The Four Noble Truths is an SBAR

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Miscommunication results in unnecessary and disastrous errors while engaged in “battle”. While in the chaos of battle, communication between team members is severely hampered. If communication were consistently structured, succinct, and deeply ingrained in the team’s culture, information could be passed with higher fidelity. That structure should identify the problem, provide some background on the context, describe a conceptual solution, and lay out the steps.

SBAR is an acronym of such a structuring for clear communication. It was developed by the military towards the purpose of communicating in an unambiguous, readily digestible manner where misunderstanding and/or delay is extremely costly.  The components of SBAR are as follows:

  • Situation – This is our problem. Before solving a problem, we need to clearly identify and define the problem.
  • Background – Information about the current situation. This is like a learning phase.
  • Assessment – Exploring options. This is the thinking phase.
  • Recommendation – This is what we’ve decided as the course of action. This is the tactical, doing phase.

The first paragraph of this blog is in fact my attempt at using SBAR to describe SBAR.

It’s not surprising to imagine that enterprises dealing with life and death matters such as the military would develop such a structure of communication. But it’s found its way into civilian enterprises. For example, many healthcare enterprises have adopted this recommended structure for communication. In fact, I was introduced to SBAR as the recommended form for structuring email while working at a hospital. My job itself wasn’t on the “front lines” as it is for the doctors and nurses, but it was being woven into the culture of the hospital.

I noticed that The Buddha indeed is a great communicator, way ahead of his time, as the Four Noble Truths are an SBAR:

  • Situation – Suffering. We suffer from physical pain, from loss, from impending loss.
  • Background – The Cause of Suffering. We suffer because we cling to things, all of which are impermanent in our relentlessly changing world.
  • Assessment – The Cessation of Suffering. If we remove clinging, we stop resistance to what is right before us.
  • Recommendation – The Path to the Cessation of Suffering. The Eight-Fold Path.

I think I chose to write a blog on this because I keep the Four Noble Truths example in my mind as my SBAR template as I compose emails at work every day. It’s a very nice way to fold Buddhism into my daily life at my day job – which is nothing like a temple … hahaha.

I’d like to point out before I end this post that this is just a method of expression. Actually performing background (discovery, learning), assessment (analysis, engineering), and recommendation (execution, doing) is an iterative process. For example, during assessment we often need to go back and gather more information, and during execution we will run into unplanned obstacles requiring adjustment to the plan.

These are the best links I’ve found on SBAR, The Four Noble Truths, and the Eight-Fold Path:

Obutsudan

Mrs. Hanamoku, His Holiness The Eternal Fishnu, His Holiness The Rubber Ducky Buddha of Joliet, and I attended a very nice Obon Festival last night. We had a (actually more than “a”) bento with musubi, nasubi, inari, tomagoyaki, shoyu chicken! Wonderful!

The Eternal Fishnu blessed the event with the largest turnout ever in the event’s 70+ year history. The line of cars was reminiscent of “Field of Dreams”.

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Fishnu and Rubber Ducky bless our bento.

There were many obutsudan on display for “adoption”. They were donated to the Church after owners passed away and no one was there to carry on the Buddhist tradition. Mrs. Hanamoku and I are hoping to adopt “#2”. Here is the The Eternal Fishnu and The Rubber Ducky communing with Amida Buddha – Namu Amida Butsu, Namu Amida Butsu, Namu Amida Butsu:

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Obutsudan #2 blessed by Fishnu and Rubber Ducky.

The obutsudan is a personal or family “Buddha house”. Both of my grandmother’s had them in their house. Some are more or less elaborate than the one Mrs. Hanamoku and I put in for:

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Obutsudan #5.

The one pictured below is made from a kamaboko box!

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Such a sincere kamaboko box obutsudan.

Most sincere one:

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Fishnu and Rubber Ducky blessing the maker of this obutsudan.

Of course, we’d be proud and thrilled to adopt any of them. Many of the people in the area where the Obon Festival took place are Japanese-Americans whose ancestors found themselves there through railroad work during the 1800s and/or after release from the internment camps of World War II. So these have much spirit and history to them.

Mrs. Hanamoku and I have an obutsudan inspired by Zion National Park. My home office has two walls lined by tall bookshelves, with rocks from our extensive rock collection displayed in front of the books. All of our Buddhist “things” occupy the top of the shelves, as if they are sitting on top of Angel’s Landing.

Here is Fishnu and Rubber Ducky communing with Bodhidharma:

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The Eternal Fishnu says I kind of remind him of Bodhidharma … which I mostly take as a compliment … hahaha.

 

Everything Forms Every Thing

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In annoyingly paradoxical Buddhist style I will now talk about how Everything Forms Every Thing, even though I just got through talking about how No Thing Exists. How can there be things that form when no things exist?

No Thing Exists is a statement about the true nature of the Universe. Everything Forms Every Thing states the same thing, but from the point of view of we symbolically thinking creatures. And therein lies the paradox. Let’s explore this paradox by first revisiting the statement of No Thing Exists then followed by our gift of sentience.

On one side of the coin, the Universe is a Mega Process churning away on its own, not much different from how on a smaller scale our bodily animal functions churn away. Our heart beats, blood rushes around, cells give and take things to the blood, food is metabolized, bad stuff and waste is gathered and expelled. Aside from our brain and breathing (to a limited extent), there are no organs in us that wistfully long for a time in the past or aspire to or fear some special future. It just does what it does – no questions asked, no whining, no procrastination, no fear. Which is why our conscious mind really has no control over those processes. If our conscious mind could control all of that, it would make a mess out of things.

There are no inherent things in the Universal Process. Whatever seems like a thing is just a snapshot taken in our heads, like a photo stored in a JPG file on our laptops. Whatever things we think we recognize are no more real than what we see in our photos, a temporary phenomenon, ethereal ghosts, caught at an instant of the constant churning.

What can trick us into thinking that there are indeed consistent things is that things change at different rates, some so slow our brains don’t notice, like rocks. Some in an unimaginable instant such as an explosion and the aftermath. Even as you may sit in front of me talking, your mind doesn’t think of me as changing, but my blood is in different places, I learned something I didn’t know a second ago, probably forgot something, which alters my immediate motivations.

However, there is a level of order even in the constantly churning process of the Universe. Although change is constant, so are the underlying laws of physics constant, at least in the realm in which our human bodies are manifested.

On the other side of the coin, we are symbolically thinking, sentient creatures. We’re able to manipulate the world around us. Over our lives we observe things, building a vast library of tactics in our heads. With that vast library, we slice and dice those things into simpler pieces, and construct from those pieces some image we desire, and proceed to manifest that image in the real world.

In order to manifest those images only in our heads, we need to move things around. Manifesting those images we construct in our heads is done in steps, a process. To grow crops, we must gather seeds, fashion tools, prepare the soil, plant the seeds, care for the plants (water, fertilize, protect from weeds and pests), and harvest the plants. Each of those steps are in themselves a hierarchy of sub-processes. However, until we actually accomplish those goals, it’s just a theory in our head because the Universe churns away and whatever happens is what happens.

How did we humans break out of the Oneness with the Universe becoming these symbolically thinking, sentient, designing creatures? No human really knows for sure, although there are many very plausible theories in the fields of Artificial Intelligence (close to what I do for a “living”), archaeology, neuroscience, sociology, evolutionary psychology, mimetic theory, etc.

But The Eternal Fishnu constantly reminds me that sentience is a continuum and that our sentience is just our human brand. Meaning all creatures of Earth are sentient to some extent, mice more than cockroaches, dogs more than mice, chimps more than dogs, and us more than chimps. Additionally, Fishnu reminds me that there are many kinds of sentience for which we are not aware or at least choose to ignore. For example, Life of Earth is sentient in a different way.

What we can state from a Buddhist and Zen perspective is that the great gift of the ability to design and manifest our designs is also the great curse for the unenlightened. These symbols, the things we know of which exists only in our heads, are things in the past which no longer exists. And our desire to manifest our designs based on these things  break our hearts when they either don’t work and begin disintegrating even as we’re still building it. There is nothing we build that lasts without our becoming a slave to it. In other words, we cling to a past that doesn’t exist and we strive for a future based on designs dependent upon a Universe that has no notion of cooperation. This is dukkha, the side-effect of our great gift which the Buddha has taught us to smooth out.

