Same/Different. A Response to Daniel M. Ingram & Others

Creating medication out of my own tribulations. K’Naan

Drawing on the comments made by Daniel M. Ingram on my previous post Back to Suffragette City?  I offer this response.  His comment is quoted. Ennumeration is mine.

[1.] A simple point: Why I continue to somehow be associated with Brad Warner I will never understand. Aside from the fact that the word “hardcore” is associated with both of us for obvious pure book title reasons, our approaches, emphases, and paradigms are very, very different.

Clearly I am not the first one to lump approaches together.  It is a natural psychological process to categorize stuff even in broad strokes in order to approach it. And for those who do not delve too deeply, similarities are more apparent than differences. Here’s a couple of quick lists:

Similarities

  • based on personal experience as well as training
  • same generation
  • outspoken perspective
  • punk and hard core labels
  • claiming some kind of enlightenment
  • empowered/permitted to teach formally
  • book title words
  • rejection of fluff and New Age
  • rejection of ritual
  • rejection of Asian cultural accoutrements and formalities
  • rejection of formalist language
  • rejection of over-intellectualization particularly regarding the dharma
  • rejection of elaborate hierarchy
  • rejection of conventionality
  • rejection of non-English language terminology
  • rejection of institutionalization
  • avoidance or rejection of psychologization of Buddhism
  • occasionally combative
  • occasionally arrogant
  • focus on meditation
  • opposition to self-help approaches
  • alleges openness and honesty but derides critics
  • purist
  • secular
  • rational
  • populist
  • critical

That’s a start. Some points are more shallow than others.  Many of these could also be applied to Stephen Batchelor, Steve Hagen, Shinzen Young, Noah Levine and many others. Hence taken together the notion of a “movement” or general categorization emerges.

Differences

Subject Brad Warner Daniel M. Ingram
Background Soto Zen Theravada
Place of Study Outside of U.S. Japan Burma
Approach zazen specifically shikantaza meditation with focus on insight
Emphasis zazen insight
Paradigms -sitting as actualization
-focus on no-self as entry to realization
-ethics de-emphasized or secondary or resultant of practice
-process based meditation
-3 characteristics impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and no-self as entries to realization
-emphasis on ethics as a distinct part of the path
Realization sudden or sporadic progressive, continuous
Leadership/Teaching/Writing  Style mellow, artistic aggressive, technical, analytical
Occupation (only because both mention it in their works or in bios) musician, writer ER doctor
Theoretical Foundations Dogen
Nagarjuna
Pali Canon, Buddhaghosa, Vasubhandhu and related works

 

Those are only some of the differences. I hope that people will take note of these. When people encounter the work they will notice many more.

[2.] I read “Hardcore” Zen and found nearly nothing practical in it at all. I consider it among the worst wastes of paper on my dharma shelf. It didn’t seem to be anything one could actually follow and instead seemed mostly about him.

My reading of Brad’s books is that they are primarily autobiographies rather than practice manuals. That is how they’re written in any case and that is what he has stated about them. I’ve not read them to get advice related to practice but as both a viewpoint of a person’s experience with taking up and practicing the dharma for himself and also as  Zentertainment, if you will. Biography and autobiography are descriptive means to tell a personal story not prescriptive technical texts.

[3.] Try to practice from that book and see what I mean. Try to do a retreat from that book. Try to actually get enlightened from that book. Try to sort out what side effect of your practice is screwing up your life from that book and see how well you do. Try to do something “hardcore” from what is written in that book and see how far you get. What a sad joke.

One could try and practice from a phone book too and it would also be a sad joke. That’s not why it was written.

 [4.] To me, and this is just one opinion, “hardcore” should be about real mastery, real practice, real results, real empowerment to do all this stuff. How that book gets away with calling itself that is baffling.

The term “hardcore” does imply a certain rigor, effort and intensity. I agree.  It is just as likely that Warner’s use of it is in relation to the punk rock elements since he did play in a hard core punk band and as most of us know that is often abbreviated to “hardcore”.  His intention in the use of “hardcore” is not immediately evident. It is an apt descriptor for both the music and the dharma. Since his public writings in books and blog form generally use both music and dharma as subject matter it may be an attempt to indicate that.

The definition of hardcore is quite varied and that is one reason why some socio-cultural analysis and deconstruction may be useful, even in it’s “needlessly limiting way”.  But more on that later.

[5.] I am beginning to see this particular list (Ingram, Folk, Brad Warner, etc.) being codified into something that people just repeat as if we are all the same or even coming from the same place, and while Folk, Open Enlightenment, the Dharma Overground and I are very closely linked in many ways, though we all have our differences also, how Brad got on this list is beyond me except that people must not have read his stuff or simply didn’t understand either what he wrote or what I wrote or the others on the list are about, though I should be careful and let them speak for themselves if they wish.

Quite likely many people have not read the material, or not read it thoroughly, or not read it critically. It is convenient, as I mentioned, to categorize things in broad strokes. When those things are related to popular or fashionable trends, meaning quite a number of people are talking about them, certainly some people will latch onto the jargon without understanding the substance simply for the “cool” factor. It is to their own detriment not to the detriment of the people who are offering their perspectives.

This is true in any field and quite often true in Buddhist-related interactions. Plenty of jargon, little comprehension.

[6.] Regardless, stop associating Bradley and I in this way, please, without at least some differentiation and explanation.

The similarities are of the most superficial nature. One paragraph in the introduction of my book that uses the word “punk” and one word in the title hopefully doom me or the others who are associated with this sort of practice to be perpetually affixed to that guy’s stuff.

I do hope the differentiation and explanations outlined above are sufficient for a blog post.  The purpose of the previous post was to examine large scale groupings of counter-cultural instances of Buddhist-labeled viewpoints as they are presented and perceived in popular culture.  Since the author is quite capable of speaking for himself rather eloquently and straightforwardly,  I did not go into detail about the composition of that particular grouping. Considering my penchant for long-windedness that may not have been a bad thing.

The further point is, that if it is different, people will realize that once they get into it. And yes there will always be those who don’t want to realize that (or anything else), who don’t care or who simply don’t get it at all. No point in explaining things to a bag of rice, to paraphrase an old Zen metaphor.  

 [7.] I remember reading the line where Brad said that in one fell swoop he was just as enlightened as the Buddha: what a travesty of confusion and absurdity.

I too doubt that many people grasp all of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness  and no-self completely in one gulp. I wouldn’t say it’s impossible but even as separate conventional conceptual experiences they are somewhat overwhelming.

Dogen, patron of the Soto Zen sect wrote:

Those who have not illuminated each dharma, dharma by dharma, cannot be called clear-eyed, and they are not the attainment of the truth; how could they be Buddhist patriarchs of the eternal past and present?  (Shobogenzo, Zazenshin, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross) [quoted in Zen – Enlightened Wisdom, Delusion, and Confusion By Ted Biringer, on May 4th, 2010-read Ted’s commentary on that line for some serious hardcore Zen.]

This is very similar to the “noting” process that MCTB outlines, though on a somewhat progressed level.  Dharma here is used in it’s meaning of “things” or “aspects” [the word dharma has at least 4 meanings-Buddhadharma being only one]. There are reasons that 84,000 dharma gates get mentioned.  Even Tozan discussed 5 stages or ranks.

Glimpses via some kensho experience are common with dedicated practice. Lots of people have them.    And quite a few in the Zen community have said so, in one way or another. If one reads what they write carefully it is evident. Dosho Port and James Ford Roshi have said it, as has Ford’s teacher John Tarrant Roshi to name only a few. There are dozens, and certainly not all of them are teachers.

And in the Theravada based communities this is true as well. I just reviewed a book by Rodney Smith called Stepping Out of Self-Deception. It is quite unlikely that such a work could be produced merely by studying texts. It is extremely insightful and also pretty hardcore.

The opening of that awareness is the opening only, not the whole territory by any means. Many have said that the first glimpses are when the real work starts. I think that’s quite true. Some traditions talk about the 10,000 petaled lotus opening and others about examining the various aspects via visualization. I’m talking about Pure Land and Vajrayana [both Tibetan and Japanese versions].

It’s like ice breaking up on a frozen river. Cracks appear in the solidity. Movement ensues. But it’s not all clear and flowing in 5 seconds.

That kind of over-simplification does not benefit students. Watering down either the Dharma or the resultant experiences of long practice tend to introduce an unnecessary layer of mystification to the whole process. It’s not mysterious or mythical or magic. It is only a shift in perception. And it is a lot of work.  It’s fairly ordinary though, in that what is, still is, only perspective and experience of what is, shifts.

My impression of the realization process would render it to be more of a multi-dimensional fractal than a map of progression or stages. I think it is more subjectively fluid than clearly demarcated states. 

I don’t know Brad or his teacher personally and have only exchanged the occasional email with both of them  over the years. My impression though, is that Nishijima Roshi is considerably more “bookish”  [and knowledgeable] than Brad.

Brad tries to pretend to downplay the thing. Many of the hardcore set seem to play it up. There’s plenty of middle ground.

It is unfortunate if discussing this topic gets into a semi-enlightened dick-measuring contest.

Here is something related that Alan B. Wallace wrote:

“If our practice does not diminish self-grasping, or perhaps even enhances it, then no matter how austere and determined we are, no matter how many hours a day we devote to learning, reflection, and meditation, our spiritual practice is in vain.

A close derivative of self-grasping is the feeling of self-importance. Such arrogance or …pride is a very dangerous pitfall for people practicing Dharma. Especially in Tibetan Buddhism, with its many levels of practice, the exalted aspirations of the bodhisattva path, and the mystery surrounding initiation into tantra, we may easily feel part of an elite. Moreover, the philosophy of Buddhism is so subtly refined and so penetrating that, as we gain an understanding of it, this also can give rise to intellectual pride.

But if these are the results of the practice, then something has gone awry. Recall the well-known saying among Tibetan Buddhists that a pot with a little water in it makes a loud noise when shaken, but a pot full of water makes no noise at all.

People with very little realization often want to tell everyone about the insights they have experienced, the bliss and subtleties of their meditation, and how it has radically transformed their life. But those who are truly steeped in realization do not feel compelled to advertise it, and instead simply dwell in that realization. They are concerned not to describe their own progress, but to direct the awareness of others to ways in which their own hearts and minds can be awakened.” – B. Alan Wallace [via Rev. Danny Fisher]

[8.] Otherwise, the pointing out of the masculine and counter-culture elements is all fine enough and has its obviously valid points, though as you say, I hope that just because I happened to have a “masculine” writing style won’t keep anyone from being able to utilize whatever useful information I present and the other strains of this “movement”, which is to say that…

Having been excluded from activities and once even losing a job assignment due to my gender this concerns me greatly. That it still occurs in Buddhist circles is unfortunate and therefore merits some consideration and discussion.

When people get all literal and say women can’t get enlightenment or can’t even become monastics at higher levels it reeks of hypocrisy. Gender bias is a social construction, sure. But one that is ominously pervasive and destructive not only to women but to men as well. It is one of the millions of things that act as an obstacle to complete freedom.

It would be nice to just dismiss it since it’s all relative anyway but as delusional as it is on a massive level the effects are still felt.

By bringing it up and discussing the tone and encouraging everyone to familiarize themselves with the information I am actually trying to get that apparent obstacle out of people’s way. It’s not a real obstacle, only one if the reader wishes to make it so.

[9.] …I hope that people will focus more on reality and actually understanding what is happening than all this superficial socio-political-academic-gender-whatever, not that this isn’t an important part of the causal web in some unfortunate and needlessly limiting way.

We live in a needlessly limited world. We deal with the causal web every second whether we are enlightened or not. To discuss these matters, to take them apart, dissect them, examine them is not much different than what we do in meditation. Since we engage with no-self [awkwardly phrased I know] we also realize that the sense of solidity in conventional thought is bolstered by and in fact created by apparent, though ultimately unreal, social reality. 

So “this superficial socio-political-academic-gender-whatever” is as relevant as and indeed is as great portion a portion of that constructed illusory solid self as what we cling to in mind since that is part of it’s origin. It is not superficial by any means.  

From a larger, or more enlightened viewpoint let’s say, certainly these things are limiting. But for the majority of the population who do not currently have access to that viewpoint that’s all there is. To disassemble that, and particularly belief in the authority of the social, is to, in one way, see and demonstrate the constructed aspect of conventional reality.

And from Daniel M. Ingram’s essay Why The Notion That You Cannot Become What You Already Are is Such Bullshit

“…while the universal characteristics are always manifesting in all things and at all times, there are those that can perceive this well and those that cannot, and meditative training, conceptual frameworks, techniques, teachers, texts, discussions and the like can all contribute to developing the internal skills and wiring to be able to fully realize what is possible, as thousands of practitioners throughout the ages have noticed.”

and from Chapter 5 of MCTB

“From the conventional point of view, things are usually thought to be there even when you can no longer experience them, and are thus assumed with only circumstantial evidence to be somewhat stable entities. Predictability is used to assume continuity of existence. For our day-to-day lives, this assumption is adequate and often very useful.”

Superficiality is one aspect of reality. Unfortunately it is the one aspect that most people are entangled with.  So some may deem it to be a waste of time to acknowledge but without acknowledgement and demonstration of it’s lack of substance it remains an obstacle.

[10.] Just got done seeing Twilight Eclipse, by the way, and loved it, which my wife can’t understand at all. People who try to make gender stuff so straightforward are really missing something.

That was kind of my point. No one fits precisely into any codified gender definition. I personally enjoy martial arts and high altitude trekking and mountaineering. In this instance I am a woman who is advocating for other women to read this “masculine” toned work, to be bold and not feel intimidated by that superficial label, which I am not the first to point out. That is a statement in itself.   

The satire presented in my previous post is not to further entrench some either/or gender viewpoint but to illustrate the ridiculousness of it. So yeah, maybe some people did miss something.

In General 

Frustration with the misconstruing of the dharma and of personal viewpoints, commercialization, half-assed explanations,  feel-good platitudes, social nicening projects, self-help indulgence, cosmetic attempts at Buddhist practice, co-opting dharma to build intellectual Babel towers in part explains a lot of people’s interest in alternative viewpoints.

Sometimes though such viewpoints can become as entrenched and rigid as the scenes they wish to supplant.  Many that present these viewpoints also can spiral off into their own little world of “rightness” and certainty that precludes further progress and cuts off those who may benefit the most from the information presented.

Musical Interlude

K’naan Take A Minute

{Chorus}:
And any man who knows a thing knows, he knows not a damn, damn thing at all,
And everytime I felt the hurt and I felt the givin’ gettin’ me up off the wall,
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it ride,
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it breathe,
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it ride,
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it breathe,

How did Mandela get the will to surpass the everyday,
When injustice had him caged and trapped in every way,
How did Ghandi ever withstand the hunger strikes and all,
Didn’t do it to gain power or money if I recall,
It’s to give; I guess I’ll pass it on,
Mother thinks it’ll lift the stress of babylon,
Mother knows, my mother she suffered blows,
I don’t know how we survived such violent episodes,
I was so worried, and hurt to see you bleed,
But as soon as you came out the hospital you gave me sweets,
Yeah, they try to take you from me,
But you still only gave ’em some prayers and sympathy,
Dear mama, you helped me write this, by showing me to give is priceless.
{Chorus}
All I can say is the worst is over now,
We can serve the hard times, divorce is over now,
They try to keep us out, but they doors is open now,
My man Akon is gettin awards for covers now,
This is K’NAAN, and still reppin’ the S
Comin’ out of Mogadishu and still draped in the mess,
And no matter how we strong, homie,
It ain’t easy comin out of where we from, homie.
And that’s the reason why, I could never play for me,
Tell ’em the truth, is what my dead homies told me,
Oh yeah, I take inspiration from the most heinous of situations,
Creating medication out my own tribulations.
Dear Africa, you helped me write this, by showing me to give is priceless.
{Chorus}
Nothing is perfect man, that’s what the world is,
All I know is,
I’m enjoying today.
You know, ’cause it isn’t every day that you get to give.

And any man who knows a thing knows, he knows not a damn, damn thing at all,
And every time I felt the hurt and I felt the givin’ gettin’ me up off the wall,
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it ride,
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it breathe,
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it ride,
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it breathe,

Stepping Out of Self-Deception [a book review]

 image

Stepping Out of Self-Deception: The Buddha’s Liberating Teaching of No-Self by Rodney Smith  Shambhala Pubs.  224 pages  July 2010

About the Author

Rodney Smith, former monk and student of Ajahn Buddhadassa, whose teachings I personally find incredibly powerful, is a senior teacher with the Insight Meditation Society and founder of Seattle Insight Meditation. Here is his brief biography from Seattle Insight Meditation:

Rodney Smith spent eight years in Buddhist monastic settings, both at the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Massachusetts and several years as a Buddhist monk in Asia. He ordained with Mahasi Sayadaw in Burma then practiced for three years with Ajahn Buddhadassa in Thailand. He disrobed as a monk in 1983 and, after returning to the West, started working in hospice care and teaching vipassana meditation throughout the U.S.

Rodney has devoted much of his energy to serving the dying, both in direct service positions and within hospice management, for the last 16 years. Currently Rodney is a full time dharma teacher conducting meditation classes, retreats, and offers spiritual consultations. He serves as a Senior Teacher for IMS and is the founding and guiding teacher for Seattle Insight Meditation. He is author of the book, Lessons From the Dying.

About the Book

I’m very excited about this book and hope that it is the start of a trend. It is comprehensive, well thought out and expounds the Buddhadharma without being stuffy and esoteric. Additionally it does not seek to water down Buddhist concepts to twitter sized bites nor does it insult the intelligence of readers by assuming we are children and addressing us in that condescending way.  I hope this author is already at work on another book.

Selected statements from the Introduction:

The term anatta, which means no permanently abiding self or soul, is at the heart of the Buddha’s teaching, but with our Western emphasis on psychological health it is perhaps inevitable that this essential aspect of the teaching is downplayed or even avoided. Emptiness, after all, stands in opposition to many of our most important values such as self-reliance, individual initiative, and the pursuit of pleasure…

This selective approach to Buddhism would seem to allow the best of both the Eastern and Western worlds…

…except that there is a rub when we pare back the Dharma…

We hurt and we do not understand why…

When we look at our experience we appear to be the center of the universe…

Many of us incorporate a gentler and kinder spiritual “me” into our practice, which is in opposition to the worldly “me,” the trouble-making twin that needs a resolution…Eventually we see that calling the ego different names serves to strengthen its overall grip and control..

We begin to further understand that the cause of our suffering is not what we do but the way we perceive…

Much of this book is about understanding our perceptions and misperceptions of ourselves and the world. Seems fitting for a Buddhist book. It is given in a strong Dharmic framework that I recognize from my Abhidharma studies or  from Visudhimagga or Shurangama Sutra, which all kind of cover the same general territory.

…the Tathagata has explained to you that the fundamental cause of all five skandhas is false thinking.

8.291 Shurangama Sutra – Buddhist Text Translation Society pub. 2003

However it is not nearly as esoteric as those texts. Certainly not as lengthy. And it is not overly scholarly.

Using contemporary language and examples the author challenges much activity and thought that claims the label Buddhism or Dharma with reasoned explanations and clear thought.

It is also an exposition of real Buddhist psychology and not Freud, Jung or other psychologists dressed up in saffron robes.

The book tackles subjects such as self-deception, intentions, encountering paradox, freeing awareness from self-control and the last chapter is on mature awakening.

Discussions of mature practice are not often available in the marketplace. There are a lot of books for beginners and then some very specialized texts for academics or ambitiously studious people such as myself. I am relieved to find these more explanatory and in-depth kinds of books for a general audience now being produced and becoming available.

