Saturday, December 26, 2015

Thursday, September 10, 2015


I don't like the word "truth" because it means something different to everyone.  A thirsty man living in Plato's ideal forms sees a golden, jewel-encrusted cup as a cup.  Someone else covets such things, and hides them away in a vault.

That's "truth", to both people.

But there are some things you can say about the concept.  Just using reason, you can enumerate some things about how a greater truth would have to be.

If you really want to call it "truth", then it has to apply to everyone.  This means that there is no division to "truth".   It can't be something that creates separation between people.

A corollary to this, then, is:  There is no such thing as "Buddhist" truth, "Christian" truth, "Zen" truth, and so on.

There is nothing sacred, about "truth".  It is not something worthy of worship, or devotion.

To illustrate, take arithmetic as an  example -- 2+2=4.  OK.  I'm not talking "ultimate truth".  I'm talking arithmetic.  2+2=4.  That's just the way it is.  It is ordinary.  2+2 is simple, but no matter how complex the mathematical methods and formulas get, it is ordinary.  It is just "the way it is".

There  is no "following", to "truth", and there is therefore no "disciple" to "truth". 

Hmmm.  Well, if that is the case, it might be worth examining how seekers might interact.

The way it really works is like this:

You talk with someone, just talk, and you hear answers that, in the depths of your being, are "true".

Or, it's the other way around.

That's all.   That's all there is to real Zen, if you are lucky enough to meet someone who can speak.

But the only reason you hear "truth" is because it exists inside of you.

So it isn't "teaching".  There is no "teaching" in what is true.

It has to be what you want.  You can't be looking for anything else.  You can't be defending something, and you can't be promoting something.  These thoughts can't interest you, because they are are born of ideas of relative measures, between you and another, and all of these are obviously make-believe things.

You can't be looking for approval, or acceptance, or status, or comfort, or calmness, or anything like this.  That's something else, something specific to the person.  These things don't have anything to do with the universal view.  There is no common truth to these things.  That is obvious.

OK, back to examining "truth"...

There is no belief, in truth.  Obviously, that is the case. "Truth" is either "known" or not known.  Belief is not part of the process.

There is no tradition. Is there a tradition to 2+2=4?  No.

There is no student, as it cannot be something that is "learned".  Because it is here, already. 

Truly, there is no master.  If someone can speak from what he is, he doesn't see himself as "master", and he doesn't see you as "student".  He is not "teaching" anything.  He is just speaking from truth, and responding to what is presented.

And there is no compulsion, and there is no commitment, to anything, or anyone.

It just has to be what you want.

If this is the case, for you, then, no matter how crazy it sounds, a path will open, and whenever it seems hopeless, another path will open.  Because it is a difficult, winding walk, good things will show up for you, now and then.  This is a kind of miracle.   A path will always open, because you are what this world needs most.

In times you look back, you won't be able to call that path anything, except "my path".

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Happy Dogs

Once while I was staying at Deer Park, I noticed the caretaker had brought along his dog.

I love dogs, so I would sometimes get the dog going a little bit.  I would sit outside with my tea, and I'd say "wooh!", and the dog would flop on over, and I'd pet him and push his head around a little. 

When I finished my tea, we'd really get into it.

Once, to the great delight of the dog, the monks scheduled a walk around the grounds.  So, solemnly, everybody lined up started off, with the dog darting up and down the line beside us.

Like I said, I love dogs, and when they show energy like this, I just feel bad not being able to reward their joy.  So I'd put my hand out for the dog to chew on and slobber on when he would pass.

I got scolded for this, so I tried to stop, but the dog would have none of it, so I got scolded a couple of more times.

Afterward there was a short meeting, where we'd all sit in a circle and talk about our insight.

The monk who had scolded me wasn't there.  There was another guy there, who I suppose had seen the whole thing.  He told me that the monastery was for deep meditation, and that it is an important thing, this practice, so that we may rid ourselves of our attachments to the past, and to the future, so we may learn to live in the present, so that we may learn to appreciate our lives.

I never liked the phrase "living in the present".  It is one of those phrases that Buddhists sometimes use to avoid meaningful investigation.  I mean, nearly everything you know is from "the past".  It is here, part of your life.  It is where all your weight lies -- not the trees and cars and pieces of paper that you are looking at right now. 

The weight of a person is in the hurts and disappointments of the past.

So the thing people call "the past" is important.  If you can't come to see that clearly, if you are not working with what you carry, or what lies between "you" and another, then  what is your "practice"?

Avoidance of difficult feelings?

Besides, "the past" is something that some people see differently than most -- "physically" differently.

There are some traditional koans that, in fact, that point to this.

I didn't mention this, though.  Instead, I asked the monk about the dog.

I said if there's anyone appreciating his life, walking along that path, it was the dog.  And, if there was anyone who's mind never strayed far from the present, it was the dog.

My answer confused the monk.  He said that when we enter a monastery, we give up our attachments to some things that we find pleasing, and we do this to gain insight.

So I asked how does that appear in a man?

Is it closer to one of the solemn monks?  Or is it closer to the dog -- alert, and bright with energy on a walk along the trail?

Who is seeing clearly?

The monk responded "we are not dogs" and made it clear that the conversation was over.

But there was another guy there, who had been listening.  He was a writer from Santa Barbara.  He had stayed quiet, for a little bit, but then spoke up.

He said there was something that he always found curious, and that was the manner in which the things we call "practice" diminish the things that, perhaps, are the actual point of a true practice, and that perhaps, we can't look to find a "place" or "practice" or "form"  that will reflect a true evolution.

This man was particularly well-spoken, and I wish I could repeat what he had said, here, word for word.  But I can't, so I'll  just have to do with that little paraphrase, and leave it at that.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Nirvana, and the Universal View

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”   -John Donne
If someone mentions ""Nirvana", it sounds like a funny word.  Like Jesus's Kingdom of Heaven, or Muhammad's Paradise, these things sound like fantasy.  Buddhists sometimes point to their master and say "he has entered nirvana", and religious people talk about "Heaven" and "Paradise" as some mystical realm, where you go if you make "God" happy enough.

But these ideas are misconceptions.  Rather, all of these notions describe what mankind could be, hete, in this life, and how all people could share the fruits of this world happily, and in peace.

This is the point of a true spiritual endeavor.  Nirvana, or the Kingdom, is a promise given to all of us.

Moreover, it is a responsibility shared by each of us.

This is actually the whole point -- how compassion can bring about such a transformation, in this world.

It was never just about "your" insight, or the end of "your" suffering. All modern teachers make it sound this way, and some of the old suttas do too.  But it's not the point. 

Rather, the true sages had the universal view.  They were addressing the problems of mankind.  They saw exactly where the problem lies, and they addressed it, directly, in a perfectly rational manner.

So, if you want to understand some of the strange sounding things that sages have said in the past, there is a simple way to do it.  Just substitute "everyone" for whoever they are talking to, and you will get a better idea of what they meant, or what it was that they considered important.

So if a famous guy way back near the year zero says, to a rich man "you have to give away all your money", he really isn't talking only to the guy.  The famous guy saw the universal problem:  The manner by which mankind divides, and how such division brings suffering in the world.

Love of money is just the most widespread expression of the problem.  It is a desire for relative measure, an invasive idea that leads mankind, as a whole, away from rational, sensible action.

A space alien who looks down on the earth, studying man, and witnesses children starving would be curious as to why humans address the problem by talking about someone's, or some government's scarcity or abundance of little pieces of paper.  The alien wouldn't understand this way of thinking.  He would see children starving, and he would see plenty of food, and he would see adult humans acting as though starvation is unavoidable, as they point to piles of  small pieces of paper, and count the numbers of pieces of paper therein, and behave as though this is an important consideration.

The space alien, just like the man from year zero, would consider this insane.

He has the universal view. Better if people stop looking at the pieces of paper, so they can approach problems rationally, together.

It doesn't matter that we think "Oh no way.  That's ridiculous.  That will never happen.  Rich people will never give away all their money.  Fat chance."

It is the problem that the guy from the year zero is addressinghow we limit our hearts by collective worship of (what amounts to) make-believe things, how we self-identify by them, and how this leads to suffering in the world.

It is a universal message.  With a singular, universal solution.

Buddha's solution:  Clear your hearts out of the things you are attached to, and the ideas by which we identify ourselves.  Make this little sacrifice.  Yeah, it hurts.  It really is a sacrifice.

Yeah, it seems like a stupid thing to do, from an individual point of view.  "You" don't get anything out of it, after all, at least by any worldly measure.

But actually, it is better.  For everyone, it is better.  This is love.  For mankind as a whole, it is a very, very good thing. 

Imagine a bunch of hungry children, playing, for hours, in a room.  They are dressed in all sorts of costumes and they carry all sorts of toys.  The father walks in the door and says that the table is served, but you have to take off your costumes, and you can't bring your toys.

Why? Asks one child, and the father says "Because we are not cowboys and Indians.  We are a family."

So the children drop their toys and costumes, and, together, they run to the table.

That is the way it should work. 

Sadly, so far, grown-ups don't see things the same way.

John Donne is actually addressing the same problem, really, in his little writing a the top of this post.  He is addressing how we come to see in terms of separation, and how neatly and coldly it limits our hearts. 

