Sunday, April 30, 2006

Ah, patience.

At last!
We had an emergence this morning from a chrysalis on our cassia, and finally got this glimpse of the butterfly drying his wings. Of course, since their cool little green morph-pods are so very camo, we've managed to spot many more empty chrysalises after the butterflies had emerged. There are at least a half dozen of these guys flitting about out yard, as well as monarchs and some other flutter-bys. It is funny how thrilled I am about this! The other fascinating wonderment-ness about these yellow butterflies is that not only are the chrysalises the exact green of the leaves of the tree, but the wing color is the same as the color of the yellow flowers in autumn and the same yellow as the leaves turn before they fall from the tree (yes, the caterpillars are yellow and green and feed on the tree- ya are what ya eat!). Additionally, in the evening when the tree folds its leaves up, the folded shape of the leaves is the same shape as the butterflies' wings. Ah! Evolution! Ah! Non-Design-Designed Universe!

PS- I have really been enjoying the flurry of recent posts.


Any intellectually conceived object is always in the past and therefore unreal. Reality is always the moment of vision before the intellectualization takes place. There is no other reality. - Robert Pirsig

This pertains to the recent posts on 'delusions of Brad.' I wonder about this quote though - although this seems to be a fundamental tenent of Zen it suggests to me that thoughts are not real. But obviously, the thoughts, even though pointing to an external past, are happening in the internal present (or at least our awareness of them is in the present). And what about all the theory that has been found to match reality so well? e=mc^2 is just an idea, a thought, (and is therefore unreal?) What about all the thoughts that have been turned into real objects external to our minds - all of human products are thoughts made real. The chair you sit in was a thought before it became a chair. The same is true for human actions - all were thoughts first (or feelings, whether subconscious or not). It was thought that got humans to the moon.

I think the word 'unreal' here is misleading. I don't think the case can be made that thoughts, feelings, etc. that happen in our heads are not real. But it is true that they do not necessarily correspond with external reality - sometimes the objects in the mind match external reality very well, but other times, not so well. Perhaps this is what Pirsig was getting at?

So I simply have to disagree with the literal interpretation of Pirsig - to say there is no other reality than that which happens before we think is wrong. Thinking and feeling are part of reality itself.

I'd say the challenge is to get one's internal reality as 'in synch' with external reality as possible.

This requires either acceptance of things one cannot change or frustration at not being able to change things you want to change but can't. The fewer desires and opinions one has, the fewer things that can be out of synch, the easier one's life becomes, no?

Friday, April 28, 2006

open letter to Brad


I was glad I got to attend your talk Thursday night, April 27th at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center, but I've got some suggestions to improve this sort of thing next time.

First off, instead of just walking in and sitting down, you really need to have one of your attendants announce you. You know, build some anticipation in the crowd. After that, you can appear and bestow your blessings on the audience. They'll really eat it up.

Speaking of appearance, you've got to do better than that. No robes? Jeans? And glasses, you wore your glasses for Pete's sake. Didn't they tell you that enlightened beings always have perfect eyesight? It ruins the image.

I think it was a big mistake to sit so close to your audience, I mean, right down on the floor like that. They might get the mistaken impression that you're just a guy. You should maintain some distance, preferably vertical distance, between you and the peons to whom you're speaking.

Oh, and speaking. Well... how to put this? You've got to stop saying, "I don't know" so much. A Teacher (with a capital T) does not admit to not knowing something. Geez, make it up why don't ya? Quote Dogen. Quote Buddha. Quote the Marx brothers if you want to; just don't say, "I don't know."

And buddy, you missed out on some golden sales opportunities there. You didn't bring any books for the audience to buy (charge extra for autographing them, you know). And where were the tapes? And CDs? And the DVDs? You mentioned the book, sure, but you didn't make any sales. One would think that you forgot about the money angle or something.

And when you did talk, you were too deferential to the audience, and took way too many questions and comments. You actually acted like someone else might have something to contribute to the conversation other than you. That's not right. Didn't they teach you how to dominate a room? You need to proclaim more, not just yak like a regular guy, especially about Ultraman. You want to inspire adulation, remember?

Other than these little points, I thought you did fine, and I think as you do more of these gigs, your take should improve tremendously.

You're the next star, babe.

(with tongue firmly in cheek)

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The More Things Change....

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Or so the saying goes. I am very hesitant about posting this but a long dark winter has passed for me with many changes that ironically have led me back to where I started so long ago. When I began this exploration of Buddhism and comparative religions, I was seeking a philosophy that fit with what I thought were the truths in my life. The seeming hypocrisy of the Catholic Church and the unbearable aloneness that leaving it had set upon me caused me to venture out and investigate, to find a group where I felt I fit. My first encounter was with Krishnamurti and I faithfully studied him for years. A chance reading that he was to have been cast as the Buddha by a Hollywood film director, if he had agreed, prompted me to want to know, "Who was the Buddha?" Apparently some people felt that he was the reincarnation of the Buddha. When I became a member of a local temple and two years later took precepts, I felt like I had come back home. I was happy with the sangha that I belonged to and things were wonderful. After some years had passed and the honeymoon was over, I began again to question what this was all about. Everything was not quite as wonderful when the fog lifted. I struggled again with conflict surrounding the path I had chosen. I left the Temple after some years of being a very active member. Again, the loneliness of not belonging set it. I set out again and traveled to various groups, tried different methods but nothing seemed to bring me to the end of this journey. There was no place that I could rest. More years have passed and with some luck I was able to connect with a few people who became catalysts for me. Something moved and moved me with it. Insights were clear but never rested on one particular path. Soon I found myself again studying the Christian Mystics such as Meister Eckhart and Bernadette Roberts. Before long I was reading Krishnamurti again. What had happened? I am still trying to answer this question, although it is not so urgent now as it once was. I was led in a circle. The original pull that I had felt to belong or to seek had taken me on a long, roundabout journey that brought me right back to the beginning of my search. And what I discovered was that nothing had changed, but everything had changed. That very subtle thing that leads us along was still the same, the readings and studies were not changed one iota. But something inside me had changed. My years spent on the cushion had brought me face to face with myself, over and over again. In that gradual acceptance of myself, my ego, my shortcomings and the occasional good thing, I was able to free myself from the need to belong, or to know or be wiser than my neighbor. Perhaps it is just old age setting in. But I have my doubts. Some of us grow old in chains and never know freedom. I have had a little taste of liberation. My sincere wish for the world is that we all have the chance in our lifetimes to allow life to live us, to allow it to pull us along, to get out of our own ways and see what happens. So, the more things change the more they stay the same. Perhaps five or ten years from now I will again be feeling that I have traveled the circle. If nothing else, it should be interesting.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Taming the Wild Ox

Ten Oxherding Pictures, by Zen Master Kakuan, China, 12th C

There are several versions of this. I believe the original versions were Taoist. This one comes from Kakuan and is the Paul Reps translation. I think these are really cute. The ox or bull represents the 'original nature'. And the meaning of the pictures is fairly straightforward. There is a tendency to treat teachings like 'original nature' as if they were metaphysical essences - I had a debate recently with a Christian who tried to convince me that 'Buddha Nature' was the same as the soul. But all such beliefs and dualities must be released in order 'to realise what you already are'.

In the thirties, an eleventh picture was added to the Japanese version, showing the guy tying a banzai headband around his head, shouting 'long live the Emeror!' and invading Manchuria.
(Only kidding.)

1. The Search for the Bull

In the pasture of this world,
I endlessly push aside the tall grasses in search of the bull.
Following unnamed rivers,
lost upon the interpenetrating paths of distant mountains,
My strength failing and my vitality exhausted,
I cannot find the bull.
I only hear the locusts chirring through the forest at night.

Comment: The bull never has been lost.
What need is there to search?
Only because of separation from my true nature,
I fail to find him.
In the confusion of the senses I lose even his tracks.
Far from home, I see many crossroads,
but which way is the right one I know not.
Greed and fear, good and bad, entangle me.

2. Discovering the footprints

Along the riverbank under the trees,
I discover footprints!
Even under the fragrant grass I see his prints.
Deep in remote mountains they are found.
These traces no more can be hidden than one's nose,
looking heavenward.

Comment: Understanding the teaching,
I see the footprints of the bull.
Then I learn that,
just as many utensils are made from one metal,
so too are myriad entities made of the fabric of self.
Unless I discriminate,
how will I perceive the true from the untrue?
Not yet having entered the gate, nevertheless I have discerned the path.

3. Perceiving the Bull

I hear the song of the nightingale.
The sun is warm, the wind is mild,
willows are green along the shore,
Here no bull can hide!
What artist can draw that massive head,
those majestic horns?

