Saturday, December 28, 2013

Those Goofy Buddhist Lists

First off, a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays to all. Hope everyone enjoyed time with family and friends and that Santa's problems delivering everyone's gifts didn't hit your home.

Secondly, wishing everyone a wonderful new year. Wishing all peace, happiness, and fulfillment.

Lastly, i have been reading through the first volume of Gateway To Knowledge, by Jamgon Mipham Rinpoche today. It's a primer on the basics of Buddhism, much like What The Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula, but written from the Tibetan viewpoint, which doesn't change a lot.

Anyway, as the Buddhist like to do, especially (it seems to me) the Tibetans, the book is list after list after list. And in the chapter on the Skandhas, the five aggregates, we find the lists associated with the skandha of perception. There seem to be six types of perception, and leaving out the details, those are perceptions with characteristics, perceptions without characteristics, lesser perceptions, vast perceptions, immeasurable perceptions, and .....

Number six: "The perception of nothing whatsoever causes the sphere of nothing whatsoever to be perceived."

There you go. If you were ever in doubt of how on earth, or in any of the three realms, it was possible to perceive the sphere of nothing whatsoever, the path has been laid out here. Granted it may take years of effort and hours upon hours on your zafu, but all that is required is the perception of nothing whatsoever.

Glad i got that straight. :-) Now how do i convince people to take Buddhism as a serious path with things like that on the list?

Happy New Year.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Just To Know You

Snatam Kaur & Peter Kater
From their Heart of The Universe album

Given her Sikh upbringing, i'm certain we look at this from different angles, but i'd like to believe that she'd allow my interpretation. This nicely describes my view from high on top of my zafu. Not always, but it's a view.

"Just to know you, just to live inside your grace." When Dave steps out of the way and you get occasional glimpses around his fat head, this is the immediate, unspoken, thought that appears when that immeasurable immensity comes into view. Ah, there you are. Thank you. Do you know how much i've missed you? Do you know how happy i can get just knowing that for reasons unknown we were able to meet? Just to live inside your grace, with whatever you offer, whatever comes. Thank you for being.

"Just to feel you in my heart, at this time, in this place." Dave still has occasional shitty, black days, but not all that often. Can't lie about that, but when he moves out of the way, and a clear view is had .... in that time, in that place...

In that time, in that place on a zafu. In that time, in that place standing there filling up the car with gas. In that time, in that place standing in the grocery store checkout line. In that time, in that place sitting in the car at a red light. In that time, in that place putting clothes in the washer. In that time, in that place standing there watching someone tell you completely unreasonable things at work. In every time. In every place. Take a breath and feel, deep in your heart, that Life that animates your body. Feel who you really are. Who we all are. Take a breath. Forget your version of Dave and be who you are. Take a second, or more, to really appreciate, really thank Life for this chance to be here.

"There is peace, in every breath, as my mind dwells on your name." In every breath. Until the view clears even more, and then even the breath itself is gone. And then,... there is peace. No more. No less. Just peace. Not here. Not there. Not for me. Not for us. Just peace.

"Finding peace, peace within." How do we find peace in the world? Right here. Peace within. If you find it, it will affect you. It will change your life. It will change your outlook. It will affect your relationship with the world. Peace begins within.

"Treasure of bliss never end." With a promise like that, why don't more people make the effort?

Hope all had a Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

When God's Stuck In Your Front Door

There's this story about a farmer who decides to retire and take up the spiritual life. After turning everything over to others and cutting himself free, he goes to the master at his local temple. The master tells him that to start he needs to learn to meditate and sends him off to a small meditation hut on the nearby mountain.

When he asks how to meditate, the master tells him to meditate on God. Fill his mind with nothing but God. Let go of every thought and have nothing but God in his mind. Become God. Not having a clue how to do that, but trusting his master, the farmer heads off to the hut to begin his practice.

A few weeks later the farmer comes back to the temple and tells the master that it is hopeless. No matter how hard he tries he just can not fill his mind with God. Too many other things stop him. He just doesn't see how to do it.

The master thinks for a minute and asks the farmer what thoughts keep interrupting him. To which the farmer tells him of the water buffalo that he had left on the farm when he left. The water buffalo that had been his companion and friend for more years than he can even remember. The water buffalo that had patiently listened to all of his problems and all of his happiness in life. The water buffalo that had helped him in the fields every day of the year, year in and year out. The water buffalo that had made life livable for him.

Nodding his head, the master told him that the solution to his problems is at hand. Go back to the hut, he told the farmer, and meditate on your water buffalo. Fill your mind with nothing but the buffalo, he told him. Let go of every thought and have nothing but your water buffalo in your mind. Become your water buffalo. And with that, the farmer returned to his hut to try again.

A month later, when the farmer hadn't returned, the master climbed the mountain to check on him. Arriving at the hut, he knocked on the door. No answer. He knocked again. No answer. He looked in the window and could see the farmer sitting there, on his zafu in the middle of the room so he went back to the door and knocked again. No answer.

Finally he pounded on the door and yelled, "Open the door and come out and greet your teacher!"

At which time he heard a mooing sound and then the farmer saying, "I would like to master, really, i would, but my horns won't fit through the door."

Love that story. To help you get an idea of what the farmer saw, find your cushion, put it right in the middle of the floor, and when your mind has calmed down, then hit play of this video. Don't think of anything. Be completely still, completely open, and just let the sound wash through you.

That was the sound of God though the ears of a human. For what us humans sound like through the ears of God, sit down again, get calm, completely still, completely open, and then hit play on this video.

And don't blame me if you can't get through your front door after listening to these for a half hour or so. :-)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Don't Waste Your Time Walking

I was in the mood for a little Rumi today:

One Whisper of the Beloved

Lovers share a sacred decree—
to seek the Beloved.
They roll head over heels,
rushing toward the Beautiful One
like a torrent of water.

In truth, everyone is a shadow of the Beloved—
Our seeking is His seeking,
Our words are His words.

At times we flow toward the Beloved
like a dancing stream.
At times we are still water
held in His pitcher.
At times we boil in a pot
turning to vapor—
that is the job of the Beloved.

He breathes into my ear
until my soul
takes on His fragrance.
He is the soul of my soul—
How can I escape?
But why would any soul in this world
want to escape from the Beloved?

He will melt your pride
making you thin as a strand of hair,
Yet do not trade, even for both worlds,
One strand of His hair.

We search for Him here and there
while looking right at Him.
Sitting by His side we ask,
"O Beloved, where is the Beloved?"

Enough with such questions!—
Let silence take you to the core of life.

All your talk is worthless
When compared to one whisper
of the Beloved.

The man had a way with words. It's not only clear as the clearest mountain lake, but longingly beautiful at the same time.

"Our seeking is His seeking, Our words are His words." We walk the path because we are searching for something. It's not "here," so it must be "over there." I don't have it, so i have to go somewhere else to find it. Nonsense. Poppycock. As Kōshō Uchiyama writes on so many pages of his book by the same title, all you have to do is open the hand of thought. Open the hand, let the thoughts go. Stop holding onto them. Sit still and realize that that which we are seeking is right were you happen to be standing. Right now. Nowhere else. There is nowhere to go to find It. If we can't find It in ourselves, we will never find It. Sit still long enough to realize that our seeking is his seeking. Our words are his words. Or, as Kahlil Gibron says in that wonderful book The Prophet, "God listens not to your words save when He Himself utters them through your lips."

"At times we flow toward the Beloved like a dancing stream. At times we are still water held in His pitcher. At times we boil in a pot turning to vapor." This is our normal state, brought about because we won't open that hand of thought and let it all go. Sometimes we flow gently, beautifully. Sometime we boil, raging, with immense amounts of noise and energy lost. Yet sometimes, even amongst all this we do find that place were we sit quietly, like still water in His pitcher. Calm. Open. Trusting. Here. And those moments are so incredibly affirming — yes, this is what i am.

"That is the job of the Beloved." But it's not our job to find that silence. It's our job to be open to it, to put ourselves in a position to receive it, to be ready for the moment it descends.

"He breathes into my ear until my soul takes on His fragrance." Can you imagine a life of such profound peace and grace that your soul has taken on the fragrance of the Beloved? Can you imagine the intoxicating beauty of that fragrance? In your life?

"Enough with such questions! — Let silence take you to the core of life." Enough! Stop already! Take off your boots, stop walking, stop searching. Just.Sit.Down! Let the Beloved devour you. Let Him settle over you, erasing everything that you are not, everything you thought was important, everything you thought mattered. Let the core of your life expand. Expand. Expand. Until there is nothing but the silence.

"All your talk is worthless when compared to one whisper of the Beloved." Can you hear that whisper? No. But with effort, you can let Him hear the whisper through you..

Monday, November 18, 2013

Just Keep Walking, or, Sitting In Your Boots

These words say much more clearly some of the things i've been saying more clumsily lately...

Buddhism is not a philosophical teaching—it's a teaching of human activity. We usually look at the activity of Zen practice with our consciousness, but true Zen practice must be completely empty. You can practice zazen prior to the germination of your intellectual sense and handle yourself before you are distracted by thought. Then zazen really works, and you work within zazen because your life is blooming in the universe. When you practice this way, your practice is simultaneously touching the source of existence and blooming your flower right now, right here. That is why practice is not apart from enlightenment—practice is enlightenment itself.

It's not a matter of metaphysical or philosophical discussion—you must be there. But you should also try to understand it theoretically as well as you can. Even though it is difficult, even though it makes your head ache, continue to study the teaching of impermanence. Even though time is beyond ordinary human recognition, try to understand it, because your life already exists there. You're completely free, but you must figure out a way to live and achieve continuity of practice day to day. If you practice, sooner or later you can feel something. Finally you can touch something deep.

Each Moment Is The Universe
Dainin Katagiri

(One of the best books written on the subject of living Life.)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Physics On The Henro Trail

I know that a great many people who walk the henro trail are not scientists, not even interested in science, let alone that seemingly difficult area called physics. So, before continuing, let me try and bring those who that applies to up to speed.

Einstein, got the equation right, but completely missed the mark on what it meant. I was shocked when i realized it. In his heyday, he correctly pointed out that:

E = MC2

Can't argue with that, it turns out to be true. And luckily for the physics community, they have been able to put it to good use even though they are using in in an odd way. It turns out that while Einstein's original intuition was correct, he got off-track somewhere between the first idea and the final equations. What i suspect the equation really means is:

E(nlightenment) = M(editation) x C(ompassion) x C(ourage)
E = MC2

When you take a well established meditation practice, combine it with a compassionate life, and multiply that with the courage required to persist in the face of countless odds and distractions, the end result will be enlightenment. Meditation alone can not do it, but it will bring wisdom and virtue to your life. Once wisdom and virtue are the focus of your life, compassion for the world can flow through your life. Living this life, though, is not easy, it's tempting to pick and choose who you want to be compassionate with, it's tempting to choose your friends over your enemies, those who do good over those who seem to do harm. Courage is the backbone that holds it all together.

OK, even though we could spend countless pages on the equation and it's implications, that's enough to get even the non-science inclined up to speed. The real question is what does that have to do with the henro trail.

It all begins with an idea of what you are looking for. Einstein was looking for the origins, the unifying background, of the relative world of form and matter. How do you see that which ties everything together. A henro, in my opinion, is one who is looking at the same question, but in a non-scientific way.

As a henro takes the first steps away from Ryōzenji, he/she is still very much firmly embedded in the world of name and form. The hope is that by the time he/she returns in a month and a half this name and form have taken a back seat to reality. They haven't disappeared, they are still important, but their actual worth, their true value has come to be understood.

As a henro takes these first steps, they must commit to courage. COURAGE. The walk may be difficult — physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, some combination of any of those, or all of those. A walk of the trail can be like a walk in your local park, but a pilgrimage will not be. Before taking even those first few steps, commit to seeing these endeavors through, commit to doing your best each and every step of the walk. Not when you think of it, not when the weather is good, not when you are in a good mood, not from time-to-time; commit to staying focused during each and every step of the walk.

Make the walk a walking meditation, and offer compassion to everyone and everything that you encounter. It doesn't have to be verbal, it doesn't have to be overt. Not everyone is looking for it or wants it. But in your mind, compassion for all. Compassion for everything. Compassion and focused mindfulness. Continuously. Day in and day out. Step after step. On the trail. At a temple. In a restaurant. Sitting on the side of the road. At your lodging. In the rain. When it's hot and the trail is steep. When you're being squeezed against the side of the tunnel wall by truck traffic. Always.

With persistence and dedication, your name and form may begin to merge with all the "other" names and forms. With persistence and dedication the lines between you and other may begin to loose their sharp edges. With persistence and dedication the reality behind it all makes an appearance.

With persistence and dedication and with a continued focus on meditation and compassion, you may learn to easily slip back and forth between this reality and the apparent world of names and forms needed to make reservations, buy food, and chant the heart sutra at the temples.

With persistence and dedication, an ever continuing focus on meditation and compassion, and determined courage to continue, the amalgam of the reality you've seen and your individual world begin to operate on its own and you are able to sit back and let it live its life, live your life, live Life in your boots. You still walk, you still greet people, you still visit temples, you still chant the heart sutra, you still enjoy the scenery and a cold beer at dinner, you still look like the person that set out from Ryōzenji, but that personality has been sloughed off and replaced by that of a henro.

E = MC2

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sitting On The Path

A common image used for the spiritual path seems to be those old Japanese and Chinese black-and-white scrolls showing a person sitting in a hut or temple on the side of a mountain, beside a fast-flowing stream, and below cloud encased mountain peaks. While i agree that the paintings are beautiful, even admitting to the one hanging on my living room wall, i wonder if this is really a great symbol.

So lets look at the different pieces of the image, as i see them. Being in the mountains seems to show that the traveler has make the hard decision to leave home and begin the climb. It shows that the traveler, the henro, if you will, has consciously accepted that the path is going to entail some amount of work, some amount of discomfort; that the goal can't be found at home, amongst all the distractions of a normal everyday life.

The hut were the person is sitting is usually very simple in nature, in part because everything was simple back in the era that these scroll paintings became popular. But above that, it seems to indicate that the closer you get to nature, the closer you get to "Life" in its barest and simplest form, the closer you are to the goal.

Next to the hut there is always a stream or river, which, to me, symbolizes the flow of life. Coming from the peaks above, where all trails converge into one, it flows down, picking up speed as it flows out of the canyons and valleys that must be scaled to reach the peak, and finally, with great noise and show, onto the flat plains where the towns and cities are found, where life is turbulent, raucous at times.

Finally, there are the cloud encased peaks. Obscured in clouds, the peaks are hidden from all those except the few who feel compelled to find them, hidden from all except the few who believe the stories of what can be found when the effort is made to find them.

But, as alluring as that image is, here's my problem with it. In all these pictures, the person in the hut is always sitting there, staring up at the peaks, as if lost in thought, as if contemplating what will be found 'up there.'

This is much too static a picture of the spiritual path, the henro trail. There is no indication of progress, no indication of the person making any attempt to move towards the peaks. There is only the sense that the first steps have been taken, but once a little progress had been made, once the first layer of the old materialistic life had been shed, our henro had settled in and said "Enough is enough. Life is good here. I'm leading a spiritual life. Continuing to the peak would be much too hard, maybe not even possible, i certainly don't see others climbing past the hut each day. I think i'm going to live here for a while."

But that's not the goal of the path. Just leading a spiritual life isn't, or shouldn't be (IMO), the only goal once you have committed to following it. Why stop there? Why settle for the mountainside when you have the peak? Why settle for the Shōbōgenzō when you can have 'practice and enlightenment are one?' Why settle for the monk's life when you can be a Buddha?

The symbol of the trail can't be someone sitting in his hut, no matter how beautiful the landscape might be. The symbol has to be the climb. The trail may be steep, it may be strewn with rocks and pebbles, the clouds may block all view of your goal, but the peak can only be reached if you keep walking, keep climbing.

Discouragement is certain to jump out from behind a rock and startle you from time to time. Boredom will raise its head when day after day you can't see ahead and have no way to judge your progress. Pain and discomfort may shadow you from time to time. Doubt as to your ability to succeed will surely stare you in the face on a regular basis if you aren't careful and alert.

But, even with all that, in spite of all that, when you commit to keep moving, to continually putting one foot in front of the other, constantly, persistently, not having a clue how far you have gone or how much farther you have to go, but with heart felt belief in your teacher's assurance that you are getting closer with each step,... when you make that commitment, when you live that commitment, you will arrive at the peak. Some day. Some life. It is inevitable.

But, you can't find a nice hut and stop just because they offer warm tea, sweets, and a beautiful place to bed down.

The symbol of the trail, the path, has to be dynamic, it can't be static.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Autumn's Leaves

I'm sitting in the living room trying to read but the beautiful maple tree in my neighbor's front yard fills the window by my chair and has been keeping me distracted. Weeks ago it started the shift from green to brilliant reds and oranges, followed over the past week and a half by a slow, subtle shift to light oranges as it worked its way to the intoxicating yellow that it is today.

But what keeps me engrossed is watching it shed its leaves. Yesterday, in a day of rain and wind, the leaves flew off constantly, in every direction, as if the tree was on a mission to shed every vestige of covering. Today, a cold, but quiet and sunny autumn day, the leaves come off at random. Now one here, then one there, then nothing at all, then another one, unexpectedly, on the back side. It's beautiful to watch.

The process so much makes me think of the spiritual path. By the time we ever find the path we have full lives; filled with friends, family, careers, possessions, hobbies, interests, passions, and everything else we use to define who we are. Not only do all of these seem normal, they are normal to an extent, but we convince ourselves that the tree of our life is beautiful because of all of these things. Without the leaves of all we take for granted, we have been trained to think that the tree of our lives is bare.

But once we find the path, and make some progress along its length, we see that as more and more of the leaves fall, we get a clearer view of where we are headed, a clearer and clearer view of our destination.

But people don't see this at the start. They shout, i don't want to give up the brilliant reds of my passions. I don't want to surrender the bright yellows of this interest or that, the calming greens of a good book or beautiful music. I don't see any harm in holding on to the things of my life, it's what makes my tree full, beautiful, a thing to admire.

Then, with a little more time spent on the path, how many miles and kilometers depends on each person, we come to see that by shedding the leaves, the tree isn't dying it's just getting ready for winter. And what is winter? It is nothing more than that period where the tree gets itself ready for the upcoming spring.

Enduring the winter can be hard if all you focus on is the cold and snow. But if you understand that the tree is doing internal work that can't be seen from the outside, that the tree is preparing itself for new growth once spring comes, then winter is a time of great anticipation.

As you walk along your path today, look at some of your leaves, wonder why you are so averse to letting them drop. Is there a mistaken belief that without all of these leaves life will be bare and dead? Is there a fear of what will come during the unknown winter season?

Instead, look past winter. Look through the veil and try and focus on the dim images of what spring will bring. Your tree will blossom again, your tree will fill someone's window. Your tree will captivate you once again, but with different, even more beautiful leaves.

Every teacher who has seen next spring's tree tells us the view is worth many a winter's wait. Be patient, spring will arrive. And you can't even imagine how beautiful your life will be.

Our job is simply to keep walking, facing the goal, no matter the season. Spring will come if you just.keep.walking.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Kukai's Cave

It bears remembering these thoughts from Thomas Byron's translation of the Dhammapada, at least once a day:

We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an impure mind
And trouble will follow you
As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.

We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with a pure mind
And happiness will follow you
As your shadow, unshakable.

"Look how he abused me and beat me,
How he threw me down and robbed me."
Live with such thoughts and you live in hate.

"Look how he abused me and beat me,
How he threw me down and robbed me."
Abandon such thoughts, and live in love.

In this world
Hate never yet dispelled hate.
Only love dispels hate.
This is the law,
Ancient and inexhaustible.

This is the law, ancient and inexhaustible. Applicable everywhere, to everyone, no exceptions. In all situations, no exceptions. At all times, no exceptions. This is the law. Ancient. Inexhaustible.

But my mind runs like the wind. I can't control that anymore than i can control a wild horse. It's impossible, you say. The Dhammapada continues, in another chapter:

As the fletcher whittles
And makes straight his arrows,
So the master directs
His straying thoughts.

Like a fish out of water,
Stranded on the shore,
Thoughts thrash and quiver.
For how can they shake off desire?

They tremble, they are unsteady,
They wander at their will.
It is good to control them,
And to master them brings happiness.

But how subtle they are,
How elusive!
The task is to quieten them,
And by ruling them to find happiness.

With single-mindedness
The master quells his thoughts.
He ends their wandering.
Seated in the cave of the heart,
He finds freedom.

How can a troubled mind
Understand the way?
If a man is disturbed
He will never be filled with knowledge.
An untroubled mind,
No longer seeking to consider
What is right and what is wrong,
A mind beyond judgments,
Watches and understands.

Know that the body is a fragile jar,
And make a castle of your mind.

In every trial
Let understanding fight for you
To defend what you have won.

For soon the body is discarded
Then what does it feel?
A useless log of wood, it lies on the ground.
Then what does it know?

Your worst enemy cannot harm you
As much as your own thoughts, unguarded.

But once mastered,
No one can help you as much,
Not even your father or your mother.

Do we need to run off and join a monastery or an ashram to do this? That's impossible; i have a life, a family, bills, kids to put through college, a house to pay off, the weekend softball team that needs me at shortstop,..., you say.

The answer is above. Did you see it? "Seated in the cave of the heart, he finds freedom." No running away. No leaving the world behind, well not the real world anyhow, although the fictitious world you have come to believe in will suffer some damage. All you have to do is find your zafu and a warm corner in the cave of your heart. And the promise is, when you find that place, and spend serious time there, the thoughts will come under control and you will find happiness. You will find freedom.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

It Is In Giving That We Receive

I know i use the word "wonderful" a lot for some of the words i read and post here. I do try and control myself, but sometimes that is simply the best word to describe them. As is the case here (sorry), in this section of Eknath Easwaran's commentary on the 18th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, in volume 3 of his book The Bhagavad Gita For Daily Living.


"[M]ost people have never had the experience of giving simply and purely, for no other reason than love. They have been conditioned to evaluate even an act of charity in terms of the admiration or status it brings; they have not had the opportunity of working with others for a great cause without expecting even a thank you. How could they know that this selfless giving of resources, time, or talents can release us from tension and competition?

"I began to learn this lesson when I was a freshman in college. In those days I wanted to be a writer, so naturally I wanted to see more of life. That summer I persuaded my Grandmother to let me spend my vacation traveling among some of the villages in the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu.

"Soon I came across a village very different from the one where I grew up. Our village was prosperous and literate, but this Tamil village was so poor that it didn't have a school, and most of these villagers did not know how to read or write. They were simple, hard-working farmers; that was all.

"But they had a strong desire to learn. They asked me to stay and be their teacher, not only of the children but of the adults too. What would i charge? They had never had a teacher in the village before, they explained, and they had no money with which to pay. But they could provide me with food, each family taking turns, and I could stay with one of the better-off households as if I were their own son. All this moved me deeply. I was a freshman, after all; most of these villagers were old enough to be my parents. And I had only three months of vacation. How much can you teach in three months to people who had scarcely had a day's schooling in their lives, who knew nothing but crops and soils?

" 'What do you want to learn?' I asked.

" 'We'd like to know arithmetic,' they said, 'for buying and selling. We'd like to learn how to read, so we could read the stories in the scriptures. And we'd like to know how to write, so we could write letters to our relatives and friends.'

" 'That's a lot,' I said.

"They smiled. 'We have all summer. Of course, we can't come during the day' we have to work in the fields. But we can come at night.'

"That kind of desire really impressed me. 'Do you have a building where we could meet?'

" 'No,' someone said. 'But we can make one.'

"In my mind the three months began to shrink into two. 'How long would that take?' I asked.

"They grinned enthusiastically. 'We can do it tonight.'

"I couldn't believe my ears.

" 'Sure,' they said. 'It's a full moon. We'll start after dinner. You have your meal and then come and select the site; we'll do the rest.'

"That was my first glimpse of the real strength of India's villagers, the millions of peasants who hold the country together. I selected a pleasant site on a gentle hill, from which you could see the river running close by. And after dinner, probably about eight o'clock in the evening, a man turned up from every hut in the village. These were men who had been up before dawn, worked hard in the hot fields with just a couple of hours rest when the sun was at its zenith. I was so profoundly impressed that I insisted on working alongside them, though I probably only slowed them down; they had to teach me everything. But by the time the sun came up the next morning, we had a one-room school—mud walls, thatched roof, sand from the riverbank for a floor, even a slate to write on and a piece of railing for a bell. As far as we were concerned, it was perfect.

"I taught throughout that summer, and though attendance was a little irregular, by and large someone from every household was there faithfully every evening at eight when class began. None of us had a watch so we used to end the lesson when we heard the whistle and clatter of the Blue Mountain Express chugging its way up the hills, Sometimes I would get so absorbed that when I heard a train and stopped, they would laugh and say, 'The Blue Mountain Express went by an hour ago. That's the Malabar Express; it must be eleven o'clock.' By the end of the summer we didn't go home till we heard the Cochin Express go by at midnight.

"By that time they could read, write, and reckon, which must have felt like the greatest achievement of their lives. Yet I felt I had learned much more. I never received a penny for my work, though in their simple affection my students used to bring me all kinds of things they had grown or made: mangoes, coconuts, bananas, grass mats, a pair of handmade sandals. But I received much more than I gave. From those simple villagers, who had just the bare minimum of material possessions, I learned to understand the words of St. Francis: 'It is in giving that we receive.' "


That's a wonderful story. Powerful. And you can look at it from two sides as you wonder how it applies to your life.

Are you willing to drop everything, completely change your plans, and give your life to others if asked? What would it take to make you consider doing so?

From the other side of the aisle, how much are you willing to give, to do, to learn something you know would benefit your life and the lives of those around you? We say we are on the spiritual path because we want to 'learn' Truth. Would you go to the extreme of the villagers in this story to accomplish that?

Very nice words.

Monday, November 4, 2013


I have been thinking about what books i want to read next year and already have a list that may be too long. But, i still have two months to whittle that list down to something doable. One of my plans though is to read/re-read one book a month on the Heart Sutra. I want to re-write what i have written on the Shikoku Henro website about it. I'll save what is there now, but something is missing; i just don't know what at the moment — so, i'll read one book a month to help me figure out what it is.

In any case, these nice words come from Jaganath Carrera's book, Inside The Yoga Sutras, in his commentary on sutra 2.30:

"What attitudes precede the actions of the enlightened? Ones that are born of selfless motivations, wisdom, and love, that seek the welfare of everyone involved. These same attitudes—listed here as the yamas—are virtues that strengthen and purify the mind.

"The principles of yama might not satisfy someone fond of a dos and don'ts list. They are more properly understood as preparations for actions—attitudes that bring clarity, focus, and objectivity to bear on all situations.

"If we allow these principles to guide, cajole, and correct us, we will gradually know them well enough to call them friends. We will be privy to their nature, intent, power, and significance—their spirit. The yamas can be truly understood only when we perceive the spirit behind the 'letter of the law.' "

Think about it. Meditate on it. Enjoy it. Make the yamas your friends; most of them anyhow.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Tear Down Your Walls

The Image
The child brought blue clay from the creek
and the woman made two figures: a lady and a deer.

At that season deer came down from the mountain
and fed quietly in the redwood canyons.

The woman and the child regarded the figure of the lady,
the crude roundness, the grace, the coloring like shadow.
They were not sure where she came from,
except the child's fetching and the woman's hands
and the lead-blue clay of the creek

where the deer sometimes showed themselves at sundown.

Robert Hass

We all live in canyons; canyons of our own making. Life flows through us unceasingly, like a stream, sometimes in deep channels giving rise to calm and silence. At other times over, around, and through obstacles, with great noise and with everything around getting sprayed as a result.

And like the clay in Robert Hass' creek, the material of our lives form the world, the canyons, we live in; the canyons that box us in. We use the clay of our lives to build ourselves and others, to build ideas of who we are, of who we should be, of who others should be. We build the people and things of our lives and all the rules that everything is supposed to operate by.

Temporarily forgetting the creek, the life flow that allows us to be, we build canyon walls that box us in: i'm a teacher, a parent, a boss, a peon, an American, a European, an athlete, a gamer. I'm smart, stupid, extroverted, introverted, successful, unsuccessful, a hero, a victim. That person is a this, or a that. Another person is a that or a this. My job, my car, my house, my personal relationships, my this, that, or the other thing, is good, bad, mediocre, what i want, what i don't want, fulfilling, unfulfilling, whatever, you name it. The canyon walls can be very, very high forcing us to live in the shadows — unnoticed to all but a few.

Most of the time, for most people, we never bother to notice that we are the one in charge of our lives, the architect who designs every aspect, every single detail, the manager who supervises the actual construction, and the worker who actually puts it all together. Most of the time, for most people, we live blindly.

But one day, if you are lucky, the child in you, the curious side, the less judgmental side, the side willing to try and accept almost anything, wakes up and helps you to see yourself as you are in the process of creating something new in your life. Helps you to see that the creation process takes place in your very own hands.

Even though you bring your adult biases, judgements, beliefs, ideologies, and all those other bits and pieces of the canyon walls to the table with you, with effort you can see the process through the eyes of the child. And when you do, you see that it is not at all certain where this new construct has come from. Yes, the child's inquisitiveness led you to pick up the clay in the first place, and yes, you can see that the result came from your hands, but where did the specific characteristics of your construct come from? Where was it decided that this new thing in your life would be round and graceful, or square and nasty, or agreeable and supportive, a friend, an enemy, enjoyable or painful, liked or disliked, or some combination of all the above. Why, you must wonder, do you create your life as you do.

Can you stop what you are doing for a short while and see this subconscious process of construction? Can you see the walls you have allowed yourself to blindly build? But even more important, can you see how detrimental this blind construction project has been to your life?

Without these canyon walls, infinity awaits. Peace and love await. Look at the person closest to you and try and see that the wall between you is immense. Or, to be a little more accurate, see that the wall doesn't separate you and that other person, it separates you from yourself. Can you see the harmony and unity that exists beyond your canyon walls?

The next time you are sitting quietly and you notice that child in you, don't build anything that will add to your canyon walls, ask it to bring you some of the mud from the already existing walls, throw it into your creek, and let it dissolve into the flow of your life. Begin the process of tearing your walls down instead of adding to them.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Realization of Life

"We can look upon a road from two different points of view. One regards it as dividing us from the object of our desire; in that case we count every step of our journey over it as something attained by force in the face of obstruction. The other sees it as the road which leads us to our destination; and as such it is part of our goal. It is already the beginning of our attainment, and by journeying over it we can only gain that which in itself it offers to us."

From, Sadhana: The Realisation of Life
Rabindranath Tagore

A beautiful description of the Henro trail. As you take those first steps through the niomon of Temple 1 and enter the compound, stop for a minute and examine your feelings. Not your thoughts, those are too easy to counterfeit, but the feelings laying deep in your heart.

As you begin the Henro, ask yourself what the object of your desire is. Ask yourself where your intended, hoped for, destination lays. Is it back here at Temple 1, where you are starting from? Or, is it nowhere, at a place that doesn't exist, where the henro trail doesn't exist, where you'll cry for reasons unknown when you come to understand that with each step further into that unknowing you get closer to home.

As you take those first steps through the niomon of Temple 1, commit yourself to looking for no less than what the Daishi came looking for when he dropped out of the university and walked into the mountains and coastal roads of the same island.

As the saying goes, only he/she who has the courage to go too far will ever find out how far they can go.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Habitual Ignorance

"A sign that ignorance is losing its influence on us is when our habitual identifications with externals—possessions and attainments—begins to diminish. We begin to realize that we are not greater if we have them or less if we lose them."

Inside The Yoga Sutras
Jaganath Carrera

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Living On Dotted Lines

I talk a lot about looking for silence, looking for those gaps between individual thoughts. The silence found in those gaps is where you want to spend your time. It is in this silence where you grow spiritually, where you come to see the truth of the reality we live in, where you come to see who you really and truly are. All progress on the path is made when you are walking inside this silence.

Here's how i see it. Look at this line:

_ _   _  _    _ _ _   _ _            _   _ _      _  _    _        _

What is it? Obviously a dotted line. When asked to describe it, our first response is that it's a solid line broken by sections of blank space of different lengths. But, that definition rests on the belief that the important part of the line are the solid parts; the blank spaces are omissions.

What if you turned that around, though. Look at the line again, but this time try to see it as the blank space from the left side of the screen all the way to the right, interrupted by a series of short solid lines. It's easy to say, yeah, i see that, on an intellectual level, but it's difficult to really see the blank space across the screen as what's really there and its being interrupted by occasional solid lines.

Take this to the idea of your mind and thoughts. As we start the process of trying to calm our minds, we realize that our thoughts run rampant. Our thoughts are like a solid line through our mind. As we learn to sit and allow the mind to quiet down, our thoughts start to resemble the dotted line, with longer and longer gaps between the solid thoughts the longer we persist.

And that's where a great many people stop the process, i imagine. They see the thoughts as natural and spend their energies trying to expand the gaps. This is the natural state.

But it's not. The natural state is the blank line, interrupted by the solid line. Instead of looking for the gaps, learn to live in the silence, enjoy the silence, and notice when a thought comes up. Let it go, don't pay attention to it, know that it's just one of those solid lines, short and temporary, and that it will soon disappear. Then let it dissolve back into the natural blank space again.

Is there any difference between noticing the thoughts or noticing the gaps? In principle, no. In practice, yes. When you come to see that it is the gap that is natural and normal, your focus changes. You have made a first step onto the path of freedom, as opposed to the path towards freedom. It's like being at home and thinking of the henro trail on Shikoku versus being on the henro trail and occasionally having thoughts of home.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Path

This from the beginning of the 16th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. Krishna is talking to Arjuna:

"A man who is born with tendencies toward the Divine, is fearless and pure in heart. He perseveres in that path to union with Brahman which the scriptures and his teacher have taught him. He is charitable. He can control his passions. He studies the scriptures regularly, and obeys their directions. He practices spiritual disciplines. He is straight-forward, truthful, and of an even temper. He harms no one. He renounces the things of this world. He has a tranquil mind and an unmalicious tongue. He is compassionate toward all. He is not greedy. He is gentle and modest. He abstains from useless activity. He has faith in the strength of his higher nature. He can forgive and endure. He is clean in thought and act. He is free from hatred and from pride. Such qualities are his birthright.

"When a man is born with demonic tendencies, his birthright is hypocrisy, arrogance, conceit, anger, cruelty, and ignorance.

"The birthright of the divine nature leads to liberation. The birthright of the demonic nature leads to greater bondage."

Swami Prabhavananda & Christopher Isherwood Translation

And the same passage from another translation (maybe my favorite):

"Be fearless and pure; never waver in your determination or your dedication to the spiritual life. Give freely. Be self-controlled, sincere, truthful, loving, and full of the desire to serve. Realize the truth of the scriptures; learn to be detached and to take joy in renunciation. Do not get angry or harm any living creature, but be compassionate and gentle; show good will to all. Cultivate vigor, patience, will, purity; avoid malice and pride. Then, Arjuna, you will achieve your divine destiny.

"Other qualities, Arjuna, make a person more and more inhuman: hypocrisy, arrogance, conceit, anger, cruelty, ignorance.

"The divine qualities lead to freedom; the demonic, to bondage."

Eknath Easwaran Translation

And from the perspective of the bible, in 1 Timothy Paul tells Timothy, who has been appointed a teacher:

"Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.


"[S]et the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. ...[D]evote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have,... Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers."


Food for thought.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Life's Important Truths

The original post said:
Life's important truths
Seen whispering in silence
Fall's colors appear

Maybe it's not easy to see the truths in this if you don't sit on your butt a lot. On on a seiza bench, or chair, if necessary. Or even lie down, if absolutely necessary. Seeing silence takes a lot of practice. Seeing anything whispering in silence is even harder. But absolutely doable if you commit to a regular meditation practice.

But just sitting is not the key. You can sit for 20 hours a day only getting up to eat and go to the bathroom, but if your mind is up and wandering around all day, regardless of what the rest of your body is doing, your are wasting your time. You won't see results. Sitting, as i talk about it means sitting with a still body AND a still mind. That's what meditation is.

In fact, the still mind is the more important ingredient. Once you learn how to do it, you can meditate while running along the side of the highway, while riding your bike hours on end. You can meditate while working out at the gym, while eating your meals, especially while eating your meals. Meditation is what you do with your mind, not with your body.

Over time, the meaning of "life's important truths" will change for you. Over time, as you spiral deeper and deeper into Being, instead of existing, your life will redefine itself, old 'truths' will be discarded, and new truths will appear — all without your trying to manage it.

And as you dig deeper and deeper, behind that door between two thoughts that i talk about a lot, the truth of who we are becomes clearer, the truth of the nature and rules of the game called life become clearer, the truth of Being becomes clearer and clearer.

No one can teach these truths to you. No one. If your teacher says he/she can, they are lying. A teacher doesn't teach you anything. All you can hope for is to find a teacher who can clearly point out where your blocks to seeing the truths lie. Can tell you where the wrong paths are, where the dead ends are, where the pitfalls are. A good teacher will give you hints, poke and prod you, encourage you, but in order to find and see the truths, you have to do all the work yourself, all the searching yourself, and remove the obstacles in your path... all by yourself.

So the first question to ask is "what are life's important truths?" And if your teacher or friend kicks you of the room when you offer your first version of an answer, know that you have a lot of sitting still to do. Remember, you're looking for silence — not answers.

Then, someday, you will get a glimpse of that silence, maybe on the other side of the office, hidden between two cubicles. Or in the car in front of you as you work your way to the office in stop-and-go traffic. Or, more usual, on your zafu while sitting in your living room. But that glimpse changes your search.

If you continue to sit, silence shows its face more and more often, staying around for longer periods of time more and more often. But only after you stop trying to greet it every time it appears. If you greet it, it disappears immediately. Just observe. Don't say or think anything. Just watch. Learn to sit together. Silence loves to sit with people who meditate, sitting there staring you in the eye, watching every cell of your body. Learn to sit quietly, simply observing as silence appears, sits with you, and finally eats you alive so that only silence remains sitting there.

When that happens, silence will talk to you. It will whisper life's important truths sweetly into your ear and show you the way down your path. As with your teacher, though, you have to do the work, you have to show up and be willing to walk where silence tells you to walk. Progress is dependent on your perseverance, your courage to continue against all odds. Progress is dependent our your willingness to be silent. Your willingness to BE silence. Your willingness to let the person who sat down at the beginning of your meditation session, and the person who will get up again at the end... disappear.into.complete.silence.

So, if the question at the start is "what are life's important truths?" the question at the end of this is "what does looking for the truth, seeing the truth, have to do with fall's colors?"

There is a direct connection.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

So Foolish

"You are a fool," Matt wrote.

"You know nothing," he added for emphasis.

That's it, his entire comment to my last post was those two short sentences. I invited him to clarify his point, but he seems reluctant to do that as he hasn't answered. But, believe it or not, Matt, i appreciate your comment, even as short as it was. Why? Because it forced me to sit up straight and wonder — about my life right now, my practice, my attitude, my seriousness.

And what i come up with is... I agree with you. But that's why my blog name happens to be Lao Bendan, Stupid Old Man in Chinese.

One of the first things any serious traveler on this path finds is that the reality that the vast majority of people believe in is only a miniscule portion of reality as it really is. Before making much progress, we really know very little. Nothing, for all intents and purposes. But, i have been walking the path for quite a while now, so while i wouldn't say that i know nothing, i'd agree that i know very, very little, in comparison to what i should know.

I know i want the "rest of the story," i wish i could have made more progress on my walk along the path. But, over the years i've consistently chosen to keep one foot in the conventional, relative world, instead of making the jump to the absolute with both feet. That makes me a fool. You see the goal, you can see it, taste it, smell it, even touch it from time to time; you know you desperately want it, but you refuse to make the jump. That makes you a fool.

Matt, you're right. I'm a Stupid Old Man. I admit it.

This talk about losing your way, even though you want more, reminds me of a story in Jaganath Carrera's Inside The Yoga Sutras.

"There once was a young yogi who had lived at his guru's ashram for a number of years. He was a dedicated disciple who practiced with great fervor. One day, he noticed his master looking at him in a curious way.

" 'Master, is there something wrong? You are looking at me in the most peculiar way.'

" 'No, nothing is wrong. But as I was watching you, it occurred to me that it would be good for you to experience a period of seclusion to focus on deepening your meditation.'

" 'Fine, master. I'm happy to do as you say.'

" 'Good. A few miles from here there is a nice forest with a small village nearby where you can go and beg for your daily food. Stay there until I come for you.'

" 'It sounds perfect. I'll go at once.'

"Following his master's instructions, he took only a begging bowl and two loincloths. Arriving at the bank of a stream, he found an elevated spot where he built his hut.

"He then began a routine that was repeated faithfully for many weeks; after morning meditation, he would take one loincloth, wash it, drape it on the roof of his hut to dry, and then walk to the village to beg for food.

"Then one day, when he came back to the hut he noticed that a rat had eaten a hole in his loincloth. What to do? The next day, he begged for food and another loincloth. The villagers were only too happy to help him. Unfortunately, the rat would not go away and continued ruining one loincloth after another. One villager took pity on him.

" 'Son, look how much trouble that rat is causing you. Everyday you have to beg for food and also for a new loincloth. What you need is a cat to keep away the rat.'

"The young man was stunned at the simple logic of the answer. That very day he begged for food, a loincloth, and a cat. He obtained a nice kitten.

"But things did not go as he anticipated. Although the cat did keep away the rat, it, too, needed food. Now he had to beg for a bowl of milk for his cat as well as food for himself. This went on for several weeks, until...

" 'Young man, I noticed you begging for food for yourself and milk for your cat. Why don't you get a cow? Not only can you feed the cat, you'll even have milk left over for yourself.'

"He thought this was brilliant. It took a little time, but he was able to find a villager to give him a cow. By now, you may have guessed what happens next. While the milk from the cow fed his cat and provided some milk for him, it too needed to eat. Now, when he begged for food, he also had to ask for hay for the cow. After some time...

" 'Dear boy, what a burden it is to beg for food and hay for your cow, too! Just do one simple thing and all your problems will be over. You are living on very fertile soil. Beg for hayseed and plant hay to feed the cow. You will certainly have enough hay left over to sell in town. With the extra money you could buy whatever you need.'

" The young disciple wondered how he could have missed such a simple solution. He found hayseed to sow and soon harvested a rich crop of hay. But, one day a villager spotted him, looking haggard.

" 'Son, you are working too hard. You have a growing business to look after. What you need is a wife to share responsibilities with you. Later on, your children will also be able to help.'

" Of course, he thought. So simple. He did find a nice woman to marry. His business and family grew by leaps and bounds. In fact, his hut was soon replaced by a mansion staffed with servants.

"One day there was a knock at the door.

"The young man walked to the door and looked into the eyes of his master. A sudden rush of recognition brought back memories of long forgotten and neglected commitments. Looking heavenward, he raised his arms high and shouted...

" 'All for the want of a loincloth!' "

Ahhh, how easy it is to get distracted from the things we claim we so dearly want...

My sister just showed up.... i'll finish this post tomorrow...

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Silence Seen

Life's important truths
Seen whispering in silence
Fall's colors appear

How much time today did you spend looking at those silent whispers?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Travel Alone

This from the 23rd chapter of Thomas Byrom's translation of the Dhammapada

"If the traveler can find
A virtuous and wise companion
Let him go with him joyfully
And overcome the dangers of the way.

But if you cannot find
Friend or master to go with you,
Travel on alone
Like a king who has given away his kingdom,
Like an elephant in the forest.

Travel on alone,
Rather than with a fool for company.
Do not carry with you your mistakes.
Do not carry your cares.
Travel on alone.
Like an elephant in the forest.

To have friends in need is sweet
And to share happiness.
And to have done something good
Before leaving this life is sweet,
And to let go of sorrow.
To be a mother is sweet,
And a father.
It is sweet to live arduously,
And to master yourself.

O how sweet it is to enjoy life,"

The point i take away from this is not that as we travel through this life, being alone is the best way to travel. That's not what i read. Rather, if you want a sweet life, choose your friends wisely. And even more important than those physical friends you spend parts of each day with are the thoughts that rattle around in your head all day — the entire day. The thoughts that you must consider especially great friends since you refuse to be separated from them. Since you try and hang on to their presence with every ounce of your energy.

Don't carry around your mistakes! Don't carry around your cares! Deal with them as needed and appropriate, drop them, and move on. Learn to control your mind. Learn to control your thoughts. It's not easy at first, but it can be learned; with effort, dedication, persistence, and commitment. Not your garden variety January 1st New Year's resolution type of commitment, but rock solid commitment. Swear to yourself that if you accomplish anything over the next 12 months, it will be to control your mind.

Learn to meditate. It's hard work, but if you do, "It is sweet to live arduously, And to master yourself."

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Who Told You That?

Until we learn to be aware, we see our lives through the filters of "conditioned mind." Conditioned mind is, primarily, our childhood survival system. It is watching you, talking to you, critiquing you, and interpreting life for you. Its full-time job is convincing you that it is you, and it's vey persuasive. You have learned to like what it likes, to want what it wants, and to try to get its approval at any cost. In fact, conditioned mind is reading this over your shoulder. It is letting you know whether or not what you're reading is true, relevant, accurate, intelligent, and well written. Most important of all, it is letting you know how well you are doing at understanding what you're reading. Can you hear it talking to you?

Awareness practice exposes conditioned mind's trickery. When we learn to observe conditioning, we can drop the belief that it is who we are and reclaim the youthful enthusiasm that was ours before we were taught to abandon it.

From the back cover of "Transform Your Life: A Year of Awareness Practice"
Cheri Huber

Many people believe that spiritual practice is mainly about rituals, postures, purifications, worship, and a great many other things that rightly should be shunted to the side. All of these have a place, a purpose, but they are not what should be at the core of your practice.

The core should be that hardest of all tasks — working with your mind. The one and only thing standing between 'you' and who you really are is the mind. The one thing that keeps you from seeing your true self is the mind. That lying, cheating, extortionist who's full-time job is to convince you that it is you will spare no expense to keep you from seeing the truth.

Incorporate whatever you want in your practice if it helps to keep you on the path. But always, always keep in mind that if you aren't working on evicting conditioned mind out of the house and out of the neighborhood, if you aren't making progress on controlling that rampant nonsense that rattles around in your head all day, then you are on a side path and not the main path.

The problem is, the main path can be excruciatingly hard work. No one will say it is easy. The side paths, however, are much easier; just do what you're told, follow the routine, ask someone outside of yourself for help. Admit it, you're just trying to pass the buck, let someone else do the work for you, yet hoping for the rewards yourself. The problem is, the problem isn't outside yourself! The problem is wholly, 100%, inside. As someone wrote once, this path is an inside job.

Are you on the path? Are you following the one that climbs ever higher or have you settled for an easier side path because others maintain it and it isn't as much work?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Yoga Topo Maps

I was reading a sample from iTunes of B.K.S. Iyengar's book Light on Life last night and fell in love with these two paragraphs in the introduction:

Yoga is a rule book for playing the game of Life, but in this game no one needs to lose. It is tough, and you need to train hard. It requires the willingness to think for yourself, to observe and correct, and to surmount occasional setbacks. It demands honesty, sustained application, and above all love in your heart. If you are interested to understand what it means to be a human being, placed between earth and sky, if you are interested in where you come from and where you will be able to go, if you want happiness and long for freedom, then you have already begun to take the first steps toward the journey inward.

The rules of nature cannot be bent. They are impersonal and implacable. But we do play with them. By accepting nature's challenge and joining the game, we find ourselves on a windswept and exciting journey that will pay benefits commensurate to the time and effort we put in—the lowest being our ability to tie our shoes when we are eight and the highest being the opportunity to taste the essence of life itself.

Ahhhh.... how sweet those words. And such wonderful benefits. I wonder which i will value more when i'm eighty — being able to tie my own shoes or having tasted the essence of life itself? On the one hand, you can always go without shoes on the inward journey; in fact, most of us usually do. On the other hand, though, no one really knows what the roads will be like on that journey between this life and the next, so shoes that stay on your feet might come in handy?

I don't know if i agree that yoga is a "rule book for playing the game of Life." Rule books tell you what you can and can not do and that's not how i see the spiritual teachings i regularly work with. Rather, i think i tend to look at yoga (as well as Buddhism) as a set of topographical maps. When you're out in unknown territories, the only thing you know about the terrain and what to expect are the topo maps you carry with you.

Topo maps don't tell you what you can and can not do, where you have to go and where you can not go. They simply tell you what to expect if you choose to undertake the walk. They tell you where past explorers have found areas of particular difficulty, maybe even danger. They tell you where travel will be hard, where patience and persistence will be required. They tell you about the high meadows and plateaus, where you can rest and recuperate, places to stop and enjoy the scenery, places where it's good or bad to spend longer periods of time, camping and studying the local environment.

I have always found that it is in those areas where a topo map is the only guide i have, that i am truly human, a true human being. Trusting those that walked these paths before, i leave the worries to them, taking the advice of the maps they provided. Not judging my abilities, not comparing myself to anyone else, not expecting or hoping to find anything other than what the maps tell me i will find.

Walking on these trips is far, far past Meditation 101; it is meditation at the graduate school level. Walking, climbing, exerting when necessary, relaxing when possible, but always being mindful of everything. Not mindful of my body and how it's functioning as well as mindful of the environment, no. On these hikes, there is no me and out there, no inside and outside, no body and environment, no me and no hiking. There is just movement, just breathing, just beauty and exertion being.

If you're a hiker, you may have had days like that. I hope you have. You may have had them on your bicycle as well, another wonderful place for this type of moving yoga, moving meditation. During these special journeys, you can find the same things that you find on a yoga mat or on a zafu. And what is it you find? Those invisible, nonexistent doors — the gaps between your never ending thoughts.

There is something alluring beyond explanation about the peace, the silence, the stillness that is found in those gaps. Those gaps that can be found when you trust the authors of the topo map of your choice. The gaps found with persistent, steady, and sometimes grueling effort along the paths laid down by our predecessors. There is something unimaginably beautiful about the scenery found in those gaps, where everything you see, everything you encounter, is just you, being. Being. And no more.

But, back to where i started — books about yoga. I remember when i first started yoga. I knew nothing about it. Zero. Like many, i assumed the asanas were all there was to it. Being the curious sort, however, i bought and read the famous Autobiography of A Yogi and mentioned it to my teacher. Her response? "Oh, that's a good start."

Good start? I thought that explained everything. Little did i know. :-) So now, 4 years later, several versions of the Bhagavad Gita later, three commentaries on the Gita later, and three commentaries on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras later.... i now know how little i know. But, i would agree, it has been a good start.

If i could only figure out a way to get Dainin Katagiri and Iyengar together to co-write a book. They could title it Light on Each Moment. How very, very nice that would be. It might be the only book ever needed for the rest of my life.

But i think i've said the same thing about the Shōbōgenzō before. ;-)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

When Given A Choice...

I spent Monday at the Museum of Science and Industry downtown. It's a great place to spend time and i don't think i every tire of going there. In one exhibit glorifying the entrepreneurs and technological leaders of the past, a sign was posted with these aphorisms:

  1. If anything can go wrong, Fix it!!! (To hell with Murphy!)
  2. When given a choice — Take Both!!
  3. Multiple projects lead to multiple successes.
  4. Start at the top then work your way up.
  5. Do it by the book ... but be the author!
  6. When forced to compromise, ask for more.
  7. If you can't beat them, join them, then beat them.
  8. If it's worth doing, it's got to be done right now.
  9. If you can't win, change the rules.
  10. If you can't change the rules, then ignore them.
  11. Perfection is not optional.
  12. When faced without a challenge, make one.
  13. "No" simply means begin again at one level higher.
  14. Don't walk when you can run.
  15. Bureaucracy is a challenge to be conquered with a righteous attitude, a tolerance for stupidity, and a bulldozer when necessary.
  16. When in doubt: THINK!
  17. Patience is a virtue, but persistence to the point of success is a blessing.
  18. The squeaky wheel gets replaced.
  19. The faster you move, the slower time passes, the longer you live.
  20. The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself!

At first glance i love these. The exemplify the never give up, shoot for the stars, always chase your dreams point of view that one part of my brain never tires of reading about. At second and third glance i still like them, even though about the time the third glance starts to make its appearance i am having doubts about some of them.

When i sit down and let myself think about them, getting past the fist-pumping, Yeah! Go for it stage, i see many things that i worry about.

If you can't win, change the rules? Maybe years and years of trial and error have shown that the rules in place need to be there for a reason. Maybe there are unseen consequences if the rules aren't followed. Of course, when the rules have been put in place to protect those that don't wish to be challenged, then they need to be broken. Or when the rules are results of beliefs, dogma, and ideologies that are frozen in time, unchangeable because the believers just can't, or don't want to, imagine other possibilities, ... then these need to be challenged as well. In other words, this aphorism should really be, If you can't win, change the rules if you can — but only after thoroughly understanding what they are and why they were put in effect in the first place.

The squeaky wheel gets replaced? That's absurd in a great many cases. Everyone knows (or should know) that dissent is absolutely essential to any successful organization. Blocking out, getting rid of, any and all dissent, opposing viewpoints & opinions, any ideas about the future, leads to certain death. Working from a portfolio of different, and sometimes opposing, ideas, is where the best ideas come from and where the best successes grow from.

I won't go through all of them, i leave it up to you to think them through. But as a last thought, i was reminded of the one that says "Bureaucracy is a challenge to be conquered with a righteous attitude, a tolerance for stupidity, and a bulldozer when necessary" last night in yoga class. As we all know The Affordable Care Act took it's next step yesterday as the health care exchanges were opened for business here in the US.

One of the women in class last night made it very clear that she is absolutely opposed to Obamacare. Her words were, in effect, that while she understood the need for more people to have health care, she did not want to pay 50% of her salary in taxes so that those people could get it.

Ignoring the question of where she came up with that 50% figure, i wonder about her relationship with yoga. Yes, it's true that a great, great many people who do yoga think of it as nothing more than asana practice. And, yes it's true that i have only had one yoga teacher so can't say what goes on in other yoga classes around the world. But, i assume that my class is typical in that the teacher brings at least a little of the philosophy of yoga to each class. I assume that anyone who does yoga is exposed to at least a little of the spiritual side of the practice. No?

But, even more than that, whether your spiritual leanings are yoga/Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Islam, whatever, how can you not go to bed and cry at night when you catch yourself saying in public, 'Yes, i understand that everyone needs health care, but my personal gain and prosperity should not be affected in any way to provide that.'

How can you not find yourself sobbing in your pillow when you suddenly realize that you have let yourself drift so far that your personal benefit is more important than the benefit of society as a whole. That your material prosperity is more important than the health and welfare of those less fortunate. That you shouldn't have to surrender one iota in order to help those less fortunate.

How can you not be wracked with guilt when you realize that what you are saying, publicly, is, in effect, 'I don't care if they do get sick and die, that's not my problem. My problem is increasing my own wealth, prestige, and power.'

Is The Affordable Care Act the best solution? I doubt it; but it's a start. And this country will be immeasurably better off when everyone realizes that we will be better people, a better country, a better society, when helping others isn't just mindlessly throwing a couple of quarters in someone's styrofoam cup, but getting rid of styrofoam and finding ways to actually help others — even if that means a bureaucracy is involved and even if my personal gain will be affected.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Grand Illinois Trail

Sorry for the delay....

My posts each night during my ride of the GIT were short because i have a 'dumb' phone and the only way to post to this blog is to send a short text message. Add to that the fact that i use T-Mobile, which could be the worst service provider in the world. In all but one campground i had no reception with my phone; in the one exception it was one bar. Once you are out of any urban area, or anywhere near a rural area, T-Mobile reception seems to not exist.

But, in any case, after my last post and one last day to ride back home from West Dundee, i ended with 9 days on the road and 460 miles pedaled. It was wonderful. The hills in northwest Illinois ate me up and spit me out, much like the hills did in Missouri a couple of years ago, but for the most part i was able to ride the majority of them.

A few pictures of the wonderfullness i found:

I was very lucky in that the week i rode it was abnormally cool for mid- to late-August. The days were typically in the upper 70's and lower 80's, almost perfect riding weather. The downside of this, though, was that it was also colder than normal at night. With nightly temperatures dropping into the low 50's, and a few in the upper 40's, i regretted not bringing a sleeping bag. I gambled that, given the time of year, it would be warm enough that a light blanket and a silk sleeping bag liner would be enough. And i lost that bet. I ended up sleeping in every piece of clothing i had, including my had, and including my rain pants and rain coat, with the hood pulled over the cap. Typically this was enough to get me through the nights, but on the nights in the 40's, i woke up several time in the very early morning. Oh well.... this wasn't a big enough issue to overcome the great riding weather during the days.

In the end, i didn't ride the entire GIT. Instead i rode a modified version for about half the trip. I rode the normal trail for the first two days and found out that while riding packed limestone paths is OK when it is only 40 miles, you end up back home that same night, and you don't have to ride again the next day, riding on then all day, 70 miles one day, and doing it again the next day, isn't my cup of tea.

So, on day 2, i skipped an entire section of the trail when the guide, and locals at a McDonalds i stopped at, said that i was going to have to ride through gravel — not packed limestone, gravel. Instead i headed out to the local two lane highway and headed straight west.

Then after a night in Le-Aqua-Na State Park on day 6, i cut an entire swing to the north off and rode due west towards Rockford. I don't know what the Jane Adams Trail is like up there, but i didn't want to find out as i had a 60+ mile day to ride that day. From Rockford, i skipped another ride to the north and headed due east to Crystal Lake, before turning south and starting the swing back towards home.

I guess what i found out is that while i love touring, for me that means i want to stay on asphalt throughout the day.

The I&M Canal Trail was in terrible shape during day 2. Two bridges were completely washed out and a third was marked as closed for repairs, but a local told me they hadn't started yet so if i ignored the signs i'd make it across — which i did. Here's an example of where one bridge had stood and what it looks like now, and what they used to replace it until further repairs are made.

Oh, if you live in the US, you know of that company called Sears, Roebuck, & Co. This may be the oldest store in the chain.

A couple of pictures of a typical campsite with the local restaurant i visited each night.

My back tire is now as bald and smooth as a baby's behind and the bike is locked in the garage until i can buy two new tires after the first of the month.

Monday, August 19, 2013

In motel in west dundee. 57.4 miles.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Rock cut state park. 62.3 miles.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

At le-aqua-na state park. 43.5 miles.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Thursday 48.3 miles to Mississippi Palisades State Park. Friday in the hills to Galena. 28.2 miles. Tomorrow to Lake Le-Aqua-Na. Big hills.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Overlooking the mighty mississippi!
Camp hauberg, north of port byron. 56.5 mi.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

At campground north of sheffield. 51.2 miles.
Yesterday 71.5 miles. Brutal. Almost too much.
In lasalle for breakfast.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Grand Illinois Trail

My bicycle and tent have been complaining of neglect more and more loudly at the start of each week so i'm caving into the pressure and taking them out on the trail for a week. I'll leave Lockport (just north of Joliet) tomorrow morning and spend 8 days pedaling around the northern part of the state. It's supposed to be a little over 500 miles long, with 200 of that on paved roads and the rest on packed gravel trails, but i'm cutting out the eastern swing through the city of Chicago.

(info, pdf guide, map)

My current plan is:
Day 1: Starved Rock State Park near LaSalle
Day 2: Campground north of Sheffield
Day 3: Campgound north of Port Byron on the Mississippi River
Day 4: Mississippi Palisades State Park north of Savannah
Day 5: Lake Le-Aqua-Na State Park in Lena
Day 6: Rock Cut State Park in Rockford
Day 7: Somewhere in McHenry, as yet unknown
Day 8: Long ride south from McHenry — McHenry, Crystal Lake, Elgin, Naperville, Romeoville, home.

Where the "true" trail would go east from Elgin into Chicago, then south along the lake, before turning back west to Joliet, i seen no sense in being a target for goofballs looking for a new bike and willing to take mine... so i'm avoiding the city altogether.

A few of the days are around 55 miles, but it seems that most of them will be between 65 & 70 miles.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Day At The Office

Noticed that i haven't posted a picture of me spending a day at the office yet this year.

Bottle of water, thermos of tea, salmon onigiri, some cheddar cheese, and a great book — all spread across a clean desk. And to top it off, parking is very, very convenient.

" 'Beauty cannot guarantee truth,' asserted the physicist Robert Mills, the second half of the Yang-Mills duo. 'Nor is there any logical reason why the truth must be beautiful, but our experience has repeatedly led us to expect beauty at the heart of things and to use this expectation as a guide in seeking deeper theoretical understanding of the fundamental structures of nature.' Conversely, Mills added, 'if a proposed theory is inelegant, we have learned to be dubious.' "

The Shape of Inner Space
Shing-Tung Yau

Can the same assertions be made about what we find/see/come to realize about the nature of Being while on our zafu?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


I seem to be having a lot of trouble focusing this year. It's gotten so bad that at the beginning of this month i sat down and wrote up a list of the ONLY books i was going to allow myself read this month and in August. There are a few books that i enjoy and want to get through before starting anything new.

Imagine my surprise, then, when i realized last night that i had completely forgone the almighty list and spent the day with two new books! (hanging my head in shame...)

The first, "How to Practice Dharma: Teachings on the Eight Worldly Dharmas," by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, has been yelling at me to start it for months. The second, i simply stumbled on. I don't even remember what i was looking for yesterday, but in the online search results up popped a link to a pdf copy of the book "The Shape of Inner Science: String Theory And The Geometry of The Universe's Hidden Dimensions," by Shing-Tung Yau and Steve Nadis. I had never heard of the book, but when i first opened the file all i had seen was "The Shape of Inner Science," and i thought this was about consciousness, the mind, or something along those lines.

Well, my original list is now in the dust bin as i can't stop. Both books are just too exciting to put down. And lest you think that they have nothing in common, consider these tidbits from Inner Science, where the author is discussing Einstein's use of Reimannian Geometry in his development of his General Theory of Relativity.

"Equipped with Riemann’s metric tensor, Einstein worked out the shape and other properties—the geometry, in other words—of his newly conceived spacetime. And the resulting synthesis of geometry and physics, culminating in the famous Einstein field equation, illustrates that gravity—the force that shapes the cosmos on the largest scales—can be regarded as a kind of illusion caused by the curvature of space and time."

Or this, in the next paragraph:

"Suppose that two people start at different spots on the equator and set out at the same speed toward the north pole, moving along longitudinal lines. As time goes on, they get closer and closer to each other. They may think they are affected by some invisible force that’s drawing them together. But another way to think of it is that the assumed force is really a consequence of the geometry of the earth and that there’s actually no force at all."

Gravity is an illusion? Assumed forces can be the consequence of the geometry of the space you inhabit? The next time someone questions the idea of emptiness and the idea that conventional reality is an illusion, ask your listener if they believe in physics and mathematics.

Two great books to spend the rest of the week with!

P.S., Yesterday it was 100% fine, today it looks like the top of my cherry blossom tree is dying. :-(

Friday, July 5, 2013

Going To The Birds

I built a small bamboo water fountain in the back yard last month.

Besides looking good (IMO), the sound of running/trickling water is incredibly soothing — especially in the evening as the neighborhood starts to wind down and becomes quieter. However, it really started to show promise this afternoon when a cardinal and a yellow finch decided to check it out as a possible bathing site.

I get incredibly happy about the smallest things....

P.S., the cherry blossom tree in the front yard is doing wonderfully. It doesn't look like it was affected by the disastrous broken branch at all. There is even new growth on it. I'll post another picture of it this weekend.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Reduced To Tears, But Hopiing For The Best

When i looked out my front window Saturday morning, i was looking to see if any more orange day lilies had bloomed; they're starting to make their appearance. Then i couldn't believe my eyes. I was in SHOCK. The top half of the Yoshino cherry blossom tree that i had planted in the front yard two years ago was hanging to the ground! Something had broken it off! Did i say i was in shock?

Here's what the tree looks like.

About halfway up the tree, there is a "V" where all the branches start growing out of the trunk. The tallest part of the tree, the top, grows out of the left side of this "V," and it was this part that was hanging all the way down to the ground. One small piece of the bark hadn't broken so the top half hadn't fallen to the ground, but was just hanging there.

What to do? Buy a beer and sit there drinking and crying? That would do nothing to help, so instead i went to the garage and dug out a bamboo stake and lots of twine. Using two pieces of bamboo and about 20 meters of twine i spliced the two pieces back together. I pulled the twine so tight that i broke it several times but in the end the two side of the "V" were back together again. Wrap, wrap, half hitch, wrap, wrap, half hitch, wrap, wrap, half hitch,... 20 meters worth. Just before the last of the cut disappeared under the twine i could see that the split was completely sealed, i could see no opening in the bark, just a line where the spit had been.

Is this going to save my tree? It's been two days now and the tree shows no signs of change. All the branches are still pointed up, nothing is drooping, and none of the leaves show signs of wilting. Is this a good sign? I don't know. How long before any signs of problem will show up? Or, conversely, how long do i have to wait before i can say there is a good chance it is going to heal itself?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Don't Call Me Boring

In response to my post titled "The Middle Way," Ted commented:

"This is dead on. I remember the majority of the Henro to be dull and monotonous. Yet when I finished, I felt that when I looked back over my life, I'd always think of it as one of my bigger achievements."

I guess i need to be more careful about my use of the word 'boring.'

According to my dictionary the definition of 'boring' is: "So lacking in interest as to cause mental weariness." While that is the word i have used on many occasions, Ted is forcing me to look at what i really mean and decide if that's the best word to use. I have decided it is not.

Rather, the word i should be using might be 'dull,' which is defined as: "Lacking in liveliness or animation," or "Not keenly felt," or "Not having a sharp edge or point," among other things. I like that and it seems much closer to what i'm trying to say about the experience on the henro trail or on the zafu. While my gut isn't happy with 'dull,' intellectually i'm content for now.

I remember way, way back when, when i was in the military, i served on submarines. For the first several cruises, i can remember laying in bed from time to time trying to come to some understanding of what boredom is and why i felt it from time-to-time, but not all of the time and not all that often. I decided that for me boredom meant no more than not being where i wanted to be. When i wasn't able to simply accept that i was underwater, and would be for a great many days more, then i felt bored when i wasn't occupied. But, since most of the time i simply accepted it as my job, one that i had volunteered to do, i was perfectly content to be where i was and boredom wasn't part of the picture. The above definition was right on for me — when i felt bored, unaccepting, there was this feeling of mental weariness.

However, this is not the case for my time on the trail. There is never a time when i feel mental weariness. I feel more alert and more aware in my boots, on the trail, than i do at home. It's similar to my mindset in my running shoes on a good day or in my bike saddle on any day. While there may be nothing of interest going on, nothing that would be considered mentally stimulating, my awareness and alertness are very, very high.

I think i should be using the word "dull" to describe my walks around the henro trail. It is an experience that is the opposite of lively, the opposite of animated, the opposite of keenly felt. There is a certain daily rhythm that you fall into if you try, mentally and physically. You are alert and moving, aware of what is happening around you (maybe more so than normal), yet there is no urgency to life, no urgency to your actions. You just become one more piece of everything around you, one more piece of the environment.

As the process starts, there is still obviously a 'me' and 'that tree,' 'that car,' 'that person,' 'out there.' Then, as the process deepens, all of those individual 'things' out there, merge and slowly things settle into just 'me' and 'everything else,' with the later being one 'thing' (for the lack of a better word). All the external differentiation has melded into one.

Then as the process continues, slowly, every so slowly, the 'me' begins to dissolve into that 'everything' and i'm left with 'everything,' but with a twist. At this stage, there is still some piece of me sitting somewhere over my shoulder noticing all of this. There is still a little piece left that has noticed that the merger is taking place and that 'Dave' is no longer separate from everything else; that Dave and everything else are all one and the same, manifesting as this over there and that over here, etc.

Then at some point that piece doing the noticing disappears. That disappearance is always completely unnoticed by Dave until something happens to pull me back into Dave's boots and Dave's head. It might start raining. A car may honk it's horn, someone may greet me, etc. At that point Dave deals with the situation and the process starts over again.

None of this is to imply that i'm a spaced out zombie when walking. Far from it. Cars are still looked for as i cross the street, henro trail markers are still looked for and noticed (usually), people that i pass are still greeted. It's just that Dave is no longer doing this, it's just happening.

The point of this? Just that boring is completely the opposite of how i would describe the henro trail — even though that is the word i mistakenly used. Yes, the experience may be called dull, but it is in no way boring. Life, when you truly experience it is not boring. Life, when you see it in it's unconditioned, unfiltered state is beautiful. Life, when you are talking about that word with a capital L, Life, and not when you are talking about that personal life you have built up and come to believe is all there is, is breathtaking.

Sorry for using the wrong word. And thanks to Ted for forcing me to be more accurate.