What Would That Guy Have Been Like Without the Meditation?

In the previous installment I wrote about spiritual teachers who went bad and asked, “If all that monastic training didn’t even teach him it’s wrong to screw somebody else’s wife, which is something most people without such monastic training know, then what good is it?”

Often when someone starts talking this way I think, “Yeah, but I wonder what that guy would’ve been like if he hadn’t done all the meditation and training?”

In cases where the person is accused of doing something really heinous, like murdering somebody or abusing a child (thankfully nobody in contemporary Zen stands accused of these crimes, but others in other meditation-oriented movements have been) or just plain nasty like forcing themselves sexually upon students, it’s pretty hard to take that stance. But a lot of the time far more subtle things trigger the attitude of saying that meditation practice didn’t do someone any good.

To take myself as an example, it happens a lot that I’ll write something on this blog that people read as being kind of grumpy or angry or otherwise what they would categorize as negative. So they put up comments implying that all those decades of zazen don’t seem to have done Brad much good if he still gets pissy about certain things.

You should’ve seen me before I started doing all that zazen! Or maybe you should be glad you didn’t.

Zazen has not altered my basic personality. I’m kind of grumpy, pessimistic and misanthropic by nature. I was shunned by the cool kids at school, picked on because I was a weirdo, bullied, threatened, intimidated and all the rest of that good stuff by the rednecks of Wadsworth, Ohio where I grew up. As such I do not socialize well and I am generally suspicious of people even when they attempt to be nice to me. Someone recently said to me, “Your books have touched a lot of people.” I responded by saying, “Yeah, probably inappropriately!” That’s how an antisocial curmudgeon like me deals with compliments.

Zen practice does not change what you are. Ed Brown, a Zen teacher at San Francisco Zen Center, wrote a brilliant essay about this for Shambhala Sun called “Have You Tried Meditation?” Go read it for free on line. It says what I’m trying to say here much better than I can. Ed Brown is, like me, basically a cranky sort of fellow. Forty-some years of Zen practice has not changed that.

I often wonder what sort of person I’d have grown into if I hadn’t signed up for that calls about Zen I took when I was a sophomore at Kent State University. I was not happy with myself or with the world in general. I was full of anger and resentment and fear. I figured the planet was on the highway to hell and it was just a matter of time before someone pushed “The Button” and blew us all to smithereens. I fully expected to be dead before I was thirty years old. And that just made me more pissed off and pessimistic.

Had I not found ways of dealing with this stuff through zazen practice, I’m sure the results would have been a lot worse than me being a guy who sometimes writes grumpy things on the Interwebs. I got pretty suicidal there for a while and came pretty close to going through with it on a couple of occasions. I’m glad I didn’t because all the truly cool things that have happened in my life happened after those times I decided the best possible option was to kill myself. But, then again, I’d been doing zazen by then and maybe that also played a role in keeping me from committing suicide.

So the question for me when I hear someone criticizing me or someone else for not living up to their expectations of what a person who practiced a lot of zazen ought to be like is to ask, “What if they hadn’t done it at all?” Comparing it with my own speculations about myself, I generally assume things would have been a whole lot worse.

***

Brad is at Tassajara until September 11th. He does not have Internet access there so his friend Jayce is posting these articles he wrote before he left. Nevertheless, the donation button and the store still work. Just in case you were wondering.

134 Responses

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  1. Khru
    Khru August 23, 2012 at 11:01 am | |

    This is now the greatest thread ever.

  2. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer August 23, 2012 at 11:13 am | |

    That is one answer.

    It’s too bad that we can’t get funding for a ten year double blind experiment where half the group sits shikantaza and the other half do multiplication tables in their head and then compare the two.

    I am kidding. What a waste of time that would be.

    I know I went through a patch about seven years ago where I was mentally blaming everyone in the Christian religion for just about everything wrong in the world, but I don’t do that nearly as much any more.

    However….

    Not very many people who practice Christianity end up like Jesus.

    Not very many Muslims end up like the Prophet Muhammad.

    And not very many Buddhists end up as Buddhas.

    Cheers.

    1. Dukkha Earl
      Dukkha Earl August 23, 2012 at 11:50 am | |

      Ummm…unfortunately too many Muslims end up like the Prophet Muhammad!

  3. zenja
    zenja August 23, 2012 at 1:12 pm | |

    I love this…being a zen grump myself ……

  4. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 23, 2012 at 2:05 pm | |

    I like some things about this – the general modesty and realism – but I have to wonder if this is really getting to the point. It sounds like a Buddhist version of “therapeutic moral deism”, in which we judge a religion basically the way we would judge a therapeutic treatment of one kind or another. In other words, Buddhism as a form of self-help.

    But is that what Buddhism is? Or is that just a well-meaning, self-involved perversion of Buddhism? As I said in the last post, the whole moral dimension of these failings of various high-profile Buddhist leaders and teachers isn’t as important as their failure to actually understand what Buddhism is, which is primarily a way to discover the truth and reality of our existence, and not primarily a way to be better socialized members of society.

    Personally, I would be much more impressed if Brad were a raging asshole, but also really getting down to the true nature of existence. The fact that’s he’s a better guy for having practiced zazen all these years doesn’t really mean much to me. I mean, he could have just gone to Jungian therapy for twenty years with similar results. He could have gone to Church for twenty years and also been a better person. So what? I want to know what kind of genuine encounter he’s had with reality and truth, not how much nicer he is as a person or less suicidal.

    Even the cessation of craving isn’t about some kind of personal self-improvement plan. The purpose is to be free of the delusions and bondage that craving creates, so that we can live in reality and see reality as it is. That may or may not be “good for us” or improve our behaviors much. It might actually make us worse in some respects. A lot of people don’t even try to go in that direction, precisely because they fear it will be a dark and dangerous road. They’d rather just become better people. Which is a bit boring and disappointing, really.

  5. Khru
    Khru August 23, 2012 at 2:48 pm | |

    It’s interesting: I’ve noticed from personal experience that Zennies seem to be more cranky/uptight/neurotic than other Buddhist (sect) practitioners, i.e. Vipassana, Tibetan…

    Those sects seem to be less self-centered and more focused on attributes such as compassion, kindness, et al.

    It’s one of the reasons I eventually discontinued my Zen practice. But some people like hamburgers, some prefer hot dogs…

  6. boubi
    boubi August 23, 2012 at 3:12 pm | |

    I think the starting point of all this is :
    “what is this thing called enlightenment and what does it produce?”

    Until we don’t have the answer or someone explain it to us, i myself don’t know what we are talking about here .

    Do you get a lot of arms like the hindu divinities, with a red flickering tongue? Do you fly in the air? Get a blue skin and shine in the dark? Do you get some cool jedi moves?

    And what if Siddharta was born in China for starter and was called Hu ?

    Would his doctrine have been different, and what of the first sutras? His attitude towards women, sex, work would have been different? Would have been “buddhism” the same?

    I have the impression that we are like those famous blind people touching an elephant … wonder what the one who found his sack would have thought.

  7. boubi
    boubi August 23, 2012 at 3:15 pm | |

    Would you get the fast cash in supermarket queues? Find a parking place without going round the block a few times? Get lucky ticket of the lottery?

    Get that distinctive shakadelic mojo?

  8. Ted
    Ted August 23, 2012 at 5:26 pm | |

    Broken Yogi, there’s no need for an either-or analysis. If you are doing your Buddhist practice, the result should be (a) that you become a nicer person and (b) that you become a wiser person. The notion that nice and wise are orthogonal is utterly mistaken. Of course, a wise person can be a flaming asshole when it helps someone, but they are doing it *because* it is kindness, not doing a kindness accidentally because being a flaming asshole happens to work in that particular case.

    Boubi, a Buddha gets to finally let go of the fear that s/he is fucking up.

  9. King Kong
    King Kong August 23, 2012 at 5:26 pm | |

    I like bananas !!!

    1. GheeseBrGr
      GheeseBrGr August 23, 2012 at 5:56 pm | |

      I hate bananas!!! …no I’m just kidding

  10. buddy
    buddy August 23, 2012 at 6:47 pm | |

    I basically agree with this post, except maybe in the context in which it was written, namely, the sexual indiscretions of a zen teacher. The next step in this line of thinking would be, without the years of zazen he’s put in, Eido would be humping everything in sight? Maybe, but I think there’s a more direct connection between meditative practice and sexuality, like the flip side of an awareness of the emptiness of everything is a certain kind of loneliness. Some people are tempted to fill this with a sweet shag; more than a few give in.

  11. GheeseBrGr
    GheeseBrGr August 23, 2012 at 6:49 pm | |

    About zen making you into a better person… The way I see it, that’s not the purpose of zen(though it’s definitely important). Zen is about truth, about seeing things clearly. It’s also about seeing through some fundamental blocks(both emotional and intellectual) which make life unbearable. It’s a field of inquiry like science, but instead of symbols and logic we use our full awareness and all of our senses. Zen isn’t too interested in translating what it sees into thoughts and words(probably because it’s realized that it can’t be done and is totally beside the point). Science is purely practical(more comfort, longer life, easier ways to kill people etc.) and is driven by our desires and compulsions, but zen goes down to the roots of those very compulsions. Zen is shubbalabubballahubballa huh

    jeez, that was a lot of words. Wonder if any of that was even remotely true… Nice site by the way. I’m gonna start spending some time in this blog. Haven’t read a lot yet…

  12. Phumbling
    Phumbling August 23, 2012 at 10:53 pm | |

    Thanks for your words, Brad. I know I’ll never really know sweet funk all about zen and what I’m learning it’s from you and the interesting ‘insights’ and further readings I’ve seemed drawn to. That’s not an insult. I read it over and it might read out that way. Maybe.
    I resonate with your words above. Where the hell would I have ended up if not for the sitting just 15 minutes morning and night? Would I have even done that if I hadn’t heard of you and then read ZWKDC (should I have included the ‘i’s for in?)? I digress. I do that sometimes.

  13. SoF
    SoF August 23, 2012 at 11:27 pm | |

    Now if Brad had suffered sunstroke or an epileptic seizure on the road to Damascus…

    “He could have been somebody.
    He could have been a contender.”

    Novice to Master: An Ongoing Lesson in the Extent of My Own Stupidity
    by Soko Morinaga

    It’s a very short book. You can read it in an afternoon, over coffee. Please do so if you have the inclination. But don’t slip on an incline while doing so.

    I, for one, only lived my life as I lived my life.
    The many foolish mistakes I made were, after all, foolish mistakes.
    The few wise choices I made turned out to be wise choices.
    Could I have lived it a different way?
    It doesn’t matter. It REALLY doesn’t matter.