If we get some news about a guy with a beard half a world a way, we think "Hmmm.  Well.  They attacked us first.  It's a mad world!" and we put it out of mind.

Mr. Donne is saying:  That is the failure.   Not the war.  Not the guns.  Not even anyone's act of shooting.  And nobody has the right to say it is a failure of the guy in the beard, or a soldier, or his platoon, or  the arms merchant. 

Instead, it is everyone's failure, in every moment, because this is how we have all come to see.  "Us and them", or "I'm lucky because I'm rich and too bad he's poor" or "American" and "Japanese",  "my family", "my tribe", "my religion", "my tradition",  "my sect",  and so on.

"Us and Them"

And this was the problem that all true sages were addressing, way back when.  It exists in everyone, and the only real hope for mankind is for each of us to make the great effort to eliminate it.

And you can't say "No way!  Look at what they are doing!  They hate us!" or "No way!  I need money for when I'm old!"

Because these are expressions, themselves, of the universal mistake, and their power is the lock that keeps mankind out of the Kingdom.

Given all the crazy things that spring up in western people's minds when they hear the name "Jesus", or the things that pop up in eastern people's mind when they hear the name "Buddha, it is easy to forget the simplest, most basic message, delivered by both men:  to practice compassion, to love one another, to give to others, and to share all that this world offers.

If you think about it for awhile, you realize there really is no other solution.  I know that sounds crazy.  But think about it.  There area  million other ideas floating around, but really, nothing is going to work. 

Marx's "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" sounds wonderful, but unless all of our hearts are indeed pure, the system will become corrupted, advantageous for a few, oppressive for the rest.

Locke's "right to life, liberty, and property" also sounds nice, but unless the hearts are pure, the system will become corrupted,  advantageous for some, oppressive for the rest.

Buddhism, Judaeism, or Catholicism, or Islam won't help.  There is no belief that will help. Following anyone or any doctrine won't help.  All these divisions have blood on their hands.  They are all institutions given power by those who  have not seen, and they are all mechanisms of separation, both within them, and between them.

And if they weren't here, something else would show up.

Doing what  the sages did is the only thing that will help mankind as a whole.  Looking into our hearts and destroying the ideas that divide is truly the only sensible path for mankind.  With less selfishness in the world, all the problems are solved.

That is "non discriminating mind', "no subject/object", "no secular no sacred", "no intention", and "do nothing".  All of these mean placing no weight on another, accepting others, and viewing them as you view yourself.  They all mean seeing from your deepest heart, which itself harbors none -- absolutely none -- of the dividing ideas.

As an individual, it sounds hopeless.  It seems as though it's a stupid thing to do, given (what seems like) the "reality" of the way the world is.

But those thoughts are not true.  They are thoughts born of fear.

I know I sound critical of the Zen masters, and leaders  of religions, but it is only because of this.

There is no universal view, right now, in Zen.  There are only appeals to, what amounts to, selfishness.

If you Google "meditation" or if you Google your "master", you will find speech after speech of all the benefits of meditation.

These are valid benefits.  It is more or less true, what the teachers say.

But they are personal benefits.  If someone shows up to a Zendo wishing for more calm in his life, that is what he will get.  If someone shows up wishing for more "sex power", then this is what he will be practicing, and it will pretty much work out for him or her.

This holds true for everyone, in every monastery, in every practice.

Go ahead and google it.  Google your master and read carefully.  When addressing  students, it is very rare that the teachers speak of anything but personal benefit.  The whole "spiritual" industry now revolves around how calm you can be, how much "insight" you get, how much less stress you can have,  how confident you can be, or how fewer hangups you can have, in your life.

Go ahead and look.

Don't just say "Oh they don't mean it.  They say it but they don't mean it". 

Ask yourself:  Would it not be the case that a clinical psychopath, if one happened to be sprung from the ward for the criminally insane, might do very well in such a practice? 

You have to say it's true.  A complete lack of empathy would free one of many hang ups, and liberate one to behave in any manner one wished, with no troubling conscience to hold him back.

Many "masters" take this view into the stratosphere.  Very many do this.  Pema Chodon gives long talks about embracing your anger, and how such violent thoughts help create your personality, which is beautiful and powerful and gives us strength!

For Buddha, this sort of thinking was never even part of the equation. 

Can nobody see this? 

If this were the point, if Buddha were wishing for less stress in his life, or to love the fact that he sometimes wished to smack the local spice dealer, and so on, he would have remained on his silk cushions, inviting great Hindu masters into his palace for visits.  He would have had his servants continue to bring in grapes and figs during the discussions.

This was not what he did, because his personal benefit, in any manner whatsoever, was never the point.  He was interested in suffering, but it wasn't his suffering he was interested in.

He was interested in the suffering of mankind.

And how could that possibly end?  

Is there a way to end it?


But only if we all do something. 

That is the ONLY way, from the universal perspective.

Think about it, at least.

The point, the only point, was to examine your life, find the things that limit the heart -- they are the things that divide the world.  Look at them and see the suffering they bring to the world.  The benefits they bring you are relative, illusory.   Destroy them, and stand in reality.

That's all.  Just bring your heart to destroy them.

Why?  Because whenever a man dies, or a child starves, the bell tolls for all of us.  It is a mistake to think any other way.  That is the heart of Buddha, and his only wish was for others to see the same way, so the world could become the wonderful promise that has been given, and still is given, to all of us.

Buddha's "I am not Prince", "I am not a 'noble'".  Was a man, in rare empathy, throwing down the things that cause pain for those who are not "prince" and are not "noble caste".

It is saying "I am not a creature of division among man".

Muhammad said "mankind was once one community".

His wish was the same.  Talk about "paradise" with  virgins feeding you figs sounds ridiculous.  But it's not "somewhere else".  When you make your heart pure, you make your eyes pure, and all you see is pure.

There are no divisions that help.  Everyone thinks their particular coat is the way to go.  Everyone has the answer.  "The American way" is the answer, to an "American".  People who are not "American" sometimes die as a result of this idea.  Buddhists say they have the answer.  Christians say they have the answer.  People die over these ideas, and people die over the defense of these ideas.

But the only answer is for everyone to remove the coats, through love for one another, and a resulting sacrifice, or giving up, of ideas of personal benefit.

If is really the only path, for the world.

People have to see that.

I'll illustrate:

People point to Hitler as a bad guy.

But the only reason Hitler was Hitler was because of a couple of million people, each counting their pennies, concerned only with their individual lives.  "Power" is only an illusion, riding atop hearts sealed by collective disinterest.

People are disgusted with the power of the Mafia, or with the corruption that has gone on in the banking industry, but how do these groups have power?  What gives them power? 

The love of money, within the hearts of each of us.  Without that, they would just be men holding stacks of paper, behaving absurdly, while the rest of the world cooperated, and shared the world in rational compassion for one all.

That is actually what they are, right now.  They are men holding many billions of little stacks of paper, behaving absurdly.

So, without the heart's destruction of the coats we wear, and without the resulting destruction of the ideas that divide, mankind, as a whole, ensures itself further suffering.   Each and every one of us plays a role.

And this holds true no matter how pretty the divisions appear, or how "good" they seem.  They are still egoic division, no matter how comfortable they may be, or how much status they may afford one.

And they will cause harm.

The universal view is a rare one, requiring rare empathy, or a wish to develop it, through compassionate, and selfless acts, in one's life. 

But you can find the message everywhere.

You see it in the greatest love story of all time, how the heart can heal the world by destroying the things we assume ourselves to be.  And it is a story about how this is the process that will bring the world together, and save it from the path it has taken.

Two families at war for as long as history can remember, and then the lovers:

  Jul.  ’Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself though, not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part        45
Belonging to a man. O! be some other name:
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes        50
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name;
And for that name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.
  Rom.        I take thee at thy word.
Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptiz’d;

A destruction of the things we think we are.  And end to "I am Montegue".  An end to "I am Prince".

Romantic love, but it is still love.

A destruction of the things that divide.  We are not Americans, or Japanese, or Jews, or Buddhists, or rich, or poor.   It is a mistake to allow these ideas to pollute our hearts.  It is a mistake to identify by them.

If you remember, the two families got together after this, in the play.  Saddened by the loss of their glowing children, who both sides called crazy all their lives, they finally made peace. 

A sorrowful redemption, then, led by those crazy children and their pure, clear eyes.

Better for everyone.  Better for all.

Two sides become one.  A terrible sacrifice, an image of eternal love, and a scream against what is wrong in the world.

That is what I have to say about the universal view.

But I learned something thinking about it.

This play was originally from an Italian poet, Matteo Bandello, actually.

This is a fact that delights my girlfriend, here in Italy, where I am typing this. 

"Si certo! Vero!" she says.

Shakespeare got it from another guy, who got it from Matteo Bandello.

I read this again  some years back, and thought I would look into Shakespeare.  But I couldn't find anything I was looking for, and the other stories, even the supposedly "metaphysical" ones, like The Tempest, never seemed very interesting, to me, in the same way, aside from a line or two.  They were good reads, but not in the same way, for me.

So I looked into the guy he got the play from.

Still, I couldn't find anything.

I gave up.

Then a year or so later I thought "no way,  it must be.." and looked again, and found Matteo Bandello as the original source.

