Saturday, November 27, 2010

I desire!

        The things we desire are never what we have. Therefore desire resides in the past and the moves the mind into the future. You desired something in the past and sought to obtain it, or you felt aversion to something and sought to avoid it. You desire to “get” something in the future or to avoid something in the future and this drives you into the future like a hungry ghost never being able to satisfy your hunger. So desire has no end, except in the now.  What would we be like if we truly desired nothing, truly wished to avoid nothing?

           To truly sit in the now, to maintain the now can end desire or at least reduce it considerably. How real would we seem if we wanted nothing? If I become less and less real in the now is that an observation of emptiness? If I could sit exactly in the now would I simply disappear? Or would that be an observation of emptiness, would that be the ultimate “I”.

      In most schools of Buddhism they define a person as an “I” or ego that arises from or is imputed from the five aggregates:

1. The aggregate of Form

2. The aggregate of Consciousness

3. Feeling

4. The aggregate of perception or discrimination.

5. The aggregate of mental formation or volition.

               It is the function or simply the activity if you wish of the “person” to perform actions and experience their results. This is then is the nature of our existence and it is also a very good description of the process we call Karma. But my true face is not found in these aggregates, it is empty.

               Walls, rivers and great distance all act as obstructions to my body, but what obstructs my mind are the constant delusions these aggregates create. The most destructive of these delusions are the constant desires that drive it along like an ox before the wipe. My experience has been the more I hate, love, want and desire the greater my sense of myself, the more real I seem and the more I suffer. The “I” takes this constant stream of wants, wish’s and desires, it feeds upon this unending activity of desire and aversion.

                So what wisdom, when my mother was always asking me to sit still, to stop my constant fidgeting and squirming, but I think it is the constant fidgeting of our minds that we most stop by resting it in the now.

                  I think it would be fair to say that our true function is to experience emptiness, then we can all go home.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Don't Mind if I do!

   "After arriving in China, Dogen traveled and practiced in several monasteries with different teachers before finding Ru Jing, or Tendo Nyojo, who was to be his main teacher. According to Dogen’s diary, one morning when Ru Jing was circumambulating the Zendo, doing the morning greeting at the beginning of zazen, he found a monk dozing. Dogen heard Ru Jing scolding the dozing monk, "The practice of zazen is the dropping away of body and mind. What do you expect to accomplish by dozing?" When Dogen heard this, he had a realization and went to Ru Jing’s room and offered incense and bowed. When Ru Jing asked why he was doing this, Dogen said, "Body and mind have been dropped, that is why I have come!" Ru Jing approved saying, "Body and mind have been dropped; you have dropped body and mind!"

         In traditional Buddhist philosophy the mind of a sentient being is not a product of biological processes, but something primordial which has always existed outside of time itself. The basic Buddhist view point as described by the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna is that Mind and Body are two distinct and completely different kinds of phenomena and therefore given the nature of cause and effect the physical body can not be the cause of the mind. In other words he flatly rejected the idea that mind is caused by physical processes in the brain.
           Nagarjuna did acknowledge that the physical brain was an instrument through which information was received and that it was also the instrument through which actions were generated and cognition of physical events were perceived. Generally speaking upon death what Buddhist philosophers call 'The Very Subtle Mind' Continues on after the death of the body. Having previously had countless previous lives, depending upon its state of development, this very subtle mind may proceed to experience the physical world through countless future lives.
          This physical/mental duality is not confined to eastern philosophy. In modern philosophy of mind, this dualism is defined as a set of views about the relationship between mind and matter, which begins with the claim that mental phenomena are, in some respects, non-physical. Plato and Aristotle and certainly Descartes and Spinoza are perfect examples of this very same dualism in western philosophy.
         It has been almost universal that since man became sentient he has rejected the idea that sentience is nothing more than a by product of physical interactions. The effort by both philosophers and scientists to reconcile this duality has been ongoing for centuries simply because the observable interconnected nature of the physical brain and the phenomena we call a mind can neither be ignored nor easly and rationally explained.
           The basic recognition of the above paradox is called Substance Dualism. This so called Substance dualism is a type of dualism most notably  proposed by Descartes, which states that there are two fundamental kinds of substance: mental and material. According to his philosophy, which is specifically called Cartesian dualism, the mental does not have extension in space, and the material cannot think. This is the position of virtually all theology including Buddhism. Of course some people have claimed that this is only true of humans and for some reason excludes all other thinking and feeling creatures. But there is nothing native to substance dualism that would require such a distinction and Buddhism dose not make that distinction.
      In theology the mind and or the soul, depending upon the belief system, claims that mind or souls occupy an independent "realm" of existence distinct from that of the physical world. This is a version of reality that is routinely rejected by modern materialists and many scientists. Rejecting the obvious  evidence of the mind and mental phenomena itself, they attest that there simply is no evidence to support this position. In this view mind is no more than condensation on the brain and is in fact a figment of the imagination we don’t really have.
      Recently professor David chambers, a philosopher at the Australian National University, aka Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Consciousness, developed a thought experiment inspired by the movie “The Matrix” in which substance dualism could be true: Consider a computer simulation in which the bodies of the creatures are controlled by their minds and the minds remain strictly external to the simulation. The creatures can do all the science they want in the world, but they will never be able to figure out where their minds are, for they do not exist in their observable universe. This is a case of substance dualism with respect to computer simulation.

     One modern explanation of the mind/body problem is called “property Dualism”.

    “By Property Dualism the brain possesses at least two types of properties, physical and mental. From this it follows that all conscious experiences are properties of the underlying substance which manifests itself physically as the brain. Furthermore, in this line of thinking consciousness is itself a property. This is absurd, however, because if this is true then I (and you) am (are) a property (ies).” OOPS! Once again we are simply condensation on a brain.
      The simple truth is science and materialism would require that either the electro chemical processes of the brain 'create' or 'give rise to' the mind; or is it that the electrochemical processes are the mind?”
In short Consciousness is either generated by brain activity, or, is brain activity.

           The only way many modern materialist have been able to justify their claims is through the theory of Emergent Properties. This so called Emergence is a well developed philosophical term of art. A variety of theorists have appropriated it for their purposes ever since George Henry Lewes gave it a philosophical sense in his 1875 Problems of Life and Mind. We might roughly characterize the shared meaning thus: emergent entities (properties or substances) ‘arise’ out of more fundamental entities and yet are ‘novel’ or ‘irreducible’ with respect to them.

        So many modern materialists, notably John Rogers Searle an American philosopher and currently the Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley and Buddhist philosopher, Stephen Batchelor now claim that consciousness is simply an emergent property of the physical process of the brain.

          As I previously said the definition of emergence given in the Dictionary of Philosophy of Mind is:

“Emergence - Properties of a complex physical system are emergent just in case they are neither (i) properties had by any parts of the system taken in isolation nor (ii) resultant of a mere summation of properties of parts of the system.”

“Thus a boat which drifts northwestwards in response to a southerly wind and a current flowing from the east is not exhibiting emergent behavior, whereas the products of chemical reactions could be considered emergent.”
See: Dictionary of Philosophy of Mind.

There is however one major problem with this theory.

      "The notion of reduction is intimately tied to the ease of understanding one level in terms of another. Emergent properties are usually properties that are more easily understood in their own right than in terms of properties at a lower level. This suggests an important observation:
       Emergence is a psychological property.
      It is not a metaphysical absolute. Properties are classed as "emergent" based at least in part on (1) the interestingness to a given observer of the high-level property at hand; and (2) the difficulty of an observer's deducing the high-level property from low-level properties"
See: David Chalmers “notes on emergence”
        “So we can dismiss all claims that consciousness, mind and awareness are emergent properties of matter or brains, because we need the presence of a mind for emergent properties and phenomena to appear in the first place. The subjective activity of the mind of the observer, together with the 'objective' procedures and the structures upon which they operate, is an irreducible component of emergent phenomena.” So we find that the emergence theory is impossible because it requires a mind to preexist mind. Not even a quantum theorist could accept this, wait maybe he could at that.
         It is of course beyond the will power of most modern thinkers to say to themselves maybe we simply don’t have enough information to solve the mind/body paradox at this time.
           But being Zen I will investigate this problem on the meditation cushion. I think that deep in the writings of Master Dogen this question may have been answered. So I will simply doubt that any present theory on the issue is “True”. I will wait for mind and body to drop away, as Master Dogen has suggested I do, and then I may become aware of the truth.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Getting Old and Sitting

In Fukanzazeng (Rules of Zazen) Master Dogen says:

“In meditating you should have a quiet room. Eat and drink in moderation. Forsake myriad relations-abstain from everything. Do not think of good and evil. Do not think of right and wrong. Stop the function of mind, of will, of consciousness. Keep from meaning memory, perception, and insight. Do not strive to become the Buddha. Do not cling to sitting or lying down.”


“This cross-legged sitting is not step by step meditation. It is merely comfortable teaching. It is the training and enlightenment of thorough wisdom. The Koan will appear in daily life. You are completely free - like the dragon that has water or the tiger that depends on the mountain. You must realize that the Right Law naturally appears, and your mind will be free from sinking and distraction. When you stand from zazen, shake your body and arise calmly. Do not move violently. That which transcends the commoner and the sage - dying while sitting and standing is obtained through the help of this power: this I have seen. Also the supreme function (lifting the finger, using the needle, hitting the wooden gong) and enlightenment signs (raising the hossu, striking with the fist; hitting with the staff; shouting): are not understood- by discrimination. You cannot understand training and enlightenment well by supernatural power. It is a condition (sitting, standing, and sleeping) beyond voice and visible things. It is the true beyond discriminatory views. So don't argue about the wise and foolish. If you can only train hard, this is true enlightenment. Training and enlightenment are by nature undefiled. Living by Zen is not separated from daily life.”

“Buddha’s in this world and in that and the patriarchs in India and China equally preserved the Buddha seal and spread the true style of Zen. All actions and things are penetrated with pure zazen. The means of training are various, but do pure zazen. Don't travel futilely to other dusty lands, forsaking your own sitting place. If you mistake the first step, you will stumble immediately. You have already obtained the vital functions of man's body. Don't waste time in vain. You can hold the essence of Buddhism. Is it good to enjoy the fleeting world? The body is transient like dew on the grass-life is swift like a flash of lightning. The body passes quickly, and life is gone in a moment.”

Dogen wrote these words when he was 28 years old and in the prime of his life. He had just returned from China and he was just starting his life’s work. Four years later at the age of 32 he wrote Bendowa, In which he comments:

“All the Buddhas and patriarchs who transmitted Buddhism considered sitting and practicing self-joyous meditation the true way of enlightenment. The enlightened ones in both the East and West followed this style. This is because the masters and their disciples correctly transmitted this superior method from person to person and received the uncorrupted truth.”


“It is a condition (sitting, standing, and sleeping) beyond voice and visible things.”

“It is a condition (sitting, standing, and sleeping) beyond voice and visible things.”

“It is a condition (sitting, standing, and sleeping) beyond voice and visible things.

     Wake up, stands up, walk --- lay down, sleep, 
“This cross-legged sitting is not step by step meditation. It is merely comfortable teaching. It is the training and enlightenment of thorough wisdom. The Koan will appear in daily life. You are completely free - like the dragon that has water or the tiger that depends on the mountain.”

Maybe - there is zazen that is all of this and more, maybe even when we can no longer sit, we can walk to enlightenment-- or stand our way there.. it is after all the "merely confortable teaching"

Monday, November 8, 2010

The invention of an ancient and honorable tradition.

In the middle 60’s in Japan some nuns located at the Kaizenji Monastery in Nagoya Japan  , under the direction of their new Abbess Yoshida Roshi, decided to sew their own robes. This practice spread to a few other temples in Japan being over seen by female priests and nuns. This was and never has been a requirement supported by the Soto Shu (Soto Zen School) in Japan; in fact they have their own (official) supplier of their robes and garments.

In 1970 Abbess Yoshida Roshi visited the San Francisco Zen center and while there suggested to Zenkei Blanche Hartman that the center should adopt the so called Nyoho-e, or “clothing made according to the Dharma.” Tradition that she and some other abbesses in Japan had more or less recently invented. Yoshida Roshi suggested that one of the centers members visit a Japanese nun involved in creating this practice to learn to sew. So at least 3 of the centers female members went to Japan to learn sewing from the nun’s.

Sewing practice as a (tradition) however would have to wait for Suzuki Roshi’s death. Suzuki never endorsed the practice as a requirement in Zen. Once Zenkei Blanche Hartman (a nice Jewish lady born in Birmingham Alabama) became abbess of the center the new “ancient” tradition was officially born. The founders  of this tradition in the Untied States were Zenkei Blanche Hartman, Joyce Browning, Virginia Baker, Kasai Joshin and Pat Herroshoff. The practice was concurrently accepted by and endorsed by Shohaku Okumura, whom I am willing to bet never sewed a robe in his life up until that time. Doctrinally this practice has been supported by two essays in the Shobogenzo in which Dogen praises the importance of and symbolic nature of the Zen monks robes. Neither essay mentions sewing.  It has now become popular with many western Zen Centers and/or centers run by American teachers in Japan.. It is however still not endorsed by the Japanese Sotoshu.

So there you have the complete history (more or less) of the sewing linage in Zen.