Crazy Train

First off, tonight May 5, 2012, Zero Defex is playing at the Stone Tavern, 110 E. Main St, Kent, Ohio. There are six bands on the bill and the show starts at nine pm. So go!

Anonymous in the comments section of my previous post said:
The serious question then – does being enlightened give you any insight – from a theoretical perspective, not how to fix it – or what mental illness is? Or more broadly, do eastern spiritual leaders have something to say about this more than similar edicts about booze or sex?

This is a very good question. It’s also an important one because a lot of people assume that an “enlightened” eastern spiritual master does have that kind of insight and are willing to follow their advise on the subject.

I can’t answer for all spiritual masters. And I don’t want to get into what it might mean to “master” any given form of spirituality. Nor do I even want to poke at what the term “enlightened” means right now. But still, I can answer for myself based on my experience. And I honestly feel that my experience is universal for others in my position.

Anyway. What insight do I have into what mental illness is?

I feel like I understand what that thing we label “mental illness” is in ways that neither I nor anyone else could possibly understand without decades of meditation. But that doesn’t mean I know how to treat it or cure it or even deal with it when it confronts me on the street. That is an entirely different sort of problem.

One thing I understand is that the condition we call “normal” also probably ought to be labeled “mental illness.” And I expect that in the future this will become clear. People will look back at us in the early 21st century and marvel at the fact that almost the entire world was what they will call “mentally ill.” Though perhaps their term for it will be different.

I feel that when we call someone “mentally ill” all we’re really saying most of the time is that the person in question is unable to function in what we call “normal society.” Of course there are different degrees of this. If a person’s inability to function creates a danger to society, society has a right and duty to protect itself from that person. If that person isn’t dangerous but is unable to look after himself, that’s another matter. There are millions of degrees to the problem of mental illness. But at its core it’s still the same problem.

One important thing to bear in mind is that none of us can deal with “normal society” all the time. I know I sure can’t. Some people solve this problem by inventing sub-societies that protect them from the larger society, yet still manage to function with it. A monastery would be an example of one such place. It’s a place of shelter from the wider more pervasive mental illness, a place one hopes is a bit less mentally ill. But even the best of these still have their own sorts of dysfunctions.

When I was at Tassajara last year there was one day when I simply had to hide in my room for about 24 hours because I could not deal with the relatively sane sub-society I had voluntarily committed myself to. I told people I was sick. But I wasn’t. This sort of thing happens all the time. Nearly everyone who goes to a monastery even a good one  has this happen at some point.

The easy answer that Anonymous is looking for is that all mental illness comes from a mistaken identification of the ego as one’s true and fundamental self. But that’s such a clich I wonder if it has any value at all anymore. Be that as it may, it’s true that nearly everyone identifies her ego as her true self. But I think most people, whether they know it or not, have some basic intuition that this is not really the way it is. To the extent that they can put this false sense of identity aside, they can function with others and form a reasonable society.

An insight into the deeper origin of mental illness doesn’t help a person be able to treat mental illness. This is because even if I understand that you are stuck in believing that your ego-structure is really you, I do not know the details of the stories that you tell yourself and I do not know the extent to which you are prepared to go to defend the false reality you believe in. Some people will kill to defend theirs. I like to stay well clear of those people.

One may, in fact, believe in their own ego-self so deeply that their belief has caused the very chemical structure of their brain and body to be altered to the extent that it’s impossible to function in “normal” society without the help of chemicals. It may go so deep that one seems to have been born with this condition. Or that one seems to have had events in one’s past that forced this upon the person. This doesn’t mean their past is unreal nor the bad things that were done to them were unreal in the conventional sense.

Remember you’re reading the words of a Buddhist who believes that even normal conventional notions of what constitutes reality are false. That’s an important point. It’s the position a lot of the supposedly more enlightened spiritual masters often are too “enlightened” to really understand or convey clearly.

And I am using the word “belief” in a way most people don’t. There are aspects of life that are related to what we commonly call “belief” or “habit” that go much much deeper than the way we usually think belief and habit operate.

