mithriltabby: Serene silver tabby (Moment)

So my sangha has become a 501(c)(3) organization, looking to accomplish more in the community and perhaps get some permanent quarters for meditation. One of my fellow Zen practitioners was remarking on the difficulty of finding a place in Sunnyvale, due to the high property prices there. My suggestions for avoiding the problem:

  • The Sanghamobile! Get an old bus, retrofit it for biodiesel, rip out the seats and put down zafus and zabutons. Give it a Twitter feed like a food truck so people know when it will be in the neighborhood if they want to meditate. “If you want to order nothing, we deliver!” It could even provide a “meditate while you commute” service up to San Francisco and back.
  • Zendo bouncy castle! Just let people know via social media where it will be inflated for today’s meditation and service.
  • Augmented reality temple! Just get enough Google Glasses for everyone and turn on the “Zen temple” overlay. One could make all kinds of points about emptiness there.
mithriltabby: Buddha zen-zapping Slick (MAX ZEN)

If you meet the Buddha on the road and he can remain in Earth’s atmosphere for more than three minutes, kill him.

(Via Toy Karma.)

mithriltabby: Serene silver tabby (Moment)
mithriltabby: Serene silver tabby (Moment)

So we’re covering Bodhidharma’s Bloodstream Sermon and hit a passage:

People who don’t understand and think they can do so without study are no different from those deluded souls who can’t tell white from black. Falsely proclaiming the Buddha-Dharma, such persons in fact blaspheme the Buddha and subvert the Dharma. They preach as if they were bringing rain. But theirs is the preaching of devils not of Buddhas. Their teacher is the King of Devils and their disciples are the Devil’s minions. Deluded people who follow such instruction unwittingly sink deeper in the Sea of Birth and Death. Unless they see their nature, how can people call themselves Buddhas? They’re liars who deceive others into entering the realm of devils. Unless they see their nature, their preaching of the Twelvefold Canon is nothing but the preaching of devils. Their allegiance is to Mara, not to the Buddha.

I remarked: “The allegiance of devils isn’t very useful. My wife can’t even get them to help out with the housework.” (She’s named after the Biblical Mara, not the demon, but it’s just too funny when the name pops up in the scripture.)

mithriltabby: Serene silver tabby (Moment)

I recently joined Fitocracy, a social-networking site where you can log your workouts for your friends to see (and comment on and praise— the UI has it as “giving props”). It doesn’t keep track of calories for you (or have a nifty GPS app) like Endomondo, but it does have a motivation system based in video games. One aspect is that it awards you experience points, both for your activities (e.g.: an hour of vinyasa-flow yoga is worth 180 points), and for milestones (it gives you 20 points the first time you do much swimming, 50 points when you put in some distance, 200 points the first time you break 750m) it labels as “quests”. And, like all role-playing games, you level up when you get enough experience points. (There are also “achievements” corresponding to video game trophies, such as “I Seem to be Lost”, which is awarded when your lifetime running distance goes over 20 miles. I haven’t earned one yet, so I don’t know if they come with experience points.)

It’s still in beta— I can invite you, if you wish— and doesn’t have anything fancy to go with the leveling up. But it gives both the “I want to level up!” gamer motivation as well as the “I want to keep up with my friends” social one, which is a good start. If you’re already on there, I’m mithriltabby.

And forty minutes of sitting zazen is worth two points, so you can use it to keep track of how much meditation you do as well.

mithriltabby: Serene silver tabby (Moment)
  • The full moon ceremony does not involve baring the buttocks of any of the sangha.
  • The full moon ceremony does not involve baring the buttocks of the Buddha.
  • Dharma transmission does not require a “dharma antenna”.
  • The Sanskrit sūtras do not contain hidden plans for a dharma antenna, based on principles taught by ancient astronauts.
  • I do not know how to extract the secret plans for a dharma antenna from the sūtras.
mithriltabby: Serene silver tabby (Moment)
  • There is no such thing as a “bodhi hammer” that induces enlightenment when whacked on someone’s head.
  • The lump depicted on top of the Buddha’s head was not raised by a bodhi hammer.
  • The Buddha did not sit under a pipal tree for 49 days because a cat had fallen asleep in his lap.
(Okay, I’ve never actually said these things to people who might believe them. But I occasionally wonder if I’m going to wind up in a Zen version of Skippy’s List someday...)
mithriltabby: Buddha zen-zapping Slick (MAX ZEN)

Last night with the sangha, I was doing the usual sitting: a thought arises, my brain automatically follows it, after a while I remember that I’m supposed to be sitting zazen, I dismiss the thought. Since I had been coding in the bowels of Linux that day, I free-associated over to signal handling.

Normally, a computer has a one-track mind, and it will sit there and crunch away at whatever you told it to do until you remove power to the processor. The way we get them to do multiple things at once is with interrupts, where an external event tells the CPU to stop what it’s doing, jump into its interrupt-handling code, and deal with whatever just came in. As you’re reading this, your computer is handing thousands of them every second.

Following the analogy, Zen practice seems to be installing an interrupt handler (for a signal that I’m whimsically dubbing SIGZEN, after the Unix tradition of having interrupts with names like SIGINT, SIGSTOP, SIGQUIT, and so on), with the handler having pseudo-code like:

    foreach thought in thoughts {
        if (thought→worthwhile)

Sitting in a zendo, with numerous stimuli to remind you that you’re supposed to be doing this (incense, being seated in a not-terribly-comfortable half lotus on a zafu, being surrounded by other people doing the same thing) is then cranking up the frequency of receiving SIGZEN interrupts— the goal being to train your neurological circuits to automatically generate these signals when you’re dealing with daily life outside the zendo as well, when you are lacking the cues present in a zendo.

mithriltabby: Buddha zen-zapping Slick (MAX ZEN)

On Twitter, BuddhistHulk has been making a number of LOLisattvas lately. The LOLisattva depiction of Palden Lhamo reminded me that Buddhist Hulk introduced himself as a “MODERN DAY FIERCE DHARMA PROTECTOR”, a dharmapāla— a notion out of Vajrayana Buddhism that there are wrathful deities (which could be anything from an ancient hill spirit to an emanation from a powerful bodhisattva) ready to battle the opponents of Buddhism. Buddhist Hulk takes his icon from a Tibetan artist depicting pop culture icons in traditional form, including one picture of the Incredible Hulk as a dharma protector. So we have ancient deities and modern superheroes reflecting off one another here— we can take it one step further for use in a role-playing game.

In a supernatural timeline, the exile of the Dalai Lama from Tibet in 1959 might have caused a number of dharmapālas that had previously been tied to monasteries to be turned loose upon the world, just in time for the Silver Age of Comic Books. A spirit might take on a human form with mask and cape initially, then pop out in their most terrifying form when the time comes to strike fear in the hearts of criminals. The open-ended goal of a bodhisattva to liberate all sentient beings provides an easy plot hook for bringing in such a character as a good guy or helpful NPC. A character could be portrayed as ancient and worldly-wise, or freshly arrived from the hinterlands with lots of chances to make comical mistakes about modern culture. In a game like Feng Shui, the character would probably be a Supernatural Creature with the Transformation schtick to allow them to pretend to be a human being when not actively battling evil.

Regarding LOLisattvas, BuddhistHulk and I had an exchange:

* This is a reference to “All dharmas are Buddha-dharmas”, a quote from the Diamond Sūtra.

mithriltabby: Serene silver tabby (Moment)

The Heart Sūtra is one of the most-studied scriptures in Zen Buddhism; while it’s one of the shortest, it’s packed with references to overloaded terms like emptiness. Red Pine unpacks a lot of the baggage, examining the original Sanskrit writings (and tracking down their variations) and creating his own translation from scratch, then going over it line by line in as much detail as needed to give the context of the words. His perspective seems generally Mahāyāna rather than particularly Zen.

