Because Zen makes sense

Archive for the month “December, 2013”

Capitalizing on Ideas


This has been an unusual Christmas here in Norway, with rain and storms instead of snow and cold. But while I am sitting here, listening to the wind outside, I get the opportunity to reflect upon the way people so often try to capitalize upon ideas and the free thoughts. I have nothing against that as such, but when they become dogmatic in the way that the monopolize what should have been free for everyone, I get annoyed.

First I went to a seminar regarding Open Space Technology, a way of stimulating creative processes in organisations. Harrison Owens, the creator of the method, is an open-minded man, suggesting that we just put his ideas into action, which I have done for some time. I do it my way.

On the seminar the lecturers presented their own way of doing Open Space, and they had trademarked their concept. That’s OK, because they also mentioned the possibility of doing this different, according to the original ideas from Harrison Owens. Of course they strongly  promoted their own views, as expected when they believed this was the best. But they were basically also open-minded.

What happened though, was that those participants who was unknown to this method before joining the seminar, almost got a religious experience. And when I asked them if it was possible to to this in another way, using the mist important elements, but not all, they signaled that this was almost blasphemy. Someone had capitalized on a free thought, and they immediately got their own congregation. Not to provoke, I then named our way of doing this different from Open Space, but I got the feeling that even this made me an apostate. And I could observe how a religion developed on the basis of free ideas, and I could feel how the freedom at once became restricted.

That was the first episode. The second happened during Christmas, when a woman asked me about my meditation, and if I combined that with mindfulness. When I confirmed that combination, she told me that this was not acceptable. She used to meditate herself, doing ACEM meditation. And one if the founders of the ACEM method, who himself has really capitalized this, had told her that being mindful would destroy her meditation. So she had decided to avoid mindfulness to benefit from her ACEM meditation. Are Holen had told her so. He had also told her that to meditate on her own was of less use than meditating in an organized ACEM setting, which, if course, again make this even more profitable for the founders. And she strongly believed him.

I am not sure whether this was indeed what he ment, but I know for sure that ACEM is “big business”, and by monopolizing meditation, creating a congregation, this would at least not harm their business. They had got their believers, and they are willing to pay for it, both with money, and with their freedom of thought. The best way to capitalize a free idea, is to create a religion.


Not Belief, but Relief

skogI do not know where I read “no belief, but relief”. It sure is not mine words originally, but they express what I feel to such a degree that they could have been mine. I identify myself with the words, and what they express in my interpretation of what Tao means to us. And if I feel I touch Tao in a special way, it is in the nature. Whenever I can, I go for a walk in the forest, in the mountains, or on the seashores. I experience that stress and discomfort vanish with the whispering wind among the tress, the birds singing, or, as today, the sounds from a moose up on the hill. As one translation of the Tao Te Ching expresses:

Nature is like a bellows
Empty, yet supplying all needs,
The more it moves, the more it yields;
The sage draws upon Tao in the same way
And can not be exhausted.

This morning I woke up to snow outside. Not so much that I had trouble getting out, but enough to experience a special kind of stillness in the forest. I hardly could hear my own steps.


Sitting by the fire, I got the opportunity to contemplate about nature, and my part in it. When we sit like this, with a cup of coffee, we are able to practically sense the oneness, the connections between ourself and the nature around us. But what I most thought of, was this:


We have had som storms in Norway the last days, and this was one of the results. A big pine tree had lost for the wind, and now crossed the road. It was once tall and strong, but also stiff. And because it was stiff, it had to rely on its own strenght.  That was not enough to fight back when the storm attacked. Let’s listen to Lao Tzu, as expressed in Chapter 76 of Tao Te Ching:

The living are soft and yielding;
the dead are rigid and stiff.
Living plants are flexible and tender;
the dead are brittle and dry.

Those who are stiff and rigid
are the disciples of death.
Those who are soft and yielding
are the disciples of life.

The rigid and stiff will be broken.
The soft and yielding will overcome.

The flexible shall overcome the stiff and strong. The one winning a boxing match, is not the one who hits hardest, but the one capable of avoiding being hit. And the tree on my way was a perfect reminder of this principle for a wise living.

The Funeral

This Friday I went to a funeral. The lady who had passed away, was a Lady in all aspects, kind, humorous, compassionate, observant, helpful, empathic, and lovable. She was old, so death was no surprise. But she was that kind of woman who had energy like she could live forever.


And that was what all believed, and expressed today. She died, but only to live forever in Heaven. So death was not extinction, it was only a transformation to an eternal life together with God. The speeches, the songs, the readings from the Bible, all underlined this strong belief in a personal God, welcoming the good lady. For good she was, indeed.

I once use to believe in the same God, in Jahve. I once considered myself being a Christian. And I once found comfort in the thought of a personal God taking care of me in my life. And it was all good, because I really needed God in my life to face my living. And during this funeral I had no problems with identifying the need for a personal God, for Heaven, for salvation, and for religion. And when death meets us, the need is felt stronger than ever.

But I sat there, thinking about what they were saying, what the really believed in. And I asked myself if it is possible to have such a faith. Yes, I know it is possible, because I once myself believed. But I don’t anymore believe in a personal and protecting God. I can’t for sure He is not there, so I am no atheist. Rather I am an agnostic, because I find rejecting God is as much a fault as believe in Him. The question of God is beyond what we actually can know for sure.

While the others believed, I felt myself sort of standing outside, looking into a world in which I did not belong. I felt like a stranger, although I was accepted and incorporated like anyone else. And I got a good feeling watching how the others found comfort from their sorrow when they turned to God in prayer. It would have been most inappropriate for me to demonstrate my doubts. So I just watched, and felt the atmosphere, in a mindful way, wishing them all the best.

