Monday, May 26, 2014

Scar Tissue - Dharma Talk

In addition to being a great Red Hot Chili Peppers song, scar tissue is a great analogy to describe the self. The person we normally identify ourselves with is a tight, rigid, inflexible mass. In this talk, I discuss ways to loosen up that calcified sense of self so that we can respond to life spontaneously and freely.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sanctity of existence

George Carlin, one of the greatest comedians and geniuses of our time, said it best about people:
We as living human beings have a vested interest in promoting the sanctity of life... you know why? Because we are alive!
The same applies to my last post regarding Nothingness. We as humans have a vested interest in 'being' or existence, because that's all that we know. Everything experienceable or conceivable exists; therefore, we often perceive non-existence as a threat to everything we know, or think that we know.

The last thing that any human wants to hear is news that challenges existence, for as George says, we have a vested interest in the sanctity of...well, existence. And as he ironically points out, we're a little biased, aren't we? That's like asking people at a Yankees game who's the best baseball team.

We are inevitably attached to 'being', and for good reason--it represents everything we know.

To our minds, Nothingness, therefore, is anathema. It represents the greatest threat to 'being' and existence.

This is where doctrine comes in. Doctrines--whether they be about God, Buddha nature, emptiness--reassure us that everything is all right, that our universe is safe and solid. This is why people cling to them, because they make life predictable. For instance, my seven year old daughter said to me the other day regarding death, "I understand why people believe in heaven; it feels good. I'd like to believe in it too." (Seriously, she said that!)

Tell people that Nothingness is the true basis of reality and they will either storm out of the room or call you a nihilist.

But the Nothingness I am talking about it is not ordinary nothingness, like how much money I had in my bank account during college, but Absolute Nothingness. This is Lao Tzu's Tao--the womb of existence.

Ordinary nothingness is understood to be the opposite of existence. Absolute Nothingness, on the other hand, has no opposite.

It is the creative, empty Void, absent of all 'being', yet serves as the very basis of all 'being.' It is the reality prior to existence, a sea of infinite potential, Nothingness without limitations. It is ever present and timeless. In fact, our world is a manifestation of Nothingness. So are we!

In that sense, Nothingness does not threaten 'being-ness'; it makes it possible in the first place! This is great news.

Still, it is greeted with disdain and revulsion for the very reason that George Carlin pointed out--people fear what they feel threatens them. And nothing (pardon the pun) threatens people more than nothingness. That's because they misunderstand Nothingness.

This is not dry or abstract theory; Nothingness is absolutely verifiable. We can experience it. However, people want to reduce Nothingness to a doctrine so that they can dispute it, shoot holes in its logic because they feel threatened by it; but that is like denying that the sun is the center of the universe because we prefer a geocentric model. And in a way, that's what the teaching of Nothingness is doing--forcing us to shift our center from 'being' to Non-being, from existence to Nothingness.

But don't take my word for it. I urge you to experience Absolute Nothingness for yourself, because, paradoxically, understanding Nothingness can make the biggest difference in the world.

We miss you, George!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Absolute Nothingness

For my latest book project, I decided to write about a topic that is very close to my personal experience--Nothingness.  The book is entitled God is Nothingness: Awakening to Absolute Non-being

Nothingness is the most commonly misunderstood thing in life, so much so that if you dare introduce the word into a "spiritual" conversation, you run the risk of being branded a heretic or worse, a nihilist. The word sends shivers down people's spines; it assaults everything people hold dear, in particular, 'being.'

If there is one thing that most religions have in common, they reject nothingness.  

The reason that people fear and loathe the idea of Nothingness--for that is what they fear, the idea that they have about Nothingness--is because they believe that it is the opposite of 'being.' 

It's not; Nothingness is not the antithesis of 'being', but its very basis. 

'Being' is so intuitive that it is hard to identify. Quite simply, it refers to everything that exists. Cars, trees, our bodies--all of these represent presence, existence, or at the risk of defining a term by itself, they possess or embody 'beingness.'

Every experience, event, situation, moment in time--in fact, anything conceivable--exists in the realm of 'being.'

'Being', however, cannot account for the ultimate or final reality. There is a deeper, more fundamental reality upon, and from which, 'being' arises and abides.

This is Nothingness or Non-being--to use apophatic term, it is totally incomprehensible, the markless, signless, timeless, conditionless, unborn, unchanging, undying Absolute.

