A samurai, who was also a fencing master had an audience with Master Bankei.
“After years of training, “began the samurai, “I have reached the stage where my hands respond perfectly according to my mind. Now I am at a level of skill where I can defeat opponents without even picking up my sword. My gaze pierces them to their bones and disrupts them completely. It is the same penetrating look you yourself use to assess the depth of a person’s enlightenment.”
You say you have perfected your skill in your art,” Bankei said. “Now, try to strike me!” The samurai hesitated for an instant.
“My blow has already fallen,” said Bankei.
The man’s jaw sagged. “I’m astonished,” he sighed. “Your stroke is swifter than the spark off a flint. My head rolls at my feet. Please, master, teach me the essentials of Zen.”
“A baktun (properly b’ak’tun) is 20 katun cycles of the ancient Maya Long Count Calendar. It contains 144,000 days, equal to 394.26 tropical years. The Classic period of Maya civilization occurred during the 8th and 9th baktuns of the current calendrical cycle. The current (13th) baktun will end, or be completed, on 22.214.171.124.0 (December 21, 2012 using the GMT correlation). This also marks the beginning of the 14th baktun, as such a term is usually used among Mayanists.”
So let us celebrate the beginning of the new baktun from now on.
I welcome you 14th baktun!
Meanwhile, the big illusion will continue to dazzle us with its enticing array of smells, ideas, stories, people, sunrises, etc., and it tailors itself to each and everyone of us.
We are special indeed.
Which brings me to zazen and the new year.
We all know that discipline is required in any worthwhile pursuit.
If you are a procrastinator you do know that the first step is always the most difficult. We have to give the brain circuitry time to adapt itself to the new reality.
This has to be one of the most intense eras of the human race. The rate of speed that knowledge spreading is mind boggling. We are communicating at the speed of light, no?
No wonder the powers that be are scared. Or are they?
I want to believe that a new world will emerge from all of this yet I wonder about the eternal samsara and all. Are we just deluding ourselves about social justice and a new world order based on the wants of the 99 percenters ? Or will the present day feudal lords continue to maintain their iron grip over the world’s money supply ?
Create a dream.
Make people want it.
Make it accessible by issuing paper and call it money.
We are all therefore indebted.
I would like the coming year to reflect all the previous years of growth from my own life all all the masters since antiquity. We all know what to do.
This is my first step.
It is a series of efforts that I aim for every day.
And it changes , like a scented wind entering a village, continuously.
Alan Watts died forty-four years ago on this day, the 16th of November, 1973. Rummaging through my files I see I’ve written on him any number of times. He certainly is an important figure in my life. And, I think he stands as an important figure in the meeting of psychology and Eastern religions, as well as the introduction specifically of Zen to the popular Western imagination.
In Zen Master Who? my history of Zen Buddhism come west I describe the first of the several times I met Alan Watts. It was sometime, I believe, in 1969.
“I was on the guest staff of the Zen monastery in Oakland led by Roshi Jiyu Kennett. I was enormously excited to actually meet this famous man, the great interpreter of the Zen way. Wearing my very best robes, I waited for him to show up; and waited and waited. Nearly an hour later, Watts arrived dressed in a kimono, accompanied by a fawning young woman and an equally fawning young man. It was hard not to notice his interest in the young woman who, as a monk, I was embarrassed to observe seemed not to be wearing any underwear. I was also awkwardly aware that Watts seemed intoxicated.”
What follows I’ve mostly cobbled together from earlier reflections stitched together with a few new thoughts here and there…
Alan Watts was the first person to write popular books about Zen in the West, beginning in 1937 with the Spirit of Zen, and more importantly in 1957 with his best selling Way of Zen. He drew mainly on the scholarly volumes just being written by D. T. Suzuki, the first person to write authentically about Zen in European languages, through Watts engaging style made enormously readable and genuinely compelling. As I summarized in my history, “An erstwhile Episcopal priest, engaging raconteur, and scandalous libertine, Alan Watts was also a prolific author whose books created an inviting sense of Zen-as-pure-experience and a do-what-you-want spirituality. These qualities both profoundly misrepresented Zen and led many people to it.”
On that last note, some years later I attended a talk by an American Zen priest. At the end, during the question and answer period, someone asked about Watts. The priest sighed, and then said, “I know there’s a lot of controversy about Alan Watts and what he really understood about Zen.” He paused. And then, added, “But, you know, without Alan Watts, I wouldn’t be standing here on this platform.” I have to say, in large part, that’s true for me as well. In the 1960s and 70s, Alan Watts opened some important doors for many of us looking for a new way.
Over these passing years I’ve come to feel the title of his biography In My Own Way and the title of the English edition of Monica Furlong’s biography of him, Genuine Fake, taken together points to the complexities of this intriguing Anglo-American Zen trickster/ancestor of our contemporary spiritual scene.
In a relentless critique of Alan Watts, Lou Nordstrom and Richard Pilgrim point out how an authentic spirituality must encompass “practice, discipline, and effort,” features completely lacking in Alan Watts’ “Zen.” In large part I agree, but not completely. There is absolutely a place of falling away of practice, discipline, and effort. As we open our hearts we find the way is in fact broad and forgiving. And it seems he tasted that freedom and joy. I really believe he did. But, the authentic spiritual is also in that delightful conundrum of a real life, totally bound up with practice, discipline, and effort. The way is also, without a doubt, harsh and demands everything. And here Watts seems completely clueless.
