Tuesday, August 31, 2010

American Zen

         I have often heard it said there are 84,000 gateways to the Dharma (Buddha's teachings). Buddha presented the same underlying philosophy with different techniques and methods according to the predispositions of the students.

        With so many different schools it is almost impossible for Buddhists not to accept and respect diversity. Historically speaking the various schools of Buddhism simply don't persecute one another. There have been a few local exceptions, but history has shown few cases were the schools went to war against each other.
          There is Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana schools, Zen Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism, Yogacara Buddhism and Vajrayana Buddhism but in the end it is all Buddhism. You have your the Vinaya School, the Esoteric School, the Chan School, and the Pure Land School and still it all is Buddhism.
          Wherever Buddhism has traveled it has taken on the trappings and tastes of its new home, but in the end despite the conviction that they are right and the other schools wrong, mostly they have just ignored each other or upon occasion traded a few insults. And almost without exception, there is one glaring exception I won’t name; the core message has remained unchanged.
           The Buddhism we practice and the first generations of teachers that have brought Buddhism to American have done their best to hold on to the ceremonies, the costumes and the traditions developed in their countries. But looking back we can see that Buddhism has always adapted itself to its surroundings.
             The Americanization of Zen and Buddhism is inevitable. I am sure in the end all the past teachers who traveled to far away lands, simply laughed and made a comment about the inevitability of change when they saw their teachings putting on new clothing. There of course will no more be “one” American Zen than there is one type of Chinese or Japanese Buddhism.
          I wish I could be around in a hundred years to see what real American Zen looks, tastes and smells like.

Monday, August 30, 2010

I wonder if Buddha had a dog.

           Truly it is our expectations and our judgments that trap and enslave us. Surely if there is a Buddha Nature it resides within and is the cause of nothing, like music in a world of deaf mutes it has all the aspects of nothing until we learn to hear it, but how hard it can be to hear.

           Do you suppose it was sunny the day music was invented, or was it found just lying there among the clutter of the world, unnoticed until that day. Did the person who found music bring it home with him or spin it into existence in front of his community like a wizard conjuring up a ghost. How do you suppose it traveled to every place and all places?

             Buddha had a wife named Yasodhara and a son named Rahula. I wonder if he had a dog. Surely as a prince he must have had a dog. Then we could well ask its name and its nature and if he carried it with him when he left home. I always see Buddha as essentially a good man a decent fellow. How hard it must have been to leave his wife and child behind the night he left home. But the real question is did he take his dog with him when he left.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Trikaya doctrine

What exactly is it do you suppose about the number three?

Trikaya is a Sanskrit word meaning "Three Bodies" in this case it refers to the three bodies of the Buddha. Kaya simply means body and tri means three.

The Trikaya doctrine refers to an important Mahayana Buddhist teaching about the nature of the Buddha. According to this doctrine, the Buddha has three kayas, or bodies, which are said to be manifested in different ways: 1) the nirmanakaya (created body), which appears in time and space; 2) the sambhogakaya (mutual enjoyment body), which is an archetypal manifestation; and, 3) the Dharmakaya (reality body), which embodies the very principle of enlightenment knowing no limits or boundaries.

The doctrine itself is a formulation of the Yogachara or Vijnanavada schools, and was later taken up and developed by the other Mahayanist schools as well. It is essentially a mechanism to reconcile the various and potentially conflicting teachings about the Buddha found in Buddhist texts. As with earlier Buddhist thought, all three forms of the Buddha teach the same Dharma, but take on different forms to expound the truth.

Here is a short description of each form and its function:

1. The Nirmanakaya (Sanskrit: "Created Body") refers to the actual physical Buddha(s) who have existed on earth. Typically, the Nirmanakaya denotes the historical Gautama Buddha, the last recorded Buddha. This level/body is also sometimes called the Putikaya (meaning "decomposing" body) denoting the material body of the Buddha that was used to teach and was present amongst humanity, but was subject to decay (Samyutta Nikaya).

2. The Sambhogakāya (Sanskrt: "body of enjoyment") is the supramundane form of a fully enlightened Buddha following the completion of his career as a Bodhisattva. This body is an idealized form, similar to that seen in Buddhist iconography and in meditational visualizations, of a human figure manifesting all of the thirty-two marks of a Buddha. The place where the Sambhogakāya body appears is an extra-cosmic realm called Akaniṣṭha, similar to but perhaps distinct from the Akaniṣṭha that is the highest realm of the Śuddhāvāsa devas.

3. The Dharmakaya (Sanskrit: "Truth Body" or "Reality Body") is a central concept in Mahayana Buddhism forming part of the Trikaya doctrine that was first expounded in the Saddharma Pundarika Sutra (The Lotus Sutra), composed in the first century B.C.E. It constitutes the unmanifested aspect of a Buddha out of which Buddhas and indeed all phenomena arise and to which they return after their dissolution. Buddhas are manifestations of the Dharmakaya called Nirmanakayas. Unlike ordinary unenlightened persons, Buddhas (and arhats) do not die (though their physical bodies undergo the cessation of biological functions and subsequent disintegration). In the Lotus Sutra (sixth fascicle) Buddha explains that he has always and will always exist to lead beings to their salvation. This eternal aspect of Buddha is the Dharmakaya.

Which it seems clear to me is why we can never have any nice things ---

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


          In the jargon of modern physics virtually all configurations of matter and energy are simply referred to as “information”. There is physical information which refers generally to the information that is contained in a physical system. An embodiment of information is the thing whose essence is a given instance of information. A subject of information is the thing that is identified or described by a given instance or piece of information And so on and so forth. So as we move our minds along the time line we find that in physical systems according to modern quantum physics, we must distinguish between classical information and quantum information. But all things that were, have been and will be are information.

           You are information, a frog is information a rock or a sun is information. When I was born and set in my crib I was information. Years later as I stood shivering in the snow at a bus stop waiting to go to school I was information surrounded by information as far as the universe extended.
          When I was but a child my teachers taught me “the law of conservation of matter and energy.” Please repeat after me children, Conversion of one type of matter into another are always accompanied by the conversion of one form of energy into another. How comforting it was to know that The Law of Conservation of Energy states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, but can change its form. The total quantity of matter and energy available in the universe is a fixed amount and never any more or less. If they did not teach you I can only say you should have gone to better schools or perhaps opened a book.
         So many years ago I can not remember the exact year I was told that “information” is never lost it can only be converted. I was told that scrambled as it might become it was always still there. That jerk that used to pick on me in grade school is still there. All the oysters in the sea are all still there no matter how many you may eat. Of course there was those twenty years or so when Stephen Hawking Claimed that Black holes destroyed information. But after twenty years he has finally admitted he was wrong.
           I have listened to Thich Nhat Hạnh ‘s teaching on death and it is simply the same old song, “No Information is ever Lost”. I will give it a 65 Dick, it has a beat and you can dance to it. After all wasn’t American Band Stand information and were we all not convinced that Dick Clark was immortal and had made a deal with the devil to stay forever young. He is not dead yet, maybe he is immortal.
              I know all the analogies like waves on the ocean and clouds in the sky. While I think a thousand years of living with myself might quickly turn into hell I can not help but feel this kind of immortality, you will be wind and rain and perhaps in a billion billion years you may reoccur in fact there may be an infinite number of almost or sort of you over eternity is in the end more than a bit dissatisfying.
          We are certainly all born with the potential to be countless men and women and as each instant arrives we are certainly born again and again as sort of who we once were and all of who we will ever be. Born as many but finally ending as one for the observable instant and then some information are certainly stripped from the body. So Dogen was right, there are no prophets in Zen.
          Wake up little Suzy we are late.
         When I was much older than I am now I was told by men in orange robes that this was the version of Buddhism for smart people. (I will let you guess what version it was.) All my life I have wondered what real advantage there was to being a “smart” person. If my vanity lets me believe I am a smart person then I must admit being smart has made me more miserable than happy for many years.
          Taking comfort in the fact that no information is ever lost is a task I am still working on. Some days I would trade 40 points in IQ for a simple blind faith belief ...

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Third Jewel

         When we first aspire to declare our intention to follow the dharma we open that first gate by making or taking the vow of refuge. As far as I know it is universal among all who call themselves Buddhist that the story begins by reciting these lines:

I take refuge in the Buddha.
I take refuge in the Dharma.
I take refuge in the Sangha.

        In Pali, the literal translation of the refuge statement is correctly translated not as "I take refuge" but as “I will undertake to find my home in the Buddha," and then the Dharma and Sangha. “The Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha are called the three jewels or the three treasures. So it may be said we are aspiring to find a home in these three great treasures of Buddhism.
        In the Shobogenzo Master Dogen wrote in his essay Kie-Sanbo, that devotion to the three treasures is both the beginning and the end of Buddhism. It is worth noting that he worked on that essay for years and never really completed it before he died.
        So many of us in the west begin on the path to the Dharma alone, few of us grew up in a Buddhist home or culture. One day we read a book or hear a lecture and we discover the Buddha and then his teachings but I think for the majority of us the Sangha is another story. It seemed strange to me when I first read the refuge statement that the Sangha should hold a place of equal value and honor with both the Buddha and his teachings. In fact I think many of us are uncomfortable with the Sangha having a coequal position with the Buddha himself and the great truth he preached.
         In our minds I think we all step back, our first reaction is to see the term Sangha as clearly referring to a monastic community of monks living and meditating in some remote location a million miles away from our world and our life. If the word Sangha is applicable only to the ordained nuns and monks of Buddhism, we know we are never going to make it our home. Then of course all the books we read now tell us it actually refers to all the practitioners of Buddhism in the world. Well that’s better for us isn’t it, if that is the case we can find a home in the Sangha.

“I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was living among the Sakyans. Now there is a Sakyan town named Sakkara. There Ven. Ananda went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to the Blessed One, sat to one side. As he was sitting there, Ven. Ananda said to the Blessed One, "This is half of the holy life, lord: admirable friendship, admirable companionship, and admirable camaraderie."
      "Don't say that, Ananda. Don't say that. Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life. When a monk has admirable people as friends, companions, & comrades, he can be expected to develop & pursue the noble eightfold path.”

                                               ----- From the Upaddha Sutta

           Traditionally few of us in the west have the rare opportunity today to really be part of a Sangha other than in the broadest sense of the word. But as Dharma centers grow and spread more and more of us begin to participate in these centers the vow to undertake to find our home in the Sangha begins to stare us in the face. My Sensei calls this “Sangha practice”. It presents us all with many challenges we never really considered before.
           What a joy “admirable friendship, admirable companionship, and admirable camaraderie" is to have and what a task it is today to make it so. It turns out that in Zen a Sangha is a collection of individuals. Now nothing can be more frustrating than an individual and when you have 300 individuals you have at best a stampeding herd of cats.
            I would like to take the time to praise this collection of individuals we call a Zendo. In most groups and organizations you see adaptive behavior and conformity quickly develop. The world is full of religious groups were the members become dependent and renounce some or all of their freedom of thinking and free will. They lose a part of their personality as the crowd or the group pulls their strings. They take refuge in going along with the others and letting others do their thinking for them.
            In a group of individuals such as we have accumulated in our zendo I see little danger of us ever becoming a group in the usual sense of the word. Since I have been there I have indeed found “admirable friendship, admirable companionship, and admirable camaraderie" and frustrations by the score. Isn’t it wonderful….

Thursday, August 19, 2010

My Little Buddha

      The Buddha forbade any likenesses of himself during his life time. Throughout the Theravadin Suttas the Buddha repeatedly forbids his disciples to make Buddharupa (Buddha Image).
      One story says an old Disciple of Buddha Vakali was so eager to see Buddha before he died he created a Buddharupa . One day Buddha came and said to him “O vakkali why do you crave to see this body of impure matter, one who perceives Dharma Perceives me. One who perceives me perceives Dharma” On different occasions through dialogues and sermons Buddha spoke against adoration of his Rupakaya or Buddha Rupa.
      For the first 600 or so years after his death, the Buddha and his teachings were represented in art by symbols such as the wheel, footprints, or empty thrones. But of course as Buddhism spread along the Silk Road various cultures had traditions that lead to the creation of Buddha images.
     The Oldest know image of Buddha was found in Afaganistan. Two monumental statues of standing Buddha are carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamyan valley in the Hazarajat region of central Afghanistan. The Taliban held it for ransom and destroyed it when the United Nations refused to pay the ransom. So they were intentionally dynamited and destroyed in 2001 by the Taliban, on orders from leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.
       I think Buddha saw himself as a human role-model to be followed but not idolized. Of himself he said, 'Buddha's only point the way'. He didn’t want to become an idol or a god to be worshipped.
      So for 600 years a few images were used to represent him and his teachings. There were six images most commonly used By Buddhist.

1. The Buddha's footprints which were often created at a place where he was know to have walked.

2. The Bodhi-tree which is symbolic of Gotama's enlightenment at the age of thirty-five.

3. The Lotus Flower which symbolizes both purity and enlightenment.

4. The Wheel which is a reminder of the Buddha's First Sermon. 'The Turning of the Wheel of the Law" delivered at Sarnath in Northern India.

5. A riderless horse which recalls Prince Siddhartha’s renunciation of worldly life for the ascetic life and the beginning of his search for the path to Enlightenment.

6. An empty throne which serves as a reminder of his passing away and attainment of Parinibbana.

      All of these images should have been enough you would think,  sufficient images or a symbols  that help people to recall the qualities of the Buddha.

      I have a little Buddha about 4 inches tall that sits on my desk. I have had it for years and used it as my point of focus when I was training for single pointed concentration in meditation.
      I know for me this little Buddha is like Linus van Pelt’s baby blanket. In the cartoon "Peanuts" Linus Perhaps paradoxically, given his advanced intellect,  is almost never without his blue blanket. He holds the blanket over his shoulder while sucking his thumb. It was in fact he who coined the term "security blanket”.
      My little Buddha  gives me hope in showing me clearly that Buddha was a man, not a god. That he had hopes and fears and in-laws. When I feel at odd’s with all things I can summon this little Buddha and tumble him in front of my face and I become calm.
       I am not sure if those other images would have worked as well --- but then Buddha gave us the 3 jewels in which to take refuge and in his last moments advised us to find our salvation within ourselves – I think Buddha would forgive me for my use of his likeness, but then kick me in the ass for doing it.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Zen and the Evolution of Man.

        First let’s stop the debate concerning evidence that man has evolved in the past. All those who still think evolution is a theory generated by the devil to corrupt the minds of man please pay attention.

        Let’s start with goose bumps. We modern humans get goose bumps when we are cold, frightened, angry, or in awe. Now lots of other creatures you know get goose bumps such as cats, dogs and porky pines. These animals have hair and quills and when they get cold the rising hair traps air between the hairs and skin, creating insulation and warmth. In response to fear, goose bumps make an animal appear larger like a puffer fish this is intended to scare away the enemy. Now you, unless you’re very, very hairy, have little use for goose bumps, But there they are, a simple sign that you have evolved.
         Then there is that kid in class that always made everyone laugh by wiggling his or her ears. They are using the Auriculars muscles or extrinsic ear muscles used by some animals to swivel and manipulate their ears (independently of their head) in order to focus their hearing on particular sounds. Watch your cat use them when it is hunting a bird or mouse. We still have them but they are so weak now that their only use is to entertain children during class when the teacher isn’t looking.
          Next time you get a chance take a look at an x-ray of your coccyx that my friend is the remnant of what was once a human tail. Then ask your doctor if this new healthy diet you are on will help you revolve your appendix, an organ once used to help digest the leaves of trees. If your nerd friend is having trouble finding a girl friend suggest he work and try to redevelop his Jacobson’s organ. This organ is in the nose and it is a special “smell” organ which detects pheromones (the chemical that triggers sexual desire, alarm, or about food trails). It is this organ that allows some animals to track others for sex and to know of potential dangers. Humans are born with the Jacobson’s organ, but in early development its abilities dwindle to a point that it is useless.
         For some time scientist believed that modern man evolved until about 100,000 years ago and then was thought to have stopped evolving. Evolution since that time, it was claimed, has been "cultural and social evolution." Biological evolution was thought to be  unknown among humans in historical times.
          In 2005 University Of Chicago researchers found that the human brain is still Evolving. (See Science Daily Sep. 9, 2005). Two independent research projects have shown that there are at least two genes microcephalin and ASPM have been demonstrating a pattern of evolutionary variation and change in modern man.

