Sunday, January 31, 2010

Light blogging next couple of days...

Ridiculous number of deadlines.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

I was almost there

One night in the mid-1970s, on a subway train underneath Manhattan a friend of mine met Patti Smith. I never actually met her, but I have been to many of the places she's performed. The energy of the mid-70s New York "punk" and related music percolated and permeated throughout the area until at least the late 1980s.

Indeed, as the review of her book points out, not all youthful vainglory is silly; sometimes it’s preparation.

Sometimes it's practice for a reason.

And there's nothing like that today.

There had never been anything like that before - that explicitly celebrated the dangerousness, transgressiveness and transcendance (from the mundane, but that's a start) of youth. And I was there at least, on that trek, and I have returned more or less intact, with expectation and trepidation and hope for the dreams of the next wave of travelers, and we all wish them all safe journey on that voyage which begins in the mind and ends up being tattooed in our marrow.


Every now and then I search around the blogosphere to find out what others are saying about things, inter alia, Buddhism.

And every now and then you come across something that makes the commenters on Bill Harris's blog look level-headed

I am most grateful for one organization, Lighthouse Trial Publishers (I agree with a great deal of their articles) which is disturbing the wickedness that continually infiltrates Christianity. I know personally that Northwest Nazarene University is full of demonic agendas. They hated me (a juror) for complaining to them concerning one of their professors who defended a dangerous drunk driver in court. He endeavored to come across as Mr. Religious, being a professor at a Bible university. He attempted to show the police as incompetent. They were totally competent as the video of the incident revealed. The defendant was convicted as rightly guilty. The whole trial was ugly and the response from the college to me was cruel and undeserved. They treated me like a criminal for complaining...

Which doesn't link to, but quotes this:

Below is a link to a video* of a lecture that took place at Northwest Nazarene University in Idaho, one of the Nazarene Universities that is strongly promoting the contemplative/emerging spirituality. The lecture, presented by NNU Thomas Oord and College of Idaho, Denny Clark, was taught by Dr. Jay McDaniel, a self-proclaimed “Christian” Buddhist universalist sympathizer who is said to be highly influenced by the late Catholic panentheistic monk, Thomas Merton. This is an 83 minute video, but for those who want to understand the paradigm shift that has occurred in the church and continues wooing millions with the mystical, universalist spirituality, this video is well worth the watch. But we warn you, it is very disturbing. Here is are two quotes from Jay McDaniel in the video:

“God has been … luring all people in the world toward different forms of wisdom … and we don’t have to equate them. It’s possible that a Buddhist might know something that’s truly different from what a Christian knows and they might be complimentary rather than contradictory. ”

“I think everything is interconnected. That’s part of my Buddhism.”

When asked by a student whether he believed that Jesus was “the way, the truth, and the life,” McDaniel stated that if Jesus had meant to say that He himself was the way, the truth, and the life, it would have been egocentric and arrogant of Jesus – He only meant to point people in the right direction – letting go of ego and grasping love. McDaniel stated also that Buddhist mindfulness (eastern meditation) is just as truth filled as doctrine and theology. He said there was an overemphasis in the church on doctrine calling it bibliolatry (idol worship of the Bible).

*The date that the NNU lecture with Dr. Jay McDaniel took place is October 12, 2006. Because the Nazarene universities are continuing to move in the same direction (toward the new mystical spirituality) as they were then, we believe it is appropriate to post this video now.

But, back to Ms. Lee, please don't think she only has info that Buddhists will roast for eternity...check out her diagnosis on right-wing Catholic and Focus on the Family contributor Dr. J. Budziszewski. More interesting, in a look at the horrible car accident kind of way, is her actual exchange with Budziszewski...:

One of your blog posts quotes statements, from another website, about my book How to Stay Christian in College. Unfortunately, the quoted paragraph contains several misleading distortions. Before they go viral, allow me to correct them. Thank you for the opportunity.

1. “The book has references in the back of some editions to mystic emergent Tony Jones.” I have never read the works of Mr. Jones, have no idea what they are about, and have certainly never referred to them. Authors have no control over advertisements placed in the backs of their books by the publishers.

2. “Budziszewski himself is a proponent of contemplative prayer practices.” The term “contemplation” can mean many things, but the author means New Age mental practices, which I have consistently opposed. I have never encouraged Christians to work themselves up into altered states of consciousness.

Comment by J Budziszewski | January 6, 2010

Mr. J. Budziszewski,

You are a Catholic according to this website: Catholics are mystics who worship demons—false saints, verified by Wikipedia, Catholic Encyclopedia, Catholic websites, etc. God declares all idols are of demons. True Christians must not partake in the worship of idols and idolaters are kept out of heaven. Mysticism is forbidden throughout God’s inerrant Word, the Bible.

Are the statements below true?

“Susan made a quick call to Lighthouse Trails and asked what we knew about this author. We had not heard of him, but quickly learned that J. Budziszewski (pronounced Boo-jee-shef-ski) was an author and professor who had converted in 2004 from Protestantism to Catholicism We also learned he was a proponent of contemplative practices. He is a featured professor on contemplative-promoting Focus on the Family’s online university, telling students to practice lectio divina as a form of meditation…”

“It seemed quite ironic that someone who had left the Christian faith to follow contemplative Catholicism wrote a book to instruct high school students how to remain Christian while in college, when he had converted away from evangelical Christianity. And knowing that a Calvary Chapel high school was using this book was troubling. Interestingly, the first person Budziszewski quotes in How to Stay Christian in College is Lutheran-turned-Catholic priest, the late Richard John Neuhaus, who many would consider a friend in the emergent/Catholic conversation…”

Comment by Val Lee | January 7, 2010

Dear Mrs. Lee, I made two corrections: First, I do not promote New Age practices — in fact I oppose them. Second, I did not “reference” the works of the other author whom the article mentioned — I don’t even know who he is. The correction of these errors is my only purpose in writing to you. I am sorry that you are so misinformed about what Catholics believe, but I do not wish to be drawn into an argument with you about that. I recommend that Scripture be read in the spirit of prayer. Don’t you? Assuming that you allow the post, this will be my final comment. Peace be with you.

Comment by J Budziszewski | January 7, 2010

Now,Dr. Budziszewski maybe reaping a wee bit o' what he's sowin' but regardless, there's certain words, emotions and sentiments missing from Ms. Lee's writings that highlight the nicer parts of Christianity. And that's all I'll say for now.

I don't give details of my practice here

I know some people on the net do this, and I applaud them for the effort they put into their practices. Moreover, I don't think in any way that those who do this are doing this for any other reason than for good reasons, and if they find net benefit from doing this, well, don't pay my post credence or heed. It's not my province to tell other bloggers and practitioners what to do. I'm not a teacher. As for me, though, I am not comfortable with the idea of sharing my practice to others. The other 4 members of the Sangha I attend do not know my practice. My wife does not know my practice. My teacher and I know my practice.

Anyone who reads this blog though knows I've practiced for close to two decades, but whether I'm a mediocre horse or the worst horse not even I know. And I think it's good to keep it that way.

So, for myself, there are several reasons why I do not wish to share my practice:

  • It leads those reading this with a practice to want to compare their practice with my practice, and that's just adding more things about which to be attached.
  • It also leads to want to compare understanding or development. This would quite naturally lead to division in a meat space sangha, and I have concerns that this is true in cyberspace as well. Moreover, sometimes cyberspace meets meat-space.
  • It's natural for one with a good student teacher relationship to leave such matters in the province of the student and teacher, out of mutual respect. (I think therefore I lean towards getting a teacher, but not one who's a guru, but more like an accountable tutor.)

Whatever the practice whether it's shikan-taza, koan practice, breath counting, Vipassana, samu, chanting practice, sutra practice, Tibetan Buddhist practices, Namo Amituofo practice, Nembutsu practice, body practice, having a cold practice, or other practices, they're all good as long as they're practiced with effort, sincerity, great faith and great doubt.

It's not my place to say what relative merit can be obtained from one or the other, or how yours compares to mine. It's neither of our problems.

So I humbly offer these words.

Friday, January 29, 2010

I believe it was Soen Nakagawa who said even tabloids could be read as sutras...

And I swear that I have read descriptions of stuff like this in the Dhammapada and in other sutras. It seems to reek of the 3 poisons...

Human remains have been found near a home where investigators were searching for the body of a missing man who won millions of dollars in the lottery nearly four years ago, Florida sheriff's officials said.

Abraham Shakespeare, a 43-year-old truck driver's assistant, has been missing since April - though he wasn't reported missing until November. He had won a $31 million lottery jackpot in 2006, opting for a lump sum payment of nearly $17 million...

The remains were found at a home owned by the boyfriend of Dorice Moore. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd has previously called Moore a "person of interest," though she has not been charged. Judd has characterized the case as a homicide.

On Dec. 5, Moore told The Ledger newspaper that she helped Shakespeare disappear, but now wants him to return because detectives were searching her home and car and looking for blood on her belongings.

Who are the "real" Buddhists? Genpo Roshi? The Chinese - installed Panchen Lama?

We see this question in many guises: is Genpo Roshi's "Big Mind" shtick a "real" Buddhist practice? Are the heterodoxies of Jewish, Chiristian, 12 Step Buddhism "real" Buddhism?

I have said quite a bit on my blog about spiritual hucksterism, and how many folks will try to market what they do as "enlightened" or what-not or "Buddhist" and such to try to siphon a few bucks off those who are seeking to get the wheel unstuck.

I have also said that what I think should be, from a Buddhist perspective, the criterion for whether something comports with the Dharma or not, and remember, I'm just a blogger blogging, no 虛空藏菩薩 (Kokūzō Bosatsu) has visited me recently "in person" and personally imparted this knowledge.

Having said all that, I also have to say we should not throw out the baby with the bathwater. There are certain things at an American Zen Temple near me that I don't endorse, because I think they start from - and can finish in - a state of unresolved duality, that is, they identify a particular Westernized practice based on a perceived "need" and this need is said to lead to all kinds of bad stuff if the need is not addressed. This reminds me of the paradox of self-help books: they only sell to people who think they're screwed up. And if they actually work, well, then you're not screwed up and you don't need self-help books. Whether or not you're actually screwed up is almost irrelevant to the situation, but as long as you think you're screwed up, and you think there's a way a "self-help book" is going to help you buy your way out of your being screwed up, you're part of the market for self-help books. And so it is with a day or weekend's worth of "training" for the "need."

But these folks are still definitely Buddhist, and they can express great compassion and insight underneath some of what can easily be perceived as the psychobabble, and for that reason I support them.

Likewise, I think at heart Genpo Roshi, The Zennist, and a host of others are real Buddhists. It's just some of them should honestly say, as Mel Gibson's character does in the movie Air America, "I never said I was a good Buddhist!" And, by the way, for the record, I never said I was a good Buddhist.

Which brings me then to Tibet. The Economist notes that China's policy of having state-installed Lamas such as the Panchen Lama has led to relative peace in those areas where the Panchen Lama held sway, and darkly notes that there may soon come a time when there are going to be multiple Dalai Lamas (or is it Dalais Lama?)

In Tashilhunpo, pilgrims flock to pay homage at shrines honouring the Panchen Lamas. One of them contains a golden statue of the tenth Panchen Lama, who died in January 1989. The central government donated more than 60 million yuan and 600kg of gold for its construction. The tenth Panchen Lama stayed in China after the Dalai Lama’s flight to India in 1959. He was imprisoned during the 1960s and 70s, only to emerge in the 1980s as China’s chief spokesman on Tibetan Buddhism (even though he was privately critical of China’s stringent controls). Pilgrims appear unfazed by his ambivalent career, crowding forward to offer small banknotes and add yak butter to the flickering lamps in front of his statue.

This and several other Tashilhunpo shrines display three photographs of Panchen Lamas side by side, with the tenth in the middle, his predecessor to the left and the 11th to the right. The young man who now holds the title embodies China’s attempt at control over Tibetan Buddhism. He was appointed in 1995 at the age of six in a ceremony attended by top Chinese officials. China refused to accept the boy recognised by the Dalai Lama as the new incarnation. This alternative, non-state-sanctioned Panchen Lama has not been seen in public since and is believed to be under close watch somewhere in China. His photograph is displayed in some monasteries far from Lhasa, but certainly not at Tashilhunpo. Bianba Tsering, my guide, said all Tibetans accept the official Panchen Lama as the rightful heir.

China’s success, so far at any rate, in keeping Xigatse relatively calm will make it all the more inclined to try the same tactic when the Dalai Lama dies. Tibetan Buddhism could well end up with two Dalai Lamas—one in Tibet, but another living outside China and able to speak out. For the Communist Party it will be a dangerous game.

The idea here is that somehow the China-installed Panchen Lama is a fake; this is how the situation in the West was presented for years.

But the reality in China is different, and The Economist should be aware of that. In the Lama Temple in Beijing (related to the Panchen Lama's sect) I remember the tour guide discussing this issue with the frankness one would expect in the Western media. It's no big secret that the issue of religion has been politicized in China, and sometimes religion has been exploited by foreign powers. This is no secret. And, guess what? Those elements of religions historically associated with foreign exploitation just don't get a free pass from the locals! Who would have thought that?

The Buddhist monks in monasteries in China do not seem to think at all they're anything other than the real deal, and compared to their counterparts in the West, they seem to compare favorably. At the not-quite-poetically named 臨済風禅寺 ("Lin-Chi Style Zen Temple") in Northeast China the monks practice there like they are at other temples; the Temple, like other temples in Japan and Korea is deliberately designed so that just getting from Point A to Point B requires an exercise in mindfulness.

Which is all to say that you can't but help get some of this Buddhist stuff in your blood if you swim around in it long enough; it will permeate you by osmosis.

Now I can't speak for the teachers there compared to here, and I would insist that wherever one is, one should seek out an uncompromising teacher who himself is ethical and "gets it."

So I won't do the "No True Scotsman Fallacy" and say the present Dalai Lama, whoever the Dalai Lamas are next and who approves them, Genpo Roshi, or you are "true" Buddhists or not. I can offer an opinion about whether what one advocates leads to greater wisdom, generosity and compassion, and whether it helps all beings. But I don't do ad hoc essentialist arguments.

Interesting artcile on Sheng-Yen in Taiwan Review

It's too bad I never met this man.

When Sheng Yen died of renal failure at the age of 79 in February 2009, Republic of China President Ma Ying-jeou and mainland China Religious Affairs Minister Ye Xiaowen both attended his funeral. Kung fu movie star Jet Li and well-known Taiwanese actress Brigitte Lin issued public statements, while as many as one million followers, mostly ethnic Chinese, mourned around the world. Today, when you ask almost any adult in Taiwan about Sheng Yen, the result is likely to be a story about his good works in areas such as typhoon relief or suicide prevention.

Not that this self-deprecating monk sought fame for its own sake. Beginning in 1976, he spent three out of every six months in the United States, a country where he was not widely known outside his circle of Chinese disciples and a small number of American students. At his small temple in Queens, a borough of New York City, and at a meditation center in upstate New York, he led smaller groups in the same rigorous Zen retreats that attracted hundreds of practitioners in Taiwan.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Lankavatara Sutra Chapter 2, Section XXXIX & XL

As usual, from this whole translation here, using this chapter.

XXXIX: Attachment to words and the attachment to objects is described as attachment to self-nature (i.e., the world of phenomena) "from not knowing that the external world is no more than Self-Mind."

XL: There are two kinds of the sustaining power which issues from the Tathagatas who are Arhats and Fully-Enlightened Ones; and sustained by this power [the Bodhisattvas] would prostrate themselves at their feet and ask them questions:

  • One is the power by which they are sustained to go through the Samādhis and Samāpattis [somewhat synonymous with Samādhis].

  • The other is the power whereby the Buddhas manifest themselves in person before the Bodhisattvas and baptise them with their own hands.

This power is given to or acquired by the Boddhisattvas; and will be able to do great things and be in great places as a result of this power; "at their first stage will attain the Bodhisattva-Samādhi, known as the Light of Mahāyāna which belongs to the Bodhisattva-Mahāsattvas."

Further, Mahāmati said: Why is it, Blessed One, that when the Bodhisattva-Mahāsattvas are established in the Samādhis and Samāpattis, and when they are baptised at the most exalted stage, the Tathagatas, Arhats, Fully-Enlightened Ones, bestow their sustaining power on them?

Replied the Blessed One: It is in order to make them avoid the evil ones, karma, and passions, to keep them away from the Dhyāna and stage of the Śrāvakahood [i.e., to keep karma and passions away from Dhyāna and Śrāvakahood or presumably to have Bodhisattvas grow beyond just being one on a cushion and a disciple], to have them realize the stage of Tathagatahood, and to make them grow in the truth and experience already attained. For this reason, Mahāmati, the Tathagatas, Arhats, Fully-Enlightened Ones sustain with their power the Bodhisattva-Mahāsattvas. If they were not thus sustained, Mahāmati, they would fall into the way of thinking and feeling as cherished by the wrong philosophers, Śrāvakas, or evil ones, and would not attain the highest enlightenment.

So, even long ago, the time spent on the cushion developing Samādhis through Dhyāna was more than simply just getting into a blissful state on a cushion that you can "flash on" whenever you want. I know my few readers know this, but it needs to be said.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Another time compressed day...

So please don't expect profundity. Sometimes there's too much day booked for the day. Well, at least I'm there.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

And speaking of Barack Obama...

Obama looks to Zen master Jackson for political enlightenment?

Seeking help in building bi-partisanship, President Obama reached out today to a noted advocate of Zen Buddhism: Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson.

"I was hoping that, Coach, you were going to bring some books for Republicans and Democrats in Congress maybe to get them to start playing like a team together," Obama joked in honoring the pro basketball champions at the White House.

Jackson, who applies Zen principles in his coaching, wrote a book called Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior.

The Lakers won the National Basketball Association title last year, but got their White House ceremony today because they are in town to play the woeful Washington Wizards.

No, Barack Obama wasn't asking for any advice, I think. It sounds more like just any other photo-op. That's a pity, because Obama should direction...

And speaking of Obama...

My E-Mail to the White House

I don't believe in insouciant aloofness, especially with the economy teetering towards oblivion...

I am absolutely appalled by your behavior in your first term in office - I've no other way to put it. Please re-think your State of the Union Message.

If you take the doomed "centrist" path, you risk all for which tens of thousands of Americans worked their butts off. You risk undoing the New Deal with your ideas on a bipartisan commission on mandates. You risk contributing to the 40,000 Americans who die every year from a lack of health insurance.

And perhaps most importantly, you risk the credibility of the United States in the world, both with your economic policies designed to impoverish and weaken our economy, and by continuing the human rights abuses of the Bush regime.

The United States needs a full-throated progressive policy, not this lukewarm centrism.

I read that you said you would be comfortable being a good one term president instead of a two term president. These policies will doom you to another fate: a cowardly one term president, one who could not find the courage to take on the strong interests, one who could not find the courage to speak truth to power, but one who had no problem with ignoring or alienating those people and groups in America who stood with the weak and desperate.

Please re-think your State of the Union Message.

There's still time to change things, and most of America would rally to your support if you started speaking for them again. Note: you will never have the Tea Partiers, so don't even try.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Ever hear of Henry Mittwer?

This is the kind of life, like the lives in of people in my wife's family, that leaves you in awe about how one person could take all the garbage he took and still keep going.

Henry Mittwer was born in Yokohama in 1918. His father was an American film distributor who first came to Japan in 1898 as a seaman en route to the Spanish-American War being waged in the Philippines...

An early but formative experience was the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, which killed more than 30,000 in Yokohama alone. Mittwer, then 5, remembers grasping his mother in terror as they ran from a house that was convulsing around them. The family had to camp out in their yard for several days before their house was again fit for habitation...

From 1942 Mittwer lived in five of the 10 internment camps the U.S. War Relocation Authority had thrown up in scarcely inhabited areas of the western U.S. for nearly 120,000 Japanese and Japanese-American detainees. Some of them had as little as one-eighth Japanese ancestry...

After the war, the Mittwers eventually returned to Los Angeles. However, beset by lung disease, job dissatisfaction and the news that his mother had died in 1955, before he was able to visit her in Japan, Mittwer became increasingly depressed.

About that time, he met Zen priest Nyogen Senzaki, one of the early proponents of Zen practice in the U.S. He became drawn to Zen teachings and started regular meditation sessions "to clear the cobwebs from my brain."

In 1961, Mittwer finally returned to Japan alone, becoming a disciple of the chief abbot of Kyoto's Myoshinji Temple, Daiko Furukawa. At Myoshinji, Mittwer assisted with visiting American priests and with the young acolytes who were in the temple's care. He said matter-of-factly, "One day I was asked, 'Why don't you become a priest?' So I was tonsured."

After the abbot's death, he met Hirata Seiko, the abbot of Tenryuji, who invited him to become his student. His family finally joined him in 1965 and they lived together on the temple grounds...

Mittwer professes no bitterness about his wartime experiences, saying merely, "You have to take it as an experience, one of many in one's life."

He said he tries to lead his life according to the deceptively simple words of the worldly (and often ribald) Buddhist priest and poet Ikkyu, who wrote, "Don't do bad things; do good things."

Ikkyu's words are deceptively simple indeed, especially since it is more than possible, once a bad thing has been done, to try and do more bad things. But that arises out of an attachement to the bad things, or rather to the repulsion of the bad thing.

Lankavatara Sutra Chapter 2, Section XXXVIII

I'm using the translation I always do for this sutra. This bit has Mahāmati asking the question, "What is meant by this term Nirvana?"

Replied the Blessed One: When the self-nature and the habit-energy of all the Vijñānas [the product of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and attitude-formation], including the Ālaya["dwelling" or "storehouse" consciousness], Manas [mind], and Manovijñāna["sixth sense" consciousness], from which issues the habit-energy of wrong speculations—when all these go through a revulsion, I and all the Buddhas declare that there is Nirvana, and the way and the self-nature of this Nirvana is emptiness, which is the state of reality.

Further, Mahāmati, Nirvana is the realm of self-realization attained by noble wisdom, which is free from the discrimination of eternality and annihilation, existence and non-existence. How is it not eternality? Because it has cast off the discrimination of individuality and generality, it is not eternality. How about its not being annihilation? It is because all the wise men of the past, present, and future have attained realisation. Therefore, it is not annihilation.

The text goes on to describe Parinirvana as "neither destruction nor death...neither abandonment nor attainment, neither is it of one meaning nor of no-meaning; this is said to be Nirvana." It is not a death, because then there will follow a birth and continuation and it is not destruction, for then it has the character of an effect-producing deed.

We of the Zen school, especially in the Rinzai school claim this is achievable in this life, and it is not some magical special state; it is not the province of some elite elect, but is everyone's birthright in a rather deep sense.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

And while I'm on the subject of the "legitimate" Dalai Lama

All interested parties would do well to learn about Nomic.

Decisions like "who should have final say over who is the Dalai Lama" are not quite logically tight, to say the least.

Tibet: Can we just turn down the volume a bit?

I've posted quite a few pieces on Tibet and China, and my posts generally run a bit critical of the preponderance of Western ways in which this situation is characterized.

Today, let me focus on an article on "China Tibet Online," specifically, what appears to be an editorial, "A look at the Dalai Lama's ridiculous Indian heart."

According to reports January 16, 2010, during the opening ceremony of the International Buddhist Conference in Gujarat State, India, the Dalai Lama remarked that due to the fact that he was from purely Tibetan parents, he was Tibetan in appearance, but an Indian in spirituality. Thus, his comments and ideas originate from Indian traditions.

I think it's fair to say that Buddhism in most of its varieties does so, although the actual instantiations of the Chán, Zen, Pure Land, Lamaist (Tibetan, Kalmyk, etc.) traditions became what they were essentially in the lands in which they were nurtured. Nichiren Buddhism, perhaps the most distant case to consider in this question of origination, has to claim origination from Indian traditions as well, given the origin of the Lotus Sutra.

[B]ased on the reports from VOA April 15 [2009], Indian Bhupendra Kumar Modi told reporters that the Dalai Lama mentioned before that he was by nature an Indian, and would try to obtain Indian nationality if the conditions were right. Later, the Dalai Lama's remarks and actions bore out Modi's words.

And why should anyone really care if the Dalai Lama, for the sake of expediency, chooses Indian citizenship? Oh, yeah, I guess it might not look good for exiled people who are saying they want to return to Tibet with the stated expectation of having some position of prominence if not authority to say they don't want Chinese/Tibetan citizenship. Yeah, I can see that, but so what?

The Dalai Lama pleases his Indian masters not only by showing his willingness to be a "son of India," but also by effacing the originality of the Tibetan culture. The Dalai Lama uses such words to dwarf the rich Tibetan culture with distinctive local characteristics. He could not be more subservient.

I swear this reads just like the way right-wing AM talk radio sounds in the US, just with the nouns replaced. I am as uncomfortable with these sentences as I am when I read statements by the Dalai Lama that imply some sort of cultural chauvinism compared to Chinese culture.

I don't like it when any side tries to do cultural chauvinism. Yeah, yeah, could by my American chauvinism, but I don't think so.

The Dalai Lama might have forgotten many historical facts when saying so. For example, Chinese Buddhism played a very important role in the formation and development of Tibetan Buddhism, and the Sakyamuni statue in the Jokhang Temple was taken to Tibet by Princess Wencheng in Tang Dynasty. In addition, during the Yuan Dynasty, the Chinese government established a special department to handle Tibet-related military and political affairs and put Tibet under the control of the central government. Of course, he also forgot that in the Qing Dynasty, the Dalai Lama's reincarnation and enthronement had to be confirmed by the central government. For instance, the 7th Dalai Lama was conferred the title by Emperor Kangxi in 1719 and the 8th Dalai Lama was confirmed by an official dispatched by Emperor Qianlong in 1762.

I know there are at least some truths here, and many Western fans of the Dalai Lama usually have a difficult time explaining away some of the bits of Tibetan and Chinese history that ties Tibet to China a bit less like the Republic of Ireland is tied to the UK and a bit more the way Quebec is bound to Canada. However there are also some interesting logical conundra: why should anyone care whether the Dalai Lama is approved by one set of folks acting without checks and balances or another acting without checks and balances?

Again, it's not my tradition, and if people want to follow a Dalai Lama approved by the Chinese government, or approved by the folks the present Dalai Lama approved of to select the next Dalai Lama, it's really not my business, and if both Dalai Lamas can foster an increase in wisdom, generosity, understanding and loving-kindness, maybe it's better for all, as long as there is an attenuation leading to a cessation of hostility.

But I'll finish with one last comment:

He also claims that the Tibetan language derived from India and he is a "son of India," will such a guy really want to protect Tibetan culture?

Tibetan, of course, is part of the Sino-Tibetan family of languages. Now it is possible that Tibetan is derived from the language of the people from the Indian subcontinent in the same way that Malay is, or the language of the aborignal peoples of Australia or the Americas, but linguistically, it is indeed closer to Chinese languages.

I don't know if the Dalai Lama has actually made this claim, but if he has it should be chalked up in the Region of Things Not Borne Out by the Evidence.

So to conclude, can't all parties in the Tibetan/Dalai Lama issue just sort of chill out and avoid language that deteriorates into smears of peoples and cultures?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Gift of Old Television...

Because you never see this on Danny Fisher's blog. :-)

Haiti's Earthquake: one of "All Things Dull and Ugly"

According to Richard Dawkins and Wikipedia, "All Things Bright and Beautiful" was the inspiration for "All Things Dull and Ugly":

The words:

All things dull and ugly
All creatures short and squat
All things rude and nasty
The Lord God made the lot

Each little snake that poisons
Each little wasp that stings
He made their brutish venom
He made their horrid wings

All things sick and cancerous
All evil great and small
All things foul and dangerous
The Lord God made them all

Each nasty little hornet
Each beastly little squid
Who made the spikey urchin
Who made the sharks? He did!

All things scabbed and ulcerous
All pox both great and small
Putrid, foul and gangrenous
The Lord God made them all


And so it is with the Haiti earthquake...or, uh, you know what I mean: the problem of why there are nasty things in the world isn't a problem of "theodicy" (why a "deity" "allows" "evil" in the world) or a simplistic "karmic" "their previous lives made them ask for it" or some such nonsense.

We know full well why the Haiti earthquake happened and why there was tremendous loss of life, and for all of that we should act out of great compassion. True, purposeful action and dumb luck saved and killed many, but the only thing karma's got to do with this is the inevitability of birth and death. So we don't need a "conversation about religion" in this matter, we need to make sure Haiti is healed.

And Ms. Jennifer Butler: I realize it is a strong stance you take to side with a good deity rather than an evil deity, and I applaud you for that.

But consider the possibility that your non-coreligionists might also "intervene" in the same way as the "faithful," and you'll be well on your way to being a more moral person.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Accomdation of Science and I mean "Religion."

I'll have more to say on this topic; I was intrigued to write a post based on this short post by PZ Myers.

Mindful Eating...

Put this in the 当たり前 category...Jan Chozen Bays, pediatrician, has written a book called "Mindful Eating: Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food."

It is kind of manifestly obvious that one should pay close attention to what one eats. Many labors came to produce the food you eat, and many tens of thousands of generations of ancestors had to labor far more intensely for less.

Yeah, that's kind of obvious, but worth keeping in mind.

What's also obvious is that the Religion News Service would come up with this:

With his round cheeks and ample belly, the Buddha may rank somewhere close to sumo wrestlers on most Americans' list of go-to sources for healthful eating tips.

But the ever-present image of a fat and happy Buddha owes more to China's ideal of prosperity and ability to mass-produce figurines than to historical accuracy. In Japan and India, the Buddha is depicted as trim and lithe, said the Rev. Jan Chozen Bays, a Zen priest and pediatrician, and his teachings may be key to overcoming Americans' increasingly troubled eating habits.

Something obviously got distorted as it propagated through the channel, as we say, if Chozen said anything remotely like this. The Chinese ideal of good fortune does indeed encompass not going hungry, but I wonder how "ability to mass produce figurines" got into this article.

And the other side of the coin...

Is the monk who runs the Monk Bar, in Shinjuku, as much of a Buddhist as you are?

That would be on my list of places to visit, I suppose, but in a fantasy Buddhist conference Kansho Tagai and Darren Littlejohn could hash it out.

Tagai says don't judge his bar before visiting...I'm just saying.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Darren Littlejohn Replies, and my Rejoinder

Darren Littlejohn replied to my earlier post here with a comment here:

The act of judging judgment is in itself judgment - even if hiding behind a label of compassion. Some may disagree with the choice of words or interpretation of the Dharma. That's OK. No one has to believe a word of it. We all have issues. It's Samsara. How's that for an issue?

"Buyer Beware" would fit if someone were selling the ideas. I share freely what's worked for me. Sure you can argue that we're selling books. But they don't print themselves. Perhaps you'll read the book before being so non-judging and compassionate. But if you hate the 12 Steps please don't use them. They too are free and for people who want them, not people who need them. The "guided meditation" podcasts are also free.. Please don't listen if you don't like them. Thousands of people do like them and continue to ask for more.

Just in case my reply doesn't get past the Huffington Post moderator (been known to happen when folks have been highly critical of Deepak Chopra and other folks; it's nothing on Mr. Littlejohn) here's my reply (with a couple of typos fixed):


To each their own, of course. I'm just reporting what I see. Of course, your book aside, let's be honest here: you anticipate, based on your belief in 12 Step programs, that indeed there is a quid pro quo for "sharing freely" what's "worked for you" because the 12 Steps imply precisely that - "Spiritual Awakening."

BTW, I don't "hate" the 12 Steps; that's kind of odd, if you think about it; kind of like a "War on Drugs." I also don't "hate" the use of mummies for medicinal purposes, supply side economics, or Calvinism.

As far as guided meditations are concerned, they likely have their place in therapeutic settings, but I stand by my words, and you shouldn't take offense. Ever hear of Roy Masters?

So, I really do mean it, please be at peace, but, as with any proselytizers, please don't be shocked if people actually consider what you say.

I think your practice of Buddhism is right for you, and might be right for other people, but if you take umbrage at people scrutinizing your words, how open minded is that?

I really do wish him peace and, uh, serenity.

Perhaps, though, he doesn't like the "Spiritual Hucksterism" label on that post and this one. However, I must confess, I do find 12 Step groups in that category, simply because they make the fundamental mistake of creationists and Scientologists: as part of their dogma, they make claims that are testable via the scientific method, and when such claims are tested, they are found to be false, and the adherents persist in upholding the false claims. [On Edit]: However, on further reflection it does seem that there are other aspects that fit the bill:

  • They tend to encourage thinking resistant to questioning and criticism; I think the proof is given in this post.
  • They tend to use fear ... as in "You'll die if you don't continue to be in a 12 Step progam." Needless to say, this particular claim is not borne out in the data.
  • And, in particular, they don't seem to like caveat emptor - a healthy skepticism when it comes to their religious practices and beliefs.

Sorry 'bout that. But the world of phenomena is not going to not behave as the world of phenomena simply because you wish that your spiritual path were true.

But otherwise I think his response speaks for itself.

If one finds comfort and help in a 12 Step program, good for them, just as if one finds contact with god in a church or in a coven, good for them. But if we can't have a policy of "Let's talk about everything" (a calligraphy in the Zendo I attend) then something's not quite right.

More on Hypnotism and Zen Meditation

Wikipedia describes hypnotism as:

...a mental state (state theory) or set of attitudes and beliefs (non-state theory) usually induced by a procedure known as a hypnotic induction, which is commonly composed of a series of preliminary instructions and suggestions.[1]...

Contrary to a popular misconception - that hypnosis is a form of unconsciousness resembling sleep - contemporary research suggests that it is actually a wakeful state of focused attention[2] and heightened suggestibility,[3] with diminished peripheral awareness.[4]

They also note as "criticism" of hypnosis that:

Skeptics point out the difficulty distinguishing between hypnosis and the placebo effect, proposing that hypnosis is so heavily reliant upon the effects of suggestion and belief that it would be hard to imagine how a credible placebo control could ever be devised for a hypnotism study.[6]

It could be said that hypnotic suggestion is explicitly intended to make use of the placebo effect. For example, Irving Kirsch has proposed a definition of hypnosis as a "non-deceptive mega-placebo," i. e., a method which openly makes use of suggestion and employs methods to amplify its effects...

On PBS last night (at least in the Portland OR area) there was a program called "The Human Spark," in which it was asserted that humans have their unique capabilities because their brains are wired more towards social organization, abstraction in time and in considering others, and in imagination. Our brains are profoundly developed in these areas compared to other species (though they didn't mention dolphins).

Clearly both mindfulness and Zen meditation meditation and hypnosis have the effect of attenuating those areas in the brain doing this advanced human species stuff. As Petteri notes in a comment on my last post, though, in the cases of mindfulness and Zen meditation you are directing your mind, without preconceived expectations (if done correctly) whereas in the other case somebody's telling you, giving you cues, in effect, what you will experience.

Oh, but that's pretty much the same thing as a "guided meditation," isn't it? That, of course, is not the same thing as being given directions in how to meditate, which is what's in the Buddhist sutras - i.e., focusing on the breathing, mindfulness, etc. No, we're talking about things like, oh, "Now speak with the voice of non-duality." Yes indeedy, behavior and brain people think things like that, i.e., hypnosis, are a lot like a big ol' placebo. I for one can't discern a difference. BTW, one other nice thing about koan practice as well, is there's not really any cues given - there's no logic to the words of the damned koan, and yes indeed, in sanzen logical explanations aren't given any positive feedback.

And so, "guided meditation" as hypnosis is critique #501893 of "Big Mind": if someone's giving you cues as to what to expect, what to see, it's their production, and not even yours.

I don't think I answered all the questions in my last post, but at least I think I've outlined a bit of the answers, which, yeah, I know, Zen practitioners already know.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mindfulness, Meditation, and Self-Hypnotism

In the last post below I mentioned,"caveat emptor especially when it comes to 'guided meditations.'"

I think that this is a useful topic to explore, and while I don't have the time here, would like to raise the questions:

  • How is guided meditation like/unlike self-hypnosis or hypnosis and should we care?
  • What is the difference between mindfulness and meditation?
  • What's the difference between guided meditation and the Buddha's instructions to his disciples on meditation?
  • What's the difference between guided mediation and instructions on meditation in general?
  • What's the difference between the Zen practices of koan practice and shikan taza and "guided meditation?"

Given that whatever you do, whatever you practice or do not practice, it is you who signs on the dotted line, these questions are important, I think.


I think Darren Littlejohn has issues, and wouldn't rely on him for any kind of accurate representation of the Dharma, and think there are serious concerns with what he's saying and how he's saying it, (caveat emptor especially when it comes to "guided meditations") but I cannot but have empathy for him as well: clearly he's a guy who started from a point where he knew not for the life of him what he was doing, and tried to make sense of it all as best he could.

If AA is right and pain is the touchstone of all spiritual growth then the Buddha was right when he pointed out that all actions in samsara (endless cycle of of rebirth) lead to suffering.

I think it's the other way around. Some discredited stockbroker, as a result of contact with a group founded by a closeted evangelist, mixed in with some strong hallucinogens, comes upon the realization that there is suffering in life (but not that this is a core principle of the noble truth of emptiness).

We can meditate until our pursed lips are purple with exertion to transcend the pain of being or we can learn to be, being-as the ache inside our souls pulses on.

There are many ways in Buddhism of dealing with thoughts and sensations of pain and suffering, but (maybe it's Littlejohn's bad phrasing?) in at least some of these ways, being the pain is transcending the pain.

Another view might be that Awakened Ones have given us the teachings, methods and advice for how we can come to our own place of self-love and stop hurting ourselves and others. They're different beings than us but share the same Awake nature. Please don't confuse this with the infantile notion that we're all one being. (That thinking is a kind of sickness in my view.)

Well, I think Mr. Littlejohn might want to read more of the Buddhist canon before he starts trying to crow-bar 12 Step theology into Buddhism or vice versa. To call us separate beings is as "infantile" a notion as it is of calling us "one being."

The way I'm talking about enlightenment here is more analogous to all of the infinite molecules, elements and matter and consciousnesses that make up everything sharing the same basic space. This cup and that cup are two different cups in that yours was made then and of different colored material and mine another time and this color but the same in that they're not as separate or independently arising as they appear. Yet yours holds wine and mine sparkling cider. Please don't mix them up!

Please don't think they're not the same. Please don't think that enlightenment depends on wine and sparkling cider being the same or different, or neither. If it is time not to drink just don't drink.

Everything has its place and disharmony ensues when things are not in their place, to be sure.

We don't need religious fusion so much as we need people present and engaged at this very moment, without ego.

May peace and harmony prevail within Darren Littlejohn.

On a day like today...

I'm not that upset by what happened in Massachusetts. It's the predictable outcome of being too cautious and too confident and taking the base for granted.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How NOT to help people...

PZ Myers once again brings an important issue to my attention...OK, it has to do with Scientology, so for most of us it's not so important, but I'm coming to a point here...

Anywhere people are suffering, Scientology's yellow-shirted "volunteer ministers" can be found lurking near news cameras and claiming to help people with their bullshit technology. They performed "purification rundowns" on recovery workers sifting through the ruins of the World Trade Center after 9/11, administered "touch assists" to victims of the tsunami, distributed literature after the Virginia Tech shooting, and are on the ground in Haiti right now warning the starving, dehydrated populace about the dangers of psychiatry...

So precisely what does this desperately needed help consist of? To be fair, Scientology claims to have airlifted some actual medical professionals to Porte-au-Prince, a move that is hard to argue with even if the doctors are cultists and are accompanied by a retinue of recruiters and glorified masseuses who are there not to help but to carry on their "crusade to build a better world," as the web site for the cult's volunteer ministers program puts it, through the application of L. Ron Hubbard's paranoid and power-mad fantasies.

Read the rest of it, it gets weird, and includes massages to remove "standing waves" of trauma, detoxification "quackery," and other absurdity.

As Myers notes, as in the aftermath of 9/11 and the 2004 Tsunami disasters, these people will be in the way, distracting aid workers away from actually helping.

It doesn't matter what the religion is; whether it's Scientology, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam or 12 Step Groups; if you're going to the hurting people because you "have to" take the opportunity to convert them to your religion, you're not actually helping them. Shunryu Suzuki made such a point in the famous "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind," which, despite the grime put on by some of his students, still rings true, To paraphrase it: If you take up my path, you might make me very happy, but you might be quite miserable.

And this goes &infin times in crisis situations; there's people that are in immediate danger of death, or starving, or thirsty beyond imagination. And you're going to tell them that they have to do/believe in X, Y or Z?

You can't be serious.

Just help them.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Lankavatara Sutra Chapter 2, Section XXXVII

I'm making a separate post on this because I think the topic in this section merits a separate section.

This section deals with the, um, four types of Dhyānas (as opposed to the 5 types of Zen):

1. The Dhyāna of the ignorant refers to the Dhyāna of those who cling to the orientation that the body is a shadow and a skeleton which is transient, full of suffering and is impure, and that this is not transcendable.

2. The Dhyāna devoted to the examination of meaning refers to the Dhyāna of those gone beyond the egolessness of things, individuality and generality, the untenability of such ideas as self, other, and both, which are held by the philosophers, proceed to examine what that implies, and what being a Boddhisattva implies.

3. The Dhyāna with Tathatā (suchness) as its object refers to the realization that the discrimination of egolessness (i.e., as a "nullity" or as separate or other discriminations), is mere imagination, and that where he establishes himself in the reality of suchness (yathābhūta) there is no rising of discrimination.

4. The Dhyāna of the Tathagata, of course refers to an enlightened Zen where characterized by the realization of sunyata, and therefore such a practitioner endeavors for the sake of all beings to complete incomprehensible works.

The Zen literature breaks this up a bit differently, "bompu" zen "to get something," an "outside way" zen wich is zen but not Buddhist, "small vehicle" zen and "Great Practice zen." There is an overlap of categories here, perhaps and the Zen taxonomy can be thought of as a set of stages in one's own practice, but the reader should be able to make the mapping..

Lankavatara Sutra Chapter 2, Section XXXVI

I'm using the same text I have used for this before, and I'm not a teacher.

This section is a concise explanation of Buddhist non-duality. If you want to know where the Buddhist idea of nonduality is written historically, and why it's not nihilism, this is where.

BTW, "Prakṛiti" means that which gives shapes according to this website, and Iśvara means "God" as in "Supreme Being."

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Is Buddhism in the West Narcissistic?

Mark Vernon, writing in the Guardian/Observer seems to think so.

The retreat was led by two teachers. They topped and tailed the sitting sessions with a few helpful words, and were also on hand lest any participants develop problems, an important safeguard as prolonged silence can be unsettling. One of them also gave a talk on the second evening, and she explained the central Buddhist doctrine that meditation is designed to address: the reality of suffering.

Suffering here is meant in a broad sense, everything from the faintest feeling that something is wrong, to the profound injuries that human beings inflict on themselves and each other. It's a worldview that is humanistic and tragic. The first of the Buddha's noble truths is that life is suffering. It's called a "noble" truth since that realisation is also the first step towards an ennobled life, namely one in which the suffering can cease.

That's where meditation comes in. It's a technique designed to develop mindfulness, the awareness and acceptance of suffering existence. Meditation itself needn't always be painful. It might be pleasant, even elating. But the aim is neither to cling to experience, nor to reject it, but rather to know it as it is. Hence, the "insight" in insight meditation. "To understand all is to forgive all," the proverb says, and the Buddhist version would be, "To understand all is to let go of all". It just takes practice...

The raison d'être of Gaia House is the wellbeing of the those who come to stay in it. That seems like a pretty good raison d'être, and it is. However, it comes with risk. Meditation-as-therapy flirts with narcissism when it is devoted to observing yourself, for that can lead to self-absorption and self-obsession. It's a danger inherent in any community devoted to a particular task, though perhaps more so in one that lacks a reference point beyond the individuals taking part.

Religious houses in a Christian tradition would be different, in theory at least. Ultimately, they don't exist for the wellbeing of the occupants, but for the glory of God...

In some ways, columns like this are more insidious than Brit Hume's remarks, because they seem to paint an accurate picture of what Buddhists on meditation retreats actually do.

It seems, from the guy's other columns, that he is at best a dilettante in the practice of Buddhism, and so apparently hasn't got to the point - after you do the meditation "to feel better for a while" - where you get the awareness that there's no "you" apart from the 10,000 things.

And finally, by painting Western Buddhism as all about meditation as therapy, Vernon is taking a stone and calling it "Buddhism" while not paying attention to the mountain from which it came.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Charity for Haiti is Urgently Needed, but so are Reparations

If this Guardian story doesn't move you in that direction, well, I'm sorry, we differ. But I think France has some moral debt here. Haiti of course has been the epicenter of quite a few hurricanes and other disasters. But the colonialism of the French left the deepest marks on the land and people.

Economically, French occupation was a runaway success. But Haiti's riches could only be exploited by importing up to 40,000 slaves a year. For nearly a decade in the late 18th century, Haiti accounted for more than one-third of the entire Atlantic slave trade. Conditions for these men and women were atrocious; the average life expectancy for a slave on Haiti was 21 years. Abuse was dreadful, and routine: "Have they not hung up men with heads downward, drowned them in sacks, crucified them on planks, buried them alive, crushed them in mortars?" wrote one former slave some time later. "Have they not forced them to eat excrement? Have they not thrown them into boiling cauldrons of cane syrup? Have they not put men and women inside barrels studded with spikes and rolled them down mountainsides into the abyss?"

Not surprisingly, the French ­Revolution in 1789 raised the tricky question of how exactly the Declaration of the Rights of Man might be said to apply both to ­Haiti's then sizeable population of free gens de couleur (generally the offspring of a white plantation owner and a black concubine) – and ultimately to the slaves themselves. The rebellion of Saint-Domingue's slaves began on the northern plains in August 1791, but the uprising, ensuing bloody civil war and finally bitter and spectacularly brutal battle against Napoleon Bonaparte's forces was not over for ­another 12 years. As France became ­increasingly distracted by war with ­Britain, the French commander, the ­Vicomte de Rochambeau, was finally defeated in November 1803 (though not before he had hanged, drowned or burned and ­buried alive thousands of rebels). Haiti declared independence on 1 January 1804.

As Stephen Keppel of the Economist Intelligence Unit puts it, Haiti's revolution may have brought it independence but it also "ended up destroying the country's infrastructure and most of its plantations. It wasn't the best of starts for a fledgling republic." Moreover, in exchange for diplomatic recognition from France, the new republic was forced to pay enormous reparations: some 150m francs, in gold. It was an immense sum, and even reduced by more than half in 1830, far more than Haiti could afford.

"The long and the short of it is that Haiti was paying reparations to France from 1825 until 1947," says Von Tunzelmann. "To come up with the money, it took out huge loans from American, German and French banks, at exorbitant rates of interest. By 1900, Haiti was spending about 80% of its national budget on loan repayments. It ­completely wrecked their economy. By the time the original reparations and interest were paid off, the place was basically destitute and trapped in a ­spiral of debt. Plus, a succession of leaders had more or less given up on trying to resolve Haiti's problems, and started looting it instead."

It's obscene that the slaves and their descendants were forced to pay "reparations" to their abusers.

It's obscene that this has never been redressed.

It's time for France (and the U.S. too) to step up and help make Haiti whole, after the rebuilding is done.

Send charity, request justice.

Are "New Atheists" Fundamentalists?

A comment on my recent post on the religious right says that Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers and Sam Harris "do an awful lot to propel their brand of fundamentalism to new heights" implying that their "fundamentalism" is akin to a "different flavor" of the fundamentalism offered by religious textual literalists.

Is that true? Are these gentlemen fundamentalists? And if so, in what sense? And if they are in a certain sense, is that a bad thing?

Well, Dawkins at least has addressed this in his book The God Delusion, and I won't repeat what he says there in this post, nor will I repeat whatever other critics have said (a sampling can be found at links on Wikipedia).

I will however, quote a dictionary definition of fundamentalism:

1. religious beliefs based on a literal interpretation of the Bible, regarded as fundamental to Christian faith and morals
2. the 20th-cent. movement among some American Protestants, based on these beliefs
3. a strict adherence to or interpretation of a doctrine, set of principles, etc., as of a social, legal, political, or religious group or system

Now by the 3rd definition everyone who adheres to a strict adherence of a set of principles of a religious group might be called a fundamentalist. I would admit atheism as a religious group despite what some muddled conservatives might say (especially being ignorant of certain religions that do not admit the existence of deities).

But, as an example, let's take Dawkins. Dawkins is an avowed atheist, but what he means by that is that the evidence that we as humans can observe is so overwhelmingly against the possibility of a deity as to lead one to conclude that one does not exist. If, there were evidence revealed to the contrary, he would have changed his opinion. Ideologically he expresses kinship with Bertrand Russell, who, when asked what he would say when he died and a hypothetical deity asked why he did not profess belief would say, "Not enough evidence."

As a counter example, there are fundamentalist creationists aplenty who, when presented with the evidence of dinosaurs, distant galaxies, and what-not that clearly demonstrate the existence of an earth and universe billions of years old engage in all kinds of special pleading to try to wiggle out of the obvious evidence. This includes, but is not limited to:

Our lives are permeated by feeling, emotion, passion and the like, but if we are trying to talk about the Big Things, (Why are we here? What should I do? God? Death? Immortality? Ethics?) we should try to employ reason. As a Buddhist, I try to do this, and where any Buddhism contradicts what can be observed, measured, and logically discussed, we should be wary. True, logical systems come with limitations, and our choice of axioms dictates how our reasoning goes. But - I've got to appeal to my professional deformation here - we should choose our axioms based on their utility to achieve our ends, and as a general rule the fewer the better as long as they have sufficient utility.

Of course the diatribes against the "New Atheists" are by and large done as a defense against the beliefs of those who criticize them (although I think most reasonable people might say, on reflection that "New" is superfluous here and so that criticism should stand).

But stop the tu quoque arguments when you discuss these people. They aren't true.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Irony Alert

It might not be true tomorrow, but at least as for today, China's English language website for China Daily uses Google for its search engine.

Not Dead Yet: The Religious Right

Brad Warner takes the opportunity to take Pat Robertson's recent cynical and absurd remarks over Haiti (something to do with Satan) to proclaim that the religious right "ain't nothin." At the moment that's more or less true, but I'd like to expand a bit on a comment I made at his blog.

Here's some points to consider, Brad:

1. Follow the Money
Pat Robertson made this remark no doubt because he knows damned well that his audience is not well informed. I mean, his contributors give money to his organization and he likely takes a cut, and profitted mightily from his relious TV business. And he's making sure the gravy train continues for his offspring. How much is Robertson worth? Hundreds of millions of dollars. So, Brad? Pat Robertson wasn't talking to you. The religious right might be dead to you, but I assure you it's not dead to the Tea Party movement and I'll have a blog post on that in the near future - I'm hoping it's a "scoop" as they say.

2. Memes: The Nasty One is Dormant
Brad, ever hear of the concept of a meme? It's like an "idea virus," and it can be said to respond to evolutionary pressures. Some memes are good memes and some seem to be quite harmful. It's TBD as to why, other than strict evolutionary baggage, a "Kumbaya" meme hasn't emerged as virulent as an SS Stormtrooper meme, and how come when cynical people try to create a Kumbaya meme, they wind up creating Up with People.

But I digress.

Virulent memes can be like virulent viruses; an ancestor of the current H1N1 virus was the one that killed tens to hundreds of millions in 1918-1919, and they can crowd out healthier memes in the same way as E. coli can give you some bad intestinal effects at the expense of the healthy bacteria that abide in your gut.

So it is with the religious right. Although Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, and all the creationist guys are highly marginalized, they are still clawing for a comeback in Texas through the schools, and they still have a ridiculously disparate influence in Washington due to "The Family", and they have infiltrated the US military in ways that are detrimental to unit cohesion and readiness (Google "Military Religious Freedom Foundation."

Yes, Brad, Falwell's dead, gays are coldly tolerated outside of Texas, and even medical marijuana's legal. But, in the world of Christian fundamentalists and "evangelicals," and theocrats, Sarah Palin is a martyr. And a hockey mom with lipstick.

And the meme which is relatively dormant right now could emerge more virulent than ever because cynical folks like Pat Robertson and Brit Hume will act in the spirit of IGMFU. (Trivial digression: Christoper Plummer - one of the most highly underrated actors of my lifetime - patterned his performance of a cynical minister in 1987's "Dragnet" after Pat Robertson. I haven't seen it written down anywhere, but just watch the freakin' movie! And get out your goat leggings.)

3. Liberty Requires Vigilance
PZ Myers, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, the ACLU, the Human Rights Campaign, Larry Flynt, the guys at talk2action, the folks who brought to life, Stanton Peele and lawyers acting on the basis of his work, the internet infidels, and countless others and contributors, and demonstrators and political activists pushed the religious right to its current state. But by no means is it permanently rendered harmless. Impermance will dictate, of course, but the only way to prevent a disaster of our negligence and laziness later is to be aware and dilligent now and in the future.

How to do the Haiti relief effort...

You've seen the other charities, here's 2 good ones:
  • Tzu Chi has a link here.
  • Oxfam America is here.

Also, it's probably better to donate directly to charities themselves (i.e., go directly to the Red Cross site, e.g.), rather than via text message to some other place.

Buddha is my co-pilot?

Evidently, American Zen Teachers who pine for filthy lucre, you can have it all...I guess as long as you're not attached to any of it...

Japanese tycoon Kazuo Inamori was named as the next chief executive officer of Japan Airlines Corp. after the carrier completed a 90 percent, two-day stock plunge on speculation it will file for bankruptcy.

“I’m a total novice when it comes to the transportation industry,” Inamori, the 77-year-old founder of electronics company Kyocera Corp., told reporters yesterday in Tokyo. “I’ve decided to accept because the government and the turnaround body want to prevent JAL’s failure by any means.”

Inamori, Japan’s 28th richest man according to Forbes and a Buddhist priest, takes on the challenge of overhauling a carrier that has posted three losses in four years on slumping travel demand. JAL, Asia’s biggest carrier by sales, has lost about $2.5 billion of market value since Jan. 5 on concern the government will support bankruptcy as part of a turnaround.

Wikipedia notes
that, "After retiring from the chairmanship of Kyocera; he was ordained as a Buddhist monk and received the priest name Dai-wa, meaning 'great harmony'. However, he remains a guiding force behind all aspects of his international businesses."

A bit of Japanese for all you folks out there: 大和, the name Inamori was given, is also the name of one of Japan's biggest securities firms, and the characters for daiwa also read as "yamato" in their "kun" reading (not borrowed from Chinese, in other words) refers to the name of the group of people who, from the region around Nara and Kyto, created the national entity known as Japan.

I will be visting Japan soon, and it's nice to know I'll be staying in a hotel whose eventual CEO is a Buddhist monk.

And for a bit more on right livelihood, see this post at Ox Herding.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Little busy today...

Schedules and what not kind of prevent extensive blogging at least right now.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

More news about Bill Harris...uh...James Ray...

Sorry, I can't understand why I get those two names mixed up. Oh wait...


As would-be rescuers struggled to drag three unconscious victims from an Arizona sweat lodge ceremony in October, the leader of the event, James A. Ray, sat outside in the shade, according to newly released police reports.

In the reports, which were released Monday by judicial order, a woman whose husband was heating rocks for the ceremony told investigators with the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office that she was able to pull one woman from the lodge. But, said the woman, Debra Mercer, when she told Mr. Ray that she needed to open up the back of the lodge to get the two other victims out, he replied that it would be “sacrilegious” to remove the tarps and blankets covering the wood frame structure and that she should do so only if necessary.

As Mr. Ray sat in a shaded chair outside, Ms. Mercer told investigators, she opened the tent and she and her daughter, Sarah, 17, and others helped pull out James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee and Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y.

He knows how to teach it...

Read the whole article.

Haiti falls apart even more...

Geez our pain and suffering in the US is tiny compared to this hell.

Is My Religion Better than Yours?

In the comment section on yet another post on the Barbara's Buddhism Blog, Barbara seems to disagree about the merits of debating Buddhism versus Christianity, which as I mean it, is having frank and open discussions on the similarities and differences of the two religions.

Barbara says:

[A]ny genuine debate format I am familiar with involves a competition of arguments, with individuals (or teams) pitted against each other to prove or disprove their “sides.” And if you read Douthat’s article, it seems to me that’s exactly what he was talking about — “debating” religions in public to see which one is “best.” I’m having nothing to do with that. If you want to have civil public discussions that’s fine, but that’s not “debating.”

Now OK, Barbara doesn't want to play "my religion's better than yours" in formal debate settings, but I think her reason is because she doesn't want competition. Richard Dawkins doesn't play "my atheism's better than your religion" with the likes of the Ray Comforts and others of his ilk because he doesn't want to legitimize them by appearing in the same place with them. That reason for not wanting to debate a religion I can accept.


In polite company we don't go there, and there are various social and corporate taboos against going there, but...

Is one religion better than another?

As Buddhists, - and I include myself in this, because historically it's been true for me - we have been loathe to broach such topics because, perhaps out of a concern that we would create disharmony.

But historically this has not always been the case. Although the Buddhist to Muslim transitions are well known, when European colonists came to Asia the Buddhists did not immediately jump to become Christians, to say the least.

For example, Suzuki Shosan (鈴木正三), one of the more notable monks in the Rinzai tradition during the Tokugawa era, was the author of 破切支丹, Ha Kirishitan, translated as "Crush Christianity." It is hard to find on the web (I think Google Books has some books about that time that quotes this book), but if you read sections of this polemic by Suzuki, you will find arguments that PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins would approve. But that's not really my point, other than to note that I agree with a non-neglibible part of the projects of Dawkins and Myers in this regard (but I have some quibbles with them as far as "religion" in its most general sense, and other issues). No, that's not my point. My point is that in Tokugawa Japan, there was serious damage that Christian colonists were inflicting on Japanese society, including but not limited to, according to the Buddhists, the incitement of Christian converts to destroy Buddhist temples by the clergy.

Harmony was already in absence, and in the true spirit of budou (武道), dispute was employed as one means to try to re-establish harmony. Unfortunately dispute in itself was insufficient, and the Tokugawa shoguns resorted to rather brutal methods to re-establish political order. (The Christian converts who happened to be wealthy and influential threatened the Tokugawa shogun's rule itself, and given the history of the colonists, it was not an unreasonable fear that these converts might be a "fifth column.")

And so Shinto, Buddhism, and their offshoots (such as Konko and Tenrikyo) were allowed to exist and flourish without being challenged by the eliminationist creed that had caused particular problems elsewhere in the world. And (compare Japan's experience to the Philippines) eventually, when Japan re-opened to the West, they re-opened as a much more religiously tolerant society than most of the world (with the nasty Taisho/WWII nationalism as more or less an aberration).

Nobody, especially myself, wants a "debate" to get out of hand where we start crucifying Christians, as they did in the Tokugawa era (with the irony that crucifixion was unknown as a method of execution in Japan before the Christian missionaries, uh, suggested it). But given that Christianity, as well as Islam, are eliminationist creeds - their official ideology is that there is only "one true religion," you can avoid this point or you can take it head-on.

If you try avoidance, you cannot win, and it may come to the point (as it has in so many places) where eliminationist monotheists vandalize temples.

So you've got to strike a healthy balance. You've got to make sure you're not vandalizing any temples, yours or the Kirishitan's.

A koan by Seung Sahn goes:

A man came into the Zen Center smoking a cigarette, blowing smoke in the Buddha-statue's face and dropping ashes on its lap. The abbot came in, saw the man, and said, "Are you crazy? Why are you dropping ashes on the Buddha?"
The man answered, "Buddha is everything. Why not?"
The abbot couldn't answer and went away.

1. "Buddha is everything." What does that mean?

2. Why did the man drop ashes on the Buddha?

3. If you had been the abbot, how could you have fixed this man's mind?

Commentary: How do you meet the Buddha? Where do you throw away ashes? Its all very clear. Your correct function is always in front of you.

NOTE: There is an important factor in this case that has apparently never been explicitly included in its print versions [sic]. Zen Master Seung Sahn has always told his students that the man with the cigarette is also very strong and that he will hit you if he doesn't approve of your response to his actions.

Nonduality is not "everything is the same." Nor is it "everything is different."

And so it is with religious debates.

As to the question in the title, it's irrelevant, as far as the path that each individual must take.

Religions and other paths do have track records though, and they do have ways in which their myths, theologies, and ideologies can be used and misused, and some have been historically more involved in some nasty things than other religions.

I see no reason why that should not be fair game for discussion, especially given the existence of eliminationist creeds.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Towards Communication


...Since a baboon does not know or worry about what another baboon knows, it has no urge to share its knowledge. Dr. Zuberbühler stresses an intention to communicate as the missing factor. Children from the youngest ages have a great desire to share information with others, even though they gain no immediate benefit in doing so. Not so with other primates.

“In principle, a chimp could produce all the sounds a human produces, but they don’t do so because there has been no evolutionary pressure in this direction,” Dr. Zuberbühler said. “There is nothing to talk about for a chimp because he has no interest in talking about it.” At some point in human evolution, on the other hand, people developed the desire to share thoughts, Dr. Zuberbühler notes. Luckily for them, all the underlying systems of perceiving and producing sounds were already in place as part of the primate heritage, and natural selection had only to find a way of connecting these systems with thought.

Yet it is this step that seems the most mysterious of all. Marc D. Hauser, an expert on animal communication at Harvard, sees the uninhibited interaction between different neural systems as critical to the development of language. “For whatever reason, maybe accident, our brains are promiscuous in a way that animal brains are not, and once this emerges it’s explosive,” he said.

Richard Dawkins, in The Ancestor's Tale (and probably other places) notes that Cro Magnon humans at some point tens of thousands of years ago acquired something that led them to create, express, ritualize, and express themselves in ways that had been heretofore unknown for living things.

Although it seems that Neanderthals were not anywhere near chimpanzees in terms of intgelligence and organization, clearly the current dominant primate species "won" in terms of intellect, and probably communication, though possibly with brutal force as well. It is also becoming evident that our species has continued to evolve, and for all we know at the moment, this language capability might have been a relatively recent development.

It took millions of years to get to this point. It's important to keep in mind of just how incredibly fortunate we are to be living in this time, despite the crises we have now. Most generations of human existence were fraught with pain and terror and brutality that we have "managed." For whatever reason, we are able to communicate, and not just grunts and warnings of leopards, but the beauty of sonnets and our deepest loves and hatreds, our highest hopes and most compassionate dreams, and deepest despair.

So even when there is mistreatment, even when there is unreasonable infliction of suffering, the suffering itself is still a thing in which to be in awe.

Very rare.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Ross Douthat wants to talk about faith

And I thought the Tiger Woods/Brit Hume flap was old news. But I was wrong. Even the Zennist had to get in a quote of James epistle yesterday; in any case I will try to make this my last post anywhere near the subject. Though it's more about Ross Douthat, I'd say than Woods.

...If you treat your faith like a hothouse flower, too vulnerable to survive in the crass world of public disputation, then you ensure that nobody will take it seriously. The idea that religion is too mysterious, too complicated or too personal to be debated on cable television just ensures that it never gets debated at all.

Agreed. So Ross Douthat, any time you want to have a public discussion of Buddhism verus Christianity, please let me know. I have no degree in theology, I am pretty much as you are, except for the 12 years of religious Christian education, I am self-educated in both Christianity and Buddhism, as well as philosphy in general.

So, let's talk...

This doesn’t mean that we need to welcome real bigotry into our public discourse.

Well, what is religious bigotry if not prejudging another religion

Christians believe in a personal God who forgives sins. Buddhists, as a rule, do not. And it’s at least plausible that Tiger Woods might welcome the possibility that there’s Someone out there capable of forgiving him, even if Elin Nordegren and his corporate sponsors never do.

Except that if you understand Buddhism, and if you are practicing Buddhism, you are practicing under the assumption that there's no need for forgiveness from any outside entity. The wronging and wronged parties are themselves wronged and wronging and hurting, and it's the hurt and suffering and general dukkha that needs to be addressed.

Or maybe not. For many people — Woods perhaps included — the fact that Buddhism promotes an ethical life without recourse to Christian concepts like the Fall of Man, divine judgment and damnation is precisely what makes it so appealing. The knee-jerk outrage that greeted Hume’s remarks buried intelligent responses from Buddhists, who made arguments along these lines — explaining their faith, contrasting it with Christianity, and describing how a lost soul like Woods might use Buddhist concepts to climb from darkness into light.

Give the man some credit, although the "appeal" of Buddhism is not that it's "not Christianty," but rather because it works. But kudos to Douthat for acknowledging that Buddhists have a response at all.

I am happy to say that I actually agree with Douthat largely in his sentiments, even if his specifics seemed to be still uninformed by Buddhism. But it's way better than what I've read from other Christians on this issue.

Yes, let's have the debate. But let's have an informed debate.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

More on suffering and beliefs

The cultural aspects of mental illness get a light shone on them by the NY Times.

What is being missed, Lee and others have suggested, is a deep understanding of how the expectations and beliefs of the sufferer shape their suffering. “Culture shapes the way general psychopathology is going to be translated partially or completely into specific psychopathology,” Lee says. “When there is a cultural atmosphere in which professionals, the media, schools, doctors, psychologists all recognize and endorse and talk about and publicize eating disorders, then people can be triggered to consciously or unconsciously pick eating-disorder pathology as a way to express that conflict.”

The problem becomes especially worrisome in a time of globalization, when symptom repertoires can cross borders with ease. Having been trained in England and the United States, Lee knows better than most the locomotive force behind Western ideas about mental health and illness. Mental-health professionals in the West, and in the United States in particular, create official categories of mental diseases and promote them in a diagnostic manual that has become the worldwide standard. American researchers and institutions run most of the premier scholarly journals and host top conferences in the fields of psychology and psychiatry. Western drug companies dole out large sums for research and spend billions marketing medications for mental illnesses. In addition, Western-trained traumatologists often rush in where war or natural disasters strike to deliver “psychological first aid,” bringing with them their assumptions about how the mind becomes broken by horrible events and how it is best healed. Taken together this is a juggernaut that Lee sees little chance of stopping.

“As Western categories for diseases have gained dominance, micro-cultures that shape the illness experiences of individual patients are being discarded,” Lee says. “The current has become too strong.”

The power of a belief, of a certainty that things are "this way" and "not that way" seems to have a profound effect on the incidence of particular types of mental suffering.

Putting aside all preconceptions and attachments to them would therefore seem to be mentally healthy.

Oh, wait, that's Buddhism, we can't possibly do that, it's a religion, you see, and it's not ours, I'm sure some folks might say.

One more quote:

Mental illnesses, it was suggested, should be treated like “brain diseases” over which the patient has little choice or responsibility. This was promoted both as a scientific fact and as a social narrative that would reap great benefits. The logic seemed unassailable: Once people believed that the onset of mental illnesses did not spring from supernatural forces, character flaws, semen loss or some other prescientific notion, the sufferer would be protected from blame and stigma. This idea has been promoted by mental-health providers, drug companies and patient-advocacy groups like the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in the United States and SANE in Britain. In a sometimes fractious field, everyone seemed to agree that this modern way of thinking about mental illness would reduce the social isolation and stigma often experienced by those with mental illness. Trampling on indigenous prescientific superstitions about the cause of mental illness seemed a small price to pay to relieve some of the social suffering of the mentally ill.

But does the “brain disease” belief actually reduce stigma?

In 1997, Prof. Sheila Mehta from Auburn University Montgomery in Alabama decided to find out if the “brain disease” narrative had the intended effect. She suspected that the biomedical explanation for mental illness might be influencing our attitudes toward the mentally ill in ways we weren’t conscious of, so she thought up a clever experiment.

In her study, test subjects were led to believe that they were participating in a simple learning task with a partner who was, unbeknownst to them, a confederate in the study. Before the experiment started, the partners exchanged some biographical data, and the confederate informed the test subject that he suffered from a mental illness.

The confederate then stated either that the illness occurred because of “the kind of things that happened to me when I was a kid” or that he had “a disease just like any other, which affected my biochemistry.” (These were termed the “psychosocial” explanation and the “disease” explanation respectively.) The experiment then called for the test subject to teach the confederate a pattern of button presses. When the confederate pushed the wrong button, the only feedback the test subject could give was a “barely discernible” to “somewhat painful” electrical shock.

Analyzing the data, Mehta found a difference between the group of subjects given the psychosocial explanation for their partner’s mental-illness history and those given the brain-disease explanation. Those who believed that their partner suffered a biochemical “disease like any other” increased the severity of the shocks at a faster rate than those who believed they were paired with someone who had a mental disorder caused by an event in the past.

“The results of the current study suggest that we may actually treat people more harshly when their problem is described in disease terms,” Mehta wrote. “We say we are being kind, but our actions suggest otherwise.” The problem, it appears, is that the biomedical narrative about an illness like schizophrenia carries with it the subtle assumption that a brain made ill through biomedical or genetic abnormalities is more thoroughly broken and permanently abnormal than one made ill though life events. “Viewing those with mental disorders as diseased sets them apart and may lead to our perceiving them as physically distinct. Biochemical aberrations make them almost a different species.”