Saturday, December 29, 2007

There really is such a thing as enlightenment

While psychologically, it might appear to be the same as any other conversion experience from the fact that one clearly exhibits an entirely new viewpoint, I am not sure that one enlightenment experience is as good as any other.

Hakuin, while reading the Lotus sutra, said that he experienced his greatest enlightenment; that sutra's viewpoint clearly does not in any way comport with fundamentalist Christianity (it could be the subject for a whole bit of comparative religion to relate the Prodigal Son parable in the Lotus sutra versus that in the New Testament).

Moreover, having been raised and believing in Christianity for a good part of my life, I would have to say that the experience of dropping away of body and mind - an ordinary and extraordinary experience - simply doesn't exist in any flavor of Christianity.

And that flavor, on the balance, is more apt to save the ass of all sentient beings than my being assured of forgiveness of sins by a deity.

And there's quite a few pantloads of sentient beings that need saving.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Here's a bit of US history you won't get from the revisionists...

Of course, it's from the NY Times...

THREE hundred and fifty years ago today, religious freedom was born on this continent. Yes, 350 years. Religious tolerance did not begin with the Bill of Rights or with Jefferson’s Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom in 1786. With due respect to Roger Williams and his early experiment with “liberty of conscience” in Rhode Island, this republic really owes its enduring strength to a fragile, scorched and little-known document that was signed by some 30 ordinary citizens on Dec. 27, 1657.

It is fitting that the Flushing Remonstrance should be associated with Dutch settlements, because they were the most tolerant in the New World. The Netherlands had enshrined freedom of conscience in 1579, when it clearly established that “no one shall be persecuted or investigated because of his religion.” And when the Dutch West India Company set up a trading post at the southern tip of Manhattan in 1625, the purpose was to make money, not to save souls. Because the founding idea was trade, the directors of the firm took pains to ensure that all were welcome...

So what was the result? As expected, Stuyvesant arrested Hart and the other official who presented the document to him, and he jailed two other magistrates who had signed the petition. Stuyvesant also forced the other signatories to recant.

But the door had been opened and Quakers continued to meet in Flushing. When Stuyvesant arrested a farmer, John Bowne, in 1662 for holding illegal meetings in his home, Bowne was then banished from the colony. He immediately went to Amsterdam to plead for the Quakers. There he won his case. Though the Dutch West India Company called Quakerism an “abominable religion,” it nevertheless overruled Stuyvesant in 1663 and ordered him to “allow everyone to have his own belief.” Thus did religious toleration become the law of the colony.

The Bowne house is still standing. And within a few blocks of it a modern visitor to Flushing will encounter a Quaker meeting house, a Dutch Reformed church, an Episcopal church, a Catholic church, a synagogue, a Hindu temple and a mosque. All coexist in peace, appropriately in the most diverse neighborhood in the most diverse borough in the most diverse city on the planet.

America's religious tradition - the tradition I was brought up with - is one of diversity and tolerance. I remember walking by that very same Quaker meeting house near Main Street in Flushing, with its roots way back to the story above; it's the place Thomas Merton used to go to before he became a monastic and before he discovered Zen Buddhism.

Turns out we Zen Buddhists are as American as apple pie.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A few random links & thoughts...

  • Yes, it's the same crap everywhere.

    Today, Chelsea Premium Outlets operates in dozens of locations in the U.S. and abroad, including the sprawling Woodbury Common Premium Outlets, about an hour north of New York City. Current Woodbury tenants include Jimmy Choo, Tory Burch and True Religion.

    Generally, such brands and designers at least attempt to cultivate an air of exclusivity, which would seem to be at odds with a mammoth outdoor mall that cultivates an air of low-price treasure hunting. But consider True Religion. While the broad story of luxury’s fate in the contemporary market is often told as a steady decline from class to mass, the brand is an example of an equally pronounced countertrend: lux-ing up previously workaday products, like jeans. True Religion has been a star of the high-end denim trend, with its jeans retailing for $150 or more in boutiques and pricey department stores. The company describes itself as a “premium aspirational brand.” ...

    Most every upscale brand is now engaged in this dance with the mass market. “The stratification of retail doesn’t exist anymore,” says Paco Underhill, the founder of Envirosell, a research and consulting firm, and the author of “Why We Buy” and “Call of the Mall,” books that examine the science of retail. Ever-increasing consumer access to goods of all kinds makes it harder for an exclusive brand to actually exclude and makes competition among both brands and stores that much more intense. Shunning the outlet setting doesn’t insulate premium brands from these trends. “Department stores discount them anyway,” Underhill says. At least in an outlet mall, the brand owners can control their own store environments, staff included; that’s better than having their wares in the sales-rack jumble.

  • I've been perhaps a wee bit to hard in my thinking on the folks that run those Sambokyodan centers. (Although perhaps not on Dennis Genpo Merzel Roshi, that "Big Mind" thing is an issue, because you can drop acid if all you want is an experience; that's not what Buddhism's about. ) But I think I've been a bit to hard on many of the Sambokyodan folks because they've got a lot of hurtin' people, and they've got to serve them amidst the hurt that the folks who come to them display, and within their own enlightenment.

  • Dispersion of people has been a human existence thing since we dispersed out of Africa. Someone tell the NY Times.

    The loss of such intimate connections could potentially help redefine family and what anthropologists call “social fields.” Far-off relatives become strangers, while relatives and close friends living nearby cocoon themselves for the holidays, creating new rituals.

    It’s back to nuclear families.

    Establishing a Thanksgiving tradition of having dinner with friends, e-mailing or sending a webcam greeting instead, seeing your parents every other holiday season — these are all signs of new familial constellations in the 21st century, experts say.

    On the other hand, if traditional holiday plans are not canceled or modified and the traveling remains grueling, visitors may have high, if not unrealistic, expectations of their hosts.

    “With the enormous amount of money and effort it takes to get together with people you barely see, all of the tensions will be exaggerated,” said Vered Amit, a professor of anthropology at Concordia University in Montreal. “I can see people saying, ‘I spent all this money, I came all this way and for what?’ It’s supposed to be a certain way. It puts an enormous amount of pressure on those kinds of contacts and connections that wouldn’t be there normally.”

  • Buddhists will be in New York for quite some time.
    You can fit in one more major world religion just a couple of doors down from the synagogue, at the modest temple run by the Buddhist Association of New York, one of the many Buddhist temples in Chinatown. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch orange-robed monks chanting.

    But if not, take in the relaxed atmosphere and wonder if in 50 more years it will be a Buddhist temple, not a synagogue, that will be under restoration as the latest newcomers help transform the neighborhood.

  • I saw this on a link from the Oregonian, how somebody was in a forum saying "See! This proves the US was founded on Christianity. And I couldn't help but think "slavery."

  • I'm glad Danny Fisher has the space to be concerned about the stuff he's concerned about.

    If you start a family, your concerns will change. Your entire practice will change. Totally. Updside. Down.

    Seriously, Danny, keep up the good intentions. One day I woke up, had a wife, a Ph.D., and a wonderful son, and there were completely different exigencies than what you have, not in ethics or morality, but of style. There's a lot right in front of one's nose when one has a family.

  • And appropos of that last point, and as a pointer to how not to do family practice, it's Festivus...

    I don't have many grievances this year and I've forgotten what they were; besides, I've been to busy to nurse 'em...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Converse with genuine Shaolin monks...

Thanks to the internets.

You'll find many Buddhists from all over the world there, including, but not limited to the real folks from Shaolin.

It's a welcome respite from the New-Agey faux-Buddhist creationists, (e.g., here) as well as Western carricatures...

Saturday, December 08, 2007

December 8: Rohatsu Day: Enlightenment Day

Although in different schools of Buddhism the enlightenment of Siddhartha Gautama is observed at different times (at least in part due to the lunar year/solar year differences), in the school in which I practice, in the Japanese Rinzai tradition, the enlightenment of the Buddha is traditionally observed on December 8.

Harada-roshi ("roshi" means literally "old teacher," and is actually the Japanese pronunciation of what the Chinese use for the word "teacher") has a good summary for the whole thing:

The Buddha was enlightened on the eighth of December when he looked up at the morning star, the planet we call Venus. The brightness of this planet was seen by Buddha from the depths of one week of samadhi [deep awareness]. The Buddha received that brightness with the same eyes of zazen [sitting meditation] that enable us to realize perfect enlightenment.

One week straight of this deepest possible samadhi was burst through by the brilliance of that morning star. A whole week's experience of that world burst the brightness of the morning star, plunging into the Buddha's eyes and giving rebirth to the Buddha's consciousness.

He cried:
That's it! That's it! That's it. That's me! That's me that's shining so brilliantly!

The Buddha had realized that his own True Nature was the very same - an identity - with that of all beings. To realize such a thing is to be deeply awed, humbled, and yet to know, as a later master would say, that you can enter any world as if it were a playground.

This is not some mumbo-jumbo New Agey feel good kind of a thing, some means of escape, an opiate, but rather the Source by which we can attend to one another's - and our own - suffering and misery, at the very least by figuring out the origin of such suffering and misery and attending to it mindfully.

So in gratitude for all everyone at Kos, for the sake of all beings, I will try to be a little more mindful today.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Most eloquent take-down of Romney I've seen

From Andrew Brown at the Guardian:

"Any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me," he said. "And so it is for hundreds of millions of our countrymen: we do not insist on a single strain of religion - rather, we welcome our nation's symphony of faith."

But, while the speech tells us nothing whatever about Mormonism, it does show a lot about what he believes his audience wants to hear, and still more about the way that religions really function in politics. What he is really saying in all this is the one belief that Mormons share with all other successful American religions: that America is God's promised land, which is powerful because Someone up there loves it.

Mormonism is a kind of pop-art cartoon version of this belief. Where mainstream American Protestantism, following the British model, supposed that God had made American Protestants the new Israel in a metaphysical, though real sense, Mormons claimed that some Jews, and Jesus himself after his resurrection, had physically travelled to North America, and founded a civilisation there long before the Pilgrim Fathers arrived. Also, the Native Americans are the descendents of some of these Jews, who turned bad and were cursed with a dark skin for their wickedness. You can see why Governor Romney might not want to delve into the specifics of these divinely inspired truth...

Religious liberty thus becomes the defining feature of American culture in his speech. In fact, in common with most American nationalists, he uses "liberty" as entirely synonymous with American power. "No people in the history of the world have sacrificed as much for liberty. The lives of hundreds of thousands of America's sons and daughters were laid down during the last century to preserve freedom, for us and for freedom loving people throughout the world. America took nothing from that century's terrible wars - no land from Germany or Japan or Korea; no treasure; no oath of fealty."

The point is not whether this is historically ludicrous. It is whether it appears credible and desirable to his audience. Obviously it does. It reinforces the central idea that American power is a consequence of American virtue and in particular that it arises from the constitution, which he treats - as his audience does - as containing a sacred revelation that supercedes all others. "When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, [to defend the constitution] that oath becomes my highest promise to God. If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A president must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States."...

There is only one problem with the speech if it is understood as an appeal to Americans shared understanding of themselves as a holy tribe: it places secular Americans firmly outside the tribe.

Chilling. The idea of a deity divinely blessing the waterboarding at Guantanamo, the thugs of Blackwater, the notion of slavery itself, ought to be repugnant to anyone who has anything more than contempt for the notion of the sacred.

Romney's "religion" speech and reactions

I commented about it here at Kos.

I generally have a negative view of most of what David Brooks writes, but today's piece is actually worth reading w.r.t. Romney:

When this country was founded, James Madison envisioned a noisy public square with different religious denominations arguing, competing and balancing each other’s passions. But now the landscape of religious life has changed. Now its most prominent feature is the supposed war between the faithful and the faithless. Mitt Romney didn’t start this war, but speeches like his both exploit and solidify this divide in people’s minds. The supposed war between the faithful and the faithless has exacted casualties.

