Where and When

Where and when does anything come from? Each quantum moment, each quantum space, each state of being or non being or neither, or both.

Where does it go?

Don’t gloss it over.

A thought comes from chemicals that change the electric fields of bundles of fat and protein we call nerves? How? A gift? A pattern? An emergent phenomenon? Handwaving, black box stuff.

If you use the model of a computer generating an image, that’s has a wee bit of truth I suppose from a scientific point of view or even Buddhist point of view; both have space and time quantized as a space of states, and the monitor image is quantized states of energy in each pixel. There is no continuity outside the running of a program, and each pixel is updated  individually in space and time. Movement on the screen is an illusion. Three dimensions is an illusion.

But you do know the computer has no idea there is a monitor screen let alone what is on the screen? You can program it to seem to care… but is that the same thing?

It is obvious we are in a world of illusion. No one believes there is solid stuff, right? Science talks about fields of energy. Or strings. Or forces. Or whatever. But go small enough, or for that matter large enough, and there is no thing.

So it’s all energy? What is that possibly mean? What IS it? Where does that come from, where does it go, and is it infinite or limited?

Where does the perfect, symmetric circle come from? Or the breaking of symmetry to form waves. You can’t show it to me. You can show me a cartoon of it, a sketch, an approximation, an idea of it, as I have done in previous blogs (which seems to be at times very popular, and I don’t know who or why that is), but that’s all. Doesn’t exist as a “thing” out there. But this symmetry, this perfect circle, is the basis of all scientists have to describe the world. Waves adding and subtracting, all from the perfect circle we can imagine. It is embedded in the enso and it is the Yin and Yang.

Clearly all the day-today stuff that means so very much to us, our experience of the world, all time and space, is ultimately without substance as it all arises from and merges into…. into what?

So, it’s all Mind? Sure. Easy for you to say.. do you know it or think it or believe it? Really believe it? Some say any belief is delusional. That’s Mahadyamika, emptiness, the Middle Way of Nagarjuna, Pyrrho, the early Tang Chan/Zen master’s  “ceasing of notions.”

I say that because, I don’t know.

But not knowing doesn’t stop me from trying to struggle against greed anger and ignorance. That’s practice.

Maybe sometimes not knowing even helps.

I love having a practice. Keeps me from being lazy.

But if that’s not your style, if you are reading this, please don’t forget to resist evil. I’ll be going to the march for science next week here in LA; practice isn’t really about lighting incense in robes, is it?


Intelligent Design, Mind, and Liberation


A friend asked me about a criticism his friend had about the book “Beyond Biocentrism” by Robert Lanza and Robert Berman. Isn’t it just intelligent design? The same questioned could be asked of the metaphors Bernardo Kastrup uses in his books on idealism and in the Mahayana Buddhist formulation of Mind Only, the Lankavatara and similar Sutras, the Zen Master saying: “Mind is Buddha”: is it just intelligent design, a way of sneaking religious dogma past science and reason?

Fair question. The answer is simple: no.

How so?

  1. First, intelligent design is inherently dualistic. Something is designing the Universe from the outside. That isn’t Biocentrism (or Zen).
  1. Second, it isn’t a question of whether in our scale of living, in our experience of time and space, in the relative (that we chant in Zen is identical with the absolute, and is not to be denied), Darwinian evolution occurs.

The evidence for evolution is as clear as any observation you use to navigate your world. There is descent with modification. Things that are better fit to their environment, whether crystals or other chemical reactions in a solution, genetic programming, ideas, tend to thrive and persist and multiply and so tend to be found in that environment. It is really obvious. The evidence we share a common ancestor with other primates, then before that other mammals then before that, then reptiles, then fish, then sponges, then bacteria…etc. back to the first replicating organic forms is just as clear as anything can be. To deny the evidence of evolution is to deny geology, paleontology, physics, biology and chemistry.

Lanza and Berman say that explicitly; from “Beyond Biocentrism” page 93:

“Randomness is also a central key of evolution, where it works splendidly. Darwin wasn’t just whistling in the wind with his natural selection… Evolution works, and it’s based on random mutations coupled with natural selection.”


There are other quotes, but lets just leave it there. Microphone dropped, we’re done. You can read “Biocentrism” and “Beyond Biocentrism” for more. The question comes up, I believe, in the mind of my friend’s friend and others because Biocentrism, and others, including me, question whether that mechanism and view, marvelous and true as it is, sums up, is foundational, and contains all that can be known of the nature of life and consciousness and of everything, or is it secondary, an observation of local function.

Is mechanism foundational or is consciousness? Is it energy interactions that create mind or the other way around?

Which is upside down thinking?

  1. Third, be careful with words and how they are used. Is intelligent design so bad? Does it fit? Be open-minded about it.

Breaking down intelligent and design:

Is “Mind” intelligent? Is Nature, the Universe, the Cosmos, the Mind of God, if you lean that way, “intelligent”? Well, as opposed to what? That is setting up a false dichotomy. Can the Universe, can Mind, be stupid? Intelligent vs. dumb by what standard? Smart as opposed to what other level of intellectual function for the Cosmos? What test do you apply to the Totality to see if it is intelligent? Whether or not what evolves, what is there, works for you? Does that make things smart or good as opposed to dumb or bad? Is life on earth, is humankind, are you, really the measure of all things? Now that’s arrogance.

