Monday, July 16, 2012

Hehehehehe... tantra as the art of sucking a guy in, so to speak!

A Detailed Technical Guide To Dry Orgasms

Jeeeeeeeez. I have never seen a more detailed, focused, technical guide to "dry orgasms" than this. Much too detailed and technical for my taste - I think that when you get that technical, it tempts you to put pressure on yourself, and that's kind of like the opposite of what tantra means to me. But to each their own, and there is definitely lots of knowledge in that guide!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Dishing Out Truths

It's one of my personal pet peeves, while to many people, it is a favorite and (so it seems) very enjoyable pastime: Dishing out truths, mostly in the form of advice, without any reasoning or evidence to back up their claims.

It wouldn't even bear mentioning, given that, well, people are just people and will keep enjoying this kind of interaction... except that I have the impression that many people honestly have no idea of concepts such as levels of truth, or how to back up a claim with arguments, or how to phrase stuff properly. It's not that they're dumb, they simply never had their claims challenged - probably because nobody takes them seriously anyway.

So here's the deal:

For one, I think it is important to signal whether you consider your claim to be subjective or objective; a universal, absolute truth, or just an adhoc explanation for an observation you made. That's why you will frequently see me introduce a sentence with the phrase "I think" in this blog. It signals that this is a subjective opinion for which I can not necessarily provide any evidence.

I think that there are three levels of "provenness" to a claim: Let's call them "none", "by argument" and "by evidence". I am not arguing that you shouldn't have opinions without evidence - that is clearly impossible - but I do argue that we should be aware of that distinction, and we should somehow express it in our language. Of course, this is a very crude and broad distinction - you can specify numerous sub-categories if you like. Well, it's a start, nothing more.

Many of our opinions are indeed made out of thin air; maybe we just copied them from our parents without giving it any thoughts - and, while this may not be ideal, it is unavoidable and therefore totally okay. They're not proven, except perhaps by authority. "Red lips are beautiful" is an example of that. There isn't a lot to say about that - you can agree or disagree, and that's about it.

The next category, which I call "by argument", does not have any real evidence attached. For example, "I think that red lips are beautiful because they signal sexual availability." If you contrast this to the previous version, you can see that this time, you can at least argue whether that's what red lips actually do. You can start a debate.

Of course, if you want to phrase a real argument, you need to provide evidence on top of reasoning. "I think that red lips are beautiful because they signal sexual availability. That book that I read has a lot of examples of that." Now I can look up that book, read it and make up my own mind. It makes sense to look for counter-examples or challenge the reasoning. And that's what makes these kinds of claims so much stronger than the other ones: They are open to challenge on many levels, and therefore allow us to actually learn something about the world.

The Stages of Learning

Whenever I learn something new, when I acquire a skill, it seems that I always go through roughly the same stages of learning:

1. Dancing around the Fire

Slowly, slowly, with lots of skepticism and second thoughts, I close in on the subject in question. I have doubts and I don't really "want to believe". Like a predator, I slowly close in on my prey, always on attention for any sign of danger.

When my doubts are qualmed and my hunger for skepticism is satisfied, this leads on to the second stage,

2. Enthusiasm

I totally dive into it. I talk the lingo and meet the folks. I suck it all in. I want this to happen, I want to believe, I'm getting through the darkness to find the light!

Invariably, at some stage, this degrades into

3. Dogmatism

I know all the rules, I know right from wrong, and I'll be damned if I let anyone or anything spoil my sincere belief. This is the truth and nothing but the truth, and anything besides that is either wrong or completely irrelevant.

It's tiresome and it's exhausting, and nothing really new happens at this point, so I become disillusioned and delve into the fourth stage:

4. Hibernation

I want nothing to do with this! It doesn't work for me, it's stupid and trite, and I need new, fresh air.

5. Phoenix

And then, after a while, quite miraculously, the thing raises from the ashes. That's when the real magic happens, and I finally integrate whatever it was that I wanted to learn, into my system. That's the stage of actual, lasting changes that lead to a more satisfied and satisfying life.

It's happened to me with a wide variety of subjects, from IT to meditation, so I think I know what I'm talking about here.

I certainly don't believe that you go through the same stages. It would be weird if a thing like that wasn't subjective to a large degree.

But I do think that everybody HAS a method of learning, and that it can be generalized into stages. And if you know what those stages are in your life, it can make a lot of things easier, because you can recognize where you currently stand, and know that it's not going to last forever.

What I find weird, though, is that my "plan" seems to contain all the elements of the classical Hero's Quest: There's the call to the quest, there's initial reluctance, there's going in to reap the rewards, death and resurrection. So there may be general outlines to learning, after all, and they may have been laid down in ye olde stories, again and again, for people to learn.

It's funny how those things work.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Four Noble Truths

The Four Noble Truths are core tenets of buddhism; virtually every buddhist knows and respects them, almost by definition - in that regard, they're somewhat akin to the Ten Commandments in christianity. If you want some basic information, let me kindly refer you to their page on wikipedia.

When I first started to write this, I initially planned to restrict it to the First Noble Truth. But I soon realized that this doesn't work - those four teachings are actually ONE teaching, expressed in four steps. If you take them apart, you can't make heads or tails of the parts you're left with.

  • The First Noble Truth simply states that "life is suffering".
  • The Second Noble Truth: Suffering is caused by reasons, and those reasons are ignorance, attachment and aversion.
  • The Third Noble Truth: The reasons for suffering can be removed, and if you remove them, the suffering ceases.
  • The Fourth Noble Truth: This is where the actual steps to overcoming suffering are laid out - meditation, a good life, etc.
In general, a good generalization

A lot can be said about the use of the word "suffering" (dukkha) here - that it refers not to suffering in the western sense, but more to a general notion of being unfulfilled, of an inherent unsatisfactoriness of life. And of course, "life" here seems to refer to life in an unenlightened state.

And we can go on and on, interpreting enlightenment, and reincarnation, and that the ultimate enlightenment is realizing that there never really was an unenlightened state to escape from...

But the truth is that, before we get there, we have to accept quite a lot. Sure, the explanation that suffering is caused by craving and aversion makes a lot of sense: When I want something that I don't have (like an ice cream, a relationship, sex, money), then I suffer; when I don't want something that I do have (like a flu), then I suffer. Better, then, to accept that things are what they are, and then go from there.

And I do agree that this is a good strategy, and a good explanation for quite a lot of situations.

It is extremely tempting to simply nod one's head - yes, when I desperately want that money, I suffer. Yes, when I want that aching tooth removed, I suffer. So the rest is true, as well. Suffering is universal.

The first question I'd like to raise is whether that generalization is indeed justified. Is it really true that attachment and aversion (and ignorance, which simply conditions the other two) are the ONLY reason for ALL suffering? Can they be removed under all circumstances? Will removing them also remove all suffering? And is it true, ultimately, that suffering (in this very broad sense of the world) is something that should be removed under ALL circumstances?

After all, in the buddhist worldview, every (non-enlightened) sentient being is prone to suffering: amoebae, plants, animals, humans, even spirits, demons and gods.

And that's what makes me wonder. Let's say that a heavy stone drops from some rooftop and chooses my right foot as an excellent landing spot. After all, my foot is softer than the concrete to its left or right.

Now, before the pain reaches my consciousness, it passes through a lot of unconscious, purely physical processes - shock, instinctive rigor, numerous hormonal reactions, and so on.

And then - only after all that - my conscious mind gets notified.

I argue that the buddhist description of suffering, and how to remove it, can only apply to that very last part. Meditation can change my cognitive processes, but not the biological, physical processes going on in my body. Sure, my instincts do create a kind of fight-or-flight reaction, lust and unlust, that might be interpreted as "craving and aversion" in some limited sense - but surely not in the sense that buddhist scripture has in mind. If part of my "craving and aversion" is strictly physical, then I highly doubt that even a whole life of meditation will change it. Or several lives. The buddha did feel pain.

Is the Buddha prone to suffering?

Am I not being a bit pedantic here?

Well, not if you consider the consequences. First off, this means that the buddhist idea of suffering only describes a very small part of what we usually associate with that word. Granted, I'm fairly certain that buddhist scriptures actually do acknowledge that the buddha still felt pain. He just wasn't annoyed by it.

Well, but then - what exactly is enlightenment supposed to mean? Yeah, I know, shit on a stick, form is emptiness, and all that fun we had, juggling around empty words and zennie paradoxes. I like it. I'm all in for that kind of games, I really am. But at the same time, I cannot avoid seeing that it just doesn't mean anything.

Well... okay, it does mean something. But it doesn't mean all that much. It doesn't mean quite what it pretends to mean.

If enlightenment only works on our conscious mind, and our conscious mind only makes up a very small part of our actual experience, then buddhist meditative and ethical practice cannot have an impact on my whole being - after all, I am, for a large part, unconscious and physical. And no amount of meditation will ever change that.

Is the amoeba prone to suffering?

The second issue is that, according to the buddhist worldview, suffering is an immanent property of all sentient beings. That amoeba has to be prone to suffering just as much as I do. If it doesn't, then it cannot produce karma; killing it cannot produce karma, either, because no suffering is produced. The amoeba would then be an example of an enlightened being, by virtue of lacking cravings. The whole buddhist system doesn't make much sense if there are kinds of suffering that are not covered by the Four Noble Truths. It makes even less sense if suffering is limited to human beings (or to mammals, which is probably more likely to be the case). But, since an amoeba lacks consciousness, it cannot create cravings and aversions - it simply reacts, on a purely physical level, almost like that stone reacted to gravity. It lacks cravings, and it lacks suffering. And yet it is alive, and it is arguably "sentient" in some sense of the word.

(If you want, you can say that the amoeba isn't sentient, and replace it with some other class of living beings: The point still stands. At some point, there is an edge case that just doesn't fit. Therefore, suffering in the buddhist sense is not universal; at the very least, you can never show that it is, because you can never possibly know all species of potentially sentient beings that ever were, are, or will be. Therefore, the system does not describe what it set out to describe. Therefore, it needs to be revised.)

Again, as with karma, we arrive at a point where we have to say that buddhism is a hasty generalization.

As I write this, I realize that I didn't even cover half of my original questions. So be it. Maybe I'll come back to that later.

At any rate, my conclusion is that buddhist mindfulness practice is a very helpful tool indeed - and the ethics associated with it are very compelling, too - and that's all there is to it. It's a strictly immanent, psychological affair, quite possibly with strong and positive social repercussions. It should definitely be practiced by more people! But it certainly doesn't have any "spiritual", religious implications beyond that one short life of mine. It is not universal.

Enlightenment, after all, IS shit on a stick!