Comment: When one hears the voice,
one can sense its source.
As soon as the six senses merge, the gate is entered. Wherever one enters one sees the head of the bull!
This unity is like salt in water, like color in dyestuff.
The slightest thing is not apart from self.

4. Catching the bull

I seize him with a terrific struggle.
His great will and power are inexhaustible.
He charges to the high plateau far above the cloud-mists,
Or in an impenetrable ravine he stands.

Comment: He dwelt in the forest a long time,
but I caught him today!
Infatuation for scenery interferes with his direction.
Longing for sweeter grass, he wanders away.
His mind still is stubborn and unbridled.
If I wish him to submit,
I must raise my whip.

5.Taming the Bull

The whip and rope are necessary,
Else he might stray off down some dusty road.
Being well trained, he becomes naturally gentle.
Then, unfettered, he obeys his master.

Comment: When one thought arises,
another thought follows.
When the first thought springs from enlightenment,
all subsequent thoughts are true.
Through delusion, one makes everything untrue.
Delusion is not caused by objectivity;
it is the result of subjectivity.
Hold the nose-ring tight
and do not allow even a doubt.

6. Riding the Bull Home

Mounting the bull, slowly I return homeward.
The voice of my flute intones through the evening.
Measuring with hand-beats the pulsating harmony,
I direct the endless rhythm.
Whoever hears this melody will join me.

Comment: This struggle is over;
gain and loss are assimilated.
I sing the song of the village woodsman,
and play the tunes of the children.
Astride the bull, I observe the clouds above.
Onward I go, no matter who may wish to call me back.

7. The Bull transcended

Astride the bull, I reach home.
I am serene. The bull too can rest.
The dawn has come. In blissful repose,
Within my thatched dwelling
I have abandoned the whip and rope.

Comment: All is one law, not two.
We only make the bull a temporary subject.
It is as the relation of rabbit and trap, of fish and net.
It is as gold and dross,
or the moon emerging from a cloud.
One path of clear light travels on
throughout endless time.

8. Both Bull and self transcended

Whip, rope, person, and bull --
all merge in No-Thing.
This heaven is so vast no message can stain it.
How may a snowflake exist in a raging fire?
Here are the footprints of the patriarchs.

Comment: Mediocrity is gone.
Mind is clear of limitation.
I seek no state of enlightenment.
Neither do I remain where no enlightenment exists.
Since I linger in neither condition, eyes cannot see me.
If hundreds of birds strew my path with flowers,
such praise would be meaningless.

9. Reaching the Source

Too many steps have been taken
returning to the root and the source.
Better to have been blind and deaf from the beginning!
Dwelling in one's true abode,
unconcerned with that without --
The river flows tranquilly on and the flowers are red.

Comment: From the beginning, truth is clear.
Poised in silence,
I observe the forms of integration and disintegration.
One who is not attached to "form" need not be "reformed." The water is emerald, the mountain is indigo,
and I see that which is creating
and that which is destroying.

10. In the world

Barefooted and naked of breast,
I mingle with the people of the world.
My clothes are ragged and dust-laden,
and I am ever blissful.
I use no magic to extend my life;
Now, before me, the dead trees become alive.

Inside my gate, a thousand sages do not know me.
The beauty of my garden is invisible.
Why should one search for the footprints of the patriarchs?
I go to the market place with my wine bottle
and return home with my staff.
I visit the wineshop and the market,
and everyone I look upon becomes enlightened.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Shouts of Nothingness

I thought we all could use this today, perhaps I am being presumptuous. It's an oldie, but a goodie. In any case, I never tire of Tsai Chih Chung's fabulous collection of zen & taoist comics translated by Bryan Bruya. If you haven't read them, they are a treat!


Sorry to use this for self promo. But here are the latest speaking dates I (Brad) am doing. I kinda messed up the poor guy who's doing the Boston one by not getting back to him in a timely fashion, so he's scrambling to get it together. If you're in the area, please come by...

Sunday, April 30th, 2006

66 Canal Street
Boston, MA 02114
(in Bay Cove Human Services)


Close to the North Station stop on the Orange & Green lines.,+MA+02114

Contact Mr. Hilary Croach at for more info.

and don't forget the Georgia dates:

Wed, April 26th, 2006 I will be at Emory University's White Hall, Rm. 110, at 6:00 pm. The address is:

Thu, April 27th, 2006 I'll be at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center at 7:30 pm for a round of zazen followed by a talk & discussion. Their address is:
The phone number there is: (404) 532-0040
Their website is

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Zen Radio (and Disney)

(This is a post from my own blog that I thought some here might enjoy)

I was recently in Disney World, invited to attend a press event, awards ceremony and the grand opening of their Expedition Everest ride because I had collected some new species of beetles in China on a Disney - funded Conservation International expedition. Disney did an awesome job, thanks to Joe Rohde, executive designer at Walt Disney Imagineering and lead designer of Disney's Animal Kingdom, on the Tibetan & Himalayan details of their Everest ride. Who would have thought one would find a Tibetan Buddhist mani stone pile, complete with prayer flags, in Disney's Animal Kingdom? (see my pic above).

I'd never been treated like VIP before so this was a real treat. It was exciting to get to meet some celebrities (Disney held an awards ceremony to honor conservationists) - including a hero of mine since 4th grade, Jane Goodall. My wife and family came as well, although we're not normally 'theme-park' type people, we had a great time. John Cleese was there too although he claimed he shouldn't have been since he was "just an aging british comedian" rather than a conservation biologist. We sat behind John at the awards ceremony and I thought "Is this anything like what I'd imagine it'd be?" "Is being so close to a real TV / movie star as thrilling as one might imagine it'd be?" and the answer, of course, was no. John Cleese is just a guy, like me or anyone else. There is no aura of stunning wonder and happiness that radiates from him to all those around him or anything. Of course this is the case. My children don't understand this concept though (I think they think celebrities don't need to use the toilet or something). And from a Zen perspective it makes perfect sense as well - the only thing 'special' about a celebrity is what you ADD to them with your mind. You see and sense a person near you. There are people all around but if you use your memory and your mind you can add all sorts of special thoughts about this ONE person. I found that sometimes I'd forget I was so close to John Cleese and then find myself reminding myself - "Hey, that's John Cleese, he's famous, you should be feeling some awe or something..." Ha.

Well, being at Disney as a special guest for this event was fun but I had work to do as well. There was a species of beetle in Florida I wanted to collect for my research. I had arranged with an entomology grad student before hand to meet me about an hour west of Orlando in some good natural habitat where I might find my target organism. This was also a real treat for me - driving away from the city, the entire Disney 'magic' thing, and getting into the real world, with real mosquitoes and real mud. (Reminding myself that Disney is just as real as the mud of the forests...but I still find the mud more appealing sometimes :). There were tall trees and lots of them, grass and lilies, woodpeckers and yes, my beetles. But as I drove out through the Floridian landscape I noticed that the people there are VERY Christian. There were churches everywhere and lots of Christian radio stations too.

One of the churches had a sign that struck me as odd. It said "IF YOU'RE NOT GOOD FOR GOD, YOU'RE GOOD FOR NOTHING". Wow! How insulting! It took some thought to realize that perhaps the real message wasn't so insulting. Perhaps the intention was that if you are behaving in a good way, but aren't doing it for the Christian deity, then you are doing it for no 'deity' or person in particular - you are being "good for nothing" in particular. Another, perhaps more selfish, slant on it is that if you are being good for some reason other than the Christian deity you are wasting your time since you won't make it into the Christian heaven. But the most obvious and insulting interpretation is that you are worthless if you aren't being good for the Christian deity. That is quite a statement. What real Christian could endorse such a statement?

But the Christian radio stations stunned me as well. It seemed like there were more of them than normal radio! I had trouble finding a station that wasn't playing Jesus music. This got me thinking - what would a Zen radio station be like? The answer was obvious - all radio stations - even Christian ones - are zen. Really? How could they not be? Zen is not about dividing the world into good "acceptable" things and bad things. Even a station that is based on censorship like these Christian radio stations fall into REALITY AS WE KNOW IT. We can't exclude them because they are so narrow in their preferences.

But then I thought - there are plenty of songs out there that seem to match up with Buddha's teaching, couldn't there be a station that preferred these sorts of songs? Here's an example of one of these songs (I don't actually know the author - perhaps 10,000 maniacs? but this one has been covered a lot):

I could feel at the time
There was no way of knowing
Fallen leaves in the night
Who can say where they're blowing
As free as the wind
And hopefully learning
Why the sea on the tide
Has no way of turning

More than this - there is nothing
More than this - tell me one thing
More than this - there is nothing

It was fun for a while
There was no way of knowing
Like dream in the night
Who can say where we're going
No care in the world
Maybe I'm learning
Why the sea on the tide
Has no way of turning

More than this - you know there's nothing
More than this - tell me one thing
More than this - you know there's nothing

More than this - you know there's nothing
More than this - tell me one thing
More than this - there's nothing

ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh

There are plenty of other examples - but this song is a perfect example. "There is nothing more than THIS". Perfect Zen.