And the concept of design implies a set preconceived outcome, like an engineering project; one designs a plane that flies and a dam that holds water. This is not how I would see the functioning of non-dualistic Mind. That would seem like Cosmic Mental Masturbation and a real waste of time and energy.

  1. Fourth and finally, what I think is the real issue when the question of intelligent design comes up, is that historically intelligent design is a term chosen by those who wish to sneak religion, particularly deistic or theistic religion, particularly scripture based or dogmatic faiths, into the classroom past the US Constitution. That isn’t the goal of Mind Only non-dualistic teachings, at least not as far as I can tell. It certainly isn’t what I have in mind!

But it is a critically important issue, especially now in the world of fake news, real news being accused of being fake news by the insane man in the White House and his horrid minions, the elevation of alternative facts, and the horrible situation of willfully ignorant, biased science and education deniers in control of the very institutions that are supposed to use science, education and other knowledge, to protect us!

I get it. Scary stuff.


Religion and spirituality have been weaponized. Greed and ignorance has been institutionalized. Insanity encouraged as long as it makes you feel strong and in some weird kind of control despite all evidence to the contrary. Sad and bad; bigly bad!

While we will always evaluate what we see as facts through our perspective and world-view, the level of ad absurdum that this has been brought to and used and abused by those in power, by the theocrats and right wing, the racists and corporate stooges, is truly dangerous and far from any value system I can abide by.

From my perspective nothing about Zen, Biocentrism, Kastrup’s metaphors and myths of non-dual Mind Only idealism, does away with science and facts. Lanza and Berman are scientists. Kastrup deals with computers. I am a medical scientist and physician. Speaking for myself, I deal with scientific facts, including the implications of evolution, every day. I would deny them no more than I would deny that we can describe mathematically why a plane flies, or that I better hit the brakes if a car swerves in front of me, or that a rock is different from a potato of the same basic size, shape and color.

Evolution, climate change, pollution, germ theory, the understanding that weather doesn’t go bad to punish us for not following biblical injunctions about sexual orientation? No denial! I’m with you!

The value of economic justice and dignity over religious dogma? Sure.

The importance of social justice and art in a sane society? You bet.

The risk of fear, greed and superstition and the need to be concerned about religious institutions forcing themselves on the community as tools of control and the horrid judging of non-believers? Yep, a YUGE concern.

What about willful ignorance of “worldly matters”? That is a very common attitude in monotheistic traditions. And it is clearly ascendant in some quarters right now, including some very powerful quarters, and has long been exploited by theocrats and the greedy and the fearful. A friend sent me a bible quote he was brought up with decrying worldly knowledge. After all, dogmatic traditions can’t abide by any questioning of the truth of their teachings, their sacred texts; they fall apart too easily.

A kind thought is in the past many teachings about the world and dogmatic philosophies were indeed bogus. Science wasn’t really invented, at least not as we understand it, and not in any reliably functioning way, until way after these traditions were founded and those texts written.

But I doubt they didn’t think the technology of chariots was real in ancient times, that is was a matter of religious dogma whether the chariot wheel should be round or square. Or whether Roman aqueducts were based on the observations of the way water flows rather than opinions and religious dogma at the time of the writing of the Christian texts. The question wasn’t whether facts count, I suspect (or am I being too kind?) but the implications of facts and “worldly” philosophies, what we would now call the metaphysics, and just how deep some observations and ideas and ideals should go in determining our over-arching world-view.

I believe that in Biocentrism and perhaps Bernardo Kastrup’s formulations, among others, there is a recognition of what in Zen we call the identity of the relative and absolute, or as the wisdom tradition of the Heart Sutra and the Nalanda sages of the Mahadyamika “emptiness” tradition say, the identity of form and emptiness. It is similarly embedded in Nagarguna’s two truths.

Buddhist teaching, as I understand it, is not to deny what is in front of you. You occupy the ground you stand on, you don’t indulge in denial and wishful thinking, and you most certainly don’t try and get the Universe to become small enough to be bite sized, easily digestible, and to fit your idea of how it should be.

That’s kind of why in Zen we keep eyes open just a bit when we meditate: we do not shut out the world entirely and abide in our delusional distorted thinking in the darkness behind our eyelids. That’s why Zen talks about the cessation of notions, as the title of some early texts has been translated. Not that you cease observing and using your mind, but you aren’t ruled by your ideas and concepts. Intellect as tool, not master.

The intellect certainly is a tool we must use; it that warns us against demagoguery, against tyrants, against geed and superstition, and allows us to understand the real nature of hate and fear and climate change and pollution, so we can try to find ways to “intelligently” live our compassionate practices. Compassion needs intellect; without understanding compassion is not possible.

Is science inherently dualistic?



A magnetic dipole has a north and a south pole, a kind magnetic charge. Opposite poles, opposite charges, attract, same poles repel, just like + and – charges in electricity. But no matter how small you cut it, even if to the size of a subatomic particle, you can’t separate the two poles of a magnet. There isn’t a north only magnet like there is a + or – only electrically charged particle. It is one system. A kind of non-duality with dual characteristics, a wee bit like the identity of the relative and absolute.

