Monday, April 14, 2014


Principles of Zen III

Today’s talk takes us back to the series on the Principles of Zen, as discussed in the book Haiku, by R.H. Blyth.


A Buddha makes his or her own way.

Repeat: A Buddha makes his or her own way.


I may be branded an anarchist for what I am about to say, just as my Methodist friend branded me an animist because I claimed stones have a spirit.

There is little or nothing you can do to change the world all by yourself, so you should simply be yourself. Now, I don’t mean people can’t make a difference in world affairs; they can. What I am saying is that you shouldn’t be a blind follower of the rest of the world, because if you succumb to the way the world is, you may find that it is changing you.

          You should think for yourself and behave accordingly.

          One day not too many years ago somebody who was wearing a baseball-type of cap swiveled it around back to front. Then someone else saw that first guy with his cap on ass-backwards, and the second guy thought hey, that looks cool, I’m going to wear my cap that way so I too will look cool. 

          So he did. And someone else saw him . . . and so on, and so on.

Now virtually everyone who wears a baseball-type cap wears it turned around, and as a result a baseball-cap wearer looks like a carbon copy of every other baseball-cap wearer, and they all look not cool but commonplace.

You cannot look like someone else, because you are you and not someone else.

          As admirable as a tree is—sturdy, tall, enduring, and strong—you cannot possibly be a tree, so why try to be a tree or look like one?

          You may admire some qualities of Mother Teresa, or of Mahatma Gandhi, and want to identify yourself with such qualities. That’s fine. But no matter how you comb your hair or wear your clothing, you cannot be—or even be like—Mother Teresa or Gandhi.

          You are you, which is much more important than being someone else. So be the best possible you that you can be. Think for yourself and act for yourself.

          Never mind what others are doing.

          You are the most important person in your life, so make your own way.


       The self and the rest of the universe are not separate but are one functioning whole.

          Repeat: The self and the rest of the universe are not separate but are one functioning whole.


In a personal letter, Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk who labored at synthesizing Eastern thought and Christianity, wrote about the reality that is present to us and in us.

“Call it Being,” he said. “Call it Atman [the true essence of anything], call it Pneuma [spirit] . . . or [call it] Silence,” Merton said. “And the simple fact that by being attentive, by learning to listen (or recovering the natural capacity to listen which cannot be learned any more than breathing), we can find ourselves engulfed in such happiness that it cannot be explained: the happiness of being at one with everything . . . .”

All things are interrelated, whether they are animal, vegetable, or mineral. Every thing affects every other thing in a delicate but certain way.

To repeat what I said a few minutes ago, the self and the rest of the universe are not separate but are one functioning whole.

The fantasy writer Ray Bradbury wrote a short story that illustrated this principle. I don’t remember the title of the story, but it went something like this.

The beginning scene is set in a time of impending nuclear war and potential world destruction. The main character, a citizen of the United States, is reflecting on the forthcoming presidential election. One of the candidates is a compassionate and benevolent person whose goal is world peace. The other candidate is a cruel and oppressive personality, who, if elected would likely start a nuclear war.

The pre-election polls marginally favor the nice candidate, but things are so close that any little incident could change the entire picture.

 The man reads an advertisement for a company that offers time-travel excursions to the past. Any past. To take his mind off the present, the man signs on for a trip back to the Mesozoic era.

In the pre-trip briefing, the man is cautioned several times that when he arrives in the past he is to remain perfectly still in his pre-assigned spot, to look around all he wants, but to not touch anything because the least little thing he might touches in the past could alter the course of history.

He is sent back 225 million years, where he stands in his safe spot marveling at the dinosaurs and the lush foliage, which probably includes a lot of ginkgo trees.

Just as the man’s time is up, and he is due to be transported forward to his own present day, he notices he has stepped on a butterfly.

So what, he thinks. One dead butterfly. An unfortunate and insignificant occurrence.

The man is returned to the present.

Back home the first thing he sees is a newspaper headline to the effect that the evil presidential candidate has won the election and has already declared all-out nuclear war against the rest of the planet.

All because of the death of a butterfly 225 million years earlier.

The self and the rest of the universe are not separate but are one functioning whole.

Think about it.


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