And I found what I was looking for.  It turns out he was in and out of monasteries, parts of his life, "Christian" ones, by name, as if it mattered.  That was just what was around out here, I guess, at the time.

That explains the little jabs he was taking at the Church, and Romeo's seemingly flippant, but actually not flippant, redefinition of baptism, and other things that you find here and there in this play.

Wikipedia says Matteo Bandello, though spending much time in the monasteries,  "does not seem to have been very interested in theology."

Yes, that makes sense.  Of course not. 

This funny thing, this coming and going, and the discomfort with religious and traditional form, describes a lot of particularly interesting people, to me, from the past.  

They were all just up to something else.

The love of mankind, and the universal view.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

"Us and Them"

There is an "Us and Them", in Zen.

And, this is actually a kind of proof that there are very few "true" masters, because this way of thinking is not something that is to be created.

It is something to be destroyed, in a true practice.

It is saying, in one's life:  "I am one of these people.  I am one of all people.  They are no different from me", a way of thinking that is expressed by Buddha's dropping of of "caste", "noble", etc. when he left his father's compound.

This is a very rare view.  It requires a great heart, and/or a wish to develop one.

Most people spend their lives trying to separate themselves from the next.  It is maybe 10,000 to one, in any setting, including a monastery.  Most people want this, to gain riches, status, position over others, and so on.  It is very rare that one actually wishes to see himself on the same level as others.

But this is the only real way to see, and if your group is heading this way, there would be no "Us and them", and there would be no weight placed on the labels like monk/layman/master/layman/formal/informal, and so on.  If you think in these terms, you think in terms of separation, and your practice is one of division.

How can you see which way you are going?

The hidden lines present themselves plainly in difficult times.  This is when they become apparent.

America went to war, when "we" felt we were attacked.  A lot of people reacted in ways they didn't expect.  A lot of people came to see the world differently, on that day.  For many people, a line came into focus, one that had been hidden before. 

"American" suddenly meant something.  It was always there, actually, but it had been hidden.

It is the same in Zen.   There's a line.

In truth, there were many, many people who spoke up about characters like Shimano and Sasaki in the past.  There were probably over a hundred of them.  They weren't listened to.  They were not "monks" or "masters", so they didn't "understand Zen".  For decades, they were ignored, or labeled ignorant, or dismissed.  They were seen as "negative" somehow.

People only started to pay attention when a "monk" spoke up, one day, after decades of silence.

Suddenly, it was "one of us".

So there is a division, held by many,  that was actually created, in the practice, and people have trouble looking beyond this division.   It is part of "them", so they protect it.  It is actually exceedingly rare that somebody goes beyond this.

It is much, much more rare than what one may think, at first glance.

Just as with the Catholic church, in the Zen community, there was an institutional silence, held under the force of those who felt protective of what had become "part of them".  Even now, you still hear people recommending solutions to past problems, but only in "Zen" terms.  The AZTA, who had also remained silent for many years,  is creating a "Zen" ethics committee to oversee breeches of conduct within their ranks.

"Zen" writers interview therapists who "have many years of Zen experience"

This sounds rational, to people.  But it is actually irrational.

In fact, the problems in the Catholic church were only addressed, in a meaningful manner, once outside groups became involved.

That's "Us and them".

If you look at the traditional Zen practice, it appears set up to allow for the creation of such identity, rather than its destruction.  As one "progresses" in monastery life, one is offered social rewards, public ceremonies, celebrating one's "commitment" to the group.  One is even given new names -- a new "Buddhist" name, and a new "monk" name. 

In the group, this is done to great fanfare.  It is displayed as a big, important step in one's life.

No doubt those "within the group" feel great about all of this.  No doubt there are positive effects for the individual.

But if you are talking about what Buddha did, if you take the wider view, if you say "hey, forget about me, is it good for everybody?", does it help? 

Or does it help, instead, to create a "Me and You", and an "Us and Them"?

You know this:  Such things weren't around in Buddha's practice.  These are things he actually left behind, when he walked away from the Hindu places he had visited before he went under the tree.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Re: Shimano and Sasaki

There was/is something about Sasaki and Shimano that most people don't realize.

Usually, when you read about these men, the articles, or the posts, are written by people who never dealt with them, or by people who sat sesshin a few times, something like this.

So most of the discussion is simplistic binary thought.  He had sex with a student, "that's bad!" or something like this.  People go on from there, expanding on how a Buddhist master, or sangha should behave.

Often, these articles end with a call for more critical thinking, on the part of the Sangha.  They warn against how unhealthy a group can become with blind devotion, and they make a call for a more active, aware, and responsible sangha.

That's fine. 

But it is a mistake to think that such a thing happens on its own.  It is also a mistake to think it is simply a "Buddhist teacher who had sex", and that this was the problem.  Los of people have sex.  Sex is not an ugly thing.

What is ugly is how all these things happened, if you were there to see some of it.

It is not as though students would just show up, get into the rapture groove, and give their lives away. 

That is not what happens...

The truth is, Mr. Sasaki and Mr. Shimano kept very careful watch over their sanghas.   This was actually the focus of their days; to maintain the very atmosphere of devotional excess that all now recognize as unhealthy. For these men, this was a conscious, deliberate effort.  They would surround themselves with a few enablers, and offer kind words of approval to those who displayed reverential awe.

That is how most people behave, actually.  The formality of the practice encourages this.

But this doesn't describe everyone in Zen.  There were indeed critical thinkers happening by, and/or those who, for whatever reason, remained as they were when crossing the gate.  And these people would be treated very differently. They were targets.  Mr. Sasaki and Mr. Shimano wanted them out.  They would manipulate those closest to them into sniping at anyone who they even suspected might cast an eye their direction. Whistleblowers, even potential whistleblowers, were very quickly made unwelcome.

They were not stupid men.  They could very easily see who these people were.  They would very quickly make them targets.

This was an easy task.  Within the air of devotional excess, such a "master" need only whisper to those close to him.  Even "I fear this new student takes energy from the Zendo"  will send a remarkable percentage of people into an angry rage, against the target.

It is not a normal environment.  This behavior was rewarded, by these "masters", and the inherent secrecy of the Zen form ("master" is rarely seen by anyone, aside from a few people, "dokusan" always in secret, no public questioning, no public forums) makes this an easy job.

Also, nobody ever admits their role.  That never, ever happens.

This is how such an unhealthy environment is created. It doesn't just show up.  It is a product of willful deception, and manipulation.  It is a calculated creation.

I was in a position to witness this.  I didn't know about the stories, at either place.  But it was frightening enough to witness this.  It is a mark of very dangerous character.  Not many people would wish for such control over others, much less deceive and connive to create and maintain it.

It will never, ever, be put to "good" use.  Such intentions will always reveal themselves in the selfish harm of others.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Question: What Allows It, and What Denies It

The only really important koans boil down to "What is this?".  This is actually the same question as "What were you before your grandparents were born?"  You should be able to figure out where these two questions meet. 

A koan that does not aid in resolving these questions, or aspects of what becomes known, is not a real koan.

Joshu was speaking from the answer, or shouting from it, when the monk's question cornered him into the false view.

Zen masters like the fact that Joshu screamed.  It makes it look like the old man was great and grand, and the monk was a fool.

Personally, I see this as a terrible distortion --  an abuse --  like many aspects of the traditional Zen form.  Many aspects of the form extend the idea of "master" over "student".  This includes ceremony, elaborate costumes, a rich Zen mythology, an impressive spectacle of formal order in the zendo, the "master's" aloofness from "normal" work, etc. etc. 

The list just goes on and on, and, oddly,  people criticize sanghas, for excess devotion, when the "masters" screw up.  But it is the traditional masters that insist on such ridiculous form, just for sitting still together, and it is the corrupt masters who require such unhealthy devotion from their students.

Anyway, Joshu is in no way dismissing the monk's question, nor is he demonstrating any sort of superiority, nor is he expressing frustration with the monk, nor is he "blasting away" the question into "nothingness".

He is doing none of these things.

In fact, this question, for all we know, may have been a test.   And, if so, it is a good test, because it scrambles things in a way that makes it impossible to answer. 

So, Joshu was forced to shout. 

What are you?  How are you here?  How are you seeing out your eyes?

Seeing this actually isn't so important, but in Zen, it is talked about as though it is everything. 

How best to address the question?

The truth is, the question is best presented unadorned.  Like any other investigative endeavor, like scientific inquiry, any belief system or devotional notions only diminish it, or steer one away.

In the traditional practices, if you look at the different ways that "insight" is characterized, things just don't match up.  Commitment to a traditional form is not part of the equation.  It won't help anything.  Obedience and devotion to a particular man or woman is not part of the equation.  "Advancing" in a number of  "stages" of "enlightenment", or considering things this way, is not part of the equation.   The unquestioning manner in which one goes through one's monastic rituals is not part of the equation.

Belief in any of these things -- even seemingly innocent trust in them -- are things that actually diminish the question, taking power away from it.  All of these things make it seem like there is something "else", besides "you" that will assist in the answer. 

They are all things that remove the ideas of independence  and self-sufficiency from the investigation.  They make "Zen" or "Buddhism" or "Advancing" into important words. 