“In the two Science papers, the researchers looked at variations of microcephalin and ASPM within modern humans. They found evidence that the two genes have continued to evolve. For each gene, one class of variants has arisen recently and has been spreading rapidly because it is favored by selection. For microcephalin, the new variant class emerged about 37,000 years ago and now shows up in about 70 percent of present-day humans. For ASPM, the new variant class arose about 5,800 years ago and now shows up in approximately 30 percent of today's humans. These time windows are extraordinarily short in evolutionary terms, indicating that the new variants were subject to very intense selection pressure that drove up their frequencies in a very brief period of time--both well after the emergence of modern humans about 200,000 years ago.
      Each variant emerged around the same time as the advent of "cultural" behaviors. The microcephalin variant appears along with the emergence of such traits as art and music, religious practices, and sophisticated tool-making techniques--which date back to about 50,000 years ago. The ASPM variant coincides with the oldest-known civilization, Mesopotamia, which dates back to 7000 BC. "Microcephalin," the authors wrote in one of the papers, "has continued its trend of adaptive evolution beyond the emergence of anatomically modern humans. If selection indeed acted on a brain-related phenotype, there could be several possibilities, including brain size, cognition, personality, motor control or susceptibility to neurological/psychiatric diseases...The next step is to find out what biological difference imparted by this genetic difference causes selection to favor that variation over the others," Lahn said. Both microcephalin and ASPM have numerous genetic variations. The author’s show that certain variants are subject to very strong positive selection over others:”

(See: University Of Chicago Researchers Find Human Brain Still Evolving – Science Daily (Sep. 9, 2005))

      Now just because the human brain may be evolving right before our eyes doesn’t necessarily mean this is a change in our intelligence.
      “Lahn said.”We've evolved genes for selfishness, violence, cruelty--all of which are in place because they may make survival easier. But in today's society, they're certainly not condoned."
     Same article as above...

     But it is clear that our evolutionary development has created more than just a tendency for negative feelings and emotions. New evidence seems to show our evolution has including the development of compassion. Further that meditation, contemplation and practices such as Zen are reflected in the physiology of our brains.
      A new Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education has been launched at the Stanford University School of Medicine, with the aim of doing scientific research on the neural underpinnings of these thoughts and feelings. Science has been researching the effect mediation has on the brain. Recent brain-imaging studies have demonstrated a burst of activity in an area of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens when these practitioners think compassionate thoughts. The center is also examining individuals' response to the suffering of others, which can be either disgust or recognition of another's suffering, followed by empathy and a desire to take action (this is signaled by activation of the prefrontal cortex, the seat of initiation of motor movement).

            Now the dirty little secret of all evolutionary change is that it begins with a single individual. It only becomes a group effect when that trait spreads from that individual across the population base. So the real key to our future may be said to reside in every person that is born.

                In the practice of compassion you may hold the genetic future of us all. We are all a part of the genetic stream of the human animal and each person who finds himself or herself accepting the necessity to care, love and be a bodhisattva is generating a evolutionary environment in which those traits are creating genetic pressure in our species for natural selection in that direction.

So go forth my Buddhist friends and help those other apes evolve.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The pataphysician -

       Pataphysics was defined by the man who invented the term Alfred Jarry (1873–1907) as “the science of imaginary solutions”. Raymond Queneau has described 'pataphysics as resting "on the truth of contradictions and exceptions." It is described as the physics beyond metaphysics. What better description of a Zen practitioner than that of the pataphysician. Once you have become saturated in Zen I can see no other way to see the world and history than as a pataphysicist.
       Perhaps the real defining characteristic of social and religious movements throughout human history has been each group’s belief in a specific and clearly defined Utopia. Every mass movement in our recorded history seems to have had a Utopian ideal.
       The word utopia was invented by Sir Thomas More for his 1516 book Utopia, describing a fictional island in the Atlantic Ocean. It has entered our language as a name for an ideal community or society possessing a seemingly perfect socio-politico-legal system. Clearly Capitalism, Communism, Socialism, Christianity and Islam all have their own versions of Utopia. These ideals of a kind of heaven on earth act as the foundation of each of these systems of belief and as a “Holy City on the Hill” that each group’s core of “true believers” has firmly fixed in their minds.
       Now in this first decade of the twenty first century I seem to find myself surrounded by a world of willing and enthusiastic victims. This world could I think be described as a maelstrom of crumbling utopian beliefs. It is a world were the last desperate priests of each world view is swinging wildly in all directions trying to save the shattered idea’s upon which their beliefs are based and in which fewer and fewer people take seriously anymore. These true believers have become defined by a remorseless savagery, an obsession with blood and death, and a utopian vision of purity and power.
       Across the Muslim world the majority of Arab Muslims are more and more just the victims and dupes of repressive regimes and power-hungry, rabble-rousing clerics. The Glen Becks of our world continue to show their tattered wares of demagoguery. But there is now more often than not little to distinguish these leaders of the true believers from psychopaths or “con men,” who consciously claim to endorse and exploit any belief system for financial or political gain. These men are nothing more than disingenuous cynics who have seized the opportunity of a dying belief system to obtain to power.
       Cut adrift from their ideals as a serious reality regardless of their intelligence, these true believers cannot permit in themselves the freedom of cognitive speculation that is a requisite for imagination or creativity, as that would be too threatening to the stability of their brittle and limited base. Thus the poor and lower middle class line up to fight for the rights of the rich and powerful to exploit them. They fight with the moral indignation of the true believer and as Eric Fromm said; “There is perhaps no phenomenon which contains so much destructive feeling as moral indignation, which permits envy or to be acted out under the guise of virtue.”

       I have tried to find the Utopian ideal of Zen, and have happily been unable to locate it. In our belief system  (Ok, he mumbled to himself, go away I can hear you sensei, we have no belief system we are in fact a non belief system)   there is no reason to panic, no call for desperate measures in times were ideals are crumbling.

        I wonder if that is our fate to simply sit through the end times as the world as they know it crumbles around their ears.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Problem of Pain

       In this short essay I want to talk about something that has been fundamental to my spiritual development since I was a very young man and first casting about to understand this strange world we are all born into. To put it simply: why is there so much pain and suffering in the world?

       I was born into what could be called a Christian family, my mother was a Baptist and my father was a career solder who would from time to time get loaded and quote the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam to me. All things considered this was passing profound for a man from Mississippi with a 5th grade education who participated in his first battle when he was 17.

      But not being unobservant even as a young man I realized that the existence of suffering in a world created by a good and almighty God—“the problem of pain”—is a fundamental theological dilemma, and perhaps the most serious objection to the Christian religion.

       I did more than my fair share of reading and it seemed to me that most people and most cultures didn’t really see God as a particularly loving, just or fair kind of guy. Most primitive peoples as we liked to call them seemed convinced that what god really wanted was to enjoy our pain and suffering. Killing, torture, and human sacrifice seemed to be almost universal as a means to make God happy. Even today there is a large festival in India were hundreds of people do “hook-swinging” hanging themselves from hooks in a bargain with one of the Hindu god’s trading their pain and suffering for a little help from their God.

       The Old Testament describes the Jewish God as both angry and jealous; he is the kind of guy who asks you to murder your son, as a display of faith and loyalty. He instructs the Israelites to commit genocide on 8 different tribes and tells Moses he can’t come into the Promised Land after a life time of toil and commitment. Let us not even discuss wiping out Job’s entire family on a bet with the devil about Job’s character.

       And of course just as a matter of record humans through out history of all cultures and religions seem to spend more time killing and torturing for god than any other reason including wealth and sex.

       One day I ran across some books by CS Lewis and found him to be a wonderful writer and really came to admire him. So you can image how elated I was when I found he had written a book on “The Problem of Pain”. I had spent a lot of time asking people who said they knew about this and nothing any of them had said made a lick of sense to me.

       Now here was  CS Lewis that giant of twentieth century  Christianty and doctrine, the formost Christian apologist of our age and he was going to straighten it out for me. Then of course I read the book. After the usual introductions and apologies of the first chapter he got down to it in Chapter two. He opens that chapter with the following”

"The possibility of solving [the problem] depends on showing that the terms 'good' and 'almighty', and perhaps also the term 'happy', are equivocal: for it must be admitted from the outset that if the popular meanings attached to these words are the best, or the only possible, meaning, then the argument is unanswerable".

       He then spends the next nine chapters redefining the terms “pain” "suffering” “happy” and even what it means to be a “Loving God”. Even at the tender age of 14 I knew this was a load of Bull. You’re not suffering, that isn’t pain and a loving, kind, just God kicks the crap out of you for your own good. I had seen him play this trick in “Mere Christianity” when he told his listeners that these young Christian solders should kill with a joyous and light heart because the Hebrew word for kill in the bible really meant “murder” not kill and killing for your god or your country wasn’t murder. I am sure he pulled that one right out of the crusaders hand book. But this slight of hand was on a whole different level.

       So if your not brain dead and your fairly sure that most folks know pain and suffering when they experience it your still left with a world that could not possibly be the construct of an all powerful, just and loving God.

       Over the years I have read many books written by authors of many different religions on this subject and they all are more or less just a load of Bull as well.

       Then I encountered Buddhism and Buddha’s explanations of “The Problem of Pain”. We are living in a world created by our own actions. Our own delusions and ignorance of how things actually exist cause almost all our pain and suffering. There is not a Devil or vengeful sadistic God behind it all. It’s just us. We have no one to blame for the world and what happens here but ourselves and we are living in a world of our own desires and it is our own creation. We are here because we at some level want to be.

       Well now I gave this idea some serious thought. I measured the level of anger, lust and delusive behavior in myself and everyone I had ever run into or read about. Hell this explanation even let God off the Hook. If he was dedicated to the concept of free will, he was totally not to blame. Assuming of course he, she or it existed. We it seems are living in a universe created by our own volition and actions, call it Karma.

       Assuming a God with no name, after all a name instantly ties him to a culture and straps a ton of assumptions and baggage to his back, maybe he was just letting us grow up in the way we ourselves chose to. I still have a hard time believing that we singularly or jointly have the sheer imagination to make a flower or a honey bee. So despite our Buddhist belief that there is no creator God, I am willing to let him exist if that’s what he really wants to do.

        And I now have no problem taking responsibility for my fair share of the pain and suffering in the world. This was a major factor in my finally saying I am a Buddhist and it is because, what Buddha said was true.

         My own suffering over the past year has taught me that suffering like all other mental formations is empty. Buddha said all things proceed from the mind. Suffering is a dependant arising and its first and greatest dependency is my own moment of mental discrimination of that suffering.

         Now I have that off my chest, getting old still sucks.  But I can live with that too.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Zen of Diabetes

          I have recently been diagnosed as having Type 2 Diabetes. I know personally that two of the folks that follow this blog have conditions that make Diabetes look like a walk in the park so this is not an attempt to elicit sympathy.

         Type 2 Diabetes - A Progressive Disease whose natural course in most cases is the worsening, growth, or spread of the disease. This may happen until death, serious debility, or organ failure occurs. But it is it appears also a booming new industry. I have found myself shoved aboard into a freight train of diabetic information, products, medications, testing systems and the list goes on and on.
          Interestingly enough the first thing I noticed was as soon as I was diagnosed I was more or less passed from my doctors to the care of the “Diabetes Certified Nurse Practitioner”. The epidemic of Diabetes has apparently created a boom career path for nurses. All the diabetes education programs were run and taught by these ladies.
          The next thing I noticed was just how much the big drug company’s cared about me and my health. Here is a wonderful example. It is from an online article (sponsored by Abbot Laboratories, the corporation voted by someone or other as the drug company they most admire (this is no joke its on their web site.) In the new Diabetes jargon I am learning it’s called a “well-being article”

“Meditation and Diabetes Control”

                                                     What Meditation Is — and Isn’t

                "  Meditation is a type of relaxation technique. It’s about paying attention to what you’re doing, focusing on the present moment, and promoting a sense of inner calm and self-awareness. Meditation helps you enter a relaxed, restful state of mind, which can help you manage stress and anxiety — conditions that can contribute to a variety of diseases, like heart disease, or make an existing health problem worse. It’s not about crystals and it’s not necessarily about burning incense, looking for the meaning of life, or sitting cross-legged on the floor and chanting “ommmm” for hours on end.
           Meditation is an area of mind/body medicine in which the workings of the mind influence the health of the body. It originated as a religious practice in India some 3,000 years ago, and exists in a variety of forms in most religions: prayer, reading scripture or religious writings, or saying the rosary.
            Whether it’s transcendental meditation, relaxation-response meditation, or mindfulness-based stress-reduction meditation, the principle is the same: to focus one’s full mental attention on something. The object of attention can be an image, a sound, a word or repeated phrase, or one’s own breath."

                    I can not tell you how impressed I was with Abbot Labs take on meditation and what it is, no really I just can’t.
              Interestingly enough in another article by another drug company they warn against such things as sitting crossed legged.

                " It can cause both Nerve damage - neuropathy (nu-Rop-a-thee) and Poor blood flow - peripheral (puh-rif-er-uhl) vascular disease, casing gangrene (GANG-green) - a condition in which the skin and tissue of the infected area dies and becomes black and smelly. Amputation is the most common treatment for gangrene."

             You have just got to love the flood of information they send you and the advice you get poured down upon you. such as;

                     People with diabetes are at higher risk for foot problems. Nerve damage, circulation problems, and infections can cause severe foot problems: sooooooooooooooo

"You should never wear sandals that require a strap to go between your toes."
"Avoid wrinkles in your socks, they could create pressure points."
"Never use a hair dryer on your feet."

"Avoid sitting cross-legged for a prolonged period of time, as sitting cross-legged can cut off blood flow to your feet."

               I guess I will go to the Zendo tomorrow and apply some mind/body medicine, but it seems I must not go bare footed (I swear this one was on the end of the class test for the last class I took a diabetic must never go barefooted anywhere) or cross my legs …

Thursday, August 5, 2010


        In the Aitareya Upanishad we are told that there has taken place a kind of cosmic catastrophe. It tells of a separation or division that occurred when individuality asserted itself. It says that this event separated “us” from the ultimate reality and that now we struggle to free ourselves of this catastrophic separation.

        In the Torah or Bible we are told in the book of the Genesis of the “fall” of man from the grace or presence of God. In the book of Isaiah it says: “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.

      The Christian evangelist Billy Graham said that “The only thing I could say for sure is that hell means separation from God. We are separated from his light, from his fellowship. That is going to be hell.

Surely we sit in Zen to deal with separation:

The Four Noble Truths

1. Life means suffering.

2. The origin of suffering is ignorance.

3. The cessation of suffering is attainable.

4. The 8 fold path to the cessation of suffering.

     A wonderful Jewish poet and song writer named Leonard Cohen has practiced Zen for most of his life, He wrote:

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in.

  But I think Leonard was wrong, we are ourselves the great crack in reality that lets the light into this universe.

         Without us the universe would just be s swirling mass of atoms and energy without meaning of any kind. Grind it all up and you find no art and no beauty. Even in our suffering we give the universe meaning.

        C.S. Lewis said, “If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”
Sit and be that crack, without you the sun would just be a ball of burning gases, and a sunset just a meaningless cascade of photons.

       In fact the separation we suffer is from our true selves. But what more evidence do you need that we are ignorant and separated from that truth only by a hairs distance. In all our suffering and pain we struggle to end that separation: but can the fact that there is a supreme truth, that every life has meaning that each of us, each life lived, has value be more assured?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Light and Dark

"Once a very old king went to see an old hermit who lived in a bird's nest in the top of a tree. 'What is the most important Buddhist teaching?' The hermit answered, 'Do no evil, do only good. Purify your heart.' The king had expected to hear a very long explanation. He protested, 'But even a 5-year old child can understand that!' 'Yes,' replied the wise sage, 'but even an 80-year-old man cannot do it.'

Indeed or even a 58 -year-old man.

I apoligize to my friends if my posts seem to be dark of late, but fear not, the secret that I have learned recently is that darkness is not the absence of light, darkness is simply a misunderstanding.