Saturday, March 23, 2013

So about that new pope and that "interreligious dialogue"...

I realize I'm very late to comment on this, but today is about as good as any day to comment given the new Roman Catholic pope (there's others; you know that, right?) and all that, and the fact that reportedly he's "reaching out" to the rest of the world for more "interreligious dialogue."

Yeah, whatever.

I am more or less a product of some of those institutions and attitudes that weighed so heavily on so many; I was fortunate, I suppose, in that the only abuse I suffered at the hands of these people was verbal and corporal.   But abuse it was nonetheless, and the Catholic Church's response in recent years to the sexual abuse doesn't give me hope for any kind of real possibility that anyone will be made whole in any of the other areas where abuse was pervasive anytime soon.

Nathan calls it patriarchy.  He's not wrong here, but I think it's way more than that.  Patriarchy has the connotation that somehow a few men are running things, and they're in control, have all the power, etc. etc.  I concede I'm oversimplifying here, but the reality is that the former Ratzinger and all the other Ratzingers were enabled by a network of clergy and laity.  The abuse many children in Catholic schools suffered was at the hands of some very distorted (pre-or anti-Vatican II) nuns; it's lampooned in movies like The Blues Brothers but it was taken for granted that you could physically assault children to get them to do what you wanted in those places, and in many places likely still is.  And there is a laity that enabled this, encouraged this, and funded this, and in many places likely still does. 

There is a reason the Catholic Church in East St. Louis is a highly attenuated version of itself, as another article in today's NY Times presents.   And it is precisely because all the crap that the Catholic Church perpetuated and all the "charity" it perpetuated came to nought.  Of course  a "deity" commanded the charity as did the "deity" put in place abusers, so what kind of charity is that if it's stained and sustained by greed and fear?

I became a Buddhist because Buddhism makes better sense of the world and has a more consistent ethic than Christianity.  In Christianity it's sort of verboten for mere mortals to go to hell to save another; in Buddhism you're in hell yourself as long as another is there.  That's why I think the two paths are ultimately incompatible, regardless of how friendly Thich Nhat Hanh gets with the liberal priests (assuming any survived John Paul II/Ratzinger).

And like Nathan, I'm hopeful for collapse; the sooner the better if people are disabused of notions that the charity means you have to support the abuse: they come as a package deal with the Catholic Church; they come as a package deal with humanity in fact.  The Catholic Church maintained that they were above it all.   Some folks in the American Buddhist community thought they were in Christian churches in the sense that they thought Buddhist sanghas were above petty politics, corruption and scandal.

It's a package deal in Buddhism too: the savory and the repulsive permeate each other, and the only hope Buddhism gives you is that there are means by which you can learn to transcend the repulsive as well as that which keeps us stuck or suffering.  It doesn't guarantee that those who prescribe the medicine will not themselves fall ill or aren't in fact already ill.  At least though Buddhism really does recognize this (and it's not to minimize harm when it happens...does every post that touches on this issue have to repeat that?).  And Buddhism has a path that recognizes that its path isn't trod by those who are vicars for deities.

Good luck to Francis; maybe he'll be another John XXIII.   But regardless,  suffering and dukkha are still inescapable, but can be transcended...

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Science versus "Spirituality" Brouhaha Again? With TED???

I was away on business when they elected a new pope.   I have an unwritten as of yet lengthy response in mind to my colleagues in the Buddhist blogosphere that were going in a sort of ecumenical direction regarding the new Pope, a.k.a. Francis.

But I saw something else come to my attention that I thought I'd set straight, though it promises to be at least as entertaining from a blogosphere food-fight perspective, and that has to do with the brouhaha regarding TED, two guys named Sheldrake and Hancock, P.Z. Myers and Jerry Coyne, if I've recalled all the names correctly.   

Apparently some folks don't like that P.Z. Myers and Jerry Coyne got Sheldrake's and Hancock's videos removed from a TED/TEDx site.    Apparently this is so because Myers and Coyne decried the pseudo-science in the Sheldrake and Hancock material.

I first got wind of this via C4Chaos (who has directed me to John Ratcliffe's blog ).

I myself am loathe to go into the details of Sheldrake /Hancock.  I've seen too many TED/TEDx videos in my lifetime.   However, I will make a few points...

  • I don't have any inclination to view a talk called "The Science Delusion."   The very name of the talk suggests a desire to frame the term "science" as we know and use it today into something it is not.   There is no "materialist science," "alternative science" or "mainstream science" apart from a science that deals with observables and the scientific method. Period.   And I might add P.Z. Myers' one paragraph critique of Sheldrake's video is more or less enough for me.   The constants of the universe might be changing, but that's only observed if we observe it according to the scientific method!
  • I have read a bit about Graham Hancock simply because that was most accessible in the time I had; if I had an inclination to produce TED/TEDx talks he'd be right up there with Ramtha in terms of my preferences for speakers...but I may be meaning that ironically on second thought. I might want to have a TED parody...but I I'm not...
  • Let's get this out front and center: TED/TEDx talks are largely bunk.   They're always more about style than content anyway. They've had some rather questionable folk in the past on, who put on rather questionable material.  Too much Malcolm Gladwell. Too much fancy graphics.  Too entertaining.  But the "curators" of TED/TEDx have the right to define what they call TED/TEDx any way they deem fit.  When people complain about "censorship" they're assuming that TED should put just anything on. They don't have to. And they can still be ideas worth spreading, if only as cautionary tales.
  • Actually I was digressing a bit.  While I haven't viewed the videos in question,  I have read this bit from Hancock to Chris Anderson who is the TED conference "curator."  Hancock quotes from his presentation:
 “What is death? Our materialist science reduces everything to matter. Materialist science in the West says that we are just meat, we’re just our bodies, so when the brain is dead that’s the end of consciousness. There is no life after death. There is no soul. We just rot and are gone. But actually any honest scientist should admit that consciousness is the greatest mystery of science and that we don’t know exactly how it works. The brain’s involved in it in some way, but we’re not sure how. Could be that the brain generates consciousness the way a generator makes electricity. If you hold to that paradigm then of course you can’t believe in life after death. When the generator’s broken consciousness is gone. But it’s equally possible that the relationship – and nothing in neuroscience rules it out – that the relationship is more like the relationship of the TV signal to the TV set and in that case when the TV set is broken of course the TV signal continues and this is the paradigm of all spiritual traditions – that we are immortal souls, temporarily incarnated in these physical forms to learn and to grow and to develop. And really if we want to know about this mystery the last people we should ask are materialist, reductionist scientists. They have nothing to say on the matter at all. Let’s go rather to the ancient Egyptians who put their best minds to work for three thousand years on the problem of death and on the problem of how we should live our lives to prepare for what we will confront after death…”
Now his second and third sentences create a straw-man.   And the "we just don't know" bit has its  own name as a logical fallacy: argumentum ad ignorantiam - the argument from ignorance.   There are models that deal with consciousness that deal with the relationship between what we observe and what is out there, but any of the useful ones, the ones we can talk about, exist in the structure of that which observable. 

I would find it interesting to say the least if Hancock were to litigate this thing.  He'd lose, if what he's quoted above is representative of the rest of his material.  Evidently he got his start pushing something that looks as well grounded scientifically as "the bible code," namely the Orion Correlation Theory.

I know some  people want their consciousness to be indicative of more than observables interacting with each other.  But the nature of observables are such that we can carry out useful things with the observables without any consideration, use or purpose of an underlying metaphysic.  That atheists pointed this out is immaterial to that point, and I'm sure P.Z. Myers and Jerry Coyne would agree on that - and even that their atheism is immaterial to the science itself.

We Buddhists of the Mahayana variety especially are fond of talking about non-duality, but I think some  do not get that non-duality does not mean that the structures of language and observation are somehow "false" in and of themselves. 事存函蓋合理應箭鋒拄 the Sandokai asserts.   Things exist, box and lid fit, principle responds, arrow points  meet.   The absolute doesn't trump the relative and vice versa.  Physical laws will be physical laws; observables being observed (and consequent measurable distortions therein) aren't trumped by anything "outside the system," because it's all here anyway.   And it's not as though we need to bend either Mahayana Buddhism or science to fit one another.  Our constraints are constraints one way or the other.

Monday, March 11, 2013

It Really IS a Very Useful Practice.

Recently there's been a bit of stuff I'd written & corresponded on re: disruption and setbacks.  

Well I've had a doozy recently; while not nearly as bad as some folks' disruptions, it has been disrupting.

In the course of returning home one night recently, while crossing an intersection, a car went through a red light...

Short story is: I'm OK,  they're OK, my car's totalled, theirs probably is not.  A few thousand dollars is lost.

It's disrupting.  A fraction of a second later and there would have been a much worse outcome.  The brain goes into Alternate Scenarios and What Ifs.

I had never thought about it, but evidently at least short term PTSD is a side effect of being an an auto accident, even if there's no physical injury.

Luckily after sitting for a few years it's possible to understand that the mind is letting thoughts wax and wane, or as Danny said in The Shining, "Remember what Mr. Hallorann said. It's just like pictures in a book, Danny. It isn't real."

Sometimes I realize I'd be completely bonkers if not for this practice.  

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Yakuza Buddhist Priest in the News

Via Jake Adelstein (who wrote the article),  I wonder what American Zen Teachers' Association might make of this:

Takahiko Inoue, yakuza boss and Buddhist priest, died Feb. 10 at age 65. The police determined that he fell from the seventh story of the building where his office was located. When the ambulance arrived, Inoue told the crew: “I’m fine. Just take me to the hospital. I’ll walk to the car myself.” Those were his last words. There was no protracted investigation.
Those who knew him, in the underworld and in normal society, referred to Inoue as “Hotoke” or “The Buddha.” “Hotoke” is also police slang for “the dead.” One of his friends sadly joked after his death, “Well, he finally became a real Buddha, after all.”
It’s not uncommon for a disgraced yakuza boss to seek refuge by becoming a priest after banishment; but it’s usually just an exchange of Armani suits for robes and tax-exempt status. Sometimes, the robes double as a sort of bulletproof vest, because even in Japan, it’s bad PR to kill a priest. However, bosses who are practicing Buddhist priests? Rare... 
He reconciled the two realms as follows. Buddhism has its rules. The Inoue-gumi had its rules, taken from the Inagawa-kai Yokosuka-Ikka. Inoue worked to uphold them both. In some places, they actually overlap. The Inoue-gumi rules forbid: 1) using or selling drugs, 2) theft, 3) robbery, 4) sexual misconduct, 5) anything else that would be shameful underninkyodo, the humanitarian way.

To become a Buddhist priest like Inoue, you have to follow 10 grave precepts. Do not: kill, steal, engage in sexual misconduct, lie, drink or cloud the mind, criticize others, praise oneself and slander others, be greedy, give way to anger or disparage the noble path.
Sometimes I think we in the West can be more than a bit exclusionary in terms of who's a Buddhist and who's not a Buddhist.   That's why it's sort of taken for granted that some folks like the Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi are Buddhists - "real" Buddhists, but folks like Hotoke or member of the former Myanmar junta or people affiliated with the People's Republic of China are not, and we thereby fail to see all sorts of axes grinding, not to mention whole universes of other things.