Friday, March 23, 2012

Off on business...but a couple of pending ideas...

I'm off to Korea on business, and don't know when I'll get to post or how much in the next week or two, but I thought I might point out a couple of ideas in embryonic stage right now:

1. I saw on Algernon's blog a post on pink slime and vegetarianism. As a non-vegetarian, as a person who is fascinated by blurring borders and deconstruction of categories (including that of life and death), I have some points with which to respond in this on-going conversation.

2. Regarding blurring boundaries of life and death, awareness and non-awareness, I've a bit more to say about the Internet of Things and universal awareness.  Mainly though, it's that the design of the Internet of Things must be done without regard for the metaphysical.  Sorry folks, but we see through a glass darkly as one guy wrote, but we engineers must design towards the sensible and observable and measurable. 

I'll be back.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Update on Dennis Genpo Merzel

Apparently, Merzel has become a Sangha.  Or at least his Sangha follows him into the bathroom when he does his business. I don't know exactly how this is done, considering what I understand a sangha to be.  What's actually left of Merzel's Kanzeon Sangha doesn't appear to be much, given its internet presence.

Then again my sangha doesn't have much of an internet presence, but that was more or less a conscious effort, and our sangha is very much intact.

Humility is a really important quality to cultivate. I think it has to be cultivated with the cultivation of overcoming fear.  I only know this because I've been lucky enough to meet such fearless humble people.   I doubt I would have gotten an inkling of this on my own otherwise.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Technology, Buddhism and Creativity


"Internet of things?" I say to myself.  I've done that.

Yeah, I have.

No need to go into details, but yes there are real flesh and blood Buddhists developing real technology now. I generally don't talk about it on this blog because I prefer to make sure there's a pretty high wall between what I do here and what is attributed to those to whom it should be professionally, including myself, colleagues, employer, etc. However, it is possible for me to talk as an individual generally about technological developments and it is a matter of public record that I've been involved in the development of technologies enabling the wireless internet.  So as long as I don't get too specific, I'm OK here from an ethical point of view.  And while I don't do applications for M2M (that is, "machine to machine"  which is how "Internet of Things" is more commonly and compactly referenced), as a real technologist I have a few perspectives on that article.

First, let's take this part:

Perhaps when the abstract idea of a “web of life” becomes physical—when our plants, houses, boats and bodies are interconnected through technology—interconnectedness will feel more real to us. Perhaps we will better understand the impact of our behaviors when visualized aggregated data shows us the consequences on air quality of taking the bike instead of the car to work. But will this knowledge of our connection to all other things make us better people? Or will we just fuel our addiction to stimulation, becoming experience junkies who use increasingly advanced devices to post updates, tweets and check-ins and win badges, rewards and social status? What happens when our plants start tweeting that they’re thirsty and our cars check themselves in at a parking lot by the beach? What was supposed to be enlightening becomes performance art.

The Internet of Things will produce data sets like we’ve never seen before, but that doesn't necessarily mean we will have more meaningful products. So the question becomes, how can we design connected objects with meaning and mechanics to make people engage in better behavior? 

Reality check:  

  • M2M devices and applications are going to be made in those nasty places where cell phones already are made. It will be the case because people with economic and political power can cause it to be so for their own benefit.  
  • Applications in automotive, agriculture, health and energy are already being developed with specific objectives in mind.  Those objectives happen to be making more stuff and services to serve people to make other people money.  It's up to the end users, who may aggregate for good ends, to produce good ends from these interconnections.
  • You won't make people engage in better behavior through devices themselves just as you won't make people better chefs by designing better steel for knives.  People with better knives can become just as well better killers.  Technologies are a set of tools. Don't forget that.

Matt Rolandson says, “The first step is to put meaning on the agenda in the product development process, as emotional and philosophical intention, by encouraging designers with ideas about how to manage intention and awareness. A lot of what is developed today uses the triggers of fear or social stress..."

Reality check:

I could go on about how products are designed today, the "Agile Development" fad/trend, etc. Instead, I'll go a bit meta on this and simply point out that this has been done for years in industry, though many (rightfully) disagree as to what "meaning" means here, and what is "right" and "ethical."  But for anyone who doubts what my point here, I'd suggest they read The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker.  And those of us who are in Buddhism and technology are endeavoring to practice it as we make our project plans, reports, software modules, and systems.  We are endeavoring to benefit all beings when we determine what sorts of technology and development we pursue. 

[Vincent] Horn sees a future when the use of bio- and neuro-feedback gets more advanced and thereby can tell us when our minds start to wander, when our attention goes away. A big part of Buddhist thinking is being reminded to be present, and a number of technologies are being developed toward that end. Vince sees a huge potential to automate certain activities in order to free up energy to explore new vistas of the mind.

Reality Check
I see that and other things.  I just can't tell you about it at all other than to ACK what Vincent wrote above.  Suffice it to say, he ain't seen nothin' yet.

As the Internet of Things is being developed, there is a question of whether the movement toward an interconnected society will be hindered by monetization

Finding sustainable models of development will be done, because the market will demand it. 

One other point I'd like to make though, which is not considered at all by those in that article. It has to do with creativity and technological development.

Engineers design stuff and create groundbreaking research for a couple of reasons: First and foremost, it's fun to create, or to lead others to create.  It's enjoyable. It's like mountain climbing or going on an adventure to develop something that no one ever did before; you are pretty much seeing what has never been seen before in the history of humanity. Folks like me (including me)  had to prove theorems that were previously unknown to make the stuff work today that works today.  We're driven to do it, just as an artist is driven to create art.  Even if we don't make oodles of money in Silicon Valley (though we're not uncomfortable.)

It's why I'm skeptical when I see futurist stuff (I'm looking at you Ray Kurzeil).  Many technologists (including the author) have been around the block on these things.  When I see someone using a smartphone, I have to think to realize that my inventions made that scene possible.  The reason is, because me, like hordes of other technologists, are driven by the question best that morphed into the of a Cartoon Network ripoff of Mythbusters; that is, "Dude, what would happen if...?" To say we should design a product that "reinforc[es] a positive identi[t]y for" end users would kill the creativity.  Or as Rilke is reported to put it, if my creative demons are exorcised, then so will be my creative angels.  We make tools; we make amoral tools.  Maybe app designers can find good ways to use them, but you can't design a knife that won't cut you if used wrongly.

 Moreover, that scene of the smartphone user wasn't made by a single technologist or even one single group of technologists.  There was, simply for starters, all beings involved in supply chains, including those workers in those nasty  places I mentioned earlier. Futurists tend to be blissfully unaware that the cost of these things in human life and experience needs to be acknowledged and addressed.  Since they're not involved directly in doing  and don't see the doing, it's going to be significantly more difficult for them to be aware of it.  Here's a hint, though: what was the photo at that adorns the top of this blog portraying?

Finally, in regard to futurism and Kurzweil, I'll quote a section of the Wikipedia article on him; these bits are consonant with my view of the subject:

Kurzweil's ideas have generated much criticism within the scientific community and in the media. There are philosophical arguments over whether a machine can "think" (see Philosophy of artificial intelligence). Mitch Kapor, the founder of Lotus Development Corporation, has called the notion of a technological singularity "intelligent design for the IQ 140 people...This proposition that we're heading to this point at which everything is going to be just unimaginably different—it's fundamentally, in my view, driven by a religious impulse. And all of the frantic arm-waving can't obscure that fact for me."[50]
VR pioneer Jaron Lanier has been one of the strongest critics of Kurzweil’s ideas, describing them as “cybernetic totalism”, and has outlined his views on the culture surrounding Kurzweil’s predictions in an essay for entitled One Half of a Manifesto.[51]
Pulitzer Prize winner Douglas Hofstadter, author of Gödel, Escher, Bach, has said of Kurzweil's and Hans Moravec's books: "It’s as if you took a lot of very good food and some dog excrement and blended it all up so that you can't possibly figure out what's good or bad. It's an intimate mixture of rubbish and good ideas, and it's very hard to disentangle the two, because these are smart people; they're not stupid."[52]

Of course Hofstadter's point could be generalized significantly: Much of what everyone does (including myself)  is a mixture of very good food and dog excrement blended together. That's why folks invented process improvement - or as the Japanese put it,  改善処理 (kaizen shori). Or, as Patti Smith put it, "The transformation of waste is perhaps the oldest preoccupation of man..."

We have to question how we're questioning as to figure out what to improve.

  That about says it all.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

南無, Translations, Worship, Buddhism and Being Stuck

“We don’t worship Buddha,” says pastor Dennis Terry, introducing Rick Santorum while preaching to the choir in the newly posted video... Well, that’s not something most Buddhists say they do, either — at least not many Western Buddhists; rather, it’s more often the case that we look at the historical Buddha as an example of a real human being who proved that liberation from suffering was possible.

I noted that

This is a very interesting point, but actually more than a few Western Buddhists do express worship to the Buddha when they chant the Vandana  

To which Rod/Worst Horse replies

Well, that’s true, except for some this is a vocalisation of recognizing a quality inherent in ourselves and in others.

Yah, you got that right.  But Neal in the comments says,

@Mumon It is my understanding that the English translation of the Vandana is “I venerate the Sacred One, the Great Sage, the Truly Enlightened One.”
It is also my understanding that the word “venerate” means to revere or respect. Not quite the same as worship.
Please correct me if I’m wrong.
 I want to explore Neal's comment a bit, especially in regard to how it reflects Western Buddhist thinking, but first I'm afraid we'll have to go on a language excursion.  OK, well, let's go to the dictionary:


[wur-ship] Show IPA noun, verb, -shiped, -ship·ing or ( especially British ) -shipped, -ship·ping.
1. reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred.
2. formal or ceremonious rendering of such honor and homage: They attended worship this morning.
3. adoring reverence or regard: excessive worship of business success.
4. the object of adoring reverence or regard.
5. ( initial capital letter ) British . a title of honor used in addressing or mentioning certain magistrates and others of high rank or station (usually preceded by Your, His,  or Her ). 
 Since in many translations that I've seen of Buddhist liturgies the word "homage" is used, this might be enough, in my opinion, but just to be sure,  the definition of "veneration" does indeed list reverence as a synonym for veneration.

As I said, Rod/Worst Horse is right about this being a vocal expression of a quality that inheres to us. The operative word that is worship/homage/veneration here is 南無, expressed in Japanese chanting as "namu" (なむ)and Mandarin and Pali as "namo." That 南無 in Chinese and Japanese is obviously a transliteration of the Pali is evident from the meaning of the characters composing 南無; 南 means "South" and "無" is the mu meaning "not" or the prefix "un" as in "wireless" being 無線 ,  (musen) in Japanese.    Jeffrey's Japanese-English dictionary's definition of 南無 lists several uses the term, none of which use the term "worship," but all of which seem to be dancing around the word somehow.  I do think the case can be made that indeed, "worship," "homage to," and "venerate" can be used interchangeably for 南無 here, because of the uses of the term where we find it, and noted translations of it.
 For example, Jeffrey's Japanese-English Dictionary includes the Nichiren chant 南無妙法蓮華経 (namu myouhourengegyou) - oh, I should note the "ou" usage connotes an extended "oh" sound, in case you're interested.  南無妙法蓮華経 is translated as "Homage to the Lotus Sutra."

For us Zen folks,  many of us chant 延命十句觀音經 ("Emmei Jukku Kannon Gyou").  Hakuin scholar Philip Yampolsky translates that sutra as:

Kanzeon! Salutation and devotion to the Buddha!
We are one with the Buddha
In cause and effect related to all Buddhas
and to Buddha Dharma and Sangha.

Our true nature is

Eternal, Joyous, Selfless and Pure.
So let us chant every morning
Kanzeon with Nen (attention)

Every evening Kanzeon with Nen!
Nen Nen arises from Mind
Nen Nen is not separate from Mind.
(Note to Prof. Yampolsky: Please forgive my bad editing; I'm wrestling with Blogger.) The phrase "Salutation and devotion to the Buddha" is what is rendered from 南無佛, ("namu butsu") and yeah, 佛 means "the Buddha."

The most common expression of the use of 南無 would be the Pure Land use of it; which is rendered in Japanese as "阿弥陀仏," (namu amida butsu) or, evidently, 阿弥陀佛.  It's also the most common form of Buddhist homage in Chinese (where, to the best of my knowledge, it would be rendered in Mandarin as "namu amito fo.")  In Chan Buddhist temples in China you'll be greeted with 阿弥陀佛.
Ok, I think I've beaten that ...oh, I better not use that metaphor- as I said Rod/Worst Horse is right.

 I didn't want to write this because I wanted to bore anyone with my meager knowledge of comparative linguistics or whatever you call the stuff I wrote above. The real reason I wanted to write about this is because I think it  -and that rage filled pastor that Rod/Worst Horse referenced, underscores a kind of fault-line in Western convert Buddhism.  I first encountered it when my teacher, leading a ceremony honoring the Buddha's birth, invited us to engage in a ceremony by saying, "Let us worship the Buddha." I, myself, felt it right there: Hey, wait a second!  Nobody said anything about worshiping anything!  Later I read stuff such as the above and I became convinced: what we regard as "worship" is a "good" thing when we mean reverent honor, respect, and veneration, but we think it's a "bad" thing when we mean "bowing down before the other evil guy's false deity," or something like that.   We associate "worship" with what that hateful pastor does, whereas we venerate, reverently honor, etc. But they both mean the same thing!

Now I find that pastor's brand of fundamentalism repulsive; that is, I am viscerally repulsed by a crowd of angry people being stirred up by a person displaying anger conveniently speaking for a god who is only present as anger.  And he may not - he certainly is not worshiping, reverently honoring, or venerating that aspect of us which transcends suffering, greed, hatred and ignorance.  But I don't think I'm adequately doing my own transcendence if I let him - or rather my perception of him - if I let my perception of him  get to own the word "worship" as a bad thing in and of itself.  If we are venerating the separation of ourselves from others, if we are venerating our own greed, hatred and ignorance, if I am acting out of my own visceral repulsion, I find it very difficult to see past where that pastor is; I limit my own freedom to act out of generosity, compassion, and wisdom.

And that's why I wanted to mention this.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Confrontation, Force, Sensitivity, Zen, Right Livelihood, and Being Like Water

You need to relax if you're going to confront or by confronted by someone physically, especially if they're a foot taller than you and have 100lbs on you.   That's the 2 cent take-away from 詠春 (Wing Chun).  It's the only way you can be aware enough - or sensitive enough - to figure out what to do, and what to ignore.

It turns out this principle is ridiculously useful in life; that is the parallels with this principle in everyday life actually make life much easier to do successfully and with integrity.  As are a some other principles from 詠春:

It's important to keep one's basic "structure" intact.  In Zen we can call that a constancy of practice.  In 詠春, if we act, we're acting from our "core." Likewise, in 詠春, although the force used arises from the 丹田
(that point below the navel you know about as the tanden), you're centered through your feet.

