Everything Forms Every Thing

img_4577

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

No Thing Exists

dsc089811
No Thing here today will be there in a geological blink of an eye.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See

img_6197

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

Three Zen Stories

stay-on-the-path

As with all old stories, Zen stories have spawned very many variations. I’ve chosen to take many liberties, recounting the stories in less “dated” (i.e.. “… a samurai entered a tea house …”) fashion. These three Zen stories are the foundation of Fishnu’s teaching. They are extremely powerful, and at first sound simply like “Ah, that’s a nice way to see it” stories.

My intent is that your perception of these stories will change along with you as you become better at being Now. They are also presented in the order by which one encounters them, in a highly iterative way, on the path of Enlightenment:

  1. The Empty Cup – Before we can transform, we must let go of all our clinging, our dukkha.
  2. Is That So – Enlightenment is 100% acceptance of what is.
  3. The Man with the Bag – This Universe is driven by change. We become Enlightened so we can move on without Dukkha.

The Empty Cup

An expert C# programmer needed to update his skillset to that of the new functional programming paradigm. He found a master Haskell programmer who invited him over for coffee. After filling the C# programmer’s cup with coffee the master Haskell programmer asked if he would like to try yerba mate. The C# programmer enthusiastically said yes, to which the master Haskell programmer began filling the coffee cup, beyond full, with a mix of coffee and yerba mate spilling out all over.

The C# programmer shouted, “Are you crazy? The cup is already full! And the coffee is mixed up with the yerba mate!”

The master Haskell programmer replied, “Before you can enjoy yerba mate, you must first empty your cup of the coffee.”

Is That so?

A junior IT worker found the root cause of a security leak coming from a new graph database. Being new to graph databases, he failed to secure one part correctly. He reported to the executives that it was the fault of this new graph database technology which was championed by this master programmer named Hakuin.

The executives stormed Hakuin’s cubicle, chastising him for getting them to adopt this newfangled technology. “What were you thinking?! No one was ever fired for going with SQL Server! Idiot!” They demoted him to an entry-level developer in one of the most troubled departments, with absolutely no visibility to the executives. When they asked him to sign a paper agreeing to the demotion, Hakuin simply replied, “Is that so?”, and signed the paper.

Over the next two years Hakuin implemented his graph technology and that once troubled department now became the most integral department, the focal point of strategic intelligence. The company, once “David”, was on its way to becoming “Goliath”. Hakuin himself became a highlight recruiting tool for top programmer talent at that company.

But rather than recognize Hakuin’s achievement, the executives placed their own team there, taking it from Hakuin. All he had to say was, “Is that so?”

The Man with the Bag

A newly-minted IT engineer grew weary of the stress of two-week delivery cycles, one immediately after another. But there was a senior IT engineer in full concentration working away, fully focused yet somehow unstressed.

The younger IT engineer approached the cubicle of the senior engineer and asked, “How is it that you are still so focused on this work after years at this sweatshop pace? I can see peace but full attention in your eyes.”

The senior engineer simply turned away from his monitor towards the young engineer, with his calm smile.

“I see!!”, the young engineer cried. “What comes after?!”

The senior engineer, turned back to his monitor and continued his work.

What are Enemies?

img_7353
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.

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.

How I Met Rubber Ducky

img_0709
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!

Which Way Do We Go?

img_9059

On our last hike at Redfish Lake last week, The Eternal Fishnu swam onto this trail sign (he swims through air, space, things …) and said:

“There is really an arrow pointing in EVERY direction, including upwards, downwards, and even through more dimensions. But for your flesh and blood vehicle, not all directions are available. This is by design with no malice intended. It trains your sentience to be fully accepting of what is at your Now, and that is the point of this life on Earth. The point is not to conquer others, generate great wealth, fame, not even health. No matter how powerful, rich, famous, and healthy one may be, they will be as miserable as anyone if they lack the skill for full acceptance. So don’t scatter your attention towards all those countless others pursuing their thing. Be the master of full acceptance of what is now, and you will see the entire Universe. You will know you are this master when you are fully at peace – and that’s the real treasure. A master of Zen hasn’t given up, hasn’t fully capitulated to life. A master of Zen has conquered chaos, the most powerful force out there for an emergent sentience.”