How to Teach Dhamma

Here is something that I’m just going to quote in it’s entirety from the Pali Canon.  It’s not that complicated and has been around for a couple of thousand years.

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying at Kosambi, in Ghosita’s Park. Now at that time Ven. Udayin was sitting surrounded by a large assembly of householders, teaching the Dhamma. Ven. Ananda saw Ven. Udayin sitting surrounded by a large assembly of householders, teaching the Dhamma, and on seeing him went to the Blessed One. On arrival, he bowed down to the Blessed One and sat to one side. As he was sitting there he said to the Blessed One: “Ven. Udayin, lord, is sitting surrounded by a large assembly of householders, teaching the Dhamma.”

“It’s not easy to teach the Dhamma to others, Ananda. The Dhamma should be taught to others only when five qualities are established within the person teaching. Which five?

“[1] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, ‘I will speak step-by-step.’

“[2] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, ‘I will speak explaining the sequence [of cause & effect].’

“[3] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, ‘I will speak out of compassion.’

“[4] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, ‘I will speak not for the purpose of material reward.’

“[5] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, ‘I will speak without hurting myself or others.’[1]

“It’s not easy to teach the Dhamma to others, Ananda. The Dhamma should be taught to others only when these five qualities are established within the person teaching.”

Udayi Sutta: About Udayin

AN 5.159

PTS: A iii 184

Heart-mind or That’s Understandable

“Not maintaining written words, but pointing directly to the human heart-mind to see one’s own nature to become Buddha”. Bodhidharma

There is a lot of knowledge and there is a lot of emotion in the individual and in the world. Knowledge plays a role, emotion plays a role. But these are only superficial and generally manifestations of the ego. We can learn and analyze facts and theories but realize nothing from all that knowledge. We can be ignorantly smart. We can feel a lot of stuff but not understand emotion. We can be insensitively emotional.

The heart-mind from which both wisdom and compassion flow is that way of being beyond the relative.

I’ve come across the term heart-mind a lot in contemporary Buddhist expressions, in articles, websites and blogs. Quite a few teachers even use this term. Usually there are exhortations to the practitioner to unify the heart and mind.  It is called “a marriage of your heart and mind” , “bridging heart and mind” or “bringing together heart and mind”. This is not really possible. It is cobbling together two elements of personality that are rather shallow. And people waste a lot of time trying to do that.

The heart-mind is already present but not often manifest. It is Buddha nature. Wisdom and compassion are manifestations of that. One cannot develop it, unify it, bridge it, exercise it, force it, fake it. One can only uncover it.

Consider the statement by the Theravada nun Ayya Khema:

In Pali, heart and mind are one word (citta), but in English we have to differentiate between the two to make the meaning clear.

quoted in Mind and Mental Factors

It is unfortunate that English is such an object oriented (noun) language. In other languages emphasis is more often placed on verbs, movements, relationships and processes. That makes some kinds of experiences much more clear. This includes the experience of being. In English we feel at a loss unless we are being something or doing something. Always with the “thing” attached. Always with that separation from whatever else is involved. There is no concept of immersion which exists in other languages.

In the colloquial Hindi of my region, for example, there is no direct way to say “have”.  This is interesting in terms of stating states of being. For example to say “I have a cold”  or “I have a pain” in the way we say it in English,with the connotations of “to have” in a dualistic sense, [there is me, there is the pain] is not possible. One would say literally “I ill” or “I pain” or “I happy”. The illness/pain/happiness is the state of being for the person at that moment. The being, (meaning the experiencer) is undergoing the illness or the pain process, is immersed in that process, is that process being experienced.[There is a connection to certain aspects of Hindu world-view here which I’ll only mention but not go into.] There is no separation between the being and the process occurring to the being. Most people would not even say “I am ill” (literally I ill am) or “I am paining”. The verb “to be” is understood within the process that the being is undergoing, whether it be work, happiness, pain or any other experience.

The reason I bring up that little linguistic digression (and allusion to linguistic relativity and particularly the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis BTW) is because the language we use to express both ourselves and our states of being can misconstrue some very important fundamentals. I think that is what is happening with the concept of heart-mind as it is used in English.

Citta (heart and mind) is not two things as we think of them in English. In an anecdotal example, more than a few times in a number of places in Asia I have noticed when people are asked for their opinion about something and they are considering it deeply there is a gesture towards the body somewhere near and slightly above the heart region.  Among many people of European origin the gesture in response to the same situation will be towards the head and will include rolling the eyes upward or scratching the head or putting the head on the hand (ala Rodin’s The Thinker). That has just been my observation over the years.

The heart or mind as an object has little movement, but understood as a process there is constant motion and change. Unification implies fixed objects. And building a bridge between fixed objects implies another fixed thing. This is not the case with either heart or mind or even ego. It is all false construction. So to endeavor to try to build these false constructions, join them with bridges, gangplanks, scaffolds or grappling hooks is to waste a lot of time in practice.

Setting these concepts up as objects leads to rigidification of thought, a lack of opportunity for insight and can lead to a stultified kind of fundamentalism with the concept as concrete and the processes to manipulate concepts mere robotic imitations. This is a kind of conceptual materialism is more of a trap as any other kind of physical materialism because it is much more difficult to break down solidified concepts than material objects. The latter only require a big hammer.

I am perturbed that a few big shot Zen teachers in the west continue to advocate this fixed sort of position. And to pass it on to their students.

Consider the sayings, stories and anecdotes by the ancestors.

“Show me your mind!”

“Dropping body and mind.”

If a Zen teacher doesn’t understand what those statement actually mean WTF are they teaching?

Telling people to unify their heart and mind, suggesting that there is even a thing such as heart or mind which can be identified, worked with as one would knead a ball of dough and placed as part of some unifying element of an enlightened wedding cake is to misunderstand the nature of not only the concepts but what they signify.

To rectify that I will propose an alternative.

Manifestation of Heart-Mind

When a friend says “My lover has cheated on me. I am upset.”

We say, “That’s understandable.”

When a parent says, “I want the best for my child.”

We say, “That’s understandable.”

When someone extends their hand to help when we’ve fallen we are grateful.

That’s understandable.

A co-worker says, “My partner made me this new scarf. Isn’t it great. It’s been made with love.”

That’s understandable.

Where is the “understandable” coming from? It isn’t an intellectual understanding we’ve learned in school nor is it a purely emotional gut reaction. We are thinking about the statement, interpreting it, feeling it, knowing it…experiencing it and then responding to it.  The place from which this immediate response comes is heart-mind. Before thought and feeling and attachment and identification with specifics.

We may have no experience with the particulars in any situation but we all have human experience which helps us to relate with others. When we have self-examined, the generic life experiences  are more easily available to use in order to relate with the world. We are incorporating the other as they experience. We experience with them momentarily.

It is from the point of connection between people, between situations, between things that heart-mind action occurs. It is at the point of intersection or immersion where heart-mind becomes manifest.

When we concretize concepts we cannot experience life. We can merely react to it, isolated and outside. And we can never be free of the concepts. They are like chains that hold us back from realization.

Here’s Patti Smith:



2009 “Know yourself. The Revolution is in your heart…”


Baby was a black sheep. Baby was a whore.
Baby got big and baby get bigger.
Baby get something. Baby get more.
Baby, baby, baby was a rock-and-roll nigger.

Oh, look around you, all around you,
riding on a copper wave.
Do you like the world around you?
Are you ready to behave?

Outside of society, they’re waitin’ for me.
Outside of society, that’s where I want to be.

Baby was a black sheep. Baby was a whore.
You know she got big. Well, she’s gonna get bigger.
Baby got a hand; got a finger on the trigger.
Baby, baby, baby is a rock-and-roll nigger.

Outside of society, that’s where I want to be.
Outside of society, they’re waitin’ for me.

(those who have suffered, understand suffering,
and thereby extend their hand
the storm that brings harm
also makes fertile
blessed is the grass
and herb and the true thorn and light)

I was lost in a valley of pleasure.
I was lost in the infinite sea.
I was lost, and measure for measure,
love spewed from the heart of me.

I was lost, and the cost,
and the cost didn’t matter to me.
I was lost, and the cost
was to be outside society.

Jimi Hendrix was a nigger.
Jesus Christ and Grandma, too.
Jackson Pollock was a nigger.
Nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger,
nigger, nigger, nigger.

Outside of society, they’re waitin’ for me.
Outside of society, if you’re looking,
that’s where you’ll find me.
Outside of society, they’re waitin’ for me.
Outside of society.

Outside of Society

No one chooses to be outside of Society. Many are marginalized because of skin color. Many because of gender, sexual orientation, ability, belief, economic status or conscience.

Most of the population of the world are outside of Society. The Society that dictates acceptability, normalcy, policy, adequacy, popularity, applicability, hierarchy, inclusivity, productivity, suitability, marriageability, security, allowability, visibility, possibility.

…those who have suffered, understand suffering,
and thereby extend their hand…

You are not as alone as you feel. You are not alone at all.


Ayya Khema’s Dharma Talks at Dharma Seed-around 400 of them available.

The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis by Daniel Chandler excerpted from his book The Act of Writing-this will be of interest to translators as well as those trying to come to terms with…well, terms, particularly in other languages like Pali.

Joy of Cluelessness

[This post is a little wonky because I cut out a bunch of stuff to put in another post then I was too lazy to edit it down and I’m tired and probably shouldn’t have listened to Rammstein today as now I’m kind of jumpy too]

Nathan at Dangerous Harvests wrote a post “Is Convert Buddhism too Clubby and Exclusive?” based on a post titled what gets in the way? by Peter at living and dying with eyes wide open.

The gist of some of the discussion is very familiar. It comes down to the questions of the utility of ritual, the adoption of foreign practices, including languages, the conflicting desires between preserving what has been established and discarding that which is unfamiliar, improvisation in social settings, individual vs group processes and ultimately the purpose of Sangha.

When these questions come up they almost always revolve around the newcomer convert to Buddhism. Because they don’t know what’s happening they don’t embrace Buddhism.  They are turned off by the ritual, language, setting etc. Apparently. Has someone actually done a study on this or is it just speculation? And how does dipping into Buddhism compare with dipping into Christianity for the spiritual seeker? Christian churches are having a helluva hard time regarding retention rates and returnees as well. Why should Buddhism be any different? And why is the “foreignness” factor one of the first one trotted out blamewise?

