Deathbed Wishes

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For whom the bell tolls?

I saw a posting on Facebook where someone suggested that what most people regret on their deathbeds is what they didn’t do.

Certainly Buddhism, Zen,  (and for that matter, Biocentrism) is about the big questions of your life and death, and how you face your life and death, and indeed understanding that death can come at any time.

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It’s easy to think the other road, the one not taken, was the one to abiding happiness and success and joy.  I suspect it is at least possible that some people who do feel that way on their death bed, that they regretted what they didn’t do, if they were honest with themselves, felt that way before they new they were dying.

That is an important pursuit in Zen practice, being aware of your life, knowing yourself and your mind. Not waiting till it all falls apart.

Now, one point, one conclusion, that the person who wrote about that death bed reaction made was: follow your dreams. Write that book, sing that song.

But consider: is this just wishing for a better past?  If you didn’t go after something you thought you wanted, or thought would have been oh so cool, maybe you had a good reason, something more important you had to attend to. Maybe you knew or even just had an intuition that another course of action was needed, even if you aren’t so sure now. Memory is selective. It is easy to think it could have been better, that the path not taken was THE key to all sweetness and light and a great life!

Now, if you didn’t pursue some activity out of fear, or delusional feelings of guilt, or concerned about not being worthy or not being good enough, and that is how you still respond, that’s the issue, isn’t it?

Living life fully isn’t a matter of pursuing some specific great idea or activity, of doing all the awesome, rewarding and artistic and adventurous things you can get into or out of your “bucket” of cool stuff. I personally have no interest in “bucket lists” of “must do stuff” (there’s always more and more and MORE).

You don’t need to fill your life with things and activities, artistic, creative, cool, or otherwise.

Life is full if you just look at where you are, what’s in front of you; as they say in Zen, cover the ground you stand on. You don’t need more doing.  Most of us actually need LESS doing. Less going after that wonderful experience you imagine will make it better, that creative glorious life over the rainbow. Less re-writing the past. Less seeking praise and fearing blame. Less drama.

As it says in the heart sutra: no idea of gain, so no fear. No hindrance in the mind.

And as the very, very accomplished (you and I should be so accomplished!) Laplace reportedly said on his deathbed when someone commented on just how wonderful and accomplished he had been in his life (he was perhaps THE  foremost mathematician and scientist and philosopher of his age, hobnobbing with the “in” crowd, hanging with artists, authors and even Napoleon Bonaparte, the most powerful man in the world at the time):

“Ah, well, we do chase phantoms, don’t we?”

So, sure, I suggest that you don’t waste your time on dumb stuff, and certainly don’t hold back out of fear. Do what seems right, compassionate, just and good, but don’t chase phantoms. Don’t make some artistic endeavor, some idea or concept of success (however awesome), of creativity, some experience on a bucket list, a fantasy lover never loved, or a dream you think you should have or would have pursued “if only”, into something to moan about, something to regret, into just more busywork and useless striving, something more to feel bad about. Don’t set yourself up for misery and failure.

If you do, it’s just another phantom. A bad dream.

Sing the song, paint that painting, take that photo, take that trip, get a better job, write the novel, if you like and it works for you. If not, that’s ok too.

Try this: Don’t waste your time. Pay attention. Do what is right when you know it’s right. No self-deception. don’t wish for a better past, it does no good and causes great pain (you can tell I really like that; thanks Lily Tomlin!).

Compassion is a good thing, including compassion for yourself.

Creativity is the Way, is life. You don’t have to strive for it. Don’t try to fake it. You ARE creativity in form and function! You can’t be otherwise.

Creativity, living a full life, is what happens when your ego, your delusions (including your idea/conditioning/concept of creativity and a full life), don’t get in the way. Compassion and ethics are like that, too.

That’s more than enough!  What more is there? What more can there be?

Life is full just in this breath, this heartbeat. Live fully in the moment.

Simple, not easy.

Living life fully is not about some specific experience or activity or doing cool stuff. Not what society or your fantasy defines as artistic or creative or successful or glorious. The Universe, Mind, your mind, is cool enough.

I have found meditation, practice, really helps with this.

Zen, Buddhism, is about life and death. The book “Beyond Biocentrism” is a good place to start about Mind and Consciousness and Life and Death if you aren’t into Buddhism or Zen.

But I do agree with the main idea of that person who wrote about deathbed regrets: Don’t wait until you are on your deathbed. That seems kind of sad.

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Quantum Mechanics: Not Just Kinda Cool But Essential to Life

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It has long been clear quantum mechanics (QM) effects are basic in life. This was something I have taken for granted from what I learned starting in pre-med about cellular biology, though research bears this out in many new and interesting ways.

An interesting recent book about some surprising quantum effects in biology i s”Life on the Edge” by McFadden and Al-Khalili.

As I have written here before, life is energy and energy transformations (well, everything is). Cellular life uses reduction/oxidation reactions as energy “currency”. These reactions are basically the passing along of an energetic electron. They are the same kinds of reactions that causes fire to burn (which is why you need oxygen for a fire), or iron to rust. As Nick Lane writes in his book The Vital Question energy, evolution and the origins of complex life:  “electrons [in oxidation reduction reactions the cell uses to capture energy when oxidizing fuel i..e. food] hop from one cluster to the next by quantum tunneling”

The clusters he is referring to are proteins containing iron that are critical in accepting and passing on electrons.

This electron tunneling, these reactions, are the foundation of life, as we know it anyway. It is the very basis of energy used in all cells on earth. Bacteria, plants, us.

In quantum tunneling particles kind of “cheat” an energy barrier to a chemical reaction by just going through the energy barrier or wall rather (metaphorically) than over it. That is, it pops through the wall where without QM it shouldn’t. To clarify: most chemical reactions need energy to get going. If an electron is involved, say, as is often the case, for example in the oxidation/reduction reactions critical to life (or for example when a photon stimulates a photoreceptor in the eye) the reaction only happens if there is enough energy to get it going, to kick start it. But this can be skirted a bit by the uncertainty, the indeterminacy of QM that allows the electron (or photon) to be in unusual or unexpected states of being. By classical chemistry and physics, that shouldn’t happen, making the reactions much less likely, if they would happen at all, under normal circumstances.

That is, no QM tunneling, little or no passing of electrons from protein-iron complex to another, no usable energy for living things on earth.

By the way, we do use only a light bulb’s worth of wattage of energy to power our entire body, as Bob Lanza points out in “Biocentrism”. But still,  that is 10,000 times more energy per pound than the sun puts out! That’s because the sun is mostly just a big old ball of gas molecules just bouncing around at any one moment not putting out any energy (just being pushed around by the energy released by the nuclear reactions at the center of the sun). On the other hand, all living cells are prodigiously generating and using energy just to stay intact. The way cells store energy is in bonds between phosphate groups in ATP (adenosine tri phosphate) molecules, and a single cell goes through 10 million ATP molecules per second on average.

At its core life is quantum tunneling. It’s all energy.

Very Zen.

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Self publishing a kids novel

 

I haven’t been posting on this site this last month or so for several reasons:

Because of Ango; the  summer training period of more intense meditation in Zen tradition. While I only participated part time, I did spend significantly more time meditating.

Because I am thinking I have said a lot of what I intend to and might organize it and add to it and self publish as a book. Even so, I will keep posting periodically when the inspiration hits me.

Because I have been finishing up a short novel aimed at kids 8-11 primarily that is a fantasy that tries to have some of the sense of the dharma without dogma or Buddhist jargon.

The title is “Aidan and The Dragon Girl Save the World.”  Since it is self published (it will be available as book or e book through amazon and nook and the people I am paying to help publish it, Booklocker) as a real paper book as well as e book it will be a bit more expensive than I like since it won’t be high volume (so more expensive per unit to produce). In any case, as long as I am doing this small run self publishing, if there are miraculously any profits they will go 100% to organizations I like such as Smile Train or Plenty or SEVA that are non-profits that benefit kids.

This is, so far ( I am still tweaking it), the back cover, to give you an idea:

Aidan Alvarado is given a mystery and a mission as his birthday present by his very odd grandparents. With his new friends from Ancient China and modern day Los Angeles and the power of his dreams, Aidan has to save the world from two men who want control the power of the Dragon King of the East Ocean.

Advanced praise for “Aidan and the Dragon Girl Save the World”:

This wonderful story is a fun way to get people of all ages to think about what is real and what is important.

Robert Lanza M.D., author of “Biocentrism” and “Beyond Biocentrism”

“Aidan and The Dragon Girl Save the World” was a pleasure to read with my 8-year-old son. The imagery, action and relatable characters kept us captivated. Universal themes … are presented in a fresh new way. This book would be a wonderful addition to an upper-elementary classroom.

Felicia Linares, National Board Certified Teacher

I LOVED it! A delightful adventure! Aidan and his friends must trust their wisdom to save the world

Julie Snider, Showrunner Assistant, Network TV Drama.

 

Ralph (Shikan) Levinson is a Health Sciences Professor of Ophthalmology at UCLA. He is a big fan of the Teacher Wise-and-Able (Chan master Hui Neng).  This is his first novel.

You Think You Can Find Here and Now?

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It is easy to see that our idea of the future is simply probabilities and assumptions. It is also easy to see the past is stories we tell ourselves and can’t be found except in effects in the present for which we assume causes in the past. Neither has firm, concrete, reproducible reality, even if they seem fair enough approximations for day-to-day activities and decisions. For “practical” purposes, you might say.

But we are aiming to be living in the here and now, right?

There is a now we experience of course, isn’t there?

Are you so sure?

No matter how brief, there is a finite time, a gap, between event and experience, stimulus and response, energy change and sensation and perception. One study says the brain can integrate a simple visual scene in as short a time as 13 milliseconds, though most studies have suggested it is closer to 100 milliseconds. I suppose there are many factors at play for a given scene and brain. It certainly feels instantaneous, but that’s what our brain does, of course. It fills in the gaps.

The same goes for any sense. Impulses from sense receptors release chemicals that then change the physiology of a nerve creating electoral impulses and ions race in and out of the nerve. That nerve then signals others, which end up in some brain center ,which then sends signals to multiple brains centers. Some time after that, you put words on it and tell yourself a story about what is going on. That takes longer than 13 milliseconds of course; words are slow cumbersome things even when you think them.

So by time you see, hear, smell, taste, feel, think something, it is already past and you are anticipating the future.

Can we know the now? Sure for practical purposes. We don’t want to get lost in futures that may never happen or obsess about a better past we wish we had, so paying attention to something that seems ongoing and most proximate seems a good idea.

But lets not fool ourselves. Most of what we call the present is really the past, and we are already dressing it up in words and stories and anticipating the future when we think we are in the now.

And related to perception and time, is space. We speak of space-time. The here and now. No now, does here get a bit slippery too? Of course it does. Here relative to what? We know space seems to bend, expand and contract given relative motion. That’s Einstein’s relativity and the details aren’t important for this discussion. But I think it is instructive to look at one of the most basic of all entities in science, the massless energy quanta of light, the source of all we see, the embodiment of what we think of as color, the force carrying transmitter of electromagnetic energy, the photon.

There are many ways to look at the phrase “name the color, blind the eye.” The most obvious is that when we dress up an experience in labels we loose the immediacy of the experience. We pigeon hole it for future reference, falling into a dualistic trap. It may be useful if you are trying to paint a picture and want to be efficient in choosing what tubes of paint to open, but that’s about it.

There’s another way that color is a dicey concept that I like, and I think it is very telling about how things work regarding our dream of time and space. You probably know about the Doppler effect; most up us have experienced a sound becoming high pitched as it races towards us (a siren, for example, or a car), then becoming a lower pitch as it races away from us. The waves of air that make up a sound are in effect compressed as that sound comes toward us, then stretch as it goes away form us.

So what is the sound “really”? Is the high pitch sound or the low pitch sound more real? Of course neither, they both are predictable effects of motion. But it does make it hard to talk about THE sound the car or siren makes (even not taking into account all the modifying features of the environment, the atmosphere, other sounds, your ears and most importantly, your brain that turns the energy pulses in the air into sound then tires to make snense of it and relate it to your prejudices and conditioning).

A similar thing happens with light. You may have heard of the “red shift” in the light from stars as galaxies race away from us. Well, this happens all the time. You can only speak of a photon of a given energy being a certain “color” if the object creating that photon and your eye are perfectly still relative to each other. If that object is moving toward you (or you to the object, or both to each other, doesn’t matter, the photon doesn’t care. Relativity and all that), it shifts to blue. If it is moving away from you, it shifts to red. Same photon, full spectrum. Sure, this effect is too small to percieve at most speeds, but it is real and universal. The photon is no one color, no independent color. It all depends on the relationship of the observer to the photon.

And of course we are always in motion. Breathing, heart beating, land masses moving, earth moving, solar system moving, galaxies moving all relative to each other, Indra’s net of interconnections.

No past or future, and even now is a dicey concept. No there, no here, no in between.

Are you sure about here and now? Sure we want, as the Zen saying goes, to occupy the ground we stand on. And we don’t want to miss what is in front of us worrying about the past or future. But do we really grasp the present? How many ‘presents’ make up the thought of a now? How many instants combine to make up a perception? Is ‘Be Here Now’ just another cockamamie concept we strive after using our dualistic notions? Can we hold on to the fleeting moment, trying to encompass it with our thoughts and feelings, our fears and hopes, without missing the next one? Are we impressionists, who see the ever shifting play of light but then try and nail it to a canvas to contemplate at a later time? The later time of our idea of now?

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On the other hand, outside of our dualistic concepts, our sense of self and other, is there anything except now?

Buddhist Ethics

 

 

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There are all sorts of precepts, rules of behavior, in different schools of Buddhism. Some are just for monks, others for nuns, and these are further pared down for laypersons. The basic formulation of the “four truths” that appears in early sutras include the eight fold path of “rights;” not legal rights as in the constitution, but these “rights” are about the right way to proceed, like right livelihood, right effort, right speech, etc.

But those are not the crux, the heart, of Buddhist ethics.

Nyogen Roshi says that Maezumi taught that no matter how smart and good, however benign, we will cause pain if we come from our unenlightened personal agenda. You can’t just memorize the rules. That might be ok as a guide, something to fall back on when in doubt, when you know you are in a confused state and can’t see clearly, but if it isn’t coming from you, from your very being, if you have an agenda, it won’t stick.

Zen teachings say we don’t pick and chose. No aversion or desire/grasping. That doesn’t mean we don’t discriminate. Our school teaches no self-deception, take responsibility. You know a kitten from a rattlesnake, as Nyogen Roshi says. Trust your mind to function.

We don’t ascribe to precepts and decisions about behavior as being driven from above, as is the case in many religions. It isn’t about guilt, praise and blame, standards of good and bad by fiat from the heavens. We aren’t concerned about some dictate about purity versus sin. It is about compassion, it’s about not letting our egos dictate the limits of our universe.

We can start by not indulging in the poisons: greed anger and ignorance. Buddhist ethics is about not being run by your desires and fears, your conditioning. That takes care of it. You do that, you come from that place, just pay attention without trying to fit your life, other people, the Universe, into your idea of how you want it to be, you will be ethical.

You wont justify and rationalize doing bad shit. You will do good shit.

Robert Lanza, one of the authors of the books “Biocentrism” and “Beyond Biocentrism,” gave a talk at the Hazy Moon Zen Center. He pointed out that there is no separation. No dualism. We are all one. As taught in Buddhism, no self and other. If you believe that, if you really get that, he said, why would I hit you? When I  hit you, I am hitting me.

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Without greed, without fear or anger, why would you hurt others, why would you not care about the environment, why would you cheat, what would you do that would be unethical? Why would you be a republican?

‘Pay attention’ is the ultimate Zen teaching according to some. Be awake. No self-deception, no agenda. If you do that, you will function as a Buddha. A Buddha knows how not to cause suffering.

One thing I have noticed is that we often think our own suffering is the exception. Not necessarily worse than the suffering of other sentient beings, but somehow just different enough, special enough, that we and our suffering are exceptional in the sense of being exempt. Justified.

I do not mean to blame the victim. You probably did get hurt. We all live lives mired in samsarra, the relative material world of self and other, surrounded and embedded in delusion. Sometimes a firm hand, a strong stance is in accordance with the Way, with dharma. There are people who do very bad things out there, and we need to stand up to them. We need to be strong and brave in the face of injustice.

But more often than not, if it all seemed to go wrong when you thought you were doing the right thing, if it isn’t flowing (the great Way has no difficulties we are told by the ancients) you were likely indulging your delusions, delusions that we all often have a blind spot for, which is why they are called delusions.

When we decide that we have a good reason to not to be constrained by the niceties of avoiding anger and being responsible when we are causing others to suffer, we open the gates to hell. Look carefully next time you fall down and have to lift yourself up. See whether you somehow justified it, rationalized your behavior. This one was so different…it wasn’t fair…I just had to…

Yes sometimes we do just have to. That’s the practice. Being clear enough to know the difference between doing it because of our ego needs or because it is Dharma, the Tao, the Way. Having no agenda that blinds us. We discriminate, not because we want it this way or that, not out of desire/aversion, but because that’s how a Buddha functions.

That’s who we are  without delusion.

Or at least, so I am told by those who seem to know. I’m thinking it’s true. It fits what I see, anyway.

Nyogen Roshi says the ground of Buddha Mind, that is, our minds undistorted by the three poisons of greed, anger and ignorance, our minds not limited by our ego driven need to protect ourselves against our fear, by our dualistic delusion of self and other, is compassion.

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Avalokiteshvara, who became the female Guan Yin in China, hears the crying of those who suffer. That’s what the name means. She goes down into hell to comfort the suffering. She embodies compassion.

That’s old school Buddhism.

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It’s All About Mind at Play; That Is, It’s All About You

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From the book “ A Beautiful Question” by Nobel Prize winner for physics Frank Wiczek:

“The human mind is our ultimate sense organ.” p. 159

This is true. Buddhism has had the mind as the sixth sense as a given truth for a couple of thousand years plus. Note Wiczek wrote “our” and that’s why “human brain.” It would also be true of any sentient being, brain or no brain.

This is also consistent with Biocentrism, as described in the two books by Bob Lanza and Bob Berman, “Biocentrism” and “Beyond Biocentrism.”

There is no separation, no out there. Sentience is all that exists. Beyond sentience, how can we talk about existence? What right, what warrant, as the logicians say, would we have for postulating something or nothing outside of sentience?

All our sense organs do is register changes in energy, but that is meaningless without sentience. In Lanza and Berman’s most recent book “Beyond Biocentrism” Berman writes about how it blew his mind and he had an enlightenment experience just contemplating that the whole universe he experiences is only what is in his head. This occurred when he was studying for an undergraduate biology course!

Savor that. He went satori reading a college level science textbook, usually thought to be the most intellectual, materialistic, uninspiring, boring thing anyone can read! Go figure! This is a valuable lesson: don’t limit your universe with your preconceptions.

Of course, that’s exactly what we do!

And how is that consistent with ‘no out there, no separation’? A couple of analogies or thought experiments might help:

Cut off one of your fingers (do it under local anesthesia, don’t be cruel). Keep it alive in some nutrient broth. You may experience phantom sensations, still experiencing that finger as being at the end of your hand. Like you did before you cut it off. Those feelings are all in your brain; the finger’s in a vat in another room. The finger was always an experience in your head. And later burn the finger. Did you feel it burn? That finger was you; it is you…right? Maybe not when your head doesn’t feel the pain? The finger has nerves that were kept alive, and they are certainly firing away, but how can we speak of pain as it burns in another room, separated from your brain? All we can speak of is the energy from the fire causing electric field changes in a tissue due to ion fluxes.

A current in the ocean appears to be separate from the water around it. It has different energy, that is, different momentum (it moves in a different direction and speed and may have different density from the water around it due to temperature differences i.e. a different mass/volume of space. Momentum is mass times velocity; velocity is speed with direction. Momentum, along with potential energy, is how we describe the total energy of a system in mechanics). The local differences in momentum are why it is experienced as a current. But it’s all water. It’s all one ocean, no matter how we divide it up with different names based on our limited experience, our local sampling of conditions, and our perceived needs in our subjective time and space. The energy of the current will dissipate and equalize with the rest of the ocean unless energy is pumped in by the sun and mediated by temperature changes, kinetic energy from storms, etc. Either way, nothing is lost, nothing is gained. Just energy transformations in One Ocean.

These analogies sound dualistic, so this and that, here and there. All those fingers, brains, oceans and currents. But that’s just the limited nature of analogies and language. What does Buddhism say about this? We chant “The Identity of the Relative and Absolute,” a Zen poem by Sekito Kisen from the Song dynasty about a thousand years ago that I have written about on this website before. He wrote: “the relative and absolute fit together like a box and its lid.” The ancient Zen master grasped this apparent scientific conundrum of what seems like duality in what must be non-duality (must be; how can there be something else? Again, by what warrant do we come up with such a silly concept as dualism?), and wrote a poem that holds up a millennium later. Gotta love it.

There is symmetry in the identity of the relative and absolute. The key word is identity; that is what a symmetry is. Change that keeps an identity. A circle is rotated; it changes but is still identically the same circle. It is symmetric to rotation.

As I have written about here before, symmetry is at the core of the mathematical formulations of modern physics. Wiczek writes about symmetry, describing it on p. 166 of his book as “Change Without Change.” He goes on to write that this is “a strange inhuman mantra for the soul of creation. Yet its very unworldliness presents an opportunity: we can expand our imaginative vision by making its wisdom our own.”

But while I agree about its wisdom, I think it is actually very human and not really unworldly, except in our limited day-to-day quotidian experience of our world; it’s just not limited by our humanity, by our “worldly” experiences in the illusion of time and space.

Change without Change. The identity of relative and absolute. That’s as hard-core, old school Buddhism as it gets.

Remember:

Science’s best model (quantum physics) says it’s all energy fields, throughout space and time. But as Lanza and Berman point out in their books on Biocentrism, time and space are dicey concepts. We invent time and space post hoc and ad hoc, to try to bring it all down to size, to grasp it all for what seem in our delusion to be ‘practical purposes,’ to fit our conditioned ideas of reality, our beliefs. Yet we know that relativity says time and space are part and parcel of each other, without independent foundation, at best fluid and relational and elastic, and quantum mechanics says time and space have absolutely no relevance to such basic observations as entanglement and two slit experiments, that reflect the behavior of particle or sets of particles, the most basic of basic entities science can grasp, and by extension, all that is.

Or as the Zen master Dogen wrote almost 800 years ago: Being-Time. Time as our lives. Time is Being, Time is sentience, time is Mind. Space is just the same.

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So we have quantum fields without beginning or end, bottomless and topless, because there is no “where” and “when” until we chose to define it. Fields are described by magnitude and direction wherever you look. A particle is a concentration of the energy of that field, a local manifestation, in the sentient perception of space and time.

That’s all there is folks. In quantum mechanics there is no difference between here and there, other than how energy manifests as field or particle when perceived (measured, which is perception), then transforming itself in response. Like Indra’s net of the Avatamsaka sutra, where every jewel instantly reflects the light of every other jewel, which then reflects the light of every other jewel, which then…

And in all this, energy is conserved. Energy is symmetric. Nothing ever added or lost, just self-transformed. Science only understands energy by its perceived transformations. Can’t define or measure it directly. Can’t say where it came from or where it is going (no beginning no end).

As written in the Heart Sutra, form is emptiness and emptiness is form. Fields (undefined, without limit, without substance, without inherent separate reality) are particles, particles are fields. Mind is stuff, stuff is Mind. Relative and absolute are an identity.

Symmetry.

Or as our ancestors said, as our Zen teachers who know what they are talking about teach, and as Lanza and Berman in their Biocentrism details, it’s all Mind, Consciousness. And keep in mind, mind is Mind, consciousness is Consciousness. Your mind, my mind, our mind, all is relative/local/particle (if you will) manifestations of absolute Mind. Your mind and Buddha Mind, you and the Buddha Field. Like particle and field, or particle and wave if you prefer, as identical as the identity of relative and absolute of ancient Sekito’s poem. Don’t get hung up thinking the words that pop into your head, the concepts you are conditioned to believe, are the limit of your mind.

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Red Pine writes in his translation of the Diamond Sutra that the Tang dynasty Zen master Huang Po said: “Buddha and beings share the same identical mind.”

Mind is Buddha, the ancients said. OK, they also said Buddha is a turd. Or the cypress tree outside. And they meant it. Literally.

Nyogen Roshi likes to remind us that the Buddhist sutras, the reports of the saying of the Buddha, are about us, our lives. Lanza and Berman, in their books on Biocentrism, say the same thing. It is you. Always was, always will be, to whatever extent we can talk about always. In all ways.

As the late Stephen Gaskin titled one of his books: it is all “Mind at Play.”

 

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Self Liberating

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800 years or so ago Dogen said something to the effect that no thought requires a second thought (I paraphrase).

In a talk recently Nyogen Roshi said something that really helped me out of a place where I was stuck thinking about things I had screwed up. I mean things going back 50 years in some cases. Quite a litany when you reach into your bag of tricks that far.

He said:

All thoughts are self liberating.

Deep Truths

In his new book “A Beautiful Question” Nobel prize winning physicist Frank Wilczek writes that Niels Bohr, one of  the fathers of quantum mechanics, said that you can recognize a deep truth by the feature that its opposite is also a deep truth.

Makes sense in that beyond the dualities of our senses and the language we use to convey such truths there is Truth that is not limited by our truth statements, our concepts.

So two opposite statements can be true because both capture some of our limited grasp of reality.

Most things we hold true just aren’t all that deep. Just working definitions and constructs that often don’t work all that well except to momentarily shield us from the painfully hard stuff. And they don’t do that very well without a large investment of energy. The real illusion is to convince yourself that the illusion works.

 

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Beyond the Big Picture

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Two books just came out about science and the “big picture,” that is, what it is all about. Meta-meta, and all that.

One is “Beyond Biocentrism” by Robert Lanza MD with Bob Berman.

I suggest that you read it.

In full disclosure I have gotten to know one of the authors, Robert Lanza. He spoke at the Zen center where I practice (I encourage you to go to the Hazy Moon website where you can hear some of that talk) and I even collaborate on biomedical research with him. In fact, if you go back to my first blog on this site, he is the one who encouraged me to write in the first place by asking me about a GUT (grand unified theory) of Zen. After I demurred, I tried and came up with that first blog (and the much too cute, and much too grandiose, name for this website, Zengut).

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I wrote a blurb that Bob Lanza included in the hard copy of “Beyond Biocentrism” (and on his website) calling it “…a must read for anyone who as ever wondered where modern science…. Is going. What does it all mean? Brilliant and insightful…” On Dr. Lanza’s website you can read a comment I made about his first book, “Biocentrism” where I wrote: “holy shit, this is a great book.” I will discuss “Beyond Biocentrism”  in the future in much detail and will compare and contrast it with the second book, which I have just started to read.

This second book is “The Big Picture” by Sean Carroll. He is a physicist at the California Institute of Technology (I just gave a talk at their faculty club there on ocular inflammation yesterday!) and has written several books and produced a couple of lecture series for the Great Courses on physics for lay audiences. They are quite good. Dr. Carroll seems very smart, sincere and honest. I see at the end of his new book he tackles consciousness, and while I admit I briefly peeked ahead, I want to digest the whole book before writing about his approach and comparing it to Dr. Lanza’s approach and Zen and my own impressions.

But at this point I do want to say Dr. Carroll starts his book by describing his perspective as “naturalism” and notes that Buddhism takes a naturalist approach, at least to some extent. And I have already come across some material I really like.

  1. I often tease my scientist friends by telling them they are non-dualists. Because of the terminology that developed after Descartes where non-dualism refers to the unity of body and a soul in some quarters, they balk a bit. But then, not worrying about this putative “soul,” I point out, they believe mind and body are one. That all things are manifestations of energy, of fields, that ultimately are unified. That’s the whole idea behind a “theory of everything” or grand unified theory.” Sean Carroll gets this right, at least early on. On page 13 he writes of the process of science: “We will ultimately understand the world as a single, unified reality, not caused or sustained by anything outside itself. That’s a big deal.” Yes, it is indeed.
  2. I also tease them by pointing out that they believe in spontaneous generation. After all life and mind “spontaneously” arose form atoms that are not living or conscious in the way many think. Scientists often don’t like this, but it is true. To them, spontaneous generation was something disproved by Pasteur over 150 years ago. Pasteur didn’t like spontaneous generation, by the way, because it didn’t go with his type of Catholicism with a single creation event. Scientists don’t like it because spontaneous generation historically was used against evolution and seemed mystical, justifying a belief in a separate “life force.” But evolution suggests lifeless carbon became alive and then later conscious. Spontaneously. Well, that isn’t how I see it (nor how it is seen in Dr. Lanza’s work), though I am a fan of evolution. Evolution is the functioning of the Universe; it isn’t in time,time is not a separate flow, evolution is time… but that’s another blog. Now, I don’t want to say yet how Dr. Carroll sees it, because we are getting to the nature and structure of the universe, the role of consciousness, of Mind (Buddha Mind in the Buddhist jargon), and I haven’t gotten to those chapters in his book. But he does at least have the honesty and courage as a scientist to broach the question of the dualistic implications. Dr. Carroll writes on page 12: “At a fundamental level, there are not separate “living things” and “nonliving things,”… There is just the basic stuff of reality, appearing to us in many different forms.”
  3. Dr. Carroll writes on page 13 “..Why this universe? Why am I here? Why anything at all? Naturalism, by contrast, simply says: these aren’t the right questions to ask. It’s a lot to swallow, and not a view anyone should accept unquestioningly.” This is very compatible with Buddhism. Buddha famously refused to answer such questions. He considered them minimally a distraction, comparing the person asking them to one shot with an arrow who wont let the surgeon touch it until he knows the name of the person who shot him and what type of wood the shaft of the arrow what was made from. You won’t hear much about an ultimate answer to “why” in Zen talks or read about it in the Zen literature. Asking big picture “Why” is usually about justifying our ego, to make a hard and fast image of who we think we are, trying to bring the Universe down to human terms and human scale, to allay our fears by giving our lives a “meaning” that we can grasp. But it usually is a meaning that is more story and construct than fundamental and useful. Basically, it just isn’t how the Universe functions. It isn’t answering any “why” question your limited experience and brain can have.
  4. On page 16 Dr. Carroll discusses the philosophical thought experiment of the ship of Theseus, which he leads into it by discussing Star Trek transporters. If a wooden ship is replaced plank by plank is it the same boat at the end? If you reassemble the old planks of the ship, are there now two ships of Theseus. Like all such intellectual quandaries there are quick and easy answers, but the question is valid. Consider: You would likely say it was at the first few planks. After all, if you loose a limb and replace it with a prosthesis, you have changed, but you still think you are you. Or if you get a liver transplant. Still you? Dr. Carroll writes: “Is the notion of “this particular human being” an important one to how we think about the world? Should categories like Persons” and thing” be part of our fundamental ontology at all?” Buddhism famously does not like the idea of permanent soul. Early writing refer to ever changing aspects of who we are, of what has karma, called the skhandas. Later teachings of the Mahayana on emptiness, like in the Heart Sutra, say that even these are too concrete and dualistic. This is straight out of the Diamond Sutra. In Buddhism we talk about the individual, we take responsibility, we have karma, yet we are admonished not to be attached to, or construct for ourselves an idea of a soul or an “entity.” We read in Red Pine’s translation of the Diamond Sutra: “…attachment to an entity is inexplainable and inexpressible….Foolish people, though, are attached.” [page 26]; “Neither beings nor no beings…” [page 22]; “Thus is it called ‘unexcelled perfect enlightenment.’ Without a self, without a soul, undifferentiated…”

The Diamond Sutra ends with this poem [page 27]:

“As a lamp, a cataract, a star in space

An illusion, dewdrop, a bubble

A dream, a cloud, a flash of lightning

View all created things like this.”

 

So, not bad for the first 16 pages, Dr. Carroll. Lets see where you are going with this.

 

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