Thursday, January 01, 2015

Mercy Killing

I have clearly heard teachers in American Zen Buddhism imply that mercy killing may be mandated by the precepts in certain circumstances.  So I guess I'm going to have to reconcile that with this bit from a Chinese Buddhist site that says mercy killing is necessarily a no-no.

Forming our own narratives..

I have a minor confession to make: our family went and saw The Interview on Christmas Day.   There's a lot of critiques of this movie out there,  that probably give every point of view possible already.  But you'll also find  - as often happens in movie reviews - that there's aspects of that movie that the critics miss. As this was written up as "frat boy humor comedy" blah blah, I expected that.   Another review mentioned some racist remarks by one of the characters.  My wife and son did not seem to notice (probably since the object of humor related to those remarks was Seth Rogen's character - that was left out of one of the reviews.)

So while I tend to agree with much of what was posted in some places before the movie was reviewed, I did want to see the film just to see what was behind this masterpiece of PR.  Yes, Rogen and Franco make things I usually don't want to see, still can't beat the way the PR was done.  While the final product did point out some of the nasty things about North Korea, it was done by this generation's answer to the Three Stooges, more or less.  And yeah, there's nothing here that any informed person would learn about North Korea.  But You Natzy Spy!  was similar fare, and so was Duck Soup, which was banned in fascist Italy, if what I've read is correct.

Happy New Year, all! I hope I'll have more chances to post here in the coming months.

Monday, December 01, 2014


This is why I have had my suspicions about the "business" sections of bookstores for decades.

In 1940, a young sociologist named Robert K. Merton published an essay called “Bureaucratic Structure and Personality,” in which he coined the phrase “displacement of goals.” Bureaucracy develops, Merton wrote, because large organizations require rules and procedures, lest they fall into the administrative and financial chaos and governance-by-whim of the kind that brought down William Durant. But eventually the rules and procedures devised to help the organization achieve its goals take on a life of their own, and become “an immediate value in the life-organization of the bureaucrat.” In other words, when people orient their lives around the rules, the purpose of the organization gets lost.

No matter what is tried there's no magic bullet to run one capitalist organization better than all the others, actually, because capitalism.   But then you also don't need the idea that there is a "Welch Way" or a "Google Way," etc.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

I don't think ultimately this will work...

"Mindfulness" and "meditation" are only going to be used in the service of capitalism so long as increased profits are made.  Critics of mindfulness capitalism - and I count myself among them - should note that as soon as profits aren't optimized via mindfulness, it will be spat out like a cherrystone. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

It's skill we need, not cults

Ross Douthat - known as Chunky Bobo in some quarters - writes:

From the Franciscans to the Jesuits, groups that looked cultlike to their critics have repeatedly revitalized the Catholic Church, and a similar story can be told about the role of charismatic visionaries in the American experience. (The enduring influence of one of the 19th century’s most despised and feared religious movements, for instance, is the reason the state of Utah now leads the United States on many social indicators.) 
...[PayPal co-founder Peter] Thiel’s argument is broader: Not only religious vitality but the entirety of human innovation, he argues, depends on the belief that there are major secrets left to be uncovered, insights that existing institutions have failed to unlock (or perhaps forgotten), better ways of living that a small group might successfully embrace.

Of course whenever I study social sciences I always go to an associate well let's just say that this "we need more crackpots" argument is a bit self-serving.  (Why are "futurists" rarely dystopian?) 

No we do not need more cults.  We need amateurs who through their amateurish love of the practice of life get to be virtuosos.

That's what we need.

Saturday, August 09, 2014


Attributed to Hui Neng, it means - paraphrased of course - "Originally there is not one thing."   無一物 is "not one thing," or "having nothing."

It's good not to have things you might get stuck to.


Friday, August 08, 2014

Beyond the clichés...

I have at least one post pending on one Robert Sharf, who, I would submit,  despite his academic credentials doesn't get it.

That's a post for another day.

This blog-by-a-Buddhist has been going, on and off, for almost ten years.  I have tried to make this blog not merely some repetition of European-American Buddhist  paradigms.  I've tried to fit it to how an American Buddhist lives his life when he's somewhere between or among various cultures.  Unlike some bloggers I can't remember the last time I've ever removed something from this blog, if ever.

I just read a snippet of someone's blog post where it kind of sort of seemed they thought they were in the know because they knew a story about some old Buddha long ago, and then they go on to paraphrase thoughts and ideas that are in some of the more popular European-American Buddhist books.

If you go back in this blog, you can find some of that too, - you certainly can.   I won't delete that junk, and I would encourage the writer of that other blog post not to delete that junk either.  In fact, generally I would say don't delete your blog least not for a year or so, if at all. 

There might be people who are marginally stable mentally and who might post things on blogs they would not like posted on their resumé, especially if they underemployed, and the victims of this current economy.   They ought to think twice about what they put out in cyberspace.

I  have been more outspoken of late about our Middle East policy; it I think is the great moral challenge of our time.  But I try to think before I post; but I also do want things to be said that ought to be said. 

But - in general - censor less.  You're not going to get your dream job, nor are you going to get the 見性 you deny you want to experience if you just stick within the realm of insider jargon, whether it's business/marketing speak or Zen.  From a Zen perspective, censorship can be a kind of attachment.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

"Buddhist sect leader detained"...?

So reads the headline in an article in the NY Times about the detention of one Wu Zeheng, who is said in the article to run a group called "Huazang Dharma."  The NY Times article links to his group's website.  The Times article states:

According to its website, the group calls on followers to perform a good deed each day and to fast several days a month and then to donate to charity the money they would have spent on food. The website also speaks of the group’s “commitment to the prosperity of the Chinese nation and world peace.” 
Mr. Wu, who is also addressed by followers as His Holiness Vairocana Xing Wu, founded Huazang Dharma in the late 1980s and traces its teachings back to the earliest days of Buddhism. A number of followers believe he possesses healing powers and say the traditional Chinese medicine he prescribes can cure cancer and other diseases. 
Nicole Ho, who lives in the United States and who credits Mr. Wu with saving the life of her ailing father, has been a devout follower since 1995. “His ability and level of wisdom is simply different from anyone else,” she said. “With Master Wu, you listen and feel good from head to toe.” 
Mr. Wu had been briefly detained twice by the police in recent years, but his followers said the current detentions of him and his followers suggested the authorities were determined to crush the group. 
According to several witnesses, the police entered Mr. Wu’s home in Zhuhai on July 29 saying they wanted to examine his residency registration papers and then took him away. A number of followers living in apartments in the same complex were also detained at the same time, including children who were studying meditation and martial arts. Meanwhile, the police in the nearby city of Shenzhen raided two businesses affiliated with Huazang Dharma and the homes of people working there.

Nobody can support taking kids away by police, assuming that's what happened. 
But... His Holiness Vairocana...?  According to his website:

Mr. Wu Zeheng, with an alias Xin Yu and Buddhist name His Holiness the Vairocana Xing Wu, is the Patriarch of Buddhism, the 88th successor of Buddha, the 61th Successor of Zen Dharma, the 51th Successor of the Caodong Dharma, and the 32nd Successor of the Offspring Sangha Dharma. Holding the Symbol of Buddha Dharma - the”Kashaya and alms bowl ” (the hundreds patched robe and the alms bowl) that is the direct line of descent from Supreme Shakyamuni Buddha.

Well all right...seriously... there's claims there about being a direct successor of the Buddha, "61st successor of Zen Dharma,"... elsewhere on the site you can see claims about faith healing and what-not. Such a person who makes such claims isn't so much a Buddhist leader as a Buddhist antagonist, and one who really obscures the Way.

My point is,  as you might expect, I'm not overly fond of charlatans, and I'm not overly fond of propaganda critical of the Chinese government that glosses over the chicanery of folks like Wu.  And donning Taiwanese scarves prominently on one's website is going to be just about as popular as honoring the Naqba in some West Bank Israeli settlement.

I really can't get all that worked up on the "religious freedom" of hucksters like Wu - to me he comes across as more or less a Chinese Frederick Lenz.

Monday, August 04, 2014

No ethnicty is excluded

Many early images of the Buddha look like this one - came into being after Alexander the Great invaded Bactria.  It's the Buddha, not Apollo.

It's images like this that come to my mind when I hear people make generalizations about Buddhists, and Western Buddhists in particular, as to whether they are authentic or not.  It's the flip side to the other problem - the relative invisibility of Asian Buddhist communities to Western Buddhist communities.   And so occasionally I have heard remarks from some people who do not take Western Buddhists seriously (and they are not all of European descent).  But as the above picture shows, it is likely there were Western Buddhist practitioners before there were Korean or Japanese practitioners.   And yes,  indeed, it is because of Western imperialism...usurping Persian and Indian imperialism  all of which had long been rendered irrelevant by the time the Mongols arrived. 

And the history's not so important as the practice. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Mindful Leadership

If you go to see people speak at a conference on "Mindful Leadership," you are probably a follower.  If you think the speakers are "thought leaders" on "mindful leadership" then you really aren't being a mindful leader, even if you fork over approximately 400 bucks for the "early adopter fee."

If you think:

Workplace leadership is all about growing the business, meeting the deadline, closing the deal, and finishing the project. And the speed and pace can be intense - getting it done faster, better, cheaper and smarter. Such a work style with all its ambition and energy has its benefits no doubt, but it also has a profound blind spot: in our relentless pursuit of ‘success’, we often forget to live our lives. When we lead a career that is excessively focused on being more successful, more admired or just more comfortable, we can deceive ourselves into neglecting the world around us, where we end up managing our lives rather than actually living them. 

and you're not some guy named Michael Carroll, that's another person's narrative, somebody else's picture of a rice cake, so to speak. 

Where do you find yourself?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The conversation moves on...

I was sitting the first mini-retreat I'd been able to have in years  - or returning therefrom - when Joshu Sasaki died.

Brad Warner somewhere talks about saying something about Sasaki and getting a bunch of vitriol in return.

The vitriol was in hindsight reasonable to have been expected.

But...  the retreat....

We have an essence that is fundamentally empty and awake, and we can know that fundamental emptiness and awareness of subject and object, host and guest,  ailing and caregiver.  Putting all thoughts and conceptions away - including the one about putting all thoughts and conceptions away - is key to this awareness.

This awareness is's sort of the thing that is.

In view of that, your transgressions, my transgressions, Joshu Sasaki's transgressions are not excused,  and are certainly not condoned or encouraged, but they're also ... harmonized, or in a sense "justified."  By justified I don't mean that it was in any way morally or ethically correct for any of us to transgress, but rather by justified I mean that word in the sense that the transgressions are exactly in the place and time they are in, and in the presence of boundless compassion, are not really so problematic.

It presents a couple of new koans though... such as OK, so we're all awake fundamentally, so what to do with perpetrators of transgressions, those who've done things significantly more harmful than dropping cigarette ashes on a stone Buddha?  And what to do with those who can't even get to the vantage point to be able to ask the last question?

It's why I had some questions recently about some teachers' "teaching," in response to the scandal thing.

But I must say I don't have great pat one-size-fits-all answers to those questions, and perhaps we're not supposed to have them.  Your view? 

Monday, July 28, 2014

36 Hour Tahoma Sesshin

Just enough for legs.

Very long ferry line on the way.

Clouds on Tahoma.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

People are actually asking this question?

I find it very difficult to think that in this day and age people have to address these issues, though I'm kind of glad Warner did - though I did not read all the way through.

Though any reference to Eckart Tolle should tell you enough (though again I am supportive of the sentiments of the author of that last linked piece too.)

But...Eckart Tolle is not what Zen Buddhism is about.   As to the author of that piece writing this:

This was the case with Zen Buddhism in Japan during and before WWII, the cultivation of stillness, compassion and love can co-exist with the worst fascism and imperialism. The entire institution of Zen Buddhism – the masters, monks and professors supported the cruel and colonizing efforts of the state and emperor. They defended the “wars of compassion,” gorged themselves in killing and advocated merging the small self with the larger self of the state. This was all done within the monastical, academic and ethical systems of Zen Buddhism.

Some of it was.   Some of those folks lacked ethics and some did not.   This does not mean those who lacked a practice of ethics were not Zen Buddhists; but the ethics is a real thing with Zen Buddhism.

But let's put it this way: when one has understanding - which is one way in which awakening is put - one really can move about the world in a way to more effectively help people - or hurt them if one lacks an ethical practice.

If you're relying on Eckart Tolle for any kind of "wisdom" you already have difficulties.  Not only because of what Warner & Ms. Scofield say, but rather because things like what Tolle is saying have nothing to do with awakening, as far as I can tell.

I disagree with Warner though - meditation by itself won't save the world.   It can help, for sure, but it's in the day-to-day conscious life practice that world changing actually happens.

Monday, June 30, 2014

I'm still around...Let True Dharma Continue

It's been a while since I posted something here; there's been major "life" stuff happening of late.

I am hoping to have a substantial post next week about My Experience with Federal Jury Duty, but that won't appear before Wednesday.  But it might be a few days later.

I think there's still a need for a blog like this.  In some Rinzai based temples in the United States they still chant "Let true Dharma Continue.  [ Temple name ] become complete.  The fact that some abbots have become discredited because of scandal does not mean the invocation is a bad idea, but instead underscores the need for wholeness. 

Too, there are still points to be made about clarifying practice given the predominance of certain practices in the West and some of the statements by some of their prominent "teachers."  Not to mention points to be made in response to certain superficial "Buddhist" publications in the West.  (On the lower right hand corner of my version of the Tricycle website, there's still an ad shilling Frederick Lenz's dreck.)

And then there are the big mistakes I make and sometimes make and bake into this blog.  There's a need to get past them.

Let true Dharma Continue.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

I'm wasn't a big fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson anyway, but...

I guess there is a place for Prof. Tyson in explaining The Science to everyone.  I get that.

And I really should stop reading Salon.  But, alas, today I did:

It’s also worth noting the difference between a full conception of philosophy and the caricature of it that Tyson has in mind. When Tyson, in the Nerdist podcast, laments the fact that philosophy seems to be overly concerned with deep questions, he cites the old Zen koan, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”
This reductio ad absurdum of the spirit of philosophy may be the root of his own ignorance of the importance of the discipline, as well as his open hostility toward it. (None of this is even to mention that he’s confusing Western philosophy with an Eastern spiritual practice.) But the perspectivism and nuance of full-strength philosophy provide the catalyst that can transmute the lead of knowledge into the gold of flourishing.

I think I will try to contact him and explain something about Zen to him...if I can't get a hold of him I will publish a response to him here.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Sort of Buddhist, you know...

John Steinbeck: some people didn't quite like his politics in the day...

Yeah," said Tom. "He didn' duck quick enough. He wasn' doing nothin' against the
law, Ma. I been thinkin' a hell of a lot, thinkin' about our people livin' like pigs, an' the good rich lan' layin' fallow, or maybe one fella with a million acres, while a hunderd thousan' good farmers is starvin'. An' I been wonderin' if all our folks got together an' yelled, like them fellas yelled, only a few of 'em at the Hooper ranch—"
Ma said, "Tom, they'll drive you, an' cut you down like they done to young Floyd." "They gonna drive me anyways. They drivin' all our people."
"You don't aim to kill nobody, Tom?"
"No. I been thinkin', long as I'm a outlaw anyways, maybe I could—Hell, I ain't
thought it out clear, Ma. Don' worry me now. Don' worry me."
They sat silent in the coal-black cave of vines. Ma said, "How'm I gonna know 'bout you? They might kill ya an' I wouldn' know. They might hurt ya. How'm I gonna know?" 
Tom laughed uneasily, "Well, maybe like Casy says, a fella ain't got a soul of his own, but on'y a piece of a big one—an' then—"
"Then what, Tom?"
"Then it don' matter. Then I'll be all aroun' in the dark. I'll be ever'where—wherever you look. Wherever they's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever they's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. If Casy knowed, why, I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad an'—I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry an' they know supper's ready. An' when our folks eat the stuff they raise an' live in the houses they build—why, I'll be there. See? God, I'm talkin' like Casy. Comes of thinkin' about him so much. Seems like I can see him sometimes."
"I don' un'erstan'," Ma said. "I don' really know."
"Me neither," said Tom. "It's jus' stuff I been thinkin' about. Get thinkin' a lot when you ain't movin' aroun'. You got to get back, Ma."
"You take the money then."
He was silent for a moment. "Awright," he said.

Then again sometimes doing the right thing leaves with choices that you wouldn't make if you just went along with society.  

Monday, April 21, 2014

Watch where you're aiming that thing. You could hurt yourself.

One of the best things about the internet is that it is possible to juxtapose things that in their "native" contexts would not be against one another; you can contextualize almost anything with anything.

Here's a few links today:

I could link more, but I have enough links here to make my point, or rather points:

  • Inviting the wealthy to tread a path that transforms greed, hatred, and ignorance into wisdom, generosity and love is not a harmful or bad thing.
  • That said, that path needs to involve ethical behavior.  That includes concepts of great compassion (大悲, だいじ ),  and benevolence 慈悲心 (じひしん) or  (仁、じん ).
  • I haven't taken any polls, and have no demographic information per se, but I would wager the folks who are going to those Wisdom 2.0 conferences as well as the large majority of folks working in that imaginary Oz called "Silicon Valley"  are in agreement with the above points, as well as their critics.   Why do I say this? Well, for one thing,  though I'm not "in the Valley," I am not doing badly relative to most of the country and I agree with most of the critics.  Yeah, I'm one data point, but I know other people too, evidently.    Plus, in the "Wisdom 2.0" link above there's a quote from New Age person Marianne Williamson - I suspect her tirade about wealth was not badly received, at least because the article doesn't mention an adverse reaction on the part of her audience.
Which brings me to my main point: the real, ultimate issue in the wealth disparity issue is not addressed by attacking your natural allies, just as racism, religious bigotry,  and sexual identity oppression are not addressed by attacking one's natural allies either.  It benefits an oligarch to have those who are not in the club squabbling with each other,  and I'd suspect the folks at Wisdom 2.0 aren't in that club.  That club goes to Davos, or elsewhere. They would not  stand for having the usual mindfulness suspects hawking their "wisdom."  Don't get me wrong, I fully agree; a lot of that "Wisdom" stuff is shallow, and if it takes Marianne Williamson to make a dancing monkey remark, you know there's problems.  But I don't see the point of assuming that the folks at Wisdom 2.0 are responsible for the conditions under which electronics are manufactured, at least any more than anyone else.

And even in the case of a Steve Jobs (who gets way too much credit and blame for everything, even now),  as flawed as he was, not budging an millimeter from a position seeking care and justice for all, we should not wallow in the "No true Scotsman" fallacy.  Jobs was a Buddhist.  Maybe Jobs didn't move the world in a direction that produced utopia (Nicholas Kristof has an opposing view that I don't think needs expounding here, other than to point out that  such views exist, and I abhor them, frankly.)   But that did not mean he was not a Buddhist.

And if you're a Buddhist, chances are you're still suffering as well. There's always a potential that class enemies can be identified a little too close to home, if we're in the business of hunting down class enemies who are called that because they're not the poorest of the poor, or the most marginalized of the marginalized.  

I applaud Nathan's views about the commodification of mindfulness (though he should change the word "gates" in his post to "entrances.")   I would go in a slightly different direction, and not want to posit an "us versus them" scenario, but at the same time I, too, insist that progressives actually make progress, which is what I would expect of myself in my own life. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Evolution and Buddhism?

Someone on the Twitter asked me about whether I knew any references regarding Buddhism and Darwin/Evolution.  It was mentioned that natural selection was kind of like karma.

Well, I'm not sure about that.  Or to put it another way, taking one aspect of science, and "comparing" it to Buddhism seems somewhat odd to me.   Contemporaneously with the question I received (more or less) there were articles in Salon about "Charles Darwin's tragic error"  and "Science doesn't disprove God: Where Richard Dawkins and the New Atheists go wrong." Every now and then Salon goes right off the deep end with junk such as this.   

I tend to be wary of the metaphors where "science" "proves" some aspect about religion.  I am also skeptical of religions that make falsifiable claims about which we don't have answers, although I suspect as well that some ethical and behavioral claims that Buddhism makes can be observed, tested, etc.  Recent activities on Twitter, especially in regards to racists and witch hunts, seem to practically shout such observability.   In the latter article in Salon above, there is a dash of anthropocentrism mixed with a lack of understanding of the nature of consciousness. 

The former article is perhaps more relevant to the question at hand.   Again, I view questions like, "How does Darwinian evolution relate to Buddhism?" along the lines of "How do Maxwell's Equations relate to Buddhism?"  Which is to say,  the science might explain some observables  about who and what's around, but, um, so what? 

The former article about Charles Darwin's "error" I think is more telling here, and more illustrative of the problem of imputing ideology to scientific observations:

Modern racism had several different intellectual sources, and only with difficulty could one say which of these was most important. I will focus here on the “scientific” strand of racism, which drew its inspiration from Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection. Several factors dictate  this emphasis on Darwinian racism. First, Darwinist racism explicitly motivated Hitler and many other leading perpetrators of the Holocaust. Second, Darwin inspired the researchers, most notably in biology and anthropology, who gave racism its aura of scientific certainty.  Third, Darwinian thought may well have been more popular in Germany  than anywhere  else during these years, in part because Germany was the world’s leading center of biological research before World War I and the Germans were exceptionally literate. Finally, Darwinist racism was the brand of racism most easily understood by the widest number of people, in part because Darwin’s theory was astonishingly simple and easy to explain. 
As Darwin’s theory gained widespread acceptance, thinkers of every stripe began to find lessons in it for understanding the politics and  society of their time, using Darwinian thought to support their own agendas. This so-called  Social Darwinism ran in many different political directions. The right-wing branch of Social Darwinism—which was not necessarily the most popular strand of it—promoted racism, justified social and political inequality, and glorified war. It also inspired Adolf Hitler and his ardent supporters to launch a world war and exterminate the Jews of Europe. 
Right-wing Social Darwinism produced several ideas that were attractive and convenient to the ruling classes of Europe and North America, and especially to Germany’s warlike and antidemocratic elites. The most important idea may have been “struggle,” the notion that all relations between individuals and between nations were defined by a merciless battle for survival. Struggle followed inevitably from the laws of nature as discovered by Darwin, and therefore had no moral significance.  The Christian injunctions to “love your neighbor” and “love your enemies”  had no place in the animal  kingdom;  neither should they control the behavior  of human beings, who were not made  in the image of God,  but rather counted  as nothing more than an especially clever type of animal. 
From these assumptions about struggle followed the argument that extreme social inequality was natural and permanent. The poor were poor because they were less fit than the rich. Charity for the poor blocked humanity from evolving to a higher plane, because it kept unfit members of society alive, allowing them to reproduce and pollute the gene pool with their inferior intelligence and moral weaknesses.  The belief in permanent struggle  also supported  a bias  toward violence  between nations, a glorification  of warfare. “Superior” peoples had every right  to conquer, exploit, and even exterminate “inferior” ones. If such aggression let superior peoples expand and become more numerous, the entire human race would  improve in the long run;  the extinction of lesser races was a cause for celebration rather than pity. In international relations, might made right: by winning a war, the victor showed that he deserved his victory, because his people were more fit to survive than were the losers...

Several points here are worth noting:

1. The author has at best a superficial understanding of Darwinian evolution; "love your neighbor," for example,  as well as other forms of altruism are indeed aligned with the notion of the "selfish gene" as Dawkins has put it.

2.  People co-opted Darwin's models outside of Darwin's field of discourse becomes "Darwin inspired" and therefore "Darwin is responsible."  This is dishonest.  If you want to put the fig-leaf of "intellectual" in front of that,  fine, but it is dishonest.  Yet people did do that. 

3. Social Darwinism is not biological evolution.  And even though Darwin's work was polluted with such co-option, it doesn't invalidate what Darwin wrote! 

The laws of natural selection are facts; to impute them as "proof" of a way of thinking is as useful as saying "it is raining now" therefore Buddhism is true.   There are a myriad of conditions, including some of which we have contributed, for which  the current weather can be explained.   Darwinian evolution, as observed, is a reflection of events transpired in environments, but it, too, is not the way. 

I will say this though: I think the two articles in Salon are an example of a certain type of greed and attachment: we want to believe we are special; we want to believe that our chosen practice is in accord with the universe(s) and by Jove, we've really got it!

Maybe we don't.   I think any good practice of the Way ought incorporate such a disclaimer, including any practice of the way associated with the writing of this post.  I.e., I might be wrong.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

On 仁 and rudeness based on perceived difference

The Confucian notion of 仁 - close enough to Buddhist compassion here - can lead one to understand why a) I need to model 仁  in my day to day life, b) nobody should use rudeness towards them as a reason to escalate conflict, and  c) those who have been harmed and inclined towards rudeness and abusiveness, especially on matters of difference between  groups of people are not exempt from manifesting 仁 - they have an added burden to cultivate the expression of  仁 but they are not exempt.

I can't seem to find the quote on line verbatim and you can look it up yourself.  The quote I'm looking for is from the movie Ip Man,  where in an off-camera soliloquy before fighting General Mura, Ip Man explains why he won't teach the Japanese 詠春券.  The quote goes something to the effect of, "Although martial arts involve armed force, the Chinese martial arts are Confucian in sprit. The virtue of kung fu is benevolence. You Japanese will never understand the principle of treating others as you would yourself because you abuse military power. You turn it into violence and oppress others. You don't deserve to learn Chinese martial arts."

There is a real and profound truth to the claim that the point of 功夫 is benevolence - 仁 as would be rendered in Japanese and Chinese.  It just simply is not possible to practice or use 詠春券 if one is hostile and tense.

Benevolence as meant here is more or less a term from Confucianism  but, at least to me, at least in English,  it is very close to the concept of loving-kindness (慈, じ ), and my on-line dictionary lists 慈悲心 (じひしん) as synonymous with benevolence.  Buddhism came to China after Confucianism became established, and perhaps this explains why  仁 is more associated with Confucianism than Buddhism and concerning the relative differences between Confucian 仁 and  Buddhist 慈悲心 suffice to say that there are such differences, but it's not really the main subject here, and for our intent we can say they're close enough. Also I note in passing there has been historically some friction between Confucian adherents and Buddhist adherents in China (visit Qufu, Confucius' home town for more) which is only to say that nobody's particularly close or far from the angels here.  So perhaps being rude to both traditions as only someone without enough knowledge can be I will consider  仁 and  Buddhist 慈悲心  close enough  to render either as benevolence.

The structure of the character 仁 though is interesting, and is like many characters in that its radical (人, the character for person) has the same pronunciation  as the character itself. The rest of  仁 might be taken to be the character for two.  Person - two, two people,  Wikipedia notes though that while it's tempting to  consider 仁 is about people together it's about humaneness as well as benevolence.  Wikipedia explains:

人+二=仁 (rén) man on left two on right, the relationship between two human beings, means humanity, benevolence, seed. Originally the character was just written as丨二 representing yin yang, the vertical line is yang (male, penis, heaven, odd numbers), the two horizontal lines are yin (female, vagina, earth, even numbers), 仁 is the seed and core of everything. The character 人 (man, rén) and 仁 have the same pronunciation. When a human is unable to be humane, he or she does not qualify to be a human but an animal. But when a human is able to be humane, for example, when Buddhism first introduced to China in the Han Dynasty the Chinese people translated the Buddha's name into "able to be human" or someone with ”ability and humanity" (能人,能仁) because Confucius's teachings and Buddha's teachings are "one to two, two to one."

 The Wikipedia goes further in its discussion of 仁 in Confucian teaching; from the Wikipedia article (仁 is romanized from Mandarin as rén):

Rén relies heavily on the relationships between two people, but at the same time encompasses much more than that. It represents an inner development towards an altruistic goal, while simultaneously realizing that one is never alone, and that everyone has these relationships to fall back on, being a member of a family, the state, and the world.[9]
Rén is not a concept that is learned; it is innate, that is to say, everyone is born with the sense of Rén. Confucius believed that the key to long-lasting integrity was to constantly think, since the world is continually changing at a rapid pace.
There have been a variety of definitions for the term Rén. Rén has been translated as "benevolence", "perfect virtue", "goodness" or even "human-heartedness".[10] When asked, Confucius defined it by the ordinary Chinese word for love, ai, saying that it meant to "love others".[11]
Rén also has a political dimension. Confucianism says that if the ruler lacks Rén, it will be difficult for his subjects to behave humanely. Rén is the basis of Confucian political theory; the ruler is exhorted to refrain from acting inhumanely towards his subjects. An inhumane ruler runs the risk of losing the Mandate of Heaven or, in other words, the right to rule. A ruler lacking such a mandate need not be obeyed, but a ruler who reigns humanely and takes care of the people is to be obeyed, for the benevolence of his dominion shows that he has been mandated by heaven. Confucius himself had little to say on the active will of the people, though he believed the ruler should definitely pay attention to the wants and needs of the people and take good care of them. Mencius, however, did state that the people's opinion on certain weighty matters should be polled.
Rén also includes traits that are a part of being righteous, such as hsin, meaning to make one's words compliment his actions; li, which means to properly participate in everyday rituals; ching, or "seriousness"; and yi, which means right action. When all these qualities are present, then one can truly be identified as a chün tzu (君子), or "superior man," which means a morally superior human being. Confucians basically held the view that government should be run by ethically superior human beings who concentrate solely on the welfare of the people they govern.

I think one can see the differences with Buddhism  are in spirit not much - 仁  being innate is one aspect of Confucian philosophy that seems different from Buddhism.  On the other hand there are people who appear to be truly pathological narcissists but at any rate, from a Buddhist perspective, doing a little bit of violence to the concepts, I  think it stands that one should cultivate 仁 to be able to be a human being.

Wikipedia also states that the parental love for a child is among the purest manifestations of 仁 .

Now that I've put forth how I'm using 仁 and its notions I'd like to point to related series of thoughts I've seen in discussions on perceived difference:

  • It's unrealistic to expect that someone who has been harmed by another is going to be voluntarily  polite to that person.
  • Some people generalize this concept to classes of people.
  • And generalizing this lack of politeness to a perceived dominant class of people is justified because of past acts by members of a dominant class of people
  • And if questioned those who employ a lack of politeness toward the perceived dominant class of people the rejoinder, "I learned not to complain when it's done to me, so why are you complaining?" or some such thing.
  • If this sequence is even politely remonstrated against  or the behavior's  ineffectiveness logically pointed out one might be called  the name "tone police" as an attempt to distract from the rudeness.
  • And some people from supporters of the dominant class will use this to "prove" that "they" are "racist", "sexist" or whatever.

Now let me consider these points in light of 仁 :

  • 仁  has often been expressed as "not doing to others what you wouldn't want done to yourself." While it may be unrealistic to expect that one demonstrate 仁 towards a perceived oppressor, the expression of 仁 itself is an expression of freedom from oppression.   To be able to express 仁  in the face of a perceived difference in power or social standing is truly the mark of a person of accomplishment, and such a person is able to achieve much in this world; bringing much of the world along with them. 
  • On line I have seen some real abuse directed towards people who have experience more oppression as a perceived member of a dominant class than some members of some "underclasses" might ever receive. 
  • The above point, notice applies to behavior towards a perceived harming person or a class of people.   Like most people, I've been one of those harmed people.  It's had an effect on me.  But point is, to be able to act from 仁  in spite of being harmed is really to act from a position of more fundamentally human power than any oppressor can ever cook up.
  • As a Buddhist, I think 仁  needs to be taught and modeled, and is innate to the same degree in everyone.  I think though some have not been taught that.   What I'm saying here applies ten-fold to myself: I need to model 仁  better in my interactions with people.  
The last two points really sum it up for what I'm trying  to express here: the harm done to one's self or group should be the basis of the germination of a seed of compassion which we - I especially - have an obligation to  cultivate the expression of  仁 in my day to day dealings with people.

Now I haven't even touched the subject of how this relates to the expression of Buddhist right speech, but rather considered such speech from the aspects of precious metal rules.  The reason I approached it this way had to do with some particularly harsh on-line speech I'd seen from an avowed Buddhist, which involved a denigration of Confucian ideals mixed in with rudeness directed towards individual  members of perceived dominant classes.  In another case I saw though, an attack on a person in relatively dire straits was met with hostility and a complete lack of empathy.

Such people have every right to be impotent and ineffective, and perfect entitlement to be rude and even express hostility towards members of dominant classes. Such people have a right to ignore what others - such as me - would point out is an ethical oblgation here.

But being having a right to do something does not make it wise to do it, and does not demonstrate any kind of skill in dealing with people.  Or as John Lennon put it, "If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao/ you ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow."  Or, as the scriptwriter for Ip Man would put it,  activists who do not understand and practice the principle of treating others as they would themselves abuse the notions of activism and liberation, and  turn those notions into violence and oppression of others. Such folks desperately need to  learn the true meaning and practice  of  功夫 and 仁, and will marginalize themselves.

People like me don't need to do anything if people like them are attacking me - they are attacking only themselves. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Once upon a time I was going to write a book called "Why the revolution hasn't come"

It's name was taken from the title of a show on WBAI a long time ago, hosted early Saturday mornings by a guy named Simon Loekle.   The show morphed into "As I Please," which was very literature-centric.

Ah that was then.

I knew why the revolution hadn't come: the revolution hadn't come because the revolution was a manifestation, a projection of what we thought we were lacking in ourselves.  What I didn't see is why the revolution hadn't come was what I was not seeing and living from in my own life; or to put it another way, we included me.  And I certainly couldn't put in motion anything like a revolution because it wasn't operative in my own life. The revolution happens when the Wheel turns.  If you are personally stuck no wheel is turning.

Emma Goldman might not have said, "If I can't dance, it's not my revolution!" Apparently she did say,  "I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody's right to beautiful, radiant things."  But it's not clear that her revolution ever really came.

Somehow, somewhere along the way I lived a life and met some remarkable people, and somehow somewhere along the way I actually did participate in a revolution, and you may have benefited from my participation in that revolution.

Some folks are still stuck.  Some folks may not know what Mazu was talking about, and think that cultivation is unnecessary.  Some folks may be too concerned with polishing a tile or not polishing a tile.  It's possible to get stuck in the notion that you're complete as you are without X, because it seems so good, right, on the side of the angels.   But of course having that expression is still attachment.  And what I wrote is still attachment.  Take the I out, or replace it with you or some other noun; play Mad-Libs with it, and it's still 90º off target.

I don't know about anyone else (though I have conjectures), but as for me, the encounter with my own suffering, and the idea that this suffering could be everyone's (see last paragraph) was useful for me to get beyond that. And beyond that is something wonderful.  

There is a heck of a lot of suffering out there.  Some people are in a particularly difficult place; they feel (often with justification) that they have been marginalized, and feel impotent to act with those who are seen as marginalizers.   

The revolution comes when the First Noble Truth is begun to be apprehended.