A real group meditation "practice", then, where everyone is truly addressing the question while sitting beside one who no longer has no use for it anymore, would appear as "less" impressive, important, or ceremonial.  There would be nothing added to this, save some worldly regulations to make sure everyone is on the same page, operationally.

It can't even be "Buddhist".  Even this is a smokescreen.  Why make smokescreens?  There is no "belief" in a question, and there is no "faith", aside from that in yourself.    What you will see isn't "Buddhist".  It isn't "Zen" insight.  It isn't "Christian". 

It isn't "nothing" either.

You can't describe things these ways.

So why describe the approach this way?

The only people who would do this are the ones who have never seen.  Because there is no reason to burden people with weight that only has to be dropped, if they are to see.

The best group setting would simply be a schedule, and a cooperative, non-hierarchical format that the group has agreed to.  If it is seen by the participants as anything else, anything "more", then things have gone off course.

In fact, much of what is considered "traditional" does not even allow for the question.  A long time ago,  perhaps the practice did, when people were just meeting up to sit together, and chatting about it.  But as soon as "Zen" becomes a "thing", or "Buddhism" becomes a "thing", people behave in a manner, and reward a manner, that actually diminishes the question.

This is just a function of the rarity of the answer, especially among the leaders of form.

All personal labels deny the question.  "I am a Buddhist, I am a monk"  means you have not accepted the question of what you are.  You have, instead, accepted an appearance, and you have called the appearance the answer.  Moreover, you have added  additional layers on top.  You have added things to "Man" or "Woman", making an idea heavier, and thus making the answer more remote.

As Lin Chi said, you have added a head to the one you already have.

If you are interested in the question, you can't even think this way.  How do you see out of your particular eyes?  What puts you there?  What is the root of consciousness?

All experience, thought, and memory depend on this.

So it is worth an investigation.

Your whole life is certainly worth a look.

"I am a student" denies the question.

If you see things this way, you are not looking toward where the answer comes from.

"I am a master" denies the question.  It is even worse than saying "I am a student".

It sounds like I am being nit-picky, but I'm not.  People think "everyone knows the labels don't mean anything.  The masters know that, they aren't idiots".

But nobody is calling them idiots, or bad people.  They are just interested in doing things that are unrelated to the question -- or the answer, in fact.  Much of their life, and much of their activity, and much of their speech, relates, in fact, to the nonsense labels -- monk/layman, etc... 

This is just what happens, after awhile.  Things drift away.

Once in awhile someone comes along and changes things, for a bit, but things drift back, because it is not so common that someone shows up with the answer to what we are.  A man removes all the labels from his life, finds the answer, and wishes to help others do the same.  He doesn't bother with wasteful things.

After he dies, people start picking up labels, applying them here and there, and talking about them as if they are meaningful.   Then, in more time,  they start making great ceremonies for the labels.  They make great spectacles about the very things that have no importance, because they themselves have not found the answer.  They need the spectacle.  They have to make things look important.  They actually have to, because they don't have what is important.

Maybe there is a traditional master somewhere that has truly seen, but I listen to them talk all the time, and they give themselves away.  They always do.   Maybe they believe they have seen -- maybe they have thought out an idea about things being connected, and so on.  But then they will always give themselves away.

If you ask them "what is free will?"  they will talk about Buddhist beliefs, for example.

If you ask them "how about a question  not from the books?" they will give you a speech about the tried and true koan curriculum.

They won't come up with something that you have not heard before, or will not hear again.

They don't know.

If anyone is reading this, there is a point to this blog -- don't assume anything.  Don't assume what I am saying is true. 

The only way you will know, is if you see for yourself.  If you don't know, nobody can teach you.

You have to find out. 

There is no purpose to "following" anything, or anyone.  It is not sensible.  In fact, it is better to go to different places, all the time, like Lin Chi did.  They all say they know, but they give themselves away.

Because someone says "I know" doesn't make it so.

They know how people may answer the koans, but this isn't truly seeing.

Those living the answer have trouble speaking, or behaving, the way the masters speak.    They can, but it annoys them.  It is boring to speak about belief, and tradition, and divisions, and adornments to the self, and other things that are not real. It is a waste of time.

Long ago, it was believed that the sun rotated around the earth.

That is an appearance. 

Everybody thought this.

Galileo figured out that it was the other way around, and he spent his life in jail for what he said.

What was the first step in his figuring it out? 

He accepted the question.  He allowed himself to doubt the appearance, and approached things rationally, from there.

People think "This traditional master has great insight" but it is a nearly impossible thing.  It is like saying "This Geocentrist is a great Heliocentrist"

It just doesn't work.  It is impossible.  It is one way, or the other. 

Today, nobody would talk about Geocentrism.  Why would they?  It is boring.  It is a waste of time.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Genesis: Two Words For One Thing

If there is an icon American religious belief, it is the Bible.

And if there is one story of the Bible that everyone has heard, it is Genesis.

So why not write something about Genesis?

Everyone knows the story.  "God" makes the universe, makes Adam, pulls out a rib and constructs Eve, says have fun but don't eat the apple, the snake comes and says go ahead, so Eve eats it, and she convinces Adam to take a bite, "God" notices their shame, says "You ate the apple!", puts a curse on Eve and kicks them out of Eden.

Life for mankind is more difficult, after that.

The important thing in this story is the apple.  Here, the apple is from the tree of "knowledge of good and evil".  Adam and Eve can do anything in the garden.  They can frolic naked all they want.  There is nothing that is disallowed.  Sex all day.  Sex and sleep, sex and sleep.  Great life.  Anything.  Any amount of sloth.  Whatever they want.

They just can't take a bite of this "knowledge of good and evil".

In the story, this is the one thing that gets them cast out of the garden, when they take a bite of this.

That is actually what the story is saying, for mankind as a whole:  We have all taken a bite of the apple.  The great majority of us continue to take bites of the apple.  Whenever we judge, in our hearts, we take a bite.  We say "I know what is good, and I know what is evil"  and we make life difficult for those around us.  We diminish the shine of our heart.

That's pretty obvious. That's what "knowledge of good and evil" is;  judgement.

And so the path back to the garden is also pretty obvious, for mankind:  Each of us is to clear out our hearts of all judgements  -ALL of them, no matter what they are, and no matter how socially accepted they are.

Jesus's forgiveness, Buddha's acceptance.  Work so your heart gives freedom to others, and don't put conditions on your compassion.

This is actually a very difficult thing to do, without an enormous amount of travel, and tremendously varied experience.

Why is that?

Because you don't know the things you hold until they are brought to you.  You don't know jealousy until you have faced some terribly painful situation with someone you love, for example.  You don't get a chance to clear that unless you face it, and dive directly toward it, while you sit.  You don't get the chance to say "OK that feels horrible.  I have to feel warmth and love down in my stomach again.  I have to wish her well" for whoever it was, in whatever situation, no matter how bad it was.

This is the only way to find the root of jealousy, and pull it out.

It doesn't matter how you act.  Everyone can act OK after awhile.  It matters how you feel, way down deep, to the depth of all you think you are.  That's why the work takes effort.  It would take less effort if more people were doing it, but, today, it's just not the case.  You are on your own.

Now, the more you face, the better, and the less control on your life, the better.  The more different cultures, the better.  Every society has their particular shoulds and shouldn'ts.  You get hit with them all.  You forgive, and as an added bonus, you become comfortable everywhere.

You see in time that there is no way to live, that everyone is actually free, except for the fact that they keep telling each other how to live, in their hearts, in their words.  "Knowledge of good and evil".  Together, as a whole, mankind creates a cage.  There is only one cage, with different colors, in different societal groups.  It is a devious creation, because its strength is a product of us all, and its destruction requires all of our efforts.

Everybody points that way, to the next guy, in some way.  Nobody considers themselves "judgmental"  but everyone holds something, and we are talking here in absolutes.  Remember the garden.  What is "Adultery" in the garden?  The word seems written in stone, but it wasn't given by "god".  It is fed to each of us by the serpent.

This is not to say "Cheat on your wives and husbands".  Of course that would hurt people. 

Jesus was actually asked about "adultery"  His response was "you make it a sin", remember?

So, the point is to destroy what the serpent has fed us.  We are different people, then, with different motivations.  Sex is no longer so much a driving factor.  In a world where all hearts are pure -- which is something that is possible -- each heart gives freedom to all others, every person cares for the next, and there is no sin.

It sounds crazy, but it's not crazy.

But people live their life, and they don't question.  Because they don't question, they cement themselves into a particular position.  There is a shape to their life, and they cast that shape out on others.

Young adults often face this, with their parents.  A successful businessman makes things very difficult for his free-spirited daughter, telling her how she should be serious about her decisions in life, her career, and so on.

That's the thing.  The guy can't say anything else.  If he did, he would, in a way, invalidate his own life.  He would be forced to face himself.  He sees what he says as "love", but it isn't "love", because it is not shining on what the young woman is.  It is shining on what she is not.

So it exists in everyone: "Knowledge of good and evil".

But it wasn't there before.  For each of us, it was adopted, learned. 

And almost nobody in the world ever wishes to invalidate his  life.  Almost nobody wants to face himself.

And this brings you to  the most interesting part about the story of Genesis.

When "God" shows up again, he sees Adam and Eve sneaking around, covering themselves in shame.

That's interesting. 

This is how you know the story is meaningful, because it illustrates how the heart works.  These two things actually come hand in hand:  judgement, and shame.

