The Other Shore

Waimea Bay.
Waimea Bay – Looking out to the ocean. What’s out there?

The Heart of the Matter

Early this morning I was recalling Thict Nhat Hanh’s  English interpretation of the Heart Sutra and its place in my Bodhi Day ceremony last year. In particular, the phrase “… while practicing deeply with the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore …“, strikes a profound chord within me. I envision crawling onto the shore, nearly dead, after being adrift at sea for days as a very good visualization of Enlightenment. It’s not all that different from Siddhartha Gautama’s journey to his Enlightenment on his Bodhi Day.

The Heart Sutra is the Elevator Pitch of Buddhism, succinctly capturing its essence, its “heart”. It’s something familiar to me since my earliest memories, mindlessly chanting that Sanskrit (sometimes “mindless” is not really that great a thing … hahaha) at my family’s Shingon Mission. It wasn’t until a few years ago that the thought occurred to me to find an English translation so I could know what I was saying all those years.

And that didn’t help. “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.” What?! Since then, through hundreds of hours of contemplation, meaning in the Heart Sutra began to take shape for me. I wrote of my understanding of “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form” in two posts, No Thing Exists and Everything forms Every Thing.

Hanya Shingyo Heart Sutra
Rev. Hanamoku’s mother jotted down the Hanya Shingyo, the Japanese name for the Heart Sutra. It’s a “Japanese-ized” Sanskrit. For example, “han ya ha ra mi ta” is supposed to be “prajna paramita”, actually the sanskrit title of the Heart Sutra.

Back to “the other shore” and why that phrase in Thict Nhat Hanh’s interpretation clicked something in me.

I was born and raised on Oahu, one of the islands of Hawaii. Before moving to the Mainland in my mid twenties, I spent a total of less than a month outside of those islands over three separate trips. In my mind, Oahu seemed like it was the entire world. I recall as a very young child riding in the car with my parents around Hanauma Bay, thinking that must be the deserts I saw in cowboy movies.

Like many others born on isolated islands, or small towns, we sense that there is so much more out there. But we don’t leave. It’s a long swim or hike to whatever is out there. People on our islands and small towns need us. And we need them because they are part of us.

Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay. The desert-like Leeward side of Oahu. My mother used to sing “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” here to me when I was a very young child. Why didn’t the guy pining for Bonnie go over the ocean too?

Like a Fish out of Water

All journeys are treacherous as all of them by definition mean we’re leaving our comfort zone, the safety of what we know. The Eternal Fishnu says that in the entire history of Earth, there have been countless brave souls reaching the other shore. The fish of the Devonian, from where Fishnu first appeared, made a horrendous journey from ocean to land.

The Eternal Fishnu has told me tales of small bands of brave souls he appeared to as a blue salmon well over ten thousand years ago. They came from Asia and Europe, reached the other shore of North America, and continued Eastward or Westward, respectively. Some drowned, starved, or froze along the way. Some who actually made it to shore were greeted by the short-faced bear. Of course, brave souls continue to reach this shore today. No matter how far they got, they all found freedom.

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My Bodhi Day gear.

Bodhi Day

Very early in the morning of December 8, 2017, I left the warmth of my Airbnb log cabin, my Bodhi Tree, on a two mile hike into the dark desert to my chosen place. It was very cold and very dark. I needed absolutely no distractions, so I didn’t bring my phone, no camera, just what’s shown in the photo above.

It wasn’t just very cold and dark. I also heard rumors over the week of a cougar in the neighborhood. It is also a place filled with history of Native Americans, miners, and Mormons. If anywhere is haunted by spirits, my Bodhi place certainly is a great candidate. But I had no fear of cougars or ghosts – for Thou was with me.

I arrived at my Bodhi site, sat down on a rock, still dark, cold and very isolated. I had no idea how to begin, so I just starting playing the singing bowl (towards the left in the photo above). The sound amplified in the open desert unlike anything I’d ever heard. Soon enough, something took over.

I spent what I think was around thirty to forty-five minutes chanting, starting with the Hanya Shingyo the way I learned it and the English translation, to the Morning Star Mantra, to Psalms 23. I then closed my eyes and went into a deep meditation. There, I found myself standing on a long shore that went both ways forever as I could tell. Just off the shore were many little islands. From one of the islands I could here my name being called.

I wanted to get to the island to see who was calling me. There wasn’t any vehicle to take me there, so I would need to swim. It wasn’t a big swim, but I didn’t know how to swim. They kept calling me over. I eventually learned how to swim and made the tough but doable journey over to the island. I found it was my parents calling me.

I spent much time on that island, getting to know if very well. Periodically my parents and I would take trips to the nearby islands to visit friends and relatives. Eventually, I would hop to further islands, by myself, making friends of my own.

Until the time I found myself on an island staring off in a direction with no other islands in sight. I looked out into that endless ocean wondering what was out there. But that’s all I did. I went back to my parents’ little island, eventually finding a nearby island of my own.

The world was made up of countless islands. All those islands were worlds of their own in the most obvious sense, but the isolation seemed so artificial. Life was experienced little chunks at a time, no big picture. It was like eating a wonderful hamburger one ingredient at a time. The parts were certainly not as good as the whole hamburger, but there was comfort in the confines of those little chunks. As Siddhartha Gautama jumped from guru to guru diving all-in to what they had to teach, I went from island to island never finding the one with all the answers.

I tried to go back to the shore from which I came, but no one would let me go back there. Well then, what about that big ocean? Everyone warned me not to go there. They really didn’t know what was there. They just knew a few went a little way out and came back terrified, never to try it again, learning to be happy with their island life.

See, not everyone discouraged me from jumping out into that ocean. Some seemed curious and wanted me to go further to see what’s there so I could report back to them. The problem is that anyone who swam far enough out of sight never came back.

I jumped into the ocean heading out towards something that wasn’t just another of these islands. I wasn’t much of the way into the swim before I wondered what I had done. There I was beyond the point of no return, trapped, needing to struggle for every little breath, to stay afloat, and to ferociously battle the creatures of the deep.

As I thought I lost all hope in finding anything out there, too far to turn back, and the creatures of the deep would soon defeat me, I disengaged. I let myself settle into the calm of the deep water. Then the blue of the ocean turned into The Eternal Fishnu.

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This is from the day I met The Eternal Fishnu.

The Eternal Fishnu

“Fishnu! I’m a terrible Buddhist, probably the worst ever!”

For months I had been more cynical, dissatisfied with my accomplishments, and just about gave up hope that I would ever be happy with myself. How could anyone be further from Enlightenment?! I recalled something Ringo said, “Sometimes it’s hard tah tell a good Buddhist from a wankah.”

Fishnu asked, “Who from your daily life do you think is happy with themselves and really have things figured out?”

Many people came to mind. Those who I’ve been comparing myself to because they always seem so happy and calm. Those who started life with more than me, those who seem so comfortable with themselves and others, those who aren’t afraid to sell anything.

Fishnu said:

“There are four ways people appear happy and calm – not necessarily happy, happy at least from outside appearances. They could be Enlightened, they could have their head stuck up their ass, they could be masters of camouflage, or they could be lucky enough not to have faced genuine hardship.

“For the Enlightened, all of them have made this gruesome journey to get to the other shore. All of them left behind their comfort and faced what they thought is the Demon Mara.

“The people who have their head stuck up their ass have learned to ignore horrors, sweeping them under the rug. They are sometimes mistaken for being enlightened because they’ve indeed let go of things – which in a nutshell are all the things in the direction of the other shore. These are people who have jumped into the ocean, made some headway to the other shore, but turned back. This group accounts for well over 90% of people who appear happy and calm.

“For the masters of camouflage, virtually all creatures on Earth utilize camouflage as a very inexpensive form of weaponry in the eternal battle between predator and prey. They only appear happy and calm just as a puffer fish only appears to be big and strong. These are the poker players.

“Then there are those who have not encountered horrors – either because they are very lucky to have not bumped into any yet or they have been sheltered from it by others. The latter being the situation of Prince Siddhartha Gautama.

“During Siddhartha Gautama’s long meditation under the Bodhi Tree, he was tormented as never before by the Demon Mara. But it wasn’t a demon stopping a soon to be Buddha for whatever reason. There was no demon, just a tough journey to the other shore that all must make to see the reality of the Universe.”

With that, The Eternal Fishnu vanished and I found myself on The Other Shore. None of those islands in sight, none of those creatures of the deep either. There was just a big frontier, a dynamo of One, with no boundaries.

For what seems like eternity, I explored the big frontier of no boundaries. Nowhere to be, nothing to defend, met everything with “Is that so?” Until one day, I happened upon another shore, a shore that seemed so familiar. It was the shore where I began, before I knew anything about the islands, or the ocean, or the Other Shore. I could again see my parents calling to me from that little island. And again, I swam over, but this time knowing what is on the other shore.

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The long steady path of the Enlightened. Enlightenment is having the smarts to visit the fantastic Zion National Park.

Picking Up the Bag

I opened my eyes, awakening not just from my deep meditation sitting in the Utah desert, but from the illusion of the islands. The sun was just rising over a mesa in the distance. No Morning Star, Venus, to greet my awakening as she had done for Siddhartha Gautama, The Buddha, about 2500 years ago. I later learned that Venus actually was there, but behind the mesa. By the time she rose above the mesa, the sun was too bright in the sky to see the her. That was a little lesson driving the point home a little more.

I sat there in the desert for a few minutes, not knowing what was next until a raven flew just above my head. I told the raven that’s too cliche, too Carlos Castaneda. Nothing changed, but everything changed. I collected my things and walked back to the log cabin, back to what wasn’t “my life” anymore, but just “Life”.

We’re all unique souls and even if the end lessons are the same, we all converge to Enlightenment from different paths. And that’s the beauty of human sentience, the way each of our complex brains reflects the vastness of the One. But we must all live among the islands for a time to safely gain the skill we need to make the big journey to the other shore. Then we must fully understand that reality isn’t a bunch of fragments to experience in isolation before we want to venture out to the Other Shore.

 

 

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”.

Fishnu and Rubber Ducky bless our bento.
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:

Obutsudan we hoped to adopt.
Obutsudan #2. Mrs. Hanamoku and I were hoping to adopt this one. But I suppose someone else got it.

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:

A grand obutsudan.

The one pictured below is made from a kamaboko box!

Kamaboko box obutsudan.

Most sincere one:

cardboard_obutsudan
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.

Bodhidharma.
Here is Fishnu and Rubber Ducky communing with Bodhidharma:

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

 

What are Enemies?

Sega Lilly
Predator and Prey. Not shown are the predators of this very popular prey.

I once asked the Etnernal Fishnu, “Do you have any enemies?”

EF: By your definition, yes, I do. But ‘enemy’ is a concept with meaning only in your fragmented view of the Universe.

Me: Oooo, Oooo, Is he Lucifer, Satan … Beezlebub?! No! Mara!

EF: I know him as Master Pi Lau.

Master Pi Lau, top-left.
Master Pi Lau, top left.

Me: ‘Pie-Lau’? Is he here, on Earth now?

EF: No, ‘Pee-Lau”, and yes, he’s right here.

Me: Right where?

EF: Everywhere. He is everything I am not. Look, he’s right there.

The Eternal Fishnu pointed his fin in some abritrary direction. I looked there and saw a being that looked mostly like Fishnu, but green. I looked back towards Fishnu. “I see him! I see Master Pi Lau! I see him!” But Fishnu wasn’t there. “Fishnu! Where are you?!”

EF: I’m right here.

I turned towards Fishnu’s voice while pointing towards Master Pi Lau. But now Master Pi Lau wasn’t there.

EF: You can’t see us at the same time … we are One. When you see me, he is everything else, and when you see him, I am everything else. Without Master Pi Lau, I have no form for your human eyes to see. All that is not me, shapes me … at least here on this fragmented realm.

EF: Now, let me ask you the same question. Do you have enemies?

I thought about it for a minute.

Me: There are those who I have beefs with, but it’s always been temporary, and ‘enemy’ is much too strong a word for any of those people now.

EF: Are these people, from the present or past, evil? Perhaps they believe you to be the evil one? Did they not forge your spirit, and did you not forge theirs? No matter what our human mind may think of these ‘enemies’ the force of everything forms you.

EF: For the Enlightened, there is no concern for good or evil, better or worse. There is only evolving with the constant change driven by the Eternal Process of creation and destruction. Without which, there is nothing. If everything stopped, the Yin and Yang, the Tori and Uke … yes, conflict between ‘enemies’ … nothing is alive, there is nothing to observe and no observer. A photo has no sound, no dynamic, a Universe without churn is nothing.

EF: Friends, enemies, love, hate … if these notions are within you, you haven’t fully accepted ‘What Is’, ‘Now’. You’re still protesting to the Universe about what is before you. When you stop seeking your Paradise you will be in the Universe’s Paradise.

Predictive Models

Fishnu by our miner's lettuce
Fishnu by our miner’s lettuce

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?

How Many More Springs Would You Like?

fishnu_bulb

As I did some yard work earlier this Spring, I happened upon my friend, the Eternal Fishnu. He thanked me for planting these tulips for him to sit under.

I mentioned how fleeting it is, in fact how fleeting life is. Oh oh, I should have just shut up, because here goes Fishnu:

“Are the tulips fleeting? Is the tulip the flower? Is the tulip the leaves and the flower? Is the tulip gone after the flower withers and the leaves shrivels away? The bulb is still there. Is the tulip the bulb? Does the bulb depend on the Spring? Is the flower more the bulb or is the flower more the Spring? What happens when there are no more Springs?

“How many more Springs would you like? Ten? A thousand? A million? Are you sure? Does your human mind change as fast as the world? Or does your human mind lag, clinging to a time no longer here? Your human mind doesn’t need a million more Springs. With full attention, that is, full awakening to the Grand Process that is the Universe, full acceptance of what is, not what people say there is, there are miracles that can happen within even just one more Spring. One who is fully awakened doesn’t need centuries here. For the Awakened, just a moment will do just fine.”

The Empty Cup Trail

Old Wagon Trail at Capitol Reef.
I stumbled upon Fishnu and the Rubber Ducky Buddha of Joliet on the Old Wagon Trail at Capitol Reef.

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 (one of the nice thing about a desert with no trees … hahaha) 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.”