The Root of Dukkha – Part 2 – Pride

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The Rubber Ducky Buddha of Joliet still takes Pride in his Chicago heritage. And dere’s nutting more prideful to Chicagoans dan dere dogs dragged tru da garden.

Enlightenment Vaporized Out of My Head

The biggest hindrance to being enlightened isn’t obtaining enlightenment itself. As it’s said with making money, the hard part is keeping it. As soon as you leave your chosen enlightenment seminar or retreat back to the “real world”, any spark of enlightenment is vaporized out of you by unavoidable tyrannical bosses (and EVERYONE has a boss), pompous experts, frustrated jerks, and unethical posers.

So the SBAR objectives of this post, the 2nd in the series on the Root of Dukkha, are:

  • Situation – The hope to be at peace in a world founded upon competition is almost futile. It’s “survival of the fittest” at every level of Life On Earth itself to the human-constructed organization where we earn our income to survive.
  • Background – The World is in constant change and for Life on Earth to continue, everything living in it must be capable of thriving at any particular point. Such a capability requires a mechanism to adapt to the change. That mechanism, evolution, requires the ability to generate competitors with a mixed array of capabilities, an arena for them to compete, and a force fueling them to fight.
  • Assessment – The solution can’t be arrived at through normal everyday life thinking. If we could eradicate Pride in ourselves and accept it in others, it will remove the friction of dukkha, which means we can focus on the Now, much more powerfully than if our focus is diluted into the past and future.
  • Recommendation – See that Pride, the Zeus of the Seven Deadly Sins, is a relic from our low-sentience past that served us well then, but today makes us miserable. Today, it serves as leashes tying us to things others want us to cling to.

Maybe then, instead of taking ten steps forward and nine steps back after each retreat, we can take only one or two steps back.

Prideful are Fearful

Pride is deodorant for fear, simply masking it. Everyone who is prideful is covering fear. And what is fear? Fear is the threat of losing something. Originally, during humanity’s low-sentience past, this pretty much meant our lives to a predator. But more generally, it’s the threat of losing anything we cling to, and in our higher-sentience present, that means quite a few things.

As with envy, there was a time that pride was simply a heuristic that got us through during our simpler-minded days.  It’s what gave us the audacity to go up against animals much larger and stronger than us, both to defend ourselves and to kill for food. I wrote of genuine fearlessness in a prior post. Fear is a simple mechanism by which low-sentience creatures engage in “deciding” to escape danger or stand their ground – “flight or fight”.

I say “flight or fight” as opposed the usually ordered “fight or flight” because for humans in society, it’s usually better to just flee the situation first, giving us some time to think through the problem from a distance. A heuristic is just a rule-of-thumb to use if we don’t have time to think through thoughtfully. It’s not an answer across all cases, just a quick and dirty first guess to buy time to make a better guess.

So here is a new heuristic one can follow: Prideful are Fearful.

Pride is the sin to which the other six of the seven deadly sins bow. It’s the antidote to fear, the biggest thing debilitating our human efforts. Just as it’s sometimes easier to douse ourselves with deodorant than to take a bath, it’s easier to mask our fear with pride than to strive for genuine fearlessness by having nothing to fear. Genuine Fearlessness is clinging to nothing, having no buttons to push.

My favorite statement addressing the need to eradicate pride comes from Carlos Castaneda’s character, don Juan. To which pride is referred to as “self-importance”:

“… what weakens us is feeling offended by the deeds and misdeeds of our fellow men. Our self-importance requires that we spend most of our lives offended by someone.” – Carlos Castaneda, Fire from Within.

Pride and Power

“I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” – Matthew 19:23-24

Everyone knows this verse from the New Testament expressing the near impossibility for rich people to get into Heaven. We non-rich, non-powerful people then kind of ironically take pride in knowing that in the end we will win.

But I want to make this absolutely clear: This post is by no means a hit piece on the rich and powerful. Looking down on the powerful is as inappropriate as looking down on a homeless person, passive-aggressively pitying them, “Oh those poor rich people …” They play a part that’s as much a part of the world as anything else. This is no different from the role of lions, tigers, and wolves in the ecosystem.

The World is a Yin and Yang of lions and gazelle. Usually, there is some level of imbalance in all things, including the number of lions versus gazelle. That imbalance is restored by nature through the drama of this incredible mechanism called life. In non-duality terms, it’s not just that “there is no me” who is separate from the Universe, but everything else is as much a part of what is.

The powerful – executives, politicians, judges, the rich – naturally require the gall to think that they can lead many independently intelligent people. How could any leader lead if they didn’t have the confidence to think they could? And that confidence comes from pride in their accomplishments – which is the source of their power, and so the thing that their pride protects.

But pride also exists in the schoolyard bully, experts of all sorts, the beautiful people – even the “working man” takes pride in doing “real work”. Pride is in fact the “Me”, the Ego. Remember the new heuristic, Prideful are Fearful. Every single prideful person, rich or not-rich, is scared underneath. And that is no matter how confident and happy they may appear – just about every creature, predator or prey, has a very good level of skill with camouflage.

The key to a dukkha-free life is to stop clinging. By definition, the prideful are clinging in big ways. If one is fortunate enough to be wealthy, whether by inheritance or very hard work with a lot of luck, until they fall they will not have been forced to face the challenge for Enlightenment.

For the prideful, it matters what others think. It’s very hard to change peoples’ minds just as you cannot make a lion stalking you unhungry. It’s the foundation for a very dukkha-filled life. This post is not a matter of changing the world or peoples’ minds. The World is what it is. It’s about eradicating Pride within you and accepting the Pride of others, enabling you to place all your focus on Now. When you become nothing (you lose your Pride) you become everything (you are One with the Universe).

How Does a Snowball Stand a Chance in Hell?

Continuing the Scripture above from Matthew 19:23-24:

… When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” – Matthew 19:25-26

The part, “but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26) means that there is no way to solve the conundrum of being enlightened in a daily world to which we really no longer belong, at least within the context of our normal way of thinking. Enlightenment is a completely different set of rules. There is the way of people and the way of the Universe.

All of us have had flashes of enlightenment on vacation or a retreat. When it seems like things can’t get worse and it does – and all you can do is say, “Hey, What the F***.” You are at that moment enlightened, you’ve dropped that big bag of crap you’ve been hoarding and hauling around all these years.

But the problem is vacation ends, and your enlightenment will probably slowly or quickly vaporize out of you. The vast majority of us must make our living in a system where everyone – you, your bosses, your underlings, your customers – are driven to strive in a perpetual escalating cycle of goals. A cycle that seems to have this life of its own, never satisfied, escalating with no other apparent reason but to fulfill someone’s greed – the subject of another post in this series.

This “cycle of obtaining goals” is no more or less “cruel”, unworthy, or senseless than the “circle of Life” where every creature survives by devouring another creature. Life on Earth, the circle of life, only seems sadistic from our little human animal point of view. But from a higher perspective, the beauty of the mechanism is what made Life on Earth virtually immortal – three billion years and still going strong, suffering much greater assaults than what we puny humans can toss at it. Can we say something similar about the “cycle of obtaining goals”?

The Way of the Universe

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Pu’u o Mahuka Heiau. That ti plant told me his name is Mr. Ti.

So what do we do when we find peace of mind on vacation at Zion National Park or Tassajara and don’t want to lose it when we get back to work? To be blunt, when it does vaporize so readily, it means we didn’t quite cut all our clinging. There are still leashes that we haven’t cut. We may be “enlightened” in that we know peace is out there, and that in itself is huge. But as Ringo Starr says, “It only takes one line tah reel in a fish.”

Forget the way of people. As crazy as it sounds, drop all ambition at work. Ambitions and goals at work are the clinging, the Dukkha, of the “corporate organism” – Corporate Dukkha. Don’t worry about pleasing your boss, what your co-workers think of you, getting credit, promotions, raises, bonus plans, employee of the month awards. But this does not mean to do poorly at work. On the contrary, in many ways you will work harder – sloth is yet another subject for another post in this series.

It’s all completely senseless. Even if you do more than is expected, chances are someone else has done more and will win the whole pot – sometimes maybe their family life sucks so they have the time to beat you. Some don’t play fair and aren’t ever caught. Even if you’ve figured out some innovative way to get work done faster, the breathing space is immediately filled with more to do. Who is getting richer at their bargain cost of patting you on the head?

If you’re not hungry, not in danger, you’re healthy and can take on whatever the next instant holds. That’s all you need. In fact, beyond people, that’s all any other creature  needs. If you are truly honorable, that is, you embrace 100% what is right here, right now, the Universe always provide what you need.

And now again, I want to be perfectly clear: Counter-intuitively, after you’ve checked out of the games, you will actually become a much bigger asset to your employer. Everything you do will be real and not the smoke and mirrors of a bedazzler. Meaning, there is a difference between genuinely effective work and work that has the appearance of effectiveness (lipstick on a pig). They may never know your value, never acknowledge it, but the Enlightened has no appetite for such things anyway.

How will you do this? Giving up all your pride, your self-importance, your ego, you are dukkha-free and that energy is diverted to your engagement with what is. Listen to what they want you to do, and just do it, no resistance. If you think it’s wrong, as a faithful employee, speak once, then forever hold your peace. Is it mind-numbing, soul-sucking work? Hey great! The better to eradicate your energy-draining self-importance.

As I explained in  The Compound Interest of Enlightenment,  you then apply the saved energy to your Zen Art, which is what you do on the Path of the Enlightened. Notice it is not the path to enlightenment, but the path of the enlightened – those who 100% accept what is, have emptied your cup of all you cling to, and joyfully walk the Path. No thing is as powerful as a Being who is truly One with the Universe.

Absorb everything around you as if your cup is perpetually empty – the Beginner’s Mind. Solve problems without any hoopla or expectation for reward. The worst that will happen is they lay you off because their perception is that you don’t do as much as the bedazzling person. The reality is that if you walk the Path, you are able to find another job very easily. That place that spit you out, bedazzled by the bedazzling, will very soon fall apart without you because they see the flowery illusion, not the reality.

And with all that said, who knows, there is a very good chance your bosses aren’t as bedazzled by the bedazzler as you think. And you may get your bonus, promotion, and all anyway. But you cannot keep that hope in your heart to any degree. This is not a matter of an optimistic or pessimistic outlook on the matter of a goal (getting your bonus or promotion), but faith in the wisdom of being in the Now – God’s will be done.

Yes, we can all have our cake and eat it too, as long as that cake is to be One with the Universe.

The Root of Dukkha – Seven Deadly Sins Series

This post on pride and fear is part of a series looking at Dukkha from the point of view of the seven deadly “sins”.

  • Envy
  • Pride
  • Lust, Greed, Gluttony
  • Wrath and Sloth

 

 

The Root of Dukkha – Part 1 – Envy

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The Eternal Fishnu and Rubber Ducky Buddha posing with 2 billion years old puddingstone.

Why do we suffer?

Why do we cling to horrible things from our past that should just be left behind like garbage or futures we only imagine? Conversely, we cling to things we hold dear that are pulling away from us or obsessively pursue dreams we are warned to be careful about wishing for because we may just get it.

The big problem is how to solve this conundrum: To abolish suffering we must be 100% accepting of what is. But we live and work in a world where most people live defined by horrible pasts and relentlessly pursue unnecessarily greedy dreams. So if we were to be a shiny jewel of enlightenment, 100% accepting of What Is, we are a snowball in Hell.

Most of us have at some time in our lives stumbled into precious moments or periods where we are in such a state of enlightenment. These are times such as during a long vacation or a retreat such as a Tony Robbins seminar or time at a monastery.

Interestingly though, enlightenment can happen at the height of periods where things seem like it just couldn’t get worse. Then from out of nowhere this sort of magical acceptance, capitulation happens. Counter-intuitively, your mind just gives in to it, as a gazelle may mercifully passes out in the jaws of lions. You get to that nice place beyond mad, where everything doesn’t mean much to you. And then, you get back to life, where slowly, you’re dissolved back into the muck of the world of Dukkha.

The Root of Dukkha

This post begins a series that looks at our suffering-related emotions through the prism of the so-called Seven Deadly Sins, inspired by a quasi evolutionary psychology point of view. Answering the question, “Why do we Suffer?”, is under the umbrella of that discipline because it’s quite universal among people everywhere and of every time.

The “sins” of the Seven Deadly Sins are still within us despite our great intellect because they are deeply rooted in mechanisms that were of immeasurable value to our individual survival during our lower-sentience1 past. These “sins” are not “bad” things about us. They are relics of our old friends that manifest within us in uncomfortable ways as we muddle our way through this ugly stage of our transition to fully awakened beings.

I say “quasi evolutionary psychology”2 above because I’m not an evolutionary psychologist. I’m a software developer with decades of experience working on decision support systems3. These systems I develop involve a whole lot of moving parts resulting in chaotic systems that are really tough to control – just like real life. The complexity of the world we find ourselves in cannot be eloquently explained without looking down to the simpler underlying mechanisms. So let’s look to the underlying roots of dukkha. And let’s throw in other prisms of Zen, chaos theory, and mimetic theory ending up with something that doesn’t quite look like any of those things.

We’ll start this journey by tackling dukkha head-on with the root of dukkha – the deadly “sin” of Envy.

Knowledge from Nothing

Imagine awakening alone in a strange forest where you don’t recognize anything – none of the plants, animals, rocks. There is no one around to tell you what’s edible or poisonous. You’re as helpless as if you were five years old. You’re hungry as hell and wander around these strange woods hoping to stumble across familiar food like apples or the the neighborhood McDonalds. You’re unsuccessful, but you do see a variety of bushes full of fruits, mushrooms, and yummy looking vegetation, none of which you recognize.

You also learned from a ranger-lead tour years ago at Yosemite that there are many yummy looking berries that are very poisonous to people. What do you do? You have one chance to be fatally wrong, no hospital here to pump your stomach. But you eventually spot what appears to be some sort of mammalian animal eating berries from one of those bushes. You reason, “The animal is alive, it’s kind of like me, so those berries are probably edible.”

If someone else is doing something, it’s probably OK. That sounds like a very logical rule of thumb, a heuristic. Most know that we can pretty much eat what mammals such as bears, seals, dogs, and cats eat. But there are exceptions such as eating eucalyptus leaves, the staple of koala bears, or chocolate supposedly being toxic to dogs. Conversely, some things poisonous to other animals are edible for us.

The “math will state” that living by the simple rule of eating something another animal that kind of looks like you eats offers higher odds of surviving to reproduce than playing Russian Roulette with the random variety of unrecognized plants (eating whatever you stumble upon) or starving. Countless other creatures played Russian Roulette for you.

You can benefit from the hard-won information gained by the fortunate ones that survived a particular berry variety by simply copying that creature. No sophisticated thinking is required. You don’t need the intelligence required to add two plus two or reason your odds for winning a round of heads and tails to execute a generalized simple rule: Copy what another creature is doing.

Invention

There are at least two major ways that new methods and machines, innovations, and knowledge come to be by we humans. The first way is that we can invent them purposefully using our intellect – so-called “intelligent design”. This can range from something as mundane as organizing my office to meet the competing requirements of comfort, efficiency, function, and pleasing aesthetics to inventing something epic such as it was with the nuclear bomb in Manhattan Project style.

The second way to innovate is less obvious to us in our daily lives but magnitudes more prevalent. That is copying something you observe. You discover a paradise city, it’s mentioned in a highly respected source such as Forbes as a great place to live, and before you know it everyone else has moved there. For me as a programmer, I can “learn” a new programming language fairly quickly by copying snippets of code without ever formally learning the language – even though I will eventually run into walls.

I need to digress a bit to explain that those examples roughly encapsulate Mimetic Theory. We can make decisions based on copying what respected sources are doing or endorses without having to invest a ton of energy getting into the weeds of the decision. However, as such copying of that good advice goes viral, it leads to a follow-up proposition of Mimetic Theory. That is, the increased demand for those resources leads to annoying shortages, leading to conflict – competition for those limited resources. As a great example of Mimetic Theory, I became interested in it because Peter Thiel is heavily influenced by it.

Back to the two mechanisms of innovation. The two mechanisms aren’t mutually exclusive, meaning we don’t use one or the other. In fact, I think one could argue that just about everything we do in the “intelligent designer” mode is founded upon copying and pasting, mixing and matching, copied components already in our heads that we’ve collected over our lives.

The copying mechanism came first. Why? It is much more likely to eventually spontaneously develop in evolution’s big game of chance than the mechanism of “intelligent designers”. Our human intelligence, along with the knowledge and technology we’ve developed using that intelligence is built upon that mechanism of copying.

Is a monkey smart enough to purposefully invent a solution for cleansing dirty yams, for example, taking it to a stream and rinsing it off? That monkey will associate the yam and motions of dipping the yam into the stream with a better eating experience. It isn’t sitting there pondering its discovery, “Eureka! The kinetic energy of the water in the stream and of my hands dislodges pathogenic particles from the yam that would be detrimental to my teeth, sense of taste, and my gut!”

That lucky monkey will “robotically” continue to practice the rinsing ritual. Unlike us, he cannot then write a book on the subject (a good title: The Stream of Cleanliness) and earn a living for the next year or so on the talk show circuit. Or compose a PowerPoint presentation to the decision-making executives in SBAR fashion:

  • Situation – We suffer from health problems due to poorly prepared food.
  • Background – Yams are dug from the ground. They are dirty.
  • Assessment – The mechanized removal of the undesirable matter will result improved taste and hygienic quality of the yams.
  • Recommendation – Yams should be transported to a stream where the constant flow of the water and agitation of the undesirable matter by our hands will remove it.

