Thursday, May 19, 2011

Myers, Chopra, and 功夫

The word "功夫" has an interesting translation in Japanese; it means either (pronounced as "ふう" or "kufū") as (1) scheme; device; scheming; devising; figuring out; coming up with; solving ingeniously; (2) dedication to spiritual improvement (esp. through Zen meditation)," or (pronounced as "カンフー" or  "kanfū") it means what you might know as kungfu.  You know -  Bruce Lee, Wingchun and all that.

The first definitions - figuring out, solving ingeniously, and dedication to spiritual improvement are  implicit in the juxtaposition of the kanji - the first is that for "achievement, merits, and honor" and the second is that of a man.

They're really one in the same. Spiritual development is one and the same with becoming skilled and accomplished in one's day to day life.

And that's where I part ways with both Deepak Chopra and P.Z.Myers. First regarding the obvious casus belli: I've really no beef - for now - with Christopher Hitchens and the way he wants to die.   That's his path.

But with regard to Prof. Myers and "Dr." Chopra,  I do remonstrate. First with respect to "Dr." Chopra, he writes:

By making belief in God their enemy, atheists deprive themselves of what spirituality is really about: a process of inner growth. There are wisdom traditions around the world that do not use the word God (e.g., Buddhism, Vedanta) or advocate religious worship in the conventional sense. Countless people have seen through the faults of organized religion and turned instead to their own spiritual journey. Hitchens and other atheists stand at the door to that journey and slam it shut, assuring all who approach that to seek God, the soul, or higher reality is a fool's errand. How do they know? It's not as if they have inquired deeply into the great saints and sages who have successfully traveled such a journey. Hitchens dismisses every spiritual person out of hand, which means that he dismisses William Blake (the source of his phrase, "mind-forged manacles," which Blake applied to modern industrial life, not religion) in the same breath that he dismisses Bible Belt preachers.
By discounting the whole notion of spiritual awakening, atheists make a claim to false knowledge. They haven't walked the walk, yet somehow they know, with dead certainty, that Buddha, Socrates, Plato, Jesus, Confucius, Zoroaster, Saint Paul, Rumi, Kabir, the Prophet Muhammad, Rabindranath Tagore, and countless others aren't just wrong; they are stupid and blinkered compared to any everyday atheist today. I have my doubts. The atheists I've met went through a period of personal disillusion with religion, and on that basis alone they became atheists. Could anything be more subjective for a crowd that decries subjectivity? Could anything be more idiosyncratic for a group that claims to represent universal reason?
I'm not on this path not because I expect to become a master at anything by this phase of my life.  I'm not on this path because I want a cool experience of seeing a deity, or because I affirm or deny what any big names in philosophy or religion might or might not have said, assuming they might have existed.  Myers writes, in various places, in response to this:

"Spiritual journey" is one of those New Age phrases that means nothing: it means not going anywhere, not learning anything new, only wallowing in one's preconceptions and justifying it with bafflegab about "spirituality", which is also undefinable and unmeasurable and utterly useless...
Scientists and atheists have set reasonable standards for evaluating truth, and like to point out that the claims of religion not only fail to meet that bar, but also are contradictory, both within and between the different mythologies. We know the multitudes of bizarre spiritualities can't all be true, and given that they won't even try to justify their beliefs with evidence, we may righteously discard them all until they make an effort to show that they actually possess some tiny fragment of truth.

I have seen and experienced suffering.

I have seen and experienced that there is a cause to suffering.

I have seen and experienced that - however briefly,  due to my incompetence - suffering may be transcended.

I have seen and experienced that when I follow the path of the Buddha, the above sentence becomes more true more often.

I take issue with Chopra because he is a huckster, a charlatan and a liar (he has met Richard Dawkins, who would not say that he became an atheist because he had a "period of personal disillusion with religion, and on that basis alone [he] became [an] atheist."

But I take issue with Myers because you just can't look at a friggin' life of many in Buddhist sanghas, you just can't  participate in the tea ceremony in indifference, you just can't marvel at the effects of cultivation of skill for others and not say that the practice of a religion that emphasizes these points is superstition.

Speaking of Hitchens, here's a Youtube video that purports to be of Yip Man, Bruce Lee's teacher of Wing Chun, 1 week before his death of throat cancer. Yip Man, who was known to have been an opium addict at some point in his life according to his Wikipedia page, wasn't perfectly cultivated all the time, and neither is yours truly. But that's not the point.

Somewhere in all that is the answer to the Genpo Roshi/Eido Shimano koan too. I'm sure you can figure that part out. But as long as you've gotten this far, and if you saw the above video of Yip Man, you might as well see what his student did, according to this guy who deconstructed some of his moves.

Yes, at one time they had to rely on skill because CGI had not been invented yet.

And so it is for our lives. Except we don't have to do 20 punches in 3 seconds or something like that.


Anonymous said...

Yes, we can say it is superstition until you actually provide evidence that what you assert is demonstrably true.
Also, you might want to be aware that kung-fu and other physical disciplines require tremendous amounts of time in instruction and practice. No matter how much you meditate it will not substitute for actually going and physically practicing.

Mumon said...

Anonymous: well, there is empirical evidence of certain things related to this, e.g., dealing with stress & meditation, etc.

And let's put it this way: no matter how much you physically practice, you'd do better to add a mindfulness practice to that - or to put it another way, the physical disciplines are a mindfulness practice.

Or, to put it still another way: your life is your practice.

J said...

Yr mistaken as usual, grasshoppah. However ...odd Chopra sounds to the western materialist or Darwinist, his views are closer to traditional buddhist..and hindu teachings. There was a spiritual dimension--perhaps not a complete substance dualism (tho in some varieties of Bu.--including the mahayana something like that may be noted) but ..immanence of a sort. Mind exists. The supernatural itself is a possibility for most asian buddhists (especially the southeast asian) however quackish you might think it, Mumu.

While I don't usually disagree with Myers anti-fundamentalist writing (tho at times find him a bit crass, like TH Huxley reincarnated), he rarely provides an argument for his naturalist/empirical views (ie, even "souls cannot exist"). One of the peculiar findings of modern physics is the challenges it has posed to purely naturalist/empirical views. Then, even the ancients had interesting arguments contra empiricism--say, where does Pi exist, Mumu? How did they find it/prove it? Pi doesn't grow on a Bo tree, grasshoppah.