Congruence…

So a couple days ago I posted a video on my YouTube channel called ” Curiosity, Authenticity, & Beginner’s Mind.”

In that video I talk about how exploring your curiosities is an expression of authenticity and that this kind of authentic open-mindedness geared towards the exploration of wonder and discovery is synonymous with the Zen Buddhist idea of Beginner’s mind.

I won’t rehash the whole video here. I’ll include a link and you can check it out for yourself.

Anyway, sometimes after I release a video I read something or I hear something that connects to what I was trying to say in that already released video, and I wish I would have read it or heard it before I released the video so that I could have included that little nugget in the video.

Well, yesterday that happened. I was listening to an episode of the Office Hours podcast with T.K. Coleman and Isaac Morehouse. The episode was called “Results Matter More Than Status and Rules.” In the conversation between Morehouse and Coleman, Coleman says something that I think poignantly conveys what I was getting at in my recent YouTube Video.

Coleman says: “It doesn’t matter if I’m like everyone else, it doesn’t even matter if I’m different, what matters is that I’m congruent with what I’m doing.”

What Coleman’s getting at is that sometimes we wax and wane between two fearful poles when it comes to exploring our interests and curiosities.

Sometimes we’re afraid to explore an interest because its something that everyone else is doing, and we don’t want to be just like everyone else.

Sometimes, the opposite is true, and we’re afraid to explore our curiosities if they are dramatically different than everyone else’s.

Both positions are obstacles and obstructions blocking our authenticity and impeding exploration, innovation, and discovery.

It doesn’t matter if you’re congruent or in-congruent with what ever social or cultural group you may find yourself a part of. What matters is if you are congruent with yourself.

As I say towards the conclusion of my video “Curiosity, Authenticity, & Beginner’s Mind” –

Sometimes we get so rooted to a specific tradition,a particular school of thought, a particular way of being, or a particular way of doing things that we cease to examine anything at or outside the periphery of who or what we think we are or should be.

But, Beginner’s Mind is what beckons us to explore our curiosity no matter what it is. It calls us to give voice to these curiosities regardless of whether it is an interest shared by everyone else, or whether it is something directly related to whatever traditions or groups we belong to. In this regard, Beginner’s Mind calls us to explore these curiosities even and especially when it is starkly different. The most important thing to ask ourselves is, are we being authentically congruent with who we are, with what we’re doing, with what we believe, and with what we value?

The curiosity and wonder expressed within Beginner’s Mind is the active expression of one’s emerging congruence with one’s authentic nature.

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Curiosity, Authenticity, & Beginner’s Mind

I’m an avid note-taker and I guess you could also call me a kind of content curator or maybe a content collector. I’m constantly taking notes as I’, reading books and blogs, as I’m listening to podcasts, and I’m also constantly capturing and collecting interesting social media posts from the people I follow on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc. As I was looking through some of my recent notes and some of the additions to my content collection, I started thinking about curiosity, authenticity, and an idea in Buddhism called Beginner’s Mind. So let’s talk about that right now.

Earlier this week I saw an Instagram post from Ty Phillips. Ty is one of the co-founders of the Tattooed Buddha Website and he regularly writes there, as well as bunch of other places. Here’s what he posted:

Tyinsta

This really struck me and I saved it immediately. What I love about this is quote is that its not just about originality of thought or trying to be an original thinker. It’s not just about avoiding mediocrity or falling into the trap of the status quo. Its about discovery. It’s about exploration, innovation, and curiosity. It’s also about authenticity.

With this in mind, what’s interesting is Ty’s background. He belongs to the Celtic Buddhism tradition, I didn’t even know there was such a thing. Ty explains that Celtic Buddhism is a merger of Tibetan Buddhism with Celtic history and mythology, and so what he tries to do in his own work is to “unite Anglican and Buddhist teachings”. I have to admit as someone kind of obsessed with the study of religion and culture, I’m fascinated!

Buddhism has a rich history, it is a rich tradition, culturally and philosophically. Yet, instead of treading the well-established or well-worn path of traditional Buddhism (not that there’s wrong with doing that), he’s uniting these two seemingly unrelated spiritual paths into something kind of new and unique, and he does so because it is an authentic expression of who he is. That’s pretty inspiring.

If you follow this channel or if you have seen any of my videos at all, you know I’m fairly deep in studying Buddhism, or more specifically Zen, and and even more specifically Chan but, that’s not the end-all, be-all of who I am or what I’m interested in. In the spare time I’m afforded I’m usually found juggling four to five books on a wide range of subjects – Philosophy, Ecology, Sociology, theology, Religion, psychology, and the list goes on and on. If I’m on my phone – I’m probably reading an ebook or a blog. If I have earbuds in – you can bet I’m listening to a podcast or an audiobook. If I’m just lounging – there is always either my kindle or a hard copy book in hand or at least close by. But, I don’t see any of these subjects or endeavors as separated or isolated from one another, and I don’t see them as being separate from my Zen practice. They all inform one another. Philosophy, ecology, sociology, etc. – that all forms the lens through which I see my Zen practice, and my Zen practice forms the lens through which I see these various topics and fields of thought.

There’s a great Tweet I recently captured from T.K. Coleman that says:

tktweet

Coleman, goes a little deeper into this idea in one his blog posts titled You Don’t Need to Make a Career out of Everything You Love. In the essay Coleman talks about having passions, interests, and pasttimes outside of your career. Coleman says that “the universe is bigger than your job. It’s bigger than your job plus all the other jobs that will ever exist. Hence, there will always be interesting, exciting, and inspiring possibilities to explore that are not directly connected to the work you receive paychecks for.” He goes on to say that “the sum total of all my coworkers, customers, company mission, compensation, and creative activities related to my job will never be big enough to capture and satisfy the full range of my diverse interests.” Coleman highlights that “being human means you’re bigger than all the jobs and all the passions you’ll ever have.” I know Coleman is talking about work and career but, I think what he’s saying still applies to what we’re talking about. No one thing, no one career, no one path, no one tradition, no one idea, no one school of thought, no one interest, can authentically summarize the totality of who you are.

Red Pine writes that “One of the hallmarks of Zen is that it’s teaching is not separated from our every day lives.” Zen is not separate from who we are, it isn’t separate from who you are. Nor is it separate from all the divergent things that make up your life. In his book The Zen Experience, Thomas Hoover writes that “in Zen the distinction between oneself and the world was the first thing to be dissolved…it resolves naturally into a love of all things.” There’s a sense of wonder and curiosity here. This is kind of what leads me to think about what Zen calls the ‘beginner’s mind’. There’s a great article I read on Dailyzen.org titled “Beginner’s Mind” by Charlie Ambler. In the article Ambler explains that “Zen practice is about everything…It’s all-encompassing,” not because Zen is one thing but because Zen is made up of everything. Zen is all the things.

Ambler goes on to say that “Over time, repeated experiences become routines, and we start to narrow our field of vision. With this narrowing comes a heightened acuity but also a neglect of periphery. We stop noticing details we used to pick up on. As we zero-in on our skills, goals, values and thoughts in this way, we both gain something and lose something at the same time.”

In other words, Beginner’s mind unlocks the purity of open-mindedness, the open-mindedness of exploration and discovery.

Ambler points out that “To approach any activity with a beginner’s mind is to remain open and curious. We remember what we don’t know, instead of focusing on stroking the ego. We become radically humble and honest with ourselves about what we’re doing. We find joy in simply doing and learning rather than trying to prove something to the world…And when we do this, a new sort of excellence emerges, one rooted in joy rather than zeal.” To me this is statement of authenticity, a call to the spirit of sincerity.

We express the authenticity of all of our passions and curiosities, the authenticity of all that we don’t know and all that we hunger to know more about.

My Zen teacher recently wrote an article called “This is the Reason Why I Am a Reluctant Monk“. There’s a great line in that essay, he says “The truth is our training is never complete.” It’s never over, we’re never done.

Sometimes we get so rooted to a specific tradition, a particular school of thought, a particular way of being or a particular way of doing things that we cease to examine anything at or outside the periphery of our tradition, outside the periphery of who or what we think we are or should be. Beginner’s mind beckons you to explore your curiosity, to give voice to it, to be your authentic self.

Suzuki Roshi once said, “When you become you, Zen becomes Zen.” When you become you, art becomes art. When you become you, literature becomes literature. When you become you, life becomes life. When you become you, the world becomes the world. Carl Sagan said that “we are the way for the universe to know itself.” In his book, The Great Work , Thomas Berry writes that “the human might be identified as that being in whom the universe celebrates itself”. As mystical and woo-woo as this idea may sound, maybe there is at least some metaphorical truth here, maybe we are that part of the universe that is coming to know itself as itself. Maybe, when you become authentic, everything in the entire universe becomes authentic, too.

Document the Journey: T.k. Coleman, The Minimalists, & Hakuin

I’m two parts into my “Montaigne & Buddhism” series (Part 1 Transcript and Video & Part 2 Transcript and Video) but, decided to take a little sidetrack this week, and talk about some things I’ve been reading, listening to, and thinking about. In the video above and the rough transcript below I talk about the importance of learning, and more importantly, the importance of “learning out loud”, documenting the learning process, sharing it, and transforming it into creative action. Enjoy!

I read a lot of books, mostly on Kindle. I love the convenience of having the app on my phone as well as having access to the Kindle Cloud Reader from virtually any computer. It means I can have the majority of my library with me at all times. I also love that Kindle saves, consolidates, and centralizes all my highlights and notes in the various books I’ve been reading (I do a lot of highlighting and note-taking). I listen to a lot of podcasts on Stitcher, I can stream all my favorite podcasts, listen to new episodes, and I can save past episodes of podcasts so I can listen to them later. I also watch a lot lectures, talks, interviews, etc. on YouTube. My “Watch Later” list is constantly expanding. I consume content and information obsessively. In Evernote I keep a list of all the books I’ve read throughout the year. I also cut and paste all those notes and highlights from my Kindle reading into Evernote, so I can conveniently search and utilize them at any time from anywhere.
A few weeks ago I was listening to an episode of The Minimalists Podcast, I believe it was episode 131, titled “School”. In this episode their guest was T.K. Coleman. Coleman is an author, thinker, entrepreneur, and he is also the Education Director of an organization called Praxis. Throughout the Minimalists’ conversation with Coleman, he shares some great insights regarding the process and act of ‘learning’.  He says, quoting Chalmers Brothers, that “learning is the process of doing what you don’t know how to do while you don’t know how to do it”.  In this regard, Coleman advocates what he calls “learning out loud”, that is, documenting your journey as you learn, by “advertising those things you’re studying” through either blog or YouTube, or something similar. True to his word, there’s even a section on Coleman’s website called “Reading Notes,” where Coleman “learns out loud,” by regularly posting his reflections on whatever books, blogs, or podcasts he’s currently consuming. Coleman highlights that more often than not when someone is learning something new, or is in the process of mastering their craft, or honing their expertise, “they hide what they’re doing from the world until their confident that they know what they’re doing”. Coleman suggests that such a reclusive tactic not only misses the point of learning but, also misses a golden opportunity. He recommends putting your learning out there. Coleman states that “learning doesn’t count if you’re not combining it with some form of creative action”. I find all of these ideas inspiring and poignant. This is something that I think I’ve been attempting to do myself, although I’m not sure I consciously realized that this is what I’ve been doing.
I started this blog when I began my undergraduate program not as way to share what I ‘know’ or to share my supposed ‘expertise’ but as a way to share what I was in the process of learning, as a way to document that process of learning. In the hope that it would be helpful to others and in the hope that it would deepen what I’m learning about. I’ve personally found that in the act of sharing the things that I’m attempting to learn, my thoughts, views, and my overall understanding of the subject actually becomes more clear and conducive.
I’ve continued trying to do this in my blog as I’ve continued on into my graduate studies and I’m continuing to try to expand this endeavor of documenting my learning, this endeavor to learn out loud, with my YouTube channel. Documenting not only my academic studies, but also my personal studies of the things I’m curious about, and what I’m personally fascinated by. I write these blogs and make these videos not because I’m an expert or because I’m so knowledgeable, but because I’m learning. I’m in the process of learning, the process of doing what I don’t know how to do while I don’t know how to do it, knowing that anything I learn that remains hidden away and disconnected is devoid of meaning, it doesn’t count, and it will be inadequate.
For about the past few years I’ve been dabbling, off and on, with meditation practice. I’ve gotten more serious, more formal, and more committed to mediation in the past two years, and in the past year I’ve actually begun digging deeper into Buddhist thought and philosophy. I’ve been trying to teach myself more about mediation and I’ve been giving myself a crash course in Buddhism, especially Zen Buddhism. One of the books I’ve recently finished reading is a book called The Zen Experience by Thomas Hoover. In The Zen Experience Thomas Hoover recounts the long and evolving history of Zen. One of the figures that Hoover discusses is a Rinzai Zen master named Hakuin Ekaku. Many scholars have suggested that Hakuin is one of the most important Zen teachers. In fact, Rinzai teachers, to this day, trace their lineage back to Hakuin. He was an artist, a poet, and a brilliant Zen philosopher. Hakuin breathed new life into Zen at a time when Zen practice seemed to be waning. In many ways he seemed to democratize Zen, so much so that Hakuin has been called “the Zen master of the people”. Hakuin extended Zen teaching, practice, and philosophy beyond the monastic communities of ordained Buddhist priests and nuns, and instead included people from all walks of life. In Hakuin’s teaching, “If meditation bears no relationship to life…It is merely self-centered gratification” (Hoover, 232). According to Hakuin, “Just to hide and meditate on your own original nature produces inadequate enlightenment, while also shutting you off from any chance to help other people, other sentient beings” (Hoover, 233). In fact,
“Hakuin says to test your meditation outside, since otherwise it serves for nothing. And today Rinzai monks are expected to silently meditate during all activities, including working in the yard of the monastery, harvesting vegetables, or even walking through the town for their formal begging” (Hoover, 233).
Hakuin, himself, seems to be saying that “learning doesn’t count if you’re not combining it with some form of creative action”. He seems to go so far as to say that even something as weighty, worthwhile, and grandiose as the idea of ‘Enlightenment’ is ultimately meaningless if it is disengaged from everyday life, if it is disconnected from boots on the ground experience. If ‘Enlightenment’ is shut off and disconnected from other people and from other sentient beings it is an inadequate Enlightenment.
This process of learning out-loud, this kind of documentary learning, is something I’m trying to be more committed to, not only as a graduate student and as an aspiring academic, but also as a person in love with learning, in love with curiosity, and especially also as someone who is becoming increasingly devoted to the practice of meditation and Buddhist philosophy. You don’t have to be a graduate student, an academic, a meditator, or a Buddhist to document your journey, to advertise your learning. Whatever you do, whatever you’re passionate about, whatever you’re interested in and fascinated by, do it and do it out loud, even and especially when you don’t know how to do it.

Montaigne & Buddhism Part 2 (Video)

This is the second part in my Montaigne and Buddhism series, excerpted from a paper I wrote for a graduate course I’ve recently completed. Here, we take a look at Montaigne and the ideas of ‘Impermanence’ and Anitya/Anicca. Enjoy!

Montaigne & Buddhism Part 1 Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ugn9r… Montaigne & Buddhism Part 2 Blog post: https://duanetoops.wordpress.com/2018… Montaigne & Buddhism Part 1 Blog post: https://duanetoops.wordpress.com/2018…

Books Utilized:

The Bodhisattva’s Brain by Owen Flanagan: https://www.amazon.com/Bodhisattvas-B…

How to Live by Sarah Bakewell: https://www.amazon.com/How-Live-Monta…

The Way of Zen by Alan Watts: https://www.amazon.com/Way-Zen-Alan-W…

Montaigne & Buddhism Part 2: Impermanence & Anitya/Anicca

This is the second part in my Montaigne and Buddhism series, excerpted from a paper I wrote for a graduate course I’ve recently completed. In part one I discussed Montaigne and ‘meditation’, or more specifically the parallels between Montaigne’s literary approach and the Buddhist ideas of Dhyana/Jhana and Vipassana. You can read part one here and you can watch the video of part one here or here. In part two we look at Montaigne and the ideas of ‘impermanence’ and Anitya/Anicca. Enjoy! 

 

If one concedes, or agrees, that Montaigne’s attentively concentrated awareness to the present moment did, in fact, cultivate a special way of seeing, one may still pause to wonder or to ask, what insights into the fundamental nature of reality did Montaigne discover? Montaigne’s forays into something closely akin to Dhyana/Jhana and Vipassana/Vipasyana seem to have provided him with two very Buddhist insights into the nature of existence; impermanence and the illusion of the ‘self’.  Here, Montaigne’s meditations, as seen throughout the Essays, seems to display a similar parallel with one of the central doctrines of Buddhism known as Anitya (Sanskrit) or Anicca (Pali). The doctrine of Anitya/Anicca is the doctrine of ‘impermanece’, that is, the doctrine of Anitya/Anicca, in its simplest definition, states that the entirety of the phenomenal world is impermanent. Everything that is, is subject to change, whether material or mental. Nothing is static. Nothing is stable. Nothing is concrete. There is no constancy. Further still, the doctrine of Anitya/Anicca suggests that not only is everything transient, but also that everything is in-transit. Everything is in transition. Everything is transitioning, arising and passing away. In his book, The Bodhisattva’s Brain, Owen Flanagan writes that “Everything is in flux” and “Each kind of thing in the cosmos is an unfolding” (69). “The Buddhist wisdom” of the Anitya/Anicca doctrine, Flanagan continues, “says that everything is becoming…What there is, and all there is, are events and processes” (20). Every-thing that is, is an event. Every-thing that is, is a process. Indeed, Alan Watts highlights that “objects are also events,” and “our world is a collection of processes rather than entities” (Watts 5). The example Flanagan uses to illustrate this point is that of the Himalayas which appears to be a fixed, static, and stable object if ever there was one, but, in fact, is “a very slow unfolding,” albeit at an incremental rate over the course an extremely long time (69). All this is extremely reminiscent of what Montaigne writes in the Essays. Montaigne writes that “the world eternally turns round; all things therein are incessantly moving, the earth, the rocks of Caucasus, and the pyramids of Egypt, both by the public motion and their own” (Montaigne). Here, Montaigne goes on to say that “Even constancy itself is no other but a slower and more languishing motion” (Montaigne). Stability and fixity, according to both Montaigne and the doctrine of Anitya/Anicca, are not as they seem. Instead they are simply examples of an incremental gradualness of becoming and unfolding.

Montaigne & Buddhism Part 1 (Video)

Montaigne & Buddhism, Part 1: Dhyana & Vipassana

 

For a Western European writer steeped within the Renaissance era, Montaigne’s approach and content seems uncannily Eastern, or, more specifically, the content of his writing seems to be uniquely Buddhist. One can only speculate as to whether or not Montaigne was familiar with Buddhist philosophy. It seems to be an unavoidable truth that there is little to no evidential support as to whether or not he had ever even encountered Buddhist thought. It would, then, be academically and intellectually irresponsible to suggest that Montaigne, a committed catholic (though not in the most orthodox of senses), was, somehow or in some way, a secret student of the Dharma. Thus, it is not the aim of this paper to make such a claim. However, what this paper does intend to highlight is that, whether Montaigne intended as much or not, there are deep resonances and immense parallels found between his thought and Buddhist philosophy, especially in regards to the ideas of mindfulness/meditation, impermanence, and the self.

‘Mediation’ or ‘Meditations’ within the Western philosophical tradition are not foreign concepts. For example, two pivotally important philosophical texts donning the moniker of ‘meditation’ are the Meditations of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, and the Meditations on First Philosophy by renowned French philosopher Rene Descartes (Descartes, himself, being a kind of purveyor of modern thought). In these two examples ‘meditation’ is used “in the common sense of ‘thinking things over’ or ‘musing’” (Watts 54). Here, it would be easy enough to class Montaigne’s Essays as an example of this sort of meditative ‘musing’ or ‘thinking things over’ yet, such a classification would seem to be a diminution of what one witnesses in the writings of Montaigne. In this regard, there seems to be a dichotomy between ‘mediation(s)’ in the Western sense of the term as a kind of pondering rumination, and in the more Eastern/Buddhist sense of the term (more on this to come). Montaigne’s mediations seem to be much more than a mere intellectual pursuit or activity. The suggestion that Montaigne’s Essays is indicative of something more than musings of the intellect is not intended to be interpreted as a refutation of Montaigne’s intellectuality. Even a scant or peripheral perusal of the Essays will clearly reveal a thinker of incredible intelligence and robust reasoning. However, what is being proposed is that what Montaigne demonstrates in his meditative writing seems to be much more in line with the Buddhist concept of Dhyana (Sanskrit) or Jhana (Pali). Dhyana/Jhana are the words translated as ‘mediation’ yet, the word ‘meditation’, as seen in the usage of Aurelius and Descartes, is “a most misleading translation” (Watts 54). Dhyana/Jhana is not an example of a musing rumination but, instead “can be described as the state of unified or one-pointed awareness” intensely “focused on the present” (Watts 55). ‘Meditation’, or Dhyana/Jhana is a focused and concentrated awareness fully present to the present moment and all of its contents, including all the contents present within consciousness, that is, both mental and material. Indeed, as Jon Kabat Zinn explains, the only goal of the kind of mindful meditation exhibited in Dhyana/Jhana, if there can even be said to be a goal, is the deepening of “attention and awareness”, deepening the attention and awareness to one’s own mind, deepening the attention and awareness to one’s consciousness, and, ultimately deepening the attention and awareness of the present moment, accepting all the realities of the present just as they are (Zinn xvii). In this regard, as Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh writes, and as Montaigne will show, “It’s better to be than to think” (85).

Dhyana/Jhana goes hand in hand with Vipassana (Pali) or Vipasyana (Sanskrit). Vipassana/Vipasyana is derived from two root words; Passana meaning “seeing and perceiving”, and Vi meaning “in a special way” (Gunaratana 27). Vipassana/Vipasyana, then, is a special way of seeing and perceiving, which provides ‘insight’ into the fundamental or basic nature of reality (Gunaratana 27). It is the cultivation of ‘insight’ that sees and perceives “into and through” the reality of what is observed with the “clarity and precision” provided by the focus and attention of a one-pointed awareness (Gunaratana 27). This seems to be precisely what Montaigne presents in his Essays, a special way of seeing, a mindful, meditative awareness fully concentrated upon the present, seeing though to the very core of what is.

Montaigne writes the following:

When I dance, I dance; when I sleep, I sleep. Nay, when I walk alone in a beautiful orchard, if my thoughts are some part of the time taken up with external occurrences, I some part of the time call them back again to my walk, to the orchard, to the sweetness of that solitude, and to myself (Montaigne).

Clearly, Montaigne attempted to live his life with, what Sarah Bakewell calls, “an almost Zen-like discipline”, demonstrating “an ability to just be” (27). Yet, Montaigne’s ability to just be with the present moment, mindfully focused and attentively aware of the present, is an ability he not only speaks of in his writings but, is a mindfulness concentration taken up by and acted out by his writings. Everything which occurs within the present moment of everyday life is of noteworthy importance to Montaigne. Nothing is too trivial, too mundane, or too ordinary to be documented. Montaigne states that “whatsoever presents itself before us is book sufficient; a roguish trick of the page, a sottish mistake of a servant, a jest at the table, are so many new subjects” (Montaigne). Montaigne proposes “a life ordinary and without lustre” as being of “richer composition” (Montaigne). Regardless of each essay’s proposed topic, each essay contains constant diversions and sidetracks. Montaigne writes that one of his aims is “to record all the little thoughts that present themselves,” saying that “I give ear to my whimsies, because I am to record them” (Montaigne). These ‘diversions’ are not instances of distraction but, rather an example of Montaigne’s mindful observation of his own mind, a transcription of all that arises within consciousness, a transcription of arising consciousness, which he accepts and embraces non-judgmentally, just as they are. Sarah Bakewell notes that “Even when his thoughts are most irrational and dreamlike, his writing follows them” (6). In this regard, Montaigne’s Essays is not only a transcription of his meditation practice, but rather the writing of the Essays, itself, is his practice of Dhyana/Jhana and Vipassana/Vipasyana, his mindful meditation, his insight.