108 – Important Things To Think About Often

The Buddha taught that there are five important things we should think about often. These are commonly referred to as the Five Remembrances. In this episode, I will talk about the five remembrances and how remembering these important things often can lead to a more mindful and fulfilling life.

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107 – Learning to be Silent

In this podcast episode, I discuss three more Zen Koans: Joshu’s Zen, The Gates of Paradise, and Learning to be Silent. I will share what these koans mean to me and how I interpret the lessons of these koans in my own day-to-day life. Read More

106 – Everything is Best

In this episode, I share three more Zen koans and what they mean to me. Calling card, Everything is Best, and Inch Time Foot Gem. Thank you for listening and for being a part of this journey with me. Until next time!

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Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 106. I am your host, Noah Rasheta. Today, I’m going to share three more Zen koans and talk a little bit about what they mean for me.

Keep in mind you don’t need to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. You can use this to learn to be a better whatever you already are. I thought it would be fun to discuss a couple more years than koans and specifically what they mean for me. I want to emphasize that second part, what they mean for me. If you’ll recall, the whole point of a Zen koan in the Zen tradition is to be presented with a story, or a question, or an idea that essentially knocks you out of the conceptual thinking. It’s meant to pull the rug out from under your feet. And it kind of defeats the whole point if somebody tells you the koan and then just tells you what it means. Because the truth is there is no meaning to it. There’s only the meaning that you give to it, and that’s your job to figure out what this means for you.

So I want to be cautious about how I approached these Zen koans because I am not pretending in any way that I have the answers to these, or that I know what they mean, or that I have anything wise to impart when it comes to these Zen koans. I just want to share what they have meant to me. I hope that you keep that in mind with not just the koans, but … I guess everything that I’ve ever shared on the podcast kind of falls into that category. It’s like this is what this stuff means to me. And the invitation is for you to explore and figure out what this stuff means for you. So keep that in mind as you listen to these.

The first Zen koan I want to share is called Calling Card. The koan goes like this. Keichu, the great teacher of the Meiji Era, was the head of the Tofuku, a cathedral in Kyoto. One day, the governor of Kyoto called upon him for the first time. His attendant presented the card of the governor, which read, “Kitagaki, governor of Kyoto.” “I have no business with such a fellow,” said Keichu to his attendant. “Tell him to get out of here.” The attendant carried the card back with apologies. “That was my error,” said the governor. And with a pencil, he scratched out the words governor of Kyoto. “Ask your teacher again. Oh, is that Kitagaki?” exclaimed the teacher when he saw the card. “I want to see that fellow.”

Now, I like this one because it’s fun to imagine myself in the place of both the teacher and the governor of Kyoto. So in this story, you have someone who’s essentially presenting himself to go visit with a teacher, and the teacher doesn’t receive him because the calling card when he comes in and presents himself mentions his name, comma, governor of Kyoto. I like this because we go through life putting so much emphasis on the titles that we have, and I think often we fuse ourselves with our titles. What this koan means to me, you have the Zen master here who sees right through that, says, “I’m not interested in talking to the governor of Kyoto. I’m not interested in your title.” Then, when he presents himself again after having removed the title, he’s like, “Oh yeah, that guy. Yeah, I want to see him.”

I think how often do we feel like that Zen master talking to someone that we know, an acquaintance, family member, and often they’re talking to us or presenting themselves through the labels, the labels that are very important to them? And it doesn’t have to be a big one like governor of some province or state. It’s little titles, but it’s still labels. The labels that we use and we present ourselves with those labels affect the way that people interact with us, essentially because we’re not allowing ourselves to just be us. I think about that a lot.

I’ve mentioned it previously on the podcast the time that I used to identify so much with the label of being an entrepreneur. It was important for me to make sure that you knew if I was interacting with you that you’re interacting with someone who is an entrepreneur because that was a label that meant a lot to me. I’ve done that with other labels. I think we all do. I think it’s fun to kind of visit that, pause, and then ask yourself, “What are the labels that mean so much to you, and how do you use them? Why do you use them? Why do they mean so much to you?”

This is not an invitation to rid ourselves of our labels. Putting labels and having titles, that’s a human thing that we do. I’m not trying to insinuate that we need to get rid of them. They can be useful. But what happens when we attach ourselves to our labels? I’ve had labels that have meant more to me than other labels, titles that meant more to me than other titles. And I’ve often asked myself, “Why does this mean so much to me?” Then, usually what happens when I can spend the time and look inward, it’s almost like I catch myself and I’m like, “Ah, that’s what you’re really after.” Then suddenly, it becomes humorous that that meant so much to me. Often, it’s a way of trying to prop myself up. It’s a way of trying to hide an insecurity that I might have. I found this to be the case with almost any title or any label that I proudly tried to display.

And again, it’s not like I’ve eliminated all the titles and labels that I use about myself in my life. It’s not that. For me, this koan has been an invitation to remind myself that when I’m interacting with someone, what they really appreciate is that they’re just talking to me. Who am I? Me, the me that I am right now, not the me that needs to present myself with my calling card of some label of some sort. I found this to be the case even with the podcast. I don’t like to present myself as, oh, Noah the podcaster things like that, but I have some points. I’ve been able to recognize, “Oh, that’s something that means something to me. Why does it mean something to me?” And then the attachment to the label minimizes and suddenly it doesn’t matter anymore.

So for me, the invitation of this koan is to analyze what labels are very meaningful to me. Which labels or titles am I really proud to put on my calling card when I come present myself to you if I were to interact with you or with anyone? In understanding that about myself, then what happens if I present myself without the label and it’s just me and I allow you to see the me that I am under the label?

Now on the flip side, as the Zen master, as he’s sitting there, imagine the times, the opportunities that you’ve had in your life to interact with someone who presents themselves to you as raw and authentic, genuine, someone who’s not propping themselves up from behind their label or their title. I’ve had this experience many times interacting with people who just allow themselves to be who they are. Some of them very well-known people. I’ve talked to authors, or teachers, or famous musicians. I’ve talked to a lot of people, and it’s awesome when I get to interact with them and they’re not hidden there behind their title or their label, or they’re not attached to it I should say. Sure, the label’s there. The title’s there. That’s who they are. It’s part of what they do. But you can tell when someone’s not attached to it and they allow themselves to be seen. Man, that’s a beautiful thing. I think this is something that is growing in our culture now with all of Brené Brown, her books and her work, the whole concept of vulnerability, and showing up, and allowing yourself to be seen. That to me is the embodiment of this specific koan, the Calling Card, as a reminder for myself to look at how I allow myself to be presented to others when I’m interacting with others.

Moving on to the next koan I want to share. I’m pretty sure I mentioned this one before in early podcast episodes. But, this one is called Everything is Best, and that’s why the name of this podcast episode is Everything is Best. This is one of those that when I first heard didn’t really mean much to me. But the more time that went by, the more meaningful this has become, and I really like this one.

The koan goes, “When Banzan was walking through a market, he overheard a conversation between a butcher and his customer. ‘Give me the best piece of meat you have,’ said the customer. ‘Everything in my shop is the best,’ replied the butcher. ‘You cannot find here any piece of meat that is not the best.’ At these words, Banzan became enlightened.”

Now, I like this one because I feel like in our society it’s very common to get caught up in this idea of best, ranking things, wanting to have the best that we can. I want my car to be nicer than all the other cars, or my house to be better than any other house, and my job title, going back to the titles, to be more important than any other titles. That’s the game that we play. And in this exchange in this koan, this butcher was trying to help the customer understand that these items are incomparable.

Now, with the butcher, using the idea of meat, the insinuation there is if you asked for ribs and you try to compare those ribs to, I don’t know, some other flank of meat, sirloin or whatever it is, they’re not the same thing. Now, it doesn’t have to be with meat, right? You can do this with everything. It’s like saying walking into the store and saying, “Hey, please give me your best fruit,” and the person at the store saying, “Well, it’s this is the best banana, and that’s the best apple, and that’s the best grape. They’re all the best.”

The idea for me with this koan as it’s developed for me over time was the realization that I, like many others, have the tendency to rank things in good, better, and best, this moment compared to that moment, this memory compared to that memory. And the koan is an invitation to see the uniqueness of each thing. The moment you can see the uniqueness of a moment, suddenly the moments don’t compare anymore. There’s not a good moment and a better moment because the concept of good and bad in that sense is totally irrelevant. There’s this moment, and this moment doesn’t compare to that moment because that moment arrives and this moment is gone, and they’re both entirely unique. They’ve never happened before. They’ll never happen again that same way because it’s taken every event in the past to make this present moment exactly what it is. And when we can start to see life through that lens, suddenly everything becomes unique. And the beauty of the moment is the uniqueness of the moment, not the pleasantness or unpleasantness.

That was a really radical shift for me. I had those ranking phases of my life, this really unpleasant phase dealing with a bankruptcy, or dealing with marital problems, or dealing with whatever it was ranking that phase to another phase when things were good and I didn’t have this problem or things like that. And when you’re playing that game, according to this koan, my understanding of it at least, is that we’re not seeing things the way they really are. When we can see the uniqueness of each moment, the pleasantness or unpleasantness of that moment, suddenly takes a different meaning.

That was, again, one of those really strong radical shifts for me in my life was to suddenly appreciate the unpleasant, and the painful, and the downright miserable moments and experiences that I’ve had in my life because I can see them for the uniqueness that they are. To be able to see it that way has been powerful, to be able to think, “Well, man, I would never want to go through that again.” But part of me is glad that I know what that’s like because if I encounter someone else on this path of life who is going through that, well, I get to know what that’s like. I can identify with that person and show a little bit more compassion and a little bit more kindness because I’d been through that same thing. All of that arose out of this understanding of the uniqueness of the experience, not the goodness, or badness, or pleasant, or unpleasant. It’s like no matter what I thought of that moment, it’s a unique moment, and that in and of itself carries some preciousness.

That’s a powerful one for you to explore the experiences, the emotions, the thoughts, every whatever it is you’re going through in life from that perspective of, wow, this is a unique thing, this is a unique moment rather than ranking it on the pleasant or unpleasant scale. So, everything is best.

That kind of leads into this third koan, and the last one I want to share in this podcast episode, which is a koan called Inch Time Foot Gem. This is one of those that … There are several of these that don’t really make a lot of sense to me, but then there might be one or two words in the whole thing that makes sense and that’s enough for me to make sense of it.

I’m going to read this one to you. It says, “A lord asked Takuan, a Zen teacher, to suggest how he might pass the time. He felt his days very long, attending his office and sitting stiffly to receive the homage of others. Takuan wrote eight Chinese characters and gave them to the man. Not twice this day, inch time foot gem. This day will not come again. Each minute is worth a priceless gem.”

Again, that’s one of those that it’s like I’m not sure I understood any of that except the last two sentences, this day will not come again. That’s a pretty powerful realization. And each minute is worth a priceless gem. That koan, the end of that koan, speaks to me piggybacking off of the concept of the other koan of everything is the best. Every moment is the best moment because the entire concept of a best moment is already flawed thinking. I like that each moment is a gem, a precious and unique gem, whether that’s a pleasant moment, a painful moment, a joyful moment, a blissful moment, a painful moment. They’re all the same in that sense that they’re like precious gems because they’re unique moments.

And again, for me, that is the power of the shift in perspective that a koan like that can do. It causes you to revisit not the event that’s unfolding, but the way I’m viewing the event as it unfolds. It’s allowed me to pause and then analyze how much of my life am I going through it doing the wrong or the unskillful ranking of saying I want the best piece of meat, like the customer at the butcher store. I want the best experience. I want the best whatever the thing is I’m going through in life. What happens when I revisit that with this new set of lenses that allow me to see the preciousness and uniqueness of the moment, and then suddenly it all changes because I’m not after the best. I’m just trying to appreciate this for what it is because I know it’s unique.

I felt that in my own life as I’ve tried to practice this on multiple occasions. Being stuck in a line and realizing we’re not going to get on that ride because the cutoff was two people in front of us, something like that. A moment that could typically be unpleasant because you’re thinking, “This isn’t how it’s supposed to be,” turns into one of those moments where it’s like, “Oh, that’s interesting. I’ve never had that happen where I was literally two or three people away and I didn’t get to get on. Interesting. What a unique thing. I’ve never experienced that before.” Suddenly, the uniqueness of it became part of the experience. And in a way, it’s like, “Whoa, cool. I’ll put that on my list of things that have happened in my life,” instead of just being super upset and miserable that I didn’t get past that line.

And again, with lots of things, we start thinking of it this way, what you’ll see is a shift in the way that you see things. That’s how it’s worked for me, and that’s what I enjoy about these koans. That’s all I have for this podcast episode. But as always, thank you for listening and thank you really for being a part of this journey with me. If you enjoyed the podcast episode, you can share it with others. Write a review. Give it a rating in iTunes. And if you’d like to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, please visit secularbuddhism.com and click the donate button. That’s all I have for now, but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Until next time.

105 – Open Your Own Treasure House

We generally value answers more than we do questions but what if the bigger treasure in the pursuit of answers is to be found in the question itself? In this podcast episode I will share my thoughts regarding the koan: Open Your Own Treasure House.

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Hello and welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 105. I am your host, Noah Rasheta. Today, I am talking about another zen koan. This one is called open your treasure house. Keep in mind, you don’t need to use what you learned from Buddhism to be a Buddhist and use it to learn to be a better whatever you already are. I’ve been reading through some of my favorite zen koans recently, and I thought it would be fun to occasionally pick some and talk about them in the podcast. Today, I’m going to talk about one of these koans called open your own treasure house.

A quick reminder, the point of a koan comes from zen Buddhism is it’s a riddle or a story that’s meant to make you think. Perhaps you can say meant to make you stop thinking. Sometimes, it’s presented as a riddle that tries to set you free from the habitual reactivity of the mind. Something that would normally make sense suddenly doesn’t make sense. In that chaos or in that unsolvable riddle, there could be a moment of awareness or enlightenment. There are all kinds of koans. There are hundreds of them and you can find books that talk about them and share these stories.

I have one. That’s what I was reading tonight. I thought it would be fun to talk about this specific koan. The story goes that Daiju visited the master Baso in China, and Baso asked, “What do you seek?” “Enlightenment,” replied Daiju. “You have your own treasure house. Why do you search outside?” Baso asked. Daiju asked, “Where’s my treasure house?” Baso answered, “What you are asking is your treasure house.” Daiju was enlightened. Ever after, he urged his friends, “Open your own treasure house and use those treasures.”

That’s it, another quick little story that presents a concept. Then this one, to me, the key phrase here is what you are asking is your treasure house. To me, this is an invitation to compare the difference between the questions that I have and the answers that I seek, and to notice that the treasure that I have inside is the question itself is essentially a greater treasure for me than the answers that I’m seeking because the answers come from the outside. The questions come from the inside. This reminds me somewhat of that phrase that I’ve mentioned on the podcast before that what you are seeking is who is seeking.

To me, again, this is an invitation to go inward and to find in ourselves our own treasure house and then more importantly to open that treasure house, to open up the questions. This has been a fun process for me in my own personal practice to see the treasure of the question as a more valuable treasure than the value I was assigning to the answer that I thought I was looking for. I’ve mentioned this before how my personal journey or my spiritual quest of wanting to understand these big things evolved from prioritizing those answers, what the answers could be, to just seen value in the question itself.

Why do I want to know? Why does the question matter so much to me? The more I’ve come to understand the questions that I have, the less interested I’ve become in the answers. The answer almost doesn’t matter anymore. I don’t even know that I would care to hear an answer because the question itself has given me so much to work with and so much to digest and to understand about myself that I have found in that process of analyzing the question something that seems much more valuable to me than the answer could have been. I think that’s at the heart of what this specific koan is trying to get at.

I like to think of this in terms of the skillful art of asking questions, maybe not asking questions, the skillful art of being introspective about our questions. I feel like it’s common for us in our western way of thinking to be inquisitive and to focus a lot on answers. I mean, in school, we’re taught this from a young age, right? We have questions and then here are answers and here are the formulas that you follow to go from the question to the answer. You get the answer, and it’s like, “Hurray!” You get awards and you get graded over it. All the emphasis is put on the answers. I think that’s great.

I mean, the fact that we can answer difficult questions has led us out of the stone age, so to speak, and into this digital age that we live in, because of our ability to answer difficult questions and to focus a lot of attention on the answers. I do feel like on an inner spiritual trajectory, we’re paying a price for having the mindset that sees the treasure and all of this as the answer rather than seeing the treasure of the question. In my personal experience, again, with these big deep questions about life or questions I have about myself, about others, I have found that the question itself is the treasure.

What I mean by that is when I’m confronted with a scenario where questions arise, it can be at times satisfying and skillful and useful to find those answers, but oftentimes, like I said before, it’s the question itself that really ends up being the treasure at the end of the quest. For example, this morning, my wife went to… Well, I guess I should go back. My wife was taking a trip today to go back to Utah to do some business work with her dance studio auditions that they have. Her plan was to leave for a couple of days and then she’ll be back on Friday this week. I’m home with the kids alone.

In preparation for this trip, we’ve been trying to sort out the steps required for her to leave because I’m a Mexican citizen, but she’s not. She’s an American citizen, and she’s here under a temporary residency visa. Once you obtain that and you’re in the country, while it’s pending, you can’t just leave the country without having a letter that authorizes you to leave the country. She booked her ticket to go back home to the US and then started this process at the immigration office to be able to get her letter of permission to leave the country.

We thought about that ahead of time. We did all the paperwork necessary to do it, and she received the email a couple days ago that said, “It’s been approved. Now, you just have to stop by the immigration office to pick it up because you have to have that letter.” Last night, she’s packing her bags, and around 10:00 or 11:00 PM, as we’re talking about the next morning, it occurs to her that she never went to pick up the letter. She just, as you can imagine, gets really stressed and freaked out about it.

I did too because I thought, “Oh, well, you can’t leave. If you leave, it’s guaranteed that they will close down your immigration case and you have to start all over.” This was a process that she had started back when we were in Utah. She went to the Mexican consulate to start the whole visa process. It’s like, “Oh, this is just going to really complicate things and it’s probably not worth risking this.” We started trying to find solutions to this because she had to wake up early and go straight to the airport, and the immigration office doesn’t open until 9:00, and there was no way to be able to squeeze that in on the way to the airport.

We started looking at other flights. Of course to leave the very next day, when you’re looking at flights, they’re really expensive. The cheapest solution was to just get another flight, but that’s $1,600. It just wasn’t a feasible option. What we were facing at this point was the decision of just canceling the trip and her not going. She was really stressed about that. Her tendency, when she’s stressed about stuff, she goes very hard on herself. She’s talking about how she’s such a failure, and, “Why didn’t I see this coming, and why am I so disorganized?” Just being really harsh on herself.

I was reminding her, “I know what that’s like too. I’ve done that and I didn’t think about it. I missed out on this too. We both dropped the ball.” That’s where it started. Then the solution ended up being that she called the airline and the airline said they could delay, or not delay, they could put her on a later flight. That worked out well. It’s totally a surprised. It was JetBlue, and she’s become a JetBlue fan for life because of this, because they only charged her $75 to get on the later flight and made it super easy. Within minutes, they had emailed her the new itinerary, and she would be on a later flight allowing her to have time in the morning to run to the immigration office to get the letter that she needed.

We wake up this morning. She goes to pick up that letter, and then I’m waiting outside. She finally gets it. That process was stressful for her because she was counting down the minutes. We needed to leave by 9:15 in order to make it to the airport in time. The office opened at nine and she was running out at 9:15. You can imagine how stressed she was while she was up there waiting to do all that. She was already on edge, gets in the car. We start driving. Again, she’s just going off being really upset and down on herself.

At this point, it’s becoming difficult for me because I’m thinking, “I don’t want her to feel so bad.” I’m thinking, “Oh, I’m also stressed about this whole ticket situation and this whole letter situation and everything that we’re dealing with, and now we’re stuck in traffic, and I’m racing to try to get her to the airport on time.” I finally get there just a couple minutes past the deadline of when you’re supposed to be there a couple hours early when you’re flying on an international flight.

I dropped her off and then I turned around, and I started going. This whole time, our youngest is three. She’s sitting in the back. She’s really upset because she hasn’t eaten and she’s crying, and she’s like, “I just want to go eat.” I said, “Okay, we’re going to go. I’m going to pull over, and we’ll find something.” Then doing all this as I get back on the highway and my wife calls me and she says, “My passport’s not here.” At that point, I just immediately pulled over, and I was like, “Are you serious?” We start looking around the backseat, and no, it’s not there.

Then I looked in the front seat and there it is on the floor. It slipped out of her backpack where she had all of her documents. When she opened the backpack to verify she had all the documents, the backpack had tipped over or something and the passport fell out. Suddenly, I’m racing back to the airport to give her the passport. Long story short, she made the flight. It was stressful, but it all worked out. By the end of that whole ordeal on the drive back as my daughter’s just really upset and crying and really hungry, and I was feeling flustered and just feeling all these emotions arise, and that was a moment where I had this opportunity to exercise the skillful art of analyzing these questions that arise in me.

Why do I feel this way? In that moment, it occurred to me how much more skillful it was that I’m asking myself, “Why does this bother me?” It all worked out. It may not have worked out, and had it not worked out, then the trip would have not happened. I mean, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but as I’m sitting there thinking about this, I thought that’s cool that the habitual question that arises now is more along the lines of, “Why am I feeling this way?” Instead of what could have been the older version of me in the past that would have been thinking, “How can I get rid of this feeling?”

Because I’m feeling really uncomfortable with circumstances at the moment, and I would have been thinking, “How can I get rid of this so I can distract her? I can do this. I can say something rude like, ‘Oh, you need to get your stuff together.'” I don’t know, anything that would have made me think how do I get rid of the feeling would have been different than the train of thought that arose out of the question of, “Why am I feeling this way? Why does this bother me, and the introspection that took place on the drive home with regards to the feeling that arose in me?

That was, for me, a fun moment to recognize the treasure, the opening your own treasure house and saying, “This is the deal. This is what we just went through. This is how I’m feeling. It’s an unpleasant feeling,” and then to sit with that and say, “Why am I feeling this?” For me, this moment was actually a very powerful moment because I was able to get several layers deeper. It’s not about the passport. No, it’s not about the letter. It’s not about the what is it really about? I got to something deeper, which was in this specific case, it was recognizing that the discomfort I’m feeling with this whole situation as it’s unfolding.

It’s sad for me to see my wife be so harsh on herself. She texted me once she got through security and she was apologizing profusely and said something along the lines of, “I always mess up like this and make dumb decisions that cause stress, and it makes me hate myself inside and out.” That really stood out to me thinking that, “Wow, how could you hate yourself over something simple that anybody could have done?” My response was, “Your only flaw is thinking that you have a flaw or thinking that you’re flawed.”

That’s what I said. Your only flaw is that you think your flawed, and reminded her just of other instances in our lives where chaos ensued after a mistake or a poor decision. It reminded me of how I felt on our wedding day. We went to get married, and I forgot to bring the marriage license. We were getting married in a religious ceremony where you have to present the marriage license. It was scheduled. We had a room set apart. Everybody was there waiting. The wedding was suddenly on hold because I forgot. I didn’t realize I had to have the marriage license.

Everything got delayed, but at the end, it all worked out, but I’ll never forget how I felt that day. It’s like, “Oh, welcome to day one of marriage with the most stressful events up until that moment.” I reminded my wife of that. What I’m trying to get at with this, again, pointing it all back to this koan, open your own treasure house. To me, that’s a direct invitation to compare and to find the treasure that we assign, the value that we assign to the questions that we have versus the answers that we seek, because no doubt, you have your own sets of questions and you have your own sets of answers that you’re looking for.

How do you weigh those on the scale? Are the answers more important to you than the questions? If so, what would happen if you tried to focus a little bit of that attention and to see some of the value of the question? This is where Buddhism kicks in again where the non-duality aspect of this like, “How could the answer be so important and the question not be so important when you cannot have the answer without the question?” You can’t have one without the other. I love that way of thinking that just puts things… the way of oneness that puts things into perspective, that, “Well, the question is as important as the answer.”

What happens when the question becomes your treasure? Hopefully as I continue to practice that in my own life and the different aspects of life where questions arise, I hope that just as it did with the big existential questions, suddenly, the question became, the question is more valuable to me than the answer. I’m not even interested in the answer because the question tells me more about me, which is the inside than the answer could ever tell me considering the answer’s always on the outside, something from the outside. That’s what I wanted to share with you with this specific koan, open your own treasure house.

Now, I thought it would be fun to end this podcast with one more koan, but instead of deconstructing it and telling you my opinion of what that koan means to me, this time, I’m just going to share the koan directly as it is and not say anything about it, and let you stew over it for the next week and see what it means to you. I probably won’t mention it in a future podcast. It’ll just be a koan. Here it is. It’s called no water, no moon. When the nun Chiyono studied zen under Bukko, she was unable to attain the fruits of meditation for a long time.

At last, one moonlit night, she was carrying water in an old pail bound with bamboo. The bamboo broke and the bottom fell out of the pail, and at that moment, Chiyono was set free. In commemoration, she wrote a poem. The poem says, “In this way and that I tried to save the old pail. Since the bamboo strip was weakening and about to break until at last the bottom fell out. No more water in the pail. No more moon in the water.” That is the poem. That is the koan, now water, no moon. Have fun with that one this week.

Thank you for taking the time to listen to this podcast episode. I enjoy being able to share my thoughts and ideas with you guys. I really appreciate you being a part of this fun journey with me. If you want to learn more about Buddhism and mindfulness, you can always check out my books. I have them listed on noahrasheta.com. As always, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast episode, feel free to share it with others. Write a review, give it a rating in iTunes, and if you would like to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, feel free to visit secularbuddhism.com and click on the donate button.

That’s all I have for now, but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. May you open your own treasure house and see the value of the questions. Until next time.

104 – A Limited View

In this episode, I will discuss the Buddhist teaching of the Elephant and the blind men and how my understanding of having a limited view affects the type of questions I ask about myself, others, and life in general. I will also talk about how I use Facebook as a place to practice mindfulness.

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Hello and welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism Podcast. This is episode number 104. I am your host, Noah Rasheta, and today I’m talking about our limited view. Keep in mind, you don’t need to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. You can use this stuff to learn to be a better whatever you already are. This week I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of a limited view in regards to the questions that we ask. So one of my favorite stories in Buddhist teachings is the story of the five blind men or six blind men, I can’t remember now, but the blind men explaining or describing an elephant to each other. I’ve talked about this before in the podcast, so I don’t think I need to go into detail about the specific details of the story, but the gist of it is imagine five blind people describing an elephant to each other or to everyone else.

The moral of that story is that we all have a limited view, a limited understanding and the one who may be describing one thing accurately is totally missing this other part because the complete picture is an impossibility, and so it is with life and with reality. I recently came across this notion again just in the world that I reside in, the paragliding world. We fly different types of paraglider wings and there are probably a dozen or more major brands, manufacturers who make these wings and then inside of each of those brands you have some of them five to 10 different wing models and styles for flying. So like a beginner wing versus an intermediate wing or a wing that’s made for slalom flying versus one that’s for cross country flying and so on. So you can get the idea pretty quickly that there are a lot of different wings out there. I’m talking probably hundreds if not more.

I always find it to be interesting when in the paramotor or a paragliding forums online, people ask the question, “Hey, which is the best wing?” It’s always like, “What do you mean the best wing? The interesting thing is so many people who chime in, “Oh it’s this wing. Oh I fly this wing and I’ve been really happy with it so this is the best wing.” When someone asks me that question, it’s like, “Why, I don’t know because I’ve only flown a handful of wings and I can tell you between those which ones I liked, the pros and cons. But even the one that I fly doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better than this other one that I flew that I no longer fly. Just it’s based on the style of flying, where you fly, how much experience you have flying and so many other factors.”

But that got me thinking along the lines of what responsibility do we have to be more skillful in the type of questions that we ask. It got me thinking, if … It’s probably not skillful for a new pilot to get on a group and ask what is the best wing or what is the best motor or what is the best whatever, because that’s just not the right question. So again, that got me thinking, well, in what areas of my life do I do the same thing? I ask unskillful questions because of my lack of understanding of the nature of how things are. That’s what got me back to thinking of this, the teaching or the parable of the blind men describing the elephant. So I wanted to highlight a couple of things about that. I think, first of all, the wisdom of asking skillful questions. What does that mean? How can they be more wise than the type of questions that they ask?

I think very similar to the mistake that’s made with asking what is the best wing or what is the best flight school or what is the best whatever. We do this in our day to day lives when we’re wondering what’s the best job or what’s the best career path or what, where should I be living or, I’m trying to think of other examples of this, with relationships. What’s the best, how do I know that I have the best relationship or what’s the best partner for me when I’m searching for a partner and a relationship or things of that nature. We do this all the time and it makes me wonder, is there wisdom to be had in understanding first that life is the big elephant and from our vantage point, we’re all the blind people, we’re all the ones trying to describe it. Sure you can become an expert at this one area that you encountered of the elephant.

Let’s say it’s the elephant’s foot, and that’s where you spend all your time. I can give a a semi decent opinion on what I’ve learned about the elephant’s foot, but then what a mistake I make if I am asking bigger questions beyond what I understand about the elephant’s foot, if I’m starting to ask questions about what are the implications of the elephants eye based on what I know about the elephant’s toenail or something. But I think we all get caught up in that in our day to day lives. For me, this has come with the big existential questions, right? I’ve gone through quests in my life where I’m thinking, what is the best ideology, the best religion or the best … Is it no religion? Is it an absolute abandoning of beliefs or whatever? Then you kind of find that this thing that works for you, whether it’s something big like an ideology or religion, and you think this works for me, therefore, if someone asks you what’s the best religion, well then you apply that same logic, right?

It’s like, Well, it’s this one.” Well, how do you know that? Have you tried every single one out there? Have you tried to live according to every single school of thought or philosophy that is available that mankind has come up with? Because if you have, then maybe it’s a slightly better opinion, but still that’s … It’s impossible, right? That’s not doable. It’s not realistic. It simply cannot be done. I think it goes back to, well then was it even skillful to ask that question in the first place? It’s a question that’s impossible to answer and there isn’t a right answer to that question. So with paramotoring or with paragliding, when that question is asked, I usually try to reverse it because I interact with new pilots all the time as a flight instructor. Well, a student will say, “Hey, what’s the best wing?”

I’ll say, I like to help them understand a more skillful question and say, “Well, what is the best wing for you? Let’s talk about that. How much do you weigh? Where will you be flying? Is it mountainous terrain? Is it high wind terrain, like on the beach? What style of flying do you think you’ll be doing? Then with a more complete assessment we can answer the question of this is probably not the best wing but this is an appropriate wing for you.” Then I can give several opinions there but I try to eradicate that thought of which is the best wing because there is no best wing. It’s fun to think about that. Well which is the best anything, right? Which is the best marriage? Which is the best way of parenting? Which is the best diet? Which is the best job? Which is the best car? All these things that we get caught up in, you can apply that same thinking to all of those.

I don’t know what the ideal marriage looks like. There is no ideal marriage. There are marriages that work and there are marriages that are dysfunctional, and then there’s a huge gray space in between. It’s been more healthy for me using the marriage example because I kind of fit in that category where people ask, “How does a marriage work where you have two different ideologies or different political views or different whatever that we have in our marriage?” I like to say, “Well, I don’t know if that’s the right question. I don’t think the question is what’s the best way to make your marriage work?” There’s a lot of good ways and there’s a lot of bad ways, for lack of a better word. Let’s again got a skillful and unskillful.

So what I wanted to share is this way of thinking that the limited view that I have kind of invites me to want to be more skillful with the type of questions that I have, questions about myself, questions about others, questions about life, questions about the nature of reality. We spend so much time focused on the answers. Who has the right answers? What are good answers, what are bad answers? But how often do you spend time asking, well, what are good questions and what are bad questions? Because those start with me. What are the skillful questions that I have? What questions that I have are unskillful when it comes to myself and others in life and career and relationships and all the real, the meaningful day to day things that we all interact with?

Because one thing that I think gets lost sometimes in this mindfulness practice, this way of wanting to be more mindful in our lives is that we apply it to the really big upper level things, a mindful way of living as a philosophy or as it pertains to worldviews. Those are big things. But the day to day nitty gritty is how does this apply to my satisfaction with my job or the healthiness of my relationship or the way I interact with people at the store or at work or the feelings and emotions that arise when I’m driving my car on the street, inside of the day to day approach to living which is really where we all are. That’s the nitty gritty, right? That’s what really matters. What kind of questions do we have? How things are, how things should be, why it should be this way, why it shouldn’t be that way.

Inside of all of that, there are a lot of questions and those questions come from us. We’re the ones asking the questions. Do we focus a lot on the answers or have we ever spent time … What would happen if we spent a little bit of time scrutinizing the questions? Do I have skillful, useful questions and could the problem with the answers not be the answers, but actually all along it was the questions that I have? That’s been a fun and fascinating experiment for me over the past few days and the past week as I’ve explored this concept is what kind of questions do I have. Again, understanding the questions that they have ultimately gives me a slightly better and more accurate picture about myself as I’ve mentioned before, the the ultimate aim of all of this for me is that I’m getting to know me. I’m not finding any big secrets out, but I’m definitely learning a little bit more everyday as a practice about understanding the nature of me, where my questions come from, why do I have that question, why does that even matter. All of that kind of stuff.

So again, the challenge for me is to understand what are the questions I have and then to ask myself are these skillful questions to have and apply that to any area or aspect of your life. I think that’s a fun way to take a big teaching like the blind men and the elephant and apply it into a little day to day thing, what does that mean for me on a day to day basis in the ordinary ways that I interact with life. So that’s my invitation to you as you explore this concept, to think about that in terms of I have a limited view and if that’s makes sense to me that I have a limited view, then what does that say about the questions I have about that view? Can I be more skillful in the way that I approach the questions I have about everything, anything and everything in life? So that’s one of the things I wanted to talk about.

Piggybacking on that just a little bit, another concept I’ve been wanting to share for awhile, but it was kind of a short one and I didn’t think it would make its own podcast episode. This topic I just talked about is pretty short too. So I thought I would combine it with something else, which is how to practice mindfulness with Facebook as the tool. Facebook seems to be the place where I see and I experienced myself, the rise and fall of emotional states. Now, you can be browsing and you see something that makes you feel a certain way and then you scroll just half an inch later, there’s a post that evokes an entirely different emotion and now you’re feeling a whole different feeling. I’ve thought about why is it that Facebook seems to bring out the ugly or the bad in us, but also you can see so much good there.

So I’ve had this thought, how would you practice mindfulness in the age of Facebook? How can you use Facebook as a place to practice? Now, some people, I’m sure you yourself may have gone through this, but we all know somebody who signed off and said, “All right, I need a break from Facebook. I’m going to get off of this.” Well, I mean, I’ve done that too, and I’m on Facebook quite regularly posting about the businesses that I do. I do social media for clients. But also just from my own personal life, I’m always posting pictures and videos of paramotoring and flying and stuff. But when I’m on Facebook for a long time, I always find it fascinating the wide range of feeling one way and immediately feeling another way and thinking, “Oh, I need to unfollow this person. I don’t like how that makes me feel.”

So it’s gotten me thinking a little bit, can we use Facebook as a tool to practice? I think the answer is yes we can. If we understand one thing, that the point of the practice isn’t to change ourselves or others, right? It’s not like, “Hey, I’m going to look at these political posts until they start bothering me.” That’s not going to be helpful. I think the way to approach it is, again for me the practice consists entirely of getting to know myself better and better and better. So if you take that as the goal of the practice and you approach something like, well, how can Facebook be a place where I practice that, for me it’s been helpful to say, “Well, here’s so and so’s posts. There they go again with this specific message,” or political ones are a good one because they’re just so sensitive.

But to say, why does this bothering me so much or why do I feel this way when I see this or I wonder where this deep emotion arises from, what causes to feel this. With that as the premise of the practice then yes, Facebook has been a very good place to practice. I do this specifically on … We have a Facebook group for the podcast. Well, it started as a group. It’s called Secular Buddhism and then it’s morphed into two groups. One is a Secular Buddhism Podcast community, which has meant to be much more tied to the podcast. These are podcast listeners wanting to talk about things that we talk about on the podcast. It doesn’t quite work that way, but then the other group, the more general one, which is the Secular Buddhism group, that one’s kind of morphed into anybody who just wants to talk about Buddhism and specifically from a secular lens.

But when you have an open space like that, you get several personalities and characters that show up in a group like that. Our group has definitely done that. So I wanted to talk about some of the, the roles or the characters that you see on Facebook, but again, using the mirror of mindfulness to say, do I ever see any of these rules in me? Am I ever playing any of these roles? As I’ve done that in our Facebook group, I see there’s the brilliant one who has to come share their wisdom with us and make sure that you know that they’re wise. At least that’s … This is again from my perspective and I’ve seen myself do that and it’s been fun to look for the characters, the roles, and then use that mirror of mindfulness and say, “When have I seen myself do that? That’s been a really skillful way for me to practice getting to know myself. It’s been fun.”

So here’s some of the ones that I’ve come up with that I see on Facebook groups. There’s the aeriodite, right? This is the person that just knows. The thing is there really are a lot of people who know. Sometimes the people who know don’t say much, but sometimes you have people who say a lot because it’s important for them to know that you know that they know, right? This is the aeriodite who has to share their wisdom with us because man, where would we be without their wisdom? Again, I am not making fun in any specific person because I have seen myself do all of these at one point or another. Oh, I better share this and make sure everyone knows that I know this topic. Now I can see it. It’s almost laughable that, oh yeah, I do that too sometimes. So keep in mind, I see myself doing all of these things sometimes and some of them more often. So that’s one. Do you ever see yourself do that, the aeriodite?

The next one I’ve come up with as the peacemaker or the diplomat. You get some kind of a disagreement going in a Facebook group or a Facebook post and there is someone jumping in “Guys. Yeah, but think of this or think of that.” It’s the peacemaker, the diplomat that’s just like, I’m really uncomfortable with contention, so a do whatever I can to minimize it. That’s me personally. So this is one of the characters I play a lot, the peacemaker and the diplomat. But I can step back and see that again with the context of where does that come from, why does it bother me that these two people are going at it on Facebook? Why not just let them go at it? Why is it so important for me to diffuse and say, “You guys, we shouldn’t be … You shouldn’t be failing in about that.” Again, not, not from the perspective of trying to say I should be more of something or less of something. This is all done for me in the in light and in the practice of trying to understand myself and why I have that deep need of being a peacemaker.

Okay. Then there’s the saint or the sage, right? This is the person who, similar to the aeriodite, but it’s less about making sure that you know that I know. This is more, I am so holy, I need to make sure that you, that everyone out there sees that what I am about to post or what I’m about to say … It’s like, wow, look at that person. They really have their life figured out, right? I remember I was on a trip in Bali a few years ago and I wanted my wife to take a picture of me meditating on the beach and at the time seemed like, “That’d be fun. I want people to know that I meditate.” But later as I sat there with it more, I’m like, “Wait, why do I really want to post that?” This was the sage in me, the saint in me that’s saying, “I need you to know that I am super holy and I can sit here on a beach and I can meditate.”

I didn’t see, I didn’t really understand that the later. It’s funny seeing that in me and you see this and others too, right? Like, “Wow. Thank you for sharing your holiness with us.” Again, I’m trying to be careful with this. I don’t want to come across like I’m judging any of these roles because I’m just highlighting that I am all of these things sometimes and because that for me is a form of practice, seeing this and myself.

Okay, the next one is the warrior. We all know the warrior. These the person who’s got a message and they’ve got to make sure you know what that message is. Thank goodness for the warriors. Warriors make change and, but I’ve seen myself at times being that warrior and this one for me is usually at odds with wanting to be the peacemaker. But the warrior is the one that’s out there that’s really got a cause and they’re going to make sure you know what that cause is.

Then there’s the jester. The jester is the one that’s always trying to make light of things and make it funny. Now this one’s me a lot too. Where someone will post something and my intuitive response is to inject humor into it and to make light of it so that we don’t have to take it so seriously. I do that in a lot of aspects of my life. This is something I’ve seen about myself that I think can be good at times, but also at times it’s like, “Why do I need to try to lighten things up? Let’s just really get deep and talk about it. Why do I feel that need to inject humor?” Maybe, I think for me it stems from my discomfort with confrontation and with contention, like I mentioned before. But we all know someone who’s the jester, right?

Then there’s the cynic and the cynic has reached the point where they’re like, “What’s the point in even trying anything? I’m just going to not say anything.” I think this one can become kind of like the flip side to the peacemaker. It’s like the peacemaker might say, “I might be able to say something to diffuse the situation,” where the cynic is like, “There’s no point. There’s no fixing this. Everything’s screwed up.” I found myself to be that from time to time. It’s not a very common one for me, but sometimes it is. When it is, I feel very cynical about being cynical. So the cynic. How often are you that?

Then there’s the troll. Everyone knows the troll. Of course, the troll is never us, right? The troll is always someone else. But this one has been fascinating to really entertain. Am I ever had the troll? I think more often than not, I’m not a troll. But in my mind sometimes I’m the troll that’s like, “Oh, it would be fun to say this,” and they won’t see it or won’t post it. But every now and then I think there’s the rascal in there that wants to troll people.

So again, are the various types of people who post on Facebook. I am all of those. You are all of those. If you hear any of these and think, “No, I’m definitely never that one. I don’t know about that.” Maybe you are. Look closer. Again, the whole point of this isn’t to say, okay, well then I’m going to change this and I’m going to stop doing that and I’m going to … That’s not what I’m trying to get at. I’m trying to develop a more skillful relationship with myself and with the thoughts and feelings and emotions that are arise in me when I’m on Facebook. From that perspective, I think Facebook has become a valuable place for me to practice my mindfulness. Part of that has been scrutinizing which characters and roles I play in my life, like these that I mentioned.

I think it’s a fun experiment for you to explore for yourself do you ever play any of those rules. So tying these in together. The time that we spend on Facebook and the highly valuable opinions that we feel that we have about certain subjects combined with the limited view that I talked about earlier makes for an interesting case. So Facebook is this big massive elephant. No, life is the elephant, but we’re all on Facebook trying to make sure others know how well we know about the big picture, and that’s the irony is that there is no big picture. None of us have the big picture. We can’t see it. Life is so big and so many topics and it’s just everything is so vast and the one little area we can become experts in, maybe if it’s skillful to share an opinion on that, then do it.

The questions we have about the other areas that we don’t know. Is there a way to be more skillful with the questions that we have? Is there a way to be more skillful or unskillful with the answers that we think we have about the … When we’re describing our area of the elephant? Those are the lines of thought that I wanted to share with you this week that I’ve been thinking about. There are times in this whole way of thinking that kind of leaves me like, “Man, who am I to see anything about anything? I guess the most skillful thing I could do about life in general is just be quiet and not say anything.” But I think silence is also skillful at times and unskillful at times. So I find myself once again in this position where, well, there’s just me and sometimes I share things and sometimes those things can be skillful for … To be shared and sometimes they’re probably not, but I’m just trying to go through life being a little bit a better version of whatever am, which gets right at the heart of the whole point of this podcast for me. So we’re all just trying to become better versions of whatever we already are.

So that’s what I wanted to share into this podcast episode. Facebook as a place to practice, a limited view as the default understanding that I have about life and reality is that I have a limited view and that’s … I’m bound by that. I cannot have the more expansive view because I’m limited in space and time to being me, the me that’s here and now, that’s subject to the conditioning of where I was born, how I was raised, all the views that I have, the beliefs that I have, the beliefs that I don’t have and that’s where I’m bound. In the middle of all of that, can I be a little bit more skillful with the questions that I have? That’s what I wanted to share with you guys. I hope you enjoyed this podcast episode.

As always, feel free to review the podcast, share it with others, give it a rating in iTunes. If you want to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, you can visit secularbuddhism.com and click the donate button. But that’s all I have for now and I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Thank you for listening. Thanks for being a part of this journey with me. Until next time.

103 – Making Time for Nothing

Is nothing something? What happens when we make time for nothing? In this episode, I will explore the idea of boredom and how mastering boredom could be one of the great benefits of mindfulness practice.

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Hello and welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 103. I am your host, Noah Rasheta. Today, I’m talking about making time for nothing. Keep in mind you don’t need to use what you learned from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. You can use what you learned to be better whatever you already are. I wanted to talk a little bit today about this concept of making time for nothing. I can’t remember where I first heard that quote or not that quote, but that expression.

Perhaps it was the chapter of a book I read, or it was included somewhere in a quote, but I remember thinking how interesting to make time for nothing. Later on, I came across a book by Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhism at Bedtime. I think that’s the book. One of the books that I read to my kids at night, at the very beginning, it has a section about nothingness. Thich Nhat Hanh asks this question, he says, “Is nothing something?” He goes on to say that yes, nothing is something, because the moment I say nothing or that I talk to you about the concept of nothingness, something pops into your mind. It’s an idea, nothingness as the absence of something.

In that sense, nothing is something. I remember exploring that idea in my head and thinking what is nothingness? Then recently coming across another quote that I shared on Facebook earlier in the week on my own personal page, but it’s a quote that was shared by Ethan Nichtern. He says, “There might be no greater skill that comes from sustained meditation practice than the increased ability to tolerate boredom. The ability to be bored and not freak out is everything. It might be the key to surviving this technological age.”

I like that because I think about this in terms of myself and with my kids that one of the greatest things I can teach them and teach myself is how to be comfortable with boredom. It reminds me of this other quote that I like from Blaise Pascal who says, “All of humanity’s problems stem from our inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” The actual quote is from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone, but I replaced man’s for our because it’s applying to all of us. All of humanity’s problems stem from our inability to sit quietly in a room alone.

Think about that for a moment. How difficult is it for you to sit quietly in a room alone in this concept of boredom, this concept of nothingness? When you’re doing nothing, are you doing something? I would say that the answer to that is yes. I think there’s a little bit of a misunderstanding that happens with this way of thinking due to the concept that we associated with the word nothing. If someone says, “I’m thinking of nothing,” you would be tempted to think that what they’re implying as they have somehow made their mind stop thinking. They’ve been able to control their thoughts, and all the thoughts are gone, and what’s there is emptiness.

This is why I like Thich Nhat Hanh’s question where he says, “Well, is nothing something? What is the something that’s there when all those thoughts aren’t there?” Because there’s something there, right? The very nature of being human, of having a brain that works is that it’s always going. The absence of one thought may just be filling the mind with another thought. I think that seems a little bit more along the lines of what I understand mindfulness meditation to be as a practice. I was thinking about this concept with boredom and with my kids.

Some of you may feel this during the summer times. I usually feel this on weekends and then especially during the summer when we break away from our routine, and we don’t have a standard routine to follow, suddenly, things can be a little bit difficult. I don’t know if you guys noticed this, but in our family, we can get a little bit more cranky with each other after a few days of nothing, that nothingness, which is actually somethingness because, I think, there’s a lack in our ability to be bored. I find it very interesting right now at this particular phase in our lives, because we just moved.

We’re going on, what, four or five weeks now of being in a new country. Everything is different. The routine was entirely smashed to pieces, and you couple that with there’s no chance to rebuild the routine yet because school hasn’t started. Here we are living the days of nothingness with occasional somethingness. The somethingness that we’re doing, it’s big stuff. We went and swam with whale sharks last week. Last Sunday, I went and flew my Paramotor 50 miles along the coast. I’m filling some of the time in with big activities, but then the majority of the time we’re sitting around thinking, “What should we be doing?”

We’re all looking at ourselves bored, right? We don’t have the TV programs that we’re used to. We don’t have the habitual activities that we can do that we’re accustomed to from where we used to live. Everything’s new and it’s really forcing us to sit during these moments of nothingness that are actually somethingness. Those are moments where we’re sitting and thinking, “Ah, I missed this,” or the kids will say, “I missed this or that at home, or this friend or  that cousin.” Anyway, along all these lines of the nothingness and becoming comfortable with boredom, I’ve been thinking about that a lot this week thinking, “How can I help the kids to become more comfortable with this boredom and myself?”

I’ve had the thought. Well, we’ve been practicing mindfulness meditation, but I think this goes back to the misunderstanding of what the word conveys in the same way that the word nothing, I think, gives a misunderstanding of what it really is. The word meditation does the same when we say, “Hey guys, we’re going to practice our meditation tonight, or we’re going to try to practice being more mindful.” That immediately puts an idea in their head, and whatever that idea is, I don’t think it’s accurate. I think this is very common for us as practitioners.

Anyone who’s on the path or entering the path or interested in being more mindful, you have an idea of what that is and that may be the wrong idea. I wanted a couple, all of this with this notion, what if we swapped the idea of nothingness making time for nothing with the word suchness? This is a word I’ve heard before and I like it. Suchness to me gives off this idea of this is just how things are, and I’m just watching the suchness of the moment. Making time for suchness to me is a more powerful way of practicing what mindfulness actually is.

It’s the moment where I sit and I’m just observing the suchness of the moment, the suchness of whatever emotions or thoughts or feelings I’m experiencing including and perhaps especially the unpleasant ones. When we’re bored, someone had said that boredom is just the lack of observing, the lack of seeing. I agree with that because when we’re bored, we’re not looking close enough. How can you be bored in a world where you can stare at any little thing and see an infinite number of interdependent connections with that thing, whether that be in space or time. What did it take for this moment to arise?

That’s a question I like to ask myself a lot in those moments where I’m feeling bored. I think that is a little bit closer to the heart of what we’re trying to practice with mindfulness practice. We’re not trying to achieve nothingness. We’re not trying to understand nothingness or to see emptiness. What we’re trying to see, what we’re trying to observe is the suchness of how things are in that moment. This is how I feel. Oh, this is how I feel. Then maybe explore that a little bit. Why do I feel this way? Why does this thing make me… Why did this event triggered this feeling?

At the end of the day, what we’re gaining is comfort with the suchness of things and perhaps if we’re lucky, a little bit more understanding about the causes and conditions that lead to that suchness, that moment of suchness. I think that it gets closer to being at the heart of taking this on as a practice where the end result is skillfulness, a much more skillful way of being with whatever is in that moment. Going back to the concept of boredom and with my kids, I think, one thing I’ve been trying to change now is instead of saying at night, “Hey, let’s sit down and practice meditation,” I’ve been saying, “Guys, let’s sit down and practice being bored.”

They’re like, “Okay.” We sit there and it’s like, “What happens when we’re bored?” Everyone’s looking around, but see now, it’s triggered this attentiveness. It’s almost like, “Well, wait a second, how do I know when I’m bored?” “Well, I don’t know. You tell me.” They’re there paying attention to how they’re feeling and to looking for the signs that would say, “Oh, now I’m bored,” but looking for the boredom has made them struggle to find the boredom, which is interesting because I think that’s the whole point is you’re training your awareness to something and then going back to Thich Nhat Hanh.. Is that nothing something? Absolutely.

In this sense, the nothingness is the something that’s actually helping them to be more skillful with practicing awareness and overcoming boredom. I wanted to share that because it is summer, and I’m sure several of you who have kids or who have broken away from the standard routine of things in the summer, sometimes it can be difficult and there’s this yearning, especially at the end of summer, to go back to whatever the ordinary routine is. It can be an invitation to use these moments of boredom as moments of triggering a way of practicing mindfulness that sometimes can be harder to do when we’re back in the routine, in the mundane routine of things, because then we’re back in reactivity mode.

We’re just doing what we do because this is the routine. I get up. I take the kids to school. I come back. I go to work or whatever that routine is. It may be harder for some people during those moments to practice being mindful or to practice those moments of witnessing suchness because we’re just in the routine, and we’re going about doing our thing. This is an invitation to use the boredom of summer to say, “Well, what does that mean? How do I know when I’m bored? What does boredom look like? What does it feel like?”

Whether you’re doing this with your kids or just with yourself, the more you poke around and explore what boredom is and how it feels, the more elusive it becomes. You may realize, “Well wait a second, that’s not boredom because now I’m interested in understanding what this is, and the very act of being interested makes it go away, right?” Boredom’s gone. It can be a fun little mindfulness practice or technique to work with. That’s the concept that I wanted to share. As always, if you want to learn more about other concepts, you can always check out my books. They’re all listed on noahrasheta.com.

If you enjoyed this podcast, feel free to share it with others, give it a review, a rating on iTunes or whatever. If you want to support the work that I’m doing with the podcast, you’re welcome to make a donation. That’s always appreciated and you can do that on secularbuddhism.com. Click on the donate button. That’s all I have for now. I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Hopefully given you another topic of something to think about, and that’s all I have for now. Thank you for listening. Until next time.


102 – Never Lost

“Having no destination, I am never lost.” In this podcast episode, I will share some of my favorite quotes by Ikkyu Shojun. I will also explain one of my new favorite quotes that’s been floating in my head…”Having no certainty, I am never wrong.”

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Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 102. I am your host, Noah Rasheta, and today I’m talking about never been lost. Keep in mind, you don’t need to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. You can use what you learn to be a better whatever you already are. Today’s podcast episode is inspired by the quotes of Ikkyu Sojun. Ikkyu Sojun was an eccentric Japanese Zen, Buddhist and poet. And he had a great impact on the infusion of Japanese art and literature with Zen attitudes and ideals. He lived roughly at the end of the 1300s, to the early 1400s, in Japan, and I recently came across some of his poetry in his works. And there was a specific quote that I really enjoyed, came to find out later, it’s a disputed quote, but it has led to other quotes and poems of his that I enjoy, and I wanted to share a few of those with you in today’s podcast episode.

So, quick housekeeping here. I am working with a new microphone. As many of you know, I moved to Mexico, and I have a microphone that I brought with me. In the last podcast episode, I received a few emails with feedback about the audio quality, so I’m hoping today’s podcast episode sounds better. I’m learning the settings. I’m learning that there are ways to tweak the audio to make it sound better once I record it. So bear with me, as I iron all this out over the next few podcast episodes. So, today’s podcast episode, I’ve been thinking about the format of the podcast, and how to decide topics.

Now in most schools of Buddhism, it’s common to listen to what are called Dharma talks, these are little talks where you go and you listen to usually the the teacher or a Sensei, or someone shares a message. Like if you go to a Buddhist congregation, it’s very likely that you would sit in meditation. There would be silent meditation, walking meditation, there may be some ritual aspect of it. And there’s usually a Dharma talk. And that’s the moment where a concept or idea is shared, and that’s essentially what I’m trying to do with this podcast. These are like Dharma talks, and it allows the format to be a little bit more loose. It’s like just sharing a topic or an idea. It doesn’t have to be very formal or structured. And that makes it easier for me, as I prepare podcast episodes each week, knowing that it doesn’t have to be super structured. It doesn’t have to be something that I’ve spent writing a talk or writing a script to follow.

So, with that in mind during this past week I’ve been thinking about these quotes by Ikkyu Sojun, and I wanted to share a few of them. One of them is yesterday’s clarity is today’s stupidity. I like that one because it’s an expression that reminds me that what made so much sense to me in the past, I can look at today, and question that way of thinking and think how did that ever make sense to me? But I think another deeper, more important aspect of this is recognizing that today’s clarity, may be tomorrow’s stupidity.

It’s just a reminder of the ever changing nature of things. What made so much sense to me may not make sense in the future. And what made so much sense to me in the past may not make sense today. I can see that. I’m sure you can see that in different facets or aspects of your life. This is a fun expression that we can kind of keep at the forefront in our mind, as a way of remembering that we don’t have it all figured out. The clarity that we think we have, one day may not seem so clear. And this kind of goes into the overarching theme that seems to be recurrent in Buddhist teachings is this concept of uncertainty and this concept of groundlessness, which I want to elaborate on with one of the other quotes.

The next quote, I want to share this is also Ikkyu Sojun. He says, “If it rains, let it rain, if the wind blows, let it blow.” And I like that expression, I feel like it’s easy for us to visualize ourselves out walking in the street, and suddenly it starts to rain, or suddenly the wind starts to blow. Now, most of us are going to use all of our energy and resources to be skillful in that moment. Either spend the time and effort to get up an umbrella out, or to find shelter, to get under a roof, to walk into a door. We do the things that we know we need to do to be skillful with the situation at hand, which is now it’s raining, or now the wind is blowing. But we don’t waste any energy or effort or time to try to stop the rain. Or to try to stop the wind, to control the elements. We don’t do that because we know that we can’t. So, all of our effort goes into acting skillfully in that moment.

I feel like this expression from Ikkyu Sojun is a reminder to me, when I hear it, I think, if it rains, let it rain, if the wind blows, let it blow. If emotions arise, let them arise. If… I like to internalize this, and apply it to the things that arise in my day to day life. How much energy am I exerting when an emotion arises to try to fight that emotion or push it away, rather than just being skillful with it and thinking, “Okay, anger has arisen, let me go get under the roof, or let me open this umbrella because I know that for the next little bit, this is the situation I’m confronting, and I want to be skillful.” That will ultimately affect how I speak, what I do during these moments when I’m experiencing these emotions. I think that gets to the heart of what Buddhist practice is all about. It’s being able to be skillful with what arises. It’s being able to be aware of what arises. But it’s not about changing what arises.

I think that gets lost in the western approach. I see this over and over and over from the western mindset. It’s like, why are we doing all of this, because we’re doing this so that we can change. It’s like, I’m practicing mindfulness so that when the rain comes, I can stop the rain, or so that when the wind blows, I can make it blow a little bit less. And that’s not at all how it works. In the same way that we can’t control the elements, we can’t control the wind, a lot of times what arises in us and are the emotions we’re experiencing. The point isn’t to try to domesticate our feelings and emotions, the point is to try to understand them. Now, I think it’s fascinating that the more we understand ourselves, and the more we understand why certain things arise, or feel the way that they feel for us, then yeah, with time that relationship we have with that emotion starts to change. So the end result may seem like there’s more peace. But that wasn’t the goal.

I think the goal is more skillful understanding. A skillful change in relationship with what arises. I feel like that gets lost a lot in the practice the way it’s perceived in the west. And I encounter this over and over when somebody reaches out and they want to learn more about Buddhism or about mindfulness as a practice. And it’s always approached with a, “Hey, how can I use mindfulness to be more peaceful in my house, or things like that.” And it’s like, “Well, I don’t know that you’ll be more peaceful in your house. It’s not about being more peaceful, it’s about understanding yourself more.”

Then the secondary result to understanding yourself more is that you may have more peace with yourself, because you’re more comfortable with these difficult emotions that you experience when they arise. And you’re more skillful with what you do when you’re experiencing one of those emotions. But you’re not changing the emotion. You’re not preventing yourself from feeling anger, or things like that. Hopefully, that concept makes sense. To me, that whole way of thinking is embodied in that expression. If it rains, let it rain, if the wind blows, let it blow. That’s the second quote I wanted to share from Ikkyu Sojun.

Now the third one, this is the one I mentioned before, that’s it’s a disputed one. I shared the quote on social media several weeks ago, but I like this expression. It says, “Having no destination, I am never lost.” Now this, whether he said it or not, I think it’s a valid expression that’s worth thinking about. Now, if you’ll recall, this is a Zen Buddhist who’s sharing these concepts and these ideas. And in the Zen tradition, the concept of the koan is worth mentioning here. Now, these are riddles, they’re expressions. They are mental puzzles, that are meant to be troubling to understand.

If you hear this expression, “Having no destination, I am never lost.” Some of you may hear that and think, “Wow, what a profound statement.” Others may hear this, and be thinking, “What a dumb statement, or what an obvious statement, or what a useless statement.” All of those are fine. They’re all correct because the exercise of the koan is to get you thinking, and to really ponder on this. So this expression for me, having no destination, I’m never lost, kind of points to again, this concept of groundlessness. If there’s nothing to grasp I have no firm foundation, that is the base for my reality. I can’t be lost. I have no destination. There’s no where I need to be, there’s only where I am. I like thinking that way.

I feel like in my own life I have no destination in the sense of I need to be here doing this for this reason. Or I don’t know, bigger picture like if the destination is you need to be mindful Buddhist practitioner or something. That’s a destination. If I have no destination, I can’t be lost. It’s not like I’m doing it wrong because there’s nothing that I’m supposed to be doing. I’m just experiencing life, trying to be present and understanding myself in the process, so I can’t be lost because I don’t feel that there’s anywhere that I need to be. I think that’s what I enjoy about that expression.

Now, I’ve been having some mental pondering. I don’t know how to word it. I think a lot, and I like to think about ideas, especially ideas that seem very natural to me because I was conditioned to think that way. Then I like to explore those things. So, one of the ones that I grew up with, and perhaps many of you have too. As Westerners in general, we have this, the Judeo-Christian idea of heaven and hell. I was thinking about this the other day and talking to my wife about it because we have conversations from time to time about a lot of these concepts because this is a realm that she is in as a Christian believer, and a believer in concepts like heaven and hell.

So anyway, we were talking about this concept. And I said, to me there’s a conundrum when we talk about heaven and hell. At least the way that I understand. Or I was taught that heaven and hell exist as this good place. And then there’s this bad place, right? You want to go to the good place and avoid the bad place. But I thought, here’s what’s interesting. I’ve always been taught that the good people go to the good place and bad people go to the bad place. Well, what are good people? Good people are kind, and compassionate, and Christ-like.

Then I had this interesting thought of, well, here’s the conundrum. Wouldn’t the good people want to go to the bad place? Because if the people who are suffering are going to be in the bad place, then what good person who is genuinely good in their heart would want to turn the gaze and not… To turn their turn their head and not want to see and be with the people who need kindness and compassion the most The people who are in the bad place. Then I thought, “Well, that’s kind of an interesting philosophical conundrum, right?” What if the ultimate test to make it to the good place is you can’t want to be there. I’ve thought about this with just expressions. It’s been brought up to me at times, in family or friends circles. People will be like, “Hey, don’t you fear deviating from the right path? Don’t you fear the risk of not making it to heaven?”

I’ve thought about that. No, I don’t fear that. I mean, telling me that is like me telling you, “Hey, aren’t you losing sleep over the fact that you may not make it to Valhalla?” You’d be like, “Well, no, I’m not worried about Valhalla because Norse mythology is not the world that I go by.” And that’s kind of how I feel. But again, then there’s this thought of, well, if there really is an afterlife, and there are people who are going to be suffering in this place of suffering, isn’t that where I would want to go? If I feel compassion for them and kindness for them? I would certainly want to be there if someone I knew was there. Especially if it was like a family member or a child of mine. If that’s where they’re going, well there’s no way I would want to be anywhere else, but where they are. That’s really put that conundrum in the thought experiment of where should you want to go? Maybe wanting to go to the good place is what disqualifies you from going there.

Anyway, that’s a side tangent of a thought that I had all based on this concept of having no destination, I’m never lost. I don’t need to go to a good place or to a bad place. I’ll just go to wherever I am. Anyway, fun little thought experiment. The thought that I had. So, I’ve been listening to these quotes, and I like thinking about concepts. I mentioned that before. I started thinking, “Well, if I had an expression like Ikkyu Sojun what would my poetic expression be of reality for me?” One of the ones that I thought about piggybacking off of the format of his expression, if it is indeed his, I thought I kind of like this concept.

Having no certainty, I am never wrong. And that’s one that I’ve been playing with all week. What does that mean? Well, if I don’t have a place of certainty. If I’m trying to experience this form of groundlessness, what do I have to defend. I don’t have a view to defend. I don’t have a view to fight against. It makes it interesting, because well, then I can’t be right. But I also can’t be wrong. I like that thought. I think we live in a day, and in an age where things are becoming very polarized, whether its political ideologies, or religious ideologies, or opinions, or whether the earth is round or flat. It doesn’t matter what it is. If you’re a dog, or a cat person. Everything has to be a fight and who’s right and who’s wrong. I like this way of thinking that if I have no certainty, I am never wrong. If I perceive… If I view others as not having certainty, maybe they have the illusion of certainty in their argument, but they actually have no certainty then I don’t view them as right and wrong. I only view their view for what it is.

That’s a fun way of practicing. This is something that I’ve been trying to practice in my own mindfulness practice. I detected a really good place to detect this, and to practice this is on Facebook, right? Or any social media, but I think Facebook specifically is one of those places where if somebody posts something that we don’t agree with, why do we feel the strong need to go on there and make sure that they know that we don’t agree with it? Why do we do that? I think a lot of us have that tendency. I know that I do. I typically don’t go on and engage with anyone about anything like that, that’s controversial, just because what’s the point? The tendency may arise, and it’s like, “Oh, man, here’s what I would type.” I may think about it, without ever doing it. And that’s become an area where I can practice.

Now, with this kind of practice, I want to be clear, I’m not saying that we need to just tolerate or accept whatever said, or whatever belief or opinion someone has. No, certainly there may be things that we want to stand firm and say, “Well, I don’t like this way of thinking or let me express.” I’m not saying we need to change that. All I’m saying is that the practice in all of this is gaining more understanding about ourselves. For example, if if I’m browsing something on Facebook, and I see a post, and it really makes certain feelings arise, like anger, or frustration or discontent. My practice isn’t to stop those feelings. It’s not like, “Oh, I should tolerate that.” No, that’s not the practice. The practice is, wow, why does this feel like such a strong emotion? Why does this emotion arise in me, based on what this person posted or said.

Again, the point isn’t about the person or the expression. For me the point is, oh it’s because this or that. I learned something about myself. To me, that’s the practice. And the more I do it, the better I get at understanding myself. I think sometimes we confuse the practice, like I mentioned before with thinking, “Well, if I practice this kind of stuff, I’ll be better at not feeling angry when so and so posts their political stuff.” That’s not the thing. That’s not the practice. You can’t fake that. You can pretend, oh, I’m not going to let that bother me. But if it bothers you, why pretend that it’s not bothering you. Sure, I don’t have to say anything or engage. But it’s the feeling, where did that feeling come from? Why is that feeling so strong? Why does that bother me, and this other topic doesn’t bother me? Those are questions that I can look at and explore and gain insight about myself. And that allows me ultimately to have a more skillful relationship with the experiences that I’m having as they unfold. But that’s the extent of it.

Again, the practice isn’t so that you can change yourself, or you can change someone else. Especially someone else, don’t try to go down that route. The whole practice is now I understand myself better. And just like with the example of if it rains, let it rain. Well, now I’m not afraid of the rain, because I know that I can do the skillful things that I need to when it starts to rain. I can go get under the roof. I can pull out an umbrella. When the political season comes, I can spend less time on Facebook. I can be more skillful with these things as they unfold because I know myself. I hope that makes sense. I like thinking about this in the context of that way of practicing. But understanding that the practice is about awareness and about understanding, not about changing things.

The changing things is inevitable, whether we like it or not. But the more we understand ourselves, the more likely it is that the change that’s going to be happening is a useful skillful change that benefits you. And it benefits everyone around you because you’re not so caught up in the the reactivity of your own emotions. You can be skillful with discussions that you have around sensitive topics. That’s a really powerful thing, especially in dynamics where with parents or with loved ones, or… I feel like we’ve gotten really bad at this in our society. We tend to want to surround ourselves with people who think the way that we think. And if you don’t think the way that I think it’s almost like, there’s this sense of indignation. I can’t be your friend. I’m going to unfriend you or I’m going to stop seeing your posts, and then that makes it worse because now we become so sensitive that we can’t be around anyone who doesn’t think the way that we think. And that is not the solution.

Communication, skillful communication, is probably the most powerful tool that we can try to develop if we want to make things better. I feel fortunate that I’m in a position where I get to practice that a lot. My wife and I have… We have different political views, different ideological views, a lot of different cultural views. We represent two ends of the spectrum on a lot of big topics. A lot of sensitive topics. And it’s allowed me to understand myself, and it’s allowed me to be more effective in how I communicate what is meaningful, and what matters to me to her without stepping on toes, or offending, and vice versa. That to me is the heart of the practice. To be able to talk to someone that you don’t see eye to eye with. That takes a lot, and I feel like we’ve gotten bad at that. And some of these quotes remind me that I want to be better at that.

I hope that that’s an aspect of the practice that all of you would want to work with as well. And again, the point here isn’t to say, “Oh, I’ll reach the point where I can finally tolerate uncle so and so who always brings up this crazy political topic.” It’s not that. Don’t put yourself in a position where you have to fake that you’re totally fine with something that you’re not fine with, or that you’re comfortable with something that you’re not comfortable. You can have your healthy boundaries, and whatever you need to do, all the while knowing that the point of the practice is for you to understand yourself, to have a more skillful relationship with the emotions and the feelings that arise when they do. So that you can be skillful with the situation that arises. That’s it. That’s the heart of the practice. That’s what I wanted to get at as far as the podcast episode and some of these topics.

If you like some of these quotes, you can look up Ikkyu Sojun. There’s really not much more out there. He doesn’t really have any books that stood out to me that I would recommend like I do in some podcast episodes where I’ll say, “Check out this book, or that.” I don’t really have that. These are just a few of the random quotes that made sense to me. And to be honest, there were several other ones that you’re like, what was this guy smoking? I think that’s common with eccentric people. Those are the quotes that I wanted to share, and I like the one that I’ve been playing with is, for me, again, this isn’t his quote, this is just something I kind of came up with piggybacking off of his way of thinking, is having no certainty, I am never wrong.

I try to remember that when I’m in a conversation with someone about a sensitive topic or subject it’s like, yeah, but at the end of the day, what do I know? I have no certainty in this matter, then I’m disarmed because I have nothing to defend. I don’t have a view that’s like, “Well, this is the right view, let me defend this.” It’s like, “I don’t have a view. I have a lot of ideas that makes sense to me. But just because it makes sense to me doesn’t mean that it’s right, and it doesn’t make sense that someone else’s view is wrong, just because it makes zero sense to me.” That’s important for me to remember. I can’t be wrong, if I don’t have the certainty. And I’m not interested in the certainty. I’m looking for it, I don’t want it. I don’t believe it’s attainable. I enjoy being comfortable with the uncertainty, and that really makes a lot of touchy subjects more pleasant to skirt around and talk about and work with, because I don’t have a certain position in it to some degree.

I mean, again, I’m not saying be wishy washy, and don’t have a view to defend. I’m not saying that. I’m talking about the big, big existential stuff. On the smaller scale of things, of course, I have opinions. Of course, I have political views that I like to defend. That I like to present as why I think this is the most skillful path or the most skillful approach, and do so in a way that is compatible with talking about it with someone who doesn’t hold that view. I get a lot of practice on that. But anyway, that’s that’s what I wanted to share.

As always, if you want to learn more about these concepts and ideas, you can always check out the books that I’ve written Secular Buddhism, No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners, The 5-Minute Mindfulness Journal, and I have a new idea I’ve been working on. I’ll present more about that probably in the coming months for a book that I’m working on. As always, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast episode, feel free to share it with others. Write a review, give it a rating on iTunes. If you want to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, visit secularbuddhism.com, click the donate button, and that’s all I have for now. I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Thank you for listening. Until next time.