Wednesday, October 01, 2014


Oh, for the wisdom not to post anything when I have nothing at all to say.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dogen Gets In On the Fun


All that is real is imagined, and all that is imagined is real.  The real and the imagined are not two things - separating them one from another is just another discrimination of the mind, another non-dharma/dharma.

But in the upright state of zazen, balanced between making the effort to practice and letting go of expectations of practice, we can glimpse behind (or beneath) our thoughts, and actually experience ourselves as we really are, without the dualistic discriminations of the cookie-cutter mind. Zen Master Dogen understood this, and after returning from his awakening experience in China, one of the very first things he wrote was Bendowa (A Talk on Pursuing The Truth), which includes the following passage (my interpretation, mashed up from several different translations):
All buddhas constantly maintain and dwell in the state of natural balance we experience when making effort without intention, and none cling to any of their thoughts or perceptions, regardless of what arises.  When living beings function in this state, aspects of reality do not appear to them as separate recognitions and perceptions. 
The effort in pursuing the truth that I am now teaching makes the myriad dharmas real in experience; it enacts the oneness of reality on the path of liberation.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Imagine That!


So by this point, you've probably realized that since all dharmas are nothing but the mind's differentiation of the seamless fabric of reality  (the cookie dough), all dharmas are in fact non-dharmas, and since all non-dharmas are indistinguishable from this true aspect of dharmas, all non-dharmas are in fact dharmas.  

All that is real is imagined, and all that is imagined is real.  

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Non-Dharmas


Non-dharmas, according to the Buddha, "refers to what has no discernible body of its own, what has no distinguishable characteristics, what is not subject to causation, and what offers no basis for views of its existence or nonexistence.  Non-dharmas are things like horns on a rabbit, an ass, a camel, or a horse, or the off-spring of a barren woman.  Such things lack any form or appearance and cannot be perceived.  They are merely names talked about according to convention.  They are not things that can be grasped, like a clay pot.  And just as what is discriminated as existing should be abandoned, what cannot be known by any form of consciousness should also be abandoned."

Just as dharmas are formed by discriminations of the mind - the mind separating specific "things" out of the formless substance of the universe - non-dharmas are pure fabrications of the mind, things imagined that are not even part of the formless universe to start with.  This includes not only the "pink elephants" the Buddha mentions (horns on a rabbit, etc.), but also abstract concepts such as patriotism, iambic pentameter, tax-exempt status, and (for you geologists out there) chronostratigraphy.

But even though they are imagined or abstract and have no concrete reality, non-dharmas, or imaginary dharmas as I prefer to call them, can cause us real joy and real suffering.  I once heard the Buddhist writer Stephen Bachelor provide a great example of how non-dharmas manifest themselves into our life.  Apparently, he and his wife Martine bought a house somewhere in France, but the house had a large barn in the back yard.  It blocked the sunlight most of the day, and obstructed the view of the surrounding countryside, but since the local feral cats were using it as a shelter at nights, they left the barn up for a while.  Finally, they decided it just wasn't worth it anymore, and had it demolished and hauled away, and immediately rejoiced over the brighter yard and the better views. They spent a lot of time in their backyard afterwards, enjoying the "no-barn."

As Bachelor cleverly points out, the "no-barn" was a non- or imaginary dharma.  If you or I visited their house for the first time after the demolition, we would not have seen a barn, but we would not have been aware of the "no-barn" that was giving them so much satisfaction.  The "no-barn" was a non-dharma that arose in their minds as a result of their past experiences, their memory, their desires, and their aspirations, and while we would not have seen a barn, without their past, we would not have seen their "no-barn" either.  The "no-barn" was an non-dharma that existed only in their mind.

I'm sure you could think of similar examples, as well as instances when non-dharmas have caused suffering instead of happiness.  But non-dharmas are not the problem, as Red Pine points out.  The problem is attachment to the distinctions on which the non-dharmas are based, as well as mistaking the non-dharmas for that which is real.  

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Dharmas


"A dharma," the Buddha said, "is whatever ordinary people and followers of lesser and heterodox paths imagine.  Basically, they think a dharma has existence and substance and arises from causes. Such things must be abandoned and avoided.  Don't engage in the projection of appearances or become attached to what are perceptions of your own mind.   The things people grasp, such as clay pots, lack any real substance.  To view dharmas like this is to abandon them,"

Let's not be unclear about anything.  How can a dharma, a real thing, not have existence and substance?  Why should it be abandoned?

To understand, first remember Animal Crackers.  Animal Crackers were little cookies cut into the shape of lions and bears and elephants and so on, but they may as well have been cut into the shape of people and airplanes and mountains, too, because they were all just one substance: cookie dough. The lions, the bears, the elephants, the people, the airplanes, and the mountains were all nothing but cookie dough, but they were cut from the dough into the different shapes and forms.

All of the universe is of one substances, formless and undifferentiated, but the mind is like the cookie cutter that separates things into animals and different people and tea pots and so on.  But without the cookie cutter of the mind, all things are one substance, interconnected and undifferentiated.  

The Buddha is telling us that all things are devoid of separate existence and any real substance because they are only our mind's cookie-cutter differentiation into various shapes and forms.  But they are just perceptions of our mind, how we choose, sometimes arbitrarily, to segregate little parts of the cookie dough from the whole undifferentiated fabric of the universe.  Another mind might cookie-cutter the same thing differently, and what I differentiate as "a friend" that other mind might differentiate "an enemy."

This, of course, is how we live and survive.  If we don't differentiate the oncoming bus from the cookie dough around us, we won't live very long.  But the problem, as Red Pine pointed out, is not the dharmas themselves, those Animal Crackers of the mind, but attaching to the concept that those things are separate and real and not a part of the cookie dough, that they are anything less than the Animal Crackers of the mind.  This becomes really significant when we realize that those Animal Crackers are not just the external world, but that our concept of "self" is just another one of those Animal Crackers.  We only exist separate from the dough because we've cookie-cuttered ourselves from it.

"Names and forms are made by your own thinking," Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn once said. "If you are not thinking and have no attachment to name and form, then all substance is one." Meditation is that state where we quiet our thoughts and are consciously aware of what is beyond thinking.  It is our opportunity to experience the cookie dough.  

Friday, September 26, 2014

How To Teach Your Kids To Meditate


Zen meditation techniques are different from those described here (for starters, no mantras) but the basic principals are the same, and you have to love Gabrielle's energy and enthusiasm here.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Dharmas and Non-Dharmas


In the Lankavatara Sutra, the Buddha said, "Lord of Lanka, the appearances of beings are like paintings; they are not conscious and not subject to karma.  The same is true of dharmas and non-dharmas."  Let's not be unclear about anything.  The appearances of beings are not conscious or subject to karma, but what does the Buddha mean by "dharmas" and "non-dharmas?"  

Earlier in the sutra, King Ravana asked the Buddha, "What constitutes a dharma, and what constitutes a non-dharma?"  You won't find this question, or its answer, in the edited version of D.T. Suzuki's translation, but it appears in Red Pine's version.

King Ravana certainly wasn't asking what the word "dharma" meant. It was a very common concept at that time, and the best translation of the Sanskrit word "dharma" that I've heard is "what one believes to be true or real."  The teachings of the Buddha are dharmas if one believes them to be true; beings and things are dharmas if one believes them to be real, and the appearances of beings and things are dharmas if one believes those to be real.  So King Ravana was asking exactly what it was that the Buddha said was just an illusion.

"A dharma," the Buddha answered, "is whatever ordinary people and followers of lesser and heterodox paths imagine.  Basically, they think a dharma has existence and substance and arises from causes.  Such things must be abandoned and avoided.  Don't engage in the projection of appearances or become attached to what are perceptions of your own mind.   The things people grasp, such as clay pots, lack any real substance.  To view dharmas like this is to abandon them,"

Dharmas aren't the problem, Red Pine points out.  The problem is attachment to the distinctions on which the dharmas are based.  

"And what, Lord of Lanka, is a non-dharma?," the Buddha continues. "This refers to what has no discernible body of its own, what has no distinguishable characteristics, what is not subject to causation, and what offers no basis for views of its existence or nonexistence."
"Non-dharmas are things like horns on a rabbit, an ass, a camel, or a horse, or the off-spring of a barren woman.  Such things lack any form or appearance and cannot be perceived.  They are merely names talked about according to convention.  They are not things that can be grasped, like a clay pot.  And just as what is discriminated as existing should be abandoned, what cannot be known by any form of consciousness should also be abandoned."