From “Entering the Jhanas , by Leigh Brasington, in Lion’s Roar (May 2017)

“The Buddha’s teachings can be divided into three parts: sila, samadhi, and panna (ethical conduct, concentration, and wisdom). Or to put it into the vernacular: clean up your act, concentrate your mind, and use your concentrated mind to investigate reality.

[…]

This is the heart of the method the Buddha discovered. These states are not an end in and of themselves, unlike what the Buddha’s two teachers had taught him shortly after he’d left home to begin his spiritual quest. They are simply a way of preparing your mind so you can more effectively examine reality and discover the deeper truths that lead to liberation.”

From “Entering the Jhanas , by Leigh Brasington, in Lion’s Roar (May 2017)

From ‘True Practice is Never Disengaged’, by Karen Maezen Miller, in Lion’s Roar (February 2020)

a large old oak tree

As Buddhist practitioners, indeed, as citizens of planet Earth, we might wonder if there’s a better use of our time than sitting still in silence. Shouldn’t we be raising our voices, righting wrongs, and fighting the good fight? There are people to help and causes to champion, protests to organize and injustices to correct. Turning our backs and facing a wall sure looks like escaping reality and avoiding responsibility.

Formal practice—in a meditation hall, surrounded by a sangha—has long been criticized as socially disengaged, morally indifferent, and even selfish. […] Whenever we’re confused about the point of our practice, it’s time to question our judgments and beliefs. We are taught to take refuge in buddha, dharma, and sangha, and many of us make vows to do so. But is there true refuge in our refuge, or are we just reciting words? Is practice our living reality or just an intellectual pastime? We must continually answer these questions for ourselves, or the buddhadharma dies.

[…]

As taught in the eightfold path, the right view changes everything, because when we know that our actions and beliefs have infinite consequences, we live differently. Practice is the place where we can begin to see the truth of this, and each glimpse subtly transforms our lives and the world.

[…]

We know it works, because our actions and beliefs have infinite consequences. Little by little, our view widens beyond our own desires. What starts as a self-help project thus becomes the work of a bodhisattva: taking on the suffering of the world. That means we respond to the needs that appear in front of us. It doesn’t matter if our actions seem big or small, enough or not enough. We shouldn’t be fooled by what we think.

Practice is a marvelous vehicle—it goes everywhere and includes everything. It donates clothing and food, signs petitions, and joins marches. It visits the lonely and sits with the dying; it listens, smiles, laughs, and cries. It gives money and time. It votes. Far from disengaged, a living practice is intimately engaged because it is you.

The never-ending greed and hate of samsara make the need for practice clear.

From ‘True Practice is Never Disengaged’, by Karen Maezen Miller, in Lion’s Roar (February 2020)

From ‘The Helmholtz Machine’, by Dayan, Hinton, and Neal, in “Neural Computation” (1995)


” Following Helmholtz, we view the human perceptual system as a statistical inference engine whose function is to infer the probable causes of sensory input. We show that a device of this kind can learn how to perform these inferences without requiring a teacher to label each sensory input vector with its underlying causes. A recognition model is used to infer a probability distribution over the underlying causes from the sensory input, and a separate generative model, which is also learned, is used to train the recognition model.

[…]

The Helmholtz machine fits comfortably within the framework of Grenander’s pattern theory (Grenander 1976) in the
form of Mumford’s (1994) proposals for the mapping onto the brain.”

From ‘The Helmholtz Machine’, by Dayan, Hinton, and Neal, in “Neural Computation” (1995)

From ‘The Imperial Summons’, in The Sutra of Hui-Neng, 大鑒惠能

The Master said “The Way has no light or dark. Light and dark means alternation. Light upon light without end is still finite, because it is defined in relative terms. The Pure Name Sutra says ‘Truth has no comparison, because there is no relativity in it’. […] Affliction itself is enlightenment: there is no duality, no difference”

From ‘The Imperial Summons’, in The Sutra of Hui-Neng, 大鑒惠能

From ‘Religion in Human Evolution’ by Robert Bellah

Maslow in his “Toward a Psychology of Being” and other works has distinguished between what he calls Being cognition (or B-cognition) and Deficiency cognition (or D-cognition).

His characterization of D-cognition is remarkably parallel to Schutz’s notion of the world of daily life, for D-cognition is the recognition of what is lacking and what must be made up for through striving. D-cognition is motivated by a fundamental anxiety that propels us toward practical and pragmatic action in the world of working. When we are controlled by Deficiency motives, we operate under the means/ends schema, we have a clear sense of difference between subject and object, and our attitude toward objects (even human objects) is manipulative. We concentrate on partial aspects of reality that are most germane to our needs and ignore the rest, both of ourselves and of the world, but we operate with scrupulous attention to the constraints of standard time and space.

Being cognition is defined in sharpest contrast to Deficiency cognition on every dimension. When we are propelled by B-motives, we relate to the world by participation, not manipulation; we experience a union of subject and object, a wholeness that overcomes all partiality. The B-cognition is an end in itself, not a means to anything else, and it tends to transcend our ordinary experience of time and space. Maslow does not identify B-experiences exclusively with religion— they may occur in nature, in relation to art, in intense interpersonal relations, even in sports. But because B-experiences are so frequently reported in religious literature, they may provide an initial mode of entry into the particular way that people experience the world religiously, even though it is certainly not the only way and we will have to broaden our phenomenological description of religious worlds as we encounter particular religions in more detail.

[…]

But we can also see the various realms of reality as going on at the same time, and occasionally cutting into one another. Objects in the world of daily life may carry more than one meaning, and we may not be conscious of all the meanings. We may relate to our boss in the world of working, perhaps unconsciously, as if he were our father. As psychotherapists know, such a meaning can distort our behavior to the extent that it disrupts our ability to function in the work situation. Many objects that we encounter in the world of everyday have, at least potentially, religious meanings.

[…]

In other words, it is always possible that an object, a person, or an event in the world of daily life may have a meaning in another reality that transcends the world of working. If so we may call it a symbol, following Alfred Schutz’s usage with respect to that term. We will have much more to say about symbols, but here we may only note that we are surrounded by symbols, or potential symbols, all the time. A tree, water, the sun are all multivalent symbols, but a room is a symbol, a door is a symbol, a book is a symbol, a teacher is a symbol, a student is a symbol. Most of the time in daily life we are operating with a narrowly pragmatic consciousness, with what Maslow calls D-cognition, and we don’t see symbols, or at least we don’t consciously see them. At times, however, even in the midst of daily life, we may experience a B-cognition when something ordinary becomes extraordinary, becomes symbolic.

[…]

Without the capacity for symbolic transcendence, for seeing the realm of daily life in terms of a realm beyond it, without the capacity for “beyonding,”as Kenneth Burke put it, one would be trapped in a world of what has been called dreadful immanence. For the world of daily life seen solely as a world of rational response to anxiety and need is a world of mechanical necessity, not radical autonomy. It is through pointing to other realities, through beyonding, that religion and poetry, and science too in its own way, break the dreadful fatalities of this world of appearances.
We can begin to see why taking the world of daily life as the paramount reality is dangerous if it is anything more than a methodological assumption. We have noted that no one can stand to live in the world of daily life all the time. Its governing anxiety derives from two of its features: the fact that it is a world of lack, of Deficiency motives that must be made up; and the fact that the manipulations in which it is engaged have no guaranteed success—they might fail in the attempt to overcome some deficiency. The world of daily life must then be punctuated with periods that are more inherently gratifying: with sleep, with common meals, with activities that are not means
to any ends. Alasdair MacIntyre has used the term “practices” to apply to activities whose goods are internal to them. The kind of B-cognition that we have used to characterize religious experience is not a practice, because, to paraphrase Stevens, it is not something we achieve but something that happens.

[…]

The world of working as the world of the manipulation of objects in order to satisfy needs is inadequate to the understanding even of the world of working.

[…]

Yet, I believe, there is a pull, even in the very center of the world of working, toward the understanding of work as practice, as intrinsically meaningful and valuable, rather than as means to an end. […] We may take, for example, the Zen Buddhist notion of practice, which in its primary sense means meditation, preferably in the lotus posture for definite periods in a meditation hall with other Zen devotees. The notion of Zen practice is then extrapolated to all activities, so that sweeping becomes practice, doing the dishes becomes practice, and so would any kind of work. What makes work into practice from the Zen point of view would be the attitude of mindfulness, a particular form of religious attention. Mindfulness does not mean concern for outcome but openness to the reality of what is actually happening, a kind of B-cognition.

From ‘Religion in Human Evolution’ by Robert Bellah

From the ‘Jata Sutta’, in the Samyutta Nikaya

“A man established in virtue, discerning, developing discernment & mind, a monk ardent, astute: he can untangle this tangle.

Those whose passion, aversion, & ignorance have faded away, arahants, their effluents ended: for them the tangle’s untangled.

Where name-&-form, along with perception of impingement & form, totally stop without trace: that’s where the tangle is cut.

From the ‘Jata Sutta’, in the Samyutta Nikaya

From ‘Being and Time’, by Martin Heidegger

“because logos is a specific mode of letting something be seen, logos simply may not be acclaimed as the primary “place” of truth. If one defines truth as what “properly” pertains to judgment, which is quite customary today, and if one invokes Aristotle in support of this thesis, such invocation is without justification and the Greek concept of truth thoroughly misunderstood. In the Greek sense what is “true” indeed more originally true than the logos we have been discussing is aisthēsis, the straightforward sensuous apprehending of some thing. To the extent that an aisthēsis aims at its idia [what is its own]—the beings genuinely accessible only through it and for it, for example, looking at colors—apprehending is always true. This means that looking always discovers colors, hearing always discovers tones. What is in the purest and most original sense “true”—that is, what only discovers in such a way that it can never cover up anything—is pure noein, straightforwardly observant apprehension of the simplest determinations of the Being of beings as such. This noein can never cover up, can never be false; at worst it can be a nonapprehending, agnoein, not sufficing for straightforward, appropriate access.

What no longer takes the form of a pure letting be seen, but rather in its indicating always has recourse to something else and so always lets something be seen as something, acquires a structure of synthesis and therewith the possibility of covering up.”

From ‘Being and Time’, by Martin Heidegger

From ‘Chanting from the Heart’, by Thich Nhat Hanh and the Order of Interbeing

Le Petit Dojo, La Gendronniere, France

3. Touching the Earth
Opening Gatha 

The one who bows and the one who is bowed to 
are both, by nature, empty.
Therefore the communication between them 
is inexpressibly perfect.
Our practice center is the Net of Indra 
reflecting all Buddhas everywhere.
And with my person in front of each Buddha,
I go with my whole life for refuge.

Offering light in the Ten Directions,
the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha,
to whom we bow in gratitude. 

Teaching and living the way of awareness 
in the very midst of suffering and confusion, 
Shakyamuni Buddha, the Fully Enlightened One,
to whom we bow in gratitude. 

Cutting through ignorance, awakening our hearts and our minds,
Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Great Understanding,
to whom we bow in gratitude. 

Working mindfully, working joyfully for the sake of all beings,
Samantabhadra, the Bodhisattva of Great Action,
to whom we bow in gratitude. 

Listening deeply, serving beings in countless ways,
Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion,
to whom we bow in gratitude. 

Fearless and persevering through realms of suffering and darkness,
Kshitigarbha, the Bodhisattva of Great Aspiration,
to whom we bow in gratitude. 

Seed of awakening and loving kindness 
in children and all beings,
Maitreya, the Buddha to-be-born,
to whom we bow in gratitude. 

Showing the way fearlessly and compassionately,
the stream of all our Ancestral Teachers,
to whom we bow in gratitude

From ‘Chanting from the Heart’, by Thich Nhat Hanh and the Order of Interbeing

From ‘Buddhism without Beliefs’, by Stephen Batchelor

“Religious  interpretations  invariably  reduce  complexity  to  uniformity  while  elevating  matter-of-factness  to  holiness […] And  the  crucial  distinction  that  each  truth  requires  being acted  upon  in  its  own  particular  way  (understanding  anguish, letting  go  of  its  origins,  realizing  its  cessation,  and  cultivating the  path)  has  been  relegated  to  the  margins  of  specialist doctrinal knowledge. Yet  in  failing  to  make  this  distinction,  four  ennobling truths  to  be  acted  upon  are  neatly  turned  into  four  propositions  of  fact  to  be  believed.  The  first  truth  becomes:  “Life  Is Suffering”;  the  second:  “The  Cause  of  Suffering  Is  Cravings—and  so  on.  At  precisely  this  juncture,  Buddhism  becomes  a  religion.”

