Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Scientific Buddhism

I read a new website Scientific Buddhism. Someone's been reading their western philosophy and believes in hard determinism. I like the idea of free will, whether or not it's a fiction. I actually have a friend who is a determinist. He still strives for self actualization, which hard determinism might seem to be against, but really is neutral. Determinism is probably true, but what I find interesting is the diversity of belief in real people, not the best paper debating free will and determinism. "Logic is a bird twittering in my ear," said Spock to confound the robots.

Buddhism can be combined with anything. Other religions and ideologies. To make a living there are people who consult with companies to help inject mindfulness into business. I like the Atheist Buddhism of Stephen Batchelor for some reason. It's quite appealing to me, and I really enjoy reading his books. I also like Buddhism and psychotherapy. I like Buddhist fiction, whatever that is.

My friend who respects and reveres science does not base his life on it. When I send him articles about how good meditation is, he doesn't care. So how far is his belief in science, if he doesn't act on it. He loves technology, that is his refuge.

It can be smart to reject the mind control of religion. The critique that religion just turns everything on end, fun becomes bad, unpleasant becomes good--feels true in some cases. On the other hand, you need to think about everyone else more. I don't think we all have to be ceaselessly self sacrificing, we're not all going to choose abnegation as our faction. But following Ayn Rand down the rabbit hole of selfishness isn't better. A true individual isn't a scumbag, a piker or a conciencia, and can imagine other's experience, and feel the interbeing. The me/you balance is never solved conclusively.

I don't think there is any avoiding that our theories of life are like pulling rabbits out of a hat. That's what a guy said to me in the philosophy of science class. Science is pretty cool, but if you've read The Logic of Scientific Discovery, you know it's not exempt from fads and pigheadedness. A modern person will balk at the traditional beliefs that seem so naive if you look at them through the lense of science. But if you see spirituality as binding us together, you see it for the social aspect that helps bind us together. When my grandmother was sick, she got so many casseroles. Not having that kind of community is a loss to me, even if you have to put up with some malarkey.

Evidence based practice in social work is a sham. Some study about child welfare in Kansas City might not apply easily to New York City. Child welfare is a hard game that won't yield to easy solutions. We are advancing in our knowledge of the social science, but it's a battle of inches, and can be perverted. Evidence based practice feels like a liberal way of defeating the hooey of conservatives. And yet we're moving too slowly to decriminalize substance abuse, which has been proven to solve many problems in Portugal. The unintended consequences of prohibition were a needed corrective in the thesis and antithesis of early America, which was considerably alcoholic. Johnny Appleseed wanted more apple cider. We're too sophisticated now to just have a moral approach to substance abuse. Marsha Linehan proved DBT works, but she also believes clinicians with good instincts can bring about any system.

What I learned in philosophy is that every theory can be defeated. Not always true might be a motto of mine even if Kant was a rock star. Godel's Theorem or Turing's similar results proved you could not reduce everything to one true science and know it to be true. There's no one area of study you can focus on and then coast the rest of your life. You have to work all the time to keep learning, in many different areas. That is the higher evolution.

Science without heart has lead to nuclear bombs, global warming and the current ADHD of technology. Shakespeare warned us not to divorce our heart from our intellect: "My crown is in my heart, not on my head; not decked with diamonds and Indian stones, nor to be seen: my crown is called content, a crown it is that seldom kings enjoy." (The Third part of King Henry the Sixth Act 3 scene 1)

So if you like science and you like Buddhism, cool. You want to do some head banging philosophy with your Dharma. Try some madhyamaka. OK. Sure, when you meditate, you can develop some amazing sophistications and abilities with your powers. How about some heavy metal Buddhists.

We also need simplicity sometimes and the simple truths of being kind to others because we are all connected, is an insight I can't erase. It's a simple experience that sounds like a cliche, but was profound and hard to express. All those books that prove Buddhism scientifically contribute, I'm sure, but leave me cold. I'm sparked more by poetry, myth and the dialectic. I know in my heart that the dharma outlook is important for me. That's all I need. And it's through meditative experience that I move closer towards the Buddha, my hero.

I hope the blogger of Scientific Buddhism enjoys his journey. I'll be interested to see how things go for them.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Full embodiment

Lion's Roar had an article that caught my interest with Jack Kornfield and Trudy Goodman answering questions from Sandra Oh.

"...we teachers often teach what we ourselves need to learn how to embody more fully!" I'd say that was true of teachers and non-teachers.

Kornfield also points out that in sanghas where the teachers came from another land and stayed here, there is a felling of the country they came from. IMS teachers didn't stay so the American teachers have a more American flavor.

Kornfield also points out the diversity and inclusiveness in American Buddhism. I wonder if we could ever get to a point where we wouldn't even have to make a point of being inclusive, it would be a shoulder shrug progress like the gay governor of Colorado.

I really liked this quote from Trudy Goodman:

It takes courage to move out into the world—to work to heal oppression and violence in our culture. It’s courageous to extend our efforts in awareness to call for racial, social, and ecological justice. Engaged compassion means making sure that practitioners who have been on the margins of American Buddhism are more fully represented in our communities. What a joy and privilege it is to study with more Asian-American Buddhists, more Black and Brown teachers. To practice with all kinds of people from all walks of life, united in our love of the Earth, our ancestors, our children, and our descendants!

There is more in the interview transcript about Buddhism and Psychotherapy mixing together.

Ethical concerns

Kamala Harris points out that when we wake up in the night worried about things, it's not as a democrat or a republican.

Cory Booker talks about love as motivation in politics.

Here are things I'm worried about:

1. Your phone tainted by the misery of the 35,000 children in Congo's mines

2. The oceans are warming faster than we thought they were.

3. Myanmar has jailed 2 journalists who help expose the genocide going down there.


Reading Me and Shakespeare by Herman Gollob has been wonderful. He found the religion of Judaism that he wasn't really brought up with, and Shakespeare. Reading Shakespeare was part of his spiritual awakening. I started reading Shakespeare last year. The plan is to read through the whole of the plays and poems. I'm afraid this blog is going to suffer as I devote myself to the Bard, but I'm planning a post on Macbeth for Going For Refuge Blog.

Reading the word simony in Me and Shakespeare, I had to look it up: buying or selling of something spiritual or closely connected with the spiritual. Sounds like spiritual materialism to me. I apply all spiritual insights to myself. Projecting them onto others doesn't work, I'm mostly in control of myself. I say mostly because I'm not fully in control of myself and it's really hard to control others, though a positive influence in others through exemplification is not to be sneezed at.

Simony got me thinking how I covet retreats, books, audiences, museums. To me spirituality is living to the fullest (mindfully) and in doing that we're inevitably kinder. Coveting the hyper health of lots of meditation assumes you can't practice deeply in regular life. You can! I was always warned that being in a monastery wasn't as fun as I imagined it, but I still yearn for that life.

I love the Dali Lama saying kindness is his religion. Retreats certainly enhance mindfulness, but the focused meditation wears off and is hard to carry over in the worldly life. One suggestion (by Sangharakshita) is to live in a single sex community, attend the local center, and work in a right livelihood business. That is the equivalent of being in a monastery to some extent. I made the choice to have children and have responsibilities, but that doesn't mean I can't work towards a supportive community.

I can be mindful about mindfulness wearing off after a retreat, and bringing insights from retreats into your regular life. My desire to always be on retreat is a little like my desire to travel. There's a part of it that likes being served meals, and not worry about cleaning or responsibilities beyond exploring. It's not realistic to be constantly exploring and learning and developing insight. After the Ecstacy, the laundry was one of the first books I read on Buddhism. It's a great book and a great slogan for using the Dharma not for escapism, definitely a temptation as I'm a dreamy type.

Awakening The Buddha Within was the first book I read in my conversion to Buddhism, if I don't count all the crazy Zen stuff I read in college that I didn't even understand as Buddhism, and I wasn't meditating. Little did I know was that there is a tidal wave of Buddhism books. While reading is an important part of my practice, I want to apply my Buddhism to reading fiction, history, psychology, poetry and nonfiction.

