Posts Tagged ‘Buddhism’


Posted: 01/07/2016 by zandtao in Meditation, ONE planet, Zen

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.”

Books:- Treatise, Wai Zandtao Scifi, Matriellez Education.

Blogs:- Ginsukapaapdee, Matriellez.

Mindful Ignorance

Posted: 19/09/2013 by zandtao in Insight, Struggle
Tags: , ,

Upbringing is a belief system, it is the dream that is imparted by your society. It includes all that education offers, it include the customs and mores of a society, and it can also include its religion. Enquiry wants to break the totality of this belief system so that we can see the truth that lies underneath, so that we can experience insight; this is an enquiry that usually comes with a process of meditation.

However fear and ego are clever in the way they misuse upbringing. Once the process of enquiry begins then upbringing is questioned, as it should be. Then there is fear of the truth, and unless that process of enquiry is backed up with insight there is no strength to counter that fear of truth, and the ego will seek ways of returning to the upbringing – returning to the original dream.

It is interesting how this package of ego fear and upbringing can fit together, and how belief systems can work with it. Remember a belief system is a set of ideas, and they can be ideas that appear to be the truth. But when those ideas are not found through insight – they are ideas of intellect, these ideas can easily be approriated as part of the dream.

I met someone whose mind resisted enquiry; her upbringing included chauvinism – a pride in their country, something that is instilled through education. I was able to demonstrate that there were weaknesses in the chauvinism through enquiry backed up by rationale. This was because at the time the person trusted my little insight into Buddhism. However they did not develop the insight necessary to give real strength to that development through enquiry – they were unable to develop a meditation routine. Then they discovered a Buddhist belief system that fit in with the chauvinism and that allowed them not to pursue enquiry. The belief system with its lack of emphasis on enquiry and insight has rekindled the upbringing. The dream that was the upbringing was developing leaks, but the belief system which was created by a member of the society has blocked those leaks and has brought the person firmly back into the dream of the society.

This remembering of the upbringing process has been happening for a while, but it came home to me yesterday. She had met someone whom she had helped but who continually attacked Thailand – conflicting her chauvinism, this sort of attack is not uncommon amongst the expats. She was extremely surprised when I said “why doesn’t he go home?”; this is also what the chauvinism of her upbringing says. But she said I said the same thing as this expat, and her changing belief system was filling the leaks of the enquiry that I had tried to build in her and she had equated me with this complainer. She had not remembered the enquiry and the rationale, she only wanted to return to the chauvinism because it was comfortable – she could remain in the dream. And the tool she was using to do this was an intellectual version of mindfulness. Instead of the mindfulness being 100% awareness that started deep within as insight, this was a mindfulness that was brought in to reinforce the chauvinism. When enquiry threatens the belief system opening people up to the possibilities of the truth, there is an emotional reaction, maybe anger or frustration, leading to personal discomfort. In this case I surmise that this is anger directed to me because I am the source of the enquiry. Positively mindfulness calms the anger, but if misused it can ignore the enquiry. So this intellectual version of mindfulness ended up protecting the dream, protecting the upbringing, and protecting all that is wrong with that upbringing espcecially the chauvinism. This is disappointing, and could possibly lead to a break in contact something practically I don’t want. I have to stop introducing enquiry into the chauvinism.

And then horror of horrors I realised what this intellectual process of mindfulness had done, it was a false practice of mindfulness used as mindful ignorance to protect the upbringing, the dream. This is the Land of Smiles, and what is happening behind the smiles? The chauvinism wants to reject any criticism of itself so when there is criticism there is a process “mindfulness, focus on mindfulness, don’t get angry, stay calm”. This sounds good, eh? Keep calm. But what isn’t happening? Listening and learning. As soon as the chauvinism is under threat, in comes the mindfulness and out goes the listening. This is not mindfulness but mindful ignorance – horrific. Thailand has much to talk about that is positive, but there is much chauvinism that is negative. I stay here because the positive balance suits me as compared with what happens in the UK – and elsewhere. In the UK there is their own version of mindful ignorance – indoctrination. This indoctrination is much more dominated by the corporatocracy, but the justifications that British people use to describe what is better with their own lifestyle under austerity are getting more and more tenuous. I make the comparison only to clarify that Thailand has its advantages, but there is chauvinism and there is racism, and there is mindful ignorance where deaf ears are turned onto the truth. There is never an excuse for not listening. And mindfulness cannot occur if there is not enquiry and there is not truth. I am absolutely certain that the monk who described this mindfulness did not have the intention that his focus on mindfulness would be turned to mindful ignorance but from what I have read of his work there is not enough emphasis on insight and enquiry, so mindful ignorance is a likely consequence. Judge for yourself – Phra Pramote.

