Monday, December 06, 2010


Barbara writes, in what might be a different context from where I'm going here:

The whole issue of what is REAL or NOT REAL is problematic, of course, since phenomena that most westerners would sort into "real" or "not real" bins are all projections of mind, neither real nor not-real. Until we realize that, we all "believe" all manner of things. I suspect part of the reason there's such a disconnect between much Asian and western Buddhism isn't a difference in Buddhism itself but the different belief systems we drag into it in the beginning.
So a westerner might originally think that Buddhism is something like psychology. Someone coming into Buddhism from a culture steeped in animism (such as Shinto) might interpret Buddhism through an animistic filter. Both views fall short, but they aren't "wrong" as long as we don't stick there.

As a confluence of the side-effects of recent discussions in this blogosphere about quantum mechanics,  the desire to improve my general ability to make scientific explanations, and the serendipitous confluent interest of colleagues I have recently become interested in the exploits of Richard Feynman

What's interesting about Feynman is ... pretty much everything.   And a guy like Feynman should pretty much demolish all the stereotypes, prejudices, and preconceptions that folks might have about "most westerners" and "scientists," because Feynman was nothing if not the quintessence of the modern western scientist.  He was a rather well-rounded guy, to say the least.  He's a the guy folks like us look to as a role model.  Did ya get that people?

I don't recall hearing the term  "cargo cult science" a while back further than recently, but here's what  Feynman said about this category of "sciences" that included psychology:

There is one feature I notice that is generally missing in "cargo cult science." It's a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty — a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid — not only what you think is right about it; other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you've eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked — to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

I could take about fifteen other quotes from him on that page; but here's my point of this post: the whole question of what "is" and what "is not" is not that relevant either to the scientist/engineer or to at least this Zen/Chan Buddhist: it's the question, the "interrogation"  the care and attentiveness that are what's important.  "What is This?" is one of the most famous koans, and, I've found, very useful.

Is it true that Most Westerners are This Way and not That Way?  Is  it true that "phenomena that most westerners would sort into 'real' or 'not real' bins are all projections of mind, neither real nor not-real?"

And yes this post is self-referential: question what I wrote here.

Does it matter that it was Feynman who said, "[Doubting the great Descartes] was a reaction I learned from my father: Have no respect whatsoever for authority; forget who said it and instead look what he starts with, where he ends up, and ask yourself, 'Is it reasonable?'"

To the point of Barbara's post, with the above in mind, I ask myself, is what that person on that forum board said reasonable

It is undeniable that in China, there is a wide variance of Buddhist attitudes and beliefs towards various things like reincarnation, "deities" and so forth,  but in Japan, people simply do not parse religion in  a way that lends itself to what we generally talk about (again, check the generalization!) when we speak of religious belief.

I've been to quite a few Buddhist temples myself in Japan,  and to say that Japanese Buddhist temples do not express the concepts of "beliefy" things metaphorically is to completely misunderstand Japanese Buddhism of at least several influential Mahayana schools.

Question that.


Barbara O'Brien said...

Mumon, if what you say of Buddhism in Hapan is true, please explain it to one of my forum participants who complains that Japanese Buddhist priests keep telling him he has to believe in ghosts and literal hells and reincarnation.

Thanks much.

Mumon said...

Hi Barbara,
I'll make it a point to do so.