Monday, December 31, 2012

Ender's Game and the End of 2012

I'll be the first to admit I don't want the year to end on the tone of my last post. But I also feel the post was necessary for me to write.

As I've said recently, I've been ignorant of living within the cloud of feminism, and I also have become aware of another cloud that I have been living within and yet been ignorant of, namely the Internet.

It was good to write my last post to correct views that I've allowed to arise, primarily due to the fact that I was blind to my own role in the "Internet cloud."

Some of the questions I've spent a good portion of 2012 thinking about and sitting with are:
- How much a part of reality are the internet and interactions on the internet?
- How much can (or should) life on the internet substitute for real life in three dimensions?

When I started this blog, my intention was to increase interactions with friends that I'd made on Twitter, which were taking the place of a Sangha that I'd lost due to a move. I viewed my blog, etc as semi-private. Recently, I've begun to see that in switching from a passive to active role on the Internet, I was taking on more social responsibility than I was aware of. (My blindness of the effect of taking an active role on the internet can be explained, if not excused, by the many years I'd used it passively for information gathering as a scientist.)

What has made me see the social responsibility attached to an active role on the Internet, as opposed to the semi-private diary of thoughts exchanged among friends? In part, by analogy, the science fiction novel Ender's Game. To quote Wikipedia:

Set in Earth's future, the novel presents an imperiled humankind who have barely survived two conflicts with the Formics (an insectoid alien species; normally called "Buggers" by most of the population). These aliens show an ant-like group behavior, and are very protective of their leader, much like Earth ants protecting their queen. In preparation for an anticipated third invasion, an international fleet maintains a school to find and train future fleet commanders. The world's most talented children, including the novel's protagonistEnder Wiggin, are taken at a very young age to a training center known as the Battle School. There, teachers train them in the arts of war through increasingly difficult games including ones undertaken in zero gravity in the Battle Room, where Ender's tactical genius is revealed.

As the first series ended, it was revealed that when Ender and his friends were practicing their tactic maneuvers on computers they were actually fighting the real war against the Buggers. Ender and his friends just didn't know. (Apologies for the spoiler if you haven't read the series.) 

With Ender's Game in mind, I think that our blogs and interactions on the internet play a much bigger role in reality than we might initially think. (And that's not even considering Facebook, where preferences and conversations are fodder used for commercial profit.) As far as I can tell, the reason relates to the idea of six-degrees of separation, which, if you think about it, isn't that different from Indra's net. The basic idea is that the maximum distance between people of the world, in terms of interconnection, is six steps:

Although I admit I don't know that much about the theory (I'm definitely going to read up on it), if you consider the rapidity and world-wide nature of interactions on the internet, the six steps may reduce to even fewer as the internet grows in influence. Any person with an active role on the Internet has a very real opportunity to influence collective thought. And our minds are not only what we use to process information on the Internet, but also what we use to live our lives, so while the internet is no substitute for life in three dimensions, it has a powerful effect on life for each of us here.

The Internet contrasts very favorably with television and even movies, where we are force fed information about how we should live, what our definition of success should be, and heavily biased information about world events that we use to guide our thinking about world issues. The Internet allows us to question. I get the very real sense that our independent presences on the Internet are a potentially powerful influence that can be used both directly and indirectly in debates of social issues, against main stream media, which is powered by conglomerate interests, and on a more even playing field against those with money and power: the Buggers. I don't want to be a political blogger (I very much like posting my Shobogenzo notes and the occasional poem and tracking my journey), but it's a mistake to think I can entirely avoid the social responsibility that I was unaware of when starting this blog. In battles for our individuality it's a good idea to try not to develop buggers of our own, though I admit it's easy to say and much harder to do. I think it's important for each of us to recognize that it's a responsibility that extends beyond the mahasangha on-line, since each of us lives within overlapping clouds, i.e. have multiple roles in our lives.

In an attempt to answer the questions I posed above, I think the Internet is a bigger part of reality than I previously might have guessed. And I also think the Internet can be used to influence and affect change in our real three dimensional lives. Nonetheless, the Internet is not a substitute for real life. Our experiences on the Internet are more direct and interactive than what we experience watching a movie, but from a practical perspective, reality is based on space and time. The Internet, although interactive, omits two-and-a-half of the five skandhas (form, sensation, and to some extent perception, of the five skandhas which are: form, sensation, perception, mental formations, and consciousness). The power of the Internet lies in that it affects our consciousness and the way we live our lives, but it's not reality any more than emptiness is form.