  14. obstsalat
    obstsalat August 24, 2012 at 12:16 am | |

    I think that both is right: the point of Zen practice is not whether you become a better person and at the same time if it doesen’t make people into “better persons” (whatever exactly that is) it is not good practice and should not be practiced. I think Zen is just Zen and if it feels like “your” practice, you will do it anyway and you should do it. I think it is important for us to be aware of the danger of getting arrogant concerning our practice. Who is below us (and who is above us)?

  15. BruceLee
    BruceLee August 24, 2012 at 2:49 am | |

    First post, but this one is close to my heart.
    I cherish my anger! It fuels me.
    But then of course, I’m not a Buddhist. I sit now and then. And I’m pretty confident it helps channel my anger and make it even more focused. Allows me to control it.
    Most people I admire seem to fall into that category. Brad – without knowing him – included.
    There isn’t enough directed anger in the world.
    Otherwise? how did we get here :)

    1. GheeseBrGr
      GheeseBrGr August 24, 2012 at 3:04 am | |

      There is waaaaaaay too much directed anger in the world… That’s how we got here.

      1. BruceLee
        BruceLee August 24, 2012 at 5:33 am | |

        I feel your pain!

  16. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel August 24, 2012 at 4:23 am | |

    Dukkha Earl August 23, 2012 at 11:50 am | wrote:

    “Ummm…unfortunately too many Muslims end up like the Prophet Muhammad!”

    I’m afraid this is too true… A man who personally slaughtered 300 men (starting at around 12 yo) for having opposed him is necessarily a bad example…

    That aside, I remember Nishijima answering to someone who asked hiw what Zazen had done for him: “I have become a little bit better”.
    And a girl friend of mine who said: “You’re quite less boring ever since you practice Zazen”.

  17. Noah
    Noah August 24, 2012 at 5:49 am | |

    I still feel lost sometimes… often.
    I still spend too much time worrying about what others think.
    I still deal with expectations, others’ and my own.
    I still hurt people.
    I still judge people.
    I still judge myself.

    I still believe my thoughts sometimes… often.
    I still get caught up in doing things, playing games and being busy.
    I still daydream too much and stay with the breath too little.
    I still meditate.
    I still avoid meditating.
    I’m still not even sure I understand what meditation is.

    I still get overly dramatic sometimes… often.
    I still use my spirituality as an excuse.
    I still think about myself more than I think about others.
    I still harbor regrets.
    I’m still scared of dying.
    I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

    I still don’t know the answer.
    Sometimes… often, I’m still not sure there is an answer.
    Because I still do the things I said I wasn’t going to do anymore.
    I still wish I had something otherwise.
    I still wish I was somewhere else.
    I still wish I was somehow different.

    But maybe, sometimes, just a little less often. And what more can I do?

  18. gniz
    gniz August 24, 2012 at 11:30 am | |

    I’m trying to take the opposite approach to what you stated in this article. Mainly, I’m trying to say; whatever I’ve done in the past, or even if I just fucked up one moment ago, I am endeavoring to learn and do a little better next time. And next time. And next time.

    What does it matter what I might have been? I can never know.

    All I can do is try and learn and do a bit better with each new moment. I will screw up again invariably, but I can keep trying.

    If I think I’ve hit the end, I’m nowhere. If I try and console myself by saying, “well think how much worse it could have been if…” I’m still lost.

    How about doing better next time?

  19. SoF
    SoF August 24, 2012 at 2:08 pm | |

    About 10 years ago, a Universal Unitarian friend of mine… (another Rev. Dr…) told me about driving his grandfather to the park one afternoon. His grandfather was reading Budge.

    “Why,” the Rev. ask, “would you read that book so late in life?”

    “Because I do not wish to die with a heavy heart,” was the reply.

    Anger, desire, craving, and the passions all lead to a literal re-birth in this place of shadow and light (this HELL).

    Let the angry Muslims be angry. Not all Muslims are angry.

    Let republicans display their venomous hatred.

    They will pay for in in the turning of the wheel.

    It’s not your rice bowl.

    Wait, and see.

  20. Justin Lewis
    Justin Lewis August 24, 2012 at 2:26 pm | |

    I touched all of your zen books inappropriately right back!

  21. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 24, 2012 at 3:28 pm | |

    Ted,

    “Broken Yogi, there’s no need for an either-or analysis. ”

    Exactly. One can be wise, and nice. Or not. The issue is what is one’s priority. Many people pursue being nice as if that were itself a form or sign of wisdom, when it isn’t. In fact, I can almost guarantee that pursuing niceness is an incredibly stupid and unwise thing to do, and will lead to a lot of delusion. Likewise, if one judges one’s wisdom by how nice one has become, one is not being wise at all.

    The important thing about wisdom is not to judge one’s actions except by whether one is being wise. That takes wisdom. Niceness and wisdom are not opposites, but they are not the same either. If the coincide, fine, but if not, fine also. You have to decide which is more valuable. Unfortunately, I think many people have decided that they are the same, and that if one isn’t nice, one isn’t wise either. I would take serious issue with that, to the point of not even being nice. Just try me.

  22. Cidercat
    Cidercat August 24, 2012 at 3:40 pm | |

    I ate 24 bananas today today. Nowhere near my record.

  23. boubi
    boubi August 24, 2012 at 4:41 pm | |

    “You’re quite less boring ever since you practice Zazen”

    Sorry but what would be the relation between being quite/a lot less boring and being a “moral driven”* person?

    Was Gautama Siddharta’s final goal to show a way for people to be “less boring” or ” a bit better”?

    I never did it, but i have the impression that some kind of psychotherapy could give similar results, or not?

    Was it for this that he left family and home and went to live like a dog, nearly killing himself, starving himself to death, going to the point of eating (also) birds droppings?

    From what i read he saw a sick person, an old one and a corpse … and the suffering originated from those states …

    ————
    * in this case a “not fucking around” person

  24. boubi
    boubi August 24, 2012 at 4:47 pm | |

    “Let the angry Muslims be angry. Not all Muslims are angry.
    Let republicans display their venomous hatred.”

    I disagree.

    Let’s not, in a legal and democratic way, venomous and fanatics destroy what our ancestors conquered for us , through blood and tears.

    Let’s not go back to dark times, to some bigot middle age.

  25. King Kong
    King Kong August 24, 2012 at 4:59 pm | |

    Cidercat, that’s pretty good.

  26. Ted
    Ted August 24, 2012 at 4:59 pm | |

    BY, you miss my point. Ethics and wisdom are not independent. To be good to others is wise. Wisdom is more than just thinking that it’s good to be good to others, but if you have wisdom, you will naturally want to be good to others. If you think you know what wisdom is, and yet you don’t find yourself naturally wanting to be good to others, you are mistaken.

    This does not mean that a person who is wise drops what they are doing to feed the poor. A person with bodhicitta is not a “nice person.” They might seem like a complete asshole, as they completely abandon their friends and spend all their time pursuing enlightenment. But this is because they have decided that the kindest thing they can do is to get enlightened, not because they’ve stopped loving their friends. A person with bodhicitta is not afraid to be hated, if being hated is the best thing for living beings.

  27. Ted
    Ted August 24, 2012 at 5:03 pm | |

    Boubi, there is no us to let. If some hateful muslims pull us back into a dark age, or if some hateful christians do, this is the world we have created. It is being forced on us—it is not our choice. So the idea that we are “letting” them be the way they are is mistaken—they are the way they are, at the present, and there is nothing we can do about it other than our practice. By which I do not mean that you shouldn’t vote, or try to convince people to vote, or whatever. But we have gone and committed heinous deeds to protect ourselves from hateful muslims, and in so doing all we have actually accomplished is to make the world a worse place than it was.

  28. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 24, 2012 at 6:03 pm | |

    Ted,

    Who suggested that ethics and wisdom are separate? You were talking about being nice, not being ethical. They are two very different things.

    I don’t think you got my original point either, which is that the criteria for Buddhist wisdom isn’t niceness, or even ethical behavior (though lack of that might be a good indicator of a lack of wisdom) but a full grounding in the reality that is obscured by craving. The world is full of good, nice, ethical people who have no such grounding in the Buddhist understanding of reality. I could introduce you to boatloads of them. I’m not knocking them, I’m just saying that their nice ethical goodness isn’t the goal of Buddhist practice, nor is it the sign of maturity in that practice. It might be a by-product, or it might not, but it isn’t the point.

    So when we talk about whether someone is a mature Buddhist with a well-developed practice, but all we actually talk about his who nice or ethical or interesting the now seem, compared to before, we are really missing the point of actual Buddhism, which isn’t some personal or social self-help regime. There are much better ways of achieving those goals than Buddhism, I can tell you that much. What Buddhism is particularly good at is something else entirely, and that’s freeing oneself from the delusions induced by craving and ignorance. Being nice and ethical is way down on the list, for better or worse, except to the degree that being an unethical ass is often a result of craving and ignorance.

    Even so, lots of great Buddhists have been unethical asses of one kind or another. One has modern examples like Trungpa to stir the pot, not to mention many others. I wouldn’t suggest that he was fully enlightened, but neither would I say that his unethical assholishness means he was a fraud either.

  29. boubi
    boubi August 24, 2012 at 6:13 pm | |

    —”this is the world we have created. It is being forced on us—it is not our choice”—

    Is it our creation or is it forced on us? We have to choose here, either we create or it’s being forced on us, you can’t get the two statements together, they are opposite.

    They are the way they are because someone put something (shit) in their brain, someone dripped hate and ignorance into their brain.

    “We” didn’t. I didn’t, you didn’t.

    I am not responsible for what Bush or other did, nor for what bloody fanatics did.

    Are you by chance?

    To me it seems that you are one of the self flogging carrier of all there is bad in the world, kind of Jesus.

    You haven’t done bad, no more than the shop keeper in Kabul or Bagdad was responsible for Saddam’s or mullah Omar’s crimes.

    There is good and bad* and there are shades of it, mot everybody that fights bad is better, many times it’s just another “bad” that wants to get the turf, like in gang wars.

    —”If some hateful muslims pull us back into a dark age, or if some hateful christians do, this is the world we have created.” —

    Sorry but a big part of this world wasn’t created by “us”, unless you want to include 6 billion people and then there is no meaning in talking about us and them.

    Our ancestors fought and gave their lifes in order for us to be free, i myself served to defend us against URSS, maybe it was not for the absolute good but it was better, by far.

    ———
    * there isn’t a definition though

  30. Ted
    Ted August 24, 2012 at 7:16 pm | |

    boubi, the world is created by us through our past actions, and is forced on us at present because the actions have already been done. And so we must practice, so as to bring about a world that is the result of our practice, rather than our failure to practice.

    BY, the first kindness you can do for others is to stop hurting them. This is the practice of the hinayana. The point of this practice is that if you stop hurting others, the karma that brings about your suffering will eventually die away.

    Your notion that ethics isn’t related to wisdom is surprising; if it were so, then it would be the case that the Buddha had never mentioned ethics, since, after all, the Buddha was teaching us how to get out of suffering, not how to be nice.

  31. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 24, 2012 at 7:37 pm | |

    So funny that you continue to assert I see no connection between wisdom and ethics, despite my assertions otherwise. It’s almost as if you are trying to hurt my feelings!

    Buddhist wisdom does have a relationship to ethics, but not of the conventional variety. It sees the problem of morality and ethics as rooted in craving, not particular categories of behavior. So craving is unethical, ignorance is unethical, and action rooted in craving and ignorance is unethical. That means that even seemingly “good” behavior, socially and morally acceptable behavior, ethically sound by the common currency of society, if it is rooted in craving, is still unethical, false, and harmful to others.

    This is particularly evident these days, when our culture as a whole is so steadfastly devoted to everyone craving as much satisfaction as they can get, and “ethics” being defined as not interfering with anyone else’s cravings, and making sure that everyone gets an equal opportunity to crave and ignorantly indulge themselves. A genuine Buddhist ethics would find a great deal of our “ethics” unethical and harmful. Whereas, actually applying Buddhist ethics in the modern age would be seen by many as unethical and harmful to their cravings.

    It’s similar to the issue of stabbing someone with a knife. If you are stabbing them in order to steal their money or out of revenge, that’s unethical. If you use that knife to cut a cancer tumor out of their body, that’s ethical. Craving is the ethical equivalent of craving in Buddhist teachings. It can actually hurt to have it rooted out, but in the long run, it’s healthy. Be aware of that before judging.

  32. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 24, 2012 at 7:39 pm | |

    Typo.

    Should have read ” Craving is the ethical equivalent of cancer in Buddhist teachings. “

  33. SoF
    SoF August 24, 2012 at 7:59 pm | |

    What’s done is done.

    My grandparents came over in 1897 so they missed carving a new way of life out of the American Indians.

    I am not advocating the “dark ages” (when the church was in charge).

    I am advocating the halting of violence – especially in the name of imperialism.

    Give peace a chance.

    here is a “Summary Of The Bush Crime Family* History.”

    If you can, see “The Last War Crime.”

    We really need to clean up our own nest before we pull any ‘holier than thou’ crap. We, in the USA are filthy dirty.

  34. boubi
    boubi August 25, 2012 at 4:03 am | |

    Ted

    — “Your notion that ethics isn’t related to wisdom”—
    Can you be more specific? Where did i say such a thing? I don’t think i spoke of wisdom in this commentary.

    –”since, after all, the Buddha was teaching us how to get out of suffering, not how to be nice.” –

    Did i ever talked about being nice either?

    I find your vision of the world a bit ethereal, even though i never advocated hurting other people what i’m interested in is this life, not some other reincarnation or some faraway kalpa.

    That guy born in Lumpini never said, to my knowledge, clean your karma and in a few lives you’ll harvest the fruits of it.

    Your though is, in a way, dangerous.
    Wouldn’t you protect your family from murder, just because, maybe, in some former life, they did something that brought it on them?

    BTW, i don’t believe i ever caused 911, or some fanatical regime.

    If you feel you did, sorry for you.

  35. boubi
    boubi August 25, 2012 at 5:10 am | |

    Ted

    To continue about “man/woman” talk, reminding i never advocate any superiority, please read this article and related links http://news.yahoo.com/hormones-explain-why-girls-dolls-boys-trucks-112611695.html?_esi=1

    :) peace

  36. Ted
    Ted August 25, 2012 at 5:29 am | |

    boubi, I was referring to what Broken Yogi said, not to you, when I spoke about ethics. I don’t know what people have done in their past lives, nor does any other normal person, so the idea that I might decide whether or not to protect them from murder on the basis of their past karma is ludicrous. It is not my job to deliver the fruits of karma to anyone. It is my job to plant the seeds of karma for myself. It is a job that I do whether I know it or not; one point of practice is to try to avoid doing it ignorantly. What it means to do something ignorantly is to do it with no understanding of cause and effect: to try to help someone by hurting someone else, for example.

    BY, if I do a kindness for someone with craving as its motivation, this produces a samsaric result, but not a negative result. If I steal something and give it to someone in need, this produces a samsaric positive result, and also a negative result.

    Aside from karmic results, the main point of the practice of ethics is simply to allow us to meditate. If we are constantly hurting others, and getting angry at others, and wishing others ill, then it’s difficult to get any results when we sit.

  37. boubi
    boubi August 25, 2012 at 8:48 am | |

    Ted

    Sorry i didn’t understand that BY stood for Broken Yogi, i thought that it was some kind of BTW, IMO, WTF shorthand.

    I see your point about karma but it gets to the limit where the victim is guilty and the perpetrator is just a mean of karma law, some kind of karma enforcer … so just empty jails and let the inmates met on society the just retribution of their past lives.

    I agree with Edmund Burke who said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph [of evil] is for good men to do nothing.”

    Doing nothing in the last 100 years would have meant being under some of the worst if not the absolute worst criminal dictators the world ever saw. No free speech, no shanga, just death.

  38. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 25, 2012 at 11:43 am | |

    Ted,

    “BY, if I do a kindness for someone with craving as its motivation, this produces a samsaric result, but not a negative result. If I steal something and give it to someone in need, this produces a samsaric positive result, and also a negative result.”

    If you do a kindness out of craving, such as the desire to be liked, admired, or loved, or even to protect someone from harm, it does indeed produce a negative result. That’s how duality works. Even good acts lead to bad acts in the turning of the wheel. That’s why Buddhism isn’t about just trying to be good, as if that can even work out in the long run.

    Buddhism takes the long view, and sees how duality is a trap that keeps us running like hamsters in the wheel, always pursuing some final end of goodness and protection from harm that simply doesn’t exist. Run far enough in one direction, and the wheel will turn under your feet and you will find yourself on the other end of the stick. One day you are the victim, but on some future day you will be the victimizer. One life the do-gooder, but eventually the evil-doer. If you want good badly enough, you will end up doing evil to achieve it. Look at the cycles of politics and war if you don’t believe me.

    So Buddhist ethics isn’t about trying to achieve and maintain one side of the dualistic wheel in place forever, the good side. It looks at the whole wheel, and it sees the pointlessness of such pursuits. It sees the craving and ignorance that drives the wheel of dualism, and which makes its turning inevitable so long as that motive is there in the axel. So it looks to unroot the power driving that axel, which turns the whole wheel. In the course of doing so, it doesn’t much care whether the wheel is passing through a good or bad cycle. It’s going deeper than good and evil, to the root of duality itself, the illusion of separateness and even the motive towards unity. It just sits there, observing the wheel, being still even while the wheel turns. This is what brings insight and liberation. This is the root of Buddhist ethics. The intelligence of not pursuing goodness for its own sake, as some kind of permanent goal.

    Now, this stillness also has the effect of introducing a non-dual peace and harmony, the quality of sattvas, into the picture. But it’s not the usual pursuit of balance, it’s a just the freedom from the dualism of craving. And acting from that natural harmony, not some ideal of goodness, or avoidance of harm. If one pursues these without wisdom, but out of craving even for balance and harmony, this will just result in imbalance and disharmony eventually, because one has made them part of the wheel of duality.

    So motive matters tremendously, and the craving motive ends up poisoning everything, because it binds us to the wheel, rather than freeing us from it.

    “Aside from karmic results, the main point of the practice of ethics is simply to allow us to meditate. If we are constantly hurting others, and getting angry at others, and wishing others ill, then it’s difficult to get any results when we sit.”

    Genuine ethics, which means the cessation of the craving motive, is already meditation. They are not different. One might seem active, the other still, but both understand that the cessation of craving is the motive at their core. One can sit and meditate with the false motive of craving driving it also.

    Ahimsa means much more than just not being the bad guy. It also means not being the craving guy, not being the guy contributing to more samsara and delusion, which is the root of all harm. Otherwise, you will still produce harm, as much as you try not to, just as night follows day.

  39. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 25, 2012 at 12:06 pm | |

    “If we are constantly hurting others, and getting angry at others, and wishing others ill, then it’s difficult to get any results when we sit.”

    Results when we sit; that would be the subject of Brad’s post, I believe.

    Lately I am looking for something when I sit, and I confess it. This morning I sat at 3:30am because the smoke alarms went off (for no apparent reason), and I looked for three things: 1) a sense of location in space; 2) a sense of pitch, yaw, and roll at the location of my awareness that extends and receives the ability to feel; 3) inhalation or exhalation, and the exact length of the inhalation or exhalation.

    I went back to bed, and when I got up again I sat the same way; then we took the dog for a final trip to the vet, and brought her body home and buried it.

    When I look for the same practice in the daytime, I notice that it is a practice of necessity, especially in a cross-legged posture; it’s not something that is second-nature to me yet, maybe it never will be, but something about the passing of my canine friend makes it feel more appropriate in the daytime at the moment. There’s nothing special there, just the necessity of mind and bones and breath at the moment.

    RIP to Sonia, the dog.

  40. Ted
    Ted August 25, 2012 at 12:08 pm | |

    BY, what you are saying is in direct contradiction to the Buddhist teachings on the laws of karma. You _cannot_ get a bad result from a good action. You _cannot_ get a good result from a bad action.

    The cessation of craving comes at the moment a person reaches nirvana; if it were a prerequisite for practice, nobody could ever possibly get enlightened.

    Boubi, a Buddhist society has jails not to protect society from criminals, but to protect criminals from themselves. Unfortunately, there are no Buddhist societies, and never have been, so even in countries where Buddhism is the predominant religion, jails are generally run the way you suggest, not the way the Buddhist teachings suggest. There’s a poignant scene in the movie “Kundun” that alludes to this mismatch.

  41. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 25, 2012 at 12:10 pm | |

    Yes, that’s Sonia.

  42. Ted
    Ted August 25, 2012 at 12:14 pm | |

    BTW, BY, I get that you’re talking about the distinction between good deeds within the cycle and wisdom that breaks the cycle. But the Dharma starts with teaching karma; the motivation to get out of the cycle is not necessary to the practice of Buddhism, even though the idea is that once you’ve gotten started with trying to get good results _in_ the cycle, you will eventually realize that this idea is doomed, because you will inevitably lose your connection to the Dharma as a consequence of the suffering of change. So the path that is shared by all Buddhist practitioners, which is the path of not harming others, leads to the path that is shared by Hinayana and Mahayana practitioners—breaking the cycle. And then the Mahayana path is not shared by other practitioners, and leads to total enlightenment. All three paths are valid Buddhist paths—it is not the case that only the path that leads to Nirvana is a Buddhist path.

  43. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 25, 2012 at 1:27 pm | |

    Ted,

    “BY, what you are saying is in direct contradiction to the Buddhist teachings on the laws of karma. You _cannot_ get a bad result from a good action. You _cannot_ get a good result from a bad action.”

    If that’s what Buddhism teaches, then it’s wrong. “Good” isn’t some kind of absolute quality, it’s a completely fungible, subjective and conditional quality that varies depending on conditions, perspective, and most importantly, our wants, needs, and cravings. What is good today may be bad tomorrow. There’s no cosmic justice system built on some absolute measure of good and bad, which ensures that good follows from good, or bad from bad. That whole notion is completely anti-thetical to what I know of Buddhism. If my understanding of Buddhism is wrong, fine. But then I would say that Buddhism is wrong, and quite evidently so.

    How can karma possible work that way, if there is no absoluteness to either good or bad? How could karma keep track, and make sure it delivers the requisite result, if there is no measuring system by which to track good and bad? The simple truth is that karma just doesn’t work that way. Karma isn’t a system of punishments and rewards, it’s a way of describing our tendencies to get into a rut, and then to bounce out of that rut into another rut, and to bounce back and forth from one opposite to the next.

    “The cessation of craving comes at the moment a person reaches nirvana; if it were a prerequisite for practice, nobody could ever possibly get enlightened.”

    The two terms are redundant. Nirvana is defined as the cessation of craving. But just because craving doesn’t entirely cease until craving entirely ceases, doesn’t mean Buddhist isn’t about the goal of ceasing to crave, and the practice about lessening our craving motives. It is precisely that. You don’t get to the cessation of craving by indulging in craving, and then in one sudden moment of glorious insight, just ceasing to crave. You have to wean yourself of these habits, by understanding craving, and surrendering the craving motive, and living by a different principle. It doesn’t happen otherwise.

    The cessation of craving isn’t the pre-requisite for practice, it is the practice. We practice precisely because we are craving, and because we have had the insight that craving is the source of our suffering (and not the absence of the things we crave, as we tend to think). So we practice to reduce our cravings, to the point where we simply no longer crave. Easy to say, of course, but not so easy to do, especially if we don’t recognize that this is the core of the practice, and not just some distant goal or result.

    The habits of craving are hard to break, because the whole principle is so deeply rooted in our minds, to the point where it seems to make total sense to crave happiness, and irresponsible madness not to. Good people, it seems to us, are those who crave good things, whereas bad people are those who crave bad things. That is our conventional ethics. But Buddhist ethics operates by a different principle, that it doesn’t matter so much what we crave, as that we crave. It’s goal is the reduction and cessation of all craving, regardless of whether it craves good or bad results.

  44. Fred
    Fred August 25, 2012 at 1:36 pm | |

    Sorry about the loss of your friend, Mark.

  45. Fred
    Fred August 25, 2012 at 1:41 pm | |

    “Does a dog have Buddha Nature? ”

    Yes, especially a dog.

  46. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 25, 2012 at 1:42 pm | |

    Ted,

    I would say that any path which is not founded in the principle of eliminating craving, is not a Buddhist path.

    This is so basic to the Four Noble Truths, I don’t think it’s negotiable. You can certainly make a spiritual path out of some other principle, but it ceases to be a Buddhist one if it isn’t primarily about the cessation of craving and dukkha. That doesn’t mean there can’t be all kinds of variant ways of achieving the reduction and eventual cessation of craving and dukkha. All the yanas and sects have their particular emphases and paths and traditions, but unless these are not only aimed at the cessation of craving, but actually succeed in at least reducing craving, they are not Buddhist, or are a perversion of Buddhism.

    I think this is visible in the kinds of perversions of Buddhism one often sees making headlines, and that Brad often comments on. If one looks at someone like Genpo, for example, I would say that his primary problem is that he’s creating a path which isn’t about the cessation of craving, but about the attainment of some kind of magical “big mind” experience, and actively craving that, as if that’s what nirvana was actually all about, rather than the cessation of craving. It’s just one of the myriad ways in which Buddhist find a way to perpetuate and even multiple their cravings, rather than to do the simple yet humbling and hard task of reducing and surrendering their cravings. And we see how this lost principle then bleeds out into a wholesale path of increased craving for money, wealth, sex, and power. Once that simple thread is lost, disaster tends to follow, as cravings multiple and produce more and more dukkha.

    This is why, I think, that Brad says that Genpo isn’t even teaching Buddhism anymore. It’s really just a form of craving wearing the masks and robes and language of Buddhism, but no longer operates from its core principles.

    As for ahimsa, it’s one of the precepts, and a useful discipline for anyone to follow, but like everything else in Buddhism, it needs to be grounded in a firm understanding of the core of Buddhist dharma and practice, which is the cessation of craving and dukkha, to actually bear genuine fruit. Merely being a nice, good boy because one craves acceptance and fears rejection isn’t going to do that.

  47. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 25, 2012 at 1:43 pm | |

    Ted,

    “BY, what you are saying is in direct contradiction to the Buddhist teachings on the laws of karma. You _cannot_ get a bad result from a good action. You _cannot_ get a good result from a bad action.”

    If that’s what Buddhism teaches, then it’s wrong. “Good” isn’t some kind of absolute quality, it’s a completely fungible, subjective and conditional quality that varies depending on conditions, perspective, and most importantly, our wants, needs, and cravings. What is good today may be bad tomorrow. There’s no cosmic justice system built on some absolute measure of good and bad, which ensures that good follows from good, or bad from bad. That whole notion is completely anti-thetical to what I know of Buddhism. If my understanding of Buddhism is wrong, fine. But then I would say that Buddhism is wrong, and quite evidently so.

    How can karma possible work that way, if there is no absoluteness to either good or bad? How could karma keep track, and make sure it delivers the requisite result, if there is no measuring system by which to track good and bad? The simple truth is that karma just doesn’t work that way. Karma isn’t a system of punishments and rewards, it’s a way of describing our tendencies to get into a rut, and then to bounce out of that rut into another rut, and to bounce back and forth from one opposite to the next.

    “The cessation of craving comes at the moment a person reaches nirvana; if it were a prerequisite for practice, nobody could ever possibly get enlightened.”

    The two terms are redundant. Nirvana is defined as the cessation of craving. But just because craving doesn’t entirely cease until craving entirely ceases, doesn’t mean Buddhist isn’t about the goal of ceasing to crave, and the practice about lessening our craving motives. It is precisely that. You don’t get to the cessation of craving by indulging in craving, and then in one sudden moment of glorious insight, just ceasing to crave. You have to wean yourself of these habits, by understanding craving, and surrendering the craving motive, and living by a different principle. It doesn’t happen otherwise.

    The cessation of craving isn’t the pre-requisite for practice, it is the practice. We practice precisely because we are craving, and because we have had the insight that craving is the source of our suffering (and not the absence of the things we crave, as we tend to think). So we practice to reduce our cravings, to the point where we simply no longer crave. Easy to say, of course, but not so easy to do, especially if we don’t recognize that this is the core of the practice, and not just some distant goal or result.

    The habits of craving are hard to break, because the whole principle is so deeply rooted in our minds, to the point where it seems to make total sense to crave happiness, and irresponsible madness not to. Good people, it seems to us, are those who crave good things, whereas bad people are those who crave bad things. That is our conventional ethics. But Buddhist ethics operates by a different principle, that it doesn’t matter so much what we crave, as that we crave. It’s goal is the reduction and cessation of all craving, regardless of whether it craves good or bad results.

  48. buddy
    buddy August 25, 2012 at 2:19 pm | |

    ‘But Buddhist ethics operates by a different principle, that it doesn’t matter so much what we crave, as that we crave. It’s goal is the reduction and cessation of all craving, regardless of whether it craves good or bad results.’ BY, you’re sort of contradicting what you said a while back: ‘there’s such a thing as craving unconditioned by ignorance, or channa, to be differentiated from tanha’ (craving conditioned by ignorance). Are you saying that someone must let go of all craving, enter nirvana, and then acquire a new sort of craving, channa? Doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. As you say, the practice contains the results, and therefore it seems a continual discernment of our craving- what is craved, what one hopes to gain by the craving and, maybe most importantly, who is craving- is needed. The key word here is ignorance; once we engage in a practice of awareness, in that moment we are better able to see who (what) we really are and what is the appropriate response to conditions as they arise. Not that there isn’t a progression, as our attachments to our habits weaken and we see things more and more clearly, but it still always comes down to NOW.

  49. boubi
    boubi August 25, 2012 at 2:36 pm | |

    Ted

    Extending that particular vision of karma, let’s consider that those who “committed heinous deeds” were just the instrument of karma.

    That in that particular vision of karma all those dead, maimed, orphaned were somehow guilty from former live’s actions?

    Ramana Maharishi said that there isn’t free will.

    Are we just gears and cogs in some cosmic machinery?

  50. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 25, 2012 at 3:31 pm | |

    Boubi,

    “Are you saying that someone must let go of all craving, enter nirvana, and then acquire a new sort of craving, channa?”

    No, I’m saying that when we let go of craving to any degree at all, we gain wisdom, and insight, which not only helps us let go of even more craving, but it helps us act in the mode of channa, free at least to some degree of our previous cravings.

    It’s not all or nothing. It’s a gradual process of learning to forgo the life and mind of craving, and to learn wisdom and channa.

    The word “craving” already contains within it the reference to ignorant and harmful motives and behavior. Which is why it’s not usually necessary to say “craving conditioned by ignorance”. It’s just understood as such.

    Channa refers to the ordinary, natural desires and healthy activities of a mind that is free of craving. I only refer to it as “craving unconditioned by ignorance” to make the distinction clear.

    It’s like eating food because we are hungry. That’s channa. It’s a natural impulse to eat, the body needs food, it sends the brain a signal to eat, and so we eat. It has no implications of dukkha. Craving is a different kind of hunger, motivated by a desire for emotional or sensual satisfaction of an inner emptiness. It produces dukkha, even if our hunger is temporarily satisfied.

    To be free of craving, doesn’t mean one doesn’t get hungry and need to eat. It just means our hunger isn’t driven by an existential quest for satisfaction that we think food is going to fulfill. It’s just simple, temporary need of the body. And the process of freeing oneself from craving is also gradual. One begins to recognize and feel just how much this existential craving is behind our food numbers, our obsessions, and how complicated that makes our eating habits. So one begins to surrender the craving for food satisfaction. That doesn’t mean one stops eating when one is hungry. One just doesn’t add craving to the act. One eats more and more as a simple expression of channa.

    The more one surrenders one’s food cravings, the more one learns to enjoy eating in this manner. Channa is enjoyable, and it doesn’t produce dukkha. We can notice this, and see that we’re on to something, that giving up one’s cravings is an intelligent thing to do, not an ascetical program of anti-enjoyment. Craving isn’t actually enjoyable, but the opposite. It produces dukkha. Channa doesn’t. We don’t have to wait until we have ceased all craving to notice this. It’s very ordinary and simple wisdom on how to live that we can make use of right away. And it applies across the board, to all our cravings, including the spiritual ones.

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