Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Why I don't separate the personal stuff from the philosophy

Since a lot of what I write is quite abstract and specialised, I've considered separating it from the personal stuff. And a lot of people do that.

On one level it seems sensible and more 'user-friendly' to do that, but I don't want to regard these abstract ideas as if they were free-floating entities in some separate Platonic realm. Rather, they are my thoughts, the thoughts of a particular brain and body and life. I want to cultivate the perspective that my thoughts are just another bodily function rather than being 'truth'. So, all my ideas here are should be seen as descriptions of my mind at any particular time.

It's a sort of ongoing experiment, I'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

My revamped website

For a living I design websites, Flash animations, graphic panels, HTML user interfaces, brochures and 3D animations. I've been working primarily with one client - British Telecom - on their Contact Central project for about five years. I need to branch out and get some new business, so I've build a little portfolio site online.

Moving Sky

There are some improvements I could make, but it will suffice for now.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Past is Dependent on the Present

I've had some ideas bubbling away in my brain for a few years now, which I've been hoping to crystallise into something concrete. It's view which is inspired by the Buddhism and by the Anthropic Principle. It has many aspects and I hope to get some of the ideas down in this blog.

It's all about the relationship between subjective and objective aspects of reality, the nature of consciousness, space and time. All sounds very grand doesn't it? If only I could get it together to work through it.

According to the various versions of the Anthropic Principle the constants of the universe are not arbitrary (actually the possibility that they would lead to a universe which is capable of evolving intelligent life is remote in the extreme). Rather, every observed universe must (at least locally) be consistent with the emergence of sentient observers.

My modified version extended the principle to explain not only why humanity is here, but why 'I' am here and that probabalistic attempts to explain the unfolding of history are misguided because history is determined by the present in so far as it must be consistent with not only the evolution of sentient life, but with the conception of my parents and of me and every moment of history which enables this moment to happen. Thus, although the present is dependent upon the past, the past is also determined by the present. The unfolding of history isn't random or arbitrary - it has a sort of telos which makes *this* inevitable. And of course *this* is marked by consciousness.

The old view of history being dependent only on its own past is turned inside out. The past and the present are interdependent. 'Mind' in back in the centre of the picture. Subject and object are two sides of the same coin. And it all ties in closely with Buddhist notions of relativity, mind and that only the present is true reality.

It seems that Stephen Hawking's new theory is very closely related.

Exploring Stephen Hawking's Flexiverse

Well Professor Hawking if you want some more new ideas - watch this space.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Chopping wood, carrying bricks...

Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.
– Wu Li

We have lots to do in our new home. Even though my experience of gardening is close to zero, I've decided to build a Japanese style garden in the back. There was a gnarly tree against the back fence which consisted of some sort of climbing plant overgrown with ivy and entwined with the fence.

I was tempted to keep it because it had character, but it was quite ugly and dominated the whole space, so I chopped it down. Actually it was so entwined with the fence that I had to dismantle it piece by piece. It took a surprising amount of work, but I found it really satisfying. It was nice to be outside doing simple physical tasks - certainly it seemed less like 'work' than sitting in front of a computer designing graphics and web sites. It got me thinking - I'm sure I feel far less 'alienated' than I once did - both socially and existentially. It's hard to know how much of that is down to maturity and finally meeting someone who was right for me and how much of it is down to Zen.

Perhaps I'll post some photos of the garden as it evolves.

Emily's brother Guy was here with his little daughter. He's just split up with his wife, so we were consoling him and he was helping us with the house. It's a real shame because he's a really nice guy. His wife has bi-polar disorder - and she blames her inability to find happiness largely on her husband, in spite of him bending over backwards to try to please her.

Apparently he came away with the impression that we live a really 'wholesome' life. Emily baking in the kitchen with Guy's daughter and me chopping down trees and practicing Zen. If only they knew...

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Buddha Nature

This is based partly on experience and partly on my understanding of the expressions of Buddhist Masters - I'm not trying to pass myself off as 'fully enlightened' or anything.

The Middle Way of Buddha is about freedom - internal freedom:

By virtue of being linguistic and conceptual expressions of actuality which is ultimately inexpressable, the Buddhist teachings contain many hazards, which we can imagine as holes that we can get trapped in. Understanding Buddhism is like eating food without touching it. People get trapped in these conceptual holes when they reify concepts - when they regard an idea as a real entity or as an independent essence. A Buddha on the other hand moves freely - even into these holes - but is not impeded.

When Buddhism began people believed in that all things had an inherent independent nature - things had an essence that made them what they are, people had an atman, which passed from one life to another, even the universe had an Atman - which some regarded to be Brahma. Buddha saw this as a delusional view which he called Eternalism and taught Anatta and Anatman. Unfortunately some interpreted this teaching as a teaching of 'no-self' as opposed to a simple refutation of Eternalism. They thought he was teaching that reality consists of 'other' or that self does not exist in any way whatsoever or that there is a temporary self that arises from the physical body, which becomes non-existent when we die - people were reifying no-self. So Buddha taught the Middle Way between Eternalism and Nihilism to encourage people to avoid both of these conceptual traps. So Anatta and the Middle Way were taught like this for a long time after Buddha died. However, in order to discourage people from reifying self, Buddha, impermanence and any number of Buddhist concepts, the philosophy used to describe the Middle Way was generally one of negation and, combined with Anatta, people continued mistakenly to interpret Buddhism nihilistically.

So a new teaching was introduced - a way of expressing this Middle Way in positive terms - Buddha Nature. According to the Nirvana Sutra this was Buddha's final teaching. There is no evidence of it before the Nirvana Sutra was written (just before the time Jesus was born as far as I recall) and I don't know if that account is true or not - however I do see it as a valid teaching method. In a sense it comes full circle, since it resembles the Vedic Atman teaching, however, to take it literally as an inherent, independent essence or entity is to fall into or remain in a trap.

All 'dharmas' (truths, realities) are nominal, not inherent enities that exist independently of other entities or of mind.

'Atta' (self) is not an independent inherent entity - atman means an inherent independent self, so that is all that is meant by anatman

'Anatta' is not a quality that is possessed by the universe. There is no non-self, there is no 'other than me'. The distinction between self/nonself is mentally produced.

'Nirvana' is not a place.

'A person' is not really an independent entity or essence.

'The void' is not a place, nor is it nothingness.

'Sunyata' (emptiness) is not really a property, essence or entity.

'The Middle Way' is not really a path which exists only 'in the middle'

'Consciousness' is not really an entity or an essence

And 'Buddha Nature' is not really a being which is inside of the ordinary mind. Buddha Nature is the the ordinary mind - seen clearly.

All of these things may be treated, conceptually and linguistically as if they were intact, distict entities, but actually they are not. Even Buddhist masters have to act in this way according to convention in order to conceptualise and communicate. The important thing is not to beleive in the absolute existence of these entities. All entities have merely a provisional existence. Even Buddhahood.

Buddhism is not based on metaphysical speculation but on observation of phenomenal reality - that which actually exists.

Buddhism is about non-duality - not just as a method imbedded within a scheme which is itself dualistic, not as a method to travel from Samsara to Nirvana - but as a realisation of the true nature of how things actually are, in the first place. Neither self not non-self, neither Buddha Nature nor no Buddha Nature. The non-duality of Buddhahood is not an entity, it is not something which exists in any way distinctly from ordinary existence (we make the distinction); it is not something that comes into being and not something that dies, it is neither self nor nonself, neither negation nor affirmation, it is the way things actually are already.

Buddhahood is acheived by recognising that one's self (or more accurately the distinction between self and other) is provisional and conventional. To realise that the duality between self and nonself is constructed is to realise that all things are inseparable from self-nature ('all is self') and to realise that there is no self('all is nonself') simultaneously. Traces of self/nonself may remain in the realisation or in the articulation of course which is why enlightenment may appear coloured one way or the other. Enlightenment is complete when this subtle 'framing' of reality disappears - when not a trace of anatta or self or Buddha Nature or even Enlightenment remains. In theistic terms it is the simultaneous death and realisation of God (Brahma, whatever); the one and the all are the same; the ultimate distinction betwen subject and object collapses. Yet everything is ordinary, as it always was.

That's my understanding anyway. This is Mumon's comment on Joshu's Dog:

To realize Zen one has to pass through the barrier of the patriarchs. Enlightenment always comes after the road to thinking is blocked. If you do not pass the barrier of the patriarchs or if your thinking road is not blocked, whatever you think, whatever you do, is like a tangling ghost.

You may ask: What is a barrier of a patriarch? This one word, Mu, is it. This is the barrier of Zen. If you pass through it you will see Joshu face to face. Then you can work hand in hand with the whole line of patriarchs. Is this not a pleasant thing to do?

If you want to pass this barrier, you must work through every bone in your body, through every pore in your skin, filled with this question: What is Mu? and carry it day and night. Do not believe it is the common negative symbol meaning nothing. It is not nothingness, the opposite of existence. If you really want to pass this barrier, you should feel like drinking a hot iron ball that you can neither swallow nor spit out.

Then your previous lesser knowledge disappears. As a fruit ripening in season, you subjectivity and objectivity naturally become one. It is like a dumb man who has had a dream. He knows about it but he cannot tell it. When he enters this condition his ego-shell is crushed and he can shake the heaven and move the earth. He is like a great warrior with a sharp sword. If a Buddha stands in his way, he will cut him down; if a patriarch offers him any obstacle, he will kill him; and he will be free in his way of birth and death. He can enter any world as if it were his own playground.

I will tell you how to do this with this koan: Just concentrate your whole energy into this Mu, and do not allow any discontinuation. When you enter this Mu and there is no discontinuation, your attainment will be as a candle burning and illuminating the whole universe.

Has a dog Buddha-nature?
This is the most serious question of all.
If you say yes or no,
You lose your own Buddha-nature."