Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

From Lockport, Illinois, the home of Temple 0 (発心寺; Hosshinji) on the Shikoku Henro, wishes go out to all for a happy and healthy new year.

As 2012 dawns, let's all strive to keep in mind that for peace and happiness to spread and touch the lives of every person, each of us, as individuals, have the responsibility to make it predominate in our lives. The happiness of the entire world begins in each of our very own minds.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Funniest Christmas Present Ever

An aunt sent me a picture today as, i assume, a Christmas present. Even hours later, every time i look at it i start chuckling. This is supposed to be a picture of me back in the late 1970, i would guess. I would have been in my mid-twenties then.

It certainly looks right — back at that time i was living in Napa California and spent an inordinate amount of time at Lake Berryessa water skiing, laying on the beaches, and drinking beer. Those were magical days.

The only thing that hasn't changed about me in all these years seems to be the fact that even then i had a bottle of beer in my hand. But come on, could i ever have had that much hair on my head? Is that possible?

This was a great present, and i'm still laughing about it. I should go buy a pair of red shorts and take the 35th year anniversary version and then post that next to this one. Couldn't hurt; if you post it in your office you're sure scare any rats in the building away.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


In Dale Wright's book The Six Perfections, we find these thoughts:

"That material generosity, while important, is less exalted than spiritual generosity is a point made frequently in early Mahayana sutras. Picturing human life as most importantly a spiritual quest, the kind of generosity that the sutras most fervently proposed was the gift of visionary life and human excellence, not material objects, and it is in this vein that they were written."

I'm not usually one to point fingers and call people names, but sometimes you just have to wonder if there are occasions where doing so is appropriate. So if you are reading this, I'm talking to you. Go ahead, blink and say "Me? You don't really mean that you think this applies to me, do you?" And in response, I repeat, yes, you.

Odds are, just like me, you are an incredibly selfish person. Deny it all you want, but you aren't going to get around that fact. You mainly and predominantly think only of yourself and your own happiness. You make the vast majority of your decisions based on how they will affect your happiness, heck with everybody else (even though you don't vocalize the thought, and may not realize you thought it). Your spiritual practice is a search for a better life for who? You. Your definition of success in most areas of your life relies on a benefit to you.

I know, I can hear you say, No, I really do hope for the best of all my fellow men and women. But, I ask you to stop and really pay attention the next time you say that. Odds are, just before that thought or just after, you'll find the thought, But what about me?

"...the kind of generosity that the sutras most fervently proposed was the gift of visionary life and human excellence..."

If you are now thinking about the life you intend to live next year, if you are thinking about whatever spiritual practice you might have, of any flavor, and where you plan to take it next year, if you are thinking about the world and the problems we all have with just getting along, then this thought is for you. Stick it in your head and keep it at the front of your thoughts for the next 10 days. Don't let up until you have answers.

I'd suggest that we all ask ourselves about this on two levels:

1) What am I doing to help others live a visionary life and a life of excellence? Even if I don't benefit, what can I do to promote that?

2) Am I living my life in such a way that I am offering the world my absolute best — a life of vision and excellence?

Think about it. That's all I ask.

A visionary life and human excellence.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lost Amidst Landmarks

Don't know why, but my fingers started telling me that they wanted to type something while i was fixing dinner so let's sit down now that it's ready and see what they come up with. I apologize in advance if it turns out to be wasting our time.

Long ago i wrote about a wonderful mini-story that i found in writings of Anthony de Mellow, called The Temple Bells. There is so, so much more i want to write about that but i think i'll do that over the course of 2012. What i'm fascinated with tonight is the comment near the end of that post made by that senile old man i know in Chicago who runs a web site about the pilgrimage.

In the post he said, "Do you wish to hear Shikoku's temple bells? Listen to the sound of being." On the one hand, that sounds so simple; almost as if we should reply, "Duh. Well, yeah. That's it?" Then on the other hand, it makes me stop and wonder: what is the sound of being, exactly? If you are in the state he talks about where you can hear it, are there sounds to be heard? Is there anyone there to hear anything?

The Heart Sutra starts by getting directly to the point: Kanjisai bossa gyō jin hannya haramita ji shō ken go un kai kū. While in that place where the bells can be heard, Kannon-sama saw straight to the heart of the matter and understood that not just everything we perceive is empty, but even the five aggregates themselves are empty. Completely. So completely that he very carefully negates even those things that we take as absolutely certain, completely non-questionable: mu gen ni bi zesshin i, mu shiki shō kō mi soku hō. No eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or mind, no form, sound, smell, taste, tactile sensations, or mind objects.

But we all know that's pure nonsense. Don't we? If i poke you in the eye you are going to scream in pain. If i shout in your ear i might break an eardrum. If someone farts on the train everyone pretends they don't notice even though everyone cringes. Just the thought of fresh sushi begins the process of drooling. I know it will be delicious. You can't tell me that we don't exist.

But given all that, given all that intertwined certainty and doubt, given all the evidence to the contrary, what does life look like from that place where you can hear "the sound of being?" What does life look like when we come to see that everything we see, everything we hear, everything we smell, taste, feel, think, imagine, ... everything, with no exceptions, is unreal, is a figment of our imagination?

What does life look like when we see that the universe and everything in it, or even grander than that, everything that ever was, is, and ever will be, is a construct of our minds. Our universe, our world, our lives are something we make up moment by moment, breath by breath, born with each moment we conveniently call now, passing away into that void we will never understand, and being reborn in the next now.

When Dave's gone, when even Lao's gone, when being male is gone, when every label i've every attached to myself is gone, when all thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and preferences are gone, when walking or sitting or standing or lying down is gone, when living or not living is gone, when existing or not exiting is gone, when you can look Joshu in the eye and ask him where that stupid mu came from, when there is no difference in anything, not because there is nothing, but because everything is, well, everything, there just is, existing, being, as it is, as it always has, as it always will, even when the universe ceases to exist,... being, is... no more and no less because there is no such thing as no more and no less.

What then? What would the sound of that be?

I maintain that you can hear it on the henro trail. You can start to listen for it at the temples if you have this weird idea that spirituality is found at temples and that monks have some kind of special insight into hearing. Sure, start there — but know that the background noise there can be pretty loud. Once you have trained your ears, your eyes, your fingers, your tongue, your nose, even the slightest bit, then you are better off listening between the temples where it is much more conducive to understanding, or not; amongst the car and truck traffic, amidst the crowded restaurants, amidst the hectic meals at the minshuku each night.

And after your meal, stick your head outdoors and look at the stars that fill the night sky on Shikoku and say, "i hear you."

Monday, December 19, 2011

How Would I Know?

It's interesting
Or not as some would see it
All in all it's not

What are you saying
Who could possibly see it
Nothing everyone

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Got a catalog in the mail today from The Great Courses (aka: The Teaching Company). I love this company and have bought many of their DVD and CD series over the years. They can't be praised highly enough.

Anyway, in this week's catalog, there was an excerpt from one of the lectures in a series called The Great Ideas of Psychology.


"What else is featured in evolutionary theory that will profoundly influence Freud's thinking is instinct, the fact that complex organisms throughout the animal economy enter the world with quite fixed behavioral dispositions. That, absent the instinctual dispositions, not enough time would be available for the animals to learn what they have to learn, even with human beings.

"There's ample evidence to suggest that important aspects of human psychology are not acquired, but are more or less in place—and even if they're not present at birth, they are very likely to surface when the requisite degree of maturation has taken place—and they do not seem to require any intentional training from the outside. Need I mention anything more than the age at which youngsters begin to impose grammatical structure on their linguistic utterances? Of course, that is what Chomssky's theory is all about."

The Great Ideas of Psychology
Lecture 35: Freud's Debt To Darwin
Daniel Robinson

Hmmmm... sounds like, maybe, he could mention the concept of rebirth here?

Friday, December 16, 2011

That Is Not It

That is all nonsense
Meditate and watch the mind
It doesn't make sense

Thursday, December 15, 2011


I have unusual music listening habits while running, compared to most other runners, at least. Instead of the constant pounding, upbeat rock music, i frequently listen to slow, sappy love songs. The words are completely irrelevant, the sole purpose of any song is to give me something to focus on and let "me" get lost in the voices. Unless i'm doing hill work or tempo runs and intervals, which is only during the summer as i train for a marathon, my goal while running is to drop off everything and become nothing but moving feet. Sappy, Korean and Japanese love songs work perfectly for that. For me. :-)

Today's road kill popped up complete, with only one word change, about 2 miles from home, in the middle of this song. When i listen to this song, both Dave and Lao disappear inside her voice within the first few words. It's almost like magic.

