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.
Posts Tagged ‘BradWarner’
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.
In the last blog I discussed Brad’s blog on cultural appropriation.
I am now prepared to make statements concerning black people or culture
Here is an old chestnut that I am still prepared to comment on. I hate the use
This use of the word “nigga” by black people falls into a wider category of inappropriate usage that is worth considering. The global 1% system encourages self-deprecation within groups as a means of divide-and-rule repression. Perhaps the most obvious example is the “Beyonce” approach – and I do not choose Beyonce because she is black but because she is a woman. In this argument I use Bell Hooks for support as she discussed it here – examined in my blog here. Beyonce is a beautiful black woman who takes advantage of her beauty in her career and to increase her own wealth – she is a talented singer as well! Her image, and the consequential implication that chauvinist society could make of what a successful woman could look like, adds to the pressures BigFashion exploits. When I examined the issue of woman and her body, I became aware of how much a woman’s body is exploited by BigFashion, and how there are serious consequences of such exploitation such as the death of Karen Carpenter (anorexia), and the image problems that Jane Fonda discusses including bolemia. Such image issues are a consequence of a chauvinist society and in the view of Bell Hooks and others Beyonce contributes to this. [For balance I should note that in the (black women’s) panel where this wasdiscussed Bell Hooks was in the minority.] It helps the 1% system for black people to use language such as “nigga”, language that appears deprecating to some white people and despite the black ownership described above enables some white people to misuse the term, and for these reasons I am against such usage. But if black people choose to do so I accept it however much I dislike it.
Bearing in mind this background on cultural appropriations (please note I do not consider Brad’s description of Buddhism as cultural appropriation as discussed in the last blog), I have to point out that I missed this on the first time of reading “It’s a clever way of justifying racism in the guise of being anti-racist”; this omission was an important error. When it comes to racism in white cultures such as the US or Europe, in my view the response by black people to the racism of these cultures of itself ought not to be called racism. There is the maxim “Prejudice + Power = Racism” that needs to be understood in this context. In response to the historical racist treatment that prevails in white societies there has developed responses such as the use of the term “honkie” [again I have to note that my understanding of these issues dates from the 70s and 80s as I have not lived in white society since 1992]. Whilst on an individual level the experience of such personal prejudice is both uncomfortable and sometimes violent, it has to be understood that, within the context of the power of the racism of white society, negative personal responses by black people are those of prejudice (a prejudiced reaction) however distasteful they might be. In the context of the facebook quote (in this Brad blog) “No please white American dude ….”, if this is written by a black person please examine what I have written in the last blog on cultural appropriation. But even if that is disagreed with, I suggest to Brad that the facebook quote only contains prejudice and not racism.
The effect of 1%-power that underlies our society is something I have repeatedly discussed – see Occupy view – when examining Brad’s work. In terms of race issues that power becomes the racism of white people, to give parity (implied in this quote “It’s a clever way ….”) on a systemic level shows a limitation of understanding – a Guardian view. As for this:- “(Cultural appropriation) says that cultures and races should never mix — that “white people” should only like “white people” stuff, that “black people” should only like “black people” stuff, etc. “Some time in the 80s I watched a TV special made by the Ku Klux Klan. Their claim was that they didn’t think “white people” were necessarily superior, just that the races should not mix. The idea of “cultural appropriation” says pretty much the same thing”. In my younger days, Brad, I would have described this as racist. It makes me angry enough to question whether monks should stay in cloisters, at least there they then have an excuse for what can only be described as “ignorance”. It is time, Brad, to make the effort to learn from black people why cultural appropriation (in its proper context) is an issue, and study why anti-racists use (used to use?) “Prejudice + Power = Racism”.
This racist comment creates a division for me – I always knew there was something there but had tried to avoid it; if the facebook quote was from a black person, I would suggest that s/he also recognised racism in Brad but in my view applied that awareness in the wrong place. Previously I have tried not to be contentious with Brad because I think his approach is so important for monks in general. But monks need to listen to lay people over issues that their own cloistered lifestyle and beneficent awareness makes it difficult to understand. Marx talks of the alienation that comes from wage-slavery, and the awareness that follows from that alienation. You have to feel the powerlessness of wage-slavery to deeply understand what sort of system we live in. I have avoided being definitive about accepting the Occupy view because such definitiveness is divisive but racist comments are far more divisive and racist comments cannot be tolerated. If Brad’s liberal or Guardian view is unable to transcend to an understanding of the power of the 1% and the pervasive influence of that power in all areas of society, if Brad is unable to listen to those who have made this political transcendence, I have to question whether he truly has the right to be a monk out of cloisters. I don’t know where I stand on him – his books – at the moment. A great disappointment.
Brad, there is an obvious indicator. How can it possibly be acceptable to use the KKK in support of an argument when discussing race? Isn’t thinking the same as the KKK a wake-up call? What mistake in your thinking enables you to agree with them? An emotional block?
Maybe I can learn from his Buddhism and ignore his ignorance. Previously I thought Brad would be the last person I would say that of. Maybe monks can never make that political transcendence because of their lifestyle and awareness, maybe they belong in cloisters leaving lay people forced to earn a living to apply the theoretical understanding of Buddhism to daily life. In cloisters it appears to me that monks do not experience the reality of daily life (I would include here monks such as Brad who live in the wider community). Through meditation their minds become sharp, and with that sharpness they apply this to analysis of their meditation. They apply this same sharpness to daily life but their experience of daily life is not the same as that of most people. Most people work within a hierarchy of business or institution in which compromise is the byword. Policies based on profit established at the top (influenced by the 1%) become everyday realities that people are forced to adhere to. Consider people who meet monks. They are not there to demand compliance with policy, they go to learn about Buddhism and hopefully apply zazen. These people live with the realities of wage-slavery and can readily understand the power of the 1%, but in meeting monks they are seeking understanding in a completely different reality.
How does a monk then judge the Occupy view? I used the term political transcendence above (discussed in a later blog). I am specifically describing the jump in understanding between those with the Guardian or liberal view, in which there is hope that good action can bring about meaningful social change, and the Occupy view in which much more radical means are described in order to bring about change. The difference is a question of intention, the Guardian view thinks that things are going wrong but good action can make it go right, the Occupy view recognises that the system is there by intention and has to be radically altered. Why would a monk want to be associated with those who seek a violent overthrow? And yet those people would have an Occupy view. When a monk meets the good side of people it is so hard to see the reality of what they are forced to do in their daily lives because of compromise. From the times we are born we are taught to live with compromise within ourselves. We become at ease with compromising, and when we meet people such as monks who seek right action from us we genuinely see ourselves as trying to be good and naturally convey this to a monk. How can monks see the truth about us when we don’t see the truth in ourselves? I seek people who have made a dual transcendence, the spiritual transcendence of those who have moved from the sankara-khanda, analytical intellectual minds, to insight, and the political transcendence in which liberal reactions to injustice transform to the Occupy acceptance of neo-liberal oppression. Perhaps that is too much to ask as people usually go one way or the other, spiritual or political.
Brad has just written another blog purely on zazen. Previously I would have read this without any doubt but if after years of zazen he can still have such a wrong view on race I have no confidence. The end of Brad for me????????????? And I’ve just bought his books, and planned to study “jerk” and Shobogenzo in parallel!!
Brad wrote this blog in response to an accusation of cultural appropriation. The Buddhist theme of the blog is one that I support, but I would also ask if what Brad did fits in within the category of cultural appropriation.
Firstly Brad described Buddhism as a “religion” that examined the approach that enables us all to be “Buddhas”. It is my understanding that at the root all Buddhisms accept this, so how can it be considered religious appropriation?
Secondly I do not consider that a religion is a culture. Religious practices might make up part of cultural practice but on its own I would not consider religion a culture. Therefore in my view description of a religion as “cultural” is a misdirection, how culture applies to Buddhism is discussed below.
I want here to discuss “western” Buddhism, and I have previously felt that there is appropriation going on there. Let me expand, but first I need context. There is what the Buddha taught. Theravada believes they go back to the source, and that others, such as Zen (including the Soto Zen of Brad), are all revisions. But there are even doubts about the Theravada claims because no-one wrote down when he was saying (no tape-recorders!). Theravada justifications that they follow what the Buddha taught are based on the integrity of oral transmission, and that is maybe 50 years after his death. If you read what Brad describes in Bendowa from “Don’t be a Jerk”, what travelled to China and then Japan cannot be rigorously supported. And if you read his opening to Chapter 3 on the Heart sutra, there is even less rigour for such an important work. If you describe Buddhism as what the Buddha taught, it is very hard to be definitive.
But the problems don’t stop there. If you examine the way Buddhism is practised in the East you have great differences, I personally describe these Buddhisms as cultural. There is a kind of underlying Buddhist ideology connected with what the Buddha taught, and different cultures apply that underlying ideology within their own cultural framework. Hence we have very different Buddhisms practised in Tibet, Japan, Thailand and Sri Lanka. I have seen Tibet and Thailand at first hand – I live in Thailand, and to be honest I find it hard to recognise it as Buddhism. Yet Thailand is proud to call itself a Buddhist country, and I would not dispute that – nor even judge the statement.
To suggest that there is cultural appropriation of Buddhism anywhere is not appropriate.
I noted in the Bendowa blog that Brad is guilty of describing his own Buddhism as Buddhism. At the time I noted that it might just be habit, he speaks to audiences interested in Soto Zen, it would be tedious to continually refer to it in the correct manner of “the Buddhism he follows”. If it is not out of tedium then it is arrogant and inappropriate. We all make a decision as to which aspects of Buddhism we consider the truth for us, it is natural to then call that Buddhism. But if we cannot see that there are multifarious Buddhisms and cannot show tolerance to them, then the question of tolerance and arrogance has to arise.
When I think of western Buddhism I do feel there is arrogance. There appears to be an intellectual abstraction process that goes on in what I perceive of western Buddhism. Intellectuals examine the cultural practices of Buddhism, abstract the culture from the process and then decide this is what Buddhism is. This is the intellectual arrogance I refer to. I believe this intellectual arrogance is at the root of what is loosely known as western Buddhism. And this type of intellectual arrogance is common within academia, and I am not surprised that someone might refer to it as white Buddhism with some truth.
Because of what I will be saying I do not feel Brad is doing this. I surmise that Brad has studied Soto Zen in Japan, has been a part of bringing it back to the West, and has been so immersed in his own version of Soto Zen Buddhism that he has developed an approach that says his version of Buddhism is Buddhism. I further surmise that his single-mindedness that his sect’s version of Zen is Buddhism is a sin of omission rather than arrogance.
I therefore disagree with the assessment that Brad’s “white Buddhism” is cultural appropriation as asserted in the facebook quote “No please white American dude ….”, but ….
And it is a big BUT I feel there is so much more to the facebook quote and response, and this is significantly worrying and discussed in the next blog.
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.
Brad wrote a blog based on a book by Chuck Klosterman “But what if we were wrong?” The book asks the question from the perspective of future man looking back. I haven’t read the book, doubt if I ever will but very much like the notion of questioning. Questioning is most essential in any learning and any form of spiritual life. I would normally be interested in such a book of questioning but then Brad quoted some questions and I didn’t see deep questioning. The first question that future man would have to ask is “Why did they allow so many wars?”, and if future man is not dominated by corporations “Why did they allow corporations to create these wars for profits?”
I liked this quote about Buddhism when Brad advised against Chuck being a Buddhist “If he ever did get into a form of Buddhism that wasn’t totally corrupted by religiousity or drowning in academic stuffiness, he might find it very appealing. And if he ever started writing about Buddhism his book sales would sink to the level of mine, and he’d have to go back to writing for the Akron Beacon Journal.” The issue of the lack of book sales is not about Buddhism, it is about marketing. If Brad found a mainstream publisher and was willing to be paraded like a stuffed dummy to meet ….. , he might make more sales. If he wrote for profit he might make more money. Tom Clancy, or mainstream galaxy shoot-em-ups with Godzilla. It is the truth that makes Brad’s books unmarketable (or unwilling to be marketed). I do not know why Eckhart Tolle was successful, after Oprah I know why. End rant.
For me what was interesting in this blog was his discussion of intelligence especially his experience at the Tokyo park bench. “I can recall a moment around 15 years ago when I was sitting on a park bench in Tokyo eating my lunch. I was watching some crows strutting around the park looking for food. Suddenly I noticed that the very same intelligence that looked at the world through my eyes also looked at the world through the eyes of those crows.”Immediately after he wrote “It’s very difficult to write a good, watertight, rational kind of explanation for why I knew this to be true. …. It even sounds dopey to me and I know it to be true.” Brad, do you expect there to be a rational explanation? It frustrates me to see this type of quote. The explanation is not rational, it is beyond reason as Dogen says (paraphrase):- reason drops away in zazen. This truth is about Unity, about Intelligence that is Unity, you know it is truth, why be ashamed of that truth – dopey? True thinking is not normal thinking or why would the world be in such a mess? There is a huge question that I wonder whether Chuck Klosterman asks “Why do we assume that we are separate beings simply because our bodies are separate?” There is wisdom and tradition that talks of this Unity yet that wisdom is ignored. Does Chuck ask “Is it wise to ignore traditional wisdom of centuries?”
“This insight seems to be connected to my Zen practice, but it’s difficult to say just how.” For me it is one understanding of Vipassana meditation that the purpose is genuine insight. Since doing Zazen I feel that the purpose of meditation is this genuine insight. Buddhadasa was always keen to stress insight, and I have a feeling he liked Zen because it didn’t bother with the proliferations that abounded in his own Theravada tradition.
“None of my teachers ever told me anything like this. It’s not part of Buddhist doctrine. At least not as such. But if I go back and read some of the older Buddhist writers with that insight in mind, some of the stranger things they said start to make a lot more sense.” This issue of Unity is commonplace but I suspect that perception comes from my background. My first dogma approach to this stuff came from theosophy, and then a fusion of Hindu-Buddhist teachings until eventually I reached Zen.
This is worth considering so we can understand intelligence “Intelligence isn’t a function of the brain. It isn’t contained there. The complexity of a creature’s brain doesn’t determine its intelligence.
“It (BZ The brain) does determine how that creature is able to use its intelligence and what it can focus its intelligence on and to what degree it can maintain that focus. So there are huge differences between creatures (and non-creatures).”
Brad obtusely referred to measuring intelligence for comparison. At present we don’t measure our own intelligence. What we measure is an ability to do IQ tests or their equivalent. These tests are created by academia, and as such would obviously rate academics with high scores. Academia, being the lynchpin of the Church of Reason, is not going to see intelligence as beyond reason. When we examine the intelligence of dogs or other animals we are familiar with, we tend to ascribe human behaviour to the animals, and once ascribed value the animal as intelligent because it mimics human behaviour. The most intelligent lion I ever saw was one who sat on a chair under a tree on the edges of the desert smoking a pipe.
Brad mentioned the book by Zen Master Seung Sahn on “Only Don’t Know”. I have not read this but it seems to me that we have to unlearn our conditioning, and then be in a state of permanent enquiry into what we experience and what we are told.
Brad wrote about Orlando.
I am not immersed inside US culture but I was seriously irritated to read his acceptance of “the winning gun lobby”. I assume his acceptance is true, and that is the irritation. I hope he is wrong.
I want to consider the framework of his discussion. Perhaps there are assumptions within his piece but his focus on second amendment rights frustrates me. First and foremost the sale of guns is a business, it is important not to lose sight of this. In our 1%-world facilitating selling is fundamental, the selling is the power, the dominant factor, the driving force, the motivation – all else follows.
Compare this with the discussion on morality, what teacher Gudo said as discussed in Brad’s blog here. It is not the justifications of morality that allows us to follow the precepts – this is not possible, we must be true to ourselves (through zazen); reason is secondary. Socially I feel this applies in this case. There are powerful companies selling guns. Everyone knows that using guns is a major social problem but the selfish people that sell want their profits – all along the sales chain. Reasons that appeal to certain mentalities exist but these reasons are not the source – not the motivation.
There are people who adhere to the rights, and there are people who are constitutionalists – a set of ideas backed by power when it suits. These situations are a sideshow because they can be debated, and have adherents. But see the underlying truth. Children, minorities and others are being killed so the gun companies can make a profit; this is the power and truth – and not the hazy justifications. Focus on this greed, this inhumanity, this murder for profit.
As an English person I can compare. Despite a strong lobby to control gun sales in the Third World the government is too controlled by the munitions industry, and the sales continue. The people are violent and in times of struggle that violence increases, an MP has just been shot by the loony right (with links to the US right), this violence is typically shown with the increased racism at the moment. If guns had been part of our personal history, the arguments would be the same – fortunately history was not the same on this issue of personally bearing arms. The driving force is not the morality but the demand to sell by a powerful gun lobby. Playing around in the sideshow diffuses the issue and allows the culprits to escape.
For info “The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
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 have just read Brad’s latest blog on psychedelic zenand I completely agree with him in the way he was riled up “One of the things that never fails to get me riled up is when I see some guy in a set of Buddhist robes advocating the use of psychedelic drugs as a way to study the dharma.” For me these dressed-up guys do not understand the dhamma and precepts, how can you look at and understand your mind when they have been perverted by drugs? My drug of “choice” was alcohol, and when an alcoholic it used to come up with all kinds of justifications for my actions. If you are justifying drugs spiritually then you are not justifying it in terms of what I call Buddhism.
But I was more interested in this article concerning the hoops Brad runs through as a Zen Monk. First of all I am not a monk so do I have right to criticise?
Anyway!! “This is why it’s extra super important when you put on the robes of a Buddhist Master to be really careful what you advocate. I have deep regrets about some of the stuff I’ve said myself in the context of being a Buddhist teacher. People listen to that shit! It’s scary!”
As a retired teacher I would say that as a teacher you should be conscious of what you say, and as a Buddhist priest and teacher even more so. “But at least I usually avoid saying such stuff while wearing a set of formal robes. Those robes take every damned thing you say and turbo-charge it. This is why lots of people who wear the robes stick very closely to tried and true formulaic stuff. In fact, my personal policy with the robes is to wear them only when performing rituals. I feel like they’re kind of dangerous things.”
What makes Brad interesting is that as a Buddhist teacher he does not hide behind the restrictions that most monks constrict themselves with. Theravada something I have looked into a bit is typical of this. Even followers use a format of quoting suttas, and express all in terms of suttas and Buddhist terminology. Whilst this does allow a high level of investigation eventually – once enough is understood, it is restrictive – and in my view prevents a certain level of introspection.
Brad, putting on robes does add centuries of study and experience to comments you make. Becoming a Zen monk also adds centuries of study and experience to comments you make. When you draw a distinction between robes and civies it concerns me. For example when you write this blog, are you “wearing robes”? When you write your books are you “wearing civies”?
I believe with all such things, Buddhist monk or otherwise, there is a public and private persona. If I am a Republican politician and I am sat at home and telling a friend that Donald Trump is a complete megalomanic dickhead who is a global danger whilst throwing darts at his picture, I have a right to do that without anyone knowing or hearing of it – private persona. But once I go on record in whatever form, blogs books interview, whether I wear a suit or am in casual dress, that is public record, and I am accountable.
It is my contention that a Zen monk has only two personas, the public and private one. To suggest there is three by adding the wearing of robes is wanting icing on the cake – seeking a way out. Should a zen monk be doing anything or saying anything in public which they cannot be held accountable for?
My interest in Brad is that he addresses issues other monks do not address. I feel monks should be addressing these issues. I have a feeling that amongst some monks they are afraid to address issues and hide behind robes, suttas et al. By seeking an additional category of “wearing civies” as perhaps denoting less accountability brings doubt on what has been said. It is important for followers to have confidence that what has been said and written is 100% wearing-robes Brad, and not 90% civies-wearing Brad.
I am hard-nosed – sorry, comes from being a retired leftie trade-unionist teacher.