Sunday, 20 July 2014

Private Eye Tenzing Norbu, central character in Dharma Mystery series.

I was very excited yesterday to see that one of the "Kindle book deals" that Amazon alerts me to, daily, was (for me) a new book in the Tenzing Norbu, Private Eye, detective-fiction series.

I bought the book (Of course! For $1.99!) and stayed up late last night to read my way through to the middle of TheThird Rule of Ten. I am in Nirvana!

Ten — which is what Tenzing is mostly called, outside Tibet — is the illegitimate son of a strict, advanced and powerful Tibetan Lama and a Paris hippie. He was raised in a Dharamshala monastery where he often got into a lot of mischief, but still found time to intimately learn the dharma. [We know this from the prequel to the series, The Broken Rules of Ten, a mystery written after the First and before the Second books in the mainline of the series.]

The Prequel.
Tenzing is a hardboiled* detective, a modern-day Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe, only with the lionheart of a fully compassionate, wizened mystical Tibet Buddhist. With more than a few brilliant friends/colleagues about to help him in his courageous adventures to solve near-impossibly-difficult crimes/mysteries in the Los Angeles area, Ten unscrambles the clues and sniffs out the bad guys.

I cannot say that the writing is high style — think Edith Wharton or the mysteries of Chandler and Hammett — but there is perfect clarity in the writing of collaborators Gay Hendricks [Buddhist] and Tinker Lindsay [Relationships expert]. I enjoy their wordsmithery quite a lot!

With a relationships-expert as half of the writing team, you can bet that Ten has many challenges in his love life. In The Third Rule, his gorgeous girlfriend Heather is passive-aggressive and more than a match to Ten’s crankiness. Their sex life is less than wonderful, Heather needing to swap out Ten’s penis for a vibrator, mid-hump, in order to reach orgasm.

The Fourth Rule.
Coming in January, 2015.
As for the Buddhism, it is always present in Ten’s thoughts. Here, examples I highlighted in my book through what I’ve read so far, the first twelve of twenty-four chapters:
I pondered the different ways cats and dogs – not to mention their deluded owners – handle affection. If you’re a dog owner, you pay a little attention to your dog, and your dog thinks you’re doing something miraculously wonderful. It licks, wags, pants and dances in circles. Dog owners accept everything about this deal, despite the potential for well-earned ridicule as enablers of vulgar canine toadying.

If you’re a cat owner, the reverse is true: your cat pays a little attention to you and you think it’s doing you a favor. Cat owners accept everything about this deal, despite the potential for well-deserved ridicule as an easy mark, suckered in by cunning slackers who appear, at best, amused, when not subjecting their masters to long periods of feline disregard.

Either way, everybody’s happy.
As you might not guess, Ten has a big cat, Tank. Tank has enough sway over Ten’s thinking and actions that he has garnered an online fan club (or, at least, a WEBPAGE for fans).
“You’re only as sick as your secrets.”
Ten struggles to be a fully open person, with little success (at least through the first half of The Third Rule).
“Lama Tenzing, we are all equal beings in the universe,” [Lama Tashi had] told me more than once. “If you hold others in the thought that they are victims, you rob them of their power. If you hold others as fully responsible for their own destiny, you ennoble them by treating them as equals.”
Tenzing does not forget lessons learned at the Dharamshala monastery.

To my great glee while doing a tad of googling to write this blog post, I learned that The Fourth Rule of Ten will be 'out' in a short five months. The universe is being very generous to me!

*  “Hardboiled” in the sense of tough, direct and clear-headed. NOT in the sense of unsentimental, or void of pity and tenderness.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Blogroll update and call for new writers

Via Savagchickens.

Like this blog, Buddhatron isn't changing much - on the outside at least. I'd like to think that the authors and readers are doing good internal work though, and that such work is being noticed by those around them in their families and neighborhoods and communities at large.

Nonetheless we do need to keep up some appearances of outward change and progress, like new posts, for instance. My great gratitude goes to Tom, then, for stirring the proverbial pot recently with two excellent posts:

This brings our post-count up to 3 for the year, following my (otherwise unanswered) plea for more activity back in April.

The site still seems to get visitors, currently around 5000/month, down from a high in 2012 with 3 months in a row of over 15000/month. So the audience is certainly out there. But what about writers and topics worth covering from a Progressive Buddhist standpoint?

You tell me. If you are a current contributor, let me know where you stand on things. If you're interested in becoming one, check out the writer's guidelines (above) and contact me at the address there if you're interested.

And what about that blogroll? A key part of this whole blogging thing is finding out who out there is thinking about similar topics: so who are the progressive (or progressive-ish) Buddhist bloggers we should be linking to on our blogroll?

My thanks in advance.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

The Two Types of Compassion

If you are a fan of the blog Smiling Buddha Cabaret (And who isn't?), then you are likely to know that one of NellaLou’s dozen truly great blogposts is “Manifestations of Idiot Compassion” from 2010. She dug deeply into the issue, weaving words from perhaps a couple dozen sources on the topic of untainted compassion and its ugly knuckleheaded cousin, the Idiot kind.  I am dependent on her work for this blogpost. BUT, conclusions I reach and opinions I express are my own; I am responsible for them, and the knuckle in my head.

I have been thinking about compassion recently [See my post in Sacramento Homeless blog, “Money Guy.”] and am wondering how we should restrain or encourage our compassion what with the near-infinite situation variations there are. Sometimes – indeed, often – I think we should be comfortable with “mistakes” we are likely to make when we determine to act (or NOT act) when confronted with something sad and finding that our desire to help is aroused. Yes, sometimes we should find that we've been idiots. Of course, if we know ourself to be clumsy, we should be very keen not to do harm; we should watch ourself like a hawk! But I would aver that we must err on the "do too much" side; take some risks on occasion (but not always); be bold; suffer some losses.

But first, before I dig my shovel into the moist soil of this delightful, depressing and bedeviling topic "the two types of compassion," let me define terms. Here are two somewhat different descriptions of ‘Compassion rightly felt and deployed’ contrasted with its neurotic, idiotic cuz:

This first bit comes from  Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, quoted in a book about him, titled Ocean of Dharma. Chögyam Trungpa, as many of you know, was very much a wild man – but, also, certainly, a profoundly advanced and dazzlingly brilliant Buddhist, who amazed and received the support and backing of the Dalai Lama. He died because of alcoholism at the age of 48 in 1987:
Idiot Compassion is the highly conceptualized idea that you want to do good. Of course, according to the mahayana teachings of Buddhism you should do everything for everybody; there is no selection involved at all. But that doesn't mean to say that you have to be gentle all the time. Your gentleness should have heart, strength. In order that your compassion doesn't become idiot compassion you have to use your intelligence. Otherwise, there could be self-indulgence, thinking you are creating a compassionate situation when in fact you are feeding the other person's aggression. If you go to the shop and the shopkeeper cheats you and you go back and let him cheat you again, that doesn't seem to be a very healthy thing to do for others.
Similarly, here are the two types of compassion in the Dalai Lama’s words, quoted from the 2002 book Visions of Compassion:
A distinction is sometimes made in Buddhism between two types of compassion which may reflect a difference in the temperament of the person. Some people take their own self-interest as the primary wish to fulfill, although they may not totally disregard other sentient beings' well-being. When they confront a situation where someone is suffering, they may wish to see that person free of suffering. That's one type of compassion. Other people who confront this situation experience a much more active type of compassion. It is not just a wish to see sentient beings free from suffering, but an immediate need to intervene and actively engage, to try to help. The technical terminology used is that the former type of compassion is the wish to see others free from suffering; and the latter is the wish to help others be free from suffering.
From other prominent Buddhists we learn about, what I’ll call, a “second aspect” of wrongheaded Idiot Compassion. Contradicting Chögyam Trungpa and the Dalai Lama – both of whom say that untainted compassion properly motivates us to JUMP IN and do what all we can to free others from suffering – other prominent Buddhists say that there are times when we should back off or refuse to help others because our intention to help will not truly be beneficial.

Using the Gold Mine of information and links from NellaLou’s 2010 blogpost AND other stuff I’ve found, allow me to chart a sort of spectrum of what I think I find. Please note that I, of course, do not know the whole of any Buddhist’s written words and thoughts and am likely to be making some mistakes, here. My intent is only to get a rough (but useful) facsimile of the terrain to facilitate further thought and discussion.

Chögyam Trungpa " should do everything for everybody; there is no selection involved at all. This does not mean you should always be gentle … you have to use your intelligence." If you are being too gentle and not using your intelligence, you could be self-indulgent. This can lead to a non-beneficial outcome.
Dalai Lama This is the active type of Compassion. One is motivated to DO something to free people from suffering. Self-interest interferes such that less or nothing is done. The "compassion" is one of just wishing another is free of suffering.
Ven Sangye Khadro True compassion balances loving-concern with clear wisdom. This wisdom enables us to stay calm and think clearly how best to help, without being carried away by our emotions. Our heart may be moved with pity but our emotions are so out-of-control that we can’t do anything to help! In other cases we might do something but because we lack right understanding of the problem or the person experiencing it, our “help” only makes the situation worse.
Thanis- saro Bhikkhu "... our intentions are the main factors shaping our lives and ... can be mastered as a skill. If we subject them to the same qualities of mindfulness, persistence, and discernment involved in developing any skill, we can perfect them to the point where they will lead to no regrets or damaging results in any given situation ..." "...delusion is one of the three main roots for unskillful mental habits...Unskillful roots lie entangled with skillful roots — states of mind that are free of greed, aversion, and delusion — in the soil of the untrained heart. If we can’t isolate and dig up the unskillful roots, we can never be fully sure of our intentions. Even when a skillful intention seems foremost in the mind, the unskillful roots can quickly send up shoots that blind us as to what’s actually going on.
Pema Chodron “True compassion does not come from wanting to help out those less fortunate than ourselves but from realizing our kinship with all beings.”

[From criticism at the website Spiritual Critiques: "Chodron’s no-self doctrine with its asceticism leads her to have no or little concern for material or worldly problems like the lack of money. For example in one book she talks about “feeling angry, poverty-stricken or depressed,” and suggests a way of dealing with these problematical feelings by transforming your feelings. But what if your problem is not feeling poverty-stricken but actually being poor, like being homeless in the rain while your child is crying from hunger? Her method of dealing with problems focuses on feelings and transforming them. It does not seem to deal with problems that are based more in the material world and not in feelings."]
Idiot compassion … refers to something we all do a lot of and call it compassion. In some ways, it’s what’s called enabling. It’s the general tendency to give people what they want because you can’t bear to see them suffering. Basically, you’re not giving them what they need. You’re trying to get away from your feeling of  "I can’t bear to see them suffering." In other words, you’re doing it for yourself. You’re not really doing it for them.
Paul [of the New Testa- ment] [Some Bible translations use the word "love" as the oft-repeated word in 1 Corinthians 13; others use "charity." I wonder if "compassion" might be the idea that was intended. 1 Corinthians 13:3-7 would then read...]

If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have true compassion, I gain nothing. Compassion is patient, compassion is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Compassion does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

I tend to think that True Compassion & Idiot Compassion aren’t two fully separate buckets of possibility. Rather, they are the two extremes along a spectrum of possibility for those motivated to do something compassionate. Yes, usually we do something compassionate properly with appropriate factors of motivation OR we fuck up; but on occasion we land in a gray area where either our actions, or motivation, or the outcome is not fully the best or has some kinks in it.

Thus, it is like the Kinsey Scale with Heterosexual and Homosexual as the two extremes with interposed possibilities (of dual or dueling sexual orientations). Or, the Dawkins Scale [aka, Spectrum of Theistic Probability], where some people place themselves in a middle ground between fully believing in God or completely NOT believing in him. With both Kinsey and Dawkins, people tend to pile up at the poles, but others are spread out in the sparse middleground.

Rather than there being so many of us who are good at compassion with others of us who are bunglers, I think we all are faced with events or circumstances that seem hard to fully figure out. Too, other people's minds are more-than-a-bit a black box. You can't tell what's going on in there. You can't fully know what that other person's experience is or if you're being manipulated.

In any case, I don’t think we should tend to be too cautious. We should want to help. We should retain a healthy portion of gullibility and hope and “do the thing,” whatever that might be, to aid a fellow human being.

I have loaned money (small amounts) to people I know in Homeless World Sacramento. I have learned that it is a very bad risk except in the case of just a couple fellows. So, I am reluctant to do that anymore; I must look out for my poor-ish self, too, a bit. But on occasion I discard my reticence. I am not restrained by logic; I don’t act like a banker. I trust the huge jazz band that plays in my skull. [My brain knows a great deal more than it lets me know that I know. You know? Thus my "instincts," like yours, I'd wager, while not perfect, are mighty good.]

From “The Music of the Brain”:
While a decade ago the dominant analogy for the brain was still the digital computer, today's brain models look more like a symphony orchestra or a chorus. Conscious states in this view consist of the pattern of variations in frequency, time, and space of the brain's electrical fields, generated by the correlated electrical activity of shifting assemblies of neurons, as members of a symphony orchestra or chorus work together in shifting patterns to produce a pattern of variations in frequency, time, and space of sound vibrations. Of course, the brain involves millions of "players" at any time, out of a population of hundreds of billions, and the "score" is improvised by the players collectively, like an extremely large jazz band.
The new model is still far from explaining how these shifting patterns of electrical and magnetic fields and the neurons that generate and interact with them produce the phenomenon of consciousness. There is no general agreement on this new model or its details. Yuste, for one, is skeptical that correlations really extend beyond very local areas of the brain. However, by focusing on the coordinated functioning of the brain as a whole, this approach seems to be a large step toward understanding that central fact of human experience.
                                                              * * *
Now, I want to get back to “Money Guy” which I mentioned in the second paragraph of this post. Y’all  don’t need to read the blogpost about it; I can explain things easily; it’s classic, straightforward.

A rich guy chooses to pass out $2-bills to homeless people from a street corner. He does this every week. A long line forms, the bills get dispensed.

Is this compassion? Is it wise; might it be an emotional thing the rich fellow is doing that is delusional – that exaggerates the misery of being homeless? Is the rich guy there to offset guilt, or make himself feel that he’s a good person? Is the two bucks what the homeless people NEED, or is it inappropriately what they WANT?

Is the rich guy aware of skillful means?  Is what rich guy does in sync with Pema Chodron’s dictum --“True compassion does not come from wanting to help out those less fortunate than ourselves but from realizing our kinship with all beings.” – or is it a violation?

For me, what is very beautiful in what the rich guy does is THAT IT IS SPENDIDLY EFFICIENT. The rich guy suffers some time and expense getting to the street corner each week and in getting the some-200 two-dollar bills he chooses to use, but otherwise there is no numbing bureaucracy with hoops he needs to jump through. No hours-long meetings to fuss over particulars.

Likely, much of the money will be spent on beer or cigarettes -- which the general public disapproves of homeless people having. But some of it will be spent buying a pen or a newspaper. I can see myself in my long usually-penniless period buying a cup of coffee at Starbucks, enjoying a spell of relative happiness.

I guess my point is that I think our Buddhist Wizards are THINKING TOO MUCH. There is a valid point in all that they are saying, but some of it is lost to the meager merit of the rich guy “just doing something” -- that the Dalai Lama argues is the good kind of compassion.

                                                              * * *
Another reason that I think the Wizards are "thinking too much" comes from knowing that investigation into "Theory of Mind" shows that people at a very young age come to a rich understanding of how other people operate. We come to know, by the age of four or five, that others are a lot like us but have their own set of beliefs and preferences.

Here is how "Theory of Mind" is defined by wikipedia: "Theory of mind is the ability to attribute mental states — beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc. — to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, and intentions that are different from one's own."

Thus -- unless we are schizophrenic or autistic (two conditions that inhibit one's "theory of mind" appreciation of others -- we are likely to be VERY aware in a circumstance when we are seeking to aid another.  This is something Chögyam Trungpa could not have known because research into this topic hadn't begun to flourish before his death.

Likely, I think, we are pretty damn good at coming to understand and help others. Sure, we often believe lies that we are told, and we can be manipulated, but we have some innate skills to (sometimes) see through all of that.

And, yes, some people who hope to help someone else seem destructively bossy. But on occasion, the bossy ones, while annoying, cut quickly through all the red tape and, with lightning speed, save situations that no one unlike them could have.

I guess I am just hopeful -- a rube, maybe -- that a lot more good gets done than we tend to appreciate.
Writer Thomas Armstrong is the author of “If you see the nice buddhists on the road, run over them with your tank.”

Thursday, 12 June 2014

American Buddhism and the problems of Belief and Free-Inquiry

Early in the song …"Believe in me; Help me believe in anything
I want to be someone who believes" ~ from the song "Mr. Jones"; lyrics by Adam Duritz et al

There is a wildly famous quote from Buddha that I am told by Wildmind's Bodhipaksa is fully fake, a mistranslation of Buddha's true instruction, coming from the Kalama Sutta. Here, the fake quote:
"Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it."
Here, per Bodhipaksa, is the quote properly translated. You may notice that it is for all intents the same as what is now and has long been the subheading at the top of this blogsite:
"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' - then you should enter & remain in them."
Bodhipaksa buys the logic of the authentic quote and rejects that of the “fake” quote. He writes:
In the original [valid] quote, accepting something because it “agrees with reason” would seem to be rejected, because “logical conjecture” and “inference” have been rejected, at least as sufficient bases for accepting a teaching as valid. It’s not that logic is rejected as such, just that it can’t be relied on. What is needed is experience. We need to “know for ourselves.

What we need to know for ourselves is not whether a teaching “agrees with reason” but whether when put into practice they are skillful, blameless, praised by the wise, and lead to welfare and to happiness.
Bear with me for a spell, reader. Things will get more interesting a bit later. First, though, in this inquiry into belief, we are met with what I have to believe is a dicey problem, particularly for a Progressive Buddhist, about how we should today accept these instructions which is often called The Buddha's Charter of Free Inquiry.

I find that, of the two, the fake quote is best representative of how I approach what to believe.  Digested, I take it as simply meaning “don’t go by faith.” Accept the teachings to the extent that they overcome your doubts. THAT would be how I subject anything I come to know and accept as true.

For me, the valid-translation quote presents problems for a modern truth-seeking being. It tells us “you should enter & remain” in teachings that take care of you (and by extension, everyone?) and make you (and everyone?) happy.

But the capital-T Truth, you see, doesn’t always correlate with my best interests or that which makes me comfortable and joyful. It is, it seems, independent of me. I am weighted down by a sensibility that requires that I see the Truth of “two plus two” equaling FOUR, no matter how advantageous it might be for me (or the world) if it equaled FIVE.