They are actually the same thing. 

It doesn't seem like it when you hear the words, at first, but it is true.

They are exactly the same thing.

India is going through a transformation.  Traditional society is being upended by western-style, secular life.  Women are running companies in the cities.  Young ladies are going to university, wearing pretty dresses, falling in love.

I was in India a year ago.  I would read, often, of some stomach-churning stories going on, villagers hanging a young woman for having a lover, things like this.  While I was there, a western woman was raped by seven men on a bus.  The driver didn't even stop.

It wasn't happening, before.

Now, there are different forces, moving through Indian society, ramming into each other, like waves.

I loved India.  When I speak about these incidents, I am not talking about "Indians", I am talking about the men on the bus, or the villagers who hanged the young women.

What would cause somebody to behave this way?

A man grows up in a traditional religious village, is told over and over what women are, what men are, and how one must behave, how women must live, and what a young man must and must not do.

He follows along, all his life.

One day he is confronted by young lovers holding hands the way he never could, the way he feels he was never allowed.

And he is forced into something. 

He can either face himself, he can either say "I hate the life that I have led", or he can lash out at the lovers and call it "evil".

It's the same everywhere. Nobody wants to question his life.  Nobody wants his life invalidated.  Nobody wants to face himself.  It is easier to lash out.  It is the easier thing to do.

So you take another bite of the apple.  You say "I know good and evil"

That is the story of Genesis.

Hatred of the self (shame), and Judgement.  They are the same thing, taking us all out, away from the Garden.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Wisdom of Nothing

Something that you hear all the time, especially in Zen, is how this character or that character has "gained great insight", and so on.

This is a strange thing to say, but it is what you hear, and it is the way most people think when they think of Zen, or meditation.  It is also the way most teachers present it -- the achievement of this great thing -- something deserving of worship.

It is better to say that "insight" is the destruction of what is false, and that things are opposite what the teachers say.  Those of insight aren't to be served.  They are here to serve you.  That sounds crazy.  But it is the truth, and it only seems crazy because of what the traditions have become.

 Back in ancient China, in Lin Chi's time, this was the heart of the phrase "Host and Guest".  Those old monks could have chosen any words they pleased to indicate a comparative  level of insight.  They chose "Host and Guest". 

At first this seems strange.  Why not Master/Student?  Why not simply teacher/disciple?

Think about it.

It is the host who serves.  It is the host who, by his nature, is concerned with the well being of others.  It is the host whose job it is to keep those around him relaxed and comfortable.

This is important!  Because that is what real insight is.  That is the true expression of selflessness -- not a devotion to tradition or master, or a death to feeling, or a death to form, but, simply,  a heartfelt concern for others.

I made a point recently, regarding the problems in the spiritual traditions.  The point I made was that outside of the monasteries, people generally know how to behave.  If someone on your adult softball league starts going through people's gym bags, taking others' belongings, that guy will be given a talking to. He'd have to cut that out.  It wouldn't be tolerated. 

If someone walks around grabbing the crotches of the women, he wouldn't be on the team for long.

That's just the way it is.  That's the normal thing.  People don't want ugliness in their lives, especially at community events, like a softball game.  You want to make sure everyone's ok, and that nobody is harmed.

But it isn't like this in the monasteries.

Only in the spiritual traditions do you get strange behavior.

Nobody ever responds to anything I say.  I don't know why that is.  It was this way in the monasteries too.  Say something like this -- and I would, all the time --  and people just look at you for awhile.

They say nothing, and stare, before changing the subject.

I think they are thinking:  You don't get it, do you?  A softball game?  This is ZEN we are talking about.  This is the most important endeavor there is!  A softball game?  Are you joking?

And they talk and talk about what Buddhism is and is not, or what Zen is or is not, for years and years..  The stick their noses in books, to see what other bald people might have said, in similar situations.  They quote famous Buddhists of the past.  They search and search for someone, or some words, to help them figure out what to do.

My point, again, my old point:  Things are backwards.  The traditions take people away from what we all know.

In a real Zen practice, there would be no worship, of anything.  There would be a good deal of the things that, deep down, we all appreciate the most in our lives -- simple friendliness, cooperation, helpfulness, laughs, and playful challenge.

That is what serious Zen is, actually.  That is its expression, as silly as it sounds.

That's the truth.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Be Passerby

"Be passerby" is from the Gospel of Thomas.

There is the related Zen question too:  "Why did Bodhidharma come from the west?"

If someone asks you this, best to just keep walking.  And, if you are sincere about "knowing" the infinite non-answer to this question, what are you doing following the forms of a monastery? 

What is a life of no attachment?  How does it appear?  What is "emptiness" realized?

A real practice should promote inquisitiveness, experimentation, sharing, and travel.  It is my fantasy that, someday, this will be considered a normal thing -- to walk from one meditation center to another, meet the people there, work with them, have your little dharma debates, etc....  Then go to the next place.

If you think about the lives of the ages, this phrase -- "Be Passerby" --  pretty much sums it up.  You can go right down the list -- Rumi, Lao Tzu, Buddha, Jesus, Bodhidharma, Lin Chi, Mohammad.

That is a who's who of heavyweights.  If you take all the people of the world who subscribe to a known religion/spirituality (Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Daoism, Zen), then you have maybe 99.9 percent following ideas born of wanderers.

What else were they?

Monks?  Laymen?

Secular?  Sacred?

No.  They were nothing. All of them.

In monasteries, this is one of the points I would sometimes make -- that all these guys were just guys -- travelers.  That's about the only word you could use.  They just drifted around.

It is one of those conversations that goes nowhere.  People just politely smile, and make no response.  It is like speaking to air.  They think I'm an idiot, I guess.

Like my blog.  One comment.  24 posts.  I don't know why I write. 

But it is an important thing, this "be passerby".

Let's say you are extremely sincere about things, and let's say that meditation has changed you.  You can witness the mistakes "you" make, and you can change how you see.  So you can sit, and you can forgive -- deeply, in such a way that your entire world changes. 

When facing an injustice, you always learn a little something when you do this kind of forgiveness.  You see the pain of the other.  You couldn't see it before.

Then what would ask for?  What would you wish for?

Well, nothing.

BUT you would welcome anything.  You would welcome the pleasant things, as you always did, and you would welcome the difficult things, because they give you a chance to grow.  The difficult things are opportunities.  There is something in you that the world has "hit".  Before, you couldn't see it.  Now you can.

Moreover, you would put no controls on the world.  You would offer no set appearance.  The last thing you would do would be to wear a uniform of any sort.  People have a reaction to "monk".  They bow and things.  You don't want that.  You want to see them as they are.

Think of the guy -- Goatama, leaving his father's compound, wearing some old rags.

It is important.  "Be passerby". You wish to see the truth of the world.  You wish to face it.

You are saying "OK world.  Here I am.  I have love.   I have my heart, and it is all I need.  Let's see what you've got.  Come on!  Let's see!"

This is how you come to see.  This is how you come to know the heart of man.

Think about it.  How else?

That's what Buddha did.  And Jesus.  And Mohammad.  And Lin Chi.  And Bodhidharma.

They were annoyed with t he traditional forms of their time, and they spoke against them.  But they weren't speaking out of hatred for the men and women.  They were trying to point out the way of the heart.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Obaku Praises Lin Chi's Hard-Earned Freedom

There is an age old war.  If you want to sound fire and brimstone, you can call it the battle in heaven.

It waged along a one-dimensional line.  One direction is form, and the other is destruction of form.

A woman in a cafe looks across the street and sees a child walking into the street.  She runs across and stops him.  She caresses him.  She finds his parents and brings the child to them.

Her motives are selfless.  They are born of love.  She has no concern, at all, for the rules.  Did she jaywalk?  Who cares!  There is nobody on this earth who can tell her she did anything wrong.  If some idiot tries, she knows they are crazy.  There is no "form" that overrides a selfless intention.  Maybe she gets arrested.  Maybe the cafe owner gets angry because she neglected to pay.  It doesn't affect her.  In this moment, she knows herself.  It is love.  She knows her life.

Virtue has been all but forgotten in Zen tradition.  But it was the whole point, way back when. This little example illustrates the role of virtue, in a true practice. 

A true practice is one of increasing independence, and it is a destruction of internal forms. It is the end of "Buddhist" and "Buddhism".  It is the end of following anything, or anyone.  It is the birth of "knowing what to do".

Obaku walked into the Zendo, saw Lin Chi sleeping there, and banged his stick.  Lin Chi looked up, noticed Obaku, and immediately dozed off again.

Obaku walked along the line and saw the head monk sitting in Zazen.  He pointed toward Lin Chi and told the monk "The young fellow at the end of the hall is doing Zazen.  What kind of delusions are you indulging in here?"

Why did Obaku praise Lin Chi and scorn the head monk?

It wasn't Lin Chi's courage.  Modern Zen masters talk a great deal about Lin Chi's courage, or nerve.  But it obviously wasn't that.  I mean, the guy was asleep.  He was dozing off.  He wasn't demonstrating much of anything, aside from sleepiness.

