Saturday, June 28, 2014

Watch, If You Dare, As He Ages 10 Years Right Before Your Very Eyes!

I've been doing a year-by-year retrospective of musical memories and reminiscences over at the Music Dissolves Water web site, but thought that I'd put together a decade-long series just of mostly self pictures over here, and watch as impermanence marches on . . .   




























Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Third Exchange

Pai Chang asked Yun Yen, "With your throat, mouth, and lips shut, how will you speak?" 
Yun Yen asked, "Master, do you have any way to speak or not?"  
Pai Chang replied, "I have lost my descendants."
In Buddhism, there is no subject separate from object, there is no self separate from other.  How can there be speaking, then, which presupposes a speaker and a separate listener?  How can there be teaching, which requires a teacher and a student?  Pai Chang's question isn't literally how can you speak without your mouth, throat, and lips, but how can we use words without falling into the duality of self and other? 

Pai Chang posed the question to three of his students, and all three responded with a statement back to him ("Please, Master, you speak instead," "Master, you should shut up," and "Master, do you have any way to speak or not?").  All three fell into the trap of relativism.  None could pass Pai Chang's test. His answer to Yun Yen, "I have lost my descendants," acknowledges that none had answered his question.

If I had been there then, I'm sure I would have done no better than the three monks.  But I think a good answer might have been, "With our ears shut, how will we hear?," or "There's no need to speak since we're all deaf."  The awakened to not "hear" "others."

Kuei Shan, more commonly known as Guishan, and Wu Feng both eventually went on to become great Masters under the guidance of Pai Chang, also known as Hyakujo.  Yun Yen, known as Ungan in Japanese, did not awaken to the Truth under Pai Chang, but did later when training under Yaoshan.

Yun Yen told Yaoshan, "Pai Chang once entered the hall to address the monks.  Everyone stood.  He then used his staff to drive everyone out.  Then he yelled at the monks, and when they looked back at him, he said, "What is it?" 

Yaoshan said, "You should have told me this before. Thanks to you today, I've finally seen elder brother Pai." 

Upon hearing these words, Yun Yen awakened to the Truth.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Asking Saves Kids

Not a bad idea - ASK if there are unlocked guns where your children play!

In lieu of keeping a loaded gun in your house, consider keeping your car keys next to your bedside.   That way, if you hear someone breaking into your home at night, or attempting to break into your home, you can press the panic button and set off the car alarm.   It will keep honking until your battery runs down or until you reset it with the button on the key fob chain, and after a few seconds, all the neighbors will be looking out their windows to see what's going on out there.  The intruder won't like that and most likely won't stick around. It's a security alarm system that you probably already have and requires no installation.  

This might also be useful for any emergency, such as a heart attack, where you can't reach a phone.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Second Exchange

Pai Chang then asked Wu Feng, "With your throat, mouth, and lips shut, how will you speak?" 
Wu Feng said, "Teacher, you should shut up."  
Pai Chang replied, "Where there's no one, I shade my eyes with my hand and gaze out toward you."
The fundamental practice of Buddhism is transcending the distinctions between subject and object, between self and other. Speaking assumes a subject and an object, a speaker separate from a listener.  Pai Chang is asking Wu Feng if he can transcend this duality, if he can express himself with conceiving of a "self."

Wu Feng tries to point out to the teacher that by asking, he himself seems to have fallen into the duality of "self" and "other."  But the nimble Pai Chang immediately replies that when he looks toward Wu Feng, he sees no one - not that he didn't see a person there, but that he didn't perceive what he saw as an "other," separate from the "self."  Given that, he wasn't "speaking" as a speaker separate from the listener.  To Pai Chang, it was all one.

Wu Feng went on to become a great master in his own right, eventually becoming as nimble as his teacher, not sticking to dualities.  He once asked a monk, "Where are you coming from?"

When the monk replied that he was coming form the village, Wu Feng asked, "Did you see a ox?"

The monk confirmed that he had, and Wu Feng asked, "Did you see its left horn or did you see its right horn?"

When the monk couldn't answer, Wu Feng spoke for him and said, "I don't see left or right."  

Wednesday, June 18, 2014



As we approach the summer solstice, a little bonus appears in the backyard - although the springtime blossoms had finally fallen off of the azaleas after their longest blooms yet, the mountain laurel out my kitchen window has started to flower for what I believe is the first time.


Even the stalky, untrimmed hydrangea is blooming.


Now imagine what would happen if I actually put any effort into gardening.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Case 70: The First Exchange

Pai Chang first asked Kuei Shan, "With your throat, mouth, and lips shut, how will you speak?" 
Kuei Shan said, "Please, Master, you speak instead." 
Pai Chang replied, "I don't refuse to speak to you, but I fear that if I did, in the future I would be bereft of descendants."   
There's a lot going on in this exchange, but before considering that all that, let's first examine the characters. Pai Chang is more familiar, at least to my ears, as Chan Master Baizhang (720-814), known in Japanese as Hyakujo and the central character in the famous Zen koan Hyakujo's Fox.  His student Kuei Shan is more commonly known as Guishan and also became a famous Master in his own right and appears in many koans as well.

But getting back to the current koan, Case 70 in The Blue Cliff Record, in the first half of his reply, Pai Chang is basically saying to Kuei Shan to say that he won't speak to him ("I don't refuse to speak to you, but . . ."). That's a clever way of talking to someone without speaking to them. 

It's easy to misunderstand the second part.  He's not vainly worrying about his own legacy, fearing that if he fell into the trap of speaking first that Kuei Shan had tried to lay out for him, his students would abandon him. That attitude hardly seems fitting of an awakened teacher.

I think he's saying that the truth of the Buddha-Way is beyond the duality of words.  By definition, words are, well, definitions.  Each word isolates some aspect of the infinite, interconnected Universe from everything else.  The word "tree" does not mean rain, or soil, or sunlight, yet all are integral parts of what gives rise to a tree and are therefore intimately part of "tree," but the one word misses that aspect.  The name "Kuei Shan" does not mean Pai Chang, or you, or me, but on close examination there is no separation of any of these.  

If Pai Chang were to speak to Kuei Shan and explain to him with words the question that he had just posed, then there would be no realization of the truth of the matter on the part of Kuei Shan.  Or for that matter, by anybody later hearing of the exchange, including you and I.  For the teaching to be passed down, Kuei Shan needs to realize an answer for himself, you and I need to realize an answer for ourselves, and that is the only way for there to be any descendants of the realization of Pai Chang.  

It is not that Pai Chang feared he would lose his students and be bereft of descendants, it is that Pai Chang was concerned that he would not be teaching the truth of Buddhism, which would not result in the passing down of the teaching.          

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Cases 70 Through 72

I have been reading through the koan collection The Blue Cliff Record and came across an interesting (to me) set of three cases.  As you may know, in Buddhism it is taught that self and other are not different, but are merely two parts of one unity.  Subject and object are not different, but are all part of one action.  Given this, it seems remarkable that communication can exist at all, as there is no one to talk separate from the one being talked to; there is no talker and there is no listener.  Because of this, it is said that when two masters are together, there can be no communication whatsoever.  And yet, they are speaking all the time.

Further, words don't capture reality, and silence does not express the truth.  So how does one speak without words, and in fact, should one?  This dilemma is illustrated in a Chinese story.
Kuei Shan, Wu Feng, and Yun Yen were all students of Chan Master Pai Chang. One day, Master Pai Chang called them all together and asked each of them the same question. 
Pai Chang first asked Kuei Shan, "With your throat, mouth, and lips shut, how will you speak?" 
Kuei Shan said, "Please, Master, you speak instead." 
Pai Chang replied, "I don't refuse to speak to you, but I fear that if I did, in the future I would be bereft of descendents."   
Pai Chang then asked Wu Feng, "With your throat, mouth, and lips shut, how will you speak?" 
Wu Feng said, "Teacher, you should shut up." 
Pai Chang replied, "Where there's no one, I shade my eyes with my hand and gaze out toward you."
Pai Chang finally asked Yun Yen, "With your throat, mouth, and lips shut, how will you speak?" 
Yun Yen asked, "Master, do you have any way to speak or not?" 
Pai Chang replied, "I have lost my descendants."
Even supposing that I understand all this, should I use words to try to explain it?  And if so, what kind of words, and how?  That, I think, is the heart of the koan.

Sunday, June 01, 2014



I recently read somewhere that for a blog to be successful ("success" being defined by the number of hits, not the quality of the posts), one should avoid talking about oneself and instead provide content that others could use.  "Youformation" rather than "meformation," as I recall the author putting it.  There's something vaguely Buddhist about that advice to avoid egocentricity, but since this blog is not-quite-officially but semi-dead - and since I haven't cared about the number of hits I get for years (at least since I disabled the hit counter) - here's a "day in the life" post anyway for all the seekers of youformation to ignore.

The picture above is of my dashboard yesterday as I was running some errands (including filling the gas tank - note the fuel gauge is on "F").  The mileage had rolled over to 56,000 miles, time for an oil change, and the Maintenance Light came on to remind me of just that (it's only a reminder, not a warning that the engine's about to seize, but it won't go off until I get the service done).  Anyway, even though I was dashing along at 60+ miles per hour, I managed to snap a picture in recognition of that here-and-now instance in space and time (all my life had been leading up to that moment), but don't try this at home and don't text and drive, kids. Seriously.

So anyway, I took it as some kind of sign.  Sure, a sign to get my oil changed, but maybe also as a sign that portended more was in store.  Later that day, I was getting my exercise in by walking along the Beltline trail, and I noticed a couple of cardinals up ahead fussing over something on the ground.  At first I thought it was a baby bird that had fallen out of the nest, a not-uncommon but still heart-breaking sight this time of year, but when I got closer I saw that it was in fact a bat.


The bat seemed distressed and I think a wing might have been broken - it sort of skittered and flopped around on the ground but couldn't fly away, and lacked the forelegs necessary for it to crawl to safety.  I didn't know what to do for it and was concerned about the rabies potential if I had tried to help it, so I eventually just had to leave it there for nature to take its course.  

I know that some superstitious people think that having a black cat cross your path is bad luck, but what is it when a brown bat crosses your path?

The cosmos answered my question later that afternoon when a thunderstorm came through Atlanta and I heard a loud crack of lightening, followed by the explosive boom of a transformer blowing, the crashing sound of a falling tree, and the sudden loss of electrical power in the house.  Not quite "snap, crackle, pop" (boomers will get the reference) but more like "pop, crackle, snap."  Yet still another tree had fallen in the neighborhood, once again taking down the power lines and leaving us in the dark.


This one didn't come down on my property (my scorecard is still unblemished vis a vis falling trees) but a few houses down, and fell at a funny angle that blocked not only the owner's driveway but also a small side street, too. Missed their mailbox, though, so that's lucky.


By an hour or so later, the temperature in my powerless house had already risen up into the uncomfortable part of the 80s, and Georgia Power repair crews were nowhere to be seen.  I walked down to examine the fallen evidence, and some Comcast trucks were already there repairing their cable lines and helpfully turned their headlines onto the tree so that I could get a better picture (it was darker outside than these cell-phone pictures suggest).

The Comcast technician had no idea what time Georgia Power was going to be there or when the power would be restored.  His advice to me:  "It's time to head out for the night and go to a sports bar."  I told him that pretty much was what I was intending to do, although I could go one better that a sports bar.  "I hear you," he replied with a grin and it was only later that I realized that he thought that I was referring to a strip club. But what I meant and what I eventually did was head downtown to The Mammal Gallery for live music by three local bands, including the last-ever performance by Atlanta's Balkan-influenced folk-rock ensemble Christ, Lord, at which point this story gets continued over at the other blog, Music Dissolves Water.

A day in the life:  here, now, the odometer rolls over to a milestone; here, now, an unexpected opportunity to examine a live bat; here, now, a tree falls in the neighborhood and does indeed make a sound; here, now, it's time to go out and listen to some bands

Here, now, it's time to post all this up on the web.