Zen and Texas Hold ‘Em

I just returned from a couple of visits to the great state of Nevada. Reno and Las Vegas. Not exactly what one would call the hotbed of Zen philosophy to be sure. But then again, “enlightenment” can happen in the strangest places. So here’s my story.

One cannot help but get fascinated by the degree of attachment and immersion people have in a gambling casino. The light, the noise, the babbling conversations in the very decor are all conducive to people totally losing themselves in the interaction with the one-armed bandit or the shuffling of cards and spinning the wheels.

What got me to thinking about this is that in the world of poker there is the psychological phenomena that the professionals refer to as “the tell”. This is basically the nonverbal cues as to what’s going on in the mind of the gambler. If you can read these “tells” you can gain insight into what the other guy is thinking and about to do. In short, these signals, or Tells what you know what’s really going on. And then you can adjust your play accordingly.

For example, let’s say that every time a player gets dealt a good hand that isn’t showing he blinks. And when that player is dealt a bad hand his habit is to slightly move away from the table. After you’ve observed these tells a few times you’ve got a pretty reliable indicator of where this person sits vis-à-vis the game.

The Zen of Tell

For those of you who have followed my work you know that I constantly return to a core precept taken from Zen Buddhism concerning what is called “the three poisons”. Or more specifically, these are the three things that compose the suffering that we all experience as spiritual beings housed in a physical body.

I won’t go into great detail here in this blog about the basis of these three poisons. I’d be happy to discuss it in some detail with those of you who are interested and I actually have an entire technical paper written on the topic that I would share with you if you want. But suffice to say the three poisons are (in no important order) ignorance, attachment, and aversion. In common parlance we tend to translate these into everyday experiences.

  • Ignorance becomes delusion
  • Attachment becomes greed
  • Aversion becomes hatred

In my world of Zen, I break these down even farther. Delusion is centered in our head. Greed becomes something that is manifested physically and I would call the hand. Hatred comes from the heart.

I know that there are several folks out there that argue the finer points of categorizing these things in this way. I’m doing this in hopes that I can make some of this rather powerful philosophic Zen thinking accessible to a much wider audience.

Okay. Back to the casino. So, the question I had walking through the casinos these past couple weeks was what are the Tells that signify these three poisons as they exhibit themselves in people’s everyday behavior. In other words, what’s the Tell for delusion? And in a similar fashion what’s the Tell for greed and what’s the Tell for hatred?

A Ha!

What I’ve come to is the following. Delusion is really the dominance of the “I” ego run amok. And of course greed is seen as clinging to possessions. In a similar fashion hatred manifest itself as “fear of the other” and a lack of empathy. All pretty straightforward so far right?

So I’m engaged in a conversation of the person and I’m listening closely and watching and I’m thinking, “what are the tells this person is broadcasting”?

  • If it’s Delusion, which comes from ignorance, and his head centered I expect to

see : States of confusion like they grounded, an exhibit of sociopathic behavior, and most commonly personal test of loyalty.

  • If it’s Greed, which is really attachment, and is hand centered I expect to

See: valuing of things over people, overconsumption, and when greed takes root in a community you get a severe concentration of wealth.

  • If it’s Hatred, which comes from aversion his heart centered I expect to

see:  a tendency to label any person who was not similar to oneself as subhuman  (as in animal), in severe cases of hatred there almost seems to be a sense of joy taken from hurting others through insults, punishment and denial.

There you have it. There is a linkage between the three poisons of Zen Buddhism (ignorance, attachment, or version) how that gets manifested in everyday life through delusions, greed and hatred. Further, I’m suggesting that each of these has a corresponding tell.

Be alert, be very alert. Are you seeing people exhibiting a state of confusion, valuing things over people or perhaps labeling others as some sort of subhuman thing. This should give you a clue as to what the nature of the spiritual deficit is that these people are experiencing.

Please note it’s not your responsibility to bring these things back into balance. Your only responsibility is how you react to these situations. And maybe in many cases the best thing to do is leave the casino.


By | 2018-05-20T09:36:26-07:00 May 20th, 2018|wholeness|1 Comment

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  1. […] However, I will offer one closing thought. If these political changes come to be, as I think they will, they will ultimately have a transformative impact on social policies. That’s the 600-pound gorilla no one wants to talk about right now because our conversations are centered on hate, greed and delusion. Deeper discussion here. […]

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