Monday, April 17, 2017

The boredom.

The endless waiting.
It is said that war is 99% boredom and 1% sheer terror. It is. I know. I’ve been there and done that. The problem isn’t the terror. Its the boredom: waiting for a moment you know will come with no idea of when. It could come in the next moment or it could come in a thousand moments from now. Consequently you live in a state of heightened expectation, and only a brief moment of release, that comes with the terror, accompanied by chaos. And then the cycle repeats and repeats endlessly. And it repeats endlessly because war never ends. It too keeps repeating endlessly. We haven’t learned a damn thing since we walked out of the caves.

One would think there is a difference between war and peace. There isn’t. The conditions might be different but the process is the same: 99% boredom and 1% sheer terror. And once again boredom is the issue, not the terror.

A thousand years ago in my high school algebra classroom the teacher had placed a banner spanning above the blackboard. And the banner said, “He who perseveres shall attain the expansion.” At the time I thought she meant if we didn’t give up we would expand our minds with the knowledge of algebra. Might have been her intention, but I have learned throughout life that perseverance is critical when a goal is in sight. In such a case the waiting, the not giving up…the boredom, ultimately wins the day. It is the price we pay to achieve the expansion, real or imagined, which might as well be the same thing, since before something is in hand we never know if indeed there is a difference. So the reaching becomes a compelling force that keeps us all sane, believing that one day there will be a goal that is reached.

We seem to need the pay off. Without a sense that something of value will be attained, all the persevering, the waiting, the not giving up…the boredom, becomes meaningless, and we are like a leaf left floating along on a turbulent sea, toward nowhere.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Guests and Hosts

The road to nowhere.
Imagine if you will, the relationship between a guest (who checks in and out) and a host who accommodates the guest. These two are essential to one another. Without a host, the guest would have no where to stay. And without guests a host would go broke due to lack of revenue. Thus they are two aspects of a quest which is intended to lead to a desired destination.

Now about the quest: Why does anyone go on a quest? The obvious answer is to move towards a goal, often symbolic or allegorical. Thus the precondition that motivates such a journey is to find what is presumed to be somewhere else, but for sure not here. Clearly there is no justification or purpose to journey far and wide if the treasure is already in hand. What if the desired treasure is already in hand but the traveler remains unaware? In that case the treasure will never be found, because it is not located “far and wide.”

Now about the host: Unlike a guest, the host never moves anywhere, any time. If the host did move, how would the guest find a place of rest and nurture? In that case the host would be a moving target. Thus the host is fixed and permanent and the guest is always on the move and impermanent. In fact the guest can, and does, have a beginning and an ending; is born and dies. Not so for the host; no birth, no deathpermanent and eternal. And one more thing: The desired treasure is a “bird in hand,” not in the bush, only that bird seems to likewise fly in and fly away. Try to catch the bird by closing your hand and the bird flies away before the hand is closed.

The treasure we all seek is already within, and in Zen literature the treasure is called “Buddha-Nature:” our essential nature (our true nature—who we all are at the core). The problem is the traveler is unaware. The presumption is thus a quest will lead to a goal already present, albeit within, and thus we are “…like someone in the midst of water crying out in thirst, like a child of a wealthy home wandering among the poor.” We, the travelers are the water: fluid and forever moving. The host is the ice, solid and unmoving. Yet wherever the traveler goes the host comes along, like a shadow that never leaves.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The real deal.

Over the years that I’ve been poking here and there, examining a host of religious and spiritual paths, I’ve noticed that from the perspective of each and every discipline, the adherents nearly without exception, claimed that their chosen discipline alone was the truth at the exclusion of others. And another unavoidable observation was (and is) that each adherent could quote chapter and verse from their holy texts to support their claims but revealed their ignorance by claiming to likewise know about other disciplines. Apparently they differed with Mark Twain when he said, “The easy confidence with which I know another man’s religion is folly, teaches me to suspect my own.”

These observations cast doubt over the entirety of the whole lot and motivated me to dig deeply into various disciplines to not make the same error. I may be a fool but at least I try to keep it to myself. I agree with Mark Twain who also said, It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.

I would be the first to admit that I don’t know in depth about all spiritual and/or religious paths but I do know about mystical paths (particularly Zen and Gnostic Christianity) as well as the orthodox version of Christianity. I can make that statement, without apology, since I have a formal degree in Theology from one of the finest seminaries in the world and have been practicing, as well as studying, Zen for more than 40 years at this late stage in my life.

I must confess that I get a bit testy when someone, after spending at most a few minutes with Google, claims to know, what has taken me many years to understand. And what annoys me even more is when a pastor, rabbi, guru or other religious figure (who should know better) claims knowledge of matters they know nothing about, yet makes unfounded claims and leads their “flock” into ignorance, either intentionally or not.

Now let me address what I said I would do some time ago: differentiate Zen from religions (particularly Buddhism) and I must start with an acceptable definition of religion. The broadly accepted definition is: “A communal structure for enabling coherent beliefs focusing on a system of thought which defines the supernatural, the sacred, the divine or of the highest truth.” And the key part of that definition that is pertinent to my discussion here is, …a system of thought… While it may seem peculiar to the average person, Zen is the antithesis of …a system of thought… because Zen, by design, is transcendent to thinking, and plunges to the foundation of all thought: the human mind. And in that sense it is pointless to have an argument with anyone about this, rooted in thinking. That’s point # 1.

Point # 2 is that Zen, as a spiritual discipline, predates the Buddha (responsible for establishing the religion of Buddhism) by many thousands of years. The best estimate, based on solid academic study, is that the earliest record of dhyāna (the Sanskrit name for Zen) is found around 7,000 years ago, whereas the Buddha lived approximately 2,500 years ago. The Buddha employed dhyāna to realize his own enlightenment and dhyāna remains one of the steps in his Eight Fold Path designed to attain awakening. Thus to pin Zen to the tree of Buddhism, is very much akin to saying that prayer is exclusive to Christianity and is a branch on the tree of that religion.

While it is stimulating and somewhat educational to engage in discussions regarding various spiritual and/or religious paths, the fact is we have no choice except to tell each other lies or partial truths. Words alone are just that: lies or partial truths concerning ineffable matters. That point has been a tenant of Zen virtually since the beginning. Not only is this true of Zen, it is true of all religious and spiritual paths. Lao Tzu was quite right: “The Way cannot be told. The Name cannot be named. The nameless is the Way of Heaven and Earth. The named is Matrix of the Myriad Creatures. Eliminate desire to find the Way. Embrace desire to know the Creature. The two are identical, but differ in name as they arise. Identical they are called mysterious, mystery on mystery: the gate of many secrets.” In the end none of us has any other choice except to employ illusion to point us to a place beyond illusion.

I leave this post with two quotes, one from Mark Twain and the other from Plato. First Twain: “Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.” And then Plato: “Those who are able to see beyond the shadows of their culture will never be understood, let alone believed, by the masses.”  When I make statements, know that I am lying and I am stupid to argue. It makes both of us more stupid. That’s the real deal and should make us all a bit more humble and less sure that our truth alone is the only one.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Our overturned world.

Artwork by Jim Sturgess
Along the way of becoming educated about spiritual matters I was graced with the writings of Patañjali who lived in India during the 2nd century BCE. He is credited with being the compiler of the Yoga Sūtras, an important collection of aphorisms on Yoga practice. Patañjali wrote about what he called kleshas (afflictions: causes of suffering), and maintained that there are only five of these. According to him the five are:

Ignorance of the true nature of reality (avidya): the primal ignorance, which pervades all of creation. This ignorance is experiential, not conceptual, in nature. This is what Nagarjuna later referred to as the flip side of sublime truth that could only be experienced, not rationally understood, but essential to awakening and being set free.
Misidentification (asmita) As individuals, we also have what is called an ahamkara or “I-maker” (ego). It is a single thought form, the delusional image of individualized existence.
Attachment (raga) Because the identification with ego was false to begin with, and because what is me is relatively small compared to the large surrounding universe (mostly composed of not me) a sort of existential terror and insecurity results.
Anger following loss (dvesha) In experiencing an object that gives us pleasure, we become attached and desire to continue the experience. When the experience becomes lost to us, we feel anguish and emotional distress. We blame the not-me for our predicament and lash out with a spirit of retribution.
Misunderstanding life and death (abhinivesha) Because of ego and attachment, a tremendous, continual, and habitual out flowing of our energy and attention occurs through our senses to the objects of the external world has been created. We imagine these objects as having a time existence governed by a beginning and an ending.

And then Patañjali said a remarkable thing—There is really only a single cause: the first klesha, ignorance of the true nature of reality and from this ignorance flows the other four. Thus by resolving this single klesha we open our true eyes, realize that all before had been like a bad dream and awaken to an unbelievable realm of freedom.

I first began my spiritual journey many years ago when I reached a serious out growth of a lifetime of suffering. At first I started with Hatha Yoga and later combined Hatha with Raja Yoga, also known as Aṣṭānga. Raja, or Aṣṭānga Yoga, is principally concerned with the cultivation of the practitioners mind using a succession of steps, such as meditation (dhyāna) and contemplation (samādhi). I was living in New York City at the time and began my practice at the Himalayan Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy, established by Śrī Swāmī Rāma, with headquarters in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, and a branch in New York.

For three years I continued at the Institute and eventually learned that dhyāna was the Sanskrit name for Zen. I then switched over and joined a local Zen group. At that critical juncture I was disgusted with my life and threw away what had taken 40 years to construct. Later I left New York City to live at a Zen monastery located in the Catskill Mountains, upstate New York. Frankly I was exceedingly naïve and spiritually uneducated, but I was in emotional trouble and consequently put myself in the hands of the abbot of the monastery. After nine months of near continuous dhyāna I experienced a radical transformation, which turned my world on its head. What I had thought to be true of the world and myself was suddenly blown away and I was left in a state of mind completely unknown before. It was very much like becoming a child at the age of 40, which was both amazing yet terrifying at the same time. What I knew well by then was how to live within what was essentially unreal (but I didn’t suspect that it was) and I had no idea how to live in this new world that suddenly came upon me. It is very difficult to describe this new vision but perhaps the best way is to say that I was the entirety of the universe: there was no essential difference between me and everything else, including all people. Everything was unified!

The few years following that, turned out to be magical as one (dare I say) miracle after another took over my life and ever so slowly I began to know how to live in this new world. It took me many years to adequately grasp what had happened but I became obsessed with understanding, in order to pass on what had occurred. It was during this extended period that I read about Patañjali and started to know what had happened. I discovered that his vision was true for me.

Having experienced the turnover of my own primal ignorance, all four remaining kleshas fell into place and what had previously been so known to me changed forever. Then I realized something most extraordinary: had it not been for that lifetime of adversity there would have been nothing to motivate me to move to this better place. To make the choice of throwing away my previous life I HAD to know in my own bones how vacuous it was. And there was another thing: while in a state of ignorance, nobody has any idea they are ignorant or that there is an alternative. Instead, while in a state of ignorance, we all think it is just the way things are. We suffer but have no idea that we don’t need to. All of us are that way.

In his Two Truth Doctrine, Nagarjuna, said we live with two truths: the conventional and the ultimate, which we must be able to distinguish between, and unless we experience the ultimate we will never be free. What we all know as the conventional truth is our ordinary lives. That way leads through suffering to an awareness of the other truth. Until we know there is another way, it is impossible to experience it, unless we first completely give up the conventional. In that case all we are left with is the ultimate.

In his commentary on the Sutra of Complete Enlightenment, Chan Master Sheng Yen said that nobody having good dreams wants to wake up. Only when they have nightmares are we eager to do so. None of us wants to suffer yet none of us can avoid it, and this desire to not suffer is what brings us all to the place where we say to ourselves, I’m not going to take this anymore. The wisdom of this link between suffering and freedom is essential, yet counter intuitive. The man credited with starting the current practice of Zen (Bodhidharma) pointed out the connection. He said: “Every suffering is a buddha-seed, because suffering impels mortals to seek wisdom. But you can only say that suffering gives rise to buddhahood. You can’t say that suffering is buddhahood. Your body and mind are the field. Suffering is the seed, wisdom the sprout, and buddhahood the grain.”

“People will only change when they have suffered enough.”—Winston Churchill

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Primal ignorance and primal enlightenment.

When all of the pieces fit together
In a previous post: Our overturned world, I shared Patañjali’s view of the five kleshas as being the causes of suffering. His perspective that the very first klesha: ignorance of the true nature of reality, was in truth the only cause of suffering. When this primal ignorance is overturned the other four fall into place. That being the case, the question becomes, what is the opposite of primal ignorance? When ignorance falls away what is our natural (primal) state of mind and what is it that results and produces a state of transformation?

Some time ago I wrote about two opposing states of karma: Karma and the Wheel of Life and Death, and Karma and the Wheel of Dharma. The Buddha compared two paths: one leading to the discriminate states of life versus death and the other leading to our true nature—pure consciousness without any discriminate properties, known as Buddha-nature: the realm of unity or natural enlightenment. Can that realm be perceived? And if so what does it look like? The point was made that the entire universe is a function of consciousness, or said another way: the universe is nothing other than the primordial mind in manifestation. The Buddha taught in the Mahaparinirvana Sūtra, “Seeing the actions of body and mouth, we say that we see the mind. The mind is not seen, but this is not false. This is seeing by outer signs.”  Of course the mind is the source (consciousness) and as such can’t see itself. We only see manifestations.

In that same Sūtra he taught that, “If impermanence is killed, what there is, is eternal Nirvana. If suffering is killed, one must gain bliss; if the void is killed, one must gain the real. If the non-self is killed, one must gain the True Self. O great King! If impermanence, suffering, the Void and the non-self are killed, you must be equal to me.”

Now we come to the key point: unapplied consciousness has no properties. It is pure and indiscriminate. Only when consciousness is applied can discrimination occur. Until then everything is unified and whole. A favorite sūtra of Bodhidharma was the Lankavatara and here it says, “In this world whose nature is like a dream, there is place for praise and blame, but in the ultimate Reality of Dharmakāya (our true primordial mind of wisdom/consciousness) which is far beyond the senses and the discriminating mind, what is there to praise?” Elsewhere Bodhidharma taught that the Dharmakāya was just another name for the Buddha and said, “When all forms are abandoned, there is the Buddha ... the void is not really void, but the realm of the real Dharma. This spiritually enlightening nature is without beginning ... this great Nirvanic nature is Mind; Mind is the Buddha, and the Buddha is the Dharma.”

All of the above harmonizes with Nagarjuna’s Two Truth Doctrine and the teachings of many other Zen Masters that we have two minds (one a mind of manifestation with discriminate properties and the other the great Nirvanic Mind without discrimination of any kind). In truth these are not two but rather the unified integration of ignorance and bliss. Rationally it appears as if there are two, but think of these two dimensions as you would a roof with an outside and an inside. There is only one roof. From the outside there is light and everything appears as discriminate, but from the darkness in the attic (where no light exists) nothing can be seen, thus no discrimination. This is, however a very poor example since the mind that can’t be seen contains nothing and everything at the same time. Everything comes from there but until the moment of applied consciousness, theres nothing perceptible. Its an everything/nothing mind.  The great Nirvanic Mind is not perceptible since its the ground out of which all perception emanates. It can only be experienced but in itself is “…far beyond the senses and the discriminating mind.” Here there is no life or death, no self or other, no birth or death, no misidentification (asmita), no attachment (raga), no anger following loss (dvesha), no misunderstanding life and death (abhinivesha), no versus of any kind. THIS is what a transformed mind is and when you awaken to this realm you discover nothing other than what has always been: your true selfthe Mind of the Buddha. This is when all of the pieces fall into placethis is the true nature of reality.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The wizard beneath our Oz.

To those familiar with the story of The Wizard of Oz—a wizard nobody had ever seen, controlled the Land of Oz. In a way this wizard inhabited the entirety of Oz with his unseen presence. The Sutra of Complete Enlightenment says,“...the intrinsic nature of Complete Enlightenment is devoid of distinct natures, yet all different natures are endowed with this nature, which can accord and give rise to various natures.”

On the surface this statement sounds arcane. Our mind does flip-flops trying to image something which has no nature but is the basis for all nature. Whatever that is, so says the sutra, is “intrinsic,” which means belonging to the essential nature of whatever is being contemplated, in this case “all different natures.” The only way this can be understood is that Complete Enlightenment is ubiquitous. It doesn’t come and it doesn’t go since it is ever-present and thus does not depend upon the conditions of space/time. The word “transcendent” comes to mind.