I know that Darwin never could accept his loss of faith in God. He was bothered by this all his life, and perhaps that was one of the reasons for his assumed depressive episodes. I know how he felt, because I sometimes miss my religion as well. But I am unable to have faith in something I actually do not believe in. So I have to concentrate on my life here and now, and let the questions which I can never answer for sure just continue be without an answer. Perhaps I shall know one day, but for now I don’t know. That is a fact I have to contemplate and ultimately accept.

Men come forth and live, they enter (again) and die. (Tao Te Ching, Chapter 50. Translation Legge)

Lecturing is about Competence, not Knowledge

Yesterday I kept a lecture, lasting a couple of hours. I was supposed to clarify what was demanded from the participants regarding competence in their work, as presented in laws and other official documents. And since I have reflected quite some time about the scepticism towards knowledge in Eastern philosophy, as expressed again and again in Tao Te Ching, I had to share with my audience some of my thoughts.

One who seeks knowledge learns something new every day.
One who seeks the Tao unlearns something new every day.
Less and less remains until you arrive at non-action.
When you arrive at non-action,
nothing will be left undone.

There are, according to my understanding, several aspects to this anti-intellectualism. I have also made some notes about it in connection with Zen, which I consider more or less like Taoism in this regard. The more philosophical approach will be that simplicity is better than complexity, and that an empty mind is a simple mind. And an empty mind is bound to be more aware, since there are no obstacles to our experiences in the moment, here and now.

From a practical point of view, I know that my lectures increase the knowledge in audience. I am a fairly good lecturer. But I also know that my lectures in lesser degree make any difference regarding new practices. Most shall listen to me, appreciate what they hear, – and go back to work and continue doing things the way they have done things before. The goal og my lecture is to implement new practice in accordance with new knowledge, and I know I often fail making this change. New knowledge is necessary, but it does not by itself fight traditions. And there are reasons for this.


First of all I know that new knowledge has to challenge the knowledge that is already there. They don’t meet me with an empty mind, and my audience always measure me up against their own experiences. And if they can’t somehow harmonize what I say with their old experiences, they might turn their back to my message. That critical view is in fact essential, both for not being manipulated, but also for putting new knowledge into a frame of usefulness.  Or as is expressed in this quote, attributed to Buddha (probably not correct):

“Don’t blindly believe what I say. Don’t believe me because others convince you of my words. Don’t believe anything you see, read, or hear from others, whether of authority, religious teachers or texts.”

“Don’t rely on logic alone, nor speculation. Don’t infer or be deceived by appearances.””Do not give up your authority and follow blindly the will of others. This way will lead to only delusion.”

“Find out for yourself what is truth, what is real. Discover that there are virtuous things and there are non-virtuous things. Once you have discovered for yourself give up the bad and embrace the good.”

So for new knowledge to be accepted, I have to take into account the knowledge that is already there. But still I talk about knowledge, not competence. I have thought of the difference between knowledge and competence, and the difference is immense.

Knowledge is always limiting reality. It is always in the way of receptivity, and it blocks new input. Knowledge is like putting reality into a box. If knowledge is true knowledge, it is at its best only a fragment of that reality it tries to explain, and it is always full of limitations. Knowledge is alway some sort of pre-conditional facts about the reality it aims to describe. And if we cling to much to the knowledge we already have, there shall be no room for any alternative views. So it is really true that we shall have to renounce some knowledge to be able to develop and widen our understanding of reality. The “empty mind” makes sense. And in the empty mind lies the experienced reality.

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?

So, as a lecturer, I somehow have to deal with this challenge, and one way to do it, is in fact to discuss what I discuss here, and perhaps focus on mindfulness as a mean for personal development.

My second point in this reflection is that when knowledge meets experience, it transforms to competence. While knowledge alone limits reality, and therefore the usability, knowledge plus experience break through the limits, and the mental and practical landscapes both become wide and open, in an inspiration for us to use. And that creates a change, in attitudes, in thinking, in practice.

So there are many reasons why we should put knowledge aside from time to time, and open ourselves up for new inputs. And I think that when I manage to move my audience in that direction, my lectures shall become new knowledge turned into real competence, – and a real change. My awareness of the immense difference between knowledge and competence, together with a mindful approach in my lectures shall make it worth listening to me. And I can hope that my lecture becomes more than a single stunt, and that my work can be traced in retrospect.

Acting in accordance with Tao, even in intellectual work, could both be rewarding, – and Zensible.

All those reflections


When I went for a walk with an old camera today, in a Norway with diminishing hours of daylight, I became aware of these reflections in a window. I stood in the shadows watching the houses upon the sunny hills, as they were mirrored and framed in this window.

The finger that points to the moon is not the moon. 

(Buddhist quote)

I could turn around, and actually watch the hills, the houses, the sunshine. That was all real. In the window it seemed real, but was nothing more than reflections. If I did not know better, I could have substituted the reality with the reflections. That sounds ridiculous.

Still, that is what I think we often do. We confuse reality with its mirrored image, and act like that what we then experience is both the truth and the only possible reality. Awareness is the opposite. Awareness is to not be fooled by what we see in the mirror, but instead to grasp the reality behind the reflections. While awareness is the endpoint, mindfulness is the way.

For now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known.

(1. Corinthians 13.12)

Because behind the reality, there is another reality. And behind that one, yet another….

By having desire, you can only see what is visibly real.
Freed from desire, you can see the hidden mystery.

Yet mystery and reality
emerge from the same source.
This source is called darkness

Darkness born from darkness.
The beginning of all understanding.

(Tao Te Ching, translation: McDonald)

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