Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Meditation, Neuroscience, Observability and Controllability

I wrote a comment here on the C4chaos blog, about some talks that Shinzen Young gave on enlightenment, meditation and neuroscience.

I think it's a great thing that neuroscientists study meditation and that experience, and correlate it with what is observed.

However, as I note there, I'm deeply skeptical of claims such as:

However, the kind of thing that I have in mind would require and exceedingly precise kind of biofeedback where we knew exactly what kind we were dealing with, we knew the necessary and sufficient physiological correlates of enlightenment itself, and then we could use biofeedback to train those correlates more efficiently. Now, having said that much, please do not think that I am so naive as to think that that in it of itself is going to bring a person into enlightenment. However, I would strongly suspect that it could cut the time required to a tenth. There’ll be all sorts of other ancillary trainings and learnings and life experiences that would have to go around that. You’re not just gonna hook somebody up to a machine and just because their physiology emulates enlightenment think that they’re gonna get enlightened. But boy, it could sure make my job a lot easier, if we could do stuff like this. And that’s what I’m looking towards from practical point of view. Why?

...Only a small number of people participate in the meditation endeavor. Not elitist because meditators don’t want to spread it. Meditators do their best to spread it. But it’s too hard, it takes too much time, people aren’t interested, it doesn’t seem relevant. If we had a way of bringing deep experiences more easily, then we could reach a significant portion of the population, and we could start to make a change on this planet.

Besides what I wrote there (expectations regarding meditation, etc.) I would raise yellow flags of caution as both a Buddhist and a systems engineer with expertise in communication theory, information theory, signal processing and control theory.

First, let's put out front where the technology is: you can do all kinds of things with devices now to emulate feelings in the brain, and even perform simple control functions such as moving a mouse on a screen and what-not. But, there's notions of controllability and observability that, when applied to the fact that our brains are "to go" obviate the need for such devices.

Even if such a device, in meditation could speed up the experience of emptiness or sammadhi, the fact is all that's kind of irrelevant if you aren't applying this moment to moment in everyday life. You'd need to be able to observe the ensemble of mental states during the day (which, even in restricted areas of the brain is not trivial in the near future), and then you'd have to have some control mechanism to put it where it's "supposed" to be. And point is, it's "supposed" to be where it already is.

We sit on a cushion to get off the cushion, and actually expressing sunyata moment to moment in our interaction with our fellow beings and our environment is where the rubber really meets the road.

Because of what I said above, I'm not sure we can do this, and if we can...then...could not we be able to, just as well, convert a whole segment of society into paranoid, delusional, enraged teabaggers? How could you stop folks from doing that, as long as they thought there was something in it for them? Hell, people are already doing that with crude means because they think there's something in it for them. Which, I suppose makes a counter argument for creating neuropsychological techniques to "walk people back" from paranoia, delusion, and rage. But I suspect that's a different brain app than a Nirvana app.

To me, as a technologist, we always have to view technology as a double edged sword. Technology is never wholly on the side of bodhisattvas or the enraged and fearful (or angels and demons, if you prefer). It's neutral. So we need to be careful.

So, yeah, let's study how the brain functions in sammadhi, for sure. But as someone wrote about Masters and Johnson's sex research, ultimately that's not the point, except that in the case of sammadhi and kensho (見性), the feeling isn't the point either.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A New Holiday I Can Support

HT: Miaoming

I really want this to happen nationwide: Give Your Stuff Away Day.

Lankavatara Sutra Chapter 3, Section LXI

Standard disclaimer: I'm   using the translation here, and as usual, and I'm just doing this as myself, to get myself to read this stuff.

The Tathagata "has not uttered even a word, nor will he ever utter; for not-speaking is the Buddha's speaking."


For two reasons:

They are the truth of self-realisation and an eternally-abiding reality...[The truth of self-realisation has]  has been realised by the Tathagatas, that is my own realisation, in which there is neither decreasing nor increasing; for the realm of self-realisation is free from words and discriminations, having nothing to do with dualistic terminology...

What is meant by an eternally-abiding reality? The ancient road of reality, Mahamati, has been here all the time, like gold, silver, or pearl preserved in the mine, Mahamati; the Dharmadhatu abides foreover, whether the Tathagata appears in the world or not; as the Tathagata eternally abides so does the reason (dharmata) of all things; reality foreover abides, reality keeps its order, like the roads in an ancient city...

[W]hat has been realised by myself and other Tathagatas is this reality, the eternally-abiding reality (sthitita), the self-regulating reality (niyamata), the suchness of things (tathata), the realness of things (bhutata), the truth itself (satyata). For this reason, Mahamati, it is stated by me that from the night of the Tathagata's Enlightenment till the night of his entrance into Nirvana, he has not in the meantime uttered, nor ever will utter, one word. So it is said:

 From the night of Enlightenment till that of Nirvana, I have not in the meantime made any proclamation whatever.

A footnote to the last sentence notes that "The Zen masters frequently refer to this important declaration."

My own teacher cautioned me when I first visited him that "There is no teacher.  Bodhidharma is the teacher."

That is, the Dharma and its practice and realization are there no matter what.  Even this "Word Honored One"  cannot "talk out" the realization. It's there, and depends not on any one person.

So if you ever wondered why Zen teachers who really teach Zen are the way they are, they are taking a cue from here.  Which of course, is no cue at all.

Monday, March 29, 2010

And that physicist has a point...

In the exchange I posted below, the theoretical physicist says something to the effect of "I have never heard a good definition of conciousness."

 He has never heard a good definition of the the state of being conscious.  Of course language is like this - all definitions are ultimately circular until referenced outside of the language - "That thing over there is a rock!"

But consciousness itself has no external referents - when the Buddha said "I am awake" we could not, in and of itself, tell that apart from other mental states externally.  True enough, there are externally measurable phenomena coincident with reports of consciousness or awareness, but we're not able to externally, purely objectively replicate awareness - only phenomena associated with it. Maybe the robot is sentient.  Maybe you are - you probably seem to be in person, I'd wager.  The subjective and objective spheres are interdependent, as the Identity of the Relative and the Absolute.

The goal of Zen practice is not to go too deeply into what awareness or consciousness is, and that's not a useful  awareness philosophy in the original, Socratic sense of the meaning of philosophy - Socrates himself had always said he had no learning himself. to impart (reminds me of Lin-Chi).  It's very largely about showing up and acting skillfully in the world, rather than prattling about "superpositions of possibilities."

Deepak Chopra versus a Theoretical Physicist

Can you understand why technical Zen folks aren't exactly enamored with this guy?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lankavatara Sutra Chapter 3, Section LIX & LX

This lay person is    using the translation here, and as usual, and I'm just doing this as myself, to get myself to read this stuff...

In LIX, the best thing that can explain this short paragraph is this part of Suzuki's introduction:

The Buddha's love is not something ego-centered. It is a will-force which desires and acts in the realm of twofold egolessness, it is above the dualism of being and non-being, it rises from a heart of non-discrimination, it manifests itself in the conduct of purposelessness (anabhogacarya).
 So ...

Said the Blessed One: when the egolessness of things as well as of persons is understood, when the knowledge of the twofold hindrance is thoroughly taken hold of, when the twofold death (cyuti) is accomplished, and when the twofold group of passions is destroyed, there, Mahamati, is the Buddha-nature of the Buddhas and the Blessed Ones. 

In LX the following question is addressed:

According to what deeper sense2 did you make this announcement before the congregation, that "I am all the Buddhas of the past," and that "I have gone through many a birth in varieties of forms, being thus at times the king Mandhatri, Elephant, Parrot, Indra, Vyasa, Sunetra, and other beings in my one hundred thousand births?"

