Saturday, June 26, 2010

Green Tea

Was reading through the instructions that came with the Shincha green tea i received the other day, and in the English version i found one paragraph i particularly liked and one that was curious:

"This year's first harvest of new shoots, Shincha is the epitome of freshness and youth. Nurtured by a warm spring breeze, and cultivated in full sunlight, this limited-supply tea offers a youthful vitality and delicate fragrance unlike any other. As you sip on this year's Shincha, its scent will remind you of a light May breeze — so refreshing, so rejuvenating."

And for the confusing part:

"The Secret to Making Delicious Tea

"There are 3-key elements to brewing tea: tea leaves, water and time. The secret to making delicious Japanese green tea is using enough tea leaves, ensuring that the water is the right temperature, and pouring the tea soon after the leaves have unraveled inside the teapot. The essence of the tea's flavor is contained in the last few drops, so it is important not to leave any tea in the teapot."

For the life of me i can't figure out how the essence of a tea can be in the last few drops in the bottom of the teapot.??? But, i don't use one so that could be why i don't understand. I have an electric hot pot that keeps water hot all day so i can have tea anytime i want without boiling water first. (I drink a dozen+ cups a day) For Christmas i'm going to buy myself a kyūsu (teapot) with the Heart Sutra written on it so maybe by the first of 2011 i'll have figured it out.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Who Would Have Thought.....

Spent yesterday afternoon in the saddle with this very nice poem by Robert Hass:

The Image

The child brought blue clay from the creek
and the woman made two figures: a lady and a deer.
At that season deer came down from the mountain
and fed quietly in the redwood canyons.
The woman and the child regarded the figure of the lady,
the crude roundness, the grace, the coloring like shadow.
They were not sure where she came from,
except the child's fetching and the woman's hands
and the lead-blue clay of the creek
where the deer sometimes showed themselves at sundown.

Robert Hass

I love this poem on several levels and, for me, see three different messages.

We see "the world" as being "out there" and "us" and our thoughts as being "in here," and take it for granted that that's the way it is. Few people question that even though a great many teachers over the centuries have told us that this just isn't true. We see ourselves as isolated individuals, separate from, and unconnected with, everything and everyone else "out there."

In this poem, the woman and child (mother and daughter?) question the origin of one of the figurines, but they simply take for granted the existence of the mountains, the stream, and the deer. They don't stop to also wonder about the origin of the world that surrounds them. Could the origin of the figurine and the origin of the world as we experience it be related?

Just like the creation of the small, graceful clay lady, everything we do or say originates in a thought; one single thought. Everything that happens originates from a thought. Everything that has ever been done, built, performed, painted, written, etc. originated from a single thought. Did you ever stop and wonder why that particular thought occurred at that particular point in time to that particular person? Where did that thought come from? Are they nothing more than chemical reactions in the brain or is there more to it than that.

It's pretty obvious that what we choose to focus our thoughts on determines the life we lead, the experiences we have. It's pretty obvious we can control the over all tenor of our thoughts, but where do each of the individual thoughts come from? We can choose what genre of thoughts we want to focus on, the overall picture, but how is each pixel, each thought, in that picture chosen?

Taken to the next level, if we admit we don't know where our thoughts come from, that leads to the question: is there really such a thing as free will? Do we really chose what thoughts to have throughout the day and what we think about? Anyone who has ever meditated, or just sat quietly for any amount of time, knows that thoughts, on any and all subjects, come and go at times of their own choosing, whenever they want, whether summoned or not, whether wanted or not. Do we really have a choice in what we think about; in what thoughts come up when we think about a subject?

Maybe this is too much of a burden for one little poem, but that's what came up and i got home from my ride before i found all the answers. :-)

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Keeping in mind this footnote:

Right-mindedness is the term finally chosen to represent the Japanese gi, although it falls short of being an exact equivalent. Among alternatives considered, righteousness was rejected because, at one extreme at least, the Westerner self-satisfied in his own righteousness is apt to embark on the task of correcting others. Probity ("unimpeachable integrity") is closer and should be kept in mind. The emphasis lies in in the individual's first setting himself right, through self-reflection, training and discipline. This does not automatically, or even eventually, lead to proselytism, and many, in fact, are the stories in Zen and the martial arts of would-be students going to great lengths to receive the instruction of the master.

This comes from the letters from Takuan Soho, a 17th century Zen master, to one of Japan's greatest sword masters, Yagyu Munenori.

A certain person expressed his doubts, saying, "If even the acts of seeing and hearing are desire, if even the raising of a single thought is desire, how will we be able to attain right-mindedness? The concentration of a single thought is like a rock or tree. Being like a rock or tree, one is not likely to act with right-mindedness for his master's sake. If one does not actuate a strong sense of willpower, it will be difficult to accomplish."

I said; "This is a justifiable doubt. With no thoughts in the mind, one will run neither to the right nor the left, will climb neither up nor down, but will go only straight ahead. When a single thought just barely arises, one will run to the right or left, climb up or down, and finally arrive at the place of his desire. This is why it is called desire.

"The virtue of the unwaveringly correct is hidden. If this desire is not put into action, one is not likely to achieve either good or evil. Even if you have a mind to rescue a man who has fallen into an abyss, if you have no hands, you will not be able to do so. Again, if a man has a mind to push someone into an abyss, if he has no hands, he will not be able to do so. In this way, whether it be success or failure, as soon as there are hands that bring about success or failure, the nature of things is departed from.

"One borrows the strength of desire while either succeeding or failing, and when he considers the unwaveringly correct and straight mind to be his plumbline and acts according to it, success and failure are still matters of that strength.

"But if one does not stray from this plumbline, it is not called desire. It is called right-mindedness. Right-mindedness is none other than virtue.

