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January 11, 2010 2:24 PM   Subscribe

"'I am going to get rid of everything, including mosquitoes, that bothers me, anywhere in the world, and then I will be a very happy, content person.' We're laughing, but it's what we all do." SLYT: A wry two-minute teaching about avoiding pain by Buddhist nun Pema Chodron, based on these writings of the 8th century scholar Shantideva. For those who don't like video, here's a transcript (scroll down.) For those who really like video, here's 55 minutes of Chodron with Bill Moyers. (This too has a partial transcript.)
posted by escabeche (81 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite

 
I am going to get rid of transcripts without line breaks!

Anyway. This is exactly the part of Buddhism that makes sense to me, boiled down in a succinct and humorous way. Thanks for the link!
posted by Foosnark at 2:30 PM on January 11, 2010


I'm sorry, but this is utter hogwash, and I'm not sure why this particular hogwash is particularly worthy of my respect.
posted by Dumsnill at 2:39 PM on January 11, 2010


What's hogwash, Dumsnill? This struck me as so obviously wise that its fault, if it has one, is that it's a truism. Which isn't necessarily a fault, since we do all seem to forget it a lot.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 2:43 PM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am going to memorize that whole thing. Because it is beautiful. Also I can crib from it the next time a hot girl gets in line behind me at the coffee shop because it is, like, easy to get flustered when you're trying to show how sensitive you are.

Which reminds me, I need another "Free Tibet" sticker so I can put one on my acoustic guitar case. The one on my car hasn't freed Tibet yet, and also sometimes people just see my car and do not know that it is me expressing that sentiment. I want people to ask me about the Three Jewels, not my car.
posted by Mayor Peace Love and Unity at 2:43 PM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's pure Kitsch. Nobody could possibly disagree without coming across as a monster.
posted by Dumsnill at 2:47 PM on January 11, 2010


It's pure Kitsch. Nobody could possibly disagree without coming across as a monster.

Oh, well I guess if your objection is one of style then each to their own. But I think the point she makes is absolutely a good one.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 2:52 PM on January 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


For some time now, Bill Moyhers has been hangin with the wrong crowd. He ought to interview pro football players to get their perspective on life.
posted by Postroad at 2:52 PM on January 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


So what am I meant to wrap leather around? My patience?
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:53 PM on January 11, 2010


Dumsnill - When asked "What makes it hogwash?" you answer that it's "kitsch." What makes it kitsch? It doesn't seem sentimental or derivative. Simple, maybe.

Not that it needs your respect, but rather than simply calling it by a derogatory name, what about it do you disagree with?
posted by jasper411 at 2:55 PM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


It is a good one. Nobody disagrees. Why would we salute someone for telling us exactly what we want to hear? We are patting ourselves on the back and saying "I am a wonderful human being."
posted by Dumsnill at 2:55 PM on January 11, 2010


That's great, but don't forget that the Buddhist ideal of the bodhisattva who vows to liberate all sentient beings from suffering, and that might involve improving things in the world, not just the Western ideal of sitting on a meditation cushion cultivating equanimity: "Great compassion thereby takes hold of him. With his heavenly eye he surveys countless beings, and what he sees fills him with great agitation."
posted by AlsoMike at 2:56 PM on January 11, 2010


The analogy simply doesn't work. How is making the choice between covering the world in leather or putting on shoes analogus to changing our minds about being annoyed by mosquitos? Is she suggesting that we can simply decide not to be allergic? Or not to mind it? Or that we shouldn't, what, kill all the mosquitos in the world, but rather, we should, what?

Sure, I can decide to not be annoyed at that guy in front of me in line at the grocery store taking too damned long to fish out his change purse, and I can decide not to become emotionally invested in my physical circustances, I suppose, but that bite is still going to itch, and I don't see her making any real-world suggestions about how to deal with that.

I agree--kitsch.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:58 PM on January 11, 2010


We are patting ourselves on the back and saying "I am a wonderful human being."

That would be the sound of one cynical hand clapping, I suppose.

Anyway, just because the Golden Rule's a dead-obvious cliche doesn't make it any less useful as an organizing precept for your life. Simply do unto others. And as the wonderful Ms Chodron says, keep your own mental house in order - not glibly, but in a constant, thorough, disciplined way - and you may find the world at large to be a much less troubling place, and you may find yourself with a lot more energy and compassion to bring to its problems.

In a similar vein, but with a bit more detail for the enemies of kitsch herein: David Foster Wallace's Kenyon College commencement speech.
posted by gompa at 3:02 PM on January 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


@Dumsnill

We first you say garbage, then you say kitsch, now you say common sense. Hmm, maybe what is worthy of respect is that Shanti Deva said this in the 8th century and it it is still true to day. We suffer in this this way and have done for quite awhile, despite the the availability of a simple and obvious cure.

Also, who's patting themselves on the back? It seems more like slapping ourselves in the collective forehead. Doh!
posted by aquathug at 3:02 PM on January 11, 2010


That's great, but don't forget that the Buddhist ideal of the bodhisattva who vows to liberate all sentient beings from suffering, and that might involve improving things in the world, not just the Western ideal of sitting on a meditation cushion cultivating equanimity: "Great compassion thereby takes hold of him. With his heavenly eye he surveys countless beings, and what he sees fills him with great agitation."

Oh, that's bullshit. There's no Western/Eastern divide at work here. The "ideal of the bodhisattva" is no more universal in Buddhism than predestination is in Christianity, and the reason it's so popular among idealistic white people is precisely that it mirrors similarly meliorist and interventionist strains in their own religious upbringing.
posted by nasreddin at 3:03 PM on January 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


I'm going to go ahead and go for a comment that isn't dismissive but isn't totally accepting, either.

First of all, I notice that in much of the Bill Moyers interview she has a facial expression that I have come to associate with intense experiences like orgasm, extreme drug highs, shock and epiphany. Many of her words are reassuring, but I find that expression disconcerting.

I have tried meditation at times, and it has always helped me at those times. Generally I use breath counting, though I have tried other forms and enjoyed them as well. I am sure that I want to see life's rich pageant through a greater variety of lenses than I see here, though.

The points of my moral compass are the seeking of truth, giving compassion, seeking pleasure and creating elegance. Everything else is incidental. I wonder that there seem to be fewer in her compass.

Also, I think a world wrapped in leather could be kind of sexy.
posted by poe at 3:05 PM on January 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


You can also accept that there is little you can do to change what is going on around you and that perhaps a more productive way to spend your energy is on accepting what happens and working to make peace with your environment and self. Over simplified yes, but also rarely implemented.
posted by pugh at 3:05 PM on January 11, 2010


We first you say garbage, then you say kitsch, now you say common sense.

Pretty sure I didn't say that, but try again.
posted by Dumsnill at 3:06 PM on January 11, 2010


She's not suggesting you can use the power of your mind to stop mosquito bites itching. She's just illustrating with a vivid analogy the degree to which we upset ourselves with our constant demands that the world be different than it is. The really interesting way to critique this would be to ask: what about those things — social injustices, etc — that seem to require us to demand that they change, and that seem to demand that we be angry about them?

(Shantideva and Chodron do have answers to that challenge, actually. But it's a better challenge than calling it kitsch or obvious.)
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 3:07 PM on January 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


@ MrMoonpie

You scratch the bite, or treat the wound, or hang up netting, or whatever you need to do, but you do not make others (including the mosquito) suffer because you have been bitten.
posted by aquathug at 3:08 PM on January 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Moyers interview is quite enjoyable. Thanks for posting this.
posted by GameDesignerBen at 3:10 PM on January 11, 2010


MrMoonPie, I think what she's saying is that you can use mosquito repellant, wear protective clothing, and so forth and accept that you will occasionally get bitten anyway but decide that's an acceptable alternative to genocidally eliminating mosquitos from the ecosystem.

Now I know the idea that genocidally eliminating mosquitos probably sounds like a wet dream to some people, but one of the entire points of Buddhism is that projects like that are a really, really bad idea, no matter how attractive they might seem. It's a far from obvious thing as evidenced by the number of ongoing human projects of the mosquito-elimination variety.
posted by localroger at 3:12 PM on January 11, 2010


@Dumsnill

Pretty sure I didn't say that, but try again.

Hogwash is garbage and you said hogwash.

You for sure said Kitsch

I took this to mean 'common sense' or something close. So, yeah, that's exactly what you said.
It is a good one. Nobody disagrees.

What am I missing?
posted by aquathug at 3:12 PM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Good point Dumsnill. This nun should probably consider that there's an infinitely benevolent deity ready to forgive all her angry tendencies, thus freeing her from having to do all that work learning how to not get mad at mosquitoes.

The statements are perhaps simple; the work in attaining them is the tough part. And it's the work that marks the difference between Buddhism and pandering motivational speakers. When Pema Chodron speaks of wrapping the feet in leather, she's referring to the practice of Buddhism, which must be personally undertaken.

Zen practice, for example, is centered on sitting quietly for long periods of time staring at a blank wall. It is a tedious and often painful practice, but it is meant to enable exactly the kind of personal work that changes our relationship with mosquitoes and irritating people. At it's root, Buddhism is a highly personal experimental science. Zen works for many people, but also doesn't work for others. When it doesn't work for anyone in particular, then they are encouraged to find a practice that does work for them - no harm no foul.
posted by kaibutsu at 3:12 PM on January 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think she shouldn't knock coating the entire surface of the earth with leather and getting rid of all mosquitoes everywhere until she tries it.
posted by Flunkie at 3:13 PM on January 11, 2010


You take "kitsch" to mean common sense? Well, if so, we are from different cultures. As far as I'm concerned, "kitsch" means holding up a mirror that makes people cry with joy at the beauty of their own reflection.
posted by Dumsnill at 3:18 PM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm going to wrap the first part of this prickly thread in leather and move on.
posted by foggy out there now at 3:19 PM on January 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


@Dumsnill
I took your statement It is a good one. Nobody disagrees. to mean common sense. Sorry for the poor formatting.
posted by aquathug at 3:22 PM on January 11, 2010


Won't somebody please think of the Variola vera?
posted by clarknova at 3:24 PM on January 11, 2010


Two of Pema Chodron's books were instrumental in the opening of my heart and my mind.

Simul-while, I wish people would recognize that what most human-units refer to as "Buddhism" is a collection of trouble-shooting reports from people who have chosen to sit and trouble-shoot their own consciousness from the inside of same... in isolation, away from the vigors of what legions of other humans "have chosen as their own path of learning" (to use a Buddhist notion).

I wish I could find it, but I saw Pema express regret for walking away from her own children to pursue her Buddhist nun-hood. (Thank you, Bill Moyers.) I'll make a new paragraph to reinforce my point.

Pema left her children to become a Buddhist nun.

"Make no mistake", Pema left her kids to become a buddhist nun.

Living in Eugene fucking Oregon, I'm absolutely sick and tired of the arrogant passivity of Buddhism being perceived as a relevant posture for alive, awake, responsible adult humans.

There are ills in this world we've been born into. There are powers that, by their nature, extract the will and life-force of those less powerful.

That, to me, is the definition of evil.

But the buddhist notion/exaggeration I'm arguing against would ask me to let that go.

Fuck you, meditator. Get off your blissy ass and get angry.

I'm alive, I see injustice. It pisses me off. While you sit and perceive ways to put leather around our feet (OMG HOT COALS! WEAR LEATHER SHOES!), I'm working to improve where we live.
posted by Moistener at 3:26 PM on January 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


I'm not sure why this particular hogwash is particularly worthy of my respect.

Those Buddhist nuns do not sow, but neither do they reap I guess.
posted by GuyZero at 3:28 PM on January 11, 2010


There's no Western/Eastern divide at work here. The "ideal of the bodhisattva" is no more universal in Buddhism...

I didn't say that it was - the idea in this video is supposed to be based on Shantideva, who famously did write about the bodhisattva. I'd also argue that is far more common for Westerners horrified by preachy evangelicals to look to Buddhism for a spiritual justification to "nonjudgmentally" disengage from the world.
posted by AlsoMike at 3:31 PM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd also argue that is far more common for Westerners horrified by preachy evangelicals to look to Buddhism for a spiritual justification to "nonjudgmentally" disengage from the world.

The existence of the Engaged Buddhism movement and the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh present a simple counter-point to that rather facile belief.
posted by GuyZero at 3:33 PM on January 11, 2010


I'm absolutely sick and tired of the arrogant passivity of Buddhism being perceived as a relevant posture for alive, awake, responsible adult humans.

The fact that so many people (mis)use Buddhism to help them become passive/disengaged/numbed-out doesn't seem to me to be a valid criticism of Buddhism per se. This is a huge risk with all manner of religions, spiritual stances, political affiliations, enthusiasm for American Idol, etc, etc. And unlike most of the others, Buddhism at least contains tools for recognizing and countering that tendency.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 3:36 PM on January 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I wish people would recognize that what most human-units refer to as "Buddhism" is a collection of trouble-shooting reports from people who have chosen to sit and trouble-shoot their own consciousness from the inside of same... in isolation, away from the vigors of what legions of other humans "have chosen as their own path of learning" (to use a Buddhist notion).
The sect of Buddhism to which the Dalai Lama belongs believes in this. If that's the result of troubleshooting the consciousness, I think the troubleshooters need some troubleshooting.
posted by Flunkie at 3:38 PM on January 11, 2010


HURF DURF LEATHER WRAPPER
posted by davejay at 3:40 PM on January 11, 2010


I'm not offering a general critique of Buddhism (though others here do seem to be). I'm offering a critique of the linked video. If you have to pull in pages and pages of context to explain why the two-minute video is particularly brilliant, then, well, the the two-minute video isn't particularly brilliant, is it?
posted by MrMoonPie at 3:43 PM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


>The fact that so many people (mis)use Buddhism to help them become
>passive/disengaged/numbed-out doesn't seem to me to be a valid criticism
>of Buddhism per se.

But it's definitely a valid criticism of the many people that misuse Buddhism.
posted by Moistener at 3:49 PM on January 11, 2010


But it's definitely a valid criticism of the many people that misuse Buddhism.

Yes.

I'd rather be angry and fight for justice than blissed out and not care about the fight for justice. But best of all, I'd like to be committed to the fight for justice without having to rely on upsetting and distressing myself to provide the fuel for that fight.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 3:52 PM on January 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


I am a very happy contented person but that doesn't change the fact that sitting next to a person wearing perfume can make me ill for days... so I can't say I much liked her using that example over and over.

In fact, it made me kind of think, "Oh, fuck you, Pema Chodron." Does that make me a bad person?
posted by not that girl at 3:55 PM on January 11, 2010


Yes, let's all pat ourselves on the back for how "engaged" and "committed" we are. Jesus Christ.
posted by nasreddin at 3:57 PM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


@MrMoonPie

I think you may have missed the point she's making. What she's talking about is the state of mind we find ourselves in when confronted with something we'd rather no confront. She's not saying people with allergies can magically stop being allergic. All this lesson is pointing at is that control over how we respond internally to something is within our reach. If you're faced with something unpleasant, dangerous or maybe even lethal you can either respond with fear and anger or calmly and peacefully. This has nothing to do with what course of action someone should take or not. Of course, if possible, someone who is allergic is perfectly justified in avoiding anything that triggers the allergies.
But as we go through life we very often encounter things that are annoying to us or unpleasant or that we'd rather not encounter. At we respond with feeling annoyed and angry. So we spend a significant amount of time in such a mental state and it colors our experience of life and our relationships with others around us. When faced with a situation we can't change, what is to be preferred: to be in a state of fear, annoyance and anger? or to be in a state of calm peacefulness?
The image of the shoe doesn't refer to changing a situation. It refers to changing your own internal response to situations.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 3:58 PM on January 11, 2010


>I'd like to be committed to the fight for justice without having
> to rely on upsetting and distressing myself to provide the fuel
>for that fight.

I'd prefer that as well. Sincerely and daily.

But "I'd like to..." and the realities of neuro-chemical reality are distinct, as any Buddhist meditator knows.
posted by Moistener at 4:01 PM on January 11, 2010


In other words, disengagement is no more a "misuse" of Buddhism than engagement is. You just think it's a misuse because you're biased in favor of meliorism and because meliorism/"commitment" is more legitimate in your culture than passivity is.
posted by nasreddin at 4:02 PM on January 11, 2010


You just think it's a misuse because you're biased in favor of meliorism and because meliorism/"commitment" is more legitimate in your culture than passivity is.

Not sure if this was aimed at me, but — yeah, of course. Obviously, I used "misuse" based on my view that trying to ameliorate grave social injustices is better than not doing so. (I'm not claiming that I actually do this very successfully in my life, btw — that's quite another matter.) It goes without saying that if you don't agree with me that improving bad things is good, or if you disagree about what the bad things are, you're going to have a different view.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 4:21 PM on January 11, 2010


It goes without saying that if you don't agree with me that improving bad things is good, or if you disagree about what the bad things are, you're going to have a different view.

As it happens, there are many Buddhists for whom Buddhism itself implies disagreement with you. It would, I think, be more in line with a certain spirit of humility for you not to arbitrarily dismiss their beliefs as a "misuse."
posted by nasreddin at 4:26 PM on January 11, 2010


>In other words, disengagement is no more a "misuse" of Buddhism than engagement is.

Seriously, I'm unable able to parse your statement. Equivocate much?

But here's a claim for you: The writings that we call "Buddhism" place linguistically-provable merit on non-action, passivity and other expressions of DOING NOTHING.

Yay.

And Also-Yay for those who say, "Fuck this meditation, I'm pissed. My anger-fueled action can reducing suffering for many."
posted by Moistener at 4:27 PM on January 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Crap! "REDUCE"
posted by Moistener at 4:28 PM on January 11, 2010


It can

Phewww!
posted by Dumsnill at 4:28 PM on January 11, 2010


Crap! "-able"
posted by Moistener at 4:29 PM on January 11, 2010


I'm absolutely sick and tired of the arrogant passivity of Buddhism

Which reminds me of a Jewish joke:
Chief rabbi falls on his knees and says "Yahweh you are great and I am nothing before you."
His second-in-command sees this and drops on his knees and says "Yahweh you are great and I am nothing before you."
Guy cleaning the synogogue sees this and drops on his knees and says "Yahweh you are great and I am nothing before you."
Chief rabbi nudges his second-in-command and says "Who does he think he is to be nothing?"
posted by binturong at 4:30 PM on January 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I love MetaFilter so much. Only here could a thread on Buddhism become a knock down drag out.
posted by fixedgear at 4:35 PM on January 11, 2010 [12 favorites]


I want Dumsnill to keep going with more one-word descriptions of why he doesn't like this video.

It's hogwash!
It's kitsch!
It's shenanigans!
It's bumfluffery!
It's cooties!
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:38 PM on January 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


As it happens, there are many Buddhists for whom Buddhism itself implies disagreement with you. It would, I think, be more in line with a certain spirit of humility for you not to arbitrarily dismiss their beliefs as a "misuse."

Well, actually I said "(mis)use" and I was talking about westerners looking for a quick fix for their neuroses. But I'm happy to withdraw the term! My use of language is inescapably relative to my subjective view of the world, and if you think that making poor people less poor, or oppressed people less oppressed, isn't a worthwhile goal, your subjective view is sufficiently different to mine to make most of my arguments and language pretty meaningless.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 4:42 PM on January 11, 2010


Nah, it's an Aardvark.
posted by Dumsnill at 4:46 PM on January 11, 2010


This thread reminds me of the arguments my partner and I have all the time about Buddhism. One time I told him I was "against enlightenment, because it thinks it's better than other states of being."

I teach math low-income African-American students on the South Side of Chicago, in one of the most violent and segregated neighborhoods in America. I am angry a lot in the course of my work, basically whenever anything bad happens to one of my students, which is pretty often, or whenever I stop to think about the injustices that have come to bear on them so far in their young lives.

But I respect what Ms. Chodron seems to be offering about equanimity in one's personal interactions with the world. I would recommend checking out this nearby video of her:
Common Tactics of Agression.

Again, her simple language belies the profundity of her message - reacting in a pissed-off way only makes it worse. Reacting thoughtfully, with compassion and humility offers the possibility of reconciliation.

Interestingly, if I take her advice on a practical level, I notice that when I am calm and serene in the face of my students' frustrating outbursts of misbehavior, things tend to go a lot better between us.

Or at least I feel that way sometimes. Other times I am just mad.
posted by mai at 4:55 PM on January 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


As it happens, there are many Buddhists for whom Buddhism itself implies disagreement with you.

I wish you'd cite some sources. It sounds very much like you are equating Buddhism with nihilism, which is a traditional interpretation heard from opponents of Buddhism.
posted by AlsoMike at 4:59 PM on January 11, 2010


(And Sidhedevil: Hogwash was perhaps the wrong word, kitsch not so much. I explained what I meant by that word in at least two comments, and it should be obvious why I thought the word applied to the meat of the post.)

That said, I'm sorry for essentially thread-shitting early on. I meant what I said, but there's a time and a place.
posted by Dumsnill at 5:09 PM on January 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


>when I am calm and serene in the face of my students' frustrating
>outbursts of misbehavior, things tend to go a lot better between us
>Or at least I feel that way sometimes.
>Other times I am just mad.

I hereby posit that your occasional anger summons strength that later manifests as serenity and grace.
posted by Moistener at 5:12 PM on January 11, 2010


This thread, populated by Buddhists and skeptics and trolls, oh my! is quite something. I guess Buddhism hasn't come up too often on the Blue recently. The fact that everybody thinks it's cool to say "I'm a Buddhist" here in the West doesn't help Buddhism, at least in the short run.

In defense of Buddhism, I appreciate a religion in which deism and skepticism are both valued (in different varieties of the faith), but most especially skepticism as a lens through which to view spiritual claims and spiritual experiences.
posted by kozad at 5:21 PM on January 11, 2010


Man, I don't get Metafilter sometimes. I can usually tell which threads are going to turn into shouty (yet erudite!) slugfests with just a glance at the material of the post. Not this one.

I'll say this: this discussion probably couldn't happen anywhere else on the internet.
posted by echo target at 5:40 PM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


My sentiments exactly, echo target .

I hadn't expected passionate attacks on Buddhist thought in a relatively lukewarm post. At least in the article I read, no one was arguing for radical detachment. I read it as the spiritual equivalent of 'wash your hands after doing #2.'
posted by mrdaneri at 5:57 PM on January 11, 2010


What was that Tibetan word she used which applies to how easy it is to get into fights on the internet?
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:19 PM on January 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


But it's definitely a valid criticism of the many people that misuse Buddhism.

Sure, but isn't that a straw man? Who here is advocating what you're arguing against?
posted by krinklyfig at 6:20 PM on January 11, 2010


And Also-Yay for those who say, "Fuck this meditation, I'm pissed. My anger-fueled action can reducing suffering for many."

I'm not sure why meditation equals passivity in all things in your mind. Meditation is a way to engage with the universe without yourself getting in the way. It is forgetting the self. Only by forgetting yourself can you understand the suffering of others. It doesn't mean one meditates 24 hours a day. Anecdotally, a great deal of the truly engaged and productive activists I know are practicing Buddhists.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:24 PM on January 11, 2010


I'm not sure why meditation equals passivity in all things in your mind.

Exactly. Meditation isn't escape from reality, it's preparation for living in it at your full capacity.
posted by namasaya at 7:05 PM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Entertainingly, if you go and watch the 6-part Bill Moyers interview, she specifically addresses several of the questions and objections above. Unfortunately, the putting on leather shoes metaphor may be less well articulated than her other points.
posted by sneebler at 7:07 PM on January 11, 2010


I have a hard time with statements to the effect of "Meditation is..." since meditation does so many different things, depending on the context.

I liken meditation to regular exercise. Yes, it takes some time to essentially sit doing nothing. So does exercise. People who exercise, in spite of the time spent exercising, are generally more happier and more productive than people who do not. Likewise, regular meditation provides a kind of inner balance that, for one reason or another, is very helpful in being an active part of the world. Not all people who exercise are self-absorbed narcissists, and likewise neither are all people who meditate, though I'm sure we can find examples of narcissists in both categories.

Here's some thoughts from Derrick Jensen, who is rather pointedly unhappy with the 'Ghandi Shield' presented by some-to-many Western Buddhists and Christian activists as a way to get out of talking about violent action to protect the places we live in. The rest of that link is well worth reading, but this is the part most relevant to the discussion at hand.
It should come as no surprise that the great traditions of pacifism emerge from great religions of civilization: Christian, Buddhist, Hindu.

I recently saw an interview with longtime pacifist activist Philip Berrigan— one of the last before he died—in which he stated more or less proudly that spiritual-based pacifism is not meant to change things in the physical world, but relies on a Christian God to fix things. The interviewer had asked, “What do you say to critics of the Plowshares movement who claim that your actions have not produced tangible results?”

Berrigan answered, and especially note his second and third sentences: “Americans want to see results because we’re pragmatists. God doesn’t require results. God requires faithfulness. You try to do an act of social justice, and do it lovingly. You don’t threaten anybody or hurt any military personnel during these actions. And you take the heat. You stand by and wait for the arrest.”

I can’t speak for Berrigan, but I want to see results because the planet is being killed.

In any case, I think Berrigan is wrong. If there is a Christian God, and if several thousand years of history is any indication, He is not, to use the woman’s term, on the side of the light. Given all evidence, I’m not sure I want to count on a Christian God to halt environmental destruction.

The Dalai Lama takes a more rounded, intelligent, and useful view on violence. He is, in addition, very aware of his premises, and tries to state them when he can. He has said, “Violence is like a very strong pill. For a certain illness, it may be very useful, but the side effects are enormous. On a practical level it’s very complicated, so it’s much safer to avoid acts of violence.” He then continued, “There is a pertinent point in the Vinaya literature, which explains the disciplinary codes that monks and nuns must observe to retain the purity of their vows. Take the example of a monk or a nun confronting a situation where there are only two alternatives: either to take the life of another person, or to take one’s own life. Under such circumstances, taking one’s life is justified to avoid taking the life of another human being, which would entail transgressing one of the four cardinal vows.” His next sentence reveals the whole point, and brings this discussion home: “Of course, this assumes one accepts the theory of rebirth; otherwise this is very silly.”

All of which leads to the sixteenth premise of the book: The material world is primary. This does not mean that the spirit does not exist, nor that the material world is all there is. It means that spirit mixes with flesh. It means also that real world actions have real world consequences. It means we cannot rely on Jesus, Santa Claus, the Great Mother, or even the Easter Bunny to get us out of this mess. It means this mess really is a mess, and not just the movement of God’s eyebrows. It means we have to face this mess ourselves (even if we do get some help from the Easter Bunny and others). It means that for the time we are here on Earth—whether or not we end up somewhere else after we die, and whether we are condemned or privileged to live here—the Earth is the point. It is primary. It is our home. It is everything. It is “very silly” to think or act or be as though this world is not real and primary. It is very silly and pathetic to not live our lives as though our lives are real.
(Sorry; that's kinda long.)

The point, though, is that we should live in a way that is engaged with the world in which we live. In spite of Jensen's misgivings with Buddhism, I would aver that this is exactly the* point of Zen Buddhism. You stare at the wall, experience the world in an unmediated fashion, and thus learn to live one's experiences outside of the Zendo in a way unmediated by things like the dominant culture or fear of death. These lenses through which we view the world become just that - lenses - and the practitioner is freed to see beyond them. And hopefully act accordingly. Freed of such lenses, one can perhaps let go of the pacifistic letter-writing campaign to disinvest in the companies supplying spare parts to the Death Star and get around to just blowing the damned thing up.

* - (or at least 'a')
posted by kaibutsu at 7:18 PM on January 11, 2010 [14 favorites]


>Meditation isn't escape from reality, it's preparation for living in it at your full capacity.

Ah! So THAT'S what it is!

In the meantime, passivity disguised as Pottery Barn Buddhism is still passivity.
posted by Moistener at 7:21 PM on January 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


My two cents:
If people who disagree both get angry, what good is anger?
Bottom line: see a problem, come to a decision about the problem, act on it. Try to keep ego out of it. Try to keep emotion out of it.
Aim for greatest good for the greatest number. Be firm. Be committed. Be open.
What does BASIC buddhism say that isn't in line with that?
Buddhism tries to aim at transcending controllable human responses, not destroying them, not ignoring. Just making them less important.
posted by pt68 at 9:05 PM on January 11, 2010


I've had a passing interest in Buddhism over the years, probably because I grew up surrounded by Buddhists, and I have also had a fascination with esoteric literature since I was a kid. Truth be told though I find this lady pretty boring, as I do most western buddhists. I prefer reading the original scriptures if I am going to read any of it at all. But about ten years ago I had a cool thing happen when I was reading this book -- Who is My Self? -- by Ayya Khema.

I was living on top of a mountain in North Carolina at the time. It was really an amazing place, kind of like a ski resort without the snow. The views were magnificent and I could sit on the balcony of my little apartment and look out over 100 miles of north and south carolina. One beautiful summer day I was out on my deck (my apartment was on the second and third floor of the building) reading the chapter where she gives instructions on a form of meditation called "metta" or lovingkindness meditation.

Basically you sit still and you project out from yourself feelings of love and compassion for every living thing. You do it in front of you, then behind you, then to your right, your left, then beneath you, then above you. (for example you would project feelings of love and kindness for everything in front of you in your room, then in your yard, then your city, then country, across the oceans, through the sky, into space, etc...) Now I have never really been able to meditate very well - I've tried the breath counting and other things but I am too antsy, but I really got into this. It was amazing. I felt so comfortable that I actually fell asleep in my chair at the end.

When I finally opened my eyes (I guess an hour had passed since I first sat down), standing in the field in front of me, close enough to touch, were about 30 deer of all ages and sizes, from large bucks to little fawns. I couldn't believe my eyes. I didn't want to move at first but the phone rang and I went to get it and the deer just stayed there. They frolicked there for about an hour and seemed happy to have me right there with them.

But wait, it gets stranger. Over the next few months I would try to do the metta meditation regularly but my practice was spotty. I usually would do an abbreviated version at night, because I have always been a bit of an insomniac and it can help you get to sleep and give you good dreams. But on a warm February day after a stressful week, I went back out on my porch to do a serious session. An hour later I opened my eyes and was a bit disappointed that the deer weren't there. But later on as I was sitting there, I saw something weird in the distance about 30 miles away, it was a point of light, very bright, floating just over the tops of the trees. I could not for the life of me figure out what this thing was, but it was making a beeline right for me. I grabbed my binoculars, but they didn't help. I thought maybe it was the sun reflecting off the glass of a helicopter, but it was too low for that. It was maybe 20 feet above the tree tops, moving in a direct line right to me. Finally after about half an hour, it made it up the mountain, and hovered there right at my eye level. When I saw what it was in the binoculars I had to grin. It was one of those mylar "I Love You" balloons in the shape of a heart. It was a few days after Valentine's Day.
posted by vronsky at 9:30 PM on January 11, 2010 [13 favorites]


If the buzzing of a thread annoys you
And the tiny bite of the FPP
Do not attempt to scratch the kitsch
Rather, withdraw your attention.
posted by Phanx at 1:16 AM on January 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


(From this link)

(Rejoicing) won't bring me any loss in this life
And in future lives, my happiness will be great.
Finding fault (will bring me) unfriendliness and suffering
And in future lives, my suffering will be great.


Oh man, I agree with this 1000%. Great post, thanks!

And we are addicted to dunzi addicted to distractions. And that's why you get on an airplane, and it's as if, I think they're just, like, terrified, what would happen if the video went off and there was no food, and we all had to sit there for the whole, you know, 1 1/2-hour flight, You know, and not have any entertainment? And, you know, all the books, you forgot your book and everything. It would be kind of interesting to see if people would, like, freak out.

I don't think the panty-bomber was trying to teach us enlightenment, but it is an interesting way to look at it. And people, at least on my flight, didn't really "freak out" per se - but absolutely NO ONE was immediately accepting of the request to put away all items and sit still. I don't know if anyone had an enlightening experience during that hour, I know I certainly didn't, but it is interesting to note how much we feel that we need distraction.

I think about this with the subway a lot, too, back when I lived in Boston. Everyone on the T has a book or headphones or something. It wasn't too long ago that headphones - iPods, walkmen, whatever, were a rare commodity and you couldn't shut out everyone around you. You just had books and newspapers. If I didn't have my headphones even for a day I felt lost and bombarded by the sea of humanity around me, but really, they're such a modern thing and it's such a modern phenomenon to need to bubble ourselves in the form of constant distraction.

The fact that everybody thinks it's cool to say "I'm a Buddhist" here in the West doesn't help Buddhism, at least in the short run.

Really? I'm a Buddhist and I was raised by Buddhists (who have since converted, but I was still raised as a Buddhist) and I don't see anyone who claims to follow the teaching of the Buddha as "harming" Buddhism any. It's an ancient philosophy. It can take the hit. I also don't see anyone who does this because "it's cool," but perhaps I'm just accepting that if people "claim" to believe in something, who am I to say that they don't?

(This is separating people who have Buddhas or Zen gardens because they're cute from those who actually profess to practice Buddhism.)

Exactly. Meditation isn't escape from reality, it's preparation for living in it at your full capacity.

Yes. I agree. Buddhist practice, for me, isn't about de-taching from my life, but rather de-taching from the attachment to my ideas that makes it harder to actually live my life, which is the sort of wacked out sentence that makes no logical sense until you really think about it and BAM. It's like a frying pan.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:34 AM on January 12, 2010


Yes, let's all pat ourselves on the back for how "engaged" and "committed" we are. Jesus Christ.

I always take the point to be to remind us that we're not.

"kitsch" means holding up a mirror that makes people cry with joy at the beauty of their own reflection.

Close...

It's always really interesting to me when simple stuff like this provokes violent reactions from people who can't meaningfully justify their reaction. Of recognize that they can't justify it, for that matter.

Is it because she wears a robe? Or a habit, or a diaper, or a suit, or a funny hat?

Tangential: The connection between both esoteric and exoteric Toltec philosophy and Buddhist philosophy has interested me for a while. So, I once went to see Don Miguel Ruiz speak. Though he sometimes strays into new-age and self-help territories to my taste, he seems like a cool guy. That saiud, his talk was very, very boring and I only remember this, though I think of it fairly often:

He showed up in a pretty nice suit. He was looking pretty dapper, and, as might be expected, there was the one guy in the audience looking to challenge Don Ruiz in some way and he raised his hand to ask a question. When called on, he said something like, "If you're so serene and stuff, then why are you talking to us wearing a nice suit?!?!"

Ruiz looked at himself, smoothed his lapels, and said ina very mischievous voice, "Because I look gooooood!" The obviousness of this answer, and how he said it with just the right tone to also use it to answer the guy's question in a way I can only describe as koan-like stuck with me and seems to apply here if you're inclined to think about things that don't necessarily have a very good verbal aspect.
posted by cmoj at 10:45 AM on January 12, 2010


Metafilter: Crap! "-able"
posted by Outlawyr at 11:25 AM on January 12, 2010


I also have opinions about Buddhism.
posted by everichon at 11:34 AM on January 12, 2010


Everybody has 'em.
posted by Obscure Reference at 12:24 PM on January 12, 2010


And they all stink.
posted by fixedgear at 12:56 PM on January 12, 2010


Adam
Had 'em.
posted by kozad at 1:50 PM on January 12, 2010


That's actually an Ogden Nash poem entitled "Fleas."
posted by kozad at 1:51 PM on January 12, 2010


"Don't become a buddhist. The world doesn't need more buddhists. Do practice compassion. The world needs more compassion." -Dalai Lama
posted by louigi at 1:42 PM on January 13, 2010


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