 The footnote explains that this "deeper sense" only is a term of reference in the Lankavatara.  The point of this section is to say that the aspects of the Buddha are echoed by many, and these aspects are found from the teachings and behavior, including the behavior of embodiment of nonduality.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Huffington Post is worse than I thought...

Andrew Cohen's cohort is there?

No Hindrance Therefore No Fear

While swimming today, an odd, irrational fear arose in me that I would not have enough strength to turn around in the deep part of the pool.  Now, truth be told, the "deep" part of the pool is only 5'; and that affords me the ability to get my 5'6 head sufficiently above water to take a breath no matter what. Furthermore, I knew that I know how to maneuver myself in water.  But it took effort to be with the fear, swim with it, and go through the turns.

And of course nothing happened.

Except that I had a vivid reminder of how the "fear" or "flight" portions of the brain can easily over-ride the rational parts of the brain to the point where useful, purposeful activity is impeded.  It takes practice to not be driven by fear.

This then reminded me of how demagogues work; by appealing to fear they hope they can get people to stop thinking.  The ability to restrain the discursive mind, as we Zen Buddhist  folk know, is very important to act purposefully in the world.  But if that restraint is born of greed, hatred, ignorance, attachments, and fear, it becomes very difficult to work purposefully in the world; in fact it is yet an instance of exchanging one head for another, or an escape from where one is, rather than operating in non-duality.  

As John Cleese said about why he was no longer a newt, "I got better."

It also reminds me of the Teabagger movement.  Fear is their oxygen, and it is fed by demagogues.  If we want to build a better world, we should try to help them not be afraid skillfully.  We need to realize they're just as much Buddhas as the rest of us.  I recently realized a good way to talk with these people, and it has to do with the fact that their language is loaded with fantasy, abstraction, and "what's over there."   By gently keeping the discussion as to what is right now, what is pragmatic, what works,  it is possible to engage the fearful without further stoking their fear.

Takes skill.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The right tool for the job

Nathan at Dangerous Harvest does the "pox on both your houses" bit on atheism versus theism.  I disagree.  He says:

Talk of heaven and God-daddies in the sky always has felt like a screwy attempt to deal with human psychological dramas to me. There are terrible things occurring on Earth, so there must be a God waiting to punish us for our misdeeds, and "he" must be separate from us, otherwise "he'd" be tainted.

And frankly, talk of atheism can quickly stray into something screwy as well. Human reason is the highest power. Only that which is scientifically confirmed is real. There is nothing beyond the material...

Both ends of that spectrum dull the shit out of me, and are, as far as I'm concerned, completely lifeless - deader than the worn out logs currently floating down the flooded Mississippi. 

 There's nothing screwy at all about the proposition that that which is observed, measured, quantified, and probed in the meat world we inhabit pretty much stays there.  No ill-informed appeals to quantum physics metaphysics are needed.

Likewise, there's nothing really screwy about saying there's "nothing beyond the material," because that's the world we inhabit. 

Furthermore, from a viewpoint of non-duality, all three of these positions are not complete.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Nonduality and being ridiculously busy

Some days, such as these days, everything doesn't fit into 24 hours; in fact everything never fits into 24 hours.

So we do our best.

No point being out of sorts more than you are simply because being out of sorts is woven into the fabric of existence.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Nothing to report today...

Still this space, as they say...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

More on Aitken-Shimano in the future...

I've written something about the Eido Shimano - Robert Aitken - DBZ scandal before, but, with continued practice I think I can see more a bit of the why, as in why Shimano is still there.  The lineage of Shimano is legit; the Dharma is indeed propagated by his successors, but the real question, to me, is how to make whole what was shattered.  In a certain sense it cannot be, and in another sense it's more than full.

That said, we Americans do appreciate the notion of public accountability, and though Shimano is now aged, words should be spoken.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Lankavatara Sutra Chapter 3, Section LVIII

As always, at least for this sutra,  I'm using the translation here, and as usual, and I'm just doing this as an ordinary guy...

Many times I write posts on these sutras, I admit, I have a shred of trepidation within me, as it is true that these texts are often incredibly repetitive, probably because of the limited literacy of the monks who were perhaps young students.  But today is clearly an exception.  Today's excerpt, in keeping with the theme of non-duality of the Lankavatara, could have been written by William Blake (if Blake were a Mahayana Buddhist in India well over 1500 years before he actually existed).

At that time again Mahāmati the Bodhisattva-Mahāsattva said this to the Blessed One: The five immediacies are preached by the Blessed One; and what are these five, Blessed One, which being committed by a son or a daughter of a good family cause them to fall into the Avici hell?
The Blessed One replied: Then, Mahāmati, listen well and reflect, for I will tell you.
Mahāmati the Bodhisattva-Mahāsattva said; Certainly, Blessed One, and gave ear to the Blessed One.
The Blessed One said thus to him: What are the five immediacies? They are: (1) the murdering of the mother, (2) of the father, (3) of the Arhat, (4) the breaking-up of the Brotherhood, and (5) causing the body of the Tathagata to bleed from malice.
Now what is meant by the mother of all beings? It is desire which is procreative, going together with joy and anger and upholding all with motherliness. Ignorance representing fatherhood brings about one's rebirth in the six villages of the sense-world. When there takes place a complete destruction of both roots, fatherhood and motherhood, it is said that mother and father are murdered. When there is a complete extermination of the subordinate group of passions such as anger, etc., which are like an enemy, a venomous rat, the murdering of the Arhat is said to take place. What is meant by the breaking-up of the Brotherhood? When there is a complete fundamental breaking-up of the combination of the Skandhas whose characteristic mark is a state of mutual dependence among dissimilarities, it is said that the Brotherhood is split up.  Mahāmati, when the body of the eight Vijñānas, which erroneously recognises individuality and generality as being outside the Mind—which is seen [by the ignorant] in the form of an external world—is completely extirpated by means of faulty discriminations, that is, by means of the triple emancipation and the non-outflows, and when thus the faulty mentality of the Vijñāna-Buddha is made to bleed, it is known as an immediacy-deed. These,
Mahāmati, are the five inner immediacies, and when they are experienced by a son or a daughter of a good family, there is an immediacy-deed of realisation as regards the Dharma...
...The Śrāvakas of transformation, Mahāmati, who are sustained by the sustaining power either of the Bodhisattvas or Tathagatas, may see somebody else practising deeds of wickedness, and they will repeatedly make great efforts to turn him away from his wickness and faulty views, and to make him realise the non-reality of wickedness and faulty views by laying down his burden. This is the way I demonstrate facts of the transformation, the sustaining power, and the realisation.

 In other words, the worst things you could possibly do, and the worst experiences you could have as a result of your actions can be transformed; can be overcome, and transcended.  Not because a deity came and gave you a get out of jail for free card, but because it is all phenomena of Mind itself.  So this is seeing into the nature  of the self and understanding it is - yeah - not some tripped out experience, but indeed cathartic, and just right.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Practice Makes Perfect

I hate the genre of "science proves Buddhism" story...although, as an applied scientist and a Buddhist I do have a certain fondness for the "this story correlates with Buddhist practice" genre.

And that's what I thought in reading this NY Times Book Review article on "The Genius in All of Us" by David Shenk.

Motivational gurus from Dale Carnegie to Tony Robbins have long promised access to these hidden stores of genius. Now here comes David Shenk with “The Genius in All of Us,” which argues that we have before us not a “talent scarcity” but a “latent talent abundance.” Our problem “isn’t our inadequate genetic assets,” but “our inability, so far, to tap into what we already have.” The truth is “that few of us know our true limits, that the vast majority of us have not even come close to tapping what scientists call our ‘un­actualized potential.’ ” At first it would seem that Shenk, the author of thoughtful books on information overload, memory loss and chess, has veered into guru territory. But he has assembled a large body of research to back up his claims.

Two bodies, in fact. The first concerns the emerging science of epigenetics, the study of how the environment modifies the way genes are expressed. Since the days of Crick and Watson, we’ve tended to see genes as a set of straightforward instructions, a blueprint for constructing a person. Over the last 20 years, however, some scientists have begun to complicate that picture. “It turns out that the genetic instructions themselves are influenced by other inputs,” Shenk writes. “Genes are constantly activated and deactivated by environmental stimuli, nutrition, hormones, nerve impulses and other genes.” That means there can be no guaranteed genetic windfalls, or fixed genetic limits, bestowed at the moment of conception. Instead there is a continually unfolding interaction between our heredity and our world, a process that may be in some measure under our control.

The second body of research investigates the nature of exceptional ability and how it arises. We’ve traditionally regarded superior talent as a rare and mysterious gift bequeathed to a lucky few. In fact, Shenk writes, science is revealing it to be the product of highly concentrated effort. He describes the work of the psychologist Anders Ericsson, who wondered if he could train an ordinary person to perform extraordinary feats of memory. When Eric­sson began working with a young man identified as S.F., his subject could, like most of us, hold only seven numbers in his short-term memory. By the end of the study, S.F. could correctly recall an astonishing 80-plus digits. With the right kind of mental discipline, Ericsson and his co-­investigator concluded, “there is seemingly no limit to memory performance.” Shenk weaves accounts of such laboratory experiments, conducted on average people, with the tales of singularly accomplished individuals — Ted Williams and Michael Jordan, Mozart and Beethoven — who all worked relentlessly to hone their skills...

...Forget about genes as unchanging “blueprints” and talent as a “gift,” all tied up in a bow. “We cannot allow ourselves to think that way anymore,” he declares with some fervor. Instead, Shenk proposes, imagine the genome as a giant control board, with thousands of switches and knobs that turn genes off and on or tune them up and down. And think of talent not as a thing, but as a process; not as something we have, but as something we do.

Yep. No fixed essence to us it seems.

And, isn't this really all about Zen Budhist practice or what?

Shenk doesn’t neglect the take-home point we’re all waiting for, even titling a chapter “How to Be a Genius (or Merely Great).” The answer has less in common with the bromides of motivational speakers than with the old saw about how to get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice. Whatever you wish to do well, Shenk writes, you must do over and over again, in a manner involving, as Ericsson put it, “repeated attempts to reach beyond one’s current level,” which results in “frequent failures.” This is known as “deliberate practice,” and over time it can actually produce changes in the brain, making new heights of achievement possible. Behold our long rumored potential, unleashed at last! Shenk is vague about how, exactly, this happens, but to his credit he doesn’t make it sound easy. “You have to want it, want it so bad you will never give up, so bad that you are ready to sacrifice time, money, sleep, friendships, even your reputation,” he writes. “You will have to adopt a particular lifestyle of ambition, not just for a few weeks or months but for years and years and years. You have to want it so bad that you are not only ready to fail, but you actually want to experience failure: revel in it, learn from it.”

Now, if the reviewer had a notion of "karma," she'd know why some folks instill and cultivate discipline and some do not.

Moreover, of course we probably won't all be Mozart, Ted Williams, or Hakuin. But that's not the point. At least, it's not the point from a Buddhist perspective.

Some folks, from the 12 Step world, I think, have a notion of "Insanity is repeating the same mistake and expecting a different outcome." I think this aphorism should be changed a bit to: "Sanity is repeated practice in the direction of perfection." The thing is, such repeated practice in the direction of perfection will inevitably result in a mistake, the "one continuous mistake" of which Shunryu Suzuki spoke, I think. Moreover, denial of my aphorism in favor of the "insanity" aphorism is itself insanity, since it opposes reality.

No exit?

Heather Havrilesky's kind of got a point: the Sopranos made descent into darker and darker a new plot technique to explore in cable shows, but it seems unrelenting, irredeemable.

I think there's a narrative of change for the positive that will be introduced.

Maybe somebody on the Huff Post blog with LA connections should write a Buddhist themed "Breaking Bad to Better."

Saturday, March 20, 2010

And now for something completely different...Jon Stewart does Glenn Beck...

Even though Viacom is suing Google (look at Google news for juicy details),  I think putting Jon Stewart doing Glenn Beck here is...well... a nice break.

Stewart is showing he is essentially the H. L. Mencken or Mark Twain of this age, and I'm not exaggerating.

Sorry if you folks in the rest of the world don't "get" this humor, but just go to YouTube & look at Glenn Beck to see the guy Stewart is parodying.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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Robert Thurman gets shrill

And when he starts to defend the faith healing Falun Da Fa, well, that's pitiful.  Just for the record (you can find it in a Wall Street Journal article from a few years back which I read in the paper edition) Falun Da Fa was outed as a dangerous cult by...wait for it...a Chinese Buddhist scholar (with roughly the same position there as Robert Thurman has at Columbia University, except he wasn't a Tibet specialist).  And that scholar was not a member of the Communist party.

Friday, March 19, 2010

"Faith is the blunt instrument used to crush doubt."

So says P.Z. Myers, in his lambasting of the "On Faith"  folks at the Washington Post commenting on this report on "non-believing clergy."  As a Rinzai guy, let me add in my 2 cents...

One pastor in the report recounted:

“My first few years of doing this were wracked with, ‘God, should I be doing this? Is this ---? Am I being ---? Am I posing? Am I being less than authentic; less than honest?’ … And, I really wrestled with it and to some degree still. But not nearly as much.”
“I will be the first to admit that I see Christianity as a means to an end, not as an end unto itself. And the end is very basically, a kind of liberal, democratic values. So I will use Christianity sometimes against itself to try to lead people to that point. But there’s so much within the Christian tradition that itself influenced the development of those liberal values, you know. They didn’t arise through secular means. They came out of some religious stuff. …I could couch all that in very secular language. If we were in a college setting, I would. But we’re in a religious setting, so I use the religious language.”

Myers says about this report by Daniel C. Dennett:

Unfortunately, the WaPo couldn't just put up Dennett's bombshell on its own: they've surrounded it with a confusing cloud of commissioned articles to answer the question, "What should pastors do if they no longer hold the defining beliefs of their denomination?". Most of them are believers, except for Rebecca Goldstein and Tom Flynn and Herb Silverman, and most of them are making excuses. You just knew that someone would make the inane argument that "doubt is part of faith." No, it's not. Faith is the blunt instrument used to crush doubt.
 Of course the WaPo panelists present a "conventional" view of the faith/doubt issue

à la Larry King, and for "inclusive" purposes there's that guy Deepak Chopra...

Q:What should pastors do if they no longer hold the defining beliefs of their denomination? Do clergy have a moral obligation not to challenge the sincere faith of their parishioners? If this requires them to dissemble from the pulpit, doesn't this create systematic hypocrisy at the center of religion? What would you want your pastor to do with his or her personal doubts or loss of faith?

