As software engineers, we have two fundamental ways of dealing with input to our code (for example, the numbers that get put into a mathematical function). We either check the inputs for validity and return an error, or we can assume the user will check their own inputs, and let the chips fall where they may. We use both approaches, depending on the nature of what we're doing. If I've written a square-root function, and someone complains to me that their program crashes when they call my square-root function with a negative argument, I will say "Don't do that". We take this phrase from the old joke: The patient visits his doctor, makes a motion with his arm and says, "Doctor, my arm hurts when I do this." "So don't do that."

As I'm bringing my knowledge back, through the lens of my subsequent experience, Zen seems a little like that. I'm drawn to it in part because it's not complicated, and I like clean elegant solutions. I can get obsessed with the details of complicated things. But Zen is very simple, like a distilled core of Buddhism.

  1. Life is full of suffering--physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. If you're human, you suffer.

  2. Suffering comes from desire: desire for love, money, power, comfortable. Desire for avoidance of suffering, too. That one's a killer.

  3. It's possible for us to stop suffering.

  4. The way to end our suffering is through the constant practice of right understanding, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration.
And that's it. There's nothing in there about God, sin, heaven, hell, or what a bad person you are. There's some explication and discovery left for what constitutes "right", but it falls out of the idea that not only are we all connected, but the entire universe is actually One Big Thing. You, me, the asshole down the street, the dog, your steak, and Buddha are all the same, so act accordingly.

It makes sense to me, anyway.

I'd had a vague plan to go to Europe this spring, but I'm now wondering if I might be better off doing a thing at Tassajara instead. A week of work practice is definitely cheaper than Europe, and would be good for me; the danger is that time off taken for practice and discipline, like aikido or Zen, isn't quite the same as vacation, and I need vacation, too. I could also do a few days of sesshin instead, maybe at a center closer to home, and then take the longer vacation time for an actual vacation.

All this presupposes that I shake this fucking cold and cough. Enough, already.

Me, Ann, Jason, and their little monkey went out to Angels Camp, CA (Murphys, actually) to check out a property for sale. I'm not really interested in that part of the state, or buying property right now, but I'd never been out there, and I like spending time with them. Angels Camp turns out to be more or less in the middle of nowhere, in that typical Californian landscape that I find so alien and unwelcoming: gold, brown, dry, lifeless-looking. Gorgeous property, though, and if you wanted to move to the middle of nowhere, that 3-bedroom house on 8 acres is just the place.

So much talking.