In some ways it reminds me of the works of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, such as The Sanity We Are Born With or Glimpses of Abhidharma. They too are not easily accessible for the beginner but after some time the insights prove quite valuable in deepening the understanding of both the purposes of practice and practice itself.

What gives this book a broader appeal is that it is focused on lay practice, that is practice out in the world. Some of the examples given relate to workplace and family situations. The author himself is trained as a social worker and has worked in hospice care for many years in addition to teaching Buddhism. So even having been a monk he is familiar with lay life.

Part of the center section of the book deals with Right or Wise Livelihood. It is all about our attitudes about work and how we can deal with such things as boredom, lack of fulfillment and stress at work.  He goes into how to apply and misapply mindfulness to work. Here is a sample:

The only way a spiritual path can unfold is through a direct connection to the primary intention, that deep longing within the heart for the total resolution of conflict. If we are uninterested in what blocks our primary intention at work and in our life, our spiritual practice will not bear fruit. Mindfulness will center on “me” and what “I want”, and will be awash in our reactivity and assumptions, without any way of moving beyond that limited perspective. This is the reason mindfulness cannot succeed when willfully forced onto a situation; the “I” that forces mindfulness is simultaneously a limitation on it…

As the primary intention rises to the surface of our work, nothing is discounted. If our job is boring, we become interested in the boredom itself and explore its hold on us. p. 145

Of course you recognize he is talking about Right Intention as well as Bodhicitta. And perhaps you notice, or it seems so to me, the language and viewpoint is somewhat reminiscent of Trungpa Rinpoche’s regarding interest in what is happening in one’s life and experience whether we like the situation or not. Equanimity.

I really want to quote every second paragraph here just because it contains so much and is so very well stated. The author discusses pretty well all of Buddhist doctrine while rarely using technical terms but does so in a way that makes the concepts and their meanings clear. If people have been put off or confused by some of that in the past then reading this will make it quite obvious. For example on his explanation of the self in the very first chapter:

The mind has created the sense of you and me from the way it perceives reality. The truth is the mind holds “us” within it. “We” are not the possessor of a mind, and the mind is not something happening to us as if we were outside looking in. “We” are part of the mental processing of the mind. The thoughts of the mind and the sense-of-I are not two separate events. “We” exist only because the mind thinks us into creation… p.4

I haven’t run across a statement that explains “I”, ego or the separation of self from experience that is more clearly stated than that. And he continues to explain:

If we think we are either separate from the experience or separate from the mind having the experience, our efforts will exacerbate the division between “the world” and “myself”. p.5

He explains in the first chapter, the Eightfold Path and its applicability to lay life. As well he addresses some of the misrepresentations that occur with Buddhist practice. The whole purpose of the book is laid out.

This book is an attempt to show that certain aspects of the Eightfold Path take on new relevance in lay life…

…will explore what is centrally important within the Buddha’s teaching when we are addressing a fully engaged life, and when we want that life to lead to the full liberation proclaimed by the Buddha…

The central point is not to determine the precise meaning of the Buddha’s words, but to expose the numerous ways we misrepresent his teaching by unconsciously deceiving ourselves. Because of the psychological emphasis in the West, modern spirituality is often distorted according to that bias, and ends up reinforcing self-deception. p.11-12

One of the essential discussions in this book is about Wise View or the first of the eight-fold path. How we align with that view makes all the difference in how Buddhist practice manifests in our lives. If it is in accordance with the doctrine of anatta then practice can proceed but if it is not then problems continue to show up.

It strikes me that the problems many people have with practice come down to mis-aligned Right or Wise View.  And I think this particular book is the answer for many of those situations. 

Another really important discussion is related to what the author labels vertical and horizontal universe. That is time and timelessness. All time being encompassed in the present moment. I am glad someone has elucidated this concept so clearly. It is referred to numerous time throughout the book in conjunction with other concepts. This is helpful because it helps to tie together the whole Buddhist viewpoint.

Throughout the book the author illustrates the problems with mis-aligned viewpoints. Such as:

Caution is needed if we cherry-pick the Buddha’s teaching because we can be practicing one link out of context from the whole. The Buddha’s teaching builds upon itself, and Wise View precedes and frames all the other components. Without Wise View, the unwise view of self claims a privileged place, and the teaching can quickly become an exercise in moralism and self-improvement. The Buddha says, “Without Wise View one can aspire toward spiritual  growth, but it is like trying to churn water into butter.” p. 34

This book is a definite counterpoint to the current trend of stripping down the Dharma, I’m not talking culture here, to a few talking points and marketing that.

Conclusion

We do not need a new reality;we need a reframing of the reality we are in. How we perceive reality is the problem, not reality itself.  p. 35

This book is like a tonic for what is ailing much of Western convert Buddhism.

Verdict

Highly recommended for those with some practice experience and especially for people who have read a lot of the pop culture Buddhist or psychology books and are looking for something with real substance.

Anyone who is a counselor, psychologist or working in a similar field and wishes to incorporate Buddhist principles into their practice would be well advised to read this book as well.

And there are perhaps a few teachers who might like to brush up on some of this as well.

Thanks Rodney Smith for writing it.

*******

Note: The publisher sent me this book to review. However  anyone who reads this blog knows there is no stated or implied promise on my part to like it, pretend to like it or to say I like it if I don’t,  even if they sent me a truckload of books, which they didn’t. And I’m glad they didn’t because I don’t have room and would have had to rent a storage facility.

The Paradox of Freedom

Skin 

A post that Dosho Port wrote Three Great Minds  inspired a post at Barbara’s blog called When Bad Stuff Comes in Big Doses and inspired me to do a Twitter mini-binge. (Thanks for some retweets @ohiobuddhist and @RevDannyFisher)

These are them:

RT @ Bodhipaksa Are Americans individualistic? Not so much… http://bit.ly/9k8ZOR about 19 hours ago (Link title Sweet land of… conformity?)

RT @leashless Never forget how much freedoms, and the free, scare people |See prev. tweet link http://bit.ly/9k8ZOR Free to be U & me? Hmm 27 minutes ago via web

RT @mujaku The crew seized the ship they threw the man overboard who gazed at the stars,along with his charts. We are free, they shouted. 21 minutes ago via web

RT @bitterrootbadge There are no relative phenomena in samsara and nirvana on which one can depend. It is important to know this.D Khyentse 18 minutes ago via web

RT @acadiechick RT @superspiritgirl: “Freedom rarely arrives in the form we think it should” ~Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche 16 minutes ago via web

One more good ‘un. http://dannyfisher.org/2010/06/06/a-gift-of-dharma-for-6-6-10/ There ends today’s tweets on the paradox of freedom. 12 minutes ago via web

[Whew, nearly 20 people referenced directly or indirectly just to get started! Then this link will go to Twitter->Facebook and who knows where?]

Meat

I want to work my way backwards through these to come to the point of this post, which actually still eludes me so I’ll have to move towards it.

Never think that you will be able to settle your life down by practicing the Dharma. The Dharma is not therapy. In fact, it is just the opposite. The purpose of the Dharma is to really stir up your life. It is meant to turn your life upside down. If that is what you asked for, why complain? If it is not turning your life upside down, on the other hand, the Dharma is not working.  That kind of Dharma is just another one of these New Age methods; the Dharma should really disturb you.

Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche via RevDannyFisher

Someone argued for the merits of relative benefits of Dharma-therapeutic- in response to this. And said Rinpoche didn’t understand therapy very well. I think Rinpoche understands it better than the critic. What is upside down?

“Freedom rarely arrives in the form we think it should” ~Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

Imagine freedom. It’s all that can be done until it is realized.

There are no relative phenomena in samsara and nirvana on which one can depend. It is important to know this.D Khyentse Rinpoche

The existential crisis.

The crew seized the ship they threw the man overboard who gazed at the stars,along with his charts. We are free, they shouted.

Realized.

Never forget how much freedoms, and the free, scare people

What of the aftermath?

For many years now, researchers worldwide have been conducting surveys to compare the values of people in different countries. And when it comes to questions about how much the respondents value the individual against the collective — that is, how much they give priority to individual interest over the demand of groups, or personal conscience over the orders of authority — Americans consistently answer in a way that favors the group over the individual. In fact, we are more likely to favor the group than Europeans are.  from Sweet land of… conformity?

There is security, of a sort, in groups. The Australopithecines knew this as they stood up on the African plains having emerged from their tree-dwelling shelter of the jungle. They then walked all over the world, in groups, and possibly evolved into Homo Sapiens (OK I missed a few steps in between).

Individuals are at risk, in terms of evolution, as well as environmentally, culturally. What does that say about freedom? Is freedom a group endeavor? That presents a conundrum in itself.  Or is freedom only experienced by the individual?

Bone

The point of this post-I’ve realized it now. Freedom is not relaxing. It requires constant attention.  Freedom is not a celebration. How can one celebrate when all others are not free?   Freedom is not mindless bliss.  It requires clarity.

Freedom is disturbing. And beautiful.

“If it’s not paradoxical, it’s not true.” Shunryu Suzuki

from Zen Is Right Here: Teaching Stories and Anecdotes of Shunryu Suzuki By David Chadwick

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An Artistic Digression

image 

Chaïm Soutine (1893-1943)
Le boeuf écorché (The beef carcass)
oil on canvas
51 1/8 x 29½ in. (129.8 x 75 cm.)
Painted in circa 1924

Christie’s has a description and history of the painting.

And here is more on it quoted in an article by  Andrew Graham Dixon:

“In 1925, when he had a studio large enough in the Rue du Mont St Gothard, he procured the entire carcass of a steer… He did at least four similar canvases, as well as sketches … and meantime the steer decomposed. According to the legend, when the glorious colours of the flesh were hidden from the enthralled gaze of the painter by an accumulation of flies, he paid a wretched little model to sit beside it and fan them away. He got from the butcher a pail of blood, so that when a portion of the beef dried out, he could freshen its colour. Other dwellers in the Rue Mont St Gothard complained of the odour of the rotting flesh, and when the police arrived Soutine harangued them on how much more important art was than sanitation or olfactory agreeableness.”

 

“Beauty will be convulsive or will not be at all,” declared André Breton in 1928.

from Convulsive Beauty and Its Discontents

Digression #3 Attempted Extrapolations as to the State of the Non-Suffering Conscious

Same caveats as the original post and Digression #1 and #2

The title means I do wild speculation upon what it would be like to be enlightened. Or more aptly a short history of said speculations throughout my Buddhist career.

K-PAX– the film. Have you seen it? Kevin Spacey is great as Prot, a guy who is a psych. patient and may believe he is from another planet. He’s all happy and peaceful and helps people with their problems and so forth.

It seems like a good thing until you realize he’s dodging his own psychological reality by this disassociative state. Not consciously, of course and then Jeff Bridges straightens him out on that one and he becomes like a sack of rice being wheeled around. Is his “reality” any better for having been disabused of the happy alien notions? Well now he’s like the rest of us- admitting his damage and therefore normal even if completely catatonic. Is someone suffering if they don’t believe they are suffering?

When I was a kid I used to think that “wise people” or “enlightened” people were like Prot at the beginning of the movie. But you know I hear Mother Teresa had a hell of a temper and was not beyond bullying those around her to get her way. (I know a reporter who used to live in Kolkata at the time and covered her activities a lot) Gandhi was also incredibly stubborn and had some interesting sexual proclivities.

It’s kind of weird how these icons get set up to be viewed as perfect.

A while back I did a post called A Big Mistake and quoted a lot of wise people who cautioned against wanting any sort of glimpses of kensho or whatever you may call it. The consensus seemed to be “It’s not what you think” which could be taken more ways than one.

But I’m going to imagine it anyways. And take into account that everything I’ve ever thought about it has been wrong. And that even this will be wrong.

The Bodhisattva Tangent to the Digression

It strikes me that as Buddhism spread and more people caught onto the thing, that the Bodhisattva practice had to be invented. Image knowing what’s real and pretty much everyone you encounter is suffering from their own self-inflicted dream/drama state. Could be really depressing (or evoke some compassion). Could feel like a heavy burden of responsibility if you’re feeling all non-dual and non-self-ish and so on. So why not invent this Bodhisattva thing so everyone who gets stung by some realization has some place to sort of fit in.

Imagine a bunch of monks just going around helping people, teaching them stuff that lets them live a little more free. In any age that gets demarcated as kind of weird. (even now) The prevailing zeitgeist has been ignorance, anger and greed since long before Buddha’s time and then a bunch come along who don’t go along with that. What the hell do you do with them?

As cultures develop, when a certain element becomes noticeable (reaches a tipping point)  they get incorporated somehow. Same in religions as they are part of culture.

So as more people began to get outside of all the conditioning something had to be done, for the still-relative folks to explain what’s going on. Bodhisattva ideals and practice fit nicely with a lot of cultures and could be wedged into prevailing value systems without too much shoving.

So that’s my theory about the development of the Bodhisattva ideal. Not that it was something to strive for at the time but that it was describing a situation that had already begun. That we may not currently have Bodhisattvas at such a tipping point yet may be the reason why it remains an ideal for the majority of us Mahayana types-though with modern and historical hype mixed into it I think it has become somewhat distorted towards both an unachievable, absolute perfection thing or a mundane aspect with a lot of folks just using it for a label for kindness or general good works.

Back to the Light

It seems I can’t imagine the existence of enlightened folk hence that tangent.

There have been times in my life where I’ve encountered people who may well have been in that category. But I didn’t ask them much about such a thing. It seemed too …. personal.

I’ll give you a couple of examples.

This first one is in part inspired by some things about beginning practice written recently by James Ford Roshi.   Zen 101: Counting One’s Breath  and Zen 101: Just Sitting.  As well memoir class , caught off guard , popping the bubble posts by Genkaku Adam Fisher provided some impetus. The latter are about writing in a memoir class. It was suggested during that class that he writes about that the participants write their own obituary. While I did not attend this class I found that suggestion to be an interesting idea.  Taking a broad view of the whole shebang. But I’m not going to write an obituary.

Additionally in a recent issue of Shambhala Sun (maybe from Sept.09?) on the last page was an autobiographical piece by a woman who was struck with “Dharma Love” (I’ll explain that later) in a fashion similar to the way I was. It was a shock to read it as the experience was so similar.

[This is a little bit of a writing experiment as by recollecting some of this stuff I also want to try to access and convey the particular frame of mind or world view I had at the time. I realize that it has shifted in many ways and by outlining a few of these moments I want to construct what might be the meta-narrative or story arc that I’ve created with this existence thus far. Yeah it’s a bit of a self-indulgent thing but I think there may be some kind of lesson in doing it about how a lifetime is constructed by every one of us consciously or unconsciously. So try to bear with me.]

The Early Years

[That subtitle does not auger well for an abbreviated version of anything.]
About 25 years ago I formally encountered Zen Buddhism after reading about it since high school (Suzuki, Watts, Kapleau, whatever was available).

Some group rented a classroom at the local university for a “Zen Seminar”. Or that’s what I took the description of the event to mean.  Friends I knew at the university pointed out a mimeographed poster to me as they knew my interest. They kind of joked “Going to see the Zen Master-haha?” At the time I was a full-on drugged-out hard-core punk rocker. But I went anyways.  Sober too. It was taking place over a weekend.  I had very little idea really what would be going on but decided to go along with it just to see what happened. And it didn’t have any admission price. Just donations.

There were perhaps 35 people in this class room to attend the first evening’s lecture, or I thought it was a lecture. Some were Japanese folks, a couple more appeared to be professors, the majority were students and some looked like older hippies. The latter may have been local people or may have been part of the group that seemed to be traveling with the Japanese priest. I didn’t ask. I was the only punk, though I really dressed down for the occasion. But purple-ish hair is hard to dress down. Yeah I got some looks. So what!

Friday night was an introductory Buddhist talk by the Japanese priest (robes and all-I was quite impressed with that) who seemed to be in his 30s, but I don’t know for sure, he was just older than me but not too much (no grey hair), with some interpretation by an English-speaking guy who was a tall  American. I knew he was American by his accent, which may have been from anywhere between Maine and Texas,  but in Canada at the time such accents were simply “American”.

This Japanese guy at first got my attention with the robes. I’d never seen any kind of Buddhist robes in real life. And the ones he was wearing were immaculate-they fit him and he wore them like they were part of his skin. He didn’t talk too loud, unlike the “American” who also didn’t exactly yell but did produce some real volume, nor did he get all excited about what he was saying as religious folks in my previous experience had. He half smiled and talked with such patience, calm and enjoyment that I was far more taken with his manner than with the actual words he was saying. [I admit some difficulty with understanding his Japanese-accented English.] He was in as much of a different environment as I was at that moment yet he had no anxiety over it and seemed completely confident in being there, as if there was nowhere else to be at that particular moment.  It was only when the “American” jumped in to re-turn a phrase or clarify some term or to restate something, as the Japanese guy sometimes just said things in Japanese,  that I was brought back to the actual words. Seems the “American” could speak Japanese.

Then we got an introduction, mostly by the “American” on how to do Shikantaza. I had tried this before (from books) but didn’t really get it. It was all about posture and alignment and “clearing the mind” as I vaguely recall. Some of the people left at this point. Those of us who remained then sat on the floor or some in chairs as they were older. It was incredibly uncomfortable. We were told to bring some blanket or whatever to sit on for the next day. We did some bowing as well.

There was a little bit of chanting that I didn’t understand, at the onset of each day but most of the day of Saturday we heard some more talks, mostly about the kind of stuff I had read in those books, and we sat facing the wall 4 or 5 times (I don’t remember exactly how many times) and did kinhin. There was a lot of bowing.  The “American” rang a little bell intermittently which seemed to indicate a change of activity. There were about 20 people in the morning. Participation dropped off during that Saturday, with some leaving at noon, and only about 5 people showed up on Sunday for a couple more rounds of sitting and talking.

I spent a good deal of my time watching the Japanese guy out of the corner of my eye. He just sat there. I was waiting for him to shift around or twitch or something but it didn’t happen. He didn’t move yet didn’t look at all uncomfortable. He sat as if he didn’t care if he was there for 5 minutes or 5 days. His whole attitude impressed me mightily. For me it was difficult as hell. My legs and my back ached (and shoulders and neck). Stubbornness and competitiveness alone got me through most of the last morning. Then it was done. 

3 of us who made it to the end (we’d had lunch together on the Saturday) decided to make our own little group to practice sitting but after the second week the guy quit and I and the other girl decided to just go our own ways too. We had met twice in a park. But I decided to keep on with it alone.

Dharma Love had bitten.

Dharma Love

So for about three years after that I sat for 4-5 times per day (30-45 minutes each time). I was pretty young and agile so worked into lotus posture after the first couple of months. This was despite carrying on with the punk lifestyle. Didn’t matter if I was hung over or whatever. I wanted to be a “Zen” person and if what was required was to sit like that for hours to qualify then that’s what I would do.  I was under the impression that was what was required. I did it alone because there were no Dharma groups of any kind that I knew of in Saskatoon Saskatchewan in the 80’s, and I knew my friends just wouldn’t “get it” so I left them out of it.

The reason I wanted to be a “Zen person” had to do with that Japanese guy. I thought I had some kind of crush on him or whatever and that if I were “Zen” enough perhaps I’d meet up with him again…etc. You know those highly romantic notions of youth where everything is personal and gets you totally swept away in highly dramatic emotions.  The thing is I didn’t even know his name and still don’t. I have no idea who those people were. They may have been introduced on the Friday evening but I don’t remember it. This is what struck me when I read that Shambhala Sun article, since that woman who wrote the article went to a Tibetan Buddhist event and had the same sort of occurrence. She doesn’t remember who it was either only that it affected her for the rest of her life.

But really in my case it was his manner of being that struck me. I didn’t actually want to get with him but to be like him. I wonder if that is what goes on with the Zen groupies and similar situations. A confusion of sexual/personal intimacy with spiritual/dharma intimacy. The way this man presented himself was so totally open, not hiding anything, the kind of presentation one generally reserves for family, lovers or people very emotionally close in life. It felt very intimate even in a group. It was very relaxing since it also conveyed an acceptance of whatever anyone in the room also presented. That just didn’t matter. Something deeper than that was what mattered. A completely accepting, unconditional and totally non-judgmental presence which was something I had never encountered before.

I was not going to bring this up to anyone ever. The only person I ever told about it before was my sister. She just looked at me like she usually does when she’s dealing with a “Marnie’s adventure” type situation. (roll of eyes)  But I got the idea in my head to talk about this a while back when I was doing those transcripts of Shodo Harada Roshi’s film The Man From Cloud Mountain. The way he talked about the man who became his teacher was so similar to my feeling about this person that I met so many years ago. And after the Shambhala Sun article too, it seems that quite a few people get stricken in this way. So I thought why not put it down somewhere?

Many years ago I stopped trying to figure out who he was.  A while after that event I asked around and tried to find out a little about that man or that group but to no avail.  The room had been booked under “Zen Buddhist Group” a friend had discovered (who knew a relative of a friend who worked in the department that did the booking at the university-small town connections!). I don’t know who sponsored it. When I wrote for the university newspaper a few years later I checked archives in the office to see if it was the Student Union that sponsored the event but apparently not. And they hadn’t taken any ad out in the student newspaper since I searched the archives (on microfiche) too. So it could have been a cultural group, religious group or the people themselves who organized the thing. Eventually I just decided there are some things one will just never know. So I dropped the matter.

It was like a candle had been lit on that occasion though. It started some kind of revolution within that has not stopped to this day.

But now I just feel that whoever that man was, I thank him profoundly for his efforts.

This is Enough

Here is another example.

When I was studying Buddhism in Taiwan in 1989 I went to a place called Lion’s Head Mountain. It’s a temple and retreat in the center of the island. It is at the head of a beautiful valley. Here’s a picture and blurb from my travel blog.

Shih Tou Shan Monastery Valley View Shih Tou Shan or Lion’s Head Mountain is a renown Buddhist retreat center in Taiwan. It lies at the head of a valley where hermit monks and nuns go into solitary seclusion in the forest sometimes for their entire lives. Pilgrims come and walk the length of the valley and leave food and other essentials at various shrines along the way for collection by the hermits. Occasionally these recluses will give teachings and even share their food with strangers who make the journey the entire 20 kilometers from end to end. Other hermits simply disappear into the woods and may not be seen again. 

I wasn’t there very long but I did take the entire valley walk on several occasions. There was a remarkable amount of activity going on for a place that was filled with hermits. There were pagodas and other types of shrines being built along the trail, some to commemorate people who had lived there and some sponsored by devotees. Workers who were doing the stone carving for these commemorative structures had set up a camp well into the trail and were working at their carving and casting.

Also along the trail were other sorts of markers, set up by hermits. Sometimes they were just a collection of stones with a small flag or statue and sometimes there were actual small structures of brick or wood. These were places where one would leave their offerings of food or whatever. I always brought fruit with me and left it at the smallest markers since these were usually indicators of people who had little or no contact with anyone else.

Their humbleness struck me rather deeply. They were indicative of simple human need and not any sort of aggrandizement or self-proclamation.

On one particular occasion I was walking along this trail with a professor friend of mine. We were discussing academic sorts of things when he stopped and indicated that someone was in the brush just off to the side of the trail ahead of us.  We slowed our pace and when we reached the spot we saw a somewhat shabby, but very clean man of approximately 60 sitting on a large rock. He was just beaming at us.

He said something like “Oh now you’ve found me” in Chinese as if it was the greatest joke in the world. The professor replied something like “Yes we have.”  Then the man invited us back into the bush for some tea. We walked up to a small shack, or more like a lean-to,  suitable for one person only and were shown a log we could sit on as he put a little bit of kindling into a fire. He made some green tea in a little battered pot and poured us out two small cups. They were somewhat chipped and the decorations were worn off of them.

He didn’t talk a lot but just seemed quite content to have a couple of visitors. We tried to give him some of the rations that we carried but he only took a few things and gave the rest back as he said something like “I am only one of many.”  [These translations were by the professor since I didn’t understand the dialect-definitely not standard Mandarin]

It just struck me at the time that this was possibly the happiest guy in the world. Not giddy-type happy but content or something like it. His whole manner was one of the necessity of the moment and no more. It was an unspoken statement. “This is enough.”

I was thinking about the precariousness of life in that valley afterwards, if the weather got bad or there were some natural disaster,  and I could easily picture in my mind that guy’s moment of death and him just saying of life. “This is enough.”

As an aside I met someone else with a similar attitude near Dharamshala about 4 years ago. I was walking out in a wooded area and a very young Tibetan nun was ahead of me. She slowed her pace and we walked together. She spoke some English and Hindi so we exchanged a few words. After about an hour and a half of nearly silent walking she just said “Here’s my path.” and indicated an overgrown short-cut kind of trail that led up to a building that was mostly hidden by the large oak trees. And she was then gone.

There was nothing asked for and nothing given but a little bit of company on a long walk.

We remember moments like that rather vividly when most of the rest of one’s life is full of demands and urgings and tides that seem to pull around this way and that. It’s like an island.  But when we really stop there we realize that the island is the actual ground we are on, all the way to the bottom of the turbulent ocean.

Meta-narrative

The meta-narrative of my Buddhist life really began with that first event and has subsequently been to trace back Buddhism to it’s origins. Starting in North America with a Zen guy and a few converts, then visiting and studying in Taiwan and then staying in Thailand for some time. Now I live in India surrounded by a Tibetan refugee colony. I’ve met many Theravada folks, particularly from South India and Sri Lanka, who come and do exchanges with local monasteries here as well as people working in the Ambedkar movement.  I’ve gone to places in the Himalaya where the original teachings have been reported to have taken place and climbed mountain trails and passes that ancient carriers of the Dharma may have also walked on their way to China or Tibet.

So I’ve actually, in broad jumps, followed Buddhism back to where it began in terms of place. And by the studies I’ve undertaken, in terms of theoretical development as well. I am totally astounded sometimes that my life has turned out this way. It was never a plan of mine to do that. But that is what has occurred.

It’s all been about trying to get back to the source.

The exterior form of a life expresses the deepest interior motivations it seems. Sometimes we have to get ourselves out of the way to see what is happening though.

Dharma Love or bodhicitta takes over one’s life like that sometimes before we even know what’s really happening.

Back to Enlightenment

I suspect the two main people I’ve written about had thoroughly realized the ineffable.  Since then I’ve met a number of others with the same or very similar qualities. Not all of them Buddhist either.  Some Hindu, some Muslim, some Jewish, some Christian, some staunchly atheist. I don’t think most or even any of them would necessarily proclaim some kind of enlightenment or even wisdom. The few I’ve actually pressed on such matters get rather vague with statements like “stuff happens and life changes”, “no one is ever ready for what happens to them”, “live and learn”, “there are a lot of things no one can explain”.

Perhaps this hyped up thing with the capital E, Enlightenment or whatever term one uses, isn’t so much about the people it happens to, as it becomes about the people they encounter afterwards.

Certainly true in the Buddha’s case.

Dosho Port had a great post about Dogen’s enlightenment Was Dogen Enlightened? And An Important New Book On Genjokoan.

In that post he wrote:

So … did Dogen have a personal enlightenment? 

Yes, but he didn’t take it personally.

Back to the original post.

Digression #1 Dealing with the Body Before the Mind

This is a tangent continued from the last post Sense of Consciousness. Same caveats as the original post too.

Dealing with the Body Before the Mind

The details given for the contemplation of the body are quite intense. This establishes the foundation of contemplative practice since it is of an object that is always at hand, so to speak. This is also true of breath.  So whatever tradition one is coming from there is always a foundation of practice established with the physical body first. One cannot hope to understand anything else without that foundation.

The body is something we all have in common and the experiences of body-senses are similar (though of course not identical). A bright light bothers our eyes, a slap stings, soft sounds are more soothing than death metal (one may not always want to be soothed), and so on. To begin practice with these elements, like the breath brings a person into a place from which further practice can be beneficial. It also functions to reduce or contain a lot of extraneous mental activity which further helps to bring such mental activity into clearer focus.

If after a year or two nothing has happened in terms of big realizations and shifts in perspective and stuff like that it’s nothing to worry about. You don’t build a house with a couple of toothpicks to hold up the foundation. There’s got to be physical things first-clearing the lot, leveling, trenching, framing, trusses, a slab, lots of digging around, connections hooked up and so forth. It can take a long time because it’s totally a DIY project even if people shout encouragement from the sidelines.

During the first 5 or so years of my practice I thought absolutely nothing happened. Being the stubborn sort I just kept doing it more during that time rather than giving it up. I got rather fanatical and would sometimes sit for many hours per day. Then at some point a very tiny thing happened. I realized some things were not quite the way I thought they were. I realized something had changed. That I had changed. But I had no idea how. At least not for another 10 years or longer. There was just this instinctual thing that came up recurrently and said “There’s something to this.”  So I kept on doing it. Now, more than 20 years after that it’s fairly clear that stuff had been happening all along but I was not aware of it. Underground movements. To reach those internal things and bring them to clarity is a lot harder than the external, material things like the body. But it starts with the body.

And I’m not even going to say it has to be formal meditation (ohh, is that a big sin? “Must be Satan” I  thought I heard a church lady) Consider the practice of chanting for example. It encompasses the physical, the breath, the movement of the vocal chords, the shape of the mouth, the posture and so forth. The mind is focused on these things in a Dharmic context.  And further consider visualization practice. The body, the ritual, the movements, the posture, the formation of the words, the thoughts all focused in Dharmic activity.

In all these cases-meditation, chanting, prostration practice, visualization-the starting point is with the body and the objective is one of liberation in the Buddhist sense.

I have had quibbles with yoga folks on this topic when they insist that yoga is the same as Buddhism. If it is Buddhist yoga, with the same objective then I agree, but usually it is not. Same with martial arts. And by extension anything else. When there are a bunch of competing agendas such as fitness, tournaments, scores, social ties or for developing patience, focus, accuracy, grace, balance-physical or mental and perfecting other habits these are unrelated or only tangentially related  to the Buddhist objective. It is a self-help or self-perfecting exercise then. Maybe there is some mindfulness attached but it’s unlikely liberation will result. Do you know of any “enlightened” Olympic athletes? (maybe there are? I don’t know of any either)  Intention is a big part of the foundation.  If there is a divided objective then it’s effectiveness at evoking liberation will be that much more watered down.

[The other part of the yoga factor deals with the ultimate. There are the microcosm/macrocosm ideas that are part of the Hindu religion as well as the ideas about being expressions of a godhead-though not always phrased that way which are also of Hindu origin. The metaphysical elements are not the same as Buddhist ideas about self or Self-but that is a digression from the digression and I’ll save it for another blog post some time maybe]

Then there’s “The Zen of Golf” or other stuff like that–reading the comments on that post it’s fairly clear that some momentary calming of the mind is what most people equate with the Buddhist objective. To be peaceful. To be in the “zone”. To score the three-pointer.  Not to be liberated from suffering, not to realize the nature of their existence, not to change their lives but only to enhance the ego experience.

I know when I say that sort of thing some people accuse me of fundamentalism or some such thing. That would be fairly amusing if it weren’t so sad.  My definition of the Buddhist endeavor is the same as the Buddha’s. It is not something I’ve made up myself. The reason for this endeavor is because of the suffering in the world.  Not the momentary, “I can’t get my own way.” kind of squalling but the heavy duty kind. That’s why I do it.  There is no other purpose for Buddhist practice.

Now if someone wants to make up their own purposes and use Buddhist terms and methodology that’s fine. It’s not like I could stop them. I am not the Owner of Buddhism. But it will not likely lead them to liberation.  It will lead them to these other goals, maybe. And I have some concern about that. For them and for others who would follow them. So if that makes me a fundamentalist that’s OK. I’ll take the label and live with it. It’s not like it’s going to change my life the way Buddhist practice has.

It’s like multi-tasking (Multitasking Muddles Brains, Even When the Computer Is Off). And that in itself lacks mindfulness on the meta level. If we are trying to derive a lot of side benefits along with our Buddhist practice then it is those things that will receive a good deal of our attention, partly because they are a lot more immediate.

The thing is that there is so much more to Buddhist practice than these little transitory goals. A little more patience is nice sometimes as is somewhat clearer thinking and a calmer reaction to events. However these are like the little sugary decorations on the cake. When someone is starving are they enough?  That’s the crux of Bodhicitta and it’s development, which is the pre-cursor, if you will of a sustained practice.

That was quite a digression. There are a couple more digressions coming up.

Back to the original post.