That presentation is well beyond the level of sophistication in the monkey education system. If not for the phenomenon of monkey see, monkey do, that “happy accident” (as Bob Ross would say) will die with that monkey, perhaps not to be re-discovered for millennia: A thousand monkeys eating yams for a thousand years will eventually learn to wash them.

They observe and mimic. Remember, it’s just a heuristic. They really don’t purposefully observe the happy accident and appreciate its value. They just copy it.

On the Shoulders of Consulting Giants

As mentioned earlier, even for we intelligently designing humans, we still primarily copy. Here are a few corporate mantras that refer to copying:

  • Why reinvent the wheel?
  • We need <insert buzzword of the month here – ex: Big Data>!!!!
  • No one was ever fired for hiring IBM.

The last one isn’t necessarily a testimonial to IBM. It means that going with IBM is (was?) such an obvious, almost prudent, choice that no matter how poor the outcome, the executive that approved it couldn’t possibly be faulted. It’s herd mentality. The opposite is Not invented here, which is prideful resistance to copying.

All software developers today copy snippets of code all day long from blogs, github, stackoverflow, posted by the many generous software developers out there. The bulk of the code I write today mostly “plagiarizes” myself out of my toolkit/library of  thousands of functions and megabytes of code I’ve written over the years. But most of that code and patterns in my head are in turn learned by copying examples of others.

It’s not cheating (the bloggers usually intend for us to use the examples they provide), or is in any way akin to taking charity (programmers are a prideful lot). It’s prudent. Yes, why reinvent the wheel? I remember back in those pre-Internet 1980s when I pretty much had to re-write practically everything except for the OS and compiler for each customer. Imagine writing my own browser, database engine and providers, analytics graphs, and all!

Metaphor and analogy are a type of copying. Even the overall structure of the analytics systems I develop are based on patterns, “cook books”, decades-old generalized algorithms. It’s all copying.

Envy – The Root of Dukkha

This notion of the simple, primal heuristic of copying is still our predominant mechanism for doing thing, updating our skills, ensuring our fitness in civilization. That’s why advertising works. We’re presented with an image and there’s a good chance we’ll want to copy it, even if it is frivolous or even harmful. We really don’t have enough time to diligently think through every question presented to us, nor do we in reality have all the information we need.

It’s important to note that the model of our envy (the person in possession of what we desire) needs to be someone we perceive as successful. In a nutshell, that would often be those who we’ve been conditioned to perceive as glamorous and/or successful people. As children, we would mimic adults. At the very least the fact that they survived to be older implies that they must be doing things right. So even if you give it no thought at all, it’s a good heuristic.

We humans still take consciously and subconsciously take advantage of the countless unwitting experiments that happen in the world every second. Like gene mutations, the vast majority of these experiments are completely benign, no value, no harm. A few will end up harmful, maybe fatal. Even fewer will end up as a happy accident. Of those rare happy accidents, a small percentage will “go viral” – catch the eye of someone else who will copy it, and it will be observed by others, and on and on.

Opportunity Cost

The problem is that with our unimaginably complex society consisting of seven billion people all connected to Kevin Bacon within six degrees, all striving for a piece of limited resources, there is just way too much to copy. It’s not the simple days of long ago in the days of Moses where envy was dominated by “coveting thy neighbor’s wife”4 or literally looking at that “greener pasture” over yonder.

We’re pulled in all directions, constantly bombarded with ads, not just while watching TV, but also during work hours while innocently researching on the Internet. And they are all appealing! Subconsciously, thousands of functions in your brain are screaming, “I do want all of that stuff!”

In today’s Big Data era, it’s interesting to note that Machine Learning models are just copying machines too. The only difference is that the algorithms look for a rule hidden in our data. No one tells it to us, but we copy it anything under the theory that if it worked before it’ll work now. Again, a pretty good rule of thumb.

Jealousy – Envy’s Partner

The thing about envy is that it’s not just about wanting something someone else has. In our sentient, self-aware brain, coupled with our instinct to survive, it’s also about not losing something we already have to someone envying us. That could be loved ones, our life, things we worked so hard to earn, our good reputation, lack of physical pain. Is this what jealousy is? The flip side of envy –  protecting what we have as opposed to wanting something someone else has.

Gratitude – The Antidote for Envy

Each of the seven deadly sins is associated with an antidote, a virtue. For envy, that virtue is gratitude. But being thankful for what we have doesn’t really shut up the dukkha of missing out on all those things going on out there. It’s hard to be grateful for what you have when you’ve fallen short of your hopes or when loved ones are ill. The thing is, those thoughts are just in your head.

Every single thing you feel, whether it’s suffering or joy, are all just computations just in your head. Others may concur with you that this or that sucks or is great. But that’s because we’ve all learned from and taught each other these same things. Agreement by others doesn’t make things right. They are still just computations calculated in your three pound brain.

The reality is:

  • We can’t do or have every single thing we observe. Nor do we want every single thing we see.
  • We have nothing, and we want nothing. If you don’t understand this, you’ve missed the entire point of Zen. “Want” is the most terrible four-letter word. As Ringo Starr said, “I want nuthin’, not even nuthin’.”

Certainly, all that is going on out there pulling you in every direction isn’t just noise. For every choice we make there are choices we must leave on the table, opportunity costs.  So to worry about what we didn’t do is madness since that means we would be in a perpetual state of buyer’s remorse.

Things we envy are of value to someone which for some reason we want to emulate as a model. But that doesn’t mean it’s of more value than what we have. It just means this person is someone your primitive brain considers a worthy model and so there is an instinct to emulate that person.

Cut out that noise. Be here with what is here and now. Yes, other of those countless paths you could be drawn to would lead to something else. But in the end, they are neither worse nor better. All we really want is not to suffer, to not live in a state of dukkha. Love what you have, evolve with it. Nothing is better or worse than anything else.

The Root of Dukkha – Seven Deadly Sins Series

This post on pride and fear is part of a series looking at Dukkha from the point of view of the seven deadly “sins”.

  • Envy
  • Pride
  • Lust, Greed, Gluttony
  • Wrath and Sloth

 

Miscellaneous Stuff

Links

Here are links to great resources on the topic of memes, Mimetic Theory, and mirror neurons. etc:

The Photo

The puddingstone in the photo at the top represents all the change over the 4+ billion year old life of Earth. This quartzite puddingstone is metamorphosed (a very slow type of metamorphism similar to the slow smoking of brisket BBQ) sand and jasper stones for over two billion years ago, respectively hardened and re-crystallized  over billions of years of activity on Earth.

Notes

1 By lower-sentience, I mean that I think sentience is a continuum, but there is certainly something different about human sentience.
2 I attempt to tie Buddhism/Zen to ideas from a wide array of disciplines. In order to stick to the topic (Buddhism/Zen) as much as I can, I cannot get too much in the weeds.
3 My reasoning for considering Decision Support Systems as Buddhism is because these systems are directly linked to our thought processes. This is unlike utilitarian software that are more machines like cars than something actually engaged in our decision-making process. I could term these Decision Support systems as analytics, business intelligence, data mining, whatever. Often, the differences in such sets of terms are stretches in order for vendors to differentiate themselves.
4 Moses may have noticed perhaps Aaron was taking a fancy to Mrs. Moses, so he made it one of the Top 10 Rules for Godliness.

Compound Interest of Enlightenment

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The Rubber Ducky Buddha of Joliet marvels at the result of lots of time and energy.

Freeing ourselves from dukkha saves us energy, no different than how a well-tuned car engine is more energy efficient. We can use that freed energy to fuel us further through the chaotic Yin and Yang dynamics of our daily lives. We can divert that energy from anger, envy, jealously, etc towards improving our ability to flow with the constant change. For example, digging deeper into higher maths enables you to more readily pick up the latest technical breakthroughs or finally dealing with that technical debt of hastily developed software frees you from incessant support calls. You not only are more at peace but you’ve invested it into things that let your energy go further.

Buddhism is a skill. Yes, it is a religion and it is a philosophy, but above all, it’s a skill. It’s the skill the Enlightened practice every instant. Buddhism isn’t something practiced in the classroom or office Monday through Friday, or at church on Sunday. For every instant we’re not practicing Buddhism, we’ve actually practiced un-enlightenment. Think of practicing a sport – for every minute you don’t practice well, you not only lose that time, but you’ve also practiced bad form, paying a double penalty.

Enlightenment is 100% acceptance of what Is right here, right now. Therefore, there is zero-tolerance for accepting only what we deem good and fun, rejecting what we don’t like from what is right around of us. That’s the very definition of not accepting what is right here.

For me separating fun from drudgery means wishing I could just sit at my home office coding all day, just me, my laptop, and my brain. Coding is by far the most enjoyable part of my work. Indeed, it’s what I enjoy doing at whether the corporate office, at home, or even a bit on vacation.

However, to be of value to the Universe – that is, to put up my share of Yin or Yang – the software I produce must be useful in the World, not just useful for my own entertainment. To produce such software of value it must be fully engaged with the world. Therefore, much more than half the energy of developing software is spent gathering requirements, demoing what I’ve done, coordinating with other programmers, fixing bugs in production, taking care of administrative stuff. And that is perfectly fine, after all, we are One with the Universe, which includes the corporation to which I should add value for my paycheck.

Time vs Energy

We’ve all thought many times of improving our situation in life by starting our own business with our own ideas or getting an advanced degree that opens doors. But we tell ourselves we don’t have the time. If we think about it, we actually do have the time because we still find time to watch TV, golf, or indulge some other sort of entertaining thing.  But it’s critical to remember that our brains are physical things. They do run out of fuel, require refueling and other maintenance, and they do malfunction. Saving time by not letting our brains rejuvenate is counterproductive.

It’s more so that we don’t have energy. We all push back on requests shoveled on us by blaming a lack of time: “I don’t have the time!” No one can argue the physical constraints of time. But if we said, “I don’t have the energy”, they think us lazy.

Enlightenment is freedom from the energy drain of dukkha, the wasted energy from a vehicle on a wobbly wheel. Freed from things we cannot change from the past and running from futures that will probably not happen, we have more energy to focus on now, the only place that actually exists. Our enlightened recognition that change is constant and all things are temporary means we spend energy honing our Enlightened skills for the moment opportunity knocks, rather than spending that energy forcing the issue.

Focusing that energy on now, pays double dividends as we’re not spending that energy whining, alienating people, or otherwise shooting ourselves in the foot. Instead we use that energy in a virtuous cycle, fixing the wobbly wheels so we better blend in, align with the Universe. Like the samurai perpetually striving towards perfection, we don’t know when our moment of opportunity will come, but we will be ready when it does.

Life is the Dojo

Be mindful of what you’re doing. Neither drink the Kool Aid at the corporate rah-rah meetings nor fight what Is. Joyfully practice your kata and embrace the randori, as the randori is the only true validation of your practice. Empty your cup and embrace the madness, thankful for those others on their own paths, who will be your worthy uke and to which you will gladly return the favor.

I very much want to avoid a supernatural dependency on what I’m conveying. But time and time again, the Universe seems to be extremely wise in presenting me with opportunities only when I’m genuinely ready, not when I think I’m ready. However, opportunities are always right in front of you. You just need to see it as they are more often than not nothing like what you’re hoping for.

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.

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

Predictive Models

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The Miner’s Lettuce is going to seed and will soon be gone. I told Fishnu about how the miner’s of the California Gold Rush would suffer from Vitamin C deficiency over the Sierra winters, until this very edible plant, high in Vitamin C, sprouts up in the very early Spring, curing their scurvy. The funny thing is they didn’t know pine needles, edible, but yucky, and more than readily available during the winter, are rich in Vitamin C.

Fishnu clapped his fins slowly in mocked amazement at my great wisdom.

He then asked, “If you build a predictive model that is correct 99% of the time, is that a good model?”

Me: Yes, but I think any model as good as that is pretty obvious to people already.

Fishnu: That’s true, obvious to people, but not to a computer. So how many models are out there in the world making guesses about you? Your Airbnb ratings, your Uber ratings, LinkedIn, Facebook, credit scores, health risks, security threat …

Me: Oh … thousands … millions …

Fishnu: Are they mostly 99% correct?

Me: No! Some customers have said to me that all they want is for it to be better than a coin toss. In fact, if it’s too good, they say it’s “overfit”, it doesn’t “generalize”.

Fishnu: What does this “generalize” means?

Me: It means because we don’t know everything about everything, we need to make some assumptions about people or things to make decisions about a lot of people or things. So if you’re a rectangle and there isn’t a hole for rectangles, you’re shoved through the square hole.

Fishnu: How many predictions would it take before they are wrong? Once in a billion years?

Me: Hahaha! Billion years!? Probably every other minute some model somewhere is making a wrong prediction about you, even if all were correct 99% of the time!

Fishnu: What happens when they are wrong, when you don’t fit the model?

Me: Nothing really. Most of the time, the worst is that you’re targeted for a sale, they call you during dinner, you tell them not to call anymore, and you’re the asshole. Sometimes it is worse than that – they tell you you’re morbidly obese at 220 pounds, you diet to 180 and feel weak.

Fishnu: Can people ever make these predictive models perfect?

Me: No because we’ll never know everything about everything. So … what do we do?

Fishnu: Erase the illusions of the boxes you’ve been taught to draw around things. You will see the process and not those things. Your brain will resist because those beliefs are wired there. It takes years of training to rewire them, so just ignore them now and feel what is right here right now.

Me: That’s it!? The “Now” thing? Is that all there is?

Fishnu: Geez! What do you think I’ve been saying?

The Empty Cup Trail

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I had not seen either Rubber Ducky Buddha of Joliet or Fishnu since after Bodhi Day in December 2017. On that Bodhi Day I was ordained a Zen priest by Rubber Ducky and given the name, Dukkha Hanamoku. It was my understanding that I would never see them again in this life.

So I was incredibly surprised to run into them about a half mile into the 4-mile Old Wagon Trail hike at Capitol Reef this past Spring (April 2018).  I could see these blue and yellow dots a little ahead. It was them! Sitting there admiring the view. “Rubber Ducky! Fishnu! I thought I’d never see you two again! What are you doing here?!”

Fishnu: “As Ringo would say, ‘Where else would I be but where I am?”

As we hiked, I told them about the past few months, the successes and the failures, of which there were many – it wasn’t an ordinary three months. I delivered an insanely ambitious project within three months, requiring my full concentration and discipline. But for the most part, there was hardly anything calm and enlightened about it all. It was grueling!

Fishnu and Rubber Ducky listened to me talk for the next couple of hours without saying anything, until it seemed I exhausted all I wanted to say. Rubber Ducky said, “I tried to help you, the day your laptop crashed and you had to rebuild it.”

“Help?!” My laptop crashed a couple of days before our first checkpoint with the customer. Although the project was three months, there was a checkpoint every two weeks. If we failed, that was “game over”. Yep, one morning my laptop would boot but went blank! I wrestled with it for a few hours before deciding to reset it all, which took most of the day, and I still needed to get my work done.

Rubber Ducky said that was him telling me to “empty my cup”, free my mind of all clinging, and shut the fuck up and listen – wipe out your mind! He emphasized the “Shut the FUCK UP”.

Towards what I thought was the home stretch of the hike, we came upon an intersection. A sign pointed to the left, “View Point” and I didn’t even read what pointed right. I headed towards the view point and it looked familiar – a little climb up a red sandstone outcropping to a beige sandstone where I first saw Rubber Ducky and Fishnu.

We looked at the incredible view for a few minutes. I had some Gatorade and pulled out a Cliff bar for the home stretch. We walked along the length of the outcropping, all the way seeing that incredible view, for about 200 yards until we reached the end of the outcropping with a bigger climb down, but no trail. Huh? What happened to the trail? I climbed down anyway and figured I’d find the trail moving left or right.

I couldn’t find the trail but reached a point where I could see the parking lot about two miles away, with a few small canyons in between, not the quarter mile or so that I thought. Is that so?

We weren’t exactly lost since I could actually see where we needed to go and the last known location of the trail was shining like a big beacon about a half mile away, the “View Point”. I was mostly worried about adding another half mile of uphill climbing to my already weary ankles (on this 5th day of hiking). We trudged upwards through the chaparral towards the top end of the outcropping.

When we got to that top end of the outcropping, I read what the sign pointed to towards the right: “Trailhead” Duh. “We’re back on the path.”

Fishnu made some cracks about my bedazzlement (addictions, even bedazzlement, makes you temporarily insane to various degrees) of the lovely view point, continuing to believe my flawed belief about where we were, and how that took me off the path. I said in good humor, “Yes, yes. You’re being like what Mrs. Hanamoku says about the last panel of a Dilbert strip – not necessary.”

At the end of the hike, I was surprised to see they weren’t planning on getting in the car. “Aren’t you guys coming?”

Rubber Ducky: “The Eternal Wind is blowing that way for you, Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku. Feel that Wind, it is the Wind that pushes you on the Path, and towards the path if you can’t see the beacon. An empty mind, free of clinging, free of legions of flawed beliefs, readily feels the Eternal Wind, as one would feel the wind stepping outside of the shell of your car.”

It had been exceptionally windy during my week at Capitol Reef. I didn’t use my Buddha Mind to get that. I got in the car, waved good-bye. “Don’t let the ravens get you!”

Fishnu: “They will. Our deaths here are like a little scratch on the skin of all that we are. When that ‘scratch’ heals, you’ll see us then.”