Hi there! Welcome to Vlad's personal blog.

This is just a tiny page now, but I have some aspirations; maybe it will grow into something bigger. Maybe it won't. We'll see.


Feb 2 2019

A good question to ask yourself every day is "What am I clinging to?" Sex, intoxicants, conceptual thinking, a picture of your bright future, your pride, loved ones, the desire to exist? To enter the truth, we should let go of them all. Also be aware that obvious desires, like taking alcohol (if that is your poison), or candy, or having sex are actually less destructive than seemingly innocuous habits such as clinging to concepts or an image of yourself. Often we have no idea what our problem is. Meditation helps to reveal it. So does talking to a good teacher. We need to be open and sincere, even brutally honest, be it with a teacher, or with ourselves.

Here is an often quoted passage from Dogen:

To study the Buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self.

But at the same time we must not forget that

It is foolish to believe you can get by without receiving anything from teachers.1 […] To visit teachers widely is to visit the self widely.

I think this is in line with "everything is in the mind" philosophy. An insight I scribbled down yesterday and wanted to share was that there is no gap. You cannot "mismatch" reality, if you are fully there. In particular, because you create it. So we shouldn't be afraid our effort is not enough and try too hard. Our best is always enough.

The insight is not my own, of course. I had already read another idea in the same vein in "Zen teachings of Homeless Kodo".

To know there’s no gap we might fall into from buddhahood is issaichi, or all-knowing wisdom. The night train carries you even when you’re sleeping.

Footnotes:

1

Same source. I don't have a text with exact wording at hand at the time. I'll improve when/if I find it.

Dec 27 2018

The reason why masters test each other and why external verification (permission to teach) is important is the students. When you "get" Zen it is quite natural to be inclined to teach, I assume.

Not always so, of course, as some koans indicate. FWIW, Alan Watts said that's the difference between a Bodhisattva and a private buddha, the former deemed to have a superior realization. The Soto tradition does not bother with levels of realization, though (AFAIK). And by the way when such things are judged elsewhere, there's always the issue of authority.

Which brings us back to the topic of verification. As Brad Warner has pointed out numerous times, if you relate your experience/understanding to a teacher to get a confirmation that it is "true" (genuine, insightful, enlightened, whatever), then you start to depend on his/her verification. That is, if they do confirm, of course. If they disconfirm, however, that too immediately opens the door for manipulative behavior; you are on the hook in that case as well. A reasonable thing for a teacher to do in that kind of situation is to throw the power you have given them right back at you.

On the other hand, isn't it the role of the teacher to point out mistakes in our view? In my (rather limited) experience what Zen teachers actually tend to do is return you to the immediate reality and to the self. Which is what you do during zazen anyway. That is not to say we don't need teachers. In fact, such understanding would be a terrible mistake. Even Mr. Buddha himself had a teacher.

I used to think the koan method used in the Rinzai school was really neat and reliable (for leading a student to enlightenment, or liberation, or realization of the truth, or "the nature of mind and therefore of all things", as Dzogchen gurus have it). And I thought that because of my background in math and computer programming. This is strictly an intellectual understanding. My idea was that upon "solving" a koan you bisect the area of understanding and give up the "wrong" notions and ideas, thus narrowing the remaining space where the truth lies. Repetition of this process (the koans are numerous, and some are believed to be harder than others) should in a rather moderate number of steps bring you to the ultimate understanding i.e. exactly the same as your teacher's — the person who gives you the koans to ponder — and by extension, the Buddha's.

Of course, each of us decides for themselves whether to follow a particular teacher. And not only that; you are the final authority in any of your decisions. If you trust some external authority and do as they say, it is still you empowering them to tell you all these things and make you follow them.

As for "getting" Zen, I think "liberation" is a really good word. (Aside: I'm pretty sure this is factually wrong, but I like to play with etymology of the word "enlightenment": maybe the root "light" there is opposed to "heavy" rather than to "dark". Which is kind of in line with my experience that "deep zazen" — an expression I saw in a book — actually feels light.) Here is what Ingen referred to in one of his talks. He said he'd felt liberation from doing zazen and that kept him coming for more.

So don't be hanged up on liberation or on what some authority figure has to say ;-) (This is catch-22, by the way: by definition, wanting liberation doesn't get you there, giving up does.)

Gosh, it takes real determination to stay on topic (which I can't muster right now). Mind you, I am a beginner writer. You've been warned... Kudos and thank you if you've made this far!

Anyway, the following quote really stuck with me: "Unenlightened shouldn't preach, for that is killing Buddhism." "Am I enlightened?" and "who is?" are questions of verification and authority. And various institutions have developed formalized rites of acknowledgement which for them might imply certification of personal attainment and permission to teach.

This has been a dilemma for me, because on the one hand, I feel the urge to share my practice and disseminate the teachings and on the other hand, I've felt that my understanding must be way incomplete and my practice must be too shallow, all I am good for is useless philosophizing, who am I to tell people how to live their lives and what happens if — God forbid — I misguide people. So it's better to refrain from anything resembling teaching until I reach some ultimate point and maybe given a Dharma transmission by some certified 100% kosher enlightened folks, right?

In retrospect, it is obvious that a more balanced, middle way approach is called for. But I came to this conclusion without using any such rule. And for a long time it was not really clear to me that the "shouldn't preach" approach is extreme. I still believe it is easy to be misguided and that everything we do is important. And of course I still intend to visit teachers. Also, I really don't want to misguide anyone. Some people are weird, and you never know who reads all the text you are dumping on the internet.

There's also another quote that makes me think twice before I say anything of so-called spiritual or religious nature. As you may know, there are Buddhist precepts that every aspiring monk has to take. (Their role does not quite parallel that of the Christian commandments, but that's beyond the point now.) There are just 5 of them (or 8, or 10), basically: don't kill, don't steal, don't misuse sex, don't lie, don't take drugs. Now, depending on the source their form might differ somewhat. The fifth is an interesting one. Various versions have it as "refrain from intoxication that clouds the mind", "abstain from giving or taking drugs", "don't live by selling liquor".

I don't have the exact quote at hand; I think I've read this interpretation in a book or a pamphlet by Gudo Nishijima, Brad's second teacher. (I think his interpretation of the meaning of the precepts is gold, by the way.) The idea is that by "liquor" we can consider promises of the spiritual nature. If you've ever seen anything like a religious cult, you probably know what I'm talking about. So there's certainly a way to "sell" all kinds of religious bullshit to people. Or maybe not even religious. Maybe you just promise them something or otherwise make them feel good. That's exactly like opium — a very powerful drug. No one should do that.

Real action is remarkably good for solving dilemmas. I've started writing for our local Aikido dojo website recently. While trying to cover some points related to the art I found myself referring to the Buddhist teachings repeatedly. I resisted some of the urges, because I really hate imposing opinions on people and being preachy. (At this point I must say that Zen does not require believing in any stupid things, so perhaps they aren't terribly opinionated pieces of writing. At least not in the usual sense.) Still, some quotes from Zen books and suchlike did infiltrate.

I try hard to make my writing sincere. No one is paying me or asking me to write. That's absolutely the best way and I wish for it to stay this way. Given that I had no one to cater to I was free to write whatever I wanted. Of course, since I intended to publish I didn't want to abuse the reader, potential audience being everyone on the Internet (and my Aikido sensei and other dojo members being the primary audience).

Then I figured that unlike academic papers, blog entries could and should be personal even if they are not for my own website. As much as a good writer tries to get their ego out of the way to make for smoother prose, in fact their personality is not separate from their writing. Any person can only write from their unique perspective on life. And my background is Zen practice and reading Zen books (too many of those, perhaps). I am what I am and the reader will just have to deal with it.

All in all, as you can see, I am ranting my head off about Buddhism. This is my personal blog, about zero people are reading this and they are all happy customers. I enjoy writing. In fact, I cannot stop doing it. I just hope that upon letting it out I'll be able to finally go about my business.

So my attitude towards verification is this. It is good for a teacher to affirm another teacher's understanding so that interested students would be on a lookout to learn from them. That's useful, because these days many groups that practice zazen don't have a resident teacher, so they either invite teachers, or go to retreats somewhere.

On the other hand, I don't need anyone's permission to spread the Dharma. "No rule is our rule" and all that ­ but please also "don't be a jerk". Still, if someone points out a reason I should shut up, then maybe I will.

Dec 21 2018

In Buddhism (not unlike in physics, or systems programming, by the way; or any other system striving for completeness, I suppose), when you start talking about certain concepts, you quickly find out that you must cover several related ones as well, since they are interdependent.

What I think a lot about these days is spacetime. How whereabouts of an object (e.g. my body) is not divorced from time it is found in that place. When we think about being somewhere we create an artificial construct in our mind (which we are usually doing all day long anyway; but I've been especially fascinated with this space-time thing lately), which is not reality. Somehow, the understanding of "the mind cannot be grabbed" phenomenon (as introduced by Dogen and translated by Brad Warner) is always connected to it in my thinking. You think about it and then you realize that you've just thought about it, but the moment has changed already. And so on. Nothing ever stays fixed. The reality is ever-fresh and ever-changing beast which is myself. Also, ukiyo, the floating world comes to mind. And in my current understanding this is what they call emptiness.

Another big thing is "not knowing". This one is connected to spacetime in an obvious way: for instance, you don't know the future. But you might imagine some particular event happening in the future. Even things that seem quite real — e.g. if they already happened in the past. In reality though, you don't know. And in fact when you get to the point in time you reasoned about, something about the setting is always different; the event you imagined is not isolated from the circumstances.

A parallel with quantum mechanics seems in order to back up the principle of not knowing for the nerds out there. But they know about not knowing already, so I'll just shut up.

I like to entertain the thought that Zen and physics are just digging the fundamental nature of reality from different ends. Which does not look alien to me at all. After all, there is just one reality. Zen is quite different from science, however, in that it does not strive to either describe or explain reality. In fact, it is ineffable. As Brad has eloquently put it, the meaning of life is life itself.

Dec 18 2018

The idea of "always being in the present moment" has already missed the mark, because it implies there's something outside the present e.g. the future, or the past. We shouldn't strive to always be in the present moment; we should be here now.


My talks (related to computer programming):