Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Out of town for the next few days...

I'm off for a bit of a business trip - someday I've got to post details of these things.

Then on to NY to visit my family there. If you're at Saturday sitting at the NYC Zen Studies Society, you might run into me. That's one of those places that, for American Zen Buddhism are truly legendary.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Lotus Sutra: Chapter 6 & 7

Buddhas will have the good life. Moreover, the Buddha and all that good stuff's been around for a while.

Dawkins and Buddhism and fundamentalism.

I almost missed this article from the Guardian via the Buddhist Channel, on one Buddhist's take on Richard Dawkins.

Buddhism's principles tend to be fungible, as I've noted elsewhere (maybe not on this blog, but elsewhere). Buddhists can see eye to eye with atheists Christians, Jews, Hindus, and even other Buddhists.

The scriptures do not have to be taken literally, and under many circumstances should not.

But I don't think Buddhism is really "pick and choose" Buddhism (one that ignores the difficult stuff) for many, probably even most Western Buddhists. For most of us, it really is the framework about which a discipline is practiced and cultivated. True there's the Edie Monsoon types who "practice Buddhism almost religiously," but that is not a fair characterization of all Western Buddhists.

Someone somewhere else recently gave me the inference that I was perhaps being to Buddhistly correct in that I was apparently bringing in some reference to Buddhist scriptures in describing some Buddhists' take on the god conception. That's not me, I'd submit. And I'm not like The Zennist either.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Chapter 5 Lotus Sutra

Hard to grasp...

1. I am the Dharmarâga, born in the world as the destroyer of existence. I declare the law to all beings after discriminating their dispositions.

2. Superior men of wise understanding guard the word, guard the mystery, and do not reveal it to living beings.

3. That science is difficult to be understood; the simple, if hearing it on a sudden, would be perplexed; they would in their ignorance fall out of the way and go astray.

4. I speak according to their reach and faculty; by means of various meanings I accommodate my view (or the theory).

5. It is, Kâsyapa, as if a cloud rising above the horizon shrouds all space (in darkness) and covers the earth.

6. That great rain-cloud big with water, is wreathed with flashes of lightning and rouses with its thundering call all creatures.

7. By warding off the sunbeams, it cools the region; and gradually lowering so as to come in reach of hands, it begins pouring down its water all around.

8. And so, flashing on every side, it pours out an abundant mass of water equally, and refreshes this earth.

9. And all herbs which have sprung up on the face of the earth, all grasses, shrubs, forest trees, other trees small and great;

10. The various field fruits and whatever is green; all plants on hills, in caves and thickets;

11. All those grasses, shrubs, and trees are vivified by the cloud that both refreshes the thirsty earth and waters the herbs.

12. Grasses and shrubs absorb the water of one essence which issues from the cloud according to their faculty and reach.

13. And all trees, great, small, and mean, drink that water according to their growth and faculty, and grow lustily.

14. The great plants whose trunk, stalk, bark, twigs, pith, and leaves are moistened by the water from the cloud develop their blossoms and fruits.

15. They yield their products, each according to its own faculty, reach, and the particular nature of the germ; still the water emitted (from the cloud) is of but one essence.

16. In the same way, Kâsyapa, the Buddha comes into the world like a rain-cloud, and, once born, he, the world's Lord, speaks and shows the real course of life.

17. And the great Seer, honoured in the world, including the gods, speaks thus: I am the Tathâgata, the highest of men, the Gina; I have appeared in this world like a cloud.

18. I shall refresh all beings whose bodies are withered, who are clogged to the triple world. I shall bring to felicity those that are pining away with toils, give them pleasures and (final) rest.

19. Hearken to me, ye hosts of gods and men; approach to behold me: I am the Tathâgata, the Lord, who has no superior, who appears in this world to save.

20. To thousands of kotis of living beings I preach a pure and most bright law that has but one scope, to wit, deliverance and rest.

21. I preach with ever the same voice, constantly taking enlightenment as my text. For this is equal for all; no partiality is in it, neither hatred nor affection.

22. I am inexorable, bear no love nor hatred towards any one, and proclaim the law to all creatures without distinction, to the one as well as the other.

23. Whether walking, standing, or sitting, I am exclusively occupied with this task of proclaiming the law. I never get tired of sitting on the chair I have ascended.

24. I recreate the whole world like a cloud shedding its water without distinction; I have the same feelings for respectable people as for the low; for moral persons as for the immoral;

25. For the depraved as for those who observe the rules of good conduct; for those who hold sectarian views and unsound tenets as for those whose views are sound and correct.

26. I preach the law to the inferior (in mental culture) as well as to persons of superior understanding and extraordinary faculties; inaccessible to weariness, I spread in season the rain of the law.

27. After hearing me, each according to his faculty, the several beings find their determined place in various situations, amongst gods, men, beautiful beings, amongst Indras, Brahmas, or the monarchs, rulers of the universe.

28. Hear, now, I am going to explain what is meant by those plants of different size, some of them being low in the world, others middle-sized and great.

29. Small plants are called the men who walk in the knowledge of the law, which is free from evil after the attaining of Nirvâna, who possess the six transcendent faculties and the triple science.

30. Mean plants are called the men who, dwelling in mountain caverns, covet the state of a Pratyekabuddha, and whose intelligence is moderately purified.

31. Those who aspire to become leading men (thinking), I will become a Buddha, a chief of gods and men, and who practise exertion and meditation, are called the highest plants.

32. But the sons of Sugata, who sedulously practise benevolence and a peaceful conduct, who have arrived at certainty about their being leading men, these are called trees.

33. Those who move forward the wheel that never rolls back, and with manly strength stand firm in the exercise of miraculous power, releasing many kolis of beings, those are called great trees.

I, speaking for myself, can't but help see a "this is really really really really really so good you can't even find good metaphors for how good this is" mentality pervading this text.

But behind that text, this is merely stating that Buddha nature is pervasive, immanent.

That's the cloud metaphor mixed with the plant metaphor.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Should people get what they want? Should they try?

Warner Roshi says:

I master my life by not trying to master my life. That way I always feel successful about it! If your goal is not to achieve your goals you'll come out a winner every time!

He's wrong of course; in fact, you'll only come out mired in paradox (because if your goal is not to achieve your goal, if you've achieved your goal, you haven't achieved your goal, which means you've achieved your goal...)

His radio show host says:


You have found this site for a reason.

People find me and the products because they want a miracle.

Miracles happen regularly.

I see them every day.

I have seen them happen on a regular basis to my 7,000 clients in the last 10 years.

I get people what they want.

People come to me to feel better and realize their dreams.

I get people what they want whether it’s financial health, physical health, business improvement, or saving a marriage.

I think there are times when it's really important for people not to get what they want, and depending on the person those times could range from "now and then" to "almost always."

I think most people would uniformly agree it's not a good idea to give a coke-fiend 4 kilos of Peruvian snowflake.

I'm not sure it's a good idea to get cigarette manufacturers to "improve" their business if it's confined to making cigarettes.

You could go on from there.

On the other hand, people do have all that Maslow stuff wired into them: there does appear to be a need not only to mark one's territory, but to do so in a way that future generations will not only see it, but see that this marking was done for the betterment of all.

Just people shouldn't invest their whole existence for a mere trifle as a monument.

The monument stuff comes from the strangest of places.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Lotus Sutra: Chapter 4

The notion of attaining supreme enlightenment; sensing that all is void, is related to the Buddhist parable of the prodigal son.

You did know of such a parable, didn't you?

It is a case, O Lord, as if a certain man went away from his father and betook himself to some other place. He lives there in foreign parts for many years, twenty or thirty or forty or fifty. In course of time the one (the father) becomes a great man; the other (the son) is poor; in seeking a livelihood for the sake of food and clothing he roams in all directions and goes to some place, whereas his father removes to another country. The latter has much wealth, gold, corn, treasures, and granaries; possesses much (wrought) gold and silver, many gems, pearls, lapis lazuli, conch shells, and stones(?), corals, gold and silver; many slaves male and female, servants for menial work. and journeymen; is rich in elephants, horses, carriages, cows, and sheep. He keeps a large retinue; has his money invested in great territories, and does great things in business, money-lending, agriculture, and commerce.

In course of time, Lord, that poor man, in quest of food and clothing, roaming through villages, towns, boroughs, provinces, kingdoms, and royal capitals, reaches the place where his father, the owner of much wealth and gold, treasures and granaries, is residing. Now the poor man's father, Lord, the owner of much wealth and gold, treasures and granaries, who was residing in that town, had always and ever been thinking of the son he had lost fifty years ago, but he gave no utterance to his thoughts before others, and was only pining in himself and thinking: I am old, aged, advanced in years, and possess abundance of bullion, gold, money and corn, treasures and granaries, but have no son. It is to be feared lest death shall overtake me and all this perish unused. Repeatedly he was thinking of that son: O how happy should I be, were my son to enjoy this mass of wealth!

Meanwhile, Lord, the poor man in search of food and clothing was gradually approaching the house of the rich man, the owner of abundant bullion, gold, money and corn, treasures and granaries. And the father of the poor man happened to sit at the door of his house, surrounded and waited upon by a great crowd of Brâhmans, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, and Sûdras; he was sitting on a magnificent throne with a footstool decorated with gold and silver, while dealing with hundred thousands of kotis of gold-pieces, and fanned with a chowrie, on a spot under an extended awning inlaid with pearls and flowers and adorned with hanging garlands of jewels; sitting (in short) in great pomp. The poor man, Lord, saw his own father in such pomp sitting at the door of the house, surrounded with a great crowd of people and doing a householder's business. The poor man frightened, terrified, alarmed, seized with a feeling of horripilation all over the body, and agitated in mind, reflects thus: Unexpectedly have I here fallen in with a king or grandee. People like me have nothing to do here; let me go; in the street of the poor I am likely to find food and clothing without much difficulty. Let me no longer tarry at this place, lest I be taken to do forced labour or incur some other injury.

Thereupon, Lord, the poor man quickly departs, runs off, does not tarry from fear of a series of supposed dangers. But the rich man, sitting on the throne at the door of his mansion, has recognised his son at first sight, in consequence whereof he is content, in high spirits, charmed, delighted, filled with joy and cheerfulness. He thinks: Wonderful! he who is to enjoy this plenty of bullion, gold, money and corn, treasures and granaries, has been found! He of whom I have been thinking again and again, is here now that I am old, aged, advanced in years.

At the same time, moment, and instant, Lord, he despatches couriers, to whom he says: Go, sirs, and quickly fetch me that man. The fellows thereon all run forth in full speed and overtake the poor man, who, frightened, terrified, alarmed, seized with a feeling of horripilation all over his body, agitated in mind, utters a lamentable cry of distress, screams, and exclaims: I have given you no offence. But the fellows drag the poor man, however lamenting, violently with them. He, frightened, terrified, alarmed, seized with a feeling of horripilation all over his body, and agitated in mind, thinks by himself: I fear lest I shall be punished with capital punishment; I am lost. He faints away, and falls on the earth. His father dismayed and near despondency says to those fellows: Do not carry the man in that manner. With these words he sprinkles him with cold water without addressing him any further. For that householder knows the poor man's humble disposition I and his own elevated position; yet he feels that the man is his son.

The householder, Lord, skilfully conceals from every one that it is his son. He calls one of his servants and says to him: Go, sirrah, and tell that poor man: Go, sirrah, whither thou likest; thou art free. The servant obeys, approaches the poor man and tells him: Go, sirrah, whither thou likest; thou art free, The poor man is astonished and amazed at hearing these words; he leaves that spot and wanders to the street of the poor in search of food and clothing. In order to attract him the householder practises an able device. He employs for it two men ill-favoured and of little splendour. Go, says he, go to the man you saw in this place; hire him in your own name for a double daily fee, and order him to do work here in my house. And if he asks: What - work shall I have to do? tell him: Help us in clearing the heap of dirt. The two fellows go and seek the poor man and engage him for such work as mentioned. Thereupon the two fellows conjointly with the poor man clear the heap of dirt in the house for the daily pay they receive from the rich man, while they take up their abode in a hovel of straw in the neighbourhood of the rich man's dwelling. And that rich man beholds through a window his own son clearing the heap of dirt, at which sight he is anew struck with wonder and astonishment.

Then the householder descends from his mansion, lays off his wreath and ornaments, parts with his soft, clean, and gorgeous attire, puts on dirty raiment, takes a basket in his right hand, smears his body with dust, and goes to his son, whom he greets from afar, and thus addresses: Please, take the baskets and without delay remove the dust. By this device he manages to speak to his son, to have a talk with him and say: Do, sirrah, remain here in my service; do not go again to another place; I will give thee extra pay, and whatever thou wantest thou mayst confidently ask me, be it the price of a pot, a smaller pot, a boiler or wood, or be it the price of salt, food, or clothing. I have got an old cloak, man; if thou shouldst want it, ask me for it, I will give it. Any utensil of such sort, when thou wantest to have it, I will give thee. Be at ease, fellow; look upon me as if I were thy father, for I am older and thou art younger, and thou hast rendered me much service by clearing this heap of dirt, and as long as thou hast been in my service thou hast never shown nor art showing wickedness, crookedness, arrogance, or hypocrisy; I have discovered in thee no vice at all of such as are commonly seen in other man-servants. From henceforward thou art to me like my own son.

From that time, Lord, the householder, addresses the poor man by the name of son, and the latter feels in presence of the householder as a son to his father. In this manner, Lord, the householder affected with longing for his son employs him for the clearing of the heap of dirt during twenty years, at the end of which the poor man feels quite at ease in the mansion to go in and out, though he continues taking his abode in the hovel of straw.

After a while, Lord, the householder falls sick, and feels that the time of his death is near at hand. He says to the poor man: Come hither, man, I possess abundant bullion, gold, money and corn, treasures and granaries. I am very sick, and wish to have one upon whom to bestow (my wealth); by whom it is to be received, and with whom it is to be deposited. Accept it. For in the same manner as I am the owner of it, so art thou, but thou shalt not suffer anything of it to be wasted.

And so, Lord, the poor man accepts the abundant bullion, gold, money and corn, treasures and granaries of the rich man, but for himself he is quite indifferent to it, and requires nothing from it, not even so much as the price of a prastha of flour; he continues living in the same hovel of straw and considers himself as poor as before.

After a while, Lord, the householder perceives that his son is able to save, mature and mentally developed; that in the consciousness of his nobility he feels abashed, ashamed, disousted, when thinking of his former poverty. The time of his death approaching, he sends for the poor man, presents him to a gathering of his relations, and before the king or king's peer and in the presence of citizens and country-people makes the following speech: Hear, gentlemen! this is my own son, by me begotten. It is now fifty years that he disappeared from such and such a town. He is called so and so, and myself am called so and so. In searching after him I have from that town come hither. He is my son, I am his father. To him I leave all my revenues, and all my personal (or private) wealth shall he acknowledge (his own).

The difference between this parable and the Christian version is simply in this version, the son cultivates skills and transcends greediness through his experience, whereas the son in the Christian version gets "immediately forgiven" with no effort on his part. The former earns what is his birthright, the latter is reconciled to his father, but without material recompense.

Naturally I prefer the Buddhist version.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Brad Warner on Atheism & Buddhism...

I don't disagree with the ultimate point, I just think it's easier to identify as a nontheist.

The comment thread on Warner's blog entry on the video on this subject is interesting; I'll reproduce one of my comments below:

In addition to the implications for a deity by the Fourteen Unanswerable Questions (at least implications for the Judeo-Christian deity), I would also point out a kind of truth about Buddhism, which seems to be lost on many people.

Buddhists don't take our writings as "proof texts" nor do we read them the same way as Baptists read their texts.

That's why Mr. Warner and atheists can share a zendo.

Or even Mr. Warner, myself, and some of those guys from Sambo Kyodan who are Catholic clerics.

The point is adherence to the literal texts themselves. In fact the Lotus Sutra, if applied to itself, would militate against such a position, if one takes the notion of skillful means and the text to its logical conclusion.

The existence, non-existence, character, etc. of a deity is not something that is core to Buddhism.

The transcendence of dukkha is core to Buddhism, and adherence of belief in a deity one way or the other is not core to this belief.

On the other hand, for Mahayana Buddhists, (and this is where Brad is going, IIUC) is that we do have the notion of the Dharmakaya, and this notion, of Buddha nature pervading the universe, one might call god, but it's not a monotheistic deity nor does it require the existence of polytheistic deities.

I'd also note (once again) that Soyen Shaku's sermons translated by D. T. Suzuki are on-line for free. Copyright expired, IIUC.

No Wayne it's not you...

There's a banner ad on my website (I'm sure it'll change by the time you read this) that says, "Attract anything you want in 30 days!"

No Wayne. You're not it.

Sorry folks, I don't control the banner ads; they're more of an experiment than anything else.

I put 'em there to see how they work more than anything else.

Can Ray Comfort Be Moral?

He says,

I believe that someone who professes atheism can steal from you with no real qualms of conscience, because he doesn't believe that he is ultimately responsible to God.

By "God" of course, Mr. Comfort means the Judeo-Christian deity. Not Brahma. Not Allah. Not the Tao, and of course not Buddha Nature. And so he's not just talking about P.Z. Meyers and Richard Dawkins. He's talking about nontheistic Buddhists, Jains, Taoists, secular humanists, Sartrian existentialists, and others.

Mr. Comfort is quasi-well known in rationalist circles as a creationist; he's tried to get Richard Dawkins into a debate, but Dawkins has refused, I think, on the grounds that it would give Mr. Comfort too much attention. While I understand this viewpoint, I would also say that there are consequences to Mr. Comfort's viewpoint, and they are not conducive to harmony, let alone fostering compassion, wisdom and generosity. Let's look further.

Mr. Comfort believes, or says he believes, to be more exact, that an "atheist" has no "real qualms of conscience." This is equivalent to stating that someone's interior experience can be known by Mr. Comfort and can be judged as real or not by Mr. Comfort. It is as though he claims some sort of magical telepathic powers. While it is claimed the Buddha possessed all kinds of telepathic powers, I don't think the Buddha ever went around and said that his sense-perceptions were any more legitimate than anyone else's.

Such claims do not seem to arise from wisdom, compassion and generosity, but rather from a pride that does not allow another's experience to be considered as though one were having it. It not what you'd expect from someone entreated to "Have a heart."

I've been writing recently on the Lotus Sutra (see Wikipedia's article here for more information.) And the question arises: are these skillful means? It's interesting to compare Mr. Comfort's writing to "the parable" below. Mr. Comfort may not know it or care (I'm sure he doesn't because it ain't "biblical"), but in terms of the transcendence of dukkha his technique seems at variance to the man who would coax his children out of danger.

Shame can be taught - this is well known, and any ideology can be used to justify the inculcation of shame.

But if the ends of the teaching of shame are not moral and ethical, it cannot be an expedient means to induce guilt and shame.
The whole criteria and objectives Mr. Comfort has differ from the man in the parable.

But yes, even Ray Comfort is capable of bringing transcendence to all beings.

He just ought not do it the way he's doing it.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Lotus Sutra: Chapter 3

Chapter 3's entitled "A Parable," and so I'll skip over the introductory stuff and go right to the usual, this is just my thoughts; nobody told me I could or could not write this so here goes...

Let us suppose the following case, Sâriputra. In a certain village, town, borough, province, kingdom, or capital, there was a certain housekeeper, old, aged, decrepit, very advanced in years, rich, wealthy, opulent; he had a great house, high, spacious, built a long time ago and old, inhabited by some two, three, four, or five hundred living beings. The house had but one door, and a thatch; its terraces were tottering, the bases of its pillars rotten, the coverings and plaster of the walls loose. On a sudden the whole house was from every side put in conflagration by a mass of fire. Let us suppose that the man had many little boys, say five, or ten, or even twenty, and that he himself had come out of the house.

Now, Sâriputra, that man, on seeing the house from every side wrapt in a blaze by a great mass of fire, got afraid, frightened, anxious in his mind, and made the following reflection: I myself am able to come out from the burning house through the door, quickly and safely, without being touched or scorched by that great mass of fire; but my children, those young boys, are staying in the burning house, playing, amusing, and diverting themselves with all sorts of sports. They do not perceive, nor know, nor understand, nor mind that the house is on fire, and do not get afraid. Though scorched by that great mass of fire, and affected with such a mass of pain, they do not mind the pain, nor do they conceive the idea of escaping.

The man, Sâriputra, is strong, has powerful arms, and (so) he makes this reflection: I am strong, and have powerful arms; why, let me gather all my little boys and take them to my breast to effect their escape from the house. A second reflection then presented itself to his mind: This house has but one opening; the door is shut; and those boys, fickle, unsteady, and childlike as they are, will, it is to be feared, run hither and thither, and come to grief and disaster in this mass of fire. Therefore I will warn them. So resolved, he calls to the boys: Come, my children; the house is burning with a mass of fire; come, lest ye be burnt in that mass of fire, and come to grief and disaster. But the ignorant boys do not heed the words of him who is their well-wisher; they are not afraid, not alarmed, and feel no misgiving; they do not care, nor fly, nor even know nor understand the purport of the word 'burning;' on the contrary, they run hither and thither, walk about, and repeatedly look at their father; all, because they are so ignorant.

Then the man is going to reflect thus: The house is burning, is blazing by a mass of fire. It is to be feared that myself as well as my children will come to grief and disaster. Let me therefore by some skilful means get the boys out of the house. The man knows the disposition of the boys, and has a clear perception of their inclinations. Now these boys happen to have many and manifold toys to play with, pretty, nice, pleasant, dear, amusing, and precious. The man, knowing the disposition of the boys, says to them: My children, your toys, which are so pretty, precious, and admirable, which you are so loth to miss, which are so various and multifarious, (such as) bullock-carts, goat-carts, deer-carts, which are so pretty, nice, dear, and precious to you, have all been put by me outside the house-door for you to play with. Come, run out, leave the house; to each of you I shall give what he wants. Come soon; come out for the sake of these toys. And the boys, on hearing the names mentioned of such playthings as they like and desire, so agreeable to their taste, so pretty, dear, and delightful, quickly rush out from the burning house, with eager effort and great alacrity, one having no time to wait for the other, and pushing each other on with the cry of 'Who shall arrive first, the very first?'

