- Interview with an autistic 9-year old boy.
- Designer treehouses for adults.
- Referenced in the treehouse article.
- Unusual bookshelves.
- The charms of Eleanor Roosevelt.
Shame on you Old Man…
3 months ago
Uhhh...okay! Let's skip the obvious questions and go with that for a minute...At the time, I got a lot of emails from blog readers asking for my take on this turn of events. I didn't respond because I was embarrassed to say what I really thought:
It was probably spiritual attack.
It's a subject nobody wants to talk about. Even among fellow Catholics, you risk being seen as superstitious or ignorant if you acknowledge that there is a dark force whose sole purpose is to keep people away from the light of Christ. And, to be sure, some hesitation about the subject is warranted: We've all heard stories of people who became overly fixated on the subject of evil, renouncing personal responsibility with "The devil made me do it!" arguments or seeing demons around every corner. So it's good not to place too much emphasis on the forces of evil. But this is a subject where we want to be very, very careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and I think that modern Catholic culture has done just that.
In my own journey, an understanding of the reality of demonic activity has been critical to my spiritual life. I've been fortunate to have a spiritual director who has helped me learn to recognize when these kind of forces may be at work, and to act accordingly. For example, at one point I walked into one of our meetings to announce that I was quitting a spiritual writing project I'd just started. Agitated and jumpy, I ranted about how I was sick of this and sick of that, I knew everyone would hate it, and, besides, it was all moot since I was going to fail anyway.I'm not sure about your (probably non-Buddhist) response to that, but mine is something like "Uhhhhhh what?".
"This line of thinking is not from Christ," she said. Christ doesn't accuse. He doesn't fill your heart with resentment of others. He never makes you feel like a failure. She gently pointed out that I needed to wait to make a decision about how to proceed until I was in a place of peace. Sure enough, after going to confession and spending time in prayer, I realized I should continue with the project, and it ended up being beneficial to me as well as others. I suppose that my agitation could have just been that I was in a bad mood or had been drinking too much coffee (though I doubt it, given some of the specific spiritual "symptoms")--but, either way, it was helpful for me to learn to recognize and reject those thought patterns that are not of Christ.
"It's just as if a man were wounded with an arrow thickly smeared with poison. His friends & companions, kinsmen & relatives would provide him with a surgeon, and the man would say, 'I won't have this arrow removed until I know whether the man who wounded me was a noble warrior, a priest, a merchant, or a worker.' He would say, 'I won't have this arrow removed until I know the given name & clan name of the man who wounded me... until I know whether he was tall, medium, or short... until I know whether he was dark, ruddy-brown, or golden-colored... until I know his home village, town, or city... until I know whether the bow with which I was wounded was a long bow or a crossbow... until I know whether the bowstring with which I was wounded was fiber, bamboo threads, sinew, hemp, or bark... until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was wild or cultivated... until I know whether the feathers of the shaft with which I was wounded were those of a vulture, a stork, a hawk, a peacock, or another bird... until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was bound with the sinew of an ox, a water buffalo, a langur, or a monkey.' He would say, 'I won't have this arrow removed until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was that of a common arrow, a curved arrow, a barbed, a calf-toothed, or an oleander arrow.' The man would die and those things would still remain unknown to him.That's why I'm not really interested if God exists or not. I could wonder and philosophize about it forever, and then I'd be dead anyway.
"In the same way, if anyone were to say, 'I won't live the holy life under the Blessed One as long as he does not declare to me that 'The cosmos is eternal,'... or that 'After death a Buddha neither exists nor does not exist,' the man would die and those things would still remain undeclared by the Buddha."
"Malunkyaputta, it's not the case that when there is the view, 'The cosmos is eternal,' there is the living of the holy life. And it's not the case that when there is the view, 'The cosmos is not eternal,' there is the living of the holy life. When there is the view, 'The cosmos is eternal,' and when there is the view, 'The cosmos is not eternal,' there is still the birth, there is the aging, there is the death, there is the sorrow, lamentation, pain, despair, & distress whose destruction I make known right in the here & now."No matter what our views on the unanswered questions, we still experience birth, sickness, aging, and death; we still experience "sorrow, lamentation, pain, despair, and distress." How we engage with our experience is entirely, utterly, completely about us. Our metaphysics don't matter. How are we going to respond? How are we going to act?
Buddhists believe in the Four Noble Truths:That's all familiar, right? There's some doctrines you can believe. There's some rules you can follow. It's just like Christianity/Islam/Judaism/Zoroastrianism, right?
The Eightfold Path is:
- Life is suffering.
- Desire/attachment is the cause of suffering.
- Nirvana/Enlightenment is the letting go of all attachments.
- The Eightfold Path is the way to Nirvana.
- Right View.
- Right Resolve.
- Right Speech
- Right Action
- Right Livelihood
- Right Effort
- Right Mindfulness
- Right Concentration
"Now this, monks, is the noble truth of dukkha: Birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, death is dukkha; sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair are dukkha; association with the unbeloved is dukkha, separation from the loved is dukkha, not getting what is wanted is dukkha. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are dukkha."The "five aggregates" are a way of categorizing our felt experience: thoughts, feelings, sensations, perceptions, and consciousness. This does sort of ignore happiness and joy, but we don't really have problems with happiness and joy, do we? Most of us can handle being happy fairly well. We need help with the things we're unhappy about, and with the fact that happiness is a transient state.
I have never been able to find any Pâli or Sanskrit word which corresponds to the English word "enlightenment." This word was selected some time late last century by English translators as a label for the goal of Buddhist practice because of its resonance with the 18th century ideal of the Enlightenment. The European Enlightenment was a movement which idealised progress, science and reason - the "light" in "Enlightenment" refers to the light of reason. In Victorian Britain, sympathetic English scholars wanted to present Buddhism in as favourable a light as possible, and they did so by portraying the Buddha as the perfect Victorian gentleman. He was presented as rejecting the priestly mumbo-jumbo of the brahmins (who for the Victorian English corresponded to the Roman Catholic clergy) in favour of a religion of reason and morality (Almond: 70-4). The only thing that spoiled this picture was undeniable evidence in the Buddhist texts that the Buddha taught and practiced some kind of bizarre self-hypnosis or cultivation of trance states - what we today call meditation. The word "enlightenment" referred to a state of enlightened reason attained by the Buddha which, however, existed only in the imagination of Victorian scholars. Unfortunately the word has stuck, and with it the confusion.I take it as a reminder that we can mean well, and still screw up pretty royally. =)
When I was younger in Russia I couldn't swim very well. I was terrified of going underwater, so I could only dog-paddle. I almost drowned a few times, because I could only dog-paddle.
One day this guy sees me and he says, "You can't swim like that, you're going to drown. I'll teach you how to swim."
"I can't, I'm afraid of being underwater!"
"You'll be underwater when you drown because you swim like that."
"Who are you?"
"I was the national swimming champion [for the Soviet Union]. Come on, I'll teach you."
"What are you afraid of?"
"I'm afraid you'll drown me when I'm underwater."
"I'm not going to drown you. You're going to drown yourself, because you can't swim right."
Now I can swim for a mile, and I'm never afraid.
This Dhamma that I have attained is deep, hard to see, hard to realize, peaceful, refined, beyond the scope of conjecture, subtle, to-be-experienced by the wise. But this generation delights in attachment, is excited by attachment, enjoys attachment. For a generation delighting in attachment, excited by attachment, enjoying attachment, this conditionality & dependent co-arising are hard to see.From Stephen Batchelor I learn that instead of "delights in attachment," he actually says "people love their place," where "place" is "alaya," as in "Himalaya": "place of the snows". Thanissaro's translation isn't wrong, but it takes the Buddha's metaphor and substitutes the more direct Buddhist terminology that everyone has standardized on in English (which I deeply dislike, and being able to write about that more clearly is another reason to learn Pali). There's a lot of flavor lost there, like how the buddha views home and place, and why they thought of "going forth from home into homelessness" as being such an unusual and good thing. That context matters, if, as Batchelor suggests, we want to identify what parts of the Buddhist canon are timeless and speak to our situation now, and what is just a sort of hangover from ancient India.
"Decay is inherent in all component things! Work out your salvation with diligence!"In researching this I found it quoted a fair bit by Christians explaining why every other religion's idea of "salvation" is wrong (in this case, that salvation can be achieved by works). Except that line is actually based on Philippians 2:12 (Revised Standard Version, my emphasis):
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling...And the word "salvation" doesn't appear in the Pali. Vajira and Story's version:
"Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!"The Christian apologists quoting the Rhys-Davids translation don't look too hard to see that they're using a translation benighted in 19th-century colonialist projection. (Although they might not notice: most conservative Christians themselves seem quite comfortable benighted in 19th-century colonialist projection.) That's sort of an egregious example, but we're stuck with many longstanding bad translations made by people who didn't understand the material: any time you see the words "Void," "suffering," and "enlightenment," you're looking at a bad translation that barely scratches the surface. (Those are shunyata, dukkha, and either nirvana or bodhi.) The very name "Buddhism" comes from that old Western worldview: Buddhism isn't an "-ism" in the sense of a system of beliefs, but that's all those scholars could imagine. We have to be somewhat cautious about taking the translators' word for it.