Tuesday, December 30, 2014


The reasons are a tad too complicated to explain here, but the last three days have been among the most interesting and rewarding of the past 25 or so years.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Friday, December 26, 2014

25 Years Ago

More history lesson, this time with video.  Although the winds of revolution were sweeping across the rest of eastern Europe, Romania remained staunchly defiant, and on December 21, 1989, Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu mandated a pro-government rally in the capitol city of Bucharest.  Thousands of workers were forced to hold banners and chant praises at scripted intervals, but several hundred protesters in their late teens appeared on the edge of the crowd, chanting "freedom" and "democracy."  Their protest spread to much of the rest of the audience, and you can see Ceausescu realize that the crowd had turned on him at around the 1:05 mark in the video below.

The "someone" that was shooting were Romanian police, who killed 13 of the protesters on the spot. According to some news reports, two soldiers and an officer were also shot for refusing to fire into the crowd of unarmed protesters.

Things tuned ugly fast, and within two days Ceausescu attempted to flee the country.

He didn't get very far.

On Christmas Day, 1989, Ceausescu and his wife Elena were executed by firing squad for their crimes against the Romanian people.

It is hard to find any sympathy for monsters like the Ceausescus, but our compassion shouldn't be limited to those whom we like.  We can mourn the dictators as well as the murdered protesters, and wish that Nicolae and Elena could have awakened from their greed for power and wealth.  We could wish that they could have found the opportunity to provide the appropriate reparations for their crimes, but it's also possible that facing the firing squad may have been the greatest reparation and the greatest service to their country that they could have performed.  

But it's hard to find that sympathy. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Regard the Moon

When the water is still, the reflection of the moon is clear.  When waves disturb the surface, the reflection is also disturbed.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


The one really unsolvable problem that seemingly goes even beyond the ability of science to answer is that of existence itself.  Given all the improbabilities of existence, the fact that there is something rather than nothing, it seems more likely and more logical that there should be in fact nothing.  Yet here we are.  Whether it's a Big Bang, or waves of potential, or the dream of a turtle, that fact that something exists at all, rather than nothing, seems like the most unlikely of miracles.  And to ask the most unscientific question of all, why?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


You'll never be lost if you don't have a destination in mind.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The mountains tell stories to those who know how to read the rocks.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

"Now, to take that which has caused us to create the world, and include it within the world we have created, is clearly impossible. That is why Quality cannot be defined. If we do define it we are defining something less than Quality itself." - Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Replace the word Quality with substrate consciousness, or potential, or buddha-nature, and you get the same thing we been discussing here for a while now.

Saturday, December 20, 2014


"In our highly complex organic state we advanced organisms respond to our environment with an invention of many marvelous analogues. We invent earth and heavens, trees, stones and oceans, gods, music, arts, language, philosophy, engineering, civilization and science. We call these analogues reality. And they are reality. We mesmerize our children in the name of truth into knowing that they are reality. We throw anyone who does not accept these analogues into an insane asylum. But that which causes us to invent the analogues is Quality. Quality is the continuing stimulus which our environment puts upon us to create the world in which we live. All of it. Every last bit of it."
In his book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, author Robert Pirsig called "Quality," with a capital Q, what I've been calling substrate consciousness and potential, which in turn roughly correlate to the Buddhist storehouse consciousness and buddha-nature.  I've also called it cookie dough in the past, but that's a long story.

I'm leery, though, of the term "potential" because while it does invoke probability and quantum states, it sounds to too many people like "self-potential" and just another self-improvement scheme, when actually it's quite different.  "Potentiality" works a little bit better, because it refers to the potential itself, not a subject of potential, but it's a little too long and unwieldy.

Sanskrit terms are even longer and turn many people off.

"Becoming," used as a noun, might work, but if it's read as a verb the meaning changes.

