01-20-07 6:24Cybernetic Nashian Morality

Amber: I know this is probably impossible, but can you summarize your morals system?

I generally utilize Cybernetic Nashian Morality:

For yourself and others, do better.
If you don't know what is better, find out.

Amber: That was easy. I like it a lot!

Thanks. :)

It actually has a significant amount of games theory geekiness, showing it always results in significant individual and group optimization for finding solutions to problems.

But while John Nash did the math, my dad had it figured out the old fashioned way:

When faced with six hungry people and one homemade blueberry pie, the person who cuts chooses last.

01-20-07 2:23Buddhism and Drugs

Ryan: Will you explain to Genru that the precepts only refer to alcohol and not other drugs, which allow you to experience enlightenment! If he can't accept that then he can fuck off!

Genru: Ha! That's not the Buddhist way. I think, if you need drugs to gain liberation, it's not really true freedom, just another kind of prison.

"If you need [meditation] to gain liberation, it's not really true freedom."

I always enjoy seeing Victorian fears applied to cultures which did not have them.

Given the extensive use and worship of soma in the Indian subcontinent it is ridiculous to think early Buddhism ignored the substance, particularly since it did not have the stigma you are pretending it deserves.

Both you and Ryan are pretending these substances are way more evil or good than they really are.

If you have a headache, you can take aspirin or not. If you need an inspirational mystic experience, you can take a psychedelic or not.

Either way, getting this worked up about it is more about personal clinging and aversion than it is about the substance itself.

01-17-07 1:17Choose Time of Death

Bo: It is written that the Buddha consciously chose his time of death.

I recommend not believing any old thing you happen to read. In particular you should be suspicious of fantastic claims made by early iron-age people who are true believers writing about their own objects of faith.

Such people lacked our understanding of fact and fiction and they lacked knowledge about how reality works, not to mention having no understanding of history, mythology or any number of things you would assume a modern person has at least a passing understanding of today.

Since there are accounts of the Buddha's death and it appears to have been related to a specific meal, its pretty safe to say he did not choose his death, i.e. commit suicide.

01-16-07 1:16Sex and Unconditional Love

Eniad: I need to know - can you have sex and unconditional love at the same time?

When ever the mood strikes us.

Eniad: How do you manage to stay detached in the circumstances?

Don't confuse unattached, detached and non-attachment.

Love and sex both do not work with unattached or detached. You must be involved with your relationship.

Non-attachment means that you accept it for what it is with neither clinging nor aversion.

If you seek long-term love, you must come to an understanding of non-attachment or the love will die from the cuts of a thousand old grievances and unfulfilled hopes.

Eniad: swarm, i am so happy you said that because i was trying to figure out how and not doing nearly as good a job. How to be totally affected and yet not grasping to control, that's the hard one.

Tahnee: Swarm,

Those were words I needed to read. The simplicity and truth of your statements really hit home with me today as I am in the process of ending a very important relationship. The last sentence brought a tear to my eye for I realized its truth in my life.

Best wishes for you both.

01-09-07 1:09Overcoming Self-Imposed Barriers

Trinsic: I have been working on overcoming my self-imposed barriers for like 5 years now and I'm coming to a realization that this problem that keeps me from who I really am is bigger than I thought.

I've been reading this book "Trapped in the Mirror", a study of children raised by narcissists. I was thinking it might apply to my past childhood even though I have little memory of how my parents treated me when I was young. I may have blocked it out. I'm thinking of entering psychoanalysis to get to the root of the problem.

Do you think that there are some mental issues that can't be corrected by meditation, and grieving the past? If you have had a past childhood with a family that tried to make your life serve their emotional and mental functions how do you break out of that when you don't know if it exists? Especially when you cannot perceive it directly within you?

If you cannot perceive it directly, then it is not yet time to be concerned.

There are good and caring psychologists, but there is a flaw in the current system: they only eat as long as you have problems. That is an inherent conflict of interest.

As for self-imposed barriers, these are a game we play. We set them up and hold them in place while we knock them down. It keeps us busy.

Of course they only truly go away when we learn to stop putting them up.

Don't worry about what keeps you from being who you are. That is a distraction. Focus on who you are and it will naturally unfold for you.

Finally, stop reading clinical studies. You aren't really any of those people and yet the "symptoms" will always seem to fit you. There is a good and sound reason why no doctor ever treats himself or his family - you are way too close to see any symptom clearly. The ones you think you have, you don't, and the ones that might mean something, you can't see.

If you really think you have an issue, ask a professional to be screened, but in all seriousness, you just sound as normal "messed up" by life as anyone.

01-05-07 1:07Choice of Feelings

David: Can buddhism give you the skills to choose how you want to feel at a given moment?

I would say "influence" is more descriptive than "choose".

Thoughts and feelings and physicality all interact and they are influenced by attention, focus, compassion and "breathing/calmness."

Buddhism teaches how to cultivate attention, focus, compassion and "breathing/calmness" which gives one influence over thoughts and feelings and the physical expression of thoughts and feelings.

Buddhism also cultivates wisdom which provides insight as to what gives rise to particular thoughts and feelings which gives one influence over choosing to go there or not.

Nothing is ever absolute in these matters, but one doesn't have to be blown about by the wind either.

12-29-06 11:07Boredom

Trinsic: When the world is running down...when you'd rather be lazy and do nothing...how do you find the courage to stand up and do the things you love?

Who told you there is a thing wrong with being lazy and doing nothing?

Leisure time is when your real thinking happens. Its when you can appreciate your life.

There is little point in work, work, work until you die never having stopped to look at what you've done or take a moment to enjoy simply being alive.

The things that you dream about that you then set out to achieve are dreamed in your lazy and do nothing moments.

Trinsic: But, I get bored easily.

I know a trick that might help you with the bored bit. It comes straight out of buddhism, though I've reworded it based on my own experience.

Bordom only can happen when one isn't paying attention. The two states are mutually exclusive. So if you learn to pay attention when nothing external or internal is trying to grab your attention for you, voila! No more boredom.

This, in essense, is part of what all that meditation in buddhism is trying to achieve: teach people how to pay attention even during the most gruellingly boring activity known to man - meditation.

Meditation is literally just barely above falling asleep in excitement. It is so boring people are constantly nodding off when they meditate.

So you just sit and watch your breath, get distracted, refocus, watch your breath, get distracted, refocus, watch your breath, repeat, repeat, repeat, etc., etc. 5-15 min is plenty, but the trick is doing it at least once a day. But don't worry about missing or skipping. Hitting resistence is part of the process, just pick it back up when you get past the blockage.

After a while you notice you have more patience, attention and focus; and, you don't get so bored any more. Its not magic and it comes a little bit each time you sit, which is why regularity helps. But usually after a month or so the effect is noticable and it just keeps building with time.

So there it is in a nutshell and the nice thing is there is no way to do this wrong. Its just whatever you do or don't do.

12-28-06 1:07Swarm's Buddhism

Chaz: Swarm, I'm interested in your buddhism. Tell me, how did you get introduced to it?

I was introduced to it mainly by my ex, who had a PhD in philosophy. She felt buddhism had a lot in common with the outlook I had already developed and I agreed.

Chaz: How does it work in your life?

Its workings are a bit like suddenly realizing you don't have to beat your way through the brush because you can just walk around, or duck under, or step over.

Chaz: How does it make you feel?

It doesn't make you feel anything, or not feel anything. You just feel what you feel as it is.

Chaz: What's it do for you?

You are the one who does, or doesn't.

Chaz: Come on Swarm open up a little...

what "outlook" was buddhism in common with... ?

The buddha and I happen to have a number of similar concerns and we both worked out some similar solutions to those concerns.

What do you do when faced with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune?
How do you over come boredom?
What is the nature of suffering?
What is wisdom?
How do you learn right from wrong?
What leads to a good life?

Chaz: Did you read about it, get a teacher, how did you learn?

I've learned in all the standard ways. I've had teachers good and bad, read good and bad books, got some things right, got some things wrong...what exactly are you looking for?

Chaz: When you were "beating you way through the bush" was that upsetting or frustrating in some way to you, and now you're not? So i'm thinking you are no longer doing this, and that in itself has impacted your life in some way, more peace, freedom, feel better...?

Upsetting and frustrating certainly, but mainly just tiring, and tiring of my own manufacture from not working with reality as it is and creating unnecessary trouble for myself. Learning not to do this results in living without unnecessary effort which does give more opportunities for peace and freedom. But mainly its just living life as easily as it is.

Chaz: Do you meditate? if so why?

Because when I do, I do.

Chaz: Who or what is the "you" that does or doesn't do?...i remember reading the dali lama book ..he was saying there is no "you".

