Friday, February 15, 2013

Buddhist gestalt

      One of the things Buddhists like to do today is feel superior to the other major world religions because so much of science seems to coincide with Buddhist teachings. Yes, we like to lord it over the others and point our fingers and say you're very unscientific. This is especially true among Zen practitioners who often pride themselves on knowing very little about Buddhism itself, practicing Zen and nothing else. Well the fact is most of the Buddhist in the world are what's called pure land  and they believe in spiritual Buddha worlds, and reincarnation. They believe a lot of that stuff that we Zen folks turn her nose up at. My favorite of course is how all those other Buddhists believe in reincarnation and we believe and rebirth. Two completely different things of course one being silly superstition and the other being modern and scientific. That's one of the wonderful things about the Internet and mass publishing its brought every kind of Buddhism together in one big crash. Hard to know what a Zen Buddhist is supposed to believe. After all Dogen constantly preached against reading those old sutras and stuff, and at the same time was one of the greatest Buddhist scholars to ever live. But that's Zen for you all that counter intuitive- intuitive stuff.
    Did you ever think what amazing times we live in? Because of the Internet worldwide television and radio virtually every worldview is now known and preached through the media. I’m feeling playful tonight so I think what I’ll do is compare and contrast two those worldviews.
     Let’s call one worldview materialism and say that it’s based on one of our newer belief systems call science. Originally of course science saw the world as one big machine and every action in it mechanical material and predictable. Around 1932 astronomers started noticing that those big things out there they called stars and galaxies weren’t behaving according to the rules. And ever since then every time they made a prediction they found that these big guys weren’t cooperating. Galaxies that should be flying apart weren't. Galaxies that should be slowing down were in fact speeding up. You can imagine how frustrating this is. Of course around the same time those crazy physicist started coming up with things like quantum theory and space-time as opposed to space and time and people started listening to a guy named Heisenberg and said that nothing was in fact predictable. What to do?
        Well after almost 80 years of becoming embarrassed by the universes' lack of cooperation astrophysicists came up with a word and that word was dark matter soon to be followed by dark energy. In fact after doing a lot of calculating over years scientists decided that 84% of the matter the universe was made out of this invisible and undetectable matter they called dark matter. Further that 73% of all the energy in the universe was this dark energy. Now to date no one can tell you what dark matter or dark energy are other than there. They can’t see it they can’t weigh it, in fact the only way they even know it exists is because of our universal friend gravity that seems to work equally well with dark or light matter and energy.
       It’s really interesting that they always seem to say that that dark matter and energy are all way out there, thats 80% of the universe remember, but none of that stuff is around here. It’s all got a be way out there where it’s safe.
      LetS call the other worldview the religious or spiritual worldview. It is of course the oldest worldview so we are all pretty familiar with it. It suggests that there is a world out there of things and places that we cannot normally see or detect. Further it suggests that there are creatures both good and bad made up of these two substances spiritual matterand  spiritual energy.
    Ever since the high priest of science started preaching and they have attacked this religious worldview because it’s mere superstition. Ever since I was born I’ve heard my science teachers and physics teachers tell me all about how silly it would be to believe in a world that you couldn’t see or detect. That believing that there could be a world other than the material world you see around you was absurd if not outright stupid.
      But now these same scientist are telling us that 83% percent of all the matter in the universe and 73% of all the energy is in fact invisible and virtually undetectable. Now less the scientist stretch their brains beyond is their natural capacity and snap their internal sense of right and wrong, and they are willing to admit that you can’t see feel taste or detect any thing that was going on in the universe but about 23% give or take a percent, all that energy and matter has got to be way out there were can’t touch them , not here and interacting with us. Unlike the matter and energy we see dark matter and energy couldn’t possibly differentiate into different wavelengths and elements, no it’s this invisible jelly, way out there beyond our galaxy and doesn’t act in anything like the matter and energy we know about.
     So suppose that 83% of the matter in the universe acted more or less the same as the 17% we can actually see and detect. And that dark energy differentiated itself and to various wavelengths say like the electromagnetic spectrum. Now I’m not saying that this is possible because I know scientist would immediately bring out the rope and start a good hanging, no I’m just saying just suppose that it did.
      I would also like to speculate that it might have some qualities that would make us extremely uncomfortable. Space and time may not react the same for them many of the rules of physics may or may not apply to dark matter and dark energy.
      If dark matter and dark energy did act this way we might even have components of our very own selves comprised of these two unseen culprits. Further there might be places to go and places to see once the material that you can see was gone that well let’s call it spooky. Or we could call it spiritual. Boy that word carries a lot of baggage doesn’t.
      So to make a long story even a bit longer maybe all this stuff about rebirth and reincarnation, souls and ghosts and even Buddha worlds might in fact dare I say it exist. It might even be possible that this universe with all its matter both dark and light might be just a bubble floating up in a beer.
     Those condescending scientists have always pointed at the spiritual and said this is just something weak people need to make themselves feel better. They have derided the concepts of God and heaven and hell as silly primitive beliefs. In other words all the spiritual stuff was this something they made up to make themselves feel better because they didn’t understand what was happening around them. Don’t you find it interesting that this seems to be exactly what these scientists are doing with dark matter and dark energy. The universe doesn’t act the way they wanted to so they make up a story to make themselves feel better. Having invented the words dark matter and dark energy they can sleep soundly in their beds at night knowing that the universe is really just a machine and all this new stuff like quantum interaction and dark matter are just things that you observe in a laboratory and don’t have nothing to do with the real world.
       In other words if you’re worried about what some rational modern person might say about your worldview if you just happen to believe there were other planes of existence and perhaps even beings like bodhisattvas that could come and go from there I say don’t let it worry you. These scientists are doing the same thing they accuse spiritual people of their just making up stories to try to explain why what they say they know doesn’t work when they look out their window up at the night sky.
      Anyway this has been fun. I always like making fun of the new religion they call science, I don’t get upset to me science is a religion it just doesn’t have a deity but then neither does Buddhism so who are we to throw stones
     Well there you go my friends if the Buddhist next to you happens to believe in Buddha worlds,   and bodhisattvas that transcend this world and shift between this and other planes of existence, don't turn your nose too far up it might rain  and you could drown .

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

On Being Human

   It is very common for people to say that Zen offers you nothing. That what the Zen  experience for them personally  may accomplish is the loss of what the Tibetans call afflictive emotions. Emotions and feelings like hate anger avarice and greed. Of course the list goes on with emotions like envy and probably most important fear. When I talk to people that come to our Zendo and ask them what they want it seems like mostly they want peace. They want to still the turmoil that stirs within their souls. They want to stop being angry and fearful and petty,  because all these things hurt. All these afflictive emotions simply make us unhappy.  I think one of the things that Buddha so clearly saw was that all these terrible feelings and emotions bring us great pain and pain to the people around us. They are truly the root cause of much unhappiness.

Part of the cure for all this unhappiness is the realization of dependent arising, that is to say that all things come and go depending upon circumstances and that nothing ever stays the same. We are taught that this realization can lead us away from attachment to the things and even ideas such as our ideas of God and thus reduce our unhappiness. But insight into this fact of nature doesn’t really help unless there is an underpinning of compassion for both yourself and others. This compassion stays the hand of judgment and opens the door to forgiveness. As hard as it is to forgive others it is much harder to forgive ourselves.

 There are some things that it seems only natural to be attached to. We are attached our ideas of right and wrong and are attached to those we care and love. I think almost everyone has a deep feeling of what is just and what is unjust.  And no matter what you say these things also cause us great unhappiness. This creates a great dilemma for a man without a feeling of justice without charity and is  without compassion for others can barely be said to be a man. A man who does not love his children and weep upon their death’s has no heart and I don’t think would be capable of experiencing joy even if being able to separate himself from these attachments were possible.

I would like to think that being human means that we will suffer in this life from good cause. The clearing away the smoke of emotions that reduce our humanity, ridding ourselves of those emotions that make us small and petty is work for everyone who wants to be human. But it is clear to me that this is very hard work indeed. Even if we were to actually accomplish the eradication of all these afflictive emotions and turn to a completely rational understanding of the pain caused by loving our children caring for the poor and feeling the frustration of our own inability to do more, would we want to end the pain that these things cause. Can there really be any joy without this pain?

Growing up,  becoming mature,  waking up is a painful process in itself. It becomes clear that even for the best of us pain is the fire in which our souls must be forged. It’s simple enough to say we want to be happy and we want the Buddha to show us the way to that happiness. But a soul without turmoil is nothing more than a piece of deadwood.