I would prefer to believe that this Climate Change thing wasn’t happening or that we, the people of earth, were responding to its challenges vigorously. By observation, and information I can trust, I am led to believe that we earthlings are NOT responding to the challenges and I am, thus, left to conclude that my well-being and happiness is not being attended to.

I believe it is true that we, the community of seven billion earthlings  and countless other living things on earth are imperiled. This is a capital-T Truth that I accept – not because I want to (I don’t want to!) – but because I feel I have to. I am not at peace with any of this; I am not happy. Now, maybe we’ll wriggle around our problems: Move coastal cities inland; find the technologies to re-use water and farm new species of plants in the blazing heat. But it feels like we are foolishly taking on a big, big risk, instead of doing the many things that would prevent people from, effectively, continuing to poison the atmosphere with yet more carbon to our great detriment.

Now, you might argue that I have drifted off-topic; that the “teachings” that are referred to by Buddha have nothing to do with the “news of the day,” but with “the way of the world” and how to BE in it. But for us 21st Century, First World people, understanding how the world works (and doesn’t) is important and adds mightily to how we fashion our role in it and what we come to understand is true.

The Kalamas to whom Buddha directed his words regarding “teachings” probably lived in a village and knew very little about what was going on more than fifteen miles outside where they resided. That is not the case for us, today. We know (or can easily learn) about the beginning of our universe and some planets beyond our own in it that might harbor life. We know more about ancient cultures, today, than has been known since these cultures disappeared from the face of the earth thousands of years ago. We can phone someone in Paris, France, or Paris, Texas. And, we have this Internet thing. An incredible flood of stuff at our fingertips that we may cram into our storehouse of knowledge. We are hot shit, people! Yowza! While much of what is on the Internet is skanky, we CAN sort through it. We CAN separate the wheat from the chaff.

We can (and should) use observation, analysis and reason to determine what we accept as valid or helpful or true. THAT is how it should be done in the 21st Century. "Teachings" of all manner should be subjected to our in-skull critic. [A cheer for the fake Buddha quote!] And we should be careful not to allow feelings of happiness or ours or the collective welfare sway a determination of what is capital-T True.

But the fake Buddha quote can be improved upon. Indeed the wonderful Barbara O’Brien,’s Buddhism guide, did that (though probably not intentionally), when she wrote about how a beginner should take up Buddhist practice. Her words could work as a preamble to the Fake Buddha Quote:
If you want to learn about Buddhism, I suggest putting aside all assumptions. Put aside assumptions about Buddhism, and then assumptions about religion. Put aside assumptions about the nature of the self, of reality, of existence. Keep yourself open to new understanding. Whatever beliefs you hold, hold in an open hand and not a tight fist. Just practice, and see where it takes you.
I might take out Barbara's last sentence -- "Just practice and see where it takes you." -- since, again, I don't think happiness or experience is quite the point. Driving around the track at the Indianapolis Speedway would be exhilarating; it doesn't mean I should quit my day job with the expectation of becoming a race-car driver. But, yes, have an open mind. And always be open to changing your mind or correcting yourself.
* - *

Later in the song …”Believe in me because I don't believe in anything
and I want to be someone to believe” ~ from the song “Mr. Jones”; lyrics by Adam Duritz

BUT, I write this not being a person of Faith (better word: Blindfaith). I am, if not comfortable, at least not driven to insanity by high doses of uncertainty and doubt always sparring inside of me. Being a Person of Faith seems like a quick and easy off-ramp to a contented life. Just buy the Bill of Goods, and everything is easy – now and always. Just fly the jetliner into the skyscraper and you’ll get twenty virgins to boink and Paradise will be yours forevermore. Or, Just listen to Fox News and we’ll give you some pithy examples of how you’ve been victimized – Big Government; No Liberty; A Negro President – and you can help us gun down the Commies in Washington D.C.

In his recent book, Why Materialism is Baloney, Bernardo Kastrup tells us about the Zuruahã people in the Brazilian Amazon. “[T]heir worldview entails the belief that the soul (‘asoma’) reunites with lost relatives after physical death. This belief is so deeply internalized that, in the period of 1980-1995, 84.4% of all deaths among adults – defined as people over 12-years old – in their society was caused by suicide. As a result, a population known for excellent health and very few diseases had an average life expectancy of only 35 years.

Some young Zuruahã people.
It is hard for me to know what to think of the Zuruahã people. Reading beyond what Kastrup writes, the Zuruaha appear to live highly tumultuous lives. While committing suicide is the best way to secure a better afterlife, it is motivated by more than a desire to be with ancestors and dead recent relatives; it is also motivated by fractious relationships within the tribe, guilt, getting attention, a hatred of old age, and jealousies – which can give rise to extended tumult and further suicides and failed attempts at suicide.

Christianity can sound like a great deal: Confess you sins; escape going to hell; live in a mansion in heaven; unrelieved happiness! But there are a boatload of reasons not to believe the Bible’s story. E.g: Exegetes tell us how the Bible was cobbled together; how the ruins of sites mentioned in the Bible don’t comport to what’s written about them. There is a lot to suggest that the Bible is largely fiction. And while we are told that “God is Love,” we also learn that he has whole families swallowed up by an opening in the ground; allows the Jews to slaughter a neighboring tribe; and for reasons that defy understanding, crucifies His own Son (which is Himself, somehow).

But most difficult for me is Why is the requirement to get into heaven one of believing something? of taking on blindfaith in who the Bible says Jesus is and confessing sins when God, theoretically, knows all and sees all, anyway? I live by trying to have commonsense, but this Bible stuff doesn’t make any sense.

So, surely, we should use our sweet reason to understand our lives and our world. And, since none of us are – nor was Buddha – All Knowing, we should accommodate others who adopt conclusions about the world different from ours. And, others will have ways of thinking that differ from ours. It might drive us a little crazy, but what can you do? Such are things on our small planet with a great multiplicity of people puttering around on it.

A couple years ago, Carl Jung’s The Red Book was published in English – both in Encyclopedic form, for those wanting the breadth of his crazy jumbled long-hidden secret thoughts; and in abridged form, for those who can only take so much. Generally speaking, I like Jung. I hope it is not just because I preferred his character to Freud’s when I say A Dangerous Method a couple years ago. Anyway, here is a stretch of words from The Red Book:
The supreme meaning is the path, the way and the bridge to what is to come. That is the God yet to come. It is not the coming God himself, but his image which appears in the supreme meaning? God is an image, and those who worship him must worship him in the image of the supreme meaning.

The supreme meaning is not a meaning and not an absurdity, it is image and force in one, magnificence and force together. The supreme meaning is the beginning and the end. It is the bridge of going across and fulfillment. The other Gods died of their temporality, yet the supreme meaning never dies, it turns into meaning and then into absurdity, and out of the fire and blood of their collision the supreme meaning rises up rejuvenated anew. The image of God has a shadow. The supreme meaning is real and casts a shadow. For what can be actual and corporeal and have no shadow? The shadow is nonsense. It lacks force and has no continued existence through itself. But nonsense is the inseparable and undying brother of the supreme meaning.   – C.G. Jung, from The Red Book
So, does Jung, the genius, know something? Is he onto something? Is there some part of how the world is put together that he understands beyond what any ordinary fellow has access to?

I end, now, with a TED viddy with Bernardo Kastrup giving a lecture. Because of his accent and bad audio he is somewhat difficult to understand, but stay with him, if you can. He makes the point that we don’t DISCOVER mathematical principles; we create them. Likewise, we don’t DISCOVER the world around us, we create it and apply a logic to it to make things feel calm and consistant. While he doesn’t mention quantum weirdness, it is THAT which plays a major role in his insistence that we don’t live in an all-material world; that us being here is what is all-important. We are the unknowing creators. We are the train; not so much the passengers on the train. Sounds crazy, I suppose.
But when you eliminate all other possibilities [on a mission of discovery!?], it may be this is what we are left with.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Progressive Buddhism, Community, and Modern Psychology

Oh dear, things have gone quiet around here.

I should have been more diligent in prodding authors and adding my own thoughts.

What can we do now?

Obviously the authors (listed on the right) are invited to come back to a regular (monthly or so) posting schedule. We have guidelines meant to keep us on course toward a common discussion of "Progressive Buddhism", but as a community I have always tried to keep our interpretation of those guidelines loose. There is no demand for being polished or perfect with each post. We all come with different degrees of practice and experience in the blogging world, so don't be shy, just be prepared to learn from feedback. Making mistakes is how we grow.

So come, please, and make some mistakes with me.

I'll start with introducing some of my own recent posts at my other blog. They discuss the Coursera class on Buddhism and Modern Psychology. I won't say much more now, except that it is a free online course, so anyone can take it, joining late even. There is an active community there now, along with various discussions going on elsewhere such as facebook and on blogs like mine.

To catch you up via some of my own writings, I offer my summaries and thoughts on weeks one-four here.

  1. In week one I give an overview of the class, which begins (surprise) with an overview of the class. I also go beyond to discuss questions of orthopraxy vs orthodoxy in Buddhism. 
  2. Week two looked into the "Buddhist Prescription" - the 3rd and 4th noble truths as compared with experiments conducted by modern psychologists.
  3. Week three digs in with the question of "not-self". It's a topic I've dealt with a lot and I've posted some resources in my blog post.
  4. In week four I covered, at last in a bit more depth, a series of experiments based on ideas in evolutionary psychology that seem to lead to a 'modular theory of the mind.' 
That's all for now. There should be 4 weeks left, so I'll update things once again in a month or so. Until then, I hope some regular writers here make a return and if any of you are interested in joining, give me a shout at Buddhistethics AT gmail... 

