Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Acting according to someone else's "revelation" is violent and blasphemous

I am a Buddhist because, among other things, appeals to supernatural have never seemed particularly effective to me, nor have I seen any convincing evidence that it was effective for anyone else.   I don't claim to be a metaphysical naturalist (too idealistic in my view, especially with regard to the limitations of language, thought and perception).   However, I'm sure I seem damned close to one if the person doing the seeming is a monotheistic "believer" of some sort.  I put quote marks around "believer" because I think there is a whole entire question of whether or not a anyone can "believe" anything in the sense of what a writer in the bible said; that is faith is the "evidence of things not seen."  Is this "belief" delusion by another name?

It is a question I will not get to here, because for now I have a larger question in mind.  Some  people I know are perfectly content to attempt to convert others to Christianity, and otherwise talk as though it is natural and appropriate to presume the existence of Christian belief in polite conversation.  People with whom I am a little less familiar think there's no problem at all in attempting to convert others to Christianity, particularly children and adolescents.

I say this is a kind of violence, in the sense of an unjust or unwarranted exercise of force or power.  This view, I'll admit, owes a bit to R. D. Laing's brilliant case for how much of what we call "love" in Western "civilization" is really a form of violence as found in The Politics of Experience.

It is not enough to destroy one's own and other people's experience. One must overlay this devastation by a false consciousness inured, as Marcuse puts it, to its own falsity.  
Exploitation must not be seen as such. It must be seen as benevolence. Persecution preferably should not need to be invalidated as the figment of a paranoid imagination; it should be experienced as kindness. Marx described mystification and showed its function in his day. Orwell's time is already with us. The colonists not only mystify the natives, in the wasy that Fanon so clearly shows, they have to mystify themselves. We in Europe and North America are the colonists, and in order to sustain our amazing images of ourselves as God's gift to the vast majority of the starving human species, we have to interiorize our violence upon ourselves and our children and to employ the rhetoric of morality to describe this process. 
In order to rationalize our industrial-military complex, we have to destroy our capacity to see clearly any more what is in front of, and to imagine what is beyond, our noses. Long before a thermonuclear war can come about, we have had to lay waste to our own sanity. We begin with the children. It is imperative to catch them in time. Without the most thorough and rapid brainwashing their dirty minds would see through our dirty tricks. Children are not yet fools, but we shall turn them into imbeciles like ourselves, with high I.Q.'s, if possible. 
From the moment of birth, when the Stone Age baby confronts the twentieth-century mother, the baby is subjected to those forces of violence, called love, as its mother and father, and their parents and their parents before them, have been. These forces are mainly concerned with destroying most of its potentialities, and on the whole this enterprise is successful. By the time the new human being is fifteen or so, we are left with a being like ourselves, a half-crazed creature more or less adjusted to a mad world. This is normality in our present age. 
Love and violence, properly speaking, are polar opposites. Love lets the other be, but with affection and concern. Violence attempts to constrain the other's freedom, to force him to act in the way we desire, but with ultimate lack of concern, with indifference to the other's own existence or destiny. 
We are effectively destroying ourselves by violence masquerading as love. 

It is an obscenity and blasphemous to say that one person has been deigned lucky enough or good enough or sacred enough or holy enough to have had the Great Holy Truth Revealed to Him and Those Who Say the Same Things He Does And No One Else Does.

It's not "love" or "compassion" talking when one wants to "share the good news," but rather it is pride and narcissism. 

And it should be pointed out to be such.  Look, if you want to talk about such things, and "believe" such things, fine, good for you.  But do not be so rude and arrogant as to assume that people who don't "believe" such things should be "brought around to your way of thinking."  You are just as existentially unlucky as anyone else.  You cannot escape.  You can only try to help others without the religiosity, and if you have another way and it's not empirically demonstrable, don't waste anyone's time most of all your own.

I was recently on a flight to Washington D.C., and I was sitting next a wonderful woman who worked for World Vision, a Christian charity. We discussed quite a few things related to charity (such as why the heck a lawyer was needed for that charity and why they needed government grants - I never actually got an answer to those questions).   But the issue of charity came up.  She said people helped others in World Vision "because they wanted to recognize that God loved them." (Actually I think at first she said, "Because we want to show God's love in the world" - that really is the kind of  issue I'm talking about.)

This struck me as odd, and out of reasons of sparing the woman's feelings, I did not  tell the woman that if you're not helping people because people are hurting or will hurt, and for those reasons alone - that is, to alleviate suffering now and in the future - then you're not helping them as effectively as you could. 

It is a kind of narcissistic blasphemy to think you're "showing God's love in the world" by thinking you're "doing unto others as you would have others do unto you."  You may be helping fellow human beings.   But if somebody's dying of cancer maybe the last thing they need is someone to preach to them with an affect of religiosity and instead they need someone to care for them without a first or second or third or n-th thought as to the "goodness" of this in the eyes of any real or imagined deities.   Maybe if they're religious,  and dying of cancer they may want some religious comfort.  Good for them, and for you if you both want to pray together.

In some cases, even a dying person can be attempting to manipulate others in religion talk, even to the point of attempting to get people to say things they don't believe in just to make the dying person "feel better."  Again, nobody's "revelation," even a dying person's, is of any greater value than anyone else's and regardless of who does it, it is violence to act otherwise, and should be stated as such.  And I don't really think many dying people are actually any more comforted (and perhaps less - there's that whole damnation thing)  by appeal to a monotheist deity than anyone else.  In the cases where I've seen this type of manipulation of the family by the dying, it certainly wasn't the case.

So hopefully that sets a few things straight here.

One more thing: you're still responsible.  You can't blame "faith" for hate and narcissistic arrogance disguised as care and love.  This is partly my Buddhist/existentialist answer to the question of where morality comes from. But it is, here, ultimately my entire point: we're responsible. I'm responsible for what I do, and for what I do in response to whatever behavior I encounter.  If you're going to act "in God's name" to me, you better damn well do it as though God doesn't exist  (in which case why are you saying you're doing it in God's name?)  You better damn well do it as though God doesn't exist, because whether or not a monotheistic deity exists, you're still responsible.

OK, that's it for today.

Monday, July 16, 2012

What's in your mind?

In doing my day-to-day practice, I've been noticing that indeed my mind doesn't do anything I know about except for the "5 Aggregates."

This is fascinating to me.  But even  more so, it is the fact that my mind does this and "mediates things" in such a way that a heck of a lot of wants tend to come up. It seems that so much  of my day-to-day awareness is driven by the "Oh, no I'm going to die under a bridge" kind of feeling arising from me not liking that I may not "get" what "I" want.

But it's all empty, void of substance anyway.  Everything "I" want is impermanent, imagined, a thought construct.

Isn't that strange? And yet, I'd bed most people are exactly the same way much of the time.

Is there any wonder then that this wanting, wanting, wanting, leads to suffering, suffering, suffering, and why one might want to transcend it?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A couple of responses to Buddhist blog posts of late...

Zen, an abbreviated term for Zazen: Sitting upright with legs crossed. Zen is the practice of all the Buddha ancestors. You might even say zen is a yoga posture. You might call it Cha'an, or Sitting Dhyāna. Everything else is not zen. 

Zen is not an agenda.
Zen is not a doctrine
Zen is not some idea of the true way.
Zen is not a religion despite dictionary entries and many views to the contrary.
Zen is not writing a long intellectual blog post.

I remonstrate slightly because "everything else" can be Zen.  The mindset/orientation/disposition of koan practice or shikantaza can be brought into everyday activity.  But yeah, morals have no Zen in what he's saying.

I don't work in Silicon Valley, but if I did...

I'd find the idea of hard-partying 20-30 something year olds indeed a ridiculous stereotype.  I'd find it a ridiculous stereotype anyway a) because there's lots of people my age over there... that is they're "grownups," and b) every engineer in the course of their work knows or should try to know how they're going to change the world...unless you're an engineer in the defense industry (where it's kinda sorta obvious how you're going to change the world).

Monday, July 09, 2012

"Zen" "has" no morals?

Via NellaLou, and Wonderwheel,  I am informed of yet another critique of Zen Buddhism based on the behavior of Eido Shimano and one Klaus Zernickow.  My first reaction though was basically a consideration of what it might possibly mean that "Zen" "has" no morals: does the universe have morals?  Does a dog have Buddha-nature?

Missing from the discussion overall, I feel (though NellaLou and Wonderwheel go in the direction) is that the sangha has a responsibility to act to see that no one is harmed (and in fact, much, much more than that - to see that the suffering of all beings is transcended).  That's your "morality" of "Zen" right there.

Wonderwheel writes of the critique, by one Christopher Hammacher:

In Section 4, Hammacher suggests six potential causes leading to the phenomenon of otherwise intelligent or reasonable Zen students accepting such flagrant misconduct: a) Lack of morality; b) Japanese authoritarianism; c) Impossible ideals; d) The Absolute vs. the Relative; e) The institution of dharma transmission; f) Emphasis on enlightenment; and g) Cultic tendencies.  Hammacher discussion of these six points is conclusory and based on superficial presumptions and analysis.  
Wonderwheel does a good job of discussing these items, though when it comes to "Japanese authoritarianism," well, I haven't read Hammacher's paper, but I'd suspect that he hasn't actually been that exposed to Japanese culture as some of us - and I frankly don't have time to delve into a detailed rebuttal other than to say anyone that doesn't get the concept of wa (和) was it relates to Japanese organizational dynamics won't be a big hit in the Japanese business world, let alone a Japanese-descended sangha. Finally, yes, I suppose "Zen" does lack a "morality," in the sense of a lack of monotheistic notions of "sin."  But that's a feature, not a bug: its purpose is to avoid moral failures by attachment to one's falling short of ideal behavior.

I repeat: I did not read the article in question.  Enough at this point is being said and done re: Eido Shimano, at the very least, not to mention Genpo Merzel et al.  But to take these institutional failures and then claim "Zen" has a "lack of morality" is based on an ignorance of what Zen Buddhist practice actually is.

I've been very lucky, perhaps, to have had guides who were upstanding in their treatment of me, and because of that, it's easy to see what they did right when others did not do right.  It could, of course, also be related to the fact that I've advocated a "kick the tires" approach to selecting and interacting with a potential "teacher."

Sunday, July 08, 2012

What do you value? What do you keep? What do you get rid of? How?

As I stated below, I recently returned from NY;  I was with most of my large family going over details of the "personalty" from my mother's estate.

My parents were hoarders.

They had a lot of stuff,  much of it with very little value at all, although some of it had great value.  Don't ask though about the really valuable stuff - diamond rings and such.  That's the subject for another koan. 

There are some items that appear to be made of jade.  The price of jade has gone up in value astronomically, as China's fortunes have gone on the upturn in recent decades.

There's also silver coin, and maybe-not-silver-but-definitely-stuff not made anymore. Like the above coin that (forgive the poor photography) in real life sports 2 swastikas.

There's other things, too, some of which might have gone up in value a great deal, some of which was wisely sought after by my parents, and some of which even now seems hideous to me. 

My parents were the sort of people who had certain ideas about "fashion" and "style."  That is, they wore whatever they wanted to however they wanted to (or was available? on sale?) and they simply did not care how it looked.  Oftentimes it seemed the idea was calculated to shock, if you can imagine how extremely conservative 2nd generation East European late middle age/elderly folks might shock one.

My wife tells me some of this stuff has gone up in value - there is apparently a strong market in China for bolos, inter alia

All of this brings up a few interesting koans, i.e., the title of this post.  Does one keep a Nazi era coin? Does one sell it? Throw it out? What about my father's idiosyncratic clothing/accessory tastes? 

One item was a no-brainer: My parents had saved - like many Americans do - about $45.00 in pennies in jars.  They went right to Coinstar. The silver was heavy enough, thank you.

But back to the koan. We "inherit" a lot of things from a lot of people.  Some things we can profitably give away to other people. Some things we can use to our benefit and enjoyment and the benefit and enjoyment of others. Some things we can sell, because the economic value of the thing sold is worth more than keeping the thing.

Among the items I received was a 硯 (suzuri, or yàn) that was apparently purchased in China back in the 80s.  It is very close in size to the kind that I had seen a Japanese master use, though this one has a minor flaw.  I am told it may be valuable to sell, but if I used it it would have less value.  But I do wish to continue a practice of 書道.   But I also am quite an amateur.  It's not quite but sort of in the same direction as if you were to give an 11 year old kid a vintage Gibson guitar...of course you don't give an 11 year old kid a vintage Gibson.  Or if you do you make sure he damn well knows how to use it.  Then again my kid has a rather pricey violin.

I'm keeping the 硯, of course, and know enough about 書道 to be able to understand how to take care of it. 

Much of the problems we have both with ourselves and with our families/communities can be attributed, I'd suspect, to a lack of understanding of what should be valued, what should be kept, what should be disposed of, and how things should be disposed. 

Saturday, July 07, 2012

A couple or three of Buddhist temples in NY

Near the house I've inherited part of,  there are deer, vultures, turkeys, wildcats, wolves, and a couple of  Buddhist temples within an hour's drive or so.  First, there is the Mahayana Temple (大乗寺) temple, one of the oldest Buddhist temples located in a rural area in the Northeast. (It's one of those things you may or may not have read in "American" Buddhist media. I don't know. ) They will be shortly observing their 50th anniversary; if you are in the area, stop by.  They are by no means well known, but should be more well known.  Here are some photos of the temple, as it's expanding in preparation for its 50th:

And also within 1 hour's drive is Zen Mountain Monastery:

Finally, every lay person's home should be a temple in the sense that everything done in there should be done with great care and attention and, of course, all the other human aspects. Home is an important place.   I am very lucky; here is the view from my NY home: