Archive | August 2013

Useless Words

“Cut off all useless thoughts and words and there’s nowhere you cannot go.” Affirming Faith in Mind , by Zen Master Kanchi Sosan

Isn’t this what we all want, to be okay anywhere?

What thoughts are useless? Shame-based (“I am no good”), manipulative (“If I can get him to do this thing, all will be well”), pointlessly judgmental (“I hate her hair like that”), and…you get the idea.

In some situations, almost any thought is useless. The older I get, the more I realize that the most important thing to do in almost any situation is to listen deeply. Thinking about what others might think of me accomplishes nothing.

Helpful thoughts include trying to notice as many things as possible (temperature, lighting, body language of self and others, words being spoken, subjects being addressed or unaddressed) and figuring out how to be helpful in a given situation.

The ability to cut off one’s thoughts is key. It is a type and level of self-control I have yet to see demonstrated in the Christian community. Such quotes as the one above are found in Buddhist literature. You become like what you fill your mind with.

Field of Benefaction

“Every morning we chant, Vast is the robe of liberation, A formless field of benefaction, I wear the Tathagata’s teaching, Saving all sentient beings. As students of Zen, the business we are to study and realize is this vast robe of liberation, which is nothing other than a formless field of benefaction. It has no beginning or end. It is not limited by ideas of boundary or difference. Its nature is formless, and yet, being without form how can it be a field of benefaction? This is the profound teaching of the non-dual dharma, the Middle Way—not clinging to any fixed form which includes any concept of formlessness.”Wearing the Buddha’s Teaching, Dharma Talk by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold Sensei, Transmission of the Light, Case 43,“Liangshan”

In a Baconian/Newtonian world, such a quote is nonsense. However, in an Einsteinian/Bohmian world, the quote is eminently sensible.

I remember, as a Christian, believing that entropy was the ultimate argument against evolution. It made no sense that things would become more orderly and complex over time.

Then I learned that there was a serious caveat regarding entropy: things would disintegrate over time as long as there was no outside source of energy. That little caveat makes evolution completely possible. We do have an outside source of energy. We call it “the sun.” Imagine just how quickly things would fall apart if the sun stopped shining. Entropy would immediately rule. This is just one example of the anti-scientific misinformation I was fed as a Christian.

But, alas, I have moved on to a more interconnected field-oriented view of the universe, completely incompatible with the worldview I was indoctrinated with as a Christian. My Newtonian/Baconian days are over.

I wish to be a field of benefaction for my fellow beings. I work diligently to be of benefit to those I encounter. That is the ultimate human purpose: living the bodhisattva vow.



“We live on the promise that somehow, sometime, we will complete ourselves, we will fulfill the gift of this life. That completion is contingent on something out there: a person, a thought, an idea, a state of mind, a situation. And as much as we live our life like that we also enter spiritual practice like that. And much of practice, if not all of practice, has to do with recognizing those places where we are still invested and still holding on, trusting something other than that complete truth of our perfection within practice. It is about recognizing that truth, bringing it to light and then radically turning away from our attachment.” Trust Your Own Perfection,Dharma Discourse by Konrad Ryushin Marchaj Sensei,Gateless Gate, Case 45, Wuzu: “Who Is That Other?” Featured in Mountain Record 29.1, Fall 2010

My weakness is looking for the state of mind to make me feel better. I see life as a mood-altering experience. My clinging is to ideas or feelings that promise fulfillment. I have long let go of the hope in other people or situations to help me feel better. No person or organization has ever cut it, not even Jesus.

In general, I am more interested in meaning than pleasure. Having dealt with depression most of my life, I see pleasure as fleeting and suffering as more likely to endure. This makes me more of a natural Buddhist than a Christian any day. Meaning is consoling, whereas I can sometimes produce my own endorphins to make myself feel better.

Tao Te Ching, Verse 47

“Without opening your door,
you can open your heart to the world.
Without looking out your window,
you can see the essence of the Tao.

The more you know,
the less you understand.

The Master arrives without leaving,
sees the light without looking,
achieves without doing a thing.”

Tao Te Ching, Verse 47, Stephen Mitchell Translation

Sometimes, I think the Tao Te Ching is just describing various ways of accessing one’s right brain or spirit.

Even in Christianity, there is a monastic streak that emphasizes not leaving one’s cell (or residence) to find satisfaction or wisdom. The idea is the same: whatever cannot be found here and now will not likely be found later or elsewhere.

“The more you know, the less you understand” is very true. Intellect is not a substitute for common sense. My theory is that everyone has so many brain cells and the more formal education you have, the fewer cells you have for, say, social skills.

Worse yet, the more educated you get, the more likely your knowledge is to be specialized. You become the world’s foremost expert on some obscure sub-realm of knowledge that most people have never heard of.

Another facet of understanding less with more knowledge comes from an attitude of having “paid one’s dues.” Some of the laziest people I have ever met were PhDs. It is as if they don’t feel any expectations are allowed to be placed upon them.

So we end up with a hurting world. The only people with the knowledge to possibly fix things are simply too lazy to do so. Desperate, uneducated people often come up with the best solutions because they haven’t been educated out of having common sense yet and they are humble enough to learn from their errors. Their efforts could be multiplied exponentially by someone with real technical knowledge, but those people have massive student loans to pay off and literally cannot afford to donate their time to non-profits.

Wisdom and knowledge seem to seldom be found together and the world needs both.

Chapter 27 Tao, Change, & Absurdity

“A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.

Thus the Master is available to all people
and doesn’t reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations
and doesn’t waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.”

Tao Te Ching, chapter 27, Stephen Mitchell Translation

This quote offers a glimpse into the mindset of the person that doesn’t plan their life to death, but makes themselves available to the good of others.

Part of my problem with the whole concept of “Strategic Management” is that, by the time you figure out what you want to do and develop a plan to execute it, the situation has already moved on without you. I believe the world is changing more quickly than we can strategize about it. Living in your left brain is a guarantee of being left behind and I am severely guilty of it. I went to the trouble of getting an MBA in Strategic Management only to conclude that the whole concept is flawed in today’s radically fluid world.

I remember being taught “change management.” The theory is simple: 1. Show people that their current method is not working. 2. “Unfreeze” their method and show them another way. 3. Institute this other way. 4. “Refreeze” the new method.

Just by reading it, you can see its absurdity. First, changing situations may never allow you to “refreeze” the new method. And second, this is the biggie, once you unfreeze something, it might open the floodgates of other changes people want to implement. Everything is on the table now. Once one sacrosanct policy or procedure is brought into the light of questioning, all of them are. Managers cannot pick and choose only those policies they want to change. The backlog of policy absurdity is out in the open now.

The Taoist master must not waste this situation, but use it completely for everyone’s benefit.

Close to the Idea

This quote is close to the idea. It is from Leap of Perception by Penney Peirce, page 170: “When your attention fills your present moment, it may seem that time stops. ‘Speed’ becomes a magical kind of no-speed in which everything is instantaneous, coordinated, and synchronous. Zen warriors knew that success was based on fluidity in action and spontaneous responsiveness–but that this was not a function of speed. Their success was possible through immediacy of action and freedom of mind, where attention didn’t stop and linger on any one thing, because that would cause a gap in the Flow, which would lead to defeat.”

This is what I am looking for: freedom, spontaneity, inner knowing of what to do, simplicity,  and full-on engagement (no boredom).

On page 203, I find an intriguing quote: “[Y]ou might make a game of becoming a clear space in the world.” I love this idea. Releasing inner clutter and becoming deeply available for others is highly appealing.

Looking for Specific Quote

I saw a quote and cannot find it again. Perhaps the online world can help me. It basically says, “People who know what they want and what they are all about find they are acting from fewer and fewer choices and simply do what needs to be done.” I will continue hunting for it because it expresses what I want: to be so secure in my purpose and function in this world that I do not need to debate what to do next, but simply do it naturally.

Letting go of all

“If we really want to get rid of suffering, completely and totally, then clinging has to go. The spiritual path is never one of achievement; it is always one of letting go. The more we let go, the more there is empty and open space for us to see reality. Because what we let go of is no longer there, there is the possibility of just moving without clinging to the results of the movement.” Meditating on No-Self, A Dhamma Talk Edited for Bodhi Leaves, by Sister Khema, Buddhist Publication Society

I think I’ve gotten fairly good at letting go of things. Right now, I am bored.  I am not clinging to any idea or activity. I am not suffering. Emotionally, I feel fine. Physically, I could just lie down and take a nap. Perhaps I have so successfully made my life drama-free that I hardly know what to do with myself. All I am seeking at this point is to stay awake.

Talking to a friend, I started to look at this time in my life as a time to reinvent myself. That’s a good way of looking at it. Now that school is over, I can do things more at my own pace. I wonder what that is like.

Attention and Adulthood

“It is said in zen that you must keep your attention even if you are alone in a dark room when nobody can see you, because you can see you. That is the most important one. It really doesn’t matter what your teacher thinks of you or your friends think of you. It’s nice if they think well of you, but is not the crucial thing. The crucial thing is to go into your own heart and make the practice truly and deeply and utterly your own.”

Golden Wind Teisho, John Tarrant

The more I learn about metaphysics, the more I realize that attention is the key to what we experience. It is not about other people’s opinions but about what you yourself have verified. When you know what you have experienced, disagreement is irrelevant and even funny. After all, what is this need of this other person to convince you that you haven’t really experienced something? They don’t just want to control what you think, but also your most personal, indisputable experiences. That’s just sad.

Part of having integrity, in my opinion, is to stand by one’s experiences, not allowing oneself to be dissuaded from what one has seen, felt, or heard for oneself. No one else has to agree. We are all on a journey and everyone is at a different spot.

I have no interest in persuading anyone of anything. That is part of what makes me an adult: I can have my opinions and stand alone when need be. Children need the agreement of authority figures.


Truth Location

“There are thousands upon thousands of students who have practiced meditation and obtained its fruits. Do not doubt its possibilities because of the simplicity of the method. If you cannot find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?” ~ Dogen


Part of what I like about Zen is its emphasis on self-reliance. Where can truth be found? Not in a hierarchy, priest, minister, CEO, etc. You have to look around and, more importantly, within yourself, right where you are.

But that’s not how we are raised. As a kid, I was told that I didn’t know what I was talking about, usually by people who didn’t want their behavior to be exposed, in hindsight. I was the baby of my family and so credibility has been a central issue in my life. I learned to say something only when I was certain and to not make threats until the moment I was ready to follow through.

I’m not even sure if we can be told the truth because, if we are not ready to hear something, we simply do not hear what is said. Most lessons, as far as I can tell, are learned through personal experience. The rest is just hearsay.

Zen teachers are always saying, “Don’t take my word for it. See for yourself.” That is the opposite of how things were for me as a Christian. The denomination’s interpretation of its favored scripture verses were referred to as authoritative. Looking back, it was all ego games, the very thing Zen practice is to counteract.

I am so glad I have learned to think for myself.