The Unbelievers: Another Stab At Atheism

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya


It could be supposed, and probably should be, that Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss believe that science stands in opposition to religion in much the same way that brave, intelligent David stands before big, dopey Goliath. The problem is not that they see themselves as Davidian agents, but that they lump all religions and religious people into that one belligerently stupid enemy.

Constrained in such a way, ordinary religious persons find it difficult to follow the arguments that the two atheists make in The Unbelievers. We cannot tell who or what constitutes the “pro” when they are presenting the “con,” and vice versa.

First of all, Science and Religion are not in the same category of “things” that can be compared or opposed. We might as well argue the pros and cons of Fish and the Constellation Pisces. Yes, there are many observations we can make about them that suggest a certain commonality… the name and the familiar fishy shape… but what is there to argue about? As Dawkins and Krauss would answer, science can demonstrate as objective fact what it observes about fish; but astrology’s belief in the earthly influences of the Constellation Pisces is unprovable conjecture.

Regardless of what astrology was in antiquity, today it merely has an oracular function. As such it does not lend itself to the rigor, the scientific methods, of ichthyology – no more than the study of fish induces a man, as he begins each day, to be more self-aware and to consider the psychological significance of other environmental factors. People do not study fish in the same way that they study horoscopes.

As to the belief in Evolution and the Big Bang Theory, I’ve conducted a ministry for a quarter-century, and I have never met another human being who didn’t believe in Evolution or in the Big Bang. (time) t = 0 seconds, or t = 1 is a fascinating subject and while it in no way affects my spiritual life, I and everyone else I know would like to hear more about it… especially t minus 1.

Zen’s “God” is not a big guy with a beard and galaxies for earrings who stalks the cosmos. He is the Buddha Amitabha (Infinite Light) a.k.a the Buddha Amitayus (Infinite Time) and he exists inside every human being – that’s why he’s omniscient. He witnesses everything we think and do. (Back in the ’70s, the first thing I learned at the Zen Center of San Francisco was, “The Buddha we bow to is the Buddha within.”)

If people want to believe that in that second before the Big Bang, God decreed that the material world should come into being, that’s ok with me. If someone wants to nominate another “First Cause,” fine. I’m listening. We all are.

As to Evolution, I own an old copy of The Origin of Species and the Descent of Man. I live in the desert and collect fossils. All my neighbors do, too.

Religious Fundamentalists protest what they perceive to be attacks on their faith’s scriptures: News gatherers cover their protests because they are sensational, sometimes outrageously so. The placards of the Westboro Baptist Church are shockingly vicious. Often, these protestors are fanatical because they have “snapped,” or “gone over the edge.” They’re enacting a defense mechanism as they try to cope with distress of some kind and degree. Nobody fully sane is thatcompletely vicious. We understand why newsmen cover them. “Dog bites man” won’t sell newspapers. “Man bites dog” will.

And where we find sane and reasonable folks who would like the Bible’s version of creation accommodated, we find precisely what Lawrence Krauss noted: “If you have to pick and choose you’re better off throwing the whole thing out.” These people do not want to diminish the Bible’s moral and ethical influence by tossing out one section of it and then, as Krauss suggests, dumping the whole while they’re at it. Their lives are governed by these scriptures. It is their faith in God and in the country that trusts in God that makes them stand patriotically and pick up a rifle when they are called to duty.

Is it fair to imply that because science dismisses astrology as so much nonsense, only simpletons consult their horoscopes? And more… that the same “simpletoniety” that scientists find in astrology permeates all of an astrology believer’s thought processes? Dawkins uses the example of a hypothetical surgeon who believes that babies are brought by the stork. He relates his unfortunate experience with real people to whom he had just delivered a talk on the subject. After the talk his audience protested that the surgeon’s private thoughts about reproduction via storks are irrelevant and that what is important is how well the surgeon performs surgery. Dawkins was upset by even the memory of this apostasy.

What Dawkins fails to understand is that his audience bloody-well knew that he had substituted the word “stork” for the word “God.” And what the audience was protesting was evaluating a man’s abilities to perform a job in terms of his religious beliefs. What Dawkins is assuming is that any jackass who believes in God just ain’t qualified to do anything more than manual labor. He indignantly asks, “Would you want this doctor to treat you?” In Buddhism we refer to the Poisoned Arrow parable. Now, if Dawkins were wounded by a Poisoned Arrow, would he tell the surgeon who has come to remove it not to touch him until he has first explained his views on human reproduction?

By Dawkins’ reasoning, men who fly planes or operate missile systems are unfit to do so if they are stupid enough to believe in God. If his ass were threatened by a foreign power, would he institute suit to prevent God-believers from using the weapons that scientists have developed to protect him? Or would he more likely break into a chorus of Onward Christian Soldiers?

According to Dawkins’ Stork example, we ought to throw The Principia into the trash as just another raving from a deluded Believer. Obviously, if we wouldn’t let a surgeon who believes in such nonsense operate on our kids, we wouldn’t let a professor who believes in Divine Creation teach our kids. I don’t know how the Brits feel about the works of Isaac Newton, but on this side of the Pond, we think they’re rather wonderful. And that probably goes for Canada, too. But Gadzooks! Isaac Newton was *gasp* a Believer.

No doubt we will be told that Einstein made Newton irrelevant so it really doesn’t matter what the Bible-thumping mathematician thought. Yet, as was admitted by Einstein himself, even scientists can be wrong in startling ways. When Jesuit George Lemaitre, a Belgian Roman Catholic priest and a physicist/astronomer, first presented the mathematical “proofs” of his “Cosmic Egg” (Big Bang) theory, Einstein dismissed him saying, “Your calculations are correct, but your grasp of physics is abominable.”

When we discuss science and religion we are, in essence, discussing two distinct worlds: Zen lays them out on a cartesian grid. Thirty-six hash marks are inscribed on the abscissa. The ancients marked off the material world from #36 down to #6. (36 is Earth; 35 is Water; 34 is Fire; down through people and perception and a lot of other archaic designations. Number 6 is where T=0. It is Maya, the point at which the spiritual gives rise to the material and where spirit becomes flesh. When we transcend #6, we enter #5, the spiritual world’s glorious state of meditation. We proceed through #4, visionless divine union or protracted orgasmic ecstasy. #3 is the brief but momentous experience of being aware that the Buddha Amitabha is looking out of our eyes. This is Satori. Numbers 2 and 1 are Divine Marriage, a deliriously visionary androgynous state. From #1 down to the origin is the province of the Divine Child – who grows up very fast. On the negative side of the origin is The Void. All religions provide their followers with the guidelines and methodologies to attain these identical exalted states. Atheists are free to confine themselves to the material world – the world that we call “illusionary” because everything in it is in flux… everything. Only in the reality of the spiritual world, from #5 down to the Origin and into the Void, do we find stability, uniformity, and bliss that beggars language. To people who have spiritual experience, the Big Bang and Evolution are fascinating material-world subjects; but they lack a certain urgency.

And is it really necessary to ridicule the Crucifixion and to deride the idea that God would allow his son to be subjected to the tortures of a sacrificial death? Is it beyond Dawkins’ imagination to suppose that when a Christian mother feels the pain of losing a child, when she falls to her knees and weeps, begging to understand her child’s suffering or death… that she then looks to the Madonna and finds a modicum of comfort in the sharing of such a terrible experience? To live in the material world is, on occasion, to experience pain… the desperation of loss, of defeat, of being helpless to provide, of being victimized or betrayed. At such times people need words of solace. They need to know that they are not alone in their grief. This knowledge is often curative. If knowing that even Christ, himself, could be subjected to such adversity can make a person’s despair seem less egregious, well, what is wrong with that?

For this same reason, a few millennia ago, when famine and hunger were major problems, Buddhists created the icon of the Fasting Buddha.

Photo credit: Diogenese101

Why was it necessary for Dawkins to ridicule the Communion ritual? He wants to know if Christians honestly believe that the Eucharist turns into the body of Christ. Well… yes, some of them honestly do. If physicists have no trouble conceiving of something from nothing, then they should have no trouble conceiving of one thing becoming another. How Christians regard the Eucharist is their business. In Zen Buddhism we, too, have a Communion ritual. The priest at the altar consecrates water – the ancients believed that amniotic fluid nourished the divine child (the Future Buddha). In our transubstantiation ritual ordinary water becomes divine amniotic fluid which is poured into a goblet and passed around for all to drink.

Kwannon, the Androgynous Boddhisattva, nourishing the Future Buddha.18th Century Silk Painting, Japan.

And about Dawkins’ “no first parent” a la homo sapiens… Whatever happened to the Eve Hypothesis? We were told that between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago, a mother in Africa experienced a bigger-brain mutation that kicked-started our homo-sapien superiority. What is so imperceptible about that?

Krauss mocks Cardinal Pell. During a Q&A discussion in Sydney, the Cardinal (who is visibly annoyed with himself for having consented to participate in the discussion) wants to dismiss the whole irrelevant topic of Evolution. He flicks off the subject of Neanderthals… our ancestors… whatever. Dawkins is very nearly speechless. He sputters, “They are our cousins! We are not descended from Neanderthals!” Excuse me… but a couple of years ago (check Google) there was a flurry of scientific papers in which it was proposed that our human ancestors interbred with Neanderthals. If that science was what the Cardinal had in mind, then yes, we might be descended from them to one degree or another. But other scientists discredited that theory. Shame on the Cardinal for not keeping up with the next-to-the-latest theory. Shame on Dawkins for failing to mention the 2012 Theory of Human-Neanderthal Interbreeding.

Krauss smarms triumphantly, asking his own audience if anyone watched the Q&A program. He then says, “Manifestly the Cardinal doesn’t understand Evolution. In fact, he manifestly doesn’t understand anything.”

Also, when a young Muslim wants to make a point about quantum mechanics, Krauss interrupts him disdainfully, “whereas I, who actually understand quantum mechanics, [and you don’t]know that…”

Yo, Larry… Do you and Dick think that nobody has figured out that you’re deliberately being smug and contentious because you know that controversy sells books and increases talk-circuit fees? Liberace’s spirit must be dancing on your shoulders. You provoke criticism so that you can “cry about it all the way to the bank.” Nobody cares if you make money. Just don’t forget to tithe.

But let’s get to tougher stuff.

The pettiness that Dawkins and Krauss deplore is nowhere better exemplified than in the case of Apollo 8. When the spaceship circled the moon on Christmas Eve, the three astronauts aboard, moved by the beauty of the shining blue earth “rising” in the blackness of space, read a few verses from Genesis to the listening world and concluded with a wish for all to have a Merry Christmas. It was, in mankind’s history, a lovely moment. Yet, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, President of American Atheists, immediately filed suit against NASA for violating the separation of Church and State. Atheists were so offended by this “Christmas Card from space,” that when Colonel Buzz Aldrin – who got his PhD from M.I.T.- prepared to be the second man to stand on the moon in the Apollo 11 mission, he celebrated Holy Communion with consecrated bread his pastor had given him. But naturally, nobody on earth was allowed to know this because of atheist objections.

The crew of Apollo 8 were the first humans to witness Earthrise on December 24, 1968
Photo credit:

Religious zealots may have brought us the Inquisition, but Torquemada has many avatars and some of them are highly educated.

It is too soon after breakfast to talk about the “American science” of Eugenics that in the first half of the 20th Century dominated biological scientific inquiry. Universities were given huge grants by Carnegie, Harriman, Rockefeller, and Kellogg (among others).

Heralding the survival of the fittest, Darwin – not Charles Darwin but a relative of his – led a parade of scientists to decide that the human race could be improved by selective procreation since worthless defectives took up so much of the time and money that would otherwise be spent nurturing perfect kids. People were poor and uneducated because they were stupid and/or lazy. Criminality as well as clubbed feet were inherited. Preventing the problems presented by these undesirables made good, old-fashioned common sense. Sure. The Eugenics movement forced thousands of sterilizations – African-Americans and other poor persons; individuals with questionable morals or intelligence; and people born with diseases considered incurable or with congenital deformities considered uncorrectable. They were all targeted. Hitler loved American Science since it justified genocide; and when Eugenics’ advocate Charles Lindbergh visited Germany he was given a medal… a nice square cross to wear at his neck. National Geographic did a beautiful spread on Der Fuehrer. Jews fell into the category of “defective undesirables” that the Nazis were determined to remove from the civilized world.

Who knows how much such idiot science influenced the course of the 20th Century? When the Jews were deprived of their rights and property and were herded into concentration camps, and when London was Blitzed (in one period of 57 straight days of Luftwaffe bombing, 40,000 Londoners were killed and a million homes destroyed) we sat on our asses, prodded by our pro-German Master Race sympathies to stay “Neutral.” These atrocities went on and on. (I recall listening to FDR’s radio address in which he noted that December 7th was a date that would live in infamy and then declared war on Germany and Japan. My father, an Amsterdam Dutchman and WWI U.S. Army vet, said with disgust, “It’s about time!”)

Who knows how true a scientific truth is? Maybe Dawkins and Krauss would like to remind us of Berkeley Professor Peter Duesberg’s scientific works on AIDS. He was quite persuasive.

Nelson Mandela’s successor, President Thabo Mbeki believed Duesberg so much that he appointed him to an advisory panel. South Africa curtailed the use of anti-retroviral drugs because, as Duesberg insisted, AIDS is caused by long-term consumption of recreational drugs and/or anti-retroviral drugs, and HIV is a harmless passenger virus. The government’s solution? “Eat more broccoli, lemons, and nuts, and stay away from drugs… then you won’t get AIDS.” The government’s policies, created on the assumption that AIDS had no connection to HIV, “in great part,” to quote Wikipedia, “is thought to be responsible for hundreds of thousands of preventable AIDS deaths and HIV infections.”

How beautiful, how wonderful science is, says Richard Dawkins, but, he adds, “Religion is not wonderful. Religion is not beautiful.” How does he know? Some religious activity can cause trouble. So can some scientific activity. Many scientific accomplishments were demonstrated in the Blitzkrieg’s aviation science; many were seen in V-1 and V-2 rocket science; and much science went into Zyklon-B’s chemistry science. But, hell… the Nazis were Believers… not in Christianity, of course… but quite of few of them literally worshipped Votan. I’m serious.

We’ll leave Nazi Medical Science for another time.

And how can Dawkins gush so sweetly about atheist countries?

I recall only three officially atheist countries. The Soviet Union; China, and Cambodia. The Soviet Union had its Gulag; the Red Guards in China closed the universities and put physicians, teachers, scientists of all kinds, and clerics that they didn’t kill outright into forced labor camps. (My own master was imprisoned for 20 years.) Get PBS to show “The Cancer Detectives of Xian” if they can find it in their archives. In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge was so pro-atheist and anti-intellectual that they slaughtered anybody who even wore eyeglasses or could speak a foreign language – along with a million and a half Buddhists. Google “The Killing Fields.”

As to the choice Krauss gives Dawkins: “Would you rather explain science or destroy religion?” You guys are kidding, right?

Welcome Back To Zen

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya

Newton said it best. “Actioni contrariam semper et qualem esse reactionem:” Try arguing with that.

Perhaps the proliferation of those little social network logos – that line of little boxes we find at the top of texts or superimposed upon them – is telling us that we’ve reached the point of diminishing returns – more and more is required to achieve less and less. When the saturation is complete and the movement ceases, Newton’s Third Law of Motion will kick in. And then we can scrape the name off our inboxes, set our filters to a stratospheric level, change all those addresses that made targets of us, and give ourselves cryptic monikers, preferably numbered ones that give no hint of any exploitable affiliation, Seven-of-Nine comes to mind. We will crave privacy, a space of our own around which we can create a ring of fire or a moat.

What we first perceived as a good thing – our own page that would function as a showcase for our excellence as an individual or a family, a site that would be an efficient way to show a multitude of strangers two hundred photographs of our daughter’s wedding – did not produce the kind of envy and admiration that we expected. We looked forward to receiving a host of original comments, but instead we got a few snide remarks from anonymous persons who had posed as friends to let us know that a white bridal dress was supposed to indicate purity. A few well-chosen shots of our little princess baring her breasts in a wet T-shirt extravaganza, or winning first prize in a “¿Quién tiene el castor más espeso?” contest had made some people think that it seemed somewhat improbable that she was eligible to wear white.

Some of the comments were so hurtful, that the bride of whom we were so proud had now become the object of scorn, amusement, and, if we were lucky, pity. How did we react? Did we quit the battlefield and become incommunicado pacifists? Were we made “kinder, gentler” folks who turned the other cheek? Or did we retaliate, responding to one mouthful of anonymous, vitriolic spit upon Right Speech’s sacred ground with our own poisonous lungers, spewed wherever we could aim them?

As to our own comments about other people’s offerings, did we sacrifice honesty just to avoid nasty retaliations and become so bland that we could assert a claim to stasis. Things we hated we called, “interesting.” Boring shit became, “thought provoking.” “Adorable,” we commented on ugly stuff. “You must be so proud.” (If we said anything else, someone might note that we’ve added another cliché to our collection of knee-jerk platitudes.)

And now we find that we check the site less for positive news and more for negative rebuffs. Things that we might have preferred to discuss in a private conversation, are being compressed in toneless type. All in all, the investment in wasted time – not to mention in anger, hurtful feelings, or the malaise of unrelenting dishonesty – is proving to be not worth the effort.

Maybe we thought we could cut back – that belonging to five social sites was a tad too much. We excised ourselves from a few but our happiness did not return. We learned what recovering alcoholics know: “One is too many and a hundred’s not enough.”

The pendulum swings back. A ball thrown straight up in the air will reach a point in which its upward thrust cannot overcome the force of gravity. The ball stops and reverses course with a vengeance. Jung called it enantiodromia – Greek for running towards the opposite direction. It is the natural decay that follows the embrace of the limit. When there’s nowhere else to go, we collapse in a great fall, implode, or dash to the other side.

If we’re unhappy, or hypertense, or experience loneliness instead of solitude, we’ll likely consider the world a cruel place; and the irony is that we may still continue to look for approbation from things outside ourselves – out there in the material world – which is the last place we ought to look for approval. We might have tried so hard to be admired and to belong to some coveted group that we maxed-out our credit cards and became a stranger to those who did want and need us. Us… not our status at the club or workplace… just us… tall persons who play pinochle, chess, catch, basketball, video games, tennis, swimming, hiking, etc. We turned up the volume so that we wouldn’t hear the voice inside our head that told us that an excess of material goods and troublesome people is ever the antithesis of Elegant Simplicity, Zen’s Wabi Sabi.

Some of us may feel that those electronic gadgets have become part of our anatomy… that we’re bionic men and women who’d be lost and helpless without them. No. No. We’d be lost and helpless without our “better half” and the kids. Maybe the dog. Ultimately, without our faith and spiritual center we’d truly be lost and helpless.

Perhaps we need convincing. All right. A quarter-century ago, when this electronic revolution was in full-swing, we put our faith in science. Hey… it got us to the moon. Consider the universal euphoria experienced when mankind was first presented with cyberspace’s possibilities. We assumed that only light would come from that screen, that only good could come from non-face-to-face interactions. While the good did arrive on schedule, nobody allowed for the inevitable dark side of human nature to show itself.

For example, we were told that we’d make our kids safer by giving them cellphones and smarter by giving them computers. U.S. kids became the most electronically pampered kids in the world. Last year in an international test of 15 year old students, the U.S. came in at #36, below average, and even below Viet Nam. Hmmm… well… definitely not smarter. Safer?

The leading cause of teenage death and injury in the U.S. used to be driving under the influence. 2700 deaths and 282,000 injuries annually. Now cellphone use by teenaged drivers results in over 3000 deaths and 300,000 injuries annually. Hmmm… well… definitely not safer, either.

And what else came in addition to this? No, we won’t go into wholesale hacking of personal information, identity theft, or worms, viruses, or spyware. That’s another problem.

Between 2004 and 2008 State and local law enforcement task forces reported a 230 percent increase in the number of documented complaints of online enticement of children. In those same years, they reported a more than 1000% increase in child sex-trafficking complaints.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported that as of June 2014, they had reviewed and analyzed more than 115 million child pornography images since the organization was created in 2002.

What are our children studying on that laptop? Genghis Khan or Genital Piercing? Face it. We don’t have a clue. Yet we let the gadgets replace us and think we’ve met our responsibilities by paying for the stuff.

We also never figured that we’d squander the small amount of time we had to spend on our spiritual life on the venom and the drivel of social networking. It is not merely a question of time lost; it is a question of spiritual deprivation. Are we happier at work, at home, at play?

If we’re not, and we notice that we feel chained to our desks like an animal whose foot has been caught in a trap, and now know why animals sometimes gnaw off their foot to get free, perhaps we’re ready to step back and consider ourselves survivors.

Those of us who fell victim to being baited by the nasty element out there in cyberland – whether or not we posted it – may have to be reminded about the Lex Talionis. Here is noted psychiatrist Karl Menninger on the subject:

“There are certain laws governing the activity of the conscience with which we have come to be familiar from clinical experience. One of them is that the ego must suffer in direct proportion to its externally directed destructiveness. It is as if that part of the destructive instinct retained within the ego had to carry on within the microcosmos of the personality an activity precisely comparable to that which the ego is directing toward the macrocosmos outside. If the individual directs an attack of a certain nature upon some person in the environment, the conscience, or super-ego, directs an attack of the same nature upon the ego. This formula is well known to us in social organization in the form of the lex talionis, the intuitive basis of all penal systems.” He later adds, “One more fact or ‘law’ about the conscience: a sense of guilt may arise from other than actual aggression; in the unconscious a wish to destroy is quite equivalent to the actual destruction with regard to exposing the ego to punishment.”

What to Menninger is a “super ego” is to us is our interior Buddha Self or Buddha Amitabha, yes, the Buddha of Infinite Light. This says, then, that what we sow we reap: we’ll get dark deed for dark deed, and dark thought for dark thought. And we won’t necessarily get them back in the same form. We won’t ever know why we tripped over something, or depressed the accelerator in a known speed-trap, or put our keys where we couldn’t find them, or forgot to mail something important on time. We’ll get paid back for the nasty little things we do or think. If we can understand it better by calling it Karma, then let’s call it Karma. But we can also aim for good results and share a good laugh, a good meal, a good game or movie with people who really do care about us. We can have a mind that doesn’t seethe with resentment and jealousy, but rather smiles to itself about how good life is.

Heaven and hell exist and they exist here and now, inside our own mind, and we can choose to live in one place or the other. So, unless we’ve been decapitated, we carry our heaven and our hell with us wherever we go. We can cease these blindfolded interactions and instead come face-to-face with a little self-imposed discipline. We can set an example for spiritual indomitability. The first rule: Don’t have “friends.” Just be friendly to everyone. Maybe we can argue with Sartre when he said, “Hell is other people.” But why argue? Let it go. If we don’t accept invitations, we don’t have to reciprocate. We can have our own picnic with our own family and if others drop by, we can welcome them. And we shouldn’t think we’d be hurting someone’s feelings by not specifically inviting them. Years ago there was a candidate for Congress who sent out invitation-threats. He did very well indeed when he said, “If you send me a donation of $25.00 I promise not to invite you to my political fund-raising dinner.” Twenty-five dollars was a lot more money in those days than it is now. Evidently, people thought it would have been cheap at twice the price. He didn’t have to serve anybody tough chicken and reconstituted mash potatoes.

Fear drives us to attend most social gatherings. Fear, anxiety, pride, or networking greed… pride at wanting to show off or talk about material-world accomplishments; fear that our absence may occasion gossip or all sorts of terrible suspicions. This is no way to live.

So, Sign off, shut down, and come back to Zen. We don’t need to use our spiritual practice as an excuse to withdraw. Just by announcing that we’ve initiated a spiritual program, we will cause a multitude to step back and do all the withdrawing that is necessary. When people can’t influence and control us… when something bigger and more powerful than they is in our lives… they bail out.

Now, literally, for the love of heaven, we can tell our fellow employees that our work-day ends when we leave our place of employment, and then we need to find the guts to leave our cellphone in the glove compartment when we park our car at home. Whether we’re a bachelor or the head of a family, we have certain rights to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

If we prefer to get our happiness at work rather than at home, we need to get our priorities examined. It may require a period of adjustment to sit at our table and watch all those strange faces look at each other; but after a week or so we’ll know the name that goes with the face, and also when small people say, “Hey, Dad!” we’ll know who they mean.

Each reader is now clamoring for information! “How am I to get started in a real (not phony) Zen regimen? Ok.

Start a small morning routine. If you want to do it in private, go into your bathroom ten minutes earlier. Start with the Sun Salute.

Learn one of the chants given here.

Learn one of them well enough to laminate the text and take it into the shower. (Don’t bring a CD player into the bathroom and don’t try to learn the chants while driving.)

Spend a few quiet minutes reading about Zen. Try: The Seventh World of Chan Buddhism

The pdf file can be downloaded from various sources on the web. Just look up, “The Seventh World of Chan Buddhism” by Ming Zhen Shakya.

Above all, learn the Healing Breath given in Chapter 10. Secondly, watch the diet. Get in shape.

And if anyone has a problem he or she wants to kick around privately, write to any of our priests. We have no fees or dues or charges of any kind and we don’t accept donations. We ask only that nobody supposes that what is free is also worthless.

The Zen Buddhist Order Of Hsu Yun: Zen And The Martial Arts isn’t a blog. But a problem that could use some Zen elucidation will get the needed attention. Contact us.

Remember, the Path’s two important rules: Begin and Continue.

The Dog on the Ice

Yao Xiang Shakya
Yao Xiang Shakya
…despite the impossibility of tracing back a single effect to a single cause, human nature allows for no other response to an event. …emotionally….there is always a determined effort to isolate an effect’s cause and to appropriate praise or blame to it.
-Anthony Wolff, Recovery, Revenge, and Rescue: The 3R Murders

This past winter was harsh. The cold weather came in November and worsened. Snow, ice and bitter winds blew across the Great Lake of Michigan. Ice, more ice than recorded history shows, formed on the Lake. A dog, a stray, an Australian shepherd got stuck on the ice for the entire winter. Five rescuers, unknown to one another at first, began heroic attempts to save the dog. The ice, the cold and the wind were massive foes against the brave attempts to save her. The five did not give up. BUT all they could do was get some food to her, reassure her she wasn’t alone on the ice and that when the ice, the cold and wind changed with warmer spring weather they would be there to get her off the ice.

For weeks she struggled alone, on the ice, on the frozen Great Lake until ice began to melt allowing the five to rescue her. But even with when a waterway opened she was so used to struggling when the rescuers tried to get her, she was afraid. She had spent so much time on the ice she had worn her front teeth away and parts of her tongue froze permanently blackened. The scars remain.

Eventually she began to trust the rescuers and was brought in to a shelter, half-starved, frozen and frightened. Soon she may be adopted. She is a sweet dog, her tongue is still blackened, she still has no front teeth, but she gave up her struggle on the ice. She allowed the five rescuers to help her. They didn’t know if they could help her. They gave her shelter, a warm place to live, good food, a medical check-up, and looked after her. But she had to be willing to eat, to drink, to come towards them even though she was terrorized with fear. Something in the dog allowed her to be helped. Australian shepherds are leaders of the pack. They are working dogs; they are used to being in charge, running the pack to safety. She had to surrender her instinct for self preservation in order to get off the ice.

But rather than see her responsibility, probably because she is a dog, our tendency is to hunt for the human being who was irresponsible, the one who was responsible for her being stuck.

According to the Zen Master Anthony Wolff, it is human nature to look for the person or persons who were the cause, to isolate the cause and affix blame or praise on the offender. This nature, our human instinct needs to be given up for us to get off this slippery slope. We have to go against this compulsion to blame or praise. We have to do something much more difficult.

The Zen approach is not so much to let anyone get off scott free or award a trophy to the rescuers when it comes to cause and effect, but rather to start with our own mind. As a Zen teacher explains to a young woman in Anthony Wolff’s novel The 3R Murders

…The place to start is to take your mind back to the event. Ask yourself if you…contributed in any way to the disaster. Did you choose to overlook…that something was wrong?

This advice is simple in explanation and difficult to accomplish. When we see things go wrong, when help is needed, our human propensity to look outward is a well-fertilized, natural and reactive habit. This instinct, to find the wrongdoer, coupled with our tendency to help, propels us into an external man hunt for the culprit.

We like to draw lines, definitive lines which complete a shape or form and there is nothing more complete than drawing a line of conclusion around the guilty party. It gives us a sense of nailing the perpetrator which circles back to praise for those who seek justice. But this is not the Zen Way. The Zen Way is to realize that our human inclination to find the cause, to help when we see a need is to overlook our contribution. We prefer, which is our ignorance, to blame, praise, fix and repair. We tend towards this approach with little or no understanding of our self involvement.

In Wolff’s novel, the young woman character, Lilyanne hears the Zen teacher, Sensei Wong’s words, perhaps wants to take them to heart but her conditioned habits paired with her human tendency to externalize darken her ability to implement the Zen Way in her own life.

In a previous book by Wolff, Monja Blanca, Lilyanne is coaxed by her parents to leave her vocation in a Catholic convent to return to lay life, in order to find a suitable husband and provide grandchildren to her parents.

At this point Lilyanne does not know the Zen teaching of Sensei Wong but let’s just say she did. This decision to leave the convent was one step in a series of many that lead to Lilyanne being traumatized by her would-be husband and his partners in crime. Although she is not killed she is metaphorically led to the slaughter like a lamb. If we apply Sensei Wong’s teaching, we may circumvent our natural inclinations to blame the criminals who took advantage of her. If we apply the teaching, rather than react from our natural instincts Lilyanne may begin to grow-up and may dodge the identity of a poor, poor pitiable victim.

Lilyanne’s decision to leave the convent was most likely not the first time her parents coaxed her into doing something they wanted, and most likely it would not be the last. We have to remember that Zen is about getting free and what we get free of is our human bent to get caught up in suffering and misery. It’s as simple as what Sensei Wong tells her. It’s a place where she asks the question, “Did I overlook something? How did I contribute to the mess I now have gotten myself into?” This question in itself is a Zen leap of great magnitude. Since those around this young woman would most certainly see her as a victim, as the poor innocent, maybe even holy innocent who was mistreated by rapacious criminals. It requires that Lilyanne and any Zen adept swallow the burning cannon ball of self reproach without blame or praise. It means to stand up and take the medicine without any accusation towards anyone.

The place to look along the line of cause and effect is not as important as the looking and the investigation. In this case, Lilyanne wanted to please her parents and so left the convent. It sounds so human, so much a good, obedient daughter thing. Doesn’t it? Fair enough, it is. Lilyanne follows her human nature and not her divine nature despite the five years in a convent. She is rooted in her identity of being a good girl. We might surmise that she entered the convent to please her parents in the first place. She has not yet found her own two feet and lacks sense. But when she asks Sensei Wong for help, which she does, she opens the possibility of seeing her own eye, her culpability in regards to her own life. This inward turn is the start towards freedom from the suffocating identity of being an innocent, good girl who was victimized.

It’s not to speculate on the countless possibilities of why a young woman, in her twenties might leave a vocation as a celibate nun to the possibility of a life with a handsome, wealthy mate. This work is for her to do. No one can do it for her. The caution for her is to stay away from the edges of praise or blame towards anyone who was even minimally involved. If she is to follow a Zen path to liberation, to divine liberation she must continually ask, “Did I overlook some nagging sense that something smelled fishy?”

This investigation requires a spiritual, ethical and emotional honesty that not many are able to face. It may mean that we recognize that the prize of liberation from one’s own cock-eyed blindness is far too costly. If so, then the blindness continues and a pattern of action gets formed and repeated again and again until death. In Lilyanne’s case she does ask Sensei Wong for some advise which he gives. The question remains for Lilyanne whether or not she remains under the influence of her parents and a victim of abuse or does she enter the embrace of divine sufficiency.

If she sees what she is up to, through looking at her own mind, she can change. Self-sufficiency is ever-present, but she needs to seek it. Otherwise Lilyanne like the rest of us, continue in the darkness of blame and praise, which is an ignorant, dependent place of being self-concerned and not self-aware.

Here are two brief portrayals of self-awareness. In Wolff’s novel, Murder by Suicide, we get a glimpse of what self-awareness might sound like for Beryl, one of the three detectives in the series Zen and the Art of Investigation. She speaks to two of her clients when she hears their dithering, self-concern.

“Beryl stood up, ‘Oh, for God’s sake. Listen to the two of you. Men. Men are such pussies.’ She held out her hand. ‘Give me the keys…'” Anthony Wolff, Murder by Suicide

At the end of The 3R Murders, George another detective in the series speaks to Lilyanne, with whom he has fallen in love. George, several years her senior begins to realize she is still dependent upon her parents when she shows gratitude that he is willing to legitimize the baby of another man. He responds to her worried self-concern.

“‘I understand,’ he murmured. He wanted to shout he understood all too well and then to castigate himself for being such a fool.” Anthony Wolff, Revenge, Recovery and Rescue:The 3R Murders

Of course, this is not whole story; to get the whole story, well…read the books. Find out for yourself. Zen is priceless.

AHA! Mystery Story, A Moral Tale?

Yao Xiang Shakya
Yao Xiang Shakya
For those who do bad things:
For them there are no pains;
Their bodies are sound and sleek.
They do not share in human sorrows;
they are not stricken like others.

Psalm 73

Parables have been and still are a fundamental method of teaching often illustrating crucial principles of spiritual truths. At least the succinct tale with a universal punch is. The simple reason, which is most likely the main reason for this teaching method, is that we love stories. We love stories because stories touch the heart. Stories bypass the reasoning mind and often go straight to the heart like warmth and light on a bud. Stories open the heart. And this is quite a teaching feat.

When we combine the mastery of storytelling with a master of Zen there is the possibility to leap clear of reason, technology and global sophistication. There is the possibility of transcendence, but only if you seek it.

When the heart is pierced things change. Recall Cupid! When struck by Cupid’s arrow we are slaves of the heart. But there is a caution here for every would-be story teller, especially those who wish to share the heart of Zen. Cupid’s prick, we must remember, is equivalent to a tale without balance, a tale that pounds out stimulating depravity in such a way that there is no reason, no universal merit buried beneath the titillating perversity. As every Zen Master knows life isn’t one-sided by any obsession, even crime. There are no anti-heroes in spiritual mysteries.

‘Shoot’em ups’ and ‘screw-ups’ are part of the human condition of suffering but a tale that does not place the misery that we inflict on one another in the middle of the Big Truth does not show any essential principles of Reality. The storyteller who chooses the task of showing spiritual principles by telling a tale runs between Cupid’s bow and the Billy Sunday pulpit performances. It’s a big job and requires finesse and an elegance of refining the tale in delicate and tactful ways that unlock the heart of the reader as well as provide a short and to the point Dharma message.

Ming Zhen Shakya is a Zen Master, a writer and an avid reader of mystery. And in the name of Anthony Wolff she has cast her lot in with those storytellers that attempt to pull the latch on the hearts and spirits of her readers and nudge them towards the summit of salvation. But the work does not hammer anything down rather it taps and pats out a Dharma message somewhere in the story leaving it up to the reader to contemplate it or not. In typical Zen fashion the reader needs to be a seeker to find the jewel, but the jewel is there if sought out.

Ming Zhen Shakya’s spiritual pioneering in her series Zen and the Art of Investigation, written under the name Anthony Wolff, cross into the world of spiritual storytelling without preaching and without flagrant titillations. Her intent is to tell a good story and tell it in such a way as to sprinkle the Dharma rain somewhere in the book. There are crimes, tensions, and the uncovering of ugly hardheartedness. And in this mischief there are Dharma showers.

Anthony Wolff’s (aka Ming Zhen Shakya) choice of genre is the mystery story. And as many know mystery stories are moral tales. The moral part of the story is often overlooked because readers of mystery love the mystery and rarely contemplate the moral rectitude since morality naturally follows the demands of a mystery. There are good guys and bad guys. The good guys find out about some bad thing that has happened and attempt to stop it from happening again and again. The good guys have to stop the bad thing. This is the basic mystery plot. Who did it and how? And how do the good guys find out who the bad guys are and stop them.

Enthusiastic and keen mystery readers know this at the cellular level and they never question it unless something is missing. Anthony Wolff’s choice of ‘mystery’ books assumes that the good guys, the three detectives, get the bad guys, without giving away the plot, generally do.

Wolff’s three main characters, George Wagner, Beryl Tilson and Sensei Percy Wong are sleuths that take their work seriously and attempt to do the right thing for their clients. But Zen works in the Middle Way perhaps the only place where the wholeness of reality is seen. No one is left out of the travails of life. Wagner suffers with a disability from his professional past and lives with the remnants of addiction. Tilson, a man’s woman, struggles as a widow to get educated, to raise her son and work at the same time. Sensei Wong, a karate master and Zen priest, perhaps the most even-minded and stable of the threesome was born into a cultural dichotomy. His parents divided everything along the lines of the likes of ‘cheerios’ versus ‘rice’ leaving Wong to choose between them.

Wolff lets the reader know no one, not even the good guys are left out of the bitterness of life. The difference between the good guys and bad guys is etched out across what they have in common. The ups and downs of feelings, moods and spiritual needs touch all of the characters. Wolff knows that no one is left out of troubles. Good guys suffer. Bad guys suffer. The response to trouble, for the most part, is what separates intentions, decisions and actions.

And the good guys know the truth of the Zen adage,”…(T)he eye cannot see itself…,” which seems to be central to the detectives understanding of everyone as “…self-concerned, but…rarely self-aware.” The reader is left to discern the difference. It’s understood that Beryl and Sensei Percy, two of the detectives are Zen practitioners and martial art adepts which comes in handy when fighting hand to hand the foes, con artists and transgressors. George, the only detective having professional training was a former police officer, opens the detective agency. These are the good guys. The bad guys are those who respond to the demands and needs of modern life with skills outside the bounds of the law of the land.

In one of Wolff’s earliest novels, Monja Blanca we find somewhat questionable aristocrats hiring George to investigate the virginity of a would-be bride. A tough assignment to be sure! The main con is a woman, who is smart, savvy and successful at running the swindle. It’s a trans-generational business; her husband taught her and she taught her son to cheat. But there’s loyalty amongst these thieves for they seem to share everything from money to bed partners. The gang leader, the Contessa suffers from thwarted ambition and humiliation and finds her scams lucrative and satisfying. She appears to live up to psalmist’s description of those who do bad things; sound, sleek and without sorrows.

Monja Blanca is full of the mystery genre’s twists and turns. Victims are left holding empty bank accounts and stunned by the finesse of these thieves. Justice, where things get wrapped up and the good guys brush off the dust from the oppression of the crooks, ends this whodunit with a revelation from the good guys.

Pioneers are often best understood after they have led the way where they break new ground. Anthony Wolff may fit this breaking ground description. The set-up of each book is a must-read preface especially for the new reader. It sets the Zen stage with an old Zen adage, “…(T)he eye cannot see itself” which is what the three detectives in each book rely on to determine what is true and what is rubbish. But none of it, none of the spiritual message is rubbed into the reader’s nose. It must be sniffed out in asides, descriptions, in contemplation of the nature of the bad guys and their bad deeds.

Anthony Wolff gives spiritually pithy hints, little Dharma talks given by Sensei Percy, George’s foolish sense of being enlightened and whispers of Hui Neng and Hagakure recollections as indicators of where the detectives really are and what the action suggests. Anthony Wolff’s work, the moral tale of light and dark is akin to the eighth Chinese Zen Master Shitou Xiqian’s understanding of the merging of difference and unity.

“The subtle source is clear and bright; the tributary streams flow through the darkness. There is light in darkness but don’t see it as light, there is darkness in light but don’t see it as darkness.”

Mystery readers know this truth. The good guys stream into the darkness of the criminal world in the light of the subtle source never actually uttering a sermon or discourse. They show up and face the darkness on behalf of those in need.

Anthony Wolff’s storytelling proposes to those who seek the subtle source that ‘(T)he absolute works together with the relative like two arrows meeting in mid-air. It’s not elsewhere, some separate place that is foreign. For Wolff, the good guys work together with the bad guys in much the same way as two arrows meeting in mid-air. But as in any morality story of worth, the good guys, disturb, disrupt and dislocate the darkness with ordinary skills of body-mind training and strong determination. There are traps and mishaps along the way but in the end the Zen truth “…(T)he eye cannot see itself…,” but everyone is “…self-concerned, but…rarely self-aware” is turned upside down and inside out. Wolff holds out the faith that Wagner, Tilson and Wong’s intentions, decisions and actions are rooted in self-awareness and less in self-concern.