I quite like how he’ll dig into Sanskrit etymology when he feels it’s necessary to examine the details of a verb conjugation to try and get at the original meaning intended by the unknown writer of the sūtra. He also provides the context necessary to see that the Heart Sūtra is as much an academic manifesto as it is a work of Buddhist scripture, and includes historical commentary as well as his own. (He even brings in some of the 7th century monastic infighting, which hilariously look a lot like modern academic pissing contests— I can see why Eihei Dōgen was inspired to start a back-to-basics movement!)

This is an excellent look at the scholarly underpinnings of the Heart Sūtra. It does a fairly good job of not requiring a background in academic Buddhism to understand it, though I want to grab a kyôsaku and smack a lot of these ancient scholars he quotes when they take the logical equivalent of a running broad jump with the word “thus”.

mithriltabby: Serene silver tabby (Moment)

Sex, Sin, and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between is the fourth book from Brad Warner, dubbed both the “Porno Buddhist” (for blogging about Buddhism at the alt-porn site Suicide Girls) and “Buddhism’s enfant terrible”. Warner notes that no one has yet produced a book on the Buddhist perspective on modern issues in sex and relationships, and sets out to give his Hardcore Zen perspective on the matter. It includes a long and interesting interview with pornographic actress Nina Hartley, who shows a much stronger claim on the title “Porno Buddhist”. The writing varies from earnestly serious to hilariously irreverent, and he shows what I see as a sensible approach to everything from masturbation to BDSM. Like his other books, it stands on its own without requiring material from the others; this could serve as a (possibly shocking) introduction to Buddhist thought by showing how it reflects on familiar issues.

mithriltabby: Serene silver tabby (Mellow)

Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate: A Trip Through Death, Sex, Divorce, and Spiritual Celebrity in Search of the True Dharma explores Brad Warner’s “Hardcore Zen” perspective through an annus horribilis in which he dealt with his mother and grandmother dying, his marriage breaking up, and losing his dream job. (A lot of the material will be familiar to people who have followed his blog at Suicide Girls.) One of Warner’s goals in writing the book is to point out that Zen masters (he prefers the term “Zen teacher”) are not paragons of virtue, and need to be held to the same standards as everybody else, and he shows it by giving a blunt, warts-and-all look at his own foibles as well as some things that he sees as outright scams being perpetrated in the name of Buddhism. Like his first two books, this is a good look at Zen and the effects you can really expect from investing large amounts of time in zazen, without any of the mystical hype.

mithriltabby: Serene silver tabby (Moment)

...when you’re trying to let go of one hilarious thought that wants to keep coming back for the lulz, instead of just letting go of whatever random things flit through your brain at a given time. Especially when the next thought up is trying to explain it to the people whose meditations you’re disturbing as you chuckle. When the images in question are this or this.

mithriltabby: Paranoid pig encounters Buddha, receives zen zap (Paranoia)

And now, the Reduced Dharma Company presents “The Five Second Heart Sutra”:


Thank you.

mithriltabby: Dragon and Buddha boogying (Boogie)

The full title of the book is Sit Down and Shut Up: Punk Rock Commentaries on Buddha, God, Truth, Sex, Death, and Dogen’s Treasury of the Right Dharma Eye, and true to his irreverent punk background, Warner wastes no time in getting to joking about the Left Dharma Eye before the reader can. This is a good follow up to Hardcore Zen, with Warner’s take on the Buddhist perspective on numerous big philosophical issues.

Warner keeps up the level of clarity from his first book. He does a good job of bringing metaphors that were current a thousand years ago into the present day, and can dig right into linguistic subtleties like kanji choice in a Japanese source text that would be easy to miss in a translation. He gets into some more esoteric perspectives, some of which I didn’t really get— for example, he explained the twelve folds of the Twelvefold Chain well, but utterly lost me on the supposed “therefore” connections between them, and it looks like I’m missing something about the no-ego-all-is-one viewpoint. I suspect this will be worth a re-read after I do more zazen. (A lot more zazen.)

mithriltabby: Turing Test extra credit: convince the examiner heṥ a computer (Turing Test)

Brad Warner has had an interesting life: playing guitar in the early-1980s punk scene in Ohio, making cheesy monster movies in Japan at Tsuburaya Productions (makers of Ultraman), and officially receiving Dharma Transmission, which makes him technically a “Zen master”— though his punk sensibilities horrified him at the thought of becoming an authority figure of any sort. He provides a fascinating perspective on Buddhism, flavored by his own life experiences, that he calls “Hardcore Zen”, which cuts through much of the accretion of ideas around Buddhism, starting with some of its own practitioners and continuing with Western perceptions.

Hardcore Zen is about seeing reality as it is. Warner provides his own take on some of the standard Buddhist ideas (including his own commentary on the Heart Sutra). His view of the classic Buddhist “life is suffering” view is that it’s about idealism: suffering is what happens when you allow your idea of how the universe should be clash with the reality of how it is, and this is different from mere pain. Desire is not something you ever escape— but you can just let the desires be and get on with your life. No enlightenment, no bliss, no life-transforming mystical visions, no pharmacological shortcuts, and quite a lot of sitting around staring at the wall (zazen)— but all that zazen does give you a chance to deal with reality as it is, without the additional burden of expectations.

mithriltabby: Dragon and Buddha boogying (Boogie)

Some months ago, [ profile] yanfali and I took an introductory class at the local Chung Tai Zen Center, and last night I finally made time to drop by Bamboo in the Wind to get an opportunity to contrast different approaches to Zen.

The class at Chung Tai was very informative, covering a lot of the basics; it consisted of an hour of meditation (mostly sitting, some walking; I dubbed the latter “Zen marching band” as they followed the Chinese approach of taking each step to the sound of a wooden fish being struck at irregular intervals) followed by an hour of lecture. The Abbot, Jian Hu, is good at explaining, keeping a good balance of knowledge and humor; while he doesn’t try to hide that he’s here teaching because his master asked him to do it and would be happier meditating and studying the sutras in solitude, he’s doing a good job. The setting there is fairly formal; it didn’t really engage my interest.

Bamboo in the Wind is much less formal; it’s run by Rev. Val Szymanski, who recently leveled up to “Dharma Heir”. They meet in a Unitarian chapel, where there are plenty of Western-style chairs for people who aren’t up for the Japanese-style cushions, and the congregants used both. (They even have vernier cushions if you want to try a half lotus but you’re not flexible enough to get both knees to the cushion comfortably; my legs were nowhere near as numb after 40 minutes of sitting.) The session was pretty much as on the web site: 40 minutes of sitting, 10 minutes walking (no sound to call the steps), 10 minutes of service, and about half an hour of freewheeling discussion using a couple of lines from the Heart Sutra as a seed crystal.

Both places are friendly and welcoming, but I prefer the very casual atmosphere at Bamboo in the Wind.

mithriltabby: Sleeping tabby (Zonk)

Wes Nisker examines Buddhist meditation practices in the light of modern scientific understanding of biology and evolution. This is not a breathless “OMG people knew all this stuff 2500 years ago” screed— it’s more a matter of noting modern scientific results that match up with the insights that meditators came up with over many years of self-examination, and suggesting ways that understanding the science can enrich your own meditative practice. The book has a friendly, colloquial tone, and Nisker gives the pleasant sense that meditation includes a lot of chances to stop and smell the flowers on the way toward enlightenment, rather than a determined trudge toward nirvana. The science was all review for me, but written very accessibly— [ profile] wyvernwell, would you like to borrow it sometime?

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