Lin Chi knew his life-- a knowing earned from selfless deed after selfless deed.  In truth, there is no other way to know your life -- a lifetime of meditation alone won't do it.  He knew his life just as the woman in the story knew hers in the moment she rescued the child.  He didn't have to answer to anybody.  If Obaku was upset with Lin Chi's rest, then it was Obaku's problem.

That is the way it was with Lin Chi -- a freedom born of virtue.  A total disintegration of form.  A life lit by the heart of hearts.

Lin Chi was sleepy, so he slept.  That is what you do when you are sleepy.  There is no "Zen".

Obaku recognized this calm independence, was impressed by such knowing, and scolded, instead, the poor head monk, who likely snapped to attention as Obaku approached.

It really is an age old battle.

The two monks at the river, with the pretty lady.  The first picks her up and carries her across, the other scolds him for touching a pretty woman.  That's the battle again.  It is the same one dimensional line.  One monk has chosen form.  The other has chosen virtue; the destruction of form.

You may look at the Zen tradition today and ask yourself if it is about form, or if it is about true virtue.  Because these are two opposite directions.  Which is rewarded?  Which is punished?

Look closely.  Don't just follow.

You can look at the heros of modern Zen, if you wish.  Suzuki, in the face of scandal, praising Baker for his loyalty to tradition.  Aitken keeping things under wraps for the sake of Zen tradition in America.  Dogen, explicitly equating form with enlightenment. 

Which direction has traditional Zen taken?

What did Bodhidharma say, regarding the propagation Buddhist tradition in China?

"No Merit"

The form was never the point.

Monday, February 16, 2015

What Use Devotion?

I never got the devotion angle.  I just never understood it.  Like everyone, I hear about it all the time.  Japanese Zen masters talk about devoting 30 years to studying under a "master".  The idea of "loyalty" is paramount in Zen.

In all traditions, actually, teachers speak this way, about the importance of commitment to the tradition.

When I first walked into a monastery, I had never sat before.  That is why I went, because a bell is rung in the morning, and it is an easier thing to sit with others, this way, than to do it on your own.

I wasn't very interested in the teachers.  But it wasn't "arrogance".  My reasoning was simply that I understood I had no "insight".  For me, that was fine.  What good would it do to speak with a "master" if I had no means of communicating intelligently?

Could I "learn" my true self?  Could I "learn" what I was (am) before my grandfather was born?

No, of course not.  That is what the cushion is for. 

Back then, I had assumed that everybody thought the way I did.  I assumed that they would just walk into dokusan for a chat, because they didn't like staying silent for so long.

But I have learned that this is actually an extremely rare view.  In fact, I don't know anybody else who sees it this way.

So I will take the time to explain:

Even if you assume all Zen masters are what they claim they are, you have to understand the reasoning:

If  you don't know how you come to see out your own eyes, you have no basis of communicating about these matters with someone who has.

So what use is the "teacher"?

And, even if you say "inspiration", "motivation" and so on, then what if you are already motivated, and inspired?

Looked at another way, is it a satisfactory feeling to have your "motivation" come from someone else?  What does that mean, actually?

Where does "devotion" fit?

More on this later...

Now, let's say you are looking at things from the opposite shore.  Let's say you have come to see how you see out your own eyes -- you have had a real kensho.  If this is the case, you can speak intelligently, and sincerely, with others who have.

So, you are now in a different position. 

But regarding this one thing -- the subject of this post -- devotion -- have things really changed?

Think about it -- why would they?

What you would be interested in, now, is someone who could speak clear truth.  You would be interested in spontaneous argument, and debate.  Above all, you would be most interested in finding someone who could "best" you in such encounters. 

This would be all that you are looking for.

That's not "devotion".

If you are a chess player, you look for challenge.  You seek out players that will give you a workout.

That's not "devotion" either.  It is simply a love of chess.

 In time, through experience, you might, in fact, come to distrust "masters" who adhere to set traditions  and methods.  If they have truly seen for themselves, there is no reason to use the words of others, right?  If they have truly seen, they would welcome the "unplanned", the "unknown".  They would enjoy hearing what comes out of their mouth during spontaneous challenge.  They, like you, would want this.

There would be no reason to resist this, and there is no reason to allow anything to stand in its way.  If you have been to a room, you can talk about that room in your own terms.  You would have a deep wish to do this, in fact.

So, does "devotion" fit, anywhere?

Like I said, through, my view is rare.  I haven't met anyone who shares the same view.  But that might be because the ones that do have to leave.  They might just be scattered about.

Because I've encountered a great deal of the opposite. 

Here are some stories.

The first Zen master I ever spoke to was Denko Osho, at DBZ.  In my first Dokusan, Denko congratulated me for sitting a DBZ sesshin with no experience in meditation (apparently, this was a rare thing). 

But there, in my first sesshin, I would try to avoid going to too many dokusans.  Also, I left the monastery right after, for a couple of days.  I felt changed by the sitting, and I wanted to see what it was like walking around (of all places)  Central Park, on a Sunday, in this new way.

Denko didn't take well to this.  Upon my return, Denko told me, in the very next dokusan that he didn't want to "waste his time" with me.  He told me not to come to dokusan anymore.  When I would show up (sometimes the Jiki makes you go), he would just say "get out" and ring me out.

That went on, pretty much, until he left the monastery.

The next Zen master I spoke with was Eido Shimano.  Denko had left, following a little power struggle.  But I felt the same way about sitting, so I wasn't so interested in who was running the place.

In my first year there, I took off for a few weeks during the summer, to go sit sesshin at the Soho Zendo.  I also went out to San Francisco to visit my sister, and sat a sesshin at SFZC.  When I came back to DBZ to sign in for the kessei, Mr. Shimano spoke disparagingly of my lack of "commitment". 

I laughed at him, a little.  We were in the meeting room, going through the one-by-one ritual of kessei sign-ups.  I told him that I had sat two sesshins in the last few weeks.  The coming sesshin would be my third in five weeks. 

He replied "not... HERE"

I looked at him, wondering where he was coming from.  But he didn't say anything else.

I already wrote about Joshu Sasaki and Bodhi Manda.  He and I had just finished shaking hands when I asked, casually, if everyone had to go to dokusan, every time.  At Bodhi Manda, there were five a day -- more than I've ever seen anywhere else.

This enraged Mr. Sasaki.  He started calling me a stupid, arrogant American, among other things.

I have a lot of stories about this.

I once spent a few weeks at SFZC.  I remember talking to a lady who would always ask me about my travels.  I have been to a lot of places and she was genuinely curious.  Finally I started mentioning that travel is a simple thing, and that it is actually cheap.  In many countries, you can get by for a small fraction of what you spend in the states, especially if you stay awhile -- if you rent a room by the month or something, instead of staying in hotels or guest houses.  Even in a big city like Barcelona, you can get by for not-so-much money.

She replied that she often dreamed of going to these places, but she could not.

So I asked her "why?"

She said she has been studying Zen with her teacher for 10 years, and he told her that if she ever sat anywhere else, he would stop being her teacher.  She didn't want that.

I was sad, hearing this, but I said nothing.

There was some good that came out of all this, for me.

When Denko had told me he didn't want to waste his time with me, I was confused about it, for a couple of days.  I was annoyed to be treated this way. I had recognized some patterns in my life, and this fit a familiar one -- that of doing "well" at something -- work, school, sports, but being dismissed for not showing  "commitment".

In my life, this attitude always confused me.  I didn't understand what it was that antagonized people.

If you have the best record on your team, it should be enough.  If your work is good, it should be enough.  What are people talking about when they talk about "commitment?"  The very conversation would bring be down, because I had heard it so much.  Coaches would like the rah-rah guys, even if they were 3-15 or something.  Even my advisor in grad school sometimes mentioned I did good work, but it "didn't seem like I wanted to be there".

I didn't understand what I did that annoyed people.  Sometimes bosses would say the same sorts of things.  I would keep pointing to my work -- look at all the code in the repository!  Who wrote all that?  What is everyone else doing?  What are you talking about commitment for?

I am not even going to mention women.

There at DBZ, in my second sesshin, I got kind of down, remembering all these things.  One day I even started rolling my head around and mouthing "blah blah blah" during the morning chants.  I was doing things like this, because I was feeling confused about it, and I was tired of it, in my life.

But I suddenly realized something.

I realized that if I felt bad for being dismissed by Denko, it meant that his approval "meant" something to me. Obviously, it was important to me, at the time, or I wouldn't have been feeling despondent.

Why was that?

Well, there really is no good reason.  That is what I realized.

I knew I wanted to sit.  I had a million reason why.  To me, they were all perfectly rational.  I wasn't there for anyone's approval.  I wasn't there to succeed at the word "Zen".

It was (is), in fact, embarrassing to think that I could ever be influenced, so much, by such thoughts as someone's "approval", given what I knew about my own motivations.

Suddenly, sitting there, I got a rush of energy, with this thought.  If Denko, or anyone else, disapproved of my disinterest, in them, then it really isn't my concern.  The guy doesn't understand me, and doesn't care to.  Why spend energy thinking about it?

I redoubled my efforts, lightened from the load of approval/disapproval.

That's the way my sitting has been, ever since.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Off The Tracks

 "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" -- Romans 12:2
"Kill the Buddha" -- Linchi Roku
There is a need that people have -- most all people.  It is a strong one, too -- coming right after food and shelter.  It is the need for spiritual authority.

This need is reflected in all religious belief, and in the adherence to structures of tradition.  It is reflected in most every conversation you hear in a meditation center "I studied with...", or  "I started with Kundalini meditation but have recently been practicing Zen", etc...

There is always something to adhere to -- an idea of "God", or a "master" or a "guru", or a set of lifelong vows -- things like this.

I get the feeling that most people just want to know that they are "good", or "bad".  As long as an important person (or doctrine) tells them so, that's fine.  This is enough to satisfy the need.

Leaving a retreat, I just had a long conversation about this, with a couple of guys.  My point was that meditation only really begins when these needs are forcibly thrown out.  I say forcibly because you are consciously choosing an uncomfortable state.  It is socially uncomfortable.  You are saying there is no particular "way to live", and you are walking a path of extreme independence.

And with this, you are fighting against patterns that have molded your life from birth -- the approval (or disapproval) of authority figures such as parents and teachers, etc.  You are struggling against the inertia of social norms -- the status of a good career, for example.

Taking a jump off the tracks, you have placed yourself "outside" of everything.  You are not interested in other people's definitions of good and bad, successful or unsuccessful.  You didn't build those tracks.  You have chosen to jump off and take your tumbles in the mud, to find, for yourself, what is real.

How else?  People talk about "insight" all the time.  But really -- how else?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Re: Shimano Archive, It Wasn't About Fujin...

Just want to say, regarding my posts that now appear on the Shimano Archive, that they weren't about the nuns.

They were about Mr. Shimano. 

For some reason, Kobutsu decided to put a picture of Fujin up there, accompanying the post.  I asked him to take her picture down, but he refused.

I only included the nuns' stories because I thought I had to, in order to explain why I had to challenge Mr. Shimano.  My old blog never even mentioned the nuns.

My Shimano post was a long one.  It was long because I was trying to describe the level of deceit at DBZ.  To describe this, I had to include the types of abuses that were going on up there.  That means I had to write about the nuns and, honestly, I did so reluctantly.

Back then, it pained me whenever people described anything as "Jushin vs. Fujin".  To me, it always seemed like this was a way of avoiding the point.  If I was trying to get word to a donor who had been lied to, it wasn't "Jushin vs. Fujin".  It was a donor, and a lie.  If I was trying to make sure 40 paying guests would not be sleeping in bat shit, it wasn't "Jushin vs. Fujin".  It was about the guests and bat shit.

I thought I took pains to explain the difficulties in communicating anything, at DBZ. 

So, for me, it was annoying to see it reduced to "Jushin vs. Fujin", again, on the Shimano Archive.

Because it was never that. 

Like I mentioned in the post, it is impossible to talk to Zen people.  They hear only things that you are not saying.  Always, it's like that -- as though there is no possibility, at all, that anyone could ever be acting out of concern for others.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Probems in Zen? There Were Always Simple Solutions

So all four first generation Zen monasteries were involved in decades of deceit and cover-ups involving sex and finances.

I lived at some of these places.  The level of devotion is unhealthy, and what is not known to most is that the "masters" kept careful watch of the sanghas, making sure the unhealthy environment remained in place.  They never really had any interest in "Zen".   Their sole interest was creating and maintaining a blindly devoted, cult-like group.

What happened at these places required:  1) remarkably deceptive and manipulative character on the part of the master 2)  lack of simple policy and awareness to protect students 3)  secrecy 4) a small number of loyal, devoted followers.

You can't eliminate 1) without committing murder, but you can remove his/her influence, using openness and transparency, and implementing measures that provide choice, within the group.

Actually, this is a simple thing to do.

There are an infinite number of things you can do.

Here are just some:

  1. Separate the notion of "spiritual hierarchy" from operational function of the center.  Include such operational hierarchy only where it is necessary -- work. 
  2. Elect "work leader", periodically, through sangha elections.  Make it known that all sangha members (including "traditional" monks and "masters") are to be treated as equals regarding work (at least, to their abilities).  If a "master" has truly "achieved the ultimate", he would be OK with washing dishes, right?
  3. In an effort to minimize unhealthy "guru"-dynamics, make spontaneous "challenge-response" periods part of practice, where students sit in a circle, and anyone may question anyone else on the subjects of "insight", etc. Provide a mechanism to disallow interruptions.  One way:  everyone has a bean bag.  When one person raises his, it means he will as a question, and nobody else raises theirs.  He tosses the bean bag to the person he will question.  The person answering the question has as long as he/she wants to answer.  When he/she is finished, he tosses the bean bag back to the questioner.
  4. Would it hurt to keep the circle around for normal sits too?
  5. Reduce or eliminate ceremony and liturgy.  If people feel they need this, make it optional, allowing people to sit in the zendo while others attend the devotional practices.  Make concerted efforts to NOT present "leaders" of form, or simplify the devotional forms to the point that "leaders" are changed often, and easily.  Change them all the time.  After one guy leads, he chooses the next guy.
  6. For sesshin, allow up to two talks a day, and allow sangha to nominate speakers from within the group or invite guests.  Do not limit this to "Buddhist" or "Zen".  Compassion isn't "Buddhist", it's just compassion.  You can say the same for wisdom.  Don't sweat the talks.  Put no ceremony around them, so all  would be comfortable speaking spontaneously, with little or no preparation.
  7. Take steps to ensure extraordinary level of transparancy regarding financial matters.  Examples:  post, online, all donations higher than a certain level.  post salaries of all who are on center payroll?  Post approximate costs, per person, of running a retreat, etc. etc.  Keep a blog, online, regarding expansion projects costs, donations.  Elect a treasurer to do these things.
  8. Post, online and in commons areas, center-specific guidelines regarding sexual relations, and harassment policy.  Doesn't even matter what they are, just decide on them and make them.  Include 3rd party contact number of professional counselor.  Include set procedures for dealing with violations.  Make sure every person at the center understands.  Nobody is "above" these rules.
  9. Instead of "traditional" dokusan, allow sesshin participants to select who they wish to meet with, during retreat.  Allow them to meet with their friend, for example, if they wish.  Allow them to choose on a per-day basis (if you are laughing at this idea, ask yourself if you really have the right).  Make only a few dokusans per sesshin -- perhaps only three total.
  10. Internally, perhaps once a month, publish minutes of "resident meeting", where each sangha resident has a chance to speak, or may, alternatively, submit a written post.   Keep these records in a repository.
  11. Minimize the operational difference between "monk" and "layman".   Make these the same thing, as far as how the center is run.  If you are talking about "commitment" to the center, then just call it "one year commitment to the center".  Put no secular/sacred into practice.

This list can go on.  These aren't all "great" ideas.  But they are, at least, very simple ideas.  It is very, very easy to come up with ideas that would make the problems in Zen go away.  It is a simple thing to choose openness over secrecy.

Anyone could actually do things like this, and anyone could have, at any time, during the last five decades.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

All Children are Solipsist

"The man aged in days will not hesitate to ask a little child of seven days about the place of life, and he shall live; for there are many first who shall be last, and they will become a single one." -- Gospel of Thomas

I am often sad.  Often, I just have no hope for people. 

I often think that people talk and talk about Zen, or God, or "insight", or Buddha, but they actually aren't even interested.  They are interested in adopting belief, or in becoming something (Buddhist, Christian, Monk, Master).  They are interested, mostly, in the comfort of their "place" in the world.   They are trying to define this "person", their "place", or to decorate it.


This actually means they are not interested!  They have no interest in un-becoming!

So, it is all very sad.

But now I am in a good mood, because of something I read.

I just read that many development psychologists believe that all infant children are solipsist, and that, as children grow, they infer that "I" is separate from "other", and, though experience, come to see the world the way the "grown-ups" do.  In time, they differentiate "self" from "other".

Of course that is how it is. 

Still, it is heartwarming to read it in the news.

There are different sub-definitions of solipsism, although the word is sometimes tossed around as if they all mean the same thing.  So, to clarify, I am using, here,  any definition of solipsism that maintains mind as a question, and, through the existence of this question, therefore allows multiple "sentient beings". 

I don't want to get bogged down in the definition. For me, the interesting point is that, within the apparent world, young children see you and me, along with themselves, as "one".

This is a true way of seeing.

Within the grown-up world,  the infallibility of the reasoning behind solipsism keeps the idea around, lurking at the edges of thought, always.  In various forms, it has made entrances in the ideas of Descartes, Berkeley, Schopenhauer, Plato, and nearly every religious "prophet".

Ask yourself this:  What is NOT mind?

Scientists, generally,  will do anything they can to avoid the idea, as anything that hints of solipsism necessarily invalidates the importance of their lives.  Nobody would wish to look back on their years to say they studied the properties of dream-things (such would be a wasteful use of a dream indeed!). 

(Note:  children have no such baggage)

So they fight  the notion.  Scientists sometimes refute the philosophical idea of solipsism altogether by simply noting the creative output of mankind.  To them, this means there are "two or more" minds at work here. 

But this is an obtuse argument, in that it presupposes the mind-is-of-the-body-and-that-tree-is-over-there view, which is a notion that the philosophers are questioning, usually, when they bring up any form of solipsism in the first place.

And, to make things worse (better), you have two of the greatest scientists in history, going head to head, for decades, over the meaning of mankind's greatest (in my view) experimental breakthrough:

Einstein:  Do you really believe the moon isn't there when nobody is looking?
Bohr:  Yes, it's not there when nobody is looking.
I am a big fan of Neils Bohr -- not only for his genius, but for his gentlemanly ability to withstand the full force of none other that Einstein himself.  He managed to do this, for decades, generally coming out on top. 

You would not think it possible to approach the workings of the dreamer only by examining the dream-things.

You have to be a fan of Bohr.

As well, you have to be a fan of every little child.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Difference Betweeen Courage And "No Fear"

There are some walks of life that exist as near caricature of masculinity itself.  "Soldier" is one of these things.  For some people, "Rinzai Zen Monk" is another.

When people hear "soldier", they think "courage".

And the commanding manner in which some Zen people speak conjures the same image, for many.

But, what is "Courage?"

It is overcoming  fear.

So the two (courage and fear) are connected.  They are intertwined.

And this is a very different thing, from "no fear".  Someone without fear has no use for "courage".

Question:  In a military ceremony, with everyone dressed up, behaving very seriously, or in a Rinzai Zen sesshin, how would this guy of no fear appear?

Well, he won't appear like the others.  He won't appear courageous.

Reminds me...

When I was a teenager, I had the chance to go to the Naval Academy.  I was invited to go down to Annapolis for a week.  I was thinking of studying Engineering down there.  The Navy guys showed me the place, and took me and some other guys on a boat ride around the Chesapeake Bay.  I saw where Roger Staubach broke the record for the obstacle course.  Made me want to try, but it wasn't part of the program.

My family didn't have much money.  Annapolis was a cheap way of getting a pretty good education. 

At 16 or so, I struggled with this decision.

But I decided against it.  I just didn't want to be part of the military.  Although women seemed to like them (important to a 16 year old) the spiffy uniforms didn't excite me so much.    I was just never one for uniforms, even if women like them, and that is still the case.

And something ate at me, back then.

I can think of reasons to shoot somebody.  Perhaps if there is an immediate threat -- you come home to find somebody attacking your children with a knife.  Of course, if you have a gun in your hand, you use it.

But we can even dispense with the notion of justice, for this exercise.  Lets say somebody does something really nasty, and you just get really angry.  OK then you might want to shoot the guy.

I'm not saying that is a good reason.  I am just saying it makes a kind of sense.  It is a reason.  "What do you want?  I got angry!"

To me, "being a soldier" just didn't seem like a good reason.  It seemed like a crazy thing, to me.  I was thinking: you have to follow someones orders, and that guy might be an idiot!  That's OK if you are helping to manufacture widgets, but, for a soldier, lives are a stake. 

There are all of these ideologies afloat.  To the soldier, these ideologies serve to help bring about courage.  They help in overcoming fear.  Soldiers, around the world, fight for country, for freedom, for the "American way of life", and so on. 

But, from a "universal" view, what exactly are these things?

What is "freedom" to an Iraqi?

Hard to say.

It is just too hard to say.

A Challenge/Response Period, And More on Karate and Zen and Sex Abuse

Interesting fact:  Buddha was an accomplished sport wrestler.

Another interesting fact:  Bodhidharma was a champion sport wrestler.

I find this very interesting.

By the way, I don't mean to dwell on the horrible things in life.  That is not what I am like.  The point of this blog is to provide some support for a long-term project of mine, where people could meditate together in a simple, cooperative, no-nonsense, non-devotional format.

Part of this plan involves an optional challenge/response period, during silent retreats, where participants sit in a circle and challenge each other with purposefully difficult questions.  A simple example is asking a monk who speaks of no-self  "well then, who is 'monk'?" or  "how can one teach 'emptiness' and devote his/her life to promoting 'Buddhism' at the same time?"

The point is, someone who claims "insight" really should be able to explain himself.  Likewise, a visitor whose bullshit meter starts flashing should have an opportunity to present a challenging  question.

I'd like to record and transcribe these interactions, and put them online, for each retreat.  This way, prospective participants, investigating online, might be stimulated into showing up (or not!).

Because I have really done some traveling, and such a format doesn't exist.

Why is it necessary?

All four of the first-generation Zen centers in the U.S. have suffered through extended periods of malicious deceits on the part of the "masters".  Always, these deceits involved sex, or money.  Always, the ugliest stories come in the wake of the scandal -- politicking, backstabbing, and so on.

AT DBZ and Mt. Baldy, these abuses continued for decades.

Why was that?

In my view, the Japanese Zen tradition is itself at fault, as much of the rhetoric, imagery, and pageantry is designed to evoke deep reverence -- even awe.  For newcomers, and for those unfamiliar with the Japanese Zen form, this display usually appears innocent. 

But it is actually never an innocent thing, as there is no good reason to manufacture such notions.

In fact, if you are considering the path of Buddha, there are only "bad" reasons to do this.

Which brings me to Karate.

What does this have to do with Karate?

I wrote about my Karate and Zen once before.    There are strong similarities between the two practices.  I was trying to point out (in that post) that making a big show of something is always done for a reason.   That reason is never a benevolent one.

I thought I would look into it some more.

So, it wasn't actually much of a surprise, to me,  when I decided to Google "sex scandal" and "martial arts"...

 Karate isn't a sport.  It is a "martial art", like Aikido.  You can't call it fighting, as there isn't any real, live sparring.  Like Rinzai Zen, Karate class is full of shouts (Kiai!), and the strict discipline of the students promotes an attitude of strong purpose.

And that leads to funny things.

Like Zen, the Karate "masters" are often described, by their students, in mystical superlatives.

As in  Japanese Zen, such reverence is rarely, if ever tested, or challenged. 

For me, it is difficult not to call it "brainwashing".  If you look at the way most people viewed Karate masters in the 70's, you'll see how effective their marketing was.  If you notice that no pure Karate master has ever won a match in a major MMA promotion, you'll see how backward this belief had been.

 As I said, it is never an innocent thing.  It takes a certain type of character to manufacture such illusion (or delusion), holding himself at the center of it.

Here are a  couple of videos listing hundreds of arrests and convictions of martial arts instructors over the last few years:

(Notice how many of these are "Karate"...  Also notice how few are "Judo").

My point is that there are very real dangers being presented to the world.  Wherever there is bullshit being peddled, there is danger.  That danger comes not from "tradition", or culture, but from the type of character that would put effort into putting forth such a (seemingly) powerful or intimidating image -- especially in a setting where "traditional" forms dictate that such apparent omnipotence is never actually put to test.

Who would even want to project such an image to others.  Why do it in the first place?

I am critical of Japanese Zen, just as I am critical of Karate.  But my point is not to put down the Japanese, or "tradition".   In fact, there are very few Judo cases on that list, despite Judo being a very popular, international Olympic event since the early 1970s.

Judo is a sport -- big in Japan.  Opponents try their best to defeat the other by choke, armbar, throw(s) or pin.  Under the given rules, it is "fighting".

Come to think of it, in a Judo class, male Judokas are often wrestling with female Judokas.  They are always in very close contact.  In fact, the somewhat common (neutral) guard position comes very close to "missionary".  (True!)

Yet, Judo only appears on the list a couple of times.

Why is that?

Because it is real.  It is a sport.  Therefore, there is a simple truth to the practice.  Bullshit won't get you very far. 

Go ahead.  Puff your chest out and scream.  You are wasting energy.  You'll get tossed around, and choked.

This is a very healthy thing, actually.  Some of the best guys I know, I met in grappling gyms.  I like to think that, over the years, their excitement and competitiveness dissipated (perhaps with the physical decline of age), leaving only their love of dynamic motion, and sport

These guys would be a big help in any meditation center I have ever visited.  They would help cut through nonsense. 

But you rarely see these characters in the meditation centers.

In the centers that exhibited the most glaring deceits, you see the very opposite.  You see followers chosen, and praised, simply for their commitment to the Zen form (and therefore the master). 

And that's too bad, because it turns Zen from an open, investigative practice, to one of simple, dead loyalty.  

And that is a dangerous thing. 

There simply is no reason for it. 

There is no reason why meditation can't be done with the same efficient practicality of sport training.  It would be more interesting, more dynamic, and safer.  There is no reason not to encourage inquisitiveness and experimentation in spontaneous debate.

There is certainly no reason to preserve an explicit "spiritual hierarchy"  ( present in most all traditions) especially with the obvious hypocrisy in such structures, given the stories and sayings of the prophets. 

There are many very good reasons to eliminate parts of traditional forms that insulate the "teacher" from scrutiny.  There is no reason, at all, why the traditional forms should not be turned upside down, to guard against the formation of personality cults.

That's the idea behind the Challenge/Response period.  Sit in a small (first come first serve) circle, so the quieter people will feel more comfortable (they don't have to shout toward a distant "master" up on a high seat, in a full auditorium).  Allow anyone to challenge anyone. 

There are simple formats one can use to disallow interruptions, etc.  Employ these.  Make something new.  Invigorate the practice.

That would be fun.  It would be good, dynamic Zen -- an honorable, healthy Zen --  a sportsman's Zen.

Not like what has happened in the Japanese Zen tradition, or in the Karate schools.

(Perhaps the reader now finds it at least a little interesting that both Buddha and Bodhidharma were  decorated sport wrestlers!  They were no-nonsense guys!)