No meditation.


Half an hour after midnight. I can’t fall asleep. I have no cigarettes at home since I gave up smoking nearly 3 months ago. I’m checking my neighbor’s status on Facebook. She is still online. I could send her a message, put my clothes on and bum a smoke or two from her. But I start to feel sleepy, so I switch off my phone, close my eyes, open my eyes, switch on my phone. I can’t fall asleep. I wish I had few cans left in the fridge. But I have nothing. My neighbor is now offline. It is nearly 1 am. I’m tired and stressed out. I can’t stop thinking about unpleasant situation I found myself in yesterday involving my kids and my neighbors. Nothing huge, but my brain makes it big. A motion picture “A history of my Calamities” is just starting in HD and 3D and I have a seat in the front row and I can’t leave the cinema.

I haven’t meditated properly for over 2 months. What a pity – my meditation practice accelerated and became consistent at the end of last year when I was going through some difficult times in work and could not fall asleep. And here I am: a year later I’m in exactly the same place except for I know few things about Buddhism I didn’t know about last year: about Layman Pang, Dogen, Third Patriarch, history of Zen, koans, encounter dialogues, Heart Sutra, Yogacara, shikantaza and few more. Words, words, words. I would gladly exchange them for few days of solid sitting. Another reason Zen appeals to me that much: nothing will replace sitting.

No smokes. No beer. No meditation. Racing thoughts. I would say it’s pretty tough night alright. It is end of summer in Ireland which means it is already fall in Ireland. Did you notice that grey color is the only color that has a taste, smell and texture: taste of mushrooms, smell of wet leaves and texture of a mist. Dark night after grey and unpleasant day is bit too much to handle.

But that’s ok… It becomes evident that returning to sitting should be my priority. If not for the sake of seeing ultimate reality then at least for the sake of a good night sleep.

Good Mr. Pang is giving out slaps.


I’ve been reading from the book “The Recorded Sayings of Layman P’ang”. I wrote about poetry of Layman Pang in older post here. Pang, even though he was never ordained, was a Chinese Zen Buddhism master, he was also a rich merchant. He lived in China between A. D. 740 and 808. When in his middle age he loaded all his possessions into a boat and sank it and started a life of a itinerant “travelling around China and visiting various Buddhist masters while earning a living by making and selling bamboo utensils” [source]. He had a wife, daughter and son. His wife and daughter, especially his beloved daughter Ling-chao (Spirit Shining), obtained profound understanding of Sutras and Chan Buddhism. The book consists of “encounter dialogues” between Pang and Chan masters he met during his travel… please allow me to add – surreal, absurd, non-sensual dialogues filled with slaps administrated generously by Pang to his interlocutors. I managed to go through the whole book, not understanding too much from it… however those few gems I have found on its pages are – in my opinion – of great beauty, wisdom and wit (shockingly those puns sound more like something Monty Python would have come up with in 70s rather than coming from religious master from before 12 hundreds years ago).

WHEN THE LAYMAN took leave of Yueh-shan, the Master had ten Ch’an students accompany him as far as the gate. There the Layman, pointing to the snow in the sky, said: “Lovely snow! Flake after flake does not fall another place.”

“Where do they fall?” asked the Ch’an student Ch’uan.
The Layman gave him a slap.

THE LAYMAN WAS once lying on his couch reading a sutra. A monk saw him and said:
“Layman! You must maintain dignity when reading a sutra.”
The Layman raised up one leg.
The monk had nothing to say.

THE LAYMAN WAS SITTING in his thatched cottage one day. “Difficult, difficult, difficult,” he suddenly exclaimed, “[like trying] to scatter ten measures of sesame seed all over a tree!”
“Easy, easy, easy,” returned Mrs. P’ang, “just like touching your feet to the ground when you get out of bed.”
“Neither difficult nor easy,” said Ling-chao. “On the hundred grass-tips, the Patriarchs’ meaning.”

THE LAYMAN WAS ONCE selling bamboo baskets. Coming down off a bridge he stumbled and fell. When Ling-chao saw this she ran to her father’s side and threw herself down.
“What are you doing!” cried the Layman.
“I saw Papa fall to the ground, so I’m helping,” replied Ling-chao. ” Luckily no one was looking,” remarked the Layman.

