Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Zen and Math

In the computer science curriculum at the University of Illinois, there was a class that was really kind of fun. It was kind of like structured logic puzzles for a semester. Questions with wording like "if and only if" (which is much different than just plain "if"). For those who are wired with logical minds it is fun stuff. For those who aren't, it is probably like mental torture.

One of the topics of this class was called mathematical induction. Basically it says that if something is true for base case (called n, where n=0 or 1), and it is true for some other n, such as n+1, then it is true for all cases. (If you want more click here.)

Enough of that technical stuff. How does this apply to our lives? First off, a mild warning: this is kind of a thought experiment - and Zen is beyond words. However, there is a point to this exercise.

This person that I am was once one year old. The time from one year to two years came and went. This being that I am was once two years old. The time from two years to three years came and went. One fairly pivotal year in my life was when I was twenty three - that year came and went. We don't event have to stick to one year increments. High school was 4 years, and though it seemed to take forever, it came and went. In all cases, whether they seemed to go slow or fast, the years came and went. I cannot bring any of those years back. At this point, what memories I do have of any of those years is kind of like a recitation of facts. Those facts are probably a very small percentage of what happened, whatever stuck in the mind from the time.

So what is the point? In this little game, we might deduce that what is going on right now is also going to come and go, dwindle in intensity, be reduced to memory, and ultimately to fade from from the mind. Is that depressing? Or is it freedom? Or neither... or both?

Well, on one hand, this is why thought can not provide the answer to life's riddle of suffering. On the other hand, there is a lot of freedom in this. When we realize there is only now, yet this now is not what we think it to be, we may start to find freedom from suffering.

Bring awareness into each situation. Pay attention to each moment. See what it is you place importance on. Ask "is it really that important?" Pay attention to your actions and see how their effects may impact yourself and others. Awareness of all this may affect how we choose to live in each moment.

This awareness is what we strive for. Continuing to return to this present moment is the practice. It is the answer to suffering, it is the answer to what the mind throws at us. It is the answer to waking up to who we are. It is also the answer to the riddle of time. If we can only be alive in the here and now, is there really anything else?

Since this post started with math - here is a Zen Koan that has to do with math.

The 10,000 Dharmas return to the one
The 10,000 Dharmas return to the one, but where does the one return to?
If you want to try to answer it, please send me your response to mindmakeseverything@gmail.com. Here is a little hint: if you try to answer this with words, it can quickly turn into philosophy.