From ‘Buddhism without Beliefs’, by Stephen Batchelor

From “Albert Camus: From the Absurd to Revolt”, by John Foley

“[A]ccording to Camus, if the absurd is not to degenerate into moral nihilism it must rehabilitate itself in the light of revolt, and that if revolt is not to deteriorate into a regime of tyranny and oppression, it must remain conscious of its origins in the absurd premise.

[…]

In Hazel Barnes’s translation of Being and Nothingness, the Sartrean absurd is defined as “That which is meaningless. Thus man’s existence is absurd because his contingency finds no external justification” (Sartre 1956: 628). In marked contrast, for Kierkegaard, the absurd refers to that quality of Christian faith that runs counter to all mundane human experience or, in Kierkegaard’s terms, “The absurd, precisely by reason of its objective repulsion, is the dynamometer of the inwardness of faith” (Lowrie 1938: 336; cf. Kierkegaard 1941: 189).

[…]

Reviewing Sartre’s Nausea in 1938, […] Camus criticizes the author for “thinking that life is tragic because it is wretched”, and argues that “the realisation that life is absurd cannot be an end in itself but only a beginning”. “It is not the discovery which is interesting,” argues Camus, “but the consequences and rules for actions which can be drawn from it.”

[…]

Camus claims that the absurd arises out of the “confrontation between human need and the unreasonable silence of the world” (MS: 32; E: 117–18). Human beings are naturally inclined to want and expect the world to be intelligible “in the full and familiar ways that religious and philosophical systems have portrayed it”. This kind of intelligibility purports to be comprehensive, to explain the world as a whole, and crucially, it purports to explain the world “in terms that human beings care about”, in ways that make sense “with respect to human values”. In Camus’s view, neither human existence nor the world are themselves absurd. Instead the absurd arises because the world is resistant to this kind of intelligibility: “we want the world to make sense, but it does not make sense. To see this conflict is to see the absurd” (Kamber 2002: 52). “If there is an absurd,” Camus says at one point, “it is in man’s universe” (MS: 38; E: 124). What normally brings the individual into confrontation with his absurd condition, suggests Camus, is the awareness not of human mortality per se, but of his own personal mortality. In the case of Camus himself, this awareness came with his f irst attack of tuberculosis, in 1930 or 1931, at the age of seventeen. For someone whose juvenile writing displayed a profound bond with the natural world, the sudden visceral awareness of his own mortality, the imperviousness of nature to the private traumas of humankind, the feeling of dying slowly from the inside, the painfully asphyxiating experience of the pneumothorax treatments that denied him even the pantheistic prayer of uninhibited respiration, left clear fissures in the latent pantheism of his earliest, mainly lyrical, writing.3 However, this is not to say that the absurd is born of an irrational response to the realization of human mortality. While feelings of the absurd may thus be awoken, awareness of the absurd, Camus insists, is specifically a rational, intellectual discovery, deduced from the recognition of the division between our expectations of the world and the world itself, unresponsive to those expectations (MS: 26; E: 112).

[…]

It is Camus’s contention that ordinary human existence tends to take this level of perfect coherence for granted, but that occasionally, or perhaps inevitably, “the stage-sets collapse”, and one is wrenched from one’s ontological complacency and forced to confront the radical incoherence perceived to be at the heart of the relation between the self and the world, that sense of absurdity which a recent critic has characterized as “the feeling of radical divorce, of living in a once familiar but now suddenly radically alien homeland, of being adrift between past and future and unable to rely on either to give meaning to the present, of being a stranger to the world and to oneself” (Carroll 2007b: 56–7).

[…]

He asserts repeatedly that it is the implications of the absurd that interest him: “I was looking for a method and not a doctrine. I was practicing methodical doubt.” The absurd, then, as conceived by Camus is fundamentally an epistemological claim addressing an ontological need; that is, a claim regarding the knowledge we can have of the world.

[…]

For Camus the absurd describes “a tension, born of a discrepancy between external reality and the human desire for familiarity”, but this does not discount such things as the existence of beauty, friendship, health, satisfying work and creativity.”

From “Albert Camus: From the Absurd to Revolt”, by John Foley