Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Merry What????

The holiday season. Why are there so many holidays crammed into such a short amount of time (in the US, anyway)? And how many blogs are written about this time of year? And how many of those are going to offer coping mechanisms about how to deal with family members, how not to gain weight, and any number of other topics that one might infer that the holiday season is to be dreaded rather than celebrated?

There are any number of holidays both secular & religious, and sometimes a combination of both, that a "Buddhist" might feel a little left out of. We are not exactly endowed with many "holidays" in general, let alone at this time of year. Some of us celebrate Bodhi Day (AKA Rohatsu) on or around December 8, marking the awakening of the Buddha 'neath the Bodhi tree. There's Vesak, which combines Birth, Awakening and Paranirvana (death) of the Buddha celebrated in may countries. And rolling three potential holidays into one is not a great way to get time off from work.

Thanksgiving should theoretically be a no-brainer for a Buddhist, but with all the conspicuous consumption, over-indulgence, family confrontations, and potential the prevalence of booze, might make it a little rough. Christmas in a religious sense may not hold any special meaning, and the secular version is not quite what a renunciant, eschewing attachment, desire, and clinging, might really feel too comfortable with either.

But I'd really like to offer a less cynical, less resentful, less dualistic approach to the Holiday Season:

There is the practice the Perfection of dana (generosity) which doesn't necessarily mean giving your nephew a video game that was last year's model, and not being a gamer, you can't understand the look of disappointment and the forced "Thanks." It could mean being generous with one's time, going to the yet another get-together even if deep-down you'd really rather not.

The Four Immeasuables come to mind also--metta (lovingkindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (sympathetic joy or empathy) and upekkha (patience and equanimity). I'll let you figure out how to implement each of them, since they will be subject to your situation, causes and conditions. And if it offers any solace, holidays are impermanent as anything else.

So go ahead and say Merry Christmas, it might mean that you justthismuchless attached to your identity as a "Buddhist."

And if that's all not working for you, get on the cushion and ask “Who is this that's feeling uncomfortable?” and see if you can answer the huatou.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, May All Beings Be Happy, including during the holidays.

Monday, 17 November 2014

A Review of Sam Harris’s new book "Waking Up: A guide to spirituality without religion"

A Few Words Upfront: I had Sam’s new book lounging around downlist on my Kindle when I read Chris Dierkes’s strident objection to The Great Sam in his Soul Interpreter blog. The (usually) Great NellaLou, who blogs Smiling Buddha Cabaret, sent a 'shout out' in praise of Dierkes’s rambling 3700+ word post which he titled “Sam Harris’ Buddhist Bullshit.” I read Sam’s book, promptly, and loved it. So, now, like a Canadian Mountie, I come galloping to the rescue. Hang on, Sammy! Here I come!”
For starters, let it be known that Sam Harris, famously one of the Four Horsemen of Atheism who brought non-belief out of the shadow of Satan’s pitchfork and into prominence and respectability this century, is not a Buddhist any more than he is a follower of any other religion.

From use of the X-Ray feature in my Kindle, I find that in his book, Waking Up, Harris uses the word ‘buddhist’ 20 times. Only once does he use the word in reference to himself, which occurs in Chapter 3, thus [emphases, mine]:
If I were a Christian, I would have undoubtedly interpreted [my experience of “losing me” and no longer being a separate self] in Christian terms. I might believe that I had glimpsed the oneness of God or been touched by the Holy Spirit. If I were a Hindu, I might think in terms of Brahman, the Eternal Self, in which the world and all individual minds are thought to be mere modification. If I were a Buddhist, I might talk about the “dharmakaya of emptiness” in which all apparent things manifest as if in a dream.”

But I am simply someone who is making his best effort to be a rational human being.
Thus, in one fell swoop the twin towers of Chris Dierkes’s argument collapses. Harris is not a Buddhist and this “his Buddhism” being Bullshit thing is all Dierkes’s Bullshit. And, thus, Dierkes’ long argument on matters dogmatic where Dierkes places in combat Dierkes’s narrow view of what Buddhism is against that which he supposes is Harris’ narrow definition of what Buddhism is is, itself, a battle of smoke against mirrors that dissolves into a calamitous pile of stinky shards of nonsense and piffle.

The truth is that Harris’ book isn’t didactic. And, it doesn’t wander into a briar patch of insolence by turning Buddhist sutras into the inerrant words of some damn floats-on-a-cloud Buddha God. Rather, the book is (mostly) a telling of Harris’s experiences with powerful mind-altering drugs and of many many years practicing meditation techniques intently. His life as someone who has had profound experiences – both blissfully good and (with drugs, not meditation) terrifyingly bad – taking his brain to extreme places acts both as a lure and a warning. But Harris doesn’t preach.

Harris doesn’t tell us what to do; he just explains his rich and oft-times wayward history as a seeker. But he does warn us that he may have been very lucky. Some of his uses of potent drugs could possibly have set him down a corridor to insanity. And while he maintained a skeptical sensibility while being an acolyte of important meditation instructors, other more-vulnerable seekers can easily be taken in my charlatans. Pretending to be a great realized master is easy. Actual enlightened masters are a rarity.

In the Soul Interpreter “…Buddhist Bullshit” essay, a seven-minute Big Think video that Harris is in is ostensibly the object of Dierkes’s derision (though, too, praise for Harris). But Dierkes knows about the new book and should know that limiting his assessment of Harris to the spare and edited words from a short video is an injustice.

Anyway. My assessment of Waking Up is that it is in most ways typical Sam Harris: Earnest and brilliant. I love to read Sam’s words (or hear him on television). He has full control over a formidable vocabulary which he uses to craft clear, well-written text.

One thing Sam does, which for me adds to his charm, but, likely, annoys most others is that, sometimes, he veers wildly off topic for what appears (to me) to be for no particular reason (other than, possibly, he’s an Aspergers geek). In a recent three-hour discussion with Cenk Uygur of the MSNBC show “The Young Turks,” Sam and Cenk got off-track when they veered into debating the not-vitally-important issue of whether or not Mormonism is more impossible to be true in its beliefs than mainstream Christianity. Cent insisted that both Mormonism and mainstream Christianity were completely – and thus, equally – impossible. Sam insisted that mathematicians would back him in his claim that the wacky add-ons that come with Mormonism gave it a boost to a yet higher level of impossibility. Yeah. OK.

In Waking Up, Harris veers off into Strange Geekyville when for what seemed for no good reason, to me, he engages in a long analysis of the recent first-person book Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, showing how it is neither a proof of anything nor an honest, diligent record of whatever happened to its author, Dr. Eben Alexander.

I highly recommend Waking Up to Sam Harris lovers and anyone interested in having amazing things happen in their experience of consciousness (which would necessarily include all Progressive Buddhism readers).

Tom Armstrong is a long-time blogger on matters Buddhist and Homeless and was the founder of the Blogisattva Awards in 2006.  He lives in Sacramento, California.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Come Full Circle: A philosophical reading of Shobogenzo's first chapter

1811ed of the Shobogenzo's cover page
Dear readers,

This will be the introduction to an essay that I am writing and will be posting on here to read. I will divide it into several post to not overwhelm you or myself with intense editing and scrolling down the page. It will be a chronological reading and major themes will be discussed mostly in the end. Enjoy.


Dogen Zenji was a Japanese Zen (or Soto Zazen to use Dogen’s preference) monk who lived from 1200-1253. To put this into perspective, the first crusades are coming to a close and the next ones are coming about, Mongols are rallying and Genghis Khan will soon be on the map and China’s intense cultural cultivation is taking place as well. Some of the world is extremely dark during this time, as it is today, but Dogen offers a glimpse into a way of practice that is indistinguishable from any other Zen monk, or thought during this age. He is comparable to Nargarguna to who the major developer of Mahayana Buddhism and the idea of negation—Enlightenment too, must be negated—transcended—emptied—understood transparently, and so on.
            He offers criticism to philosophers of the West who wouldn’t be born for centuries. He an entire two paragraphs just insulting a person who believes there’s a separation from “mind” and “body.” His contradictions are not difficult to spot but offer something greater to the whole picture of the Shobogenzo. This, however, is not what I will want to do in this piece. I am going discuss the first chapter of the Shobogenzo under the premise that it was not a direct speech, sermon, or anything written by Dogen. This came later after the first publication of the Shobogenzo and is, as the title “Bendowa” suggests; it is a dialogue on the practice of Zazen (Zenji 3).
            This chapter culminates the rest of the Shobogenzo because it makes clear claims of the supremacy of the practice of Zazen, and as we shall see, it is incredibly broad for being simply a dialogue on practice; it includes commentary on inclusivism of religious communities, distinction between ‘religious experience’ and methodologies offered by religious traditions then claims that Zazen practice is a precise balance of the two; Dogen also introduces the understanding of specific histories. History as a concept and an important piece in understanding this world is generally absent from Buddhist thought. Recently many Buddhist philosophers, specifically from the Kyoto School have begun conversing with Western philosophers on these important topics. We must see whether Dogen offers any potential in his writing to introduce History as an important concept because in my own Western view, it is an important one, it’s complexity cannot be underestimated, it’s transparency revered, its influenced we must tremble from. I will get more into the topic of History as we move along (Zenji 11, 13, 15).
            There is much more that can be met within the pages to discuss so we must begin. We will begin with the next post.

Book used: Numata’s Center BDK English Tripitaka Series Shobogenzo: the True Dharma-eye Treasury Volume I translation by Gudo Wafu Nishijima and Chodo Cross.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Buddha-Nature--and Not-Buddha-Nature

Zen, like other Mahayana schools of Buddhism, has at its core Buddha Nature. Tagathagarbha is one word associated with Buddha Nature, as in the womb of the "thus-come." Dharmadhatu sometimes comes into play also, as in the Buddha-realm, the Absolute Reality, the Dharmakaya.

But getting back to Buddha Nature....We often hear phrases such as, "You're already Buddha," or, "You're perfect just as you are" (and Suzuki-Roshi wisely added, 'And you need a little work.')" So, am I perfect just as I am? Am I really already Buddha, or a Buddha, or what? If I'm already Buddha, then you must also be Buddha, and everyone else is, so who are all these Sentient Beings we Bodhisattvas are supposed to be saving anyway?

The good news is, just like Chao-chou's dog, we have Buddha Nature (Mu notwithstanding). But just what exactly is that? I certainly don't feel like Buddha. Not feeling particularly awakened this morning. My thus-come-ness just hasn't come today. (Why is it always late?!?) Innately, yes we are Buddha. We have the potential for awakening, we have the Nature of a Buddha within, just as a seed has the nature of becoming a flower within. But a seed is a seed, and a flower is a flower. You are in the womb of the Buddhas, just waiting to be awaked. We can all become enlightened, of conducting our lives fully in the Dharma Field (not that we aren't already, maybe we just don't realize it).

But if you've read any of the biographies of the Buddha, if you've read any of the old Suttas and legends, it becomes very apparent that even Gautama had a lot of work to do before he woke up as the Buddha. Now granted, he only had unenlightened teachers wandering the forests in his time, so he had to do the work on his own, without the aid of the glut of books we have today with his name, Zen, or mindfulness in their titles. (No wonder it took six years!)

Just because we've heard the term "Buddha Nature," and think it sounds kinda cool--who wouldn't want to be a Buddha--and maybe we think that we're living in reality, already in the Dharmadhatu.The fact that we become puffed-up about being Buddha, or thinking it's cool, maybe that it makes us a little special, at least more special than those poor bastards who've never heard that they're already Buddha--all these things make us "not-the-Buddha," at least for this moment. (That's as impermanent as anything else, give or take 84,000 kalpas or so).

We're already living in the Dharma-field, all dharmas are Buddhadharmas, but that includes the dharmas that we still struggle, we still have greed, and anger, and delusion, and aversions, and while they're all very un-awakened qualities and practices, we do indeed have that germ that may sprout into Buddhahood, that actual point at which we're doing right more than wrong, we're doing more good than not, being helpful more than turning a blind eye to the suffering of the world. A teacher of mine once referred to Buddha-Nature as what's there...underneath all the layers of crap (karma) we've gathered onto ourselves.

But Suzuki-Roshi had it right. There is work to be done! Don't think that since we're already Buddha, why bother practicing? Dogen already did that math a lot of centuries ago, and his school (Soto) practices "just sitting." Rigorous sitting at that, in fact. And if, in fact, there is no attainment to be done, and nothing to attain, doesn't mean we've already not-attained not-it. A few lines later in the Heart Sutra we find out that all Buddhas depend on prajnaparamita and attain Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi--Unexcelled Perfect Enlightenement.So get on the cushion, then get off the cushion, and BE Buddha, not just rest on your laurels THINKING you're Buddha and being sloppy about life and practice. Do the work! (Save a sentient being or two while you're at it, even if there are no beings, and no saving to be done, OK?)

Deep bows to you, Buddha.

Sunday, 21 September 2014


Illustration credited to Alex Hill
Friends and Readers,

This is not an exposition on the phenomena of anger, but it is my anger that I will be pouring out. As the religious have for eons written confessions, dreams, and their angers as well, it is my turn.

We Buddhists attempt to channel our anger (hopefully not just get rid of it, ultimately impossible) in the proper ways, through meditation, through action, through illumination and through community activities. These can all be either positive reactions or negatives to the anger that is boiling within us, but I am getting off topic. Let me tell you what is making my own blood boil.

I am angry that many have lost the need for depth in life. In fact, I am furious. Just today I was serving a gentleman  (I’m a waiter, which is the fate that befalls us philosophers) who looked at me after I told him I study philosophy and said,

“Why don’t you study something useful like economics?” I am still infuriated by this notion and I am now shifting by belief that I have no reason to prove to anybody why philosophy is still important, they have to show me why it's not.

I am angry that we believe we can ultimately be pleased by a surface existence. Popular culture has no evil intrinsically, but my satisfaction cannot be sustained by watching the latest TV show, no matter how good, by the most recent fashion fad (which will change in a few hours anyways).

My anathema is the continuation of staring into screens, onto pages, into each other and only seeking information. Catalogs only suffice to those who want more of the surface. The ocean is much more than just how far it stretches, but its depths make it the most mysterious of all. We are like this. You will only find some life on the surface of the ocean but to be a functional habitat for the trillions of life-forms that live there, depth is required.

Walt Whitman said there is a multiplicity within us, there are lives within us, depths to be explored, criticized, praised, changed, and kept. It infuriates me to state that our lives can be lived happily enough if we just stay on the surface. Yes, the depths are dangerous, dark, sometimes bringing from themselves nightmares and poisonous serpents but without those depths, there would be no surface for us to frolic on.

There is ferment within me. The inferno within wishes to engulf the sick belief that money automatically means anything at all besides being money. This is hardly anything new, in fact, I am beating a field of dead horses by writing any of this, but the inferno is only growing and cannot be contained. Money automatically means happiness? No. Money automatically means evil? No (despite how lovely this view looks).

Our egos have exploded and grow to disproportionate sizes—a sex tape conjures the belief that one is a celebrity who requires attention, fame, money, power. The surface, it seems, has satisfied us and has turned us into monsters. We are zeppelins that are inflated with the thin hydrogen of our most basic desires. We fly around, slowly, demanding awe from the onlookers who will only shortly burn up in the crash along with us and just another moron (pardon my French) will attempt to rebuild it, alter it just slightly, and set it up into the sky.

I am tired of dogmatism—certainty stains the eyes and the souls. I am not arguing with matter-of-facts, I am not proposing, asking, or trying to even all together persuade why all of these lead to horrendous ends, we have seen it time and time again. I am demanding that it STOPPPPPPPPP.

Has our beasthood (which is not to criticize the animal world, which is not ‘beastly’ as we like to believe, in order to inflate our own egos some more) taken over? Soon we shall be shedding our skins and underneath will not be another layer of skin, but bones and muscle. We have become this dull. We have become boring, incapable of opening our minds to foreign concepts (and the more tragic part, to “foreign people.”) We treat those who are different with disgust because they are not us.

This has gone so far that we even spread democracy with the gun. Really?????????????

What is all of this for? For life? For happiness? This provides no happiness for me, it drives me to the belief that there’s something wrong with me. How sick. Am I to believe that my belief that we have dimensions of us (and the world) that are unexplored and won’t be, that things change; there are variations and perspectives, that philosophy is dead, that the humanities are dead—no—that humanity is dead.

These are not my wishes. Humanity shouldn’t continue to decay in its iniquity, it should reach and fish within its own dangerous depths to find the pearls that only lurk at the bottom of the seas. I don’t have the answers my friends, I have my frustrations, my convictions, my love and my hope and for now, I have my life and that will suffice. But know, because I have my life, hope, convictions etc. I will not just sit idly and be satisfied with only things that I’m “supposed” to be satisfied with. I am furious that people are becoming automatons because I know for a fact they are not, but reorienting themselves to be. Let’s stand together, move together, love together and all go fishing together, within ourselves, so that we may come to the bottom and bring the pearls to the surface, which will illuminate the waves that crash along the shores of our lives.

Thursday, 4 September 2014



In this world of plurality, New Age movements, and a more intense cultivation of our curiosity has led us to, individually, be able to synthesize religious practices from a number of different faiths. This happens through history in more mass-cultural ways as well, but now, as I said, we have the power to do so individually, and within our own communities which may, demographically, be completely different. For example: I am a Buddhist with Jewish heritage and practices. The community around me is mostly Christian (although I am in a cosmopolitan area that has a large Jewish and Buddhist community).

Anyway!...sorry to get off topic...

My question doing such a thing a good thing? Should we and can we really blend religious beliefs and practices to suit our own ends?  The Dalai Lama says no, we shouldn't because it's takes away the integrity and validity and hopes of perpetuating the good of a certain tradition. There's truth to what he says and I'm curious for your opinion!

Write below and discuss!

Best Wishes,

Denis Kurmanov

Friday, 8 August 2014

Is That a Cushion Under Your Arm? (Or are you just happy to see me?)

I'm a Buddhist, a Zen Buddhist no less, and this is my first contribution here. Since I practice Zen, there is time spent in meditation on a cushion. Do I think I'm going to get all enlightened by doing it? No, no more than it would give me a mirror-like shiny brick (read about Mazu if that seems a totally incomprehensible metaphor). Dogen said that zazen (i.e. seated meditation) is enlightenment, but not in the, “I sit zazen, ergo I am so freakin' enlightened,” kind of way. When fully immersed in the sitting, just sitting, not picking and choosing, not having the conversation in my head, not being perturbed by the noisy car going down the street, but also just noticing the conversation in my head, noticing that I am perturbed by the noisy car, letting the thoughts slide away as quickly as they came, and not placing value judgments on whether having thoughts of any sort is good or bad, or that some thoughts are better than others, it's just sitting, just thinking, just smelling, just experiencing reality as it is at that moment, and then experiencing reality directly in the next moment, ad infinitum.

Zen sometimes is criticized as “quietist,” that the practice is on the cushion, maybe broken up by periods of walking, but largely centered on the cushion. This didn't just come out of thin air, we do spend a fair amount of time on the cushion. I haven't done an empirical studies, but from my own practice, it's probably about three times as much time spent sitting than anything else I do in the Dharma Hall—namely walking meditation, dharma talks, chanting, bowing. Practice in the 21st Century US may be different from a Tang Dynasty monastery in China, at least in quantity of time spent meditating on a daily basis. Although “No work, no food,” may have been the reality of monastic life then, I'm guessing that the work/eat/meditate ratio was probably skewed toward the meditate side more than the others, and certainly more than my own practice allows for today. Not better, not worse, not good, not bad. Just different, especially given the ages we live(d) in respectively.

I heard a priest at my old sangha remark that meditation is one of the few karmically neutral things one can do. So, by that equation, the rest of the day is spent...creating whole bunches of karma. An orchard's worth of karmic fruit, just ready to drop onto my head and become another habit, another resentment, another attachment....Hopefully, while back on the cushion I can get my “mind right,” as Strother Martin in Cool Hand Luke might have said. (Wouldn't want to spend the night in the Samsara box, after all). And that leads of course to the whole basis of Buddhist practice, the Middle Path.

The Middle Path was once described to me by another teacher as driving on an unpaved country road. Veer off too wide on one side, end up in a ditch, too much the other, drop off a cliff. I'm clever enough to understand that either of those extremes would lead to various degrees of unpleasantness. And before anyone says, “But the Buddha would have accepted dropping off a cliff with peaceful, calm equanimity,” I'd like to preemptively mention that the metaphor of the road was to prove a particular point, not as a launching pad for Dharmic hypothesis. That point is that the Middle Path will work out better than heading off into either extreme...and that balance is not that brief moment spent in the center of the widely swinging pendulum between excessive indulgence and, “Oh, if this hangover ever goes away, I'll never drink again.” After all, wasn't it total indulgence + total asceticism = no solution that led to, “Better sit under that tree and contemplate this whole birth, old age, sickness, death thing a little further.” And yes, whenever I imagine what Siddhartha Gautama's internal thoughts might have sounded like, he talks just like me! Amazing!

While Dharma as the “Law of All dharmas” includes the reality limited by one's perceptions and feelings and impulses and consciousness, it also includes that which can't be perceived, felt, done or contemplated—the unlimited. So just knowing that there are things out there we know, things we don't know, and things we know we don't know, in addition to things we don't even know we don't know, that enables the Middle Path down the rutted road of “Don't Know” to put it all in perspective. At least the humility and acceptance, the non-egocentric stance that “all I know is what I can see directly myself and the rest of it doesn't exist” attitude that emphasizes “I, I, I, I, I” can possibly be increased by some time on the cushion.

And meditating is a good thing for Buddhists to do, being Buddhists and all. After all, that's what the Buddha did. He sat down Siddhartha stuck in dukkha, stood up awakened as Buddha. So we sit, but with no gaining idea. Just sitting doesn't turn one into a Buddha, any more than chanting, bowing, walking, standing or reclining will. Just like Siddhartha, we're already Buddha, but need to do a little work in order for that to come to the fore. We need to put in the effort to scrape the barnacles of delusion off the raft of awakening.

So if just sitting on the cushion doesn't guarantee “enlightenment,” and neither does much of anything else, then what is there? We can start by taking our peaceful, calm equanimity, our deep samadhi, (whether it feels like we have them or not) and go into the marketplace, the world at large, and the small world we spend so much time in. We leave the cushion in the Dharma Hall, but take the cushion with us. The Bodhisattva vows say we will save all sentient beings, all of them, not just the ones we like, not the ones who can be saved conveniently, all of them. But how? If we take the meditation with us wherever we go, then we are taking something that generates neutral karma in and of itself, so that's not a bad thing, right? But of what practical use is this?

Not doing harm is a good start on taking the Middle Path on the road, but that can be somewhat like not shoving somebody into a ditch. There are a number of Buddhist organizations such as Zen Peacemakers, Engaged Buddhism, temples/monasteries that run hospice programs, groups that bring meditation into schools and prisons and so on. Group work is a wonderful thing, as the talents of a diverse number of people coalesce into collective abilities, and hopefully the ability is put the intention and talent into concrete action. When we're off our cushions as individuals the scope of what can be done may be smaller, but not less effective in this sentient being-saving job of the bodhisattva. Habitat for Humanity doesn't send one person out to build a house, but 150 people aren't needed to comfort a crying child. Only one person saying “Mind is Buddha” may be enough. (Yes, another somewhat cryptic Mazu reference).

And I'm not saying that you have to go out and end all wars, maybe just start by not supporting them or participating in them. Think that vegetarianism would end the suffering of sentient animal beings? Wonderful, now put down the hot dog! Think that vegetarianism isn't a requirement? Wonderful! Don't waste so much food. Think lying was a way to keep out of trouble that started when you were a little kid? The tell the truth! Think road rage an issue? Watch the rage, be fully enraged, then let it pass without goading it on and engaging in conversation with it over tea, and wave that person into the lane in front of you.

If there's a pattern in all this—and what is karma if not a continuation of patterns—it would be that it all involves our thinking, our perceptions, feelings, impulses, consciousness. That's right, all those things that Avalokiteshvara noted as empty in the Heart Sutra. In practical terms, that means my not believing everything I think is reality. If I have an opinion, all that means is that I think it's real and correct, and if yours is different, I think you're wrong. Key words in that sentence: I & think.

One thing Zen teaches is that seeing one's True Nature is Awakening. That doesn't mean that all those superficially nasty things you do, “Oh, that's just so-and-so being him/herself. It's their nature,” are actually your True Nature. That's just yet another noticeable collection of habits, even coping skills and survival instincts that work...until they no longer do. Observing those habits, seeing them for what they are and how effective they are, or no longer are, then have the courage to let them go. It's a start on realizing True Nature. Shedding those layers of greed, anger, ignorance, clinging, aversion and all the rest lead toward that True Nature. But “lead” is a misleading word—there is nowhere one needs to go—it's right here, right now, all the time, just obscured. Because there are clouds doesn't mean the sun isn't shining behind them. Maybe for right now you can't see it, maybe it feels like you'll never see it again, but it's there.

So what is this “it?” What is this seemingly esoteric notion of True Nature? It's just the natural state of metta, that non-attached lovingkindness that we innately have for everyone and everything, but is sometimes so difficult to come out.

May all beings be happy. I vow to do my part to help that happen. Go ahead, cut me off when driving, I won't flip you off. It's a start.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

An Apology


After re-reading my posts a few times I am dumbfounded by the horrid writing that I have been posting. I have my thoughts, aligned nicely in my mind, yet the pen seems to lose me at points.

I also am so sorry for the fact that posts are 2,000 words. This is not fair for any blog reader because I tend to get so long winded. Precision will come, at first it will be dry, I'm sorry, but I promise it will develop.

Love, and thanks

Denis Kurmanov

Saturday, 2 August 2014

When I Walk: On Faith

Credit: "Walking Monk" Google Images

Alright my friends, the discussion regarding “inquiry” “faith” “reason” “revelation” etc. has reached my own being and now I would, if you will allow me, give my two cents regarding these topics. The posts that I have read have all been very good and, since, the guidelines and top of the blog states that we ought to search for truth in more “progressive” ways then we should discuss what sort of ways those actually are! 

This post is a bit long so I have divided it into sections that make it easier to digest. I will not be posting this sort of long winded monologue anymore.

When I walk I discover and discovery is different from invention or construction. When I walk I wonder and am illuminated, which is different from a fault going off, or an error that must be troubleshot. When I walk I fall almost every step but still keep moving on and on into the horizon.

When I walk there are millions of things that enter my mind, leave it and are interpreted. I can see some of those things illuminated through my susceptibility to reason, and therefore take form in reasonable thoughts that are aligned logically. But more often than not they are mere musings, statements or half attempted statements, images, icons, emotions that come and stay for a few seconds then make their way out of my mind as the next step and next flower catches my perception.

When I walk I take faith in my next step and in each moment I live. I am partially a blind man, but still see the next step ahead of me. The abyss awaits, I am nearly falling, but I walk into a light in the abyss that moves me forward.

Walking, I believe (and please correct me if I’m wrong) is just milliseconds and just a smidgen-off balance with falling so each step knows the potential catastrophe it goes into but, damn it, it moves on anyway.

When I walk I discover that to live is to have faith.


When I sit there are even more thoughts going through my mind because I am an active person. A sitting conjures all sorts of mind games and tricks and the taming of those generally ends up in either mantra recitation or an attempted “emptying” exercise. (I’ve never told anybody how I meditate before—big moment here guys!)

When I walk I discover that the jumble of information that I see and intake every moment must be narrowly and beautifully arranged to make sense.

We are given everything to do such a task. We are given nothing to do such a task. I won’t make contradictions like this without explaining myself anymore: we are given our constant experience to then make sense out of the world with but since most of it is just random emotions, images, and so on it becomes an extremely difficult task. (Yes people, philosophy is hard, but believe me, as just an incipient to it, it’s worth it.)

Each step I take I walk into is Life and Abyss but into it I tread. This is where faith sings its first canticles. Faith is generally understood as a blind following of a supernatural (and sometimes natural) belief of the world that incorporates an end, an ideal, an ethic, eschatology, and so forth regarding the universe. (Eschatology is the study of the afterlife.)

We progressive Buddhists would not fall under this definition of faith because our mission is to analytically and pragmatically perpetuate the tradition with which we participate.

When I walk I notice the flowers end and the forest begins. Bees stop buzzing, there is no more purple or fresh meadow smell—there is darkness, there are fallen branches, moss, fungi, oaks hit by lightning—yet growing, chipmunks eating the tulips, the tulips eating the sunlight. The world is a different place and when I walk I notice this new world and my step quickens. My heart beats faster. My eyes notice each new insect that has never been seen before—a stick insect? There are no more straight steps of uniformity and drum line march but a near jog of excitement and terror. A beautifully terrifying thing. A faithful thing.


Despite what anybody tells you, we all have some sort of belief of this world. Whether that be that it is dead, needs abandonment, and is worthy of nothing but cockroaches and buckets of spit or the opposite----paradise.

I can prove this to you because “belief” is every step of our thoughts. We think and we believe simultaneously. That brings up all sorts of other questions regarding belief that is best “answered” by mystics. To think that the next moment will be either alive or dead is to see a light in the abyss. This is faith. This is not supernatural but rather ultra-natural. To live is to see a light in the abyss, whether it be black dead light or white alive light.

When I walk I put my thoughts together and see that even nature has some uniformity to it—the flower are arranged in such that they attracts the bumblebees. My thoughts can mimic the flowers, uniform, colorful, produce life and sustain it. I can arrange them into logical scenarios and test them, as bees test each flower.

I experience particulars—of moments in time, of myself, of my friends, of the trees and bees around. I experience the movement of reality, I feel it constantly as it perpetuates me through it, sometimes gently, others through storms.

I experience that this is all transparent; somehow I can gaze and be a player in all of this, be significant in an expanding infinite universe.

My meditation and my walks put together a view of this world tempered by as much discipline and tears as I can make.

 (I take this stuff too seriously and will get emotional about it, not in the dogmatic ‘I’m right sort of way’ but the ‘We need to think about this stuff, it’s extremely important to be sensitive to reality’ sort of way.)

Each moment I take a step I think that this view will see the tree the same and the tree will see me the same way. It will remain the same beautiful oak and I will remain the same human walking by, not soil to dig through (yet). This is an extreme but there are certainly extreme views out there so I want to justify why this understanding of faith is more healthy and natural than the belief that the world is still flat. (Let’s not get into that.)


I think and believe that this moment brings forth the next in a birthing sort of way—beautiful and disgusting at the same time. Some believe that change takes place in a more systematic sort of way—Aristotle, for example had four causes. (Disclaimer; I’m not disagreeing necessarily to Aristotle just because his view is more systematic, I am stating that change is often viewed through more scientific and more analyzed data-entry to analyzed data-entry sort of way). I acknowledge that this second view of the more systematic way is useful but I stick to my view that depends on silence and long moments of reflection that scopes both analytic and extremely “existential” horizons of human participation in this world.

Either of these views will continue on to the next moment making both of us having to think for a moment about our own views (if we’re progressive) and then come to terms with an Ultimate.The Ultimate can be shared between both people, in our particular experiences and world views. This is called pluralism.

I think and believe that my participation in this world is utter paradoxes: making it but also being made by it, being constantly beautiful and full of joy, being the very scenario of utter chaos and disaster, flowering then in full bloom, roses, berries and birds, winter and dead crops, starvation, cold and nightfall. There are Great Tendencies going on that appear to us through moments of illumination that continue on and we are made by and continue to make them too! We do not own goodness nor do we own evil. We cannot pass them on, we are shaped by them and yet, we shape them as time changes, the evil and good we see changes with it. This is true for anything, says Buddhism.

 I think and believe that this is true even for this view! I must be silent here:


Thought: How can I believe that this paradox filled view is paradoxical thrice in-it-of-itself and doomed to change and morph and then come to an end?



Those experiences, my friends, are mystical experiences of faith.

I think and believe that each of us, in belief of the Law of the Common Human, of Medicine, of the “Hard” and “Soft” sciences, participates in a tendency that moves this world forward and thus moves them forward. This is how I take my next step. This is an acknowledgement of the abyss ahead but the slight hope that I continue being the light that I keep seeing in that same abyss.

I can’t do this without those views telling me I’m wrong constantly and also seeing that my views will come to an end or change to strange ends. Yet I continue on anyway, step by step, being that change that makes that possible in the first place.

This is a form of faith. Others grasp unto a Tendency such as Grace, or Love and address it for the rest of the lives, living it out publically as well as in their own religious personal lives.

Inquiry of this world takes place only when we can continue believing that there will be a world in our next step to continue studying. Even if we believe it is utterly dead and only doomed for more and more chaos and destruction, you can only study it if you believe it will last a little longer, hold onto at least one more thread, sometimes, the crazy believe they set up. (Crazy I mean like the Joker sort of crazy. Maniacal to no ends, believed chaos is freeing somehow yada yada so forth).No matter what view, you make it and it makes you.

Strong inquiry are the hard sciences, those that focus on the specific mathematical and physical relations between the events that take place in this ongoing world. This is extremely difficult (duh) thus utter respect must be given to those capable of seeing and discovering a world that has uniformity, that can shared with and is calm, likes stability and is pleasant (in other words, susceptible to physics, biology, geology, astronomy etc etc etc etc.)

Inquisitive inquiry are the “soft sciences”, those that focus on the cultural tendencies, theories and methods regarding our views of the mind and movement of the mind, the human in culture, culture in nation, nation to nation relations, economics, sociological investigation, criminal justice, law, philosophy, religion, religious studies, etc etc etc etc etc. Inquisitive inquiry is self-knowing. It needed our very strong influence to become present in the world and requires our continued efforts to remain ethically valid in this world.


When I walk I walk with the tradition of philosophy being shaped by this post but also all the greats and minors who influence me through my thoughts and experience of the world. I think and believe philosophy will be one of those lights shining in the abyss for those who walk with it. This is a faith that inquiry can take place in the first place because it is believing this world can be susceptible to inquiry and analyzable data.

This was an example of an Ultimate Trend. The belief that the world can be studied in the first place, secondly, ought to be studied. The hows and whys is what most of us are usually so concerned with and is what “popular faith” is concerned with. I say this to both the Evangelical Christian books I see constantly living in the Midwest (and being one who was a fundamentalist Christian) and the antithesis of those statements: all religion is false and only reason will save us, any “religious” experience can be explained away by a study of brain functions etc.

These are matters of hows and whys whereas showing concern and the light in the Ultimate Trend (say of Inquiry, or of Justice, Love, Compassion etc) and then spending your life expanding all of the hows and whys etc will a) create a much better world b) expand that person’s religious experience beyond measure.

When I walk I step near falling but step regardless. When I walk discover many things and experience even more. Most go on their ways but some are here to stay, digging their ways into my being as I move onward. They stay awhile until some other passerby becomes more of interest to them. Sometimes they stay with me for a long time. When I walk I take my most cherished jewels; mercy, love, compassion, philosophy, and when I walk I seldom leave without one of them forcing me to come once more and walk again.

Best Wishes,
Denis Kurmanov


Love, Compassion, Justice, Mercy, and those virtues that we all love, I believe, are connected to reality. This is not an ideal that I just wish for, it is one I believe it present in the fundamentals of how electrons move around. Yes, there is chaos and destruction etc but I believe the world to be alive more than dead.

That being said I don’t believe these things to be describable in one sentence but mostly displayable by how we live. Music is often cited as being able to much more validly resemble and conjure the depth of human emotion than word because it moves with all of our perceptive beings and not just words on a page.

I make an emotional case for why philosophy is important but I believe that reaching a good, and admirable view of the world, to philosophers, to the religious, to the scientists, etc is capable only with philosophers around.

I argue that faith is constant to life because it is necessary to living on to the next step. It is shared because a developed faith is generally a result of plural experience (they don’t have to be as drastic as one “world faith” meeting another.)

I make the case that all of us working together through our disciplines brings forth a “general” sometimes good, according to some, or bad, that perpetuates itself and is apt to change as we continue being a part of it and it a part of us.