So I’ll ramble on that from personal, social and some other perspectives for a while. But first a little caveat.

Now I don’t write this blog with newcomers in mind. Though quite a few people seem to think I should. And I don’t write this blog for people who are too lazy to do a little work in their own, even adopted tradition. Although quite a few people seem to think I should.

There’s already a phalanx of guardians and hand-holders available for the n00bs and the b00bs so my contributions in that realm would be negligible. And there are plenty of other blogs for them to read which do that. [plenty belong to teachers too]  Regardless, the admonishments for my apparent failing in this area keep coming.  Most recently:

I find your comments about ‘How to become a Buddha in 5 weeks’  completely miss the tone and value of a book which, contrary to those turgid dusty  pernickety precise tomes only fanatics read (me included) might actually spark the interest of some new, young, people about a way of life that can alleviate distress like no other- and I can think of worse stuff to buy in a supermarket.

These kinds of comments always end with:

where is the compassion in you?

If one looks hard enough there is a fair bit of compassion, it’s just not dipped in chocolate and farting out rainbows. (Too much chocolate compassion does cause rainbow farts BTW-pretty to look at but they smell like a compost heap)

Then comes anti-intellectual diatribe of some sort……….the majority of these comments, directed at me and a few others, generally have all the same elements in varying order. It’s almost as if people were conditioned to respond in this manner. What would Pavlov‘s dog say?[Mu]

After a few decades of Buddhist practice quite a bit of the socially-accepted veneer tends to look pretty thin and ragged to me. It is possible to put that back on when necessary, when dealing with customs agents for example, but most of what I write here is fairly unadulterated, unsweetened, raw, naked, and from deep in the heart and not just the product of thoughts running amok.  It has nothing to do with anger, bitterness, some vendetta or any such nonsense. I am a fairly content individual most of the time. Sure shit happens but it’s just not the same kind of huge dramatic deal as when I was younger.

But I also realize that I don’t have enough time left in my life to play around with these silly games any more. And I won’t do it just because some confused troll demands it since they are uncomfortable with my words or presentation. What appears between the lines in these instances is, “Write what I want! Write it the way I want. Explain everything to me on my terms. Be nice to me. Agree with me. Do what I say.” To not do so somehow means arrogance on my part. That’s very funny. Fucking deal with it! You don’t get reality on your terms. [I don’t either] Don’t waste your precious time trying to deal with me and make me conform. It won’t happen.  I am completely irrelevant to anyone who bothers to read this. To the entire process actually. That’s the whole fucking point!!!!

One reason I’m writing about comments again is that they are very informative as to the state of mind of many people coming to Dharma centers initially or beginning practice. Full of preconceptions and expectations. And when these are not met and one has to confront the reality that demonstrates … cluelessness is the best word I can think of…then there is a reaction like anger, condemnation or some attempt to assert control of a basically uncontrollable situation. It’s great to admit cluelessness. It’s a point one can work from. [Call it beginner’s mind if you want something more polite]

One cannot completely control … anything. Not mind, body, environment, other people. No one can. God delusions of any kind are some of the most difficult to relinquish. That’s a trick ego plays. “If I will it to be so, or if I pray it to be so, then so shall it be.” It’s magic thinking and it’s nonsense. [Just like “The Secret”] We can pretend we do have some control by our little games but ultimately we just fool ourselves and waste a lot of time. [Here’s a great post about magic thinking by Rafael Ayala]

We can arrange and re-arrange these elements to some extent. For example, if I decide to lose some weight that is possible, or if we decide to stop texting when driving our cars we can do so, or if a group decides to practice Buddhism according to a certain framework that is possible. We come up with “the rules” of whatever activity is going on, or adopt a set of rules that someone else has come up with and go to it. It’s really just that easy.

But because of the practice of obedience we’ve all come to adopt to a greater or lesser degree,  it appears to be much more difficult. We stop ourselves from imagining alternatives for no other reason than we’ve become accustomed not to. This is the way it’s always been done and it must continue similarly. So we are told and so we believe. To blindly follow is as much of an error as to randomly change things without understanding what it is we are changing. Both positions lead to a lot of flailing around in potentially deep water.

There is a lot of contradiction involved when we are not aware of what we are doing. Tradition has a purpose, innovation has a purpose, but only when we are aware of those purposes can we fully utilize either position. The contradiction, and the tension that is produced, is only resolved by becoming aware of what we are doing, what we are participating in and the reasons for it.

On one level it is a serious matter in that our lives, decisions, relationships and even societies depend upon some kind of strategy in order to function. But as with our personal identities we build up so much of an accretion upon what is basic and actually needed that we become lost in that maze. But our human nature seems to desire this kind of thing to pass the time. (as well as the rush of the dopamine boost it gives to our brains-pretty addictive shit)

In this way on another level it is all an elaborate game. Sometimes with few consequences and sometimes with deadly consequences.  Only by coming to understand that fully can it actually be rewritten in order to benefit our species.

Music for Game Playing Apes

Peter Gabriel-Games Without Frontiers

Hans plays with lotte, lotte plays with jane
Jane plays with willi, willi is happy again
Suki plays with leo, sacha plays with britt
Adolf builts a bonfire, enrico plays with it
-whistling tunes we hid in the dunes by the seaside
-whistling tunes we’re kissing baboons in the jungle
It’s a knockout
If looks could kill, they probably will
In games without frontiers-war without tears
Games without frontiers-war without tears
Andre has a red flag, chiang ching’s is blue
They all have hills to fly them on except for lin tai yu
Dressing up in costumes, playing silly games
Hiding out in tree-tops shouting out rude names
-whistling tunes we hide in the dunes by the seaside
-whistling tunes we piss on the goons in the jungle
It’s a knockout
If looks could kill they probably will
In games without frontiers-wars without tears
If looks could kill they probably will
In games without frontiers-war without tears
Games without frontiers-war without tears

!!!!! Promotional Interstitial
[Hey do you like the new Boobs header for the blog? Nekid boobs!!! Labeling a photo boobs does wonders for your SEO although that was not my intention in creating this version!]

Now Back to Regularly Scheduled Programming

The point of my little personal digression, aside from some irritation at the moment with this continuing critical theme, is that, with a few exceptions, Buddhism is generally not about prosthelytizing, nor is it concerned with furthering people’s sense of conventional (Samsaric) comfort and delusion, nor is it about putting on a fake smiley face and swallowing and accepting anything that comes along with the label Buddhism on it, nor is it about following a bunch of rules, nor is it about living any text exactly as it’s written, nor is it about living in general without some serious examination.

I want to write about these and a few other points after this brief introduction.

The Joy of Cluelessness

We operate under a large set of familiar assumptions. We learn this from our cultures and their representatives (family, friends, media, school etc). What we are learning is knowledge to some degree but to a larger degree it is a social script.

We learn how to behave, sit in lines, talk pretty and how to interact without killing each other most of the time.  A lot of this revolves around obedience. We learn to take direction, ostensibly from our elders/betters/wise ones, and to inculcate that into our own psyches so that we become self-directed. We believe we can then make our own decisions and conduct our lives. But how much is really our own decision and how much is based on these obedience scripts we have been taught? [I had a teacher who discussed parental scripts once with me-it was quite illuminating]

The point is the script. Every situation has one. It helps people to organize themselves into effective groups and to accomplish the purposes of the groups. Scripts are very useful in a social circumstance. On a personal level, knowledge of them can also help one navigate through society. They make things familiar so that we don’t have to re-learn everything about every situation we encounter.

Social cues are part of the scripts. We recognize them, realize the behavior that is called for, perform that behavior and can move on from the situation. Very handy. And very easy to take that as the truth of a situation without consideration. This can also become something of a trap when it becomes habitual or when we cling to the script too tightly. When we put our belief into the script, which is a piece of fiction, a made up situation no matter how many millions also adhere to it (nations, religions, institutions, etc) then we are not prepared for improvisation when it is called for. This is conditioning at it’s deepest level. Back to Pavlov/Buddha once again. The bell rings, we start to salivate.

But when we walk into a new situation we must learn a new script. If it is in our own culture we can take bits and pieces of what we know and for the most part improvise as we figure the situation out. If it is in a situation that is very different than what we are used to, we must learn almost from scratch. This is the point of cluelessness. A very excellent place to be however uncomfortable. If we can accept our cluelessness then we can open ourselves up to the new experience, learning, being in that very moment because we cannot rely upon memory, knowledge or any other prop we carry around in our heads. We have to be there, pay attention and react from a much deeper place. We have to deal with things as they present themselves, in real time. This is a very unreal or shocking experience for many people. We almost never deal with the world in that way. This is one reason why home-leaving in whatever form (monastery, retreat, group) is very beneficial. We are forced to deal with a situation on it’s own terms alone.

We may eventually become comfortable with a new situation but the experience if continued will make changes we may not be aware of as they are happening. It is very dependent upon how fearful we are of letting go of the familiar rut.

I think this is one of the main reasons people don’t return to dharma centers or leave retreats early or whatever. The egg starts to crack and people panic. Not in an obvious way but in some minor way and they are neither prepared for it nor can they accept the possibility of real change happening. It’s about fear of losing something. The familiar hand holds fall away or we can’t find them. We are left to grope in the dark and to trust in the unknown whether that is in people around us, the experience, the situation, a new or foreign script or some part of ourselves we’ve not encountered before.

It’s about fear of untrodden ground, fear of losing the compass however badly it has misled us previously, fear of encountering one’s self in a naked way, fear of the unknown.

There’s a thing in psychology called an approach-avoidance conflict. It is basically the conflict within us between desire and fear.

By example consider the moment you meet someone who strikes you as attractive. Maybe it’s sexual, maybe not. You desire to become closer to them. You fear rejection or embarrassment or something. There’s a back and forth that goes on emotionally. Questions are raised and they swirl around in our minds as we try to deal with the situation. Do I talk now? What do I say? What if they don’t like my jokes? How can I make some impression? Should I touch their hand? Should I sit closer? Should I back away? Should I try to hide my tension better? Do they know I am nervous? What do they think about me? How can I get to see them again? Is that too pushy? ….

