April 14, 2012

Marvel Comics Spreads the Dharma

Clark Gregg, the actor who plays Agent Coulson in the Marvel Universe, gave me this crew swag t-shirt in July when they were filming The Avengers. I wore it at Buddhist Geeks 2011, which greatly enhanced my “Geek cred.” The movie is coming out this May.

In Sanskrit, the letter “A” plays the same role as the “A” in Greek; It negates (symmetric vs. asymmetric; typical vs. atypical, etc.). In the Japanese Vajrayana tradition, it stands for the Primordial Unborness (ajāta) of all things. That may sound inscrutable but it’s something everyone experiences. It’s what you turn towards each time you notice something vanishing. In my system of teaching mindfulness, I instruct people to label the moment of vanishing with the word “Gone.”

Goneness has been known and cultivated in all ages and in all cultures inside and outside of all religious traditions. Hence, there are many synonyms for it, some of which seem to contradict each other! The following partial list of synonyms will give you an idea of the ubiquity and importance of this experience.

·       Zero (according to Jōshū Sasaki Rōshi)
·       Pure Consciousness (Purusha in Yoga)
·       Cessation (Cittavrittinirodha in Yoga, Nirodha in Buddhism, Cesó in St. John of the Cross)
·       The Source (Ha Makom in Kabbalah, Kongen according to Jōshū Sasaki Rōshi)
·       The Witness (Drashtri in Yoga)
·       True Self (Ātma in Hinduism)
·       No self (Anatta in Buddhism)
·       The Unborn (Ajāta in Buddhism and Hinduism)
·       The Undying (Amrita in Buddhism and Hinduism)
·       Nothingness (Nihil, Nichts, Nada in Christianity, Ayn in Judaism, Shunyatā in Buddhism, Fanā’ in Islam, Xū in Daoism)
·       Ground (Grund according to Meister Eckhart, Gzhi in Tibetan practice)
·       True Love (Shinjitsu no ai according to Jōshū Sasaki Rōshi)
Update 1/3/13: Stephanie Nash posted to her "Shinzen Interviews" Youtube channel a dharma talk on "A"....Shinzen Young explains "A" in a Whole New Way. Enjoy!


  1. (*_*) Geek cred! Some of us, like myself, need to be a little more geeky! Thanks for making geekiness more accessible to us non-geeks. What kind of a person would say they were able to become " fascinated" by their boredom while on a retreat in the desert of Yucca Valley? Shinzen!

  2. As a person who is chronically ill, and must spend as many as 22 hours alone lying down, for years, this statement made me feel:" if he could do it, then it must be possible!" And so it is with many of your statements. I can't say I can follow all of your meditation directions, but from your tapes, I have learned to look at life differently, and to turn illness into a monastery. Wow, what is that worth! Seriously, thank you.

  3. Hulk smash silly VOID!

  4. Dharm Kaur KhalsaApril 14, 2012 at 8:35 PM

    Beautiful article. Thank you.

    Also, I would like to add that in Sikh Dharma, there is the concept of Akal - literally 'the undying' or 'deathless'. 'Kal' means 'time' so it refers to the state of being 'beyond time', not caught in the world of time and space. A liberated being.

  5. When I first saw this, I thought of Atheist symbol with the same "A". See Dawkins or see Thinking Atheist (with the circle). All these have their own apparrel too. It will be fun to see what that means when the movie comes out.

    You are all capitalizing on "Not" [a] -- Sanskrit, Greek, Tibetan or English. Good think it is not copywrited.

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  7. I really want a t-shirt based on this meme! But of course I don't want it to be confused with the Avengers. So we need a nice design for an A in a circle, with some suitable imagery for gone / zero / pure consciousness / the source, etc. Hmmmm....


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