Day 6 – Bodhi Day Season 2017 – Perfection

Bodhi Day Christmas Cookie, Bodhisattva of Perfection

Today, December 23, is day 6 of 7 of the Lunar Bodhi Season of 2017, which began December 18 with the 12th New moon of 2017.

The 6th of the Bodhisattvas to go into the world providing guidance is the Bodhisattva of Perfection. What better way is there to illustrate perfection, especially near Christmas, than with the Cross of Christ depicted on the Bodhisattva. Six is a “perfect number”, all of its divisors except itself adds up to itself; 6 = 1 + 2 + 3. The next perfect number is 28 = 1 + 2 + 4 + 7 + 14.

After we drop the burdens of our mind’s delusions, we are enlightened and we find ourselves on a Path. Reverend Dukkha says that is enlightenment, so a path towards what? A path to Perfection of Being in the Now. All we’ve done so far is we’ve demoted our fragmented, illusory symbolic thinking from CEO of our lives to some sort of Vice President and installed a completely different CEO, one who focuses solely on Now. A CEO who is unimpeded by the torment of the old delusions of the past and future our old way conjured up. Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer is a perfect example. He was the keeper of the “old” proprietary “software as a product” paradigm, and he has been replaced by Satya Nadella for the new open-sourced ” … <fill in the blank> as a service …” paradigm. The firing of Steve Ballmer was Microsoft’s enlightenment, but just the starting point of the swing from the stock hovering from $20-$30 for over a decade to the $80 range it lives at now and a genuine player in the Big Data Era.

It’s critical to note that unlike completely firing Steve Ballmer, we demoted Symbolic Thinking from CEO to a VP. Enlightened or not, we are creatures produced from the process of evolution happening on planet Earth. We still live here amongst creatures, including humans who still think in the old Symbolic way and are in the vast majority. We exist in a world to which in profound ways we don’t quite fit in anymore. We still need Symbolic Thinking to live in this world, but it doesn’t run our show anymore.

There are a couple things I’d like to get out of the way before we get to what’s after enlightenment. It may seem selfish to be so concerned with our own angst and not the angst of people worse off than us or the condition of the world in general. Firstly, we can best help others with our angst out of the way, like removing a heavy weight tied to you as you save someone from drowning. This is like putting your air mask on (the flight attendant “… in the event of a loss of cabin pressure …” speech) before you can help others with their air masks. Your instincts will tell you to put your child’s mask on first, but there can be complications that could be dealt with better if you’re secured first. Secondly, there are many ways to help others. I personally like to help (mentor) people one on one with developing technical skill for their careers. I like to build strong relationships with people I can help since what I’m teaching them is tough and requires a heavy commitment. Everyone is on different paths and can be helped in different ways. So, consider it a given that with your enlightenment you will help others, to be over value, in some way.

After a few miles down the path of Enlightenment towards Perfection, you will discover a few clinging ties you failed to sever as an oversight or even sort of on purpose. The thing about the things we cling to, our Dukkha, is that like everything else in the Universe, they are highly interconnected. Nothing, including a clinging thread, exists all by itself in a vacuum. Even one remaining cling will lead to bringing back another, then another, and another, until you’re back to the Dukkha-ridden state from where you began.

You may also not be aware of all the things we cling to resulting in Dukkha. For example, it’s easy to see that we can cling to things from the past that haunt us. We can deal with those by forgiving those involved as well as ourselves. Forgiveness is tough enough in itself, sometimes it can take decades to forgive someone! But believe it or not, it is still the easiest of the clinging we must discard.

We know that imagined predictions of the future based on our past experience haunt us. We can deal with that in “A Beautiful Mind” way, just constantly telling ourselves those are just predictions and are not real, most will never happen. “I have been though some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” – Mark Twain.

