Zen Talk: Spill The Cup of Your Life So That the Beauty Runs Out

We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled.
The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over
and let the beautiful stuff out.
– Ray Bradbury

Now, I know that Ray Bradbury is no Zen Master, but this quote had a nice Zen-y essence, and I thought it would be appropriate to share it on Zen Talk day. Plus, I really like it.

We can each imagine ourselves as a vessel – a cup, if you will – and over the course of our lifetimes, we are constantly being filled with things: ideas, both good and bad, friendships and relationships, notions, concepts, experiences, sites, sounds, smells, tastes and everything else you can imagine.

Some of those things are good and some are bad. Some need to be shared and others do not – or at least, sharing them in just the right way is what’s important.

This quote reminds us to tip ourselves over – to spill out all of the things that have filled us up in the most beautiful way possible, whether to influence others for the better, to teach them things from our lives and experiences or just to inspire them or fill them with awe. Coming from such a talented writer as Ray Bradbury, I can see how this quote made sense to him. He was a man who tipped himself often and let much beauty come out.

What do you think of this quote?

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Zen Talk: The Before and After of Understanding Zen

Learning Zen is a phenomenon of gold and dung.
Before you understand it, it’s like gold; after
you understand it, it’s like dung.
– Zen master

It’s hard to know what to do with a quote like this. Should we be disillusioned? I don’t want to hunt for gold and end up with a fistful of dung!

Of course, this could just be another way of saying that the journey is more important than the destination. While you’re searching and on your path, you believe that the Zen you are going to reach is of ultimate importance, like gold. However, upon reaching your goal (understanding Zen), you’re just like, “Okay, now what.”

That seems a little, uh, disappointing, but you know these Zen Masters and their love of creating disturbingly sharp contrasts and playing down the importance of things. Crazy Zen Masters!

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Zen Talk: Do A Person’s Friends Tell You About His Character

“When the character of a man is not clear to you, look at his friends.”

I found this to be a particularly fascinating quote to stumble upon because I am also a part time SAT teacher. As such, I teach students how to write a persuasive essay in 25 minutes by using good examples and by taking a side. Funny enough, one of the questions that I use regularly when I assign them weekly essays to practice this skill is, “Do a person’s friends tell you about his character?”

It was curious, then, to find this Buddhist quote that states quite definitely that, yes, a person’s friends do tell you about his character. Generally, my students argue the same, however poorly, but it’s interesting to see this here – yet with no support.

I have no interest in weighing in on the issue, but just thought that I’d share this quote for the week and ask what you think and why.

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Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha and the Super Best Friends Defeat David Blaine and His Cult in South Park Episode 504, “Super Best Friends”

Beyond the shadow of a doubt, this is one of my favorite South Park episodes – perhaps my single favorite.

When David Blaine starts forming a cult following of Blainetologists, the boys join up, convinced that they are actually going to magic camp. Concerned at the ridiculousness of it all, Stan defects, though Kyle and Cartman stay. The cult starts seeking tax exempt status from the government, potentially making it a bona fide religion, and when it is denied this status, David Blaine sends his followers to Washington DC to commit mass suicide.

Stan, having gone to Jesus to warn him about this cult danger, is taken by Jesus to the Hall of the Super Best Friends, where he meets a league of religious leaders who believe in fighting for justice and the power of good over evil. The league includes Mohammed, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Krishna, Joseph Smith and Seaman. Stan learns that even though their followers fight and squabble for little or no reason, the leaders themselves are all friends – well, not just friends, but Super Best Friends!

What a fantastic message, unparalleled in the history of South Park message importance.

Working together, the Super Best Friends are eventually able to defeat David Blaine and prevent everyone else from committing suicide.

I’ll refrain from droning on and on about the awesomeness of what this episode is imparting about the legitimacy of world religions or the unhealthy fervency of cults and their often dissembling leaders. I’ll also refrain from droning on about how Blainetology is really meant to represent Scientology and how awful Trey Parker and Matt Stone find that religion. But if you’d like to discuss the matter further, share your own two cents or ask any questions, I’d be delighted to go on.

What did you think about this episode?

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Zen Talk: What’s the Point of Seeking to Understand?

“If you understand, things are just as they are; if you do not understand, things are just as they are.”

Ha! That sucks. Sort of. It’s also nice to know. Our understanding of something and something being so are independent of one another. Whether or not you know or don’t know, nothing different is happening outside of your head about what you do or don’t know. A bizarre separation of seemingly related things.

Does that make you want to know more or make you realize the futility of learning more? Presumably there’s a separate issue at hand here, which is, what do you do with that knowledge once you have it? Sure, if you don’t do anything with what you understand then that understanding can’t affect anything. However, use your knowledge for the benefit of others and things will no longer be as they are.

What do you think about this quote or my thoughts on it?

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Zen Talk: For How Long Will I Be a Fool?

