Quantum Peak: Where Are You? Where Are you Going? Are you Sure?


Hakuin Zenji occupying the ground he sits on. Where is he?

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle!

Most of us are uncertain about this or that. In quantum mechanics uncertainty isn’t a matter of confidence or knowledge, it is in the nature of the beast.

I am often amazed how this uncertainty principle is seen by scientists as such a strong principle that observations and outcomes must obey it. No questions asked, no reservations.

Here’s what it says:

There are measurements, things you can know about a particle, say a photon or electron. Some of these come in pairs such that both cannot be known to the same degree of certainty at the same time. Period. Our ability to measure the universe with our senses (and our devices which are extensions of our senses), what we can know by observation, is fundamentally limited.

Often it is said that this is due to the clumsiness and coarseness of our measuring devices. Send in a photon to “see” where the electron is by pinging it, and you now have an interaction that changes things. The size and energy of what you use to “touch” the world of particles is so large proportional to the particles, you can’t help but disturb it, to change it as you measure it.

Fair enough.

But it in fact goes more deep than that.

Lets look at momentum and position.

Momentum is how much oomph something has when it is moving, how much bang it would have if it hit something. If the object has mass, momentum is simply mass times velocity. The more massive the object and faster it is going in a specific direction (velocity is speed and direction, a very important point), the more momentum it has. Since photons have no mass, the momentum is a function of its energy, or wavelength, but that matters little to us here. The idea is the same, directed energy, how much oomph it has in a specific direction.

Lets look at an experiment, shining light at holes in the screen. The light is represented by the golden arrows going left to right.


If we shine a wide beam of light with many photons against a screen that has a hole in it, most of the light is spread out pretty evenly along the screen and will hit the screen pretty evenly all over. We don’t know where a given photon is exactly. It is in the room between the light source and the screen it was aimed at, but a given photon can be positioned anywhere in the beam of light (the straight arrows to the left of the screens in the illustration).

But assuming we know the wavelength of the light, and the direction the beam was pointed, we know the momentum of any photon in that beam with a great deal of accuracy. The beam was directed toward the screen, and so if undisturbed should be going pretty straight on (except for the stray cosmic ray or atom in the air hitting the beam, for example, pretty small effects here and they can be minimized), and at the speed of light in air, and so we pretty much know speed and direction pf the beam and so all the photons in it.

We can say then that before the light gets to the screen we have little (but some) information about position of the photons in the light, but a lot of information about momentum of the photons.

Next, some of the light goes through the hole on the screen at the left in our illustration. There is a phenomenon called diffraction. When the light goes though a hole, it bends out at the edges. The larger the hole, the less relative bending, the smaller the hole the more bending. Picture a broad water wave going through a small opening in a jetty. On the other side of the hole in the jetty the wave will expand. If it is a big hole, most of the water wave just goes right through undisturbed, only the part of the wave right at the edge of the opening in the jetty is going to spread out again after passing through.


A broad wave on the left goes through the holes and then spreads out. This is another way to see diffraction. In this case there are two holes and so the diffracting waves interfere. We will limit ourselves to one hole this post!


Our light now goes through the hole in the screen on the left below.


Only about two arrows from the light on the left go through the hole. We know where the hole is, so now we have a lot more information about position of photons just as they exit the hole than we had before the light entered the hole. We know pretty well where that light in the hole is when it is in the hole or just exits the hole so we know with a high probability where a photon that is going through the hole or just exited will be found, much more so than before the light entered the hole.

But due to diffraction induced by the hole when the light exits the hole (to the right in the illustration) the beam spreads out. But right at that point, at the exit of the hole, that tails of the arrows are close together, and the area the photons can likely be found is about the size of the hole, so we still have information about position that is much more precise than before. An important point is that it right after the hole at the base of the arrow that matters. It is the direction of the arrow, not what is happening at the tip that counts here. What we see though is that only the central arrows of light are still going in the same direction that they were before entering the hole as they were not affected by the edges of the hole (really mostly the most central arrow). So while we know we will find a given photon in the area about the size of the hole, its direction may have changed considerably. Or it may not have changed so considerably if the photon is in the central arrow. Some photons have the same momentum, but many have changed. So we are less certain about momentum because remember, momentum isn’t just speed (the speed of light didn’t change) but also direction (that form many photons that has changed).

We went from knowing little about position, and a lot about momentum, to knowing a lot about position and much less about momentum of a given photon. The possibilities for position have decreased, the possibilities for the momentum have increased.


On the illustration above, we made the hole in the screen on the right smaller. Now only one arrow from the light coming in from the left  gets through. You guessed it, we then have more information about position on the other side of the hole. But since the hole is smaller, on leaving the hole there is more diffraction, the arrows are more widely directed, pointing at more of an angle from the smaller hole than the larger hole (now rather than three almost undisturbed as in the screen at the left, only one goes through unscathed) as there is more hole edge effect (diffraction) for the size of the hole. That is how diffraction works, it increases the smaller the hole.

In fact a door in a room diffracts light coming through it and bends it, so light goes around corners just like sound goes around corners. In fact, YOU diffract! But the effect is so small we can not perceive it.

Now with the smaller hole we have even more information about position but less about the momentum. We know with greater certainty where a given photon is likely to be, but even less about what it’s momentum is. We still know something about the momentum, we are just less certain.


We see this in the graphs. The up axis (the arrow pointing up) is the spread of possible momentums, higher up is more momentum. The axis going left to right (the arrow pointing to the right) is the spread of possible positions. It is simply where the beam is, so where a photon may be found. So the larger our rectangle is up and down, the larger our spread of possible momenta (our uncertainty for a given photon is larger) and the wider the rectangle, the larger our spread of possible positions, (our uncertainty about position is larger).


Graphs of possible states of momentum (up and down), and position (left to right), for the light before it enters the hole (left graph), the large hole (center graph) and the small hole (right graph) .


In the graph on the left, we see a wide spread of position, but a narrow band of momentum. This is the beam before it goes through the hole. So we end up with a narrow rectangle in blue; narrow up and down as momentum is pretty well known (reflecting little uncertainty about the momentum of any given photon in the beam) but very long left and right (reflecting great uncertainty as to just where a photon may be as the beam is wide before going through the hole).

In the middle graph, we see the situation as the light exists the larger hole. We know less about momentum, so the square is larger up and down, reflecting more uncertainty about momentum due to diffraction and the new direction the light can take. New direction means new momentum. On the other hand, we know more about the possible positions of the light/photons because where they are at the as they exit the hole is limited by the size of the hole, so the rectangle is narrower left and right. We are less uncertain as to where the photon is; it just left the hole so that limits where we are likely to find it, outside of effects like quantum tunneling, a subject for later!


The graph on the right is what happens after light passes through the smaller hole. We are more certain about the possible positions of the photons as this is limited by the smaller size of the hole, so the rectangle is narrower left and right, but we are more uncertain about momentum (more diffraction changing the direction) so the rectangle is wider up and down.

The area of the square and how this area is distributed is the critical thing to look at. Areas in calculus are the “integral,” in this case “integrating” our knowledge of possible values for momentum and position in our experimental set up, as it were. Making them squares of one density is too simple of course. The potential state of the photon may not be equally likely to be anywhere in the square. Some states are more likely than others. The likely position, for example, may be more concentrated in the center just opposite the hole. But I wanted to introduce a way to see very important and mathematically sophisticated quantum ideas. The area of the square is the “probability density” of where you will likely find the photon and what its momentum may be in this “space of states,” (that is official quantum jargon) that is, the space, or dimensions, of momentum and position in our experimental set up. A quantum scientist can never speak about how it “REALLY is” just what is the range of possibilities given your experiment. This relates to integral calculus and Fourier transforms. It relates to the very heart of quantum mechanics. (Congratulations). Much of a course in quantum mechanics is solving such problems of the space of states in a given situation and the areas that reflect probabilities.

These quantum effects, this uncertainty of the “material” world, just like diffraction at a doorway, are real for you and me and cars and galaxies. We can’t see them, as they are very small at the scale of our sensory apparatus (eyes). We think we can look at the speedometer of our car and the direction we are driving and where we are on the road and know both momentum and position, but even there, as soon as we note all that, it has changed. But even if we have a set up that can look at all of this data simultaneously (a whole discussion right there) it would be changing not only because it takes time to observe and note all of these things, a computer can do that very quickly, but because there is no difference between us and the quantum world other than what our limitations as embodied beings relying on sense impressions at our scale imposes.

That is, you don’t know both your position and momentum with 100% accuracy. Just well enough to get through the door (well, and then some).

An interesting implication of this is quite consistent with the Buddhist teachings about change and impermanence. There is never no movement. Not at absolute zero, not ever. If there were no movement it would violate the uncertainty principle. We would know position exactly (wherever we froze the particle) and momentum exactly (no momentum if it isn’t moving!). Really, that’s what I meant at the beginning. This principle is so basic, so essential in the math as well as our observations, that scientists will not allow it to be breached. Like conservation of energy, it is foundational in science.

So what does it mean to me? Is it cool that some aspect of Buddhist philosophy has scientific validation? Sure, I like that, but that isn’t all that important really I think. It also is a taste of the unreasonable ability of math (that was very, very sophisticated math back there) to reflect reality.

And more importantly, as before, it reminds us that what we see, what we can determine about the nature of reality using our senses, is dependent on our limitations, our projections, our assumptions. The concepts, words and intuitions we have developed in the 4 dimensional world of space and time are mere approximations. Don’t get too attached to them. That is what this aspect of the quantum world says to me.


There is no fixed place.


Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle!



Right Effort and Conditioning

I was convinced at an early age that I was lazy. I heard it often enough from my mother. And then I heard it from my teachers when I couldn’t be bothered with homework or studying. I bought it. I embraced it.

When my sixth grade teacher told me that despite my over the top standardized test scores he wouldn’t put me in the special program that would allow me to skip eighth grade because I didn’t ever do any work, I had to at least concede that I could see his point. I had long before established my what was then called “underachiever” status.

Cost me a !@#$ing extra year of school, but you know, I had to be me!

But in fact I always did stuff. Even as an underachieving smart-assed kid and teenager. I just did what interested me. While getting mostly B’s and C’s in high school (the only math A I got was in geometry when a substitute teacher challenged me by pointing out geometry was about THINKING! So I actually did the homework and looked forward to the tests!) I took the subway after school to NYU to sit in on a university art history course. I would read Shakespeare and go see Shakespeare in the park in Central Park (it was free!). I haunted the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was learning ancient Egyptian. I painted and drew.

But to this day I tend to be on the look out. Am I slacking? Were they right? If I stop, if I relax my guard, will I revert to that “lazy kid,” like a once productive cultivated field being reclaimed by weeds?

For that matter, would that be all bad?

Do I honestly think it would all come apart? That the Buddhist “right effort” requires some concept of achieving?

Well, Nyogen Roshi quotes Maezumi Roshi as saying the effort of no effort is the hardest effort you will ever make.


I bring all of this up because I was going to write about very positive experiences I have been having peeling back some of the layers of my medical conditioning. How I am, even now, this late in my game, becoming a bit of a better doctor, a little bit better healer, teacher of doctors and mentor. And I give credit to my practice. And to right effort. I will get into that in another post, but for now I want to note that rather than staying positive, the way I framed it in my mind, the way I was going to introduce it here, was that I discovered that I was intellectually lazy.


I mean, REALLY?

Conditioning. It seeps in very deep.

Mental friggin’ fracking.

Psychic pollution.

Nyogen Roshi says Buddhism is one loud cry of affirmation. Perhaps the first affirmation is to stop calling yourself names.

Quantum Peak Again

There is another famous experiment that I would like to talk you through. I will try with lots of schematic drawings. The pay off is that it is another look at how the quantum world is beyond our day-to-day experience and how our basic notions are projections. For now, that is plenty! We can go deeper later.

We are going to look at what happens when a light goes through an interferometer.

Lets look at the basic set up, a “big picture” look.It is all there, but we will have to go over it step by step. First, what is in the diagram?.



There is a light source, here the green lamp in the lower left corner of the diagram.

The yellow arrows indicate the path the light takes.

There are four mirrors, one at each corner, all indicated by diagonal lines.

Two mirrors, one at the upper left corner and the other at the lower right corner, are indicated by a single blue line. They are full-silvered mirrors and they reflect all the light that comes to them.

Two other mirrors, one at the lower left corner and the other at the upper right corner, are half-silvered mirrors. These reflect half of the light that comes to them, and let half of the light through. A very important point is that the half-silvered mirrors have a front and a back. The back, here indicated by a red line, also reflects half the light and lets half the light through, but there is a change in the reflected light when reflected off the back ( red) side of the half-silvered mirror. The “phase” of the light is shifted. We will get back to that in a bit; it makes all the difference.

The black trapezoid objects in the upper right par of the diagram are light detectors. That is, they will register the light that gets to them (and their color will turn from black to yellow here in these diagrams).

This next diagram shows another overview showing what will happen. We send light through the interferometer and only the top light detector registers light. Why is that? What happened to the light going toward the lower right detector?



Lets follow the light,


Here we see the light that came from our lamp at the lower left in our first “big picture” diagram. This light first interacts with the lower left half-silvered mirror. Half of the light is reflected, and because of the mirror’s angle the reflected light is sent up in this diagram. The other half of the light goes straight through along the bottom left to right. This is why there is a half-silvered mirror here at the beginning of our interferometer device, to split the light into two pants, an upper and lower path.



The half of the light that was reflected straight up along the upper path at the first mirror now reaches the upper left full-silvered mirror and all of that light is reflected, now going along the top from left to right.


The half of the light going left to right on the lower path that went through the first half-silvered mirror next reaches the lower right full-silvered mirror and is reflected up along the right side of our interferometer.



The light in the upper path going from left to right reaches the upper right corner half-silvered mirror. This light from the upper path is again split at the half-silvered mirror at the upper right just like the light was at the first half-silvered mirror at the lower left corner of the interferometer. At this last mirror once again half of the upper path light goes through unchanged, and half is reflected up to the top light detector.



Now here is where it gets a bit tricky. The light from the lower path next reaches this last half-silvered mirror in the upper right corner of the interferometer. But this time it interacts with the back of the half-silvered mirror! This light from the lower path is also split at the half-silvered mirror. The half of the lower path light that goes straight through the half-silvered mirror continues up to the upper detector unchanged. That light transmitted from the lower path gets to the upper detector at the same time as the light from the upper path that was reflected up to the detector, so the light reflected from the upper path and the light that goes through from the bottom path combine and the upper detector registers the light.



BUT the light that was reflected off of the BACK of the upper right half-silvered mirror from the lower path is now shifted 180 degrees out of phase by the back of the half silvered mirror! This means the peaks of this light, the “out of phase” light reflected off of the back of the half-silvered mirror, now in red in the diagram (but don’t get confused, that color change is just to make it easy to follow; the light doesn’t change wavelength or color) lines up with the troughs of the light that went through from the upper pathway.


So the two light waves, the wave of light that went through the last mirror from the upper path and the wave of light reflected form the back of the mirror from the lower path  “cancel” each other out. They completely “interfere” with each other (negative interference in the jargon). Hence the name of the device: interferometer!

The peaks, like we have seen in previous posts and in the diagram to the right here, we can think of as +1, the troughs as -1. So you can see how the +1 peak lines up with the -1 trough, and that kind of alignment of the same + with – holds true throughout the whole wave. So the +’s combine exactly with the -‘s and cancel each other out (+1 and -1 =0).


So NO light gets to the lower right detector, which remains black in our diagram.

When only the upper detector detects light, the lower right detector detects nothing, we know that both paths are open and the light went through both the upper and lower path.

Now for a really amazing result: if we send one photon at a time through, once again only the upper detector registers light! The indivisible, basic particle, the photon say (but other particles and even small molecules have been shown to do this), the discrete energy carrier of electromagnetic waves, is in both pathways. But it can’t be, a photon, a particle, is a most basic thing, it is not divisible, of course.Right?

Well, yes, but no. This situation where the photon interferes with itself when both paths are open is called “superposition.” It almost seems as if the photon is “in” the two paths at once in superposition. This is a mathematical idea, of course. Superposition is a word for a phenomenon that can be mathematically described but has no four-dimensional meaning in any sense we can picture or comprehend based on our day-to-day experience and our monkey brain.

The particle is, in effect, going through all possibilities of all of the paths, every one however unlikely (in this “simple” case both paths are equally likely). Though of course that is impossible in ordinary time and space.

Now, if you block a pathway, then both detectors detect light!  If  you send a beam of light through just one path (either upper or lower;in the diagram below it is the upper path) both detectors register light. If you send one photon at a time through only one path of the interferometer then only one of the two detectors will register each photon that goes through, but over many runs with single photons half the time the upper detector will register the photon, half the time the detector on the right will register the photon!


To see what is happening, in this diagram the upper pathway is open, the lower blocked. At the upper right half-silvered mirror half of  the light (or half of the photons over different run when one photon at a time is sent  into the interferometer) goes through the mirror to the detector on the right, half at the light (or half the photons over different runs) is reflected up to the upper detector.

The situation is the same if the upper pathway is blocked. The light reflecting off the back of the upper right half-silvered mirror is indeed phase shifted as before, but there is no other light wave from the upper path going through the half-silvered mirror to “interfere” with the out of phase light (the detector doesn’t care about the phase), so there is no “negative interference,” No two waves to cancel each other out!

So if both detectors light up when a beam of light is sent through, or over many runs with individual photons, you know that only one pathway is open!

This shows that indeed photons can act as discrete particles that can be detected one at a time. As before with the double slit experiment though we have to ask, how do they “know” to go half the time to one or the other mirror if they are separated in space and time?

Here is the kicker. If you don’t block either pathway, but set up some sort of detector that will tell you which path the photon is on, even if you can show it doesn’t mess with the photon in any way you can tell, it is just as if the other pathway is blocked. The superposition disappears! Both detectors will register light (again, when sending only a photon through at a time they won’t both detect the photon at the same time, one or another will do so, but over many runs it will be half and half again!).

Lets stop here. This is one of the big deals in quantum mechanics. Why does “knowing,” that is detecting the photon on one path or another make a difference? What does knowing or detecting mean? And didn’t we already show the photon is in this weird superposition as if it is in both paths at once?

I told you not to get hung up on how you are picturing this. It won’t work.


Special thanks to Prof. Benjamin Schumacher whose Great Courses lectures on quantum mechanics are very good and who presented this version of the interferometer.

Circle Triangle Square



Sengai Gibon (1750-1838) was a Japanese Zen master who was an artist. There are many stories about Sengai. One I particularly like shows his courage and compassion. The Daimyo, the high ranking Samurai who was the local ruler, loved chrysanthemums. The gardener’s dog destroyed some of his prized blooms and so naturally the gardener needed to die. Sengai leveled the rest of the flowers with is trusty scythe, presenting himself to the Daimyo the next day. Sengai asked to be killed for certainly in this area the farmers, who were dying of hunger were ignored by the Daimyo while pretty plants were valued above a human life.

The Daimyo got the message.

One of Sengai’s most famous works is “Circle Triangle Square.”


There are many interpretations of what this painting is about.

The inscription at the left alludes to Sengai’s temple, an ancient temple already at that time about 700 years old. it was the first Zen temple in Japan. So maybe the shapes refer to the temple. Or the pagoda at the temple.

Or maybe the inscription is not about the subject of the painting and it is just in effect his signature. Zen masters in Japan and before that China were often identified with and named after their monasteries or the mountains they lived on.

Or maybe the circle is the cushion (zafu) the meditator sits on, the triangle is the mediator with the top point as the head, the solid base the butt and crossed legs. The triangle and meditator as mountain (the triangle/meditator/mountain idea was suggested in conversations with sensai Maezen at Hazy Moon). The square might be the zabuton, the square pad the zafu sits on.

