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 and a telescope to an astronomer. There are certainly more aspects to being a 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

Five Days Until the Bodhi Season

Bodhi Season starts in five short days, December 1, 2018, for seven days of meditation, and awakening on Bodhi Day, the morning of December 8, 2018. Mrs. Hanamoku and I have our Airbnb cabin booked, I have three work days off, and we head out to a new Bodhi Day place next week Thursday (December 6, 2018).

Remember that meditation is not just when you’re sitting in a quiet place, focusing on your deep breathing, and being mindful. Although I’m working for much of the Bodhi Season, I’m still meditating. Meditating while at work is just as much meditating as it is during that minority of time you’re in a quiet room. Keep a Beginner’s Mind and cut all that we cling to, always with the spirit of, “Is that so?”

This is a very short post. Yours truly, your good Reverend Hanamoku, has been working on an entrepreneurial software project over the past few weekends, so I haven’t written much on either this site or fishnu.org. But I will post at least a short thought, words of encouragement for your Bodhi experience, for each day of the Bodhi Season (December 1 though 8).

Some day I’ll talk more about that entrepreneurial project. It’s pretty much Version 7 of something I’ve built over the past 15 years or so.¬† But don’t worry that I’ve become materialistic. The nature of this software is very Zen. Software is my Zen Art. If you’re a fellow Business Intelligence Developer and carefully consider what I’ve written on fishnu.org, you should get the gist of what I’m doing.

Faith and Patience,

Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku