Not knowing is most intimate

Jizô asked Hôgen, "Where are you going, senior monk?"
Hôgen said, "I am on pilgrimage, following the wind."
Jizô said, "What are you on pilgrimage for?"
Hôgen said, "I don't know."
Jizô said, "Not knowing is most intimate."
Hôgen suddenly attained great enlightenment.

Book of Serenity, Case 20 – quoted after Illusory Flowers in an Empty Sky [link is dead]; - look at this.

My Dharma Friend and Zen Beginner A.W. wrote an extensive comment on Intimacy as Zen Lingo. In Zen "Intimacy" is a terminus technicus, whereas in common language it is misused in the same way as terms like "adult", "graphic", or "explicit" (always referring to fun and healthy stuff like sex, not to bad stuff like guns and violence). Intimate parts [NSFW in U.S.] are therefore "body parts usually covered in public" (Wikipedia). In French male private parts are called "bijoux de famille" (family jewelry).

Intimate Labors Cover
Screen Shot 2012-02-22 at 8.58.22 PM

Screen Shot 2012-02-22 at 8.58.22 PM

"What do home health aides, call center operators, prostitutes, sperm donors, nail manicurists, and housecleaners have in common?" asks the book Intimate Labors: Cultures, Technologies, and the Politics of Care. Ed. by Eileen Boris and Rhacel Salazar Parreñas. - Stanford UP, 2010. [Amazon]. On a side note: the paperback edition on Amazon is new $23.95 with "4 used from $125.82" (as of 2/22/12) - go figure what's so special about the used edition..."

I'm more interested in intimacy in Zen than in intimacy in Zen Center, especially where it refers to practice.  The most intimate relationship comes from the complete contact you need to make with an experience when you don't know - don't know what happens next, don't know why it happens. And in quite motionless sitting, where you know exactly where you are - on your cushion - and you know exactly what will happen next - nothing - for another 39 minutes - this experience is most direct, most intimate.

The translations of the Koans of the Book of Serenity can be found here. There is a discussion of the Koan also here.

Now - going skin-deep is this really intimate? preferably on your back where you can't see it? Check the Tattoo templates - the images are copyright protected and locked, so I cannot promote the work of Master Takase  here - you need to go to their website to see the tattoo on the back of the girl. But then, not knowing ... you get the idea

Read the Book of Serenity. [Amazon]

I have been studying with Marc Lesser for over 10 years, and he provides insights into this Koan:

“With not knowing, I am open, ready, willing to learn, to be surprised. I can see and hear others beyond my own ideas. Though my experience and knowledge are important, they can get in the way. When I let go of my own ideas, I can be present, humble. When I am humble, I am not afraid. I can enter this moment, engaged, moved, open – intimate.”

Read the complete text


An interesting discussion of Koans and this case by Melissa Myozen Blacker: Koans: One with the Question:

The truth within the koan “is revealed only when our whole being becomes the koan.”

This blog entry is work in progress and I will continue to add to it - so when you subscribe to floblogg you may get multiple email alerts.

There's a Bell in My Head

There's a Bell in My Head that Makes ding-dong and keeps me from thinking. Watch the craziness in the finale of Act 1 of Rossini's opera "An Italian Woman in Algiers", first performed in 1813. Rossini, often discounted as too shallow as a composer has captured in detail and with humor a common challenge when things start to get overwhelming and confusing: all you hear is a bell in your head and the clarity to understand the situation and make a decision is gone. “La mia testa è un campanello che suonando fa din din. Nella testa ho un gran martello mi percuote e fa tac tà. Sono come una cornacchia che spennata fa crà crà Come scoppio di cannone La mia testa fa bum bum.” (translation) — L'Italiana in Algeri, Finale Act 1. Gioacchino Rossini, 1813.

Take a look - and listen:

Maybe you should meditate. Just sit. Quietly, without moving. Yet this seems to you like the story of the guy admiring impeccable British lawn: How do you get it so perfect? – Oh just water twice a day, cut twice a month and roll twice a year – that's easy – just do it for 300 years... Yet, even if you manage once to sit for 20 minutes without moving, just breathing normally and instead of desperately trying to ban all though just let them come and go, you will experience why you want to do it again. Not so sure? Than you need to try again. No time to sit and meditate for 20 minutes? Then you should sit for 40 minutes.

Actually it's not even meditation, just sitting. So even when you think meditation is for wimps, there is a path for you: just sit. You can of course sit on the floor in full lotus position or somehow cross your legs in a way that your knees touch the ground (that's important to get the stability (think stool with three legs) and you will need a cushion or something to elevate your body to accomplish this – or sit on a chair, as long as your spine is straight.

