Rivers

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The water thought cycle: Ocean to clouds to rain to land to rivers to ocean. 

Using our minds we can explore the nature of who we are.

The short question we can ask is: Who am I?

This simple question can be expanded as far as we like to help us, or to hinder us.

When I probe this question, I always do so from an analytical mind-frame. So, I always will go through the normal facts of what I can define myself by.. I am an animal, a mammal, human. Step one done, lol.  Next I may probe deeper… ‘who is thinking this?’ and then I quickly answer myself ‘Richard’, lol. So I change the question to ‘what is thinking this?’ .. and I will then ascend to how the human brain biologically functions.. and review all the various scientific articles/books/etc I have experienced over my lifetime.. how the brains thoughts are almost all hidden from our outward consciousness .. how our brains are bendable… how there may be some ‘hard-wiring’ in place, but how almost all the wiring is soft and we can unplug some wires and plug them into other sockets. ..

A river carves the earth without choice. Depending on the underlying densities of soil and rock and slope of the land, the water will form the shape of the river, without effort. Our brains are like the Earth, they are bumpy. External stimuli are like the rain falling on our brains… they enter our world and transform it.. they form rivers of how to think again when the same stimuli happens again, the path has been laid. Over time, the river gets deeper and stronger and sometimes, no matter how hard we try to stop going down a certain river in our brains, we are dragged along.  Say, for example, a child was raised by racist parents and everytime the child saw a person of another race, their parents would talk badly of those people and tell the child how bad people of that race were. Over time, whenever this child would see a person of another race, they would have this channel, this river entrenched in their thought processing, this soft-wiring, kicking in and the thoughts would be taken down this racist river. Say, for example, as an adult, this person comes to understand that racism is nothing short of ignorance mixed with fear, they will still struggle deeply from flowing down the racist river in their mind when presented with the stimuli of a person of another race. This person, as all of us, can perceive this river, comprehend it, and we have the power to redirect that river. It is super hard to do, yet, in an instant, it can be without effort and a new non-racist river of thought can flow.

In Buddhism, we talk about letting go… that our thoughts, no matter what they are, are OK, so long as we are not attached to them…. We must realize that almost all of our thoughts are created by the attachment we have with our rivers… the path of least resistance. It is difficult to paddle upstream. So, in a sense, I am saying that almost all of what we think is a form of attachment! So stop thinking! Lol. We can’t stop the generation of thoughts, so what can we do? First, we must be so very kind and gentle with ourselves.  Enlightenment does not take place when we align all our rivers appropriately or something like that, however, we can provide better nutrients for the unfolding of Enlightenment if we are mindful of our river management. Sometimes a painful river, one that brings you to rage and fury, for example, can be completely dried up in an instant once we flow upstream and see the origin of this toxic river. Enlightenment won’t remove the entrenched rivers of thought, but it removes their power. If a river is healthy and part of our natural function and nature, it is maintained. If a river is toxic, it will naturally dry up over time and fade away, perhaps leaving some scars behind.

Then I will come back and say, what was I asking myself again… oh ,yeah.. Who am I? lol. I have this thing called a brain, which evolved through the influence of everything around it over time, making its origin outside of ‘me’ and this brain thingie also operates and is shaped by the external stimuli as well.

Then I think, man o man, I have only approached this so far from one angle. The biological brain. But what about my heart? My body? What about far-out theories too?

The path of questioning of who we are is endless, and at some point we may realize… we are endless.

That is who I am.

Lots of conceptions about concepts

IMG_2833One event transforming into another event is time. Time is the final distinguisher. We can categorize, differentiate or separate events in many, many different ways.  However, without the conception of time, no distinctions can be made.

Time is not absolute. Time is an idea of our minds. It is a very powerfully useful conception. It lies as the foundation of all our categorizations. Hey, this is good news when we know to eat an apple and not a rock! Distinctions, categories, whatever you may call them are inherently neutral. They can be, and are, life-saving tools. They also can be the very things that ensure our suffering.

Again, without our ultimate distinction, time, all others fall away… What I mean is that they fall away from us being attached to some and repulsed by others. Therein lies freedom… freedom from suffering.  When time falls away from our conceptual mind, the stranglehold of living in the utterly realistic illusion of our conceptualized reality is released.

Our conceptualized reality is neutral. Our brains are very clever and we get 100% convinced that this reality we believe is not illusionary. All models, all conceptions, are just that… they are never the real thing. Our brains create truly remarkable conceptualizations that trying to believe they are nothing more than this is almost impossible.

When we let go of our ultimate model-maker, the mother of conception…time… the house of cards that formed our view of reality is clearly seen.

Is any of this useful? lol. Lots of thinking here, lots of concepts, lol.

When we seek the origin of our thoughts, we realize that our thoughts are mostly born from concepts we developed since we were born. Is not our first concept that of time? How could it be otherwise? What were we before time?

 

Terrorism and hate

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I look to the Buddha’s teachings to understand my own true nature. What I always find is that Love binds all beings.

Choosing forgiveness and love over hate and fear is sometimes portrayed as being weak, ignorant and unpatriotic. It is easy to let fear make our choices for us. We can even rationalize the prejudices they blossom.

When terrorists attack, fear is a natural state of mind. We naturally look for clues to keep us and our loved ones safe and protected. Sometimes we look at a particular aspect of the form. Take ‘Islamic Terrorists’. Yes, there are people who commit horrific acts who do so wearing the cover of Islam. Does this mean we should fear Islam? Should we let these people define our fear? And hence our modes of protecting ourselves? When we calm down and think deeply, we may begin to realize that these people do not represent their faith, that they want to play on our fears and their agenda grows strongest when anger and fear create separation.

So, instead of letting adrenaline focus our minds on the form, which is useful in evolutionary terms when identifying venomous spiders, let us focus our minds on the function. These terrorist attacks… they occur from human beings. These people are clearly suffering in their own minds and hearts. So much so they kill people such as they do. Killing is wrong. Hating hate is not useful. It spins the wheel of hatred. This is how the Islamic State grows. When terrorists are killed ‘pro-actively’, it breeds more hatred, on both sides, and simply makes the world more dangerous, not safer.

Do I suggest simply doing nothing and letting more attacks to happen? No, self protection is natural. But I do not suggest pre-emptive murder to protect against murder. We must look into the reasons why people become ‘radicalized’. After all, these are human beings. They must be suffering horribly to become convinced to murder. Love and compassion are the way to stop the violence. Now, angry dogs bark at buddhas… That means, some people will always be too ill in this life to grasp the nature of love and they will end up harming and killing people. Murder and hate will not be abolished fully. But thinking of terrorists as human beings is an important starting point.

Just as Islam has been hijacked by some, do not let your mind be hijacked by hate and prejudice. This is what the Islamic State, for example, wants. They want you to hate them. This is a part of their agenda. This makes them stronger. So, if you really want to protect the world from terrorism, put down your hate for them. As in Christianity it is said to Love they Neighbour. .. Love… not like, not tolerate, certainly not condemn and kill, but Love… Love they neighbour… It is the Way, the Light. Love.

I am human. When I see a terrorist attack, i feel fear and deep anger. Hatred for the horrific acts. My blood may boil. This is natural. This is human. I am not anything above this reaction, or below it.

We must learn to realize that we are human in our reaction to such events. But this reaction has evolved for a response almost certainly not applicable to these events, as we almost certainly will not be directly in the mist of an attack. If we are, then adrenaline is certainly our friend, and real time thoughts and actions are valuable. But, sitting on a warm couch, seeing things unfold on tv… our evolution betrays us… our natural reaction isn’t appropriate and not very useful.

We need to feel with our hearts, tempered by rational thought. To fill the world with love.

In Buddhism, there is the concept of Bodhisattvas…people who realize their own inherent Enlightened state but delay final release from human form in order to save all beings from suffering. All beings. Every single being. So they know their task will never end, but they also know it can only ever end this way. In the End, all beings will understand. We are all teammates, even the beings that we, as humans, may hate with all our being.

Wants Vs. Needs

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We need water to survive, we want it to be readily available, we are attached to its benefits. Who is this ‘we’ that thinks so much about water? 

 

I remember once when a student asked our Buddhist teacher, a former monk, something along the lines of this:

‘In Buddhism, we are taught that attachments are to be avoided, that they reinforce the illusion of the ego, and fed our desire-minds. I have an infant, a baby. I am deeply attached to my baby and I can’t see how this is a bad thing. I can see how attachment, in general, is to be avoided, so I am confused.’

To be honest, I forgot exactly how the teacher responded, as the question resonated within my mind. Like a bell being struck, the question kept bouncing around in my head.

Years later I read some teachings of Seung Sahn who wrote about form and function. What is a humans natural function? This teaching sticks with me daily.

A human mother’s natural function is to care for her baby. To achieve this, a deep attachment forms between her and her baby. That is natural. That is Zen. That is nothing secret, nothing special, but the most special thing there is.

Related to this, one may ask about the relationship between need and love. Thinking about the mother-baby relationship, the mother loves the baby and the baby needs the mother. Now, the mother may say she needs the baby, and while this may be true for her heart’s joy, one may say it is not technically true. How cruel am I? lol…. and the baby may certainly love the mother, but it doesn’t need to. (Wow, I am really cruel!). But what about other relationships? Those of friends, of siblings? of lovers?

We may build our lives with deep and supportive relationships… our mate may be the other parent of our children, so we feel a deep need for this person. Sometimes this makes people feel trapped, sometimes it makes people feel liberated. Sometimes it makes people feel both at the same time!

Humans need people, thats how we are. This is how we evolved. It is ‘natural function’. In modern times, a strong value is placed on being independent. Being dependent…is seen as a weakness, not a strength. And, sure, being able to be strongly independent has its merits, and there is real value in that, but, our natural function, how we perform best, how we live free, is by giving up some of that independence. We are, after all, social animals. We need each other. That is not merely ok, that is great! Now, expanding this further into Buddhist philosophy, all things need all other things to exist. Nothing is an island. All things and people are our teammates, even if we loathe them, lol.

So, how can one reconcile this ‘needing’ with not letting it be ‘attachment’? Is that even the goal?

I come back to: what is our natural function? As a mother, a father, as a mate or a sibling… as a friend, as a teacher, as a student… We are many things, but always human.

Of course, when we feel we need someone, something, we must be very careful about what this means. Often people may say they need something, but it really is just a want, a desire. But even that is OK… so long as we do not become attached to our desires. Easy right? HAHA.

So, what am I trying to say?

Trying to distinguish between what is a want versus what is a need is, well, dangerous… The act of thinking there is a decision to be made reinforces our ego-mind: It all comes down to Self. It is the Self that either needs or wants. When we let go our our attachment to our ego-mind, wants and needs disappear and our true natural function blossoms. We may discover we always were living our natural way, we just got in its way by trying to define it through our lens of Self.

Wanting something? Needing Something? Even attached to something or someone: They can all be OK, so long as our our Ego-mind is let go.

So, you may say I am basically saying do not be attached to your attachments! HAHA. Perhaps I am. Perhaps.

 

Comfortable electric chair

Life comes and goes... even rocks come and go... what do we do with the time we have here?

Life comes and goes… even rocks come and go… what do we do with the time we have here?

I remember many years ago attending a talk given by a Buddhist monk back when I lived in the United States. Something he said has stayed with me to this day, and I am confident always will remain with me until I die. It was something obvious, something we all know, but I suppose the context drove home a crucial message. The monk did work in prisons… work with death-row inmates. People who were sentenced to die for the crimes they committed. There was no going back, they knew they would be killed and their time was limited. The monk talked about how some of these prisoners had realized greater freedom than the mass majority of people who are living ‘free’. Then he said the sentence that grabbed my head and has never let go… He said ‘We are all on death-row’

Now, of course, we all know that we will all die, someday. But, at least for me, it was always some abstract thing to occur in the incalculable future..

We will all die, we are truly all already on death-row.

How depressing!!!

Yet… how liberating.

How would you act towards yourself today if you knew you were to die tomorrow? How would you act towards other people?

In one sense, knowing we will die can free us from the fear of the consequences of our actions… both good and bad… we can become fearless.

In another sense however, knowing we will die can bind us with crippling fear of the upcoming death we know awaits us.

We are all on death-row… how will we make the time we have left in the prison we have put ourselves in?

In Buddhism, there is a Way, a path, in which we can escape our prison before we die.. so that when we do die, we die free. … like some of those inmates in the electric chair.

My Buddhism

There is no other shore, just let our hearts open and flow.

There is no other shore, just let our hearts open and flow.

I recently saw an article about how Buddhism needs to come of age, so to speak… that the ancient teachings that the Truth of the Dharma, of Buddha nature, being beyond the realm of human comprehension, should be abandoned…. so that Buddhism can become more accessible… more understandable.. more real and less airy-fairy….

I remember seeing the Dali Lama speak, and he talked about how some Buddhist cosmology should be updated if science indicates Truth is otherwise. This made me think of Buddhist stories I read about how certain humans could live over 200 years old and how some humans can perform supernatural feats such as flying and making rivers flow backwards with merely their thoughts.

Some Buddhists believe these stories, some don’t. Some learn from them, some are hindered.

Now, one needs to understand that Buddhism didn’t have any Sutras, scriptures, until many centuries after the Buddha died. It was an unwritten religion, for many hundreds of years. Of course, over that span of time, many legends and embellishments occurred. Yet, it is remarkable how much of the core of Truth could not be distorted.

The Truth is truly indescribable. It does Buddhism no injustice to continue to express the utter complete beauty of the Buddha’s enlightenment. It was, it is, magical, transformative, the stuff of legends, the origin of legends contained within a legend itself. It should never be discounted in an attempt to be more accessible. If it was… what is it that one makes more accessible? It is weak, incomplete and, it will never survive. It is like adding super charged fertilizer to a plant, which may shoot up in record growth, but it is poisoned, and has but only one outcome. Death.

Now, all things end in death, this is true. But the Dharma cannot die.. How can this be if all things end in death? The is part of the magic. All things change, all things are in flux and will fade away… so how can something remain among that? This is why the Way, Buddha nature, enlightenment, are described as indescribable.

Like Zen koans, paradoxes …

A very famous one is ‘What is the sound of one hand clapping?’. The question doesn’t make sense. But it has an answer. How can an answer make sense if the question doesn’t?

Now, the Buddha taught through expedient means, upaya. So, it could be argued that he only taught to the level at which a person was receptive…so he was always watering down his understanding!

But he never said Buddha nature was less than it was.

Enlightenment occurs in an instant. Yes, we can help prepare our minds, our hearts, through practice, to unfold ourselves to Buddha nature..which can be seen to be a long gradual way…. Yet, no matter how far we travel, the other shore is never reached until the boat crashes the bank and we fall onto the ground. Sometimes, our boats crash without trying, though, in truth, this is unlikely. Most people do not win the lottery, lol! Sometimes we reach the other shore but fail to dock and the current pulls us back.

These are just words, and they fail. Our hearts are already there. They never left…. melting away the scars, the bars, the things that bind it tight…this can only happen in a flash, and oh, the outpouring of Love… it can not be stopped. The whole Universe flows out. It can be no other way.

Our mind…. they almost always can not believe this. It is like a fairy tale… it is irrational blind faith they tell us…. and we cannot outplay their defence with words. Words will make us look stupid to our minds.

Love looks weak so often. Love has no words so its mute. It has no arms, so it never fights back. It takes a beating and doesn’t talk back. Of course it’s weak! So it may seem.

Let us not be fooled by Love. Melt our hearts, see what comes out… is that weak? When the Universe, the entire cosmos flows with us, can there be anything stronger?

Did the Buddha fear death? How could he after his Enlightenment? He was a human, a man who had a wife and child. He had lots of power and money. He gave it all up and melted his heart fully and the whole Universe smiled. He lived until he was 80 or so and simply taught of this Love. No fairy tale, no airy-fairy…Just a person… and what a person he was!

Crow Time

Crow dancing with the Universe

Crow dancing with the Universe

Sometimes there are no right answers, yet this is the Way.

Sometimes the answer is crystal clear, and this is the Way.

The saying goes.. the Sun will still rise tomorrow, and this is the Way.

One day, billions of years from now grant you, the Sun will not rise tomorrow, yet this is the Way.

Triumphs and follies, compassionate acts and acts of horrific violence, they are all the Way.

The ‘Way’ is nothing more and nothing less than the Universe, all that is. It flows… sometimes smoothly without hindrance, sometimes rocky yet no hindrance is inherent in that hindering rockiness.

This Time has happened long ago and yet has never happened yet… but only is ever happening Now. Sometimes, we can see that the future actually flows into our Present and this changes the past.

How many times has this experience happened? Only once, yet countless of billions of times as well. Our counting minds, like crows counting up to 5 or 6, do not understand, yet the crow knows how to look past its counting and spread its wings and trust the abilities it has.

I can’t count that high, but that’s ok, my heart counts with a different mathematics and always gets the correct sum.

Black feathers ruffle in the gusting wind, head bobs up and down, flying to the ground. A worm awaits and is ripped apart and nourishes the counting-less heart. Caw Caw Caw.

Free your heart, full of love and understanding and let the tears stream down your face. Caw Caw Caw!!!

Vision

Earth Mother

Earth Mother

Laying on our Earth Mother, together our spirits swirl. Head to foot, foot to head, the white Buffalo girl tramples around us, circling us like the moth to the fire. Drawn in, the pounding of dirt and grass covers us in dust and only the sound remains. Louder and louder, yet no fear pervades. The pounding merges our heart beats, together with the bison and our Mother.

The Strength overcomes our emotions, the strength of deep love. Tears stream down as Love pours up into us, and out again so the whole world shines.

How many times has this magic happened before these lives we have, our lives? How many times will it happen again?

Coming to, dust has settled and sounds disappeared. The bright Moon shines down as the Buffalo lies between us and our heartbeats flow together through her white pure being and the rocks below.

 

Thank you my ancestors for this teaching you have shown me.

Seeing clearly

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Big Ben’s tower

Seeing clearly is something one may hear when studying Zen. This is not just simply vision with our eyeballs, but being clear-minded.

Seeing clearly involves living without using our mental attachments, our models of reality.

I have a great Zen teacher inside me, when i get ‘brain-fog’. This is when, due to ailments I have, my brain simply doesn’t fire on all cylinders, if you will. Memory, trains of thought and cognition are difficult. It comes and goes, sometimes not so bad, others times, not so good.

When my mind is cloudy, and I feel this ‘brain-fog’, I have a great teacher. Seeing clearly is something, when studying Zen, that I feel should be sorta like it sounds…. crystal clear perception, seeing into the heart of all things. When I have brain-fog…. it is like being drunk in a dark forest in dense fog… how is clear sight possible then?! lol. But, it is possible, and this is what it teaches me. ‘Seeing clearly’ is beyond thinking clearly…. One doesn’t need to think clearly to see clearly!

So, things that may seem a hinderance to the Way, are, of course, our allies, and all things lead us home, we just need to see that clearly.

Where’s your center? Where’s your centre?

Sign of the times....

Sign of the (past) times….

 

In some ways, it seems like the ‘art of writing’ is dying. A hand written letter is the thing of fables now-a-days it seems. Spelling is auto-corrected as we go, so you just need to kinda get the word correct and that’s fine! (I always feel a little bummed at myself when the auto-correct has no clue what word I am trying to spell!). Of course, when I type the word color, I get a squiggly redline as I am using a British spell-check, not an American one.

When i write reports for work, I find a strong sense to hold on to my American spelling of things, like ‘analyze’ and ‘meter’. I think when I feel stressed, I am more likely to ‘go American’! This is because when stressed, we naturally get more defensive, and that means digging down into the basics of what we know and what is comfortable. When I write ‘center’ with intent, I allow myself to attach myself to the notion I have of myself and what that means. I am not overly patriotic, though I am proud to be an American. I am also proud to be British now. But this pride, what is it really? It mainly is (though perhaps not fully is) a way to reinforce the concept we have of our own selves, it gives us an identity.

So, my auto-correct and my stubbornness to write ‘litre’ are great teachers of Zen!

 

 

As an aside: whenever I do write ‘centre’ or ‘litre’ I say them aloud in my head as ‘cen-tree’ and ‘lee-tree’! lol