to allow citizens to band together and democratize the checks on the world’s most powerful factions."

Glenn Greenwald
Constitutional attorney and blogger at

It's interesting to me, that in all of the governmental protests, calls for assassinations, arrests, demands that they be put on lists of terrorist organizations.... no one is also calling for the same treatment for the major newspapers, TV stations, and radio stations around the world. If you believe that Wikileaks is damaging the world (which i firmly do not), then the major media organizations, along with their owners, editors, and publishers, are at least as culpable — without them the vast majority of the people of the world would never have seen the Wikileaks information.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Going To A Striptease!

Dave, you're back.

Of course, i said i would be. But, you know.... i've been thinking about that 'committing to commit suicide if i don't succeed' thing. Are you serious about that?

Of course. Why do you think you wear white while walking the trail? White symbolizes death, it's your death clothing so, if you die while on the trail, naturally or by your own hand, all people have to do is bury you where they found you. As you start the walk, you are committing to finish the process or die trying.

In a way, though, you're lucky. The marathon monks of Mt. Hiei who walk 1000 days of pilgrimage over 7 years have to carry a knife and a rope with them each day. This takes the symbolism one step further; they are actually carrying the weapons in case they need them. Shikoku henro don't have to go this far. Fortunately or unfortunately.

OK, i get that; it's sort of creepy, but i get it. I was also wondering about the aspiration part you were talking about. If i aspire to become a bodhisattva, how do i do that?

'You' don't, the henro does; so as you walk, as the henro begins to appear, the aspiration begins to take hold. As you set out, the conditioned person that you are is still in the forefront, still predominant in everything you say, think, and do. What you see is still largely decided by what you expect to see. The types of people you meet is still largely determined by the types of people you expect to meet. The experiences you have are still mostly evaluated against how you expect to experience the trail.

It takes time to chip away at these stories and beliefs, conditioning has buried the real you under a great many thick layers and it's not easy to dig through those. But, as you follow the very simple daily routine of getting up, walking, and going to bed, day after day, week after week a change slowly takes place.

That sounds too simple.

Yes and no, it's both simple and difficult. It's simple in the sense that it takes no effort other than a willingness to try and the determination to persist. It's difficult because it goes against everything that you've ever been taught; it turns everything you've been taught about yourself and the world on it's head.

How's that?

The main task of the walk through the first section of the trail is to slowly work 'you' out of your system, to remove your stories about yourself from the definition of who you are. In your case, even after a few days the person taking each step on the henro trail is still 'Dave,' a white, older, educated, athletic, unemployed, male, American who likes to read, travel, run, and ride his bicycle, among dozens and dozens of other identities we could dredge up if we took the time, and some of which aren't all that pretty.

Those aren't stories, those are who i am. I didn't make them up, they're obvious.

No, they seem obvious, but they aren't really who you are. The task in the Hosshin no Dōjō is to see those identities as the fictitious stories that they are. To see them as layers of clothing that have been given to you ever since you were born and that you willingly agreed to put on, because they felt comfortable, because they helped you blend in with everyone else, because they helped you feel safe, because they fit the image you were already building for yourself, or any number of other reasons.

Once on the trail, though, you begin a slow striptease, taking off one layer at a time until you finally get down to the clothes you were born in. That's the hard part i talked about, willingly letting go of who you think you are, even letting go of what you think are your good points, letting go even of everything you think is valuable and worth holding on to. Stripping down to the bare essentials so that in the other three sections of the trail you can put on more appropriate clothing.

It sounds like you're asking me to become a zombie. I'm a person, i have an identity. Everyone has an identity.

True, but only to a point and i'll come back to that. But, as you progress along the henro trail you will come to see that there isn't a person walking the trail, there is just walking the trail, there is just an experience unfolding, continuously, and the walker is no more and no less than a part of that experience.

As you progress through the first section of the trail you'll get glimpses of that truth, but most of the time you'll still go to bed at night firmly entrenched in the person you were at Temple One, the person you like, the person you're comfortable with. After a few weeks, though, you'll begin to spend more and more time near the border between both worlds, between who you think you are and an experience. Once you can stay on that side of the line where the walker and the experience are one and the same, then, and only then, do you leave the hiking trail and enter the henro trail. And that's when you enter the Shūgyō no Dōjō.

But what....

No, enough for today. Go mull this over until tomorrow and then ask me your question.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Electronic Pickpocketing

Someone sent me a link to this amazing story. Amazing!

In short, some credit cards, debit cards, etc. have RFID chips built in to make them easier to use. But, crooks with RFID readers can steal your information without ever getting their hands on your cards.

Flea's Extremities Redux

Whoaaaa... Lao, slow down a bit, would 'ya.

What is it now, Dave?

I mean, listen, you're jumping all over the place here lately. One minute your talking about the size of a flea's... well, certain extremities, and comparing me to a fungus, and then your talking about openness unfolding. I'm just not sure i see any continuity anymore.

I haven't heard anybody else complain. Maybe it's just you?

Lao, i admit i'm no roket sciantest, and that i have a hard time reading those philosophical books like Curious George, but i can't be the only one.

OK, let's back up and run through part of it again.

Great! And slowly, OK?

So i ask you, what is a henro?

Someone who walks...


A person who goes to...


Jesus, Lao, give me a chance.

I did. Twice. And you blew it both times. A henro isn't a person, whether on Shikoku or not; whether walking or not. A person strives to become the henro, a person opens to being included in the henro, but that person alone is not the henro.


Suppose you bought an airplane ticket and flew to Shikoku tomorrow. Went to Temple One, bought all your fancy henro clothes and gear, and then walked up to the sanmon. Who is the person standing in front of that gate?

Me, as a henro.

No. You, yes. Henro, no. It's definitely you, with a thousand thoughts running through your head each minute as you try and anticipate the entire "henro experience" even before setting one foot on the trail. You're sole focus is one thing: you. How you got there, what you hope to do and see, wondering if you made the right choice in coming, wondering if you'll be a better person for having done so, wondering if you brought that snack for later, and where you're going to find lunch, wondering this, wondering that, wondering a million things — all related to you and you alone. That's not a henro.

But all that stuff you just mentioned is part of the henro's daily life. Isn't it?

Some of it, but not most. So you're standing there getting ready to start your walk. How many sections is the trail divided into? Do you remember?


And they are...?


No. That's the name of the prefectures. What are the names of the four sections of the henro trail?

Ah. Hosshin no Dōjō, Shūgyō no Dōjō, Bōdai no Dōjō, and Nehan no Dōjō.

Right. So as you start on day one you're starting in Hosshin no Dōjō. The dōjō of Hosshin, the Training Place of Hosshin. What does that mean to you? Hosshin?

Awakening Faith. The Dōjō of Awakening Faith.

That's really not a great translation and i've been meaning to tell you to change it on your website. Someday you need to do that. But, anyway, Hosshin is the Aspiration to develop Bōdaishin, or, an Awakened Mind, a Bodhisattva's Mind. It is the aspiration to become a bodhisattva. That's what you're committing to as you take your first steps in the first section of the henro trail.

I committed to that???

Yep, and according to the oldest traditions, you committed to committing suicide if you don't complete the journey.

No way!

You started this, don't blame me. So what does it take to make that kind of commitment, extremities the size of a flee or the size of a superman?

They have to be enormous!

That's right. So if you want to become a henro you can't simply walk the trail, you have to accept the enormous obligation of aspiring to open yourself 100% to bōdaishin. Aspiring to work towards complete enlightenment, to do whatever it takes, WHATEVER it takes, to become enlightened. Not for your sake, that's irrelevant, but for the sake of all sentient beings. Every last one of them.

Lao, that's a pretty big obligation.

Dōgen describes it this way in his Shōbōgenzō Zuimonki:

You should consider things only for the sake of the flourishing of the dharma and the benefit of living beings, all the time and in whatever situation. Speak after making careful consideration; act after giving attentive thought; do not act rashly. Ponder over what is reasonable in whatever situation you encounter. Our life changes moment by moment, it flows by swiftly day by day. Everything is impermanent and changing rapidly. This is the reality before our eyes. You do not need to wait for the teaching of masters or sutras to see it. In every moment, do not expect tomorrow will come. Think only of this day and this moment. Since the future is very much uncertain, and you cannot foresee what will happen, you should resolve to follow the Buddha-Way, if only for today, while you are alive. To follow the Buddha-Way is to give up your bodily life and act so as to enable the dharma to flourish and, to bring benefit to living beings.

So let's stop here for now, Dave. Think about that and we'll start again tomorrow. OK?


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Unfolding Openness

What does it mean to be a henro? What does it mean to walk the henro trail? Forget any definition that includes someone who walks the trail simply because it's a beautiful walk in rural Japan. Forget the trail that priests foolishly promote as they push for recognition as a World Heritage Site. Forget the maps and guidebooks. And when you forget all of that, what's left? What does it mean to be a henro?

Victor Turner wrote about 'liminality' when he wrote about pilgrimages and pilgrims. When you set out on the trail you temporarily set aside the 'you' that you were before becoming a henro, you set aside any 'you' altogether, crossing over a threshold into new, uncharted territory where the line between you and the experience disappears altogether.

As the trail is walked an experience unfolds. Consequently, you unfold — not 'you,' but the henro. And in that unfolding, the henro is transformed. Or, is it more appropriate to say that in that unfolding, the henro is defined. Or, is it even more appropriate to say that the 'henro' is that unfolding, unfolding? Maybe that's what i'm trying to get at.

Unless there is some understanding that it is the openness to experience that is the henro, that a 'henro' is this openness itself, unfolding as the experience progresses, then i'm not sure you understand what it means to be a henro on Shikoku's trails.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bigger Than A Flea's Balls

Well, i've never thought about it in those terms before.....

Compared to an electron, for example, a flea's balls are enormous, but comparing them to a whale, the whale is obviously much larger. Compared with the earth, a whale is very small, and compared with the galaxy, the earth is infinitesimal. If you think the Milky Way is big, it is nothing compared with the space in the universe. Is the universe then, the biggest thing? Hardly, since the scale of the universe as the largest entity is nothing more than a concept in our minds, and what are we human beings but a kind of fungus that lives on the surface of the earth. So, what is big, what is small?

Kōshō Uchiyama
How To Cook Your Life: From The Zen Kitchen To Enlightenment

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Material Dreams

My sister and i have been talking a lot about Apple's iPad lately as we both would really love to get one. She may end up making the purchase but all i'm allowed to do is dream because the iPad is completely outside my budget.

But, that got me to thinking: if i were to win a LOT of money in a lottery and could buy anything i wanted what would i buy first? The iPad? A better laptop? A new car? A new house? A trip to Shikoku?

As bizarre as it seems (even to me when i realized i was serious), what i decided was none of those. Instead, the first things i would buy would be two Japanese tea cups made specifically for the tea ceremony, although i would use them on a daily basis for my regular sencha, gyokuro, and hōjicha. Both are sold online at Hibiki-an.

The first is black and 100x incredibly beautiful, with a price of about $900.

The second bowl is red, and still very, very beautiful, but i'd have to take off the 'incredibly' adjective, and i guess that's why it only sells for about $850.

Both bowls would, i think, completely transform the experience of drinking a cup of tea. But, that's what the tea ceremony is all about. You no longer have just the taste of the tea to enjoy, you have the sight of the bowl and the texture of the bowl in the palm of your hands to enjoy as well. And, because the beauty of the bowl would focus your attention more completely, the smell of the tea and the sight of the steam curling out of the top of the cup would also be more pronounced. And even more, because the whole experience is now so much more captivating, those extraneous thoughts that constantly run around in your head would die down for the short while you are enjoying that cup of tea, leading to a sanity inducing short break in your day.

