This ought to be just a comment but it so much easier to write a new blogpost – so much more control of the presentation.
The issue of racism came up in a recent Brad post – discussed here. Following from this I looked into transcendence as being both a spiritual and political process. And then I spent a long time considering privilege which led to this blogpost. All of these came together when reading this later Bradpost.
In this paragraph Brad thinks things are not so bad:-
“A lot of Americans have the impression that we have a broken system that needs fixing. But I wonder if that’s really true. Now before you get your pantaloons in a bunch, please understand that I’m am not saying that things are perfectly fine as they are. They aren’t.”
To me this is myopic white America. Ask the people of Syria, Libya and Iraq whether this is true, and ask them whether the system needs fixing.
“Yet to me it seems less like we have a broken system that needs fixing and more like we are trying to build a system that is absolutely without historical precedent, a system that would be amazing if we could ever get it set up.” Are we actually trying to build a fair and just democratic system, or is that just a delusion of neoliberal exploitation by the few?
But this is the nail in the coffin:-
“When I’m in the USA I am part of the privileged class, a white male heterosexual. But I’ve lived much of my life in places where being white meant not being in the privileged class — 4 years in Kenya and 11 years in Japan. So while I can’t claim to know what it’s like to be Black or Latino or any other brand of non-white in the USA, I do know what it’s like to be an immigrant and a racial minority in other societies. As such, my sympathies generally lie with those who don’t get the privileges I am accorded when I’m on American soil.”
I cannot talk about Japan although privileges not afforded white people here in Thailand are not that much of an imposition – despite any racism. In Africa I was amazed that after centuries of colonial imposition how well I was treated as a white man. There were disadvantages, sure, animosities from those whose families had suffered greatly under colonialism, but little more than minor suffering. I lived and worked in Southern Africa for 6 years, social factors are similar to Kenya.
For Brad to equate the loss of his privileges in Japan and Kenya with the systemic disentitlement for Blacks and Latinos in the US (explained here) or UK shows a deep misunderstanding and a lack of transcendence. I could tirade but there is no point – it would only be my emotion as this is not being read by the person concerned.
This last Bradblog has put the nail in the interaction. It is interesting that he is so close to my family home and yet the result of this blog process is that I have unfollowed him. At least he brought me to Zen.
Archive for the ‘Zen’ Category
In “returning to love” Marianne Williamson talked of her “ego-death” in this you-tube clip (3.30 mins). In the recent blog on Miracles,I saw this ego death as temporary, and that ego has rebirth throughout life. Despite there being transcendence, which can be so powerful, it does not mean that conditions for the ego don’t arise again. We require constant awareness to see that after transcendence we do not attach to ego, through fear, new mindsets etc. Fortunately we have the tool of meditation to help keep our minds clear.
In my life there has been an ongoing oscillation between inner and outer emphasis. Do I focus on the spiritual, how much am I involved with the political? 100% awareness on both is ideal, both of which I am far away from – such might well be Nirvana. The transcendence might well occur dramatically as it did with me but developing awareness is ongoing and requires work; the battle to control ego, desire and attachment is equally ongoing however powerful a transcendence has occurred. It is a sense of recognition of this battle that made me quit study of ACIM, it is not fear of the power but control of the ego.
Making judgements about others is dangerous as one can never know what is in their heads; it is hard enough to try to know oneself with all the information that you have available to understand. So when it comes to considering someone else, making judgements really ought to be a no-no. I make an exception to this, an important exception, and that comes to my studies. Whilst I always try to learn from within, there has to be a tendency to adopt the mindset of the teacher in order to help understand. This is especially so when you are starting on something new. Understanding Soto Zen and Shobogenzo is such a new venture for me, and previously I was using Brad as a teacher but this is “written Brad”, the Brad that I read in his blogs and books. There is no personal contact, no feedback, only the written word. This is not a good situation, this is a statement of what is and not a criticism of Brad. When I see the lack of political transcendence and a degree of racism in the “written Brad”, the weak situation gets worse. Politically I cannot accept his mindset, and therefore spiritually I have doubts; perhaps that is better. To understand Shobogenzo I was intending to read Brad and maybe then look at Shobogenzo, now the emphasis has to be on Shobogenzo.
Buddhadasa talks about ongoing rebirth, especially with paticcasamuppada; Marianne’s use of the term “ego death” has helped me understand that a little more. Many Buddhists believe in reincarnation, and cite references in the suttas to support this. Buddhadasa did not accept that the Buddha advocated reincarnation. In the Kalama sutta the Buddha asks that we do not accept anything unless we can internalise and understand it as truth. Reincarnation falls into this category, how can it be proved, and it is my understanding it is considered one of the Buddha’s unanswered questions. Buddhadasa suggests that the reincarnation the Buddha is referring to is ego. Through kamma (conditions) ego arises and is attached to, but if we let go then there is ego death. No ego is permanent no matter how strong that ego feels. Perhaps the strongest ego we feel is the one of our upbringing. Society conforms us through education and upbringing, and this conditioning is very hard to break through – breaking through is described as transcendence in this blog. But that is not the end of ego arising, and we have to be continually aware. Whilst it is much easier once we have transcended to recognise and release ego, in some ways it is more difficult because egos that then arise are so much more subtle.
