Happy Bodhi Day 2019!!

img_1461-2
Their Holinesses, The Eternal Fishnu and the Rubber Ducky Buddha of Joliet. We’re breaking our Bodhi fast with Mrs. Hanamoku’s Rice and Milk.

Happy Bodhi Day 2019!!

I hope you enjoyed the journey through the Noble Eightfold Path as we hiked from the base of Zion Canyon to the high perspective of Observation Point.

The Noble Eightfold Path is the prescription for removing the roadblock we all face on this human segment of the larger Journey to Perfection. That roadblock is our tendency to cling to things into which we place value, while it slips through our fingers beyond our control. The Eightfold Path teaches us how to see the fallacy of our clinging, drop it from our lives, and carry on with the Journey Towards Perfection.

This roadblock is just a little kink we bumped into somewhere between the lesser sentience of a monkey and the greater sentience of a human. The Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, on his Bodhi Day, figured out how to dislodge himself from this roadblock, this cause of his human suffering. He then spent the rest of his human life teaching this to others.

Likewise, the Eternal Fishnu addressed that life in the water hindered the progress towards sentience, and has a better chance of evolving on land. So around 400 million years ago, what we call the Devonian, the Buddha, Fishnu, lead fish to the land. And they became us.

What will we become in a few million years now that we have the key to unshackle us from suffering?

Faith and Patience

We learned during the journey through the Eightfold Path about how our monkey brain is in conflict with our Gift of Sentience, and that makes us miserable. It is also the “workout plan” towards shutting out our monkey brain. It’s a process that will take time and effort, just like any other improvement plan.

It’s very important to understand that the Bodhi Day Awakening of Siddhartha Gautama wasn’t simply an overnight transformation. Technically, it was, but that was after years of heart-breaking and even life-threatening struggle. If you think about it, that’s how most dramatic, seemingly overnight transformations are – they pop onto the scene after a long period of incubation.

I sign off most of my posts with “Faith and Patience to you!” It’s a shortened version that I wrote about a while back: Faith and Patience keep me calm so I can focus on the moment. So we must have faith in the meantime, which will give us the patience to go on even without the results we wish we could have immediately.

The Bigger Sentience We Cannot See

Another thing we must have faith in is that our brain is much more than we think or can imagine. Brain imaging is neat. There are many impressive “A.I.” (that’s in huge air quotes) applications. The aggregate computing capacity in the world in some ways surpasses the capacity of human brains.

But that’s nothing compared to what hasn’t yet been seen.

Is there something our human brains can access that’s of immense, unimaginable power? Something our brains can at least touch through meditation?

We can’t figure out if butter is good or bad for us. How can we arrive at any conclusion about the power of our brains?

Our brains are nothing like even the most sophisticated Artificial Neural Networks (ANN). A single neuron is an individual animal in its own right – with organelles, the need for nourishment. More sophisticated than a perceptron, I’d say.

It’s easy to dismiss our brains as just some normal organic thing. But life has been going on for billions of years. It’s easy to say that the marvels of just a single cell can be explained away as interactions of proteins, which is just a really big molecule, and it reacts with other proteins. But it all self-assembles and self-adapts – no hands required. Our brains are more than just a really sophisticated organ.

The brain’s parts at the molecular level and buzzing with the most intricate electrical wiring there is, the brain’s computing mechanisms live next door to the quantum level. It may or may not incorporate quantum phenomena, but the quantum phenomena is a visible part of “normal life” for proteins. The ANNs we build today don’t touch anything quantum, perhaps quadratic (nerdy!), but not quantum. If so, what unimaginable possibilities does that open up for what our brains actually can do?

There are what we collectively called glial cells, which outnumber neurons. What roles do these play? Some roles are known, some not yet. But I do believe there is at least one role that allows signals to be broadcast instead of carried through networks of synapses.

There is fascinating work by Stuart Hameroff on the role of microtubules within neurons possibly having computational power itself – perhaps even some characteristics similar to Finite State Automata. If it’s true, the computational capacity of a brain could be magnitudes greater than and much different from how it appears considering just neurons. I don’t know if he’s correct, but I would be surprised if he’s not at least partially correct. Even a hint of plausibility would still be huge.