Still harder to understand, although familiar, is clinging to what I call bedazzlement – addictions to fun stuff. Addictions, even to non-destructive stuff, are the most paradoxical clingings. With addictions, we’re unhappy when we don’t have them and we’re unhappy when we have them because we’re already worried about when it’s over and/or the price we have to pay. Now, we’ve all dealt with addictions, so what’s so hard to understand? Some addictions are generally considered virtues, abstracted to the high of winning pissing contests of all sorts – closing a big sale, beating someone at a game. How could these be thrown in the same addiction bucket as say alcohol addiction? They are all driven by the same the high rewards mechanism that drove us thousands of years ago to do a crazy thing like chase down a 1000 pound wildebeest. Whether vanquishing a bear from your camp or an artificial drug high, it’s the same “pleasure center”.

It’s really hard to imagine a life not in pursuit of bedazzlement since it can seem like “that’s what life is all about”. As I’ve mentioned before, I couldn’t imagine a life without sugar, but learned it’s actually a small price to pay for even-keeled dieting. The same goes for bedazzlement. I’d forsake any bedazzlement to be dukkha-less, even-keeled, but yet on a path towards being of insanely more value to people.

But the hardest clinging to throw out are our beliefs. Our beliefs in what we see as good/bad, possible/impossible, proper/improper – all those things that we believe to be who we are. In general, all the logical calculations of our brain based on our experiences (old data). Even the current data our senses take in is limited to what is around us. Although this is the toughest of the clingings to throw out, it is the fast-track to Enlightenment – not decades of therapy, meditation. How can you get on that fast track? With full, no-BS, intent to empty your cup of everything, shut the f*** up, and listen to what’s around you, not just what your brains wants to hear – more on that tomorrow.

When you are enlightened, you will not be whisked away to some magical land. You will still be just where you are, nothing has changed … but yet again, everything has changed. This example may escape Millennials, but similar to the Steve Ballmer example earlier, Enlightenment is like replacing the text-based DOS operating system on your PC with the graphics-based Windows operating system back in the early 1990s. It’s important to note that the PC didn’t change at all, but the way you interacted with it changed profoundly. The main thing that has changed with your enlightenment is that you don’t judge things as chores and responsibilities on one side and fun stuff on the other side. You recognize that there is no good without bad, no left without right, no fun without drudgery – you accept both as you would accept both sides of the coin – how could you accept just one side of a coin?

OK, here we are, so what is after enlightenment? What’s next is continuing on the path, the path to Perfection of being in the Now. The path to being perfectly attuned to what is happening right Now, a 100% awareness of your surroundings, a 100% acceptance of what is right in front of you, and 100% engagement. Enlightenment is just cutting off the things you cling to, those things that made you a wobbly wheel. Now that you have your air mask on, you will not flail about, but can now help others with their masks, help resolve the problem, and help prepare for what is to come.

Here is a Zen story: Two top samurai were about to contest each other. They met out in public and a crowd gathered. They both drew their swords and took a stance. Minutes passed by and nothing happened – they stood stoically in that position all that time. The two samurai then simultaneously withdrew their swords, bowed to each other and left. The crowd cheered at the wonderful match!

To the unenlightened, that story sounds like a ton of crap! I mean, in what Universe could that be such a wonderful spectacle? Well, in the Universe of the Enlightened. Both samurai were such impeccable masters of being in the present that neither lost his focus giving the other the opportunity to strike. They were Perfectly attuned to Now. It wasn’t a draw, it was perfection. How did they get there?

All Zen practitioners have an “art” they practice. In the past the most well-known is the art of the samurai, the noble servant-soldier, particularly their martial arts such as archery and sword fighting. Calligraphy, the tea ceremony, dance, were others. However, every skill is a Zen art. For me, it happens to be building intelligent computer systems. Think of these arts as an active meditation, as opposed to the sitting (zazen) meditation we’re familiar with.

A curious aspect of the practice of the Zen art is that the Zen masters continue to further master it even after everyone would agree they were the best ever. To the unenlightened, this doesn’t make sense. Why continue after you’re the best by far, having vanquished all comers? Monetize it for all it’s worth! Move on to conquer new worlds! For one, a Zen master has absolutely no interest in being the best. A Zen master has no interest in worldly pursuits. That’s because the purpose of practicing the art isn’t to master the art but to master the focus of your attention to Now – even if your skill with that art is far unsurpassed. The unenlightened see no difference between a software engineer who does it because she either enjoys software engineering or just makes a living at it, versus a software engineer to uses the intense skills to hone her focus on the present.

I’m very fortunate in that my chosen Zen art is also the way I make a living. But what about those who aren’t “passionate” about what they do for a living? In a sense, that’s good, because it’s easier to be at peace when you’re in a situation you like. For example, it’s easy to be at peace in a monastery than in a cubicle with ten other people within a ten foot radius of you. If you don’t particularly like your work, you have more incentive to seek refuge in Now … hahaha.

The Zen art is what is called a “Kata” in Japanese martial arts. It is a sequence of movements, like a dance, that a practitioner of judo, aikido, karate practices to perfection. The practitioner is able to build skill because the kata draws a safe box around the real world (the safety of the dojo and a specific set of movements) so you can focus on the movements. Imagine trying to practice karate in the chaotic crowds of Downtown Manhattan. However, although the katas are supposed to simulate real fights, the real world always has other plans. In fact, in most “street fights” the discipline of the martial art goes out the window if the opponents are rather equal in skill. For that reason, in addition to practicing katas, there is randori, roughly speaking, free-fighting as opposed to the complete choreography of the kata. Now, in modern society, we can’t do real randori (aka street fight), so the randori in the dojo has to do.

In my case, I build my intelligent systems on my development machines – kata. It meets specifications – functional requirements, performance, etc. But I still need to deploy it into the real world of “production”, randori, where thousands of people, not a few, will use it, it will interact with other systems, it will be exposed to hackers. Things WILL happen – things will break, blame will be tossed about, careers will be damaged. And that’s great because it’s the only way I can test the results of my kata efforts. I then modify my kata accordingly.

But again, remember, what the enlightened practice to perfection is not the skill itself, but the focus on the present. Outwardly, no one will see the difference. In the end, the work will get done from either point of view. Value will be provided. It’s just that the Enlightened will truly relish it all, not like some masochist relishes pain, but in 100% honesty of what Is.

A tiger is born a perfect tiger, making a living as a tiger. So too is a deer born a perfect deer, making a living as a deer. Humans are born perfect humans, but not with an innate way to make a living, as do tigers and deer. They don’t think about being tigers and deer, they just be tigers and deer. Our shtick is we can hone ourselves to be whatever we need to be at the time and place of our existence. We don’t depend on Nature to train us for our “vocation”. Our Zen art is this training Nature let us choose for ourselves, to hone our way to make a living and be One with it.

Tomorrow, the last full day of the Bodhi Season, we will meet the last Bodhisattva, the Bodhisattva of the Enso, the Path.

With that, here are the first six lines of the “Great Blue Heron Sutra”, given to me by Rubber Ducky:

[1] Infinity is all that is real, it is indivisible, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
[2] Dukkha results from the interference from our intent to treat Phenomena as if it is separate from the Infinity. We remove Dukkha by following the path towards perfectly blending in with the Universe with 100% acceptance of what Is.
[3] The Universe is a complex system and beyond the total control of anything. I will walk the path with no expectations. “Is that So?”, I will say at every turn.
[4] The reality of forms that we believe in is just a model of the world in our brains. It is a pitifully inadequate model as the only adequate model is the One itself. Our reality of forms is a delusion.
[5] Keep your mind empty, never judgmental, never opinionated, expect nothing.
[6] My only intent is to perfect my focus on the Now, so that I may be of value.

Keep Calm, Merry On!
Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku
Ordained Zen Priest of the Order of the Common Area Ponds

Links to each of the Bodhi Season 2017 days: