looks like going

Dosho Port at Wild Fox Zen informs us that today is the 20th year memorial of Katagiri Roshi’s passing.  This week’s posts for 108ZB were prepared before I learned of the memorial.  Katagiri’s writings, especially Returning to Silence, were a huge influence and support in my practice.  May we continue on and carry his gift of dharma forward throughout space and time.


Tathagata (Buddha) means “looks like going, looks like coming.”  In Buddhism we say, “no going, no coming.” Buddha is just going, just coming. “Looks like going” is a wonderful way to express the Truth.

from Returning to Silence by Dainin Katagiri

Spiritually, March is likely to enter like  a lamb and leave like a lion.  At least, that’s how it feels in this moment.  My calendar for the first three weeks is a whirlwind of work which allows me to be away for two weeks from the churning of billable hours.  My first job several decades ago was with the federal government; my parents thought I had won the lottery.  A regular pay cheque, retirement funds, paid vacations, sick leave, and extended health care were their markers of success.  I can’t deny that for the three years I lasted in a mind-messing bureaucracy, it was a relief not to worry about finances. Then again, in those spiritually dark ages, the depth of my practice amounted to figuring out the best scuba package offered at resorts in Bermuda.  (It was karmically appropriate that I discovered I can’t dive because of inner ear problems which cause me to lose my sense of direction.)

These days, being self-employed, planning my path to enlightenment requires a bit more forethought.  It takes about a year to set up the contracts and scheduling so that the cost of retreat, training, and what-have-you is covered along with the cost of not earning anything while away from the grindstone.  So here we are,  a year after I made the decision that the next stage in my life is to commit to a path of service.  On March 19th I leave for two intense weeks of training, the first leg of the Upaya Buddhist Chaplaincy Training Program.  Actually the first leg – or more accurately the first toe – of the journey began with the Zen Brain retreat which I hope you enjoyed reading through the month of February.

I think for the first time in my life, I’ve made a very conscious and deliberate commitment to a process.  As compelling as it was to grab the opportunity when it was first presented to me, I found myself holding back.  This is uncharacteristic, of course, being one who is totally immersed in the thrill of crazy – and Frank will say, crazy-making – decisions.  That list is long: the horses nobody wanted or could tame, the dogs no one could control, the roads others preferred not to negotiate.  But the spiritual path has been more considered yet also directed by unexpected opportunities.

My deeper life has been lived in a shell slowly cracking open, tap by tap.  The first was administered by my Buddhist grandmother who took me to the Botataung Pagoda every Sunday so I would not be exposed to the weekly poker parties my parents held.  Even if my liberation required rebirth as a man, she was going to ensure it was not to be diverted.  The second was my Religious Humanism professor who risked his career and shocked his class by asking us to consider our real resistance to a human Christ.  After much pussy-footing, he growled, “You can’t abide the thought of God’s Son needing to take a piss!”  I was stunned into considering the difference between a cult of personality and the real nature of faith.  Several years later, at the second History of Psychology class, the professor walked up to me, slammed down two volumes of Tscherbatsky’s Buddhist Logic in front of me and said, “Go away.  Come back with paper why Buddhism is cognitive science.”  His action baffles me to this day because he knew nothing about me yet opened a door that lead directly to confirming the form of my practice.

This storyline is only a reflection of what I need to believe has brought me to this point.  It’s just my way of making some sense of how I’ve laid down this path.  But in the end, as Katagiri writes, it’s like trying to understand “fish” outside the context of “water.”

It is just oneness…  Life and death means “looks like going, looks like coming.”

Thank you for practicing,


Next: looks like coming – the path of practice

delusion of me

Last night’s meditation was a playful sit toying with self as object and self as subject. In the end it amounted to a mental version of Ernst Mach’s drawing “Self-Regarding Ego” which introduced his Analysis of Sensations.  The drawing is a portrait of Mach sitting on his couch, drawing what he sees with one eye closed – a decapitated self.  As bizarre as the drawing may be it serves a purpose in reminding me that this is what I see of myself each day.  And perhaps that’s not a bad thing because practice is all about losing one’s head, that repository of the imagined self.

Some of the research Richie Davidson referenced in his Zen Brain talk included studies that showed “no unique circuit in the brain for self-processing.”  In other words, there is no part of the brain that is exclusive in conceptualizing, designing or managing “self” as we know it.  How freeing!  If the concept of self is not dependent on one thing, not localized in one place, everything is possible.  By extension this implies that there is no singular practice which will confer insight, enlightenment or liberation.  It also provides a powerful antidote to the posessiveness of identity.

The delusion of self-identification arises when I identify with something rather than identify it as something.  When a thought arises and I lay claim to it as “my” thought, I’m trapped in the net of self-identification.  When I release it as “a” thought, I release concepts of my Self as well.  Davidson described an interesting experiment in which training in meditation skills broke through the “attentional blink” previously thought to be hardwired and therefore not amenable to change.  The attentional blink is the period between two targets presented in close succession so that the second target is not detectable.  This failure in detecting the second target is thought to be because the observer gets locked or over-invested in the first target.  After a 3-month meditation retreat at IMS in Barre MA, observers were able to identify the second target more successfully.  The explanation is that the meditators have cultivated the capacity to not take ownership of the first target.  This allocates more attentional resources to sustain the nonclinging state and an openness to new incoming information.

The final tantalizing information Davidson presented was that intention, aspiration and vow are members of the same family of mental processes which can be strengthened by meditation practice.  Unfortunately it was a broad brushed segment of his presentation and I’m hoping there will be more in the future on the sustaining of vow when it is in moments of conflict.  This has such powerful implications for understanding what creates sustainable behaviours from folding the laundry to honouring our commitment to each other.

In the final analysis, neurological studies may have little to do with whether or not I practice.  Delusions are numberless and I’m quite good at finding that single powerful one to distract me.  However, neurological studies with their message of infinite possibilities do provide us a way of encouraging ourselves and our companion practitioners who may feel they are not made for meditation or who feel discouraged by the sticky periods in a life of practice.

Thank you for practicing,