The man, seeing that his children have safely and happily escaped, and knowing that they are free from danger, goes and sits down in the open air on the square of the village, his heart filled with joy and delight, released from trouble and hindrance, quite at ease. The boys go up to the place where their father is sitting, and say: 'Father, give us those toys to play with, those bullock-carts, goat-carts, and deer-carts.' Then, Sâriputra, the man gives to his sons, who run swift as the wind, bullock-carts only, made of seven precious substances, provided with benches, hung with a multitude of small bells, lofty, adorned with rare and wonderful jewels, embellished with jewel wreaths, decorated with garlands of flowers, carpeted with cotton mattresses and woollen coverlets, covered with white cloth and silk, having on both sides rosy cushions, yoked with white, very fair and fleet bullocks, led by a multitude of men. To each of his children he gives several bullockcarts of one appearance and one kind, provided with flags, and swift as the wind. That man does so, Sâriputra, because being rich, wealthy, and in possession of many treasures and granaries, he rightly thinks: Why should I give these boys inferior carts, all these boys being my own children, dear and precious? I have got such great vehicles, and ought to treat all the boys equally and without partiality. As I own many treasures and granaries, I could give such great vehicles to all beings, how much more then to my own children. Meanwhile the boys are mounting the vehicles with feelings of astonishment and wonder. Now, Sâriputra, what is thy opinion? Has that man made himself guilty of a falsehood by first holding out to his children the prospect of three vehicles and afterwards giving to each of them the greatest vehicles only, the most magnificent vehicles?

Sâriputra answered: By no means, Lord; by no means, Sugata. That is not sufficient, O Lord, to qualify the man as a speaker of falsehood, since it only was a skilful device to persuade his children to go out of the burning house and save their lives. Nay, besides recovering their very body, O Lord, they have received all those toys. If that man, O Lord, had given no single cart, even then he would not have been a speaker of falsehood, for he had previously been meditating on saving the little boys from a great mass of pain by some able device. Even in this case, O Lord, the man would not have been guilty of falsehood, and far less now that he, considering his having plenty of treasures and prompted by no other motive but the love of his children, gives to all, to coax them, vehicles of one kind, and those the greatest vehicles. That man, Lord, is not guilty of falsehood.

The venerable Siriputra having thus spoken, the Lord said to him: Very well, very well, Sâriputra, quite so; it is even as thou sayest. So, too, Sâriputra, the Tathâgata, &c., is free from all dangers, wholly exempt from all misfortune, despondency, calamity, pain, grief, the thick enveloping dark mists of ignorance. He, the Tathâgata, endowed with Buddha-knowledge, forces, absence of hesitation, uncommon properties, and mighty by magical power, is the father of the world, who has reached the highest perfection in the knowledge of skilful means, who is most merciful, long-suffering, benevolent, compassionate. He appears in this triple world, which is like a house the roof and shelter whereof are decayed, (a house) burning by a mass of misery, in order to deliver from affection, hatred, and delusion the beings subject to birth, old age, disease, death, grief, wailing, pain, melancholy, despondency, the dark enveloping mists of ignorance, in order to rouse them to supreme and perfect enlightenment. Once born, he sees how the creatures are burnt, tormented, vexed, distressed by birth, old age, disease, death, grief, wailing, pain, melancholy, despondency; how for the sake of enjoyments, and prompted by sensual desires, they severally suffer various pains. In consequence both of what in this world they are seeking and what they have acquired, they will in a future state suffer various pains, in hell, in the brute creation, in the realm of Yama; suffer such pains as poverty in the world of gods or men, union with hateful persons or things, and separation from the beloved ones. And whilst incessantly whirling in that mass of evils they are sporting, playing, diverting themselves; they do not fear, nor dread, nor are they seized with terror; they do not know, nor mind; they are not startled, do not try to escape, but are enjoying themselves in that triple world which is like unto a burning house, and run hither and thither. Though overwhelmed by that mass of evil, they do not conceive the idea that they must beware of it.

Under such circumstances, Sâriputra, the Tathâgata reflects thus: Verily, I am the father of these beings; I must save them from this mass of evil, and bestow on them the immense, inconceivable bliss of Buddha-knowledge, wherewith they shall sport, play, and divert themselves, wherein they shall find their rest.

Then, Sâriputra, the Tathâgata reflects thus: If, in the conviction of my possessing the power of knowledge and magical faculties, I manifest to these beings the knowledue, forces, and absence of hesitation of the Tathâgata, without availing myself of some device, these beings will not escape. For they are attached to the pleasures of the five senses, to worldly pleasures; they will not be freed from birth, old age, disease, death, grief, wailing, pain, melancholy, despondency, by which they are burnt, tormented, vexed, distressed. Unless they are forced to leave the triple world which is like a house the shelter and roof whereof is in a blaze, how are they to get acquainted with Buddha-knowledge?

I've quoted this at length because of the mercy showed here...the part that repeats this in verse (it's kind of a standard practice for this text) is more colorful.

However, let's do full disclosure here. Another thing to a Westerner that is of interest, perhaps are words like "commandments" and stuff like:

To believe in this Sûtra one must have seen former Tathâgatas, paid honour to them, and heard a law similar to this.

108. To believe in my supreme word one must have seen me; thou and the assembly of monks have seen all these Bodhisattvas.

109. This Sûtra is apt to puzzle the ignorant, and I do not pronounce it before having penetrated to superior knowledge. Indeed, it is not within the range of the disciples, nor do the Pratyekabuddhas come to it.

110. But thou, Siriputra, hast good will, not to speak of my other disciples here. They will walk in my faith, though each cannot have his individual knowledge.

111. But do not speak of this matter to haughty persons, nor to conceited ones, nor to Yogins who are not self-restrained; for the fools, always revelling in sensual pleasures, might in their blindness scorn the law manifested.

112. Now hear the dire results when one scorns my skilfulness and the Buddha-rules for ever fixed in the world; when one, with sullen brow, scorns the vehicle.

113. Hear the destiny of those who have scorned such a Sûtra like this, whether during my lifetime or after my Nirvâna, or who have wronged the monks.

114. After having disappeared from amongst men, they shall dwell in the lowest hell (Avîki) during a whole kalpa, and thereafter they shall fall lower and lower, the fools, passing through repeated births for many intermediate kalpas.

115. And when they have vanished from amongst the inhabitants of hell, they shall further descend to the condition of brutes, be even as dogs and jackals, and become a sport to others.

116. Under such circumstances they shall grow blackish of colour, spotted, covered with sores, itchy; moreover, they shall be hairless and feeble, (all) those who have an aversion to my supreme enlightenment.

117. They are ever despised amongst animals; hit by clods or weapons they yell; everywhere they are threatened with sticks, and their bodies are emaciated from hunger and thirst.

It is hard for a Westerner to wrap his head around this, frankly; I perceive there's Laws which are Laws like Newton's Laws of Motion. And these are things that are of the Noble Path.

Maybe I'm ignorant. Quite likely.