 If you aren’t stuck on the existence of an outside entity, an all powerful Deity who is separate, designing and running the show, it isn’t even an issue. How can there be a Cosmos and something outside it? Scientific materialists believe in a kind of non-dualism; after all, the scientific Holy Grail is one unified force, a single Theory of Everything (TOE) or Grand Unified Theory (hence my use of GUT in Zengut, a play of words on grand unified theory and that we need to move from our center, our guts, the hara in zen, tandien in Chinese).

The real difference between scientific materialism and Biocentrism or Zen and others like Bernardo Kastrup is whether the mind or consciousness is an emergent phenomenon of neurons or other information systems in living beings or is the quality of the Cosmos, the foundation, the true nature of everything, Mind?

Clearly there is mind as brain function. In Buddhism that mind, the one in your brain, is a form of perception like seeing, hearing etc. The brain is another sense organ, like your retina. The metaphors are that we, as individuals, including our brains, are as a wave of mind in the ocean of Mind, a current of consciousness in the sea of Consciousness, an eddy of individual life in the stream Life, or as Kastrup describes in great detail, whirlpools interacting in the substance of Mind. Not separate from the Whole, yet somehow individuated by momentum and local conditions, as a wave is not the ocean but the functioning of the ocean. The wave isn’t not the ocean, either. It is not separate from the ocean. But it doesn’t encompass the ocean. So too for the eddies in the ground of the stream and Bernardo Kastrup’s whirlpools in liquid mercury.

Remember, these are just metaphors, myths in a sense, as Bernardo reminds us, as he spends hundreds of pages spinning elegant and complex metaphors and myths!

Do our myths serve to illuminate, or are we again just chasing Laplace’s phantoms, the chimera of our projections?

The question is only whether those metaphors, limited and constrained as all metaphors are by our parochial conditioned day-to-day experience, our embodied brains, our  language, the momentum of karma, of contingencies of the relative in the absolute, are touching a truth that scientific materialists don’t buy, that science is not equipped perhaps to evaluate given the limited tools of the intellect, but may be true nonetheless, that Mind is all there is.

I would suggest that the point of these metaphors is that contingent events, energies that evolve, the momentum that creates waves, whirlpools, eddies in consciousness, are not different than or separate from the substrate of Mind, but are an expression of its functioning.

Can I explain where the momentum comes from? Is there a beginning or end?

Can I prove Mind Only, non-dualism?

Proof? No. You have to do that for yourself. It’s your mind.

As Lanza and Berman suggest in Biocentrism, don’t over think it. That is why in their books they spend a lot of ink on the paradoxes of logic the Ancient Greeks enjoyed. It is the limits of language and our small perspective and parochial brains that lead us to metaphor and myth. Sometimes art and poetry are more insightful than math.

As Buddha is supposed to have said, some questions have different answers depending who is asking and why they are asking. And some questions just don’t tend to clarify are not worth asking.

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I agree with my friends who think that quantum mechanics and other scientific observations are consistent with Mind Only non-dualism, and modern science certainly implies that the Universe, that time and space, are not what they seem to be based on our limited perceptions and logic and experience. But given that we are trying to grasp the Vastness with the Tiny Trumpian Hands of the tools of the intellect and perception, I am not convinced that modern science and logic rises, or can rise, to the level of proof.

And we will probably die, as billions have, before we get to a scientific GUT. And if and when we do formulate a GUT, we will still not be satisfied because it won’t change who we are. Despite any announcement of a lovely formula or proof of string theory or whatever, we still will crave attention and fear death if we are stuck in dualistic thinking.

So for me, Mind Only non-dualism works. It as deep and clear as I, so far, can get. It doesn’t’ obviate scientific observations and a clear intellect.

It essentially goes to the Buddha was supposed to have said: it’s a matter of upside down thinking:

Are you the functioning of One Mind, or the accident of energy fields and emergent phenomena?


Have fun with it. Try on a different perspective for size. It won’t require you stop believing in Darwinian evolution, gun control, the value of data, justice, art, germ theory or climate change.


Case 30 in the Zen Koan collection the “Gateless Gate”:

Taibai asked Baso [Mazu Daoyi, 709-788] in all earnestness, “What is Buddha?” Baso answered, “This very Mind is Buddha.”

Wave and ocean, whirlpool and mercury sea.

Case 33 in the Zen Koan collection the “Gateless Gate”:

A monk asked Baso in all earnestness “What is Buddha”? Baso replied “no mind, no Buddha.”

Don’t get hung up on concepts; the ceasing of notions.

In the Taisho for case 30 it says that someone told Taibai that Baso said this about no mind, no Buddha. Taibai replied: “He may say, ‘no mind no Buddha’, but for me it is ‘the very mind is Buddha’ until the end of the world.”

You might ask: The end of which world?

A friend asked me why I meditate. To get quiet and see whazzup, I told him.

For all of this, whatever modern science implies, whether you like Mind only, or not, care about ideas concerning why to meditate, or not, we owe no undying allegiance to any concept if we are to be honest without self-deception (a goal in science and Zen).


We may seek Truth, but above that, we seek liberation. Don’t get seduced or distracted by spiritual or scientific stories, unless they inspire and help. I started blogging when Bob Lanza asked me about a TOE of Zen. In response I wrote several years ago:

You are the Universe unfolding [evolving, if you will]

Mind evolving

No separation

No beginning, no end

My understanding hasn’t changed much, though it has deepened. But understanding, deepening or not, isn’t everything.


That’s why I meditate. That’s why I have a practice. That’s why wrote a myth, a small novel for older kids (and of course anybody who likes myths) I have mentioned before called “Aidan and the Dragon Girl Save the World.”


After going on quests in modern day LA to free a girl, to liberate her spirit, and in his dreams in China of 1300 years ago, Aidan meets with Wise-and-Able (the Zen master Hui Neng, the guy who, when monks were debating whether flags or wind moves, or both, said: Mind moves):

“This whole dream thing is totally crazy!” Aidan blurted out. “These aren’t like normal dreams at all. I guess I’m asking, what’s a dream and what’s real? I don’t think I know anymore!”

“In our tradition of the Way of Wisdom we say that all things you can touch, or see, or hear, all things that happen in space and time, are like a dream. They are from your mind. That is something like the story of the butterfly and the old sage, of course. The sage dreamed he was a butterfly, but when he woke up he wondered: Was he a butterfly dreaming he was a sage? You might say there is no need to wonder! No need at all! After all, sleeping, not sleeping, what difference does it make?”

Aidan was upset. “Then nothing is real? It’s all a dream? Everything? Even when I think I’m awake?”

“Butterfly, your mind is real. In the Chinese language heart and mind are the same word. Caring and kindness are real. You can care and love and be kind in a dream. Ask yourself: Don’t you always seem to be awake and aware in what you call your ‘normal’ dreams? Aren’t you aware right now?”

“Sure,” Aidan agreed. “I’m aware, but am I dreaming? Am I awake? Is it real?”

“What does it really mean to be awake? You are truly awake when you are not distracted. Sleeping, not sleeping, either way, wherever and whenever and whoever you are, just pay attention. Be aware. Don’t be ruled by greed, fear, or anger. See your mind, your heart in everything. That, my good friend, is our teaching of the Way of Wisdom.”

Wise-and-Able rang a little bell and bowed from the waist, his palms pressed together. Aidan stood up and then bowed to the ground like he did before Emperor Wu.

Wise-and-Able laughed. “Ah, my good friend, you are learning our ways. I accept that bow.”

Aidan was proud that he was learning their ways. He was proud that Wise-and-Able said so. As he stood up to leave the room, Wise-and-Able called out to him, “Did you like meeting my friends on the mountain path and at the beach? How about that puking trick? Works every time.”

Aidan had to laugh out loud. This crafty old Wise-and-Able knew more than he was letting on.











See You In Hell


I have flirted with despair and anger, feelings of betrayal and even hopelessness, over this election, as have many people I know.

But time to “cut it.”

Time to get real.

Along those lines, the Dali Lama and Desmond Tutu, a couple of old friends, have a new book I picked up as an “impulse buy” last week called “The Book  of Joy.” I find it timely and helpful. Not because it is chock full of deep or subtle dharma and cosmic vision, or that I even agree or resonate with all aspects of their conversations, but these old guys have been through hell and have some credibility, or at least experience, when it comes to dealing with hard core, vicious and violent racism and oppression.

And we are going to need those skills!

As the ground of our Buddhist practice is compassion, it isn’t just a matter of being compassionate when it is easy and the lines are clear.

As the grounds of being a liberal, progressive, or a sane person without political agendas, is fairness and justice, not idealism for its own sake, we have to be clear and real about what that means.

Yes, we need to care about the refugees, many of whom were displaced, directly or indirectly, by our interventionism. And we need to care for minorities and marginalized people.

But to have any meaning our compassion has to also be for the blue collar worker or woman or hispanic who, in fear and loathing, voted for Trump!

Our tradition says the Bodhisattva Guan Yin goes to hell because she hears the cries of the suffering. Not just the suffering of people she approves of. Didn’t see that in the fine print.

The memorial to victims of war and oppression, Berlin. You see a statue of  a woman cradling a dead young man. The red on either side are two wreaths of flowers. It is Guan Yin in hell.

Did we (progressives, democrats, reasonably sane and caring people of all stripes) really do that? Michael Moore warned us that we were tone deaf or worse.

Where were the Democrats when big pharma and my fellow docs were pushing oxycontin? Too busy raising money to buy votes they couldn’t earn? I heard 20 million opiate addicts now and each has, or had, a family…

Our tradition says anger just gets more anger. Natural to feel anger and shock that our neighbors are so driven by fear and despair (and yes, in too many cases, outright racism and hate for the “other”), but how long do we indulge our anger and despair?

If we are all one, no separation, or if we say we are for the “people,” we have Trump and over 50 million actual people who voted for him to be “one” with! It isn’t a matter of having to like or agree with them, but we can’t just dismiss them or hate them. Despair and rage is counter-productive. 

Our tradition says buddha stopped a war caused by his family being arrogant and deceitful. Until he didn’t the second time and his clan was wiped out.

Our tradition says buddha’s cousin tried to kill him.

Yet he kept buddha-ing!

He didn’t give up even though (or maybe because) it looks so hopeless, because desires and suffering beings are inexhaustible, numberless.

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I love that about our tradition!

And remember: we DID get the majority of votes, despite a flawed candidate who to many represented the very  unsatisfactory status quo.

You and me, we are not alone. We can do this dance together.


We were in a bubble, but it was a pretty big bubble; together lets pop it and get to the hard work of opposing fascism, fear and racism, not out of anger and hate or because of some progressive agenda, or some concept of a left wing paradise, but because it is right effort, because it is what is right, period!

Whatever system we find ourselves under (as did our spiritual ancestors), whether we are ruled by an emperor, shogun, republic, democracy, socialism, feudalism, whatever, we stand for justice and compassion if we have a Mahayana  practice, or if we have no formal practice but simply have two synapses that work and we care at all and aren’t just as selfish and short sighted as the people we decry.

This blog Zengut  is in large part about the visions of science and zen. Well, in both science and zen we deal with what is in front of us, we don’t waste time and energy wishing it were different, imagining and hoping for a better past or different universe so we could have a more comfortable future that matches how we think it should be. We don’t indulge in fantasy and dogma. We see what the data says in science and we don’t fake it or fudge it, and we own the ground we stand on in zen; no difference there.

I’m not saying be passive. Stand up for what is right. Racism and misogyny and homophobia and climate denial and the fox guarding the hen house are NOT OK. It’s not “all good” and we are not going to be alright. When someone says “oh, we’ll survive this”, I get chills down my spine. Like we survived WWII? The Cultural Revolution in China? The monks and nuns in Tibet? Like kids in Syria? Like our own devastating civil war? Like so many throughout history under colonization and oppressive regimes throughout the world of all colors and beliefs?  No, I am not saying it is all good, we will be fine. We may be a failed evolutionary experiment, and if so, it will be painful. This may be how this chapter of the greater story ends.

Neither Buddhism or science is sentimental about suffering or survival.


Be strong. Be loud. Effect change. Fight the good fight for truth and justice. Out of human decency. But not out of anger, not out of hate, and not out of fear or despair.

That is our tradition(s) at its(their) best.

And it is our only hope.

Love, and see you in hell.


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.


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.


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.




The Crown of Creation (?)


Here’s my current suggestion for the coolest animal (hint: it is not us, either despite of, or maybe because of, our awesome and dangerous brains and opposable thumbs):


Sounds impressive! Actually, despite sounding like the name of some hard-core conquering emperor, it means ‘slow step’ in Latin.

Less impressively, it is also known as the water bear.

But it is WAY more impressive than any marauding horde.

There’s a great chapter about them in the book “Animal Earth, the amazing diversity of living creatures.” I like this book; while limiting itself to animals (not plants, say, or bacteria, etc.) it has examples of all the major groups, and so despite our brain chauvinism, vertebrates are barely mentioned.

At 0.003 to 0.08 inches you can barely see it without magnification. They live in both marine and fresh water. These can be extreme environments and collections of water as thin as the layer of water on moss or on  “lichen encrusting a headstone.” There’s some likely in your immediate vicinity right now. Some are “herbivorous” eating plants and algal cells, others are predatory on small animals like nematodes (ubiquitous small worms). In marine waters they tend to reproduce sexually. In fresh waters, some are hermaphrodites and others can reproduce by parthenogenesis, meaning mother’s eggs just start doing their thing, no need for sperm. So, for those water bears there is no need for males.

But here’s the coolest part:

They undergo “cryptobiosis,” described as a kind of “death-like suspended animation.” The dehydrate over less than an hour and become what is called a “tun.” They use glycerol and a trehalose, a simple sugar to replace water molecules. The tun can tolerate:

Temperatures approaching absolute zero (much colder, it says, than liquid nitrogen)

Temperatures up to 120 centigrade or 250 degrees Fahrenheit (they can live in hot springs without being in this living dead condition)

“Huge doses of radiation”

A “hard vacuum”

Up to 600 atmospheres of pressure.


So, you think global warming is a threat to life on earth? Think again. Of course rats and roaches wont care either if our coastal cities are under water, our economies dive, millions starve from lack of water from loss of run off from major mountain ranges and destroyed habitats and ecosystems.

We will take down  ourselves, and a large percent of species on earth if we continue living as we have, but many will survive.

Earth has put up with more than we can dish out, and life has survived massive extinctions before (the book “The Sixth Extinction” will teach you about that, as will any good history of life on earth or a trip to a good natural history museum.)

This extinction is unique in that it is the first massive extinction done knowingly, out of pure greed and willful stupidity and self-deception, so some call it the Anthropocene (Latin for people fucked it up. Well, not exactly; it means the people’s period. Power to the people!).

So I worry less about earth or even life on earth than I shake my head at our arrogance and hurt for our kids and grandkids. Species come and go. Biology, evolution, is not romantic or sentimental. Life on earth  has the urge to survive, to grow and develop, to evolve, but it is not unidirectionally goal directed. We are. Let’s not fool ourselves. Our concerns about the environment are basically about us. Earth just finds us wordy apes petty, rude and annoying, not existentially threatening. In a few millions of years even our most toxic remnants will be dissolved, dissipated, and metamorphosed (OK some will take a few tens, or even hundreds, of  millions of years, but earth has deep time).

We’re not water bears; we’re not that cool. We are just an evolutionary experiment—fragile bodies with overblown, overly self-important, big wordy brains. Is there a chance that we will look up from our devices, our efficiencies, our clinging and our lusts, with our attention spans less than goldfishes, to see past our encrusted defense outer and inner mechanisms, be brave, and do the right thing? Judging from the popularity of certain republicans who thrive on greed, ignorance, fear and hate right now, I am not convinced. Judging from the reaction to them of many, to the wisdom of some I know and read and hear about, I am allowing myself some tiny sliver of hope.

Zen impartiality or not, I’d like my grandkids not to live in a seething hell of destroyed civilizations and ecosystems.


The Only Thing We Have To Fear; Happy Thanksgiving

I haven’t written on this website for a while for several reasons. Mostly I have been writing a fantasy novel for 8-11 year olds (or thereabouts) where themes that I have discussed in this blog are the subtext, but without any Buddhist, Zen or really scientific jargon. That’s the point of fiction; you explore new things in a way that is free and open, using intuition and imagination.

Also, I went to do research and visit friends and family in Paris.

Then a month later of course the horror of ISIL in Paris happened.

That was sad and disgusting and tragic, but what really got to me was the irrational reaction of so many people here in the USA (and somewhat elsewhere, of course): paranoia, xenophobia, racism, perverted values, willingness to destroy innocent lives; the wholesale and obvious caving in to the whims of evil deeds perpetrated by a handful of people.

I don’t usually discuss current events in this blog. The ethical dimensions of “no separation,” the teachings of Buddhism about compassion that I have discussed, say it all. Don’t get sucked in by greed and anger and you will probably get it right most of the time.

Fear is greed. Now, I am not talking about the rapid heart beat and even the involuntary jumping and screaming that might occur if you are surprised watching a suspenseful film, when an earthquake happens, or if you are indeed attacked by nefarious forces including bad guys (or a leopard). These reactions are pretty hard wired; yes, it may be that with deep enough enlightenment you can transcend these reactions, but they do serve an evolutionary purpose (that leopard).

And I am not talking about even more prolonged, perfectly legitimate reactions and concerns that can degrade into fear. You are concerned if someone dear to you is sick. It needn’t be that you are afraid for that person, you just would like them not to suffer. You miss a close friend when she dies. It needn’t become fear of death. You would rather be careful than deal with the pain of third degree burns. You aren’t afraid, it’s just that third degree burns really, really, really suck. You do not want the consequences that may occur if your drink and drive. You’d rather not die just yet, so when you are sick you dive in and you take medicine or undergo surgery or stop smoking or change your diet if it will help.

These are not really fears or actions based on fear; they are what a responsible, smart and wise person does.

Being spiritual shouldn’t mean you are dumb or uncaring. Going all Zen and avoiding “picking and choosing,” as the ancient Chan masters implored, means you don’t get attached to your view points, your desires and conditioning, it doesn’t mean you don’t jump in to save a drowning child. Just the opposite; maybe you’d rather not get wet. Maybe you are afraid to get involved, that you will fail. You do it anyway.

Maybe you are afraid. Tough. Do the right thing. That is not picking or choosing.

So, getting back to the terrorists.

If you feel one iota of fear because of the Paris attacks, you are deluded, selfish and you are a terrorist. Unless maybe if you were there and have PTSD. Yep, you are a terrorist in the same sense that you may be a Buddhist. It is your Way, what you believe in, the way of terrorizing and being terrorized. These go hand in had. Nobody terrorized, no terrorists. They lose steam quickly. Why blow yourself up if nobody goes ooh and aah?

I assume nobody reading this made the connection to the Syrian refugees that some of our politicians and it seems many of our countrymen did in the USA; that’s too over the top racist and incoherent for anybody sophisticated enough to find this website. I would think. I would hope.

I mean, the irony of during the season of Thanksgiving Americans getting self righteous about terrorists and genocide is a bit much. We built this country on murder, slavery and deceit! That is not a political statement or opinion, it is historical fact, whatever the Texas school board says.

Anyway, I had reasonable people, citizens of liberal West LA, tell me they were afraid to travel. That terrorism will get us. That Sharia law is coming to a town near you.

In 2013 about 10,000 Americans were killed by drunk drivers in motor vehicle accidents. That is almost three 9/11’s and about 80 Paris attacks. That happens here EACH YEAR. How do we know that is avoidable other than the fact that no one HAS to drive drunk? Because it used to be 25,000 killed by drunk drivers before tougher laws were instituted.

How do we know the reactions we have seen in the USA are racist? We didn’t suddenly round up white guys in pick-ups, even just right wing separatists with pick ups and fertilizer, after Timothy McVeigh bombed the Federal Building in Oklahoma, killing some ten times more people than in Paris.

How do we know it is irrational? How many mass shootings in the USA have there been and we wont regulate guns? We hold that constitutionally  sacred, but we pervert the the first amendment to allow for unrestrained money in politics as free speech, and we allow lawless search and seizure because we are afraid of dying by terrorists of a certain kind.

My grandsons are more likely to be killed in school or by gangbangers, white guy mass murderers or homegrown white separatist terrorists, than Islamic terrorists.

Yet we go about our lives.

So if in your head, in your heart, even if you know better than to say it out loud because you are politically, socially and spiritually correct, you are afraid because of the Paris tragedy, don’t rationalize it. Face your delusion. You need to get centered. That fear is greed. It is poison and you make it happen.

(not you, or me, dear reader, we know better; I mean those other guys)

Fear causes pain and suffering for yourself and others.

It will kill and maim.

The terrorists are called that because it is obviously what they are after. Baiting us, edging us on. Making us terrorized. Afraid.

Don’t let terrorism win.

Don’t let your friends, neighbors, people talking at the supermarket or the gym let terrorism win. Stand against terrorism. Stand against irrational fear and loathing.

Be smart. Be strong. I am not a pacifist. Some people may need to be ushered into their next incarnation in a way that makes it that they don’t take a lot of people with them, causing undo pain and stirring up deep and abiding trouble. After all, if we don’t stop them when we can without selling out our values, we are in some way complicit.  The warrior spirit is to protect those who need protecting. Out of compassion, not fear or anger. I thought it appropriate when the Paris cops kicked down the right doors and I am only sorry the police dog was killed. OK, maybe they were a little afraid or angry. I won’t judge. I’m just saying don’t think it HAS to be out of fear and anger and selfishness.

Just like when you don’t drink and drive, you do that to take care of business. To protect yourself and others. You don’t have to think in terms of courage or cowardice.

The decision not to drink and drive does not require fear. Fear is extra.

Fear always is. Sure, in the moment of crisis there will be adrenaline flowing and resulting strong reactions. Shitting yourself, rapid heart beat, breathing shallow and fast, getting blood to the muscles, IQ dropping 20 points, are genetically encoded survival mechanisms that are reasonable and necessary. The reaction feels and looks a bit like fear, so you might be convinced you are afraid, but that is an illusion, a concept, a conceit, something extra. A phantom, a chimera. Such a reaction needn’t be fear and loathing. It is how we living organisms are built. We avoid noxious stimuli. Even single cell organisms do. And they don’t call it fear. They do what needs to be done. We needn’t mentally process that reaction and transform it into ongoing fear. We needn’t give it that name, (name the color, blind the eye) confer on it an intellectual gravitas, reify it, grant it the form and function of fear, then make subsequent decisions based on our manufactured fear, often creating self-fulfilling prophecies and a downward spiral.

We don’t let greed turn caution into a fetish. Fear and loathing is, as they say in Zen, ‘a head on a head.’ It is not needed and it always leads to more harm.

There was that story I told where they gave a hard time to Pyrrho, who taught a kind of early Buddhism in Greece that included non-attachment, when he was chased up a tree by wild dogs. They were wrong. He wasn’t afraid. He wasn’t “attached.” He had no silly notion that the teaching of non-attachment meant that dogs get to say when you had to be dog food. He just didn’t think becoming dog food was best use of his body at that time.

You know, like FDR said: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” As a kid I thought that was dumb. Of course we had to fear monsters and bad guys and lightning, right?


So let this be a teachable moment. For ourselves our kids, our friends, the world. We wont succumb to fear. We know better. Deep in our guts, we really do.



Entropy, Ego, What’s the Point?


Rather than launch into a technical description of entropy and the relationship of energy and entropy lets try this first.

More entropy means more disorganization and more ignorance. Low signal to noise. Less information. Like static preventing the faithful transmission of data. Think of loud static on a radio when you are trying to listen to music on your car radio.


If I tell you I mixed up the numbers one through ten and put them in a bag, then I picked out two, say a 3 and a 7, all you know about the next one I will pick is that it is not a 3 or 7. So they are mixed up, disorganized, and we have a bit of ignorance about some aspect of that system. Relatively high entropy. If I throw in some letters or blanks into the bag along with the numbers, i.e. static, you are even less able to predict the next thing to come out of the bag!

Now I tell you I ordered the numbers from ten down to one. There are no blanks or letters. I picked out a ten. Next picked will be… nine! Very good. You had little to no ignorance. But I had to put extra energy into ordering the numbers compared to throwing them in the bag. I had to have some way to assure they stayed in order as well. Low entropy, but it took more energy.

Meditation can be seen as aiming for high energy, low entropy. But I am not sure that’s quite true for zazen. You’d have to ask a Zen teacher. Certainly “mindfulness” is like that.

A circle is low entropy. You know everything about it and it took energy to create it (minimally mental energy, in addition perhaps energy to move the pencil or program and run the computer).

Symmetry is not ignorance. True, by definition symmetry is present when you can’t tell something has changed, like someone else spinning a circle while your eyes are closed, so that seems like ignorance. But to do that experiment, you need to know that the experiment was planned and then do it! That’s a lot of knowing, organization and energy!

Information is low entropy. It takes energy to put 0’s and 1’s in some order and that is one aspect of what information is. Ordered dualism.

Meaning is how we interpret and experience information. It is our perspective on it. It is contingent to the max. It is easily colored by our wishes and desires, by our egos.

I just read that the Nobel Prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg, who unified the electromagnetic and weak nuclear forces (along with others, of course; anyway major physics achievement) wrote: “The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.”

That seems very nihilistic and depressing. Perhaps that’s how he meant it. If so, somehow he had dealt with it because some four decades after writing that he is still writing books!

On the contrary, that seems very Zen to me. And liberating. It relieves us of arbitrary values and goals. The kind the ego sets up to measure ourselves by, so we can achieve them and reassure ourselves. Except when we don’t.

What ultimate, objective, cosmic, universal, non-dualistic “point” could there be? Any point we could articulate would be a human construct, limited and contingent, a dualistic notion of use in only a very small corner of time and space.

Matthieu Ricard writes in his book “Altruism” that the ego is the crystallization of our identity. He writes that we try to protect it. That’s pretty good, but I am not sure that it is quite right. There is no single anatomic brain space that houses the ego. I think the ego is the process by which we protect our identity. The identity is our sense of who we are based on our conditioning (biologic and psychological, contingent on where and when we are). It is how we organize our sense perceptions and react to them. It is our karma, if you will. It is how we try to make the world comprehensible, to find a point. The ego is the process of having and wanting there to be a point. A point is like a location, a beacon, a polar star that the ego can refer to on the horizon to measure itself and its position by so it can better protect us as we cruise through the world of time and space, the world of the six senses.

So as the universe becomes comprehensible, what we comprehend may not be to our ego’s liking. It may not put our bodies (brains included) at the top of the heap. It may remind us that our limited sensory experience is a pretty pale reflection of the vastness of the universe. Of course comprehensible in this context means the forces of nature. The things physics studies. That which can be measured. It does not mean the whole shebang.

To be clear: I am not suggesting a lack of values. I hope you value compassion. I hope you don’t value your suffering and especially not the suffering of others. I am only suggesting not being seduced into thinking that is the “point.”

Or is it? We can chose to embody compassion, we can aspire to the low entropy high energy state. Is that the “point” of our lives, our minds, the dream, the whole show? Some think so. I admit to liking that view. But maybe that’s the point! It is a goal to like, admirable to be sure, but do I like it because it makes me feel better about myself? Is that my ego protecting me?

No “point”? Perhaps that’s kind of like “ordinary mind is the way.” Or the miracle is chopping wood and carrying water. You don’t need a “point” writ large to the universe to eat when hungry, or to be compassionate. That is the functioning of the universe. What needs to be added? What would be the point?



Ethics 101 and Louis CK



 Bowl by Rengetsu, a Japanese Buddhist Nun who lived in the late 18th and the 19th century. She was a poet, artist and as a youth learned ninja martial arts.


I am reading a great book called “Altruism” by the Tibetan Buddhist Monk, a former scientist, Matthieu Ricard. I highly recommend it. It is 700 hundred pages not counting notes (it is well referenced). I’m about a third through it, but I have already learned a lot.

There is a vast literature on the biology of ethics and morality in humans and other animals going back to Darwin.


There is a vast literature on the philosophical, psychological, political, professional, religious and social aspects of ethics and morality as well. Ricard covers a lot of that ground, but even at 700 pages by necessity he just skims some topics.

But we don’t need all of that to function (thank goodness).

Today I ran into a great summary of how to be, really all you need to know about morality and ethics, in Judd Apatow’s book “Sick in the Head.” In the book he interviews the comedian Louis C.K., who relates how on his show Louis once told his TV kid:

“don’t look into your neighbor’s bowl unless it is to check if they have enough.”

Louis C.K. says he tells his real life kids that “the reason we cut sandwiches in half is so your can offer somebody a piece of your sandwich. You don’t need the whole sandwich. Everybody in your line of sight, your offer it to them and if nobody wants it, then hey, you get a whole sandwich..”

Regarding the political and social aspects of ethics and morality, I’m not a liberal. There is much I do not see exactly the same way as many self-described liberals. But I often find myself on the liberal side of things because being liberal is most often about being fair. And kind.

I can even be kind of conservative about some things, though I am certainly not a political or religious conservative, because that viewpoint seems to me, at least in practice if not political philosophy, most often about greed, fear, and control and quite egotistically delusional. Conservatives generally seem to have an anal view of fair, a selfish view, and kindness seems an afterthought at best.

The conservative religious agenda is also often colored by some form of belief in the End Times, and justifies hate and greed by a appealing to a Father Deity who wants you to exploit non-believers and apostates and the earth with the same hard assed agenda he (or sometimes they) seems to have. What bitter irony.

Some Native Americans taught that we should act in accord with what will create lasting benefit for seven generations. Now that’s ethics.

So look into your neighbor’s bowl. If they have more, don’t get jealous, and don’t harass them either. As I have recently written, comparisons are poison. That’s not why you are looking.

If they have less, well, you’ll know what to do. Maybe it will be nothing, just allow them their dignity. But if you can do something, anything, however indirect, however little, then go ahead do it.

Get quiet and be kind. That sums it up.

And forgive yourself when you blow it. That will make it easier to really forgive others when they do.


 Love the earth and its magnificent living presence. Photo courtesy of Susan Levinson.