Yeah, I remember when I first realized that the world was bigger than my hometown.  Points off for some grammar and attempts at defining beauty (seriously, lol).  Craigslist dating angst FTW.  I truly and heartfeltly hope this girl finds her emo, er, I mean boy...

You do not know who you are. You are full of ambition and do not know where to focus it. Existentialist crisis would not be a stretch. You are looking for someone to talk to about this with no expectation of reaching a conclusion. These conversations, you hope, will be one part lamentation, one part hope, and one part attraction. We will sit in my [or your] Nag Champa scented room watching “Waking Life”, making art and the occasional comment. We will listen to solo guitar on from Barcelona on vinyl, drink tea and make attempts and defining beauty. We are beautiful and we don’t know why, but we can feel it. We will read Bukowski. We will dance like fools. We will fall asleep on the floor, holding each other, just as confused as we were when we met but now we aren’t alone.

I do not know if you exist, but then, I hardly know if I exist. I am posting here because I have not found this person in my community and would like to meet people outside of it. A picture would be nice, because I do believe that ones appearance can be very telling of what is beyond it. And in case you didn’t gather this from reading, the above not only describes who I hope you are, but it describes me as well.

"Selflessness is not a case of something that existed in the past becoming nonexistent. Rather, this sort of 'self' is something that never did exist. What is needed is to identify as nonexistent something that always was nonexistent."

-Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
Last night, after returning home from the zendo, I decided to go sit outside for a few minutes.  Since I quit smoking (again, but it's going well this time) I haven't had occasion to do so much lately.  We had an absolutely beautiful sliver of a moon, rolled over on its back with its points facing upwards, as if it could have held all the visible stars in it like a bowl.  It was lovely.

And then it dawned on me.  Not some over-dramatic thunderclap.  No touching the ground before me as a witness.  More like "Oh.  Yeah.  Duh."

Now, two my two Facebook friends, I mean this:

On one hand, you do do everything on your own terms.  You are the one making the decisions.  You are the one either leading, following or getting out of the way.  On the surface, that appears completely true.


To quote Warren Zevon:
Don Quixote had his windmills
Ponce de Leon took his cruise
Took Sinbad seven voyages
To see that it was all a ruse...
Once again, Warren-daiosho spells it out.  Well, at least for me.

This idea of "me", "mine" "you", "us", "them", etc, etc, blah... where does it come from?  And by that, I mean where?  Obviously, it's at times a handy construct.  It keeps me from waking up in YOUR bed next to YOUR partner, or driving off in THEIR car, going to THEIR parent's house for dinner, and so on.  But honestly, this idea that any person is inherently different from anybody else really very quickly falls apart upon close inspection.  I mean seriously, it is just a very fragile idea full of gaping holes that you can walk straight through without even turning sideways or stooping down.

The Buddha called the senses that we have to investigate with--as well as all things to be investigated--skhandas, or "aggregates".  You can look at them as piles (in Sanskrit, the word literally translates into "pile", "heap" or "bunch") of things made up of other things.  So, when you get right down to it, that's everything there is.  In truth, all things are of dependent origination; that is, everything is dependent upon something else to bring it into existence.  Even the Big Bang is--many now theorize--a result of another event (the ekpyrotic scenario of two branes touching).  So this idea that there is a "base-level" of "stuff" that exists and cannot be reduced either in size or in linear time is false.  It is convenient, but it is false.  So even the things that are used to investigate reality with are inherently flawed, because they too are of composite build.  This is of course addressed in the Heart of Perfect Wisdom Sutra.
...form does not differ from emptiness; emptiness does not differ from form. Form itself is emptiness, emptiness itself form. Sensations, perceptions, formations, and consciousness are also like this....
Even our senses, our thoughts, our very consciousness is empty.
Therefore, given emptiness, there is no form, no sensation, no perception, no formation, no consciousness; no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no sight, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind; no realm of sight… no realm of mind consciousness. There is neither ignorance nor extinction of ignorance… neither old age and death, nor extinction of old age and death; no suffering, no cause, no cessation, no path; no knowledge and no attainment.
 Nothing to attain.  No one to attain it.  The fear that selflessness is some ego-destruction and transcendence is in itself flawed thinking.

You do not do zen on your own terms.  Zen is zen, irrespective of "you", because there is no "you" to bring anything to it.

You are not "killing" the self.  That's like killing a shadow.

There is just this.

It is just so.

And that's just fine...