But, yes, this is quite like a "believe this or bad stuff will happen to you" kind of text - the kind of text that put off many from monotheistic religions. And to top it off, there is indeed hints of a literal reincarnation.

However, given the nature of the writing here, I would submit that (luckily) this is least likely to be taken literally, but the obvious moral here is: Buddhas will use skillful means and generosity, compassion and wisdom to help all beings. And if that generosity, wisdom and compassion are spurned, it does no good to they who spurn.

And that's something I do in fact believe - let's just say a literal reading of this would not be skillful in any degree.

And speaking of Warner...

Good article on the Buddhist Channel by Warner about enlightenment, and a guy who's not selling it.

To show you why, let me ask you something. What do you imagine happens to a guy who gets a wild tripped-out dissociative experience in an afternoon and has some other person who’s supposed to be a “spiritual master” interpret that experience for him as enlightenment just like Buddha’s? How does the guy feel about the master who he thinks gave him this great gift? Does he owe the master something now? And will the guy do pretty much anything the master asks him to just so the master will keep on confirming the guy’s enlightenment? What if the guy does something the master doesn’t like and the master starts telling everyone the guy isn’t enlightened anymore? Does the guy’s enlightenment even exist without the master’s confirmation? That’s a key question.

And, for bonus points: Having just parted with a hundred and fifty smackers, is the guy

a) more or b) less likely to admit he’s been ripped off? Answers on a postcard, please.

People love to be told they can get a big payoff with no real investment. But when was the last time you got something for nothing?

Of course, that's also why it's absolutely necessary to "kick the tires" when approaching any teacher, spiritual, religious, or otherwise: the more time invested the less likely one is going to admit he's been abused or exploited.

And regarding Stanley Fish...this is actually quite insidious, if I understand it correctly

As a Buddhist, his "God Talk" bears comment:

In short, while science provides a window on the world, religion places between us and the world a fog of doctrine and superstition, and if we want to become clear-eyed, we have to dispel (a word that should be taken literally) that fog. This is the promise offered by Christopher Hitchens, who tells his readers (in “God is Not Great”), “You will feel better . . . once you leave hold of the doctrinaire and allow your chainless mind to do its own thinking.” (Thinkers of the world, unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains.)

Sounds good, sounds simple. Just free the mind of pre-packaged beliefs and take a good look at things. But is it that easy? Is observation a matter simply of opening up your baby blues and taking note of the evidence that presents itself? Does evidence come labeled as such – “I am evidence for thesis X but not Y”?

Pay attention.

That's good advice, from a Buddhist perspective.

Fish then goes on to make a rather tortured metaphor with the question of "authorship." He seems to claim that those who have questioned the issue of a sole author have problems with any kind of proof or arguments for authorship. I guess he thinks a monotheistic deity is an author, perhaps. As a technologist who's Buddhist I can see both sides of the question of the existence of authorship, as well as a resolution: the sole creator of a new technology does exist, as does the guy who's in the right place at the right time with the right idea. We attribute authorship to that. As a Buddhist, we can also see that everybody & everything's connected. But we have attributions of authorship under certain circumstances by convention.

To bring all this abstraction back to the arguments made by my readers, there is no such thing as “common observation” or simply reporting the facts. To be sure, there is observation and observation can indeed serve to support or challenge hypotheses. But the act of observing can itself only take place within hypotheses (about the way the world is) that cannot be observation’s objects because it is within them that observation and reasoning occur.

[T]he act of observing can itself only take place within hypotheses ? Let's be generous (I think) and assume that "within hypotheses" means "conditioned on a hypothesis being true," which we probabilists would take to mean "considering the assumption that a particular hypothesis is true."

But as scientists we look at all hypotheses, and consider the conditions under which each would be true or false.

We don't favor one over the other until we have examined the data and implications of that data under each hypothesis.

Fish is wrong though in asserting that "observing can itself only take place within hypotheses." That's why those lucky enough to be in academia can get grad students to take data.

By the same analysis, simple reporting is never simple and common observation is an achievement of history and tradition, not the result of just having eyes.

Here now the existentialist in me complains: so if the report's wrong it's "history and tradition's" fault? Nonsense.

And while there surely are facts, there are no facts (at least not ones we as human beings have access to) that simply declare themselves to the chainless minds Hitchens promises us if we will only cast aside the blinders of religion.

Facts don't declare themselves, of course, and Fish would make a better case with such sloppy uses of metaphors. If he means that there are no facts to be observed impartially, this is insidious, because carried to its conclusion we should avoid an honest search for "What Is," because we are doomed to fail.

Oddly enough, I oppose this as a religious person, and Fish thinks this is an argument that buttresses a religious position.

Pking gets it right. “To torpedo faith is to destroy the roots of . . . any system of knowledge . . . I challenge anyone to construct an argument proving reason’s legitimacy without presupposing it . . . Faith is the base, completely unavoidable. Get used to it. It’s the human condition.” (All of us, not just believers, see through a glass darkly.)

We Zen Buddhists do "Great faith, great doubt, and great determination." And while some of us are content to label the Transcendent Nature that pervades the universe as "god," others do not apprehend the deity of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob or their successors in this. Of course the question's ultimately irrelevant, because that Transcendent Nature really does pervade the universe.

But the rationalist counter is well taken here as well: there's faith and there's faith. After examination of hypotheses, it's better to go with the one for which there are more observations, which one is ethically obligated to reach without prejudice.

I could go on, but I should be on the cushion pursuing the Great Matter instead of going mano a mano with Prof. Fish via the keyboard.

Good advice...from that Warner guy

Even though the "punk" or "hardcore" thing is not my thing.

[T]here is no Universal Scale of Suffering by which we can determine who has suffered more and who has suffered less. In fact this is a particularly insidious idea. The idea that some forms of suffering are more worthy of compassion than other forms of suffering is one of those absurd notions that makes people miserable...

Don't judge your feelings by the standards of others.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Loutus Sutra Chapter 2

Again, I've no authority to teach from anyone; these are merely my thoughts as I read this stuff.

Using this translation, I think I can summarize some of the main points of this chapter...

1. There's an element of skill in Buddhism, especially with respect to "knowledge."

2. And it takes effort to get it.

3. And skilled practitioners can help other beings.

4. There's an element of "you're special if you believe this," and "you're conceited, proud, and deluded if you don't." But eventually, all beings will attain perfect enlightenment, apparently even the scoffers.

5. Here, in a nutshell is why skill is important:

It is but now and then, Sâriputra, that the Tathâgata preaches such a discourse on the law as this. just as but now and then is seen the blossom of the glomerous fig-tree, Sâriputra, so does the Tathâgata but now and then preach such a discourse on the law. Believe me, Sâriputra; I speak what is real, I speak what is truthful, I speak what is right. It is difficult to understand the exposition of the mystery of the Tathâgata, Sâriputra; for in elucidating the law, Sâriputra, I use hundred thousands of various skilful means, such as different interpretations, indications, explanations, illustrations. It is not by reasoning, Sâriputra, that the law is to be found: it is beyond the pale of reasoning, and must be learnt from the Tathâgata. For, Sâriputra, it is for a sole object, a sole aim, verily a lofty object, a lofty aim that the Buddha, the Tathâgata, &c., appears in the world. And what is that sole object, that sole aim, that lofty object, that lofty aim of the Buddha, the Tathâgata, &c., appearing in the world? To show all creatures the sight of Tathâgata-knowledge does the Buddha, the Tathâgata, &c., appear in the world; to open the eyes of creatures for the sight of Tathâgata-knowledge does the Buddha, the Tathâgata, &c., appear in the world.

There's thus a certain tension here: skill is needed to save all beings, but that skill shouldn't encompass someone that repudiates Buddhism itself.

This is actually a kind of important point, for those thinking that they should tolerate another's intolerance: There are some boundaries that one doesn't cross because then the baby is discarded with the bathwater.

Anyhow, if I've missed anything, or there should be something added, please let me know.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Right Speech...

It probably doesn't stand up in a court of law, but there are times when it is blatantly obvious that someone is lying from their response when confronted with a misrepresentation of the truth.

The stereotype of the drug dealer who goes into an outrage when confronted with the fact that the "Bolivian snowflake" he's been peddling is really Pillsbury's Unbleached Pastry Flour is well known, I think. I'd had a similar incident in a "legal" context when I had encountered a parking meter enforcer ticketing my car 15 minutes before time was up. (I do have some part of me, perhaps attributed to the bit of me of German heritage that is neurotically punctual.) And I recently encountered a similar situation elsewhere in my life(thankfully not at home.)

Like I said, it probably doesn't stand up in a court of law, but it is such an obvious giveaway that the person in question is deliberately misrepresenting reality. By going histrionic, the misrepresenter is saying, "LOOK OVER THERE! OVER THERE! NOT HERE!

And all it does is put in the mind of the questioner: Why is this person going ballistic?

And there aren't many alternative answers.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Starting with the Lotus Sutra....the first bit...

First question: Seriously, why the operatics?

Thus have I heard. Once upon a time the Lord was staying at Râgagriha, on the Gridhrakuta mountain, with a numerous assemblage of monks, twelve hundred monks, all of them Arhats, stainless, free from depravity, self-controlled, thoroughly emancipated in thought and knowledge, of noble breed, (like unto) great elephants, having done their task, done their duty, acquitted their charge, reached the goal; in whom the ties which bound them to existence were wholly destroyed, whose minds were thoroughly emancipated by perfect knowledge, who had reached the utmost perfection in subduing all their thoughts; who were possessed of the transcendent faculties; eminent disciples, such as the venerable Agñâta-Kaundinya, the venerable Asvagit, the venerable Vâshpa, the venerable Mahânâman, the venerable Bhadrikal, the venerable Mahâ-Kâsyapa, the venerable Kâsyapa of Uruvilvâ, the venerable Kâsyapa of Nadi, the venerable Kâsyapa of Gayâ, the venerable Sâriputra, the venerable Mahâ-Maudgalyâyana, the venerable Mahâ-Kâtyâyana, the venerable Aniruddha, the venerable Revata, the venerable Kapphina, the venerable Gavâmpati, the venerable Pilindavatsa, the venerable Vakula, the venerable Bhâradvâga, the venerable Mahâ-Kaushthila, the venerable Nanda (alias Mahânanda), the venerable Upananda, the venerable Sundara-Nanda, the venerable Pûrna Maitrâyanîputra, the venerable Subhûti, the venerable Râhula; with them yet other great disciples, as the venerable Ananda, still under training, and two thousand other monks, some of whom still under training, the others masters; with six thousand nuns having at their head Mahâpragâpatî, and the nun Yasodharâ, the mother of Râhula, along with her train; (further) with eighty thousand Bodhisattvas, all unable to slide back, endowed with the spells of supreme, perfect enlightenment, firmly standing in wisdom; who moved onward the never deviating wheel of the law; who had propitiated many hundred thousands of Buddhas; who under many hundred thousands of Buddhas had planted the roots of goodness, had been intimate with many hundred thousands of Buddhas, were in body and mind fully penetrated with the feeling of charity; able in communicating the wisdom of the Tathâgatas; very wise, having reached the perfection of wisdom; renowned in many hundred thousands of worlds; having saved many hundred thousand myriads of kotis of beings; such as the Bodhisattva Mahâsattva Mañgusrî, as prince royal; ...

Well, I would submit, because nobody could possibly literally take it as least not first hand.

It was an allegory...or it was religious propaganda made to get Hindus to become Buddhists.

But we have to notice...Thus have I heard...It might or might not be truly true. But I heard it this way.

It's clear that the writer wants you to take note of what was going on. But the writer did not write, "Thus I have seen."

There clearly was an attempt here to "seize the channel" as folks in my field might say; this is not a dialog. But it is an attempt to authenticate, to prove authority.

More to come...

Avoid the chrome-skull car accessory


[Credit card] companies began running tens of thousands of experiments each year, testing the emotions elicited by various card colors and the appeal of different envelope sizes, for instance, or whether new immigrants were more responsible than cardholders born in this country. By understanding customers’ psyches, the companies hoped, they could tell who was a bad risk and either deny their application or, for those who were already cardholders, start shrinking their available credit and increasing minimum payments to squeeze out as much cash as possible before they defaulted.

The exploration into cardholders’ minds hit a breakthrough in 2002, when J. P. Martin, a math-loving executive at Canadian Tire, decided to analyze almost every piece of information his company had collected from credit-card transactions the previous year. Canadian Tire’s stores sold electronics, sporting equipment, kitchen supplies and automotive goods and issued a credit card that could be used almost anywhere. Martin could often see precisely what cardholders were purchasing, and he discovered that the brands we buy are the windows into our souls — or at least into our willingness to make good on our debts. His data indicated, for instance, that people who bought cheap, generic automotive oil were much more likely to miss a credit-card payment than someone who got the expensive, name-brand stuff. People who bought carbon-monoxide monitors for their homes or those little felt pads that stop chair legs from scratching the floor almost never missed payments. Anyone who purchased a chrome-skull car accessoryor a “Mega Thruster Exhaust System” was pretty likely to miss paying his bill eventually.

Martin’s measurements were so precise that he could tell you the “riskiest” drinking establishment in Canada — Sharx Pool Bar in Montreal, where 47 percent of the patrons who used their Canadian Tire card missed four payments over 12 months. He could also tell you the “safest” products — premium birdseed and a device called a “snow roof rake” that homeowners use to remove high-up snowdrifts so they don’t fall on pedestrians.

Testing indicated that Martin’s predictions, when paired with other commonly used data like cardholders’ credit histories and incomes, were often much more precise than what the industry traditionally used to forecast cardholder riskiness. By the time he publicized his findings, a small industry of math fanatics — many of them former credit-card executives — had started consulting for the major banks that issued cards, and they began using Martin’s findings and other research to build psychological profiles. Why did birdseed and snow-rake buyers pay off their debts? The answer, research indicated, was that those consumers felt a sense of responsibility toward the world, manifested in their spending on birds they didn’t own and pedestrians they might not know. Why were felt-pad buyers so upstanding? Because they wanted to protect their belongings, be they hardwood floors or credit scores. Why did chrome-skull owners skip out on their debts? “The person who buys a skull for their car, they are like people who go to a bar named Sharx,” Martin told me. “Would you give them a loan?”

Think I'll do some sutras

One of the things that I've noticed about the blogosphere of American Buddhists is that they don't seem enormously well-versed in Buddhist literature; particularly the sutras.

There's a lot of folks out there who quote and analyze Dogen; you'd think Dogen invented Zen Buddhism. But of course he didn't. Not that there's anything wrong with Dogen per se (though I think others have opinions which I do not share). And most people (including me) get these things second or third hand. I don't know Pali for squat (other than the interesting word-root Indo-European things I get from the Rinzai chants). And I certainly don't know any Chinese to be useful in deciphering any texts written in that language (and that would, if memory serves me, include Dogen, who wrote in Chinese for the same reason that Aquinas wrote in Latin.)

So I wonder if anyone out there's ever wondered: just how much is the stuff being practiced out there comport with the sutras?

I myself am no expert in this field either, but I can tell you what I do know. I have some familiarity with the Lotus Sutra, (as well as the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings, and the Meditation on the Boddhisattva of Universal Virtue - get this book).

I have read the Lankavatara Sutra, thanks to that on-line translation from D.T. Suzuki. And the Sutra of Forty-Two Sections.

I've also got familiarity with the The Perfection of Wisdom Sutra (from which the Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom chant is taken), and the Diamond Cutter Sutra. And I've passing familiarity with some of the sutras at the Access to Insight website.

And there is the Mindfulness of Breath sutra in at least one of Thich Nhat Hanh's books.

Finally, there's the Dhammapada, which I've read quite a few times.

I think it would be useful, for me at any rate, in my capacity as a layman with no authority of course, start to examine some of these on-line, from a critical perspective, and by critical I mean examining how they relate to our lives as we live them, how they relate to the state of Buddhist practice amongst westerners, and how they relate to themselves as scripture, as religious literature, and how we relate to them as such literature. But yeah I also mean critical as in what are we, as westerners to make of text like this?

Thus have I heard. Once upon a time the Lord was staying at Râgagriha, on the Gridhrakuta mountain, with a numerous assemblage of monks, twelve hundred monks, all of them Arhats, stainless, free from depravity, self-controlled, thoroughly emancipated in thought and knowledge, of noble breed, (like unto) great elephants, having done their task, done their duty, acquitted their charge, reached the goal; in whom the ties which bound them to existence were wholly destroyed, whose minds were thoroughly emancipated by perfect knowledge, who had reached the utmost perfection in subduing all their thoughts; who were possessed of the transcendent faculties; eminent disciples, such as the venerable Agñâta-Kaundinya, the venerable Asvagit, the venerable Vâshpa, the venerable Mahânâman, the venerable Bhadrikal, the venerable Mahâ-Kâsyapa, the venerable Kâsyapa of Uruvilvâ, the venerable Kâsyapa of Nadi, the venerable Kâsyapa of Gayâ, the venerable Sâriputra, the venerable Mahâ-Maudgalyâyana, the venerable Mahâ-Kâtyâyana, the venerable Aniruddha, the venerable Revata, the venerable Kapphina, the venerable Gavâmpati, the venerable Pilindavatsa, the venerable Vakula, the venerable Bhâradvâga, the venerable Mahâ-Kaushthila, the venerable Nanda (alias Mahânanda), the venerable Upananda, the venerable Sundara-Nanda, the venerable Pûrna Maitrâyanîputra, the venerable Subhûti, the venerable Râhula; with them yet other great disciples, as the venerable Ananda, still under training, and two thousand other monks, some of whom still under training, the others masters; with six thousand nuns having at their head Mahâpragâpatî, and the nun Yasodharâ, the mother of Râhula, along with her train; (further) with eighty thousand Bodhisattvas, all unable to slide back, endowed with the spells of supreme, perfect enlightenment, firmly standing in wisdom; who moved onward the never deviating wheel of the law; who had propitiated many hundred thousands of Buddhas; who under many hundred thousands of Buddhas had planted the roots of goodness, had been intimate with many hundred thousands of Buddhas, were in body and mind fully penetrated with the feeling of charity; able in communicating the wisdom of the Tathâgatas; very wise, having reached the perfection of wisdom; renowned in many hundred thousands of worlds; having saved many hundred thousand myriads of kotis of beings; such as the Bodhisattva Mahâsattva Mañgusrî, as prince royal; ...

Evidently the authors of the Mahayana texts were not well schooled in how not to write a run-on sentence...

I've not seen it done elsewhere, and as a Zen practitioner (I think I'm stealing this line from The Zennist/Zenmar) how can you know what's outside the Scriptures if you don't know what's in 'em?

And this isn't to go all fundamentalist on anyone, of course; we take the Pali translation of atta dipa as you are the light.

But we shouldn't be allergic to the Buddhist canon either, and I think it might be of use to examine how modern Buddhist practice (yeah, including those Asian folks) comports with what was taken as Buddhist literature for decades.

I hope the tens of readers who visit this blog each day will stick around, because this could get interesting, especially if folks who know more than I show up & comment on it.

And if they don't, well, ...atta dipa... as they chant.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

More householder practice

Busy week it's been:

  • My wife's been doing "Here's Chinese Culture" presentations to folks willing to pay for it.

  • My wife's got a delegation of folks from China coming for something or other.

  • And I've got to do some stuff left over from a former life, which fortunately should be rewarding.

And I have a whole bunch of stuff I'm doing at work; for some reason all of the sudden various kinds of management ideas have come to me.

Like being able carrying almost full cups of coffee from point A to point B, one's practice can help with this.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I've got a better life than lots of people...

Judging from their on-line/blogger lives.

I've the best wife & son ever.

I could name names but I won't.

Their lives balance against my obligations.

I'm the better for it, and they might enjoy more exciting lives, but I've got something...

Brief Reply to John Horgan

Noticed at Andrew Sullivan's blog.

He said:

...what troubles me most about Buddhism is its implication that detachment from ordinary life is the surest route to salvation. Buddha’s first step toward enlightenment was his abandonment of his wife and child, and Buddhism (like Catholicism) still exalts male monasticism as the epitome of spirituality. It seems legitimate to ask whether a path that turns away from aspects of life as essential as sexuality and parenthood is truly spiritual.

From this perspective, the very concept of enlightenment begins to look anti-spiritual: It suggests that life is a problem that can be solved, a cul-de-sac that can be, and should be, escaped.

I won't go into a whole "nonattachment ≠ detachment" thing; but I did want to go into the "It seems legitimate to ask whether a path that turns away from aspects of life as essential as sexuality and parenthood is truly spiritual" bit.

It was a great luxury and sacrifice for people way back when, without running water and electricity to actually be able to afford a clerical class, who more often than not failed to live up to their end of the deal. But the idea that that somehow the establishment of a clerical class was inherently exploitative is actually anachronistic; it assumes that people who had no free time to speak of also had no need of going metaphysical, and one should properly call BS on that.

However the idea that householders couldn't go beyond dukkha was not a Buddhist tradition, and that tradition would not have survived for centuries if there was not some succor achieved by lay adherents of Buddhism. And from this adherent I can say, yes indeed practicing Buddhism helps.

There's lots of other critiques that can be made. But that point had to be made, I think.

Might have an interesting photo in the next few days...

Because of tinnitus, I had an MRI, and hopefully I get the promised CD of the photos.

MRI's seem crude to me - very noisy, and they don't have to be.

But then again their noises are reminiscent of techno.

In case you wanted to know.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Big Vow...

This article is a must read for anyone that wants to do anything radical in business...and the Buddhist angle is that if you get stuff like this right, uh, you can feed more people.

...Douglas Bowman, a top visual designer, left Google.

Mr. Bowman’s main complaint is that in Google’s engineering-driven culture, data trumps everything else. When he would come up with a design decision, no matter how minute, he was asked to back it up with data. Before he could decide whether a line on a Web page should be three, four or five pixels wide, for example, he had to put up test versions of all three pages on the Web. Different groups of users would see different versions, and their clicking behavior, or the amount of time they spent on a page, would help pick a winner.

“Data eventually becomes a crutch for every decision, paralyzing the company and preventing it from making any daring design decisions,” Mr. Bowman wrote.

Google is unapologetic about its approach.

“We let the math and the data govern how things look and feel,” Marissa Mayer, the company’s vice president of search products and user experience, said in a recent television interview...

The approach may be the ultimate experiment in crowd-sourcing — letting users collectively design products. But experts in design and innovation say the approach has limitations and downsides.

“Getting virtually real-time feedback from users is incredibly powerful,” said Debra Dunn, an associate professor at the Stanford Institute of Design. “But the feedback is not very rich in terms of the flavor, the texture and the nuance, which I think is a legitimate gripe among many designers.”

Adhering too rigidly to a design philosophy guided by “Web analytics,” Ms. Dunn said, “makes it very difficult to take bold leaps.”

And as much as it may sound jarring, the customer is not always right.

“Customers sometimes do not know what they want,” said John Seely Brown, the co-chairman of the Deloitte Center for Edge Innovation, a research and consulting organization based in Silicon Valley. “It can be dangerous to just listen to what users say they need.”

Fact is there's lots of data that ends up in the trash bin, that hungry people in certain places could use to feed themselves.

I'm not kidding.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

How To Acquire a Gohonzon Outside of SGI or Nichiren Buddhism...

From this link.

I like the Snoopy dancing in front of it.

Friday, May 08, 2009

What if...

I generally admire militant atheists such as P.Z. Meyers and often find much that is absurd in the religion world thanks to him, such as today's post on one religious apologist Terry Eagleton (and Stanley Fish) which points to this ribbing by Mat Taibbi.

Taibbi's right about Eagleton: the word he was looking for is phlegmatic. (Just try watching Eagleton not get to the point in these lectures at Yale!)

But both Myers and Taibbi as well as Eagleton could learn something from Buddhists, I think.

First of all, too many words are used by these folk.

Secondly, my religious experience sure as hell ain't Eagleton's and it sure as hell ain't the caricature of Myers' monotheists (but then again we Buddhists always get off lightly by the rational New Atheists, with the exception of Hitchens, who, in some ways, is justified in his critiques of the Dalai Lama).

But thirdly...both sides in this religion debate are largely irrelevant to me.

They're irrelevant because there are vows taken.

What if you could save all sentient beings?

Why do you think you can't? The laws of physics? Does the finitude of your lifetime get in the way of this vow?

You can't leap off tall buildings without horrible consequences and sooner or later you'll be dead, but does that mean all sentient beings are just shit out of luck?

I believe not.

I can directly observe consequences of my efforts, albeit on a minute scale. Who knows where these efforts will lead?

What if you had a moment of clarity? What if those moments of clarity piled up in frequency to become a continuum of seeing without delusion, despite delusions being unending?

Why do you think you can't? Because that starts to sound like New Age nonsense?

I dunno about that one; seems to me that anyone who's spent enough time doing the right practices would get some insight into their true nature "even if their feet fail to touch the ground in the morning," to paraphrase Hakuin.

Ditto for learning the Dharma and attaining it.

Oftentimes vows are made as promises but these 4 Great Vows contain within them not only statements of the vastness of the vow, but also of the dedication to their attainment.

A protest sign by workers in Poland in the latter days of Communism read, "Demand the impossible."

There's a place for from the gut faith, especially as reinforced by practice.

Just don't friggin' check your brain at the door. Don't forget about from the gut doubt, and dedication through the tears.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Noble Truth about Suffering

My mother, the last of her generation, who had been diagnosed with small cell lung cancer, is past the median life expectancy for this illness. At this point there is little likelihood she will read this, but if she does, let it be known that I love her and my care for her is omnipresent, and this is one way of practice for all beings.

I had been with her a month or so after she'd been diagnosed and started treatment. She looked frail then.

But now I am thousands of miles away.

Truly I have left home physically, but the heart wrenches nonetheless.

I call her every day, and see how she is, and it's about what you'd expect.

She certainly is suffering in her path to death. The thing about a sickness like small cell lung cancer is that death takes time. It makes a mockery of "the sufferings of Jesus Christ." He had so many advantages, not the least of which is that his death, if he was a he, etc. etc., didn't take long. And it was no more noble or holy than the death in which I can only observe from thousands of miles away, unable to touch anything related to it.

And all I can do help us to realize none of this at that point beyond birth and death.

I had expected this sort of thing when I moved to the Pacific Northwest, and now it is happening.

The Buddha was asked to bring a girl back to life; he replied to his supplicant that the parent should bring something from 5 houses that had never known death.

If I were to say something as glib though, it would not reflect the very humanity of my own suffering in response to the situation. It goes with the territory to desire whole lots of things in this situation: that she goes peacefully, without much pain or that she recover but not stay in the in-between-but-declining state.

But those things are relatively unlikely for weeks-to-months. So I have to go beyond that attachment right freakin' now.

My sitting's for all beings whether they know it or like it or not.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Or they could become Buddhists...

Charles M. Blow at the NY Times op-ed opines:

[A] study entitled “Faith in Flux” issued this week by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life questioned nearly 3,000 people and found that most children raised unaffiliated with a religion later chose to join one. Indoctrination be damned. By contrast, only 4 percent of those raised Catholic and 7 percent of those raised Protestant later became unaffiliated...

...Most said that they first joined a religion because their spiritual needs were not being met. And the most-cited reason for settling on their current religion was that they simply enjoyed the services and style of worship.

For these newly converted, the nonreligious shtick didn’t stick. There was still a void, and communities of the faithful helped fill it.

While science, logic and reason are on the side of the nonreligious, the cold, hard facts are just so cold and hard. Yes, the evidence for evolution is irrefutable. Yes, there is a plethora of Biblical contradictions. Yes, there is mounting evidence from neuroscientists that suggests that God may be a product of the mind. Yes, yes, yes. But when is the choir going to sing? And when is the picnic? And is my child going to get a part in the holiday play?

As the nonreligious movement picks up steam, it needs do a better job of appealing to the ethereal part of our human exceptionalism — that wondrous, precious part where logic and reason hold little purchase, where love and compassion reign. It’s the part that fears loneliness, craves companionship and needs affirmation and fellowship.

I agree much with that last sentence, although (of course) as a Buddhist I suspect he takes "human exceptionalism" way too far. Humans are exceptional, no doubt about it, but we could learn a few tricks from bonobos should understand the exceptionalism of this whole ecosystem in which we inhabit.

I am awed by the arguments of many of the "new atheists," in the sense that they posit a world which is more precious and rare than perhaps even we Buddhists imagine, but I have to go with Blow here: you need a community; you need to step back even from scientfic wonder and need a matrix, a place from which to grow, at least insofar as our social evolution has taken place over the past few thousands of years.

Luckily you can do it without much of the trappings and baggage of many religions, including but not limited to monotheism.

But Blow's hyperlink to the brain stuff needs comment too: humans evidently find it beneficial to have the sense of self and other dissolved from time to time. Sure, it's possible or even likely it's all in the brain, but with the mind of Thusness I might be able to help you and others as well as myself (but if I call it Big Mind I might get sued).