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:: Sunday, August 10, 2003 ::

Buddhism and Mysticism

One of the objections to Buddhism is that it is “mystical”. According to Nathaniel Branden, “Mysticism is the claim that there are aspects of existence that can be known by means of a unique cognitive faculty whose judgment are above the authority of sensory observations or reason.” ( The Art of Living Consciously). Mystical belief involves obtaining knowledge without the use of reason or sensory perception—and claiming that one’s observations are as valid or more valid than those that can be backed up by sense perception or reason.

However, when applied to Buddhism, this charge should be deemed false. In my opinion the prime understanding that one obtains through meditation is psychological. That is to say while meditating one does not necessarily obtain a metaphysical understanding of the outside world as much as a psychological understanding of one’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Through meditation one does not primarily learn of objective reality but skillful use of one’s thoughts and feelings.

Considering the above characterization of mysticism, one may even wonder if this “third method of knowledge” theory even applies to reality. As it is put by David Brazier in The Feeling Buddha , “The enlightened were beyond faith: they did not just believe what the Buddha said, they knew it was true from their own experience… In enlightenment, faith and personal knowledge merge, yielding an experience that radiates confidence.” The process of enlightenment is not about learning things through some new means of knowledge. The Buddha teaches things that can be confirmed by experience. This means that the knowledge that is gained is at some fundamental level similar to what is learned from experience at any other time i.e. that information that is gained through the senses is integrated through reason.

If there is any way that the process of learning through meditation is different from any other process of gaining knowledge, it is that issues and emotions become more conscious. Through the process of meditation one attempts to more clearly and more dispassionately understand one’s thoughts, emotions, and experiences. This is not to say that it is not without interest—because one can definitely be self interested in the results of meditation. However, through meditation emotions can take a lessened grip on the mind, and therefore things become clearer as well as better understood.

The point to meditation is not to gain knowledge in some super-sense related/rational means. Instead it is to break down emotional barriers to conscious integration. I have often been told that if I keep meditating I will find it harder and harder to eat meat. That is not because I will gain any additional knowledge of animal suffering, or pain, or anything like that. It simply means that when one takes that bite of veal one will be more conscious of the pain and suffering that went along with the production of my dinner and be unable to finish it.

Finally, it is important to remember that the Buddha specifically asked his followers not to take his teachings on faith. One should only believe what he says if they find that his teachings are matched by reality.

:: Mike 10:28 PM [+] ::
:: Tuesday, August 05, 2003 ::
Anger: My new attempt at Buddhist-Objectivist Synthesis

[Ed--I have been, for a few days, attempting to write an essay about Buddhism and Objectivism. I couldn't come at it from an overview, sort of work from basics up point of view. Really, it was not a basics up, but a simply a theoretical point of view. I have abandoned this. Now I am going to go at this from a practical point of view. Recently I found a wonderful objectivist blog. It is Aurthur Silber's. I love it. But recently he has noticed a lot of anger within himself. Today he has written a little bit about it and why he believes that anger is a good Objectivist emotion. I would like to discuss anger as I see it, with babby Buddhist eyes and how I can comment on the Buddhist--Objectivist synthesis I have in mind using the topic of anger. I would like to say that Silber's is one of the best web logs. Furthermore, nothing in this web log is meant to suggest that repression of anger is a good thing.]

Has anyone ever noticed that objectivists are angry? One only has to look at Ayn Rand or Leonard Piekoff to see this. However, much more moderate lights have experienced anger. Anger is one thing that I believe that objectivism has a difficult time dealing with. In his weblog, Silber defends anger from an objectivist point of view. In it he basically says that there is an interrelationship between having values that one loves and being angry to see these values being destroyed by others. While this is a very plausable argument, I would begin by suggesting that there are other logical reactions to seeing one's treasured values being destroyed. One could logically be sad or mournfull. Or perhaps one could feel defeated or destroyed. Finally, one could feel motivated and empowered--with an increased energy and vigor on promoting those values or doing whatever is best to do so. Furthermore, I would suggest that a truely objectivist theory of emotions would promote responses fullfilling the following criteria:

(1) Consistency with the "benevolent universe premise"
(2) The least disruption to one's ability to continue in the persuit of one's values

In my opinion one of the larger points of Objectivism is the benevolent universe premise. Objectivism doesn't see life as a tragedy. Instead it is much more optamistic. Life is a success story. In my opinion, Objectivism holds that you should keep strong the belief that life is good and will work out. An angry response seems to be based on pesimistic or frustrated views. While anger should not be repressed and is certainly not immoral, it does indicate some opposition to the idea that life will turn out to be all well in the end. As an objectivish person, I believe that anger is opposed to the ideas of optamism and the benevolent universe.

Secondly, we want to promote one's ability to continue in persuit of one's own values. Anger does not do this. Anger clouds one's ability to reason clearly and makes it more difficult to successfully promote one's values. Furthermore, when one acts out of anger those around you will be less likely to respond well to your actions. As a Buddhist would put it, anger is unskilfull. It is a poor way of dealing with the world.

Anger and other "afflictive emotions" hold back one's ability to persue their values. The Objectivist ethics don't really deal much with emotions. There is no reference to anger, greed, envy, etc... . However, these emotions often lead to unskillful actions which frustrate happiness and effectiveness in pursuing one's goals and values. In my opinion, a more Buddhistic oriented theory of emotions will lead Objectivists to a happier, more fulfilling life, as well as one in which they use more skillful means in pursuing thier values.

This is of course not to say that afflictive emotions should be supressed. According to Buddhism there is also a "skillful" way to manage one's anger, to experience it without necessarily acting on it, and to deal with it.

I'm not really sure if this piece solved my goal of establishing some sort of sense in which a Buddhist-Objectivist synthesis would work. I only hope that I can slowly grope towards this.
:: Mike 1:36 AM [+] ::
:: Tuesday, May 06, 2003 ::
I found a new author to read. Crispin Sartwell. He is some strange combination of liberarian (as in the U.S.'s Libertarian Party) and anarchosyndicalist. Kind of bizarre you say. Well yes. But he is pretty cool if you ask me. His latest piece is about destroying the media industry. Not only is he very interested in anarchy, he is somewhat of an existentialist as well. Check out this very existentialist (yet half toung in cheek) piece about Al Gore as phenomenological nothingness where he concludes:

Consequently a vote for Al Gore is a vote not only against the universe in which we happen to find ourselves; it is a vote against the very possibility of any universe, of even a single merely possible lepton. A vote for Al Gore is a vote for the complete annihilation of all possible worlds.

And he isn't even talking about Gore's politics!
:: Mike 1:52 PM [+] ::
Three exams down one to go. Woo hoo. I'm almost graduated
:: Mike 1:39 PM [+] ::
:: Friday, May 02, 2003 ::
Lame-Ass Doors Band

Last night on the "Late Late Show w/ Craig Kilbourne", the musical guest was "The Doors". Thats right The Doors. Staring orriginal Doors members Ray Manzeric and Robby Krieger. I don't know what happened to drummer John Denzmore. Of course Jim is dead.

But it was lame. The guy whose role it was to be Morisson was just boaring. He looked pretty much like the guy and he could sing nearly right. But his attitude. He was like "yea I'm Jim Morrison I'm cool". He sort of seemed to have a similar attitude to the 50 something orriginal members that were playing with him. He was just sort of there. I wanted him to be burnign with energy or maybe darkly disturbing, but he was just sort of there. What kind of Jim Morrison was that? Oh yea, and I heard he first made it big by dancing and showing off in tight leather pants. Where was that? Come on, give a show!
:: Mike 3:42 PM [+] ::
:: Sunday, April 20, 2003 ::
More thoughts on zazen

I haven't been meditating much recently. Its hard at times.

But today, well, I think I may have the inspiration. OK, it was a cheap (impure?) inspiration. I was riding the streetcar to the quarter. On my way to a party. I saw this attractive girl. Damn, she even distracted my book (I was reading "Justice and its Surroundings" by Anthony DeJasay). Anyway, I asked myself "what attracts me to this person". And I determined it was her radiance, her happiness, etc......

Sadly, I doubt that I am radiant. Often at parties people tell me "why do you keep to yourself" or ask my why I look so uncomfortable. Of course I could tell them "because people are scarry" or "I am uncomfortable in social situations", but hey, why be open? Not like any of you are going to tell them, right (OK, I'm opening myself up here for a little unfortunate discovery). Anyway, I was wondering how I could have a happy attitude in social situations. Or any situation. It came to me. Zazen.

Some may be skeptical of this possability. I mean perhaps meditatin can bring enlightenment. But happiness in social situations??? It is possible. I will note that my friend, Charles Goodman, now on staff at the Philosophy Department at the University of Wisconsin is probably the most experienced meditator I know. I have seen him take pleasure in the most mundane things. He attributes it to meditation. I believe him.

Ther is only one hitch. You are not supposed to be trying to gain anything through meditation. As Shunryu Suzuki Roshi says in his famous book "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind": "[A]s long as you think you are practing zazen for the sake of something, that is not true practice". So maybe my efforts will fail.

But to take it a step further, why practice zazen. Because you want to sit on a cushion for hours on end? Is this really the search for oblivion?
:: Mike 2:57 AM [+] ::
:: Sunday, April 06, 2003 ::
Finally I found a good Buddhist web log: The Buddha Project
:: Mike 10:58 PM [+] ::
:: Thursday, April 03, 2003 ::
Whose song is this? I know Johnny Cash has sung it on a CD, but I don't think he was the first.

Well my name it is Sam Hall, it is Sam Hall
Yes my name it is Sam Hall, it is Sam Hall
My name it is Sam Hall
And I hate you one and all
And I hate you one and all, Damn your eyes

I killed a man they said
so they said
I killed a man they said so they said
I killed a man they said
And I smashed in his head
And I left him laying dead
Damn his eyes

But a swinging I must go I must go
A swinging I must go I must go
A swinging I must go
while you critters down below
Yell up Sam I told you so
Well damn your eyes

I saw Molly in the crowd, in the crowd
I saw Molly in the crowd, in the crowd
I saw Molly in the crowd and I hollered right out loud
Molly ain't you proud
Damn your eyes

The Sheriff he came too he came too
The Sheriff he came too he came too
The Sheriff he came too and said Sam how are you
I said Sheriff how are you
Damn your eyes

My name is Samuel, Samuel
My name is Samuel, Samuel
My name is Samuel and I'll see you all in Hell
I'll see you all in Hell
Damn your eyes

:: Mike 4:42 PM [+] ::
Whats the point of this blog??? There are lots of things I just can't put up here. But they are some of the meat of my everyday life. Hmm......
:: Mike 4:32 PM [+] ::
He Killed a Cop

The other day I went to the pardon board on behalf of my community service client. Wow. When I left I thought that the Pardon Board would be such a fun experience. No student with the Project for Older Prisoners program has been before the Pardon Board (as opposed to the Parole Board) for years. Sounds exciting, eh? Turned out to be a bust. The Pardon Board is waste of time. There is almost nothing you can say to sway them. They are almost always bound to deny pardon. They ask question that can't be answered. They would rather give lectures to the criminals about even thinking they might have a chance. OK, this is not what they said, but they might as well have, because that is obviously meant. In one moment of extreme absurdity, one man before the board, 80 years old in a wheelchair, hardly able to hold a micraphone or talk long enough to complete a sentence was give a lecture on how older people committ crimes too--and of course the idea was that yes even he was likely to still be a menace to society. Give me a break.

When somebody like that doesn't fare well before the pardon board, my client definately will fail. He was only 50 and in good health. But more importantly, he killed a cop. To be fair my client didn't know he was a cop. He thought the guy was just another drug customer. A mad drug customer, who pulled a gun on him. So he shot him. The pardon board, whose chairman was an ex-cop, forced off the force for misconduct no doubt, wan't interested in hearing about the distinction between killing a uniformed officer and a co-drugie who happened to be a cop in an undercover sting. I also thought that my guy was changed. He was clean. He had been in AA for about 10 years (in prison for 20). He no longer had any drug problems. He was a stand up prisoner--in fact he was considered one of the more model prisoners. But he lost. And I had sympathy for him. Stuck in jail for life.

But he killed a cop, right? Isn't it awefull for me to have sympathy for such a person? I think it might be. What to do?? Who knows?
:: Mike 4:29 PM [+] ::
I found him by the railroad tracks this moarning
I could see that he was nearly dead
I knealt down beside him and I listened
Just to hear the words the dying fellow said

He said they let me out of Prison down in Frisco
For ten long years I paid for what I'd done
I was trying to get back to Loosiana
To see my Rose and get to know my son

Give my love to Rose
Please won't you mister
Take her all my money
Tell her to buy some pretty clothes
Tell my boy that Daddy's so proud of him
And don't forget to give my love to Rose

Wont ya tell em I said thanks for waiting for me
Tell my boy to help his mom at home
Tell my Rose to try to find another
Cause it ain't right that she should live alone
Mister heres a bag with all my money
It won't last them long the way it goes
God bless you for finding me this morning
Now don't forget to give my love to Rose

Give my love to Rose
Please won't you mister
take her all my money
tell her buy some pretty clothes
Tell my boy that daddy's so proud of him
Now don't forget to give my love to Rose

--"Give My Love to Rose", Johnny Cash

:: Mike 4:15 PM [+] ::

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