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