Bob Schwartz

Category: Zen

Yesh Me’ayin (Creatio Ex Nihilo)

Ayin

Yesh Me’ayin (Creatio Ex Nihilo)

Knock knock.
Who’s there?
Nothing.

©

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Without Opinion

The Great Way is not difficult
for those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent
everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however,
and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.

If you wish to see the truth
then hold no opinions for or against anything.
To set up what you like against what you dislike
is the disease of the mind.

From Hsin-hsin Ming: Verses on the Faith-Mind by Seng-ts’an, translated By Richard B. Clarke

Try going for one day without having or expressing an opinion. For one hour. One minute. Oh but, you will say, my job requires me to make distinctions. Or, you will say, opinions make for interesting conversation and diversion. If I have no opinion, I will end up with an unsuitable lunch or an unsuitable friend or an unsuitable leader. Maybe so. Still, it might be worth a try.


When a Man Meets Himself

One of man’s greatest difficulties is also his most obvious drawback. It could be corrected if anyone troubled himself to point it out often and cogently enough.

It is the difficulty that man is describing himself when he thinks that he is describing others.

How often do you hear people say, about me:

“I regard this man as the Qutub (magnetic Pole) of the Age”?
He means, of course: “I regard this man…”

He is describing his own feelings or convictions, when what we might want to know is something about the person or thing being described.

When he says: “This teaching is sublime,” he means: “This appears to suit me.” But we might have wanted to know something about the teaching, not how he thinks it influences him.

Some people say: “But a thing can truly be known by its effect. Why not observe the effect upon a person?”

Most people do not understand that the effect of, say, sunlight on trees is something constant. In order to know the nature of the teaching, we would have to know the nature of the person upon whom it has acted. The ordinary person cannot know this: all he can know is what that person assumes to be an effect upon himself – and he has no coherent picture of what “himself” is. Since the outward observer knows even less than the person describing himself, we are left with quite useless evidence. We have no reliable witness.

Remember, that while this situation still obtains, there will generally be an equal number of people saying: “This is marvelous,” as are saying: “This is ridiculous.” “This is ridiculous” really means: “This appears ridiculous to me,” and “this is marvelous” means: “This appears marvelous to me.”

Do you really enjoy being like that?

Many people do, while energetically pretending otherwise.

Would you like to be able to test what really is ridiculous or marvelous, or anything in between?

You can do it, but not when you presume that you can do it without any practice, without any training, in the midst of being quite uncertain as to what it is you are and why you like or dislike anything.

When you have found yourself you can have knowledge. Until then you can only have opinions. Opinions are based on habit and what you conceive to be convenient to you.

The study of the Way requires self-encounter along the way. You have not met yourself yet. The only advantage of meeting others in the meantime is that one of them may present you to yourself.

Before you do that, you will possibly imagine that you have met yourself many times. But the truth is that when you do meet yourself, you come into a permanent endowment and bequest of knowledge that is like no other experience on earth.

Sufi master Tariqavi in Wisdom of the Idiots by Idries Shah

Winnie the Pooh Censored in China

China President Xi Jinping wants to change the constitution to remain in power beyond the limit of two terms. China Digital Times  explains:

Chinese state media announced on Sunday a list of proposed amendments to China’s constitution, which are expected to be adopted next month at the National People’s Congress session in Beijing. Among the 21 proposed amendments, the one with perhaps the deepest potential impact on the future of Chinese politics and society deals with paragraph 3 of article 79, which would eradicate the current limit of PRC presidents and vice-presidents to two five-year terms. This would effectively set President Xi Jinping up to maintain his seat as president indefinitely….

Following state media’s announcement, censorship authorities began work to limit online discussion.

As part of that censorship, a growing list of terms have been blocked from being posted on the search engine Weibo. Along with seeming innocent phrases that are protest memes and obvious authors such as George Orwell, for a while the list also included the letter “N”:

N — While the letter “N” was temporarily blocked from being posted, as of 14:27 PST on February 26, it was no longer banned. At Language Log, Victor Mair speculates that this term was blocked “probably out of fear on the part of the government that “N” = “n terms in office”, where possibly n > 2.”

Most ridiculous of all is the blocking of Winnie the Pooh:

Winnie the Pooh (小熊维尼) — Images of Winnie the Pooh have been used to mock Xi Jinping since as early as 2013. The animated bear continues to be sensitive in China. Weibo users shared a post from Disney’s official account that showed Pooh hugging a large pot of honey along with the caption “find the thing you love and stick with it.”

I’ve written before about my high regard for Winnie the Pooh—the books by A.A. Milne, not the Disney version. It is great literature, not least in the character of the sweet, loyal, interesting, but seemingly not very smart bear (as he calls himself, “a bear of very little brain.”) Seemingly, because he may also be a bit of an enigmatic Zen master:

On Monday, when the sun is hot
I wonder to myself a lot:
“Now is it true, or is it not,”
“That what is which and which is what?”

I have never thought of Pooh as a political subversive. And yet, if you are a supreme ruler aiming to become eternally supreme, enemies are everywhere. Even a letter of the alphabet or a simple and adorable bear.

First Thing

First Thing

Whatever I read or hear
First thing
Thousand year old dead man
Or new born bird
Whatever I drink
Cool clear water
Or hot brown coffee
There is the floor and a cushion
And if gone
The ground and a rock
The incense stick is lit
Fragrance up
Burning down

©

Light On

Gyokusei Jikihara, Ten Ox-Herding Pictures, 4. Catching the Bull

Light On

As I lay waking in bed
Listening to the Zen poem
Verses on the Faith Mind by Sengcan
The reader said
“The illustrator Gyokusei Jikihara, sensei,
is a Japanese master of calligraphy and nanga painting.
Still painting and teaching at the age of ninety-nine,
he will celebrate his one-hundredth birthday on August 1, 2004.”
Then the ceiling light came on spontaneously
Like a sun rising
With no one at the switch.
Sengcan died in 606.
Jikihara died in 2005.
If I live to be one hundred
I will remember this.
Sengcan says
“Don’t waste your time in arguments and discussion
attempting to grasp the ungraspable.”
I don’t think
I will

©

Fake News and Enlightenment

An apple is also a banana.

Maybe all things Trump are good for us.

As with all indignities and suffering, we may want our difficulties to have meaning, meaning that is constructive and helpful. That can be hard and even impossible. Considering some current events as a blessing smacks of shaky rationalization.

In the Trump context, we know what fake news means. It means that reports from reliable sources are not to be believed, no matter how well investigated and substantiated. This can be maddening to intelligent and discerning people. It led to the current CNN campaign, showing that you can call an apple anything you want, including a banana, but it is still an apple. The apple is not fake news.

The Buddhist tradition doesn’t say it is not an apple. Of course it is. But beyond that, what we know is the thought of an apple, as is anything and everything the thought of anything and everything.

To put it another way, the apple is real news. And fake news. A conversation about how the apple is a banana sounds like a conversation you might find in a collection of Zen koans.

All is real news and fake news. Having the concept of fake news in our face can be a reminder of that. Even Trump is real news and fake news. Of course he is president and all that comes with it, some of it actually or potentially dire. But he and all that comes with it, including the dire, are thoughts. That doesn’t make the situation less real, but it may help moves us towards an enlightened perspective on things. Including all things Trump.

Is Zero A Number?

O zero
You fool me all the time
Pretending to be something
When you’re nothing

Reminders

Reminders

This way
That way
I think I know better
But I easily forget
Lost in myself
So a story
A sentence
A phrase
A word
A sound
A silence
A laugh
A look at anything
Reminds me
Of nothing more
Than this or that
O this
O that

©

It’s Just Pumpkin Pie

The Great Way is not difficult
for those not attached to preferences.
When neither love nor hate arises,
all is clear and undisguised.
Separate by the smallest amount, however,
and you are as far from it as heaven is from earth.
Verses on the Faith Mind

It’s Just Pumpkin Pie

It is a slice of pumpkin pie
The hundredth I’ve eaten
Is it good
Is it better or worse?
Some comment and compare
The filling and the crust
I notice too
But choose to just eat and enjoy
This slice of pumpkin pie

©

Buddhist Anarchism

Celebrated poet Gary Snyder has been a master swimmer in the cultural and spiritual currents of our times. His biography from the Poetry Foundation notes:

Gary Snyder began his career in the 1950s as a noted member of the “Beat Generation,” though he has since explored a wide range of social and spiritual matters in both poetry and prose. Snyder’s work blends physical reality and precise observations of nature with inner insight received primarily through the practice of Zen Buddhism. While Snyder has gained attention as a spokesman for the preservation of the natural world and its earth-conscious cultures, he is not simply a “back-to-nature” poet with a facile message….

Snyder’s emphasis on metaphysics and his celebration of the natural order remove his work from the general tenor of Beat writing—and in fact Snyder is also identified as a poet of the San Francisco Renaissance along with Jack Spicer, Robert Duncan and Robin Blaser. Snyder has looked to the Orient and to the beliefs of American Indians for positive responses to the world, and he has tempered his studies with stints of hard physical labor as a logger and trail builder. Altieri believed that Snyder’s “articulation of a possible religious faith” independent of Western culture has greatly enhanced his popularity. In his study of the poet, Bob Steuding described how Snyder’s accessible style, drawn from the examples of Japanese haiku and Chinese verse, “has created a new kind of poetry that is direct, concrete, non-Romantic, and ecological. . . . Snyder’s work will be remembered in its own right as the example of a new direction taken in American literature.” Nation contributor Richard Tillinghast wrote: “In Snyder the stuff of the world ‘content’—has always shone with a wonderful sense of earthiness and health. He has always had things to tell us, experiences to relate, a set of values to expound. . . . He has influenced a generation.”

In 1961, Snyder published an essay entitled Buddhist Anarchism. Anarchism is a slippery term, though a call to turn things upside down, or an observation of our heading there, probably qualifies. The Buddhist part is definite here. Yes, it is radical, and pragmatic history may seem to demonstrate that the vision is idealistic, impractical and impossible. Even quaint in the face of the 21st century real world and real life. But without the idealistic, impractical and impossible, where is the fun and the future?

Buddhist Anarchism

Buddhism holds that the universe and all creatures in it are intrinsically in a state of complete wisdom, love and compassion; acting in natural response and mutual interdependence. The personal realization of this from-the-beginning state cannot be had for and by one-“self” — because it is not fully realized unless one has given the self up; and away.

In the Buddhist view, that which obstructs the effortless manifestation of this is Ignorance, which projects into fear and needless craving. Historically, Buddhist philosophers have failed to analyze out the degree to which ignorance and suffering are caused or encouraged by social factors, considering fear-and-desire to be given facts of the human condition. Consequently the major concern of Buddhist philosophy is epistemology and “psychology” with no attention paid to historical or sociological problems. Although Mahayana Buddhism has a grand vision of universal salvation, the actual achievement of Buddhism has been the development of practical systems of meditation toward the end of liberating a few dedicated individuals from psychological hangups and cultural conditionings. Institutional Buddhism has been conspicuously ready to accept or ignore the inequalities and tyrannies of whatever political system it found itself under. This can be death to Buddhism, because it is death to any meaningful function of compassion. Wisdom without compassion feels no pain.

No one today can afford to be innocent, or indulge himself in ignorance of the nature of contemporary governments, politics and social orders. The national polities of the modern world maintain their existence by deliberately fostered craving and fear: monstrous protection rackets. The “free world” has become economically dependent on a fantastic system of stimulation of greed which cannot be fulfilled, sexual desire which cannot be satiated and hatred which has no outlet except against oneself, the persons one is supposed to love, or the revolutionary aspirations of pitiful, poverty-stricken marginal societies like Cuba or Vietnam. The conditions of the Cold War have turned all modern societies — Communist included — into vicious distorters of man’s true potential. They create populations of “preta” — hungry ghosts, with giant appetites and throats no bigger than needles. The soil, the forests and all animal life are being consumed by these cancerous collectivities; the air and water of the planet is being fouled by them.

There is nothing in human nature or the requirements of human social organization which intrinsically requires that a culture be contradictory, repressive and productive of violent and frustrated personalities. Recent findings in anthropology and psychology make this more and more evident. One can prove it for himself by taking a good look at his own nature through meditation. Once a person has this much faith and insight, he must be led to a deep concern with the need for radical social change through a variety of hopefully non-violent means.

The joyous and voluntary poverty of Buddhism becomes a positive force. The traditional harmlessness and refusal to take life in any form has nation-shaking implications. The practice of meditation, for which one needs only “the ground beneath one’s feet,” wipes out mountains of junk being pumped into the mind by the mass media and supermarket universities. The belief in a serene and generous fulfillment of natural loving desires destroys ideologies which blind, maim and repress — and points the way to a kind of community which would amaze “moralists” and transform armies of men who are fighters because they cannot be lovers.

Avatamsaka (Kegon) Buddhist philosophy sees the world as a vast interrelated network in which all objects and creatures are necessary and illuminated. From one standpoint, governments, wars, or all that we consider “evil” are uncompromisingly contained in this totalistic realm. The hawk, the swoop and the hare are one. From the “human” standpoint we cannot live in those terms unless all beings see with the same enlightened eye. The Bodhisattva lives by the sufferer’s standard, and he must be effective in aiding those who suffer.

The mercy of the West has been social revolution; the mercy of the East has been individual insight into the basic self/void. We need both. They are both contained in the traditional three aspects of the Dharma path: wisdom (prajna), meditation (dhyana), and morality (sila). Wisdom is intuitive knowledge of the mind of love and clarity that lies beneath one’s ego-driven anxieties and aggressions. Meditation is going into the mind to see this for yourself — over and over again, until it becomes the mind you live in. Morality is bringing it back out in the way you live, through personal example and responsible action, ultimately toward the true community (sangha) of “all beings.”

This last aspect means, for me, supporting any cultural and economic revolution that moves clearly toward a free, international, classless world. It means using such means as civil disobedience, outspoken criticism, protest, pacifism, voluntary poverty and even gentle violence if it comes to a matter of restraining some impetuous redneck. It means affirming the widest possible spectrum of non-harmful individual behavior — defending the right of individuals to smoke hemp, eat peyote, be polygynous, polyandrous or homosexual. Worlds of behavior and custom long banned by the Judaeo-Capitalist-Christian-Marxist West. It means respecting intelligence and learning, but not as greed or means to personal power. Working on one’s own responsibility, but willing to work with a group. “Forming the new society within the shell of the old” — the IWW slogan of fifty years ago.

The traditional cultures are in any case doomed, and rather than cling to their good aspects hopelessly it should be remembered that whatever is or ever was in any other culture can be reconstructed from the unconscious, through meditation. In fact, it is my own view that the coming revolution will close the circle and link us in many ways with the most creative aspects of our archaic past. If we are lucky we may eventually arrive at a totally integrated world culture with matrilineal descent, free-form marriage, natural-credit communist economy, less industry, far less population and lots more national parks.

GARY SNYDER
1961