On a slight tangent about Christian censorship: a good friend of mine grew up under communism in Poland. He and his friends were unable to get a copy of George Orwell's 1984 in bookstores because, of course, the government didn't want the people reading such subversive literature. However, he and his friends were eventually able to get a copy - one that had been typed by hand and passed from person to person secretly. He was able to read the entire thing this way. Once communism was replaced and they had a more sane form of government with more freedom my friend went to a bookstore to use his new freedom to purchase a copy of Orwell's 1984. The copy that he bought, however, had been censored by the Church - all references to sex had been removed from it because this was deemed inappropriate by the Christian church! The irony should be obvious... (and the tie-in with Christian radio should also be obvious).

Last night I went to see a performance by two awesome guitar players - Jacob Moon and Andrew Smith who were playing in our town. Their skill with the guitar was, well, beyond anything I've seen done live. They finished the night with a song that Andrew chose which I can't seem to find the name of on the web unfortunately - but it was also very Zen. The song began with a description by some ordinary Joe who was recalling his youth in church and how they had the holy sacraments and the sacred scriptures etc. but then moved to his elder, present self, in which 'everything is sacred' (this was the chorus) - even the bird singing outside his window. Another contrast was made with things being miraculous - as a youth the bible instructed him on the miracles of the red sea parting and the whole water into wine thing, but now, he sees everything as a miracle. Just being alive and walking to work, a miracle.

Zen masters tend to use the equivalent phrase 'Nothing sacred' rather than 'Everything sacred' perhaps because of the more negative / impermanence / 'all is illusion' slant that Buddhists settle into. This contrast seems to be something worth exploring deeper. I'd start with the notion that if one takes the 'everything sacred' approach then this could lead one to a grasping and protective approach to all matter "Don't touch that sacred pebble! Don't eat that potato chip without realizing it's sacred too! Be careful with that sacred toilet paper!" Whereas the Zen phrasing 'nothing is sacred' makes everything equal and even does away with the very notion of sacred itself. This notion has inherent in it the idea that some things are more special than others - and that notion is a major block to seeing reality as it is.

I recall a comedian, I think Steven Wright, saying he "had a wonderful sea-shell collection" with the punch-line being "I keep it scattered on the beaches of the world." Hey, so do I!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Hi there. I put something new on my blog (

I'm leaving the comments section closed for now. It was just getting to be too much to deal with. I felt an obligation to monitor it, keep spammers off, and try and keep the tone of the thing generally nice by writing counteractive material whenever things became too hairy in there. I don't want to do that anymore. I don't know if there ever was much point to doing it anyway. Blogs seem to be places for people to vent their spleens in public. I don't get into mopping up people's spleen juice.

I'm not gonna post here every time I post there. But if anyone here feels like re-posting stuff from my blog to this one & letting people comment, be my guest. I won't be reading the comments. So if you have anything burning you feel like telling me, you can send an e-mail. But be aware I get truckloads of e-mails from people I've never met, so it's hard to keep up with that stuff.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

satori and the brain

This is an article I found that refers to the subject of 'intra hemispherical intrusion' as a possible occurrence in sudden enlightenment experiences. I have no idea about the qualifications of the author but it's an interesting reading. I'm no science buff and I pretty much understood the gist of it. The pictures help alot. The guy seems to have a distorted view of what enlightenment is, but it could explain the experiences of people like Byron Katie and Eckhart Tolle.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Buddha Nature

This is something I wrote elsewhere, which I thought I'd share if anyone is interested.

This is based partly on experience and partly on my understanding of the expressions of Buddhist Masters - I'm not trying to pass myself off as 'fully enlightened' or anything.

The Middle Way of Buddha is about freedom.

By virtue of being linguistic and conceptual expressions of actuality which is ultimately inexpressable, the Buddhist teachings contain many hazards, which we can imagine as holes that we can get trapped in. Understanding Buddhism is like eating food without touching it. People get trapped in these conceptual holes when they reify concepts - when they regard an idea as a real entity or as an independent essence. A Buddha on the other hand moves freely - even into these holes - but is not impeded.

When Buddhism began people believed in that all things had an inherent independent nature - things had an essence that made them what they are, people had an atman, which passed from one life to another, even the universe had an Atman - which some regarded to be Brahma. Buddha saw this as a delusional view which he called Eternalism and taught Anatta and Anatman. Unfortunately some interpreted this teaching as a teaching of 'no-self' as opposed to a simple refutation of Eternalism. They thought he was teaching that reality consists of 'other' or that self does not exist in any way whatsoever or that there is a temporary self that arises from the physical body, which becomes non-existent when we die - people were reifying no-self. So Buddha taught the Middle Way between Eternalism and Nihilism to encourage people to avoid both of these conceptual traps. So Anatta and the Middle Way were taught like this for a long time after Buddha died. However, in order to discourage people from reifying self, Buddha, impermanence and any number of Buddhist concepts, the philosophy used to describe the Middle Way was generally one of negation and, combined with Anatta, people continued mistakenly to interpret Buddhism nihilistically.

So a new teaching was introduced - a way of expressing this Middle Way in positive terms - Buddha Nature. According to the Nirvana Sutra this was Buddha's final teaching. There is no evidence of it before the Nirvana Sutra was written (just before the time Jesus was born as far as I recall) and I don't know if that account is true or not - however I do see it as a valid teaching method. In a sense it comes full circle, since it resembles the Vedic Atman teaching, however, to take it literally as an inherent, independent essence or entity is to fall into or remain in a trap.

All 'dharmas' (truths, realities) are nominal, not inherent enities that exist independently of other entities or of mind.

'Atta' (self) is not an independent inherent entity - atman means an inherent independent self, so that is all that is meant by anatman

'Anatta' is not a quality that is possessed by the universe. There is no non-self, there is no 'other than me'. The distinction between self/nonself is mentally produced.

'Nirvana' is not a place.

'A person' is not really an independent entity or essence.

'The void' is not a place, nor is it nothingness.

'Sunyata' (emptiness) is not really a property, essence or entity.

'The Middle Way' is not really a path which exists only 'in the middle'

'Consciousness' is not really an entity or an essence

And 'Buddha Nature' is not really a being which is inside of the ordinary mind. Buddha Nature is the the ordinary mind - seen clearly.

All of these things may be treated, conceptually and linguistically as if they were intact, distict entities, but actually they are not. Even Buddhist masters have to act in this way according to convention in order to conceptualise and communicate. The important thing is not to beleive in the absolute existence of these entities. All entities have merely a provisional existence. Even Buddhahood.

Buddhism is not based on metaphysical speculation but on observation of phenomenal reality - that which actually exists.

Buddhism is about non-duality - not just as a method imbedded within a scheme which is itself dualistic, not as a method to travel from Samsara to Nirvana - but as a realisation of the true nature of how things actually are, in the first place. Neither self not non-self, neither Buddha Nature nor no Buddha Nature. The non-duality of Buddhahood is not an entity, it is not something which exists in any way distinctly from ordinary existence (we make the distinction); it is not something that comes into being and not something that dies, it is neither self nor nonself, neither negation nor affirmation, it is the way things actually are already.

Buddhahood is acheived by recognising that one's self (or more accurately the distinction between self and other) is provisional and conventional. To realise that the duality between self and nonself is constructed is to realise that all things are inseparable from self-nature ('all is self') and to realise that there is no self('all is nonself') simultaneously. Traces of self/nonself may remain in the realisation or in the articulation of course which is why enlightenment may appear coloured one way or the other. Enlightenment is complete when this subtle 'framing' of reality disappears - when not a trace of anatta or self or Buddha Nature or even Enlightenment remains. In theistic terms it is the simultaneous death and realisation of God (Brahma, whatever); the one and the all are the same; the ultimate distinction betwen subject and object collapses. Yet everything is ordinary, as it always was.

That's my understanding anyway. This is Mumon's comment on Joshu's Dog:

To realize Zen one has to pass through the barrier of the patriarchs. Enlightenment always comes after the road to thinking is blocked. If you do not pass the barrier of the patriarchs or if your thinking road is not blocked, whatever you think, whatever you do, is like a tangling ghost.

You may ask: What is a barrier of a patriarch? This one word, Mu, is it. This is the barrier of Zen. If you pass through it you will see Joshu face to face. Then you can work hand in hand with the whole line of patriarchs. Is this not a pleasant thing to do?

If you want to pass this barrier, you must work through every bone in your body, through every pore in your skin, filled with this question: What is Mu? and carry it day and night. Do not believe it is the common negative symbol meaning nothing. It is not nothingness, the opposite of existence. If you really want to pass this barrier, you should feel like drinking a hot iron ball that you can neither swallow nor spit out.

Then your previous lesser knowledge disappears. As a fruit ripening in season, you subjectivity and objectivity naturally become one. It is like a dumb man who has had a dream. He knows about it but he cannot tell it. When he enters this condition his ego-shell is crushed and he can shake the heaven and move the earth. He is like a great warrior with a sharp sword. If a Buddha stands in his way, he will cut him down; if a patriarch offers him any obstacle, he will kill him; and he will be free in his way of birth and death. He can enter any world as if it were his own playground.

I will tell you how to do this with this koan: Just concentrate your whole energy into this Mu, and do not allow any discontinuation. When you enter this Mu and there is no discontinuation, your attainment will be as a candle burning and illuminating the whole universe.

Has a dog Buddha-nature?
This is the most serious question of all.
If you say yes or no,
You lose your own Buddha-nature."

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Cleveland's Screaming Blog

Hi, sports fans. Just wanted to let you know I've started a blog about my movie "Cleveland's Screaming!" It's at


Also, I may start posting to the darn Hardcore Zen blog again. I'll let you know....

Friday, April 07, 2006

Being the moment

Quiet isn't it?

This is a description of a 'an experience' I had during Zazen in the Autumn.

I had become aware that no matter how focussed I was, there was still a residue of self there - a sense that the phenomena in my awareness were being observed. Right at the end of a half-day zazen session, Rose - the lady who directs our sittings - said a few words about 'being one with the moment'. I 'tried to become one with the moment', wondering what it meant exactly and suddenly it seemed as if there was not the slightest bit of space between 'myself' and 'phenomena'. This lasted for several minutes and then I had a powerful sense that 'me' and 'that moment' were one and the same thing. There was 'only one'. It wasn't an idea, it was a direct experience (without an 'experiencer').

It seems that avoiding clinging to the experience and trying to reproduce it is wise advice but then again it doesn't seem difficult to take myself through the same steps - instead of 'just sitting', actively try to 'become one with' phenomena in the same way only to realise once again in a very direct way that that 'I cannot avoid being one with phenomena'.

Ahh...the temptation to the dark side is strong...

...Back to the washing up.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Nagarjuna and the Limits of Thought

Nagarjuna is surely one of the most difficult philosophers to interpret in any tradition. His texts are terse and cryptic. He does not shy away from paradox or apparent contradiction. He is coy about identifying his opponents. The commentarial traditions grounded in his texts present a plethora of interpretations of his view. Nonetheless, his influence in the Mahayana Buddhist world is not only unparalleled in that tradition, but exceeds in that tradition the influence of any single Western philosopher in the West. The degree to which he is taken seriously by so many eminent Indian, Chinese, Tibetan, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese philosophers, and lately by so many Western philosophers, alone justifies attention to his corpus. Even were he not such a titanic figure historically, the depth and beauty of his thought and the austere beauty of his philosophical poetry would justify that attention. While Nagarjuna may perplex and often infuriate, and while his texts may initially defy exegesis, anyone who spends any time with Nagarjuna's thought inevitably develops a deep respect for this master philosopher.

One of the reasons Nagarjuna so perplexes many who come to his texts is his seeming willingness to embrace contradictions, on the one hand, while making use of classic reductio arguments, implicating his endorsement of the law of non-contradiction, on the other. Another is his apparent willingness to saw off the limbs on which he sits. He asserts that there are two truths, and that they are one; that everything both exists and does not exist; that nothing is existent or non-existent; that he rejects all philosophical views including his own; that he asserts nothing. And he appears to mean every word of it. Making sense of all of this is sometimes difficult. Some interpreters of Nagarjuna, indeed, succumb to the easy temptation to read him as a simple mystic or an irrationalist of some kind. But it is significant that none of the important commentarial traditions in Asia, however much they disagree in other respects, regard him in this light.[i] And indeed most recent scholarship is unanimous in this regard as well, again despite a wide range of divergence in interpretations in other respects. Nagarjuna is simply too committed to rigorous analytical argument to be dismissed as a mystic.

Jay L. Garfield and Graham Priest in Nagarjuna and the Limits of Thought