What kind of footprints do you leave when you're sitting still?

I just realized that it's about the 6th anniversary of my really stepping out onto the Buddhist path.  I say "about" because I'm not entirely certain of the date.  I'm pretty sure I need to write about that event sometime soon, but I won't be able to pull it off today.  Suffice it to say that I'm pretty thankful that I took the direction I did.

My father loved this old gem.  It gave him great comfort in his last years as he was dying of congestive heart failure.  My old man carried a lot of grief with him, and the thought of his Lord carrying him in times of trouble gave him solace: 

One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.  In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one only.  This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints, so I said to the Lord, “You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?”

The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.”
Admittedly, it's a sweet (and yes, some say "twee") sentiment.  My mother and father even sent me a (so severely tacky it was almost precious) wind-chime sculpted from this motif.  It never rang out in my life, because frankly, by the time it was given to me, it was already ringing hollow.  I don't mean that to sound bitter, although I'm sure it does.

It's interesting to me, though; us Buddhists don't really have much by way of pithy wall-hanging-and-windchime-worthy stuff, do we?  I mean, we have our kitch, don't get me wrong, but I think that the D.I.Y. aspect of our faith--and the conspicuous absence of a "savior"--tends to nullify the warm-fuzzy angle when it comes to marketing opportunities, dunnit?

More pith later...

Just came from teh zazen.  Just had a lesson rightly taught to me.  Prompted a very clear and powerful realization.

Making an assumption about anything is an inherently selfish act, even out of noble or helpful motivation.  By doing so, you essentially are saying that you know what The Universe is going to send you.

Making an assumption is antithetical to Buddha-mind.  Always.  Nirvana must be one continuous utter marvel, wonder and amazement, because to think for a single instant that you know what's next or what may be asked of you is utterly arrogant, and not Buddha-mind.  Each moment arrizing is a whole and total universe of miracles and surprizes.  That is Beginner's Mind.

Or so I assume.

Thank you, sensei...

Just a bit of a ramble today...

I find it really interesting noticing what is important -vs- unimportant to me now.  I know this is probably an obvious observation by someone my age, but as the observer, I note it anyway.  There are very few things I "geek" over anymore.  It's so strange because there are actually very few things that I feel deeply connected to at all anymore.

That sounds awful, yet it's entirely true, and frankly, completely un-awful.  It's not apathy.  Its not some ennui or malaise.  It's different.  It's like internally my priorities either have been--or are being--reset.  Sometimes I wonder if it's happening "against my will".

Then I question the validity of the concept of "will".

For a long time, I studied the idea of "passion".  I now have a grasp of how errant that effort was.  It's not a sad thing: it simply is what it is.  Doesn't mean Kierkegaard was a douche for leading me astray.  I can't blame Johannes Climacus for the state of reality.  He put the work in.  He gave it the old kollegium anstrengelse, but at the end of the day, you won't get the right answer asking the wrong question.

It's actually rather fascinating to me how much more valid people like Camus, Sartre and Nietzsche are than people like Kierkegaard and Kant.  You really do have to kill off God to get down to brass tacks and do the good work of the Lord.

I really want to run away and build a little village of yurts for people to retreat to.  $50 a night, and I'll make you breakfast.  I'll even let you help in the garden...

Sunset and evening star
   And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
   When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
   Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
   Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
   And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
   When I embark;

For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
   The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
   When I have crossed the bar.

-Alfred, Lord Tennyson

So my dharma sis Jomon recently blogged about why she blogs.  This is a powerful question.  Well, as powerful as any rhetorical question can be.  It is, however, powerful enough that I too will take a crack at it.

When I started this blog a few years ago, it was mostly a place of personal (not that it's not still, but anyway) reflections.  It was a place for me to do what most writerly types do best; blather on incessantly about their own thought processes as if the world at large gave two shits and a dime.  At that time, I was a group list manager for a (in)famous soft-porn website, managing a number of discussion groups, including those on Medical Marijuana and Buddhism.  When I decided to leave that site (mostly due to boredom, but also out of mindful adherence to the precepts), a few dozen people went "Where will I be able to read your stuff at?  Whaaaa!!"  That was very flattering, and as a writer, I'm all about being flattered.  So I decided to start concentrating on writing here again.

Well, I quickly found out that the world--in point of fact--didn't really give any number or manner of defecations, stools, or bowel utterances of any kind, let alone cold hard cash! (I wish!  Talk about mad skillz!)  Anyway, a few old friends kept looking in on me (shout out to Nix & Tommy.  Peace, mates) but for the most part, I was writing to myself.  This really could be done with a spiral notebook and a biro, and as life was at that time really hitting a patch of snot, the whole thing went cold for a while.

But the snot was rather persistent.  It didn't get washed away very quickly, and I found myself very alone and very adrift in my life.  My marriage was ending.  I was having to let go of nearly everything I'd grown accustomed to and "loved"; people, places, things.  It was really hard, and very scary.

You'd think I'd have started writing about it.

I started writing about my practice.

I am not a lawyer.  I am not a doctor.  I do no play either on TV.

At roughly this time last year, I was in such a jam that I really didn't know what in the hell to do.  I was broker than broke (no real change there), needing to strike out on my own for really the first time in my life, while at the same time try and help my daughter get clean and sober from a horrid addiction.  I had vastly more obligations than resources, vastly less ability than fear, and a complete and utter need to get the job done.  To say that it was sink-or-swim does not bring enough gravity to the feelings that I had about the circumstance.

So I came up with the idea that I'd pitch it all and go live at the monastery.  Pursue zen full-time.  Maybe work towards ordination.  The rent was cheap and the food was good.  I put in my paperwork and was being considered.  Keep in mind that at this point in time, I was seriously considering living in my truck camper.

Well, my roshi took me aside and expressed some concerns over my brilliant plan.  I was a bit put off by this (and still sort-of am, but that's another blog entirely), but after going on retreat in March of 2009, I came back knowing that I wasn't--in fact--ready for a life of blue jumpers and 5am zazen.


So I started writing about it instead.

That's not wholly accurate.

I started trying to live it here instead.

And I write about it here as I do.

More people seem interested now.

And so here's the nut.

There are piles of blogs and websites just like this.  All sorts of us Western folks trudging through this Buddhism stuff, trying to make heads or tails of this amorphous weird blob that is "existence" and all the metaphysical ramifications thereof.  It is deeply personal, and very very hard to communicate to those people who aren't doing it as well.

So why spend time writing about it, of all things?  If it's so inherently unexplainable and inexpressible, then why try?

Well, for me, there's a sort-of cohort aspect to it.  There's a new generation of folks coming to Buddhism now.  The X'ers and Y'ers are here, and they own these-here 'tubes.  Not that there aren't many in generations before ours that don't have their digital say (word to the Dalai Grandma!) but by-and-large, it's a time of newness and growth in world Buddhist consciousness, and even moreso for Buddhism in America.  It's encouraging and exciting, and I'm pleased and honored to be surfing this wave with so many folx.

But I think the thing most important to me about why I spend time blogging my tales of the inexpressible--and reading those of others--is that it feels good and helpful to attempt to share how this practice makes me feel, and what it is manifesting in my life.  Admittedly, this is like trying to express why a poem moves you, or a melody sticks in your head.  But those two examples get their share.  I guess my Buddhist blather should be right up there as well.

Just like a weight-loss blog, a recovery journal on-line or a gardening forum, people find it helpful to hear news from those going through it as well.  It's a way to feel less alone in a struggle, more connected to a group, and less isolated in your own head.  I value this a great deal.  I may love and rest in the Dharma, but it's a right-royal beeatch of a slog at times.

Now, with regards to those who find it useful to read such things, and the criticism that it really only interests other practitioners...

Well, duh.

Buddhist geeks are a thousand rupie a dozen.  We tend to gravitate to each-other like all good geeks do.  We just geek about something that's really hard to express (which too, is a mark of a geek or geekly thing), but like that Justice Potter Stewart oldie-but-goodie;

"I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["good Dharma blogs" -ed]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it..."

— Justice Potter Stewart, concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio 378 U.S. 184 (1964) Emp. Add

It's sorta like the first day of high-school when you're trying to find a lunch-table to sit at.  You don't really do so with your eyes.  You do it by listening to conversations, and sitting close enough to be able to interject some little tidbit into the discussion to establish affiliation and credibility.  But more than anything, you do it because you feel compelled to discuss this geeky thing you feel so passionate about.

Being passionate about a Buddhist practice sounds a bit antithetical, and on a few levels it is, I suppose.  But I know that I am a happier person because of my practice.  I know that I handle life much differently than I did a year ago, or two years ago, and that's only for the good.  I know that the way I interact with people, including my family and loved-ones, has changed a great deal because of this "practice", again for the good.  What's funny is that, on the one hand, I could give two shits and a dime (again with that, wth?) about what anybody thinks about my practice or my life, but on the other hand, I feel a responsibility to talk about these things.  It finally occurred to me why that may be.

I have taken a vow (a number of times, actually, and will again many times) to aid everyone who needs help, in any way asked of me.  Having the ability to help, or even the volition to attempt to help, put an onus on me to do so, or else I would be willingly withholding aid.  If all I really have at this point in my life is the willingness to ramble on about this practice of mine, and the energy to do it, then not doing so is inherently wrong action.  I look at this as part of my whole practice, and no part is more or less important than any other part.  And just as pursuing this practice with as much energy and attention as I can muster is important to the overall health and well-being of the Dharma, so too are my weak and impotent attempts at communicating back what I find.
Beings are numberless: I vow to talk to them.
Illusions are inexhaustible: I vow to pooh-pooh them.
Dharma gates are boundless: I vow to post pix on Facebook.
The Buddha way is unsurpassable: I vow to blog about it.

We are Buddhist geeks, and we are not alone.

P.S., give Buddhist Geeks some of your rupees plz.  KTHXBI.

An itch on my nose.
Kinhin brezee rubs it gently.
Sangha F T W!

Fishing with John (featuring guest Willem Dafoe).

So an old friend shot me an email today asking for a zen take on ice-fishing to use as grist for his (mostly) weekly word-mill.  Y'all do follow the Motley Cow, si?  Anymoo, here's an abridgment snip-fest from my reply.  One more thing: I really don't need to explain--nor was I actually explaining--zen to him.  This is totally rhetorical...

Right, Mark? ;)

And bonus points to anyone who I.D.'s the photo...

Letting down the line ten thousand feet,
A single breaking wave makes ten thousand ripples.
At night in still water, the cold fish won’t bite.
An empty boat filled with moonlight returns.

-Sensu Tokujo (Chinese, Chuanzi Decheng)

Letting down the line ten thousand feet,
A single break in the thick ice makes ten thousand cracks.
At night, under the shanty the cold fish won't bite.
An empty Skidoo filled with moonlight returns.



Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.

-Henry David Thoreau


"Zen" is actually more rightly a verb.  Zen is action.  Zen is "to do", not "to be".  Zen is not an extraordinary state of Being.  Zen is being intimately in touch with the state of Being you're in right here, right now.  Zen is both particle and wave.  Zen is both ice and water.  Zen is catching fish with a straight hook. Zen is mind- and ass-numbingly boring.  So you're dead-on with ice-fishing ;)

Although I gotta say after thinking of it, there are major parallels that can be drawn between zen and ice fishing.  Both see the newer practitioner in a cold, tiny space out in the middle of nowhere sitting still and mildly uncomfortable for hours on end with the mistaken impression that at some point, something should "happen" and that you should return to shore with some "thing" to show for it.  Long-time practitioners know better, yet do it anyway ;)  Yes, this is both a joke and the truth.

Last bit.  Here's a quick story I just wrote borrowing more Thoreau, who was a zen muthafoker if ever there was one:

Deep in the middle of a hard Wisconsin winter, two fishing buddies met at a tavern just off of the Milwaukee River. They were talking ice fishing strategy, baits, where they auger their holes, and bragging about their voluminous catch the day before.  One of them caught sight of a grizzled old man sitting in the corner, drinking a cup of tea.  They asked the bartender who the mysterious man was.  "That guy?  That der's Old Man Bodee.  He's the one that's caught the biggest fish ever pulled through the ice here, way back in 1972!  Hasn't caught a fish since, but he's out on the ice every day."  The two men grabbed their beers and walked over to the old tea drinker to introduce themselves.  The old man nodded and invited them to sit down.  He was amiable, but quiet as the two buddies talked fishing.  Soon, a friendly wager was struck: whomever catches the most fish in one day's fishing wins $10.  The next evening, the two buddies found the old man sitting at the same table with a cooler at his feet.  They walked up and sat down, proudly saying that they caught so many fish they couldn't bring them into the tavern without a hand truck.  They waited for the old man to show them his apparently meager catch.  The old man smiled, opened his cooler, and took out a roast beef sandwich.  As he unwrapped the sandwich, he said to the men; "You have much food to show for your efforts, but you have still not caught the fish."  With that, the two men each took out a five dollar bill, laid it on the table, and were enlightened.

A gun gives you the body, not the bird.  ~Henry David Thoreau