Breaking Through

I once heard a teacher in a dharma talk tell everyone “Our troubles are not the problem. Our problem is that we don’t see our Buddha-nature.”

I always like to remind people that Buddha-nature is not a ‘self’, soul or spirit. It is more like emptiness, or a spaciousness of being. What prevents us from seeing Buddha-nature is precisely the false perception of self.

IMG_3809b3This echoes something Dogen wrote in his work Bussho (“On Buddha-nature”), which according to one translation reads, “Nagarjuna said, ‘If you want to see the Buddha-nature, first you must eliminate self-egoism.'” Dogen later explains that “Seeing is in itself the elimination of self-egoism.”

It seems to me that one of Dogen’s main points throughout his core writings was to make people recognize their Buddha-nature. Then it becomes a matter of how much you can see Buddha-nature inside of you. When I first began to learn about Buddhism, I was told that meditation is the key that opens the gate to Buddha-nature.

The idea is to break the barrier between Buddha-nature and our life, to go beyond the dimension of “yourself” and see the Buddha-nature in others.

Stop your wandering,
Look penetratingly into your inherent nature,
And, concentrating your spiritual energy,
Sit in meditation
And break through.

– Bassui (1327-1387)

Share

Going Mobile

I’m goin’ home
And when I wanna go home
I’m goin’ mobile
Hee, hoo!Beep beep!

– The Who

GoingMobile-LP-USA2As you can see, The Endless Further has a new look. I’m going mobile. But, when Peter Townsend wrote the lyrics to The Who’s song, he was talking about mobility in transportation terms. I’m talking technology.

Nowadays, as more and more people use tablets or smartphones for surfing the Net, blogs and websites have to adapt their sizes to fit any screen dimension. Two things recently came to my attention: one, several potential visitors complained that the blog was not accessible to mobile devices, and secondly, I learned that back in April Google began using “mobile-friendliness” as a ranking signal (where have I been?). If your site is not mobile-friendly, you could lose page rank in Google’s all-important ranking algorithm. I don’t care much about rank. The Endless Further will never be anywhere near the top, but I hate the idea of preventing folks from visiting here out of sheer ignorance.

It’s been a learning experience. Mobile-friendly is definitely a case of less is more and small is better. The layout and design must fit to a small screen. Navigation must be arranged so a user can easily click where they want without accidentally hitting the wrong button. Images need to be compressed to speed-up page loading. And that’s just the beginning.

I checked my blog with the W3C mobileOK Checker – WC3 is the international standards organization for the World Wide Web, the place to go to see if your CSS or HTML code is correct – and my site had so many errors it was overwhelming. I wasn’t sure I could fix all that was wrong with the theme I’ve used from the beginning, so I went with a new one and simplicity was my guiding principle.

From here on, images will be smaller, compressed, and if you want to see the full image you can just click on it.

Any readers who are mobile who want to tell me how The Endless Further looks on their device – I’d appreciate it.

I am curious about the links. I always set them to open in new windows, because that’s what I like when I’m viewing Web content. It doesn’t work too well on my phone (because it’s a cheapie) but I wonder about other mobile devices. I’d like some feedback on that.

If you are hosted on Blogspot or WordPress.com, it might not be a major issue, because they will take care of the mobile stuff for you. But if you are like me, a self-hosted blogger and/or website owner and you want to become mobile friendly (if you’re not already) here are some resources:

Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test Tool is the first place you want to head for, and it will quickly tell you if you are mobile friendly or not and show you what the Googlebot sees when it goes to your site.

If you fail and you want to know what’s wrong, go to the W3C mobileOK Checker. Not for the faint of heart, because unless you are an expert coder, you might be shocked. Still, it is an indispensible tool for learning about mobile optimization.

Responsinator is cool, but it just shows you what your site looks like on a small mobile phone, but not on a tablet or some of the larger cell phones.

OK, I am sure that was boring to most of you, so we’ll leave it behind and get mobile:

Share

The Old Ennui

If you are not a Sinatra fan, you should be, especially if you love music. Frank Sinatra was an amazing singer. When he was young, his voice sounded like it had been purified with Southern Comfort and then dipped in honey. In his later years, when the voice kept changing, he lost his youthful smoothness, and his register slid down deeper and darker, he always made it work for him and found ways to reinterpret songs he had sung hundreds of times.

