Posts tagged ‘zen’

2015/09/24

This present moment is all there is

That’s the phrase / idea / thought / truth / falsehood that I’m currently working on (for some value of “working on”).

It’s especially interesting / challenging because it’s so incompatible (in some sense) with pretty much all of the tools of language, and even of thought, that we have available to bring to bear on it.

Perhaps relatedly, on Tuesday (which was my and Frodo’s and Bilbo’s birthdays!) I went for the first time to the Village Zendo, which is a ten-minute subway ride from the office, and treated myself to an hour of zazen (two bells, thirty minutes of sitting, one bell, a few minutes to stretch one’s legs, thirty minutes of sitting, three bells and done).

The space is lovely.

the Village Zendo

Here also is a picture of a pretzel:

pretzel

In other news, most of the team at work and I spent two and two-halves days in St. Thomas (!!!), which is unusual.  Some very random observations:

  • It was prettier, but unbearably hot, when the sun was out.  Mostly while we were there the sun wasn’t out, and it was quite nice (and still quite pretty).
  • Some kayaks are very much like canoes, and much less tippy and all than the kind that you basically wear.
  • During The Season (which had basically just ended) they have like three to five cruise ships a day, adding several thousand (!) to the population of the island.
  • If you are trying to sell a random tourist who is looking at the vendor stalls some illicit substance, you should probably speak loudly enough that they can hear just what the substance is.  Not like there were any police around listening.
  • In St. Thomas, you drive on the left (because of Danish heritage) but use cars with the steering wheel on the left also (because of USAian present).  This is terrifying.  Even for just the passengers.
  • Free Rum Punch in the lobby!
  • Instead of rabbits, say, they have iguanas.  Startlingly large ones!
  • I got a great hat.

And finally in news of other worlds, something for those of my readers who have yet to grok the whole Second Life thing: there is this set of videos / documentaries called the Drax Files, that feature all sorts of ways that Second Life can positively impact Real Life people and things (and they are pretty short!).  I recommend them to all; the latest episode covers a number of people who make movies in SL (“machinima“!).

Fuller coverage and more links over on the secret Second Life weblog.  (The present frame is all there is!)

2014/11/16

Where with white clouds for my pillow, I sleep

A long time ago, and I just remembered it recently for some reason, when I used the Opera browser for awhile, there was this lovely odd thing.

For some reason (and I’m sure that I did it somehow by accident, but I never did figure out how) whenever I had the focus on a text input box (or something like that), it would offer me a default value to fill in, and that default value was:

Where with white clouds for my pillow, I sleep.

And that made me smile every time I saw it.

I kept it as an enigma at the time, and never looked up the phrase, or the part of the Opera documentation that would have told me how it got there.

I still haven’t done the latter :) but it turns out that the phrase is from Cold Mountain. No, not the film, or even the novel; the poems of Han Shan.

I’ve been wanting to go to that Eastern cliff,
To the present–for innumerable years.

So yesterday I came and climbed up through the vines,
But halfway there, I was hampered by mist and wind.

The path was narrow–with my clothes it was hard to advance;
The moss was sticky–my shoes could not go on.

So I stay at the base of this red cinnamon tree,
Where with white clouds for my pillow, I sleep.

I will attempt to resist talking about what it might be “about”. :)

That particular text seems to be poem number 295, in a translation copyright 1990 by one Robert G. Henricks; I found it today on Google Books.

It looks like we know nothing of Han Shan besides what is in the poems; in fact “Han Shan” is likely not his name at all, apparently it is just the words “Cold Mountain”.

I love the thought of the unknown hermit-poet’s words coming down through the long years, and somehow ending up embedded in my Web browser.

2014/11/05

Before I forget

  • As I mentioned, I did that Zen thing the other week, and it was great, and I haven’t gotten around to writing any more about it, but at least I have that unordered list.
  • One additional thing on that: what I asked Ryushin Sensei at dokusan was “Why can’t we see out of each other’s eyes?”. We had some good talking about why that is.
  • I’ve been to Greece! Rhodes, Greece, in particular. That was great also. Here is a Faceface thing where I mention it, and there are a bunch of related pictures (with some narrative, even!) in the Insta-gram (you’ll probably have to scroll down to a greater or lesser amount to encounter them, or you could maybe jump in here say).  We passed through London (England) on the way out and back, also, so I have all them stamps in my passport-thing.
  • Relatedly, I have now been parasailing! It turns out to involve no skill whatever, and to be surprisingly peaceful!
  • Speaking of The Face Book, I have posted various things there!
  • I think I have decided not to do NaNoWriMo this year, but I have just discovered this wonderful thing (and also posted it to Facebook): National Novel Generation Month. Here is my statement of intent; I can definitely write a program to generate a 50,000-word novel sometime this month. What fun!
  • The Twitter is full of wild enigmatic things; one of them (Two Headlines) is done by the same person who thought up NaNoGenMo (and who does all sorts of cool stuff); another, MEDDLING HETERO FOOL aka direlog_ebooks, is just a mystery.
  • The Republican Party won lots of elections yesterday, as I (or my Second Life secret identity) predicted; here’s hoping this results in the obvious progressive victories two years from now.
  • I apparently have a Moto 360 now! It is a sort of a watch! Or a smallish watch-shaped secondary I/O device for one’s phone! I can’t think of anything much that it’s actually useful for, but that’s what I would have said about smartphones not too long ago and now I use mine all the time, so Ya Never Know.
  • And I’m sure lots of all various other stuff that I should try not to forget, but right now I am going to go off and think about automatic novel generators; be good!
2014/09/28

not-yes, not-no: Answers to Common Koans

Koans are puzzles or problems that are presented to students in some branches of Zen, to loosen the mind of concepts and attachments, and hasten enlightenment. Students can spend months or years on a single koan, before the teacher (called sensei, or for teachers who are more senior or are politically connected, roshi) judges the student to have “passed” at a dokusan (face-to-face meeting), and to be ready for the next koan.

But for the busy student who cannot afford to spend months or years on some weird riddle, we present answers to a few of the more common koans here as a service.

(Holding out the shippei, the teaching stick.) “What is this? If you say that it is a shippei, you negate its essence; but if you do not, you deny the fact. Now, what is it?”

This is an elementary koan, intended to determine whether the student can move even a step beyond words. The proper response is to reach out and grasp the shippei yourself, and give it a firm shake. The teacher may yank the stick away when you reach for it, but persist! Higher marks will be given the more doggedly you pursue the teacher and the stick around the room, and even out into the zendo if necessary. If running is necessary, be sure to hold your robes high to get maximum speed.

A monk asked Master Joshu, “Has a dog Buddha-nature or not?” Joshu answered, “Mu!” Now show me this Mu!

This koan tests the ability to go beyond words in a way that spontaneously reflects the student’s inner nature. Accordingly, you should spontaneously do whichever of these best reflects your inner nature:

  • Say “No monk, no Joshu, no dog, no Mu” (avoid smugness),
  • Sit silently until the teacher relents and admits you have passed the koan,
  • Scream “Mu!” in a loud harsh voice, while doing that thing with your arms and shoulders that monsters always do in anime,
  • Strike the teacher in the face (always satisfying, and applicable to nearly any koan, but do not use it more than once),
  • Flash your boobs (most commonly used by female students, but if you are a male student and it reflects your inner nature, spontaneously go for it).

“Why did Bodhidharma come from India to China?”

The proper answer to this koan depends upon the season.

  • Spring: “The sun shines, and buds appear.”
  • Summer: “Water flows cool in the night.”
  • Autumn: “The wind blows, and leaves rustle.”
  • Winter: “Damn, it’s cold in the zendo; I’m freezing my ass off!” (note that if it is winter and you are not freezing your ass off in the zendo, it is not a real zendo, but some Disneyfied version, and you will pass the koans regardless of your answers, because they want good reviews on Yelp).

“Find your original face, before your parents were born.”

This is a very difficult koan; accordingly you should fail to pass it for at least a month (or at any rate at least a week), or Roshi will be suspicious. After several dokusans at which you admit you have not yet found your original face, you should either burst into spontaneous open-hearted laughter (best with the “jolly” or “nurturing” teacher), or suddenly strike the teacher in the face (or, if you have used that answer previously, strike yourself in the face).

Some teachers will pretend that the student has not passed the koan even when the correct answer has been given once; in this case give the same answer again at the next dokusan, and the teacher will pass you this time, thus appearing especially enigmatic.

Wuzu Fayan said, “It is like an Ox that passes through a latticed window. Its head, horns, and four legs all pass through. So, why can’t its tail also pass through?”

There is no correct answer to this koan; it has been assigned to you because your teacher hates you.

Next week: “Spirit in the Stillness: Tips on flirting during Sesshin”.

This is of course satire, poking fun at the idea that koans have straightforward answers; it is not intended to poke fun at Buddhist teachers or students or anything. Not that there’d be anything wrong with that. In a nice way. But anyway, the reader is advised not to try using any of these on actual Zen teachers; results are unlikely to be pleasant.

I’ve never done koan practice of any kind, and have a hard time imagining what it’s actually like. Presumably rather than looking for any particular answer, the teacher looks for something in the face-to-face interaction that shows that the student has achieved some particular level of insight from working on the problem. But I dunno! The silly paragraphs above just popped into my head while doing normal ol’ zazen last weekend; they sounded funnier while revolving in my head when I should have been just letting them go, but here they are anyway.

:)

2014/09/21

A thing I did!

So I have been offline since last Thursday sometime (I know, unthinkable, right?) and didn’t know whether Scotland was independent or the Stock Market had crashed or zombies taken over New York City or anything until I walked in the door coming back home not too long ago and M told me (well, she didn’t mention the zombie thing, but I assume she would have, right?).

Mt. Tremper that way

The reason that I was offline is that I was up in the wilds of North-of-Here New York State, at Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, where a mere eight years ago I did their Introduction to Zen Training Weekend (not the particular one linked to there).

I’ve been sort of vaguely considering doing a weekend-of-sesshin up there ever since, but never quite dared (sesshin sounds scary!). Then this year I noticed this new Basic Space Meditation Intensive, which is a sort of natural variation on sesshin weekend, and is new, so everyone would be doing it for the first time, and it has a nice name (“Basic Space”, although I keep writing “Open Sky” instead; same thing really), and it’s right before my birthday so obviously I signed up.

Zen Mountain Monastery, meditation hall

There is the Meditation Hall, behind some trees, taken actually from the parking lot as I was on the way out (the cellphone had to stay in the car the entire time of the retreat, natch). That is where I spent most of the time, up in the dorm room (the same one as eight years ago, in fact, and in basically the same part of the room, although they’ve rearranged the beds), and down in the zendo and the lounge and the dining hall and kitchen, and also in the nice circular-stairs area where you can see some people sitting on the right side of the picture under the trees.

I ate most of my meals out there on the circular stairs, because the weather was delicious the entire time, and it was good to be outside.

Not including, of course, the meals eaten in the zendo: that’s right, I have now done oroyoki: the famous formal Zen meal with the little bowls and the special knots in the cloth and the chanting and the putting of the spoon in the right place at the right time and the bowing to servers and all!

It was great. :) Everything was great, actually, including my early-on “dark night of the soul” moment when I was tense and miserable and my legs were in terrible pain and I was sweating and sure I was going to fail utterly.

I want to write about it all before it all escapes me, but I’m also (despite a couple-hour nap after getting home) really really sleepy, so I think I will just do this one overview post with the pictures in it, and maybe leave myself an unordered list of other things I might want to write about later in more detail, like say:

  • oroyoki,
  • Silly things I thought of,
  • Ceremonies and chants and stuff,
  • How I always end up washing bathrooms,
  • Also weeding,
  • Dokusan with Ryushin Sensei,
  • Footprints of the Ox,
  • Walking very slowly for an hour,
  • How marvelous everyone was,
  • Falling thump on one’s bottom in the zendo,
  • Buddhism and the Map and the Territory,
  • Moss the Cat

So I might include some of those in some more other postings later.

Meanwhile, here is the sign leaving, for the drive back!

Exit

(Not the best-quality picture ever, I fear; try to ignore the weird fingers lower right. The big sign says “Zen Mountain Monastery / Doshinji”; I keep meaning to look up that Doshinji, maybe I will do that…)

2014/07/01

Five trivial ways to feel like you’re meditating!

Attractive white woman, probably meditating

Attractive white woman, probably meditating

Meditation, sitting, zazen, vipassana, samatha, dhyāna: practices like these have long histories in human culture; people in all parts of the world, through long centuries, have devoted their energy, their time, and their lives, to the rigors of practice.

But today, fortunately, we know better!

By removing from these practices anything inconveniently spiritual or in any way demanding, and packaging something vaguely like what remains under appealing names like “mindfulness” or “attention”, we have obtained a set of modern products which contribute positively to the health, well-being, self-esteem, and profit margins of the people who sell them online.

In the spirit of recent highly-clickable works like 13 ways to meditate without sitting like a monk from the inner-awareness site MarketWatch Dot Com, and because many people would like to feel that they are meditating, without actually going to any effort, we prevent these Five Top Tips. Thank you for clicking on our ads.

Take a deep breath now and then. Breathing is good, and helps keep your blood oxygenated. Deep breaths can cause a momentary head-rush that is easily mistaken for something significant. Also, people who meditate do breathe, sometimes deeply.

Think “aummm” to yourself. This is a cool sound, that reminds many people of hippies and meditation and things. Also, something about jewels and lotuses. This sound can be made at any volume; we recommend a low volume, so no one else hears it and thinks you are some kind of weirdo.

Don’t worry. All true meditative traditions agree that everything is really all the same, and that whatever is happening is okay. So you can be meditative by not worrying about anything. Or by worrying. Or whatever, really.

Notice how the people around you are not meditating. Most likely the other people around you on the plane or at the espresso bar are not being mindful and meditating like you are. This leads naturally to the next tip.

Feel good about yourself for meditating. Mindfulness improves self-esteem, and self-esteem is really a kind of mindfulness. Simply by being mindful about the fact that you are meditating, and how well this reflects on you, you are meditating mindfully; it is a Virtuous Cycle!

In addition to these Five Top Tips, experts agree that it is beneficial to eliminate from your life as many problems and distractions as you can; so if possible, try to be prosperous, healthy, and not a member of any minority or historically oppressed groups. Reading the Wall Street Journal is good, too.

2014/06/04

Intensive

oryoki

The Enlightened One
Spills his oryoki bowl.
Rice everywhere.

As well as being of course all profound and stuff, this is a Celebratory Poem on my having signed up for the Basic Space Meditation Intensive up at Zen Mountain Monastery in September.

Just around my birthday; a present!

It is also a reference to the fact that oryoki seems to be the main thing I am worried (“worried”) about vis-à-vis said Intensive. Which is kind of funny, in some elusive sense, but it’s always good to know where the barriers are.

Or, well, to have a theory about it.

Because then you have the fun of discovering you were wrong. :)

And working on different surprise barriers instead.

Or as well.

So anyway I am extremely looking forward to it; devoted (really really devoted) readers will recall our previous weekend at Zen Mountain Monastery back in (omg haha) 2006 (a mere eight years ago), and how great that was.

Not that one part of the Pure Land is superior to any other or anything heretical like that! :) But still…

It will be tiring, bouncing up and down eagerly for like four months.

2013/11/10

{coffee,zen}@google

New adventures every day!

Here are a couple more observations that I think I can share without revealing any family secrets.
 

Coffee

You’d think that a place full of coders would be basically powered by coffee.

That’s certainly what I was expecting.

I was picturing, like, huge wall-length banks of those shiny cylindrical coffee machines that are everywhere, constantly being emptied by jazzed young programmers, and filled by a steady stream of staff persons with new grounds.

But it’s not like that at all.

There are fancy digital coffee-making machines in the snack areas (“microkitchens”, whee!), which produce what I imagine is quite good coffee (I’m no judge), but do it slowly. And there aren’t very many of them.

There are a couple or three of the shiny cylindrical coffee machines in the main food-places, but they tend to be awkwardly placed, and there are many things that it’s easier to get to.

There are also espresso machines (cappuccino machines, whatever they’re called) in the microkitchens for general use, along with signs about the time and place where the “how to” classes are offered, and the intranet URL of the relevant informational page(s). Naturally.

All of which encourages slow and thoughtful and high-quality consumption of only finite amounts of coffee.

Which I find fascinating.

As I pointed out the other day, I’m drinking a lot less coffee than I did before the venue change. Maybe the work keeps one awake all by itself. :)
 

Zen

I poked around the intranet a bit my first couple of weeks, figuring that these young hip (haha, “hip”) persons might include some number into meditation (“meditation”) or sitting or even zazen, and while I found some interesting groups dedicated to thinking about the impact of digital technologies on our practices of attention, and about being sure to pause now and then and be in the moment, and like that, they seemed to be mostly based out in Mountain View.

I did one “Mindfulness at your Desk” thing at Noon Eastern, 9am Pacific, where someone out on the Left Coast led a small group of us in meditation over videoconferencing, and that was fine, but a little odd.

I was figuring I could bring in a zafu of my own, and maybe just remember to sit in a quiet place somewhere now and then, when while exploring one of the higher floors of the building I came across a sign saying that sits take place twice daily (!) in the little sort of exercise room / dance studio. And in exploring it I found a cabinet with a bunch of nice high-quality zafus and blankets to go under them.

And the next time one of the twice-daily things came up, I was there, and this smiling person came and talked quietly and asked who would like some guided meditation, and talked softly to them while the rest of us just sat (on the nice zafus and blankets, which it turns out are for general use), and then he rang a lovely Zen bell, and we all sat more, until he rang it again and we slowly got up and went out.

ZOMG, eh?

So I may have a little practice, and maybe even a vague sort of sangha (not that there’s any particular reason to think all or any of the people are Buddhist as such), right there at work.

Who woulda thought?

P.S. This is a very good recipe for Butternut Squash Soup!

2013/11/07

some additional words

So I woke up with some Upper Respiratory invasion on Saturday morning, and didn’t feel pretty much normal until yesterday sometime. That was no particular fun!

It did allow me to determine firsthand that, while the New Employer do as a general rule like team members to interact in person, if you need to work from home for three days because of an invasion of replicators, it is No Problem.

Also, they do Working From Home, like everything else remotely technical, very very well. Really very well. Remarkably. Quite.

read more »

2013/08/07

Mach’s Principle

I wrote my 750 words again! (Answers to even-numbered exercises are in the back of the book.)

The blinking light on the side of your laptop computer actually represents the average heartbeat of every human on Earth who is within one mile of a monitoring node.

Which is approximately 45% of the population of the planet.

Most of the time it is rock-steady, as any excitement in one heart, or in one group of hearts, is exactly balanced through the vast mushy laws of large numbers, by the ebbing of excitement in the same number of hearts elsewhere.

And vice-versa.

But on some days, if you are watching the blinking light as I often do, you will notice it slowly subtly down, or speeding suddenly up, as somewhere there is a large anomaly, a sudden gasping, a thrill, an excitement, in the entire population of a small city in Rawanda, or every Girl Scout in the USA; or somewhere else an entire continent goes to bed, and on the other side of the world, due to an international holiday, their usual counterbalancers are sleeping in.

Because, vast and sprawling and numerous though we are, humanity is still finite. There are only so many left-handed people, only so many people about to open a soda can, only so many Lutherans. The number of religious sects is large, but smaller than the number of grains of sand on the beach, which is smaller than the number of atoms in one grain of sand, which is smaller than the number of possible Sudoku grids, which is itself still finite, and so smaller than nearly all of the positive integers.

Looking down Platform 29, across all those people waiting patiently, or impatiently, for the 6:45 to arrive, and thinking that each of them has a history, and a set of beliefs, a complicated web of preferences and fears, we are already far beyond the vastness that any one of us can comprehend (one, two, three, seven, many), but if all of those people were to vanish suddenly, spirited off by aliens or vaporized by more mundane means, the size of the world as a whole would be reduced by only an imperceptible fraction.

So your laptop’s light blinks, almost always, at the same steady pace, as all of our hearts (or the hearts of all of us within one mile of a monitoring node), average out into a signal with just one bit of content (“still the same, still the same, still the same”); all the complexity nicely smoothing out, a hill here balanced by a valley there, a hundred orgasms in one set of college dorms nicely making up for a hundred hearts drifting off to sleep in another set one time zone away.

Take a breath. Feel yourself breathing, and what it feels like to breathe. Feel yourself thinking, and what it feels like to think. If you are worried, feel what it feels like to worry. Feel your own heartbeat slowing. Look at the reflection of the blinking light on the Ethernet connector, or the shiny tabletop, or your fingernail. As your heart slows down, imagine that you can see the light slowing down, by the smallest imaginable amount.

Imagine that you can feel, somewhere deep in your gut or your inner ear, the Earth turning under you, and the stars whirling around.

It the Earth turning, or the stars? We know, these days, that motion in a straight line is relative; that jogger is the one who is moving, and I on the park bench here with my peanuts am the one sitting still, only because the math is simpler that way; but either one might be true. It’s not so simple for rotation, though, for things spinning around. Ernst Mach thought, at least if we listen to Einstein (and we might as well, since we listened to him on that whole “motion in a straight line” thing), that the universe has a large-scale structure (large as large, larger than anything), that determines what counts as spinning and what doesn’t; but I hear down at the corner pub that this is not true in all solutions to the field equations.

Feel your breath, and what it is like to breathe. Feel your heart beating, and what it is like to have a heart, beating. Watch the blinking light, and feel your heart beating with all of the other hearts (the ones within a mile of a monitoring node). Feel the Earth turning under you, and the stars whirling around you (with or without closed timelike curves). Be still.

2013/04/29

NaPoWriMo 29

Dactyls are Dharma, too

Here in the midst of the ten thousand thingummies
Hearing the voices of ten million throats,
Feeling compassion for those who have aching knees,
Those who build bridges and those who dig moats.

Sitting in zazen and counting the in-and-out
One and a one and a one and a one,
Mind somehow caught in this insistent rhythm, I
Tick like a clock sitting here in the sun.

Dharma is silent but Dharma is noises and
Dharma is stillness but Dharma is speed,
Why should I think that the circling second-hand
Isn’t precisely the sound that we need?

 

(More dactlys)

2012/12/22

Mind and viewpoint

ensoI was in zazen, and the phone rang. The phone’s voice said that it was the car place calling, and I am not nearly pure enough to avoid responding to, or even to expect myself to avoid responding to, the car place calling.

(I need front brakes, which is to say that my car needs new parts in its front brakes, or so they say. Do I believe them? Always hard to say. The incentives and track-record are mixed. But I am getting new front-brake parts.)

Back on the zafu, again in zazen, no time had passed, no events occurred, no thoughts or actions manifested. And I had an insight from the formless, where there are no attributes. Or at least I thought of a weblog posting. :)

When body and thought fall away, words are surpassed. But let us call it Mind, for here and for now, even though that can be confusing, since body and thought falling away can as well be called body and mind falling away. But that is mind, not Mind.

Body and thought have attributes, have identities and telephones and cars and brake-pads. Mind is formless and has no attributes.

But, it seems, when body and thought fall away, and also when body and thought do not fall away, Mind still has viewpoint. When body and thought fall away for Hui-Neng, if Mind is a mirror or a water drop, what it reflects is still Hui-Neng. When body and thought fall away for John Loori, Mind’s non-reflection is not-reflecting John Loori.

No doubt this is wrong; Mind is not a mirror, or a waterdrop. But still questions buzz around it.

Does Mind not have viewpoint? But then, after body and thought have fallen away, how does Hui-Neng come down off of the mountain, being Hui-Neng and not John Loori?

Does mind have all viewpoints at once? Or does it have things, subtle things, in addition to viewpoint? Instead of viewpoint?

Or are there many Minds, differing only in viewpoint, one for every sitter, one for each Hui-Neng and John Loori, one for each Buddha? No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body or mind; no form, sound, smell, taste, touch or mind object; no realm of the eye, no ignorance and also no ending of ignorance, no old age and death and no ending of old age and death, but well yeah there are lots of viewpoints, floating around formless in the void?

Seems unlikely.

Maybe this is my koan for the time being.

And it seems appropriate to close with Hui-Neng’s own show-off verse, that got him the Patriarch’s Robe.

Replying to poor Shenxiu’s offering:

The body is a Bodhi tree,
The mind a standing mirror bright.
At all times polish it diligently,
And let no dust alight.

Hui-Neng wrote:

Bodhi is fundamentally without any tree;
The bright mirror is also not a stand.
Fundamentally there is not a single thing —
Where could any dust be attracted?

So there we are.

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2012/11/26

Ol’ Dogen

Ol’ Dogen wrote that the Way is perfect and all-pervading, yet even if one attains the Way and clarifies the mind, raising an aspiration to scale the very sky, one may still be somewhat deficient in the vital Way of emancipation.

How can a student, a master, and a householder, be deficient in the Way?

A student is deficient in the Way through studying the Way.
A master is deficient in the Way through attaining the Way.
A householder is deficient in the Way through embodying the Way.

Therefore a student, a master, and a householder, are never deficient in the Way.

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2012/11/05

Trapped in the Real

So the power went out, quite suddenly, whenever that was. Tuesday, last Tuesday, the 29th, maybe? That was sometime after, I think it was after, the big tree limb fell on M’s car and, as it turned out, totaled it, for the Insurance company’s notion of “totaled”, which is a pretty low bar for a 1999 model (we’re going to talk to them Monday about “retaining the salvage” and getting it fixed ourselves, rather than ouch buying an entire replacement car) .

And it was sometime before the sustained whooshing noise that came later on, a bit scary in the dark, which later turned out to be three or four or five tall trees all knocking each other over into and across the old tennis court area (good thing we never replaced the above ground pool when the last two trees fell across it).

So: no lights, no power, no heat, no landline ’cause we get that from the Cable company or something now, and it needs external power. Even virtually no cellphone connectivity; the signal strength has been bad and sporadic, so probably our nearest tower is also without power.

We’ve been running the wood stove at night and when we’re home on weekends. It’s a little Vermont Castings “Intrepid” I think it is, and wants short little sixteen-inch logs, but we have a face cord of those from last season and just ordered more (by cell from the parking lot of The Mall, where the signal was decent.)

It’s been interesting, these long disconnected evenings and weekend days (weekday days are normal, as work has power, and even had free lunch one day last week to thank everyone for having navigated the mazes of tree-blocked streets to come in). I’ve been doing lots more zazen than usual, which feels good, and more reading of the same thing for more than three minutes at a time, and probably more sustained thinking.

On the other hand I really miss, perhaps more than I would have predicted I would miss, the Temple of Seven Stars (is that what it’s called?), the Dread Wastes, and the hustle and bustle of the Stormwind Auction House, flying about on dragonback, teleporting here and there to shop for fancy clothes that I can easily afford, or to go listen to music with friends, the sixty-thousand things in my inventory, the ability to create a dirigible with my mind, to fly and script and create and play with the underpinnings of the world. Not to mention the more mundane pleasures of seeing what the usual people, and their usual people, are saying about politics and religion and weather and so on, and put in my two cents, or even a quarter, in one of a few different personae, depending.

Someone tweeted (and I can’t find or point to it now ’cause I’m back home tending the fire in the stove and the pad’s battery is down to 24% and it would be tedious to find it on the phone even if the signal happened to be strong enough) that they were expecting soon to see a horde of blog (“blog”) postings from New Yorkers about what they learned about their souls from a week of being disconnected. This is probably not going to be one of those unless I learn something about my soul between now and when I post this. :) But still it’s been interesting.

(And it may continue to be interesting for awhile yet, as Con Ed’s outage site, when it is working, gives a date of November 9th for most of the outages in this area; I’m hoping that’s a very conservative estimate to keep from looking bad by missing it and it’ll actually be much earlier, but One Never Knows…)

I started and finished two Ian M. Banks Culture novels that I was delighted to find on the pad here: Surface Detail and The Hydrogen Sonata. Both very good, very idea-packed, very Cultury. I enjoyed finding out about two or three more branches of Contact, and the Culture in general continues to be appealing, if in a slightly Mary Sue sort of way (if that concept can apply to an entire galactic civilization, as I think it can). Which is to say, they are The Good Guys, even to the extent of thinking carefully about what that means, and they are powerful and rational and sort of always mostly win.

(The revelations about the details of Subliming in The Hydrogen Sonata surprised, and at first disappointed, me. I’d always thought it was more like “once a civilization starts to develop technologies like X, Y, and Z, and then decides to continue to Q, it’s then not long before they vanish from the universe to, presumably, somewhere more interesting or something, usually in ways A or B or C”, rather than “if a civilization holds a vote and decides to Sublime, then the big black globes from the Other Place come and take them away”. But hey, it’s Banks’s world. :) So I’ll just have to do it my way when I write my own galactic future history…)

Battery down to 21%, fire doing nicely, temperature over by the thermostat up to 58F from 56F, which isn’t bad. Hope to get over 60 before bed.

I’ve been learning about generators, too. We are vaguely considering getting one, but still only vaguely. You can get a little four-cycle gasoline generator that puts out up to 2000W or so for under USD1000, and that’s probably enough to run the furnace (oil heat, so mostly the blower) and a few lights and device chargers. Gasoline is something like 36 kilowatt-hours per gallon, which seems to mean a few days of running a 2000W generator on not too much gas, unless there’s like a 10% efficiency factor in there that I’ve missed or something. (Hm, have to look up the power draw of a refrigerator.) Larger generators can be had for more money, and eventually need like certified electricians to install and all.

Radio Shack has these little dinguses (dingoi?) that plug into a car “cigarette lighter” and provide power out a USB socket which seem like a fair way to charge devices via gasoline. We have two of them now, but haven’t actually tried either. (And my cellphone doesn’t have a USB charging cable I don’t think, silly thing.)

It would be fun to run a zendo. What would be a good name? One could like rent a little room in some local community center (or use one’s living room, especially if there is lots of parking space in one’s driveway), and put out a little classified ad. “Wednesday Zazen in Name of Town, 8-9pm, Address Goes Here.” And all you’d have to do is put out some chairs and zafus and zabutons (the expensive part!), and maybe a little stack of Welcome papers, and at 8 you’d sit down, and at 8:05 you’d ring a chime for sitting, and at 8:30 ring one for kinhin say, and at 8:35 one for sitting again, and at 9 one for being all done and then maybe have cider and donuts until 9:30, and go home. Sounds like a blast. :)

19%. Maybe I will stop writing now and read something, or just sit. It’s about 7:30, still 58F in here, a bit above 40 outside. We have our candles and flashlights and book lights and fire and cat. And lots and lots of covers. :) Will post this from work tomorrow most likely.

Keep warm!

2012/07/31

All One Dharma

Just past the traffic circle there were two people by the side of the road: a woman with her arm up and her thumb out, and someone else crouching at her feet tying a shoelace or something.

I didn’t think quickly enough to pull off right then, but I thought “well, yeah”, and so I made a U-turn at the next break in the median, drove back past them on the other side, turned left into the parking lot of the old deserted and For Sale building at the edge of the water (I do hope someone buys that and doesn’t knock it down, but puts something neat like a seafood restaurant or a bookstore in the ramshackle old place), turned right out of that, and then pulled over onto the right shoulder just past them, with my blinkers on.

They were headed, as it turned out, to the Appalachian Trail where it crosses Cat Rock Road (Route 403), which was right on my way, so that was nice. She was a sun-browned and somewhat sun-wrinkled woman, maybe about my age, and he was her younger son. They were headed north on the Trail with their two big packs, from North Carolina (I think she said), where her older son (who had done the whole trail before) got them started and then went back.

We passed Roa Hook Road, and she said, oh wow, and that she used to live in Westchester, and one of her sons was born in a house on Roa Hook Road, and in fact it was that one right there, on the street we’re just passing over on the bridge. Her son (not the one born in the house, I don’t think) looked out the window for it and was impressed.

They were on their way back to the trail after a few days in the City visiting family and/or friends; the City had been, she said, quite a culture shock after the trail. Especially the subway, said her son.

So we dove North, talking about how it was indeed a rather hot summer to be hiking, but they were from Texas, and the woods are much cooler than the asphalt, and it wasn’t really so bad. And that yeah there were quite a few people on the trail, although as the season went on lots of people who’d started out had dropped off. And people walking the trail are a community, and look out for each other, and that that’s a Good Thing.

And then we got onto Cat Rock Road, driving slowly, and pulled over just after her son spotted the sign (facing the other way for some reason, maybe we missed the one in our direction) for the Trail, and they got out and pulled out their packs, and thanked me, and we wished each other well, and she said she hoped I’d get out on the trail again (me having mentioned that I’d done tiny bits of it, but never as much as I’d really like).

“Only myself in the way of my doing it,” I said.

“That and some good equipment,” she said, “equipment is important.”

And then I drove North some more, by myself in some sense, to where 403 ends at 9D, and turned left, drove past the golf course, and then turned right and parked near one of the “Garrison Institute Guest Parking” signs, on the grass next to a white truck with a “No Farms, No Food” bumper sticker.

Following the instructions from the website (which I’d written on a napkin and put the napkin in my pocket before I left work, but didn’t need to take out because writing them down helped me remember them), I found the main entrance (which is on the opposite side from the Guest Parking, on the side that faces the river, and it’s a lovely view), and went in, and through the first double doors, and took off my shoes and went through the second double doors into here:

The big room is pretty impressive (the place was built as a Capuchin monastery), and when I got there it was all quiet and echoing, because I was about ten or fifteen minutes early, despite the hikers, since I’d left myself lots of time, in case I got lost or anything, it being my first time.

Still following the instructions I crossed to the left side of the room (bowing slightly to the Buddha at the head of the room, ’cause that’s What You Do when you cross in front of him), and went through the door into the (much smaller) Meditation Annex, where there were zafus and zabutons all waiting, and one woman sitting quietly next to the door, who said “I was half an hour early, wasn’t I?”, and I smiled and said it starts at six thirty I think, and she said yeah, well, I’ve had a lovely little sit here waiting. Outside in the big room, someone was playing a guitar (never did find out who or why that was, but a nice effect).

I bowed to the smaller Buddha (or maybe a Kuan-Yin, but hey) in crossing to the left side of the room, and sat on a random cushion and squirmed around a bit in a half-lotus to wait. The teacher came in briefly and said Hi and that he had to go back to his car to get the materials. And maybe eight or ten more people came in, in ones and twos, and sat on chairs or cushions, and the teacher came in with the materials, and we did the Tuesday evening meditation.

I won’t go into incredible detail. Lot of nice little things, though. One of the people coming in after I sat down was a friend, or friendly acquaintance, from the Lab who was also there for the first time, completely at random, and that was highly synchronic. The lesson was about Meditating with Thoughts, which involved various words, and we did little exercises and said words to each other and smiled and laughed and nodded and things, and that was all good. The things we were officially supposed to be doing were rather different from my own zazen practice, the author of the book being a Tibetan type, but it wasn’t High Church in any way, and besides it’s All One Dharma.

(There were apparently a number of first-timers there tonight for no apparent reason, and he had us each say who we were and briefly what our practice, what our experience with meditation, was; it was an interesting mix. I was silly and said that I had a sporadic (very true) Shikantaza (in my dreams) practice, and the teacher looked interested and said that there are some Zen groups that use the room, too. I really should have said I have a sporadic Bu-ji Zen practice, but I don’t know if anyone would have gotten the joke.)

So we did that from 6:30pm to roughly 8:00pm, including some meditation (my legs in a half-lotus and hands in a comfy zazen mudra, everyone else sitting or kneeling or whatever in whatever way they were sitting or kneeling or whatever), and some guided meditation, and some exercises, and discussion.

Words of a Buddhist teacher are no more to be attached to than anything else :) so I haven’t brought many home with me, and I didn’t care too much exactly what they were while I was there, but enjoyed watching people’s faces and hands as they talked, and occasionally saying some words also.

I credit the little daughter with all of this; she texted (“texted”) me the other day saying that she’d been to something at a local sangha, and we texted back and forth about that a little, and that night I sat zazen myself for a little while, and then last night I did a random web search for nearby sittings, and there was this one right tonight, so I made sure with M that it wouldn’t interfere with anything, and it wouldn’t, so there I was driving Northward and picking up a mother and son and delivering them to the Trail. On the way home, there was a big white moon in the darkening blue sky.

And that was all very nice. :)

Maybe I’ll go again next Tuesday.