Road Kill 13

Gratitude for all
Not because i have it all
Because i am all


"Discipline and will-power deliver you to the highest level of living possible and though it might seem difficult to develop at the outset, once these muscles are consistently exercised into a habit, stunning results appear and once-hard tasks become easy. With discipline you can raise your standards of physical fitness, tap into amazing reserves of knowledge, start and finish major tasks, control your diet, triple your energy level, build your character to achieve a more fulfilling life and enhance your personal relations. Discipline will shape the tremendously important habit of mind control and positive thinking and free you from worry. Discipline will dramatically improve your confidence levels and your productivity as you start to put first things first.

"Without discipline, or at least a clear desire to build it, you are lost and are destined to be the servant of your mind rather than having your mind serve you. Instead of mental toughness and agility, dose powering thoughts will creep into your brain freely, zapping you of your personal power and redirecting your attention from worthwhile goals to useless activities that might feel fun but will offer no value in the long run. Without will-power, you will eat too much, worry too much and sleep too much. Study the lives of Gandhi, Washington, Mother Theresa, Helen Keller and Bruce Lee and you will be studying will-power in action."

Robin Sharma

Ah, those nasty sounding words: Discipline and Will-Power. Both, at first glance, seen with strict, "thou shalt not," restrictive connotations hanging over our heads as we simply try and enjoy life. Beyond that first glance, though, if we really take the time to investigate them we see that they are just the opposite; they are liberating, life-giving words and attitudes.

As i begin my annual year-end ritual of looking back over the past year and seeing what lessons i can, and want to, take forward into the new year, i find those two words staring me right in the eyes. I admit that i let myself get side-tracked in the last half of the year; my discipline has diminished as a result of lagging will-power.

Contrary to what many people believe, it is this decreased will-power, this reduced discipline that restricts my life, that forces me to live in a cage. Contrary to what many people believe, it is discipline and will-power that break the locks and set you free.

Until the locks are broken, we are trapped inside those habits, conditioning, expectations, and beliefs that keep the real you locked out of sight. And, as the old adage goes, "out of sight, out of mind." But it is exactly this that we must learn to conquer. Only will-power and discipline allows us to keep this conditioning in mind, every minute of every day, all year long. Only discipline keeps those expectations and beliefs under our zafu and under our butt, where they belong, instead of up up in our heads.

By living a life of discipline you break free to see and live the life we were meant to live — a life where love, and not hatred, predominates; a life where openness and inclusion, and not exclusion, predominates, a life where awareness, and not emotions, dictate your actions; a life where giving, and not taking, determines how you live your days.

So, as i think about next year, i recommit myself, for the one-millionth time, to that discipline that opens doors.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How Authentic Are You?

Thought the point being made in this blog post was interesting...

5 Seconds To Authenticity

Monday, December 12, 2011

I Thought So

"Man sows a thought and reaps an action. He sows an action and reaps a habit. He sows a habit and reaps a character. He sows a character and reaps a destiny.

"Man has made his own destiny by his own thinking and acting. He can change his destiny. He is the master of his own destiny. There is no doubt of this. By right thinking and strong exertion, he can become the master of his destiny.

"Some ignorant people say: 'Karma does everything. It is all destiny. If I am destined by my Karma to be like this or that why then should I exert? It is my destiny only.'

"This is fatalism. This will bring inertia, stagnation and misery. This is perfect misunderstanding of the laws of Karma. This is a fallacious argument. An intelligent man will certainly not put such a question. You have made your own destiny from within by your thoughts and actions.

"You have a free will to choose now. You have got Svatantrata in action. A rogue is not an eternal rogue for all times. Put him in the company of a saint. He will change in no time. He will think and act now in a different way and will change his destiny. He will become saintly in character.

"Dacoit Ratnakar was changed into Sage Valmiki. Jagai and Madai were transformed. They were rogues of the first waters. You can become a Yogi or a Jnani. You can make your destiny. You can make your Karma in any way you like. Use the Power of Thought. Think rightly, think nobly. You will have only to think, and to act. By right thinking, by right desiring, by right acting, you can become a Sage, a millionaire. You can attain the position of Indra or Brahma by good thought and action, by good Karma. Man is not a helpless being. He has a free will of his own."

Thought Power

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Taking Sides

On this side of that
Nothing lies confused and lost
Who put this side there

Hopelessly In Love

Impatience reared its head last week and i could no longer wait to order my own Christmas present. I intended to wait another week or two so that it would arrive closer to Christmas, but i gave up after logging onto Amazon and looking at it several times a day, every day, three days in a row.

There are no public figures, anywhere in the world, of the stature of the Dalai Lama, who remain as humble and as full of compassion as the Dalai Lama himself. There are others who are as humble and as compassionate, but they don't have the public stature that the Dalai Lama has. It seems that when others attain this stature, power, adoration, and money eventually corrupt them.

I went to see the Dalai Lama back in the mid-90s when he came to speak in Chicago. That was before he was the superstar that he is today so i was both able to afford a ticket and get a ticket. Now ticket agencies buy all the tickets and resell them at ridiculous prices so even if you can get one, it's prohibitively expensive.

I wish i could say i remember everything about the talk i attended, but i can't. At the time i barely knew who he was; he was simply someone i had read about in my, then, twenty some years of studying Buddhism. He was supposed to be a great teacher and speaker so i went to see for myself.

What i do remember of the talk, though, was falling hopelessly in love. Not with Tibetan Buddhism, but with the man himself; his message, his bearing, his obvious compassion for all attendees, and his complete lack of self-importance. I remember being in awe.

I can think of no better role model than the Dalai Lama. He perfectly blends an academic study of his religion, a wholehearted and sincere practice of all its teachings, and the ability to show all of us that this can be done while leading a very public, non-monastic life. He shows us that compassion and love for all can be practiced even in the face of immense adversity. He demonstrates clearly what life can be like when self-cherishing is let go of and the Self is fully realized.

Imagine my happiness, then, when the mailman arrived this morning and dropped off my copy of more of his teachings in the 13-hour, 4-DVD set Compassion In Emptiness two days earlier than it was supposed to arrive. Oh happy days, oh happy days. I imagine tonight is going to be a fairly sleepless night.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Damn That Frog

Just back from my mid-afternoon 5 miler. Found this on the shoulder of the road.

Road Kill 12

Damn that jumping frog
Still ponds are meant for zazen
Sitting with ripples

Thursday, December 1, 2011


"Vedanta does not want you to renounce the world. It wants you to change your mental attitude and give up this false, illusory 'I-ness' and 'mine-ness'. The snake charmer removes only the two poisonous fangs of the cobra. The snake remains the same. It hisses, raises its hood and shows its fangs. In fact, it does everything as before. The snake charmer has changed his mental attitude towards the snake. He has a feeling now that it has no poisonous fangs. Even so, you must remove the two poisonous fangs of the mind, namely, 'I-ness' and 'mine-ness' only. Then you can allow the mind to go wherever it likes. Then you will always have the feeling of the presence of God.

"You must also renounce the attachment to renunciation, which is very deep-rooted. You must renounce the idea: "I have renounced everything; I am a great renunciate". This attachment of aspirants is a greater evil than that of the householders: "I am a landlord; I am a brahmana, etc."

"Not by shaving the head, not by dress, not by egoistic action is liberation to be attained. He who possesses wisdom is a real sanyasin (monk). Wisdom is the sign of a sanyasin. The wooden staff does not make a sanyasin. He is the real sanyasin of wisdom who is conscious of his absolute nature even in his dreams just as he is during the waking period. He is the greatest knower of Brahman. He is the greatest of sanyasins."


"[S]He is the real sanyasin of wisdom who is conscious of his absolute nature..."

No henro no trail
Yet walking eating sleeping
Absolute nature

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Politics & Double Standards

Republicans puzzle me. Greatly.

Cain is being run through a grinder about his alleged extramarital affairs and will probably be forced from the race. At the same time, the man who has surged to the top of the list, Newt Gingrich, is a proven unethical cheat and people seem to love him. He's on his third marriage after cheating on both of his first two wives. While serving in congress he was fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for unethical behavior.

How can any republican look another person in the eye and say that they believe in ethics??? An unethical cheat is better than all other possibilities?

This really puzzles me.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

In Your Face

In your face all day
Forcing you to look and see
Just Now won't let up

Actualizing Ordinariness

From the Hotsumujōshin (Developing The Supreme Mind) chapter of Dōgen's Shōbōgenzō:

"The National Teacher Daishō said, 'Walls, tiles, and stones are the ancient Buddha mind.' We must study carefully where walls, tiles, and stones exist. You must question where and how such things are actualized. 'Ancient Buddha mind' is not Kūo Buddha, who existed aeons ago. Rather, it is just the ordinary everyday life of human beings. In such kind of life we sit and find Buddha. This is called the mind of resolve for enlightenment.

In general, the working of hotsubodaishin (the Buddha-seeking mind) is developed from hosshin (the initial awakening of the mind, the resolve for enlightenment); other than this, there is nothing. Awakening the mind of enlightenment is to make Buddha by holding up one blade of grass, or to make the sutras with a piece of wood.

That ordinary, everyday life of human beings. Putting gas in the car, preparing the kid's lunch, washing the dishes after a meal, dusting the shelves and washing the floor, paying the bills, disagreeing with your brother, picking up your dog's poop, mowing the lawn, commuting in rush hour traffic, sitting through a half-day meeting, reading a chapter before bed, ...

It's in that life, that completely ordinary life, where our practice of zazen is the most important and the most natural. That very life is zazen. But because it is difficult, we take some time out from that practice each day to sit on a cushion, where practice is easy, where everything is stacked in our favor. Then it's back to our practice.

The mind that resolves for enlightenment also actualizes walls, tiles, and stones. Actualizes all that exists; all that doesn't exist. That mind, my mind, your mind, our mind, mind, is that Buddha in that one blade of grass.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Deciphering Designs

A friend received the below medallion from her mother and asked me if the design in the middle was actually a kanji and had a meaning. Unfortunately i had to tell her that i don't recognize a character in it, but am posting it here for others to look at.

Does anyone recognize a character here? (Click to enlarge it) If it's not a Japanese kanji, could it be a Chinese hanzi? Or two? Or one, dublified? Or maybe i'm right and it's just a pretty, symmetrical pattern? What thinks anyone?

OK, while i'm waiting for a response, i guess i might as well write something — it's been a while. The rice cooker is going and won't be done for another half hour, a fresh beer is sitting on the coaster by the chair, some beautiful, calm-inducing Indian flute music is playing in MediaMonkey,... so, with nothing else to do, here we go....

In a paper i'm reading called "The Five Buddha Families and The Eight Consciousnesses," Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche lays out in a nice clear way the five meditational buddhas of Tibetan Buddhism, the klesha each represents, which one of the five skandha each symbolizes, and the one wisdom (of five) embodied in that buddha.

This is interesting because the same categorization technique was used by Kūkai as he established Shingon in the 9th century and it is still studied today at his monastery on Mt. Kōya.

God no, that's way too boring for Thanksgiving eve. Forget i wrote that.

I woke with a start, and with heart racing glanced across the room, but it didn't take a second to realize that what had woken me was Phoebe crawling into the bed. When i raised my eyebrows and shot her a quizzical "what's going on?" look, she put her finger on my lips and with her lips to my ear whispered "Shhhh. Don't say anything, just enjoy." Before i could utter another word, with a giggle and that devilish smile that i had come to know over the past year meant "hang on for the ride... if you can," she dove under the covers.

With her parents in the room down the hall, i knew we were playing with fire, but everyone that knows Phoebe knows that she will get what she wants when she's in one of these moods.

No, no. That's not what i meant to type.... Sorry, Dave has told me i can't post stories like this here. Something about making Google mad.

In the latest bicycling news, Alberto Contador has finally had his day in court and will now wait for the expected January release of a verdict in his attempt to get away with doping case of suspected doping.

As a surprise witness, Contador's lawyers produced a young Spanish herder who testified under oath that he had personally raised the cow in question. He also testified that he was certain beyond any doubt that he had seen it eating grass near the window of his hut while he (the herder) had been watching a PBS television show about Cherybutt Chernoble Cheerieo that nasty shit that we all know was inside the steak that Alberto purportedly ate.

Under cross-questioning, the herder expressed shock that prosecutors questioned his status as "expert witness," saying that he watched PBS everyday and pointing out that he was certain that he had seen a show pointing out the correlation between what you watch while you eat and the effects that can have on your health and physiology.

Ooops, the rice cooker just beeped, so i'll have to finish this another day. If you have any ideas about the medallion, please let me know.

Happy Thanksgiving to all. Remember at least one thing you are grateful for tomorrow. More if you can.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Had an unusual dream last night. Actually, it was early this morning because i woke up from the middle of the dream and immediately wanted to go back to sleep to finish it. I can't remember the last time i had a dream that made me want to go back to sleep to reenter it.

I should have typed this up as soon as i got up instead of eating breakfast and reading the news because i've already started to forget large chunks of what happened, but what made it interesting is still there so i'll recount that.

My two sisters and I were apparently all applying for a job at an inner city school. I say 'apparently' because i don't ever remember talking or reading anything about the job itself, but everything about the experience speaks to this being about becoming teachers.

The three of us walked to the building (school?) where the interviews were going to be held, a typical old red-brick multi-story inner city building. When we went in, the elevators were small (and crowded with other candidates) with well worn wood paneling on all the walls.

We went up to the 57th floor and were greeted by two guys sitting behind a receptionist-like counter. It was a big open room, painted white and desperately in need of a repaint. The wood work was intricate and had probably been considered a marvel "back in the days." Just a few small windows let in enough sunlight that if felt warm and cozy. When we told the two guys what we were there for, one of them went into a side room to get the information we needed.

The next thing i remember is that the three of us were seated in large over-sized chairs in the open area in front of the reception counter and the guy who had gone to get us our information was with us and explaining the procedure to us.

As he explained it, the written test we had to take was long and would take a substantial amount of time. Therefore, they gave it out to candidates before hand so that they could study it and get prepared. As he said this, he pointed to an adjacent room, empty except for rows and rows of long wooden desks spanning the width of the room. That room had windows the entire length of the two outside walls so was flooded in sunlight.

After explaining the test (which took awhile, but i don't remember it), he pulled out a small video camera and told us that he was loaning it to us because we would each be required to make a short video of "something," i don't remember what anymore. It seemed odd, but even though i don't remember the specifics, i remember wondering what the purpose of it was as it seemed to be making a video of something very mundane, very ordinary. Something about people.

A lot more is gone, but the next thing i remember is walking down a hallway (on our way out?) when someone asked me to tell a story to the students. The students had been gathered in the auditorium and they wanted me to go up on stage and "make something up, tell them a story of make believe," or something like that.

I would love to see that actual auditorium because it was an amazing place. Like the rest of the building it was old, but not worn out. Well, and lovingly, used might be the best description. Everything was wood, well worn wood, polished to a deep brown color by the sweat and oily hands and elbows of the hundreds of thousands of kids that had passed through it over the many years.

The room was narrow, maybe 20-30 seats wide, but deep enough to hold all the students, the furthest back of which faded into shadows. The lighting wasn't dark, but it was old incandescent lights which left the room a warm golden color, mainly up near the stage. The small stage was just as old and had a hollow sound to it as i walked across it to the sole chair in the middle.

I only remember fragments of what i said, but it went along these lines:


I'm supposed to tell you a story of make believe, but that's not my forte, so instead, let me tell you about a friend of mine who's whole life revolved around made up stories.

Richard looked like an average guy, seemingly no different from any one of you. He dressed just like everyone else, acted just like everyone else, and in no way stood out in a crowd.

Over the years, Richard had convinced himself that he was nothing special. He walked to the same job, in the same office, at the same desk, day after day and year after year. He always wore the same style suit, never changing even the colors or the button patterns. Same hobbies, same interests. Year after year. Nothing in his life varied except the date on the calender.

He walked to the same deli every afternoon for lunch and talked to the same people. Told the same jokes and laughed at the same stories.

Richard had convinced himself that this was all he was; an average guy, lucky to have a respectable job, content to be alive. It didn't even occur to him that all of this was make believe, that he had invented all of it and that he was actually more.

I remember painting a picture of his life, but all of that is gone now.

Until one bright sunny day at the park. Why he went to the park would always be a mystery to him but one clear, bright day, he went, and as he walked up the small incline leading into the park, he.....

Man!, why didn't i write this when i woke up... that's were the memories stop. I remember talking more, but now can't remember what i said. While it doesn't seem all that great of a story in memory, in the dream i remember the hall being completely silent with the kids leaning forward to catch every word of the story. Now i wonder what was said, but the next memory jumps to this short piece of the ending...

Now let me be clear, Richard isn't any different than any of you here in this room. None of you are ordinary. None of you are limited. None of you should be "content" to be alive.

Like Richard, you all, no, we all, myself included, live in a make believe world. A world limited by our own thoughts. A small world, walled in by our own misbeliefs, our own unwillingness to question what we have been told about who we are.

Like Richard before going to the park, we are locked into these small lives only by our unwillingness to test the door, our blind belief that this is all there is.

It's not. You don't need a key to open the door and escape — all you need to do is walk over and push it open; it's not even locked. You can walk out to freedom anytime you work up the courage to be more than you can imagine.

You're students, that's your job at this stage of your life. You have a lot to learn. Do it, and do it well. But don't let yourself live in Richard's make believe world of mediocrity.

There will be a day in the near future when you leave this place. When you do, don't settle for just good enough. Do settle for what everybody else is, has, does, thinks, believes. Don't settle for make believe. Demand reality. Find someone who can point you towards that door and dare to open it. Dare to walk out free. Dare to be more than anyone can ever believe you can be.

Be brave. Have the courage to Live!

While i don't remember more, i do know that this wasn't a story of Richard waking up to miraculous powers, becoming a super hero, or anything like that. It was a story of a person's spiritual awakening. I'd love to go back and hear the whole talk. Did the students yawn and complain after the talk? Did they buy into it? I don't remember. I'd also love to see the school again. It was so incredibly vivid, so comfortable, almost like i had been there before.

Wish i could go back to sleep and relive it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


"Silence and self-control are disciplines of the mind. ... We usually associate silence with speech – the absence of speech. Real silence, however, is a desire-free, disturbance-free, peaceful mind. When there is peace of mind, the self is seen, and all ignorance-born, self-imposed limitations come to light and therefore disintegrate. A mind that is thus ever peaceful, ever alert is itself meditation."

The Song of God

I'm sure I have mentioned it before, but sitting on your butt isn't all there is to meditation. We should look to our zafu as no more than the place where we learn how to meditate and where we regularly return to perfect it. It is like your desk in a school classroom, it's where you learn the skills needed to live a better life, not what life is all about. The real practice of meditation takes place everywhere else — throughout the day, in all situations, with everyone we meet. Meditation is the method we employ to face the world, and in using it we find that we have unlimited abilities to handle what life throws at us, unlimited abilities to grow.

Siting on the zafu is where we get our eyes checked and any necessary corrective eyewear supplied. It is where we learn to see who we really are, who "WE" really are, or, maybe a little more accurately, what "WE" really is. It is here that we learn to see through the delusions we have taken for granted all our lives.

Once the glasses are in place, then, and only then, can we truly say we are ready to deal with the world, because before then, what we think we see, what we "know" we see, is only an illusion. So, submit to the discipline, find that silence tucked away between two thoughts, and then with your new eyes, get off your butt and use those skills in every other aspect of your life.

Monday, November 14, 2011


Found on the side of the road during today's run.

Road Kill 11

What's this thing called life
Temple bells ring the answer
This this this this this

Monday, October 31, 2011

Looking For A Shovel

"Evil is not absolute, but has a frightening ephemeral existence which it will not do to ignore. But it is also futile to waste our life lamenting over it. Kṛṣṇa gives it just the status it deserves — as a pointer to the wrong road, as a warning sign, as a beacon to guide the navigator.

"Where does this evil exist? What is sin? How does one overcome sin? Does the Lord forgive us? Can we get the better of our fate? These questions have been discussed endlessly by both scholars and laymen.

"One day I was explaining to a few students the law of karma, vis-à-vis the above problem and remarked: 'If you do not want a seed you have sown to sprout, you must pull it out. For this purpose you will have to dig down to the same depth as originally, to get hold of the seed.'...

"Rajas (activity) based on tamas (stupidity) is sin or evil. In order to cancel it we should resort to rajas based on sattva (purity). The intensity and the ‘depth' should be at least the same in both cases. Should there be any difference, the latter should go deeper than the former."


I'm not a big fan of the concepts of sin and god, but for me these words still ring incredibly true. So, so often, it seems, when people do something that all know is wrong, they try to explain it away with a simple "I'm sorry," sometimes followed up with a gift. If they are lucky, though, the latter is refused, and the former is accepted with the caveat that the person proffering it acknowledge that it isn't enough.

Venkatesananda is correct (of course) — if you don't want the karmic seed to settle and take root, you have to dig down to the same depth it was planted in order to pull it out. seldom is that at the superficial "I'm sorry" level.

To be honest, I don't even know where this post came from; as far as I know I haven't done anything recently to hurt anyone and have no apologies due. Earlier in the evening I was reading an article that talked about the Indian system of dividing life into four stages: student, householder, forest dweller, and renunciant. That carried over for a while, and while eating dinner I was thinking about my apparent transition from the householder to forest dweller stage. It wasn't a transition I wanted or was ready for and when I made the move, my baggage was chocked full of hatred. I have tried for going on three years to put that bag, unopened, out in the garbage each week, but every time I go out to collect the emptied garbage cans I find that someone has set this bag back up by the garage again.

Why won't the garbagemen take this bag. Yes it is huge, yes it weighs a lot, yes it is oversized, but if i'm trying to get rid of it, isn't it someone's job to take it away. No?

And then I read these words by Venkatesananda. If you planted the seed with a shovel, don't expect to dig it out with a garden trowel, unless you are willing to work for a very, very long time and are willing to accept the tears of frustration that come with the excruciatingly slow process. A much better way to get at the seed is to go out and buy another shovel and just get the job over with. Then you can get back to your life.

My seed of anger, or seeds of anger and hatred, are buried a long way down. If you dropped a rock down that well I doubt you would ever hear the splash. Problem is, I'm smart enough to know that the tool in my hand is a garden trowel, even though I try to convince myself that it looks like a shovel. That only makes me stupid on top of everything else.

I guess this is what it means to be human. If I only knew where to buy my shovel.

The Force Is Within

"As long as we remain inspired to discover why we came to this world, we remain youthful. Old age has no power over us when we are accompanied by faith that we have something precious to experience and achieve in this lifetime. This faith sparks a burning desire to know the true nature of the invisible force that lies at the core of our being, and when it wells up, nothing — not the lack of worldly resources, a limited knowledge of philosophy, the absence of a living guide, or even old age — can stand in the way of our inner fulfillment."

Rajmani Tigunait
Himalayan Institute

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Steve Jobs, A Buddhist?

I admit i haven't read, and probably won't, the Steve Jobs biography. But from all the news and book excerpts that we have been saturated with since his death, i also have to admit that i wonder about the man's claim to have been a practicing Buddhist.

First of all, let me say that a piece of me admires Steve very much. Not for his success, not for his sales skills, not for his creativity, but for his willingness to be who he wanted to be. He didn't seem to care whether anyone else liked who he was. He didn't seem to care whether anyone else liked the path he wanted to follow. He didn't seem to care whether anyone else thought he was... well, different, unorthodox, a stray cannon. Steve Jobs knew what he wanted to be and became it. That takes guts and a clear understanding of who you are.

On the other hand, from what i understand, he claimed to have been a Buddhist. Yet, despite that, he yelled at his employees, badgered them mercilessly, ran an organization that had fear as a piece of the culture (for certain groups of employees), publicly insulted and disparaged his competitors, held immense grudges, and kept the hateful parts of his heart completely open to public view and well fed. A Buddhist?

When Apple hired John Sculley, they say the clinching argument in the process came from Steve himself, with the now famous "Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to help me change the world?"

That is a beautiful line and i wish i was in a position to be able to use it myself. On the surface, Steve looks like a wonderful person. But, look below that surface. Change the world? Yes, in many ways, Apple has helped change the world. Technologically. But what i am getting at concerns Steve Jobs, not Apple's technology.

Steve was a salesman. He sold desire and attachment. He sold the belief that you were not a whole person if you didn't own one of Apple's products. He sold desire, holding dreams of the "next big thing" just out of our reach for months like a sick man holding bones just out of reach of starving dogs.

Steve convinced the world that we needed to own his product. That life without it was hard to even contemplate. He cut open our hearts and inserted craving directly inside. He convinced millions (or billions?) of people that they were somehow inherently better people because they had an iPod or iPhone when their friends did not. Conversely, he convinced millions of people that they were inherently lacking in some way if they didn't own his product.

Did Steve help change the world? Yes, he helped institutionalize attachment and aversion, greed and craving. A Buddhist? I'm not so sure about that. A dabbler, maybe, but he didn't seem to understand what being a Buddhist really means.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Friday, October 21, 2011

Burning Wood

Sitting in the back yard on a lovely autumn afternoon drinking beer and burning wood left over from the old floor in the back porch that we ripped out and replaced. It's been an all-afternoon project.

Wood from trees that were carefully harvested by someone who's livelyhood depended on that job.

Wood that was cut, sized, and bundled by someone who knew nothing but a life of working in the mill.

Wood that was driven across the country and delivered to the local hardware store by someone who's sole dream as a child was to become a truck driver and see the country.

Wood that was bought, thrown in the back of a truck, and brought to this house by one of the owners long ago.

Wood that was cut to size, trimmed, and installed with immense amounts of pride so that the final product, a new back porch extension on the house, could be showed off to his wife one chilly spring afternoon.

If the newspaper found under the flooring is to be believed the porch was added in March of 1948, but I have no more memories of doing it. Nor of stacking the lumber at the hardware store. Nor of driving it across country and delivering it. Nor of de-barking the trees and cutting them to size. Nor of the day on the side of the hill cutting down the trees.

No, i remember nothing of what I have done as all those other me's, Dave seems to be the only one that fills my thoughts.

But as all the wood goes up in smoke and I watch the flames, my thoughts drift back to who I am when Dave steps out of the way; who I was when the porch was added some sixty years ago; who I will be some sixty years from now when another goofy old man sits in this same back yard burning wood after he/she too has once again rebuilt the porch.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I See Nothing

I see it right there
But what i could it be and
Where could that be found

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Contracting Into Infinity

Expanding inward
It continues ever on
Through that gate not there

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Koi Pond

Finally (FINALLY) finished the job of sealing and waterproofing the foundation of my house. Almost all the dirt is back in place and i'll finish the rest over the next two days.

I still have a few projects that i need to get done before winter weather settles in, so i spent some time today working in the front yard. My sister came over last Saturday and we reworked the path that leads into the yard. We had to change the layout of some of the stones because i put the new cherry blossom tree in the middle of the yard.

As you can see in this picture, the tree is pretty small — about 6 feet tall. You can also see two very small brick flower holders right were the path leaves the front sidewalk. If all goes according to plan, those will be full of petunias next spring.

But, wait? What's that white thing up by the torii? It looks like a pond. Is that possible? Well, look at that; it is. OK, so i put it in this morning so it shouldn't be a surprise. I may tweak the shape next spring, but for now, i'll watch it over the winter and see how i like it. I've always wanted a pond in my yard.

The only thing that would make the pond better, IMO, would for it to have koi in it. I'm afraid it might be too cold here in the winter, though, so won't do it. Besides, they probably require more work and maintenance than i'm willing to give.

But, wait! What are those red things in this pond? Are those... could they be... i can't believe it, i think they ARE koi. Can you believe that?

OK, so they are broken pieces of red brick, bit hey, i'm not very smart so can be fooled pretty easily. I think they look like koi, so that's good enough. :-)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Hate Crimes

Evenings like tonight's are difficult. Ever since shortly before dinner something has wanted writing, has been pushing to come out, distracting all other thoughts all night long. Yet, every time I pick up a keyboard, the fingers refuse to type. It's like a sneeze that is right there, a big, deep inhale and then... nothing. Another sharp inhale, and... nothing. Again, another inhale, and... again, nothing. That's what it's been like all evening and my brain is revolting and demanding "OK already. Either spit it out or get over it and let's move on."

It all started when I was thinking about Kūkai and Dōgen today. As much as I love Dōgen, I have to say that I admire Kūkai just a little bit more. I enjoy Dōgen's teachings more, but as people, as seekers of the truth, Kūkai has always stood apart for me.

When Dōgen realized he didn't have the answers that would satisfy his thirst, he packed up and went to China in search of teachers; he went in search of other people who could impart their knowledge. When Kūkai found himself in that position, he left his teachers and headed to the mountains and beaches of a sparsely inhabited island. Kūkai seemed to understand that the answers he sought weren't to be found in words. Kūkai seemed to understand that he would find what he was looking for by giving up the usual, superficial approach, putting himself in a position where worldly distractions were minimized, and opening himself so that the answers could find him.

Put another way, Dōgen seemed to go to China to find out who he was. Kūkai went to Shikoku to find out who he was not. A man crossed the Inland Sea by boat, but no one got off the boat, no one wandered the island, meditating on mountain peaks and beaches, until no one had the strength to walk on his own, even though Kūkai was always right there with him.

How is it that by subtracting one from one you come up with infinity? How is it that by spending forty days and nights in the desert you come to see that you were never alone? How is it that by doubting knowledge you see the truth? How is it that only by letting go of the limited individual "you," you awaken to the limitless potential of who you really are?

How did Kūkai come to see this so clearly while most of us fight it so ardently? And that's where my fingers run out of words. There's more to this story and that's what's not coming out.

I hate nights like this.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Snowballs In October

It started out simply, late last month, with the two easy tasks of redoing my downstairs bathroom and reworking a stone pathway running up my back yard. From there it was supposed to move to landscaping.

I found a nice pedestal sink on sale for $40 so tore out the old one in the bathroom. Since the landscaping only entailed moving bushes and plants from other parts of the yard to the back yard and rearranging what was already there both jobs should have been inexpensive and easy. What more can you ask?

The job started to snowball out of control soon after i noticed someone working on my neighbor's deck and asked if he had any ideas for fixing the back porch/sun room that was falling off my house. I wasn't really serious at the time, but he came by later and convinced me that he could fix it and that we (i had to help) could do it at a price i could afford. The bathroom job and the back pathway were both underway but now had to go on hold.

Then the snowball made its first appearance.

Once we had the walls jacked up and supported, and then the floor ripped out, i decided that it didn't make sense to put a new floor back in until i sealed a portion of the foundation along the back wall so i could go back to a dry basement when it rains. I had planned to do that job next year but now would have had to rip the floor back up again when i did, so it didn't make sense to delay. All that was required was about 10 feet of wall. More money, but i could do the north wall next year and spread the cost for all three jobs (porch, back wall, & north wall) over two years.

Then the snowball picked up more speed.

First, the guy who was doing the porch was going to help me dig and we would seal the foundation by ourselves. Unfortunately, after the first hour of digging, he didn't came back. Now what? So i called and got some estimates from professional companies. But, and here was the next place the snowball picked up speed, if i hire the job out, i might as well have them do both the back wall and the north wall at the same time.

OK. More money, but i found a company with a price i could afford (how many times can you say that before the cumulative effect is too much?) and they agreed to let me dig the trenches around the house before they started. With less than a week before they were scheduled to start their work, i realized i wouldn't get the digging finished so had to hire a couple of guys from the company to help with the final two days of digging. Two very long days of back-breaking work, but we got it done.

Then the snowball picked up even more speed.

Once the foundation was exposed we were all in shock at what we saw. A good foundation should look like this:

Granted the tuck pointing isn't brand new, but this is what my wall looks like above ground level, and it looks pretty good. The builders of the foundation took their time to do a good job. Obviously. Nice rectangular stones, with plenty of mortar.

Once we got below ground level, it still didn't look real bad. Until the wall was power washed and all the mud removed, that is. This is what we found behind the mud:

Below ground level, any size stone was laid in place in any position with small stones stuck in cracks and gaping holes everywhere. There was little or no pattern in any of the stones. With all the mud removed, there were gaping holes everywhere, small stones falling out here and there, and not one drop of mortar anywhere to be found. None. It looked as if one small push would bring the foundation down.

The snowball headed straight downhill from there. Forget waterproofing the basement, simply on stability grounds i see no way to get around having the entire wall tuck pointed so that the foundation is not simply a collection of stones stacked up but an interlocking wall that should continue to hold my house up. More money.

So, now i wait for the tuck pointing to be finished. Then we go back to the project of sealing the walls and back-filling the trenches. Then we go back to rebuilding the floor in the back porch. Then we go back to the pathway in the back yard. Then we go back to the landscaping. Then, finally, i can install the pedestal sink and replace the toilet.

This snowball has picked up so much speed, i'm getting dizzy.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Truth of The Matter

I never thought i'd agree with Pat Robertson on anything, but find myself eating crow and admitting that we both agree on something.

In a recent interview, Robertson said:

"The truth of the matter is politics is not going to change our world. It's really not going to make that much of a difference."

He's right. Absolutely. 100%. Change, when and if it comes, can only come from "we the people." The government can mandate, obligate, stipulate, and all those other things, but we, as a society, will not change until it comes from the hearts and minds of the people.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Party On The Other Side

Through that gate-less gate
By invitation only
Request yours within

Thursday, September 29, 2011

What's The Point?

I received an email this morning in which the person made the comment:

"Find it interesting how you have connected, for a lack of a better word, spirituality and business. I’ve always thought that was an interesting approach."

Problem is, i'm not sure how to approach a response to that without writing for several hours — and boring everyone to death in the meantime. And the response certainly isn't directed to my friend alone because it applies to a great many people. IMO. Or, IMHO?

In short (that's always the best way to start, i find, because you lose the fewest number of readers), i don't really connect business and spirituality. At least not any more than i connect politics and spirituality, housework and spirituality, taking out the trash and spirituality, going to the bathroom and spirituality, or any other subject and spirituality.

If spirituality is just another compartment in your life, separate and isolated from the other compartments, like school, work, sports, physical fitness, and your social life, then say what you will, but you ... you...

I don't know what i want to say here. You aren't really practicing? Or, you only have a partial practice? The first sounds too harsh, but the later sounds like it's letting you off the hook too easily.

The purpose of Buddhism isn't to teach you how to chant a set of scriptures, how to perform a set of rituals, or how to sit rock solid zazen. It's not even to teach you how to be a good person, a friend to all, caring, or loving. The purpose of Buddhism isn't to teach you anything. If you are learning something and think that is the point, then you are missing the ultimate point.

Buddhism's purpose is nothing other than to open your eyes to Life, as it really is. To reality and your place in it; to your connection to it. It is nothing other than that. Nothing more. Nothing less. Buddhism isn't concerned with your brain, but with your life; every aspect, every corner, every nook and cranny.

If you want to say you practice Buddhism then you need to understand that you are talking about practicing in every area of your life, every situation you ever find yourself in, every day, every minute, every second, every life. There is no down time where you can say you aren't practicing. If there is, you only have a partial practice.

When you get up in the morning, what is your attitude? Are you aware of it? Working to improve it?

When you eat breakfast, are you aware that you are eating or are you formulating your plan for that meeting later in the morning?

When you are brushing your teeth, are you doing that or day dreaming?

During the commute to work, are you there, in the car/bus/train, or are you millions of miles away on vacation, or back home reliving a fight?

At the office, do you participate in the local gossip? Do you snip and bite at the person down the hall that you have decided doesn't treat you well enough while offering smiles and praise to the friend who shares your interests?

When crisis hits, do you fall off the cliff of worry, panic, and self-denegration or do you calmly deal with it to the best of your ability, offering and taking advice as necessary to solve the problem?

Are there Republicans/Democrats in your group of friends? When they start praising their pet policy and condemning non-believers, do you go from smile to anger in a half a millisecond? Do you respond in anger with name-calling attached or do you simply say you can't agree and offer your reasons, all the while acknowledging that their opinion is as valid as yours?

As the hour approaches when you hope to get that sales contract signed, do you decide to do and say whatever it takes to get it done even though it's not really in the best interest of the client, or do both you and the client know that if they sign it it is because it is best for both parties, it is win-win?

When the janitor comes into your office late in the day, do you absently point across the room and say "garbage can's over there," as you keep working, or do you stop, recognize his/her existence and ask how their day has been? Do you even know anything about the life of the person who empties your garbage can?

Do you absolutely hate to lose in the local softball game? Or come in behind your friend during your afternoon jog? Is competition and winning/losing what sports is about or is the game and the camaraderie what really matters?

You see where i'm going with this? I don't separate my Buddhism from any other aspect of my life. It's impossible because Buddhism is my way of life. When i think about business it is through a Buddhist viewpoint. When i think about politics, science, religion, health, or any other topic, it is through Buddhist eyes.

Buddhism isn't what you do on you zafu each morning. Buddhism isn't what you do at that weekend retreat or week-long sesshin. Buddhism is what you do. Period. Everywhere. All the time. With everybody you meet. In every situation, alone or with others.

Why? Because the purpose of studying Buddhism is to see that everywhere is your life. Everyone is your life. Every situation is your life. Everything is your life. But, i'll write more about that in another post. Maybe now is the time to write something about what i posted long ago regarding Dōgen's comment about seeing Everyday Mind throughout the entire world.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Into What?

Steaming cup of tea
Soft rays of a new day's sun
Melting into it

Managing Our Lives

I know this leap seems a bit odd, but bear with me for just a minute. I was reading Peter Drucker's Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices this morning (like i do every Monday morning, because that's what my schedule tells me i have to do on Monday mornings), and ran across this bit of advice:

"The second administrative task [of management] is to bring the business all the time a little closer to the full realization of its potential. Even the most successful business works at a low coefficient of performance as measured against its potential—the economic results that could be obtained were efforts and resources marshaled to produce the maximum yield they are inherently capable of.

"This task is not innovation; it actually takes the business as it is today and asks, What is its theoretical optimum? What inhibits attainment thereof? Where (in other words) are the limiting and restraining factors that hold back the business and deprive it of the full return on its resources and efforts?

"One basic approach—offered here by way of illustration only—is to ask the question What relatively minor changes in product, technology, process, market, and so on, would significantly improve or alter the economic characteristics and results of this business?"

That, in a nutshell, is how i see my practice and how i live my life. It's just a little surprising to see it written in a book on business. I may be a professional failure, but that doesn't make the theories any less correct and pertinent.

Our "business," if you will, is living our lives. The product we produce is the life we live — not the life we want to live or the life we hope to live; not even the life we try and project for others to see, but the actual life we live in all its glory, disarray, and messiness.

The "technology" is what we use to live that life. I have a home practice, with some amount of bells, zafus, statues, etc. Others chose more advanced technologies and practice at Zen Centers and monasteries. Others opt for the highest technology available and actually take vows and become monastics.

The "process" is how we employ the technology we have chosen and how we implement its capabilities into our daily lives.

The "market" is two-fold: our selves and our lives, of course, but also the rest of "everything." Not just all other sentient beings, but the environment, society, culture, etc.

Our jobs, as the only possible managers of our lives, is to "bring the business" of living our lives "all the time a little closer to the full realization of its potential."

That is it! As Drucker points out, this does not necessarily (or usually) entail innovation. It is a constant awareness of where we are, what we are doing, and how we are doing it, keeping our minds open to finding those minor changes that would change the way we live in such a way that we expand that little bit more into our fullest potential.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Hired someone to seal/waterproof my 125 year old limestone foundation last week. There was one catch, though — in order to get a price i could afford i had to do the excavating. Approximately 100 feet of trench along two walls. 7'-8' deep along the back wall and the same at the top of the side wall, then sloping down from there. About 30" wide. Let me tell you, this is brutal work. One week down and i expect to finish by the end of next week.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Robbed In Broad Daylight

"[A]ll questions are silly and so are all answers. Questions come out of the mind like leaves come out of the trees. Questions are part of the mind that has to be dropped; questions keep the mind nourished.

"A question is really a search for food. The answer is the food. The question is a groping: the mind is feeling hungry, it wants to be strengthened, it wants to be fed, it searches for food. Wherever it can find something satisfying... any answer that makes the mind knowledgeable, that gives the mind the feeling 'Now I know,' functions as a food. And the mind can go on and on asking, collecting answers, becoming knowledgeable. The more knowledgeable the mind is, the more difficult it is to drop it. And it has to be dropped, because unless questioning ceases in you, you will never be silent. Unless questioning disappears totally, you will not find that space, that serenity, that stillness, which can make you aware of who you are, and of what this reality is. Remember, reality is never going to come to you in the form of an answer. It has never happened that way, it is not going to happen that way. It CAN'T happen that way, it is not in the nature of things. Reality comes to you when there is no question left; reality comes to an unquestioning state of awareness.

"So the first thing to be remembered is: all questions are silly, and all answers are too. Then you will be a little puzzled -- why do I go on answering your questions? If you look deep down into my answers you will see that they are not answers. They don't nourish your mind, they destroy your mind, they shatter you. They are meant to be shocks. The purpose of my answering is to hammer your mind -- it is hammering, it is not answering. In the beginning, when you come here for the first time and you don't understand me and my purpose, you may think that I am answering you. The longer you are here, the deeper you become attuned with me, the more you know that my answering is not to give you answers. It is not to make you more knowledgeable -- just the opposite. It is to take your knowledge away, to make you unknowledgeable, to make you ignorant -- ignorant again, innocent again -- so that questioning disappears.

"And when there is no questioning, there is a totally new quality to your consciousness. That quality is called wonder. Wondering is not questioning, it is feeling mystified by existence. Questioning is an effort to demystify existence; it is an effort not to accept the mystery of life. Hence we reduce every mystery to a question. The question means the mystery is only a problem to be solved, and once solved, there will be no mystery. My effort in answering you is not to demystify existence but to mystify it more. Hence my contradictions. I cannot be consistent, I am not answering you. I cannot be consistent, because I am not here to make you more knowledgeable. If I am consistent, you will have a body of knowledge -- very satisfying to the mind, nourishing, strengthening, gratifying. I am deliberately inconsistent, contradictory, so that you cannot make any body of knowledge out of me. So if one day you start gathering something, another day I take it away. I don't allow you to gather anything. Sooner or later, you are bound to be awakened to the fact that something totally different is transpiring here. It is not that I am giving you some dogma to be believed in, some philosophy to be lived by, no, not at all. I am utterly destructive, I am taking everything away from you.

"Slowly slowly your mind will stop questioning. What is the point? When no answer answers, then what is the point? And the day you stop questioning is a day of great rejoicing, because then wondering starts. You have moved into a totally new dimension; you are again a child."

The Book of Wisdom

Friday, September 23, 2011

Visiting The Bank

From the book, The Magic of Thinking Big:

Your mind is very much like a bank. Every day you make thought deposits in your "mind bank." These thought deposits grow and become your memory. When you settle down to think or when you face a problem, in effect you say to your memory bank, "What do I already know about this?"

Your memory bank automatically answers and supplies you with bits of information relating to this situation that you deposited on previous occasions. Your memory, then is the basic supplier of raw material for your new thought.

The teller in your memory bank is tremendously reliable. He never crosses you up. If you approach him and say, "Mr. Teller, let me withdraw some thoughts I deposited in the past proving I'm inferior to just about everybody else," he'll say, "Certainly sir. Recall how you failed two times previously when you tried this? Recall what your sixth-grade teacher told you about your inability to accomplish things...Recall what you overheard some fellow workers saying about you...Recall..."

And on and on Mr. Teller goes, digging out of your brain thought after thought that proves you are inadequate.

But suppose you visit your memory teller with this request: "Mr. Teller, I face a difficult decision. Can you supply me with any thoughts which will give me reassurance?"

And again, Mr. Teller says, "Certainly, sir," but this time he delivers thoughts you deposited earlier that say you can succeed. "Recall the excellent job you did in a similar situation before...Recall how much confidence Mr. Smith placed in you...Recall what your good friends said about you...Recall..."

Mr. Teller, perfectly responsive, lets you withdraw the thought deposits you want to withdraw. After all, it is your bank.

The Magic of Thinking Big
David Schwartz

As he goes on to say after this, the remedy is to always, always, always a) deposit only positive thoughts in your memory bank, and b) withdraw only positive thoughts from your memory bank. Always!

More importantly, though, and having a much broader application to our lives, i think, is the idea that "Your memory, then is the basic supplier of raw material for your new thought."

You may think that you are thinking new thoughts, coming up with new ideas, investigating new territory... but the supplier of a great portion of the supporting thoughts and ideas of your thinking is coming from past thoughts, memories of past experiences, and the results as you perceived them.

Change your focus and you change your life.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Road Construction Workers Needed

The street in front of my house is being repaved this week and it is a marvelous thing to watch.

The first step came when all realized that the old road just wasn't working anymore. Sure, it was functional and sufficed for going about our daily lives, but it caused immense amounts of suffering. While there were no holes that would swallow elephants, the entire road was littered with potholes and cracks that caused you to trip and stumble as you went along. Even worse, in some respects, were the constant mind games as you spent most of your time looking out for the problem areas — that you knew were there and so desperately wanted to avoid — knowing the grief they would invoke.

One of the marvelous things about the process is the teamwork involved. Hundreds of people are involved in the process, each with their own specific job to do and as long as each person does their job, the process flows smoothly and seamlessly. Of course, small, unexpected problems do pop up, but it seems that they have small teams set up that can, on a moments notice, rush in to make the repairs, iron out the wrinkles, and smooth tempers. This isn't the job of one person or just a few; this is a major undertaking.

The first step was to strip off all the old beliefs asphalt that was known to be causing the problems. It's not an easy process by any means, but tools have been developed over the years that allow you to remove even them hardest set problem areas.

The old asphalt is stripped right down to the base layer, right down to the ground. That is then thoroughly investigated with teams walking back and forth looking for any signs of weakness where future problems could once again spring up. Areas that need support are given the time and effort needed to stabilize them. Nothing is hurried — this is a process that takes time.

Once the team is convinced that the underlying base is solid everywhere, once everyone believes it can and will support those that choose to travel on it, the rebuilding process begins. There is no guess work here, years of investigation, years of trial and error, years of practical implementation have shown us the best mixture of asphalt to use as a replacement for the old.

Not too hard and brittle, not too soft and supple. Not too easily susceptible to heat, not too susceptible to cold. Can deal with those that carry heavy, hard to manage loads as well as those that pass by with little trace. Can as easily hold up to raging storms that float by unexpectedly as it does to cool spring days with pleasant breezes.

The asphalt can make our lives miserable if it isn't tended to and repaired as necessary. Our job is to keep an eye on it and look for those places that make our lives unnecessarily difficult. What sense does it make to live in a world of pot-holed asphalt and broken roads when with just a little effort we can get it repaired and everyone benefits?

On paper, this process sounds simple: strip off the problems and repave with a new road that both supports us and encourages us to get out and interact with others. In fact, though, it takes immense amounts of work and the support of a great many people to get it done.

The results, the new road we travel, makes all the effort well worth the time and money we need to invest.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Oh boy, did i ever step on toes yesterday. It wasn't an hour after yesterday's post when i heard Dave storming up the stairs yelling "Lao. Lao. You up there? We've got to talk." He didn't sound all that happy.

I won't go into specifics, but the conversation started along these lines:

Lao, i just don't get you. You say you love the henro trail. You say it's an amazing experience. You say it can change people's lives. Yet, you're asking me to be a zombie when i walk it. How can a zombie experience the henro trail?

When did i ever say that you should walk like a zombie?

In that last post. You said to constantly focus on nothing more than the "ceaseless practice of the present" during the entire walk. If i do that, i won't see anything, won't hear anything, won't experience anything. I'll be a walking zombie.

And it went downhill from there, for a while.

Now i know that the rest of you aren't idiots like Dave is, but just in case there is some confusion, i want to make it clear that everything he said last night is utter BS. That's not at all what i meant.

As i pointed out to Dave, being mindful during meditation doesn't mean zoning out, pulling into your head and completely blocking out all perceptions of everything external. Not at all. In fact, it's just the opposite.

Being mindful means being completely open; accepting any and all perceptions that arrive, as they arrive, and letting them pass by, untouched, unanalyzed, uncompartmentalized, without definition and without judgement.

A bird chirps outside and you simply note a noise and let the thought pass by. You don't go to the next step of 'a cardinal,' in the tree on the south side of the house,' or 'i wonder if it is the same bird as this morning.' Simply let the noise pass by like a leaf on a stream.

Clouds float by overhead causing a shadow to sweep across the room. Note the change in light and let the thought pass by untouched. No, 'oh, is it supposed to rain?,' or 'must have been a small cloud,' or even 'cloud.' Just note the change in light and let it move on.

When i say 'note the noise,' or 'note the change in color,' i don't even mean to mentally say anything like "ah, there's a perception." All i mean is, when a thought related to a new perception arises, as it usually will, simply let it pass through your consciousness untouched. Let it come and let it go. Just continue to Be.

And you can do the same thing when you walk. Every second of the walk will produce countless new perceptions as new sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations interact with your body. Unless it happens to be appropriate at that particular time, simply let each perception pass by without thought. Accept them, but don't stop them and focus on them. Let them float into awareness and right back out.

That doesn't make you a zombie, in fact, quite the opposite — if you don't divert your attention to focus on one particular perception, you allow yourself to expand into all perceptions. You miss much less of the experience if you don't grasp onto any one particular aspect of it. Being present doesn't mean being blind, deaf, and dumb, it means being unaffected.

That's what i call the static aspect of being present. There is also a dynamic aspect that comes into play as you intentionally choose to interact with the world — when you choose to talk to someone, or choose to marvel at the beauty of the scenery, or the deliciousness of a particular taste, or the complete oddity of some weird aspect of your experience at that moment.

