I think you already know my views. I believe that in the 21st century, despite a lot of material development and facilities to support us and help provide us with a happy, joyful and meaningful life, there are limitations to having only material values and material development. So all major religious traditions still have an important role today. That’s clear. And one clear indication is that many people have some kind of interest about inner values, and so we have seen the emergence of some strange religions like the New Age and things like that. But this means there are people who are not completely satisfied with material values, and so they are seeking some inner values. People are really seeking something. And some other people might be quite clever at taking advantage of that opportunity. But under such circumstances, the buddhadharma certainly has a similar role to play in this century. Among the different traditions, I think all the major religions have the same potential to help humanity. But for those people who are generally a little sceptical about religion, and who aren’t easily convinced about God or such things, then Buddhism can help. Even among Buddhists who have a keen interest in Buddhism, there are still many who are sceptical about next life. In such a period I think certainly Buddhism may have greater potential to help such people, who love reasons and explanation. For such people, I think the Buddhist approach is suitable.
Monday, March 30, 2009
You may have noted – may even have pitied – the vehemence with which I wrote ‘But I said that first.’ I, the insistent, emphatic, italicized me. The I to which I am brutishly attached, the I that must be farewelled. And yet this I, or even its daily unitalicized shadow, is not what I think of it as. Around the time I was assuring the college chaplain that I was a happy atheist, there was a fashionable phrase: the integrity of the personality. This is what, amateurs of our own existence, we believe in, don’t we? That the child is father, or mother, to the man, or woman; that slowly but inevitably we become ourselves, and that this self will have an outline, a clarity, an identifiability, an integrity. Through life we construct and achieve a unique character, one in which we hope to be allowed to die.
But the brain mappers who have penetrated our cerebral secrets, who lay it all out in vivid colours, who can follow the pulsings of thought and emotion, tell us that there is no one at home. There is no ghost in the machine. The brain, as one neuropsychologist puts it, is no more or less than ‘a lump of meat’ (not what I call meat – but then I am unsound on offal). I, or even I, do not produce thoughts; thoughts produce me. The brain mappers, peer and pore as they may, can only conclude ‘there is no “self-stuff” to be located’. And so our notion of a persisting self or ego or I or I – let alone a locatable one – is another illusion we live by. Ego Theory – on which we have survived so long and so naturally – is better replaced by Bundle Theory. The notion of the central submarine captain, the organizer in charge of the events of his or her life, must surrender to the notion that we are a mere sequence of brain events, bound together by certain causal connections. To put it in a final and disheartening (if literary) way: that ‘I’ of which we are so fond properly exists only in grammar.
- There's a difference between suffering and dukkha. We noted that many of us still think of the First Noble Truth as "The Truth of Suffering", when in fact it is the truth of dukkha, which is a much richer (and less "negative") idea than suffering. Dukkha has three aspects: (1) ordinary suffering, (2) suffering produced by impermanence and change, (3) conditioned states. Until we correctly understand the First Noble Truth, we will not be able to understand the origin or cessation of dukkha, or the path that leads to its cessation.
- We have "outsourced" much of the suffering in our lives, so that we no are not aware of the consequences of our actions, in much the same way that the acid rain from a power plant can fall hundreds of miles away from the source. We discussed examples such as our attempts to insulate ourselves from disease and death (hospitals, fashion magazines); our unawareness of (and emotional disconnection from) the conditions of factory farmed animals; the fur trade and the fashion industry; and how the US has outsourced much of its drug problem to Mexico.
- Nirvana is not a result, else it would be an effect produced by cause. Nirvana, Truth, is beyond cause and effect. It simply is. All you can do is see it. A path leads to it, but it’s not the result of the path. You get to a mountain along a path, but the mountain is not result of path.
- There’s nothing beyond/after Ultimate Truth, and it has no purpose (as that presupposes something subsequent). The spiritual path has no purpose because enlightenment has no purpose, so there’s no point talking about its “benefits” – which is a direct challenge to the utilitarian approach we take in our materialistic approach to life.
- Even according to the Theravada, Nirvana can be realised in this very life (which might perhaps help to temper our Vajrayana pride!)
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Sunday, March 8, 2009
This week's New York Times features an article by Judith Warner on 'Being and Mindfulness', a fascinating snapshot of how meditation and mindfulness is (mis)understood in the West. Judith paints an image of Buddhist practice as "extreme solipsism" leading to a state that is "cold and forbidding, and above all terribly, terribly dull":
Mindfulness is supposed to bring people together. By embracing your essential humanness, getting in touch with and accepting your body, sensations, emotions and thoughts, you are supposed to join with, and empathetically connect to, all humanity ... But in real-life encounters, I’ve come lately to wonder whether meaningful bonds are well forged by the extreme solipsism that mindfulness practice often turns out to be.
Some of us experience our emotions always in capital letters and exclamation points. This isn’t always pleasant but, to go all mindful for a moment, it is what it is, and if you are one of these people then probably one of the great pleasures of your life is finding others like you and settling in with them for a good rant. A world devoid of such souls can be cold and forbidding, and above all terribly, terribly dull.
Thankfully, the Times' readers weren't happy to let such confusion go without comment! There are many excellent and enjoyable responses to her article - 589 in all - most of which are inspiring and insightful, although there are a few that demonstrate even greater confusion or misunderstanding than Judith. Taken as a whole, it's a great read - strongly recommended!
- Samudaya, the arising or origin of dukkha
- Nirodha, the cessation of dukkha
- Magga, the way leading to the cessation of dukkha
- All compounded phenomena are impermanent
- All emotions are pain
- No phenomena have a truly existing self or nature
- Nirvana is beyond extremes
- All conditioned things are impermanent (Sabbe samkhara annica)
- All conditioned things are dukkha (Sabbe samkhara dukkha)
- All dhammas are without self (Sabbe dhamma anatta)