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Buddhism and Mental Illness

President Obama has declared May “Mental Health Awareness Month.” At the announcement the President said (thanks to Adrian Warnock for posting this):
“Today, tens of millions of Americans are living with the burden of a mental health problem. They shoulder conditions like depression and anxiety, post-traumatic stress and bipolar disorder — debilitating illnesses that can strain every part of a person’s life. And even though help is out there, less than half of children and adults with diagnosable mental health problems receive treatment....

As part of this national awareness campaign, the whole of Patheos has been invited to write on the topic of Faith and Mental Health, you can see a few selections on the front page on the right.
So here I am, jumping in a little late with my own post on the topic.
Having faced mental illness, in a number of different capacities, it’s hard to know just where to start. Before I was born, perhaps.
What is the Zen koan? “What was your face before you were born?”

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Six Subjects of Reflection (and a short lesson on Pāli)

This post is a bit different; it's a 'back to basics' in a way and hopefully a helpful and quick introduction to Buddhism for those who could use it.
Anguttara Nikaya 6.9

Subjects of Recollection (as translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi)
"Bhikkhus, there are these six subjects of recollection. What
six? Recollection of the Buddha, recollection of the Dhamma,
recollection of the Sangha, recollection of virtuous behavior,
recollection of generosity, and recollection of the deities. These
are the six subjects of recollection."

“Chayimāni, bhikkhave, anussatiṭṭhānāni. katamāni cha? buddhānussati, dhammānussati, saṅghānussati, sīlānussati, cāgānussati, devatānussati imāni kho, bhikkhave, cha anussatiṭṭhānānī”ti. navamaṃ."

Simplified Pāli Glossary of terms as they appear in the text (I have broken up the compounds, but left case endings as in the text):

Cha: six
imāni: these
bhikkhave: Oh Monks
anussati: anu (prefix here used to make sati transitive) + sati: mindfulness/recollection/memory
ṭhānāni: place, standing, cause, grounds, ways, respects [subjects isn't given in the PED dictionary, but one can see how it fits here]

katamāni: which
cha: six

Recollection of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha
#4 - sīla: ethics, morality, virtue, (good) behavior
#5 - cāga: generosity
#6 - devatā: divinities*

imāni: these
kho: indeed
bhikkhave: Oh Monks
cha: six
anussatiṭṭhānānī: as above,
ti: our equivalent of a closing quotation mark, indicating the end of what was said.

navamaṃ: ninth (indicating the number of the sutta in the collection)

* The PED tells us that this refers to those who hold the quality of being worthy of worship and includes ascetics, domesticated animals, forces of nature, as well as 'lower' and 'higher' gods/devas). This is elaborated upon in the next sutta, the Mahānāma sutta (AN 6.10), wherein only the various devas are discussed, but they are to be recollected with the understanding that the good actions that led them to their higher awakening is within the ability of the student.
A few words.

In Buddhism, mind is foremost (cf. Dhammapada 1). One could say that the mind is everything, but that can be taking it too far. Certainly what matters most is your mind, your mental states, and your intentions. This guide is one of dozens, perhaps hundreds of short lists or groupings of very important aspects of Buddhism. The disciple memorizes a list like this and then 'unfolds' them in commentarial form, often situated around further lists. For instance, beginning with the Buddha, one might frame his life in terms of his twelve acts, then move on to the Dhamma, which opens with the 4 Noble Truths, leading conveniently to the 8-fold Path, and so on. So lists are important, and memorization of those lists, as an aid to memory and to story-telling, should still be a goal of aspiring Buddhists. 

Next, we should all try to pick up at least a little bit of Pāli. We should also familiarize ourselves with the PED (Pali-English Dictionary), available in full at the U Chicago website. Accesstoinsight offers a great guide to getting started with Pāli here. For those looking to dive in with the help of an excellent teacher, see Bhikkhu Bodhi's introduction, which has hours of audio recordings as well as sets of downloadable charts. 

Getting into the canonical language (you can do the same with Tibetan, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, etc depending on what area of Buddhism you are interested in) helps to put you in the thought-world (Gedankenwelt) of the text's transmitters, composers, and -one can usually hope- original author. As you can see, some words have a great multitude of meanings and while we can generally place our trust in translators when we are starting out, it quickly pays off to be able to look at the original. Nearly all of the Pāli words above have a half-dozen or more possible English translations; which ones the translator picks can often say as much about him/her as it does about the original author.

It's quite true that you don't need to learn Pāli or another canonical language to understand Buddhism - the language itself and the sounds it makes have no intrinsic power (although a belief in the intrinsic power of sound did seep into later Buddhism from early Hinduism). But it helps.
Justin Whitaker is a PhD candidate in Buddhist ethics at the University of London. He helps to administrate this blog and does his own writing mostly at American Buddhist Perspective.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Crowdfunding The Next Generation of Buddhist Activists: Youth In Action

I am partial to my root teacher, as always. They have a crowd funded project underway to provide hope to the next generation of Engaged Buddhism.

Notice the picture of MLK in the background. He nominated a certain Zen Mater for the Nobel Peace Prize in the 1960's. MLK is a model for Buddhist activists for non-violent, community centered solutions.

$10 can help fund the revolution. Please donate today.

If you are a member of Charlotte Community of Mindfulness, your donation will be matched for up to $1,000 in outllay, please donate!

Check it out here for more info.


Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Right Livelihood: An Interview with the President of New Wind Energy Solutions

Progressive Buddhism was recently granted the privilege of interviewing Stuart Wiston, who is president of New Wind Energy Solutions. Stuart spent over 20 years in commercial real estate before making a radical career switch to sustainability.

Today he is a recognized expert in small wind' and has taught Continuing Education classes for the American Institute of Architects.

He is on the board of the Middle Tennessee chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council and lives out of Hendersonville, where he also served as board member of the Hendersonville Chamber of Commerce. As a member of the West End Synagogue, he uses his livelihood to contribute to our global welfare.

He and his wife, Debby, have four great kids from 2-7 years old. Stuart has somewhat of a passion for bourbon and has even recently started a blog about the subject. He can speak three languages, but he admits not as fluently as he would prefer.

Stuart, do you have any advice for Buddhists who like to sit around the camp fire and chat about the world’s problems but really don’t participate in any solutions?

“In Jewish tradition, we say 'every mitzvah (commandment or good deed) stands on its own'. If you only keep Kosher in your house but not out, it's certainly better than not doing either. Similarly, if people talk, but do much less, at least they are thinking about it and perhaps by voicing their concerns they are encouraging others to act.”

So, how does a smart guy like you earn a living?
"Our business model is fairly simple. We sell products that create renewable energy or that increase energy efficiency. We only represent products that are independent third party verified as, unfortunately there is a lot of snake oil in the sustainability field.

We recognize that sustainability is an admirable goal And that businesses must make profit to succeed. We specialize in products that have a return on investment of under three years.

Lastly, as a business we can be classified as a Social Enterprise. We have a preferential policy of hiring veterans. We judge our success or failure by the numbers of people we employ and the families they support as well as the amount of resources and money we are able to help our customers save or conserve."

Can you give us some background on how your spiritual tradition has shaped your way of thinking about sustainability?

“While most people know the story of Noah and the ark, Jewish tradition teaches that the world was destroyed because it was corrupt. But in Hebrew, the root of the word corrupt is the word for destruct. So another way to look at it was that the world was destroyed because it was full of destruction.
But Gd did not destroy the world immediately. He sent Noah with a message to tell the people to change And he commanded him to build an ark, a job that took 120 years. But despite the warnings and even with the time given, Man did not change. Many laughed at Noah and scoffed at his prophesies.

Today I feel we have also been sent a warning that we must change our ways of destruction. This time though, while there are still those who scoff, there are more and more who hear and are heeding the warnings.

A fundamental part of Judaism is Tikun Olam, or repair the world. We are taught "you may not be able to compete the task, nor are you free to abandon it."

What Is The Impact of Global Warming On Sustainable Energy:

As you may be aware, Global Warming is having a devastating impact in other countries where hydropower is critical to their energy systems. When I asked Stuart how he thought this will play out, here is what he said:

“Hydropower is not really in my wheelhouse, but climate change is creating all kinds of change. Some areas will see less rain, some more. Storms will get more violent as more energy is added to the earth's weather systems. Unfortunately, no one anywhere is isolated from these effects.

Solar farms may reduce carbon gases, but climate change means many of them will be subject to more frequent and more damaging hail storms. Studies have predicted that rising temperatures will reduce average wind speeds in many areas that now have wind farms. And changing rain patterns can leave some hydroelectric systems with too much or too little water, or even worse way too much for short periods, as happened in Nashville.

But perfect should never be allowed to be the enemy of good. If we do not use solar, wind and hydroelectric in place of coal or diesel power plants, then the change will be faster and worse. 100 year storms are becoming regular events. 500 year storms are not once in a lifetime events. Some of something is always better than all of nothing. Even if renewables don't fix the problems, they are important tools to help.”

Thank you, Stuart, for helping us get the word out on our blog about how you are making a difference!

Thursday, 2 May 2013

How to be your own role model: The Tiny Buddha

A little over a year ago I was in much grief and despair about what seemed countless and inescapable negative situations in my life. One day during meditation I realized that there was no light at the end of the tunnel because there was no tunnel and that the light I was searching for was inside me all along. Needless to say, I am feeling much better now.

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