The Eternal Value of One Little Thing

Homer CrazyI’m working on a new Dogen book. And in doing so, I’ve noticed a little message Dogen sneaks into his writings from time to time that I’d never really seen before.

In my current book Don’t Be a Jerk, Dogen says, “Even if the whole universe is nothing but a bunch of jerks doing all kinds of jerk-type things, there is still liberation in simply not being a jerk.”

Now I’m working on a paraphrase of Dogen’s famous little booklet Instructions for the Cook (this won’t be the whole book, just a chapter in it, and this link is obviously not to my book, which is still being written). In there he says, “Even one little speck of good makes a mountain of goodness that much bigger, so don’t neglect to do your job well.” The same would be true of a mound of shittiness. Just adding one speck of good makes a difference.

He says a few other things like this here and there in his writings. The basic message is that it’s never a mistake to do some small bit of good in any situation.

I think this is a message we all need right now.

Things are really getting nutty. Everyone seems to have gone insane in the past couple of years. Of course, people go crazy all the time. And maybe the entire history of mankind is a history of one form of insanity deposing another, with the slightly less insane version usually winning out over the long run (though very often not in the short run).

The Internet seems to be an especially fertile ground for fostering and nurturing the craziest of craziness. I think this is because people want to be noticed and, with so many competing voices, only the most extreme statements seem to get much attention.

In any case, there’s a tendency to feel like, if everybody is acting like a bunch of nutjobs then I might as well be a nutjob too. But I think that’s a mistake.

It’s worthwhile to try to hold on to some sense of sanity and balance even if you are the only one trying.

As I was thinking this stuff, I came across a list of random interesting thoughts, supposedly things people have come up with in the shower. One of them was, “Most animals don’t recognize their own reflection because their brains aren’t complex enough. I wonder if humans have observed something which we cannot comprehend or even know that we cannot comprehend because our brains lack that complexity.”

We human beings have amazingly complex brains. But we tend to believe them too easily. I think whoever said this was kind of a genius. It echoes certain things my Zen teachers have said. Gudo Nihijima used to say, “You can’t recognize your own Enlightenment.” When asked about the origins of life, the universe, and everything he’d say, “Such questions might be beyond all human beings’ ability.” Or he’d say stuff like, “It is impossible for us to know our true original nature because it is just a simple fact at the present moment.” Or, “I think that it is impossible for us to understand ourselves.”

So the question is; Can we even know how not to be a jerk, or how to add that one little speck of good, either to a mound of goodness or to a mound of shit?

I think we can. I think we do.

We deny that we do. And we get so good at this denial that we might even begin to believe we can’t tell right from wrong. But we can. Always. In every situation.

I’ve been reading a book called Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson. It’s a science fiction book about a gigantic multigenerational space ship traveling to Tau Ceti. The ship is controlled by a computer that, through the course of the book, becomes sentient. In the story, one of the people working closely with the computer is trying to teach the computer how to make an intuitive decision. The computer is having trouble with this because it can’t possibly know the outcome of every potential course of action and therefore cannot rationally choose the right one.

I don’t think this is just a problem computers have. It’s a problem we all face. If we try to think a problem through, we’ll get paralyzed. I watched this happen in the company I used to work for.

Something happened in the little community within that company wherein everyone started to feel that they couldn’t make any decisions unless they were assured of the outcome. This made it impossible for us to do anything at all except for stuff we’d already done before that had worked. And, of course, just because something worked once doesn’t mean it will work again, so everything started to fall apart until the owners finally had to sell the whole company.

The basic problem was that no one could trust their intuition anymore. But intuition is always our best guide.

Sometimes it’s hard to do what you know is the right thing. It often involves putting aside things like pride, or admitting you were wrong. We live in a society that can be brutal to people who admit they’re wrong. But sometimes that’s the only way to make things better.

Sometimes it’s as easy as putting aside what you think you should do, and just doing what you know needs to be done.

Whatever it is you do, it doesn’t matter if it solves some giant problem or not. You may not be able to solve racism in America, but you can treat the people you interact with kindly and respectfully — even if they’re racists. You may not be able to solve the problem of everybody being so damned over-sensitive about every little thing, but you can do your best to be more forgiving yourself.

Whatever good you can do, just do it. Even if it’s one tiny drop in the bucket, it still matters.


SEE Zero Defex at Now That’s Class! Friday July 1st. Do it while you can! I don’t know when we’ll be playing again next.

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Check out my podcast with Pirooz Kalayeh, ONCE AGAIN ZEN!

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July 1, 2016 Cleveland, Ohio Zero Defex at Now That’s Class!

July 4, 2016 Cleveland, Ohio Zero Defex TBA

July 8, 2016 Seattle, Washington EastWest Bookshop 7:30pm Talk & Book Signing

July 9, 2016 Seattle, Washington EastWest Bookshop 10am-3pm Workshop

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 8-9, 2016 Berlin, Germany 2-Day Retreat

October 11, 2016 Wageningen, Netherlands

October 12, 2016 Brussels, Belgium

October 14, 2016 Munich, Germany, Lecture

October 15-16, 2016 Munich, Germany, 2-Day Retreat

October 18, 2016 Salzburg, Austria

October 23-28, 2016 Benediktushof Meditation Centrum (near Würzburg, Germany) 5-Day Retreat



Every Monday at 8pm there’s zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. Beginners only!

Every Saturday at 10:00 am (NEW TIME!) there’s zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. Beginners only!

These on-going events happen every week even if I am away from Los Angeles. Plenty more info is available on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles website,

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