Spritzophrenia

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Posts Tagged ‘Buddhism’

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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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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Posted in Buddhism, ontology, Sociology | Tagged: , , , , , , | 20 Comments »

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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Posted in Buddhism, life, personal | Tagged: , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

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 »

Jewish Buddhist Music?

Posted by spritzophrenia on June 30, 2010

Music Week continues and I don’t want it to be forced into fixed categories, particularly with this poet. The first song is arguably nihilist, and contains Christian references. Leonard Cohen left music and spent about 10 years as a Buddhist monk before returning.

Leonard Cohen | The Future

Leonard Cohen | Anthem “There is a crack in everything. It’s how the light gets in.”

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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

Posted in Buddhism, ethics, Sociology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

The Dark Side of the Buddha

Posted by spritzophrenia on January 6, 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
 

I think of you before I think of myself
that’s probably why people think I’m so chill
But still I’m hell of intense
my clothes have little bells and they smell like incense

Arj Barker in his hilarious “Sickest Buddhist” video, at right

Edit: Here’s a recent post on Buddhist meditation and anatman. September 2011.

Buddhism has attracted me for a long time. Gautama’s faith is seen by many Westerners as a non-faith that can be followed as a philosophy or practice with little reference to gods. This may in fact not be the case, as we’ll see below. The foundation of Buddhism is that life is suffering; it gets worse because we are reborn beyond death and continue to suffer, so we have to escape rebirth somehow. Compassion for others and non-attachment to this world is promoted. If you need it here’s a Western-style introduction to Buddhism and an overview of core teachings.

The Japan-ified Buddhism of “Zen” was trendy in the West. Mainly ‘cos the word Zen sounds cool. I read a fantastic book years ago about Zen and shooting things. Presumably not living things, although I’m not sure if that was made clear. Arrows were involved but I don’t think it was the classic Zen and the Art of Archery.

I do however have intellectual reservations about Buddhism. I think the logical implications of some of its beliefs actually end up being antihuman; life-denying and unliveable [2]. Bottom line, I have no evidence Buddhism is true. Christians for example can point to Y’shua’s (alleged) rising from the dead. It all passes or fails on that one event according to their chief 1st Century apologist which is at least disprovable, and possibly proveable. Mormons can point to US archaeology – which is a massive fail, sadly. I’ve searched in vain for a Buddhist apologetic that goes beyond “I experience this, so it might be true. You should try it.”

Nevertheless, Buddhism has a good rep in the West as a bunch of nice vegetarians in saffron robes who say profound things and spend a lot of time in the lotus position thinking deeply. I have a cynical enough view of humanity that I shouldn’t have bought into the innocence and perfection of its adherents, but like many, I did.

Recently a buddhist monk left a monastary in China, disgusted at the immorality he found there. The story’s had a lot of attention on Chinese blogs.

Some comments on the blog claim the story of the randy monks is a fake. It could indeed be fake, a fairly explicit story about monks indulging in gay sex is rather pornographic after all. If we find ourselves directed to a pay-per-view site in the next instalment I guess we’ll know. But the story could also be true. I’m not capable of investigative journalism on this; speaking Chinese and living in mainland China are pre-requisites I don’t have. A little IP address research might show something, but I’ll let someone else do that.

Sadly, there are other verified stories of monks into sex, drugs and alcohol and a woman who became the tulku (re-incarnated lama), Kalu Rinpoche’s sex slave. I’ve written about Buddhist teaching on drugs previously.

Searching for commentary I found more than I expected about the dark side of the Buddha (see disclaimer, [3] ). Committed Buddhist Sumangalo Khen writes that “Buddhist hypocrites are the worst kind”. He says “One of the most common issues reflecting [Buddhist hypocrisy] would be the way temple committees hate one another, some even try to rob the devotees of their faith and money.” [My edit.]

Angry Buddha

It’s not just the laity. Phony holy men are not approved of in Buddhism. Few Buddhist holy men are as well-known in the West as Tibet’s Dalai Lama. However The Dalai Lama is accused of religious persecution. One site asks Why is the Dalai Lama suppressing religious freedom?, claiming he is using his political power to destroy a centuries-old religious tradition, causing confusion and pain for thousands of Tibetans. I confess, I’ve found the West’s obsession with someone who believes in gods and demons a little strange. Of all the sects of Buddhism the Tibetan and Nepalese forms seem the furthest from the original Dharma to me. I’d suggest Therevada is the closest, but many Buddhists don’t have the view that Buddhism is a once-for-always revelation based on a fixed set of scriptures. It’s allowed to evolve, so to some it’s quite permissable for modern Buddhism to be quite different from its ancient orgins.

An example of Western Buddhist evolution is the idea that Buddhism can be atheist, “devout atheism or godless religion“, as one teacher puts it. Some years ago I read that Gautama wasn’t actually an atheist as such, he simply believed that the Hindu gods of his time were irrelevant to enlightenment. Whether that’s the case, his followers still spend plenty of time on deities, even appearing to deify Gautama himself. BuddhaNet claims there is “no worship of a deity or deification of the Buddha.” I don’t believe this is so. In practice, Buddhist followers spend a significant amount of time on devotion. When they devote themselves to the original Buddha, other buddhas or bodhissatvas it’s not exactly the same as “worship” but I suspect is closer to god-worship than an atheist would like. Hence, in practice, the claim that Buddhism can be an atheistic religion may not be satisfactory for someone who finds any supernaturalism irrational.

There’s an interesting thread on a rationalist site where the originator says “Buddhism (my “religion”) seems to contain the most blatant hypocrites”. Note that many respondents there are not Buddhists. Says one former Buddhist:

Everywhere you get quotes of Einstein and other intellectuals about how scientific, rational, modern Buddhism is, that it is about reality, that karma is just the law of causality, and that rebirth is only the moment to moment transformation, that Buddhism is the religion of the future, or even that it isn’t a religion. 

But then once inside you find out that belief in afterlife (rebirth), karma as a moral retribution law, the omniscience of Buddha, miracles of Buddhas and Bodhisatvas, pure lands, complete obedience to one’s guru, sins (bad karma), gods (“devas”), supernatural powers, etc, are all seen as fundamental beliefs in Buddhism.


Personally I was fooled at first, believing the “advertising”, and once inside, when I saw how things really are, I quit.

Another respondent writes, contra this: “To have a less superstitious take on Buddhism is not to “pretend” that there are no Buddhists with a more superstitious take on Buddhism. There are textual bases and philosophical reasons to disagree with Buddhists who (for one example) think things like rebirth must mean the transmigration of souls. It’s no misrepresentation of Buddhism to have a different view from that. And I’ve seen no pretending that some Buddhists are not superstitious, so I don’t see the insincerity and hypocrisy that you speak of.”

Another quotes supernaturalist texts from Gautama:

This perversion of Buddhism was caused by Alan Watts and others in the Buddhist hippie movement. If you wanted you could also de-mystify Christianity in the same way these hippies perverted Buddhism to fit their agendas.

Most are easily fooled by the way Buddhism is portrayed. I also was fooled until I started reading the actual pali canons (the oldest known Buddhist scriptures) and found it really not much different from other religions with its ghosts, spirits, miracles. There’s ghosts, spirits, demons (Maras), gods (devas), supernormal powers (iddhis), etc…in Buddhism.

Gautama Buddha even said that man who refused to believe in his supernormal powers was a “misguided” man:
“Sariputta, this misguided man Sunakkhatta will never infer of me according to Dhamma: ‘That Blessed One is accomplished, fully enlightened, perfect in true knowledge and conduct, sublime, knower of worlds, incomparable leader of persons to be tamed, teacher of gods and humans, enlightened, blessed.’

“And he will never infer of me according to Dhamma: ‘That Blessed One enjoys the various kinds of supernormal power: having been one, he becomes many; having been many, he becomes one; he appears and vanishes; he goes unhindered through a wall, through an enclosure, through a mountain, as though through space; he dives in and out of the earth as though it were water; he walks on water without sinking as though it were earth; seated cross-legged, he travels in space like a bird; with his hand he touches and strokes the moon and sun so powerful and mighty; he wields bodily mastery even as far as the Brahma-world.’

“And he will never infer of me according to Dhamma: ‘With the divine ear element, which is purified and surpasses the human, that Blessed One hears both kinds of sounds, the heavenly and the human, those that are far as well as near.’

“And he will never infer of me according to Dhamma: ‘That Blessed One encompasses with his own mind the minds of other beings, other persons. He understands a mind affected by lust as affected by lust and a mind unaffected by lust as unaffected by lust; he understands a mind affected by hate as affected by hate and a mind unaffected by hate as unaffected by hate; he understands a mind affected by delusion as affected by delusion and a mind unaffected by delusion as unaffected by delusion; he understands a contracted mind as contracted and a distracted mind as distracted; he understands an exalted mind as exalted and an unexalted mind as unexalted; he understands a surpassed mind as surpassed and an unsurpassed mind as unsurpassed; he understands a concentrated mind as concentrated and an unconcentrated mind as unconcentrated; he understands a liberated mind as liberated and an unliberated mind as unliberated.’ (Maha-sihanada Sutta, 5-8)

The problem of Buddha’s sexism is another example of the evolution of Buddhist thought and practice. In Buddhist Channel Buddhist monk Dr Mettanando Bhikkhu lists some of the restrictive views on women: “Buddhists who are traditionally trained take for granted that [a quotation from the Buddha means] that women are inferior to men”. Some scholars take a nuanced view of sexist attitudes towards women in Buddhism. While acknowledging modern re-interpretations of some texts, Bhikkhu concludes that a traditional reading of Buddha would conclude he was sexist, and that “In Theravada countries, the Buddhist religion has never been in support of human rights and social justice. As long as there is no reformation of the religious education system in Buddhism and the Tripitaka, the religion will remain the biggest obstacle for the development of democracy and social justice in these countries.”

Are some Buddhists racist? Anthony Elmore, a proud black buddhist and Nichiren Shoshu devotee writes “The Buddha Nichiren Daishonin who we consider the ‘True Buddha’ of our modern age writes in the Gosho; “There should be no discrimination between those who propagate ‘Nam Myoho Renge Kyo’. ” He remains committed but believes his organisation is racist towards African-Americans. He comes up with the surprising statement that “the Ancient Buddhists were Africans and history proves this.”

Finally, although I haven’t read all of the content critically and I’m curious as to their agenda, this site alleges all kinds of horrors by Buddhists, including violence. See also Monks with Guns, a book about buddhist violence.

All is not well in the sangha. Wisdom Quarterly, an American Buddhist journal echoes my own belief that we’re all moral hypocrites. I’ve already blogged about Pagans and hypocrisy. I’ll possibly do one about Christian hypocrisy in future although I suspect most of us are already well aware of that. It may be time to meditate before an ancient angry Buddha statue. As an aside, is there something about old religious stuff that makes it art, not kitsch? If you’re really wanting Buddhist kitsch, try the Buddha phone.

Perhaps I shall remain Avidya [4] but I think I’ll continue my interest in Buddhism. I plan to take a meditation course at some point. But I’ll be doing it with my eyes open, no pun intended.

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Any comments?

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listening to Plus-Tech Squeeze Box | (unknown), Pryda | Remember
tful Fascinating video about the ‘Exponential Times’ we live in.

[1] I’m going to start picking a soundtrack for my posts. The idea is the music compliments the writing and I’m a huge music fan. Today’s soundtrack is Departure/Ride My See-Saw by the Moody Blues. It’s more of an ‘OM’-type New Age hippy thing really, but since we in the West are pretty ignorant it will do just nicely for a Buddhist soundtrack. I first heard this when I was around 17, I love it’s abandoned joy in seeking enlightenment. Plus, its The Moody Blues maaaan.

[2] I suppose I should have blogged about logical inconsistencies before making this statement. Briefly, if the goal of Buddhism is to lose your self and become absorbed into the oneness of Nirvana then ultimately one’s own self is of no value. Hence, why have compassion on others? Other people are also of no value, and will eventually become nothing when they achieve Nirvana. This is only a short summary and is criticised by some Buddhists. I don’t have space for the full discussion here, would you like me to write a longer post about these ideas sometime?

[3] 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.

[4] Avidya is a Buddhist term for one who is ignorant of spiritual truths.

The Moody Blues | Ride My See-Saw

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGEye0b5JXw

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