For we sentient beings the phrase Everything Forms Every Thing is the enlightenment that the Universe is One big process. Saying it “backward” makes sense too: Every Thing is dependent upon everything. Our sentience is based on the pitifully inadequate model of the Universe in our heads. We try to impose our desire (our will) in the Universe with varying success but our plans are based on future conditions we cannot possibly predict. Even a tiny thing we fail to consider will grow over the time it takes us to execute our process to manifest our vision.

Dukkha is that gap between what we want and what the Universe just does anyway. So is the answer to our suffering, our dukkha, to shut off our ability to design and manifest those designs? Are you crazy? This is our great gift!

Sure, simply letting go of all our desires would make us One with the Universe. But that’s not our nature, it’s our schtick, no less than an eagle is a perfect eagle. We have a duty to exercise our ability to design and manifest those designs. That is our schtick, our way to contribute our Yin to Yang, or the other way around.  It’s no different from the array of schticks of among all other creatures. If any species in an ecosystem just gives up, it’s all thrown into a tailspin.

We evaporate dukkha by practicing the lessons in the three Zen stories I wrote about:

  1. Empty our cup – We really don’t know anything because everything we know (in our brain) is something that no longer exists.
  2. 100% Acceptance of What Is – We don’t cling to a past that no longer exists, run or hide from a future that probably won’t come, or even enslave ourselves to “dreams” which are nothing but arbitrary things we see someone else has. We 100% accept what is in front of us, right here, right now, and that’s where we focus our attention.
  3. Continue on the Path – We recognize that the Universe is constantly in motion, even when it may not seem like it, whether we like it or not. There is no destination on this path. The Path of Enlightenment means that as the Universe moves in time, we move along with our attention here, not back there, nor way up there.

Think of the sand mandalas of the Tibetan Buddhists – so intricate, so much human effort to build something of such beauty, so delicate. But instead of attempting to preserve something so incredibly beautiful and delicate with Herculean effort, they let go of it. It freely returns to the chaos from which it came. We simply enjoy it, no remorse, no guilt. We appreciate that thanks to our sentient design and manifest capability, we didn’t need to wait the vigintillion years it probably would take before clumps of sand spontaneously to fall in that pattern.

 

Lastly, on a completely unrelated note, Happy Birthday to our friend, the uber-wise Ringo Starr, who turns 78 today.

No Thing Exists

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No Thing here today will be there in a geological blink of an eye.

In yesterday’s post, See, I discussed the phrases “Nothing exists” versus “No thing exists”. Let’s recap that discussion from another point of view because this is a fundamental Buddhist/Zen topic.

Think of having heard a Buddhist priest saying, “Everything is an illusion. Nothing exists.” Does the priest mean there are no stars, no Earth, no chair I’m sitting in as I type, no laptop, no Cable One providing my Internet connection, not even me? That’s what I thought the first thousand or so times I heard something like that.

Why would it be said that everything is an illusion, nothing exists? Well, it’s pretty much what the Heart Sutra is about, particularly the line, “Form is emptiness and Emptiness is form”. The Heart Sutra succinctly captures Buddhism – thus “Heart” as in “heart of the matter”, not the organ or Valentine’s Day heart.

But things do exist. When I leave for work in a couple of hours, I need to deal with the traffic on real roads, real traffic lights, real other cars with drivers, and everything else that prevents me from just driving in a straight line to work.

You’re probably thinking, “What a load of crap!” Things are there, but yet that is something Buddhist priests do say. So are they insane, high, scamming us, having fun at our expense … perhaps it’s wishful thinking on their part, as if reciting a mantra, “If I say this enough, I’ll actually believe it”. Perhaps some of them … hahaha. Things obviously exist, so out of the priests who aren’t insane, high, or whatever, they must mean something else, something completely different from our Western frame of mind.

Here’s my real-life version of an old Zen story: The hike to Observation Point (the scene in the photo above) is magical. The heights, the views of Angel’s Landing, the very real dangers, the wildlife, the constant change of it all, the untamable erosion. I said to Rubber Ducky, “I feel the Oneness with this place, nothing matters, things will be what they’ll be, there is no pain.” As I looked around in awe and contentment, my toe kicked a rock in the middle of the trail. I hear Rubber Ducky laughing his ass off – Mack Mack Mack Mack Mack Mack …

The Buddhist monk isn’t saying the Universe is empty but that whatever our brain thinks of, whether my car, Mrs. Hanamoku, or the leftovers from yesterday’s Independence Day celebration, are just snapshots of something I encountered in the past. Like JPG photo files on my iPhone or my laptop, they are just snapshots of scenes from the past, specifically the whatever the “Date Created” says.

These files are encoded on my iPhone and laptop, such as the photo at the top of this post, in no way resemble what is displayed, and even less what was actually there. It doesn’t capture what is behind the things you see in the photo, how things are moving, the sounds, the “Fall-ness” of the time I was there – the cool temperature of the air, the smells. It doesn’t capture that I’m standing very close to the edge of a 2000 foot drop, nor does it capture the spirit of awe I share with the few others there.

Such photos are pitifully inadequate models of what we are seeing. Likewise, my brain holds encoded snapshots of things I recognize that are just encodings in my brain. To be certain, our brain encodings are in most ways magnitudes more sophisticated than the encodings of a JPG file. But still, they are pitifully inadequate models of the what is really there now.

This beautiful scene rendered in the photo above no longer exists. You may be thinking that if you were to go there this coming late October, you could take a photo “exactly” like this. It may even be difficult to differentiate our photos side by side. But by this coming October, tons of the canyon will have eroded away, the trees will be different (although imperceptibly because of the distance), the drama of the wildlife will have a different cast. It may be so crowded there that it could actually be a bit unenjoyable. Do our two photos really represent the same thing?

Everything is an illusion. Nothing exists. Every single thing we think of is just a ghost living only in our brain. The only thing that exists outside of our brain is what is right here, right now. What do you do with this insight? Don’t be the guy who “knows everything”! You know nothing! Do you now know what that means?  Empty your cup! Take off your “black belt”, tie on that old “white belt” you haven’t seen for decades, and ironically sew the knot on permanently.

See

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One of the most frustrating words used in modern Buddhist literature is “see”. For example, “If you see the reality of the Universe, you will know that nothing exists and that all is One.” That is an important statement because it just about defines enlightenment, even though it sounds like esoteric garbage.

So how does one “see” so one could be so lofty too? It’s not just with your eyes for sure, as “see” would normally imply. At the highest state of seeing, it is “without the mind” meaning absolutely no recognition of things, no judgement, no biases, no prejudice, and no expectations. All of those things are based on the pitifully flawed model of the world built from our experiences. Expectations are usually the end product of computations of our mind incorporating the rules of our recognition of things, judgement, biases, and prejudice.

Such interference from our mind obscures and over-simplifies what is right in front of us – like turning a real flesh and blood tiger into a taxidermy piece. As I type this post, I see my laptop and it is there by my understanding of where an object begins and ends – a black, flat thing with a hinge, a screen, and a keyboard.

But I fail to consider the trillion or so circuits all the kind, lovely people at Intel and Micron who built critical parts, all the software and the people who wrote and will support the software, the people who made the raw material, John Von Neumann who inspired the architecture, E.F. Codd who laid down the concepts underlying much of what I do, my work which is a culmination of my decades of experience and interactions with co-workers, customers, and friends who diffused (or exacerbated) stress. I could really go on into infinity well beyond our African ancestors and even well past that with the supernova that fused the gold, platinum, and silver in my laptop. That is my laptop!

That isn’t just a flowery Buddhist way of putting things. That is the reality of my laptop. I too am this laptop. Even after I hand it down to Mrs. Hanamoku, I still am too this laptop, as it wouldn’t have become Mrs. Hanamoku’s at that time otherwise. It will still carry the history of development and demos of software that impacted customers, earned income for myself and my partners/customers.

There was a clue to the theme of this post in the first paragraph, the italicized “nothing“: “If you see the reality of the Universe, you will know that nothing exists and that all is One.”

If we add a single space to that quote, it makes what seems to most a nonsensical statement to something that hopefully makes more sense: “If you see the reality of the Universe, you will know that no thing exists and that all is One.”

No thing exists because the Universe is constantly churning away as the grandest process that it is. Whatever we humans perceive as a “thing” is not much more than a snapshot we took with our iPhone. In fact, the snapshot of the thing we took in our minds is in some ways inferior to a photo.

If you’ve ever walked through somewhere like Bryce Canyon or Zion, you know you can’t come close to capturing its grandeur in a photo or even video. The fullness of such a place while physically immersed into it is lost in a photo and even your own memory. The tenuous paths down steep slopes, the feel of the wind, the excitement of others equally awed, the contrast between your puny body compared to its overwhelming scale. The only way to experience such grandeur is to be there, no camera, no conversation, be there. As Ringo Starr famously said, “Ya gotta be there to be there.” That is seeing.

See that everything in the past, present, and future are intricately connected, there is just a One. In that way, no thing exists! “Things” are constructs of our minds drawing artificial borders in order to carve out a simple piece of the Universe for our worldly purposes. And those “worldly purposes” are those things we do to put food in our mouths and avoid being food ourselves. When you see this, you will see the folly of your Dukkha. The fact that the One actually exists means all is good, there is no need to suffer. Otherwise, there would just be the noise of nothing.

Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku
Ordained Zen Priest of the Order of the Common Area Ponds

Bright Dot in the Sky

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Venus rising in the morning near Zion National Park.

One morning during the Fall 2017, as Rubber Ducky Buddha of Joliet and I watched Venus rise (for the last time on this sabbatical), he asked, “What are we seeing?” The first thing that came to my mind is a bright dot in the sky.

“Is that what it is?”, Rubber Ducky asked.

What didn’t come to mind first is that Venus is an entire planet with all sorts of complex systems and a relationship with the Sun and other things in the solar system, really everything in the Universe. Of course, I did know that Venus is not just a bright dot in the sky, but subconsciously, my mind first thinks “bright dot in the sky”, a very simple answer. For my normal life, the details of Venus never matter. All that matters to me about Venus is that it’s a pretty bright dot in the sky that I like to watch as I contemplate stuff.

If I were an astronomer researching Venus I may have answered differently. But Rubber Ducky still could have easily said, “Is that what it is?” That’s because Rubber Ducky is a blowhard, contrarian … hahaha … just kidding. That’s because our animal brains (not just human brains) abstracts very complicated stuff into salient points and remembers them – labels, categories, prejudices … When confronted with a situation in which we need to act quickly, it’s easier to process a few salient points than to consider every single detail. Animal brains, evolved in this system of competition, abstracts data to just the salient points. We wouldn’t be able to process knowledge of every single blade of grass and every rock under our feet as we chased down game in time to realize that’s a grizzly bear. The salient point is that it is solid and smooth enough for our legs to do its thing.

In the world of Big Data Analytics, we don’t perform analytics thinking about each individual sale or each heartbeat. Data is abstracted (using techniques such as Machine Learning) to salient points such as “sales of pho increase during colder weather” or these series of heartbeats is an erratic pattern associated with an impending heart attack. We abstract exabytes of raw data into a few megabytes of relatively few salient points, so that we can make fast decisions when that grizzly bear appears on our hike.

The difference between Big Data processing tons of elemental data into few salient points and animals abstracting countless photons in our eyes, molecules on our tongue, etc., is that we still store that elemental data in Hadoop clusters were we can re-abstract in case we missed something, but animals don’t store the raw information on every single photon and molecule.

The salient points in animal brains is something that lives only in there, artifacts of the past computing delusions of the future; it isn’t reality. Our energies are diffused in a tesseract of space-time (4-dimensional shape) which only exists in the wiring of our neurons. But by default we make decisions based on these salient points.

OK, OK … this post would take an entire book to fully explore. Rubber Ducky went on for three hours! The salient point of this lesson Rubber Ducky bestowed upon me is:

A big part of our angst is based on delusions of life that our brains reduced down to a few key points we use as shortcuts in our thinking. It takes effort to override these shortcuts, for example, a parent failing to remember her 30 year old son is no longer that little kid. If so many of the assumptions we subconsciously make in our decisions are inherently obsolete, our thoughts computed today are probably delusions. Therefore, if we’re constantly mindful of that, we can be comforted in knowing that our imagined angst most likely isn’t real, no matter how “real” it may seem.

Epilogue for Computer Folks: This lesson from Rubber Ducky is actually at the heart of better analytics as well as eliminating Dukkha. For most of the computer era, data structures are rigid, engineered once, even as the world around it changes, even over decades. Yes, programs and data structures are modified, but in very painful, Frankenstein manners. Mostly, more effort is made to keep the world in the same shape than to modify the software applications – “Oh, that’s not the way we do things here.” But the move from the “relational databases” of today with their 3rd normal forms to graph databases as the foundation of data enables the “fuzziness” of “things” in the world to the forefront.