Even though much of what is written about Buddhism can be frustratingly hard to digest, it’s shear simplicity. It’s hard only because our mind lives in the realm of competing things.
The fewer things you seek, the freer you are – fewer gotchas, roadblocks, and engineering of convoluted compromises no one is happy with. Simplicity increases with decreasing constraints. A beginner’s mind, free from “sacred” beliefs. A 100% acceptance of what is right in front of you, free of desires. That’s it!
Certainly, other people and things have their “desires” and there isn’t much if anything you can do about it. They are what they are. However, we can ultimately eliminate all complexity and the resultant suffering from our lives through simplicity.
With that said, simplicity does not equate to deprivation. The Buddha went through a long phase of ascetic deprivation before plopping under the Bodhi Tree, emaciated and near death. His ascetic days at least showed him something that didn’t work.
Simplicity also is not something you seek. “Seeking” something, even simplicity or enlightenment, is still a desire for something. Rather, simplicity means choosing not to exacerbate complexity. Turn away from unforced engagement (picking fights), procrastination (resisting what is), or running away (you can’t run away from yourself).
Today begins the Lunar Bodhi Season for 2018! That is, it begins seven days of meditation that ends the morning of the eighth day, Sunday, January 13, 2019, Bodhi Day.
But Isn’t it 2019? It’s the 12th New Moon starting from the Chinese New Year – a lunar calendar – back on February 16, 2018. Really, this is Bodhi Season 4715 in the Chinese Lunar Calendar. I discuss this in more detail, in this blog, When is Bodhi Day 2018?. Mrs. Hanamoku and I celebrate both the Secular and Lunar Bodhi Days. However, we do place more emphasis on the former since it does come first.
A few weeks ago, during the Secular Bodhi Season of 2018, I posted a series of blogs for each of the seven days, starting with Tomorrow Begins the Secular Bodhi Season of 2018. Please do read that set, one for each of the upcoming days – as you would an Advent Calendar. I intended the series for both the Secular and Lunar Bodhi Seasons of 2018.
Links to the other posts belonging to this set of Secular Bodhi Day 2018 posts:
Although Siddhartha Gautama did literally meditate under the Bodhi Tree for these seven days, I can’t do that. There’s this earning a living thing that gets in the way. But we do “meditate” in a few other ways. My primary meditation during that Secular Bodhi Season last month took the form of spending two or three hours early in the morning before heading to work (3am to 6am) writing each of those blogs.
Mrs. Hanamoku and I also stick to a simpler diet, pretty much vegetarian; certainly no sugar, alcohol, or other stuff that’s “not good for you”. Since the Secular Bodhi Season is in December, we’re even more mindful of keeping “the Christmas Spirit”.
However, I’ll leave with a new little lesson to help with your meditation during this next week.
In most martial arts (although here I’m referring mostly to the Japanese styles), there is a notion of kiai (pronounced like key-eye). This is that “hi-yah” sound you often here during fight scenes in martial arts movies.
I was taught it as a very sharp “long A” sound (like the A in bake). Most important than the actual sound, it comes from deep in the belly. Think of like doing crunches and saying A at the contraction of your ab muscles.
What is the purpose of that noise? At the time of this writing, the Wikipedia article for Kiai doesn’t mention anything about the really important aspect it, just a very superficial, although valid, interpretation:
“Students of Japanese martial arts such as aikido, karate, kobudo, kendo, or judo (or related arts such as taiko drumming) use kiai to startle an opponent, intimidate, express confidence, or express victory.”
However, the kiai is more to affect you than to affect your opponent. Its real value is in reigning in your focus when it starts to wander. It brings our minds back to the present, away from fears based on the past or what hasn’t happened, or things that don’t matter. The more we’re in the present, the more we fit into the flow.
It’s for that purpose that I keep a bell with me during meditation, a gentle kiai to bring me back if (when) my mind wanders.
First off, if you’ve only heard about Bodhi Day now – because today is Bodhi Day (December 8, 2018) – please see this blog that explains what is Bodhi Day. If Bodhi Day sounds interesting after reading that post, skip towards the end of this post to the Bodhi Day Mulligan section.
Now, for those who have been following my daily Bodhi Season posts the past eight days, this is a short, quick and dirty recap of my Bodhi Day ceremony. I’m taking the day off from writing anything of substance so I may continue to ponder what I meditated upon this morning. That was a lot of writing these past eight days!
Before I get to my Bodhi Day, I look forward to seeing you on the path, and some advice about keeping it. This is where the 3rd Zen Story comes into play. Picking Up the Bag. Here are a couple of my older posts regarding the day after Bodhi Day:
Now to my Bodhi Day. I awoke at about 3am to mostly cloudy skies. But at about 4:20 I noticed Venus popped out for a bit. So I quickly dressed and left around 4:30am for my short walk (due to my sore foot).
I was greeted by our Airbnb hosts’ huge pyrenees who roams freely on what has to be a property of at least a hundred acres. We think his name is Gus, but we call him Cujo. He guarded me through my entire ceremony.
I usually start with three reps of the Hannya Shingyo, but since Venus was out for what looked to be a short time, I started with the 112 reps of the Morning Star Mantra. She was visible for about half the mala before disappearing for good behind clouds.
I then went straight into the Hannya Shingyo, three times, as traditionally chanted. My Kindle did shut down halfway through since the battery was a little low and I hadn’t touched the screen for a few minutes. Before going into meditation, I read the Hannya Shingyo in English so that my brain could wrap around its succinct description of Buddhism.
I went into deep meditation for what was probably about half an hour. I must admit I was distracted a few times by my guard chasing of a real or imaginary enemies. But I hit the song bowl to refocus. I did have a few flashes that I will ponder for the rest of the day, and write about over the coming months, mostly on fishnu.org.
I was brought out of my meditation by rustling behind me. It was time to head back for my breakfast of rice and milk.
Bodhi Day “Mulligan” On January 13, 2019
If you’re only learning of Bodhi Day today, or you just mucked this one up … hahaha … you have another chance in a few weeks to try what I’ve been posting about the past eight days starting with Tomorrow Begins the Secular Bodhi Season of 2018. It’s the lunar Bodhi Season starting on January 6, 2019 with the lunar Bodhi day on January 13!
Today is the Secular Bodhi Day, standardized in many countries to be on December 8 every year. The lunar Bodhi Day is the 8th Day of the 12th month of the lunar year. I call December 8 the secular because Bodhi Day is supposed to be the 8th Day of the 12th Lunar Month which is always changing. Standardizing to a set date every year helps all the busy people plan around a consistent date.
There are two sets of daily Bodhi Day posts for you to follow, something like an Advent calendar, should you want to do the Lunar Bodhi Day in a few weeks:
Lunar Bodhi Day 2017 starting on December 18, 2017 with Bodhi Day on December 25. Last year’s lunar Bodhi Day.
Secular Bodhi Day 2018 starting on December 1, 2018 with Bodhi Day on December 8. This is the one we just went through.
Other than that, use your new Bodhi skills to be the best Christmas guest ever!!!
Update on the Day After Bodhi Day – December 9, 2018
This morning was a wonderfully clear morning. So I did a mulligan on the Morning Star Mantra part of the ceremony. It was mostly cloudy yesterday morning, so Venus was only visible for a time.
Links to the other posts belonging to this set of Bodhi Day 2018 posts:
The living room of the cabin we’re staying at for Bodhi Day faces right into where Venus rose this morning. It was a clear morning, and there She was. I sat on the couch at about 5am with my mala, reciting the Morning Star Mantra, once for each of the 112 beads:
Nobo akyasha kyarabaya Om arikya mari bori sowaka
I mentioned on Day 1 that Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism became enlightened after reciting the Morning Star Mantra a million times in one sitting.
It’s important to remember that the Morning Star Mantra isn’t a magic incantation. Simply reciting it one million times will not get you to Nirvana as did reciting “There’s no place like home” got Dorothy Gale back to Kansas. It’s a matter of wrapping your brain around freedom from dukkha that such an extended period of meditation can bring.
At least Dorothy knew what she was saying. What does this Morning Star Mantra mean? Why did Kobo Daishi become enlightened reciting it one million times in one sitting?
At a very high level, it pays homage to the Bodhisattva, Akasagarbha. So who is Akasagarbha? According to the Eternal Fishnu, in Western terms, let’s just call him “the God of Space”, more formally, “the God of the Infinity of Space”.
The sentiment, not the literal translation (for which there is no one answer), of the Morning Star Mantra is, “How wonderful is the boundlessness of space.” This is important because freedom from Dukkha, suffering, equates to freedom from the constraints of what our brain clings to.
The Universe is boundless, not limited to the piddly “knowledge” in our brains. Our brain clings to the very minuscule experiences of our human life. Boundaries are man-made things. All of space is our backyard.
When We Become Nothing, We Become Everything
What does “nothing” mean? In the context of Buddhism, “nothing” means our mind doesn’t cling to anything – and because it doesn’t cling to anything it is free to be everything.
It’s All or Nothing
We usually think of “all or nothing situations” as undesirable since we civilized folks can use our intellectual sophistication to reach some sort of compromise. And it’s true. Our intellect is a gift that allows us to at least sometimes engineer Win-Wins or to cleverly have our cake and eat it too. But most of the time, as smart as we are, we just can’t seem to make everyone happy.
But in the case of enlightenment, freedom from dukkha, we strive for both! We strive for the elimination of all clinging, which makes us nothing. Here there isn’t a compromise – but instead a path. Just get on that path.
Tomorrow morning, on Bodhi Day, perhaps you will have an epiphany. You will cut all the strings tethering you to this and that and back to this. But it takes only one string to keep you tethered in the tangled web of dukkha. It only takes one line to reel in a fish.
There probably is something sacred that you will not cut off. Is it your children or others you love? Is it the God of your religion? Is it pissing off someone you’re afraid of? Eventually that sacred string will reel you back into the fragmented, house of cards we call “reality”.
Don’t worry about that. You’re not a fish trying to break free from those things. You’re a soul trying to find peace in a world that wasn’t designed from the ground up for we self-aware beings. As it was for the fish that the Eternal Fishnu lead onto land during the Devonian, in God’s time, fish out of water can transform into something really cool.
I’ve written a 4-part series hoping to shed light on why we cling to things. The theme is looking at the classic “Seven Deadly Sins” from what I call a quasi-evolutionary-psychology point of view. I say “quasi” because I’m not an anthropologist. But a software developer who spent forty years needing to understand how and why people think in order to build productive tools that fit into existing processes. I think the series helps to understand why we hold grudges, why we become addicted, and why we have hopes and dreams.
Here I outline four levels of clinging, each exponentially harder to do than the one before. But as it is if you hit the biggest guy in jail and the rest will leave you alone, conquer that last one and the first three will magically fade away.
Regrets, and Wrongs Done to You
These clingings are the easiest to let go of. It’s easy to get that we cannot change the past. “The past is the past”, we say. But that sentence isn’t really a delete button. Saying that just masks the memory like deodorant – it’s still there encoded in your neurons.
We’ve all done things we regret, and they haunt us for years if not the rest of our lives. Some things were just embarrassing, some mean, some greedy. As long as we’ve learned from the mistake, that’s all we can do about the past.
Forgiving someone for a terrible act against you can be very tough or impossible, depending on the act. They hurt our pride. Sometimes it takes people decades to forgive, if ever. But as hard as forgiveness towards others or another towards you can be, these clingings are nothing compared to what comes next.
Hint: This wouldn’t be a problem if you had no pride.
Bedazzlement – The Big Payoff
These are our addictions – whether instinctive such as love or learned vices such as drugs and alcohol. All addictions commandeer our brains, like some alien took over our body. Our logic and values are re-wired.
All addictions end in a big payoff, Bedazzlement – such as a hitting someone, getting drunk, a cheap thrill, popping a pill, a McDonalds binge. This is the payoff high that our brains give us when we solve a problem – the “drug high” of dopamine. Bedazzlement, the shiny prize we seek, keeps us going when we just want to give up. When we get what we’re seeking, we feel great, and we need to do it again.
We mistake this bedazzling high for happiness. But here’s the kicker – we’re sad even when we have what we want because we know it’s temporary.
It’s hard to cut these sort of clingings because we’ll wonder what life is about without these highs (or just getting what we want, which usually won’t be the case). It’s important to know that we can have things, but we just need to be able to answer that we would be happy without it.
Expectations, Hopes, Wishes
This is setting up a future for ourselves that we believe is for our good. This is different from Bedazzlement in that a “high” can be cheap – such as a few bucks for a hit of drugs. Hopes and Dreams are things we invest much time and energy into over a long period of time. These expectations, hopes, and dreams are clinging to one outcome where we won’t be happy until we get it.
Remember what the quote I mentioned yesterday by the Zen master, Mike Tyson: “Everybody has a plan until he gets punched in the mouth.” Plans never work and we cannot cling to a plan in a dynamic world. When people say, “All we have is hope.”, it’s a delusion that gives us comfort.
This class of clinging is tough to give up because hopes and dreams gives us direction and purpose. Living a life with no direction is innately counter-intuitive to how we’re brought up to succeed – or worship the successful.
This is the toughest. Success with the levels above are hindered by this one. We believe in what is good or evil, beautiful or ugly, fun or tedious, yucky or delicious.
Beliefs are the toughest to dump because from our human perspective, they define us, they are what we are. Everything we do, and incur from what we do, is guided by these beliefs.
Now, in Buddhism, it’s not a matter of which beliefs are right or wrong, good or bad. That doesn’t mean Buddhists think good and bad don’t matter, that evil is as OK as good.
Rather, for Buddhists, we train ourselves to understand that the Universe is One, and not live under the delusion that anything is separate from the whole. We undo all the training that is pounded into our heads from birth – Mama, Dada, rattle, food, teacher – we recognize symbols, things.
This ability to recognize things is the foundation of our human symbolic thinking. Our brains can recognize things so we can perform virtual experiments in our head before actually trying something out. Buddhists use our symbolic thinking as a tool, not as the foundation for reality.
Beliefs are boxes we draw around things naively thinking the things inside will be impervious to what is outside of that box. Maybe for a little while. But those things outside finds its way in, and you fix that breach, and it finds another. Soon, your box is like a web of lies where one lie covers another. But each new lie isn’t just one more lie. It creates holes in that model of the world we call our brains at every intersection.
To be clear, though …
If you leave your Bodhi Day ceremony tomorrow morning and do something stupid like send your boss your resignation, leave your family, take up the hobo life, give away your possessions, or buy a Porsche, you’re just using poor Reverend Hanamoku as an excuse to run away. If you run away from a life that you’re dissatisfied with, that’s clinging to your insistence on your grudges, addictions, hopes, and dreams. You’ve missed the whole point.
Your epiphany tomorrow morning, in fact what you should be meditating on from now until then, is that every thing is dependent on everything, your sense of self, this and that, is just an illusion of your brain. It doesn’t follow that you run away from your problems right after that epiphany. What follows is you are in 100% acceptance of what Is and understand that everything is in constant change.
There will always be what you now perceive as problems whether you’re later enlightened or not. In an enlightened state, there are no problems – just the Yin and Yangs of One vibrant Universe. The choice is between no suffering and a fully present life … versus moments of fist-pumping bedazzlement clouded by and followed by dissatisfaction.
It’s not your life that’s bad. You make it bad by clinging to something here and way over there and other places all at the same time. Running away is just going from one frying pan into another frying pan. For God’s sake, Prince Siddhartha ran away from his life!
Empty your head of all you know, accept what is right here with you, and merrily walk the path!
Tomorrow morning I will be praying for your Enlightenment, even though it does no good because it’s All up to you. But don’t fret if nothing happens. If you’ve read this much, you have a desire to find the path, and that itself means you are on the path!
Faith and Patience to You!
Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku
Links to the other posts belonging to this set of Bodhi Day 2018 posts:
We arrived at our Bodhi Day place mid-afternoon today. It’s very wintry, cold, and there’s much snow. But sunny weather is forecast for Friday and partly cloudy for Bodhi Day on Saturday. Our place has a wonderfully wide open Eastern view, so if it’s not cloudy, we should have a great view of Venus in the morning.
However, between my foot that started to swell last night for some reason and all the snow, I probably will not be able to hike to my Bodhi spot this year. So, things will not work out as I had planned.
“Planned” is the key word. The Zen master, Mike Tyson once said of plans, “Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.”
With all of the brilliant writers, philosophers, scientists, etc, throughout all of history, I’m hard-pressed to think of a more profound observation or a more poetic phrasing. It’s something I often say to my project manager – no disrespect intended … hahaha!
On the way to the Bodhi Place, we made a couple of stops to perform Bodhi Day services.
One place was the Minidoka Internment camp. I questioned whether to write about this since it could bring up things that should stay in the past – which is a pretty inappropriate thing to do on Bodhi Day. We only stopped by to conduct a service blessing allof the souls who stayed there – not just Buddhists, but all of the prisoners as well as the guards, and those who ordered it. I’m sure it was terrible for everyone.
But Mrs. Hanamoku mentioned that they all moved on with their lives and prospered, proud to have done what it seemed the U.S. Government thought needed to be done at the time and place. Hakuin, the Zen master, would have been very pleased with this testament to “Is that so?”
I’ve written an updated version of Hakuin’s “Is that So?” story for software developers, it’s the second of the Three Zen Stories forming the foundation for the teachings of the Eternal Fishnu. But I love to tell it so I’ll write down a more traditional version here (not link or copy/paste) as a meditation for me:
Once there was a nobleman’s daughter who became pregnant out of marriage to a man in the village. When she told her boyfriend of this, he denied it could be possible and sent her away.
When the woman’s pregnancy became too hard to conceal, to protect her boyfriend, she blamed it on the mysterious monk who lived in the mountains, Hakuin (pronounced ha-koo-een).
Once the child was born, the woman and her father hiked into the mountain to force Hakuin to take his responsibility. “This is yours!! You take it!”, her father demanded, handing over the child.
All Hakuin said was , “Is that so?”, and gently took the child.
A few years passed. Hakuin cared very well for the child as well as he would his own. But the child’s real father had a change of heart. He proposed to the woman and they went to get the child from Hakuin.
“Give us that baby! It’s ours!”, they demanded.
All Hakuin said was , “Is that so?”, and gently handed over the child.
Most of you are probably thinking, “WTF!?” What a stupid story! Shouldn’t Hakuin demand compensation for the child’s care? Or maybe he’s grown very attached to the child? Or better yet, shouldn’t he have slammed the door on the woman and her father in the first place?
In the mindset of most of us in the “Western” world, the answer is most likely “yes”. And perhaps that is the right answer. But this isn’t a matter of right or wrong. This is a matter of a very fully-focused life without suffering. A fully-focused life where we’re always present, not detached, from the Universe.
Hakuin is 100% accepting of what is right in front of him – blending with the flow of everything – very much like David in Psalm 23. However, as Judo or Jujitsu is neither a matter of total domination of your opponent nor being completely limp, there is a middle ground.
Total domination doesn’t work. There is always someone better than you. If not directly better (such as better than you at programming C#), maybe pretty good at C#, but also R, Python, and SQL, and will outflank you rather than go head to head at your game.
Being totally limp, giving up completely, doesn’t work either. You’ll never learn anything, never advance. But the “middle-ground” doesn’t mean “kind of aggressive but not too aggressive” – as in Goldilocks’ porridge.
In Buddhism, the “middle ground” is a very different concept from that. Rather, it means to let go of everything you cling to, empty your mind of all you think you know and what you think you want. Be fully, 100% accepting of what is. Embrace it and dance with it.
Remember, all things pass. If you accept what is, even if it seems crappy to your normal mind, in the long run, you won’t know suffering.
Faith and Patience to You!
Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku
Links to the other posts belonging to this set of Bodhi Day 2018 posts: