07-11-06 7:11  •  Sam Harris and the End of Faith

Nolen: Have you read this Sam Harris guy? I have a problem with what he's saying. I have personally witnessed the divine, and Harris would have me not call it 'God'.

Granted, you were taught to give the word 'god' special status and to associate it with what you witness in your mystic experience, but I don't see it as evidence that others should grant your particular choice special status. It seems fully replaceable with great spirit, krishna, brahman, zeus, jupiter, woden, grenar, plruach, sweque and so on.

Giving this kind of experience a name seems to lead to disagreement and confusion.

What is intelligible is the nature of your actions after the experience. Does the experience have a positive effect, as it seems to have in your case, or, does it have a negative effect as it seems to have in Pat Robertson's case?

The confusion introduced by arbitrarily labeling all such mystic experiences "god" is a problem. The protection this problem gets - because its a "religious problem" and the tolerance police refuse to allow it to be addressed - is causing significant disruption of the social fabric here and throughout the world.

We need to stop extending arbitrary sanction to anyone who says the word "god" and start examining closely the basis of their claims and the measure of their actions.

Nolen: But the article in the Huffington post is called, "Sam Harris: Science Must Destroy Religion." Don't you see how wrong that is?

You are now the second person who is condemning him on the basis of titles. Is that really how you consider an article?

From the article itself:

"The distinction between science and religion is not a matter of excluding our ethical intuitions and non-ordinary states of consciousness from our conversation about the world; it is a matter of our being rigorous about what is reasonable to conclude on their basis. We must find ways of meeting our emotional needs that do not require the abject embrace of the preposterous. We must learn to invoke the power of ritual and to mark those transitions in every human life that demand profundity — birth, marriage, death, etc. — without lying to ourselves about the nature of reality." - Sam Harris

He is not calling for the destruction of religion here.

He is calling for the advancement of religion from a mere collection of superstitions into an actual rigorous discipline for the benefit of humanity, instead of its detriment.

He may be letting his concern make him ardent, but he is basically saying "we must separate the wheat from the chaff in religion because the chaff is killing us, and reason with reference to reality is the means to do this."

Nolen: But Christianity would not have survived if it did not have something to offer.

It certainly offers a lot - heaven, hell, god, satan, angels, demons, Jesus, various saints, original sin, weird claims about how things happened and how things work.

But the question Harris poses is not, what does it offer? It is, what does it deliver and what is its price?

07-10-06 5:26  •  Buddhist Texts

Neti: I'm wondering about the Buddhist texts. Many people are drawn in by religious literature because it is supposedly divinely inspired and/or the direct words of a sacred being.

Hence the importance of realizing that these are words written by men and women with no essential difference from the people reading them. The writers were fully capable of error and therefore must be read critically. Also there is nothing special about the words themselves beyond their utility in helping one awaken.

Neti: But are they divine, or just stuff written by bourgeois monastics hundreds of years after-the-fact?

You are correct that the buddha we know is in essence a literary fiction with at best a tenuous touch on any actual person. So construct your fiction carefully from the best material available.

Neti: Reading the texts can be a truly religious experience for some people, but would those people still have the same experience if they knew it wasn't exactly divine?

I do, because that is where I start anyway. I've never been able to muster the gullibility for believing a book is holy, particularly poorly written books, and most of the sutras are real snoozefests. I strongly recommend digests by skilled writers unless one really feels the need to wade through the original.

Neti: It doesn't matter who wrote "life is suffering but suffering can be ceased through the right path" as long as people gain some sort of spiritual understanding from it. However, what are the limits to others "borrowing" the words from our traditions to serve their own selfish goals?

Now you sound like the dog in the manger. The purpose of the words of buddhism is just to convey spiritual understanding to anyone who can grasp them, buddhist or not. They are not borrowing the words. The words have been freely given to help all who might benefit.

Neti: How can we be sure that we have translated these massive tomes accurately enough to glean any understanding from it at all?

Easy. Do what is suggested and test them out. Keep what works and discard what doesn't. They aren't holy. They are advice on how to live well and achieve a compassionate, wise and focused life.

Debate about the terms occurs only when one isn't finding out for sure. It doesn't matter what the term for monk used to mean or what you think it means in passing. Go to a monastery and find out if that is what you wish to be.

Neti: How can we know if we are we doing "Buddhist" practice and meditation, according to the texts?

Texts are not the standard for practice. What you do is your buddhist practice and it is refined by keeping what works and discarding what doesn't as you learn to do better.

07-07-06 7:07  •  Reincarnation/Immortality

Madhu: What are your thoughts and understandings of Reincarnation/Immortality, because if you are Immortal then logic states that you do not Reincarnate??

While it may be an unsatisfying answer at first blush, after careful consideration my thoughts and understandings of Reincarnation/Immortality are that they aren't important.

You do/are or you don't/aren't. But either way it is only resolved at death and speculation now is unprofitable and leads to mental anguish over something which is not worthy of such suffering.

07-06-06 1:16  •  Unexplained by Buddha

Paula: Can you explain this to me?

"Avyakata Pali~ meaning 'undetermined' or 'unexplained', refers to 'indeterminate questions' which Buddha refused to answer. The avyakatas are numbered as ten, consisting as three pairs of opposites and a (fourfold alternative) of options for the last subject.

(1-2) Whether the world is eternal or not eternal
(3-4) Whether the world is finite or infinite
(5-6) Whether the soul and body are identical or different
(7-10) Whether tathagata exists after death, does not exist after death, both exists and does not exist after death, or neither exists nor does not exist after death. "

Why didn't Buddha explain the answers? Do you know what they are?

You are missing the point. He is not saying anything about these questions.
He is saying he doesn't care to explain or pursue them as they are not relevant.

Don't worry about impermanent/eternal, soul/no soul, aggregates, reincarnation, etc.

These metaphysical points are not relevant to awakening.

Pursue the fundamental basics and gain enlightenment first.

Paula: Thanks for the plain speak. I guess what ~I~ see when I read is what my filters reveal. My bias wants to conclude that Buddha did not answer these questions because people of his time were unprepared for an opinion that would lean in the direction of 'no afterlife'.

I think that would be reading into the material. I would take the position that he just found the questions unprofitable and did not intend that as a censure of his audience but instead it is just a revelation as to the nature of the questions. My impression of the buddha is that he was very straightforward in his dealings with others.

Paula: But I want to know whether ~buddha~ saw an afterlife, or whether he believed in a soul?

When directly asked that question, he explained it once in this manner. Your life is like a fire burning on a twig. When the twig is exhausted and the fire extinguished, where does the flame go?

Paula: Fire is merely a manifestation of the change in structure of the twig. The fire goes nowhere, the elements are scattered as atomic and sub atomic particles and ceases to exist as one group form but is scattered.

So, I don't see how this relates to the 'eternal self'.

You are a fire, the slow "burning" of mainly sugar. That fire caught 3.5 billion years ago and has burned continuously ever since. If you have children it has been passed on and will continue to burn. But your "twig" is finite. When it is finally exhausted, the fire will go out and your ashes will scatter to the four winds, your unique pattern lost to all time.

Paula: My understanding of fire is that it is in fact ephemeral, and not a good analogy of 'eternal self' if this is the attempt. Except maybe to impart that the eternal self does not in fact exist.

That is what I see as the realization of personal impermanence.

Paula: I see what you mean. If I haven't said it before Swarm, I like your brain [what I know of it], and enjoy your posts.

Thanks. :)

07-05-06 12:12  •  Death and Karma

Nifty: People get what they deserve! All tragic deaths are due to one's own karma, aren't they?

All deaths happen because someone was alive. That's karma.

07-05-06 11:12  •  No Self?

Nuke: The Buddha taught that there is no Self. It goes on to talk about attaining different spheres, among them nothingness. I don't understand how the Buddha, or any enlightened being continues to "exist" then.

Once deathlessness is attained, there is a further existence, likely beyond the understanding of non-Buddhas. But there must be some semblance of a consciousness/identity. Can you help me understand this?

It isn't important and its best not to worry about it since that leads to being distracted.

Self or no self, it is what it is.
Further existence or no further existence, thinking about it is not going to change or hasten it.

No answer any one can give you is sufficient.
Focus on the fundamentals and you will find out for yourself.
Then you will know instead of just being caught in endless speculation.

07-02-06 3:02  •  Gift of Love

Penny: You said, "People think giving up your life for someone is a great gift, but it is actually a terrible gift."

I don't think that's true in all situations. You seem to be focusing purely on the idea of spousal love. What about a soldier, surrounded by his squad, who is the first (and only) to notice a live grenade has landed in their midst? Would it be a greater gift to them to shield himself behind the little cover they have so he may live on and share his life with whoever else is lucky enough to survive (if any)? Or would it be a greater gift to jump on top of it, killing himself, but saving the rest of his squad?

Even in the case of the soldier saving his comrades it is still a terrible gift. Yes, they survive, but they will carry him to their graves and may well go mad.

Remember, I'm not using "terrible" in the sense of "bad" here. He is doing something brave and selfless and if that is the only path forward, it is the only path forward. But it comes at a great price.

You told me your sweety is in the service, headed for Iraq. How would you feel if he saved his mates and came home in a doggy bag? The pride over his bravery cannot replace him by your side, nor will their gratitude.

Living with is a greater expression of love than dying for. It just isn't as splashy.

Danny-69: I've been saying that the greatest gift of love is when you give your life for the one you love. Now, I'm trying to meet you halfway here Swarm, but I can't seem to get my mind around your logic.

Fair enough, I shall try and make it plain.

Also you should consider that our points are not in contention as far as I'm concerned. If I had to pick something in error here, it would be the idea that any full expression of love is the greatest.

Love is the whole of the relationship until some final separation punctuates its end.

Danny-69: When you say the sacrifice is "a terrible gift," you're using "terrible" in the sense of what sir?

terrible adj.

1. Causing great fear or alarm; dreadful: a terrible bolt of lightning; a terrible curse.
2. Extremely formidable: terrible responsibilities.
3. Extreme in extent or degree; intense: “the life for which he had paid so terrible a price” (Leslie Fiedler).
..1. Unpleasant; disagreeable: had a terrible time at the party; terrible food.
..2. Very bad: a terrible actor.

I am using meaning 3. with shades of meanings 2. and 1. I'm not using meaning 4.

Danny-69: Because the stakes are so high (death, divorce, sickness,) because the very nature of Love is so fragile ~ THAT'S PRECISELY WHAT HAS MADE IT SO VALUABLE AND PRECIOUS TO BEGIN WITH! Hence Swarm, there is no greater sacrifice or Love than to give your life for the one you Love! None!

Love can be fragile or strong depending on the quality of the lovers who are expressing it.

I'm not discussing sacrifice. I am discussing gift. A sacrifice may be called for from time to time, but it is no basis for love. Sacrifice eventually builds resentment and guilt. The ultimate sacrifice is the ultimate end of the love.

Love is the gift of being together in a relationship and we each have no greater gift than the length and breadth of our lives to dedicate to each other.

Danny-69: If Penny's sweety came home in a body bag (God forbid) after saving his entire squadron then that's the end of Penny's journey with her sweety. Life is finite Swarm. At least she lived and loved a REAL HERO!

Let me tell you something from the ground pounder's view. Nobody wants a REAL HERO to be their buddy or in their squad. REAL HEROs get people killed way more than they save any one. Your love for your comrades is not to see them REAL HEROs, its to see them home, alive, in one piece, with the mission done. Everything else is bullshit. Ask anyone whose had a buddy killed which they'd rather see, a posthumous REAL HERO, or their friend alive and well. Actual heroes become heroes because they had no fucking other choice. It has nothing to do with lofty expressions of love and everything to do with hard split-second life-and-death decisions.

I wish Penny and her sweety the most boring tour of duty ever and a long life full of love with each other. We don't need any more REAL HEROs pushing up daisies for this unjust war.

Danny-69: It's because life and love are so fragile to begin with ...

All the more reason not to bury them early.

Dying for your love is just a single final desperate expression.

It is the actual loving relationship which leads up to that act where the real greatness lies.

Danny-69: But Swarm, isn't Love precious because it's so fragile in the first place? The stakes can be so high, don't you agree?

I do not consider love from within a monetary/valuation paradigm.

Love is what you make it together.
Make it fragile and it is.
Give it stakes, and it has them.
Declare it precious and it is.

But fundamentally, love is making it together.

07-02-06 2:01  •  Instant Enlightenment!

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07-02-06 1:00  •  Sober

Phil: It is so amazing that people can go through life sober...

I've not been sober for long and I already won't leave the house anymore because the world is way too crazy...

Every one sober gets that from time to time.
It passes once you realize it's just as crazy inside the house.

Read more in the Archives.