Tag Archives: spirituality

Changes

By this time in my life I have ceased to be very surprised by the big changes, perhaps because I felt all of them were cast by my own hand. I have wrapped myself in drama and romance for so long they are as natural to me as the autumn breeze or falling rain. Part of me is constantly examining the motivation for my choice and reflecting on what that means for my character. The other part is comfortable and grateful for the freedom of my choices and thus it makes every moment sweet and luscious.

To bask in the romance of my wandering likely defiles so much of the purity that is to follow the trail. Nonetheless, the time is spent in such deep introspection that I believe it is in fact quite beneficial for my growth as a person.

Each day is a gift of the infinite wonder; the journeying between the temples gives ample opportunity to practice gratitude. The austerities I place om myself, though decadent compared to the practice of clergy or the impoverished, is a large step away from the superficial nonsense sold by the integrated world. I keep small comforts in books and occasionally music, but for the vast majority of my indulgences are produced and consumed only the mind. Opportunities for contribution are rare, but respect for the environment and my prayers during meditation are a start.

The road is often empty, at times I walk days without talking to another human being. Yet I am not alone, humanity is omnipresent. The actions of others are what make my journey possible, even the mountain trail is passable due to the efforts from 1200 years of seekers before me. I cannot take a single step without some sort of blessing. The taste of the wind, the moisture on my back: every second a lifetime of stimulants wash over me, blessing the heart with a myriad of phenomena to examine.

I used to wonder if others could feel and appreciate exactly as I do, but less and less do I think it matters.

The save game

And so my month of pilgrimage has come to an end.  I was going to stay in Shikoku until Friday, but various factors made it more practical to come back a couple days early.

Carrying fifteen kilograms I hitchhiked five hundred kilometers from eastern Japan, and then I walked about five hundred more:  over mountains, through rice fields, along ocean shorelines.  I paid for lodging twice in the whole month, and for twenty four days lived the life ascetic:  sleeping in vegetable fields, shrine gardens, on rest area benches, and in bus stop overhangs.  My back held up better than I expected.  By some miracle I only had two minor blisters on my right foot.  I lost an inch off my waist and three pounds.  I cooked rice in a pot, and ate handouts of oranges and throat lozenges.  I read three novels, two texts on Buddhist sutras, and one work on philosophy. I chanted the heart sutra over eighty times, lit dozens of candles and made offerings at thirty five temples– thirty two Shingon Buddhist and three Rinzai Zen.  And I took over five hundred photographs, film and digital, to remember it by.  Everything cost less than sixty thousand yen, a fraction of my living expenses in Tokyo.

But that is my trip by the numbers.  What I went looking for was solace, reflection, discovery.  I suppose I found all of these.  Nothing earth-shatterimg, no revelations to change my life, but a little deeper insight into what I think I already knew in my heart.  I don’t have a definitive answer to where my career will lead next, but I have a good start on that, and a slew of colorful mindmaps on my tablet documenting the thought processes and action items moving forward.  🙂

I’m not sure if Thoreau would curse me or shake my hand.

But that is my trip.

The birthday

I have a habit of spending birthdays alone.  I used to receive a day off from the company, and it falls in close proximity with the Japanese national holiday Culture Day.  Games that ship at Christmas are long done at the end of October, or there is a major problem, so the confluence of these events leads to time off which I almost always prefer to spend out of town, so the solitary birthday comes into being.  This time it is a whole month, and aside from a few days where friends overlapped my path, it has been a solo expedition.  To be honest I think I have handled it rather well.  No homesickness, hardly any lonely except when I have stopped moving for example due to weather.  I have my thoughts, my books, and the scenery to keep me more than occupied.   Nature itself is an endless realm of learning and challenge.

There is a certain detail-oriented allure to backpacking.  All your possessions are on your person, and as such easily cataloged and maintained.  All of the years raised to put everything in its place:  laundry washed in restroom sinks and hung on the tent rigging, a collapsible set of chopsticks that fit in a titanium lightweight mess kit, toiletries in sealable bags, each trial size and the bare minimum for survival with comfort.  With every tightly rolled sleeping bag the day begins with fulfillment and promise.

