Archive for December, 2007

Thich Nhat Hanh – The Sutra of Full Awareness of Breath

From The Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing

“It is like this, bhikkus: the practitioner goes into the forest or to the foot of a tree, or to any deserted place, and sits stably in the lotus position, holding his body quite straight. Breathing in, he knows that he is breathing in: and breathing out, he knows that he is breathing out.

1. Breathing in a long breath, he knows, ‘I am breathing in a long breath.’
Breathing out a long breath, he knows, ‘I am breathing out a long breath.’

2. Breathing in a short breath, he knows, ‘I am breathing in a short breath.’ Breathing out
a short breath, he knows, ‘I am breathing out a short breath.’

3. ‘I am breathing in and am aware of my whole body.
I am breathing out and am aware of my whole body.’ This is how he practices.

4. ‘I am breathing in and making my whole body calm and at peace.
I am breathing out and making my whole body calm and at peace.’ This is how he practices.

5. ‘I am breathing in and feeling joyful. I am breathing out and feeling joyful.’
This is how he practices.

6. ‘I am breathing in and feeling happy. I am breathing out and feeling happy.’
This is how he practices.

7. ‘I am breathing in and am aware of the activities of the mind in me.
I am breathing out and am aware of the activities of the mind in me.’ This is how he practices.

8. ‘I am breathing in and making the activities of the mind in me calm and at peace. I am breathing out and making the activities of the mind in me calm and at peace.’ This is how he practices.

9. ‘I am breathing in and am aware of my mind. I am breathing out and am aware of my mind.’ This is how he practices.

10. ‘I am breathing in and making my mind happy and at peace.
I am breathing out and making my mind happy and at peace.’ This is how he practices.

11. ‘I am breathing in and concentrating my mind. I am breathing out and concentrating my mind.’ This is how he practices.

12. ‘I am breathing in and liberating my mind.
I am breathing out and liberating my mind.’ This is how he practices.

13. ‘I am breathing in and observing the impermanent nature of all dharmas. I am breathing out
and observing the impermanent nature of all dharmas.’ This is how he practices.

14. ‘I am breathing in and observing the fading of all dharmas. I am breathing out
and observing the fading of all dharmas.’ This is how he practices.

15. ‘I am breathing in and contemplating liberation. I am breathing out
and contemplating liberation.’ This is how he practices.

16. ‘I am breathing in and contemplating letting go. I am breathing out
and contemplating letting go.’ This is how he practices.

The Full Awareness of Breathing, if developed and practiced continuously according to these instructions, will be rewarding and of great benefit.”

The Buddha

From The Sutra On the Full Awareness of Breathing, by Thich Nhat Hanh, Parallax Press, P. O. Box 7355, Berkeley, California. 94707 (1988), pp. 6 – 8.


A cryptodirectional: “other”

The store is on the [other/?*south/**interesting] side of the bridge from here.


From Walker Percy, “The Loss of the Creature”

From Walker Percy, The Loss of the Creature, 1954.

A young Falkland Islander walking along a beach and spying a dead dogfish and going to work on it with his jackknife has, in a fashion wholly unprovided in modern educational theory, a great advantage over the Scarsdale high-school pupil who finds the dogfish on his laboratory desk. Similarly the citizen of Huxley’s Brave New World who stumbles across a volume of Shakespeare in some vine-grown ruins and squats on a potsherd to read it is in a fairer way of getting at a sonnet than the Harvard sophomore taking English Poetry II.
The educator whose business it is to teach students biology or poetry is unaware of a whole ensemble of relations which exist between the student and the dogfish and between the student and the Shakespeare sonnet.
To put it bluntly: A student who has the desire to get at a dogfish or a Shakespeare sonnet may have the greatest difficulty in salvaging the creature itself from the educational package in which it is presented. The great difficulty is that he is not aware that there is a difficulty; surely, he thinks, in such a fine classroom, with such a fine textbook, the sonnet must come across! What’s wrong with me?
The sonnet and the dogfish are obscured by two different processes. The sonnet is obscured by the symbolic package which is formulated not by the sonnet itself but by the media through which the sonnet is transmitted, the media which the educators believe for some reason to be transparent. The new textbook, the type, the smell of the page, the classroom, the aluminum windows and the winter sky, the personality of Miss Hawkins–these media which are supposed to transmit the sonnet may only succeed in transmitting themselves. It is only the hardiest and cleverest of students who can salvage the sonnet from this many-tissued package. It is only the rarest student who knows that the sonnet must be salvaged from the package. (The educator is well aware that something is wrong, that there is fatal gap between the student’s learning and the student’s life: The student reads the poem, appears to understand it, and gives all the answers. But what does he recall if he should happen to read a Shakespeare sonnet twenty years later? Does he recall the poem or does he recall the smell of the page and the smell of Miss Hawkins?)
One might object, pointing out that Huxley’s citizen reading his sonnet in the ruins and the Falkland Islander looking at his dogfish on the beach also receive them in a certain package. Yes, but the difference lies in the fundamental placement of the student in the world, a placement which makes it possible to extract the thing from the package. The pupil at Scarsdale High sees himself placed as a consumer receiving an experience-package; but the Falkland Islander exploring his dogfish is a person exercising the sovereign right of a person in his lordship and mastery of creation. He too could use an instructor and a book and a technique, but he would use them as his subordinates, just as he uses his jackknife. The biology student does not use his scalpel as an instrument, he uses it as a magic wand! Since it is a “scientific instrument,” it should do “scientific things.”
The dogfish is concealed in the same symbolic package as the sonnet. But the dogfish suffers an additional loss. As a consequence of this double deprivation, the Sarah Lawrence student who scores A in zoology is apt to know very little about a dogfish. She is twice removed from the dogfish, once by the symbolic complex by which the the dogfish is concealed, once again by the spoliation of the dogfish by theory which renders it invisible. Through no fault of zoology instructors, it is nevertheless a fact that the zoology laboratory at Sarah Lawrence College is one of the few places in the world where it is all but impossible to see a dogfish.
To illustrate… The student comes to his desk. On it, neatly arranged by his instructor, he finds his laboratory manual, a dissecting board, instruments, and a mimeographed list:
Exercise 22

materials: 1 dissecting board
1 scalpel
1 forceps
1 probe
1 bottle india ink and syringe
1 specimen of Squalus acanthias
The clue to the situation in which the student finds himself is to be found in the last item: 1 specimen of Squalus acanthias.
The phrase specimen of expresses in the most succinct way imaginable the radical character of the loss of being which has occurred under his very nose. To refer to the dogfish, the unique concrete existent before him, as a “specimen of Squalus acanthias” reveals by its grammar the spoliation of the dogfish by the theoretical method. This phrase, specimen of, example of, instance of, indicates the ontological status of the individual creature in the eyes of the theorist. The dogfish itself is seen as a rather shabby expression of an ideal reality, the species Squalus acanthias. The result is the radical devaluation of the individual dogfish…
If we look into the ways in which the student can recover the dogfish (or the sonnet), we will see that they have in common the stratagem of avoiding the educator’s direct presentation of the object as a lesson to be learned, and restoring access to sonnet and dogfish as beings to be known, reasserting the sovereignty of knower over known.
In truth, the biography of scientists and poets is usually the story of the discovery of the indirect approach, the circumvention of the educator’s presentation–the young man who was sent to the Technikum and on his way fell into the habit of loitering in book stores and reading poetry; or the young man dutifully attending law school who on the way became curious about the comings and goings of ants …
However it may come about, we notice two traits of the second situation: (1) an openness of the thing before one–instead of being an exercise to be learned according to an approved mode, it is a garden of delights which beckons to one; (2) a sovereignty of the knower–instead of being a consumer of a prepared experience, I am a sovereign wayfarer, a wanderer in the neighborhood of being who stumbles into the garden.
One can think of two sorts of circumstances through which the thing may be restored to the person. (There is always the direct recovery: A student may simply be strong enough, brave enough, clever enough to take the dogfish and the sonnet by storm, to wrest control of it from the educators and the educational package.) First by ordeal: The Bomb falls; when the young man recovers consciousness in the shambles of the biology laboratory, there not ten inches from his nose lies the dogfish. now all at once he can see it, directly and without let, just as the exile or the prisoner or the sick man sees the sparrow at his window in all its inexhaustibility; just as the commuter who has had a heart attack sees his own hand for the first time. In these cases, the simulacrum of everydayness and of consumption has been destroyed by disaster; in the case of the bomb, literally destroyed. Secondly, by apprenticeship to a great man: One day a great biologist walks into the laboratory; he stops in front of our student’s desk; he leans over, picks up the dogfish, and ignoring instruments and procedure, probes with a broken fingernail into the little carcass. “Now here is a curious business,” he says, ignoring also the proper jargon of the specialty. “Look here how this little duct reverses its direction and drops into the pelvis. Now if you would look into a coelancanth, you would see that it–” And all at once the student can see. The technician and the sophomore who loves his textbook are always offended by the genuine research man because the latter is usually a little vague and always humble before the thing; he doesn’t have much use for the equipment or the jargon. Whereas the technician is never vague and never humble before the thing; he holds the thing disposed of by the principle, the formula, the textbook outline; and he thinks a great deal of equipment and jargon.
But since neither of these methods of recovering the dogfish is pedagogically feasible–perhaps the great man even less so than the Bomb–I wish to propose the following educational technique which should prove equally effective for Harvard and Shreveport High School. I propose that English poetry and biology should be taught as usual, but that at irregular intervals, poetry students should find dogfishes on their desks and biology students should find Shakespeare sonnets on their dissecting boards …

A present from
Mark Liberman
His home page:

Click immediately to his superb blog:


Carl Rogers – Personal thoughts on teaching and learning

Carl R. Rogers
Freedom to Learn

This essay is from a book titled “Freedom to Learn” published in 1969, that contains the basic ideas on learning of a very creative and original psychologist like Carl Rogers.

Personal Thoughts on Teaching and Learning (1952) 

I wish to present some very brief remarks, in the hope that if they bring forth any reaction from you, I may get some new light on my own ideas. 

a) My experience is that I cannot teach another person how to teach. To attempt it is for me, in the long run, futile.
b) It seems to me that anything that can be taught to another is relatively inconsequential and has little or no significant influence on behavior.
c) I realize increasingly that I am only interested in learnings which significantly influence behavior.
d) I have come to feel that the only learning which significantly influence behavior is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning.
e) Such self-discovered learning, truth that has been personally appropriated and assimilated in experience, cannot be directly communicated to another.
f) As a consequence of the above, I realize that I have lost interest in being a teacher.
g) When I try to teach, as I do sometimes, I am appalled by the results, which seems a little more than inconsequential, because sometimes the teaching appears to succeed. When this happens I find that the results are damaging. It seems to cause the individual to distrust his own experience, and to stifle significant learning. Hence, I have come to feel that the outcomes of teaching are either unimportant or hurtful.
h) When I look back at the results of my past teaching, the real results seem the same – either damage was done – or nothing significant occurred. This is frankly troubling.
i) As a consequence, I realize that I am only interested in being a learner, preferably learning things that matter, that have some significant influence on my own behavior.
j) I find it very rewarding to learn, in groups, in relationships with one person as in therapy, or by myself.
k) I find that one of the best, but most difficult, ways for me to learn is to drop my own defensiveness, at least temporarily, and to try to understand the way in which his experience seems and feels to the other person.
l) I find that another way of learning for me is to state my own uncertainties, to try to clarify my puzzlements, and thus get closer to the meaning that my experience actually seems to have.
m) This whole train of experiencing, and the meanings that I have thus far discovered in it, seem to have launched me on a process which is both fascinating and at times a little frightening. It seems to mean letting my experiences carry me on, in a direction which appears to be forward, toward goals that I can but dimly define, as I try to understand at least the current meaning of that experience. The sensation is that of floating with a complex stream of experience, with the fascinating possibility of trying to comprehend its ever-changing complexity. 

I am almost afraid I may seem to have gotten away from any discussion of learning, as well as teaching. Let me again introduce a practical note by saying that by themselves these interpretations of my experience may sound queer and aberrant, but not particularly shocking. It is when I realize the implications that I shudder a bit at the distance I have come from the commonsense world that everyone knows is right. I can best illustrate this by saying that if the experiences of others had been the same as mine, and if 1 had discovered similar meanings in it, many consequences would be implied:

a.) Such experience would imply that we would do away with teaching. People would get together if they wished to learn.
b.) We would do away with examinations. They measure the inconsequential type of learning.
c.) We would do away with grades and credits for the same reason.
d.) We would do away with degrees as a measure of competence partly for the same reason. Another reason is that a degree marks an end or a conclusion of something, and a learner is only interested in the continuing process of learning.
e.) We would do away with the exposition of conclusions, for we would realize that no one learns significantly from conclusions.

I think I had better to stop here. I do not want to become too fantastic. I want to know primarily whether anything in my inward thinking, as I have tried to describe it, speaks to anything in your experience of the classroom as you have lived it, and if so, what the meanings are that exist for you in your experience.

Regarding Learning and Its Facilitation (1969)
How does a person learn? How can important learnings be facilitated? What basic theoretical assumptions are involved?
Here are a number of the principles which can, I believe, be abstracted from current experience and research related to this newer approach:
1) Human beings have a natural potentiality for learning.
2) Significant learning takes place when the subject matter is perceived by the student as having relevance for his own purposes.
3) Learning which involves a change in self organization – in the perception of oneself – is threatening and tends to be resisted.
4) Those learning which are threatening to the self are more easily perceived and assimilated when external threats are at a minimum.
5) When threats to the self is low, experience can be perceived in differentiated fashion and learning can proceed.
6) Much significant learning is acquired through doing.
7) Learning is facilitated when the student participates responsibly in the learning process.
8) Self-initiated learning which involves the whole person of the learner – feelings as well as intellect – is the most lasting and pervasive.
9) Independence, creativity, and self-reliance are all facilitated when self-criticism and self-evaluation are basic and evaluation by others is of secondary importance.
10) The most socially useful learning in the modern world is the learning of the process of learning, a continuing openness to experience and incorporation into oneself of the process of change.