Nothingness is the complete absence of anything and everything that exists, and therefore it transcends all of the limitations of 'being.' For instance, 'being' is bounded and circumscribed by form and space, and even though it may be one nondual whole, 'being' does not contain or include Non-being; yet Nothingness is boundless, limitless, filled with the creative potential to be anything. Nothingness includes 'being', not the other way around.

Nothingness makes 'being' possible. For this reason, I call it God. Admittedly, "God" is a loaded term, so let me clarify what it means here. When I say "God," I am not using it to refer to what 99.99% of people think of when they hear the word. The "God" I am speaking of is not the anthropomorphic Creator of Abrahamic religions, but the dark, silent, creative womb of all existence found in Taoism. 
God is not a Supreme Being, but the very opposite--Absolute Non-being.
In case you are wondering, this understanding is not without historical precedent. Some of the most eminent contemplatives call God "Nothing" or "Nothingness." This includes, but is not limited to, Meister Eckhart, Moses Maimonides, John Scotus Erigena, Jacob Boehme, Lao Tzu, and Nisargadatta Maharaj.

Based upon my personal meditation experience, "Nothingness" is the best word to describe the Absolute, the fundamental principle underlying all events, forms, situations--in other words, beneath 'being' itself.

Is Nothingness the same as the Buddhist sunyata? As a Zen teacher, I wrestled with this question the whole time I was writing the book. The best answer I can offer is, I suppose it all depends upon how one understands sunyata. 

If one views emptiness as the lack of selfhood or inherent existence, then I would say "no." That emptiness is confined to the world of 'being'. Nothingness, on the other hand, transcends but includes 'being' and its attendant emptiness. This includes nonduality, interconnectedness, and interpenetration. Admittedly, in many respects, Nothingness resembles Sankara's markless Brahman more than it does sunyata. 

If, on the other hand, one understand sunyata to be the Absolute Nothingness at the heart of all existence, the creative Void of Non-being that allows 'being' to exist, then "yes."

Nothingness is simultaneously transcendent and immanent--it is the fundamental basis of 'being', yet, paradoxically, is embodied through that very same 'being.'

'Being' is manifest Nothingness; Nothingness is the unmanifest, hence we call it Non-being.

To borrow from the Heart Sutra, Form is Nothingness; Nothingness is form.

Either way, words cannot capture it. What is important is to experience Nothingness for oneself. In the book, I provide several pointers, but all attempts to communicate it occur inside of the realm of 'being', which are inherently futile. In order to know Nothingness, one must pierce through the veil of 'being', so to speak, to the underlying Nothingness beyond. Go past words and ideas to the experience of Non-being.

In order to know Nothingness, one must become Nothingness--a redundant statement since one's true nature always is Nothingness.

God is Nothingness is currently available as a Kindle ebook and in hard copy. Print books will be available on Amazon by 5/30/14.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

My latest book - God is Nothingness

Here is a description of my latest book, God is Nothingness: Awakening to Absolute Non-being, now available as a Kindle ebook and in print:
Contrary to popular opinion, God is not a Supreme Being, but the exact opposite—Absolute Nothingness. In fact, the entire reason that people suffer is because they are attached to 'being', and fail to understand that Non-being is the very basis of existence itself. In the immortal words of the Tao Te Ching, "All things are born of being; being is born of Nothingness."

Nothingness is not barren oblivion, nor the opposite of life and 'being'; rather, it is the creative, fertile, and boundless principle that serves as the source and ground of beingness itself. Empty and vast, Nothingness is pregnant with limitless potential and fecundity.

In theistic terms, Nothingness is God.
Rooted in the teachings of the world's greatest sages, such as Lao Tzu, the Buddha, Adi Shankaracarya, Meister Eckhart, and Nisargadatta Maharaj, God is Nothingness explores how Non-being is indeed the root of all existence. Even more valuably, the book reveals how to awaken to Nothingness—how to realize God.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Moving, Moving, Moving

My house is for sale; we listed it on Monday and the For Sale sign appeared on our lawn Wednesday afternoon. For the past six weeks, ever since Spring Break the week before Easter, my wife and I have been busy preparing to list our house on the market.

We did all of the usual: garages sales (two, in fact), cleaned, organized, painted, scrubbed, repaired, replaced, power washed, rearranged, and in the immortal words of Thoreau, simplified, simplified, simplified.

Preparing to move can be extremely revealing and liberating. As we sift through the piles of clutter that we have accumulated since our last spring cleaning or even our last move, we realize that we don't need any of this...stuff. Most of it is junk, and often other people's junk!

Have you ever noticed how much crap other people pawn off on you? Come on, take it. You always said you wanted a juicer/toaster/laser-disk and eight-track player in one. Just take it...

These weeks have been a blur. My reading and writing have slowed to a near standstill. It has gotten to the point where, when I'm done with one task, I am immediately ready for another--even where there's nothing more to do! When I sit down to read, I feel restless. Now, I'm not lazy, but I'm not the kind of person to volunteer for a cleaning marathon either.

What's most amazing about the past weeks is the sheer lightness of it all. At first, since we were confronted with so many tasks, my wife and I were just overwhelmed. But soon we developed a rhythm.

Much like the Chinese Ch'an monks who integrated work into practice, I feel like the past weeks have been amazing, like I'm soaring. After a while, the ego just gives up resisting and soon there's no one painting; there's just painting.

Time vanishes into just vacuuming, just mowing the lawn, just scraping or measuring or packing or planting flowers. Zen Master Dogen called this "dropping away of body and mind."

It's been amazing: despite the sheer volume of work, I feel lighter than ever, lost in the sheer physicality of the labor. At night, my back is sore and my hands raw, but it's rewarding.

One of the things I love so much about Zen is it's worldliness, the fact that it so practical and ordinary. Zen does not eschew work for some idealistic, navel-gazing state; Zen master are busy people! Baizhang puts it best when he says, "No work, no food."

Zen is far from lofty idealism. It is embodied in and through the body. Farming, harvesting, changing our car's oil, these are all expressions of life at this present moment. Zen is being so fully present that there is no 'I' to experience anything at all. This is when life, in the form of whatever appears before us, becomes the ultimate teacher.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Spring Cleaning - Dharma talk

It's spring, and that means garage sales, dusting cobwebs, spring cleaning. This, in a manner of speaking, is what Zen is all about--seeing through the mental clutter to the reality that is right in front of us. In this talk, I discuss how to clear space in our lives, homes, and minds.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Nine's Enough

Sunday morning, as I was cutting wood panels in my basement, I sliced my finger open. I ran upstairs and did the whole pressure-and-gauze thing, followed by a trip to Urgent Care once I realized the bad boy probably needed stitches. (Actually, it was my wife's idea that I go. Thanks, hon!)

They gave me eight stitches on my left pointer finger and sent me home. The next 24 hours proved interesting.

I'm doing the hand equivalent of hobbling. Unlocking doors when my other hand is full, driving, washing my hands, all of these mundane tasks are suddenly challenging.

It's very humbling to see yourself reduced to a snail's pace or repeating the same task five or six times just to get it right, especially when you had no difficulties only 25 hours ago. For instance, even typing this is sloppy because my best finger on my left hand is wrapped in a thick sandwich of gauze.

The whole experience is really fascinating; new limitations can be very good teachers, as they reveal our expectations and demands. Fortunately, I have health care available and the injury wasn't too bad. It could have been much worse.

There's a koan that addresses this situation. the most important line is, "When cold comes, cold kills you; when hot comes, hot kills you."

Pain hurts and sunburn peels. There is no mystery to life. The trick is accepting it; that's all Buddhism is--increasing our ability to accept.

When you cut your finger, you scream, "AHHHH!" When they stick the anaesthesia needle in you finger, you wince. Ouch...yikes. Perfectly natural responses.

These are examples of pain. Suffering comes later, when we add the mental layer of judgment on top. Zen brings us back to...just this. The paint flaking on the wall, the din of motorists outside, the nervous tic in our eye.

Why did Bodhidharma come from the west?

Finger wrapped in gauze in a warm bed of Neosporin.


In one of my worst pun titles ever, I discuss how Zen is not about being flashy--wearing robes or vestments, having a Dharma name, reading Buddhist books, or identifying oneself as a Buddhist. In fact, all of these can become attachments, hindrances to real Dharma. True Zen is not gaudy, flashy, or even aware of itself. The moment you call it Zen, it no longer is. So put down your Zen books, take off your rakusu, and just wash the dishes or do the laundry. THAT is Zen.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.