Now, in my opinion, Alan Watts was at his very best during a brief period when he tried at practice, discipline, and effort. Or, at least stood in their general neighborhood. Raised in England, his natal tradition was Anglicanism, although he formally abandoned it by sixteen for the eclectic Buddhism of the London Buddhist Society. In his late twenties, having come to America and desperate for an occupation that paid something, he decided to become an Episcopal priest. He had not attended college, but by providing a very long list of the books he had read and then showing a suspicious faculty he had not only read them, but profoundly absorbed them, he was admitted into the divinity program at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois.
There is a story in Zen circles about a man and a horse. The horse is galloping quickly, and it appears that the man on the horse is going somewhere important. Another man, standing alongside the road, shouts, “Where are you going?” and the first man replies, “I don’t know! Ask the horse!” This is also our story. We are riding a horse, we don’t know where we are going, and we can’t stop. The horse is our habit energy pulling us along, and we are powerless. We are always running, and it has become a habit. We struggle all the time, even during our sleep. We are at war within ourselves, and we can easily start a war with others.
“The ego-shell in which we live is the hardest thing to outgrow.”
By Maria Popova
Alan Watts may be credited with popularizing Eastern philosophy in the West, but he owes the entire trajectory of his life and legacy to a single encounter with the Zen Buddhist sage D.T. Suzuki (October 18, 1870–July 12, 1966) — one of humanity’s greatest and most influential stewards of Zen philosophy. At the age of twenty-one, Watts attended a lecture by Suzuki in London, which so enthralled the young man that he spent the remainder of his life studying, propagating, and building upon Suzuki’s teachings. Legendary composer John Cage had a similar encounter with Suzuki, which profoundly shaped his life and music.
In the early 1920s, spurred by the concern that Zen masters are “unable to present their understanding in the light of modern thought,” Suzuki undertook “a tentative experiment to present Zen from our common-sense point of view” — a rather humble formulation of what he actually accomplished, which was nothing less than giving ancient Eastern philosophy a second life in the West and planting the seed for a new culture of secularized spirituality.
But by 1940, all of his books had gone out of print in war-torn England, and all remaining copies in Japan were destroyed in the great fire of 1945, which consumed three quarters of Tokyo. In 1946, Christmas Humphreys, president of London’s Buddhist Society, set out to undo the damage and traveled to Tokyo, where he began working with Suzuki on translating his new manuscripts and reprinting what remained of the old. The result was the timeless classic Essays in Zen Buddhism (public library), originally published in 1927 — a collection of Suzuki’s foundational texts introducing the principles of Zen into secular life as a discipline concerned first and foremost with what he called “the reconstruction of character.” As Suzuki observed, “Our ordinary life only touches the fringe of personality, it does not cause a commotion in the deepest parts of the soul.” His essays became, and remain, a moral toolkit for modern living, delivered through a grounding yet elevating perspective on secular spirituality.
Suzuki begins at the beginning, laying out the promise of Zen in our everyday lives:
Zen in its essence is the art of seeing into the nature of one’s own being, and it points the way from bondage to freedom. By making us drink right from the fountain of life, it liberates us from all the yokes under which we finite beings are usually suffering in this world.
This body of ours is something like an electric battery in which a mysterious power latently lies. When this power is not properly brought into operation, it either grows mouldy and withers away or is warped and expresses itself abnormally. It is the object of Zen, therefore, to save us from going crazy or being crippled. This is what I mean by freedom, giving free play to all the creative and benevolent impulses inherently lying in our hearts. Generally, we are blind to this fact, that we are in possession of all the necessary faculties that will make us happy and loving towards one another. All the struggles that we see around us come from this ignorance… When the cloud of ignorance disappears… we see for the first time into the nature of our own being.
One of Suzuki’s most overlooked yet essential points — and one particularly prescient in the context of what modern developmental psychology has found in the decades since — has to do with the crucial role of adolescence as a pivotal point in moral development. The teenage years, he argues, are when we begin “deeply delving into the mysteries of life” and when we are “asked to choose between the ‘Everlasting No’ and the ‘Everlasting Yea’” — a notion young Nietzsche intuited half a century earlier when he resolved, “I wish to be at any time hereafter only a yea-sayer!” At this fork in the road of existence, Suzuki insists, mastering the principles of Zen can make the critical difference in leading us toward a meaningful and fulfilling life. He writes:
Life is after all a form of affirmation… However insistently the blind may deny the existence of the sun, they cannot annihilate it.
Much of that blindness, he admonishes, comes from our attachment to the ego. Paradoxical as it may sound to any parent or teacher of a teenager, Suzuki suggests that adolescence is the time most fruitful for the dissolution of the ego:
We are too ego-centered. The ego-shell in which we live is the hardest thing to outgrow… We are, however, given many chances to break through this shell, and the first and greatest of them is when we reach adolescence.
And yet the “loss of the mental equilibrium” produced by the polar pull of “Everlasting No” and “Everlasting Yea,” which causes “so many cases of nervous prostration reported during adolescence,” can also derail and anguish us at any point in life. In a sentiment that once again calls to mind Nietzsche and his beliefs about the constructive role of suffering, Suzuki writes:
The more you suffer the deeper grows your character, and with the deepening of your character you read the more penetratingly into the secrets of life. All great artists, all great religious leaders, and all great social reformers have come out of the intensest struggles which they fought bravely, quite frequently in tears and with bleeding hearts.
Those ego-stripping struggles, Suzuki points out, can be of the intimate, most nonmaterial kind — the kind Rilke had articulated so beautifully two decades earlier in his letter on the burdens and blessings of love. Suzuki writes:
Love makes the ego lose itself in the object it loves, and yet at the same time it wants to have the object as its own… The greatest bulk of literature ever produced in this world is but the harping on the same string of love, and we never seem to grow weary of it. But… through the awakening of love we get a glimpse into the infinity of things… When the ego-shell is broken and the ‘other’ is taken into its own body, we can say that the ego has denied itself or that the ego has taken its first steps towards the infinite.
Although he takes care to note the invaluable role of the intellect in day-to-day life, Suzuki argues that the intellect is what keeps us from the infinite:
Zen proposes its solution by directly appealing to facts of personal experience and not to book-knowledge. The nature of one’s own being where apparently rages the struggle between the finite and the infinite is to be grasped by a higher faculty than the intellect… For the intellect has a peculiarly disquieting quality in it. Though it raises questions enough to disturb the serenity of the mind, it is too frequently unable to give satisfactory answers to them. It upsets the blissful peace of ignorance and yet it does not restore the former state of things by offering something else. Because it points out ignorance, it is often considered illuminating, whereas the fact is that it disturbs, not necessarily always bringing light on its path.
How poignant the latter remark is in the context of contemporary intellectual life. So much of our higher education is premised on the spirit of tearing things down rather than building things up — on how intelligently a student can criticize and counter an argument — which has, unsurprisingly, permeated the fabric of public discourse at large. We have a culture of criticism in which critics, professional and self-appointed, measure their merit by how intelligently they can eviscerate an idea, a work of art, or, increasingly and alarmingly, a person. We seem to have forgotten how to acquire what Bertrand Russell called, just a year before Suzuki’s essays were published, “a high degree of intellectual culture without emotional atrophy” in his magnificent meditation on why construction is more difficult yet more rewarding than destruction.
Similarly, Suzuki’s point is that the intellect is best at pointing out what doesn’t work, and as such can be a force of destruction, but when it comes to what does work, to the art of moral construction, we must rely on a wholly different faculty of the human spirit. He points to the lineage of philosophy — a discipline that continues to rely heavily on Descartes’s ultimate slogan for the intellect, cogito ergo sum — as evidence of the intellect’s insufficient powers in illuminating the path:
The history of thought proves that each new structure raised by a man of extraordinary intellect is sure to be pulled down by the succeeding ones. This constant pulling down and building up is all right as far as philosophy itself is concerned; for the inherent nature of the intellect, as I take it, demands it and we cannot put a stop to the progress of philosophical inquiries any more than to our breathing. But when it comes to the question of life itself we cannot wait for the ultimate solution to be offered by the intellect, even if it could do so. We cannot suspend even for a moment our life-activity for philosophy to unravel its mysteries. Let the mysteries remain as they are, but live we must… Zen therefore does not rely on the intellect for the solution of its deepest problems.
While the intellect may portend to fight illusion, Suzuki argues, it often does the opposite, creating different illusions that take us further from the truth of life rather than closer to it. He writes:
As nature abhors a vacuum, Zen abhors anything coming between the fact and ourselves. According to Zen there is no struggle in the fact itself such as between the finite and the infinite, between the flesh and the spirit. These are idle distinctions fictitiously designed by the intellect for its own interest. Those who take them too seriously or those who try to read them into the very fact of life are those who take the finger for the moon.
For anyone who has ever experienced the soul-squeezing sense of not-enoughness — and in a consumerist culture, most of us have, for the task of consumerism is to rob us of our sense of having enough and sell it back to us at the price of the product, over and over — Suzuki’s words resonate with particular poignancy:
Life as it is lived suffices. It is only when the disquieting intellect steps in and tries to murder it that we stop to live and imagine ourselves to be short of or in something. Let the intellect alone, it has its usefulness in its proper sphere, but let it not interfere with the flowing of the life-stream. If you are at all tempted to look into it, do so while letting it flow. The fact of flowing must under no circumstances be arrested or meddled with…
The great fact of life itself … flows altogether outside of these vain exercises of the intellect or of the imagination.
No amount of wordy explanations will ever lead us into the nature of our own selves. The more you explain, the further it runs away from you. It is like trying to get hold of your own shadow.
What Zen offers, Suzuki suggests, is a gateway into precisely that elusive nature of the self:
Zen … must be directly and personally experienced by each of us in his inner spirit. Just as two stainless mirrors reflect each other, the fact and our own spirits must stand facing each other with no intervening agents. When this is done we are able to seize upon the living, pulsating fact itself. Freedom is an empty word until then.
The ultimate standpoint of Zen, therefore, is that we have been led astray through ignorance to find a split in our own being, that there was from the very beginning no need for a struggle between the finite and the infinite, that the peace we are seeking so eagerly after has been there all the time.
We are all finite, we cannot live out of time and space; inasmuch as we are earth-created, there is no way to grasp the infinite, how can we deliver ourselves from the limitations of existence? … Salvation must be sought in the finite itself, there is nothing infinite apart from finite things; if you seek something transcendental, that will cut you off from this world of relativity, which is the same thing as the annihilation of yourself. You do not want salvation at the cost of your own existence… Whether you understand or not, just the same go on living in the finite, with the finite; for you die if you stop eating and keeping yourself warm on account of your aspiration for the infinite… Therefore the finite is the infinite, and vice versa. These are not two separate things, though we are compelled to conceive them so, intellectually.