So for now, I'm going to have to stick with "potential" until I can think of a better word, and run the risk of being misunderstood.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Falling Water

"When the water returns to its original oneness with the river, it no longer has any individual feeling to it; it resumes its own nature, and finds composure  How very glad the water must be to come back to the original river!  If this is so, what feeling will we have when we die?" - Shunryo Suzuki, from Zen Mind, Beginners Mind

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Not Grasping

But all of this, substrate consciousness, potential, waves, and so on, is just mere philosophy.  We're not supposed to "understand" it or "get" it, but instead to experience it.

Sit quietly somewhere and just let your thoughts come and go.  If you get distracted, focus on your breath.  With time, the waves will subside, the differentiation between yourself and your experience will drop away, and the substrate consciousness will transform into potential.  

At the very instant when you think you realize it, it will be over.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Imagine a waterfall.  Above, the water is calm and serene, and below, much the same.  But as the water falls, it separates into individual drops, and each falling drop might worry about what will happen when it hits the bottom.  When the drops were part of the stream, there was no worry, no suffering, no anxiety. It is only when the drops are separate from the stream does all the worrying occur.

But the drops were always water and nothing but water, above the falls, below the falls, and while they were falling.  But separate from the stream, they forget that they're water, and imagine that they are something that should have an existence separate from the rest of the water.

Shunryo Suzuki once wrote that before we were born we had no feeling; we were one with the universe.  After we are separated by birth from this oneness,  then we had feeling.  When we do not realize that we are one with the universe, then we have fear.  "Our life and death are the same thing. When we realize this fact we have no fear of death anymore, and we have no actual difficulty in our life."   

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Surfer's Experience of the Ocean Is Different From a Sunbather's

Okay, Shokai, a week or so ago, if even that, you were saying that everything in the universe was composed of something you called buddha nature, which you described as the potential to awaken, or to put it another way, a probability.  Cool story, bro.  But now you're saying that everything in the universe is composed of something I can't even quite understand that you're calling "substrate consciousness," and that everything is like waves on the ocean of substrate consciousness.  Well, which one is it, huh?
Actually, that's a straw-man question - no one asked me that (or in that tone of voice, which is the internal tone I use in my frequent moments of self doubt).  But the voices in my head (not the schizophrenic kind of voices, but that interior monologue we all engage in) brought that up as something the hypothetical reader of this blog might ask (presuming I even have any readers left anymore).

So, to answer my own question, they're actually the same thing,  It's all just a matter of how one looks at it.  To use some Sanskrit terms (sorry), what I'm calling the substrate consciousness is alaya-vijnana, which is like gazinging at the ocean from some dry vantage point and studying the waves. But if one were to jump into the ocean and directly experience the motion of the currents, the rolling of the waves, and the silence and cold of the subsurface, one would quickly ignore the individual waves and instead experience the actual, undifferentiated ocean.  This is the tathagata-garbha (Sanskrit) or "womb of the buddhas," The tathagata-garbha is the mind purified, the substrate consciousness transformed, the alaya-vijnana in its undifferentiated state.  The undifferentiated womb of the buddhas is where realization arises, and is therefore another way of saying "buddha nature." 

So if I've connected the dots correctly and if you follow me, buddha nature and substrate consciousness are one and the same thing, which is the one thing that is you and I and all the rest of the universe.  But since I don't like using Sanskrit terms or religious terminology, from here on in for alaya-vijnana I'll use the term "substrate consciousness" and for tathagata-garbha and buddha-nature, I'll use the term "potential."  


Monday, December 15, 2014

The One Thing

According to Buddhist writer Thich Nhat Hanh, "our mind has eight aspects or, we can say, eight 'consciousnesses.'  The first five are based in the physical senses,  They are the consciousnesses that arise when our eyes see form, our ears hear sounds, our nose smells an odor, our tongue tastes something, or our skin touches an object.  The sixth, mind consciousness, . . . arises when our mind contacts an object of perception.  The seventh . . . is the part of consciousness that gives rise to and is the support of mind consciousness.  The eighth . . . is the ground, or base, of the other seven consciousnesses."  

That is why I call the eighth consciousness "substrate consciousness."  Various teachers over the centuries have used different names.  Thich Nhat Hanh called it by the Sanskrit alaya vijnana, or store consciousness (that term is what is left out by the ellipses in the last sentence).  Translator Red Pine called it "repository consciousness," the receptacle that contains whatever remains from our thoughts, words, or deeds,and is therefore the seedbed from which our subsequent thoughts, words, and deeds arise.  

Substrate consciousness has been compared to the ocean.  Everything we see, hear, smell, taste, touch, feel, or think flows into the ocean of substrate consciousness like thousands of rivers. Individual thoughts, words, and deeds, are like "waves" in the "ocean" of substrate consciousness.

All material things are known to us only by our perception of them; therefore, all things and our experience of all things are one and the same and are just more waves in the ocean of substrate consciousness.  Therefore, the entire material universe - you, me, the sun, the stars, and the sky - are waves of substrate consciousness. arise from substrate consciousness, and eventually resolve back to substrate consciousness.  Everything is nothing other than substrate consciousness.  

Although we can differentiate one wave from another in the ocean, each wave is itself nothing but ocean and is never separate from ocean.  Similarly, we can differentiate between things in the universe - self, other, mountains, rivers, plants, and animals - it's all still substrate consciousness and is never anything other than substrate consciousness.  

Everything is the one thing.  

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Building Atlanta (1990)

"The story of your life is not your life, it is your story," John Barth once wrote, but Simone Weil once said that "imagination and fiction make up more than three-quarters of our real life." We're all spinning narratives, both would agree, and confusing those narratives with the substance of our life.

Monday, December 08, 2014


I promised to keep things light, but 34 years ago today, John Lennon was shot while I was watching Monday Night Football.

20 years ago today, Czech Prime Minister Ladislav Adamec resigned, and was replaced by the relatively unknown Marian Calfa.  In Lithuania, the legislature voted 243-1 to adopt a multi-party system, raising the question of what that "one" was thinking.

In East Germany, author Martin Ahrends declared Ost Frauen, East German women, to be the best lovers "because they are more romantic, less emancipated, and less competitive.  They are also less worn out, because they are less absorbed by their work."  This according to the December 8, 1989 Wall Street Journal.

As for all the previous talk about quantum physics and consciousness, let me just add that over 2,500 years ago, Buddhist thinkers and other contemplatives observed that all the universe was nothing but buddha-nature, and buddha-nature, in turn, was nothing but the potential for awakening.  Connecting the dots and providing a little modern interpretation, they were claiming that all matter was nothing but a potential, a probability, very close to what Heisenberg and Schrodinger would later "discover."
So that's it for tonight.  Sweet dreams, y'all, and stay warm.

PostScript:  Oh yes, today is also the day when the Buddha attained his enlightenment.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Manipulated photograph of the Atlanta skyline from  the west side of town, approx. 1990
I didn't mean from my recent posts to sound so didactic.  Between reading the Lankavatara Sutra and my 1989 scrapbook of news clippings, the topics discussed were what has been on my mind, but on re-reading about it all in this blog, it all sounds a little preachy and ponderous.

I'll try to keep it all a little lighter from here on in.

Saturday, December 06, 2014


Atlanta, July 2014

The eight forms of consciousness - the six sense consciousnesses, self consciousness, and substrate consciousness - can be grouped into three categories of consciousness - perceiving consciousness, object-producing consciousness, and true consciousness.  

In this simpler, three-fold categorization, perceiving consciousness includes the first five sense consciousnesses (awareness of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch), object-producing consciousness includes the sixth sense (awareness of thought) and the self consciousness, and true consciousness consists of the substrate consciousness.

It should be noted that perceiving consciousness is affected by conditions, object-producing consciousness causes conditions, and true consciousness is free from cause and effect. 

Friday, December 05, 2014

The Two Slit Experiment

Thomas Young's famous experiment over 200 years ago provides about the most compelling evidence yet for all-mind theory - the concept that everything in the universe is composed of consciousness.  How else can electrons be either waves or particles other than how we think about them?  And what waves, if not waves of consciousness, can those electron particles be riding on? And most significantly, how do the electrons know whether or not they're being observed if they lacked consciousness?

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Turtles All The Way Down

"At first there was nothing, then nothing turned itself inside-out and became something." - Sun Ra
The Greek philosopher Lucretius wrote in the First Century that "Nothing can be created from nothing" and this assertion held a powerful influence over centuries of subsequent philosophy. For a long time, there was no good explanation for the creation of all the matter in the universe.  The assumption that the matter has simply always existed, a basic premise that we just had to accept, was hardly a satisfying answer.  But the theory that the energy required for a Big Bang just appeared out of nowhere seemed to violate the basic laws of thermodynamics.  

In his book A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking explains that the negative energy of gravity throughout the universe exactly cancels the positive energy represented by matter. So the total energy of the universe balances out at exactly zero.  So before the existence of the universe, there was zero energy and after the appearance of the universe there was zero energy.  Nothing changed - we have always had zero energy.

It was subsequently suggested that the universe may have begun as a quantum fluctuation of the vacuum. It used to be thought that the vacuum was truly nothing, simply inert space. But we now know that it is actually a hive of activity with particle-antiparticle pairs being repeatedly produced out of the vacuum and almost immediately annihilating themselves back into nothingness again. The creation of a particle-antiparticle pair out of the vacuum violates the law of conservation of energy, but the Heisenberg uncertainty principle allows such violations for a very short time. This phenomenon has reportedly been tested and confirmed. 

Edward Tryon, in his 1973 paper, Is the Universe a Vacuum Fluctuation?, wrote:
In any big bang model, one must deal with the problem of 'creation'. This problem has two aspects. One is that the conservation laws of physics forbid the creation of something from nothing. The other is that even if the conservation laws were inapplicable at the moment of creation, there is no apparent reason for such an event to occur. 
Contrary to widespread belief, such an event need not have violated any of the conventional laws of physics. The laws of physics merely imply that a Universe which appears from nowhere must have certain specific properties. In particular, such a Universe must have a zero net value for all conserved quantities.   
To indicate how such a creation might have come about, I refer to quantum field theory, in which every phenomenon that could happen in principle actually does happen occasionally in practice, on a statistically random basis. For example, quantum electrodynamics reveals that an electron, positron and photon occasionally emerge spontaneously from a perfect vacuum. When this happens, the three particles exist for a brief time, and then annihilate each other, leaving no trace behind.   
If it is true that our Universe has a zero net value for all conserved quantities, then it may simply be a fluctuation of the vacuum, the vacuum of some larger space in which our Universe is imbedded.  In answer to the question of why it happened, I offer the modest proposal that our Universe is simply one of those things which happen from time to time.
While I like the suggestion that the universe is just "one of those things which happen from time to time," I'm more interested in the implication that the universe is embedded in some larger space.  If so, then the so-called universe is not truly "universal," and what I consider the Universe is our cosmos plus whatever space it's embedded in, and whatever space that's embedded in, and so on. For all-mind theory, which holds that the entire phenomenal universe is simply a thought, a product of some mind, this multiverse theory provides a platform in which that mind can abide.

A monk once asked a great guru what the world rested upon, and the guru answered that the world and the rest of the entire universe was supported on the back of an enormous turtle.  "But what supports the turtle?" the monk asked, and the guru answered that it stood on the back of an even larger turtle.  "But what about that turtle?  What does it stand on?"

"Don't you see?" the guru replied.  "It's turtles all the way down."

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

The Speed of Thought

Everyone knows that nothing is faster than the speed of light in a vacuum, but it isn’t clear why this is the case. To explain why things can’t go faster with a tautological "because it's the universal constant" is the same thing as saying “because they can’t” and is hardly a satisfactory answer.  

Light slows down in water or glass, and when it moves in water we say the medium is water, and when it moves in glass we say the medium is glass, but when it moves in empty space we fall silent. How can a wave vibrate nothing? There is no physical basis for light to move in empty space at all, let alone define the fastest speed possible.

One possible explanation that comes from all-mind theory is that light moves on waves of consciousness.  Not your consciousness or anyone's else's for that matter, but just pure, unrefined consciousness, the consciousness that pervades - and creates - all existence.

We experience at least six types of consciousness, each associated with a sense - sight consciousness which we call "vision," sound consciousness which we call "hearing," scent consciousness which we call "smelling," flavor consciousness which we call "tasting," touch consciousness which we call "feeling," and thought consciousness which we call "thinking."   Anytime a sensation encounters a sentient being's sense organ, be it eye, ear, nose, tongue, skin, or mind, one form or another of consciousness arises. 

On close examination, though, we realize that there has to be an even deeper consciousness that has created a mental model of a self along with memory, emotion, and desire and aversion, and we can call this deeper consciousness "self-consciousness," and we experience that as well.  In fact, it's self consciousness that more or less defines the whole luminous experience we have of existence.  

Light doesn't move through space on waves of any of the sense consciousnesses or on self-consciousness, though.  On even deeper examination, we can see that there is an eighth consciousness,  a substrate consciousness that is independent of any self, and that exists before we are born and continues after we die.  No being or entity possesses substrate consciousness. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that all beings and entities are conceptions or creations of substrate consciousness, and are in a manner of speaking possessions themselves of substrate consciousness.  

It is this eighth consciousness that brings the universe into existence.  It is this eighth consciousness that rises and falls and creates waves of light in empty space. Nothing moves faster than these waves because they are a direct manifestation of pure consciousness, and just as the hand cannot grasp the fist, consciousness cannot "think" faster than thought.   

I may not be completely correct on my interpretation of the physics (and metaphysics) involved here, or on the eight forms of consciousness, but while it may sound odd at first to think of the entire existent universe as one eternal consciousness, is that any more absurd than a creator that's somehow separate from the creation, or a big bang that emerged out of nothingness?

Monday, December 01, 2014

All Mind

Physical realists contend that the universe is more or less what physics says it is.  In their view, the universe consists of fundamentally physical objects located in space and time, that exist in natural states, and that interact with each other in various but predictable kinds of ways.  Most importantly, the physical universe is independent of the mind of the observer - it exists and behaves as it does regardless of whether or not one is thinking about it or what one thinks about it.

In other words, physical realism is the view that the physical world we see is real and exists by itself, alone. Most people think this is self-evident, but physical realism has been struggling with the facts of quantum physics for some time now.  Experimental results that differ when observed from results with no observer, and quantum waves that entangle, superpose, and then collapse, are physically impossible, but no other theory predicts the experimental results, so physical realists are faced with the problem of a quantum theory that's physically impossible but that successfully predicts physical reality.  To put it another way, the unreal explains reality.

If we take the position which initially sounds absurd that the physical universe is just a conception of mind, then the quantum/realism paradox falls away.  In "all mind" theory, things behave the way that they do merely because we think they behave that way.  If we were to think differently, things would behave differently, just as when we dream we can fly, then we can fly, at least in the dream. 

When we think about things that are very, very small, like sub-atomic particles, or things that are very, very large, like galaxies or clusters of galaxies, that is, things very far from our own typical experiential scale, we think differently and then those very small and very large things behave differently.  The fact that the theories of how things behave at our experiential scale and at imaginative scales don't line up is just a problem of logic, which itself is another object of mind.

This isn't to say that reality is like a dream, where the dreamer exists in the state of true reality and the dream-world exists somehow separate from that true reality.  In "all mind" theory, everything, the dream, the dreamer, and the physical realm of the dreamer, is all in the mind.  And not to take things too far (but why not?), then the "mind" is also a product of mind.