Also, we all have the same problem. The habit of falsely identifying with the ego self doesn’t simply vanish just because you’ve noticed you’re doing it. Noticing this habit is just the first step. But since most people don’t even get to this first step, it’s a significant one.

So yes, from a theoretical perspective many eastern spiritual masters or leaders or whatever may have some insight into the origin of mental illness. But merely explaining what that insight is may be deeply problematic. Because even mental health professionals are mentally ill in the sense that they are what we falsely call “normal.” They’re not, by and large, ready to even understand what these eastern spiritual guys are talking about, let alone put it into practice. They haven’t done enough meditation to be able to grasp what’s being talked about.

But that’s OK. It’s their job to try and deal with the concrete problems of mental illness. It’s just that when these folks talk about mindfulness or even meditation many of them don’t really get what they’re dealing with. For one thing, they tend to seriously underestimate the real power of this stuff. They often seem to think it’s just a way to make you calm down a little.

Here’s a photo to show you what I had to deal with while writing this. Crum knows he’s being obnoxiously cute. I’m sure of it.

108 Responses

  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 6, 2012 at 9:07 am | |

    "One may, in fact, believe in their own ego-self so deeply that their belief has caused the very chemical structure of their brain and body to be altered to the extent that it's impossible to function in "normal" society without the help of chemicals. It may go so deep that one seems to have been born with this condition. Or that one seems to have had events in one's past that forced this upon the person. This doesn't mean their past is unreal nor the bad things that were done to them were unreal in the conventional sense.

    Remember you're reading the words of a Buddhist who believes that even normal conventional notions of what constitutes reality are false."

    Just a non-judgmental comment on the above. I suffer from bipolar disease, formally known a manic depressive illness. I currently take medication that does not create any type of "buzz" and is non addictive. What it does do is reduce the fluctuations of mood that go with this disorder. These types of drugs do change the chemical imbalance in the brain that "seem" to be caused by the imbalance.

    Anyone who has suffered with depression should understand how distorted your thinking can become. I truly believe that I could change the chemical pattern in my brain that impacts this with the practice of Zazen. It has made it better even with the small amount of time I sit. But… I currently function in society properly because of the medication. It truly is a scary proposal to discontinue the drug while trying to hold down a job and be a husband and father. If I could go on an extended retreat and simply work on this I am convinced I would have success. As it is I work on it day by day and realize that the emotions I experience at times are not real just as my concept of an I, self, or any other fixed personality does not exist as a permanent thing.

  2. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote May 6, 2012 at 10:20 am | |

    Thanks for the links, Mysterion. Two things interest me in the NY Times article, first that the researcher mentioned plaque in connection with Alzheimer's as an ill, but I believe this is now regarded as a healing response of the brain rather than as a "toxic" nuisance. Second, "inadequate myelin coating" is offered as the possible cause of schizophrenia; Dr. John Lee spoke about the possiblity that the use of over-the-counter progesterone creams helped his patients with arthritis because the Schwann cells require progesterone to produce the myelin coating, without which the nerves are inadequately sheathed.

    Of course, there has never been a national test involving natural progesterone in the treatment of anything, because the compound is easily synthesized (in a form molecularly identical to the substance in the human body) and cannot be patented. Meanwhile progestins, like so many other chemically-altered compounds that can be patented, appear to have serious side-effects; so said Dr. Lee.

    Some voodoo science to start the day. Allopathic medicine these days largely proceeds not on the basis of the healing properties of natural substances in the world, but rather on the basis of whatever scientific interest in unnatural substances can attract corporate funding.

    "Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
    Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
    As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
    "'Tis Bela Lugosi," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door-
    Only this, and nothing more."

  3. Beckle Nrod
    Beckle Nrod May 6, 2012 at 11:26 am | |

    Wimerth swam drinp dmamath mer sen driggs. Sen hmiller trel kran swam helling snill. Menni prasm, nendifiny!

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 6, 2012 at 11:40 am | |

    ^ mog

  5. Dog Down
    Dog Down May 6, 2012 at 3:29 pm | |

    I posted a while ago about my dog being Ill and having to put him to sleep. Well , the time came and I had make the decision to do it. It was not easy and never felt quite right. He was suffering although in good spirits he was unable to walk. My question is, where does one draw the line between compassion for a suffering animal and the first precept do not kill? I have reflected on this for quite some time and thought I might ask someone with a little more knowledge.

    Brad- your advise to pet him came to mind. And that I did. I was able to put him down at home with doctors that did house calls. So I did zazen for six straight hours in the same room with my dog before the doctors came and the event was very peaceful.
    Thanks for your help Brad. It really helped.

  6. Mysterion
    Mysterion May 6, 2012 at 3:35 pm | |

    My local HMO, having never been a Siamese Twin of big Pharma, now has alternative treatment options including, but not limited to Herbal Remedies, Chiropractic (for those who so desire the same), acupuncture, and who knows… maybe reiki and homeopathy in time…

    BTW, ever hear of a vaccine?

    The vaccine concept is based upon the homeopathic principle "Similimum similibus curantur" or "Like cures like" with the modification "like prevents like."

    There are different types of vaccinations in use.

    The smallpox vaccination is based upon a dead or attenuated cowpox microbe.

    My HMO makes available mercury-free vaccinations (increased co-pay) so the "window" of this type of reduced mercury new stock is three days or less. They figure it's cheaper than subsequent anti chelation.

  7. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 6, 2012 at 5:09 pm | |

    Youth in asia and the precepts. Good ? …………..

  8. Mysterion
    Mysterion May 6, 2012 at 5:30 pm | |

    asia is a big place…

    China, in general, is extremely superstitious and goes for flakey things like Falun Gong.

    India is moving toward Islam – one of the three violent Abrahamic Traditions.

    Japan is Shinto and Buddhist with Confucianism thrown in for good measure.

    The ONLY predominately Buddhist place left in "asis" is Myanmar (Burma). There, we speak of five precepts.

    Of course Cambodia, Tailand, and Vietnam have Buddhist majority populations – in principle.

    South Korea is a major Presbyterian stronghold – as displayed by Some Young Moon [sic].

  9. Mysterion
    Mysterion May 6, 2012 at 5:40 pm | |

    The Son of God, Emperor of the Universe.

    Or NOT

  10. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 6, 2012 at 5:42 pm | |

    I think he meant euthanasia and the precepts.

  11. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 6, 2012 at 5:55 pm | |

    I'm a hardcore zen blog newbie..

    Does anyone here think mysterion isn't a total blowjob?

    This might be important info for some of us.

  12. gniz
    gniz May 6, 2012 at 9:32 pm | |

    I've always been a big critic of Mysterion.

    Mostly I find his posts to be of dubious quality with spam like elements when he gets on a roll.

    However, recently, he has written a few things that made me wonder if I've misjudged him.

    And then he went back to being white noise…that's the best answer I can give.

  13. Khru
    Khru May 7, 2012 at 12:28 am | |

    Concerning the contributions of Chas (Mysterion): food is bland and boring without any spices, IMHO.

  14. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 7, 2012 at 3:12 am | |

    Krhu are you saying that mysterion adds spice to this comment stream, or that mysterion needs to spice up his posts?

  15. Angry Vaishnavite
    Angry Vaishnavite May 7, 2012 at 3:56 am | |

    Mysterion said…
    India is moving toward Islam…

    That is 100% bullshit. Would you care to provide the bullshit source, if there is one other than your own ass, from which you obtained that bullshit?

  16. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 7, 2012 at 7:16 am | |

    But truly, who or what can threaten Krishna? Back to the Gita!!

  17. Mysterion
    Mysterion May 7, 2012 at 8:19 am | |

    The CIA Fact Book has 1 in 8 people being Islamic.

    Religions: Definition Field Listing
    Hindu 81.3%, Muslim 12%*, Christian 2.3%, Sikh 1.9%, other groups including Buddhist, Jain, Parsi 2.5% (2000)

    About 1 in 40 Indians is Xtian*.

    India has the second largest Muslim population – after Indonesia.

    I prefer greater granularity – more detail.

    Maybe Sri Lanka is not part of India?

    In Japan, about 1 in 200 is Xtian but 1 in 3 are radioactive!

    *about 1 in 5 for 300 districts

    The three violent lineages of Abraham continue to plague the earth. Stupidity is worthy of observation.

    Cheers,

    Chas

    p.s. I love Xtians – especially when the spill their coffee and over react!

  18. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 7, 2012 at 8:35 am | |

    Mysterion, all this is taking place on Earth. Where is the Earth?

  19. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 7, 2012 at 8:40 am | |

    is this mysterions blog? I'm in the wrong place

  20. Mysterion
    Mysterion May 7, 2012 at 8:42 am | |

    3rd rock from the sun.

    THIS REPORT [a PDF] addresses the marginalization of Muslims in India.

    Muslimsmostly Sunnismake up 13.4* percent of Indias population, yet hold fewer than 5 percent of government posts and make up only 4 percent of the undergraduate student body in Indias elite universities.

    *Nov, 2006

    A 10% population growth in just 5 years is quite a jump. Looks like they would rather hit the sack than hit the books! And, they don't live in condoms!

  21. Angry Vaishnavite
    Angry Vaishnavite May 7, 2012 at 8:54 am | |

    The first anonymous link contained the most relevant and useful information:

    "Now let us look at what it would take for the Muslim fraction to reach 25%. The relevant equation is:

    M(0)exp(0.33t)=0.25T(0)exp(0.24t)

    Solving for t, we get t=7.81, which is about 80 years i.e. 2070."

    So, IF those numbers are accurate and IF current birth rates in India continue, which are both HUGE assumptions, the population of India MAY become 25% Muslim by 2070. Based on those highly speculative numbers, since the current population of India is approximately 80% Hindu,
    India is moving toward the Himalaya Mountains faster than it is "moving toward Islam".

  22. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 7, 2012 at 9:19 am | |

    Mysterion, where is the sun?

  23. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote May 7, 2012 at 9:38 am | |

    There was a comment in the video on DMT about our society rejecting anything that doesn't have to do with the production or consumption of material goods. Maybe more like outlawing, villifying, and suppressing anything not having to do with production or consumption of material goods, although I think Andrew Weil's outline of consciousness-altering prejudices in "The Natural Mind" is probably closer to the truth.

    The relationship between culture and the institutions of society is I think the heart of Brad's soliloquy. How does the heart of the culture get passed on, do we rely on institutions or individuals? The Catholic church represents its anointed ones as the authentic lineage of the son of God. The University of California likely derives its authority from some arcane formulation of board members and state certification. To what extent can a gnosis tradition survive institutionalization? Has Soto succeeded in doing anything more than compartmentalizing Zen in Japanese society, and isn't that what Shunryu Suzuki came to the U.S.A to try to get away from? I guess from what I've read he actually wanted to send American practitioners back to Japan to revitalize Zen there; that was his ultimate plan.

    We see that we are headed toward the water downstream from whites rapidly, and the need to convey the heart of the gnostic experience to a wider segment of society seems evident. Yet the need for stability in succession marginalizes the importance and universality of the experience itself, in favor of survivors of the institutional experience. Is it any wonder that Brad's teacher sleeps on his keyboard while Brad tries to overcome these obstacles and enlighten L.A.? :)

  24. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 7, 2012 at 11:56 am | |

    The three violent lineages of Abraham continue to plague the earth. Stupidity is worthy of observation.

    >Mysterion, all this is taking place on Earth. Where is the Earth?

    3rd rock from the sun.

    >Mysterion, where is the sun?

  25. Mysterion
    Mysterion May 7, 2012 at 11:56 am | |

    That's good news except that by 2070, India, like the rest of the northern hemisphere, will not be populated at all!

    "The decommissioning process at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant faces a further obstacle after Tokyo Electric Power Co. said radiation readings in the containment vessel of the No. 2 reactor were at fatal levels on March 27 [2012].

    [...] 72.9 sieverts was recorded about 4.2 meters from the bottom of the vessel.

