Mind Breathes Fire


Nyogen Roshi sent me an article from the New York Times he thought I would like: “A Black Hole Mystery Wrapped in a Firewall Paradox” (Dennis Overbye, 8/12/13). There were comments in the article by a theoretical physicist and educator whose work I enjoy, Leonard Susskind. There were also references to the nearly iconic physicist and intellectual provocateur Stephen Hawking, and in particular to a debate on the nature of black holes these two contemporary towering figures of physics had that lasted years and was finally settled in Leonard Susskind’s favor. Continue reading



Kelly (Doman) Stevens and Ralph (Shikan) Levinson

Meditation is central to Zen practice. There are meditations that are very specific to Zen, for example working on koans, the Zen stories are meant to lead to a turning, to a breakthrough that is to be experienced, not thought about. There are very complex meditations in some Buddhist and other traditions involving visualizations.  But you don’t need to be Buddhist or trying to answer the “big questions” of life and death to meditate. Meditation has become accepted and mainstream. This is not controversial. It has proven benefits, proven effects on the brain. There are mindfulness sessions for medical practitioners at UCLA. It’s good mental hygiene!

The Hazy Moon Zen Center website (www.hazymoon.com) has a brief instructional video about meditating. You can stop reading for a bit and follow those instructions and in a few minutes you will have something you could do for yourself for the rest of your life.

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Hearts and Minds


This image is the same as the banner of the website, the word xin (pronounced a bit like sheen in Mandarin). I had a recent experience with xin and a dear friend.

I was looking at the original Chinese text of the poem I introduced in my blog on the circle and wave, “The identity of the relative and absolute” by the 8th century Chan master Shitou. Looking up the words in a Chinese-English dictionary was not very productive, so I showed the text to my friend Ping, who loves to read Tang dynasty poetry.

She shook her head. That’s a very difficult poem, she told me.

I pointed to the first symbol, the first word, xin. I know that one, I told her, it means “mind.”

“Ooohhh nooo, Ralph” she pointed to her chest, shaking her head again with a deep and sincere look, a kind of yearning and supplication in her voice, expression and gesture. “It is heart, it is soul.” Continue reading

Circle and Wave


In my GUT of Zen there are two phrases that suggest time and space:

You are the Universe unfolding

Mind evolving.

And there are two phrases that are outside of time and space:

No beginning and no end

No separation.

Time and space are deep and difficult. Don’t be seduced by clocks and rulers and your day-to-day experience into thinking you have any idea what they are about.  The 13th century Japanese Zen master Dogen famously spilled a lot of ink writing about time and change. Change is discussed in some of the earliest Buddhist writings we have. Scientists debate the nature of time and space to this day. In a recent review in the scientific journal Nature titled “Theoretical physics: the origins of space and time” (8/23/13) there is the lament that physics is incomplete without an explanation of time and space. There are seven competing theoretical models discussed, with titles like “quantum loop gravity” and “Holography”. Continue reading