Monday, August 28, 2017


I would like to talk about something that has become an overused platitude, even a cliché.

That is, the word karma.

        There is a rock band called Karma. Celebrities and other less illustrious people baptize their newborn Karma. Household pets are named Karma. There is even a comic strip called Karma.

        Aside from the uses of pop culture, karma is an important term in Asian cultures.

        The literal meaning of the word is action, or effect, or fate. Karma is often spoken of as a law. But the word “law” sounds like a ruling or a decree.

        Some sources even break down karma into a dozen or more parts, such as responsibility, patience, focus, humility, and so on and on.

        But that kind of adjustment is so overblown that it can be ignored.

        In Hinduism and Buddhism karma is not a law but a concept that the sum of a person's actions affect their fate. In three words, it is cause and effect.

        Under karma, every action has consequences.

        The Upanishads are a collection of ancient Sanskrit texts that contain some of the central ideas of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. They are nothing new, dating back to the seventh century BC, and they talk about the idea of karma.

“Now a man is like this or like that, according as he acts and according as he behaves.

“A person of good acts will become good, a person of bad acts, will become bad.

“A person consists of desires, and as is the desire, so is the will, and so is the deed, and whatever deed the person does, that is what the person realizes.”

        In fewer words, every action has a consequence, just as every thought has a result.

        Instead of behaving impetuously and without thought, humans are capable of using their own brains. An awakened person should think. An awakened person should consider what personal action may be, and how it may affect themselves or someone else.

        An awakened person should realize that all things in the universe are interconnected.

        Zen has no rules, no laws, no directives. There are no mediators to interpret what you should or should not do.

You are totally on your own to carry out your destiny, your karma.

        That is called free will, and free will is what worries many people who like to be told how to live their lives, and who feel the need to follow directions instead of thinking for themselves.

        End of sermon.

        A final thought.

        Meditation could be said to be the art of simplicity: simply sitting, simply breathing, and simply being.

Monday, August 07, 2017



Whenever I mention the words “Self,” or “I,” or “Ego,”—especially in my Zen blog—I receive several comments that either disagree with my usage, or else offer other views. I look forward to such interaction.

For example, one person said: “If ‘self’ is the answer, or solution to our ills, then why all the ills? The ‘Self’ needs help; it doesn't offer it!”

Someone else commented: “The self is more like a universal soul. To find the self within you is to find something beyond the ‘self’ of the ego.”

I can’t argue with either view. First, because argument is pointless. Second, because I don’t want to argue. Everyone is entitled to his or her own view.

I’m sure tonight’s talk will bring on a firestorm of diverse voices.

* * * * *

Imagine for a minute you are enclosed in a transparent sphere. From inside your bubble you can observe everything. You are cozy because you are shielded from anything that does not agree with you. You are protected from disturbing noises, disagreeable odors, and difficult people. You are isolated from the world.

Everyone learns from childhood on to create and live in an insulated space.

Such a shell is built around a person’s “me,” a person’s “I.” It’s a protective defense. It’s designed to repel, or else filter, anything that is not harmonious with the one it protects.

Shells enclose a very small world.

Too often one’s shell is so tight it becomes stifling, which leads to deceptive thinking. That is, if anything that manages to insinuate its way into such a small world is not in agreement with the center—the “I” or “me”—the center suffers.

As long as one is bound by one’s small world, one behaves like a bird in a room that has no open windows or doors. A trapped bird flutters against walls, not sure of what it is doing but struggling to escape confinement. In its struggle it usually distresses itself.

Some humans allow themselves to be trapped birds. They ask “What am I?” Or, “Who am I?” Or, “Do I like this or that?” They struggle endlessly within their shell.

Paradoxically, their concept of “I” is what, in the first place, creates their small world and limits its boundaries. Ironically, this “I” is self-created. It is delusion.

In Zen there is no “I.”

Some religions teach that every human being is a worthless worm, born into sin and living in sin unless he or she accepts certain precepts.

Making threats of recrimination, or else dangling carrots of reprieve, is no way to treat a human spirit. Such practices reinforce people’s shells and strengthen their notion of “I.” People become fearful and guilt-ridden. A life based on the “I” concept is abstraction, not existence. Zen realizes existence directly.

Think about it: Zen realizes existence directly.

According to human-development researchers, consciousness develops largely in one’s teenage years. By consciousness I mean a sense of being-in-the-world. Consciousness is a background against which one’s existence is defined and measured. Consciousness means being coexistent with others.

However, the necessity of coexisting with others often encourages the development of the egocentric “I,” and one looks at all externals as so many tools, so much equipment. Friends and associates become equipment. Parents or children become equipment. Mates become equipment. They exist in small world terms, only as things to validate the “me,” the “I.” Of course, this equipmentizing reaches in two directions. One’s items of equipment, in return, also treat everyone else as equipment.

Think about it.

With everyone thinking “I,” “me,” and “them,” is it any wonder there is so much alienation in the world? Political systems clash. Christians and non-Christians wrangle. Arabs and Jews disagree.

When one lives in a closed shell everything outside becomes equipment designed to serve the needs of the inner “me.” Everything is depersonalized.

As an example, consider this singing bowl. At face value this bowl is an object designed to produce a sound. But no more than a tree is an object meant for lumber to build a shelter for me is this cup a mere thing designed for my need or my pleasure.

Perceive this bowl. Discover it. Don’t judge it, thinking that you don’t care for the shape, or that the color is not agreeable to your personal taste. Take the time to experience this bowl for the unique thing it is. It has shape. It has form. It has texture. It has a character of its own.

Furthermore, this bowl may seem identical to a matching bowl that was made at the same time, but each of the two bowls is its own self.

Experience a tree. Experience this bowl or that bowl. These are not mere things. Each is significant. Each is as important as any one of us.

These items are not pieces of equipment intended to fulfill our ego.

Other human beings are not pieces of equipment designed to validate our self.

Everything is unique. Every thing is what it is. Every thing, and every one, is.

* * * * *

What do you think?