Zen and Science

I have been writing about vision lately. Not surprising since I was an eye doctor. My journey in this writing is similar to my journey as an ophthalmologist, though in life it was not linear, but overlapping worlds. When I went back to do my premed courses in my early 30s I fell in love with science. Then I fell in love with vision and how the eye works, what it takes to restore vision. My interests in scienctific pursuits, particularly immunology, persisted and informed my choice to be an academic ophthalmologist specializing in ocular inflammatory disease. Starting some 10 years ago my much older interest in Zen resurfaced and I pursued, and still maintain, a Zen practice.

In retirement, especially with the forced time on my hands of covid stay at home orders, I have looked into aspects of the biology of vision in nature beyond what I needed as an ophthalmologist to be effective.

In addition, Zen (and other schools of Mahayana Buddhism) is interested in Mind and perception. The Suringama sutra, for example, is a meditation on the nature of perception and Mind. The Lankavatara sutra also is in parts involved in considering how we perceive and project. And in any discussion of cognition and perception, vision rules because in humans, that is our foremost way of, well, seeing the world. Indeed an lot of our brain real estate, some estimate almost a third of the surface of our cortex, is about vision and visual associations.

So that’s what i am writing about.

Also, a friend of mine, Robert Lanza, MD, has just published his third book on Biocentrism, called “The Grand Biocentric Design” that I liked very much and wrote a blurb for that is in the book.

It seems that these all flow together for me.

It shouldn’t be surprising that science would converge with Zen in some ways, at some points
Both are about not being trapped or misled by delusion or self deception or religious dogma or social conditioning or political views or exploitation (ring a contemporary bell vis a vis covid and ciovide denial and exploitation?).

Sure practitioners of both fail and indulge in all the ego driven pursuits and limitations, and I am no exception, but that is the nature of the practitioners and our limits, not science or Zen.

But both Zen and science are about seeing clearly in the moment. No flinching. No obscuration. The word experiment comes from the word experience. Both are about honest, open experience, not wishes and fears.

The “realism,” “materialism,” duality thing, with science is not inherent, it is in my view a denial and limitation due to bias and conditioning, perhaps sometimes being lazy and unimaginative, or not being attentive, but it isn’t the definition or foundation of science.

No self deception is much closer to the core ideal of science, as it is in Zen (it was one of Maezumi roshi’s admonitions). Both teach: Dont be limited by conditioning and authority and how you think it should be.

Rather than say: no subjectivity, no perspective, an impossible ideal for most practitioners of either science or Zen, acknowledge and don’t be trapped by your perspective. You just have to get very subtle in science, like being very quiet in meditation, to find where your measurements lead or for that matter where they break down, and where you framework breaks down. 

A clockwork universe, a ghost in the machine, was the first attempt to break free of superstition and religious dogma in the West where modern science developed.  It was flawed and colored by the duality of much of Western thought and religion.

That breaking free started in earnest about 120 years ago with the birth of quantum mechanics (and a bit with relativity, and more so when the two wouldn’t always work nicely together in extreme conditions).

And it continues.

As does the struggle against willful ignorance and exploitation and the poisons of greed and hate continues in our world and in ourselves.

You Are Multitudes Unfolding

When I started writing this Zengut blog I thought I would share more of the “gee whiz” of science. I also thought I would join the ranks of popularizers of math and science and the intersection of science with Zen, spirituality, Mind and meditation. One of the blogs I enjoyed writing the most was my meditation on Circle, Triangle and Square, a Zen painting. It’s really good and deep and if you haven’t read it, check it out, especially the revised version (also on Hazymoon.com). But over the years since I have started writing and have pursued my practice and my life (same thing), I find for the most part I have less and less interest in doing so in a methodical fashion.

There are plenty of sources for science that aren’t geared to scientists: magazines such as Scientific American and Discover, websites such as sciencedaily.com, and I am sure many others.  There are great writers and thinkers who really want to make clear the implications of quantum mechanics for a Mind Only view of how it is (e.g. Lanza and Berman Biocentrism and Beyond Biocentrism) and the philosophical underpinnings of non-duality and  idealism (e.g. Bernardo Kastrup).

Robert Lanza talking at Hazy Moon Zen center; me listening for a change.

I am not a Zen teacher. I share as a student, a practitioner. Certainly there are qualified Zen teachers (e.g. many books of ancient masters, Hazymoon.com has selections of Nyogen Roshi’s dharma talks, Maezen sensei’s books and blogs and websites are also good to check out, and of course other sources of Zen and spiritual teachings by those who are spiritual leaders and teachers).

I have finished my second novel for older kids, and I think it is a more unique contribution, more reflective of my mandala. More on that later ( I will post some chapters soon; maybe even the whole thing if people want. I will also self publish for those like me who like hard copy or who don’t read this blog).

I haven’t pursued the Zengut blog as planned. Well, that’s how it goes. I still see life as the universe unfolding as I wrote in the first blog I posted. Evolution is at its core. Life is change, all is continuous change, a basic tenant of Buddhism and science (there, mission accomplished! Political irony intended). So maybe I will unfold back into so pursuing a theme of science and Zen, or more of the inspiration of math, or whatever. I have continued to write when something catches my attention, whether something I can share of my Zen practice and life (again, same thing) or, like now, in the scientific world.

I do want to share what blew me away this week. It is definitely a “gee whiz” thing. It isn’t any new information. I have seen images of that are a bit like this for 45 years, that is cells interacting with cells, and there have been movies of cells in motion for maybe 10 years, but this image just hit home like a thunderclap. It may not hit you the same way, but give it a try:

Cutting-edge microscope spies on living cells inside the body – Nature

https://www.nature.com › nature › news

You have the same types of cells, and many other similar cells. Watch this and think about how in your bone marrow you give birth thousands and thousands of times a day to these cells, these organisms, that are you yet not you. Independent, with lives you have no idea of and don’t consciously control. Can you watch this and not see sense intention? Intention, you may ask? Absolutely. They have purpose. They are sentinels, guardians, noble and selfless. They do a job, a very complex and important job.  Watch how they seek. How they feel their environment. How they have no sense of you or your world outside of their impulses and needs, their immediate mandalas, their lives unfolding. Given the right environment, they can be removed from the living body that gave rise to them and still be who they are.

Clearly mind.

I am not suggesting conscious thought. Not brain stuff.  These are not beings with concepts as we have, of course. Still, a kind of sentience independent of you and your concepts, your desires, your hopes and fears and intellect. Mind, life, at work and play.

Life in life. You are multitudes.




Why I Have Been Posting Less Recently

I have been writing less on this blog of late for several reasons.

I am finishing up a second novel about Aidan Alvarado, dream detective. It’s an adventure about life death and redemption, compassion and courage, for 9-12 year olds (of all ages! This age range is just because that’s what they want even when you self publish. What is the target audience? People love classifications. I agree guidance is helpful in some ways; it sometimes saves time. I actually think of it as just fiction; however, fiction that is appropriate for kids if they want to read it.).

It is time and energy consuming to pay attention and try to understand how to make a difference given the destructive horror show that is occurring in our government. And no, contrary to what I seem to hear from some Buddhists, you don’t need Buddhist insights to grasp this. I am not too enamored with socially engaged religious activities, though of course they could have a place. Mostly it seems to me to be more like advertising and self-aggrandizement. I agree with the Dalai Lama: we need more compassionate people, not more Buddhists (or Jews, or Christians, or Moslems, or Hindus or whatever). You want to do something with your sangha, church, synagogue, mosque, etc., fine, but don’t crow about it or stamp your beliefs on it, like that makes it special. I know fine people who are atheists, materialists, agnostics, deists, theists, religious, spiritual but non-religious etc. who care and band together to help or get involved with organizations and give to those who can make a difference without branding the help they are giving, or for that matter, themselves.

As much as I love science, I am reading less of it except for some of the fun stuff, mostly nature and biology (also there are great nature shows), or for what I do at work. I do appreciate the fact that physics can and should slap you upside the head saying no matter how you see the world, this cosmos, with your senses, the deeper you look the less “understandable” and solid it is. You can describe quantum physics and conceive some picture of what is going on, but it won’t be quite right. Can’t be. Words and concepts don’t cut it, even if they can approach it. You can come up with some idea of what might be going on: it is all energy fields (at best), ever changing with no inherently clear beginning or end, as it may be multi dimensional with multi universes. Entanglement suggests time and space is an illusion, or at least the way we experience space-time clearly is (as does relativity in a less fundamental way). The world of phenomena seems smooth and continuous and yet what seem like individual particles are described by waves, but come in discreet quanta. See my previous blogs on quantum mechanics (and now there are loads of good YouTube videos; I just watched a couple on 3Blue1Brown I liked about math and science, for example). I love that math designed and conceived abstractly as an intellectual endeavor sometimes comes to be the best way to describe the most subtle natural phenomena (like quantum mechanics).

I believe science, where it runs into the utter overwhelming fact of existence, the mind-boggling manifestations of life, of the universe itself, the nature of observation in quantum mechanics, the deep mystery of consciousness (mystery, that is, from an intellectual perspective), implies Mind is primary, is not a random epiphenomenon (though consciousness in terms of specific evolved brain functions may be so considered from a certain limited perspective. I do believe in evolution). There are great books by Robert Lanza and Bob Berman (Biocentrism and Beyond biocentrism) that explore that (see Honmei’s review of the latter book on the HazyMoon.com website) and there are several by Bernardo Kastrup. Bernardo has been writing a lot of academic articles; if you want academic arguments for what in Buddhism is called Mind Only, what he calls idealism, look him up.

So I don’t feel like writing about science and spirituality as much anymore. Others are doing just fine.

In my original post on this blog I wrote what I had heard from others that I considered the best description of what is true and that is what I still see:


You are the universe unfolding

No separation

No beginning no end.


I might add:

Mind is primary

The natural working of mind is compassion when not reacting from ignorance (ignorance: the sense of separation, thinking that ego and the words that pop into our head, our brain as it has evolved for us apes to survive, is mind, that our stories are real rather than short hand for what can’t be said)

Greed and anger are manifestations of our ignorance and cause pain, both for others and ourselves.


The best advice I have run into:

Don’t wish for a better past (or present or future, for that matter; it doesn’t help and is guaranteed to make you crazy; this is an abbreviation of Lily Tomlin’s statement that forgiveness is not wishing for a better past)

No self-deception

Pay attention

Don’t put a head on your head


I do my Zen practice. I try to act in the world with responsibility and whatever compassion as I can muster. I am lucky to have some great karma, though I see pain all around me, sometimes very close, sometimes big, sometimes small. I write fiction for adults that can be read by kids that I hope will provide a fun way to pass the time while being insightful and helpful. Writing fiction is a way to tell truths that non-fiction and didactic approaches can’t. It is an expression of my Zen practice.

I may write more about math and science and spirituality in the future. I’ll let you know more about my new fiction soon. So far this is the summary I am working on for the back of the book; it’s still rough (I have information about the first book on ralphlevinson.com and will put more about this one there and maybe here in a few weeks or so):

Eleven-year-old Aidan Alvarado had enough of saving the world; all he wanted to do was play soccer. That wasn’t going to happen! Aidan embarks on his second case as a dream detective when Emperor Wu (China’s only woman emperor who lived 1300 years ago) needs his help again. There is a war going on in the realm of the water spirit dragons and the balance of the universe is upset, threatening disaster for Wu’s empire and even the universe itself. The key is a golden feather. To solve the mystery Aidan has to travel in his dreams to ancient China, India, and Egypt. Along the way Aidan meets a few monsters and ancient deities, a boy who can morph into a cobra, a girl who talks to elephants, a poet philosopher who accompanied Alexander the Great, a beekeeper in Ancient Egypt and a mummy girl’s spirit.


Maat with her feather. She embodies Truth, the Way, the Balance of the Cosmos, the Dharma. You heart (like in China, in Ancient Egypt heart and mind are the same) is measured against her feather in what we know as the Egyptian book of the Dead (really the Book of Coming Forth by Day)

Deathbed Wishes


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.


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.


Quantum Mechanics: Not Just Kinda Cool But Essential to Life


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.



Buddhist Ethics



30 Kushan Buddha

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.




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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”






Beyond the Big Picture


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).


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.



Pyrrho, Buddha, Daosim and Science

30 Kushan Buddha

In his book “Greek Buddha” Christopher I. Beckwith discusses Pyrrho, a philosopher who went along with Alexander the Great on his world tour of conquest in the late fourth century BCE.

It seems Pyrrho went native and studied with Buddhist masters. One story is that he made a lot of money as a court poet and then he was called to task by some wise guy, maybe some Buddhist sage. Was Pyrrho just singing for his dinner or was he for real? Pyrrho took the challenge! He went after ‘for real.’

When I say he studied with Buddhist teachers, I mean he practiced. His life was transformed. When he returned to his home island he lived his life as practice. He was beloved. He lived to keep it simple, keep it real.

We have later records of his teachings. He taught things (pragmata) are:

  1. Adiaphora: ‘without a self-identity.’
  2. Astathmeta: ‘not measurable’ (I would say without beginning or end), unstable (as in unbalanced, unsettling, pulling this way and that, per Beckwith)
  3. Anepikrita: unjudged, unfixed.

Those of us familiar with Buddhist terminology will see there is a connection with dharmas as what we perceive, and pragmata, though the latter may have some other, more ethical or philosophical, connotations. Beckwith compares these three with the very basic Buddhist teachings of the Three Characteristics:

1. Anatman: no (innate) Self (Identity) [Beckwith has as third but it seems more like #1 to me]

2. Dukkha: uneasy, unsatisfactory, unsteady

3. Anitya: impermanence, unfixed.

He suggests that Pyrrho’s terms are in effect a direct translation into Greek of the Buddhist terms.

Beckwith also points out that since Pyrrho was writing and studying and practicing Buddhism around 300 BCE, his form of Buddhism is probably closer to the true teachings of the Buddha than many of the even earliest written Buddhist texts. Of course it’s not like we have the original writings of Pyrrho either, we have later versions and descriptions, and the early Buddhist writings are based on a vibrant and robust oral tradition. But Beckwith does  have a point. Pyrrho’s philosophy is certainly based on very early Buddhist teachings as understood at least by some Buddhists who lived maybe a bit more than a century after the Buddha died. The fact that in what the Sutras call the ‘first sermon’ by the Buddha, as well as in many versions of Buddhism 101, the four “noble” truths (as I have done in earlier blogs) are used to introduce Buddhist thought, does not mean they were necessarily the original core teachings. It may be that is how it was later perceived or that it fit later understandings of the Buddha’s teaching (or agendas of later teachers and practitioners, as Beckwith suggests). Beckwith goes a lot further though, and you can read his book if you care about such things. If you are Buddhist, you may take exception to some of his theories. But to me, that makes it fun!

There is a great section in Beckwith’s book on the names Lao Tzu and Gautama being the same. That intrigues me. Clearly Zen/Chan is Daoism (or Taoism; pick your spelling!) meets Indian Buddhism. Not the later Daoism of gods and demons and alchemy and immortals, but the early Daoism of Chuang-Tzu and Lao-Tzu (author of the Dao De Ching). Sometimes I think Chan/Zen is as much a form of a Chuang-Tzu’s Daoism than it is a form of Indian Buddhism! Of course Chan and Zen tradition don’t quite see it that way. And the Chinese Chan masters certainly relished texts from India and the Buddhist kingdoms of the Silk Road like the Lankavatara and Diamond Sutras (they are really great stuff, read them if you haven’t and if you have any interest in Buddhism at all. Red Pine has done great translations).

Interestingly, Chuang-Tzu may have lived about the same time as Pyrrho. Of course they wouldn’t have met. Lao-Tzu lived earlier, it seems more about the time of Gautama Buddha (though dates are controversial for both)! One story in Daoist lore is that near the end of his life Lao-Tzu was said to have left China to travel west. Is Lao-Tzu and Gautama the same name as Beckwith suggests using a linguistic analysis?What does that imply? Very odd for someone who is Chinese to purposely go off to die far away in foreign lands. Very intriguing. Again, read Beckwith if you are interested in the argument.

Anyway, back to the core teachings, however they fit into the historical scheme of things. These core teachings are very scientific. Not only because they can be inductively arrived at by observation and confirmed by experience (the original meaning of the term “experiment”; same root word and that was on purpose), but in their essence.




Regarding impermanence certainly no composite “thing” lasts forever.

Modern physics does not have a permanency of things as an essential, verifiable teaching. Not particles, not universes. Quite the opposite. There are neither fixed particles (atoms and subatomic particles are basically forms of energy) or a fixed time and space. I am not only talking about relativity theory, which does imply that time and space are not separate, fixed entities, but more basically. Much has been written and discussed on the physics and metaphysics (that is the interpretation of physics, not the study of ghosts and goblins) about time and space. We do not know the extent of time and space, or even if these things are really distinct entities, if the in fact exist other than as illusions of mind. Robert Lanza talks about this in his book Biocentrism, as do others, and I understand Dr. Lanza is writing another book about time, space and the ‘illusion of death.’



Regarding the lack of innate existence we have seen particles themselves are just perturbations of energy, of the ‘quantum field.’ Modern biology and the earth sciences teaches us that evolution is contingent on the environment just as the earth and its atmosphere has been shaped by life. It is the environment that determines “fitness.” Most of the minerals on earth were made possible by the oxygen released by photosynthesis and exist nowhere else in the solar system. Neither the earth or the life on it, no individual, species, or life itself for that matter is fixed and innate, a fixed separate definable entity.

And while science is about measurement, we don’t know the extent of what can be measured. Is there an eternal set of multiverses and dimensions? Were there “big bangs going back and forward forever? Again, if time and space are illusions, what could a beginning and end possibly mean?


As for “unstable,” that is why there is anything at all from a scientific and mathematical point of view. I’ve written before about breaking symmetry. An ideal circle encompasses all and everything perhaps, it is certainly infinitely symmetrical by definition, but to have change there can’t be perfect symmetry. I have quoted the quantum field theory text that says that we are perturbations in a field. This is related to impermanency of ‘created things’ (is the field permanent? Is it a “created thing’?) as well. If the field were stable, there would be no things, no dharmas, no pragmata. For anything to change, to come into existence and then as it must eventually not exist, if there is to be what we experience that gives rise to the thought and perception of time and space, the system by definition must be unstable. It can’t be a system with an innate unchanging stability, a concrete thingy-ness.

There is change, evolution. There is the evolution of universes, particles, atoms, minerals, solar systems, planets, sentient beings.

As for Dukkha, unease (including but not limited to ‘suffering’ as in old translations into English), that does seem to be the nature of what happens if you yearn for the safety and reassurance of permanence, which is an illusion at best.

So science is quite compatable with anatman, dukkha and anitya.

I enjoy being challenged in my view of history by Beckwith. I enjoy seeing in the practice, writings and teachings of a poet philosopher who travelled with Alexander, a bit of confirmation that these core Buddhist/proto-scientific views were very ancient and proximate and core to the ancient teachings that underpin my practice.

Not that it really matters, I guess. Reality is reality, my practice is my practice, science is science, we live and die, however you conceive of it or dress it up or whoever may have glimpsed it before. Just kind of cool.