We encounter/desire/need something. There are possible obstacles. We are pushed and pulled between these two poles to the point of tension and stress like a frantic pendulum. This occurs in hundreds of situations every day. Here are a bunch more examples.

  • We need to go to the dentist but are afraid to. But we want relief from tooth pain. We pick up the phone to make an appointment but then decide to do it later and put the phone down. We pick it up again later…
  • We are invited to a party. We will only know 2-3 people there. To go or not? Buy a new set of clothes or not? Bring wine or not?
  • A friend serves us some odd kind of food at a meal. We don’t like the look of it. Eat it or not? Pretend to like it or not?
  • We bang our elbow on a chair in a restaurant where we’ve eaten with a large group of friends. It really hurts and there may be some actual damage. Do we admit the pain? Pretend it never happened? Make a joke about it? Go to a hospital?
  • We receive a gift of a sweater from a friend. It is a hideous chemical orange color. Orange makes us look rather ill. Do we trade it in for a more suitable color? Do we wear it anyways? Do we “re-gift” it elsewhere in the future? Does it end up at Goodwill?
  • A boorish individual at a bar has you cornered. He is talking non-stop about some Caribbean cruise he took and all the sex he had. He is trying to impress one of your friends who likes him. Do you walk away? Do you bring up the matter with your friend? Do you sit and laugh at his sexist bullshit? Do you try to change the subject? Do you confront him?
  • At the grocery store someone with a whole basket full of stuff cuts in line in front of you and says they were there before but just had to get one more thing. Do you ignore it? Do you confront them? Do you chat with them?
  • Your child seems to mope when he comes home from school. He won’t say what’s going on. Do you continue to question him? Do you meet with the teacher? Do you call his friend’s mother and ask some questions? Do you ignore the situation? Do you ask his siblings? Do you check his room or computer usage?
  • Your boss gives you a huge pile of work to do on a Friday afternoon. The deadline is Monday. You had been considering asking for a raise. Do you do the work and give up your weekend? Do you let the boss know that you are only being paid until 5 o’clock? Do you do only what is possible within the time allotted? Do you delegate it elsewhere if possible?

[Have I captured the picture of “social anxiety” well enough? It’s not a few tablets of Paxil that’s going to help this situation in the long run! A huge portion of social anxiety is dealing with approach-avoidance conflicts. ]

Every one of these situations encompasses some kind of approach and related avoidance obstacles. These situations happen in an instant of time and the frantic decision-making is so fast it is generally beyond our conscious perception because we are weighing in so many related factors, trying to judge potential outcomes and work our way into the best possible imagined scenario. There is something we want in the situation, even if it is not to offend a friend, and something to avoid, even if it is food poisoning.

When someone is coming to a dharma center or temple of any kind for the first time they will be experiencing some form of approach-avoidance conflict. For some people this can play out for a considerable time and may even take years to deal with. Any time someone immediately complains about some “foreignness” factor it is likely that has become an obstacle for them and something to be avoided no matter how much they would like to participate. Efforts are then made to change the script to eradicate the apparent obstacle rather than deal with it and make necessary personal adjustments for the sake of the group.

For others that factor is the reason they approach. The enchantment of the new takes over and a honeymoon phase or as mentioned below in the Sutra Thumping section, an all out dharma rapture fundamentalist nightmare occurs. The fear, in that case becomes displaced into “not fitting in properly”, “not being a perfect Buddhist” so an extraordinary effort is made to adhere to the security of the script and to make sure everyone else does as well.

Both extremes are detrimental to the individual and to those around them. In both cases the obstacle is not in the situation but is one they are perceiving within themselves.

On Prosthelytizing

In the Suttas the Buddha did go out and teach and those who came to hear came willingly. He did not seek them out and attempt to convert them nor ask for their obedience or following. He offered something to those who came and particularly to those who invited him to come and teach. If only one or two people came it didn’t matter. He gave them the same quality teaching as when he spoke to crowds.

It was a voluntary thing not a coercive thing. If it rang true with the listener fine, if not then there was no compulsion to make them return.

We might want to consider that in our dharma centers (and churches!). If people are being bugged the minute they walk in the door about memberships, committees, future group activities and getting involved maybe that’s just a little coercive?

If someone asked me a lot of questions, at the end of a sitting or teaching event, such as “Are you coming back?”, “Can we count on you to sign up for membership?” etc. I’d take that as kind of pushy. If no one said anything it would be just as bad. Whereas if someone simply said, “We enjoyed having you with us today. Please come again.”  I’d take that as a real invitation. So perhaps sometimes it is the tone of the situation that determines repeat visits. If Walmart can have greeters why can’t a dharma center? Why can’t some script or protocol be devised for welcoming new members?

Personally I find prosthelytizing quite disrespectful and self-indulgent. It is an attempt to impose our solutions on someone else.

Comfortable Delusion

One of the things that seems to cause some tension is the balance between what the individual wants to accomplish in a Buddhist situation and what the group wants to accomplish. If it is only about the individual’s practice then throwing out any and all rituals, chanting etc. is no problem. (maybe) But when it becomes about the Sangha and their purpose, which I think is what is missing in a lot of Western convert contexts where everyone seems to be there for themselves mostly, then imposing an individual’s desire upon the group is not feasible.

The scripts change over time and over cultures. But there has to be some foundation for group practice before improvisation can really take place and be effective.

To modify a thing you have to have a grasp of what the thing is and how it works and why it’s arranged the way it is. For example if I want to modify a car into a racing machine it would behoove me to understand something about carburetors, headers, dual exhaust, manifolds, intake valves, cam shafts, transmissions and so forth. If I start slapping parts on or taking parts off randomly just because I like the new look or whatever that vehicle isn’t going to go anywhere.

There is a lot of talk about stripping out “cultural baggage” and so forth. This is often touted by those who cling desperately to scientific paradigms. And there is little examination, despite much information available from social science and religious scholars, of the utility of many practices and little understanding of group dynamics and related aspects in many of these calls for Nekkid Buddhism. Who is qualified to determine what is cultural baggage and what is essential?

The reason we come to dharma practice is because something isn’t working out for us with the current foundation. But if we want to recast our practice into the mold of our current foundation how can it work for us? Everything has to be examined including our own preconceptions.

Bonus Quote

Paulo Coelho paulocoelho

Writing is a socially acceptable form of getting naked in public

about 8 hours ago via web

Musical Interlude for Naked Apes

Depeche Mode-Stripped

[Or if you prefer the Rammstein version-I’m digging the lederhosen there.]

Come with me
Into the trees
We’ll lay on the grass
And let the hours pass
Take my hand
Come back to the land
Let’s get away
Just for one day
Let me see you
Stripped down to the bone
Let me see you
Stripped down to the bone
Has nothing on this
You’re breathing in fumes
I taste when we kiss
Take my hand
Come back to the land
Where everything’s ours
For a few hours
Let me see you
Stripped down to the bone
Let me see you
Stripped down to the bone
Let me hear you
Make decisions
Without your television
Let me hear you speaking
Just for me
Let me see you
Stripped down to the bone
Let me hear you speaking
Just for me
Let me see you
Stripped down to the bone
Let me hear you crying
Just for me

fakesmileSmiley Face Buddhism

Fuck it. I don’t even want to go there. See photo at left.

On Following a Bunch of Rules

Here’s something from Twitter today directed at a bunch of other bloggers. The issuer of these tweets doesn’t know any of the parties involved and has not interacted with them beyond this AFAIK. He seems to follow random Buddhist Twitter folks and harass a lot of them about rules and his own personal preferences. If it were simply his own critique I wouldn’t bother mentioning it but many of these statements seem to imply that this fellow is writing on behalf of all Buddhists everywhere.  This seems to apply only to Buddhists and not any one else, to whom he is very well mannered and considerate.

@DhammaLinks Can whoever sent the filth please cease. We read to learn and share the Dhamma not your dirty mouth. Perhaps you can leave us? 7:28 PM Feb 27th

@Bodhipaksa Sorry, I’m a bit confused. You’re listed as a Buddhist practitioner & teacher. You support euthanasia? Perhaps I misunderstood? 2:47 AM Mar 22nd

@Bodhipaksa Re papal resignation? How is this Buddhist exactly? 7:06 PM Mar 24th

@Bodhipaksa re American politics. Sorry to be nuisance, but I’m not sure of relevance of this to Buddhist practice. I’m not even American. 7:11 PM Mar 24th

@BuddhistBuzz Re the f!ck it tweet – this is disgusting and unacceptable! Whoever posted it needs to remember the 4th precept – and now! 7:24 AM Apr 18th

@newsbuddhism What has God (Kansas City Star) have to do with Buddhism? We should not propagate ignorance – there’s enough around already. 8:07 PM May 19th

@ newsbuddhism If you keep sending me same tweets, I will have to do same for you. This is an abuse of Twitter, and can’t be called “news”. 3:59 PM May 20th

@newsbuddhism I have reported your site for spam. Why? Updates mainly links; posting multiple duplicate updates. 6:40 PM May 20th

@monkforamonth I’m sorry “Monk” has your time ended? What’s with the “Divinity” thing? It’s hardly Buddhist from what I understand. 12:48 AM May 24th

@ DhammaLinks What is the relevance of the beer/farting tweet? Use of “Christ” also objectionable. I thought this site was for Dhamma. about 8 hours ago

@ DhammaLinks I suggest you don’t retweet @someguy (name changed). Remarks are offensive and inappropriate on your twitter page. about 8 hours ago

@Barbara_FuShin Sorry, Barb. I just get tired of people calling themselves Buddha & acting the opposite. Need more Metta, need more Metta, n about 3 hours ago

If you don’t like what these people write @gregqbear then UNFOLLOW. It’s not that complicated.

Dharma policing is a difficult business to get into. And once it becomes a habit it’s difficult to get out of.  And there are certainly gradations of it. Does that mean there is no room for criticism or questioning?  I think there is a difference but the line is very fine.

In terms of rules this piece seems to succinctly state the Buddhist position. (thanks again Richard-you have a talent for quotes)

‘A few days ago, Sunakkhatta came to me, saluted me, sat down to one side and said: “Lord, I am leaving the Blessed Lord, I am no longer under the Lord’s rule.” So I said to him: “Well, Sunakkhatta, did I ever say to you: ‘Come, Sunakkhatta, be under my rule’?”
“No Lord.”
“Or did you ever say to me: ‘Lord , I will be under your rule’?”
“No Lord.”
“So, Sunakkhatta, if I did not say that to you and you did not say that to me – you foolish man, who are you and what are you giving up? Consider, foolish man, how far the fault is yours.”

from Patika Sutta

There are quite a few who seem to think that obedience and following within some strict confines, usually defined by them and their interpretation of the Suttas or other texts or accomplished teachers, is not only necessary but requires their moral enforcement as well.

The difference, it seems to me, is that blind obedience to rules or texts or a teacher is a dead end street. Questioning and criticism, even strong criticism,  has a legitimate purpose.

I can think of 3 times since I began this blog that I’ve gone slightly overboard with criticism and my impulses were not primarily to elicit a dialogue but to clobber someone over the head. I am neither proud nor ashamed of that. It was what it was. But usually that’s not what I’m after.

If we make attempts to understand someone else’s viewpoint there will naturally be questions and clarifications. If we have gone too far in some endeavor it is quite likely that there will be a reaction. That’s pretty much the way the world works.

One can dismiss all criticism, take all to heart or consider it from a somewhat analytical viewpoint and check it’s validity. I choose the latter personally.

What I’ve seen over time is that there seems to be two sorts of critics involved in Internet Buddhism.

One seeks only to stifle anything that does not agree with their preconceived notions and the other that is sincerely seeking some kind of response or is expressing some honest reaction. I’ll deal with the former in the next section, Sutra Thumping. But for now I want to write about the more sincere type.

The Buddha treated others like grown ups. They were responsible for their actions and thoughts. He didn’t babysit them. They had to do it themselves. They didn’t hide behind stuff.

To resort to smiley-faces, robes woven of fancy words, fiery torches to keep detractors away all serve to keep reality at bay.  They are defenses. To encounter reality requires vulnerability.

Here’s a bunch of Pema Chodron quotes on that theme:

We don’t get wise by staying in a room with all the doors and windows closed. -Pema Chödrön 8:00 PM May 23rd

The more you’re willing to open your heart, the more challenges come along that make you want to shut it. -Pema Chödrön 4:54 PM May 22nd

The next moment is always fresh and open. You don’t have to get frozen in an identity of any kind. -Pema Chödrön 6:00 AM May 19th

Renunciation is realizing that our nostalgia for wanting to stay in a protected, limited, petty world is insane. 4:20 PM May 13th

There are whole parts of ourselves that are so unwanted that whenever they begin to come up we run away. -Pema Chödrön 4:00 PM May 8th

[A]llow yourself to feel wounded first and then try to figure out what is the right speech and right action that might follow. -Pema Chödrön 8:00 AM Apr 29th

And here’s some Chogyam Trungpa to top it off:

“If the warrior does not feel alone and sad, then he or she can be corrupted very easily. In fact, such a person may not be a warrior at all. To be a good warrior, one has to feel sad and lonely, but rich and resourceful at the same time. This makes the warrior sensitive to every aspect of phenomena: to sights, smells,… sounds, and feelings. In that sense, the warrior is also an artist, appreciating whatever goes on in the world. Everything is extremely vivid. The rustling of your armor or the sound of rain drops falling on your coat is very loud. The fluttering of occasional butterflies around you is almost an insult, because you are so sensitive.” –

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche via Rev. Danny Fisher

Sutra Thumping and Sutra Burning

I don’t want to do a whole post right now on what fundamentalism is or the difference between fundamentalism and serious study and analysis of a subject (briefly the former does not often involve the latter) but I have been seeing a lot of comments around on numerous blogs, particularly Zen blogs about Zen being a cult, people who practice Zen as being almost evil in terms of Buddhism as a whole, the use of the English word nuns instead of bhiksunis as being nearly abominable, anyone who questions rather than wholeheartedly accepts some very questionable statements and actions as being a fundamentalist and so forth. These from people who takes the label Buddhist. The writer of some of these recent comments has no opinion of their own apparently.  They either take some obscure lines of text or just blatantly make statements such as those mentioned without any justification whatsoever and refuse to engage in any sort of dialogue. And often, like some Buddhist spinmeister they throw in some text that is completely unrelated to the post on which they are commenting. (example, example, example, example– these are all the same person machado/panchenlama.  Panchenlama?!?-don’t we already have enough fake Panchen Lamas to go around-not to mention fake tulkus, priests etc)

This kind of destructive dharma (or any scripture) rapture pretty well always burns itself out. There’s absolutely nowhere to go with it. Someone figures they’ve found THE TRUTH and identifies so strongly with it and puts every bit of reason and thinking to rest that they never get much further than the state they engendered in the first place. It satisfies some deep unfulfilled desire and is applied again and again. Sort of like one’s favorite porn video. And as soon as the money shot is taken one has to start getting all lathered up again. (I didn’t intend to psychoanalyze Fred Phelps here but…ahem)

There is another kind of Thumper who isn’t particularly familiar with Sutras or anything related to it. They have enshrined their own view of what Buddhism is and often enshrined themselves as the sole keeper of said truth and anyone who disagrees or questions is some kind of heretic. These are two sides of the same deluded coin.

There is a huge difference between that kind of unthinking commentary and actual rational commentary, questioning and exchange. It seeks to silence anything that does not fall within very narrow and quite distorted parameters. And the amount of hypocrisy that is involved is very obvious.

The reason I tend to use quotes from Sutras and so forth is to insure that my opinion is based in valid Buddhist thought and not just something that I pulled out of my ass as is rather frequent on the Internet. It is first a challenge to myself to justify that my thinking is hovering somewhere in the region of Right View and that the point being made is being made with some modicum of Right Intention and usually only then is it put forward. Some folks seem to misconstrue mention of any text or any deep thinking, examination or contemplation about a topic as fundamentalism. That’s actually anti-intellectualism on their part and is something of a straw man criticism. If we are to just toss crap off the top of our heads without considering it seriously it’s just so much foam on the ocean.

This is relevant in terms of Sangha because it is one of the frequent criticisms among converts. No one wants to do any of the work involved. That doesn’t mean one has to study Pali or something and read texts in the original language.

Chanting in English is not a problem. Nor is a different fashion or seating arrangement.

I’m talking about some deeper issues. Here’s a brief example.

Dukkha translated as suffering suffers in translation. There is a huge section of the literature that explains it. I’ve hit it in a couple of posts in the past so don’t want to repeat all that. If we are not aware of the full meaning of a term how can we apply it to practice. When a concept is at the foundation of what we are doing and we’ve not understood the concept itself how much off kilter will any further work become? That’s the whole point of Right View. It’s about really understanding stuff. Not parroting it, not using it for our own selfish and self-aggrandizing purposes, not hiding behind it, but understanding it.

Music for Fancy-Brained Apes

Peter Gabriel Shock the Monkey

Shock the monkey to life
Shock the monkey to life
Cover me when I run
Cover me through the fire
Something knocked me out’ the trees
Now I’m on my knees
Cover me, darling please
Hey, hey, hey
Monkey, monkey, monkey
Don’t you know you’re gonna shock the monkey
Hey, hey
Fox the fox
Rat on the rat
You can ape the ape
I know about that
There is one thing you must be sure of
I can’t take any more
Darling, don’t you monkey with the monkey
Hey, hey, hey
Monkey, monkey, monkey
Don’t you know you’re gonna shock the monkey
Hey, hey
Shock the monkey
Hey, hey, hey, yeah
Wheels keep turning
Something’s burning
Don’t like it but I guess I’m learning
Shock! – watch the monkey get hurt, monkey
Cover me, when I sleep
Cover me, when I breathe
You throw your pearls before the swine
Make the monkey blind
Cover me, darling please
Hey, hey, hey, yeah
Too much at stake
Ground beneath me shake
And the news is breaking
Shock! – watch the monkey get hurt, monkey
Shock the monkey
Shock the monkey
Shock the monkey to life (repeat 6 times)
Shock the monkey
Shock the monkey to life

More More More More More on Idiocy [addendum]

In the comments of the last post about Idiot Compassion someone left a spam comment that is linked to selling a t-shirt. The t-shirt is to promote people to draw pictures of Mohammed on May 20th as some sort of outburst against the South-Park kerfuffle. Here is their spam-comment:

movieflight said on Manifestations of Idiot Compassion

April 30, 2010 at 02:27

In response to the South Park censorship, May 20 has been designated Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. Google it. Pass it along!

Someone sent me an email taking note of the spam-comment and wrote this above it:

I think this one is out of place……

But it occurs to me that such a cause, if you want to call it that, and such a reaction to it;the spam-comment, particularly since the main purpose is to sell t-shirts and not really to support anti-censorship efforts, is a good example of idiocy and is especially ironic in this situation.

The fundamentalist Muslim guy (and he’s a guy – maybe two guys – not a huge terrorist organization as people have tried to make out)  who wrote the incendiary Internet post about South Park in the first place has written further on that subject. The spam-comment goes some distance to lend a hint of credibility to what has been said:

from Revolution Muslim-run by the blogger that originally wrote in a threatening manner about the South Park creators.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Clarifying the South Park Response and Calling on Others to Join in the Defense of the Prophet Muhammad –

The cancer we are referring to is that of American imperialism and its coincident culture of pagan hedonistic barbarism, a culture which drives to dehumanize the intrinsic morality of the rest of the world. As it stands today the vast majority of the world has witnessed the cloud of American debauchery, and those whom it has not hovered over have at the very least been affected by its dust.

It is no secret that America’s military uses American goods to spread its culture and propaganda in order to create docile societies.

In order to survive, empires must conscript support, and they usually impose loyal indigenous elite over the lands they conquer. Oftentimes these loyal elite find ways of influencing the home front as well. Empire is primarily concerned with preserving political, economic, and military dominance and therefore tends to portray itself as tolerant and pluralistic of the cultures and customs of they come to conquer.

However, a closer objective analysis always reveals that this tolerance is a guise of strategy and is only apparent where the conquered are willing to retain personal customs and control in exchange for the sacrifice of indigenous sovereignty over wealth, natural resource, and political decision. Thus while empires rape and extract the material wealth of the people they dominate, they grant the seeming retention of indigenous language, custom, religion and the like.

In reality, this focus on power and control leads to the actual loss of spiritual, psychological, and emotional health and, as an oligarchy is imposed, the educated class is granted modest concessions and then political and economic rights of the general people are violated for the long term. This requires that what a conquered people consider sacred must be portrayed as backwards. While this process tends to occur subconsciously it leads to a sense of power and privilege on the home shores of the imperialist, and that serves as a justification for the atrocities committed and thereby minimized on the frontier. The term “sand-nigger” or “camel jockey” did not start with American soldiers on the ground in Iraq, but was a phrase coined during Britain’s imperialist adventure in the Middle East. The ‘other’s’ culture and custom must always be degraded in order to retain a justification for physical domination. Media always plays a role in perpetuating these ideas.

The contemporary American Empire is dependent on a hedonistic, consumerist mindset that effectively numbs the general world populace and keeps them ignorant and oblivious to the imperialist reality.

Now here is what some other Muslims had to say about the situation in their blogs and columns.  Interesting to read the comments involved there too.

from Irshad – a blog which has the subtitle “For Muslim Reform and Moral Courage” -Irshad Manji is Canadian woman Muslim writer

Sign my petition… or else

See, as a faithful Muslim who’s trying to educate her fellow Muslims that Islam can be reconciled with free expression, I’m offended by the broadcaster of South Park, a channel called Comedy Central, which has censored any mention of Muhammad. I’m offended that the executives are caving to Islamist criminals. I’m offended that they’re infantilizing Muslims by expecting so little from us. Above all, I’m offended that they’re making my mission of Muslim reform that much harder.

from The Chicago Islam Examiner – Qasim Rashid has has quite a number of articles on this topic.

In mocking Prophet Muhammad, has South Park gone too far?

So, in mocking the Prophet Muhammad, has South Park gone too far?  The answer is, it’s irrelevant.  Regardless of how someone might desire to insult Islam or the Prophet Muhammad, it is never an excuse to respond in violence.  Such a notion has no place in Islam.

Prophet Muhammad and South Park: a Muslim sets the record straight

Muslims have not been humiliated, the Prophet Muhammad has certainly not been irreparably reviled, and everything sacred in Islam is still sacred, rest assured.  Did South Park wish to offend Muslims?  Probably, but so what?  Why only be offended when Prophet Muhammad is mocked?  Since Muslims believe in all prophets of God, why not demonstrate displeasure when Prophet Jesus is regularly mocked?  Is Prophet Buddha snorting cocaine an acceptable belief to Islam?  Of course not.

In mocking Jesus, Moses, Bhudda, and Krishna, has South Park gone too far?

Islam champions freedom of thought and forbids compulsion in such matters. (HQ 2:256). However, a restriction on compulsion of thought and a promotion of vulgarity in the name of free speech are quite different phenomenon.

Has it become impossible to express freedom of speech without resorting to offensive depictions of some of history’s most beloved individuals?  Why is it more funny, or funny at all to have such people derided and mocked? We don’t mock contemporary heroes such as Dr. King, who, looked to personages like Prophet Jesus for their inspiration.  Then, why malign the legacy of the people who revolutionized our world?

from altmuslim comment Aziz Poonawalla writes:

South Park and the freedom to blaspheme

I don’t watch South Park, and likely never will. But I much prefer their attempt at depiction of the Prophet, which is rooted in a simple need to assert their creative freedom, rather than any genuine intent to defame or insult Islam – quite unlike the Danish newspaper cartoons, which were created with only malice in mind. To understand this, compare and contrast the images of the Prophet as a super hero or a bear, versus a dark figure with a bomb in his turban. The real insult to the Prophet is in refusing to make a distinction at all.

The American Muslim response to insults to the Prophet is mostly indifference with perhaps some wounded silence. Only one nut on one lone website made any threat – the rest of us have behaved as anyone would to an impolite fool slandering our loved ones: by ignoring them. Instead, we’ve saved our critique for the real idiots in this silly tale – the ones who think Islam and the Prophet actually need defending from mere cartoons.

from Muslim Matters author Amad writes:

South Park Episode & Censorship of Mohammed’s (S) Depiction: The Script Played to Perfection

As far as the Islamic ruling around the issue of defaming the Prophet (S), many scholars have discussed this in the context of an Islamic state (like on Islam-QA). Islam pays a great deal of attention on individual actors not taking state matters in their own hands in an Islamic state. We can argue and discuss the rulings around blasphemy in an Islamic state, but that discussion is irrelevant to the issue at hand. No respectable scholar residing in the East, with any sort of mainstream following, has urged Muslims in the West to take the law in their own hands, and to resort to violence. Similarly, the fact that NOT ONE mainstream scholar in the West has ever encouraged or approved of violence by Muslims in this issue, is sufficient to prove that any other opinion is a fringe, marginalized view with no place in the mainstream public sphere.

from The American Muslim Robert Salaam writes:

South Park creators getting death threats

Some Muslims are just ignorant plain and simple.  It baffles the mind how hypocritical we are at times.  How can we truly ever get angry at any cartoon called “Muhammad” if we don’t even know what the Prophet (saw) actually looked like?  It’s just stupid that we would get offended as if a cartoon actually held any power over the Messenger of God (saw) or Allah (swt).  Is our faith that weak that we believe we have to go defending Allah (swt) and the Prophets (saw) honor every time someone draws an image or uses the name?  We are hypocrites for a myriad of reasons on this issue.  For one thing, if we were to actually get angry we are supposed to get angry at the depiction of ALL Prophets and Messengers, peace and blessings be upon them, of God.  So where is our “outrage” when Jesus (as) or Moses (as), etc. are depicted?  I know, I know, crickets….  Furthermore, don’t we have more important things to be angry about?  You know like the suffering and oppression of Muslims in so-called Muslim lands, carried out by so-called fellow Muslims?  You know where Muslim women are routinely raped in Darfur, child brides bleed to death in Yemen from forced intercourse, and people are routinely killed, harassed, etc. all over?  Have we become so perverted that we would give death threats to cartoonists and ignore suffering under our noses.  Why not use all that zealotry to fix our lands and truly make them a place where Muslims feel safe and secure and lands in which our neighbors feel safe.  You know as the Prophet (saw) actually ordered us to.  Do we really think the Prophet (saw) would prefer us threaten cartoonists over providing and defending the orphan, woman, weak, wayfarer, and fellow believers in our own lands?  We are a terribly misguided Ummah!  Leave these people alone.  Allah (swt) will chastise whom HE wills in this life and the hereafter.  Surely the Creator of the Universe has the power to deal with a cartoon if He chose to.  Maybe it’s just me, but we have more important things to be “outraged” about.

So within the Muslim community there seems to be a lot more variety of opinion than major news media and t-shirt-selling spam-comment writers could imagine.

Why I Think This Whole Thing is Idiotic

There is just more than enough idiocy to go around in this situation. The whole thing, from every side is a pretty small blip on the global scale radar. But there is money and attention to be had on all sides by whipping this up into some kind of frenzy.

Everybody is pimping the Prophet in this one.


Satire is known in many cultures. It is:

1.the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc.

2.a literary composition, in verse or prose, in which human folly and vice are held up to scorn, derision, or ridicule.

3.a literary genre comprising such compositions.


Medieval Arabic poetry included the satiric genre hija. Satire was introduced into Arabic prose literature by the Afro-Arab author Al-Jahiz in the 9th century. While dealing with serious topics in what are now known as anthropology, sociology and psychology, he introduced a satirical approach, “based on the premise that, however serious the subject under review, it could be made more interesting and thus achieve greater effect, if only one leavened the lump of solemnity by the insertion of a few amusing anecdotes or by the throwing out of some witty or paradoxical observations. He was well aware that, in treating of new themes in his prose works, he would have to employ a vocabulary of a nature more familiar in hija, satirical poetry.”

from Wikipedia

There is also Arabic satire and Persian satire [so it’s not like an American invention or only understood by English speaking people]

The Idiocy of South Park

Not a fan of South Park. It’s creators have been hailed as some kind of post-modern prophets rampaging through the temples and ideals many people hold in some kind of regard.  They are busy deconstructing all the sacred cows in their little frat-boy way with their high-school art-class doodled cartoon with the wind up jack-in-the-box music and we are all supposed to take it up as some kind of huge revelation. No thanks. There’s more insightful stuff on YouTube. Yeah OK I am a satire snob.

Nobody really listens to any issue, however legitimate, when someone is insulting and boorish. [and boring]

The Idiocy of Threats Against the South Park Creators

The South Park portrayal of Mohammed was not something that rational people would even take seriously. Getting into a big snit and quoting Osama bin Laden and then requesting a rational dialogue is a little hypocritical and over the top. Attention seeking behavior of this kind is not all that different than the South Park creators.

Nobody really listens to any issue, however legitimate, when someone is shouting and threatening. [and boring]

The Idiocy of Spam-Comment T-Shirt Sellers

Now even if there were some concerted non-commercial effort to stage a Draw the Prophet event it just comes off as pointless.  Expressing some smug slogan is not going to change centuries of history or the beliefs of millions of people.

What’s the purpose of even suggesting this? What will be accomplished? What is the goal?

Let’s all go way off the deep end because South Park guys did what they do in their attention seeking way to make money and one Muslim guy did what he did to get attention and some news coverage, and then have a bunch of people piss all over the whole Islamic religion and the many hundreds of thousands who didn’t get irate or even bother to get involved.

Keep some damn perspective.

Every religion, belief, philosophy, opinion is open to abuse from both the outside and within. Whether from Dharma-pimps, Jesus-pimps, Mohammed-pimps, atheist-pimps or just the straight out money-making pimps like at South Park.  If there is gain to be made from anything there is someone willing to exploit it.

Why is this even an issue?

[Probably because a bunch of people will actually jump on that bandwagon, buy t-shirts, draw pictures for their blogs and get all self-righteous-y about doing their part to combat anti-censorship]

Here’s another interesting link from the Christian Science Monitor ‘South Park’ episode 201 and the frustration of being Muslim-American


From this blog post

Everybody Draw Muhammad Day

which links to this blog post

Freedom of sketch

which links to this blog post

Post-‘South Park’: Cartoonist retreats from ‘Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!’ [UPDATED]

I’ve  finally tracked down where this idea originated. And there are bandwagon jumpers aplenty. A Facebook group Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. among other things has been set up. (There is also a “Ban Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” Facebook page) People such as Dan Savage and Andrew Sullivan have also decided to participate.

It is highly ironic that the originator of this idiocy had this to say in the Washington Post.

In that interview, Norris said of the Facebook campaign: “Dare me, I’ll pursue it.” A day later, however, she told Comic Riffs she had a change of heart, saying the campaign had grown far larger than she intended and that her cartoon was being appropriated in ways that were beyond her control. [sort of like the image of Mohammed?]

…As for the larger campaign, Norris says simply: “I just want to go back to my quiet life.”

Duh! Maybe she knows how a lot of Muslims feel then.

Some More Links About This

Draw Mohammed by John Kranz of Three

The South Park Test by David Hazony of Commentary Magazine

Everybody Burn the Flag: If we don’t act like inconsiderate jerks, the terrorists will have won! and Everybody Draw Rebuttals from David Taranto of the Wall Street Journal

Manifestations of Idiot Compassion

“There’s nothing that’s going to make me run away faster than somebody who comes around and wants to be helpful.”

Charlotte Joko Beck Roshi quoted on Ox Herding blog

Idiot compassion is a term first brought to popularity by Chogyam Trungpa.  It speaks especially today to the superficialities that pervade popular culture.  I want to  outline what the term originally meant as well as to go into some of it’s related manifestations and possible psychological causes and finally to suggest a few remedies for it.

Compassion vs Idiot Compassion

Compassion involves being openly engaged with others and a setting aside of the ego. Some time ago, I thought of compassion as: The right action at the right time in response to another’s suffering.  Compassion deals with the essentials of a situation not with the extraneous. Compassion comes from a place of equanimity, a clear place from which necessity can be discerned.

Idiot compassion, on the other hand is a result of self-engagement using another as a prop in our own emotional drama and for our own egoistic fulfillment. 

Idiot compassion is the highly conceptualized idea that you want to do good to somebody. At this point, good is purely related with pleasure. Idiot compassion also stems from not have enough courage to say no.

Chogyam Trungpa quoted in Idiot Compassion blog post

It is interesting that he used the phrase “do good to somebody.” rather than “for somebody”. And Trungpa Rinpoche certainly knew enough about semantics not to have stated it that way by accident. Doing something “to somebody” implies an outside force or an infliction and imposition upon them rather than an alleviation of their situation.

…idiot compassion, which is compassion with neurosis, a slimy way of trying to fulfill your desire secretly. This is your aim, but you give the appearance of being generous and impersonal.

Chogyam Trungpa quoted in Recalling Chögyam Trungpa (p.191)

The neurotic tendencies of idiot compassion are something I want to delineate later on, but for now here is a somewhat lengthier piece on distinguishing between the two.

We need to distinguish true compassion from “idiot compassion”. We sometimes over-react emotionally at the sight of suffering. We can be so distressed that we weep uncontrollably, faint or run away in horror. Our heart may be moved with pity but our emotions are so out-of-control that we can’t do anything to help! In other cases we might do something but because we lack right understanding of the problem or the person experiencing it, our “help” only makes the situation worse. These are examples of idiot compassion. True compassion balances loving-concern with clear wisdom. This wisdom enables us to stay calm and think clearly how best to help, without being carried away by our emotions.

Ven Sangye Khadro  from The Four Immeasurables

Good Intentioned Efforts

Even idiot compassion has some good intentions at it’s core. However the more one gets into it the less these intentions manifest. If we run amok with trying to demonstrate our own good intentions we lose the focus of those intentions and it becomes a highly unskillful and even damaging activity.

One of the Buddha’s most penetrating discoveries is that our intentions are the main factors shaping our lives and that they can be mastered as a skill. If we subject them to the same qualities of mindfulness, persistence, and discernment involved in developing any skill, we can perfect them to the point where they will lead to no regrets or damaging results in any given situation; ultimately, they can lead us to the truest possible happiness. To train our intentions in this way, though, requires a deep level of self-awareness.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu from The Road to Nirvana Is Paved with Skillful Intentions 

Lack of self-awareness is the main reason idiot compassion manifests. We don’t even know why we are doing something so it is nearly impossible to determine what effects it might have on others.


Idiot compassion has a lot more to do with our own expectations, self-image and desires than fulfilling a real need.

It comes from a self-delusion that we are “helping” someone while at the same time we are either doing no good for them or even damaging or destroying them. We are not taking reality feedback but are filtering out that which would demonstrate our ineffectiveness.  We are not aware of ourselves in reality but only in some kind of self-created dream.

There is little time or effort made in understanding a situation before interfering with it.  We start supporting other people’s real or imagined dramas as a way of bolstering our own little heroic drama, without first determining whether lending such advice or energy is appropriate.

One of the features of idiot compassion is that it is accompanied by feelings of disillusionment.  Whatever we do for someone doesn’t seem to “satisfy”. We must do more, continue on the same road, push harder, be completely successful at our person-saving or world-saving endeavor, and this generates even greater expectations. And greater disillusionment and discomfort.

If you look carefully at the reasons for our disillusionment with good intentions, you’ll find that they all come down to delusion: delusion in how we formulate our intentions, delusion in how we perceive our intentions, and delusion in how we attend to their results. As the Buddha tells us, delusion is one of the three main roots for unskillful mental habits, the other two being greed and aversion. These unskillful roots lie entangled with skillful roots — states of mind that are free of greed, aversion, and delusion — in the soil of the untrained heart. If we can’t isolate and dig up the unskillful roots, we can never be fully sure of our intentions. Even when a skillful intention seems foremost in the mind, the unskillful roots can quickly send up shoots that blind us as to what’s actually going on.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu from The Road to Nirvana Is Paved with Skillful Intentions

Confusion of Impetus, Emotion and Reaction

When we come across a situation that invokes an emotional response there is often no time taken to assess the situation.

Situation-emotion-reaction all seem to occur in a blur before we become aware of what is actually happening. Most of that is habitual and caused by our experiencing only the results of other’s reactions to situations. For example when a parent yells at us when we are children we register this as anger. But it is not anger itself. It is a sub-consciously chosen (habitual and conditioned) response to the angry emotion arising within them. And if that anger was provoked by some action on our part that action gets tied into the response. It appears to us to be one big thing-anger. But there are gaps between all three of situation, emotion and response.

When a situation occurs there is a gap that immediately follows. It is a time when conditioned reactions starts to bubble up.  The ego says, “I have to do something about that!” An emotion may then arise within that gap. With the same stimulus there can be numerous emotional arisings such as anger, sadness, relief. These are dependent upon the conditioning of the individual experiencing the situation. [Just check out a number of movie reviews to see what I mean-How could so many people have so many different reactions to the same thing?]

Should anger, for example, arise there is another gap between that and the expression of that anger. A decision is made to perhaps yell, walk away, deny the feeling. Again the options are dependent upon the conditioning of the individual.

Equanimity at the point of the incident occurring is what allows real compassion to arise before any conditioned emotion or response. This is experiencing the situation as it actually is before the ego can get involved and taint any reactions.

When we deal only with the response portion of this set we can become very confused about what is happening both emotionally and in reality.  The confusion is between cause and effect.

In the case of idiot compassion we want to believe we are “good people”, “helpful”, “nice”.  So we exhibit these behaviors regardless of the actual situation or underlying emotions. The behavior alone, free floating as it were, in the situation does not make the situation into what we want it to be. For instance deciding to “make nice” does not make a tense situation become nice. All the underlying tension remains but it is packaged up in a pretty way. Again this is a confusion of cause and effect.  This is disconnected from reality.

Confusion of Applications of Principles 

There are numerous things that are idealized on any spiritual path. These include peace, love, compassion, happiness, serenity, joy, generosity, insight, effort, patience, equanimity and many others. In Buddhism they are called perfections (paramitas) and are seen by many as something of an absolute expression.

The problem is that these are culminations of certain virtues. They are ideals. They are something that we cultivate in practice in order to get to know their meaning.  They are not, unless we are supremely enlightened individuals, in their perfect form. They must be learned, examined and through effort cultivated and grown.

All too often though, many of us try to imagine what these perfections mean and attempt to act in the way our imaginations dictate. We try to make a short cut to perfection. And we may also try to convince ourselves and others that we really do embody these perfections absolutely.

If we have to make such an effort at demonstrating these things, then it is another delusion. When a thing is perfected, or nearly perfected it becomes effortless because it has been developed as part of our being. If we are trying to fit an absolute into a still relative and samsaric situation, and the amount of effort will tell if that is the case, then we are not quite there yet.  This is along the same line as those who would say, “I am already Buddha” and not bother with any sort of practice.

The reason this is important regarding idiot compassion is that it is often the excuse given for idiotic behavior. One says “I believe in this or that” as if it justifies any sort of activity.  Just because one believes in Buddhist principles does not make one omniscient with regard to the rest of the world nor does it make one a Bodhisattva or a Buddha.

It does not give one the right to decide things in other people’s lives, to bully people, to force issues, to have one’s own way like a giant child.

We cannot reasonably say “I’m sincerely spiritual” or “I’m following Buddhist doctrine” or “I am practicing compassion” and excuse ridiculous behavior.  These statements are meaningless if behavior contradicts them. That is generally the case with idiot compassion.


Rescuing is doing something for someone when it has not been asked for but is based on our guess at another’s wants or needs.  We surmise, based on our own experience not on the situation at hand, a course of action for someone else. This course of action always includes our continued involvement and importance as rescuer. The main beneficiary of such actions are not those in need but those who come to give rescue. On a big scale a lot of international aid operates in this fashion. On a smaller scale this is like the person who is the uber-volunteer, sits on every committee and becomes involved in every cause, particularly those with a high profile, imaginable. There are a lot of Hollywood celebrities who practice idiot compassion in this way.

Once rescue has been set up the continued role of the donor often becomes one of enabler. There is an inability to let the situation go and a co-dependent cycle is engendered.


Idiot compassion … refers to something we all do a lot of and call it compassion. In some ways, it’s what’s called enabling. It’s the general tendency to give people what they want because you can’t bear to see them suffering. Basically, you’re not giving them what they need. You’re trying to get away from your feeling of I can’t bear to see them suffering. In other words, you’re doing it for yourself. You’re not really doing it for them. 

Pema Chodron from IDIOT COMPASSION

Helping and enabling are often confused with each other. Helping is doing something beneficial for a person incapable of doing for themselves. Enabling is doing something that the person could and should be doing for themselves, or assisting them to do something non-beneficial for one’s own purposes. Helping is the manifestation of compassion. Enabling prolongs suffering and leads to co-dependency. Enabling is an insult to another’s capabilities and dignity and is only ego gratification for the need-to-be-needed individual.

Habitual Reactions

The same goes for compassion. As one of the greatest 20 century Tibetan teachers, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, has said, ‘It is better not to have any compassion than to have idiot compassion’. What is idiot compassion? It is when, without thinking, our heart pours out and we become obsessed, so over whelmed by the object of our compassion that we loose our sense of focus. We become completely overwhelmed. So, even when we have compassion, we also have to be present, be aware.

Venerable Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche from Buddhist Meditation and Mental Well-being

Idiot compassion is just going through the motions that appear compassionate without the deep connection to the situation or others involved. We are connected only to our closed loop of an emotional state and use the outside situation to bolster that.

We learn a lot of idiot compassion from those around us. We watch their actions, see them being admired and praised and attempt to do the same without consideration of the deeper aspects of either the situation or our own psychological motivation.

Psychological Defense Mechanisms-Denial and Projection-Expressions of Superiority

Denial and projection are a couple of many psychological defense mechanisms to protect our ego from feeling hurt and to prevent acknowledging the reality of our context as well as messages that can shake up our self-images.

Denial comes in many forms. And when we have confused emotion with emotional response we do not go deeper into a situation. We re-enact the behavior without impetus from the actual situation. Often this becomes a blanket approach to everything we do. In order to avoid conflict, deal with fear, anger or other emotions that we label unpleasant we decide to “make nice” all the time thinking that by doing so the world will become nice and our unpleasant feelings will go away. It doesn’t work and these things will re-appear in different guises.

One of the ways by example is the oft heard dictum “If you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all.”  This is a reflection of the original way Trungpa Rinpoche outlined the term idiot compassion. It is an unthinking blanket statement that calls for very little reflection. And it is most often applied to others who would engage with the depth of a situation. It is about the speaker of the phrase attempting to control the dialogue to avoid dealing with their own deep feelings about the matter or about themselves.

This is in particular used as the meaning of Right Speech in Buddhist circles. Some also make the “Shut Up” dictum into a loftier call for “Noble Silence” or “Calm Abiding” in every situation.  This means of social control has been used to keep the silence on more than a few cases of irregular, damaging and even criminal behavior. It is the Omertà of the Buddhist Sangha.

And it is also incorrect. The criteria for Right Speech as outlined in the Pali canon states:

[1] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial (or: not connected with the goal), unendearing & disagreeable to others, he does not say them.

[2] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, unbeneficial, unendearing & disagreeable to others, he does not say them.

[3] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, but unendearing & disagreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them.

[4] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, but endearing & agreeable to others, he does not say them.

[5] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, unbeneficial, but endearing & agreeable to others, he does not say them.

[6] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, and endearing & agreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them. Why is that? Because the Tathagata has sympathy for living beings.”

from Abhaya Sutta at Access to Insight

There are many factors involved in right speech. Truth and  benefit are the two main criteria for speaking. The tone-agreeableness or disagreeableness and the emotional content-endearing or unendearing are subject to proper timing.

Right speech is not some simplistic dictum nor is it a blanket condemnation against any sort of thoughtful critique. It is as considered and measured as any other action.

Thus these three qualities — right view, right effort, & right mindfulness — run & circle around right speech.

from Maha-cattarisaka Sutta: The Great Forty translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

In some cases it is not only speech or relatively momentary things that are denied. It can become one’s whole way of being in the world that becomes denied in favor of some gloss of misguided compassion that fits into a pre-packaged self-image.

Consider the stereotype of Nurse Ratched in the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as an extreme example. Her image of herself as a caring helping professional was very rigid. She could not acknowledge any harm she might be doing, deeply denied her own sense of feeling superior to everyone,  and even denied her urge to despise the patients. As well she projecting her own wish to do violence onto the motives of the patients. All of which manifested in a cruelty and complete lack of empathy, even though she would have argued otherwise. That is an extreme and fictional example of what pathological idiot compassion can do when it manifests. And yes she is a fictional character. But one of the most memorable in movie history. The reason for that is that in a lot of ways many of us have identified either with her or against her depending upon our experiences in life. Her actions have contained some grain of truth.

I found this definition of compassion on a New Age/Business advice website:

Compassion is the mindfulness that imagines how it would be to exist in somebody else’s shoes. It is the mindfulness that allows us to treat somebody else in the way we would wish to be treated. It is feeling and recognizing one’s self in the other form.

This is projection and one of the significant elements in idiot compassion. The words sound about right but they are all about self-involvement rather than actual involvement with another’s reality. It is all about “me”. While one is engaged in imagining what is required rather than assessing the real situation any opportunity to act in a genuinely compassionate way is lost. What results then is an imaginary recipe for an imaginary situation. Just to note that mindfulness and imagination are very different mental activities. While one is busy imagining it is quite difficult to be mindful of anything beyond the imagination.

In that definition we are simply transplanting our ego into some other situation. We presuppose our wishes to be their wishes. In many circumstances that may not be the case. Another person’s solution to a dilemma may vary markedly from our own. In that case we must investigate their experience without interposing our own as a veneer onto the situation. 

Just by example consider a friend who has just been cheated upon in a relationship. We may know our own feelings about such a circumstance. Can we apply that to the friend as well? Can we advise them to dump their partner because that is what we would do unequivocally? Maybe it is best just to listen to their experience and not draw conclusions for them. We can offer input, reflection and another perspective on an issue but we are not the ones who have to live with the decisions that others need to make.

It is often a gesture of dominance to rush ahead with whatever comes to mind the minute some situation arises. By placing the receiver in a position of enfeeblement rather than empowerment we short-circuit their own decision making power by imposing our own.

This sometimes occurs in situations where a person may need some assistance but it can also occur where assistance is implied by someone else. How many times have you seen people shout at a blind person as if they were deaf as well? Or rather than be patient with another person, how often have we seen someone just take up the task they are involved in with a harumphing sigh, “I’ll just have to do it myself.”? These instances have a subtext which says the receiver is not capable, intelligent or up to the standards of action of the other party. This attitude is at the root of abuse of all kinds. It dehumanizes others and objectifies them to appeal to our own sense of superiority.

Self- and Other Indulgence

As we examine our intentions, we need to learn how to say no to unskillful motives in a way that’s firm enough to keep them in check but not so firm that it drives them underground into subconscious repression. We can learn to see the mind as a committee: the fact that unworthy impulses are proposed by members of the committee doesn’t mean that we are unworthy. We don’t have to assume responsibility for everything that gets brought to the committee floor. Our responsibility lies instead in our power to adopt or veto the motion.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu from The Road to Nirvana Is Paved with Skillful Intentions

Idiot compassion will not often say no to another or to it’s own involvement in an activity. There is an assumption that others cannot get along without some intervention. And the intervention is based on self-indulgence.  And there is often a subtle aggression to idiot compassion that is not evident in actual compassion.

With idiot compassion there is little reasoning involved in whether the activity is beneficial or not. The only criteria is that the doer feels better about themselves, or less distressed momentarily. In this regard it is rather like an addict’s behavior. There is not much sound reasoning nor is there much foresight. And there is little actual regard for others involved. It is all about making the initiator feel better.

As well aggression in others can be maintained or aggravated if we are not able to pull out of the “playing at compassion” game. There are times when real compassion has to firmly say no or walk away from a situation.

Idiot compassion is the highly conceptualized idea that you want to do good….Of course, [according to the mahayana teachings of Buddhism] you should do everything for everybody; there is no selection involved at all. But that doesn’t mean to say that you have to be gentle all the time. Your gentleness should have heart, strength. In order that your compassion doesn’t become idiot compassion, you have to use your intelligence. Otherwise, there could be self-indulgence of thinking that you are creating a compassionate situation when in fact you are feeding the other person’s aggression. If you go to a shop and the shopkeeper cheats you and you go back and let him cheat you again, that doesn’t seem to be a very healthy thing to do for others.

Chogyam Trungpa from Ocean of Dharma website

While behaving in an unreal or inauthentic way to preserve a false sense of order or calm or niceness in our daily doings we are not only short-changing ourselves but others. They cannot seriously rely upon us to make reasonable choices or any choices that are not self-serving. Nobody can rely on someone who is not honest with themselves.

Idiot compassion also stems from not have enough courage to say no.

Chogyam Trungpa quoted in Idiot Compassion blog post


Compassion automatically invites you to relate with people because you no longer regard people as a drain on your energy.

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche quoted in blog post Helping Others without Hurting Ourselves.

A lot of idiot compassion stems from a desire to stop others from bothering us with their concerns. It saves us time to simply dole out some band-aid and move on with our day and away from any discomfort others may bring up. And at the same time it preserves the sense that we are making some positive contribution in the world. (see my post Right Lifestyle  for a longer discussion of this)

Real compassion is not fearful of what may be brought forward by others. Real compassion engages with that where it is, however it is and does so for as long as is reasonably possible.

The self-serving type of idiot compassion operates on short time limits, immediate results, instant gratification and does not respect the boundaries of others nor does it empower others to do things in their own lives.

Boundary Transgression and Control

When we give lip service to compassion through acts of idiot compassion we do not allow others to actually deal with their own experiences in a meaningful way.  We ask, or rather demand that they follow our prescription.

Idiot compassion takes a lot of energy. We are not only trying to orient ourselves through a fog towards a self-serving goal but are trying to steer others in a similar direction.  It’s more about controlling our own comfort levels than helping.

The slogan “Don’t misinterpret” means don’t impose the wrong notion of what harmony is, what compassion is, what patience is, what generosity is. Don’t misinterpret what these things really are. There is compassion and there is idiot compassion;there is patience and there is idiot patience;there is generosity and there is idiot generosity. For example trying to smooth everything out to avoid confrontation, to not rock the boat, is not what’s meant by compassion or patience. That’s what is meant by control. Then you are not trying to step into the unknown territory, to find yourself more naked with less protection and therefore more in contact with reality. Instead, you use the idiot forms of compassion and so forth just to get ground.

Pema Chodron  from Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion (p.145)

A lot of idiot compassion is about co-dependence and a lot of co-dependence is about control.  The “giver” of the idiot-compassion becomes the controller of the situation with the ability to withdraw their support at any time. This encourages dependence upon the controlling party. The controlling party then encourages further dependence in order to maintain that sense of control. It is a typical co-dependent cycle.

In these scenarios the donor often seeks some acknowledgement of gratitude if not outright publicity for their alleged altruism and kindness. It becomes a constant need to demonstrate this aspect of one’s self. A lot of activists fall into this kind of trap.

When altruism is not compensated by attention and praise, it can bring to the forefront the practices of shame and shaming and even become a process of victimizing those who are already in a vulnerable position.

Shaming of Others or Self-shame

Expectations of gratitude can become shaming behavior when boundaries are too fluid. Phrases like “After all I’ve done for you.” or “They are so ungrateful.” are common complaints of the idiotically compassionate.

Recipients of this kind of abuse can become ashamed of themselves, fearful of upsetting things and further on can begin to practice idiot compassion themselves since they become unsure of boundaries,  intolerant or fearful of confrontation, lose the ability to object and seek validation of their self-worth through indiscriminate caring and tolerance even to the point of enabling outrageous behavior.  All hidden behind a guise of apparent caring and concern.

There is also the possibility of turning the situation into self-pity and then projecting that upon others. This becomes a sort of false empathy because the empathy being felt is for one’s self not for another. This particular form often contains statements such as, “I know exactly how you feel.” about situations that the person has never encountered and dealt with or even investigated or questioned. This is usually followed up by a personal story about some unrelated loss or issue. It can lead again to misapplications of what is actually required in the given situation.

There is a confusion between behaving in a “spiritually correct” fashion and spiritual maturity. Children, for example, get caught in this kind of dilemma a lot. They are expected to meet standards of behavior without understanding them. When you hear phrases, or say such phrases to yourself, such as, “I am trying to be good.” , “I must behave better.”, “I shouldn’t make that kind of mistake.” then it is about correct surface behavior as outlined by others and identifying with that rather than realizing the complete reality of the situation. 

When some or all of these things enter the picture at their root are often fear and anger.

Fear and Anger

Pretending to be kind and act compassionately out of fear of rejection or being judged to be somehow inferior (or to demonstrate superiority which is the same thing in another guise) or because we wish to avoid confrontation or disruptive emotions is avoidance behavior. We are not dealing with the situation as it presents itself either in our lives or within our own beings. We are sneaking around and slipping by it.

Trungpa Rinpoche used the word “slimy” to describe this behavior (in a the third quote in this post) and this is possibly a reference to the Brahmajala Sutta in which Buddha outlines the four grounds of those he calls Eel-Wrigglers:

“There are, monks, some… who are Eel-Wrigglers. When asked about this or that matter, they resort to evasive statements, and they wriggle like eels on four grounds…

“In this case there [one] who does not in truth know whether a thing is good or bad. He thinks : ‘I do not in truth know whether this is good or whether it is bad. Not knowing which is right, I might declare : “That is good”, or “‘That is bad”, and that might be a lie, and that would distress me. And if I were distressed, that would be a hindrance to me.’ Thus fearing to lie, abhorring to lie, he does not declare a thing to be good or bad, but when asked about this or that matter, he resorts to evasive statements and wriggles like an eel : ‘I don’t say this, I don’t say that. I don’t say it is otherwise. I don’t say it is not. I don’t not say it is not.’ This is the first case.”

“What is the second way? Here [one] does not in truth know whether a thing is good or bad. He thinks : “I might declare : ‘That is good’, or ‘That is bad’, and I might feel desire or lust or hatred or aversion. If I felt desire, lust, hatred or aversion, that would be attachment on my part. If I felt attachment, that would distress me, and if I were distressed, that would be a hindrance to me.” Thus, fearing attachment, abhorring attachment, he resorts to evasive statements … This is the second case.”

“What is the third way? Here [one] does not in truth know whether a thing is good or bad. He thinks : “I might declare : ‘That is good’, or ‘That is bad’, but there are [those] who are wise, skilful, practiced debaters, like archers who can split hairs, who go around destroying others’ views with their wisdom, and they might cross-examine me, demanding my reasons and arguing. And I might not be able to reply. Not being able to reply would distress me, and if I were distressed, that would be a hindrance to me.’ Thus, fearing debate, abhorring debate, he resorts to evasive statements. This is the third case.”

“What is the fourth way? Here [one] is dull and stupid. Because of his dullness and stupidity, when he is questioned he resorts to evasive statements and wriggles like an eel : “If you ask me whether there is another world – if I thought so, I would say there is another world. But I don’t say so. And I don’t say otherwise. And I don’t say it is not, and I don’t not say it is not.”…”Both … ?” ‘Neither … ?’  ‘If I thought so, I would say so … I don’t say it is not.’ This is the fourth case.”

abbreviated and adapted from Brahmajala Sutta

Notice in the above piece that fear is a central point. There is fear of lying, fear of attachment, fear of debate all of which would put someone in a position of distress within themselves and particularly with regard to others. The last case, dullness and stupidity, is just beyond the scope of the current discussion.

There is a fake humility and humbleness that comes along with such presentations. In one extreme it is the smarminess of a completely non-committal position to anything and a tendency to go along with any wave that happens by. At another extreme it can become a rigid self-righteous pasted-smile world view that masks or blocks almost every natural reaction and thought which then renders these unavailable to deal with in practice. The person then in effect becomes something of a mannequin with an unchanging expression, attitude and way of relating. Fear has frozen them.

A lot of the fear is that of dealing with anger or the expression of anger.  Idiot compassion is a highly  phobic conditioned response to strong emotion, particularly anger and to deep self-examination due to the fear of what might be “lurking” there.  We are in many ways terrified of ourselves. We go to great lengths to deny this and to hide it from others. And this makes the world an even scarier place because we project those imaginary fears onto others. By practicing idiot compassion (and other idiot things as Pema Chodron mentioned) we don’t have to deal with or confront any of that and can, with a great deal of effort, maintain a serene facade that does all the socially and spiritually correct things. We avoid confronting anything, avoid unpleasantness, avoid any pain that may come from dealing with deep afflictions, avoid anything that threatens a “comfortably numb” existence.

Life becomes then a “Don’t worry, be happy” kind of children’s cartoon world.

Remedies for Idiot Compassion

It is perhaps most important in working with others that we do not develop idiot compassion, which means always trying to be kind. Since this superficial kindness lacks courage and intelligence, it does more harm than good. It is as though a doctor, out of apparent kindness, refuses to treat his patient because the treatment might be painful, or as though a mother cannot bear the discomfort of disciplining her child.

Unlike idiot compassion, real compassion is not based upon a simple-minded avoidance of pain. Real compassion is uncompromising in its allegiance to basic sanity. People who distort the path–that is, people who are working against the development of basic sanity–should be cut through on the spot of need be. That is extremely important. There is no room for idiot compassion. We should try to cut through as much self-deception as possible in order to teach others as well as ourselves. So the final cop-out of a bodhisattva is when, having already achieved everything else, he is unable to go beyond idiot compassion.

Chogyam Trungpa quoted in Recalling Chögyam Trungpa (p.191)

In order to truly benefit others, we must do a great deal of reflection on how best to do it. Many factors need to come together: we benefit others through the practice of the six paramitas, all of which are assisted by wisdom and compassion. We cannot simply benefit others only when it is convenient and easy for us. 

17th Gyalwang Karmapa from Bodhionline

That is the basic openness of compassion:opening without demand. Simply be what you are, be the master of the situation. If you will just ‘be,’ then life flows around and through you. This will lead you into working and communicating with someone, which of course demands tremendous warmth and openness. If you can afford to be what you are, than you do not need the ‘insurance policy’ of trying to be a good person, a pious persona, a compassionate person.

Chogyam Trungpa quoted in Recalling Chögyam Trungpa (p.190)

Dalai Lama DalaiLama True compassion isn’t an emotional response, but a firm commitment founded on reason: it won’t change if others behave negatively.

about 3 hours ago via web

from the verified Twitter account of HH Dalai Lama


Links to Related Posts-these contain a few remedies as well

Can We Love Our Enemies Without Idiot Compassion or Shaming? from Beyond Growth blog [some discussion on how self-serving gurus can use this Idiot Compassion urge to keep followers in line]

Compassion in Reality from Bitterroot Badger’s Bozeman Buddhist Blog [an exemplary post on what constitutes compassion]

Haiti Dharma and Idiot Compassion from the Dangerous Harvests blog [doing what we think is “best for others” may be an insult]

Helping Others without Hurting Ourselves. from elephant journal [taking up the pain of others suffering from depression]

Idiot Compassion from the Karma Yogini Journals blog [deep questioning of the Idiot Compassion concept]

Idiot Compassion and Panhandling from the Beliefnet blog Onecity [is the urge to give based on the need of other’s or one’s own needs?]

The Road to Nirvana is Paved With Skillful Intentions from Thanissaro Bhikkhu at Access to Insight (thanks for the link Richard)

Singing the Dragon Song Dharma Discourse by John Daido Loori, Roshi [“Only a person who is fully present can manifest true compassion. Being present is where compassion is born.” -a teisho on relevant topics]

When compassion toward others is empty from My Buddha is Pink blog [the preparation for, committing and aftermath of compassionate actions requires consideration]