He who asks a question is a fool for a minute; he who does not remains a fool forever.

– famous Chinese proverb

I consider myself to be a very curious fellow. I have lots of questions, and I’m always reading a dozen books and learning whatever I can. Does that make me a life-long fool or a life-long learner? Maybe both.

I accept that there is tons that I don’t know and tons I will never know. Compared to what there is to know, I know nothing. I feel very much like Socrates in that fashion – no, not like a brilliant philosopher, but like Socrates claimed he felt: as if he knew nothing and that was all he knew for sure.

Don’t get me wrong, I think I know plenty, but that plenty is plenty of facts about certain subjects that I fancy myself savvy in. Bigger picture, though, and bigger issue, I think that I know so little that it’s disturbing. That doesn’t stop me from consuming whatever knowledge I can with a voracious appetite, but it is somewhat humbling to realize that I will never know as much as I would like.

Then again, I know certain things that I wish I didn’t – that I truly wish I had no knowledge of. And that’s, perhaps, more disturbing still: to know that I would rather remain in absolute ignorance until the day I died than to know, when I value knowing and knowledge so highly.

Life-long fool it is, I suppose.

What do you think about this quote?

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Zen Talk: A Reminder to Live in the Moment

“When walking, walk. When eating, eat.”

Everyone needs a good ol’ reminder to live in the present, and that is just what this quote is. Be in the moment of what you’re doing.

It’s very hard to pay attention to the things that you’re doing because our lives are inundated with stimuli and distractions, whether from television, work, life planning or what have you. Our own thoughts preclude our ability to live in the moment – rather than pay attention to the meal in front of us, we think about that look Suzy at work was making when we were talking to Joe. But why? Why can’t we take a nice walk and enjoy the sites and smells around us rather than dwell on the past or plan for the future.

Live in the moment and enjoy life.

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Zen Talk: Our Words Don’t Do Reality Justice

“The instant you speak about a thing, you miss the mark.”

There’s little I find as frustrating as writing the same post twice, and though apparently I can’t possibly capture that frustration in words, I’m going to ask your forgiveness on the skimpiness of this post as it pains me to write it again.

I love this quote. It reminds me of the notion of Platonic forms. That is, we try repeatedly to capture the essence of an idea in its earthly manifestations and as close to our designs as we may come, we never truly capture its essence (not that I subscribe to the notion of Platonic forms, but this does make me think of them).

This quote also speaks to the value of experience. When we experience something we truly live it, but when we attempt to tell of that experience to others, we no doubt miss the mark. Though a shame, it reminds us of the importance of living life for ourselves.

What are your thoughts on this quote?

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Zen Talk: Watts’ Words are Twisted For Us to Unravel – Or Leave as They Are

“Nothing is exactly as it seems, nor is it otherwise.”
Alan Watts

A lot of people like to knock Alan Watts as being a westernized form of eastern Zen Buddhism and of fetishizing the hell out Zen. I can’t really disagree with that sentiment, but I can say that, despite this, I still enjoy a lot of what Watts has to say. It’s interesting and it makes you think, less often in a western way but by helping our western thinking minds move in a more Zen-like fashion.

This quote contributes to that kind of thinking. “Nothing is exactly as it seems,” seems, at face value, to be a very normal thing to say, and perhaps something that we’ve heard before. It’s like the warning Conan the Barbarian should get before entering the Palace of Mirrors.

However, the addition of “nor is it otherwise” gives pause. Does that mean that things are exactly as they seem or that we are actually discussing the notion of “nothing.”

Nothing, as a thing, is exactly as it seems. Nothing is nothing. Nor is nothing not as it seems because it is nothing. This could become a tautological mind f-ing, and rather than do that, I’m going to leave it open to the floor. What is going on in this quote, and what does it mean?

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Zen Talk: The Illusion of Purity

“Water which is too pure has no fish.”
– Ts’ai Ken T’an

How right you are Ts’ai Ken T’an. I recently started a very small aquarium in my home, and the first thing I learned from my very smart local aquarium store owner (Ocean Aquarium) is that the success of the aquarium and the happiness of the fish is all about the water. You can’t just put fish into the water that comes out of your faucet. It’s too pure!

You have to spend weeks treating your water to adjust the levels of nitrates, ammonia and acidity. And just as importantly, you have to consistently add bacteria to the water so that an eco system can begin to thrive and settle in.

So what does that mean for Zen Talk. Well, on the one hand I would say that purity is an extreme and a ‘final’ destination and that striving for purity is a false pursuit. What is purity anyway but an ever changing, relative and subjective falsity? Some people say that drugs can never enter our bodies for our bodies to be pure. Others contend that a spiritual cleansing and purity ritual involves psychotropic substances.

That’s not to say that one should shun a cleanliness of mind and body – quite the contrary. Just that an extreme, even in the case of purity, should not be sought after like some be-all end-all.

What are your thoughts on this quote and matter?

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