Monday, May 31, 2010

Even PZ Myers falls from trees...

I've much appreciation for the dark, sacrilegious with of PZ Myers.  Admittedly, he does from time to time live up to his critics worst invectives, but I understand from whence his own invective emerges; it's kind of the sickness and medicine he and religion trade with each other.  But, as they say in Japan, even monkeys fall from trees now and then.

His latest fall is in an otherwise biting article against a quack practitioner of Chinese medicine. Now I've been a consumer of Chinese medicine now and again; some of it works, especially the wintergreen oil preparations they use (containing saclicylates - aspirin like compounds).  In Myers article, though, he gets a bit too dismissive:

... I'm left marveling: there are no acupuncture points anywhere, it's all a load of hokum, so where do they get off rejecting so unambiguously an assertion from another quack? I see claims that sticking a needle in an ankle will fix a problem in an elbow, for instance, so using their own unsubstantiated illogic, maybe dithering about in the vagina is just the thing to fix a case of dandruff.

Acupuncture eases pain in the limbs because it releases a natural molecule called adenosine, neuroscientists in the United States reported on Sunday.

The mechanism was discovered through experiments in lab mice, which were given an injection of an inflammation-inducing chemical in their right paw.
The researchers inserted fine needles below the midline of the mice's knee, at a well-known acupuncture location called the Zusanli point.

They rotated the needle gently every five minutes for 30 minutes, mimicking a standard acupuncture treatment.
During and just after this operation, levels of adenosine in the tissues surrounding the needle surged 24-fold. The mouse's discomfort -- measurable by the rodents' response time to touch and heat -- was reduced by two-thirds, they found...

Previous work has focused on acupuncture's effectiveness on the central nervous system -- the trunk of nerves in the spinal cord and brain -- rather than the peripheral nervous system.

In the central nervous system, acupuncture creates signals that cause the brain to produce powerful anti-pain chemicals called endorphins.

I'm  inclined to give this credence; its authors are with the University of Rochester Medical Center. They do real science there and are funded to do so.  It is true that like chiropractic (which is useful for very minor back and neck problems, but not much else, in my understanding), acupuncture is often touted as a panacea, but it does have its place in medicine it seems.

Lankavatara Sutra Chapter 3, Section LXX

I'm using the usual translation....and as usual, I'm not authorized to say a word by a teacher;  my words and comments  are my responsibility alone.

The Buddha explains:

"All things are unborn" is not to be maintained by the Bodhisattva-Mahasattva as valid. Why? Of this thesis it is to be stated that anything of which something is asserted partakes thereby of the nature of being, and that the reason for this thesis is characterised with the quality of birth; while it is being asserted by the Bodhisattva-Mahasattva that all things are unborn, the very assertion destroys his thesis. The thesis that all things are unborn acts against the one who holds it because it is born of the principle of mutuality.

"All things are unborn" is still a form of dualistic thinking.  Furthermore, the sentence "all things are unborn" is self-referential, leading to a paradox.  The Buddha continues:

As with [the thesis that] all things are unborn, so with [the thesis that] all things are empty and have no self-nature—neither is to be maintained by the Bodhisattva-Mahasattva. But, Mahamati, this is to be pointed out by the Bodhisattva-Mahasattva, that things in their self-nature are like Maya, like a dream; for they are in one way perceived [as existing] and in another way are not perceived [as such], and all things are thus seen in [two] ways, in accordance either with knowledge or ignorance. Let it be pointed out that all things are like Maya and a dream, except when the feeling of fear is aroused in the minds of the ignorant. Mahamati, the ignorant and the simple-minded are addicted to the views of being and non-being, and are liable to tremble [at our teaching]; Mahamati, let them not be frightened away from the Mahayana. 

It's hard to give up attachments of whatever form, and our inability to fully grasp this and act within this leads to disturbance.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

I'm going to take up the Shurangama Sutra after the Lankavatara

Thanks to Jordan, I've become aware of this sutra, and I've told him in the comments that I'd get to it next.  And since that's something I said to a Marine on Memorial Day weekend, I consider that an obligation.

Wikipedia tells me that it's very Zen-related, so I'm psyched to do that..  I  plan to use this translation, as it's on-line and folks can readily access it.  Yes, it also means I don't have to do much typing input of text, too.

But I am very psyched to do this; I think that this activity has greatly deepened my practice and I can understand why the old Zen guys were not only sitting on their buts, but also out working, and reading these texts.

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Evidently on some second price  auction bids, an ad wins which asserts that Ken Wilber calls me.

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Please click these ads - Google's close to a payout, and I will donate 1/2 to my temple or a nice Buddhist charity...remember, every penny that Ken Wilber spends on his ads here (or the fundamentalist Christian churches for that matter) goes to a Buddhist, and his choice of charity or his temple!


Memorial Day

Saturday, May 29, 2010

And a bit of back...and forth to come?...with 12 Step Buddhists

Darren Littlejohn illustrates the problem with mixing and matching Buddhist ideas (not necessarily the practices) with other ideologies, in this case, 12 Step ideology...

From a Buddhist perspective, emotions are considered poison and need to be restrained or transcended fully to achieve enlightenment. Ask any monk or nun about their vows and they'll tell you - getting carried away emotionally is a no-no. In 12-Step practice, emotions are based on instincts gone wild and need to be leveled off to maintain sobriety (clean-time). 

 My comments:

  1. From a Mahayana Buddhist perspective, emotions are an aspect of the 5 aggregates, a manifestation of Mind, and fundamentally empty.   They are not poisons, and "getting carried away emotionally" isn't the problem with the emotion it's a problem with the being stuck in dukkha doing the emoting.  In Buddhism, and in Zen, we try to act in accordance and in harmony, and this harmony means recognizing responsibility.
  2. Denial and suppression of emotions is a sure-fire recipe for some bad karma; this has been part of the human story since at least the ancient Greeks, the ancient Chinese, the ancient Indians, and even the Buddhists. Feelings that are harmful - "evil, unskillful, thoughts" exist, have existed and will continue to exist; they are no different from an itchy nose in their form and substance and yield to similar techniques.
  3. Simply abstaining from intoxicants won't do jack for you, in the Buddhist view.  Also in the Buddhist view, it affords you no bragging rights.  There's a whole lot more to it, and, well, it just ain't captured in the holy doctrines of Bill Wilson. 

P.S. Do click on my advertisers... especially the weird ones....

I might as well accrue revenue from all the Evangelical Churches that are trying to save me, not to mention the purveyors of woo. (I almost wish this guy advertised on my blog.)

Now if I knew how to remove and filter more of this stuff I would, and do intend to try to filter things better in the future.  But right now, if they're willing to give money to have me talk about Buddhism, who am I to turn them away?

I will give at least 1/2 to my temple or the Tzu Chi folks, by the way.

A bit of back and forth with "New Atheists"

I do regularly visit P.Z. Myers' blog, as anyone who reads my blog regularly knows.  My thinking largely parallels Petteri's thinking on this.  Regarding the New Atheists, and with great thanks to Petteri for thinking about this in the first place, I  part company on with New Atheists on the following:

a)Whether Buddhism is a religion : I say it is.

b) Whether religion is a net negative: I do admit there's an awful lot of evidence against the big monotheistic ones, but for the same reasons I say Buddhism is a religion - it's a set of skills one hones and said skill honing - I'd have to vote in favor of a net positive

c) Whether people are fundamentally rational: I think it's quack science to suggest this; I don't think the neuroscience supports this.  Furthermore, anyone who's pondered their place in existence either has to accept the extreme singularity (and hence the apparent absurdity) of their predicament, or they choose to invent a religious narrative that wishes this away.  I'd include "people are fundamentally rational" in the latter category; though, and Buddhism in the former category. 

d) Whether religion is nothing more or less than a set of (flawed) propositions and behaviors accepted on faith: I would say this is to some extent true in Buddhism at first, but the honing of skills takes a bit of the scientific method as applied to one's self.

Petteri adds this one bit here, by the way:

The world ends at Wittgenstein 7. If something can't be defined or verified, it's as good as non-existent and therefore not worth talking about.

Now I do have to point out that Wittgenstein didn't actually say what Petteri says, but I think he is accurately characterizing much New Atheist thought.  Wittgenstein's "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent" is as much an admission of the existence of the mystical as it is for the phenomenological.  I, myself, lean toward the phenomenological (sort of in this sense).  Whether or not, though there is something beyond in the realm of where one cannot speak, if we cannot speak of it for all intents and purposes, one can neither assert nor deny; the nonexistence of god is ultimately as relevant as its existence.  We Zen Buddhists go one step further (in both Rinzai and Soto traditions); we know there are some things whereof one cannot speak, and they do not necessarily fit into categories of "natural" and "metaphysical."   And furthermore, we seek to observe, express, and embody these things and natural things and all logical combinations thereof in a non-dualistic manner. 

Naturalists, it would seem to me, literally don't play much tennis or swimming, 'cause you can't do those activities and not be doing some kind of non-dualism.  And yeah, yeah, yeah, you don't need a "religion" to do those activities well.  But then again what we're talking about here is various deconstructions of the term "religion," and Southern Baptists have one preferred meaning, New Atheists have another, and this Buddhist ex-Catholic has sort of jury rigged his own, and freely admits your mileage may vary.

Anyway, that was a long but overdue digression.  Yesterday P.Z. Myers finally got around to a blog entry that went over that saccharine op-ed from the Dalai Lama.  I'd mentioned this article here. So anyway, I commented on Myers' blog:

I was wondering when you'd get to the Dalai Lama. Regular readers to my blog know that although I'm a Buddhist, I tend to be very critical of the Dalai Lama.
It tends to get me in trouble with certain other Buddhist bloggers.
I have differences with you folk in that you'd call my religion as I do it a philosophy, whereas I call it a religion because it has elements of the cultivation of skills (which most religions admittedly lack, but which pretty much all philosophies definitely lack).
But the Dalai Lama is problematic, as well as the holder of some quite large conflicts of interest.

Somebody replied, and I noted that it is the skill of using breath and mindfulness (and I could have  added actions, behavior, etc.) that makes Buddhism the religion that it is. Eventually that person wrote:

My objection is more along the lines that your use of the word "religion" strains against the common usage of the term in the English language and (at first blush) smacks of sophistry. It renders the term even more meaningless than it already is, and muddies up the water instead of making it clearer.
Note that the fact that it helps you to be mindful and breathe doesn't make it a religion. The cultivation of skills is, by your own admission, not a necessary condition of religion, and so it cannot possibly make the difference between Buddhism being a philosophy and a religion. That's the other element of my objection (and why I made the comment about logical consistency).
None of this should be read as a criticism of Buddhism in general or your particular flavor; the latter especially seems pretty reasonable to me.

I do think there is much common ground with everyone, and although we might quibble on what's a religion and what's not a religion, we should be able to live with each other, whether fundamentalist or New Atheist.   I think it's amazing how little interaction there is with  Western Buddhists in the blogosphere and other religions in general, or atheists, given the fact that we're a minority, and our practice is in the midst of these other belief/non-belief systems.

Friday, May 28, 2010

On Yesterday's Buddha's Birthday, etc.

I was reading this article, and although I'm a Buddhist, in the tradition to which I belong, we observe this around April 8, perhaps for reasons due to the traditional significance of "4" and "8" in Chinese languages.

It was a good thing those ancestors went down this path.  It would be very difficult to invent Buddhism from scratch, and every time somebody tries to improve on it (either by religious or explicitly antireligious methods), in my view, these methods fall short.

Because of a confluence of the busy things that permeate this lay householder's life, I have to have much of my practice "just getting from Point A to Point B."

But I'm very grateful for the ancestors who didn't have the householder's life per se to do these things, as well as those more immediate ancestors who sought to combine the monastic and householders' lives.

It was a most excellent concept, and I am deeply grateful for that.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Today's thoughts....

It's been a weird, cool spring in the Pacific Northwest; although it's famously rainy and cloudy here, in spring, by this time, we should have gotten a few more sunny days, and a couple of days in the 80s. Instead, it's been cool to cold and rainy most of the time.

The result of this seems to be, in my case, the mother of all sinusitis complaints, brought on, no doubt, by a bumper crop of pollen.

Ah, sinusitis practice.

In addition, it is the umpteenth time my son was given an "arts and crafts" like assignment for his class; its subject matter, the Amoy tiger, is cool, but we, in our household have no arts and crafts capability...even my attempts at 書道 are those of a rank amateur, though that is the expression of myself and my environment, and so that's the point. And this diorama crap... I'm in my 50s...I did not have to do this in my severe and abusive Catholic school...I guess they never thought of the boring to death kind of abuse...and it occurs to me that the only way to make this interesting is to make a 3rd grader's diorama the equivalent of Piss Christ...that is, something transgressive, something that breaks the rules, something that actually is interesting...'cause I don't know anyone that actually likes to do this kind of thing without some ulterior purpose behind it.  This kind of stuff is the art equivalent of "Lies My Teacher Told Me."

And that somehow brings me back to the post below...Wiley Coyote is an archetype of elaborate folly, usually scored by the genius Carl Stalling. He is an archetype of extreme and elaborate attachment to the point of folly. In the case of South Korea, it's understood they're doing what they have to do to keep the murderous regime to the North at bay.

The Kim family of the North will not be looked at kindly by history, no matter what.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

It's horrible that the Koreas might go to war...

And I truly hope disaster there is averted, especially since I've loved going to South Korea.  But, do you think, like BP's attempts to stop the oil spill disaster, that the attempts by the 2 Koreas to have a "propaganda war" have a certain  Roadrunner cartoon sensibility to them?

In the 1950s, North Korea began construction of the modern town of Kijongdong, in the demilitarised zone. Its modern concrete apartment buildings, complete with electricity, were designed to showcase the best of North Korean collective living to anyone looking over the border. It also sports the largest flagpole in the world - at some 160m (525 ft).
But observers believe the village has never been fully inhabited and that the buildings are empty shells, with lights turned on and off to give the illusion of a busy community.
South Korea also has one small village in the DMZ - Taesungdong, which has its own large flagpole. Its population is heavily protected by the military. 

Unfortunately, this is real life.

Lankavatara Sutra Chapter 3, Section LXIX

As you might have guessed, I'm using this translation, and of course nobody authorized me to say anything.  Take my words at your own risk. 

The Buddha says, "The self-nature of things is the discrimination of the ignorant and simple-minded, and it is not as it- is discriminated by them. [I]t is the creation of false imagination; nothing indicative of self-nature is to be ascertained. But, Mahamati, there is the self-nature of things such as is ascertained by the wise, by their wise knowledge, by their wise insight, by their wise transcendental vision.   Mahamati asks, among other questions, "Blessed One, what is derived from the imagination cannot be the self-nature of reality. How is it that while things are said to exist owing to the imagination [or discrimination], they are said again not to be such as are imagined?"

How can if discrimination is faulty and arising from false imagination lead to accurateness, from a the perspective of the Lankavatara sutra?

 Finally, we have in this passage:

Now, Blessed One, is it that in order to have all beings free from the notion of being [which is realism] and of non-being [which is nihilism], you in turn make them cherish a realistic view of existence by telling them to uphold the idea of the self-nature of reality, whereby they are led to cling to the realm of noble wisdom? Why do you deny the truth of solitude by teaching the doctrine of reality whose self-nature is [according to you] noble wisdom?
Said the Blessed One: Mahamati, it is not true that I deny truth of solitude, nor that I fall into a realistic view by upholding the noble doctrine of self-existing reality. But in order to save all beings from becoming frightened, who are addicted from beginningless past to the notion of self-nature, it is told them that there is truth of solitude, after making them realise by means of noble wisdom that reality in its self-nature is made the subject of attachment [by the ignorant]. Mahamati, the doctrine of self-nature is not taught by me. But, Mahamati, those who have realised by themselves truth of solitude as it really is and are abiding in it, will see that [this existence of] error has no form; and thereby knowing that what is seen is nothing but the Mind itself,  they are kept away from [dualistically] viewing an external world under the aspect of being and non-being; they are stamped well with the stamp of suchness which is gained by the triple emancipation; they will have an intuition into the self-nature of all things by the wisdom which is acquired within themselves, and thus get away from such ideas of reality as to lead themselves to realism and nihilism.
 It's good to have a bit of non-dualism in the morning.  As I've written in the past much of this sutra is quite repetitive in its themes, but you have to marvel at the myriad ways in which the notion of non-duality is continually expressed here.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

And, speaking of the Dalai Lama, I suppose it would be impertinent of me to point out

That in writing this:

And I’ve learned how the Talmud and the Bible repeat the theme of compassion, as in the passage in Leviticus that admonishes, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 

he's also tacitly endorsing, with his silence some really really nasty stuff.  It's because there's all that love stuff in these texts that they can convince people to do the stoning, killing and other nasty bits in the bible.

But I suppose I'm being naive.

I'm all for religious tolerance and live and let live; don't get me wrong.  But there are differences in religions, and they have different moral and ethical imperatives and objectives.  If we can't be frank about the differences, then are we being sincere when we say we're tolerant? I don't think so.

And in today's lesson in realpolitik...

Speaking of the Dalai Lama geopolitics and China, it's easy to find stories on the 'net explaining how China playing the recent crisis over the navy ship being sunk by North Korea to its advantage.

What you may not have thought of, though, is this is all very good for Samsung, Hyundai, and the other chaebol who are export-driven.


Odds are: the world won't go into another Korean war, and it's a good time to profit handsomely in Korean stocks.

Sorry to put such reptilian thoughts on a Buddhist blog, but this is the way the world seems to work sometimes.

Some American Buddhists don't like my views on the Dalai Lama...

Sort of predictably, Barbara at the Buddhism blog didn't really like my comments on the Dalai Lama. (And I guess I've been banned from expanding my comments there.)  I'm not surprised, because I've encountered this situation from a number of American Buddhists, both in the blogosphere and out of the blogosphere.  Odd that so few of these folks ever have a talk with Chinese folks living in this country, it seems.   But, for me, "Let's talk about everything."  Barbara at the Buddhism blog says:

Chinese people think the Dalai Lama is a trouble maker because that’s what they’ve been told all their lives. That’s not a sign of intelligence but of misinformation. And if things are so hunky-dory with Tibetan Buddhism in China, how come a majority of the monks of Lhasa were detained for “re-education” in the summer of 2009? How come several monasteries have been raided by authorities, and monks arrested, in the past several months?

The fact remains that the government of China is absolutely insane where the Dalai Lama is concerned. For example, they’re behind the oppression of Thich Nhat Hanh followers in Vietnam, for the simple reason that Thich Nhat Hanh told an Italian interviewer that he thought His Holiness ought to be allowed to return to Tibet. And where is the Panchen Lama, btw? You said the Panchen Lama was discussed “frankly.” Were they so frank they could produce the young man to show he and his family weren’t executed years ago?

 Here's several responses to this:

1. RE: the Panchen Lama, no reputable news services has ever reported that the Dalai-Lama chosen one was "executed."

2. They're "behind" the oppression of Thich Nhat Hanh's followers in Vietnam sounds absurd on its face, simply because the Chinese and Vietnamese are historically mortal enemies and the trappings of a Communist government has done exactly nothing to change that historic relationship. If Thich Nhat Hanh said this alone it is more likely that the government of Vietnam would have sent him a birthday cake.

3. The Chinese government does not condone organizing to call into question the premise and legitimacy of its government, but this is simply how all Chinese governments have historically operated.  It is also, fundamentally, how the United States operates in regards to groups such as the FALN, the Black Liberation Army and other groups.

4. The United States still seeks the extradition of revolutionaries/criminals such as Assata Shakur. Leonard Peltier, a more tenuous case, remains in prison after decades.  What the Dalai Lama represents to the Chinese government is more serious than these people, and calling it, as Barbara does,  "old, old, old news, very widely known, hardly secret" is an attempt to minimize what in any other context (like putting the US in the position of China) would be obviously what the Chinese would do.

5. I was having dinner the other night with a Chinese colleague, who pointed out that the Chinese would never give up Tibet because of its strategic importance as a supply line from the west, as it was in World War II.  This, besides the abundant mineral wealth of Tibet is never discussed either by the Dalai Lama nor his supporters.  I'm amazed that folks like Barbara can bandy about terms like "misinformed" and "ignorant" when they are either guilty of those terms or deliberately downplaying the geopolitics here.  But I've seen that before.  Anyone looking at a map and with a rudimentary understanding in geography and geology and current events gets the geopolitics; it stares one in the face.  It's funny that people can be enchanted away from what ought to be plain as the nose on their face.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Buddhism and War

In yesterday's Independent, there was an excellent article on how China and Sri Lanka's Buddhist culture combined to help brutally defeat the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).  It's well worth reading the whole thing, but this part in particular is of interest to those thinking about Buddhism and politics.

We in the West by and large have a pretty foggy understanding of Buddhism, but one thing we know for certain is that Buddhists are for peace. So the idea that the war party in Sri Lanka – not just in the past five years but throughout the years of independence – was identifiable with Buddhist monks does not sound right. It's like finding Trappist monks engaged in a talk-athon or Orthodox Jews running a pork pie factory.
Buddhists don't do war. Look at the Dalai Lama: for 50 years he has strained every fibre to prevent Tibetan resistance to Chinese oppression turning violent. He has a great line on this challenge: "In the practice of tolerance, one's enemy is the best teacher."

Up close, Sinhalese Buddhism looks as harmless and pacific as any other variety. Visit any temple in the country during Poya or full moon day, a monthly national religious holiday on the island, and you will find scenes of perfect serenity as families dressed all in white offer food to the monks in their saffron robes, then picnic under the trees or stroll around the whitewashed stupa.

By contrast, listen to the words of the Venerable Athuraliye Rathana in 2002: "There are two central concepts of Buddhism," the monk said, "compassion and wisdom. If compassion was a necessary and sufficient condition, then the Buddha would not have elaborated on wisdom or prajna. Hitler could not have been overcome by maitriya [compassion] alone. Today there is a discourse about peace in Sri Lanka. It is an extremely artificial exercise and one that is clearly being orchestrated under threat of terrorist attack."...

How did Sri Lankan Buddhism veer off so sharply from the other schools? Buddhism was born in northern India in the 6th century BC, and spread throughout the subcontinent and beyond. But eight or nine hundred years later it began to lose ground to new schools of devotional Hinduism, which steadily supplanted it. Eventually it disappeared from the Indian mainland altogether.
Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka watched this process with alarm, and hatched a way to stop it at the coast: they wrote a new book of scripture, the Mahavamsa, to establish indissoluble links between the historical Buddha and their island. The Mahavamsa claimed that the Buddha had visited Sri Lanka three times and had declared it "dhammadipa", "the island of righteousness" – a sort of Buddhist Promised Land, where the Sinhalese should rule and Buddhism should be unchallenged. The Mahavamsa, although not accepted by scholars as a core teaching, helped to ensure that the island remained Buddhism's last remaining outpost in the subcontinent. But there was a price to pay: a vein of intolerant chauvinism, inimical to the religion elsewhere, became part of its permanent baggage.

After independence in 1948, Sri Lanka's Buddhists established themselves as a fierce, intimidating nationalist presence. Although the fourth prime minister, Solomon Bandaranaike, had done the Buddhists' bidding in making Sinhala the official language, he temporised over Buddhists taking over schools run by Christians. So in September 1959, a monk called Talduwe Somarama pulled a revolver out of his robes and shot him dead. 

 This bit here is not surprising; any practice can be misused, and the big problem of course is that this brand of Buddhism seems to have promoted views of separateness and superiority with respect to other paths.  It might be tempting to say they're "not real Buddhists," but that too would be a form of duality.  Simply put, though, one must be cautious about wanting to separate one's practice or views from the world in which one lives.  Clearly chauvinism was not the most expeditious response to the advance of devotional Hinduism.  There's a lesson here for Western (and Eastern) Buddhists.  As the article points out, there's also lessons for those who think they can install any leader they want an call it a democracy.  But for Buddhists the lesson should be cautiousness of a more specific yet generalized kind.  It is true that compassion and wisdom are necessary, and there are times when unfortunately, violence seems to be horrible "least worst" alternative.  But it's better not to get to that point in the first place.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Is *this* what Buddhism is about?

Vincent Horn quotes Roger Walsh as saying...

So, we are at this enormously pivotal time in human history where we desperately need what Buddhism and other contemplative practices have to offer us. And we are called as individuals and as a spiritual community to develop the skillful means that makes optimal use of contemporary technology and information to respond as well as we can both individually and collectively to these crises.

I can agree with that. 

But must Buddhism be culturally relevant? Must Buddhism be "cutting edge?" Must Buddhism "adapt to the West?"

No, not at all. It neither excludes nor includes the trendy and the mass produced.  In a world where Buddhas can be had for money at Wal-Mart,  where one can practice non-attachment at Burger King, why should anyone think one should be "special" for practicing Buddhism.

None of this is what I think, what you think, what Roger Walsh thinks, or anyone else.  And the opposite is true, as well.

I am not a Buddhist because of the Dalai Lama, nor because of Steve Jobs (I didn't know he was a Buddhist).  I am not a Buddhist because it's trendy, but rather because I can help myself and others with this path.   In a certain sense I think it's important to extrapolate something Thomas Merton wrote somewhere; my extrapolation is: I think it's useful to be somewhat irrelevant, because that indicates a certain degree of non-attachment. 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Quantum Physics and the Dalai Lama? Or, Science and Buddhism: the Real Deal

I thought of this post last night as I was reading this entry on the Tricycle blog about the Dalai Lama, who was either misrepresenting what some physicists were telling him (I would assume unintentionally) or some physicists were being rather patronizing to him.   To wit:

Another very interesting part of today’s teaching was the discussion of Buddhism’s relationship to quantum physics.  His Holiness spoke of his conversations with highly intelligent western quantum physicists in which the striking similarities between Buddhist teachings and this fascinating field of science were touched on. Just like Nagarjuna describes in his text, these quantum physicists attest that when their work takes them very far into observation of matter and existence, they eventually get to a point where they can no longer prove anything exists at all! Obviously, the fact Buddhists are able to cite an ancient Buddhist text that says essentially the exact same thing as this cutting edge field of western scientific inquiry is quite impressive to the physicists.
Still, the Dalai Lama pointed one very important difference between Buddhism and quantum physics.  With science, one only looks at the external world and therefore what is gained is a massive amount knowledge. With Dharma practice, one applies the same investigative methods to the internal world of personal experience and what is gained is more than just knowledge; one gains a deeper type of understanding altogether. It is the type of understanding that helps one achieve happiness and act with true compassion. It is the type of understanding that gives one the ability to liberate oneself and others from suffering.

 Now, if you have a good background in probability, differential equations, statistics, stochastic processes, and signal processing, the elements of quantum physics, uh....aren't all that hard to understand.  Unfortunately, I realize that my training isn't your training, but all I'm basically saying is that it's a good thing in itself to have enough mathematical background to do this kind of work, which is roughly at the sophomore or first semester junior levels of engineering, physics or math majors.  While I can prove the Central Limit Theorem 5 ways till Sunday, you actually don't need the ridiculously specialized studies I've done to get a grasp of what quantum theory is.  It just sounds difficult.

That's what made me cringe about the above writing.  Quantum physicists aren't out to prove that anything or nothing exists. That's a job for metaphysicists, not physicists.  So I'm intrigued by how the above got that way.  While it's true that Nagarjuna teaches dependent origination, and quantum physics concerns the coupling or dependency of states of matter with its environment, they rightly belong to different spheres.  Science, like engineering, is actually based on a phenomenological outlook rather than from "grand view" of philosophy.  We observe, make tentative guesses or assumptions, and then create tests to observe if those guesses conform to further observation.

While to some extent this is a Buddhist practice as well, there are some serious differences between that arrived at through the Scientific Method and the speculations of Nagarjuna.  I lean towards acceptance of Nagarjuna's work because it conforms to observation, but Nagarjuna's work is blissfully unaware and stands wholly apart from an attempt to subject itself to observation, and the idea that Nagarjuna's work could be verified or not based on observation, would no doubt have been anathema to Nagarjuna, who would no doubt declare that science itself has no essence, that the scientific method is empty, and so forth.  In this way, actually Nagarjuna is actually much closer to the Deconstructionists such as Derrida than the quantum physicists, as anyone who spends an hour in the bathroom reading the linked book will tell you (assuming, that they've spent weeks or months going over Nagarjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā.

Finally that last link - between the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā and the work of Derrida - brings to mind this famous work by Alan D. Sokal, published in Social Text. Sokal, wanted to highlight the "emptiness" of literary theory based on postmodernism, and managed to get his hoax "postmodern physics" paper published by the aforementioned journal.   It seems to me that it would be very easy to execute a Quantum Tibetan Buddhist Physics hoax, especially since there have been such works already published by those who didn't get the science of physics. So that leads me to the following questions: Were the quantum physicists pulling the Dalai Lama's leg?  Was the Dalai Lama hearing what he wanted to hear?  Were the physicists too enchanted with the avuncular Dalai Lama to want to sugar-coat what they were doing in their explanations to him? Because as a guy who understands the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (position and momentum are Fourier Transform pairs) I have no better explanations.

Finally, Barbara's Buddhism blog today has a post on a recent article in the Guardian, about someone complaining about psychological research being supported by or in collaboration with by the Dalai Lama.

At a time when the relationship between science and spirit seems characterised by mutual suspicion, common ground for enquiry is all the more refreshing. Like at last Sunday's opening of the University of Wisconsin's centre for investigating healthy minds, where the Dalai Lama shared a platform with the new centre's director, Professor Richard Davidson.
The department is a hub of expertise in what is being called "contemplative neuroscience", and a natural extension of Davidson's ongoing quest to discover how various forms of meditation impact the brain. Among his discoveries so far: learning mindfulness skills is associated with greater, sustained activation in parts of the brain linked to happiness and resilience, practising loving-kindness contemplation increases production of gamma waves and affects areas related to empathy, and concentration meditation increases activity in regions linked to control of attention and decision-making. He has also found that the effects of these practices tend to be more marked in people who have been doing them for many years, suggesting that we can train our minds towards wellbeing in the same way as physical exercise can help us develop a healthier body.
Davidson's association with the Dalai Lama stretches back to 1992, when, having heard of his research, the Tibetan leader encouraged him to make a scientific study of traditional Buddhist practices.

As I noted in a comment on Barbara's blog, the science will either be good science or it will not be, so whether the Dalai Lama supports it or collaborates with it to me is a non-issue.  He may not like the results that emerge, but that's his problem.   To me, though the issue though is the misunderstanding of science by non-scientists.  It behooves all to try to better learn this area, simply because scientists are saying important things about the world in which we live, and the best of science is done without selfish reasons or psychological motives, and stands on its own.  And Buddhists can learn from science that lack of selfishness as well.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Odd ads Google is giving me...

In addition to the ads in the corner above, I've had ads for the "Southlake Foursquare church," and "Church! at bethany.

Hey if you want to click on 'em go ahead; I have no problem accepting money from fundamentalist churches.  I plan to donate 1/2 my revenues to a good Buddhist charity or my temple.  Not that I've had any revenues yet, but that's my plan.

“The first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer.”

So evidently we can, in principle, make living beings using computers instead of the old fashioned way.

The genome pioneer J. Craig Venter has taken another step in his quest to create synthetic life, by synthesizing an entire bacterial genome and using it to take over a cell. 

Dr. Venter calls the result a “synthetic cell” and is presenting the research as a landmark achievement that will open the way to creating useful microbes from scratch to make products like vaccines and biofuels. At a press conference Thursday, Dr. Venter described the converted cell as “the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer.”
“This is a philosophical advance as much as a technical advance,” he said, suggesting that the “synthetic cell” raised new questions about the nature of life
Other scientists agree that he has achieved a technical feat in synthesizing the largest piece of DNA so far — a million units in length — and in making it accurate enough to substitute for the cell’s own DNA.
But some regard this approach as unpromising because it will take years to design new organisms, and meanwhile progress toward making biofuels is already being achieved with conventional genetic engineering approaches in which existing organisms are modified a few genes at a time.
Dr. Venter’s aim is to achieve total control over a bacterium’s genome, first by synthesizing its DNA in a laboratory and then by designing a new genome stripped of many natural functions and equipped with new genes that govern production of useful chemicals. 

 Naturally this calls into question what divides life and non-life, which, for Buddhists of the Mahayana variety, isn't so bad because of our non-dualism.  But this is reason number N, that I'm glad I'm not a monotheist.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Yeah, I can't help think "My religion's better than yours"

And so there's so little merit in this post perhaps you should just skip it, unless perhaps, you're an evangelical who inadvertently happened to get to this blog by some quirky twist of fate.   Regardless, P.Z. Myers today brings to my attention a survey of conservative Evangelical pastors whose results are nothing less than shocking.  From the original link...

  • Of the one thousand fifty (1,050 or 100%) pastors we surveyed, every one of them had a close associate or seminary buddy who had left the ministry because of burnout, conflict in their church, or from a moral failure.
  • Nine hundred forty-eight (948 or 90%) of pastors stated they are frequently fatigued, and worn out on a weekly and even daily basis (did not say burned out).
  • Nine hundred thirty-five, (935 or 89%) of the pastors we surveyed also considered leaving the ministry at one time. Five hundred ninety, (590 or 57%) said they would leave if they had a better place to go—including secular work.
  • Eighty- one percent (81%) of the pastors said there was no regular discipleship program or effective effort of mentoring their people or teaching them to deepen their Christian formation at their church (remember these are the Reformed and Evangelical—not the mainline pastors!). (This is Key)
  • Eight hundred eight (808 or 77%) of the pastors we surveyed felt they did not have a good marriage!
  • Seven hundred ninety (790 or 75%) of the pastors we surveyed felt they were unqualified and/or poorly trained by their seminaries to lead and manage the church or to counsel others. This left them disheartened in their ability to pastor.
  • Seven hundred fifty-six (756 or 72%) of the pastors we surveyed stated that they only studied the Bible when they were preparing for sermons or lessons. This left only 38% who read the Bible for devotions and personal study.
  • Eight hundred two (802 or 71%) of pastors stated they were burned out, and they battle depression beyond fatigue on a weekly and even a daily basis.
  • Three hundred ninety-nine (399 or 38%) of pastors said they were divorced or currently in a divorce process.
  • Three hundred fifteen (315 or 30%) said they had either been in an ongoing affair or a one-time sexual encounter with a parishioner.
  • Two hundred seventy (270 or 26%) of pastors said they regularly had personal devotions and felt they were adequately fed spirituality. (This is Key).
  • Two hundred forty-one (241 or 23%) of the pastors we surveyed said they felt happy and content on a regular basis with who they are in Christ, in their church, and in their home!
  • Of the pastors surveyed, they stated that a mean (average) of only 25% of their church’s membership attended a Bible Study or small group at least twice a month. The range was 11% to a max of 40%, a median (the center figure of the table) of 18% and a mode (most frequent number) of 20%. This means over 75% of the people who are at a “good” evangelical church do not go to a Bible Study or small group (that is not just a book or curriculum study, but where the Bible is opened and read, as well as studied), (This is Key). (I suspect these numbers are actually lower in most evangelical and Reformed churches because the pastors that come to conferences tend to be more interested in the teaching and care of their flock than those who usually do not attend.)
Here is research that we distilled from Barna, Focus on the Family, and Fuller Seminary, all of which backed up our findings, and additional information from reviewing others’ research:
  • Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
  • Fifty percent of pastors' marriages will end in divorce.
  • Eighty percent of pastors feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastor.
  • Fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • Eighty percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.
  • Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression.
  • Almost forty percent polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.
  • Seventy percent said the only time they spend studying the Word is when they are preparing their sermons (This is Key). 

Now, to be honest, I really did not think, "My religion's better than yours" per se; I did think, "Geez, I would love to do a study on Buddhist teachers and practitioners; I bet  we generally would score better."

And I think that would be true.  I would think the "Read the bible as a magic formula to banish the blues" almost certainly does nothing once its placebo effect wears off, whereas we do have some tools in our arsenal that have been clinically tested.  But to be honest, I also feel for these people, who are caught in a hell of a cognitive dissonance.

Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman and Genpo Merzel and Ken Wilber and...

I think it's a good idea that one should follow Buddhism despite the celebrity endorsements.  Still I'd rather have Jeff Bridges on the Zen side, I suppose, than Richard Gere.

I find it interesting to me that a lot of the Zen folk today identify with the Jeff Bridges from "The Big Lebowski," when there's a host of better Bridges films, including, but not limited to "Arlington Road," "Blown Away," "The Morning After," and one of my personal favorites, "The Fisher King."  It's also odd to me that some people find the Lebowski character to be "Zen," when I find it to be "stoner."

That said, I think Bridges is a great actor, and it puzzles me that he got to know and befriend Glassman; I guess that's what having the energy and time to set up charities can do. (As a colleague reminds me, though, are such things really charities if there is a business benefit one accrues from them? Ah, that's a subject for political philosophy.)  And my parenthesized words notwithstanding, I think charities are necessary in the world in which we live and I applaud Glassman for the work he does (see the video hyperlinked in the first paragraph).  I don't think by implication that because you can trivially find photos of Glassman with Ken Wilber (and probably with Genpo Merzel that Bridges is putting his imprimatur (to the extent that he has one?) on Wilber, Merzel, et al.  But then again, one should follow a path regardless of those who declare themselves to be fellow-travelers, despite the avowed fellow-travelers' skill, sincerity, or success in execution.  I have found some of Glassman's work (particularly "Instructions to the Cook") to be of particular use, although I would say you could get most of what Glassman writes about in that book from reading Dogen himself. I do not find that "Big Mind" schtick to be useful from a Buddhist perspective, though I do know that others think so. 

Please consider Buddhism as not being because or about celebrity Buddhists. 

Dalai Lama's Point Man: Fitting to be in the Fashion & Style Sections

Even I have heard that the Dalai Lama is coming to town, er, New York City.  The NY Times on line (and presumably its paper incarnation too), has a story on one Nicholas Vreeland, grandson of Diana Vreeland, some fashion glitterati woman of the 70s and 80s.  Besides being a scion of glitterati, Vreeland  is also a Tibetan Buddhist monk.

Well, good for him, as one of my son's classmates is wont to say, albeit with a note of sarcasm.

No, seriously, good for him.  I would say being a Buddhist monk of the Tibetan variety is far more useful for society than fashion, except when it comes to procreation, and in that department I will cede the argument to fashion (unless it's a Dharma burger?).   But its clear that from the observation point of the NY Times reporter, fashion and "Buddhism" share much in common  at least in its Dalai Lama as pop star variety.

No detail is too frivolous. Mr. Vreeland stopped in at ABC Carpet and Home recently to choose an armchair for the Dalai Lama to sit in on the stage of Radio City; he likes to sit cross-legged. “I went through the whole collection of sofas and chairs to choose the appropriate chair for His Holiness,” Mr. Vreeland said, adding that the chair will be on loan.
At Radio City Music Hall, the Dalai Lama will speak for the first three days about two Buddhist texts that teach the concept of emptiness and the way to enlightenment. For this, he will sit on his Tibetan throne. On the fourth day, he will hold a public talk about how to lead a life of happiness. (That’s when the chair will be put to use.)
The crowd undoubtedly will veer from robe-sporting Buddhists to Fendi-carrying, Louboutin-wearing devotees, the two groups holding two things in common: a passion for Buddhism and their trim waistlines.

Perhaps what the NY Times reporter takes to be the money Buddhist quote from Vreeland is this:

“People who cause you difficulties, you should think of them as very, very valuable teachers because they provide us with the opportunity to develop patience.”

Now I would say this is incomplete, from a Zen perspective: "People who cause you difficulties" is quite a bit dualistic, and "they provide us with the opportunity to develop patience" sounds like you're hoping to get something for your "suffering."  

I would say you "get" the "opportunity" to be in that place, but the minute you think "get" and "opportunity" you're in a different place entirely.  Maybe Vreeland would agree and say I'm saying the medium, and the medium is the message, and he's just using skillful means. I dunno. I do know if somebody gave me, when I'm getting seriously hassled that I'm getting the "opportunity to develop patience," I'd say that person was availing himself of an opportunity to engage in a form of spiritual materialism (and perhaps I'm doing the same thing with this post).   Rather than pose the whole affair as a cost-benefit relationship, at least with this practitioner at any rate, I think it's more helpful to promote the skill of dealing with such circumstances.

That said, I hope Mr. Vreeland  has a good time with the Dalai Lama and I hope he likes his chair.  And I hope someone holds the DL to actually practice compassion in dealing with people who are non-Tibetan Chinese.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Lankavatara Sutra Chapter 3, Section LXVIII

As usual, I'm using this translation, and of course nobody authorized me to say anything.  Take my words at your own risk.

This section is about, "the characteristics of our deep attachment to existence and of our detachment from it" so as to "behave ourselves with effortlessness like the moon, the sun, the jewel, and the elements" to enter the "stage and abode of Buddhahood" so as to free all beings "from the dualistic notion of being and non-being," birth and destruction, to "establish ourselves where there is a revulsion at the deepest recesses [of our consciousness], which is more than words [can express]."

The Buddha replies that there are numerous attachments

to signs of individuality, to causation, to the notion of being and non-being, to the discrimination of birth and no-birth, to the discrimination of cessation and no-cessation, to the discrimination of vehicle and no-vehicle, of Samskrita and Asamskrita, of the characteristics of the stages and no-stages, and the attachment to discrimination itself, and to that arising from enlightenment, the attachment to the discrimination of being and non-being on which the philosophers are so dependent, and the attachment to the triple vehicle and the one vehicle, which are discriminated.

 And there are those (of us? including us?) that seek to wrap others as well as themselves in attachments like silkworms wrapping a thread which charms them.

Further, Mahamati, there are three attachments deep-seated in the minds of the ignorant and simple-minded. They are greed, anger, and folly; and thus there is desire which is procreative and is accompanied by joy and greed; closely attached to this there takes place a succession of births in the [five] paths. Thus there are the five paths of existence for all beings who are found closely attached [to greed, anger, and folly]. When one is cut off from this attachment,  no signs will be seen indicative of attachment or of non-attachment....

Further, Mahamati, depending upon and attaching to the triple combination which works in unison, there is the continuation of the Vijnanas incessantly functioning; and because of the attachment there is a continued and deep-felt assertion of existence. When the triple combination which causes the functioning of the Vijnanas no more takes place, there is the triple emancipation, and when this is kept in view, there is no rising of any combination. So it is said:
The imagining of things not existent—this is characteristic of attachment [deeply seated in all beings]; when the truth of this is thoroughly understood, the net of attachment is cleared away.

 The "five paths" referred to here may mean existences among the realms of the gods, the Asuras, mankind, the animals, hungry ghosts, and Yama's abode, which can be taken to mean all possible realms of existence, as this layman reads it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Handling the "heretics"

The Zennist caught Sam Harris outBarbara O'Brien seems to have fumbled the meaning of Buddha-nature. Compare and contrast this bit from the Lankavatara Sutra I recently blogged on with what she says in her post to which I've linked.

You can also read the references of the Wikipedia article on Buddha nature.

But, so what?

Ultimately, what matters is whether or not folks are helping people or hurting people. If you cannot help them, if you can not bring them on to a vehicle that goes to a good place, who is the heretic? Who is sincere?

I mean, how are you going to live with people?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Where do you buy zazen supplies and what do you buy?

About once per year I buy incense and candles.  I used to pick up the former in Japan given the opportunity, and the candles I would purchase at the Portland Saturday Market.  However, that grew unreliable with time,  and now I buy them from here.  The folks at Beeswax Candle Works make a wonderful product.

Nowadays, regarding incense, I purchase pretty much exclusively from  As my practice is a Zen practice, they pretty much have the right stuff. Now I must admit in terms of incense, my purchase choices do betray some of the worse stereotypes about American Buddhist practitioners.  Then again, I'm sure the lion's share of the market for these incenses exists in Japan, so although I use "not cheap" incense, I don't use way out of line stratospherically expensive incense.  I use:
  • Baiedo Byakudan (Sandalwood) Kobunboku The website "Olfactory Rescue Service" (yes, an incense review blog; I thought I mentioned them once) says of this incense in one of its "Best of the month" series, " Easily one of the best deals in Sandalwood on the market. Nice spice and camphor top notes with a really high quality wood which holds down the finish. If you are looking for Sandalwood be sure to check this one out, it’s a big favorite around here. A slightly dryer alternative might be Shunkodo’s Sarasoju or for the wetter side the Fu-In Sandalwood." And I agree with them regarding the latter.
  •  Minorien Fu-In Sandalwood is a wonderful pure beautiful sandalwood scent. It does have a "wet" scent though.  One whiff of this stuff will transport you to a temple you've never known, somewhere in Thailand or Burma...In addition...
  • Minorien Fu-In Aloeswood and Fu-In Kyara. These are pretty much as their reviews on the Olfactory Rescue Service state.
  • Minorien Kyara Ryugen, for extra special occasions.  It is as they say here, a nice pointer to how really beautiful Kyara scents are, without being absurdly expensive.  You can spend a lot more money on incense than this admittedly expensive product.  I don't use this stuff often.
  • Nippon Kodo Mainichi Koh.  It's reviewed here. Monasteries in the US often use this brand; it is the least assuming of incenses. I am going to be purchasing this brand because I do find the Baiedo, which I'd been using, to be pretty strong in the space of my zendo.

So that's it.  I do wonder if anyone else who reads this buys similar products, and what they buy.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Who comes along on your vehicle?

A vehicle gets you places.  Can you bring people resenting you along?  The Lankavatara Sutra states, "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 (yathabhuta)."

Where do you take others? How do you take them?

 Faisal Shahzad had a vehicle, as we know, but he had another vehicle whereby he was taking people on the journey of his life.  He, like myself, like the Christians, had a religiously informed vehicle.  Could we have kept him from his vehicle?  Many of us, of course, spoke against the Bush regime, and we cannot hold anyone but Shahzad accountable for Shahzad's actions.  
Do we have a Faisal Shahzad in our life to whom we can reach out? As I read the story in the NY Times to which I've linked, I can't help but get the feeling that this was one non-self aware guy, who was not getting peace from his religious practice, from others, from himself.  He was not actively seeking to make peace, and it seems, at least from the Greek chorus of acquaintances and others in the article, that no one was actively seeking to help him be at peace. 

Naturally Mr. Shahzad's case is but a microcosm of a huge bomb of hatred and violence constructed by certain people - Muslims and non-Muslims.  How to disarm?  Well, there's people in your immediate circle of acquaintances. Are they on your vehicle?  Are you bringing them along with you to a good place?

Am I making sense?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Although it's not about people dying it IS about academic freedom...

P.Z. Myers has a must read post today, on what might happen when researchers talk about published peer-reviewed research on bat fellatio, and its possible relation to human behavior.

There's a petition to sign.  It's about academic freedom.

Enlightenment? And, I can have sympathy for the Dalai Lama

In looking at the variety of responses to Barbara O'Brien's question, "What would you ask the Dalai Lama?" I'm struck by the basic, uh, lack of familiarity with Buddhism of some of the responses.

That may or may not be due to the fact that like Deepak Chopra, the Dalai Lama does make for image media...

Anyway...some of the more interesting responses to Barbara's question asking for questions to ask the Dalai Lama...

Why some people reincarnate as homosexuals or transexuals?

Is he a Buddha?

What in his words is enlightenment ?

What the practices we should do if we want to meet and learn more from Dalai Lama in every single life?

It's clear to me that there's people out there that pretty darn near deify this man. There's others that think he's a good man (nothing wrong with that, my remarks about the two-hand clap of himself and the Chinese notwithstanding), but would benefit from more understanding of Buddhism.

That's OK.

I hope though that all those folks who may be hoping, consciously or not, to get a grasp of enlightenment from the Dalai Lama, or who might be a Buddha, or whether or not they're reincarnated, can at least live where they are, finding themselves where they are.  That's the main thing, to paraphrase Dogen, that Soto  and non-Rinzai guy.

I also feel for the Dalai Lama. I think he has to deal with many people confused about the whole situation about their existence here, and they're asking him to give them "the" answer. So he's in kind of a predicament; and it's not an easy one for him. He's got the political situation to deal with, a subset of the Tibetan population (maybe a large one) that is very opposed to the current political system in Tibet, and he's got the Tibetan Buddhist mandate as Avolokitesvara to maintain. They expect him to be the living, talking, joking, avuncular, happy Buddha and a "good" political leader. It's difficult. Especially the latter part, although he needs to improve on this very much, to say the least. But the followers do remind me of this (obligatory Monty Python reference):

Friday, May 14, 2010

The experience versus the hype...

Kyle, congrats on the marriage again...but...I didn't find your post here confusing at all, but there is the possibility that I've entirely misunderstood it.

It does remind me, regardless of my experiences.  As I reflect on the past week, I realize that a couple of "big questions" got answered in my own mind this week. I also observed a rather ordinary week in which I appreciated my eight year old son - holy crap! - he's eight already. I once cradled him in my arms.

And I think about that.  

One's awareness, one's experience, consciousness is very precious.  Your attention is the most precious thing you can give another person, it is the most genuine gift.  But in order to give it you've got to be in harmony with that person and with yourself. 

Thing is, though, the way to do that right now is to get that there's nothing fundamentally wrong with you or them.  Things are exactly as they should be. There is no "shadow" to dispel.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Lewis Black on Glenn Beck

If you haven't seen this, it's worth a few minutes of your life, if you have any exposure to right-wing US television...
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Barbara of the Buddhist Blog May Get to Ask the Dalai Lama a Question!

Her post explaining this is here. I've got a host of blog posts about Tibet, which ought to raise enough questions.

My question to her would hinge on this post however:

The man born as Gyancain Norbu was chosen by the Chinese government years ago as an emanation of Amitabha, the so-called Panchen Lama.  Given that there are serious practicing Buddhist clergy in China - any visitor can meet them - and given that the man born as Gyancain Norbu has dedicated his life - literally, as much as you have - to reconciling Tibetan Buddhism with political realities - does HH expect other observers to believe that the Chinese government is trying to "deliberately annihilate Buddhism" as he was recently quoted as saying?  And how can you show compassion for Gyancain Norbu?

I never quite did get an answer to the first question when I e-mailed it in at the Dalai Lama website.

Update:  Looking at the questions posed at Barbara's blog, I'm amazed a bit at the woo-ism that passes for Dalai Lama worship.   It amazes me that the leader of a movement that is nondualist in nature is good at amassing a following of people seeing these things as dualistic.  I understand it though: the Dalai Lama must be, as well as a Buddhist leader a political leader, and for that he cultivates a certain persona. It's just personas aren't people.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ways of Seeing the Buddha...

In the book (and presumably TV series) "Ways of Seeing," John Berger presented a very cogent way to view art.  He made the rather obvious (in retrospect) point that much of the classical art we see had a larger purpose behind it.  That purpose was intentionally propagated by those who funded the work.  This is clearly true from all works we see around us, from the Jesuit Churches (to my knowledge, generally built according to a plan) to the pyramids, to portraits of nudes, to Gaugin's work, and so forth.  This trend extends all they way into modern advertising.  Yes, there is a similar ethos in play in the famous Snicker's commercial (and its parody in Family Guy) and the Sistine Chapel.

This also holds with images of the Buddha and the Bodhisattvas.  These images were crafted to convey various aspects of the Buddha, and these aspects are present in the images.  Often these images and statues were commissioned by the elite classes, but I would hardly generalize them all as propaganda falsities, just as I would not characterize the Jesuit churches or St. Peter's that way either.  They are the works of true believers.  With that in mind, I'd like to present some images of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Buddhist teachers and historical figures.

What do you see?  How do the visages of the modern pictures compare with those of the ancients? I will submit that the one of Ven. Warner is more candid than the others, and I've left out quite a few others that are "popular," but this collection says something rather direct to me. (HT: ~c4chaos for the link to Adyashanti.)