“In Zen practice we do two things: We just do zazen and pay attention to our lives. We sit with a spirit of the uselessness of sitting, entering it not as our self but as someone who is bigger than ourselves and includes ourselves. We try not to assume anything about anything. Just sit, as Dogen says, “upright in correct bodily posture, neither inclining to the left nor to the right, neither leaning forward nor backward.” Just be determined to be there without any idea of up or down, inside or outside, self or other, until the bell rings or you drop dead, whichever comes first. And then when you get up and resume your life just be aware and simple. Know all the time, as you will have discovered laboriously in zazen, that what is going on in your mind is just what is going on in your mind, that thoughts and feelings are simply thoughts and feelings. What is actually also going on, events that the thoughts and feelings seem to refer to and define are in reality unknown. Don’t forget that and when you do forget it remind yourself many many times. Be sure to keep your sense of humor. Don’t get too tangled up in what happens because while you are tangled up something else is happening that you miss. So move through things as much as you can, just straight ahead, without too much deliberation.”
- Norman Fischer via
“The Great Way is not difficult
for those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent
everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however,
and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.
If you wish to see the truth
then hold no opinions for or against anything.
To set up what you like against what you dislike
is the disease of the mind.
When the deep meaning of things is not understood
the mind’s essential peace is disturbed to no avail.”
Attributed to Sengstan, Third Zen Patriarch in China, died 606.
Translation by Richard B.Clarke
We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an impure mind
And trouble will follow you
As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.
We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with a pure mind
And happiness will follow you
As your shadow, unshakable.
“Dreams are but lies, says an old maxim; but when our last hour is at hand, and but a few brief minutes are left to what was I, pale lights that are fast growing dim, who can tell by what mark to distinguish you, O memories of the actual life, from you, O mirages from the dream life.” - Paul Bourguet
via The Blue Lantern
“The relationships and affairs of the typical metropolitan usually are so varied and complex that without the strictest punctuality in promises and services the whole structure would break down into an inextricable chaos. Above all, this necessity is brought about by the aggregation of so many people with such differentiated interests, who must integrate their relations and activities into a highly complex organism …
… Here again the general conclusions of this entire task of reflection become obvious namely, that from each point on the surface of existence - however closely attached to the surface alone - one may drop a sounding into the depth of the psyche so that all the most banal externalities of life finally are connected with the ultimate decisions concerning the meaning and style of life.”
- Georg Simmel - The Metropolis and Mental Life (1903)
” When poets write novels they are apt to behave as if they were gods, with the power to look beyond and comprehend any human story and serve it up as if the Almighty Himself, omnipresent, were relating it in all its naked truth. That I am no more able to do than the poets. But my story is more important to me than any poet’s story to him, for it is my own -and it is the story of a human being - not an invented, idealised person but a real, live, unique being. What constitutes a real, live human being is more of a mystery than ever thee days, and men - each one of whom is a valuable, unique experiment on the part of nature - are shot down wholesale. If, however, we were not something more than unique human beings and each man jack of us could really be dismissed from this world with a bullet, there would be no more point in relating stories at all. But every man is not only himself; he is also the unique, particular, always significant and remarkable point where the phenomena of the world intersect once and for all and never again. That’s why every man’s story is important, eternal, sacred; and why every man while he lives and fulfills the will of nature is a wonderful creature, deserving the utmost attention.”
Hermann Hesse - Demian (1919)
Image : Cover artist unknown, same illustration as on my Paladin edition, 1989.
” Unless one turns out the lights or follows the score, one confronts the deep embarrassment of listening to musicians who aren’t there. The embarrassment is present, if latent, even when one listens alone. It is one reason why many people, not all of them unmusical, find themselves fidgeting or rereading liner notes or paging through a magazine instead of listening as they had intended to do. Compare the movies: first there were moving pictures, and no one expected pictures to talk, but still the silence was embarrassing. To keep people’s minds on the screen, to keep them from becoming self-conscious and losing interest in what they saw, music was needed; and by 1929, when talkies arrived, cinemas accounted for more than three-quarters of all paid musical employment in England, according to union statistics. There was nothing like this to meet our embarrassment before the talking machine. There still isn’t. The ear is accosted, but the eye can wander and take the ear along. And in a group the eye is embarrassed wherever it turns - whether to the loudspeakers, or the space between them, or other eyes, or the interior of its eyelid (people will think you’re asleep).”
Evan Eisenberg - The Recording Angel (1987)
Image: French Poster from 1902ish via
“The division into wolf and man, flesh and spirit, by means of which Harry tries to make his destiny more comprehensible to himself is a very great simplification … Harry consists of a hundred or a thousand selves, not of two. His life oscillates, as everyone’s does, not merely between two poles, such as the body and the spirit, the saint and the sinner, but between thousands, between innumerable poles.”
Hermann Hesse - Steppenwolf.
Bookcover : detail of painting by Paul Klee.
Image via flickr
” Whatever we see is changing, losing its balance. The reason everything looks beautiful is because it is out of balance, but its background is always in perfect harmony. This is how everything is in the realm of Buddha nature, losing its balance against a background of perfect balance. So if you see things without realising the background of Buddha nature, everything appears to be in the form of suffering. But if you understand the background of existence, you realise that suffering itself is how we live, and how we extend our life. So in Zen sometimes we emphasize the imbalance or disorder of life.
Nowadays traditional Japanese painting has become pretty formal and lifeless. That is why modern art has developed. Ancient painters used to practise putting dots on paper in artistic disorder. This is rather difficult. Even though you try to do it, usually what you do is arranged in some order. You think you can control it, but you cannot; it is almost impossible to arrange your dots out of order. It is the same with taking care of your everyday life. Even though you try to put people under some control, it is impossible. You cannot do it. The best way to control people is to encourage them to be mischievous. Then they will be in control in its wider sense. To give your sheep or cow a large, spacious meadow is the way to control him. So it is with people: first let them do what they want, and watch them. This is the best policy. To ignore them is not good; that is the worst policy. The second worst is trying to control them. The best one is to watch them, just to watch them, without trying to control them.
The same way works for you yourself as well. If you want to obtain perfect calmness in your zazen, you should not be bothered by the various images you find in your mind. Let them come, and let them go. Then they will be under control. But this policy is not so easy. It sounds easy, but it requires some special effort. How to make this kind of effort is the secret of practice. “
Shunryu Suzuki: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (1970)
“ All receipt of information is necessarily the receipt of news of difference, and all perception of difference is limited by threshold. Differences that are too slight or too slowly presented are not perceivable. They are not food for perception.
… To produce news of difference, i.e. information, there must be two entities (real or imagined) such that the difference between them can be immanent in their mutual relationship; and the whole affair must be such that news of their difference can be represented as a difference inside some information-processing entity, such as a brain or, perhaps, a computer.
There is a profound and unanswerable question about the nature of those ‘at least two’ things that between them generate the difference which becomes information by making a difference. Clearly each alone is - for the mind and perception - a non-entity, a non-being. Not different from being, and not different from non-being. An unknowable, a Ding an sich, a sound of one hand clapping.”
Gregory Bateson : Mind And Nature (1979)
Handel - Largo from “Xerxes”
Take one step out the front door, and an individual brain cell fires. Pass by your rose bush on the way to the car, another specific neuron fires. And so it goes....”