"Consider the core of the mind to be a wagon, with willpower to be carried about in it. Push it to a place where there can be failure, and there will be failure. Push it to a place where there can be success, and there will be success. But whether there is success or failure, if one entrusts himself to the straightness of this wagon of the core of the mind, he will attain right-mindedness in either case. Serving oneself from desire and being like a rock or tree, nothing will ever be achieved. Not departing from desire, but realizing a desireless right-mindedness — this is the Way.

The Unfettered Mind
Writing Of The Zen Master To The Sword Master
Takuan Soho

As he said: "The emphasis lies in in the individual's first setting himself right, through self-reflection, training and discipline." "Not departing from desire, but realizing a desireless right-mindedness — this is the Way."

An Unfettered Mind: that doesn't mean being mindless, it simply means understanding that our normal mind, the untrained mind, the undisciplined mind, the mind before self-reflection, is fettered — but it doesn't have to be, and it shouldn't be, and you have to learn the difference, and you have to learn how to unfetter it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Fragments of Reality

I wonder sometimes
at your graciousness
And marvel often
at your willingess to give
Always astounded
each and evey moment
at your grandeur and love

When i asked this morning
you showed me the rising sun
When i questioned this aftenoon
you gave me the sweet smell of tea
And even before i opened my mouth
this evening you gave me
the bright full moon

91st Minute

Oh so close to tears
Door was closed but not yet locked
At last allowed in

Monday, June 21, 2010

Heaven: Delivered In A Box

Over the years since leaving Japan in '87, except for Shikoku my mental ties with Japan weaken a little more each year. I don't follow everything that's going on there, i don't look forward to their national festivals and celebrations, i don't follow their baseball, and i only follow sumo in a rather precursory manner any more. But, there are four things that i still follow just as much today, maybe even more, as i did all those 20+ years ago.

The first, and not surprising to anyone, is the start of the henro season on Shikoku each spring. As the temperatures start to climb the henro come out of their winter hibernation and start their annal swarm around the island. The swarm usually begins sometime in late March, with the full effect in April and May. By the end of May, the swarms have pretty much died out and then it's a trickle until winter, when you almost never see any henro. When i have the time and money, a rare thing to find in the right combination at the same time, i go over to Shikoku and celebrate.

The second is the annual blooming of the Sakura, the Cherry Blossom tree. This pretty much follows the beginning of the spring henro season and takes place during the month of April. In fact, the two seasons are so intertwined that i sometimes wonder if henro are the ones pollinating the trees each spring. Henro make their appearance in late March, by early April the trees begin to blossom, henro swarm the island with cameras in hand, posing for pictures under almost every imaginable tree, the blossoms fall by the end of April, and the henro start to disperse, with the last disappearing within a month. For this, i simply planted a Weeping Cherry Blossom tree in my front yard so i don't have to leave home to enjoy it.

The third is the annual Autumn Full Moon, usually celebrated during the full moon in late September. The Japanese (and the Chinese) believe that this moon is the fullest and the brightest of the year, and celebrate it accordingly. I don't particularly do anything during this festival because here in the US we don't have an Autumn Moon Festival. All i can do here is make sure i go out and notice, and admire, this particular moon each year.

The fourth is probably the easiest to celebrate but the one i almost always only celebrate vicariously by reading about it online each year. This is the harvesting and sale of Shincha (literaly, New Tea), the year's first harvest of green tea.

Just like the annual hoopla over the release of each year's new Beaujolais, the Japanese go wild over the release of each year's new tea harvest. Unlike Beaujolais, though, there's a good reason for it: it tastes like heaven in a cup. Released in June, the taste of new Sencha (the most commonly drunk green tea) and Hōjicha (one of the banchas and roasted before it is packaged) are out of this world. Newly harvested Matcha (used for tea ceremonies) and Gyokuro (like Sencha but harvested differently and a higher quality) are both best if stored for up to a half year before drinking.

What brings this up? I just received an unexpected package in the mail — a friend in Japan sent me some brand new, freshly harvested, freshly processed, freshly packaged, and delivered right to my door, Ippodo Tea Company Sencha and Hōjicha. Right now i am on cloud nine. Imagine that, shincha, right here at my house. Mine.

I have never been a practitioner of the official tea ceremony, but there is little better in the world than getting up early, making a cup of sencha, and then very slowly admiring its color and aroma as you watch the steam stream off the top of the cup while the sun rises. Then, just as slowly, savoring the taste sip-by-sip as you recognize that a new day is beginning. If you prefer your evenings because you have more free time you can repeat the process as the sun sets, but instead of sencha use hōjicha because it has very little caffeine in it.

A cup of green tea, a rising or setting sun, a quiet mind, plus ears and heart open enough to hear your breath and the wind and birds outside equals five to ten minutes of a completely lived life.

Shincha, delivered right to my door! Who would have thought today could be such a wonderful day.

OK, now downstairs to brew a cup of tea and to watch the birds moving into a new birdhouse i planted outside my dining room window on Saturday night.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

What Is That?

Neither of my parents are alive, but for those who's parents are still around, this short 5 minute film packs a wallop of a thought provoking message.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Eternal Present

George Leonard wrote a good many books, but for me the list will always be topped by Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment and The Way of Aikido. In The Way, George recounts the physical and mental path he walked from Aikido neophyte, through years and years of practice, to black belt, teacher, and (co)owner of his own dojo. I practiced Aikido for about a year and a half (until the teacher moved the dojo to another town) and loved every minute of it, every second. While skimming through the The Way after dinner last night i ran across this section and was reminded of why.

Beneath the remarkable efficacy of practice is the intrinsic joy it can bring. We tend to think of the word routine along with the word boring. Looking at it another way, however, we can see that it's the obsessive search for novelty that is the very essence of boredom. In the routine of a strong and beautiful practice, there is continual renewal and deep satisfaction.

A successful artist I know has told me of the great pleasure she finds simply in entering her studio at the same time in the morning five days a week, smelling the paint, taking her seat at the easel, arranging her brushes. "The routine is important to me. When I get started, there's a wonderful sense of well being. I like to feel myself plodding along. I specifically choose that word, plod. When it's going good, I feel 'this is the essential me.' It's the routine itself that feeds me. If I didn't do it, I'd be betraying the essential me."

It's been the same for me every one of the thousand times I've climbed the stairway to the dojo and opened the door. Standing there a moment, I bow respectfully and enter, caressed by the special ambience, the electric presence that permeates the space. No matter that I was feeling somewhat jangled from the day's hectic minutiae, I am immediately calmed and energized, my body tingling, my spirit replenished. I take off my shoes, check the desk and the bulletin board, go into the dressing room, change into my aikido garb. I love it all: the sameness, the reliability, the routine along with the new developments that each class brings. I love to greet the students as they come in. I love watching them as they take to the mat. I love the cool, firm pressure of the mat on the soles of my feet, the ritual bows, the warm-up exercises, and then my heart pounding, my breath rushing as the training increases in speed and power.

Sometimes, when I first glance up at the clock, I'm surprised that an hour has passed, happy to realize that during that magic interval I've lived neither in the future nor in the past, but rather at the mysterious point of repose that exists in an entirely different realm: the eternal present.

But it's not necessary to be an artist or a practitioner of an Asian martial art to realize the pleasures of long-term practice. Even something as commonplace as gardening can be a practice if done not primarily to impress the neighbors or win prizes for one's roses, but for the sheer love if it, as an essential expression of one's soul. There's a paradox here. The person who gardens primarily for the love of it, as a practice, is the one who is likely to impress the neighbors and win prizes for his or her roses.

The same thing is true in many aspects of life: exercising, doing your finances, working around the house. On a visit, Marshall McLuhan insisted on washing the dishes after dinner. "It's my meditation," he told us.

Perhaps more important, what we call our work can be recontextualized as a practice. The key question again is whether you are doing it primarily for its own sake or primarily for its extrinsic rewards. This isn't always possible, but in more cases than you might imagine, it's a choice you can make.

George is spot on with his comments about boredom. I still, surprisingly, remember very well the many hours i spent thinking about boredom way, way back when i was in the military serving on submarines. We spent months at a time out to sea, never coming to the surface, and never varying our daily routine. Day after day, week after week, month after month.

It wasn't long before i began to wonder why some people seemed bored and others didn't seem affected at all. And it dawned on me that boredom is nothing but your mind's response to your really wanting to be somewhere other than where you are. Eliminate all the thoughts and concerns about being somewhere else and the feelings of boredom completely disappear.

Those that weren't afflicted by boredom had learned to focus on the daily routine; they learned to live in that eternal present. Sleep when it's time, do your job when it's time, read, play cards, study, listen to music, or whatever you choose when it's time, etc. Find a routine, perfect it, and then stick to it like glue, like white on rice, like kernels on a cob, like stink on ..., well, you get the idea. Find it, learn it, and don't let it go.

But attempting to master a skill, any skill, is not just overcoming boredom and finding the beauty in continual, routine, practice . In Mastery, George lays out his five keys to mastering anything, whether it's aikido, running a marathon, or staying on a bike when a dog is chasing you:

  • Get Instruction
  • Practice
  • Surrender To Your Passion
  • Intentionality/Visualization
  • Pushing The Edge

In his list he re-emphasizes the idea that mastery requires practice, practice, and still more practice. Practice is not only essential, it is the heart of the matter. In order to be a master you need to get to the point where you practice your craft for no reason other than your love of the practice.

Yet, and this may seem contradictory, you also need to occasionally push the edge of your craft, stretch your envelope, find your breaking point, see just what your current capabilities are and where you limitations begin. It is this contradiction of stretching, then pulling back to perfect the new, then stretching again, and pulling back again, year after year that keeps you on that path to mastery.

It's interesting to think about how this process applies to meditation, but in any case, find your passion and have fun working towards it's mastery.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Mastery vs Conquest

In the January 1916 issue of Message of The East, Paramananda wrote this in and article he titled "Self-Conquest:"

Man seems like a double being. There is one man, — the eating, drinking, sleeping man, the man of physical limitations: this man has only a little power and little capacity. And there is another man dwelling within, who has greater capacity, greater power, who is all-wise, all-loving. It is this man whom we want to awaken. The surface being, who constantly identifies himself with physical conditions and makes himself believe that he has no power to conquer, to know, to overcome obstacles — that man must be dropped. Nor does this mean self-torture or self-annihilation, it means rising above limitations.

It is not that the physical man must be destroyed; not so; but the causes of those lower impulses in us, which lead us to hate or strike in anger or do any unworthy act, must be rooted out. This is not achieved by destroying our eyes, ears, or any organ by which we may perform evil deeds, We must go behind the sense organs to find the real cause of evil in us. The senses are merely instruments and when properly controlled, they become powerful aids towards our spiritual advancement.


Until man becomes master of his lower nature, he can never gain that lofty vision which sets him free; therefore he must rise step by step until he attains it. He must deal first with what is nearest and most definite, his physical body, He must see how far he can make this body obey him, — his hands, feet and all his senses. Let him next try to make his mind obedient to him. Let him subdue both body and mind and make them instruments in his hand to work out his freedom.

This is how we must begin in our conquest of the self.

Good thoughts, but i'll have to take the time to sit down and compare this with what he said in his 1923 article on Self-Mastery because i'm curious if, when he wrote them, he saw Self-Conquest and Self-Mastery as different words for the same thing or if he thought they were different. I certainly think they are different.

Conquest, in my opinion, implies defeat, subjugation, imposing one's will, using someone or something for your purposes, regardless of their concerns and desires. Conquest is a one time event. Mastery, on the other hand, implies long-term and persistent efforts to learn to work together, melding the best of multiple skills so that the whole is more efficient, more talented, than the pieces, identifying the best and the worst characteristics of someone or something, working to improve the best and working to eliminate or minimize the worst. Mastery is a never ending process.

Mastery implies the best of ideals. Conquest implies the worst. Mastery is an elusive goal that can never, truly be reached and the path to it is long and arduous, with unexpected branches, twists, and turns hidden everywhere. But, it is not an unwelcome task — no, it is chosen willfully and the hard work is welcomed eagerly, even looked forward to. Why? Mastery of anything, including the self, is not the goal, it's the journey towards that goal that is so intoxicating and the further along that path you get the more drunk you become. In other words, it's an addiction, albeit a valuable and worthwhile addiction, and those that get hooked find that the journey enriches almost every aspect of their lives.

But the key is, you always have to keep in mind that mastery is not a conquest. Bruce Lee, in his Tao of Jeet Kune Do pointed this out when he said:

How can there be methods and systems to arrive at something that is living? To that which is static, fixed, dead there can be a way, a definite path, but not to that which is living. Do not reduce reality to a static thing and then invent methods to reach it.

OK, time to go nuke some left-over stir fry then head out to my favorite lunch spot for a little time in the saddle.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Had to call a plumber today to fix a broken pipe in the basement. $265 later he was gone and i changed clothes, shuffled my iPod to the KPops section, and headed out on my bike to forget about the money spent. I always find it amusing (and amazing) that when i'm out on the road, running or riding, i can completely turn off the world and become nothing but moving feet as soon as i turn my KPops on. Can't do that with JPops or USA Pops. Can't even do it with Classical, my standard (non-running) fare. I sometimes suspect that with enough songs and enough volume i could undergo surgery with just the music. Don't want to try to prove it, though.

Good news. I could, for the first time, actually use my right thumb to click the shifter on my bike. Until now it just wasn't possible but today there was no pain. I'd still have to say that each time i did it my thumb was "uncomfortable," but that's not pain. It seems to be on the mend.

This reminds me of when i was in the ER after the bike wreck. I don't think i've written about this, but... On numerous occasions while i was lying there a nurse would come in and ask me to rate my pain on a scale of 1 to 10 while she was updating something on a blackboard i couldn't see.

Each time we did this we went through the same routine, and i wasn't trying to be cute, brave, or anything else. I would always reply that i wasn't in any pain. I'd tell her to rate it at zero. She'd question that, and i'd say "OK, my right thumb is throbbing so you can say that's a two, but the rest of me is a zero."

I don't know if anyone can understand this unless you do any endurance sports. Over the years of training for marathons what i call pain has changed considerably. Where long ago i would have winced at the slightest pain, now i have learned, or just come to accept, that i can simply turn off those thoughts and forget about it.

As just one of countless examples, i remember running the Napa, California marathon in the pouring, almost freezing, rain years ago. I had a blister on my right foot before i had gone 5 miles, but knew there was nothing i could do about it then and there. Unlike Chicago, the Napa marathon is run out in the middle of nowhere. What to do? Tell your foot to shut up, that you don't want to hear it bitching about a little blister, then ignore it and keep running. Tune it out and turn into a pair of moving feet. Simple as that.

It wasn't until the morning after my night in ER following the bike wreck that i understood why they were asking me about pain all the time. Until that morning i had never seen my face so had no idea how much damage had been done. Since i hadn't seen anything, i did what i always do while i laid there: told my body to shut up. It's not that i felt pain and chose to ignore it, i really didn't feel any pain. In hindsight, after seeing myself in a mirror, i can see why the nurses didn't want to believe that.


Along these lines, and continuing with previous posts, while the plumber was here i downloaded a copy of the 1923 volume of Message Of The East, a monthly magazine started in the early 1900s by Swami Paramananda when he came to the US to teach Vedanta. Over the years, he included one lesson on Vedanta in each month's issue. It's good reading.

The January issue is subtitled Mastery of the Self and includes these paragraphs in his message:

Spirituality is not a question of calculation. We either have it or we do not have it. It is not a question of doctrines or words or theories. It is something we evolve within us and after we have evolved it others benefit by it. Our life becomes transformed. We are the same and yet we are not the same. We have the same hands and feet, but they are put to better use; we have the same mind and heart but they are filled with greater ideas and ideals. The only way we can rise, the only way we can lift our fellow-beings, is to find a higher level of consciousness. If we have a higher standard of life, if we possess self-control, if we are masters of ourselves, we cannot help but benefit those living around us. They may become impatient with us, intolerant that we are different from them, but if we try to walk in their ways we do not benefit them. If, however, we hold fast to our own ideals, they will turn to us in moments of distress. In time of storm, anger, impatience or great grief, one who is not molested by these things becomes like a rock, others cling to him and find their consolation.


Even from the stand-point of self-preservation or personal happiness, we should cultivate mastery of self, because therein lies the secret, the strength, the fulfillment. If we do not have all that we desire, let us make the best use of what we have. The greatest artists are those who depend less and less on outer conditions. They have creative genius within themselves and with little material produce the best. It is not the material which makes the artist, it is the artist himself who shapes the material. If we bear this in mind we shall cease to complain, to find fault either with ourselves or our outer conditions. Whatever comes our way, let us use it. The efforts we are making now will bring us the highest; all they need is direction and fortification. That is what self-mastery means. Self mastery gives us such wisdom that we may always, under all circumstances, depend upon our own inward strength.

Therein lies the secret — cultivate mastery of the self. We can, then, under all circumstances, depend on our own inner strength. Good words to think about as you're drifting off to sleep.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Climbing Molehills

I suppose i've been thinking a lot about goals and purpose lately because my original plans for this early part of the summer have been thrown to the dogs, so to speak. When i think along these lines, i frequently run back to George Sheehan's books, especially his great Running & Being.

But, in Running To Win, George talks about why most fitness programs fail and the need for goals, a purpose to train. As an example, he mentions one fitness program that is wildly successful simply because it is set up, designed, and run solely for the purpose of preparing the students to climb Mt. Hood. He says:

Each of us must have a mountain, even if some might look on it as little more than a hill. We need a meaningful goal, a reason for engaging in this enterprise of being fit. Otherwise, it's simply not worth the amount of time and effort we put into it.

I can't state too often that I am not merely a cholesterol level, or a percentage of body fat, or a treadmill test. Nor am I a profile of mood states or the condition of my arteries. I am, of course, all those states. What I mean is, I am all those and more. I am a living human being, seeking experience and attempting to make sense out of my life.

Our life must contain mountains or marathons or their equivalents, else we will not be sure we have reached our potential. The person who descends from a mountain is not the same person who began the ascent. Nor is the person who finishes a marathon the same person who started the race. A fitness program without a challenge is like being in the army during peacetime.

I'm not saying that anything less than a mountain or a marathon makes a fitness program routine and mundane. Not at all. But some new, out-of-the-ordinary, relatively difficult task must lie ahead of us and provide inspiration, something of sufficient difficulty to revise our self-image and increase our self-esteem.

...Most fitness programs have purpose, but no meaning. On the other hand, climbing a mountain has tremendous meaning, but no purpose. Still, that goal dancing in our head can convert the most boring exercise into something meaningful, to the point where we can almost taste the sweet triumph that we know will occur at the peak.

You simply need something you think yourself incapable of. Try something you've never attempted before.

James Allen agrees with him. In his book The Mastery of Destiny, he says:

Purpose is the keystone in the temple of achievement. It binds and holds together in a complete whole that which would otherwise he scattered and useless. Empty whims, ephemeral fancies, vague desires, and half-hearted resolutions have no place in purpose. In the sustained determination to accomplish there is an invincible power which swallows up all inferior considerations, and marches direct to victory.


The weak man, who grieves because be is misunderstood, will not greatly achieve; the vain man, who steps aside from his resolve in order to please others and gain their approbation, will not highly achieve; the double minded man, who thinks to compromise his purpose, will fail.

The man of fixed purpose who, whether misunderstandings and foul accusations, or flatteries and fair promises, rain upon him, does not yield a fraction of his resolve, is the man of excellence and achievement; of success, greatness, power.

Hindrances stimulate the man of purpose; difficulties nerve him to renewed exertion; mistakes, losses, pains, do not subdue him; and failures are steps in the ladder of success, for be is ever conscious of the certainty of final achievement.

All things at last yield to the silent, irresistible, all conquering energy of purpose.

"In the sustained determination to accomplish there is an invincible power which swallows up all inferior considerations, and marches direct to victory." That sounds so powerful.

"The person who descends from a mountain is not the same person who began the ascent. Nor is the person who finishes a marathon the same person who started the race." This sounds so promising. We all know it's true but it's easy, i think, to lose track of its importance. Even though during the climb your focus needs to be on each step, at that moment, and the thrill needs to be savored when you reach the peak, it should always be understood that the merit gained from your efforts is found after you come down off the mountain, after you cross the finish line at 26.2 miles.

I guess my point with all of this is that James and George are right: we need a goal, no matter how small it may seem to you and/or others, and we need to fix our minds on it with purpose. Since my bike ride is out, and it's too late to get in the Chicago Marathon, maybe my goal for this summer is just to force myself to train, for no other reason than to stay in shape; to exercise my self-discipline, knowing from past experience that the person who comes out of a summer of training will be a better person than the one who started it.

Discipline, will power, persistence, and patience. Maybe these are as important when committing to the trivial as they are when committing to something substantial.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Ultimate Athlete

The US has now played England twice. The first time, England lost, this second time they only managed a draw. Sooner or later they have to offer some respect, even if begrudgingly and it saddens them to do so. :-)

I don't have a working TV so today's US/England match may be the only one i watch (this one at my sister's) during the entire World Cup, but it was a great way to start the event. Yes, they stumbled into some luck, but the US squad seemed to want it more during the second period. All of them are amazing athletes.

George Sheehan had this to say about these amazing people in his book Running To Win:

The Ultimate Runner

The athletic experience consists of three parts: the training, which the Greeks called askesis; the event, or agon; and the aftermath, which the Greeks termed arete, which can be variously translated as "excellence" or "vigor" or "virtue." The goal of Greek education was to create a citizen-soldier. This education, said Plato, was what develops virtue from childhood, what makes one able to rule the state or defend it.

The ultimate aim is self-mastery. If we are to dominate events, we must first dominate ourselves. Self-rule comes naturally to the athlete. Training, or askesis, brings with it the virtues of prudence and moderation. The lifestyle of athletes conforms to the laws of the body. "Breaking training" is physical sin. When I became a runner, I became my body and accepted its laws. This does not, of course, go unrewarded. Athletes perform at the peak of their powers.


But self-mastery goes beyond preparation. The race becomes the agon, where the self is developed. "The race to be run, the victory to be won, the defeat that one risked suffering," writes Michel Foucalt about the Greeks, "these are processes and events that took place between oneself and oneself. The adversaries the individual had to combat were not just with him and close by; they are part of him."

How well the runner knows that. At first, it appeared that I was fighting hills and terrain, heat and humidity, and the distance I had to race. But it was soon apparent that these were not my opponents. My opponent is me — the real me who would let this cup pass, the true self who is willing to settle for "a good try," and not the last desperate and painful and revealing plunge into the black hole of who I am.


Therein lies the final part of the athletic experience — the transformation of the self brought about by these learning experiences. The deposition into the subconscious of the good news about the self — and entry into the world of William Blake, where we become "chariots of fire" and for which the best word is "exultation." We now are what we became in the race and ready for whatever the day brings.

What the day brings, as everyone learns sooner or later, is recurrent challenge. The agon is a daily experience. The Greek philosopher Epictetus told us that almost two centuries ago: "If anything laborious or pleasant, glorious or inglorious, be presented to you, remember now is the contest, now are the Olympic Games, and they cannot be deferred."

There will never be a day when we won't need energy, dedication, discipline, and the feeling that we can change things for the better.

While Sheehan is writing about runners (the best type of athlete, if i have to say so myself), what he says is true of the athletes in every sport. But, more than that, and more importantly, it applies to each and every one of us — it is those who approach life with the understanding that success begins with the transformation of the self, and eventual self-mastery, that truly come to terms with Life. Not just living but Life itself.

Friday, June 11, 2010

What Are You Doing Now?

This short tidbit from Anthony de Mello's The Song of The Bird provides enough food for thought to feed an entire town for a year.

The industrialist was horrified to find the fisherman lying beside his boat, smoking a pipe.

"Why aren’t you out fishing?" said the industrialist.

"Because I have caught enough fish for the day."

"Why don’t you catch some more?"

"What would I do with it?"

"Earn more money. Then you could have a motor fixed to your boat and go into deeper waters and catch more fish. Thai would bring you money to buy nylon nets, so more fish, more money. Soon you would have enough to buy two boats... even a fleet of boots. Then you could be rich like me."

"What would I do then?"

"Then you could really enjoy life."

"What do you think I am doing now?"

Ah, that's the question, isn't it? "What do you think i'm doing now?" What are you doing? Are you working to make a living? Or, working to make a Life? Does each paycheck set you a little more free? Or, does each one add more bindings that tie you down?

When you look in the mirror each morning as you get ready for work do you see someone who is living or someone who is existing? Look again, can you see the face that sees you? If you hid in the mirror for a few minutes it would certainly make it's appearance. Can you do that?

In order to live life there are times when you have to know when enough is enough. How much enough is enough is different for everyone, but if you're not sure about your case, hide in your mirror in the mornings and ask for advice as soon as your original face shows up.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Giddy With Pleasure

Lao, you're acting weird again.

Listen Dave, you know you tell me that too often, don't you? What is it now?

Lao, i only tell you these things because i care for you. But this time you're getting ridiculous.

WHAT, already. Just spit it out.

OK, OK. I'm getting to it. Geesh.... You know you haven't been in the best of moods the last week or so...

That's none of your business.

It is as long as i'm stuck living in the same house. Anyhow, today you're in a great mood. Almost giddy with pleasure.

Yeah.... Sooooo.....???

Well, you know it's only because she decided to come back home again.


Well, you know, you shouldn't let your moods be decided by whether or not she's here, or not. Whether you get to spend time with her or not. You've got to learn to live on a more even keel. We've talked about this before and you agreed with me.

Oh, god, not this again. Listen, i have tried; you know that. But i can't help myself — when i see her my heart goes wild and i just can't think straight. It's love. You know that.

Lao, she's green.

So, i don't care.

She's wiry. Skinny as a rail. Not an ounce of fat on her frame.

I know, i like that. She exudes so much energy. My adrenaline starts pumping with just one touch. And when you get her going, all you can do is hope you're able to hold on tight until she tires out. Which is always long after i do. ;-)

She's been abused, you know. And it shows. And just last month she knocked you around pretty badly. You haven't forgotten that?

It wasn't her fault. She was running from something and i just happened to be in the way.

Lao, listen man, get your head straight. If she really cared for you she would have been home weeks ago. Instead she stayed away this time for three weeks even though you were told it would be one.

Dave, stop. Please. She's back. That's all i care about. All that matters is when i get up in the morning she's downstairs waiting for me. When i say "let's go out" she's always right there for me. She's faithful to a fault, no matter what you say, she's gorgeous, and oh, man, what a figure.

Lao, you're hopeless. When did she get home anyway?

I walked to the bike shop this morning as soon as they called and rode her home from there. Dave, you just don't know how good it felt to have her back.

You're hopeless, Lao.

Yeah..... i know....

The Karate Kid

As the movie "Karate Kid" comes out tomorrow i want to point out once again that i am suggesting that no one go see it. This movie should be boycotted for Jackie Chan's stupidity. Remember when early last year he said:

"I’m not sure if it’s good to have freedom or not," Chan said. "I’m really confused now. If you’re too free, you’re like the way Hong Kong is now. It’s very chaotic. Taiwan is also chaotic."

Chan added: "I’m gradually beginning to feel that we Chinese need to be controlled. If we’re not being controlled, we’ll just do what we want."

Heaven forbid that the people of any nation should be able to do what they want. When people are too free, they only cause problems. We need good governments, like the Chinese Communist Party, to set us straight.

But of course he only came to this decision after he made his millions of dollars in Hong Kong and the US doing what he wanted. And i laugh when i hear of Chinese who support him, while living here in the US. "Oh yes, the Chinese people do need controlling, and the CCP is a great benevolent party that can do that. Now where's my passport and visa? I'm going to the US."

Do not go see this movie. Let them go broke for hiring Jackie Chan. Then he won't get another role.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Face The Facts

"Face the facts of being what you are, for that is what changes what you are."

Soren Kierkegaard

On first blush that sounds simplistic, like "Eating painted rice cakes won't satisfy your hunger." But first blushes never last long, and a little time sitting with either of these soon brings you to an appreciation for the taste of those painted delicacies and the facts of your Life.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Ten Things I Believe

Of the many email newsletters i regularly get, one yesterday pointed to the author's recent blog post titled "10 Things I Believe." I found that intriguing enough to sit down this morning and try to think of what i might come up with if i were to pick my top ten beliefs. Here's what i came up with.

Ten Things I Believe

1) You are either growing or declining, it is impossible to stand still.

2) The oft used adage is true: We are spiritual beings living a physical life, not physical beings living a spiritual life.

3) Who you are and what you make of your life is entirely in your hands. Others will provide building blocks, but only you can decide how you assemble them into a life.

4) A successful life is not determined by how much is in your bank account when you die; it is determined by the courage and ability you demonstrated when facing the challenges you encountered, whether you chose those challenges or they chose you.

