Wednesday, March 04, 2009

VENTURA, LOUIS CK, STABILITY and DECISION MAKING

VENTURA
On Thursday night (my frikkin' birthday) I will be speaking up at Ventura College. Here's the info:

Thursday, March 5 at 7:00-9:00pm
At the Staff Lounge next to the Food Service Area
in the Ventura College Cafeteria

It's open to anybody. But you'll have to check the Ventura College website for specific directions. I've never been there myself so maybe we can wander around looking for it together!

Also, on Sunday March 15th, I'll be at Dharma Punx in Hollywood leading zazen and speaking (I am listed as "and others" on the website, uh, thanks...). This will be a monthly thing. Although I won't be there for the April one and I'm not 100% sure about May, my Dharma Brother Kevin Bortolin will lead the ones I can't make it to. The address is 4300 Melrose (between Heliotrope and Vermont) Los Angeles, CA 90029.

My talk at their Santa Monica place on Monday was fun.

LOUIS CK
My friend Nina found this great clip of Louis CK's appearance on Late Night With Conan O'Brien. Click on the words "Louis CK's appearance" for a clearer version of the clip. I've embedded a less clear version below:



It's really true that we take the most amazing things we have for granted or complain about them. The title is "Everything's Amazing and Nobody's Happy."

DECISION MAKING
My friend Bret pointed me to this article on the human brain. Check out #1 on the list, "Subconscious Behavior aka Best Guessing." This is something Nishijima Roshi talks about a lot. We make our decisions instantly and then think about them. The process of thinking can sometimes lead us away from doing what intuition has already told us we ought to do. This is why we sit zazen, to learn to trust our innate intuitive abilities.

STABILITY
Finally, I thought of something during my talk on Monday at Dharma Punx. But I didn't say it because I didn't quite have the words yet. So I'm gonna try saying it here.

The reason we sit the way we do in zazen is to practice stability. If you've ever been on a boat on a choppy sea you know how good it feels to get back on dry land. The experience of the stability of the solid Earth is not just a physical sensation. It calms your nerves. People pay good money to go to amusement parks and get swung around and turned upside down and suchlike all to experience disorientation and instability.

Zazen is the ultimate stable posture. It is the real practice of stability itself. This is why the posture is absolutely crucial. And I'm not referring here to the twisting up of the legs (although full lotus does seem more stable than most other postures, if you can manage it). I'm referring to sitting on a cushion using your knees to form a tripod and keeping your back straight such that your spine balances on top of your hips. This posture makes you feel stable physically and mentally in a way that no other posture possibly can.

54 comments:

Mysterion said...

Ha!

Jinzang said...

Ha-ha!

Stephanie said...

Ha-ha-ha!

Yunfeng said...

Dharma punx, eh? Isn't Noah Levine a relentlessly self-promoting poser twat? Oh well, I guess the people who swallow that shit have as much a right to hear a real dharma talk once in a while as the rich liberal fart-sniffers at SFZC.

Lauren said...

Happy Birthday,

and.... Ha-ha-ha-ha...I guess.

Mr. Reee said...

he-he

RogueBuddha said...

Happy Frikkin' Birthday!
A toast : To Stability...

Flor de Nopal Sangha said...

Sapo Verde Tu Chu!

Rich said...

"We make our decisions instantly and then think about them."

That's what i WAS THINKING and I needed to hear that. Instinctual decisions now are based on the current situation. Instinctual decisions tomorrow are based on tomorrows situation. They may be the same or different. Trust me.

Lauren said...

The Oracle;

"...you didn't come here to make the choice, you've already made it. You're here to try to understand why you made it. I thought you'd have figured that out by now."

Stephanie said...

Happy birthday a day early.

Louis CK is great. One of my favorite routines of his is called "Suck A Bag of Dicks," in which he gives a hilariously accurate description of our innate tendency toward self-centeredness, among other things. "The Saddest Handjob in the World" is another great one.

This New York Times article does a very clear job of explaining how what we consciously experience as free will--our act of rationally coming to a decision--is illusory in many aspects.

