Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Walt Whitman

In honor of Walt Whitman's birthday today, a poem of his to ponder:

To My Soul.1

As nearing departure,
As the time draws nigh, glooming from you,
A cloud—a dread beyond, of I know not what, dark-
ens me.

I shall go forth,
I shall traverse The States—but I cannot tell whither
or how long;
Perhaps soon, some day or night while I am singing,
my voice will suddenly cease.

O Soul!
Then all may arrive to but this;
The glances of my eyes, that swept the daylight,
The unspeakable love I interchanged with women,
My joys in the open air—my walks through the Man-
The continual good will I have met—the curious
attachment of young men to me,
My reflections alone—the absorption into me from
the landscape, stars, animals, thunder, rain,
and snow, in my wanderings alone,
The words of my mouth, rude, ignorant, arrogant—
my many faults and derelictions,

The light touches, on my lips, of the lips of my com-
rades, at parting,
The tracks which I leave, upon the side-walks and
May but arrive at this beginning of me,
This beginning of me—and yet it is enough, O Soul,
O Soul, we have positively appeared—that is enough.

1Whitman, Walt. "To My Soul." The Walt Whitman Archive. Ed. Ed Folsom and Kenneth M. Price.

Technorati Tags: ,

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

1 Minute 30 Second Meditation

"What is emptiness? That is, what is anything when we take away all our notions and ideas? What is a stick, when I take away all my notions of what it is? We say, 'A stick.' Take that idea away. 'Straight.' Take that away. 'An extension of my hand.' Take that away. What is it?"1

Like peeling an onion. Take away layer...after layer...after layer...after layer of answers. What is it that is seeking progress on your chosen path? Bring yourself into the now, and truly question, "What is it that seeks?"

Take 30 seconds to contemplate, then return.

Did you come up with a "Who" answer? Did you answer "I am seeking"? If you did, take another 30 seconds and question, "WHAT is Who?" "What, truly, am I?"

Take 30 seconds to contemplate if you answered with a "Who" answer, then return.

What is it, then, that truly attains progress? When you feel like you've progressed in your practice, what has progressed? "What is it that attains?"

Take 30 seconds to contemplate, then return.

Don't take the surface answer. Look deeper. Peel away that surface layer. Expose the substratum. "What is it that attains?"

Take a final 30 seconds to contemplate, then return.

Peeling the onion. This is our practice.

1Roshi Bernie Glassman. Infinite circle.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Abhidhamma and Consciousness

In the Summer 2006 issue of Buddhadharma magazine, there's an article by Thich Nhat Hanh entitled The Four Layers of Consciousness. His premise is that an understanding of consciousness is vital to our practice. I think he's right. I know for me, what causes me problems is when I lose my center, when I get absorbed in my thoughts and feelings and actions, and don't maintain mindfulness of what is arising and functioning in my mind. It's like falling asleep on a raft in a lake. You wake up and realize that you've been pulled far down shore.

Abhidhamma, the Buddhist map of the mind, says that the 52 mental factors can arise in our Mind Consciousness, which is like our conscious, thinking mind. Yep! This is exactly what we work to control, and how we exert our control. But we're just treating the symptom if we don't understand that our Store Consciousness, which is like the psychologist's unconscious mind, contains the seeds of all these mental formations. It contains the seeds of our anger responses as well as the seeds of our love and compassion. This understanding gives us our motivation! We know that if we keep planting wholesome seeds, and avoid planting unwholesome seeds, we can eradicate the unwholesome seeds altogether. That is the Buddha's ultimate optimistic teaching. I know that, for me, before I understood these concepts, it was like I was just going through the motions in my practice. Having a map that describes the territory is really important to me; it gives me structure. Is that the same for everyone?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Poem: General Boyd

Here's a poem I wrote a few years back while on a trip to a B&B in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin:

This living room is old.
A painting of the General,
square-jawed, bearded, regal,
sits atop the brick fireplace,
underscored by bronze flasks and jugs,
dull yet teeming with

Bookcases housing
only half his collection!
Yet books consume my vision.
Classics five times my age --
Hawthorne, Whitman, Dickinson, Aristophanes.
The Divine Comedy from 1908!
The scent of old books ever-present
I sit by the fire,
warmth seeping into my flesh as the flickering
flame draws my eye,
locking my gaze like
a rainbow in a sun shower.
Leather-bound Leaves in my lap, I look slowly
seeing my insignificance.
This living room is old.

Technorati Tags: ,

Friday, May 26, 2006

Right View and The Four Noble Truths

I'm reading through the May 2006 issue of Shambhala Sun, and I'm reminded that one of the uniquenesses of the Buddha's teaching is that of a specific approach to living. Normally, we tend to approach everything in life, our actions, our thoughts, our interactions with others, in an I/Not-I fashion. In other words, our manner of thinking immediately separates us into I/Not-I. As an example, let's say I'm driving down the street and somebody cuts me off. I glare at him and come down hard on my horn; several not-so-nice words run through my mind. This entire event is completely I/Not-I: I am angry with that other driver; he is causing my anger; I lash out at him, via my horn, via my glare, via my thoughts. But the Buddha said that this method is not so good. It's habitual, so it's easy, but it results in suffering, and fosters future suffering.

The Buddha's first teaching gives us another approach to life, one that bypasses I/Not-I altogether: The Four Noble Truths. These truths tell us that suffering exists, it has a cause, it can be eradicated, and there is a path that leads to its eradication. But how does this give us a different approach to life? It instructs us to view all things, thoughts, actions, speech, not in terms of I/Not-I but in terms of suffering/not-suffering and cause/effect. This might seem like he was just swapping one dualistic viewpoint for another. But that's not the case. Thinking in terms of I/Not-I causes me to suffer: "That driver did something to me! How dare he!" "I didn't get that promotion, but Bill did. I'm a better [insert whatever quality you want here] than he is!" "Why doesn't she like me? What's wrong with me?"

Thinking in terms of I/Not-I leaves us wide open to experiencing anger, jealousy or greed, and delusion. But the Buddha's approach gets us to focus directly on the problem at hand to eradicate the anger, the jealousy, the delusion, that is afflicting us. Instead of being angry at the other driver, we can recognize that anger has arisen and know that he had his reasons for his actions. We can sound our horn to let him know he should not have done that--maybe he did not even see us initially. But why cause ourselves to suffer (nobody likes being angry!)? Ultimately, we'd like to not react with anger, but with understanding and compassion (while still sounding our horn to let the other driver know of his mistake!). But if anger has arisen (suffering exists), we can know it has a cause (hint: it's NOT the other driver!). We can know there is a way to eradicate that response, and we can know the way to do so. The first and third truths comprise the suffering/not-suffering view, and the second and fourth truths comprise the cause/effect view.

In short, the Buddha gave us the means to directly face our suffering head-on and work directly to remove it, instead of the wallowing that occurs in the I/Not-I view.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Hera and Zeus

I played a new game last night called Hera and Zeus. Since I enjoyed myself and love giving good word-of-mouth advertising to products and services I like, here is a shameless plug.

It's a two-player game in the genre of Greek mythology (if you couldn't tell :)). In the age-old struggle between Zeus and Hera, each has taken a hostage (Zeus has captured Argus and Hera, Io). In this card game, you place cards down on the battlefield (also known as your dining room table) as warriors, as well as use the gods' powers directly out of your hand, in order to simultaneously search for the hostage being held by your opponent and protect the hostage you hold. Strategy abounds with the many different mythological powers available to your gods, but it is not so complex as to bore, or frighten off, the non-strategy gamer. Small elements of luck and psychological intrigue ("Why did he place a card there???") add to the excitement. Plus, the artwork on the cards is beautifully printed. Highly recommended.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Test Post

This is my first test post. More to come soon!