Thursday, June 09, 2016

"What is your exercise goal?"

Today, two people at worked asked me essentially the same question.  I was actually confused; isn't the "goal" of exercise to sustain and cultivate one's existence?  I was going to say "Why did Bodhidharma come from the West," but that would have been too inside baseball.

When I explained, - putting into words the best I can - "So that can exist!" one person mentioned it was very Zen, which is kind of funny to me. 

Saturday, June 04, 2016

From the Founder of Falun Da Fa, which had been listed as attending today's Portland Buddhist Festival

Sorry for 2 posts in a row about this topic, but I think it's important for people to know just what we're talking about when we talk about Falun Da Fa, and its relationship to what ethnic Buddhists think and what liberal convert Western Buddhists think about Buddhism.

So here's Li Hongzhi himself, on Zen Buddhism:

Zen Buddhism Is ExtremeThere are two types of people, namely, those who are extreme and those who take the middle road. From the outset Zen Buddhism has been in the extreme category, and it does not amount to a cultivation system. Controversy has always surrounded Zen. Though people have cultivated according to Zen’s methods, they have actually been under the care of Buddha Shakyamuni, owing to their intention to cultivate Buddhahood and their seeking goodness. Zen doesn’t constitute a system. Boddhidharma does not have his own heavenly kingdom, and thus cannot provide salvation to people. The fact is that Boddhidharma himself, back in his day, took Buddha Shakyamuni to be the founding master. Though he is called Zen’s patriarch, he was in fact Buddha Shakyamuni’s disciple—a disciple of the twenty-eighth generation, and one who very much venerated Buddha Shakyamuni. Working from Buddha Shakyamuni’s theories, he focused his enlightenment on “nothingness,” and this didn’t depart from the tenets of Shakyamuni. With the passage of time, Zen went downhill. Later generations came to regard Boddhidharma’s approach as a cultivation way in its own right, and believed it to be supreme. His wasn’t supreme, however. Zen was actually declining with each successive generation, and Boddhidharma said it himself: His teachings would only extend for six generations. 
Boddhidharma gave a relatively large amount of weight to the “nothingness” that Buddha Shakyamuni taught, and held Buddha Shakyamuni in great esteem; he was known as his disciple of the twenty-eighth generation. But the generations that followed were completely trapped in extremes. And once that became the case, it arrived at the stage of degeneration, where Boddhidharma and Shakyamuni were seen almost as equals. People began to venerate Boddhidharma, and considered Boddhidharma’s theories to be the one and only Buddhist truth. This basically amounted to going astray. 
That’s because Boddhidharma cultivated to a low level and reached only the celestial rank of Arhat—meaning, he was merely an Arhat. How much could he really have known? When all was said and done he had not reached the level of Tathagata. The gap between his level and that of Buddha Shakyamuni was phenomenal! And for this reason, his teachings are closest to the philosophy of ordinary people, and his theories are easiest for ordinary people to accept—particularly those who treat religion as a form of philosophy or ideology. Those who take an academic approach and study Buddhism as philosophy tend to accept his theory the most. It closely resembles ordinary philosophy. 
Buddhas are to be found on every plane, however high one may go. [But according to Zen,] you cultivate and cultivate, and then, supposedly, nothing exists. In their cultivation they don’t even acknowledge so much as human beings. Living, visible human beings are right here before us and yet they don’t acknowledge them as real. It’s even worse than with those ordinary persons of poor spiritual insight who say, “I’ll believe it if I see it, and won’t if I don’t.” These people don’t even acknowledge what they do see. Why live, then? Why bother opening your eyes? Shut your eyes, don’t lie down, don’t stand… Nothing exists, right? They’ve gone to extremes. Boddhidharma said that his Dharma could be passed down for only six generations. It’s folly how people today still cling tightly to this doctrine that was never valid in the first place. It’s a dead end that they have gone down. They don’t acknowledge themselves, don’t acknowledge Buddhas, and how about planet Earth? If they don’t acknowledge even their own existence, what’s the point of having a name? And what’s the point of eating? You could just go hungry all day, not look at what time it is, and block out all sounds…  
And after all that, everything is gone. So doesn’t that discredit Buddha Shakyamuni? If Buddha Shakyamuni didn’t teach anything, what was he doing for forty-nine years? Do they know what the true meaning of “emptiness” is in Buddha Shakyamuni’s teaching? When Buddha Shakyamuni [said that he] didn’t leave behind any Fa, he was saying that he didn’t truly teach the cultivation method or the Fa of the universe. What he spoke about were only things at his cultivation level, and what he left to ordinary people was Tathagata Fa—in particular, cultivation experiences and lessons learned. The real Dharma that Shakyamuni imparted when in this world was the rules and disciplines (jie-lü), and he discussed certain insights of different levels, which is the Fa at a certain level. But Buddha Shakyamuni didn’t want people to be trapped at his level, and thus said, “I have not taught any Dharma in my life.” He said that because he knew that the Dharma he taught was not the highest. A Tathagata is a Buddha, but not one at the highest level. Buddha Fa is boundless. A cultivator shouldn’t be limited by his Dharma. A person with a great spiritual potential (da gen-ji) can cultivate even higher, where insights both higher and deeper, as with corresponding manifestations of Fa, await. 

This could have been written by a fundamentalist Christian; its characterization of Zen - indeed, Mahayana Buddhism,  is  an ignorant caricature.  (And if you haven't guessed, Li Hongzi is better than all practitioners of Zen because... he's fully a Buddha and you're not.)

From the same source:

The Decline of Mankind and Dangerous Notions
If back in ancient China someone spoke of cultivating the Way, people would say he had a “virtuous foundation.” Those who talked about Buddhas, Daoist deities, or Gods were considered really good. Yet, today, talk of cultivating Buddhahood or the Dao invites laughter. Mankind’s moral values have undergone enormous changes. They are sliding downward a thousand miles a day, so quickly. With the erosion of their values, people have actually come to believe that the ancients were ignorant and superstitious. Man’s thinking has changed dramatically, and it is frightening. Consider that Buddha Shakyamuni once said: The changes in society with the Age of Law’s End will be truly terrible. Case in point, in today’s society people have no law in the heart (xin-fa) that might serve as a restraint, especially in China. This is true in other countries as well, though it assumes different forms. In mainland China, the Cultural Revolution shattered the so-called “old thinking and ideas” that people had, and forbade people to believe in the teachings of Confucius. People were left with no moral restraint or moral code, and weren’t allowed to have religious beliefs. People came to disbelieve that doing wrong would lead to karmic retribution... 

...The gangster businessmen depicted in the TV series The Bund have been eagerly imitated in China. Yet it was only a portrayal of the old Shanghai of the 1930s, and took artistic license, at that. Real life wasn’t like that. Hong Kong’s gangster movies and TV programs have had a terrible influence on mainland China in terms of people’s thinking. Mankind’s values have changed, and in China too we now see homosexuality, drug abuse, drug trafficking, organized crime, promiscuous sex, and prostitution. It’s gotten out of hand! There’s a saying about how when a poor country bumpkin strikes it rich, look out. He has no self-control and will dare to do anything. Isn’t it scary to see mankind reaching this point? What will become of mankind when things go still further? The concepts of good and bad are now inverted in people’s minds. Nowadays people admire those who are ruthless, those who will go to any lengths, and those who will kill and maim. That’s what people esteem... 
When I discuss what has happened with society, people immediately get it, which indicates that man’s innate nature has not changed. However, mankind has slid to a terribly dangerous point. When I talked about homosexuality while giving classes in the West, I said, “These wanton sexual practices in the West have gotten almost as bad as incest.” Someone then brought up that “homosexuality is legally protected by the state.” Good and bad are not to be gauged by the approval of some individual or collective. Human judgment of good and bad is based entirely on people’s own notions. People think, “I think he’s good…” or “He’s good to me, so I would say he’s good.” Or he has formed a set notion, and, if according to his notion someone is good, he will say that person is good. The same holds true with groups. When something is in the group’s interest or it furthers a certain goal, the group will say that it’s good and consent to it. But it is not necessarily truly good. The truth of the universe, the Buddha Fa, is the sole, unchanging criterion that measures human beings and everything that exists—the sole criterion that determines what is good or bad. I told them [the students in the West], “To be perfectly frank, your government may approve of it, but your Lord does not!” Each time mankind has reached this point, it has in fact been in grave danger and out of control. Now that it has become what it has, if it goes further, what will it be like next?! Buddha Shakyamuni said that during the Age of Law’s End a multitude of demons would reincarnate as human beings and become monks in monasteries who damage the Fa. Taiwan, in particular, now has many renowned monks and lay Buddhists who are actually demons. They extol themselves as the founders of religions, but fail to realize that they are demons. They had laid out their entire lives before reincarnating and coming here, and they live out their lives in accordance with the damage that they plotted. The human world is terrifying. Many of the well-known, supposed “masters” in India are possessed by giant pythons. Among the qigong masters in China, quite a large number are possessed by foxes and weasels, though there are snakes as well. The Age of Law’s End is a time of chaos. The head of Aum Shinrikyo in Japan is the incarnation of a demon from Hell who came to the human world to foment chaos. Human beings are right in the middle of all this, and, being here in the human world, they don’t have a chance to think about such things. They can sense that something is amiss with the world, but have no idea how bad it is. Once it is spelled out, people are startled.

And finally, Falun DaFa's founder has this to say about Buddhism:

Buddhism’s Teachings Are the Smallest and Weakest Part of Buddha Fa
Sentient beings! Don’t use Buddhism to measure the Great Fa of Zhen Shan Ren, for that simply can’t be done. That’s done only because people are used to calling the sutras of Buddhism “Fa.” The cosmic body is in fact so vast as to exceed a Buddha’s knowledge of the universe. The Daoist Taiji theory is likewise but an understanding of the universe at a lesser level and, on the plane of ordinary man, no longer constitutes a real Fa; rather, it encompasses merely a few, limited phenomena from the periphery of the universe with which people can cultivate. Since ordinary people are the lowest plane of man, they are not allowed to know the true Buddha Fa. But people have heard that sages have said: “Paying respects to Buddha can sow the karmic seeds of the opportunity to cultivate,” “The chanting of incantations by cultivators can invoke the protection of higher beings,” “Observing the monastic rules can allow you to reach the standard required of a cultivator.” Throughout history, people have always looked into and debated whether the Awakened One’s words inherently amount to Buddha Fa. What a Tathagata says is an embodiment of Buddha-nature, and it can be called an expression of Fa. But it is not the universe’s true Fa, for, in the past, people were strictly prohibited from knowing the true embodiment of Buddha Fa. What Buddha Fa is, was something that could be discerned only after cultivating to a higher plane; thus, even less was it the case that human beings were allowed to know the essence of cultivation. Falun Dafa has, for the first time in all the ages, revealed the special property of the universe—Buddha Fa—to human beings. It is equal to bestowing upon man a ladder to heaven. Seen in this light, how could you evaluate the Great Fa of the universe with things from Buddhism’s past? 

Clearly, Falun DaFa's founder has said - and I'm quoting his official English translation - one link away from the site on the Portland Buddhist Festival's site - that Buddhist Fa - the Way, the Law - is inferior to Falun DaFa.  It says it right there! Right there they are distinguishing themselves as not Buddhist in precisely the way that a Buddhist from anywhere outside of the liberal Western convert Buddhist community would recognize themselves as Buddhist!

So tell me again why they're included at the Portland Buddhist Festival if they, themselves distance themselves from Buddhists???

I'll be skipping the Portland Buddhist Festival this year...

Last year I showed up and Falun DaFa was there.  They're there again this year.  I brought this up to the BPF organizer, Heidi, and received some not too kind vitriol in response; something about me not being inclusive or something or other.

I hate to say it but it's times like that which cause me to wonder how so much anti-Chinese weirdness has infected the American psyche.  There's a lot to have against the Chinese government these days, which, among other things means there's a lot to have against the Chinese Communist Party these days.  Like any government party,  made of human beings, they need to acknowledge wrongdoing and change some of their ways.

But the Western  largely-European-descended liberal Buddhist community comprising Boomers, Gen Xers and (to a lesser extent) Millennials seems blind to the issues with some of the PRC's critics.  I've written quite a few times on the Dalai Lama, and frankly, compared to Falun DaFa, the Dalai Lama is the Dalai Lama of said liberal Buddhists.  So I want to take this opportunity, in the spirit of inclusion, to include in the narrative of Falun DaFa that will be presented today some of the other stuff about Falun DaFa.

But, first, I have to get this out of the way: I understand it's a Buddhist festival.  Buddhism is a religion.  So while I have no major beef with the followers of Thich Nhat Hanh (and they have their own issues with the government of Vietnam, naturally), nor do I have any major beefs with the Unitarian Universalist Church,  I do wonder about a group that claims to practice "Mindfulness in a non-religious manner," especially since the eventual place Mindfulness winds up is nothing but religious.  Like I said, I've no major beef with the Vietnamese Zen folks or the UU folks; it's just that it seems "Mindfulness in a non-religious manner" sounds suspiciously like "spiritual not religious," which has been deconstructed by many better than me.

But back to Falun DaFa.  First of all,  I notice that in all the participating Buddhist groups, there are no mainstream Chinese groups participating at all. This is not for lack of the existence of Chinese temples in the area; in fact there are quite a few Chinese temples in the area. For example, not far away is 妙法禪寺 - "Excellent Way Cha'n Temple."  I would hope the  organizers of the Portland Buddhist Festival continue in their efforts to reach out to the Chinese community of Portland.  They might begin to understand that many in the Chinese community view Falun DaFa in the same way that many view Scientology, or Frederick Lenz's cult (the latter which led to the formation of the "Portland Buddhist Festival" as distinct from "Change Your Mind Day.")

Secondly, it's easy to find a lot of websites if you google "Falun DaFa ex-Members."  Some might be put up by the Chinese government, but many are undeniably not, and are either politically neutral or not sympathetic to the Chinese government.  Here's one example:

Over the year, I immersed myself in Falun Gong material – Li’s speeches, videos, books, nd Falun Gong publications. Li’s coercive and inflated style (which Dean Peerman describes as “gaseous-cosmic” [2004, p. 30]) contrasted with the polite and humble nature of the participants. More significantly, Li’s speeches repeatedly contradicted both what Falun Gong members were telling me and what they were telling the media. I had hoped that my research would help Falun Gong, but I became increasingly aware that this would be unlikely.  
…The Western media get most of their information about Falun Gong from press releases disseminated by the Rachlin media group. This group is essentially a Public Relations firm for Falun Gong, managed by Gail Rachlin, who is one of Li’s inner circle.Journalists also get their stories from interviewing participants. However, Li forbids practitioners from talking about what he calls “high level things” to ordinary people, and instructs them to lie to those uninterested in spiritual matters (“tell them that we’re justdoing exercises” [Li, 2002, p. 21]). Therefore spokespeople tend to be evasive about their beliefs, and resort to formulaic principles and repetitions of their slogan ‘truthfulness, compassion, forbearance’. Moreover, Li sets the terms of the debate by directing members to get sympathy by telling listeners about the persecution, with the hidden intention of later turning them into converts (Li cited in Rahn, 2005; see also Li, 2002, 2003a). Members do not see this strategy as deceptive: a Falun Gong spokesperson told me that by focusing on the persecution and not pushing their religion or leader, members were being inoffensive. 
Generally, practitioners do not know if the information in the media is accurate. They themselves get most of their information from reading press releases, and usually if I asked them if something was true they replied, “Yes – I read it in the newspaper”. FalunGong also have their own media (Li, 2005b), and are heavily involved in the  Epoch Times, a free newspaper that is most well known for its polemic  Nine commentaries on the Chinese Communist Party , which Li promotes (Li, 2005c)
As practitioners do not teach Falun Gong beliefs, I found more information from Li’sbooks and speeches. Copies are available on the Internet, but they are not necessarily thesame as the originals. For example, disciples removed a chapter of Li’s improbableautobiographical claims of supernatural exploits from  Zhuan Falun, as well as from theInternet (see Penny, 2003 for a discussion on the content). They also removed Englishtranslations of   Zhuan Falun 11 , a book in which Li makes several scientific slip-ups(such as mistaking a light year for a measurement of time) and offends potentialsupporters by condemning homosexuality and Buddhism. Curiously, when I asked aresearch assistant to translate parts of   Zhuan Falun 11 for me, his car was broken intoafter he left my office, and my instructions on what to translate were stolen. Although Iam sure this event was a coincidence, it helped me to appreciate the wariness Falun Gong and the Chinese government have of each other. 

Further, as Deng and Fang (2000) observe, English translations of Li’s speeches have a
less strident tone, they sometimes differ from the original Chinese in critical parts, and the most anti-gay, racist and anti-human scriptures have never been translated into
English. Also, Li has instructed followers to destroy any unauthorised versions of his
speeches (1998b). While these sources shed some light on Falun Gong beliefs, an equally critical issue in relation to Falun Gong is the torture and persecution of members. The press often quote Amnesty International, but Amnesty’s reports are not independently verified, and mainly come from Falun Gong sources (for example, Amnesty, 2000). 
The Hong Kong Centre for Human Rights is the only independent source of information, although the Centre is actually not an organisation, but one man – Lu Si Qing. However, statistics of arrests from both Amnesty and the Hong Kong Centre are often much higher than those reported by Western journalists who were present in China when the arrests were made (Rahn, 2000), which suggests that other information may be similarly exaggerated.

This is pretty fair and balanced, and comes from someone who took the trouble to spend time with members.  I suggest the organizers of the Portland Buddhist Festival look further into Falun DaFa, and in particular seek out Chinese Buddhists from Chinese Buddhist temples to get their viewpoint on this group.

I first heard Falun DaFa probably 20 years ago, when my future wife and I joined by a Professor of Chinese from Portland State University, Wu Qianzhi, at an event at PSU where Falun DaFa members spoke.   What he said in translating what they were saying pretty much did have "cult of Li Hongzhi" written all over it. 

Like the Lenz cult, I can't say that what Li is propagating has much at all to do with the 4 Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, or anything like that.