Sunday, February 20, 2011

Buddhism

Today a friend came for our regular Sunday sitting. She asked what I'd been doing since last weekend. I replied that the most exciting event had been on Wednesday, when I'd fulfilled an invitation to spend 15 minutes explaining Buddhism to 400 teenagers.
"What did you say to them?" she asked.
"I spent 12 minutes explaining why and how to do anapanasati. Then we all meditated for three minutes."
"That's not Buddhism," she commented.

What do you think?

28 comments:

  1. You could have used all those 15 minutes to talk about sutras or the path. That could be more "buddhist" but less clever.

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  2. Buddhist philosophy, history, ethics and tradition can all be found on line. Teaching them how to follow their breath while sitting in silence is worth far more than any academic background you could have given them in 27 minutes.

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  3. As usual you go to the heart of the matter. What you taught was more valuable than any academic background, as Koro Kaisan says. However, the current fad for mindfulness in the UK is worthwhile, but it is not Buddhism. Following the breath and emptying the mind is all very well, but Buddhism lies in performing these activities within the context of what we might call 'selflessness'. Perhaps that was the 'why' that you taught the pupils? If not, then you did not teach them anything about Buddhism. What do you think?

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  4. Hi Ed,

    This is great - you live up the road and we communicate on a blog run 5000 miles away!

    Yes, anapanasati isn't Buddhism without the "selfless" context.

    However, might it be true that no-self is the only answer that can possibly arise from deep, prolongued anapanasati?

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  5. Who is the witness that decides if it's 'selflessness' or 'selfulness'?

    Aren't we always caught on one side or t'other chasing notions of 'self' or a lack of something in relation to self?

    I hope we find a more real person whom we can work that one out with!

    The Tibetan teacher I used to gush over in the heady days of my grosser stupidity used to say that shamatha (such as watching the breath) naturally shades into vipassana in it's own sweet time/way... I think maybe he was onto something there.

    Regards,

    Harry.

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  6. Hi Michael

    Yes, I must try and get over to you sometime soon. Of course you are right about the 'only answer', but that is not what you asked in your first post. Perhaps it's just a question of logic?

    Regards

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  7. Ed, I don't think Harry's avoiding the issue. He's the only blogger I know who makes me look timid, so I doubt he's ever avoided anything!

    He reports his Tibetan chap as saying that, "shamatha...naturally shades into vipassana..."

    "Vipassana", of course, means "insight" - that is, insight into the way things really are, which, along with impermanence, means no-self.

    Buddhism has a philosophical framework. You can teach that to people, in the manner of giving them a fish. Alternatively, you can teach them the art of fishing - and ultimately they'll end up with a fish. Either way, they get a fish, not a cow or a paschal lamb.

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  8. Hi Michael

    For the sake of openness I guess we should make it clear that in a post I later reconsidered and deleted I suggested Harry was ducking the issue. I deleted it because I felt that what I said wasn't correct; however, I guess I did feel that there was some hair splitting going on, a point of view which I'm quite happy to defend.

    (That hair splitting by the way had nothing to do with Vipassana.)

    I understand completely your point about fish and fishing, but I think we are now talking at cross purposes and it is time to move on.

    Hope to see you soon

    All best

    Ed

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  9. Hi Ed,

    I'll leave the post mortem on reality to people who are interested in sniffing corpses; and defending a split hair might be an equally strange sort of pass-time for someone who could be swallowing mountains and oceans and galaxies (not just the chocolate ones), but, by all means, cough it up if it's tickling your throat!

    ... and if your idea was that I was splitting hairs about the nature of self then I'll make it clearer for you: Worrying about the nature of some 'self' or 'no-self' and thinking it's something to do with the realised Buddha-dharma is lower than the a hinyanaist dog licking its arse while thinking it to be a sausage roll!

    The wider universe really doesn't give a shit what you or I mistakenly think about it/ ourselves. We might as well sit for a half hour or whatever picking fluff out of our belly buttons as fret about some 'self'.

    Regards,

    Harry.

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  10. Stop beating around the bush Harry, tell us what you really think!

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  11. Worrying about the nature of some 'self' or 'no-self' and thinking it's something to do with the realised Buddha-dharma is lower than the a hinyanaist dog licking its arse while thinking it to be a sausage roll!


    Nowdays it seems the only important thing in Buddhism is this no-self thing so I am so happy to read Harry's sweet and tender words about it.

    Now I wonder how Harry's comment would sound without the self of Dogen and Brad Warner spitting and kicking in every single pixel (not to say word, thought, finger...)

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  12. Hi Daishin/ Do Jana/ David/ ???,

    Yes, wondering is like that. If we mind our own business, I mean really mind it to the extent that we're not fooled by our wondering about others, then there's nothing obscure to wonder about re the self/others.

    I like that you consider my nothing-new-under-the-sun words kind because, thanks to some very pervasive latter day mythology about a set of assumptions people are calling 'Buddhism', it seems that we generally wouldn't know a kind and sincere turning word from a little hole in the ground.

    Regards,

    Harry.

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  13. Hakuin is alive and well and living in Ireland!

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  14. Very true, Michael. He just visited me here in the secure unit of the mental home.

    ;-)

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  15. Wow, it's kind of hard to move in here for all of the skeletons dangling on puppet strings.

    :-D

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  16. Hi Erik,

    Are you righteously certain of that?

    You appear to be moving to me.

    Regards,

    H.

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  17. Interesting question, Harry. No. Righteous certainty might be even more dangerous than games of "this guy said this and that guy said that."

    If I had to guess, "traditional Irish music is one of the great things in life" is the closest I probably come to certainty.

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  18. Hi Erik,

    Certainty is an interesting point in Zen/Buddhism I think.

    We're never for a moment, any of us, stuck or unable to move. That's right, and I 'know' it to be right.

    Unfortunately I, and a great many of us I think, really aren't that certain about it down to the core, where it really counts.

    There are valid sorts of righteous certainty that are not characterised by fear I think.

    Regards,

    Harry.

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  19. W're all free. What limits us, and reasonably so, are the consequences of some choices.

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  20. Hi Micheal,

    Thankfully for us we can endeavour to become righteously certain that we are already free even as we live with the consequences of choices and the need to make choices. Our choice to not be bound by choice ('not-choice'?) has consequences like any other course of action and so it could be said to be limiting, just not limited in our usual, habitual way.

    If it were the case that it was a 'this or that', 'all or nothing', 'black or white' scenario then there'd be no means for us to realise a way that's not confined to choice/'free will' and if that were the case then I think we'd be nicely shafted!

    I agree with what you're saying but, if we are just unconsciously following out the 'program' of our habitual conditioning ('I want this because it will make me that', 'I deserve that because I am like this', etc...) can we really be said to be making choices?

    Exercising 'free will' that's based on a very limited/limiting perception of the self/other may not be a substantial choice at all.

    Regards,

    Harry.

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  21. Cool,

    The problem/danger with 'certainty' is that it a)implies something holding still, which goes against impermanence and/or b) believes our intellect has gotten all the way around something. If we add in 'righteous', then there is also the closing off of any humility or openness to the possibility of us being wrong about a or b. Isn't that all just feeding the illusion of the grasping intellect?

    I didn't say I _couldn't_ move. Just that the place was cluttered and crowded.

    Harry, can you clarify how 'not being bound by choice' is still 'limiting'? Yes, there is a consequence, but the consequence is an expanding of the future options ahead of us, rather than narrowing them . . .

    Peace,
    Erik

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  22. Hi Erik,

    You seem quite certain as to the meaning of those words/ values.

    That things are impermanent is only true when it is realised directly with certainty.

    Isn't that we generally think in a rather binary fashion itself a certainty that can be realised/understood?

    Can't you say anything about your own practice with certainty? There are certain things that a good teacher would have us be very certain about... that this certainty is not confined to the rather simple sort of certainty that you indicate doesn't make it any less real/certain.

    Here's what one dictionary says about 'righteous':

    –adjective
    1.
    characterized by uprightness or morality: a righteous observance of the law.
    2.
    morally right or justifiable: righteous indignation.
    3.
    acting in an upright, moral way; virtuous: a righteous and godly person.
    4.
    Slang . absolutely genuine or wonderful: some righteous playing by a jazz great.


    ... but, of course, the real current meaning of a word is defined in the present, real situation, as we do things or interpret them in the present when their time is gone. Meaning never exists in a dictionary until someone opens it up.

    There's really no point in becoming intoxicated by our intellect; either by its endless impressive convolutions or in reaction to/against 'em. It's something more primal than (but not other than) the intellect that grabs at thoughts and makes a thinker and craves existence and permanence. People who realise this and unyoke themselves from unconsciously doing it still have an intellect and, thankfully, some of them can even use it very well.

    As to your last question; I was contextualizing the idea a bit in that, regardless of what we think, or don't think, we are limited beings who have to eat, shit, work, exercise, rest, make choices accordingly etc etc. These limitations are as much what sustains us as what limits us. We are always limited by our existence, and this limitation is a condition of our realising the buddha-dharma that, contrary to latter day psychological interpretations/reductions is actually not just some sort of state of mental clarity. Buddhist realisiation happens because of our limitations, in the messy details of our lives, not despite them.

    If we are thinking about/ making a future for ourself then we may well be limiting ourself. This is the general truth of the matter.

    'The future' hasn't arrived yet. We only make 'the future' by what we think in the present moment. The rather 1-D way we think does it's highly questionable work on time as well: It gives the impression (via our thoughts of 'past' and 'present', which we are really only ever doing now) that time is a simple linear progression. I'm not certain what time is; but I'm certain it's not that.

    Regards,

    Harry.

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  23. Rock on, Harry. I hope we have a chance to meet in person one of these days. :-D

    Yes, it concerns me exactly when people not only believe themselves 100% right about something, but further hold that it is a matter of morality to agree with them. Those are the seedbeds of persecutions and holy wars.

    We can hold things to be true, and live our lives with some convictions holding a higher estimated probability than others—including some things we would be shocked to find falsified.

    As for my own practice? Hell no, I hope I am never fool enough to be unwilling to change my mind about something. How could we change our mind if we are certain?

    As for good teachers? I also hope I am never fool enough to believe a teacher who thinks he/she has grasped a truth 100%. Naturally enough, I could be convinced to change my mind about that, though.

    It sounds like we might be talking about different things when we say “certainty.” When you say “realized directly with certainty,” what does “certainty” add to it? Isn’t the novice or student (in any number of disciplines, not just Zen) full of things they are “certain” about, which turn out not to have been true at all? Reflecting on that, don’t we hold our feelings of certainty with a grain of doubt mixed in? Are they then not something less that truly certain?

    Peace,
    Erik

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  24. Hi Erik,

    "How could we change our mind if we are certain?"

    That your mind changes is a certainty that can be directly appreciated and understood. You don't seem to acknowledge that there is anything that can be known to be certain outside of intellectual certainty. If you want an example of certainty that happens before we think of it then try to walk briskly through the nearest brick wall! There will be a pretty emphatic conclusion to that relationship if you do this wholeheartedly. You *certainly* won't want to do it again after a while ;-)...

    In sitting and letting our thoughts just come and go we come to certain certainties that are not just intellectual, although they can confirm and legitimize and clarify theoretical points. In Buddhism this direct sort of knowing, that is not confined to just intellectual knowing, is called 'prajna'. It may be likened to trying to learn to ride a bike by reading a book and/or by attending talks about it from a Master, and learning to ride a bike by... actually riding a bike! We can come to forget our selves and the bike and just ride the bike. Sure, we might fall off sometimes, there's nothing beyond the hairy little accidents of this universe, but it's perfectly reasonable to say that we can now ride a bike. Simple example, but you get the gist.

    It sounds like we might be talking about different things when we say “certainty.” When you say “realized directly with certainty,” what does “certainty” add to it?

    We are and we aren't. Certain philosophical points in Buddhism (such as shunyata or 'emptiness') are quite true and useful at the intellectual level **after they have been directly realised/understood in practice**... they may even be useful before that, but they are often just so much horse shit coming out of the mouths of idiots (unknown to themselves, so it's hard to blame them really, and we all go through this stage) who are munching on their own 'sausage rolls' (to resurrect that savoury image!) thinking that they are at 'one with the universe' or whatever.

    Reflecting on that, don’t we hold our feelings of certainty with a grain of doubt mixed in?

    There's a real certainty that's expressed in upright, mountain-still sitting that contains doubt etc but is not in the least swayed by it.

    Regards,

    Harry.

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  25. A ha! Thanks, Harry. Direct knowing I can go along with, and now I'll expand what I think of as certainty to overlap it.

    Peace,

    Erik

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  26. Just seen this (back up there somewhere), so thanks for the response and the lesson, Harry. Ha! No, no need to cough up a hair.

    I wonder sometimes though whether we 'duck' into the 'unconditioned' too easily and avoid the responsibility for acting in the 'conditioned' when it might be necessary. It seemed to me that Michael had raised an important issue and that the discussion that followed (interesting though it was) sort of avoided it.

    So going back up to the top, while I agree that sitting still for 20 minutes was Buddhism, and may even have 'taught' an aspect of Buddhism, and also that by knowing nothing about Buddhism but practising one can develop samatha. However, I still contend that Michael did not 'explain' Buddhism to his pupils, which was what the original question concerned.

    So the 'ducking' and the 'hair-splitting' was about the direction of the discussion, rather than anything specific. Perhaps I should have explained that at the time ...

    I guess it's all about language, really.

    Regards

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