05-18-06 2:10What is Zen about?

Gavin: This summer, while ignoring school, I would like to start studying Buddhism as it has always facinated me, specifically the school of Zen Buddhism.

I would like to know what the core ideas of Zen Buddhism are. I have seen lots of stuff on the internet but I can't find instructions for someone just starting out and looking to leave the world of Dukkha behind.

Also, I had a question about the fifth Buddhist precept; regarding one abstaining from substances which cause intoxication and heedlessness. My question is whether this includes caffine? or sugar?

Any help would be appreciated!

Hi Gavin.

The fundamental core of zen is doing the sitting. All of the other stuff, temples, altars, etc. are trappings and window dressings. They make a nice backdrop to keep you on target, but if you sit in a garbage dump it is better than if you don't sit in the finest temple at a beautiful altar.

Doing the sitting is where you learn a number of key things:

How your mind and emotions work.
How to pay attention and concentrate.
How to stop thinking about something.
How to sit quietly without being bored or distracted.
And so on.

If there is a meditation group in your area they can help get you started, but the basics are really straightforward.

Sit up straight, crosslegged, legs folded or just in a chair.
Some close their eyes, some look at something a bit in front of them and down, some keep their eyes half closed.
Relax and just sit there quietly.
If you need a focus you can count your breaths up to ten and then repeat.
Or, just listen to the ambient sounds of the day.
Or, look at the object you are focusing on.
But mainly you just sit.

Pretty soon an itch will jump you, or a fidget, or a thought, or a feeling, or a daydream. Don't worry about this, its part of the process. Just as soon as you realize you are distracted, stop doing that and go back to just sitting.

Maybe you sit quietly for a whole minute. Maybe you sit quietly for a fraction of a second. Don't worry about that either. There is no contest here or need to succeed at anything.
It really is just sitting.

The other side is you get bored. Notice that too and then pay closer attention.
Bordom is just not paying attention. This is where a focus is handy as it gives you something to pay attention to.

What ever happens, stop doing that and go back to just sitting.

5-15 minutes is plenty to begin with. Every day is the trick to having it be useful.
There will be times when it really seems to be going good and times when it seems pointless or there just isn't time.
These are just more distractions.

Basically "intoxicants" is whatever makes you heedless. While there is some general concensus on biggies like getting drunk, ultimately you decide for yourself what is and isn't acceptable. Many people use a little caffiene and sugar without problems. Some people cannot do so.

It really is the heedlessness that is the point of emphasis and all of the precepts ultimately get back to: Don't cause harm to yourself or others.

05-05-06 3:31How to Forgive

Wendy: My brother tried to kill me. My family always took his side in everything. My mother did everything in her power to help him. I have forgiven my mother and we have had long talks about it.

My brother comes up for parole in 2010. I have not forgiven him yet for the many things he did to me. That is something I pray to God about all the time. I haven't opened up that wound enough to let God have it yet, I am still holding tightly to it. How can I forgive?

Here is something to help give it up to who ever you care to...

Forgiveness is first about you. JC said as you forgive, so shall you be forgiven, but I seriously think that barely concerns any deities.

You are carrying a burning ember in your heart. Your lack of forgiveness hurts you, constantly. It hurts your relationships with every one you care for, even your god. I'm not saying you have to make nice with your brother, or even care for him in the future. I'm saying set that ember down. You don't need it and it is hurting you. Where do you think much of that rage comes from?

You are justly angry, but that is no excuse. Don't worry. You won't forget. You don't have to be open to him. Just learn that you don't have to think about it or remind yourself about it or beat yourself up about it. Let the past handle itself and refocus on your present.

In a way you are quite lucky though. You can use setting it down as a trick to deepen your relationship with your god.

Every time the thought comes up, as soon as you notice it, purposefully hand it to god and say "Here! I have forgiven this. Please deal with it for me god." Then hold that last word for a while in your mind. This will create a good habit out of a bad one. At first it may seen hard or silly or even overwhelming. Just stick to it every time you can and it will happen a bit quicker each time. This is important. Don't go looking for it, just let it happen on its own. Eventually you will replace the anger, hurt and pain of the past for thinking of god now. You'll just skip straight to your thought of god, bypassing the old hurt.

Unlike pop psych, nothing is removed or changed. You are just rerouting the trigger to where you want it to be to give you the life you are looking for. You are learning to choose the good and let go of the bad.

Wendy: You know Swarm, that is a prime example of how the Wiccans do things. Rerouting our focus is what its all about. I never truly thought about rerouting my triggers. So many people in my church tell me to "give it to God!" but they never really explained HOW! Your description is much like when atheletes visualize themselves winning every time they practice. I like your idea.

Thank you Swarm. Even though we rarely see eye to eye, we do have mutual respect for each other. I wish others could agree to disagree and still have meaningful debate.

05-05-06 2:31Aim Above Morality

Maude: "Aim above morality.
Be not simply good;
be good for something. "
-Henry David Thoreau

My version is: "Vice...Virtue...It's not good to be too moral. You cheat yourself out of too much life. Aim above morality."

What do you think? I think that there is a meta-level of understanding morality which allows one to act morally while still enjoying life to its fullest.

The dead zen guys are often pointing to this when they get pissed about people just reciting slogans without seeing how to arrive at the understanding which generated them in the first place.

I see vice and virtue as descriptions of the inherant nature of certain acts instead of as acts which will some day be rewarded or punished. Thus when you are kind to another, you get to live as a kind person even if no one, even that person, knows about what happened. Likewise if you hurt another, you must live with that hurt long after they have forgotten about it.

Being honest sharpens your appreciation of the truth. Being dishonest dulls your ability to perceive the truth.

But in the end, it is not about concensus with other's opinions so much as it is a matter of developing your own insight, compassion and focus. Consensus can guide but it cannot define what morality is for you.

Thus, while I agree with Thoreau, I think you have missed the mark.

In being what is simply good, you do cheat yourself, but in being what is actually good, you uncheat yourself from what is worth living. Being good does not exclude you from anything in life like it might seem. Such an insight is one of the main tenets of real hedonism, aka the philosophy of Epicurus: hunger is the best spice.

Or in the case of a bit of S&M: there is nothing wrong with harming another if they ask nicely and I feel like it. ;)

05-04-06 2:31Faith in Nothing

Anjali: I only claimed that I decided to follow my particular organized religion based on my love for God.

I think there are both implicit and explicit claims being made which exceed the basis you have laid for making claims.

For example you claim your faith is worth sacrificing for.

Anjali: God and I have a relationship.

A relationship requires two or more. At the moment you only have your feelings.

Anjali: You *believe* scriptures are only human artifacts...

Actually I know they are human artifacts. You can even find many of the people involved and ask them about the production.

Anjali: ...I *believe* that they are revelations.

That's nice that you believe it and its convenient that god is doing the revealing instead of some other being, but what evidence do you have for that? The mormans make similar claims, yet you can see where Joe Smith lifted big chunks of it from another work.

Nothing in any scripture I've ever read, and I've read a few, has ever made me think that anything other than another human had written any of it. In fact most of them really aren't very stellar examples of even human writing. They get facts wrong, boast, lie, include propaganda, drone on and on, and frankly aren't that interesting for long stretches at a time.

If they are revelations, god needs to pick better ghost writers.

Anjali: I believe in Manifestations - you believe they are mere humans.

I know they are humans. They ate, were born, had parents, shat, fucked, got sick, lied and eventually died.

If you claim they are more than human you need to show that, and in ways that aren't just very old rumors.

Anjali: The scriptures make so much intuitive sense to me.

Intuition is great stuff, but it has definate limitations. You can use it to make great leaps, but then you have to do the work of building your bridges back to what you can prove. Otherwise intuition devolves into mere guessing. Metaphors are likewise great for getting the gist of a message across. But you can't just live on gist alone. Both of them create feelings. Feelings are nice but they don't necessarily mean anything unless they get substantiated.

You have good feelings and your intentions seem sound, but I can't find any substantiation yet.

Anjali: I AM acknowledging there is uncertainty...

Except for the parts where you aren't. For example: "My faith is bridging the unknown." It is not bridging the unknown. Its just masking it a bit, like a drug masking pain. The pain of the unknown is still there, you just feel better about it.

You say you love god, have faith in god, scarifice for god, etc.; but you don't. How could you when the question of god is totally undetermined?

As near as I can tell, you love what you think of as god and what others have taught you to think of as god.

I hope you can see what a world of difference there is between the two.

We have wrapped up nothing in a blanket of words and set it upon the altar. Because it has been sitting there for so long people think they know something about it, but they can't. There isn't anything to know about it. There are only the words surrounding an empty concept.

05-02-06 1:31Is Organized Religion a Crutch for the Thinking Impaired?

Tehara: I'm wondering why the title of this thread was automatically prejudice in nature.
I'm wondering why we have "wrong vs. right" instead of "different."

I see nothing wrong with different belief and thought systems.
I see nothing right with condeming others.

Bo: I believe women are to submit themselves to men.

Tehara: Good luck with that. I can't believe you have any decent reason why you tried that tactic. Immature, at best.

Bo: Because women would know real LOOOVE and happiness if they submit themselves to men. I care for your happiness; I want to spread the light.

Tehara: Well, your ideas are contemptable, you sicko!

Butt out, I'm asking Swarm about the title of the thread - thinking impaired?!

Thinking impairment is hardly a monopoly of organized religion.

I think what our little troll is trying to do is point out that there are belief and thought systems, like his, which you find wrong and contemptable. You seem to find his approach towards women wrong instead of different.

Personally I find "wrong" and "contemptable" useful, though dangerous, tools.

The important thing is not finding something wrong or contemptable.

The important thing is the basis by which something can be found to be wrong or contemptable.

It is the step most people skip because it is so hard, but it really is where one actually learns something.

Arbitrarily condemning something because you think you don't like it is easy but meaningless.

Understanding exactly why it must be condemed...that requires thoughful consideration of the object and its implications with the outcome uncertain. More than once I've discovered what I thought was wrong was not necessarily wrong and over the years it has lead to a deeper understanding of why certain things don't work and lead to problematic results.

05-02-06 1:31Why Religion, Love

Adam: I can't understand why... but there are some very very smart people who believe in God and follow various religions.

Why? The standard reasons.

Fear of death, ignorance, tradition, taught to them before they developed critical thought, etc.

Anjali: None of those factors underlie my decision to follow a religion.

Which would be?

Anjali: Love.

People often list love, but I've yet to be convinced its not a rationalization or rote response from years of indoctrinization.

When I say I love my sweety, it can be verified in a myriad of ways.

But can you really love one who has no points in common with you at all and who you have never met?

It would seem the best you could do is be in love with the idea of god.

Anjali: If you haven't been convinced yet, there is no need for you to believe me of course.

Its not a matter of believing or not. I would consider it an insult if I merely believed you about such a matter.
I'm looking to understand it.

Anjali: Though I haven't had years of indoctrinization...

We all have had years of indoctrination, even staunch atheists born of staunch atheists. It is, I feel, part of the atheist angst. Imagine living in the soviet union during the heady days of total state control of all media and suddenly realizing that they are not telling the truth. All cultures on the planet are infused with religious indoctrination and it is a very aggressive and pernicious meme.

Anjali: I'm sure you'd think of another reason to harbor doubts - and I'm not saying that in a bad way.

My doubts end as they encounter what is real.

We may end up with differing conclusions, but show me your love is real and I will not doubt it.

Anjali: I think we are seeing eye to eye:-) You understand exactly what I mean when I say that I wasn't viewing your doubts in a bad light - I think it's awesome to meet people who really think and question everything.

As for *showing* you my love is real....I don't believe there is any way to prove love, not even between people, just as there is no way to prove God.

Here I disagree. Love exists between my sweety and I, and it has artifacts and evidence of its existence. It is proven between us to our satisfaction and beyond any concern. It is so evident that it effects our friends when we are around them and even strangers notice.

I also distinguish here between the emotion of love and the actual love which gives rise to that emotion. Emotions come and go, wax and wane. They are easy to get focused on because they are up front in one's consciousness. But to depend on the emotion of love is to find eventual disappontment when it is not there. No one can hold an emotion constantly. It is not their nature. Other emotions compete for attention and the mind simply tires after a while.

But my love, from which the emotion arises, is constant. It doesn't matter what I might be feeling: anger, boredom, happiness, sadness, etc. It is imbued with a special consideration for her and that consideration is communicated to her and it is returned in turn by her for me.

Now I'm willing to grant you feel a certain emotions concerning god. What I wonder is if those emotions have a basis and if your conclusions about that basis are justified.

Is there evidence for this love? Does it have artifacts? Do others notice it? How is it returned?

Anjali: Just as you said that your doubts only end when they meet reality, these doubts will not end until you experience that same love, not with anything I can or can't show you:-)

You might be surprised at what I have experienced and even if one is doomed to failure, the attempt to eff the ineffable has value in and of itself. Don't give up before you make the attempt.

05-02-06 10:30Necessity of Religion

AJ Toynbee: To have religion is one of those distinctively human characteristics of mankind that differentiate us from our non-human fellow animals on the face of this planet. The assumption implies that every human being has religion: in fact, that one cannot be human without having it in some form.

Humans will always have religion.

Perhaps it is a delusion that religion can be discarded. But then it is probably a delusion that war, poverty, ignorance, hunger, and oppression can be discarded. But that is no reason to give up those ideals.

Perhaps it is true that religion is a part of human nature. All the more reason to aspire beyond merely human.

Let us strive to be more than just what we were in the past and set down the superstitions of an immature race.

There are better things awaiting us.

Anjali: What (in your view) are the better things that are awaiting us?

There are better things waiting because we are constantly striving to improve our position. We don't yet know what they are because we are just in the process of inventing them and ourselves.

Anjali: And also whether those better things were originally meant to be the spiritual goals of religions?

Religions have often co opted the drive for their own purposes, but in the long run they are inherently anathema to religion.

Anjali: You are talking about organized religion?


Anjali: It's like this episode of Sex and the City where Carries notes that Stanford's religion is fashion:-) Do you also believe we need to evolve beyond [the euphemistic definition of religion] in this lifetime?

If you worship fashion above others then I'd say yes, there is room for growth.

Anjali: Would you consider your beliefs to be your own unique ones or Buddhist?

My beliefs are uniquely mine in their selection, development, emphasis, arangement, etc.

They are not uniquely mine in origin as others have contributed to their genesis and even hold very similar positions in many regards.

I find that the basics of buddhism have a lot of value and I've adopted a fair number of those ideas, but then the same is true of the philosophy of Epicurus, pragmatism, empiricism and other western schools of thought.

It all has a pretty straightforward basis: Go with what works, learn to do better, enjoy the moment.

Anjali: Believing that better things await when you can't actually know that for sure (since it hasn't happened); is that one way in which faith manifests itself in you?

No, it is not a matter of faith as the term is used in religious circles.

It is a matter of understanding the processes already in motion. For example, each year for the foreseeable future there will be improvements to make the cars we drive better.

Of course our understanding of what is better is also improving, which makes things even more interesting.

It's not all sunshine of course. Definitions of better are slow to change and slow to build consensus.

Our old definition of better - making a few rich guys richer and making a few powerful guys more powerful - caused and is still causing a lot of harm. It is going to be close to see if we can improve matters before we collapse and die back.

Anjali: As weird as it may sound, I think that the "thing" that I was calling "faith" in you is what I myself call "faith". But maybe it isn't what others consider faith. Language has its uses and its limits.

Faith and knowledge are tricky words.

I see them as a continuum of belief based on substantiation.

Faith is an unsubstantiated belief.
Knowledge is a substantiated belief.

The tricky part is that they both can also be infused with confidence which is unfortunately not coupled directly to substantiation.

So we have faith:

faith n.
1. Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.
2. Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.

The key here is that there is no necessary basis for the confidence placed in the belief. It can very from a completely unfounded belief (blind faith) to a belief based on a reliable or otherwise trustworthy source.

I see faith as a starting point where basis and substantiation leading to knowledge is the ultimate goal and blind faith I see as just confident ignorance, a kind of wishful thinking.

Where ever possible one should substantiate one's beliefs and even when one must take something on faith, that faith should have some basis.

So my statement of better things to come has an element of faith since the future is uncertain, but it is based in my understanding of the current processes and trends at work in our society and concerning life in general.

Evolution and success both favor getting better.

05-01-06 9:30Stopping

Josh: You said, "The person and what they do are not seperate." Well, I'm saying that a basic principle of Christianity is to separate one's self from things one does in order to stop doing them.

And I'm saying, first - its a bunch of hogwash which has failed to be anything xtians ever do, and second - even if they bothered to try they'd fail because you and what you do are not seperate.

You stop doing something by first noting that you are doing it and then stopping doing it.

You can practice this skill and it becomes easier to stop doing things you don't want to do. A good way to practice is the basic meditation trick of doing something repititious and boring, like sitting still counting your breath; noticing when you get distracted, stopping being distracted and going back to counting your breath; over and over and over again for about 15 minutes every day.

After a few years practice you get very good at stopping.

You notice, stop. Notice, stop. Until you notice before you start at which point you aren't doing it any more.

Also, when you notice but haven't actually started, there is a space in which you can leverage starting a new habit if you wish.

Trying to stop by denying your own actions is just some silly crap Paul injected into xtianity because he was gay and didn't want to own up to it.

Josh: I own my failures, but I see a difference between that and letting myself be defined by them.

They aren't your totality or your definition, but they are your expression, your choice and you are intimately involved in them.

Josh: To a sincere Christian, gay sex is a moral failure.

To a sincere xtian, of which I have met very few, gay sex is none of their business as it is not their place to judge another and people, no matter if they are gay or straight, are brothers and sisters to be cherished.

Josh: but everyone fails in one way or another, eventually, because people are made to be able to fail... just in different ways.

I don't see it that way. Failing is just saying you didn't like what happened instead of appreciating it for what it was.

Bo: You said, "You stop doing something by first noting that you are doing it and then stopping doing it."

I agree with this Swarm.

I read somewhere science supports this, in the book "The Science of Happiness" by Stephen Braun, based on findings of Antonio Demasio.

04-30-06 4:30Using Religion

Pinky: Religion is so often used for being intolerant, hateful, prejudiced, bigoted, etc. I think the only thing religion should ever be used for (if anything) is to seek knowledge, truth and/or enlightenment.

It cannot be used even for that.

Faith cannot form a basis for knowledge. Faith is the anathema of knowledge. It is something done instead of having knowledge.

Truth requires an understanding of reality and nature. The supernatural has no reality or nature from which to draw true conclusions.

Enlightenment is something no deity or external force can do for you.

Religion serves no useful purpose because it glorifies submission to ignorance and superstition.

Pinky: Than what of Buddhism? Didn't you post somewhere about how Buddhists are generally happier than non-Buddhists?

What of it? When Buddhism wears the face of just another religion it fails just as every other religion does for exactly the same reason. Buddhism's only redeeming value is that it isn't just a religion and if you dig beneath the trappings and marketing hype, something useful remains because fundimentally buddhism is not based on anything supernatural. Instead its based on some guy's actual experience with suffering, morality, insight and meditation.

And my points hold:

In buddhism, faith cannot form a basis for knowledge. If it is needed, it is used just as a temperary holding pattern while you gather direct personal experience. The buddha specifically admonished people to take things neither on faith, hearsay or another's authority (even his). Only direct personal experience is acceptible.

In buddhism, truth requires an understanding of reality and nature. The dharma (or teaching of how things are) is stricty a naturalistic understanding which makes no recourse to supernatural powers or abilities. The religious do their best to corrupt this, but as one zen master said when confronted by claims of supernature powers: my magic is that when I am hungry, I eat, and when I am tired, I sleep.

Finally, enlightenment is something no deity or external force can do for you. If you are to awaken, you must do it for yourself.

Pinky: If religion is making people happy with no apparent harm to anyone or anything in the process, there must be some practical use for it...

But it doesn't make people happy usually and there usually is harm. That is why the results were of such note.

Read more in the Archives.