But, so we think, if Complete Enlightenment is devoid of nature, how is it possible to be aware of it? It almost sounds as if we’re talking about something which is both empty and full at the same time—transparent yet concrete; the ground out of which everything grows but is itself invisible. By reading further in this sutra we find this: “Complete Enlightenment is neither exclusively movement nor non-movement. Enlightenment is in the midst of both.”

In other parts of Zen literature we learn that it is the movement of ideas wafting across our screen of consciousness that constitutes what we call “mind.” And it is thus the goal of zazen to stop this illusive movement and thereby reveal our true nature. It is the nature of our Mind to create images to represent concepts and ideas. And when challenged to imagine something which is a non-idea we come up short. We can’t imagine enlightenment because in itself it is imageless. Consequently when we try, we fail. And it is in the midst of that failure that enlightenment is understood.

As convoluted as this sounds, the insight is Complete. If there is nothing to see, then Enlightenment is seen everywhere we look. There is thus nowhere that Enlightenment can’t be seen. When we see a tree, we’re seeing the manifestation of Enlightenment. When we see the sun rise, we’re seeing Enlightenment; A dog—Enlightenment; Another person—Enlightenment; Anything/Everything—Enlightenment. All perceptible forms, we are looking at the eternal manifestation of Complete Enlightenment. And why would that be? Because pure consciousness has no form, yet everything is perceived out of that.

Because we have never seen Complete Enlightenment, as an exclusive and separate entity, we think it must be a mystical matter, perceptible to only a select few and we imagine that this mystical state will be the result of adopting a state of mind which, for most people, is unavailable. This is exceptionally unfortunate!

Hakuin Zenji (circa1689-1796) is famous for his “Song of Zazen” in which he says, “How sad that people ignore the near and search for truth afar: Like someone in the midst of water crying out in thirst; Like a child of a wealthy home, wandering among the poor.”

The unavoidable insight of these teachings is that enlightenment is the fundamental ground of our existence. It is everywhere we look. It is our intrinsic true nature, without which we could not exist. You might say, consciousness is the wizard beneath our Oz.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Is there a “Self?”

Fabrication? Or real?
We humans have a big problem: language. We have invented words for everything regardless of whether the thing is ineffable or not. The opposite of a “thing” is “no-thing/nothing.” A thing is perceptible and nothing is not. When the words we employ relate to perceptible matters there is less of a problem, but even then words mean different things to different people. I’ve written previously concerning this dilemma in a post: Does suffering have a positive side

All humans imagine they have a unique identity or personality which is, in part, the constituents of a “self.” When we imagine ourselves we draw together composite components, such as how we think others see us, and what we think of ourselves. We dress this ego-self up with variegated clothing of profession, education, relationships, and many other factors of considered importance, and end up with an internally perceptible “self-image” (ego). What should be apparent (but remains obscure) is that all images (self included) are neither real nor the nexus of perception. The logic of this is peerless  and we have been educated to know the difference between a perceptible object and an imperceptible subject (the ineffable person we imagine ourselves to be).

It is our nature to label everything and in the case of our true, subjective selves, we apply the name of another self (now we have two, both fabricated). There is the perceptible, objective ego/self and an ineffable subjective Self. But we only apply the label of Self due to our inability to articulate or define pure consciousness, otherwise called “the Mind.” 

This matter is conflated due to seemingly conflicting Buddhist teachings. On the one hand it is standard Buddhist teachings that we have no self (anattā). And on the other hand there are Buddhist Sūtras that teach a higher Self, such as the Tathāgatagarbha Sūtras, (one of which The Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra—contrasting these two selves). In Chapter 3 (On Grief) of this Sūtra the Buddha taught, about what he called “four perversions.” He said that the true Self signified the Buddha, the eternal signified the Dharmakāya (the Mindliterally “truth body), Bliss signified the lack of dukkhā and Nirvana/the Pure, signified the Dharma. He went on to say that to cultivate impermanence, suffering, and non-self has no real meaning and said, “Whoever has these four kinds of perversion, that person does not know the correct cultivation of dharmas. Having these perverse ideas, their (the lost) minds and vision are distorted.” He continued,“If impermanence is killed, what there is, is eternal Nirvana. If suffering is killed, one must gain bliss; if the void is killed, one must gain the real. If the non-self is killed, one must gain the True Self, O great King! If impermanence, suffering, the Void and the non-self are killed, you must be equal to me.”

In this same Sūtra , the Buddha said, “Seeing the actions of body and mouth, we say that we see the mind. The mind is not seen, but this is not false. This is seeing by outer signs.” In other words, we know the mind is present by virtue of actions.

Often times this seems confusing, but after much study you come to realize that the labels of “Mind” and “Self” are used interchangeably. In any case, (depending on your preferences) neither the Mind nor the Self can be seen simply because these are arbitrary words for consciousness: the nexus of all perception. In fact, the Self is just another name for Buddha-dhatu/the true immaculate Self—the only substantial, yet unseen reality.

In a recent post (Our overturned world) I spoke about the writings of Patañjali who lived in India during the 2nd century BCE. He is credited with being the compiler of the Yoga Sūtras, an important collection of aphorisms on Yoga practice. Patañjali wrote about what he called kleshas (afflictions: causes of suffering), and maintained that there are only five of these. According to him we have what is called an ahamkara or “I-maker” (ego). It is a single thought form, the delusional image of individualized existence. This premise is fully embraced within Zen and is the foundation upon which the conviction of “no self” is based. 

In the end we must recognize the limitation of words and, as Lao Tzu said, “The Tao that can be spoken is not the enduring and unchanging Tao. The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name.” The word “Tao” was the same word the Buddha used for “the Mind/Self.” The clue should be, that a name is not the same as what the name represents. Names are expressions of substance but they are nevertheless mental images intended to point to substance, and in the case of a self, the substance in question if ineffably indefinable. A rose by any other name smells as sweet.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Little Red Hen, Redux

According to Wikipedia The Little Red Hen is an old folk tale, most likely of Russian origin, that was used during the 1880s as a story that offered a transition to less blatant religious and moralistic tales while still emphasizing a clear moral. I have taken the liberty of reframing the tale in order to illustrate the spiritual evolution that raises one from selfishness to awareness of the Higher Self and unity with all. Following is the recast tale.


Once upon a time there lived a little red hen. She called all of her spiritual  neighbors together and said, “If we plant these seeds, we shall eat the bread of truth. Who will help me plant them?”

“Not I,” said the cow.
“Not I,” said the duck.
“Not I,” said the pig.
“Not I,” said the goose.

“Then I will do it by myself,” said the little red hen, and so she did. The wheat grew very tall and ripened into golden grain.

“Who will help me reap my wheat?” asked the little red hen.

“Not I,” said the duck.
“Out of my religious field,” said the pig.
“I’d lose my affiliation,” said the cow.
“I’d lose my comfort,” said the goose.

“Then I will do it by myself,” said the little red hen, and so she did.

At last it came time to bake the bread.

“Who will help me bake the bread?” asked the little red hen.

“That would invade my spare time,” said the cow.
“I’d lose my right to quack,” said the duck.
“I’m a dropout and never learned how,” oinked the pig.
“If I’m to be the only helper, that’s discrimination,” said the goose.

“Then I will do it by myself,” said the little red hen.

She baked five loaves and held them up for all of her neighbors to see. They wanted some and, in fact, demanded a share. But the little red hen said, “No, I shall eat all five loaves.”

“Unfair!” cried the cow.
“Outlier!” screamed the duck.
“I demand an equal share!” yelled the goose.
The pig just grunted in disdain.
And they all painted picket signs and marched around and around the little red hen, shouting obscenities.

Then the farmer (The True Self) came. He said to the little red hen, “You must not be so greedy.”

“But I earned the bread,” said the little red hen.

“Exactly,” said the farmer. “That is what makes our free will system so wonderful. Anyone in the barnyard can earn as much as he or she wants. But under our exclusive (an impossibility) earthly regulations, the productive workers must divide the fruits of their labor with those who are lazy and idle.”

And they all lived happily ever after, including the little red hen, who smiled and clucked, “I am so grateful, for now I truly understand. When I eat, everyone eats with me. Before I have been the cow, the duck, the goose and the pig.”

And her neighbors became quite content in her. She continued baking bread because she joined the “game” and got her bread free, which she ate with her Self, who just happened to be her united friends. And all the side-liners smiled. “Fairness” had been established and they came to know themselves, in the Little Red Hen.

Individual initiative had died, but nobody noticed; perhaps no one long as there was free bread that the indiscriminate hens planted, reaped, baked and ate together.

So I end my reframed tale with voices of my own: Moo, quack, honk, grunt and cock-a-doodle-do. Ive been them all and just perhaps, so too have we all.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Surrendering from inflexible positions.

Sacred Mount Kailash in Tibet is regarded as t...
Moving mountains.
The Buddha said we all suffer because we attach ourselves to ephemeral things: here today, gone tomorrow. Attachment to inflexible points of view seriously constrains our ease and compassionate responsiveness to life. We all encounter people who are absolutely convinced that their way is the only way of viewing reality regardless of the fit between such views and wise judgments. Often times the zealot is held in high esteem as a champion of justice who’s self-appointed mission is to defend a particular perspective. Human history spills over with the blood of those on opposing sides of impacted positions.  Glaring examples stand out, ranging from the crusades of 10th and 11th centuries, to the blood baths and wholesale slaughter of both Muslims and Hindus when the British set the Indian Sub-Continent  free. Examples continue down to the present day in Washington and around the world between opposing factions clinging to positions of self-righteousness. In the meantime the people everywhere suffer with no new relief and ripple effects of their unwillingness to compromise are felt across the earth.  All of this suffering is over alternate and inflexible points of view.

Such examples are easier to see in others than they are within our own ranks. Take, for example, opposing points of view within the ranks of Buddhists regarding form and emptiness or self and Self. These disputes have been sustained for centuries within the Buddhist community. One side says there is nothing but form; emptiness is a myth. The opposing side says form and emptiness are the essential partnership upon which dependent origination rests. One side says the self does not exist and can quote scripture to prove their position. The opposing side says yes the 
“ego self does not exist but there is a higher Self, as another example of dependent origination, and can quote scripture to prove their position. Extremists within all religious conclaves rule the days.

The Buddha’s wisdom says to speculate about nothing yet trust life and the eternal presence of your own mind. That is a formidable challenge when one feels passion arise. It is not easy to release ourselves from deep convictions, yet suffering occurs if we don’t. Others argue that suffering occurs if we do. Likewise Jesus said we need to let go of inflexible ideologies. In the book of John he is quoted as having said, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Of course, that statement doesn’t track so well in English and may be one of the all time greats of misunderstanding and for justifying self-immolation. What it means (as written in Greek) is there is no greater love than to surrender your ideas: a very Zen-like prescription. The English word here “life,” in the Greek, is “psuche” which means an expression of the mind. If the Washington politicians read Greek (instead of balance sheets) we might all be in a better place. The ultimate criterion is this: what position best establishes compassion for all and moves away from egocentricity. It is best to always be clear that we are connected in an interdependent web with all of life where there can be no my way or the highway simply because there is no me without a you—the prime example of dependent origination.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Hitting the bullseye.

Going to the root cause.
In light of the recent explosion of potentially catastrophic events around the world, it’s tempting to speak reactively and directly to these matters and avoid, what may seem obscure to many. I do so only  because I’m persuaded that until (perhaps an unrealistic long-shot) we plunge to the depth of our human essence we will never cease to find ourselves in collective nightmares. Far too often we treat symptoms (that never end) instead of finding and ripping out the root of woe. The father of Zen (Bodhidharma) said, “The mind is the root from which all things grow if you can understand the mind, everything else is included.” Such a thing seems apparent, but what is ordinarily considered the mind, turns out not to be, It is indeed worth the investment to plunge to that root and if we did (collectively) we wouldn’t be chasing our tails. So I carry on, trying again and again to identify and communicate, with as many as I can reach, concerning the core of all catastrophes.

I’ve lead an eclectic life and been exposed to many different cultures and perspectives. One of my stops along the way was a career in the advertising business. A lot has changed since those days but some of the vital principles have remained guiding forces. There are fundamentally three that count the most: (1) reaching the people with whom you want to communicate, (2) with messages that are considered relevant and compelling by those people, and (3) do it time and time again with a variety of connected messages. Two of those are matters of media (reach and frequency) and the third concerns message.

Back before, and during, the 80s, the advertising business was influenced by the guru of the moment, Marshall McLuhan, (a Canadian philosopher of communication theory and a public intellectual). He is best known for his philosophy of communications saying: “The Medium is the Message.” The Internet, as we know it today, was just beginning when McLuhan died but his principle still stands and the ability to locate your intended audience, while critical, is very different.

Now, due to multiple points of global contact (blogs, ebooks, social media in various forms, email and multi-media such as YouTube) we have entered a new era that enshrines, more than anything else, generating a demonstrable “Like” response. It ain’t what it used to be. Now, more times than not, the message in sometimes bizarre and air-headed forms, drives the process and those who are interested can find you through search engines. I know this personally since over the ten years I’ve been posting to Dharma Space, the vast majority of my readers have found me, rather than me finding them. After eight years, over 47,000 spiritual seekers have become followers of Dharma Space (a mere pittance compared to hundreds of thousand of “Likes” on a single day from superficial, frivolous material, which is disturbing to me). However, I guess I shouldn’t despair but rather follow the wisdom of Mark Twain: “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” Even though, I’m troubled by having no clue who these seekers are. They say you can’t teach old dogs new tricks but just maybe if I learn a few, I can generate “Likes” for something more profound than bathroom popularity.

Thanks to Google Analytics, I know where Dharma Space readers reside (continent, country, province and city), how often they visit, how long they stay, their gender, and even the genre of postings to which they are most attracted. However, I also know that only a tiny few ever respond or comment (and I don’t think I’ve ever received a “Like”) so consequently I am left to guess about many important matters: backgrounds and levels of spiritual maturity; why they are attracted to Dharma Space and to whom they refer Dharma Space posts; how frequently they prefer to receive my messages (some have told me they look forward to them every day while others say they are annoyed when I do) and are my readers intellectual dilettantes or serious folk? These and many other important bits of knowledge, if I knew about them, could make my communications better and enable me to find and hit hearts of arising empathy and compassion. However, short of such information I must use my judgements to deliver what I do and hope that a positive force results.

Honestly I wish I didn’t attract dilettantes for entertainment sake. If that is the motivation in mulling through Dharma Space articles, people could do a lot better spending their time watching “Days of our lives” or some idiot sharing YouTube videos of their daily hygienic habits.

At times I’ve said that I think of myself as a sort of Johnny Appleseed planting spiritual seeds, most of which may grow (hopefully) into maturity, unbeknownst to me, long after I’m gone. I write as the spirit moves me or about unfolding life, problems we encounter and how to deal with them. Lots and lots of different seeds but with one common denominator of unity of an unconditional, indiscriminate spiritual consciousness, designed to separate us all from the destructive force of an alienated ego and awaken us to our unseen, true nature. But unlike Johnny, I plant not only apple seeds but a variety of seeds with that common spiritual  denominator. Some times I write short ones like “The Deep,” “Finger pointing at the moon,” or “Today you are you!” Some are whimsical such as “Rushing backwards,” “Birds do it,” “Monkey see, monkey do,” and “You.” I write about politics: The suffering of Silence, “The last train out,” “Justice for all? andAtlas Shrugged Redux?” and many other topics that emerge as the flow of life changes. Some admittedly require some seriously deep thought such as, Ideas and what ideas are about,” “The destination. Far away? and “Thinking.” All told there are now over 300 posts which anyone can read.

Why am I writing this post? Because I want my readers to know that regardless of how discriminate we are on the superficial, perceptible level, at heart (where it matters; in the real mind spoken of by Bodhidharma) we are One: as different as individual snow flakes on the outside but essentially indiscriminate snow on the inside, and my sustained motive is to spread the dharma as broadly as possible. As you go about your complex and anxiety ridden lives, try to bear this single thought in mind. United we stand, divided we fall. And a closing note: being air-headed is not such a bad thing, since emptiness (Śūnyatā) is a close, kissing cousin, and that my invisible readers is the point of the whole “Megillah Gorilla.” Google it.