The Wisdom of the West Meets the Wisdom of the East

1267 Relax and Succeed - Decartes said I think thereforeThis blog is always about the quotes, sayings and parables and their actual meanings. Because each posts features quotes that essentially point to the same truth, we know we are developing our understanding if we can recognize the common underlying truth in these two quotes.

Taisen Deshimaru was a Zen student and teacher and philosopher. He often remarked that a select few Western philosophers had stumbled into Zen without realising it. It’s unknown whether he meant they understood it intellectually but could not practice it, or if he meant that they were actually practicing Zen but under different names. Either way, his point above still holds.

Descartes was a mathematician and the most famous thing he ever wrote was that the only thing we knew for sure was that because we could ponder existence, we existed, which was pretty smart and his ideas still form the basis of much of Western philosophy. But Descartes was from the world of math and science, where Aristotle’s subject and object reign supreme.

What Deshimaru is saying is that Descartes was referring to the post-present moment’s ego’s existence, not the soul’s. The soul is what Deshimaru is referring to by creating a second existence. (Similar to James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.) But note that Descartes’ version of being requires Deshimaru’s to exist, but Deshimaru’s does not require Descartes. Descartes is smart, and he points out something very significant, but whereas he is saying, I have discovered the spinning lostness of ego, Deshimaru is saying but the real me is still underneath it, actively creating that lostness, meaning even lostness is truly within oneness as well.

1267 Relax and Succeed - To obtain satoriThe second quote points to the verb indicated by the first quote. Egos think while they do, souls become the doing. So Descartes knows he exists because he can ponder all of his symbolic words for everything he perceives as separate from him, but Deshimaru forgoes that layer of illusory thought and moves directly to action. Rather than think about the world we want to move and be alive as an aspect of it.

Despite these two being famous and capable thinkers, what makes them famous is that their point lives in each of our lives every day. Your suffering lays in your ego’s choice to talk to itself all the time. All of the emotions you feel hours or days after events come from your Descarte-esque thinking about the event, not the event itself. Deshimaru would forgo that suffering by taking original action in his life in the new moments presently unfolding.

Today, live Deshimaru, not Descartes. Don’t think about your day, your week or your life. Just be. Do things. Answer questions then have your mind go quiet and engage back into action. You have so many calories to burn each day. How many will you spend churning thoughts and how many will create more for you or another in this world? Because the former is the path to an egocentric life of suffering, and the latter is a path to peace of mind. Either is yours to take, and you can change direction at any moment.

Surrender your words for actions. Surrender. Words for actions. Words. For. Actions. Make that your habit and you will be free.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.


People’s egos will read this quote by the Buddha and they will primarily imagine themselves in the role of the fool who probably already has their answers but they’re just too dumb to be able to see them. Fine, if you’re living with more ego than you want then the last part does define you, therefore it’s irrelevant to getting you where you’re going. That means it’s the first part of the statement you should be focusing on. There’s your lesson from the Buddha.

“Does the spoon taste the soup?” Where does experience happen and to whom? A body can be said to have senses but when you’re anaesthetised at the hospital they put your brain to sleep because that’s where we imagine the dance of experience takes place. The anaesthesia interrupts your thoughts and without those there is no you to have an experience. The idea of you only emerges through the duality of the body and mind, but if these are made One there is no source and no delivery. The act of acceptance isn’t to be yourself and accept or reject some other thing, it’s to lose your sense of self and become One with the experience, making the question largely irrelevant from the new perspective.

996-relax-and-succeed-if-a-tree-falls-in-the-forestThe famous philosophical question about a tree falling in a forest is also a question about duality. It doesn’t have an answer in the classical sense, instead there is an understanding  that manages to flatten the riddle by taking a 1D view over a 2D question.

It might be easier at first to imagine the tree falling and sound waves departing its location and then they strike an eardrum. You can see how sound is dependent on a duality? It is a wave until it strikes a receiver that can turn it into a “particle” of sound. But what if “you” were there but you weren’t using thought to separate yourself from reality? Can you see there could still be the experience within a state of oneness but there would be no separate parts? There wouldn’t be things happening there would just be reality. Before we divided the world with words there were no waves there was only the ocean.

The point isn’t to be smart and figure out a riddle, the point is to stop creating oneself and simply be with reality. You’re supposed to flow, not imagine yourself as a molecule of water asking another molecule of water if they know what a river is. You don’t need to know the river you need to be the river.

996-relax-and-succeed-we-all-know-that-when-we-bringTribes who still live the old ways don’t have separate senses. They don’t hear, feel, see, smell and taste life, they experience it. It is one whole to them and they too are a part of that whole. If life were a giant collage on a church floor you’d be asking about the individual pieces and the native would only see the whole. They couldn’t even discuss it as pieces because that would require a sense of separateness from the experience. They would have to leave reality to become separate enough to name the parts and then discuss their interactions with other separate people-parts. Meanwhile in reality, where everything is one, creation would still be there chugging along in the background.

It’s funny, because it’s really so remarkably simple. Little kids do this every day without ever knowing that the words and ideas that we will teach them will divide reality up enough until they’ll eventually have a separate self that they can approve or disapprove of. And I don’t think you need me to tell you about that. That often belittling self is probably what motivated you to read this in the first place. 🙂

I know Virtual Reality is currently the rage, but contrary to what’s popular I would encourage you to get yourself a 1D view on life, because that view is the one that truly sees all.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.

That Sinking Feeling

I saw this quote on Twitter: “Life is like stepping into a boat that is about to sail out to the sea and sink.” It’s supposed to be a Zen Proverb but how can it be when it’s so depressing? Doesn’t that make life meaningless? Whazzup?

Sinking Feeling

Dear Sinking,

I do believe I can help you understand this. First off, I think you’ll benefit from revisiting your initial reaction. Your judgment about the direction of the quote—and therefore the meaning of each word—was not what the Zen-saying was aiming at. Because so many of the terms are heavily loaded in our culture it makes sense that your initial response would be quick and presumptive. You automatically associated sinking with failing. But death is inevitable, so dying 385 Relax and Succeed - They are ill discoverersisn’t failing, it merely marks the end of life. Failing is when we surrender life to fear. You also made the popular assumption that meaninglessness can be translated into worthlessness, when I would argue the opposite.

Let’s look at other activities to see where we place value. There seems to be only one reason people play board games: fun. Who wins is meaningless, and yet we love it and we happily choose to do it regularly. Cuddling babies. This is also somewhat meaningless. But it feels amazing. Hackey Sack is fun, but if you’re in a hack circle there’s no winners or losers. You’re all in it together. But it has no meaning. Listening to music has no meaning but we all genuinely love to do it. So my point is; meaninglessness is actually where we find most of our enjoyment in life. We should place more value on it.

What the quote is saying is: stop trying to be important. Stop trying to be respected. Stop trying to impress people. Relax into yourself. Accept your inevitable death and do the smartest thing: enjoy the interval. What else is there? If you know you’re going to die but you don’t know when, then it could be five minutes from now. Or it could be 50 years. Either way, it’s coming so what’s valuable in your life is time. So it’s a matter of how you invest that limited asset. And I can imagine no wiser investment than to put as much of it as possible into enjoyment.

In the West we warehouse death into old folks homes and hospitals. We don’t see the cycle of life on our streets like half the world does. We forget that people are suffering and dying every moment. So we don’t cherish life as much. We don’t think it’s a big deal because we forget it’s there at all. We’re just not used to thinking about our larger context. But if we do we realize 385 Relax and Succeed - The secret of healththat it is absolutely true that we all began to die the moment we were born. So spend as many minutes as possible between then and now doing things you love.

Eat food you love, see places you love, make love, laugh, sing, read, play, cuddle, kiss. Be alive. It’s a limited engagement you have in this theatre of life. And then the curtain will come down. Pack a big performance into the space in between. Live large. There’s a lot of world out there for you to experience.

Stop trying to live forever. The whole point behind the original agony of vampires is that they live forever so life has no meaning. That’s why writers create that distinction: they exist but are not considered alive. So you don’t even want to live forever. And stop trying to find an afterlife where you can still exist. Vampires, heaven/nirvana/paradise—these are all ideas that come out of your fear of not-being. You have to relax about that. It’s okay. The drop just returns to the ocean, but you missed that the ocean has always been within the drop. You’re powerful. You can choose a brave and bold life. You’re up to it. Just plan accordingly.

Don’t be bummed out that you start dying the moment you’re born. It is that very time limit that gives life its value. So spend your life having awesome experiences. Challenge yourself. There’s nothing to lose. Play. It’s like a song. It’s not how long it is that makes it good, it’s how enjoyable it is to experience while it is playing. That’s a great metaphor for life.

Now go have fun. It’s the Zen thing to do.

peace. s

The Spiritual Life

There is no “objective.” You aren’t trying to achieve something. It’s not some test that results in a reward. This isn’t a treasure hunt through your own house where you find keys to a new life. It’s more like when you’ve been looking and looking and looking for your keys and then you suddenly realize you’ve been carrying them with you the entire time.

18 Relax and Succeed - My actions are my only true belongingsYour spirituality isn’t something you pause your life to do. It’s not a day of the week or a special building. It’s not certain clothes, or words, or people. Spirituality is a verb. It’s an action. Or rather, it’s the heart that beats at the core of your daily actions. It is a moment to moment perspective on living that impacts every decision you make.

As Shunryu Suzuki described it, “Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on your usual everyday routine.” This simply means that you should go about your day awake. That is to say; not shrouded in Personal Thinking. If you’re yakking to yourself you won’t hear the birds. You won’t hear the sound of your own body moving. And you won’t truly notice others. Not in as meaningful a way. When you are fully focused on absorbing the world rather than commentating on it, it is amazing what you’ll notice.

That awareness is the basis of fundamental spirituality. If we’re aware we notice things have causes. If we study the causes we see that everyone is ultimately innocent. Once we can recognize that then our hearts open and our judgmental mind can go quiet for a while. With a quiet mind we are immersed in life and are responding naturally. This no-thinking, love-and-compassion-based approach is what spirituality looks like when it’s enacted.

18 Relax and Succeed - Our days are happierDon’t say you want to live a better life. Don’t say you want to understand the Buddhist Illusion, or the Tao’s Flow, or any other spiritual concept if you don’t first want to care for other beings. You have to take your awareness away from your singular self. You have to re-focus it on the larger event that you are experiencing and thereby you avoid creating the Ego-You.

Surrender the idea of having a holy ego that others judge to be profoundly spiritual. Forget beads and chants and temples and offerings. To lead the truly spiritual life you must quiet your ego and thereby free yourself to enact your spirituality through normal daily experiences. When you can do that you will realize that you and everyone around you is both a priest and a god and that there’s nothing that you or anyone else could do that wasn’t ultimately spiritual in nature.

Enjoy your day. And let that enjoyment by your prayer.

Much love, s