Saturday, September 27, 2014

Zen and Neuro-scientist atheists

Recently I listened to a podcast where the guest was Sam Harris, a noted skeptic/atheist/neuroscientist. It has always seemed to me that Buddha was a skeptic as it is alleged he said "Question everything." A favorite quote when I started developing an interest in Buddhism and ultimately Zen.

I have already laid out one opinion on the results obtained in neuroscientific community test here and will expand on it in this post. In this interview Mr. Harris was discussing his experience with meditation and following the thoughts, paying attention to their arising and ceasing. From the discussion, it was apparent that he probably has had some insight. This experience is apparently in his new book, along with a discussion on free will. Can't say for sure as I haven't read the book and most likely won't. What struck me about this discussion, is his certainty on everything he was talking about. He is so sure about there being no free will and what has been learned through the experiments within his field.

As an aside, some of what they covered is in my book. Ideas like, did I choose my favorite color? Did I choose who I am attracted to? How much impact do genes have? Parental influence? Friends? Teachers? the list of influences can seemingly go on infinitely. Buddhists have a name for this too, Karma. Not a complete definition but great for these purposes.

All that is wonderful. What is proper use of the mind anyway? We use it for work, to figure things out, etc. For the spiritual in Zen we look for the truth. Not the truth as in actions happen and then we make up a story about it. The truth in this very moment. We also work to keep don't know mind. After all, enlightenment is not what you think.

How many of us have had some moment where we get some insight, and then we quickly try to codify it with the mind? And then it disappears! With experience, we know to not hang on to individual events or moments. We continue the practice, we continue to return to this very moment, the truth of this very moment. What is the truth? What are you seeing, hearing, touching right now?

So many of the studies the scientists do are fascinating. They can be read and digested and we can move along with our day. As Zen practitioners, we can continue to practice, to return to the truth of the present as it is. Continue to practice don't know mind. We can actually discover these things for ourselves in a very experiential and life-transforming way.

Regarding free will: In a story related to me, Zen Master Seung Sahn used to say "You don't have a choice! Until you realize you don't have a choice, then, you have a choice."

Saturday, September 20, 2014

What Percentage of Thoughts Do You Believe?

In a previous post we got on the topic of thoughts and delusion. It included the following line from the Mirror of Zen:
If you know that the arising thought is already delusion, you are already free.
How does this work in real life? Can we use the mind to determine which thoughts are true and which are false? There is a great Koan about this:
Master Ruìyán Shīyan used to call to himself every day, “Master.”
He would answer, “Yes?”
“You must keep clear.”
“Never be deceived by others, any day, any time.”
The question being "Which one is the true master?"
This is an excellent koan because it is so easy to identify with. Especially if we think that one of our thought streams is more reliable than the other(s).

The responses to the question "What percentage of thoughts do you believe?" are interesting. Most people [in a small survey] asked , respond with a question like "What do you mean?"

I asked a friend of mine who is respected along the Zen path this question. His response was fairly specific - and it was below 50%.

As taught in the Dropping Ashes on the Buddha class, the thoughts are always going to be there. It is simply our attachment to them that causes us so many problems.

As a practical means, it is easy to find thoughts that turned into actions that caused harm to ourselves or others. It is easy to find false beliefs regarding what we think we want, what we think will make us happy, and even what we even think of ourselves.

So we, as Zen students, pay attention to the thoughts that arise. We see where they come from and where they go. We learn to stop buying into them. Then we may know who is the true master.