Two days ago, religious fanatics killed twelve people at the offices of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo.
I’m a fair-to-middling cartoonist myself. During my late teens and well into my twenties I very seriously worked at trying to become a professional comic artist. But I never really developed the necessary drive to become genuinely good at it.
I also became very deeply involved in religious matters around the same time. Had I ended up becoming a cartoonist for a living, I can easily imagine I’d have produced some of the same kinds of material that got eight cartoonists and four others who worked with them killed in France. Hell, it’s not inconceivable I’m on some fundamentalist whack-job’s hit list already. So this event both really pisses me off and scares the bejesus out of me.
The best commentary I’ve come across so far about this issue is an appearance by Ayaan Hirsi Ali with Anderson Cooper on CNN. She is an extraordinarily brave person saying things that really need to be said and quite literally risking her life by doing so.
I do not believe that religion is the motivation for every bad thing that has ever happened in the world. That’s Richard Dawkins. Nationalism, racism, imperialism, capitalism, sexism and a host of other factors can motivate people to do bad things. But religion is clearly and inarguably the main motivation for this attack and for numerous others like it.
The matters addressed by religion – the deeper meaning of life, the nature of God, and so on – are personally important to me. I can’t say much about nationalism or colonialism or any of those others because they’re not my area of study. But I have spent a lot of the past four decades trying to comprehend why the same institutions who claim to be all about promoting peace and looking for the answers to life’s biggest questions always seem to end up being used to promote violence and hatred.
If you are going to storm into the office of a humor magazine, point a gun at a guy who draws cartoons for a living and shoot him dead, you have to believe that this is a good thing to do. These folks acted as a group, and that is also highly significant. If one lone nut-job does something like this, we can take it as an example of individual madness, as was the case with the man who shot two police officers in New York City last month.
On the other hand, here we have at least three people sharing a common madness. And although the French police are looking for just three gunmen, it is reasonable to assume that they were part of a larger group who supported them and encouraged them. I have seen at least one article questioning whether the attackers really were Islamists, but I think we need to get in contact with Planet Earth on that point and admit that there is no sensible reason to believe they were not.
Why would someone imagine it is a good thing to murder people who drew cartoons that offended them? This, to me, is one of the hardest parts to comprehend. My friends John and Tyler mistakenly believe that Captain Picard is better than Captain Kirk. Yet is an undeniable fact that Captain Kirk could kick Captain Picard’s scrawny ass halfway to the Klingon Homeworld. As wrong as they are, I don’t have any urge to kill my friends for their utterly erroneous belief.
What is it about religion that causes so many of us to think that offending someone’s ideas about fictional – or at least highly fictionalized – characters matters enough for anyone to really care very much about? How does someone get so wrapped up in a fantasy world that they are willing to do grievous bodily harm to those who do not share that fantasy world?
It’s all well and good to talk about how Muslims are a repressed minority in Europe and this leads to radicalization. It’s also true that the history of Western colonialism plays into all of this. And yet there is something specific and significant about religion that makes things very different. If only Muslims did stuff like this, we could say – as many do – that this is a problem with Islam. But I don’t think it is.
Shoko Asahara was able to turn a hodgepodge of Buddhism, Hinduism and New Age hookum into a motivation for a number of people to attempt a mass killing on the Tokyo transit system in 1995 (which I rode to work that very day). If you can get people to kill for a bunch of Deepak Chopra level faux-mystical candy floss, it shows that you don’t really even need the much-talked-about violent passages in the Koran to turn seekers of the Truth into vicious killers.
I think about this a lot because I do not see myself as being all that different from the guys who did this attack. I’m sure that, just like me, they rejected mainstream society and saw through its clearly empty promises. I am certain they left that world behind to seek something truer and better.
Like me, these men committed themselves to a higher truth, one that transcended what ordinary people define as morality and normality. They saw the hypocrisy at the heart of what the vast majority of people think of as “normal.” Like me, they turned to the ancient words of great people who also sought a higher calling.
I feel very much like I understand the men who slaughtered these cartoonists better than I understand most so-called “ordinary people” I encounter, the masses who completely buy into contemporary capitalist bullshit.
Where does it all go so very wrong? How can we work to change that?
These are vital questions. They are essential questions if we want to survive as a species and progress to become the best we can be. I know that sounds pretty grandiose, but I honestly believe it.
Something specific about religion allows people to get so deeply into shared fantasies that they act in ways they themselves know to be wrong, and yet are somehow able to convince themselves are good. The honest and real desire to do the right thing and discover the essential truth of life itself is corrupted into something ugly and dangerous. What is the connection?
After all these years of looking into it, I really don’t know the answer. Perhaps the answer is as difficult as the question.
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As I always say at the end of these pieces, I appreciate your kind donations. It’s what makes my work possible and I could not do it without you.
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I’m back in Los Angeles, so if you want to find me, I am at almost every event hosted by Dogen Sangha Los Angeles. Unless you’re a religious fanatic offended by this article, in which case I’m… uh… somewhere else.
Thaz interestin’, about Philip K. Dick.
And I certainly enjoyed Son Volt!
I stand corrected, Proulx Michel. I would note that there seem to be some additions like this in the Canon; the portion of the Maha-Nibana in your quote ends this way:
“34. And the Blessed One saw the people who desired to cross searching for a boat or float, while others were binding rafts. And then the Blessed One, seeing them thus, gave forth the solemn utterance:
They who have bridged the ocean vast,
Leaving the lowlands far behind,
While others still their frail rafts bind,
Are saved by wisdom unsurpassed.”
There’s a passage in Maha-Saccaka Sutta (MN I 244-245) where Gautama says this:
“I thought: ‘Suppose I were to become absorbed in the trance of non-breathing.’ So I stopped the in-breaths & out-breaths in my nose & mouth. As I did so, there was a loud roaring of winds coming out my earholes, just like the loud roar of winds coming out of a smith’s bellows… So I stopped the in-breaths & out-breaths in my nose & mouth & ears. As I did so, extreme forces sliced through my head, just as if a strong man were slicing my head open with a sharp sword… Extreme pains arose in my head, just as if a strong man were tightening a turban made of tough leather straps around my head… Extreme forces carved up my stomach cavity, just as if a butcher or his apprentice were to carve up the stomach cavity of an ox… There was an extreme burning in my body, just as if two strong men, grabbing a weaker man by the arms, were to roast & broil him over a pit of hot embers. And although tireless persistence was aroused in me, and unmuddled mindfulness established, my body was aroused & uncalm because of the painful exertion. But the painful feeling that arose in this way did not invade my mind or remain.
“Devas, on seeing me, said, ‘Gotama the contemplative is dead.’ Other devas said, ‘He isn’t dead, he’s dying.’ Others said, ‘He’s neither dead nor dying, he’s an arahant, for this is the way arahants live.'”
I. B. Horner, who did the translation for the Pali Text Society, makes this note on the word arahant in the last sentence:
“araham. Either the devatas were mistaken, for at this time Gauama was not an arahant in its meaning of one who had done all there was to be done, or the term is here being used in a pre-Buddhist sense.”
You could also say, the whole passage concerning the devatas was an addition, for the purpose of defining the cessation of in-breathing and out-breathing in the fourth initial meditative state as something beyond the capability of just “any intelligent individual” (Gautama said “any intelligent person” could realize the teaching, even in seven days). The more Gautama the Shakyan can be given the quality of the miraculous, the more accepted it becomes to sing the praises of the teacher rather than to engage with the teaching, the more employ there is for those who sing the praises of the teacher as intermediaries between the common person and the miraculous.
What can I say. I realize it’s a slippery slope, to say “this is an addition, this is not”. Certainly the translator of the Sanyutta Nikaya for the Pali Text Society considered the entire “chapter on in-breathing and out-breathing” suspect, perhaps because of the description of the suicide of so many monks, and yet the practice described there is also affirmed in Majjhima III.
Then there’s the passage where Gautama says he liked walking on the highway, no one in front and no one behind, more even than answering the calls of nature. This sermon is immediately followed by another one that says he preferred to answer the calls of nature, over walking on the highway no one in front and no one behind, which makes no sense at all except if maybe some editor was afraid that monks and nuns would burst their bladders attempting to emulate the Great One.
I would point out that Sutherland, the osteopathic physician who first put forward the cranial-sacral theory of osteopathy, did something like what is described here:
“Extreme pains arose in my head, just as if a strong man were tightening a turban made of tough leather straps around my head…”
That is, Sutherland tied something tightly around his head:
“On another occasion, by using leather straps around his head, he managed to stop all movement in both of his temporal bones. He noted with professional candor that he underwent ‘personality changes.’ His wife Adah noted that ‘Such a strange sense of reality occurred that even when discussing it many years later, a shadow of the same altered reality again entered his consciousness.’”
Interesting, the article the above came from; starts with this:
Craniosacral work comes out of osteopathy. Osteopathy comes out of bonesetting, and bonesetting was practiced in Neanderthal times, 130,000 years ago, and probably much longer ago. Osteopathy never took hold in the USSR, so bonesetting continued there under its original name. When I first met a Russian bonesetter in 1990, I was astonished to see how similar their technique was to what I had learnt in osteopathic school in England in the 1960s.
In the Navajo understanding, the cranial wave is called ‘nilch´Ã hwii siziinii,’ the ‘little wind,’ or ‘wind’s child.’ They believe that a Wind is present within a person from the moment of conception, when a Wind from the mother meets a wind from the father.
…In 1988, working at Esalen Institute, I gave a visionary craniosacral work (VCSW) session to a young American man who was a fluent Navajo speaker and wise in the ways of their traditions. When the session was over, he turned to me and said, “Where did you learn Navajo work?”
One of the oldest books in the world, the I-Ching, or Chinese Book of Changes, states, ‘Keeping the hips still, making his sacrum stiff, dangerous, the heart suffocates.'”
Wonder where that is in the I-Ching. Lately I return to allowing the hips to move on the sacrum, a lot.
er, pelvis to move, on the sacrum, more like…
and that article is here: http://www.milneinstitute.com/origins.html
my mistake, Sutherland established Cranial Osteopathy, different from Cranial-Sacral Therapy:
In my opinion people who kill others in the name of (any) religion have a mental defect. Its basically humans killing humans. I don’t care what they “dress themselves up” to be. Look at the followers of Jim Jones, they killed themselves and their kids back in the 80s. What about that cult who thought they were hitching a ride to that comet years ago? Who knows if their leaders had asked them to kill non-believers, so they could reach their idea of heaven, if they would have done so? I know in the case of Jim Jones there were gunmen who killed those leaving as they boarded a plane. I think one of the ones killed was a U.S. senator or something like that.
What I’m getting at is, well adjusted or semi well adjusted people don’t believe that crap and just because one is poor doesn’t make them killers either. There are plenty of poor people around the world who do not do that. I think blaming everything on society as being the culprit just doesn’t fly (with me anyway).
People who join these groups are nut jobs. The problem is there are so many of them and when they congregate there is a problem.
“People who join these groups are nut jobs”
If they are mentally ill, then they are off the hook for their actions.
Do you really want to go there, or should we hold them accountable?
All this stuff is just the way the world spins.
Focusing on it isn’t turning the light inward.
What’s turning the light “inward” got to do with anything? Where is this direction you call inwards? Eh, Mr No-self? Eh?
Dogen says “learn the backward step, turn the light around to illuminate”
How can the myriad things be seen to arise and confirm, when the light is going inwards to the self?
To clarify, I mean: How can the myriad things arise and confirm, if you’re aiming the light inwards to the ‘self’, and blacking out the myriad things?
Looking at several translations of Dogen’s Universal Recommendations, I see that most have something like “turn the light around to illuminate the self.” Or “turn the light and shine it inward.”
“How can the myriad things arise and confirm, if you’re aiming the light inwards to the ‘self’”
Focusing on it isn’t turning the light inward.
Do you see the word ‘self’ there?
“several MIS-translations of Dogen’s Universal Recommendations, … “turn the light around to illuminate the self.” Or “turn the light and shine it inward.”
There, fixed it for you.
Nishijima and Cross have “we should learn the backwards step of turning light and reflecting”
The first paragraph of fukan-zazenji (just before that quote) has “the whole body far transcends dust and dirt: who could believe in the means of sweeping and polishing” … referring to the Hui-neng and the mirror poems. So the analogy is obviously (?) a mirror… which reflects light (dharmas) and illuminates.
I just can’t see how a notion of shikantaza as introspection or going ‘inward’ makes any sense in the context Dogen’s writing.
Obama has a lilt in his step when he walks up to the mike; then the lilt no longer can be seen, but his heart breathes free.
“Pick up a lamp and go into the Buddha hall; take the triple gate, and bring it on the lamp.”
“when you make eyes in the place of an eye,
and a hand in the place of a hand,
and a foot in the place of a foot,
(and) an image in the place of an image,
then shall you enter [the Kingdom].”
(The Gospel According to Thomas, coptic text established and translated by A. Guillaumont, H.-CH. Puech, G. Quispel, W. Till and Yassah ‘Abd Al Masih, pg 18-19 log. 22, ©1959 E. J. Brill)
Left eye, 8 ounches; right eye, 1/2 pound. Hard to see like that.
“The “mountain of form” is the four gross elements and five heaps (which constitute human life).[c] “Within there is a jewel, hidden in the mountain of form.” That is why it is said, “All Buddhas are in the mind; deluded people go seeking outside. Though within they embosom a priceless jewel, they do not know it, and let it rest there all their lives.” It is also said, “The Buddha-nature clearly manifests, but the sentient beings dwelling in form hardly see it. If one realizes that sentient beings have no self, how does his own face differ from a Buddha’s face?” “
Ayaan Hirsi Ali sympathizes with Terrorist Anders Behring Breivik.
Just Google it. She’s a crazy Neocon.
She’s also lied of her experiences. Google “Brandeis retracts plan to honor anti-Muslim activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali Mondoweiss” also.
“I just can’t see how a notion of shikantaza as introspection or going ‘inward’ makes any sense in the context Dogen’s writing.”
Perhaps you should just ignore trying to make any sense, and just go inward, or
outward if you like.
Introspection is thinking that is thinking.
“Sitting in balance in the mountain-still state, “Think the concrete state of not thinking.”
Samsaric, Ayaan Hirsi Ali not a crazy Neocon as I think you know. She has made more than a few enemies interested in smearing her and censoring her and others who just want to kill her for making statements like..
“The morning after the 9/11 attacks…we began talking about the Twin Towers attack. Ruud shook his head sadly about it all. He said, “It’s so weird, isn’t it, all these people saying this has to do with Islam?” I couldn’t help myself…I blurted out, “But it *is* about Islam. This is based in belief. This is Islam.”
Ruud said, “Ayaan, of course these people may have been Muslims, but they are a lunatic fringe. We have extremist Christians, too, who interpret the bible literally. Most Muslims do not believe these things. To say so is to disparage a faith which is the second largest religion in the world, and which is civilized, and peaceful.”
I walked into the office thinking, “I have to wake these people up.”…The Dutch had forgotten that it was possible for people to stand up and wage war, destroy property, imprison, kill, impose laws of virtue because of the call of God. That kind of religion hadn’t been present in Holland for centuries. It was not a lunatic fringe who felt this way about America and the West. I knew that a vast mass of Muslims would see the attacks as justified retaliation against the infidel enemies of Islam.”
Now who would be interested in harming her? Figure it out..
Well she is married to Niall Ferguson, who is most certainly a neocon. And according to Wikipedia, she became a member of the American Enterprise Institute, a major neocon think tank, while living in Holland.
Nevertheless, I think most of her political views are to the left of what would be considered “mainstream neocon” ideology. Except that her views of Islam (as a former adherent who turned atheist) coincide with the neocon ones (stridently anti). I would call this a case of “strange bedfellows”, kind of like Libertarians who support legalization of pot and prostitution but are otherwise very conservative in their outlook.
I would speculate (with knowing nothing of course) that her marriage to Niall is kind of a James Carville/Mary Matalin type of relationship (love trumps politics?)
Did you Google both of the phrases I’ve said?
She’s lied about a lot of things in order to get an academic position, and she sympathized with Breivik.
Honestly, this is one reason I quit going to my Sangha. I don’t have time to deal with the average AmeroEuropean’s biases. I don’t need to listen to a hack who thinks he’s got an entire tradition figured out from reading one obviously biased critic. Just like Christianity, there are good and bad strands of Islam. You can’t overgeneralize either one.
There is NO Muslim world btw. The Turkish, Persian, and Arabic forms of Islam are radically different from one another. There are regional differences in how Islam is practiced, with stuff like Sufish and Irfan being more popular in Turkey and Iran/Persia (same thing).
Can I say all Christians are insane because of Breivik? No. Christianity is diverse, a multiplicity.
Btw, I guarantee you that you’ll see more Breiviks in the future. Mark my words.
“I feel very much like I understand the men who slaughtered these cartoonists better than I understand most so-called ‘ordinary people’ I encounter, the masses who completely buy into contemporary capitalist bullshit.”
And there go your chances of ever holding an elected office.
Good stuff, Mark, proof of parallel worlds for sure!!
“Brad used the G word, God, to refer to an “underlying ground” that he had experienced or had knowledge of, probably through sitting.
So Harlan, are you saying that the insight coming through meditation is bullshit?”
Fred, It very well could be bullshit. Depends on the particular insights. Veteran sitters have no idea of what they would be like without meditation so their testimony is useless. Newcomers are ever hopeful so they are tainted. Some of these people might have been better human beings having never meditated. That is certainly true. For others after years of sitting they behave like they think a proper Buddhist should behave. Gentle monk or crazy fool or some shade in-between. Mostly harmless.. And of course I don’t discount the practice completely. But the word God is a misleading and harmful for most I think. Obviously Brad disagrees.
A word itself is not misleading or harmful.
The interpretation, however, can be. Word and interpretation are separate, like syntax and semantics.
Lankavatara Sutra says delusions are eternal and meaning transcends words or projections.
just another creation, here.
naw, I read Skip Spence’s bio on Wikipedia, John, and thanks for the song! Didn’t know that piece of the history, sad tale, really.
Could very well be:
It was sad…
Aude was reassuring: “It will be like playing Wii with your perineum.”
The perineum is one thing, but let’s get to the heart of the matter:
“Nine of ten Americans have hemorrhoids. I, however, am a perfect asshole.”
Guys! Guys! I found a solution that can eliminate all terrorism, war, and crime! It is something called med… i… tay… shun.
I think we should all try it.
Works for me! Haven’t been at war for decades!
Congratulations! See? It really works!
But what Deepak was referring to in that video is the hypothesis of “the Maharishi Effect”.
“In 1960, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi predicted that one percent of a population practicing the Transcendental Meditation® technique would produce measurable improvements in the quality of life for the whole population.”
I also find it both hilarious and infuriating that in this interview when Deepak is asked how he first became interested in meditation he says absolutely NOTHING about the many years that he spent in the Transcendental Meditation® organization and gives absolutely NO CREDIT to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi for all of the information, techniques, and terminology that Chopra has plagiarized from him.
“We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it.” – Sam Harris
Thanks Samsaric.. Here is the entire piece.
Profiling is after all what police work actually is.. Deducing the probables from the possibles and setting to prove it is so. Detective work is profiling in it’s essence. It should only be about numbers. If one has a reason to believe that a terrorist is of a certain race or religion, then it makes sense to include that information in a profile. But what a lot of people object to and what is not right is profiling before the introduction of any evidence. That is prejudice.
Thaz’ intrestin’ about Chopra- I didn’t know his background. Guess that was your point, huh, GC!
I have a book somewhere by a nurse practitioner advising woman that birthing is not a matter of pushing, that you want to practice relaxing the PC and use the transverse muscles like squeezing toothpaste out of a tube. Can’t find anything about that online at the moment, darn.
Did find this:
“Although I may occasionally be sarcastic–to cover up the frustration and rage I feel about women getting unnecessarily cut and erroneously diagnosed with failure-to-progress (FTP) and CPD–I am not arrogant. I wasn’t insulted that I wasn’t asked to speak: I was sad. I have so much that I want to share about my research, information, and experience with VBAC. And yet I recognize that this oftentimes happens in a patriarchal system–that key people, mostly women, are ignored, dismissed. Anyone whose experience does not fit the script is dismissed. But birth, to be natural, powerful, cannot be scripted.”
CPD- Cephalopelvic Disproportion (“A diagnosis of CPD (cephalopelvic disproportion) is where the baby’s head is thought to be too large to pass through the woman’s pelvis”, from here)
VBAC- vaginal birth after cesearean.
“key people… are ignored, dismissed. Anyone whose experience does not fit the script is dismissed. But (XYZ), to be natural, powerful, cannot be scripted.”
and that was from here.
Yes I’ve hijacked “Charlie”, but did you know:
1. The pelvic girdle is not a fixed, solid structure
During pregnancy and labour the hormone relaxin softens the ligaments that join the pelvic bones, allowing the pelvis to give and ‘stretch’. The degree of pelvic expansion achieved will vary from woman to woman and from pregnancy to pregnancy.
2. Babies’ heads mold into shape
Babies’ heads are made up of separate bones which move relative to each other, allowing the baby’s head to ‘mould’ and thus reduce its diameter during passage down the birth canal. No-one can predict the capacity of an individual baby’s head to mould and, as this is a feature of the normal birth process, should not adversely affect the health and well-being of the baby.
3. The position that a woman adopts during labour and delivery makes a difference to pelvic dimensions
Squatting, for example, can increase pelvic measurements by up to 30%. One of the most common positions in which women give birth, that of being semi-reclined where the mother’s weight is on her coccyx, restricts movement of the coccyx, which can severely compromise a below-average pelvis.
That last is probably connected to Brad’s distaste for the use of a chair in zazen; how can you slide the out-breath out from your legs like a woman in labor in your position isn’t right?
“I call it the silver thread. It goes straight down from the tip of your head through your spine to the tail bone. This is very important. In breathing, the out-breath is like pouring water to wash your pain. As it goes slowly through your body, you let it slide out from your legs. You can see this when a woman is in labor, making a groaning sound. That is how you go with pain. Maybe you shouldn’t groan in the zendo! But it’s very natural. We all groan, as the breath goes. Without actually making that sound, you can breathe in the same way.”
(from here, under “Pain”)
No offense, Mark, but it seems like you spend an inordinate amount of time with your cranium up your own, or someone else’s, sacrum.
Guys! Guys! I found the solution for all poverty! It is something called Creating Affluence, The Source Of All Abundance.
This was apparently recorded when Deepak was still a member in good standing of Transcendental Meditation® because he mentions it by name, uses some TM® buzz words such as “the Unified Field®” and “Natural Law®,” and also specifically mentions “my teacher, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi®.”
Je suis Cranial-sacral!
GC, you want an aspirin or something?…
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