This is really a side point even though people get all excited about it.

Basically it is just the observation that there is nothing inherant to your being. The "you" as you are now is just a pattern of the moment. A conglomerate of particles held together for a few moments and then forever lost. "You" are an effect of the conditions on the earth.

But really such things are neither here nor there. It could be that it's exactly wrong and it wouldn't really matter.

Buddhism is actually about being as you are, whatever that might be, instead of wishing you were what you aren't and could never be.

12-28-06 12:06Euthanasia and Rebirth

Meka: Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche states in his "Gates to Buddhist Practice", that committing suicide (euthanasia) is an extreme attachment to death and aversion, and closes the door to future human rebirth.

Chagdud Tulku should wash his mouth out with soap for saying such things.

Euthanasia and suicide are last resorts.

Live long enough and eventually you will come to the last resort.

Meka: Last resorts to what?

To not letting go. Either you keep trying to cling to a life which is past or you let it go.

Meka: I believe if you end your own life, you're giving up on the lesson it's trying to teach you. I don't think the Universe would put anything in our path that we could not handle.

Life is not "trying to teach you," the Universe doesn't "put" and you certainly will encounter what you cannot handle and eventually you will die from what you cannot handle.

When your life is done, it is done. Suicide, euthanasia, dying at another's hand, disease, extreme old age ... at some point you have to decide once and for all to either try and cling to life that has passed its course or to let go of clinging.

Meka: Unfortunately, Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche passed away so cannot retract his words. But I don't really understand your judgement against him. I agree with him that the state of mind that leads to suicide is caused by attachment to desires, aversions and the negative things in life.

There is not just one state of mind that can lead to any particular act. Nor is causality so simplistic or transparent.

Clinging to a life which is spent is not non-attachment.

Consider, you are presuming that being alive is the preferred state and yet as a Buddhist you've committed to extinguishing all further rebirth, not just for yourself but for all sentient beings.

So which is it?

I don't recommend suicide, but neither do I condemn it.

It's just the final choice of one's life.

Meka: But suicide would likely lead to an unfortunate rebirth.

There are no unfortunate rebirths.

Ben: Extremely Well Put. Thank you.

Chox: No unfortunate rebirths? Tell that to the beings in the realms of hell who can't figure out how they got there.

I am.

Chox: Silly person.

Not in the least.

Ben: I respect your opinion, however I disagree. How can you say with certainty, that life doesn't teach you?

Life is not a sentient being who is attempting to impart learning on you.

I might learn from my experiences in life, but that is not the same as anthropamorphizing "life" and pretending it has some ulterior motive to benefit me.

Ben: How can you say with certainty...the Universe doesnt respond to our thoughts?

That is not what I said. We and our thoughts are equally part of the universe and it is obvious that things can respond to our thoughts. My arm raises at a thought. My coffee is brought to my mouth by a thought.

What I said is the universe, per se, is not "putting" things in our path towards any purpose. With the notable exception of sentient beings, the universe is incapable of such activity and while sentient beings are still part of the universe, the convention is to attribute their actions to their wills, not the will of the universe, per se.

Ben: You may not believe any of that...

It is not a matter of believing or not believing. It is a matter of observing how things are. See clearly and there is no need for belief.

Fundimentally, all wisdom comes down to seeing clearly what others would obscure with pleasant beliefs.

Colin: I know a lot about suicide, mainly based on my time in the mental health profession.

Certainly people with mental health issues can make poor choices and that can certainly include choices about ending their lives, but judging all people who choose to end their lives based on your experience with the mentally ill is hardly a reasonble basis for drawing conclusions.

Colin: It's our materialistic culture which teaches us to think we become nothing at the time of death.

That does not seem at all unreasonable. It is certainly in accord with the idea that at the moment of enlightenment one is wholely extinguished.

Or, when the branch is consumed, where has the flame gone?

Colin: Suicide isn't a very good state of mind to be coming from because the effect is not very likely to create a fortunate rebirth such as that of a human.

There is no fortunate rebirth any more than there is an unfortunate rebirth.

Colin: Committing suicide is throwing away a human rebirth.

If you can't throw it away, then just set it down.

Colin: I agree that euthanasia or the right to die can be merciful and may even be necessary in the modern age when technology often keeps people alive beyond the point when they otherwise would have naturally died.

So when it comes down to it we basically agree. Have you considered that suicide is just self-euthanasia?

Colin: Nevertheless it all comes down to the state of mind that is motivating the behavior.

And that is ultimately their responcibility. If there is anything sacred in the universe, it is the right to choose your own disposition, right or wrong. It is that choice which is the root of all freedom.

Colin: From the point of view of relative truth and the point of view of beings existing within cyclic existence there are rebirths that involve greater or lesser degrees of suffering.

I'm not sure what you mean by "the point of view of relative truth" here. As I understand it, relative truth is just an observation that truth, i.e. accurate description of some fact, is always contextually constrained and dependent. If two people do not have a shared context they are unable to arrive at mutually agreeable understandings of truth. That doesn't mean that the underlying facts are independently what they actually are for both people. It just means that the basis to talk about them has not been established.

Colin: From the point of view of beings existing within cyclic existence...

I think we both agree that we are in a cycle of existence, birth, growth, dying, and death, but I see no evidence and no reason to believe that cycle extends beyond this life for one's personality. To the best of my knowledge and personal experience there is nothing except a collection of myths to base notions of rebirth on and I find that insufficient, even though they are the myths of Buddhism instead of the myths of Thor or Cathulu. Further, there is good evidence that those myths were not originally canonical and were originally included just to appease the beliefs of the Hindus which the early Buddhists had to interact with.

Certainly rebirth clearly flies in the face of anatman...leaving supporters with the unenviable task of explaining what exactly is being reborn if there is no inherent soul.

But lets set that aside and consider *if* one were reborn, could one rebirth be considered fortunate and another unfortunate?

First there is the question of "fortunate." You may have run into the story of the farmer? He loses his horse, how unfortunate, his son finds the horse and several others, how fortunate, his son breaks his leg trying to tame the new horses, how unfortunate, his son is not drafted by the army because of his broken leg, how fortunate, etc., etc. Fortunate is just an arbitrary judgment of the moment as to whether you like or dislike something. You like being human so you say being human is "fortunate," but if that just leads to more rebirth then in actuality nothing has changed and your condition has not improved. Also, as some one trapped in samsara yourself, are you a fit judge of another's fortune?

Second, any rebirth is inherently the result of not achieving nirvana and inherently a matter of continued dukka and therefore it is impossible to call any rebirth fortunate in any meaningful way. Its really like picking through a pile of dung and saying "this turd is much better than that turd." Escape from rebirth, not being reborn, might be considered fortunate except "fortunate/unfortunate" are no where to be seen in nirvana.

Finally, you don't have real knowledge as to the actual advantages and disadvantages of any particular rebirth for a particular being. If being a dog is what clues me in and wakes me up then how could being human be fortunate?

Colin: In the Tibetan tradition the teachings discuss fortunate and unfortunate rebirths relating to the degree of suffering and part of the practice is to work to create more fortunate rebirths by understanding the law of cause and effect.

I've discussed many things in my time, unfortunately discussing a myth does not make it actual.

Colin: So I disagree with you on this point.

And a good thing too, things get way too quiet around here without any disagreement.

Colin: You said you see no evidence that the cycle extends beyond this life for one's personality. Well, maybe not for this personality, but the ultimate truth is that it extends for consciousness itself and for the subtler levels of mind where the karmic imprints are present.

I know its a point of contention between us, but I've never needed more than ordinary truth or felt a need for all those "subtler" levels of mind.

Colin: You said, "Certainly rebirth flies in the face of anatman," but I disagree. The idea here is that there is no fixed and eternal soul but there is consciousness aspect that it is constantly changing from moment to moment yet it does have a certain continuity much the way a stream or a river does.

Only while it lives. You are grasping after immortality...a way to somehow cheat death. That is not Buddhism.

Colin: I'm not grasping, I'm acknowledging the continuity of consciousness.

You are assuming that a metaphorical claim of continuity is actually true without any actual evidence to verify that claim.

Colin: Immortality would be more along the lines of imagining you have an eternal soul that is always the you in which you know now. But thats not how the Buddha taught rebirth.

The Buddha never taught rebirth. It was added after his death.

Colin: My consciousness today is very different from when I was 3 years old but its related to that 3 years olds consciousness.

And you have been ALIVE that whole time. How does your consciousness relate to before you were born? It doesn't. You had no consciousness before you were born just as you will not have any consciousness after you die.

Colin: Speaking of Buddhism, and ignoring the teachings on rebirth is not Buddhism.

Excluding what is not true and not pertinent is at the very heart of the Buddha's actual teaching.

Learn what is good and do that.
Learn what is not good and don't do that.

"After death" and "rebirth" is just not true no matter what some book of myths has written in it and pursuing those questions doesn't lead to awakening because like any fantasy, they have no termination in what is actual. There is nothing there to actually know and so they can never be real learning or agreement.

Colin: You seem to view the teachings as nothing more than myths.

Nothing more than myths? You seem to have a weak appreciation of the importance of myth.

Myths are the central stories of a culture which carries the teachings of how to be a good member of that culture, what matters, what is of value, who are the heroes and villains. Just because something isn't face value true, that doesn't mean it has no utility or importance.

Colin: I don't see the teachings as perfect or things to be taken literally...

Then what is this defense of rebirth?

Colin: ...but you can't just write them off as myths.

I don't "write them off" as myths. Myths aren't some lesser state of being to be eschewed.

I identify them for what they actually are: stories containing the metaphorical wisdom of Buddhism as recorded over a span of 2500 years. This allows me to appreciate their non-literal means of teaching without having to do absurd things like trying to defend rebirth or try and reconcile all the myriads of contradictions and claims that are just plain wrong.

Colin: You claim I don't have "evidence" of rebirth, but it's not really an issue of evidence in a mundane sense because we are talking about spirituality, aren't we.

It's not a matter of mundane vs. spiritual, it's a matter of claims require evidence, particularly extraordinary claims.

Colin: There is no proof that consciousness ends at death or that it wasn't present before this lifetime.

The total absence of any evidence or proof supporting a claim that consciousness does exist before birth or after death is sufficient to dismiss such claims out of hand. Anyone can start making claims and then say "there is no proof it isn't so." This is why the insistence on evidence and proof with the claim is so important in both Buddhism and science.

Rebirth may be a nice literary device at times, but trying to take it as literal truth just because you saw it in a sutra is foolishness.

Colin: I find it to be a core aspect of the Buddhas teachings.

You should study the history of the teachings more. I hope this isn't a shock, but not everything attributed to the Buddha actually was something he taught, or even would have approved of. In particular Mahayana is full of "original teachings" which were conveniently "discovered" during their split with the rest of Buddhism and subsequent sectarian disputes. For example the whole "bodhisattva" bit was made up whole cloth.

I seriously cannot see any possible way to reconcile even a watered-down notion of rebirth with the absolutely known and indisputable fundamental doctrines of anitya (impermanence), anatta (no soul), and dukkha (dissatisfactoriness).

There is nothing to be reborn and there is no one to be reborn and you are unhappy with that answer. That is the first noble truth and it can't be dismissed by pretending there is rebirth.

Colin: It's still beyond me how you can imagine that consciousness somehow starts at the beginning of a lifetime (where did it come from?) and vanishes at the end of the lifetime (where did it go and how did it become nothing?)

"How" is by studying the matter in terms of neurophysiology and human development. Where it comes from is it grows from the fertilized egg as it develops neurons and those neurons increase the complexity of their interactions and pick up experience from their environment. Consciousness is an evolutionary trait found in organisms with complex neural nets. As for where it goes, it dies when the neurons which create it dies. Like the fire on the branch, it is extinguished forever.

We don't have to use 2500 year old metaphorical guesses. We know a lot of this stuff directly now.

Colin: If there is no rebirth then what is your purpose with this, for the benefit of this one lifetime alone?

It is for the benefit of right now. Doing what is good right now. Being enlightened right now. What exactly are you waiting for?

Even if there was rebirth - to hell with waiting for that!

Colin: I tell you, sutras go beyond myth because they contain instructions.

Instruction is one of the primary uses of myth.

Colin: I just can't conceive of why someone would have an interest in Buddhism or Buddhist practice if they didn't accept rebirth.

That's easy. There are some things about Buddhism which are insightful, useful and lead to a good and upright life.

There are other things about Buddhism which are of not of utility such as superstitions, sectarian maneuvering, entertainments to keep the pews warm and the priests and monks fed, and various other trappings like prayer wheels, etc.

My interest lies in the heart of Buddhism. I do not have interest in the trappings of Buddhism.

Colin: You asked me, what is this defence of rebirth, but I could ask you, what is this defense of non-existence?

How do you propose it is we are talking if we don't exist?

Make haste though. Existence is both precarious and fleeting. Once gone, it is gone.

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