Math is a reflection of observed regularities in reality.
06-30-06 7:09Of Faith

Shmendrick: Just because W's argument about faith is unsupportable, by no means does that mean that every veiw of the nature of God is so easy to dismiss.

First, as long as there is "every view," a claim of existence is pretty easy to dismiss. When was the last time you encountered "every view" concerning the nature of dog?

Second, you can easily dismiss "every view" of the nature of God. It may be a subtle point to distinguish between that and saying God doesn't exist, but it is one worth considering since it is also a point made by a number of mystics and theologens.

If you claim god exists, you know something about god and then you start giving god attributes that you want, like powerful, good, liking your behaviors, and you start writing bibles, making up rituals, having persecutions and its turtles all the way down.

The truth is, you don't know anything about god. Every word about god is just made up, a fantasy.

Not god but an unknown, a mystery, not here, not even conceivable.

"People of faith" are for the most part not really. They want something to believe in instead. Something powerful which is nice to them and not nice to those they dislike. Or if they are a bit more sophisticated, something vague enough to not make demands, but still reassuring, like "love."

A real person of faith has nothing to believe in. That is what the faith is all about. They trust themselves. They trust the system of existence. And, they just have faith, not faith in. They don't need to make up excuses for what they do or how they are, such as god this or god that. Doing so would be presumptious and silly, how could any one claim something like that about god with a straight face?

Tehara: That is only what your definition of a real person of faith is....and actually, I've never heard anyone (atheist, agnostic, or theist) make this claim.

It is not a very popular definition, but it is simmering in the esoteric background of most religions.

To use the xtian metaphor...

If you know there is a god, there is no need for faith. So, for there to be a actual need for faith, you cannot have *any* knowledge of god, even of god's existence.

To have faith *in* you must have some knowledge, however partial, of what you are having faith *in*. In this case, to have faith *in* god, you must presume god's existence. But that presumption is false, all knowledge of god is closed off, and so your faith is misplaced and false as well.

All you can do is have faith and have it knowing that it is truly blind, faith without an object and without direction. Faith without a wrong or right.

Because it is not placed, it cannot be misplaced. By making no presumptions about god, you do not limit your apprehention of god.

Anne Marie: But then how do you know if it is right or wrong?

If it is unknown, you don't. Right or wrong is only known about known objects since they are themselves knowledge about the object.

So, for example, a claim of knowledge (like exists) about a complete unknown (like god) can be dismissed out of hand because the one making the claim doesn't have the knowledge needed to make a valid claim of that type.

It doesn't matter what the claim is (good, powerful, likes my tribe, hates man-on-man sex, etc.) any claim of knowledge is invalid as long as the object of the claim remains unknown.

06-30-06 7:09"Liberating" Animals

Jason: Lama Zopa Rinpoche says it's important to liberate animals. He says that the best thing to do is to circumambulate the animals around holy objects and to bless them with mantras and prayers. So you can carry the animals around a table in the middle of a room with many, many, many holy objects on it piled up, many tsa tsa, pictures of Buddhas, texts, whatever you have and then you take the animals around these holy objects.

Does this help?

No, this doesn't help.

Walking in circles around "holy" objects holding a pet seems at best silly.

This seems a classic example of the confusion of the trappings of buddhism for the substance of buddhism and the substitution of superstitious ritual "magic" for actual enlightenment.

In short this is exactly what the buddha acted against when he refused to be made into any sort of supernatural figure and set out a path which relies soly on personal effort and understanding and not on divine intervention or mystic powers.


Jason: The teaching of Lama Zopa Rinpoche comes directly from Dali Lama from a seminar discussing the same, you know, silly prayers passing positive energy with "silly holy" objects.

That doesn't mean anything in particular. Both are ordinary men and subject to mistakes and superstition. Yes, silly prayers passing "positive energy" with "silly holy" objects sums it up pretty well, but it helps keep monks off the streets.

Jason: So what you saying is that Holy, Blessed, or other named as powerful energy objects don't exist, correct.

The objects exist, but the rest of it is just more delusions.

Jason: What is your idea of......of for example Tibetan Prayer Wheels?

It's something to do. If you have fun with it, rock on.

Jason: But then how do you show appreciation for other beings?

You pay attention to them instead of prayer wheels.

06-29-06 3:21Life After Death

Anthony: A guy said, "Is there life after death? Unlikely; when the brain goes, you're gone." But you can't prove that!

Actually you can. The dead stop responding, there is no brain activity, they decay and become dirt.

Anthony: If my computer hard drive is erased, does that mean my computer's "mind" (programs, memory) is gone forever? Not if it was copied onto another medium.