In my own past such egos have been numerous, the most obvious was the addiction to alcohol. In retrospect I do not understand how I could have deluded myself into accepting the drink. At a similar time I did not demand sila of myself. In transcendence I felt I had developed a soul that guided me. In discussion with others I saw their morality as being based on a rational justification ie reasons for conduct, whereas I trusted that my soul guided my conduct 100% truthfully. This was ego. Such a soul had some substance, a substance that I would now ascribe to sunnata and insight, but that substance I considered had some form of permanence. It was akin to notions like Self. Now I know it was an ego, an ego that I have now released. Another ego I repeatedly get trapped in is mindsets, or better described as insights that I later cling to as mindsets. When one experiences an insight it is so powerful, it is almost as if each new insight recreates the world. Once such light bulbs take hold, we experience Eurekas like any good Archimedes. But they are only thoughts that we need to let rise and fall away (unless they qualify as scientific principles!!), but because they are so powerful to us we cling to them. I regularly have had to remove the clinging of such insights, remove their egos. When I look at all the things I know I should do on a daily basis but don’t, I know that there are still many egos in play. Am I doing the best I can? Ego gets in the way, attaching to wrong conduct etc.
What I have said concerning Marianne Williamson is an observation that if it ever comes to her attention is up to her to discard etc., for me the decision has already been made when I was studying ACIM. Maybe if I returned to ACIM I could learn more, but I would rather work with teachings that I can trust – as explained I cannot trust ACIM.
As for Brad (as opposed to Marianne) my evaluation is for a different purpose because I had intended using his books for study as I do his blogs. I read this tweet of his “You’ll never be completely happy with it, or completely comfortable with it or completely satisfied with it. So why waste time complaining?” An ego part of me would like that it referred to what I have written – I would always welcome communication, but I will take it as synchronous. I know I am not complaining because making a complaint implicitly carries with it a hope for change. I am making criticisms because they matter to me and it is some form of evaluation as his being a teacher for me as described above. Such criticisms might form the basis for change if he so wished, that is up to him. But for me they are evaluations, and also learning points – I learn from the interactions. In this last case I have specifically learned about transcendence, and have realised the connection between spiritual and political transcendence. It is not a complaint that I see a shortcoming with regards to this political transcendence, it is a judgement with regards to the teachings. If I am to use “written Brad” to learn from, I must be clear what I can and cannot accept.
In the tweet there is the use of the word “completely”. The way that is written implies an over-reaction to minor differences (taken as on my part). In this blog I suggested that I would be too definitive if I demanded the Occupy view. But the failure to understand the power relations, in my view, contributed to the racism that has caused division.
Whilst I fully support Brad’s efforts to move away from the sutta quoting into day-to-day practical interpretations of the teachings, there is a danger of alienation. Hence consideration of “complete agreement” is a fair warning. But a good person cannot make racist comments, whether institutional or not. Whether Brad likes it or not, his words as a monk are under some form of microscope, and whether he likes it or not he is judged accordingly. There has to be circumspection.
7 years ago there was a disagreement with a monk who having read Tony Blair’s autobiography wrote that he understood Blair’s going into Iraq. At that time, and now, I could not accept Blair as anything other than a warmonger doing the work of the 1%. Despite Chilcott’s weak response, most now accept that Blair should not have taken Britain to war, that monk was out of step with most people. I commend that monk, now, for his attempts to be real, to apply the teachings to daily life, but he was deluded by a spin doctor, a man whose way of life was to lie and deceive. A monk cannot allow such deceptions or the monk will lose respect and people will not follow their interpretation of the teachings. Their lifestyle makes monks self-reliant but when it comes to understanding the ways of the 1%-system they need advice.
I still don’t know where I stand with Brad, but I am not as keen to study his books. Yet Dogen was not easy, and I can relate to Brad more.
Shobogenzo apparently usually begins with Bendowa, and is about meditation. In Zen meditation is called Zazen, and the method of Zazen is described in Fukanzazengi or here, and discussed in Ch2 in Brad’s “Jerk”.
I must first note that Brad describes what he follows as Buddhism, this is somewhat of a surprise to me. There are a myriad of Buddhisms, and within those Buddhisms there are disagreements, so for Brad to describe his Soto Zen as Buddhism is divisive – whether I agree with Shobogenzo or not. But for someone who lives his life as a Buddhist speaker, reference to this type of correctness is conceivably tedious as those who are listening to him are probably his branch of Zen.
Whilst always being attracted to the real-speak of Brad it was when I read that Buddhadasa promoted Zen that I got into it more. Having done so, once I had got into practising Zazen I looked into Shobogenzo. And when reading Bendowa I was attracted to the letting go of mind and body so reminiscent of Buddhadasa’s “removal of I and mine from the 5 khandas”.
I was already hooked on Bendowa – had not really read past it, and then Brad applied the “jerk” filter to that chapter. What grabbed me was that part of Bendowa which apparently is known as Jijuyo Zanmai and is “bradded” on page 4. This has helped me clarify meditation for the time being.
Because of the method of Zazen we have right concentration. Zazen makes us stare at the wall, and keep bringing the attention back to staring at the wall. This is just concentration – plain and simple. It reminds me of Dharma Dan whose meditation was using the breath as object and then focussing on extending the stage after breathing (stage 1 in, 2 hold focus, 3 breathe out, 4 hold focus) where there is just concentration.
I cannot recall there having been insight during my zazen. This is interesting in two ways. It shows things are not right yet. And it shows that maybe it was not right insight under the old method. I did not use breathing as an object of meditation – the usual vipassana object. Once the daily grind fell away, sometimes insights came – give link. Today in Zazen I kept thinking about the problem with my teeth as well as this blog the insight for which I had days ago.
Reading Jujiyo Zanmai [p4] brought some clarity but care needs to be taken. Jujiyo Zanmai is translated as “the Samadhi of Receiving and Using the Self” [p2], and here the Self refers to the whole universe of the quote above. There is an anatta issue here – no self. The Self is not personal, it is not I or mine. This “Self and self” issue is raised much with Hinduism, theosophy and that part of Buddhism influenced by it. For many Self becomes confused with the personal, perhaps that bit of Gaia or Unity that is apportioned to the person whereas anatta of Buddhism clearly talks of no self. Because of the capitalisation there is a clear intended difference (from self), but it is still open to misconception. Knowing anatta first helps understand this. There is an interesting meditation I occasionally used – breathing in sunnata – emptiness. I sometimes feel that the focus is a block – I am doing it wrong, but today I moved to natural focus moving away from focus that could conceivably be mind; receiving and using sunnata could be an alternative to this.
“Real Buddhists all say that zazen is the best thing ever” [p4]. This paraphrase is typical of Brad’s approach as a good number of Buddhists would not know what zazen is, possibly even some real Buddhists. However the intent is very straightforward – you must meditate. I met online a number of Theravada intellectuals who could not meditate, I surmise that attachment to the intellectual sankhara (khanda) got in the way. The only exception to the need for meditation is the one Buddhadasa put forward, that maybe there would be someone totally naturally in harmony and automatically receive the truth – conceivable?
Perhaps the most important is an understanding that comes from “If one person sits zazen, being right in body, speech and mind for just one moment, the whole universe enters this state”. I think of the whole universe entering this state as being a form of insight, or vice versa.
Brad talks about enlightenment – not a word I like. He has a specific meaning and it refers to this “whole universe entering this state”. This can happen for a moment, and any description falls short. I don’t mind this although I would prefer not to use the word “enlightenment”. This tends to obviate claims of enlightenment such as Adyashanti or U G, or maybe knocks on the head claims of enlightened being with implications of permanent enlightenment. “So-called enlightenment experiences are not the finishing line” [p8] leads me to think that this Brad enlightenment fits in better with enlightenment as jhanas rather than enlightenment as nirvana. Whilst I don’t understand all that is spoken of jhanas, the jhanas that I know are of deep insight, bliss, the muse presence etc – discussed here link to blog. Maybe the different levels of jhanas could reach up to the level of the whole universe entering. “And what, bhikkhus, is right concentration? Here, bhikkhus, secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enters and dwells in the first jhana, which is accompanied by thought and examination, with rapture and happiness born of seclusion. With the subsiding of thought and examination, he enters and dwells in the second jhana, which has internal confidence and unification of mind, is without thought and examination, and has rapture and happiness born of concentration. With the fading away as well of rapture, he dwells equanimous and, mindful and clearly comprehending, he experiences happiness with the body; he enters and dwells in the third jhana of which the noble ones declare: ‘He is equanimous, mindful, one who dwells happily.’ With the abandoning of pleasure and pain, and with the previous passing away of joy and displeasure, he enters and dwells in the fourth jhana, which is neither painful nor pleasant and includes the purification of mindfulness by equanimity. This is called right concentration” [Samyutta Nikaya 45, as part of a description of the 8-fold path]. As in the quote bliss or rapture happens with jhanas, however the bliss is not to be attached to. This “enlightenment” that comes with right concentration of zazen is also not to be attached to.
The “whole universe entering” is not explicitly said in Theravada, but is very interesting. It adds to understanding of synchronicity and coincidence, and helps explain Unity “…. and receives the imperceptible mutual assistance of all things in the entire universe” [p4]. I am less likely to have a car accident or break my wrist if I am meditating!!
