Sunday, December 31, 2017

Celebrating Nothing

Sorry, but I digress....

It reminds me of a conversation I had a few weeks ago with a neighbor who was driving by while i was out shoveling snow. She stopped to say hello, and to tell me that she had decided she wanted to know more about Buddhism so she asked the swami at the Vedanta temple she goes to if he could recommend a book. He did, and it turns out to be a book written by another swami.

I don't remember what she said, but at some point i ended up saying something like "Well, that's all pretty much true, as long as you remember that Buddhists don't believe in a creator God or that we have a soul."

"That's not what i'm reading," she said after a longish pause.

"Maybe, but it's a fact of Buddhism. Pretty much every sect would agree with those two points," i replied.

Another longish pause......... and then........"That's not what i'm reading."

At which point all i could say was "Maybe that's because your book was written by a swami and not by a Buddhist?"

"So that's his interpretation?"

"That's what i would guess."

I then told her I could loan her a book of the basics to give here the background she was looking for from the perspective of a Buddhist and not a Vedantan. My plan was to give her a copy of Walpola Rahula's "What The Buddha Taught" and Steve Hagen's "Buddhism: Plain and Simple." The latter because it reads like a book and not an encyclopedia, and because Rahula's is written from the Theravadin perspective while Hagen's from the Zen perspective. She agreed and suggested that we exchange books so i could read hers as well. Haven't heard from her since, but it's only been a couple of weeks.

So back to where i started....

As i sit here, half of the world is already celebrating the start of the new year, the brand new, spanking clean, 2018. The other half of us still many hours to wait before it arrives. While i understand the desire to celebrate, and the incurable urge to look at January 1 as a real beginning to another, different real year, it always puzzles me why more people don't openly acknowledge that the day really has no significant meaning. The calendar is a fabrication of the human mind. Time is a fabrication of the human mind. In reality, literally and figuratively, there is no difference between January 1 and December 31. So why do we place so much importance on that one day? If you have a resolution to make, a pledge to improve some aspect of your life, or the lives of others, why wait until January 1 to make it?

Stopping for a minute and relaxing your gazes so that the concept of minutes, hours, days, weeks, and years fade into background, you might be able to see reality just as it is. Maybe all you can see is just as it is 'out there,' with you noticing it. Maybe you can see it as just as it is, with that just as it is including you, and who you think you are, as well. Maybe you can really let go and there is nothing except just as it is.

Searching for this place of no time is sort of like what astronauts say they experience when first seeing the earth from outer space. Seeing the earth with no countries anywhere in sight. With no religions, political systems, or other fixed beliefs anywhere to be found. Seeing only a little blue ball which supports all life, with no exceptions, equally. All the differences we live in, that divide us, that drive the hatred and jealousies, that drive away everything that is true about who we are...are not visible (no, do not exist) when viewed from outside the system.

I'm not saying to skip the New Year's celebrations. I'm only suggesting that you spend a little of your time as you wait for the new year to appear in contemplation on what this "just as it is" really is. Spend a few minutes looking through your inventory of beliefs, assumptions, preferences, likes and dislikes, and dogmas. See them for what they are not. Take a few minutes to relax your gaze so that just as it is sees just what is through your eyes. Then say thank you and head to the party.

At the very least
Searching for more is futile
It can be found there

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Tred On Me

There are two books I have that are almost like Daily Devotionals, where there is one daily reading offered each morning for you to think about throughout the day. Besides the "thought of the day" aspect, I admit that the challenge of not reading ahead has always intrigued me. Why, even after years of doing this, am I so compelled to try and binge read the whole book? But, as hard as it is some mornings, I always force myself to put the book down after that day's reading, knowing that even this little exercise in self-control benefits me in many other areas of my life.

One of the two books is one I just bought this year: Coleman Barks' A Year with Rumi: Daily Readings. If you don't have it, i highly recommend it. But, don't hold me responsible if you get addicted to his interpretations of Rumi's words! If you ever wondered about how to define "beauty," his translations come about as close as you can get. Or is it just Rumi's words.....?

Today's reading was so simple, yet so direct. In a way, it reminded me of what could be the most famous haiku of all times — Matsuo Basho's Old Pond:

An old pond
A frog jumps in

Simple. Direct. No analysis needed to understand; a visceral understanding instantly appears as you read the words. Barks provides the same with this poem of Rumi's:

As you start to walk out on the way,
the way appears.

As you cease to be,
true life begins.

As you grow smaller,
this world cannot contain you.

You will be shown a being
that has no you in it.

For a great many people called to a Path, there is no clear and obvious understanding of why they are being called, what they are being called to, and why to one particular path. But, as Rumi tells us, for those courageous enough to follow their call, once you take those first anxious steps, the Way begins to make its appearance. As the anxiety begins to settle, as an enveloping sense of comfort settles in, the "what's" and "why's" naturally start to become obvious. You no longer wonder if this is a path you should follow, you begin to wonder what took so long to find the trailhead.

But, you can walk the path for a hundred years and still never understand it if you don't come to see the truth of what Rumi is saying. It's only as "you" start to fade away that Life truly begins to blossom. That "you" is the small egoic self that has ruled your life since shortly after birth. There is a direct correlation in these two things: As "you" diminish in size, "Life" grows larger and larger. It's easy to say, but to understand it, you have to see it directly. I can tell you what a splash of water sounds like, but to truly understand all you need to do is watch the frog jump in.

Does this mean that i become a zombie, brain dead to the world, and unable to function in normal society? Absolutely not; just the opposite. As Rumi says, the smaller "you" become, the larger you become — reaching even to the point that the world can not contain your greatness. The non-egoic you still functions, still shares coffee and lunch with friends, still celebrates birthdays, still has kids and raises families, but the being that lives this life is immensely more loving, more caring, more compassionate, more giving, more understanding, and more alive than that old troublesome egoic "you" ever was.

