BUDDHISM IN THE NEWS

buddhalollipoWednesday July 10, 2013 I will be speaking at Upaya Zen Center 1404 Cerro Gordo Road Santa Fe, NM, 87501. A few people have written to ask me the schedule. They told me, “The dharma talk starts at 5:30pm on Wednesday and goes for one hour.” Someone wrote in asking if there was zazen first. I don’t know. I’m expecting to start talking at 5:30, though.

People often ask this kind of thing because they want to skip the meditation and just come to the talk. This always kind of makes me sad. It’s like they don’t want the nutritious dinner, they just want the empty calories in the dessert. Ah well.

Also tonight, like every Monday from now till the End Of Time, we will hold a zazen meeting at 7:35pm  Golden Folk Wellness 1615 Lucile Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90026.

I’ve come across a few items in the news recently that I think deserve comment.

Bombings at Bodh Gaya

The most disturbing of these news stories is word of a series of bombs being set off at Bodh Gaya, the supposed spot where Buddha attained enlightenment in what is now Bihar, India. At Bodh Gaya there is a fig tree that is believed to be a descendant of the tree that Buddha sat under 2500 years ago. The tree was not damaged, nor was anyone killed or injured in the blasts. But the fact that they happened at all is unsettling.

Last I heard, nobody really knew why the attack happened. Some speculate it might be retaliation for what certain “Buddhists” are doing in Burma and Sri Lanka. That seems likely to me. If the Bodhi Tree is blown up because people are killing in the name of Buddhism, well maybe that’s just the way karma works. They really need to cut that shit out.

Why Meditation is Not a Productivity Tool

This is an interesting article in response to the widely propagated idea that meditation can be an excellent tool for boosting productivity. The folks who did that Wisdom 2.0 conference are really into this idea. While the author says this may be true, and I agree, it’s like saying your car can be a really useful greenhouse. I like this analogy. You could use your car as a greenhouse and it might even work out pretty well. But you’d be wasting all the other things that a car can do for you.

The samurai found that meditation helped them be better killers. But some of them surely discovered other things while they sat. Which brings us to our next article.

The Morality of Meditation

This is an interesting article about a psychological study whose results tend to imply that meditation increases a person’s likelihood of behaving in compassionate ways. Without any sort of moral training component, the practice of meditation alone seems linked to more compassionate behavior. I’d like to believe this is true. I think it is. But I also don’t want to give up emphasizing moral behavior and the Buddhist Precepts.

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I’ll leave you with this new video about my current book:

 

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Your donations will help me eat veggie burritos in New Mexico!

41 Responses

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  1. Rich
    Rich July 8, 2013 at 2:32 pm | |

    You know how it works – everybody wants to be entertained by something outside (your talk) rather than look inside.

    blowing up the bodhi tree – never expected that.

  2. shade
    shade July 8, 2013 at 3:46 pm | |

    Blowing up trees. Jesus. Mournful and also sort of pathetic. Somehow makes me think of that scene in Soylent Green where all the drunken yuppies incinerate the copse behind that rich guys house with the flame throwers. That was Soylent Green right?

    Well, the world is probably full of the descendents of the immemorial fig tree… there may be a whole forest of them in Belarus or something. Or Burma for that matter.

    ps. regarding the car as greenhouse analogy: it seems like meditating in order to increase productivity would be trading a lower aim for a higher one. Like eating flintstones vitamins because you liked the taste of candy. Where as turning a car into a green house might be just the opposite. That is, motor vehicles have both beneficial and malignant properties, where as greenhouse seem to be entirely beneficial, or at least innocuous (then again, I suppose you could use your volkswagon/greenhouse to cultivate strychnine).

    1. Harlan
      Harlan July 8, 2013 at 5:58 pm | |

      That was good shtick Shade.. I liked it.

  3. Fred
    Fred July 8, 2013 at 4:12 pm | |

    “A faith that is tempered by doubt” knows that you don’t need a Bodhi tree to
    wake up.

  4. Harlan
    Harlan July 8, 2013 at 6:29 pm | |

    “Your donations will help me eat veggie burritos in New Mexico!”

    If you like Taco Tonto’s you will think you died and went to Heaven if Santa Fe..

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0G-SqMDTbks

  5. shade
    shade July 8, 2013 at 7:05 pm | |

    One of the things that I like about Zen Buddhism is how relentlessly iconoclastic it is… that is, it’s disavowal of the sort of mentality practiced by many religious people – even those who supposedly eschew idolatry – that one has to engage in this particular ritual or visit this particular “holy” site or pray to this particular deity in this particular way in order to achieve this particular end. (Of course there is one practice that is essential to Buddhism- zazen I mean – but as the aim of this practice seems rather elusive and perhaps ineffable, that’s a whole other can of worms). Unfortunately Buddhism (like Christianity) is not immune from getting mixed up in this sort of pagan nonsense, so maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the revered fig tree were to be uprooted. Is killing the Buddha’s tree akin to killing the Buddha?

    On the other hand… I’m not down with rampant tree murder – be they celebrity trees or ordinary gas station attendant trees – simply because I disapprove of the mindless destruction of living things, even for the purposes of political statement (though my language may be sort of flippant here I’m actually entirely serious). Besides which if you set a bunch of explosives around a tree, particularly one that attracts many visitors from all over the world, you’re very likely to injure or kill some human beings as well.

    On a different note, something else that caught my attention:

    “Without any sort of moral training component, the practice of meditation alone seems linked to more compassionate behavior. I’d like to believe this is true. I think it is. But I also don’t want to give up emphasizing moral behavior and the Buddhist Precepts.”

    Interesting here how Brad sort of pits compassion against morality in this statement. In my experience the two are bound up, and when we try to separate them, even for purely conceptual purposes, both suffer. Morality without compassion tends to be doctrinaire, exacting, and at times outright cruel. Compassion without morality, however, tend to lose a sense of proportion and denigrate into mere sentiment or “pity” (and you know what they say about pity and contempt).

    Okay, think that’s enough for tonight.

    1. Andy
      Andy July 9, 2013 at 6:29 am | |

      Shade, regarding your points about how compassion and morality are ‘bound up’, isn’t that close to why Brad wrote: “But I also don’t want to give up emphasizing moral behavior and the Buddhist Precepts.”? I’m not sure the two notions we’re being pitted, so much as indicating two ways we can approach moral action, kind of like top down and bottom up. It’s an attractive idea that a certain practice might provide a tap-root for moral action and well-being, and yet think so might lead us down the slippery slope of thinking we’re already and always in touch with that tap root – or at least more often than we’d like to admit.

      1. shade
        shade July 9, 2013 at 6:55 am | |

        Andy

        yes I suppose you’re correct… I guess Brad wasn’t presenting compassion and morality in opposition or even dichotomy as responding to those who do. And from what I’ve read of Buddhist doctrine (both via Brad and others), everything is bound up in everything, whether material or non-material. It reminds me somewhat of the debate that comes up a lot in Catholic theology between the active and contemplative approaches. The more mystical writers – Meister Eckhardt and that cat who wrote The Cloud of Unknowing for example – also regard these as part and parcel of one another (though at the same time they generally regard contemplation as “higher” or “superior” somehow). It’s not a precise analogy of course but there are some commonalities – i.e. emphasis on behavior (action/morality) vs. something more interior and less legalistic (compassion/contemplation).

        I admit these aren’t the most coherent responses I’ve ever made. Whatever, take it for what it’s worth.

        1. Andy
          Andy July 9, 2013 at 7:09 am | |

          I think we’re on a similar kind of wave-length. And I much prefer sincerity to coherence (within reason) – which I think often provides a kind of richly messy coherence of it’s own in such spaces – a more human voice through human flaws. Starts up a discussion, and helps it keep rounded too, in my experience.

  6. zacharythax
    zacharythax July 9, 2013 at 2:17 am | |

    Most of the time one starts out meditation with some goals in mind, whether it is to not be so stressed, to seek a far-out trippy state or to hit on the cute girl at the meditation center, but it often leads us to places we don’t expect where those initial goals have to be let go of. While we can still go after life with dilligence, persistence and enthusiasm, there is also a relinquishing of control of the final outcome.

  7. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon July 9, 2013 at 3:11 am | |

    Is There a God, Brad the Bunny
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JxV4MPKocyM

    Discuss…

  8. Andy
    Andy July 9, 2013 at 6:56 am | |

    Just finished “There Is No God…” this afternoon, Brad.

    Perhaps the best recommendation I can give, in terms of readability, is the first sunburn I’ve had in donkey’s years.

    I found the chapter “Suicide At A Zen Monastery” deeply touching, haunting and quietly inspiring.

    I’m tempted to quote bits from your last two chapters, in which you express your reasons for using the word God with real nuance and gusto, but I think that would be to detract anyone who wishes to read the book from the impact (and for me, the sheer pleasure) of those distinctively purple patches of writing in themselves, and of the accumulative effect of having read the previous chapters to get there.

    I highly recommend the book – and to those who feel they are sympathetic or those who aren’t of what they suppose it is presenting.

  9. Fred
    Fred July 9, 2013 at 7:50 am | |

    In another thread I said that compassion flows from the no-self, an intense
    love for all that is. This didn’t come from a book.

    With this love, a morality and ethics are not necessary. Morality and ethics
    were created by humans in their dealings with each other, and are subject
    to hypocrisy.

  10. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 9, 2013 at 9:39 am | |

    The enlightenment of Gautama, later called “the Buddha”, concerned the nature of suffering- is it not so?

    What is relevant to the experience of suffering is that the continuity of consciousness and the consequent impression of self are illusory, that in fact consciousness exists only in connection with sense organ and sense object, and that close attendance on sense organ, sense object, consciousness, impact, and feeling can bring about conditions conducive to the cessation of ignorance and thereby suffering.

    Oh, and the movement of breath is intimately connected with the continuity of consciousness, so much so that Bodhidharma advised Huike “inwardly have no coughing or sighing in the mind”.

    I can aim for a the continuity of mind that has no coughing or sighing, yet I will suffer without the realization that continuity is a state induced through attendance on what I really am, the pieces and parts that enter into my existence.

    Bodhidharma said, “the seal of truth of the Buddhas is not gotten from another”. Lineage holders reinforcing notions contrary to the statement of fact from Bodhidharma seem to be everywhere in “Buddhism”; in doing so, they generally avoid talking about discrete as opposed to infinite reality.

  11. Fred
    Fred July 9, 2013 at 10:57 am | |

    What the enlightenment of the Buddha concerned

    “By the one path I mean the path to realization. And what does the one path to realization mean? Projections of subject or object do not arise in suchness. This is what the one path to realization means.” Realization changes everything. It changes who or what we are.”

    The Lankavatara Sutra

  12. Mumbles
    Mumbles July 9, 2013 at 3:53 pm | |

    Brad way up there at your insert at 3:30 today, you saw the Dalai Lama at the Amma thing!!??

    Of course I kid, but you leave us with that image and it was pretty funny to think of him queuing up for a hug while people pushed each other out of the way to get near him.

    It makes one ponder whether or not the DL would upstage A at her own event?

    The two times you cruised the Amma hug-a-thons did you see any (other than yerself) celebs? I would think that might at least confuse and conflict some of the faithful…”hmmnn, I’m all jazzed to get enlightened but there’s Brad Pitt, should I ask for an autograph?”

  13. Fred
    Fred July 9, 2013 at 5:33 pm | |

    ” I’m all jazzed to get enlightened but there’s Brad Pitt ”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eb46yXP211w

  14. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon July 10, 2013 at 4:01 am | |

    Brad Warner, from the video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JxV4MPKocyM

    “I think I believe in god more than I believe in myself. You know, whereas I would be more inclined to doubt the reality of Brad Warner than I would be to doubt the reality of god. Because I feel like there is an underlying basis for everything and that underlying basis for everything is not simply dead matter interacting at random it’s something more than that. Every atom, every molecule, every quark, every lepton or whatever, um, it’s all alive. Life is an integral component to everything that exists, and everything that doesn’t exist. It’s all there. And I feel like you can call that ‘god’ because it’s intelligent in the sense that it’s not dead, it’s living, it has experience in its own way. And we can touch that experience and we are part, whether we want to be part of that experience or not, we are always part of the ultimate experience of god. So my answer to the question ‘is there a god’ would be ‘yes and no’.”

    I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to do this, but I guess that nobody else either cares or understands not only how factually wrong this all is, but how un-Buddhist and un-Zen it all is.

    1) With all of the “Zen experience” that Brad allegedly has, he should not only “doubt the existence of Brad Warner,” he should have seen, realized, experienced, and should KNOW that Brad Warner does not REALLY exist, along with everybody else including god.
    2) An “underlying basis for everything” directly contradicts the Buddhist concept of emptiness. Nagarjuna went so far as to explicitly explain that even emptiness is empty, or lacks an essence. Brad worked on Nishijima’s translation of Mulamadhyamakakarika not that long ago so he should have at least read about this before. But then again, I heard that it wasn’t a good translation. I recommend Jay Garfield instead.
    3) “Life” is NOT an “integral component of everything that exists” including “every atom, every molecule”, etc. “Life” is an emergent property characterized by metabolic processes that do not occur below the cellular level (viruses might be considered an exception). Cells that are alive consist of atoms, molecules, etc., that are NOT alive. This generally corresponds with the Buddhist concepts of dependent origination (or arising) and the five (or however many) aggregates.
    4) Just because something is “alive” does not necessarily mean that it is also “intelligent” or conscious. Consciousness is an emergent property of a living brain but there is NO evidence that any other living cells or organs are conscious or intelligent. There is also NO evidence that non-living matter (atoms, molecules, etc.) is conscious or intelligent.
    5) Conflating existence and matter and life and intelligence and god is not only bad logic and bad science, worst of all, especially in Brad’s case, it is bad Buddhism. It is “Deepak Chopra Buddhism”. Why are so few people on this blog saying anything about this?

  15. Shodo
    Shodo July 10, 2013 at 7:42 am | |

    The Grand Canyon said:
    “Why are so few people on this blog saying anything about this?”

    Some may not be saying it… But what you have suggested has crossed my mind on a few occasions.

    Does anyone have the Nishijima “translation” of the Mulamadhyamakakarika?
    I would like to know how he translates the last part of the Chapter “Examination of Compounded Phenomena”, the part that says:

    “The victorious ones have said
    That emptiness is the relinquishing of of all views.
    For whomever emptiness is a view
    That one is incurable.”

  16. mjkawa
    mjkawa July 10, 2013 at 8:09 am | |

    Grand Canyon, I agree completely, but could not have stated it as clearly as you. I felt the book was a kind of sad mix-up, and convoluted attempt to redefine God. I cant understand why the need to attempt to redefine, perhaps the most used concept, in human history. Why cant we just leave it as humanity’s early attempts to explain the unknown. (which it clearly is). And just move on to bigger and better things. It just feels like a huge anchor around our minds and cultures, and Brad is just making some pleasant new ways of convincing ourselves that the anchor is not really THAT heavy.
    Feels like trying to explain Zen in a way that wont offend modern American Christians.
    This being said, I really liked ALL of Brads previous books, and almost all of his blogs. I know he said that he felt that it is his best, but to me it was by far the worst. I felt lots of the same good concepts as the foundation, but then cluttered with a bunch of Christian, and new age frosting covering it all up.
    Give me the meat and potatoes of HCZ any day.

  17. Fred
    Fred July 10, 2013 at 8:11 am | |

    ” Why are so few people on this blog saying anything about this? ‘

    In an imaginary world with imaginary people who gives a shit. The man always
    believed in God, and is selling a book with his viewpoint.

    At the smallest level virtual particles come into being from nothing and then
    cease to exist. Something comes from nothing in relation to nothingness. This is
    science.

    Science is just another thing to cling to and avoid the free floating anxiety inherent in existing.

  18. Fred
    Fred July 10, 2013 at 8:19 am | |

    And there’s no point into ripping into Gudo’s theories and interpretations.

    It might be easy, but Gudo is a better man and a holier phenomena than I, so
    I give him his respect.

  19. Andy
    Andy July 10, 2013 at 9:13 am | |

    Grand Canyon wrote: “Why are so few people on this blog saying anything about this?”.

    On 1&2) That things are empty of a separate self does not mean that they are non-existent, or unreal. The doctrine of emptiness explains the existence of dharmas, the experience of things. That emptiness is empty underlines this. If I went to listen to Brad Warner do a talk and Brad Pitt turned up, I would feel something was wrong because of this.

    I think I understand why you have conflated ‘basis’ with ‘ essence’, because I also used to slip into a similar set of assumptions. But a basis does not necessarily imply substance. For example, when a ball is propped up on a stream of air, what is the basis for this phenomena? Or when I lean against a wall? On both situations, even if I conveniently reduce things down to ball and air stream, human body and wall, the basis is not one of the two. And yet can we deny the notion of basis altogether? Scientists certainly don’t operate on that basis!

    Moreover, empirically speaking, when we don’t exclude any real, contingent factors, they become myriad, many of them undiscovered or insufficiently explained or understood.

    What I call my conscious experience of leaning against a wall can also be said to have a basis that favours neither objective nor subjective. As with quantum physics, our understanding of the rounded up experience of the world appears to be based on apparent contradictions or paradoxes. Thus, if one were to posit ‘ambiguity’ as consonant with ‘basis’, then this neither contradicts emptiness nor does it imply essentialism. As some more intelligent and knowledgeable than I have put it, duality and non-duality are co-extensive.

    And if we use the term God for this basis of ambiguity, by definition God neither exists (as a separate entity, which we can talk about) nor does God not exist (as a basis for phenomena, which we can talk about).

    If I go to listen to Brad Warner do a talk, and either he or Brad Pitt turns up, if it can be said to be true that the basis of this experience is ultimately ambiguous, then I can say with full confidence that Andy and Brad were both there, and I can assert the opposite. If I experience the opposite side of the equation, then I am experiencing something both impersonal (neither myself or Brad exclusively, or anything constituting that experience) and personal (inclusive of our personalities). Therefore, it is neither a ‘somebody’, nor not a somebody.

    What we call it, therefore, might be less important than redressing the inclination towards the impersonal, in some if not all contexts. Calling it God, in this case, becomes less one of legitimacy, and more one of human value and meaning. Iit can be said to both exist and not exist, but is it ever apart from who as humans we really are?

    On 3&4) Your definition of ‘Life’ is a conventionally legitimate way to define the term, based on a biological understanding. But as your example of viruses should suggest, this term becomes philosophically ambiguous when we’re not assuming that the utility of a biological definition extends beyond the provisionality of that domain – even in strictly and broadly scientific terms.

    ‘Life’ means more than that, even to biologists – especially when their careers go wrong and their wife leaves them – for a Mathematician. Indeed, it might even be one of those mathematicians who see in their complex equations and study of numbers a universe of mathematical structure (MUH or meh!). Clever old pebble!

    Moreover, once we start to explain things and our experience of things in terms of the dynamic between subject and object, then equating scientific facts with facts becomes a circular argument dependent on a legitimate, but different views, to the ones Buddhists adhere to – ones which allow for different perspectives in and through which they might negotiate what we/they mean by words such as life, alive, intelligence and consciousness.

    For what you and others term ‘emergent’ can be seen as an equally important part of the dynamic that is being described, and not merely a secondary one, by means of such perspectives. Brad, for example often equates form is emptiness, with the material is the immaterial etc…

    You might adopt a materialist’s critical perspective, and from that correctly claim that there is “NO evidence that any other living cells or organs are conscious or intelligent.” But then when were such concepts, ideas or things ever apart from your conscious experience of them? When did they ever not play a part in constituting what one calls consciousness? And if you’re going to take up a critical perspective based on the doctrine of ‘emptiness’, who and what could be being intelligent, if that clever dick with a Phd is merely a convenient reference? In addition, where is the scientific evidence for consciousness as anything but an idea? Sounds like a very active ghost to me at the tapping of these plastic keys.

    5) So to answer your question, the reason why less people than you expect are taking what you feel are important critical stances, could be because some might take issue with some of your assumptions about Buddhist notions, and they may not agree with all of what you propose about science in relation to them, or the views Brad is putting forth. And let’s not forget that you have been strident in your beliefs about what the book is and isn’t without having read it. Indeed you’ve constantly expressed that you won’t. Others may be skeptical, but not to your levels of certitude, which in itself might just put you in a minority.

    As a pinch of salt of my own, I for one was perhaps always going to be positively biased towards Brad’s book, given that as a kid I charmed myself with the idea that ‘everything was god in little bits’! And, although I became quite the materialist atheist in my teens, the rise of New Atheism coincided with different perspectives or rather a search for them based on what I felt was the insufficiency of the ones commonly expounded. And for years I’ve felt that God needn’t be such an exclusive term, nor the language of religion – as you know – an always delusional, illegiitmate form of expression.

    I think it is important as well to remember that questions asked on the hoof on a short interview intended to sell a book – perhaps also intended to be put in the simplest of terms for a wider audience – are not the best basis for making one’s mind up about the integrity of the views expressed within the book. Especially when one of the most important things to remember is that what is being attempted is explanations in words for something the writer understands as being ultimately beyond our ability to fully express in language.

    1. The Grand Canyon
      The Grand Canyon July 10, 2013 at 1:47 pm | |

      Last night I saw upon the stair
      A little man who wasn’t there
      He wasn’t there again today
      Oh, how I wish he’d go away

      1. Andy
        Andy July 10, 2013 at 4:59 pm | |

        Sorry for critiquing your critiques again. My bad – I didn’t consider that you’d still be carrying sores from the last time. I’ll let you have your wish and not respond your comments anymore.

        Take care with your little man.

        1. The Grand Canyon
          The Grand Canyon July 12, 2013 at 11:05 am | |

          You seem to have completely missed the point of “the little man who wasn’t there.” I wasn’t telling you to go away; I was just quoting part of a semi-relevant poem (Antigonish).
          Here is the point: I say that the stairs are empty. Some people say there is a little man on the stairs but you can’t see him and his name is “Emptiness” or “God” or “Ground Of Being” or “Ground-up Being” or whatever other fetishistic label they prefer. It’s not a perfect metaphor but that poem bubbled up in my brain after all this talk about emptiness.

  20. mjkawa
    mjkawa July 10, 2013 at 3:03 pm | |

    “I’m sorry you feel that way. But the new book is much better than Hardcore Zen.”

    Im really surprised at this.
    My honest feeling.
    I purchased all of your previous books, multiple copies of some of them to give to friends. Since I thought that they were really good, and thought that many of the ideas would be good for several people who are close to me.
    Even rereading HCZ or SDASU, they make me want to sit more often. Which I think is really important.
    I even pre-ordered “There is no God”, based on the first four books. I want to support Brad and hope that you can afford to keep writing.
    But this one? I cannot, in good conscious, even give away the copy that I have. I feel that bad about it.

  21. mjkawa
    mjkawa July 11, 2013 at 3:22 pm | |

    Another convoluted, vague, mishmash concept for the most convoluted, vague, mishmashed concept of all time, does not help anything. It does not move the conversation forward, it just muddies the already too muddy water.
    At least both Dawkins and Hitchens both clearly define the God that they are going to take apart. They both clearly do this in the beginning of their books. Even if it is a simple definition, it is one that many people profess to believe, and one that they, and myself, think is doing great damage to humanity.
    Now if you want to talk about the ineffable underlying of all reality, or something along those lines, why on earth would you use the most convoluted word in the language to describe the ineffable???
    Lets get past the G word, and on to bigger and better things!

    Virtually everyone in the western world has a preconception of the G word, and tangling that up with the concepts that you talk about in your other writing just doesnt make sense, and comes off looking like a christian apologist. Maybe trying to get a bigger audience? Dont blame you for trying to sell more books, but this is not the way.

    Also, I hate to bring it up, but the cover art borders on being a Dawkins flea. Dont know how much say you had in that, But I liked most of your other cover art. Liked “Sit Down”‘s art best.

    1. The Grand Canyon
      The Grand Canyon July 12, 2013 at 4:04 am | |

      “Hitler is the Universe.”

      “The Universe is Nigger.”

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