Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Nothing I Think Therefore I Am Nothing...I Think

While wrestling with Katagiri Roshi's "Each Moment Is The Universe" it suddenly occurred to me that our thoughts come not from the cells of our brains but from the infinitesimally small space between the end of one neuron and the end of another. In our heads we picture this as a kind of chemical or electrical exchange, something like the static arcs shooting between the positive and negative poles of Dr. Frankenstein's reanimator, our thoughts aren't just so many miniature lightning bolts (even though, with our monkey minds we create an awful lot of static for ourselves). No one knows what they are. No one's actually ever seen a thought, where it comes from or where it goes.

Thoughts arise not in the substance but in the empty spaces of our brains. Thus, as the Heart Sutra says, "all things are expressions of emptiness." All our perceptions---even the perception that we are having a perception---arise from this infinitesimal and yet infinite noplace that exists within the few cubic inches of our brains. The whole universe is in there. Now that's a pretty neat trick.

But better still is the fact that we therefore have the ultimate power to perceive what we want to perceive. Perceive love, and love will manifest itself. Perceive a war, and a war you will have.

These perceptions don't really exist, any more than the perceiver---in my case me, in your case you---exists. Nothing exists, but even that nonexistent Nothing is really a Something. A Something which is Nothing.

Thus we have the duality of Oneness, or as Sekito Kisen described it in the "Sandokai": "The Absolute meets the Relative like two arrow points that touch high in the air." In physics we have the lesson of Schrodinger's Cat, who is both alive and dead at the same time---1500 years ago Zen Master Dogo intuited the same concept and gave us a koan, "I Will Not Say"---and the choice is ours.

Knowing that we have full freedom of choice in this Virtual Universe, we can play at anything, because we are the Somethingless Nothing that is contemplating itself.

So, as long as we aren't here, we might as well play nice.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Re: The Southern Palm Two-Step

(The following is a response to Sid's inquiry as to the meaning of "know" in "know where you are" re: The Southern Palm Two-Step)

Hi, Sid:

To me, the "knowing" that's referred to in the Southern Palm Two-Step is really a response to the situation or circumstances that one finds oneself in. The core teaching of Buddhism is to alleviate suffering - which is certainly why I came to Zen, not enlightenment or anything so esoteric. The Buddha taught that his dharma was about the cause of human suffering and the alleviation of that suffering. He said that his teaching, the Eightfold Path, could be judged as true dharma - if and only if it was skillful in helping to do that very thing: alleviate suffering.

The first step in the Eightfold Path is "Right View." As Steve Hagen writes in Buddhism - Plain & Simple: "Normally, a view of the world is nothing more than a set of beliefs, a way to freeze the world in our minds. But this can never match Reality, simply because the world isn't frozen. Nevertheless we carry on as though the way we've frozen it in our minds is the way it actually is --" which, as we've spoken often, causes us to suffer. "I want it to be this way," or I don't want it to be that way."

"When the Buddha spoke of 'Right View,' he was referring to a view that isn't frozen, 'Right View' is fluid and flexible, constantly in motion. It's an awareness of how this moment has come to be. 'Right View' is seeing reality in all its fullness and fluidity - yet there's nothing in particular to be seen."

So, in essence, this "knowing where you are" is really a response, and as such - as Bernie Glassman writes in Woodenman - "we just respond directly in accordance with the circumstances. It is not a matter of 'knowing' what to do; it is rather a matter of just responding."

Hence, as situations occur and as circumstances evolve, it is taking, as we say in zen, "the step back," treading softly, not causing suffering, and responding appropriately - not from the aspect of our preconditioned mind, but from the Reality of what is before us - and bringing a little kindness along the way.

Remember that when Dogen came back to Japan from China and his monks asked him what he gleaned from his training with Ju-ching, he responded: " I came back a kinder person." This, likewise, is my intention.

I believe the following account is apropos to this discussion:

A student once asked Suzuki Roshi why the Japanese make their teacups so thin and delicate that they break easily. "It's not that they're too delicate," he answered, "but that you don't know how to handle them. You must adjust yourself to the environment, and not vice versa."

Hope this is of some help.