One warning, though. There is no end to this path if you chose to accept the calling. It turns out to be not so much a path as a jump off a cliff...into complete freedom.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Merry Christmas 2017

Have noticed this increasing urge to start writing again over the past month. Not at all sure why, or what wants to come out, but will at least try and satisfy tonight's urge by wishing everyone the merriest of Christmas' and the very happiest of holidays.

As I sit here listening to an internet radio station from Odawara, Japan I noticed how much I enjoy looking at the reflection of my Christmas tree in the door going into the dining room. I was brought up with the Christmas tradition, full of trees, presents, family, fun, camaraderie, and all the love that seems to flow like melted butter around the 25th of this month. It's a tradition that I will never outgrow — even though I call myself a Buddhist.

Then, as I sat there admiring the tree's reflection, I turned my head a little and, without thinking about it, looked at the tree itself. Also without thinking about it, I was immediately struck at the unbelievable difference between the reflection of the tree and the tree itself. Not because this was so amazing, but because with a jolt I was reminded at how much and how often we all look at a reflection of our lives instead of the real thing itself. How often and how much we spend our time focusing on what we think we are and what it means to be alive instead of what we really are and what being alive really is.

So much of our time is wasted living in shells. We live lives trapped inside this brain we were born with, seeing all of who we are as nothing more that what we allow our egos to define for us. Seeing who we are as no more than our reputations, our jobs, our spiritual, political, and moral beliefs, the combined consensus of our 10 closest friends. So much of our time is wasted believing that we are no more than the physical body we currently inhabit, and the abilities that this limits us to.

We could spend the rest of our lives asking why we live in this shell, where the shell came from, and why humans are so susceptible to allowing themselves to be trapped inside, but that would be a gross waste of time. Instead, why not just turn your head from the reflection and start to focus on the real thing? Why not shift your focus and look for those moments when Reality suddenly, and surprisingly, makes its appearance?

I think it was Proust who said something like, "The real journey of discovery comes not from seeking new places, but from looking with new eyes." That's what i'm talking about. As we work our way through the holiday season and towards a new year, i'm wishing for everyone to realize that life would be different if we learned to "look with new eyes." Technically that isn't true; life wouldn't be different, life is life. But your experience of what life is would change dramatically. It wouldn't be like looking at a new appearance of your normal life, it would be finding yourself in a completely new life.

As I write that i'm reminded of what Ram Das said once so I stopped and looked it up. "The spiritual journey is a journey leaving behind every model we've had of who we are. It's a journey that involves the transformation of our beings such that our thinking mind becomes our servant rather than our master." Did you get that? It's a journey that means leaving behind EVERY model we have ever had of who we are. EVERY MODEL.

There is no room in reality for our petty ideas that we are this or that, that or this, one thing or another, right or wrong, good or bad, spiritual or secular, believers or unbelievers. There is no room in reality for enlightenment or stupidity, nirvana or samsara, perfection or lack. There is no room in reality for anything. There is no room in reality for nothing. Reality isn't is. Reality isn't isn't.

And as paradoxical as it seems, that is what allows us to be anything that we want to be, everything we can be. It is what gives you the ability to be the person you think you should be as you work your way from birth to death trying to figure out the best possible way to live your life. Lao Bendan may live on the Reality side of that non-existent line, but Dave has both feet and a butt firmly planted on the non-reality side. Who Dave is may come from the Reality side of the equation, but how he lives his life is firmly grounded in the non-reality side. All I can hope he does is to stop every once in a while and turn his head to look at the actual tree instead of just the reflection.

And my wish for the new year is that all of you will join him. Make it a New Year's resolution to live a more mindful life, a more awakened life; aware of the infinity that you are and all the possibilities this brings to you. Aware of the unbelievable immensity that you are and all the peace and love this allows you to share.

So, along with wishes for happy holidays, I wish everyone the courage to start the new year by looking inside, looking through that silence between any two thoughts and seeing who we really are. And when you see me, I promise that i'll see you and smile.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Last Jedi Has Prostate Problems?

I won't say that it was a waste of $7.50, but my ticket today to see The Last Jedi is probably the last one I will by for any Star Wars films. This was the end for me.

It was a sad sight. A full grown adult film, once proud, strong, full of the standing there trying it's best to work up a full stream-but never able to produce any more than dribble, dribble, dribble. Once dominating, once awe-inspiring, once something to look up to, now past it's prime and in need of medical attention.

I know it is unfair to criticize those whose health has fallen even though they have lived a long healthy life, but apparently, for Star Wars, it's been too long. Life does have it's limits. It's past its prime and showing its age — to the point of looking completely worn out. Enfeebled.

The movie was terrible. The dialogue was bad, parts of various scenes were childish, apparently aimed at the Jr. High Schoolers they hope to draw in for future episodes. The acting was dead, maybe just lifeless, and completely unanimated. There wasn't one fight scene that was believable or compelling. My neighbor, with his foam light saber, puts on a fight much more entertaining than anything I saw onscreen today.

If there is a Force, I hope it's in the little kid at the end of the movie. Rei certainly doesn't have it. Nor does anyone else in the movie. Yes, Rei can move boulders, but I hope she has a day job outside of the construction industry.

Save your $7.50 and go rent a real Star Wars film. One from long, long ago.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Mt. Ishizuchi

Spent my last day in Japan this trip climbing Ishizuchisan with a friend. Climbed through the clouds and light snow, but once on top the skies suddenly cleared for about 20 minutes before closing in again. Wonderful, wonderful day!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Henro Tour; Part 3

Beautiful early morning at the Awa-Ikeda Station on the way back to Tokushima City this morning.

Spent last night in Kōchi City, but in this small, 5 mat, room in Nakamura two nights ago as part 2 of this three-part fall in Japan came to an end. It's a very typical henro room, although most are usually a couple of tatami mats bigger than this.

Back in Tokushima, i was shocked to hear Christmas music at the department store mixed in with the regular musac. 

Then, when i came down to the lobby of tonight's hotel this is what i saw from the lobby window.

Have people become completely shameless? Already pushing Christmas in early November? Pretty soon it will be either Easter or Christmas all year long.

Had  a wonderful train ride from Kōchi City to Tokushima City this morning. Took about three and a half hours with the first half passing through the heart of the central mountain range and the second half a local train, stopping at every town and village so i could people watch.

In addition, it was a beautiful three and a half hours spent reading and meditating on the Ashtavakra Sutra. 

Second, and last, Mountain Hiking Holidays tour starts tomorrow morning. Have plans to climb Mt. Ishizuchi when the tour ends, but a Japanese friend told me today he doubts i will be able to---it's apparently already snowing in that area. :-(

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Still More Henro Pictures

The Daishi Hall at Iwamotoji, Temple 37.

And the reason people walk this crazy walk.

"Namu Daishi Henjō Kongō"

Praise To The Great Teacher Henjō Kongō (Kōbō Daishi). Or, 

I place myself completely in the hands and care of the Great Teacher, Kōbō Daishi.

Which is what a walking pilgrim is supposed to do.

More Random Henro Pictures

"Ema" prayer tablets and slips of paper with people's fortunes, which they tied on the wires here after reading them. At Temple 37.

A better picture of the Ema. You buy the small piece of wood, which may or may not have a decoration painted on it. You then write a wish on it and leave it here for the Buddhas and Bodhissttvas yo see and tske care of. People wish for success at school, at their job, a safe childbirth, safety and wellbeing at home, and anything else.

Heres an even closer look.

Some Random Henro Photos

The Pacific Ocean looking out from Hiwasa Bay, across from Temple 23.

The coast between Temples 23 and 24.

Early morning sunrise over Muroto City, on the way down from Temple 24.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Walking To Equality

Heading back to the hills to get to Temple 22: 

Then up towards the pass leading into the next valley: 

Finally arriving at Temple 22, the Temple of Equality and Impartiality: 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Cranes and Dragons

Tuesday: 10/31.
Another beautiful day in the mountains of Shikoku.

Climbed up to Temple 20, then after dtoppjng all the way back down to sea level repeated with the climb up to Temple 21 for a total climb of a little over 3,000 ft for the day.

Fall colors are just starting to appear but not enough for a picture. Hopefully the colors will show up in full over the next several weeks. Off to Temples 22 and 23 tomorrow.

The Daishi Hall at Temple 21:

Friday, October 27, 2017

Crying On The Mountain

Th: 10/27
Very, very tough climb up to Temple 12, Shosanji. Took us over two hours longer than i usually take. But, hats off to the person i'm with --- she never caved in and kept plodding; even though she did admit to wanting to sit down and cry a coiple of times.

At Temple 12, two guys offered us a ride down to our lodging so we eliminated that hour of walking. We arrived safely, but very, very tired. 

The typhoon last week did quite a bit of damage to the trees, with many down across the trail. Crews are already out cleaning them up and we only had to walk over or around a half dozen of them. The trail itself is still in fine condition. As usual a beauhiful walk/climb.

Today, after walking about 8km, a woman pulled over and offered us a ride to Temple 13, our final destination for the day. We accepted and not only got the ride but a bottle of cold tea as well. 

Tomorrow afternoon or evening Typhoon 22 is suposed to get close enough to bring mire rain to the area, with the worst to arrive on Sunday. We still don't know how much that will be, but the owner of tonight's lodging is suggesting that we hold up in Tokushima City both Saturday and Sunday nights and start walking again on Monday. It's not just the rain in her opinion, it's the potential flooding we could walk into down by Temple 18. We'll watch the weather tomorrow before deciding.

Overall, we've had beauyiful weather ever since Monday with cloudless skies and high temperatures around 68 every day

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Rainy Starts

Tu:10/24 First day of sunshine for several weeks. The Kumano Kodo walk was spectacular, with incredibly beautiful scenery, but was walked almost entirely in the rain. 

For several of the last days of that walk all the news was of Typhoon 21's imminent strike on Japan --- passing the coast right where we were walking on our last day.

It did hit on Sunday, cancelling many people's flights home, but i was able to get one of the last trains still running to run north, away from the coast and to the hotel where I was meeting the woman i am guiding around Shikoku for a few weeks. 

We managed to get another train up to Mt. Koya before the typhoon rains caught up with us; but barely. The rain Sunday night and into Monday morning was awe inspiring. A deluge is putting it mildly. In fact on the way back off the mountain on Monday afternoon we had to be shuttled by bus because the train tracks coming off the mountain were either damaged or washed out. 

In the end we got to Tokushima Monday evening and started walking Tuesday morning, walking from Temple 1 to Temple 5. 

We're spending the night in Kotobuki Shokudo just before Temple 6 because i love the nabe pot dinner they give us. A huge pot of boiling stock in which you cook cabbage, carrots, onions, leeks, mushrooms, and other "stuff" i don't remember. Plus you add a jumbo shrimp, a small filet of salmon, oysters, and some slices of pork. It is sooooo delicious. 

Then, to top it off, the owner asked if she should call ahead and make our next two night's reservations for us. Of course i gladly accepted. 

Tomorrow off to Temple 11 so we are set up for the climb to Temple 12 on Thursday. The rest of the week is supposed to be sunny, but Typhoon 22 seems to be working it's way here, aiming for landfall next week. Hopefully it will turn north and spare us more rain.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Don't Walk Backwards

Somewhere between Temples 23 and 24 a wonderful sight can be seen. The walk typically takes about three days and for the entire time you walk along the side of the main highway running down the east coast of the island. For those that aren't particularly fond of walking with traffic flying by within arm's reach, this isn't one of the best sections of the pilgrimage. Especially if it is raining every day. Doubly especially if it is raining and hot, so inside your rain suit it feels like a sauna. Days like this can be loud, uncomfortable, and monotonous.

One way to deal with the monotony is to turn inwards, to take the backwards step and turn this section of the walk into a three day walking meditation practice. Put the feet on autopilot, set the senses aside, and simly walk. This doesn't mean turning the senses off, tuning out everything you hear, see, and smell; it only means turning off your attachment to what comes in through the sense gates. What comes in, comes in. What the eye sees, it sees. What the ears hear, they hear. If your feet are wet, they are wet. All this means is giving up any attachment to what comes in. Giving up any expectation for sense experiences you want to have. What comes in, comes in. Accept it and let it go. Don't hold on to it or dwell on it. Just walk, letting experiences take care of themselves. Notice everything but attach to nothing.

As you settle in, there will come a time when this practice is just as sacred as any time you spend on your meditation cushion at home.

But, there is another way to approach this section of the trail, which can also be taken back home when you return. Instead of tuning everything out, tune everything in. Instead of looking for the sacred inside, in an attempt to avoid what is without, notice the sacred in everything. Notice that there is nothing that is not sacred, no matter how mundane it may appear on the surface.

Instead of trying to cross that threshold into the world of the sacred, see that there is no threshold, there is no 'this side' or 'that side,' that there is no sacred or mundane. There is only This. There is only what is. And that 'what is' encompasses everything in existence; nothing is, or can be, excluded.

It takes a lot of effort, but it can be done. Look at everything and see that its existence is just as wonderful as that of a newborn baby, alive and just beginning this journey we call being alive. Look at the waves crashing on the shore and say 'how marvelous.' Look at the mountains to your right and say 'how marvelous.' Look at the rain splashing on the sidewalk, or the puddles that you inevitably have to walk through and say 'how marvelous.' Look at the cars, trucks, and buses on the road and say 'how marvelous.' Notice the pain from the blister on your foot and say 'how marvelous.' Instead of tuning out, tune in. Tune into everything, every perception, and marvel at its existence. Marvel at the beauty of exitence in all its shapes, forms, and colors.

Marvel at the wonderfulness of existence. Marvel at the oneness of everything that manifests as existence. Instead of noticing nothing, notice everything. Notice that that everything is one thing, but not even a thing. Everything is one. Existnece. Even though it appears to be manifesting as many.

As you walk along the highway between Temples 23 and 24, spend your three days marveling at the wonderousness of existence. At this amazing thing called Being. And this ability we were granted at birth to see it, to experience it, to grow into it, to melt into it. As you walk along this stretch of highway thank life for granting you this opportunity to step out of the beautiful scenery of the mountains and into this beautiful scenery of existence.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Did You See That?

As i get ready to leave for a couple of weeks on the Kumano Kodō and a month on the henro trail, i've been looking over some of what i have written over the years on the website. This morning, these words from the "Why To Go" page resonated for some reason.

"If you go as a pilgrim, meet as many people as you can. Talk to all who will talk to you. Take thousands of pictures. Have fun. But remember why you are there. Many of the scholars who write about pilgrimages write about liminal experiences. Victor Turner points out that liminality is as much about potentiality as about thresholds. Liminal experiences are about both discovering your true potential and experiencing that threshold state you must progress through to get there. Shikoku, like other pilgrimages around the world, offers the possibility of coming to understand both. When and where each pilgrim finds his/her threshold is different. What they find on the other side may also vary, but it is certain that you can only find it if you remember that during each and every day, each and every minute, each and every step, each and every breath, you are on a path of discovery. Enjoy yourself but don't lose your focus."

It's the overlapping concepts of liminality and potentiality that made me stop and think. Not just in relation to the Ohenro, but in relation to that, yoga, and life in general. Sooner or later everyone who is on the spiritual path will find themselves approaching a threshold which marks the boundary between life on this side and life on the other side; between life as we currently live it and life as we have come to understand that it really is. And the longer i tread this path and the more often i dance back and forth across that threshold, never committing to one side or the other, the more clear it becomes that it's not the dance around the threshold that i find attractive, but the potentiality that appears right at that line.

The funny part is, why does it appear there. That potentiality is not found on the "other" side of the threshold. It's not isolated and available only to those who have passed over. It is everywhere, on both sides. It's in the absolute realm on "that" side and it's in the relative realm on "this" side. It is everywhere. There is nowhere it is not. In fact, it is all that there is, anywhere. The Buddhists would call it Dharmakaya. Depending on the school, a yogi would call it Brahman. Call it what you will, you don't have to cross any thresholds to get to it. You can't get away from it.

Pilgrimage, whether on Shikoku or anywhere else, is one way to open yourself to seeing that you are already that which you are seeking. Pilgrimage, whether in a pair of hiking boots or barefoot on a yoga mat, is where you stop the mind long enough for that potentiality to make itself known. For that which is to manifest so clearly, so loudly, so in your facely, that even you can't stop but notice. And occasionally you are tempted to look at someone next to you and say "did you see that?" because you aren't really sure what you saw, but it was so clear that you know it has changed your life.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Pro Life Choice

Some words from one of my favorite authors, Kosho Uchiyama, in his book, The Wholehearted Way:

"Buddhism puts emphasis on life, the actual life experience of the reality of the self."

No matter how many times i read that sentence, when i get to "life experience" my brain tries to take over and assume he is talking about the experiences we have as we go about our normal daily life: meditating as the sun comes up, grabbing a cup of coffee at Dunkin Donuts on the way to work, that nasty SOB that showed up in the car next to me on the way home, dinner and a nice evening of conversation with a good friend. But that is not at all what is being referred to. Once i switch the words to "the experience of life," my head blinks back into focus. This doesn't refer to any external experiences in the phenomenal world; this refers to the experience of Life itself, experiencing that marvelous thing called Life, the one and only reason you are here to read these words.

He goes on to say:

"What Buddhism is concerned about is not something abstract, but the very concrete and actual reality of life. All beings exist through life experience of the self. The self lives out itself in the life experience of all beings. The life experience of the self and the myriad beings that we experience are one. This is the reality of life."

This is the reality of life — that thing called Life that animates you, that makes you alive, that gives you existence, is the same in you, in me, in the cat sitting on your windowsill watching the butterflies outside, and in the rocks in my garden.

"The life experience of the self and the life experience of all beings can never separate into subject and object. That which experiences and that which is experienced cannot be divided into two. This reality that cannot be differentiated into two is called dharma or mind, and it is the meaning of the expression 'dharma and mind are one reality' (shinpō ichinyo)."

For me, this is a large part of what the Henro Trail is all about: Can you walk throughout the day in such a way that you don't interact with your environment inside the normal subject/object duality. Can you see everything as that one, indivisible life experience. Can you see each and everything you encounter, not as something separate and forever distinct from yourself, but as a manifestation of that life experience; manifesting in you and manifesting in what you have encountered in the exact same way, at the exact same time, and in both cases constantly changing, never permanent.

This is all part of the game called being a henro (pilgrim) — constantly bouncing back and forth between seeing the world as one manifestation of this life experience and seeing the world in the normal subject/object duality. Focusing your eyes and seeing Dave standing over there, and then relaxing the eyes and seeing me standing here and me standing there.

So, when you get bored while out there walking, try playing the henro game. Cross your eyes and see two faces, then uncross your eyes and see the candle stick. Squint and see the old lady and relax your eyes and see the young woman. Leave your brain all twisted up and see nothing but a phenomenal world or relax, let go, and see that thing called Life everywhere.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Desires and Destiny

Ran my last 8 miler today. That, for all intents and purposes, ends my training for my upcoming trip to Japan. Tomorrow i'll run a leisurely 4 miles just to loosen up the legs a bit, but it won't qualify for a training run. Since the end of July I have been running a fairly consistent 8:55-9:00 min/mile pace. Yesterday I ran 8 miles at 8:50 min/mile and today pushed that down to 8:41 min/mile. Both runs felt like a good way to close out another training season. Next week i'll ride my bike on three days, But then call it quits.

While out on the road today two thoughts kept me company for almost the entire run. The first is a quote from Eknath Easwaran's translation of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:

You are what your deep, driving desire is
As your desire is, so is your will.
As your will is, so is your deed.
As your deed is, so is your destiny.

Such powerful words! And as I pushed myself against tired legs this morning, I focused on those words, repeating them over and over, mantra-like. But, whenever I think of those words, my mind almost always drifts to another upanishad, by far my favorite of all the Upanishads. That is the Katha Upanishad, or, as it is commonly called, the Kathopanishad. For what it's worth, my favorite translation is by Juan Mascaro, with Eknath Easwaran's coming in after that.

Think of those times where you need grit, determination, guts. Think of a time when you were so determined to learn something, to do something, that you were not going to let anyone or anything stand in your way. If you have never found yourself in that situation, think of something you enjoy doing or studying so much that the desire to do, learn or accomplish it could possibly become such a deep driving desire that it will determine you destiny. Think of it — this one thing could determine your destiny! This is no small matter.

In the Kathopanishad, Nachiketas, the main character, has that deep driving desire. Fortunately for him that is Self-Realization, and as the story begins to unfold, he willingly agrees to descend to the realm of death for a face-to-face meeting with the King of Death — Yama.

Because all good stories need a plot twist, Yama was not at home when Nachiketas arrives and he is forced to wait for three days for him to get back. And because that is a social faux-pas even in the realm of death, Yama tells Nachiketas to choose three boons in compensation. The first two are requested and granted quickly. Then Nachiketas hits Yama right between the eyes (figuratively speaking, of course) and demands an explanation to what happens to us after we die.

I'll let you dig out a copy of the upanishad and read the story because that's not the point of this post. What came to mind during today's run, while thinking of the quote from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad — and what comes to mind every time I read the Kathopanishad — is the fierce determination of Nachiketas. The unquenchable desire to know about the source of this life. The relentlessly passionate drive to get a view of whatever it is that is who we are.

And I wonder, why isn't my drive that passionate? Why would I blink if told that a quick visit with Yama would give me the answer, even knowing in advance that i'd come back home? I've spent no-time between thoughts; I've lived in that silence that holds the non-answers; I know I've had glimpses. But I don't have that deep driving desire that Nachiketas had.

Or that deep driving passion that Kōbō Daishi had. He started life as a pampered semi-aristocrat. He grew up and was sent for training to become a member of the aristocracy himself, one of those destined to counsel the emperor, one of those destined to rule. And yet, AND YET, he woke up one day and said enough was enough He woke up one day and decided to throw all of that away. He woke up one day, walked out the door, left everything behind, and headed for the mountains of Shikoku to find the same answers that Nachiketas asked to the lord of death.

The Upanishads, and the Gita, talk of two choices that we have with each and every decision that we make. With each and every decision, no matter how trivial, we choose between Preya and Shreya; between sensual pleasure and lasting, permanant joy. Between what is pleasant and what is beneficial. Between what gives us immediate happiness, even if it won't, can't, last, and what pushes us along toward our goal of understanding this thing called life.

The Daishi and Nachiketas both learned how to consistently choose Shreya. Both lived their lives with their eyes firmly and unwaveringly fixed on their destiny. As I ran my 8 miles this morning, I was incredibly jealous.

You are what your deep, driving desire is
As your desire is, so is your will.
As your will is, so is your deed.
As your deed is, so is your destiny.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

No Clouds

Where are you he asks
No clouds hide the bright sunlight
Are you he where asks

Sitting still the clouds
Passing obscuring nothing
As it sits and sees

It's been busy lately. A lot of work to get done around the house before closing up and heading to Japan for a month and a half in my hiking boots. Will spend time on both the Kumano Kodo and the henro trail. What a sweet way to close out this year.

I still haven't decided what I am going to take with me to read. I may have the list narrowed down to four possibilities: Another commentary on the Bhagavad Gita? Jaganath Carrera's Inside The Yoga Sutras? Red Pine's Lankavatara Sutra? Dale Wright's The Six Perfections? There is no real planning going on for next year's walk of the Camino de Santiago. I have downloaded three ebooks; journals of three people's walks of the Camino. That gives me a flavor of what to expect, but other than that, i will probably just show up and walk, finding what i find, when i find it. Not sure any more planning that that needs to go into it.

For this morning, though, some thoughts for the day from the final verses of John Robert's Ashtavakra Sutra:

For me who am always free from deliberations there is neither conventional truth nor absolute truth, no happiness and no suffering.

For me who am forever pure there is no illusion, no samsara, no attachment or detachment, no living organism, and no God.

For me who am forever unmovable and indivisible, established in myself, there is no activity or inactivity, no liberation and no bondage.

For me who am blessed and without limitation, there is no initiation or scripture, no disciple or teacher, and no goal of human life.

There is no being or non-being, no unity or dualism. What more is there to say? There is nothing outside of me.

Or the same verses from Thomas Byrom's translation:

What are joy or sorrow,
Distraction or concentration,
Understanding or delusion?
I am always without thought.

What is happiness or grief?
What is here and now,
Or beyond?
I am forever pure.

What is illusion,
Or the world?
What is the little soul,
Or God himself?
One without two,
I am always the same.

I sit in my heart.
What need is there
For striving or stillness?

What is freedom or bondage?
What are holy books or teachings?
What is the purpose of life?
Who is the disciple,
And who is the master?
For I have no bounds.

I am Shiva.
Nothing arises in me,
In whom nothing is single,
Nothing is double.
Nothing is,
Nothing is not.
What more is there to say?

Sunday, February 26, 2017


Spring blossoms appear
Through tender care and patience
Your true face shines forth

Friday, January 27, 2017

Buddha's Last Words

Have been reading Mary Oliver's poem The Buddha's Last Instruction today:

"Make of yourself a light"
said the Buddha,
before he died.

I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal—a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
even green.

     An old man, he lay down
     between two sala trees,
     and he might have said anything,
     knowing it was his final hour.

The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.

     Around him, the villagers gathered
     and stretched forward to listen.

Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.

     No doubt he thought of everything
     that had happened in his difficult life.

And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire—
clearly I’m not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.

     Slowly, beneath the branches,
     he raised his head.
     He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.

Such a simple poem. Nothing fancy, no fancy rhymes, nothing; except a vivid picture of a rising sun and a setting sun. Beautiful in its simplicity and directness, it points out the power the Buddha's message has to illuminate our lives, if we only sit, notice, and let it wash over us.

Light and darkness have always been synonyms for enlightenment and delusion. Here, as the Buddha's body comes to an end, his message, who he is, begins to rise, dispelling the darkness for those eager to hear his message.

The first time i read it, i thought that Mary's comment, "I think of this every morning" was in relation to the opening words of the poem. I've decided that that can't be right, and now think that she is referring to the stanza after this. When you sit, and live, for that matter, in what Shunryu Suzuki called Beginner's Mind, you come to understand at the gut level just what Mary is saying, that as he approached death, the Buddha could have said anything. Anything. His disciples and the people in the region hung on his every word. He could have told them that to seek enlightenment they had to do X, Y, and Z. That they had to believe in A, B, and C. That the only sure way to enlightenment was to go back to the sacrifices and rituals of the Vedas. He could have said anything.

And the sad fact is, the people who gathered around him on that day, leaned in, ready to accept anything. Even though, all his life he had taught that he was not the teaching, just the messenger. The message had to come out of them, themselves.

As he lay there dying, as he gazed out over the crowd of people, i'm sure there was this palpable feeling amongst the people of something coming to light. And as he made eye contact with people, it was probably as if those beautiful, warming rays of sunlight were touching each of them personally.

When word first started to spread that he was dying, for most people, the light in their life had suddenly gone out. Now, as he looked out over his flock, the sun was beginning to rise again. The warmth of his love spread over everyone, with each and every person soaking it in as if it were their own. There was still time, they hoped, for him to impart one last message, one last teaching.

He could have said anything. He could have said nothing. But they were afraid, they needed something. Slowly he raised his head. One-by-one he looked them in the eye to make sure they were listening. And when they were ready, he spoke his last sentence, washing them all in the brilliant light of his love.

Make of yourself a light.

The truth doesn't die with my body. The truth is in each and every one of you. The light can only be found in one place — inside yourself. Remember all i've taught. Remember that, as i managed to find the light, so too can you. Remember that the way is inward, not outward. Remember that the clouds can be removed, that the light can be seen. Remember, this is your challenge, not anyone else's. You can only work this out on your own, no one can offer any more than a pointing finger.

And remember, that you are all in this together. You are all one. Make of yourself a light. A light that shines on all others. Make your life so that it shines as an example to all. Make your life so that it serves to help all. Make of your life so that what you do, say, and think benefits all. Make your life shine as bright as the sun in the sky.

Mary is right to remind herself each morning that the Buddha could have said anything, but he chose to remind everyone that their lives were up to them. He could have said anything, but he chose to remind them that their duty was to light the world, not seek an external light. He could have said anything, but he chose to tell us that each and every one of us must start each day with the intention to use the next 24 hours looking for that light within.

Make of yourself a light.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Camino de Santiago

I think i've decided that i will finally walk the Camino Frances within two years. Maybe sooner. The time feels right.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Did You See That?

Another nice quote from some of my notes on Nisargadatta Maharaj:

"Learn to look without imagination, to listen without distortion: that is all. Stop attributing names and shapes to the essentially nameless and formless, realize that every mode of perception is subjective, that what is seen or heard, touched or smelled, felt or thought, expected or imagined, is in the mind and not in reality, and you will experience peace and freedom from fear."

Nisargadatta Maharaj

This doesn't mean that nothing really exists "out there," and that everything is a mental construct. No. What it does mean is that as we receive perceptions of that external reality through our six senses — eyes, ears, nose, mouth, skin contact, and thoughts in the mind — our brain then MODIFIES EACH AND EVERY ONE of those perceptions.

At the first level, it may be a physical modification. Do your eyes see the same color i see? On the extreme end, some people are color blind. Do your ears hear the same sounds as i do? People have different hearing abilities, some more acute than others. Do you smell reality the same way i do or are you more or less sensitive to odors that others? And the same for all six senses.

After that first gate, then every perception is run through out mind, where the raw input is modified based on our beliefs, desires, current state of mind, ideology, religious beliefs, political leanings, memories of past events, expectations of what we thought we will perceive, and on, and on.

And this doesn't even bring up the Buddhist beliefs of karma, and all the seeds of past events, thoughts, actions, stored in our alayavijnana, our store consciousness.

As teachers everywhere tell us, what we say we perceive, in almost every case, is not "reality as it is," but reality as we want to perceive it, as we have been taught to perceive it, as our history has led us to expect to perceive it. But is is not the Truth.

Teachers are constantly telling us to stop this habit — because that is all it is, a habit. Teachers tell us to simply notice that this is what we are doing and to work to undo the habit. This is learned on your meditation cushion.

Thursday, January 12, 2017


Found this quote in some old notes i have taken during past readings of Nisargadatta Maharaj. Gotta love the man — short, to the point, and spot on.
(Not quite a direct quote, i make one comment in the middle, but close enough to merit " ".)

"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."

[My underline]

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Who Are You?

"If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I think I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for. Between these two answers you can determine the identity of any person.”  
Thomas Merton

Good questions:  
- What am i living for? What gives my life meaning?

- What thoughts are preventing me from a life fully lived to that purpose?

Friday, January 6, 2017

Think You Know Everything?

Struggling with a brush pen with ink that doesn't want to flow all that well. Need a new tip? Just give it time? Don't know, but it still writes the sutra every day so i guess i'll just wait a while longer....

Wanted to add a few thoughts to my Kanjizai post of the other day. It has always been interesting to me that, as has been pointed out in many commentaries on the sutra, the two protagonists here are the paragons of wisdom and knowledge. Sariputra was considered by all to the be the most knowledgeable of all the Buddha's disciples. He knew the abhidharma inside and out, front to back, top to bottom. There was nothing you could ask him about abhidharma that he couldn't answer. He was, apparently, a walking dharmic encyclopedia.

Avaolokitesvara, on the other hand, is the epitome of wisdom, prajna. And that should make all first time readers stop reading, put their book down, and wonder — is there a difference between knowledge and wisdom? If Sariputra is all knowledgeable, doesn't that make him wise? In our everyday world, most people would say yes, they mean the same thing. As a Buddhist, though, they couldn't be further apart; they have completely different meanings.

Just keeping that tidbit in mind, right off the bat it is made clear that they are not only different, but that apparently wisdom has something to teach encyclopedic knowledge; or, conversely, even when you think you know everything, until you understand wisdom you are still a student.

So at the very beginning of the sutra, just after introducing Wisdom as the speaker, we are told that while he was practicing prajna paramita (顴自在菩薩行深般若波羅蜜多時...) he had an epiphany.

What does that mean, practicing prajna paramita? What does it mean to be practicing it deeply; or to be practicing the deep prajna paramita? I prefer to read it as deeply practicing but the difference is subtle. A dictionary will tell you that 'prajna' means wisdom and 'paramita' means going to the other shore, implying the shore of nirvana as opposed to this shore of samsara.

Kanjizai was seated in meditation, in a state of deep and profound samadhi. In that state, there was no longer a Kanjizai, no longer a Sariputra, no longer a meditator meditating. In that state, there was simply Being; awareness purely and simply being awareness. In that state, reality was purely and simply manifesting as what it was, no more, no less. With no filtration taking place through thought processes, predispositions, beliefs, ideas, hopes, desires, past teachings,... or anything else. This was pure, unadulterated, unchanged, untampered with, beingness, doing nothing but what it is...being.

That is the wisdom. Crossing to the other shore means not going anywhere, but simply crawling between two thoughts into that place where you are on the other side of your normal, talkative, endlessly blabbering on and on, mind. The other shore is right here on the zafu you sit on, nowhere else. And once there, seeing reality as it is, as it always has been, as it always will be, in all its naked glory (although that's just adding more useless adjectives) is the wisdom they talk about. 

Once you see this, once you see that this pure and simple awareness located on the other side of your thoughts, once you see that this is who you really and truly are, you have your fingers on wisdom. And at the start of the sutra, this is where we find Kanjizai, that one who sees the true existence of himself. And it is from this place, this deep samadhi, where he sees wisdom spread out in front of him, that the teaching comes.

I picture him speaking very slowly, with a beautiful smile on his face, as he starts by pulling Sariputra into the teaching by calling his name. "Sariputra...."

Sometimes i say to myself, 'ahhhh, to only have been there...' and then i realize i was, and i am, each and every time i sit down with a cup of tea and write out the sutra myself.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017


One of the interesting things to me about the beginning of the Heart Sutra is the use of the name Kanjizai (顴自在) Bosatsu for Avaolokiteshvara. In Japan, it seems that almost everywhere else he/she is know as Kannon (観音) Bosatsu instead.

The kanji for Kannon imply a bodhisattva (bosatsu) who actively perceives (観) the sounds (音) of the world. One who listens for the cries of distress and supplications for help by all of us mortal beings stuck in samsara, and who vows to use any means possible to alleviate our pain and suffering.

The kanji for Kanjizai, though, to me, paints a different picture. Of course you can never remove the "the one who listens for the cries of the world" message from any talk of Kanjizai Bosatsu, but looking at the kanji you get another side of who this bosatsu is.

Kan (顴) still means to perceive; more than just to hear, more broadly meaning to perceive with any of the six senses. Ji (自) means oneself, yourself; pointing your finger directly at your heart (or nose, in Japan) and noting that you are referring to only yourself. Zai, or Sai, by itself (在) means existence, to exist.

So, Kanjizai Bosatsu (顴自在菩薩) can be the bodhisattva who directly perceives the existence of him/herself. The bodhisattva who perceives in a direct, unhindered, and unconditioned way, the manner that he/she truly exists. How does he/she do that? As the next phrase of the sutra says, 行深般若波羅蜜多時, he saw the truth of existence while deeply practicing, while deeply immersed in Prajna Paramita.

For me, this alters who Kannon is when i read the Heart Sutra. He/She isn't a remote, unapproachable deity "somewhere out there" who is willing to help when we get to the boiling point and scream out in pain. No, This Kanjizai is an advanced version of you and me, a being that started out in the same shackles that we wear, but over time and with countless amounts of effort, overcame his/her conditioning and finally came to understand just who and what he/she really is. Just who and what he/she really isn't. Who was able to cut through all the conditioning, was able to crawl through the gaps between thoughts, and was finally able to stay there when and for as long as desired.

The egg had been hatched, so to speak. When he/she left the egg a new life came into existence; just as when the silk worm leaves the cocoon and the butterfly springs forth, one life is traded for another, even though the life is the same. 

And it is with this new life, this new way of being, this new ability to simply Be without all the conditioned "stuff" that entombs us now, that Kanjizai was able to sit and perceive what existence really is. And it is with this new life that all pain and suffering will disappear.

And it is only when you get to this point that you can honestly say that you perceive that form is not different than emptiness (and vice versa) and that form is exactly emptiness (and vice verse), and that this is true also for the other four skhandas. Until you get to this point, though, it's all just an intellectual understanding, which is not prajna.

When i hear "Kannon," i imagine a deity other than myself offering to help. When i hear "Kanjizai," i imagine myself sitting on my cushion, immersed in prajna paramita, and one day crawling out of the cocoon. In just the first few kanji, the Heart Sutra makes this a very, very personal journey.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year

2017. Already. That's amazing to me. When i was younger, years crept by ever so slowly. I could run, bike, and hike all summer and those months lasted forever. Now, it seems that as soon as i settle into my summer running/biking season, it's over and we're looking winter right in the eyes.

In any case, i'm wishing everyone the very best in this new year. Wishing all a year of fulfillment, a year of growth, a year of deepening love, and a year of success in all that you do.

I hope many of you have downloaded the Insight Timer app and have joined us in the challenge to meditate every single day this year. Look inside the app for the group called 365 Days Together. I would be especially pleased if i saw others from here in Locport joining, but sadly, i haven't yet. I would be almost ecstatic if i heard from some of my fellow henros saying that they are on the team. :-) Please consider joining us.

I have a pretty long list of books that i intend to work through this year, but i'll be spending the beginning months working on three books in particular. Because of the meditation challenge, i want to take the time to reread Daido Loori's The Art of Just Sitting. But this time through, i will slow down and let each chapter sink in before moving on to the next.

I will also spend between now and March working on two oldies, but far from moldies. Both are translations of some of the earliest Chinese writing that could be considered Zen. The first is The Zen Teachings of Huang Po: On The Transmission of Mind. The second book is Entering The Tao of Sudden Enlightenment, by Ta-Chu Hui-Hai.

After that, my plans right now are pretty eclectic. I'm going back to the practice of writing the Heart Sutra once each morning. Whether i use my ink brush pen or just a ball point pen hasn't been decided. I'll know by the end of the first week. On the science and math front, i've recently gotten back in to the habit of reading physics and spent a week with a video series on the discovery of the Higgs Boson. As the year starts, i'm going to pull out old video courses on physics and calculus and run through those again. At the same time, i'm pulling a course off the shelf on the founding of the US, from before the war to the writing of the constitution. Plus two shorter audio courses on the constitution and the prevailing ideals around that time.

As for running and biking, i'm planning on another 600 mile year of runs but haven't decided how much i want to do on my bike. My leaning right now is to simply aim for 600 miles on that as well, even though i know that isn't very much riding. We'll see. And, of course, there is my yoga practice; one class a week down at the yoga studio and several times a week in addition here at home. Would like to get up to 4 times a week at home, but don't know if that will happen.

I'll be on Shikoku for almost all of April this year. There's a chance i could be on the Kumano Kodo trails in October and then back in Shikoku again in November, but those trips won't be decided until this summer, most likely.

So that's how my year is looking. I'm excited about all these plans. Wishing all peace and love.

Happy New Year.