As I'm writing this post I realize that the end of 2012 is rapidly moving towards me and that even if I started walking, running, driving, or flying west I couldn't escape the transition. In fact, due to the sometimes confusing nature of time and space, as well as the way we keep track of time, if I were to try and run away from the transition into the new year, I'd run into the new year! And that's basically what happens to each of us if we try to avoid reality.


All my past harmful karma, 
born from beginningless greed, hate and delusion, 
through my body, speech and mind, 
I now fully avow.


One of my favorite songs I found this year:

Wishing all a very HAPPY NEW YEAR.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Poem: A Longtime Favorite - A Walk

A Walk

by Rainer Maria Rilke

My eyes already touch the sunny hill,
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has inner light, even from a distance -

and changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on
answering our own wave...
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.

The Happiness Project ...or How to Save the Human Race (III)

I'm not sure that this post has anything to do with happiness or saving the human race, but since the comment I submitted has not been published on Mining Aśvaghoṣa's Gold, I thought I would reproduce it here -- once again, following the comment I responded to and with a few edits. (I also made a few edits in the comment box and don't recall what they were.) I don't know whether I'm speaking with clarity or from delusion, but as I get ready to post this, I'm remembering that Avalokitesvara's compassion manifests in multiple ways (though I'm not certain how skillful I'm being) and that if my words are deluded "The flower of the dharma turns the flower of the dharma."

If you think you approached me with loving kindness, you are deluding yourself.

I think you approached me with a kind of anger towards men in general -- the kind of anger which is sometimes observed among women who consider themselves to be feminists.

The prejudice against men and our perceived sexism might be the female equivalent of the prejudice against women of the brahmin Udāyin (and even more starkly the Buddhist striver in Saundara-nanda).

You say that male prejudice is acceptable. But acceptable to whom?

You accept that Aśvaghoṣa was prejudiced against women, and that he manifested that prejudice in his poetry, because, you opine, he was of his time.

In the same spirit of acceptance, I accept your opinion -- as an extremely stupid opinion.

My response:

Either you fail as a good listener or your last response is invitation to address some issues that would be good to address. I’ll risk responding, since I’ve considered you to be a friend -- even though I think walking away, or at least not feeding the fire, might be the wiser decision. It would be sad, after both of our efforts, but I’m beginning to accept that may be the reality.

Responding to your comment:
- I accept I’m deluded, although I’m not sure it’s about loving-kindness. I think every person on the planet is deluded – the more serious question is to what extent. I think the delusions of people that don’t question their own views and actions are the most problematic.

- I would rather male prejudice against women didn’t exist. Most of my life I have functioned as if it did not. I made the assumption that I would be treated with equality, yet as I sit with my karmic inheritance I can see numerous instances in which I was not. Which response is more helpful, especially since most of those people are no longer in my life?: (a) Should I be angry at those people? Or (b) Should I accept the reality that sexist attitudes exist and that I should be better prepared to recognize, call attention to, and finally, defend myself against those attitudes? For myself, the answer is (b). The primary reason is that anger towards people who are no longer in my life and about a past which I can’t change would only cause more damage to myself, whereas (b) is realistic and productive. I wonder what your own answer would be, if you were in my shoes?

- I made the rhetorical argument that Aśvaghoa was a sexist. I did not say that I necessarily think it’s true. In fact, I said:
 I’ll admit that I can think of reasons that Aśvaghoa might be excused, but for this comment that’s not my point.
That Aśvaghoa might have been a sexist doesn’t bother me much.” (Since I can’t do anything about it, one way or another, it would be a waste of my time and energy to be bothered by it.)
The extent to which Aśvaghoa was sexist is something none of us can ever know and is besides the point. For example, he may have written Saundara-nanda the way he did to keep his audience attentive, since a mahakavya is an epic poem written for entertainment.” (I seem to recall you drawing a parallel between Aśvaghoa’s mahakavya and “All in the Family” the day after I made this comment, so I thought you understood that I do not necessarily believe that Aśvaghoa was a sexist.

What am I feeling right now? Honestly, hurt and resentful.

I feel resentful at having to accept the feminist role, especially given the negativity associated with that term. (I wouldn’t be surprised if you, yourself, are reacting to the negativity associated with being called a sexist. Labels are nasty if a person isn’t willing to look past the stigma associated with them to the partial truth they may contain. Each one of us contains the myriad dharmas.)

I also feel resentful at having to accept, not only being a feminist, but an angry one. I’m not a person who gets angry easily. Nor am I comfortable using anger. It’s interesting to observe that I began to feel the need to use anger, mostly in self-defense, right before I left for Antaiji. (I think I learned how to do this, by example, from Mike Cross himself.) 

Since I’ve never met you, I don’t honestly know if you’re sexist. But if you’re not sexist, you still should be made aware of the fact that the way you have treated me, both directly and indirectly, has played a role in my need to react and/or respond to people in self-defense – even if some of things you’ve said since you began on Buddhacarita were intended as an admonishment for others for behavior you contributed to creating*, since most people, including myself, can’t read your mind. 

Here’s a profound truth I hope you can process: I accept you for who you are, even if you are a sexist. I accept you for who you are, even if you show yourself to be incapable of realizing how much hurt I’ve already processed on your account – not only due to your own words, but also due to other people’s reactions to them. I accept you for who you are, even if you show yourself to be someone that I have to walk away from since we often end by arguing and hurting each other. As evidence for my accepting you for who you are, I suggest you read what I’ve recently written and ask yourself if I haven’t been standing up for you as well, in spite of how deeply your words have hurt and in spite of the fact that you often appear insensitive to my circumstances, which you contributed to creating, and use my circumstances to judge who I am. I’d be most deeply hurt if you attribute the fact that I accept you for who you are to my being a shallow person, especially if you’re inclined to feel that way on account of the fact that I am of the female gender – whether I’m a feminist or not.

(P.S. You might be interested to hear that in the course of writing this comment I’ve found a way a person writing a thesis might be able to make a good argument for Aśvaghoa not being a sexist.)

* I've also considered that that very behavior might be an attempt to point to, if not admonish you, for your own. I don't know.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Happiness Project ...or How to Save the Human Race (II)

To preserve the sequence for individuals who have not read the recent comments at Mining Aśvaghoṣa's Gold, I'm going to reproduce the exchange following my last post here. I'll begin with Mike Cross's (in red) direct response in the comments section and the indirect responses in his posts in italics with my own comments in blue. (I'll follow these comments with my post.):

Your attention is appreciated, however sporadic. 


Because your inclinations haven’t been the best influence for a couple of reasons: (a) We both have the tendency to take ourselves too seriously. If I had continued to follow your example and advice in that regard, it could have disastrous consequences, and (b) although zazen is supposedly good for nothing, you’re lazy and stingy in regard to work on yourself. As long as that continues, you’ll have a toxic effect on those around you considering the sharpness of your dissecting intellect – which is a bit of a Midas touch as far as I can tell. Not only in terms of those around you, but also for the connection between you head and your heart, i.e. your own good self. In fact, I’m sure we could have had this conversation in a kinder fashion if you'd been willing to do that work over the years.

Metta for us both, I think -


Metta is a Pali word. I prefer good old fashioned English ones... 

Me too, actually.

From Wikipedia, Mettā is, among other things, loving-kindness, friendliness, benevolence, amity, friendship, good will, and agape. I had to look amity up, my first association was the Amityville Horror, but it’s actually another word for friendship.

By the way, using the mirror principle -- I have a similar heart-head disconnect, but in the opposite direction.

I’m not quite done. I have a little more to say. Once I catch my breath, I’ll probably say it on my blog – that’s where it seems it would be most appropriate.

The mirror principle never fails, but sometimes even those of us who know it fail to attend to it, whereupon the outcome is liable to be unfriendly criticism -- not to mention traditional Anglo-Saxon spurs to action along the lines of "Fuck off!" 

Mike –

I approached you with loving-kindness (and admitted a bit of humor which in retrospect I probably should have omitted) and I ended by doing tonglen.

What I was going to say related to the reason I’ve experienced empathy for you for a long time. And the reason is the similarity in what I’ve experienced on-line to what I felt you experienced during towards the end of your interactions with Nishijima and onward, though the reasons and context were different. I’ve wondered if you’ve seen that. Somehow I’ve always expected you to eventually see that.

Two of the ‘ghosts’ that have ‘visited’ me as we have made our way on this journey is the two of your former selves, Nishijima and you. I was going to say something about what I sense about that interaction looking at it through the same lens as I did ours based primarily on what you’ve said in comments. At the moment, however, I think it’s better left alone.

I’ve said what I felt I had to for myself.

Thank you for your efforts.


Because Aśvaghoṣa allows such views to be eloquently expressed in his poetry, a woman of scant attention who proudly considers herself to be "feminist" is liable to suspect that Aśvaghoṣa himself might be a man who harbours a sexist view of women.

I say that a person like that is not thinkingly stupidly because she is a woman. She is thinkingly stupidly because of not paying due attention to the teaching that Aśvaghoṣa is actually endeavoring to convey. (Indirect Response in Post)


To begin, I'd like to say that, for the last few posts, I have very much been talking the talk and walking the walk of dispassion and detachment recommended by Aśvaghoṣa to the extent possible. And, to be honest, I'm not sure if Mike Cross wasn't doing the same with his insult. It's difficult to know. (He also may have been being a typical Brit or the insult may have been due to anger.)

A question that could be asked is why when talking the talk and walking the walk of dispassion and detachment would a person use language carrying the echo of emotion and vulgarity? And at least a partial answer can be found in Bussho, the next Chapter of the Shobogenzo, in which Dogen revisits Buddha-nature. However, my agenda with this post is not to talk about Buddha-nature. Rather my agenda(s) are: (a) to give voice to the sense of isolation I feel, not only in my life, but also in my online presence, isolation that has increased over the last three years since my return from Antaiji, (b) to give voice to what I think are the current causes of that isolation at least online, (c) to give voice to the historic context as I see it -- it's ghosts and the threads that extend into the present moment that have contributed to making Mike Cross the man he is (with the caveat that I can't honestly say I know), and (d) give further testimony as to who I am. Because no matter what the specific outcome of my efforts are, at some point in the future, I hope to be allowed to live a normal life connected to other people -- either a partner or a real life Sangha in which I don't have to shrink in embarrassment at the fact that I didn't at least say something.

I also admit, that if I have any chance of righting past wrongs between Mike Cross and the on-line Sangha and help folks feel more comfortable and respectful in the present moment without the extra baggage everyone appears to be carrying, I would find that to be a bit of nothing, a bit of "not doing wrong" and possibly even "good doing." Nonetheless, I am a beginner and historically I wasn't there, so I can't be certain how good my perspective is or how far my light can reach. At the very least, I hope not to do further damage.


Responding to Mike Cross's indirect challenge:

Who was Aśvaghoṣa? 

Quoting Mike Cross: "He was a buddha-ancestor whose only duty was to practise sitting-meditation, as a vehicle for abandoning all views." I agree. That doesn't mean he lived a life without views and, by writing poetry he presented views. Moreover, I would argue that whether a person would see Aśvaghoṣa as a sexist or not would depend on their own view. Arguing from within the cloud of sexism, a person might very well not be aware of Aśvaghoṣa's sexist perspective (see below). Moreover, what I have said in past posts is very much that I am a NOT "proud feminist," but rather that I have lived my life from within the cloud of feminism and been unaware of it, and as a result have failed to protect myself against the damage that sexism has done to my life, my sexuality, and my sanity.

What is the teaching that Aśvaghoṣa was "endeavoring to convey"?

Quoting directly from Saundara-nanda: "Comprehend, therefore, that suffering is doing; witness the faults impelling it forward; / Realise its stopping as non-doing.."

Non-doing = Not acting. Not acting. Not responding. Sitting. Yoga.

I can't argue that the path of non-action and sitting meditation aren't exactly what is called for depending on where a person is on the path. Yet, at the end of Saundara-nanda, Aśvaghoṣa tells Nanda to go forth. And that is a recommendation for action, whether it be action in teaching or helping people, in general. (Or for a person as isolated as I am, writing blog posts.) Furthermore, as I've stated recently, sitting, when used too often as a sink or escape from life, can become the antithesis of the way that the Buddha taught. Too much asceticism, neglect, and indifference (I'm not referring to equanimity in this case) can result in tragedies like the recent elementary school shooting in Connecticut. In instances such as the shooting, repression is too extensive and energy is released inappropriately. (By the way, I'm not suggesting that the shooter was a buddhist or practiced sitting meditation, but I have little doubt that he suffered from neglect and indifference in his life.)

I do not blame Mike Cross for my own current situation, although I can't deny he contributed to it. If anything, I blame myself for having listened to him for so long. He has repeatedly recommended Non-doing = Not acting-Not acting-Not responding-Sitting-Yoga, even while he has also complained about it. I have to admit I have no way of knowing whether his recommendation was meant for myself or for others reading his blog.

It's unfortunate that I feel that Mike Cross is following advice given him by Nishijima. It is my sense (and I could be wrong, I wasn't there) that Nishijima recommended that Mike sit at times in his life where he shouldn't have and that, in doing so, Nishijima may have unwittingly contributed to the growth of a sexist perspective. In addition, Nishijima's teaching around right posture may have been wrong for Mike precisely because of his intellect, resulting in a disconnect between heart and mind, between compassion and intellect. In addition, from what has been said in Mike's commentary, the sense that I have gotten is that neither Mike or Nishijima did the work to drop off views so that they could resolve their differences. Although zazen may require a specific posture, meditation doesn't.


In my own life am I being paranoid and seeing things that don't exist? What I feel at times, I suspect, is similar to what Mike Cross felt during the fall-out due to his disagreement with Nishijima surrounding right posture and the role of thinking in zazen. What I'm experiencing and 'seeing' is connections that reach into every facet of my life -- coincidences that shouldn't, in my wildest dreams, exist, in fact do exist. My suspicion, namely that what I'm seeing is, in part, explained by the "six-degrees-of-separation phenomenon" and possibly by the invisible threads of Indra's net and the "branching streams that flow through the dark," is what has kept me sane even without a teacher, or at least someone who knows, to talk to about my experience. In empathy, I can say how sad if this is what Mike experienced due to isolation from his Sangha at the time during the fall-out from the disagreement around right posture and thinking. How that might have further contributed to his tendency to use his sharp intellect in ways that appear to be without compassion -- though I can't see everything, so I could be wrong.

I very much feel the need to say that, in spite of what I've said regarding Nishijima's advice, I feel great empathy and compassion for Nishijima. On occasions in which my exchanges with Mike have ended with my being alone in my room sitting in tears, or on occasions where I've perceived Mike using his precise intellect to evaluate others indirectly, I have truly felt for Nishijima having read a few of the reports on the Dogen Sangha blog in the past.

In the end, no teacher, no student, no two Sangha members in disagreement are ever entirely right. Only an open heart and compassion and the ability to drop-off views in life, at least temporarily, to arrive at compromise results in peace and well-being for everyone involved. Only by doing the work on self during zazen (as well as in life) to identify "invisible views" that we don't even realize we hold can each of us truly forgive and begin to heal from the suffering and scars of past suffering that are our inheritance in life.

- [The extent to which Aśvaghoṣa was sexist is something none of us can ever know and is besides the point. For example, he may have written Saundara-nanda the way he did to keep his audience attentive, since a mahakavya is an epic poem written for entertainment.]

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Happiness Project ...or How to Save the Human Race

The following is a comment I submitted to Mike Cross of Mining Aśvaghoṣa's Gold (a link to that site is over on the sidebar). Given the flexibility I've allowed for a response and given that I've also recently posted a comment to Sweeping Zen on this blog, I've decided to duplicate my comment here, admittedly after minor edits and the correction of a few typos. I am open to any comments anyone cares to make, but particularly individuals who also are regular readers of Mining Aśvaghoṣa's Gold -- especially comments that offer insight or volunteer additional perspective:

Are you sitting down? I hope so, since I want you to still be breathing when you finish reading this comment. In fact, just so you know as you continue to read, I’ll be using the mirror principle before I’m finished with what I have to say. What I’m going to say is not said out of anger, but said with the attitude that the mirror principle doesn’t do anyone much good unless it’s used as something besides an excuse for mistakes.

In your comment today you say: “Aśvaghoa does not try to contradict male-centric views of women by counterposing a view of his own about women.” I can’t argue with that, but my sense is still that Aśvaghoa was a bit of a sexist. And I think it’s entirely acceptable for Aśvaghoa given his time, so you shouldn’t be offended.

On what basis do I put forth the argument that Aśvaghoa was a bit of a sexist? Namely, that the views of women he presents throughout Saundara-nanda and the verses of Buddhacarita that I’ve been around for (I’ve been little busy lately for several reasons) present women as sex objects, as opposed to human beings in their own right. The only possible exception I think of off-hand might be a verse or two in Canto 6: A Wife’s Lament, when an older woman makes an effort to console Sundari. I’ll admit that I can think of reasons that Aśvaghoa might be excused, but for this comment that’s not my point. You, yourself, have repeatedly said that Aśvaghoa doesn’t support the idea of Sangha since he doesn’t mention it, so I feel I can claim Aśvaghoa was a sexist.

That Aśvaghoa might have been a sexist doesn’t bother me much. What does bother me, however, is that I think one reason you’re so comfortable with Aśvaghoa is that you’re a bit of a sexist yourself. I’m concerned that you are subconsciously using Aśvaghoa to reinforce your own tendencies. After following your commentary for several years, the only counter-evidence that I can think of is your praise of Marjory Barlow. Unfortunately, since Marjory Barlow was of advanced years when you were her student, she might as well have been Mother Teresa. Moreover, you appear to regard Marjory as a sort of mother figure, which also is a gender specific role.

One of the reasons I’m mentioning this now is that recently I’ve been spending a fair amount of time sitting with the karmic inheritance of my life and I’ve come to the conclusion that I am so much of a feminist that I haven’t even felt the need to be a card-carrying one! The fact that I haven’t been aware of it, though, has caused a fair amount of damage in my life, because I haven’t been prepared to defend myself against the sexist perspective (which remains prevalent in academia as well). I have to admit that, in this regard at least, I’ve been naïve. This, coupled with the fact that my ego is nowhere near as greedy and needy as yours, has caused me to back-off and drop-off views when in actuality I shouldn’t have. I haven’t been aware of my role as a feminist and, therefore, have fallen short in my responsibility to a role I was born into -- whether I like it or not.

I’m mentioning this now because the initial problem that I started sitting with was that I’ve been feeling increasingly limited and claustrophobic in my on-line presence, a presence that felt very rich and dynamic at its start. I’ve been trying to identify the reasons behind what I’ve been feeling. The most likely hypothesis I have traces back to you, specifically the combined dynamic of your sexist attitude and my willingness to drop off views. I think this has operated indirectly in a “six-degrees of separation” kind of way with consequences for how I am treated and viewed by others on-line. It’s my belief that your sexist attitude likely began to contaminate my on-line presence even before I officially signed on as a reader. I’m especially thankful to have friends who helped me see this. On your behalf, I will say that I don’t think you ever intended to limit my on-line presence.

Lastly, I should add that I’ve never viewed you as a teacher, although undoubtedly I’ve learned a lot from reading your blog. I wonder if your need to establish some sort of superiority has also contributed to the way you’ve treated me and others who have left comments.

Feel free to take a few days to sit with and think about my comment. I have experiments lined up for the rest of the week and likely won’t have enough time to respond until the weekend.

Again, I’d like to reiterate that, although I am aware that you may find this comment initially hurtful, it’s not intended to be malicious or vengeful, rather the intention is that we learn from our past mistakes. In that spirit,


(If anyone wants to check in and make sure Mike Cross is feeling alright, that might not be such a bad idea.)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Who am I? Who am I not?

Detachment -- it's a good practice.

I don't think, however, that it's possible to live a full life as a human being if a person limits themselves to a detached view. So in that very human spirit, I have several things I feel the need to say. The reason I'm saying them now is because I think that in the years since I started this blog I've increasingly forced myself (or, worse yet, been advised) to deal with my own reactions and responses using zazen --specifically, using emptiness as a sink for my own reactions to difficult situations and innuendo resulting from those situations. That well-spring of emptiness is without limit. But resorting to it too often chokes off life.

Asceticism isn't always bad. In fact, a balance of asceticism and life is the Way that the Buddha taught. It's also similar to what I think Nishijima was trying to express with his autonomic nervous theory of zazen -- even though I think his expression was tainted by his cultural heritage, the times and his admiration for science. It's also what I think Aśvaghoa was expressing in the poem Saundara-nanda -- even though I think that expression was tainted by his cultural heritage, the times and sexism. Each person is a different and unique place in their journey, so that appropriate balance between acesticism and life is going to be different for each person.


Returning to the reason for this post:

 - During the last few months, I've felt that I've been increasingly asked to shoulder the responsibility for and take the blame for the actions (or, in actuality, non-actions) of people I've "known" since the start of this blog and before. (I'm using the word know in the conventional sense, although how conventional knowing can be in cyberspace I'm not sure.)

 - It's interesting that I feel I'm having to shoulder the blame in spite of the fact that, in many ways, I feel isolated and invisible due to the absence of direct interactions in cyberspace, not to mention real life. What do I mean by "shoulder the blame?" I mean that, with time, I've felt that my normal modes of self-expression have been threatened, misunderstood and cut-off. What modes of expression have I lost? (a) my ability to directly interact with friends due to the indirect judgments I see, mainly because I don't want negative judgements to spread to my friends, (b) my poetry - for more than one reason I have, to a large extent, cut myself off from my muses and limited my writing, (c) Rumi quotes, (d) because of my poetry, in the past I've sensed that some people have read more into my Shobogenzo posts than was actually there. Does the fact that I write poetry mean I can't study the Shobogenzo or share what I learn from that?, and finally, most recently, (e) I see my choices in music being questioned. Why have I cut myself off or limited myself from these modes expression? Because it has become apparent that some people are unable to appropriately classify and contain their reactions and responses. I can't say I consistently feel threatened and negatively judged either, in some cases I've felt flattered, but it's possible that I've misjudged the intent behind that flattery.

 - I'll shoulder the responsibility for my own actions, but I'd rather not be judged and labeled for the actions and non-actions of others just because I trust those individuals enough that I can find the compassion not to judge them, even though I don't know the exact reasons for their behavior. I'd also prefer not to be teased or judged on the basis of reactions of people who are unable to appropriately contain their reactions and responses.

 - I'm not a licensed psychotherapist, but have an academic background in psychology and feel at least as qualified, if not more so, to recognize, deal with, as well as speak out in cases of potential abuse, such as the Sasaki case, than some of the other folks I've heard speak out.

- As I've struggled to cope with my own reactions to what I see and my own history and experience, some of that expression has been in the form of poetry. As I became aware of that, I've made an effort to put those expressions of my experience in the appropriate context or environment. Most artists know that art often surprises the artist by allowing an escape valve for current emotions or repressed emotions resulting from past experiences.

- I know that my own reactions and responses on-line depend on context and the assumptions I make about the person I'm talking to, either directly or indirectly. I am aware that my own behavior may be confusing and difficult to classify, with experience ranging from the punk scene and other types of music, to poetry and, finally, academics. Even though I idealistically (and perhaps naively) prefer the compassionate response, the in-your-face confrontational response exists in my repertoire as well, especially when I feel I may have been insulted. My choice of response in any given instance is going to depend on my view of the person I'm interacting with, my sense of the situation and the context.

- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, as a result of the Sasaki case and reactions to it, here's my own statement regarding zazen:

I just sit. That's it. In cases where I've volunteered to sit with friends on-line, I've done so to offer support. That's all. I'm encouraged to see groups like the Online Meditation Crew and Treeleaf Sangha that exist to support the sitting practices of people who are removed from local Sanghas in real life.


In summary, what I can say about the last three years of my life is that I've been increasingly forced to take an ascetic approach and use zazen as a sink or escape from the difficulties and isolation I'm facing. Somehow that needs to stop. At the same time, I have to admit that precisely because I've relied on an ascetic approach and on zazen to compensate for some very difficult and challenging experiences, I'm not ready to make any major decisions. Given the numerous practical constraints and limitations on my life at this time I'm not exactly sure what the solution is, but I firmly believe the solution for myself and me is not something I'll find with more sitting. I'll still always love to sit.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Sometimes I am not a Buddhist and I still have a Distaste for Religion

What I’m going to say next relates a little to Uchiyama’s (and, therefore, possibly Okumura’s) thinking and, if I hadn’t run short of time yesterday, would have been part of the last post: 

We can think of any role we have in life (job, marriage, parenting, whatever) as a cloud. [In this analogy, different clouds are made up of different elements and, as a result, have different properties in regard to weights, responsibilities, indirect costs, etc. At any given moment in time, different clouds can overlap.] Buddhism and, by extension, Zen is a cloud too. And both are extensions of what the Buddha taught. I think a person is fine walking through the cloud that is Buddhism, Zen or what the Buddha taught as long as he or she doesn’t try to grasp onto the cloud in order to define themselves. When we grasp onto the cloud looking for refuge or to define ourselves, especially in a way that tries to define the borders of the cloud itself, we run into trouble. We lose whatever our original features are. That effect can last only moments or, in some cases, years. In the latter case, one day we wake up and find ourselves materialized into a brick wall that can be very difficult to extract ourselves from.

I have a couple of reasons I’ll continue to say I’m Buddhist and Zen, at least for the time being. The first reason is very practical in that my life situation appears to require it at the moment. The second is that I’d like for Buddhism, Zen and what the Buddha taught to continue to exist as part of the same cloud.

When a person strongly defines themselves as anti-Buddhist, it creates two problems. The first problem is at the level of the individual, namely that the anti-Buddhism cloud can be every bit as much of a trap as the Buddhism cloud is. It can cause a person to lose their original features. The second problem relates to the role of what the Buddha taught in society, humanity, and the universe (whether the universe was/is created by the mind, God, the Big Bang, or as part of a computer simulation -- like in the Matrix). Given the tendency of humans to allow will-power, as opposed to wisdom-power, to run the show, I predict that individuals like you, me, and people like Brad Warner, are more effective within the Buddhism cloud than outside it – at least if we don’t allow it to define us too tightly. Otherwise, at some point in the future, Buddhism may become a cloud so dense, or a bigger more evil monster, that it is capable of destroying what the Buddha taught entirely. And that would be a shame.

The reaction of “Buddhism” against someone who is strongly anti-Buddhist, more often than not, is to cause the cloud that is Buddhism to strengthen it’s borders and definition in opposition. That, in turn, causes Buddhism to become a cloud made of a heavier substance and puts more people within it at risk. While I’m permitted, I’d rather be someone within the cloud of Buddhism working to keep the borders and definitions of that cloud soft and flexible -- which I think is most in accord with not doing wrong and what the Buddha taught. 


As a footnote, if I comment on this post, my comment would be: What a wonderful piece of idealistic thinking! 

That doesn't mean it isn't true. Only that it, like everything else, is a partial truth. At different points in our life, each one of us is forced to take a stance on some issues. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

My Response to Sweeping Zen

I was going to call this post something along the lines of "I am not a Buddhist and I have a distaste for religion." I'm hoping that's going a bit too far.

The post was to be a lot like a comment I just posted to Brad Warner's Facebook page:

People are easily drawn into emotionally-charged scenarios. I think each person has baggage from their past that acts like a magnet to draw them in and as a lens to distort their view of what’s happening. One of the things Buddha taught is step free of those distortions, at least momentarily, so that distortions are less liable to negatively affect actions. It’s called detachment.

It’s not that practitioners have a license to be amoral. It’s just that the motivation for action in any instance is different. It’s “not doing wrong,” followed by “good doing”, as opposed to “doing good”. What Dogen meant by “doing good” is action motivated by societal rules and expectations and it can be the source of a lot of harm. Not doing wrong is independent of those rules. It’s not amoral, it’s a higher morality dependent on the specific circumstances. Ideally, it is a fluid stance from moment-to-moment. In any situation, only the people directly involved have the slightest chance of knowing what that might be.

Tebbe is over-reacting for reasons only he has the foggiest notion of understanding. It’s not my business to know why. My suggestion to him is that he spend some time on a zafu to investigate the root cause. The Sasaki case also is none of my business since I, myself, have no way of knowing anything. I refuse to take second and third hand reactionary statements as truth. What is my business, however, and only to the extent I can remain detached so that it doesn’t become too emotionally disturbing and interfere with living life, is watching the reactions around the blogosphere. In that sense, Tebbe’s reporting appears to me to be not only inflammatory, but also detrimental to any successful resolution of the case. It sets off other people’s triggers and emotional alarms. It gets more difficult and more difficult when people on the outside with an inability to know, i.e. not directly involved, start forming their own judgments, especially when such judgments are based on their fears, own unrelated past experiences and agendas. I, for the time being, have removed Sweeping Zen off my reading list.

I hope Brad Warner doesn’t sell his robes on eBay, either for the rent money or out of disgust at the limitations on life the powers that be try to throw on him. As I’ve said before, the inclusion of of Brad’s personal life in the reporting on the Sasaki case is divisive and a person has to wonder about the agenda of anyone acting in such a fashion. In my opinion, he’s one of the few examples of someone living zen instead of preaching it, and I think “Buddhism”-- for lack of a better term, would suffer at the loss.

By the way, Jordan Fountain wrote a great post on the role of morality in Zen awhile back: