Saturday, July 09, 2022

An update

 A few years ago, my Zen teacher went back to Japan mostly because he was asked to be the teacher of another temple in Honshu,  in addition to the one he leads in Honno in Chiba, Ryobo Zen An.

At that time, I told him I needed to deepen my practice, and I am deeply grateful to him that he referred me to Tahoma Zen Monastery.  Since then, I have done 4 sesshins there; I'd previously done a weekend retreat there.

I have stories to tell.

I have monetary obligations to help out the monastery. 

But most of all, the experience of 4 sesshins has really helped me  ...uh.... re-orient my mind.

I understand why John Daido Loori talked about why he couldn't do 無 when he was driving.  Though there's something like it you can do while driving.  AND, though he's discredited because of his sexual offenses, I absolutely understand why Eido Shimano, when asked how to practice 無, said (I'm paraphrasing) that one should practice 無 as though one were Jesus on the cross when he said, "My god my god why have you forsaken me!"

There's stuff I don't agree spot on with some things some folk adhere to, and that's OK. 

It's a sangha. There will be people who rub you the right and wrong way. And we're all here for the same goal: To help all beings transcend suffering.

There's odd stuff about this; it took me 4 sesshins to figure out that when folks like Sozui Shubert wrote things like "Die on the cushion," she meant it, and not only that, facing "death" is the only way to start to resolve the Great Matter of Life and death. 

I am SO deeply grateful to everyone I have met at these sesshins, and hope to do many more. It's really helped not only me, but all to whom I have interactions.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Who owns what you think is true? Who owns what's in your head? The politics of belief and adherence

 A friend, with whom I'd been drifting away from, over 20 years, seems to have become enamored with "Q-anon culture."  It's not worth recounting here what that connotes, what they say will happen, who the villains are, the sex trafficking Clintons, Bill Gates and what-not.  Suffice it to say there's a few seeds of truth (Epstein, child sex-trafficking) buried somewhere in a chiliocosm of bullshit, said bullshit including a complete discounting of any report or story coming from major mainstream media.

How people got that way, what in their psyche or genetics pre-disposes them to cosmic credulousness is also not particularly relevant to the topic of this post.  Suffice it to say that it is certainly one by-product of Steve Bannon and other right wing propagandists' strategy to "Flood the Zone with Shit." Its political import is that by gaslighting people to think of vast conspiracies, it's easier to get them to behave how you want, it excludes and erases things which may challenge rightist political initiatives, and even causes left reactions that exclude and erase that which can challenge the right.

This has been going on for quite a while of course in one form or another; going back to the Red Scares, or Masonic or anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.  Too, there have been, you know, actual conspiracies.   But the questions I'm trying to pose here is are as above.  If you are thinking about a conspiracy of something, or some political thing or other, why?  Does it serve a purpose being in your head?

As of this writing, Ruth Bader Gisnburg has recently passed away, and of course there will be a titanic and greatly political struggle taking place in election season to name here successor.  And it's altogether fitting and proper that we should contribute to that discourse, just as it's been altogether fitting and proper to bear witness to the fact that Black lives matter.  We do have voices and feet and hands and brains and existences that does make it our responsibility to contribute to political discourse to improve the conditions of all beings.

Also as of this writing, September 19th, 2020, we in the Pacific Northwest emerged only yesterday from a week of very unhealthy to world's worst hazardous air conditions because of the confluence of forest fires and a temperature inversion.  That, combined with Covid-19, combined with the normal flood of shit in a political season, made it all the more absurd when my friend started texting me links from sites so lacking in credibility that the most credible one came from Fox "News," an organization that has literally gone to court to protect their "right" to lie to their audience.  Aside from the complete obliviousness to what I was actually experiencing (said Q-anon adherent lives in New York), what struck me was how divorced from reality my friend had become.  Mentally he was in the same place as a jihadi, a Scientologist,  or a member of the Weather Underground (although the latter at least had real enemies and legitimate animuses.   In short, my friend had drunk the Kool-Aid®.

Q-anon adherence is just one way though in which one's mind can be hijacked in the service of others.   Capitalism has lots of other ways of doing this as well.  "Ideal love a new purchase" is a line in a Gang of Four song. Our day jobs are in many cases the leasing out of attention and time to that which we wouldn't lease out if we didn't need the money.   Then there are those hours we while away in front of the TV, or in compulsive activities, or other ways in which we waste time and attention.  Most of the latter activities are ways of titrating reality because reality is found to be extremely painful. 

Who owns what you think is true? The Q-anon people claim they "do research," yet reject fact-checking that which is inconsistent with their premise that the "mainstream media" cannot be trusted.   The mainstream media should always be questioned as their choice of facts and narratives often does serve a political purpose, acknowledged or not.   But when one is trying to debunk a story from them with Turkish government propaganda, propaganda from the present Turkish government, one will fail.

"I'm not a philosopher, I'm a plumber" my Physics 101 professor said in response to a question about the nature of charge and matter I posed many years ago. I'm an applied scientist too, a kind of plumber, and while the nature of reality is something that has taken up a lot of mental space in Mahayana Buddhism, I've got to get from point A to point B.  So in a certain sense the ultimate nature of TRUTH is not as important as getting from point A to point B with grace, wisdom, compassion and generosity.  Both because the phenomena alluded to in Q-anon conspiracies do not comport with reality and because the recounting of the alluded-to phenomena is not done with grace, wisdom, compassion and generosity the movement cannot be given any kind of credence from anyone honestly "doing their own research."

Who owns what is in your head? 

Any serious practitioner of Zen knows the answer to that one. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Not going anywhere...

 Too much to do.

But will be back soon...

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Before some Zen teachers post some liberal stuff about the uprising...

I posted the following on Facebook the other day:

“Who is looting whom? Grabbing off the TV set? He doesn't really want the TV set. He's saying screw you. It's just judgment, by the way, on the value of the TV set. He doesn't want it. He wants to let you know he's there. The question I'm trying to raise is a very serious question. The mass media-television and all the major news agencies-endlessly use that word "looter." On television you always see black hands reaching in, you know. And so the American public concludes that these savages are trying to steal everything from us, And no one has seriously tried to get where the trouble is. After all, you're accusing a captive population who has been robbed of everything of looting. I think it's obscene.” - James Baldwin, 1968

Not much has changed. Police are still murdering African Americans and other PoC, not to mention people who are in mental distress. Invariably when these things happen the media - whether conservative or liberal - responds without actually trying to understand _why_ people respond this way. The conservatives and fascists agitate for violence against PoC in the uprising, and the liberals moralistically demand an end to the property damage and always put off until tomorrow any redress of grievances. Just as it has done in this very case. The comparison has been made in recent days to the fascists and their hangers-on in cosplay, who, with weapons displayed, were protesting shelter in place orders. The cosplayers are people who feel entitled to do what they want when they want to regardless of consequences to others. On the other hand, the people in the uprising just want to be free from senseless violence inflicted on them by the state.

Property is not human. People are not property.

You would think the abolition of slavery would have decided those last 2 sentences once and for all, but it’s clear that conservatives, fascists and liberals haven’t made the obvious conclusion.

Now, as a friend observed with the Covid-19 pandemic, people fall back into familiar patterns of thinking in response to traumatic events such as we've experienced this year.  So yes, on the right, it's "Release the hounds, Smithers" - pretty much literally.  On the liberal side it's "I condemn the violence." And yes, you can attribute the above to the "woke" side of things, but I don't like that characterization; like Suzuki Roshi's belief in Nothing, I think it's vitally important to not only see the property damage within the confluence (I think that's a better word than "context") of state sanctioned  gangs of thugs called police.  And I think it's important to have science inform public policy in terms of policing, just as it should be in public health.

But to say, frankly, some of the stuff that one teacher has written, well, watch for sanctimony.

This is not a time to be silent.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

The Covid-19 Post

I haven't blogged here in a while, and I'm thinking it's a good idea to start up again.  I'd been not blogging so much because there was so many other things to do.

But I think I should say something about recent conditions.

I have been deepening my practice a great deal, but you know what?

It is frustrating certainly not to go to the gym, go to restaurants, etc.  I feel as though I am in a bomb shelter and it's nuclear fallout if I go out in public so much.  I've put a positive spin on this for a quite a while, but frankly, going into the 3rd month of this (as of next week), it is a bit fraying.

And I know that's there for a reason.  It's there because a lot of people have it way worse than I do.

And I can fall back on the practice.  But beyond that, it IS deeper than ever.

So despite it all, I continue.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Coronavirus May be an Opportunity to Deepen Practice

Recently Brad Warner wrote some stuff on Twitter which I found, personally, somewhat irresponsible - basically stating that people should in general, not discuss the coronavirus pandemic.

His post here explains his position a little better than his Tweets, to say the least.  However, I still find it problematic.   So here's my response to his post:

Dear Brad,

I responded rather strongly to you on Twitter about your position re: the coronavirus, and reading your post on your blog I can understand your position, based on your own mental predisposition & baggage therein.

But please note it's far, far, far from universal. Those of us, such as myself, who have science backgrounds (especially historical science backgrounds)  can cut through the media and political bullshit, and in fact it's incumbent on us to speak out, to inform, to analyze, engage, and most of all, to help.   So while it might be the right thing for you, with your mental predisposition, I'd rephrase what you'd written earlier.

And frankly speaking, it's not out of the realm of impossible that we might have statewide quarantines coming.  I have in-laws in China that have been subject to their draconian quarantine measures, and they're getting by.  It's something to live with, to accept the circumstances such as they are. The point is, even in such circumstances, to be unmoved mentally and just do what needs to be done.   

The environment in which we live at present is like a really good Damascus Japanese knife made via the methods of samurai swords.  You have to pay attention to it or you'll hurt yourself.   So it is with a pandemic.  We don't want a pandemic, but what we want or don't want won't change circumstances, so we have to accept it.

As such, it's an opportunity to deepen one's practice, in somewhat the same manner as the mud at Tahoma Sogenji in February.  We have to be mindful of the mud, mindful of the sharp knives, and mindful of the possible presence of pathogens.

It's not really that difficult.


Sunday, June 23, 2019

Spirituality? Wash your mouth out with soap!

I write this a lot on various forums, social media, etc. 

And I'm going to expand a little on it today, based on, yes, another Brad Warner blog post.  But I mean the "target" of this post to be a little bigger than Ven. Warner, because I think there's too much "spiritual" quackery in the world generally, and because this "spirituality" is pretty deeply infested in American Buddhist communities in particular.  As for "spiritual" quackery in the world, I was going to write "America," then I realized, no, it's in Europe too, I've seen it first hand.  Then I realized it's in Russia, with some pretty strange crackpotty Christian sects.   And it's in Japan of course.  South Korea? Land of Sung Myung Moon? And which took to a proliferation of Christian sects as a duck to water?  And Africa?... 

You get the point. "Spirituality" is a whole lot bigger than Western Buddhists' take on it.  It's bigger than the 12 Step movement's take on it.  And so, you may ask, what would I, a practicing Zen Buddhist of about 25+ years now, have against "spirituality"?  Uh... well, let's go to the dictionary, at least that which comes from Google:


the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.
"the shift in priorities allows us to embrace our spirituality in a more profound way"

So, first off, as a Buddhist of the Mahayana variety, there's no notion of human spirit or soul separate from form, feeling, thought, volition and consciousness.  So "spirituality" as defined by Google connotes a false dichotomy, and as I point out, it's really in essence theological kitsch, as Milan Kundera would call it, and as others have.  I sure as hell am not the first person to point out the relationship of "spirituality" to kitsch;  google around and you'll see.

Now this isn't a matter of philosophy or semantics,  but instead goes to the very marrow of what is in Zen practice - to practice is to be really present, amidst the shit, amidst the pain and suffering amidst the loss, and not at all being separated from the shit, the pain and suffering, loss, and what have you.  It's all here, right now.

Secondly, "spirituality" as is commonly conceived is really at its heart a religious position, and yet many people are reluctant to embrace the idea of religiousness and religious positions, but are just OK with embracing "spirituality."  This is especially true in 12 Step groups, which are, for all intents and purposes, religious groups, but refuse to identify themselves as such.  

I think we should call ducks ducks, if we're speaking English.  Maybe I'm funny that way, but a duck is a duck, it's not a "bird, but not a duck."

Now,  if you can accept the above, at least as I see it, a whole bunch of corollaries and conclusions fall into place with a big SNAP!

  • Guru shmuru.  Really, they may have taken different paths in life and have had different circumstances, but that "spiritual" teacher isn't any different than you on a fundamental basis.
  • It's unnecessary and a category mistake for Buddhist publications to frame the misdeeds of Buddhist teachers as having consequences for  "spirituality."
  • Brad Warner is not a Perfect Master and he didn't have to write a book about it, but OK.
  • All religions have dirt.  You can't have a religion without the dirt.  Or, as Leonard Cohen put it, "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."
  • That's why practice amidst the shit of daily life is so critical.  'Cause that's the only place it happens.
  • Chogyam Trungpa died of alcohol misuse but that didn't invalidate at least some of what he said.
  • Everyone is a hypocrite.  Some are dishonest though.
I could go on, but I do wish "spirituality" as a word to describe religious practice and orientation were dropped,  just the same as I wish no wait staff would ever use the word "perfect" in response to a mean I'm ordering.  Maybe I should write a book of aphorisms based on this, William Blake style. 

But maybe that's just me. Your mileage may vary.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Brief Replies to Recent Posts by Brad Warner

He's avoided social media, so  I thought I'd weigh in on a few of his recent posts....

  • On transgender-ness,  I think there's more science around this than Ven. Warner gives credit.

  • I do wish Ven. Warner would really look at his own politicization of Buddhism more deeply than bash "progressive" Buddhist teachers.   I cannot really compare a teacher's visit to Yasukuni Shrine with supporting a regime that is harming so many people such as our present one. 

         Also, he really ought to study history more...

And yet when I look at the overall history of Buddhism, I see it as generally apolitical. For example, in Dogen’s voluminous writings I can only recall a couple of very tangential references to anything one might call “political.” He had some financial support from certain of the samurai and every once in a while he refers to them, but that’s about it.

        Well, actually, I could think of more than a few reasons why Dogen didn't write much political     stuff.   Like, for example,  because of who he was, as Ven. Warner points out,  he was not really in a position to state things that would be critical of the shogun. For example.  But generally apolitical? Give me a break.  Not just Tibet.  Check out the history of the Mongols, and the role Chan and other Buddhists played  in the Yuan Dynasty.  

All of that said,  I mildly agree with his larger point, that Buddhism should in general be welcoming of political differences.  Where he and I disagree is that there is a point where the political difference becomes  an obligation to speak out because of concern for others.  In general, I find Ven. Warner blissfully unaware of the fact that there are many who are indeed suffering in the US  and the world because of the political situation. 


  • Regarding Buddhist robes, ...
    •  At my recent sesshin I was asked to wear the top of a samue, as per the rest of attendees.  I should have brought one that I own, but didn't think of it when I packed.  It did make a difference in my practice in that it helped underscore the gravity of the task at hand.   
    • I'm  a little surprised at Ven. Warner's remark that his teacher didn't do chanting 'cause the thought there was too much of it in Japan.   In my experience that Western trained teachers don't do chanting nearly as well, as effectively,  as the Rinzai Japanese teachers I've known.  I'm sure he's saying true things there, but still...
    • He's right; the robes are a costume, but then is there any difference between "playing" a Zen priest and being a Zen priest? 
    •  Again, at my recent sesshin, I made reference - very obliquely - to the ubiquity of mud at Tahoma-san.  Harada-roshi was not wearing particularly fancy robes, and his not particularly fancy robes were not immune to the mud.   I think that was kind of the  best "answer" to the point of Warner's post here.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

More Thoughts on Other Religions, Their Relations with Buddhism and Hurt People

It's an interesting confluence of things these days; I'm reading more about the anti-12 Step movement on line, and the more I read, the more I'm appalled.  I'm appalled not simply because 12 Step treatment for compulsive behaviors is so prevalent in the US and so ineffective, but also because the adherents of 12 Step groups - which are legally and in every other way religions - tend not to look on other religions as on a par with their 12 Step practices.

You can see this by looking, for example, how Buddhism is occasionally represented on a site like, or my current bête noire,  one Ms. "InkyMama,"  who claims to be a "Buddhist" "meditation teacher" who is  "currently working on a forthcoming collection of meditations on the 12 Steps, the 4 Noble Truths, and the Eightfold Path." Despite her claims of being a "teacher," I haven't been able to verify that she has any credentials from anywhere to teach whatsoever. 

Some of her bilge has already been published on as so-called "guided meditations;" and basically her schtick is basically pulling out some aspect of Buddhism; and some aspect of 12 Step religions, and making an absurd claim that there's correspondence between these two different aspects of two different religions.   Now maybe in some varieties of Buddhism guided meditations have a place; but in the Zen school, it's almost entirely unheard of in my experience, at least, in terms of more authentic teaching, and Brad Warner explains why.   Although I've cheerfully upbraided Ven. Warner on some of his political meanderings and his super reliance on Dōgen, his commitment to authentic practice seems very strong.   I'll still continue cheerfully upbraiding though when the situation seems to warrant it. 

I've debunked her stuff chapter and verse elsewhere, but suffice to say here, anyone who's serious about Buddhist practice and has been in contact with 12 Step spiritual religious practices will eventually realize:

  • We Buddhists don't really have a "higher power."
  • We don't really have "character defects;" in fact the opposite is more true.
  • There's no "we" who are "powerless."
  • Buddhism can't really be warped into a 12 Step religious framework.
I could go on, but as I wrote elsewhere, maybe her cultural appropriation of Buddhism is good in the way that maybe Frederick Lenz's cultural appropriation might have been good in that it will spur people on to look for the real thing.  I hope so, because there is so much misinformation about Buddhism in 12 Step circles, and a growing realization that even Refuge Recovery is tainted with 12 Step - inherited Christian moralism and dualism.

Also though the confluence of this 12 Step distortion of Buddhism happened, it's not the only place where religious principles alien to Buddhism rub elbows with Buddhism.  I'm not going to delve into whether Roman Catholic priests should study or teach Zen - although I wouldn't be a student of such a teacher, preferring the original flavor to the Western appropriation.  But I would like to go back to the issue of Adam Tebbe, which I think hasn't gotten nearly the shrift it merited. 

Adam Tebbe was for a few years heavily associated with a kind of American Sōtō Zen Buddhism qua Tricycle qua TMZ.  There were, for a while a few teachers with whom he was associated, and indeed they blogged on his site.  Jundo Cohen gives him credit for propagating information about predatory teachers, although I think what Tebbe was really doing was becoming absorbed in the scandal, that is scandal blogging, as opposed to ferreting out new information, i.e., journalism.  I think it's sad that Tebbe was more or less unconciously aided and abetted by a couple of teachers here and there who I think didn't see a couple of warning signs which were more or less evident to anyone who questioned why the main focus of a site purporting to be an encyclopedic resource for "Zen" was so focused on what to me was scandal blogging.  Adam Tebbe was - probably still is - a hurting person, and somewhere along the way,  if his "testimony" is accurate - he seems to have had a psychotic break, or at least the language he's using to describe his experience is not inconsistent with having such a break.

How do we respond to such a person?  Right now the response of most of the on-line Buddhist media and what's left of the Buddhist blogosphere has been mostly silence.  When the subject has come up, the response has tended toward "I hope he finds peace in his path," and though I've said this too, I would also add that I'd wish he'd stop denigrating Buddhism in his pushing of Christianity, especially since it comes across with a certain "Raymond Shaw is the kindest, warmest, bravest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life" quality to it.  I do think though it's incumbent on the Buddhist blogosphere - and especially those teachers that were formerly close to Tebbe - to make some kind of statement, to pay some attention to the fact that this happened, as I titled an earlier blog post on this subject.

Two or three years ago I was having a beer with my teacher (yes, this happens), and the subject of Eido Shimano came up.  We both agreed that from our standpoints it was impossible to explain Shimano's predatory behavior; my teacher opined that Shimano must have been really mentally troubled.

So it is - and ironically so - with Tebbe.  I can't explain or know what he went through, the pain and troubles he's had that would have related to a psychotic break.   I can't explain why at this stage of his life, he has to deprecate the Dharma, but I will certainly remonstrate against that. 

But one thing I have learned deeper since the time I've spoken with my teacher.  We're not kidding around at all, it's not just a pep talk, to say that we're inherently  Buddhas, inherently capable of transcending suffering.   I don't know why some folks suffer profoundly in ways I can't understand, but I can attest that suffering can be transcended, and you don't need another religious or "spiritual" path to do that.  And this fact that we are inherently Buddhas has profound implications about how other religions are in relation to Buddhism.  It's not something to be erased, papered over, swept under the rug or otherwise ignored.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Engaging Buddhist Practice

Sometimes, you wake up and find out that you've got to help a lot more people a lot more deeply than you've been doing.

That's a good thing.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Well, this happened...

I hadn't thought much about severely disturbed people and the practice of Zen, but Adam Tebbe clearly had problems beyond what he thought his practice could address.  But it seems we should have a protocol for such things.

I can't begrudge those who, after practicing Zen Buddhism for a while decide on another path; as others have put it before, they're practicing whether they know it or not.  What does concern me, though is that Mr. Tebbe is still deeply, deeply hurting, and it's unconscionable for there to be somewhere "Christian" people and clergy looking to "benefit" in some way from Mr. Tebbe's troubles.

I put the word "benefit" in quotes because while one might feel they have "won one for the Kingdom" or "been able to reach more souls" or whatever, of course, this is more about their own perceived gain, their own "getting something."

I'm sure he's been told this already, but for Mr. Tebbe and those who are with him, I wish them peace.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

And while I'm at it...

I also gotta write a response to this "Meditation and Control" essay.

Here's my response: What would this author have to say about playing tennis? Or practicing an art? A martial art? Weightlifting?

I don't think he gets the point.

12 Step Religions are not Buddhism...

I would like to do a series of posts on the above topic.  There's several reasons why:

  • From a Buddhist perspective, the whole idea of the 12 Steps themselves are incompatible with Buddhism.
  • If one has a compulsive behavior syndrome, it's simply cruel and ineffective to apply 12 Step religious constraints as a "treatment" for the syndrome. And I use the word "syndrome" instead of "disorder" because in a lot of cases the use of the word "disorder" is not only stigmatizing, but incorrect: if one's brain is structured to work a certain way,  and it's working that way, and if it conveys certain benefits to its owner being structured that way, it's really not correct to imply that the structure is "wrong."
  • In fact, if one knows the history of  12 Step groups, and understands 12 Step doctrine, it's cruel to apply that doctrine to pretty much anything.
  • To the extent that compulsive behavior syndromes are injurious to the subject with the syndrome, there's more effective techniques, and these techniques actually are inherited, or appropriated, from Buddhist practice.

The eagle never lost so much time as when he submitted to learn from the crow, wrote William Blake.

I shall be writing more on this topic.  Maybe I'll write a book, too.

We are the Greatest Bullshit Artists

I mentioned a while back that I had lots of new ideas.   Of late I have had some family difficulties and am working through them.  They have brought new opportunities for "practice" as well.

"Practice" is in quotes because a) I think the word's a bit overused in American Buddhist circles, and b) I can't think of a better word at the moment.

I just came over hear because I thought to myself, "Where can I go for something...uplifting... from a Buddhist perspective?

And I couldn't think of many places.

Of late, Brad Warner's blog has become reactionary, especially in response to White American Convert Buddhist liberalism.  So it goes.   James Ford's blog - and a few others - still burns brightly with the glow of White American Convert Buddhist liberalism. Sweeping Zen doesn't have much new content now that Eido Shimano and Joshu Sasaki have passed away. 

There just aren't the blogs around that there were even 10 years ago.  I'll have to check again, but it seems that good American Buddhist writing is hard to find.

And that's because I submit the mission of "Buddhist" blogs was somewhat ill-begotten back when blogging was the rage.

And that probably has to do with the fact that we are our own best bullshit artists. The level of bullshittery with which we engage ourselves is truly breathtaking.  At least, speaking for me.  I can convince myself that I should want or need all kinds of stuff.

At any rate, let's see what today has to offer...

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

I've got lots of new material floating around in my head...

Some of it has to do with recent experiences I can't fully talk about yet, some has to do with the deepening of practice that resulted from those experiences.

I can't wait to get some time to put it all down, and be as candid as circumstances allow.

Lots and lots of stuff!

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.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Buddhism, Martial Arts, 書道/書法 and Cultural Appropriation

I could have sworn I'd written about this already but recent stuff I've been reading on social media leads me to believe that Certain Things Need to Be Written Down.  I know I commented on this elsewhere because there was a spate of "cultural appropriation in yoga" stuff a while back.  What motivates me today is not yoga critics but  recent critiques of cultural appropriation such as this.  Now the originator of that Twitter bit often has content worth one's attention, and is often rather witty.  But Certain Things Need to Be Written Down.

And with that a few words about "yoga appropriation" ought to be said first. I thought yoga appropriation as cultural appropriation rather absurd, as yoga as New Agey Thing has been a thing for a lot longer than the last decade and a half or so when it really took off.  And I thought if people didn't get peeved at New Agey yoga appropriation, what's the deal with cultural appropration?

And the trajectory by which the yoga meme (the Dawkins meaning,  folks) went from Indian thing to New Agey Thing to commercial thing to appropriated thing to alleged intellectual property is interesting because in some ways it mirrors the martial arts memes (without the New Agey step more or less), and in my view, despite the capitalist appropriation of yoga and martial arts, really damns the view of cultural appropriation of these disciplines i.e., the outcome of colonization and oppression of people of color by dominant white culture. NB: my examples here do not mean there is no such thing as cultural appropriation. Of course there is.  Yeah, Elvis Presley, white idiots who dress up like Native Americans and so forth.  But my point is not all instances of white people - or any other people - taking up a discipline "outside" their culture is stealing, is cultural appropriation or is wrong. And these "not all instances" are not "corner cases" - isolated instances which prove the general rule. They are, in my view vital for the survival of humanity in fact, at least when it comes to Buddhism.  They can be vital to the survival of the disciplines, too!

In a nut, the processes by which white people were introduced to yoga and martial arts  wasn't cultural appropriation at all.  It was cultural dissemination.  Yes, that's what it was. The same is even more true (and more important) for Buddhism, as I'll show. And it's also true for 書道/書法. I will readily and quickly grant that there is capitalist appropriation of yoga and martial arts just as there is capitalist appropriation of mindfulness.   But it was cultural dissemination to be sure.

Somewhere in my house I have this book. This lady trained for many years with B.K.S. Iyengar.  She didn't take it from him; he willingly taught it to her.  So it was with the Catholic nun who wrote the first book on yoga I ever read 46 or so years ago (though there were bits in there about being careful when you meditate, because Satan or something, if I recall correctly.) Point is, they learned it from those willing to teach it, and those willing to teach it thought it important to teach it to white people.

So it is with martial arts.  My Sifu, at his age (75 or thereabouts) wants me (60) to learn Wing Chun well enough so that I can teach others, and also so his lineage doesn't die out! Now, thankfully for Sifu, there's students in the class much younger and better than I! On the other hand, there's Tae Kwon Do, which is in several ways cultural appropriation of kung fu albeit as a  white and Korean cultural appropriation, but that's a whole other tangent. Here I should make the obligatory point that it is said that at least some of Ip Man's students had some resistance to Bruce Lee's studying of Wing Chun because of his mixed race background.  But I think I just made my point again.  I will make the point again shortly!

The difference between appropriation and dissemination is an order of magnitude more salient when it comes to Buddhism, especially in the Zen school.  Now I have heard some advocates for people of color make some ridiculously ignorant complaints about Western Convert Buddhists, which is used often as a signifier for white Western Convert Buddhists.  (NB: Read Arunlikhati's Angry Asian Buddhist blog for legitimate critiques of white Western Convert Buddhists.  Arunlikhati is a saint in my book.)   These ignorant complaints about white Western Buddhists often, but not always, come from Asian Americans with a Christian background.   So let me dispel a few myths that I've seen straightaway:

  • YES, we know it's "awakening" and "understanding" and seeing into one's nature and not "enlightenment."  And some of us, unlike some of you, can read Chinese and Japanese.
  • YES, we know it's asinine to go to places like Thailand sporting Buddha tattoos.  At least most of us do.
  • YES, we know there are mistranslations of some texts.
  • Many Buddhist texts were written in an Indo-European language before they were written in Sino-Tibetan languages.
  • No, we don't all revere the Dalai Lama.
  • YES there are quite a few frauds and hucksters and degenerates (white and Asian) in the White Western Buddhist Convert area, and YES, we've worked hard to try to deal with that issue. And YES, similar stuff goes on in Asia.
  • NO, we're not all vegan/vegetarian.
  • We're not all liberals. Heck, I'm not a liberal.

Anybody who's read about Bodhidharma knows that Zen was transmitted by cultural dissemination; this is emphasized in  the Platform Sutra.  And anyone who's read the Lotus Sutra knows that Buddhism is supposed to be universal.

But more importantly, one practices Buddhism to try to grok suffering, disillusionment, dukkha. This is about freakin' living one's life to deal with the fundamental human condition, and to help others to do so! If someone's going to call me out for "cultural appropriation," so be it!  But I would hope that such a person develops enough skill to be able to be a better practitioner than me.

Ditto for martial arts, at least in so far as they are taught to develop authentic 功夫.  I would wish that everyone be disciplined and accomplished.  This strictly speaking can't even be culturally appropriated for the same reason that Kierkegaard railed against the notion of "Christian nations." 功夫 happens at the individual level.

I could write a book on this. Perhaps I should.  One point I should make before I close is the same is true for 書道/書法; the author of the Twitter stream I referenced earlier took umbrage at a font.  I imagine he may not be happy at my practice of 書道/書法, but that may be again, like Asian Americans with a Christian background complaining about white Western Buddhists, due to a lack of familiarity with what 書道/書法 even is.  I hope not, but suffice it to say, 書道/書法, like 功夫 happens at the individual level.  When you see a work of  書道/書法, you are in fact seeing someone's mind.  How could anyone culturally appropriate that?

Sunday, June 18, 2017

What *do* other Buddhists think of Falun Da Fa? And is it harming the reputation of predominantly white Buddhist Communities?

You don't have to look very far on my blog to know that I have been highly critical of the Portland Buddhist Peace Fellowship in recent years because of their unfortunate embrace of Falun Da Fa, aka Falun Gong at the Portland Buddhist Festival.

I'm not going to rehash all the reasons that I feel Falun Da Fa has no place at a meeting of Buddhists - or rather, they have as much a right to a place at a meeting of Buddhists as Evangelicals, Taoists, Muslims, and maybe Sam Harris. 

Falun Gong simply does not represent any kind of Buddhism within established traditions.  While it claims to be of "the Buddha School," it as as "Buddhist" as Frederick Lenz's "American Buddhism."

So I've said this for several years now.   Groups like the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, and other white liberal groups have tended to be reflexively anti-China.  China is a far from perfect country,  and has done things that I cannot condone, but the white liberal narrative of Buddhist politics and China is ridiculously over-simplified, and I cannot condone that either. 

But I'm curious as to how other Buddhist groups think about the presence of Falun Da Fa at these meetings - not simply Western-based sanghas, but also Asian Sanghas.   We in the Portland area have an abundance of temples nearby; - and we have temples in Vancouver WA as well.  There's also on-line Buddhists, representing Asian viewpoints as well as yes, white convert Buddhists.  I should also point out something about the Portland Buddhist Festival: It seems to have gotten whiter over the years.

I intend to ask members of the local Buddhist communities about Falun Da Fa. So, if you happen to be one of the people or temples I ask about this, I would deeply appreciate a response; but I would also deeply appreciate a thoughtful response. My question will be: How do you feel about Falun Da Fa represented as Buddhist given what is written in general in the Zhuan Falun, and especially the chapter on Falun Da Fa and Buddhism?

I'll publish whatever I wind up with. Hopefully together - including the Buddhist Peace Fellowship - we can come to some kind of closure as to what to do about Falun Da Fa in our Buddhist communities.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Why the Heart Sutra?

Christians have, at times, touted the Lord's Prayer as the "perfect" prayer; it contains evidently all the stuff that monotheists want in a prayer.

The Heart Sutra, in my view, is substantially more profound than the Lord's Prayer, and, at the same time, is not a prayer.  It's more-or-less a sutra.

"Sutra" as Wikipedia helpfully explains, is a Sanskrit word that means string or thread; yes, it is equivalent to the English word "suture," which is what surgeons put in you when they stitch you up after surgery.  Yeah, humanity is that close that a sring or thread in Sanskrit is a string or thread for surgery in English.   Did I mention that the words "Zen" and "thank" also have a common origin?

The Lord's Prayer is a prayer directed to the Christian deity written in the second person. The Heart Sutra on the other hand, is said to be the words of the Buddha to his disciple Sariputra; thus, it is not meant to be addressed to anyone,  rather, it is the quote of the Buddha taken as a statement of fact.

The main point of the short sutra - with is the main point of the "wisdom" sutras in general - is that experiential phenomena - our apprehensions of the five "aggregates" of  form, feeling, volition, conciousness have no inherent essence; thus all is but a temporary co-existence of these aggregates.

This statement of fact by the Buddha includes that when the Bodhisattva of Compassion deeply saw the reality of the emptiness of the five aggregates that they obtained complete awakening. 

How can this be, or why is this so?

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Heart Sutra

The Heart Sutra is a fundamental text of Mahayana Buddhism.   As most of my readers who have read my blog are Buddhist, they know about the Heart Sutra.  But I have never written much on it myself.  So I think I'll write a few blog posts on it, as I have the Lotus Sutra and the Lankavatara Sutra.   The Heart Sutra posts should be shorter though.

If you're Buddhist and are reading these posts, I hope my thoughts on the Heart Sutra will be of use to you.  If you're not Buddhist and are reading these posts,  I hope you will come to appreciate what the Heart Sutra captures.

The Heart Sutra,  is the "heart" of the "Perfection of Wisdom in 8000 Lines" or "Perfection of Wisdom" Sutra.  One version is here:

I hope in coming days to delve into Heart Sutra in depth and its import.