Day 3 – Bodhi Season 2019 – Awakened Speech

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The view is already starting to look much different from the canyon!

Today is Tuesday, December 3, 2019. Welcome to Day 3 of the 2019 Bodhi Season. Today we discuss the 3rd item of the Eightfold Path – Awakened Speech.

Awakened Speech kicks us into 2nd gear on this Bodhi Season 2019 journey through the Eightfold Path. It’s part of a sub-group that includes Awakened Speech, Awakened Action, and Awakened Livelihood (3rd, 4th, and 5th items of the Eightfold Path, respectively). This sub-group of the Eightfold Path begins the exploration of thoughts that originated from inside our heads and now out into the swirls of world.

The items of this sub-group are less “exotic”, easier to swallow, and easier to digest than the two “1st gear” subjects of Awakened View and Awakened Intent.  However, without the prerequisite of seeing through the perspective of Awakened View, Awakened Speech devolves into just another way to say what the proverbial mothers always told us: ” If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” So please visit or re-visit the posts on Awakened View and Awakened Intent before continuing.

Compassion Versus Passivity

A seeming take-away from this post, which may seem odd to many, is that Buddhism can’t be defined simply as selflessness and compassion. For many not familiar with Buddhism, I’d say the most famous Buddhist, even more so than Siddhartha Gautama himself, is His Holiness, the Dalai Lama and his image of pure compassion. And that’s absolutely great. He is pure compassion, and a Buddha.

The problem is, at least in my observation, “compassion” sometimes seems to be confused with “passivity”. Compassion is fully understanding that other creatures share this Earth with us, all creatures must play their parts in the system of Life on Earth, we all learn from each encounter, and to be grateful those others for the lessons. Passivity is to turn the other cheek, which isn’t very rich with opportunity to learn.

Life on Earth emerges from countless, balanced interactions between all creatures, the geologic processes of Earth, the Sun, and even a few meteors shaking things up every now and then. Buddhists don’t think in terms of good and evil, but balancing systems of paradox and fixing the wobbliness of a wobbly Sentience.

So when discussing Awakened Speech, it would be easy to assume this means simply to say only nice things, never lie, never berate. But it’s not quite that simple. Blending into this wondrous system of Life on Earth is definitely about participation.

Decoupled Thought and Expression

The trade-offs for cheap, short-term wins through lying or angry expression (words and body language) aren’t worth the long-term costs. As Ringo says: Don’t engage. Take the small loss over an ugly win … or ugly loss.

We can forever destroy a relationship with others in a second with a single impulsive outburst of poorly chosen words and a poorly chosen delivery. The Gift of Sentience acts as a buffer between thoughts in the privacy of our brains and what we express out into the real world.

For most higher animals, there is a decoupling between our recognition of a situation requiring some sort of action and the action we actually take. We aren’t push-button machines – a button is pushed, information is processed, a decision is reached, and actions are carried out. A concrete analogy is someone commits a crime, a trial is held, a decision and sentence are determined, and the sentence is carried out. We don’t just throw someone in jail without first exploring the case.

Monkeys have less of the ability to ponder possible actions than humans. That’s a really good thing for monkeys since in their world, they often only have an instant to react. In fact, the less of a gap between recognition and action, the better … for them. Monkeys are impulsive, and impulsive decisions add up to a waste of Sentience.

For humans, it seems the evolutionary trade-off of the ability to think through a response before carrying it out versus the ability to react quickly worked out – we are the apex predator. But it wasn’t a complete trade-off. We still have this amygdala thing that still provides some level of knee-jerk reaction. Cougars and bears still live where we hike and aggressive drivers now place the cost of a few seconds over the safety of their fellow travelers.

Nice is Usually Right

In the system of Life on Earth, practically all creatures, plants and animals, are essentially lying and exaggerating to each other through camouflage in the game of the eternal struggle between predator and prey. Animals all hiss, roar, bark and aggressively posture at each other with the sole purpose of intimidating the other. Such expressions from animals such are deep, natural phenomenon that is suggests Awakened Speech is not as simple as following rules to not lie or exaggerate, yell at or threaten, or gossip about others.

From the point of view of one of these creatures caught in that game of Predator and Prey, it’s horrible. But it’s horrible because we happen to be sentient, thus cognizant of being part of that game since we are still animals. But from the point of view of Life on Earth, that game is fundamental to how Life on Earth survived for over three billion years. For all practical purposes, immortal.

Lying

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave … when first we practice to deceive.” – Walter Scott

“Deceive” could involve physical qualities as well as just words. Think of the camouflage of any animal. They are physical lies. Most plants and animals do it, both predator and prey.

Although telling lies about people or berating people is simply not nice, Walter Scott’s quote captures that Awakened Speech (from the Awakened View) is more than just being nice.

One of my favorite books is How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, by Harry Browne. One of the primary lessons in his book mirrors Walter Scott’s quote. Lying is cheap, and it’s always for short-term gain. When we habitually lie, some lies will be exposed and we need to cover those lies with other lies. It may not be a single new lie covering one old lie. It may take multiple new lies to cover one old lie.

You become indentured to the lies. You’ve incurred a growing tax on your activities since you risk being exposed. Eventually, there will be no escape and your credibility is shot. Of course, there is a network of others involved who may have suffered damage through the web of lies.

Exaggeration

Exaggeration is lying, but what’s different is that the goal is simply to be respected – to show off, like peacocks. For example, if you exaggerate about some work experience to get a job, that’s the kind of lying I’m talking about. In that situation, you definitely will step into a web of lies to cover it up or need to churn like hell to meet those expectations. For some, that latter may not be too much of a problem.

If we exaggerate our accomplishments for just increased popularity, that may be relatively harmless. However, wouldn’t it be incredible to actually become what you’re exaggerating about? Even if it’s just half of what you exaggerate about being.

The thing is, you must first free yourself from the tyranny of seeing through the lens of your primate brain and see through Awakened View. Otherwise, any effort towards becoming what you exaggerate about will be met with frustration.

Angry Speech

This is a tough one. Sometimes violently yelling at a bear actually works. Sometimes you are unfairly the scapegoat or punching bag. Some people only respond to a scolding. Sometimes “the airing of grievances” (thanks, Seinfeld) is what’s needed.

However, those statements are through the lens of the primate brain. As the Enlightened Soul in this complex world that you wish to be, de-escalate. You may not be able to actually resolve the problem, but perhaps you can untangle everyone, freeing all of you to go off on your separate ways.

Considering Ringo’s advice earlier (“Don’t engage. Take the small lose over the ugly win.”), the highest level of understanding comes from fully digesting the 2nd Zen Story underlying the Teachings of the Eternal Fishnu, Is That So? This isn’t simply about turning the other cheek.

The story teaches to the seeker of enlightenment that we can fight whatever comes our way depleting energy and suffering through our short time on Earth. Or we can shut up our monkey brain, listen carefully to all that is going on, blend into it, and learn all we can from the unique situation – all the wiser, a further polished mind of the Buddha.

