Zen Master Raven

Having spent the previous evening working till way past midnight, I decided to keep my laptop switched off yesterday – It was Saturday after all! Besides I’d come to a realisation earlier in the week. That although I really love what I do at Talis, I’ve been using my work, rightly or wrongly, as a way to hide from other things that I haven’t figured out how to deal with.


    Mole came to Raven privately and said, "We haven't talked 
about death very much. I'm not concerned about where I will 
go, but watching so many family members die, I'm wondering 
what happens at the point of death?".
   Raven sat silently for a while, then said, "I give away my 

After visiting dad’s grave yesterday morning, I decided to take a trip into the city center and do a little shopping – wasn’t really sure what I was shopping for. I’ve been having strange moments like that a lot recently – strange in the sense that I’m doing things that feel random, they don’t necessarily have any purpose at the outset. Anyway after buying a couple of DVD’s and some clothes, I ended up at Borders Book Shop in the Bull Ring.

I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, I simply walked from one aisle of books to another glancing at the shelves to see if anything caught my eye. I love Science Fiction and Fantasy novels so I did consciously walk over to that area and spent a while there but didn’t find anything that really stood out. I also spent a fair bit of time rifling through a bunch of Manga novels but I aready own all the good stuff and some of the newer series have proven to be disappointing. Eventually I ended up in the section entitled Philosophy / Spirituality – that’s when I found “Zen Master Raven: Sayings and Doings of a Wise Bird“. When I got back home I proceeded to spend the rest of the afternoon and much of the evening reading it from cover to cover, twice! Here’s why …

I had this terrible feeling that whilst I understood much of it … there’s a huge amount of meaning within it’s covers that I simply can’t figure out … yet … It feels like a thorn in my mind … and I love it …

The Spirit of the Practice

    Relaxing with the others after zazen one evening, Owl
asked "What is the Spirit of the practice?"
    Raven said, "Inquiry."
    Owl cocked his head and asked, "What do I inquire 
    Raven said, "Good start."

I think it’s a wonderfully delightful book. The author Robert Aitken, is a well known American Zen Master, whilst he has written a number of other books and essays this piece is very different. His literary device of using animals, unconventional in Zen, is remarkably successful in presenting the promises and risks, hopes and fears of the Tallspruce community that Raven Roshi shares with his students, neighbours and friends. I think this book captures the spirit of Zen as much as any book can, and it demonstrates how Zen can become the practice of a lifetime.


    One evening, in a discussion of his personal problems,
Raven asked Brown Bear, "What is the role of character in 
the practise?"
    Brown Bear said, "I try to keep my promises."
    Raven said, "I try to keep my promises, too, but I'm easily
    Brown Bear said, "The cold wind reminds me."

Aitken’s book is the distillation of a collection of stories, some only a few sentences in length, that, as he sees it, illuminate the Way. These stories are succinct, charming and contain a huge depth of insight. The stories might feel weird, but are hugely compelling.

Very Special

    In a group munching grubs one afternoon, Mole
remarked, "The Buddha Shakyamuni was very special
wasn't he! I'm sure there has never been anyone like 
    Raven said, "Like the madrone."
    Mole asked, "How is the madrone unique?"
    Raven said, "Every madrone leaf."
    Mole fell silent.
    Procupine asked, "How does the uniqueness of every
Madrone leaf relate to the practice?"
    Raven said, "Your practice."

The Web as a city

Outside.in’s Steven Johnson says the Web is like a city: built by many people, completely controlled by no one, intricately interconnected and yet functioning as many independent parts. While disaster strikes in one place, elsewhere, life goes on. This is a pretty old ted talk from back in 2003, it’s only been released this month. Much of what Steven talks about would feel far more important and powerful if you were listening to this talk five years ago Web culture in particular has advanced far beyond this already. So although dated its still a wonderfully inspiring talk.

Be Your Own Therapist


We spend our lives being seduced by the outside world, believing without question that happiness and suffering come from “out there.” In reality, Buddhist teachings explain that they come from the way we perceive and interpret things, not the things themselves.

This deeply held misconception is at the root of our dissatisfaction, self-doubt, anger, depression, anxiety, and the rest. But our minds can change. By becoming deeply familiar with the workings of our own cognitive processes through introspection and learning to deconstruct them – truly, being our own therapists – we can loosen the grip of these neuroses and grow our marvelous potential for contentment, clarity, and courage, which are at the core of our being.

… very very deep!

Do what you love …

Rob wrote a wonderful piece earlier this week on Passion, personal brand and doing what you love. We’ve both spent time reflecting, individually, on how our paths led us to Talis and the work we are now doing. We’ve also discussed this subject on a number of occasions and I think we’ve both reached the same conclusion – life is too short to waste it away doing something you dont love. It takes time to come to a realisation like this, and sadly, it often require some external event to force you to stop and reflect on your life, how you got to where you are and most importantly where is it your heading. I know some people describe this as a kind of awakening, and I guess if you honestly believe that life is a journey then it’s moments such as these that can feel like a fork in the road…

One path leads back to the world that you know, its the world that you’ve become used to, it’s the world in which you don’t have to love what you do to get by, it feels comfortable because there is no risk, you don’t have to deal with the unknown too often, you don’t have to rock the boat. In many ways you’ve already reached a destination … or is it more true to say that you’ve reached an empasse?

The other path leads to somewhere else, unfortunately you don’t know what’s down there. You don’t necessarily even know where you’re going. Here’s the thing though … maybe you don’t have to care about the destination, maybe it’s less about the where, and much more about the how?

I guess that’s how I see things these days. There’s a part of me that believes that if do what I love, then it won’t feel like my life is just slipping away, one monotonous day to the next. I lived my life like that once, it’s so easy to do, you become so used to it that you don’t even realise that something is wrong … I actually had to come to within a heartbeat of losing my life before I realised that life is far to precious a gift to waste like that. To spend so much of it doing something that I felt completely indifferent towards, even hated at times … Isn’t it fascinating how the the worst prisons are the ones we create for ourselves?

There’s two quotes I want to end with, the first is from Paul Graham’s essay entitled How to do what you love, I remember reading it a couple of years ago, and although I don’t agree with some of it, it’s still a wonderful piece. His essay ends with this obeservation:

Finding work you love is very difficult. Most people fail. Even if you succeed, it’s rare to be free to work on what you want till your thirties or forties. But if you have the destination in sight you’ll be more likely to arrive at it. If you know you can love work, you’re in the home stretch, and if you know what work you love, you’re practically there.

The second quote is much shorter, but far more profound, you see for me loving what I do is a part of a much greater truth, one that underpins everything I’ve said, and I think almost everything I now hold dear:

There is life in every breath

Anime Reviews: Sky Blue, Vexille and X


Set in the year 2077 relations between Japan and the rest of the world have deteriorated to the extent that the country has cut off all communication with the other inhabitants of Earth. Vexille is a female commander who leads a team of U.S. special forces, named SWORD, who have been charged with infiltrating Japan to discover the potentially dangerous technological advances the country is making. Their mission, and their discoveries, reveal that the Japanese have created a new breed of android virtually indistinguishable from human beings. I really enjoyed this movie, which came as no real surprise because it was made by the same people that created excellent Appleseed. The sound is excellent, and the visuals use the same superb blend of 2D and 3D animation that made Appleseed so memorable. This movie is not dubbed into English which might disappoint some people, I personally don’t mind watching it in Japanese with subtitles. If you like Appleseed then you’ll almost certainly love this, whilst it is somewhat formulaic the action is breathtaking.

Sky Blue
An environmental catastrophe has left the future of mankind in the year 2140 fighting against extinction. Slaves inhabit the outside world whilst the lucky ones live in comfort in Ecoban. One man dares to fight against the injustice – he enters the city to find its secrets and bring freedom to the slaves who have been consigned to an early death. This movie had me captivated from start to finish. The animation is flawless and the attention to details is absolutely breathtaking. This film also uses a blend of 2D and 3D animation and actually surpasses almost every other such anime I’ve seen ( yes that includes Appleseed!). The plot is somewhat convoluted and the ending did leave me with more questions rather than answers, yet to me that didn’t take away from how much I enjoyed the movie.

I have no idea where to start with this. It has to be one of the most confusing anime’s I have seen, yet it’s absolutely briliant. This falls squarely into the realms of old skool anime. Yet I have to admit I enjoyed it. It is pretty violent, so I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who is squeamish. In a nutshell its about good vs evil. Tokyo is the city where the final battle between the Dragon of Earth and the Dragon of Heaven will take place The Dragon of Earth wants to wipe out humankind because of the damage people have inflicted on the Earth, while the Dragon of Heaven is fighting to protect civilisation. At the centre of all this is Kamui, the chosen one, who must pick a dragon to fight for. It’s a deeply philosophical movie, far more so than I expected. It also has that eerie haunting beauty that makes it so memorable. Definitly one to watch.