Thursday, November 18, 2021

Nishioka, the temple carpenter

Azby Brown, a friend in Japan offered the following comment after reading through most of my new book. 

"What I get from your book is that creative craft work gives us the opportunity to live a life worth living, and to become better than we are. This really resonates with something I’ve been thinking about and sharing with people lately. 
"The temple carpenter Nishioka was Buddhist to his bones. He didn’t talk a lot about it necessarily, unless you asked him, in which case he revealed himself as an erudite scholar. More importantly he lived it and it shaped everything he did. 
"In his tradition, the best thing a master carpenter can do is help provide a path to enlightenment for his apprentices, through devoted and meaningful work in which they can become selfless. But they never say directly that that's what they’re doing. I think the reason is connected to something you alluded to, about “spiritual competitiveness,” which is just another kind of attachment. 
"Better to just live the work."—Azby Brown

Azby is the author of Just Enough: Lessons from Japan for Sustainable Living, Architecture and Design

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

A book of Zen.

 My new book has been posted on Amazon even though it will not be released until February 2022. The posting offers a very brief synopsis of the book's contents. February feels a long ways off. This book has been in the works for 20 years now, so the last few months will make me feel impatient to see how readers respond.

The book is related to the practice of zen the same way zen is related to the practical work of real life and the shaping of self.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, November 25, 2019

beyond empty mindfulness

A new book by Ronald Purser, McMindfulness: How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality explores the shortcomings the mindfulness movement. We are in this world equipped with bodies (and hands) so that we can be of service to each other.

We are infinitely and intimately connected to each other and to all else while we are confronted at the same time with an unceasing number of real things that require our complete attention. Dual awareness is the practice of attending equally and seamlessly to the full range of self.

In other words, sawzen is not zazen. It's not about withdrawing from the world into a meditative state, but is entering into the world with soul in focus and reality at hand.

Woodworking can be a path toward realization of greater SELF. In my shop I continue sanding boxes, knowing they will leave my hands and find their way into other hands, building connections between us.

There is a whole bunch of hype and egotism built into the practice of "spirituality." Let's avoid that and get to work.

If the hands are at work for the good, the heart and mind follow.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

discovery of the perfect Zen

I was reminded of this often neglected blog by a friend who had done some reading here. What a difficult thing it is to contend with the concept of spirituality and the separation of self from what have been described to us as dimensions beyond our own physical, emotional and intellectual engagements in real life. We are made to feel small in the shadow of announcements and instruction by those who set themselves apart and posture as though they are better than the rest, or gifted in the special knowing of profound things.

I'm reminded of Krishnamurti. He lived a simple life. Yes, it was sustained by followers who made certain his needs were met. He had to attend to no physical engagement to earn his keep.  So he gardened and tended plants. He taught by asking those who gathered for his lessons, "let us reason together." He insisted that the authority that is needed in human life is no secret, and not a thing that comes through instruction, or by pronouncement or by special privilege given only a few but through the application of mind and mindfulness upon life.

That is very zen-like. I can imagine how he felt. His followers were gathered there to listen to his thoughts, while he wanted them to become fearless in their investigations of their own. If he seemed impatient at times, perhaps it was because he could hardly wait to get back to his plants.

The Zen that is spoken is not the perfect Zen

Saturday, September 6, 2014

every once in awhile, I am reminded...

Every once in awhile I am reminded of this blog, and  in turning my attention back to it, I remember that it has been some time since I posted last. It has been one year, that I have let this blog lie dormant. It is not that I've lost interest in Zen but that I've felt no need to think of it as being something apart from real life..

A short time after I wrote last in this blog, my sister Ann passed away.  Now it has been one year. And what can I say? She has been missed.

When it comes to Zen, what can be said? The Zen that is spoken is not the true Zen. We can talk around it, address it as an impersonal, disconnected philosophy, but what's that chopping sound? Do you hear lumber being sawn? Or nails being driven deep into the heart of wood? Those are the sounds that convey Zen. What is the significance of making useful beauty, if not for the sake of Zen? And what's Zen if not that creative, skilled act?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

awaiting word on Ann...

I am awaiting word of my sister's passing. She is in hospice care and down to her last hours or perhaps days. She has always been my big sister, even after I grew much taller in height. She was always the creative one, the artistic one. While I majored in Political Science, she majored in art. When we were little, she colored on my paper. There was no meanness in it. She knew that my paper needed her help. There were only 18 months between us and I've really not known the world without her being in it.

 On the other hand, at the age of 7, I took apart her sewing machine and it never worked again. That taught me valuable lessons that I've never forgotten. Pay attention to the details. Know the whole of a thing and understand how it works or how it is supposed to work before you commence in taking it apart. Each and every thing has meaning. Take care with the whole of it. It matters.

I am reminded of a Zen story. The master was dying. His disciples were gathered around him, crying, "Master, master, please don't leave us." He looked up and asked, "Where do you think I'd go?" And the truth of us is that our individuality is self-deception. We are intimately entwined in each other. There are no boundaries between us except those that our delusions have created. Skin? Thoughts? Are there any real boundaries that defines us if we choose to live within a broader view of our humanity?

My wife tells me to avoid power tools for the rest of the day. That's good advice when under some level of stress. The worst part of my sister's disease was that it impaired her creative capacity. For the rest of you,  please:

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, February 2, 2013


I have been researching unexplained data transmissions over my internet  connection that add up to extreme data usage. What I've learned is that in these modern computer operating systems, there's more internal chatter than what would be in the head of the most obsessive-compulsive paranoid schizophrenic that ever walked the earth. My first thought was that some data mining deviant force was robbing my bandwidth.

If you are on a mac, you can watch the ins and outs of data transmission by going to the utilities folder under applications and opening the activity monitor.  Click on the "network" tab and you can watch the bytes and kilobytes of data steaming out to the web and back, even when you are doing absolutely nothing. Turn off your network connection and watch what happens to the activity. The purpose of the network activity seems to be to coordinate devices and to feed advertisements and updates to us on a regular basis. Some computers are brought to a near halt by shear overload from all the ins and outs of small meaningless packets of data. On my desktop Mac, I learned that the traffic is severe, eating up more bandwidth than anyone would have imagined.

Perhaps computers and we folk are truly alike. Perhaps just as the computer can benefit by becoming unwired for a time, we can too. If all our processing power is consumed by trivialities, what's left for rational processing in our own lives? I am an advocate of mindfulness, not that the mind should be full (or emptied) but that being watchful of what we put in our minds, watchful of what goes on in our minds, we learn to derive benefit from stillness, quiet and equanimity.

Years ago, I stood on the banks of the Mississippi River at Memphis. The river was so full and wide, and while at home at night you can be disturbed by the dripping of a faucet, the river was so full and silent that I could hear the calls of fishermen nearly a mile on the other side. The amount of water flowing by in each given second was far in excess of that faucet drip of such huge aggravation, and so we come to the heart of Zen. The object of mindfulness is not to become empty of mind, but that the mind be full of consequence and meaning, that it not be dominated by trivialities but by meaningful connections.

When we do a thing by hand for the first time, our brains are filled with intense processing. What is the proper grip to use on the chisel? How do I direct it's point? How hard do I strike with the mallet? And then what? And these are questions that are answered in practice and experience.

Researchers did MRI experiments with pianists, beginning and advanced. A paper keyboard was used so that the subjects could be observed as they applied sequences of notes just as they would on a real piano. The researchers watched the brain activity, just as I can use the activity monitor on my mac. They learned that expert pianists used far less processing power than beginners to perform the same series of notes. The advanced pianists were far less encumbered by inefficiencies in the hand/brain system conundrum.

Interestingly, all this applies to creative woodworking. We do make choices as to what we use to fill our minds and how we squander our processing power. We do make choices about how much to rely on our connections and how much to go on our own, cut loose from the grid that may stifle our individual creative expression. What happens in the hand is not mindless. What happens in the mind is best when it is connected by hand to reality. When hand and mind are refined in perfect partnership, it is like standing in silent awe at the side of a great river.

Make, fix and create...