Monday, January 25, 2016

Practicing Buddhist meditation IS serious stuff, but on the other hand...

Yeah, if you're doing 座禅 and you're feeling bad experiences, do seek counseling, and do cultivate your practice with people that know what they're doing.  And corporations shouldn't really be involved in this, has has been said so many times.  On the other hand, when I see stories like this one,  well, comments must be made...

Farias looked at the research into unexpected side-effects. A 1992 study by David Shapiro, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, found that 63% of the group studied, who had varying degrees of experience in meditation and had each tried mindfulness, had suffered at least one negative effect from meditation retreats, while 7% reported profoundly adverse effects including panic, depression, pain and anxiety. Shapiro’s study was small-scale; several research papers, including a 2011 study by Duke University in North Carolina, have raised concerns at the lack of quality research on the impact of mindfulness, specifically the lack of controlled studies.

OF COURSE you won't have all unicorns and rainbows from practicing mindfulness, because one's own suffering is among the things which might come into one's awareness when one is cultivating awareness.

Also "guided" meditations aren't the same thing as what one generally encounters in Zen/Cha'n temples. It's never been clear to me how "guided" meditations are associated with mindfulness. It's telling though that no legit Zen person seems to have been quoted in the article.
The idea that mindfulness is harmful,  "in general" is of course ridiculous.  It's not a stretch to say that whole disciplines in the arts, athletics,  and yes, even product design owe their existence to people practicing mindfulness. 

Some people have suffered greatly,  and this suffering can and does come up in practice.   But that suffering often is also a catalyst for great compassion and wisdom;  secular psychologists admit that.

But know what you're dealing with and what you're getting into. Stay away from hucksters, be they spiritual, corporate, or just plain hucksters.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

There's historical context for this...

I'd like to be able to read it someday. From what little I've read of excerpts of translations on-line, 鈴木 anticipated many of the arguments against Christian apologists made by later. Thankfully, 鈴木 put some furigana in the text, but as the text goes on, I think it becomes less and less helpful.

But I can't get past the first sentence. I can make out "でうす,” (Deus) which was how 鈴木 referred to the Christian god.

There's historical context as to why a Zen monk came to write such a polemic, but I don't feel like going into it at the moment...

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Light in the strangest of places...

In our relatively local news there's a story about some folks affiliated with the Dharma Rain Center who are doing a prison ministry at Pendleton, OR, teaching inmates how to mediate.  I think it's good that people teach people how to do meditation from a zen perspective, but a) I'm not sure the "teaching" gets transmitted well, and b) sometimes I'm not sure the teachers' teachers got good teaching.  Here's a couple of issues I had with the article, and again, I think it's great what Joe Engum is doing; I just think sometimes things get lost in translation, even if everyone's speaking the same language...

Zen Buddhism is not a belief system or religion, Engum said, but it requires followers to meditate, which Engum described as a method for self-observation or to understand personal experience... 

“You can’t taste the food by reading the recipe,” he said. “You have to do the practice.”... 

The prison groups also discuss meditation and the book they are reading, “The Way of Liberation” by Adyashanti.

If you see my comments on the link you'll see that I give a counter-position to the idea that "Zen Buddhism is not a religion."   I don't know where people get that idea, but I think it's one of the worst sales pitches - and it is a kind of sales pitch - that religious salesmen try.  Zen/Chan Buddhism especially has a really, really long history of being a religion. 

This is the kind of thing I mean when I point out that much of what passes for American convert Buddhism isn't all that aware of what the heck's been going on in the rest of the world. 

I also point out that you'd be hard pressed to find a large number of kōans (公案) where the subject of the 公案 takes place during meditation, and you'll be especially hard pressed to find in many  公案 where an awakening experience takes place during meditation, with Shakyamuni Buddha sort of the major exception that proves the rule.   Zen Buddhist practice involves a great deal of mindfulness, but not necessarily meditation as such.  (And as "Zen" it might arguably not even involve that...)


Also,  the food and recipe thing.  "A picture of a rice cake does not satisfy hunger" is such a famous Zen saying that it's was even lampooned by Monty Python decades ago.   But even this idea - as an idea - has its limits.  Lemon juice! Think of it, and you'll salivate.  Preparation of food sometimes does involve "tasting" or being aware of taste as one is reading the recipe.  I may be being churlish here, but I think what was meant was, "You can't satisfy hunger by reading the recipe," and even that might not be an absolute.  (This also reminds me of what I was trying to say regarding 行雲流水流水, which, as 書道, can "flow" even though it's "dry.")  Which is all another way of saying that slogans have their limits.

Finally, Adyashanti.  He's one of those guys who goes around saying he's enlightened, if I'm interpreting his Wikipedia article correctly, though I can't find that on his web site.  I have concerns - to use business-speak - about this guy.  My concerns are something along the lines of "reified guru."  This guy plays the part of guru.  For example:

...It is good to remember that the goal of Buddhism is to create Buddhas, not Buddhists, as the goal of Christianity is to create Christs, not Christians. In the same vein, my teachings are not meant to acquire followers or imitators, but to awaken beings to eternal truth and thus to awakened life and living.

To serve this intention my teaching has been, and continues to be, in a constant state of renewal. As more and more of my students come into the deeper realms of spiritual adulthood, so too does the expression of the teachings evolve to address and clarify the deeper reaches of spirituality. I find that as time goes on I can touch upon more subtle and challenging aspects of spiritual awakening as those who come to see me become more established in the deeper aspects of spiritual realization. It is this spontaneous dance and interplay between teacher and student that breathes new life into our shared exploration and expression of truth.
This guy is not a man of no rank.  Keep that in mind. 

 I have tried to document on this blog how blogging by a Zen Buddhist with a technical background might transpire.   As I have continued my practice, there has still been craziness in my family, work place, and elsewhere.  Dukkha's still there.  I did this a while back somewhere and am too lazy to go find it, but it's an interesting contrast if you look at Mr. Adyashanti's beatific countenance and compare it to a Lin-ji, or even a Dogen, not to mention a Bodhidharma.  Mr. Adyashanti is not a man of no rank.

My point is, real people practicing real Zen Buddhism don't usually sport that beatific countenance. The ones I know come as close as contented forbearance, and if you think I'm judging by appearances to much, please try to understand that this "beyond words and letters" thing about Zen takes everything - including words and letters - into account.  Including what's on one's face.  There's more to your true face before your parents were born besides an expression of "bliss."

That's not to say that there aren't things that Mr. Adyashanti is saying and writing that could help people.   Again, I think the folks who are doing that prison meditation ministry are definitely helping folks.   Sometimes you can get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right, as the song goes.

Apropos of all the above, I think I will try to start a new series related to Hui Neng, The Transmission of the Lamp,  and the Platform Sutra.  And maybe some Lin-ji too.   I think it would be more illuminating that Mr. Adyashanti's stuff anyway, and all I'd ask is if motivated,  see what my advertisers have to say, and when that big fat check from Google comes 'round,  I'll donate most of it to a good cause.