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Posts Tagged ‘zen master’

Face your Life with the Formula of Creation.

I’ve been slow to come back to write more due to a lot going on in my life.  It’s generally all good, but it’s teaching me how to re-evaluate what I want from my life and how I allow it to work out “better than best”.  So when I read the following from this blog, I just had to share this with you:

The most important part is that you are not to accept limits, push beyond the boundaries, if you really think that humanity is at its full potential right now, let me tell you; screw potential.
We define our limits, and the more we learn, the farther we push them, there is no end in sight to human evolution.

Dare to be different, dare to be more then people think you can be, dare to overrun the hurdle. If everything is created out of nothing, how come we really think that we have limited possibilities?

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I was once crafting a story with someone, and in the voice of the character I was creating, asked why another character was so enamored of being served a dinner every night that had more food than he could hope to eat, with ingredients so rare and expensive that had he instead enjoyed the simple fare she did, a whole lot more food could be afforded and shared with a whole lot more people.

The person I was working with had a response that the character she was speaking to was ready with.  The gist was something along the lines of, “He feels that he does so much for his people, that he deserves to enjoy the finer things.  It doesn’t even occur to him that it isn’t completely fair.”

I’m thinking of this because of a koan I came across today:

Bankei was a beloved master of advanced years.  At one point, a young disciple named Dairyo was made cook for the monastery, and he felt that he should serve only fresh miso to Bankei’ to protect his health, while everyone else would eat the miso that had fermented.

It didn’t take Bankei long to notice that his bowl had a better miso than his pupils.  So rather than eat, he sent for the cook to inquire of him what the deal was.  Dairyo said that due to Bankei’s age and position, he shouldn’t eat the older, fermented miso.

Bankei replied, “Then you think I shouldn’t eat!”  He then went to his room and locked the door.  Dairyo followed and remained by the door, begging his master’s forgiveness.  Seven days went on, with Bankei unwilling to open his door and Dairyo unwilling to leave it.

Finally, one of the other pupils called out to Bankei, “You may be all right in there, old master, but this young disciple here has to eat!  He can’t sit out here starving forever!”

At that, Bankei came out, smiling as he helped Dairyo up.  He told the young man, “I insist on eating the same food as the least of my followers.  When you become teacher, I want you to remember this.”

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I was talking the other day about the difference between Hermit Zen versus Living Zen, I think I’ll call them. While the latter is about trying to better live our lives in this world, the former is more about escaping the world entirely. After all, one might say, if the world is such a grand scam of an illusion, the best thing one could do is to ignore it and not get caught up.

That’s all on my mind again, and I truly do understand the draw of Hermit Zen. The idea of chucking it all and going to live in the mountains can be very appealing. So much of the philosophical and mystical texts focus on the ‘unreality’ of our reality that it can get to seeming like there’s no point to any of it. So yeah, I do get where Hermit Zenners come from. Except for the fact that the world remains so very fun and beautiful that it’d be a real shame to waste it.

So I’m more of the approach of Ikkyu, our old wild-spirited zen poet friend. He saw the dangers of getting so wrapped up in the idea of enlightenment that you lose sight of the great, fun-filled life of enjoying enlightenment. See through the fleetingness of it all, yeah, but lifting those gloom-tinted glasses shows me not a graveyard of crumbling dust, but a garden of blooming beauty.

So here’s a poem by Ikkyu about a kind of study meditation I can enjoy…

A Fisherman

Studying texts and stiff meditation can make you lose your Original Mind.
A solitary tune by a fisherman, though, can be an invaluable treasure.
Dusk rain on the river, the moon peeking in and out of the clouds;
Elegant beyond words, he chants his songs night after night.

Ikkyu (1394-1481)

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So I had a bit of a disappointment over the weekend. Nothing major, just something I’d planned is just going to have to wait another few weeks, but it was still a disappointment. As hectic as things have been, it weighed on me just a little more than it otherwise might — but if life has taught me anything, it’s taught me a small bit of patience.

After a weekend of trying to play catch-up, it was still a bit on my mind. So I came in to work and saw the last two quotes I’d been saving to share, and they both go together with my thoughts. So here they are:

To enjoy the world without judgment is what a realized life is like.
Charlotte Joko Beck

It takes a certain maturity of mind to accept that nature works as steadily in rust as in roses.
– Esther Warner Dendel

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So what is Zen, anyway, and why is there so much hype about reaching it? Or Tao, for that matter? What do all my little ramblings have to do with them?

I think these questions are rhetorical here, cause I think you all know what I’m talking about. But I post these up on WordPress with the Zen and Taoism tags and I’ve been nudged over whether my random thoughts about living in this world really belong with those tags. So that’s what’s on my mind today (and also that I haven’t had a thought in days!)

I personally think that if you really experience Zen and Taoism in the way that I understand it, the question’s rather ridiculous; the whole point of studying Zen and the Tao is to realize how it’s all just a matter of expressing Inner Nature. Outer Harmony. As best we can. And my natural harmonic is less sitting zen and more working zen. Not so much silent zen, as laughing zen. There’s little room for dust in my Tao.

Not like there’s any one Way to the Way, and also not like all the most celebrated old poets are more stodgy than we are. Today’s quote on my calendar:

How boring to sit idly on the floor,
not meditating, not breaking through.
Look at the horses racing along the Kamo River!
That’s zazen!

– Daito

(I’m not positive, but I think it might be this Daito:
Jan 21: A religous debate between Tendai and Shingon priests on the one hand and Zen priests, led by Daito Kokushi (1282-1337) on the other, was held in Kyoto in 1324. The debate, which was judged by emperor Godaigo and assisted by ex-emperor Hanazono was won by Daito. )

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I’ve been talking with some friends recently about giving feedback, advice or even ‘admonishment’ to friends or strangers. The issue was how much really needs to be said, how harsh a comment the situation might call for, and how to tell the difference. I’m still not sure I can really tell the difference, but I do know that as a rule I’ll tend to err on the side of few words as possible, until it’s clear to me that more would be both needed and helpful!

I’ve got a mondo / zen story that illustrates my idea that sometimes, just making sure a situation is acknowledged can sometimes be enough:

There was this meditation master named Sengai, and as usual, his students were expected to keep a pretty solitary and contemplative life inside the temple walls. And, as usual, there was one student who just couldn’t stand sitting that still.

So several nights a week, this guy would sneak over the back wall and head into town for some forbidden fun. One of these nights, Sengai was inspecting the dormitory and found both the empty bed and the tall stool against the back wall. It didn’t take a zen master to figure out what was going on, so he moved the stool and stood in its place, just waiting.

It was well after midnight when the student snuck back to the temple and hoisted himself over the wall. He had already had his feet on Sengai’s head and was jumping down before he realized what was going on. He then stared at his master, speechless.

Sengai just quietly said, “It’s very chilly out this early in the morning. Be careful that you don’t catch a cold.” And that was the end of it. The student never snuck out again.

Yeah, it’s not always that simple. But among friends and family, sometimes just a hint will be enough to bring things back together. 🙂

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I couldn’t quite get together a coherent, non-technical-related thought this morning, so I thought I’d look up the Hacker Koan entry in Wikipedia for inspiration. A Hacker Koan is a “koan” made up by computing enthusiasts, especially network and AI programmers, particularly at MIT. One of the examples there I really like, and since they’re recent (and won’t really benefit from my paraphrase-telling), I’m just going to copy/paste the “koan” form, and the original story it was based on. Both have meaning.

Uncarved block

In the days when Sussman was a novice, Minsky once came to him as he sat hacking at the PDP-6.
“What are you doing?”, asked Minsky.
“I am training a randomly wired neural net to play Tic-tac-toe“, Sussman replied.
“Why is the net wired randomly?”, asked Minsky.
“I do not want it to have any preconceptions of how to play”, Sussman said.
Minsky then shut his eyes.
“Why do you close your eyes?” Sussman asked his teacher.
“So that the room will be empty.”
At that moment, Sussman was enlightened.

Unlike most traditional Zen koans, this koan has a possible concrete and correct answer: just as the room is not really empty when Minsky shuts his eyes, neither is the neural network really free of preconceptions when it is randomly wired. The network still has preconceptions, they are simply random now, and from a random rather than a human source.

Interestingly, this particular koan seems to have been closely based on a real incident; the following text extract is from Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (chapter 6):

So Sussman began working on a program. Not long after, this odd-looking bald guy came over. Sussman figured the guy was going to boot him out, but instead the man sat down, asking, “Hey, what are you doing?” Sussman talked over his program with the man, Marvin Minsky. At one point in the discussion, Sussman told Minsky that he was using a certain randomizing technique in his program because he didn’t want the machine to have any preconceived notions. Minsky said, “Well, it has them, it’s just that you don’t know what they are.” It was the most profound thing Gerry Sussman had ever heard. And Minsky continued, telling him that the world is built a certain way, and the most important thing we can do with the world is avoid randomness, and figure out ways by which things can be planned. Wisdom like this has its effect on seventeen-year-old freshmen, and from then on Sussman was hooked.

—Steven Levy, HACKERS: Heroes of the Computer Revolution

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