Friday, December 31, 2010

One thing I am happy about: I do not write like David Brooks

I realize this is like shooting fish in a barrel, and maybe in the New Year I'll do less of it.  But...but... sometimes... it's just that his writing is so out of touch it calls out for comment...

[Huburt Dreyfus are Sean Dorrance Kelly, authors of a new book on Western philosophy. They] argue [the lack of a shared set of values we all absorb as preconscious assumptions] has led to a pervasive sadness. Individuals are usually not capable of creating their own lives from the ground up. So modern life is marked by frequent feelings of indecision and anxiety. People often lack the foundations upon which to make the most important choices...

Dreyfus and Kelly say that we should have the courage not to look for some unitary, totalistic explanation for the universe. Instead, we should live perceptively at the surface, receptive to the moments of transcendent whooshes that we can feel in, say, a concert crowd, or while engaging in a meaningful activity, like making a perfect cup of coffee with a well-crafted pot and cup.
We should not expect these experiences to cohere into a single “meaning of life.” Transcendent experiences are plural and incompatible. We should instead cultivate a spirit of gratitude and wonder for the many excellent things the world supplies.
I’m not sure this way of living will ever prove satisfying to most readers. Most people have a powerful sense that there is a Supreme Being over us, attached to eternal truths. Though they try, Dreyfus and Kelly don’t give us a satisfying basis upon which to distinguish the whooshing some people felt at civil rights rallies from the whooshing others felt at Nazi rallies.

I am convinced that much of what is going on in the Western Buddhist practice however incoherent,  however error-prone, however inarticulate is  providing the answers that these Western philosophers say can't be given and that Brooks tut-tuts in response to these philosophers  that there is no acknowledgment of a monotheist behavioral hegemony.  As for myself, I remember this "shared sense of values" that were inculcated.  I didn't see pervasive happiness.  I doubt there was such happiness in previous times, what with slavery, pogroms, small pox, polio, child labor, and other horrors.

I think we're doing something important; it will be needed.  I think in a way, we're practicing to be janitors.  We're going to have to clean up a really big mess someday soon.   But of course we're not doing it primarily because we're cool.  We have to live our own lives where we find them, right here.

Things I'd like to do more of in the New Year

I suck at New Year's resolutions.  I never make them, and have no intention of keeping them.  I wish I could find an appropriate Humphrey Bogart quote any rate, I don't have one.  Furthermore,  I think New Year's resolutions are made to be broken. I think the idea that one snaps one's fingers and whoosh! - an entire new persona develops is absolute nonsense.  Nobody stops being who they are because the earth passes through a designated point in the universe.  Nobody ever got anywhere because of volition or lack of it, except insofar as what can be achieved  in the present, in this very moment now, whenever that is, which is of course fleetingly small.

With all of that said, though there are things that I'd like to do more of in the future. Among them:

  • I'd like to be more gracious and humble in what I do, as I noted the profound effect I saw what this did to myself and those in the audience when we attended the Leonard Cohen concert.

  • I'd also like to be able to share the uniqueness of the present moment better with those around me.  I don't think I explain this well enough to people.

  • I'd like to show more appreciation to my family members; to truly create a better sense of harmony in our lives.  That's not always easy.

  • I would like to do more extended periods of zazen.    It's very important.   I might have a chance to do this in the summer.  Hopefully I can arrange to attend a sesshin.  

  •  I'd like to work more on translating Buddhist work from (at least) Japanese to English, and help my wife with the translation of Laiguo's Seven Gates of Zen, if she has the time.

  • I'd like to do more 書道.   It's very important to do this.  It's important for me for several reasons, among them, it's good mindfulness practice, and it helps me to train portions of my brain that I hadn't trained before.  It's important to keep learning stuff as we get older.    It's also useful to develop crafts and practices not entirely in the domain of one's training.

  •  I'd like to get to reading all the material I've saved and printed out for myself.   There's great research I could have my team be doing, real forefront stuff,  I could even get it funded I believe.  But I need the time and space  to do it, and making the time and space - a theme running through this post, actually - is what I need to do.

  •  I'd like to learn how to really swim.  I'll probably take a few lessons on this. 

  • Finally, I hope to accompany my family in a performance at the Chinese New Year festival.  I've got to practice for this!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

FINALLY! I get to do 書道 (書法)

I had been meaning to do this for a few days, but naturally things got in the way. Which is worse? (Yeah, they're both pretty bad, but you know how to get to Carnegie Hall! Click to see the "detail.")

                                                                         "Mu"  (無)

                                                                     "Ku" (空)

You should've seen the ones I threw out.  Seriously, this is a great practice. Just you and the ink and the ink stone and the brush and the paper.  Takes much more paper than I'd thought, though.

Eido Shimano: Please go away.

Having read the recent stuff (HT: Nathan) and Genjo Marinello's take on it (via Open Buddha; also see the Tricycle Blog post comments)  I encourage the Board of the Zen Studies Society to do whatever they can at this point to ensure that Eido Shimano does not conduct dokusan or other dharma inteviews on Zen Studies Society/Dai Bosatsu Zendo or other affiliated Rinzai lineage property.

I mean, this has gone far enough.  I hadn't spoken out as much as I might have because I believed that it was a large part of the responsibility for Shimano's dharma heirs to handle, but at this point (and I think they're moving in that direction) this is simply de trop.

Ultimately, it's  matter of human beings doing some of the worse things human beings can do, and executing the proper response thereto.
At this point, however, with Shimano's letter which is stuck hard in denial mode,  I think there's no alternative but for Shimano to retire permanently.  I wish his heirs well in their dealings with him. I think they know what to do now.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Haven't had much to say lately...

We've had folks staying with us. 

Let me see what the day brings.

Hopefully peace and quiet.

Nah, maybe at least continuity?

Monday, December 27, 2010

A (very little) bit more on that "psi" woo junk...

So I've been reading a bit of the "Bern article" mentioned before here.  There's a few items that I have thought of in response to them:

  • In at least the first reported one (on "erotic stimuli") it is not clear to me that the results are in fact, statistically significant.
  • It is not clear to me that all variables in fact were isolated; for example, were there really no other cues available?  I don't know if all other explanatory effects were removed.
  • Finally, there's a bit of electrical engineering/physics problems associated with this whole thing, namely, that if such anti-causal behavior in fact happened, it would necessarily imply that infinite energy was available.  I'm sorry, I didn't make the laws of physics.  This phenomenon is easy to explain by way of analogy: imagine an "anti-causal" tuning fork, that is, one that responds to being hit before  it's hit.  Well, if such a beast existed, one could simply tap off the energy before the impulse was input and then ...simply don't hit it.  Since we have no such mechanisms, we can pretty safely assume they don't happen in nature.
And frankly, I'm also kind of bored with the question, because  it stems from a desire to want something more than what's around right now.   It's greed, folks.

Friday, December 24, 2010

More Holiday Woo!

Via a tweet by ~c4chaos I learned of this article. That article refers to this paper here.  I will go into more detail later about it, but I suspect these are yeah, poorly done studies, and I'll explain why later. I could be wrong, but I will have more to say later.

Yes, I got a prroblem with "certified" miracle stories...

Anyone else have a problem (emphasis mine)?

CHAMPION, Wis. — In France, the shrine at Lourdes is surrounded by hundreds of hotels and has received as many as 45,000 pilgrims in a single day. Our Lady of Guadalupe, in Mexico, draws millions of fervent worshipers a year.

Now, a little chapel among the dairy farms here, called Our Lady of Good Help, has joined that august company in terms of religious status, if not global fame. This month, it became one of only about a dozen sites worldwide, and the first in the United States, where apparitions of the Virgin Mary have been officially validated by the Roman Catholic Church.
In 1859, the year after Mary is said to have appeared in Lourdes, a Belgian immigrant here named Adele Brise said she was visited three times by Mary, who hovered between two trees in a bright light, clothed in dazzling white with a yellow sash around her waist and a crown of stars above her flowing blond locks. As instructed, Ms. Brise devoted her life to teaching Catholic beliefs to children.

On Dec. 8, after a two-year investigation by theologians who found no evidence of fraud or heresy and a long history of shrine-related conversions, cures and other signs of divine intervention, Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay declared “with moral certainty” that Ms. Brise did indeed have encounters “of a supernatural character” that are “worthy of belief.”  ...

Catholic leaders described the decree in Wisconsin as a bolt of joy at a trying time for the Catholic church, which is troubled by revelations of sex abuse.
“This is a gift to the believers,” said the Rev. Johann Roten, director of the International Marian Research Institute at the University of Dayton...

Over the 20th century, some 386 major apparitions of Mary were reported at a level beyond local rumors, said Father Roten, who has been an investigator in purported sightings. About 75 of those were studied, and at most a dozen were recognized as valid, he said. Increasingly, he said, the church makes use of psychiatric examinations and brain scans to see if people making claims are mentally healthy and not having hallucinations.
That kind of examination was not possible, of course, for Ms. Brise, and Bishop Ricken said that his panel of three theological specialists had considered a host of indirect factors in concluding that her sighting was credible, following guidelines set by the Vatican in 1978.

By all reports, he said, Ms. Brise was humble and honest and faithfully carried out Mary’s mandate to serve the church throughout her life. In one striking sign of a divine presence, he said, the shrine’s grounds and the terrified crowd who gathered there were spared the flames of the Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871, which devoured the surrounding lands and homes and caused more than 1,200 deaths. Her account of Mary’s apparition and message was consistent with accepted cases.

I mean, it's just not sporting, is it?

C'mon folks, enough with this award stuff! It's CHRISTMAS!

 I managed briefly to be in a couple of malls in the last day or two.  I am amazed at how these monuments to attachment really have focused the whole bad vibe stuff about this holiday season.   In particular, (remember in our family we wrap presents we essentially get ourselves) I had noticed that I might as well get a shirt or two that I needed to wrap up (my wife had done similarly with a variety of clothes).  But what I found is that somewhere along the way I seem to have developed an aesthetic that subverts the very notion of fashion itself.  I would like to wear clothes that are pretty much interchangeable, and don't go out of style.  Clothes I can wear to a Zendo if I want to/if nothing else is clean.  And (ha!) are well made enough to last years.  Somewhere I got all Shaker I guess, with preferences of dark muted colors.  Well, I wasn't very successful.  It really doesn't matter though. Neither do those awards and who's miffed about whatever regarding that. Gondolas - that's what matters! You'll see...

But anyway, yes, folks, it's that time of year again. People in America have headed to malls to buy schlocky cheaply made junk assembled by oppressed people in far away places, without much thought except to check the box. In a nearby mall, the "Christian Supply" (in case you run out of Christians) features the following (click all pictures  to enlarge):

Note the bit of scripture below the "Merry Christmas" which must be OK, since it was the same bit used in the Charlie Brown Christmas show.

Next store is a tattoo parlor,  a righteous attempt by the Wakefield whoever they are landowners to generate cash flow wherever they can:

Schlock, schlock everywhere...

Seriously, this is starting to remind me of the sidewalks in some parts of Beijing, or maybe the whole world is becoming a flea market; I wonder how many rubber pads for mice and coasters this guy is actually selling.  Probably more than I'd imagine:

Ah, if only Divine had lived to see the day; I'm not sure about whether this is an audacious manifestation of humanity's quest for liberty and freedom, but if there's anything that better encapsulates the sense of desperation pervading the United States  today, it is well represented at our local mall.

Do people need this stuff?

But at this stage of the game, "prices" don't really matter; they're just numbers.

And so, on this Christmas Eve, maybe you just want to go away from it all...

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Dunning-Kruger Effect, Blogisattvas, and Competition

Whilst recuperating from my recent bout with bad food (getting better thanks all!) I did some web surfing.   One of the side-effects of reading a range of blogs is a range of exposure to ideas.  On P.Z. Myers's  blog,  I saw an a reference to the "Dunning- Kruger Effect,"  which is a cognitive bias which seems to be somewhat pervasive in the United States:

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled people make poor decisions and reach erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence denies them the metacognitive ability to realize their mistakes.[1] The unskilled therefore suffer from illusory superiority, rating their own ability as above average, much higher than it actually is, while the highly skilled underrate their abilities, suffering from illusory inferiority. This leads to the situation in which less competent people rate their own ability higher than more competent people. It also explains why actual competence may weaken self-confidence. Competent individuals falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding. "Thus, the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others."[2]
The Dunning–Kruger effect was put forward in 1999 by Justin Kruger and David Dunning. Similar notions have been expressed – albeit less scientifically – for some time. Dunning and Kruger themselves quote Charles Darwin ("Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge")[3] and Bertrand Russell ("One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision."[4][5]). W.B. Yeats put it concisely thus: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity." The Dunning–Kruger effect is not, however, concerned narrowly with high-order cognitive skills (much less their application in the political realm during a particular era, which is what Russell was talking about.[6]) Nor is it specifically limited to the observation that ignorance of a topic is conducive to overconfident assertions about it, which is what Darwin was saying.[7] Indeed, Dunning et al. cite a study saying that 94% of college professors rank their work as "above average" (relative to their peers), to underscore that the highly intelligent and informed are hardly exempt.[4] Rather, the effect is about paradoxical defects in perception of skill, in oneself and others, regardless of the particular skill and its intellectual demands, whether it is chess, playing golf[8] or driving a car.[4]...

Kruger and Dunning proposed that, for a given skill, incompetent people will:
  1. tend to overestimate their own level of skill;
  2. fail to recognize genuine skill in others;
  3. fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;
  4. recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they can be trained to substantially improve.

Nellalou,  in a considered post on her Blogisattva award, asked the question, "Is there such a thing as healthy competition?"   People in schools, workplaces, etc. are keen to recognize when their skill levels are not recognized and others less competent are not acting properly on feedback related to their actions.  People don't view themselves as in a dog-fight per se, but on the other hand, they know when the people at the back of the pack are being graded on a curve simply to ignore the fact that differences exist.  I see this in complaints from my son about how various activities are recognized in his school, whether it be a science fair or a talent show.   When the school administration or other folks bend over backwards to avoid recognizing outstanding merit it comes across as disingenuous and cynical to the students. No doubt it it is intimately related to the prevalence of the Dunning-Kruger effect in American society.  It may be that the administrators of the school don't want anyone to "feel bad" about not having "won," but life is not about not experiencing feelings that we label as "good" or "bad."  We may not like a particular feeling/sensation but that does not mean that we therefore are better off never having felt it; you know, it's the old saying, "It's better to have loved and lost..."

I think if Nellalou wants to regift her award, well, it's her award, isn't it?  Did the Blogisattva folks protect in any way, shape or form intellectual property associated with the Blogisattva awards in such a way that dissemination of images, etc. was restricted? Did they trademark the logo?   I'm not a lawyer but one thing I do know:  All this possessiveness or lack thereof relating to this award doesn't seem apt..

What I do know is this is the largest brouhaha about nearly nothing I've seen in a few days.   Though I am glad to know that somebody has been studying the effects of the incompetent in our midst.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Food poisoning practice...

The other night, after a late night snack of something best forgotten, I succumbed to nausea and other fun things.

It wasn't what I'd expected.

Life's like that.

Although I had planned to be off the last two weeks of the year, this is ridiculous - I'm still feeling the after effects of eating something that was a spur of the moment decision.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote in one of her books that he loved Eve of the Adam and Eve story because she ate the apple - it was such a human thing to do. It makes me wonder if no one in history has wondered before if instead of being exiled from the Garden of Eden she had merely succumbed to a day or two of nausea and vomiting and diarrhea. That probably would have been even-Steven.

Petteri notes, rightly, that sooner or later everything breaks down. True enough, but on a micro level (like thinking a bit more mindfully about what to eat and when) or on a macro level (knowing that if you impoverish enough people in your country eventually you will cultivate a nation of desperadoes), simply put, there are something things you can do that are better than other things.

Truth be known, this is probably the optimal time to have such a tummy ache. It disturbs no one's plans, since nobody I'd known had actually made any plans for these two days.

But still!

I had wanted to practice my swimming, spend time with my son swimming, practice 書道 (calligraphy/"brush work"), etc. All I got done was shaving practice. Luckily I got that done. Maybe today I'll get to spend some time with my familia. But despite expectations and wants reality will be different.

Maybe tomorrow I'll be good enough to swim.

Another day of broth.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Authentication, Education, and My Continued Concerns about the "Academization" of Contemplative Practices

Communication devices often today have "authentication" algorithms encoded into them in order to prevent a "malicious" node from doing damage to the system.  It's not perfect of course (though there are measures of practical perfection, in case you didn't know), and that's why spam filters still let spam through, why hackers were able to hack into those corporate entities that had tried to squelch Wikileaks, and so forth. 

I mention that at the outset - that there are not only such mutual authentication methods but also methods for quantifying the degree to which these authentication methods may be relied upon - to point out that no authentication algorithm is perfect, even those which can be created for machines. 

Sometime late in the last century a philosopher named Ivan Illich wrote an essay called "The Right to Useful Unemployment and Its Professional Enemies," which decried the increasing number activities once reserved to non-professional training to be licensed or admitted only to be practiced by those with professional training. I was always and continue to be ambivalent about this viewpoint - I'm sorry but we just can't have Glenn Beck doing brain surgery, and likewise you need to know what kind of steel is going into a certain structure if you want to be sure it will not rust after X number of years.

But I think there's a line.  And, as I wrote in the comments below on this post, in reply to the Won Buddhist folks who took umbrage at my inclusion of them and critique,  I think there are issues with formally certifying meditation methods that fall into these categories, and at the same time, I think there are pitfalls that can arise in either direction here - either any Frederick Lenz  can come along and claim any kind of nonsense, or the certification process becomes so stultified and rigid that certain people's realizations might be excluded due to its lack of certification.  It is perhaps why the certification process might be better done as a master/apprentice kind of relationship than in a more academic relationship.   That said, I am starting to get a grasp of why one might want to teach meditation methods as part of a curriculum in Buddhist studies.

I can understand that.  I also think Buddhist studies per se obviously qualifies as an academic discipline.    But when it comes to the contemplative practices, there are problems with mutual authentication that are of issue to me.  I've often said the teacher and the student, in the Buddhist meaning of the relationship authenticate each other.   If one is going to a therapist for some problem, and they are "doing Big MindTM"  does that qualify? Should the fact that "Big MindTM" is promulgated by a lineage holder and decried by lineage holders encourage or discourage those from seeking out therapies dispensed by therapists with "Big MindTM" training?  Me, I'm a critic of "Big MindTM," but also, I'll admit, not certified by anyone to say anything at least on behalf of my lineage and training. I suppose if the Won Buddhist Institute stands behind their meditation training it's worth whatever that is, just as it's worth whatever it is that the State of Washington and the Evergreen School District certify my son's 4th grade teacher.   On the other hand, I must still remonstrate that neither the State of Washington nor the Won Buddhist Institute have certified my teacher.  have, as have his authenticators.  And I have not certified the State of Washington nor the Won Buddhist Institute - not that either of them might care that much about it (though I am very grateful for their comments in response to my post).

But if I was hurting, I'd still ask about such things if a therapist were to recommend such treatments.  When it comes to medical advice  or anything related, I think there is a responsibility of the client to obtain a maximum amount of  learning in regard to such things.   If I was in that position I would attempt to authenticate the treatment provider and the treatment.  Again, maybe it's my professional deformation, but I harken back to my informally authenticated engineer father: professionally we don't do religion - we don't take things on faith or gut feeling.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Wikileaks: Putting some context to the Dalai Lama and the 2008 unrest in Lhasa, Tibet, China

Here's a few things to read:

The Dalai Lama said Thursday that he supported Beijing’s hosting of the Summer Olympics, but he insisted that pro-Tibet demonstrators had the right to voice their opinions during the international torch relay as long as they refrained from violence.  
During a brief stopover in Japan on his way to the United States, the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, told reporters no one should try to silence demonstrators who are protesting Chinese rule in Tibet. But he struck a conciliatory tone toward Beijing, apparently distancing himself from calls in the West for a boycott of the Olympic opening ceremony.
“We are not anti-Chinese,” he said at a news conference at Tokyo’s main international airport in Narita. “Right from the beginning, we supported the Olympic Games.” Speaking of pro-Tibetan protesters, he said nobody “has the right to tell them to shut up.”
He faulted Beijing for suppressing antigovernment unrest in Tibet last month, saying its use of violence was “an outdated method” that did not solve the underlying problems. That unrest, the most severe in the region in two decades, and the resulting Chinese crackdown have touched off sympathy protests around the world, with demonstrators demanding greater freedom in Tibet. 

The Dalai Lama related an earlier conversation with a Chinese scholar that convinced him the "positive scenario" he outlined on March 28 -- where the PRC agrees to dialogue and permits a degree of Tibetan autonomy -- was a possibility. The Dalai Lama described this unnamed scholar as interpreting the regular use of the Dalai Lama's name by Chinese leaders and references to 'the Dalai clique' as signs they were prepared to engage with him. If PRC leaders ignored the Dalai Lama and focused instead on the Tibetan Youth Congress and Tibet-based leaders of the uprising, that would indicate the PRC planned to bypass him, according to this scholar... Immediately prior to meeting with PolCouns, the Dalai Lama met with XXXXXXXXXXXX. The Dalai Lama said XXXXXXXXXXXX had been in touch with Chinese interlocutors who convinced XXXXXXXXXXXX that a deal could be made: if the Dalai Lama supported peaceful transit of the Olympic torch through Tibet, then the PRC would simultaneously release Tibetans who had been detained since March 10. Comment: XXXXXXXXXXXX... While Indian observers believe that pressure on the PRC to engage with the Dalai Lama is growing, his candid comment that "Tibet is a dying nation" indicates increasing desperation as a result of his ability to affect events in his homeland.

    So what we can say is:
    • There isn't any credible evidence that the Dalai Lama knew, or orchestrated events in regard to the riots in Lhasa.
    • However,  his admission of a lack of control of what is going on in Tibet implies as well that at least part of the Chinese version of events: violence against Han Chinese in Lhasa could well be true.
    • The Dalai Lama's failure to speak in regard to any violence against Han Chinese in this incident  - or even to acknowledge that this might be a possibility! clearly is something his fans in the United States ought to consider.  Instead,  representatives of the Dalai Lama's organization immediately claimed they were "baseless" allegations.
    • Also his relative insouciance towards anti-China protests after the riots in Lhasa didn't seem to do his cause any good, and he seemed to have an indication that it wouldn't.

    Fun with advertisers!

    It seems I've got some doozies these days:

    The Silva Method is based on the idea that the mind-body connection is extremely powerful in healing and with the right mental attitude and with specific practices, you can dramatically speed up healing while working with your doctor.
    So has it been proven by science? Yes!

    • EquisyncTM

      Did you know that people who meditate are much happier and healthier than everyone else? It‘s true. And they have greatly extended life spans, too. As a matter of fact, there have been numerous studies showing that meditation dramatically reduces, and even reverses disease of all types—including cancer.

    The 33-credit Applied Meditation Studies program leads to a Master of Applied Meditation Studies degree (MAMS). The program prepares graduates who are uniquely skilled in the practical, professional, and theoretical dimensions of Buddhist meditation. Applied meditation can be adapted to many settings; for instance, to education, psychotherapy, social awareness, business, bereavement counseling, couples counseling, hospice care, pain management, corporate management, and Buddhist sangha building...

    The program combines classroom study with fieldwork and practical experience. Sitting meditation practice is the central component of the meditation aspect of the program, while a practicum is central to the application aspect. Two intensive meditation retreats are built into the schedule to ensure deepened meditation practice.

                  A sidebar on that page helpfully also informs me that

     The Won Institute is pleased to announce that Jeffrey Rubin, Ph.D.– the groundbreaking psychotherapist who works at integrating Buddhism and psychotherapy will join the Institute as a Visiting Scholar in fall 2008. Dr. Rubin will teach several workshops in the Certificate and Master's programs. The author of The Good Life, Psychotherapy and Buddhism: Toward Integration, and Psychoanalysis for Our Times: Exploring the Blindness of Seeing I, Dr. Rubin is a Dharma Holder in the White Plum Sangha and the Red Thread Zen Circle. He is an accomplished practitioner of meditation and yoga and holds degrees from Princeton, Columbia, and Union Institute.

     The folks from the Won Institute respond to my inclusion of their institution here. in the comments - please read them to get their viewpoint.  I still have an essential problem with the model, as you can see in my response to them.  However, I applaud them for responding to my post here.  On reflection I don't think it's appropriate to label them as Spiritual Hucksters, but I would say I personally have an issue with the idea of this program, as opposed to training with a teacher.  I'm sure their mileage varies.  Plus, I'm still unclear as to what they're actually providing for the certificate; it's not evident to me.
       In order to get a   "certificate" in meditation the Won Institute will charge you $4400 bucks, although some kind of financial aid may be available (from the government?).  Is it just me or does anyone else here have a problem with an institution charging you $4400 bucks to meditate and then give you a "certificate" that says you did that?  While I'm all in favor of supporting temples and institutions financially, the academic model is especially unsuitable for meditation, certainly in the Zen tradition. You're done when your teacher says you're done or when you figure out that you're "done."  Which probably means you've decided that you don't need that teacher to continue on your own.

    Faux Compassion and Kindness v. "Experimental" Compassion and Kindness

    When you've fallen on the highway and you're lying in the rain,
    and they ask you how you're doing of course you'll say you can't complain --
    If you're squeezed for information, that's when you've got to play it dumb:
    You just say you're out there waiting for the miracle, for the miracle to come.
                                                                                  -L. Cohen

    Nathan discusses "the Artificial Buddhist Personality."  Maybe folks who read me might not guess it, but in real life, in my work life, my language is considerably saltier than I put on in this blog. I could tell you a joke about a penguin, for example... This is a public forum and the internet persona never dies, you know.

    But I don't think I witnessed faux humility and graciousness when I saw Leonard Cohen last week.  I'm often not in the mood for mercy, compassion and forgiveness, let alone humility and graciousness, but luckily, I sometimes remember that it's a good idea to try that out as a gambit.  Not because it's a George Costanza gambit that doing the opposite of one's natural inclination leads to a more successful outcome, but because I've sat long enough to figure out that there's a lot of junk going on in my head that isn't conducive to a harmonious outcome if I go with my default inclination.   When I can put my mind in that mode, it's an experiment, just as when I have to step outside of my inclination to hide under a rock and be hard with those who work for me. 

    Regarding the latter situation, as well as pretty much anything else work related, I have phrased it to my manager in terms of acting on behalf of my employer; he has at times been incredulous of this - that's his nature, to be incredulous.  He has at times thought such statements insincere.   But truth be told, I have worked long enough to figure out that not a damn thing gets done unless you get the imaginary Greek chorus of upper management, home office management, colleagues, customers and shareholders to go along with you - then you can get the actual management to go along with you. And so even the tiniest thing one does in the course of one's work day can be thought to be observed by this imaginary Greek chorus.  It's not being insincere; it is, as best as I can make out today, acting in harmony with the Daodeching ( ).    I used to be bothered by my manager's assertion, but then I figured out he doesn't understand that, and it's part of my job to encourage him to understand why I act the way I do.  So that's not really a problem.

    But I really don't see myself as having that much time these days for false fronts on the compassion front.  It is true that people who are in a stage of bliss from all the meditation at first might assume such a persona, but after a while it gets boring, just as it is when you're impossibly rich and you're on your way to an orgy at 6 in the morning and you run out of gas.   There's no point in saying you're waiting for the miracle; you just want the damned gas.  Hopefully you can get it without descending too far away from the better inclinations of our species.

    It's just about time for zazen.  May all beings not get bored.

    Thursday, December 16, 2010

    My argument with Christmas

    Yesterday, in a confluence of both my normal exercise routine and unfortunate consumption of sugar at the Christmas luncheon, I was not my usual jolly self.  Actually, I'm never actually jolly.  The extent of my jolliness was limited to a luncheon discussion observation that Eagle Crest Resort in Oregon, a casualty of the real estate boom, could be re-purposed by redeveloping its underused golf course and creating a combined golf course and cemetery.   Actually I think many golf courses could benefit from such redevelopment, and that's the topic of a whole other riff.  Point is, by 5PM yesterday, I was pooped, and the last thing in the world I wanted to observe was the jolly Salivation Army representative drooling "Merry Christmas" as I schlepped into my local store for groceries.   (I long ago grew tired of lecturing them on their religious discrimination.)  My response was similar to the first lines in this clip from "The Life of Brian," sans the feminine affect:

    Yes, I did say, "He's not the messiah; he's a very naughty boy." I didn't say, "Now go away," though.  Oh well.

    I'm glad Uku does Christmas.  We do too.  But it's so much in your face in America. As Barbara said, it's so much dukkha this time of the year.  I think part of the problem is a Western dualism, frankly, that says this time of the year should be this and not that.  I would so shop at a store that didn't have the incessant shopworn Christmas songs.

    It is very impermanent of course.  But people will get pushier, more Christmas-y towards the end of the season. Cards must be sent out. 

    Much of it is a conditioning formed of years of Christmases with 5 siblings, two parents, sometimes  cousins and relatives, and one bathroom, and my parents "carpet bombing" approach to the whole gift-giving thing.  They meant well. Did the best they could, with what they knew.

    And the stories I could was insane.  Every couple of years we'd be "knocking over the f*Ck!ing tree" as an old National Lampoon tradition had it, breaking expensive ornaments.   That would result in parental rage, which, I guess, was the punchline to the whole event. Not physically abusive, mind you - just shouting.  It was Christmas, you know.  We'd put a cheap white plastic wreath on a huge crucifix that hung in our living room and declare, "Jesus won the Preakness." My mother would mutter about us heathens not going to Church.  Come to think of it, I don't know why we'd associate Jesus with winning one of the triple crown races by a cheap plastic wreath put around his wooden crucified image.  I mean, have you ever seen a horse that's won a triple crown race with a wreath around it's neck?   Then again, I never watched much horse racing.  Neither did I witness many crucifixions, except those done in the cinema.

    But no, jerks don't become less jerky in Western Christmas culture.  They adopt "Christmas" as the reason to be jerks, myself included.

    I still don't get the jolliness thing.

    But I'll do my best to have a nice Buddhist Christmas. My wish is for you folks to have a good belly laugh however you can get it.

    Wednesday, December 15, 2010

    Then again, aren't we all Dharma Brothers and Sisters?

                                                                                                                                                      A Dharma Brother at the Clark Co. Fair, Vancouver WA, last summer.

    Last night, after sitting, I chanted for All Known and Unknown Deceased Dharma Brothers and Sisters, such as the chant is called.  I did this on behalf of someone whose death anniversary was yesterday.

    That person hadn't been  Buddhist.  He  had not been, like myself,  lay ordained as a  Buddhist.  He had no Buddhist name. 

    But still it seemed appropriate to chant.  It's the thought and awareness that counts.  It's not like I'd made him a Mormon posthumously or such.  It's not like that at all.

    In  thinking about yesterday, especially with the confluent KPC SLAPP controversy, I wanted to discuss a tiny bit about the point above - just who is a Dharma Brother or Sister?    I posit that having wisdom, compassion, and generosity means being as welcoming and giving to those whose mere presence is associated with  rageful resentments as it does X, where X = the person you'd do anything for in a heartbeat.  In my case it might include certain individuals in the set of TSA screeners, and X might equal their equivalent in Japan, for whom you would let them cavity search you in public as they continually profusely apologized.   It might include certain individuals where I work, and X might include Dharma teachers I've known.   It might include family members who still presuppose that everyone is a Christian.  It might include all kinds of folks for whom internet discourse has been rougher than it otherwise might have been.  It might include the person whose blog boasts of all kinds of Dharma goodies and connections in either or both sets.  It might include basically everyone. 

    I generally don't make a big point of my lay ordination.  Folks in my tradition would have gleaned it anyway when they click on the "about" section and see I mention that I have a Buddhist name - you generally (at least) take jukai and then get a Buddhist name in my school.   (I had it done together but it's not a prerequisite).  I don't make a big point out of this, mostly because the name or the ceremony itself isn't important; what's important is the mindful attempts to endeavor to practice the vows.  I think it would be a violation of the spirit of the vows to consider only those who have taken any kind of vows as sharers or lay Buddhists or ordained Buddhists who would be designated as Dharma Brothers and Sisters.  The ceremony and the practice is a confirmation that one already endeavors to attempt attenuation of ignorance hatred and greed.  Of course it meant a big deal to me, and still does.   But because it's such a big deal I generally don't mention it.
    And so even what's her name Jetsunma whom I'd only known about a few days ago is one too. So are my conservative Christian relatives.   And so on.

    Tuesday, December 14, 2010

    I don't know what it's all about...but those crystals...but what about the Golden Ratio? And 水風?

    Nathan tries to do good Buddhist practice blogging on this Kunzang Palyul Choling (KPC),  and their attempts to censor Waylon Lewis and Bill Schwartz, and I commend him.  I still don't know what it is all about, but I suspect it's about the truth...Now me, I love me a good Twitter Storm, blog-storm, etc. etc. and so forth.

    I deeply suspect that Mr. Schwartz probably was going to say the truth about these people...because

    I'd like to know more about these KPC people...but looking at their website....these people are what exactly?

    The power of prayer

    In the Prayer Room at KPC, a network of large and unusual crystals holds, amplifies, and broadcasts the spiritual energy of the 24 Hour Prayer Vigil (on-going at KPC since 1985). What if that very energy – of love, disciplined commitment, and longing for the freedom of all beings from suffering – could enhance your own spiritual practice? Read more

    Well, I read more and for a while it looks like a conventional Tibetan Buddhist temple...yes, sharers, I've been in more than a couple of them, ...and it all looks right until...

    Crystal Collection

    KPC also has a large and beautiful crystal collection. Crystals are traditional Vajrayana Buddhist symbols for the pure nature of mind, and at KPC they play an especially important role in the interplay of the physical environment with the metaphysical. The crystals are specifically placed to enhance the network of spiritual energy established by continuous prayer and the virtuous activities of teaching and practicing the Dharma.

    At the outset, I've got to say I've no issue with using crystals to represent something...especially lattice structures...but seriously, in a sense it can be no more, representational than other representations.  And indeed it is certainly true that "Vajrayana" is often called the "Diamond Vehicle."  But beyond that, it appears difficult to make the claim that crystals "are traditional Vajrayana Buddhist symbols." It may or may not be true,  but given the nature of the teachings of the school and the way in which its teachings are propagated,  it seems just as easy to make the claim, but, because of the nature of the propagation of the teachings, it becomes somewhat difficult to falsify, unless you're some kind of initiate into several of these schools I guess.  But I doubt it. Heavily.     It is true that the diamond refers to a type of wisdom that can slice through delusion in most of Mahayana Buddhism.  But in no tradition of which this admittedly somewhat parochial Rinzai Zen Buddhist is aware do crystals "play an especially important role in the interplay of the physical environment with the metaphysical"  where they may be "specifically placed to enhance the network of spiritual energy."

    But what about the Golden Ratio?

    Well, these are esthetic  issues that seem to approximate certain measurements in life, for which there has been claimed to be some basis for its connection to the description of nature.  Nothing really metaphysical there.

    And what about  水風?  Many of its principles are common sense, actually, as well as an esthetic sensibility...about the "energy" in it,  though, I'm afraid that's a bit to woo for me at the moment.  But my Zendo and house are in accord with its principles generally, because it's common sense, especially in the Pacific Northwest, where you should suck up all available light in these colder months.

    So enough of that.  What does KPC say the blogging /Twitter controversy's about?

    New social media available on the Internet, such as Twitter and Facebook, have revolutionized society, making communication worldwide and instantaneous.  In many ways this is tremendously positive, as people now have access to much more information than ever dreamed of in the past.  The downside, however, is that the Internet also opens the door to individuals who use the anonymity (or not) on the Web to launch malicious attacks in pursuit of their personal vendettas. It can be a breeding ground for inaccurate and violent attacks against individuals and institutions.

    Our precious teacher, Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo, has been a victim of such cyber attacks, just as so many others have.  On September 17, 2009 Jetsunma began teaching on Twitter in an attempt to connect with as many people as possible, people who otherwise would never have had any contact with the Dharma.  She wrote a short Amitabha practice that was easy enough for anyone to do and began doing the practice every day at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time with anyone who wished to join her, and she gave numerous spontaneous “tweachings.”   As a result, the Amitabha practice was performed simultaneously by an expanding cyber community. Unfortunately, there was a darker response, as Jetsunma soon became a target of several individuals who attacked her viciously without interruption and without cause.  These attacks affected her ability to utilize this new medium to teach....

    Lately on Twitter there have been individuals making various statements regarding Kunzang Palyul Choling seeking out legal counsel in reference to the potential publication on Elephant Journal (an online publication) of an article written by an individual who did not inquire or make any contact with our organization, yet wanted to publish untruths and defamatory content about our Spiritual Director and organization.  KPC wrote a letter to the Elephant Journal advising them that the author had been engaged in an ongoing campaign of defamation and slander of our Spiritual Director, our organization, even our Lineage, and that he had demonstrated that he was unconcerned with actual facts. We advised the Elephant Journal that the author had made no attempt to contact KPC to verify any of his claims. We have no criticism of Elephant Journal in terms of its purpose, journalistic approach and stated mission.  The free exchange of ideas fundamentally is a good thing.  However, if the result of the “free” exchange of misleading and defamatory information is detrimental or damaging in any way to Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo or KPC, then KPC reserves the right to seek an appropriate remedy which could include legal action.   This is a legitimate retort and any reasonable organization would do the same in response.

     Now I've got to say, "Defamatory? What the hell are the supposed damages?" You folks claim crystals are spiritual energy thingies ore something like that.  Moreover, they refer to false things without ever saying what the false things are.

    But this I know: "Tweachings" are generally not my cup of tea.  I'll have more on this later, when I investigate what they are..

    Update: I started poking around here. Besides the typical saccharine maxims you generally expect, you do get some inkling that there's some intra-school fighting going on here (see here and here, for example).   And I personally have no idea at all what's going on there.

    But this I know:  if you see your guru on the road...


    So your own website doesn't exactly enhance your reputation as a Buddhist exponent.

    To the best of my knowledge, everything here is true. No, I didn't contact them. I have quoted from their website which is available for all to see.

    I think, as Nathan does, that the bit by Mr. Schwartz was over the top a bit.  But I am deeply skeptical of KPC, based on their own words.

    Monday, December 13, 2010

    Career advice, right livelihood, Zen economics, or, dude, you're not a kid anymore.

    Ven. Warner is concerned about his economic situation, as are we all.   Meanwhile, because of some warp in the space-time continuum, for some odd reason, I'm doing so well in life I get to spend an evening with Leonard Cohen,  and purchase a stainless steel double edge razor.   It might be interesting to juxtapose things here.

    First, thinking of Cohen, here's a guy who at the age of 73 wound up with most of his money gone, because of a wrongful action, evidently, on the part of someone with a fiduciary responsibility to him.   He went on tour, and has been doing that for 3 years now.  I'm sure he clears more in an evening than probably Warner makes all year.
    What does Cohen have that Warner doesn't have?

    Next, consider the Feather All Stainless razor.  It comes from a company that makes real stuff, no gimmicks except quality.  Despite the ridiculous price (which it's not, if you compare it to the price of the original Gillette double edge razor in today's dollars) , it should be paid for in about a year or so, based on current blade consumption.

    Yeah, there's a quid pro quo here.   But both "sources" of stuff from which I give my money, to my way of thinking, are themselves engaging in "right livelihood." Both have carefully honed and managed their crafts, and managed to both make it in the marketplace and develop a product that's basically better than alternatives from a moral/ethical standpoint.

    And how is my work fitting in here?

    I work in a field that changes rapidly, and I work hard to be on top of it,  and to do so in a way in which my practice is expressed in the workplace - I simply do not have the time nor lack of responsibilities to do otherwise.  I can't spend ump-dee-ump weeks a year sitting in retreats - my retreat is helping my son with his homework, and making sure he gets to where he needs to be on time.

    And believe me, workplace practice is serious business.  It is possible - hell, likely - that in a few years I'll be doing something in a different field in terms of product categories that are of interest to my employer.  It is also possible, as with all employment these days, that I might need to look for a job at some point.  Luckily, or thanks to the efforts of all I know including myself, or both or neither, I have a sufficient set of skills that would be of interest in a variety of areas.   But believe me, it was something I thought about years ago.

    So my advice to  Warner is simply practice where you can find it.  If the marketplace is not buying your crafts and teaching,  get a job.  Warner's in his mid-forties, if memory serves me right, and though he's single,  the inexorable laws of biology, economics, and actuarial science will mean that unless the guy has any kind of a nest egg or unless he dies early, he will, at present rates, be in poverty in his old age.  And trust me, if you're not doing this in any real way you're in trouble if you life in the US, and least until the revolution comes.

      Maybe Bernie Glassman can get him a gig in Hollywood.  I probably won't be going to see "Tron: Legacy,"  though.  Sorry Jeff & Bernie.

    Sunday, December 12, 2010

    More on Ditching the Gillette Razors & Mindful Shaving...

    I have blogged about the above topic here and here.  I am continually re-amazed at how, at the age of 53, only now, am I truly shaving and appreciating it - it is a mindful forming of how you appear to other people.   The only "problem" still is that it takes a bit more time - still about 15 minutes for me.   But I feel as though I have decoded the Rosetta stone or something.

    I am also a bit peeved, though, that double edge razors are not commonly available in stores - only via the internet.  It's simply amazing - basically 3 companies control all the shelf space for shaving in my locale, and they have evidently decreed that no double edge razors - which can provide the best, most comfortable shave - are not to be sold. 

    Still,  there's something about this business I never appreciated - the raw power of a tiny piece of metal being so sharp.  It might be something in my genes (the above character is for "blacksmith," which is kind of my heritage).  But whatever, this stainless steel stuff is an amazing material.  So much so that I decided to spend way too much money for my Christmas gift from my wife to myself  on what is in essence an heirloom, the Feather All Stainless Razor.  (Oddly enough, though it's about 1/2 the price of what you can pick one up for in Japan.  It is a celebration of stainless steel.  And it will, with minimal care, last for, uh, centuries.  You can sterilize the damn thing in an autoclave - try doing that with any non-stainless steel razor.

    If it had "Run by the Jews" in it then they'd have perfect NY Times headline

    The perfect NY Post headline, the best one of all time was "Headless Body Found in Topless Bar."   It is perfect in the sense that you have to find out why anyone would write something so lurid.

    And such is almost the case for today's NY Times headline, "A Secretive Banking Elite Rules Trading in Derivatives."  Almost, that is, except for the bit in the title of this blog post.

    And of course, you can be sure that some folks are trying to piece that together in their warped anti-Semitic minds.

    I'm sure they've got the mindshare of all the anti-Semites today.

    The article in question is fascinating - and will fuel racist crazies, unfortunately, because names aren't named.   I have had to explain to quite a few people  - people with otherwise very progressive views, believe it or not - that the idea that Jewish people control the world's banking system is sick and twisted; a small minority of people do hold most of the wealth,  but in that group, the number of Jewish people is very small. 

    The gist of the article is that the major banks and investment houses are repeating with derivatives what they did in the last century with just regular ol' investment banking.  And those people, like JP Morgan, were hardly Jewish.  However, Goldman Sachs was founded as a "Jewish" investment banking firm, because they couldn't get employed elsewhere on Wall Street.  Mutatis mutandis for Merrill Lynch and the Irish, btw. 

    If you haven't read the book at the left, it's a great read, even though it's now dated.  But you'll get a much better understanding of these things.

    Saturday, December 11, 2010

    There isn't much to say right now...

    So I'll wait 'til later to say something that might be more important.

    Friday, December 10, 2010

    Evidently I get read more than I think....

    The Big Mind folks fixed their website grammar.  I guess that's my little Blogisattva award...

    The Day After the Concert...

    I have been out of sorts, sort of,  since the concert, in several ways:

    • My normal wake-up time is before 4am on weekdays, simply to get everything in.   Yesterday, I had to sleep til 7. 
    • The impact of that rippled through the day.  I don't know how people who commute for 2 hours each way can live a semblance of a life.  I don't know how Mr. Cohen was able to do a concert from 8PM until 11:30PM with just a 1/2 hour break
    • Still, I am in a good  - very good- mood.  I have seen a once in a lifetime event.  But then again, isn't everything that way?

    Thursday, December 09, 2010

    My wife and I spent Rohatsu Evening with Leonard Cohen

    I am deeply grateful to my wife, my son, the wonderful people who let my son sleep over with his friend at pretty much the last minute, and everyone else important and unimportant, and of course to the Man himself and his wonderful accompanying musicians for what was one of the most amazing concerts I'd ever attended.

    The event was billed as, "An Evening with Leonard Cohen," and even though we were in the (2/3 allocated and filled) Rose Garden Arena, even though we were, as you'll see, in the "nosebleed" section, even though we had to struggle to get to our seats in the clouds, I feel as though I really did get to know the great singer, poet, and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer better than I'd ever "known" anyone else at any other concert to which I'd gone.  Mr. Cohen is 76 years old, and though the show was highly staged (all these things are nowadays), I can't believe what a rip-roaring good time I had - I felt privileged to get to see him before he passed away.  Mr. Cohen acknowledge this himself when he said, "I don't know when we'll pass through here again, but tonight we'll give it all we've got."  And they did.

    If you can in any way see this while you can, see it while you can.  I was overwhelmed with the grace and humility of the man and his singers and musicians.  Moreover, it was one of the nicest crowds of people I've ever been, one of the most courteous and good-natured audiences.  It was amazing to think this man - who must have had the thought himself - was performing tonight on a night when years ago he himself was undoubtedly in sesshin himself.

    Just amazing harmony all throughout.  Here's a (bad image quality) video.  Sorry if  you think the classic guitar solo's too long; I got it just as it started; the song "Who By Fire" follows the solo.  The sound I hope makes up for it.

    I believe that song was originally adapted from a Yom Kippur prayer, but it's Buddhist import is obvious.

    Wednesday, December 08, 2010

    "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself..." and Blogisattva Awards

    "-And you are the easiest person to fool," wrote Richard Feynman in "Cargo Cult Science," which I had mentioned earlier, here.  David Brooks, who normally writes political columns that are risible for their lack of depth and disingenuous (his Bobos in Paradise bit has been widely debunked) ,  reports evidence in support of Feynman's maxim.

    Classic research has suggested that the more people doubt their own beliefs the more, paradoxically, they are inclined to proselytize in favor of them. David Gal and Derek Rucker published a study in Psychological Science in which they presented some research subjects with evidence that undermined their core convictions. The subjects who were forced to confront the counterevidence went on to more forcefully advocate their original beliefs, thus confirming the earlier findings.  
    This explains many things.  Here's Gal and Drucker's own words...

    A seminal case study by Festinger found, paradoxically, that evidence that disconfirmed religious beliefs increased individuals’ tendency to proselytize to others. Although this finding is renowned, surprisingly, it has never been subjected to experimental scrutiny and is open to multiple interpretations. We examined a general form of the question first posed by Festinger, namely, how does shaken confidence influence advocacy? Across three experiments, people whose confidence in closely held beliefs was undermined engaged in more advocacy of their beliefs (as measured by both advocacy effort and intention to advocate) than did people whose confidence was not undermined. The effect was attenuated when individuals affirmed their beliefs, and was moderated by both importance of the belief and open-mindedness of a message recipient. These findings not only have implications for the results of Festinger’s seminal study, but also offer new insights into people’s motives for advocating their beliefs. 

     I am very seriously thinking of plunking down $35.00 just to buy this article.  It's interesting that the researchers were talking about religious beliefs here specifically.  I don't know - I haven't read the article - if this falls into the class of "cargo cult science" articles of which Feyman spoke, but I believe he was speaking largely of clinical psychology, not the behavioral work whose importance has increased after Feyman's death.

    What I do know is this: I could get this way if I am not mindful of the tendency for this to happen. In a certain sense, we should not trust our beliefs and opinions, but also, we can and should trust that we can question and reevaluate our beliefs and opinions.   The position on questioning beliefs and opinions of course, is a belief and an opinion, but is often supported by the evidence of experience: if one tests a belief or opinion, whether the test confirms or denies the belief or opinion, it confirms the idea that we can and should trust our beliefs and opinions; it seems difficult to falsify except if you life in a Tale of Despereaux  kind of existence, where people want to sanction you for going out of the box and questioning.  For whatever reason, that kind of coercion didn't take with me.  Maybe it had to do with my ancestors and why they left Poland.  I come from a long line of feisty folk.

    I see that the Blogisattva Awards finalists are out. I truly congratulate all of them for being recognized by their peers in the Buddhist Blogosphere.  While in the past I had been a finalist in one or two categories, I'm very happy, actually not to be a finalist this year.  It's good to see works from other bloggers, for one thing.  For another thing,  I haven't participated much in that kind of thing.  Also in the back of my mind is I'm thinking of actually meeting some of these folks at the Buddhist Geeks Conference.  I think I could probably provide a perspective they might not have. 

    Still, a part of me  - a part I have to question - says, deep down, "How come they didn't recognize me???"   Well, the reason for that, aside form the relatively minor role circumstance plays, is that I simply didn't write the posts that did get recognized.  So what?   I hadn't written the posts to get recognized in the first place; rather, I think - after about 5 years - I'm just starting to get what it means for "me"  to do this Buddhist blogging thing.   And it's to try to promote wisdom, generosity, and compassion in blogging in a way that elicits in the reader's mind a  vast emptiness and no knowing.  And to record how practice infuses my life. And finally, or perhaps as a result of the last bit, how to find practice in the everyday. And in particular, how science and Buddhism really  are reconciled, from an equally rigorous scientific viewpoint and Buddhist viewpoint.    That's the perspective I could probably provide to others, I hope.

    And dammit, that's hard; it's a skill!

    And I  fail at those kinds of things, and so it's obviously ridiculous of me that other bloggers should hold other bloggers to a standard based on what "I" think is good blogging; it's laughable for me to have that thought.  And I do and I laugh.

     "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself-and you are the easiest person to fool."

    Tuesday, December 07, 2010

    Sitting the full lotus

    I have kind of a confession to make: 99.99% of my sitting over the years, I have been doing it in either 1/2 lotus, 1/4 lotus (the best I could manage to do kekkafuza  (結跏趺坐)or seiza (正座).  Recently, though, because of my swimming exercise and somewhat more healthy diet, I have been able to do 結跏趺坐 as full lotus.  For the longest time I could not do it, and then one day I tried it, and I could do it.  Amazing are the side effects of losing weight and being in shape.

    And let me tell you: it makes a difference.

    In addition, it seems to be remedying somewhat a bit of lower pain I'd had in my back.

    Somebody on this Brad Warner post suggested this Tai Chi exercise might help.  Maybe it will; it is quite a bit like swimming.

    If you do 座禅 you should try to get your body slowly over time to be able to sit in this position, if at all possible.

    Yoga poses such as Warner recommends here might help, too.

    I think that an important aspect of Right Livelihood, whether you call it a "Gate of Zen" or not, is being in shape.  You can sit full lotus.  You can move furniture and over-packed luggage that previously required assistance.  You can sleep at night. It seems to help with anger management.

    Monday, December 06, 2010

    Two op-ed pieces worth a comment from NY Times

    1. Sean Kelly at the NY Times, in my observation, seems to be missing the mark:

    There may be parts of the culture where this destabilizing force [ of "the death of god"]  is not felt.  The Times’s David Brooks argued recently for example, in a column discussing Jonathan Franzen’s novel “Freedom,” that Franzen’s depiction of America as a society of lost and fumbling souls tells us “more about America’s literary culture than about America itself.”  The suburban life full of “quiet desperation,” according to Brooks, is a literary trope that has taken on a life of its own.  It fails to recognize the happiness, and even fulfillment, that is found in the everyday engagements with religion, work, ethnic heritage, military service and any of the other pursuits in life that are “potentially lofty and ennobling”.
    There is something right about Brooks’s observation, but he leaves the crucial question unasked.  Has Brooks’s happy, suburban life revealed a new kind of contentment, a happiness that is possible even after the death of God?  Or is the happy suburban world Brooks describes simply self-deceived in its happiness, failing to face up to the effects of the destabilizing force that Franzen and his literary compatriots feel? I won’t pretend to claim which of these options actually prevails in the suburbs today, but let me try at least to lay them out.

    It is a pity folks like Kelly - who should know better - marginalize the Buddhist concept of sunyata here by posing  false dichotomy between indecisive, hopeless "nihilism" and commitment to pastimes that in themselves are void at their core.

    2.  I can't imagine the mindset of Ross Douthat.  I just can't.


    Barbara writes, in what might be a different context from where I'm going here:

    The whole issue of what is REAL or NOT REAL is problematic, of course, since phenomena that most westerners would sort into "real" or "not real" bins are all projections of mind, neither real nor not-real. Until we realize that, we all "believe" all manner of things. I suspect part of the reason there's such a disconnect between much Asian and western Buddhism isn't a difference in Buddhism itself but the different belief systems we drag into it in the beginning.
    So a westerner might originally think that Buddhism is something like psychology. Someone coming into Buddhism from a culture steeped in animism (such as Shinto) might interpret Buddhism through an animistic filter. Both views fall short, but they aren't "wrong" as long as we don't stick there.

    As a confluence of the side-effects of recent discussions in this blogosphere about quantum mechanics,  the desire to improve my general ability to make scientific explanations, and the serendipitous confluent interest of colleagues I have recently become interested in the exploits of Richard Feynman

    What's interesting about Feynman is ... pretty much everything.   And a guy like Feynman should pretty much demolish all the stereotypes, prejudices, and preconceptions that folks might have about "most westerners" and "scientists," because Feynman was nothing if not the quintessence of the modern western scientist.  He was a rather well-rounded guy, to say the least.  He's a the guy folks like us look to as a role model.  Did ya get that people?

    I don't recall hearing the term  "cargo cult science" a while back further than recently, but here's what  Feynman said about this category of "sciences" that included psychology:

    There is one feature I notice that is generally missing in "cargo cult science." It's a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty — a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid — not only what you think is right about it; other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you've eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked — to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

    I could take about fifteen other quotes from him on that page; but here's my point of this post: the whole question of what "is" and what "is not" is not that relevant either to the scientist/engineer or to at least this Zen/Chan Buddhist: it's the question, the "interrogation"  the care and attentiveness that are what's important.  "What is This?" is one of the most famous koans, and, I've found, very useful.

    Is it true that Most Westerners are This Way and not That Way?  Is  it true that "phenomena that most westerners would sort into 'real' or 'not real' bins are all projections of mind, neither real nor not-real?"

    And yes this post is self-referential: question what I wrote here.

    Does it matter that it was Feynman who said, "[Doubting the great Descartes] was a reaction I learned from my father: Have no respect whatsoever for authority; forget who said it and instead look what he starts with, where he ends up, and ask yourself, 'Is it reasonable?'"

    To the point of Barbara's post, with the above in mind, I ask myself, is what that person on that forum board said reasonable

    It is undeniable that in China, there is a wide variance of Buddhist attitudes and beliefs towards various things like reincarnation, "deities" and so forth,  but in Japan, people simply do not parse religion in  a way that lends itself to what we generally talk about (again, check the generalization!) when we speak of religious belief.

    I've been to quite a few Buddhist temples myself in Japan,  and to say that Japanese Buddhist temples do not express the concepts of "beliefy" things metaphorically is to completely misunderstand Japanese Buddhism of at least several influential Mahayana schools.

    Question that.