Thursday, December 31, 2009

Speaking of Religion, "Spirituality" and Legal Tactics...

P.Z. Myers, in his trademark blasphemous way, brings to my attention the oddest patent infringement suit I've seen in weeks. What Myers fails to seek, the really really cool part, the part that would make Bill Harris sit up, is that it's probably about stuff that's mil spec...

A Minnesota marketer of communion-wafer dispensers is accusing its former president of patent infringement and misappropriation of trade secrets. (.pdf)

The allegations in a Dec. 30 federal lawsuit come amid a fledgling market for such dispensing devices, as those receiving communion seek a germ-free environment. The handheld devices allow the dispensing of wafers without being touched by anybody but those receiving them.

What’s more, the portable devices, according to the lawsuit, “easily deliver communion to military personnel in combat situations and to people who are hospitalized, infirm or otherwise immobile.”

Among other things, Nu-Life Products of Minnesota claims it owns technology known as the “rapid reload system” for fast wafer loading and the “quad-rotator technology” allowing up to 400 wafers to be dispensed without having to be refilled.

The defendant in the case, former company president Douglas Henricksen of Wisconsin, says he never sold a single unit of the competing “Communalabra germ-free communion-host–delivery system” and that he didn’t misappropriate any of his former employer’s properties while operating a similarly named company called Nu-Life Church Supplies.

“This is blown way out of proportion,” Henricksen said in a telephone interview. “I was the person who actually designed the communion-host dispenser. I actually built the entire company myself.”

Now if they only knew about the pricing structure of Mil Spec items...

My Last Words on Bill Harris and Holosync™

NellaLou's post on the Holosync™ guy's coercive legal tactics has resulted in my thinking about my issues with whole issue of putting headphones on to meditate to something.

And those issues start with a bit that Hakuin wrote

What is the Sound of the Single Hand? When you clap together both hands a sharp sound is heard; when you raise the one hand there is neither sound nor smell. Is this the High Heaven of which Confucius speaks? Or is it the essentials of what Yamamba describes in these words: "The echo of the completely empty valley bears tidings heard from the soundless sound?" This is something that can by no means be heard with the ear. If conceptions and discriminations are not mixed within it and it is quite apart from seeing, hearing, perceiving, and knowing, and if, while walking, standing, sitting, and reclining, you proceed straightforwardly without interruption in the study of this koan, you will suddenly pluck out the karmic root of birth and death and break down the cave of ignorance. Thus you will attain to a peace in which the phoenix has left the golden net and the crane has been set free of the basket. At this time the basis of mind, consciousness, and emotion is suddenly shattered; the realm of illusion with its endless sinking in the cycle of birth and death is overturned. The treasure accumulation of the Three Bodies and the Four Wisdoms is taken away, and the miraculous realms of the Six Supernatural Powers and Three Insights is transcended.

From p. 164, Yabukoji, in The Zen Master Hakuin: Selected Writings, Translated by Philip B. Yampolsky, Columbia University Press, New York and London, 1971.

Is Holosync™ the High Heaven of which Confucius speaks? Well... Bill Harris claims that his product allows you to "meditate as deeply as a Zen monk, literally at the touch of a button."

As I said elsewhere, buried in a comment somewhere, my response to this claim was, "which one?" Just which "Zen monk" would his product allow me to meditate in as "deep" a state?

Well, that's a ridiculous question because it's a patently ridiculous claim. It is ridiculous because, despite all the sensors you could hook up to anyone's brain to detect brainwave patterns, when it comes to Zen monks, their meditation is whatever it is!

IOW, you, dear reader, whether you've been meditating for 5 seconds or 50 years, already meditate as deeply as a Zen monk!

You don't feel it's "deep?" Well, according to the Lankavatara sutra, that is a phenomenal aspect of Mind...or should I say "Big Mind?" Just note the shallowness, and resume your practice.

You need to train your mind to do that to be skilled, and to be able to carry that over into all the crap that fills the rest of our lives when not on a zafu.

True enough, maybe Bill Harris's device might put the mind into states that Pink Floyd could only induce accompanied by chemical ingestion. I don't know. I've never tried it. But the experience of sammadhi (ざっまい), or kensho (見性) and the like are not a goal. It's not ultimately about some tripped-out state for its own sake, but rather because training your body and mind to act moment to moment in this state allows you to be in the right place at the right time with the right frame of mind to actually friggin' help people who need help. This is not to say that one does not, in Rinzai Zen, pursue meditation practice (specifically koan practice) without any hope that there will be an enlightenment experience. It is to say that it is ridiculous to think that this experience is valid unless it becomes operative in one's day to day boring old existence.

To make it operative you've got to practice while "walking, standing, sitting, and reclining," while doing so "making your whole body one great inquiry, working at it night and day", and at least in the koan practices, you've generally got to focus on the hua-t'ou, which isn't simply a verbally repeated mantra, but is the ante-word - "word before the word" or the meaning of this hua-t'ou traced back to its source.

Similarly, (and I'm not a Dogen guy as much as I once was, so Soto folks please elaborate/correct) the "just sitting" done on the cushion should be carried over into the "one act sammadhi" of engaging everything in life with the single purpose as done on the cushion.

The object of this is not at all about the cultivation of a state. None of this is about "profoundly deep (and extremely pleasurable) meditation." No quanta are leaped.

In fact it's not about getting anything, but about being to the best of your ability while you've got metabolic processes encased in that bag of skin.

Now why then does Hakuin (and the original Mumon, and others) say all this great stuff will happen if you pursue this stuff? Well, read the damn thing closely! Hakuin says that if pursued dilligently you'll be able to "pluck out the karmic root of birth and death and break down the cave of ignorance." The only place that can possibly happen is in the interstices of your everyday existence! D'uh, as they say! You see - and are empowered to act - in a way that's not the same old crap! And you're able to appreciate it! And isn't that better than some tripped out experience? Yeah, it should be 'cause that's where you live your life most of the time!

The folks who created and refined this stuff over millenia needed no voice dialogs, they needed no technology to live their lives, and the very moment they started walking on the path...bam! they were "meditating like Zen monks."

Even the lay folk were.

And that's why I think Bill Harris makes claims that are not true, and I say this as a practitioner of Zen for close to 2 decades.

New Year's Eve 2009

This has really been quite a difficult year for me personally; financially things were tight (and will probably continue to be tighter than looser for the time being), there was the lingering death of my mother, and difficulties elsewhere, but still there were great things about it.

I'll never forget my now-23 year old favorite niece talking to me as were were being driven along near Dandong, when she noted a guy skinny-dipping in the Yalu river, and noted that she was seeing the largest genitalia she had ever seen "so close to North Korea." We had the best meals we ever had so close to North Korea.

I have a wonderful family, both immediate and extended, and it is gratifying to see them come together like that.

There's special sitting I'd like to do on New Year's Eve, but it won't be around midnight, because we will have friends over.

So it will be on New Year's day.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hollow Sync

Via a comment from the inimitable Nella Lou at the inimitable gniz place I learned that not only does "Bill" Harris not like people saying he's a liar and a scammer, but he evidently doesn't want "disparaging" things said about him, his products or the Centerpointe Research Institute [sic].

Either that or his attorney went rogue on him; but in any case, it's clearly over the top - I'd call it "vicious" behavior. Maybe somebody's brain was malfunctioning? I dunno but it sure seems like someone was being really coercive here.

I will say this: from the post in question, I would have to conclude that Mr. Harris is not practicing what I would consider right action or right livelihood. And by trying to glom onto that awful "The Secret/'Law' of Attraction" trend (as his blog notes as of today), he's not propagating anything that I know of as Dharma. That's his right, of course, but the idea that somehow his schtick is in any way related to anything "Zen monks" do is simply absurd.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My Reply to Dennis Genpo Merzel

Thanks to gniz, I was motivated to read the transcript of the podcast where Merzel discusses "Big Mind" and it seems, Big Money, to Vincent Horn.

Genpo Merzel, as per the transcript:

I’ve been using both the Big Mind process to shed light on that, but also what I call the triangle of looking at the extremes, the opposites like spirituality and the capitalistic world.

"Spirituality" - as defined by cultivation of the life force, the breath, for one's self and all other sentient beings - and capitalism aren't necessarily "opposites."

I for one labor in such a world and I have for 30 years, with a Buddhist practice for well onto 17 years.

So what does Merzel mean?

In other words if we look at a triangle and we see on one side of the triangle, we’ve got what is necessary to be in the marketplace, the marketplace mind I call it. And the kinds of things that you have to do when you are in that marketplace. And the other side of the triangle, let’s call it the spiritual mind or the awakened conscious mind,...

Merzel isn't expressing non-duality in any way I can recognize.

I’ve done a lot of work in this area around returning to the marketplace, and as you know Vince, in the ten ox-herding pictures of Buddhism, the 10th and final stage of practice is called returning to the marketplace. I think they often, what happens is that when we become spiritual, there’s a very long series of stages that we have to go through, in other words from one to ten, and it takes us a lifetime and we think very often just because we’re back in the world, we’re working, we’ve got a job, we’ve got a home and we’ve got expenses that we’re really in the marketplace world. But if we don’t take care of the shadow around the marketplace, even though we may be in the marketplace world, we’re not really in the marketplace world because we’ve got all these shadows around it. And if we really want to make a difference in the world and we really want to bring true spirituality into the marketplace world, we have to take care of our own shadows.

Because of course, the idea of right livelihood, never occurred to any other Buddhist...or rather, I should say, just where is the concept of right livelihood here???? As gniz notes, I see jargon, but I don't read "right livelihood" - avoiding harm to others, either by violence, by stealing, lying, or misuse of sex and drugs. Forget shadows, how can we avoid harm? For one thing, that's why folks created ethical constraints and practice them.

Now on that $50,000 for 5 days thing...

All centers that I know rely a lot and depend a lot on fundraising or begging. And that of course goes all the way back to Shakyamuni Buddha and the whole thing around begging. However, I think that in Buddhist practice for a very long time, there are certain issues that we’re just better to avoid.

By avoiding I mean, because they can get really messy and really sticky. Money is one of them. Earning money is another. Sexuality is another. Greed and so forth. So in the Buddhist world basically we haven’t really faced these issues and by staying in the monasteries or in the forest or in the desert or whoever we stayed apart from the world, we really could avoid these issues and not deal with them.

That simply is not hisorically the case in any of the famous monasteries, such as Shaolin-si, Tiantong-si, and any number of Japanese temples I could name. It is not likely the case in some places today in Japan, and in China it is definitely not the case, although there is official state support for some temples. True, in Japan even Zen temples charge for funerals and assorted services, and some of them have been somewhat over the top with such things.

My teacher, a descendant of Shaku Soen, supports himself and his family by selling artwork. His late brother, a real roshi, also was an artist.

So, let's say it straight out: there is no need for Dennis Genpo Merzel to be charging this money.

So, what the 5 / 5 / 50 is we’ve always had to fundraise, and we’ve ask for money but we’ve never given anything back for that money except for our practice: prayers and meditation for the sake of all beings and relieving the suffering of all beings. But, what I heard from a lot of very wealthy people was they’ve always felt that the shadow around money in Zen and Buddhist communities meant they would give a lot of money, if they had a lot of money, and I’ve known people with that, and never be properly thanked or, more importantly, anything given to them that was meaningful.

Because heaven knows that you can't thank someone who gave $50K the same way you'd thank someone who gave $5.

Although Seung Sahn was not perfect as a Zen Teacher, this story comes to mind

One Sunday, while Seung Sahn Soen-Sa was staying at the International Zen Center
of New York, there was a big ceremony. Many Korean women came, with shopping bags
full of food and presents. One woman brought a large bouquet of plastic flowers, which
she smilingly presented to an American student of Soen-sa's. As quickly as he could,
the student hid the flowers under a pile of coats. But soon another woman found them and,
with the greatest delight, walked into the Dharma Room and put them in a vase on the altar.

The student was very upset. He went to Soen-sa and said, "Those plastic flowers
are awful. Can't I take them off the altar and dump them somewhere?"

Soen-sa said, "It is your mind that is plastic. The whole universe is plastic."
The student said, "What do you mean?"

Soen-sa said, "Buddha said, 'When one's mind is pure, the whole universe is pure;
When one's mind is tainted, the whole universe is tainted.' Every day we meet people
who are unhappy. When their minds are sad, everything they see, hear, smell, taste,
and touch is sad, the whole universe is sad. When the mind is happy, the whole universe
is happy. If you desire something, then you are attached to it. If you reject it, you are
just as attached to it. Being attached to a thing means that it becomes a hindrance in
your mind. So 'I don't like plastic' is the same as 'I like plastic'— both are attachments.
You don't like plastic flowers, so your mind has become plastic, and the whole universe
is plastic. Put it all down. Then you won't be hindered by anything. You won't care
whether the flowers are plastic or real, whether they are on the altar or in the
garbage pail. This is true freedom. A plastic flower is just a a plastic flower.
A real flower is just a real flower. You mustn't be attached to name and form.

The student said, "But we are trying to make a beautiful Zen Center here,
for all people. How can I not care? Those flowers spoil the whole room."

Soen-sa said, "If somebody gives real flowers to Buddha, Buddha is happy.
If somebody else like plastic flowers and gives them to Buddha, Buddha is also happy.
Budhha is not attached to name and form, he doesn't care whether the flowers are real
or plastic, he only cares about the person's mind. These women who are offering
plastic flowers have very pure minds, and their action is Bodhisattva action. Your mind
rejects plastic flowers, so you have separated the universe into good and bad, beautiful
and ugly. So your action is not Bodhisattva action. Only keep Buddha's mind. Then you
will have no hindrance. Real flowers are good; plastic flowers are good.

So, in that spirit, I'd say, $50,000 is good, $5 is good, whatever Chester F. Carlson gave to Philip Kapleau was good.

Soen-sa was correct here, Dennis Genpo Merzel crossed a line as I see it.

Now, truth be known, historically Zen Buddhism has not been free of issues like this either; for many times Zen Buddhist temples depended on the patronage of the rich and powerful. But many of the great masters, including Hakuin, were known more for their ability to bring the Dharma to the masses. Dennis Genpo Merzel says he can propagate the Dharma to the rest of us (me?) by giving special attention to the wealthy.

So, whatever anybody else thinks about it, this has now become our major fundraiser. In fact, we don’t do any other fundraising. This is it. This supports all the work that we do as Big Mind Zen Center. It supports all the work we’re doing with Big Mind, getting all of my talks out there and other teachers’ talks out there and DVD’s, free on TV, online, also on our Zen-eye, all under Big Mind. We go out to hospitals and programs for people with addictions and we do all this for free. We do university work, prison work. We’ve given a hundred thousand dollars this last year just to prisoners and books and forms like that. I mean, tremendous amount of support we’re able to give because of the generosity of these people. Now, there have been over 30 people to have done the 5 / 5 / 50’s.

The problem is, even if what you eventually do with the money is good (and there are issues with Merzel's teaching itself, so that is questionable) if you have in some way slandered the Dharma then it in effect doesn't matter what good you do after it; you've got 500 lifetimes as a fox. And it's kind of hard to call this necessarily the Dharma from what I've seen and read:

It think it’s placing a value on time with the teacher which is what people want that are interested in spirituality and they have this money, they need to donate it to some kind of charitable organization for their own tax sakes. And they’re getting something back in it. So, I don’t have a problem with it. Some people do because that’s their problem.

My problem is to practice the precepts, to practice mindfulness, and to help all sentient beings cultivate wisdom, generosity and compassion. While I would accept Ven. Merzel as I would anyone else, I would also insist that this scheme is unethical from the standpoint of propagation of the Dharma. Speaking of which...

Actually just let me say I take none of this money. Absolutely zero pennies of this money, do I make. All my money comes from the workshops that I have been doing with Bill Harris and other workshops that I do on my own....

Res ipso loquitur...

And finally:

We also offer so much for nothing that they really don’t have to participate. So it’s just jealously on some level that some people can afford to. But some people can afford to actually give up their home and become a full-time Zen student and the rich people and the people with children and occupations and vocations who can’t do that, don't get jealous because somebody else like myself back in 1971 gave it all up and became a full time Zen student. We’re really narrowed-minded and frankly this is the area that I’m trying to help work on, with how narrow we can be.

And you see this is the basic problem. Right here is the whole ethical issue of Dennis Genpo Merzel in a nut.

Now full disclosure: I probably could scrape up the money to go to one of Merzel's Rich People Retreats, but I never, ever will. I'm also one of those guys with a child and a wife and an occupation. And I'm quite well set thank you very much. Not only that, I'm appalled that Merzel is still thinking in terms of people like me, and people like him that "gave it all up and became a full time Zen student." Merzel's never lived my life, he has no idea what he's talking about, and I have never lived the life of any of Merzel's other critics either. But I'll say this: he has absolutely no right to criticize anyone that attempted to incorporate their practice into the mundane quotidian doings of everyday life as a lay person, and to think someone like me (or Warner? Warner? or gniz?)would actually be jealous of him. I have found challenges and rewards of practicing the Dharma far beyond whatever I could learn from Merzel in just how I speak to my son and wife, and how I can truly laugh and cry and enjoy the life I have. I have made really, really colossal mistakes, too! Complete and utterly humiliating screw-ups!
I also have a respectable 401(k) as well (though we'd like it to be quite a bit greater so we can retire with money to go cross-country & internationally). So when Merzel says things like that, I think back to what I said here.

A Real Business Guy...and Others...

Gniz also brings to my attention a couple of more Big Minders, one a skier, and one guy whose "main product is the InfoGuru Marketing Manual."

Let's talk about the latter guy
, who also has coined the term "Big Mind Marketing," gushing over Dennis Merzel that he's "a real live American born Zen Master and had been for many years before he discovered this process. He says that it's the biggest breakthrough in Zen thinking in 2,500 years." Now, I shouldn't pick on this guy, because, well, he's a marketing guy who markets marketing, and any way in which he can get you to buy his product in the marketplace, well, he'll do that.

That said, I'm still reminded of a snippet I saw in "Thank You for Smoking" (the only bit of the film I'd seen) about why lobbyists do what they do. I'm also reminded of a phrase that goes something like "Right Livelihood."

Coincidentally I happened to also see at this time an article in The Economist on the influence of Peter Drucker.

...He was a genuine intellectual who, during his early years, rubbed shoulders with the likes of Ludwig Wittgenstein, John Maynard Keynes and Joseph Schumpeter. He illustrated his arguments with examples from medieval history or 18th-century English literature. He remained at the top of his game for more than 60 years, advising generations of bosses and avoiding being ensnared by fashion. He constantly tried to relate the day-to-day challenges of business to huge social and economic trends such as the rise of “knowledge workers” and the resurgence of Asia.

But Drucker was more than just an antidote to status anxiety. He was also an apostle for management. He argued that management is one of the most important engines of human progress: “the organ that converts a mob into an organisation and human effort into performance”. He even described scientific management as “the most powerful as well as the most lasting contribution America has made to Western thought since the ‘Federalist Papers’.” He relentlessly extended management’s empire. From the 1950s onwards he offered advice to Japanese companies as well as American ones. He insisted that good management was just as important for the social sector as the business sector. He acted as an informal adviser to the Girl Scouts. He helped inspire the mega-church movement. The management school that bears his name recruits about a third of its students from outside the business world.

The most important reason why people continue to revere Drucker, though, is that his writing remains startlingly relevant. Reading “Concept of the Corporation”, which was published in 1946, you are struck not just by how accurately he saw the future but also by how similar today’s management problems are to those of yesteryear. This is partly because, whatever the theorists like to think, management is not a progressive science: the same dilemmas and difficult trade-offs crop up time and again. And it is partly because Drucker discovered a creative middle ground between rival schools of management. He treated companies as human organisations rather than just as sources for economic data. But he also insisted that all human organisations, whether in business or the voluntary sector, need clear objectives and hard measurements to keep them efficient. Drucker liked to say that people used the word guru because the word charlatan was so hard to spell. A century after his birth Drucker remains one of the few management thinkers to whom the word “guru” can be applied without a hint of embarrassment.

If you have a job, especially one in today's office environment, you should read The Effective Executive, at least. Drucker's advice has many practical elements of the cultivation of mindfulness, and is one of the few business books I've found worthwhile.

Perhaps they'd like to talk to a real science/engeineering guy...

The Buddhist Geeks, did that nice interview with Genpo Dennis Merzel, which enabled Gniz to consider Merzel's responses here. It turns out the Geeks are also planning on having a "Dharma 2.0" conference in Boulder CO in 2010.

I tweeted them. I presume that means I tweeted Vince Horn, since the agenda seems to cover some of what I cover here:

* Buddhism & Technology – The information age has radically altered almost every dimension of our personal lives, our society, and economy. What impact will it have on the Buddhist tradition, and are there ways we can consciously adopt technologies to benefit Buddhist communities?

* Cutting-edge Buddhist Practices – Many Buddhist teachers are being informed directly by other pre-existing traditions of personal exploration and change. The result is that all sorts of innovate and interesting hybrid practices are emerging in the Buddhist world. Are these practices as radical as their creators claim? Or are there examples of teachers who are simply watering down the teachings of the Buddha, re-packaging them in fancy garb, and charging gobs of money for them? We’ll explore these questions, as well engage in some of the more promising of these hybrid practices.

* Buddhism & Science – Scientific explorations into the benefits of Buddhist-style meditation have exploded in the past several years. What is the implication for the Buddhist tradition, and for the wider populous?

* The Future of Buddhism in the West – Underlying all of the previous topics is a question about where we are now, and where we are heading tomorrow. With such an array of complex factors influencing the development of Buddhism today, how can we engage with the future in a way that honors the rapidly changing nature of things, and the need to act quickly at times, with the deep-rooted need to stay present with what is?

I figured, with all I have recently said about "Intelligent" "Design," (especially the Wilber kind), "Biocentrism," and other fads, it would be useful to have a real engineer (i.e., and applied scientist) with over 50 patents (or is it 60?) address some Buddhists to talk about What Science Really Is, and How Buddhism Relates to Science.

Or I could talk about Buddhism and Technology. As a guy whose work is actually in phones I use, I know something about the latter, and as a Buddhist, well, I know something about the former. But then if I went there I would go all Nagarjuna/nullity on the whole issue, because ultimately it's how you behave, it's how you practice with the other sentient beings, not things that increase our footprint and are hard to recycle.

Of course, I could also talk about "The Future of Buddhism in the West," especially given my position that whatever I've seen from the Big Names from Buddhism in the West, there simply has not been anyone like a Lin Chi, a Yun-Men, a Dogen or a Hakuin.

I could also talk about Buddhism and Western Ethics or What I Have to Do Ethically in My Job versus What Some Buddhists Do. With respect to some Buddhists, those that give away the Dharma, I come up short (well duh, I labor in a capitalist enterprise!) With others, though...

Anyway, if they reply maybe it would be useful to start a dialogue there. Worst comes to worst, Boulder's not such a bad place...

Monday, December 28, 2009

Lankavatara Sutra Chapter 2, Section XXX

As usual, I'm just a layman, and I'm interpreting what's here.

There are four things, Mahāmati, by fulfilling which the Bodhisattvas become great Yogins. What are the four? They are: (1) To have a clear understanding as to what is seen of Mind itself,2 (2) to discard the notions of birth, (80) abiding, and disappearance, (3) to look into [the truth] that no external world obtains, and (4) to seek for the attainment of inner realisation by noble wisdom. Provided with these four things the Bodhisattva-Mahāsattvas become great Yogins...

How, Mahāmati, does the Bodhisattva-Mahāsattva come to have a clear understanding as to what is seen of Mind itself? He comes to it by recognising that this triple world is nothing but Mind itself, devoid of an ego and its belongings, with no strivings, no comings-and-goings; that this triple world is manifested and imagined as real, under the influence of the habit-energy accumulated since beginningless time by false reasoning and imagination, and with the multiplicity of objects and actions in close relationship, and in conformity with the ideas of discrimination, such as body, property, and abode.

The world is not going to appear non-real. But it is distorted - or "noise is added" to our awareness by habits, delusion, and discrmination.

How again, Mahāmati, does the Bodhisattva-Mahāsattva discard notions of birth, abiding, and disappearance? By this it is meant that all things are to be regarded as forms born of a vision or a dream and have never been created since there are no such things as self, the other, or bothness. [The Bodhisattvas] will see that the external world exists only in conformity with Mind-only; and seeing that there is no stirring of the Vijñānas and that the triple world is a complicated network of causation and owes its rise to discrimination, (81) they find that all things, inner and external, are beyond predicability, that there is nothing to be seen as self-nature, and that [the world] is not to be viewed as born; and thereby they will conform themselves to the insight that things are of the nature of a vision, etc., and attain to the recognition that things are unborn.

It is the very antithesis of selfishness. Finally...(emphasis mine)

Then, Mahāmati, what is meant by the Bodhisattva-Mahāsattva ... having a good insight into the non-existence of external objects? It means, Mahāmati, that all things are like unto a mirage, a dream, a hair-net; and seeing that all things are here essentially because of our attachment to the habit-energy of discrimination which has been maturing since beginningless time on account of false imagination and erroneous speculation, the Bodhisattvas will seek after the attainment of self-realisation by their noble wisdom. Mahāmati, furnished with these four things, Bodhisattva-Mahāsattvas become great Yogins. Therefore, in these, Mahāmati, you should exercise yourself.

I have always appreciated the self-referential nature of much of Buddhist thought, and here it is again: because of delusion (and its attendant problems) one seeks after the Dharma.

Again, this is not Biocentrist nonsense. The world is not going to appear non-real, and especially not because you think you're a Buddhist or something else. There's another word for that, and it's not nice. But to see the interdependency of things, as aligned Mind itself one tends to get rid of the little self...

And speaking of "those people over there" being more enlightened than the West...

I think that the folks who idealize Asia had a good does of reality with the Ajahn Brahamavamso issue (see also here). (Ajahn Braham seems like a visionary to this westerner writing this blog, though, and I'm sure this is the way it seems to others in the West.)

This is probably an instance of Orientalism at work here picked up from the Western environment almost by osmosis, especially to those who have called this affair a "controversy." The truth is, most people have never heard of "Thai forest monks," and of those that have, probably most of them likely agree with the folks in Thailand who censured Ajahn Braham, and to them, it's probably not a controversy. How do I know this? Did you see any news of anyone stopping contributions to monasteries in Thailand? No?

Anyway, today has news that Thailand is evicting 4000 Hmongs to Laos, over protests of human rights advocates.

Thailand acted despite protests from the United Nations and human rights groups. Even as the soldiers were trucking the Hmong over the Mekong River into Laos, the United States government was calling on the Thai government to stop.

“We deeply regret this serious violation of the international humanitarian principles that Thailand has long been known for championing,” said a State Department spokesman, Ian C. Kelly. “The United States strongly urges Thai authorities to suspend this operation.”

But Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Thailand had received assurances that the returnees would be well treated and “that these Hmong will have a better life."...

The United States has a special interest in the fate of the Hmong, a mountain tribal group that was enlisted by the Central Intelligence Agency during the 1960s in a “secret war” in Laos.

“They could walk in the mountains like the wind,” William Lair, the operative who recruited them, said in an interview last year. “I thought at the time what great guerrillas these people would be.”

They died in large numbers on a mission to tie down units of the Communist Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese soldiers and helping to rescue downed American pilots.

The 4,000 asylum seekers are a last remnant of as many as 300,000 Hmong who have fled Laos over the years since the Communist victory in 1975. Half of these were settled in the United States, and many others returned to Laos, most of them voluntarily."

The Thais do not really have a history of colonial exploitation as horrendous as the Vietnamese, or even Koreans, and although the US has a role here (like we did with the "Boat People" in the 1970s), the behavior of the Thais is not the fault of the White Folk Over Here. Thailand is a wonderful country to be sure, but like Tibet, it's no Shangri-La, so to speak. There is no Shangri-La.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Meanwhile, in Tehran

All kinds of stuff is hitting the fan.

I know someone there. Hope he and his family is OK.

My problem with the movie "Avatar"

Having now actually seen "Avatar" with my son yesterday I can now pronounce my verdict: I have a problem with these kinds of movies in general, and it's this: The indigenous people can be, and often are, just as stupid and brutish as us Westerners. They just haven't figured out how to have a bigger footprint yet, in general.  But there are exceptions, and that's why there's ruins all over the place.

We Americans look like naive fools when we paint the "first beings" as somehow more in an "unfallen Eden state"   than we are.  As Gwynne Dyer noted, "first people's" conflicts tend to actually kill more people over time as a percentage of their  population  than our ridiculously jump-the-shark lethal armies have done.  And that tends to carry over to chimpanzees as well (but not, evidently to bonobos).

In addition movies like "Avatar" also seem to be a catalyst that gets conservatives like  Ross Douthat to write odd things about pantheism.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

"Zen Rituals" and Flypaper

Soto Zen Buddhist Brad Warner says, inter alia:

I think rituals are important for human beings. It seems like we need some kind of rituals to keep us happy and contented. I like the Zen way of dealing with rituals by doing them but not really believing in them. It seems like a rational solution to the problem.

What I think he means here is there isn't assumed to be some magic or some supernatural "thing" associated with the ritual which is anticipated to do something special that could not be done without the ritual.

While I tend to share the basic skepticism to the supernatural, I don't think that stance historically uniformly true in Zen Buddhism, and in chanting, something different really does happen that is different than had one not chanted, like when you do anything no matter how mundane, it "changes the course of history." Whether that's supernatural or not is irrelevant to the fact that the chanting has some efficacy...subject to the issues surrounding "spiritual materialism" I'll discuss shortly. Now in the Rinzai school, in the tradition from Hakuin, chanting in Buddhist rituals is substantially more lively than in the Soto tradition, so maybe Warner's chants and rituals are just boring (I doubt), or maybe they're just done differently. But when we Rinzai folk chant, we show up to chant, and in order to do that there must be a kernel of belief in mindfulness to do that, and in that sense, we "believe" in our rituals.

About the efficacy of the chanting, my teacher had once said that something to the effect that Heart Sutra → Emmei Jukku Kannon Gyo1 → 無. What he meant by this is that the presence, the technique, and the mindfulness one would do as one practiced chanting the Heart Sutra, would by its nature be an expanded version of chanting the "10 Phrase Life Prolonging Kannon Sutra" (延命十句觀音經) which would be an expanded version of working with 無. Now of course Warner's school deemphasizes koan study, so maybe that makes his chants and rituals boring. But I doubt it.

As the Pure Land link notes above (with spelling corrected):

Towards the end of his life, the great Zen Master Hakuin (1689-1769) took an increasing interest in life outside the monastery and in the lives and practices of his lay diciples, government ministers and the aristocracy.

In a letter dated 1754 to Lord Nabeshima he tells of the virtues required of a good leader and the merits attached to recitation of the Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo (Ten Phrase Life Prolonging Kannon Sutra).

Along with the letter he sent a copy of the Sutra and told Lord Nabeshima of the miracles that were associated with its recitation, both in China and Japan.

Hakuin expresses the hope that his lordship will recite it two or three hundred times each day and encourage his retainers, the uneducated and illiterate, to do so as well. He goes on:

'The reason lies in the testing. Give this to those who are seriously ill or have met with disaster for their consolation.

If it is recited with sincerity, miracles will without fail be accomplished and the person who recites it will be free from disease and attain a long life.
This applies to anyone at all.'

Now how to reconcile with what Brad Warner says with what Hakuin says? Well, Hakuin lived at a different time, first of all, and so wasn't exactly scientifically oriented. However, Hakuin's writing style tends to be a bit hyperbolic to put it mildly. He's say a lot of things to encourage people, from what I've read. (Then again, so does Warner...) And, full disclosure: when one has been sitting for a while this sutra is very useful to "direct the chi (気)" to where it can alleviate pain, and I'm not making this up. Sure, sure there's non-supernatural reasons for this, but it's not a placebo effect, it's more of the effects of exercise/yoga on fixing what ails your body, structurally speaking.

Now the thing is, you can't "get" this to happen by wanting, and of course getting rid of a gaining idea - the idea that you can get something out of the ritual - is probably completely impossible. That's because wanting not to want to gain or wanting to get even happiness and contentment from rituals are still things to be wanted to be gained from them. But given nonduality, some degree of avoidance of excessive scrupulosity is an accurate position to take, I think.  Just bow. Just chant.  And don't chase after thoughts about when you miss the right word, or have to take a breath and that distorts the rhythm and all that. Just go back to the practice...


1. 延 命 十 句 觀 音 經 (Emmei Jukku Kannon Gyo)

觀世音 南無佛


與佛有因 與佛有緣
佛法僧緣 常樂我淨
朝念觀世音 暮念觀世音
念念從心起 念念不離心

Friday, December 25, 2009

Arthur Koestler v. Ken Wilber...

Koestler invented the term "holon," which is not of much use to me, and Ken Wilber wrote lots of stuff about things based on acronyms and jargon related to holons which is also not of much use to me.

But Arthur Koestler was invariably more well traveled evidently...

No other writer of the 20th century had Arthur Koestler’s knack for doing odd things, crossing paths with important people and being present when disaster struck. As a 27-year-old Communist he spent the famine winter of 1932-33 in Khar­kov, amid millions of starving Ukrainians. Rushing southward through France ahead of the invading Nazi armies in 1940, he ran into the philosopher Walter Benjamin, who shared with him half the morphine tablets Benjamin would use, weeks later, to commit suicide. The Harvard drug guru Timothy Leary gave Koestler psilocybin in the mid-1960s, and Margaret Thatcher solicited his advice in her 1979 election campaign. Simone de Beauvoir slept with him but came to hate him, and in a fictional portrait described a blazing intelligence and a personality capable of sweeping people off their feet...

Koestler was in Málaga when it fell to Franco in 1937. He was thrown in jail, where on some nights dozens of his fellow inmates were marched away to execution. Because his interrogators did not know he was an actual Communist, it was possible for the Party to secure his release through its front groups. Scammell is masterly on the role of these organizations, putatively just “antifascist” but run by steering committees taking orders from Moscow. They drummed up the campaign, a novelty at the time, for Koestler’s release, turning him into a European celebrity.

Despite all that, it turns out Koestler was pretty much as much of a crackpot as Wilber.

...In the mid-1950s Koestler fell out of love with international politics. He refused to make a public show of support for either the Hungarian uprising of 1956 or Israel in the 1967 war. It was now science that fascinated him. No previous biographer has been able to pivot with Koestler at this point, but Scammell, a first-class paraphraser, is up to the task. Some of Koestler’s late work is impressive: “The Sleepwalkers” is an account of the pioneers of modern astronomy that Thomas Kuhn credited with having anticipated the ideas in his classic, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” But there is a consistent note of autodidactic crankiness, too. Koestler’s enthusiasms included Lamarckian evolution, telepathy and ESP, a theory of creation that we would call intelligent design, levitation and the belief — laid out in his late book “The Thirteenth Tribe” — that Ashkenazi Jews are descended from the Khazars of the North Caucasus.

But the Koestler he depicts is consistently repugnant — humorless, megalomaniac, violent. Like many people concerned about “humanity,” he was contemptuous of actual humans. He ignored and snubbed his mother (who had pawned her last diamond to pay for his passage to Palestine), and he rebuffed every attempt to arrange a meeting between him and his illegitimate daughter. What made him such a creep? Perhaps alcohol — Koestler threw tables in restaurants and was arrested for drunken driving on many occasions. Perhaps insecurity — he was tormented by his shortness (barely 5 feet 6 inches) and used to stand on tippy-toe at cocktail parties. “We all have inferiority complexes of various sizes,” Koestler’s Communist editor Otto Katz once told him. “But yours isn’t a complex — it’s a cathedral.”

It's really important to practice humility and kindness and mindfulness, because otherwise this might be the result. At least that's what I feel after reading this stuff.

Have whatever Christmas you want

Or none at all, if that's what floats your boat.

[T]here are indicators that Christmas revelry in general may be slipping among the population at large. The Christmas Spirit Foundation, a charity that provides holiday assistance to needy children and sends Christmas trees to military families, has been examining people’s plans for the holidays for the last five years. This year’s survey, conducted by the polling firm Harris Interactive, found that while 95 percent of households plan to celebrate Christmas (about the same as every year), the percentage of families who plan to exchange gifts is dropping: 77 percent this year, down from 85 percent in 2005. Slightly fewer people said they were going to attend parties or listen to Christmas music, too.

Another organization hired Harris to conduct a different type of Christmas poll — this one on holiday stress. The survey, commissioned by Breakthrough at Caron, a residential program for adults suffering from drug and alcohol addiction as well as dysfunctional family situations, found holiday stress to be almost universal — 90 percent of respondents said they suffered from it — but that this year the feeling was amplified. Thirty-eight percent of the people polled said they expected to feel more anxiety this holiday season than last. Most blamed the economy, but 77 percent also cited family conflicts.

“There’s a lot of pain associated with Christmas,” said Hank Stuever, the author of a new book, “Tinsel: A Search for America’s Christmas Present,” which follows the Yuletide preparations of three families in a sprawling Dallas suburb over three consecutive years, 2006 to 2008. “There’s a lot of joy, too. You’re supposed to be happy — thank you, Charles Dickens — and when you aren’t, you feel bad.”

As someone who has had my share of Christmas, both good and bad, growing up as I did with many siblings, 2 parents, and for a time a grandmother under one roof with one bathroom, I understand sentiments all around with this.

I think the key to doing any of this - or not at all - is to make sure you're the one doing it, that you show up. As I've noted, it's good to have a holiday for kids, and this year, IMO, it's a kindness to retailers who have had their share of issues this year themselves. In my vicinity quite a few stores have gone out of business in the past year, and it's almost irrelevant how long they've been in business. So, this year I lean a little more towards Christmas than against it. And, no, it's not about the baby Jesus; it's a solstice holiday we call Christmas. And all of us can have the holiday if we want. Or not.

A while back Barbara O'Brien asked Buddhists what they do about Christmas.

I think the rest of the world has the same question about themselves, and if they address it they can do a little more holiday kindness than otherwise might be possible.

That's my opinion, yours may vary.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

On Spiritual Attainment...

A comment thread on the "Andrew Cohen is bad" post on gniz's website leads me to the following comment: The problem with "spiritual attainment," as any skeptic rationalist will tell you, is that it is non-falsifiable. It's non-falsifiable because there's no such experiment a non-spiritually attained person can do to objectively measure spiritual attainment.

A guy can sit in the full or half lotus position for X hours, but that only means he can do that.  Whether the person acts from a viewpoint where subject and object are seen in their proper perspective, say, from within the Lankavatara Sutra, though, cannot really be tested.

Now this does not mean that spiritual attainment does not exist, but if that doesn't quite get you to the point where you see through the death of Nan-ch'uan, it should at least provide a signpost.

If you come to some guy seeking your own answers to the Big Questions in life, and wait out in the snow for 3 days to see him, and it takes multiple rebuffs before he'll agree to at least give you some rice gruel as you help clean the latrines, then, in your case, it might take a while before you understand the death of Nan-ch'uan, and you might mistake your teacher for being someone with high spiritual attainment in the meantime.

Conversely,  you might take the position that spiritual attainment of both you and the "teacher" is impossible, and this might arise out of a cold, cynical heart masking burning resentment or you may take the position because you've found yourself in the last Oxherding Picture.

Anyway, that's really why I like Hakuin's position on the subject.  I think there is such a thing as "spiritual attainment," but I'm not going to spend much time over some cult leader's attainment or lack thereof.

Trungpa Rinpoche wrote a whole book on spiritual materialism.  How is gravitating around a guy who has "achieved spiritual attainment" not spiritual materialism?

Happy Christmas, folks.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

And the reason I read PZ Myers is the sensibility...

And Myers brings to my attention that not only did I miss the bonobos on PBS last night, I also missed Larry King!

And that probably was not worth watching anyway...'cause Myers is right on this point (my paraphrase): when you put Deepak Chopra, Dinesh D'Souza, and a guy from a reality show substituting for Larry King in a room, do not expect profundity...

CHOPRA: Well, birth and death are space-time events in the continuum of life. So the opposite of life is not death. The opposite of death is birth. And the opposite of birth is death...But if I ask you to imagine the color red or look at the color red, there's no red in your brain. There's just electrical firings.

Birth and death aren't opposites, according to the definition of "opposite." Death isn't really "at the other end or side" of either birth or life. Death is implicit in life. And those electrical firings in your brain you (or your brain) are trained to perceive as red.

There's more there, embedded within the whole transcript. It's as bad or worse than that.

Playing through pain...

The real reason I read a blog like Danny Fisher's is that every once in a while there's something useful in it - and I mean that as a deep compliment. Today he quotes Pema Chödrön, and that quote is quite useful as I have been having a rather sharp pain in my hip - I suspect it's the "a" - word - for the past few days, which hasn't made my sitting pleasant, except when accompanied by large doses of ibuprofen. I quote Fisher quoting Chödrön...

Buddhist words such as “compassion” and “emptiness” don’t mean much until you start cultivating your innate ability simply to be there with pain with an open heart and the willingness not to instantly try to get ground under your feet.

For instance, if what you’re feeling is rage you usually assume that there are only two ways to relate to it. One is to blame others. Lay it all on somebody else, drive all blames into everyone else. The other alternative is to feel guilty about your rage and blame yourself.

Compassionate action starts with seeing yourself when you start to make yourself right and when you start to make yourself wrong. At that point you could just contemplate the fact that there is a larger alternative to either of those, a more tender, shaky kind of place where you could live.

This place, if you can touch it, will help you train yourself throughout your life to open further…rather than shut down more. You’ll find that as you begin to commit yourself to this practice, as you begin to have a sense of celebrating the parts of yourself that you found so impossible before, something will shift in you. Something will shift permanently in you. Your ancient habitual patterns will begin to soften and you’ll being to see the faces and hear the words of people who are talking to you.

While I feel tender and shaky enough right now, thank you very much, living with this tender pain - and all the attendant thoughts that go with it is hard enough. Will I have this pain forever? Will it get worse? Is it because I've had way too much fun in my life? Is it a side effect of the medication I'm taking?

Naturally, in sitting, in being with the pain, the pain becomes quite bearable. But before sitting, thinking about sitting brings about a similar interoceptive anticipation as might be expected, I suppose, from the expectation of torture.

Now naturally I'm trying to pay attention to my health, and evidently some additional weight exercises at the gym have had a beneficial effect. But also evidently, the thought is often worse than the reality.

Plants don't want to be eaten either

The vegetarian/carnivore debate thing just got a bit more complicated, unless you've already realized that to eat is to kill.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Some of the Lesser Knowns...

I have an on-going joke with my 8 year old son about the "Lesser Fairies" - they're like the Tooth Fairy (in whom my son does not have a belief), but not as well known.

There's the Toenail Fairy, the Bellybutton Lint Fairy, the Nose Hair Fairy, and, of course, the Booger Fairy. My son tells me there are more fairies, but I won't mention them here. Let's just say they get harder to clean up after.

In that spirit, I'd like to bring to the attention of my little corner of the blogosphere some of the Lesser Known "gurus," "spiritual teachers" and the like.

All of these folk are connected by 1 or 2 degrees of separation to folks like Ken Wilber, Andrew Cohen, Dennis Genpo Merzel, Freddie Lenz and the like. Don't say I didn't warn you. Behold the Bellybutton Lint Fairies of the New Age!

  • Tripp Lanier (don't you love the name? it sounds like a Simpson's character) is a "men's coach," and host of the sounds-like-Soviet-propaganda "New Man" podcast. From his blog I learned that I missed the opportunity to "hang with Vidyuddeva and the controversial Marc Gafni." That brings us to the next 2 guys here.
  • Marc Gafni, a former "modern Orthodox rabbi" did not rape anyone in Israel. And you shouldn't believe Vicki Polin either, regardless of whether or not she ...uh...sacrificed babies.
  • "Vidyuddeva" is a Zen priest, or so he claims, studied for nearly ten years at Dharma Field under Steve Hagen, and was ordained in the American Soto Peregrine Lineage in 1999. Dharma Field's website makes no reference to anyone named "Vidyuddeva" that I could find, and judging from the looks of the site, I doubt they'd ever give anyone that name. Likewise, on Google, Zen sects based on the search "American Soto Peregrine" doesn't exactly come up prominently. All of which lead me to question, "who is this guy and why would anyone take him seriously?" He was at one of those Dharmapalooza events at one time, but still...for more on this guy visit here.
  • Diane Musho Hamilton is a gifted facilitator, mediator, and spiritual teacher, or so she claims. Look at that beatific face on her website. I bet she has that expression when she stubs her toe. Seriously, that expression looks nothing but posed to me. She's a Dharma heir of Dennis Genpo Merzel. Maybe she has good teaching and a bad publicist. But then that would call to mind the question of why she might have a publicist in the first place. OK, maybe she has good teaching and a bad sense of esthetics. That could be true.
  • Roger Cantu was a student of Frederick Lenz, but he was gifted with male pattern baldness, unlike his teacher. To Cantu's credit, he did seem to try to pursue Tibetan Buddhism after Lenz's death, but the idea that this is anything special, or that Cantu is any kind of a certified teacher, well, that seems a bit beyond the pale. A few years back, Cantu expressed his intention to be like Lenz.
  • Carl Sheusi is a Yoga guy and Big Mind guy and a "Holistic Life Coach."   Too bad; casts a bad light on Yoga (which I've found has been quite helpful).
  • Last, but not least, may I present Shiva (a.k.a. Tony Chester). Although this site's password protected, Google's cache helps provide some info on this guy.

    His experience of Samadhi at age five set him on a life long course of Spiritual Self-discovery and esoteric thought. Throughout his life, his awakening process was full of unexpected epiphanies, visions and awarenessŐs of the Divine.

    He was initiated into Enlightenment in 1982 by his Teacher and has taught Tantric Mysticism seminars and headed spiritual communities for over twenty years.

    Like Ramakrishna, Shiva draws from all religions to successfully reconcile the awareness of God in all. His approach to spiritual awakening is eclectic and draws from many sources. His lifelong experience in religious, philosophy and esoteric teachings, makes it possible for him to provide a unique approach to the spiritual awakening process.

    Chester's association with Lenz can be seen from here.

This list is of course by no means exhaustive, and I'm sure there's even more fascinating people out there.

But if that isn't a motivation to authenticity, I don't know what is.  The idea that these guys are, uh, breeding,  in terms of spreading these practices, should be a concern to us.

Monday, December 21, 2009

My Ads

I feel I must keep repeating this, because Google's always coming up with new ways to amaze me.

A good bit of the posts on this site are roundly critical of what I call "Spiritual Hucksterism," which can be roundly characterized as the practice of folks trying to exploit people's authentic search for meaning and spirituality (as defined as co-incident with cultivation of one's life, breath, and related issues).

And yet, in an act of supreme karmic algorithmic irony, Google sees fit to have all kinds of advertisers on my blog who seem to be nothing but spiritual hucksters.

As well as reputable advertisers like Williams-Sonoma, Progressive Insurance, and McDonalds (OK, that's a toss-up: who'd you rather take money from, McDonalds or Quantum Jumping???)

So please note that I don't endorse anything from these advertisers, and roundly condemn many of them, but perhaps not all of them, even as I supposedly get $$$ if you click on their links. Get on-Board the Special Buddhist Train. Become a Spiritual Coach. Align with Divinity. Adjust your chakras. Just remember, you pays your money and you takes your chances. It's your carnival. Ask your doctor if Quantum Jumping is right for you. If you have satori lasting more than 12 hours, see your doctor immediately.

And, in revisiting the time-honored concept of the Sunday newspaper weighing 300 pounds and taking this concept to absurdity, may I present my "advertising only blog," an experiment to see if anyone in cyberspace clicks on a blog that's only advertising. Not to mention it's also an experiment to see who'd be crazy enough to advertise on a blog that's only advertising. I'll let you know if it actually makes any money. I doubt it. But nothing surprises me in this world.

A bit of advice from Hakuin

In case you were wondering about whether you were certifiably enlightened or not...

If you wish to test the validity of your own powers, you must first study the koan on the death of Nan-ch'uan.

A long time ago San-sheng had the head monk Hsiu go to the Zen Master Tsen of Ch'ang-sha and ask him: "What happened to Nan-ch'uan after he passe[d] away?"

Ch'ang-sha replied: "When Shih-t'ou became a novice monk he was seen by the Sixth Patriarch."

Hsiu replied: "I didn't ask you about when Shih-t'ou became a novice monk; I asked you what happened to Nan-ch'uan after he passed away."

Ch'ang-sha replied: "If I were you I would let Nan-ch'uan worry about it himself."

Hsiu replied: "Even though you had a thousand-foot winter pine, there is no bamboo shoot to rise above its branches."

Ch'ang had nothing to say. Hsiu returned and told the story of his conversation to San-sheng. San-sheng unconsciously stuck out his tongue [in surprise] and said: "He has surpassed Lin-chi by seven paces."

If you are able to understand and make clear these words, then I will acknowledge that you have a certain degree of responsiveness to the teachings. Why is this so? If you speak to yourself while no one is around, you behave as meanly as a rat. What can anyone possibly prove [about your understanding]?

I also think it's a good way to measure Spiritual Hucksterosity.

HT to Gniz, whose post about Andrew Cohen (I just can't get over that people take that guy seriously) reminded me of this bit by Hakuin.

The Pope ©???

When the Catholic church starts to incorporate intellectual property law into its practices you know they're just adding one more problem to the mountain of problems they already have.

Among them, entirely new things about which to be ignorant!

The Vatican made a declaration on the protection of the figure of the Pope on Saturday morning. The statement seeks to establish and safeguard the name, image and any symbols of the Pope as being expressly for official use of the Holy See unless otherwise authorized.

The statement cited a "great increase of affection and esteem for the person of the Holy Father" in recent years as contributing to a desire to use the Pontiff's name for all manner of educational and cultural institutions, civic groups and foundations.

Due to this demand, the Vatican has felt it necessary to declare that "it alone has the right to ensure the respect due to the Successors of Peter, and therefore, to protect the figure and personal identity of the Pope from the unauthorized use of his name and/or the papal coat of arms for ends and activities which have little or nothing to do with the Catholic Church."

The declaration alludes to attempts to use ecclesiastical or pontifical symbols and logos to "attribute credibility and authority to initiatives" as another reason to establish their “copyright” on the Holy Father's name, picture and coat of arms.

Not only have they now put their institution on a par with Scientology, but they have opened themselves up to parody and ridicule, which (ask any lawyer; I'm not a lawyer) is immune to assertions such as the above.

Brilliant move, fellas.  And it just gave PZ Myers another way to figuratively flip the bird at these folk.

Yes, Ross, Nature is suffering and death. And the First Noble Truth is noble.

I'll say this for Ross Douthat, "conservative" op-ed columnist for the NY Times. He's better than the guy he replaced. However the fact that the NY Times still publishes folks whose columns can be kindly called sophomoric, should give everyone pause. Today's column is a fine example, a jeremiad against "Hollywood pantheism." Now Hollywood pantheism is a subject that I, too, can join in criticism, because it appears simplistic, it trivializes profound ideas, but it should not be taken seriously because, in the end, it's not meant to be serious.

Now, for full disclosure I should point out that I prefer the term "non-theist" applied to myself when describing theism and related philosophies, and "pantheism" to me, is an inapplicable category for Buddhists. I must also disagree with D. T. Suzuki and Shaku Soen's attempt to use the term panentheism, because, although they were trying to put the ideology of Buddhism in terms Westerners at the time could understand, the reality is the terms of discourse for discussion of Buddhist concepts such as sunyata, Dharmakaya and the like were generated largely independently of Western theological categories, and so it makes little sense to try to shoehorn Buddhist philosophical categories and concepts into Western categories and concepts. In fact, the very presentation of Buddhism as a set of concepts "to be believed" is very much at variance with the "Noble Truths" of Buddhism, which can be practiced and considered experimentally, without recourse to belief.

But putting Buddhism in terms unsuited for it is often done, and the folks who tend to do it the most are either proponents of Christianity or New Age Woo. So I can almost sympathize with Douthat. Particularly if pantheism is equated with Buddhism, which is often done both by New Age-ists as well as "Christian apologists." Douthat writes:

[P]antheism opens a path to numinous experience for people uncomfortable with the literal-mindedness of the monotheistic religions — with their miracle-working deities and holy books, their virgin births and resurrected bodies. As the Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski noted, attributing divinity to the natural world helps “bring God closer to human experience,” while “depriving him of recognizable personal traits.” For anyone who pines for transcendence but recoils at the idea of a demanding Almighty who interferes in human affairs, this is an ideal combination.

Indeed, it represents a form of religion that even atheists can support. Richard Dawkins has called pantheism “a sexed-up atheism.” (He means that as a compliment.) Sam Harris concluded his polemic “The End of Faith” by rhapsodizing about the mystical experiences available from immersion in “the roiling mystery of the world.” Citing Albert Einstein’s expression of religious awe at the “beauty and sublimity” of the universe, Dawkins allows, “In this sense I too am religious.”

Then of course Douthat pitches that a theistic religion must be superior - presumably not only to pantheism but to all other "-isms" or lack thereof - because death is scary.

The question is whether Nature actually deserves a religious response. Traditional theism has to wrestle with the problem of evil: if God is good, why does he allow suffering and death? But Nature is suffering and death. Its harmonies require violence. Its “circle of life” is really a cycle of mortality. And the human societies that hew closest to the natural order aren’t the shining Edens of James Cameron’s fond imaginings. They’re places where existence tends to be nasty, brutish and short.

Religion exists, in part, precisely because humans aren’t at home amid these cruel rhythms. We stand half inside the natural world and half outside it. We’re beasts with self-consciousness, predators with ethics, mortal creatures who yearn for immortality.

This is an agonized position, and if there’s no escape upward — or no God to take on flesh and come among us, as the Christmas story has it — a deeply tragic one.

As I wrote yesterday, death is our lot itself. It is true that humans (and for that matter, dogs, elephants, other primates and other mammals) are not happy with that. Theistic religion's response, as apprehended by Douthat, is to view himself and his fellow humans as partly outside of nature, hoping, despite evidence to the contrary, that there's an "upward escape."

My apprehension of Buddhism though would say that no escape is likely, and in a world where no escape is likely and yet we still must act (since there is simply no avoidance of it), we must act to mitigate suffering and strife and discord while we're here, because that is the way we can be most merciful to ourselves and others.

To whatever extent we're within, and apart from Nature is irrelevant. No rescue ship is coming, and the hungry still need to be fed.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

"Death is Our Lot Itself"

That's a takeaway from what I once read in William Barrett's "Irrational Man: A Study in Existentialist Philosophy." It was a quote from Sartre, who noted that death, as well as exile and captivity, were, for the French Resistants, "our lot itself, our destiny, the profound source of our reality as men." While Sartre continues with saying that many of the choices the Resistants made were "Rather death than...," perhaps in our less extreme lives it is still accurate to say, "After death it might be remembered that..." And, "On the deathbed, at least I can say that..."

For many people, this is not how their lives are lived. If religion has any purpose at all, it should be to enable people to live lives intentionally, i.e., with the above in mind. I am reminded of the business-speak infused "Purpose-driven" life of one famous fundamentalist, one that substitutes one's showing up with somebody else's idea of "what god wants." (I am trying to be mindful as I write this.) It is perhaps not surprising to me, then, to hear of a Christian church which gives away $1000 each week to boost attendance. You see, for these people, the prospect of living one's own life authentically, and the development of skill to do that is either not on the agenda of this church, or the people involved want to find some other reason for hearing that so they have to get a lottery to even be near the prospect of a religious message, which, again, probably does not involve the authentic execution of one's life.

To live one's life authentically is a great challenge, when "authentic" isn't taken to mean "self-centered," but to mean something like "heroic," even if heroic means carrying out the daily absurdity of one's life for the benefit of others.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The interior of the US is endemic with poverty...

(Picture from here.)

Those folks who had racist attitudes towards Native Americans might want to consider that their friends and relatives may have a similar destiny. The Sioux might not be so different than the Borscht Belt in time.

MONTICELLO, N.Y. — In the film “Dirty Dancing,” set in 1963, Max Kellerman, the proprietor of a fictional Catskill resort, laments that the golden era of borscht belt resorts is over.

“You think kids want to come with their parents and take fox-trot lessons?” he gripes. “Trips to Europe, that’s what the kids want.”

It was a prescient utterance. Of course, the film — released decades after the Catskill summer resort culture began its decline — benefited from hindsight. But as the strain of recession continues into its second winter, how is the economy of the Route 17 corridor faring?

Nubia Quintero-Edwards, 39, a caseworker at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, in Sullivan County, estimates that 80 percent of her caseload now includes recipients of unemployment benefits, a noticeable increase since the summer.

“They tell me, ‘I have three kids, and I need oil,’ ” she said. “The economy is really not good here, and it’s getting worse,” a development that has kept her busy.

“I’m tired,” she said with a sigh.

It’s a far cry from the area’s auspicious beginnings. In the 19th century, Orange, Sullivan and Ulster Counties developed a robust farming economy, and farmers in search of extra income opened small boarding houses. Businessmen who passed through the area took notice of this nascent hospitality industry and purchased and expanded the rooming houses, giving birth to behemoths like Grossinger’s in Liberty and the Concord in Kiamesha Lake.

These resorts, which boasted top-flight entertainment — Woody Allen, Mel Brooks and Don Rickles were among the comedians who sharpened their wit on area stages — attracted upper-middle-class Jewish New Yorkers, nearly a million of whom migrated north as soon as the humidity hit to mambo in the mountain air.

But starting in the 1960s, the lure of cheap air travel punctured the local economy, and the 50 or 60 resorts that dotted the mountainside dwindled precipitously.

I remember going on Route 17 to visit friends upstate studying at SUNY Binghamton. Some fools not far from Monticello also had the bright idea that the place could become a bedroom community for New York City.

These places have historical value far beyond their Borscht Belt incarnation; and one would hope that Americans develop more respect for their land. And that goes for the Sioux, too.

It's selfish and ignorant to use a place, and then leaving and leaving the poor behind (or giving the poor the worst possible places to live, as the Sioux got).

The known universe in which Buddha nature is pervasive

HT: PZ Myers...who I'm sure, will also have creationists linking to this...

Lankavatara Sutra Chapter 2, Section XXVIII and XXIX

And as usual, I'm not any kind of certified teacher by anyone, I don't play one on TV, I'm just reading the text and seeing what it means based on my knowledge and learning...

Some key text (my hyperlinking added):

[The Buddha said, "My concept of the]Tathāgata-garbha is not the same as the ego taught by the philosophers; for what the Tathagatas teach is the Tathāgata-garbha in the sense, Mahāmati, that it is emptiness, reality-limit, Nirvana, being unborn, unqualified, and devoid of will-effort; the reason why the Tathagatas who are Arhats and Fully-Enlightened Ones, teach the doctrine pointing to the Tathāgata-garbha is to make the ignorant cast aside their fear when they listen to the teaching of egolessness and to have them realise the state of non-discrimination and imagelessness. I also wish, Mahāmati, that the Bodhisattva-Mahāsattvas of the present and future would not attach themselves to the idea of an ego [imagining it to be a soul]. Mahāmati, it is like a potter who manufactures various vessels out of a mass of clay of one sort by his own manual skill and labour combined with a rod, water, and thread, Mahāmati, that the Tathagatas preach the egolessness of things which removes all the traces of discrimination by various skilful means issuing from their transcendental wisdom, that is, sometimes by the doctrine of the Tathāgata-garbha, sometimes by that of egolessness, and, like a potter, by means of various terms, expressions, and synonyms. For this reason, Mahāmati, the philosophers' doctrine of an ego-substance is not the same ... as the teaching of the Tathāgata-garbha. Thus, Mahāmati, the doctrine of the Tathāgata-garbha is disclosed in order to awaken the philosophers from their clinging to the idea of the ego, so that those minds that have fallen into the views imagining the non-existent ego as real, and also into the notion that the triple emancipation is final, may rapidly be awakened to the state of supreme enlightenment. Accordingly, Mahāmati, the Tathagatas who are Arhats and Fully-Enlightened Ones disclose the doctrine of the Tathāgata-garbha which is thus not to be known as identical with the philosopher's notion of an ego-substance.["]

That's why these folks who say,"See? Buddhism is Biocentrism!" don't quite know what they're talking about, regarding the "Mind only" schools, including Zen Buddhism, have considered "Buddha nature pervades the whole universe."

The notes by the translator say the next section "strangely found its way" to its present position. I quote it in its entirety; I think it actually belongs where it is...

The personal soul, continuity, the Skandhas, causation, atoms, the supreme spirit, the ruler, the creator, —[they are] discriminations in the Mind-only.

While there is an Awareness of which we can be aware which transcends the "small mind" (I assume that's not trademarked!) to make further discrimination about Awareness - about which Biocentrism is one such discrimination - is to be dealing in different matters and views than what Buddhists in Mind schools have referred to as Mind, Buddha nature, or (as I've done right here) Awareness.

Shaolin IPO?

Well that's something you don't see every day...

A joint venture between Dengfeng, the city where the ancient Buddhist temple is located, and the state-run China Travel Service (CTS) will be listed in either Hong Kong or Shanghai in 2011.

CTS (Dengfeng) Songshan Shaolin Cultural Tourist Company Ltd will have the temple's annual ticket sales of 150m yuan as part of its revenues. However, a government source said that the temple's buildings would not be included in the new company.

More than 1.6 million tourists visited the site in Henan province last year in order to visit its prayer halls and see the temple's monks perform their kungfu show. The Shaolin Temple also performs a stage show that has toured London and New York.

According to legend, the destruction of the temple by its enemies in the 17th century helped to spread martial arts across China as five fugitive monks carried their kung fu with them...

CTS is expected to take a 51[%] stake in the venture after contributing a cash investment. A spokesman for the travel agency said he could not comment on the deal. According to the Oriental Morning Post newspaper in Shanghai, the two sides signed a draft agreement on October 21 and Dengfeng city has agreed to inject 6m yuan into the venture.

The IPO will do little to help the public image of Shi Yongxin, the 44-year-old abbot who has presided over the monastery for a decade, transforming it into a global brand.

Mr Shi's critics claim that he has allowed one of the cradles of Zen Buddhism to become crassly commercial.

My first reaction was "utterly ridiculous," but on thinking about it, maybe it's not so ridiculous. After all, I did recently say that having some outside income source tends not to drive "practice for money," and I suppose as long as it's up front about what's being charged for money, it's not very much different from what some teachers in the US & Japan do, except in scale. In fact, I'd say it's substantially more ethical than charging large amounts of money for important Buddhist names, which is a charge levied against some Buddhist priests in some temples Japan.

There's more from China Daily.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Vacation Reading

Mark Chu-Carroll reminds me to read a paper recently co-authored by intelligent design creationist William Dembski, "The Search for a Search - Measuring the Information Cost of Higher Level Search," which while not published in the IEEE Transactions on Information Theory, was published in IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man, and Cybernetics in September.

This is of import because intelligent design creationists generally haven't produced anything worth printing in a respectable journal, and this paper makes appeals to intelligent design creationism within it (but evidently its appeals are essentially "on a set of measure zero" as folks like me are wont to say).

More recent stuff on this by Dr. Chu-Carroll here.

I'd like to understand the issues behind it, to know bad science better.

Coming soon: Back to the Lankavatara Sutra

This has been a bit more difficult to get back to doing than the Lotus Sutra, but given its finitude, it should only take a finite time to get it done...

Early Buddhist Art and American Beer

Barbara O'Brien at the Buddhist blog brings us the story of an apparent link between 2nd century Buddhist art from Gandhara and a quantum physics theory based on Borromean rings. Borromean rings are an arrangement of three interlaced rings, no one of which can be taken away without breaking the other two.

The jist of the story is proof of something conjectured decades ago: "[Russian physics researcher Vitaly] Efimov theorized an analog to the rings using particles: Three particles (such as atoms or protons or even quarks) could be bound together in a stable state, even though any two of them could not bind without the third."

Of course that means there's a link between early Buddhist art and American beer...

Not spiritual the way they mean it...

I think the word "spiritual" is a great word, provided that it's use be confined to what the word originally came from: having to do with the spirit, i.e., the "life principle" of human beings, and yes, to the religious aspects of furtherance and cultivation of this life principle. Taking religion as the cultivation of a discipline in support of this life principle, one can indeed be spiritual without all the nonsense (note to self: write a post on bowing and how that's not nonsense.)

But too often people want to make the spiritual into something else, usually with much darker aspects. Among them an appeal to "the spiritual" might be an appeal to empower narcissism or another means to control people. I don't want to say too much more but similar ideas go through my head when I read this and this blog, and I can cite literally hundreds of other examples throughout the net. I don't know the subject of the blog personally, but I suspect from what's written there that there's a great deal of stuff that needs to be dissolved away, in much the same way as lye can be used as a means for dealing with the dead.

I practice in the Zen Buddhist tradition because I have personally found that taking refuge in this manner provides refuge, and allows me to provide an iota of comfort to those I am sharing my life with instead of no comfort at all, when I make the effort to be mindful enough to do that. I don't have time for grand schemes (beyond what I'm paid to create). An older guy at work said, "At this age, all the news is bad..." That's not quite true of course; at his age grand kids' growth events, and kids career events pop-up. But all the medical news about one's self isn't particularly good after a certain age (I'm not there yet), and as a practical matter it's good to have a game plan so that not only is material comfort preserved, but so is one's sanity.

Having said all that, I do have to agree with Shinzen Young that the practice of mindfulness and related activities does give one an awareness of being in the midst of the sacred. But it truly doesn't do a damned thing to change your status or you in life one smidgen. We have to work at not being a jerks regardless of whether you have or have not experienced enlightenment.

So please don't try to peddle any ol' Kosmic Debris as "spirituality." There's too many hurting people out there, and you could be hurting yourself with your own cure.

And besides, you're not going to capture the sacred for anyone else, so try not to pretend you "have" something they don't.

"Dark Matter" discovered?

Well...who some point Buddhist monasteries may teach this. But right now, the US still has something to contribute in physics...

For 80 years, it has eluded the finest minds in science. But tonight it appeared that the hunt may be over for dark matter, the mysterious and invisible substance that accounts for three-quarters of the matter in the universe.

In a series of coordinated announcements at several US laboratories, researchers said they believed they had captured dark matter in a defunct iron ore mine half a mile underground. The claim, if confirmed next year, will rank as one the most spectacular discoveries in physics in the past century.

Tantalising glimpses of dark matter particles were picked up by highly sensitive detectors at the bottom of the Soudan mine in Minnesota, the scientists said.

Dan Bauer, head of the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (CDMS), said the group had spotted two particles with all the expected characteristics of dark matter. There is a one in four chance that the result is due to some other effect in the underground detectors, Bauer told a seminar at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, near Chicago.

This is indeed a pretty big deal. I remember from my college Advanced Physics course that one alternative to "Dark Matter" involved the universe being itself a giant black hole (which perhaps it is).

We are indeed privileged to live in this time as Sagan "sang" elsewhere; it is likely within our lifetimes that we will discover in habitable planets, and other aspects of science that are key to our existence.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Welcome to the New Look of the Blog

Not as bad as before, is it?

This ain't my door either...

Via The Worst Horse, "Zen Conservatism" ain't exactly my cup of Dharma either.

Maybe there are 84,000 doors to the Dharma, but this ain't mine

I'd never heard of the "Dharmapalooza" stuff, (see blog posts here too).

I guess that's what the kids do these days. :-)

Seriously, though, Buddhism as I've encountered it is thoroughly permeated by the kind of existential bleakness found throughout Sartre: we take refuge because it's a storm out there, and a storm that might seem to be the Wehrmacht coming through your neighborhood sometimes1. And we're largely stuck. There's no exit.

That is essentially my appropriation of the First Noble Truth of Buddhism. In my appropriation of this, the First Noble Truth is noble only 'cause it's followed by three others...which thankfully help bring back life, color, flowers, warmth, cuddling, puppies, smiling children, and a host really Nice Things that would melt even Martha Stewart's heart...which would leave an awful mess and then we'd only have to clean it up.

But I digress...

I can understand that adults younger than me, who are (thankfully for them!) living different lives than I do, are at a certain stage in their lives where they are drawn in passionate ways differently than my passions do (or one might say our karmas are different).

But I have to ask: have they never felt like life was all gray and bleak and it's always going to be this way, and the difficulty in bearing it requires (nearly) superhuman strength? Of course my war metaphor is just that - I have never actually known war, but I have known unyielding ignorance, unwarranted abuse, and a host of other things that are suffering first hand. Negligibly small compared to what others have experienced to be sure, but not exactly a bed of thorn-free roses.

I know there are Boomer ex-hippies who did the Eastern Religion Thing as dilettantes, as tourists, and bridge and tunnel seekers on their way to the megachurch or congealed cynicism. And some did get serious. Thankfully I was a bit too young for the more nonsensical aspects of the generation, but the being a bit too-young, being way too young for the muddy kumbaya of Woodstock had its effect. In addition, I was clearly influenced by the fact that New York culture in the 60s and 70s couldn't but remind you of the Holocaust (and I later found out that despite my not-being Jewish, at least some of my relatives in Europe didn't fare so well with the Nazis either).

Likewise, I guess I'm too old for the Burning Man ecstasy fueled rave nonsense, and ways in which it translates back into the younger Buddhist culture. And of course it's likely a dance to avoid the fact that it's hell outside.

With the deaths that happened this year (not just my mother, but also some in the Zen community) it has become woefully clear to me that my generation (or subset between Boomers & Ravers, I guess?) is now the one that depends on propagating a Dharma that actually helps people.

It can be a Wehrmacht out there, and I'm sorry but guided meditations that gets you to imagine NonDual Big Big Mind...can only help so much.

There's a good chance you're going to have to help your kid at crunch time, when the artillery's metaphorically pounding out there.

The kind of mind that can help then is far more important than song and dance.


1 For a good idea of what I'm talking about, read Russia at War, by Alexander Werth. For some people this wasn't just a metaphor, but the awful reality, and for some people this reality was created by unconscious collusion with others, both as a historical outcome of WWII, and as echoes created later in their lives or foreshocks created earlier in their lives and passed down to children.