Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Zen Master Teachings; Economic Turnaround

As long as I'm still getting some extra traffic from the Adi Da hub-bub... it behooves me to offer visitors something in addition to my own random thoughts.

Here's an .mp3 of Zen Master Bon Soeng's Dharma speech from Buddha's Enlightenment Day a couple years back. ZM Bon Soeng is the Abbot and Guiding Teacher of Empty Gate Zen Center, where I've been practicing for over 2 decades. More of his talks are transcribed here.

(ZM Bon Soeng gives talks and Q&A at Empty Gate each Wednesday night. We've been intending to start video of these sessions to post on YouTube, but are moving slowly with the technical details. I wonder if the teaching of reincarnation makes Buddhists tend towards procrastination.)

The founder of our school, who brought this Korean-style tradition to America back in the 70s, was Zen Master Seung Sahn, aka Dae Soen Sa Nim. ZM Seung Sahn died 4 years ago; as a tribute, the Su Bong Zen Monastery in Hong Kong created this .pdf illustrating his teaching.

In unrelated news... I go back to work tomorrow. I'd been steadily getting contracts from Gap Inc till earlier this year, when management outsourced computer work to India. Now, for the moment anyway, they've decided that I've got something to contribute, notwithstanding the guys in Bangalore.

I got the word on this new contract the same day that the Feds announced the worst unemployment figures in decades. The fact that I'm re-employed is a powerful leading economic indicator. On top of that, I hear that the Mayan Calendar -- the one that points to the End of Time in 2012 -- predicts that we're entering a year-long period of better times. Surely, these Signs indicate that we're turning the corner on global chaos.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Abortion Philosophy

I was over at the Political Junkies discussion of tribe.net (free registration required), where someone asked, "What is it about the right to an abortion that is such a dividing issue?"

In considering such moral issues, the only principle I look to is the Golden Rule. Since we cherish our own existence, we therefore respect the lives of others. But when we speak of doing unto others... the underlying issue is how we define these "others." Even though we consider an insect to be "life," very few of us hesitate to swat them.

The implicit meaning is that we follow the Golden Rule when relating to others whom we perceive as "like me." We don't know what this "me" is, so we (usually unconsciously) define it with our thinking. Depending on how we define our "self," that determines which "others" fall within our sphere of compassion. If I think of myself as American, my full compassion doesn't extend outside my country. If I think of myself as a human, my full compassion doesn't extend beyond my species. In Buddhism, we cultivate the widest possible compassion, extended to "all beings" (i.e., whomever is subject to suffering).

Though the Buddhist goal provides a direction, in practice, few of us hesitate to squash the mosquito that's landed on our arm. We each draw the line somewhere; at some point, we consider the other being to be enough like us to merit protection of life.

At the extreme, some would say that the moment that a human egg and sperm unite, it's a life sufficiently like us to be protected by law. Polling and voting patterns show that this is a minority view, so for the US to extend the right to life to a fertilized egg isn't within the realm of political possibility. On the other extreme, we could say that a human receives the right to life some hours or months after birth. This end of the spectrum has even less support.

So we're left to the debate of where to draw the line. Sometime between conception and a newborn, we need to decide as a society the point to view the developing human as like us, as worthy of a right to life. It's like the necessity of determining the age to allow drinking alcohol or driving a car. Philosophically, we know that not everyone is qualified to handle an automobile (or to consume beer, or vote), magically upon the day of their 16th, 18th, or 21st birthday. But as a practical matter, we need to set a date to grant the right.

From this perspective, abortion isn't a moral issue, any more than driving age is. This isn't an issue of whether or not we honor life, but in how we define a life worthy of protection. The consensus majority becomes less and less comfortable with aborting the fetus/baby as it develops more and more into something/someone that we recognize as "like us."

Like driving age etc, the point at which we grant a right to life will necessarily be somewhat arbitrary. As a practical matter, it helps to choose a clearly recognizable event at which to draw the line. The moment of birth is a convenient marker at which to give the developing human this much membership in society. Even then, we must be meticulous, since birth itself doesn't take place in a "moment." This explains why in recent years, the hot-button issue in the debate is "partial-birth abortion." If we draw the line at birth, clearly agreeing that a newborn baby is a life like us, while the fetus in the womb is somewhat less so... then what to do when new being has only somewhat emerged?

The most interesting point to me is how intimately philosophy and politics are intertwined. How we relate to others is linked to our thoughts about self; considering the abortion debate leads directly back to the great question "What am I?"

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Googling Adi Da

I couldn't help but notice that traffic to this blog has increased about 5-fold since I began posting about Adi Da's death. Perhaps I should take my cue from the producers of "Deal or No Deal" and continue to beat this horse as long as it brings in high ratings. To research, I went to Google Trends to see if the number of people interested in Da has spiked.

Da's popularity, as measured by the number of Google searches for "Adi Da," has skyrocketed since his death. Volume has more than doubled in recent days. The magnitude of the upswing, leaving competitor gurus in the dust, is illustrated by the line graph below, found at:

http://www.google.com/trends?q=adi+da%2Cramana+maharishi&ctab=0&geo=all&date=all&sort=0

Da's post-mortem performance is particularly impressive, since the count includes searches for just one of his many names. To be fair, though, we must consider the possibility that numbers for "Adi Da" are inflated by people who really wanted information about the "Adidas" sneaker company.

The #1 city for "Adi Da" googling, by a huge margin, is Clearlake Oaks, CA, USA. I believe this is the location of Da's "Mountain of Attention" sanctuary. The #1 country is Turkey, and #1 language is Turkish. Turkey is followed by Slovenia, Brazil, and Romania, with USA coming in a disappointing 9th.

I can't say for sure what the deal is with Turkey. If in fact there's been recent news regarding the manufacture of Adidas sneakers in Istanbul, that'd explain a few things.

Monday, December 01, 2008

More on the Death of Adi Da

Discussion about the death of Adi Da continues at the Nonduality Blog. (Adi Da is the controversial guru who has also been known as Franklin Jones, Bubba Free John, Avatar Adi Da Samraj, etc etc.) About 60 comments have been made to that blog so far; below is the comment I added there this morning.

Part of my comment is a reaction to the debate over Adi Da as a "Realizer." It's often seemed to me that Da and his followers put lots of time and energy into his claims as a "Realizer" (this includes the gushing praise that Ken Wilber gave Da in the past). Is "Realizer" just a piece of jargon with no clear plain English meaning... a fuzzy word for devotees to project all sorts of fuzzy ideas onto?

Hell, it's happened to me more than once that I've left my apartment and realized that my fly was undone. That makes me a realizer. I don't see the point in making grandiose claims and comparisons about that realization (even though it was quite useful when it occurred). Isn't it enough that I simply zipped up and kept walking?

Anyway, here's what I wrote:

Former Follower and Critic Says:
> Criticizing Da is claimed to be the same as criticizing all
> great Realizers–but it is ok for Da to claim only he attained
> the so-called highest stage not other Realizers who were not
> fully enlightened according to him. The truth is it is only Da
> that is being criticized as not being Realized, not these great
> Realizers. Da is not widely recognized as a great Realizer

I've done lots of work with computers (as an MS Excel expert). When people come to me with their computer problems, I don't waste time telling them that I'm a great Expert, or comparing myself to other Excel Experts, living or dead. I just fix their problems, and once they see that it works, then they're happy.

Some spiritual teachers operate like this also. People come to them wanting to understand themselves, and explore how to live their lives and relate to others. The teachers point them to practices and inquiries, and encourage them use these pointers to find truth for themselves. None of this requires the teacher to make any claims about their own greatness, what a wonderful "Realizer" they are, or to judge any other teachers living or dead.

So the important issue to me is... what, if anything, about Da's life, words, actions, and death... is helpful to any of us as we live our actual lives just now? I see that as a useful line of inquiry, and everyone can try and see for themselves whether they find any of Da's words etc to be useful. The whole issue of what a "Realizer" is, of whether or not Da was one, of what other living or dead teachers were superior or inferior... all of this is a different issue entirely (and for me personally, not the issue I find interesting).

Also... we can exercise care re how much weight we put on whether or not a teacher is "widely recognized." Following a crowd, believing in things because they're widely recognized by others, can sometimes be a useful strategy. But we can also look into things independently, seeking whatever's most helpful to our particular life situation. In that case, we examine what best works for ourselves, and it becomes irrelevant whether or not masses of other people recognize it.

NC Says:
> I think it’s natural to grieve our loved ones for a time

I don't see any problem with grieving. Some people have the idea that life ought to be non-stop bliss. They try to ignore or deny grief and sadness in themselves, and criticize it in others.

All of this is rooted in the initial idea: "I want to be happy all the time." That want can be questioned also. Maybe it's possible to keep a clear mind, in which it's no problem to be happy sometimes and grieving sometimes, healthy sometimes and sick sometimes, alive for a while and then dead. A clear mirror reflects each moment as it is, beautiful or ugly, without making it into a problem.


In addition to the conversation at nonduality.org, there's also in-depth open discussion of Da's death at the New Lightmind Forums. Another great resource is the Adi Da Archives, a critical site with extensive info, stories, and reflections by ex-devotees. Further posts on the topic, including the "succession" issue, appear on the Forest Wanderer blog.