Saturday, April 29, 2006

Sunshine State/Buddha State

Stuck. I left Chicago to go to college and ended up in a city I didn't like and was stuck there without the financial resources to leave. Many days I would think about what it would be like to be in Miami, with clear skies and sandy beaches, with so much to do, instead of being where I was. My State was miserable, but Florida sounded great. I thought about how little there was to do and how great things would be elsewhere. The source of my unhappiness seemed to be where I lived. Though I wasn't able to move to Miami I was able to eventually leave that place and try another city. It was nice for awhile, but then those same thoughts came back. I had also always wanted to live in Tokyo. Some Sunday nights I would think about what I could be doing there on the other side of the world instead of absolutely nothing in a town where everything closed at 5:00 in the afternoon.
I had done some moving but no matter where I went, the sorrow followed. No State seemed to have the answer. I started to wonder if Florida even stood a chance for me. With every move, I tried to throw away old things and start new, but it was too easy to bring the old things along. When I finally thought I might have the chance to move to Florida, I started going through papers, old writings, stories, junk upon junk and throwing away mountains of things I didn't need to carry. Even throwing all of this away, would it really change anything? Casting off old memories is really just a symbolic gesture. Then it hit me. What is the one piece of junk that I have carried with me in every town, in every city, in every bit of sorrow? ME!
Sidetracking a bit, a friend in Florida explained to me that in Mandarin Chinese, English words are written with Chinese characters with a similar sound. In the case of Florida, the sound "Flor" does not exist in Chinese. The character that was decided to represent this sound was 'Fo', the same character for the Buddha. As he explained to me, the entire word is not usually sounded out, but instead would be written out something like, "State of Fo."
Back to me, I realized that the perfect State is not a member of the Union, not Florida, but a state of calm abiding, of discerning wisdom and penetrating insight, unattached from the fetters of greed, ignorance, and hatred. My sorrow came from these roots, not my location. My mind carried these seeds and I watered them daily! So in the end the Sunshine State did shine a little light on me, the peace surrounds me, and perhaps, the Chinese got the name right after all.


Saturday, April 22, 2006

How Fast/Slow is Your Brain?

When the gates to your mind (eyes, ears, nose, mouth, skin, etc.) receive a signal, the cognizing brain acts a filter, processing that signal, telling the Agent how to act/feel/respond to the signal. Research in Cognitive Science shows that there is a significant delay between the event itself and the arrival into the brain of the Agent. What this means is that we are always a step behind the events of this world. Research into the minds of Zen meditators and Himalayan yogis, however, show that this delay decreases with experience and profiency in meditation. That is getting a little ahead of ourselves, however.
For now, why not test your Auditory Brain speed? Though I cannot attest to the Scientific validity of the test, if one were only now to begin meditation, the test could be used as a bar to measure progress, though progress is the last thing one should worry about in meditation.
Make sure to compare your score to those of your age group at the end of the test.


Saturday, April 15, 2006

Self and Other Networks

"Phantom illusions, empty flowers-
why trouble yourself trying to grasp them?
Gain, loss, right, wrong-
throw them away at once!"
-Third Patriarch Seng-ts'an from Hsin-Hsin ming

I was never any good at remembering the name of a road, for no one could convince me that the road held any such qualities worth remembering in the form of a name. Here it is. Yes, assigning names to things, giving names to concepts, makes conversation easier. In fact, naming symbols is language. We speak of something, but do not bring it about. We do not invoke the actual presence of the Genghis Khan when we use his name, which is only a reference, a marker to an event in history, the life a person. A name is nothing.
These names are all the more confusing when they interplay with the Self/Other mechanism in our mind. At birth, we begin to reach out our tiny little hands to touch things. If what we touch we also feel at the other end, then we know this to be 'self.' If we can pick it up we put it in our mouth. If it is our toe, we will also feel it, not only directly with the mouth, but indirectly with the toe. This is also 'self.' Then we pick up a block or some other toy left for us and we put this in our mouth. This has a feeling in our mouth directly, but we do not feel within it. This we come to know as 'other.'
'Other' gradually becomes the most complex relationship of our life. Within our primitive mammalian brain is a mechanism of protection of anything too foreign, too 'other'. Baby chics raised with the shadow of the same species of birth mother overhead with come to fear their natural predator and feel comfortable around their own species. Baby chics raised with a shadow of their natural predator will fear the shadow of their own mother.
As we age, our 'Other' network expands. It starts with life. This is 'Other' that lives and this is 'Other' that is just a toy. Then there is the immediate family: mother, father, and siblings. This 'other' network has a defined relationship to 'self', as defined by society. Society expects 'self' to forgive the family 'other' more than those outside of this network. The bonds are to be much stronger in this network.
Before too long, we are in the cosmic soup of words and concepts. We live in a world of 'self' and 'other' and 'other' has gone mad. Outside of the usual Mothers and Fathers, Brothers and Sisters, there are Aunts and Uncles, Cousins, Grandparents, friends, coworkers, neighbors, teammates, and on and on. Just think about a birthday. The 'self' must calculate the relative importance to 'self' each birthday would hold for each birthday down that long list in the 'other' network. 'Self' might be very happy for Mother on her birthday and buy her an expensive present, but on 'coworker' birthday, have no true interest, and only invest $1 on a cake. We negotiate our lives within this self/other realm, creating the karmic consciousness, stirring the cosmic soup, forming the letters of the meaningless alphabet, as we sketch out our misreality, investing in unhappiness, forecasting sorrow, and walking the boundaries of our karmic existence.

"Fellow believers, don't get so taken up with the robe! The robe can't move of itself- the person is the one who can put on the robe. There is a clean pure robe, there is a no-birth robe, a bodhi robe, a patriarch robe, a Buddha robe. Fellow believers, these sounds, names, words, phrases are all nothing but changes of robe. The sea of breath in the region below the navel stirs itself into motion, the teeth batter and mold it, and it comes out as a statement of an idea. So we know for certain that these are mere phantoms."
from the Linji Lu
quotes from:
Watson, Burton Zen Teachings of Master Lin-Chi New York: Columbia University Press 1993


Saturday, April 08, 2006

Voice of Tibet

'Voice of Tibet'- Radio in Exile-is an outlet of expression for the Tibetan people within Tibet. Voices of Tibet broadcasts Tibetan news as well as talks from the Dalai Lama daily in Tibetan and Mandarin on shortwave radio. Below is a short documentary about 'Voice of Tibet' accessed from the link below or at WWW.VOT.ORG.


Thursday, April 06, 2006

Middle Road of Biscayne Blvd

"Students don't have enough faith in themselves, and so they rush around looking for something outside themselves. But even if they get something, all it will be is words and phrases, pretty appearances. They'll never get at the living thought of the patriarchs!
Make no mistake, you followers of Ch'an. If you don't find it in this life,
then for a thousand lifetimes and ten thousand kalpas you'll be reborn again and again in the threefold world, you'll be lured by what you think are favorable environments and be born in the belly of a donkey or a cow!"
from the Linji lu

The power steering had gone completely out in my truck and so on Monday I ventured out onto the wild streets of Miami, into the fray of swirling cars and mad drivers, with a vehicle that took corners like an old tank, to find a mechanic. I had to stop off at an office, in a tiny little parking lot, and as I forced, pulled, and yanked at the wheel to get the truck to make a tight turn, the spectators at the nearby restaurant seemed to enjoy the show. After that stop I forced the truck back onto Biscayne Blvd, home to year-round construction and ever present lane changes. Once I was moving, turning the wheel wasn't so bad.
As I drove down Biscyane Blvd I looked at the shops and department stores, restaurants and car lots, all with something to take the mind off of the here and now, off of the car troubles, lack of air conditioning in Miami weather, bills, woes of life, and all the rest that comes bundled with existence. Of course, this way of thinking, distracting the mind away from mindfulness of the present situation, addressing our condition of suffering, comes with a substantial amount of interest, so to speak. The more we buy, the more we cry. The woes pile up. We need bigger distractions. We need them to last longer. We need them to be shinier and be visible to more people. The suffering of existence lies in these parking lots off of the main road.
In my truck, unable to make the tight turns necessary to navigate the majority of the parking lots, unwilling to go through the motions to navigate the others, I had only one option: to take the middle road and drive onward to my goal. It was hot, yes, but there was a sense of peace as I drove with singular purpose, without swerving through traffic to get a better position, attempting to find shortcuts, or driving at the closest possible proximity the bumper ahead of my own. I drove not for the destination but for each breath and moment of life, appreciating the quiet time to calmly reflect and release. My only bit of remorse was-If only I could get the power steering to go out in my head.
Quote from:
Watson, Burton Zen Teachings of Master Lin-Chi New York: Columbia University Press 1993


Sunday, April 02, 2006

Buddha Rising

In Buddha Rising, Photographer Steve McCurray shows images of Western Buddhism in four short segments in this National Geographic production.

In Footsteps of Buddha, author Peter Garfinkel speaks in three short segments about his experiences with Buddhism.

Buddha Rising has a series of nice images worth viewing. The Peter Garfinkel segment is not as interesting.