Mirror of Zen Blog

Spinning Wheels, Spinning Spinning Spinning

Graphics: Matt Semke /// Design: Ioannis Papadopoulos /// Music: Moby (by Permission)

Tibetan prayer-wheels are carved with the letters of mantras. Tibetan prayer-flags are printed with mantras, sutras and dharanis. It is believed that, when these prayer-wheels are turned or these flags flutter and wave, the “essence” of the mantra, dharani, or sutra is wafted out into the Ten Directions, little mental seedlets of Dharma sprinkled out into the ether of samsaric suffering. Who knows wherein what consciousness an invisible seed of “waking-up” might land, there to inspire the wish to practice (bodhi)?

For the last few years, with the help of friends, I have been producing media like long-form video talks, memes, and nano-films, and spreading them through this blog and elsewhere. They are intended in the same spirit as a spinning prayer-wheel or prayer-flag: Spinning, spinning, spinning through cyber-space, fluttering on the infinite photon micro-wavelets of digital transmission, these are intended as little seedlets of Dharma spread out to sentient beings in the vast ether of our suffering world. Who knows where a seed might take root and bloom a Buddha?

I hear from people, all the time, that some random chance encounter with a Dharma talk (not necessarily my own, of course) somewhere on the Internet, has led someone to look deeper and try some things out and eventually arrive at meditation. I have heard many times of a life being changed for the better by some unexpected encounter with Dharma online, or even on social media. It is always gratifying to know that there is a chance to help some mind somewhere come to the wish to wake up. The digital space is the modern agora: the marketplace where ideas and new experiences are exchanged, bartered, argued over, or just made possible. So this is why it’s good to put these things out into space.

I first encountered Dharma-words by randomly pulling a thin book from the bookshelf in a home where I was temporarily subletting in Tribeca, NYC, in June 1987: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. It started the practice of Zen for me. Someone left that Dharma-seedlet out there on their shelf, and it wafted into my mind, and started opening the path that I walk today.

In today’s world, it is less a book on a bookshelf than a chance quote or video encountered while scrolling through on the train on the way home from another mind-numbing experience at the office; while sitting in the waiting room at the hospital, helping a friend in need; even while sitting on the toilet, scrolling through after a difficult argument with a roommate or lover. Now, the Dharma-seedlets can happen anywhere. I was just now ranting to Ioannis what extreme wonder we should feel, all the time, that we live in an age where the work of spreading ideas can happen basically for free, even posting while sitting on the toilet. (Full disclosure: It has been done here.)

Also, the memes and nano-films express the Dharma with words from Buddhist and non-Buddhist teachers. I chafed for years in a community where there was, until perhaps recently, this unwritten, unspoken group-think around “promoting” on public-facing materials the words only of a certain single patriarch, a certain “approved” lineage, a certain non-threatening way to spread the Dharma. I might occasionally quote my own Teacher’s words here and there, in a post or a meme, but it really happens less and less. It is one pointing-finger among others (however singular was his impact on my own life). But I was for years in a sangha where folks did Dharma talks which seldom veered from quoting Zen Master Seung Sahn every several sentences, a constant reiteration, sometimes right down to using his phrases only with the broken-English accenting that he employed. (Again, I do this so seldomly for some specific effect, and as rarely as possible.) It never felt comfortable being in such a circle-jerk of Dharma. It felt entrapping, however incalculable was/is the gratitude I feel for this teaching and this Teacher.

So it is natural for me to share whatever points to Dharma — whether it be the Buddha who points to Dharma in some sutra, or if it is some old Zen moldy somewhere, or Jesus pointing to Dharma, or my Teacher, or Lennon and McCartney, or a rotten dead duck.

So, these videoettes are offered as modern mini-sutras, digital prayer-wheels spinning endlessly, even after we pass. They are offered only in that spirit. You can also pass them by.

Please share them with friends if you find them worthwhile. Keep the spinning-spinning-spinning-spinning always spinning-spinning.

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