In these cases, as well, you can learn to function in the present. When you meet someone, listen with your entire being; don't try to second guess their meaning, or some benefit you may receive. Don't try and formulate your answer while they are still talking. When that piece of sushi tastes incredibly good, don't start comparing it to your local shop back home, don't start wondering how much wasabi the chef put on it. Just revel in the taste and enjoy it.

Part of your henro will be spent in the static aspect of mindfulness; controlling that monkey mind as it tries to swing from all the new branches it is being exposed to as you walk. Another part of your henro, though, will be completely dynamic; noticing, interacting, responding, accepting, giving, and more.

Both of these can be done while living nowhere other than 'the present.'

This morning i watched a sparrow outside my window fly into the front yard and settle on a Russian Sage plant. As it settled, the branch sank and wobbled under its weight. Fluttering its wings, the sparrow didn't panic, but allowed the branch to settle at its own pace until an equilibrium had been reached, where the branch no longer wobbled and the sparrow felt safe where it was.

It could just as easily have settled on top of the torii standing nearby, but it chose the sage for reasons unknown. The torii is stable and non-moving; landing there would have eliminated those few moments of uncertainty in whether or not the Sage was going to support it's weight. But the sparrow chose the Sage. Why, i don't know — maybe because of the intense purple color or because of the intoxicating smell.

For whatever reason, the sparrow accepted the temporary uncertainty, confident that as long as it stayed present, if the experience didn't play out as expected it could move on to another option easily.

That's what i'm asking you to do on the henro trail. Don't spend your days sitting on the torii, always safe in the thoughts and habits that make up your normal life back home, and in which you feel completely secure. Seek out that Sage, those new, uncertain, colorful and intoxicating experiences where you're not sure how they will turn out. Where you will wobble and feel unsure as the experience begins to unfold.

By approaching these experiences only in the present, though, you can know when the wobbling is too much and when it might be appropriate to simply move on to another branch. The key is to approach the experience with a mind firmly fixed in the present moment, and nowhere else.

Nothing about this approach implies living like a zombie. Nothing.

Now, i wonder how long it will take Dave to come storming upstairs this time..... :-)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

What Is A Henro?

I know i'll step on some toes with this post because there are a lot of people who have walked the henro trail on Shikoku and, therefore, call themselves "henro" even though i would say they are only tourists. If you are one of those people, this is not meant as a disparaging put-down; nor a judgement of the value of your walk as compared to mine. It is only my thoughts on the difference between these two groups of walkers: henro & tourists.

The easy way to start is to say what a henro is not. As long as you think that the goal of this walk is to visit each of the 88 (108) temples, you are a tourist. As long as you think that the goal has anything to do with the "form" of the pilgrimage, you are not a henro.

You become a henro only when you see that the goal is found in the "emptiness" of the pilgrimage, in what is not there, what can not be grasped and held onto, what can not be seen, heard, smelled, tasted or touched. Only when you understand that each step on the path, by itself, is the goal do you become a henro. When you realize that the goal is nothing more than to take each step, one after another, with no further thoughts of attainment, then and only then, does the tourist disappear and the henro arrives on the scene.

Each step is the goal and the goal is each step. These are equivalent. Not the same, but not different. Just as form and emptiness. Just as life and death. Just as words and silence.

Malcolm Bosse in his novel The Warlord, made it very clear when he had one of his characters point out that:

Whoever or whatever it is that gives such things gives us our essence at birth.
That essence then begins to unfold.
To watch it unfold is to live.
To watch it unfold with confidence and good humor is to follow the Way.

It's hard to improve on that. As you take your first steps away from Temple One, an experience of the henro trail begins to unfold. To watch it unfold as you walk is to live. To watch it without judgement, without desire, without preference for one or another kind of experience, letting it unfold as it will ... with confidence and good humor ... is to follow the Way.

Lao Tsu also talked about this distinction when, in the 11th chapter of the Tao Te Ching, he says:

Thirty spokes share the wheel's hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.

Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.

Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.

Therefore benefit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.

All maps of the pilgrimage show 88 (108) temples, 4 prefectures, thousands of mile/kilometer markers. Focusing on these material way-points will bring you benefit: health benefits, psychologoial benefits, maybe even spiritual benefits. But none of this is what makes the henro trail useful.

Lao Tsu tries to point to the usefulness as he continues into the 14th chapter.

Look, it cannot be seen — it is beyond form.
Listen, it cannot be heard — it is beyond sound.
Grasp, it cannot be held — it is intangible.
These three are indefinable;
Therefore they are joined in one.

From above it is not bright;
From below it is not dark:
An unbroken thread beyond description.
It returns to nothingness.
The form of the formless,
The image of the imageless,
It is called indefinable and beyond imagination.

Stand before it and there is no beginning.
Follow it and there is no end.
Stay with the ancient Tao,
Move with the present.

Knowing the ancient beginning is the essence of Tao.

The usefulness of the henro trail is it's unending willingness to point the henro towards what the above words are trying to show us. Standing at the sanmon of Temple One, there is no beginning. Follow the henro trail and there is no end. Stay with each step, one at a time; never stray. Move with the present. This is the essence of the henro.

In the Ceaseless Practice chapter of his Shōbōgenzō, Dōgen says: "Ceaseless practice which manifests ceaseless practice is nothing other than ceaseless practice of the present. Ceaseless practice of the present is not the ceaseless practice of the original self, nor does it come and go, exit and enter. 'In the present' does not mean 'existing prior to ceaseless practice.' It refers to the time ceaseless practice emerges. Therefore, that is why the ceaseless practice of one day is the seed of all the Buddhas. Through ceaseless practice, all Buddhas are manifest and their ceaseless practice occurs."

Being a true henro means dedicating each step of the walk to nothing more than an investigation of this "ceaseless practice of the present."

Of course, having said all of that, you'll know you are a henro when you know that there really is no goal in this walk — there is only being and walking. What will come will come. What will go will go. What will occur will occur. As a henro, you understand that your only responsibility is to accept, and move on. One step at a time.

Dangerous Construction Practices

Constructing your life
Looking for something to build
First nail and you're lost

It's very simple
Build it and it's of no use
It's not like something

Friday, September 16, 2011

Internal Stillness

I could listen to Francis Lucille teach forever...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bad Drivers

A very interesting ride to the grocery store this morning.

On the way there, the car behind me obviously didn't think that my driving the speed limit was near fast enough. At times I doubt you could have slid a piece of paper between my back bumper and his front bumper. It drove me nuts, but I laughed at him and tried to ignore it.

On the way home, the car in front of me for a while obviously didn't think that the speed limit was the proper speed for that road, opting for 30 mph instead of the posted 40. It drove me nuts, but all I could do is laugh and try to ignore it.

Then it hit me: slower than I wanted to drive = bad driving; faster than I wanted to drive = bad driving. In other words, if life didn't conform to my wishes and expectations then life was wrong, not me.

That's when I started laughing at myself. How entirely bogus. How completely ridiculous. I don't believe that nonsense, so why was I being stupid?

Thanks, life, for today's lesson.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

No Dogs Don't Die

That dog Mu was dead
Before it became famous
It was everywhere

Mergers & Acquisitions

Found this to be very interesting bicycling news: RadioShack & Leopard-Trek are merging teams.

Some of the funnier comments i've read about the merger are the complaints that Levi Leipheimer isn't included in the new team. Seems that he opted to leave and join the also newly-merged Omega-Pharma/Quickstep team; there is too much competing talent for him to be considered a leader if he had stayed with Radio-Shack/Leopard-Trek.

What i find humorous is that Levi would be considered a "leader" on any team competing at the Grand Tours. He's a good rider, don't get me wrong, but he is not good enough to be the leader and have a team built around him in support of GC wins — except for races here in the US.

Building a team around Levi would be like BMC building a team around George Hincapie. I love George, highly respect him and his talent, but he is a leader of the support group, the riders supporting the GC contenders, not the person expected to win the race. Levi is exactly the same.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Good Fortune

Went to the local Home Depot this afternoon to get some parts to do a job at my sister's house. Imagine my surprise to find a Yoshino cherry blossom tree sitting by the front door on sale for $27. It's about 7' tall now, but will grow to about 30' tall and 30' in diameter, slightly smaller than the Shidarezakura (weeping cherry blossom tree) that is already in my front yard.

The Yoshino is now sitting in my front yard and will be planted in the morning.