Posts in the “zen” category

If you want to understand all the Buddhas ...

“If you want to understand all the Buddhas of the past, present and future, then you should view the nature of the universe as created by mind alone.”

I have often wondered how you should interpret this quote. This article titled, Created By Mind Alone, provides more hints on how to interpret it.

You can’t light a lamp, there’s no oil in the house (poem)

This is a poem by the seventeenth-century monk Yinyuan Longqi. I just saw it in this article about a Zen teacher who had a panic attack.

This is an interesting quote: “I practiced in the midst of a pounding heart, with crazy energy running through my body and a strong aversion to these feelings. In the midst of panic, I could feel that it was fundamentally a physical sensation of hyper-arousal and that if I allowed that energy to course, with attention and a minimum of aversion, something interesting happened.”

Albert Einstein, Zen Master?

Knowing of my interest in Zen, a friend of mine sent me this photo of a letter from Albert Einstein to a parent grieving after the loss of a child:

Albert Einstein, Zen Master

If you know something about Zen, you know that Einstein is writing about the “oneness” of the universe. Zen tries to teach us about this through techniques like Zen Meditation (zazen), and the concept of all things being interdependent.

On mindfulness, and becoming a teenager again

I was walking down the sidewalk last night, really trying to feel my surroundings — trying to be my surroundings — when in an instant I was one of the teenagers in a group walking in front of me. It was a flood of feelings and emotions that I haven’t felt in a long time, a mix of joy, curiosity, uncertainty, and more. It wasn’t overwhelming, but afterwards it felt like Neo’s “whoa.”

I don’t know how long it lasted, whether it was an instant or a few moments — it was one of those things where if you don’t think about it maybe it keeps going, but once you think about it, it’s over — but for that short period of time I was that other person. I have no idea what the body normally known as “me” did in that time. If the event had lasted longer it could have walked into a tree or onto the street for all my consciousness would have known.

This mindfulness/awareness thing is kinda trippy.

~ April 12, 2017 #LucidDream

A dog, meditating

When my dog Zeus was alive, he'd join me while I was meditating. That's what this photo reminds me of.

Proper mindfulness technique: Not judging what you see, stake out your inner experience

I like this description of the proper mindfulness technique:

“Not judging what you see, not considering it good or bad, just seeing what you see, with interest ... staking out your inner experience, like a wildlife photographer in an exotic location, waiting for the moment to snap.”

I don’t know who the speaker is, but I heard that on a Buddhify recording.

~ a note from April 9, 2015

Equanimity definition (and equanimity vs indifference or apathy) (Shinzen Young quote)

The following is a definition of equanimity, and how equanimity differs from indifference or apathy. The entire quote comes from Shinzen Young:

“Many people get confused about what equanimity is and what it isn’t. Here are some examples that may help clarify.

Equanimity can be deepened by relaxing tension around pain, such as the pain of a broken leg. But equanimity does not mean that you don’t care about getting proper medical attention, such as getting a cast.

Equanimity means opening up to angry sensations that may arise during an argument. But equanimity does not mean that you should stay in a bad relationship.

Steve Jobs: “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool”

In terms of being a nice person, Steve Jobs may have been the worst Buddhist in the history of the world, but he captures the Zen/Buddhist essence in this quote:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Photo from, words from Steve Jobs.

Not touching your face in public reminds me of trying to meditate at a Zen center

These days whenever my face itches when I’m out in public and I can no longer scratch it, it reminds me of the early days of trying to meditate at a Zen center. You’re sitting there with a group of people and it’s absolutely quiet, and you’re trying to meditate, with your legs crossed and your hands in the “cosmic mudra” in your lap, and then something somewhere on your body starts to itch. But you’re not allowed to scratch it, you’re not even supposed to move.

If the itch is on your face you might kinda look around a little bit to see if anyone is looking at you — especially the Zen master with the wooden board. If nobody is looking, you can try to contort your facial muscles in different ways to relieve the itch. One time I tried to curl my lips in a weird way to blow some air up onto my itchy cheek, but in a large, quiet room with a wooden floor, that was surprisingly loud.

So in general, you’re pretty hosed, you just have to sit there and suffer, hoping it will go away, just like when you get an itch on your face when you’re shopping now.

New Heart Sutra translation by Thich Nhat Hanh

This image is part of a new Heart Sutra translation by Thich Nhat Hanh. “New” is a relative term, because it looks like this translation happened in 2014, but it was just released in 2020 by Plum Village. Here’s a link to the complete translation, and here’s a letter that describes why this translation was made. The first paragraph of the letter begins:

“Thay needs to make this new translation of the Heart Sutra because the patriarch who originally compiled the Heart Sutra was not sufficiently skilful enough with his use of language. This has resulted in much misunderstanding for almost 2,000 years.”

I don’t know many sutras, but the Heart Sutra is my favorite, so it’s interesting to see this new translation.

Some of Shinzen Young’s sayings in the first core lessons of the Brightmind app

As a “note to self,” I like some of Shinzen Young’s sayings/analogies/metaphors in the first core lessons of the Brightmind app. The ones that come to mind are:

  • Try to listen to your mental talk in your head just like it’s a sound in nature, like listening to a bird. In this way, “you” can observe the thoughts in your head as the fly by, without getting attached to them.
  • In regards to your awareness, you can think of it in two different ways: (a) aiming your attention at a spot/area, or (b) hugging a friend.

For more details, check out the Brightmind app.

Dipa Ma: The Life and Legacy of a Buddhist Master

Although a small woman physically, Dipa Ma was a giant of a meditation teacher.

While reading a book about her, it’s neat to see that while people use different practices and words, those who “go deep” all come to the same conclusion. This is a quote from her in the book, Dipa Ma: The Life and Legacy of a Buddhist Master:

“At each stage of enlightenment the fetters (hindrances) are extinguished, until (one day) they are gone. The fetters are related to birth in the same way that oil feeds the light of a lamp. As the oil becomes less and less, the light from the wick becomes less and less. When the oil is gone, the light is gone. Similarly, once the fetters are extinguished, the cycle of rebirth ends. From this, you can understand that birth and rebirth are in your hands.”

Emptiness vs interdependence in Buddhism

I’ve often wondered about the difference between the terms emptiness and interdependence in Buddhism, and came across this excellent Accidental Buddhist blog post recently, which includes this paragraph about a conversation the Dalai Lama had:

“In the course of one of these conversations, His Holiness tells Victor Chan that for decades he has meditated every day on interconnectedness and emptiness. He said that there are two types of reality. Firstly, there is ‘standard’ reality. He gestures towards a mug of water. When we look at it we see water. When we touch it we feel water. We know it is water. But then he described how we can look at it with ‘ultimate’ reality in which the mug is a combination of particles, atoms, electrons and quarks — none of these particles can be described as ‘a mug’. The term mug is just an every-day label for this collection of particles. The mug has come into existence because of a complex web of causes and conditions. Therefore it does not and could not exist independently. It cannot come into being by itself, of its own volition. It is empty of intrinsic, inherent existence. In other words, ‘empty’ is another word ‘interdependent.’”

We all tend to see ourselves as distinct entities; we are different from our friends and family. Due to our conditioning we believe we are distinct and independent, but in fact our existence depends on an infinite, intricately linked series of events, causes and conditions. (Your parents, grandparents, friends, where you were born and lived, and millions of other things.) If any of these conditions had varied, we would exist in a wholly different way. From this perspective, ‘self’ and ‘others’ makes sense only in terms of relationships. In fact, your interests and my interests are inextricably connected in a tangible way. The Dalai Lama concluded his discussion by emphasizing that anyone could obtain happiness and fulfillment by focusing on two main elements: compassion and emptiness.

He continued, “Normally we tend to see things in a solid, tangible way. Therefore there is a tendency to grasp at things, to become attached to things. We cling to the idea of a separate self and separate things. We strive for new experiences, new acquisitions. Yet as soon as we possess them, the buzz is gone and we look for something new. This endless cycle of craving causes suffering”.

Life - It's all connected

Back when I was studying Zen, I ran across the television series, Life. The first episode is almost perfect; this is a 40-second clip from it: