Sunday, May 26, 2013


Is there any place for ‘faith’ in today’s world? Do we need faith? If so, what sort of faith? When all is said and done, can we really ‘trust’ anyone’s word on anything? Is one person’s opinion on any given matter as good---or as bad---as that of anyone else?

The word ‘faith’ is ordinarily associated with another familiar but often misunderstood word. That word is ‘religion.’ Now, many religious people---even many religious liberals---talk about a ‘journey of faith.’ What do they actually mean by that?

Well, for starters, most religions require their adherents to have faith in something or someone. For example, in Christianity one has faith in God and Jesus Christ, faith being a combination of two things---belief and trust. Belief is largely, but not entirely, intellectual. Trust has been described---particularly by Christian commentators---as ‘belief activated,’ such that the basis for action is the level of trust one has in any particular belief. Trust is said to involve a confidence of a very special kind, namely, a resting on the testimony of a God, and perhaps also a Bible (or some other ‘holy book’), both of which, one believes, cannot lie or be wrong. So, in trust, and thus faith, there is a leaning of one’s whole weight on certain beliefs which largely take the form of certain ‘promises’ and ‘assurances,’ which are accepted as true---even though one has no empirical proof of the same.

The Bible says that faith is ‘the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen’ (Heb 11:1) [KJV]. Well, as I see it, if the word ‘substance’ has any sensible meaning at all it must mean something that is tangibly and objectively real, even if that reality is not presently visible. Still, I have great problems in believing anything that I really don’t know to be the case, simply on the basis that I ‘hope’ it will come to pass. There is too much idealistic fantasy in that for my liking.

Buddhism is quite different from all other religions. Indeed, at least in some of its manifestations, Buddhism is arguably not a religion at all. The Buddha said, ‘Do not believe, for if you believe, you will never know. If you really want to know, don't believe.’ Ordinarily, we tend to believe when we don’t know or understand. If we know something to be true, there is no need for belief at all. But why believe anyway? If the sky is blue, it is the case that the sky does not become any bluer because we believe it to be blue. Further, the proposition---‘the sky is blue’---does not become any truer because we believe it to be true.

That is not the end of the matter. Beliefs, by their very nature, take the form of prejudices or biases of various kinds and dissipate energy which is otherwise needed to remain mindfully aware at all times. Buddha referred to beliefs as being in the nature of thought coverings or veils (āvarnas). Beliefs are barriers to truth and realization. Consequently, my advice has always been---choose a religion or philosophy that doesn’t require you to believe or disbelieve anything. Life is truth, and life is never static but forever open-ended and dynamic.

So, then, what about faith? Can there be faith without belief? Well, let me quote the Buddha again. He is said to have given this advice, which has served me well over many decades:

Believe nothing because a so-called wise person said it.
Believe nothing because a belief is generally held.
Believe nothing because it is written in ancient books.
Believe nothing because it is said to be of divine origin.
Believe nothing because someone else believes it.
Believe only what you yourself judge to be true.

Something is not true because it is written in some ‘holy book.’ It is not true because it was spoken by Jesus or Muhammad or someone else. It is not true because it is believed to be true. A thing is true only if it is---well, true. Truth means occurrence---it either is or is not the case.

I have faith in certain convictions that I have found out to be empirically true as a result of careful observation, choiceless awareness, mindfulness, critical thinking, firsthand experience, and analytical investigation. Despite what some people assert, there are certain truths that we can affirm to be true in an objective sense. These are truths we can experience and then come to know and understand.

There is another important meaning of the word 'faith,' and none other than the great Christian evangelist Dr Billy Graham, in his landmark book Peace with God, has given it this meaning. The word 'faith,' writes Graham, literally means 'to give up, surrender, or commit.' I have written elsewhere on this blog, in several of my posts, of the imperative need, when one is faced with certain difficulties and problems where 'self' is the root trouble, to find and rely upon a 'power-not-oneself' of some sort for deliverance. Addiction and other forms of mental, emotional and spiritual 'bondage' or 'imprisonment' are largely problems of self-obession, self-centredness, and self-absorption. The solution is to 'let go' of self entirely and seek the assistance of a power-not-oneself that is able to relieve you of the bondage of self. This power-not-oneself may or may not be a traditional god or other religious figure or image. The power may simply be the 'person' that one is---a 'person among persons.' One other thing---in order to 'let go,' one must first 'let be,' and the latter requires that the person first admit and acknowledge that they have a problem over which 'self' is powerless and then commit themselves to an entirely new way of thinking, acting and living, fixed, focused and grounded in that power-not-oneself.

In short, as I see it, faith is not some supposed ‘supernatural’ gift that some have and others don’t, but rather a firm affirmation of what we, individually, have come to know to be the case. So, never accept ‘on faith’ that which you have not already experienced, nor accept ‘on faith’ that which you would like to be true, or that which others whose opinion you greatly respect tell you is true. Only believe---that is, affirm---what you yourself have found to be true, that is, the case.

In my days as an evangelical Christian---by the way, those days are gone---I was told repeatedly that faith involved a ‘believing in,’ a ‘coming to,’ a ‘receiving,’ and a ‘standing firm’ (also known as a ‘holding fast’). If those words mean anything at all they must refer to a state of mind in which one becomes more and more convinced of the truth of some state of affairs. At first, we may need to assume the truth of certain things---for the sake of testing and investigation. In time, we may---or may not---come to affirm the truth of some proposition. We may even be able to ‘receive’ it as true---that is, affirm it to be true, knowing that it is true. We can stand firm, and hold fast, in such truth---but not otherwise.

Please remember this---nothing, absolutely nothing, is superior to facts. Never believe, or have faith in, anything that, after careful examination and investigation, you don’t know to be true. Indeed, cherish and rejoice in your doubts and reservations, for the latter are in my view much more important than faith and belief.







Sunday, May 19, 2013


So many of our problems arise---and stick---because we get stuck in the moment and refuse to move on. But things can be different. We can change.

The Reverend Manora (Manorhita), was the twenty-second Zen patriarch in India. He is perhaps most famous for having written this gem of wisdom:

Mind turns along with myriad situations;
Its turning point is truly recondite.
When you recognize nature and accord with its flow,
There is no more elation,
And no more sorrow.

The first line may, to some of you, suggest the exact opposite of what you might think to be the ‘way to go.’ Why let your mind ‘turn along with myriad situations’?

Well, a mind that is truly aware, that is focused on the action of each moment as it quickly becomes the next moment, and then the next, and then the next, is a mind that moves with that action. It does not get stuck in the moment, unable to move on to the next. Such a mind-set does not even start to analyse, criticise, react to, or recoil from, the action of the moment. That, my friends, is the way to go.

In The Book of Family Traditions on the Art of War, by Yagyū Munenori (pictured left), we get this helpful interpretation of Manora’s advice:

In the context of martial arts, 'myriad conditions' means all the actions of adversaries; the mind turns with each and every action. For example, when an opponent raises his sword, your mind turns to the sword. If he whirls to the right, your mind turns to the right; if he whirls to the left, your mind turns to the left. This is called 'turning along with myriad situations.'

‘The turning point is truly recondite.’ This is the eye of martial arts. When the mind does not leave any traces in any particular place, but turns to what lies ahead, with the past dying out like the wake of a boat, not lingering at all, this should be understood as the turning point being truly recondite.

To be recondite is to be subtle and imperceptible; this means the mind not lingering on any particular point. If your mind stops and stays somewhere, you will be defeated in martial arts. If you linger where you turn, you will be crushed.

Needless to say, this is not just good advice as respects the martial arts. Whether we engage in the martial arts or not doesn’t matter---although there is much to be gained from such an involvement. The way to ‘ride the waves,’ and respond to one’s inner ‘adversaries,’ is to let---note that word ‘let’---the mind turn with each and every action, whether that action be internal (eg in the form of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, etc) or external. Let your mind turn to whatever be the action of the moment, and then turn to the action of the next moment, and so on, but don’t let the mind ‘stop,’ so to speak, let alone ‘cling.’ Instead, turn along with myriad situations.  

That’s not the end of the matter. We are to let the turning point be ‘truly recondite.’ The turning point is ‘recondite’---that word means, among other things, hidden from sight or virtually imperceptible---when the mind leaves no ‘traces’ in any particular place. We leave no ‘traces’ when there is a soft focus sort of awareness, when we refuse to analyse or judge the content of any action or occurrence. We note, and immediately move on. We turn to ‘what lies ahead, with the past dying out like the wake of a boat.’ We do not linger at all---not at any particular point. If we let the mind ‘stop’ and ‘stay somewhere,’ we will be  defeated, even crushed, by life in the sense that events will overtake and overwhelm us.

It’s all about mastery, especially mastery of self, but true inner mastery occurs when we let things unfold as they will, when we resist not, when we cling not and linger not, when we go with the flow.

That is the way to go.


Monday, May 13, 2013


'You can only fight the way you practise.'
- Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings.

The classic 370-year old text Go Rin No Sho (The Book of Five Rings), by the Japanese swordsman and rōnin Miyamoto Musashi, is one of my all-time favourite books. It is so much more than a treatise on Japanese swordsmanship (kenjutsu) and the martial arts in general, although it certainly is that.

And yes, like that other grand opus The Art of War, the work contains much useful information for business executives, political leaders and strategists of all kinds on conflict resolution, decision-making, strategy and tactics.

I have several different translations of the text, and whenever I go to Japan I return home with yet another seemingly better translation. In this post I’ll be using several different translations rather indiscriminately, so please forgive me.  

Those into meditation would be aware that The Book of Five Rings also contains much useful, insightful advice on the subject, and, in particular, on what is known as mindfulness. For example, in 'The Water Scroll' we get this solid advice:

·         Let the mind be ‘open and direct, neither tense nor lax, centering the mind so that there is no imbalance’
·         ‘Calmly relax your mind, and savour this moment of ease thoroughly so that the relaxation does not stop its relaxation for even an instant’
·         ‘Let there be neither insufficiency nor excess in your mind’
·         Keep your mind ‘free from subjective biases’
·         Let your inner mind be ‘unclouded and open.’

Then there’s this advice. We are to maintain a ‘normal, everyday mental attitude at all times.’ More specifically, we are told that when we are physically calm we are to be ‘mentally alert’; conversely, when we are physically active, we are to maintain a ‘serene state of mind.’

Musashi urges us to be ‘attentive at all times to all things without being overly anxious’ and to ‘perceive that which cannot be seen with the eye.’ The phrase ‘bare attention,’ in the context of mindfulness, means just that---just enough attention to stay alert and to be aware, but not so much attention as would inevitably lead on to analysis, judgment, labeling, and so forth. It is all about ‘effortless effort’ and ‘pure [choiceless] awareness.’ As respects the latter, Musashi speaks of an ‘all-seeing, imperturbable awareness’ such that ‘one should be able to see the distant like the near, and the near like the distant.’ He writes:

It is most important in the knightly arts to know your opponent’s sword, without looking at it at all. … It is also important to see either side without moving your pupils to the side at all. If you are taken up with the world, you cannot expect to learn the secret in a short time. Take to heart what I have written here, and always practice fixing the gaze in this way, so that it does not waver. …

We are told to ‘accept everything just the way it is,’ and ‘in all things [to] have no preferences.’ And here's a real gem:

There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.

Got that? Seek nothing outside of yourself. No god, guru, saviour, or teacher has anything of value to offer you, except perhaps this one piece of advice---look within. If a teacher tells you that, listen to him or her. Otherwise, tell them where to go.

And what are we to make of the many references in the text to one's 'opponent' or 'enemy'? Well, when it comes to the practice of mindfulness---and most things in life for that matter---one's most real and formidable opponent or enemy is within, that is, within one's own mind. We have many inner opponents and enemies, so to speak. One's many 'false selves' that wax and wane but constantly seek our attention, for starters. But we can be victorious. They are not us. Here's some really good advice from the book: 'If you wish to control others you must first control yourself.' The 'others' include the false selves (the innumerable 'I's' and 'me's') within us.

In the last section of the text, ‘The Scroll of Emptiness,’ we are given these pearls of wisdom:

·         We are to ‘diligently cultivate the spirit and the mind, as well as awareness and the physical eye, every day and every hour’
·         We are to make those things---wait for it---‘cloudless and free from all delusions.’

Writes Musashi, ‘then you may be sure that you have attained the spiritual state of true “emptiness”.’ Yes, ‘taking emptiness as the Way, you see the Way as emptiness’:

In emptiness there is good but no evil. Wisdom exists, logic exists, the Way exists, mind is empty.

Ah, the ancient wisdom again---emptiness!

I will finish with this. Do not try to be, or remain, alert, for if you think about being alert, or staying alert, you will not be. Let yourself---without conscious effort or any act of the will---be mindfully awake, and fully relaxed, ready to accept whatever arises. As Alan Watts used to say, we need to learn ‘how not to use the mind.’ Got it? Yes, it’s a paradox. Being mindful is, well, being ‘un-mindful’ of any thing in particular.

Here's an illustration that I've shared with you before. In Zen there is the story of the master who says to his pupil, ‘One must never think of the white monkey, if you want enlightenment.’ You can guess what happens. Thinking about not thinking about the white monkey is the same as thinking about the white monkey.

So, don’t try to be mindful---and don’t try to be un-mindful either.


Friday, May 10, 2013


‘But everything exposed by the light becomes visible--and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said: "Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."’ (Eph 5: 13-14) [NIV]

Vipassanā (insight meditation)---also known as mindfulness---is different from all other forms of meditation. Only mindfulness affords insight. How important that is! Without insight, without understanding of ourselves and reality, there can be no possibility of growth or change of any positive kind.

The word vipassanā is composed of two parts---vi, meaning ‘in various ways’, and passanā, meaning seeing. So, vipassanā means ‘seeing in various ways’ ... as well as seeing things as they really are.

In the Bible passage set out above we are told to ‘wake up.’ That was also the advice given by the Buddha. Wake up! That is the meaning of enlightenment. One wakes up, and perhaps for the very first time in one’s life one sees things as they really are. Enlightenment. Insight. Light. Truth. They are all different words used to refer to the same reality.

When we practise mindfulness---that is, live mindfully from one moment to the next---everything ‘exposed by the light’ becomes visible. When, conversely, we live mindlessly, we are in darkness, so to speak. It is as if we were dead.

Now, there will be certain readers who will say, ‘Ellis-Jones, that is not what those verses mean at all. The verses are talking about what happens to you when you accept Jesus as your Saviour and Lord, and you're born again, or born from above, so that when you die you will go to live with Jesus for all eternity. It’s about being saved once-and-for-all from your sins, that is, from everlasting punishment, which is the fate we really deserve, and the fate people will receive unless they make a personal decision to turn their lives over to the Lord Jesus.’ (Note. This rather mechanical evangelical four-step ‘plan of salvation’ [i.e., confess, believe, repent, and receive], with its emphatic insistence on the supposed need for a one-time, life-changing decision, is not accepted by all Christian denominations. In my view, this so-called plan of salvation is an unwarranted imposition upon Scripture, and is completely unknown to the Bible. Rather, true Biblical salvation is an ongoing process of being 'healed,' that is, made spiritually 'whole'---and it is a past reality, a present reality, and a future reality, all at the same time.)

Well, as I see it, the evangelical interpretation, with its emphatic insistence upon a person's profession of faith in Jesus, is a gross distortion of the true position propagated by people who divide the world into the ‘saved’ and the ‘unsaved.’ More particularly, it is a carnalization, literalization and personification of a myth---and yet still the truth---in the person of the man Jesus.

You see, the reference to ‘Christ’ in the verses I quoted, as in many other verses in the New Testament, is in the nature of a metaphor referring to the light of truth that indwells and infuses the life of a person---any person---when they have come to see things as they really are, that is, when they wake up. The experience described is not one that can be experienced only by Bible-believing Christians. No, it is a truly universal experience. The ‘Christ’ indwells every one of us as our potential perfection. For the most part, this ‘sleeping giant,’ this inner power---for that is what it is---lives undeveloped, hidden, dormant, and asleep in our human spirits (minds), but it is ever seeking release and perfect expression and unfoldment in our daily lives.

‘Resurrected living’---so called ‘rising from the dead’---is not something supernatural that supposedly happens at some time in the future, whether at the moment of our death or otherwise. The resurrected living expounded in these Bible verses, and of which Jesus otherwise spoke, is something in the here-and-now. It’s waking up, that’s what it is. And when we wake up, we find that we are living in a new ‘land,’ a new ‘place.’ In the Bible this ‘place’ is referred to as the ‘Kingdom of God’ and the ‘Kingdom of Heaven.’ In some forms of Buddhism it’s called the ‘Pure Land of Buddha.’ And here is some wisdom from the Upanishads:

There is a light that shines beyond all things on earth,
beyond the highest, the very highest heavens.
This is the light that shines in your heart.
Chandogya Upanishad

Regardless of any religious beliefs you may or may not hold, please know this. (Note. I didn’t say ‘believe’---just know.) If you choose to live mindfully, you will see things as they really are. When you see things as they really are, you have insight and understanding, as well as compassion. Your whole being becomes suffused and illumined with light. Indeed, you become a beacon of light in an otherwise dark world. You are then living in the Kingdom of Heaven … the Pure Land of Buddha.

But pleeease don’t just take my word for it. Try it for yourself … really try it---and then you will come to know and understand.

So, wake up! Shine! Rise from the dead!


Sunday, May 5, 2013


Poor adherence to psychotropic medication regimens is one of the major roadblocks to improved clinical outcomes.

In addition, brief medication management visits with psychiatrists can have the effect that both clinicians and patients feel rushed and disconnected, which results in a poor therapeutic alliance.

Recent research suggests that when clinicians engage in mindfulness activities either individually or with patients the therapeutic process is improved which may assist in medication adherence.

Here is a webpage where there is a link to the full article.