Yes meditation is a powerful way to regulate emotion and prevent depression as well as many other benefits, including but not limited to enlightenment. But most important, it allows you to stop the bell ringing, the hammer that knocks and the radio that constantly plays in your head.

Try it and you will succeed and the moment you succeed, you will fail again and try again and you cannot graduate or get a black belt and advance. That's it - nothing else. This alone is worth the effort. And it's so simple that it is really hard.

And if nothing else helps, listen to Rossini - how they try to escape from Algiers and get back to their home in Italy to be free from the slavery of this crazy guy who keeps everybody with best intention in a luxurious palace. (You get the idea). 

Translation from the Italian text:

In my head I have a little bell which rings ding, ding
In my head I have a big hammer which knocks me and goes tick tack.
I'm like a crow which when plucked goes craw, craw.
Like a cannon shot my head goes boom, boom
(translation by Mark Wolston)

The complete opera is here.

The Body Exposed, The Golden Wind

  A monk asked Yun Men, “How is it when the tree withers and the leaves fall?” Master Yun Men said, “Body exposed in the golden wind.” — Case 27, Blue Cliff Record

One day in August you realize it will be autumn soon; Fall is such a harsh word for the golden days that in a way carry more hope than spring. Not that it suddenly got colder, on the contrary, a certain warmth in the air pushes you forward towards adventures you would not even have thought of in spring.

To paraphrase Genjo Koan, we don't call autumn the end of summer, we don't call summer the beginning of autumn. Yet every moment has the seed of the next moment in it together with the unknown what happens next.

When Marc mentioned the line that had followed him the whole day – body exposed in the golden wind – I immediately had a warm feeling, I could feel the wind and it is consoling; and while the first announcement of autumn in the middle of a warm day has a certain forlorn quality, the last rays of sun early November bring the golden light onto the last leaves slowly sailing down to a wet ground.  Every year, every life, every single moment not only has its autumn, it has its golden light.


Befiel den letzten Früchten voll zu sein;                Command the last fruits to be full; gib ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage,                   give them just two more southern days, dränge sie zur Vollendung hin und jage                urge them on to completion and chase die letzte Süße in den schweren Wein.                 the last sweetness into the heavy wine.

Rainer Maria Rilke: Herbsttag.                              English: (C) Edward Snow 1991 21.9.1902, Paris


Simple or Easy?

In marketing you should never use "simple" always write "easy". (There is a non-politically correct way to memorize about women that applies equally to men btw.). Sometimes life is very simple and hard - and the complicated is easy, the simple is hard: Approaching everyday life:

When you see it you just see it When you think about it you miss it

After listening to Norman's talk for four times - I finally got it. The story comes from Master Dogen's Shinji Shobogenzo case #106: "When you greet me I bow". Read more here

When you see it you just see it When you think about it you miss it.


Bridging the Crack

There is a crack, a crack in everythingThat's how the light gets in. — L. Cohen, Zen priest and writer

Austria – and especially Vienna – has a long tradition in bridging gaps, crossing boundaries and developing new creative opportunities in areas that did not even exist before. Vienna is especially creative when things don’t work out, when new approaches are required, old things need to be separated or when multiple domains need to be merged to create something new. In music, literature, theater, painting, medicine, and technology – Vienna always welcomed the misfits, the innovators, those recognizing the cracks in the continuum.

Cracks develop as old forms break and are essential for new forms to rise. Accepting radical impermanence is difficult, especially in a socio-cultural environment built on the bedrock or the Holy Roman Empire and the Monarchy of Austria-Hungary. Yet art and science were always an essential part of society as disruptors and this dichotomy created the tension critical for innovation.

Recognizing a crack not as an unfortunate occurrence of decay but as an opportunity to look inside, as a way for the light to get inside to see what makes the system work, to disclose the secrets and possibly to break the shell and expose new perspectives. The Japanese design of Wabi Sabi always preferred the imperfect, the intentionally or unintentionally damaged and the beauty of the unique form that is in stark contrast to the industrially produced uniformity.

To bridge the crack means to recognize the crack. To recognize the crack means to accept the crack. To accept the crack opens a whole different perspective and set of opportunities to realize new ideas. In the same way the negative space surrounding an object may at some times tell us more than the form of the object itself, a crack provides enhances our understanding.

Now recognizing the crack is only the beginning – we have the responsibility to act on our knowledge and as we bridge gaps East and West bring together people who would otherwise never meet to create unique new ideas that would otherwise not germinate. That is the function of a gathering, a conference like TEDx and it is the function that Austria had in the past and has today.

Here and Now: We are there - yet

"Are we there yet?" - "When will we be there" - " I'm telling my five year old daughter that we're here and that this is as good a place as the one we're going to and that accepting and enjoying being here is essential practice. She understands the concepts of practice and mindfulness and asks "when are we away from this place". I'm not going to tell her that we are away from this place never and always before she's six (next month on my birthday). I recently found this comment on journey and destination by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur:

Some people say: “It’s not just about the destination, it’s about the journey.” I agree except if you don’t know where you are going… you can enjoy the sun, the dolphins or the octopuses swimming around you all day long, but it will still feel empty and boring.

Desperately looking for a "destination", stuck in "are we there yet"-mode, everything becomes boring. For bored kids in the back of the car, the problem (?) is easily solved with LCD screens, DVD players with integrated game console - preferably separate so there is no fight over the remote control  - and re-runs of entertaining time killers. (What does a mediocre Disney movie show that a look outside the window cannot easily compete with?)

We do the same - we're bored with the sun, the dolphins and feel empty when not entertained. We don't know where we're going. Unsatisfactory feelings and suffering (the Buddhists call it Dukkha) is largely driven by our desperate search for the direction to go to find what we enjoy.

Once we give up the desperate search for the destination, every step on our path becomes exciting, rewarding and part of the destination. Once we give up on the destination, we are in a much better place to pursue our goals, define destinations we want to reach in work, love, life and enjoy the ride there on every step.

180 Sout Soundtrack coverThe movie "180º South - Conquerors of the Useless" is a perfect description of a 5000 mile trip south from Ventura, CA to Patagonian Chile to climb a mountain that ultimately cannot be climbed to the top as the crumbling stone on the last 500 feet is not worth risking lives. You can see a trailer here. The movie is is on Netflix.


Where did the first parents come from?

Four year olds - sorry 4 1/2 - come up with all sorts of reasons why they cannot go to sleep - last resort are really important questions: "Where did the first parents come from?". Everyone has parents but what about the first ones? Did they come from eggs? So I try to balance bed-time urgency with a complete review of the Origin of Species - briefly covering Tadpoles and Frogs, and the difference between Apes and Men, trying not to scare her sleep by talking about cave men.

Go to bed now. Papa - why are we not furry? We have clothes. I'm trying to watch Doris Dorrie's film "How to cook your life" with  Edward Espe Brown, a Zen priest and cook. The movie was underwhelming. I look forward to  and hear Ed Bown speak next month.

Papa - why do you wear glasses? It is getting late and the questions become less philosophical . Or maybe not. We sit on the stairs and I explain that as you get older the muscles in the eye are not as strong anymore.

With the promise that we will sit together in the morning and a big hug, she disappears.

Where did the first parents come from?


How to cook your life - the book, some 700 years older than the film - finished by Eihei Dogen  in 1237 - is much more inspiring. More about that later.

You took my patience away

New India Bazar The man with his big eyes and the beret on his head could have easily passed for the long lost Indian brother of Pablo Picasso, waiting in line at the India Supermarket with a lonesome salad in one hand and a dollar bill in the other. While I was unloading the Basmati rice and the chutneys from my cart I asked him to pay first. He made an unsure move to the lady behind the cash register, she took his money, I smiled at him and said "please go ahead". He smiled back and responded: "you took my patience away" and walked out into the sunshine.


No Time

Taisen Deshimaru Roshi: Za Zen "When your daily routine does not leave you enough time to sit, something is seriously wrong“ writes Taisen Deshimaru-Roshi writes somewhere in his book "Za-Zen Die Praxis des Zen". The Mondo (question and answer session between the master and his/her students) section of the book can be found in English online. The small compendium contains several calligraphies and classic Zen stories and in doubt is the one book to take along when you can only take one. I cannot find an English edition online.

I remembered the passage - of which I am no longer sure that it really is in the book - when the mother of another child asked me in the parking lot of Miriam's school if I'm also so stressed out. When I responded that no, I'm not more stressed than usual and why should I be more stressed? she looked at me in a strange concerned way about the possibility that I don't participate in the seasonal frenzy and confessed that she has so much to do to prepare for Christmas that she did not have time to go to church on Sunday.

We will have a Hanukkah party with lattkes and dreydels and a Christmas dinner with European cookies and take time to go to the Pacific and see the ocean and I will make time for Zazen. Am I missing something? Should I spend more time at the shopping mall?

Taisen Deshimaru's book is not available in English but the questions and his answers can be found here - unfortunately in a smart interactive way which means you cannot print them out easily and take them to the beach.