Friday, December 28, 2012


This nice story about our practice, from The Path To Bodhidharma, by Shodo Harada Roshi.

"At Sogenji is the story of the master whose bath-water was far too hot. He told the disciple who was in charge of the bath that day to bring some cold water. At that time, of course, there was no faucet to make the water start running. The disciple had to go all the way out to the well, pull up a bucketful of water, take the water into the bath, and then go back to the well again to bring up another bucketful of water, and go back into the bath with it. Many times he went back and forth from the well bringing cold water. When the bath was finally cooled to just the right temperature, the master said, 'Okay, that’s good enough.'

"When he said 'that’s good enough,' the monk took the little bit of the water that was left in the bucket and dumped it out on the floor. He put the bucket upside down and, thinking his work was finished, prepared to leave. His teacher was furious and said, 'What are you doing?' The monk was amazed and did not understand why, when he had just finished his job, his teacher was suddenly angry at him. The master said, 'You thought there was only a little bit of water left in that bucket, so you dumped it out so carelessly. Why, just because it was a little bit of water, did you not perceive how to give that little bit of water life? If you had taken it outside you could have put it on a flower, you could have given it to a tree, you could have used it for the vegetables in the garden.'

"The master knew and was telling the monk that in one drop of water, even in the slightest drop of water, there is an entire universe of energy and functioning. We must make our efforts so that we are using what comes to us totally --- if there is a lot of water we can use it in a big way, but with even the smallest drop of water we should put our efforts totally into taking the life of that one drop seriously and using it in the best possible way. That is what doing our practice is all about."

How often do we simply dump the 'little bit' out rather than using it wisely? "I'd give my seat to that elder woman, but i think she gets off in just a few stops so why bother." "I know i just walked past a dime laying on the street, but it's only a dime, so..." "Hey, can i call you back later, my TV show is getting ready to start." "I know i won't eat it all, but i might as well cook the whole package because there won't be enough left for another meal anyhow." "I won't meditate this morning since i don't have time for the whole half-hour." "Yes, yes, yes, i know we don't wear shoes in the house, but i'm just going to tip toe to the refrigerator and get that bottle of water i forgot." "I know it's too long, but set the dryer timer for an hour; that way when we check it later we know the clothes will be dry."

How careful are we with our practices? How often do we let convenience overrule conscientious awareness. How often do we unconsciously let a line be drawn between our 'practice' and our 'daily lives?'

Our practice is our daily lives.

p.s., i posted this earlier, but HERE is someone who lives his practice.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Why, Oh Why?

Why do some authors feel so absolutely compelled to rub my nose in my own stinking piles of dung??? It's like some authors sit down and gleefully say, "Hee, hee, hee, I'll get that idiot in Lockport again today. Watch this!"

"Maharajji tried to comfort me; he patted me on the head, he sent for milk and fed it to me. He was crying and I was wailing and wailing. And when I got all finished with my wailing, he said to me, 'I thought I told you not to get angry?'

"I said, 'Yeah—but you also told me to tell the truth, and the truth is that I'm angry.'

"Then he leaned toward me, until he was nose to nose and eye to eye, and he said, 'Give up anger, and tell the truth.'

"I started to say, 'But...'—and then, right at that moment, I saw my predicament. See, what I was going to say to him was 'But that isn't who I am.' And in that instant, I saw in front of me the image of a coffin, and in the coffin was an image of who I thought myself to be. And what Maharajji was saying to me was 'I'm telling you who you're going to be, after you're finished being who you think you are.'

"Then I looked over at all those people, all of whom I detested, and I saw that one layer down, one tiny flick of the lens, I loved them all incredibly. I suddenly saw that the only reason I was angry with them was because I had a model of how I thought it ought to be, which was other than the way it was. How can you get angry at somebody for being what they are? You're trying to outguess God. They're just being what God made them to be—what are you getting angry about? Somebody lies to you? They're just doing their karmic trip. Why are you upset? 'Well, I didn't think they'd lie to me!' Ah, expectations—there's your problem. The next time you get angry, look closely at what you're angry about. You'll see you're angry because God didn't make the world the way you think it should have been made. But God makes the world the way She makes it!"

Ram Dass
Paths To God: Living The Bhagavad Gita

Even if i ignore the "God" part, it all is so very, very, true. Too true. Pisses me off when my nose gets all smelly....

Friday, December 21, 2012

Intricate Designs

Completely forgot that i had promised to upload this picture. This is the door between my living room and dining room. Originally, the space above the door was solid and covered in wallpaper to match what can be seen on the walls. I opened that space up and made what was called in the old days, a transom, who's purpose back then was to allow the hot air that accumulates at ceiling level to move to another room where there might not have been a heat source.

After opening the wall i framed it in wood then built the lattice work that you see now. It has completely transformed the look of the room.

(Click to enlarge)

Went to the movies for the first time in a decade today — a treat from my sister. We went to see Lincoln, a movie i thought was going to be about the Civil War. (How can any sane person call any war civil??????)

I know i may have been the only person in the US that didn't know this, but much to my surprise and delight, the war only played a trivial part in the movie — it was all about Lincoln's push to get the Congress to pass the 13th amendment to the the constitution.

Section 1.
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

At the time of its passing, a great many people in this wonderful country of ours were convinced that this ensured the doom of all our forefathers had fought for, that it forebode the certain decline and eventual destruction of all we held dear, that we held to be true and just.

But just the opposite has proven true. Granted that the battle for equality didn't end there, that many would say it still has a long way to go, but those brave men who had the courage to stand up and be counted for justice, good, and rightness, proved that we Americans on the whole are willing to do what is right.

I imagine that today, right now, as i type this, the exact same types of conversations are taking place in Congress, that the exact same type of backroom dealing is taking place, that the exact same sweat is being shed by those who refuse to stand up for rightness even though they know that what they stand for is wrong.

It is time for America to admit that we have a gun problem, that this addiction is tearing our society apart, tearing cities and families apart, that if it is not stopped soon, we will no longer have the ability to hold our heads high in front of our peers worldwide.

This isn't about mental illness. This isn't about failed school systems. This isn't about violent video games and movies. This isn't about the right of hunters to own guns. This is about a moral failure. This is about a disease that has infected an entire society, a disease prompting all of us to avert our eyes and change the subject just as long as it's not our schools or our children.

It is time to admit that all of those needlessly killed are our children, are our brothers and sisters, are our mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles. Guns kill, no matter what the NRA says. Guns kill. And it may be your child next.

If those brave people had the courage to stand up for the 13th amendment, why do we not have the courage to stand up now? Look in the mirror and ask yourself that tonight as you tuck your child in bed or as you say goodnight to your parents. In some cases, for the very last time.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Bottom of The 12th -- Still Tied

Of all the books I've read, or reread, this year, I was sure that Shohaku Okumura's Realizing Genjokoan was going to be the best. I haven't finished it yet, but will soon, and even before reaching the end I know I'll reread it next year. Having said that, though, it fell off its pedestal today.

This morning I started reading Ram Dass' Paths To God: Living The Bhagavad Gita, and am blown away, head-over-heels in love. Between stints in the basement putting the finishing touches on some woodwork (picture tomorrow after the stain dries), I've done nothing but read all day, which means, unfortunately, that I'll finish it too soon.

"Paths" isn't another commentary on the Gita, but a commentary on what it means to live a life based on the Gita. What it means to get out of the way of Life so that it can manifest in you. What it means to see Life without a 'you' in it. What it means to see that you are Life. And while I have read other books by Ram Dass, each time I did, i ended by simply put the finished book on the shelf in the library and thinking something like, "Hmmm... Interesting ideas. What should I read now?" "Paths" is very, very different.

The question I'm considering now is a) is it because of the ideas he puts forth?, b) is it because of the way he wrote it, the way he's putting forth the ideas?, or c) have I just fallen helplessly in love with the Gita?

The Gita is such a beautiful book and each time through it I see so much more than I did previously. It's one of those books that's easy to read once and say, "Nope, doesn't apply to me, I'm not a Hindu." And if that's where you stop, you don't know what you're missing.

I haven't been writing much lately — there's this ongoing battle in the house between the desire to hash ideas out by getting them down on (virtual) paper, i.e., the blog, and simply enjoying silence and letting all the thoughts and ideas leave in a huff because I refuse to give them the attention they so crave. Lately the silence has been winning.

With the start of the year, though, I hope to force myself to be a little more vocal again, and I think I'll start by talking about these two books: "Paths" and "Realizing."

So with just a few weeks left (less if the 21st is the end), it's looking like I will never be able to choose one favorite book for the year. Oh well, I could have worse problems than having to choose between two great books.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Spent the late afternoon and early evening with a wonderful guest — Nisargadatta Maharaj. I find his thoughts so in common with my own. He says that our spiritual growth takes place in four stages:

- At the lowest level is our normal everyday conditioned existence. We live our days with our hopes, fears, desires, beliefs, book knowledge, and the countless other beliefs that we have been taught, actively and passively, to be "true." We live our days believing that this body and mind are who we are.