    … the highest radiation level [previously] recorded was about 10 sieverts per hour last August around piping near the main exhaust duct of the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors. [1 sievert is lethal]

    [...] The latest reading is not only much higher but reinforces the possibility that the decommissioning process will be prolonged. [...]

    Decommissioning was initially expected to take around 30 years, but that estimate will likely now have to be revised."

    a new number – 900 years – is being discussed.

    Newt: Why Does the Left Hate Nuclear Power? It Works.

    I have a new Tee-shirt design.

    Enjoy what's left of your miserable lives – day-by-day.

    Cheers,

    Chas

  26. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 7, 2012 at 12:23 pm | |

    Mysterion's First Law: When your claim is refuted, immediately change the subject with another unsubstantiated, hyperbolic assertion. Repeat ad infinitum.

  27. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 7, 2012 at 12:28 pm | |

    Absence of evidence is evidence of absence when evidence can reasonably be expected to be observable.

  28. Mysterion
    Mysterion May 7, 2012 at 12:52 pm | |

    He who cannot weigh the evidence for himself should seek neither fish nor fowl.

    The population projections are based on averaged assumptions which represent one bias. (e.g. the illiterates will continue their population growth at the same rate as the educated)

    I call this bias "best-case scenario."

    Global Warming Example: "According to a new study, it could become much warmer towards the end of the century than originally anticipated. The study has found that the average temperatures calculated are much higher than the IPCCs worst-case scenario to date."

    "In a first order assumption about the change in the demand for water, one of the major factors is the change in population, said Ganguly…"

    But the overlying theory is this: "If everyone remains completely ignorant, then there is no problem."

    I am not changing subjects at all:

    IGNORANCE

    But then ignorance is a dead horse to the ignorant.

    I'm not concerned with the Muslim population or the Rastafarian population or the VooDoo population or the Feng Shui population or the Falun Gong population or the Occidental population or the Abi Da population.

    I am concerned with the ignorant population.

  29. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 7, 2012 at 12:54 pm | |

    I am the anonymous from the previous days post. I think you misstated what I was looking for.

    I'm more interested in the relevance of mental illness as some form of suffering, not a label. This may or may not impact their ability to function in normal society. For example, the person that hears voices – there may be an 'irreparable' part of their brain that causes this. Or, take a person with a neurological disorder if you want to get away from mental illness – say synesthesia (sensory mix up) or prosopagnosia (face blindness)

    Maybe my assumption is wrong here, but it seems any sort of Zen teaching assumes there is something like free will or psychic energy or whatever the fuck you want to call it. That you, with lots of sitting and observing, can change your habitual patterns.

    Your statement above is a pretty extreme version of this:

    One may, in fact, believe in their own ego-self so deeply that their belief has caused the very chemical structure of their brain and body to be altered to the extent that it's impossible to function in "normal" society without the help of chemicals

    I find this statement ridiculous, but maybe I don't understand it. If you're saying "belief/habit that belief/habit causes changes in the brain… etc.", you seem to be denying the possibility that the causality is the other way around. We know someone sans a limbs won't be able to grasp something, we know the guy who can't see faces won't see faces anymore barring some medical revolution. But what is classified as mental illness has privileged status that says it's habit/belief that can be changed.

    I don't think anyone really knows this. So maybe this is an interesting thought experiment for Brad: Person who diagnosed as chronic schizophrenia hears voices all the time. They meditate for 30 years and somehow become enlightened – do they stop hearing voices?

    I would guess not. Maybe they can't become enlightened *shrug*

  30. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 7, 2012 at 1:46 pm | |

    mysterion need LOTS of attention. He seems to get it here. That's a good thing.

  31. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 7, 2012 at 2:05 pm | |

    Well, if there was one thing that Mysterion could be considered an expert on, it would be ignorance.

  32. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 7, 2012 at 2:09 pm | |

    Different anonymous here….

    Mysterion is very rude. Posting so many comments each and every article is impolite and his posts get tiresome. I'm not asking him to stop or rallying for his banishment. I merely would like for him to consider reducing the number of posts he makes here.

  33. Sam Bell
    Sam Bell May 7, 2012 at 3:06 pm | |
  34. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 7, 2012 at 3:08 pm | |

    mysterion is addicted to blogging on this blog. He must be jobless or bored at work or perhaps he's a paraplegic and the computer is the closest thing to the outside world. I agree he does lack manners and rarely posts anything constructive. He also stinks. Smells of Zen. I realize posting anything about him just fuels his fire but he's a vacuum sucking the life force out this comments section

  35. Mysterion
    Mysterion May 7, 2012 at 3:42 pm | |

    "I'm more interested in the relevance of mental illness as some form of suffering, not a label."

    "mental illness" covers a broad spectrum of things – from minor personality disorders (e.g. compulsive-obsessive hand washing) to major things – sociopaths.

    Fortunately, the vast majority of "mental illness" are minor and can be treated (mitigated) with behavior modification therapy alone. Zazen is a type of behavior modification therapy.

    I am not aware of a case where treating a sociopath with only behavior modification therapy has been successful. If you can keep sociopaths drugged, then they may not 'act out' again.

    With compulsive hand washing, behavior modification and hand lotion may be sufficient treatment.

    Developmental conditions – like schizophrenia – are "conditions." That is the schizophrenic, his/her family and community just need to accept the reality of this condition and work in harmony to accommodate the individual.

    Likewise, we accommodate the epileptics, Pentecostals, and Evangelicals within our communities (unless we are a Wahabi). They may seem to be 'nutty as a walnut' but you can hardly confine them to their shell. These are just more 'conditions' with which we all must learn to live. Besides, I would never make fun of an epileptic. This is not a condition born of their own choosing.

    As for the schizophrenics, we do need to sometimes summons intervention – like the time the poor guy across the street heard voices in his Chevy engine and completely disassembled it in the middle of the street. The police knocked on MY DOOR and we consulted about how to get the poor fellow back on his meds (the voices told him he didn't need pills) so that the local shop could reassemble the engine and his mom could go shopping for food again.

    So, like it or not, we are all responsible for the harmony and well-being of the villages in which we live. It does take a village to raise a child – and beyond. It takes a village to stay a village.

    If we have a perceptual understanding of this then we reduce our own suffering and the suffering of those in our "villages."

    The new 'condition' is PTSD among Iran/Afghanistan Veterans (and others). I have to deal with this on an almost daily basis when I take my neighbor to coffee (he has it in SPADES) and I suspect, over time, most of you will have to deal with it also.

    If you can, support IAVA. Two of my friends are Operation Desert Shield /Desert Storm (December 1990-April 1991) Vets.

    BTW, it's RF4-Phantom II 1975-1995

    These birds had neither armor nor armaments. They carried cameras only. R = Reconnaissance.

    "Hot [pun] action on the ramp as the Nevada Air Guard launch the F-4's."

  36. Mysterion
    Mysterion May 7, 2012 at 3:44 pm | |

    p.s. I am RETIRED

    My "job" is remembering to deposit pension checks when they arrive.

  37. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 7, 2012 at 4:23 pm | |

    post more mysterion get it out

  38. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 7, 2012 at 4:36 pm | |

    Okay, well…. fine and dandy. I'm the anonymous who requested that Mysterion think about not posting so much and he replied by posting more of his, uh, stuff.

    Think I'll move on from this blog now.

  39. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 7, 2012 at 4:45 pm | |

    I wonder if everybody stopped posting if mysterion would continue on. Probably.

  40. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 7, 2012 at 5:42 pm | |

    You're all missing a great opportunity. If, when Msty pisses you off (you know, when you're typing your reply), you noticed what was happening to you, he could be the greatest teacher you'll ever have. I get the feeling you guys are great teachers too.

  41. Brad Warner
    Brad Warner May 7, 2012 at 6:49 pm | |

    I don't think anyone really knows this. So maybe this is an interesting thought experiment for Brad: Person who diagnosed as chronic schizophrenia hears voices all the time. They meditate for 30 years and somehow become enlightened – do they stop hearing voices?

    I would guess not. Maybe they can't become enlightened *shrug*

    I don't know.

    In my own case I only once in my life heard anything like disembodied voices. It scared the shit out of me. My practice taught me how not to listen to such things. So my guess is that this hypothetical person may or may not hear the voices anymore, but that they may be able to learn how not to care one way or the other.

    Again, it's just a guess. I have no way of knowing.

    If you're saying "belief/habit that belief/habit causes changes in the brain… etc.", you seem to be denying the possibility that the causality is the other way around.

    I'm not denying it works the other way around. But it appears to me that the common understanding of how things work says only that changes in the brain cause belief. It appears to me that it works in both directions.

  42. Mysterion
    Mysterion May 7, 2012 at 7:15 pm | |

    Effect: changes in the brain

    Cause: building up a belief (usually by repetition, peer pressure, culture, and susceptibility*)

    In the absence of just 1 factor, the probability of "belief structures" in the brain is greatly diminished.

    Once present, beliefs are very resilient to change (e.g. don't waste your time trying to convert a true believer to your belief system —
    atheist < ---> Xtian,
    atheist < ---> Muslim,
    Muslim < ---> Xtian, etc.)

    That is WHY Buddhists don't bother to go door-to-door handing out Buddhist Comics.

    *Jack T. Chick knows the average IQ of his target demographic and it ain't no 100+.

  43. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi May 7, 2012 at 9:44 pm | |

    We've been here before, but I will reiterate that the term "mental illness" is loaded with vaguaries that tend to make people go crazy, and almost entirely because of the "mental" category.

    The term "illness" is something we can usually accept when it comes to biological processes gone wrong. We might say that cancer or heart disease are symptoms of emotional or spiritual problems, but we don't deny that they are actual biological illnesses. If you break a leg, the doctor doesn't tell you that it's just a social convention to have a working leg, and apart from that convention, it's just as "normal" to be lame as it is to be able to walk without limping.

    But when the brain acts funky or breaks down or gets dysfunctional, we like to think it's just in your mind. It's not a real illness, it's "mental illness". At least that's what Brad seems to be claiming. The problem is that while legs are what we use to walk, brains are what we use to think. We don't like to admit that, we like to think that our thinking is "spiritual", meaning superior to the body and brain. But see how much thinking you get done with a damaged brain. Observe what happens to people whose brains get damaged in very obvious ways. And then think of what can happen to brains that get damaged in more subtle ways.

    The brain is an organ like any other in the body, and obviously it can be impaired in countless ways, and when it does, it affects how we think. If your liver gets impaired, it will affect how you process toxins and it can severely effect your overall health. The same with the brain. It has an extremely complex chemistry to it, and even minor disruptions to that can produce illness of one kind or another, ranging from just being moody to full-blown psychosis or paralyzing schizophrenia. All of that can be called a form of "mental illness" in the same way that even a scratched knee can be called a bodily injury that needs minor treatment, like a band aid.

    And the same is true of minor "mental illness". If we suffer from a bad mood, it's really, really important to understand that a very important element of that is just some minor disruption to our brain chemistry. Maybe we had too much coffee, or not enough sleep, or had a fight with someone. All these things and more can produce changes in our actual brain function at a biochemical level. And part of treating them is to address that biochemistry. If we ignore that, and simply try to solve such problems with "psychological counseling", we are not likely to get very far. Often we just need a simple practical change, have something healthy to eat, get some sleep, cut out the cafeine, whatever. In fact, a whole lot of what we think are emotional or psychological problems are really just us not taking responsibility for our own bodily chemistry.

  44. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi May 7, 2012 at 9:45 pm | |

    So the "spiritual" solution that an "enlightened" teacher would have for a lot of these rather low level mental aches and pains is simply to take care of your body and brain properly. Stop trying to solve every problem as if there's some internal psychological solution waiting for us. There isn't most of the time.

    But I think an enlightened teacher would also recognize that there are much more severe forms of mental illness that can't be so easily resolved. Some people have much more serious mental illnesses than can't be easily healed with band aids. Some are literally incurable, the brain's equivalent of severe heart disease. They may be harder to see, because the disruption occurs at the level of chemistry. And doctors try to fix this chemistry, but because they know so little of how the brain's chemistry actually works, their solutions are very crude and even destructive.

    We can of course judge such things merely as 'social problems', but that's hiding the fact that most things categorized as chronic mental illness have degenerative brain syndromes that represent a real functional problem in the brain, and not just some "different" way of functioning that isn't socially useful.

    It's disingenuous to say that people in the future will consider most of us "mentally ill", or that the enlightened will see us that way even now. Brad is mixing categories. I can't pole vault 18 feet like a top Olympic athlete, but I doubt that athlete would call me physically ill because I can't do that. I can still use my legs and run and walk as those legs are made to do. I'm not lame, I don't have broken legs or arthritis or any number of diseases which might impair me. A little overweight, sure, but not morbidly so. I'm quite healthy, actually, just not a top athlete in the peak of youth.

    Likewise, I'm not enlightened, but I'm not spiritually lame either. And I'm not emotionally or psychologically enlightened either, but I'm not actually chronically "ill" in those areas either. Some people are, and I'm lucky I'm not one of them. So while one might compare an enlightened person to a top athlete or genius, I don't think even they would consider ordinary folks like me to be "spiritually ill" or "mentally ill". Some people actually are, however, and an enlightened person would be able to catch that distinction and not blur the issue.

    Not knowing absolute reality doesn't make one mentally or spiritually ill. Not knowing advanced physics doesn't make one mentally retarded. Not being an Olympic athlete doesn't make one physically ill. The difference lies in having a capacity to function at all, not just according to some social standard but by a basic physiological standard.

  45. Khru
    Khru May 7, 2012 at 9:50 pm | |

    """Anonymous said…

    You're all missing a great opportunity. If, when Msty pisses you off (you know, when you're typing your reply), you noticed what was happening to you, he could be the greatest teacher you'll ever have. I get the feeling you guys are great teachers too."""

    And that's the real punchline, friend: it's also why I always laugh when reading the comment section and see people's reaction to Chas…the joke is on us.

  46. Every day's
    Every day's May 8, 2012 at 2:31 am | |

    "And that's the real punchline, friend: it's also why I always laugh when reading the comment section and see people's reaction to Chas…the joke is on us."

    'Always'? 'Us'?

    That didn't make me laugh. Partly because I doubt that it's highly unlikely to be literally true, and partly because it's sometimes brings up a sad irony:

    I'm blind, he's deaf, she's dumb.

    Fool! take the plug out of your mouth. Fool! take the plugs out your ears. Don't you see, we're all plugged up. Don't you see? Don't you see? Ha ha, Ha ha.

  47. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 8, 2012 at 3:57 am | |

    Anonymous said…
    I wonder if everybody stopped posting if mysterion would continue on. Probably.

    That sounds like an interesting and amusing experiment so I am going to try it immediately after this comment. Who's with me?

  48. Brad Warner
    Brad Warner May 8, 2012 at 8:00 am | |

    Brad is mixing categories. I can't pole vault 18 feet like a top Olympic athlete, but I doubt that athlete would call me physically ill because I can't do that.

    I'm not sure if I somehow inadvertently started this. But there seems to be a trend here in these comments to equate "enlightenment" with extraordinary abilities. Thus the analogy with pole vaulting 18 feet and many similar ones.

    I have equated meditation with playing an instrument. I've said that the first time you play guitar you're going to suck, but after a while you get better. So maybe that's where it comes from. Or it may come from the way celebrity spiritual masters like to present themselves as extraordinary people.

    But enlightenment (I hate that word) isn't like pole vaulting 18 feet. It's more like walking to the bathroom, if we were to continue that analogy. Most people, instead of walking to the bathroom, which (let's say) just happens to be 18 feet away instead try to pole vault to the bathroom. And they can't do it because the ceiling is too low. Yet they try anyway and keep injuring themselves. The pole keeps breaking, they keep hitting their heads, they keep beating themselves up over not being able to do it, and they still have to pee.

    The only thing an enlightened person (fuck that term) does differently is that she walks straight to the bathroom, does her business and then goes back to bed.

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