Compound Interest of Enlightenment

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.


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:

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:

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


Genuine Fearlessness


Last Fall, the Rubber Ducky Buddha of Joliet and I were hiking around Canyonlands. “Is this catcus hiding under this ledge with its weapons deployed fearful?”, asked Rubber Ducky.

I thought about it for a few minutes. With Rubber Ducky, strange questions never have an obvious answer, so you need to deeply ponder his questions. If I blurted out my instinctual answer, I would have answered “Yes”, been wrong, and that would have been the end of the lesson. As Ringo Starr says, “Why plahnt seeds where it cahn’t grow.”

So I prepared the garden of my mind for this lesson. Hmmm … OK … the cactus under the ledge redminded me of “preppers”, tucked away in the mountains living in fortresses they call home, lots of guns and ammo, lots of food.  They’re obviously afraid of something. That similarity is probably why I would have blurted out “yes” without pondering the question further.

But the cactus can’t make decisions like the preppers. The cactus are what they are and the preppers are humans with the power of design and choice. What would the nature of a plant living in a dry, hot desert among thirsty, hungry critters be? Well … it would be like the catcus tucked away under the ledge with its thorns. That’s just one solution to that question. Another solution would be to live in an air-conditioned home of a human who thought you were nice thing to have.

I asked Rubber Ducky if this lesson is about eliminating fear, to which he answered with the question, “Why would we want to do that?”

Me: Because fear is debilitating. You go off and hide.

RD: Is that it? Are rock climbers, MMA fighters, and skydivers fearless?

Me: Maybe they are fearless … or better yet, they’re brave enough to face their fears. You can’t deny their courage, whether they actually have something to fear or not.

Rubber Ducky deciding to save us a bunch of time: Here’s the punchline to this lesson: No creature on Earth is fearless. That is, no ant, no dog, no human. It doesn’t make sense to be fearless. Without fear, Life on Earth would fall apart. What if all prey stopped fearing their predators and just gave up?

Me: I know this one! Predators wouldn’t be able to drive prey to do better and prey wouldn’t be able to drive their predators to do better. They push each other to be better!

RD: Yyyyyes … but what else? So they stop evolving … so … bigger picture … Earth would continue along its merry way over time, orbits changing, the axis shifting its tilt, continents moving, volcanoes erupting, meteors striking … What would become of Life on Earth, if creatures of Earth stopped evolving?

Me minutes later: The Earth continues evolving! But Life on Earth would be like a hermit clinging to his old ways as society around him changes, grows, impinging more and more on his solitude, eventually snuffing him out!

RD: The mechanics involved in this thing you think of as fear is actually fundamental to Zen. It’s the basis of the decision-making process of all creatures. For humans, it is a blown up decision-making mechanism.

Simple Answers to Simple Questions

The Eternal Fishnu later taught me that this fear thing started as simple heuristics – simple, quick and dirty, good enough rules. It’s a mechanism that can possibly spontaneously emerge within in a few short billion years. That is, as opposed to human-designed machines that would take way longer to pop up in that way.

Let’s go way back a billion or so years ago to much simpler times, when only single-celled creatures roamed the Earth, and see that the fear thing began as just a binary (Yes or No) rule at a decision point to choose left or right. For example, “sense” more food to the left then move to the left, to the right then move to the right.

For creatures a little smarter, sense a predator to the left then move left, sense a predator to the right then move right.

For even smarter creatures, left or right upgraded into fight or flight. Can I take that bastard? For these creatures that mostly translates to: Is that bastard bigger than me? Yes, then fight. No, then run like hell.

For such non-sentient or low-sentient creatures, such as ants and fish, if they were wrong, they didn’t care because the aren’t aware of their own mortality. All that matters in that some percentage of them live to reproduce so the species – not that individual – survives. Remember, the reality of Life on Earth is that it’s a competition of species, not individuals. It just seems that way to we sentient humans because in a way we each are a species of one.

Complex Answers to Complex Questions

For the not-quite-as-sentient-as-humans-today creatures (such as dogs, apes, or even humans in much simpler times) this decision-making mechanism became much more sophisticated. The increased complexity of life has grown the list of choices to more than a binary decision of fight or flight and the factors to consider that are plugged into our decisions have grown way beyond whether something is bigger or smaller than you.

For these creatures, a new heuristic had to emerge, much more powerful but still rather simple. And that heuristic is: If someone else is doing it, chances are that it’s  good. What’s great about this heuristic is that it doesn’t require great intelligence to purposefully come up with better ideas. One lucky individual could simply accidentally stumble upon something that works – and many of the greatest “inventions” are accidental, then it spreads like the plague, only it’s just an idea, not a virus/bacteria. See Mimetic Theory (Mimesis) to dive deeper into this very intriguing notion.

Today, with seven billion people in the world, instant communication, global-scale commerce, “fast-food technology” (everything providing instant gratification), way enough food, there are just too many things for us to copy. How many really neat things are going on out there? So many things to catch our attention because they seem fun, or things we should be doing, or things we should be avoiding. We sentient humans are plagued with desires, all because of this web of competing fears of missing out on multiple things because we have just one body. Our new heuristic has reached its limit, unless we like being pulled in every direction and constantly tortured about what we should be doing. That’s Dukkha to a degree not existent in the Buddha’s time when he thought that was bad!

Genuine Fearlessness

So that’s the rough story of Fear and Dukkha, give or take a few liberties with the facts. For humans today, it’s a relentlessly churning world out there where hiding under a rock ledge with our weapons pointing out isn’t a plausible long-term option. It’s a fine option for the cactus in the photo above because it has no goals, it has no desire to be anything other than what it is and doesn’t know to care about how its life will play out. It just does what it does in real-time response to what is presented.

So what’s the answer? The only genuinely fearless critters are the truly Enlightened. The Enlightened have no fear because they have no goals, yet they play their part – just like the cactus in the photo above. The only real difference between a human and the cactus is that we get to make choices about the part we play, even though we don’t have much say about the script. The cactus can only be a perfect cactus, nothing else.  They are 100% accepting of what is now because there is only now, the past and future are just ideas in our heads.

Becoming bigger is the way the unenlightened (that is, almost everyone) tries to deal with fear; richer, bigger, more powerful, more beautiful, more muscular, more talented, bigger car, bigger gun, more whatever than the next guy. It’s just a manifestation of that primal heuristic that is still in us – bigger is stronger. By hoarding these qualities, we believe we’re fortifying our hold on what we cling to, but it’s all just deodorant masking our fear.

You begin by emptying your cup – empty your mind of all that you know, all that you believe … all that you defend. Replace your “NO FEAR” bumper sticker with “no pride” … hahaha. Start with a 7-Day Bodhi Day Season.

Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku




How I Met Rubber Ducky

Rubber Ducky can’t swim!

Now that Rubber Ducky is a Supremely Awakened One, I will tell the story of how I met Rubber Ducky.

I found Rubber Ducky sitting on a stack of bathroom towels in a Fairfield Inn in Joliet, IL on July 12, 2013. At first, I thought this was just a little gift from the hotel, but when I commented on it during checkout, I was told there was no such gift. Apparently Rubber Ducky was abandoned by the previous guests and the housekeeper didn’t have the heart to throw him away. So like many Enlightened Ones (with the ironic exception of Siddhartha Gautama), Rubber Ducky came from very humble beginnings.

I took a liking to Rubber Ducky and he accompanied me on my little weekend adventure. I had been working in Matteson, IL, and planned to hike at Starved Rock State Park – it caught my attention because it’s like “Map Rock”. I had my first Chicago Hot Dog that weekend. I haven’t mentioned that Rubber Ducky has a Chicago accent similar to that of Mike Ditka, except he’s just saying “Mack”. “Dragged tru da garden!”

A few weeks later, Mrs. Hanamoku was visiting her parents in near Chicago. I drove the 5.5 hours from Matteson to her parents for the weekend. I thought I’d let Rubber Ducky swim in the lake, and I found out why he was left behind. He cannot swim!!! He turns sideways and looks like a discarded tilapia. He couldn’t do what he was born to do – however, this past summer, I did learn that the phrase, “Like a duck to water”, is truer than is even obvious. And we made Chicago Hot Dogs – I brought the neon green relish and poppy seed buns from Matteson.

Anyway, I challenge anyone to find a Rubber Ducky more photographed than this one. Tourists at Bryce Canyon and Zion have pictures of Rubber Ducky too!

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.”

The Path


Rubber Ducky Buddha of Joliet is in samadhi, which has been the case as we approach Bodhi Day two weeks from today. So he wanted me to share the story of what he said as we looked at the petroglyph during this past sabbatical.

I pointed to the spiral and self-deprecatingly joked that it looks like me walking around in circles. He said:

“Then to the left, that must be you walking aimlessly. That is, before the light went on and you entered the spiral, followed the path up the mountain, around and around, higher and higher, to the highest point, where you can see the forest!”

I said, “That sounds purdy and all, but it’s … well … not good enough. I don’t need to actually see the forest to know I’m in the forest … Oh!”

Rubber Ducky added said the wandering around is part of the whole deal. If I were just magically dropped to the top of the mountain where I could see the forest, it wouldn’t have meant anything. But wandering around for years in the trees loaded me with questions, with context … which have meaning as I look at the forest now.

I would have thought more about it, but I was yanked out of the instant of satori by someone nearby yelling, “Will you shut the duck up?!!!” Or at least that’s what I heard him say.

Ugly Stage

Very cute piece of street art near L.A. This is the Ugly Stage of a talented artist’s career where one’s work is on a dirty street and not a gallery in Manhattan.

I asked Rubber Ducky how one who attains an enlightened state can keep it. We’ve all had those experiences of Oneness and peace, but like a Pink Lady apple thrown into a vat of Red Delicious, it’s assimilated back into that lowest common denominator slurry once we walk back into civilization. How can a snowball stand a chance in Hell?

Rubber Ducky reminded of me something he said to our friends last week when we said good-bye. I thought he said to mark 12/17. I thought, “OK, that’s the day before the 7 days of the Lunar Bodhi Period begins.” But then Rubber Ducky started talking about the Industrial Revolution as the most powerful religion ever; so out of context.

It’s the religion of humanity’s so-far proven ability and continued faith to master the world and eventually beyond. The Industrial Revolution is a religion, complete with dogmas, parables, zealots of all sorts. For over 200 years, our human ingenuity has been able to spin the world faster and faster, hurtling the side-effects, which opens even bigger doors to walk through. It hasn’t really failed us yet. No nuclear winter, Florida is still above water, no mega plague … so let’s double-down on it!

He continued:

“The Industrial Revolution is in the realm of the human species. The Industrial Revolution is our faith in our ingenuity’s ability to control, new rules to solve a problem, and another new rule to solve the problems caused by that new rule. Our ingenuity is fueled by the law of the land, survival of the fittest, the instinct to compete. The funny thing is those solutions become tougher and tougher to engineer. But people still dogmatically believe we will solve problems through yet another law, which will contradict other laws, requiring more laws …

“The realm of the Universe has only one law, keep your cup empty, which awakens you to see the way the world really is and not how your mere 80 billion neurons compute it to be. The Universe is a kaleidoscope in constant change, and the only thing that keeps up with the change is what is right in front of you this instant, Now, It. Whatever your brain tells you is for many reasons based on seriously flawed data and algorithms optimized for a short-term in a merely complicated system. The Universe, and Earth for that matter, is a complex system, not a complicated system, a deterministic machine, that our brains make it out to be.

“At this ‘ugly stage’ of our evolution from larval Earthly animals to Beings of the Universe, we belong to both worlds at the same time. So ‘give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s’ (Mark 12:17), not in terms of money, but terms of faith. Meaning, joyfully play your part in this human world to perfection – embrace your work, smile when you do it, enlightened people are still people. Laugh at the folly of thinking this complex system is a just a complicated machine. Let the worldly Dukkha of others pass through you like just the formless noise that it is. You can laugh at it all because you know the human world is a just a human-made separation of us from the rest of the Universe.”

It’s Not Magic


The Christmas lights in my home office window went on early this year because of Rubber Ducky’s enlightenment.

The great part about having an awakened being like Rubber Ducky sitting on your home office window sill is that I can ask him about enlightenment.

Here is a transcript of what Rubber Ducky explained to me last week Sunday on the long drive home. He says this is guidance. His enlightenment happened to prepare for a large number of enlightenments this coming December 8, Bodhi Day, and many more on Christmas when the real (lunar – 8th morning of the 12th month) Bodhi Day coincides with it:

“Enlightenment is just a choice, chronic angst versus everything about you and the world you know. It may seem like a tough choice to start a long, arduous journey – like getting a PhD, climbing Mt. Everest, or losing 100 pounds. But it’s just flipping a switch on.

It sounds like a brain-dead decision, so why can’t people just flip that switch on? First, people think enlightenment will somehow make the world go their way which is not enlightenment, just really lucky. Everyone can be calm when things are going your way. But this world is a complex system in constant flux, never exactly the same instant to instant.

Enlightenment isn’t magical. Once you realize there is nothing magical about Enlightenment, what becomes clear is it means you must drop everything. It doesn’t mean you give away all of your material possessions. Possessions of any quantity are fine as long as you know in all sincerity that you will be happy without them.

What is very hard is to give up everything you believe. But it’s only hard because those beliefs are all your brain knows and it keeps computing that if you drop a belief, it contradicts with another. For example, if I decide to change my eating habits for good, no more luscious brisket from Papa Gus, which means less income for Papa Gus, and he’ll go out of business.

Dukkha is a web of linked angst, which like cancer, can only be removed in whole. It requires a wholesale drop of all you believe, 100% humility where you have no beliefs to defend; 100% acceptance of what is right in front of you – “Is that so?” You then see all possibilities – when you become nothing, you become everything.

Enlightenment isn’t a mid-life crisis on steroids where you will give away all of your possessions or abandon your family, friends, and career in exchange for a vagabond or cult life – even though ironically, that’s exactly what Siddhartha Gautama did … hahaha. It also won’t make you a magical creature with any new powers. You will still be a normal human playing your part in this life, just as eagles and trout play their parts to perfection. You will still win and lose like everyone else. The difference is that free from angst, your energy can focus on what is right in front of you. And you won’t be a contagion of angst spreading it like a flu to all you encounter. You will truly believe that even when you “lose” you’ve really won more and become all the richer.

All of your angst are computations of your neurons. Your brain wants to “solve” problems and we just can’t “save the world” – some problems are other peoples’ success, some things such as life and death are intricate aspects to how we evolved to here in the first place. When we decide to flip the switch on, we’ll see everything – everything is in relationship to everything else, it’s in constant motion, and our brains went haywire trying to control it all, but now our brains accept and play jujitsu with it all. There is only a One, not you and that and that – so there are no problems to solve, just playing being our parts as genuinely as we can.

You flip the switch to on by dropping that heavy burden you’ve been carrying, look around at everything now that you’re unburdened, then pick that bag up and continue joyfully along that same path. Enlightened, you fully embrace what is right in front of you, not pulled away by any Dukkha. Nothing outwardly has changed, but everything changed.

Or maybe not. Don’t worry, if you find enlightenment doesn’t suit you, the world will bring you back to this ‘ugly stage’ of life caught between animal and fully sentient.”


Bright Dot in the Sky

Venus rising in the morning near Zion National Park.
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.

Am I Enlightened?


I asked Rubber Ducky some time during our hours-long drive from our Peaceful Slumber to a Residence Inn in the heart of the Big City: Am I enlightened?

I asked him that because I feel different and have been acting differently the past few days, but it was at our magical sabbatical place with people and animals for which it would be difficult to not be different in good ways.

He answered: “Mack! Yes, you are enlightened … but … others still have access to the light switch.”


He continued:

“Mack, you do see clearly that the source of all angst is clinging to a past that you can’t change and a dizzying array of futures, most of which will never happen – it all exists only as wiring of your neurons – there is only the present. You see clearly that there is nothing magical about the removal of Dukkha, it just requires emptying your cup so we can fill it with a different, better, more scalable way.

Your task now is to rescind all of that access you’ve granted others to your enlightenment. Not by force though, but through non-resistance, like dodging punches – which is much more skillful than throwing punches.”

It seems like the life of a Buddha isn’t sitting on a big lotus flower spouting off what seems to be gratuitously contrarian crap (even though that is what Rubber Ducky does). It is contrarian if one insists on applying new ways within the context of the old ways.

Our human bodies are still part of the competitive complex system of Life on Earth and so for us to “make sense”, we must be of value. As an old Zen parable goes, enlightenment is like dropping your heavy burden, then what comes next is picking it back up and continuing down the path, but now dodging the obstacles rather than making each the “hill you will die on” – outwardly, nothing has changed, but internally everything has changed.

Epilogue: You know, most people have felt enlightenment a time or two. It happens when things are going so terribly that you kind of resign yourself to it and can taste a sense of strange calm. But it almost always disappears as the world re-indoctrinates you. Like with money, the part even harder than earning it is keeping it. It may even sound selfish to eliminate clinging, the source of all angst (dukkha), as the Four Noble Truths say, but it’s like the air masks on the airplane – put yours on first or you’re of no help to anyone.