Bob Schwartz

Month: April, 2023

Perfect

When the animals and plants
first read Darwin
they asked:
Are we perfect or not
doomed for extinction
marked for perpetuity?
How we are will not last forever
Whatever forever is.
Yes of course
perfect.

© 2023 by Bob Schwartz

Naming

Man With No Name

You call it rain
but the human name
doesn’t mean shit to a tree
—Eskimo Blue Day, Jefferson Airplane

You have a child. You start a business. You invent a product. Once and often you will be caught in the process of naming things.

It is fun and daunting. Maybe you leave it to chance. Maybe you spend hours, days, of endless meetings and sleepless nights wrestling with the factors and implications. The child carries it for a lifetime (unless they change it, which they might). The business, product, organization might float or sink because of your choice. Then again, maybe it doesn’t matter.

Maybe someday someone interested will ask about the choice. You may have a story, a long explanation. Or you didn’t actually know what you were doing, but have to say something. You take credit. Or blame.

Naming is one of the very first things God does in the Bible, right after the initial creation. So we are godlike in our naming, for better or worse.

But as the Jefferson Airplane reminds, just as the Tao Te Ching says, just as Shakespeare says. The name is not the thing.

© 2023 by Bob Schwartz

True words aren’t beautiful, beautiful words aren’t true

True words aren’t beautiful
beautiful words aren’t true

Regular readers of the Chinese classic Tao Te Ching have absorbed its values and—when possible—integrated those values into their worldview and lives. Those students can recite some or many of the 81 verses by heart.

The final verse stands out. It lets the air out of the preceding verses, like a pin in a balloon. It neutralizes the words of wisdom texts, including its own.

Of the many quality translations, each different from another, my first choice is that of Red Pine (Bill Porter), whose work as a translator of Chinese spiritual texts is unsurpassed. Following is his translation of Verse 81 with commentary, followed by the interpretation of poet Witter Bynner, composed in 1944. Bynner’s version is special for me, since it was my first exposure to the Tao Te Ching and to Taoism. An unforgotten trailhead where the journey really began.


True words aren’t beautiful
beautiful words aren’t true
the good aren’t eloquent
the eloquent aren’t good
the wise aren’t learned
the learned aren’t wise
sages accumulate nothing
but the more they do for others
the greater their existence
the more they give to others
the greater their abundance
the Way of Heaven
is to help without harming
the Way of the Sage
is to act without struggling

At the beginning and at the end of the Taoteching, Lao-tzu reminds us not to become attached to the words. Let the words go. Have a cup of tea.

Taoteching, Verse 81, translation and comment by Red Pine


Real words are not vain,
Vain words not real;
And since those who argue prove nothing
A sensible man does not argue.
A sensible man is wiser than he knows,
While a fool knows more than is wise.
Therefore a sensible man does not devise resources:
The greater his use to others
The greater their use to him,
The more he yields to others
The more they yield to him.
The way of life cleaves without cutting:
Which, without need to say,
Should be man’s way.

The Way of Life According to Lao Tzu, Verse 81, translated by Witter Bynner


Setting Sun by The Chemical Brothers. Sweet musical anarchy.

Controlled chaos. Sweet musical anarchy. Setting Sun (1997) by The Chemical Brothers:


You’re the devil in me I brought in from the cold
You said your body was young but your mind was very old
You’re coming on strong and I like the way
The visions we had have faded away
You’re part of a life I’ve never had
I’ll tell you that it’s just too bad


Inspired by the Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows—“Turn off your mind/relax and float downstream”—thirty years downstream was not necessarily relaxing but was exciting and expanding. Twenty-five years since and we can be/should be/are finding things in the lost and found sound. Even ourselves. Soundtrack for a revolution?

Listen below. The video is an appropriate bonus. “This is not dying.”

The best illustration about meditation ever

The above is my favorite illustration about meditation ever. Drawn by Zen master Kōshō Uchiyama, it is included in his book Opening the Hand of Thought. If you practice any type of meditation, not just Zen, or if you are interested in meditation but don’t know much about it, this illustration tells you so much.

About Kōshō Uchiyama:

Kōshō Uchiyama was born in Tokyo in 1912. He received a master’s degree in Western philosophy at Waseda University in 1937 and became a Zen priest three years later under Kōdō Sawaki Roshi. Upon Sawaki’s death in 1965, he became abbot of Antaiji, a temple and monastery then located on the outskirts of Kyoto. Uchiyama Roshi developed the practice at Antaiji and traveled extensively throughout Japan, lecturing and leading sesshins. He retired from Antaiji in 1975 and lived with his wife at Noke-in, a small temple outside Kyoto, where he continued to write, publish, and meet with the many people who found their way to his door, until his death in 1999. He wrote over twenty books on Zen, including translations of Dōgen Zenji in modern Japanese with commentaries, a few of which are available in English, as are various shorter essays. He was an origami master as well as a Zen master and published several books on origami.

The text accompanying the illustration:

Actually, zazen is not just being somehow glued to line ZZ’. Doing zazen is a continuation of this kind of returning up from sleepiness and down from chasing after thoughts. That is, the posture of waking up and returning to ZZ’ at any time is itself zazen. This is one of the most vital points regarding zazen. When we are doing zazen line ZZ‘, or just doing zazen, represents our reality, so it is essential to maintain that line. Actually, ZZ’ represents the reality of the posture of zazen, but the reality of our life is not just ZZ’. If it were only ZZ’, we would be as unchanging and lifeless as a rock! Although we aim at the line ZZ’, we can never actually adhere to it, because it (ZZ’) does not exist by itself. Nevertheless, we keep aiming at ZZ‘, because it is through clinging to thoughts that we keep veering away from it. The very power to wake up to ZZ’ and return to it is the reality of the life of zazen.

That is all you may need to know. Really.

Would be

who would be my teacher
to whom I would be a student
so many
smoke from a burning stick

© 2023 by Bob Schwartz

Debussy in the desert

Debussy in the desert

listening to La Mer in the desert
Debussy hiding behind saguaros
irony as vast as the sea

© 2023 by Bob Schwartz

Misleading mindfulness

Mindfulness is a popular practice of spiritual and psychological progress. That is a good thing. Transformation and evolution are more needed and valuable than ever.

Being aware of mind is a step towards full presence. As is no mind:


140
Dayi’s “No Mind”

MAIN CASE

Dayi Daoxin asked his teacher Jianzhi Sengcan, the Third Ancestor, “What is the mind of the ancient buddhas?”

Sengcan said, “What kind of mind do you have now?”

Dayi said, “I have no mind.”

Sengcan said, “Since you have no mind, why would you think buddhas have mind?”

Dayi immediately ceased to have doubt.

COMMENTARY

It is clear that Dayi is an adept and has investigated the Way. He has to a certain degree eliminated conceptual thought and intellectual defilement. But still, there is this “What is the mind of the ancient buddha?” Indeed, what is the mind—any mind, your mind? How big is it? Where does it reside? Does it really exist or not? The answers to these questions require that each one of us plummet the depths of our own mind.

When pressed by his teacher, Dayi, like his dharma grandfather Huike before him, has to admit that mind is ultimately ungraspable. Do you understand? Because the mind has no form, it pervades the whole universe, existing right here now. This truth comes from the direct experience of plunging into another dimension of consciousness. It is not a matter of understanding or knowing.

Sengcan presses again, saying, “Since you have no mind, why would you think buddhas have mind?” The ice begins to melt, the waters begin to flow, and no further communication is possible.

But say, since Dayi has no mind, where was he holding the doubt that he ceased to have?

CAPPING VERSE

When thoughts disappear, the thinker disappears,
and all things manifest as they are.
In this reality, all intentional efforts vanish.
In this world of suchness, nothing is excluded.

