Archive | October 2013

Words, Boundaries, and Illusions

I am disillusioned with language in general.  My main issue is with descriptions and distinctions are no more than linguistic conveniences. Any international border, for example, is linguistically meaningless. “This grain of sand belongs to Idaho and this other grain belongs to British Columbia.” Doesn’t that even sound stupid? The distinction is artificial at best and totally illusory at worst.

 Words are necessary. How else could you say, “I’m thirsty. Please get me a cup of water,”? That’s how communication occurs and needs get met. That’s what words are for. 

The reality, however, is more interconnected than that. The distinction between groups of people is, like the grains of sand, artificial or perhaps even illusory. Everyone is related, if you go far enough back. Scary but true.

 The problems occur when we take what we say as real. Words are concepts. Dennis Genpo Merzel says:

“Without concepts we find ourselves unbounded, undefined; and our greatest fear is to live without boundaries, without definitions. Of course, when we have no boundaries, we are vulnerable. Everyone, everything can come in….First we define ourselves: me versus you, me against not-me….One day we turn around and we realize what we have done: we have imprisoned ourselves. We can keep the world out, now we are stuck inside.” (The Eye Never Sleeps: Striking to the Heart of Zen, p. 118)

 This is the misery of it all: instead of using words to communicate with and free each other, we use it to deceive ourselves and others into living in a self-imposed prison. We need to use language to free each other, not to impose power and control. Language is a means to connect. When it is used to dis-connect us, it serves no useful purpose and can be abandoned with no negative consequences.


Random Acts and Holy Fools

“The Four Wisdoms –Offering, Tenderness (Kind Speech), Benevolence, and Sympathy (Identification) –are the ways that we can help others, and these are the practices of a bodhisattva. Benevolence means to devise ways of benefiting others, no matter what their social position.” From

Remember a few years ago, when people came up with “random acts of kindness”? We can all do these things. I try to find ways to bless people, or at least not be pains in their keesters. These are practices of a bodhisattva.

I believe in the concept of “holy fools”. Orthodoxy (and many world religions, including Buddhism) has the idea of someone that always goes around doing good and violating social norms. It looks sort of like benevolent political incorrectness. It is absurdity for the benefit of others. To argue against the holy fool is to argue for the maintenance of a dysfunctional status quo. The holy fool is free from the need of others’ approval, making them a nightmare for emotional manipulators. The holy fool is rebelling against stupidity in whatever form it may take, not necessarily against authority figures (that is, unless the authority figure in question happens to be stupid).

Let’s go out today and do something helpful for someone, even and especially if others disapprove.

What is Arising?

“Just forget yourself for now and practice inwardly—this is one with the thought of enlightenment. We see that the sixty-two views are based on self. So when a notion of self arises, sit quietly and contemplate it.” Eihei Dogen’s Guidelines for studying the Way [Gakudo yojin-shu], Ed Brown & Kazuaki Tanahashi ©San Franscisco Zen Center, 1985

I try to continuously practice my concept of “mindfulness,” which is noticing everything, including and especially those unconscious urges to move or think about something in particular.

 For example, yesterday I helped a friend with her resume. This was after an emotionally exhausting last day at church. Part of me thought, “I’m not sure I’m up to this.” But then I thought, “I’ll just see how it goes and be available to help her as much as possible.” I was able to notice a few things on the “Michigan Works” website she had missed and could explain them to her. I was willing to wait while she struggled to use my laptop without a mouse. I was commended for my patience by an observer.

 But what is patience? I had urges to do specific things for her and simply did not act on them so she could learn them for herself, as I had done a few years back. Thoughts arose and went away. Zazen teaches us to feel things fully and to not necessarily act upon any impulse. If you must scratch that itch, at least notice every impulse and sensation that goes with the itch. This is not passivity, but the deliberate cultivation of discernment and self-control.



“Buddhism is a process of discovery, not a list of principles. There is no book of Buddhist principles. Buddhism is about realization. It is about transformation of consciousness. It means throwing everything out, including Buddhism, and going very deep within yourself to find the foundations of your life. And once you have done that, to learn to live your life out of that which has been realized—not what you’ve been told you should or shouldn’t do.” Wisdom Seeking Wisdom, Dharma Discourse by John Daido Loori Roshi, True Dharma Eye, Case 24, Xuansha Hears the Sound of a Swallow


I’ve learned (the hard way, of course) over the years that very few people are willing to “go deep” within themselves to find the foundations of their lives. We want a ready-made foundation. Religions claim to provide that. The problem is that they are someone else’s foundation, oftentimes based on long-dead cultures.

 Today was my last Sunday of church attendance. It seemed fitting that it was “Oxi” day, when the Greeks said no to something in the past. I don’t recall, let alone care, what that may be. Today, I said “oxi” to their traditions and the attitude of “that’s just the way we have always done things.”

 To dig deep to find your own foundation is to say, “Your foundation is not mine. Your traditions are not mine.” It is deeply insulting to those who believe they have the unique, universal answer to people’s spiritual questions.

 I still know nothing. I possess no knowledge. I expect honesty and transparency. I can’t not ask questions. At this point, these few things are enough to disqualify me from ever being an orthodox Christian again.




Church End

Tomorrow is my last day at church. It feels weird to say that. I feel excited and a little sad at the same time. I like the idea of being true to myself and not pretending anymore to believe things simply on the basis of someone else’s opinion or supposed “authority.”  Not pretending will be refreshing. I would grieve more except that I have done my grieving over the past several years. Also, it is difficult to grieve over the loss of a one-way relationship. I got along fabulously with everyone else, as long as I fulfilled all of their expectations and had none of my own. You mean that I will no longer be giving and not receiving anymore? Phew.

 Every end is a beginning and every beginning an end. Barry’s health is continuing its downward march. In a few weeks, we see Hamdan the oncologist. It’s only a matter of time before the other shoe drops. 

I mentioned Virginia to Barry in an off-hand sort of way. It’s my way of planting a seed in his brain that I am leaving Michigan after he is gone. I am tired of pretending that I will live here indefinitely.

 I don’t know who or what I am, but I am done pretending, being fake, and getting nothing. I can get nothing anywhere. Wait a minute. I already do.

No Promises or Debates

“This is part of what I like about Zen: using impermanence to your advantage. Skillful means are meant to help you appreciate the present moment. Once you are in the moment, the means can be abandoned. There is no promise or debate regarding eternal security.” The Direct Experience of Reality, Dharma Discourse by John Daido Loori, Roshi 

Loori expresses my sentiment: gratitude and relief that even the means of Zen are disposable. “No attachments” applies to everything. Once you’ve crossed the lake, you don’t need to strap the canoe to your back. Means can be adapted to circumstances when necessary.

“No promises or debates” is a big part of what I appreciate about Zen. I spent too many years as a Christian in the realm of promises and debates. When a religion is language-heavy and action-short, after a while, all I hear is, “Blah, blah, blah.” I’ve spent too much of my life already listening to theological debates and believing unfulfilled promises. Zen makes no promises. Your life is what it is.

You deal with it openly and honestly and, even if your life does not dramatically improve instantly, you help create a less chaotic world. By taking responsibility for oneself, the world becomes more tractable. Changing others’ opinions is never part of the equation. When people see your life becoming simpler and more manageable, that speaks for itself more eloquently than any form of evangelization ever could.





“Anyway, the point is that the path of Zen goes from here to here and what we learn to do is be what we are – stay put, in other words. Does that mean that the practice suggestion is to sink, soak, slobber, and slump into a melancholy stuckness? No way! Sit up in it earnestly. Does that mean that the practice suggestion is to fight, figure, fidget and find just the right spiritual technique that will free us from stuckness? No way! Sit down in it earnestly.” Stuck! Oh, the Path of Zen,Posted by: Dosho Port September 29, 2013

This instruction is purely obnoxious to those who think meditation, religion, or anything else, for that matter, is for “getting somewhere” that they are not now.

This instruction is about settling, down not for. If something in your life is not working, then by all means, take steps to remedy it. Meditation is likely to offer insights and/or clarity for the path of fixing things. But as long as the mind is uncontrolled, it can be difficult to know what is needed, let alone the equanimity to pull it off.