5) Happiness is a decision, a choice, not an outcome. It is based on what's inside you, not what's outside.

6) No man is an island; we are all interconnected and nothing happens in complete isolation. What you do will have consequences, good and bad, intended and not intended, hidden and blaringly obvious, locally and globally.

7) Honesty is the most valuable of all human characteristics. Without it, none of the others are possible.

8) The only real limit on what you can achieve is your personal beliefs. Believe you can and you will, believe you can't and you won't.

9) Our potential is unlimited. There is no limit to what we can be, what we can become, and what we can accomplish.

10) Difference is a good and valuable thing. Every person, every society, every culture is different and this should not just be accepted, but celebrated. Difference is what makes it possible for us, as a global population, a global community, to grow.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Walking The Henro Trail

Not having my bicycle (which they now say i'll get back later this week) has left me with a lot more time to sit, read, and think. Lately, while downstairs i have been re-reading The Path of the Human Being, by Dennis Genpo Merzel. I originally bought it because he structured the book into four sections, matching the structure of the henro trail.

  • Searching for the Way: Raising the Bodhi-Mind
  • Stepping onto the Path: Practice
  • Returning Home: Realization
  • Walking the Path: Manifesting the Liberation

What struck me about this was his seeming confirmation of something i have written about several times, i think, regarding the henro trail: getting to Temple 88 and the last of the trail markers and then returning home is not the end of your pilgrimage. For true henro, this is just the beginning of your practice.

First and foremost, you have to see that you are searching and see, even in a vague and not at all clearly understood way, that the henro trail can offer an opportunity and the right conditions to allow some of the answers to your questions to appear.

After this understanding you can start your walk and your daily, minute by minute, practice of living. From day one, at Temple 1, you surrender your life to the trail, not worrying about the hows, wheres, and whys of the journey, but simply putting one foot in front of the other and simply going where the maps and trail markers tell you to go, when they tell you do go there. Surrendering, you let the maps and the trail take care of the organizational needs of your daily life while you focus on something more important. Your sole focus for the next month and a half becomes being, opening yourself to experiencing "aliveness" and all that entails. Opening yourself to the fact that you are not what you think you are, that, in the relative sense, you are an interconnected piece of the whole of existence, that, in the absolute sense, you are nothing but that whole, that being is, and that you are both a piece and the entirety of what that is.

But, glimpsing this somewhere between Temples 1 and 88 is not the end of your henro. There is no end of your henro, that's why it's a circle. The purpose of the henro isn't simply to give you room for these glimpses; the purpose is to give you the experiences and the tools you need to walk the Path after you return home from Shikoku.

In a sense, the 8 weeks spent on the henro trail is similar to an 8-week intensive foreign language course for someone planning to move overseas. Could you move without the ability to speak the language spoken in that country? Of course. Life will be difficult and you will stumble and trip frequently, but over time you'll pick up the language and customs and slowly daily life will begin to be less problematic. Taking the 8-week language course before moving, though, alleviates many of these problems. After the course, from the first day of arriving you can communicate, you understand the customs and why people do what they do, why certain actions and ways of behaving cause you grief and why others bring happiness. Just taking the course wasn't the end in itself, even if you did learn some of the language. Taking the course was a way to give yourself the tools needed to understand and work more easily with the life you will lead after moving to your new home.

In a like manner, the henro trail is not your final destination, it is simply an intensive course where you can learn valuable life tools — with one oh so very important difference that can not be misunderstood. In the language course your intention is to learn more by taking in more external knowledge; on the henro trail your intention is to learn more by discarding all external knowledge, by stripping away one layer after another of what you think you know, what you've been taught, what you've been told is true, what you are certain is true about who and what you are. The purpose of the 8-week Shikoku intensive is to unlearn what you've already been taught, to unlearn the conditioning you have become slave to. And it is this unlearning that will serve as such a valuable tool in the life you lead after the henro trail on Shikoku.

Genpo says this about this practice:

Zen practice is about seeing what is and then acknowledging that truth. An inevitable part of that process is returning to square one. Even after many years of practice, we discover that we are just beginning. This Path is a never-ending process; we continually discover and rediscover what practice is. Returning to square one doesn't mean that our practice is immature or incomplete somehow. Returning to square one is absolutely fundamental to Zen. Beginner's mind is Zen mind, just as Suzuki Roshi said. We return to the mind of a beginner again and again because this practice goes beyond any understanding. No one can tell us what Zen is, and there is nothing in this practice that we can cling to or grasp. Instead, we must keep rediscovering practice for ourselves. There will be different phases, of course, times of progress as well as times of stagnation. As long as we keep going we will always encounter times of renewal, when we rediscover what practice really is. And in those times of rediscovery, we always find new appreciation for life.

And that's the key to the henro trail as well; just keep going. Jumping out of Genpo's book for a minute, let me switch to the book i've been reading while upstairs, Francis Lucille's Eternity Now. In it, he has this exchange with his students, where he tells us what we might see from the highest peaks and best vantage points on our walk:

The essence of our being is not a concept.

For each of us?

Of course. It is life itself. It is beyond any concept. Concepts are superimpositions, such as: I am a man, I am forty years old. I am a physician. All these distinctive features are mere superimpositions, not our real nature. The substratum, which is free from limitations, doesn't have any boundaries, doesn't need a knower to reveal itself, and is self-evident and autonomous.


When we say that the non-dualist sees humanity as non-real, we mean that he doesn't see it as an object, as something that is separate from awareness, from himself. He sees, instead, humanity as one with himself. From this vision of oneness, of non-separateness, real compassion, ethical behavior, and justice follow. We should not consider the sage as some crazy solipsist, isolated in his ivory tower, denying existence to the rest of mankind and granting existence only to himself as a person. On the contrary, the truth-lover starts by questioning his own existence as a person, as a separate entity, asking, "Who am I? Am I this body? Am I this mind? Am I this limited entity?" He isn't interested in theories, but in reality. He starts with the only field of experience that is available to him, that is, himself.


When what we are not is eliminated, not by effort or by violence, but as a result of understanding, what remains is our real nature. It is an experience, but not an experience in time and space, and for this reason we could call it a non-experience, a non-event. In this non-event, we are one with mankind. It is a non-excluding, an all-comprehending perspective.

So the non-dualist does disagree with positing the existence of the rest of humanity as a group of separate conscious entities which could agree or disagree with him. He, rather, leaves open the possibility that the whole of humanity is one with him...

The non-dualist isn't interested in concepts. He is only interested in his true nature. After seeing his misconceptions for what they are, what remains is a non-state, a non-event devoid of fear and desire in which certainty and peace prevail. Because he starts from reality, he soon reaches his goal, reality. Reality reaches reality. Unity reaches unity. Because the scientist starts from a mere hypothesis, a misconception, his point of arrival is as shaky and unstable as his point of departure. He can never reach a completely satisfactory understanding. He is bound to be eternally dissatisfied moving from object to object in an endless process.

And now back to Genpo. For the Zen student, you get to this understanding through zazen, or, more accurately, doing zazen is like opening a window, through which we can look into those cracks between our thoughts and see the still, quiet center that is who we are. Genpo says:

The awareness that we cultivate in zazen allows us to simply be with whatever is in the moment. And because we don't attach to or follow the thoughts that bubble up, we can experience the fluidity that is our true Mind. Thoughts come and go, sensations come and go, things come and go. We practice not clinging to anything, neither pleasure nor pain. In this way we train ourselves to stop resisting life. And we learn something wonderful: the mind can be at ease regardless of what is happening. At last, we are liberated, free to enjoy and appreciate the greatest gift of all — this life.

And that, in a nutshell, is what the henro trail can be about. Practice non-clinging. Practice not resisting. Practice not attaching. Practice not avoiding. Practice surrendering. Practice living, without all the rules, regulations, and ideas that you usually bring to the process. Practice wholeheartedly, one step after another after another.

Friday, June 4, 2010


Simply put it's not
But it is not that simple
All in all it is

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

First Official Sign of Summer

It' now officially the start of summer here at home — the first Day Lily poked it's head out yesterday morning in my front yard. :-)

I started with a few dozen lilies, give or take, ten years ago and each spring i transplant some of the new growth to other places around the yard. They are slowly taking over the entire property, which makes me very happy.

I've spent the better part of the past week and a half working in the front yard so now, in addition to the healing road burns on my hands and arms, i have a few blisters to show off. Have been trimming all the bushes, trimming the cherry tree, pulling weeds, transplanting/moving some of the Russian Sage, and just getting everything ready to lay down some mulch.

I still have more weeds to pull and i need to cut back some of the grass around the bushes along the sidewalk. Plus i need to move some of the (soon to be) tall grass that is now growing in the shade of the cherry tree over to the side yard. All in all, i think just a few more days and i can call the front yard complete for this spring.

Still don't have my bike back from the bike shop and it's been almost two weeks. If it doesn't come back home soon i'm going to have to start running; my body is screaming for some exercise, at least more than walking downstairs for another cup of coffee every now and then, which is all it's getting right now.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

You Have To Be Stupid To See

A friend recently sent me a link to an interesting article titled The importance of stupidity in scientific research and i have to say, i'm slightly worried: did she send it because she knew i'd agree with the author's thesis or just to rub my nose in the fact that i'm stupid? :-)

Actually, i admit i am stupid — hence my chosen name Lao Bendan. But, for the most part, stupid in a good, useful, and valuable way. I know i don't know everything. I know i know infinitely less than i don't know. I know there will always be infinitely more to know, no matter how much i learn. I know that no matter how much we "know," it will never explain what we "are." All of our combined knowledge will never explain "reality" as it really is. I know there are an awful lot of "i"s in this paragraph and yet I have no concept of who or what that is, even though i do.

Yet, even with all this known stupidity, i will never give up trying to learn more. I will go to my grave (or ashes, actually) proud of the fact that i value learning and growth over stability and a firm ground to stand on, which in many people's books makes me stupid in a bad, not worthwhile way. But, while i respect them as human beings, i consider flawed, people who advocate sitting on your laurels and accepting good enough as good enough.

I spent part of a morning the other day listening to an online talk by Steve Hagen, of the Dharma Field Zen Center up in Minneapolis, called Who Are The Awakened?. Taken hand in hand, the above article and Hagen's audio go a long way in explaining how i see the world, why i studied Physics at the university, and why i've tried to live Buddhism for over 30 years. (FWIW, you don't practice Buddhism, you live it. Yoda was right in this case, there is no trying, you are either living it, or you're not; there is no practicing. But, this is an argument for another posting.)

In a way, i could probably be labeled a serious schizophrenic. On the one hand, i have a serious addiction to personal growth: learning new skills, improving the skills i have, taking on new challenges, pushing the envelope of what i do, and finding the limits of what i'm capable of doing. That's the side of me that studies the relative world. That's the side that causes me so much professional grief.

On the other hand, there's this thing called the absolute that exerts an equal pull on me. Reality. What is it? This can't be studied. This can't be examined. You can't learn a little, study that piece, then learn a little more. There is only one way to approach the absolute: admit you don't know what it is, admit you will never know what it is, admit no one will ever know what it is, admit you can't know what it is, and live it.

You can't study or research reality. You can study theories of reality, but not reality itself. In your search for what you are, you can read other people's accounts of their experiences and use those as pointers to what they've experienced, but that's all. These serve as hints, pointers, kicks in the butt, but not as study guides. You can't know reality, you can only be reality.

On both sides of my coin it's obvious that the author of the article is reading from the same playbook that i am. You can't get ahead in life, or Life, especially Life, without knowing, admitting, and embracing your stupidity. Only when you get to that admission will you find yourself with a serious chance of success.