Watching a fantastic nature show on PBS about the Pacific Ocean I was reminded how creative life is. Now, I know to some that sounds like I am slipping into intelligent design. Think what you will, but how can you look at the awesome variety of life and not be just overwhelmed? Why, though, use the word creative? Especially since it sounds like intelligent design, that dastardly back door creationists and other religious zealots use to seek religion into schools? Fair question.

Because for me, the word ‘creative’ fits as well for the canvas of life and being, as it does for a painting or a poem.

Creativity could be defined just as some human activity, or a brain activity at most (extending the attribute to a few other animals); fine, I wont argue. I’m just not so taken with the primacy of brain activity.

I like a bigger definition of creativity because it works for me, it captures something relevant, I think. Expanding the word creativity beyond clever brain burps that re-arrange the deck chairs of our perceptions captures the amazing, unrelenting tendency of the universe to come up with an expanding array of form and function.

There is a continuity of life, a center that is manifest in our genes, and in our bodies, but there has been a tinkering on tinkering still seen clearly in our genome and in the fossils, in the earth itself, that records how we changed, then changed the environment, then we changed again; a dance of four billion or so years.

            Creative because life is always something old that becomes something new. It reaches into and changes around every possible nook and cranny. It never stops, it isn’t reaching a goal, it is always creating new forms most wondrous.

            So still, is that really creative, just because there are never seen before variations? Don’t we have a special clever input into our creativity?

Yes and no.

Yes, regarding a special attribute that is creativity, that is our conceit. We make art. We have creative impulses. We project that out. We want meaning in our creativity, meaning that gives us meaning.

Again, fair enough f you define it that way.

But maybe the answer is no, there’s more.

Where do our creative impulses come from that act on the materials, the media, we fashion in our creativity? Are they really that different from the spark of a virtual particle arising at the vast, if not infinite, unperceivable (except indirectly) quantum foam, or the quantum fields of energy that can not be measured directly, but only as they change and morph, become manifest to us as particles? How creative is it to go from a unified source of all energy, a single force, an infinitely small whatever, a singularity in the jargon, to a universe, as science teaches us happened?

Or is it an infinite universe where all things that can happen will? That may be the most creative of all, the essential creativity of being!

I this creativity really different using, being, the simple substrate of a few types of atoms arranged in patterns that will encode information and interact and produce such a pageant of pulsating, squirming, burrowing, swimming, soaring complexity of life as we see around us, as we are in it and it in us?

            I was talking about my fiction writing with someone a couple of days ago. I do work with a general outline, but what is most fun for me, whether good or bad form the literary viewpoint is irrelevant, is when the story, the characters just come out. They surprise me. They come from a quiet place. It isn’t a question of uniqueness (Buddhism 101: all things, all composite entities,express karma uniquely as the result of contingencies upon contingencies, no beginning, no end) or talent (the skill of achieving the result you are after and the aesthetics of pleasing others. That is not the essence of creativity, though it may be a factor in whether you spend time or money on a work of art as a consumer).


The quiet place is the source.

A straight line is an infinite set of waves that can form incredible patterns, but as long as they cancel out over all, if the same amount of up equals the same amount down at the point of the line, there is no array of of the vast potential of intricate patterns, only the line. Of course the line itself, made up of points that are mere constructs, and for that matter the point on the line we are looking at, doesn’t exist. It’s the nothing left over that the waves would have been above or below if they weren’t perfectly balanced, perfectly symmetrical, above and below (or in 3 dimensions, they also balance front and back, and in four, five dimensions…).

Just perhaps, it is all creativity all the time, this vast arising and falling in the quiet place, the dream we tell stories our about.

Does it mean an outside creator intelligently designing?

No, I reject that dualistic notion.

Some call it Mind, or consciousness, or Buddha.

            Mind dancing.

 You don’t have to give it a name or conceptualize it. That’s the point of the  tetralemma in buddhist logic; whatever you can say, you’ll be wrong. After all it’s not: true, false, both or neither.

      It’s Zazen, the quiet place.






We Cant Wish Ourselves Out of Any of This (wish we could!)

Hakuin Zenji the great 18th century Japanese master, pipe dreams himself as an old woman former prostitute poet.


It is incumbent on us not to be married to the stories we tell ourselves.

That is not an excuse to think that nothing you think matters.

Of course, “matters” is relative and subjective, a product of mind.

But then, so is existence.

I have of late been concerned, as I bet you have, about the state of our nation and world. It is awesome in the sense of being overwhelming. Stunning in the sense of of being hit in the gut and having your breath knocked out.

What level of greed and delusion is our species capable of?

Look around.

A wall in Berlin


I was speaking to a friend of mine who is a professor of history. We don’t only learn from history in the sense of studying events that have occurred long enough ago to somehow be at a sufficient distance that they are described in summary form in textbooks and can be “processed,” that is, to have developed a coherent story about the events that relates to our world view (the big stories we tell ourselves). Events aren’t made into history after some respectable time has elapsed. Everything you experience is history. The “now” is too fleeting to grasp. Science teaches us that energy must reach us, cause changes in energy states in our sense organs, change the membrane states in the nerves that feed our brain, then our brains must sort the data about these energy transformations and decide how it relates to your stories and experience; all in time and space.

So, your “now” is a result of transformations that happened in the past.

It’s all history.

In my personal life I have sought liberation by pursuing my practice. More and more I appreciate the wisdom of Lily Tomlin’s statement that forgiveness is not wishing for a better past. That is true when seeking to forgive others and to forgive your self. That is especially true when you consider that to the extent you perceive, think, feel, and conclude anything about anything, you are experiencing the past.

I admit it. I find that I often wish for a better past. A past where delusion, ideology, racism and greed didn’t run our country and many other countries around the world. Personally, there are times I wish I zigged instead of zagged in my life. There are times I wish those near and dear to me zigged when I hoped they would, when it would have fit my image of the way things should be, when my ego would have been more supported, but they found zagging to be what they needed to do.

But wishing is delusion, it ends up causing more pain and suffering. It is an attempt to reify our stories, what we think we need instead of want, our conditioning, our egos.

We get disappointed when reality doesn’t fit our model of it, our stories, our wishes for a better past. As Stephen Gaskin said over 45 years ago, you have to appoint to be disappointed.

Of course, this can devolve into just more concepts, an excuse to give up, to not care. In Zen we say don’t pick or choose. Well, be careful about how you parse words and concepts. Compassion is at the base of Buddhism, of any religion or philosophy or world-view that isn’t just a way to rationalize greed and delusion. We may not want to be slave to our egotistical, conditioned picking and choosing, but we discriminate a rock from a potato, a kitten from a cobra, compassion from greed.

Hakuin Zenji not deceiving himself and occupying the ground he sits on

In Zen we say start where you are. Occupy the ground you stand on. Maezumi Roshi stressed no self-deception. Easy to agree with; what else would make any sense? Actually doing it, I find, is not so easy. How often do we like where we find ourselves? It isn’t always pretty, is it? But what else is there? Where else can you start, and what other strategy but no self-deception would possibly matter (see above)?

In the past few months I haven’t been too interested in math and science, other than as a professional medical scientist. Seemed a distraction. I have enjoyed taking a bit of a philosophical/metaphysical turn (in the sense of philosophizing about the implications of science) reading, for example, Bernardo Kastrup. Then last week I was talking about the coolness of quantum mechanics talking to a friend at the Zen center who has a strong math background, and I found myself fired up, going back to review some math and science and loving it; so pure, so elegant, so inherently not greedy, insane and devious.

Dogen said to study Buddhism is to forget the self. At least when delving into how an abstract logical construct like linear algebra ends up being a way to describe quantum phenomenon, I can, for a bit, forget myself. OK, that’s not totally true, and it certainly isn’t what Dogen was really saying. He said body and mind fall away, and mine hasn’t, not even when absorbed in new material. But still, it seems to at least give me a little break from all of the noise.

I like that you can’t cheat it without, well, cheating, and what’s the point of that? And it can get deeper as you return to it. You might have a certain understanding of a mathematical operation, but seeing how it works in another context, say linear algebra in quantum mechanics, brings you deeper; very cool.

Myths and stories can do that too, and I do like creative writing and have been doing some of that as well. I read somewhere you might as well do art; worse that can happen is it sucks, then you toss it. I like that. Nice if it doesn’t suck though, but hey, gotta start somewhere.


Of course, the ultimate art, the great performance piece, is our lives and our deaths.

Keep on dancing!



Dear Marc Maron and others: Don’t Judge or indulge suffering


Michelangelo could render suffering


And he could mope about it. He felt VERY deeply. He was very repressed I think.  Talented guy though.

In his TV show Marc Maron recently asked the question: what is the relationship between creativity need suffering? He asks it honestly and movingly. I find him honest, funny and intelligent, but sometimes kind of hard to take.

In a sense all activity, all thoughts and motivations, all movement through the world of the senses, derives from suffering, or at least from delusion, from our deep and abiding dream, from our perceptions and projections, our stories about the world and efforts to deal with our confusion, disappointment and ultimately our death. From our karma, our intentions, from our uses of our body, mouth and thought, as the chant goes. From or projections, our concepts, our beliefs. That’s samsara in the Buddhist tradition.

The ten thousand things, the ‘dharmas.’


Activity that takes a novel approach is deemed creative.

So yes, no drama, well, then no drama.

Marc suggests the “creative person,”  someone who does something self-consciously, and perhaps even professionally, recognized in our culture as an artistic endeavor, is somehow able to profit more from his or her suffering, whereas an accountant (his example) has no outlet other than maybe suicide.

Umm, poets, writers, painters, musicians and comics, the list of suicide, self-destructive behaviors and creating much pain for self and others, really, come on Marc, how long is that list? You know better!

The creative outlet does little or nothing. It might even make things worse by indulging delusion and garnering attention, a form of positive feedback for using talent to create, or at least justify, more pain.

Being talented, smart, cleaver, to be able to craft ideas, words or sounds or objects, in ways that amuse and hold the attention of others, is hardly in and of itself a ticket to decreasing suffering and creating a better world for anybody.

It may be seductive, even special, a potentially useful power, but that doesn’t make it inherently valuable.

As for that accountant, maybe she will use her suffering to learn and grow rather than indulge it and exploit it, justifying the pain she causes herself and others as part of her “process” or her “art”! Maybe she will not just say it feeds her creativity and wallow in it.

By the way, accountants can be quite creative. Ask any rich person or corporation who relies on their accountants’ creative abilities to enrich themselves further.

I hear this all the time, how someone’s problems are more “real” their suffering is deeper or less deep,  more intense or less intense, more useful or less important, more or less of their own making, more justified or just indulgent (“middle class suffering”) than the suffering of others.

It is the judging I am referring to; there is clearly truth in that relative view of suffering, of course. Nyogen recently told the story about the Zen master who at a wedding when asked for a blessing said “grandfather dies, son dies, grandson dies.” The guests thought well, that’s bit morbid for a wedding, eh? But no, there is less suffering if they die in that order! Some pains are certainly more painful. If you can take horrible pain and make it less horrible, that is compassion, that is a good thing. When that is the point, when that is what is in front of you, then it is true. But lets not get distracted by that, it is too obvious and not quite the point here.

Indulgences are indulgences, authenticity is authenticity.

If you embrace suffering for any “good” reasons, including ideas, philosophies, art or love, deserved or not deserved, some pre-fabricated inflexible idea of truth, justice and injustice, you are either trying to justify the pain you caused, wallowing or worse, or you are simply unaware that you are the problem.

In fact, this brings up the whole judging and comparing thing.

What do you know about that accountant? How deep is your perception, how sensitive to other people are you (not just how sensitive to and deeply do you feel your own concerns, that doesn’t make you sensitive, it makes you self centered)?

How easy it is to come to conclusions based on our prejudices, fears and desires.

Do you need others to fail, or simply be diminished in some way, to feel good about yourself? Does thinking an accountant has less resources and less creativity, rather than being less needy and yes, perhaps less funny and skilled with words (but so what?) make you feel more in tune with your Universe?

And this is true even when you are elevating the other. Comparisons are poison. They may spur you on, but only in the worse way. Acting out of jealousy, with unrealistic expectations is a recipe for disaster. It is pure delusion. There will ALWAYS be somebody with… more. Or less. Whatever is that you THINK you want or need. Does that person’s life seem so charmed when seen from afar, is their romantic partner so much better looking than yours, do they get more and better sex, is their salary and house bigger than yours? Are their successes more successful than yours, their failures less dismal and better justified? Will you get trapped feeling bad about it, about yourself, and end up chasing what others have?

You too subtle for that? Not a “materialist”? OK, is their creativity more creative, their genius more genius, their skills more skillful, their tastes more refined and elegant, their ability to meditate more profound, their spirituality more spiritual? Is their joy more joyful, their sadness more elegant and moving? They more of a Bodhisattva than you? More of a Buddha?

Will you get trapped chasing that, some ideal in your head you will never attain because you made it up?

Does it really mask the pain, to compare, to judge, even for a second?

Or does it become an itch you scratch till it hurts and bleeds?

We’re all dancing, hair just right, make up on, colorful kimonos flying.


Belief traps: comparisons, stories, phantoms and chimeras.


Authenticity: simple, not easy.


Emptiness for Art Historians

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

No essence, no fixed meaning or substance.

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

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

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

For Father’s Day: Is that so?


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

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

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

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

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

Giving the baby back he responded:

“Is that so?” Continue reading