Suzuki argues that the ultimate essence of Zen lies in its promise, both practical and profound, to “deliver us from the oppression and tyranny of these intellectual accumulations” and to offer, instead, a foundation of character at once solid and transcendent:
Zen may be considered a discipline aiming at the reconstruction of character. Our ordinary life only touches the fringe of personality, it does not cause a commotion in the deepest parts of the soul… We are … made to live on the superficiality of things. We may be clever, bright, and all that, but what we produce lacks depth, sincerity, and does not appeal to the inmost feelings… A deep spiritual experience is bound to effect a change in the moral structure of one’s personality.
And yet this “reconstruction of character”” is no cosmetic tweak:
Being so long accustomed to the oppression [of the intellect], the mental inertia becomes hard to remove. In fact it has gone down deep into the roots of our own being, and the whole structure of personality is to be overturned. The process of reconstruction is stained with tears and blood… It is no pastime but the most serious task in life; no idlers will ever dare attempt it.
Zen goes straight down to the foundations of personality.
My previous blog, which was deleted by fake poet Genie, had this post in it. I came across it from another site, Zazen Life, which had published the post back then. I am bringing it back home. Lou
I came into Zen in my late teens after being raised a catholic.
The dogma of the church just did not do it for me.
So I ex-communicated myself and went on a quest for truth. I came across the antics of the Beat writers of which Jack Kerouac became my favorite.
Say what you will about those pre-hippies but they were the closest thing to genuine creativity in the US in the late fifties.
The Beatniks opened my mind to Alan Watts (Alan Wilson Watts /January 1915 – 16 November 1973) who turned me into Zen. At the time he was instrumental in making Zen understandable in the West.
I also discovered marijuana during that time.
Now, before I go any further, I must admit that writing this post torqued my brain around.
Zen is pure Buddhism.
It is a natural consequence and part of Buddhism. Siddhartha, in all his wisdom came up with five guiding rules for us to follow in order to reach enlightenment: to abstain from harming living beings, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxication.
Here it is. Intoxication. What is intoxication? Ingesting poisons that will harm you physically and mentally.
You cannot get intoxicated from cannabis.
If you intake too much marijuana you are just wasting your time, money, and weed.
Once you are in the zone there is no more higher “stoned” level.
Cannabis focuses your mind by freeing it from the daily mundane. It gives you a measure of peace and calm that recharges your energy and allows you to become disciplined.
Zen and Zazen both require discipline.
It is one of the most difficult spiritual practices to get involved with, but the rewards are out of this world.
Zen changed my existence.
It has given me: Empathy, compassion, discipline, patience, an open mind, the desire not to hurt sentient beings by not eating them which in turn gave me incredible health and stamina, an understanding of life that is intertwined with death, and much more.
Zen changed my life and I arrived at Zen through off-beat counter culture readings and cannabis.
I am not advocating for everyone to get stoned like the song says.
Life should be experienced fully and soberly.
But you must admit that modern life is beyond stressful. It has become so complicated that most of us depend on legal and illegal drugs in order to cope with the insanity of it all. Roughly half the North American population is ingesting legal antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs.
Personally, I won’t consume cannabis until the necessary daily rituals have been performed: Exercise, zazen, work, chores, etc.. At the end of the day cannabis becomes the holy grail of ceremonial and spiritual ceremonies.
“Way out in space, and way out in time… billions of years ago, you were a big bang, but now you’re a complicated human being. And then we cut ourselves off, and don’t feel that we’re still the big bang. But you are.” ~Alan Watts
“It’s like you took a bottle of ink and you threw it at a wall. Smash! And all that ink spread. And in the middle, it’s dense, isn’t it? And as it gets out on the edge, the little droplets get finer and finer and make more complicated patterns, see?
So in the same way, there was a big bang at the beginning of things and it spread. And you and I, sitting here in this room, as complicated human beings, are way, way out on the fringe of that bang. We are the complicated little patterns on the end of it. Very interesting.
But so we define ourselves as being only that. If you think that you are only inside your skin, you define yourself as one very complicated little curlique, way out on the edge of that explosion. Way out in space, and way out in time… billions of years ago, you were a big bang, but now you’re a complicated human being. And then we cut ourselves off, and don’t feel that we’re still the big bang.
But you are.
Depends how you define yourself. You are actually– if this is the way things started, if there was a big bang in the beginning– you’re not something that’s a result of the big bang. You’re not something that is a sort of puppet on the end of the process. You are still the process. You are the big bang, the original force of the universe, coming on as whoever you are.
When I meet you, I see not just what you define yourself as– Mr so-and- so, Ms so-and-so, Mrs so-and-so– I see every one of you as the primordial energy of the universe coming on at me in this particular way. I know I’m that, too. But we’ve learned to define ourselves as separate from it… ”
“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” ~Albert Einstein
“You are not IN the universe, you ARE the universe, an intrinsic part of it. Ultimately you are not a person, but a focal point where the universe is becoming conscious of itself. What an amazing miracle.” ~Eckhart Tolle
Look, we’ve all seen these silly videos about aliens that we know in our hearts are fake. It took me awhile to succumb to the curiosity but I’m glad I did. Listen to the words of the “alien” EBE. He says some profound things about life, the universe, our extinction and why. In essence, political and religious dogma will bring us to extinction. It seems appropriate and relevant to our times, as once again the little boys are playing with the nuclear matches.
Real or fake, this was done in 1964, and it reveals a complex understanding of quantum theory, and I might add that some of the content seems inspired by Zen Buddhism. Both quantum theory and Zen were relatively unknown in the sixties. Illuminati games perhaps?
“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.”
Nobel Peace Prize nominee and Zen Buddhist master, Thich Nhat Hanh has a very different theory about why our ecosystems are dying and our financial systems are crumbling. The Vietnamese monk credited with bringing mindfulness to the West believes that our desperation to succeed at all costs fuels our voracious economic system. An innumerable number of worldly ‘sicknesses’ come from this singular philosophical vice.
“Each one of us has to ask ourselves, What do I really want? Do I really want to be Number One? Or do I want to be happy? If you want success, you may sacrifice your happiness for it. You can become a victim of success, but you can never become a victim of happiness.”
Thay – as his followers call him, is no stranger to the ideology of the movers and shakers in our world economy. He was invited to speak in Silicon Valley by Steve Jobs once, and has met with the World Bank president Jim Yong Kim. He has also met with senior Google engineers to discuss how they could develop technologies which could be more compassionate and bring about positive change, instead of increasing people’s stress and isolation, taking them away from nature, and one another.
He recently explained his concern with how people pin their happiness on success in an interview with the Guardian.
“If you know how to practice mindfulness you can generate peace and joy right here, right now. And you’ll appreciate that and it will change you. In the beginning, you believe that if you cannot become number one, you cannot be happy, but if you practice mindfulness you will readily release that kind of idea. We need not fear that mindfulness might become only a means and not an end because in mindfulness the means and the end are the same thing. There is no way to happiness; happiness is the way.”
Thay warns, however, that practicing mindfulness just to be more productive at work, or only to enjoy more material success will leave the practitioner with a pale shadow of awareness compared to what true mindfulness can provide. He suggests:
“If you consider mindfulness as a means of having a lot of money, then you have not touched its true purpose. It may look like the practice of mindfulness but inside there’s no peace, no joy, no happiness produced. It’s just an imitation. If you don’t feel the energy of brotherhood, of sisterhood, radiating from your work, that is not mindfulness.”
As company executives in banking, oil production, agriculture, manufacturing, tech, and other fields strive to be successful, are they missing out on the true peace that might come from preserving an ecosystem, or helping to protect biodiversity? Are these titans of industry reflective of our social and political slant toward ever-increasing spending, a lack of accountability fiscally and environmentally, and the disassociation workers feel from their families and friends while constantly trying to work harder and earn more?
Thay says that all businesses should be conducted in such a way that all the employees can experience happiness. He says that helping to change society for the better can fill us with a sense of accomplishment that doesn’t come from focusing purely on profits.
When top CEOs make 300% more than their workers, and include stock incentives, luxury cars, and healthy expense accounts, how can balance truly be upheld?
When the world’s top 3,000 firms are responsible for over $2.2 trillion in environmental damage, how can we find joy from nature?
When even Facebook cofounder Dustin Moskovitz, who now heads up the software firm Asana calls out the tech industry for a lack of work-life balance, how can anyone find time to practice mindfulness or meditation?
Furthermore, even loss of life is acceptable in the name of profits. The ‘business’ of war has allowed the 100 largest contractors to sell more than $410 billion in arms and military services. Just 10 of those companies sold over $208 billion – while providing the means to kill millions.
Is it any wonder employees are broke, stressed out, and burned out from a lack of balance, no connection with other people, and an incessant work flow that promises very little reward, either financial or otherwise, from their toil?
Then there is the debt-based financial system of the Federal Reserve, propping up this entire show.
We also don’t need CEOs who make 300 times what their employees do, or ridiculous government policies which allow the notion of corporations as people, while ignoring the basic needs of real people.
Our courts have extended constitutional protections to the most unconscious among us, preserving a way of life that does not allow true happiness. Our constant aim for success has warped our original goal – to be happy. Isn’t that why people want more money, more power, and more ‘things.’ But as Thay says, this is a false way to attain happiness.
What this quiet Zen monk is trying to tell us is that our entire society is upside down. Our economic system protects mindlessness, not mindfulness.
He says that the primary affliction of our modern civilization is that we don’t know how to handle the suffering inside us and so we attempt to cover it up with all kinds of consumption.
Retailers peddle a host of devices to help us cover up the suffering inside. But unless and until we’re able to face our suffering, we can’t be present and available to life, and happiness will continue to elude us.
How do we change our economic policies so that all employees can be happy? It might help to look at our true goals. It might help to acknowledge the pain we’ve caused thousands of people by perpetuating war for the sake of profits. Success doesn’t automatically equal happiness, not if the definition of success only includes the bottom line.
We can measure success by our fulfillment in life, by the people we’ve been able to touch with our good deeds, or a mindful interaction, by having friends, experiencing love, being able to walk in a forest, or learn how to play a musical instrument.
Perhaps the true goal should be peacefulness instead of happiness, even. As Hanh has said:
“If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society will benefit from our peace.” This could be our new definition of success.
“Just as true humor is laughter at oneself, true humanity is knowledge of oneself.”
“Peace can be made only by those who are peaceful, and love can be shown only by those who love. No work of love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart, just as no valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.”
“This is the real secret of life – to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”
“The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.”
1. “Things are as they are. Looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.”
2. “We do not ‘come into’ this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree.”
3. “No one is more dangerously insane than one who is sane all the time: he is like a steel bridge without flexibility, and the order of his life is rigid and brittle.”
4. “Without birth and death, and without the perpetual transmutation of all the forms of life, the world would be static, rhythm-less, undancing, mummified.”
5. “What we have forgotten is that thoughts and words are conventions, and that it is fatal to take conventions too seriously. A convention is a social convenience, as, for example, money … but it is absurd to take money too seriously, to confuse it with real wealth … In somewhat the same way, thoughts, ideas and words are ‘coins’ for real things.”
When author and Zen priest Dan Zigmond mentions that he has written a book about the Buddha’s diet, he is often met with disbelief.“A common reaction was that Buddha must have had a terrible diet, because he looked so overweight in all of the statues that everyone sees of him,” said Zigmond, who along with Tara Cottrell co-authored the new book Buddha’s Diet: The Ancient Art of Losing Weight Without Losing Your Mind. “If you go into Chinese restaurants and lots of places in the West, there are statues that show this overweight figure. But it’s a Western misunderstanding. In countries where that image comes from—mostly China and Japan—people understand that the Buddha is someone else entirely.”Zigmond, who is also a Tricycle contributing editor, and Cottrell make it a point to bring up the Buddha’s slim appearance in their book because they discovered that almost all of his beliefs about food and dieting have held up to scientific inquiry.“I’ve always been interested in food; I like to cook, and I’m a vegetarian,” Zigmond said. In 2014, Zigmond, who is the Director of Analytics at Facebook, briefly left the tech world to work for a startup devoted to nutrition and health. “I was surrounded by people who had made food and health their whole career. One colleague shared with me a study that looked at mice that had been restricted to eating only during certain hours each day. [Eating this way] had provided some protection against all of the unhealthy consequences of a bad diet.”Reading the study was a revelation to Zigmond—and made him recall his time living in a Buddhist monastery in Thailand more than 20 years earlier when he was volunteering at a nearby refugee camp. “The monks had similar rules about when they could eat,” Zigmond said. “Like a lot of people, I was not very happy with my diet or my state of health, so I decided to give it a try. And I really loved this way of eating.”At the monastery, Zigmond learned that the Buddha had only one steadfast rule about eating in his teachings.
That approach to eating was consistent with the Buddha’s other philosophies. “It was a Middle Way, so that on the one hand, his followers wouldn’t be too focused on food, and on the other hand, it would allow them to sustain themselves and nurture their bodies.”
When you’re ready to wake up, you’re going to wake up, and if you’re not ready you’re going to stay pretending that you’re just a ‘poor little me.’ And since you’re all here and engaged in this sort of inquiry and listening to this sort of lecture, I assume you’re all in the process of waking up. Or else you’re teasing yourselves with some kind of flirtation with waking up which you’re not serious about. But I assume that maybe you are not serious, but sincere — that you are ready to wake up. So then, when you’re in the way of waking up, and finding out who you really are, what you do is what the whole universe is doing a the place you call here and now. You are something that the whole universe is doing in the same way that a wave is something that the whole ocean is doing… The real you is not a puppet which life pushes around; the real, deep down you is the whole universe. So then, when you die, you’re not going to have to put up with everlasting non-existance, because that’s not an experience. A lot of people are afraid that when they die, they’re going to be locked up in a dark room forever, and sort of undergo that. But one of the interesting things in the world is–this is a yoga, this is a realization–try and imagine what it will be like to go to sleep and never wake up. Think about that. Children think about it. It’s one of the great wonders of life. What will it be like to go to sleep and never wake up? And if you think long enough about that, something will happen to you. You will find out, among other things, it will pose the next question to you. What was it like to wake up after having never gone to sleep? That was when you were born.
You see, you can’t have an experience of nothing; nature abhors a vacuum. So after you’re dead, the only thing that can happen is the same experience, or the same sort of experience as when you were born. In other words, we all know very well that after other people die, other people are born. And they’re all you, only you can only experience it one at a time. Everybody is I, you all know you’re you, and wheresoever beings exist throughout all galaxies, it doesn’t make any difference. You are all of them. And when they come into being, that’s you coming into being. You know that very well, only you don’t have to remember the past in the same way you don’t have to think about how you work your thyroid gland, or whatever else it is in your organism. You don’t have to know how to shine the sun. You just do it, like you breath. Doesn’t it really astonish you that you are this fantastically complex thing, and that you’re doing all this and you never had any education in how to do it? Never learned, but you’re this miracle?
I likes this quote so much that I made a post out of it. Navigating through the sea of confusion that comes up in diet and nutrition is difficult. This one sounds legit and doable. Of course, nothing ever comes easy.
I am glad that the research focuses on the relationship between food, diet, exercise, and the spiritual. Our souls need a solid dose of healing these days.
“Experimental group patients were prescribed an intensive lifestyle program that included a vegan diet supplemented with soy (1 daily serving of tofu plus 58 gm of a fortified soy protein powdered beverage), fish oil (3 gm daily), vitamin E (400 IU daily), selenium (200 mcg daily) and vitamin C (2 gm daily), moderate aerobic exercise (walking 30 minutes 6 days weekly), stress management techniques (gentle yoga based stretching, breathing, meditation, imagery and progressive relaxation for a total of 60 minutes daily) and participation in a 1-hour support group once weekly to enhance adherence to the intervention.10
The diet was predominantly fruits, vege- tables, whole grains (complex carbohydrates), legumes and soy products, low in simple carbohydrates and with approximately 10% of calories from fat.11 The diet is intensive but palatable and practical. In earlier studies most patients were able to adhere to this diet for at least 5 years.”
“With traditional arts in Asia much emphasis is put on long-term practice and effort, so as to reach continuously higher levels of skill development. There is a deeper character training happening as well, to reduce the ego’s voice, let go of fears, cultivate mindfulness, increase gratitude and live more fully in the present moment.” ~Christopher Chase
Cultivating a Beginner’s Mind
Beginner’s Mind is a phrase from Japanese Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki’s book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. He uses it to describe an approach to life that is empty of preconceptions and fearful thinking, yet very mindful.
“In Japan we have the phrase shoshin (初 心), which means “beginner’s mind.” The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner’s mind… This [means] an empty mind and a ready mind. If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”
The idea of an empty mind in Asian cultures is different from Western conceptions, which signify that something is lacking. It is closer to our idea of being open-minded, providing a spacious awareness that allows the outer world to flow in freely through our senses.
The Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu shared a similar conception of emptiness, in verse 11 of the Tao Te Ching, describing structured spaces which invite participation as being very useful.
“Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.”
Therefore benefit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.”
In Zen Buddhism, to maintain a beginner’s mind means to be open to continuous growth and deeper understanding. One is encouraged to drink in each moment of life, without excessive desire, pride or judgment.
A beginner’s mind is not willful, power seeking or egocentric. As a beginner, we are encouraged to develop skills without comparing ourselves to others or seeking to be superior in any way. In Japan, this also relates to the idea of kenkyo (謙虚) which means to cultivate modesty and humility, to not be full of oneself.
In Zen Flesh, Zen Bones (by Paul Rep) there is a section entitled 101 Zen Stories. Here a tale is told of a Japanese University professor who visits a Zen master. He says he wants to learn about Zen, but he arrives with an attitude of superiority. The master pours tea into his cup and does not stop so that it begins to overflow.
“What are you doing?” yells the Professor. The master responds, “Like this cup, your mind is already full. To learn about Zen you must empty your cup, empty your mind of knowledge.”
Zen & Japanese Traditional Arts
Even now, a beginner’s mind is very much a part of traditional arts training in Japan. The idea of mu (無) or mushin (無 心) is commonly taught to students. It is often translated as “not, nothing” or “no mind” but it’s closer to openness of awareness in meaning. Students are encouraged to be attentive and mindful, carefully observant of the present moment.
With traditional arts education in Asia much emphasis is put on long-term practice and effort, so as to reach continuously higher levels of skill development. There is a deeper character training happening as well, to reduce the ego’s voice, let go of fears, cultivate mindfulness, increase gratitude and live more fully in the present moment.
A core idea with Zen influenced arts is that deep mastery and learning requires that we keep all our senses open. Over time one’s knowledge becomes intuitive, instinctual. We do not have to “think “ consciously to act skillfully.
The goal with arts training is not to receive praise or do better than others, but to grow spiritually, develop as a human being and learn to live each moment peacefully, mindfully and deeply connected to the present.
The Buddhist scholar D.T. Suzuki (no relation to Shunryu Suzuki), gave this description, in his essay An Introduction to Zen Buddhism:
“The idea of Zen is to catch life as it flows. There is nothing extraordinary or mysterious about Zen. I raise my hand; I take a book from the other side of the desk; I hear the boys playing ball outside my window; I see the clouds blown away beyond the neighboring wood — in all these I am practicing Zen, I am living Zen. No wordy discussion is necessary, nor any explanation… When the sun rises the whole world dances with joy and everybody’s heart is filled with bliss. If Zen is at all conceivable, it must be taken hold of here.”
Living & Learning in the Modern World
Zen teaches that living in this way is not difficult, but modern “civilized” people make it hard for themselves, and their children. Educational systems (both in the West and in Asia) put great emphasis on competition, status and ranking, requiring the memorization and testing of knowledge.
The goal of modern schooling is for students to memorize vast amounts of information, to do better than others on tests, so that one can get higher grades, get into the “best” college, attain a high paying job. This “training” (that most of us have received) keeps our minds focused on knowledge storage, future goals and how we compare with others in the present.
Living and learning this way has created a world where a rat race mentality dominates. Where many “well educated” people’s minds are crammed with disconnected bits of knowledge (about math, physics, history, etc.) that we never developed the ability to apply in meaningful ways.
In recent decades, Western psychologists have described some of these dynamics. Carol Dweck talks about a growth vs fixed mindset. A growth mindset is open and curious, the person understands what they are studying and is continuously learning, updating their knowledge and skills. We do not compare ourselves with others and see learning as a lifelong process.
Psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi describes this approach to life and learning as flow, the psychology of optimal experience. With our minds open to the present moment we experience a sense of unity and intimate relationship with our current situation and context.
A growth mindset and flow are quite similar to the beginner’s mind approach of Zen. In the book Zen in the Art of Archery, Eugen Herrigel shared his Japanese archery teacher’s advice, “Don’t think of what you have to do, don’t consider how to carry it out! The shot will only go smoothly when it takes the archer himself by surprise.”
Goals can be helpful, but the focus with Zen arts is to anchor our consciousness in the present moment, detached from ego and desire. “A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at,” is how Bruce Lee put it.
Numerous athletes, artists and musicians have described their most satisfying experiences in this way, as being in “the zone,” where a sense of self drops away and we feel a deep connection with the present moment. Skillful actions happen of themselves, intuitively, without willful thought or direction.
When playing sports or music thoughts of future outcomes or failure can trigger powerful emotions that distract our awareness. It is only by paying full attention to what is happening NOW that we can respond mindfully and effectively to current conditions, and deeply connect with the present moment we inhabit.
Moreover, as our skills develop without egoism, we will naturally cultivate positive psychological qualities (such as mindfulness, optimism, compassion, creativity, kindness, joyfulness) that make our lives more happy, successful and meaningful.
As the composer John Cage put it, “Get yourself out of whatever cage you find yourself in. There is poetry as soon as we realize that we possess nothing.”
Developing Deep Appreciation for Our Lives
Over time we begin to discover our live’s purpose, what Japanese call ikegai (生き甲斐), a core sense of meaningfulness for our existence. Ikegai is about developing our many unique gifts so that we can share these with the world. Finding our live’s purpose brings joy to us and benefit to others.
To do this successfully, it helps to be aware of how we are connected to the rest of the Universe. Finding deep meaning can only be discovered in the now, not in the future. This is why Taoist and Zen teachings encourage us to cultivate an intimate relationship with (and appreciation for) Nature as she manifests in the present moment.
We are at all times connected to the Cosmos in ways that mundane concerns distract us from seeing. Alan Watts has described how we are each like waves of a larger ocean, creative expressions of the Universe we inhabit.
When our mind is empty of self-centric thoughts and emotions, we can more easily connect with our surroundings. Maintaining space in our minds allows the magic of the world to enter through our senses.
For Taoist sages and Zen masters the Universe that surrounds us is experienced as our “original face.” It’s the Source of all that exists, a living matrix of creativity that we all belong to, that has brought every thing into being. As Alan Watts put it:
“If you see yourself in the correct way, you are all as much extraordinary phenomena of nature as trees, clouds, the patterns in running water, the flickering of fire, the arrangement of the stars, and the form of a galaxy. You are all just like that…”
While this is not difficult to comprehend conceptually, it can be challenging for “civilized” people to experience directly and frequently. Not buying into the rat race mentality of modern cultures is an essential first step. Training mindfully in an art form or sport, learning to meditate or do yoga, will provide us with a system of practice that assists greatly.
As we learn to meet the world like an empty cup, we allow inner and outer realms of our lives to flow together. Where there had been separation before, now there is greater unity.
More and more, we may begin to experience yūgen (幽玄), a term that Japanese artists and poets have used to signify a deep appreciation and feeling of relatedness with the Universe.
Awareness & Experience of Inter-being
Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh describes this as a deepening awareness of inter-being, the fundamental unity and interconnectedness of the Cosmos. In a flower exists water from clouds, energy from the sun, molecules from the earth, atoms created billions of years ago within stars.
This understanding is very important if one wishes to grasp Buddhist teachings about emptiness, as Thich Nhat Hanh explains:
“A flower cannot be by herself alone. To be empty is not a negative note… A flower is empty only of a separate self, but a flower is full of everything else. The whole cosmos can be seen, can be identified, can be touched, in one flower. So to say that the flower is empty of a separate self also means that the flower is full of the cosmos.”
Such an attitude and recognition brings greater peace and happiness in our lives (and wisdom in our actions) because instead of trying to manipulate outcomes and take from the world we become more aligned with Nature, moving in unison with life, like a musician or dancer.
By letting go of distracting thoughts and emotions throughout the day, we create space for the world to move through us, be a part of us. This letting go allows for a deeper experience of inter-being, our intimate connectedness with everything.
Over time, connecting and letting go, like breathing, becomes second nature for us. Not seeking far off goals that the modern world considers to be important, we discover that everything we need is already here. We just need to cultivate inner space and connect to it.
Maintaining a beginner’s mind helps us to experience flow in our activities, joy in our relationships and growth as human beings. Like the lead characters in the films Groundhog Day and About Time, we start to discover deep meaning in every single precious moment.
In the Japanese tea ceremony this connection and appreciation is expressed with the idea of ichi-go ichi-e (一期一会), translated as “one time, one meeting.” Every meeting we share with others is a once in a lifetime event, a sacred moment that we can treasure and enjoy deeply.
Over time, as we practice seeing and living in this way, everything we do can be experienced as an art form to be mastered, every interaction with others becomes a potential source of joy, gratitude, peace, love and beauty.
We will never find happiness in far off places or goals that we imagine. The way to happiness is to realize deeply, that each moment of life, each friendship, is sacred. Each step of our journey we have already arrived, we have always been home.
“To dwell in the here and now does not mean you never think about the past, or responsibly plan for the future. The idea is simply not to allow your self to get lost in regrets about the past or worries about the future. Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh
“Zen professes itself to be the spirit of Buddhism, but in fact it is the spirit of all religions and philosophies. When Zen is thoroughly understood, absolute peace of mind is attained, and a man [or woman] lives as he ought to live.” ― D.T. Suzuki
The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures. It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers. It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and of death, in ebb and in flow. I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life. And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.
“Our citizens should know the urgent facts…but they don’t because our media serves imperial, not popular interests. They lie, deceive, connive and suppress what everyone needs to know, substituting managed news misinformation and rubbish for hard truths…”—Oliver Stone