The True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dōgen’s Three Hundred Kōans
With Commentary and Verse by John Daido Loori
Translated by Kazuaki Tanahashi And John Daido Loori


No mind, not just full mind. There is not a popular term no-mindedness. Maybe there should be.

© 2023 by Bob Schwartz

Day 6 of Passover: Maybe almost over, the remaining matzo supply

It is Day 6 of Passover. The holiday is seven days long in Israel and Reform communities, mostly eight days in Orthodox and Conservative communities. The extra day for this and some other holidays is traditionally based on the reach from Israel to diaspora communities. So Passover may be over tomorrow, maybe the next day. We can, should and will debate it.

By Day 6 we appreciate that we can soon make a sandwich or put a hot dog in a bun. Not that it isn’t fun to devise workarounds: this morning’s breakfast was whole wheat matzo topped with cream cheese and lox. Back to bagels will be fun, but creative cooking is fun too.

Speaking of matzo, one challenge before Passover is to estimate how much matzo you will actually use. You don’t want to run out, especially if you don’t have easy access to it. This year, as most years, there is going to be leftover matzo, maybe a box or more. The good news, I just learned, is that properly stored, matzo will last 24 months or more. It’s not going to dry out or get moldy, is it?

For those with biblical interests, portions of the Torah are designated to be read during the days of Passover. Day 7 includes possibly the most famous and dramatic scene in the Exodus story:


And the LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Speak to the Israelites, that they journey onward. As for you, raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and split it apart, that the Israelites may come into the midst of the sea on dry land. As for me, look, I am about to toughen the heart of the Egyptians, that they come after them, and I shall gain glory through Pharaoh and through all his force, through his chariots and through his riders. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD when I gain glory through Pharaoh, through his chariots and through his riders. And the messenger of God that was going before the camp of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them. And it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel, and there was the cloud and the dark, and it lit up the night, and they did not draw near each other all night. And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD led the sea with a mighty east wind all night, and He made the sea dry ground, and the waters were split apart. And the Israelites came into the sea on dry land, the waters a wall to them on their right and on their left. And the Egyptians pursued and came after them, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his riders, into the sea.

Exodus 14:15-25 (Alter translation)


Happy Day 6 and Day 7 (and maybe Day 8).

© 2023 by Bob Schwartz

Schrödinger’s Jesus

We begin with the physics concept of superposition, which is the ability of a quantum system to be in multiple states at the same time until it is measured.

In 1935 Nobel Prize physicist Erwin Schrödinger devised a thought experiment to illustrate what he believed was a flaw in one interpretation of this concept. Schrödinger’s cat, also known as Schrödinger’s cat paradox, is one of the most referenced, debated and misunderstood thought experiments in modern science.

In simple form:

A cat, a bit of radioactive material, a Geiger counter, a hammer, and a glass flask of poison are in a sealed box. During the next hour, there is an equal chance that the radioactive substance might emit a particle and an equal chance it might not. If it is emitted, the Geiger counter will measure it, cause the connected hammer to shatter the flask, releasing the gas and killing the cat. During that hour, there is equal probability of the cat being alive or dead. Only when an observer opens the box is the cat alive or dead. Until then the cat is simultaneously alive and dead, according to quantum superposition. Schrödinger devised this “ridiculous case” to demonstrate its absurdity.

Easter is a powerful example of an alive or dead paradox, and not the only one in the Bible. Elijah, we are told, did not die, but was taken alive to heaven in a fiery chariot.

Billions of people live in a state of faith. Billions more (I hope) in a state of reason. It is an appropriate time to ask whether we can live in a simultaneous state of reason and a state of faith, or if we must choose between the two.

On Easter some ask whether and how it is possible that there is life after death. On Passover some ask whether the story of an impossible journey actually took place. I am one of those questioners.

Reason is powerful and has its limits. Faith is powerful and has its limits. Schrödinger was, from a certain perspective, wrong in thinking that his cat could not be both dead and alive, that it was a ridiculous absurdity.

“There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” (Hamlet). Don’t you think?

© 2023 by Bob Schwartz