Summary

The first two items of the Eightfold Path, Awakened View and Awakened Intent, takes place in our heads – respectively, how our brains perceive the world around us and that things we cling to are leashes that exist only in our heads. Today’s item, Awakened Speech, gets out of our heads into the world.

We’re taught to turn the other cheek, not say anything if we can’t say something nice, don’t lie, don’t speak harshly. Those are excellent heuristics – general rules to go by as a default without enough information. However, life isn’t as easy as that. Capacities for aggression evolved in us for a reason. We must see clearly from an Awakened View to better know when such hopefully rare expressions are appropriate, and to measure them carefully.

Speech is soft-action. Your intentions are disclosed, nothing physical actually needs to happen. Tomorrow’s item, Awakened Action, is about ensuring your actions, which are physically irreversible, are as free from unforced errors as possible.

Faith and Patience to you!

Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku

Further Reading

Bodhi Season/Day 2019:

Day 2 – Bodhi Season 2019 – Awakened Intent

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We’re really doing this!

Today is Monday, December 2, 2019. Welcome to Day 2 of the 2019 Bodhi Season. Today we discuss the 2nd item of the Eightfold Path – Awakened Intent.

The Intent of No Intent

Awakened Intent means ignoring everything that isn’t right here, right now. Your sentience is undiluted and unencumbered, blending into the Universe without friction. Your sentience will be spared the bumpy ride of an off-kilter machine. Your only intention is to have intention for nothing other than what is in the present.

It starts by giving yourself permission to ignore everything that distracts you from the moment. Everything! It’s tough because there are always issues involving things we care about deeply that interrupts the task at hand.

However, it doesn’t mean you don’t care about those precious things you’re ignoring. It’s just that anything that doesn’t belong in this Now dilutes your effort in the moment. Those things will have its time, and at that time you will dedicate your full attention to it.

The Life on Earth Machine

With Awakened View, the 1st item of the Eightfold Path, we see the Universe as it really is: One, wondrous, complex, dynamic, multi-dimensional, hierarchical mega-system of interactions. This is vastly different from how we normally experience the Universe in our daily lives through the lens of our primate brain as small fragments of space and time.

Each small fragment of space and time are a small chunk of the reality we perceive on the little piece of the surface of this small planet over what is the very short period of our lifetime. Those things within those chunks, seen through the lens of our primate brain, are other things with which we share that fragment of space and time. They too exist in the context of Life on Earth, and they too observe us through a brain geared to their role.

Our primate brain is the controlling component of our human vehicle, our physical bodies. Our human vehicle along with all other creatures comprise the legions of players interacting within the system called “Life on Earth”. In some ways it’s similar to machines (the software and hardware) we’ve built that play our human-invented games such as chess.

So I wonder, if the primate brain is just a machine that plays the game of Life on Earth, could a chess machine, which are better than any human players at this time, someday ponder the Oneness of the Universe as our primate brain can? Probably not.

Life on Earth and chess are two very different games. Chess is a small set of rules and ends when a well-defined condition is met. The nature of chess doesn’t involve a mechanism for its rules to evolve. The nature of chess is stuck firmly into the context of chess, and nothing else.

For Life on Earth, however, its primary quality is self-perpetuation. It’s capable of perpetuating on through relatively infrequent catastrophes (big meteors) and long periods of slow change (tectonic plates and volcanoes). Life on Earth has survived for over three billion years through persistent change because it’s a mechanism that fundamentally adapts to change.

The annoying quality of this self-perpetuation machine, at least for independently thinking humans, is that unlike most machines there is no such thing as direct control over it. We can obliquely affect our surroundings towards short-term effects. But the longer-term effects are impossible to predict and control to a useful degree.

And that is the source of the suffering of our sentient brains. With our sentience and hands we’re able to manifest things we imagine into the physical world. But the Universe keeps on chugging away, dissolving these things we worked so hard to build.

Who is the asshole?

  1. Is it the Universe that rudely dissolves our hard-built things through its relentless change?
  2. Or is it us, the sentient brats suffering because we insist on having things our way.

We can’t control the Universe. It’s especially tough since we ourselves are a part of it. But we can accept for ourselves (the only thing we can change) the impermanence of the Universe as The Given. When we accept impermanence as The Given, clinging to things just doesn’t make sense.

When you become nothing, you become everything …

When we let go of everything, we are open to all there is in the Universe. When we cling on to things, we self-define as those things. Limiting how we define ourselves limits what we can do.

Here’s a contradiction to explore:

  • On one hand, Small is Good – Awakened Intent is about focus on a minuscule dot of a moment, not diffusing your attention over a wide area by distractions of the past and future.
  • On the other hand, Small is Bad – Through the lens of the primate brain we operate under the delusion that the small fragment of space and time it experiences is all there is.

Those two contexts are not contradictory. They are two sides of the same coin. Our sentience emerged from Life on Earth. The quality of Life on Earth as a self-perpetuating machine spawned a brain architecture capable of pondering the Universe. It’s a quality beyond that of less sentient animals. However, since we are still creatures of Life on Earth, animals, we depend on that “street-smart” primate brain to keep us alive.

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A howler monkey I drew for my niece while traveling for business. I told her I have one for a pet, which accompanies me on my travels. I couldn’t think of anything more ludicrous to make her laugh.

You Can Take the Guy Out of the Monkey, but Can’t Take the Monkey Out of the Guy

Our primate brain screams at us about threats to our survival. Survival is really all that matters to it. However, to our primate brain, all the things we actually need to survive – our arms and legs, for example – are tossed into the same bag with the things we think we need – that is, all those things we care about.

It’s obvious that we should fight like a maniac to protect the survival of ourselves and kin from lions, tigers, and bears. But our sentience can become foolishly attached to the very many things we become fond of or become dependent upon over the course of our lives – most of which aren’t directly necessary for our survival. So our primate brain makes a lot of noise about a great number of things we’re about to lose, diffusing our attention away from simply what is here.

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The Rubber Ducky Buddha of Joliet, marveling at the chaos of Life on Earth. Far enough for calm, close enough for engagement.

Making Peace Between the Primate Brain and the Gift of Sentience

In our normal lives, at our corporate jobs, through all those projects you didn’t pick, the deadlines you didn’t set, the people you didn’t pick to work with, etc, remember that your place of work is your dojo. It’s where you train your mindfulness (items 7 and 8 of the Eightfold Path) for those critical moments requiring a masterful mind that’s One with the Universe.

You have three choices:

  1. Suffer through it, leading a senseless life.
  2. Keep running away, punting your life away until there isn’t another punt.
  3. Use it to slowly and steadily hone your mastery so when your moment of fate comes, you’re ready.

Of course, the answer I’m looking for #3. In a complex system such as Life on Earth, you cannot dictate your desires without a whole lot of suffering that goes along with it. Like a samurai, you diligently practice with real life until your moment comes. And it will. The better you become, the more noticeable you will be.

Forget about petty fiefdoms, getting passed over for promotions, random “fire drills” that screw up your plans, credit where it’s not due. If you genuinely live the life of the Awakened, you’re of intense value and free to leave any time. But don’t leave just because it’s tough. Recognize the immense value of a genuinely challenging dojo. As an Awakened soul, you’ll be sensitive enough to know when it’s time for you to leave.

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I couldn’t get more wine until I emptied this cup.

Humility – Power of the Empty Cup

Years ago, someone taught me the phrase, “He knows everything.” It’s not a compliment. It means you’re talking to someone with a brain either tightly-packed and full or closed off to anything, such that none of your words can get in for consideration. I later recognized the subject in a Zen story known as The Empty Cup, which is the first of three Zen stories upon which the teachings of the Eternal Fishnu are based.

The punchline of the Empty Cup is that in order to fill your cup with tea it must first be empty. Listen to what is around you. In Zen, this is known as Keeping the Beginner’s Mind. It’s advised that one should always have a beginner’s mind. That’s such an important concept that if this is all you ever got out of studying Zen, that is in itself very powerful.

Summary

Awakened View and Awakened Intent comprise a subset of the Eightfold Path exploring the duality of the lens of the primate brain and the Universe as it really is. These two are the toughest to swallow and digest. That means you may be only a quarter of the way through the eight items, but you’re most of the way there!

You can be of the greatest service to yourself and others by mastering the ability to be in the present through all sorts of noise. The nosiest times are usually the times most requiring a masterful focus in the present.

Today’s post is really about better listening, honing your sensitivity to what’s around you. Tomorrow’s item, Awakened Speech, is about only things that matter from the confines of your head. Not all that useless, at best low-value, crap your primate brain is howling about.

Faith and Patience to you!

Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku

Related Posts

Posts on clinging:

Posts on empty mind, a beginner’s mind:

Bodhi Season/Day 2019:

Day 1 – Bodhi Season 2019 – Awakened View

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Welcome to Bodhi Season 2019! Fishnu asks: When you see the cliffs behind us, do you see a pretty picture or do you see the hundreds of millions of years of process?

Today is Sunday, December 1, 2019. Welcome to Day 1 of the 2019 Bodhi Season! Bodhi Day is on Sunday, December 8, 2019.

Today we talk about the 1st item of the Eightfold Path, Awakened View. That is, seeing the world as it really is, not as we usually do through the constraints of our primate brain.

If you’re new to this site, please see the links at the bottom of this post to catch up on where we’re at so far for Bodhi Season 2019.

Awakened View

All eight items of the Eightfold Path form an indivisible unit of knowledge that enables us to be free from suffering while living in the context of Life and Earth. This is analogous to all the components of scuba gear as a whole having the function of allowing us to explore the underwater world. Scuba gear doesn’t work at all if any component is missing.

However, we could consider the 1st item, Awakened View, to be the keystone item. Without the ability to see the Universe as it really is, none of the other items will be of help. Awakened View is to a Buddhist as a microscope is to a microbiologist or a telescope to an astronomer. There are certainly more aspects to being an microbiologist than having a microscope, but you’re very screwed without one.

Awakened View is so important that the Heart Sutra is really a deep dive into just this one item. In fact, there are branches of Buddhism that arguably center around the Heart Sutra. The TLDR (too-long, didn’t read) version of the Heart Sutra goes:

  1. Everything is in constant flux, constantly changing. A contemporary of the Buddha, Heraclitus, noted that we never step in the same river twice.
  2. Because everything is constantly changing, everything is impermanent. Things appear permanent and “real” to us because we’re perceiving everything through our brain that sees only a tiny fragment of space and time.
  3. Because everything is in constant change and thus impermanent, we should concentrate our awareness on what is right here, right now. Diffusion of our awareness over a past that is gone and futures that have not come will leave us stuck to the ground.

If that TLDR version spoke to you, you’re more than half way there! Please read the story of my own Heart-Sutra-centric Bodhi Day experience two years ago, The Other Shore.

The Monkey Brain and the Gift of Sentience Combo

Monkey brain with the Gift of Sentience … good golly … sounds like trouble … but that’s us!

The promise of our monkey brain is that if all humans pretty much act within a certain span of characteristics, enough of us will prosper long enough to produce a new generation of us. It’s not hard to abide by those rules since they are pretty much wired into us. But sometime a few million years ago a seed of sentience encoded itself into us. That seed of sentience has since grown into our Gift of Sentience … which really has been a pain in the ass.

Our monkey/primate brain is masterful at living the primate life. The primate brain can be a primate and nothing else. A deer can be just a deer, and an eagle can be just an eagle. The primate brain is a quality we still need since it’s a quality peculiar to Life on Earth – our Earthly “street smarts”. Earth is where our physical bodies live and will die. But that masterful primate brain holds back our Gift of Sentience as our Gift of Sentience reaches out to be more than a primate.

The Gift of Sentience enables within us Original Thought, the ability to shape the world around us and contemplate meanings beyond the confines of a system as it is.  It short-cuts the really slow but elegant mechanism of evolution by magnitudes. However, we are forever responsible for maintaining whatever we humans make with our sentient ingenuity. The constant change of the Universe is relentless, meaning all things are impermanent. Unless we ourselves keep up the maintenance of our inventions ourselves, it will all eventually be plowed right back into the dust from which it came.

Therein lies the problem, the root of our suffering – all our hard work, things we made because we want them, things we care about, dissolves before us as we desperately struggle to preserve it. We think the fruit of our original thoughts to be part of us, and the primate brain’s instinct for survival battles feverishly to save it.

Is it possible to ignore that primate brain so we can see the Universe as it really is? Can we live our lives on Earth, not just through the lens of a creature of Earth, but creatures of the Universe?

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From down here, in the weeds of reality, is where all the human stuff plays out.

In the Weeds of Reality

The Wise Men and the Elephant metaphor has become a fashionable buzz-word thing in corporate culture lately. Usually when a cross-functional team meets and encounters difficulty, someone quips that we’re all blind people feeling different parts of a huge elephant, with no one fully aware of the “elephantness” of what is before us. It’s such a powerful thing to say that from then on you’re deemed the “smartest guy in the room” … ha!

The Wise Men and the Elephant metaphor does indeed capture the essence of Awakened View very well. We live in the Universe, yet our primate brains experience a small plot of land on a small planet over the course of a mere few decades. If I were to use an analogy of Bill Gates giving me a penny out of his vast fortune, that would be a mind-boggling underestimation of how small a piece of the Universe we primates get to know.

However, we need to be cognizant of the fact that the elephant itself is then again simply one stop in a hierarchy of levels of existence. The elephant is just a part of a herd, which is in turn part of an African ecosystem, which in turn is part of Life on Earth. The role at each level is nothing like that of other levels – the role of a herd is nothing like the role of an individual elephant, nor it the role of an ecosystem the same as that of a herd of elephants.

We already understand that well enough. We’ve all played around with Google Maps. Things look very different as we zoom in on someone’s yard and zoom out to a wide area. The problem is that the nature of levels of existence is all too easy to forget as we get to our jobs and focus on our place in the process. It enforces the belief of our existence as a componentized fragment or whatever our ultra-specific corporate job may be.

In the weeds, where our existence is a small fragment of space and time, our minds are encouraged to believe in deterministic processes – machines that work they same way all the time. Our minds witness the machines operating perfectly as expected. But that reliable operation is just an illusion stemming from the luxury of not much happening within a stable little fragment of space and time.

What I mean by “small fragment of space and time” is that we can predict fairly well events within a short time span and in a small area. We can predict what will become of a ball we throw into the ocean over the next few seconds. But it would be much harder to predict what the ball’s fate beyond those few seconds to the next year.

Awakened View is to remember that as we farm our little “plot” of space and time and marvel at its orderliness, if we were to see it from far above, we see how all the other fragments form something that is more than the sum of the fragments. Later, we’ll see that the 7th and 8th item of the Eightfold Path, meditation and concentration, are about the practice of being cognizant of that on a daily basis.

Complicated versus Complex

Very often I hear people use the terms complicated and complex almost interchangeably. Or I hear people think of complex as even messier than merely complicated. The difference between complicated and complex is a critical distinction that is reminiscent of the difference between the world as seen through our primate brain and the world as seen through Awakened View.

A computer, with all its billions of parts, both microscopic (billions of transistors) and macroscopic (fan, jacks, screws), is complicated. The Space Shuttle is complicated. On the other hand, human society, comprised of lots of independently thinking people is chaotic.

In a complicated system, it’s possible to note the state of the machine at some time and predict its state any amount of time in the future with almost perfect precision. We’re attracted to processes because we understand them. We can control them.

We could look at Normal View versus Awakened View as the difference between the science upon which most of our deterministic machines are built (ex. cars and manufacturing plants) versus Chaos Theory.

Chaos Theory is a very big subject and well beyond the scope of this blog. However, for our purposes, we can say that when there are a number (not much more than a few) of seemingly independently moving things, it’s virtually impossible to predict what will happen a short time in the future.

Life on Earth is a Complex Adaptive System, one where mechanisms that adjust to streams of small changes over long periods of time are woven into the process. No controlling hands are required. The trade-off for such a self-maintaining system is the 100% acceptance of constant change and impermanence for control of the outcome.

A good question is: Is there such a place that is not made up of seemingly independent things?

The reality is that everything is dependent upon everything else to some degree, no matter how minuscule. We forget this because we live in a delusion that Life on Earth is just a very complicated machine. It only seems that way because in a small area of time and space, there are far fewer things that can go wrong.

To live in Awakened View, we need to redefine “complicated”. Rather than a complicated machine referring to a collection of dependent parts with predictable behaviors, let’s instead say “a machine predictable enough for practical purposes within a limited scope of space and time”.

Summary

Here’s an exercise to keep your Awakened View turned on. Look at something, anything. Then:

  • Think of what it does. How is it a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts?
  • What will become of it a thousand years from now. A million years from now? A billion? How permanent is the most permanent thing you can find?
  • Is it really just a thing? Is it really as static as it appears? How is what you’re seeing a snapshot of a dynamic process and not just a snapshot?
  • Are you really seeing that thing? It’s just a bunch of photons picked up by your eyes. All the things you notice, the color, shapes, edges, patterns – it’s just stuff your brain picked out without actually touching it.

Faith and Patience to you!!

Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku

Related Links

Here’s are my old posts on fishnu.org that I wrote on seeing:

Bodhi Season/Day 2019:

Pre-Bodhi Season 2019 – The Eightfold Path

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A deer is still One with the Universe. Neither passive nor aggressive. On the other hand, we crazy, symbolic-thinking humans … well, “tangled web” is putting it mildly.

Bodhi Season begins in four days, December 1, 2019! For the days from December 1 through Bodhi Day on December 8, I will post guidance for you towards your great awakening.

For this Bodhi Season, the theme is the Noble Eightfold Path. It is arguably the fundamental principle of Buddhism. In fact, it’s a big part of the great “Aha!” of Siddhartha Gautama’s awakening from the slumber of his mind on Bodhi Day.

Contrary to the word “path” in “Eightfold Path”, it isn’t itself a path. It’s really a checklist of skills you’ll need for the world of the awakened. It’s no different from the basic reading, writing, math, civil, social, etc skills you need to make your way through normal life.

Without the skills of the Eightfold path, you probably won’t even see the door. Even if or when you get to it, you’ll look inside, feel the warmth for a minute, and the door will fade away, leaving you back in the normal world. Without the proper preparation, you’d wither like a coconut trying to sprout and survive in Minnesota – it can sprout in the Spring, but will quickly die win Winter.

So what is on the other side of that door for which these Eightfold Path skills are needed? Well, it’s the same old place everyone else has been, enlightened or not. That is simply to explore this same old Universe all we can for the short time we’re here – but with “different eyes”. Those eyes are opened when you lose your suffering, and you will see the wonders of this Universe and Life on Earth as a wondrous thing.

The Buddha only promises to relieve our suffering so we can be free to learn. Freed from suffering, go into the world and live fully!

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Enso medallions. Custom made for us by our friend, Bonnie Liles.

The Eightfold Path

First, let’s take one step back from the EightFold Path to its source, the Four Noble Four Truths, which is the great “AHA!” of Siddhartha Gautama I mentioned earlier. The Eightfold Path is the fourth of those four truths. I’ve written about the Four Noble Truths which lays out the argument that:

  1. We are in turmoil.
  2. We’re in turmoil because we cling to things as the world relentlessly changes.
  3. If we were to release all clinging, we will be at ease in the World.
  4. To learn how to release all clinging, live according to the Eightfold Path.

This “turmoil” is called Dukkha. It’s usually translated as “suffering”, but I like “turmoil” a little better – it’s not perfect, but better. The original meaning of dukkha was a cart wheel with an off-center axle, resulting in a bumpy, uncomfortable ride. We could fix the situation by either fixing the wheel or build complicated mechanisms accommodating the off-center wheel.

I’ve written very much on Dukkha, particularly What is Dukkha? and a four-part series tying Dukkha to the so-called “Seven Deadly Sins”.

Of course, the easier solution by far would be to fix the off-center wheel, as opposed to trying to fit everything else in the world to better handle this off-center wheel. This is analogous to each of us relieving our own suffering first instead of trying to relieve the suffering of others while we still suffer ourselves. Yet, we often think of working on ourselves as selfish.

But not everyone is after the same thing. Therefore, not everything that worked for some will work for other. What works towards happiness? Different things work for different people. For some, it’s raising a family. For others it’s leaving some sort of legacy or maybe it’s to be left alone.

The genius of Buddhism is that by nature it recognizes that the Universe is a complex system. There is not a single path to a particular place. There is always more than one answer to the same question at a different place and time. The Universe is One and all things are connected. As Ringo said, “Pick any path and you’ll eventually get there.”

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My hidden-in-plain-site butsudan at work. The blue glass fishing net ball floating on water represents the Eternal Fishnu. The emptiness of the glass ball, the empty mind. It sits on a wonderful piece of woodwork that was a special gift.

Buddha in a Corporate World

This year, I’m addressing the problem of your hard-won enlightenment vaporizing soon after you get back to the daily grind. During the Holiday Season, we feel merrier, generous of thought and material goods, even resolved to tackle great accomplishments that have so far alluded us. It’s much easier to experience enlightenment within the slowed down, warm blanket of the Holiday Season. But such spirit and resolutions begins dissolving as soon as the fireworks end on New Years Day.

Enlightened souls are like the proverbial snowballs in Hell. Hanging on to glimmers of Enlightenment while succeeding in today’s corporate culture is extremely difficult … but not impossible.

I work in a corporate environment. There, I don’t choose my projects, the role I play, timelines, or people I work with. Everything I do and don’t do is tracked in whatever project management tool – it is indeed Big Brother. Because in the corporate world we make few of our choices, for anyone at any given time, some things aren’t as you would have chosen for yourself.

It’s Not Them, It’s You

Why don’t I get another job if it’s so unpleasant? The answer to that question is actually at the heart of all I’m about to post over the coming week.

Firstly, it’s not that unpleasant. Secondly, there aren’t really many options that will make much of a difference. Everywhere in the Land of Corporations is for the most part the same. The ecology of corporations is pretty much a monoculture of best practices, spread throughout the population of corporations like biological viruses.

Positions at different companies may be a little better or worse for different people at different places and times. Jobs are like people in that we’re all fundamentally the same with what are rather minor, superficial differences. The best one can do is find a package of those minor trade-offs that best suit your needs.

So leaving one job for another in the hopes that it’s better, or leaving a family to start a new one simply punts the underlying problem, only to face again very soon. That underlying problem is the same suffering Siddhartha couldn’t escape hopping from one spiritual master to another, at different times rich, poor, emaciated – but always unsatisfied.

That is, until he faced it all, awakening on Bodhi Day. Bodhi Season is to stand your ground, where you are, with what you have. There’s no escape!

So having a corporate job is great not just for earning a living, but to expose your dukkha and learn to fix them. How could one learn to swim without swimming, cook without cooking, or program without programming? If I didn’t actually work in a corporate environment right now, as I write this, my words shouldn’t carry much weight. I would question the advice of a monk in the mountains counseling me on working in this screw-tightening world of “agile project management”. Like all of you reading this, I’m one of you – a guy making a living in this world – learning to blend back into all the chaos offering the benefits of my gift of sentience.

I admit that I contribute to this dukkha resulting from screw-tightening. As a Business Intelligence consultant, my job is about somehow organizing information towards the goal of improved output – whatever “output” may be. However, if I think of my job from the “50,000 foot” level of the corporation as the entity, I remove the wobbly wheels of the corporation – the dukkha of an organism that happens to be a corporation.

You, Wake Up!

Some of my colleagues have pretty much put themselves to sleep, going with the flow, collecting their paycheck. As much as the phrase, “going with the flow”, is associated with Buddhism, that’s not the idea. Leaves that are asleep go with the flow of the river. Leaves that are alive leaves buzz with energy.

Some colleagues somehow prosper in one way or another in the corporate environment. Some enjoy the chaos, the challenge. Some are masters at flying under the radar like Milton from Office Space. For some fortunate folks, corporate life happens to fit right in line with their needs and desires. Good for you!

Some colleagues have become smoldering volcanoes. Their careers are an endless string of two-week sprints. They endure a life of looking to Friday afternoon for relief and very soon dreading Monday, even though weekends aren’t safe from crunch times anymore. Everything they say is snide, sullen; everything they do is the least needed to not get fired.

It’s this last group that I’m talking to, you smoldering volcanoes. And there are a lot of you. The good news is that all those stewing frustrations means you are still alive, still looking for the Path.

Guess what?! You’re at the gate!

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This is the End of the Trail for the fearful you. The Entire Universe awaits you on the other side. Kind of looks the same on that side. Let’s be brave and go to where we were always told we couldn’t go.

End of the Trail – For the Fearful You

Fear is just a reminder of something that didn’t turn out well from the past that looks like something we’re facing right now, or may face in the future. However, fear is actually our friend. It so helpfully reminded us over hundreds of millions of years that something smells poisonous, something can easily cut us, some creature is looking at us as a tasty meal or a threat to them.

Fear warns us that we’re at risk of losing something. But before agriculture, money and property, the only thing we really could lose was our lives.

Our monkey brain knows how to keep our physical bodies out of danger from other creatures that are part of Life on Earth. In today’s world, that function is just one vital function among many other vital functions. Now our monkey brain are overloaded with so many other things we’re at risk of losing: our jobs, our material property, our intellectual property, our hopes and dreams, our freedoms – and worst of all, things someone else told us we need.

All such things are things we cling to. They shackle us. There are so many of them that they present us with mind-boggling tar pits of dilemmas for which there aren’t good solutions.

These things we cling to only matter in the past and future. Our clinging doesn’t matter in the present. All that matters is what is right here, right now.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the United States. Immerse yourself in the moment of reprieve from the daily grind – with all your loved ones, all the wonderful food. Then return to the daily grind the next day, with the spirit of a warrior – focused in the moment, which is all there really is.

See you back at this site on December 1 for the first item of the Eightfold Path – Awakened View.

Faith and Patience to you,

Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku

 

Bodhi Season/Day 2019:

One Week Until Bodhi Season 2019

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The canyon, our home, where we make a living.

Bodhi Season 2019, December 1 through December 8, is only a week away. So it’s time to start contemplating our week-long hike to the Grand View of the Universe to see it as it really is. On Bodhi Day, December 8, we will awaken from all that we were always told to be the truth to find it’s just the naive conclusions of the imperfect information of our brains. And we’re all enablers of each other, validating the same delusions.

The Truth is that our brains can’t begin to compute all that the Universe is, across all dimensions. And Life on Earth where we find ourselves is a pretty remarkable thing. She is marvelous and can take care of Herself – she has for billions of years.

To Life on Earth, each creature is special – just not in the way we normally think – not in the same way that we’re special to our parents or our spouse and children are special to us. To Life on Earth each creature is special in that we all play an intricate part in a huge, adaptable, cascading web of cause and effect. Emerging from the kaleidoscope is a three-billion year old macro life bigger on many dimensions than each individual tree, fish, dog, or human.

We think we’re all-knowing sentient individuals, but that’s only because we only sense a small fraction of what is going on at any instant. From this limited sensory, we aren’t normally conscious of the air and food we take in, all the neat stuff that happens to it, how it leaves us. It’s not aware of the unseen kingdoms of the trillions of bacteria working hand in hand with our trillions of cells. And that the only cells of our bodies that we normally see with our eyes are really among the least interesting.

Consequently, when we think only with our brains, a “device” optimized for simply surviving long enough to reproduce, our understanding of reality is pitifully flawed.

Bodhi Day is about the Awakening of Souls from the zero-sum limitations of our human brains. An automobile to a monkey is just a place of shelter.

Our Home, The Canyon

It’s from the low, fragmented perspective of our daily lives that life can seem a constant pain in the ass, mundane, sometimes terrible. It’s hard to see the unimaginable wonders of the Universe while we toil daily on the canyon floors of our individual minds.

On the canyon floor, there is a lot to learn! That’s why we’re there. But that’s not all there is, and most of us only know life based solely on the knowledge of the canyon floor.

On the canyon floor, we can’t see more than around the next turn. We look above for answers. Answers come, but our minds can’t receive them.

On the canyon floor, we’re frustrated because things don’t make sense, but we feel the security of the solid ground and procrastinate about venturing on up.

On the canyon floor we wonder. We have questions we never would ask had we not been there. But from down there, the answers are nearly impossible to fathom.

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Just a small part of the strenuous hike to Observation Point. The Bodhi Season too is a strenuous but beautiful hike.

The Hike, Our Pilgrimage to a High Perspective

The eight days of Bodhi Season are about a strenuous yet gentle hike from the canyon floor of our daily lives to the high perspective where we will see how the pieces fit together.

Had we not started on the canyon floor, but were born directly to the high perspective, we would have answers to no questions.

Keep in mind that along the hike, there are different questions and answers at every step of the way.

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Observation Point at Zion National Park. What’s interesting is that it seems like you’re on top of the world. But really, you’re at ground level.

As I have done over the past couple of Bodhi Days, I will post a message on each day of Bodhi Season, from December 1 through Bodhi Day on December 8.

I’m talking a lot about paths in this post. That’s because the theme this year will be the Noble Eightfold Path, one for each day of Bodhi Season, as only the Eternal Fishnu can convey.

In the meantime, before we get onto the Eightfold Path next week, the Eternal Fishnu offers three zen stories which are the foundation of his teaching.

If you’re new to Bodhi Day, looking through my past two series of Bodhi Season posts will give you a good idea of what Bodhi Day is about.

Here are links to a few of my more popular Bodhi Day references:

One last thing …

Many people are lead to this site searching out for Bodhi Day traditions, including games and activities. There are no group activities like secret Santa or Christmas caroling.

Unlike most holidays, especially those around the December timeframe involving lots of socializing, Bodhi Day itself is a personal experience. The seven days leading up to Bodhi Day will probably be filled with interactions as the holidays are celebrated and people rush to close out the year.

Bodhi Day is about the training of your mind – training your mind to flow with the dynamics of the world. As opposed to clunking along on wheels out of alignment – sort of the original meaning of dukkha.

Should a drop in cabin pressure occur, put your own mask on first.” – Millions of flight attendants.

Isn’t the Holiday Season a time to be with friends and family? Yes, but there is a lot of time for that with Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, and other traditions such as Hanukkah.

And those seven days of meditation for most of us are not going to be spent at a quiet monastery or National Park. You should really dig into your normal life for those seven days leading to Bodhi Day. Because enlightened or not on Bodhi Day, December 8, your daily life will be there just as you left it when you return to work on December 9.

Nothing has changed on the outside, but everything has changed on the inside.

Does this sound selfish? Is it selfish to work on your own awakening? It is selfish if your heart is not pure. By a pure heart, I mean that your desire is to train your mind – relieve your suffering – so you’re able to be of more value to others. The more efficient you are with the use of your energy, the clearer your mind, the more value you can provide for others.

Your mind and the Universe will know if your heart is pure. You can’t fool yourself into having an ulterior purpose of using enlightenment for personal gain. As with all creatures, Enlightenment will only grow in the appropriate environment.

In fact, that proper environment is really the theme for this year’s series of Bodhi Day posts starting on December 1.

As with physical exercise, only you can train your Buddha mind. No one can do it for you. On the flip side, you can’t change the minds of other to relieve their suffering. If you’re reading this, it’s because you brought yourself here. Something about awakening, Bodhi, is of interest to you. You are ready. You’re ready to take the time you need on yourself now and forever, to be of greater value to others.

A Wonderful Thanksgiving this week to you all!

Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku

Mrs. Hanamoku’s New Buddharupa of the Eternal Fishnu

It’s just about three weeks until December 8, Bodhi Day! However, it’s only a couple of weeks until December 1st when Bodhi Season begins. Fortunately, at least for those in the U.S., Thanksgiving is just a couple of days before, so we can get the feasting out of our systems for the eight days of austerity and meditation.

On Wednesday, Mrs. Hanamoku and members of her watercolor society visited the glass artist, Zion Warne. He let them actually make their own works of art.  For Mrs. Hanamoku’s first attempt with glass, she made a globe of The Eternal Fishnu.

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The Eternal Fishnu loved it so much that he ordained it as a Buddharupa of himself. That is, the globe is imbibed with His soul in full. I’m excited to have attended the consecration of the glass globe Buddharupa by the Eternal Fishnu.

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The Eternal Fishnu and the Rubber Ducky Buddha of Joliet presiding over the consecration of the glass globe Mrs. Hanamoku made. It is now imbibed with the Soul of the Eternal Fishnu. It too is now the Eternal Fishnu, the Buddha of the Devonian.

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Oh, That Was You!?

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The Eternal Fishnu introduced Mrs. Hanamoku and I to these friends of his. We didn’t understand their place in the history of science at the time of this meeting.

Many of us in the Pacific Northwest are familiar with the term “apex predator” from the relatively recent re-introduction of wolves into our forests. Apex predators are relatively small in number in comparison to the population of its prey, but its presence or lack of presence results in a disproportionate effect on the environment. That is, not just obviously on the population of its prey, but cascading effects that are often surprising.

The intent of the wolves’ re-introduction is beyond just merely the romantic notion of wolves once again roaming through the birch trees and howling in the distance. More so, the hope is to reinstate the natural regulation of the forest ecosystem that has gone somewhat out of whack due to cascading effects of the populations of the wolves’ prey going unchecked in a natural manner.

Anyway, the insight of the disproportionate and often surprising effect of apex predators is credited to the pioneering work of Robert Paine. He was a zoologist with the University of Washington who had this flash of inspiration for an experiment on biodiversity. The removal of a particular species can result in dramatic effects, whereas the removal of another particular species has little or no effect. He coined the term, keystone species, to describe the former.

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Pisaster. The keystone species of the U.S. Pacific Northwest tide pools.

That insight came to him during a little experiment he conducted off the Olympic Peninsula back in the 1960s. The tidal pools he visited were diverse in species. For some reason he wondered what would happen if he removed one of the species. I’m not sure if he started with starfish, but that’s the species he wrote about. It was probably the only species he could easily remove due to the relatively large size, easily seen bright colors, and relatively few number of them.

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A tide pool rock of impressive biological diversity – including the Rubber Ducky Buddha of Joliet.

Believe it or not, that starfish (pisaster) posing with the Eternal Fishnu is an apex predator. Well, at least an apex predator of the tide pools around the Oregon Coast where these photos were taken – the prey being mussels. These starfish played a starring role (pun intended) in Robert Paine’s insights of the disproportionate effect the apex predator. He coined such a species, keystone speciesAnd the sometimes surprising cascading effects resulting from the removal is referred to as trophic cascades.

A great example of trophic cascades are related to subsequent work he did with James Estes. A suprising trophic cascade starts with sea otters and ends with increased erosion of the U.S. West Coast:

Sea otters eat urchins which dine on the kelp of the kelp forests which act as a break of storm waves which mitigates erosion of the beach. In other words, the eradication of sea otters due to hunting means the urchins run wild, decimating the kelp forests, which leave the shore unprotected.

In the case of Robert Paine’s seminal experiment, he hunted down and flung all the starfish around his experimental tide pool into the sea. Unchecked by the apex predator, the experimental tide pool was bullied into a monoculture of mussels.

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Filter-feeding mollusks somewhere in the middle of the food chain.

This wonderful short video, Some Animals are More Equal than Others: Keystone Species and Trophic Cascades, covers the groundbreaking work of Robert Paine and James Estes during the 1960s and 1970s.

Another video from The Royal Institution offers a very nice case study of tropic cascades, The Rules that Govern Life on Earth – with Sean B. Carroll.

Why did I stumble across this fascinating work of Robert Paine and James Estes? As with many things YouTube, one thing lead to another then another. But mostly, I was looking for inspiration, ideas, and paths towards how to author business models. As I’ve mentioned many times, I am a Business Intelligence Architect/Developer by day.

The set of correlations and transformations that make up trophic cascades are indeed the genes of a business model. Such mapped processes are what I’ve been working on with Map Rock for over a decade. An obvious business example is something like better quality leads to higher customer satisfaction, leading to return customers, leading to lower customer acquisition requirements, leading to higher profit. But for some reason, after all I’d studied, I didn’t know the term, trophic cascades.

A Buddhist thought before we leave. We must remember that Nature is resilient and that there isn’t only one “correct” way for things to be. For over three billion years Life on Earth has been periodically severely wounded. But she regenerates and comes back to full life.

Perhaps an additional disaster or a certain disaster a few years before or after, or more or less severe, more North or South, would have resulted in no humans at this time or even no multi-celled creatures. But from afar, seen as an entity in itself, She’ll still look more or less the same. Only from “within the weeds”, where our human minds are trained to exist, would things appear to be different.

Well, Mr. Pisaster, it was an honor to have met you!

 

Bodhi Day 2019

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The Eternal Fishnu and the Rubber Ducky Buddha of Joliet enjoying a crisp Fall afternoon on a Cinderella pumpkin. Notice the Mahayana colors of maroon-ish purple and saffron.

Bodhi Day for 2019 falls on a Sunday – December 8, 2019. That’s good because I don’t need to burn any vacation days.

At the time of this writing, October 11, 2019, that’s less than two months away!

The Bodhi Season begins on December 1, 2019. Siddhartha Guatama meditated for seven days under the Bodhi Tree before his full awakening on the morning of the eight day.

As I’ve done for the past two Bodhi Seasons, I will post a daily message from December 1 through December 8 to guide you along the Bodhi Season. These links point to those past series of messages, which should give you a good idea of what Bodhi Day is about and how to celebrate it:

Be sure to check out the links at the bottom of those two pages. That leads to the eight daily messages.

Here are links to a couple of the more popular Bodhi Day references:

As for watching Venus rise in the morning sky … not this year. Venus will rise on Bodhi Day at about 9am. That’s too late to be visible, and it seems to be about that time anywhere in the world on December 8, 2019. Instead, it looks like Mercury and Mars will be visible in the pre-dawn hours of meditation.

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Rise times for December 8, 2019 around the U.S. West Coast. This is from the site, timeanddate.com.

We still haven’t made our Bodhi Day arrangements. I happen to be very short of vacation days due to our visit with my step father and the 40th Anniversary of my first programming job.

We’ll probably just do a weekend getaway around the Minidoka area – such as Sun Valley. Last Bodhi Day, the Eternal Fishnu, Rubber Ducky Buddha of Joliet, and I performed a Buddhist service at Minidoka on our way to City of Rocks. We thought it would be nice to do that every year.

Sun Valley is also close to Craters of the Moon. We probably can’t get into the park during those hours, but there are many places near the park that would provide a great view of the early morning sky, solitude, and no hunters or ranchers angry about “hippy” trespassers.

I apologize for this clip show blog. It’s a good way to fill in the simple reminder of Bodhi Day 2019 with lots of information from one place.

Please keep in mind that this post is based on the standardized Bodhi Day date of December 8. There is the lunar Bodhi Day, which is a bit of an it depends answer. So that you don’t need to read the post on the lunar Bodhi Day, I’ll say that for 2019, it is on January 2, 2020.

Very Merry Holidays to Everyone!!

Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku

Survival of the Versatile

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“Versatile cousins of the sunflower family made a long journey to Hawaii millions of years ago. It’s adaptivity gave it a destiny.” – The Eternal Fishnu

I always thought that the majestic silverswords endemic to Haleakala were related to yuccas or some sort of agave. The photo below is a blooming silversword I took on a trip to Maui back on 2003. Doesn’t it look like a yucca or agave? Especially with that towering stalk of flowers reminiscent of “century plants”. What else could it be?

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So a couple of years ago while hiking in Utah, I photographed this blooming yucca below.

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A yucca I photographed along a great hike in Southern Utah.

I planned to make a farcical Facebook post featuring the above photo going something like this:

Voice: Brah! You from Hawaii!

Me: (Look to my left and see this yucca talking to me.) Yeah, Brah! Wahiawa, my maddah’s side, Kaneohe, on my faddah’s side. What island you from?

Yucca: I not from deah, baht I get cuzins dat leeve on Haleakala! Nevah seen dem fo mee-lee-enz years!

But before I hit Post, I wondered if my assumption about silverswords being a yucca was correct. I’m not sure why I wondered about it. To me it was so obviously related to yuccas that I hadn’t ever before thought to question it.

Silversword Alliance

It took a bit of trial and error to stumble across the key words: silversword alliance. Most of what I learned about the history of the silver swords are from a few Web pages:

To summarize, the majestic silversword appears to be a descendant of a very humble little plant off the West coast of the U.S. colloquially called a “tar weed”.  These tar weeds are in the asteraceae family, along with sunflowers and daises. I’ve read estimates of the first asteraceae immigrant landing in Hawaii as between ten million and one million years ago.

But there’s more to the interesting notion of a humble desert plant making a very long journey over an ocean to end up a grand tourist attraction. The silver sword is only one of about thirty descendants of this tar weed immigrant to Hawaii. That is, about thirty very different-looking plants from Kauai all the way to the Big Island. It’s only through recent DNA technology that this has come to be known.

It’s something that the references listed above call adaptive radiation. A single species can relatively quickly evolve to a diverse set of species occupying unique niches. I’m not sure what Hawaii was like a few million years ago, but today climates in the Islands range from tropical beaches, to rain forests, to deserts, to snow-capped mountains, to the high desert climate of Haleakala. That’s a lot of niches to fill.

Coincidentally, on our Oregon Coast trip a few weeks back, we stopped at the John Day Fossil Beds in central Oregon. If you visit the Visitor Center, you’ll see an exhibit on adaptive radiation related to horses. Unless you’re a paleontologist or something, how many times in one day will you think of adaptive radiation?

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A panel from the John Day Fossil Beds on the Adaptive Radiation of horses.

The fact that many very similar flowers are so profuse in the Southwest Deserts of the U.S. lends to the versatility of this plant. If any plant can be the founder of the species of the Silversword Alliance, it would be the tar weed. All the way from John Day Fossil Beds to the Pacific Shore at Lincoln City, we found many sorts of asteraceae, happy as can be.

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The Rubber Ducky Buddha of Joliet with one of the many members of the vast sunflower family (Asteraceae) near the John Day Fossil Beds in Oregon.

I’m not positive if the yellow flower from Southern Utah I photographed below is a “tar weed”. It has the sticky stuff on the green parts, the sunflower-like blossoms, petals that split at the end. Throughout my vacationing around the U.S. Southwest, I’ve noticed dozens of varieties of these plants. I’m at least fairly sure it’s at least related to what I see as “tar weeds” by Googling: tar weed california

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Whichever tar weed is the founding ancestor of the Silversword Alliance, and that species is probably long gone, it was hardy enough to somehow make a 2000 mile journey and adapt in multiple ways to a place of  highly varied in climates.

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Upon a closer look at the flowers of the silversword, they really do look like miniature sunflowers.

Humble

Due to over-grazing by introduced goats, deer, and cattle last century, the silverswords of Haleakala are critically endangered. There is an irony in that this descendant of such a humble but tough “weed”  as the tarweed is now one of the most coddled organisms on Earth, protected by the Endangered Species Act.

It took a tough, versatile organism to make the 2000+ mile trip over a huge ocean to fill not one, but multiple niches via adaptive radiation. What does this say about keeping an empty mind ready to be re-filled? Why is an empty mind, free from clinging to all preconceived notions, the key to no suffering? Because there is only constant change – as the saying goes, All things will pass.

There is no universal template for human, or deer, or even suffering. There are only momentary aggregates of energy. The tarweed seed is such a seed that is 100% accepting  of change. So there it is today in the Hawaiian Islands, in many forms of this humble plant, unrecognizable from the fixed, brittle notion of just a tarweed.

 

2 Corinthians 4:17-18

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“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

Mrs. Hanamoku and I are half-way through a two-day road trip from our home to Lincoln City on the Oregon Coast. We’re meeting up with my step-father, mother, and a few of my step-father’s friends. We’re spending three days with them there, followed by the two-day trip back home.

My step-father has advanced cancer and his prognosis is bad. But it seems to be under control for the moment. So he’s taking a break from chemo to spend some quality time with his family and friends who are in the Pacific Northwest.

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To the Eternal Fishnu, the tens of millions of years of processes that yielded these wonderful patterns is no time at all. These formations are practically brand new compared to his Devonian period. How distorted is the reality painted by our little human brains confined to a little spot of space and time.

Yesterday we stopped at the John Day Fossil Beds for a little bit of hiking. Places such as these where minimal vegetation exposes patterns and shapes forged over a very long time over huge areas paints vivid reminders that our Earthly brain of two to three pounds probably doesn’t know much.

The scale of reality is so immense we can’t begin to imagine it. Even many of my highly skilled software developer colleagues forget that systems are very different when we’re talking about handling a few thousand elements of data versus even a few billion, much less trillions. And a trillion really is a small number!! You have 30 or so trillion cells in just your own body!

Say the words, “Ten to ten to the tenth.” Wasn’t that easy to say? Well, maybe not with all those words starting with “t”. The “ten to the tenth” is ten billion, sort of close to the number of humans currently inhabiting Earth. If we “wrote” that number out with people, starting with me as the “1”, and all the other seven billion people in the world lined up next to me acting as “0s”, that would form a number still three billion zeros short, give or take, of ten to the ten to the tenth – virtually zero!

How valid is that point? Does anything have numbers that big? Yes. Perhaps not in the conventional “counting” sense, such as counting the number of copies of a book sold or the number of atoms in the Universe. It does, however, arise daily in the very real combinatorics issues I deal with that plays a big part in my job. That is, exploring as many possibilities for business decisions as possible.

You’ve probably heard it said that there are something like 10 to the 120 possible games of chess. That’s a really big number – so big that hardly anyone will deal with anything remotely close to such a number.

But chess is a very simple game – a board of 64 squares, 32 total pieces moving 6 unique ways. It’s also sequential, meaning pieces move one at a time as opposed to all at the same time. Remember, we’ve already made a computer program that can play this game better than any human. That means it is a simple game.

The world of business is an incredibly more complicated game. It’s not hard to come up with ten to the ten to the tenth possible ways business evolve. It may not seem like such an impossible task to make decent predictions because we can predict particular things fairly well within the next day, week, or month.

But add up a lot of predictions, all the things that go on in commerce – all those possible actions of seven billion people, thousands of governments at various levels, countless natural phenomenon – even over a short period of time. We end up with even more than ten to the ten to the tenth possible scenarios. All the planning by the Dream Team of planners will do a shitty job of predicting the state of business even a few years from now.

The Universe is vast beyond what we can actually imagine.

What does this have to do with my step-father? Dealing with mortality. There’s a good chance your brain is wrong about what it thinks is going to happen after the thirty trillion or so cells in your body ceases to operate as a team. Heaven or Hell? Reincarnated? Or do you just end right there? Whether or not we believe in an afterlife, our human brains are centered around our instinct to survive.

Personally, I have to conclude that in the unimaginable vastness of the Universe, there’s a pretty good chance there’s some outcome my human brain with this powerful instinct to survive would be happy with. All the matter that have been a part of you and all the matter you’ve affected throughout your life are an intricate part of all that is yet to come. Remember, Hollywood really screwed up our idea of what really happens if even little old you had not existed.

Our Last Sunset at Lincoln City.
“All beings are temporal phenomena, intricately woven into Everything, all intricately of great value to the One.” – The Rubber Ducky Buddha of Joliet

The verse, 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, is often attributed as the basis of our phrase, “This too shall pass.” That phrase is usually meant to comfort us in bad times. However, what if you are near the end and there is no good time to follow? Everything passes from our lowly human point of view. But in the scheme of the Universe, which is much beyond that, everything that has been and will be is there.

Fishnu Getting Acquainted with Old Friends
“You live somewhere in time. Maybe not tomorrow or next year or next century, but somewhere in time.” – The Eternal Fishnu

In the context of this blog, the word, “unseen”, in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, means that because our brains are puny, just because we can’t fathom something doesn’t mean it’s not there. Have faith that “the numbers” are overwhelmingly on your side – that in the Universe there exists more than your brain can conjure up. As Mrs. Hanamoku very facetiously says to me, “Don’t worry your pretty little head about it.”

In a few hours, Mrs. Hanamoku and I will head out from Prineville over to Lincoln City. During that six hour drive, people at my place of employment will be getting on without me, busy with more planning than doing. That is, worried more about a future projected from past experiences, and not focused on what they should be doing now.