Posts Tagged ‘Zen’


January 30, 2010

You are the butterfly
And I the dreaming heart
Of Chuang-tzu.

— Basho

This haiku from Basho is a reference the writing of Chuang-tzu:

Once Chuang Chou dreamt he was a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Chuang Chou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakably Chuang Chou. But he didn’t know if he was Chuang Chou who dreamt he was a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Chou. Between Chuang-chou and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.

Chuang-tzu was a Taoist teacher and writer who lived in the fourth century BC.

Basho was a Zen master and writer of haiku poetry. He wrote:

You’re the butterfly, and I the dreaming heart of Chuang-tzu. I don’t know if I’m Basho who dreamed with the heart-mind of Chuang-tzu that I was a butterfly named Doi, or that winged Mr Doi dreaming he is Basho.

Doi was a friend of Basho who had given him a writing brush.

Taken from A Zen Wave by Robert Aitken.

For my lovely friend Sian who drew this haiku to my attention.

Also see

Four haiku by Basho

Leaves falling


Leaves falling

January 29, 2010

Leaves falling
Lie on one another;
The rain beats the rain.

Sadly I know not who wrote this haiku.

Haiku is a minimalist form of Zen poetry of seventeen syllables.

For my lovely friend Sian.

Also see

Four haiku by Basho

A Zen Wave


The nature of reality

January 27, 2010

How we perceive the world around us, space and time, cause and effect, these concepts have little meaning at the subatomic level. What we think of as the atom has no basis in ‘reality’.

What is the nature of being? It is a question that has been posed ever since Man learnt how to think. Or at least we can trace back to 2,500 years ago.

Ancient Greeks did not separate out or distinguish physics, philosophy or religion. It would have been seen as an artificial distinction. Theirs was a search for the essential nature of the world around them.

No different to a mystical search for the essential being.

The universe was seen as being permeated by an energy force. This force was then separated out, given a name and separate identity and intelligence, it stood outside of and apart from the Universe, it now directed the universe. The force was given a name. It was called God.

We had separation of mind and body, spiritual development was separated from material development. The external world, even our own bodies, were simply dead mechanical devices, everything could be explained if we had sufficient detailed knowledge and sufficient computing power.

This is fine as a simple model, for performing our calculations. This is the Cartesian-Newtonian view of the world. It should not though be confused with reality.

The world is not a billiard game!

Further fragmentation took place. The economic sphere is separated from the physical world.

The world is on the point of catastrophic collapse. But it is the economic world that dominates, even though it is completely divorced from reality.

Even within this world we have fragmentation. At the recent Copenhagen Climate talks (COP15) British Prime Minister Gordon Brown promised extra aid to the Third World to pay for climate change. That money is to be taken from the existing aid budget, ie the poorest of the poor are to pay for the cost of dealing with climate change, as if they are not paying already.

Zen and other Eastern religions are concerned with the nature of existence. They have though a radically different approach, their approach is holistic.

Not all western thought is non-holistic. A network approach is holistic. The consideration of Gaia is holistic.

When we delve into the subatomic level, we find the Cartesian-Newtonian world-view loses all meaning. We cannot acquire detailed information, the more we try, the more fuzzy is the information that we acquire. The subatomic level is not only an essential part of the cosmos, it is in turn influenced by the cosmos.

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

To seek enlightenment is to transcend the physical world, to engage with the life force of the cosmos, that energy with which everything vibrates including ourselves, to cross the transition zone, to learn how to communicate with the Soul of the World.

We have two types of knowledge, rational and intuitive. In the West we tend to undervalue the latter.

The structure of the carbon ring came in a dream, a serpent chasing its own tale.

If we cannot rationalise or analyse what the rational mind produces we tend to dismiss it, but that does not make it any less real.

Many of us possess a level of awareness which hard won experience has taught us to heed.

We have difficulty expressing abstract knowledge, and so we do it through poetry, through koans, through art, through music.

Western civilisation in its arrogance believes it has made great advances in the acquisition of rational knowledge, but can the human race be said to be any wiser that it was 2,500 years ago?

For my lovely friend Sian who inspired these thoughts.

Also see

The Tao of Physics

How to Know God

God is

Christian Theology and Gaia

A path with a heart

January 25, 2010

Any path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you … Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself, and yourself alone, one question … Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t it is of no use.

— Carlos Castaneda

Carlos Castaneda influenced many people in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Two such people, beside myself, to have been so influenced were Fritjof Capra and Paulo Coelho.

For my lovely friend Sian to whom I read this one night.

Also see

The Teachings of Don Juan

The Tao of Physics

The Dancing Wu Li Masters

The Pilgrimage

The Alchemist

Zen practice

January 22, 2010

Be soft in your practice. Think of the method as a fine silvery stream, not a raging waterfall. Follow the stream, have faith in its course. It will go its own way, meandering here, trickling there. It will find the grooves, the cracks, the crevices. Just follow it. Never let it out of your sight. It will take you.

— Sheng-yen (1931- )

Taken from Zen, a beautifully illustrated book of Zen writings.

For my lovely friend Sian.

Also see

Like the Flowing River

The importance of the cat in meditation

January 21, 2010

Having written a book about madness (Veronika Decides to Die), I was forced to wonder how many things we do are imposed on us by necessity, or by the absurd. Why wear a tie? Why do clocks run “clockwise”? If we live in a decimal system, why does the day have 24 hours of 60 minutes?

The fact is, many of the rules we obey nowadays have no real foundation. Nevertheless, if we wish to act differently, we are considered “crazy” or “immature”. Meanwhile, society continues to create some systems which, in the fullness of time, lose their reason for existence, but continue to impose their rules. An interesting Japanese story illustrates what I mean by this:

A great Zen Buddhist master, who was in charge of the Mayu Kagi monastery, had a cat which was his true passion in life. So, during meditation classes, he kept the cat by his side – in order to make the most of his company.

One morning, the master – who was already quite old – passed away. His best disciple took his place.

– What shall we do with the cat? – asked the other monks.

As a tribute to the memory of their old instructor, the new master decided to allow the cat to continue attending the Zen Buddhist classes.

Some disciples from the neighboring monasteries, traveling through those parts, discovered that, in one of the region’s most renowned temples, a cat took part in the meditation sessions. The story began to spread.

Many years passed. The cat died, but as the students at the monastery were so used to its presence, they soon found another cat. Meanwhile, the other temples began introducing cats in their meditation sessions: they believed the cat was truly responsible for the fame and excellence of Mayu Kagi’s teaching.

A generation passed, and technical treatises began to appear about the importance of the cat in Zen meditation. A university professor developed a thesis – which was accepted by the academic community – that felines have the ability to increase human concentration, and eliminate negative energy.

And so, for a whole century, the cat was considered an essential part of Zen Buddhist studies in that region.

Until a master appeared who was allergic to animal hair, and decided to remove the cat from his daily exercises with the students.

There was a fierce negative reaction – but the master insisted. Since he was an excellent instructor, the students continued to make the same progress, in spite of the absence of the cat.

Little by little, the monasteries – always in search of new ideas, and already tired of having to feed so many cats – began eliminating the animals from the classes. In twenty years new revolutionary theories began to appear – with very convincing titles such as “The Importance of Meditating Without a Cat”, or “Balancing the Zen Universe by Will Power Alone, Without the Help of Animals”.

Another century passed, and the cat withdrew completely from the meditation rituals in that region. But two hundred years were necessary for everything to return to normal – because during all this time, no one asked why the cat was there.

Paulo Coelo posted this story on his blog. I first came across it in Like a Flowing River

We tend to be dictated to and imprisoned by the prevailing social norms. Few tend to question or challenge.

Like Paulo Coelho, I never wear I tie. The only occasions I can recall was a formal dinner at the House of Lords and tea with the Queen, and one of those occasions it was a bow tie.

When questioning something we are told it has always been done that way, as though that somehow justifies bad practice.

Four haiku by Basho

January 21, 2010

Autumn –
Even the birds
and clouds look old.

Year’s end,
all corners
of this floating world, swept.

Cormorant fishing:
how stirring,
how saddening.

Not last night,
not this morning;
melon flowers bloomed.

Haiku taken from Zen, a beautifully illustrated book of Zen writings.

Haiku is a minimalist form of only seventeen syllables. Like koans, they give an insight.

An excellent guide to the work of Japanese Zen master and poet Basho (1644-1894) is A Zen Wave by Robert Aitkin.

For Sian to whom I read these four haiku one evening.

I make my home in the mountains

January 20, 2010

You ask why I live
alone in the mountain forest,

and I smile and I am silent
until even my soul grows quiet:

it lives in the other world,
one that no one owns.

The peach trees blossom.
The water continues to flow.

— Li Po (701-762)

Poetry is used in Zen to reach enlightenment.

‘I make my home in the mountains’ is taken from Zen, a beautifully illustrated book of Zen writings.


January 19, 2010

Time oozed from my pores,
Drinking tea
I tasted the seven seas.

I saw in the mist formed around me
The fatal chrysanthemum, myself.

Its scent choked, and as I
Rose, squaring
My shoulders, the earth collapsed.

— Shinkichi Takahashi

Shinkichi Takahashi wrote this poem in response to a koan from his Zen master Shizan Ashikaga: ‘Describe your face before you were begotten by your parents.’

‘Collapse’ is taken from Zen, a beautifully illustrated book of Zen writings.

Meeting a man of Tao on the way

January 19, 2010

Goso said: ‘If you meet a man of Tao on the way, greet him neither with words nor with silence. Now tell me, how will you greet him?’

Commentary by Mumon

If you can give an apt answer to the question, it certainly is a matter for congratulation. If you are not yet able to give one, be alert in every aspect of your life.

Poetry by Mumon

If you meet a man of Tao on the way,
greet him neither with words nor silence.
I’ll give him with my fist the hardest blow I can –
get it at once, get it immediately.

‘Meeting a man of Tao on the way’ is taken from The Gateless Gate, a collection of koans by Zen master Wu-men Hui-Kai (1185-1260), a Zen monk and master of the Rinzai school.

The Gateless Gate is reproduced in Zen, a beautifully illustrated guide to Zen.

Koans are an aid to meditation or contemplation. They are paradoxical and enigmatic, for example the classic ‘What is the sound of one hand clapping?’

Also see

Manual of the Warrior of Light

Gospel of Thomas