Is Buddhism a science or a religion?

 

I talked with a woman at a Christmas partly and happened to mention that I do a form of “Mindfulness Therapy” based on Buddhist self-inquiry.

Oh, I am Christian and feel uncomfortable about Buddhism.

Hm. I see it more as a science than a religion, at least when it comes to using it as a form of therapy.

But it is a religion! 

So is it a science or a religion? It all depends on how we relate to it.

If we take it as a faith, something to believe in, pray to, set up a shrine to, see it mostly as external, and want to preserve as is, then it becomes a religion.

If we take it as pointers, a guide, something to explore for ourselves, a mirror for what we can explore in ourselves, then it becomes a science. And just as any science, it can be something to test in collaboration with others and clarify, refine, and extend through our shared exploration.

This goes for any aspect of Buddhist practice, including inquiry, heart centered practices, resting with / as our experience, and training a more stable attention. For instance, we can explore the effects of tonglen, a heart centered practice, and some of the mechanisms behind it. (E.g. helps us change our relationship to ourselves, others, and the world which can be very healing.)

And although it’s perhaps easier to take Buddhism as a science of the mind than some of the other traditions, we can apply the same approach to any tradition or approach to spirituality. We can take a pragmatic approach and explore the effects of the different tools and aspects of the tradition.

Born into a religion

 

Many people adopt whatever religion (or lack thereof) they are born into. It’s very understandable and natural. We adopt the religion we are born into because it’s familiar, because there is something of value in it (as there is in just about all of them), and for social reasons (to have a community, to fit in, for support).

And yet, if we say that the religion we happen to be born into is the “only true religion”, then there is some lack of intellectual honesty. How can we know? How can we know unless we seriously explore and experience all of them? How can we know even then?

Of course, if we say it’s the only true one, that’s OK as well. It comes from conditioning. That too is natural and understandable. I do the same in many areas of life, including in ways I am not aware of (yet). And it does come with some inherent discomfort and suffering. It can create discomfort for ourselves since we know – somewhere – we can’t know for sure, and when we see things of value in other traditions. And it can create discomfort and suffering for those around us who do not belong to our particular religion.

I became an atheist in elementary school on my own accord, partly for this reason. It didn’t make any sense to me that people happened to be born into this traditionally Christian culture, adopted that religion without questioning it much, and then saw it as the only true religion and the only path to salvation. To me, even at that age, it smacked of intellectual dishonesty.

I am still an atheist in a conventional sense. I don’t “believe” in any religion, and I don’t “believe in God” in a usual sense.

For me, “God” is a name for reality, life, existence. I don’t pretend I know exactly what that is. I have my own experience, and I am familiar with maps and frameworks that make sense to me based on my own experience and intellectually. And I know very well that those maps are just maps. They are questions about life, myself, and reality. And as maps, they are very much provisional.

I also appreciate the wisdom and guidance offered by the major religions. They often start from real insights and realizations, and individuals through the ages infuse the religions with fresh impulses from their own insights and awakenings.

At the same time, I know that religions…..

  • Are structures that at best initially came from real insights. Have other functions than guiding people to spiritual insights and realizations, and that these are often more important. These may include social regulation, comfort, and a sense of community and fellowship.
  • Have as their main purpose to perpetuate themselves. Although individuals within the traditions may have other priorities, including functioning as experienced spiritual guides for those interested in that approach.
  • Use a “lowest common denominator” approach and at best recommend what tends to work for most people. The suggested practices and paths are often not so much tailored to the individual unless you find a more flexible and experienced guide.

The reality is that few people are interested in a spiritual path, and that’s fine. And that’s also reflected in how most or all religions are set up and function, including Buddhism. There is nothing at all wrong with this.

But it does mean that if we are seriously interested in a spiritual path, we may need to find free spirits within the traditions, or guides who function outside of them.

That’s why I – from the start in my teens – have sought out people like Jes Bertelsen (Danish spiritual teacher), Ken Wilber (for the framework), and later Adyashanti (who does have a solid grounding in one of the traditions).

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Samuel Bercholz: A guided tour of hell

 

I went to an excellent talk with Samuel Bercholz and Pema Namdol Thaye at the Asian Art Museum earlier today. They are the author and artist of A Guided Tour of Hell: A Graphic Memoir. I can highly recommend the book. (Samuel Bercholz also happens to be the founder of the Shambala publishing company. I must have read hundreds of their books.)

A few things about hell. It’s created by our own mind, and more specifically by our beliefs and identifications. Beliefs and identifications are at odds with reality, and create unease and sometimes suffering. This hell is with us as long as we have these beliefs and identifications, whether in this human life or between incarnations. We create our own hell.

What’s the remedy? It’s partly to heal our very human trauma and wounds. And more to the point, to heal our relationship with our experience. To befriend our experience, independent of it’s content. To find kindness and even love for it. And to recognize our experience as awakeness and even love. And this goes for all of our experience, including other people, the world, ourselves, different parts of ourselves, and our own discomfort, pain, and suffering.

My own experience with hellish states. It’s a good reminder for myself. As I have written about before, I have gone through a difficult few years. Following a nondual opening that lasted a few months, I was plunged into chronic fatigue (CFS) and later PTSD. Adyashanti talks about how an awakening or opening can “take the lid” off anything suppressed or avoided in our mind, and that’s what happened to me. There was no chance of holding it back or pushing it away.

A huge amount of unprocessed material surfaced over the following months and years, and it led to PTSD and several months where I hardly slept and all I could do was walk in the woods in Ski, Norway. (While listening to the audio version of the dark night chapter of Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill and Adyashanti talking about the dark night and other topics.) Fortunately, I had some guidance by someone who had gone through it himself and understood (Barry Snyder) and I also did The Work and found TRE, both of which helped me tremendously.

And still, a great part of this process was something I just had to ride out. Practices and healings helped in taking the edge off some of it, but the vast bulk of it just had to live its own life and was something I had to find a way to live with, even if it often felt indescribably unbearable and overwhelming.

As so many describe, it has gradually tapered off although I still feel I am in it to some extent. I am very grateful for having found Vortex Healing which has been and is a great support for me in the healing and continued awakening process.

Note: As I wrote the section above, I was aware that this is a good example of hellish states but not a good example of how we can work with it. The unprocessed material that surfaces is something I have worked with extensively and continue to work on healing and clearing – mainly through inquiry (Living Inquiries, The Work), TRE, resting with it, and – these days – Vortex Healing. As the intensity has gradually decreased, it’s easier for me to work on it.

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CG Jung: To the extent that I managed to translate the emotions into images I was inwardly calmed and reassured

 

To the extent that I managed to translate the emotions into images– that is to say, to find the images which were concealed in the emotions– I was inwardly calmed and reassured.

Had I left those images hidden in the emotions, I might have been torn to pieces by them.

There is a chance that I might have succeeded in splitting them off; but in that case I would inexorably have fallen into a neurosis and so been ultimately destroyed by them.

As a result of my experiment I learned how helpful it can be, from the therapeutic point of view, to find the particular images which lie behind the emotions.

– CG Jung, p. 177, Memories, Dreams, Reflections

This is an essential part of Buddhist inquiry, the Living Inquiries, and several body-oriented therapy forms in the west. Feel the sensations. Notice images and words associated with them. Look at these. Notice images as images. Notice words as words. Notice sensations as sensations. Feel sensations as sensations. That’s how these separate out and the charge goes out of the initial bundle of images, words, and sensations.

These bundles are how our minds create drama, stress, tension, trauma, wounds, discomfort, suffering, a sense of separation, deficient and inflated selves, and more. And when the charge goes out of these bundles – and images are recognized as images, words as words, and sensations as sensations – there is typically a huge relief. A sense of coming home. A sense of simplicity.

We are more free to live from our “true nature” – that which we are with fewer of these drama bundles drawing our attention – which is a very simple and ordinary kindness and wisdom.

These bundles of words, images, and sensations are also called velcro (Living Inquiries). I used to call them conglomerates. The bundles are created from identification with the images and words in the bundle, and the stories associated these with certain sensations. And all of this can be called “ego”, although I prefer to not use that word since it has too many misleading associations and makes it all seem more solid and more like an object while in reality it’s all quite ephemeral.

And what about the term “true nature”? I don’t really like to use that term either. It can sound too fanciful and esoteric while it’s really something very ordinary and simple. In this context, it’s just the ordinary kindness that’s here when attention is not drawn into (too much) velcro.

Truman Show

 

I first saw The Truman Show with friends from the Zen center, and was immediately struck by the – almost too obvious – parallels with the story of the Buddha, and of each of us as we begin to see through what we take as real and true. I later read that it was, indeed, the intention of the creators of the movie.

Here are some things that come to mind:

Truman is the only “true” one in the TV show. He is also each of us, the “true” man in the sense of universal man.

He takes his world as real and solid, and “accepts the world presented to him”.

He begins to see that his world is not as it appears. Little hints here and there makes him suspicious that his world is not as it first appeared to him.

He seeks the truth.

This brings up fears. It’s a threat to his identity. It’s a threat to who he takes himself to be and what he takes the world to be.

His world creates apparent obstacles to finding the truth. This is a reflection of how our mind sometimes brings up fears and reasons for not pursuing the truth, since it means giving up our familiar identities, identifications, and how we see ourselves and the world. It can feel threatening.

He persists, since he wants truth more than comfort and safety.

And he finds reality, or at least what’s more real. Reality reveals itself to him.

Although this is not part of the movie, it’s possible that after having explored the “real world” for a while, he’ll be disillusioned about it. He may have his hopes and dreams dashed. He may regret having sought it out. And if he continues to persist in finding what’s more true for him, he may find a deeper peace with himself and his world.

This parallels the typical phases – or sometimes facets – of an awakening process. (a) Taking our world as it appears to us, without much questioning. (b) Initial curiosity, interest. Initial quest to find what’s more true. (c) Facing some unloved/unquestioned fears and identifications. (e) Early release from identifications. Honeymoon phase. (f) Facing deeper unloved/unquestioned fears and identifications. (g) A deeper peace with what is. (h) Repeat variations of f-g. (?)

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Facets of the dark night

 

In Buddhism, they describe a few phases or facets of the dark night, meaning the phase that comes after arising & passing away and before equanimity.

Dissilusion. Clarity, mindfulness and focus drops away. It becomes difficult to practice, at least in the same way (clear, stable, focused) as before.

Fear. Anxiety and fear.

Misery. Sadness and loss.

Disgust. Suffering and unpleasant sensations.

Desire for deliverance. A desire for the misery to end.

Re-observation. A cycling of the previous five stages.

The recommended “solution” to this is inquiry, and feeling the sensations as sensations.

Read more about these stages, and some good practical advice, in Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha by Daniel Ingram. He writes from a naming practice context, so although the specifics of his advice often applies more to that practice, much of it is helpful for anyone going through this.

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Save all sentient beings

 

Hearing Buddhists talk about the intention of saving all sentient beings, I hear it in a way that makes sense to me right now.

I hear it as referring primarily to the beings arising in me – wounds, emotions, thoughts, physical pain, identifications.

If I was this wound, this emotion, this thought, this physical pain, how would I like to be met?

As a wound, I wish to be heard, felt, allowed. I wish you to be with me, to stay with me. I wish for you to let me have my life, and for whatever else comes up in you in response to me to have its life. I wish to be met, seen, felt, and even loved, as I am. I wish to be respected as I am, and also for healing and alignment with love and the reality of all as Spirit. I wish to be recognized as innocent, as love – even if I was created from confused love.

As confusion, I wish to be met with kindness. I wish to have my life. I wish for you to allow me my life, and for whatever else comes up in you in response to me to have it’s life as well. I wish to be recognized as innocent, and as love.

As a thought, I wish to be seen, felt, loved, as I am. I wish for you to identify the thought, and find what’s more true. I wish for you to do this for its own sake. If you notice any motives, any desires for me to go away or transform, I wish that you allow these their life as well, and that you make a note of them and find more clarity around these thoughts. I wish to be recognized as innocent, and as love, even if it’s confused love. I wish to be met with kindness and respect. I wish to align with love and all as Spirit. I wish for your help in being liberated from being taken as true.

As physical pain, I wish to be met with kindness by you. I wish to be met with love, to be held within love. I wish for you to identify and look into the resistant and stressful thoughts you have about me. I wish for you to identify and look into your images of me, and see what appears to be here, and what’s here when you look more closely.

As identification, I wish to be met with kindness, understanding, and love. I wish for you to see me as innocence and love, even if it’s confused love. I wish for you to befriend me, to relate to me as a friend. I wish for you to identify and look into the thoughts you have about me. What thoughts are there saying I will help you, protect you? What thoughts are there saying I am bad, wrong, something that needs to go away or change? What’s more true for you, when you look into these thoughts?

And as I find more kind ways of meeting and being with all of these beings, it may naturally, inevitably, without any effort or intention from my side, spill over in how I meet and am with beings in general – whether they are emotions, wounds, thoughts, or pain, or beings in the wider world – humans, animals, plants, ecosystems, society, Earth, future generations, past generations, present generations. It may or may not, and whatever thoughts I have about it is something I can meet with kindness, understanding, love.

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Gateless gate

 

Something very simple about the gateless gate:

When I am caught up in thoughts about time and space, confusion and awakening, a me and I, there appears to be an I that is now confused, in the past was more awake, in the future can awake, and is not as awake as some others out there. It all seems and feels very real and true. The gate leading from confusion to clarity seems real and true.

When there is more clarity – when images of time and space, confusion and awake, a me and I, an inner and outer world, a gate from confusion to clarity are recognized as images, happening within and as awareness, it all looks a bit different. It’s all appearances and experiences within and as awareness, including a me and I that is confused or clear, confusion and clarity, and a gate leading from confusion to clarity.

So being caught up in and taking these thoughts as real and true, there is certainly the appearance of time, a me and I, confusion and clarity, and a gate to pass through. It all feels very real and substantial. Passing through this gate, it’s all revealed as happening within and as awareness. It’s all the play of awareness. Spirit taking on all these different forms, and temporarily identifying as a me and I, and taking thoughts of confusion and clarity etc. as real and true, making it all appear real and true to itself. It’s the infinite temporarily experiencing itself as finite, from the “inside” of all of these ideas, and then again noticing itself as infinite.

So there is a gate since it’s experienced as real and true. And there is not a gate, since it’s all happening within and as awareness. And as capacity for all of this – awareness and it’s infinite forms and appearances.

It’s a gateless gate.

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Bodhisattva attitude

 

A Bodhisattva is one who, motivated by great compassion, has a spontaneous wish to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings, and who becomes dedicated to their ultimate welfare.
Wikipedia

This is what naturally happens as …. (a) All is recognized more clearly as Spirit. (b) There is more clarity on thoughts. And/or (c) there is more familiarity with the dynamics of the mind and the effects of finding this intention. If this intention is not clear, conscious and have sunk in, it’s because it’s temporarily obscured by beliefs, and this is painful. As it is more clear, or even if there is just a wish for it to be more clear, it feels like a relief, like coming home. It’s peaceful.

This intention or wish – for all beings to find liberation, for Spirit and love to awaken to itself in and through all beings, happens in two ways, and they are really the same.

It’s towards the beliefs happening here – the wounds, reactive emotions, and the beliefs these originate from. These beliefs surface with an invitation for them to be seen, felt and loved. With an invitation for them to be seen through. With an invitation for these thoughts to be liberated from being taken as true. With an invitation for it all to be recognized as love, and seen in the context of all as Spirit.

And it’s towards any being in the world. Here too, there is an invitation to see them and everything in them and their life as love, as Spirit. There is an invitation to be available to them in whatever way seem most appropriate and helpful. To meet them where they are. To be generous with our own experience and insights if they ask for it.

And those two are really the same. Whether it’s confusion or pain in me or in someone in the world, it’s a part of my field of awareness that’s not yet quite clear. Love haven’t yet awakened to itself as love right there. Spirit hasn’t yet awakened to itself as Spirit right there.

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Mara

 

From Little Buddha by Bernando Bertolucci.

As Siddhartha Gautama sat under the tree, Mara – representing delusion and beliefs, appeared.

Mara sent his three daughters to seduce him, and Siddhartha was free from believing the thoughts that he needed love, approval and appreciation.

Mara sent his army to scare him, and Siddhartha was free from believing the thoughts of pain, death or a me who was born and could die. The arrows were revealed as something quite different.

Mara came and said Siddhartha wasn’t worthy of clarity, and Siddhartha was free from the belief that he wasn’t worthy.

This is how it is for each of us. Thoughts surface telling us we need love, approval and appreciation, that something terrible will happen, or that we are better or worse than others. If they are believed, we stay in confusion for a little longer, and that’s OK. If we have investigated those thoughts, they are revealed as innocent.

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The Work and the middle way

 

I find it interesting to sometimes look at different teachings through the lens of The Work, such as the Buddhist middle way

The middle way is what I find when I inquire into a thought taken as true. I see that (a) the thought itself is true in a limited sense, (b) each of its turnarounds has limited validity, and (c) none of them are really true. As this is seen, felt and lived in a quite finely grained way, there is a softening or release of identification with the viewpoints of the initial thought and it’s turnarounds.

When the thought is taken as true, I perceive, feel and live as if it’s true. The belief may take priority over my natural wisdom and kindness. And as there is more clarity around the thought, my natural wisdom, kindness and love is more free to function in my life, free from the limits created when the thought is taken as true.

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Wheel of life

 

The wheel of life depicts a range of human states and experiences. All of it can have an overlay of stories and interpretations, and these can be recognized as stories and images or taken as true.

And as with any cosmology or any map, model or image – it reflects what’s here now. It reflects what’s here, whether a story says it’s “over there” in another person or in the past or future, or it’s noticed as happening here.

There is a beauty in all this that comes and goes. Experiences, states, images of me and I, identifications – it all comes and goes. I can ask myself what is it that doesn’t come and go? 

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What is sangha?

 

What’s sangha?

In a conventional sense, it’s a community of people who share, tradition, practice, intention and aim.

I also find it’s every situation and person, since everyone and everything is a support and invitation for me to heal, mature and wake up. The world is a  mirror for me. The world is my sangha.

And really, everything is a community of spirit. It’s all happening within and as awareness, and within and as capacity for it all.

This is a good example of how any thought – including the idea of sangha – is a question, an invitation for inquiry. When I explore it for myself, what do I find?

I also find that an initial sense of reality or solidity of the thought “sangha” dissolve as it’s explored further.

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Buddhist relics

 

The Heart Shrine Relic Tour was in Oslo this weekend, and I was fortunate enough to spend my morning there yesterday.

It’s also a good reminder to sort.

Are these really relics that appear in the ashes of advanced practitioners? Are they unique to these people?

Those are questions for science. If I did this type of research, it would be very interesting questions. Since I don’t – for now – I don’t pay much attention to it.

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Basic goodness

 

If we are willing to take an unbiased look, we will find that, in spite of all of our problems and confusion, all our emotional and psychological ups and downs, there is something basically good about our existence as human beings… Every human being has a basic nature of goodness, which is undiluted and unconfused. That goodness contains tremendous gentleness and appreciation.

Chögyam Trungpa, The Sacred Path of the Warrior

Why do I resist experience? Why do I go into beliefs? Why is there identification with that sense of I?

I find it is because of a basic lack of trust in existence. A basic belief that existence cannot be trusted, and this human self cannot be trusted. So I need to take charge. I need to resist certain experiences. I need to take refuge in beliefs to find safety. There has to be identification with this sense of I to make sure it does what needs to be done. It cannot be trusted to function on its own.

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Trinity

 

Traditions are always reinterpreted and reinvented. It is useful since it helps keep traditions current and updated. And it is also good to notice that when we reinterpret, we do it in ways that tend to reflect and confirm our existing views on the world. For instance, we may update Christianity to reflect science, evolution, ecological concerns, and acknowledgment of the validity of other traditions, and this is very appropriate and useful. At the same time, we are the ones doing it, and we do it in ways that reflect and confirm our own values, concerns, and world views. We miss out of the friction between our habitual and familiar views, and a tradition representing something different.

So here is a way to look at the Trinity that would fit our era, and especially those with an interest in Buddhism:

God = Big Mind/Heart/Belly, or dharmakaya.

The Holy Spirit = soul level, subtle energies, or sambhogakaya.

The Son = the physical, our human life in the world, or nirmanakaya.

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Not happiness

 

As they like to point out in evolutionary psychology, we are designed for survival and reproduction, not for happiness. Happiness is just one of many emotions and impulses that guide choices and action, and have been selected for through the generatons. It is one of many “modules” that has a survival and reproductive value for us, and is not a goal in itself – although it certainly may appear that way for us at times.

And it seems that it is the same from the perspective of the universe as a whole, or reality, or God. The universe express, explore, and experience itself in always new ways, in its infinite richness, and one of the ways it does this – at an obvious level – is through evolution. The universe evolves from energy to matter to galaxies to solar systems to living planets to ecological systems to social systems to technology, science, and art, and the everyday experiences of any being – and in all of these ways it express, explore, and experience itself in always new ways. Happiness is one of innumerable facets of how it explores and experiences itself.

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Maps and pointers

 

Here is a nice overview from Shinzen Young on six things to look out for on the spiritual path.

These six stories can be taken in a literal way and may be very helpful for some people in some situations. But they will have limited usefulness just for that reason. And if taken as beliefs, these six stories can become pitfalls in themselves.

It can be taken as more universal, applicable to many paths and situations in life.

More simply, it can be taken as a pointer for what is here now. These stories can be taken as a mirror of what is already here now. As a question and an invitation for inquiry.

And finally, if we are used to noticing symptoms of beliefs and inquiring into those beliefs – in whatever way seems most helpful to us – these six pointers are not even needed. Life itself will show us. Chances are, we will already have noticed most or all of them as they show up in many different ways in daily life, in whatever situations we are in.

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Defenders of the one true dharma

 

When I occasionally read Buddhist or integral blogs, one thing that sometimes comes up is Buddhist fundamentalism, a defense of the One True Dharma.

As so often, it is easy to see it in others. A story is taken as true, other viewpoints are made wrong, and there may be the usual signs of taking a story as true, especially if it is challenged: a closed view, closed heart, emotional reactivity, compulsion. (The content of the story can be anything, for instance making Asian cultural baggage in teachings wrong, having a bone to pick about the approaches or terminology of related traditions such as advaita, taking a model or map as true and ignoring that reality will always show up outside of any map, relate to the green value meme as an ugly bogeyman hiding under the bed.)

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Rebirth

 

A few simple things about rebirth….

It may be helpful to separate out the science, social/culture and practice sides to rebirth.

From the science side, there are some simple questions: Does it happen or not? If it seems to happen, what are some ways to explain it? (Rebirth, or picking up information from other lives without rebirth?) If there is rebirth, what is reborn? (Patterns? An entity? Something else?) There is some research looking at these questions, and plenty of room for more.

From the social/cultural sides, the main question is: What function does it have for society and culture? How does it function as ethics, as another angle to the golden rule? Does it help society to function better? How does it seem helpful? In what ways may it be less helpful? (And what measures do we use to determine that?)

And from the practice side, one question is: Is it a useful guideline for me or not? What happens if I take it as truth? Is it useful for me if I take it as a guideline? What happens if I take it as a guideline?

Then, how does rebirth happen here now? Does it happen as a story? Does it happen within my own world of images? Can I find it outside of my own world of images? Is it here in the freshness of everything happening? (Always new, different, fresh?) Does it happen when a story is reborn and taken as true? Can I notice how a sense of me + I is reborn here now?

And also, if something is indeed reborn – as shown by science – is that what I really am? Is it content of experience? Does it come and go? Is that what I really am?

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Buddhist fundamentalism

 

sakyamuni2-1-2-1

Fundamentalism happens whenever we take a story as true, and since we have a tendency to do that, we find fundamentalism in anything from “she should do the dishes” to politics and religion of any stripes.

So how does it show up in Buddhism?

It may show up in a relatively innocent way in how we see the founder of Buddhism. Do I really believe that Sakyamuni Buddha was a historical person? There is no historical data to support it, apart from Buddhism itself. He may well be a fictional person or a composite of several. At the very least, his life story is most likely changed and refined to function as a teaching story.

Just as with Jesus, the truth is that we don’t know if such a person existed. But we do know that in both cases, the stories about their lives are wonderful teaching stories. They reflect an inner truth. They are about us, when we embark on a spiritual journey.

The same is of course the case with the original teachings. According to Buddhism itself, they were transmitted orally for five hundred years before written down. How likely is it that they were transmitted accurately? Not very. Of course, whenever they were transmitted by someone where reality had awakened to itself, it means that there is a better chance of clarity in the teachings, and they may be very helpful. But it still doesn’t mean they reflect the original teachings very accurately.

And the same is the case with any of the Buddhist teachings. As soon as any of the maps, models, or pointers is taken as true, there is fundamentalism. They may be very helpful in a  limited and practical way – as a pointer for exploration – but that is about it. They are medicines, each one aimed at a particular condition, and have no value outside of that. (Apart from as entertainment, of course, as any story.)

The great thing about Buddhism is that it has a big fat exit sign built into it. From the very beginning, they said don’t take any of it as true. Use it only – and at most – as a pointer for your own exploration.

In a practical sense, I can then notice if and when I take any Buddhist story – or any story in general – as true. For instance, what expectations do I have about the path? Do I expect it to be slow or fast, gradual or sudden, difficult or easy? What happens when I take any of those stories as true? What am I hoping to get out of taking it as true? (A sense of security? Being a good student?) How would it be if I didn’t? What are the truths in the reversals of those stories?

I may find that whenever I take any story as true, even the most basic teaching stories in Buddhism, there is an identification with a story and an identity. A sense of a separate I – an I with an other – is automatically created. There is a view and identity to protect. (The “true teachings” of Buddhism! A “good” Buddhist student or teacher.) There is an identification firmly within content of experience. Everything is filtered through that story, and it may well become a self-fulfilling prophecy as well. I act as if it is true, so it becomes true to the extent possible.

Whenever there is a sense of stress or tension, I am most likely attaching to a story as true. What is my belief? Is it true? What happens when I take it as true? How would it be if I didn’t? What is the grain of truth in its reversals?

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Tara emerging from a rock

 

During the last 35 years people around Pharping in the southern part of the Kathmandu Valley have noticed that an area of a cliff began to slowly bulge out. It began to look more and more like Tara, the female buddha. At the same time the form of Ganesh also appeared. The place is just below the Asura Cave, sacred to followers of Padmasambhava. I have seen it many times over the years, and can attest that it has gradually become more distinct.

– from Blazing Splendor, the blog of Erik Pema Kunsang 

Anything happening is an opportunity to investigate…

In this case, I can explore this emerging Tara (and Ganesh) as a projection. I can find whatever I see out there also right here. 

What do I see there? Do I see Tara, an aspect of the Buddha mind? Do I see mystery and magic there? Do I see deception? Do I see gullible people? 

If I see Tara, can I find it here? Can I find a compassion that is unfiltered by stories? A kindness towards whatever is happening… towards experience, myself, others? Can I notice what arises in each of the sense fields as emptiness? As awakeness itself? Insubstantial? 

If I see devotion, can I find it here? Yes. I can find devotion to stories, whenever I take them as true. And I can find devotion to truth, to sincerely find what is more true for me within the realm of stories, and also what is more true for me than any stories. 

If I see mystery and magic, can I find it here? I find mystery in… Anything existing at all. In whatever is happening. In awakeness. In the play. 

If I see deception, can I find it here? Yes. I deceive myself whenever I take a story as true. (In this case, if I take any story about this as true, I deceive myself.) 

If I see gullible people, can I find that here? Yes. Again, I am gullible whenever I take a story as true. And I am gullible when I am not smart about how I go about certain situations. And again, I can find several specific examples. 

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Feeding Your Demons: Ancient wisdom for resolving inner conflict

 

I have read about half of Feeding Your Demons: Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Inner Conflict by Tsultrim Allione, and am as impressed by the book as I am by the practice. It is beautifully written, simple, insightful and always very practical and helpful.

The five steps of the practice itself is outlined at her Kapala Training website.

For the benefit of all beings

 

The basic Buddhist pointer of living for the benefit of all beings has a great deal of different effects.

It places my life in a larger context. It reminds me that I am a part of this world, of this larger social and ecological whole. It is not all about me.

It helps me see that my life not only influences myself but also everyone around me and rippling out from there in ways I cannot know.

It brings a shift from working against situations (complaining, resistance, victim role, making someone wrong, sense of drama) to working with situations (receptivity, open heart, sense of ease and simplicity, practical solution focus).

It invites in a sincere well-wishing for all of me and the larger whole. (If there is well-wishing here, it meets whatever happens in this human self and the wider world.)

It helps me see that just a small shift here, even just in intention, is a shift in the world as a whole. It brings about a shift in how I relate to myself and the wider world, and that benefits myself and those around me, and ripples out from there. It helps me appreciate the value and effect of small moves.

It may look like a noble aim, but it is really just a very practical and simple tool. It makes my life much simpler and easier in daily life.

In practical terms, it is a simple prayer or a setting of intention: May this practice benefit all beings. May whatever I am doing benefit all beings. May this life benefit all beings.

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No escape

 

As Pema Chödrön says, there is a wisdom in no escape.

We notice that content of experience is what it is, right now, and that identifying with resistance to it only creates drama and suffering, so I may as well fully allow it, in a wholehearted way, as it is, as if it would never change.

And we may also notice that the sense of no escape is created from wanting to escape, in three ways.

First, without the thought of escape, there is no thought of no escape.

Then, by identifying with the thought of wanting escape, we try to escape, and realize it cannot be done.

And finally, identifying with the intention of escape is exactly how we are trapped in a sense of no escape.It brings identification firmly within content of experience, in this case the thought and intention and attempts of escape, so our identification is trapped within content of experience. We take ourselves to be an object in the world, at the mercy of the whims of a world living its own life.

Yet, as soon as identification is released out of this identification, there is an escape. When we fully allow experience as it is, including resistance to experience, there is a release of identification out of content of experience.

We find ourselves as that which experience happens within, to and as.

We find ourselves as that which is inherently free from any experience, allows all experience, and that all experience happens within, to and as.

We find ourselves as that which doesn’t need to escape. It is already free from it, so there is no need to escape that which does not bind. And it is already any content of experience happening, so there is no need to escape that which is not Other.

So to summarize:

  • The wisdom of no escape is to realize that what is, is. The content of experience, here now, is what it is. Trying to escape it only creates drama and suffering. Fully allowing it invites in a sense of peace and clarity.
  • The sense of no escape is created in three ways.
    • Without the thought of escape, no thought of no escape.
    • It is the trying to escape, which brings us to notice that there is no escape.
    • And it is the identification with that thought of escaping which traps us in the first place. It brings identification firmly within the world of form, so we are trapped within it and the whims of this world of form.
  • As soon as we fully allow content of experience as it is, as if it would never change, identification is released out of content of experience. We find ourselves as that which content of experience happens within, to and as. As that which is already free from content of experience, because there is no identification with the thought of escape, because it is that which the ever changing world of form happens within, to and as, and because content of experience is not Other.