Space – Bodhi Day 2020

What are leaves without the spaces in between?

Bodhi Season 2020

The Bodhi Season of 2020 starts in a month, December 1, 2020. The Bodhi Season consists of seven days of spiritual contemplation, ending with Bodhi Day, December 8. After seven days of contemplation, on Bodhi Day we may awaken to seeing the true nature of the Universe. Or at least we can set our minds on accepting that maybe there is such a thing as perfect contentment in this Earthly Life.

My past few blogs, starting with Two Months Until Bodhi Day 2020, presents topics for contemplation leading up to Bodhi Season 2020. This blog offers more such contemplation to stew on before the Bodhi Season.

You’re reading this, so you’re still here after all that has happened in 2020. That means you’re primed for a successful Bodhi Day!

Space

Our brains need the space between words, the space between sentences, the space between paragraphs. Our bodies need rest between workouts. And, our minds need space to cogitate and assimilate between lessons.

Some things I write about are blatantly obvious. But these things must be stated periodically because we become mindless to them over the course of our daily lives. For the case of space, its purpose is lost in the constant push to be the value-adding fiends we’re trained to be at work.

During the very early years of my software development career (during the 1980s), I worked on software for managing dental practices. The software I worked on was a scheduler to ensure everyone was busy every minute so more patients could be squeezed in. There was no waiting around while someone else took the patient’s vitals, anesthesia to take hold, or for assistants to wait around for the doctor humanely chit-chat with the nervous patient.

The end result is a calendar schedule, a mosaic of 10 minutes blocks, color coded for various tasks by assistants and dentists. What did this calendar look like? It looked like Tetris. The goal of that scheduling is the same as Tetris – minimize blank space.

One of the primary directives of my job as a business intelligence architect is to figure out how to outsmart the current processes. How do you make processes, often already good, faster, cheaper, and better? Squeeze out the waste of space through relentless compression.

There’s nothing wrong with that in itself. With our gift of sentience, efficient and diligent work produces value for our fellow creatures. And that work is our individual way of honing our Zen mindfulness.

However, the collateral damage of insatiable zeal for optimization is squeezing out the space our mind needs to assimilate lessons we’ve pick up along the way. Like the waste of nutrients from poorly digested food, we are starved of the wisdom we need to grow.

It’s true that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but that’s with the condition that you’re provided the space to “digest” the lessons presented to you by that “attempted murder”. Without the space to heal and assimilate the lessons, it instead knocks you down a peg until there are no more pegs.

How do we regain the space for our spiritual, emotional, and intellectual processes to flow freely? That’s easy. How else would you make space? Throw out the unnecessary trash without mercy … distorted social media guilty pleasure rubbish, manipulative news propaganda, hate, cringe from your past, addictions, fear of failure. That’s a lot of trash!

But making space is just the start. With the healing power of space your mind can now build power for yourself. You can be more than just an impeccably optimized machine where power is drained as fast as it’s made. With that space, build up your mastery in an awakened manner of open-mindedness, diligence, and patience.

There is no choice but to take the time for your mind and spirit to heal, just as you take the time for a cut on your skin to heal. Your mind often begs you to sit there are veg out. Maybe that “depression” thing is something by Nature’s design and not just some malfunction. At least sometimes?

If I’ve been struggling on some critical problem at work all day long and my brain is shot, I can heroically work through the night attempting to finish it off. Or I could go home to sleep. Much more often than not, by taking the latter choice, overnight my mind somehow coalesces everything. I awaken knowing how to finish it up in half an hour. Not always, but in the long run, I’m way ahead in terms of balancing my productivity and kindness to my human body and mind.

It costs you nothing to step off the merry-go-round for a bit because the price is paid by that trash you just threw out. Start with sitting outside enjoying nothing more than what’s left of the Fall colors. Go for a walk several times a day with nothing but your legs. At least working remotely during this Covid-19 period of time, your co-workers won’t see you leave … ha.

Faith and Patience,

Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku

No More Obstacles – Part 3 of the Bodhi Day 2020 Story

Map Rock is a petroglyph in SW Idaho. Do we really know as much about the past as we think?
Is the past more illuminated than the future?

We’re pained from memories of the past. And those very same memories computes frightening unknown futures. We can intellectually know that the past doesn’t exist anymore, at least for our physical bodies. We can intellectually know that the Universe is so complex, we can’t possibly predict the future.

And so we can intellectually conclude that the answer is to keep our minds in the Present, the only thing that actually exists. But yet we still suffer because we’re addicted to logic even though we’re not capable of always making logical decisions.

A good thing that came out of the Covid-19 pandemic is that we’ve seen that expertise is surprisingly flawed. Even with data-driven A.I. analysis founded upon exabytes of data, it’s highly flawed. And it always will be, even well after we’ve captured yottabytes.

So what good is your knowledge of the past? The Universe is so vast that all our books, all the collective neurons of all people, all the exabytes of data, is an indescribably miniscule part of all information – even if we’re only talking about Earthly concerns. The term, “imperfect information”, is the understatement of all time.

For example, how could we really know anything about a culture from thousands of years ago based on handfuls of artifacts? The petroglyph in the photo above comprises a few bytes of information. We have a hard time putting things in the context of just a few decades ago even with the benefit of billions of newspapers, books, and old films. Yet, many experts will claim to know about the culture from thousands of years ago. Our highly flawed intellect dictates our suffering through fantasies based on the past we don’t know about and futures that are yet to come.

The primary teaching of Siddhartha Gautama is that the cause of our suffering is due to clinging. We cling to fears and beliefs based on pains from the past. Equally, we resist the mishmash of undesirable outcomes our minds hallucinate for ourselves, frantically paddling towards dream worlds we’re striving towards.

He even left a prescription for how to relieve our suffering this through the Eightfold Path. Finding your way to that Eightfold Path is really what Bodhi Day is about.

Wouldn’t it be great to just not suffer? We’d freely take on whatever comes our way without the distractions of suffering. Isn’t that all you’d ever ask? We’re not lazy. We fully realize there is work to do. We know shit happens. We know lives are upturned, then we must pick ourselves up.

If we’re successful in detaching beliefs we’ve formulated from the past and fears of the future, our full focus is in the present and we are freed from suffering. With that, there are no more obstacles in your mind. Your mind is no longer a wobbly wheel resulting from a bumpy ride even on a perfectly smooth road. That is pretty much what dukkha means.

So with “no more obstacles”, we can sail to the other shore, as it says in the Heart Sutra:

“Bodhisattvas who practice the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore see no more obstacles in their mind, and because there are no more obstacles in their mind, they can overcome all fear, destroy all wrong perceptions and realize Perfect Nirvana.

This state of full presence may seem wrong and indulgent since many have come to associate “mindfulness” to the act of sitting meditation (Om, Om) or being “in the zone” at work. We can’t spend all our time sitting in meditation nor does it sound pleasant to constantly be in the zone. For me, I love being in the zone coding, but I certainly can’t do it 24 hours a day.

Being in the present means to be mindful of whatever it is you’re doing, wherever, however. When it’s time to rest, it’s time to rest. Our bodies need to rest. From my strength-training, I well realize we can’t exercise in the gym 24 hours per day. We know that rest is equally important as exercise.

For Zen practitioners, being in the Present was traditionally practiced through a skill such as the tea ceremony, archery, martial arts, or flower arrangement. Practicing those skills is about the relief from suffering first by being in the Present. Improvement in performance of the skill is a byproduct. To draw from the strength-training analogy again, it isn’t about bench presses and deadlifts. It’s about physical strength.

I recall the ceremonies at the beginning and end of judo classes of my childhood. I thought they wasted time but learned that they signal the time for judo and time for something else. I later learned the wisdom of the sensei scolding me, “Judo is here! Everything else is out there!”

Yes, some anticipated events will be uncomfortable. We are in a human body. But it will pass and the dukkha doesn’t need to bleed outside of its timeframe. For example, there is a time for root canals. My root canal was uncomfortable. But I felt no pain from it before it started. And, at least in my case, the bulk of the pain ended as soon as the drill lifted out of my mouth for the last time.

This post is Part 3 of 3 of my guidance for what to meditate upon as we approach Bodhi Day 2020, on December 8, 2020. The series includes:

  1. Two Months Until Bodhi Day 2020, which shows that the Universe is One Big Process.
  2. The Universe Between #000000 and #FFFFFF examines how extremes are really two sides of the same coin.
  3. No more Obstacles

From those three parts, I’ve cobbled something I recite for my daily service before reciting Thich Nhat Hanh’s English translation of the Heart Sutra (much borrowed from Alan Watts):

  • Everything is a process. Things seem real because it changes slower than the process of our minds
  • Black implies White. Life implies Death. Self implies Other. Fear implies Courage.
  • What is explicitly Two is at the same time implicitly One.
  • The obstacles of our mind are merely distractions from the past and the future.

I like to think that these are the “insights that brings us to the other shore” that Avalokiteshvara was practicing deeply at the beginning of the Heart Sutra. What awaits on the other shore is the enlightenment to the meaning of emptiness, the reality of the Universe.

Faith and Patience,

Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku

The Universe Between #000000 and #FFFFFF

We talk about the shades of gray between black and white. But there is an entire universe of colors in between. 1

We tend to favor choices between pairs of extremes. Why? Because with so many issues concurrently facing us in our complex lives we don’t give ourselves time to ponder. We need a McGoogle answer now! When the turbulence of our life on Earth is beyond the capacity of our brains to process, binary choices provide us a way to make quicker, “cleaner” decisions.

As Ringo once said, “Simpull choices keeps thungs simplah.”

True or False pairs of extremes are everywhere from stay or go, fight or flight, good or bad, existence and emptiness, buy or pass, theist or atheist, and the trillions of IF-THEN statements embedded in practically all software. These pairs of extremes define each other. One doesn’t make sense without the other. What is courage without fear? There’s nothing courageous about an act with nothing to fear.

To borrow from Alan Watts, “… black implies white, self implies other, life implies death … “. Further, “… what is explicitly two can at the same time be implicitly one.” All of these pairs of extremes are two sides of the same coin. This is a powerful insight which opens the door for the realization that the Universe is One Big Process, not just a big bag of fragments.

Expanding on the latter Alan Watts quote above, “… what is explicitly two can at the same time be implicitly one. If you forget that, very funny things happen.” Those “funny things that happen” are the results of choosing and clinging to one extreme which leads to fighting off the other extreme. It’s easy to take refuge in the simplicity of an extreme, hiding behind the trash that collects in that corner with nowhere else to go.

Instead, we need to know that there is somewhere in the middle to be. If we find ourselves clinging to one side of a coin, it’s not just the other side of the coin we reject – it’s everything else in the middle. Unlike the extremes tucked in a corner where there is little ambiguity, the middle is vast and all about the dreaded “It Depends” answers that your bosses hate so much.

Recognizing and choosing between extremes works well enough most of the time (or we wouldn’t be here). But we must be conscious of the fact that those binary choices are just a convenience for our brains and does not reflect the reality of the Universe. How is that? The reality is that between any two extremes is a Universe of possibilities.

During times of calm when our brains are facing less than what it can handle, we have more time to ponder our decisions. Our brains can afford to see beyond just the choices limited to binary extremes to a spectrum of choices. This is like the Goldilocks story of porridge that’s not too cold, not too hot, but somewhere in the middle.

But is the suitability of porridge defined merely by a scale of heat? If Goldilocks were very hungry, maybe just being edible and not burning her mouth and throat is good enough. But in comfortable times, what about the saltiness, sweetness, sourness, bitterness, and umami-ness?

During times when we are at peace, when we are free from the burdens of the past and future, we don’t forget that many such simple scales in reality combine into a complex myriad of possibilities. When Buddhists speak of a middle way, it’s about more than adjusting a volume knob from 0 to 11. On our music system, there is actually an arrays of knobs, each individually set somewhere between 0 to 11. They combine into what is good for the type of music that is playing and the tastes of the people who are listening.

This post continues my guidance for what to meditate upon as we approach Bodhi Day 2020, on December 8, 2020. The series includes:

For this Part 2, here is my guidance for what to ponder until Bodhi Day:

An array of knobs forms a matrix of possibilities, a “multi-dimensional crystal”, within which are all the combinations between and including the extremes. The Universe is One Big Process. As your body moves about within It, different parts of that “multi-dimensional crystal of possibilities” lights up as points from which your brain can make its choices.

Faith and Patience,

Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku

Notes:

  1. The graphic at the top of this blog illustrates an example of a universe of possibilities that my fellow software developers will appreciate. Consider the hexadecimal numbers #000000 and #FFFFFF, the RGB (Red, Green, Blue) values for black and white, respectively. They are the extremes of a color spectrum. But it doesn’t take a software developer to know that there are more than just shades of gray in between black and white. There are in fact over 16 million colors in between, all combinations of shades of red, green, and blue.
Flattened out RGB cube o' color.
The flattened surface of the RGB cube o’ color. The surface only shows about 393K of the 16,777,216 combinations of Red, Green, Blue. Ol’ Rev Hanamoku wrote a simple C# program to render this.

Two Months Until Bodhi Day 2020

The leaf and the rock change at very different scales of time.

With about two months to go before Bodhi Day 2020, December 8, 2020, I want to share a little hint for you to meditate upon in the meantime.

The Heart Sutra begins:

Avalokiteshvara, while practicing deeply with the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore, suddenly discovered that all of the five Skandhas are equally empty, and with this realization he overcame all Ill-being.

So what is that insight Avalokiteshvara was practicing deeply that lead him to something as grand as overcoming all ill-being? The beginning of that insight is this:

The Universe is One Big Process. Things seem real to us because it changes much slower than the process of our brains.

The process of our brain is much faster than the process of some thing like Mt. Everest eroding away. It’s also much slower than lightning. Think of watching a time-lapsed film of a rose bud in the process of blooming. It’s easy to see from such a sped up film that a bud is a process. Conversely, think of a photograph of lightning. In that photograph, time stands still, so the lightning seems like a solid object.

Every Thing we see, feel, touch, smell, or hear is a just a little process within the One Big Process. That One Big Process is the Universe. No Thing exists. Even if you hurt your fist banging on some thing to demonstrate how real it is, every thing is ever-changing.

My step-father banged his fist on the refrigerator years ago as I attempted to answer his question about Buddhism. “It’s real! How could this be a figment of my mind!” He did, however, accept Heraclitus’ notion that we never step in the same river twice. Yes, the water is different, the fish are elsewhere, a few pebbles have turned. But an ethereal refrigerator is too much to take.

As we gaze at a mountain off in the distance, our bodily senses don’t pick up on the little chemical reactions going on, how the roots of plants slowly pry rocks apart, or wind and water eroding it a rate imperceptible to us. Our senses and brain evolved to notice things at a much different scale of time and space – other animals, places we can hide, things that can make us more comfortable. From the big process that is Life on Earth, our brains picks out parts of that process and assign symbols to it. Those symbols live only in our brains and in the brains of other people we share it with.

Things are data structures in our brain. It’s no different from a row in a customer table in some corporation’s database that represents you … but last updated a year or more ago. Are you still living in the same place? Still working at the same place? Still look the same? Is your household made up of the same people?

For our brain’s sake, it might be more helpful to say, “No Thing is Permanent”. Whether something exists or not is relative to the “processing speed” of the perceiver. If Mt. Everest has a soul, relative to that soul’s “life span”, my life on Earth is less than a flash, far from a solid thing that exists. Remember, to flies, our attempts to swat them with our hands are laughingly slow.

Internalizing that the Universe is one Big Process is just Part 1 of that insight Avalokiteshvara is deeply practicing. Over the coming weeks until Bodhi Day, I will post more parts of the insight to help this to be your Bodhi Day. 2020 is a particularly great year to make Bodhi Day about more than Rice Pudding. For the moment, it’s enough for you to fully appreciate the impermanence of everything and so all things pass.

In Part 2, The Universe Between #000000 and #FFFFFF, we’ll look into things being two sides of the same coin.

Faith and Patience,

Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku