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.