Sunday, January 31, 2010

Dispose of Socrates

Heard a dharma talk today about the heart and the mind, and that space below the heart where anger and rage reside. The priest said that when anger and rage move into the heart they disappear. I also learned today that the Chinese have a symbol for heart and mind together. I like that, since (as you probably noticed) I'm a fan of both. Socrates taught the West that all can be understood with rational thought. The poets explain the world through images. Rather than disposing of Socrates, I'm really looking for a way to merge the two — heart and mind, Socrates and Homer.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Non-discursive Thinking

After 40 minutes of zazen, wrestling in my mind with how one might do non-discursive thinking, I was saved by the bell. Then, some refreshments. I told a priest standing around that I'd been thinking about non-discursive thinking. He smiled and I got it. That doesn't work either.

Guess it is back to the drawing board.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Lessons of Perspective

I was going to write about my Buddhist sewing class tonight. We all had our troubles. Some (like myself) had to redo lines of stitches because the corner was folded the wrong way. Another one of us cut through his fabric trying to trim an edge. In the next room, a seasoned sewer was trying to hold down a ruler on some slick silk. And our dear teacher was feeling so bad she could neither stand or sit. If the world was in a state of unrest and havoc, then CNN could have covered our epoch in Austin.

So I came home and heated up some soup for dinner.... and started watching CNN's great coverage of the devastation of Haiti. Suddenly our sewing troubles disappeared. We live in a society with a semblance of order. I know where I'll sleep tonight, and know that I'll have good food tomorrow. I realize how fortunate I am to have the luxury to be able to fret about such little things as a few stitches in the wrong place.

I remember as a kid learning about miles, and then light years. Suddenly the mile (made up of countless inches) was diminished to a mere inch when compared to a light year. Haiti teaches us that our most severe problems don't even challenge what that poor country has endured. And that poor country is not alone in this world.

Tomorrow the pest control man is going to come to our house. In an effort to save my artwork from the hungry mouths of insects, their world will become toxic tomorrow. Another Port-au-Prince in the walls of my house.

I tell myself "tragedy dissipates." The last earthquake of this magnitude in Haiti was in the 18th century and 300 years later it was almost forgotten. Another tragedy will come and we'll shift our compassion to another location.

I wonder how to end this post on a positive note. Was it funny to be worried because we sewed a crooked line that was supposed to be straight? And how much shame should we feel when we are bent out of shape with such little things? How much gratitude should be feel because we can engage in such trivial pursuits? And how much gratitude to be surrounded with these lessons of perspective?

(The sewing is a Buddhist Rokasu, designed by the Buddha when he was asked what a robe should look like. He pointed to a rice field and said, "that." It would have been easier if he had pointed to field of snow... but do we really want things easier? Oh, the red material with the white stars is not part of the package. It just keeps her clean!)

Sunday, January 24, 2010


My wife and I demolished a closet that was in the corner of the garage. The success is that we didn't get hurt... not even a splinter, though the wall got some nasty dents. Tomorrow will be repair day, with a paint day following that.

More interesting is where did the closet go. We might say, "I put my clothes in the closet." Then the closet disappears. Where did it go? Some of the frame went into our neighbor's garbage can (he's out of town, though might be reading this). Some of it will go in the attic for future projects. But the closet... vanished. Apparently.

Now, more interesting is where do we go when our frame disappears? Do we simply vanish too? Are we anything but a frame around hot air?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Kids Playing

We sat two periods of zazen today, during which time there were a few kids playing in the yard next to the zendo. At first I was annoyed, because I was having my private conversations with myself, and these kids were interrupting me. Then I started to sense it was me, 55 years ago, playing, not them. I moved from the cushion to the outdoors. I realized I was existing in two "time zones" at the same time. Later, after sitting, I saw the kids through the window. They had red shirts on. No, I thought. I wasn't wearing a red shirt that day!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What's next?

I asked my teacher if he had anything to ask. He said, "what's next?" Well, I said, "at first..." And I went on and on. Then he told me the answer. Can you figure it out? My wife knew.

Friday, January 15, 2010

But no more!

So I'm thinking of no longer trying to figure "it"* out. When I was at a restaurant tonight, I looked around at people and couldn't see anyone figuring "it" out... so I started to wonder maybe they were just there at the restaurant, eating and visiting with their friends. It looked like they were into what they were doing. I envied them, or at least my perception of them, that they were just there, in the purest sense of the word, not figuring "it" out. How disappointing it would be to read this same post written by someone else at the restaurant.

*"it" is the whole range of things I've been thinking about in my life (but no more), including life, death, and essence... and don't forget beauty. But no more!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Science vs. Religion

I'm wondering what the difference is between science and religion. My walking neighbor (we walk together) claimed that science was about repeatable verifiable physical facts. I mentioned that Buddhists believe that good ultimately comes from wholesome thoughts and actions. That is verifiable in that if you wait long enough the tide will always change. Is that science? And then in science, we work with certain assumptions (based on faith) such as that which we observe is happening. Is there really a sharp distinction between the two, or are science and religion different names for very similar disciplines?

Monday, January 11, 2010


Someone told me tonight about how "suppose" interferes with mindfulness. I think she was "right on." As I think "I'm suppose to be ..." my mind shifts from where I am to my parents (or teachers) kibitzing over my shoulder. I am no long lost in play (or work) but having second (and third) thoughts (inhibitions?).

It is no wonder that I hear these edicts. I was taught with a long list of "supposes." And yet to do anything with focus means not hearing those voices but plunging ahead.

I've noticed that when I'm sitting zazen, facing the wall, that a still shadow is in front of me cast from the light on the ceiling hitting my head. I see the shadow and know that it is from my body, but sense that the realizer is not in my body or in the shadow, but rather outside of both. As well, the realizer is not at a specific point in space, but surrounding me in the "ether." It is disorienting to not be where "I" am.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


Every time a dear friend dies I revisit my thoughts about death. I told my wife that we are on a train... and one day the train crashes and that's the end. No, she said, we just get off the train when we get where we are going.

I sat (zazen) all morning, and my mind wandered to thoughts of my former student and friend, Robin Valle. She was one of the first of my students to shun classical ideals and had great fun doing her work. I learned a lot from her.

As I was sitting, I put aside the train metaphor, and went to using a stream instead (more of a Buddhist image). I imagined a particular stream (creek) in Oregon that I love. I saw particles clinging to the side, and imagined that from time to time they would catch a breeze and become a bubble (aka life), and start floating down the creek. Some would float for a long time (Bodhidharma lived to be 150!). Others would hit a rock or a branch, and lights would be out. But the creek (aka train) would keep on truckin'.

Friday, January 8, 2010


Not that I'm awakened in an sense of the word (it takes fearlessness to face those demons of reality), but I'm wondering about how one accepts "what is." It is easy to say, "accept things you cannot change, and change things you can." Harder to do. I wish I was taller, especially when I have to get a ladder to reach a few more inches. So do I accept that I need to get a ladder because (outside of painful surgery) my height is not going to increase? Does accept mean embrace? Fall in love with? Be ok with? Tolerate? Any help?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The King

Given that Bodhidharma was sent to China to straighten people up, and did some straightening in the first two questions with the Emperor, I'm beginning to think that the third question, "who are you," means simply "who are you to be contradicting my beliefs."

I showed my photos to Henry Holmes Smith every year or so when I was in school. One time he looked at some strange things I was doing and said, "what gives you permission to do these." I mulled over his question for a year, and actually changed what I was doing in my quest to answer his question. The next year I brought new work. I told him that I had pondered his question for a year. He was slightly embarrassed. He said he didn't mean anything by it. BTW, Henry Holmes Smith made photos with Karo Syrup. He was a legendary artist and teacher.

Monday, January 4, 2010


Bodhidharma went from India to China to fix Buddhism there. He met an emperor who asked him three questions: what merit do I get for doing so much for Buddhism (the answer was "none," for doing things for gain is misdirected), what is the essence of Buddhism (the answer was: "vast emptiness and no essence at all!") and who are you (then)? (the answer was: I do not know). There are many variations of the story. Sometimes the last question was asked after he had left. I think the word "then" is essential to the understanding of the last question. The emperor wondered how this man could be before him if he had no essence.

One wonders why Bodhidharma didn't just see this as a "teachable moment" and explain to the emperor why he could appear yet have no essence. Yet explanation would have been a defilement to understanding. He would have given the emperor a false sense of understanding by saying something that logically probably didn't make sense. (The truth being that we have no essence, yet we appear as if we do.) Instead he went into a cave and meditated for nine years. Did he do so to answer the riddle of who he was? Perhaps.

Note that in his frustration to stay awake while he was meditating he cut off his eyelids. Later, monks discovered tea.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Sixth Grade: Feelings of Inadequacy

Here I am in the sixth grade. I didn't like the way I looked then. So yesterday I sent this picture to my sisters and some friends, and they all said that I was cute. Yes, I'll buy that now. But it sure brought back some negative feelings. I went to bed last night not liking myself at all.

Yesterday's Tricycle's Daily Dharma email (see below) talked about the awareness and acceptance. BB was right when he said that my focus on awareness was simplistic. Acceptance is certainly what one also needs to do as they look in the mirror. I heard today about a tribe where the fathers would say "become who you are." What a great way to nurture, as opposed to those that wish to "make people." In the sixth grade (and long afterward) I wanted to become who my parents wished me to be. Not only did I not especially like that person, but it was not, for me, an achievable goal. They would often talk about others who would have been a perfect son. I only am me.

January 1, 2010
Tricycle's Daily Dharma

Getting Along
Mindfulness practice—a profound method for engaging life’s unpleasant moments—is a powerful tool for removing obstacles and rediscovering happiness in relationships. Mindfulness involves both awareness and acceptance of present experience. Some psychologists, among them Tara Brach and Marsha Linehan, talk about radical acceptance—radical meaning “root”—to emphasize our deep, innate capacity to embrace both negative and positive emotions. Acceptance in this context does not mean tolerating or condoning abusive behavior. Rather, acceptance often means fully acknowledging just how much pain we may be feeling at a given moment, which inevitably leads to greater empowerment and creative change.
- Christopher K. Germer from "Getting Along" (Spring 2006) Read the complete article.

Anatomy Lesson and Love