Saturday, 8 August 2020

The Mathematics of Awakening

 We all are aware that in most cases, crawling comes before walking, and walking comes before running. It’s like that with many things in life, you don’t immediately write the magnum opus as soon as you learn how to write. You don’t jump from learning how to count to trigonometry. You don’t learn how to say mama & papa and turn into a great orator. On the surface, that seems entirely natural, and indeed common sense. Once those skills have been learned, it can require continued usage of the skill can slip away. I knew how to speak Spanish and French a lot better before than I do now. You don’t use it, you lose it. You run a marathon, you need to continue running or you won’t make it to 26 yards let alone 26 miles. 


In all these cases, you need to be taught by someone how to manifest these capabilities you have the innate capacity to manifest. However, you can’t take a random group of people, some of whom just learned how to count, some of whom learned arithmetic, some algebra, and expect them all to learn trigonometry equally and at the same pace. They may all have the ability to learn it, but some will be at a different pace than the others. 


In the Lotus Sutra, Shariputra is confused by the Buddha’s teaching. He freely admits it. He’d been around the Buddha for ages, but was still confused. the following interchange takes place between Shariputra and the Buddha:


Then the Bhagavat spoke to Śāriputra, saying: “You have now persistently asked me three times. How could I possibly not explain it to you?

Therefore listen carefully and pay close attention! I will now illuminate and explain it.”

“When he said this, five thousand monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen in the assembly immediately got up from their seats, bowed to the Buddha, and left. What was the reason for this? Because the roots of error among this group had been deeply planted and they were arrogant, thinking they had attained what they had not attained and had realized what they had not realized. Because of such defects they did not stay. And the Bhagavat remained silent and did not stop them.

Then the Buddha addressed Śāriputra: “My assembly here is free of useless twigs and leaves; only the pure essence remains.

“O Śāriputra! Let the arrogant ones go! Listen carefully and I will explain it to you.”

Then Śāriputra replied: “Indeed, O Bhagavat, I greatly desire to hear it.”

Then the Buddha addressed Śāriputra: “Only very rarely do the Buddha Tathāgatas teach such a True Dharma as this, as rarely as the uḍumbara flower blooms.

Then Śāriputra replied: “Indeed, O Bhagavat, I greatly desire to hear it.”

“O Śāriputra! Trust and accept what the Buddha teaches!”


What the Buddha teaches one, he may not teach another. That teaching may come later, maybe never if it isn’t needed. Just like Shariputra, we should not be embarrassed by not understanding a teaching. Likewise we should not assume that we do have something we don’t, like those who left the assembly before the Buddha could give his teaching. 


For me, there are three stages we go through as Buddhist practitioners. For example, regarding the Four Noble Truths, we hear that we struggle, there’s a reason for it, and then, “Yay!  there’s a way out! And here’s how you get out.” That’s Buddhism 101, arithmetic. Then as Zen practitioners, we move onto Stage 2–Algebra—“No suffering, no origination, no stopping and no path” Then beyond that: Calculus—“How can I help you?” The foundation of all “advanced” mathematics is still arithmetic. 


So is one stage more enlightened than another—more “woker?” It is a rare individual who can learn to count, then immediately leap to calculus. Not impossible, but unlikely. But does arithmetic invalidate calculus, or vice versa? Is arithmetic enough? In some circumstances, yes. In other situations, trigonometry is going to be necessary. But what is necessary at that time is the correct skill at that time. 


You may have heard of the Northern School/Southern School argument about Gradual Enlightenment vs Sudden Enlightenment  Great Seon ancestor Jinul spoke of Sudden Enlightenment/Gradual cultivation. Someone once described it as walking through a rain shower as Gradual, taking a cannonball dive as Sudden. For Jinul’s Sudden/Gradual, our  guiding teacher here at OMZS Ven Taesan  speaks of boiling water—it’s not boiling until it hits 212 Fahrenheit. It hits that, and bang! Boiling Enlightenment. But unless heat is continued to be applied, the temperature will start to drop. Northern/Southern, Sudden/Gradual, Sudden then Gradual, all concepts. Lesser Vehicle/Great Vehicle, Hinayana/Mahayana—concepts. Does one invalidate the other? Is Mahayana right and Hinayana wrong? 


Given impermanence as the 0 point, one may be a carnivore one day, then vegetarian, then vegan, then maybe back to carnivore. The egotist of today may be the most humble tomorrow. Just because a personal bar of ethics may be high, others not matching that level doesn’t necessarily make them inferior; they may not have the capacity for more. 


The Lotus Sutra speaks of Ekayana—one vehicle. Huangbo speaks of One Mind. The Buddha taught all of it, the ancestors and patriarchs have taught all of it, our teachers today teach all of it. Upaya, teaching geared to what the student needs/has the capacity for, not to the teacher’s self-centered ego. “Trust and accept what the Buddha teaches!” How May I help you?



Thursday, 28 May 2020

In These Uncertain Times

The first time I heard the phrase “in these uncertain times “ on a television commercial, I thought how sympathetic it was, acknowledging people’s fear and discomfort, across this world, as a result of a disease. Then, after the 80th time and my eyes and ears glazed over and started feeling like sympathy was being commodified so these fearful people would buy more stuff from these supposedly sympathetic merchants that somehow would be comforting, that would restore some sense of predictably, it dawned on me: When are times certain? 

Impermanence is one of the Three Dharma Seals—everything is changing, changing, changing. But if everything is changing, is that any different from it being still? Same as still? Everything is perfectly still, perfect as it is, even when that’s uncomfortable. And as it changes from moment to moment, all of this good/bad is just thinking. If everything is in constant motion, then how is that changing? If nothing is ever in the same place twice, doesn’t that become the baseline, the ground from which it all springs? If there were only light, there’d be no reason to bother having the word dark. Dark would only be a mental concept. If everything is always in flux, why do we invent the concept of static? We make our own opposites, we create duality where there is none.

Richard Clarke translated Sencan’s Xinxin Ming:
“Do not remain in the dualistic state;
avoid such pursuits carefully.
If there is even a trace
of this and that, of right and wrong,
the Mind-essence will be lost in confusion.
Although all dualities come from the One,
do not be attached even to this One.”

Shitou Xiqian, great Chan sage wrote something called CAN TONG QI—merging of difference and unity. This is part of it, as translated by JC Cleary:

“Each sense and every field
Interact and do not interact;
When interacting, they also merge -
Otherwise, they remain in their own states.
Forms are basically different in material and appearance,
Sounds are fundamentally different in pleasant or harsh quality….
The four gross elements return to their own natures
Like a baby taking to its mother;
Fire heats, wind moves,
Water wets, earth is solid.
Eye and form, ear and sound;
Nose and smell, tongue and taste -
Thus in all things
The leaves spread from the root;
The whole process must return to the source;”

So of course these times are uncertain, but only because we think times are or can be certain.we think phenomena have a self-nature, even though everything we’ve ever heard is that all conditioned phenomena have no self nature, that they are all characterized by emptiness. But we’re shocked by how that lack of self-nature comes out. Most days just slide one into the next, even when the unexpected comes along, it’s easy enough to ignore. Water is wet, but when the water cooler is out of water and it’s dry, it’s no big deal. 

But there are those other times when we feel like we’re hanging by our teeth from a branch dangling over a hungry tiger, and with a swordsman at the base of the tree in front of us. We’re standing on top of a flagpole with nowhere to go. We can hang on for as long as we can, trying to impose order when there really isn’t. But the baseline is still there, that baseline of perpetual change, that baseline of all change being no change, of uncertainty.
We can choose what we like and don’t like, we can say this is good, that is bad. It’s not good and bad, reality doesn’t need our validation to just be. Water is wet, Fire is hot, ice is cold. Uncertainty is uncertainty. 

Step off the flagpole, help all beings. Unclench the jaw, “how may I help you?” See reality for what it is, wipe out the self-centered preferences, and take on the selfless act of realizing your True Buddha Nature, return to the source that was never left, and help all beings, even in “these uncertain times.” 

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Heroes of Progressive Buddhism: Myawaddy Sayadaw of Burma/Myanmar

Last year I started a series on "Heroes of Progressive Buddhism" as a way to help build a portfolio of sorts of Buddhists around the world doing great, progressive work.

The first in this series was Sebene Selassie, Executive Director of New York Insight. Selassie is a woman of color and as I noted last year, "What comes out in particular is Selassie’s commitment to Inclusion and Diversity outreach."

This time we have an example of inclusion and diversity outreach from Burma/Myanmar.

Myanmar’s Military Seeks to Jail Buddhist Monk over Criticism

 As Myanmar has seen a resurgence of Islamophobic, violent fundamentalist monks, it has also seen numerous leaders like Myawaddy seeking to build bridges and end violence. Now he and his work are under threat. From the article:
" ... renowned for his work with peace and interfaith groups,* the abbot has been accused of defamation by Myanmar’s politically powerful military following an interview he gave to the local Yangon Khit Thit news website in June. During the conversation, he questioned the propriety of a more than 30 million kyat (US$20,000) donation by an army commander to the ultra-nationalist Buddhist organization the Buddha-Dhamma Parahita Foundation." 
“I will contest whatever lawsuit they use. Suing us shows there are no rights, but it will not stop me from speaking the truth,” said Myawaddy Sayadaw. “I will keep saying what should not be done and what should be avoided. I’m a Buddhist monk and this is my duty to show the right path for everyone.”


Standing up to repressive ideas (as the Buddha did with aspects of the caste system and entrenched gender inequality) and governments is central to a decidedly progressive Buddhism, as it follows the right understanding of our social and political context and puts it into right action. Not all Buddhists will do this, and that's okay.

For some, Buddhism will be primarily a path of devotion or merit accumulation, chanting, prostrating, reading texts, etc. But this active, engaged, progressive stance is every bit a part of Buddhism today as any other path.

This is the first  second in a planned series on the topic of “Progressive Buddhism.” That term is admittedly vague, despite a blog being devoted to the topic since 2007 and a facebook group since 2015 (both administered by yours truly at present). I hope in the coming months to develop a set of principles and ideals to guide thinking around and discussion of Progressive Buddhism, and to point out “heroes,” or people who embody some of those principles and ideals in their life and work. Sometimes these will be in depth, sometimes brief vignettes.

Saturday, 31 August 2019

Do You Have to be Leftist (to be a Progressive Buddhist)?

One of the teachings of the Dharma is that our tendency to attach names to forms, and with those names, meanings. That’s very handy—we’d all be walking in front of busses, and not even knowing what hit us without that habit. The problem arises when we start to think the bus has some “bus-ness” to it, and that the name “bus” and the “bus-ness” actual means something more than that thing with four wheels and people inside it is a mode of transportation. 

“Mass transit is Good!” “Those people in that bus must have lost their drivers licenses, they must all be drunks...or poor.” Neither of these statements is true or false. Taking a bus instead of a car may be a responsible choice environmentally, or it may be the only choice if you happen to be an unlicensed poor drunk. Making these value judgments and assigning good and bad qualities only mires us further into this Sahā World that we must endure. 

And so it is with “IdPol,” Identity Politics. Both “Progressive” and “Buddhism” can be (and often are), loaded with stereotypes, and heavily-dosed with “meaning” and expectations. “Progressive” at its most literal is defined as growing, developing, moving forward. “Buddhism” is simply a follower of the Buddha and one who lives according to these teachings. We’re not all vegans or vegetarians, we’re not all members of the Comintern. “Conservative” Buddhists May be those who want to stay close to the Buddha’s teachings, eschewing the new-agey aspects some have pinned on by or about Buddhists. 

In all likelihood, there are combinations of identifications we or others attach to us. It is said that when asked about “Engaged” Buddhism, Thich Nhat Hann replied, “Is there any other kind?” And that’s a telling statement. Being engaged is just seeing the interdependence of all dharmas. In realizing this “interbeing,” as TNH would call it, we embody compassion by our involvement in the world, Sahā world though it may be. Embodying compassion is being progressive. We want to move forward toward a world where compassion is the norm. We move this along by being compassionate ourselves. For those of us who have taken the Bodhisattva Vows, we try to “save all beings” through our compassion. 

“IdPol” may as well be eliminated from being a progressive Buddhist, because we do our best for everyone and everything, in order to enable them to realize their innate Buddha. Hating does nothing to liberate either ourselves or others. Isn’t that reason we all practice?

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Growing Deeper, Engaging Further: a future for Progressive Buddhism

As this blog enters its 10th year, I find myself wondering: what next?

The blog has had its ebbs and flows, as has Buddhist blogging in general (and all blogging perhaps?). Perhaps it has been replaced by facebook groups? (such as our own, founded in 2015) Maybe it has been replaced by a few 'big name' thinkers?

In any case, what next? I imagine we all have requests and ideas, and I'd love to hear them - here in the comments section of the blog.

As for myself, an idea has been percolating for a while to clarify and develop the ideas of "Progressive Buddhism." The hope is to make Progressive Buddhism clearer both to us (this very loosely knit band of writers and readers) and to the greater world. Think of the development of Secular Buddhism in recent years, or if you're a historian you can think of the ways that Buddhism developed unique and new schools in places like Tibet, China, and Japan. Existing schools will remain, but in a new land, new needs and new contexts present new challenges, and we can respond creatively or ossify and either cut ourselves off, or as often happens, find that [our narrow version of] Buddhism doesn't work for us.

The idea would be to develop on the progressive side a "platform" of sorts: a set of ever-changing ideas and principles to adhere to, movements and developments we tend to support, prejudices and "regressive" tendencies we hope to move humanity away from, etc.

On the Buddhism side, a set of characteristics and practices we might affirm, not as a creed or dogma, but perhaps more in line with the Unitarian Universalist tradition, adopting general principles and sources.

A start:

Progressive - (dedicated to, in no particular order)

  1. Tackling climate change
  2. Fighting racism and structural racial injustice
  3. Reducing wealth and income inequality
  4. Increasing understanding, tolerance, and kinship among all peoples
  5. Ensuring access to healthcare, education, clean air and water and food and shelter for all
For example, we can pool ideas, seek out experts, and work together for small and large-scale solutions to these issues. Some of us can enact them. Others can help existing schools of Buddhism sign on and help. This is not about establishing and us-vs-them mentality, but about bringing all of humanity together through our ideals and practices. 

Buddhism

  1. Welcoming and affirming all Buddhisms
  2. Establishing a broad curriculum in Buddhist history, philosophy, and practice
  3. Supporting and engaging with practices that bring ancient tradition into the current world
Lively discussions can bring out our understandings of Buddhism as individuals and as a community. Essays could be collected, books written, etc. The Buddhist canon is ever-evolving and grew in Tibet and grew in China, and so on. Some people consider Gary Snyder's 1969 "Smokey the Bear Sutra" to be part of the Buddhist canon. Why not? As long as it delivers the wisdom or practical instruction of the tradition in ways appropriate to the age, it should at least be considered.
Photo by Samuel Austin on Unsplash

One might look to the Unitarian Universalist "Seven Principles" and "Six Sources" for further inspiration. The principles, for instance, might go virtually unchanged as borrowed into Progressive Buddhism:

UU Seven Principles

We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote:
  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
(replacing congregations with either sanghas or communities)

And the six sources can likewise be borrowed, though with greater emphasis on Buddhist traditions as primary, but not exclusive, sources of the new tradition.

UU Six Sources, repurposed slightly

  • Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
  • Words and deeds of reformers and philosophers which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
  • Wisdom from Western religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
  • The many Buddhist traditions' in all of their manifestations
  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
  • Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.
Establishing this community of ideals, we might argue less about specifics of faith (a favorite pastime it seems of many convert Buddhists) and focus more on growth and development, both as individuals and as a community.

Given this, I must recognize that I'm mostly just an 'ideas person' - I'm not a natural organizer or leader or any number of key roles that will need to be filled for the launch of a New Progressive Buddhism. What would you like to see here? What role can you play?

Some guidelines:

If you're not interested, that's fine. Perhaps some aspect of the Buddhist status quo is 100% just fine with you. Good. Join them, practice, learn, etc.

We're not interested just now in debate (there has been plenty of that). The affirmed aim of Progressive Buddhism is already to bring the tradition anew into contemporary life. This implicitly critiques existing traditions, but not wholesale and not lightly. In fact, we would argue that this critique (and change and growth) is part of living traditions already and is essential for their continued existence. 

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Progressive Buddhism as a (more) Secular Approach

When you study the history of Buddhism(s), you see that it has always shifted as it entered different cultures to be appropriate to the place and time. Tibetan Buddhism is clearly distinct from the Indian Buddhism before it; Chinese Buddhism is very distinct from Indian forms, and Japanese Buddhism yet again different from the Korean and Chinese traditions that preceded it.

Even the scripturally conservative Theravadin schools of Sri Lanka, Burma, and Thailand inherit large amounts of their thought and practice from Buddhaghosa, a 5th century commentator on the Pali Canon.

And this is, I think, both the intention of the Buddha based on his way of teaching and a very good trait of Buddhism. The Buddha taught in different ways depending on who he was speaking with. With learned Brahmins, he often showed the error of specific beliefs. Sometimes they'd become Buddhists, sometimes they'd just walk away (leaving the reader/listener to understand the errors of Brahmanism). With kings and princes he spoke of good governance and altruism. With laypeople he offered basic sets of values and teachings on generosity. With his monks he laid down rules of conduct and expounded on his full path of ethics, meditation, and wisdom.

This great variety of teachings allowed the Buddha to appeal to a wide variety of listeners. Some, of course, would grasp at particular teachings and 'get stuck' - loudly proclaiming that they had the way and everyone else was wrong. In the Buddha's own lifetime, the schismatic attempts of his cousin Devadata show that the propensity to cling to one's own way is nothing new.

Buddhist teacher and regular contributor to our Progressive Buddhism facebook group, Ken Leong, has a provocative piece there now titled, "Religious education versus secular education." In part he writes:
Great progress has been made in the way we teach. First, modern education is student-centered. Every effort is made to promote student learning and student well-being. Traditional religious education, on the other hand, is teacher-centered and doctrine-centered. The focus of traditional religious education is the propagation of the religion and its doctrines. Second, the modern educator does not believe that he has all the truth and wisdom. Rather, modern pedagogy assumes that students are creative and capable of coming up with new ideas and discoveries.... Traditional religious education, on the other hand, assumes that the teacher—the master, the guru, Buddha or Jesus--has all the truth and there will not be any major new discoveries by the students. The students are treated as passive and inconsequential in such traditional setting. Third, modern education is democratic. The teacher is more a facilitator of learning than a boss. Traditional religious education, on the other hand, is authoritarian in nature—there is much imbalance of power between student and teacher, which often leads to abuses.
He goes on to point out the 'magical thinking' of some today (presumably many Buddhist teachers and practitioners) who deify teachers who are, like the Buddha, only human. Noting the Kalama Sutta, he suggests we see the Buddha as a great teacher, but one who still needs to be challenged as we take on new ideas. We are not to take them on blindly.

The ethos of the Buddha: to explore, to challenge, to work foremost on oneself can easily be lost - both by those new to Buddhism who just want (easy) answers and by old 'masters' who might know the teachings well but don't know the world around them. Old teachers and expounders thus militate against feminism, social equality, and other new developments in teaching and understanding the Dharma.

This, of course, is not all old teachers. Many I've known have turned out to be the most open, flexible, fun-loving and yet serious in practice, human beings. But we continue on with this cautionary tale. Titles, age, years of practice are no balm to dogmatism and regressive views.

Our current age is one of growing secularism. Buddhists have thrived in this age not by brutishly asserting their 'truths', but in working to understand people's needs for practice, community, and inquiry. This edge of Buddhism is and will continue to be the Progressive Buddhism we promote and discuss here. 

Sunday, 27 May 2018

The Sutra to the Kalamericans

The Kalamericans Go to See the Teacher

Thus have I seen on YouTube:

A great speaker, a great wise Teacher was to give a TED talk from the city of the many universities. Word spread of this, and tickets to the event were very difficult to obtain, such was the excitement generated by his appearance. He was known as a great Teacher of all from young to old, to all genders, able to heal political wounds, crosser of chasms beings had self-imposed. His wisdom was said to be all pervasive, his teachings good from start to finish, and able to be understood by all. With skillful means he could explain his teachings to all, regardless of his or her capacity, each able to understand as if it were only they who were being taught.

Many who came to see him waited outside the stage door, some taking selfies, some asking for autographs, some calling out their names, some silent with awe. They then all proceeded single-file through the metal detectors at the main entrance to the theater.

The Kalamericans ask for guidance from the Teacher

Before the formal talk was to begin, the audience members spoke of others who had come to offer talks, what they’d seen on other TED talks, either in person or on the internet, things that had been attributed to the Teacher others posted on social media, some genuine teachings, some not, and virtually all stripped of context, short sound bites shown on the various news sources the people had come to rely upon for their information, and what had been written about the Teacher on blogs of many types. Some felt compelled to explain their own beliefs and doctrines or the opinions of what they believed to be the doctrine of the Teacher, some thought it appropriate to complain about other Teachers, or about the doctrines that others followed, including those of their fellow audience members. Being unable to reach any consensus whatsoever, they asked the Teacher to give his answers as to what the correct teachings were, who the reliable sources of true teachings were, where to learn about the truth, and what sources to avoid, those sources they reviled as “fake.”

Before the audience descended into pure chaos, with each attempting to prove the validity of their own beliefs by speaking louder and louder, the Teacher quieted the crowd by offering calming gestures and with his seemingly irrepressible smile. He then spoke to the assembled listeners:
"It is proper for you to doubt, to be uncertain; uncertainty has arisen in you about what you find dubious. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; repeating something enough times does not make it true. Do not rely solely upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon soundbite; nor upon an axiom; nor upon conventional wisdom; nor upon a bias towards a notion that someone else has, nor upon another's apparent fame or talmt; not on what you read on Twitter, not on Facebook, not on Politico, not from Fox News, not from MSNBC or CNN, proclaiming, ‘This guy tells it like it is,’ because someone told you how to think it is, or that it validates what you’ve come to think from your exposure to all the media and from other who share your point of view, avoiding those who do not, eschewing the company of those with whom you presuppose you don’t agree. But yourselves know: 'These things are bad; these things are troubling; these things are censured by the wise, these things lead to harm and ill.’ So, abandon them. Abandon them!”

Greed, hate, and delusion
“What do you think,my friends? Does greed appear in a man for his benefit or harm?"
The audience was divided on this point. The Teacher continued, somewhat perplexed, but not entirely surprised due to his talent to read a crowd as if he possessed an omniscient eye.

“Overtaken by his greediness, he may kill, may steal even from those who have less, tell lies, and commit adultery. Then he tries to get others to do the same. How do you think this will work out, to his benefit or not?”

“Well, maybe,” from one side of the room, and “Of course! You’d have to be stupid to think that isn’t true,” were the most unified responses the Teacher received. It seemed to the Teacher that the audience had separated, migrating to one side of the room or the other, depending on whom those opinions they agreed with most.

“And what do you think, mis amigos? Does hate appear in a man for his benefit or harm? "My friends,  by hating, he may kill, steal, lie, and commit adultery. How is this going to work out for him?
“Harm, unless he’s right about who he hates.” The audience was more united than previously, but still not totally in agreement.

“What do you think,friends? Does delusion appear in a man for his benefit or harm?"
"For his harm."
“Yeah, delusions are bad.”
“If a person is under the spell of his delusion, he may do all the things you’ve said are harmful, and what may be even worse, he believes his own lies, and doesn’t even see that anything he does is harmful. Is delusion going to help or harm?”
“Harm.”
The assembled seemed to agree on this.

Kalamericans, you yourselves know: "These things are bad; these things are harmful, and lead to problems,"Abandon them!”

The criterion for acceptance

“Kalamericans, do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon guesswork; nor upon an axiom; nor upon conventional wisdom; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been that’s been over by someone else; nor upon another's apparent fame or talent, nor on what you read on Twitter, nor Facebook, nor Politico, nor from Fox News, not from MSNBC or CNN or saying this politician is our Teacher. “Kalamericans when you yourselves know: 'These things are good; these things are not troubling; these things are praised by the wise; these things will not lead to arrest and prison, these things lead to benefit and happiness,' abide in them. Abide in them!

Absence of greed, hate, and delusion
“What do you think, my friends? Does absence of greed appear in a man for his benefit or harm?"
There was disagreement amongst the audience again.
"Kalamericans, not being greedy, and not killing, not stealing, not cheating on his wife, not telling lies; he prompts another to do likewise. Will that be for his benefit and happiness?"
"Yes, I guess benefit” came from one section of the audience.
“Of course” from the other.
The Teacher raised one eyebrow quizzically and looked over at his assistant Andy, who could only reply with a shrug.

“What do you think, comrades? Does absence of hate appear in a man for his benefit or harm?"
One member of the audience coughed uncomfortably.
"Kalamaericans, being not given to hate, and not doing hateful things, is this beneficial?”
Once more, the Teacher was met with silence.

“What do you think, Kalamericans? Does absence of delusion appear in a man for his benefit or harm?"
"For his benefit!,” coming from all quarters.
The Teacher considered that he may have gotten the crowd back on the path.

“What do you think, Kalamericans? Are these things good or bad?"
“Good, great Teacher."
"Problematic or not problematic?"
"Not problematic,."
"Vilified or praised by the wise?"
"Praised, of course."
"When you think about it, do these things lead to benefit and happiness, or not? what do you think?"
"They lead to benefits and happiness. That's how we see it. In most circumstances.”

“Therefore, what was said is this, 'Come my fellow Kalamericans. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon assumption; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been said by someone else; nor upon another's apparent fame or talent; nor on what you read on Twitter, nor Facebook, from Politico, nor from Fox News, not from MSNBC or CNN or saying this politician is our Teacher.

“Let’s have a brief recap. Greed, good or bad?”asked the Teacher.
“Can we get back to you on that?”
“Hate, good or bad?”
In unison, the crowd roared back, “Bad. Except in certain circumstances!”
“Delusion, good or bad?”
“We’re confused, can you use it in a sentence.”
“Killing?”
Again in unison, “Depends!”
“Stealing?”
The crowd caucused amongst themselves, finally coming to the conclusion, “Bad!
The Teacher smiled again.
“Lying?”
"Bad. Mostly. Depends on whether you can get arrested for it?”
The smiled dropped from the Teacher’s lips.
“Okay, how about committing adultery?”
“Bad...but only if you get caught, and if you do, deny it, and then you can pay someone off to keep quiet about it, and if that doesn’t work, deny it again.”
The Teacher glanced at Andy again, and again Andy just shrugged.

“Kalamericans, when you yourselves know: "These things are bad; these things lead to prison; and upon careful consideration in your heart of hearts, these things lead down a dangerous road, you will abandon them!”

The Four Exalted Dwellings

“The righteous, who in this way is devoid of greediness and ill will, seeing the truth clearly, clearly comprehending and mindfully, dwells with the thought of friendship, with the great, exalted, boundless thought that is free of hate or malice for all of humanity throughout the world.”

"He lives with the thought of compassion; he dwells in the world of compassion because it is good for all humanity, everywhere, the entire world, with the great, boundless thought of compassion that is free of hate or malice.”

“I don’t know about this ‘whole world’ stuff" someone yelled from the back of the room. “We come first!” Another chimed in with, “OK, I’ll be compassionate, but I’m not sharing any of my money to do it. And I don’t want anything going to a bunch of bums too lazy to work.”

The other side of the room tried to raise a rousing chorus of “Kumbaya,” but was unable to do so, having both the voices and the nature of a herd cats with a crying shepherd running in many directions.

The Teacher took on the delivery of an old-time country preacher.

“He lives with the thought of love for all people, everywhere, the entire world, with the great, exalted, boundless thought of gladness that is free of hate or malice. He lives with equanimity towards all living beings, everywhere, the entire world, with the great, exalted, boundless thought that is free of hate or malice.”

It was as if the entire audience rolled its collective eye.

The Four comforts

“The Great Student,  Kalamericans, the Great Student who has such a hate-free mind, such a malice-free mind, such an undefiled mind, and such a purified mind, is one by whom comforts are found right here and now.
"'Suppose there is a hereafter and there is a fruit, result, of deeds done well or ill, a heaven or hell. Then it is possible that at the moment of death, I shall arise in the heavenly world, which is possessed of the state of bliss.”
He continued, “Suppose there is no heaven of hell, and there is no fruit, no result, of deeds done well or ill. Yet in this world, here and now, free from hatred, free from malice, safe and happy, can say, “At least I’m good in the here and now.’.
From the crowd came, “I swear to God there’s a heaven, and there’s sure as Hell a hell!”

"'Suppose evil befalls an evil-doer. I, however, think of doing evil to no one. Then, how can it affect me who doesn't do anything evil?' Suppose evil outcomes do not befall an evil-doer. Then I see myself purified in any case.'
“It’s win-win-win-win, no downside, so long as you are hate-free, don’t act with malice and do harmful things to one another. Heaven or hell, no-heaven, no-hell, no matter, you experience the knowledge of a great life right here & now.”

“Hmmmm. Yeah? Really?” murmured the audience. The Teacher with his his omniscient eye regarded them as coming around, albeit slowly. He saw that their desire for freedom from their day-to-day lives hadn’t provided them any freedom, let alone peace.

"The followers of the Great Ones, my Kalamerican friends, who have a generous mind, a  hate-free mind, an undefiled mind, and a purified mind, is one who experiences a wonderful life!” The Teacher saw that their desire for comfort, even from a place of greed and clinging could have a positive result. The crowd pondered momentarily, being presented with ideas that deep-down they knew were right, but were also seemed so far from what their day to day lives were like.

Then they responded surprisingly but with some reservation, “Okay!”

A spokesperson rose from the crowd. “What you say makes sense. A person who has a hate-free mind, an undeluded mind, and such a purified mind, is one by whom, here and now, can have a good life. But it’s not easy, Great Teacher. If we do it, and we’re back in with everyone else, who doesn’t live like this, we’re screwed!” The crowd now muttered in agreement to this statement.

The spokesperson continued, “But we’ll try it. We’ll try to pay attention to your teachings, and we will look to others who also follow them who can give us support when it looks as if we might backslide. Is that good enough? We’re just regular Joes, Joe the Plumber-types, not great spiritual beings, you know? But, what the hell, what have we got to lose? If it works out, that’s great. I think I can speak for all of us, and much to our surprise, your teachings do make sense. It’s like you point the way to someone who is lost or to carry a lamp in the darkness, thinking, 'Those who have eyes will see what there is that’s visible,'

The Teacher replied, “Excellent, excellent, my good friends. Well said, well said. But this teaching, as well as the others you may encounter from repeated hearing; tradition; rumor; what is in a scripture; guesswork; an axiom; conventional wisdom; a bias towards a notion that has been that’s been over by someone else; another's apparent fame or talent, on what you read on Twitter, Facebook, Politico, nor, Fox News, MSNBC, CNN or following politician who ‘tells it like it is, all these things, even what I’ve told you today can only be proven by putting them into action. Don’t take my word for it...but you’ll see it’s correct.”

The crowd gave the Great Teacher a rousing round of applause, even whistling their approval and yelling “Woot, woot.” The Teacher saw as if with an omniscient eye that some would follow the teachings faithfully, others would for a period of time, others would say they’re followers of the Way but their actions would prove otherwise, still others who will disregard the teachings altogether, even disparaging the Teachings. But the Teacher was also aware that these thoughts of the members of the crowd are as subject to change as much as everything else. One who agrees wholeheartedly today may backslide tomorrow, the denier of today may eventually lead a virtuous life. Even with the outcome of his teaching being any of these scenarios, he was still satisfied.

The Teacher and Andy packed their few belongings and prepared to leave the building through the stage door. As they did, they both heard a member of his audience say, “Now if only the other half of this crowd weren’t so stupid and agreed with this great teaching!”
The Teacher smiled at Andy, Andy smiled quizzically back. Andy said, “Teacher, they still don’t seem to get it.” The Teacher replied, “We’ll see how their actions speak, either because of or in spite of their words. They are Kalamericans, and their minds are changing, changing, changing.”

Andy nodded in agreement, despite his desire to smack some of the audience in the head. As a faithful follower of the Teacher, the Teachings, and who found support in followers of the Teachings, he refrained from shaking any of the audience members.

Thus have I seen on YouTube.



Sunday, 1 April 2018

Fears Exist

The Heart Sutra contains the lines, “...The Bodhisattva depends on Prajnaparamita and the mind is no hindrance. Without any hindrance no fears exist…” Rather than as some intellectual concept  that is to be learned, does that have any real application to real life as we live it? Obviously, there is fear. People are afraid because of some imminent threat or a projection of a threat that is in the future, and therefore hasn’t happened, isn’t happening at this moment, and possibly won’t happen. It’s one thing when there’s a hungry-looking tiger in front of you, and you’re wearing a suit made out of steak. It’s a different type of fear  to think, “Maybe this isn’t a good day to wear a suit made of steak, because it might attract hungry tigers.” Both of those are good sense, based in the reality of the moment, because you’ve heard of other people’s experience that tigers do attack and eat people, tigers like steak, ergo, this may not be a good combination and backing away from said tiger would probably be a good way not to be eaten. The second type is based on others’ experience much like the first, but while a projection, it’s not unreasonable to think that learning from others’ mistakes might be a good way not to make the same mistake.

Sometimes “learning from others’ mistakes” is classified as ‘wisdom,” but I think that stretches that definition far beyond what I’d say is just common sense. Perhaps “wisdom” might be earned by looking at Lady Gaga’s meat dress idea, and saying to yourself that tigers or no tigers, that wearing a suit made of steak was just a plain old garden variety bad idea, never was a good idea, and in a very small number of cases will never be a good idea, unless attracting hungry tigers is your aim. I can’t imagine where that would be a reasonable aim, but I’m not so bold as to think it’s beyond the realm of possibility. Likewise, it wouldn’t have crossed my mind to wear a meat dress to an awards show, and not just because I don’t have the legs for it. If people were looking at my legs when I was wearing a meat dress, I would be reasonable to think that a parallel universe had been entered where meat-based clothing was the norm. But then there’s that other kind of fear, the fear that is a hindrance. In this case, it might be that you’re convinced that wearing a meat dress even with your legs is a good idea, but the start second-guessing it as soon as you are ready to go on stage.

This type of fear could also be called worry. If the fear is based in how others might perceive you, and what in turn they’ll think of you, and how they’ll treat you, and what they’ll say behind your back, then that is worry. While the “imminent threat” type of fear may only rarely come up, and the notion that if you do A, then B might be a reasonable result, while that may be fortune-telling, it’s not fact-based, if not in this particular moment factual. If you think that not drinking to excess might lead to drunk driving, which in turn might lead to a ticket, arrest, loss of driving privilege, and worse yet, getting involved in a accident and getting injured, even worse than that, that someone else might be who gets injured, then the foresight that not drinking and driving would lead to a better outcome than the possibilities that drinking and driving might lead to is a pretty good analysis of potential future situations. I’m not sure that it’s anything that I’d spend much time meditating on, because one would hope that I’m not contemplating going on a bender after I leave the cushion. But that may be a viable focus point to others, so I won’t discount it.


I've live with someone who is spending a lot of time crossing from legitimate “this could kill me fear” to “what if” worry a lot lately. It's a situation that deserves as much concern as can be applied to it, in fact. To briefly recap my partner’s health issues over the last 18 months or so, first was the breast cancer, followed by radiation, which may have contributed to her pneumonia during the fall and winter of that year. Not just pneumonia, but COP: cryptogenic organizing pneumonia. The key word there is “cryptogenic,” as in, “Well, it's not bacterial, because antibiotics aren't doing anything. And it's not a virus either. We don't know what it is, but we do know it's pneumonia, so we'll give it an important-sounding disease name that sounds a lot more important than ‘we don't know what in hell it is.” That was treated with over a year of Prednisone.

A follow-up X-ray revealed a neuroendocrine tumor or her pancreas, which was successfully removed, but with about half her pancreas being removed with the tumor.  Somewhere between that and the year of meds, we ended up in the ER one day to find out that not only did she have diabetes, but she also had a small stroke. There was an old MRI which when compared to a new one, corfirmed the stroke. Another week or two go by, trying to figure out the lancets, test strips, and the glucometer, and something was not quite right again. Back to the ER, admitted again, another MRI, and there was evidence of a second stroke. Her vision was affected by the strokes, but none of her motor skills. The dizziness seems to have abated. She's on a slew of medications now, dealing with everything from the breast cancer to the diabetes to the stroke.

And here's the rub--there is copious worrying about a recurrence of pneumonia, whether the Prednisone had anything to do with that and/or the diabetes, and what she'd be treated with if she had another bout of pneumonia. To me, two strokes in a month was the lurking hungry tiger, the specter of pneumonia and the meds were in the back of the bus. Her daughter’s well-meaning but potentially misplaced concern about hiring a cook for the diabetes, finding a new pulmonologist for the pneumonia recurrence which hasn't happened, to needing to find a different doctor to deal with the brain-based vision issues, has only fed my partner’s feelings of concern. We've got a tiger right here in the kitchen, and as much energy is spent worrying about the potential other tiger that isn't here yet and she's not wearing a meat dress.

One of the hindrances to Awakening is what I translate as “worry.” Sometimes it's said to be “doubt,” but I think that is a miss. I'd even throw “second-guessing” as an alternate. It's that type of fear that's not only based in projection, but a paralyzing racing-thought type of fear. The challenge is to help keep her from getting too stressed out by just talking to her daughter and others. My middle-type fear is that her getting too wound up is probably not a good thing for someone who has had two strokes. I can't say for sure that will lead to another stroke, but not poking that tiger seems reasonable. Where it gets tricky, requiring real observation, analyzing situations as they arise, and not compounding what's already tenuous, is how to do this with compassion. Inside my head there's a little voice saying, “Enough with the pneumonia! You've had two strokes!” What comes out my mouth has to have a touch more finesse than that.

But how about this “no fears exist” part? The part where the Bodhisattva relies on what creates no hindrance, and with no hindrance, comes no fear. The practice of Zen is to accept what reality is. The reality is that as of  today, she has diabetes, but pays attention to her diet and takes her meds, and so far as we’re aware it’s under control. Acknowledging that there is a history of health issues, and that they may return or that others may yet come, that’s also reality. A sense of mortality for her is probably very different for her than it is for me, and regardless of how accurate either of our thoughts about it are, that’s reality. Reality also includes that sometimes there will be worry about it, and fear.

Being able to face all these facets of reality, just facing them, acknowledging them, just dealing with feeling them when they’re there, letting them change into the next feeling, letting the next element of reality come along, acknowledging that it’s here and going to go, even when that means it might be even more unpleasant when this reality moves into the next unfolding reality, and facing that head on, that’s fearless. That’s looking the tiger in the eye without hindrance. For this moment, no fears exist, and when we next feel fear, we’re not afraid of fear.