I would like to interpret it geometrically.

I have no idea how much geometry Sengai knew. Clearly basic geometric shapes interested him enough to paint them.

I already discussed the perfect symmetry of a circle in the post “Circle and Wave.” Recall that a circle is an idea, defined as that object that is equally distant at every point from a central point. This distance is the radius of the circle. So all it takes is a distance to make a circle. The circle has perfect rotational symmetry, without beginning or end. When that symmetry is broken, we saw that we can produce waves, and these waves define particles, the basis of form.


We saw that breaking the symmetry of the ideal circle led to waves, particles and the manifest universe of form and is embodied in the yin yang symbol.

So circles are amazing but where do squares and triangles come in? How do they relate to the unwinding of the perfect circle as a wave.

Lets start with how a square and triangle relate. A square is two triangles.


Next, how do circles and squares relate? There are many ways, but here is one I like: Every circle precisely defines two squares, each of which intersects with the circle at four points. One square is inside, the other outside the circle. In a perfect symmetry, every square likewise defines two circles, each circle intersecting with the square at four points:


Those then define two larger and smaller squares and circles ad infinitum.



Now, how do circles and triangles relate and how do they make waves?

We can think of the circle as a clock face. This time we will think of the radius as a minute hand, here pictured as arrows, but this minute hand will go counter-clockwise starting at the 3 o’clock position. We will see how high the tip of the arrow is above or below the horizontal line bisecting the circle at several points.



Next lets put each vertical line along a horizontal line with each clock hour marked, starting at 3 o’clock and going counterclockwise. Even with just a few straight lines we see a wave emerging:


In this figure we placed the vertical lines above and below the horizontal line at their clock positions in the circle as marked on the horizontal line and connected the tips of the arrows with lines and got a rough wave.

If we were to add so many arrows and vertical lines so that the circle is filled with lines and arrows we would get a perfectly smooth wave.

What is this wave?

Each arrow in the circle goes from the center to the circle itself and so all are the same length. Each is a radius of that circle. It also is the hypotenuse (the longest side) of a right triangle.

Here is one triangle isolated to show that they are each indeed a triangle:


This figure Shows one of the triangles defined by the arrow and the line from the tip of the arrow to the horizontal bisecting line.

Now, lets say the arrow/radius/hypotenuse is one unit. It doesn’t matter one unit of what. A unit could be one inch, one mile, one light year, one unit of 6.753 mm, one diameter of an oxygen atom, it doesn’t matter; are all kosher as long as all other measurements that relate to that unit length, say of the other sides of the triangle, are measured in a way that is related to that basic unit (in inches, miles light years, multiples of 6.753 mm, diameters of oxygen atoms).

Remember basic trigonometry: the sine of a right triangle is defined as the length of the side opposite an angle (other than the right angle) over (that is, divided by) the hypotenuse. It is a ratio, no units, they cancel, just a relationship that always holds. Since the arrow/hypotenuse/radius here is 1, we defined it as one unit, the far side across from the angle is the length of that side over one, so that side IS the sine for that triangle. Slide4Here we see a right triangle, the thick line is the side across from the marked angle. The diagonal line is the hypotenuse (the arrow in our circle). The thick line is the side across from the angle. To the right of the triangle we have the thick line divided by the diagonal hypotenuse (which is 1) = the thick line. The length of that line is the sine.

So we collected these sides of the triangles, these sines, which were the length of the tip of the arrow above or below the horizontal bisecting line, and we created a sine wave!

Circle, square.  Every square defines two circles, every circle defines two squares, without beginning or end.  Square triangle. Two triangles make a square. Circle triangle. Every circle is made up of the hypotenuse of triangle after triangles, and these define waves (we just looked at one such wave, the sine wave).

So do you think Sengai had any of this in mind? Did he know trigonometry? Did he intuit that these basic forms could describe all form? These objects that have no physical existence but are abstractions, the product of mind, empty of substance?


“Nevertheless this great ocean is neither a circle nor has directions. The wondrous features of this ocean that remain beyond our vision are inexhaustible…. It is just that as far as my vision reaches for the time being, it appears to be a circle.”



photo courtesy of Susan Levinson

Emptiness for Art Historians

All phenomenon arise because of ever changing causes and conditions.  Phenomenon include what we perceive as things and events. These causes and conditions will change because their energy, their momentum, will dissipate, and because they result in new causes and conditions, in an infinite feedback of changing conditions resulting in changing phenomenon resulting in changing causes and conditions resulting in changing phenomenon…..

No essence, no fixed meaning or substance.

Yet we reify with concepts. We try to freeze and categorize reality. We try to capture it so we can deal with it on our terms. When the convenient tool of language distorts our appreciation of reality it is a (sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle) form of delusion.

A painting or a photograph that attempts to render a scene, whether a landscape, still life or portrait is a frozen approximation.

It is not how the world is really experienced. Continue reading

Emptiness and Form


In my post “Circle and Wave” I suggested an intimate relationship between the absolute symmetry of the circle and the broken symmetry of waves mathematically derived from circles, and a similarly intimate relationship between waves and particles. In my post defining energy I discussed how energy is not a substance, but rather energy is as elusive and hard to grasp as it is essential to the world of things that go bump, the world of experience. In my last post on sensation and perception I suggested however awesome the world of experience is dualistic and maybe we need to go deeper and review the Buddhist experience described as emptiness (well, what Zen masters assure us is experience, I make no personal claims; I am wading here into waters that are very deep, well over my Zen pay grade and all of my heads, Zen or otherwise).

Lets do it anyway. It’s fun stuff. Continue reading

Energy, Sensation, Perception


Sensation and perception are how we seem to experience the world. Practitioners of Buddhism and science have given a lot of attention to how we do that and what it means.

From the scientific viewpoint, sensation occurs when a specialized organ interacts with the form of energy it evolved to interact with. These specialized organs are the sensory receptors in the eye, ear, nose, skin, or tongue, for example, though animals have a large array of receptors, like infrared receptors in pit vipers or sonar in bats.

And in an inspired insight I particularly admire, in Buddhism the brain is also a sense organ, one that “perceives” both sensory inputs from other sense organs but also you might consider thoughts a sensory input. Continue reading

Love and Marriage







Biologic imperatives

Expectations, voiced or not

Innocence lost, innocence gained

How close is too close, how much is too much?

Not understanding, understanding

Different worlds, same world

Why do I want to be angry?

Glorious and amazing

Wishful thinking






Guan Yin (Kannon in Japanese) , Bodhisattva of compassion, in female form. The male form was originally named Avolikiteshvara. She is the “hearer;” she hears the cries of all suffering, and will go down to the pits of hell gladly when she is called.

After 41 years of marriage to a woman I love, that’s about the only way I can understand it or express it, with poetry. And I rarely write poetry.

I doubt this is gender specific or sexual orientation specific from what I can see. And there are many relationships that are long-term and loving that I imagine do not encompass many of these things. This is simply what spilled out of me about my 44 years of a committed relationship with a woman I love as best as I know how.

I’ll come up with other poems about other relationships.

The real point is that I suspect there is something very deep and profound that these impressions of my life in love and in marriage circle around, that even the most solid day-to-day love can only approach or maybe only dimly reflect as long as egos and agendas are involved:

A love beyond conditioning and expectations.

Abiding compassion.

I think that is the flavor of Xin, the heart of Mind, the taste of existence.

And it doesn’t get old.

For Father’s Day: Is that so?


I was writing a story riffing on a tale about the great Japanese Zen reformer and artist of the 18th century, Hakuin.

It seems a young unmarried women had a baby and wouldn’t give up the name the father. Finally she said it was the monk Hakuin. The parents were incensed, not only because he was a monk who was just starting out renovating a small, run-down old temple, but also because they had been supporting him in his endeavors.

They brought him the baby and said, here, it’s yours.

“Is that so?” He responded, and he took care of the baby.

A year later the young woman confessed that Hakuin wasn’t the father, so her parents went back to Hakuin, tails between their legs, and let him know the baby wasn’t his.

Giving the baby back he responded:

“Is that so?” Continue reading