Sunday, December 20, 2020

The distant place that lies within.

The expression, “Home is where the heart is,” suggests that our home is located in union with another. The problem with that understanding is our sense of home is then wedded to the other’s wellbeing. So long as that union is well, our sense of wellbeing is likewise well. However, the opposite is also true. Tying yourself to another can be a dangerous matter, especially when the other jeopardizes our sense of stability and wholeness.

Another perspective is more favorably secure: The perspective that home lies within, right where your spiritual heart exists. The first view can be problematic, but so too can the latter. It all depends on how we understand and experience ourselves. If our view is one of self-love, that is one thing. If our view is one of self-hatred, that is even more dangerous than the first. In either case, wherever we go, our-self goes with us.

Both self-love or self-hatred can, and do, vary according to changing circumstances—everything, of a mortal nature, is constantly changing, and there is no way anyone can stop that flow of mortal change. Consequently, to get to the root of the matter, it is necessary to look beyond mortality.

Three different spiritual teachings point us to the resolution. The first comes from a familiar source (The teaching of Christ, as expressed by St.Paul the Apostle). The second and third sources are less familiar but dovetail with that of The Apostle. Let’s start with the second, move on to the third, and circle back to conclude with St.Paul.

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the French philosopher, paleontologist, and Jesuit priest who thought deeply on the meaning of our existence and relationship with the Divine. Chardin held this unorthodox view that within our mortal shell was our true home. To accept this perspective changes how we understand ourselves (and others) from a constantly changing mortal being that ends in death to that of a never-changing immortal being that never ends.

The third source comes from one of the greatest spiritual poets, artists, and educational theorists who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913 (Rabindranath Tagore). Few in The West have ever heard of Tagore, but he shared the perspective of de Chardin and conveyed his view through many of his works, not the least is his poem Journey Home.

“The time that my journey takes is long and the way of it long.

I came out on the chariot of the first gleam of light, and pursued my

voyage through the wildernesses of worlds leaving my track on many a star and planet.

It is the most distant course that comes nearest to thyself,

and that training is the most intricate which leads to the utter simplicity of a tune.

The traveler has to knock at every alien door to come to his own,

and one has to wander through all the outer worlds to reach the innermost shrine at the end.

My eyes strayed far and wide before I shut them and said, ‘Here art thou!’

The question and the cry ‘Oh, where?’ melt into tears of a thousand

streams and deluge the world with the flood of the assurance ‘I am!’

Like de Chardin, Tagore was persuaded that discovery of our true home—the one of spiritual essence, only came about on a quest within, where we find our eternal source.

Now, to tie all three together, let’s examine what St. Paul had to say in the book of 1 Corinthians. He said (metaphorically), “You are the body of Christ. Each one of you is a part of it” (the concluding point of 1 Corinthians 12:12-27), but when taken literally, it unites with the other two perspectives, that our true home—the one we can never leave lies at our spiritual core. There, alone, all of us can find the eternal spirit of love—our Divine essence. And when we find that core, we know that our essence is the same as the Divine. Short of that, we are all left with a self-understanding that bobs and weaves like a cork tossed about on the waves of change, sometimes loving and at other times with hatred. God is undivided love, and that is us.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Divide or unite?

I love history. Knowing where we came from and how we got here is important. “Real” history—not the fairy-tale version we seem to prefer—teaches us valuable lessons. In particular, understanding the historical path leading to common-coin words and terms is paramount because words and terms are the building blocks of ideologies—the way we think and understanding what unites and divides us.

December 8 is an auspicious day few even know exists, and I’ll get to that in a moment. But first, I’d like to write about another day of which nearly everyone, throughout the world, is aware—December 25, the day Christians (and others) celebrate the birth of Jesus. We know that day as Christmas. But time has erased from our collective memory the origin of the term “Christmas,”—The Christian festival celebrating the birth of Jesus occurs on December 25. The English term Christmas (“mass on Christ’s day”) is of recent origin. The earlier term Yule (e.g., Yule-tide) may have derived from the Germanic jōl or the Anglo-Saxon geōl, which referred to the feast of the winter solstice: A purely secular root to what has become a day of giving and receiving gifts on Christmas, supposedly as a celebration of the birth of Jesus.

Since the early 20th century, Christmas has mostly become a secular holiday. In this secular celebration, a mythical figure named Santa Claus plays a pivotal role. For the most part, Christmas is a family holiday, observed by Christians and non-Christians, devoid of Christian elements. And we are now in the midst of “Black Fridays” (plural, since the day, has become an entire series of days), designating the annual rush to purchase the most for the least, in anticipation of getting ready for Santa Claus. “Black Friday” also has a historical path, but I don’t want to overlay one divergence on top of another, or I’d never get to the point. And what is that point? The point is the preference for myth over fact—Fake News or disinformation, making it nearly impossible to know which end is up. We seem to love snake-oil and those who sell it because we are essentially lazy and don’t make an effort to dig beneath the surface and discover what lies within.

There is a method in my madness for this short Christmas diversion, apart from the significance of December 8. The madness part is that I would delay. And the method part explains my reason, which is to illustrate how we (as a human family) have lost our way. As the saying goes: “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” This very moment we are on the verge of doing just that—repeating a miserable era that emerged during the decade following 1930. That repetition has much to do with both December 8 and December 25.

Birth—biological birth is different from spiritual birth. In the Christian tradition, spiritual birth happens (or it doesn’t) when aspirants confess their sinful nature and accept the Holy Spirit (supposedly the aspect of a triune God—trinity, promised by Jesus) into their spiritual hearts and souls. Then, those “born again” become a new person, armed with The Spirit of God. The matter of salvation (e.g., being set free from the scourge of “sin”) presupposes being sinful in the first place. Without that presumption, the entire proposition falls into a thousand pieces, and like Humpty-Dumpty, can’t be put back together again: another divergent tale worth pondering, but for another time.

While few know the historical facts of Christmas (December 25), fewer still know the historical facts of Bodhi Day (December 8)—the Buddhist holiday that commemorates the day that the historical Buddha—Siddhartha Gautama (Shakyamuni), experienced enlightenment. According to tradition, Siddhartha had pursued and ultimately gave up years of extremely ascetic practice and resolved to sit under a “peepal tree” until he was free from suffering. Siddhartha sat beneath that tree, meditated until he found the root of suffering, and discovered how to liberate himself from it. That process of giving up asceticism was preceded by giving up what none of us would give up (great wealth) to travel the other path that lead to a dead-end. On the other side of that end lay the opening to ultimate freedom—a goal all humans desire; the mythical pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

When those living in the Western World think of enlightenment, they conjure up “THE Enlightenment,” an era when European politics, philosophy, science, and communications were radically reoriented during the course of the “long 18th century” (1685-1815) as part of a movement referred to by its participants as the Age of Reason, or simply The Enlightenment. Enlightenment thinkers in Britain, France, and Europe questioned traditional authority and embraced the notion that humanity could be improved through rational change. Ever since that era, the Western World has been on a path defined by rational thought and hardened ideologies. While Christians remained the largest religious group in the world in 2015, making up nearly a third (31%—2.3. billion) of Earth’s 7.3 billion people, they are fragmented into a myriad of schisms (e.g., denominations) too vast to count, each of which claims to be the sole keepers of the truth.

In the Eastern World, “enlightenment” is a very different matter. The idea of “moksha”—release from the cycle of continuing suffering by attaining a transcendent state of mind, is the gold standard. It is within this state of mind that one realizes unconditional truth. Opposing ideologies are anathema to this sort of enlightenment but is instead oriented toward realizing one’s true nature of unity (non-difference vs. ideological differences). And for that reason celebrating December 8 (Bodhi Day) is relevant to the current crisis of chaos around the world. We are in a meltdown mode because of the “I’m right/you’re wrong” vector of ideologies, which align with rational thinking, taking us further and further away from meltdown solutions. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Culture transformed.

Transforming our culture

Nothing is ever lost. Instead, all matter transforms in the readiness of time. This is true for everything, and particularly at the present time. The pandemic is transforming lives throughout the planet in ways nobody could anticipate. People, plants, animals, and every other being from large to small never truly dies. Nothing essential is lost, and when the time is ripe, transformation happens. While our attention is focused (nearly exclusively) on adapting to the COVID pandemic, the global environmental catastrophe marches on.

Rising climate temperatures heat water, which then rises as vapor into the cooler upper atmosphere. The jet-stream moves the vapor, and when the time and conditions are right, the vapor transforms into droplets of rain, again falling to the earth, and the cycle continues. Everything transforms, even entire cultures go through the cycle of life and become a different sort of culture once the previous one becomes corrupt, and we learn what we can from victories and failures.

The movement from one thing into another is an ongoing evolution (at times, revolution) and flows seamlessly in steps too small to notice. And when the moment of transition comes, it is always preceded by something resembling death. These two: life and death, define each other. Neither can exist without the other. Of course, we consider death the final end and don’t connect it to new birth. Think about it: Without a seed falling to the earth, where the outer shell dies (exposing the inner embryo), nothing new will grow. The pangs of birth are always accompanied by pain. Doubt that? Ask any woman who has given birth. This very same process happens culturally. Nothing lasts in its present form.

Consider the following…

  1. Religion: Dualism: mankind trapped between good and evil and separated from God.
  2. Politics: Two-party systems in opposition.
  3. Wealth distribution: I earned mine; get your own.
  4. Interpersonal relationships: Me versus you—If I’m right, you must be wrong—Confrontation.
  5. Self-awareness: I look in the mirror and don’t like what I see, unaware that the self looking in the mirror is the opposite of what is seen. The reflection of me is flawed. The one doing the seeing is not.
  6. Morality: There is right and wrong, irreconcilably opposed to each other.
  7. Interpersonal (or cultural) exchange: Mine.
  8. Honesty: Sometimes yes, sometimes no (depending on how it may affect me).
  9. Justice: Guilty or innocent, determined through an adversarial contest. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

So what can we notice about where our own culture stands from various vantage points? Are there any commonalities across the different structural parts that might allow this reverse engineering? How do every day, connected activities function concerning such matters as the administration of justice, religion, politics, wealth distribution, relationships, self-awareness, morality, honesty, or interpersonal and cultural exchange? All of these segments represent the infrastructure of our culture. Can we notice anything in common across these dimensions? Is there a central thread that ties the different segments together? And if so, what would that thread be?

I’m going out on a “limb” (pun intended) and venture a guess that most people are unaware of the progressions and transforming underpinnings upon which they base their lives and extended—similar underpinnings upon which their culture is based. We go unaware of the happenings beneath the surface of our lives, and we can learn a lot about ourselves by noticing what occurs beneath the soil with trees. We see only the trunk, limbs, leaves and don’t need to see the root to know they are there. There, beneath the soil, the trees are connected, rejuvenating the dead with life-giving nutrients.

Such underpinnings become assumed givens that go unnoticed, unquestioned, and become governing norms. We are born into a particular culture and become conditioned by these norms. We continue with our lives until what we are doing stops working, and we try one solution after another, trying to recapture what is already something different. That being said, it is possible to stand back and consider how a given culture functions and then back into a probable philosophic structure, sort of like reverse engineering.

The observation: All of these expressions reflect attitudes based on an assumed principle, which the Greek philosophers established a long time ago, namely the Principle of Non-Contradiction. In simple terms, non-contradiction means something can’t be the same as a different thing, at the same time in the same place. And this perspective has established the fundamental basis of discrimination, meaning one thing versus something opposed to the first thing. The principle seems immanently logical and has driven Western Civilization ever since Plato proposed the idea in 380 BCE. His attempt was to provide a consistent structure as the definition of justice and the character of the just city-state and the just man. The essential question is this: Does this logical perspective result in what Plato intended, “…the order and character of the just city-state and the just man?”

Or perhaps a more pertinent question is (In Dr. Phill’s terms): how is this working out? One observation (my own) is that the principle results in the opposite of what Plato intended. Instead, the result is an attitude of deference, superiority, alienation, self-righteousness, imbalance, justice determined more by financial resources than anything else, a polarized culture, and a loss of morality and confidence in the future.

Nevertheless, this philosophy continues on with progressively prominent degrees of this downward spiral of opposition. The answer to why this seems to be, is perhaps that it forces cultural participants to become occupied more and more with their own exclusive concerns at the expense of others.

And in answer to the central-thread question, perhaps what binds these all together with similar outcomes is how we feel about ourselves as isolated and fear-ridden beings. Perhaps we misunderstand that what we truly are is an eternal and unified spirit—one being trying on different human roles, evolving until we realize who we are: A single unified being, similar to the underground network of mushrooms

“All religions speak about death during this life on earth. Death must come before rebirth. But what must die? False confidence in one’s own knowledge, self-love, and egoism. Our egoism must be broken.”

This culture is transforming from one way to a better way and it, like all things, must die and rise again.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

On Grief and grieving.

With no loss, there is no love.

Fewer things in mortal life hurt as much as the grief that comes from losing a loved one. To pontificate about the suffering of another is to ignore our own pain and disconnect ourselves from humanity.

During such times of loss is an inappropriate time to speak of the long-view. To move to “betterness” without going through bitterness is not only disingenuous, but it is also more than likely impossible. We are, after all, human and rarely, if at all, react to adversity gladly. Few indeed can get to a better place without having first experienced disappointment, anguish, and suffering. Nobody I have ever known (including myself) has ever leaped over these preliminary emotions of sadness as though moving from “A” to “Z” by jumping over “B” through “Y.”

Such pain can seem unbearable while in the midst of suffering the loss of someone we love. Moving beyond to something better takes the healing balm of time. And only then can we find the clarity of mind and emotions to see no genuine love without inevitable loss. Nothing conditional lasts forever, and only a denying fool believes in conditional eternity. The wise recognize the inherent risk of loving and willingly accept the inevitable pain of loss.

But once adequate healing has come, we can look back and savor the beauty of those we have lost. Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross expressed the connection between the downside of suffering, the upside of going through anguish and pointed out a blessing not usually observed:

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, know struggle, know loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

An equally profound observation spoken by the father of Zen shows us that suffering itself leads to a transformation leading to bliss: “Every suffering is a seed, because suffering impels us to seek wisdom.”—Bodhidharma

Thursday, November 26, 2020

On Thanksgiving.


“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.

It turns what we have into enough, and more.

It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order,

confusion to clarity.

It can turn a meal into a feast, 

a house into a home, 

a stranger into a friend.

Gratitude makes sense of our past,

brings peace for today,

and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

Melody Beattie. I don’t know her or her work, but what she said here is too good not to pass along to you on this day of giving thanks.

Playing the hand we’re dealt.

Two sides: Winning and losing.

Many years ago, my Zen teacher told me: “Once you open your eyes, without bias, you’ll be amazed how many lessons of wisdom life will show you.” Little did I know at the early time just how true his counsel would be.

It is doubtful that any of us are dealt a flawless hand when we enter this mortal world. There are always a few losing cards, even in the best of hands. It isn’t nearly as important what we are dealt with but how we play that hand.

I learned how to play the bridge game even before I met my teacher and played as well as possible. Subsequently, we met; I took a sustained hiatus from the game and came back much later, following his wise counsel. I then began to play again and learned a wise lesson from that game that applies to life in general. That wise lesson was concerned with how to play the game of bridge and the game of life. And the lesson is this: If you are aware of the losing cards (that’s easier once you lose your biases—many people pretend to have no flaws), lose them early in the game—you’ll lose them anyway, so it’s always better to lose early.

The wisdom of losing early has multiple ripple effects across what comes next. One of the most important ripples is when you lose anything, you will empathize with others who also lose (everyone does sooner or later). And armed with that sense of empathy, you will be enabled to lend a hand to others who suffer later in your game. To lose late in the game may teach the same lesson, but you will have less mortal time left to apply the lesson, and the wisdom will be of little value, except to you. Doing good (not just talking good) in this life will then carry on into your next incarnation: Fewer beginning losers next time around.

A related lesson came to me from a member of our bridge club. Dear Gerry often said, “I don’t mind if I lose because when I lose, someone else wins.” She was a kind (yet competitive) player who taught me that losing wasn’t so bad, and that lesson relates to the first. Losing is just the other side of the coin of winning, and if we don’t give up during those losing times, the tide will eventually turn, and you’ll win again. But when you lose, you will know what it feels like and see life with the eyes of compassion and wisdom. And that lesson of never giving up (e.g., perseverance through thick and thin) is very wise as well. Why? Because most players of this game of life will relent first. And then, even if you have a losing hand, you’ll win by default. If the rabbit stops before the finish line—even if he is an inch away—the turtle will first cross. 

When life throws you the ball of losing, consider it a blessing, be grateful, and catch it. There are fewer lessons more important than knowing how to play the cards life deals you.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

COVID—Life/Death, and alleviation of fear.

Life, death, and fear.

Nowadays, there is not only a spike in the incidence of COIVD infections (and resulting mortal death), but there is a corresponding spike in emotional distress and fear. According to extensive research of this correspondent relationship—on a global basis—as the pandemic increases, so too does fear. 

Everyone knows that mortal death is inevitable. Sooner or later, the “Grim Reaper” will visit us all. Nobody gets out of here alive, so the saying goes. This latter is the primary source of ultimate fear. Why? Because (1) We all think that our existence is equal to our body, (2) We thus believe that when the body dies, we will die, (3) The same holds true for our loved ones, and (4) We have attached our sense of stability and well-being to the mortal existence of something or someone. Nobody (and no-thing) gets out of here alive. The ground upon which our perceived sense of self exists is quick-sand—it is in a state of continuous change, and we know it (but choose to ignore it).

“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” Some dispute the source of that observation, but regardless, it is on target. And one of those (e.g., truth) is at the core of understanding this correspondence. There are two aspects of the truth: What is, in fact, true, and the opposite; what is factually false. If we think falsely about this correspondence, our sense of stability and well-being will be false. And the opposite is likewise correct—If we think truthfully about this correspondence, our sense of stability and well-being will follow suit.

We have failed to understand this fundamental truth, this ground-level basis of well-being: We are either just a mortal body or something different. If just a mortal body, then it follows there is a solid justification for fear. However, if we are something different, then that something-different is not mortal and can’t die. The former position results in fear, while the latter results in the sense of tranquility, peace, and a lack of fear.

Therefore we are all faced (increasingly so during this pandemic) with an unavoidable dilemma between a choice for fear or a choice for peace. Both (e.g., fear and a sense of lasting peace) are subject to thoughts and emotions. “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” 

If we think we are just a mortal shell (which will die), there is no joy. But if we think we are the spirit that resides within that shell, then fear goes away. The mortal shell is like a born-guest, moves from place to place, changes all of the time, and one day dies. But the spirit living within that mortal shell is like a host, which is never born, never moves (or changes), and can’t die. 

How we understand true life and false life determines everything. And there is no better kick in the behind—the prodding stick that compels us to seek a solution than being in a state of fear and misery, both of which are spiking sharply right now, regardless of affiliations politically, religiously, ideologically, nationally…any and every other defining method…And there is no longer the ordinary excuse (e.g., I don’t have time) for not thoroughly examining who and what we are. We have an abundant amount of time on our hands, and many of us are confined to quarters—socially distant, in solitary confinement. If there were ever an ideal set of time, place, and circumstances, this time, this place, and this set of circumstances, must be “prime-time.” 

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

How to save the world.

It's up to us.

In the Western world, the term “sentient being” is not your every-day word. We think in terms of human beings or other kinds. But sentience is more descriptive since it denotes the capacity to feel, perceive, or experience subjectively, not to overlook thinking. Any conscious being is a sentient being, including all creatures capable of sensing and responding to its world.

Unfortunately, being human has caused us to evolve into being human-centric and set aside our connections to other creatures and the environment that enables our existence. We forget (or if you prefer, went unmindful) of the food chain that begins with the tiniest of creatures and goes all the way to the top—us humans. Cutting that chain and destroying the environment within which all sentient beings live is an unfailing prescription for our ultimate disaster. We are well down the road toward that end for a simple reason—unmindfulness of our aggregate interconnectivity with the rest of life. Our priorities are going south fast. While we are distracted with lesser matters, our support systems are not. They are progressing toward ultimate demise due to our negligence. And if we wish to continue as a species, we need to quickly get back to basics.

What is the most basic of all? It is the matter that connects us to all other creatures—THE MIND, the human-mind being one part of that larger whole. If we can get a handle on that, everything else will fall into proper alignment, and we will survive.

If you haven’t yet watched the Netflix documentary (The Social Dilemma), it is high time you did. There is no other informative communication I am aware of that emphasizes the critical importance of finding your anchor within. We are now living in a sea of turbulent manipulation, waging a losing battle with AI machines designed to draw us into a spider web, from which there is no escape. And with no anchor, we will all be swept into a collective nightmare. Our progress as a human society has risen to the point leading to anarchy and ultimate destruction. This excellent film tells you the truth when few others will about just how lost we are and paints a terminal annihilation portrait. It is a must-watch!

Western civilization has taken us a long way toward the “good life,” but it has, at the same time, brought with it our lack of being mindful of the most important of all: THE MIND, that has given us those good things. To make needed corrections takes us to the other side of the earth and the wisdom that has evolved there (and largely ignored here). 

A towering giant of Eastern Wisdom was Bodhidharma—the man credited with starting the movement of understanding THE MIND. This credit (given the long view) has been misplaced since what he “started” goes back many thousands of years preceding his life. The name of that movement has, like everything else, changed, but the codified essence has remained the same. What began as dhyāna (going back in recorded history, and probably earlier) changed into Chan (Chinese Buddhism), eventually into Zen when the movement traveled to Japan and then to the rest of the world.

Zen is not, nor has it ever been, a religion (even though it is known as Zen Buddhism). Instead, it is the most thorough-going exploration of THE MIND ever conceived. Properly named, it should be called “Buddhist Zen” because this was the method employed by The Buddha to realize his Enlightenment (which Westerners mistake for the European form—The Enlightenment that occurred in Europe during the intellectual and philosophical movement that dominated the world of ideas in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries and continues to this day. That form of enlightenment was centered on rational thought. Enlightenment in the East was the opposite: Not thinking—that aspect, common to all sentient beings—intuition, which goes to the core of THE MIND, what we all need to grasp if we wish to survive.

In the West (going back to the Greek philosophers), we consider the mind as thoughts and emotions, never considering that these aspects must originate from somewhere. And that, “somewhere,” is THE MIND, not my mind nor yours. THE MIND is not up for ownership. It can’t be possessed or even found through rational thought since it is the source of what follows—thoughts and emotions. All sentient beings share this mind, along with us humans, and once understood, brings about a radical transformation needed to save us all.

Bodhidharma said this about understanding THE MIND: “If you use your mind to study reality, you won’t understand either your mind or reality. If you study reality without using your mind, you’ll understand both. Those who don’t understand, don’t understand understanding. And those who understand, understand not understanding. People capable of true vision know that the mind is empty. They transcend both understanding and not understanding. The absence of both understanding and not understanding is true understanding.”

For Westerners, a translation is needed. Trying to grasp THE MIND with the rational mind is like a fish trying to grasp water, forgetting how to swim, and not even aware of water. Both reality and THE MIND are beyond our limited rational faculties to grasp. What does Bodhidharma mean about “understanding understanding?” He means just that: “Both reality and The Mind are beyond our limited rational faculties to grasp.” True vision must arise from the more fundamental aspect: where the rational faculties originate (where the anchor within resides). And from that aspect, we all have the same untapped potential to realize that nothing—absolutely nothing, can exist apart from the opposite, in this case, “not understanding.” Neither understanding nor not understanding must come from a MIND that is neither.

When we understand that, then only will we have the true vision—a vision that links all sentient beings together as a single unified being—THE MIND that is empty of all either/or. True vision is unified, and it isn’t. It is ultimately unified (realized through intuition) in an empty MIND, and it is divided rationally. Humans are so excessively left-brain, rationally oriented that we are quickly becoming so smart it is killing us to our discredit. Think about that. Better yet, don’t think about it. 

“Not thinking about anything is Zen. Once you know this, walking, sitting, or lying down, everything you do is Zen.”—Bodhidharma

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Head-bones and Tail-bones; Life and Death

As often occurs, I discover relevance between previous posts and current affairs. This is such a case, and accordingly, I’m reposting it now.

Life is suffering: The first of The Buddha’s Four Nobel Truths. The question is, “which life?” We examined two different life kinds in yesterday’s post: ego/soul life and essential life. Meister Eckhart rightly stated divine essence can’t suffer. The Buddha lived long before Eckhart, on the other side of the world, but there appears to be no disagreement between them. They were both mystics, and mystics from all times have spoken the same truths. So back to the question: Which life does suffer and why? In the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra, which The Buddha said was the most important teaching of all—this matter was addressed in a causal relationship way which is counter-intuitive to normal everyday thinking. We are not so good at examining causal links. Our approach is to leap across vast boundaries without looking at the links. We rush to war without understanding how we got to the brink in the first place. We leap from head-bones to tail-bones with no consideration of the bones in between linking causes with effects. We are band-aid people looking at effects without addressing causes.

Why do we suffer? What is the causal link between life and death? It is impossible to answer such questions without first defining “which” life and looking at the links joining different life kinds. What is the link between the cause and effect of drug addiction and crime? What is the link between the cause and effect of war? What is the causal link between life and death? What is life? What is death?

The Buddha would say that real life is intrinsically essential, never ends, and that ego life is fleeting and non-essential. These are connected. They arise together, and we experience both. The problem is that unless we awaken to the illusive nature of ego life, we never become aware of essential life. To hear an excellent, short podcast about life that never dies, click here. Ego life (who we imagine ourselves to be) commands our full attention. At that level of existence, we are so busy fighting off the alligators we forget that we’re here to drain the swamp. It’s a full-time job because ego life is responsive (100%) to mortal existence, which is fleeting. These two are mirror images of one another. Someone sends a missile your way, you first defend, and then you attack. The ego is absolutely convinced of independence and isolation. To the ego, interdependence is a myth. If we are attacked, we never consider what we did to provoke the attack. We just blame the attacker. The ego’s job description is (1) defend, (2) defend, (3) defend. And the best defense is a good offense. The only relevant question is, who attacks first?

The Virginia Tech student (Seung-Hui Cho) did not suddenly turn into a deranged murderer. He had a long history of issues, and his condition was the result of many contributing forces. We may never know what those forces were nor how they coalesced to produce the tragedy. But one thing is for sure: he was a walking-talking suffering machine. He had no clue who he really was, at the essential level. He was a damaged ego: walking death—which he then actualized, and so are all people who suffer. The effect may take the form of drug addiction, killing people on campuses, or in any war, but the cause is fear and a bone-deep sense of emptiness. 

Ego life is connected with essential life. These two are a partnership, with ego life being the outward sheath and consciousness being eternal. In the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra, this link is spoken of as Self and non-Self, meaning that one is essential (e.g., never suffers) and the other is illusive (and always suffers). Genuine life is essential. Mortal life (constantly moving toward death) is non-essential, and they both exist in us. When people are in pain and are suffering, they are completely consumed with non-Self and are totally asleep to essential life. The non-Self is who we think we are, but the non-Self is a mirage, like all thinking. Thinkers think thoughts. Thoughts are about reality, but thoughts are not real. The non-Self is a thought, but you are essentially real. Your reality, all reality—is transcendent to thinking. If you have not experienced essential reality, you are asleep, dreaming about reality, and are walking with death only.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Study the Way/Self

Mine; Not yours.

“To study the Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things of the universe. To be enlightened by all things of the universe is to cast off the body and mind of the self as well as those of others. Even the traces of enlightenment are wiped out, and life with traceless enlightenment goes on forever and ever.”

Dogen’s famous commentary on the self deserves careful consideration. “The Way,” of course, means the way of a Bodhisattva. Dogen says this way concerns the study of the self. Buddhism is essentially the way of taking a hard and thorough look at the most fundamental aspect of reality—the nature of identity, resolving the matter, putting it completely aside, and moving on. He did not say to just move on with the presumption that everything will be okay. Of course, that is a prescription for continued suffering, which is a function of the self. It is the self/ego that suffers and creates suffering.

After more than 40 years of extensive study following my own awakening, I have come to realize the evident truth about enlightenment; the truth as recorded throughout nearly all sutras—It is ever-present, nothing special (after-the-fact, but never before), always-on, and reduces down to a simple understanding of Tathāgata. Fundamentally it means “reality as-it-is,” alternatively understood as suchness. It is easy to write, difficult to experience, yet always possible by being continuously and fully present. Contrast this to being never present—lost in thinking about just about anything—that obstructs being present.

Dogen rightly arranged the order: First, study the self. Second, resolve the matter. Third, forget about it. And forth, be enlightened by all things by not continuing to dwell on this central issue once resolved. This order reflects the order taught by The Buddha. To be attached to anything is to ensure suffering, including being attached to the self or even The Buddha.

It is critically important to firmly establish our real identity as one and the same as The Buddha. We are not a fake and imaginary non-self. We are the Self (e.g., awakened), which is The Buddha. If we don’t resolve this matter, we will forever be guided and dominated by our ego-self and remain self-absorbed, producing ignorance, greed, and anger. It is only when we have finally resolved the phantom nature of the non-self and accepted the unborn/never-die identity of Buddha-Nature that we can genuinely do away with ignorance, greed, and anger. This must be the preliminary phase because otherwise, we continue to see ourselves as separate from and in competition with the rest of life. When we clearly see that we are interdependent and in harmony with life, then we can rest and begin to reflect the ever-present, virtuous qualities inherent of Buddha-Nature.

In that state of unity with all, we can be enlightened by all things because all things are a part of us. It is impossible to be intimate with anything from which we are separated. We can imagine unity in some abstract way, but that abstraction is still separate. Dogen knew, so he said, “cast off the body and mind of the self as well as those of others.” Body and mind are just formed elements—outward trappings, which keep us locked into the delusion of separateness and cause us to say things like “my” body, “my” mind. From the perspective of Buddha-Nature (our real nature), there is no “my.” There is only “us.”

The ending of Dogen’s commentary is especially instructive. He says, “life with traceless enlightenment goes on forever and ever.” What could that possibly mean? There is only one aspect of life with no tracks and lasts forever: Buddha-Nature, which is wholly enlightenment, and where there is wholly enlightenment, there is no enlightenment. Everything-Nothing is the same thing. We can’t see it because of self-created delusions, but it’s there. Our duty is to simply learn to cease not being present. Then only there is no duality. Then only there are no tracks because a track is an otherness. Buddha-Nature is whole. No tracks.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Fear, dust, roots and emancipation.

Our times and circumstances have changed much in the 13 years since I first wrote, published and posted, this to my blog (as written and quoted below) on 12/21/07.

  • In that year, our US President was George W. Bush. 
  • On April 16, a student went on a killing spree on the Virginia Tech Campus leaving over 30 students dead. 
  • Rupert Murdoch acquired Dow Jones & Co, which includes the Wall Street Journal.
  • Violent thunderstorms roared through parts of Alabama and three other US states in the region.
  • One of the deadliest tornadoes in Kansas history destroyed Greensburg’s town as it took the brunt of 200 mph winds.
  • Blizzards and severe snowstorms swept through Denver and the surrounding areas.
  • One of the largest and deadliest fires in US history raged in Southern California, fanned by the Santa Ana winds destroying 400,000 acres and 2,000 homes.
  • The Apple Computer Company announced the release of the very first iPhone.
  • Apple Introduced its first-ever iTouch with built-in WiFi and touch screen, following the prior release of their iTouch on June 29th.
  • NASA launched the Phoenix Mars Lander during August. The Phoenix spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It successfully landed on Mars during May 2008 and is used as an instrument to thoroughly examine the planet’s soil.
  • The presidential candidates who decided to run for the highest office in the land—yes, that too was an election year—were (Republicans:) Mitt Romney, Rudi Guliani, John McCain, Mike Huckabee, Tommy Thompson, Duncan Hunter, Sam Brownback, Tom Tancredo, Jim Gilmore, Fred Thompson and (Democrats :) Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Ron Paul, Mike Gravel, Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich. Some had already dropped out by the end of 2007 before the race even begun. The outcome, which is now known, was the victory of Barack Obama—our 44th POTUS. 

These and many other circumstances occurred in 2007 and may be found by clicking here.

Now fast forward till today, in late 2020, and observe how times and circumstances have changed. All things are changing moment by moment. Changes too small to notice until a retrospective (such as this post) is presented for consideration. The seeds of current events were planted in 2007, and the seeds that evolved into events in that year were planted eons ago, moment by moment. No real dividing lines are demarcating one moment from the next, as though sequential stone walls were constructed in the space between moments. 

Instead, karma underpins all conditions. It is the foundation of the life we know. It flows like droplets merged into a moving stream, no longer detected as droplets but rather as indivisible water. Such is the nature of conditional life. “What you are is what you have been. What you’ll be is what you do now.”—The Buddha

Some things, however, remain the same. The wisdom that transcends time and place remains the same. That is what follows and may be summarized as fear, dust, and emancipation—being set free, which all desire.

“Also, emancipation is non-apprehension. One who has apprehension may be likened to a king who fears and slanders the strong neighboring state and has apprehension. Now, with emancipation, there is nothing of the kind. This is like annihilating enmity, as a consequence of which there is no longer any apprehension. The same is the case with emancipation. It has no apprehension or fear. Non-apprehension is the Tathagata.

Also, there is no dust or defilement in emancipation as when in the spring months, after sundown, the wind raises up a cloud of dust. Now, in emancipation, nothing of this kind obtains. Where there is no cloud of dust, there is true emancipation. True emancipation is the Tathagata.

Also, emancipation is fearlessness. It is like the lion, who has no fear of any beast. The same is the case with emancipation. It has no fear of any Maras. Fearlessness is true emancipation. True emancipation is the Tathagata.

Also, emancipation subdues all kinds of indolence. One who is indolent is greedy. With true emancipation, nothing such as this comes about. This is true emancipation. True emancipation is the Tathagata.

Also, emancipation is segregating oneself from all existences, excising all suffering, obtaining all aspects of peace, and eternally cutting off desire, ill-will, and ignorance, and severing oneself from the roots of all illusions. Cutting the roots of illusion [ doubt] is emancipation. True emancipation is the Tathagata.”

From The Mahaparinirvana Sutra—Chapter 7

Saturday, October 24, 2020


Buddhism has been around so long that it is hard to recall the locus—the seed from which it grows. But by recalling the condensed teaching of the Buddha, the essence is the very first point: Life (e.g., mortal) is suffering. Everything else about Buddhism is centered around that locus. So whenever we become overwhelmed with the multiplicity of the branches springing from this ancient practice, all we have to do is remember the root: Life is Suffering. This is why Buddhism has such an enduring appeal—Everyone suffers, and nobody wants to. And no more thorough practice has ever been conceived to understand suffering and provide a means for overcoming it than Buddhism. Suffering springs from our mind and begins with how we perceive and understand ourselves and the world we live in. And this is why Buddhism is a full exposition of our minds.

Master Hsuan Hua writes about this matter in the opening section of The Shurangama Sutra. He points out two aspects of our mind: Superficial, but unreal, the other hidden, but real. He says that the hidden part is like an internal gold mine that must be excavated to be valuable. This gold mine is everywhere but not seen. The superficial part is also everywhere but seen, and it is this superficial part that lies at the root of suffering. He says,

“ The Buddha-nature is found within our afflictions. Everyone has afflictions, and everyone has a Buddha-nature. In an ordinary person, it is the afflictions, rather than the Buddha-nature, that are apparent...Genuine wisdom arises out of genuine stupidity. When ice [afflictions] turns to water, there is wisdom; when water (wisdom) freezes into ice, there is stupidity. Afflictions are nothing but stupidity.”

The word stupidity may sound harsh and uncaring, but sometimes stark truth is more effective than placation. The critical point of his statement (and a message of the Sutra) is that there is a crucial relationship between suffering and wisdom. Both of these rest on a fundamental principle of faith—That at the core of our being, there is the supreme good, which is ubiquitous. Unlike other religions where faith is in an external God, in Buddhism, faith concerns a serene commitment in the practice of the Buddha’s teaching and trust in enlightened or highly developed beings, such as Buddhas or bodhisattvas (those aiming to become a Buddha).

Many people get confused with words, especially the word Buddha-nature.” When the uninformed hear that word, they start thinking about a ghost that they imagine looks like some ancient Indian person. What we believe makes a difference. But instead of the label Buddha-nature, we could call it “Mind-nature” because Buddha means awakened. When we awaken to our right primordial minds, our world is transformed. Buddha-nature is the unseen gold mine that inhabits all of life. Without accepting that core, we are incapable of accessing wisdom, and without understanding, we are all trapped in suffering. The flip side of suffering is bliss, just as the flip side of up is down, but when we are immersed in the down, it is most difficult to “pull ourselves up from the bootstraps” and rise above misery. During those downtimes, it seems that everything is down.

We have all had conversations about the essential nature of people. Some say that we are rotten to the core—that there is no vital good there. Such people have given up on their own human family. This voice is split between those who believe in God and those who don’t. On the one hand, if there is to be any essence of good, it is purely the result of that good coming from an external God. The “non-believers” hold no hope at all—Just rotten to the core. Neither of these voices acknowledges intrinsic worth. To one, the worth is infused; to the other, there is none.

The eternal presence of Buddha-nature (e.g., the pure/not polluted mind of consciousness) is a contrary voice of faith: The recognition of intrinsic, essential worth, present in life. This gold mine, which, when accepted in faith, manifests in wisdom amid affliction and turns ice into water.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Atlas Shrugged Redux?

I first wrote this post in November of 2012 (roughly 8 years ago), and the world has changed for the worst since then. The chapter of history initiated back then has continued and worsened, by far. So I am reposting now, with some additions to reflect our current situation so that readers might grasp how what is now occurring began.

If timing is everything, then what is contained in this post is nothing. Our world will change tomorrow either toward a return to tried and failed policies that nearly brought the world to the financial abyss or continue with policies that may sustain us for a few more years. What lies beyond those years is anyone’s guess. My timing is admittedly lousy, but the message is critical.

For those of you who are not familiar with Ayn Rand and her views of Laissez-faire (e.g., the government is a demon that saps society of economic incentives and thus becomes the prime-mover of downfall), allow me to provide a short primer.  Atlas Shrugged was considered by Rand as her magnum opus—her greatest achievement as a writer. The book was written in 1957 and portrays a dogmatically dystopian United States where many of society’s most productive citizens refuse to be exploited by increasing taxation and government regulations, and they go on strike. The strike attempted to illustrate that when those most responsible for the engine of economic growth are stifled, society will collapse.

The book was a huge success, championed the spirit of libertarian, entrepreneurial creativity, depicted the government and the less fortunate as blood-sucking leeches who robbed the rightful wealthy of their hard-earned rewards. Rand’s economic philosophies were so convincing that they guided the fiscal policies instituted by Alan Greenspan—Chairman of the Federal Reserve of the United States from 1987 to 2006. Greenspan was appointed by Ronald Reagan in August 1987 and was reappointed at successive four-year intervals until retiring on January 31, 2006—the second-longest tenure of anyone holding that position. During his tenure, the nation’s wealth was increasingly polarized into the hands of a shrinking number of individuals. And less and less into the hands of those who enabled their prosperity.

On the surface, Rand’s philosophy (and Greenspan’s policies) seemed to make good economic sense within a free enterprise system, except for one crucial detail: Greed, which, when left unchecked, caused the near-collapse of the world’s interconnected economies in the year following the end of Greenspan’s reign. 

The financial crisis of 2007–2008 was considered by many economists to be the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s (until now). This crisis did not come about suddenly but rather resulted from Greenspan’s policies that encouraged imbalance. The crisis resulted in the threat of total collapse of large financial institutions, banks’ bailout by the federal governments, and downturns in stock markets worldwide.

In October 2008, Greenspan testified before Congress and acknowledged that “Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity (myself especially) are in a state of shocked disbelief…I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms.” 

Greenspan assumed the best of the captains of industry and discovered, quite to his surprise, that the nature of man, in an unenlightened state of mind, favors their own self-interests instead of the “…self-interests of organizations…” The Buddha gave forewarning of this inclination 2,500 years ago, but few then and fewer now paid much attention. The heart of darkness is egotism, the perverse attitude of mind that says, “Me first, and none for you.”

Both Rand and Greenspan are no longer, but their legacy lingers. In a nation such as our own—based on individual liberties and a competitive, “free” enterprise system—the notion of freedom becomes, at times, a slippery slope. There have been more than a few variations of the following quote (e.g., coming from different sources), but the essential spirit is the same, regardless of who said it. The quote is this: “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”

This morning Paul Krugman (opinion columnist with the New York Times) posted an online article titled, “How Many Americans Will Ayn Rand Kill?.” And his message was timely. What he said wasn’t about striking someone’s nose, but something far more ominous—spreading the coronavirus by those shouting to the highest hills they have a right to exercise their individual liberties and do as they damn well, please.

There is no argument with that fundamental, constitutional right so long as their choice doesn’t affect others. The same point applies to the second amendment right to bear arms or spreading second-hand smoke (which by latest count kills 41,000 people every year in the US and affects many more with chronic respiratory diseases), or other examples. But that is chump-change compared to the number of infections now running rampant throughout our country and beyond. The staggering pandemic numbers are no longer reliable since they climb upward moment by moment, daily. Still, there is little question (to intelligent, not self-absorbed people, with some remaining common sense) that infections are skyrocketing due to irresponsible, deluded individuals.

Krugman’s observations, and my own, run counter to the spreading attitudes about preserving liberties that accompany the spreading virus. By no means does this critique minimize the suffering of thousands who need to get back to “normal” living. All of us need that. But there is one indisputable reality here: There is a 100% probability that living is the most dangerous thing we do. Nobody gets out of here alive. All of us will die a natural death, one day, in many different ways.

The only relevant issue is not if we will die, but when and how. That is not a matter of liberties. Suffering is a certainty in our conditional world. All conditional things go through the same process of birth, growth, and inevitable mortal death. And that begs the question of who and what we truly are and the implications for mortal life. 

Many believe we are nothing more than a conditional bag of bones. I, and those spiritually inclined, believe we are more than that. The religious answer (regardless of persuasion) maintains that within this bag of bones lives a spirit that animates us sustains us and never dies. That is who and what we genuinely are. And that should give us all hope. The implication of that view is that mortal life is critical for what comes next. “If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow.”—The Buddha. And if you prefer that thought from a Christian perspective, consider this: 

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”—The Christ (John 15:13), probably the most misunderstood passage in the entire New Testament. Why? Because, as originally written in Koine Greek (The ancient language employed to write the New Testament), the passage really means, Greater love has no man than this: to lay aside one’s ideas for one’s friends. How so? Because of two Koine Greek words, mistranslated into English. The first of those words is ἀγάπην (agape, meaning unconditional love, the only kind that is the nature of God), and the second word is ψυχὴν, psychēn, meaning ideas. Psychēn is the root word that should be translated into English as psyche (the basis of psychology, psychiatry, psyche, etc.).

This diatribe’s bottom line is simple: Liberty is not freedom when we exercise our constitutional rights and harm another. Your right ends at the tip of my nose. We claim to be a nation of compassionate people, but that is brought into question when what we choose to do, a right or not, violates others’ well-being.