Bodhi Season 2020 starts in a little over a week, on December 1, 2020. It’s seven days of meditation culminating on Bodhi Day, December 8, 2020. Bodhi Season is a total of eight days, just like Hanukkah. Please do read my blog, Two Months to the Secular Bodhi Day, where I’ve written about how to prepare for Bodhi Season.
In the photo above, the Eternal Fishnu and the Rubber Ducky Buddha of Joliet pose with a heart-shaped potato Mrs. Hanamoku found in a bag of potatoes the other day. It feels like a gesture from the Universe symbolizing the Heart Sutra, as in “the heart of Buddhism”. It is the subject of many posts on this site and the sister site, fishnu.org. The Other Shore is my post that I feel best describes it.
The heart-shaped potato is especially fitting for this year’s Bodhi Day since it is the primary subject of a series of posts I began a few weeks ago for Bodhi Day 2020. They are meant for you to ponder during the seven days of mediation (December 1-7):
It’s been three years since my first Bodhi Day, which was December 8, 2017. For that Bodhi Season, I was guided by the Rubber Ducky Buddha of Joliet and the Eternal Fishnu. If this is your first Bodhi Day, I think this set of blogs from my first Bodhi Season may be useful:
Additionally, there are links for several other series of Bodhi Season posts towards the bottom of the home page. Each of those series consists of a post for each day of those past Bodhi Seasons.
Here in 2020, the world as a whole is enduring what is probably the most challenging time almost anyone currently alive can remember. The near future may bring even more challenges. But we know that there have been much more challenging times in the past and there are countless challenging times still yet to come over the course of eternity.
The Eternal Fishnu reminds us to keep at the forefront of our minds that what our brains perceive is just a slice of the real Universe. This is a great year to sincerely meditate upon the teachings of Bodhi Day. Train your skills to see through all the noise, the biases of your mind, and the great illusion resulting from experiencing just a fragment of the whole. The Universe is One Big Process where clinging to ethereal fragments leads to suffering, dukkha.
“In the garden, growth has its seasons. First comes Spring and Summer, but then we have Fall and Winter. And then we get Spring and Summer again.”
Be sure to stop and listen every day, especially when it’s hardest to do so. The two leaves in the photo above called out to Mrs. Hanamoku from our street as she raked leaves in our front yard a few days ago. The seasonality of raking leaves reminds us of Chauncy Gardner’s words. All things will pass.
The core of Buddhism is to accept that change is relentlessly constant, therefore we will be free from suffering if we readily evolve along with the change. That is, as opposed to desperately clinging to whatever addictions we have. For example, such goodies as unquestioned habits and fears of the future based on the past.
But wouldn’t it be nice to do better than merely accept that change is constant? Is it possible to whole-heartedly treasure relentlessly constant change?
Our Gift of Sentience observes processes that occur during our normal human lives and we note “things” perceived by our logic. That includes everything we experience, whether we think of them as good, bad, or we’re seemingly indifferent to it. All of that emerges out of incalculable, uncontrollable complexity. The Universe in which our human selves live is such a complex system.
Complexity lies somewhere between random noise and deterministic machinery. It’s a sweet spot. Complexity ensures there will be a continuous flow of possibilities all through time. Without such possibilities, there is no life. But yet we seek to control.
The need for humans to control is like hunger. It has to be an instinctive drive because controlling complexity is not only very hard, but our ability to dictate outcomes is exponentially tougher farther out in time, just like distance and gravity. We love and seek deterministic, “highly repeatable” solutions, which is why so many hate the response of “It Depends”.
Order Out of Randomness
The image at the top of this blog shows a middle-run stage of a cellular automata. A cellular automata is a matrix of pixels, in this case two dimensional, that evolves through some simple rule. The number of these rule is limited only by our imagination. The chosen rule is applied pixel by pixel for many iterations starting with a completely random state.
For the images in this blog, this cellular automata, I wrote a simple program that consists of a sequence of colors, a randomly populated grid, and a simple rule applied to each pixel for many iterations. For each pixel, it applies this simple rule: If any of its neighbors – above, below, left, and right – are of the color that is adjacent the pixel’s color (next in the sequence of colors), that pixel takes on that color.
There are other details to how the program works, but I don’t want to get into those weeds of this cellular automata for this blog. The important thing to know is that the result of the program is not directly determined by the programmer. Rather, the results, the patterns, emerge from the randomness.
Below, we see the result after 132 iterations of that process. Islands of order are emerging.
By iteration 458, an interesting pattern emerges in the lower-center part of the image just below. It’s a crystalline pattern that emerges from the simple rule I described above that is as unique to this cellular automata as wetness is to the H2O molecule.
By iteration 1,100, the cellular automata settles into a pattern, looking like one of my business casual shirts.
These 1,100 iterations is hardly an eternal, on-going change that ensures continuous flow of possibilities. However, the Universe is closer to an eternal on-going process because it is a system made up of literally (almost literally) countless interacting systems analogous to this cellular automata – cellular automata made of cellular automata.
It’s very important to realize that the final image of the automata is not the point. The process, the 1,100 iterations, the journey from randomness to the crystalline pattern is the most interesting part. Remember, the Universe is one Big Process, as is our Consciousness. Whatever is there at the end of time is not us. We are the journey made up of time and change.
Same Rule, Different Initial Conditions
If I never saw the image of the “finished” cellular automata shown just above, and someone gave me that image asking me to write a program to recreate it, I have at least two choices. Since I see the drawing, I can notice a clear pattern, write code to duplicate it (patterns means it’s readily codable), and fill in the “inclusions” (those messy parts) in less elegant ways.
The code I end up with would be much faster at rendering the image, in maybe a dozen iterations instead of 1,100. My deterministic program will result in the exact same image every time.
Conversely, if I were given the simple rule I described earlier instead of the final image, I’d have no way to predict what it would do. That is, unless I ran through a simulation of the process – which is what my program does. As Ringo said, “The only way ta see what hahpuns is ta see what hahpuns.”
My cellular automata program is indeed the “DNA” of that crystalline pattern. Like all members of a species, under slightly different initial conditions, the result will be primarily the same, but not exactly the same.
To illustrate that point, I ran the cellular automata again starting with a differently populated random grid of noise. Just below is iteration 132 of the new run. Compare the image just below to the image of the first run at iteration 132. The seedlings of order are not the same.
Consider this. At this early stage, iteration 132, of the cellular automata, if I were to manually change some chunk of pixels, I would alter its “destiny”. The run would end up looking different than it would without my interference. But it would still end up dominated with the same crystalline pattern. What does that say about any of our individual actions?
The image just below shows iteration 455 of this new run, without interference from my Gift of Sentience.
At iteration 1100, this new run ends up looking a lot like the first run at the same iteration, but with different messy parts.
At the latter stages of the 1100 iteration process, say around 900, I might notice that those inclusions aren’t going way. I could use my Gift of Sentience to give that area a nudge. For example, by “smearing” the area and letting the process continue on. That’s what this Gift of Sentience is for.
Time is Change
When I showed this to Ringo, he asked me, “When nuthin’ chanjuz anymoh, did time stop?” For the cellular automata, the image stopped changing at around 1100 iterations until I killed the program at 1500 iterations. Even though my laptop’s CPUs were churning away, the evolution of the cellular automata stopped. In reality, time did stop when change stopped.
This cellular automata is a simple one, simple rules on a simple grid. This automata brought order from randomness and dead-ended. But the Universe is unspeakably more than that. It’s made up of countless such phenomena, processing different rules, interacting in rather unpredictable ways. But in a balance where order is always apparent and possibilities are always present.
Buddhism teaches us to embrace our Gift of Sentience in the midst of overwhelming change. We may wish that the Universe would just stay as it is once we clean it up to our liking. But if it did, the merry-go-round stops and that is the antonym of Life.
Faith and Patience,
Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku
P.S. Another thing Ringo said is in regard to the image at the top of this blog. He said, “I kawnt tell whethah the messy pots is eatin’ the nice pots oh the nice pots is eatin’ the messy pots.”
If you’re reading this here in November 2020, you’re seeking the freedom from suffering that Siddhartha Gautama found on Bodhi Day about 2500 years ago. This Enlightenment isn’t really that hard to find, especially around the Holiday Season we’re just entering. Most have experienced this, at least for a minute or two. You may even find Enlightenment this Bodhi Day, but it usually vaporizes as you resume your normal life.
For our Enlightenment to be resilient beyond Bodhi Day, we must have the space in our minds to see all paths available to us, 100% acceptance of the present, the willingness to let go of things, and the courage to fearlessly flow into the future.
Resilience is the fundamental quality of a process. A non-resilient process is just a fleeting spark. Our minds are a process which lives within the process of Life on Earth. Life on Earth lives within the Process that is the Universe. Our brains, muscles, and immune system are resilient processes.
Long ago, I naively asked my judo sensei, “What is the single most important skill for a judoka?” It’s a question I would not ask today. I now know that arts are a multi-faceted assemblage and balance of qualities where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Nonetheless, out of kindness, he humored me with a quick reply: “Flexibility.” Not strength, not tenacity, not even skill.
Flexibility is a critical quality built into resilient processes. Flexibility is what keeps us from breaking so we may fight another day. But to fight another day, we need to do more than just not break under pressure. We need to spring back. And better than before, which would otherwise be foolish.
Is it right to say resilience means coming back better than before? What does “better” mean in a Universe of constant change? Life on Earth is resilient. Humanity can assault Life on Earth all we want, but Nature will come back. It may not “come back” within our lifetimes nor in a way still suitable for human life, but it will come back.
When we break a bone, it heals stronger at the break than it was before. When we engage in a sport new to us, those proverbial “muscles we didn’t know we had” will ache the next day, but they will be stronger the next week.
Although as a software developer, I see software systems of today as brittle, to an end-user, software is resilient because when it breaks, you call Support and people fix it. The software should be more fit than it was before it broke. Resilience is built into the process of incorporating software into our lives.
So far, we’re talking about reactive adaptations. We don’t know there is a problem until something breaks. We humans have a Gift of Sentience, whereby there’s more.
Courage and Curiosity
Our resilience is exercised when we are courageous enough to leave the comfort of what we know. Curiosity nudges us if we’re reluctant to turn the page.
In a Universe of relentless change, we could use our Gift of Sentience to make a stand in the present, building walls our little world, all while it crumbles as the river of change flows relentlessly by. Or we can use our Gift of Sentience to proactively adapt.
Our Gift of Sentience is the ability to design, to manipulate the actual Universe towards what is in our minds. This Gift is a double-edged sword. Our Gift of Sentience is God-like to your dog or cat. However, when we are too enamored with our own vision and the ability to manipulate the world around us, we suffer when we don’t get exactly what we want.
Resilience is balancing our courage and curiosity so we can freely dive into the future, artfully and mindfully, applying our Gift of Sentience. Courageously diving into the future means to not cling to our addictions. Artfully and responsibly applying our Gift of Sentience also requires letting go of our addictions so we can adapt to the ever-changing Now.
Bodhi Day 2020
Today, November 8, means Bodhi Day, December 8, 2020, is one month away! Did you think about your Bodhi Day plans?
And Happy Diwali to my Indian friends next week, on November 14, 2020. I will turn on the colorful lights surrounding my home office window that day.
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
Tomorrow, January 2, 2020, is the “real” Bodhi Day. Tomorrow will be the 8th Day of the 12th Lunar month of the Chinese year 4717.
Since for most of the world today (Jan 1, 2020) is New Year 2020 (new decade too), the subject of time is an appropriate topic for this short “pre lunar Bodhi Day” message.
Time seems to go by faster and faster as I age. It was harder to notice that when before I turned thirty. But when I turned thirty, I noticed that getting to twenty seemed to take forever. Then, before I knew it, I was forty then almost sixty. I know it’s not just me. Mrs. Hanamoku notices it, as well as most of our friends over forty or fifty.
The perception of time is a function of how much things are changing. If things are changing quickly, more snapshots are taken to capture what is going on. Fewer snapshots are needed to capture the essence of watching paint dry.
Most of us have experienced the second before a split-second, life-threatening event, such as a car just a few yards away coming right at us. Life becomes like a video at 10% speed. We’re able to notice everything. By noticing everything we can take wise actions. With that rapid rate of snapshots during that second, what seems like 10 seconds was really just a second.
As I recall my 3rd grade year of school, my impression of it is like that year lasted ten years. It was a time dense with learning, not just the school learning. The core of who I was becoming, my understanding of the world and my interaction with it, noticeably evolved every day.
When you pour cream into coffee and stir, the changes are noticeable, the swirls of cream and coffee. After a second of two, those swirls matures into the light brown drink where further change isn’t very noticeable. That initial time of noticeable change is very short.
As you age, the world changes whether you notice it or not, you continue to change, but not like when you were a kid. However, even at my age, I can still taste the phenomenon of time seeming to pass slower than others.
I’ve been at my current employment for about six months as I write this. I can remember the first two months going by slowly. Then suddenly I’m at six months! As it is with all new jobs, those first two months were a tumultuous time of learning about the processes of my new job, the nature of the work, laying the foundation of my relationships with my co-workers. Then I got the hang of it and despite project milestones and learning a new thing or two each day, it’s not like the learning of those first couple of months. Now the days pass by in a blur.
But even though I changed jobs this year and experienced that slowdown of time after those couple of months, I still have this uncomfortable sense of time flying when I think of Christmas 2018 a year ago. That’s because although I changed places of employment, my place of employment is only a tiny part of who I am.
In terms of Normal Daily Life, the vast majority of who I am, even the generalized nature of the kind of work I do, is roughly similar since last year. So my brain records relatively few snapshots of the year.
It’s not a matter of how many seconds or years go by, but how much is crammed into it. As the level of our Zen skill rises, our attention is focused tightly on the present and so more of the Universe is noticed. In a Zen sense, time slows down as our ability to stay in the present improves. Ultimately, if we were supremely in the Now, would that mean time pretty much stands still?
Time and Impermanence
The Zen master, Takuan Soho, wrote about something like this:
“… when you first notice the sword that is moving to strike you, if you think of meeting that sword just as it is, your mind will stop at the sword in just that position, your own movements will be undone, and you will be cut down by your opponent.” – from The Unfettered Mind.
We can update Takuan’s statement to something more contemporary: “If a quarterback throws the football to where the moving receiver is when he throws it, the receiver will no longer be there.”
Football fans know that. But Takuan’s statement goes deeper, applying to the impermanence of every thing in our lives, not just the changing position of a wide receiver over a short time of a few seconds.
Change is constant. All of our thoughts are based on records of the past we store in our brains. None of those things filed into our memories actually exists in the next instant. So rather than the pursuit of learning more, we pursue how to blend in with this changing Now, so that our information is always up to date.
Change happens even if we don’t notice it. In the middle of the night life is in full gear somewhere else on Earth. At the microscopic levels, huge populations of tiny creatures are playing out predator and prey dramas every bit as wild as those of the savanna and jungles. Every cell of our bodies are buzzing along even as our mind detects nothing from our senses.
If you now understand Takuan’s statement from “Unfettered Mind”, I’m giving myself a pridefully un-Buddhist pat on the back. I read that passage many times over my life, but as hard as I tried, I didn’t really get it until a few years ago. If you still don’t, then please do chastise me for my pridefullness … haha!
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.
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.
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.
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.