Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Effective Altruism

Lovely profile of William MacAskill in the New Yorker by Gideon Lewis-Kraus.

Peter Singer and Toby Ord are mentioned as influences. "Ord’s ideal beneficiary was the Fred Hollows Foundation, which treats blindness in poor countries for as little as twenty-five dollars a person." Derek Parfit is mentioned.

"“My first big win was convincing him about deworming charities.” It may seem impossible to compare the eradication of blindness with the elimination of intestinal parasites, but health economists had developed rough methods. MacAskill estimated that the relief of intestinal parasites, when measured in “quality-adjusted life years,” or qalys, would be a hundred times more cost-effective than a sight-saving eye operation.

Quote: “He was at dinner in Oxford—some sort of practical-ethics conference—and he was just deeply shocked that almost none of the attendees were vegetarians, because he thought that was the most basic application of ethical ideas.”

"If Peter Singer’s theory—that any expenditure beyond basic survival was akin to letting someone die—was simply too taxing to gain wide adherence, it seemed modest to ask people to give ten per cent of their income. This number also had a long-standing religious precedent."

"A kind of no-hard-feelings, debate-me gladiatorialism was seen as a crucial part of good “epistemic hygiene,” and a common social overture was to tell someone that her numbers were wrong."

"We passed Queen’s Lane Coffee House. “That’s where Bentham discovered utilitarianism,”"

"Against Malaria Foundation alone estimates that its work to date will save a hundred and sixty-five thousand lives."

Criticism: "Rob Reich wrote, “Plato identified the best city as that in which philosophers were the rulers. Effective altruists see the best state of affairs, I think, as that in which good-maximizing technocrats are in charge. Perhaps it is possible to call this a politics: technocracy. But this politics is suspicious of, or rejects, the form of politics to which most people attach enormous value: democracy.” The Ethiopian American A.I. scientist Timnit Gebru has condemned E.A.s for acting as though they are above such structural issues as racism and colonialism." 

Also, "Bernard Williams, who noted that utilitarianism might, in certain historical moments, look like “the only coherent alternative to a dilapidated set of values,” but that it was ultimately bloodless and simpleminded. Williams held that the philosophy alienated a person “from the source of his actions in his own convictions”—from what we think of as moral integrity." Someone who seeks justification for the impulse to save the life of a spouse instead of that of a stranger, Williams famously wrote, has had “one thought too many.”"

"Some E.A.s felt that one of the best features of their movement—that, in the context of near-total political sclerosis, they had found a way to do something—had been recast as a bug."

I found the very thought provoking, and like all lovely New Yorker articles, it pushed the subject further and further, while circling around the original questions. Loved it. Reminded me of intro to ethics that I took with Claudia Card at UW. And it feels like what it says, so vital and somehow a little something not quite right.

My impression was that it was kind of Prayer for Jabez. Permission to earn a lot of money, albeit set in Oxford, and then spread to Silicon Valley and financial markets, for the elite. My grandfather, who was a minister, thought it was about increasing his ministry, seemed harmless. Wanting to do the most good. But people use it for other purposes. I think about the ministers in Texas who wouldn't open up their mansions when there were floods and people lost their housing.

I'm also thinking of the evil guy in Don't Look Up. This all could just be another grift.

"Carla Zoe Cremer and Luke Kemp published a paper called “Democratising Risk,” which criticized the “techno-utopian approach” of longtermists."

"Last year, the Centre for Effective Altruism bought Wytham Abbey, a palatial estate near Oxford, built in 1480. Money, which no longer seemed an object, was increasingly being reinvested in the community itself. The math could work out: it was a canny investment to spend thousands of dollars to recruit the next Sam Bankman-Fried. But the logic of the exponential downstream had some kinship with a multilevel-marketing ploy. Similarly, if you assigned an arbitrarily high value to an E.A.’s hourly output, it was easy to justify luxuries such as laundry services for undergraduate groups, or, as one person put it to me, wincing, “retreats to teach people how to run retreats.” Josh Morrison, a kidney donor and the founder of a pandemic-response organization, commented on the forum, “The Ponzi-ishness of the whole thing doesn’t quite sit well.”"

"In “What We Owe the Future,” he is careful to sidestep the notion that efforts on behalf of trillions of theoretical future humans might be fundamentally irreconcilable with the neartermist world-on-fire agenda."

In the end it feels like highly sophisticated fund raising. It feels a little Andrew Yang: Candidate who never served in government. Wants to hang out with the bigwigs, be in the room. But being headed by a philosophy professor is slightly more impressive, though he clearly wants out and doesn't want to be the intellectual face of the organizations. 

The conflict between longtermism and concrete nows isn't really, we can do both.

"Open Philanthropy has embraced an ethic of “worldview diversification,” whereby we might give up on perfect commensurability and acknowledge it is O.K. that some money be reserved to address the suffering of chickens, some for the suffering of the poor, and some for a computational eschatology. After almost a decade of first-principles reasoning, E.A.s had effectively reinvented the mixed-portfolio model of many philanthropic foundations."


Links:

Famine, Affluence, and Morality,” by Peter Singer

GiveWell (Wikipedia) "Since its inception, GiveWell has directed the donation of more than a billion dollars." (New Yorker

Give What We Can (Wikipedia)

Open Philanthropy (Wikipedia)

Give Directly (direct link)

Democratising Risk

Lead Exposure Elimination Project

The Case for Longtermism by William MacAskill in NY Times. I'm not convinced. If you knew for sure an asteroid wasn't going to hit earth in 5 years and wipe us out, then maybe, but I don't think you can know some catastrophic event won't happen. The galaxy is big, who knows if a rogue sun comes into our solar system and smashes everything up. I mean I think you should think about the future but there is a possibility of nuclear war that kills most of humanity, so there's just too many questions about the future. And knowing something would pay dividends 500 years from now seems dodgy. Taking care of things in the moment seems more likely to keep things better for the future. But I take his point, and I think it mostly applies to global warming and doing things to stop global warming.

I think Buddhism is a kind of longtermism. 


What to read?



Reddit has the information already there, people just don't look for it, and then ask, and people refer them to the sidebar. You couldn't go too wrong with their book list.

I personally would not put any Chogyam Trungpa on the list because he did not exemplify the discipline. I do think about his idea of idiot compassion, and the critique of materialism is OK. I hope someone can come along and update that book.

I stumbled on Jack Kornfield, Pema Chodron, Lama Surya Das, Charlotte Joko Beck, Ayya Khema, and Thich Nhat Hanh. Those were not bad writers, and I really think what you stumble upon will be good enough. The process of finding books should be one you own. There's enough information out there. If you don't have good book reading habits and don't have book lists around you, then putting it on other people isn't really developing the habit yourself. Take responsibility. 

Even so here is my first thoughts:

Breath By Breath. There are many good books about anapanasati, but I think this is a good first book on it. Already I'm showing my bias towards meditation. The Buddha became enlightened through many circumstances, but one of them was that he was meditating. 

You should start meditating on the breath, with this as a guide about the full eventual possibilities. Human face to face support in meditation is very important. It's easy to skitter off. Take a class first and then if you think you're going to go in this direction, then read this one. Already you're going to be connected to a sangha by taking a meditation class. Maybe your entry is by a talk. Or going to a drop in. Maybe you met with someone. Maybe you attended a zoom meeting. 

I like to have a deep ancient book to pair with modern interpretations. So I would also recommend reading the Dhammapada, then the Udana, then the Saṃyutta Nikāya, then Dīgha Nikāya, then Majjhima Nikāya.  You could linger on those those books for the rest of your life. 

The Mahayana sutras, Perfection of Wisdom and Pure Land sutras are also amazing. There is a book about Buddhist literature, The Eternal Legacy by Sangharakshita. There are a million books about Buddhist history but every book make a choice about what to focus on. You have to make a choice about what you are interested in. You have to pick a sect that will also narrow your choices.

Tuning in and trying to change will help you to realize you need to work on yourself. That is when I would next read Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach. I think that the pairing of modern psychology can really lay the groundwork for sorting yourself out, and cultivating a growing mentality. There are people who think that's watered down, or bringing in something that isn't traditionally Buddhism into Buddhism. The fantasy that we don't have modern ideas, and can just live off ancient ideas 2,500 years ago is appealing to me. Cuts down on a lot of reading to eliminate the enlightenment and modern psychology.

To further the positive mentality I would then work on the Brahma Viharas. Christine Feldman's Boundless Heart hasn't been surpassed yet to my knowledge, I hope to find more books on this amazing meditation.

I like pairing meditation technique with Dharma and history. There's a natural synergy to that pairing in reading. Whether it's Pali Canon, or Mahayana sutras, or modern histories. There's a lot of directions you could go here, and in a way it depends on your sect. At this point you should be engaged in a sangha, and they should be telling you what to consider reading. 

Many people on r/Buddhism disparage Triratna and NKT, but if I'm really honest, the most people I've met who were Buddhists were from these sanghas. What does it mean to be popular but scored by traditionalist Buddhists who want you to go to an established sangha? You could almost say that it takes a pervert like Chogyam Trungpa to bring Buddhism to America. You could almost say you need a uncharismatic victorian to bring Buddhism to England in Sangharakshita. You could almost say you need a weird egomaniac like Kelsang Gyatso to imagine we needed a new Tibetan order. I actually like his books. Hannah founded many sanghas, and her husband isn't the one who did it, but took over her sanghas when she died. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism, encouraging the Dalits to do so too, and then he died in 1956. Nobody as dynamic has harnessed his people. Daniel Ingram has broken the taboo of saying you're enlightened. There are plenty of figures who open up the Dharma to people, but then are heavily criticized for being imperfect and not traditional. IMS has a kind of heresy to deny the lay monk split. 

You can't recommend books without stepping into this controversy. 

I would almost say you need some kind of charismatic person to transmit the Dharma to the west. We like our hucksters, snake oil salesmen. Humans have clay feet. People go onto r/Buddhism and ask who is enlightened right now? Who is the best teacher? What is the best sect? How do I get a valid teacher?

Those questions and those journeys are the spiritual life. They even split you at the point whether you go Mahayana or Theravadan. To recommend the Lotus Sutra over the Udana is a choice. To recommend Milarepa over Pali Canon is a choice. How do you make that choice? 

There was a person who was shot in the head, and it severed the part of his brain connected to his emotions. He seemed OK, and they sent him back to work. What do you want to have for lunch? He could not stop considering all the possibilities. You need your emotions to eliminate options. There are lots of options. Making a choice is maybe more complicated than it appears to be to those who have found a sangha. 

Connecting to a sangha can be hard. Some countries don't have a sangha. Some places don't have a sangha close by. Some cities are filled with ethnic sanghas that make people weird if they don't look like everyone else. It's a kind of turning of the tables, white people aren't too concerned when black people walk in, but there are cases where people who aren't white don't feel comfortable going to a Buddhist sangha in America. White fragility makes it hard to discuss that experience. Some people have psychological problems going to new places, risking new experiences. For me online experiences aren't very gratifying, but something is better than nothing. 

Reading books can make you develop the motivation to find a sangha, but it can also further reinforce the rugged individualism and irregular steps on the path. Take regular steps. Connect with a sangha. That is a choice that eliminates other options but not making a choice is a choice that eliminates other choices too.

For me, A Survey of Buddhism by Sangharakshita is the amazing classic from 1947 that nobody talks about enough. He has so many amazing books. That's coming from someone who was raised in the Triratna sangha. 

There are other Buddhists who don't consider Triratna a real sangha. We could talk about calling people in a sangha wrongheaded, but the fact is we do judge other people's sanghas, and do have ideas about which ones are good and bad. I think Shambala is irredeemable. R/Buddhism has a list teacher to avoid. Sex and the Spiritual Teacher by Scott Edelstein is an essential classic that teaches the spiritual seeker some important things. That might make someone think everyone is a sham when there are plenty of teachers out there who want to teach people. The model of friendship and taking responsibility for your spiritual life is the best. That developing spiritual friendships isn't easy in this day and age, doesn't take away the fact that friends can really help us. Authors and books can give some one way communication that is a kind of sharing of minds. Shoes Outside The Door is another book about scandal in the sangha. 

I've mentioned history of Buddhism. A Short History of Buddhism by Andrew Skilton is interesting, really specific about early schools. Mahayana Buddhism by Paul Williams. The Circle of the Way by Barbara O'Brien. Zen Baggage by Bill Porter is his pilgrimage to various Chinese Chan sites.

I really like memoirs and biographies of Buddhist lives. Nanamoli's The Life of the Buddha is a good start.

There's a really good blog about Buddhist fiction. Buddha Da by Anne Donovan was my favorite novel.

I really like reading. Reading is a spiritual practice. Soaking up the culture from around the world through words is in a way a miracle to me. 

I don't think you have to take an intellectual approach and many teachers would say being mindful and kind is more important that reading.


Links:

I tried to answer the question once before.

I've tried to express which books helped me how.

As usual Sam Littlefair has a good answer


Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Reporting in

8th century rock carving from Pakistan.


I heard the phrase "pattern of hindrances," and that was evocative for me. I start off restless. It's a rag and bone shop and a maelstrom. Doubt crops up when things get hard, the boredom or just misguided expectations, the idea that discipline doesn't yield results. My anger is lurking, I fancy I'm a highly spiritually evolved master, and then bing, there it is. Why would they... not conform to my expectations. I open my eyes when I'm tired, but I also open my eyes for sense stimulation. I love stimulation, I love distractions. I'm doing one now by blogging. 

Spending some time with the Green Island Sangha I'm enjoying the positivity, the kindness and the idea that coming home to oneself in meditation, home in the body, home in the mind. The world is telling me all sorts of important things if I would just listen.

Underneath the restlessness is content I'm trying to avoid. I need to get over the feeling that I'm rubbing my face in my own shit, and really truly process my mistakes, gafs, harmful actions, selfishness, limitations. 

I got really inspired by reading in Zen Baggage by Bill Porter that on the 3 month retreat at the Rinzai temple he was at, the monks meditate 90 minutes 11 times. There are 1440 minutes in a day. That amount of meditation is 990 minutes. That leaves 7.5 hours of sleep if you just meditate and sleep, which isn't going to happen. I need to step up my meditation game. 

Sat for 40 minutes today for the first time in a long time.


I asked r/Buddhism why garlic, onions and tomatoes are considered aphrodisiacs and to be avoided. At the Rinzai temple Porter visits, this is a held belief. I got a reference to Śūraṅgama Sūtra, the Heroic March sutra. Current consensus is that the text is a compilation of Indic materials with extensive editing in China, rather than a translation of a single text from Sanskrit. It is first spoken about in the 8th century in China. It has been wondered whether the sutra was apocrypha, and is categorized as esoterica. Some think it comes from Nalanda. The Śūraṅgama Sūtra is one of the seminal texts of Chán Buddhism. The Śūraṅgama Sūtra is one of the seminal texts of Chán Buddhism. I'm not sure I want to make this sutra the center of my study, but I always like looking around and seeing what's available. Perhaps to a fault. Anyway, there is a translation available. (Translation with commentary.)

The list gets longer, "Beings who seek samadhi should refrain from eating five pungent plants of this world. The first step is to get rid of contributing causes. The five pungent plants have been described already. They are onions, garlic, leeks, scallions, and shallots."


So when you have reverence for Buddhist texts, that doesn't mean you have to automatically believe the translated and written word. As already noted, this isn't a central or essential text, but it is popular in the Chan sect in China. I don't experience foods as changing my meditation, but I'm not enlightened yet. I wonder if what I eat does cause subtle changes, I think that's my takeaway. To listen to see if that information comes to me.

I've always wondered when I've seen "Buddhist friendly" food for Chinese, I always wondered what the thoughts were, where they came from.

It does feel like a cultural belief that isn't essential. Even so, a cultural belief isn't a false belief, it just means with a whole wide world, other cultures didn't come up with the same results. But the Queen of England has banned garlic in her palace! Does she just not like the smell or does she imagine it impedes spiritual progress?

I wonder if there's some placebo effect, if you do things, you think, "I'm doing all the right things." I recently wondered if disabusing someone of the idea that a certain image was the image of the Buddha was the right thing to do, if it was helpful.


I have Christian friend who doesn't like swearing. I try to not swear. Turns out I swear a little bit, every once in a while, to express emotion. Do I need to express that emotion? Speech should be kindly, helpful, timely and truthful. Extreme emotion isn't always kindly, but it could be more truthful. Striving for maximum articulation and truth, with kindness is important and not easy, not trivial.  


Start where you are is a kind of broken record for Pema Chodron, but I think maybe it's a necessary broken record. People try to act enlightened, under the principle of fake it till you make it. I mean that can work a bit with ethics and communication and other things, but in a way it only gets you so far. I think the combination of meditation, study, fellowship and devotion gets you to grow up and you don't have to fake it, some of the craziness drops away. It's not hard to lay down obsessions and addictions, it's not as hard to be kind and communicate if you've been working the spiritual program.


Yesterday was Ashura, a Muslim holiday of mourning. I think a lot about the loss of my grandparents. I used to spend my summers with them growing up, one month with one set, one month with the other set. Pretty shocking to the system, but as I get older and older, I feel the love from them. It resonates through the decades. There are other gone too. A gay uncle. Another uncle. Great aunts. Even my best friend from high school. Buddhist acquaintances that passed. 


Today is the day Walden came out. Sangharakshita didn't like the transcendentalists, but it's a big part of the intellectual history of America. I find their writings hard, but I do like reading biographies of the people. And Amos Walcott was an early vegan, survived on apple sauce and potatoes when he crossed the ocean to visit England. Mostly like to read Emily Dickinson of the people from that period, and Whitman. 

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Bill Porter visits Ch’an sites

Bill Porter (Red Pine) went to China in March 2006 to visit Chan sites, and the book came out in 2009. I count 23 books on his Wikipedia page, among other publications. I've read 6 of his books, this will be my 7th. Porter starts in Beijing. Lots of good Chinese Buddhism history in this book. I like that he’s authentic and not a poser. He prefers Zen to Ch'an, he likes the Z and feels all the words are pointing to the same Dharma. He interviewed abbots and China is really just beginning to recover from the cultural revolution. The smart monks head to the mountains during the Cultural Revolution. Porter has a book about that: Road to Heaven. This book is about the recovery of Buddhism in China in 2006 after the Cultural Revolution from 1966-76.


Quotes:

“No one knows when the Buddha's followers began making images of their teacher. According to an account attributed to the early Buddhist sect known as the Mahasanghikas, when Shakyamuni left this earthly realm for a few months to teach his mother in the heavens atop Mount Sumeru, two kings from neighboring regions had their artisans fashion statues of the Buddha so that his followers wouldn't be distressed by his sudden disappearance. One of the statues was carved from sandalwood, and the other was made of burnished gold, and both were said to be life-size. (Cf. Ekottara-agama-sutra: 28)

This account was compiled within two or three hundred years of the Buddha's Nirvana, which occurred in 383 BC, and it may or may not be true, but it suggests how important the Buddha's image was to his followers. According to the archaeological evidence currently available, the earliest representations of the Buddha were not statues but shadow images suggesting his presence: the fig tree beneath which he sat at Bodhgaya, the lion seat from which he delivered his sermons, the eight-spoked wheel that represented his teaching of the Noble Eightfold Path, a stupa that held his remains, or his footprints, which showed he had left the dust of delusion and its karmic wake behind. It wasn't until the first century BC and the first century AD that artisans in Gandhara (Pakistan) and Bactria (Afghanistan) - and slightly later in
Mathura (Uttar Pradesh) - worked their way up from footprints to a human figure.” (P35)


Fascinating sites he visits:
Yunju Temple contains the world's largest collection of stone Buddhist sutra steles in the world.
Yungang Grottoes are ancient Chinese Buddhist temple grottoes near the city of Datong in the province of Shanxi. They are excellent examples of rock-cut architecture and one of the three most famous ancient Buddhist sculptural sites of China. The others are Longmen and Mogao.
Huayan Temple (Datong): After the founding of the Communist State, the government provided great protection for the temple.
Nine Dragon Wall: At least 7 versions of this, but this one was near Datong, which Porter calls Tatung. He has a different system than the one used on Wikipedia so it's hard to look up his stuff.
White Horse Temple: Considered the first temple in China.


Some past Porter and Red Pine book and movies links on Going For Refuge:
Thoughts on the inspiration of hermit monks.

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

Modern images for Buddhism

The image of Hope Harlingen throwing up, squirting poop out her butt, and then getting together with a guy with the sluices open like that, of course all while on drugs, using drugs, and then getting involved with a man also in the stall in a gross bathroom. She describes it in the 2014 movie Inherent Vice, it's gestured at in the book. Really imagine the dirty stall, the poop and vomit being ignored. 

It reminds me of Parasite (2019) when the girl is high up on the toilet, while shit water squirts out because of the flooding in her neighborhood, enjoying a cigarette. 



That reminds me of a Zen Flesh, Zen Bones image. A man is chased by an elephant and falls off a cliff, but catches a vine. Stomping elephants above him, tigers down below, a mouse gnawing on the vine, and he jostles a beehive, and the bees are stinging him, but a little drop of honey falls into his mouth. 

From the Lotus Sutra, the house is on fire, and the children are playing. It's hard to get them to leave the house. So the king suggests there are even better toys outside. The children eventually come outside and the toys aren't what they thought they would be but they are somehow good enough. 

The path is difficult, you don't just have to pretend you believe in something, like in Christianity, to be saved. Pure Land Buddhism tries this angle, the hope that if you really want to be born into a pure land you can be reborn there, and then you can go for enlightenment in that pureland where the circumstances are better. Nice literature, but I wouldn't put any eggs in that basket. Metaphorically speaking, I'm vegan, so no real eggs. Go watch a vegan documentary on how animals are treated. There's some torture.

karmic thermals

The culture of Triratna doesn't talk too much about karma, samsara and nirvana, attachments, and a lot of other probably unhelpful Buddhist buzzwords. I found being grounded in the sangha, I have adopted the distaste for these vague words that certain people who aren't really interested use to play around. I'm thinking about writing a post about questions I dislike on Reddit r/Buddhism. Instead usually I just skip on by and say, "philosophical quibbling without practice." I have an intellectual approach to Buddhism, but I don't think that is the best door to go through without meditation, sangha and retreats. 

I was rewatching Inherent Vice (2014) for the 3rd time, and I came across the phrase "karmic thermals". I do like that phrase. The kid who's killed by a stray bullet didn't deserve it, but got caught in the karmic thermals of others. We're caught up in the karmic thermals of right wing christofascist here in America. 

Mostly conditionality is what is to be talked about, but the 12 nidanas is a teaching, and just observing conditions isn't easy. It's hard to talk about conditions, consequences and courses of actions, because in the USA we've become hyper partisan, and there is no objective reality any more. Women can't get abortions for life threatening conditions because doctors are afraid of breaking the law, losing their license, or otherwise rocking the powers that be. Meanwhile republican politicians are breaking the law all over the place like they're some weird anti-woke woke contradiction of living their best selves by destroying the country's democracy out of spite.

I'm not saying you can't have the personality that wishes for conservative approach to politics. That's not what causes and conditions is all about. I'm talking about the norm breaking, the rule breaking, the law breaking power grabs and hate mongering going on. Power built on racism and anti-democratic sore losing is not power at all, and history will look unkindly on them.

The karmic thermals of the USA are quite heinous for 10 year old incest victims, women who have to carry dead babies because abortion is no longer legal. The imposition of traveling to another state is the penalty, and of course the poor suffer more, not the rich. Politicians are openly questioning the founding fathers ideas of separation of church and state. Either some people didn't go to school and learn about America, or they just want their way no matter how they get it, forget American ideas of separation of church and state. Let's empower the American taliban, the Christofascist. /s

When you adopt the love mode over the power mode in the spiritual life, you can't steamroll people. In fact you focus on your own spiritual life. You consider others subjectivity, what they want. I would never impose the Buddhist text that you don't get an abortion onto people who were not Buddhist, not is it clear to me that you can't support a secular state beyond specific religions. So don't get an abortion, but don't impose your idea of religion on others. That's not American unless you're an asshole. And the amount of assholes in America seems to be going up. Karmic thermals, wish they were blowing down.

I have to keep reminding myself. This isn't happening to my male body, but I'm interconnected to everyone else, so it is happening to me. But to maintain equanimity to focus on what is in front of me, I allow myself to forget how interconnected I am to cope with the karmic thermals of America. 

McMann has an interesting essay about the modern conceptions of self in Secularizing Buddhism, referencing Gergen's Saturated Self.

Taylor Swift's plane taking 171 flights. The poor will bear the brunt of the climate change crisis that the rich bring about with their selfish ways. Time for some more vigorous class war in this country. For a fraction of Bezos' wealth he could save and improve a lot of lives. Musk joked about curing hunger if someone could show him a good plan, but if course he didn't pay enough attention to really find one he liked, his attention wandered. He needs all his money to pay for the children he's having. Meanwhile his father says he doesn't like him, he's fat, and his father is having children with his stepdaughter. Quality family. Perhaps it's gossip I've descended into in the culture wars, but these cases exemplify what is going on and the karmic thermals. "We should have met cute, but we met squalid." Hope Harlingen in Inherent Vice movie.



Sunday, July 31, 2022

Evan Thompson quote

 “it’s not the case that the experience of bare attention independently establishes the descriptive truth of the Buddhist mind-doctrine; rather, the Buddhist mind-doctrine is needed to give meaning to the experience of bare attention.” (Why I Am Not a Buddhist by Thompson)

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Red Pine travel to south China

I’ve met people from Nanchang and Yantai in the park recently. Their children play with my daughter. That's not in south China, which is where this travel book explores. This area isn’t even that much studied by the Chinese, let alone in the English language. In south China there are over 50 ethnic groups.

I’m reading Red Pine’s book about South China travel that came out in 2015. But it’s based on his audio recording from his trip in 1992. 

It’s not really Dharma but I also enjoy culture and you can pick up bits when a Buddhist writes. He visits temples. I feel like the more I know about different cultures, the better. The better to understand people around me, and the better to understand the Dharma styles those areas, in the south of China. I also got this book with his traveling to the spots of the Zen Patriarchs. Thought I would read this book first because it's shorter. An I learned about the Tai ethnic group in China that follow Theravada Buddhism.

If I wasn't vegan I'd want to travel to the frog festival of Pingan. The mythology of locations is interesting. There are two tribes that descend from tree stumps, and all manner of dragon coupling. It feels like conditions create different cultures. Mythological thinking is so fascinating. I like the god of literature. Mythology is messy. Abraham is important in Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The Four Guardians are in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. 

I’ve read too many fantasy novels, where the author’s experiences seem fantastic. Black rice and river moss. Women who play music tea leaves. History lost and found about great explorers with huge boats that sail the seasonal winds east and west. I want a new novel from Shelly Parker-Chan. Accidentally giving cultural signals for love, Porter has a woman coming to his room. He must politely decline an offer of love, after accidentally giving the signals. The Ani women don't hide their breasts and genitals. Two tribes descend from stumps and two tribes descend from union between humans and dogs, after a dog tricks the king into giving his daughter in marriage. The myths are so good other tribes co-opt them. Back through the mist of time they didn't worry about appropriation. These fantastical myths and stories are fun, some local color in Bill Porter's travels.

I read the book in the park and talk about it in with the Chinese whose English isn't so good. It's better than my Mandarin.

Quotes

 “My friend Gary Snyder once told me that two most important questions friends of the earth should ask are, Where does my water come from? Where does my garbage go?” (P. 159)

“It was Hsishuangbanna's most famous pagoda, and it was known far and wide as the White Pagoda. It was first built in 1204, and it had been rebuilt many times since then. It looked like the last time hadn't been very long ago. As with the Black Pagoda, the main ingredients were cement and white paint, with yellow and red trim. There was also a shrine hall, but pilgrims did their bowing outside at the base of the pagoda. On closer inspection, I discovered why. The pagoda was built on a huge boulder, and when I walked over to the southwest corner of the boulder, I noticed a small niche at the base. The niche was covered with glass, and there was a slot for people to insert donations. I looked inside and saw the reason for their veneration. It was the Buddha's foot-prints. Yes, the Buddha's footprints. By some mysterious power the Buddha had traveled here from India and left his footprints on the surface of the boulder. Buddhist pilgrims came here from all over China, as well as from Burma and Laos and Thailand, to pay homage to the footprints, which, according to the sign, the Buddha left when he visited that part of the world at the age of 62.

According to historical records, the pagoda itself wasn't erected until 1,700 years after the Buddha's visit. It wasn't surprising, though, to see footprints at a Theravadin Buddhist shrine. When Buddhism first developed as an organized religion, there were no statues of the Buddha, because it was felt that the human form somehow misrepresented the Buddha's message of liberation from all form. Instead, his disciples used his footprints to represent his transcendence from this world of dust. A pair of footprints was the only thing in the way of symbolism that early Buddhist shrines contained. I joined half a dozen other pilgrims in paying my respects before the niche, while a hundred flags flapped their prayers above us.” (P168-9)

“ Kashyapa was one of the Buddha's greatest disciples, and he reportedly came to Chickenfoot Mountain 2,400 years ago. To understand Kashyapa's importance, it's necessary to go back to when Brahma, the Lord of Creation, offered the Buddha a flower and asked him to preach the Dharma. The Buddha took the flower and held it up. His devotees and disciples were puzzled-all except Kashyapa, who smiled. This marked the beginning of Zen: the direct transmission of understanding with a flower and a smile. Kashyapa thus became the First Patriarch of Zen in India. Though there are no records attesting to it, Kashyapa was said to have come to Chickenfoot Mountain following the Buddha's Nirvana. And he took up residence in a cave below Huashoumen.” (P204)

Links:

Kirkus review "As satisfying as any trip by Paul Theroux but with a much less prickly and much more forgiving narrator."

Moon Hill

Frog Festival

Huating Temple

Stone Forest

Cheng Ho which Wikipedia says is spelled Zheng He. Fascinating fellow who was castrated and became a great diplomat and sea explorer, seven journeys to India. In a weird way the history of his life wasn't really taken up, China is weird in some ways in that at times they seem indifferent to their history. He seems like an interesting fellow but this is the first time I've ever heard about him. He was muslim and went to Mecca. 

Chickenfoot Mountain