Even if the Eternal Fishnu didn’t tell me outright that the human brain has much more potential than we currently think, I’d still have to believe it’s like we’re only at the abacus.

Have faith in this wondrous Universe! Go out there tomorrow knowing you’re a a full-fledged part of it!

The Lunar Bodhi Day

If you missed this Bodhi Day on December 8, 2019, there is the “real” one still to come! This one we just celebrated today, December 8 is the standardized date. The “real” one is the Lunar Bodhi Day on January 2, 2020, the 8th day of the 12th lunar month.

I celebrate both, so I hope to see you in a few weeks!

Faith and Patience to you!

Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku

 

Further Reading

Past Bodhi Seasons:

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

Are you enlightened?

Bodhi Season/Day 2019:

 

Bodhi Day Eve 2019 – Awakened Mindfulness and Concentration

dsc09047
It’s a long way down. Don’t trip over your sentience!

Today December 7, 2019 – Bodhi Day Eve!

We now end our journey through the Eightfold Path with the last two items, Awakened Mindfulness and Awakened Concentration.

I’m lumping these two items into one post for two reasons. The first is that this knowledge is helpful if you plan on meditating early in the morning tomorrow to celebrate Bodhi Day.

The other is that they are two sides of the same coin. That “same coin” is being in the Now. Being in the Now is the key to ending our suffering. Freed from suffering, dukkha, our Sentience is able to continue its Journey Towards Perfection on a smooth ride.

The Journey Towards Perfection

Mindfulness is the state of awareness of a Buddha – a fuller sensitivity to what is around you, but at the same time focusing your awareness onto the present. This means our awareness is focused on a small area of space and time around us. As opposed to our awareness diffused all over the place (worrying about the past we cannot change and futures that probably won’t come). Or, conversely, narrowly focused on something, unaware of the other things around you. Concentration is about how to practice towards mindful awareness.

This isn’t a binary thing, Enlightened or not Unenlightened. Rather, a Sentience starts as pure entropy, just random energy, and begins a journey towards progressively greater understanding of the Universe. Perfect understanding of the Universe means it’s a perfect model of the Universe.

The sentience of we humans is somewhere along that Journey Towards Perfect understanding. This phase of human sentience is just one segment. However, within that one segment is a roadblock we need to tame in order to move on. That is, our Monkey Brain – which is a really crappy model of the Universe.

The removal of that roadblock, which is what the Eightfold Path is about – well, that’s Bodhi. And Bodhi Day is the day that Siddhartha Gautama awoke from a long meditation to this realization.

Shutting Out the Monkey Brain

“Mindfulness” is a misnomer, but it sounds better than mindlessness. The best descriptive name should be “Monkey Mindlessness”, or “Mind of No Monkey”.

As mentioned way back in Awakened View, we are primates with the Gift of Sentience … a terrible combination if there ever was one. While our monkey brain keeps our body running and has the street smarts to deal with normal Life on Earth, it’s more than an annoyance to our Gift of Sentience.

The work of the monkey brain, originally designed for life in the jungle, is interpreted by our Gift of Sentience not merely as a lot of noise, but as the source of your fears and addictions. To release the full potential of our Gift of Sentience, as well as relieve our suffering, we must shut out the rantings of the monkey brain – not eradicate it, just shut it out.

Your monkey brain thinks it knows everything. So it’s constantly arguing with you about things it really doesn’t know about. All it knows is what it has ever experienced – and it thinks that’s all there is to know. Yes, it can derive new knowledge from what it knows, but that’s still a really limited set of all things one could know about the Universe.

img_1454-edited
Gunchen Schneivah Flend can’t see clearly with a monkey in the way.

Mindfulness the a state of peace we achieve through the exercise of meditation. That state of peace arrives when meditation shuts out the monkey brain. Meditation is not about pondering lofty things or tough problems. It’s not about calming down to lower your blood pressure. It’s about shutting out your monkey/primate brain.

Without the narrow-minded monkey brain limiting us, our sensitivity to our surroundings improves. The blinders are removed – those blinders set in place by the monkey brain’s limited knowledge, hard-wired habits and biases, and knee-jerk reactions. We see the Universe as it really is, a wondrous, complex system – not just life in the trees for monkeys, essentially glorified squirrels. More things become possible.

There are two forms of meditation I’ll discuss here: Zazen and Awakened Effort. Each serves a different purpose and both should be practiced each day.

img_1455-edited
After meditating, losing his mind, Gunchen Schneivah Flend can see clearly through the empty cup with the monkey out of the way.

Zazen – Shutting Out the Monkey Brain

Zazen is the form of meditation that is most associated with Mindfulness. That’s what monks sitting on the ground with their backs straight, eyes closed, and palms on the lap facing up are doing.

The value of zazen is in the ability to shut out the rantings of the monkey brain by focusing our attention away from it. Because of the recent popularity of Mindfulness, there are tons of books on the subject of meditation. So, I won’t get into the details, but offer a TLDR checklist.

Zazen TLDR Checklist

  1. Mindfulness is your mind free from the jabber of your monkey mind. It’s not for thinking through problems.
  2. Meditation is an exercise for shutting out the monkey mind. It’s like running. You run until you can’t. Hopefully the next time you can run over a longer distance. It takes work.
  3. You shut out the monkey mind by focusing your attention on your breathing. Breathing is the only thing any of us must do every second of our life. After a while, the monkey mind shuts up.
  4. If your monkey mind succeeds in interrupting your focus on your breath, refocus. Don’t try to stop the thought, refocus on our breath.
  5. The irony with meditation is that it’s not about calming yourself down. It’s actually an effortful activity of forcing focus on your breath.

Awakened Effort

Once we have some control over shutting out the monkey brain, Awakened Effort applies that clear mind to a Zen Art in order to train our minds and bodies with skills conducive to blending in with the Universe. Unlike Zazen, the Zen Art opens meditation to a limited set of the Universe, not just breathing. But it shouldn’t be too tough, just tough enough that there is much room to improve with the Zen Art.

The Zone

The Zone is Awakened Effort, but with a domain much larger than that of a typical traditional Zen Art such as flower arrangement (ikebana), the tea ceremony, archery, or even a sport. This larger domain could be your work, navigating your way through Laguardia, or working on a tough series of blogs within a short time span. It’s the ultimate a challenging meditation, the no-holds-barred real world.

I get into the zone virtually every day at work programming. I’ve mentioned in other posts that software development as my Zen Art. Software development is on the tough side of a Zen Art. It’s magnitudes more complicated than an art like ikebana. A typical application involves tons of moving parts across many systems, meaning software development is indeed complex. It takes a while to get into the zone programming, getting all those balls in the air. But it all comes crashing down by a visit from a colleague with a, “Hey, quick question …”

Your zazen skill will strengthen your ability to get back into the zone after such interruptions.

dsc08981
View from Observation Point. Sure is a different view from the bottom of the canyon where we started. Whoa! Look how far below Angel’s Landing is!

It’s Bodhi Day Eve

Yes, today, December 7, 2019, is Bodhi Day Eve. We’re at the end of our journey through the Noble Eightfold Path.

Please do check out Bodhi Season 2018 for more of feeling of Bodhi Day itself. At the very least, get up early tomorrow morning, enjoy the solitude for a few minutes, and whip up a batch of Mrs. Hanamoku’s Bodhi Day Rice Pudding.

Faith and Patience to you!

Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku

Further Reading

Posts on minimizing wasted energy, fears, and addictions:

Bodhi Season/Day 2019:

 

Day 6 – Bodhi Season 2019 – Awakened Effort

dsc08938
We’re more than halfway to Observation Point. There’s a lot of climbing left to do, but that’s what it takes to get there.

Today is December 6, 2019 – the 6th Day of Bodhi Season 2019. Today we’ll very briefly discuss the 6th item of the Eightfold Path – Right Effort.

Since our sentience gets around this Universe in our physical bodies, as it is for any vehicle, it needs fuel and maintenance. There are physical constraints within which our bodies operate. We can’t do much about the amount of energy available to our bodies, but we can drastically improve our fuel efficiency.

Awakened Effort is about minimizing wasted energy to improve our fuel efficiency. This means whatever we may do, our efforts shouldn’t be diffused through worries about a past we cannot change, futures that haven’t happened, addictions and random thoughts screaming from our monkey brain for our attention, fear, or dancing around constraints that aren’t there.

Is energy wasted being stuck in traffic an hour each way to work? Sure, if we’re complaining about it all along the way. Traffic is what it is. For me, it takes 30 minutes and a half gallon of gas each way. Barring magic, 26th Century technology, or allowing me to work remotely, that’s what it takes to get to the office. Anything above that is wasted energy of my own doing.

We could be clever, listening to books online, carpool, or figure out how to work remotely. But there are usually trade-offs. Even if we found a perfect solution to the commute problem, other problems will come along. Eventually, there will be big problems, some with no worldly solution. Commute traffic is really a petty problem. We need something more powerful.

We could be on a path that removes the word “problems” from our vocabulary. From the Awakened View there are no problems to solve because there is only what is right there, on the path, where you stand. Awakened Effort is achieved by doing what needs doing with 100% acceptance of where you are. If you were hiking the Peekaboo Trail at Bryce Canyon, you wouldn’t think of a hill as a pain in the ass problem, but simply what it takes to get to the next view.

The traditional Zen Arts mentioned in the post on Awakened Action are intended to hone efficiency, minimize wasted action. The limitations imposed by a traditional Zen Art (for example, ikebana is a subset of all that could happen in the Universe) enables the practitioner to focus on building the skills related to the aspects of minimizing wasted energy, without worrying about the countless things that can pop up in the open world.

In the post on Awakened Action, I wrote, “All of these Zen Arts train your ability to blend into the Universe.” The Zen Art trains in us the sensitivity to execute graceful actions that blend in so well with what is going on that it looks effortless. Both Awakened Action and Awakened Effort end up minimizing wasted energy – but from two different sides of the same coin.

In the post on Awakened Livelihood, our chosen line of work is the practice that hones our ability to execute graceful Awakened Actions. As we go about our Awakened Livelihood, we’re also mindful of the efficient use of energy through Awakened Effort.

The question now: How do we shut up our primate/monkey brain, that source of much wasted energy? That is the 7th item of the Eightfold Path, Awakened Mindfulness.

Faith and Patience to You!

Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku

 

Further Reading

Posts on minimizing wasted energy, fears, and addictions:

Bodhi Season/Day 2019:

Day 5 – Bodhi Season 2019 – Awakened Livelihood

sheep-looking-at-me
I met this ram half-way up to Observation Point. Just making his living.

Today is December 5, 2019, Day 5 of the Bodhi Season 2019. Today we’ll take a short look at the 5th item of the Eightfold Path, Awakened Livelihood.

This is probably the most “pragmatic” item of the Eightfold Path. We are creatures of Earth and all creatures provide some sort of value. Most creatures can’t choose their livelihood, it’s baked into them. A tiger can’t be an rabbit, just a perfect tiger.

But not for us. We humans can become whatever is needed at some given place and time. If programmers are needed we could be programmers. If farmers are needed, we could be farmers. We get to choose.

So are there good and bad livelihoods? As with all of the items of the Eightfold Path we’ve explored so far, there is a view from “normal daily life” and that of the Awakened View. For the view from normal daily life, by the norms of the society we’re in, there are obvious lines of livelihood we should avoid. But then again, I can’t think of any line of work that’s immune from criticism somehow from somewhere.

The point of Buddhism isn’t a matter of good over bad. It’s about accepting that what we experience and interpret as our lives is just ethereal phenomena emerging from a relentlessly churning Universe. All phenomena comes with a guaranteed shelf life of an instant. The Universe is a wondrous dynamo of opposing forces, multi-dimensional tapestries of Yin and Yang.

We grow fond of these ethereal phenomena and suffer as what we fell in love with churns away into something else. Therefore, through the method of the Eightfold Path  we train our minds to let go of what we cling to, releasing the cause of our suffering. That’s Buddhism.

But we’re also flesh and blood creatures of Earth requiring ongoing sustenance. So we need to make a living … which means engaging in this world of suffering souls and limited physical resources. We’re caught in a seeming hell between making a living in a world where whatever we gain immediately slips through our fingers.

So Awakened Livelihood isn’t about the line of work you choose. Rather, it’s about using your work, your livelihood to hone your Awakened View. Rather than work from the view of material gain, we work to smooth out the ride.

Let’s look at one of the Zen Arts, a martial art, for an idea of how to approach Awakened Livelihood.

 

 

img_1046
If the seagull saw the Rubber Ducky Buddha of Joliet as a potential meal, the seagull should hope he has to fight for his meal in order to polish his skill.

Tori and Uke

In judo, one form of training is kata where there is the notion of Tori and Uke. In kata, Judo athletes (judoka) pair up taking turns to practice throwing one another. The one practicing the execution of the throw is the tori. The one being thrown in the uke (oo-keh).

While it’s more fun to be the tori (the one practicing the throw) the role of the uke (the one being thrown) is of equal importance for both. The uke isn’t just a dead weight to be thrown. An assailant in a real conflict won’t be anything like mere dead weight. The skill of an uke is to challenge the tori just enough, but not so much that the tori can’t execute the throw. 

It’s of great value as well if the uke senses a weakness in the tori’s skill and provides the appropriate resistance to train that gap away. Additionally, playing the uke role provides the judoka essential insight into what a tori should not do.

The best part about being an uke is that it’s a small price to pay for the immense value of someone else being a worthy uke for you when you switch roles. Take no offense at being someone’s uke in the world in general.

Rei … Hajime!

A custom in judo is to respectfully bow (rei) to our opponents before each session with each other – no matter their ranks, and whether it’s kata or a full-contact randori bout. It says to our opponent, with honor and respect, thank you for helping me to improve and I ensure you that I will do my best in return. That is Awakened Livelihood.

Improvement of yourself is very different from the goal of beating your opponent. In daily life, winning is what matters. From the Awakened View, even if you “lost”, recognize that as long as you were fully present with the spirit of improvement, you improved. In fact, for most “wins”, there often isn’t as much to learn. Therefore, the opponents again bow to each other after the bout, “winner” and “loser”.

silver
I often carry this silver disk in my hand at work. Rubbing it with my thumb is a symbol reminding me that work is the continuous polishing of the mind.

Now, you can probably imagine bowing to someone at your corporate job, thanking them for teaching you about their “unique point of view” and receiving no bow in return. It would probably be more of a look of confusion or it’s taken as sarcasm.

Yes, the corporate world isn’t a Judo dojo. But it doesn’t matter – you are still on the path of Awakened Livelihood. That is, faithfully and patiently, you practice your work maintaining the beginner’s mind, you have 100% acceptance of what is, and you’re fully present to what is right here, right now. It is the foundation of the Eternal Fishnu’s teachings.

Whatever livelihood you choose, it must be practiced with that spirit of training your sentient mind to see from the Awakened View. Approach every day in the “dojo” of your chosen livelihood to hone your Zen. And of course, to produce valuable goods we exchange with our fellow students, since there is still that physical side of us that requires ongoing sustenance.

Faith and Patience to You!

Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku

 

Further Reading

Bodhi Season/Day 2019:

Day 3 – Bodhi Season 2019 – Awakened Speech

dsc08874
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 1 – Bodhi Season 2019 – Awakened View

img_8085
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?

coalcreek
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

dsc08799
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!

img_3142-1
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.”

img_1431
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!

end-of-trail_cropped
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: