Monday, June 19, 2017

Acceptance, not Passivity!

Every once in a while someone in a thread about buddhism and all that, ahem, stuff, mentions the importance of acceptance. Predictably, someone points out that we cannot simply accept ISIS, Trump, the Republicans, climate change, whatever.

They always get downvoted into oblivion. But... Isn't this the most obvious objection?

It certainly is one of my first thoughts, every time I hear or see a comment like that.

We all have stuff that we simply cannot accept. And that very fact is, in my view at least, the most important thing to accept. Political matters, relationship matters, family matters. Very important stuff. Stuff that needs to be addressed.

To me, currently, it's mostly about family, about the way my mother and sister treat my father after his stroke. The point cannot be to simply "let it go" and do nothing to help my own father. To revel in my own helplessness and dress it up as spiritual enlightenment. No siree, sorry.

The point is not that. That is moronic ideology, pop psychology, newey agey happy deppy thinkie pinkie winkey horsecrap. I wholeheartedly reject that, with no acceptance at all.

BUT.

I do challenge myself to really feel my own resistance. To first find out what this has to do with me, what it does to me, what exactly it is that makes me so angry, and what my intention truly is. I try to get to a point where I don't have to react to my own anger, where I don't have to blindly lash out against them -- against the persons involved, as opposed to the problems we're facing together. I want to reach a point where I can react to the issue itself, in the most effective and helpful way possible. This simply cannot be done if I am a slave to my own rejection.

In an odd way, I am at a good place for that practice. I tried reason, I tried anger, I tried lashing out, I tried interventions with people who I thought might have an influence... all to no avail. So the only place left to change is indeed myself.

To do that, I first have to set up my own limits. That part is extremely important. I cannot get there if I constantly feel like I'm under immediate threat. I have to realize that, right now, I am not there, and there is a chance that I never will be. So there have to be defences. For some situations, that might mean moving out, limiting contact, in some cases legal action. (Possibly even war? I honestly don't know.)

Those defences might come down in the long run, of course, but I have to be compassionate to myself first, if I want to enable myself to be compassionate to others.

And then... well... lots and lots of mindfulness, practice, training, meditation, I guess. Not become a poser in the process. Not try to project that I am sooo enlightened and accepting when deep down I'm the opposite.

This is a huge challenge. To me, to you, to everyone.

Please let's never lose sight of the fact that, for the most part, we are not there yet, and acting as if we were, won't do at all.

Obligatory link to my reddit comment on that matter.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

If contentment is subversive, then meditation is an act of revolution

More freedom, less exploitation.

Less need, more freedom.

More peace, less need.

More mindfulness, more peace.

More practice, more mindfulness.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

"Seeing things for what they really are" in Buddhism

Don't be fooled.

When buddhists talk about seeing things for what they really are (as they are wont to do), they do not mean anything the pesky nonbuddhists might imagine. Such as, seeing the sunrise in all its glory, or seeing the beautiful woman in the street as a real person instead of a sex object (hey, it's summer, guys, I'm just as horny as you!).

The phrase means to see things as impermanent, unsatisfactory, and void of self. These are called the Three Marks of Existence. They are directly connected with the Four Noble Truths and are fundamental axioms of the buddhist philosophy.

You may or may not subscribe to this worldview. Fine if you do. Fine if you don't.

I urge you to remember that this is a religious doctrine. Every valuable spiritual experience in buddhism is supposed to confirm it. If you come out of a meditation session with the revelation that things are permanent and very satisfactory indeed, you'll probably be escorted, very gently, out of the sangha. Or at least seen as a very odd kind of buddhist.

This ties into what I said earlier about Experience and Religion. The truth is, there is no way of directly experiencing all things as afflicted with the Three Marks. You simply don't have the experience of all things.

The Anicca part is the least problematic of the three. We all seem to experience that things start end end. Meditation makes it very apparent that this is the case for our emotions and thoughts, and it does so in a highly productive way. But if you jump from this experience, as universal as it seems to be, to a global assertion about everything in all possible universes, you're committing a fallacy of induction. All you can really say is that it is true, with very high probability, of everything you will ever experience.

Anatta suffers from the same problem, but on top of that, it is rather hard to define what a self really is, and whether this is not just a repetition of Anicca from another perspective.

Dukkha is a different beast. It doesn't fit in with the other two. Anicca and Anatta are ontological axioms, whereas dukkha has an element of psychology to it. Lumping it together with the other two seems inconsistent. It has little to do with "how things really are", and more with "how I relate to things".

In conclusion, I believe that buddhism asks you to take a few key assertions on blind faith, and then reassert them with every "experience" that you have. Buddhists do not experience the Three Marks, but they take them for granted, and then use this framework to interpret their experiences. The experience itself, I maintain, is anonymous. It might be better if we tried not to interpret it at all.


It is a religion. Don't be fooled.

Instead, meditate.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Experience and Religion

Assume you start out with meditation.

Presumably, you first read a book on buddhism, or attend a retreat or a yoga class. Then you sit down and do your thing.

Surprise, surprise! You find out that all thing are empty and void of self, that life is dukkha, and nothing is permanent.

The big question is: Looking inside, focusing on your breath -- what would you have found out, had you not read that book first?

========================================================

This is a real pickle. You can never be sure whether the insights you purportedly gained from your own experience are really yours, or just something you learned from others.

In buddhism, the experiences you have in meditation are always interpreted as evidence that the dharma is true. That is religious bullshit, in all its devastating glory.

Do you REALLY think that everything is impermanent etc.? Does that REALLY follow from your own experience? In almost all cases, I'm fairly confident that the answer to that is a resounding "no". At the very least, it would probably not lead to ideas of karma, reincarnation, and  boddhisattvas in bright robes...

You can derive, from the very same experience, that there is an eternal, albeit anonymous, self that watches everything. You can also derive that you are a brain in a vat.

I think that it is highly important, eventually, to liberate yourself from the teachings, and start to actually look at your own experience.

I wonder what this means for religions other than buddhism, too.

What actual insight stems from meditation?

I woke up this morning with a lot of anger. There was no reason for it, I didn't even have particularly bad dreams, it's just one of those days.

I'm sure there is a secular, physical explanation. Hormones, the male period, whatever.

It makes me wonder.

2500 years of buddhist meditation alone, which supposedly not only calms people down, but gives them insight into "how things truly are", and what really goes on inside. Direct insight into the mechanics of the mind. Direct observation of emotions and thoughts.

Assuming that, in all that time, not everyone was a phony posturing jerk such as myself; assuming that a few of those people were close to "enlightenment" (whatever that is), there should be some useful advice gained from all that meditation, right?

Advice which does not boil down to the boring repetition of a religious doctrine. Advice for people who would never ever meditate, who wouldn't assume a lotus position if their life depended on it. Advice that actually helps.

I have a hard time finding that advice.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Meditating the Psalms: Psalm 3 - Victimhood and Toothbashing


1.
מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד:    בְּבָרְחוֹ, מִפְּנֵי אַבְשָׁלוֹם בְּנוֹ

A psalm that I put into David's mouth, because it fits nicely with one of the many stories we tell about him that are completely made up.

2.
יְהוָה, מָה-רַבּוּ צָרָי;    רַבִּים, קָמִים עָלָ

Oh how oppressed am I! Nobody understands me, while all the other people have no issues at all!

3.
רַבִּים, אֹמְרִים לְנַפְשִׁי:    אֵין יְשׁוּעָתָה לּוֹ בֵאלֹהִים סֶלָ

Many have pointed out that my god didn't seem to do an awful lot for me, but I don't want to listen, selah.

4.
וְאַתָּה יְהוָה, מָגֵן בַּעֲדִי;    כְּבוֹדִי, וּמֵרִים רֹאשִׁ

I rather choose to cling to my beliefs as if they were true.

5.
קוֹלִי, אֶל-יְהוָה אֶקְרָא;    וַיַּעֲנֵנִי מֵהַר קָדְשׁוֹ סֶלָ

Not that I ever heard any voice from that damn mountain of his. But still, it doesn't hurt to pray and wait for an answer, does it?

6.
אֲנִי שָׁכַבְתִּי, וָאִישָׁנָה;    הֱקִיצוֹתִי--כִּי יְהוָה יִסְמְכֵנִ

After all, I *did* wake up this morning, didn't I? Can't have been my body doing that all by itself due to its biology? Must be some celestial intervention that keeps me alive!

7.
לֹא-אִירָא, מֵרִבְבוֹת עָם--    אֲשֶׁר סָבִיב, שָׁתוּ עָלָ

Rather than try and look at my issues as they are, and try to deal with them realistically, it's much better to stick my head in the desert sand and hope for help coming from above.

8.
קוּמָה יְהוָה, הוֹשִׁיעֵנִי אֱלֹהַי--    כִּי-הִכִּיתָ אֶת-כָּל-אֹיְבַי לֶחִי
שִׁנֵּי רְשָׁעִים    שִׁבַּרְתּ

Maybe, if I imagine a real good bloodbath, my imaginary friend will then be more eager to come and give it to those bastards like they deserve. After all, peace is for sissies and people who don't have imaginary friends who might beat up their foes for them.

9.
לַיהוָה הַיְשׁוּעָה;    עַל-עַמְּךָ בִרְכָתֶךָ סֶּלָ

After the war is over, we can then thank the lord for all the bloodletting. Sela.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Meditating the Psalms: Psalm 2 - Delusions of Power from On High

Psalm 2

This is where things get hilarious, in a dark and grim way.

We want to have power, just like the big players all around. We want to imagine our king as protected by divinity, just as they do. We want him to be a son of god, just like them.


But of course, our history clearly shows that all of this is not the case. As much as we would like to paint our past as grandiose, we were always a sidenote in the power balance, a pawn and a tool. As soon as we had an empire, we lost it because of our infighting.


But we still have our imagination! We still have religion! We still have the King of Kings, and even if he never really intervenes, we can act as if he did. If our kings failed, that doesn't have to mean that our god failed, so we can still have hope. We can make pretty songs about him, hymns to him, and who knows, if we just have enough faith, just bring enough sacrifices, just condemn, vilify and humiliate ourselves a little bit more for a little bit longer...

Who knows...

Oh, you kings and empires. Oh, you evil ones! You will all come to see our true greatness.

You will all kneel before us.

When I am all grown up, dad will punish you for hurting me.