Religion poses many tests of conscience. This isn't a drawback. If anything, it's one of the reasons organized faith exists. But of course there are extremes of opinion about how acceptable it is to disagree with church doctrine. My insistence that religion must teach people how to think about God for themselves would be seen as extreme -- or even heretical -- by those at the opposite end of the spectrum. We've witnessed the tide of tolerance ebb and flow in the Catholic Church. We've seen gay Episcopal bishops advance in a liberal climate only to cause a schism among conservatives.

 Needless to say neither the WaPo panelists, especially Chopra, nor P.Z. Myers  reflect the views of Zen Buddhists, which is the point of this post. Great doubt and great faith must coexist for great enlightenment.  You have to doubt the faith, you have to have faith that the doubt will lead somewhere.  The question is key.

With this viewpoint, you simply cannot lose your faith, nor can you blindly believe. Dammit, that guy long ago said "Rely on yourself.  Do not rely on others.  Rely on the Dharma.  Do not rely on others."  Which of course leads to the questions: What is the Dharma? What am I? Am I different than the Dharma? Am I the same? Is this gibberish?

But, like all phenomena, Buddha nature is "stuck" to it - permeated through it like a dye on a fabric, as some teacher said.  Even if I accept Jesus as my personal Lord and what not, or even if I picket all religious institutions or lack thereof, or even if I just watch TV for weeks on end munching on potato chips, it's all there.  Now there's consequences, of course, to all behaviors, including behaviors of pretending to believe, which is recommended by certain folks ("Fake it 'til you make it" is a slogan in certain religious quarters).

But there is no escape.  The authentic "position" or "stance" in which one carriers out one's life, and the emptiness of all of it (including emptiness of emptiness) remains the same.  You cannot not be who you are, even if you are pretending to be something.  The "essence" of Sartre's waiter performing as a waiter did not annihilate the emptiness of the phenomena of the waiter-in-life.

So, basically, we practicing Zen Buddhists don't have the problem alluded to in the report or panel responses or Myer's response.  And when Chopra says

My insistence that religion must teach people how to think about God for themselves would be seen as extreme -- or even heretical -- by those at the opposite end of the spectrum.
 and when Myers says

Faith is the blunt instrument used to crush doubt.

I have to call them both out.  Great doubt and great faith must coexist, and nobody can tell you how to do that or not to do that, and all the rumination, pretense, or lack thereof simply cannot change the nature of our existence in this life.  Great doubt and great faith are natural functions and conditions of our existence, and to privilege one against the other is to "oppose our reality."

And that's my 2 cents.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Altar in My Home Zendo

Because it's some sort of meme.

Lankavatara Sutra Chapter 3, Section LVII

To say it again,  I'm using the translation here, and as usual, and I'm just doing this as an ordinary guy.

The core of this section is this:

The Blessed One then said this: There are three kinds of will-body, Mahāmati. What are the three? They are: (1) the will-body obtained in the enjoyment of the Samādhi; (2) the will-body obtained by recognising the self-nature of the Dharma; and (3) the will-body which is assumed [by a Bodhisattva according to] the class of beings [to be saved] and which perfects and achieves [without a thought of its own achievement]. By realising the higher stages successively after the first is attained, the Yogin will experience them [all].

 In going through this I am struck by how closely Zen practice is framed from this, despite how it might appear in the West.  It might also be considered a "guide" to the practitioner insofar as it would highlight to the practitioner that "this" is how you might be experiencing your practice. In particular...

What is the will-body obtained by recognising the self-nature of the Dharma? When [the Yogin] of the the eighth stage has a thoroughgoing penetration into the nature of things which is like Māyā and not image-producing, he experiences a revulsion at the seat of consciousness and obtains the Samādhi known as Māyā-like and other Samādhis..

When [the Yogin] is thoroughly conversant with all the characteristics of self-realisation and its bliss which pervades the teachings of the Buddha, he is said to have the body which is will-made, born with [the class], perfecting and achieving..

 This is the direction in which to be going.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

More about zazen and "brainwashing"

I will expand a tiny bit on what I alluded to here.

Gniz says:

It's important to understand that meditation is a constantly changing process, and as such, our brain is going to be in varying states throughout. At times, the act of meditation could lead us to being in a more receptive, less intellectually critical mindstate.

In fact, a lot of teachers will tell us that this is EXACTLY where meditation leads. They won't say that it's a less intellectually critical mindstate, they'll call it "being free of opinions" or "emptying your cup" or "thinking non-thinking."

Let's be clear. I'm not implying that being free of the continuous machinations of the intellect is a bad thing, because it's actually quite nice at times. But there are some dangers involved. The first is that people who are overly ambitious will strive to cultivate being in this "balanced state" at all times, and may actually create a scenario where they are less mentally aware and less in touch with reality as opposed to more in touch with it...

There are some dangers with spirituality and meditation. People should be aware that you are playing games with your own perceptions, with reality, with your mind. To varying degrees you may become more likely to take on new beliefs in a state where you are either less aware and discerning, or perhaps just confused by a new experience that you can't process on your own...

For myself, I'd almost rather just sit and meditate and put absolutely NO descriptions, religious connotations or other mental constructs onto what it is that happens in these times. 

And Brad Warner says:

The general public doesn’t really have a clue as to what a Zen teacher is. So the model they usually chose to base their assumptions about what a Zen teacher ought to be is that of a religious instructor...

And so the idea has come down to us a hundred and some years later that Zen is a religion. I’m aware that there has been considerable debate about this. But mostly the debate has been framed in terms of the question: “Is Zen a religion or a philosophy?” I used to side with the faction that said it was a philosophy. But I’m not so sure this is even the right question anymore.

It has occurred to me lately that Zen is not a religion or a philosophy, but might better be seen as a form of art. 

 I side with the "Zen Buddhism is a religion" folks; if a religion is not first and foremost a set of behaviors to which one applies skill, regardless of institutions, deities, and funny clothes, then what good is it?

For medical benefits? That seems somewhat unnatural in the same sense that people in armies don't fight and die for their country, they fight and die for their brothers and sisters so they may live.

Furthermore, if your practice is only on your cushion,  it's not even like an artificial flavor versus the real flavor.   You have a verisimilitude of practice, sometimes.  But it's like having the keys to a Ferrari but only driving it out of the garage and into the driveway and claiming you "drive" a Ferrari.  No, this needs to be done as much as one can, in every situation.  And only you can be there to do that, and when you're there doing that, there is no brainwashing.

Now on to the bigger question, as raised by Gniz: having great faith and great doubt does not mean great faith is invested in your teacher and great doubt is invested in everything else that might run counter to what your teacher says. In American Rinzai temples in the tradition established by Soen Shaku we chant from the Mahaparinirvana sutra:

Atta Dipa
Atta Sarana
Anana Sarana
Dhamma Dipa
Dhamma Sarana
Anana Sarana

Which means:

You are the light
Rely on yourself
Do not rely on others
The Dharma is light
Rely on the Dharma
Do not rely on others

Any teacher which ain't teaching this, to get slightly fundie about it, is not teaching a Buddhism as taught by Shakyamuni.

Suspension of opinions includes opinions about the teacher.  If he's on a pedestal you're light years away.  And if you can't see your closeness to Pat Robertson, Mother Teresa, Pol Pot, Ben Stein, Sean Hannity and Michael Moore, you're not there yet either.

Regardless of what an unscrupulous teacher might say, and they are there, in this practice you cannot check your brains at the door.

This is embedded in the structure of the most fundamental of Zen koans; e.g., Case 39 (see here for another translation and commentary) of the Mumonkan says:

As soon as a monk stated Un-mon, "The radiance of the Buddha quietly and restlessly illuminates the whole universe", Un-mon asked him, "Are these you are reciting not the words of Chosetzu Shusai?" The monk replied, "Yes, they are." Un-mon said, "You are trapped in words!" Afterwards Shishin brought up the matter once more and said, "Tell me, how was the monk trapped in words?"
Mumon's Comments:
If you are able to grasp Un-mon's unapproachable accomplishments and follow through the monk's corruption (of being trapped into words), you will be the leader of humans and Devas. If not, you cannot even save yourself.
A fish meets the fishhook in a rapid stream,
Being too greedy for the bait, the fish wants to bite.
Once his mouth widely opens,
His life is already lost.

 Yunmen (Ummon) is saying the student is "trapped in words" or  has "misspoken" in response to his student quoting another's poem.  The context as to why the student quoted the poem is not given but clearly what was expected here was the student's expression of his understanding.  That's why you can read all the koan commentaries you want til the cows come home (just when do they come home?) but a reputable teacher won't confirm anything unless it's truly, authentically your expression of your understanding, and if he doesn't, you're going to understand anyway.

So no, Gniz, nothing to worry about.  Just keep going.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Even though I'm busy I HAD to note this...

You may never have noticed, but the NY Times style guide dictates that for people otherwise without titles like "President," they should list the name by which they're known first, and in subsequent mentions they refer to the person as "Mr." or "Ms." depending on the gender...

Slouched against the lectern at the 25th annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, a shirtless Iggy Pop snarled, “I am the world’s forgotten boy.”

No more. After years of being named finalists to enter the hall of fame, then getting outvoted, the Stooges were finally inducted this year, in an event held at the Waldorf-Astoria on Monday night and telecast on the Fuse cable channel. “After the seventh time” the Stooges were nominated, said the band’s guitarist, James Williamson, in his acceptance speech, “we were beginning to think we would have to take pride in not getting in.”
Behind him, Mr. Pop, 62, was already unbuttoning his white dress shirt, getting ready to jump, drop to his knees, strut and twist across the stage and down into the black-tie audience. Introducing him, Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day had described him as “the most confrontational singer we will ever see.” In his acceptance speech, Mr. Pop declared: “Roll over, Woodstock. We won.” 

And yes, that would mean somewhere on their website you can find a reference to Meat Loaf referred to as "Mr. Loaf."  That is, if he did not spell his name "Meatloaf."

A pity, isn't it?

I have more to say about zazen, and "brainwashing"

I think a somewhat deeper than comment-wise response to gniz's recent posts here and here is warranted, but don't have the time at the moment.

Lankavatara Sutra Chapter 2, Sections LV and LVI

As I keep saying I'm using the translation here, and as usual, and I'm just doing this as an ordinary guy...and, to begin with, again appealing to Suzuki's introduction to the text.  We are at the last two sections of Chapter 2, and I think, just from the unfamiliarity of the first word in LV that I quote from Suzuki:

Citta comes from the root cit, "to think", but in the Lanka the derivation is made from the root ci, "to pile up", "to arrange in order". The Citta is thus a storehouse where the seeds of all thoughts and deeds are accumulated and stored up. The Citta, however, has a double sense, general and specific. When it is used in the general sense it means "mind", "mentation", "ideas", including the activities of Manas and Manovijnana, and also of the Vijnanas; while specifically it is a synonym of Alayavijnana in its relative aspects, and distinguishable from all the rest of the mental faculties. When, however, it is used in the form of Citta-matra, Mind-only, it acquires still another connotation. We can say that Citta appears here in its highest possible sense, for it is then neither simply mentation nor intellection, nor perception as a function of consciousness. It is identifiable with the Alaya in its absolute aspect. This will become clearer later on.
Alayavijnana is alaya+vijnana, and alaya is a store where things are hoarded for future use. The Citta as a cumulative faculty is thus identified with the Alayavijnana. 

 And so the text says...

182. The Citta is bound up with the objective world; the intellect's function is to speculate; and in the excellent state of imagelessness there is the evolving of transcendental wisdom (prajñā).
183. According to the false imagination, [self-substance] is, but from the point of view of relativity (paratantra) it is not; owing to perversion, what is discriminated is grasped [as real]; in the relativity there is no discrimination.
184. Multitudinousness of differentiations is imagined [as real by the ignorant], but being like Māyā they obtain not; varieties of individual forms are discriminated as such, but they [really] do not obtain.
185. [To imagine] individual forms is wrong, it puts one in bondage; they are born of Mind due to the false imagination of the ignorant; based on the relativity they are discriminated.
186. The existence thus subjected to discrimination is no other than its relativity aspect; (131) the false imagination is of various forms; based on the relativity, discrimination is carried on.
It is repetitive, to be sure, no doubt giving its heritage as a teaching text, but the point does indeed bear in nonduality or nondiscrmination in all our activities is the point here.

Finally, in LVI...

Further, Mahāmati said: Pray tell me, Blessed One, about the one vehicle that characterises the inner realisation of noble wisdom, whereby, Blessed One, I and other Bodhisattva-Mahāsattvas, becoming conversant with the one vehicle which marks the inner attainment of noble wisdom, may be established without depending on anybody else in the teaching of the Buddha.
Said the Blessed One: Then, Mahāmati, listen well and reflect within yourself as I tell you.
Mahāmati the Bodhisattva-Mahāsattva said, Yes, I will, Blessed One; and gave ear to the Blessed One.
Thereupon the Blessed One said: In accordance with the authoritative teachings in which there are no discriminations, Mahāmati, let the Bodhisattva-Mahāsattva retire by himself to a quiet secluded place, where he may reflect within himself, not relying on anybody else, but by means of his own inner intelligence, in order to discard erroneous views and discriminations, make successive advances and exert himself to finally enter upon the stage of Tathagatahood. This, Mahāmati, is the characteristic feature of the inner realisation to be gained by means of noble wisdom.
What characterises the way of the one vehicle? I call it the one vehicle because thereby one recognises and realises the path leading to the one vehicle. How is this path of the one vehicle to be recognised and realised? The recognition of the one vehicle is obtained when there is no rising of discrimination by doing away with the notion of grasped and grasping and by abiding in the reality of suchness (yathābhūta). Mahāmati, this recognition of the one vehicle,  except by the Tathagata himself, has never been obtained before by anybody else—the philosophers, Śrāvakas, Pratyekabuddhas, Brahmans, etc. For this reason, Mahāmati, this is known as the one vehicle...

There is really no establishment of various vehicles, and so I speak of the one vehicle; but in order to carry the ignorant I talk of a variety of vehicles.

So the Lankavatara sutra text too, is skillful means, so that all can move through life, I'd say.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Buddha on PBS: Another Tiger Woods?

Barbara O'Brien brings to my attention the fact that (which I'd already heard, but not yet this morning) that PBS will have a program on about the Buddha. The phrase "narrated by Richard Gere" stands out...

Hear insights into the ancient narrative by contemporary Buddhists, including Pulitzer Prize winning poet W.S. Merwin and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Join into the conversation and learn more about meditation, the history of Buddhism, and how incorporate the Buddha’s teachings on compassion and mindfulness into daily life.

I think on the whole this is a good thing; don't get me wrong. But it's just a small subset of the flavors of Buddhism they're talking about, just as it seems they will only be talking about one Buddha, a very important one to be sure, but to me this just seems a bit like a Larry King version of Buddhism; not the real thing.

The real thing involves your dishes, your boss and co-workers, your commute, how much food you eat and what kind of food, and countless other engagements in the course of your life, with your presence.

And despite all of that  you can bet this will still be lambasted by the religious right.

Lankavatara Sutra Chapter 2, Section LIV

As usual, I'm using the translation here, and as usual, I'm not one who has been given a decoder ring.

Getting rid of discriminations - or, removing attachments to various phenomena is a key goal for Buddhists.

The key point of this chapter could be summed up to be this:

What are the various features of the false imagination, Mahāmati? They are the discriminations as regards (1) words (abhilāpa), (2) meaning, (3) individual marks, (4) property, (5) self-nature, (6) cause, (7) philosophical views, (8) reasoning, (9) birth, (10) no-birth, (11) dependence, and (12) bondage and emancipation. These, Mahāmati, are the various features of the false imagination. 

 A bit of expansion on a couple of them though would be in order: regarding self-nature, it is clear here the discrimination with regard to self-nature is: "This is just it, and there is no other."  It can't be put in a box (and it can't not be put in a box!)

When we chant  Buddha-nature pervades the whole universe...we're not kidding.

One more bit here:

What is the discrimination of birth? It means getting attached to the notion that things come into existence and go out of it according to causation.
What is the discrimination of no-birth? It is to discriminate that all things are from the beginning unborn, that the causeless substances which were not, come into existence by reason of causation.

 This relentless viewpoint of non-duality is naturally self-referential, in that this text is not "outside" the system - even though it is!

But the really really really key point here (I know, I keep saying that), is that when one acts according to these concepts, when one truly is acting from a stance of non-duality, then one can be said to be transcending the nasty stuff.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Dalai Lama crosses a line...

The office of the Dalai Lama still has not responded to my e-mail, and that silence, to me at least, is thunderous.  But this week, the Dalai Lama still kept up his verbal attacks on Chinese:

The Dalai Lama blasted Chinese authorities Wednesday, accusing them of trying to "annihilate Buddhism" in Tibet as he commemorated a failed uprising against China's rule over the region.

The Tibetan spiritual leader's angry comments appeared to signal his frustration with fruitless efforts to negotiate a compromise with China. However, he said he would not abandon talks...

In his annual address from exile in India to mark the 51st anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising against China, the Dalai Lama said Chinese authorities were conducting a campaign of "patriotic re-education" in monasteries in Tibet.

"They are putting the monks and nuns in prison-like conditions, depriving them the opportunity to study and practice in peace," he said, accusing Chinese of working to "deliberately annihilate Buddhism." 

This is clearly false, as I've said before on this blog. I've seen it myself.  I've talked to Chinese Buddhists and Christians.  I've heard the Panchen Lama problem discussed openly in Beijing.  The Dalai Lama may not like the fact that as he ages, his relevance as a political leader is fading, despite what he says, which does seem to be what the government thinks too.  More to the point, he may be angry that his control over religion is being attenuated.

Meanwhile, here's an example  of how badly religion is being "suppressed" in China. Clearly those Tibetans want to be there to view the Panchen Lama.

Now I'm not saying there's quite a bit of bad feelings around Tibet today. But I am saying that there's a bit too much misinformation in the US about this subject, and American Buddhists should be more critical in their ingestion of other people's narratives about this subject. It's far more complicated than you're getting from the Dalai Lama.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Meanwhile, with MY day...

I'm trying to get a lot in this week; there's lots of housekeeping work to do at work, lots of interesting work to do at work, (both inform each other!) and I'm still trying, for health reasons, to get to a weight that actually improves my health a bit. Although, technically, I'm of normal weight (actually, more than 3/4 of all men my age & height weigh more) , certain leading indicators aren't where the doctor or I would like them to be.

So, in addition to hitting the gym twice a week, I've been swimming, something I haven't done since I was a kid.

And I forgot the sheer joy of splashing water around.

You can read in all kinds of places about how swimming's good for you, how it's strange compared to out-of-water aerobic activities, etc.

I just wanted to mention here that it's an interesting way to practice mindfulness in a sort of quasi-Tai Chi like way as you go propelling yourself through the water; it's a medium where you can actually synchronize deep breathing with fluidic motion.

That's all for today; as I said, I'm busy & running late...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Lankavatara Sutra Chapter 2, Section LIII

As usual, I'm using the translation here, and as usual, I'm not one who has been given a decoder ring.

This section - as is the others before it, I might add, is best explained by appeal to Suzuki's introductory exposition of Buddhist psychology in the Lankavatara...

What may be termed Buddhist psychology in the Lanka consists in the analysis of mind, that is, in the classification of the Vijnanas. To understand thus the psychology of Buddhism properly the knowledge of these terms is necessary: citta, manas, vijnana, manovijnana, and alayavijnana.
To begin with Vijnana. Vijnana is composed of the prefix vi, meaning "to divide", and the root jna which means "to perceive", "to know". Thus, Vijnana is the faculty of distinguishing or discerning or judging. When an object is presented before the eye, it is perceived and judged as a red apple or a piece of white linen; the faculty of doing this is called eye-vijnana. In the same way, there are ear-vijnana for sound, nose-vijnana for odour, tongue-vijnana for taste, body-vijnana for touch, and thought-vijnana (manovijnana) for ideas—altogether six forms of Vijnana for distinguishing the various aspects of world external or internal.
Of these six Vijnanas, the Manojivnana is the most important as it is directly related to an inner faculty known as Manas. Manas roughly corresponds to mind as an organ of thought, but in fact it is more than that, for it is also a strong power of attaching itself to the result of thinking. The latter may even be considered subordinate to this power of attachment. The Manas first wills, then it discriminates to judge; to judge is to divide, and this dividing ends in viewing existence dualistically. Hence the Manas' tenacious attachment to the dualistic interpretation of existence. Willing and thinking are inextricably woven into the texture of Manas.
Citta comes from the root cit, "to think", but in the Lanka the derivation is made from the root ci, "to pile up", "to arrange in order". The Citta is thus a storehouse where the seeds of all thoughts and deeds are accumulated and stored up. The Citta, however, has a double sense, general and specific. When it is used in the general sense it means "mind", "mentation", "ideas", including the activities of Manas and Manovijnana, and also of the Vijnanas; while specifically it is a synonym of Alayavijnana in its relative aspects, and distinguishable from all the rest of the mental faculties. When, however, it is used in the form of Citta-matra, Mind-only, it acquires still another connotation. We can say that Citta appears here in its highest possible sense, for it is then neither simply mentation nor intellection, nor perception as a function of consciousness. It is identifiable with the Alaya in its absolute aspect. This will become clearer later on.
Alayavijnana is alaya+vijnana, and alaya is a store where things are hoarded for future use. The Citta as a cumulative faculty is thus identified with the Alayavijnana. Strictly speaking, the Alaya is not a Vijnana, has no discerning power in it; it indiscriminately harbours all that is poured into it through the channel of the Vijnanas. The Alaya is perfectly neutral, indifferent, and does not offer to give judgments.
 So therefore the Buddha says in this bit:

With the Manovijñāna as cause and supporter, Mahāmati, there rise the seven Vijñanas. Again, Mahāmati, the Manovijñāna is kept functioning, as it discerns a world of objects and becomes attached to it, and by means of manifold habit-energy [or memory]  it nourishes the Ālayavijñāna. The Manas is evolved along with the notion of an ego and its belongings, to which it clings and on which it reflects. It has no body of its own, nor its own marks; the Ālayavijñāna is its cause and support. Because the world which is the Mind itself is imagined real and attached to as such, the whole psychic system evolves mutually conditioning. Like the waves of the ocean, Mahāmati, the world which is the mind-manifested, is stirred up by the wind of objectivity, it evolves and dissolves. Thus, Mahāmati, when the Manovijñāna is got rid of, the seven Vijñānas are also got rid of.

 Attachments are that which takes place within our awareness, including the desire to be rid of attachments - this desire too is a phenomenon of Mind itself which is imagined as real.

The trick is to care, or not care, as is appropriate...or, as someone said, to care, but not that much...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Not much to really go into today...

Rather than get all philosophical, I'll just post my random observations of minor random stuff from the myriad things:

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

On Sex and Religion

On P.Z. Meyers' post on the Smut for Smut exchange, I have some observations and qualifiers...

  • I have no problem with his basic point; which is, the Christian Bible can easily be read as fostering greed, hatred, and ignorance. It is not the only way to read this book though; there are ways of reading that book, as Isaac Azimov did in his guide to the bible, that are more historically accurate. King Josiah, in such a reading, was a religious bigot whose behavior eventually brought down his kingdom.
  • But a very vocal group of people today argue for a less wise reading of this book, which to me would on its own justify its exchange for non-exploitative pornography, if there can be such a thing.
  • I'm not certain there is such a thing as non-exploitative pornography. On a one perspective, what is valuable in participants in this activity remains what it is, but on another view, precious time has been taken in their lives, at the very least. I suppose if two people loved each other, and it was their choice to make public what most folks want to do in private...
  • But I would say the overwhelming, overwhelming rule in the porn world is that it is exploitative, and we ourselves continue this by creating and sustaining a world in which people are driven to this out of economic desperation and exploitation and coercion.
  • Meyers asks, "How does [exchange of bibles for porn] denigrate religion, unless you're assuming that sexuality is a sin, a corruption, a filthy offense to the gods?" I agree; if your religion is big enough, even the thought of porn should be drive you back into your practice. But of course there are people who assume that their religion is "over there" away from themselves!

P.S. The above right picture is in one of Philip Kapleau's books, and in that book he talks about the nonduality of Bodhidharma (a.k.a. "daruma" in Japanese) and prostitute (also commonly called a "daruma.") What Kapleau doesn't say is that prostitutes care more likely called "darumas" because they "fall down and get up," rather than the Japanese have some deep profound insight in the deeply holy ladies of the evening.

Think about it.

P.P.S. Also consider the Zennist's post re: Mara. Even that being is to be liberated.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Sunday, March 07, 2010

To go a bit deeper on Leonard Cohen & the Flower Adornment Sutra & not being homicidal to each other

Expanding a bit on what I said here, in the video referred to in the recent post on Ox Herding (the video is here), what Leonard Cohen seems to be talking about is Sasaki Roshi's ability to be nondiscriminating in person-to-person dealings, "accepting each other the way a river accepts each drop of rain that falls into it."

I especially think that because of Cohen's describing Sasaki Roshi's behavior as either deeply caring or not caring - and Cohen could not figure out which it was.

Similarly the Zennist refers to A.K. Warden's description of Suddhana
in Suddhana's travels on the Way...

Mañjursri is the first of Suddhana's good friends, and having instructed him he directs him to another friend [mitra], a monk. By attending on one friend after another Suddhana will gradually increase his knowledge and understanding and learn to practice various kinds of meditation in which they are proficient. The friends are bodhisattvas whether they are monks (few are) or laymen and whatever their professions. Altogether Suddhana attends 52 good friends, traveling all over India in order to find them but with a preference for the South. All classes of society are represented among them and a few are gods. One is a slave and most of the others follow a variety of ordinary worldly occupations, the pursuit of some of which is in fact praised in this sutra as a form of well doing. It is noteworthy that 20 our of the 52 friends are women (or goddesses)

The Zennist remarks:

Underlying this marvelous chapter, and for that matter the Avatamsaka Sutra, itself, is the realization that our phenomenal universe is a manifestation of the One Mind (ekacittântaragatadharmaloka). But more importantly, from the perspective of a Buddha, things are foremost simply configurations of the absolute, like golden objects are only configurations of gold, to use an apt analogy. This is not so with the mind of non-Buddhas. The universe appears to them to be made up of coarse and fine things—from galaxies to ordinary thoughts. Unlike a Buddha or a Bodhisattva, the ordinary person does not comprehend the One Mind. More to the point, the ordinary person is incapable of seeing the absolute substance or matrix (garbha) from which all things arise and disappear again and again. But a Buddha does.

These "ordinary people" Suddhana met were bodhisattvas.

So are the ones you meet, if you can, as the Zennist says, successfully remove the delusion of non-enlightenment.

And if the ones you meet are bodhisattvas, that means, well, you treat them as such.

And yourself too.

And yes, you can even learn something from Genpo Roshi, or 12 Step Buddhists, or George W. Bush, or anyone else, provided you approach them with a non-discriminating mind, so that you can "see it all," so to speak.

And with that in mind, maybe, just maybe, you can avoid saying stupid things that start spats, arguments, and nuclear wars. And, by the way, that's why I have a problem with Gniz's post on "moralizing in Zen culture," because if used we Buddhists have tools that, while not exclusive to our tradition, do enable the promotion of the better over the worse.

At least that's how I put these bits together, and of course, that's just my humble view, not certified by anyone.

Your mileage might vary.

The NY Times Writes Some Truth about Scientology

I can imagine the blowback the folks in Clearwater, FLA are going to do to the Times for this story...

Raised as Scientologists, Christie King Collbran and her husband, Chris, were recruited as teenagers to work for the elite corps of staff members who keep the Church of Scientology running, known as the Sea Organization, or Sea Org.

Raised as Scientologists, Christie King Collbran and her husband, Chris, were recruited as teenagers to work for the elite corps of staff members who keep the Church of Scientology running, known as the Sea Organization, or Sea Org.

But after 13 years and growing disillusionment, the Collbrans decided to leave the Sea Org, setting off on a Kafkaesque journey that they said required them to sign false confessions about their personal lives and their work, pay the church thousands of dollars it said they owed for courses and counseling, and accept the consequences as their parents, siblings and friends who are church members cut off all communication with them...

The defectors say that the average Scientology member, known in the church as a public, is largely unaware of the abusive environment experienced by staff members. The church works hard to cultivate public members — especially celebrities like Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Nancy Cartwright (the voice of the cartoon scoundrel Bart Simpson) — whose money keeps it running...

Marty Rathbun, who was once Mr. Miscavige’s top lieutenant, is now one of the church’s top detractors. The churches used to be busy places where members socialized and invited curious visitors to give Scientology a try, he said, but now the church is installing touch-screen displays so it can introduce visitors to Scientology with little need for Scientologists on site.

“That’s the difference between the old Scientology and the new: the brave new Scientology is all these beautiful buildings and real estate and no people,” said Mr. Rathbun, who is among several former top executives quoted by The St. Petersburg Times in a series of articles last year about the church’s reported mistreatment of staff members.

This is a group that is clearly problematic, and if this group shuts down it would not be much of a loss to humanity.

A "New" Temple in Town

Well, new to me. Hui Lin Temple (慧霖寺) is a Chinese-rooted Tibetan Buddhist temple.   It's the best, most important Chinese-rooted Tibetan Buddhist temple I've ever seen located across the street from a drag-queen entertainment-based restaurant and  nightclub.  That means there's some incredible focus  of the sacred and...uh...not quite mundane located right near Chinatown in Portland.  They've actually been in Portland for 3 or 4 years, but this is the first time I've actually noticed, seen and been inside this temple despite having been on this street a few weeks ago (it's right down the street from the Portland Chinese Garden).

I'm very happy they are here, and am glad they are adding yet another flavor to the rich mixture of Buddhism in Portland, OR.  I am eager to discuss with them their apprehension of the Buddhadharma, and how it compares to my tradition.

I also  plan to ask them about the question I'd posed the other day on this blog, re: the Panchen Lama.  By the way I've gotten no response from Dharmsala on my question about how the Dalai Lama feels about the current Chinese-chosen Panchen Lama. Just crickets chirping.  To me, answering that question should have been a no-brainer.

But let the record show that the official voice of the Dalai Lama, when queried, has so far remained silent on this subject.

Friday, March 05, 2010

The Religious Right Gets Repugnant in Amaraillo Texas

Think Progress has news of what can only be called a Christian hate group.

An evangelical Christian hate group called “Repent Amarillo” is reportedly terrorizing the town of Amarillo, Texas. Repent fashions itself as a sort of militia and targets a wide range of community members they deem offensive to their theology: gays, liberal Christians, Muslims, environmentalists, breast cancer events that do not highlight abortion, Halloween, “spring break events,” and pornography shops. On its website, Repent has posted a “Warfare Map” of its enemies in town.

And they don't like Buddhists one bit. If you look at the map in the link, for example, at the green push-pin in the upper right hand corner they've "targeted" Wat Lao Buddharam as a place where they have identified as having "idol worship" and a "false god."

And if you read their "Mission" page clearly they think it's within their "mission" to harass non-Christians, and that includes Buddhists.

I hope people of all religions and non-religions can join together to help expose this group for what it is.

The justaposition of other people's blog entries is illuminating...

The Zennist's post about overcoming the delusion of non-enlightenment is interesting to read in consideration of Leonard Cohen's discussion about Sasaki Roshi: Cohen was deeply appreciative of the fact that Sasaki Roshi deeply cared or "didn't care" about him.

I think that what was the situation was the externals were not that important to Sasaki Roshi.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Regarding the Panchen Lama

CNN reports on the rise in prominence of the Chinese-chosen 11th Panchen Lama, Gyancain Norbu:

Born Gyancain Norbu, he was handpicked by the Chinese government as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama and has largely lived in seclusion in Beijing, tutored by Tibetan and Chinese mentors.

He now is being positioned as the representative of Tibetan Buddhism.

Last month, he was elected vice president of the Buddhist Association of China and at its recent conference, he said he "would uphold the leadership of the Communist Party of China, adhere to socialism, safeguard national reunification, strengthen ethnic unity and expand Buddhist exchanges on the basis of adherence to law and love for the nation and Buddhism," the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Comments like those further fueled questions of his legitimacy among Tibetans. The Dalai Lama's Web site says the Chinese-named Panchen Lama is "spurned" by most Tibetans.

The Dalai Lama, sent into exile in India after an aborted rebellion against Chinese rule, says he would like to see greater autonomy for the Tibetan people. But Beijing considers him a separatist.

In 1995, the Dalai Lama anointed another boy of the same age as Norbu, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, as the latest reincarnation of the Panchen Lama. But he disappeared shortly afterwards.

Suspicions that the boy had been kidnapped were heightened in May 1996 when the Chinese leadership admitted to holding him and his family in "protective custody." Pro-Tibet groups labeled him as the world's youngest political prisoner.

China Tibet Online says:

Living Buddhas of Tibetan Buddhism attending the 3rd Session of the 11th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political and Consultative Conference said the 11th Panchen Lama's new membership in the National Committee of CPPCC was a great honor not only for himself but also for the whole Tibetan Buddhism circle.

The 11th Panchen Lama Bainqen Erdini Qoigyijabu was among 13 people who on Feb. 28, 2010 became new members of the National Committee of CPPCC, the country's top advisory body.

Dupkang Tupden Kedup, head of the Tibet Branch of the Buddhist Association of China as well as a member of CPPCC, said the 11th Panchen Lama was well educated in religious knowledge and "had demeanour of a senior living Buddha".

"He asked me many questions. Through his words, I can see a very knowledgable living Buddha both in religious and social aspects," Shinza Tenzin Choeta, who once contacted with the 11th Panchen in 2005, believed that he would become an outstanding religious leader in the future.

"He can speak Chinese and Tibetan languages and is also very good at English." The 11th Panchen Lama impressed people with his fluent English at the Second World Buddhist Forum held on Mar. 28, 2008, in Wuxi, east China's Jiangsu Province.

It would not surprise me if the Chinese-chosen 11th Panchen Lama is indeed very knowledgeable of the Dharma as well as an able practitioner. There are many serious Buddhist clergy in China; and this fact tends to be overlooked in the West where issues of the past regarding China and Tibet often veer into racism.

I have written to the office of the Dalai Lama asking him if, as a Buddhist, he would say he still thinks most Tibetans "spurn" the Chinese-chosen 11th Panchen Lama. Of course how he knew most Tibetans think, or how he thinks he could speak for them reminds me of Republican politicians claiming they know what "Americans" think. I'll publish any reply.

I'll also try to contact the Chinese-chosen 11th Panchen Lama.

A Marine You Never Heard of Gives Swimming Lessons

For what purpose are you using the internet?

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Barbara O'Brien is correct re: Brian Daizen Victoria and Zen at War

Though I wish Brit Hume wasn't anywhere to be read...

In Zen at War, Daizen, an ordained Soto Zen priest, documented that in the Japanese Buddhist establishment of the 1930s and 1940s there was strong support, especially in Zen, for Japanese warmaking. He traced the old connections between Zen and Samurai warrior culture in feudal Japan. Daizen also provided quotes from 19th and 20th century Zen monks and teachers that seem to say Zen approves of the slaughter of war.

For example, a prominent and revered master, Sawaki Kodo (1880-1965), is portrayed as an enthusiastic war proponent. Master Sakaki, who served as a soldier in the Russian-Japanese War of 1904-1995, is quoted as saying he and his fellow soldiers "gorged ourselves on killing people." Please note, however, that some scholars are stepping forward to say Sawaki Kodo was misquoted, and I'll come back to this in a minute.

When Zen at War was first published in 1997, American Zen teachers openly acknowledged it, talked about it, and encouraged students to read it. This was true even of teachers who were lineage holders of some of the Japanese masters portrayed as pro-war. I didn't see anyone try to excuse or sugar-coat Daizen's portrayal of Japanese Zen.

Nobody ever tried to deny this stuff in my experience. Now I've read the criticisms by Warner and Cohen, and I think they've got a point, too especially given my reading of the Japanese text in question, but the reality is, this stuff is bound up in the militarist cultural history of Japan, rightly or wrongly.

Eventually though, what we do is influenced by those who came before, and intimately permeated by it, but it is we who still sign on the dotted line.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Lankavatara Sutra Chapter 2, Section LII

As usual, I'm using the translation here, and as usual, I'm not one who has been given a decoder ring.

The five skandhas are form, sensation, thought, conformation, and consciousness. Form has a material form; the other skandhas do not. Form is made from the "four" elements; the other skandhas are not ultimately logically able to be characterized. Furthermore,

by the wise the five Skandhas are regarded as thought-constructions, devoid of [dualisties such as] otherness and not-otherness; for they are like varieties of forms and objects in a vision, like images and persons in a dream. As they have no better substance for their support, and as they obstruct the passage of noble wisdom, there is what is known as the Skandha-discrimination.

I'll have two more posts from this chapter; one on sections LIII & LIV and one on LVI.