Thursday, December 20, 2012

Chill (Part 2)

Watch out for mobs of Mayans doing last-minute Christmas shopping...

Monday, December 10, 2012


The Ancestral Teacher’s coming from the West only means that winter is cold and summer is hot, night is dark and day is light. It’s just that you vainly set up meaning where there is no meaning, create concern where there is no concern, impose “inside” and “outside” where there is no inside or outside, and talk endlessly of this and that where nothing exists.
from Swampland Flowers: The Letters and Lectures of Zen Master Ta Hui

Monday, November 05, 2012

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Poker: unpardonably neglected

In the NY Times article No More Bluffing, James McManus writes about poker's connection to the risk-taking elements in the American DNA. "Nearly all of us are descended from immigrants, a self-selecting group that is disproportionally inclined to take chances."

Individuals have an inner thermostat, which makes us uncomfortable whenever there's too much or too little risk in our lives. People will speed on the highways... but only until the danger of this behavior hits their thermostat's set point. When laws are passed requiring drivers to wear seat belts, some drivers will find that the speed they'd been driving no longer feels right; it's not quite risky enough. So they'll drive a little faster till they again reach the set point.

Europeans who came to America in centuries past tended to be those with higher risk-appetites. Once in the New World, the people who moved further and further West were those with the highest need for and tolerance of risk. It's no coincidence that poker is considered a game quintessentially suited to America, and particularly to the American West.

Casino gambling in general is a way to satisfy risk-appetite in a meticulous way. On-line poker rooms offer games where the betting starts at one cent, and other games with bets of $1000 or more. Compare that to ordinary-life behaviors that involve risk (mainlining heroin, having children, etc), which are often all-or-nothing choices. Gambling is a way to calibrate more precisely the level of risk that fills our inner need.

When people tell me that they don't gamble, I sometimes reply that getting out of bed in the morning is a gamble. As is staying in bed. We don't have the option of avoiding risk, but we can manage the type of risks we do take. 

The McManus article ends by quoting Mark Twain. "There are few things that are so unpardonably neglected in our country as poker. Why, I have known clergymen, good men, kind-hearted, liberal, sincere, and all that, who did not know the meaning of a ‘flush.’ It is enough to make one ashamed of one’s species."

Friday, August 10, 2012


Just once, I'd like to see one of those gymnasts fall off the balance beam, and tell the interviewer, "I place all the blame on God." It's only fair, right?

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Sam Harris: Religion vs Morality

My favorite atheist stating the obvious. "[God] visits suffering on innocent people on a scope and scale that would embarrass the most ambitious psychopath..."

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Upcoming film "Kumare"

In this documentary, filmmaker Vikram Gandhi becomes a fake guru, and attracts real followers.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Sam Harris on Death and Now

Another talk from my favorite atheist:

Also... a little plug for my old friend Ken Silver. We meditated together with Swami Muktananda's group in the early 80s, with Zen Master Seung Sahn in the late 80s, and in recent years at Empty Gate Zen Center. He's written String Theory -- the Novel, available for Kindle download from Amazon for $2.99. The author pitches it as "Alice in Wonderland meets Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy."

Monday, May 28, 2012

Finding Primary Point

From a talk by Zen Master Seung Sahn, 1977:

I often talk about primary point. What is primary point? When you have a
scale and there is nothing being weighed, the indicator points to zero. You put
something on it, and the pointer swings to "one pound." You take it off, the
pointer goes back to zero. This is primary point. After you find your primary
point, then good feelings come, bad feelings come, so your pointer swings in
one direction or the other. But this doesn't matter. Don't check it. When the
feeling is over with, the pointer swings back to zero.

But if you haven't found your primary point, then it is like taking a heavy
object off of the scale and having the pointer stay at "ten pounds." Or the
pointer moves back only part-way, it doesn't go completely back to zero. Then
you have a problem. Your scale does not weigh correctly. Maybe if you put a
heavy object on it, it will break completely.

So first you must find your primary point. Then you must keep it very

A taxi has weak shock absorbers, so it hits a small bump and bounces up and
down. A train has strong shock absorbers, so it is very steady. If you keep your
primary point, your mind-spring will become stronger and stronger. You will
meet big problems and your mind will move less and less. A big problem
comes, your mind moves, but soon returns to primary point. Finally your
mind will be very strong; it will be able to carry any load. Then saving all
people is possible.

Monday, April 23, 2012


The Skeptic's Dictionary has a great page about Landmark Forum. Landmark is the successor to Werner Erhart's est from the 70s. Swami Muktananda was explicitly influenced by est in creating the intensive weekends in the Siddha Yoga (SYDA) organization, The influence of est can be seen in the many other currently-active LGATs (Large Group Awareness Trainings), and this Skeptic's Dictionary page sheds some clear-thinking light on all of them.

One simple concept that I found intriguing is this. People naturally go through high and low psychological phases during their lives. Among those who are drawn to an LGAT, people in a down-phase are over-represented, as they have the most motivation for seeking quick transformation. The tendency of people at low psychological points is to eventually regress to the mean. That is, they move from the extraordinarily low psychological point to a more typical one (i.e., they feel better with time). If the LGAT can convince people of its transformational power, then when a better state occurs (for whatever reason), they'll likely attribute it to the LGAT, and become true believers.

Of course there are some people who get extraordinary bliss-states etc, not just relief from a low-point. Surely, the mere fact that attendance of these workshops and seminars gives people an opportunity to ponder their lives, seek new perspectives, question old assumptions, etc, can have amazingly powerful effects. But among the masses who become LGAT devotees, I'd think regression to mean is a significant dynamic.

In a broader sense, many psychologists say that our happiness tends to follow a U-shape. We're happy as children, then struggle as young adults as we adapt to challenging jobs and relationships and life complications. Somewhere in mid-adulthood, most people tend to gain greater mastery of their lives (and/or our lives actually become easier, as we advance beyond shitty jobs, as kids grow up and no longer demand constant attention, as relationships become more solid, etc). The point is that when we experience a natural life up-turn, we tend to project a reason on it, even if it's just correlation and not causation. If we happen to be Christians, we say Jesus is making us happier. If we're into meditation, we credit that. If we value money most, we think that wealth is the cause of this increased happiness, etc.

Our experience is one thing, and the way we interpret it (assigning a cause to our good or bad feelings) is something different.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Free Thinking

Long ago, when our species was less evolved, it improved our chances of survival if we stuck in tight-knit tribes. As individuals, we'd quickly starve or get eaten by wild animals etc. It makes sense that DNA would wire us to blindly follow a leader, so we'd all stick together in the tribe, and we'd have a fighting chance to keep nature at bay, long enough to procreate and all.

Evolution is brilliant that way, but it moves very very slowly. After all, natural selection has no tools except trial-and-error. We generate a bunch of offspring, and the ones best designed for survival last long enough to pass on DNA codes to future beings. Amazingly effective adaptions arise, but only over the course of many many generations.

Then we got these incredible new tools. Rational thinking allows us to run "what-if" scenarios, and conclude what's best for our survival so much more quickly than the brute force of trial and error. The development of language and the printed word allow us to accumulate knowledge across populations, and pass it on to the future. What to speak of the internet.

Rationality, technology, scientific method bring us to our current condition, in which individuality and independent thinking are a far more effective survival mechanism than they were in our caveman days. When I need food, I pop something into the microwave. Satisfying my needs apart from any tribal allegiance has become a lot easier, compared to when I'd have to live off of dinosaur meat (joking, joking).

The new tools of rationality etc allow at least part of the population to live as free-thinkers. But for many generations to come, this advancement towards personal freedom and independent thinking will be bumping up against the hard-wired drive to adhere to a tribal authority, that drive being a hold-over of a strategy that was more appropriate millions of years ago.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What is This?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Currently in midst of Zen retreat...

I found this on the net a couple days ago. Erik (visiting from Hawaii, and sitting 2 days of this retreat) reminded me of it; we had both seen the comic decades ago. He remembered it accurately, but I recalled the text as "What do you mean, 'What happens next'?" I prefer my false memory to the actual caption.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012