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Archive for the ‘Buddhism’ Category

From Atheist to Buddhist (Part Two)

Posted by spritzophrenia on November 12, 2011

I think we need to talk to each other about our spiritual lives. Even though we may respectfully disagree, I believe that peaceful co-existence of all religions – including atheism – depends on this. Hence every now and then I feature interviews or guest posts on Spritzophrenia. You can find other interviews here.

A while back Jared Cowan of To Hold Nothing shared about his journey from Christian to Deist to Atheist. Here is part two where he talks about his adoption of Buddhist beliefs:

If I tried to label my current beliefs in some specific way, the words that come to mind are secular, Buddhist and spiritual, in that order of priority.

Being secular doesn’t mean I outright reject religion and say it must be eradicated (technically anti religion), but regard it as something not for me, since I find fulfilment in things that we all share as human beings, as part of the whole world, outside of a temple, the “profane” beings we are born as, only becoming sacred by experience. I believe learning about all the good and bad things in life would enrich our lives a great deal. I can understand people’s religious perspectives as a religious studies’ major, but I don’t agree with them as truth or explicit reality, but simply interpretation through perception. You and I may perceive that a person has a “miraculous” recovery from cancer. You might be inclined to see the supernatural in it; I see the paranormal at best in that it is unexpected, but not absolutely unexplainable by scientific principles and methods. In this way, I am secular because I hold science and sophia (wisdom in the philosophical sense that Aristotle noted) in higher respect than the sacred and supernatural (I love alliteration, don’t you?).

anime buddha

Being Buddhist might be too general and easily misunderstood a label, but saying I’m Zen is equally too specific on the flip side. I find more influence in Zen and Ch’an (the Chinese equivalent) thought and philosophy, such as D.T. and Shunryu Suzuki, as well as older monks like Linji (his teaching of non attachment is where I derived my blog name, To Hold Nothing), Dogen Zenji, Takuan Souhou and Ikkyu (notorious for associating with prostitutes as a way to achieve enlightenment). If I had to clarify, I find more truth in Buddhist teachings and beliefs than from Christianity or other religions. Daoism is a close second. I’ve intuited ideas of Buddhism as early as high school, in ideas such as rebirth (not strictly reincarnation), impermanence (a translation of the Sanskrit word “anicca”) and dependent origination. I’ve found I can appreciate things all the more because they are temporary and accept the passing away of people and things in one way or another. I recall both losing a beloved tabby cat to a blood clot and having to wipe my OS a few months ago, though not having to sacrifice my files because of technological advances.

I understand the spiritual, in my atheist perspective, as Andre Comte-Sponville put it,

“The spirit is not a substance. Rather, it is a function, a capacity, an act (the act of thinking, willing imagining… ) —and this act… is irrefutable, since nothing can be refuted without it.”

More particularly, he notes that the term “spiritual” can be equated with the word mental or psychic. I’d daresay it’s almost aligned with psychology in a sense, though not strictly the scientific, but the philosophical aspects, which connect in a sense with existentialism. I approach life as a series of choices that make the biggest difference, not those things out of my control that I must confront with resignation and anxiety. I am spiritual/existential because I recognize the inevitable connection we must admit of the physical we experience to the mental we take for granted. I’m not spiritual in a mystic sense. I’m spiritual in that I can be introspective and extrospective without focusing on one or the other too much.

I don’t think I can synch up the world’s ups and downs the same if I tried to believe there was some consciousness behind things that even remotely cared for humans. My Christian heritage is only partly beneficial to me inasmuch as Jesus’ teachings partly align with Siddhartha Gautama’s and other bodhisattvas. Jesus also said more explicitly concerning corruption that we are not evil because of things outside us; we are evil because of internal dispositions and behaviours we choose (I don’t think of this like sin, though). We may have parts of ourselves that are harder or impossible to alter, but it doesn’t mean we cannot recognize them and seek to better ourselves by personal habits and other actions. In this way, I find Buddhism to be a strong influence on my life and it will probably be until I die. I’ve become more peaceful, calmer and more able to confront people I disagree with on a level that didn’t exist before I seriously considered Buddhism in a larger context of psychology and ethics.

I still have my personal flaws (a temper I inherited in part from both my parents, for example), but with Buddhism, I feel more motivated to actually change myself, even if it’s a slow process. I also feel a sort of melancholy in not truly having yet sought out various connections with Buddhists from Asian areas in order to understand their perspective more. I spoke with a Tibetan monk and it was a great eye opener to how much I’ve come to understand the system in only the two years I’ve studied it in detail since I graduated. As a Westerner in many senses, such as most of my education in philosophy and religion, there is a barrier I have to violate constantly in order to affirm the beliefs I find myself drawn to. These beliefs are very different from not only the culture and background I had in my family, but the general frame of reasoning any Westerner uses, which is more based in rationalism, empiricism and Greek philosophy. I do nonetheless find some inspiration from these sources, such as Socrates’ elenchus method and Heraclitus’ more natural formulation of the Logos idea.

I don’t think that Buddhist values and perspective are so radically different that I cannot coexist and find common ground with theistic Americans. I may approach things with a different perspective or sense of humor, but I can still respect American values of military, patriotism or sports. Or at least respectfully disagree with them. I consider myself a conscientious objector, not just through ethical opposition to violence and war as a tool of the state’s potential abuse to advance itself, but through Buddhist and even Christian philosophy of finding peace with others without the need to resort to violence. I don’t find a terrible amount of inspiration or morale from flying the America flag; any flag, for that matter. I’m actually of the opinion that the occasional destruction of symbols like that is a way for us to relinquish our attachments. Clinging to them can be a justification for unjustified cruelty or negativity towards others. And I’ve never been one to join in team sports, except as a younger child. Now I prefer more individual-centered physical activity, such as the martial arts; Wado Ryu Karate and Tai Chi Chuan are both activities I try to practice often (and fail at being regular at).

Writing this has been a great exercise and this second part is still just the tip of the iceberg, I imagine. I’ll be more than happy to answer more specific questions about my beliefs. Thanks for the opportunity to get myself out there. Until next I post, Namaste and aloha to all.

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Jonathan’s note: Check out the recent post on Christian Buddhism. Click the Buddhism link on the right to find more posts relating to Buddhism. The image is my choice, Jared is not responsible for my poor taste 😉

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Bruce Cockburn | Silver Wheels

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With Buddha, A Passionate Christian Openness

Posted by spritzophrenia on November 8, 2011

Last night I realised life is finite and I will not get to read all the books I would like to. So one must choose the best, obviously.

I want to read these, the second one in particular. I suspect they will be of interest to a few of you.

Without Buddha I Could Not be a Christian

In this revealing retrospective, Paul Knitter recounts very personally how his encounters with liberation theology and with other religions, especially Buddhism, challenged and transformed his Christian faith. This will be of interest to all who are concerned with religious diversity and social justice.”

Buddhist Christianity: A Passionate Openness

I got this one out of the library earlier this year, but had to return it before reading. A summer project, perhaps.

christian buddhist

From Amazon:

It is possible to be a Christian Buddhist in the context of a universal kind of belief that sits fairly light to both traditions. But Ross Thompson writes, “my own biography has led me to take especially seriously the aspects of each faith that seem incompatible with the other, no God and no soul in Buddhism, for example, and the need for grace and the historical atonement on the cross in Christianity. Hence my Buddhist Christianity can be no bland blend of the tamer aspects of both faiths, but must result from a wrestling of the seeming incompatibles, allowing each faith to shake the other to its very foundations”. The author traces the personal journey through which his need for both faiths became painfully apparent. He explores the Buddha and Jesus through their teachings and the varied communities that flow from them, investigating their different understandings of suffering and wrong, self and liberation, meditation and prayer, cosmology and God or not? He concludes with a bold commitment in which both faiths are combined.

Gotta keep writing my thesis.

If you haven’t listened to System of a Down, you must!

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System of a Down | Chop Suey

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Meditation Means You Don’t Like Your Self?

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 9, 2011

Do you like your self? Does being a person in the world, living, loving, laughing make you happy? Why would you want to lose this self, then?

At present I’m working on a paper which is a Foucauldian reading of Buddhist meditation. As part of it I’m trying to understand the Buddhist doctrine of anatman, translated “no-self”. Here are some quotes:

Consider the way meditation is recommended by some doctors: their view is usually that meditation is simply a therapy for reducing stress. It is true that the ability to manage stress is a likely fringe benefit of meditation. From a Buddhist perspective, though, the point of meditation is to stimulate a process of change and development towards the ultimate goal of Enlightenment.” (Kamalashila, 1992: 4)

Epstein (2007: 42) speaks of “Misappropriation of Freudian terminology by scholars and practitioners of these Eastern traditions. Nowhere is this more evident than in the confused concepts “ego” and “egolessness” … “This goal [of egolessness] is understood from a Western psychological perspective, rather than with the more subtle, originally intended Eastern meaning”. He quotes the current Dalai Lama who says, “this seemingly solid, concrete, independent, self-instituting I under its own power that appears actually does not exist at all” (Epstein, 2007: 52)

mind

From a look at the canonical and commentarial works of Theravada, “[Cessation] is, in brief, a condition in which no mental events of any kind occur, a condition distinguishable from death only by a certain residual warmth and vitality in the unconscious practitioner’s body.” (Griffiths, 1986: 13)

Khema has a chapter titled “Removing the illusion of self” (Khema, 1997: 129). Buddha says to Poṭṭhapāda that there are three kinds of “acquired” (or assumed) self. The body, the “mind-made”, and the “formless acquired self”. “The Buddha continues: ‘What is the formless acquired self? It is without form, and made up of perception.’ … [Khema interprets this as] There is neither physical nor mental form. In the infinities of space and consciousness there is nothing that has any kind of boundary, but there is perception. If that were not so, we would not know we had experienced infinite space and consciousness.” Perception can also be considered consciousness. But perception is not “my” self, it just is. (Khema, 1997: 134) But even this is ultimately not the true self, but it’s the best we can do for now at this level of teaching. Although it’s hard, we have to realize we are “thinking in the wrong way” (Khema, 1997: 147,148, 153).

I include one quote from an academic that seems to imply something else. Dr V.V.S. Saibaba (2005: 187) writes, “the condition of the enlightened one is incomprehensible”, but “it is nowhere stated that the Buddha after his parinibbana has been annihilated”. He says this is why it can be considered orthodox even in Theravada to pray to or worship the Buddha- because the Buddha is still in existence.

In contrast, consider these words of Aristotle, from the 8th and 9th books of the Nicomachean Ethics.
“Seeing that we are alive is in and of itself sweet, for life is by nature good, and it is sweet to sense that such a good belongs to us. … All people find the fact of their own existence desirable … Existence is desirable because one senses that it is a good thing” Agamben (2009: 32)

As we can see, these viewpoints are very different. According to Aristotle, existence is self-evidently good and desirable. According to the First Noble Truth, existence is dukkha (suffering) and should not be desired. Although it’s subtle, the goal of Buddhist meditation seems to be to lose one’s own existence. So is meditation ultimately an anti-human activity? I’ve grown up with Western points of view, and I like having the experience of my “self”. I think experiencing a life, and valuing people as individual selves is a good thing.

What about you?

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References:
Agamben, Giorgio. (2009). What Is An Apparatus? Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Epstein, Mark. (2007). Psychotherapy Without the Self. A Buddhist Perspective. New Haven:Yale University Press.
Griffiths, Paul. J. (1986). On Being Mindless: Buddhist Meditation and the Mind-Body Problem. La Salle, Illinois: Open Court.
Kamalashila. (1992). Meditation. The Buddhist Way of Tranquility and Insight. Birmingham: Windhorse publications.
Khema, Ayya. (1997). Who Is My Self? A Guide to Buddhist Meditation. Boston: Wisdom Publications.
Saibaba, V.V.S. (2005). Faith and Devotion in Theravāda Buddhism. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld.

Disclaimer: I’m well aware that a non-adherent of a religion usually makes mistakes in emphasis, nuance and understanding when writing about it. My apologies for any factual errors. I feel uncomfortable criticising a spiritual path from the outside so I’m relying on those writing from the inside. I also acknowledge the large number of good, moral buddhists.

Check out one trippy Western response. “Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream It is not dying It is not dying…”
The Beatles | Tomorrow Never Knows

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How Do You Deal With Fear?

Posted by spritzophrenia on June 27, 2011

Fear‘s been a part of my life recently.

Actually, it comes and goes regularly but it’s only in the last few years that I’ve really noticed it and named it for what it is. “I won’t get a good mark in my studies” [fear]. “I better turn those lights off, we are spending too much money.” [fear]. “I won’t be able to sustain being a good father and partner.” [fear] “If I don’t blog/tweet/facebook people will forget about me” [fear]

Here’s a few snippets from “Effortless Mastery”, a book aimed at musicians by Kenny Werner.

Stephen Nachmanovich, in his book Free Play, writes of five fears that the Buddhists speak of that block our liberation: fear of loss of life, fear of loss of livelihood; fear of loss of reputation; fear of unusual states of mind; and fear of speaking before an assembly. He points out that fear of speaking before an assembly may seem light compared with the others, but we may take that to mean speaking up, or performing. Our fear of performing is “profoundly related to fear of foolishness, which has two parts: fear of being thought a fool (loss of reputation) and fear of actually being a fool (fear of unusual states of mind).”

continued…

fear

Then he says: “Let’s add fear of ghosts.” I would take that to mean the implant of fear by authority figures no longer present in our lives, but the echo of whose voice remains to control us (teachers, parents and so forth).

Werner goes on to say that fear originates in our “little mind”, which can be called the ego. He goes on to say that the goal of Indian music is the dissolution of the ego and union with the divine. So I guess that’s one approach to losing fear. (He says much more, the book is a must for any performer.)

Whenever I think of fear it reminds me of the classic novel Dune. “Fear is the mind killer”. As I recall, through superhuman (supernatural?) and drug assisted control of his own mind, the hero is able to conquer fear. Very much like the “cognitive behavioural” approach I’ve come across through my therapy. Essentially, you have to retrain your mind to tell it positive thoughts instead of negative. It seems like a long and hard journey at times.

So, how do you deal with fear?

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The New Atheists’ Narrow Worldview

Posted by spritzophrenia on February 1, 2011

Stephen Asma has written a critique of the new atheists which I want to share. It’s a sociological look at religion, in other words one that places religion it in it’s social context. In particular he argues that animism (the world’s most common religion) makes more sense than a mechanistic world view if one is poor, and that the new atheists completely miss this due to their rich Western lifestyle. He argues they miss the psychological benefits of religion, which are still worthwhile. (He also argues against ‘dangerous’ religion.)

What follows is my distillation of the points that interested me. I recommend reading the whole thing.

“The new atheists, like Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins, and Dennett have failed to notice that their mechanistic view of nature is in part a product (as well as a cause) of prosperity and stability. Most friends and even enemies of the new atheism have not yet noticed the provincialism of the current debate. If the horsemen left their world of books, conferences, classrooms, and computers to travel more in the developing world for a year, they would find some unfamiliar religious arenas.

Having lived in Cambodia and China, and travelled in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Africa, I have come to appreciate how religion functions quite differently in the developing world—where the majority of believers actually live. The Four Horsemen, their fans, and their enemies all fail to factor in their own prosperity when they think about the uses and abuses of religion.

Harris and his colleagues think that religion is mostly concerned with two jobs—explaining nature and guiding morality.

spirit house

Boontham Khuenkaew places a food offering at the ‘spirit house’ in his yard in Thailand.

They’re wrong in imagining that the primary job of religion is morality. Like cosmology, ethics is barely relevant in non-Western religions. It is certainly not the main function or lure of devotional life. Science could take over the “morality job” tomorrow in the developing world, and very few religious practitioners would even notice.

The zealous attempt, on the part of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the Red Guard in China, to root out this “opiate” also rooted out all the good stuff about Buddhism that I’ve labelled “psychological.” The attempt to do away with all gods or religions always throws the baby out with the bath water. There is much good “medicine” in Buddhism (just as there is much good in other religions), but if the Asian Communists found you practicing it in the 1970s, you were as good as dead. And that form of militant atheism should ring a cautionary note: Religion is not the only ideology with blood on its hands.

I’m an agnostic and a citizen of a wealthy nation, but when my own son was in the emergency room with an illness, I prayed spontaneously. I’m not naïve—I don’t think it did a damn thing to heal him. But when people have their backs against the wall, when they are truly helpless and hopeless, then grovelling and negotiating with anything more powerful than themselves is a very human response. It is a response that will not go away, and that should not go away if it provides some genuine relief for anxiety and agony. As Roger Scruton says, “The consolation of imaginary things is not imaginary consolation.”

The Four Horsemen and other new atheists are members of liberal democracies, and they have not appeared to be interested in the social-engineering agendas of the earlier, Communist atheists. With impressive arts of persuasion, the new atheistic proponents just want to talk, debate, and exchange ideas, and of course they should do so. No harm, no foul.

But Sam Harris’s new book may be a subtle turning point toward a more normative social agenda. If public policy is eventually expected to flow from atheism, then its proponents need to have a more nuanced and global understanding of religion.”

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Bad Religion | Atheist Peace

Addendum

Here are a couple of quotes from Asma which support my contention that Buddhism as practiced is much more “religious” than many Westerners think:

Many of the new atheists have recognized that Buddhism doesn’t quite belong with the other religious targets, and they reserve a vague respect for its philosophical core. I’m glad. They’re right to do so. But two days in any Buddhist country will painfully demonstrate to its Western fans that Buddhism is an elaborate, supernatural, devotional religion as well.

The mix of animism with Buddhism is so complete in Asia that monks frequently make offerings to these spirits, and Buddhist pagodas actually have spirit shrines built into one corner. The Buddhist religion is built on top of this much older animistic system. Animism was never supplanted by modern beliefs.

Thanks to Tracy for passing this article on to me 🙂

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Mindless Belief

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 20, 2010

The role of our mind or reason has been a past theme here. I want to share what someone said in a recent post on Beliefnet. Here’s the verbatim quote:

The idea that there is a God and the idea that there is no God are both mind conceptions. The mind can go on developing the idea one way or the other, but it just goes around in circles. The rational mind is incestuous and keeps recreating itself endlessly.

The perception of Reality is beyond the rational mind. The experiences that people have on drugs, for instance, happen when the drug annuls the rational mind.

In Zen Buddhism there is a practice based on koans, which are questions that have no rational answer, like “what is the sound of one hand clapping”. The purpose is to have the mind make the efforts to find a logical answer until it short circuits itself. That is the time when the transcending experiences, called satori happen, moments when reality is seen as it is.

I would add that the aim of all true spiritual practices is the wearing off of the rational mind. Not to kill it or remove it, but to transcend it and not be the center of one’s perceptions.

meditation

I feel uncomfortable reading this. I think there are two extremes, one is to have too strong a role for the mind, the other is not to value it at all.

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Listen to Plus-Tech Squeeze Box make genre-busting crazy music. This is “Early Riser”.

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Mixed Nuts

Posted by spritzophrenia on August 16, 2010

Today’s Spritzophrenia Street is brought to you by the letter Orange, and the number Fish. It’s a wild, rollicking ride through what I’m currently reading, so lets get started.

The Laughter of God

I will argue that [science and spirituality] not only can coexist within one person, but can do so in a fashion that enriches and enlightens the human experience. Science is the only reliable way to understand the natural world, and its tools when properly utilized can generate profound insights into material existence. But science is powerless to answer questions such as “Why did the universe come into being?” “What is the meaning of human existence?” “What happens after we die?”

Meditation

continued…

One of the strongest motivations of humankind is to seek answers to profound questions, and we need to bring all the power of both the scientific and spiritual perspectives to bear on understanding what is both seen and unseen. The goal of this book is to explore a pathway toward a sober and intellectually honest integration of these views.

First, I should explain how a scientist who studies genetics came to be a believer in a God who is unlimited by time and space, and who takes personal interest in human beings. Some will assume that this must have come about by rigorous religious upbringing, deeply instilled by family and culture, and thus inescapable in later life. But that’s not really my story.

~ Francis Collins The Language of God (Free Press, 2006) p 6,7

We now move from the sublime to the ridiculous – but perhaps the ridiculous can be spiritually helpful too?

I believe that people who have a good sense of humor are usually intuitive people in general. Show me someone who has no sense of humor, and I will show you a very stiff, boring person with no insight whatsoever.

~ Warren Shiller quoted in Romy Shiller Who Knew (Trafford, 2010) p 32

Could a sense of humour mark the kind of intuition that helps along the spiritual path?

You may have heard the recent news that the bones of John the Baptist have allegedly been found. Barth’s Notes has an amusing piece— amusing because of the language and feisty-ness of the Bulgarian officials, who it seems need tourist dollars. Hence they’re eager to proclaim authenticity. The evidence seems pretty flimsy to me, see Rollston Debunks Stupid John the Baptist’s Bones Claim.

Sorry Bulgaria, writing as someone who is open to the idea that faith could be a valid way of life, “faith” in the face of clear evidence to the contrary is not faith— it’s dogmatism and idiocy.

Speaking of idiocy, Insane Clown Posse’s track Miracles. Thanks to Marty Atheist Climber for alerting me. Mysteries do not prove impossibilities, especially when it appears we aren’t to try and figure them out. I do like some ICP, particularly Let’s Go All The Way, but check these lyrics:

Water, fire, air and dirt
F**king magnets, how do they work?
And I don’t wanna talk to a scientist
Y’all motherf**kers lying, and getting me pissed

Bahahaha! While perhaps it’s a metaphorical point they’re trying to make, it does come across as celebrating ignorance. Even better, today Marty tweeted me the hilarious SNL spoof of the song:

Eat, Pray, Lust

Following on from the allegations about Eat, Pray, Love

Sex between gurus and disciples is common, sociologists and other experts say. The New Yorker magazine reported in November 1994 that female followers of deceased Swami Muktananda, the man who made Chetanananda a swami, had sex with them. Many devotees later left after learning about the sexual allegations.

~ from here.

I’ve had this in my notes for some time. Now I realise Swami Muktananda is the one who guru-fied Liz Gilbert’s Gurumayi Chidvilasananda (formerly Malti Shetty). Another book in my current pile is a biography about following a guru:

All of the people whom [guru Paul Brunton, alias P.B.] had chosen… as his disciples were singularly favoured. They were to be at the center of the salvation of the universe. There could be no greater honor. This was a universe as simply organised as a boy’s adventure story. I found a similar atmosphere when I read Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings years later.

[P.B.] is not an egregious example of a false prophet. The story I have to tell about him is not an exposé in the classic sense, although I have nothing against such exposés. Tales by insiders of what really goes on in these cults are not only fascinating gossip, they are instructive of the kind of world this spirituality builds. … I was able to observe, especially in me and my father and in Paul Brunton, the clash, the romanticism, and the ultimate tragedy of these attempts to escape the imperfections of the human condition. I was a direct participant, and I did not escape its consequences.

~Jeffrey Masson My Father’s Guru: A Journey through Spirituality and Disillusion (Harper Collings, 1993) p xiv, xv

Things Mistaken for Meditation

Another misguided notion about meditation is that it’s about becoming enlightened.

You can’t become enlightened. It’s not possible.

You can’t become enlightened for the same reason that you can’t come into contact with Truth: you’re already here, immersed in it. It’s like trying to become human, or searching high and low for air.

When we search for enlightenment, we’re like a fish searching for water or a bird seeking the sky. Enlightenment isn’t something you can pursue. And, anyway, you don’t need to, because it’s already right where you are. Meditation is not about straining or striving for some special state of mind. It’s about letting our habitual striving drop away and simply experiencing what’s present before we make anything of it.

~ Steve Hagen Meditation: Now or Never (HarperOne, 2007) p 21

I’ve begun a very basic practice of meditation, after I get up in the morning. I’ve been quietly pleased with my progress so far, no doubt this is the ‘beginners luck’ that most new practices enjoin. Perhaps I’ll report back sometime, if this blog is about searching for higher reality it will pay me to occasionally record such things.

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Tell me in the comments

Which of the above tickled your buttons? Have a great day y’all.

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Posted in Buddhism, Christianity, cosmology, God, Hinduism, humor, humour, personal development, Science, spirituality | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Buddhist Music

Posted by spritzophrenia on July 1, 2010

I’m the illest Buddhist you’ve seen
all the ladies wanna meditate with me
I look so serene when I bust a lotus
but i don’t have an ego so I wouldn’t even notice

Yes it’s humour from Arj Barker, no offence intended. More ‘serious’ music below.

“Tashi Dalek”. It’s Tibetan, and means “may you experience extraordinary good fortune”. They use it to say hello according to tweet friend Surya Devi. Here’s her beautiful Green Tara Mantra.

You’re in the middle of music week, normal Spritzophrenia disservice will be nonresumed momentarily.

Posted in Buddhism, humor, humour, music | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Monks With Guns: Discovering Buddhist Violence

Posted by spritzophrenia on January 17, 2010

Not long I ago I wrote on the Dark Side of Buddhism. Michael Jerryson has just published a book on Buddhist violence and writes about it here. It’s not the only book on Buddhist warfare, reader Austin kindly alerted me to Zen at War, and Zen War Stories. A review says “Most don’t realize the extent of Zen Buddhism’s complicity with the Japanese war machine and the horrors it unleashed on Southeast Asia.Michael Jerryson writes:

The publication of Buddhist Warfare, a book I co-edited with Mark Juergensmeyer, is a bittersweet experience as it marks the culmination of a journey that began with an exploration of the peaceful aspects of Buddhism only to end up chronicling portions of its dark side. This journey, which consumed much of the last six years of my life, began in 2003 when my wife and I spent a little over a year in Thailand. It was then that I began to research Buddhist social activism which was going to be the topic of my dissertation.

Rather than look to archives, I decided to speak with Buddhist monks and nuns on the ground. I interviewed monks protecting the forests from big business and villagers from dangerous pesticides; I met and began to chronicle the activities of the first fully ordained Thai Buddhist nun, Dhammananda Bhikkuni; and I met with Thai Buddhist monastic intellectuals.

monk with toy gun
Monk with toy gun, Bhutan 2008

Military Monks

Then in January 2004, violent attacks broke out in the southern provinces of Thailand, some of which were directed at Buddhist monks. These attacks and the numerous ones to follow shocked the country. But, since contemporary issues and my research interests seemed to be converging, I thought: what better way to study Buddhist activism than to observe Buddhist monks engaged in peacemaking?

Unfortunately, I found very little of this.

During my visits between 2006 and 2008, southern Thai monks shared the challenges of living in their fear-infested communities. All but a few concentrated on survival; peacemaking was the last thing on their minds.

The constant fear and violence took a toll on them. Monks talked about the guns they had bought and now kept at their bedsides. Others spoke heatedly about the violent militant attacks on Buddhist civilians and monasteries. Although the cause of the violence is multilayered—owing much to corruption, drug trade, and corporatization—many monks also felt Islam was to blame. In their minds, the conflict was anchored to the larger discussion of religious violence: Muslims against Buddhists.

One day after teaching an English class for Buddhist novices at a monastery a young monk came over and pulled back the folds of his robe to reveal a Smith & Wesson. I later learned that he was a military monk—one of many covert, fully ordained soldiers placed in monasteries throughout Thailand. To these monks, peacemaking requires militancy.

Since my initial realization in 2004, I began to look critically at my earlier perspective on Buddhism—one that shielded an extensive and historical dimension to Buddhist traditions: violence. Armed Buddhist monks in Thailand are not an exception to the rule; they are contemporary examples of a long historical precedence. For centuries monks have been at the helm, or armed in the ranks, of wars. How could this be the case? But more importantly, why did I (and many others) hold the belief that Buddhism=Peace (and that other religions, such as Islam, are more prone to violence)?

Buddhist Propaganda

It was then that I realized that I was a consumer of a very successful form of propaganda. Since the early 1900s, Buddhist monastic intellectuals such as Walpola Rahula, D. T. Suzuki, and Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, have labored to raise Western awareness of their cultures and traditions. In doing so, they presented specific aspects of their Buddhist traditions while leaving out others. These Buddhist monks were not alone in this portrayal of Buddhism. As Donald S. Lopez Jr. and others have poignantly shown, academics quickly followed suit, so that by the 1960s U.S popular culture no longer depicted Buddhist traditions as primitive, but as mystical.

Yet these mystical depictions did not remove the two-dimensional nature of Western understanding. And while it contributed to the history of Buddhism, this presentation of an otherworldly Buddhism ultimately robbed Buddhists of their humanity.

Thupten Tsering, the co-director of “Windhorse,” encapsulates the effects of two-dimensional portrayal in a 1999 interview with the New York Times. “They see Tibetans as cute, sweet, warmhearted. I tell people, when you cut me, I bleed just like you.”

In an effort to combat this view and to humanize Buddhists, then, Mark Juergensmeyer and I put together a collection of critical essays that illustrate the violent history of Buddhism across Mongolia, Tibet, Japan, China, Korea, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and India.

Our intention is not to argue that Buddhists are angry, violent people—but rather that Buddhists are people, and thus share the same human spectrum of emotions, which includes the penchant for violence.

Although the book only arrived at bookstores last month, it apparently touched some nerves in the academic community before its release. Some have objected to the cover [image right], which they feel is not an appropriate subject for Buddhism. Ironically, that is the very reason this collection of essays is so important: to address the apparent and widespread inability to acknowledge the violent side to religious traditions. It is this inability that robs its adherents of their humanity.

In a way, I wish I could return to that dream of Buddhist traditions as a purely peaceful, benevolent religion that lacks mortal failures and shortcomings. But I cannot. It is, ultimately, a selfish dream and it hurts other people in the process.

Buddhist Warfare certainly contributes to the broader discussion of religious violence, but on a more intimate and local level, I hope this collection will effect some significant change in the way Buddhism is perceived in the United States. Only time will tell.

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Thanks to my new readers, you may enjoy my more positive story: If you see the Buddha on the road, kiss him.

tful hahaha! Slut spillage on CA road.
listening to Wizzy Noise | Abyss

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Five spiritual trends for the ’10s

Posted by spritzophrenia on January 15, 2010

The soundtrack for this post is Windowpane by Opeth. It should open in a new window and you can listen in the background as you read. Life’s been busy, and I thought this guest post by Douglas Todd of the Vancouver Sun was worth some comment:

Five spiritual trends for the ’10s

A year ago I wrote about five religious trends to watch for in 2009. I suggested what will happen to the religious right, the religious left, religion-based terrorism, Eastern spirituality and all those people who like to say they're spiritual but not religiousWith the dawn of our new decade, I'm coming to the conclusion the five trends have real staying power, which could see them sticking with us to 2020 and beyond.
Here are the five religious and spiritual shifts I predicted, plus my analysis of what's happened in the past year or more to indicate they could be long-lasting:

1. Eastern spirituality will flower
The days are gone when just a few intellectuals discussed the intersection of Eastern and Western thought. Now, instead of D.T. Suzuki, Alan Watts, Masao Abe and John Cobb taking part in East-West dialogues, Asian spirituality has gone mainstream in the West. Nova Scotia-based Buddhist monk Pema Chodron (left) is being profiled in mass circulation women's magazines, teaching the controversial idea of living with "no hope." And small spiritual armies of young Buddhists, calling themselves Dharma Punx, are spreading around North America. It's not only whites jumping on the Eastern spirituality train. Inspired by the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh and Thailand's Sulak Sivaraksa, more Asians are transforming Eastern spiritual traditions–making them less quietistic. They're committed to "engaged Buddhism," which is putting them on the non-violent frontlines of justice.
The Taiwan-based Chu Tzi movement, which has millions of followers in 40 countries, including Canada, down-plays religious rites and zealously emphasizes international charity projects. Meanwhile, instead of having scholars highlight the atheistic philosophy of Buddhism, scholar Jeff Wilson has discovered, droves of North American converts and ethnic Buddhists (especially women)are increasingly being drawn to more supernatural reverence of the Chinese figure, Kuan Yin.

2. Religious terrorism will be the new normal
The recent failed attempts by extremist Muslims to kill a Danish cartoonist and blow up a plane to Detroit have broken a long quiet spell in terrorist activity on European and North American soil. A Pew Forum survey found in December that religion-rooted hostility is widespread around the world, though not necessarily growing. Nine per cent of countries are experiencing some form, however minor, of terrorism — not only from Muslims, but from Christians, Hindus, atheistic leaders and others.
With North Americans keeping their attention mostly on Muslim terrorism, global surveys are showing Islamic anger is based largely on a sense that brothers and sisters in the faith are being vilified and oppressed by Western financial, political and military powers. Unlike in the days of George W. Bush, virtually all Western observers, including U.S. President Barack Obama, maintain it takes more than military might to stop terrorism, as the dubious wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are proving. It takes intelligence-gathering, multilateralism, interfaith dialogue and negotiation. The anti-terror campaign, perhaps surprisingly, includes "terrorist rehabilitation," according to Religion Watch magazine. Government officials are offering psychological and spiritual counselling to thousands of jailed suspected terrorists to counter their militant ideology.

3. Religious liberals will build on advances
Momentum is rising among spiritual searchers yearning for an alternative to conservative versions of Western religion. They're finding it in progressive Christian, Jewish and Islamic writers. Marcus Borg, Diana Butler Bass (left), Jim Wallis, Michael Lerner, Tariq Ramadan and Canada's Ron Rolheiser have in recent years become major public intellectuals and hugely successful authors.
Polls are showing liberal religious people are not as partisan and aggressive as evangelicals, but they're making waves in public policy. Even though Obama didn't win any more white evangelical Christian supporters than previous Democrat presidential candidates, he is retaining solid support from black Protestants, mainline Protestants, white and Hispanic Catholics, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists, not to mention the religiously unaffiliated. Since achieving office, Obama also has been raising the profile of one of his favourite Christian theologians, the late Reinhold Niebuhr. If black civil rights, South African apartheid and the Vietnam War brought together religious progressives in the '60s and '70s, possible environmental disaster now galvanizes them. That was illustrated by the way Christians pressed government leaders to make a dramatic commitment against global warming at December's Copenhagen climate summit.

4. Religious right will regroup
The religious right has been hit with some body blows — particularly with the rise of Obama, the failure of the war they backed in Iraq and the defeat of Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. In addition, more U.S. states have recently been legalizing same-sex unions. But the religious right retains its passion, anger, money, followers, political connections (including with Stephen Harper's Conservative party) and influence on major media outlets, particularly through hugely popular talk-show hosts such as Glenn Beck, a Mormon. Even though Palin is an embarrassment to many women and some of her fellow evangelicals (especially in Canada), she remains a bigger name than ever since resigning last year as Alaska's governor, promoting her autobiography and prodding the Republican party in her Pentecostal direction. The religious right was reinvigorated by last year's no-holds-barred crusade against Democrats' attempts to bring in universal health insurance. Zoning in on laws that ban federal funding of abortion, conservative religious activists mobilized against the U.S., adopting even a pale imitation of Canada's medicare system. They called Obama a "socialist" and likened him to Adolf Hitler. Palin called the health plan "downright evil."

5. Secular spirituality will strengthen
The populist mantra taking us into the next decade is: "I'm not religious, but I'm spiritual." It's commonplace for people now to oppose religious organizations, while embracing a host of spiritual practices and beliefs. This "secular spirituality" manifests itself in mainstream publishing, widespread nature reverence and pop culture figures such as Oprah, Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra. "Secular spirituality" is also making a rare foray into academia. Hundreds of university based researchers are studying the scientific benefits of "mindfulness" and various forms of meditation and contemplation, which have been practised for centuries by Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Jews, not to mention artists, musicians and poets. With polls showing more people are becoming "spiritual tinkerers" who mix and match an often dizzying variety of beliefs and practices, secular spirituality is also making its way into movies, including the newly released 2012 and Avatar. Filmed in Vancouver, apocalyptic 2012 warns of environmental cataclysm. The movie ties into a New Age belief that the ancient Mayan calendar predicts that the year 2012 marks either the end of the world or the beginning of a new and glorious spiritual era. Canadian director James Cameron's blockbuster movie, Avatar, also develops an eco-spiritual theme. The heroes are humanoids, known as Na'vi, who practise a powerful indigenous form of nature spirituality that holds the potential to heal the universe. In line with the current trend to treat global culture as if it were a vast spiritual smorgasbord, Cameron took the title of his movie from Indian religion. An "avatar" is an incarnation of a Hindu god.

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tful I love techno, and love Strongbad’s funny comments on techno.

Posted in agnostic, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, New Age, Sociology, spirituality | 4 Comments »