Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Message to Dennis Genpo Merzel

"It's" is a contraction for "it is."  "Its" is the possessive form of "it."

Please fix your website.

Update (Dec. 10):
They fixed it.  Cool. 

Science illiteracy, philosophical illiteracy, allows for shouters, woo-merchants

I think the problem, ultimately, with Richard Dawkins and P.Z. Myers is that their position inherently trivializes much of what we do know about philosophy, linguistics, and even physics, and that is why when they posit a metaphysics of "nothing beyond what we observe," I have to take issue because "what we observe" will always be in question - there's that "we" part and that "observe" part in there, and cogent arguments can be made by us Buddhists that "we" is a construct of our minds.  And New Atheists often (Sam Harris being an exception) present a limited menu of choices.

That's of course the extent of my quibbles with Dawkins and Myers (I leave Hitchens out because despite what seem like standard boilerplate atheist arguments, his arguments for the Iraq war were highly disingenuous.

But enough of that, except to say that a lack of understanding of certain areas tends to bring distortion to one's views, and we should always be checking for our lack of understanding, regardless of from where in our awareness we think it arises.

Another purpose of this post, and example of to what I'm referring, is in the way of a reply to a comment - a really odd comment - by Barbara O' Brien to me on her blog.

First, a bit of background: Way back when I was a freshman in at Polytech (Bernie Glassman's alma mater, or one of them, at any rate, so don't hold it against me) I asked Professor Wainfan how electrical charge is inhered in matter.  Now there was active research in theoretical physics at the time (and still is) but even at the sub-atomic particle level, charge is still inhered.  It is accepted as axiomatic as a property of whatever matter is in question.   I had, in fact, asked a metaphysical question - a question beyond the bounds of measurability and observability.   That is why my professor responded, “I’m not a philosopher, I’m just a plumber.”

I could say inherent from the presumption of Barbara's answer, 

There’s bench science, which is like cooking, and then there’s theoretical or analytical science, which is nothing like cooking. Your physics professor was speaking for bench scientists, but we’re talking about the other kind.

is a lack of understanding of what scientists and physicists actually do.   Now let me open up this discussion with one caveat: Everything scientists and physicists do that is science is because the theory and analysis they perform is subject to observation and experimentation.   We are pretty damn well sure we know there are exoplanets because of the myriad of other experiments done that verify Einstein's laws of Relativity, and other aspects of modern physics. Now, it is true that regarding certain aspects of String Theory are said not to be able to be verified experimentally. Too, we engineers take a far more practical take on this sort of thing: if you have to build a particle accelerator 1/2 the length of the universe to verify a theory, then for all intents and purposes, the theory is unverifiable (until some practical method of experimental verification arises.)

But Barbara wasn't talking about this; the subject in question was quantum physics, for which there is a plethora of experimental results consistent with observed phenomena.  The "hard" part of quantum physics for the lay person to understand is the fact that many of its phenomena are probablistic in nature.  Strictly speaking quantum mechanics is not my specialty (though I passed the course with flying colors back in the day), but I do know quite a thing or two about Probability Theory, which is a bedrock discipline of quantum mechanics, as well as Communication Theory.  

And a lot of people (especially creationists and woo merchants) like to exploit the ignorance of the themselves and/or the public of Probability Theory for their own purposes.  But the core of Probability Theory - a bounded form of Measure Theory - is actually quite compact, self-contained, and, unlike what the public might think about "randomness" is (here's that word again!) inherently predictable.  And that's why it's useful

Probability Theory deals with 3 objects, and functions defined therefrom:

Ω, an abstract space, also known as a "sample space"

S: a σ - algebra defined on Ω (i.e., a collection of subsets of  such that meaningful, consistent probabilities may be calculated), and

P a probability measure defined on S.

Probabilities may then be calculated based on functions which map  Ω into some other useful space, such as the real line, the complex plane, or Euclidean n-dimensional space, or charge, etc.  The "nature" of Ω may never be known; its "fundamental nature" is irrelevant to the subsequent calculations.  We just take it as axiomatic that there is a space Ω, and that there is an S from which meaningful probabilities may be calculated. The introduction of  Ω and S only serves to provide a consistent, logical framework from which to develop probability theory rigorously; it's an artifice, in much the same way an alphabet is an artifice for writing down spoken words.

Probability theory is defined this way because there is no other coherent way to talk about stochastic phenomena, and when "random" phenomena are expressed this way, meaningful predictions and regressions and inferences may be calculated.

In other words, the whole point of Probability Theory is to extract order from the seemingly disordered, and for what we can talk about (including quantum theory) it works.  That is, we can construct meaningful analysis that are amenable to experimental observation and verification.  

So, to me, the whole premise of the question on her blog post,  based on a religion article in the Ottawa Citizen entitled "Do you think quantum physics lends itself to religious belief?" is related to the Argument from Ignorance: in effect the question is asking, "Who can say whether or not quantum physics is true?" Well, dammit, if you have doubts, or are sincerely interested, educate yourself.  And note that whenever scientists or engineers say something is "true" we are talking about phenomena only.  We don't do metaphysics in our day jobs.

If you are not interested enough to attempt to educate yourself (and there's some excellent primers on the subject in the layman's scientific literature, I'm sure) then it is insincere to attempt to equate what is science with what is unverifiable religious positions. 

As my father, a very conservative Catholic, said about his engineering profession: we do science, not faith.  Now I do science mindfully, and practice as I do science, engineering, and management.  But if it's not science, engineering, and management I'm doing then I'm just not engaging in right livelihood.

One other thing: when we scientists and engineers do analysis, we are envisioning possible ways in which things could be, function, or exist based on an abstract view of question in possible in the same way in which a musician might compose a fugue, or a poet might compose a poem according to a certain form.  For example, if I want to design a set of reference signals to aid in the demodulation of a received communication signal, I would envision the set as being a subset of an larger space of signals, and then determine the subset of interest based on properties desired for those signals; from that I would then verify experimentally (via simulation, which tracks "lab bench" results ridiculously accurately these days) to show  that the properties of the reference signals are indeed met. 

There is no gross separation between "lab bench" and analysis; they're one and the same more or less these days, except for the "vision" part.  And that's just training, just as it's just training to write a fugue or think of how sauteed mushrooms might taste when cooked in garlic and olive oil.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Lankavatara Sutra, Chapter 6, Section LXXXIV

As usual, I'm using the translation here.  And I'm still not any kind of teacher.

This bit is a nice distillation of what we mean by "discrimination":

Further, Mahāmati, of the five Dharmas—name, appearance, discrimination, right knowledge, and suchness— appearance is that which is seen as having such characteristics as form, shape, distinctive features, images, colours, etc. —this is "appearance." Out of this appearance ideas are formed such as a jar, etc., by which one can say, this is such and such, and no other; this is "name." When names are thus pronounced, appearances are determined1 and there is "discrimination," saying this is mind and this is what belongs to it. That these names and appearances are after all unobtainable because when intellection is put away the aspect of mutuality [in which all things are determined] ceases to be perceived and imagined—this is called the "suchness" of things. And this suchness may be characterised as truth, reality, exact knowledge, limit, source, self-substance, the unattainable. This has been realised by myself and the Tathagatas, truthfully pointed out, recognised, made public, and widely shown. When, in agreement with this, [the truth] is rightly understood as neither negative nor affirmative, discrimination ceases to rise, and there is a state conformable to self-realisation by means of noble wisdom, which is not the course of controversy pertaining to the philosophers, Śrāvakas, and Pratyekabuddhas; this is "right knowledge."

1 Samadharmeti vā that follows here is probably to be dropped on the strength of the Chinese versions.

Thus the object, the recipe,  and the suchness, it is all still unattainable.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Here's a nice intro for the layman on these kinds of things.  One of the interesting things (for me at any rate) is that the "Liar Paradox" can be realized in circuitry;  it is a metastable digital circuit realized with two flip-flops, plus power and whatever ancillary hardware is needed.

Good for the Hindu American Foundation!

I see that the Hindu American Foundation is leading a campaign called "Take Back Yoga."

The campaign, labeled “Take Back Yoga,” does not ask yoga devotees to become Hindu, or instructors to teach more about Hinduism. The small but increasingly influential group behind it, the Hindu American Foundation, suggests only that people become more aware of yoga’s debt to the faith’s ancient traditions.
That suggestion, modest though it may seem, has drawn a flurry of strong reactions from figures far apart on the religious spectrum. Dr. Deepak Chopra, the New Age writer, has dismissed the campaign as a jumble of faulty history and Hindu nationalism. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has said he agrees that yoga is Hindu — and cited that as evidence that the practice imperiled the souls of Christians who engage in it. 
 Well, if Deepak Chopra is against it (and his excuses seem ridiculous based on the HAF's website) and Albert Mohler's discouraging Christians from engaging in it, I think the HAF is probably onto something here.  While like any group like this (including those Buddhists who look for science to "prove" Buddhism) there's the share of HAF claims that seem a bit over the top.  For example, I have read that Hinduism also owes debts to Jainism and Buddhism; Hinduism also evolved as reactions to these religions as well. 

But when it comes to the commoditization of practices, that, for want of a better term the word "spiritual" may be used (much as I loathe the term), I think a religious identification can't really hurt.

Quantum physics questions?

I think Barbara's basically starting in the right direction here, though I cringe at the inclusion of Ken Wilbur of course. I can't seem to get the comment in on her blog. (I'm sure it'll appear once this is posted!)

"Do you think quantum physics lends itself to religious belief?"

What an odd question. I can't even parse it really.

Similarly with the response that quoted Ken Wilbur.

Quantum physics, like any other scientific theory, is a predictive description of reality. The degree of accuracy or veracity of the theory is the degree to which the theory consistently predicts experimental results - observed results.

It's a recipe.

So quantum physics no more or less "lends itself" to religious belief in any way any more than any of Francis Lam's recipes.

There's no "first person" or "third person" gobbledygook involved in that any more than a recipe for caramelized onions with sauteed mushrooms.

I might put more on my blog about this later.

However, given my comment, you can see that I might take issue with the following:

There is no reason why science and dharma should interfere with or contradict each other, and in spots they do seem to touch each other in a harmonious way. But I also think that to fully engage in one requires letting go of the other.

 If you think of science like cooking (which the latter kind of is, anyway!) then the idea that to fully engage in the business of science is to "let go" of the Dharma is absurd - ask any Tenzo you happen to meet.

But otherwise, she's kind of in the right direction.

But - general rule of thumb - when a non-scientist or non-engineer uses the word "quantum" keep your woo detectors out.  The idea of asking this question to religious business people and not scientists is less relevant, to me, than asking the identical question to scientists, engineers, and those who fund their projects.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Hitchens v. Blair: A Buddhist Perspective

I am not,  as regular readers might know, an apologist for all religion in general.  I do think there are moral differences between religions, and that some claims of some religions are not defensible morally, ethically, logically, or in any other way.

With that in mind, I was intrigued to read of a debate between Christopher Hitchens and Tony Blair in Toronto.

Hitchens,  dying of esophageal cancer,  wrote "God is Not Great:  How Religion Poisons Everything," and Blair  was George W. Bush's lapdog, and a convert to the Roman Catholic Church.   I have not been able to find a transcript of it, but I wish to discuss  the issue of religion as a force for good or evil as brought up in a pre-debate interview with Christopher Hitchens,  and a roughly corresponding part with a pre-debate interview with Tony Blair


Well, should I start [discussing religion and evil by considering the subtitle of his book, especially] ‘poisons everything?’ Perhaps I should. Ok, I’ll ask for trouble if I put on a provocative subtitle, but I mean by it, not of course it poisons Chinese food or tantric sex or Niagara falls or something but it does attack us in our deepest integrity. It says we wouldn’t know right from wrong if it wasn’t for divine permission. It immediately makes us, essentially, slaves. And it has to be opposed for that reason. And such a radical frontal attack on human dignity, it seems to me, that it does leach into everything. And it has the effect of making good people say and do wicked things. For example, a morally normal person when presented with a new baby would not set about its genitals with a sharp stone or a knife. He would have to think God needed that. No, it wouldn’t occur to him otherwise. It make intelligent people say stupid things, commits them to saying stupid things such as they are objects of a divine design. As well as being stupid, very conceited by the way. They claim believers to be so modest. That’s what I mean by the poison. And because of that, I do tend to think it applies in general. My younger daughter goes to a Quaker school in Washington, the same one as the president’s children. ... There was a time when the Quakers ran the most sadistic prisons in North America and were fond of excommunicating people for the smallest things such as supporting the American Revolution, for example. If they’d been more powerful, they might have been worse. ... any surrender of reason in favour of faith contains the same danger it seems to me. Fluctuates over time. Before, I’ve been asked in the 1930s what I thought was the most dangerous religion I almost certainly would have said Roman Catholicism because of its then pretty much undisguised alliance with the Fascist parties in Europe, for which it has not yet succeeded in apologizing enough, in my opinion. But has, least admitted it was true. It was very dangerous then. I now think obviously, or rather self-evidently, Wahabbi fundamentalist Islam and its equivalents in messianic Shiism , the Shia equivalent of that Sunni theory, practice, are as dangerous especially because they could get a hold of weapons, or a weapon of mass destruction. So we would find out, with a little speculation, we used to have after lights out when we were young, what would really happen if a really wicked person got a hold of a nuclear bomb and now we’re going to find out. When the messianic meets the apocalyptic, watch out. 

 And Blair:

I believe [religion can  provide a common value and an ethical foundation]. I mean, first of all, I think the place of faith in the era of globalization is the single biggest issue of the 21st century. I mean, it’s not an issue like climate change is an issue, for example, or the global economy in its present crisis. But in terms of how people live together, how we minimize the prospects of conflict and maximize the prospects of peace, the place of religion in our society today is essential. And basically what is happening, is that in the process of globalization people are being pushed closer together, so are people of different faiths. Canada is a classic example, it’s a melting pot of people of different faiths, and races and nationalities and we’re all pushed together. The question in those circumstances: does religion become a force for bad, pulling people apart because religion is seen as a badge of identity and opposition to others. Or is religion essentially seen as being about certain values that guide your life and what is common to all the major religions is a belief in love of neighbour as yourself and actually in human solidarity and human compassion. So in that sense, I think religion could be, in an era of globalization, a civilizing force.

As a Buddhist, as a Buddhist who considers Buddhism a religion, I feel closer in spirit to Hitchens than to Blair; but on the other hand,  different religious beliefs or lack thereof should not pull people apart. Religious identities are identities if you make the religion the identity and the religion posits itself as distinct from other religions and lack thereof.

Buddhism does make assertions of separateness, at least in the Mahayana variety,  but does this within and by its very denial of logic of separation and inclusion.   In the way then, the Mahayana Buddhism separates itself from other religions, it gleefully makes the assertion of non-separateness, that there is no real "-ism" that separates you from me. 

Thus we Mahayana Buddhists have a "why" we can all get along, as well as a "how" we can all get along.    The problem with Hitchens is the same problem as the problem of Blair: if Hitchens is right, (and I think his point about some religions' attack on reason is from the moral high ground, and one I think Buddhists should support)  then what should be done?   Shouldn't we support the dis-indoctrination of people away from religion? Well, but uh, Buddhism's a religion.  It just doesn't attack reason though.   At least those flavors that don't have people pledging loyalty to a guru and crap like that.   But that quibble aside, I haven't answered the question, really. 

Hitchens says that  common values and an ethical foundation cannot be provided by religion, period:

Religion can’t provide that. Moral values come from innate human solidarity. They’re the values we need, have needed to survive as a species. Knowing we have responsibilities to other people, for example, knowing that certain types of behaviour are worse than antisocial. Religion, to an extent believes that, but it doesn’t always. It takes it from us. No, it couldn't provide it. All it could do is lay claim to it, a claim that I would deny. And because it’s not in the nature of faith to be really universal -- it’s quite extraordinary the number of claims that are made by people of faith to be the holders of the only faith, It’s not enough for them to say they believe in God, or get values from it, they have to say God revealed to us. And the wars of religion alone would be enough to negate this claim. .... also to show what we already know, that religion is manmade. So it’s one of our artefacts, along with, fortunately with, genuine humanistic morality. And I think it’s essential to choose between the two.

I think we need to find a way to dissuade people away from an irrational position based on unreasoned arguments from authority, but we need to do so in harmony with where people are found, and skillfully.   And that skill, I submit, is only found in the cultivation of a discipline that involves dealing with people harmoniously.   And I am afraid that it's absolute bull that "moral values come from innate human solidarity."  Moral values are nascent in people, and can be made to grow and be expressed and realized with skill and training.   But "moral values come from innate human solidarity" is just a slogan.  I guess that which Hitchens would admit is "human solidarity" would include or denote  that which makes humans characteristically human.  And that "that" would therefore have to include not only wisdom, generosity, compassion and mercy, but greed, hatred, ignorance and bloodthirstiness.   While most babies are born, evidently with the capability to develop empathy, yet a small percentage seem to develop into psychopaths, based on what we know about the brain today.   Hopefully that percentage may decline in the future, but as of today, it seems a small number of children do develop into psychopaths.  The rest of us surely can feel empathy and compassion, but we do indeed suffer and do indeed indulge in acts that aren't from anyone's better angels or better Void.  So I think training is necessary in the same way that refinement of ore is necessary in order to get a pure metal.  Both Hitchens  and Blair would say, each for different reasons,  "it's all gold."   But it's not.

I'm sure therefore, from this position all kinds of folks could call me a religion hater or a religious bigot or an ignorant so-and-so.   But I never see my position represented in these debates anyway.

Friday, November 26, 2010

One other thing re: Thanksgiving

My son coined a new word - you heard it here first (I hope) - "Angstgiving."

We also, after skiing, noted that if we'd had a "traditional" Thanksgiving it would have involved starving half to death, robbing the graves of relatives of our hosts, and, after being fed by our hosts, killing and enslaving them and stealing their land.

We opted for a more modern affair.

But then again isn't Zen Buddhism the whole enchilada, as it were?

Brad Warner has a post which in one part decries (rightfully) the "commoditization" of Zen Buddhism.

He's right, but too much of that sentiment might come across as Louis Winthorp's skepticism that Billy Ray Valentine didn't go to Harvard despite the fact that the latter was sporting a Harvard tie. There are many ways to do Buddhism, and if many of them don't take the forms of Zen Buddhism, it may mean more or lesser effects regarding the objectives of Buddhism. Too, if the practice is good for anything, it is good for comporting one's "self" in one's day to day affairs.

Yesterday I took my son skiing. My son learned how to ski despite his truly horrible teacher, namely yours truly. My son's IQ, like mine, is rather high. But when it comes to athletics, we both (it seems) have to apprehend it intellectually before we can commit to teaching the cerebellum how to control the body. Or, at least that is how my son' s horrible teacher tried to teach him skiing. To make a long story short we picked the "wrong" mountain for him to ski his first real run as it featured parts on the "beginner" trail that were more intermediate than beginner. And those parts were linked to the super duper advanced "freestyle" area, so that if my son was unfortunate enough to lose a ski we'd both have to walk down the mountain. My son had to walk down that very difficult for a rank beginner section (about 50 yards). The accumulating worries in my mind were too much for me to ignore, and I admit I lost it once, and profusely apologized to him.

I had to remind myself that this too was practice - it was teaching my son how to ski practice and it required all the things I had been learning in "formal" Zen practice in order to get my son and myself down the mountain. My son was he very embodiment of Daruma, falling down one hundred times and getting up again on the one hundred first time. He became very skilled at accepting falling down and getting up again. Finally, after what seemed like the twentieth time explaining to him in my awful way how I control my skis, he "got it" - skiing satori! He skied effortlessly down the remainder of the mountain boasting he had learned "Daddy's swivel method."

This too was practice.

I know Warner was not referring to instances like what I've recounted. But I did want to note that whatever you call it, the cultivation of disciplines we learn and practice is vitally important for living life where you find it, and your life might depend on such cultivation. I became truly grateful for my son's perseverance yesterday. The boy's nine years old.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Family practice away Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Eve Post

Thanks to an article on the NY Times Op-ed page, it's clear that it's déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Bera would have put it.

Nor is Homer’s depiction of the poor an exercise in Dickensian sentimentalism, as it might easily have become. At the top of his engraving, a thief with stereotypically Irish facial features plunders a hen house for his Thanksgiving feast. A spinster toils at her needlework in a dim garret. A boy scampers home to his widowed mother and invalid sister clutching a loaf of bread, possibly ill-gotten. At the very center of the spread, an old miser pushes heaps of gold into a strongbox.
As national disunion loomed that Thanksgiving, so did hunger and misery for many Americans. Still rickety from the depression of 1857, the stock market had begun to collapse almost immediately after Abraham Lincoln’s election; Wall Street worried that debts owed by Southern planters – many of them mortgaged up to their eyebrows – would become uncollectable. Northern textile mills, fearing a disruption in cotton shipments from the South, began laying off workers by the thousands. “All our manufacturers are looking despondingly towards the coming storm,” a Philadelphian wrote. “An inclement winter is about setting in. What misery and distress it will witness if things continue in their gloomy state.”
Today, Winslow Homer is too often remembered simply as a masterful, reclusive painter of Civil War scenes and New England seascapes. “But even at this early stage in his career, Homer often aligned himself with society’s downtrodden, placing them in the foreground and challenging the viewer to identify with their condition,” the historian Peter H. Wood, author of several penetrating books on Homer’s paintings, told me in an e-mail. “Soon Homer’s moral attention, and that of Harper’s readers, would move beyond the have-nots of the urban North to the enslaved workers of the rebellious South. And yet at the same time he usually managed to remain a detached and neutral observer; even his most controversial scenes are carefully balanced.”

My family and I have much for which to be grateful this year.   We won't be doing the turkey thing, but we will be contacting family and so forth.

Update: The more I think about that image the more I am interested in exploring its implications from a Buddhist perspective.   "More dinner than appetite" doesn't actually, from a Buddhist perspective, portray what is going on in the left half of the illustration.   In fact, there's a heck of a lot of appetite there; it's an appetite for more of everything and then some.   Those with "more appetite than dinner" are those truly in need; of course their healthy appetite is not sated.  But in a (different from each) sense both classes have more appetite than dinner; it's just that one class can't even meet the ability to have dinner that fulfills, while the other has an appetite bigger than the universe.

May we belong to neither class; I'm sure that's Winslow Homer's take on it as well.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

My Review of the Feather Razor and Razor Blades

I don't think it's too far fetched to review razors on a blog medium in which others review books and movies, do you?

Anyway, the razor and blades I ordered arrived.  And the phrase "Holy crap!" is resounding in my head.

If you have never shaved with something like this (or, I guess, a straight razor) you haven't ever shaved. In your life.   Of course I'm sure aficionados of straight razors same the same about me.  But still...

These blades from Feather really do come from a company that makes surgical knives.   Apparently the area's famous for samurai swords too, I've read. 

The experience of shaving with a device like this is simply amazing. You have to apply about 10X more pressure with the standard American multi-blade razors to get anywhere near the shave you get from one of these double edge razor blades from Feather.   It takes a bit more technique than the current crop of Gillettes and Schicks, but the results  are as good or better.  Better: I'm easily able to shave places that I could not before.  As good: Full disclosure: I nicked myself once.  I usually score about that much with conventional  multi-blade razor blades.

It does take a bit longer (right now) than I'm used to,  but I can't believe I gave myself such a close shave, feeling almost nothing. 

Buddhist practice and philosophy, memetics, the jukebox theory of meaning, and impermanence

I'm getting concerned a bit I'm going off on a philosphical/semantic tangent here, but I think there's another bit or two to be said about the whole line of discussion of cultural interactions with Buddhism here, sparked by yet another post by Barbara on her blog.  

She says
It's easy to criticize the cultural accommodations made by Buddhism in Asia over the years, but we in the West also are creatures of our conditioning, and realization requires breaking out of that conditioning.  People who want to make Buddhism over to accommodate the "rational" West have no idea what they are doing.
I think she could have rephrased slightly when  she says, "we in the West" need to "break out of our [Western] conditioning" as a prerequisite for realization.  From the standpoint of non-duality, from a viewpoint of "forget both" it is more a point of being able to live with the fact that the contradictions have been present in the past and to some extent still exist today.   It does not mean ignoring the difference, or denigrating the difference, but staring the difference right in the face, as it were, and seeing it as it is.  But that's really a very minor quibble; I think we're in rare strong agreement here.

These concepts of "Eastern" and "Western" anyway are rather impermanent in and of themselves.  I don't know how deeply memetics parallels genetics, but the latter is being actively studied by communications and information theorists, and as a guy involved in that business, I have more or less an educated but layman's side interest in those topics.  In fact, right now it is somewhat related to the question of to what extent a communication system adaptable from its messages transmitted and received.  Communication systems might seem far afield from genetics, but there are some striking parallels now being explored by information theorists. (It is also of practical value therefore to communications systems researchers.) 

Is the message in the jukebox or in the recording? So asked Douglas R. Hofstadter in Gödel, Escher, Bach.  Is the jukebox itself a message containing all possible messages the jukebox can transmit?  Maybe the jukebox and the message are the wrong paradigms for this sort of thing.  Maybe they're even wrong for playing music one wants to "store" as a copy of some piece.  In terms of genetics the model is clearly poor (and it is almost certainly for memes as well).

Genes are exchanged in a mating system between two pairs of mates, and the particular  genes  taken from each parent seems somewhat random, as best as we can determine today.  By 10 generations there is less than 5X 10-4 of any one 10th generation or earlier ancestor, on the average, in the descendant, assuming a random exchange of genes.  Mutations happen, and that's how evolution proceeds.  The genome - the "message" corrupts the jukebox  and vice-versa (as well as "noise" such as viruses corrupting both the message and the jukebox).

Similarly it might be with ideas.  The old concepts of "Western" and "Eastern" will, given enough time, recede into something that will become something different entirely from what was previously. Thought viruses will latch onto other ideas.  Concepts such as a literal reincarnation will almost certainly die out if there can be no way these ideas pass the giggle test, just as Odin worship has died out.  If anyone's Buddhist practice depends on that, they've got a problem.  But I can't, myself, imagine such a practice.

Ultimately the practice itself should deal with things that are themselves a bit more stable than ideas about how to think about how to cultivate wisdom, generosity and compassion, but rather the cultivation of these things themselves.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

More on Dr. Charles Tart

The more I look at the interview on Buddhist Geeks a while back with Dr. Charles Tart, the more questions I have. Let's start here:

...[T]he prime kind of evidence for [reincarnation] is not the stuff you see in the movies where somebody’s hypnotized and regressed, cause that usually yields an awful lot of fantasy. But, really, it’s the cases which now number in the thousands of little kids, usually somewhere between three and six years old or something like that, who suddenly start talking about a previous life, and who talk about it with enough specificity, they lived in such and such a town. Their name was so and so. They had relatives named so and so and all that, that you’re then able to go to that other place and find someone who died not long before that kid was born and be able to come up with a reasonably good match there. If there were one or two cases like that you’d think “ah, you know, coincidence or they heard somebody talking about somebody who died,” but we’ve got thousands of them where that kind of thing has been ruled out. You know, when you’re a three year old and you suddenly start talking with specificity about somebody in a village 150 miles away who died, there’s no context with your family in that village or something, and it matches, then you’ve got something to look at.
Most of these cases were collected were originally by a psychiatrist named Ian Stevenson, now deceased for several years, who himself never said he proved reincarnation, but he collected a lot of evidence for it. And his successors at the University of Virginia Medical School, now have, let’s see, last time I talked to them they have about 4,000 cases total in their files and about 2,000 of them have been analyzed and digitized enough to go into the computer that they’re beginning to look for patterns in them.
I’ll tell you one of the most interesting patterns that’s been found for instance, and that is that a lot of these kids remember a violent death. And it’s as if the trauma of that violent death somehow knocked out the usual forgetting mechanism for reincarnation. And particularly interesting subset of those kids, they not only remember being killed in a certain way, but they have birthmarks on their body that look like the kind of scars you would expect if they were killed that way. So for instance, some little four year old remembers being killed because somebody shot him in the chest with a shotgun, and he’s got a little round birthmark on the front of his chest, and a much bigger one on his back behind that, which would look like the entrance and exit wounds for a shotgun AT close range. So you apparently get these biological markers once in a while. 

 Now it seems, based on my bits of searching from Dr. Tart's book, that he became interested in a literal reincarnation after reading some book about some past life regression from hypnosis, one Bridey Murphy story in fact.  Unfortunately,

The 'facts' related by Bridey were not fully checked before the publication of Bernstein's book The Search for Bridey Murphy. However, once the book had become a bestseller, almost every detail was thoroughly checked by reporters who were sent to Ireland to track down the background of the elusive woman. It was then that the first doubts about her 'reincarnation' began to appear. Bridey gave her date of birth as December 20, 1798, in Cork, and the year of her death as 1864. There was no record of either event.[1] Neither was there any record of a wooden house, called The Meadows, in which she said she lived, just of a place of that name at the brink of Cork. Indeed, most houses in Ireland were made of brick or stone. She pronounced her husband's name as 'See-an', but Sean is usually pronounced 'Shawn' in Ireland. Brian, which is what Bridey preferred to call her husband, was also the middle name of the man to whom Virginia Tighe was married. But some of the details did tally. For instance, her descriptions of the Antrim coastline were very accurate. So, too, was her account of a journey from Belfast to Cork. She claimed she went to a St. Theresa's Church. There was indeed one where she said there was—but it was not built until 1911. The young Bridey shopped for provisions with a grocer named Farr. It was discovered that such a grocer had existed.

Color me "skeptical," but this is clearly evidence for someone wanting to believe suggested "memories," rather than reincarnation.

It seems, based on the previews of Tart's book on Amazon as well as Google, that Tart's "evidence" for reincarnation is similar kinds of stuff.

Now the fact of the matter, is if Dr. Tart had firm evidence of this or other paranormal activities that could be scientifically demonstrated, he could win  $1 million from the James Randi foundation. But Tart's claims such as they are, are notoriously resistant to being scientifically verified with the scientific method.

Tart also claims in the interview on Buddhist Geeks that humans "can" do various paranormal activities:

These [telepathy, clairvoyance, pre-cognition, psychokinesis, and psychic healing] are the big five. These are the things human beings can do, that we don’t have any feasible explanation of, in terms of our current material understanding of the world, or reasonable extensions of that. And I say reasonable extensions, because who knows but that there might be some drastic revisioning of physics the way, for instance, quantum physics revisioned classical physics, and then things might fit in. But for now, they don’t fit in, and that’s why I talk about non-materiality; they don’t fit that material kind of view of things. So, we should study these things on their own terms.

It is of course, rank nonsense. How strongly can I put this?  Buddhist geeks had on a guy who has made scientific claims that any reasonably bright older grade school or middle school kid can debunk.

How strongly can I put this, and still practice the precept of right speech: I strongly suspect Dr. Charles Tart is making claims that cannot be verified scientifically, and uses charges of "scientism" to attempt to smear and discredit those who point out very plainly that Tart's claims are not borne out by any evidence based on repeatable applications of the scientific method.  I am willing to reconsider my suspicion should Dr. Tart provide evidence to the James Randi Foundation as per its $1million  challenge for evidence of the paranormal. 

In positing woo versus metaphysical naturalism  as Tart does implicitly whilst impugning legitimate scientific inquiry, he, to my way of thinking, defames both the Dharma and legit scientists and engineers.  For a variety of reasons as I have stated on my blog, this is an absurd dichotomy, and the absurdity would be readily acknowledged by competent philosophers with real backgrounds in philosophy.

I realize these are strong words, and I really do not fault Vincent Horn for this interview; he isn't an expert in these kinds of issues, and even myself, I'd have to do about an hour or two's  work before I could verify the scientific soundness of some tests of the paranormal.   But that said, I would hope we all recognize that the issues of the metaphysical are much broader than Stephen Batchelor versus woo, and that there are rational, evidence based middle grounds with which to work here that avoid woo as well as grandiose claims about the nonexistence of that beyond the physical, if only because of the failure of our own perceptions and language.  That's a whole other ball of wax compared to Ouija boards.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Buddhist "rationalism," "metaphysical naturalism," good science and good Buddhism

The issues of karma and rebirth aren't that difficult to deal with as a westerner, as noted in the text and comments, with the understandings of non-duality, dependent origination, and emptiness as meant in Buddhism.

I did want to post a few other things here though on this point.

  • We in the West are often somewhat anachronistic in our imputing viewpoints to people in the past.  We have been jaded somewhat by our Western, scientific, rationalist viewpoint that, even if many people in their day to day existences are bat-poop crazy, have at least exposure to the idea that logic and empiricism exists.  It is not at all clear if these ideas were known to Hakuin, let alone Dogen.  
  • Barbara draws from a Buddhist Geeks blog post here, by Dennis Hunter.   Frankly, I don't have the time to read all of it, but I'm reminded that I still have a blog post coming on why Charles Tart appears to be  a woo-filled crackpot, and what science is and is not, and why from my more-or-less Mahayana postmodern phenomenological existentialist point of view a  metaphysical naturalist perspective critiquing Tart would be erroneous, even though my critique arises from the very same scientific method that metaphysical naturalists would use to dismember Tart's arguments.  I probably share a lot of Hunter's sentiments, but as a scientist with a  more-or-less Mahayana postmodern phenomenological existentialist point of view.
  • And yes, yes, yes, those are Western philosophical concepts through which I apprehend Eastern philosophy.  I am not and cannot be a metaphysical virgin in my thinking here.
  • And none of it matters unless it is useful to my realization in practice.
  • So I myself am not really swayed by critiques on Batchelor on rebirth, though I'm not that intrigued to go into depth on Batchelor in the first place! See my recent posts here and here.
  • I do  wish to critique though, in the spirit of inquiry, Hunters bit here:
But there is also good reason to feel ill-at-ease about the agenda behind this movement [ of Buddhist rationalism]. It’s hard to escape the feeling that the whole movement is founded upon the prevailing materialist assumptions of Western scientism (“mind = brain function, nothing more”), and fueled by a wish to dismiss rebirth and karma in order to bolster the illusion of intellectual certainty and further reinforce that doctrine. One can dress up this kind of reductionist philosophy and call it “agnosticism” but—as they say in the advertising industry—that’s just putting lipstick on a pig.

 I don't think that any modern philosopher in the vein of myself would hold this view of being either ill-at-ease with the metaphysical naturalist perspective applying to a rejection of  a literal rebirth (as I note on Barbara's blog, karma's a whole other kettle of fish).  A literal rebirth is a falsifiable hypothesis, and the fact that life has the characteristic that there are an exponentially increasing number of live beings on earth over time has always posed a fundamental conundrum for this viewpoint, if one assumes that the literal rebirth is on earth (and if it's on the planet Ogo, well then it's non-falsifiable as a belief of course, and literal assertion of such beliefs becomes sundered from observation and therefore neither worthy of respect nor defense, but of course disrespect, ridicule and all that should only be applied insofar as it can be skillful to help increase wisdom, compassion and generosity).

We scientists though, express our certainty tentatively, as I wrote recently in a comment on another blog, but I'm willing to bet my salary that Dr. Charles Tart's "evidence" for rebirth is not what one would normally recognize as being consistent with well conducted scientific experiments, and therefore,  scientfically, phenomenologically, existentially, almost everywhere, except on a set of measure zero,  as far as we can tell, for all intents and purposes, it indeed is a false hypothesis.   This is not from the position that this is all there is, a metaphysical naturalist position.  Metaphysics, by its very nature, deals with issues that are "above" or "beyond" or "outside" of the scientific domain.  To have the position "This is all there is," or "There's more to us than what we can measure and observe" are metaphysical positions and neither one is in the domain of science!!!
More on Charles Tart later...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Night American Culture...

And it actually has a Buddhist theme of how when we chase after what we are our attachments, we often regret it!  Look up the Wikipedia entry on What's up, Doc?

Not Both. Including/excluding Dogen, Hakuin, Sutras, Emptiness, Zazen

Many people come to Buddhist practice for many reasons. Some who come to Buddhist practice stay with the religious background of their cultural heritage.   Some, such as myself, take up some official affiliation with Buddhism as a religion - in my case,  jukai or shòu jiè  (受戒).   To those of us who have received the precepts, Buddhist practice as a religious practice might be considered as pursuing the Great Matter a bit more deeply than those who aren't near a stream, let alone those who haven't entered It.

The immediate ancestral temple of my practice is Ryobo Zen An  (両忘禅庵 ), which means "Forget Both Zen Cottage."  "Forget Both" indicates a concept of the practice of non-duality in all one's affairs.  It is a good place for the mind to be when the mind is trying to be mindful. Hakuin, the reviver of Rinzai practice in Japan was a guy who sat a lot of zazen each day; often for 2 hours or more when not in sesshin, when of course there was substantially more zazen.  But Hakuin emphasizes in his writings that the practice is in fact to be done all the time. It needs to permeate every nook and cranny and interstice of one's existence, it needs to be dissolved into the marrow of the bones. "It's got be in the blood," as my EE 102  professor said about his AC circuits  and systems teachings.

So with all  of the foregoing said, I do think there is a bit of over-emphasis on meditation practices in some of conversations in the Buddhist blogosphere.   (I'm ignoring the pop-Buddhist celebrity Buddhist stuff today here as well, but obviously you can contextualize that in terms of what I'm writing in this post as well.)  I find it interesting that I have some agreement with one Sulak Sivarkasa, who until today, I was not aware that he was an "engaged Buddhist."

In 1953, I went to London to study. In our family background, which was middle-class and upper-class, being educated in Britain meant that you were educated properly, and that could help you get ahead. England was the place to be. While I was in England, I joined the Buddhist Society. Mr. Christmas Humphreys, founder of the Society, was a very great man.
But I did not agree with his approach. His view was that a Buddhist must concentrate on meditation, even when they are part of the society. He said that Christian men are wrong because they got involved in society and politics and lost their spirituality. To be Buddhist, he argued, you must concentrate on meditation. I felt that he was fundamentally wrong. Meditation is a good thing, but it does not mean only looking inwards. I realized that many Buddhists were from middle-class backgrounds. They didn't realize the suffering of the majority of our people. They didn't even question their own lifestyles. I think that is escapism, not Buddhism.

Of course, then he goes into social action, and if your place in the world is there, practice.  But that's not what this post is primarily discussing, but rather the practice in the whole shebang of your life. All of it.  So when Brad Warner says

One of the comments under the last piece [in Warner's blog] referred obliquely to Nishijima's "very personal and particular interpretation of Dogen." I have to assume he means Nishijima's ideas about the fourfold logical structure of Shobogenzo. This way of reading Dogen isn't simply a personal bias, but the result of decades of working with the text.

Nishijima has written a very detailed explanation of this way of reading Shobogenzo, which is available as a free download at:

I'm glad he pointed me in that direction, but I must still dissent a bit.  I actually do read Dogen kind of the way Nishijima does (though for some reason the results of Dogen's teachings seem even now somewhat less "active" than that bald devil Hakuin.)  But when Nishijima says the following, and remember,  Nishijima is writing linearly here, not in the way of Dogen:

Here I would offer some advice. In order to study Master Dogen’s Buddhism, I think that it is very important to rely on his teachings completely. We must be very exact in our study. If we only immerse ourselves half-way, accepting some of his teachings, and criticizing others, it will become impossible to gain a full understanding of the complete philosophical system which he expounds.

Dogen is useful, and a historically great teacher and yes, even philosopher, but there's no point as I see necessarily being an apologist for Dogen if being an apologist for your practice  is not skillful towards your practice.  There is no point in swimming every day if it is not useful for your practice.  While I personally think Hakuin has been a more profound and influential teacher in my life, and my teachers' lives, I cannot find it useful to be an apologist for everything Hakuin did. Nor, for that my matter, my teachers.  And I don't expect them to be apologists for me.  Naturally, of course Dogen sangha people will admire their founding teacher, and I admire Hakuin.  But there's a limit, I think; even Warner would admit that. Similarly, I find it absurd to condemn someone because of their inexhaustible and beginingless greed, anger, and delusion, especially when the results of that might in fact be one's own greed, anger and delusion.  And that, by the way, I'm sure is a sentiment that is some kind of similar sentiment that must animate Genjo Marinello's thoughts about Eido Shimano.  But that's another story.  But regarding the condemnation, I also don't mean this post to say to others, "See you got it wrong! It's really like this!!!"  Yet still I can't resist the link that says, you know, I don't want this post, or any other  to sound like this;  I suppose that is my beginingless greed, anger, and delusion popping up.  (And for the record,  it seems the Zennist fails to grasp emptiness, based on my take-away from that post. There. I said it.)
I have had a few years doing this blogging, and it has taken a while to find a "voice" for this blog, and I think it's kind of true for writing in general.  This weblog is, or should be, about Buddhist practice in real life, which includes, but is not solely about meditation, sutra study,  current events, Buddhist celebrities, but inevitably should come back to being about Buddhist practice, which takes place, hopefully, everywhere, and is densely permeating the whole universe. 

I hope my practice blogging helps.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Was it moral for scientists and engineers to design the atom bomb? The Pornoscanners?

Proulx michel imples the answer is "no" on a comment here.

The part about the pornoscanners is based on my reading of Jane Hamsher's post here, which includes the link to the threatened possible sexual molestation of a passenger here.

The answer to the first question, I'd say is "Wrong question, but if forced for an answer I'd say 'yes'." The reason I say yes is because I think it's easy to see how game theory applies in this question .

The second question is more difficult, but I would say, no, it was not moral to do so especially when you consider the principals involved - namely Michael Chertoff. People do have a responsibility to at least try to work with people who are dedicated to others. It's clear that the possible sexual abuse of untold numbers of people didn't matter to Chertoff - what mattered was lining his pockets.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Right Livelihood: Ditch the Gillette Razors

One of the benefits of the practice I've had was, regarding my buying habits,  the beginnings of a formation of a "middle way" that avoids neither profligacy nor niggardliness.

A while back I was at a conference, and discussions with people seemed to support my suspicion about Gillette razor blades, namely: every time they introduce a new, non-backwards compatible "shaving system" it seems the quality of their existing "shaving systems" declines.  This I also suspected because of my knowledge of how certain integrated circuit companies function: they regard their factory as a product as much as the stuff they peddle in their commercials.   When they have a "new" class of products they get substantially re-tooled factories, which, because it's money allocated, means that at least in the short term  factories for existing older products might get less attention. In fact, once the costs of the re-tooling of the factory have been amortized, there only needs to be on-going funding of the factory such that it can be related to cash-flow. So I suspected that this might be the case with "shaving systems" as well.  I mean, other than the website Gillette has, do you see much advertising for the Mach-3 system these days? I had been buying the junk for years, "upgrading" to "systems" that were more and more difficult for me to use, as I seem to start to notice facial hair in places where previously I either took no notice or, I guess, grew there.

But with the recent entries from the division of Proctor and Gamble, I decided enough was enough.  Why am I paying so much for plastic with tiny bits of metal, that is so bulky it now has to include  an "edging" blade?  Have you any idea what the markup on that crap is?  How the hell is that crap recyclable?  P&G it seems haven't traditionally put much thought into the entire life-cycle of the materials they use, and those multi-edge blades are a case in point.  Most telling, though, go to any local Walgreens, Kroger, or what-not, and see if you can find a classic double edge razor.  I've not had any success in my neck of the woods, though the stores do sell some blades. Gillette of course got into this proprietary "shaving system" model precisely because double edge disposable blades could be made well, cheaply,  performed well, but didn't make a huge profit for them.   These "shaving systems" major purpose is to make money for Gillette, without any great benefit.

So I've ordered the stuff above.  Reviews of the product seem to indicate that I might be able to get 4 shaves per blade, which could cost me around $1.30 per week, which is substantially cheaper than even the competing Schick products.  The reviews also state that the blades are as sharp as you can get; they're made from a Japanese manufacturer of surgical knives. Plus, it has a smaller environmental footprint as it uses less plastic, as the plastic that might be used in the case (not sure if it even is plastic, but supposing it is) is separable from the blades themselves.  The only "downside" seems to be that I might have to be more mindful shaving, but then that's actually an upside, isn't it?

It is wonderful to see possibilities for living more simply and frugally, but living better.  So I may not be able to live like a samurai, but I can at least shave like one.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My web-surfing, my mind, my dukkha

One of the interesting things about the internet - how many sentences do you read that begin like that anymore? - is that it gives, irrefutably, a history, a memory, of where your mind's been.

I of course, have a number of things I do each day with the 'net, a number of things that involve family needs, work, retirement planning, my interests in the news, politics, science, and fitness.

So here's where my mind is today:

I’m not sure I believe this prediction [about focused attention versus random wandering of the mind], but I can assure you it is based on an enormous amount of daydreaming cataloged in the current issue of Science. Using an iPhone app called trackyourhappiness, psychologists at Harvard contacted people around the world at random intervals to ask how they were feeling, what they were doing and what they were thinking.
The least surprising finding, based on a quarter-million responses from more than 2,200 people, was that the happiest people in the world were the ones in the midst of enjoying sex. Or at least they were enjoying it until the iPhone interrupted.
The researchers are not sure how many of them stopped to pick up the phone and how many waited until afterward to respond. Nor, unfortunately, is there any way to gauge what thoughts — happy, unhappy, murderous — went through their partners’ minds when they tried to resume.
When asked to rate their feelings on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being “very good,” the people having sex gave an average rating of 90. That was a good 15 points higher than the next-best activity, exercising, which was followed closely by conversation, listening to music, taking a walk, eating, praying and meditating, cooking, shopping, taking care of one’s children and reading. Near the bottom of the list were personal grooming, commuting and working...

You might suppose that if people’s minds wander while they’re having fun, then those stray thoughts are liable to be about something pleasant — and that was indeed the case with those happy campers having sex. But for the other 99.5 percent of the people, there was no correlation between the joy of the activity and the pleasantness of their thoughts.
“Even if you’re doing something that’s really enjoyable,” Mr. Killingsworth [of Harvard] says, “that doesn’t seem to protect against negative thoughts. The rate of mind-wandering is lower for more enjoyable activities, but when people wander they are just as likely to wander toward negative thoughts.”

 But then we mindful Buddhist folks kinda knew that, didn't we?

Monday, November 15, 2010

The practice of Buddhism really need not be centered on:

Presumably most Buddhists' Buddhist  practice takes place well out of range of the blogosphere, though of course it happens there as well.  But frankly,  often there's more Buddhist practice in something like Francis Lam's writing on his experience making an omelet than there is in my Buddhist blogging, or for that matter, other Buddhist bloggers. (If you don't think making an omelet practice is an exercise in mindfulness, try doing it and get back to me or Mr. Lam.)

    Sunday, November 14, 2010

    Beliefs, Wishes, Delusions

    I had written a few months ago about Kessid Church and how it seemed a bit deceptive of them to have what was in effect a fundamentalist church that was "fed" new members by a health club.  Well, the chickens have come home to roost for Kessid Church- follow this link and watch the (flash - not iPhone/iPad friendly) video on the page from about the 15:00 mark.

    I hadn't seen the comment left on my blog post until now:

    As a Christian I can Assure you that even Jesus Christ was against organzied "religion". Christianity is about loving God, loving others and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ to the rest of the world. Mumon you seem to be very leary of any group that doesn't fit into your fundamentalist "box" [sic]. How is promoting Gods genuine love corrupting Vancouver and the greater Clark County area? If anything Christianity is bringing back moralistic ideals to an already declining society. I welcome you with open arms brother, you don't have to like me or my beliefs but know that regardless how angry you are right now, God still loves you! :)  
    Now I wasn't in the least bit "angry" of course when I wrote that post, or the e-mail to that church.  But I think it's likely that this is what was in the minds of the folks at Kessid Church when they started their venture: They thought they  were "promoting God's genuine love" and "bringing back moralistic ideals to an already declining society."  (I am always intrigued by how conservatives are inevitably using adjectives with "-ic" on the end of the word when there's a perfectly good alternative, nearly identical, that's shorter and means exactly the same thing.  Can somebody tell me why they do that?  But I digress.)

    They likely thought they  were "promoting God's genuine love" and "bringing back moralistic ideals to an already declining society."   The hubris behind such a statement is breathtaking to me. They were promoting "God's" "genuine" "love."  Anyone who believed differently from them was not.  And they had morality on their side.  They had a guy who could suspend not only disbelief, but the laws of physics, economics, biology, and mathematics for His People.  We other skeptical schmucks were "stuck" with reality.

    "Nobody could have predicted" then, that such hubris might lead some folks to think that such a belief might lead them to make rash choices, such as that the cash flow from a health club could pay the freight on a budding megachurch.  And this in a place - where two other outfits had failed before, one in an economic boom time.  And this in a time when the region's economy was in free-fall, in the worst economic decline since the Great Depression. I do hope the place taking over the club, though succeeds.  Not that I'll join them, but I do hope the area comes back; Vancouver WA is still in a real-estate depression, relative to boom times.  But the complete insanity of what these guys did; it's breathtaking.   We've had some economic successes locally recently, but these have generally been places that have folks behind them who know what they're doing because they've done it before.  The Kessid guys were evidently utter, rank newbies, by comparison.

    It is clear from watching the video to which I've linked that these guys were young,  enthusiastic, and utterly without the sort of business-sense needed to build a resilient operation.   That is why I sent them an e-mail, empathizing with their loss, reminding them of Buddha's parable of the mustard seed,  and hoping they would understand that in one's endeavors, skill is often more important than belief.

    I hope  they will come to realize that it was the hubris and greed of taking their beliefs for reality, and becoming to attached to those beliefs, and the "wants" behind those beliefs that is related to their debacle.  It would make them ultimately healthier, happier, and  better able to really be  part of our community, which includes people of all types.

    And to provide a bit of contrast on the topic, here's some folks trying to live on one dollar a day. While they too seem young, idealistic, and perhaps slightly naive, I think their feet are more on the ground and they are more connected to reality, at least as we are aware, than the Kessid crowd.

    Update: Evidently they did keep the "center" separate from the church.  Except - and if you read the article and comment tellng me, "See! They used a manager!"  please  remember the folowing:  they made a blunder so colossal words fall short: by calling the thing "Kessid Center."   Consciously or unconsciously,  this  harebrained branding scheme  a) conflated the center with the church and b) conflated the center with a weird, foreign-sounding word  (even though it's Hebrew for something good, I'm told).  The latter effect of course would drive away nativists, and the first one would drive away Progressives.

    But then, it seems like a good idea to keep church and workouts separate.

    Saturday, November 13, 2010

    More neither good nor evil...

    Generally, my work life is going pretty well, although there is a colleague - fortunately not working for me - who's doing work related to mine, is sort of sub-contracting to my project, and is pretty much in a process of slow self-destruct in his career; unfortunately for a variety of reasons the process really can't be hastened very much.

    For a while, I had been concerned about this situation because the person hasn't been exactly saying true things about me and my staff to my manager. However, that situation's been changing. Still, for a variety of reasons, this guy can't be fired yet.

    In meetings and in correspondence, though, this man's behavior would be disruptive. If one were mindful of this potential and took steps to not be disrupted by his behavior. Thinking neither good nor evil is such a wonderful thing to practice in cases such as this.

    And so I'm remind of this scene from the recent re-make of the Karate Kid:

    I've had to recommend that scene to staff who feel disrupted by his behavior.

    Luckily for me, I'm also remind of The Platform Sutra and Hui Neng:

    There is no Bodhi-tree,

    Nor stand of a mirror bright.
    Since all is Void,

    Where can the dust alight?

    And thinking neither good nor evil about another's attempt to be disruptive, keeping the mind in a non-attached state is just the only way to do this kind of thing. And the amazing thing? It actually works.

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    Neither good nor evil

    I am pressed for time today, but I do want to note -  in samsara, no less - that it's quite useful to practice non-duality at home and in the workplace.

    Thursday, November 11, 2010

    One odd side-effect of recent religious wars: oldest Buddhist scriptures found

    There's something oddly karmic about this.

    The scriptures are the world's most ancient Tripitaka scriptures more than 2,000 years old. Some parts of the ancient scriptures have disintegrated. More than 10,000 pieces will be on display at the exhibition [in Thailand].
     Buddha's teachings were first recorded on palm leaves during the first century BC. The scriptures were written with "Prommi" characters that were used during Buddha's time and serve as evidence that the scriptures are the world's oldest.
           The scriptures were discovered in caves in Afghanistan by Bamiyan people who escaped from Taliban attacks and took refuge in caves from 1993 to 1995. The Bamiyan people then took the scriptures to Pakistan to save them from destruction by the extremist Muslim Taliban government.
           Norway and Britain then secretly moved the scriptures out of Pakistan from 1997 to 2000. They brought out 5,000 complete scriptures and 8,000 pieces of broken scriptures inscribed on palm leaves, bark, leather and brass plates.
    As has been noted by people time and again, even if these scriptures were never found, there would still be the truths of dukkha, its cause, a way to transcend dukkha, and a path to do so, as long as there were any practitioner.  But the fact that we now have these scriptures, which if memory serves me are older than the oldest extant copies of the bible is interesting.

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    Gold: Economic Samsara

    Whether it's wampum, dollars backed by debt or gold, it's all a product of the little-m mind.

    The price of gold has been rising as anxious investors cast what amounts to a throw-the-bums-out vote against, well, just about everything.
    The weak dollar, the volatile stock market, the lackluster economy, the yawning budget deficit, the accommodative Federal Reserve — all this and more have people rushing for gold...

    And while gold is the most obvious example of this trend, other commodities are rising, too. Wheat, copper and cotton all soared on Tuesday.
    Nor is gold fever restricted to hedge fund managers wielding billions of dollars. Individual investors have also been clamoring to get in on the trade, scooping up gold coins like one-ounce American Eagles and South African Krugerrands.
    “People are coming in to buy 50 or 100 coins at a time, which is pretty hefty for individuals,” said Mark Oliari, chief executive of CNT Inc., a Massachusetts coin broker. “It’s not just rich people, either. A lot of people are putting 30 to 35 percent of their net worth in gold; they are scared to put money in paper assets.”
    Signs of gold’s renewed appeal have been building for months, as well-known Wall Street figures like George Soros and John Paulson piled into the metal. JPMorgan Chase even reopened a long-closed vault below the streets of downtown Manhattan to meet investor demand to store the stuff...

    Since the depths of the financial crisis two years ago, gold has risen 91 percent, and it is nearly a third higher than just one year ago, according to Janney Montgomery Scott [which is an investment firm].

    While gold has touched new records in nominal terms, when adjusted for inflation the price remains 40 percent below its real record high, which was reached in 1980. What is surprising economists is not the rise of gold prices, but the speed of its ascent.
    As a result, even longtime gold investors, like [Abhay Deshpande, a portfolio manager with First Eagle Funds], worry that the current rally might be overdone. “It’s beginning to smell a little like the beginning stages of a bubble,” he said. “Either inflation has to pick up or currencies have to plunge to justify a continuing rise.”
    Armageddon is very fashionable in the United States these days.  A great deal of faith-based folks are going to get burned by this.  Full disclosure: I own some of the ETFs related to this mania, but they are by no means the entirety of my nest egg.  But I've seen these ridiculous price-rises myself, and it is yet another bubble.  Like anything else, too much of their being burned will have been the result of actually believing the stuff that appears in their minds as a result of other stuff appearing in other people's minds, and those other people telling the first group of people what to do.

    Lankavatara Sutra, Chapter 6, Section LXXXIII

    As usual, I'm using the translation here.  And I'm not any kind of teacher.

    What starts out as what might be a preaching of morality takes a turn.  At first:

    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.

    But then

    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.
    Further, Mahāmati, there are five external immediacies which I will point out to you, in order that you and other Bodhisattvas in the future may thereby be saved from ignorance. What are these five? They are those immediacies which are described in the canonical texts, and those who commit these crimes can never experience any one of these manifestations, except those Transformation [-Buddhas] who are sustained by the power [of the Tathagatas] and have already attained a realisation. 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. Mahāmati, there is, however, no realisation for those who are sheer offenders of the immediacies,  except when they come to the recognition of the truth that an external world is nothing but1 the Mind itself, seeing that body, property, and abiding place are discriminations, and that the notion of an ego and its belongings are to be kept away; or, when they are released from the fault of self-discrimination by encountering a good friend at some time or other, or at any time, and being born in some other path of existence. So it is said:
     Desire is said to be the mother and ignorance the father; the Vijñāna which recognises an objective world is [compared to] the Buddha.
     The secondary group of passions is the Arhat, the amassing of the five Skandhas the Brotherhood; as these are to be destroyed immediately they are known as immediacy-deeds.