So for my birthday when everyone wishes me something special, a drink and a celebratory evening, I thank them for the sentiment but will likely spending it as I am most content:  in a distant country or a remote forest, tidying my campsite in between extended sessions of book reading, stretching, and meditation.  In bed soon after dark and dreaming of how compact my pack will be on the trail tomorrow.

The way to judge a man

Reading The Diamond Sutra makes my head spin with ethereal concepts, so after a while I started on in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance again, because the larger part of it is easier to relate to, with concrete examples.

Reflecting on my insecurities, and how they all trace back to the ego, the craving for individualism and validation of the self from external sources depresses me for I cannot find a substrate to begin the dissolution of the problem.

So I began to think about judgment of character, and evaluating my desire to speak, to write.  These are also undoubtedly driven by the same core psychological elements, so writing or speaking again for these reasons is unjustifiable in the Buddhist sense.

There is a saying that a man should be judged by his actions, and not his words, which I think has a lot of credence.  So, if I as a man am to do as such, words for the sake of others need be limited to the gesticulation of simple commands and needs.  If only it were so.

Communication for the completion of tasks alone is insufficient, for all humans are at some degree driven emotionally.  So the words that are most economical on their use are gratitude, understanding, and apology.  To master these words alone and their usage must take a man far in life.  There is a time, and a manner of dispensing them that builds one’s status in community of the micro and macroscopic scale.

In nirvana all these things may go unsaid, for their meaning would be implicit, and no soul hunger for them.  However, we do not live in such a world as of yet, so acknowledgement of their power is unavoidable.

Growth

What is it that prompts emotional growth?  For biological things, nutrients and environment are the biggest factors, along with any motivated conditioning.  But what about love, compassion, or social awareness?  If one is loved does one learn love?  If one is shown compassion is it learnable? 

Physical growth is possible largely due to physical factors.  So is emotional growth based on emotional factors?  From my experience it seems like dramatic change prompts growth, however this may only be as the change is memorable, so the events immediately afterwards tend to be catalogued with more scrutiny.  Am I able to love as I do now because of thirty years of slow, accumulated caring?  Could I have realized these things any sooner if I had diverted more resources to the cause?  If that is the case, then we do have direct control over how growth as human beings.  Our free will permits us the opportunity to optimize this equation.  So it is quite true that a man is best judged not by what he has, but how he spends his time.

This is another thing I mean to understand more fully in my heart.  If I did there would be much less guilt in my life, and much more satisfaction.  Thanks to the powers that gave me the conscience to realize this.

Fate

Today’s randomly chosen passage from the Buddhist scriptures:

“Of all the wordly passions, lust is the most intense.  All other worldly passions seem to follow in its train.”

Walking tall

There comes a point where the mind can no longer deal with so many tasks, pressures, and concerns, and extraneous thought is all culled subconsciously. It’s no longer about winning, losing, or fighting, normal operation is put on hold to keep sanity together until the siege passes.  This is the time where you experience the most memory loss during development.  ‘Where did those weeks go?  I don’t remember doing anything that season at all.’  You do not remember anything because there wasn’t anything worth remembering, you’re just a machine that replies to emails and ticks off tasks.  I don’t know if this is what they call burnout, it’s probably just north of burnout, somewhere in the moors of primordial coping.

It’s a little bit like being on a mild depressant, novel at first in the unique perspective you gain temporarily– walking straight up, your focus drifting vapidly between objects in the mid to far distance.  There is an odd sense of calm unbefitting of such a tragic erosion or one’s most precious resource, time.

Everything outside of work is sacred, and the slightest hint of compassion almost drives you to tears.  It makes me wonder what kind of man I am to live like this.

To the artist I hope to find something beautiful and more significant than all the hours in and out of the office I spend worrying about that kind of nonsense.

To loving the rocking of a train, the dew that collects in the backs of my elbows, to some kind of magic always around me that I am too foolish to see.  To finding some meaning and something truly worth investing in.

Religion

There are many solutions to any one problem. Ultimately it comes down to a matter of cost, which is a subset of a matter of will. If only will were infinite and nor organic, then life would be simple. But will is a muscle that must be trained. To be precise it is the only muscle that really requires training. When will is supple, everything else falls into place.