THE LAYMAN WAS about to die. He spoke to Ling-chao, saying: “See how high the sun is and report to me when it’s noon.”
Ling-chao quickly reported: “The sun has already reached the zenith, and there’s an eclipse.” While the Layman went to the door to look out, Ling-chao seated herself in her father’s chair and, putting her palms together reverently, passed away.
The Layman smiled and said: “My daughter has anticipated me.”
He postponed [his going] for seven days.

The Prefect Yu Ti came to inquire about his illness. The Layman said to him: “I beg you just to regard as empty all that is existent and to beware of taking as real all that is non-existent. Fare you well in the world. All is like shadows and echoes.” His words ended. He pillowed his head on Mr. Yu’s knee and died.

Some people despise old P’ang,
But old P’ang does not despise them.
Opening my gate, I await good friends,
But good friends do not stop by.
As is my mind’s endowed with the threefold learning— [morality, meditation, wisdom]
Consciousness-dusts do not mix with it; [the cognition of the senses]
This one pill cures the ten thousand ills—
I’ve no need for the many prescriptions.

Not wanting to discard greed and anger,
In vain you trouble to read Buddha’s teachings.
You see the prescription, but don’t take the medicine—
How then can you do away with your illness!
Grasp emptiness, and emptiness is form;
Grasp form, and form is impermanent.
Emptiness and form are not mine—
Sitting erect, I see my native home.

Great source of information about Pang and other Zen masters:

“The Recorded Sayings of Layman P’ang” (Translated by Ruth Fuller Sasaki, Yoshitaka Iriya & Dana R. Fraser) – link.

The most revolutionary idea.

Two weeks ago I had spent few days with my wife (no kids) at the Baltic Sea. We rented a room just few minutes away on foot from the beach and the Wolin National Park. I wasn’t particularly excited about the beach (as Bill Hicks put it: the beach is simply “when the water meets dirt”). I was very excited about the National Park though – over 100 km square (or 70 miles) of beautiful forests – because… I love forests.

I live in Ireland. Only 1% of Irish land is covered by forests, and landscape consists mainly of fields (private lands that are not publicly accessible) so before we left Ireland I was genuinely concerned about feelings of lacking and missing out that may get me pretty down upon my return. Have I mentioned that I love forests? That’s one of very few things I miss living in Ireland: forests and wild nature.

(I’m not saying that there are no forests in Ireland at all, there are, however they are simply too small to allow anybody to experience being lost in wilderness or at least solitude as there are always other people around.)

Few days before my departure I listened to Dharmapunx podcast by Josh Korda [link] and he said something so revolutionary, inspiring and powerful that completely diminished my concerns.

It is not the places that make us feel relaxed and safe, it is us who allow ourselves to feel relaxed and safe only in certain places.

Anyway… here are few pictures I took with my phone.

Non-transparent things.

This post is not about vegetarianism. This post is about cognition, comprehension and… smartphones. However I want to start off with vegetarianism…

I have been trying to refrain from eating meat for quite some time: I succeeded, I failed, I succeeded… unfortunately recently I mostly failed. What weakens my efforts is that there are paradoxes within vegetarian/vegan lifestyle and worldview I’m still struggling to resolve. One of them is that my dietary or shopping choices will not save even one animal from harm (I wrote about this here), another one goes as follows: how can I be a vegetarian for the sake of animals if I’m writing about it on a laptop manufactured in China by people working in dangerous and inhumane conditions? Another example: how can I be genuinely concerned about welfare of a cow and spend some of my time and energy advocating for vegetarianism if I’m not doing anything to help people who are starving and dying each hour in other regions of the world? Is it because it is happening too far away? No, not really. If that was the case then I would have to address the impossible question: what is the distance that make a press information become a tragedy (something that I feel I should get personally involved in)? 100 miles? 20 miles? The same city? The same street?

The true reason we are able to prey on suffering of others is that we don’t see results of that suffering first hand. We can’t find even a slightest indirect evidence that other people went through hell to build our iPhone. However, we see a body of a cow slaughtered hundreds or thousands kilometers away in our local shop. That makes it more personal.

I think it has a lot to do with how we perceive the world, and that leads me to a very interesting theory (created by Donald Hoffman, professor of cognitive science at the University of California) that may explain all those contradictions.

But first – here is how we do not perceive reality. This is an exempt from one of my favorites books called Transparent things by American author Vladimir Nabokov. Protagonist of the book have just found a pencil in a drawer in a hotel room:

It was not a hexagonal beauty of Virginia juniper or African cedar, with the maker’s name imprinted in silver foil, but a very plain, round, technically faceless old pencil of cheap pine, dyed a dingy lilac. It had been mislaid ten years ago by a carpenter who had not finished examining, let alone fixing, the old desk, having gone away for a tool that he never found. Now comes the act of attention.

In his shop, and long before that at the village school, the pencil has been worn down to two-thirds of its original length. The bare wood of its tapered end has darkened to plumbeous plum, thus merging in tint with the blunt tip of graphite whose blind gloss alone distinguishes it from the wood. A knife and a brass sharpener have thoroughly worked upon it and if it were necessary we could trace the complicated fate of the shavings, each mauve on one side and tan on the other when fresh, but now reduced to atoms of dust whose wide, wide dispersal is panic catching its breath but one should be above it, one gets used to it fairly soon (there are worse terrors). On the whole, it whittled sweetly, being of an old-fashioned make. Going back a number of seasons (not as far, though, as Shakespeare’s birth year when pencil lead was discovered) and then picking up the thing’s story again in the “now” direction, we see graphite, ground very fine, being mixed with moist clay by young girls and old men. This mass, this pressed caviar, is placed in a metal cylinder which has a blue eye, a sapphire with a hole drilled in it, and through this the caviar is forced. It issues in one continuous appetizing rodlet (watch for our little friend!), which looks as if it retained the shape of an earthworm’s digestive tract (but watch, watch, do not be deflected!). It is now being cut into the lengths required for these particular pencils (we glimpse the cutter, old Elias Borrowdale, and are about to mouse up his forearm on a side trip of inspection but we stop, stop and recoil, in our haste to identify the individual segment). See it baked, see it boiled in fat (here a shot of the fleecy fat-giver being butchered, a shot of the butcher, a shot of the shepherd, a shot of the shepherd’s father, a Mexican) and fitted into the wood.

Now let us not lose our precious bit of lead while we prepare the wood. Here’s the tree! This particular pine! It Is cut down. Only the trunk is used, stripped of its bark. We hear the whine of a newly invented power saw, we see logs being dried and planed. Here’s the board that will yield the integument of the pencil in the shallow drawer (still not closed). We recognize its presence in the log as we recognized the log in the tree and the tree in the forest and the forest in the world that Jack built. We recognize that presence by something that is perfectly clear to us but nameless, and as impossible to describe as a smile to somebody who has never seen smiling eyes.

On contrary, here is how – according to Donald Hoffman – we see the world, which explains why do we do such contradictory things as fighting for right to life for lobsters using an iPhone that cost life and health of fellow human beings who built it – and still feel good about ourselves:

There’s a metaphor that’s only been available to us in the past 30 or 40 years, and that’s the desktop interface. Suppose there’s a blue rectangular icon on the lower right corner of your computer’s desktop — does that mean that the file itself is blue and rectangular and lives in the lower right corner of your computer? Of course not. But those are the only things that can be asserted about anything on the desktop — it has color, position and shape. Those are the only categories available to you, and yet none of them are true about the file itself or anything in the computer. They couldn’t possibly be true. That’s an interesting thing. You could not form a true description of the innards of the computer if your entire view of reality was confined to the desktop. And yet the desktop is useful. That blue rectangular icon guides my behavior, and it hides a complex reality that I don’t need to know. That’s the key idea. Evolution has shaped us with perceptions that allow us to survive. They guide adaptive behaviors. But part of that involves hiding from us the stuff we don’t need to know. And that’s pretty much all of reality, whatever reality might be. If you had to spend all that time figuring it out, the tiger would eat you. [source]

It appears that we simply only see symbols, representations of things… Luckily! Yes, luckily: otherwise how could we even function in this world overflowing with tears and blood, how could we not loose our minds, become depressed or, at very least, cold-hearted assholes?