The first casualty is the national community. Romney described a community yesterday. Observant Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Jews and Muslims are inside that community. The nonobservant are not. There was not even a perfunctory sentence showing respect for the nonreligious. I’m assuming that Romney left that out in order to generate howls of outrage in the liberal press...

In order to build a voting majority of the faithful, Romney covered over different and difficult conceptions of the Almighty. When he spoke of God yesterday, he spoke of a bland, smiley-faced God who is the author of liberty and the founder of freedom. There was no hint of Lincoln’s God or Reinhold Niebuhr’s God or the religion most people know — the religion that imposes restraints upon on the passions, appetites and sinfulness of human beings. He wants God in the public square, but then insists that theological differences are anodyne and politically irrelevant.

As I noted in a comment on someone else's Kos diary:

One would hope that one would see Romney's speech for what it was: nothing courageous like Kennedy's speech was (and I'm not really a big fan of Kennedy), but instead designed to divide, blatantly opportunistic, the type of slick operation of the guy who'd work at a place called Bain Capital, make sure lots of folks were impoverished by layoffs and call the result "value creation."

Also if you want to see why Hugh Hewitt's not got much respect from me; look at his drooling over Romney.

It's not even worth linking to.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Huckabee: Scary Psychotic

As John Avarosis said, "Did God want him to let that convicted rapist go too, because it appealed to the Clinton-hating fringe?"

Murray Waas at the Huffington Post writes:

While on the campaign trail, Huckabee has claimed that he supported the 1999 release of Wayne Dumond because, at the time, he had no good reason to believe that the man represented a further threat to the public. Thanks to Huckabee's intervention, conducted in concert with a right-wing tabloid campaign on Dumond's behalf, Dumond was let out of prison 25 years before his sentence would have ended.

"There's nothing any of us could ever do," Huckabee said Sunday on CNN when asked to reflect on the horrific outcome caused by the prisoner's release. "None of us could've predicted what [Dumond] could've done when he got out."

But the confidential files obtained by the Huffington Post show that Huckabee was provided letters from several women who had been sexually assaulted by Dumond and who indeed predicted that he would rape again - and perhaps murder - if released...

Huckabee kept these and other documents secret because they were politically damaging, according to a former aide who worked for him in Arkansas. The aide has made the records available to the Huffington Post, deeply troubled by Huckabee's repeated claims that he had no reason to believe Dumond would commit other violent crimes upon his release from prison. The aide also believes that Huckabee, for political reasons, has deliberately attempted to cover up his knowledge of Dumond's other sexual assaults.

"There were no letters sent to the governor's office from any rape victims," Huckabee campaign spokesperson Alice Stewart said on Tuesday when contacted by the Huffington Post.

Subsequently, however, the campaign provided a former senior aide of Huckabee's who did remember reading at least one of the letters.

But Huckabee and his aides insist that his receipt of the letters is irrelevant because the decision to release Dumond was made by the parole board. Huckabee on Tuesday again denied allegations by former parole board members that he lobbied them to release Dumond. "I did not ask them to do anything," he said. "I did indicate [Dumond's case] was sitting at my desk and I was giving thought to it."

Charmaine Yoest, a senior adviser to the Huckabee campaign, told the Huffington Post: "I think what should be considered here is that if he [Huckabee] could have changed what happened, he would. His whole life has been about respect for life and understanding the value of each individual life. Nobody regrets the loss of life here more than him."

In 1996, as a newly elected governor who had received strong support from the Christian right, Huckabee was under intense pressure from conservative activists to pardon Dumond or commute his sentence. The activists claimed that Dumond's initial imprisonment and various other travails were due to the fact that Ashley Stevens, the high school cheerleader he had raped, was a distant cousin of Bill Clinton, and the daughter of a major Clinton campaign contributor.

And, if you haven't read Matt Taibbi's take-down of Huckabee, you owe it to yourself.

Really, it's a form of abuse in the extreme to let creationists near the White House.