Your future self wants to say hello to you!

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My future self has white hair… and dandruff!

The past and the future …. Many people have their minds existing in these illusionary places…. Living in the past or dreaming of the future…. In Zen, it could said that we strive to have our minds exist in the present moment..To be mindful of what is occurring now.

In practice, it may seem very hard to truly be ‘in the present’ ‘in the moment’ ..

At some point, after meditation and deep thought, a certain realization may occur… This striving to be in the moment, to stop living in the past and to stop desiring the future… is not very hard at all. In fact, we may see the opposite.. it is very hard to live in the past, and very hard dreaming of the future!

So, say, for example, we try to reverse our goal – to avoid fully living in the present and only live in the past and future – we realize something – you can’t escape the present! You simply can’t do it! lol

So, we may reach a point where we see that this is all there is.. this present moment – we may see that in this present moment, we can think of the past, we can visualize the future – but its only done right now. It can only be that way. This is all you have. It is really, really simple. This is it. Right now. It can never leave you no matter how hard you try!

All of the past and all of the future can only be contained and exist in the present.  The arrow of time is not straight…. Just as the horizon on Earth makes the world seem flat.. at some point we can begin to see it’s not straight, not flat and it curves…so much it loops back onto itself. This is how the future can influence the past. Sound crazy? Perhaps! Lol.  But the scientific method of seeking truth is also coming to this realization.

So what does this all mean other than giving me a headache? Lol.

For me, sometimes when I am struggling and suffering, I try to think about my ‘future Richard’ – and I know he has my back and I know he is affecting me right here, right now, sending me deep love and understanding. I love that guy.

Of course these are all just words, just models, conceptions.. but I hope they may serve as a medicine when taken as directed. 😉

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.

Knots

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When you seek the origin of your thoughts, the origin of your being, you find that many knots that bound you become untied. Sometimes this is liberating as it yields freedoms we have long forgotten the taste of; however, sometimes this untying is terrifying as the rope that spines throughout our life becomes smooth with less and less to hold onto.

We all live in a gilded cage of one sort or another. We feel protected and safe within our cage, yet we live in our own self oppression.

The origin of ourselves…. Can it be inside the cage? We know the answer, so we may find we open the cage door and start exploring what is outside. We seek our origin, following and untying the knots on the rope as we go… We untie knot after knot and that lets us fly further and deeper….It seems like the knots will never end.

What is at the end of our rope? Is there an end? Can the knots ever end?

As long as our rope exists, one knot will always remain…. For at the very end of the rope, devoid of all knots, we discover it is tied to our minds.

What happens if we dare untie this last knot?

An Ox grazes on the lust spring grass as birds eat mites on her back.

We fall forever yet never before now have we felt the ground.

Love

Faith to get to the other shore

Faith to get to the other shore

Our brains are very strange things. Well, our thoughts are anyhow.. well, my thoughts perhaps, lol. But seriously… Our thinking minds create the Universe. Things that consume our minds with worry are usually things that don’t warrant that level of attention.

I am not the best Buddhist. When I think deeply about myself, my thoughts, I realize I am truly deeply attached to my desires… I constantly desire to rid my body of the disease it has, I desire this, I desire that, and it goes on and on… it will never end if I let it ‘run its course’.

It’s funny, because although in my heart I know that all this desiring is unhealthy, and although my mind can rationally understand why it is unhealthy, my mind still chugs along, giving my heart and my analytical mind a giant middle finger. So, who is in charge? It almost feels like I am the captain of a strange spaceship that is out of control…. Like it is flying straight towards the sun because it is shiny and pretty… even though I know in my thoughts and my heart it is foolish and destructive…. Yet my spaceship keeps heading there… blinded by desire.

I also understand that there is no spaceship, no sun, no desire.

Who is in charge of the thing that is charge-less?

I suppose it is my deep faith, my heart’s understanding of the truth of the Buddha’s teaching that keeps me pondering, keeps me going, keeps me grateful.

I feel the deep love that the Universe is. I feel the Universe perceiving itself through my mind, my thoughts, my actions, my love.

Life is too miraculous, too wondrous, too short to flounder. Even when we do not know what else to do but flounder, which for me, is often, one needs to embrace the floundering, and have deep faith… in the Universe, in yourself…

The first Noble Truth is that life is suffering (as well as the opposite, mind you). Why does life involve suffering? That does not seem right, does it? Perhaps. Perhaps not. It is a very good thing to contemplate, and contemplate deeply. What does it mean?

All beings have been touched with death, whether a loved one, a friend, even a stranger, or a pet. It can tear one’s heart apart and some people never recover. It can simply be too painful to address. One day, for all beings, everyone one of us, it will be our turn. What then?

Dogen said we must practice as if our hair is on fire. There is a great urgency to what we must do with our lives. And this ‘doing’ is all about what we do with our hearts. We must see clearly our own heart, our own mind, see how it is nothing more and nothing less than all that exists propping it up, making it exist. We owe all we are to all that is. When we see the beauty of our own true heart, the Universe shines, we shine, and deep love cannot be anything but flowing, overflowing… The Universe itself cannot contain this Love.

Be kind with yourself, love yourself, with all your ‘faults’, all your mistakes, accept it all, leaving nothing out, and allow yourself to love, and deeply, and fully. It is all okay.

Seeking

leaves, green, photosynthesis, growth... what thoughts arise in an attempt to seek meaning of  experiencing 'leaves'. What remains when we let go of our seeking thoughts?

Leaves, green, photosynthesis, growth… what thoughts arise in an attempt to seek meaning of experiencing ‘leaves’. What remains when we let go of our seeking thoughts?

Our ears react to vibrations in the air and our eyes react to photons. Our nose reacts to chemicals as do our tongues….They do not seek these things, they simply experience them as they come and go. What is there for them to seek beyond this?

Only the illusion of our mind seeks meaning. The eyes see light, the ears hear sound, the mind … does it covet this information or does it let it go?

You know, it will come back if we need it… our minds build cages and build foundations and towers from the coveted information, transforming them into a grand illusions.

In Zen, we say, when we see a green light, we go, and a red light we stop. When the dishes are dirty, we wash them and when we are hungry, we eat. What about our minds? When we think deeply, we think deeply, when we don’t think deeply, we don’t. It doesn’t matter if we are smart or dumb…but are we wise?

Let us let the brain do what it does without the cages we have built up over the years. Zazen meditation… it isn’t to better oneself, to gain insights, or even to experience Enlightenment. It can be see as a tool, a diamond tipped tool with the finest blade. It cuts to the core of our house of cards in our minds. When we cut out the illusion we created of our own selves, who remains? what remains?

Our cages can be built as quickly as we tear them down. It is like land in New York City… you tear down an out-of-date building but it is replaced, with something you assume is better. The real estate in our brains is too valuable to not rebuild on! lol. Buy hey, what happens if we don’t rebuild? Can we focus on that moment? Do we see the rebuilding occurring? We can! We Can! So, WHO is rebuilding it! I didn’t authorize that! What is going on?

Distinguish-ation

Woof.

Woof.

Our senses distinguish…. That is not an incomplete sentence.* I was going to write ‘Our senses distinguish things’.. but I stopped myself. Our senses make things.. through distinguishation.  Wow, that is an ugly made-up word! Lol. Distinguishation. Perhaps differentiation is better.

So, our eyes see brown, our hands feel roughness, our nose smells cinnamon**, our tongue tastes wood***, our ears hear… cracking?,… our mind makes soup with them and it becomes Bark. Bark soup.  Now, it is our brains making bark… but surely the bark had to pre-exist for it to make our mouths taste cinnamon. We didn’t just make that up!!

So, Is it possible that the Universe is simply a creation of our brain’s soup making? Is it possible that soup is made from the Universe?

I remember reading about a Zen teacher who said that when our minds cease to exist, the Universe ceases to exist. This is a tough pill to swallow.. surely before I was born and certainly after I die, the Sun will still rise in the East.. for billions of more years.. it doesn’t rely its existence on me! OR does it?! How could it? It is such a super-selfish way of thinking.. The Universe literally exists for me… because of me!!

Now, it is not that way, not exactly. But there is something there… Something to think about.. Why would a teacher of Zen teach something that seems to reinforce the importance of EGO? Surely he should do the opposite! Lol.

I thought lots about this. Why would he say that?

Lets think about it…

The Buddha said that our lives are like dreams…. Not dreams, but like dreams… they are illusionary.. they are real, but not what they seem. Where does this life-long illusion come from? Our Ego-mind. Our perception that we are separate from the Universe. ‘There is the Universe and then there is me.’ This separation is illusionary, so when we realize this, not simply understand it, but realize this, both our ‘mind’ and the ‘Universe’ cease to exist.

The Buddha, when he realized his Enlightened nature, he did not disappear into thin air! Lol. He taught, he walked, he ate and urinated and defecated. And if someone yelled over to him ‘Yo Gautama, over here dude!’****, he would understand that he was being called. Although he realized his selfless nature, he still understood what Gautama meant.

So, when we die, the Universe, our illusion of the Universe dies too. Is there a real Universe beyond the illusion? Is not the illusion based on something?  The Buddha said our lives are like dreams, but he did not say they are dreams.

So, if a Zen Master picks up a rock and asks you if that rock exists.. how do you answer? If you say no, it doesn’t it is just an illusion, he may hit you upside the head with it, perhaps saying ‘How’s that illusion feel now?!’ Haha. If you say yes, it does exist but you do not know its reality beyond its illusion, he may throw it at you and make you duck, saying ‘if you do not know what ‘rock’ is, then how did you know to duck. You know rock.’

* Well, perhaps it technically is an incomplete sentence, I don’t know.. I am a scientist not a writer, lol.

** Cinnamon is just a type of tree bark, though not the one pictured above.

*** Why are we licking bark? lol

**** Gautama is one of the Buddha’s names.

Time, Suffering and Liberation

Cat watching the Starship Enterprise in space and time. (Photo from the children's book 'The Man Who Wore All His Clothes' by Allan Ahlberg, Illustrated by Katharine McEwen)

Cat watching the Starship Enterprise in space and time. (Photo from the children’s book ‘The Man Who Wore All His Clothes’ by Allan Ahlberg, Illustrated by Katharine McEwen)

If we are suffering, in one sense, we are paying off some karmic debt.

I remember back in school thinking about doing homework… I didn’t actually want to do it, but I also did want to… so I got good grades, etc ..

I thought about this apparent paradox a lot… it seemed to boil down to a sacrifice of sorts.. sacrificing the present for a better future.  I also understood that I could get hit by a bus the next day, so this sacrifice was a gamble. I always thought it was a healthy gamble to assume I wouldn’t get hit by a bus tomorrow! lol.

But, we always might get hit by a bus tomorrow…

In Buddhism, there is talk of being present, being in the present… that the past and future are illusionary.. we can’t live there so don’t attach ourselves there.  Mindfulness…

While the present may seem to be the only time that exists, this too, is illusionary.

The future affects the past. Time is not truly linear.

In Buddhism, there is co-dependent origination. All things co-created all other things and the beginning of it all was beginning-less.  

What does this mean? It hurts my brain to think about! Lol. Yet it also excites it.

As I mentioned, we can conceptualize suffering as a payment back of previous wrong actions, thoughts or words. When we see good, decent people suffering.. what did they do to deserve that horrible suffering? Maybe nothing at all. If rebirth exists, maybe it is from a life left long ago… or even a future life yet to unfold.

Is it worth arguing over the cause of suffering though? Be it external or internal? That oppressive government is to blame! My past misdeeds are to blame! Blame, blame, blame….

It doesn’t matter.  Sure, it can matter in terms of proactive and reactive actions to help reduce or end that suffering, sure… But, that’s not what I mean when I say it doesn’t matter…. In terms of liberation, of freedom, of Enlightenment… blame is worthless. We are all to blame, yet no one is to blame. Blameless blame!
Back to time. What is time? Time, is, well, an illusion, yet it can be a very useful one! It is an excellent tool. A conceptual tool… a model.. A very convincing model.

Science is a truth seeker. The Buddha was a truth seeker. Holding on to our knowledge as if it is a given, as if it is truth, is dangerous. Knowledge is co-dependently created. You need some knowledge to create other knowledge..when thought through… knowledge is nothing more than a house of cards…. It can be a beautiful and amazing house of cards! Lol. And it can be damn useful too! If I ever need heart surgery, I will rely on that surgeon’s knowledge when he cuts me open! Lol.

But we must not be afraid to replace cards from time to time.. sometimes it makes the house stronger, sometimes it makes the whole house crumble.

We can do this experimentally too, thought experiments.. we can play! What if I temporarily think that the center of the Universe is, in fact, Saturn! How does this effect our knowledge house? What are the ramifications? What if we think that time actually is flowing backwards? OR not flowing at all? This makes us think deeply about what we even consider time. It forces us to define ‘time’. This is very important. Hey, this is how Einstein did some of his greatest thinking… he just thought.. ‘what if..’

Is knowledge Truth though? What is truth? Can we ever understand Truth through knowledge? When we realize that knowledge is like 49 reeds, each holding the other up but each would fall without the others, we can begin to realize that Truth has to, must, lie outside of knowledge..outside of conceptual thinking…

Let’s explore this, eh?!

Listening to our Hearts

Our deepest heart contains all the hearts of the Universe

Our deepest heart contains all the hearts of the Universe

Memories… our brains have lots… what about our hearts?

Our brains forget lots and lots of memories. .. is the same true of our hearts?

Can we ignore what our hearts feel?

We can trick our minds into believing lots of things, but our hearts?

Our hearts, our deep true heart can never be tricked.

Sometimes our hearts pound so strong, in ways we don’t fully understand, that we might try to ignore it, and we can use our brains to create elaborate traps that keep us too busy to pay attention to our hearts.

What am I trying to say?

We must try to never ignore our hearts, we must try to be mindful to any tricks of thought we use to ignore or discount our feelings deep inside, but, most importantly, we must not attach ourselves to this pounding heart. That may sound contradictory… but it is not… We simply need to acknowledge, accept and look head-on at our pounding heart, but with the realization that nothings remains, all things are in flux, even the unchanging pounding of our hearts.

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!

Brain vs. Body

Sun on the tops of leaves, Sun on the tops of our heads.... seeping into our brains and bodies, loving each without difference.

Sun on the tops of leaves, Sun on the tops of our heads…. seeping into our brains and bodies, loving each without difference.

When I was growing up there was a weekly magazine that came with the newspaper which had a column written by the person with the highest recorded IQ. I really enjoyed it but one thing she wrote has always stuck in my head. She said the brain is just like your body, it needs to be exercised to perform better. My first thought was that is stupid…. Some things are physical and some are mental and there is no room for crossover. But my second thought was, wait a second, this is the SMARTEST person in the world (more or less, I won’t argue about the quality of IQ tests, etc, but suffice to say she is an extremely intelligent person!).. so if the smartest person in the world says this about the organ that makes you smart, I have to trust she knows what she is talking about!!

We must take care of our bodies, eat well, exercise, etc. But we must also take care of our brains… brain exercises! Puzzles, crosswords, Sudoku, singing, math, etc, etc… anything that gets the brain firing!!

Now, how we take care of our physical bodies also affects our brain chemistry, which affects our well we do brain exercises. However, the converse is true as well, our well we take care of our brains affects how well we look after our bodies…

If we are depressed, we tend to not exercise, not eat well… and then this rolls over into our brain, and a negative cycle, feedback loop, is created.

If we don’t exercise or eat well… this can roll over into our brain chemistry and we can become depressed and/or have decreased mental abilities, and this again, can create a negative feedback loop.

Of course the converse is true… if take care of our bodies, it helps our brain and if we take care of our brains, this helps our bodies….

So, we need to be kind to ourselves, both mentally and physically, and realize how important or rather, realize how not unimportant taking care of our brains truly is. (and our bodies too, but most of us already now that, regardless if we follow through, lol).

All of this can extend into the spiritual, if one considers this another level, in addition to mental and physical. We must make sure we exercise not only our bodies and our brains, but also our hearts (I don’t mean the raw physical heart, but rather our Buddha-heart, our Buddha-nature, our Buddha-mind, our spiritual heart).

Tending to each, supports the others and all grow together. Ignoring each, lessens the others and all regress together. Let us be kind to ourselves.