Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The woodshop and afterschool meetings wore me out today, so I'm going to avoid the subject of zen except to mention that the empty cup referred to in yesterday's post is exactly the same thing as "undifferentiated consciousness." Most religious leaders would like to shape and mold your world view, filling your cup with beliefs to match their own rather than allowing you to see things clearly with your own eyes. Of course you are free to disagree, and hopefully you will explore on your own rather than accept my authority. I hope you will do the same in the exploration of your hands. Don't take what I say for gospel. Study your own hands and their relationship to your learning. If you arrive at the same conclusions I've reached there will be at least two of us. Most important, we will have arrived at authority based on experience rather than dogma.

The photos above were taken today in the Clear Spring Woodshop. Brian finished his model of the solar system along with others in the 3rd and 4th grade study of space. An item of note...to the disappointment of most students, in the planning of the project we chose to ignore Pluto. The second photo is of Clear Spring High School senior Ike Doss turning a curly maple bowl on the lathe.

Monday, February 19, 2007

One more little zen thing before I move on. You may know the story of the zen master who, while pouring tea, kept pouring into the student's cup until it was overflowing on the floor. The lesson was that in order to receive the teaching, an empty cup was required.

Psychologists coined the term, “undifferentiated consciousness” to describe the state of both the newborn infant and the student of meditation. The state of undifferentiated consciousness is one in which no beliefs expressed in the form of internal dialog intrude to frame and control the experience of reality. The infant stares at the light, without an interpretive foundation to hide or distort its meaning. The student of Zen strives to attain that state, but most often while in safe retreat from society where there is no opportunity for truth to intrude.

To see truth for oneself requires the suspension of belief and a constant vigil to avoid illusion and self-deception. There are those whose meddlesome concerns about your beliefs you may find disconcerting. There are those who believe belief to be more important that acts or attitudes. Suspend belief, look freely at all, and act with love. You may learn to see the world, its mysteries and miracles with the wide-eyed wonder of a child.

There is a great deal more to tell about all this, which I will probably reserve for a Saw Zen blog which is in the works. I love the photo of Lucy shown above, so I just had to share it again. Wide eyes, open hands and heart full.
I always stick my neck out and then wonder afterwards why I've done it. It is the same with writing as with woodworking. Now, I've stated I would talk about Saw Zen, but it is such a deep committment. I am going to change my mind and offer it a bit at a time, rather than over several days. So, if you are interested, you will have to read between the lines and look more closely for it. It will be described over the course of months rather than days.

For the moment, I'll offer one thing. The sound of one hand clapping. Place your left hand in your lap. Hold your right hand out to your side. Move your right hand in quickly to a stopping point right in front of your chest. Were you listening? Do it again, and this time listen more closely. Can you hear it? It is far less mysterious than you imagined.

Most of what we believe is based on what we have been told. Most of what we see is based on what we believe. You have to go deeper into things to have real knowledge. It comes from the hand. Now that you know the sound of one hand clapping, we will go into something much more important. It is called, "the sound of one hand sawing." It is the start of a movement. It leads to many hands sawing and hammering, stepping outside comfort zones to make, create and serve. I call it the wisdom of the hands. The photo above is Arlo at work.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

I know that if you have been a regular reader of this blog, you may be suspicious that I've gone off the deep end. "Hey, Doug's talking about religion! He wants to go into zen!" But, I'm not really interested in religion here, but in how the hands shape belief. Are our beliefs shaped by experience in our own hands or are they implanted or imposed through the will, direction and insistence of others? There is an interesting text from the zen tradition called the Hsin Hsin Ming that I have found influential in my own thoughts. An often quoted line is as follows:

The Great Way is neither easy nor difficult for those who have no preferences. When love and hate are both absent everything becomes clear and undisguised. Make the smallest distinction, however, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.

To state things more simply, "the devil is in the details." We take a thing apart for intellectual examination and promptly forget the whole of it and its greater significance. The worst of it comes when "heaven and earth" or the worlds of practicality and spirit are seen as divergent and separate from each other as is seemingly agreed upon by many modern religions.

There is another line in the Hsin Hsin Ming in which the reader is given a prescription for making the world whole.

To come directly into harmony with this reality just simply say when doubt arises, 'Not two.'
In this 'not two' nothing is separate, nothing is excluded.
No matter when or where, enlightenment means entering this truth.

Here, I am attempting in my own feeble way to explain the difference between zazen and saw zen. Zazen is built upon withdrawal from the world, retreat into spiritual meditation as distinct from the practical qualities of life. Saw zen is built upon the direct engagement in the world through the use of the hands in creating, making and serving. I know there are those who would point out that what I am describing are the two distinct yet traditional forms of Buddhism. If you are reading and want to interject, please feel free to leave a comment.

As I suggested in yesterday's post, this may be a slow process. Even one that will drive you from this blog for a short time. Don't forget to come back later. The table shown above is one I made of walnut in 1979 or 1980. It was made with through-wedged mortise and tenon joints and was designed to reflect my own interest in Japanese culture.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Saw zen...I want to spend a few days exploring a concept I call "saw zen". This may be a bit much for some of you, so you may want to check out for about a week or so and spend your time reading other things. Before I got so involved in exploring the Wisdom of the Hands concept through teaching at Clear Spring School, I was working on a book proposal I called "Saw-Zen, A Craftsman's Guide to Practicality and Spirit." Perhaps at some point, given time, I will be able to complete it and have it published. For now, it is enough to share a few of the concepts as they relate to the hands, woodworking, learning and growth.

A number of readers of sidebar materials in my how-to books and students in my classes have noted a similarity between my approach to woodworking and their understanding of Zen Buddist meditation. There is a concept in Zen called "zazen" which can be found in any number of internet sites through a Google search or in the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia.

Before I spend a few days outlining what is meant by "saw zen," I would like to point out that while "zazen" is practiced as sitting meditation, in withdrawal from practical affairs, "saw zen" is practiced while in full 100 percent immersion in the practical and creative affairs of daily life.

I plan to go slowly with this, so either check in for more or check out for awhile depending on your interests. The image above is of zazen. If you want to know what saw zen looks like, you will see evidence of it in nearly every other photograph in this blog. Believe me, the two are not to be confused or mistaken for each other.