Posts tagged ‘zen’

2022/05/31

A couple of books I’ve read some of

To update this post from (gad) three months ago on the book “Superintelligence”, I’m finally slightly more than halfway through it, and it has addressed pretty reasonably my thoughts about perfectly safe AIs, like for instance AIDungeon or LaMDA, that just do what they do, without trying to optimize themselves, or score as many points as possible on some utility function, or whatever. The book calls such AIs “Tools”, and agrees (basically) that they aren’t dangerous, but says (basically) that we humans are unlikely to build only that kind of AI, because AIs that do optimize and improve themselves and try to maximize the expected value of some utility function, will work so much better that we won’t be able to resist, and then we’re all doomed.

Well, possibly in the second half they will suggest that we aren’t all doomed; that remains to be seen.

Conscious experience is unitary, parallel, and continuous

Another book I’ve read some of, and in this case just a little of, is Daniel Ingram’s “Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha” (expanded 2nd edition). There’s a page about it here, which includes a link to a totally free PDF, which is cool, and you can also buy it to support his various good works.

An internal Buddhists group at The Employer has had Daniel Ingram join us for a couple of videoconferences, which have been fun to various extents. There’s a lot that one could say about Ingram (including whether he is in fact a Buddhist, what one thinks of him calling himself “The Arahant Daniel M. Ingram” on the cover, etc.), but my impression of him is that he’s a very pragmatic and scientific (and energetic) sort of person, who has a project to study the various paths to things like enlightenment in the world, in a scientific sort of way, and figure out what paths there are, which ones work best for which kinds of people, what stages there are along the paths, what works best if one is at a particular point on a certain path, and so on. There is apparently a whole Movement of some sort around this, called Pragmatic Dharma (I was going to link to something there, but you can Web Search on it yourself at least as effectively).

I’m not sure that this is an entirely sensible or plausible project, since as a Zen type my instinctive reaction is “okay, that’s a bunch of words and all, but better just sit”. But it’s cool that people are working on it, I think, and it’ll be fun to see what if anything they come up with. Being both pragmatic and moral, they are all about the Kindness and Compassion, so they can’t really go far wrong in some sense.

Having started to read that PDF, I have already a couple of impressions that it’s probably far too early to write down, but hey it’s my weblog and I’ll verb if I want to.

First off, Ingram says various things about why one would want to engage on some project along these lines at all, and I get a bit lost. He says that in working on morality (by which he means practical reasoning in the relative sphere, being kind and compassionate and all that) we will tend to make the world a better place around us, and that’s cool. But then the reasons that one would want to work on the next level after morality, which is “concentration”, are all about vaguely-described jhanas, as in (and I quote):

  • The speed with which we can get into skillful altered states of awareness (generally called here “concentration states” or “jhanas”).
  • The depth to which we can get into each of those states.
  • The number of objects that we can use to get into each of those states.
  • The stability of those states in the face of external circumstances.
  • The various ways we can fine-tune those states (such as paying attention to and developing their various sub-aspects)

Now it appears to me that all of these depend on an underlying assumption that I want to get into these “states” at all; unless I care about that, the speed with which I can do it, the depth, the number of objects (?), the stability, and the fine-tuning, don’t really matter.

I imagine he will say more about these states and why they’re desirable later, but so far it really just says that they are “skillful” (and “altered”, but that seems neutral by itself), and “skillful” here just seems to be a synonym for “good”, which doesn’t tell us much.

(In other Buddhist contexts, “skillful” has a somewhat more complex meaning, along the lines of “appropriate for the particular occasion, and therefore not necessarily consistent with what was appropriate on other occasions”, which a cynic might suggest is cover for various Official Sayings of the Buddha appearing to contradict each other seriously, but who wants to be a cynic really?)

It seems that if the jhanas are so fundamental to the second (um) training, he might have made more of a case for why one would want to jhana-up at the point where the training is introduced. (One could make the same sort of comment about Zen types, where the reason that you’d want to meditate is “the apple tree in the side yard” or whatever, but those types make no pretense at being scientific or rational or like that.)

In the Third Training, called among other things “insight”, Ingram talks about becoming directly aware of what experience is like, or as he summarizes it, “if we can simply know our sensate experience clearly enough, we will arrive at fundamental wisdom”. He then talks about some of the ways that he has become more aware of sensate experience, and I am struck by how very different from my own observations of the same thing they are. Let’s see if I can do this in bullets:

  • He starts with basically a “the present moment is all that exists” thing, which I can get pretty much entirely behind.
  • He says that experience is serial, in that we can experience only one thing at a time. He describes focusing on the sensations from his index fingers, for instance, and says “[b]asic dharma theory tells me that it is not possible to perceive both fingers simultaneously”.
  • Relatedly, he says that experience is discrete, and that one sensation must fade entirely away before another one can begin. At least I think he’s saying that; he says things like “[e]ach one of these sensations (the physical sensation and the mental impression) arises and vanishes completely before another begins”, and I think he means that in general, not just about possibly-related “physical sensations” and “mental impressions”. He also uses terms like “penetrating the illusion of continuity” (but what about the illusion of discontinuity?).
  • And relatedly relatedly, he thinks that experience is basically double, in that every (every?) “physical sensation” is followed by a “mental impression” that is sort of an echo of it. “Immediately after a physical sensation arises and passes is a discrete pulse of reality that is the mental knowing of that physical sensation, here referred to as ‘mental consciousness'”.

Now as I hinted above, the last three of these things, that consciousness is serial, discrete, and double, do not seem to accord at all with my own experience of experience.

  • For me, experience is highly parallel; there is lots going on at all times. When sitting in a state of open awareness, it’s all there at once (in the present moment) in a vast and complex cloud. Even while attending to my breath, say, all sorts of other stuff is still there, even if I am not attending to it.
  • Similarly, experience is continuous; it does not come in individual little packets that arise and then fade away; it’s more of an ongoing stream of isness (or at least that is how memory and anticipation present it, in the singular present moment). If thoughts arise, and especially if those thoughts contain words or images, the arising and fading away of those feel more discrete, but only a bit; it’s like foam forming on the tops of waves, and then dissolving into the water again.
  • And finally, there’s no important distinction to be had between “physical sensations” and “mental impressions”; there is only experience happening to / constituting / waltzing with mind. If there were a mental impression following each physical sensation, after all, how would one avoid an infinite regress, with mental impressions of mental impressions stretching out far into the distance? Something like that does happen sometimes (often, even) but it’s more a bug than a feature.

I suspect that some or most of all of these differences come because Ingram is talking about a tightly-focused awareness, where I am more of an open and expansive awareness kind of person, even when attending to the breath and all. If you really pinch down your focus to be as small as possible, then you won’t be able to experience (or at least be consciously aware of) both fingers at once, and you may manage to make yourself see only one sensation at a time in individual little packets, and you may even notice that after every sensation you notice, you also notice a little mental echo of it (which may in fact be the sum of an infinite series of echoes of echoes that with any luck converges).

This kind of tightly-focused conscious awareness goes well, I think, with what Ingram says about it being important to experience as many sensations per second as possible. He puts it in terms of both individual sensations, and vibrations, although the latter doesn’t really fit the model; I think he means something more like “rapid coming into existence and going out of existence” rather than a vibration in some continually-existing violin string.

He is enthusiastic about experiencing things really fast, as in

If you count, “one, one thousand”, at a steady pace, that is about one second per “one, one-thousand”. Notice that it has four syllables. So, you are counting at four syllables per second, or 4 Hertz (Hz), which is the unit of occurrences per second. If you tapped your hand each time you said or thought a syllable, that would be four taps per second. Try it! Count “one, one thousand” and tap with each syllable. So, you now know you can experience at least eight things in a second!

and this strikes me as really funny, and also endearing. But he takes it quite seriously! He says in fact that “that is how fast we must perceive reality to awaken”; I do wonder if he is going to present any scientific evidence for this statement later on. I’m sure it has worked well / is working well for him, but this seems like a big (and high-frequency) generalization. I don’t remember ol’ Dogen, or Wumen, or the Big Guy Himself, talking about experiencing as many things per second as possible, as a requirement. I guess I’ll see!

2022/01/12

Who am I? Who is asking?

My proto-Zen was when I was a child, and would think over and over to myself “I just don’t see how I am me!”.

I was reminded of this by a little article called “The Practice of Wonderment” in the latest Buddhadharma magazine, giving the author’s take on huatou. It started with the etymology of the word, basically “the source of speech”, as an investigation of what lies beyond words. Which resonates with my own favorite paradoxical observation, that language cannot express truth.

We ask “Who am I?”, not in order to answer it, but in order to be filled with the question.

