In his essay Bendowa (A Talk About Pursuing the Truth) Dogen says:
Zazen, even if it is only one human being sitting for one moment, thus enters into mystical cooperation with all dharmas, and completely penetrates all times; and it therefore performs, within the limitless universe, the eternal work of the Buddha’s guiding influence in the past, future, and present. For everyone it is completely the same practice and the same experience. The practice is not confined to the sitting itself; it strikes space and resonates, [like] ringing that continues before and after a bell. How could [the practice] be limited to this place? All concrete things possess original practice as their original features; it is beyond comprehension. Remember, even if the countless buddhas in ten directions, as numerous as the sands of the Ganges, tried with all their power and all their buddha-wisdom to calculate or comprehend the merit of one person’s zazen, they could not even get close. (Nishijima/Cross translation)
In my book Don’t Be a Jerk, I paraphrased this passage as:
The experience of zazen is eternal. It’s the same for everyone. We touch the deepest experience of all human beings throughout history when we allow ourselves to be truly quiet. If all the countless Buddhas throughout space and time used all their infinite Buddha wisdom to try to calculate the merit of one person sitting zazen they couldn’t even come close.
Embedded in here is the idea that if you understand just one thing completely, you understand everything.
This might be one of Dogen’s greatest insights. It informs everything about how we do zazen practice in the Soto style. It’s why we don’t use mantras or concentrate on koans or count our breaths or anything else. It’s the philosophical rationale for the practice of shikantaza or “just sitting.”
If you understand just one thing thoroughly, you understand everything.
For your object of study, why not choose the closest thing there is, the easiest one to look at, the one you’re already most familiar with? Why not look at yourself?
I’m no scientist, but I do love me some science documentaries on TV. One of the things I’ve taken away from all these documentaries is that the entire universe is made up of the same basic stuff and operates on the same basic principles.
There is a lot of variety, to be sure. There are big planets like Jupiter and little ones like Pluto. There are hot Jupiters and cold Jupiters. The force of gravity on a big planet is greater than it is on a small one.
But everything operates according to the same laws. Physicists talk about four basic forces that work within the universe; electromagnetism, gravity and the so-called “weak” and “strong” nuclear forces. But most physicists believe these are just different versions of the very same force.
Also, matter everywhere seems to be made of the same fundamental particles interacting in the same ways. Studying matter here on Earth can give you insight into how matter behaves anywhere else.
Dogen lived a very long time before any of these ideas came into being. People in his day had no clue as to how very similar everything was throughout the universe. Yet it’s something that Buddhists have been saying for a few thousand years.
Study one thing and you study it all.
This principle is called ippo-gujin in Japanese. Ippo means “one dharma” and gujin means “research to the very end.” (There should be little horizontal lines over the “o” in ippo and the “u” in gujin, but the blog program I’m using won’t let me add those.)
It sounds all fancy-schmancy when you put it that way. Some folks totally cream themselves the minute you start mentioning physics or throwing in old Asian words. Other people run screaming for the hills at the sound of anything remotely intellectual. But really, this principle is anything but fancy and not the least bit schmancy.
Our brains are made to seek out and identify the differences between things. That’s one of their biggest jobs. We use language to describe these differences so that when we ask for a fork we get a fork and not a spoon or — god forbid! — a spork. Those things are a nightmare.
Our brains aren’t made to comprehend the unity of all things. Even when they do, they do so by contrasting that unity with non-unity. That’s how the brain works and that’s how language works.
This is why, in Genjo Koan, Dogen says, “Do not assume that what is attained will inevitably become self-conscious and be recognized by the intellect. The experience of the ultimate state is realized at once. At the same time, its mysterious existence is not necessarily a manifest realization. Realization is the state of ambiguity itself.” That’s the Nishijima/Cross translation again. In Don’t Be a Jerk I turned this into, “Even when you realize everything, don’t imagine that you’ll intellectually understand it or even notice it. It’s beyond your knowledge.”
