Paradox

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The sky endlessly encircles the Earth yet the sea always rises to stop it. Or is it the other way around? Or neither. What do our definitions and models provide to us? What is their function?

All paradoxes exist because of a fundamental flaw in our logic. Our logic is based on separation, that all things are separate from all other things. In fact, the thought that there are ‘things’ automatically creates this separation. Once you define something, that definition is intended to separate it in order to explain it.

Funny thing is, is that is a paradox in itself..

…you can’t truly explain anything if you separate it out….

So what do we do?

Water freezes at 32 degrees. In that instant….water’s spirit cries so hard from its cold heart it turns to ice. Or its molecules slow down to a point where it is more energetically favorable to arrange in a crystalline structure. Or… something else…

So what do we do?

Knowledge is a double-edged sword. Be careful how you wield it.

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Practice? Sure.. But When?!

Don't wait for the pile to go down before you Practice... The pile is your Practice!

Don’t wait for the pile to go down before you Practice… The pile is your Practice!

Sometimes life gets so busy that we may feel as if we need to ‘clear our plate’ before we can begin to focus on our spiritual development.. or any other development for that matter. ‘How can I have a clear, single-mind when I have 8 different things I need to keep in the forefront of my mind… I have to pick up that prescription, buy groceries, book the car in for a tune-up, sort the kids clothes that no longer fit, fold and put away the laundry, and on and on and on…..’

And if and when we get to those times when our plate is actually clear, we may tend to want to just chill-out, put our feet up and read a good book or watch some tv..

So, our Practice, our development, goes stagnant.

We can brush this off with reassuring thoughts… ‘well, I have been too busy and I deserve to simply rest’..

I remember reading a long time ago about a story of a Zen center in the Far East. It was in a busy city, I believe, and there were lots of car horns, traffic, sirens and the rest making lots and lots of noise outside. And in the evenings when it got a bit quieter, feral cats who had made a home under the monastery would make a huge racket themselves, with fighting, playing, mating and the rest.

So, thinking we need a quiet environment, a quiet place with no responsibilities looming over us, to meditate properly is, well, something we need to overcome. There will never be a perfect time to practice, never be a perfect place to practice. And if there was a perfect place and time, then great, but our minds just might think too much about how perfect it is! Lol.

So, our lives may be hectic, but it is in those hectic moments that our practice may mean the most… and also those moments may in fact be the best time and place to actual do our practice.

Ignorance is Bliss!

How much DDT contamination exists in this tree? What does that knowledge do to us?

How much DDT contamination exists in this tree? What does that knowledge do to us?

“Ignorance is bliss” is a common phrase in Western culture.

“If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention” is a phrase I once saw on a bumper sticker. I could google its origin, but .. meh. Lol. (I will remain ignorant about it! haha)

Now, I think the two phrases are linked….

Stating that ignorance is bliss implies that being knowledgeable is painful.

Stating you are not paying attention if you are not outraged implies that, well, being knowledgeable is, well, painful or outrageous.

When I studied for my Bachelor’s degree, and to a lesser extent for my Master’s, I really resonated with the outrage statement. When a person pays careful attention to what humans do, to each other, to the earth, to animals….there is lots of joy, yes, but also lots of horror, lots of outrage.  That outrage is hard to let go of. When I was more ignorant of the horrors of the world, it was a more blissful place, in my little bubble, lol.

Now, I think it is obvious that ignorance isn’t the answer, lol. (It makes me think of Sam Malone from the TV show Cheers when he gave advice to Woody: ‘Ignore the problem. It will go away’)

So what do we do? It is easy to fall into a pit of hopelessness, despair and apathy.

Well, one thing is to never discount the joys, the triumphs, that occur in the world. The miracles, the sacrifices, the love… It is easy to overlook that when horrors are occurring. That is natural. If a person helps bring an animal back to life versus when a person kills an animal out of ‘fun’, it is natural to focus on the disturbing, the horror… the problem. We should focus on the problems. But the problems can become overwhelming. So we need to ensure we focus enough on the good, the positive, the love in the world.

What next?

Well, a Buddhist vows to save all beings from suffering.  How can we do that?! We must take good care of ourselves, save our own selves, then bring that freedom into the world.

It is said that when the Buddha realized his Enlightened nature, the whole world became Enlightened. Now, since the Buddha’s time, there have been great horrors…surely not all beings are enlightened, are they?!

Yes and no. We are all already Buddhas, and enlightenment is never separate from us. Where could it go?! Lol.

Ignorance is not bliss and paying attention is not outrageous. Let us meditate on that. By that, I simply mean, let’s just think about that.

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.

Growth

Out of past trauma, strong new directions can grow towards the sky

Reborn without dying. 

Sometimes we have horrific traumatic experiences. People sometimes may quote the saying “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger!”. While that is very optimistic, it is hardly true! lol. Sometimes it may be though, and there certainly is some wisdom in the saying. We can learn to transform horror into something positive…. it doesn’t mean the trauma is removed, but it means it can be acknowledged, accepted, transcended even perhaps… and through this acceptance of what is, we can use that as a tool of growth… Often, we feel we are not allowed to make something positive out of a horrible, horrific thing. It just feels wrong, like we are betraying the emotions we ought to feel… like it almost tries to discount that experience and make it something it wasn’t. But it doesn’t have to be like this. We can learn to accept horror, evil, and suffering for what it is, to not allow it to consume our hearts and make it rotten. We lose going that way, and stop growing, and the thing we may despise, actually wins over us. Yes, there is pain, and suffering, which may be overbearing, but we also can use that, turn it upside down and allow a space for growth to occur. Take back what was taken.

Let go of the clinging that suffering has on our hearts, the burden is much heavier than we ever realize, and once we simply let it go, our hearts beat strong again, and free, full of love, however broken we had become.

In an instant our hearts can be healed… our deep love can be restored. Yes, scars exist, pain will come again, healed wounds can be reopened….. of course, but we always have the power to be the surgeon and heal ourselves. No one else can do it for us, so it is our power to take the scalpel. Others certainly can help us find the operating room, tell us where to cut and when to stitch, but only we can do the operating, and only we know truly where the wound is.

Out of past trauma, strong new directions can grow towards the sky

Out of past trauma, strong new directions can grow towards the sky

Let the tears flow and love swell….

To Buddha or not to Buddha?


Forest Hermitage, Warwickshire, UK

Forest Hermitage, Warwickshire, UK

Being born, in Buddhist terms, means that one is still ‘stuck’ in samsara, stuck in continual rebirth. Not free. Being born is already a mistake.

How depressing! lol.

It is sort of like Original Sin in Christianity. I do not know much about Christianity so I can’t comment much, but I think the idea behind these two thoughts are the same.

So, being born means being born into an unenlightened state.

In Buddhism, being born a human is the best thing to be born… we are very lucky to be human. Even beings ‘above’ us like gods and goddesses, spirits and the like can not experience the freedom realized through Enlightenment. Nor can hungry ghosts and animals.

Now, I feel this is a dangerous model of sorts, as it may serve to boost ones ego, separating them further from Enlightenment. But of course, it can serve as a wonderful motivator for many.

Writing or speaking about Enlightenment is avoided by many Buddhists, including myself. I can liken it to why Muslims do not practice ‘idol worship’. They do not believe images of Mohammad should be created… because once you try to define or describe him, you always fall well short and do a great disservice. Now, in Buddhism, idol worship is OK. Many many Buddha statues everywhere!! But Buddhists, we need to be careful not to let our love and gratitude for the Buddha’s teaching to be obscured by images and statues in his likeness. Hui Neng, the sixth patriarch of Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism beat a copy of the Diamond Sutra with a stick. His point was about this danger… attaching to words, teachings, even the Buddha himself. That’s why there’s a saying in Buddhism, “If you meet the Buddha, you must kill the Buddha!”

I personally feel the benefits of having Buddha images in my home outweigh the potential dangers. They remind me that it is possible to realize our Enlightened nature. They remind me that the Buddha was a man, a human, nothing more, nothing less. He suffered and he worked hard to figure out how to stop this. He taught the Way. He also taught, as he was dying, for us to be lamps upon our own selves. Our Enlightened nature is within us, or rather among us.

Lets not fear talking about Enlightenment. It is the goal of all Buddhists, is it not? Of course, making it a goal destroys it. That’s why it is sometimes called the goalless goal! lol. Oh these tricky Buddhists! I sometimes hate talk like that! Just tell me the answer, not riddles! hahaha.

When Dogen said that Time-Being is a sixteen foot Buddha statue, he meant it. What does that mean?! Just tell me! hahaha.

May all beings realize their inherent Enlightened nature and for love to continue to spread throughout the Universe.

Bam!

The Universe is exploding with wonder and dleight!

The Universe is exploding with wonder and delight!

In my last post, I wrote that compassionate acts are the Way. I also wrote that acts of horrific violence are also the Way. I feel I need to ensure it is clear what I mean by that. I do not condone acts of violence. Acts of violence will not help dissolve the illusion of our ego-mind. In very practical terms, they are not the Way. However, what I was doing, was referring to the operation of the Universe. In one sense, if any actions do not violate the laws of physics, then they are the Way of the cosmos. The Way is not merely the laws of physics though.

So, what am I saying? I suppose it is all about natural function and flow. I am reminded of the following comic:

cartoon

Now, a penguins natural function is not to climb trees. It can sure as hell try, and may even get somewhere. What is a humans natural function? What is you natural function?

Now, of course, the great thing about evolution is that animals (and plants, etc) can adapt so over time, a penguin would become an excellent tree climber!* So, there is a dance. We must learn our natural function and be in tune with that, but also be open to the fact that our ‘natural function’ is empty of inherent substance. It is always in flux. So we dance with our abilities, what we have been adapted to do, along with those things we are not adapted to do and therefore sometimes we trip and fall flat on our face!

I have veered away from my point however, lol. In the end, our natural function is about allowing the Universe to flow freely through us, beyond us. Our ‘free will’ and our ‘fate’ both dissolve into meaningless…. Neither exist as the Universe flows.

When we dissolve our ego-minds, who is left to experience free will or fate? Both are illusionary traps.

I trust the Universe and the Universe trusts me, we make the best team, the natural team, its our natural function, is it not?

 

*I seem to recall that maybe there are some tree climbing penguin species down in South America’s tip perhaps. Maybe I am wrong though!

Who Do We Meditate For?

Buddha at the Forest Hermitage

Buddha at the Forest Hermitage

Who do we meditate for?

Ourselves?

Our Children?

Everyone?

No one?

All beings?

Meditation for

anyone or anything, be it ourselves, all beings, enlightenment, lower blood pressure… is dangerous!

Haha! Lower blood pressure is dangerous? Of course not!

Meditation for ….fill in the blank….. may be incredibly useful and powerful, but that’s not what the Buddha was getting at. Meditation for…. existed for a long time before the Buddha was born. Meditating for….. is dangerous because it instantly separates … and when all that is, empty of independent nature, separation is illusion.

Mediation is a sort of confirmation of the wholeness of all that is. It helps the Universe to flow freely. Just as eating raw vegetables over greasy cheeseburgers will help your blood flow more in tune with its natural function, meditation without purpose becomes the purpose itself.

 

May all beings not suffer.

Boats

I like this boat!

I like this boat!

Living with an ‘invisible’ illness can be difficult to manage sometimes. Sometimes, I feel fine, sometimes not so fine. On the outside, i look fine and i usually act fine, so its hard for other people to know what I am going through. On support group websites and the like I see lots of things like ‘what not to say to someone who has chronic illness’.. .and it will say things like ‘don’t tell me to change my diet or to be positive or i need to exercise more or tell me you are tired too’…. Sometimes i can relate to why these things could be upsetting, but usually they are said with an air of compassion, of trying to help. However, sometimes they are said with blame attached, as if it is all my own fault and if I just exercised and ate more fruit I would be healed. It is the same as telling someone with clinical depression that they just need to snap out of it and just be happy.

I try not to tell anyone how exhausted i am or what pain i may be in (Except my wife and well, i guess everyone reading this,lol!). Everyone has something invisible they are dealing with, and has to work with and might never go away. We are all in the same boat, sometimes the waters are calm and smooth, sometimes they are choppy and scary. But we are all in a boat. And we all have the same destination.

Buddhists are encouraged to meditate in groups…. it is like sailing all our boats together, tying them up and make the stability and direction stronger than the individual boats alone combined. We are social animals, we work best as team-mates. We all experience suffering of one kind or another, so lets join together to end each others suffering. How? Love and understanding. Understand that every person, every being you interact with, has something they are working through, or will have to work through at some time, and that everyone passes away.

A zen teacher once gave a talk about his work in prisons.. with inmates on death row. It was a sobering talk. Then he said something I will never forget… ‘We are all on death row.’ Yeah, of course we are, and we all know that… we will all die someday…. but for me, those words hit home…. and I carry that with me….. So, what do we want to do with our lives?

We are all in the same boat.

The Sun shines after a drizzle filled morning while birds fly passed majestic rainbows. A dead mouse lies on the path and a puppy gives it a good sniff.