So what I want is to not buy spirituality but to inhabit, utilize, work for spirituality in all my circumstances, and not imagine more pristine circumstances where maybe there I could pursue this urge. Perhaps that why I find Pure Land Buddhism so distasteful--the idea of putting off that striving--which is probably a misreading of Pure Land. For me Pure Land Buddhism would be about making this world a pure land, though pure is perhaps a strange word. The pure land is an inspirational goal, a fantastic place that captivates the mind, and is very much about the spiritual life. An important aspect of the spiritual life is to strive, even if inhabiting is also important. Start where you is is the drum that Pema Chodron beats on, and it is a worthy drum to beat on. Thump thump thump.

I'm reading Love's Labor's Loss, and it's about, inter alia, the dangers of following utopian ideals. I think you could do worse than Bardolatry. Lowell said Shakespeare is the poet of experience.

Friday, December 28, 2018

spiritual science fiction

Science fiction is my guilty pleasure. I'm enjoying a novel by PJ McDermott called the Alien Corps. They have found a ancient book of the bible that predicts a messiah, and it's the future and they search for the new messiah on other worlds. It's mostly science fiction, but I thought it was an interesting premiss. It's mostly an alien thriller.

In a way I don't think you can talk directly about spirituality, which to me means a lot of things but mostly the preciousness of life and the connections and kindness. Awe at the mysteries. I suppose anything quasi-religious and tangential are interesting to me, and spiritual science fiction is a great idea. I'm working on my first novel along those lines. I'm not sure if this one is spiritual enough to qualify, it's more of a thriller, and spirituality is a small trickle, but anyway, thought i would mention it.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Taking The Blinders Off

When you meditate, you see things that are hidden in plain sight that distraction blinds us to. Righteous anger can be a hindrance. I need to vent spleen to get it out and move on.

The current president is a huckster, the kind of salesman that will say anything to sell something, so slick and oily. While he's visiting the troops in Iraq, he disclosed military secrets, like the bumbler he is, and took credit for an imaginary pay raise that does not exist.

He tweeted that he'd signed a contract to build a wall, when that's not how the government works, and thus lied or broke the law. As an ubermensch, he isn't really fettered by the rule of law, even though as president one of his jobs is to maintain the order of law, and if it ever breaks down, he's the first to whine about it.

He doesn't take responsibility for the lack of respect he experiences, and then rails about others not taking responsibility.

We are too reality oriented to not notice. The grounds for his impeachment come from multiple fronts, but the political reality is that he has to offend the Republicans that hold their nose and tolerate him, not out of principles, but out of the hatred of the political other. He is the ultimate us/them president.

He's the ultimate script flipper and bottomless pinocchio. That is his plan, just hear what other say and then flip the script.

He didn't even read the resignation letter of Mattis, and only by watching TV found out that it was basically saying, "here's what I believe and that's why I have to resign," which is a way of saying you ain't got any of this stuff and it's disgusting to work here. He believes in nothing, except his self interest, and that is becoming more and more evident. Not sure how it wasn't before. He's willing to make fun of people with disabilities to please a crowd, which is deplorable. That is our leader. Jon Voight goes on Twitter to say Trump has done great things, but can't both to list any of them.

As a liberal patriot, the fact that conservatives are getting off on the liberal ire, that the conservatives have already built up a campaign of calling Ocasio-Cortez stupid, trying to demonize her the way they demonized HRC, spinning with their Russian bots and trolls a raft of misogyny that carries America past true opportunity for growth. Trump shuts down the government and then imagines it's full of Ron Swansons.

The reason Trump doesn't pay attention to the environment is that conservatives are all about winners, and the earth is dying, it's a losing game. It doesn't have to be. Nevermind. Conservatives are about winners, not those losers who need welfare. They can't imagine themselves losing, so there is no need for compassion. It's only a lack of discipline that gets people on welfare. Never mind that this is the most undisciplined president in the modern era.

Now it is a valid theory to want a smaller government, or a least to check the growth of government. There are many Buddhist heroes who voted conservative.