This is not to say, however, that just because the subconscious decision or reaction is more instantaneous, it is more accurate. Sometimes our 'gut reaction' truly is a correct intuition, but it can just as often be the reflection of deep emotional bias. I think in spiritual circles there's this tendency to believe that intuition is somehow divine or a direct transmission from Reality when just as often what we experience as intuition is only a direct transmission from our emotional or subconscious natures. Often the fact we catch ourselves and check our first instinct to act is a good thing.

Freud has fallen out of style but I think he was correct in his theory of the unconscious. There is a whole lot going on in our minds to which we do not have direct access. And a lot of that drives the ways in which we react to situations. The only difference in a disturbed killer's belief that his impulse to kill was a directive from God and a New Ager's belief that her desire to take a trip to India came from some sort of divine intuition is only a difference in how benign the impulse was, not in the accuracy of the assumption that because the decision did not happen rationally, it was somehow 'spiritual' in origin.

In other words, if your intuition tells you to do something, it's not a bad thing that you subject it to rational analysis afterward. I think the trick is in increasing one's awareness--not just of the thinking mind, but of the subconscious mind as well. The better you understand your deep psychological dynamics, the less likely you are to blindly act from them and think that dolphins from the planet Ceta are communicating to you through the crystal aether.

Rio Guzman said...

Hey Brad! I noticed that in your recommended books you don't have "Buddhism is not what you think" by Steve Hagen. It is good! Check it out when you get a minute.

crayolion said...

Brad, You are a badass! Thanks for the brain link. happy birthday!

Anonymous said...

"This is why we sit zazen, to learn to trust our innate intuitive abilities."

"The reason we sit the way we do in zazen is to practice stability."

ehhh....i thought we sat just to....sit?

another warner contradiction

Anonymous said...

How many of us sit just to sit?

Honestly.

I think Brad is being a great teacher by saying that we sit to practice stability.

He is being a useful teacher.

Isn't that a wonderful thing?

Others may say we sit just to sit--but all the while our minds are latching onto all these ideas of why we are staring at a wall everyday.

He is simply acknowledging this reality.

If we sit to practice stability, maybe we can truly sit just to sit.

Anonymous said...

yep, anon@4:50 drank the kool-aid, stephanie probably mixed it up with her sweet packets

Jinzang said...

Fells Point's finest, Edith Massey.

Jinzang said...

another warner contradiction

Give it a rest. I mean, who gives a fuck?

Rich said...

Intuition is who we really are. To make my living each day I put myself in the situations where I have to decide to act or not to act. Sometimes its easy and intuitive but sometimes I need more sensory perception and information from others to act or not act. Reacting and impulsive action is different, that can be examined and corrected. In general I would say that most thinking is your desire to be something more or less than what you are.

Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
killdeer said...

Anonymous 5:22 PM said, nothing.. except "I am miserable." Give it a rest dude..

Lauren said...

Myst, "a quick read?" I still have it sitting on my shelf, unread, 'cause I'm waiting for Federal ergonomic guidelines to be revised so I am allowed to just lift it down!

Anonymous said...

this question about sitting posture is possible due to the got to do it have it my way of our prince and princess culture.also the great ignorance of our so-called teachers of ch'an/zen when they pick and choose what will make them stand out in the cult marketplace. brad fucks with that soft/effeminate preacher so many zealots want to find to take care of them to tell them everything is going to be alright.
-Daiji

Mr. Reee said...

When you sit, just sit.

When you stand, just stand.

When you walk, just walk.

When you run away from the bear, run faster than the other guy.

This is great wisdom.

Mysterion said...

Lauren said...
"I'm waiting for Federal ergonomic guidelines to be revised so I am allowed to just lift it down!"

LOL

Back when I was 50, I could still lift it. I'll give it another try, someday. 868 pages isn't really to bad to read and the cloth cover (now mercifully out of print) is a bit heavier.

A tougher read is Hamlet's Mill (but a rewarding read, too). 512 pages.

The other (non-fiction) books I enjoyed reading do not generally apply to this group.

Anonymous said...

This guy scares me

http://www.ted.com/talks/jeff_hawkins_on_how_brain_science_will_change_computing.html

Mysterion said...

While you are over at TED, check out V. Ramachandran.

We 'learn' who we are - as an illusion (that a mirror can mimic).

Anonymous said...

Mysterion said:

"...and if meditating while inverted is your thing, then I will not be one to cast hail stones on your parade."

Could you explain "meditating", please, M? Could you then clarify "meditating while..."

Seems to me that this "meditating" you speak of is an activity of 'mind', independent of 'body'. And so, it doesn't matter, you say, what position the body is in, the 'mind' can do it's 'meditating'.

I think this is a mistake.

Trevor Hollenback said...

Thank you so much for coming out to the Ventura College Philosophy club to talk (on your birthday no less). Your talk was as wonderful tonight as it was a few weeks ago at the Buddhist Temple here in Ventura.

You have opened my eyes to another way of looking/understanding Zen, and all things for that matter. I thank you and hope to see you again sometime soon.

Be Well,
Trevor

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:30

It doesn't matter what position the body is in to meditate but some positions are more comfortable than others.

Yoga is meditation. The Lotus postures have come from Yoga.

People find that meditation near a crocodile is difficult so sometimes position of the body is important.

There is no magic way to pretzel your body to achieve samdhi.

Anonymous said...

Yunfeng asked "Isn't Noah Levine a relentlessly self-promoting poser twat? "

The answer is No.

Moon Face Buddha said...

"This posture makes you feel stable physically and mentally in a way that no other posture possibly can."

Really?

Anonymous said...

Anon at 11.28 said:

'It doesn't matter what position the body is in to meditate but some positions are more comfortable than others.'

So I, anon @ 7.30, ask again: Could you explain "meditating", please...Could you then clarify "meditating while..." If this is your answer-

'Yoga is meditation. The Lotus postures have come from Yoga'

-then it tells me nothing. If not, it tells me nothing, except that those yogis were onto something. Which is why Gautama adopted the posture. You then said:

'People find that meditation near a crocodile is difficult so sometimes position of the body is important.'

And so you confirm that "that this "meditation" you speak of is an activity of 'mind', largely independent of 'body'. And so, it doesn't matter...what position the body is in, the 'mind' can do it's 'meditating'."

Can you show me this 'mind' that is largely independent of the body?

"There is no magic way to pretzel your body to achieve samdhi."

Correct. Nothing magic about it. It just works to straighten the back by raising the arse above the level of the knees; containing (some say supressing) the legs by crossing them, and resting the hands on the belly."This posture makes you feel stable physically and mentally in a way that no other posture possibly can."

Yes, it really does, Moonface. This is so in my experience, and it seems, the experience of every Buddhist and Yogi of earlier times.

Why? Perhaps because this 'mind' that you believe does all the meditating is, in fact, not seperate from the 'body'. It's not even 'joined to it'. There is just some/one thing. This is the view of the "Buddhists", btw.

Imo, those who challenge the view that the lotus posture is the posture of zazen simply haven't tried it. Or (maybe)they've tried it but found it impossible, or uncomfortable. So did I. I found even half lotus impossibly painful when I first attempted it. So I kept at it. Why did I? because I figured that two and half thousand years - and longer - of 'meditators', all pictured sitting in the lotus posture were doing so for a reason other than religious conformism or peer pressure.

Persevering daily, after 6 months I felt comfortable in half lotus. After a further year I can enjoy sitting in full lotus. So now I know why old Gautama adopted that ancient yoga pose. No magic, just "The King of Samadhis".

If you're happy with what you do, wonderful. Really. But don't extrapolate mistaken notions about minds doing 'meditating' regardless of the position of the lifeless bones, muscles, and nerves that are the body (you imply), from your reluctance to persevere with a little discomfort.

Like all good things, it's worth the effort.

Anonymous said...

I said:

"...mistaken notions about minds doing 'meditating'..."

My mistake. Such notions may not be mistaken. Perhaps we all do have individual 'minds', or 'souls' that live in our bodies. Perhaps our bodies are merely the receptacles of our 'spirit'. It certainly feels that way. But I don't think that's the way things are. That's only what I think; I may be mistaken.

What I do know is that I feel very different when sitting in the lotus posture than I do when sitting, or standing/walking/lying in any other posture. Sitting in this way is sometimes called zazen.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:06

Well if you wish to be anal about it.

The way things are talked about is a matter of convention not reality.
We talk of mind and body as useful concepts to explain things. It is up to each person to find out for themselves whether the concepts have any meaning.

Dogen talked about "body and mind dropping off".

Sitting meditation for non-beginners might be described as JUST sitting. There being no-one who sits.

If you have found what is conventionally referred to as meditation useful then the words that took you too it have served their purpose.

We use words as a matter of convenience not of belief. If you wish to debate how words relate to reality by replacing one set of words with another then you still have a long way to go since all words are at best nominal descriptions of things not things.

Anonymous said...

Anon @4:38

...Perhaps our bodies are merely the receptacles of our 'spirit'...

Have you ever met a body without a spirit in it or a spirit without a body attached?

If not then you are just guessing about the nature of things.

Anonymous said...

Hi, anon @ 5.56.

Not sure I get your point(s). Or perhaps you didn't get mine. - My point is simple, and I think words will do just fine to express it:

My experience is that the state/position of your body has a direct bearing on what you feel to be the state of your 'mind'. Very specifically.(What we perceive to be) the two things aren't coincidentally related seperate phenomena. My experience is that to sit in lotus is not merely conducive to the seperate mental acivity of 'meditating', but that to sit in lotus is a state in itself. Just as to hang upside-down is a state, itself. That's my experience. That's all. If you've done it (I wonder if you have) and found it to be not true for you, fine.

You said: "If you wish to debate how words relate to reality by replacing one set of words with another then you still have a long way to go..."

No. I don't wish to debate words.

"...all words are at best nominal descriptions of things not things."

Well, yes. So why are you bothering with them?

To anon at 5.56, who said:

"...If not then you are just guessing about the nature of things."

I said, "Perhaps..." That's what "perhaps" means: guessing. We agree.

Anonymous said...

Another mistake!!!

The first part of my post @ 6.21 is addressed to anon @ 5.45

-Anon @ 6.21.

Really? said...

"Well if you wish to be anal about it" said -
"Sitting meditation for non-beginners might be described as JUST sitting."
AND
"you still have a long way to go"

Hmmm...non-beginners...a long way to go...
You must be there already. Tell me,what's it like?

Mysterion said...

Anonymous said...
"Could you explain "meditating", please, M?"

Meditating is reflectively thinking about your reflective thinking.

What am I thinking about? Why do I need to think about this (past or future) event? Why do I have a need to think about past or future events? Why can I not just accept that I am here at this moment? Why can I not just bring my thinking to where (here) and when (now) that I happen to be at this moment?

Mysterion said...

see also:

"Mindfulness Meditation in the Treatment of Trauma, Anxiety and Depression"
A PDF 5 page, quick read.

Studies with less than 17 participants in both the "Experimental Group" and "Control Group" are not definitive in my opinion. However, THIS is still of interest.

Sorry sangha, but my degree (read baggage) in electronics/physics (1970) twisted my view of authenticity forever (e.g. "Produce 3-5 scientific studies which support your claim or get back to me when you can."

Anonymous said...

Mysterion said:

"Meditating is reflectively thinking about your reflective thinking."

Thanks, M, for your clear reply. It confirms what I thought. I don't 'meditate'. Following Dogen, I think not-thinking. How? Well, it's different from thinking. It's just sitting. So it figures that how I sit is important. How I sit is how I'm sitting.

Of course I'm not saying that what you, and many others do is wrong. I do it all the time. It's called thinking, or 'meditating', if you prefer. Thinking is very useful. Like you, I don't have to sit or stand any special way to do that.

Zazen is something else altogether. Sitting with body. Sitting with mind. Sitting dropping body and mind, for example.

-Anon @ 7.30am/4.06am etc

Anonymous said...

Mysterion said...
"Produce 3-5 scientific studies which support your claim or get back to me when you can."

1 and 2 and 3
et
cetera

Mr. Reee said...

There are three things to occupy one's mind while sitting.

Attend to one thing.

Attend to all things.

Attend to no thing.

All lead to the same place.

You and the wall.

pkb said...

"Why? Perhaps because this 'mind' that you believe does all the meditating is, in fact, not seperate from the 'body'. It's not even 'joined to it'. There is just some/one thing. This is the view of the "Buddhists", btw.

My experience is that to sit in lotus is not merely conducive to the seperate mental acivity of 'meditating', but that to sit in lotus is a state in itself. Just as to hang upside-down is a state, itself. That's my experience."



Is Brad posting anonymously on his own blog now?

The most direct response would be 'If you say that mind and body are one, you deserve 30 blows with the stick. And if you say they are two, you still deserve 30 blows. Why?'

Brad once wrote an essay on the One / Many pov in zen. He used the analogy of a hand and 5 fingers. The fingers and palm are all 'one' hand, yet they aren't exactly 'the same' either. In just this way, body and mind are also 'one', yet not exactly the same either.

Master Seng chao said; "Heaven and earth and I are of the same root, The ten-thousand things and I are of one substance." Being of the same root and being one substance does not mean that they are identical. Body and mind are two aspects of one reality just as the heads and tails of a coin are two aspects of one coin. This does not mean that head and tail are exactly identical. This is why we say 'not-two'.

If zazen were identical to simply sitting in lotus, there could be no such thing as dead-sitting. One could sit lotus and spin theories, do puzzles or daydream and this would be termed zazen. (if you want to define it as such, have at it and good luck with your practice)

Brad once remarked that some people use zazen to get deeper into their delusions. If it were just a matter of sitting in the correct posture, this could not even happen. Dogen spoke of thinking not thinking. Suzuki roshi spoke of stopping the mind. If it were only a matter of sitting lotus, there would be no need of further instructions on how to hold the mind during zazen.

Body and mind are not two, yet you can't imagine yourself to be a bird and as a result expect to literally grow feathers and fly. Body and mind spring from the same root. Yet you can't stick your finger in your nose and expect it to produce an understanding of calculus. In this way, simply sitting lotus is insufficient to either realize or manifest enlightenment. All things in the universe are one. Yet this does not validate the voodoo practice of sticking pins in dolls and causing pain in people. All things are interconnected. Yet this does not validate the astrological notion that the position of particular planets directly determine psychological traits.

These are simply magical-thinking of the same order as scapegoats or Jesus dying for your sins. To suggest that to take a particular posture will in itself enlighten you to your true nature is magical-thinking as well.

Sitting in lotus is not a discreet state. I can sit lotus and trip on acid , do math problems, think about sex or plot a bank robbery. In my view, zazen is not about producing a particular state of mind at all. Zazen is the direct, nondiscriminating awareness of any and all particular states of body-mind as they ceaselessly change or come and go. States of body-mind are allowed to arise and pass on their own, without attachment.

"Imo, those who challenge the view that the lotus posture is the posture of zazen simply haven't tried it. Or (maybe)they've tried it but found it impossible, or uncomfortable"

I challenge the view that lotus posture is THE posture of zazen. It is perhaps the easiest, most direct posture that allows the body-mind to quieten enough so that real meditation (zazen) can actually unfold. I suggest it is also possible for legless, blind, scoliosis-ridden people to directly realize the same reality that the Buddha realized under the bo tree. It may be more difficult. It may be more difficult using a chair or walking too. Still, these offer no fundamental obstacle to zazen. Teaching that to sit in lotus is itself enlightenment is a brilliant strategy or skillful means. It gives the grasping, thinking mind that is caught-up in becoming and escaping... no where to run. But if you mistake it for a literal doctrine, you take the finger for the moon.

After sitting half-lotus for many years, I began sitting full-lotus about 15years ago. I strongly recommend full-lotus for anyone that can manage it. Just don't imagine that by taking the posture you are automatically doing zazen. In my view, this is the point of master Ma's tile polishing story. You whip the ox, not the cart. He didn't say that the ox is the cart.

Anonymous said...

PKB-

OK, we agree. Pretty much.

I am not Brad. Although I know how he feels when others read what he hasn't quite written. But I blame myself for not being clear or comprehensive enough; I get impatient when blogging. I posted more than once and on each occasion was answering a specific point. My initial post was addressed to Mysterion, who implied that the position/state of your body had no effect on your 'meditating' mind. Later on(@ 11.44) I believe I yoked the cart to the horse.

And Yet:

"Can there be both prodding the cart and prodding the ox? Must prodding the cart and prodding the ox be equivalent, or might they not be equivalent?... Should the whole universe do the prodding? Should the whole mind do the prodding? Should the marrow be beaten flat? Should a fist do the beating? There should be fist beating fist, and there should be ox beating ox."

-Anon @ -Anon @ 7.30pm/4.06am/11:44am and so on and on. And Dogen (Zazenshin).

Rich said...

While sitting the 10000 states appear and disapear but your action is just sitting. This is the treatment for impulsive, compulsive action and reaction.

pkb said...

Thanks for the clarification, anon. I would never assert that body has no effect upon mind (or vice versa) just that I think it is a mistake to assume a posture in itself is zazen. I thought you were advocating that. My mistake. Glad we substantially agree.

As for Dogen's take on the tile koan, I've read it and heard my old teacher give the same explanation. I just don't buy it. The koan must be tortured and twisted to get Master Dogen's conclusion, imo.

Try reading the koan as if for the first time without Dogen or anyone telling you what it 'really' means and see what you get from it.

" The story begins with Ma-Tsu, who had been meditating very seriously and intensely, when one day Huai-rang came to Ma-Tsu’s hermitage while he was meditating and asked him, "What do you seek by doing zazen?" Ma-Tsu said, "I’m seeking to become a buddha [or I’m trying to get enlightened]." (Why else would he be meditating all day?) So Huai-rang picked up a tile that had fallen off the roof and began rubbing or polishing it which was supposed to imitate Ma-Tsu’s activity of cultivating or refining his practice. After a while, Ma-Tsu asked, "Master, what are you doing?" Huai-jang replied, "I’m polishing this tile to make it into a mirror."

Ma-Tsu then asked his teacher, "How can you make a mirror by polishing a tile?" Huai-rang shot right back saying, "How can you make a Buddha by sitting in meditation?" Ma-Tsu asked, "Then, what shall I do?" (That is, if I don’t meditate, how do I get enlightened?) Huai-rang responded, "When you are driving a cart, if the cart doesn’t go, should you beat the cart or beat the ox?" .

Huai-rang continued, "Are you practicing sitting meditation, or are you practicing sitting Buddhahood? If you are practicing sitting meditation, meditation is not sitting or lying down. If you are practicing sitting Buddhahood, ‘Buddha’ is not a fixed form. In the midst of transitory things, one should neither grasp nor reject. If you keep the Buddha seated, this is killing the Buddha, if you cling to the form of sitting, you’re not reaching its principle." At this point, Ma-Tsu had a realization and continued practicing with Huai-rang for ten more years, continuing to deepen his understanding."

Anonymous said...

PKB -

For sure Dogen doesn't adopt the face-value meaning of texts; that's how he teaches. It's an approach that doesn't sit well (!) with some. But it speaks to me. He asks questions - to point to something about us that's usually hidden by our need for a reliable narrative...

Whatever this Buddhism is 'about', your practice (hate that word )is always your business, as mine is mine.

-Anon @ 4.20am

Anonymous said...

Eat shit stick, zen buddha bitch.

C said...

How are you so sure that Zazen is the most stable posture? Isn't that a really subjective statement to make?

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