Oversimplifications

The mind feels safe when presented with simple, everyday concepts. There’s probably a lot of entry level psychology behind that but let’s let it be and accept it as fact. (There, it’s working already, don’t you feel good?)

So, complicated things are best explained in analogy until the pathways are paved to freeway levels of delineating this is why ancient religious texts speak in parable. Something as ethereal and co,plaited as divinity or the human soul and how to care and feed it needs some concrete metaphor that the ignorant human mind can digest. Sure, I may say that I understand the concept of Kharma but flicking off someone on the highway or fantasizing about my friend’s wife doesn’t usually carry the immediate causative feedback as touching a hot iron kettle. So we start with the esoteric “Dharma” and immediately liken it to an eight-spoke wheel. Why? Because there are eight basic elements on the road to Enlightenment and we needed an unmistakable positive symbol (the most primitive icon of technology, the wheel) to associate it with. With the wheel comes progress and balance in it’s eight spokes. All good things… see, you’re on the road to nirvana already.

Hatreds never cease by hatreds in this world. By love alone they cease. This is an ancient Law.
Dhammapada

To change the subject, let’s talk about suffering. Suffering, Buddha teaches is inherent of mortal life and unavoidable. One may only break free from the suffering of mortality through entry into Buddhahood, breaking the cycle of rebirth.

Leaving aside the belief in Buddhahood or rebirth, there is practical wisdom (read: easily digestible metaphor) in the way one approaches suffering. To be among men is suffering, for one is constantly confronted with their imperfections in everything from their character to the devices they design and build. Take for instance this bus I’m riding in. It gets me a long distance cheaply and more quickly than most means. However, due to the limitations of infrastructure it is built to seat someone seventy percent of my size, has poor circulation, is hot, shakes violently, etc. So the physical discomfort of this bus is one of many kinds of suffering my mind and body must endure. If I were extremely wealthy, I may have a helicopter or private limousine which is relatively much more acceptable to the human body. However in that meager improvement to my physical comfort I’d be alienated from my fellow man, the empathetic disadvantages are incalculable. This brings me, finally, to my point: which is that everyday suffering is a blessing for providing a culture foundation for strength of character. Focusing on the suffering is an opportunity to grow; a start towards deeper connections with people.

Notice how missionaries always speak of how kind and compassionate natives of remote and inhospitable environments are? They have been through so much suffering every day of their lives, they are truly grateful for the simplest elements of human life: water, food, shelter, health, and fraternity. Pity the isolated prince who knows not the suffering that surrounds him. This has been many men as it has been you and I. As it was also Siddhārtha, the Buddha.

The year with/without Christmas

Some things seem over the years to lose meaning in a sense, things like Christmas. As a beloved childhood memory, Christmas was a glorious five weeks starting with Thanksgiving and ending with the trip to my grandmother’s house on Christmas Day. The songs, the lights, the decorations in town. The magic of everyone being kind and considerate to each other, the different crackle in the air. But as I grew older and focused on increasingly daunting pursuits, that magic seemed to fade, like a dream after waking. Christmas changed from a season to a couple of weeks to detox from the stress and bustle my 180bpm lifestyle, punctuated with a couple customs to share with a significant other. As much as I didn’t want to lose the magic of Christmas, I stopped seeing it and wondering what that meant of my soul.

Rooted in religion, commercialized by the 20th century America, adopted by the world’s shopping malls, Christmas means so many things that it’s become fettered in my mind with cynicism. But beyond language or divinity. But beyond language or divinity, the message still rings true with me, like a lone candle left burning after a storm. Peace on earth. Goodwill towards men.

A poor Buddhist

So it’s come to my last day in Thailand. There has been so much packed into the first three days, routinely stating early in the morning, that I really can’t keep track of what’s happened I was thinking of going to Ko Kret today, but I’m so exhausted that I think I may just wander around Bangkok, taking the odd snapshot and looking for some groovy threads.

I wanted to have a mellow time and find some peace in visitn Ayutthaya, but the pressure I put upon myself to take pictures along with my health and the environment did just the opposite. By the end of the day I was so sick of photographing ruins that I couldn’t even finish the last four shots of Ektachrome on the roll. I was so aggravated that I was cursing everything under the sun for the bus ride home. The irony of this pitiful egotism was not lost on me, and I felt more than a little guilty for missing the point entirely. How pompous and superficial my thinking becomes at times. I need to reflect on this.

Buddhism isn’t about statues or temples, castles or amulets, it’s like most religions, a way of believing and acting, and one I haven’t been too good at. Just need to stop and think, without falling asleep for once.

Four crickets

Cosmos and stars aligned in curves my heart at peace. Would I feel so at peace in another world? Or would the lack of my suffering remvoe meaning from such a soothing balm? The Tao says without the lost there would be no way, so is the altruistic ideal only so gracious because of the voracious world? Is nature clean because the city is dirty? Do lovers love because haters hate? How alone must I feel for another to belong?

So much of beasts make us human.

Saying Goodbye

Today I have to say goodbye to someone very important. Today I have to say goodbye to my mentor, Randy Pausch. Randy died today after a two year battle with pancreatic cancer. He was my inspiration and my teacher. He came into my life when I was lost and aimless, and he gave me something to live and dream for. He helped make me who I am.

He was intelligent, outgoing, and an excellent speaker. He talked about ideals and dreams, and what to live for, and I believed in him with my heart and soul. He was honest and straightforward; he demanded much from me because he knew what I was capable of.

From the moment I met him I admired him, and he drove me to excel beyond my wildest imagination. I sought his approval and recognition, and through my efforts and my passion, I achieved them.

When I was was joyous, he rejoiced with me, and when I was lost he showed me the way. He spoke to me plainly, and wisely. He made me feel good about who I was, and what I could achieve.

After I found out he had cancer, even though we were apart, he still continued to touch my life. As the world came to know Randy Pausch, I found an even deeper lesson to learn from him. In his suffering and trial, he endured with a strength that defines the beauty of the human spirit. He will always live in my heart.

I cannot repay a fraction of the compassion and wisdom he has taught me. I can only hope to spend every remaining day of my life to live as he did: with honor, and strength, and endless gratitude for all that I have been given.

I miss you Randy…

Spicks and specks

I promised myself I’d go to bed as soon as I came home tonight, because tomorrow is going to be another very long day. However, I do so little outside of work, I have to spend a few minutes doing something, just to break it into two pieces, you know? So this post is really nothing more than filler to you, sorry. It means a lot to me though, to be and and say. Hopefully I’ll have a day off this weekend and I can catch up on some production.

One might try to paint a picture with water colors on the blue sky, but it is impossible. And it is also impossible to dry up a great river by the heat of a torch made of hay, or to produce a crackling noise by rubbing together to pieces of well-tanned leather. Like these examples, people should train their minds so that they would not be disturbed by whatever kinds of words they might hear.

They should train their minds and keep them broad as the earth, unlimited as the sky, deep as a big river and soft as well-tanned leather. — from The Way of Purification

Tokens of satori

The express train is passing by again, numbers fall into letters and I’m three months older.

I really can’t manage any sort of original thought right now, so I think I’m going to try posting quotes from my reading for a while, occasionally with a photograph. Think of it as pocket enlightenment.

Today’s passage is from the Buddhist scriptures:

A person who is pleased when one receives good instruction will sleep peacefully, because one’s mind is thereby cleansed.

A carpenter seeks to make his beam straight; an arrow-maker seeks to make his arrows well-balanced; the digger of an irrigation ditch seeks to make the water run smoothly; so a wise person seeks to control one’s mind so that it will function smoothly and truly.

A great rock is not disturbed by the wind; the mind of a wise person is not disturbed by either honor or abuse.

To conquer oneself is a greater victory than to conquer a thousand in a battle.

To live a single day and hear a good teaching is better than to live a hundred years without knowing such teaching.

The world is always burning, burning with the fires of greed, anger and foolishness; one should flee from such dangers as soon as possible.

The world is like a bubble, it is like the gossamer web of a spider, it is like the defilement in a dirty jar, one should constantly protect the purity of one’s mind.

— “The Way of Practical Attainment”, from The Teaching of Buddha