From Dahui’s Discourse Records:

When you observe this, there is no need for effortful speculation; no need for explanations; no need to acquire any understanding; no need to open your mouth; no need to figure out some meaning to the place where you bring it forth; no need to wallow in a state of empty quiescence; no need to wait for enlightenment; no need to try to fathom the words of Chan masters; and furthermore, there is no need to [dwell] in the shell of nondoing. Instead, simply bring this forth at all times, whether you are walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, “Does a dog have buddhanature or not? Zhou replied, Wu!” When you are familiar with your practice of bringing forth this “Wu!” then you will reach a place where words and thoughts do not reach.

I posted that to Reddit, and there was some nice feedback, and also a thread with someone who seemed to be saying that asking “Who am I?” is a useless question, because we already know the answer (nothing! no one!). I replied that while it’s easy to respond to the question with some particular words, it’s a different thing to have faced the question diligently enough that you’ve gotten beyond the words, and experienced the truth.

How do we know whether we’ve in fact broken through, whether we are simply bringing this forth at all times? An easy answer is, “if you have to ask, then you haven’t” but I think that’s wrong. There are undoubtedly people who are extremely confident that they have seen through to the ultimate ground of being, and simply bring this forth at all times, but who are mistaken about that (heh, see recent post that I just now realize is related).

So even if I am (were) extremely confident, I’d want to take reasonable steps to be sure that I’m not one of those people. Talking to an actual teacher now and then might help, but that would require work in the external world (aah!). And otherwise, the best way to check seems to be continuing to ask the question.

Who am I? Who is it that asks?

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2021/08/08

A few more sentences

Having covered the two kinds of roads there are that join The Way, as in something like:

Bodhidharma’s “Introduction to the Four Practices of Insight”
So, to enter the Way, there are many roads, but essentially speaking, there are no more than two kinds. The first is the entrance by reason, and the second is the entrance by practice.

The next bit starts to describe the entrance by reason, mostly to get it out of the way before delving into a longer discussion of the entrance by practice. There’s some heavy going here, so we’ll see how far we get before I decide it’s getting too long.

To start with, these two sentences; the Chinese and Red Pine’s English:

理入者。
To enter by reason
謂藉教悟宗。
means to realize the essence through instruction.

The first sentence more literally is ” [理] reason [入] entrance [者] thing* [。]”. We’ve seen those first two characters before; the third is subtler. It’s described in Wiktionary as (inter alia) “Used after a term, to mark a pause before defining the term” (which turned out to be a bit of a red herring I think). It’s a picture of Earth and a Line on top of Daytime (natch).

I struggled a little with it, and how it relates to the first character of the next bit (see below), and eventually asked in r/zen and ultimately r/classicalchinese, where I got an extremely helpful answer: apparently here 者 is a nominalizer, that makes the preceding term into a noun. 理入 by itself might be just “enter reasoningly”, and 者 does roughly what “to” does, making it into a noun phrase. Also (to quote the answer verbatim since it’s phrased perfectly) “Since Literary Chinese constructs its sentences in a topic-comment structure, the 者 also marks the topic, and the phrase that follows is a comment on that topic.” Which is maybe sort of what Wiktionary was getting at, I dunno.

The second line is even harder. :) It’s maybe like “[謂] say [藉] rely on [教] teach [悟] understand [宗] follow/revere [。]”. Gadzooks! “To understand by relying on and following the sayings of teachers”? But that’s not feeling compelling to me yet; seems like there are too many redundant characters, aren’t there?

Google Translate renders it as (wait for it) “Said by the Pope Wuzong,” which is pretty funny. :) The last two characters are indeed wù and zōng. Also MDBG says that 教宗 is “Pope” (maybe as “Revered Teacher”?), but that means Google Translate is consuming 宗 (zōng) twice, the silly thing.

The helpful r/classicalchinese answer tells us that 謂 here is “is called” or “is named” (or Red Pine’s quite reasonable “means”), so that works, now that we realize that 者 isn’t already doing “means” on the line before.

When asked about the characters 悟宗 one at a time, Google Translate gives “enlightenment” for 悟, which might be a Helpful Clue. MDBG translates it as “to apprehend, realize, become aware”, and the Japanese / Kanji section of Wiktionary gives a first meaning of “enlightenment”.

Widening our examination of 宗 by asking MDBG for all words (“words”) containing that character, we see a bunch of words around ancestors, religion, sects, clans, and things. So “禪宗” is described as “Zen Buddhism”, and “密宗” as “Tantra”. Perhaps 宗 is something like “-ism” or “the doctrine of”? That might give us something like “the doctrine of enlightenment” or “the doctrine of awakening / realization” for 悟宗 (while admitting that neither MDBG or Wiktionary actually have it as a single word/term as such).

The r/classicalchinese person says that 悟宗 is in a common verb-object form, and should be interpreted here as “awaken the essence”, 宗 originally meaning “ancestor”, but having grown lots of meaning beyond that. This is closer to Red Pine’s “to realize the essence”, obviously, and so is probably right! I do wonder how 禪宗 and 密宗 relate; maybe someday we will find out. :)

The very helpful answer also points out a nested verb-object structure in our text, which is apparently common in literary Chinese; the second line can be glossed in a notation I just made up as:

(verb: means; noun: (verb: rely upon; noun: instruction) (verb: awaken; noun: essence))

It’s likely that if we went back through the first few posts in this series, we could find more examples of this that would improve our analysis; but that would involve work!

Anyway, so far we have (keeping in mind that the process, not the result, is the real focus here) something like:

Bodhidharma’s “Introduction to the Four Practices of Insight”
So, to enter the Way, there are many roads, but essentially speaking, there are no more than two kinds. The first is the entrance by reason, and the second is the entrance by practice. To enter by reason is to rely on instruction to awaken the essence.

Next time: another aspect of the reason entrance!

2021/07/28

The Two Kinds of Roads to the Way

Which is to say, the next two sentences of Bodhidharma’s “Outline of Practice” (or “Introduction to the Four Elements of Insight” as we like to call it sometimes), following the first and second-and-third sentences.

So far, we have something like:

Bodhidharma’s “Introduction to the Four Elements of Insight”
“So, to enter the Way, there are many roads, but essentially speaking, there are no more than two kinds.”

In this next episode, perhaps we will find out what the two kinds are!

We have a spoiler immediately, with the original (at least we’ve been assuming it’s original, but what does that even mean in this context?) and Red Pine’s translation again:

一是理入。
reason,

二是行入。
and practice.

Well, that’s clearly not a very literal translation, as there’s all sorts of parallel stuff going on in the Chinese that isn’t in the English! So in we dive, with the confidence of the ignorant.

One character at a time, it’s something like “[一] one [是] is [理] reason [入] entrance[。][二] two [是] is [行] doing [入] entrance[。].

(That seems like a lotta brush-strokes for “is”, don’t it? It’s made of two parts, 日 which is the sun or daytime, and 𤴓 which seems to be an old particle that doesn’t mean anything all by itself, so that’s kind of a fun mystery. When it’s by itself, ol’ Google Translate renders 是 as “yes”, which is also notable.)

It pleases me that the two kinds of roads are actually two entrances. So we might say “the first [kind of road] is entered by X, and the second is entered by Y”. And there’s a good chance, I think, that it’s no coincidence that the 入s here are the same word as the first word of the title of the whole thing (see previously).

And finally, the actual two kinds: 理 and 行 (if that second one looks familiar, you’ve been paying perhaps too much attention; we’ll get back to that).

理 seems to be pretty straightforwardly “reason” or “logic”, but also “to manage”, with circling semantics around cutting jade into equal sections, putting things in order, and natural science. It’s made of a 王 which means “ruler”, and a 里 which is something like a village (we’ve seen that before, deep inside of 種 , where we said in passing that it meant “distance”, but “village” is possibly more relevant here). So basically it means “mayor”, haha. But it doesn’t, it means “reason”.

We have indeed seen 行 before, again in the flipping title, where it’s the thing that there are four of, of insight. We first translated it as “Elements”, but in the update we decided that “practices” was better. So we could gloss this as “practice” (rather than the muzzier “doing” above).

Seems like there’s an oddity here, though, doesn’t it? The title of the whole thing is that it’s the entrance to some practices, yet in this sentence we find out that there are two kinds of roads that lead to the way, and one of those kinds is the kind that is entered by practices. Well!

Perhaps what’s going on is that the ol’ red-bearded guy will reveal that the reason-entrance roads aren’t that interesting, so he’s going to talk about the practice-entered roads from now on, and that they are entered in fact by four different practices. And the “Entrance” at the beginning of the title is a perfect mirror of the entrance that the four practices offer into the Way!

Or not; I mean, these could all be coincidences or turn out to mean something else entirely. Tune in next time, when we might (looking ahead) start to look at the part about the path entered by reason, which is indeed much shorter than the part (four parts, really) about the path entered to practice(s).

2021/07/13

The First Sentence of Bodhidharma’s Outline of Practice

Or, as we said last time, the first sentence of Bodhidharma’s “Introduction to the Four Elements of Insight”.

Again, we have just five characters: 夫入道多途。(The “。” is the period at the end of the sentence!)

Red Pine renders this as “Many roads lead to the Path”.

Google Translate (because why not) says “The husband enters the road in many ways”. Interesting that a husband showed up in there!

Literally word by word, it’s something like “[夫] So [入] enter [道] Way [多] many [途] roads”.

We got “husband” apparently because “夫” is “fū”, which means, well, “husband” (and “man” and even “worker” or “laborer”). But I wrote “So” because “夫” is also “fú”, which is a little helper word that means things like “this” or “that” or “he/she” or “this next thing that I’m going to say is what I think”, and the latter seems kind of like “So”.

(Keep in mind that I have no idea what I’m talking about here, of course, and that I welcome any and all comments and corrections. Also while I’m thinking of it the MDBG Chinese Dictionary is really nice and helpful. And I have no reason to think it’s not correct.)

“道” and “途” have both similar glyphs (do I mean “glyph”?) and similar meanings.

“道” shows (obviously) a little person with a stick standing on a road; this is dào, aka Tao, meaning a road, a path, truth, reason, skill, method, the thing that Taoism is about, and also an indicator of long thin things (like say roads and paths!).

“途” shows (obviously) a different little person with a stick standing on a road. This is “tú”, and also refers to a road or a path, a journey, or a course. Apparently it doesn’t get into all the philosophical stuff, though, so it’s just a route.

Let’s look inside of these two characters. Both of them have the road from “辶”, which is “chuò”, meaning “walk” or “walking”, which is sensible since it’s a picture of a road and a walking stick and all.

Now what about the little persons? In “道”, the little person is “首”, or “shǒu”, which is a person, but an important person, a “head” or “leader” or “chief”. (Also a “poem”, which is cool but we won’t pursue that.) Then in “途” the little person is “余”, or “yú”, which seems to be an old form of “I” or “me”. (Both of the little-person subsymbols are themselves made up of further small subsymbols, too, but we’re not burrowing in there right now.)

We could be a little whimsical here, and write “So, to get onto the road of important people, there are many roads that I can walk on”.

While we’re here, there’s “多”, which is “duō”, which straightforwardly means “many”, or “much”, or “lots”, or “more than” and like that. Just glancing at the glyph, it looks sort of like it’s showing two of a thing, which would make a lot of sense! And in fact it is: two “夕”, which is “xī”. It makes a little less sense that “xī” means “dusk” or “evening”; but it’s kind of poetic: “many” is expressed as “two evenings” (or “evening evening”).

(It’s (?) probably a coincidence that a character (word?) made of two of the same thing, is spelled “duō”, which is spelled about like “duo”, which also means “two”. Heh.)

And “入” is “rù” and means “enter” or “come in”, and also more figuratively “join” in the sense of “become a member of”. Which could be a sensible translation also, but doesn’t fit the road imagery as well. (Probably we could do “many paths join to form the Way, but we won’t right now at least.)

So anyway! :) Let’s take the first sentence of Bodhidharma’s “Introduction to the Four Elements of Insight” to be something like “So, to enter the Way, there are many roads.” I like that!

(Still no decorative images or even pullquotes, but at least we looked quasi-visually inside some glyphs…)

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2021/07/12

The Title of Bodhidharma’s Outline of Practice

Various things have converged lately, and gotten me increasingly interested in Zen and Buddhism and all again. First (in some order) my GP decided that the diastolic blood pressure that I’ve had like forever is too high, and that I need to exercise more and eat less salt and stuff, or else I’ll have to take a tiny additional pill.

(I tried to tell him that taking a tiny additional pill seemed by far the easier solution, and he was kind of taken aback. I suppose that’s the Easy Way Out or something. Doctors, eh?)

But anyway in order to placate the doctor, I am now walking a treadmill at a bit over three miles per hour for a bit over forty minutes, something like four days a week. And since I’m developing habits anyway, on the other three days I’m trying to sit (“meditate”) for thirty minutes, in order to see clearly my original nature and all (rather than doing it on whatever days I happened to remember and wasn’t doing anything else, which wasn’t nearly three times a week I don’t think).

Second, someone at work started a “Buddhists” chatroom-thing on the intranet, and people have been talking about some interesting stuff in there, including the fascinating ambiguity or otherwise complexity of translation from original Zen and Buddhist sources into English.

And as a result of the second, and because I’ve been active in Reddit lately due to that being where most of the GPT discussion seems to be happening (outside of Discord, which I’m still resisting), I went and looked at some of the relevant subreddits. It turns out that r/zen is a peculiar kind of place (in some ways like ol’ alt.zen back in the day) dominated by a smallish number of highly opinionated and sharp-quilled posters who apparently have lots and lots of time on their hands. r/zenbuddhism is more peaceful (and, notably, not often mentioned on r/zen, because at least one of the opinionated and quilled posters there is of the opinion that Zen and Buddhism are unrelated, and refers to Zen Buddhism as “Dogen Buddhism”, and has a highly negative view of ol’ Dogen).

Combining those things with how easy it is to order books on a whim (even from places that aren’t Amazon!) I am slowly adding to my collection of Zen-related books, and one of the new arrivals (not that there might not be a copy upstairs already that I just forgot about) is the very nice “The Zen Teachings of Bodhidharma”, translated by Red Pine. This volume is especially nice, in that it has the translation on the right-hand pages, and the original Chinese (in some sense) on the left-hand pages.

Combining that with Google Translate and online versions of the Chinese, and some discussion in the chatroom at work, has resulted in my wanting to look at some of these Chinese characters, and figure out how some of these English words relate to them. (Very very long-time readers may recall that I did my own “translations” of the first few verses of the Tao Te Ching many years ago; I don’t think I referred to the original while doing that, though; and I’m too lazy to look it up, heh heh.)

So! Let’s consider the title of the very first piece of writing in here. If we work really hard, we might later get to the first sentence!

The title is rendered in English as “Outline of Practice”, which I expect isn’t Red Pine’s fault and that’s what it’s been called since forever or something, as it seems to be a rather poor title. It doesn’t even count as a translation, really, of the actual title, which is “入道四行觀” (and I really hope nothing in WordPress or anything has any trouble with those characters; it’s 2021 after all!).

These characters do not mean “Outline of Practice” except in the most general possible sense. Literally one at a time, they say something on the order of “[入] Into [道] Way [四] Four [行] Xing [觀] Insight”; that is “Entrance to the Four Xing of Insight”.

I write just “Xing” for ” 行 ” there, because omg it means a lot of different things. Amusingly, for instance, it means “row” (as of a table of data) in mainland China, and “column” (as of a table of data) in Taiwan. Or so Wiktionary tells me. That must cause… some confusion.

Another thing that “Xing” can mean is, roughly, “thing” or “item”, or more grandly “aspect” or “element” (I may be stretching it a bit with “aspect”). Which might get us to, say, “Introduction to the four elements of insight”, which is kind of nice.

If we point ol’ Google Translate at the whole title, it happily says “Entrance into the four elements of Taoism”, which is a bit surprising! “觀” as “Taoism” is fun, and presumably highly contextual, as if we reverse the direction of translation, Google Translate renders “Taoism” as “道教”, which is, well, “Taoism”, as “道” is “Tao” and ” 教” is “teaching”. When we put “觀” into the big Google Search Bar, we get a sidebar that tells is that it means “Vipassanā”, which is not the same thing as Taoism.

Isn’t that all fun and complicated? And it’s just five characters!

So if I continue to be interested in this, and motivated to type about it in the weblog here, maybe next time we will analyze the first sentence (also, fortunately, just five characters) of Bodhidharma’s “Introduction to the Four Elements of Insight”. :)

(Also if I can figure out how to freaking introduce small decorative images into this stupid WordPress editor, maybe it will be more visually interesting, too, heh.)

Update: Turns out that “行” is even more complicated than my initial amateur fiddling revealed: the meanings having to do with row and columns and items are not Xing but háng, and even Xing is not Xing but xíng. Among the many meanings of xíng are things like “to walk”, “to go”, “behavior”, and “conduct”, so we might also have say “Introduction to the Four Practices of Insight” which among other things would be very slightly closer to that “Outline of Practice” thing. Whee!

2018/02/18

I did that thing again!

Devoted readers may recall that just recently (less than four years ago, anyway), I went up to Zen Mountain Monastery for the Basic Space Intensive (the first one there was, I think) one Thursday, and didn’t return until the next Sunday.

Well, I did it again! And this time, it was Winter!

IMG_20180211_133651

That’s the Doshinji sign again, only this time in the winter. And, like last time, taken from the car on the way out, because the phone was of course locked in the car and turned off the whole time of the retreat, and I only remembered to take a picture at the last moment. (I was going to sneak back with the phone and take some around the monastery, but I got distracted by helping get a car unstuck from the snow, and forgot.)

It was all just as great as last time. Lots and lots and lots of sitting zazen. Lots of work on the whole “who am I?” question, and that “I just don’t see how I am me” feeling from my childhood. A cat, although this time one named Rudy instead of one that I vaguely think was there in 2014 named Moss.

I didn’t do face-to-face teaching, either diasan (with sansei) or dokusan (with roshi), because at first I didn’t feel like I had anything to bring in, and later because I was kinda tired of The Forms. I did, though, sit on the couch at the very end, when the silence was lifted and we could just talk whenever we wanted (weird!), and talk to Yukon about how to have compassion for A when A is being seriously nasty to B (we didn’t entirely figure it out). As well as being a Senior Monastic and Monastery Gardner, Yukon is the flippin’ salt o’ the Earth, and people kept coming up and hugging him and laughing with him and stuff, and it was all highly gratifying.

I did oryoki a bunch (four?) more times, and did just fine, and that was cool. I cleaned the bathrooms a couple more times (I have cleaned the bathrooms in the monastery and the Dharma Communications building a number of times now; they’re always spotless to begin with, so it’s a somewhat challenging practice that way), and peeled a whole bunch of potatoes once (which was more obviously useful, and especially neat since later that same day I ate some of them in yummy soup).

My knees got very achy, but I never quite fell poom on my bottom in the zendo like last time. I spent a long long time walking in circles slowly around and around the downstairs dining hall during the unstructured afternoons; I hope I didn’t drive anyone crazy!

Here is some stuff I thought about:

What about this?

We know that to avoid being changed into a fox, when asked “Is the realized person subject to the law of cause and effect?”, you should say “The realized person is one with the law of cause and effect.”

If asked “Does the realized person avoid all suffering?”, should one similarly avoid being changed into a fox by saying, “The realized person is one with all suffering?”.

I didn’t ask Yukon this, as it seemed overly theoretical, and I know that I tend to be far too theoretical. But I did say “Samsara is Nirvana, Nirvana is Samsara” once, and when he raised a finger and said “Ah, when realized!”, I said “well, we could have a discussion about that”.

Maybe someday!

Lovecraftian Zen

That’s when you finally see your true face, before your parents were born, and it’s a horrifying mass of quivering tentacles!

(Rimshot)

Three Questions

What should I do?
Who am I?
What is this?

I thought about these considerable. The first one is the basic practical question. We seem to have lots of ideas about it, or at least we are always doing things. But you’d think that in order to know what I should do, I really ought to know who I am and what this is, and I don’t.

I talked about this a little with Hokyu and someone else I fear I forget who. We know what we should do for our bodies; “when hungry, eat; when thirsty, drink”. Hokyu connected that to Bankei’s idea of the unborn (like maybe say here), which is just there and you don’t have to think about it. I thought (but don’t think I said) that we also have advice about preparing for the future and taking care of the community (“chop wood, carry water”), and about following practices (“Have you finished your rice? Then wash your bowl.”).

None of these seem to require knowing who you are or what this is, but still. It seems like if it were to turn out that I am something very different, and/or that this is something very unexpected, it might follow that I should do something else. Hard to say!

The Wheelbarrow

A monk addressed the assembly, saying “Does anyone know where the blue wheelbarrow is? I want to use it to move some grass clippings this afternoon.”

A novice spoke up. “I’m sorry,” said the novice, “I think I left it by the shed in the East field; I’ll bring it back before lunch.”

“Great,” replied the monk, “Thanks alot.”

This is what realistic Zen stories are like. Probably it is also a koan.

The Secret of Enlightenment

This is a great secret, because I just make it up, so no one knows it but me, and now you.

This is what really happens when you become enlightened: the Pure Mind (the ultimate and unborn) in you loosens the tethers that connect it to all appearances, memory, concepts, thought, personality, desire, aversion, and everything else, so that it is free and no longer bound.

Once that happens, your Pure Mind can swap with any other bits of Pure Mind nearby (or far away, or past, or future), at will. (Well, not “at will”, because will is one of the things that it is free of, but perhaps “when appropriate”.)

This happens, on average, every few hours.

So the Pure Mind that is reading these words right now (through the salient appearances and perceptions and so on), might a few hours ago have been experiencing playing with its toes in its crib as a tiny baby, or soaring in the sky as a hawk.

Memory stays put, of course, and doesn’t travel with the Pure Mind (how could it?), so you (“you”) don’t remember having recently been a hawk. But now and then for whatever ineffable reason a bit, a whiff, a hint, of somethingness does manage to transfer. So when it seems to you that you feel suddenly elevated, thrilled, free and flying, despite having been just sitting there reading Twitter all day, it may be because the Pure Mind that is now experiencing Twitter was moments ago experiencing the chilly updrafts of a fjord. (Do fjords have updrafts and hawks? They should.)

I can’t think of any way that this could be false. Or true!

Other secrets of enlightenment

Another secret of enlightenment is that it’s not really that huge a deal, it’s just sort of looking up one day and realizing that everything’s pretty cool, and it’s not worth getting to worked up about, and imperfection is just perfect. As the Zen Story goes

There was once a wise and venerated fish who preached about water. Water, he would say, surrounds and supports us. We are all in and of the water, and where there is nothing else there is water.

Fish came from all over the ocean to hear him teach. ‘I have nothing to teach,’ he said, ‘only enjoy the water,’ but they came anyway, and some of them began to understand the water, and some of them came to understand it fully, and were called awakened.

One day a fish came and said ‘Teach me of the water’. The teacher said ‘I have nothing to teach. The water is all around us, above and below, and it fills the spaces where nothing else is.’

The fish frowned thoughtfully. ‘You mean this stuff?’ he asked, and flicked a fin so that a wave of water lightly struck the teacher’s face.

‘Yes,’ said the teacher, bowing his head and smiling in acknowledgement ‘that is the water; I see you have attainment.’

‘Oh,’ said the fish, surprised, ‘that’s it?’

‘That’s it.’

‘Oh, okay,’ said the fish, ‘nice weather we’re having, eh?'”

But I’m not sure that that’s really enlightenment, ’cause I got that when I was like 19 or so, and I’m no one special.

The other secret is that no one actually gets enlightened, because if people did (other than in old stories that happened long ago and far away) there would be like plaques on the walls of some monasteries saying “Here is where J. Fred Muggs got enlightened on 24 Feb 2012”, and in others there’d be a little cork board with a numbered tag like they have in the deli, saying how many students of the school had become enlightened since the founding in 1994 or whatever. (You know there would!)

Really we’re all enlightened (and Buddhas to boot). There’s a thing about realizing that you’re enlightened, or realizing what it means, or truly understanding what it means at more than a mere intellectual level. But that’s comparatively hella subtle.

I’m not saying Zen is a racket or anything; for every “let those who would attain enlightenment contemplate this night and day”, there’s a “there is no attainment of wisdom, and no wisdom to attain”. So it’s sort of right up front there, that despite how sort of everyone sort of talks about becoming enlightened, that’s in fact not it at all (and that not being it at all is sort of it, entirely). Or, um, something. :)

Snoring

And lastly, I had told the Monastery program folks that I’m told I snore, so they moved me from room 41 (where I think I slept both other times I’ve been there), down to Dorm 2, where it was just me and one other guy, who had a CPAP machine with him. (Have I ever written about my CPAP machine? I have one, but basically never use it because it is annoying.)

We couldn’t talk, of course, and I was convinced that I was constantly snoring and keeping the poor other person awake, and when I saw him dozing on a sofa one afternoon I was sure it was my fault he hadn’t slept at night, and even felt like a few times I walked into a room where he was, and he got up and walked out because maybe he couldn’t stand my presence with all the snoring.

So when we could talk again the first thing I said to him was that I hoped he’d gotten some sleep despite my snoring, and he said oh he’d probably bothered me more than I had him, and he hadn’t noticed me snoring significantly at all.

That was nice. :) How we worry ourselves!

And now it’s a few days later, and time has been whizzing by and I keep not finishing this up and posting it. So now I shall!

 

 

 

 

 

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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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