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

  1. Fred
    Fred August 25, 2012 at 5:59 pm | |

    I would say that any path that doesn’t drop the body-mind isn’t a Buddhist path.

    Karma, suffering and craving are illusions that can be dropped as well.

  2. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 25, 2012 at 6:01 pm | |

    Alrightee, let the fun begin!

    “And then the Mahayana path is not shared by other practitioners, and leads to total enlightenment.” In what sense, not shared by other practitioners?

    “And the process of freeing oneself from craving is also gradual.” It’s a hallmark of Chan and Zen that enlightenment is sudden, and if enlightenment can be said to be anything it is the destruction of the asavas, of the poisons of craving sensuality, craving renewed existence, or craving an end to existence. At the same time, I think both Yuanwu and Foyan mention that after the sudden experience, it may take twenty or thirty years to be able to turn the experience into an ability to contribute.

    I think the method in indirect. Rather than desire an end to craving, which throws us back into the karmic loop, the method is to sit down cross-legged and “set mindfulness in front”; the expectation is that a cessation of volition will ensue, and that the ease and joy in the cessation of habitual activity will give way to an equanimity and a purified equanimity. This last equanimity is identified as the cessation of habitual activity in inhalation and exhalation and associated with action of the body. Subsequently the immaterial meditative states may ensue, culminating with a cessation of habitual activity in perception and sensation, and the cessation of craving for again-becoming (which breaks down into the three asavas).

    That’s the teaching in the Pali Canon. Chan and Zen leads us to understand that the cessation of habitual activity in perception and sensation can occur at the sight of peach blossoms, or at the sound of a tile hitting bamboo. This is the experience of the action of perception and sensation taking place without the exercise of volition.

    Everybody is having this kind of experience all the time, and yet instead of seeing that our action can take place in the absence of volition and making self-surrender the object of thought, we instead identify a self that acts with respect to form, feeling, thought, habitual tendency, or consciousness.

  3. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 25, 2012 at 6:06 pm | |

    thanks, Fred.

  4. buddy
    buddy August 25, 2012 at 6:31 pm | |

    BY, so you’re taking the Catholic Church position on sexuality, that it should only be engaged in for the biological necessity of reproduction and not out of ‘a desire for emotional or sensual satisfaction’?

  5. Ted
    Ted August 25, 2012 at 7:29 pm | |

    Good deeds are deeds that bring pleasant results. Bad deeds are deeds that bring unpleasant results. A result is pleasant if you enjoy it. It is unpleasant if you experience it as suffering. That’s all good and bad mean. You keep track of these karmic seeds in your mindstream—the continuation of “you” from moment to moment. There is no judge, and no need for one, any more than a judge is required to decide that a ball, thrown up into the air, must fall.

    Boubi, another of the laws of karma is that karma grows. So a small thing turns into a big thing. The idea of people being “guilty” is wrong—we have all created huge negative karma in our past lives and in this one. Also huge positive karma. The thing is, you can’t protect anyone. You can try, and if they have the karma, you succeed; whether you succeed or not, you collect the karma of trying.

  6. Ted
    Ted August 25, 2012 at 7:35 pm | |

    The path not shared is the path that is not practiced. So practitioners who seek favorable rebirths do not share the path to nirvana, because they do not have renunciation. Practitioners who seek nirvana, but not total enlightenment, do not have bodhicitta. Practitioners who seek total enlightenment do have renunciation, but also bodhicitta.

    Sudden enlightenment, as far as I can tell from the descriptions, is the direct perception of the lack of a self nature to the person. Yes, supposedly it is sudden. But it’s also the result of many lifetimes of effort. Much in the same way that if you get in a rocket and accelerate toward a stationary object that is far away for a long time, your impact with it will be sudden, despite the amount of time that it took you to get to the point of impact.

  7. buddy
    buddy August 25, 2012 at 8:39 pm | |

    I like how you guys talk about rebirth as if it were a fact you actually knew something about.

  8. AnneMH
    AnneMH August 25, 2012 at 9:53 pm | |

    I have thought about this often. I worry that as I have led meditations a few times and get asked to do a few more that people will look at me and wonder what the heck I have been doing wasting my time for 25 years because I am still obviously not being the poster child of buddhist bliss. Okay they did say I had a pleasant voice, but basically I am a mellowed out version of the same old me, even on the days I would rather trade in my personality.

    I have also thought about this when I see someone who is overweight or disabled in some way. They could be that person who already lost 150 lbs or was not given much of a chance to live. We can see the weight that is still overweight or the injury but not where they started.

    So here is what I see, and it is related to what other posters have said i think. I still have the same personality and tendancies and preferences, however through diligent work these things do not run my life with my attachment to being a certain way. I know/experience impermanence so I do not need to cling to being angry for example, however I do not have to cling to the idea that I have overcome being angry and now I am permanently defined as the person who is no longer angry. And I hope I made some sense

  9. buddy
    buddy August 25, 2012 at 11:30 pm | |

    AnneMH, makes a lot more sense than most of the bs that gets shovelled around these parts.

  10. boubi
    boubi August 26, 2012 at 5:30 am | |

    Ted

    You let me with a lot of questions.

    How would you call that guy from Lumpini, Siddharta, who in the end just went parinirvana (total extintion)?

    The Buddha described nirvana to these men: “unchanging bliss, beyond all objects of the senses . . . when you hear of that . . . how is there room for grief in your minds?”

    Could you tell me what “total enlightenment” is?

  11. Ted
    Ted August 26, 2012 at 7:28 am | |

    Parinirvana is total extinction of the stained heaps (heaps that are projections resulting from karmic seeds collected with desire, aversion and ignorance) of an ordinary person. (The five heaps, sometimes referred to as aggregates, are the five parts to the person, including the body, the ability to discriminate, and so on.)

    Total enlightenment is the state of a Buddha who, rather than simply existing in the quiet bliss of nirvana, appears in the world to help living beings to reach nirvana or total enlightenment themselves. It is the distinction between an arhat and a Buddha.

    Buddy, we talk about rebirth because the teachings talk about rebirth, and because the context for enlightenment is a mindstream that passes from body to body; without this, there is no possibility of enlightenment, because there is no mindstream to purify.

    It is of course entirely possible that the whole body of the teachings is a mad delusion, that there is no rebirth, and that there is no enlightenment. I can’t prove to you, or even to myself, that this is not the case. The pursuit of the path is predicated on the recognition that it is better to seek an alternative to the obvious path that lies before us, than to accept the inevitable.

    We continue on the path, if we do, because against all odds, when we do the practice, we get results. Whether these results lead to enlightenment or nirvana or any other of the fruits of the path we cannot say until we reap those fruits, if indeed we ever do. The only test that we can apply now is, am I happy to have done the practice I have done so far, or no?

  12. buddy
    buddy August 26, 2012 at 11:23 am | |

    Ted, I guess I take expection to the idea that rebirth is an essential part of the path, rather than just a cultural delusion that Guatama wasn’t able to see through. The key teachings- ones that can be verified, as you say, by the concrete effects in our lives- center on impermance and the lack of a separate self. If that is the case, then just what exactly gets reborn? It seems like a massive contradiction, and I’ve been supported in my rejection of it by the majority of my teachers (mostly in the zen tradition). If I were to go into this sort of speculation at all (which, again, Guatama was strongly against), it would be more in the direction of the Vendanta idea that there is only one consciousness- call it God or Buddha nature or Christ Consciousness or nothing at all)- that is ‘reborn’ as every phenomena that comes into being and then returns to the void with every death. For humans, then, every death is a paranirvana, and practice serves only to improve the quality of their life (and by extension everyone else’s) before they die.

  13. joshmoody121
    joshmoody121 August 26, 2012 at 12:34 pm | |

    well said brad. I come from a similar background and I also dont think “a suspect mind” equals negativity. As mush a I love and find inspiration in Buddhist texts and philosophy, I also get sick of being criticized when I dont meet someone else’s standards. Life is tough and we are all in it together. There is no right/correct way/standard that should be applied to everybody.

  14. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 26, 2012 at 1:18 pm | |

    Looking at “Discourse on Beneficial Imperturbability” (MN III 262-266, Pali Text Society vol. 3 pg 46), there’s a repetition that goes like this:

    “At the breaking up of the body after dying this situation exists, that that evolving consciousness may accordingly reach imperturbability (… the plane of no-thing… the plane of neither-perception-nor-nonperception).”

    Evolving consciousness is Horner’s translation of “samvattanika vinnana”, or conducive consciousness, per the footnote on pg 47.

    Thence ensues this dialogue between Ananda and the Gautamid:

    “‘But what is the cause, revered sir, what is the reason that some monk here may attain final nibbana, but that some other monk here may not attain final nibbana?’

    ‘… A monk who has grasping, Ananda, does not attain final nibbana.’

    ‘But where, revered sir, does a monk grasp who is grasping?’

    ‘The plane of neither-perception-nor-nonperception, Ananda.’

    ‘Ananda, if a monk is here faring along thus and thinks: “Had it not been it would not be mine; if it be not it will not be mine; I am getting rid of what is, of what has come to be”–he is thus acquiring equanimity. He does not rejoice in equanimity, does not approve of it or cleave to it. Not rejoicing in that equanimity, not approving of it or cleaving to it, consciousness is not dependent on it, not grasping after it. A monk who is without grasping, Ananda, attains final nibbana.’

    ‘… whatever is “own-body”, this is “own-body”. But this is the deathless, that is to say the deliverance of thought without grasping.”

    Seems like he waffles a bit, clearly stating that consciousness arises solely as a result of sense contact and is not continuous, and then other places (as in the lecture above) he talks of “evolving consciousness”.

  15. buddy
    buddy August 26, 2012 at 2:18 pm | |

    As it has come in various threads recently, I would like to question the notion that the Buddhist scriptures, especially the Pali Canon, are someone the exact words of Guatama. Considering that they weren’t written down until about 400 years after his death, preserved in the meantime by oral tradition and chanting, this seems unlikely. Add to that the fact that the Theravada school was well established by then, and that they undoubtably ‘preserved’ the teachings with their own bias. An interesting example is the comparison between 2 stories of the Buddha’s enlightenment, the Theravada version that we are all familiar with, and another ancient one that has been mostly forgotten because the sect it originated with died out. Not the most scholarly article, but this link offers a link to a talk by Norman Fischer that is more in depth (the relevant part starts at 25:28). http://taoism.about.com/od/buddhism/a/Siddhartha_Yasodhara.htm

    At any rate the point is, who the hell knows what really went down, what is ‘authentic’, etc? And, as the tradition is at heart about practicing what works for each person for the liberation from the self, who cares?

  16. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 26, 2012 at 2:26 pm | |

    “I would say that any path that doesn’t drop the body-mind isn’t a Buddhist path.”

    Depends on what y0u mean by “dropping the body-mind”. Elaborate?

    “Karma, suffering and craving are illusions that can be dropped as well.”

    Indeed. But dropping them doesn’t merely meaning dropping these concepts, but the literal cessation of these as activities of mind and body.

  17. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 26, 2012 at 2:39 pm | |

    “It’s a hallmark of Chan and Zen that enlightenment is sudden, and if enlightenment can be said to be anything it is the destruction of the asavas, of the poisons of craving sensuality, craving renewed existence, or craving an end to existence. At the same time, I think both Yuanwu and Foyan mention that after the sudden experience, it may take twenty or thirty years to be able to turn the experience into an ability to contribute.”

    I like Nisargadatta’s analogy of enlightenment to ripening fruit: It takes a long time for the fruit to ripen, but when it falls from the tree, it does so suddenly.

    The gradual process of ripening, which means letting go of our cravings and ignorance, and gradually growing in wisdom and strength and intelligent conduct, reaches a culmination, when we have finally let go of it all, and “drop” from the tree, or the wheel. So it’s both gradual and sudden.

    There’s also kensho and satori, which are sudden intuitions of what it is to be free of bondage. Those insights become the basis for continuing to practice and let go of all cravings and bondage. They give us faith in the process. It can take a very long time, however, because the fruit still has to ripen, and those ties still have to be severed. Many lifetimes even.

    “I think the method is indirect.”

    I think it can be either, or both, depending on the capacities of the individual. One really can just directly inspect one’s own cravings, feeling them deeply and intimately, without distancing oneself through the intellect. But it’s true, one does not directly sever these cravings. One simply sits in them, and allow the process of grace to create the key that unlocks them. To unlock our bondage, we must have a key that is the perfect inverse of the lock. Sitting still, allows that key to be formed in our deepest feeling-consciousenss. Movement disturbs that process. So sitting directly in our cravings and ignorance allows the key that unlocks these to form in our deepest heart. To me, that’s the direct method.

    “Rather than desire an end to craving, which throws us back into the karmic loop, the method is to sit down cross-legged and “set mindfulness in front”; the expectation is that a cessation of volition will ensue, and that the ease and joy in the cessation of habitual activity will give way to an equanimity and a purified equanimity. ”

    The desire for liberation is, if we understand it properly, a form of channa, not craving. But the ego can always subvert this channa into craving, through ignorance. To merely sit, means to sit in our channa, our desire for liberation, without doing anything through our conditioned ignorance to “further” that desire. This keeps our desire for liberation pure, as channa, rather than perverted by our egoic ignorant approaches. And this ensures its success.

  18. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 26, 2012 at 2:48 pm | |

    buddy,

    “BY, so you’re taking the Catholic Church position on sexuality, that it should only be engaged in for the biological necessity of reproduction and not out of ‘a desire for emotional or sensual satisfaction’?”

    No, because human beings are biologically designed to be sexually active even when we can’t reproduce. That’s the problem with the Catholic Church’s notion about sexuality. They don’t recognize the distinctiveness of human sexuality, as opposed to animals. We are just about the only creatures (dolphins possibly included) that aren’t limited in their sexual desiring to the estrus cycle of the females. Almost all animals only have sex when the female is in estrus, and putting out the pheromones and other signs that she’s ready to reproduce. Humans aren’t like that. We evolved a unique sexual nature that not only forms pair-bonds based in sexual desire, but keeps that sexual desire active throughout their lifetime, and throughout the year, independent of the fertility cycles. Even old people well past reproductive age still have the biological sex drive intact.

    So this has to be taken into account. Humans are biologically designed to be sexually aroused quite easily, and to form pair bonds based on sexual desiring itself, for emotional and social and cultural reasons, and this is just a part of who we are as biological beings. So it’s just not the case that the right and proper sexual conduct means only sex for reproductive purposes. It would be different if we were dogs or goats, however. But since we aren’t, we have to be aware that we have a much more complex sexual nature, and find a way to live that without craving conditioned by ignorance. In other words, there is a right way to engage in our sex in the spirit of channa. As with food, everyone has to find the way that works best for their particular emotional/biological nature.

  19. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 26, 2012 at 2:55 pm | |

    AnneMH,

    I think you are encountering the difference between Buddhist ethics and conventional forms of ethics.

    When the Buddhist releases their cravings, it leads to a simpler, gentler life. But many people aren’t that impressed with a simpler, gentler life. They want a very active, craving life, but successful in their cravings, rather than failed in it. They may see you as someone who has failed to achieve the objects of their cravings, and thus look down on you. But they don’t understand that your values are quite different, that you aren’t seeing the value in trying to fulfill your cravings, but instead are trying to let go of your cravings as much as you can, and by that process, be happier and more free. So you may seem like a strange bird, and they don’t know how to evaluate you. Welcome to the club.

  20. Ted
    Ted August 26, 2012 at 2:59 pm | |

    Buddy, it’s great to be skeptical, but maybe you really want to practice Stoicism, not Buddhism. Stoicism teaches basically what you are talking about. Epicureanism does as well, from a different angle.

    It’s impossible to definitively say what the Buddha said or didn’t say, but I’d have to ask why you think that the Buddha is so important if most of what’s attributed to him is stuff you don’t find acceptable.

    The teachings on meditation are straight from the yoga tradition—they were not invented by the Buddha, and if you study his story, you’ll see that this is so—before his enlightenment, he studies with several yoga vedanta teachers, reaches the highest practices that they teach, and concludes that they don’t work.

    By “don’t work,” what he means is that they do not end the cycle of suffering. So if you think that there is no rebirth, you have to admit that there is also no cycle of suffering, because there is no return, and hence no cycle at all. If there is no cycle of suffering, the goal the Buddha talks about—the extinguishment of the mental afflictions—happens automatically at death.

    So there’s no need to make efforts to achieve that result if there’s no rebirth, because it happens automatically. In that case, the practices of Stoicism and Epicureanism (you choose) are adequate, because they teach methods for being happy in the face of suffering in _this_ life specifically, and don’t get into questions about what might come after.

  21. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 26, 2012 at 3:05 pm | |

    Ted,

    I find this hilarious:

    “Good deeds are deeds that bring pleasant results. Bad deeds are deeds that bring unpleasant results. A result is pleasant if you enjoy it. It is unpleasant if you experience it as suffering. That’s all good and bad mean. You keep track of these karmic seeds in your mindstream—the continuation of “you” from moment to moment. There is no judge, and no need for one, any more than a judge is required to decide that a ball, thrown up into the air, must fall.”

    Do you realize how utterly subjective and nonsensical this is? So if I enjoy war and killing and raping people, I am creating good karma, and will get good results? A sadist is sowing good karma, therefore? Likewise, if I suffer by doing good deeds and sacrificing myself for the sake of others, I’m creating bad karma, and more suffering for myself in the future? You clearly have not thought this through.

    What does “pleasant ” even mean? Stealing millions from the poor, and living a pleasant life as a rich plutocrat, is that what you mean? The pleasant life of a slave-holder enjoying himself while his slaves make him rich? None of these people experience their deeds as producing suffering, not in themselves at least. That’s why they do them.

    In fact, that’s why people crave period. They crave the things that give them good, pleasant experiences, and avoid what doesn’t. Is that what Buddhism is about? Just craving the good, pleasant things? Well, then everyone is a Buddhist, and the rich and successful are the enlightened ones.

    And how exactly is our “mind-stream” supposed to keep track of what is good and pleasant, and what is not, and reward us accordingly? Especially when one man’s meat is another man’s poison, and even what was pleasant for us once becomes the opposite for us later.

    This simply makes no sense, sorry.

  22. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 26, 2012 at 3:13 pm | |

    buddy,

    About rebirth, I think it’s a good idea to read a lot of the modern literature from westerners looking into the subject for a better sense of why it’s not only sensible, but likely. A lot of the eastern teachings on the subject are a bit foreign and even dogmatic on the subject.

    I’d suggest reading Drs. Michael Newton, Stevenson, Tucker, Weiss, etc. None of this is done from a religious perspective, with the aim of confirming various religious beliefs. In fact, it tends to fly in the face of many of them. But it also tends to affirm that reincarnation is a genuine reality that we need to be open to and also curious about. Some of it might even contradict many Buddhist beliefs about reincarnation, such as the reward/punishment notion of karma. All the better for it.

  23. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 26, 2012 at 3:25 pm | |

    buddy,

    Also, I don’t think it matters whether the Pali Canon represents the true words of Gautama or not, because BUddhism is not an authoritative scriptural tradition like Christianity or Islam. The guiding credo is Buddha’s famous words here:

    Don’t blindly believe what I say. Don’t believe me because others convince you of my words. Don’t believe anything you see, read, or hear from others, whether of authority, religious teachers or texts. Don’t rely on logic alone, nor speculation. Don’t infer or be deceived by appearances.”

    “Do not give up your authority and follow blindly the will of others. This way will lead to only delusion.”

    “Find out for yourself what is truth, what is real. Discover that there are virtuous things and there are non-virtuous things. Once you have discovered for yourself give up the bad and embrace the good.”

    Also, another translation perhaps:

    “Any teaching [said the Buddha] should not be accepted as true for the following ten reasons: hearsay, tradition, rumor, accepted scriptures, surmise, axiom, logical reasoning, a feeling of affinity for the matter being pondered, the ability or attractiveness of the person offering the teaching, the fact that the teaching is offered by “my” teacher. Rather, the teaching should be accepted as true when one knows by direct experience that such is the case.”

    So, if when your read the Buddhists scriptures, you find something that you think is false, and doesn’t seem reasonable to you, or confirmed by your own experience, don’t beleive it. At best, keep an open mind and see if there’s something to it that you’ve missed. But there’s no injunction in Buddhism that says you must believe or accept anything in its scriptures, just because it is there. It’s not an authoritarian religion. But if you find someone behaving in such a manner, and making Buddhist teachings into a resort to authority, reject them, even if what they say is true. They are posing a danger to you and others.

  24. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer August 26, 2012 at 3:45 pm | |

    broken yogi,

    I am curious about any light that you might be willing to throw onto the title “broken yogi”.

    Every time I read it, I wonder what, if anything, is behind that choice of that tag-line.

    A little note : in the tradition that I am studying, the desire for the “cessation of craving” is another loop of desire.

    The various teachers I have read all say that there is no end to desires, you can not get rid of them.

    It’s a part of being a human being.

    They do claim that you can learn to notice desires and possibly decide not to act on them.

    In my practice, I can see definite signs that this is true.

    Cheers.

  25. SoF
    SoF August 26, 2012 at 5:23 pm | |

    It’s a conversational exchange that I have repeated on occasion but most recently last week.

    A thirty-something said: “If I go back to college part-time now, it will take me 10 years to finish.”

    And then I asked: “If you don’t go back to college part time, how old will you be in ten years?”

    The answer isn’t so different.

  26. buddy
    buddy August 26, 2012 at 5:43 pm | |

    ‘It’s impossible to definitively say what the Buddha said or didn’t say, but I’d have to ask why you think that the Buddha is so important if most of what’s attributed to him is stuff you don’t find acceptable.’ Ted, the only thing I said that I don’t find acceptable is rebirth, and I explained why. This is hardly a novel position for someone practising zen; the host of this blog, and his teacher, feel even more strongly about it than I do. I’ve said this before here, the reason I prefer the Mahayana approach is that it takes the teachings of the Buddha (whoever actually said or wrote them down) as a starting point, which evolves through time and culture. It’s a living tradition, and I’m way more interested in it because of the people I’ve met whose practice seems to have genuinely helped them, and the benefits I’ve seen in my own practice, than in some guy who may or may not have lived 2500 hundred years ago. See also BY’s latest post for thoughts on authority and Buddhism.

  27. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 26, 2012 at 5:59 pm | |

    Alan,

    I took the “Broken Yogi” handle about ten years ago when I was leaving Adidam. It’s got a lot of punable meanings to it. One, I did indeed feel “broken” in most every respect. Fallen apart, my general faith and worldview having been broken down and in need of repair. Two, it’s a pun on the word “yoga”, which means unity. So “broken-unity” to me is a good phrase for the paradox and contradiction of being a spiritual aspirant. It’s an attempt to see the spiritual path in non-dual terms, not as something with some specific goal of acheivment in mind, but knowing that everything one achieves also falls apart. Three, it came to be something of a sign of my own spiritual path, which is not one of becoming more and more successful and together, but of breaking apart, falling apart, and never being put back together again. Mine, you might say, is the “broken path”, of deconstructing myself and religion itself to the point of never being able to be put back together. Most people think that’s a bad thing, but I don’t. It’s just a broken thing. As in, a broken heart, which is the openness necessary to actually know one’s heart.

  28. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 26, 2012 at 6:10 pm | |

    Alan,

    As for desire, the traditions I come from (Ramana, for example) say there is indeed a limit to our desires, it’s just that we tend to go round and round with them in a circle. But if we observe ourselves, we will see that thoughts and desires actually do have a limit, and if we interrupt their cycle at the root, they do indeed come to an end.

    As for the desire to end craving, this too has an end to it. It’s only an endless loop if we don’t examine it closely enough and see the root of craving itself lies in the illusion of self and ego. One of the ways the ego survives is to convince us that we can’t ever get to the bottom of things and put an end to all this nonsense, that we should just be content with a certain degree of compromise with the ego and its cravings.

    Ordinary desire and craving are not the same thing. Craving is a deep inner compulsion that is based on the ignorant presumption that we are egos, and that being a human being means being a human ego. Craving depends on the ignorant assumption that being human means being entwined in dukkha and cravings. Wisdom sees through this bs.

    The desire to put an end to craving and all its nonsense is not actually rooted in craving, though we might allow it to be corrupted by craving. The desire for liberation comes not from the ego, but from our inherently liberated self-nature. But it’s kind of like that old story about the man who has a vision of God. God and the Devil are walking together through the town square one day, talking things over. Suddenly, one of the townspeople sees God, and shouts with joy, and starts telling everyone about it in ecstatic poetry. Rather than being dismayed by this, the Devil has a big, happy grin on his face. God notices this, and asks the Devil why he’s so happy about this man having the vision of God, which would seem to go against his interests. The Devil laughs, and simply says, “I’m going to help him organize it!”

    And that’s how all our genuine impulses towards liberation get subverted, not just socially and culturally, but in our own minds.

  29. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer August 26, 2012 at 6:18 pm | |

    broken yogi,

    Thank you. That is a very interesting explanation.

    I don’t know anything about the Adidam movement, but I did a little search after you answered my question.

    It sounds like a very tough experience.

    It also sounds like you have come some way towards dealing with it.

    Your words about “deconstructing yourself” and “broken thing” are powerful, complex statements.

    One part of zen practice which scares me is the apparently unavoidable situation that loosing yourself is part of the journey.

    I am not looking forward to that.

    Cheers.

  30. zacharythax
    zacharythax August 26, 2012 at 6:25 pm | |

    Yeah I can totally relate–to being bullied, to thinking we were all gonna get blown up and I also was sure I’d be dead before I was 30. Now I’m 45 and I can’t believe I’ve made it this far. I started doing zazen a couple of years ago and it’s gotten me through some pretty hard times. It does not stop me from getting depressed but what it does in disengage the sense of self from the feelings. I’ve gotten suicidal at times but because of zazen I’ve felt much less separate from the “me” and “life.” It’s made me realize my connection to life and other people in a way I didn’t see before when I was younger. Brad, I thank you for your candor and straight up honesty and for getting me into doing this practice and for explaining zen in a way an old punk rocker like me can understand.

  31. Alexander
    Alexander August 26, 2012 at 8:37 pm | |

    Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966), a well-known English novelist, curmudgeon, and Roman Catholic, made the exact same statement about his faith as Brad makes about meditation. Waugh had a reputation for being a royal pain in the ass, but insisted that he’d have been far worse had he not been a devout Catholic. Waugh in fact was a terribly decent person, and I suspect he exaggerated his alleged misanthropy in order to hide his charitable practices (as a devout Catholic, this is the logical thing to do, so as to increase the merit of one’s charitable works). Is it not possible, really, that both Waugh and Brad would be who they are / were no matter what philosophy or faith they practiced? I find it difficult to accept this sort of advocacy for one’s practice or faith, since there is no way to really know.

  32. AnneMH
    AnneMH August 27, 2012 at 4:19 am | |

    Broken Yogi, Thanks for the welcome. I will have to look up your past affiliation, I have mine but it isn’t relevant right now.

    I would say I am in the right place if there are a lot of odd people around here,

  33. Ted
    Ted August 27, 2012 at 4:22 am | |

    BY, if you enjoy killing, then that’s a pleasant result (assuming that you get to kill). Later on, when your health fails, your loved ones die young, and you yourself are killed repeatedly and painfully, that’s an unpleasant result. If you like losing those you love, then sure, killing brings a pleasant result.

    Similarly with the plutocrat who uses his or her economic leverage to defraud workers, who as a result of these actions live in poverty. The eventual result of this will be unpleasant. The experience of wealth is not coming from the unethical behavior—it’s coming from past generosity.

    A mindstream is simply the stream of moments of awareness that you experience.

    Buddy, Brad talked about rebirth recently, and I don’t remember him saying there was no such thing. I remember him referring to it as a myth, meaning not something that is untrue, but something that can’t be verified and that we either accept or don’t.

    What you do or don’t do in your practice is your choice, and what you believe or don’t believe is also your choice, but the point of talking about rebirth is that it’s part of the fabric of Buddhist teachings, and if you pick it out, a lot of what motivates Buddhist practice goes away. If you are just meditating to be happy in this life, that’s fantastic, but it’s not essentially Buddhist.

  34. BruceLee
    BruceLee August 27, 2012 at 6:11 am | |

    Wow, the dynamics on this board are really not very different from any other internet forum.

    I guess it would be a lot worse if ya’ll didnt sit!

  35. Fred
    Fred August 27, 2012 at 6:16 am | |

    Adi Da died about 10 years ago:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rb9LANdQQGs&feature=related

    You put off the understanding by continuously seeking says the man.

    I wonder if Adi Da meant every word that came out of his lips, if that makes
    any sense, or whether he had sex with those two young women in his video.

    Did he walk the talk?

    1. Fred
      Fred August 27, 2012 at 6:51 am | |

      Please excuse my naive comments and I apologize if I made you relive any pain.

  36. Fred
    Fred August 27, 2012 at 6:54 am | |

    Bruce
    The dynamics on this board are a lot different than other forums where people
    are ripping into each other trying to do as much psychological damage as
    possible.

  37. Fred
    Fred August 27, 2012 at 7:12 am | |

    Yogi, a charismatic man under the guise of an enlightened being attracted
    followers and deconstructed every one of them in every way possible through
    mind washing.

    A person needs a healthy mind to see through/transcend that mind, and an
    anti-depressant is part of the healing.

  38. Fred
    Fred August 27, 2012 at 7:43 am | |

    Broken Yogi said:

    “Depends on what y0u mean by dropping the body-mind. Elaborate? ”

    This will do.

    “There is only awakening. And in awakening, all the dream identities fall away, leaving nothing to identify with at all. Whatever we think ourselves to be, we are not.”

  39. anon 108
    anon 108 August 27, 2012 at 9:11 am | |

    Ted: “…the point of talking about rebirth is that it’s part of the fabric of Buddhist teachings, and if you pick it out, a lot of what motivates Buddhist practice goes away.”

    Not in my experience. I have been motivated to practice Buddhism by the Buddhism I’ve been taught – even though beliefs/doctrines concerning post-mortem rebirth don’t figure in that teaching at all.

    I don’t know what happens to my constituent parts, material or non-material, after death. But I do know that actions have consequences – here/now and later, for me and for others.

  40. Ted
    Ted August 27, 2012 at 9:40 am | |

    As long as you are happy with your practice, I’ve got no reason to criticize. My original response on this topic was in response to someone ridiculing explanations that incorporate rebirth.

  41. SoF
    SoF August 27, 2012 at 12:50 pm | |

    ATTENTION:

    The purpose of sitting IS sitting.

    Go to this LINK and click on the word “Translation.” Read the translation.

    Either sit (and shut up about it) or don’t sit (and shut up about it).

    If you don’t sit, you may not see an improvement in your index of happiness.

    If you do sit, you may not see an improvement in your index of happiness. If this is the case, consult a professional.

    The point is this: create in your routine a habitual discipline of sitting if you want to experience zazen. Make sitting like eating breakfast – just one of the things you try to do every day (preferably at a regular time).

    I start each morning with a 1/2 hour sit. As a result, the rest of the day does not suck snot.

    Sometimes, during the day I can sneak in a 1/2 hour sit – THAT is not in my routine. Before sleep, I manage a 15 minute sit on most nights – THAT also is not in my routine.

    If some of your days suck snot, sitting may diminish that phenomenon. Don’t easily abandon your practice and it will not abandon you.

    Ga-sho-nuff !!!

  42. buddy
    buddy August 27, 2012 at 2:41 pm | |

    Ted said, ‘The experience of wealth is not coming from the unethical behavior—it’s coming from past generosity.’ What utter bullshit! It comes from luck, striving and, more often than not, exploiting people in THIS lifetime. DT Suzuki did one of the greatest services to the Dharma last century when, after encountering socialism for the first time, called foul on the traditional view that one’s economic status was reward or punishment for past lives, and not social forces at work now, which can be transformed.

    Also, I never said practice is only about this life, just that I don’t believe in literal reincarnation. Or at least not a presentation of it that treats it as a fact instrinsic to Buddhism, and not just the idle speculation that it is.

    As for Brad’s view on rebirth, here’s something from last year:

    http://hardcorezen.blogspot.ca/2011/01/literal-rebirth.html

    Also I think there’s a whole chapter in Hardcore Zen about this, but my copy moved to Nova Scotia a few years ago.

  43. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 27, 2012 at 4:33 pm | |

    Fred,

    It sounds you don’t mean literally dropping the body, then, which would mean death. More like ceasing to identify with the body.

    Adi Da died less than four years ago, in November 2008.

    There’s several women in the video, the two tall women, one blonde, one brunette, both dressed in black, are his “kanyas”, similar to wives. The younger ones are either his daughters, or a friend of theirs.

    Adi Da was one strange dude. As one rather famous Indian teacher said when asked whether Da was enlightened, “Unfortunately, yes.” I wouldn’t say he was completely enlightened, but enlightened enough to make a whole lot of trouble.

    Personally, I have no regrets. I learned a lot from being there, and even more from leaving. As one friend put it “Adidam is condensed samsara”. You can’t pay enough for such lessons.

    Nothing more cleansing than a good enema.

  44. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 27, 2012 at 4:46 pm | |

    buddy,

    I do believe in reincarnation, but not in the reward/punishment sense that many Buddhist and HIndus do. Like you, I think that’s bullshit, if for different reasons.

    I see reincarnation more in the sense of schoolwork. Each lifetime contains a series of lessons. Suffering contains a lesson, as does pleasure and ease. If we don’t get the lessons, we repeat them. They tend to get harder and harder. And if we pass a certain grade level, the ‘reward’ is just even harder work. Occasionally we get some vacation time, but not as a reward for doing well, but just to keep us from being completely overwhelmed.

    Within this lifetime, it’s of course easy to see how some people get rich, and others are poor. One doesn’t need to look at past lives to see how that happens. But one does need to ask why we have this particular life to live, and not another kind. It’s not because we were good or bad in a past life, it’s because this is the lifetime that we need to experience to get the necessary lessons that help us move on.

    Now, you might ask how we can know that’s true. It may not matter, it’s still the optimum attitude to take towards this life, even if there’s no reincarnation. The basic idea is that everything we experience is a perfect reflection, as in a mirror, of where we are at in our various tendencies of mind and craving. And thus, it’s just what we need. Experience can confirm that much at least.

  45. Ted
    Ted August 27, 2012 at 5:00 pm | |

    buddy, the practice of socialism is precisely what leads to prosperity. It just doesn’t do it the way you think it does. Or rather, that’s what the teachings on karma say—whether they are true or not is difficult to ascertain. What I like about the teachings on karma, and what convinced me to follow them, is that they lead me to do what I think is right, rather than what is expedient, and give me a reason to imagine that this practice will not bring a bad result (as, indeed, it has not, so far).

    When you say that hard work and luck are what lead to prosperity, what you are really saying is that you don’t know what leads to prosperity, or else that no volitional act leads to prosperity. Because I’m sure you’re aware that plenty of people are prosperous entirely through luck, with no hard work at all.

    So if you believe that luck is the essential factor that brings prosperity, then essentially any behavior is as likely to produce a good result as any other, so you might as well just do whatever you please. And this seems to be something that you disagree with, since you keep talking about bad people prospering, and how unjust that is.

  46. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 27, 2012 at 5:02 pm | |

    Ted,

    Of course I enjoy killing. Why, just this afternoon I enjoyed killing a head of organic red lettuce and some carrots and onions. They tasted delicious. Poor things. Cut down in the prime of their lives, just to suit my cravings for healthy fresh food.

    Don’t you know that killing is one of life’s great pleasures? Every pleasurable breath I take kills billions of perfectly healthy microbes. I don’t even feel a twinge of guilt about it! And I’m sure that Brievik guy, the Norwegian mass murderer, very much enjoyed killing his victims. By your logic, he will be rewarded with even more enjoyment for his deed.

    Ah, but you say that some suffered for our enjoyments? Well, of course. You can’t get enjoyment without also producing its opposite somewhere. And it does circle back around to the enjoyer eventually, you’re right about that. Which just goes to show that the reward for pleasure, is pain, and vice-versa. Duality is like that. Every conditional enjoyment comes at a price. I eat today, but someday soon I too will be eaten.

    I don’t think you’re grasping the point of Buddhism, which is that this round of pleasure and pain, enjoyment and discomfort, is endlessly turning, and there’s no permanence to any of it. You can’t only produce enjoyment, you will invariably also produce misery somewhere else, even within oneself. ENjoyment isn’t an absolute, and neither is misery. Both are dukkha. It isn’t just unpleasant things that are dukkha. Pleasant things are dukkha also. Tanha makes that so. To find release from this cycle, you can’t find some secret method that only produces enjoyment. No such method can exist. Instead, you have to release the whole craving for enjoyment, and no longer differentiate between the enjoyable and the unenjoyable.

    There’s only one thing you can do that won’t produce more dukkha, more rounds of enjoyment cycling back through misery. And that is to cease to live by the craving for enjoyment. If you cease to live by tanha, everyone benefits, because you are lessening, even if only by a small fraction, the total amount of dukkha in the world. But if you spend your time seeking enjoyment, for yourself or for others, all you do is increase the overall level of dukkha in the world.

    So if you really want to help others, reduce your cravings, even by just a little bit, and show people how much wisdom there is in living that way, by demonstrating it to them. They might catch on. That’s what Buddha did. Not everyone seems to have grasped the principle, but it’s not all that hard. Everyone can see the futility in endlessly pursuing enjoyment to some degree. They just may not have put the whole picture together.

    BY, if you enjoy killing, then that’s a pleasant result (assuming that you get to kill). Later on, when your health fails, your loved ones die young, and you yourself are killed repeatedly and painfully, that’s an unpleasant result. If you like losing those you love, then sure, killing brings a pleasant result.

    Similarly with the plutocrat who uses his or her economic leverage to defraud workers, who as a result of these actions live in poverty. The eventual result of this will be unpleasant. The experience of wealth is not coming from the unethical behavior—it’s coming from past generosity.

    A mindstream is simply the stream of moments of awareness that you experience.

  47. Ted
    Ted August 27, 2012 at 5:16 pm | |

    || I don’t think you’re grasping the point of Buddhism

    Of course not. The whole point is to avoid grasping, after all, right?

    Seriously, BY, you need to take yourself a little less seriously. You have very strong opinions, but your opinions aren’t right. First of all, if it were true that all pleasure comes from suffering, then the Buddha’s bliss would require a hell realm to sustain it, which I’m sure isn’t what you meant to say.

    Secondly, the understanding of how things arise (and, importantly, how they don’t) is wisdom. Wisdom starts small, and grows. The beginnings of wisdom are simply understanding that when I hurt someone to get what I want, in the long run it doesn’t pay off, and when I am kind to others, in the long run it _does_ pay off.

    So when you reject this as not being part of Buddhism, it’s as if you are saying that the Buddhist path begins at the top of an unscalable mountain pass, and nobody can get there without a helicopter.

    It’s fine if it’s not the aspect of Buddhism that you feel is important; one of the great things about Buddhism is the diversity of its appeal. But when you go around rejecting the parts of the teaching that don’t connect for you, please do consider that there may be someone else for whom what you reject is actually the most important piece of the teaching that they could possibly hear, in order to someday get to the degree of renunciation that leads you to scorn their motivation.

  48. Aaron
    Aaron August 27, 2012 at 6:03 pm | |

    Hi Ted, thank you for guiding me towards the parallels between Stoicism and Zen. You’re very knowledgable.

    Hi Broken Yogi, I understand.

    I’m smiling, this is fun :-)

  49. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 27, 2012 at 6:42 pm | |

    Ted,

    “First of all, if it were true that all pleasure comes from suffering, then the Buddha’s bliss would require a hell realm to sustain it, which I’m sure isn’t what you meant to say.”

    Buddha describes his nirvana as “the bliss of the cessation of craving”, and not as some heavenly bliss. In fact, he directly criticized heavenly bliss as being vastly inferior to the bliss of cessation. There’s a reason for this. He understood that pleasure and pain are two sides of the same coin, which is craving. He understood that when we get what we want, we call that “bliss” or “enjoyment”, and when we don’t, we call that “misery” or “suffering”. He saw both of these as impermanent and lacking in reality. They are what he called dukkha. He was not proposing nirvana as some way of achieving a heavenly bliss that would never go away, that would actually be permanent, as a true fulfillment of our cravings, but as a cessation of that whole game. Heaven and hell are opposites, defined by our cravings. But nirvana is the cessation of craving. An entirely different ballgame.

    “The beginnings of wisdom are simply understanding that when I hurt someone to get what I want, in the long run it doesn’t pay off, and when I am kind to others, in the long run it _does_ pay off.”

    Sorry, but that isn’t even the beginning of wisdom. That’s just the perpetuation of delusion. Neither being kind to others, or not being kind, ever “pays off” in the long run. If we are being kind to others to get some sort of payoff, we are just being selfish once again. And you see that all the time, people being kind and nice to get a good reputation, friends, some payoff down the line. Real wisdom is being kind to others, knowing there’s no payoff down the line. Because guess what, there isn’t. The payoff isn’t down the line, but in the act of being kind itself. Which means, not being kind to fulfill some craving, but for its own sake.

    Kind people get screwed over all the time. They don’t get some kind of reward for it. Which is why the Buddhist approach is to simply not be oriented towards a payoff at all.

    Of course, I should qualify that by saying this is what I would consider the genuine Buddhist approach. There’s all kinds of Buddhists who do expect rewards for their good conduct, just as there are Christians and Hindus like that also. Spiritual materialists, I think they are best called.

    “So when you reject this as not being part of Buddhism, it’s as if you are saying that the Buddhist path begins at the top of an unscalable mountain pass, and nobody can get there without a helicopter.”

    I both reject that as being a genuine part of Buddhism, and reject the notion that what I am describing is some kind of unscalable mountain pass that nobody can get to. It’s very simple and very easy, and anyone can do it. Anyone can simply be grateful and kind for their own sake, and not for some kind of future reward. We can be grateful even in the midst of the worst tragedies and sufferings, if we simply practice the Buddhist approach. It takes nothing more than the basic insight that craving is what we suffering, and not the lack of what we crave.

    I think kindness, gratitude, love, and wisdom are essential aspects of Buddhism. They just have nothing to do with some future reward we get for living this way. Exactly the opposite. We must see the wisdom of right conduct regardless of what conditions present themselves, past, present, or future.

    I do scorn the craving for future reward. I think it’s good and helpful to scorn such things. What, you want you illusions to be praised? What good would come of that?

  50. buddy
    buddy August 27, 2012 at 7:27 pm | |

    Ted said, ‘When you say that hard work and luck are what lead to prosperity, what you are really saying is that you don’t know what leads to prosperity, or else that no volitional act leads to prosperity. Because I’m sure you’re aware that plenty of people are prosperous entirely through luck, with no hard work at all.
    So if you believe that luck is the essential factor that brings prosperity, then essentially any behavior is as likely to produce a good result as any other, so you might as well just do whatever you please.’

    First of all, you missed the salient point of what I said: ‘It comes from luck, striving and, <>’. Secondly, when I said ‘luck’ I guess I should have been more specific and included all of the factors that would put one into a given circumstance: genetics, ancestry, temperament, political and economic beliefs, intelligence, race, gender, class etc etc. In other words, plenty enough obvious things that one needn’t drag one’s spurious ideas of karma and rebirth into the equation.

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