- With some amount of meditation we can see above this falsehood. We can see that above and beyond all those conditioned beliefs, what is really "true" is that "I Am." I am; no more, no less, but the old conditioned beliefs are now seen to be false, to not be who we are. Everything we believed before is seen to be impermanent, constantly changing, coming and going, so it can not be used to define who we are. We are above all that.

- With more meditation we are able to reach that place where we see that even this "I Am" is temporary. Just by saying "I Am," you still have one foot in the old objective world. Therefore, even this, too, can not be who we are. In meditation, you can crawl between any two thoughts (my analogy, not his) and come to that place where you see that simple consciousness is the holder of even that "I Am." "I Am" can come and go, but this consciousness remains. We are this consciousness and it begins at the moment of conception, even though "I Am" may take a year to develop after birth.

- With dedication, perseverance, and a relentless drive to go further, though, you can get to where you can see that even this consciousness is changeable and temporary. If you go mad, or use drugs, or get unbelievably angry (etc.), your consciousness takes a different appearance. It manifests differently. Therefore, being temporary, being changeable, it too can not be who you are.

- You come to See that above this consciousness that manifests as your physical body/mind, that manifests as the physical world, there is simple, all encompassing, ever present Awareness. Absolute awareness. That manifests as your consciousness, my consciousness, as everyone and everything. This unchanging omnipresent Awareness is who we are, and we have reached the end of our search.

Does this Awareness know itself? No, it simply Is. It can only know itself through a manifested consciousness. This awareness always is, whether or not there is a conditioned being, a non-conditioned I Am-ness, or even a manifested consciousness.

Our goal is to focus on the awareness, and nothing else. Seek it, not the conditioned experience that many people call enlightenment, which can come and go, can change — hence can not be the ultimate state.

Seek this ultimate awareness.

Friday, November 30, 2012


A wall blocks your path?
No way over or around?
Bodhidharma sat.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

What Is The Point?

A nice life lesson from Hara: The Vital Center of Man, by Karlfried Graf Durckheim.

I take up my position. The master stands before me. As custom demands I bow low first to him and then, turning left, to the target, face the master again and calmly carry out the first movements.

Each movement must flow smoothly from the previous one. I place the bow on my left knee, take up one of the arrows resting against my right leg, place it on the string; the left hand holds arrow and bow firmly together—and then the right is slowly raised, only to be lowered again while the breath flows out completely. The hand grasps the string and then—slowly breathing in—the bow is gradually drawn while being raised. This is the decisive movement which must be carried out as calmly and steadily as the moon rises in the evening sky. Before I have even reached the point where the arrow must touch the ear and cheek, and the whole bow is stretched to its fullest capacity, the deep voice of the master cuts right through me, "Stop!"

Surprised and a little irritated because of this interruption at the moment of utmost concentration, I lower the bow. The master takes it from my hands, winds the string once round the end of the bow and hands it back to me smiling. "Once again, please,"

Unsuspecting, I begin again to go through the same series of motions. But when it comes to drawing the bow my strength fails me. The bow has now twice the tension it had before and my strength is insufficient. My arms begin to tremble, I sway unsteadily to and fro, the posture so painstakingly won is lost. The master, however, begins to laugh. Desperately I try again, but it is hopeless. Nothing but a pitiful failure.

I must have looked rather vexed for the master asks, "What are you so annoyed about?"

"What? You can ask me that? For weeks and weeks I have practiced and now, at the vital moment, you interrupt me before I have even drawn."

Once again the master laughs cheerfully, then suddenly serious, he says something like this, "What exactly do you want? That you had accomplished the task I had given you I could see from the way you took up your bow. But the point is this—when a man, perhaps after a long struggle, has achieved a certain form in himself, in his life, in his work, only one misfortune can then befall him—that fate should allow him to stand still in that achievement. If fate means well by him it knocks his success out of his hands before it sets and hardens. To do just this during practice is the task of a good teacher. For what is the point of all this? Not the hitting of the target. For what ultimately matters, in learning archery or any other art, is not what comes out of it but what goes into it. Into, that is into the person. The self-practice in the service of an outward accomplishment serves, beyond it, the development of the inner man. And what endangers this inner development more than anything else? Standing still in his achievement. A man must go on increasing, endlessly increasing."

This is such a nice followup to something i posted on my Facebook page the other day:

"[A] man of inner strength
whose senses experience objects
without attraction or hatred,
in self-control, finds serenity.

In serenity, all his sorrows dissolve;
his reason becomes serene,
his understanding sure.

Without discipline,
he has no understanding or inner power;
without inner power, he has no peace;
and without peace where is joy?"

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2

Even though this life seems destined for the failure column, i'll go to my ash urn believing these two points:

• Standing still in your achievement kills any chance of further development. We must continuously, relentlessly, march forward — growing, endlessly growing.

• Without discipline there is no understanding, hence, no peace and no joy.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Japanese Diapers

It's amazing how rapidly Japan's population is aging. According to this article at, "Unicharm Corp.’s sales of adult diapers in Japan exceeded those for babies for the first time last year."

Sunday, October 21, 2012

There's More Than One Way To Be Confused

The problem with being a terrible writer is that i never know how to write what i want to say. At least that's how it seems most of the time, but i'm wondering if the problem, at least some of the time, is that i can't write something because i still haven't decided what i really think about a subject.

Hmmmmm....... So, i've delayed enough that i'm just going to start typing and see what comes out.

I think we decided that i'm not a fan of tariki, except for those moments when i am. I think we decided that i'm firmly in the jiriki camp, even though we all know that most of what we do is outside of our control.

Make sense so far? I didn't think so. Try living in my head for awhile and you'll really come to understand confusion. (or delusion? but i'm not going there...)

From my perspective, just like the Buddhist concepts of Ultimate Reality and Conventional Reality, tariki and jiriki are simply two ways of looking at the world. At times, tariki is appropriate, at other times, jiriki is appropriate. Attempting to confine them to opposite corners of the ring and preventing them from slugging it out in the center of the ring just doesn't make sense. In fact, it's impossible; locked arm-in-arm, swinging with both fists and fighting it out in center ring (i.e., your life) is the only place the two concepts can survive.

There is only one person who is responsible for Dave's life, there is only one person who can be responsible for that life, and that is me, the jiriki believing, conventional reality inhabiting me. Nothing gets done without my doing it. Nothing gets learned without my studying it. Nothing is let go of, nothing is surrendered without my agreeing to the release. I'm the only one who can tell Dave to sit his butt down on the zafu, to tell him to start the timer, and tell him to look for his breath until "things" settle down.

But once that settling has taken place, once Dave is gone, I'm once again free to sit on that zafu, free to breath, free to live. It's this I, the same I that you would talk about when you disappear on your zafu, that really runs things. It is this I that is the tariki believing, ultimate reality inhabitant.

So, back to where this was supposed to go.... If tariki means acknowledging some god, buddha, or other deity as the ultimate decider and doer in my life, then i'm don't accept it as a valid or useful part of my life's philosophy. If, on the other hand, tariki means acknowledging that Dave is nothing more than this bag of skin, with a brain and all of the other useful organs stuffed inside, trained and conditioned from birth to act, think, and do in certain unthought-about ways, and that the real me, the I that is you at one and the same time, is who i really am, and that that I is the "other" in tariki,... (whew)... then yes, i can see a place for tariki.

Which brings be all the way back to the henro trail. I occasionally tell stories about how the Daishi was watching out for me on the trail, how things were going wrongly until the Daishi stepped in and set them straight. A lot of henro have similar stories. Part of henro lore is that the Daishi walks with each and every henro, accompanying them and aiding them as necessary. In fact, that's why i start each walk with a trip to Mt. Kōya and the Daishi's mausoleum. I go there to ask for his help and company. Only after doing that do i go to Shikoku and begin walking.

But here is where i have to be honest. I do not believe that the ghost or spirit of that 9th-10th century monk is actually there watching over me. Sorry, but i don't think he is sitting in eternal meditation. When his followers closed the doors on his mausoleum all those many centuries ago, he was really, really dead. (I can't believe i just said that in public)

Yet i do say, still say, and will continue to say that the Daishi accompanies all henro that ask him, that the Daishi watches out for us and keeps us out of trouble, that the Daishi brings help when it's needed. I know that sounds like a contradiction and that i'm firmly in the "other power" camp here, relying on the power of that eternally meditating, unceasingly watchful, always ready to help, promoted to deity status, Kōbō Daishi.

I say it, though, because for me, "the Daishi" is symbolic for that I i talked about above, that I that doesn't walk the henro, trail, on Shikoku, in Spring, even though it's there every second of every day that Dave is doing just that. The Daishi is symbolic for everything Dave sees, hears, smells, tastes, touches, and thinks while on the trail, even though he is none of those. The Daishi is who walks in Dave's shoes when Dave steps out on a break.

I, Dave, firmly believe in tariki, if the "other" referred to is the nothing that manifests as everything, the non-sense that makes sense of everything. And it's when Dave can step out of the way and let that "other" take care of things that it appears that the Daishi is there watching out for him and keep him out of trouble.

I guess the only way to say this is that Dave is firmly in the jiriki camp but I'm in the tariki camp. But, i'm not sure if that sounds all that clear.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sailing With The Wind

While certainly not my last thoughts on the subject, this is where i'll leave these ruminations on Tariki: Embracing Despair, Discovering Peace.

Surprisingly, a month after having read it i'm no closer to answering the questions i had when i first picked up the book. Or, maybe that's not true and i did find answers — the tariki road is not for me and that has become even more certain. In a way, you could say that is an answer simply because it eliminated one variable in that hugely complex equation that we call life.

One thing that strikes me even today is the similarities i see between Itsuki's beliefs and that of Vedanta as laid out in the Bhagavad Gita. In several places throughout his book, Itsuki clearly states that he lives his days with the motto "There is nothing i can do" on the tip of his tongue. Amida is the final arbiter of everything he does. But, he makes it clear that that in no way implies a life of non-action.

Itsuki uses a very nice analogy in the book that addresses this issue. Picture a sailboat on a lake, a boat with only sails, no motor of it's own. Without an external wind, there is nothing it can do. The boat and the sailor will just sit, dead in the water, unless there is a wind to provide propulsion. How the sailor uses that wind depends on his strength and skill, how he sets his sails. All are provided the same propulsion, some use it wisely some use it poorly.

When there is no wind, though, a good sailor doesn't just lay on the deck and sleep, crying "there is nothing i can do." No, a good sailor is working on the boat, maintaining and cleaning it, making improvements, getting it ready for when a wind does appear, so that the boat, and himself, are in a position to make the best use of it. Non-action, doing nothing, is the fools way of waiting for the wind.

In the Bhagavad Gita a similar story occurs. In short, when Krishna takes Arjuna out between the two armies so he can survey the scene, Arjuna panics. On the opposing side he sees relatives, friends, teachers, gurus, and countless other people he can't imaging having to kill in the upcoming battle. He freezes in the indecision that overtakes him; do my duty as a warrior or do my duty as a family member?

Arjuna can't make the decision so throws down his bow and says he will not fight. Of course Krishna must have looked at him as if he is a complete idiot, and says "What? Are you an idiot? It's your duty!" When that didn't change his mind, Krishna tries several other approaches but the one i'm interested in is this: "Listen, your job is action, not the results of that action. You have control over what actions you do and how you do them. You have no control over the results of those actions. That's not for you to worry or panic over since it is out of your control. Just do the action to the best of your ability and accept whatever result may come."

From this angle, Jodo Shin Shu and Vedanta are on the exact same sailboat.

But, that's where i get stuck. I absolutely agree, i mean 100+%, that when we are honest with ourselves we have to admit that both Itsuki and Krishna are correct. All we can do is concern ourselves with is how we approach and do the actions we do. Any and all results are outside of our control. There are too many variables involved in even the simplest of actions for us to control the outcome. Outcomes our completely beyond our control. We can steer very carefully and very precisely towards our chosen port, we can be mindful of every variable we are aware of, masterfully correcting here and adjusting there, but who's to say that, at the very, very last second, a gust of wind won't suddenly appear and push us into the wharf? Who's to say it can not happen? No one can say that. It could. The results are out of our control.

I accept that as a given. I can do the best i can do in any situation, but know that the final result is out of my hands. It may usually/frequently/occasionally/sometimes end as planned and hoped, but it is impossible to say it will end that way every time, guaranteed. So why, then, do i not accept the viewpoint of tariki over jiriki?

I know i have a piece of the answer, but it doesn't completely satisfy me yet. The obvious answer is that this is not an either/or discussion. It's not that i think tariki has no merit and jiriki is everything, or that Itsuki thinks jiriki has no merit and tariki is the only answer. That's obviously not true as Itsuki laid out in his book (remember the yacht skipper).

The final dilemma comes, i think, when you try to view past the horizon looking for the wind. Itsuki sees Amida out there, i don't. Itsuki sees a Buddha ready and willing to help, i see nothing except the horizon.

Yes, the results of my actions our out of my control. Yes, i can only be certain of the effects of my actions to a limited extent. Past that point, though, uncertainty reigns. And that's where i leave it, at uncertainty. There is no one to pick up the slack and make it certain again. Nature takes its course, not Amida.

So, having written that, i guess i have one more post to write on the subject. About the henro trail and the Daishi. Maybe tomorrow.

Certain of nothing
The dice are scattered anew
A new day new life

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Your Choice

Hiroyuki Itsuki wrote:
"Some may deride this view as negative and pessimistic, but this was the starting point for the Buddha. Emerging from a life of privilege and shelter, he looked directly at the reality of human existence and saw birth, old age, sickness, and death as its essence. This view of human existence as defined by birth, old age, sickness, and death is the ultimate expression of negative thinking."

In a previous post i agreed with Itsuki and offered that i do deride his views as negative and pessimistic. I need to back off that a little here. I wrote that because "deride" was the word he offered, but it has bothered me since then. I certainly do not deride him for his views. There is no contempt in my opposing opinions, there is no mocking intended here. But, i do disagree with him.

I don't deride his views, nor do i look down on him for having them. As long as they don't hurt others, or incite others to hurt others, then everyone is entitled to their own views and opinions. Whether you accept them or not everyone will have their own views opinions, and most of those will be different than your own. In fact, i would make the argument that no two people on the planet have the exact same views — we all, everyone of us inhabit our own personal world and have, therefore, our own, specifically personal, world views.

It's just that in my way of looking at this world it seems to me that he has chosen among the worst of all possible options — impossibly negative and pessimistic, assuming the worst, giving up all hope for the best. From my perch, if you never expect anything good, that's what you'll get ... nothing good. If you never expect happiness and fulfillment, that's what you'll get ... unhappiness and an unfulfilled life.

I can't say that Itsuki is wrong and i'm right, of course not, but i do thank my lucky stars that i somehow escaped that black hole of negativity that seems to have sucked him in.

In any case, back to what he wrote. Seeing that old age, sickness, and death define human existence, that they provide the broadest of outlines inside of which we live our lives, is not the ultimate expression of negative thinking, but simply a recognition of what it means to be alive, the "reality of human existence," as Itsuki said.

The ultimate expression of negative thinking would be to take this understanding of reality to its ultimate end and say that, since we will all ultimately get old and die, what use is there to live? What use is there to have children? When you bring them into the world all you are doing is condemning them to die. From their first breath they are condemned. Why bother putting them through that?

But that is not what the Buddha said. He accepted this as the basic fact of life, but questioned whether or not that was the whole story. And in the end, he rejected that option and pointed out a different way of looking at our lives. He took the ultimately positive road and said that even inside that broad outline of certain aging and death there is something that we can do about suffering, there is a wondrous life that can be lived. Even in the most horrendous of circumstances, there is, if not happiness, then at least peace and contentedness to be found.

What matters is how you define your life, how you define what you see through that rolling window of circumstances and events that is your life. Buddha taught that your world ("the" world, from your perspective) is something you personally create, define, organize, and maintain. You can define and maintain a wold full of suffering, hopelessness, despair, and surrender or you can define and maintain a world full of compassion, love, hope, and goodness.

Everything about your world is defined by your mind and your mind alone. Everything in your world is judged and evaluated by your mind and your mind alone. Everything in your world is as it is in your mind and your mind alone. And there is no reason that you can not train your mind to see, experience, and live in a better world. This is not ultimately negative, it is the epitome of positivity. You are in charge, you can have as much happiness as you want, you can be anything you want. All you have to do is put in the effort.

Yes, what happens "out there" may be completely out of your control. But how you react to it "in here" is under no one's control but your own. Choose the high road and the low road will disappear.

But, even more importantly than all that is the question "What is life?" Is it that period between birth and death? Is there really such a thing as birth and death or just different and constantly changing ways that "we" manifest?

As long as we maintain the illusion that there is a "me" and those "others," there will be those problems which others cause for me. So the Buddha also offered the ultimate solution. Wake up; see for yourself that ultimately there are no problems that anyone can cause you, no difficulties too difficult to bear, no hardships worth wrangling your hands over, because "you" are not the one experiencing them. If experience is part of the equation, then you're looking at the wrong "you." The real you, the real other, isn't born, doesn't experience, doesn't suffer, and doesn't die.

The Buddha taught two ways of dealing with suffering, neither of which was pessimistic or negative. Accept a difference between yourself and everything else but train your mind to reject negativity, hatred, aggression, and greed, and, instead, live a life of compassion, love, and hope. Or, realize there is no difference, in which case there is no difference.

Friday, October 5, 2012


Hiroyuki Itsuki wrote:
"When one is accustomed to kindness, one naturally loses the feeling of gratitude. That's why it's so important not to become accustomed to it. One must continually return to the spiritual starting point of no expectations."

In today's world, at least in the parts of the world i have visited, it seems true that people have overwhelmingly lost the feeling of gratitude. I can't argue with that first sentence. People, in general, have come to expect, not just kindness, but an easy life.

The food for your meals is readily available, in all sorts of varieties and pricing. The fuel for your vehicle is readily available at a pump not too far away. The main roads you use to get to work are repaired as soon as problems develop. Gas, electricity, and water are piped and wired right into your home so you have heat, electricity, and toilets on demand whenever you want them. These also keep your refrigerator running so your food stays fresh and you aren't required to go shopping every day. With the turn of a knob, your stove comes to life and food preparation is quick and easy. Drinking water? Turn another tap.

We have become accustomed to an easy life. Most of us do simply take it for granted. And, AND, we are wrong for doing so. But, the way to correct our mistake is not to return to "no expectations," but to open our eyes and hearts and once again teach ourselves to see where everything in our lives comes from. To understand that we have what we have, our lives are what they are, only because others have provided for us — and be genuinely grateful for their offerings.

This is not a difficult thing to do. When you open the refrigerator and take out a carton of milk, take 2 seconds and remember that someone raised the cow that produced the milk. Someone dedicated their days to caring for and feeding those cows. Someone drove a truck to that dairy farm and transported the milk to where it is processed. People worked in that factory as well. Someone scheduled the pickup to ship the cartons of fresh milk to the grocery store. Another driver drove it there and unloaded it. Someone stocked the shelves at the store so you could access it. Someone checked you out when you finished shopping.

Someone designed and built the equipment used on that dairy farm. Someone designed, built, and maintained those trucks used in transporting everything. Someone designed and built the carton your milk comes in. Someone built and maintains the machines where those cartons are made. Someone maintains and cleans the grocery store. Someone taught those people how to design and build dairy farm equipment and trucks and milk cartons. Someone built the school where they learned to do that. Someone did the administrative work required to keep the school, trucking company, and grocery school running. Someone maintains the roads. Someone maintains the gas and electrical grid so that the business can continue to stay open. Someone refined the oil into gas so the driver could drive the truck.

Someone spent a significant portion of their life raising you, and teaching you, and clothing you, and feeding you, all so you had the skills to live an independent life of your own, so that you, too, could have a family, for which you might, one day, reach in the refrigerator for a carton of milk to feed them.

And on and on, ad infinitum.

All it takes is 1 or 2 seconds to have that entire picture flash through your head as you reach into the refrigerator. And you could see the same kinds of pictures in every situation you encounter each and every minute of each and every day. There is nothing you do that doesn't require the input of others. To see and appreciate that on a continual basis takes a lot of practice, but very little effort. All you have to do is to consciously look around and allow yourself to recognize and appreciate the unseen kindness of others that allows us to be what we are and to do what we want.

No man or woman is an island. Islands do not exist. No one stands alone, isolated, sufficient only by himself or herself. We are all interconnected. We are all interdependent. Whether i like it or not, your actions affect my actions. Whether i like it or not, your beliefs affect my beliefs. Whether i like it or not, your life affects my life. Whether i like it or not, who you are affects who i am.

The way forward in this world is not to teach ourselves to expect nothing from others, but teach ourselves to see that no matter what we do it depends on the kindness of others and to be grateful for that. Gratitude can be learned and is vitally important.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Brewed, Poured, But Not Savored

I finished reading Hiroyuki Itsuki's Tariki: Embracing Despair, Discovering Peace, earlier this week and have been mulling it over since. The book is due back at the library today so i guess i have to take it back and let it go.

I'm not sure i've so completely disagreed with a book before, except maybe Thomas Hobbs, which i read long, long ago. I'll have to write more, but a few quick points before walking down to the library to give it back.

"I believe it is necessary for us to completely overturn our view of life and begin from the recognition that life is a process of uninterrupted sufffering. Just as one lives more vigorously after contemplating the closeness of death, cultivating a bleak view of human existence will bring one closest to rapture at the wonder life has to offer."

I do agree that one can live more vigorously by contemplating the certainty and unpredictability of our deaths. It will happen. When? You have no idea. If you accept and understand that down to the bone and marrow level, you stop taking life for granted and find yourself in a position to marvel at the beauty that being can be.

But to suggest that "life is a process of uninterrupted suffering" is completely impossible for me to digest. What i see here is a misunderstanding of the difference between pain and suffering. For all but the most enlightened individuals, life is full of pain — physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Some of it is trivial and passed with a shrug of the shoulder. Some of it can be crippling, cutting us down as if chopping off the bottom of both legs.

But, none of this must, necessarily, automatically translate into suffering. A few extreme examples: the guy who, while out hiking, got his arm stuck in a crack between two rocks. The only way to survive was to cut his arm off with his pocket knife, deal with it, and walk out to find help. The girl who was recently attacked by that flesh eating disease. She told the doctors to cut off what they needed to cut off and move on to rehab. She accepted it, dealt with it, and is now boasting that she is in great shape and can do 300 sit-ups at a time.

It's not always easy to get past the pain; some cases can take days, weeks, years, and decades to get past. But just because you encounter it, that doesn't mean you have to accept that life is full of suffering.

"Some may deride this view as negative and pessimistic, but this was the starting point for the Buddha. Emerging from a life of privilege and shelter, he looked directly at the reality of human existence and saw birth, old age, sickenss, and death as its essence. This view of human existence as defined by birth, old age, sickness, and death is the ultimate expression of negative thinking."

Yes, i deride it as negative and pessimistic. I also do not believe or accept that the Buddha would have agreed with it. When he was exposed to the truths of old age, sickness, and death, he took the opposite approach to dealing with them. For the Buddha, these were not signs that life was full of suffering and that there was nothing we could do about it, he said suffering can occur but there must be a way to put an end to it. And off he went to the forest and the bodhi tree. This is the ultimate expression of positive thinking. Yes, i see a problem, but i will find a solution.

"When one is accustomed to kindness, one naturally loses the feeling of gratitude. That's why it's so important not to become accustomed to it. One must continually return to the spiritual starting point of no expectations.

"Husbands should not expect anything from their wives, or wives from their husbands. ...

"Although a person may serve his country, he should expect nothing from the nation or the government. Of course no one should expect anything from a bank, a business, oor an employer. Nor should one entrust one's soul to a temple or a church. One must not look to a thinker or a philosopher to be a guide to life.

"Students shouldn't expect anything of their teachers, nor should teachers from students. ..."

No, no, no, no, no, and no. No. And no again.

No. Anyone, at anytime, anywhere, can learn to be grateful for all life offers with very little practice. A constant watch, a never ending willingness to notice, and anyone can see that the good vastly outweighs the bad in this world. And once you become accustomed to seeing the world through these eyes, you will never be the same.

No again.

"To speak honestly, honesty usually does not pay. And effort is hardly ever rewarded."

I can't even begin to explain how vehemently i disagree with this statement....

"I regard Amida Buddha as a characterization of the infinite life force and the light of truth, created to make these ideas accessible to the masses. Once put into this narrative form, the invisible force of the universe takes on a life and power that can reach and communicate to us.

"Honen, founder of the Pure Land sect, enthusiastically taught the nembutsu as a means to experience the invisible power of the universe and illuminate the darkness of our world."

Finally something i can accept. If you want to see Buddha in this manner, i could agree with it. That invisible force of the universe? The infinite life force. If the nembutsu is a call to that concept, a refuge in the potentiality of all that is, then i could adopt it into my practice.

More later. It's starting to sprinkle and i have a mile to walk to get to the library and then the shop where my car's getting repaired.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Trouble Brewing

The library called yesterday and told me that my copy of Hiroyuki Itsuki's Tariki: Embracing Despair, Discovering Peace had arrived. This morning i poured a fresh cup of coffee and settled into the living room chair to finally get started. I've been looking forward to this for three weeks now.

And, i was still in the Forward, still not out of the roman numeral pages when Itsuki reaches out of the pages and smacks me across the cheek with this:

"Tariki stands in contrast to "Self-Power," or jiriki. Since its beginnings in India, Buddhism has taught a long and arduous path of practice to reach enlightenment. This personal effort made to achieve enlightenment is a manifestation of Self-Power. Tariki, on the other hand, is the recognition of the great, all-encompassing power of the Other—in this case, the Buddha and his ability to enlighten us—and the simultaneous recognition of the individual's utter powerlessness in the face of the realities of the human condition. It is, in my opinion, a more realistic, more mature, and more quintessentially modern philosophy than Self-Power, and it is a philosophy that can be a great source of strength to live in our world today."

Oh boy, here we go. More realistic? More mature? Modern? ?Really?

Back in the "old days," we were taught that there was nothing we could do but go to church, give our donations, and don't question the priest. God had our backs. All we had to do was what we were taught. I.E., other-power from the Christian pews. I certainly wouldn't call going back to that "modern," whether going back to "that" means going back to accepting the all-encompassing power and saving grace of God or the Buddha, or any other deity your culture has taught you is the "one."

Realistic? Maybe i'm the abnormality here, but any system of thought that suggests that we are not the main drivers of our lives is nonsense, IMO. In any and all areas of our lives, if we relegate all authority to some unseen, unknown "other" power, because the priestly class has promised that he/she/it will provide, we are setting ourselves up for major catastrophe. Unless you are part of that priestly class, in which case life will be sweet and materialistically rewarding. No, the person in charge of your life, your happiness, your success, your enlightenment, your growth, etc., is you.

More mature? Does that mean that i'm immature? Is that what he's saying?

OK. OK. Calm down. Lao is out in the kitchen quietly intoning "Patience grasshopper. Patience. You haven't even gotten to the pages with Arabic numerals yet. Just move on and see what else he has to say."

[three deep breaths] OK. Moving on.....

Friday, September 14, 2012

Henro Trail

Have been playing around with a new app on my iPad and came up with this 12 slide presentation called "Henro Trail."

Lost In The Field

Large red wings outstretched
Barely skimming the park's grass
Dancing lawnmowers

Spent a few hours in the afternoon at the park eating lunch, thinking, and reading some of a new translation of the Bhagavad Gita i stumbled on at the book store recently. Here's a sample from that amazing chapter 13, The Field And Its Knower:

And now, Krishna, I wish to learn about Prakriti and Brahman, the Field and the Knower of the Field. What is knowledge? What is it that has to be known?

[With questions like that, this guy is ready. Given a chance to ask questions, how many of us would come up with these? What is knowledge? What is it that has to be known?]

Sri Krishna
This body is called the Field, because a man sows seeds of action in it, and reaps their fruits. Wise men say that the Knower of the Field is he who watches what takes place within this body.


Now listen, and i will tell you briefly what the Field is; its nature, modifications and origin. I will tell you also who the Knower is, and what are his powers.

Which is the cosmos
In cause unseen
And visible feature;
Intellect, ego;
Earth, water, and ether,
Air and fire;
Man's ten organs
Of knowing and doing,
Man's mind also;
The five sense-objects—
Sound in its essence,
Essence of aspect,
Essence of odour,
Of touch and of tasting;
Hate and desire,
And pain and pleasure;
Consciousness, lastly,
And resolution; These, with their sum
Which is blent in the body;
These make The Field
With its limits and changes.

Therefore I tell you;
Be humble, be harmless
Have no pretension,
Be upright, forbearing,
Serve your teacher
In true obedience,
Keeping the mind
And the body in cleanness,
Tranquil, steadfast,
Mast of ego,
Standing apart
From the things of the senses,
Free from self;
Aware of the weakness
In mortal nature,
Its bondage to birth,
Age, suffering, dying;
To nothing be slave...

Calmly encounter
The painful, the pleasant;
Adore me only
With heart undistracted;
Turn all your thought
Toward solitude, spurning
The noise of the crowd,
Its fruitless commotion;
Strive without ceasing
To know the Atman,
Seek this knowledge
And comprehend clearly
Why you should seek it;
Such, it is said,
Are the roots of true wisdom;
Ignorance, merely,
Is all that denies them.

[Let me repeat that last part again, i love it so much....
"Seek this knowledge
And comprehend clearly
Why you should seek it;
Such, it is said,
Are the roots of true wisdom;
Ignorance, merely,
Is all that denies them."

I think i mentioned this a while ago, it's much better to spend your time making sure you understand the questions than it is to argue about the answers. Wisdom lies in comprehending clearly why you should seek. So, where was i....]

Everywhere are His hands, eyes, feet; His heads and His faces;
This whole world is His ear; He exists, encompassing all things;
Doing the tasks of each sense, yet Himself devoid of the senses;
Standing apart, He sustains; He is free from the gunas but feels them.
He is within and without; He lives in the live and the lifeless;
Subtle beyond mind's grasp; so near us, so utterly distant;
Undivided, He seems to divide into objects and creatures;
Sending creation forth from Himself, He upholds and withdraws it;
Light of all lights, He abides beyond our ignorant darkness;
Knowledge, the one thing real we may study or know; the heart's dweller.

By the single sun
This whole world is illumined;
By its one Knower
The Field is illumined.

Who this perceives
With the eye of wisdom
In what manner the Field
Is distinct from its Knower,
How men are made free
From the toils of Prakriti;
His aim is accomplished,
He enters the Highest.

Translated by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Just Sayin'

Perceiving just that
No more no less no just that
Alive is just that

Autumn comes this way
All yield to its changing ways
Gorgeous red maples

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Solving Life's Equations

School recently started again and that means i get to go back to one of the things in my life that gives me great pleasure — volunteer tutoring. I tutor math to kids from elementary school through high school and the teacher in me never, ever tires of watching them "get" a topic that was previously thought impossible. :-)

One of the kids i work with this semester is in Algebra 2, and, not unexpectedly, she popped the question on our first meeting: "What good is all this stuff? Is there any use for it outside of the classroom?" I can't blame her really, it was our first meeting and i had her working through some word problems, which she told me were impossible and that she hated them. At the end of the hour she was all smiles and was saying: "That's it? That's all there is to solving these?" I wanted to hug her, but figured that wasn't a great way to keep my job.

But, i digress. In answer to her original questions, i thought i gave her a reasonable answer. Yes, there are uses for Algebra outside the classroom, although most people don't use it. I even gave her a few examples. She didn't laugh or argue, so i think she accepted my point. But, i upped the ante and pointed out that research has shown that students who do well in high school Algebra do better in all subjects when they move on to a university.

What i wanted to tell her, though, was that one of the greatest benefits of Algebra is that it teaches you to think abstractly and this improves the way you live your life. You may not like Algebra, you may not do all that well, but you learn to think outside the box, as they say, you learn to look at problems more abstractly and less linearly, and this directly affects the way you approach problems in all areas of your life.

I'll introduce these kinds of lessons little by little as we work through the semester, but one of my favorite lessons will come when we get to a procedure called "Completing The Square," a method for solving quadratic equations.

In case you don't know what that is, i won't try and explain it mathematically but it goes something like this:

  • Start with an equation you want to solve.
  • Find the piece that makes it difficult to solve.
  • Get rid of that piece. Move it out of the way. You can't really get rid of it so just set it to the side and leave it alone for now.
  • In its place add something that would make what's left over easy to solve.
  • Solve that (now) easy part.
  • Apply the fix to that piece you set aside earlier. It will also modify that.
  • Put the two pieces back together, and voila, you have a solution to your problem.

So what, she will say, does that have to do with life? Well, i'll say, that is life in a nutshell. You will have problems throughout your life and some of those will seem absolutely impossible to solve at first glance. You may see no way out from under it, but that doesn't mean there isn't a way.

What to do? Rarely is the entire problem the real problem. So, find that piece that is messing everything up and set it aside. Ignore it. Don't worry about it for awhile. In the meantime, look at what's left of the "problem" and figure out what you could do, what you could say, what you could add that would make it easy to deal with, easy to solve. Then do that, say that, add that. And stand in amazement when that piece of the problem disappears.

Now take that fix and apply it to the piece that you set aside. Since it was isolated from everything else that was going on it should be an easy fix. Once that is done, stand back and look at the whole "problem" as it originally hit you. You'll be amazed that it wasn't as unsolvable as it had first seemed.

Yes, math can be used in real life, i will point out.

And that's another of my pleasures when i tutor. Watching them roll their eyes when i give them yet another "life" lesson but seeing that they got it. They may not admit it, but we both know it's in their heart as they walk out the door.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Faith In Practice

I used this picture as the Picture of The Month on the henro web site this month and am sure the few words i wrote don't do it justice so a few follow-up words may be in order. (Be sure to click on the picture to enlarge it before continuing so you know what it is.)

The concept of pilgrimage fascinates me and there are three ideas included in my concept that define what it is for me: faith, practice, and liminality. On one hand, faith and practice define the two extremes of a continuum in different approaches to doing a pilgrimage. On the other hand, faith, liminality, and practice form one interlocking system that i see as a good way to approach the trail.

Looking at the continuum, on one end is faith — faith in Kōbō Daishi (aka, Kūkai, the Daishi), faith in his promise and his ability to assist all who call on him. In a sense this is very much like faith in Avalokitesvara's (Kannon, Kanjisai) similar promise, or Amida's vow to bring all who call out to him in sincere faith with Namu Amida Butsu.

At this end of the continuum, it doesn't matter what type of life you have lived, what kind of person you have been; if you request help with a sincere heart and a sincere belief, then help will be given. This was the Daishi's promise as he settled into eternal meditation on Mt. Kōya back in 835.

And this is the faith that a great many, probably the vast majority, of Japanese henro bring to the henro trail. It doesn't matter if you walk the trail, travel by bicycle, motorcycle, car, or bus, if your request to the Daishi at each of the temples you visit is sincere, then the Daishi will offer his help. For these henro, the only places of importance on the henro trail are the temples themselves.

On the other end of that continuum is the belief that a personal practice is more important than faith; that shūgyō is the all important ingredient for any successful supplication. On this end of the continuum faith in the Daishi is required, but before any intercession takes place you have to prove you worthiness by undergoing the appropriate amounts of shūgyō, you have to show your deservingness with the appropriate forms of spiritual discipline and asceticism. You do this by walking the henro trail and for these henro the trail is vastly more important than the temples. The trail is everything.

Another way to look at this is a practice that swallows this entire continuum. To begin with, faith is still needed, but not a faith in the Daishi alone. Instead, a faith that the shūgyō itself will lead you to the answers and solutions you seek. These may come from the Daishi, they may come from somewhere else, but it is the practice of shūgyō that leads you to them in all cases.

But, besides shūgyō, one additional ingredient is required — liminality. Victor Turner popularized this concept in his writing on pilgrimage and it points to the idea that as you set out on the path, the trail, you set aside your normal, worldly identity and take up the identity of a henro, a pilgrim.

After passing through this gate, you become, for all intents and purposes, a new person, a henro. Your sole purpose during this time is to fulfill the role of a henro. Everything you say, think, and do is done to bring you closer to the goal of your pilgrimage.

And once your pilgrimage is over, you pass back through that gate, back into your old world, but if you were successful the person that returns to that world is not the same person who left some months previously.

In this case, yes, faith is still required; also an unquestioning faith. But, this faith is a faith that your practice, your willingness to endure, to persevere, will be rewarded. And this is what i see in all those statues on the picture above. Statues of the Daishi himself walking the henro trail. Statues of Shūgyō Daishi.

The people who placed them there may not have had the ability, time, money, whatever, to undertake the required shūgyō, but that's OK because the Daishi has already done so on their behalf. The Daishi long ago accepted that challenge, passed through the gate of liminality, and found the answers. He had long ago become Kōbō Daishi and promised that his life would be dedicated to helping all sincere seekers.

The Daishi had long ago made it clear that if you can't undertake the henro yourself, then if you are willing to contribute the faith, he would contribute the practice and as a team solutions to your problems could be found.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I Dare You

I know I've said it before, many, many times, but I'm in one of those moods so let me paraphrase T.S. Eliot yet another time:

Only those people who have the courage to see how far they can go will ever find the limits of their abilities. Only those people who have the courage to test their limits stand any chance of understanding where their limits are. Only those who have the courage to take that first step over a limit they've looked at for years have the slightest chance of seeing that as soon as you do the limit moves farther away. Only those who have the courage live life anywhere near their potential. Only those with unbelievable courage sit on their butt long enough to see that emptiness on the other side of everything. Only those with unspeakable courage sit long enough to see everything on the other side of that emptiness.

Life take courage.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Mōshiwake arimasen.....

I tried to think of some nice way to say I'm sorry, some story to write that would express it, but I can't think of anything to say other than Gomennasai. I'm sorry.

Lao is right, I over-stepped my bounds. I made a judgement that was no more than personal feeling generalized into some stupid, untrue rule.

I could write a lot about what being a Henro means to me, what being a Henro represents from my point of view, from inside my world. But my world is different than your world. My world and your world are not one and the same. So, there is no reason to expect that your definitions and mine are, could be, or should be the same.

Your ideas of what it means to be a Henro are as valid as mine. Everyone that walks the henro trail, for whatever reason, with whatever motive, has both the right and the ability to call themselves Henro.


m(_ _)m


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Shit Hits That Proverbial Fan


(running) Lao, what's the matter? What's wrong?



You are what's the matter. You are what's wrong. I just can not believe you.


You're an idiot. Impossibly stupid.


Apologize. Now. Then go write a blog post apologizing to the world.


Apologize! Now!


You don't get it do you. You really have no clue, do you.

Lao, what did I do? I'll apologize if you just tell me what I did.

What, you think it's that simple? Just spit out the words and then expect others to accept that as a sincere apology? Who do you think you are?

Lao. Please. Tell me why you're so mad.

I looked through the blog this morning and saw your post on "What Is A Henro." Who appointed you as God and the keeper of the henro trail? Who appointed you as the One who decides who is a Henro or not? Who?


Don't change the subject. Who gave you the right to judge other's motives and how they view their lives? Who?

I'm sorrry.


(dropping to hands and knees, forehead on the floor) I'm sorry.


I was wrong. I had no right. I was out of line. I'm sorry.

Then get your ass downstairs and write another post apologizing to everyone else.

(forehead to the floor again) Yes.

(scampering out the door and down the stairs....)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Rising Above The Noise

(Click To Enlarge)

This is a picture taken from somewhere on the henro trail in the spring of 2011 and it symbolizes a lot of how i see my time on Shikoku.

Many of us don't realize how noisy and hectic our lives are. Day after day, all day long we are surrounded by noise and distraction. Car and truck traffic, horns honking, radios and TVs playing, the constant chatter of the other people around you, telephones, mobile phones, iPads, mp3 players, books, and on and on. The noise never stops and the ways we can find to distract ourselves is never ending.

We have become so used to it that we block it out and say it's quiet even when sitting on a train with people talking around you and an mp3 player playing in the seat behind you.

That's what life is like when down in the city of this picture. People always coming and going, traffic zipping here and there, trains running back and forth, wheels squealing as they turn corners, bells sounding as the crossing gates go down, dogs barking, arguments here, shouting there, TVs blaring in the corner of the ramen shop, kids yelling as they play in the park...

And there's little chance to escape all of that unless you look for those few islands of tranquility. There are always some around somewhere in town, standing out like small hills beckoning you to climb to the silence they offer. Those islands could be local hills and parks, monasteries, temples, churches, public libraries, or even a very special friends house. When you find your island, and experience the silence they offer, you immediately find peace.

Unfortunately, though, you sooner or later have to go back down, back out the door, and back into the noise. It's inevitable. Unless you stretch your view and allow yourself to look a little further in the distance. If you look long enough you begin to see that stretching all around the town is a ring of mountains. Encircling the daily noise is a ring of peace, a ring of solitude, a ring of sanity. But to get there you have to do some work. You have to climb above your daily life into a new world.

As you get closer and closer to that sanctuary the people and their machines thin out. As you get closer and closer to sanity the intrusions become fewer and nature's natural quiet slowly begins to predominate. When you get to the actual foothills, you notice that if you aren't alone there aren't a lot of other people around. This search for peace may be a common desire, but it seems that most people are not willing to put in the work required to find it.

The climb to high ground usually isn't easy. No, that's the wrong way to say it. It isn't hard at all, all that is required is that you commit to taking one step after another, always pointing uphill. While that may take a lot of work, it's not 'hard,' per se. If you are lucky, or smart, you may find a path that suits your temperament. Some people want to climb but can only tolerate slow, lazy, gradual switchbacks. Others may prefer, and can tolerate, the climb directly up the fall line. Most of us fall somewhere in between or switch between the two extremes as our energy waxes and wanes throughout the climb.

But once at the top, once away from the noise and hustle, the calm and quiet envelope you like the sweet smell of incense filling a small room. As your mind settles down and the thoughts begin to slow, the world opens and your sense of who you are begins to expand. Then you can sit down and look back on the world you came from and see it, not in the minute detail of your daily life, but as the grand mosaic it really is with everybody and everything interconnected, everybody and everything contributing to both the successes and failures of the society, with all of the individual communities smudged out leaving just "us."

As you look down from these heights you can understand the story of Indra's Net, of the interconnectedness of everything. You can see the futility of greed, anger, jealousy, and the problems these bring about. You can see the need for sharing, compassion, and love, and the solutions these could put in place. When you look down from these quiet heights of solitude you see the city, not the streets, buildings, and individual people. You see the oneness, not the duality.

And then, after letting the lessons sink in, you put your boots back on and make the climb back down to the market place and home.

Is who went up the same as who came back down? Are you coming down to the same old world? Or can you keep your vow never to go back as you smile and greet everyone you pass on your way back into town.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Unquestioned Ladders

It is infinitely better, in all respects, to spend your time ensuring you understand the questions than it is arguing about the answers. As the old adage goes, unless you are careful you could spend years climbing a ladder before you realize that you had set it up against the wrong wall in the first place.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


I have a routine first thing each morning, like many people, of breakfast, coffee, listening to the news, checking the news headlines online, etc. Once that is done, i turn the radio off so i can read, and the first thing i always start with is an app on my iPad called "Transform Your Life: A Year of Awareness Practice," by Cheri Huber.

The app opens with a new quote each day, followed by a comment on that quote by Cheri herself and an "assignment" for the day. This is my second year through the app. Today's quote was:

"It is a great obstacle to happiness to expect too much."

Bernard de Fontenelle

To which Cheri wrote:

"Today, lower your expectations and enjoy the happiness of being with what is."

While i agree with the original quote completely, i don't know if i abhor Cheri's response or simply hate it with every fiber of my being. In either case, i don't like it.

It is an obstacle to happiness to expect too much; i would agree with that completely. But, not because expectations are bad in and of themselves. Expectations are great things. Expectations are what drive the world forward. If people didn't expect bigger, better, faster, healthier, safer, more efficient, etc., etc., outcomes in their lives then we would all still be living in the stone age and discussions on the lives of the Neanderthal would be moot because we would still be them.

Expectations are good things. Great things. What is bad is our fixation on them, our willingness to hang our lives on their fulfillment. What makes them horrendous is our willingness to define our success or failure, our happiness or despondency on whether that expectation was met. When we let this happen, sooner or later we are all doomed to failure and despondency.

The sane ones all have expectations and they put in the work that could, should lead to their fulfillment. But, and this is the reason they are the sane ones, if it isn't fulfilled, they don't take it personally. They analyze it, figure out what went wrong, and make a new plan. One option may be to drop that expectation because it turns out to have been unreasonable. Another option may be to reformulate your plan and try again in another manner. With other options in between.

But, to suggest that a good approach to life is to "lower your expectations" is absurd. (IMO. As always, IMO) Lowering your expectations across the board, as this seems to be suggesting, will lead you nowhere.

Even in in the world of spirituality, why would you sit if you had no expectations. Why bother? We sit, chant, visualize, pray, whatever you do, because we expect "something." Now i have to be very careful here because i could equally argue that sitting with expectations of results is absolutely contrary to what you should be doing. In fact that dooms you to failure. So it sounds like a contradiction here, i know.

What i'm trying to say is that we sit, not expecting results, but because we expect that someday, at sometime in our lives, we will find that the truth the Buddha talked about will manifest in our lives as well. We will get it. We will see it. We won't have learned anything, per se, we won't have obtained anything, nothing will be given to us by a teacher, but someday that "Ah ha" light will go on and the smile will appear. I will "know" that truth has manifested as Dave.

Yes, i agree with Cheri that having no expectations can lead to happiness. There are rare days where i do wake up and for some reason expect nothing of my life other than what it is right now. And while that lasts i am very happy. Those are nice days. And that's fine for Lao Bendan. But Dave always pops back up and reminds me that i am a complete professional failure and that he still wants more in life. Those days are terrible.

Still, i refuse to accept that a successful approach to life is to lower your expectations. No, no, no, and still no. What needs doing is to lower our expectation that our expectations will be fulfilled. Lower our expectations that their fulfillment is what will make us happy. Lower our expectations that our success or failure is decided by whether or not our expectations have been met.

But never give up expecting more of yourself and the world. Never give up expecting that we as a people can be better, more loving, more compassionate, more open. Never give up expecting that we can work towards a better world. Never give up expecting that you will finally give up all pettiness in your life, give up gossip, prejudice, ill will. Never give up expecting that you will come to respect and care for everyone. Never give up expecting that you will see that you are truth manifesting in bodily form and so is that person sitting across from you.

Expectations are great things.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Cheated By My Best Friend

What do you do when you realize one day that you have been cheated? How do you react? How do you handle it when you realize that it was your best friend who cheated you?

Take a minute and think about your life, about who you are. No more than 60 seconds. Run through the list quickly just to get an overview. Gender, race, age, nationality, religion, political leaning, job, economic status, personality, hobbies, favorite genre of books, music, and movies, other likes and dislikes, etc. Got it?

Now take another minute and in a very abstract sort of way try to imaging all of the possibilities of who and what you could have been. Just let it sink in that the number of possibilities is infinite, that there is an unimaginable number of possibilities on who you could be, what your life story could have turned out to be. There is no way to even imagine all the possibilities of what you could still be if you decide to allow yourself to grow and expand. You can change anything and everything about your life. The possibilities are endless.

And then take a second to realize how small and restricted your life actually is compared to what it could be, if you chose to change.

Who convinced you that such a small life was what you wanted? Who sold you the bill og goods that included such a miniscule and limited package? Who convinced you that a limited life was the preferred life?

I'm sure you know the answer before i even say it. Your best friend — you, yourself. That is, your ego. You have been undergoing conditioning since the moment of your birth. Everyone you have ever known, unless you met a great, great teacher somewhere over the years, has consciously or unconsciously been conditioning you to accept limits, to live with restrictions, to wear blinders so that you can't see the vast, vast, vast reality beyond. And your ego soaks it all up and says "Sure, why not. I like this life."

Your best friend has convinced you that a small and restricted life is better than a life infinitely large and infinitely lived. Your best friend has convinced you that Plato's cave with its cozy campfires is a nicer place to live than a life outdoors, under the vast blue sky and the warm rays of a beautiful summer sun.

Your best friend is a coward, afraid to to lose what it already knows. Your best friend is a pervert, fixated on itself and loving no one more. Your best friend is a small minded cheat and a liar; fearful that if it doesn't keep up the stories you might realize, one day, that he is a phantom and you are, in reality, so, so, so much more.

Call a cheat a cheat. Call a liar a liar. Jump up and down and yell "Thief. Thief." Refuse to let him get away with it any longer.

Let yourself open, let the blossoms out. Let yourself see the infinitude of what you can be — of what you already are. Don't settle for the small story anymore, start living the 1,000-episode mega-drama, that is the first baby step on the journey to who you really are.

Monday, August 6, 2012


Just got back from pedaling my bike to the post office where i mailed yet another copy of the Shikoku Japan 88 Route Guide. All the way there and back home again the only thing i could think about was the question "What is a henro."

I've wanted to add a page to the Henro website answering just that question for a long time but have yet to figure out what i want to write so it remains undone. It's not as easy a question to answer as many would think in my opinion.

If we threw away the "cool" Japanese word henro and in its place used the English translation pilgrim most of the problems would disappear, but very few people are willing to do that. OHenro is just too attractive. "I'm a henro." "I just got back from 8 weeks on the henro trail." "Ahhh, my dream is to be a henro as soon as i can save enough money. Maybe in a couple of years."

But what if did we use "pilgrim" instead? How many people would tell their friends that they dream of becoming a pilgrim next summer. How many people would tell everyone they just walked a pilgrimage? How many would identify themselves as pilgrims as they walked around the trail? How many really consider themselves pilgrims? I think the answer to all of these questions lies somewhere between almost none and an insignificant number of people.

Don't get me wrong, the henro trail is a marvelous tourist destination. It is a great place to spend a few months walking some spring. It is one of the best places on earth to "get away" and get your head straight. There are a great, great number of positive things that can be said about the henro trail.

But, and this is a big but, the "henro" trial is, when push comes to shove, when it's time to put your cards on the table, when the truth is told, a pilgrim's trail — a pilgrimage. And that's that's the first difficulty of adding a "What is a henro?" page to the website. How to write it without offending all those people who want to call themselves henro even though they aren't.

The second difficulty, though, is even more, well.... difficult. Even if everyone accepted that they were pilgrims, walking a pilgrimage, while on the trail, to answer the question "what is a henro?" would be to assign a meaning and purpose to your walk. And there are as many meanings and purposes as there are henro. How to write one or two pages that could possibly include and summarize all of those meanings, all of those purposes? It's seems impossible to me, but i still hope to write it someday.

For me personally, though, the answer is very simple and straight forward. The henro trail is a place and a time where i am able to lose the individual into the universal for hours and hours on end, while still, simultaneously, noticing that the universal is continually acting through my individual self.

For me, the henro trail is two months of walking meditation. Dave no longer exists, he has been subsumed into Ohenro. Time no longer exists; the only thing that is done is walking, eating, and sleeping. There is no need for clocks or calendars. The support system is in place, the maps are provided, people will watch out for you — all that has to be done is to progress from one step to another, day after day, week after week, from one month to the next. And when one of those steps lands me back in the compound of Temple 1, i tell OHenro thank you and welcome Dave back home.

Being a henro is balancing on that very narrow, infinitely wide line called Here and Now. Being a henro is learning to see that Here and Now is both calculable and unimaginable at the same time. Being a henro is learning to be, here and now, and to be Here and Now, simultaneously.

For me personally, being a henro is an opportunity to stuff Dave in the back pocket (close at hand if needed in an emergency but out of sight otherwise) and allow you to walk in Dave's shoes.

But how do i write all that on the website??

Friday, July 6, 2012

Lance On The Ropes

Word is that Leipheimer, Hincapie, Vande Velde, and Zabriskie have apparently agreed to very short 6 months suspensions (served during the off season) in return for testifying against Lance. That these four would testify is almost unbelievable for me, until i stop and remember that they are all still racing and a one or two year suspension this late in some of their careers could stop that career dead in its tracks. Taking the six-month deal is the best they are ever going to be offered so you can't blame them, even though Lance certainly will.

But won't Lance continue his "I've never failed a test" routine? In response to that, Velo News has a very good article out that speaks to that. "Ashenden: Understanding USADA’s Armstrong charges. Blood-doping expert Michael Ashenden details how USADA could build a case against Lance Armstrong."

What for me was interesting, because i never knew it, is that an athlete could apparently fail a test and still not be charged or suspended. And, the athlete wouldn't know that he had failed the test because no one would tell him/her.

I'll say it once again. On the one hand i have long, long believed that Lance is a drug cheat and should lose his TDF titles. You cheat, you pay the price no matter who you are or how much money you have. But, i also think Bruyneel had to have been a key player in the doping program and therefore should also pay the price.

One the other hand, i will always admire the "athlete" Lance. All the major competition during his TDF days were also drug cheats so Lance was still the best athlete on the road. Lance was an amazing athlete and his teams were a wonder to watch as they rode around France each summer.

He may finally get his due and lose the titles, but in the long view of history, i think he and his team's made the TDF a better race as others struggled to beat him.

Sounds contradictory, i know.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Road Kill 16

Found on the shoulder of the road during this morning's five-miler.

Oi, what's going on
Hard run with suffering yet
Still What's going on

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

New Back Gate

The last of my "big" landscaping jobs in the yard is now complete. The gate into the back yard that i have talked of building for many, many years (almost since the day i moved in 12 years ago) is now finished. The bamboo cap was screwed on just before lunch.

I expect grass around the stepping stones to start growing sometime next week. I'll post another picture after it is well established. I'll also post pictures of the back yard once some of the lilies start to bloom giving some color to the picture. Everything there is in place: the fake/rock stream is done, the stepping stone walking path is in place, the stone slab bridge is set, and all the flowers and grasses have been planted. It's still missing "something," but i don't know what that is yet.

Monday, April 2, 2012

In Spring Flowers Bloom

Lao, where have you been lately? Haven't heard a word from you in weeks.

The sakura trees blossomed last month.

Yea, i know. I saw; it was beautiful wasn't it. But where have you been?

Several of the lilacs around the yard have bloomed and the rest should follow suit next week.

Yes, yes, i saw those too. Are you ignoring me? Where have you been?

The snowball bush is getting very close to blooming as well.

Sigh... Lao, why do you do this to me?


I haven't seen you.

That's because i'm here and you're typically not.

When haven't i been here?



The day lilies are growing nicely.

Lao..... never mind.

Dave, you need to sit more often. Or, more seriously.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Full Bloom Trees; Half Bloom Sidewalk

Today is either the 5th or 6th straight day of 80 degree weather and everything in the yard is definitely showing the effects. The cherry blossom tree usually starts blooming in mid- to late-April and takes about two weeks to come to full bloom. Both opened yesterday and both look to be at full bloom today! Inconceivable.

Made good progress today on ripping up the sidewalk between the garage and the house. Here's just one of the piles of cement from its previous incarnation as a boring, white-bread, cement sidewalk. It's amazing what you can do with one sledge hammer and a lot of sweat. :-)

Here's the beginnings of what it will look like in its new life. The larger, rectangular stone is the one that will sit inside the threshold of the gate. In addition to these three stones, i have four large(ish) stones left. Those four will have to spread out and fill the remainder of the sidewalk. The spaces between these large stepping stones will get filled with mid-sized stones, if i can rummage up enough of them in the back yard. After that it's down to small stones. Lot's and lot's of them.

Monday, March 19, 2012


First full day of blooming and the new Yoshino is already at full bloom. :-) The good news is that it made it through it's first winter in spectacular shape and has beautiful white petals. I had to take a picture now, even though it is overcast and the lighting doesn't show the tree very well, because thunder is rumbling just southwest of here and rain is on the way. I'm afraid the first rain will strip off all the petals before i could even get one picture this year.

The shidarezakura behind the torii is blooming nicely.

Obviously you can see that the path leading to the torii desperately needs to get finished. I put pea gravel around the stepping stones at the base of the torii late last fall to see if i would like it. I've decided i do so will put it down along the rest of the path and take out the grass in a couple of weeks.

From where blooms of such beauty
The eyes of your son

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Cherry Blossoms

The first blossoms have made their appearance here in Lockport! 2-3 white blossoms on the new Yoshino tree and 4-5 pink ones on the shidarezakura (weeping cherry blossoms tree) poked their heads out of their buds late this afternoon

Will post pictures when most of the tree is in bloom, but i am sooooo happy tonight. :-)

Meanwhile, work on the back yard started again this week.

* Built a new brick retaining wall and steps around an area next to the porch that will get white gravel to simulate a pond and then a small 6' round deck over that, which will look like the center portion of this picture, sent to me by a friend many, many years ago (thanks Shirley).

* Terraced the top third of the area on the north side of the house, trimmed all the wild grasses, and transplanted several dozen handfulls of day lilies to that area. Will terrace another third over the next weeks and then leave the bottom part alone until fall. Probably.

* Widened the (fake) creek that flows through the yard from north to south. About two-thirds done and will finish the remaining one-third this week.

* Cut down three-quarters of the remaining wild grasses and Russian Sage in the front and side yards. Will finish the rest tomorrow because they are all starting to show new growth.

* Moved about 50 day lilies, maybe more, probably more, to new locations around the yard to expand already existing sections.

* Took a sledge hammer to about 30' of sidewalk and busted out all of the cement. That will get filled back in with gravel and topped off with dirt. Then limestone stepping stones will be laid out as the walkway from the garage up to the house. Large flat stones to step on, medium stones to fill in between those, and small stones to make everything a reasonably standard width. Then plant grass around it all to hold everything in place. It is going to look oooohhh so good.

* In mid-April i'll buy the wood (6" x 6" posts) and FINALLY build the Japanese-ish gate at the end of that stepping stone path, just before stepping up to the sidewalk along the back of the house. Finally. I'm not sure when i'll get the actual roof on it (money issues), but at least the frame and door will be up and in place.

* This week i have to finish trimming last years growth down, then hope to build another retaining wall with steps down to where i'm going to "skin" the back wall of the garage so that it looks like a temple on Shikoku. That's the purpose of almost everything i'm doing in the back yard. Both stone walking paths and the stone bridge all lead you in the direction of the temple.

* Had an ingenious idea the other day (if i say so myself). I'm going to keep my eye open for someone who has cut down a tree and try and get a section of the trunk about 1.5' long. I'm then going to take the time to saw and chisel it, and hollow it out so that it looks like a temple bell and hang it from a post in front of my fake temple. Haven't decided if i will have to paint it or not. I'll wait until it's done to decide that.

I have promised to help my sister Thursday through Sunday with work at her house. Will rototill almost her entire back yard and put in mole repellent to see what we can salvage. The moles have destroyed it. Once they are gone, we can re-sod sometime in April. Will also install two windows in the shed in her back yard — windows that came out of my back porch when i replaced them.

We'll then pull 6 very old lilac bushes out of her back yard, trying to get them out in good enough shape to move them to my house were i'll add them to the side parking and front yard.

It's going to be a busy next several weeks. :-)

Thursday, March 15, 2012


What does it mean to be authentic? To live an authentic life? According my dictionary, the definition of authentic is:

- Not counterfeit or copied.
- Conforming to fact and therefore worthy of belief.

   - Unquestionable
   - Reliable

The most difficult part of this is that thorny issue of "fact," that which is unquestionable. On one hand, if authentic is 'conforming to fact,' whose facts set the standards? On the other hand, there are facts held by others that i personally don't believe or accept, yet i do accept that they are worthy of belief.

So if, as i believe, it is impossible to come up with a list of facts that everyone, with no exception, will agree are unquestionable, incontrovertible, is it impossible to live an "authentic" life?

I don't accept that. Living an authentic life is living your life completely in accord with your beliefs. Decide what they are, and then live them. No wiggling around in order to satisfy (or make) friends, no wiggling in order to keep the boss happy so you might get a promotion, no wiggling in order to find the perfect mate or to keep peace in the family. No wiggling.

According to my beliefs, there is one unquestionable fact — everything changes; with zero exceptions. Everything. And that includes your beliefs. They may change over years and decades, they may change from minute to minute as "facts" unfold. But, they will change.

Also according to my beliefs, there is one absolutely key ingredient in living a truly authentic life, and that is the commitment to understanding what your beliefs are at all times and noticing them as they change.

In all the myriad of small, seemingly trivial, thoughts, words, and actions you offer the world each and every day, how often do you make an offering contrary to one of your beliefs simply because it is expeditious, simply because doing so is easier than sticking to your beliefs?

Note, i am not asking about the big decisions, the big things that seem to matter, i'm asking about the other 99% of your day, all the trivial things that don't seem to matter, but are done as part of the routine of living.

Join me as i ask myself today, am i living an authentic life?