We can’t think this through. I mean we can turn it into a thought. But we can’t solve this riddle the way we solve lots of our problems, by pondering it until we get a sensible answer.
We can get it, though. We can sit with it and watch it manifest itself in everything we do and everything we are. Not in some vast, far away Mystical Land of Perfect Wisdom, but right here and right now in our dumb-old selves just as we are.
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April 7, 2016 San Francisco, California Against The Stream
April 8, 2016 San Francisco, California San Francisco Zen Center
April 22, 2016 New York, New York Interdependence Project
April 23, 2016 Long Island, New York Molloy College “Spring Awakening 2016”
April 24, 2016 Rochester, New York Rochester Zen Center
April 28-May 1, 2016 Atlanta Georgia 4-Day Retreat at Red Clay Sangha
June 2, 2016 Los Angeles, CA The Last Bookstore 7:00pm
September 10-11, 2016 Belfast, Northern Ireland 2-Day Retreat
September 14, 2016 Belfast, Northern Ireland Zazen and Discussion
September 16-17, 2016 Dublin, Ireland 3-Day Retreat
September 22-25, 2016 Hebden Bridge, England, 4-Day Retreat
September 27, 2016 – Wimbledon, London, England – Talk and Q&A
September 29-October 2, 2016 Helsinki, Finland, 4-Day Retreat
October 3, 2016 Turku, Finland, Talk at the University
October 4-5, Stockholm, Sweden, Talk and 1-Day-Retreat
October 7, 2016 Berlin, Germany Zenlab
October 14, 2016 Munich, Germany, Lecture
October 15-16, 2016 Munich, Germany, 2-Day Retreat
October 23-28, 2016 Benediktushof Meditation Centrum (near Würzburg, Germany) 5-Day Retreat
MORE EUROPEAN DATES TO BE ANNOUNCED SOON
Every Monday at 8pm there’s zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. Beginners only!
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Plenty more info is available on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles website, dsla.info
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I was just kidding. If you know one thing you know something, I guess, but you don’t know everything, or even that much about yourself really. The point is not to know, the point is to give meaning to our meaning hungry lives.
Now, hopefully, you know something worth knowing. 🙂
Yeah. The original substance, for me, is quality. Quality is uniqueness. So you can have a trillion things but they’re all made of this one substance, quality, and they’re all unique. So if you understand the quality of one thing you understand everything. It’s absolute quality, really, that you can see. You can totally see that and live there. Like in that koan with the butcher’s shop where the guy was enlightened after he overhead the butcher replying to a customer who has asked for the best cut of meat: “all these cuts are the best, you cannot find a single cut of meat here that is not the best.” Good post.
Or even Ukrainian mirrors!
Brad, I get the distinct impression you don’t get koan zazen. In other words in shikantaza just sitting is your koan, though nobody calls it that.
Not really. But thanks!
Why do you say so? Looking at your instructions for shikantaza, you say (I assume though you’re not quoting Dogen here but I’m not absolutely sure though I’m pretty sure you’re paraphrasing him):
“Sitting immovably in the mountain-still state, ‘Think about this concrete state beyond thinking.’ “’How can the state beyond thinking be thought about?’ ‘It is different from thinking.’ This is just the pivot of Zazen. ”
How is this different from a description of a wato/huato/??? (Can’t wait to see what this blogging software does to kanji?)
I don’t know, maybe your experience is different, but I can’t see how koan zazen and shikantaza don’t lead to the same outcome, though to be honest, I’ve not much experience with shikantaza. That said, I can’t see how both don’t how both don’t point directly to one’s mind, to enable one to see one’s nature.
I’m not wanting to debate the “benefits” of one versus the other method, precisely because it’s sort of like becoming a good violist versus becoming a good cellist, or if you prefer a good bassist versus a good rhythm guitarist…
But I think it’d be an interesting discussion to have because the narrative tends towards what the “both” schools of Zen have been saying (Sambo Kyodan, e.g. in Kapleau’s writing) in the English language, and frankly I really don’t see why that narrative needs to change, but I’m as open minded as a (bad) rhythm guitarist can be.
Also, with great respect for you, I have to say: I don’t quite get what you extrapolated from the translation of Dogen. I mean, whether you’re truly quiet or not it just *is*. And if you’re not being truly quiet – it’s part of it.
This whole Soto/Rinzai sectarian war is a purely American phenomenon due to Western identity politics. If you go to Japan, you’ll realize Zen is not like that at all.
My experience in Japan is that it’s even more like that!
I don’t think *Buddhism* is like that at all in Japan. Except for Soka gakkai, and perhaps the way some Buddhists consider Nichiren Buddhism in general. They’re somewhat exclusivist, though one can see why one might have one’s heart in the right place adhering to the Lotus Sutra.
Mumon, this new blog software hates kanji and whatchamacallit marks (diacriticals?).
My experience with koans is limited. I solved a couple of them spontaneously without ever really doing “koan introspection.” The answers just sort of appeared. And it was weird. And it was useful. It was fun. I think I learned something. It was a stone groove, as they say in those old Peter Fonda motorcycle movies.
I feel like shikantaza is totally different. Nishijima used to say of things like this that they were “dimensionally different.” Like they were so different they were in another dimension.
I feel like the koans were about reality, while shikantaza was reality. If that makes any sense. The koans helped you get a conceptual framework that was probably better than the ordinary one we all grow up with. Shikantaza shows you that any conceptual framework is just a conceptual framework. But in a way that’s not, itself, a conceptual framework.
Or something like that.
I know it sounds all sectarian and like I’m comparing Bernie Sanders’ voting record with Hillary Clinton’s. And if folks want to see it that way, there’s not a whole lot I can do about it. I find that I care less and less about whether people understand me anymore. Maybe I should. But it’s sort of a losing battle, trying to be understood by everyone. Or loved by everyone.
So, OK, if you want to read me as saying VOTE FOR SHIKANTAZA, that’s fine. My vote is for shikantaza.
Thanks! I really enjoyed your response. Especially the end part. LOL. I am really grateful for your response.
You remind me of a discussion I had with someone from the Maezumi school a year or three ago. That person couldn’t imagine someone focusing on a koan in their everyday life because their teacher had told them that doing Mu while driving would cause an accident. I don’t quite know – or really care – why my experience differs from theirs. Or, in a sense yours.
That’s because at a certain point, the conceptual framework to which you refer isn’t there. Like I said elsewhere, the point of a koan is really not to give the answer “expected” in sanzen.
I do not see it as Bernie versus Hillary. LOL.
As I said above, I think they get to the same point. It’s a great cellist versus a great violist.
Though my son’s become great at the viola so I’m biased, too!
“My experience with koans is limited. I solved a couple of them spontaneously without ever really doing “koan introspection.” The answers just sort of appeared. And it was weird. And it was useful. It was fun. I think I learned something. It was a stone groove, as they say in those old Peter Fonda motorcycle movies.”
You passed a couple spontaneously?
How did this come about? Where you working with a koan teacher at some point in your practice? Or did you take one up on your own and pass yourself?
“I feel like the koans were about reality, while shikantaza was reality.”
What did you ‘get’ out of both?
Was it the same or was it different?
I have a different experience when I do koan (kong-an) zazen, which is different from Shikantaza. Koan zazen is holding a question very firmly. It doesn’t have to be words; a strong sense of what? is enough. Shikantaza has no form; whatever is present is zazen. When I do this practice, I sometimes do not know if I am doing it. Maybe this not knowing is just it.
Koan zazen should be “holding the question” *before words*. So, yeah, it’s the “what?” It should also be relaxed. I’m not sure I’ve read that in some text but trust me on this point. 🙂 Do. Not. Be. Tense. I could write a dozen blog posts on this last point, but I digress.
However, in doing koan zazen an aspect of it is that after a small amount of time, it, too, has no form; whatever is present is zazen.
There’s an answer that you should be able to give in sanzen, but it’s both anticlimactic and trivial once you get the koan – or at least get it to the extent that it affects your life in a good way, and as a result, every being around you. Moreover, for many koans, once you get the answer to one, you get the answer to a whole bunch of koans, but that would be missing the point of the koan. It’s almost like proving mathematical theorems at that point, but, as I said, it would totally miss the point. It would miss the point because a deep understanding of the koan is usually beyond the answer.
And yeah, there are ones that will definitely stump you. But um…there’s a point to those. Your project is to figure them out regardless of why they stump you, or at least get it to the extent that it affects your life and those around you in a good way.
So in a nut:
1. ANY koan can be penetrated to an unmeasurable depth.
2. Shikantaza is like a koan
3. Therefore Shikantaza and koan zazen can help all beings.
Okay, Brad! Because Dogen’s all there is! Exclamation points!
No. I really mean it. The few times I heard Japanese teachers get into the Soto vs Rinzai stuff they were pretty forthright about it. Americans seem much more eager to seek compromise positions. But that’s just my experience.
Have you ever read what DT Suzuki said about Dogen? It’s pretty nasty!
D.T. Suzuki was a scholar not a teacher, who didn’t even believe in the efficacy of zazen. So what’s your point?
Don’t get mad! I couldn’t find a direct quote from Suzuki himself. But here’s what Carl Bielfeldt said: “In the first volume of his Studies in the History of Zen Thought, the great Rinzai scholar D. T. Suzuki attacked Dogen’s doctrine of ‘body and mind sloughed off’ as mere negativism and his practice of ‘just sitting’ as mere mental stasis. Shikantaza, he complained, failed to capture the vital spirit of Zen religious practice.”
Is that enough of a point?
I’ve read what Hakuin said about Soto. I’ve also read what he said about Bankei. LOL. Then again, I’ve also read what he wrote to Pure Land Buddhists (encouraging), and the ironic thing about Hakuin in this discussion is that his deepest awakening was said have happened upon reading from the Lotus Sutra.
But yeah, Americans are different.
But part of that is that Americans’ take on zen is influenced by Kapleau, Yasutani, and others like that.
But I do think there’s something to your point.
There are differences in temperament I think that make one gravitate towards Soto versus Rinzai, or Korean Seon Buddhism.
But having said that, … OK… in Japan Soto versus Rinzai is what it is in Japan…though again, in my limited experience there’s a bit of diffusion between the two schools in Japan too. Japan’s demographic situation kind of favors consolidation these days.
And having said that, of course in the rest of the world it’s different again. In China schools have been taking on aspects of all traditions of Chinese Buddhism, in practice this means a ridiculously wide gamut of practices might be encountered if you hit up the average temple, even if it’s called a zen temple. Even if it’s Tiantong. Or a local temple in a 2nd tier city. You’ll be surprised what you might find there – you could either just find some young guy caring for the temple, or you might find a temple where they actually practice zen, have a zendo and so forth.
Anyway, thanks again for the discussion. I really appreciate what you do.
“It’s why we don’t use mantras or concentrate on koans or count our breaths or anything else. It’s the philosophical rationale for the practice of shikantaza or ‘just sitting.'”
I don’t get this part. Why does it matter from one practice to another, assuming I commit to one of them wholeheartedly? What’s the difference?
There are differences.
I want to punch you in the face.
Differences of opinion bother you that much?
“This principle is called ippo-gujin in Japanese. Ippo means “one dharma” and gujin means “research to the very end.” (There should be little horizontal lines over the “o” in ippo and the “u” in gujin, but the blog program I’m using won’t let me add those.)”
You can add a U, in such cases. Like: Ippou-guujin. That’s how they do it in kana, in case you forgot…
You’re kidding yourself if you think there aren’t fundamental differences between the Rinzai and Soto schools of Zen. The crux of which being how and when people attain enlightenment. Rinzai stresses koan practice and kensho ( i.e. sudden enlightenment) experiences with the belief that one can forcibly and methodically destroy the conceptual frameworks of the mind while Soto practitioners “just sit” and let the mind fall away gradually (i.e. gradual enlightenment).
Saying that they are the same is like saying that walking through a fog (gradual enlightenment) is the same as jumping in the deep end of a swimming pool (sudden enlightenment). Yes, you get wet in both cases, but they are completely different methods.
There are differences between methods, yes. What I’m trying to say is…there are advantages and disadvantages to every method that I’ve found, so in a certain sense they all equal out to more or less the same. Mantra provides an object that’s easy to train attention on, and when you’re not repeating the mantra, you know that you’ve fallen off the object you’re trying to maintain attention on. Same basic idea with breath awareness meditation. Certain teachers (I’m thinking of Ken Mcleod here) talk about the pros and cons to both object-based and object-less meditation methods; just sitting can train attention less efficiently sometimes, because you don’t have an object to know when you’ve fallen out of attention or not.
“You’re kidding yourself if you think there aren’t fundamental differences between the Rinzai and Soto schools of Zen. The crux of which being how and when people attain enlightenment. Rinzai stresses koan practice and kensho ( i.e. sudden enlightenment) experiences with the belief that one can forcibly and methodically destroy the conceptual frameworks of the mind while Soto practitioners “just sit” and let the mind fall away gradually (i.e. gradual enlightenment).”
Sudden enlightenment. I think it’s important to keep in mind that “sudden” here is measured in years, unless you’re a regular Huineng.
Concentration practice has something to do with being able to maintain our attention on a single ‘point of focus’ for some times. Mind has the tendency to jump around quite easily, it is quite discontinuous, and as one practice concentration technique, the mind tends to be less discontinuous. Following the breath, or fluid ball being a good example, there are usually given to beginners.
Mantras practice which is a concentration technique, tends to make the mind dull, you hold on to a word or phrase, repeating it endlessly, mantra practice tends to make the mind less active, more asleep, but focalised. By shifting your focus entirely on a mantra, you tend to extract yourself from your surrounding.
Koan practice isn’t static, it is highly dynamic. There are a lot of Koan, which serve different ‘purpose’, or tends to explore different facets, some are breakthrough Koan, such as Mû, who are you? What is it? Etc. A Koan has no answer, and is similar to a window; you see through the window, seeing through would be more appropriate to say, but there isn’t necessarily something seen through, how can you see through emptiness? Koan practice is awakening the mind in such a way as it rest on absolutely nothing at all. When you work with koan, you must show your appreciation of the koan to the teacher. Some koan are concerned with ethics, others with reality, language and concept, others with understanding itself, the grasping tendency of the mind, etc… Some of the koan have some kind of an answer, some are opportunities to explore rarely visited landscape, some will leave you completely empty handed. As you really inhabit the koan, you are the living answer of that same Koan.
Shikantaza practice is ever changing, you simply cannot pin it down to a rock solid something.
sri_barence wrote: ”When I do this practice, I sometimes do not know if I am doing it.” would be a good way to describe Shikantaza. Shikantaza ‘starts’ as a technique, but ‘should’ ‘evolve’ way beyond any technique. You cannot grasp Shikantaza, it is empty, or emptiness itself; you very own being. Drop body, drop mind! This is Shikantaza, complete transparency. The usual I have a body/mind simply vanish away, and what is left is nothing at all; complete openness, vast space without any kind of obstruction, without any kind of support.
1. Most koan can be ‘tasted’ to an unmeasurable depth. Yes!
2. Shikantaza is like a koan. Yes!
3. This very body is the body of Buddha!
4. Don’t be a jerk!
There is no need to split Zen apart in between soto and rinzai, at one point both become completely meaningless.
Some practices are more accessible to people without teachers, though. -> http://www.lionsroar.com/how-we-work-with-koans-and-how-they-work-on-us/
Scroll down to the question beginning with, “Is there such a thing as informal koan practice?”
The consensus seems to be that koan practice is intensely student-teacher driven. You can’t really practice it on your own. You need a teacher (eventually) for all methods, but some, like just sitting, you can do on your own. Same for mantra or breath meditation, metta practice, etc.
“Koan practice is awakening the mind in such a way that it rests on absolutely nothing”
What was it resting on beforehand?
It was resting on itself. You just didn’t realize that it was nothing.
Correct. You pass.
Now, koan 2. If a bumbee stung a bumbee on a bumbee’s bum, what color would the bumbee’s bum be?
In my experience, if you want to evaluate the effectiveness of a teacher, look at what they offer to beginners.
“Concentration practice has something to do with being able to maintain our attention on a single ‘point of focus’ for some times. Mind has the tendency to jump around quite easily, it is quite discontinuous, and as one practice concentration technique, the mind tends to be less discontinuous. Following the breath, or fluid ball being a good example, there are usually given to beginners.”
One-pointedness of mind is the place where I am, and the fact that it can jump around is the big secret.
The fluid ball is the flip side of the autonomous coordination of the body in the movement of breath. Activity sustains pressure in the fluid ball, the fluid ball supports the body and mind. Make an image in the place of an image, allow the image to sustain the pressure that supports the location of mind, and the place where I am might be the hara!
Gautama taught sitting cross-legged on the roots of trees, and the four truths. After the suicides of scores of monks a day, he taught “the concentration on in-breathing and out-breathing”, a thing he said was “perfect in itself” (and he said, both his own way of living before enlightenment and the Tathagatha’s way of living after enlightment).
Here’s my conclusion from a few weeks ago:
‘I’m never happier than when simple mindfulness of just breathing in or breathing out occurs in me. That I find a natural mindfulness of breathing in or breathing out in the distinction of the senses and the recollection of the signs that constituted Gautama’s way of living, gives me hope that his way of living is indeed “a thing perfect in itself”.’
(A Natural Mindfulness)
What a wonderful comments page! What Brad said about having the answers to koans appear spontaneously rings true for me. That is how it always happens for me. Usually the answers appear when I’m doing something else besides focusing on the koan (we say ‘kong-an’ in the Kwan Um school, because – Korean). I usually do shikantaza anyway, because focusing on the kong-an usually leads to thinking, thinking, thinking. As far as I can tell, it really doesn’t make any difference what you do, as long as your practice is sincere.
This practice is a what practice.
Someone who does this practice is a what person.
Zazen is practicing what?
What is practicing zazen?
What a boring comments page! What Brad said about having the answer to a few koans appearing spontaneously rings highly simplistic and naive to me. That is also how it happens to me for a while, totally unexpected; the illusion of having a definitive answer to it spontaneously bursting out. But I thought this was the end of it, which it isn’t. You can revisit the same koan again and again and get new and different insight into them; depth. A Koan such as Mû has no end to it, and this ‘no end’ to it, is in itself one of the aspect of the Mû Koan, which can be interpret by some as being the answer. If a teacher tells you that you have found/solve the answer of the MÛ Koan, I suggest you get rid of that teacher and look for another one. Some koans have ‘no answers’, some have nothing on which you can get a hold to at all. I remember hearing one which I strictly understood nothing at all, just could not get anything at all out of it, whatever direction, viewpoint, nothing made sense, there was not even any kind of starting point by which I could start working with it. A few hours later, as I was doing the dishes, there was a flash, and a big burst of laughter ‘ Ah, how beautiful !’ But nothing at all was seen or seen into, there was no content to it at all, no object, no form, no reason, no cause, no understanding, etc. Only a deep sense of wonder. Was this the answer to the koan? Every day life is a koan, life is a complete impossibility, just look around you an in you, let that koan sink in, let that koan inhabit you entirely. Shikantaza is a koan, but it is not only a koan, we could even say that Shikantaza is the never ending, ever ripening, ever depening and ever changing Mû koan. There is very little doubt in my mind that as one is sincere in Shikantaza practice one will encounter the same doubt sensation and torment that formal koan practice will generate. Practice has no beginning or end, why would you put an end to it by having an answer?
Reading “Life”- Hoagy apparently approved of Richards’ version:
Hell of a book.
As to the “one thing”…
Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen.
Or as those English-speaking folk are wont to say (translated by Google):
Whereof one can not speak, thereof one must be silent.
One must always attend to ones whereofs and thereofs, I do believe…
Mankind could certainly do with more silence. I certainly won’t hold my breath.
Or your typing fingers.
Walker: Schrodinger’s Cat. You utilized quantum physics and other sciences to frame this book. How did you use this? what techniques did you use? and explain some of the, er, things about that book.
Wilson: Well, Schrödinger’s Cat an attempt to write a new kind of science fiction. New Scientist magazine, I’m happy to say, called it the most scientific of all science-fiction novels, which really pleased me very much. It pleased me so much I quote it every chance I can.
What I was trying to do with Schrödinger’s Cat: Instead of going as far out as I could in my imagination, I tried to follow where modern physics is going (what are the main lines of interpretation of the universe in modern physics?) and just write about a universe that fits modern physics. And that is so mind-blowing it seems crazier than anything a science-fiction writer could invent. As a matter of fact, a lot of it does sound like science fiction.
The majority — well, not necessarily the majority, but a growing minority (especially among the younger physicists), believes it makes as much sense to say there are infinite universes as it does to say there is one universe. The equations of quantum mechanics can be interpreted either way. Either out of an infinite number of possibilities, the universe, every second, collapses into one — which is the reality we’re living in; or, it doesn’t collapse: all the probabilities happen at the same time in different parts of super-space.
Both interpretations make equally much sense: they both fit the equations, they both fit the experiments, and there is nothing in science fiction wilder than this “parallel world.” I mean, the parallel-world idea literally implies that I am here, in this universe, but in the universe next door, the car I came in (which had a slight flat tire) went off the road and I got killed and didn’t do this show. Now that’s the Schrödinger’s Cat paradox: Schrödinger demonstrated that, in quantum theory, you can say a cat is dead and the cat is alive, and both can be true at the same time — even though that contradicts ordinary logic.
Just the same way the cat can be dead and alive, I’m dead and alive. It gives you a certain Buddhist detachment from things to think that you’re dead and alive at the same time. You can’t get too worried when you start thinking of it that way. [laughs]
Other interpretations of quantum mechanics are even weirder. Bell’s theorem, a very important — the most important discovery in quantum mechanics in the last thirty or forty years. Bell’s theorem says two particles, once in contact, continue to be mathematically correlated no matter how far apart they move in space — or in time; which implies that if I take a measurement of two rays of light, and one is coming from a star and took 15 million years to get here, and the other is coming from a candle across the room, because those particles are correlated, they remain correlated no matter which way you look in time. So I’m affecting that star 15 million years ago.
Walker: [interjects] And this fits the mathematical equations?
Wilson: This fits the equations of quantum mechanics. It has led to a sort of general interest in monistic philosophies among physicists — monistic philosophies being those that say there is no separation in the universe, we’ve just created separations in our minds through our habit of analysis — all of which is very much like what any New-Ager will tell you, “Hey, man! It’s all one!” Well, that is one interpretation of quantum mechanics: you can’t separate anything. It’s called non-locality. You can’t separate anything in space or in time.
“Now that’s the Schrödinger’s Cat paradox: Schrödinger demonstrated that, in quantum theory, you can say a cat is dead and the cat is alive, and both can be true at the same time — even though that contradicts ordinary logic. Just the same way the cat can be dead and alive, I’m dead and alive.”
Watch out guys, there’s often quite a bit of loss of (important) information when you go from science to popular science. That’s really a pity, because things tend to get more mysterious and harder to understand when this happens.
So, if you really want to feel dead and alive at the same time like Schroedinger’s cat, then, strictly speaking, you’d have to be sitting in a closed shoebox with a small closed bottle of poisonous gas next to you that will burst if a certain atom decays at a random moment in time. The cat was just a means for Schroedinger to show that microscopic processes goverened by quantum mechanics can have a direct impact on our ‘normal’, macroscopic world.
I certainly agree that this corresponds to the Buddhist idea that the world is much richer than we can ever express or even realize, but the agreement for me is more in the example itself. Schroedinger’s cat, like many other examples in natural science, is just a simplified model for a moment/place in space-time, which is itself in fact much more complex. For example, with every cat I’ve ever known, you’d know perfectly after a little while if it’s still alive …
Another strong link I see between Buddhism and science is the importance of the direct experience. Scientific theory, as fascinating as it might be — multiverses, inflation, strings, quantum gravity — is purely conceptual. These ideas might be related to something that really exists in nature, but there are equally many examples of things that are also beautiful, and do not exist. Ether is the classical example. So you have to test your hypothesis, and test it, and test it, … and perhaps ultimately falsify it. Only something that is falsifiable is a theory. Unfortunately, for multiverses, this isn’t really the case (yet), hence many scientists do not consider this really scientific. I do agree though, that it is a fascinating idea (plus, it was the only possibility ever to get a glimpse of Spock wearing a beard). I know it’s also heavily discussed in popular science books, but that’s also a bit of a hype.
And finally, entanglement does not affect all particles either. You really need pretty special conditions. A photon from the candle, or the star, that you send through a crystal where it will be split into two, will do the trick, for example, but they both need to ‘have known about each other’ at some point, else they will just be two ordinary particles. No idea how to relate this to Buddhism, I just wanted to mention it for completeness.
But enough complaining now, and sorry for being such a smarta.. about all this. I know it’s very difficult to get a full picture of modern science when all you can rely upon are popular science books or articles. But I think that the similarities between Buddhism and science are there, even when you look at science from the inside. Many of the founders of quantum mechanics, in fact, were fascinated by it. Perhaps that’s not such a big surprise, because you rely so heavily on what you see/sense of the world in both cases, and you use the same brain to understand what your senses are telling you.
My absolute favorite thing about Zen discussions is the total and unmitigated missing of the points.
The old Zen cliche is not to mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself. But 99-percent of all Zen discussions turn into arguments over the details of the finger. Fuck the finger. Focus on the goddamned moon. (Also, if you’re the type that’s going to reply something along the lines of “Well, the finger and the moon are really one and the same” just forget it. You’re not necessarily wrong. But you’re still stuck on the state of the finger. Just look at the goddamned moon.)
Fuck the moon.
There, I said it.
anyone up for a book club to discuss Don’t be a Jerk? And…does anyone know how to do such thing? Cause I don’t…but It would be cool to have others to dissect the book with. Maybe Facebook be a good medium? Anyway, I’m up for it if anyone else is. Via whatever method 😉
I fucked the moon once….afterwards, she took all the covers and made me sleep in the wet spot. She didn’t call the next day. Now she wants all her albums back. That moon is a fickle mistress.
In the rather new book “Dogen and Soto Zen”, edited by Stephen Heine, his colleague T. Griffith Foulk argues that Dogen himself understood Shikantaza as a koan. I subscribe to the argument that Dogen understood shikantaza as physical – but also as “mental sitting” that is possible in EACH posture (or doing).
Some – like Brad – argue that shikantaza would be different and not “a conceptual framework itself” but actually practice and advocate it like such a framework, from the details of sitting to the adiction to this kind of sitting.
Only by understanding Dogen fully, like Foulk tries to do it, this soto teacher does not fall behind the sixth patriarch who had already understood that the right mental attitude in whatever physical circumstances, deeds or works is what Zen is about. “Dropping off body and mind” means becoming unattached to physical and mental phenomena. Any attachment to ritual zazen, one should think, would then be impossible.
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