Tuesday, June 30, 2015

According to David Foster Wallace (1), among the things one may learn in a substance recovery halfway house are:
  • That is is possible to learn valuable things from a stupid person.
  • That it takes effort to pay attention to any one stimulus for more than a few seconds.
  • That concentrating intently on anything is very hard work.
You learn that on the cushion, too.

(1)  I'm still working my way through Infinite Jest.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Everything is potential and potentially everything is.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

That little waterfall thought experiment might lead you to conclude that what I'm calling potential might be mere possibility or statistical probability, but the Japanese word for what I'm calling potential is bussho, which is conventionally translated as "buddha-nature" and is defined in the Shambala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen as "a concrete expression for the substrate of perfection and completeness immanent in sentient beings as well as things."  

Since that's a little metaphysical, the dictionary goes on to point out that according to Zen teaching, every person (like every sentient being or thing) has, or better, is buddha-nature (potential), without, at least in general, being aware of it or living this awareness as one awakened to one's true nature does.  This awakening, and a living and dying that is a spontaneous expression from moment to moment of one's identity with buddha-nature (potential), is the goal of Zen.

In his commentary on the koan Mu presented in Philip Kapleau's The Three Pillars of Zen, Haku'un Yasutani states that the substance of buddha-nature (potential) is emptiness (ku in Japanese, shunyata in Sanskrit).  "Now ku is not mere emptiness," Yasutani teaches.  "It is that which is living, dynamic, devoid of mass, unfixed, beyond individuality or personality - the matrix of all phenomena," or as I call it, the "cookie dough."

Whatever we choose to call it - potential, buddha-nature, emptiness, ku, or cookie dough - it is beyond the imagination, it is outside of that which is conceivable.  As Yasutani points out, 
"Since everything imaginable partakes of form and color, whatever one imagines to be buddha-nature must of necessity be unreal.  Indeed, what can be conceived is but a picture of buddha-nature, not buddha-nature itself.  But while buddha-nature is beyond all conception and imagination, because we ourselves are intrinsically buddha-nature, it is possible for us to awaken to it."  
So do not confuse potential with probability - while all forms are impermanent and constantly changing, and any aspect of the universe can manifest itself in a countless number of ways according to the forces and conditions to which it's subject - potential is not a property of transformation, it is that which is subject to transformation before probability determines what form is taken.  It is the substrate of all transformation.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

"Son, you're a body son.  That quick little scientific-prodigy's mind she's so proud of and won't quit twittering about: son, it's just neural spasms, those thoughts in your mind are just the sound of your head revving, and head is still just body, Jim.  Commit this to memory.  Head is body.  Jim, brace yourself against my shoulder here for this hard news, at ten: you’re a machine a body an object, Jim.” - a father explaining some of the facts of life to his son, Jim, in David Forster Wallace's Infinite Jest
For my summer reading project, I've committed myself to finally reading through DFW's IJ, purchased at Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon in 2008, started many times since and abandoned just as any times after less than 50 or so pages.  I'm going strong now, my commitment and discipline focused on the task at hand, and the above passage is from page 159, so I've already made it past my former barriers.

More about potential soon, but I wanted to first share Wallace's comments on non-duality and the whole body/mind schism.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

To illustrate what I mean by potential, consider a waterfall.

Sure, you could point toward a mountain and say, "Look, there's a waterfall," as opposed to, say, a city bus or a unicorn or a bowl of breakfast cereal.  But a waterfall's not really a "thing" but all manners of phenomena all expressing themselves in various ways at various times.

First, imagine what's above the waterfall, just beyond your line of sight.  It might be a pool of water or it might be a raging creek.  There's the potential for it to be either.  On the other hand, it's also potentially a leaking aqueduct or even the copious tears of a crying giant.  The potential is limited only by your imagination.

But potential goes beyond mere speculation.  As the water falls over the cliff, it has the potential to create graceful veils or sheetlike curtains of water, or it may express itself as chaotic rivulets and random droplets.  At different times, it might be either or both, or it may be one form in one area and a different form in another.  The falling water has the potential to be expressed in myriad ways, and it's the conditions of flow, height, and morphology that control how the falling water appears. Following huge storms, the surging water is expressed differently than the weak trickle during a drought, and over geologic time, as the bedrock slowly erodes away, the shape, the height, even the location of the falls will change.

Consider the plunge pool at the bottom.  It has the potential to be shallow or deep, cold or ice-cold, to have powerful currents and eddies or to be placid and still, to be clean and clear or to be full of floating wood and smelling like dead fish.  Like the falls itself, it's constantly changing as conditions, both meteorological, hydrological, and geological, all change.

At any given moment, a waterfall has potential to behave and appear so many different ways, that it seems inadequate, almost disrespectful, to apply a one-size-fits-all term like "waterfall" to it.  And since the so-called "waterfall" is so intimately a part of the cliff, which is intimately part of the mountain, and since the "waterfall" is also a part of the stream and a product of gravity, which is caused by planetary mass, which is composed of accreted stardust, there really are no boundaries around which we can say that what is inside is "waterfall" and what is outside is "not waterfall."    

A "waterfall" is an expression of potential, and since it has no boundaries, the whole universe is potential as well.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

In Zen, it is famously said that there was one who awakened to the sound of a stone striking bamboo, and another to the sight of cherry blossoms in the spring.

What did they hear and see if not potential?  What did they experience if not potential?  What, then, were they themselves if not potential?

Potential is the cookie dough from which all forms are cut.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Every photograph ever taken captures some aspect or another of a given place at a given moment, the here-and-now of the then-and-there.  What's captured goes by many names - so call it "the here and now," some call it "the cosmos," some call it "god," some call it "bussho."  

I sometimes call it the "cookie-dough," and the myriad forms mere "animal crackers" cut from the dough by the mind (the "cookie cutter"), but I'm leaning more and more toward just calling it "potential." 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

How do you tell someone that it's time that they cleaned their bathroom, and what do you think's in that black plastic bag (I'm not looking inside)?

Saturday, June 20, 2015

For Charleston

God wept; but that mattered little to an unbelieving age; what mattered most was that the world wept and still is weeping and blind with tears and blood.  - W.E.B. Du Bois
Almost as sad as the terrible murders that recently took place in South Carolina is the fact that no one is really surprised.  In America, this is the sort of thing that happens.  We are a divided people, we are angry, and we are heavily armed.  In a larger context, this is a part of the inevitable karmic consequence of a nation that was built on the principals of slavery and genocide, on the exploitation of natural, cultural, and societal resources, and on unchecked militarism and nationalism.

European powers initially established rival colonies on the North American continent, each of which existed merely to be exploited and utilized for the perceived benefit of foreign kings.  Competition between the European powers was intense, and any means necessary were considered acceptable to support their colonies, including the eradication of the native population and the use of slave labor. Eventually, the colonies rebelled and started a bold and inspiring experiment in democracy, but in less than 100 years they fell into a divisive and bloody civil war, and that seemed to be the end of that.

But following the war, a resurgent capitalism took hold, and the young nation gained in strength and power. However, W.E.B. Du Bois, who taught here at Atlanta University, recognized the exploitation and bribery inherent in the new American capitalism.  He also saw something larger happening, something happening not only to poor blacks but also to poor whites.  "There began to rise in America in 1876 a new capitalism and a new enslavement of labor," he wrote in 1935.  To Du Bois, whites as well as blacks were in a sense becoming the new slaves. 

Today, many Americans feel betrayed and powerless, and blinded by patriotism, propaganda and a sense of privilege, don't see that it's the system that's betrayed them. We hold others responsible for our misfortunes.  The others may be immigrants, or those of other races, or those with different political opinions. But we can't see what W.E.B. Du Bois saw nearly a century ago, that it's unchecked and unrestrained capitalism that's disenfranchising the masses. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Net

Brains are overrated.  A tiny spider has a brain, if you can even call it that, only slightly larger than the period at the end of this sentence, yet was still able to plan, design, and build this.

A gram or so of neurons is capable of a web this complex and exquisitely efficient.  Brains are underrated. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A funny thing about the ocean - the closer to it you get, the more irregular its shape appears, and when you get right up on it, it's almost impossible to describe its fractal shape.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Sunday, June 14, 2015

First magnolia blossom of the season.  Everything blooms a little bit later here due to all the shade.

Friday, June 12, 2015

It's also true to say that mountains are not mountains, oceans are not oceans, the great earth is not the great earth, and the self is not the self.  That's why we shouldn't even bother to talk about these things.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Already, I've said too much.

"Making the mountains one with the mountains and making the self one with the self" misses the mark, as it implies that they are not both already one with themselves and with each other, and that there's something some separate entity, you, can do to make them whole.  The conventions of language and sentence structure require a subject and an object, and a verb connecting the two, but that's not the way the universe actually is.  

It's probably better just to say, "Mountains one with self, self one with mountains, mountains one with mountains, self one with self." 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The teacher was trying to make a point by asking the monk "How do you make the self one with the mountains, rivers, and great earth?" but he still didn't capture all of it.  I can just hear Dogen saying it's also making the mountain one with the mountain and the self one with the self.

Mountains, rivers, the great earth, and the self - all the same thing.

Monday, June 08, 2015

A monk once asked his teacher, "How do you make the mountains, rivers, and great earth one with the self?"  The teacher answered, "How do you make the self one with the mountains, rivers, and great earth?"

Sunday, June 07, 2015


One really has to hand it to East Atlanta Village for their commitment to public art and murals. Time: Saturday night, 8:30 pm.  Place: EAV, Georgia.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Thursday, June 04, 2015

The View

I'm still like a little kid whenever I'm in tall buildings.  Here's the view from the 31st Floor of Midtown's Promenade Building, with Buckhead off in the distance.  That white building in the lower left that almost looks like a Leggo toy is the High Museum of Art.

Same spot but looking east toward Stone Mountain in the distance:

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

"You know the way everybody's into weirdness right now? Books in all the supermarkets about Bermuda triangles, UFOs, how the Mayans invented television, that kind of thing? Well, the way I see it, it's exactly the same. There ain't no difference between a flying saucer and a time machine. People get so hung up on specifics. They miss out on seeing the whole thing. 
Take South America for example. In South America, thousands of people go missing every year. Nobody knows where they go. They just, like, disappear. But if you think about it for a minute, you realize something. There had to be a time when there were no people.  Right? Well where did all these people come from? Hmm? I'll tell you where. The future. Where did all these people disappear to? The past.  How'd they get there?  Flying saucers. Which are really, yeah, you got it, time machines. 
I think a lot about this kind of stuff. I do my best thinking on the bus. That's how come I don't drive, see.  I don't want to know how. I don't want to learn. See? The more you drive the less intelligent you are."
- Repo Man, 1984

Monday, June 01, 2015

Flowers Fade

Zen Master Dogen once pointed out that weeds, while despised, flourish, and flowers, although cherished, fade.

My solution is to stop distinguishing between the weeds and the flowers, and just appreciate nature as it is.

Without any conscious gardening on my part, the azaleas in my back yard briefly appeared and then fell, but were replaced by rhododendrons.  Eventually, the rhododendrons disappeared, but now the purple and blue hydrangeas are blossoming in the yard.

Life is just one surprise after another.