Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Greetings & Salutations!

"Bism Allah Ar-Rahman Ar-Raheem." "In the Name of Allah the Most Gracious the Most Compassionate." Formal correspondence from Muslims of various levels of devotion often begin with the bismallah. Without looking deeper, it is impossible to know whether the author's words are perfunctory or filled with meaning and belief. If filled with belief, still we know little about how an individual interprets those beliefs. In any case, would we ignore the message that follows the salutation?

To a nondenominational discussion group serving homeschoolers, a message was posted for the benefit of all. It began with the salutation:

Greetings in the name of the LORD! Jesus the Messiah!

Secular content about an offered activity followed.

The message sparked the following response:

Is this open to all or only Christians? The greeting is certainly off putting to those of us who follow other paths. Thank you, (signature).

and another:

I'm sure there are more people on this group that are interested in an answer to so-and-so's question (I am!). It is a legitimate question and relevant to anyone interested in the program. Would you please post an answer to the group?


  • Who offends, and who is offended?
  • Who sees something offensive?
  • Who oppresses, and who is oppressed?
Here is some additional information: The posting was by a group member on behalf of another person who wanted to make the activity available. The posting member requested that questions be directed to the originator. The posted message contained a hyperlink to the sponsoring organization's website for additional details. Within two or three clicks, the organization's professionally written vision and diversity statements were available to anyone with genuine interest. Regardless, the above messages came quickly and publicly.

  • Who has an agenda?
  • Who causes or sees division?
  • Who discriminates?
In communication, there is always the question of what is transmitted and what is received. Words and symbols are easily misinterpreted. How difficult it is to guarantee that those sides match! Knowing that, how silly is it that we sometimes cannot even move beyond the greetings and salutations to find the heart of the message itself...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Karma, Delusion, and Such

With every breath, you live an entire lifetime.

You are reborn, you live, and you die.

Between the rise and fall of just one breath, the entire universe---including every aspect of you---has changed.

Assuming another breath follows this one, your entire circumstances---where you are and what baggage you brought with you from the last breath to this one---are karma. Clinging to the thought that something remains the same or that there is somehow more than this is delusion.

Struggling with the questions such as "Why?" and "Who am I?", realizing "I don't know," and awakening to this very moment? That's one view of the practice of zen. Seeing your true nature this way frees you---but the "free" and the "you" may not be what you think they mean. Finding those meanings is, for some, also part of zen.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

What Exists?

Do dragons exist? Unicorns? Faeries?

How about good, evil, heaven, hell, gods, demons, angels, or devils?

How about the monitor, the keyboard, or the mouse?

My beliefs affect you. Your beliefs affect me. It may be convenient if our beliefs agree, but that's not a prerequisite.

An intersection with a four-way stop. She pulls into the intersection believing that he will stop. He does not. Crash!

A crowded sidewalk. She believes that if she steps on a crack, she will break her mother's back. He wonders why that lady is walking funny and holding up the flow. He is in a hurry and needs to get by. Bump...

He is afraid to ask, afraid of how she might respond.

Your acceptance, denial, or indifference toward religion won't stop the Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons from knocking on your door...

In some sense, it does not matter what I believe. If you believe in something, then that something does exist---for both of us.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Deluded Bastard Misses the Point

I heard a story of a Zen Buddhist teacher who stated his wish that he could enjoy a lifetime as a tree. In that form, he reasoned, he could be alive, present, and, more importantly for him, he would do no harm to others.

What kind of mental sickness or fundamental misunderstanding is this?!

Many Zen practitioners practice zazen, a seated meditation. By removing all distraction, including the body itself at times, and perhaps engaging the thinking mind with a well-crafted koan or other meditation to keep it productively occupied, the meditator may find his true self and expand the depth of his practice.

That's fine. But it's easy to lose sight of why we practice.

Fundamentally, Zen is about being present in each and every moment, not absent from them. It may be a paradox, but that is why, for a while, we are still. It's not to remove ourselves from existence.

So, to be a tree as to do no harm? What kind of presence is that???

Perhaps you'll be a tree that falls in a storm, crushing a passing car. Or maybe you'll become the framing of a house that bursts into flames. Maybe you'll become a baseball bat that crushes the head of a convenience store owner in a robbery. How did it feel not to have a choice and to see it all happen passively? And what did not happen while you were standing around silently pumping sap? How many sentient beings did you bring with you into enlightenment? Congratulations, short-sighted bastard.

The want to do no harm above all else is a Zen disease. It's just another attachment. The practitioner has to shed this attachment along with all the others.

So, why not do what you can to re-attach your mind to your current body and get back in the game, champ?

Good & Evil Questions

Young homeschoolers in a study group are considering the following questions. Amazing! I think the questions are valuable enough for everyone to consider---just as all of those who have come before us had.
  1. What is good?
  2. What is evil?
  3. Do absolute good and evil exist?
  4. Are only humans evil, or is there evil in nature?
  5. How do you support your views?
  6. How do you explain the fact that bad things happen to good people?
I'll give my the questions some deeper thought and post my own answers later. In the meantime, what are your thoughts?

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Keep Your Center!

Your exit is up ahead. The car in front of you is moving just a little too slowly. No problem---there's plenty of time to pass...

You do everything correctly---blinker, check mirrors, check blind spot, switch lanes, and accelerate---but then the inexplicable happens: the driver of the other car takes note of you and begins to accelerate. Somehow it's become something of a race, and if you stay in it you're going to miss your exit.

No problem: If the driver wants to go that fast, you can just drop back in behind him. Blinker, mirrors, blind spot, break, switch lanes...

And naturally, the driver slows down again resuming his previous course.

What about your attempt to pass drew the other driver to block you?

And how were you affected by the incident? Were you annoyed? Aggravated?

How many times per day do we find ourselves in similar interactions, whether anonymously as above or with people we know, losing our mental balance, allowing ourselves to be led away consciously or unconsciously by only our own thoughts?

When someone weaves through traffic and speeds by, do you immediately think "asshole!"? How long do you hold that thought as you move through your day? How does it affect your interaction with the next person you meet?

Did it occur to you that perhaps the person was rushing someone to the hospital or had some other reason for speeding by? How might your day have gone differently if you'd considered that instead?

Whether you think the worst or you think the best of the situation, though, there is still an error: You've lost your center to consider either!

"Center!" "Keep your center!" "Don't lose your center!" And there's also the converse: "Lead you're opponent's ki / energy / attack! Guide him to an off-balanced position, then throw effortlessly!"

In years and years of aikido training, both are practiced. "Leading ki" has the feeling of racing by someone with the intent to cause him to speed up too. "Keeping your center," conversely, has as an aspect not allowing yourself to be led.

But after those years and years, still I find myself aggravated in traffic! The difference is that now I catch myself there.

Mindful awareness takes practice...