Not long ago, I saw this great video of Dick Van Dyke dancing up a storm at the age of 89.  I was impressed and when I noticed the other night that he was going to be on the Tavis Smiley show, I tuned in. He’s currently promoting a new book, Keep Moving: And Other Tips and Truths About Aging.

WoI2During the interview, Van Dyke mentioned Alan Watts’ The Wisdom of Insecurity. Evidently, he learned a great deal from it.

After the program, I got out my copy of the book. I hadn’t looked through it for quite a while. Watts’ theme in this work is that the desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are essentially the same thing. It is the desire to be secure that produces insecurity.

Here’s a passage from the first page I turned to,

We do not need action – yet. We need more light.

Light, here, means awareness – to be aware of life, of experience as it is this moment, without any ideas or judgments about it. In other words, you have to see and feel what you are experiencing as it is, and not as it is named. This very simple ‘opening of the eyes’ brings about the most extraordinary transformation of understanding and living, and shows that many of our most baffling problems are pure illusion. This may sound like an over-simplification because most people imagine themselves to be fully enough aware of the present already, but we shall see that this is far from true.”

At the end of the paragraph, a footnote: “The word ‘awareness’ is used in the sense given to it by J. Krishnamurti, whose writings discuss this theme with extraordinary perception.”

Someone asked Krishnamurti once what he meant by awareness. His long response began with these words, “I wonder if we really are aware of anger, sadness, happiness? Or are we aware of these things only when they are all over?”

In meditation, we try to be aware or mindful of the present moment. The most crucial moments, though, are the heated moments, the moments of anxiety, depression, or confusion. Often, we are most aware of ourselves in those moments. Or perhaps it is when these moments have passed.  Then, there is a possibility for regrets. Some regrets might have a basis for foundation but others may stem from ideas and judgments we have made about ourselves.

No judgments. Before action, more light.



The Dharma Door of Confidence

In Stopping and Seeing for Beginners, the first meditation manual produced in Chinese Buddhism, T’ien-t’ai master Chih-i says, “When doubt veils the mind, it is difficult to open any dharma doors.”

Dharma doors refer to Buddhist teachings and practice, which open onto the path that leads away from suffering. Chih-i means that when we have doubts about the teachings or the practice, it is hard to make progress along the path.

We can interpret this another way: dharma doors refer to solutions, paths that lead to the resolution of dilemmas. When we have doubts about ourselves, it may be difficult to open the door to any solutions.

0427b3I once read that Martin Luther King, Jr. always said, “I have a dream.” Not just in his speeches, like the famous one at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, but privately. He didn’t necessarily mean a dream for a new social order. He was speaking more in terms of a personal dream, a belief in his own potential. That was how he gained confidence to find solutions to the dilemmas he faced.

The tragic end of his life should not be as significant to us as the conviction and optimism he exuded while he was alive.

When doubt veils our mind, it is difficult to find any doors.

Buddhism is a doorway into the garden of life. In this philosophy, believing in ourselves means to have confidence about our Buddha-nature. When we step through the dharma door of confidence, we can discover that not only are we buddhas, but the entire universe is a buddha.


Musical Interlude: October First Quarter Moon Edition

A break today from Buddhism and serious stuff.

I wrote and recorded this song years ago and occupied myself last week by putting some images to it. It ain’t much, just sort of a little pop song, but hopefully it won’t hurt your ears.

By the way, I have a YouTube channel with other videos I’ve made, a eclectic mix of covers, originals, and ambient music.


Two Roads and a Fork

We’re deep into the Major League Baseball post-season and I’ve seen some exciting games. It would be more exciting if my beloved Yankees were still playing. For a while I thought my guys might be able to go all the way, but it was not to be, not this year, again.

By the way, on this date in 1923 the NY Yankees beat the New York Giants 4 games to 2 and won their 1st World Series. They’ve won 27 since. In fact, again on this same day but in 1964, the Yanks beat the Cardinals to win 9 of the last 16 World Series. What a team . . .