1) The facilitator has much to do with setting the initial mood or climate of the group or class experience.
2) The facilitator helps to elicit and clarify the purposes of the individuals in the class as well as the more general purposes of the group.
3) He relies upon the desire of each student to implement those purposes which have meaning for him, as the motivational force behind significant learning.
4) He endeavours to organize and make easily available the widest possible range of resources for learning.
5) He regards himself as a flexible resource to be utilized by the group.
6) In responding to expressions in the classroom group, he accepts both the intellectual content and the emotionalized attitudes, endeavouring to give each aspect the approximate degree of emphasis which it has for the individual or the group.
7) As the acceptant classroom climate becomes established, the facilitator is able increasingly to become a participant learner, a member of the group, expressing his views as those of one individual only.
8) He takes the initiative in sharing himself with the group – his feelings as well as his thoughts – in ways which do not demand nor impose but represent simply a personal sharing which students may take or leave.
9) Throughout the classroom experience, he remains alert to the expression indicative of deep or strong feelings.
10) In his functioning as a facilitator of learning, the leader endeavours to recognize and accept his own limitations.


Waking up

Waking up

Haj Ross
English Department
University of North Texas

I have been chasing after Zen for what seems like a long time now, and recently, it has begun to seem that maybe the relationship is getting mutual. For those of you for in San Francisco. I tried to get Si to explain what it was that he was doing, and I couldn’t understand a word that he said to me. Which makes me think now that he must have been pretty far along even then.

But the one thing that I got, somehow, was that whatever this was, it was something of immense value. Hmm.


And then, near the end of that turbulent and much maligned decade, the 60’s, another good friend, Jerry Katz, a philosopher, loans me a book by Philip Kapleau: The Three Pillars of Zen. I read it uncomprehendingly, it talks about meditation, the basic instruction, to sit down and follow one’s breath, counting up to ten breaths, one for each exhalation – this is so simple. How come that when I try to (try to) try it, it is so hard?


And this book gives me for the first time a Zen word: koan. And tells me what it is like to live with a koan. A koan is some kind of riddle or something, something that you cannot answer with your mind, something so fiendishly crafted that it in fact defeats your mind, after you have lived with it long enough.

Hey waidaminit! What is all this stuff about getting rid of my mind? What is so bad about having a mind, after all? Haven’t I been going to all kinds of lengths to train my mind, and now I’m supposed to just chuck it? And for something as dubious as this, the first koan I remember encountering, and one that is said to be central to Zen?

The monk Joshu is asked: Has a dog Buddha nature?
Joshu’s reply: Mu.

[“mu” is helpfully said to be a generalized word for negation]

And here are all these stories about extremely serious people, going through extreme hardships, meditating for many years, staying up, outside, under the moon, baying Mu into the night air. And for what?


Well, there is said to be a way of being, at the end of this indefinitely long and painful ordeal with Mu, something the least intelligible of all, something called enlightenment, or realization, or in Japanese, satori. And from the testimonials of several of the people in Kapleau’s book who have had these satori experiences, something mysterious, which somehow comes through, despite their inability to talk about it (better: despite their indifference towards the impossibility of expressing this whatever it is in words) – something from far away and yet also nearer than language is calling to me.


And so I go to Japan in 1971 for the first time, and somehow, comically, (turns out that one has to laugh a lot at oneself on this trip) find myself at a Zen temple, where I go to take part in a sesshin, a fierce ten-day retreat of about 18 to 20 hours of Zen per day, I arrive in the middle of it, I burn out after twelve hours, leave feeling defeated, but also, how can this be? – still drawn, hypnotizedly, to this order of being, to this inaccessibility. I will spare you the gory details, suffice it to say that I fitfully meditate, read more stuff without understanding it, think that I want to (want to) learn more, fill the next 12 years with as much shillying as shallying. Let us kindly refer to this interlude as “Haj (thinking he is) chasing after Zen.”


And now the scene shifts, it is the summer of 1983, I have a grant, from the Jason and Marion Whiting Foundation, to talk to various people on the West coast about the relationships between art and science and philosophy and religion, which I feel are in some way inextricably intertwined, are much more alike than they are often thought to be, I am in Los Angeles. And I have been told, by a very dear friend, someone much farther along on this pathless path, that when she met the head of the Zen Center of Los Angeles, Taizan Maezumi Roshi, she burst into tears, she knew immediately that he was her teacher, changed from the practice that she had been doing intensively for years to follow this man.

This sounds wonderful. This is more like it. Certainty. Yes sir, I could sure use some of that, something to galvanize me, help me stop stumbling around so like a fool. I will go and see this Roshi fellow (if he will see me), maybe something magical will happen to me too, after all, I have been muddling around for 15 years, surely this should count for something?


So miraculously enough, I call up, am granted an audience with this man. He is small, very quiet, almost clean-shaven head, brown robe, surrounded by many kind people who live at the Zen Center, they take me in, give me tea, show me around – it is clear that there is a lot of work here, a lot of purpose, above all, a lot of love. I am beginning to get the idea: friendship is very important, somehow, in this whole difficult process. Friends have brought me this far, I am wrapped in friendship and love, from people who either have gone, like me, groping after something that they did not know how to describe either, or who were lucky enough to have figured out earlier that describing was anyway irrelevant.


And so I try to tell Maezumi Roshi, this kind being, something about what it might be that has brought me to him, I am nervous, he is enlightened, and I am not, I say something about mooshing art and science together, I don’t know what. He is so patient, he doesn’t put me down, he introduces me to some other wonderful people, they seem to hear something in me to take seriously, but now it is time to go, Roshi says something like, “Good luck with your koan.”

My koan! My koan? What koan? Nobody ever gave me one. I’m not even in any Zen community, I don’t have a roshi to go to to check in with, a roshi who will know when I have “solved” the unsolvable koan that I have been given.

So – but look here! He is obliquely (everything is oblique in this business) giving me a koan right now! I better ask him what it is!!

“What koan, Roshi?”

“The koan of fusing art and science.”

Wow! That is a koan?? This confused bunch of thinking and reading that I have been enmeshed with for who knows how long? This can be dignified with the name of koan? I had better collect some brownie points, I’ll ask him how I’m doing, now that I’m a koaneer, like all the other real Zen students, who I have always been so envious of.

“How am I doing with it, Roshi?”

He looks at me, kindly, Zenly, Japanesely, says three words:

“Not very well.”


Aha. So it’s not going to be so easy, hunh? This mooshing business, how could anyone do it anyway, it’s impossible, the enterprises are too far apart, the reading is difficult, it’s all in a vague area, who could even do something like this, they would have to have understood all of this, but me? No wonder (grrrr) I have gotten nowhere, I better just go back to ripping poems to pieces and loving syntax and things like that which I have to do anyway because they’re so interesting that I have to do them even if I won’t get realized for it.


And now it is 13 and a half years after those three words. I have been mooshing together fiercely in as many ways as I could think of, in a bunch of different settings and places around the world, sometimes some of them seem to work, others fall flat on their face. The not so vague guilt with which I was beset in 1983, guilt at not doing something recognizable, not doing pure syntax, or pure poetics, or pure something, at being lost without even being able to tell anyone except extremely kind and patient friends what I think it might be that I think I am lost in – miraculously, this permaguilt has begun to thaw. At first I had tried to sort of compartmentalize, say, by putting books that I read about enlightenment and like that in a different category (like not business expenses) from journals, books, real books. And also to keep it out of the classroom. I mean, this is all private, my trip, right? How can I, in good conscience, lay it on anyone else? I can’t, which however does not stop me from laying it on, thick, in bad conscience.
Because oooo would I like to be a realized being, a saint, a guru. MmmmMMMM. I’m losing patience with all this waiting, I don’t have the moxie to really do all this fierce practice which all the heavies do, hey! – maybe it just isn’t my karma to get enlightened this time around, not my fault, so why not pretend that I do know something?


This is just the tip of a whole iceberg of gruesome crud which I will spare you. Plenty more where that came from. And strange though it is to tell, although one might think that such feelings would have enough power to keep me flagellating myself indefinitely, in fact my arm seems to have gotten a bit tired, or some of the fun has begun to go out of it for me. Not that it isn’t always there, a trusted friend, ready to hand whenever I would like to welcome it back – but somehow, its hook isn’t set so deep in me anymore. It has moved from stage front towards the background, towards the wings.


And what is instead center stage? Well, it really isn’t anything different than what was there in 1983, is it? I mean, I am still believing that what is important in what is generally thought of a four separate enterprises – sciencephilosophyartreligion – this is instead one whatever it is, and it is linked to insight, and learning about it is possible in groups in which some strange horizontalization has taken place, and the asymmetry usually there between student and teacher has washed out, and we are all just learning together –

There’s a lot more like that too, should you wish to hear it. It is very hard to say just in what way it is not what it was in 1983. It is not that I now believe in different things, exactly – maybe a slightly better way to say it would be to say that the belief is in more of me. Or that it comes from a deeper place.
Maybe two things will help point to something just barely perceptible. Some twentieth-century painter, I think it was Max Ernst, but I don’t know for sure, he was asked: what do you tell young painters? He said: I tell them to quit. That way, only those who have to will keep on painting.
Or there is an expression in German: die Hand für etwas ins Feuer legen – “to put one’s hand in the fire for something.” To believe something so much that you would actually put your hand in the fire as a kind of demonstration of your degree of commitment to it.
Now I feel more of a chicken about physical pain than I imagine most people do, yet there are things I have seen in poems, say, or maybe even about all of this mooshing, which I would put my hand in the flames for (I’m not saying how long, mind you). However much this may be true, when push comes to shove, is in a way immaterial. I am just trying to find some way to describe what may be different in the Haj of 1997 from the one in 1983. I don’t think that there was much in the older one that he would have put his hand in the fire for.


Or maybe another way to talk around this feeling is to say that wanting has become somewhat irrelevant. I used to want to believe in mooshability, and was assailed by doubts guilt etc. Now, despite the continued presence of all that dark stuff, mooshability just is. It’s as if at times I become Mr. Moosh.


But what does all the above have to do with the title of this piece? Where does waking up come in? And what is this whole thing about, anyway? Believe me, I sympathize with such questions. I am getting there, doubtless not fast enough. But I have to tell one more story, from a kind book, a present from a kind friend: Seeking the Heart of Wisdom, by Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfeld. The book starts like this:

It is said that soon after his enlightenment, the Buddha passed a man on the road
who was struck by his extraordinary radiance and peacefulness. The man stopped
and asked, “My friend, what are you? Are you a celestial being or a god?”

“No,” said the Buddha.
“Well, then, are you some kind of magician or wizard?”
Again the Buddha answered, “No.”
“Are you a man?”
“Well, my friend, what then are you?”
The Buddha replied, ”I am awake.”

And in fact, the word Buddha comes from the Sanskrit root, *bhudh, which means “to be awake.” When the ending -dha is added to it, a word is produced which means “one who has awakened.”

I am going to skip a lot of stuff about what it was that the Buddha awakened to, which is called in Sanskrit Dharma, and which we might quickly translate as “what is firm, or the Law,” or: “the way things are.” There are many books which talk about this much better than I know how to. Instead, what I want to talk about is how the Buddha passed this wisdom down to his students.
And there, the answer was, and still is today: from the deepest place in his heart to that same place in his student. The Buddha’s great insight and courage and determination had enabled him to completely purify his heart, and had also given him the ability to see clearly into the hearts of anyone who wanted to follow his teaching, and to tell when someone had truly understood, and embodied, all of it. And when that mystical point was reached, what happens is something that we who have not experienced this can only guess at: it is written that at that point, there ceases to be any difference between that Buddha and the student. They are One in their deepest heart of wisdom.
And what happened when one of the Buddha’s students, who had personally achieved this fusion with the Buddha, started teaching still other students? Well, the same thing: when one of the students’ students had achieved a pure heart, that fact would be revealed to the pure heart of her or his teacher, and again teacher and student would fuse into one. And thus arose the notion of lineage, and today there are Buddhist masters who can tell you who their teacher was, and who their teacher’s teacher was, and so on, all the way back 2500 years to the Buddha. There is an unbroken conduit of Light that radiates from the Buddha that comes down into the lives of these living masters today.


The Buddhists say that we are all already Buddhas, but that we don’t know it. All the work that we do on ourselves is to help us to wake up and remember who, in our deepest essence, we most truly are. They say that each of us has a sleeping Buddha in us, and that we can wake that Buddha up.


OK, you may say, but what does all of this have to do with Maezumi Roshi in 1983? Well back then, I believed something which was wrong, I now think: that when we awake, we are roshis or gurus or Perfect Masters, or whatnot. I believed this fervently, despite many cautionary warnings in the Zen literature, like the famous story:

Before I studied Zen, a mountain was a mountain,
a tree was a tree, and a lake was a lake.

Then I studied Zen for a while, and a mountain was no longer a mountain,
a tree was no longer a tree, and a lake no longer a lake.

I continued my studies, and a mountain is again a mountain,
a tree a tree, and a lake a lake.

So what I had expected to happen, through hanging out with Zen, namely that I was going to become a roshi, that didn’t happen. Instead, Maezumi Roshi, with his endless kindness and insight, saw that inside of me, there was sleeping a potential Moosher of Art and Science. With his great wisdom and compassion, he saw all kinds of different flavors of Buddhahood in the different people who were drawn to him to study. Some he would see could wake up to become pure bakers, or mothers, or dancers, or bus drivers, or flutists, or . . . or even mooshers. To each his koan.
And what matters in this inner transformation is not the profession of the awakened being – what matters is only that their heart is pure. The rest is just trapping. And anyway, as soon as you have “solved” one koan, there is another fiercer one right behind it, and it will come into your living room, invisibly, and wait for you to gradually become aware of its unshakability.


So what we learn is not to become anything special. Rather, since each of us is unique, each of us has to find that special thing in us which we can so merge with that we will end up being identical with it. The result of that experiment is on one level that we have become a transcendent baker, or whatever. But far more importantly, what we have learned is: the Possibility of Awakening. We learn that we can find a way to turn our senses inward, to find out what we truly cannot help doing, what we must do even if more famous, etc., people around us tell us to quit. What we would put our hands in the fire for. If we have learned that once, then, should we wish to continue on the pathless path, a dharma friend who is further along than we are can help us to look again within us, in an even deeper place (there seem to be no final places, which you can arrive at and have no even deeper places to wake up into).


So why all the above? What is this leading up to?
It is probably too late in the day to say anything like “briefly, . . . ,” but what I am vitally concerned with is our educational institutions. Most schools and colleges think that education consists in teaching stuff, whether the stuff is driver ed or Italian, or calc or accounting. But I think that to believe this is to make just the same mistake I made, when I thought that waking up was necessarily to wake up to being a guru, roshi, whatever. No.
Learning is, always and only, about waking up. I am a linguist. What I must do, when I teach linguistics, is to show to the students what it is like to live the life of someone who cannot help being a linguist, who would be a linguist even if he drove a hack forty hours a week to earn a living, someone who is permanently addicted to the beauty of language. I show them myself and my fascination, not in order that they learn about what allophones are, or what chômeurization is, or anything concrete like that at all. Rather, I live this love for language in their presence, and I invite them to ask: is there anything like that in me? Do language and I have any business together? If so, they can come to me, and ask: what is my next step? And if not, simply not. No blame whatsoever. On to the next class.
My first linguistics teacher, Bernard Bloch, a brilliant linguist and teacher who was the head of the graduate linguistics program at Yale, was the alarm clock who woke me up to my linguisthood. There was a sleeping linguist in me, and he sensed that, and after he had awoken him, he had the bad luck to let me into a handcrafted major in linguistics at Yale, which had no undergraduate program in linguistics. I was to take some graduate courses, do some reading courses, and generally behave like linguistics inebriates behave. I, however, had different agendas, and proceeded to waste his time while I was at Yale, playing football, poker, and being on the radio station, doing essentially no studying. But he gritted his teeth and bore up through my dismal scholastics at Yale; I think he may have known that the hook was set so deep that sometime I might really settle down and start to think.
This all by the boards. I am here suggesting fundamentally just this. What happened in Linguistics 20, in my freshman year at Yale, was that there was in me a sleeping linguist, a linguist in ovo, one who did not know there was a possibility of waking out of the sleep in which he was wrapped. Within Bernard Bloch, there was not only an awakened linguist, but there was also his own sleeping linguist, who had been there until his teachers (I think that Raven McDavid and Leonard Bloomfield were some of them) had called to that sleeping and playful Essence of Linguisthood within him. I think of these sleeping linguist-buddhas, baker-buddhas, nurse-buddhas, whatever, as little kids, say around five or six, who love to get together and play. They called to Bernard Bloch’s linguist-kid, and awoke him, and he later, in 1956, called to me, and awoke mine.


If anything like the above is what happens in the process of forming people, then it suggests consequences of the most profound kind for the educational system. First and foremost, waking up is an event wrapped in friendship and playfulness, which is not to say in the least that it does not involve intense seriousness and immense quantities of hard work, as anyone who has watched kids build sand castles at the beach well knows. As far as I can tell, the greatest impediment to this process is fear. I think that as soon as obligations, like homework, exams, grades – all those good things which we all know are absolutely indispensable to conducting a class – as soon as those come in, the possibilities of successful wakings up are shrunken greatly. They do not go away entirely – look at me – I woke up in a regularly structured class with homework, exams, the whole schmier. How come it worked for me? How come I woke up?


I think that I woke up despite the system, not because it promoted the awakening process. And yes there are many people who have had the fantastic good fortune to have awoken to their callings in standardly structured classes. But I am impressed, and saddened, by the huge numbers of people who have not awoken to the Possibility of Awakening, and who either drop out, in the most radical cases, or who go through life desafinados, slightly out of tune, not radiantly realized, not having found their true calling. Our failure to these people may not be as dramatic and visible as it is in the case of a high-school dropout, but the human loss is devastating. The number of people who hate their work is so high that it is not an accidental fact that the day of the week and time when most Americans die is Monday at 9 AM.


I think it is about time for a quote from James Thurber:

It is better to know some of the questions
than all of the answers

James Thurber

Quoted in Patricia St. John,
The Secret Language of Dolphins,
Summit Books, New York, p. 11. (1991)


There are surely many subordinate questions which must be asked if we make the following question the one that is central for us:

What must we do in order to maximize the opportunities
for waking up in our educational institutions?

But I will not try to imagine them now. Here I invite your contributions.

And I will end as I started, with Zen – a quote from Leonard Cohen, a long-time student. This quote belies what I said at the outset – that words are useless. When they are very good, words can point, clearly, at what lies beyond language. I like an ending that destroys the beginning. It seems a nice way out of some of the tangles that writing anything like this brings, inexorably, with it.


What is a saint? A saint is someone who has achieved a remote human possibility. It is impossible to say what that possibility is. I think it has something to do with the energy of love. Contact with this energy results in the exercise of a kind of balance in the chaos of existence. A saint does not dissolve the chaos; if he did the world would have changed long ago. I do not think that a saint dissolves the chaos even for himself, for there is something arrogant and warlike in the notion of a man setting the universe in order. It is a kind of balance that is his glory. He rides the drifts like an escaped ski. His course is a caress of the hill. His track is a drawing of the snow in a moment of its particular arrangement with wind and rock. Something in him so loves the world that he gives himself to the laws of gravity and chance. Far from flying with the angels, he traces with the fidelity of a seismograph needle the state of the solid, bloody landscape. His house is dangerous and finite, but he is at home in the world. He can love the shapes of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such men, such balancing monsters of love.

Leonard Cohen

Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs
Pantheon Books, New York (1993).

Quoted in:

the other side of waiting. An interview with Leonard Cohen, conducted at his Montreal home by Toronto journalist Cindy Bisaillon

Shambhala Sun, January 1994, p. 50



E. E. Cummings – “Always Before Your Voice . . .”

Always before your voice my soul
half-beautiful and wholly droll
is as some smooth and awkward foal,
whereof young moons begin
the newness of his skin,

so of my stupid sincere youth
the exquisite failure uncouth
discovers a trembling and smooth
Unstrength, against the strong
silences of your song;

or as a single lamb whose sheen
of full unsheared fleece is mean
beside its lovelier friends, between
your thoughts more white than wool
My thought is sorrowful:

but my heart smote in trembling thirds
of anguish quivers to your words,
As to a flight of thirty birds
shakes with a thickening fright
the sudden fooled light.

it is the autumn of a year:
When through the thin air stooped with fear,
across the harvest whitely peer
empty of surprise
death’s faultless eyes

(whose hand my folded soul shall know
while on hills do frailly go
The peaceful terrors of the snow,
and before your dead face
which sleeps, a dream shall pass)

and these my days their sounds and flowers
Fall in a pride of petaled hours,
like flowers at the feet of mowers
whose bodies strong with love
through meadows hugely move

yet what am i that such and such
mysteries very simply touch
me, whose heart-wholeness overmuch
Expects of your hair pale,
a terror musical?

while in an earthless hour my fond
soul seriously yearns beyond
this fern of sunset frond on frond
opening in a rare
Slowness of gloried air…

The flute of morning stilled in noon-
noon the implacable bassoon-
now Twilight seeks the thrill of moon,
washed with a wild and thin
despair of violin

E.E. Cummings


Thou and I, by Alan Dugan

Love Song: I and Thou

Nothing is plumb, level or square:
the studs are bowed, the joists
are shaky by nature, no piece fits
any other piece without a gap
or pinch, and bent nails
dance all over the surfacing
like maggots. By Christ
I am no carpenter. I built
the roof for myself, the walls
for myself, the floors
for myself, and got
hung up in it myself. I
danced with a purple thumb
at this house-warming, drunk
with my prime whiskey: rage.
Oh I spat rage’s nails
into the frame-up of my work:
it held. It settled plumb,
level, solid, square and true
for that great moment. Then
it screamed and went on through,
skewing as wrong the other way.
God damned it. This is hell,
but I planned it, I sawed it,
I nailed it, and I
will live in it until it kills me.
I can nail my left palm
to the left-hand cross-piece but
I can’t do everything myself.
I need a hand to nail the right,
a help, a love, a you, a wife.

Alan Dugan (b. 1923)

A present from Kevin Wheeler


The Sacred, by Stephen Dunn

The Sacred

After the teacher asked if anyone had
a sacred place
and the students fidgeted and shrank

in their chairs, the most serious of them all
said it was his car,
being in it alone, his tape deck playing

things he’d chosen, and others knew the truth
had been spoken
and began speaking about their rooms,

their hiding places, but the car kept coming up,
the car in motion,
music filling it, and sometimes one other person

who understood the bright altar of the dashboard
and how far away
a car could take him from the need

to speak, or to answer, the key
in having a key
and putting it in, and going.

Stephen Dunn

A present from some poética or poético in
Linguistics and Literature, Fall 2007


When I grow up

When I grow up, I want to be a little boy.

Joseph Heller


Earth first

Earth first – we can destroy the other planets later.

Bumper sticker, Denton, December 2007.

Merry and Happy whatever feels good to celebrate.