Monday, November 30, 2009

Needing a Teacher?

Aaron/gniz has two posts exploring "How do we know a teacher is legit?" and "Why a teacher might not be necessary"

I think it's good to have what, for want of a better term, is a teacher (I'd say "mentor," but that word's been ravaged by business-speak.) I think it's good to know someone who acts differently from you, whose behavior is not as dependent on your behavior.

Of course it is important that the teacher abide by ethical guidelines, and in my way of thinking a teacher who is not so financially dependent on keeping an institution running by soliciting funds from his sangha/congregation is of paramount importance. Ethical considerations follow in such positions that mirror the counselor/client or doctor/patient relationship, and these should be stated and maintained.

Aaron's right: you're going to make most of the progress on your own. I wasn't able to make it all on my own though, and that's why a teacher was highly necessary for me. Luckily, I met a good one; the scam artists out there are more prevalent than they ought to be. But, as I'd written elsewhere, even an ethically challenged teacher might help some students sometimes. But be aware. Caveat emptor.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Maybe I've been too soft on Dennis Genpo Merzel

Although Aaron/gniz's posts here and here and here seem a bit like guilt by association, they're not, because it's clear that the unsavory people around Merzel are an ongoing nexus.

I'd like to go somewhere slightly different here: how the hell could they have had the cojones to trademark Big Mind? Now although the recommended uses seem to be currently suppressed on the Big Mind website, a trip to the US patent office website will readily reveal that as of today, "Kanzeon Inc." holds a trademark on "Big Mind," for "Education services, namely, conducting workshops and classes in the field of psychospiritual processes that facilitate a shift in human consciousness." (I'd hyperlink but hyperlinking from the US patent office is notoriously unreliable.)

The mark includes:

26.01.03 - Circles, incomplete (more than semi-circles); Incomplete circles (more than semi-circles)
26.01.21 - Circles that are totally or partially shaded.
26.01.28 - Circles with irregular circumferences; Miscellaneous circular designs with an irregular circumference

So what they did was take a term that had been in use for at least 30 years within the American Zen community (at least since Shunryu Suzuki's book came out), along with the classic Zen enso and claim that is a distinctive identifier of Merzel's organization's "Education services, namely, conducting workshops and classes in the field of psychospiritual processes that facilitate a shift in human consciousness."

I do not have the time and money to challenge this man's appropriation of what I think rightly belongs in the public domain, and the fact that he, and others have tried to conflate Merzel's marketed "shift in human consciousness" with satori (as has been copiously documented by Warner & gniz) really does appear unethical, and is certainly in the direction of being a fraud, if not an outright fraud itself.

Now, of course it might be "my word against Merzel's word" as to whether or not he's selling the real deal or a cheap fake, except for one or two other things: 1) There already have been others speaking out about this (namely Ven. Warner), and 2) You don't see a whole lot of other Zen masters (even the ones on the "Big Mind Advisory Board") lining up to give inka shomei to those folks who paid for "Big MindTM" workshops.

Actually, I haven't even seen where Merzel's done that.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Guest Practice

Today's Thanksgiving; after sitting it's time for my family (they won't be sitting; I will) to prepare for guests.

Hope your Thanksgiving is fun & safe.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

More on Vegetarianism...and the Lankavatara Sutra

I'd been going through the Lankavatara Sutra, dealing with a hiatus to deal with a death in the family, and various work related things, but the recent posts on vegetarianism made me remember that the Lankavatara Sutra, Chapter 8, is all about not eating meat.

How can a Buddhist not eat meat when it clearly, clearly says:

Said the Blessed One: Then, Mahāmati, listen well and reflect well within yourself...

Certainly, Blessed One; said Mahāmati the Bodhisattva-Mahāsattva and gave ear to the Blessed One.

The Blessed One said this to him: For innumerable reasons, Mahāmati, the Bodhisattva, whose nature is compassion, is not to eat any meat; I will explain them: Mahāmati, in this long course of transmigration here, there is not one living being that, having assumed the form of a living being, has not been your mother, or father, or brother, or sister, or son, or daughter, or the one or the other, in various degrees of kinship; and when acquiring another form of life may live as a beast, as a domestic animal, as a bird, or as a womb-born, or as something standing in some relationship to you; [this being so] how can the Bodhisattva-Mahāsattva who desires to approach all living beings as if they were himself and to practise the Buddha-truths, eat the flesh of any living being that is of the same nature as himself? Even, Mahāmati, the Rakshasa, listening to the Tathagata's discourse on the highest essence of the Dharma, attained the notion of protecting [Buddhism], and, feeling pity, refrains from eating flesh; how much more those who love the Dharma! Thus, Mahāmati, wherever there is the evolution of living beings, let people cherish the thought of kinship with them, and, thinking that all beings are [to be loved as if they were] an only child, let them refrain from eating meat. So with Bodhisattvas whose nature is compassion, [the eating of] meat is to be avoided by him. Even in exceptional cases, it is not [compassionate] of a Bodhisattva of good standing to eat meat. The flesh of a dog, an ass, a buffalo, a horse, a bull, or man, or any other [being], Mahāmati, that is not generally eaten by people, is sold on the roadside as mutton for the sake of money; and therefore, Mahāmati, the Bodhisattva should not eat meat.

For the sake of love of purity, Mahāmati, the Bodhisattva should refrain from eating flesh which is born of semen, blood, etc. For fear of causing terror to living beings, Mahāmati, let the Bodhisattva who is disciplining himself to attain compassion, refrain from eating flesh. To illustrate, Mahāmati: When a dog sees, even from a distance, a hunter, a pariah, a fisherman, etc., whose desires are for meat-eating, he is terrified with fear, thinking, "They are death-dealers, they will even kill me." In the same way, Mahāmati, even those minute animals that are living in the air, on earth, and in water, seeing meat-eaters at a distance, will perceive in them, by their keen sense of smell, the odour of the Rakshasa and will run away from such people as quickly as possible; for they are to them the threat of death. For this reason, Mahāmati, let the Bodhisattva, who is disciplining himself, to abide in great compassion, because of its terrifying living beings, refrain from eating meat. Mahāmati, meat which is liked by unwise people is full of bad smell and its eating gives one a bad reputation which turns wise people away; let the Bodhisattva refrain from eating meat. The food of the wise, Mahāmati, is what is eaten by the Rishis; it does not consist of meat and blood. Therefore, Mahāmati, let the Bodhisattva refrain from eating meat.

In order to guard the minds of all people, Mahāmati, let the Bodhisattva whose nature is holy and who is desirous of avoiding censure on the teaching of the Buddha, refrain from eating meat. For instance, Mahāmati, there are some in the world who speak ill of the teaching of the Buddha; [they would say,] "Why are those who are living the life of a Śramaṇa or a Brahmin reject such food as was enjoyed by the ancient Rishis, and like the carnivorous animals, living in the air, on earth, or in the water? Why do they go wandering about in the world thoroughly terrifying living beings, disregarding the life of a Śramaṇa and destroying the vow of a Brahmin? There is no Dharma, no discipline in them." There are many such adverse-minded people who thus speak ill of the teaching of the Buddha. For this reason, Mahāmati, in order to guard the minds of all people, let the Bodhisattva whose nature is full of pity and who is desirous of avoiding censure on the teaching of the Buddha, refrain from eating meat.

Mahāmati, there is generally an offensive odour to a corpse, which goes against nature; therefore, let the Bodhisattva refrain from eating meat. Mahāmati, when flesh is burned, whether it be that of a dead man or of some other living creature, there is no distinction in the odour. When flesh of either kind is burned, the odour emitted is equally noxious. Therefore, Mahāmati, let the Bodhisattva, who is ever desirous of purity in his discipline, wholly refrain from eating meat.

Pretty obvious that the writers of this did not want aspirants to eat meat.

There is a kinship with all living things, let there be no mistake about that.

But... it's more complicated than Gary Steiner's vegan views published in the NY Times on Nov. 22.
Some letter writers seem to have echoed some of my sentiments in response, I'd also note.

I'd like to make a few other brief points:

  • This part of the sutra, as the editor/translator noted, and as can be easily seen by appeal to the lengths and styles in subject matter, is clearly a later addition. It is indisputable that at the time the Lankavatara Sutra was written, vegetarian, eating meat was not a paramount concern of the writer(s). It was about as prominent on their radar as gayness and abortion were with Jesus Christ.

  • Now admittedly, someone who was vegetarian did later add this stuff.

  • But...then...I must go to more fundamental issues in Buddhism, as I see it: what do my senses, knowledge, science tell me?

    • Humans clearly evolved as omnivores. This is not something that would have been obvious to the author of this chapter.

    • Humans clearly must carefully consider the effect on the environment of all their actions. That means whether or not eating meat is prohibited by one's self or not, what is not optional is careful consideration of the environmental effects of eating (or not eating) meat.

    • The conundra of an absolutist vegetarian position might boggle the mind. If all animal life is precious, what are we to do with carnivores? Kill them? Let them die by keeping them from their prey so the prey over-reproduce and lead to havoc on their ecosystem? And then there are animals that depend on carnivorousness for their very survival: should we make tapeworms extinct? (HT: PZ Myers) Why not? Aren't they our kin too? (And make no mistake about it, they are.)
    • Finally, to rephrase points made previously, the effects of not eating meat may be worse than eating meat. We know from experiences with wolves in the Western US that removal of predators has dramatic adverse consequences on many many species. The prey may be eaten, but other life forms depend on the predator eating his prey (and not just the predator species.

This is why, I think, many meat eaters don't like it when vegetarians get in their faces, so to speak.

The moral issues are actually more complex than would be made by many vegetarian activists.

What is very, very important for all of us is to reduce our footprint on the planet, and to be mindful of our effect on all living beings.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Those ads here...

I'll get back to meat eating and the Lankavatara sutra, but while this was fresh in my mind I wanted to get to it. Probably when the end of the year vacation comes I'll refurbish this site; I notice some links are (again) obsolete, there's more blogs to which I want to link to here, and the general look and feel of the place is due for an upgrade.

Anyway, I've got ads on this site. To some extent, it's because I'm a guy fascinated by algorithms, algorithms by Google determine which ads go here, and it amazes me who decides to bid on the spaces I have here.

Of course, in no way do I endorse "Quantum Jumping," "Maharishi University of Management," or of course, Genpo Roshi. I'll let 'em in though a) because if you want to find out what they are you can always google 'em anyway, and b) if they want to pay me, and I call them bunk, who am I to turn down their ad-click dollars? (I do block Scientology, though, as I think that is beyond the pale when it comes to religious hucksterism. I also wouldn't sponsor crack-dealers on this website.)

And, as Donald Sutherland famously said in "Little Murders," it's all right. Evidently my credibility of criticizing certain groups, Buddhist or not, and the credibility of those groups is only affected insofar as they respond directly to my critiques, and vice-versa. Or at least that's what Campbell's and Progresso might have discovered:

Companies that were once content to fight in grocery-store aisles and on television commercials are now choosing a different route — filing lawsuits and other formal grievances challenging their competitors’ claims. Longtime foes like Pantene and Dove, Science Diet and Iams, AT&T and Verizon Wireless, and Campbell Soup and Progresso have all wrestled over ads recently.

The number of complaints over ads from competitors filed with the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, the industry’s main self-regulatory program for national ads, is on track to set a record this year. There have been 82 formal complaints so far in 2009, after last year’s record of 84 challenges, a sharp increase from 62 in 2007 and 52 in 2006.

The number of complaints over ads from competitors filed with the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, the industry’s main self-regulatory program for national ads, is on track to set a record this year. There have been 82 formal complaints so far in 2009, after last year’s record of 84 challenges, a sharp increase from 62 in 2007 and 52 in 2006...

Last fall, Campbell Soup started an ad campaign that said its Select Harvest soups were “Made with TLC” while labeling Progresso soups, from its rival General Mills, “Made with MSG.” Progresso responded with its own campaign, and then both companies complained to the advertising review division, which recommended withdrawal of some ads from both sides.

The damage was already done. Unit sales in the General Mills category that includes Progresso (called, unappetizingly, ready-to-serve wet soups) rose in the fourth quarter of 2008, compared with the same quarter a year earlier, said Information Resources, a research firm in Chicago.

But since then, unit sales of wet soups at both companies have declined every quarter. A UBS analyst, David Palmer, attributed the drop largely to the advertising battle.

So there you have it.

What fascinates me is how reptilian the Google model is by comparison.

They don't care where they advertise, and most advertisers don't care what the forum that they're using is saying about them.

There's limits, though.

But just in case you see some wild and wacky ads on my site, please don't think I endorse them, but if they endorse me, even though I think they're bunk, who am I to turn down their money? As long as they're not doing what I think is measurable, serious harm to people I don't think I'll ban them.

And feel free to click, click, away at those wacky websites! Every click grants me more money!


I wanted to do a post on some of the ads I see here, how wacky some are, why I leave them here, and why it's probably still effective for them to advertise here ( evidently the soup wars prove that not respnding to yourproduct's critics might be a good strategy).

But that's going to have to wait.

BB, like everything else is impermanent

I wanted to follow up the last two posts by a consideration of what the Lankavatara sutra says about eating meat. But Clear ain't accomodating me this day. Might be a spur to do the other things I must do today.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Shorter version of vegetarian post:

It's too simplistic to assume that the valuation of life can be maximized by forswearing the use of animals in the diet.

And it's certainly way to simplistic to assume that the ecosystem can be tuned to maximize the amount of animal life by forswearing carnivorousness or omnivorousness.

The latter, in particular, got us through the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event. Of course, "we" were shrew-like creatures, but still...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Why I am not a vegetarian... and especially not a least for now

I know many Buddhists are vegetarians, and some Chinese, at least, expect their Buddhists to be vegetarians (or at least abstain from beef).

I am not.

This story from the NY Times should explain it... perhaps because the editors of the Op-Ed page are themselves not vegetarians. Let's go to the quotes...

[W]hen people ask [whether it is wrong to kill animals for human consumption], they almost always find a variety of resourceful answers that purport to justify the killing and consumption of animals in the name of human welfare. And even when people ask this question, they almost always find a variety of resourceful answers that purport to justify the killing and consumption of animals in the name of human welfare. Strict ethical vegans, of which I am one, are customarily excoriated for equating our society’s treatment of animals with mass murder. Can anyone seriously consider animal suffering even remotely comparable to human suffering? Those who answer with a resounding no typically argue in one of two ways.

Some suggest that human beings but not animals are made in God’s image and hence stand in much closer proximity to the divine than any non-human animal; according to this line of thought, animals were made expressly for the sake of humans and may be used without scruple to satisfy their needs and desires. There is ample support in the Bible and in the writings of Christian thinkers like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas for this pointedly anthropocentric way of devaluing animals.

Others argue that the human capacity for abstract thought makes us capable of suffering that both qualitatively and quantitatively exceeds the suffering of any non-human animal. Philosophers like Jeremy Bentham, who is famous for having based moral status not on linguistic or rational capacities but rather on the capacity to suffer, argue that because animals are incapable of abstract thought, they are imprisoned in an eternal present, have no sense of the extended future and hence cannot be said to have an interest in continued existence.

The most penetrating and iconoclastic response to this sort of reasoning came from the writer Isaac Bashevis Singer in his story “The Letter Writer,” in which he called the slaughter of animals the “eternal Treblinka.”

Let's leave the absurdity of the last sentence quoted for the moment and go to the two arguments above. I tend towards the latter argument, but I would add that in the case of animals such as turkeys, (and ducks and rabbits raised for food) these animals would not have existed but for their domestication by humanity. And it is clear that we have been domesticated to these animals, and if that sounds like a whopper consider how humanity has evolved lactose intolerance.

It is true that animals - moving things, to translate the Japanese literally - do have somewhat of an awareness, although it clearly is not at the level of ours. It is also true that there are ethical and moral issues to be considered in their treatment.

Humanity must kill to eat, and we cannot, as of yet, explain why A is aware and B is not other than an observed ability to modify behavior in response to a stimulus.

We can't really tell if that which cannot be responded to in a stimulus is aware in all cases; we only recently found out about the "locked" condition where people are aware yet unable to respond to external stimuli.

Perhaps everything is aware, in which case, we're quite screwed.

I tend to think awareness is substantially more distributed than even vegans are led to believe, in which case, the fact that they can empathize with vertebrates and mollusks does them no good morally in the grand scheme of things.

That is to say, if suffering is that ubiquitous, (even if our suffering, as opposed to other animals' suffering can be narrated in terms of a past, present and future), then we might as well eat meat.

The vegan has one more problem I might want to point out: what of the non-human carnivore? Should we wipe them out because they eat other animals? We could. Heck, we're almost there with the blue-fin tuna! Then their prey would be safer. But they might over-"graze" their environment, leading to a population/environmental collapse.

Which is to say, even animal-eating humans are part of the eco-system. True, we haven't been doing it sustainably, but clearly there's a point that we could, or if we didn't there'd be another stable point of the ecosystem which might - or might not - have been reached by a calamitous destruction of human and animal life.

So, let's go slow on this stuff for now, OK?

And besides, there are cultural implications to all this. Five will get you ten a survey of the acquaintances of the author of that Times article might reveal that the author was a bit...overbearing at times on this vegan stuff.

One more thing: I generally don't make turkey at Thanksgiving; and this year I couldn't decide if it was rabbit season or duck season.

So I'll be making both.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Zennist on Big MindTM and Pyschology

I'd missed this post by the Zennist, who does his part in soberly calling Dennis Genpo Merzel to account for his "Big MindTM" process.

To reiterate, Genpo is saying that the Big Mind process unlocks the door to the transcendent. Here we arrive at a most critical juncture. Now the important question is this, is the transcendent that Big Mind reveals the same as transcendent Mind found in the Lankavatara Sutra and other Buddhist works? The answer has to be in the negative. Or putting the question this way, is Genpo’s transcendent mainly about having certain important maturing experiences? If this is Genpo’s idea of the transcendent, then this is not transcendence—not in the true sense of the word. As a matterof fact, the transcendent of which Genpo seems to speak for, doesn’t get us beyond the pale of our psychophysical being, namely, the Five Aggregates which constitute the psychological self or satkaya. Thus, as ever, we are still attached to the suffering machine, stuck in samsara.

At least in Buddhism, the Five Aggregates have to be transcended because they are suffering. Moreover, they are regarded as attributes (skandha) while the substance is Mind which the suffering of the aggregates cannot reach so that liberation for mind will consist in its becoming fully itself as self-realized Mind.

Turning to Zen Buddhism, our initial awakening to Mind (bodhicitta) is what Zen teaches us to accomplish. Having such an initial awakening, we can actually begin to shed our attachment to this illusory body and its attendant psychological phenomena. Short to this, without a glimpse into what transcends the psychophysical, our efforts will be pretty much in vain. Making this even worse is clinging to the belief that psychology can transcend the psychophysical. It can’t. As Siddhartha discovered before he became a Buddha it is by putting aside the psychological in meditation (dhyana), so as to transcend it, that final awakening was accomplished for him.

A post script. A number of years ago I read The Psychological Society by Martin Louis Gross. The book covered just how much psychology had penetrated into every facet of American society. It was a warning to me that eventually Zen would become psychologized. Unfortunately, I was right.

I'd point out to the Zennist that the atmosphere of temple training was appropriated by cults like est and Lifespring long ago, but I share his basic viewpoint, which is that Merzel is selling Krab as Alaskan King Crab, or perhaps better put, teaching people to take scratching their feet through their shoes as equivalent to scratching their feet.

However, I must differ with The Zennist in a couple of places or two. Psychology has its place, to be sure; those who suffer psychologically suffer, and the relief from suffering needed by those so troubled demands a response more targeted than simply sitting on a cushion will provide, just as you can't tell someone who was just hit by a car with myriad broken bones that even though we can take them to the ER, it'd be better for them to practice various forms of mindfulness and breath-awareness instead of getting the help needed.

Perhaps many of Merzel Roshi's audience are so troubled, and an "over the counter" psychological remedy might provide some relief to them; so be it, if it is so.
But let's not call it anything like a true enlightenment experience, a satori (悟り), a kenshou (見性) or anything like a Buddhist awakening.

But such troubled folk exist; at one time we built huge concentration camps for the most severely mentally ill, although we thought we had the best intentions. If Genpo's schtick helps keep people from getting to the point where they need to be separated from others, it's helping. If it's speeding up the process, it's hurting. I think it's probably helping a bit, even if it's not leading to profound changes of one's views of one's self.

It's really important to question yourself every now and then as to whether or not you might be building concentration camps with good intentions.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What moral standing do they have?

That's the question that's not asked; it's never asked when one sees an article entitled "Christian Leaders Unite on Political Issues."

Now although this is a blog of a Buddhist, this Buddhist has significant experience in the religion in the dominant culture, and especially its moral pretensions. And no, that's not slanderous; it's reality: the largest group within this dominant religious tradition is the Catholic Church. This Church claims for itself a primacy and supremacy of moral standing flowing from its asserted relationship with a deity and to those of us with a more democratic understanding, and especially those for whom Buddha-nature pervades the whole universe, that primacy and supremacy is a pretension. It is not reality. Keep that in mind in what follows.

Back to the story.

Citing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s call to civil disobedience, 145 evangelical, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian leaders have signed a declaration saying they will not cooperate with laws that they say could be used to compel their institutions to participate in abortions, or to bless or in any way recognize same-sex couples.

The manifesto, to be released on Friday at the National Press Club in Washington, is an effort to rejuvenate the political alliance of conservative Catholics and evangelicals that dominated the religious debate during the administration of President George W. Bush. The signers include nine Roman Catholic archbishops and the primate of the Orthodox Church in America.

They want to signal to the Obama administration and to Congress that they are still a formidable force that will not compromise on abortion, stem-cell research or gay marriage. They hope to influence current debates over health care reform, the same-sex marriage bill in Washington, D.C., and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation...

The document was written by [convicted Watergate felon] Colson; Robert P. George, a professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University, who is Catholic; and the Rev. Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School, an evangelical interdenominational school on the campus of Samford University, in Birmingham, Ala.

The Times article goes on to rightly quote some other guy noting that it's "fear mongering" to suggest that religious institutions would be forced to participate in abortions, perform same-sex marriages etc. (but they want to make sure laws remain in place prohibiting the law from recognizing other religious bodies performance of same sex marriages.)

To which I return to my original question:

What moral standing do they have?

Robert P. George is a member of an organization that gave the green light to Spain and Portugal to enslave and colonize the Americas. This organization to this day continues to shield Bernard Law from prosecution for his part in the child molestation scandal. And to this day, this organization's members conflates human life with crackers, with no apparent censuring of their zealots.

Chuck Colson? I don't want to go into detail here; but suffice it to say that the man has contempt for those who do not share his religious beliefs, and to this day is less than accurate - to the point that he appears to display willfulness in misrepresentation of views of those who do not share his religious beliefs.

And the Rev. Timothy George? He's an apologist for John Calvin, murderer of Michael Servetus.

I would no more rely on these men for moral guidance than I would Charles Manson.

Your mileage may vary, and I could write several books as to why the religious right's position on many of their hot button issues are intrinsically morally disordered. (I made up that last characterization from a bit some Catholics like to call gays; it underscores their projection in these matters.)

Most seriously, by asserting the moral supremacy they do, they have the effect of one who declares: "Look at the shiny toy over there!!!! Look!!!" to those who, left to their own devices, might discover the sick, the hurting, the hungry, the impoverished, the exploited, right in their own midst. Colson and his ilk know precisely what they're doing here, and that's why their cries of "Abortion! Gay marriage! Stem cells!!" rings hollow, especially when these hot button topics are deeply considered, there are moral cases to be made which are deeply at variance to the intrinsically morally disordered positions of the conservative religious.

As a Buddhist it is absurd to remain silent about that. While I understand the brouhaha about the recent Thai forest sexism, the issue of the disparity in voices between those who advocate for an ersatz morality and those why try harder is more astounding and important and immediate to me, as an American.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Don't give Deepak Chopra a platform, or, If you can get a flu vaccine, GET ONE

Recently Forbes magazaine (and Danny Fisher) gave Deepak Chopra a platform that's not needed (and in the process did no favors for the Dalai Lama).

Deepak Chopra to put this delicately ... he's...a... quack...

As a Buddhist, I'm appalled at the way in which folks like Chopra who say some Buddhist-lite kind of things get a free pass.

And in case you get any more woo-woo advice about the H1N1 flu vaccine, (not that Chopra's done that explicitly, but just in case) here's a bit of inoculation:

To know what's at stake here, go out and read The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry.

Forget about all the Dharma books if you haven't read this book (imperfect as it is). You truly, really need to understand the scope of what a serious influenza pandemic is before you listen to troglodyte New Age hucksters trying to give you advice that might kill you if you heeded it.

The first precept is: don't kill.

That means: get the H1N1 vaccine if you can. If you're allergic to eggs, don't get it. Or, if you're healthy and in one of those lower priority groups (like me) don't get it until the kids & sick have gotten it. If you're not allergic to eggs, and there's no other barriers to getting it, the risks of not getting it far, far outweigh the risks of getting it. That's because everyone who gets the vaccine is denying the flu millions and millions of chances to evolve into something deadlier. So you're not just getting this for yourself, you're getting it for all humanity (not to mention pigs and chickens). To get the details read the book.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

And in news about other practices...

Good morning...

I woke up way too late this morning, to be able to do anything useful in a good amount of time.

Meditation must wait for later. Assuming, of course, that my back isn't killing me, I can do it seated, but lately my lower back and thigh have been in unexplained excruciating pain. It seemed to be abating yesterday afternoon, but this morning it was different again.

Will have to try for later. Right now, too much to do.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Scandals, internet fights and more

Brad Warner evidently doesn't know about the political "blogger ethics panel" meme, or presumably he'd have used it in his piece critiquing this article in Tricycle, which tut-tuts the state of internet language these days in terms that neocons of yore decrying the "shrill" anti-war bloggers would cherish.

I've commented in various places about that (including here), but I've more to say, especially about this entry on the "Enlightenment Ward" blog.

First, Warner's mostly right: the whole "come on in we have puppies and ice cream inside" attitude of some American Buddhist temples while culturally making sense is not the MO of Asian temples, and it isn't because it conveys right up front, literally, the expectation that effort needs to be expended. Americans haven't be known for being eager to expend effort lately; they'd rather get rich in real estate or moving large piles of money around. (Then again Chinese haven't done badly at real estate investments lately, but I digress...)

Secondly, in regard to this piece by Nella Lou at Enlightenment Ward, let me say up front that a) I've known someone that trained at the Salt Lake City Kanzeon center (now "Big MindTM" center) and he wasn't brain damaged (though I still largely agree with Ven. Warner on "Genpo Roshi"), and b) I've been to the Zen Studies Society in New York, and even saw Eido Roshi give Dharma talks...and they were about the Dharma! I even once had tea with him! And his wife!

True, I'm male, and never had dokusan with him, and wasn't molested by him. But still!

Seriously, I got something very good at what Eido Roshi said and did, and I'm sure others have too.

On the other hand, if the guy did what he's been accused of here or here the guy belongs in either some kind of program or jail- his only difference from certain Catholic priests I've known is a predilection for adult women, but it would be sexual harassment and abuse nonetheless if true.

With no other Rinzai Dharma in the Hakuin lineage in the New York City area the only place to which one can be exposed to it is DBZ and the Zen Studies Society and that was true in the 1980s when I first went there, and it's almost completely true today with the exception here, and maybe elsewhere.

(You can get Rinzai Dharma through the Kwan Um school, but its forms are different; it evolved in a different way than Japanese Rinzai Zen).

Of course you can't weigh the good against the bad (and like Glenn Beck's parody rape and murder, we won't know the truth until it comes out), but the reality is something good happened to me as a result of this guy who may have done some really nasty things to some people. Conflated with that - and it shouldn't be, but it is - is that attitudes towards sexual harassment have evolved since Eido Shimano came over to the US in the early 60s; even in Japan Eido Shimano would have to deal with serious legal issues today. Times were different then, even in 1995 they were different. This doesn't excuse or justify anything, although in our approach to things such as this we should take that into some account some times. I guess in the times that it requires us to view such people as flawed and to view them compassionately as well as maintaining the appropriate caveat emptor attitude.

Does that sound like a more nuanced "He said, she said?" It's not meant to be that.
And it's certainly not meant to be the tut-tut attitude of the Tricycle piece. It is meant to put a little complexity on an issue that can be easily simplified.

But I, like many others no doubt, got a lot of good things from Eido Shimano's institution and still do, and that's why I went to the ZSS on my recent trips to NY. I got less out of the Catholic church, and still don't, if one's still wanting to make equivalencies. From both I don't expect apologies, but I insist on ethical behavior. The ZSS hasn't been unethical to me, nor in public, but the Catholic Church is another thing entirely. Still, I can understand what others say and why; but I can also understand that the reason we have legal protocols regarding slander and libel and sexual harassment are that precisely we, as a society, should not judge someone without adequate evidence. I appreciate what these folks say, and have to square it with my own experiences. Genkaku Fisher has it right, though I would still add: you, going through the door of that zendo, that guy they call roshi is going the same place you're going. He might have good training and good awareness, and might practice the Dharma, but he really, really, really is no more a Buddha than you are.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

How they managed to get Carl Sagan to sing

And I coulda sworn it was just some clever vocoding... probably really is...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A bit about practice...

I am going to post today or tomorrow more on the Lankavatara sutra, but for today, I'll write a bit about practice.

Keeping practice throughout the day was regarded by Hakuin as more important than what's done on the cushion, although I think one informs the other.

But it's true: if nasty stuff can be stilled prior to meditation, the meditation goes better. Furthermore, sometimes the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune have taken a toll on the body, and one can only sit in a position for so long before excruciating pain kicks in. At that time, it's vitally important to keep going off the cushion.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Lankavatara Sutra Chapter 2, Section XX VII

Wow, it's been over 2 months since I had been engaging in this activity.

There's been a lot in between, of course. However, especially at this time of year, when it's traditional and beneficial to deepen practice, this text becomes more important.

I can see in a way why I'd been putting this off; on first, as well as second glances, this text is pretty to the point despite its length. This is an important text to be considered and taken in slowly and deliberately, and most importantly shows the Buddhist conception of "emptiness," as its rendered in English does not connote nilhilsm, or a complete void, as these concepts still allow description.

Let's go to the text...

Mahāmati the Bodhisattva-Mahāsattva asks the Buddha, "Tell me, Blessed One, how all things are empty, unborn, non-dual, and have no self-nature, so that I and other Bodhisattva-Mahāsattvas might be awakened in the teaching of emptiness, no-birth, non-duality, and the absence of self-nature, and, quitting the discrimination of being and non-being, quickly realize the highest enlightenment."

And the Buddha replies:

Emptiness, emptiness, indeed! Mahāmati, it is a term whose self-nature is false imagination. Because of one's attachment to false imagination, Mahāmati, we have to talk of emptiness, no-birth, non-duality, and absence of self-nature. In short, then, Mahāmati, there are seven kinds of emptiness: (1) The emptiness of individual marks (lakshaṇa), (2) the emptiness of self-nature (bhāvasvabhāva), (3) the emptiness of no-work (apracarita), (4) the emptiness of work (pracarita), (5) the emptiness of all things in the sense that they are unpredicable (nirabhilāpya) [i.e., cannot be stated or described via predicates], (6) the emptiness in its highest sense of ultimate reality realisable only by noble wisdom, and (7) the emptiness of mutuality (itaretara) which is the seventh.

Mahāmati, what then is the emptiness of individual marks? It is that all things have no [such distinguishing] marks of individuality and generality. In consideration of mutuality and accumulation, [things are thought to be realities], but when they are further investigated and analysed, Mahāmati, they are non-existent, and not predicable with individuality and generality; and because thus no such ideas as self, other, or both, hold good, Mahāmati, the individual marks no longer obtain. So it is said that all things are empty as to their self-marks.

Again, Mahāmati, what is meant by the emptiness of self-nature? Mahāmati, it is that all things in their self-nature are unborn, hence the emptiness of self-nature, and it is therefore said that things are empty in their self-nature.

Again, Mahāmati, what is meant by the emptiness of no-work? It is that the Skandhas are Nirvana itself and there is no work doing in them from the beginning. Therefore, one speaks of the emptiness of no-work.

Again, Mahāmati, what is meant by the emptiness of work? It is that the Skandhas are devoid of an ego and its belongings, and go on functioning when there is a mutual conjunction of cause and action. Thus one speaks of the emptiness of work.

Again, Mahāmati, what is meant by the emptiness of all things in the sense that they are unpredicable? It is that the nature of the false imagination is not expressible, hence the emptiness of all things in the sense of their unpredicability. Thus one speaks of the emptiness of unpredicability.

Again, Mahāmati, what is meant by the emptiness in its highest sense of ultimate reality realisable by noble wisdom? It is that in the attainment of an inner realization by means of noble wisdom there is no trace of habit-energy generated by all the erroneous conceptions [of beginningless past]. Thus one speaks of the highest emptiness of ultimate reality realisable by noble wisdom.

Again, Mahāmati, what is meant by the emptiness of mutual [non-existence]? It is this: when a thing is missing here, one speaks of its being empty there. For instance, Mahāmati, in the lecture-hall of the Mṛigārama there are no elephants, no bulls, no sheep, but as to the Bhikshus I can say that the hall is not devoid of them; it is empty only as far as they [i. e. the animals] are concerned. Further, Mahāmati, it is not that the lecture-hall is devoid of its own characteristics, nor that the Bhikshu is devoid of this Bhikshuhood, nor that in some other places, too, elephants, bulls, and sheep are not to be found. Mahāmati, here one sees all things in their aspect of individuality and generality, but from the point of view of mutuality (itaretara) some things do not exist somewhere. Thus one speaks of the emptiness of mutual [non-existence].

These, Mahāmati, are the seven kinds of emptiness of which mutuality ranks the lowest of all and is to be put away by you.

Again, Mahāmati, not that things are not born, but that they are not born of themselves, except when seen in the state of Samādhi—this is what is meant by "all things are unborn." To have no self-nature is, according to the deeper sense, to be unborn, Mahāmati. That all things are devoid of self-nature means that there is a constant and uninterrupted becoming, a momentary change from one state of existence to another; seeing this, Mahāmati, all things are destitute of self-nature. So one speaks of all things having no self-nature.

Again, Mahāmati, what is meant by non-duality? It means that light and shade, long and short, black and white, are relative terms, Mahāmati, and not independent of each other; as Nirvana and Samsara are, all things are not-two. There is no Nirvana except where is Samsara; there is no Samsara except where is Nirvana; for the condition of existence is not of mutually-exclusive character. Therefore, it is said that all things are non-dual as are Nirvana and Samsara. For this reason, Mahāmati, you should discipline yourself in [the realization of] emptiness, no-birth, non-duality, and no-self-nature.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Getting back to Lankavatara Sutra soon...

This time, really. Soon.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Evidently it's Carl Sagan Day

According to P. Z. Meyers.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Life goes on

Returned from NY, to visit cemeteries.

Not many people use cemeteries, mostly dead people do. But they are quite powerful reminders of what life is all about. As can be seen from the sheer vastness of a "modern" cemetery, the universality of death is inescapable.

Life should be lived well and mindfully; the aftermath doesn't seem to afford much opportunity.