It is a valid theory to want government only for defense, and thus the government has create the greatest welfare queen in the military. The billions that could be squandered on education, health care, infrastructure are better spent on 1.5 trillion dollar airplanes. The loser whiner liberals just imagine investing in the losers who aren't winning.

The reality is: America is superficial, anti-intellectual, confused, immature, befuddled, self confounding. It is short sighted, seeing economic growth only, not imagining grandchildren's future. The unprecedented deregulation by the Trump "administration" is already paying karmic fruit. It is cruel beyond belief, allowing children seeking refuge to die in their bungled care. We will change the laws around guns when we love children more than we love the idea of guns that wasn't even in the constitution.

Forget the history of ending slavery, the civil rights movement, moving towards more gender equality with women voting, or the Marshall plan that helped Europe recover from a second world war, that was perhaps created by the failures of not rebuilding after the first world war. America joined the World War to work against the persecution of Jews. We are beginning to own up to our history of massacre where the true "Indian givers" was the USA. This is the America that makes me proud, and it includes conservative heroes as well because of inclusivity, but not those who are against inclusion, they are out. I'll reserve my hate for the hate-mongers. Feel the feelings, but act in your own best interest.

What if these evil Megaminds resigned, and there were no need for these heroes? Do we need the Sith to create the Jedi? Or could we just tap into the force without opposition?

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Happy Buddhamas

The place where Buddhism and modern psychology connect is that you can snuff out some underlying thought patterns that are semi-conscious. Putting a spotlight on thoughts when you're meditating, because nothing else is going on, can help one to sniff out some unhelpful thoughts.

I was running today and I thought about things I do for my partner and I slowed down. Like thinking about things I might do or have done, takes energy away from me. I watched my mind decrease the energy going to my body because of a thought. If you don't think thoughts are important to how your body is...

Michael Pollan has an interesting article about trying to describe complicated inner experience: "What do you do with an insight like “love is everything”? I wondered aloud. “Is a platitude so deeply felt still just a platitude?” No, I decided: “A platitude is precisely what is left of a truth after it has been drained of all emotion. To resaturate that dried husk with feeling is to see it again for what it is: the loveliest and most deeply rooted of truths, hidden in plain sight.”"

Want to listen to a banging talk by a stand up guy on the hindrances?

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Dharma of Hamilton

All religions notice anything cool. I remember when every religion claimed Groundhog Day as a parable for their religion. This musical, which I have only listened to, and seen video clips, is very meaningful to me.

The thing that comes to mind about Hamilton is the energy (virya), and energy in service of the good. Such a vitality in the music that uses all the various modern styles of music.

The idea that Hamilton is never satisfied, is the relentlessness of desire and the desire to be free from our traumas. The hunger pang face is never satisfied. The trauma of his childhood is countered by the relentless effort. Burr holds back, seemingly dithers. Hamilton is full bore, all out, petal to the metal. He hopes to be proven for how exceptional he is, and he strives to be exceptional.

The consequences of his actions confound his very project of being taken care of, when his mother died in his arms. He can't help but reenact by murdering his love, by out of exhaustion and loneliness at working so hard, he falls into the arms of another woman, who herself is in need of care.

To see his own son die trying to protect his honor. The utter sadness of that loss. The musical has built up so much drama and connection to historical events, that the profoundly personal loss is then our loss. Can you imagine losing a child? What a horror. There is so much loss in early America. No wonder we're so stupidly reenacting these trauma dramas. The relentless American striving produces greatness, but also spectacular crashes and wreckage. We need more insight.

I listen to it on Prime Music. I doubt I'll raise the $350 for the cheapest seat on an unpopular night and time. I'd give my first tickets to my sons anyway.

I'm also touched by the way Lin-Manuel practices to make sure he does it right. He includes a lot of clips of him practicing on his twitter feed. I found some of the videos from the Hamilton feed.

But through the magic of the internet you can catch glimpses of this catchy musical.

The following is a list of videos to watch about Hamilton

Here is the video of Miranda at the White House. He was working on it, it wasn't even fully fleshed out.

You'll be back.

One Last Time: Watching this performed in front of Obama blows me away. The peaceful transfer of power is one of the great inventions of democracy even if a bottomless pinocchio replaces him. The words come directly from George Washington.

Room Where It Happens: a PBS short video with clips of singing.

Room Where It Happens Elsie Fest

Room Where It Happens: Spirit Young Performers Company


Wait for it. This is a 360 video that you can pan around with.

Skyler Sisters 1, 2, 3, 4

Yorktown (Tonys)


These are versions by other artists:

Sara Bareilles does Dear Theodosia. 

Rise Up, Wise Up, Eyes Up by Ibeyi

Award Show Performances:

Oliver Awards First Song, Alexander Hamilton.

Tony Awards Alexander Hamilton


Compilation Videos

Here is a video ranking the top 10 songs.

And of course you can listen on YouTube.

The investors in Hamilton got a 600% return on their investment. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Love's Labor's Loss

"Therefore, brave conquerors, for so you are
That war against your own affections
And the huge army of the world's desires,
Our late edict shall strongly stand in force."

My thought about the above quote from Shakespeare's Love's Labor's Loss, in a Buddhist context, is that transcending desire, in a healthy way, is one of the fruits of deep meditation, but that aping and pretending to be there when you are not, can be quite painful. We try to do an end run around obstacles and get to the fruits without paying the price. Adolescents use asceticism to cope with life's richness. Guess I wish I could develop to the adolescence phase.

Aristotle says friendship is about the love of virtue. That's what I take away from him. Hanging out with guys who want to advance knowledge and learn is the great aspiration in Love's Labor's Loss.

Friendship is also about saying the hard dark truths about someone. The only problem is that it's easy to be judgemental and not hide your disgust at lack of virtue, at mistakes--which pushes people away and isn't an act of friendship. We have to be aware of our projections, our disgust at others can be really disguised disgust at our own projected traits that we don't own.

Friendship is complicated. When you're younger it's about playing together. As you get older it's more, concern and deeper conversations come into it. Friendship can be about someone you feel comfortable confessing your deep dark secrets and your shames. Deep thought is friendship, that is was I got from Sara Jenkins book on friendship.

The fantasy of the spiritual community providing deeper friendships was ripe for me to become disillusioned about. It's just like everywhere else, and humans are human. Even so, a shared project draws people together, so sangha is about the aspiration of deepening the spiritual practice.

Learning about friendship is also learning about the limits to it, and your fantasies about it. This may be masochistic of me, but I really think that a lot of life is about disillusionment of false ideas. So a friend will not ameliorate all your problems or be an always available safe harbor that if you can just get there, everything will be alright.

I've been thinking a lot about the idea that Republicans don't want to give out "free things" from the government because people lack discipline. Virtue should be rewarded, not lack of virtue. This viewpoint lacks compassion. As usual, the Republican ideas are good personally, but not so great writ large, when people are suffering. Because you can't imagine suffering the way people suffer does not mean they don't suffer. Government is about taking care of us, how ever "us" is defined, usually with borders, but also increasingly with ideas of citizenship. There are always limits and I appreciate that government can't solve every problem, and I appreciate that expanding government can't go on infinitely. I also appreciate that meddling in people's lives can be annoying.

A hindrance to friendship is capitalism. If it's not taking up all our time to make ends meet, then money can be an issue in playing and can be a bone of contention. I saw a man try and help out another who was stuck in the snow. In the process he smashed the other car. He weaseled out and denied he hit the car, and a family in financial crisis had to pony up for the expense. People don't want to be responsible financially when they are helping out. I could see that getting in the way of friendship.

We need time, emotional energy, curiosity, tolerance and many things to be a friend, but also interest in the other. Friendship dies when it's always about giving to the other or a patriarchal or matriarchal  view of a person. But nobody is always equal so there will be some of that.

In Love's Labor's Loss, these friends end up falling in love despite trying to stay away from it. In his previous play Shakespeare has a friendship where the friend tries to steal his friend's lover, threatened to rape her, and then almost instantly they make up at the end. Can you name that play?

As a fun exercise, go away and do something for 5 minutes, and then write down Love's Labor's Loss. I've had the dickens of a time getting it right, there are so many ways to mess it up.