Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Someone wrote a book...

I'm a little taken aback when I see stuff in the marketplace like books entitled "Why Buddhism Is True."  It's written by a guy named Robert Wright.

It seems to be a philosophy/science book.  From the link above (NY Times Book review) it seems to say that dissatisfaction - dukkha is programmed into us via natural selection.  Moreover,

Wright’s book is provocative, informative and, in many respects, deeply rewarding. A good example is Wright’s description of his first full entry into the realm of mindfulness. Arriving at this new mental state generated in him an intense emotive response and a memorable feeling that Wright evokes with suggestive but spare prose. It rings true. This scene lets the reader glimpse the power of mindful meditation and be intrigued, even seduced, by the transformative potential of the practice.

 I haven't read the book, I don't know the reviewer, but when I see things like "new mental states" "generated" etc. I am concerned as I say in my day job. 

Again, I'm not sure about the whole thing; if this was in my library I might take it out.  I must admit that 30 years ago Thich Nhat Hanh's "Miracle of Mindfulness" was very helpful to me.  So (obviously) the mindfulness stuff is important - and indeed, I would venture a necessary preceding stop to effecting meaningful change in one's life. 

 But there's something off here; it's not that I don't think Buddhism "is true," although I'm not sure what that means in a sense. There's a lot to Buddhism, and among those things I would posit, especially after spending some time on Twitter, that there's not only chiliocosms full of Buddhas, but also vastly ignorant, hurting people.  Buddhism is a hell of a lot more than meditation, and it sure as hell is not a commodity.

I think, if the NY Times reviewer captured it correctly, the last paragraph of his review damns the book:

I would venture that in most meditative states some subjectivity remains, as representative of the biological interests of the individual. As far as I can imagine, the complete disappearance of a subjective view would result in a “view from nowhere.” But whose view would that be, then? And if not ours, how would we come to know let alone seek such a view, such an emptiness? Mindful meditation is no stranger to the world of paradox. Is there anything stranger than discovering the pleasures of not feeling?

To steal from Richard Feynman, if you can't write an introductory book on Buddhism without a proper and readily grasped notion of emptiness, you have failed at the task of writing an introductory book on Buddhism.  So it's either Mr. Wright or the author of the review.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Poisoning the Well

Folks, google "Logical Fallacies."  I came across this post on "spiritual psychedelic drug taking" by Vince Horn, and could not believe...  well I shouldn't say that, because I'm infinitely mistaken.  Let's just say that its presumption that those opposed to the use of psychedelic drugs as "spiritual" practice should not be branded as "puritans."  Just because someone is opposed to the use of such practices on principle does not mean they are in favor of the War on Drugs.  What Mr. Horn did was invoke the logical fallacy of "poisoning the well" to portray opponents of his position in the worst possible light.

Mr. Horn does his position a grave disservice by presenting opponents of "spiritual psychedelic drug taking" this way.  It's dishonest, to boot.

I for one, have taken far more than my share of intoxicants in my lifetime, and in some aspects need to reduce further my intake of such things.  In no way would I consider these practices as "spiritual."

I can't speak for other Buddhist traditions, but I am firmly in the camp that says that "they're not the same thing and don't pretend they are."  And yes, the War on Drugs was a war on people who were not in certain in-groups in America by and large.  But that doesn't mean that Buddhist practices are compatible with taking strong hallucinogens.  

Let's just say if you're too out of it, you can't help yourself or others.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Woke versus Awake

This post is largely, but not entirely a response to the confluence of a few tweets, one a nice tweet by Brad Warner, which can be found around here, but also this thread.  What I'd like to express in this post is:
  • There's massive amounts of ignorance in the universe; it is an unfathomable amount of ignorance.
  • As I wrote somewhere way back when,  regular Buddhist practice results in something, "awakening-wise" something like the way death is mentioned in the movie Beetlejuice:

  • Just because you're highly experienced at whatever doesn't mean you don't have an obligation to learn more, do more etc. In such ugly times as these, not only is beauty true protest, but insouciance can be fatal.  The same applies for anyone who's ever had any kind of realization in practice.
  • Just because you're highly sensitive to marginalized groups - because you may be in a marginalized group - doesn't mean you're not influenced by a massive amount of ignorance, especially since it tends to be the case with all of us.
  • I don't consider myself woke, especially since I respect what a lot of folks are doing to realize their struggle in life is far more treacherous than mine. I won't opine on anyone's awakened state or lack thereof.  What I do know is privileged folks need to be more cognizant of marginalized folks regardless of what they do or know now, and people who are more aware of the issues and struggles of marginalized folks need to cultivate awareness, wisdom, compassion, and generosity.  Everybody anywhere along  the continua ought to try to excel in both ways.

So those are the points I wanted to cover in this post, and if I leave anything out here, well, consider it covered in my bullet points.  But I want to elaborate a little here and there at least:

I found this thread - pointing to this article - about a kid and a kimono, and how some that are derided as "SJWs" picked a target that revealed their ignorance, especially since it was later pointed out that kimono making is a dying industry in Japan, and wearing kimonos, and other Japanese stuff had been disseminated from Japan.  It was, in fact,  another example of what I mentioned in my post about Buddhist "cultural appropriation."  

I found it interesting because the thread I found on Twitter dealt with two people of Chinese ancestry talking about whether a Westerners using Japanese disseminated stuff was cultural appropriation or not. Yes, Virginia, they were Chinese-splaining proper behavior of Japanese towards Japanese culture.  I didn't know whether or not it was appropriate to White-splain Japanese culture to them, but they had unwittingly stepped on an inter-East Asian fault line (they're probably still unwitting, maybe not if they read this).  That fault line of course is that  if group X comprises subgroups A, B, and C, and A is the vast majority of those people in X,  people in B and C don't expect or desire that A is going to be the spokes-group for them.

I regularly work with East Asians, and there's certain protocols that are observed, because people need to get along with people in their work, and because there's laws, they're good laws, and they should be observed.  It is a tribute to the massive ignorance in the universe that laws that make people do the right thing for their business need to exist, but such laws do need to exist.  I try not to speak for any subgroups of people in which I work because of the law and because we have work to do.  Would that this would be the case in society at large, but it's not that way, even amongst those that favor social justice.

Back to Brad Warner.  Of late Brad Warner took a lot of heat (some of it from me) for his post here, which unfortunately sets of a false equivalence/comparison between alt-right buzzwords and the buzzwords of  what some deride as  SJWs.  I don't like the term SJWs,  because it reduces all people who hold certain positions to a caricature. (Such positions include some of my positions,  e.g.,  "Black Lives Matter" was a clever way to call attention to the fact that Black lives weren't being treated like White lives; it was a kind of koan: How are Black lives different than non-Black lives? That some liberals like Hilary would say "All lives matter" was precisely the point of Black Lives Matter. ) I also don't like the term "allies" either and that whole nomenclature that goes along with some of what those who (often mis)use critical theory use in advancing yes, justice and equality.  That was what Brad was decrying - the reduction of everything to shibboleths.  But, as I replied here and there to him, on one side, there's people trying to fight for people getting screwed by prejudice and bigotry, and on the other side there's racists and bigots who might be little guys screwed and exploited by others, but still racists.

The social justice folks, being human, are as capable of ignorance, violence, and hatred as anyone else, and, as Brad might point out, some of the people feeding into and exploiting bigotry and racism might make a mean apple pie and make you feel welcome in their home.  Maybe. But the current objectives of one group is not the moral equivalent of the other. It just isn't, regardless of who's in anyone's family.  And you know what? A million billion social  and cultural faux pas by a myriad number of social justice folk is not the same thing as a white person complaining that they are socially sanctioned for calling minority groups with derogatory names! There are however exact analogues for other groups in the world  because racism and bigotry are pretty widespread in the world.

There was something in one of Shunryu Suzuki's Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, that pointed to one's own self, one's own practice, one's own awareness as the locus of where any meaningful action should be initiated.   "Culture grows out of you," I think he wrote (and I don't know where my copy of the book is, so I'll rely on my memory here.)  Culture and you and/or culture and I are not separate. Cultural dissemination and cultural appropriation can't be completely separate either; and when something is disseminated the disseminated thing may not be bound to the social structures in which the thing existed prior to dissemination.  Bill may have to be killed because he used the skills disseminated to him for evil ends.  Or not.

Culture, social action, and any such related things can be used for good or bad ends; we have to have some degree of ethical principles to use them towards good ends, and we have to be aware of them to use them effectively towards good ends. 

So it's not enough to be "woke," you have to work towards being awake.  And what good is being awake if it's not helping yourself and others?  To the agree that we're awake, we're awake but we became awakened/died each in our own way, each with our own baggage. We still have an obligation to deal with the baggage.