A few weeks ago, we lost the great Yankees catcher Yogi Berra, who passed away at the age of 90. Besides a legendary ball player, he was also famous for his “Yogisms,” his little sayings that have become part of the American  lexicon, like “Déjà vu all over again” and “You can observe a lot by watching.”

fork-road4bAt first, they seem a bit fractured but sometimes they sound very Zen and Taoist. I think my favorite is “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

I don’t believe this is to be confused with the “fork in the road” near the Slauson Cutoff in L.A. (a minor spur of the 405 to Marina Del Rey) that Art Fern, host of the old Tea Time Movie, points out in the photo.

But it does remind me of this story found in the Chuang Tzu:

One day, Tzu-ch’i said to Tzu-yu, “You know, you can wear out your brain trying to make things into one without knowing that they are all the same. I call this ‘three in the morning.’”

“What do you mean by ‘three in the morning’?” Tzu-yu asked.

“When the monkey trainer was handing out nuts, he told the monkeys ‘You get three in the morning and four at night.’ This made all the monkeys angry. ‘Okay, then,’ he said, ‘you get four in the morning and three at night.’ Hearing this, monkeys were happy. Now, they still got the same amount of nuts each day, he just changed the order around, and yet one way made the monkeys upset, the other joyful. “

“I don’t get it.”

“Instead of arguing with the monkeys, the trainer used skill and wisdom to placate them. You see, a wise man will keep everything equal, and harmonize with both right and wrong. I call it walking two roads.”



When Black Elk Spoke

It’s Columbus Day, a really stupid holiday if you ask me. There’s no banks open, no mail, and government offices are closed, all in honor of the arrival in the Americas on October 12, 1492 of Christopher Columbus, a guy who didn’t know where he was going and didn’t know where he was when he got there. He thought he landed in India, that’s why Native Americans were called Indians.

It seems this year there are more voices than ever calling for the abolition of Columbus Day and the establishment of an Indigenous People’s Day. It’s not a bad idea.

I think there are interesting correlations between Native American wisdom and Eastern philosophy, and it’s probably more than a coincidence.  I believe recent DNA studies have revealed Native Americans are descended from Asian ancestors.

Much of Native American wisdom reminds me of Taoism.  Both involve the healing arts and mental discipline, and they have tremendous respect for the earth and knowledge of natural laws.

The great symbol of Taoism is the Yin-Yang or Taiji, a circle divided into two halves, one white and the other black. In Taoist philosophy, reality is cyclical. Nature is like a circle, and the circle represents wholeness and the harmony between forces that appear to be opposites. Understanding cyclical nature is the key to living a full life. Lao Tzu (c.604 – 531 B.C.), considered the founder of Taoism, wrote: “Just stay at the center of the circle and let all things take their natural course.”

An important chronicler of Native American wisdom was a Nebraskan named John G. Neihardt (1881-1973). He was a writer, poet and historian. In 1930, Neihardt interviewed an Oglala Lakota (Sioux) medicine man named Black Elk, who at age 13 witnessed the massacre of Custer and his troops at the Battle of Little Bighorn, and later toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Black Elk shared with Neihardt the story of his people, the destruction of the buffalo, Little Big Horn and the Battle of Wounded Knee, and talked about his second cousin, Crazy Horse, and another Lakota holy man, the great chief Sitting Bull.

Neihardt put Black Elk’s word into a book, Black Elk Speaks. In this excerpt, Black Elk shares the Native American vision of the circle of life:

black-elk3[The] Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round . . . The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power whirls. Birds make their nest in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves. Our tepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation’s hoop.”

The Medicine Wheel and the Sacred Hoop are other important symbols found in Native American wisdom, and the circle, of course, is an essential element of other cultures and philosophies.

Nature does not proceed in a straight line, nor does the universe. Space is curved. If we follow the circular course of nature – such as the sequence of the seasons, the orbits of planets and stars – we place ourselves in rhythm with life, touching wholeness and wellness.