Ahhhhh...., a morning of beautiful dreams. :-)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Have You Ever Seen.....

Was sitting here this morning thinking about my hopes/plans to finish the TransAm bike ride next summer and that brought Mary Oliver to mind. I don't know why, but her poetry was always on my mind as i prepared to go to Shikoku each spring to walk another section of the henro trail. Mary has a way of looking at the world, and life, that seems to resonate very strongly with the way i see the same things.

It seems that a good many people see 'awakening,' or 'enlightenment,' or 'liberation,' or 'the good life,' or 'happiness,' or whatever level of the search you are aiming towards, as a port where you will finally arrive; a strong and safe dock you will pull into once you successfully manage the storms and choppy waters. But it's not like that and i don't understand why that's not more obvious. The true life, the value we get from it, is found on the trip down the river or over the sea. The value is in the experiences we have, the people we meet, the food we taste, the music we listen to, the love we find, the challenges we encounter and overcome, the peace we find amidst the chaos, as we travel down the river.

We've all heard that old adage that says you can't get to any destination unless you are willing to leave the safety of the port you currently hide in. I think that's true, but only to a point. This plays right to the fallacy of comparing a successful life, and your ultimate destination, to simply 'another' port; the port you have labeled as your destination. If you believe that, you've still missed the point. What you're really searching for, the 'success,' is found between the two ports. Mary Oliver gets that.

So along those lines, i am stealing and reposting the below from the online journal on Dave's Shikoku Henro web site. He wrote it as he was getting ready to leave for Shikoku in 2008 to walk the Kagawa Prefecture section of the henro trail.

You'll notice that what Mary finds so marvelous isn't anything static; another beautiful sunrise, another glorious day, or simply the beautiful sun warming our lives. What she sees as so wonderful is the continued movement, the continued change, the ever ongoing process of renewal and how that ongoing renewal brings us life.

As i reread the poem today, two and a half years later, i wonder. Mary asks,

Have you ever seen
in your life
more wonderful

and then goes on to talk about the natural, unaffected beauty of the sun setting and rising. But what do other people think about as they hear those words? What do others consider so amazingly wonderful that they find themselves asking, "have you ever seen...?"

-----From Dave's 2008 Journal-----

The Sun

Have you ever seen
in your life
more wonderful

than the way the sun,
every evening,
relaxed and easy,
floats toward the horizon

and into the clouds or the hills,
or the rumpled sea,
and is gone—
and how it slides again

out of the blackness,
every morning,
on the other side of the world,
like a red flower

streaming upward on its heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance—
and have you ever felt for anything

such wild love—
do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure

that fills you,
as the sun
reaches out,
as it warms you

as you stand there,
or have you too
turned from this world—

or have you too
gone crazy
for power,
for things?

Mary Oliver
New and Selected Poems; Volume One

I think you can really, truly, only understand this poem (i mean, really grok it, to use the slang) if you slow down, and accept life on its terms, and stop trying to make it bend to your desires. If you are on the trail and your priority is simply to crank out 40+ km (25+ mi) each day so you can finish in 40 days, then you will miss it. I'd say 'then you won't see it,' but there is nothing to see — just something to experience.

"Have you ever seen anything in your life more wonderful than the way the sun, every evening, relaxed and easy, floats toward the horizon..." There are no thoughts of "I hope i'm setting on time." "Now how many seconds, exactly, am i supposed to set earlier than yesterday?" "God, i hope i'm pretty enough for those that are watching." "I am so tired of this shit. Same thing day after day after day. Why bother anymore. I just don't know how to deal with this anymore. It's driving me nuts." "Why do i have to do the rising and setting every day? Let someone else do it for awhile."

Mary could just as easily have asked 'Have you ever seen anything in your life more wonderful than the way the lilies open when the sun rises above the horizon in the morning?' Or, 'Have you ever seen anything in your life more wonderful than the way you slowly come to life each time you wake up?' Or, 'Have you ever seen anything in your life more wonderful than the way a child's eyes light up and a smile spreads from ear to ear when you say I Love You?'

Life is only complicated when we let our thoughts get in the way. When we let this delusional mind we call our friend make all the decisions. Walking the henro trail can very much be like the sun in Mary's poem. When the alarm goes off you get up. After breakfast you hit the trail. You walk until evening. You take a bath. You eat dinner. You go to bed. Then you get up and do it again. Why? Because that's what henro do. That's their purpose.

But that's not the whole story. The power comes from what the henro does while he/she is up. In between the rising and setting. It's in doing your utmost to warm each and every person's heart that you see. It's in acknowledging everyone, with no discrimination, in acknowledging every situation, with no preferences. It's in illuminating the dark spots in your life and seeing all of life from a larger, above everything, viewpoint instead of from the narrow and corrupt viewpoint of only what's in your head. When a henro walks the trail with this attitude, life is different. As i quoted Dōgen above, 'Essentially, our ceaseless practice fills heaven and earth and influences everything with its virtue. Although we may be unaware of it, it still occurs.' Ceaseless practice doesn't simply mean the rituals that a henro follows at the temples. Ceaseless practice doesn't simply mean that plus walking. It means the ceaseless breaths, the countless footsteps, eating when you're hungry, peeing when your bladder is full, bowing when bowed to, accepting when settai is offered, and on and on. Ceaseless practice is about being alive, about living, not about doing.

"Do you think there is anywhere, in any language, a word billowing enough for the pleasure that fills you, as the sun reaches out, as it warms you as you stand there, empty-handed..." Absolutely not! And Mary knows it. This was obviously a rhetorical question. There is no word in any language that can accurately describe reality; that can tell you all there is to experience in any situation. Words can billow, they can surge here and there, they can swell until they fill the skies, they can swoop and swirl — but they will always be insufficient. The only way to see reality is to stop, relax, and be. When you are reality, it's right there for the taking.

And that's how you approach walking the henro trail. You don't think about it. You don't analyze it. You don't fret, worry, or get anxious about it. You walk it, you accept it, you live it. You don't worry about how to describe it, you just do it.

"or have you too turned from this world — or have you too gone crazy for power, for things?"

I absolutely hate to finish such a beautiful poem with such harsh words, but Mary does it intentionally. This last sentence should shock you as much as if you had finally gotten that puppy you had wanted for years, gotten it home, and having it run out in the street and get run over by a truck. You should be stuck silent. Brought to tears. Lost. Is it true? Is it possible? Even after you know better, have you turned from this world and gone crazy for power? For things? Is that all life means to you any more? Power and things? I've got more than you, so there! I don't have anything and that's not fair! Gimme, gimme, gimme. Accumulate, accumulate, accumulate. Let it not be true. Please say life means more than that and this doesn't apply to you.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Lovin' The Ones You Hate

"The adversities that other people bring us are gifts, not betrayals. Disappointments try our patience and compassion. If our lives are completely sheltered and blessed, we have no friction to use as raw material in our practice. We will never conquer our ego if we are spared from every single upset and provocation.

"Atisha was known to travel with an attendant who was terribly bad-tempered. The man was irritable and very rude to everyone. People could not understand why a kind and wise teacher like Atisha permitted this nasty man to accompany him on his travels and they asked him how he put up with it. Atisha answered that the man was his 'patience tester' and very precious to him.

"Our efforts to generate compassion are always in connection with other people and our progress depends on these relationships. The people we live and work with and who share our lives are the sentient beings for whom we seek enlightenment. They are also the means of acquiring wisdom and patience on the way to enlightenment. Rather than feeling insulted or victimized by those who have been unkind to us, we bear the discomfort and feel thankful towards it."

Ringu Tulku Rinpoche
Mind Training

Monday, December 6, 2010

It Ain't What You Think

A year ago i was lamenting that finding an affordable copy of Daitō Publishing Company's Japanese-English Buddhist Dictionary (Nichi-Ei Bukkyō Jiten) was impossible. A few used copies were available, but they cost about $100 plus unimaginable shipping because they were coming from overseas. New copies cost the same. Imagine my surprise, then, when i logged into my Amazon account a few weeks ago and, lo and behold, there was one copy being offered by someone on the west coast for $30! I'm now the proud and happy owner of that copy — it came in today's mail. :-)


Continuing to follow more of Uchiyama Kōshō's thoughts, here is some of what i've been mulling over most of the day. I spent the entire day on just one chapter of his book How To Cook Your Life, his commentary on Dōgen's Tenzo Kyōkun. Note, the paragraphs below aren't in the order they appear in the book.

"All too often we while away our lives, creating general assumptions and ideologies out of the thoughts that arise in our minds, and, after having fabricated those ideas, we finally dissipate our life energy by living in the world we have abstracted from them. 'The dharma should be grasped so that mind and object become one,' means that we must see all of the worlds that our lives encompass from the foundation of our own personal life experience; our life experience is our mind. This means that all things in life function as parts of our bodies."

"When we look at a cup that is set down between two of us, we have the feeling that we are looking at the same cup, though actually, that is not so. You look at the cup with your vision, and from a certain angle. Moreover, you see it in the rays of light and shadows that come from your side of the room. This applies equally to me as well. In a very rough sense, we proceed to separate the reality of the situation by entertaining the idea that we both see the same cup. This is what I mean by the fabrication of ideas."

"To talk of our being alive implies at the same time that there is also a world of phenomena in which we live. We usually assume that the world existed long before we were born and that our birth is our entrance onto the stage of an already existing world. At the same time, we often assume that our death means our departure from this world, and that after our death this world continues to exist. Within this way of thinking a fabrication is taking shape which is not the actualization of reality itself. The actuality of the world that I live in and experience is not merely a conglomeration of ideas and abstractions."

"[W]e wind up thinking that we live and die within this world of fabrication. This is an utterly inverted way of looking at one's life. My true Self lives in reality, and the world I experience is one I alone can experience, and not one anyone else can experience along with me. To express this as precisely as possible, as I am born, I simultaneously give birth to the world I experience; I live out my life along with that world, and at my death the world I experience also dies.

"From the standpoint of reality, my own life experience (which in Buddhist terminology equals mind), and reality (which means the dharma or phenomena I encounter in life) can never be abstractly separated from each other. They must be identical."

"Shin, or mind, in terms of bodhidharma should be understood as: the mind that has been directly transmitted from buddha to buddha is that mind which extends throughout all phenomena, and all phenomena are inseparable from that mind. My personal life experience is at the same time the world of reality. Conversely, the world of reality constitutes my mind."

"[I]f we are not careful we are apt to smother the vitality of our lives through the fabrication of our ideas. The teachings of the Tenzo Kyōkun operate from teh foundation of the reality of life to thoroughly cut through the ideas and homespun philosophies we so often set up and attempt to carry out, and rather, seek to truly allow that reality to function in our lives."

Kōshō Uchiyama
How To Cook Your Life: From The Zen Kitchen to Enlightenment

My own life experience and reality can never be abstractly separated from each other. They must be identical.

My personal life experience is the world of reality; the world of reality constitutes my mind.

Mind extends throughout all phenomena, and all phenomena are inseparable from mind. (Isshin issaihō, Issaihō isshin).

I think i'm going to spend the next several days working on this chapter before moving on.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Are You Calling Me Pathetic?

Thoughts to throw away:

"'No gaining, no knowing' is the attitude of refraining from all fabrication. In other words, it means to be free from the ideas we make up in our head. I call this opening the hand of thought.

"When we think of something, we grasp it with our minds. If we open the hand of thought, it drops away. This is Dōgen Zenji's famous phrase shinjin datsuraki ('dropping off body and mind').


"[T]he more we practice opening the hand of thought, the clearer it becomes to us that 'self' is not the same as 'thought.' We come to see decisively that the true self is not something made up in our heads. True self is the self of everything, the self of the whole dharma world, the original self that is manifest when we let go of thought.


"To spend your life being blinded and dragged around by your own desires is a pathetic thing. However you live, what you do with your life depends on you. With that understanding, just sit silently for ten years, then for another ten, and after that, for ten more years.

Kōsho Uchiyama
Opening The Hand of Thought

Along with Dainin Katagiri's Each Moment Is the Universe: Zen and the Way of Being Time, maybe what i currently consider the two best explanations of what Zen is really all about.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Really, I Didn't Mean It

Most people, i think, worry all too much about what their actions are, ignoring to a great extent the thoughts and intentions that drive those actions. As David Loy explains however, Buddha made it very clear that intentions rule.


This points to the demythologized meaning of karma, including the revolutionary Buddhist emphasis on cetana, the primary role of one’s intentions and volitions. The Buddha transformed earlier approaches emphasizing sacrifice and other rituals into an ethical principle by focusing on our motivations. "It is cetana, monks, that I declare to be karma. Having willed, one performs an action by body, speech and mind."

What distinguishes our actions from mere behavior is that they are intended. Some such understanding of karma is implied by anatta, the denial that "I" have any unchanging, hard core of substance or svabhava, self-essence. My subjective sense of self is a construct, and the most important components of that construct are habitual tendencies (sankhara), which mold character and constitute "my" karma.

According to this interpretation, karma is not an inescapable law of the universe involving some precise calculus of cause and effect. The basic idea is simply that our actions have effects—more precisely, that our morally relevant actions have morally relevant effects that go beyond their utilitarian consequences. In the popular Buddhist understanding, the law of karma and rebirth is a way to get some control over what the world does to us, but I am suggesting that karma is better understood as a key to spiritual development: how one’s life-situation can be transformed by transforming the motivations of one’s actions right now.

Anatta means that my karma is not something I have, it is what "I" am, and what I am changes according to my conscious choices. "I" (re)construct myself by what "I" intentionally do, because "my" sense of self is a precipitate of habitual ways of thinking, feeling, and acting. Just as my body is composed of the food I eat, so my character is composed of my conscious choices, constructed by my repeated mental attitudes. This implies that we are "punished" not for our sins but by them; and happiness is not the reward for virtue but virtue itself, as Spinoza claims in the last proposition of his Ethics (V.42).

Karmically, the issue is not so much what we have done as what we have become, and what we intentionally do is what makes us what we are.

An anonymous verse sums this up quite well:

Sow a thought and reap a deed
Sow a deed and reap a habit
Sow a habit and reap a character
Sow a character and reap a destiny

David Loy
Awareness Bound And Unbound: Realizing The Nature Of Attention
(My underline)

I just can't think of anything that needs to be added. Karma isn't something you have, it's what you ARE. As you intend, so you will do. As you repeatedly do, so you become. What you become defines your life. Do good, you are good, your life is good. Do bad, you are bad, your life is bad.

Friday, December 3, 2010

You Don't Say

It's that time of year again.....


I dug out the David Loy article that i was talking about yesterday. It was called The Difference Between Samsara and Nirvaṇa and is well worth reading if the topic interests you. The section i was remembering as i wrote yesterday's post was:

The fundamental difficulty with craving is that it generates a sense of duality — "I" desire that "thing" which, more fundamentally, I already am. The problem of re-presentation is that it widens the gulf between the "I" and the "object." I re-present a particular "object" by calling it, say, an "urg." This enables me to refer to the "object" even when it does not immediately appear. But when the appearance is again introduced, the re-presentation "urg" does not disappear, as having no more function. It still re-presents the appearance. Now we know what the appearance is. It is "urg"; or it is a particular instance of a universal: "an urg." Now I experience the appearance "through" the re-presentation. The problem is that, the more successfully a system of representation functions, the more likely we are to confuse the representation with the appearance. So tathata, the "thusness" quality of things as they really are, is subjected to vitarka, conceptualizing, and to vikalpa, false imaginings, which filter and distort sense experience; we are urged to "cut through" this "fog of concepts" if we want to realize the true nature of the world. Mahayana emphasizes this problem of conceptualizing more than Theravada, which emphasizes craving generally. In fact this is the source of much of the quarrel between them: Mahayanists criticize Theravadins for reifying the Buddha's words into a doctrinal system, and the paradoxes of the Prajnaparamita sutras may be understood as an attempt to avoid that pitfall.

But there is a serious confusion in the above analysis. It is not the case that the presented world is divided up into grasped "objects" which we later re-present; rather, we divide up the world the way we do (that is, learn to notice what is present) with a system of representation. John Searle, a contemporary philosopher of language, explains this well:

... I am not saying the language creates reality. Far from it. Rather, I am saying that what counts as reality... is a matter of the categories that we impose on the world; and those categories are for the most part linguistic. And furthermore: when we experience the world we experience it through linguistic categories that help to shape the experiences themselves. The world doesn't come to us already sliced up into objects and experience: what counts as an object is already a function of our system of representation, and how we perceive the world in our experiences is influenced by that system of representation. The mistake is to suppose that the application of language to the world consists of attaching labels to objects that are, so to speak, self-identifying. On my view, the world divides the way we divide it, and our main way of dividing things up is in language. Our concept of reality is a matter of our linguistic categories.

Such an approach is reminiscent of Kant's distinction between things-in-themselves and phenomenal things-as-we-perceive-them — the same distinction we have made in order to distinguish samsara from nirvana. In place of Kant's twelve "Aristotelian" categories Searle offers language, "our system of representation." Searle and Kant both doubt that it is possible to experience "things-in-themselves," but the contemporary view seems to leave the door open in a way that Kant did not: Is it possible to get behind language? Is that not what occurs in meditation, when one "lets go" of all ideas and concepts?

"Our concept of reality is a matter of our linguistic categories." That's so true and, i think, one of the biggest problems we deal with today as a civilization. Every culture, every religion, every political party, every you-name-it has their own linguistic categories that define what "reality" is. These categories are so fixed in stone that they preclude almost any chance of compromise with others who believe differently, and because the categories are so tightly locked, their owner's minds are just as closed, for fear that they could find themselves in a position where they could be labeled as traitors to their cause.

In fact, i might go so far as to say that i think a great many people no longer think on the level of ideas. Instead they think solely down on the level of language, where the words alone define their reality. Every idea, at least every credible idea, allows that there will be, must be, compromises inside the idea in order for it to be held by groups of people. Words alone don't allow this possibility. If we hope to survive as a civilization we need to come back to the realization that ideas are of more value than simple words.

Words can not, do not, and never will define reality.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Existing Inside Words

I'm not smart enough to figure out computer problems, so in order to have my browsers talk to the 'net, i'm just going to leave the broken part of my antivirus software turned off and hope it fixes itself, just like it suddenly broke itself. Therefore....... on to more interesting topics.

This from a very interesting paper by B. Alan Wallace called Intersubjectivity in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism.

The fourteenth-century, Tibetan Madhyamaka philosopher Tsongkhapa asserts in this regard: ‘Although the objects of perception have forever utterly lacked a final self-nature or objective existence, nonetheless they indisputably appear with the nature of having real, inherent existence... These things function conventionally on the basis of the laws of interdependence and causality.’ ... According to this view, the objects of perception — colours, sounds, smells and so forth—do not exist in the objective world, independently of the sense modalities by which they are perceived. But, for example, do trees exist apart from our perception of them? The Madhyamaka answer is that trees and the many other objects in the natural world do indeed exist independently of our perceptions. Flowers continue to grow and bloom when no one is looking, and trees fall to the forest floor, sending out ripples in the atmosphere and over the ground, and then begin to decay,whether or not anyone is there to witness these events.

One may then ask: ‘Do flowers, trees and other natural phenomena exist independently of any conceptual designations of them?’ To this the answer is that the words ‘flowers’, ‘trees’ and so on have no meaning apart from their definitions which we have attributed to them. Thus, the question has no meaning. But we may then push this point and ask: ‘Does anything exist independently of human language and thought?’ This question implies that the word ‘exist’ is somehow self-defining, that it stands on its own, independent of any consensually accepted definition. But all terms such as subject, object, existence, reference, meaning, reason, knowledge, observation and experience have a multitude of different uses, and none has a single absolute meaning to which priority must be granted. Since these terms are not self-defining, we employ their definitions according to the conceptual schemes of our choice. That is, we choose our definitions; they are not determined by objective reality. So, once again, proponents of the Madhyamaka view conclude that the question is meaningless: if the word ‘exist’ has no meaning independently of all conceptual frameworks, then it makes no sense to ask whether anything exists independently of all conceptual frameworks.

Along these lines, every now and then i pick up a paper that focuses on the idea that our language defines what exists for us. I'll have to dig it out, but i seem to remember reading a very good paper by David Loy several years ago on this topic. (I think it was Loy.) The point being, until something exists in our language, until we have a word for it, it doesn't exist.

Which goes back to a story i've seen in two separate places now (but at the gut level question its veracity) about early meetings between Spanish explorers and the native inhabitants of what has come to be know as South America. Before the explorers first arrived, the native's had never seen nor even heard of a "ship." They had no concept of what that could be, it simply didn't exist in their mentality or their vocabulary. The explorers were met on the shore by the tribe's shaman and as they landed, he asked how they had gotten there. The explorers pointed out to the ships anchored further off the shore but the shaman couldn't see them. Because "ship" didn't exist as a concept for them it didn't exist materially either, and was, therefore, invisible. It was only after much effort that he was able to get the concept into his head, and with the new word "ship" offered by the explorers, slowly the ships came into view.

I know this is slightly off-topic as far as Wallace's comments are concerned but, between Wallace's quote and the other example, i find it fascinating how language so defines who we are. Few people, i think, take the time to stop and analyze how completely language affects every aspect of who we are. Not just what we think, but what we are, what we accept as relevant, what we accept as valid, what we accept as existent. Language truly does define who we are as a person, as a culture, as a civilization, and all the way up to what we are as homo sapiens.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Woke up Tuesday morning to find that neither Firefox nor IE will connect to the internet anymore. I didn't install anything that i can back out of, and both worked fine when i went to bed on Monday — AND every other application on the computer still connects with no problems; including Thunderbird, FileZilla, the Sony Reader app that connects to the Sony Reader Store, various program "update" functions, etcetera. It seems limited only to the browsers and http traffic. :-(

Computers, can't live without them, but can't help but hate them sometimes. So, until i figure out what to do, it looks like i'm back to books and only books for my entertainment. I suppose it could be worse, spending the day in my library is certainly no punishment, and coming to the public library every few days (i'm there now) gets me out of the house and gives me some exercise.

Edited later at night: Have finally narrowed it down to the Web Shield component of Avast! Free Antivirus. As long as that's not running all is well; turn in on and both browsers stop talking to the 'net. Still have no idea why it suddenly decided to start causing problems after working without a problem for over 5 months. I uninstalled & reinstalled Comodo Firewall and Avast! Free Antivirus, but the problem hasn't changed. Interesting.....

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Ugly Truth


In truth, Being is very simple; it's the only uncontrived, unplanned, unconditioned thing we do. And we do it without doing anything. We Are without Being anything. In Being we are all one and the same — both figuratively and literally. Being is the basis, the foundation, for our existence. It flows naturally, without preferences, without hopes, without regrets. As the sounds flowing from the oboe simply appear as long as the player provides the breath on which it rides, as long as breath flows through our lungs who we are appears and affects all those around us. Being is beauty in all its graces and all its purity. Being is everything. It is nothing. Yet it is all we "truly" are.


Part 2
Part 3

In fact, though, life isn't that simple. Life and Being are two separate animals. Life has its ups and downs, its peaks and valleys, its beautiful clear days and its dark stormy nights, peace and violence, harmony and dissonance, love and hate.

We all know this, every last one of us, yet not all seem to understand that it is our choice whether we live in the valleys or on the peaks, whether we focus on the ups or the downs, whether we we live for the clear days and see the dark ones as only temporary, or expect it to be overcast and are amazed when the sun comes out.

It's our choice whether we bring harmony to the dissonance of our lives. It's our choice whether we live on the surface or find the silence, the still point, around which that surface swirls. It's our choice whether we focus on the beauty that Being is or the chaos that Living can be.

Don't get me wrong, Living and Being are not two separate issues. They are, but they aren't. As Dōgen pointed out, spring and the beauty of the cherry blossoms are separate, yet without one you couldn't have the other. Does spring herald the coming blossoms or do the blossoms herald the fact that spring has come? Neither. And both. The beauty of the blossoms is spring and spring is the beauty of the blossoms.

Life implies Being. Being implies Life. Even though frightened out of our gourds as the roller coaster plunges down and around another curve we have the ability to hold our hands high in the air and shout in exhilaration — fully alive; not as the conditioned person you have become but as the Being that you are.

Treat life the same. Accept the twists and turns. Accepts the climbs and the plunges. Accept the thrill and the devastation. Search until you see the common denominator in that silent, still point found between your thoughts. There is always beauty to be found amongst the chaos.

Friday, November 26, 2010

String Up The Preacher

To completely steal, rip off, copy with no regard for rightful ownership, the words of my hero Musō Soseki:

The sounds of four strings whisper the Buddha's sermons.
       Don't say that the deepest truths come only from one's mouth.
Millisecond by millisecond, stroke by stroke, countless myriad sutras arise
       one after the other,
            while in fact not a single word is spoken.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Eight Words

Dale Carnegie, in his book How To Stop Worrying And Start Living, said:

A Few years ago, I was asked to answer this question on a radio programme: "What is the biggest lesson you have ever learned?"

That was easy: by far the most vital lesson I have ever learned is the importance of what we think. If I knew what you think, I would know what you are. Our thoughts make us what we are. Our mental attitude is the X factor that determines our fate. Emerson said: "A man is what he thinks about all day long." ... How could he possibly be anything else?

I now know with a conviction beyond all doubt that the biggest problem you and I have to deal with—in fact, almost the only problem we have to deal with—is choosing the right thoughts. If we can do that, we will be on the highroad to solving all our problems. The great philosopher who ruled the Roman Empire, Marcus Aurelius, summed it up in eight words—eight words that can determine your destiny: "Our life is what our thoughts make it."

Thoughts are not mere things
Things entertain, thoughts give life
I am so so screwed

Monday, November 22, 2010

Playing The Edge

This chapter, "Playing The Edge", has for a while been my favorite chapter of Erich Shiffmann's book about yoga, Moving Into Stillness. I admit that i waffle back and forth to other chapters every now and then, but this chapter is about so much more than just stretching our physical bodies that it's impossible to miss it's lessons for how we should live our lives.

To show you what i mean, it starts with these words:

A large part of the art and skill in yoga lies in sensing just how far to move into a stretch. If you don't go far enough, there is no challenge to the muscles, no intensity, no stretch, and little possibility for opening. Going too far, however, is an obvious violation of the body, increasing the possibility of both physical pain and injury. Somewhere between these two points is a degree of stretch that is in balance: intensity without pain, use without abuse, strenuousness without strain. You can experience this balance in every posture you do.

This place in the stretch is called your "edge."

We have edges in the way we think, in the way we interact with other people, in how far we willingly go to interact with strangers, people outside our normal circle of acquaintances, how much we are willing to speak in public, how often we are willing to try new foods, or listen to new music, or view new types of art, how much we are willing to open ourselves to others, how deeply we will let others into our hearts, or our minds. We have edges for how far we will push our bodies and with what physical exercises, edges on how long we will sit still in meditation, edges for how much we will push ourselves intellectually to learn new subjects, even if unnecessarily, to learn to play/sing music, even if no one will ever hear it.

We have edges around every single aspect of our lives. As Erich points out in this chapter, how successful we are at any endeavor depends in large part on how we play those edges. And the same applies to Life, with a capital "L." To fully live it we need to see, understand, and play with our edges. Slowly but steadily finding where the stretch begins, and working past it one breath at a time, allowing our lives to expand into what it can become.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Empty Tea Cups

This afternoon i watched the Japanese movie Tea Fight. While the movie was pretty bad, i enjoyed it because it was Japanese (no surprise there) and because it had to do with one of my favorite subjects: Ocha, green tea. And to prove that even the worst movies have at least one worthwhile point that you can take away, this one offered this near the end:

The soul of tea is Emptiness. The tea room is a place situated far away from the common world. The scoop and water are just like the flowing of a stream. The voice of stirring is just like the echo of an empty valley. The tea mat is just like boundless space.

For those that don't drink ocha, or those who only see it as warm drink, maybe those words seem like a bit of hyperbole, but i don't believe they are.

The soul of tea is Emptiness.
To say,

shiki fu i kū
kū fu i shiki
shiki soku ze kū
kū soku ze shiki

[form is not different from emptiness
emptiness is not different from form
form is exactly emptiness
emptiness is exactly form]

as does the Heart Sutra, doesn't mean that form is empty, that it doesn't exist, that the world as we see it is only in our heads. It's not that the world doesn't exist, it just exists differently than we have been led to believe it does. The soul of Tea, that which enlivens every cup, which is at the very heart of what it is, is this concept of emptiness. Understand that, and a cup of tea will never taste the same again.

The tea room is a place situated far away from the common world.
This has nothing to do with place, location, or anything physical, it is all about what's going on in your head while sitting in the tea room. Throughout the day we live in a world of thoughts, daydreams, fantasy, hope, fear, and desire. We live in a world that is anywhere but here and now.

With even a little training on your meditation cushion anyone can learn to spend more and more of their time in the here and now. But you still live in the common world, even though in a much more honest and awake state. The tea room demands more of you, it demands that you make the effort to go one step further, to take that final step into that "place" where even the borders of here and now dissolve — and that's where you'll find emptiness.

In this "place" you are free to Be, no more and no less. You are free to be absorbed into the sight of the steam rising above the tea, the sound of the simmering water, the smell of the tea and tatami, the taste of the tea on your tongue, the feel of the tea cup in the palm of your hand. You are free to share all of this with your co-conspirators in this adventure. To share, not because there are different people in the room experiencing it, but because you see that there is only experience, manifesting as the room, the tea, the people sharing, and every other aspect of the adventure.

No, the tea room is no common world.

The scoop and water are are just like the flowing of a stream.
Musō Soseki pointed to the same thing when he said,

The sounds of the stream splash out the Buddha's sermon.
     Don't say that the deepest meaning comes only from one's mouth.
Day and night eighty thousand poems arise one after the other,
       and in fact not a single word has ever been spoken.

Too often taken for granted as nothing more than tools used to get the tea from its container into its finished liquid form for someone to drink, the scoop and water also have messages for those willing to hear, for those with the patience to train their minds to be able to hear.

If the stream doesn't flow, it dies; it is only with movement, flowing, that it continues to live and its message continues to be spoken. The flowing is the lungs and larynx of the steam; without it nothing is said. Likewise the scoop and the water — without them the tea is simply dead leaves in a pretty container, unable to release their message. The scoop and the water releases the message, which the server then places in a cup.

The voice of stirring is just like the echo of an empty valley.
What do you hear when you listen to echos in an empty valley? Do you hear nothing? Or, do you hear the emptiness that is continually echoed back to you, the emptiness that made the first shout? As you sit on the tatami, listen to the stirring of the tea. What do you hear? Can you hear emptiness shouting at you: "Here. Here. I'm here. Open your eyes."

The tea mat is just like boundless space.
Boundless space has no limits, it is nothing, yet it contains everything. Just so the tea mat for a master who's sole focus is the preparation of an Empty tea cup, for No One to enjoy. Outside the boundaries of the tea mat nothing exists. The tea room is outlined by here and now, but by unrolling the tea mat you take that one extra step.

Make some tea and then find a quiet room and a comfortable cushion to sit on. If that's not possible, simply find somewhere out of the way to sit. It's not the external environment that needs to be quiet, it's that interior world. Once you get settled, then slowly, ever so slowly, let yourself expand through all five senses into that boundless space of a cup of tea. I think you'll then agree with me that none of this was hyperbole.

At The Edge

Standing at the edge
The view is magnificent
Gassho, bow, then sit

Saturday, November 13, 2010

It's A War Out There

Since i mentioned the Tibetan Lojong (Mind Training) teachings the other day, and because the weather was bad this morning, i spent most of the late morning and early afternoon today watching a Dalai Lama teaching on the subject online. After that i decided to pull Pema Chodron's book Start Where You Are, which contains her teachings on each of the 59 slogans, off the shelf to read through bits of her wisdom, and found myself dilly-dallying on this quote:

"...[O]n the path of the warrior, or bodhisattva, there is no interruption. The path includes all experience, both serene and chaotic. When things are going well, we feel good. We delight in the beauty of the snow falling outside the windows or the light reflecting off the floor. There's some sense of appreciation. But when the fire alarm rings and confusion erupts, we feel irritated and upset.

"It's all opportunity for practice. There is no interruption. We would like to believe that when things are still and calm, that's the real stuff, and when things are messy, confused, and chaotic, we've done something wrong, or more usually someone else has done something to ruin our beautiful meditation. As someone once said about a loud, bossy woman, 'What is that woman doing in my sacred world?'


"This is where the heart comes from in this practice, where the sense of gratitude and appreciation for our life comes from. We become part of a lineage of people who have cultivated their bravery throughout history, people who, against enormous odds, have stayed open to great difficulties and painful situations and transformed them into the path of awakening. We will fall flat on our faces again and again, we will continue to feel inadequate, and we can use these experiences to wake up, just as they did. The lojong teachings give us the means to connect with the power of our lineage, the lineage of gentle warriorship."

Which reminded me of something i was reading the other day in the "Patience" chapter of Stephen Batchelor's The Bodhisattva's Way of Life the other day:

Having found its fuel of mental unhappiness 
In the prevention of what I wish for 
And in the doing of what I do not want, 
Hatred increases and then destroys me. 
Therefore I should totally eradicate 
The fuel of this enemy; 
For this enemy has no other function 
Than that of causing me harm. 

Whatever befalls me 
I shall not disturb my mental joy; 
For having been made unhappy, I shall not accomplish what I wish 
And my virtues will decline. 
Why be unhappy about something 
If it can be remedied? 
And what is the use of being unhappy about something 
If it cannot be remedied? 


Even when the wise are suffering 
Their minds remain very lucid and undefiled; 
For when war is being waged against the disturbing conceptions 
Much harm is caused at the times of battle. 

The victorious warriors are those 
Who, having disregarded all suffering, 
Vanquish the foes of hatred and so forth; 
(Common warriors) slay only corpses. 

The enemy, the real enemy, is inside. The battles are vicious, the trenches are mud pits filled with lies made of sugar, and the war is long and hard, but it can be won. It can be won.