Thursday, September 30, 2010

Social media does not replace real human relationships

This article by Malcom Gladwell in the New Yorker pins down why I've had a sneaking suspicion  and skepticism  about sites like Gaia, "intent", and of course Facebook.

The dangers were even clearer in the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project of 1964, another of the sentinel campaigns of the civil-rights movement. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee recruited hundreds of Northern, largely white unpaid volunteers to run Freedom Schools, register black voters, and raise civil-rights awareness in the Deep South. “No one should go anywhere alone, but certainly not in an automobile and certainly not at night,” they were instructed. Within days of arriving in Mississippi, three volunteers—Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman—were kidnapped and killed, and, during the rest of the summer, thirty-seven black churches were set on fire and dozens of safe houses were bombed; volunteers were beaten, shot at, arrested, and trailed by pickup trucks full of armed men. A quarter of those in the program dropped out. Activism that challenges the status quo—that attacks deeply rooted problems—is not for the faint of heart.
What makes people capable of this kind of activism? The Stanford sociologist Doug McAdam compared the Freedom Summer dropouts with the participants who stayed, and discovered that the key difference wasn’t, as might be expected, ideological fervor. “All of the applicants—participants and withdrawals alike—emerge as highly committed, articulate supporters of the goals and values of the summer program,” he concluded. What mattered more was an applicant’s degree of personal connection to the civil-rights movement. All the volunteers were required to provide a list of personal contacts—the people they wanted kept apprised of their activities—and participants were far more likely than dropouts to have close friends who were also going to Mississippi. High-risk activism, McAdam concluded, is a “strong-tie” phenomenon.
This pattern shows up again and again. One study of the Red Brigades, the Italian terrorist group of the nineteen-seventies, found that seventy per cent of recruits had at least one good friend already in the organization. The same is true of the men who joined the mujahideen in Afghanistan. Even revolutionary actions that look spontaneous, like the demonstrations in East Germany that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, are, at core, strong-tie phenomena...

In a new book called “The Dragonfly Effect: Quick, Effective, and Powerful Ways to Use Social Media to Drive Social Change,” the business consultant Andy Smith and the Stanford Business School professor Jennifer Aaker tell the story of Sameer Bhatia, a young Silicon Valley entrepreneur who came down with acute myelogenous leukemia. It’s a perfect illustration of social media’s strengths. Bhatia needed a bone-marrow transplant, but he could not find a match among his relatives and friends. The odds were best with a donor of his ethnicity, and there were few South Asians in the national bone-marrow database. So Bhatia’s business partner sent out an e-mail explaining Bhatia’s plight to more than four hundred of their acquaintances, who forwarded the e-mail to their personal contacts; Facebook pages and YouTube videos were devoted to the Help Sameer campaign. Eventually, nearly twenty-five thousand new people were registered in the bone-marrow database, and Bhatia found a match.
But how did the campaign get so many people to sign up? By not asking too much of them. That’s the only way you can get someone you don’t really know to do something on your behalf. You can get thousands of people to sign up for a donor registry, because doing so is pretty easy. You have to send in a cheek swab and—in the highly unlikely event that your bone marrow is a good match for someone in need—spend a few hours at the hospital. Donating bone marrow isn’t a trivial matter. But it doesn’t involve financial or personal risk; it doesn’t mean spending a summer being chased by armed men in pickup trucks. It doesn’t require that you confront socially entrenched norms and practices. In fact, it’s the kind of commitment that will bring only social acknowledgment and praise.

I do tend to think that this is quite unrecognized in many on-line social networking communities.  To put it another way, there's many,  many orders of magnitude in commitment between a Facebook "friend" and your wife.  At least I hope so.

That also has implications, I'm sorry to say, for on-line sanghas.  Now, to be honest, I think what folks like Jundo are doing is a good thing, and of course deeply well-intentioned.  But then I think of a guy in my (very small) sangha, with whom I've been practicing, when Osho is in town, for quite a few years.  We have not had multitudinous conversations with each other; the norm of communication in my sangha is not a lot of words.

And yet...

I feel profoundly close to the few people in my sangha, much closer than my co-workers at lunch; the time we spent committed to our practices and to each other in silence has forged a much stronger bond than those with many of my colleagues.

And I think Gladwell has hit upon one reason why.  I've almost forgiven him for "Blink."

I am not worthy!

As I've mentioned before, I have the iPhone app "Zenbrush" on my iPhone.  It's a useful thing for me to learn Kanji/Hànzì (漢字)  and to be able to write them.  It's a fascinating brain exercise: To be able to recognize Kanji (sorry dear, I learned Japanese first, and am only beginning Chinese!) is one thing, and to be able to write Kanji is an entirely different thing!  The two areas of the brain that are involved in learning these things aren't identical.  Furthermore, to be able to write Kanji one has to be able to cultivate one's "spatial memory" to an extent that is much greater than one uses for writing Western alphabets.

Anyhow,  just take a look at some of the uploaded images on the Twitter site #Zenbrush. I am a total piker, a rank beginner by comparison.  Oh well, it's not the point. I'm learning.  It'll take a while to learn.  And as I recall Suzuki roshi once wrote that people like me might actually get good at 書道 because we aren't trained to write perfectly.

That's comforting.

Very cool...'cept there goes that "anthropmorphic principle"

It might be a place that only a lichen or pond scum could love, but astronomers said Wednesday that they had found a very distant planet capable of harboring water on its surface, thus potentially making it a home for plant or animal life.

Nobody from Earth will be visiting anytime soon: The planet, which goes by the bumpy name of Gliese 581g, is orbiting a star about 20 light-years away in the constellation Libra.

But if the finding is confirmed by other astronomers, the planet, which has three to four times the mass of Earth, would be the most Earthlike planet yet discovered, and the first to meet the criteria for being potentially habitable.

“It’s been a long haul,” said Steven S. Vogt of the University of California, Santa Cruz, who, along with R. Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, led the team that made the discovery. “This is the first exoplanet that has the right conditions for water to exist on its surface.” ...

Gliese 581g (whose first name is pronounced GLEE-za) circles a dim red star known as Gliese 581, once every 37 days, at a distance of about 14 million miles. That is smack in the middle of the so-called Goldilocks zone, where the heat from the star is neither too cold nor too hot for water to exist in liquid form on its surface.

“This is really the first Goldilocks planet,” Dr. Butler said.

Other astronomers hailed the news as another harbinger that the search for “living planets,” as Dimitar D. Sasselov of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics calls them, is on the right track.

It was only a matter of time and technology before this would be found.  I'm still quite a pessimist when it comes to the long term prospects for life on earth, or that earth life might be able to transplant itself somewhere else.  Not that it matters; we're going to die soon enough anyway.  But this is something that people have thought possible (and some Luddites impossible) for quite a long time.

Truly fantastic.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

American Buddhists are silent about the mosque? Is that the biggest issue we face?

Danny Fisher asks why "Buddhists are sitting out the Islamaphobia debate."  This, to me, is a rather naive viewpoint, and completely and utterly misses the larger point: the brouhaha over building mosques in America is but a tiny piece of a much larger strategem by the right wing in this country in which it seeks to take power, to the detriment of all Americans.

It's but a tiny piece of a larger puzzle.  For example, it would do all well to speak out and oppose some of the nonsense that is going on in this year's ballot measures. Among them are measures which are clearly arising out of racist intent, a contempt for human existence, and a desire to cede ground on the environment. 

But, to be fair, it is somewhat unreasonable for all Buddhists to act like nice progressives on these issues; some of us aren't progressive.  I just bring up the points because the mosque issues are just one facet of a concerted effort by the right wing to divide us so they may continue to enrich themselves at our expense.  And that's a much bigger issue than the mosque- because it's the root issue of the mosque.  But, as many have routinely pointed out, "engaged" Buddhism can often wind up being one big ego trip.  As for myself, I am quite politically involved thank you very much on the left side of things.  And if you aren't trying to get the "big picture" then there's likely a whole host of issues you're missing.

Too, Fisher's characterization of "Buddhists" as passive observers in all this is quite incorrect.  Many of us have been doing that.    Furthermore, his characterization of the atheist bashing Dalai Lama  (I could  also mention "Dorje Shugden follower suppressing" ) as someone who is someone who "offer[s] ways of engaging that are rooted in practice" is itself ignorant of other forms of religious bigotry in the Buddhist camp that get a free pass from him - and other American Buddhists.

I share the concerns of Fisher regarding the rights of Muslims to build mosques anywhere they please.  But, Danny, please spare us the moralistic lectures, and the Dalai Lama isn't an example of Buddhism to American Buddhists in general.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Knowledge of religion...and my advertisers...

Much will undoubtedly be made of the latest Pew survey reported here (see for example P.Z. Myers' somewhat disjointed and way too inside take on the story).  What I find more interesting is that what is labeled as "knowledge of religion" largely does not relate to what is believed or practiced.

For example the questions involved were of the form, according to the NY Times article I first cited:

Among the topics covered in the survey were: Where was Jesus born? What is Ramadan? Whose writings inspired the Protestant Reformation? Which Biblical figure led the exodus from Egypt? What religion is the Dalai Lama? Joseph Smith? Mother Theresa? In most cases, the format was multiple choice. 

 That's a pity because its those beliefs and narratives (like golden plates and Moroni for Mormons or Mother Theresa's views on poverty and family planning) that are really where the rubber meets the road in terms of religious belief.

That brings me to point out some things about some of my advertisers.  I don't do a lot of strict filtering of advertisers for my blog.  To the extent I know how to do so, I keep the Scientologists off this website as well as some commercial advertisers who might get in the way of my professional ethical responsibilities (it's a long story and I won't get into it here).  But those that are left...hey, if they seem somewhat odd, feel free to find out more about them!

Take for example, Maharishi University of Management!  They teach something called "Maharishi Vedic Mathematics!"

Even though modern mathematics has achieved enormous success in all areas of life, it appears to be fragmented and incomplete. It lacks a solid foundation and breaks down when faced with the ultimate infinite. In fact, the work of twentieth-century mathematician Kurt Gödel gives mathematical proof that mathematics is not complete and can in fact never be complete. As an example, mathematics cannot even handle concepts such as “the set of all sets.” The result is that most mathematicians choose to ignore the foundations of mathematics and work in isolated, fragmented areas with no vision of the whole of mathematics.
Maharishi’s Vedic Mathematics, on the other hand, is a complete field of knowledge.
At Maharishi University of Management, students gain direct experience of the infinite field of pure knowledge through their practice of the Transcendental Meditation program. Your study of mathematical infinity is followed by personal experience of infinity. Your study of mathematics is complete and personally fulfilling and cultures the ability to spontaneously handle all possibilities in life.

 If I were to say that  Gödel 's proof is heavily dependent on the relationship between sets of cardinality  ℵ0 (e.g. the set of natural numbers) and c, (e.g. the set of numbers on the real line) it may or may not mean much to you, but what it ultimately means is that there is no reason to have recourse to funny metaphysics pretending to be math to the uneducated.

I won't block MUM because I think, even if my readers don't know the beauty and nicety of transfinite mathematics, you do know what to do when you see my advertisers on this page! 

Ditto for "Eckankar."  This is a Buddhist blog, one heavily infused by existentialism, skepticism, and a post-modern outlook.  And as such, I can only scratch my head as to why the Eck folks would want to come here to advertise.  What do they think I'd make of "Gopal Das"  who "teaches at the Temple of Golden Wisdom on the Astral Plane?" 

Therefore, Ananda, be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as your island, the Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge.

"And how, Ananda, is a bhikkhu an island unto himself, a refuge unto himself, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as his island, the Dhamma as his refuge, seeking no other refuge?

 "When he dwells contemplating the body in the body, earnestly, clearly comprehending, and mindfully, after having overcome desire and sorrow in regard to the world; when he dwells contemplating feelings in feelings, the mind in the mind, and mental objects in mental objects, earnestly, clearly comprehending, and mindfully, after having overcome desire and sorrow in regard to the world, then, truly, he is an island unto himself, a refuge unto himself, seeking no external refuge; having the Dhamma as his island, the Dhamma as his refuge, seeking no other refuge.
One needs not to know about folks on Venus or astral planes in this business.

So, yeah, go learn about other religions, cults, belief systems, etc. if you wish. Do your homework.  Overcome desire and sorrow.  Help others.  There's really more important things to do these days  than accumulate a collection of factoids about belief systems.

Those final bits, are to me, far more important than whether Job was the suffering guy or whether the Dalai Lama's Buddhist.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The other side of fundamentalist religious oppression

As Barbara notes here, one component of it is a fear of losing one's self - but there is another component. And it's a type of hubris, greed, and narcissism, based on a denial of a fundamental self-evident observation of  human behavior in the human condition, as succinctly put by R. D. Laing:

I see you, and you see me. I experience you, and you experience me. I see your behaviour. You see my behaviour. But I do not and never have and never will see your experience of me. Just as you cannot "see" my experience of you. My experience of you is not "inside" me. It is simply you, as I experience you. And I do not experience you as inside me. Similarly, I take it that you do not experience me as inside you.
"My experience of you" is just another form of words for "you-as-l-experience-you", and "your experience of me" equals "me-as-you-experience-me". Your experience of me is not inside you and my experience of you is not inside me, but your experience of me is invisible to me and my experience of you is invisible to you.


I cannot experience your experience. You cannot experience my experience. We are both invisible men. All men are invisible to one another. Experience used to be called The Soul. Experience as invisibility of man to man is at the same time more evident than anything. Only experience is evident. Experience is the only evidence.

We can take "experience"  for Buddhist purposes to mean one's own collection of the 5 aggregates and the various forms of consciousness.  When I declare that your experience invalid because of either my experience or some external to both of our experiences (such as somebody's opinion of "scripture" or  what someone was told "God's intention" or "God's words" were, this is a statement against your very being.  In the case where either of us are citing something external to invalidate both of our experiences, this is a statement directed against both of us.

Although we can "see areas light up in the brain" corresponding to all kinds of human thoughts, feelings, emotions, hallucinations, volitions and sensations, these can never be the equivalent if any person actually experiencing those thoughts, feelings, sensations, emotions, hallucinaitons, and volitions.

Despite what I have experienced in my life, I  really don't have a clue as to why Lindsay Lohan  is messed up, or what makes a fundamentalist tick,  what's in Eddie Long's brain, or any of a thousand other such questions.  Only the principals know what's in their hearts and minds. True, there is empathy and compassion, but this empathy and compassion is counterfeit if it does not take into account that what another is experiencing is really experienced..
It is this invalidation of others that is the beginning of all kinds of religious exploitation, and all the big religions have done it from time to time.  I practice Buddhism in part because by placing the issues with regard to the Way on the individual, at least in my school, much of this harm can be avoided.  And that's another reason, as I say, that such practices are the last best hope for religion. Maybe Taoism and Jainism are too.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Just a bit busy today

I was re-balancing portfolios so no Buddhist blogging.   Would that I have the time to actually do this stuff right.

Friday, September 24, 2010

I respectfully say to those who wish to be enlightened: Do not waste your time being stuck in the past

Yesterday I read a post by P.Z. Myers, who was reposting a video with a message inspired by the suicide of a gay teenager who had been bullied.

Dan Savage has started a new project, prompted by the suicide of a bullied gay teenager, Billy Lucas, in Indiana. So they're trying to get the word out: It gets better. Don't despair. And they're collecting other people's stories, too.

Danny Fisher posted in passing here, too, but it was Myers' heartfelt commentary that struck me:

This particular project is specifically about giving gay kids the strength to carry on, but it's not just gays who are made miserable by schools and religion and other agents of the enforcement of artificial norms. I suspect that the readership of Pharyngula, all you geeks and nerds and oddballs, is enriched for people who were outliers in their youth…and still are, but most of us have reconciled ourselves to our status. It gets better for all of us.
Another good essay to read is The disease called "Perfection". We all face ridiculous expectations from our culture, and we all face these pressures to conform with the boring mundanes with their distressingly unrealistic and uninteresting ideals. I didn't have the stigma of being gay, but I was the homely, unathletic, four-eyed weirdo no girl would look at twice…and I can say that it got better for me, and it can also get better for everyone.

 I too recommend that essay on the disease of "Perfection." I can tell you that this "disease" infected my family, and to a certain extent it still pervades thoughts, expectations, and reactions in a manner that is hard to be aware of one's reactions; one has to train one's self for that, or at least I do.  

It does indeed get better. I too, was unathletic, short, and no girl would look at me twice.  It got better for me.  Every now and then I have the strong assurance that this is exactly the way it is, and it is simply astounding.  Holy crap! This is my life!

But I think not everyone realizes it and not everyone commits suicide, at least not physiologically, or not all at once.  In two weeks from today it will have been one year ago that my mother passed away; she would have benefited well from the message that "imperfection" pervades the universe.   Yet, in some ways she also exploited this "imperfection;" I think in some ways it kept her alive longer than she might have otherwise.  But then again, had she been free of the shame of "imperfection" she would likely have lived a longer, happier life.

I hope all find release from  internal and external bullies.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Modern neuroscience and Buddha nature and the "god concept"

What do recent results in neuroscience portend for some Buddhist ideas, particularly the Mahayana concept of the Dharmakaya?

... Our brains create an illusion of unity and control where there really isn’t any. Within the wide range of works arranged along the axis of soulism [i.e., belief in a separate individual "soul" and a separate "mind" as used in this article], from Life After Death: The Evidence, by Dinesh D’Souza, to Absence of Mind, by Marilynne Robinson, it is clear there is very little understanding of the brain. In fact, to advance their ideas, these authors have to be almost completely unaware of neurology and neuroscience.  For example, Robinson tells us, “Our religious traditions give us as the name of God two deeply mysterious words, one deeply mysterious utterance: I AM.” The translation might be, “indoctrination tells us we have a soul, it feels like we are a unified little god in control of our bodies, so we are.” 
In explaining why science suggests that the unified mind is illusory, there are thousands of supporting cases and experiments to choose from, but let’s take one case from the Emergency Room.
After eating dinner with her husband, Mrs. Blanford collapsed. She could not move the left side of her body. I met Mrs. Blanford soon afterwards: Her speech was normal, but she couldn’t see objects to her left, and she couldn’t move or feel the left side of her face, or her left arm or leg. Mrs. Blanford was suffering a stroke.

An interesting thing happened when I brought her left arm up across her face so she could see it. I asked, as I always ask such patients, “Whose arm is this?”
“That is your arm.”
“Then why am I wearing your ring?” I pointed to her wedding band.
“That wedding band belongs on the arm of Mrs. Blanford.”
“So whose arm is this?”
“That is your arm.”

How can we explain this? Given that we find neglect soon after right-brain damage, we are best served by adopting a neurological point of view. To do so, we need to understand a bit about how the brain works. In general, and in the broadest strokes, the brain is divided into two hemispheres. The left hemisphere processes speech and the motor and sensory information for the right side of the world. The right hemisphere processes nonverbal information and representations from the left side. This particular stroke rendered Mrs. Blanford’s right hemisphere dysfunctional, unable to process anything from the left side of her world. It is not the left hemisphere’s job to recognize the left arm, and the left hemisphere can’t immediately step in to do that task. To the left brain, the left side of the body essentially does not exist. The right brain has failed, not only to process arm information, but failed to let the left hemisphere know it failed.
For Mrs. Blanford, it isn’t only that her left brain can’t do the right brain’s task. The left hemisphere also can’t recognize that there is missing data, or that there is something wrong with the data it receives. It has to use the data it has, so the left hemisphere comes up with confabulations, creating verbal fabrications to explain away missing information. In this case the confabulation becomes, “That is your arm, not mine.” Although easy to falsify, the idea is internally consistent, makes some sense of the scrambled internal data, and feels correct. The injured brain creates a confabulation to maintain a unity of self and a feeling of control. We find a brain convincing itself of something that feels right, but isn’t.
A neglect case only makes sense if you consider each hemisphere as its own separate entity. We see that when a stroke damages the right brain just so, the mind follows as a result. It is expected, to be compared with the unplugging of a mouse resulting in a frozen cursor.
Clearly this comports with the Buddhist expectations in regard to the "soul," as well as the experience of many during meditation.

But what of the "god concept" in Buddhism? We say "Buddha nature pervades the whole universe." Is this a falsifiable claim?  

Shaku Soen via D.T. Suzuki maintained,

One of the most fundamental beliefs of Buddhism is that all the multitudinous and multifarious phenomena in the universe start from, and have their being in, one reality which itself has "no fixed abode," being above spatial and temporal limitations. However different and separate and irreducible things may appear to the senses, the most profound law of the human mind declares that they are all one in their hidden nature. In this world of relativity, or nânâtva as Buddhists call it, subject and object, thought and nature, are separate and distinct, and as far as our sense-experience goes, there is an impassable chasm between the two which no amount of philosophizing can bridge. But the very constitution of the mind demands a unifying principle which is an indispensable hypothesis for our conception of phenomenality; and this
hypothesis is called "the gate of sameness," samatâ, in contradistinction to "the gate of difference," nânâtva; and Buddhism declares that no philosophy or religion is satisfactory which does not recognize these two gates. In some measure the "gate of sameness" may be considered to correspond to "God" and the "gate of difference" to the world of individual existence.
Now, the question is, "How does Buddhism conceive the relation between these two entrances to the abode of Supreme Knowledge (sambodhi)?" And the answer to this decides the Buddhist attitude towards pantheism, theism, atheism, and what not...

Thus, according to the proclamation of an enlightened mind, God or the principle of sameness is not transcendent, but immanent in the universe, and we sentient beings are manifesting the divine glory just as much as the lilies of the field. A God who, keeping aloof from his creations, sends down his words of command through specially favored personages, is rejected by Buddhists as against the constitution of human
reason. God must be in us, who are made in his likeness. We cannot presume the duality of God and the world. Religion is not to go to God by forsaking the world, but to find him in it. Our faith is to believe in our essential oneness with him, and not in our sensual separateness. "God in us and we in him," must be made the most fundamental faith of all religion.
We must not, however, suppose that God is no more than the sum-total of individual existences. God exists even when all creations have been destroyed and reduced to a state of chaotic barrenness. God exists eternally, and he will create another universe out of the ruins of this one. To our limited intelligence there may be a beginning and an end of the worlds, but as God surveys them, being and becoming are one selfsame process. To him nothing changes, or, to state it rather paradoxically, he sees no change whatever in all the changes we have around us; all things are absolutely quiet in their eternal cycle of birth and death, growth and decay, combination and disintegration. This universe cannot exist outside of God, but God is more than the totality of individual existences; God is here as well as there, God is not only this but also that.

If there is one thing we read over and over and over in the Lankavatara Sutra, it's that these categorizations are themselves not quite where Buddha is, and I cannot help but think some of this was written by Suzuki and Soyen Roshi as a means to try to "explain" Buddhism in Christian terms much the same way that Christian missionaries  tried to explain Christianity in Buddhist terms.

As I mentioned before, Buddhists do not make use of the term God, which characteristically belongs to Christian terminology. An equivalent most commonly used is Dharmakâya, which word has been explained in one of the sermons herein collected, and it will not be necessary to enter again upon the discussion of its signification. Let us only see what other equivalents have been adopted.
When the Dharmakâya is most concretely conceived it becomes the Buddha, or Tathâgata, or Vairochana, or Amitâbha. Buddha means "the enlightened," and this may be understood to correspond to "God is wisdom." Vairochana is "coming from the sun," and Amitâbha, "infinite light," which reminds us of the Christian notion, "God is light." As to the correct meaning of Tathâgata, Buddhists do not give any definite and satisfactory explanation, and it is usually considered to be the combination of tathâ = "thus" and gata = "gone," but it is difficult to find out how "Thus Gone" came to be an appellation of the supreme being.

 I would submit that the attempt to make a correspondence between a monotheist deity and the Tathâgata is bound to fail quite early.  I can understand the difficulty my ancestors had in describing this particularly before the advent of modern existentialism and critical theory, which are better frameworks for making metaphors to Buddhism.  I just don't see support for these notions elsewhere in Buddhist literature, though I'm open to exploration, with a skeptical, doubtful  stance.

So I think the recent findings in neuroscience in no way, as I see it, are relevant or threaten to falsify the relation between the Absolute and the Relative.  They seem to buttress Buddhist views on this; only the idea that one can easily harmonize a creating personal deity with Buddhism is getting harder, I think.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lankavatara Sutra, Chapter 5, Section LXXXI

As usual, I'm using the translation here.  And I'm trying, best as I can, to summarize it.  It's not to be taken as any kind of "teaching."  No teaching on this blog, you know.

This is about the issue of whether the state of being a Tathagata is permanent or not. You can guess the Buddha's answer by now: the Tathagata is neither permanent nor impermanent.

IF "permanent" → related to creating agency [ where creating agencies are not created and permanent themselves] → preparation for Tathagatahood (i.e., practice and training) are useless. Further, since there is not no birth applied to the Tathagata, such a being is not permanent.

Also, the categories "permanent" and "impermanent" imply dualism, which is not a category to be applied to the Tathagata.

But aside from that, the Tathagata is not impermanent because:

[T]he knowledge arising from the attainment of enlightenment [ = an intuitive understanding] is of a permanent nature, the Tathagata is permanent. Mahāmati, this knowledge, as it is attained intuitively by the Tathagatas, Arhats, Fully-Enlightened Ones, is, indeed, permanent. Whether the Tathagatas are born or not, this Dharmatā, which is the regulative and sustaining principle to be discoverable in the enlightenment of all the Śrāvakas, Pratyekabuddhas, and philosophers, abides, and this sustaining principle of existence is not like the emptiness of space, which, however, is not understood by the ignorant and simple-minded. Mahāmati, this knowledge of enlightenment belonging to the Tathagatas comes forth from transcendental knowledge (prajñājñāna); Mahāmati, the Tathagatas, Arhats, Fully-Enlightened Ones do not come forth from the habit-energy of ignorance which is concerned with the Citta, Manas, and Manovijñāna, and the Skandhas, Dhātus, and Āyatanas. The triple world originates from the discriminating of unrealities, but the Tathagatas do not originate from the discriminating of unrealities. Where duality obtains, Mahāmati, there is permanency and impermanency because of its not being one.

And so it is with Chapter 5.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

D'uh! Of course many Americans think Buddhism is a cult! Look how non-Buddhists talk about us and then look at our "luminaries" and what they say & do ...

While researching their forthcoming book about American religion, the Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam and his colleagues polled on this hypothetical question: Say a group of Buddhists wanted to build a large temple in your community. How would you feel? Putnam & Co. asked about Buddhists because, they had discovered, Buddhists are one of the least popular religious groups in the country. People like Buddhists less than they do atheists and Mormons—and only slightly more than they do Muslims. Like Muslims, Buddhists “do not have a place in what has come to be called America’s Judeo-Christian framework,” Putnam and his coauthor, David Campbell, write in American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. The book comes out next week...

 OK, to the point: look how Buddhism gets portrayed in the US media:

And it wasn't just Larry King...

To my knowledge, this is the only time someone who was referred to as a Zen practitioner  has been portrayed in American TV media. (OK, let's leave out Phil Jackson. And, OK, I remember Joan Halifax was on Firing Line a couple of decades ago, if my memory's correct.  )

And of course...

OK, he's your kindly Tibetan uncle.  But, um, frankly, he might have been a great poet, but this guy was scary to a large portion of America raised on Swanson TV dinners and Jell-o:

I've always  wanted to write a satire and/or comedic film adaptation of Howl, but I digress...

Elsewhere in America,  there's Terry Jones,  and the omnipresent availability of fundamentalist Christian media in America. I don't want to spend much time getting into that; I've done that quite a bit here; even correcting atheists and "metaphysical naturalists" on their misconceptions about Buddhism.

There are distortions aplenty these days by the right wing, the left wing, and the mainstream media about Buddhism in America.  There are like distortions about Buddhism written in this very blog about Buddhism in America.

Look, quite simply if  American Buddhists want a better image of Buddhism in America, they're going to have to do a better job of  presenting themselves as Buddhists in America.  So, among other things, it might be a good idea for American Buddhists to take a noticeable step back  from the loonies, the radicals, the folks in MSIA, the folks in the Lenz Foundation, and all that hooey. I'm talking to you recipients of the largess of the Lenz Foundation, and those folks that don't have a problem with the Huffington Post's censorship policies.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Reason #49134 that I'm not a big fan of "Voice Dialogue"

Salon  has an interview with Meredith Maran, who has recently written a memoir of her involvement in one of the 90's witch-hunts: the mass of children and women who were led to claim a "recovered memory" of abuse that never happened.

There are of course, guided meditations in many traditional Buddhist practices, but these are rather benign, extending to such things as calming one's self and so forth; you know, making new body-mind connections generally.  And of course koan practice is clearly not in this league at all: it's not for nothing, as they've said in Brooklyn, that the "source language" of koans is meaningless. Koans aren't at all about replacing one narrative one has with another. It's about not having a narrative at all, really, and seeing what is and what happens.

"Recovered memory" is like "disowned voices," as far as I can see. It'd be nice for practitioners of such Voice Dialogue stuff to try to explain the differences.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Yes, indeed you might have a career and practice Buddhism - even Zen

Kyle over at the Reformed Buddhist had an interesting  post on Friday on the Lenz Foundation, and I wanted to use the site indirectly referenced, that is, this one, which has some rather strange stuff on it,  to point out the issues with both Lenz's approach and the gushing of Genpo Merzel and Shishin Wick about Lenz's teachings.  The latter two said:

There are three major differences between the traditional Zen monastic training and those who practice in the West. The vast majority of those who practice in the West are lay people; there are a large number of women who practice and hold positions of leadership; and there is more interest in emotional and psychological approaches to meditation.

We are integrating these facets into our approach to teaching Zen and have moved in the direction of westernizing the practice. Reading Dr. Lenz, we have found inspiration to expand our teaching in new ways that were not part of our training. Dr. Lenz has helped make Zen more accessible to a wider portion of the population, including non-Buddhists as well as committed Buddhists.

First of all, the idea of bringing Zen to the laity goes at least back to Hakuin (and even before if you consider Ikkyu Sojun).  This trend picked up momentum in Japan in the Meiji era, led, among others, by my ancestors Imakita Kosen, Soyen Shaku, and Tetsuo Sokatsu. Presumably the bit in that link about no meals except those comprising 3 bowls of vegetables and sake included water as well and wasn't to be the case when folks were out and about away from the Zendo.  At any rate, it's not that way in my sangha today, and I digress.

But more importantly, it was understood that there should be more lay people practicing Zen, this was a purposefully directed way in which to encourage Zen practice in the laity, and these traditions continue even today in Japan.  While it is true beyond doubt that the vast majority of Japanese do not practice Zen Buddhism in Japan, the fact of the matter is,  there are many temples throughout Japan that provide the opportunity for laity to study Zen Buddhism. In fact, three are two Ryobo Zen An sanghas  open to lay practice and one thing on my agenda is to ask my teacher about that.  I have met Japanese lay practitioners.  There are differences between Japanese culture and practice of Zen Buddhism and the American practice, and a large amount of it I'd say is that they have generally less New Agey corruption and psychobabble in it and a better understanding of Japanese and Chinese culture, at least in the Rinzai school.  While there may be more Zen clergy in Japan, and the bulk of their tasks is funerals and related tasks,  the likelihood is that as a proportion of the general population the amount of lay Zen students in Japan (per say, 100K people) is probably at least the same if not greater than it is in the United States.  China's a different story, and it remains to be seen how China will play out in this,  but places like the "Lin Ji Style Zen Temple" in Liaoning  province have clearly been built to facilitate lay practice at the temple.

That's my first point.  My second point is that the idea that the idea that one should not have a "successful" (I always thought that was an empty word)  career and not have a deep religious practice has never, to my knowledge, been part of the Buddhist tradition.  Going back to the earliest Buddhist writings it is clear that the directions of the Buddha were that people should perform their tasks well.  Hakuin alluded to all work as being important, and work practice being more important than seated practice (although he never said seated practice wasn't essential, and it was clear he implied it was essential).  These views were echoed by Shosan Suzuki earlier as well.  And I shouldn't need to mention that the calligraphy industries (that is the right word) that grew up in Hanzhou and Nara are the direct result of Buddhist monks.  Clearly they didn't keep the sumi (墨絵) and paper business solely in the hands of the monks, not in the Kansai area and not when there was money to be made.  OK, maybe Nara wasn't ever exactly like Osaka (though I could relate to you stories about my times in Nara while while we quaff sake in an izakaya joint), and again I digress.   But then again, along with that grew the tradition of ”wabisabi” (詫び寂び) or ”humble simplicity" as an esthetic to be reached. Humble simplicity is a good esthetic to use in one's business practices - though I admit that is a major shortcoming of yours truly. (There's a strange loop in there if you look for it, I suspect.)

Presumably when Wick and Merzel talk about "Westerninzing" Buddhist practice  they're not talking about Lenz's reputed issues with women.  (Barbara O'Brien where are you on that issue?)  Instead, they're alluding to this "career" thing. You can see Lenz  discussing his "Western" approach to "Buddhism" here,  and as a bonus it includes a bizarre bit of narcissistic denial about all the bad people who have made bad allegations against him

Your practice is precisely where you find it. Dogen said, "When you find yourself where you are, there is practice, actualizing the fundamental point." (Heh, didn't think I could quote Dogen, did ya?)  This practice must above all be ethical, which means that you shouldn't chase after wealth for the sake of owning a Lexus (full disclosure: we own one; mostly because of my wife's activities) but for the sake of all beings and the transcendence of dukkha and suffering. 

Now that means you might have a "great career" or you might be stuck outside of middle management for decades or you might make a lot of money or you might get laid off tomorrow and have to accept a 30% pay cut in this wretched economy.  That should not be the point of your practice.  The point of your practice is right in front of you. And right in front of you there is a path to be practiced, including but not limited to right speech, right intention, right livelihood, right effort, ...oh, heck all of 'em.  When they are considered carefully and constantly practiced,  I'd say it kind makes Lenz's version of a "career success" seem like a cheap and poorly made knock-off of what might actually be possible and what can be realized  in life.

Practice where you find it requires mindfulness, I in the time I spent watching the Lenz blather above, I didn't hear very much about mindfulness.

Finally, I have one more point to make.  It's about racism cultural ignorance (on edit I'd say "racism" was too strong here).   If you watch the video above Lenz makes reference to an "Oriental couple" who he claimed approved of his teaching their daughter.  One can't be sure if Lenz was making this up or not, but one thing was certain: Lenz expected his intended audience to buy his nonsense about these "Orientals." The very reason Lenz could get away with any of his nonsense was two-fold: first, most Americans had not been readily exposed to Asian culture in the 1950s - 1970s.  As far as they knew Lenz was the real deal, since "real" Zen Buddhists temples were few and far between except in major metropolitan areas, and Asian inhabitants in the West were too ethnically isolated in both the Asian community's mindset (I would imagine) and in the Euro-American community's mindset (I can vouch for that).  

That is unfortunately the schtick  Genpo Merzel has been using as well when he touts things like the "rarity" of an opportunity to work with a "real" Zen Master.  That a bit too similar to Lenz, I'm afraid.

Questions? Comments?  Am I still being too hard on Bernie Glassman and Genpo Merzel and the others who've taken money from the Lenz Foundation and yet still give the patina or approval as Buddhists on Lenz's "intellectual property?"

Friday, September 17, 2010

The most ironic blog post I've seen all week

The winner of that somewhat dubious honor would go to this post by Steven Hassan at the Huffington Post on why the sale of the Washington Times to Sun Myung Moon should be examined closely.  Of course he brings up the fact that Sun Myung Moon heads a dangerous power mad cult with more wackiness than you could shake sa stick at, and he's spot on  in his point; there's no argument there from me of course.

But....but...he posted it at the Huffington Post? Here's a bit from just under 2 years ago about the wacky, culty, behind the scenes craziness at the Huffington Post...

Arianna Huffington for many years sought to downplay the extent of her involvement in the Movement For Spiritual Inner Awareness, a cult ex-members described as sexually and financially exploitive in a series of Los Angeles Times exposés in the 1980s and 1990s. uring her then-husband's 1994 U.S. Senate run, the Greek-born socialite claimed movement founder John-Roger (pictured with her at a 2004 book party, left) was a mere friend, and pictures of him holding her daughter were ordered withheld from the group's newspaper, the editor later said. But the Huffington Post editor-in-chief is an ordained "Minister Of Light" in the group and once described John-Roger to Interview as her "way-shower." She relaxed a bit in the New Yorker's Oct. 13 profile , admitting she had been too "defensive" about John-Roger, and allowing writer Lauren Collins to listen to a guided MSIA meditation stored on Huffington's iPod. But she wasn't entirely forthcoming. What about the role she has fashioned for her cult in HuffPo staff development?

Late last year, former staffers say, Huffington directed two Huffington Post employees to attend an Insight Seminar in Westlake Village, California. Though technically distinct from MSIA, Insight shares a founder, John-Roger, and a "Spiritual Director," John Morton (right) with the group. This sharing of staff goes back at least 20 years, when the LA Times reported Insight was rife with MSIA "volunteers" and obtained emails showing John-Roger was calling the shots. A former top-ranked church minister told the paper Insight was used to draw new recruits into MSIA.

The other staffer was apparently an unnamed Los Angeles-based scheduler struggling to serve Huffington, an erratic and sometimes brutal presence over staffers who work out of her Brentwood mansion. It was made clear to this person, one source said, that attending the conference was necessary to keep her job. Huffington asked the staffer to think about how important her job was to her, then suggested the seminar as a way to refocus — a neat way of making the event mandatory without being explicit and perhaps running afoul of laws governing religion in the workplace, the source said. After struggling with the decision for a week, and supposedly making a fruitless plea to HR in New York, the scheduler ended up attending, only to leave the company a month or two later.

Huffington's commitment to MSIA may well go beyond seminars for her staff. One tipster said that while Huffington is reported, including by the New Yorker, to give to 10 percent of her income to charity each year, that money flows as a tithe to MSIA, and/or to charities closely linked to the cult...

 Like most folks, I applaud what Hassan does, and perhaps he knew the devil in the details of using one cult-based media piece to sound a warning call against another. But still...

Anyway, for some reason my comment just mentioning that there was irony in Hassan's post - without explaining why it was ironic - didn't make it past the HuffPo censors.  Can you imagine that?

A slight correction regarding engaged Buddhsim the ease of practice

I would like to revise my remarks I wrote on a blog post recently, which while it had a strong theme of engaged Buddhist practice, actually wasn't about that at all.

It's not to say I completely misspoke, mislead, lied, or expressed an opinion so vile I had to walk it back.

I said in that post, "Watching your mind  compassionately, and kindly for a half an our or an hour is not that difficult."

Rather, I was listening to a recent teisho by Genjo Marinello on 無 and impermanence and he had a point: sometimes, particularly in sesshin, it can be excruciatingly difficult for some people.  Indeed, even for myself there have been looong stretches of times where I just did not want to sit, and had to make myself.

Now, after a lot of that, it is not so difficult for me, if I remember that my aches and pains, physical, emotional, psychological, and such are echoed in all beings.  I try to practice - and often fail miserably - being able to remember the aches and pains I feel can be prevented from arising in other people by treating them mindfully and compassionately, even when I am peeved to the gills at them.

Thanks. Now I feel better.

Except that it's almost time for me to have another sesshin; (i.e.I hadn't done one in years and it's time for another one.)   I have to arrange it with  my teacher somehow.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I would not take money from the Frederick Lenz Foundation.

That's my opinion, of course. The reason I say this has to do with comments on this thread.

One point on that thread that was raised was "It's hard to raise funds" for Buddhist sanghas and there is no doubt that is true. But it's not impossible. In Portland we have been doing the Portland Buddhist festival for a few years now with local contributions. Part of the proceeds of this blog goes to that. But regardless, I think it's time we in America grew up and vowed not to take funds from groups that intentionally misrepresent the Dharma. And on that last point, I think this manifestly obvious from the the Lenz Foundation's site itself.

Take this bit.

So sit back and relax for the next 45 minutes or so, and let's talk about psychic development. How you can escalate your level of awareness with patience, practice and a good sense of humor. What to expect, what to avoid. How to know what you don't know. Psychic development.

There are two ways to come by money in this world. One is to inherit money. The other is to make it, to acquire it. If you inherit money, you can squander it and lose it. You can use it, or you can make more money. You can also start with no money and acquire money and get richer and richer, or you can acquire it and lose it. Once you know how to make money, even if you lose it, it's easy to do it again.

So in the world of psychic development, some people come by their psychic development through a kind of inheritance. It has to do with reincarnation, of course. In a prior lifetime, they developed their awareness field by the practice of psychic development exercises, meditation, zazen, things like that. And that state of mind stayed with them. They are that state of mind. They were born with these psychic sensitivities.


 This is an appeal to one's greed, plain and simple.  Or take this one:

One of the funny things about awareness, within that framework, is that it never assumes it will end. And in a way it does, and in a way it doesn't. When we're alive, we never picture ourselves dying, yet someday each of us dies. Someday in a room somewhere, perhaps a hospital room, in an automobile, perhaps outdoors, you will leave this world. You won't be here anymore and everything that you've known will fade from your view, and it will happen at the darndest time. You will be quite convinced that it couldn't be happening then, and yet you'll be powerless to stop it. Then another kind of continuity occurs, and that's the continuity that is beyond death.

Death is a doorway, but it's a very small, thin doorway, and only a portion of our being can walk through that doorway. The rest stays behind and is lost or transformed into something else. At the time of death, we walk through a doorway and our spirit, which is very thin, slides through into another world, another existence, another experience.

But for now, we are here. We are in this world. And in this world, there are limitations - and no one likes to be limited. We all want freedom. We all want to be limitless. Limitations exist in the mind. Freedom exists in the mind. Heaven exists in the mind. Hell exists in the mind. There are objective circumstances and situations. You can be in jail. You can be free. You can live in a country with restrictions on travel. You can live in a country where they don't restrict your travel. But happiness, awareness, consciousness has little or nothing to do with physical restrictions.

There are ten thousand states of mind, ten thousand planes of awareness. Most people spend their entire lives confined to a few of these states of mind. Let's imagine them in a scale going from the left to the right. Let's say that number one is all the way over on the left, and let's say that number ten thousand is way over on the right. Number one is very dark; it has almost no light in it at all; it's hard to distinguish it from complete darkness. Number ten thousand is bright light. It is hard to distinguish it from light, yet there's a subtle difference. And there are gradations in between - 9,999 to be exact. 
 This is also an appeal to greed. I could go on here, but hopefully my point is made. Lenz described himself as follows:

My career - I'm a teacher. I teach people the arts of enlightenment - how to become conscious, powerful, successful, at peace with themselves; how to move from one world to another, through different dimensional planes, and to explore and experience the different parts of this vast creation; how to become selfless; how to become everything or nothing, or just to be the moment; how to reach that still point between the turning worlds, where everything is one, or to play in the multiplicity. I'm a trainer. I train people at different levels, depending upon their interest and their natural talents for studying perception and the various arts related to perception - one of which is Zen Buddhism. 

 He was never certified in any Zen Buddhist lineage, his concept of enlightenment here is not based on what any Mahayana Buddhist would identify enlightenment to be, (and moreover, what he "taught" was not in any way an objective of Mahayana Buddhism itself - which aims to help all all beings transcend suffering).  It is hardly Theravadan as well.

The Frederick Lenz foundation sells materials which are deceptive in that they do not square with any kind of skillful means the Buddha and his successors have advocated, and the objectives of Frederick Lenz's teachings were based on the three poisons.  For that reason I'd put distance between myself and the Frederick Lenz Foundation.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Oooh Oooh Oooh MORE Depak Chopra!!!!

And when he advertises on my blog, see what he's selling!

Anyhoo, lookee here.

Co-authored by Menas Kafatos, Fletcher Jones Professor of Computational Physics, Dean College of Science Chapman University

Stephen Hawking occupies a position in popular culture comparable only to Einstein's eminence sixty years ago: he is our last wise man speaking with the total authority of advanced science. Until his new book, The Grand Design, appeared, co-authored with Caltech physics professor (and adept writer) Leonard Mlodinow, Hawking had left open the whisper of a possibility that God might be allowed to survive scientific scrutiny. Einstein had a strong feeling for the presence of awe and wonder at the far horizon of the cosmos and saw evidence for the existence of a unifying, rational presence in the mathematical order of the cosmos. But since then the universe of theoretical physics has become random, complex, paradoxical, and barren of divine presence. Therefore, when Hawking made worldwide news recently by declaring that "it is not necessary to invoke God... to set the Universe going," a blow was struck for the noisy camp of atheists while the world of devout believers had one more reason -- this time a crushing one -- to consider science as the enemy of religion.

Yet when you read the new book, it becomes clear that Hawking and Mlodinow are leading us on a journey to the very edge of "nothing," the underlying source of all space, time, matter, and energy, and the closer they get, the more their findings lend no contradiction to a universal presence, often referred to as God. The ultimate basis of material existence which physicists dub as this nothingness is the ground zero of creation. It is imbued with the pure order that generates mathematics; it gives rise to the laws of nature that govern and balance the universe; and it remains mysteriously above its own creation, monitoring quantum interactions beyond the speed of light. If that sounds a lot like God, it must be said that the richness of this pre-quantum realm is the best model physics has devised for the unknowable -- and that leads Hawking into a paradox. If "nothing" gives rise to the human desire for meaning, how can it be meaningless? If the universe operates randomly, and this randomness created human brains that do all kinds of non-random things (such as writing Shakespeare and saying "I love you"), how can the purposeless give birth to the purposeful?

The Grand Design surveys, with considerable brilliance and sovereign impartiality, the latest "network of theories," termed M-theory, about how the universe came to be. The public for popular science has heard about a proposed "theory of everything" and identified it with Hawking's name. In their new book, he and Mlodinow promote M-theory as "a fundamental theory of physics that is a candidate for a theory of everything," Yet in place of a single overarching explanation, we get a sort of heffalump. "There seems to be no single mathematical model or theory that can describe every aspect of the universe... Each theory in the M-theory network is good at describing phenomenon within a certain range." Perhaps the most striking piece of the network is the theory of multiple universes, a hypothesis that Hawking and Mlodinow favor. Yet what is more important for culture at large is that the "design" of their title is not what believers in God might hope for. Rather, it is a strictly mathematical possibility for explaining as much as can be explained.

They fail to address Gödel's incompleteness theorem that categorically implies that no mathematical model of cosmos can ever be complete. Ultimately, Hawking contends that our source cannot be fully known by the rational mind, and his version of M-theory offers so many alternate universes -- far more than the stars in the known universe -- that it must be out of reach of the rational mind -- it's like explaining glass by counting every grain of sand on the beach. Humans are trapped in one universe alone out of billions upon billions upon billions, confined by the particular laws of nature that created us. Our minds are unable to conceive of a reality beyond these laws of nature; therefore, the only design admissible to physics has no purpose, meaning, goal, or creator. It is pure, seamless mathematical possibilities arranged in superposition with an escape clause that there are other species of mathematics that fit other universes. Effectively, even if God does exist, we'll never know for sure since our minds can see only their own reflection -- a new twist on St. Paul's seeing through a glass darkly. One can hear the window to God's mind that was opened by Einstein being firmly, sternly slammed shut.

I cannot wait to get to this...but alas, it's time to make dinner.

Separated at birth?

Larry David, "radical narcissist" and "environmentalist:"

And the bald guy doing the New Age dance in this video (HT Kyle):

I don't want to go into details...

But some folks out there know exactly about what I'm writing.

I'm more than a bit conflicted over an action I've been asked to take recently. What it concerns is one person's wrongdoing, many people's reactions, groupthink, and what it essentially means to judge or forgive someone.

What happened in the past only exists insofar as the consequences that are present now. Otherwise, that past does not exist.

Learning this on a deep level is a very important part of practice. I know the situation in hand likely still is operative in many people's lives, but although I was tangentially present long ago (and never noticed anything) I cannot say I was competent then or now to adjudicate what the proper resolution to the wrongdoing was or is, although the wrongdoer's recent acknowledgments should weigh large in decisions. I can say that the person's past is truly in the past, and I would want to be judged that way for all the wrong I've done as well. I also know that what the group is demanding will have been moot in a few weeks regardless.

So I am leaning towards not taking any action; it is not that I condone anything - or have the power to acknowledge any kind of forgiveness - I am just as incompetent to acknowledge forgiveness of the man as I am to judge the degree of the person's wrongdoing.

It is that I don't see the point right now. The story has been played out.

Monday, September 13, 2010

You can't make some stuff up... Rupert Murdoch, Kim Jong Il, and "The Dude"


Sept. 7 (Bloomberg) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has found an unlikely ally to help raise cash for his impoverished regime: The Dude, the pot-smoking underachiever played by Jeff Bridges in the movie “The Big Lebowski.”

Programmers from North Korea’s General Federation of Science and Technology developed a 2007 mobile-phone bowling game based on the 1998 film, as well as “Men in Black: Alien Assault,” according to two executives at Nosotek Joint Venture Company, which markets software from North Korea for foreign clients. Both games were published by a unit of News Corp., the New York-based media company, a spokeswoman for the unit said.

They represent a growing software industry championed by Kim that is boosting the economy of one of the poorest countries in the world and raising the technological skills of workers. Contracting with North Korean companies is legal under United Nations sanctions unless they are linked to the arms trade.

“From the government’s point of view, foreign currency is the main reason to nurture and support these activities,” said Andrei Lankov, an academic specializing in North Korea at Seoul- based Kookmin University. “These activities help to fund the regime, but at the same time they bring knowledge of the outside world to people who could effect change.”

Not very right livelihood in my humble opinion... I wouldn't do it.

Taking a break with family to smell the roses, so to speak

Click to enlarge the ones below. The photos aren't the best in the world at any rate, but for some reason, life was teeming in the Ridgefield wildlife refuge yesterday. Good time to practice silent awareness, and listening.

Unfortunately, the hawks, eagles, and raccoons were too fast for the iPhone camera...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Deepak Chopra! Welcome to my advertisers!

I saw an ad on my blog that clicked through to this.  Mmm...tasty woo-filled gooy spiritual hucksterism.  If you see the ad, folks, I'm sure you know exactly what to do.

"Kaji," "Smith" (as in blacksmith etc.)

Yeah, I know it's not symmetric and all that, but hey, I'm never going to learn if I don't practice!

"Shin," Heart/Mind

OK, here's a post that will be good filler til I can think of something better...

I don't generally rave about my iPhone on this blog, though I do appreciate it greatly. One tip for those who want to cultivate your knowledge of East Asian languages is that in order to memorize all the characters and write them correctly, writing  need to be practiced, practiced and practiced again.  The symbolic representation of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean is more highly dependent on the brush than Western alphabets is that these 漢字 (hànzì in Mandarin or kanji in Japanese), and so it's been difficult to do this anyplace, anywhere.

"Ki," energy.

To be continued...

I"ll be back....

Too much to do this morning for a coherent post.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Sept. 11, 2010

I am an ex-New Yorker, and I was shocked 9 years ago today to find that the twin towers had been destroyed by religious fanatics, with thousands of people murdered.

Having recently revisited  downtown New York, I was reminded of how much, and how very real that area was as a killing field, if not a battlefield.  If you are mindful you cannot go there and not be moved.

When there's talk of "ground zero mosques," "burning Korans," or even saying "we're one nation under god," it distracts from that butchered raw feeling of mourning and horror, in which we truly are all one.

Update: Also, see this post and comment thread on Daily Kos.

Nietzsche, god-shaped holes, and preconceptions

I was reading this post by Petteri, and was reminded a bit of my own journey; how I came to Zen.

I usually tell people when asked that I came to Zen through dissatisfaction with traditional religious practices, along with, after reading about it, seeing its connection to Existentialism.  Dissatisfaction was, not to put too fine a point on it,  an extreme understatement.  The contradictions of Christianity and  the way in which it was administered, was simply abhorrent regardless of whatever sect I found (though to be fair to Quakers - not the "Evangelical" kind - I never ran into them).  In particular, I found it absurd to see clerics in the Catholic church claiming to stand in for god, and seeing Protestant ministers not claiming to stand in for god, except that they certainly acted as if they had an in with immanence that I did not.  And regardless of that, neither I, nor the clerics, nor parishioners of the Chrisitan faith really seemed to be undergoing a process of μετάνοια (metanoia).  Religions were practiced in which there was a clear quid pro quo with the immanent,yet there was no μετάνοια - there was no transformation, no repentence, no fundamental changes in the core of where ineffective behavior arose. There still isn't, but that seemed to be a necessary thing.

And without going into details, it was clear that all needed that μετάνοια. My behavior and my expectations of my behavior were widely divergent, to phrase it with clinical detachment. And it showed in my relations to others, or lack thereof.  I also seemed to be constantly asking myself, "Is this all there is?" and it wasn't philosophical navel gazing.    It was more like some form of immaturity, though the question was sincere and sincerely pursued.  And it seemed everyone I knew was at their core, full of discontent  regardless of religious practice (or lack thereof), whether they acknowledged it or not. 

There was a time when I agreed with Sartre that "man is condemned to be free."  I also was wary of the lessons of Nietzsche as interpreted by William Barrett.  Those lessons were that being an atheist could not, in and of itself, be a reaction to theism, especially Christianity.  But  more importantly I was dimly aware of how the quandaries of existentialism were playing out in my life.

Eventually, after reading a few books, and after practicing sitting on my own, I did happen upon a Buddhist temple - the Zen Studies Society to be exact, and the folks there had it more together than anyone I had ever met.  During a Dharma talk (not by Eido Shimano), I saw the lecturer pick up a tea cup to take a sip.  He was living his life at that moment to its fullest.  I could see why there was an intellectual kinship between Existentialists and Zennist.  Moreover, I could see that this sort of experiential practice was useful.  Don't worry about X, Y, and Z; just do what you're doing at the moment.  Related ideas I'd read in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, and while at first they made no sense at all (particularly the stuff about "mind weeds), eventually they came into focus.

And I learned through meditating and being mindful in the most mundane of things that I was more peaceful than less peaceful.  I didn't do it really with that goal in mind; I did seek refuge.  I was a refugee.

Don't get me wrong; this practice has been like learning to walk again after a traumatic injury; as being mindful throughout life just wasn't something that was  transmitted naturally to me by my surroundings.

Was this a god-shaped hole?   I think not.  As some readers might know, I wouldn't even call it "spiritual," as that defiles and trivializes it.  But I do think that I had a need, and that need wasn't ever going to be satisfied by trying to plug up a hole of any kind.  When I found out how one could learn not to want to plug up holes,  I became happier.