A State of Wonder!


In this post, I would like to explore yet another excellent example of buddhist movie making in the format of a major screen adventure. With a budget of over US $ 100 million, Cloud Atlas is one of the most expensive independent films of all time. And it should come as no surprise, that this movie adventure advancing core buddhist notions was produced and directed by Andy Wachowski. The Wachowski Brothers previously gave us The Matrix, which I still consider the best adaptation of core buddhist insights into a popular movie format to date. It is also good to see Halle Berry and Tom Hanks in a movie that goes well beyond the expected ‘common perception’ of our so called ‘reality’.

Cloud Atlas ventures into the buddhist notion of how our Karma perpetuates the infinite cycles of transformations from life, death to rebirth – the Buddha described these cycles as the Twelve Links of Dependant Origination – which define our appearance in this world in one form or another.

Cloud Atlas 01

The movie correctly asserts that our own existence can only be defined by others, or our perceptions of others. Consequently, nothing can possibly be identified as existing independently in time and space, by itself or in its own right. All that we perceive in this world can only be defined through dualistic and conceptual discriminations. That simple understanding should conclusively tell us something about the ‘real’ part in our interpretation of ‘reality’!

We live, we die, we resurrect ourselves, primarily because we couldn’t let go just yet, and are therafter driven through consecutive existences by unimpeded greed and desire. And all the while we are bound to follow our Karma – our past actions leading to motivational tendencies, habits, attachments, total self conditioning, repetitive patterns of behaviour and appropriate positive and negative retribution.

The problem with our current scientific / religious / philosophical / psychological interpretations of our Ego Self in the context of this reality is that we are unable to define anything we perceive without also defining its opposite at the same time: man-woman, me-you, this-that, green-blue, hate-love… which takes us to the core message of the movie Cloud Atlas:

To be is to be perceived
And so to know thyself is only possible
Through the eye of the other
The nature of our immortal lives
Is in the consequences of our words and deeds
That go on apportioning themselves
Throughout all time
Our lives are not our own
From womb to tomb
We are bound to others
Past and present
And by each crime and every kindness
We birth our future
Somni 451
Cloud Atlas 02

And the next best quote from this movie also explains a very basic mechanism of how we may eventually attempt to escape our own Karma, although I must admit I would have used a different set of terms to explain the ‘conventions’ we will have to defeat in the process. I would describe these as our purely mind generated conceptual, intellectual, discriminative and dualistic perceptions of reality. And those mind generated concepts driven by nothing but imagination, lead to our apprehension of Maya, this mind powered Dream World we tend to call ‘Planet Earth’.

Does anybody ever wonder where we go when we sleep and dream? What happens if we can’t wake up form our dream? How would we know the difference between the ‘real world’ and the ‘dream world’? What actually happens if we die in a dream? Well, that’s one question to which we already have the answer: we instantly wake up from that dream!

Let’s consider this permissible question based on that understanding: what happens if we die here in this world? Do we wake up to… another dream?

All boundaries are conventions
Waiting to be transcended
One may transcend any convention
If only one can first conceive of doing so
Somni 451

From a ZEN perspective, the real secret is to let go of all and any form of mind activity and by doing so defeat our Karma as well as our destiny in the process. It is that destiny which drives us through the never-ending cycles of life, death and consequent rebirth. And these cycles are perpetuated by our Karma, which – from a strictly technical point of view – represents nothing but infinite combinations of cause and effect, action and reaction. The choices we make today and the consequent actions resulting from our choices, define who we will be tomorrow. And in our next life… and the next life thereafter… and the next…

From a ZEN understanding of our existence, not to come back at all, not to be reborn into this or any other world system we have created in our mind only, must be the final objective. However, the purely intellectual understanding of how the Universal Law of Cause and Effect actually works, by applying an intellectual process of abstraction and deduction, based on logic and reason, is just not good enough! We must find the answer to all that we perceive as our Ego Self and reality at large directly in our own mind, by beholding nothing but the vast and tranquil power of mind itself; by not asking a single question at all!

But if we would have to post just one question in this context, let it be this one:

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

And my own final take on all or nothing at all is as usual…

A fish without ears listens to
The cry of a crow with no mouth
Welcome to the real world!

Dream Walker!



I think some of the more famous ZEN masters of hallowed antiquity – Lin Chi, Dogen, Hakuin come to mind – are a bit overrated. Yes, their teachings still represent the established standard for the preservation of original ZEN philosophy even today, but I often find the lesser known masters of those ancient days vastly more insightful.

I guess it all boiled down to the effective use and consequent appeal of ‘expedient means’ at a time when both Koan (Rinzai Zen) and ‘silent contemplation’ meditation (Soto Zen) had lost their bite and required a major shakeup to get the withering Zen gardens back into full bloom. In addition to books on my regular favourites – ancient masters Ikkyu, Huang Po, Ta Hui and Hui Hai – here’s what I am reading right now: The Unborn – The Life and Teachings of Zen Master Bankei (1622-1693), by Arthur Braverman and Mud & Water – The collected Teachings of Zen Master Bassui (1327-1387), by Norman Waddell.

I consider these masters – just like the above listed – the non conformist lot in the history of Zen Buddhism, relentlessly shaking those unborn / undying out of their slumber of ignorance and delusion by utilising expedient means based on no particular formal approach, meditation techniques, moral precepts or monastery discipline. Because any formal approach based on expedient means must be viewed as yet another illusion and serves at best as a psychological can opener, leading those blinded by the play of phenomena in this reality back to the One Mind.

Also, to keep an ’empty mind’ or to even try to stop the never ceasing flow of thoughts in our mind from occurring (as in Soto Zen), is a bit like trying to stop a freight train with your bare hands… why bother with the effort? Just let thoughts come and go as they please – as long as you don’t follow them wherever they are trying to take you – while with a straightforward mind, contemplate all that arises as the Matrix of Reality every moment of every day for the rest of your life. To ‘see within’ really requires no more but to correctly ‘see without’… all of it, all at once and all the time!

Master Bankei and even master Hui Neng – who basically invented this meditation approach – would agree with this all inclusive, intuitive practice. They would also agree that originally, Zen did not promote any formal meditation efforts or techniques, moral precepts or monastery practice to achieve the final insight into the fabric of reality:

Clearing thoughts from the mind as they arise is like washing away blood in blood. […] No matter how long you keep washing, the bloodstains never disappear. Since you don’t know that your mind is originally unborn and undying and free of illusions, you think that your thoughts really exist, so you transmigrate in the wheel of existence. You have to realise that your thoughts are ephemeral and unreal and, without either clutching at them or rejecting them, just let them come and go of themselves. They are like images reflected in a mirror! […] The Buddha-mind is ten thousand times brighter than any mirror and is marvellously illuminative besides. All thoughts vanish tracelessly into its light.

New Quote

A monk: I have great difficulty subduing all the desires and deluded thoughts in my mind. What should I do? Bankei: The idea to subdue deluded thoughts is a deluded thought itself. None of those thoughts exist from the start. You conjure them up out of your own discriminations.

New Quote

In the instruction of students under his charge, the master did not lay down any rules or establish any regulations. Yet, a silent, respectful atmosphere always prevailed in his temples – an example of ‘Not governing, yet having no disorder; doing what is right without being told.’


And here a few quotes from master Bassui:

Though the Buddha Way is for the purpose of realising the important matter of cause and effect, when I see how a passing fancy can cause one to believe a teacher of false views, I realise how easily one’s karmic inclination can influence one’s beliefs. But the karmic inclination people have towards the Buddha Way is far more intimate than their inclination towards an individual. Can one be without karmic inclination toward one’s own mind? Realising the Buddha Mind with your own mind is like the sky realising the sky.

New Quote

If you try to remove lingering habits that come from attachment to form, not yet having seen into your own nature, you are like one in deep sleep trying to rid himself of a dream. The desire to rid oneself of a dream is itself a dream. The knowledge that it is a dream is also nothing but a dream…


And more of my Zen verse to complement the above.

Dream Walker

Dream Walker 01
honey bees on a banana leaf
cloud plays with light
the mirror echo of a mirror’s
infinite fractal realised
as ghosts in the machine
in a dream within a dream
sleep walking wide awake
unborn undying unattained
intrinsic awareness remains
Dream Walker 02

And last also an update to my motto. This is a shortened re-compilation of two verses taken from the classic A Zen Harvest. The verse with the ‘fish without ears’ really made me laugh…

A fish without ears listens to
The cry of a crow with no mouth
Welcome to the real world!



Thanks all for your likes of my previous post! Here more of my effort at ZEN verse plus a few explanations as to the use of specific terms and definitions. I know this is going to take away a bit of the ‘mystery’ of ZEN practice, but Buddhism in principle has no place for sentimental, self-centred, dualistic and discriminative mind activity. Classic ancient ZEN practice is actually rather terse if not to say brutal in its overall appreciation of our world and universe. Consequently, this further intro to a new format of my Blog is not meant as a justification of the apparent conflict between visual representation and verse. In my experience as a former frontline photographer – combined with my current understanding of ZEN – the self created beauty and horror we all experience in this world requires no justification. It is what it is!

The nature theme often used in ZEN related poetry is here represented by my photography while verse construction shall focus on what I tend to call the Psychology of Human Existence. Similar terminology was widely used by ancient ZEN masters in China and Japan over the last 2.000 years and can also be found in essential Buddhist/ ZEN scriptures such as the Tibetan Book of the Dead (TBD) and the Lankavatara Sutra (The Lanka), where psychological terms and definitions were employed to assess and define the mental processes of a perceived Ego Self and its creation of an apparent external reality, which we further believe exists in contradistinction to our own internal mental continuum. Mhmmm… heavy stuff, right?

However, once we intuitively apprehend that these two realities are one and the same, to perceive and truly appreciate this world in all its glory and misery is like a mirror looking into another mirror – like the projection of an infinite visual fractal.

Life as we know it is a contradiction in terms, everything we perceive is at cross purposes and in perpetual conflict. Apart from ZEN, modern psychology and perhaps quantum physics represent the best we can do to unravel this enigma:

Reflection 01

mirror mind reflection
fractal of projection
action and reaction
me this you that
right wrong green red
end the reign of reason
reach the light of freedom
touch the sight of sameness
taste the sound of silence
feel awareness rising
from the void within

Reflection 02

Welcome to the Real World!