A saloon singer in the 1955 film, "Young at Heart."
A saloon singer with the blues in the 1955 film, “Young at Heart.”

Understanding that Sinatra interpreted songs as much as sang them is a good way to cultivate an appreciation. His most enduring gift was actually not his voice but his immaculate phrasing. He would intentionally sing ahead, or behind, the beat so that you really felt the words. Very often, when he sang a tune, he owned it, so that afterwards you’d always think of it as a “Sinatra song.”

I never got much of a kick out of Cole Porter’s “I Get a Kick Out of You”, until I heard Sinatra’s version from the 1954 album Songs for Young Lovers, which by the way, is considered the first “concept” album. It’s the intro that got me. How he sustains the note for the word “leaves,” how lures you into the song, and then when it takes off, he breaks up words, puts pauses in them (“It would bore me teriff. . .fflickly too”) in a way I’m not sure any other singer could get away with.

One line in the intro goes, “When I’m out on a quiet spree,/Fighting vainly the old ennui . . .” That last word comes from old French, it was first used in 1732 and mean annoyance. The meaning we assign to ennui today is different.  Merriam-Webster defines ennui as “a lack of spirit, enthusiasm, or interest.” Listlessness, apathy. There’s even a sort of existential ennui, or intellectual boredom brought on by a dearth of stimulation.

Ennui is a form of dukkha or suffering, one of the three marks of life, which Prof. Trevor Ling* calls “the Buddha’s analysis of human existence.” Ling says that for the Buddha suffering meant “the unsatisfactoriness of life, its pain, its malaise, its inherent ‘ill’-ness.” These are things that everyone feels at one time or another.

In the song, it is the sight of a “fabulous face” that brings the singer out of his malaise. In real life, we shouldn’t expect someone or something to cure our boredom, or be the cause that allows us to enjoy life. We have to find it deep withing. Furthermore, boredom is an illusion. Nothing is really boring, we just think it is. Boredom is just a label. I suppose the same is true of happiness and joy. But a sense of joy, feelings of satisfaction, a sense of humor – these are effective tools in the battle to win over suffering.

I mentioned that Cole Porter was the composer of “I Get a Kick Out of You” (1934), and he was a man who endured a lot of suffering in his life.  In 1937 both his legs were crushed when a half-ton horse fell on him. He developed osteomyelitis, or bone infection, and he experienced chronic pain for the next two decades.  He fought the pain with humor.  Doctors eventually had to amputate the right leg, but before that he gave his injured legs names: the left was Josephine and the right, the one he lost, Geraldine (“a hellion, a bitch, a psychopath”**).

Three months after surgery on my left leg, in which a rod was inserted into the bone, I am still experiencing chronic pain that occasionally leaves me listless, apathetic, and because I haven’t been able to move around much, bored.  Understanding that boredom is nothing but a mental judgment, learning Cole Porter’s story and capturing his spirit of facing suffering with humor, helps greatly.  Without being able to tap into joy and laughter, my current existence would seem like an endless, agonizing perdition.

That’s how I fight – not vainly, but valiantly, I hope – the old ennui.

And sometimes, but not suddenly, I hear this fabulous voice:

* Trevor Ling, The Buddha, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1970

** John Lahr. “King Cole The not so merry soul of Cole Porter.” New Yorker July 12, 2004

Share

Harmonizing Time and Change

I haven’t shared a story from Chuang Tzu in some time, so I thought I would share one today. For those unfamiliar with the name, Chuang Tzu, (369—298 BCE) was a Taoist philosopher. Also known as Zhuang Zhou or Zhuangzi, he worked as a minor official for a small town in China. His writings are collected in a book called Chuang Tzu, one of the classics of Chinese literature. Some of the stories are about Chuang Tzu himself, and some are other people, both historical and fictional. This tale comes from the 6th chapter, “The Great and Honorable Teacher”, and concerns an old man named Yu.

One day Yu became ill. His good friend Ssu happened by to see how he was doing. “It is simply amazing.” Yu replied.

“What is?”

“Well, look how crooked I have become. I’m a deformed old man, a hunchback.”

It was true. Yu’s internal organs were pushed up into his chest, his chin was bent over his belly, and his shoulder was higher than his head. Not only that, but when he breathed, his inhalations and exhalations were in gasps.

He hobbled over to the well and saw his reflection and said, “Yes, the years have certainly changed me.”

What amazed Ssu was how calm his friend seemed. He asked, “Aren’t you upset by this?”

IMG_4877c2Yu answered, “Not at all. What is there to be upset about? Maybe tomorrow I’ll wake up to find my left arm has changed into a rooster and I’ll crow at the dawn, or, perhaps my right arm will become a crossbow and I’ll go out and hunt for my supper. Maybe my butt will turn into cartwheels and I’ll be able to take myself for a ride. I might become a horse tomorrow and then I’ll never need another steed.”

Ssu just shook his head. Yu laughed and said, “When we are doing what there is to do, there is time enough for it.  When you resist the natural way of things, you lose what is most important to you.  I was born when it was time to be born, and I will die when it is time for me to die. That’s the way things are, how they have always been. I am content with whatever life brings my way and therefore untouched to either sorrow or joy. That’s why I’m not upset.”

I can relate to this story because age is changing me, and I am not too happy about it. Yu had something his friend didn’t have, and something I need more of: inner peace. What’s more, Yu was in harmony with time and in rhythm with change.

It doesn’t matter how old you are, time is changing you. It’s easy to lose yourself in the changes. Just as it is easy to get caught up in the various problems we encounter in daily life. I’ve learned it’s best to harmonize time, and to work with problems, rather than work against them.

Read more of the Chuang Tzu stories I’ve shared here.

Share

The Dalai Lama’s Message: True Compassion

Today Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, turns 80. To celebrate this milestone, friends of the Dalai Lama organized the Global Compassion Summit, a three day event in Orange County, California. The summit began yesterday with the “official birthday celebration” in which world leaders, Nobel Laureates, celebrity guests, speakers and performers from around the world gathered at the Honda Center in Anaheim to pay tribute to “His Holiness” and to listen to him speak on creativity and compassion.

This October, in Philadelphia, the National Constitution Center will present the Dalai Lama with the Liberty Medal “in recognition of his advocacy for human rights worldwide.”

In Tibetan Buddhism, lamas (teachers) only teach when requested to do so, and during the several decades that the Dalai Lama has been giving public teachings and talks, compassion has been his most consistent and fundamental message. Compassion is more than an emotion, it should be dynamic, for it is also behavior.  In Essence of the Heart Sutra, the Dalai Lama writes,

978bCompassion can of course be understood on many levels, and at the highest level, compassion ultimately liberates you . . . According to Buddhism, compassion is an aspiration, a state of mind, wanting others to be free from suffering. It’s not passive – it’s not empathy alone – but rather an empathetic altruism that actively strives to free others from suffering . . .”

The aspiration, the state of mind the Dalai Lama is referring to here is what Buddhism calls bodhicitta, the wish or intention to realize awakening in order to help all living beings. Without this altruistic intention, it is not possible to realize full awakening.

However, during the practice of bodhicitta, we find that awakening is not as important as the generation of altruism and the performance of compassionate action. Or, perhaps, it is rather that deep altruism and compassionate action is awakening. The consummation of bodhicitta requires overcoming all narrow self-centered concerns and limitations, along with developing a genuine feeling of responsibility for others. What he said above, the Dalai Lama has stated many times: ultimately, compassion liberates us, and this is because through transcending the limitations of self and helping others become free from suffering, we become free from suffering, ourselves.

In another book, The Compassionate Life, he says,

True compassion is not just an emotional response but a firm commitment founded on reason. Because of this firm foundation, a truly compassionate attitude toward others does not change even if they behave negatively. Genuine compassion is based not on our own projections and expectations, but rather on the needs of the other: irrespective of whether another person is a close friend or an enemy, as long as that person wishes for peace and happiness and wishes to overcome suffering, then on that basis we develop genuine concern for their problem. This is genuine compassion.

For a Buddhist practitioner, the goal is to develop this genuine compassion, this genuine wish for the well-being of another, in fact for every living being throughout the universe.”

Real compassion is not based on any religious or political creed; it is altruism that is truly universal. It comes from the heart, and the mind, and not from belief.

Tenzin Gyatso, Ocean of Wisdom
great teacher of the Middle Way,
I make this request O Lama,
please remain strong and please live long.

Share