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  • hardie karges 4:09 pm on September 25, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Japan, , , , , , , ,   

    Buddhism and the Dialectic of Deliverance… 

    Buddhism needs no fancy metaphysics nor linguistics, multiple hells nor forty-two flavors of emptiness. Kindness and compassion are enough, metta and karuna and all that jazz. Which is one of the singular beauties of the faith, of course, that almost nothing is required up front, but some goodwill and a policy of non-aggression, ahimsa, such that oftentimes simply doing nothing, absolutely nothing, is the preferred path to advancement, simply because all other options are of lesser benefit.

    Some sects of Buddhism prefer a more elaborate presentation of gods and goddesses, but this is entirely optional and the historical Buddha himself had none of it. In fact, I’m not sure that the historical Buddha would even recognize Tibetan Vajrayana, or Japanese Zen, as something of his own inspiration. But such is the evolution of culture and language, so that a random mutation can be almost guaranteed to occur every eighty years or so, just like the DNA from which we all descend.

    But that doesn’t mean that Tibetan and Japanese Buddhists have nothing in common. They do. It’s just that these two almost-opposite branches of Buddhism are poised like the horns of a dilemma to offer themselves up as starting points for the next phase of dialectical Buddhism. So, given the superstitious and elaborate nature of Vajrayana and the sparse linguistic and meditation-oriented nature of Zen, what would be the next logical step for Buddhism to advance, at least in the West, that great field of dreams left to conquer?

    It just might be the original Theravadin style, with or without the religious trappings, so a more secular but traditional Buddhism, for lack of better terminology. And this is the current situation in the West, where those two extremes have found highest favor with the freedom-loving West, while the more disciplined original approach has found little favor—until now. Because the current acceptance of secular Buddhism goes back to the Early Buddhist roots in many important ways, but without karma, rebirth and past lives. The only question is how all of this will play out I the long run. My fingers are crossed. We are in need of some new synthesis to advance forward…

     
  • hardie karges 9:13 am on September 18, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , , ,   

    Buddhism and the Nature of Self/Not-Self… 

    The notion of self is a linguistic convenience. But language is not reality. And this is one of the debates in Buddhism, of course, not so much the exact nature of ‘self,’ which is proscribed in Buddhism (with an ‘o,’ not ‘e’), but more the exact nature of ‘not-self,’ or ‘no-self,’ that distinction itself often at the crux of the debate, as if there were any real difference, as if it really mattered. Because what matters is that this is not the Hindu cosmic self nor the Christian eternal self, both of which are not what the Buddha envisioned for his group of followers and his emerging view of the world.

    But what exactly did he envision for the self? Not much, apparently. Best guesses are the (s)khandhas, or ‘heaps’ of causes and conditions that he enumerated to constitute the typical person sans persona that is typically referred to, though many modern Buddhists like to wax long and hard on the ego and ensuing egolessness that would obviously result from that starting point. But our concept of ‘ego’ is so tied to Freud’s concept of id, ego, and superego that it may be misleading. Because I’m sure that the Buddha had no such wild notions.

    The Freudian ego also makes the same mistake that the Buddha was trying to solve, positing self as a thing, or something, anyway, which is an independent actor on an ever-shifting stage, when the actions themselves were much more important, as modern psychology now acknowledges the behavior, rather than some elaborate tripartite self, so like verbs not nouns. The Buddha might even go a step farther and see the composite self as a collection of adjectives, thus tendencies to act, not even dignified by the actions themselves.

    I’m sure that he had our modern notion of selfishness in mind, though, so we have that much in common, what with his obsessions with craving and desire. And that’s where Buddhism has much to say about our modern consumeristic economies and lifestyles to the point that ‘stuff’ becomes the meaning of our lives. This is a trap, of course, and a never-ending cycle of unfulfillment. After all, how can things satisfy us if we ourselves are essentially non-things? Sometimes the world is too much with us. Even the Buddha and Wordsworth could agree on that. The Buddha called it samsara….

     
  • hardie karges 10:45 am on September 11, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , compulsive, David Lynch, Elephant Man, , , , obsessive, poison ivy, scratch, temptation   

    Buddhism and the Itchy-Scratchy Distractions of Meditation 

    One of the least heralded benefits of meditation is the realization that, besides any insight or ‘calm abiding’ that might occur, all those little itches and distractions will simply go away if left unanswered. And this might seem like a small side benefit, if it’s even a benefit at all, but for me, it’s huge! But let me first state that the most obvious benefit of meditation for me is the systematic effect of ‘reboot’ that I get immediately afterward, like that same effect when restarting your smartphone or laptop, and maybe just like a good night’s sleep, admittedly, but that’s something I rarely get.

    And that’s predictable and probably even measurable, but pales in comparison to this other effect that I’ve never seen discussed, or even alluded to, but quickly comes up with any Western meditators on how we can emulate the much more successful Asians, most monks and many laypeople, who can apparently sit (e)motionless like statues for hours at a time, while we all get the ‘itchie scratchies’ and it shows in our poor meditation habits ( I’ll avoid the word ‘performance’). The revelation is that those little distractions will simply go away if left alone, and that’s not by ignoring them, but just the opposite.

    But first a little backstory. By birth I am the most compulsive obsessive creature in God’s creation, if judging by my childhood behavior, such that I doubt that I’d still be alive today, if that could not be corrected. I would often eat myself sick, simply because I couldn’t stop, but that was hardly the worst of it. The worst of it was the summer season in the poison ivy country of the American Deep South and the added fact that my family lived surrounded by woods.

    So, at the worst, when I’d come in contact with the dreaded plant, not only would I scratch, I’d scratch until my eyes were all swollen shut, and any soft spot on my body would be deformed grotesquely, red and rash-like and ready to ooze its venom for any and all sightseers. The Elephant Man had nothing on me (remember him? From the David Lynch movie? David Lynch is now my weatherman on KCRW, btw). But I digress. This was a horrible situation, and my parents didn’t believe in medicine, so I was pretty much left to my own devices on how to deal with it.

    The answer is simple, of course. Do nothing. Literally, absolutely nothing. Especially, don’t scratch it! Ever. For any reason. So that’s what I learned to do. Yeah, but I must’ve missed those beautiful Mississippi woods, right? Wrong. I built a cabin in those same woods only a few years later, and guess what? That’s right. You guessed it. I never got poison ivy in five years, not even once. Call it what you want: will, self-control, or mindfulness, but the upshot is that my life was changed by the process, rather than consumed by it, and I’m a better person for having gone through it.

    And I didn’t do that by running away from it or pretending that the aggravation didn’t exist. I did it by staring it in the face and staring it down in the process. And that itch is a good metaphor for many of life’s obsessions and temptations, of course, such that the lesson therein can be applied across the board, or to the extent that you so desire. Ah, desire, but that’s another level of temptation, now, isn’t it? Bottom line: just because you have an itch doesn’t mean that you have to scratch. Maybe I should meditate now. Now what’s the Pali/Sanskrit word for ‘reboot?’ Right, re-buddha…

     
  • hardie karges 11:02 am on September 4, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , sarmatha, , ,   

    Buddhism 499: Self-control and the Benefits of Meditation 

    Self-control should not be an affront to your Western freedoms. It should be the foundation of your Eastern practices. But this is a tough pill for many Westerners to swallow, because it invokes the dreaded ‘C’ word, control, mattering not to many that self-control is a totally different activity than controlling others, which for me is a hideous affair, usually. Self-control, on the other hand, is the cause and effect of some of my life’s finest moments, not the least of which are simple meditative moments, the practical foundation of Buddhism.

    And all Asian monks know this, and can attest to it fully, while Westerners resist and desist, and their meditative practices often show it, twitching and flinching while struggling to finish a half-hour of meditation, while I’ve seen even Asian laypeople sit motionless for hours. But was it sarmatha or was it vipassana or was it mindfulness meditation or was it that new style that somebody was doing on TV? And there’s TM, the one that the Beatles made famous, with their Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and which has gone on to be bliss of choice for Hindu-style practice, complete with secret password.

    But all Buddhist practices derive from some version of anapanasati, awareness of breath, and to there they all return—eventually. And to be aware is very much within the practice of control. Because you don’t really have to do much of anything to meditate properly. But there are some things that you should definitely NOT do, and distractions are at the top of that list. Life itself can be extrapolated from this practice, also, giving meditation a central place and practice in your life. It’s simply a good approach to life, calm and collected, and likely to produce a ripple effect that radiates outward. Don’t you wish everybody would participate?

    So, if you’re looking for something like ayahuasca, then Buddhism is the wrong place to look. Because there is nothing here, really, to get excited about, and just the opposite, in fact. There is much here to get calm about—life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but without all the weeping wailing and gnashing of teeth. We Westerners are emotion junkies, though that doesn’t mean that we are ‘evil,’ as certain pro-Putin pushers suggest outright. What the West loves was perfect for a world growing up and reproducing itself. What Buddhism offers is perfect for a world finding itself. The future is at stake.

     
  • hardie karges 1:03 pm on August 28, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , , Three Marks of Existence   

    Buddhism 202: Happiness Sandwiches, with Something in the Middle… 

    If you’re looking for bliss, then you may be disappointed. Happiness for me is the reduction, and hopefully cessation, of suffering. Anything else is icing on the cake. Count your blessings. In other words, bliss is optional and perhaps not even desirable. After all, when your psychological pendulum swings too far in one direction, isn’t it bound to swing back to the other with equal force? It’s very likely. And isn’t bliss an extreme emotion to begin with, tongue flagging and tail wagging, like a dog with a fresh bone, until it’s suddenly all gone?

    And that’s the problem, isn’t it, that extremes usually never cease rebounding in search of their opposites, in ever-widening arcs, never satisfied and never at rest?  It certainly seems that way, the curse of consciousness, chasing its own tail in a race to the finish. When we’re hot, we want cold. When we’re cold we want warmth. At what point do we get to enjoy our happiness? There’s no time like the present of course, and anything else is probably BS.

    And this goes right to the heart of Buddhism, the middle path, but not necessarily The Middle Path, between luxury and lack, or Existence and Non-existence, but any middle path, between any two sets of opposites, for which the middle is almost always the best option, that notion of balance and equilibrium always desirable, even if the word ‘compromise’ doesn’t suit you, with the notion that maybe it’s a cop-out. It’s not.

    It suits me just fine, and I think it should probably be enshrined as an important addendum to the main body of Buddhism, which includes the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold path, and the Three Marks of Existence, especially non-self anatta. Then there’s ahimsa, non-violence, though not necessarily non-action. That sounds like the perfect balance between violence and passivity. So, this notion of balance, little brother to the Middle Path, works almost every time, and should get the attention and credit that it deserves. Try it. You’ll probably like it.

     
  • hardie karges 11:45 am on August 21, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , ,   

    Modern Buddhism: Past Lives or Present Moment? You Decide… 

    I accept all forms of Buddhism, as long as they have no quarrel with Science. But, that’s easier said than done, given the spat over rebirth, as to exactly what it means and how it applies. The main conundrum, of course, is that Buddha cut his teeth on his anatta no-self doctrine, and so, if Buddhism accepts rebirth, then what exactly is it that gets reborn? Good question. And many are the answers, ranging from karma to consciousness, anything but the body itself in reincarnation, complete with a permanent self or soul intact.

    Because, that’s the Hindu Vedic Brahmanistic principle that the Buddha was in fierce competition with, and this was the most prominent point of departure between them, so a definite no-no. So, the Buddhists tend to explain the controversy away, while at the same time talking about past and future lives like so many trips to the grocery store. And many Buddhists will explain that not only is this not unscientific, but science is gradually coming around to a similar view. I’ve got a better idea: drop the whole idea, since it’s not really necessary, anyway, so why raise a ruckus over something this has no proven relevance to this life in this world, which is all that we really know?

    The irony is that many of these ‘re-birthers’ are Present Moment Buddhists, also, the same Buddhists who most loudly promote the relatively new idea that this so-called ‘present moment’ is not only all that we can know, but it’s all that there is. But this idea is not only in direct contradiction with Rebirth and Past Lives, but it’s also in contradiction with itself, simply because it defies common sense, in that what we see in life is not a still photo, but a movie, by analogy. Okay, but a movie is a succession of twenty-four frames per second, still the present moment people seem to be insistent upon THIS present moment, and no other.

    This may be only a problem of syntax and semantics though, since Eckhart Tolle has no real problem with his concept of the NOW, which, like particles or waves, may presumably be envisioned as either individual moments or a stream in flow. And, like rebirth, maybe it’s just best not to think about it too much. After all, Eckhart Tolle is not a Buddhist, anyway, and neither is much of what he says, but much also is, and the concept of NOW has much currency in the modern New Age movement. Bottom line: neither can be proven by Science, Past Lives or Present Moments. Still, I’d gladly take NOW, with all its conceptual flaws, if that could put the final nail in the coffin of rebirth. It’s time. We can deal with NOW in the next millennium, if that’s how long it takes…

     
  • hardie karges 10:06 am on August 14, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Franz Ferdinand, , Occam's Razor, , , , ,   

    Buddhism for Dummies, Hold the Salsa… 

    My 6th grade teacher was correct: our mouths cause most of our problems. Samma Vaca is Right Speech, part of the Buddhist Eightfold Path. Of course, Ms. What’s-her-name knew little or nothing of Buddhism but that makes no difference. Buddhism is at its best as common sense, and that’s what the Eightfold path is all about. Three of the paths that comprise the Eightfold Path you might already know from the Franz Ferdinand song ‘Right Action,’ which also trumpets (and guitars) Right Thoughts and Right Words.

    The other components of the path include Right Intention, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration (meditation), depending on translations and personal proclivities. For example, ‘mindfulness’ is all the rage in online Buddhist circles, but ‘awareness’ or even ‘consciousness’ might be a better translation of the Pali word sati (Sanskrit smrti), since they’re easy to use in any normal conversation, while ‘mindfulness’ is rarely used outside of Buddhist or meditation circles (though ‘mindful’ might be).

    And that’s the way I like my Buddhism, down-to-earth and easy to understand. Zen tries to get all Dadaesque, in its effort to go beyond language, but only confuses many people in the process. And Vajrayana puts the magic in the wand for those who need that, but none of that is really necessary for the Buddhism that the Buddha envisaged. And those early guys admittedly tried to make it more complicated, too, even grouping the Eightfold Path into a three-part collection of ethics, meditation, and wisdom, without really changing anything in the process. Sometimes the simplest way is the best, just like Occcam’s Razor, for a smooth close shave, haha…

     
  • hardie karges 12:03 pm on August 7, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , Vedas   

    Buddhism in a Hindu World: no Time for Selves and Souls… 

    You should be able to find a comfortable balance between low self-esteem on the one hand, and overt selfish egotism, on the other, in the Buddhist doctrine of anatta, non-self or no-self, same thing. But this is one of the more controversial and misunderstood of the Buddha’s teachings, and subject to much abuse by those who want to go too far in the opposite direction from egotism, by claiming that we are all ‘nobody,’ and should somehow be proud of that. And that’s fine, if that’s what you want, but that’s not what the Buddha said.

    Because in one very real sense, the Buddha’s Middle path is not just the original path between luxury and lack, or even the esoteric existence and non-existence of the later Mahayanists. It is also very much a Middle Path between the competing philosophies of Vedic Brahmanism and the Jainism of his day. Those two, in effect, defined a very real dichotomy between the lush and lavish celebratory rituals of the upper Brahmin class and the self-denial of the renunciant rishis who once made India famous as a religious center, and to some extent still do.

    So, the self vs. no-self controversy for Buddhists was never supposed to be a total refutation of all things selfie, such that we are individually nothing at all and should aspire to nothing more than the average leaf blowing in the wind. The Buddhist doctrine of anatta only means that there is no permanent eternal soul to aspire to union with the cosmic Brahmana principle, as Brahmanic Hinduism invokes, and so nothing to worry about on that count. Peace in this life in this world is to be found by knowing the truths of suffering, craving, and impermanence, and then acting accordingly. Now we can get on with our lives.

     
  • hardie karges 8:33 am on July 31, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , Magi, magic, , ,   

    Buddhism 498: Emptiness is the Path to Infinity 

    If you’re doing it right, then one day a sense of calmness will come over you, as the zeroes take over, and the fractions become less, a mind divided unable to reproduce itself properly, and the ensuing life even less. Because language knows no natural limit, and so will run on until stopped, vowels and consonants forming verbs and nouns like chickens and eggs, and no one knows which came first, since no one was taking notes in a class too crowded for convenience and too full for breath…

    But people wonder why meditate, since there’s so little time and so little space, that to waste any extra must certainly be counter-intuitive, but, in reality, the exact opposite is the case. Because meditation creates more time and more space in the process of killing it, such that if you really want to experience infinity, then the only way to do that is with emptiness.

    Because infinity cannot exist full of stuff, and that is fundamental to the concept, and who would want it anyway, except a kid at Christmas before the sun’s even up, learning the false lesson of abundance under the magic of the Magi, who got lost on the way to Bethlehem, but couldn’t see any reason to let a good story go to waste? So, a kid in a manger becomes the unlikely savior of humanity, when all we really wanted was a full belly and an empty mind, empty of hate and anger, with Big Ideas optional.

    But we can do that on command with a little silence and a lot of discipline, let the confusion die down and out, and be reborn in spirit every hour of every day with a little self-control and a lot of kindness, creating a world of forgiveness and reconciliation, instead of aggression and competition, for access to scarce resources, to create even more, when the obvious answer is to first consume even less. And that is the difference between Buddhism and Christianity, to consume less or produce more, when the truth lies somewhere in between.

     
  • hardie karges 10:25 am on July 24, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Aristotle, Brahmanists, , , , , , , ,   

    Buddhism is a World of Feeling, Thoughts Optional 

    Be kind to humans and other sentient beings, even when they are obnoxious, egotistic, pompous, and overbearing. And this is a tough row to hoe in the age of social media, I know, but that makes it even more important, doesn’t it? I think so. Because the pressure in this social media age for anyone who wants to be an ‘influencer,’ is to crack wise first, and smooth hard feelings later, if ever. But that’s not the correct order of things, I don’t think, not these days or ever.

    Because we are all ‘influencers,’ to some extent or other, but if we’re all sticking our egos in everyone’s faces all the time, then who is left to bear witness? So, we all have a stake in this game, regardless of whether we’re professional or not, because those lines are becoming blurred—at best. This is nothing if not a world of feeling, and I think that’s how Buddhism best makes sense. Because there was no world of reason back then, much less science, even if the Buddha was aware of the power of reason and tried to incorporate it into his practice.

    But reason at its best requires inscrutable logic, and the Indian tetralemma, in Greek, or catuhskoti, in Sanskrit, was far from perfect, and violated the Law of the Excluded Middle of Aristotelian logic, more familiar to our Western thought. But the Indian choices of ‘This,’ ‘That,’ ‘All of the above’ or ‘None of the above’ might ironically have led to the Buddha’s famous Middle Path, which Greek logic only approached with a roundabout dialectical synthesis that came much later.

    There’s more to life than logic, though, of course, and a close examination shows a classical Indian world-view heavily based on feeling and introspection, the deeper the better for the really big questions. That’s the world that the Buddha was raised in, and that was his method by trade, as prophet to the ages. When in doubt, think it out. Though many modern non-dualists may deny that the Buddha ever really intended anything, much less own his thoughts, I think it’s safe to say that he certainly did.

    If the Buddha’s thoughts had had no thinker, then I doubt we’d have Four Noble Truths and twice that number of folds and twists to our middle path of salvation, as defined by the cessation of suffering, at least partially, if never quite total. In every case, too, it’s a world of feeling and perception that is described, defined by name and form, and articulated by consciousness. The Brahmins and Brahmanists saw a world of Cosmic self in union with Brahma. The Buddha begged to differ. That’s the world he lived in, and that’s the world that he bequeathed to us.

     
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