This issue of mindful ignorance masquerading as mindfulness has been troubling me. I could not leave it alone. It was only when I meditated that it became clear. I had focussed this understanding of mindful ignorance on the chauvinism I had met, on the way in which her practice of mindful ignorance had returned her to the dream, her upbringing that incuded chauvinism. But this is not where the problem ends in Buddhism. Removing Avijja, ignorance, is one of the key elements of Buddhism, so why is there so much debate about being Engaged? In our daily life Buddhists should be at the forefront (not necessarily leaders) for any movement for change because that awareness of global suffering comes with mindfulness. But I do not mean this in a “ranting and raving” intellectual sense. Struggle is calm, it is natural, it stems from recognition of suffering, it stems from the calm acceptance that there is suffering, it comes from a recognition of the origins of suffering in the mind, and that cessation of suffering comes through the good practice of magga – 4 Noble Truths. But in that practice there is compassion, and compassion means the end of suffering, and to do that action is needed. This is mindfulness, and leads to Engaged Buddhism.

But what if we become selfish and see this mindfulness only in terms of our own suffering. We feel our lack of calm daily, our minds suffer through interactions with others who are also suffering so we want to calm down. And along comes a monk who teaches us mindfulness. So whenever something disturbs us we use mindfulness. Sounds great until you ask the question “Does truth disturb us?” And that is the crunch, how can we be mindful if the truth disturbs us? Mindfulness as mindful ignorance has come to be used as a tool mindful repression, we choose to repress dissent because it causes personal suffering. For some it becomes easier to accept the norm, the dream, and when truth comes along we use mindfulness to repress it – “mindfulness, focus on mindfulness, don’t get angry, stay calm”.

This is even more horrific than I had originally thought because this is a problem endemic in the religion. Buddhism teaches mindfulness. But sometimes this mindfulness doesn’t have to be mindful of the truth. Mindfulness as removing avijja can be rephrased as learning about the suttas, learning about abhidhamma, learning about all kinds of mental proliferations. Mindfulness can fill the minds with endless ideas and theories and Gods and stuff, depending on which version of Buddhism you accept with mindful ignorance, and this mindfulness never gets to see the truth.

So we must start to look at the teachers of Buddhism – the monks. At one stage I had contact with a particular monk, and I began discussing that contact here. Eventually there became a dissociation because the monk believed Tony Blair. In some ways this monk was moving in the right direction, but his approach was wrong. Primarily the function of the monk is to meditate and then promote the teachings. This monk recognised there was a need for engagement, this is positive but monks cannot know about engagement unless they had been working in daily life before ordaining. Monks who have lived in cloisters cannot know the issues of daily life as their lifestyle is bought and paid for. This means there needs to be a symbiosis between the monk and lay Buddhists in which the monks learn the meaning of engagement. This monk’s mind had deluded him that he could be aware of life outside cloisters by applying his dhammic mental training. Equally lay Buddhists have to know that they cannot understand the dhamma without having the time to be in cloisters to devote themselves to the practice. This is a lovely dilemma, without the symbiosis between the teachers and daily life there can only be avijja.

Books:- Treatise, Wai Zandtao Scifi, Matriellez Education.

Other blogs:- Ginsukapaapdee, Mandtao, Matriellez.

Chinese Mountain Monks

Posted: 25/08/2013 by zandtao in Education, Insight

I am reminiscing brought on by watching this movie “Amongst White Clouds” about Chinese Mountain Monks. 2002 was a wierd work year. For the academic year 2001-2002 I was working in a Middle East school. This was the second Middle East school I had been in, and was promised by the management that they were supportive of staff – anyone who was working in the Middle East at that time knows that non-Arab peoples are considered indentured workers but teachers are well paid indentures. But the biggest problem is that kids of the wealthy generally run the schools, this was why commitment by the management to the staff support was so important. But additionally for me at that time it was needed because I was asked to bring in a new maths curriculum. Because the management lied I ended up in confrontation with the kids, I saw the conflict growing but was determined to persevere knowing that the administration had promised support. I should have known better than trust management and I was sacked.

What has this to do with Chinese mountain monks? My next job was in Chengdu, and their academic year started in November, basically I had 6 months between contracts. I spent some time in Turkey on the way back to the UK to see my parents, and some time in Thailand on the way to the contract. But mostly I was in the UK, and China fascinated me – the Orient always had. I began reading all China, not least of which was Jung Chang’s “Wild Swans”. I began to love the strength of these tiny women. I spent some time that Summer in Harnham, and the Abbott (LP Munindo) told me he didn’t read much – compared to me he thought – but that John Blofeld had written a fascinating book about times with Chinese Mountain Monks “My Journey in Mystic China: Old Pu’s Travel Diary”. I don’t have this but here is one similar – referred to in the movie. By the end of that Summer I was greatly looking forward to China, envisaging a long stay there. Silly me I forgot about the crazy teacher careerists.

My trip out to Chengdu was strange. I was going via Copenhagen, and there was an announcement “would anyone like to stay at the local Hilton and we will pay them $400?” After a bit of hesitation I volunteered, stayed two nights, greedily failed for a third, and had my holiday in Thailand paid for. The airline had overbooked, apparently it is common place to book 110% (whatever figure) as there are always cancellations. This time there weren’t, and I got a free holiday – flight paid for by the job and the holiday paid for by a statistical anomaly.

Needless to say all the fantasies about China’s monks did not materialise. I took a trip up to the mountains one time, I think it was Xiling skiing resort, not to the mountains of these monks. I was the only louai on a Chinese minibus tour, so by the time I arrived I WANTED TO BE ALONE – because of who I am not because of my temporary Chinese friends. I walked away from the ski resort up the mountain, but I was careful – mountains are mountains. Whilst I didn’t follow any paths I could clearly see the skiing village. Famous last words. The clouds came down and I lost sight of my haven. Still only a few kms. I walked down the mountain expecting to reach the road – no road. I walked further and began to panic, walking faster. In the UK I had bought a high quality RAB anorak for the Chinese mountains, but I was hot and tied it round my waste. I continued walking through the scrub, and suddenly the jacket wasn’t there. Rushing thorough my mind a night in this and the jacket would keep me warm, now no jacket.

And here is the wierdest. After a long time I met the road, nothing to see either way. Coming down the mountain and meeting the road I should have turned left to walk up to the skiing village. But turning left led me down the valley. Many years before in the Ardennes whilst reading Castaneda I had learnt never to be fooled by “civilisation” and its tricks when you are out wild. Common sense told me I needed to walk up to the village so I turned right. Within 1 km there were people sounds and soon the village. Somehow in that walking I had got completely turned around, to this day I don’t know how. Fascinating, cost me a £150 coat.

I liked China but it was such a different culture. The students were great but the teachers were some of the worst careerists I’ve ever encountered. I hardly scratched the surface my year in Chengdu, but because of the teachers my time was cut short.

If you’re interested in Chinese Mountain Monks the movie “Amongst White Clouds” will interest you, it is not riveting. If that is your way to learn give them a go, I am sure they will accommodate serious students.

Books:- Treatise, Wai Zandtao Scifi, Matriellez Education.

Blogs:- Ginsukapaapdee, Mandtao, Matriellez.

Anatta in Buddhisms?

Posted: 20/07/2013 by zandtao in Buddhadasa
Tags: , , , ,

Investigating anatta in Buddhisms ….more on Buddhadasa page

Blogs:- Zandtao, Mandtao, Matriellez.

Discussing the 5th agreement and anatta ….more on Buddhadasa page

Blogs:- Zandtao, Mandtao, Matriellez.


Posted: 30/06/2013 by zandtao in Buddhadasa, Insight
Tags: , , , , , ,

Instinct creates self….more on Buddhadasa page

Blogs:- Zandtao, Mandtao, Matriellez.

Exploring the khandas

Posted: 02/06/2013 by zandtao in Buddhadasa
Tags: , ,

I ended the last blog with “Can anatta result from an intellectual approach or from a belief system?” and in this I look to begin an answer….more on Buddhadasa page

Belief Systems and Theravada

Posted: 02/06/2013 by zandtao in Buddhadasa
Tags: , ,

Theravada seems to attract those who like to proliferate belief systems, can anatta come from this? ….more on Buddhadasa page

Awakening – more on how I see UG

Posted: 18/05/2013 by zandtao in Insight, ONE planet
Tags: , , ,

I am interested in UG’s life, and am continuing reading his book “The Mystique of Enlightenment” downloaded from Holybooks. In truth I am still reading about how he came to his “enlightenment?”, and I have not read what he says about the process. I am interpreting what I read. This is not a good practice because it is distanced from the truth in two ways, what is written about a person is not the person and how I interpret what is written is not the person either. It would be clearer if I use UG-Z to make this distance clear. I am much happier using UG-Z. I don’t know the guy. He claims spiritual leadership, who am I to describe his spirituality? This UG-Z is just my version, effectively a set of characteristics drawn from what little I know of his book and his life – the characteristics UG-Z.

My world was rocked when at 22 I hit the bottom of a bottle and climbed out onto the Path. Once I came out it was a fascinating time, a time of exploration I will never forget. It was particularly good for me because it was the early 70’s, and the western world was still teetering a bit after the questioning that came in with the hippy generation. My Path started in a climate where young people could question – not as I perceive now where young people expect to be straight-jacketed in careers as soon as they leave education. This questioning led me to an Arts Centre where I began Scifi writing – Wai Zandtao, a short trip round Europe where I exlored inside for the first time – in a cottage in Belgium, it was a turbulent time but a time of discovery of the Path and therefore a time of great wonder – and a sense of enjoyment. I consider this hitting bottom at 22 a time of awakening, still having much to learn – as I still do. I was not a person with sila, far from it – for a short while in my later 20’s I measured my enjoyment by promiscuity – having a number of relationships on the go. Fortunately this did not last long, but it was a time of exploring influenced by the drink; after this awakening whilst my Path had started I had not eschewed the drink – that came some 13 years later. Awakening does not imply morality – sila, I still allowed defilements – kilesa, the self was still indulged – not anatta. In no way can this awakening be described as enlightenment – as far as I see the terms? I have not had such a powerful awakening since but I have had powerful experiences and different awakenings such as the current one revolved around the teachings of Buddhadasa – not a turbulent awakening at all but important. I almost used the word “powerful” because in a sense it is powerful as it is revealing much, but it is not the sort of power I associate with awakenings so the word was not used.

This is an article by Brad Warner that presents such discussion clearly:-

“The relationship between wakening and morality all depends upon how you define “awakening.”

A lot of people, especially nowadays, define “awakening” as a kind of experience. Much of what I see in contemporary magazines, books, websites and suchlike does. The spiritual master in question has some kind of profound experience that zaps his consciousness and then he/she goes out to tell the world about it.

There are plenty of examples of this. Genpo Roshi justifies charging folks $50,000 just to hang out next to him based on a profound awakening he had while on a solo retreat in the Mojave Desert some time in the Seventies. Eckhart Tolle claims to have has a grand awakening that enabled him to write a bazillion selling book and charge tens of thousands of dollars for lecture appearances. Shoko Asahara had a massive download from on high that supposedly made him the new Buddha for the modern age. The list goes on and on.

It all goes back to a certain reading of Buddha’s life story. The most common telling of it has Buddha meditating under a tree for 40 days at the end of which he had a deep awakening experience that turned him in one moment from plain old Siddhartha to the legendary Gautama Buddha. Sort of like how Japanese superheroes like Ultraman and Kamen Rider transform in a flash from regular human beings into giant bug-eyed alien monster fighters.

But experiences like that do not necessarily have any direct one-to-one relationship to any kind of moral maturity or sensibility. They’re just experiences. Like getting into a car crash or seeing a UFO or having a near-death experience. There’s no specific moral content to them.

People tend to forget that Siddhartha engaged in various practices and worked hard on himself for decades before his awakening. It happened in an instant. But the ground had been prepared for a lifetime, dozens of lifetimes if you believe those stories.
On the other hand, “awakening” of the type that occurs as a sudden peak experience, is just the conscious realization of the underlying ground of all of our experiences. It’s not that something new happens. It’s just that we notice what’s really been going on all along.

It is possible to have this kind of experience without properly preparing oneself for it. Sometimes a severe trauma like an accident or illness can do it. Sometimes drugs can induce it. Some so-called “spiritual” practices are designed just to cause these kinds of experiences to happen. Sometimes nothing seems to induce it. It just sort of happens.
In cases like those, the experience is still genuine and can still have value. But there’s no real basis for it, no real ground for it to land on. As I said before, the ego can latch on to absolutely anything — including the realization of its own illusory nature — as a means to enlarge itself.

These so-called “awakenings” do contain a sense that we are all intimately connected, that we are all manifestations of the same underlying reality. But the ego can latch onto that and make it something terribly immoral. It can decide that since I am you and you are me and we are all together, it’s fine if I fuck you over or lie to you or cheat you or steal from you because ultimately I am only doing that to myself. And what’s the problem if you do something to yourself?

It’s dangerous to point this kind of stuff out because there is a whole multi-billion dollar industry based on the notion that these kinds of experiences transform ordinary people into spiritual superheroes. But they don’t. Not in and of themselves. Becoming a moral person is a matter of transforming one’s habits of thinking and behavior. That is not easy to do. It takes time. It cannot possibly happen instantaneously no matter what sort of experience one has. An “awakening experience” can often be helpful in making a person more moral because it provides a new way of understanding yourself and others. But it doesn’t necessarily work that way.

This is why it’s very good to have a teacher who can help you through these kinds of experiences. It’s good to interact with someone else, or if you’re really lucky a number of other people, who have gone through these things. When, on the other hand, people have these experiences and then end up surrounded by admirers who want to gobble up the power such an experience confers the results can be disastrous.

So, yeah, the people you meet at a Zen temple ought to be at least decent people. And most of them are. Cases like that of Joshu Sasaki, Genpo Roshi, Eido Shimano and so forth are exceptional. They’re not the rule. You don’t have to be a genius to spot people like that either. It’s always obvious. Just don’t allow yourself to be blinded by fantasies of magic miracle men.

The foregoing is why Soto style Zen training tends to emphasize moral grounding and balance much more than the gaining of “awakening experiences,” so much so that one is often told it’s not important even to have such experiences at all. Dogen says this many times in his writings. Most teachers who followed in his lineage also say this. Which isn’t to say that Soto is good and everything else is evil. It’s just one of the things that really attracts me to the style I have practiced much more than any of the others out there, even though those others often sound a whole lot sexier.”

Reading this raised an interesting question for me concerning the Buddha. Brad refers to the Buddha awakening under the Bodhi Tree, was he enlightened then if he ever was? For the sake of this discussion I assume he was an enligtened being. As Brad says he was grounded before his awakening, and after he was awakened he lived a moral life. I make a further assumption for the sake of argument, in his post-awakened life he lived a life of anatta, and it is this totality that made him enlightened – not just his awakening, but the assumed fact that he lived a life of anatta afterwards. Was the awakening actually part of his enlightenment? For me this places the words awakening and enlightenment in context, and I like Brad’s description that in Soto Zen awakening experiences are not valued. I am also pleased to see that in Soto Zen sila is emphasised as sila esp 4NT is not something I associate with Zen.

So back to UG-Z. His awakening was huge – a world-stopper, he describes it as a calamity. Let’s examine the build-up to UG-Z’s calamity. He was born into an Indian family who expected him to become enlightened for some reason. What those expectations did to UG who knows? He then followed this ego/self for years trying to be what his parents wanted him to be, what might be described as “seeking enlightenment”. This wasn’t a gentle seeking, this was a full-blown commitment to all kinds of spiritual practices, years with J Krishnamurti, and then a progress towards hitting bottom as he rejected all his striving. This led to a period of immorality – in describing his awakening he said “Let’s go to a strip-tease joint, the ‘Folies Bergere’ or the ‘Casino de Paris’. Come on, let us go there for twenty francs.” Not actions of sila. Is it then surprising that when UG-Z did awaken the experience was so deep, so profound, so earth-shattering? He had clung to this parental version, searched for enlightenment, hit bottom, and then had his awakening – calamity. So much bottled up to come out. The UG-Z I characterise went through an aggrandised process of awakening that was exacerbated by parentl pressure and social expectation to such an extent that his self had been blown up out of all proportions and he came down with a bang.

This is upadana – clinging to self. This brings up the question as to whether an awakening is necessary. Suppose someone is brought up living naturally, no self involvement, no expectations, just getting on with it. This ideal does not have any clinging to I – no upadana. This cannot happen in the western world of education where self is educated so vehemently. Conceivably a desert island, an isolated community or some such idyll, but of course primitive communities have their own ego and self-advancement. And the spiritual world with all its seeking – very little chance. Of course there are tremendous works to study, and there are people who have great knowledge but with all the seeking and ego there is only a build-up for a calamatous awakening if it does happen. Reminds me of a recent chat concerning meditation. This person had stopped meditating because there had been no bells and banjoes. I tried to tell her that meditation brought happiness in a gentle and pleasant way in daily life, meditation helped. Not sexy, eh Brad?


Posted: 11/05/2013 by zandtao in Buddhadasa, Insight, ONE planet
Tags: , , , ,

I call myself a Buddhist but do I believe in Buddhism? …. more on Buddhadasa page