Attaining experience (jhanas) through concentration is meditation. What if you don’t get an experience? Keep going, zazen does you good. Just keep doing it.
As mentioned in the last blog I have just moved house and am ready for the next blogging phase, and that is trying to relate what I know as Buddhism with Zen – specifically Shobogenzo, the basis of Soto Zen. My efforts at Shobogenzo leave me feeling his Buddhism as unrecognisable yet every so often Brad throws in the 5 khandas or some other Theravada staple. To get at Shobogenzo I am going to read Brad’s “Don’t be a jerk”.
I am in total agreement with Brad’s approach, let’s use everyday speak to discuss, let’s relate to the everyday world and daily life. For me Theravada is like theory. Typically Thai people diligently pop off to the temple on Uposatha days. Equally diligently the monk delivers an appropriate theoretical (Therevada) sermon, and the people go home satiated. But no change has occurred, and one cause of that lack of change is that the sermon was couched in language that is not everyday, did not relate to the daily experience of the attending Thai people. A bigger cause is of course that these same Thai people, however devoted they are, do not meditate; thus they are unlikely to have a mind ready for change.
Everyday speak requires a right view, the first of the 8-Fold Path. What is Right View? One answer, typical of Theravada, might well be Buddhism with meditation – within its context a sound answer. But this does not bring with it a requirement of social understanding and practise, in fact for many Buddhism is detached from a socio-political view – to such an extent that there are people who have established Engaged Buddhism requiring of Buddhism that it attempts to effect change. My observation of these Engaged Buddhists is that they are leftward leaning.
It is however the detached Buddhism that I want to begin by examining. This approach allows all people of all political views to be accepted as Buddhists. Does this approach have right view? In Thailand the rich contribute much to the temples, and this of course is welcomed by the Buddhist hierarchy, but is that money tainted by ill deeds? All religions have this problem because they are forced out of politics by their own hierarchy or by laws on charity (charitable money not being allowed to be given to political organisations). This approach supports the status quo, and that status quo includes war and poverty.
It is necessary to move beyond the status quo, accepting the status quo is not a moral option. This is right view. But then we have a difficulty with right view, what is the right view of society whereby a Buddhist might attempt to effect change. I would suggest there are two caring views that might well be considered acceptable views.
The first view I will call the Guardian view. This view is leftward leaning but does not require a major change in outlook. We live in a trading society in which a few extreme individuals are exploiting others and if we continue to promote good works society can change for the better. This view looks at our neo-liberal system with its Veiled electoral democracy, and works within that system.
The second view I will call the Occupy view. Occupy has a radical agenda that requires the system to be fixed. There is a major change in outlook needed, basically seeing society controlled by the 1% and finding non-violent ways of wrestling control away from the 1%. It is the 1% influence which prevents society from developing in a more humane way – preventing society from changing for the better. The 1% promote the neo-liberal system of Veiled democracy whereas Occupy demanded a proper democratic system – not an electoral obfuscation – where policies are genuinely accountable to the people. Occupy seeks system change.
Both these views see that the problem lies with individuals who are exploiting, and one could argue that the differences between the Guardian view and the Occupy view are minimal. I would contend that this is not the case, and the keyword is influence. It is this pervasive influence of the 1% which affects everyday actions that is not recognised by the Guardian view. That view feels that change can occur by good works whereas the Occupy view would say that the power of the influence is stronger than the good works of so many.
I am tempted to call the Occupy view the Right View but it is divisive to do so. Buddhism does not seek division, it seeks deep consideration and analysis. I would suggest such analysis would include a careful understanding of the differences between the Guardian view and the Occupy view whilst recognising that the current approach of accepting the status quo is not moral – the current approach is effectively supporting the war and poverty that exists in the status quo.
Firstly Brad does not accept the status quo – the detachment that promotes theory (typically Theravada), however I would contend that Brad leans towards the Guardian view. In the introduction to “Don’t be a jerk”, Brad discussed science. In this he had a pop at those who dismissed science because science offers us so many benefits. Everyday science however is particularly susceptible to 1% influence. Science cannot proceed without research funding, and this funding is only given where profits can be seen – at the moment primarily technological research. Contrast this with the independent research carried out by Seralini into GMO products. This research can be individually assessed here , but here is sound research independently funded that counters the GM products of Monsanto. It was originally published in established scientific journals but because of its conclusions was withdrawn under the influence of Monsanto. For me science does not move forward based on insight, scientific creativity, and Nature’s search for knowledge but it moves forward based on 1% influence using funding as a means of control. To see what is happening in science it is necessary to take a detached dialectical review of Guardian and Occupy forces in play. The individuals that suppressed the Seralini study used a system that enhances their influence.
Whenever I read Brad this issue of Right View comes up. Unashamedly I see the Occupy view as more the right view whereas I feel Brad is much more Guardian. First and foremost Brad makes Buddhism real – everyday. However in his social analysis Brad leans to the safer Guardian view, and far too often I find it necessary to put the Occupy view to what he says. Buddhadasa says Buddhism is about the removal of the 5 khandas from I and mine. This is timeless, but our view of society cannot be so absolute. Applying sila to the socio-political arena and coming up with a right view is difficult and must be attempted and taught, but it is fraught with difficulty for monks vis-à-vis the Theravada monk I knew who in attempting to be everyday ended up supporting Tony Blair. At the time I thought it was wrong of him to be involved with politics because monks (certainly Theravada) live in cloisters. Now I feel he was right to try to be everyday but his analysis and view fell a long way short. By being everyday he was breaking the mould of Theravada monks, and this is to be lauded – I have changed on this. When it comes to the right view of society monks need to seek advice, cloisters are not a good place to judge society from.
When I first thought of this blog I thought it was momentous – not so sure now; it is the second blog that comes from this Bradblog. This blogentry became more than I conceived and I thought of changing the title to “the revolution of removing thought addiction” but …. Maybe this is momentous.
The Buddha “started to see that the way his thoughts had been framing his experiences were not right. …. He saw that it was a mistake to habitually believe his own thoughts.” Where did the Buddha’s thoughts come from?
“As anyone who has ever tried to give up cigarettes or alcohol or even coffee can tell you, habits are hard things to break. Our addiction to believing our own thoughts is more powerful and more difficult to overcome than being addicted to heroin or any other addictive substance you can name. So this process was not very easy for our man Buddha, nor has it been easy for anyone else who has ever attempted.” Thought addiction, what is it?
Brad’s blog is timely , and it very much connects with my blogs on feminism concerning culture and conditioning. And it connects with what Buddhadasa said about “removing the I and mine from the 5 khandas”.
Let’s start with the khandas – sankara. Sankara are thoughts and where do those thoughts come from? Culture and conditioning. Once our culture conditions us we think that those thoughts are “mine”. We think we are our thoughts as Kant proposed “I Think therefore I am” – extended to I am my thoughts. But Kant’s proposition was misguided because those conditioned thoughts create a framework in the mind, and we attach to this framework – attach to the khanda sankara. The longer we hold onto this framework the more addicted we get and the harder it is to think clearly and free ourselves from the traps of culture and conditioning.
In his blog Brad described what the Buddha did when he solved problems. “Buddha sat with this problem for a long, long time. But, unlike most Western philosophers, he didn’t try to think his way through it. Instead he quietly observed life as it happened to him.
“He realized that his thoughts were just a part of what was going on, and not even a very significant part. So he chose not to focus on them. He let his brain do whatever it needed to do, but he didn’t try to use his thinking mind to determine the answer to his questions about the nature of life.”
We are educated into using the thinking mind, this is our culture and conditioning. Our mind is filled with ideas on different subjects, our exams require us to concentrate on these ideas to reproduce them in exams, and this concentration reinforces the framework. Our conduct is controlled by our parents who conform to society, and we become conditioned to do what society wants.
There ought to be nothing wrong with this culture and conditioning. Whilst we should always apply an enquiring mind to what we do, having a conditioning culture ought to mean no more than living together in harmony. But underlying the culture that we live in is the 1%-system, a system that is designed to profit the few and puts their profits before people. As a result our culture creates issues concerning class, gender and race, and when we mature enough to develop the enquiring mind that starts to unravel conditioning we become a threat to the power bloc, its greed and its shameful exploitation.
Our system’s thought addiction is powerful. Not only must we overcome the addiction that is attachment to the khandas but we also have to overcome the social pressure engendered by the 1%-system.
Yet there is a plus to this 1%-exploitation. Because of the oppression of the 1%-system the exploitation starts to make us aware of the lack of truth and the level of injustice. This awareness provides an impetus for our awakening, an impetus for our recognition that there is an imposed framework of culture and conditioning, helps us detach from the 5 khandas, and propels us into a mature lifestyle that frees us from the impositions of the cultural framework of conditioning.
This shows us how important meditation is in terms of social change. By sitting and observing we see what is. We observe our own cultural conditioning, we see it for what it is, and we can free ourselves from it. But as Brad says it is thought addiction, and addiction is hard to break. Having faith in whatever Buddhism is is not enough. Becoming addicted to the dogma of Buddhism is still thought addiction – just a different framework. Without a methodology of removing addiction there still exists the framework that we are addicted to, the framework of thought that has now been replaced by the dogma of Buddhism, the dogma of Ickeism or any dogma. It is enquiry, seeing what is what, that frees us from addiction, and that enquiry has as method meditation.
Meditation is freedom from thought addiction, meditation is liberation, it is the revolution that is not violence. Of course such a revolution only works as a mass movement when there is genuine meditation for all. It is disappointing that so many meditators do not see meditation for the revolutionary tool that it is. Meditation is a way of life but it is not an end in itself. Through meditation we see what is what, and can then begin in our daily life to create change around us. Of course if we choose not to see what is what, typically choose not to see the 1%-system, that meditation lacks true vision, and we accept slavery perhaps in a more profound way. If we accept slavery by not freeing our minds to genuinely see all of what is what, then we evade the responsibility that comes with awareness, that comes with awakening, that comes with maturity.
This brings us to an institutional danger. Institutions such as Buddhism that require finance have an inbuilt need not to see all of what is what. They require finance, the finance of the rich, and choose not to see where that wealth comes from. The institution avoids that aspect of meditation that brings awareness of politics because that awareness taints the very institution itself. The people who provide the greater proportion of the finance of these institutions are the very people who need to change because they have the greater power and influence in the 1%-system. Yet the institution is compromised. Meditation becomes compromised not seeing what is what, but seeing what is expedient to see. Seeing peace has connected with it a violence, a violence that has upheaval because our level of exploitation is so unjust. This is the consequence of thought addiction.
Meditation is the methodology of liberation but it can also be a tool of enslavement if we choose to avoid seeing all of what is what and allowing some thought addiction that is convenient – compromised. Meditation is a means of liberation but it can also be a means of enslavement if it still contains thought addiction. Focussing on the breath means we are not holding to anything, zazen focussing is just that and addictions just fall away. We are left with seeing what is what, and if sufficient people are doing this we have revolution.
From a recent Brad blog I am picking up two things. The first here concerns Buddhism in general, and how westerners have taken to Buddhism.
I am always amazed why Tibetan Buddhism is the most popular branch of Buddhism especially in the US. Richard Gere springs to mind and Robert Turman is well known. Perhaps it is because HHDL targets the west. There’s all the drumming and dancing, and all the revisions suited to Tibetan culture and history – of little relevance to westerners. Briefly I got involved with the New Kadampa Tradition in Manchester. The people were very nice and welcomed me especially as I had just returned from Tibet and had visited Ganden monastery, a place of significance to these people. I went to a Tibetan mass in which all the participants recited a litany. It was the first time I had come across the name Dorje Shugden, and later found out that considering him a teacher was dividing Tibetan Buddhism. I had a nice break at Coniston Priory, and that was the last I had to do with them. For me Buddhism requires enquiry – not faith. Good luck to them, as with all faiths mixed with compassionate practice it made these people better.
Tibetan is so ritualistic and focuses on reincarnation more than the others. It demands faith to such a great extent. Brad says “This is especially true when it comes to American Buddhists. Lots of folks in my home country got into Buddhism specifically because of its teachings about reincarnation, particularly those espoused by Tibetan Buddhists. They do not like anyone questioning their beliefs.” For people who learned at the Church of Reason such ritual and faith seem counter-indicated.
Theravadan seems much more in line because there are so many western intellectuals attached to it. For an approach whose adherents often eschew reason there are so many people who bring reason to the table of Theravada.
I tend to think of Mahayana and Zen as different although Zen strictly, I think, is part of Mahayana. I think Zen is much more readily acceptable to westerners because it becomes all things to all people. I think commitment to true Zen requires much commitment to practise (Zazen) but I also think Zen is better suited to the armchair phenomenon common in the West, in this case armchair Buddhists. But Zazen looks to let mind (reason) and body drop away, not particularly suited to the Reason advocates that profligate in the west because of miseducation.
“It’s too bad so many Buddhists have ruined Buddhism. You can really learn a lot by following the examples folks like Buddha and Dogen left for us.”
Brad recently wrote a blog “Can meditation make you morally perfect?”, I was amused to read this after my recent blog on Kohlberg – put up today written a week ago. I used the word sila as moral integrity, and it can be seen as moral perfection. The similarity with what I describe comes with this quote from Dogen “Trying to obey the precepts is a hopeless task …. They found they could not obey the precepts by their conscious efforts so they worked on the problem from another angle. They found that when they practiced zazen every day their lives became simple and clear. They found in fact that they could not disobey the precepts.
In our life we must make our decisions moment by moment …. When we are `right’, our actions will also be right. When we practice zazen we resume our original nature—our Buddha-nature …. We find ourselves in harmony with the Universe at every moment. In such a state it is impossible for us to break the precepts.”
I like this.
However I want to look at this in a different way, and it is something that has become clearer to me since moving from Theravada. What prevents the harmony, what prevents “acting with sila”? And the answer is khandas, normally we are preoccupied with dealing with the problems caused by the daily mind. When we are consciously trying to follow the precepts, we are using this daily mind – we are using that which prevents us from acting with sila in the first place. If we do not use the daily mind, if we use what I have recently been calling zen mind then it is natural for that zen mind to act with sila.
There are intellectual objections to this approach. This comes in what I think of as the intellectual ego or intellectual clinging. The intellect is part of the daily mind. When we meditate what causes all the chatter? The intellectual mind arguing with itself. The intellectual mind believes it has the answers so therefore it believes it can chase the precepts. As with Kohlberg it is as if moral man is a consequence of rational man. There is another maxim (my own?) that the totality of something is more than the sum of its parts, total morality is more than the sum of the reasons.
Similar to this last is the culprit of miseducation (as exemplified by Brad’s contrarian). Kohlberg’s model describes a development of morality based on the increasing use of reason. I personally dispute this using what I called the mature model. In maturity we develop a harmony with Gaia, and living in this harmony has an inbuilt sila. Yet our miseducation (as with the Kohlberg model) requires morality based on reason. When sila is not based on reason we have the moral objections and justifications such as cults etc. But the contrarian does not raise the objection that there are so many people with supposedly highly-developed reason in academia and some in government who do not act morally. I still feel as stated in myKohlberg blog that reason is used to justify morality as opposed to creating morality through rational criteria. In defence of Brad’s approach of zazen being sila, his actions that were not associated with his “jerk” could easily be justified morally after the act – if required to do so.
Living as sila does not require reason it requires being in harmony through zazen.
I tend to feel that there are many issues in society caused by promiscuity. This is intentionally vague as it is so difficult to describe what is promiscuous, and equally it is hard to describe problems whose source is lust.
I can only understand lust in one way – from my own experience of lust and the sex-drive. I would not assess my own experience as being typical nor would I say all men are the same. Nor would I say the sex drive of men is the same as the sex drive of women.
In traditional communities a teenage girl’s sexual needs were repressed, some such communities requiring virginity as a prerequisite for marriage. This tends to be associated with chauvinist societies. In the West now I feel that the fashion is for promiscuity on behalf of both girls and boys. As a boy I grew up just feeling the need “to get my end away”. Without going into more detail than that as I don’t know whether anything can be generalised from my personal experience, this “getting the end away” had no love attachment, and was simply an idea that satisfaction could be obtained sexually with any woman. Now it appears that “hooking up” is the feeling that satisfaction can be obtained physically by both men and women. Both “”getting the end away” and “hooking up” are promiscuous, and I consider dangerous because of the issues that arise.
I do however feel that discussions of sexual conduct need to be increased and dealt with in a more serious manner. My own sexual education was predicated on a shameful titillation culture, typified by “Carry On” films. As I went to a boys’ school I had limited contact with girls, and was completely ill-equipped socially especially because I had a huge shyness. My knowledge of where society perceives sexual conduct should be has come from observation when being a teacher, observing gender interactions over the years. It appears that people grow up and it is hoped they don’t get into too much trouble. In my view so many problems arise from sexual relationships, and this lack of appropriate guidance is reprehensible.
The real problem lies with sila, we are not societies guided by moral integrity. Compassion and sila should have been what guided my relationships, not “getting my end away”. Unfortunately I only got to see that later in life, possibly when the lust was waning. It is often accepted that mothers shackle their daughters but fathers tend to encourage boys to “sow their wild oats”, such male irresponsibility is a disgrace. Whilst I would prefer to see an end to promiscuity I do not envisage that as a possibility, however responsible parents and other responsible adults ought to do more than insist on prophylactics – they need to insist on compassion and sila. In sexual matters there is limited discussion, limited compassion and limited sila, it is not surprising that many young people begin life in trouble.
Spiritual leaders need to see the importance of exemplary guidance on sexual matters because of all the problems caused in society by the limitations discussed above. I support the idea that monks should be celibate and not homosexual. This at least demonstrates that monks can control their lust, showing lay people that they do not have to be driven by these urges. Many spiritual teachers are monogamous although before such relationships they were vulnerable and so therefore was their message.
All Buddhisms have a form of precept which refrains from sexual misconduct, so I do not know how Buddhist teachers can accept of themselves sexual liaisons with women attending their talks. There is no doubt they bring disrepute to Buddhism. Here is a comprehensive list of teachers who have allegedly misused their position and brought Buddhism into disrepute (note this list includes more than sexual allegations) :-
By their very position of being a spiritual teacher such people have accepted an authority and responsibility. We do not expect school teachers and lecturers to take advantage of students, whether legal or not, it is even less acceptable amongst spiritual teachers. Equally it is not acceptable for schoolgirls to flirt with teachers, so it is not acceptable for students to flirt with spiritual teachers. But in both cases the responsibility of control lies with the teacher, both in school and in spiritual relations. Unfortunately in both situations there are vulnerable women, vulnerable schoolgirls and vulnerable spiritual students. It can never be acceptable to take advantage of vulnerable people, and all teachers should be aware of this sila imperative.
In the US a group of teachers of Buddhism put out a statement, I would welcome more of such.
On the View on Buddhism page the writer noted that HHDL advised students to confront these teachers. One such teacher was Sogyal Rinpoche, and HHDL has publicly supported that teacher since the allegations have arisen. The writer made a note that they still study Sogyal’s teachings. As soon as I read the allegations I stopped studying him – discussed here (there are pertinent comments). I thought then as I do now, if there is doubt that a teacher cannot conduct themselves properly how can s/he have understood the teachings?
“The Buddha remained silent when asked these fourteen questions. He described them as a net and refused to be drawn into such a net of theories, speculations, and dogmas. He said that it was because he was free of bondage to all theories and dogmas that he had attained liberation. Such speculations, he said, are attended by fever, unease, bewilderment, and suffering, and it is by freeing oneself of them that one achieves liberation.” Taken from Wikipedia.
If asked what type of Buddhist I am now, I will answer Zen, but if asked which Buddhist dogma I know about and the answer is Theravada – I am in transition. So when Brad Warner talks about the existence of life here, I immediately react by saying that the Buddha considered it an unanswered question. In the above wiki quote, which I find consistent with what I have studied, it basically says that the question doesn’t lead anywhere, is headbanging and doesn’t help. Perhaps zen takes a different view. Consider koans, they are headbanging. And they lead somewhere in the sense that they unhinge the intellectual mind allowing truth in. Would zen consider the unanswered questions in a similar vein – “koanic”? I would like help in resolving this issue of zen and the unanswered questions.
One important point about unanswered questions is that they can never be proven, and to accept one or other theory or dogma concerning any unanswered questions means accepting something that cannot be proven. In the Kalama sutta, a Theravada sutta – is it accepted by zen/Mahayana?, the Buddha says you have to know for yourself – that is the proof. For me this sutta was important in considering all the discussion of reincarnation. How can I prove reincarnation? I don’t accept it, many Theravadans do – amongst others including some Mahayana and zen? Reincarnation is covered by unanswered questions.
Buddhadasa, a now-dead Thai monk, discusses reincarnation when considering consciousness (vinnana) one of the 5 khandas. “In Thailand the Hindu teachings came here first, way before Buddhism came. When the Hindu or Brahmanistic teachings came, they brought this idea, this teaching, of vinnana in the sense of the soul or spirit that inhabited all kinds of things, not just people but trees and rocks – all over the place. All things had this spirit, and when the body died, that thing died, vinnana would go to be reincarnated. This is a Hindu teaching which existed in Thailand long before Buddhism came, and it was very firmly and deeply implanted in the Thai religious culture. So later when Buddhism came, everybody already had this Hindu understanding of vinnana, and so many people have been unable over the centuries to understand the Buddhist teaching of vinnana. It must be understood in light of the central teaching of Buddhism, anatta, that is that in life there is no self, no soul and no spirit in the Hindu sense; Buddhism denies that there is any such thing (self, soul or spirit),” [here and scroll]. He considers Thai belief in reincarnation as Hindu, and as many of the western Theravada monks have trained in Thailand – Forest Sangha, this “Thai-Hindu” thing has become a Theravada thing.
So to life as an “unanswered question”. Buddhadasa uses a device to examine the suttas in which he talks of truth and relative truth (truth in daily life). With regards to life I try to understand it in a similar vein. There is Unity, One life that I often refer to as Gaia; I specify that Gaia is not just the ecology of earth but Gaia includes all lives (relative) including humans. We are all One. In description of life there is a theosophist phrase that Annie Besant uses that “there is consciousness in every atom”, similar to the Hindu view of vinnana. Every atom is part of Gaia. Because of the schism of knowledge into religion and science I feel science rarely has anything to offer on such matters. Whilst science demands proof as discussed above with the Kalama sutta, science does not accept subjective experience and the empirical proof of meditation. However in this case (quoted in Brad’s blog) the scientist has come up with an interesting comparison. “Consciousness resides … in the microtubules of the brain cells, which are the primary sites of quantum processing.” Without getting into the question of mind and brain, this is similar to what Annie Besant says. However it would have to be if we accept the universal description of life as Gaia.
As to relative truth this is more the question that Brad is asking. The relative truth says that Brad and I are different lives – separate beings. Then there is life animals, bacteria, microbes and other small stuff. The smaller you go the harder it is to establish the meaning of life, but as the universal truth of Gaia there is no separation, no unity, only One life – and all is alive “universally” but not relatively.
Science works on an unwritten axiom, and acceptance of this axiom leads to many of the problems to do with the separation of scientific knowledge from other knowledge – such as insight or zen. That axiom is that we are separate beings as opposed to the Unity – Gaia. Science does not see ant but separate ants and wonders how they communicate. But as part of Gaia there is no need for such an explanation. In Brad’s blog the quoted science has all subscribed to axiom of separation, and so can only determine definitions and conclusions within the realm of relative truth.
With universal truth of Gaia Unity or ONE planet there is no need to be confused by that – there is existence of ONE life.