A strong force is never directly opposed; it is diverted, or one moves around it.  This is one of the most useful things I've seen/absorbed.  Someone responding to me in anger or rage does not have to be met with anger or rage, if only because it's freaking useless and a waste of energy to do so.  It is "being like water," as that famous student of 葉問 (Yip Man) pointed out.  Bruce Lee might have seemed silly saying these things in movies, but the guy did study philosophy when at the university.  And the funny thing is, these apparent dime-store dollar-store aphorisms can be used in real life.

Likewise, when the opportunity arises, go directly to the center; and defend your center. In everyday life, we might have to wait days or weeks or months for the opportunity, but we should take it when it arises.

I cannot tell you how useful it is to generalize these notions in everyday life.  I do think that the approach of the folks at the Mountains and Rivers Order (don't tell me about their historical issues) has merit here:  Zen should be applied in all aspects of one's life, and one's Zen practice should be informed by other aspects of one's life.  Doing something that you can apply positively to all aspects of your life is helping all beings.  And in practicing these principles, one definitely experiences what used to be called a "paradigm shift" in one's view of one's self.  Not 悟りor 見性 (satori or kenshou) but it can feel now and then like the Day the Universe Changed. Yet we still don't know what we don't know, so that feeling isn't always entirely useful.

It's also increasingly why I'm not so enamored of "causes" or "engagement," as I've written previously.   So very much of that stuff being written or discussed is just so unaware of actually how to do anything useful.  It's not surprising - it's not something widely disseminated in our culture.

While  this post was bubbling around in my head,  I came across this article in the NY Times on the apparent increasing popularity of Mixed Martial Arts.  The NY Times, in its corporate persona as arbiter of all things of the trend, seems to have pronounced that MMA is to young men as yoga is for women and other older people, and places the blame/origin for this on the movie "Fight Club."  While "Fight Club" was a pretty good movie (and therefore roundly denounced by right-wing fundamentalist Christians in the US), I'm not sure of this data as presented by the NY Times.  I'm sure MMA is popular today, and I'm sure a big aspect of this is its violence.  But from the folks I know in 詠春, I know this: It is useful to know about other styles and aspects of martial arts.  In reading that Times article, I thought, this certainly has aspects of pointless spectator sport violence, but it is arguably better than WWF. Besides, anyone who's read anything about this stuff or seen it does get to think silly thoughts after a while, such as just  what would happen if a kick-boxer fought a sumo wrestler? 

MMA? I never watch it. I think the NY Times is just "style pronouncing" again.  I think at least some of the people who watch MMA are looking at something they cannot do themselves, and as such, it's a distraction (and a violent one at that).  It's better to learn to do something yourself.  It might help other areas of your life.  So if one were learning MMA, one might become more peaceable. I mean, it's the case with 詠春 - as someone told me, the more one knows of it the more one is reluctant to actually get in a real physical fight, because if one skilled in the art does enter into such a fight, at least one of the fighters will be effective, and that means someone will get hurt. Luckily, it doesn't have to get that way most of the time.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Right livelihood and knowing one's bedfellows

While I was in the middle of what I do during the day, obviously some Buddhist blogs started talking about blogging and ads and making money and such (Nathan, James Ford, No Zen in the West, etc.).  And I've got a thing or two to say in response, which I'll list in no particular order other than how  they popped into my noggin:

  • Today I'm making a decent living.  I don't know how long that will last  - I guess nobody knows until they're within a factor of 10 of Mitt Romney's income.  But if you're not managing your career like you would any other asset, I'd say you're not engaging in right livelihood.
  • Increasingly I find discussion about how capitalism is bad Buddhism ...ummm...tiresome. Capitalism is problematic for a host of reasons, but if you're focusing on that all the time, chances are you're not engaging in right livelihood.  You're not even scratching your foot through your shoe.
  • I've had ads on my blog for years.  I have tried to follow Google's policies in this regard; I don't find them overly burdensome.  
  • I don't  pretend that I'm the most morally or ethically pure exponent of Buddhism in meat-space, and I certainly would feel stupid maintaining a holier-than-thou persona here.  
  • The nice thing about Google's ad policies is that I have a choice of whether or not I want to block a particular advertiser. I'll admit that it's mostly laziness that keeps me from blocking out some that might have to do with a Maharishi guy or something.  I do sedulously block ads where I feel there is a chance of a conflict of interest potentially with my current employer.  And Scientology - I block them (to the best of my understanding here).
  • Nobody at Patheos ever asked me to join them. I'm shocked.  Actually, I talked about Patheos over here. It's not out of any supreme moral purity that I'd decline joining them even if asked to do so.  It's that I think it's inherently absurd to create an even playing field, a mass of "he said, she said" views when it comes to the issues involving what people call "spirituality." I'd rather not go there.  I'd rather go where I can do good in meat-space and think about how to write about that here. Mais chacun a son goût. 
  • I think the Freethought blogs bit is good.  They take advertising. They do not subvert "capitalist norms." They don't have anything to prove about their own moral purity and the marketplace.
  • One's bedfellows may be one's own greed for purity instead of "the system."
  • Capitalism is a strong force, but unless you know how to work in the midst of strong force, you will likely continue to feel impotent.  That's still the post I really wanted to write this morning instead of this one.  Ah, so it goes.
  • Update:  "Too often, we Zennies speak of liberation, but fail to risk the whole nine yards of ourselves. To place the cultures and social norms we have built ourselves out of on the fire, and let it all be burned straight through if necessarily through deep inquiry."  Bah.  Nathan, do you realize the bizarreness of this passage? Have you inquired on it? Introspected on it? Placed it in historical context? In a Buddhist context?  To put it front and center: Why do you think "Zennies" "fail" to "risk" "ourselves" qua cultural and social norms? Maybe it's order to help all beings, in order to be liberated, you don't have to be the kind of guy that could see eye to eye with the desert monks who called lice "pearls of god."  Maybe, in fact, if you get into such a state, it might actually prevent you from helping all beings!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Creationism, god, and Soyen Shaku

Barbara has more patience than I do, at least when it comes to reading the Huffington Post. They have become so woo-filled-for-the-purpose-of-executing-an-AOL-business-plan that I rarely read them anymore, even when they publish an insufferable creationist. But Barbara offers a pretty good reply here, so I don't have to, really. And I suspect you could go to my former posts about "intelligent" "design" to rebut the pseudo-scientific garbage Lurie is putting out regarding evolution. But I thought I'd get to the bit where the creationist, one Alan Lurie,invokes Soyen Shaku.  Barbara writes:

Rabbi Lurie supports his claim about Buddhism with a quotation from a Rinzai Zen teacher named Soyen Shaku -- "Let me state that Buddhism is not atheistic as the term is ordinarily understood. It has certainly a God, the highest reality and truth, through which and in which this universe exists."
So what about this? Soyen Shaku (1860-1919) became the first Zen teacher to set foot on North America when he traveled here to speak at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago, 1893. He returned in 1905 to give some lectures. It appears he did not speak English and relied on translators, one of whom was D.T. Suzuki.
So it's possible something was lost in translation. It's also possible that Soyen Shaku believed he had to say something affirmative about God so that his audience didn't turn against him. Also, Soyen Shaku didn't say anything about a "guiding consciousness."

Now it turns out that one need not speculate too much about all of this, and Barbara's right that Soyen Shaku said nothing about a "guiding consciousness."  But in fact you can read then entire text of Soyen Shaku's Zen for Americans, in which the quote appears here, and it is pretty apparent from its style that D.T. Suzuki did in fact do the translation (or at least someone who was well versed with Suzuki's writing style did).  So I think the credit to Suzuki for translation is accurate, especially because it reveals the erudition of the scholar Suzuki was.  The chapter on "god" in Suzuki's book is here.  And this work went off-copyright decades ago, thankfully.  Suzuki translates Soyen Shaku as:

...Again, Buddhism is not pantheistic in the sense that it identifies the universe with God. On the other hand, the Buddhist God is absolute and transcendent; this world, being merely its manifestation, is necessarily fragmental and imperfect. To define more exactly the Buddhist notion of the highest being, it may be convenient to borrow the term very happily coined by a modern German scholar, "panentheism," according to which God is πᾶν καὶ ἕν (all and one) and more than the totality of existence.
One of the most fundamental beliefs of Buddhism is that all the multitudinous and multifarious phenomena in the universe start from, and have their being in, one reality which itself has "no fixed abode," being above spatial and temporal limitations. However different and separate and irreducible things may appear to the senses, the most profound law of the human mind declares that they are all one in their hidden nature. In this world of relativity, or nânâtva as Buddhists call it, subject and object, thought and nature, are separate and distinct, and as far as our sense-experience goes, there is an impassable chasm between the two which no amount of philosophizing can bridge. But the very constitution of the mind demands a unifying principle which is an indispensable hypothesis for our conception of phenomenality; and this hypothesis is called "the gate of sameness," samatâ, in contradistinction to "the gate of difference," nânâtva; and Buddhism declares that no philosophy or religion is satisfactory which does not recognize these two gates. In some measure the "gate of sameness" may be considered to correspond to "God" and the "gate of difference" to the world of individual existence.
Now, the question is, "How does Buddhism conceive the relation between these two entrances to the abode of Supreme Knowledge (sambodhi)?" And the answer to this decides the Buddhist attitude towards pantheism, theism, atheism, and what not.
To state it more comprehensively, Buddhism recognizes the coexistence and identity of the two principles, sameness and difference...
Thus, according to the proclamation of an enlightened mind, God or the principle of sameness is not transcendent, but immanent in the universe, and we sentient beings are manifesting the divine glory just as much as the lilies of the field. A God who, keeping aloof from his creations, sends down his words of command through specially favored personages, is rejected by Buddhists as against the constitution of human reason. God must be in us, who are made in his likeness. We cannot presume the duality of God and the world. Religion is not to go to God by forsaking the world, but to find him in it. Our faith is to believe in our essential oneness with him, and not in our sensual separateness. "God in us and we in him," must be made the most fundamental faith of all religion.

Suzuki/Soyen gets a bit too anthropomorphic in the succeeding text, and I am pretty certain that this is done to introduce Buddhism to an audience that "knows about" a western god.  Suzuki/Soyen's emphasis improves a bit here:

As I mentioned before, Buddhists do not make use of the term God, which characteristically belongs to Christian terminology. An equivalent most commonly used is Dharmakâya, which word has been explained in one of the sermons herein collected, and it will not be necessary to enter again upon the discussion of its signification. Let us only see what other equivalents have been adopted.
When the Dharmakâya is most concretely conceived it becomes the Buddha, or Tathâgata, or Vairochana, or Amitâbha. Buddha means "the enlightened," and this may be understood to correspond to "God is wisdom." Vairochana is "coming from the sun," and Amitâbha, "infinite light," which reminds us of the Christian notion, "God is light." As to the correct meaning of Tathâgata, Buddhists do not give any definite and satisfactory explanation, and it is usually considered to be the combination of tathâ = "thus" and gata = "gone," but it is difficult to find out how "Thus Gone" came to be an appellation of the supreme being. There are, some scholars, however, who understand gata in the sense of "being in" or "situated in." If this be correct, Tathâgata meaning "being thus," or "being such," can be interpreted in the same sense as Tathâtâ or Bhûtatathâtâ or Tattva, as explained below. But in this case Tathâgata will lose its personification and become a metaphysical term like the others, though it has been so persistently used by Buddhists in connection with the historical Buddha that it always awakens in their minds something more concrete and personal than a mere ontological abstraction.
 It should be understood that this concrete realization of the Dharmakâya only happens when difference and sameness, or co-realized to invent a term - but they are already, sort of.  But as Suzuki notes here, this ontological abstracting is distracting.  But read the whole of Suzuki/Soyen, it's well worth the time.  However, it should be clear that this "god" of Suzuki/Soyen is not a monotheistic creater deity: the identity of sameness/difference, is dependently originated.  The most problematic text in Soyen/Suzuki then is:

We must not, however, suppose that God is no more than the sum-total of individual existences. God exists even when all creations have been destroyed and reduced to a state of chaotic barrenness. God exists eternally, and he will create another universe out of the ruins of this one. To our limited intelligence there may be a beginning and an end of the worlds, but as God surveys them, being and becoming are one selfsame process. To him nothing changes, or, to state it rather paradoxically, he sees no change whatever in all the changes we have around us; all things are absolutely quiet in their eternal cycle of birth and death, growth and decay, combination and disintegration. This universe cannot exist outside of God, but God is more than the totality of individual existences; God is here as well as there, God is not only this but also that. As far as he is manifested in nature and mind, they glorify him, and we can have a glimpse of his image and feel, however imperfectly, his inner life. But it will be a grievous error, let us repeat, to think that he has exhausted his being in the manifestation of this universe, that he is absolutely identical with his creations, and that with the annihilation of the world he vanishes into eternal emptiness.
The best way I can reconcile this text with what I know about Buddhism, though is that Dharmakâya, being co-existent with the difference world, as it were, (or Absolute and Relative), have the relation that Relative disappearing with Absolute remaining is kind of like considering the number A, and dividing A by 0. That is, the concept of whatever the Absolute is without the Relative is pretty much outside the discourse of things in Buddhism, just as A/0 is not within the discourse of finite mathematics.  We can use identifiers to connote a sequence of numbers leading to "A/0" but the term "A/0" itself is not usefully defined in finite mathematics.

To put it another way, this is why I'm a largely atheist Buddhist: the notion of "god" in the sense that Suzuki/Soyen writes here just isn't useful for everyday operations - and within Buddhism the point is the realization and effective execution of the identity of Absolute and Relative for all beings right here.

And so Barbara's right: Suzuki/Soyen's notion of "god" isn't what theists call god.  I think in our day and age the term "god" is not very useful to apply to Buddhism, for at least the reason that using "god" here means that Buddhism can be extracted by theists for their own purposes (and I think Brad Warner's book is going to be similarly problematic, but I hope to enter things there.)

I think it is unfortunate that Suzuki/Soyen did not see that there would be people who would misuse his text here, but that happens.  One other quote from Zen for Americans I might throw in here, where Soyen/Suzuki is replying to a Christian critic, comparing the Christian Jesus Christ to the Buddha:

Nor has Jesus Christ attained to the calmness and dignity of Buddha, for the passion of anger overtook him in the temple, when he drove out with rope in hand those that bargained in the holy place.

How different would Buddha have behaved under similar conditions in the same place! Instead of whipping the evil-doers he would have converted them, for kind words strike deeper than the whip.

The same could be said for other monotheistic characters as well.

I have more useful things with which to blog, namely how the practice of Wing Chun really is developing, at least in myself, improved abilities for dealing with people that I didn't even know I needed. And how does that square with the NY Times discovering that mixed martial arts is the "Yoga for Young Men?" I hope to get to that stuff over the weekend.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Being Daylight Savings Time

Every year, here in the USA, sometime in late winter or early spring, we set the clocks forward 1 hour...or at least most of us in the USA, do, but that's a level of detail irrelevant for this post.  What I do want to very briefly point out is that 1 hour, every year, year in and year out, is missed for about 1 week or so.  I'm running quite late today; things are notoriously out of place and time.  And this happens every year.  Well, at least almost all the clocks are showing more or less the correct time at the moment.

 Yet, on the flip side of daylight savings time, when the clocks are set back an hour, the "extra" hour doesn't seem to be realized; it seems to be immediately gobbled into experience.

It'd be tragic save for the fact that right now is right now, whatever the clock says.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

3/11: One Year Ago...

There's a good article in the NY Times about it here.

Let's care for our loved ones, and everyone else, too,  before death.

Friday, March 09, 2012

The Hua-t’ou (話頭) and Zen Meditation

Well even the Zennist can be read with profitability once in a while.  Today, the Zennist points to a paper on the 'net by Stuart Lachs, who unlike the Zennist, or perhaps the author you're reading at the moment, is a pretty reliable source for what it is when it comes to the facticity of Zen, though my intent is to be at least as skillful at disseminating of the true core of Zen as Lachs.  I quote:

The Chinese term Hua-t’ou can be translated as “critical phrase.” Literally it means the “head of speech” or the “point beyond which speech exhausts itself.” In Korean, hua-t’ou are known as hwadu and in Japanese as wato. In this paper I will use the Chinese term hua-t’ou exclusively. A hua-t’ou is a short phrase (sometimes a part of a koan) that can be taken as a subject of meditation and introspection to focus the mind in a particular way, which is conducive to enlightenment...

A hua-t’ou however is a stand alone, always short phrase or a part of a koan that can be taken as a subject of meditation and introspection. Though teachers may give talks about working on a hua-t’ou, there are no standardized collections of huat’ou with poetic, often complex commentary as there are with koans that require explication and some knowledge of ancient Chinese metaphor.
Though not widely known in western Zen circles, hua-t’ou meditation is popular in Korean and Chinese Zen. Since the famous Korean monk Chinul (1158-1210)   discovered hua-t’ou meditation late in his life, it has been the favored form of practice for Korean Zen monks to the present day. In China the practice began before the 11th century. Hsu-Yun (1840-1959), the most famous Zen monk in the 19th and 20th centuries, practiced and taught hua-t’ou meditation as his favorite form of meditation

The hua-t’ou, though popularized a long time ago, is a good method for people today: it does not require a group or regular meetings with a teacher and besides being practiced in formal seated meditation, it can or really should be practiced throughout the day, even while at work. Hence, it allows for a full time Zen practice while living and working in the world.

Lacks goes on to note the difference between koan (公案) practice, which leads to focus on the 話頭, and shikantaza (只管打坐) practice.

I'm not really certain that 話頭 practice is largely unknown in Western Zen circles - there are a bevy of Rinzai Zen temples here in the West nowadays, as well as Korean Zen temples (not to mention descendents of Hsu Yun and others.)  Too, anyone who reads D. T. Suzuki's works on Zen will come across the 話頭 sooner or later.

But I can't but agree with Lachs' later point: the 話頭 - a way of orienting the mind, putting it in a place where critical thought is held in abeyance,  is ideally suited for being carried throughout the day.  I think it's somewhat of a disservice that is done in focusing on the "sudden enlightenment" aspects of Rinzai Zen.  If the thought of "sudden enlightenment" arises in your head, you've lost the 話頭.  So yeah, I think the Soto folks sometimes mischaracterize Rinzai practice because they really don't understand it.

And sometimes, descendants of teachers trained in Rinzai Zen make this mistake: it is a fact that some teachers in the White Plum lineage have tried to dissuade students from practicing mu (無 ) throughout the day, but yeah, Lachs is right: doing this in the midst of activity is what teachers from Ta Hui down to Hakuin have recommended.

Over on Barbara's site today, there's an exposition of the religious aspects of Buddhist practice,  triggered from a discussion with Petteri and myself.  Me, I've been very lucky to come across the 話頭, and a teacher who "teaches" it, to help me get from point A to point B, no matter how close A is to B.  There are other ways, to be sure, but this way, done with attention, is well suited for my place in life. And yes, it even is done as a way of quieting the critical mind during the rituals of Zen itself.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

What do you know?

I went to bed last night after playing the guitar last night, with the thought of "We're all largely empty space," because that's one of those things you learn in physics class that astound you when you start to think about it.  It also tends to be the spark, I think, for lots of folks injecting all kinds of woo - reinforcing memes into their thinking as a result.

I was playing guitar well last night. I haven't really been playing much in the past few years, but oddly enough, hearing of Miyavi, it must have brought back some muscle memories or something connected between the cerebellum and cerebrum. It reminded me of this:

 At the same time, I'm still reminded of how woefully inadequate I am of my 詠春拳 (Wing Chun Ken) skills.

It's easy for us to think we're experts...or not - it's hard overall to assess our level of skill.

Ah, just do it.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Some days are pretty black...

I woke up feeling extremely put it mildly.  I'm too attached to many things, of course: not making enough progress in my outside of work activities, the state of business activities of my present position,  various things not currently in my control that put me in  a place where I don't want to be, etc. 

And of course it's a case of seeing the glass mostly empty when it's largely full, because, dammit, after all, it's not full!  And because I want to be the center of attention, THE Guy Who Can Do Anything. It's totally absurd and unrealistic.

But that doesn't de-legitimize the feelings. Those damned feelings, are of course universal - they are part of the hum of life itself.  All of us are born in tears and nakedness, and that's just when we're getting started out in life. 

And I'm writing this as I'm eating a wonderful breakfast of  barbecued pork, yogurt & fresh blueberries (no doubt harvested by people I could not be able to trade places with in my worst nightmare.)

The Great Way might not be difficult if one does not pick and choose, but that's not to say it's a walk in the park on a sunny summer's morning.  Some days I so want to pick and choose that it's difficult to choose not choosing.

And that too is practice - being satisfied in unsatisfaction.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Yeah, I'm a Buddhist...

...I did not really know what jukai means in our tradition; I do now, thanks to an excellent talk by Kanja sensei about it. I also have some knots I need to untie specifically about the religious identity aspect of jukai—one facet of it is that it does, sort of, officially signify becoming a Buddhist. I need some time to get comfortable with that idea. Or perhaps I won't, in which case I won't. Just because it's on the menu doesn't mean you have to order it. So perhaps next time; or perhaps not. We will see...

There is a temptation to water things down. Zazen is great, and there's nothing in it that obviously requires religion or philosophy or ritual. So why not get rid of all that stuff that turns people off, and just do zazen?

Why not? I really don't have an answer. I do think, though, that I wouldn't have stuck with it even this far if Thursday zazen didn't have the big bell and the hân and the inkin bell, the incense and the fresh flowers on the altar; the vows and the bows. Why? Don't know. Don't really know. I just find I like dressing up as a Jedi and ringing bells.

 I too, like the ritual. Yes, it does remind me of the episode of Seinfeld where George converts to the Latvian Orthodox Church to get a girl...his reason for conversion is "I like the hats."

But for me, at least, it goes beyond that.  I can't see the point of a philosophical orientation that can't be put to use, and nothing can be put to use without cultivating a skill, and Buddhist practice in the Zen tradition is set up for that.   

And also, I think it's important to be explicitly Buddhist if one is going to be serious about cultivating the skills for which Buddhism (otherwise you might come off like Edina Monsoon, practicing Buddhism "almost religiously.")

I do think it's important to integrate - that is, practice - Buddhism wherever you are whenever you are and, most importantly for me, to keep remembering to do that.  Because like many folks, I often forget, with results ranging from disastrous to amusing. 

I was watching the Michael Palin Himalayas show that's now being shown on our local Public Broadcasting station last night, and he was talking to some Bhutanese Buddhists in a Bar (ah... alliteration! ) They were not strict moralist vegetarian etc. etc. There's wiggle room in Buddhism, but if you wiggle to much you become a BS artist.  Nobody wants to be full of crap.  Then again, we're all kind of full of crap, aren't we? I'm by no means anywhere near an exemplary Buddhist...I'm just hoping to escape the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Pop Culture - Why doesn't America receive as well as give?

Check out the kid with the guitar:

The "kid with the guitar" is actually 31 or something like that...but you've never heard of him, right?  Never saw him in his  glam-rock phase or maybe it's still going on - it's hard to tell in America.

I came across Miyavi by accident - something Youtube remotely related to something else I was watching.   Needless to say, this is the most amazing guitar playing I've seen in a while.   The guy can coax whatever sounds he wants out of the beast, it seems, that "fit" whatever is needed for the rest of the song.

I bring this up because it's an excellent example of how well we're conditioned towards seeing our own purview as pretty much the universe.   Plus, it's a shame that a guy who can play guitar like this is almost completely unknown in the United States. Especially since, if I recall from what I read, he actually lived  here for a while.

And, when you come across something like this, it's like finding life on other planets: If there's one Miyavi, besides the talent I already know exists there must be millions of them; that is, there must be millions of talented folks I've never known.  And there are.  That's a pretty amazing thought, especially since the number of acts that are famous are few and far between.

I do hope that Miyavi, and those of his talent  find more renown in the USA; we need some kind of popular music renaissance.    We haven't really had any kind of cultural effect in our music from a foreign place since the "British Invasion" of the '60s - unless you count its aftershock of punk/New Wave, which I guess you could, since even Disney movies make reference to Depeche Mode.  Too, folks like Leonard Cohen are far more well-known abroad than here.  (We share him with the Canadians, who are pleased to have the opportunity to "export" Canadian content to the US - but Cohen's lived everywhere, including the USA.) 

I remember the '60s and '70s. Even in the mid-60s, stuff like this looked strange and remotely ancient:

The thing is, much of the music that's still selling well now is about as old as that clip was in the late 60's/early 70s.

Culturally, for whatever reason - maybe America's own love with its own form of conservative Stalinism that only allows "so much" pop culture - we're stuck in a period defined by what happened 40 years ago,  with notable music has its roots in the 70s/early 80s...Lady Gaga owes a lot to Madonna...Justin Bieber...well, enough said about get my point.

Of course there was true innovation in music back then. And this is not to say that today's music is entirely vast, frozen, white wasteland, with apologies to Frank Zappa.  And yeah, Miyavi owes quite a bit to other guitarists as be fair to him, I don't know other artists that are in his generation - or otherwise -  who have videos on YouTube - made outside the US, evidently - that do the equivalent of  tell you how to do  "Miyavi slap guitar."

And I guess this post doesn't have much to do with Buddhism in general, save to say, "Keep an open mind."