The copy is not the original, it is a copy. Also, you have to actually do it, and it involves equipment and disks. When was the last time god was seen at the hospice backing people up? An interesting SciFi thought experiement, but there is no reason to believe reality works this way or that there are supernatural agents out there keeping you on god's tape back-up system.

06-28-06 10:20Feelings

Mick: I've been debating with a friend on the nature of buddhism vs. certain elements of Christianity. She says one of the goals of a practicing Buddhist was to be detached from feelings and emotions. Can this be true? I'm not a Buddhist (neither am I a Christian), but everything I've read and experienced of Buddhists would indicate there is no detachment of feelings. What is the truth?

How do Buddhists manage their feelings?

When I'm feeling something, that is what I feel. I don't hide from it. I don't seek to hold on to it. When I'm not feeling something, that is what I feel. I don't long for feelings past or worry about feelings to come.

I pay attention to how feelings ebb and flow. What gives rise to them, how they mutate, their reason and non-reason, and what they are saying.

I also distinguish between feeling and fact.

Mick: Thanks. The other thing I'm trying to get around (that is, to avoid altogether) the phrase "being nothing." As this flies in the face of my fellow debator, and shuts down the discussion.

"Being nothing" usually adds nothing to the conversation any way.

Try being specific about what you aren't, such as a specific thought, feeling, job, etc.

06-24-06 10:20Tobacco & Native American Displacement

This is a continuation the discussion of Buddhism, Tobacco and Harm.

Sun People: Unless you are a native american yourself you have no right to discuss the tradtions of my people.

If you would actually read the dicussion you will note that we weren't discussing native american ceremonies except when they were brought forth as a dodge. We were discussing American buddists and how smoking cigarettes fits or doesn't fit buddhist practice.

Sun People: Tobacco is sacred to us, and we honor the rightness of all ways that do not coerce their people into causing grevious injury to themselves or others.

Well, there you go. Smoking tobacco as outlined in this discussion is both coercive in that it is very addictive and it is well documented to cause grevious injury or even death. No matter how it may be as part of your native spiritual practice, there is no doubt as to how it is in the case of the person who posed the query. Her lament that she is "trying to quit" says all that needs to be said about her addiction.

Sun People: If you have your own ways, I respectfully suggest that you return to the homeland of your ways to practice them.

One of the joys of archeology is that we know that your people were not the first to live in this land. Earlier peoples lived here which your people replaced just as my people replaced yours. You could set the example and return to your own original homeland. Of course like my original homeland, its chock full of people who would greatly object.

On the bright side, your people are still here. The people you replaced did not survive it.

Sun People: So get down off your high-horse about who or what is doing harm to who and step down here in the dirt with the rest of us and see if we can wrestle this thing out.

Caring about who or what is doing harm to who is exactly how we wrestle this thing out.

06-24-06 10:20Relationship

Lawrence: I was just reading last night about this in "Nothing Special, Living Zen" by Charlotte Joko Beck. She talks about how we plug into our inner "baseboards" like plugs into sockets so we get these reactions to the world around us. When we are upset with someone, it really isn't about them but we believe it is and that we are somehow separate.

When one is upset with another it is about both people. Not just oneself. Not just the other.

One may be the source more of it than the other. It may be more one's own reaction or more that the other is being a dick.

But it's a relationship and so both are always involved.

06-24-06 10:09Is Vegetarianism More Cruel?

Shaku: One pro-plant person made the argument that, for instance, a potato seems to have nerves and some primitive consciousness, and there was some speculation that a cow being knocked in the head undegoes only a fraction of the suffering that a live potato does while being slowly digested in stomach acids. Does that make vegetarianism crueler?

Plants do not have nerves nor any form of consciousness equivalent to nerve based animal consciousness. They do have generalized internal biochemical means of reacting to damage but trying to anthropamorphize that into the equivelant of animal pain and consciousness is to not understand either for what they are.

The alive cells of plant or animal will be distressed if they are killed, but the animal has an added layer of awareness and pain that the whole is dying as well which there is no reason to believe is present in the plant.

Does this mean it is more or less correct to kill one or the other? Personally my take is that killing for food predates morality and so the question is meaningless.

Being eaten sucks when it happens to anyone, but it is an intergal part of this existence and pretending otherwise creates its own troubles and suffering.

As for the "nobility" of plants, there are plants which are vicious carnivores, herbivores, parasites and just downright cruel. Even those who mainly get their nutrition from the sun and earth have potent weapons against competitors.

The battles just happen outside our normal range of perception.

06-23-06 9:09Don't Worry, Be Happy

Aqua: What can I do? Even when I possess this sense of elation, almost immediately I'll think of those suffering on the other side of the world and I'll feel guilty for being happy. It's almost impossible for me to be truly happy while the world is miserable.

You can only live your own life, and life is short. Don't waste a moment of it on the misery of others who you cannot affect. Go ahead and be happy!

Aqua: But what I want is happiness and prosperity for all!

A very generous sentiment, which we can all work towards...but your chief responsibility is to yourself. Feeling guilty will not help anyone, and wanting something which is impossible is a direct path to suffering.

Your life is a gift to you, enjoy it.

Aqua: I agree---even as I feel guilt and I suppose it could be considered a generous sentiment, still there's an element of selfishness, because..... I've come to realize that all actions are selfish to a degree, even those of great sacrifice.

The traditional notions of selfish are not very useful.

Trade your happiness for guilt and what have you left to share?

Happiness is contagious. Being truly happy is part of the solution.

06-23-06 8:07Killing Cockroaches

Amy: Killing cockroaches is not too kosher when you're a buddhist, right? What do the buddhists say about handling such situations as roaches or waterbugs in an urban apartment? I knew someone who would trap them and then fling them out the window (waterbugs) into flight. But won't they just crawl into the next apt? And if so, is that compassionate to fellow sentient beings?

It depends on the school of buddhism.

Some strive to not kill even insects. Some feel that insects, like plants, are ok to kill.

Ultimately you can't save even yourself. You can only sightly alter when and where the bug dies. So it makes for an interesting exercise in absurd futility in the face of two inevitabilities - bugs in the house and death.

Personally I release some and kill others, generally based on if they bite/sting/damage/disease or really annoy.

I also support a nice array of spiders.

A word of caution. Heavy use of spray pesticides inside the house has been linked to an increased risk of Parkinson's disease.

Colin: Sure you can debate it a variety of ways, but I will say that in the two traditions I've studied under, Zen and Tibetan, insects have always been described as sentient beings and that's my feeling as well. Ultimately its a personal decision we must make in our own practice because after all we alone bear the responsibility for our actions.

There is disagreement even within these two diverse traditions on this matter.

It is the old problem of where to draw the line.

Every one is pretty sure that killing people is a bad idea.
Every one is pretty sure the Jains are whack.

Some where in between is a middle path, but where?

Insects seem to be on the edge.

Ultimately the lesson is that killing is inseperable from existence.

The best we can do is exercise a degree of control.

Colin: Why would you say that insects are "on the edge"?

Because it is impossible not to kill insects. They are ubiquitous in their coverage of every possible surface they can access and they come in sizes below our ability to easily perceive. So long have they pestered us that the there are reflexes for killing and removing them from the body so that even in your sleep the killing can proceed.

Only by extreme and willfull ignorance and self-delusion could one claim to never kill insects.

So one who wishes not to kill them is faced with the fact of their destruction at every step and is brought to the point of suffering: wanting what is not possible.

That is what I mean by the edge.

Colin: I would say that death is inseparable from existence, not killing.

You would be very, very wrong. Even in a sterile "clean room," perfectly at rest, your body itself is a killing field. Animals, plants, bacteria, fungi, every basic form of life inhabits your body and is striving for dominance of it and being killed back by you. Walk across the grass and thousands perish. Eat, even as a vegan, and you kill.

Killing is inseperable from life. It is how life evolved. Our perceptions are insufficient to see most of it. But it is there.

Colin: We can improve our practice and certainly strive to get to the point of avoiding intentional killing of any living being.

Only through self-delusion and ignorance.

We are not serperate from nature or the rules which govern existence.

What we can do is exercise control.

We are the top large predator and so we have some choices about how, who and when we kill certain prey.

Colin: Then we don't have to feel so bad about killing them and we can reassure ourselves that we won't have negative karmic results to experience from it.

I think that relying on "feeling bad" or mythic boogeymen like "negative karmic results" is not effective. The people who such arguements would sway already don't need convincing.

I have hunted before and the only time I "felt bad" was when I didn't eat my prey and it was wasted.

The "sticks" you are waving about aren't impressive. I don't feel bad about it and "negative karmic results" 1) aren't part of my culture, 2) have never been apparent, and 3) are a misuse of the concept of karma.

No, your best bet is to both know why and when the behavior doesn't work and to have better and more effective behaviors to supplant it. Of course to do that you must first understand the behavior and what drives it, and, you must also understand the precept and what drives it.

Colin: I do think our self-centeredness can get triggered when we are put in situations where we have to choose between our own comfort, life or convenience and another being's.

If you don't live in poverty, you have chosen your comfort and convenience over the comfort and conveneince of others.

If you still live, you have already chosen your life over many, many other being's lives.

Read more in the Archives.