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Denis Wallez
367,390 followers -
« Intentions do matter. »
« Intentions do matter. »

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Do I know where I will be next, given the sun-setting of g+?

Many people with large followings are currently providing lists of links (to various social media and platforms) to whoever would like to continue following them, elsewhere… If I knew where I'll be next, I'd do the same, but I don't know that.
So, I guess, the best I can offer for now is for people to register their email for the newsletter of Dharma.house at http://secret.dharma.house/newsletters/ Right now, Dharma.house is going through major changes, and the newsletter is in fact inactive… but it'll be used —in due time— to let people know where I am and what I offer (in relation to #Buddhism, #Dharma, #ethics …).

For those wanting to follow the progress on migrating the "Buddhism and Meditation", "Buddhism Q&A" and "Buddhist Art" g+ communities (cf. gplus.wallez.name/NJA4xM2E18Q), please subscribe to https://mailchi.mp/f77b1728b46b/migrating_googleplus_buddhism

For the time being, on social media, I'll answer questions in "Buddhism Q&A" on FB (https://www.facebook.com/groups/528306864247551) and sometimes in "Western Buddhism" on FB (even if I'm in disagreement with some of the moderation there… enough to regularly consider leaving this group!). [EDIT: never again in "Western Buddhism", as admins allow bullshit answers but delete pointed, specific answers on a whim —and no, I'm not talking only about my own answers here.]
Having 'owned' "Buddhism and Meditation" and "Buddhism Q&A" here for several years, I'll be happy to finally let go of the burden of ownership ('me', 'myself' and 'mine'?). I'll thus be able to refocus on teaching, on sharing the Dhamma, on supporting people, rather than moderating spammers and other untrained, undisciplined, antagonistic people happily insulting others behind their screens.
And yes, I have serious ethical concerns w.r.t. using FB… so no, there's no warranty I'll stay there. But for now I have not yet identified another platform (which would allow long forms and serious conversations in a reasonably constructive way, would refrain from becoming sectarian / tradition-specific, would not turn into forums 'organised' primarily by the law of the loudest or by "whoever disagrees with me will be banned" admins…)

Anything else, for now, will mostly be limited to 'direct' students, people who contact me directly by email / hangout / messenger and with who I work one-on-one. This is my preferred way of working, as it yields the deepest (and fastest) progress.


#Buddhism #Dharma
image: parcel-gilt wood figure of a Bodhisattva (Tibet, 18th century)
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a 12-posts collection: plus.google.com/collection/crkaPF
"Spam of the year" series — introduction (0/12)

Just received some Evangelist spam about "22 Important Questions for the Buddhistic Worldview"… The ignorance displayed in the provided answers is laughable, and that's even before realising that "22 questions" quickly turn into "12 questions and 10 I-don't-like-it-because-it-doesn't-state-what-my-literal-stupid-reading-of the-Bible-means-to-me-myself-and-I".

Anyway, maybe there's a point in answering the 12 questions?
Not to counter-attack anything, there'd be little point in doing so, but to dispel ignorance vis-à-vis what Buddhism teaches… and hopefully foster inter-faith understanding or even dialogue, rather than fights and other stupid attempts at conversion…

1/12 'Truth'
=> gplus.wallez.name/SxhFXNkxRdv

2/12 'Life is just suffering'
=> gplus.wallez.name/VGHaSj7ycZx

3/12 'Present remedy for prior-life karma'
=> gplus.wallez.name/4Gfrq3ZCDiF

4/12 'The Karma Judge'
=> gplus.wallez.name/U8PuZsJrA1L

5/12 'Conscious of attaining nirvana'
=> gplus.wallez.name/gb9Q12RDmdE

6/12 'Reincarnation without soul'
=> gplus.wallez.name/4xJR1B54hKX

7/12 'Evidence of reincarnation'
=> gplus.wallez.name/AevUCgTFhAW

8/12 'Growing population'
=> gplus.wallez.name/cd3QTeacTwk

9/12 'Value of self-effort'
=> gplus.wallez.name/7CJvLpo36TE

10/12 'True buddha/boddisatva'
=> gplus.wallez.name/TFE7eySDax3

11/12 'Changing a sufferer's condition'
=> gplus.wallez.name/h6Ur5L8jzYe

12/12 'What hope?'
=> gplus.wallez.name/Ev1ApJ8iDt5

A lot of work went into this over the last 8 days… If you like my work, please support it at koan.mu/donate.htm
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(12/12) What hope?
— yes, this sounds like a bad Star Wars title…

(intro to the series at gplus.wallez.name/h9qNiAafYx4)
Question 12, and its answer provided by the spam:
«
If our present existence is the result of something we could not control (from a prior life), what hope can we have related to our present situation in this life?

How do we hold on to hope for this life if our situation was predetermined for us and our present behaviors have more impact on the next life than on the present one? Doesn’t this view of our present life lead to an inevitable hopelessness? As it turns out, heavily Buddhist countries like Japan, Korea, and Sri Lanka have some of the highest suicide rates (from young to old). The top twenty most suicidal countries are almost all countries with strong Buddhist or Communist (atheist) histories.
»

This question is once more based on a misrepresentation of karma. I addressed all the necessary teachings in previous posts of the series.

"If our present existence is the result of something we could not control (from a prior life)," then it's time (or is it overdue?) to enquire into how to cease being a victim of circumstances, how to reclaim freedom from habits, from tendencies, from unexamined thoughts, from uncontrolled emotions and inherited instincts…

It's time to understand what unsatisfactoriness is, what anguish is, what anxiety is, what stress is, what 'suffering' is… It's time to understand what causes the unsatisfactoriness in your life, in order to start treating the causes rather than the symptoms… It's time to understand that said unsatisfactoriness might be ceased, and learn to trust and apply the antidote… It's time to figure out what the antidote is, how to apply it, how to persist with it, how to succeed, how to know when one has succeeded!
Oh look, that's the "four tasks of the noble ones" (or "four noble truths"): gplus.wallez.name/eVFH1vmfz3g

It's time to draw the lessons necessary to stop letting fear decide your life for you, to stop letting external influences decide your life for you, to stop letting stress decide your life for you (e.g. leading to defensive, angry reactions), etc.

And —hello, reality check?— maybe it's time to admit that, no, one cannot change the past… but that doesn't mean, in any way, that there's nothing to do in the present (incl. apologizing for, and mending consequences of, the past… avoiding repeating mistakes already done in the past…)!


"what hope can we have related to our present situation in this life?"

Well… Plenty of hope, if you're finally realising that the perpetual chasing for more of what you like, or for less of what you dislike, or for cheap reassurances, is just doomed to fail, as it just leads to more perpetual chasing, never to some lasting satisfaction!
But not some hope based on fantasies… Plenty of hope based on reality, and what's possible to engage with, here and now, rather than on empty promises of some other being…


"How do we hold on to hope for this life if our situation was predetermined for us and our present behaviors have more impact on the next life than on the present one?"

I already explain that this is not what the teachings on karma say. Karmic consequences typically are described by the Buddha as "arising in this life, in the next life, or one after that".
Moreover, I also already explained (3/12, gplus.wallez.name/4Gfrq3ZCDiF) that you engage with the present consequences of past deeds by shaping in the present the context!
You abandon the unwholesome, naïve and ignorant belief in determinism (karmic determinism was explicitly rejected by the Buddha), and you observe that you can learn to "react" or "respond" (presently) differently, to the same circumstances, thus freeing yourself from the past… no longer letting the past dictate your response…
You observe that some of the present situation is inherited from long past actions and views, but some of it is also inherited from actions and views a moment ago… You change the situation little by little, step by step…

You observe that no matter how long you held an object, it only takes one moment to ungrasp it and let it fall onto the floor. Maybe you find it hard to let it go, because of a cramp, or because you say "I've always done so, this is who I am, I'm following the steps of my family, etc.", or because you fear what will happen (which you've never let happen before, so you're facing the unknown)… You find it hard, you might not even believe it's possible, nonetheless it only takes one moment to ungrasp the object and let it fall onto the floor.
And in the same way, no matter how long in the past you've held erroneous views (incl. about who you are) and habits, the time to let them go is basically unrelated.
And if you understand rebirth vs. reincarnation (6/12, gplus.wallez.name/4xJR1B54hKX), then it's really about ungrasping, about letting go of views… ungrasping whatever past the mind ignorantly appropriates as one's own, in order to start engaging with the present without letting the past bias the engagement (by preferences, by habits, by prejudices…).

Since the logical fallacy of the call to authority was the basis for discussing truth (1/12, gplus.wallez.name/SxhFXNkxRdv), I could reply with a similar fallacy: the Buddha said it's doable in this lifetime, and the suttas mention hundreds of arhats… and the Buddha didn't just assert it's doable, he explained how to have it done.


"Doesn’t this view of our present life lead to an inevitable hopelessness?"

Sure, except this view is not what Buddhism teaches.


"As it turns out, heavily Buddhist countries like Japan, Korea, and Sri Lanka have some of the highest suicide rates (from young to old)."

Another example of fallacious argument: Japan ranks 30th, South Korea 10th, Sri Lanka 31st in suicides per 100,000 people in 2016 (data: World Health Organization). FYI, the USA aren't doing particularly better: 34th!
And if we look into details, an extremely high suicide rate among the elderly is a major contributing factor to South Korea's overall suicide rate. Many impoverished elderly people kill themselves as to not be a burden on their families, since the South Korean welfare system is poorly funded. This has little to do with karmic views on past lives! Poverty, joblessness, high debt burdens and other social problems—the main factors behind the high suicide rate—are rampant throughout Sri Lanka. Again, little to do with previous lives.

"The top twenty most suicidal countries are almost all countries with strong Buddhist or Communist (atheist) histories."

As if Communism had anything to do with Buddhism? Evangelism in the US will use any red flag it can, and conflate anything it wants to criticise with Communism, as basic propaganda… Let's try to maintain some sanity.

Top 20 (WHO, 2016): Guyana, Lesotho, Russia, Lithuania, Suriname, Cote d'Ivoire, Kazakhstan, Equatorial Guinea, Belarus, South Korea, Uganda, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Ukraine, Nigeria, Latvia, Swaziland, Togo, India, Uruguay. [bold = "strong Buddhist history"]
Kazakhstan and India had let go of Buddhism around the 8th and 10th century respectively, hence at least a millennium ago… Kazakhstan is currently Muslim, and India primarily Hindu, so if religious views are to be blamed, aiming at Buddhism seems… inaccurate?

What appears to me as unwholesome, in this argument on suicide rates, is a spammer's willingness to blame religions he knows little about… instead of looking into his own individualism, capitalism and consumerism supportive of the exploitation of workers for pennies the other side of the world, and the appropriation of natural resources overseas without much redistribution to the locals (aka. theft, potentially through bribery of officials)…
And then pretending to give lessons about passivity and social justice (11/12, gplus.wallez.name/h6Ur5L8jzYe)? Passivity is a lot more found when one's "hope" is built on some external supposed God or saviour, and on a supposed promise of 'heaven' in the next life, than when one's behaviour is built on personal responsibility and causality in this life! Fortunately, not all Christians follow this Evangelist spammer's views.


Speaking of causality… if you like my work, please support it at koan.mu/donate.htm

#Buddhism #Dharma
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(11/12) Changing a sufferer's condition

(intro to the series at gplus.wallez.name/h9qNiAafYx4)
Question 11, and its answer provided by the spam:
«
If a person’s present suffering is the result of bad karma from a prior life, why should we try to do anything to change their present condition? Aren’t they simply getting what they deserve?

Why help those who are simply paying the price for an evil prior life? Passivity and apathy seem to be a common problem within Buddhism, largely in response to a concept known as “samsara”. Take a look at this article from an online Burmese magazine:
“This passivity is largely due to the promotion of samsara. Taken from the Pali word sam (succession) sara (going, wandering), it refers to the cycle of human existence, or the cycle of life and death. Samsara poses that people are mere guests in this life, and life is just a transit point. Samsara is the flux of mind and body, of mental and physical phenomena. Humans are travelers in the realm of samsara, where nothing holds permanent. Moments of sadness and misfortune, as well as glory and happiness, are accepted as part of the natural ups and downs of life. Burma’s political and religious elite has affirmed samsara as the only indisputable Buddhist doctrine, and the public has meekly signed on. Because so many Burmese Buddhists tend to see themselves against the backdrop of samsara, it has wide reach over existing social structures, even though Burma is not religiously homogenous. Every experience, even a bad one, is seen as part of life and the impermanent nature of the world. Rather than being angered or aggrieved by unfortunate experiences, Burmese Buddhism preaches that it is best to let them go.” (by Min Zin, Engaging Buddhism for Social Change, March, 2003 Irrawaddy.org)
»

Oh dear…

If a person’s present suffering is the result of bad karma from a prior life, why should we try to do anything to change their present condition?

Because… errr… at your own personal level, pretending to cultivate a spiritual way of life, you should refrain from being an asshole???

Why help those who are simply paying the price for an evil prior life?

By compassion, a key ethical value and a key Buddhist value too… By loving-kindness… By equanimity (not selfishly preferring yourself, or those you consider your own —group, family, nation…— to others)… By empathy… i.e. by the Brahma-vihara, key gates to the Dharma!
By "right action", "right speech", "right livelihood", i.e. by a virtuous life, and by "right views", "right intention", "right effort"… i.e. by the eightfold path!
By wisdom (there's no end to suffering possible if people don't engage with the situation at hand when betterment is called for)!

And "tough love" is just a lie, not love (gplus.wallez.name/23rkBCxtbDs).

Moreover, if your own 'good' karma has put you in a position to help (i.e. in a position to cultivate wholesome qualities further), then you'd be squandering this 'good' karma… and wasting (out of complacency / negligence / selfishness / stupidity) the opportunity to create more 'good' karma… thereby ending up with only your negative karma left, and 'losing out' by your own ignorance.
You're not Yama (ruler of the hells) or Mara (lord of death). You're not the arm of justice either! So, play your role: practice and become a role-model of virtue, of generosity (incl. time, efforts to help, not just money), of compassion… or end up suffering, yourself, due to self-centred stinginess!

Aren’t they simply getting what they deserve?

No: karma is not judgemental (it's just causality), you are! Karma doesn't 'judge', and repeating a misunderstanding or a misrepresentation will not make it true (cf. 4/12 of this sewries, gplus.wallez.name/U8PuZsJrA1L).
Karma is not some act of cosmic balance or other bullshit: it's just the consequences of previous volition. Somehow, it's the opposite of rebalancing! So there's no "deserve". But there are patterns to note, and lessons to draw, if one wants to avoid repeating painful mistakes. The sufferer is already getting the lesson though, so there's no point in someone else, full of conceit and blind to inter-dependence (hence to one's own failure at preventing suffering around oneself), making it worse by withholding resources or help.

And if you fall for such a stupid line of reasoning, in fact you're so blind by prejudice (and so much trying to spare yourself the effort of helping others, of being generous toward others, etc.), that you're missing the obvious!
Not only a person suffering has such an experience, but it also has you in the vicinity! That'd be karma too. And you don't know when or how the unfolding of the karma of this person is meant to end. Therefore, by withholding your help, you might actually be interfering with karma: maybe you were 'meant' to be the one putting an end to the painful experience of the sufferer, but you're withholding the help which was just as 'deserved' as the suffering! You're just (poorly) playing the role of some blind vengeful god, full of negative judgement on others… badly interfering with karma, by contributing hatred and aversion.
So not only the line of reasoning doesn't hold and isn't based on the teaching on karma (as causality, not cosmic justice), but also it isn't consistent anyway: even if you believe in a naïve childish justice mechanism, you have to help.

(Karma:) if you don't help when others are in need, it's likely that your volitional deed (of de facto promoting indifference as legitimate) will lead others to think it's OK to be indifferent when you'll be the one in need.
Even if you believe in a naïve childish justice mechanism, you have to help. As previously explained (4/12), causality can lead to a mere appearance of justice. When you contribute shitty values in the world, you'll have to live among people being influenced by your contributions.


As for the quote, I'll laugh: the article precisely denounces a flawed understanding of karma as such, and promotes engagement over complacency… but the spammer merely repeats the same mistake which was just denounced!
No, complacency and indifference are not what Buddhism teaches. That some political 'elite' in some Asian country would have found it convenient to reuse some Buddhist vocabulary to promote a status quo of indifference vis-à-vis suffering makes it a political self-serving doctrine, not a Buddhist doctrine.
What Buddhism teaches is equanimity, not indifference: a response unbiased by personal agenda or preferences, not blindness to the circumstances at hand. And Buddhism values the opposite of passivity: the bodhisattva ideal (whether it's seen it as a Mahayana path, or as what makes a buddha so inspiring even in the Theravada tradition) precisely is about effort for the benefit of all!
Coming from an American Evangelist (there are nearly 40 millions poor people in the USA), such a criticism of passivity in the face of social injustice is likely to be a serious case of « Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? » (Matthew 7.3) Unless one thinks that replying "it's God's will" instead of "it's their karma" is any better? Both are wrong views.


#Buddhism #Dharma
image from +Bodhipaksa's fakebuddhaquotes.com/set-your-heart-on-doing-good-do-it-over-and-over-again-and-you-will-be-filled-with-joy/
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(10/12) True buddha/bodhisattva

(intro to the series at gplus.wallez.name/h9qNiAafYx4)
Question 10, and its answer provided by the spam:
«
If “buddha-hood” is actually achievable in this life, how are we to know we are talking to a true “buddha” or “boddisatva”?

If there are those in our midst who have actually achieved this level of enlightenment, how are we to identify them? Why should we trust their own proclamations of “buddha-hood”? How will we recognize them or even distinguish them from non-Buddhist people who display all the attributes consistent with “buddha-hood”?
»

In a sort of circular logic, showing that the spammer is already short of 'ammunition' against Buddhism, he now basically reverts to his 1/12 question on Truth (gplus.wallez.name/SxhFXNkxRdv). I guess his problem is that he only imagines that 'truth' implies a superior authority deciding what's true or not, or a superior being creating stuff so that what agrees with said creation is true and what doesn't isn't: a narrow-minded approach is self-limiting and prevents understanding other spiritual traditions!

Let's start with the most important: humility is important in all paths and all disciplines, you cannot learn much if you're convinced you're already ô sooo good and ô soooo knowledgeable, bla bla… Humility is all the more key, of course, on a path insisting on letting go the illusion of a soul, of some inherent self, to which qualities could be attached!
If you're not yet spiritually autonomous (which means at the attainment of stream-entry in Buddhism), then stop being so arrogant that you imagine you somehow need a 'true' buddha or a 'true' great bodhisattva as a teacher, no less! That's a ridiculous ask, similar to starting primary school but asserting that your teacher ought to be a Nobel prize winner…


"How are we to identify them?"

Tough luck: you won't be given a list of nice, neat criteria taking away your responsibility to enquire, to find out, to make choices. No…

In fact, there's a sutta in which a wanderer wishes to meet the Buddha but has to stop somewhere for the night. As it happens, the Buddha comes to spend the night at the same place, but the wanderer does not recognise the Buddha!!! — Dhatu-vibhanga sutta (MN 140)
Similarly, right after his awakening, the Buddha went back to teach to the ascetics he had previously associated with, but upon seeing him come, they first decide to reject him for having abandoned his ascetic practices.

You have to avoid rushing toward a teacher just because (s)he has shiny credentials.
If the teacher seems perfect, you're just blinding yourself!

You need to study the teacher (dropping requirements of unrealistic perfection, and having the humility of acknowledging that when you make judgement calls, they might be erroneous…) and pick one wisely (someone you can trust enough, but also someone who challenges your views… if it's for confirmation bias only, you won't learn anything!).
« "It's through living together that a person's virtue may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who is not discerning.
It's through dealing with a person that his purity may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who is not discerning.
It's through adversity that a person's endurance may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who is not discerning.
It's through discussion that a person's discernment may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who is not discerning. » — Thana sutta (AN 4.192)

You need to keep your eyes open: a teacher appropriate for a while might not remain so forever! Because you evolve, and because (s)he evolves…
But you also need to refrain from rushing on your way out, just because it becomes challenging! You aim for a challenging but not an abusive relationship. That's tricky to find, and you ought to take your responsibilities in creating and maintaining it.

In Vajrayana Buddhism, some expedient means and pedagogical tricks are at times "unconventional" (to say the least) and so they're meant to stay "secret": the student is meant not to speak of what happens to others… And if the student is not capable of keeping it secret, then (s)he shouldn't ask to follow the vajrayana path. This is often misunderstood though (possibly due to the teacher abusing the student and then misleading the student, to try to protect oneself from fair consequences): it's not really a secret, it's just that the means used can easily be misunderstood when described out of context (and without the rationale / explanations of the teacher supposedly accompanying such an approach) to others.

The Milindapañha (a later text) from the Theravada tradition mentions 25 qualities for a teacher: « He must always and without fail keep guard over his pupil. He must let him know what to cultivate, and what to avoid; about what he should be earnest, and what he may neglect. He must instruct him as to sleep, and as to keeping himself in health, and as to what food he may take, and what reject. He should teach him discrimination (in food), and share with him all that is put, as alms, into his own bowl. He should encourage him, saying: “Be not afraid. You will gain advantage (from what is here taught you).” He should advise him as to the people whose company he should keep, and as to the villages and Vihāras he should frequent. He should never indulge in (foolish) talk with him. When he sees any defect in him he should easily pardon it. He should be zealous, he should teach nothing partially, keep nothing secret, and hold nothing back. He should look upon him in his heart as a son, saying to himself: “I have begotten him in learning.” He should strive to bring him forward, saying to himself: “How can I keep him from going back?” He should determine in himself to make him strong in knowledge, saying to himself: “I will make him mighty.” He should love him, never desert him in necessity, never neglect him in anything he ought to do for him, always befriend him—so far as he can rightly do so —when he does wrong. »

Teachers need alms (to cover food, clothes, a roof, and medicine… aka. the "four requisites") but they're not "merchants of the temple" or "sellers of the Dharma"… it's a fine line to walk, challenging many assumptions of the students (who easily use the line "the Dharma should be free" to de facto perpetuate their own stinginess and avarice and refrain from practising)! It's a matter of personal opinion, but I would add that any teacher who "milks the reputation" of their own teachers, pretending to have inherited high qualities just because their own teacher had some, is likely to be a 'seller'. Teachers who rely on some establishment to bring students in, or a pretense of secret teachings (which are not truly secret, cf. above), is also milking the previous generation of teachers.

See also www.youtube.com/watch?v=fp-Ph7pGQ-c, gplus.wallez.name/K6NZcWtzScK, gplus.wallez.name/PUQ2AeReGEM, gplus.wallez.name/YA1HbEx27F7 and gplus.wallez.name/B1aMWtGRUb9


"Why should we trust their own proclamations of 'buddha-hood'?"

You shouldn't! Trust is earned. But you might start observing them, and see if it appears likely they could teach you a thing or two, and if that's the case, then ask for permission to study under them… then follow the instructions instead of closing down quickly by assuming you know (yourself) better!
« don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. » — kalama sutta (AN 3.65)
See also gplus.wallez.name/LQUReK7kpJm

The key is to enquire, reflect and study whatever the teacher says. If it 'works', then it's likely it's (at least temporarily) a useful teacher. Otherwise, no (at least not for your individual present circumstances…).
Examples are given, e.g. « How is truth discovered? Here a bhikkhu lives near some village or town. Then a householder or his son goes to him in order to test him in three kinds of ideas, in ideas provocative of greed, of hate, and of delusion, wondering "Are there in this venerable one any such ideas, whereby his mind being obsessed he might not knowing, say 'I know,' unseeing, say 'I see,' or to get others to do likewise, which would be long for their harm and suffering?" While thus testing him he comes to find that there are no such ideas in him, and he finds that "The bodily and verbal behavior of that venerable one are not those of one affected by lust or hate or delusion. But the True Idea that this venerable one teaches is profound, hard to see and discover; yet it is the most peaceful and superior of all, out of reach of logical ratiocination, subtle, for the wise to experience; such a True Idea cannot be taught by one affected by lust or hate or delusion." » — Canki sutta (MN 95)

And if you study the Dharma, and follow the eightfold path (incl. virtue, not just meditation from time to time), then you should be able to know if a teacher teaches in accordance with the Dharma or not!
The Dharma is what counts, ultimately, not the teacher… and upon dying, the Buddha did not appoint a successor (too bad for the crappy 'lineage' logical fallacy of Zen schools): he told students to rely on the Dharma, on the teachings!
Any teacher is only here to help understanding the Dharma, maybe pointing out which sutra or commentary to read in priority when a student struggles with a particular point; a teacher is an enabler, a facilitator, but not the star!


"How will we recognize them or even distinguish them from non-Buddhist people who display all the attributes consistent with 'buddha-hood'?"

This is a stupid question, showing how the spammer makes assumptions about legitimacy coming from some external god: if someone displays all the attributes consistent with 'buddha-hood', then (s)he is a buddha!
Being a buddha doesn't require excluding other buddhas, claiming "I'm the one" (or even "I'm among the ones"). It doesn't require a direct connection to some god either. It doesn't require miracles. It only requires seeing reality as it is.
If someone behaves like a buddha, consistently, not just to show off, then (s)he is a buddha… even if (s)he never heard the Dharma: the notion is so clear that there's a specific label for it, pacekka-buddha (or pratyekabuddha in Sanskrit)!


#Buddhism #Dharma
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(9/12) Value of self-effort
— if buddhas and bodhisattvas exist to help others

(intro to the series at gplus.wallez.name/h9qNiAafYx4)
Question 9, and its answer provided by the spam:
«
If “buddhas” and “boddisatvas” exist to help others in achieving “nirvana” what is the true value of “self-effort”?

If, as a Buddhist, I rely on the help of a “buddha” or “boddisatva” how can my assisted work be accredited to me as Karma (or even as true obedience to the Eight Fold Path)? Doesn’t assistance negate the self-effort required to establish Karma in the first place?
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I previously mentioned that the question 5/12 (on being conscious of attaining nirvana) was probably the most sensible, and pointing to a difficult point of the teaching… This question 9/12 might be the second best. And it might take us through some history of Buddhist traditions!
And, as for previous 'questions', I'll pass the orthographic mistakes showing the spammer never researched seriously his own questions.

Early Buddhism much insisted on self-effort. Even if a teacher guides you to the threshold of spiritually beneficial deeds, you're still the one who can and has to walk through the door! No one can do the work for you, others can only spare you from reinventing the wheel through trial and error. At the conventional level, you're the sole responsible for your karma.

A few centuries later though, through famines and plagues, several Buddhist places had gone through tremendous difficulties in relation to practicing, so some teachers had promoted 'easier' practices, teachings adapted to difficult times (with few resources —incl. time— to spare), teachings to maintain hope that some minimal practice might still allow some form of spiritual progress.
Hence comes the notion of the "three Ages of the Dharma" and notably of the Latter Days of the Dharma, also known as the Degenerate Age, when teachings are supposed to be perverted, teachers are supposed to be primarily seeking personal benefits, etc. and therefore 'true' practice is near impossible.

Such a view on the Latter Days of the Dharma has probably proven helpful in some specific temporary circumstances, to keep some hope, to avoid depression, not to see oneself as a 'bad person' solely because circumstances do not let oneself continue practicing like in the previously better conditions…
But when the view is maintained (as the basis for a school or another) after the hard times ended, after things improved, then it generally becomes just a classical "no true Scotsman" logical fallacy —declaring without the tiniest element of proof that what's left to us is no longer 'true' Buddhism!
Unfortunately, ignorant masses love such fallacies… as they give them an excuse for minimal practices (over exerting serious efforts toward Liberation), they allow to see oneself as 'Buddhist' and 'spiritual' and 'a good person' while actually perpetuating the status quo and not pushing toward much change, much reform, much relinquishing of samsara.

Japan can be a harsh country, and the "Latter Days of the Dharma" doctrine (aka. mappo there) has had much influence in Japanese Buddhism.
In particular, it became the basis for new Pure Land schools, Jōdo-shū, Jōdo Shinshū, Yūzū-nembutsu-shū and Ji-shū. It also is at the core of the esoteric Nichiren school. And competition / dialogue with other schools (e.g. Zen traditions) spread the influence of the doctrine. [cf. gplus.wallez.name/GV9CwowZUdm]
But the doctrine could previously be found in China, in Tibet, and even in India. It's not purely Japanese.

Among the Japanese schools specifically based on this doctrine, Jōdo Shin Buddhism stands out as a revolution in the thinking: while Jōdo advocated for a mix of "self-effort" (in repeating the nembustu in order to think of the Pure Land of Amitabha at the time of death, in order to be reborn there) and "other-effort" (since ultimately Amitabha is then the one offering a better place —and teachings— for us to finally be able to practice seriously), the Jōdo Shin variant (by the very important teacher Shinran) advocated counting purely on "other-effort", claiming that "self-effort" was purely illusory in the Latter Days of the Dharma and that we should simply entrust ourselves in the care of compassionate Amitabha (whose compassion does not depend on our faith or efforts anyway!).
These were serious pedagogical evolutions compared to earlier versions of "Pure Land" doctrines (cf. gplus.wallez.name/17XSXFrhXLT and gplus.wallez.name/RsHm5UXMqPc). Moreover, even Amitabha was initially not considered as accepting just anyone in his Pure Land: to enter his Pure Land, according to the sutra at the basis of these schools, some conditions had to be respected, and some exceptions (preventing entry) were listed. So even the "Great Vow"of Amitabha had to be re-interpreted (cf. gplus.wallez.name/eA2zWm3LTTz). Personally I marvel at the creativity of Shinran, and the depth of some of his insights, to support people in difficult times (but I cannot consider that most people who interact with me live in similar times, this would appear to me as a doctrinal projection… except for a few people, actually experiencing tremendous personal difficulties!)

The funny bit is that Buddhism, even when it seems to rely on "other-effort" for Liberation from samsara, then quickly reverts to some form of "self-effort".
If e.g. Avalokiteśvara (the bodhisattva of Compassion) was to intervene to help us (based on our ignorant wish to be taken care of, at times of difficulty), then this would mean this realm, this world, is his Pure Land… which, in turn, would assert that this realm, this world, is the best place for us to “practice” the eightfold path, and in particular the “compassionate" dimension of it, under the guidance and opportunities created by Avalokiteśvara !
And suddenly, it’s no longer about us being taken care of, but about us letting go of selfishness, taking care of others, wisely engaging with causality in order of reduce the suffering for all sentient beings, etc! We're back to "self-effort", only this times we have role-models to follow!
The wish to "be taken care of" is to be tapped into, in order to understand / to realise what all other beings around us want: being taken care of… or, at the very least, not having to fear us, not having to suffer because of us, being free from our ignorance and selfishness! Thus the wish to "be taken care of" leads to e.g. taking Buddhist vows to protect others, meditating to 'connect' with the bodhisattvas, or treating better those around us.

In fact, reliance on other-power can be used in Buddhism by a teacher to counteract inappropriate grasping of self-power by a student: entrusting in the care of another might help fighting conceit and self-importance [gplus.wallez.name/KAjUWUfyyrL]. This can be helpful when spiritual autonomy and self-effort again lead to a belief in a separate self, or a superiority complex.
An anecdote from Jodo Shin Buddhism might illustrate the point differently:
« In fact, the true act of dāna pāramitā involves giving up what we cherish the most —ultimately our ego self. I know a Dharma-school teacher who encourages the practice of dāna in children by setting an example. Once he took the students to give fruits to the homeless. In doing so, he purchased the most expensive fruits at the grocery store. When one mother complained that the homeless did not deserve such extravagance, he explained two important things about true giving. First, it requires some sacrifice on the part of the giver. To give away something that one doesn't need is not dāna. Second, the act must not be condescending but must show respect to the one who receives the gift. In fact, one is grateful to the recipient who makes the act of giving possible. »

There's not as much contradiction between Avalokiteśvara the Carer (or other buddhas and bodhisattvas) and the Buddha’s message on personal responsibility and autonomy, as the spammer naïvely believes (gplus.wallez.name/Ui7BEj8azKc).
Either you're already at a point where you accept personal responsibility and strive for autonomy, or you need baby steps first and role models or inspirations to follow. Ultimately, your Liberation remains your responsibility though, because no one can let go, for you, of what you grasp! The grasper of defilements is the one who has to ungrasp. The chaser for "more of this, less of that, another" and the clinger to "me, myself, mine" are the ones who have to cease chasing and clinging.

Hopefully, it is understood that even if you benefit from guidance, from inspiration, from role models, from worthy examples, then you're nonetheless the one doing the volitional deed of following these and therefore the one karmically benefitting.
There'd be no sense whatsoever in claiming that reinventing the wheel is necessary to benefit: it matters little why you behave well and stop trashing the world with your selfishness, what karmically matters is that you willingly do so! [which is also what offers a possibility for higher rebirth to ignorant beings]
If you're concerned with spiritual development, in particular to a high level, it's smart to leverage best whatever help you can get!
And yes, if you do completely reinvent the wheel, autonomously, without any help, any model, any inspiration, then you end up being a buddha yourself… and it's very meritorious but it's not necessary.

#Buddhism #Dharma
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(8/12) Growing population

(intro to the series at gplus.wallez.name/h9qNiAafYx4)
Question 8, and its answer provided by the spam:
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If all of us are re-incarnations of prior human beings, how do we account for the growing population? Where do “new” humans come from?

Reincarnation implies all of us were here before, in a prior life. But if humans can only be reincarnated from prior humans, how is it the global population is growing? If humans can be reincarnated from other animals, does this mean the total animal population on earth has always been constant?
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Oh look, more logical fallacies on reincarnation… 1/ without even understanding Buddhism teaches rebirth, not reincarnation, 2/ without even looking into other religions which do teach reincarnation and how they easily dispatch of such criticism, and 3/ with double standards, as they of course don't seem to have any problem with souls in their religion, rising out of nowhere, or with packing so many of them (dead) in other realms (heaven or hell), without running out of real estate…

On reincarnation vs. rebirth, I won't repeat 6/12 (gplus.wallez.name/4xJR1B54hKX) and 7/12 (gplus.wallez.name/AevUCgTFhAW) of this series.

« But if humans can only be reincarnated from prior humans, how is it the global population is growing? »
Yeah, congratulations! Except Buddhism never states that humans can only be reincarnated from prior humans! Oops?! Once again the misrepresentating and misleading of a "straw man" logical fallacy?
On the contrary, Buddhism teaches that there's inter-dependence between the various realms (and they therefore constitute "one world" instead of separate worlds, which is why karma brings an appearance of justice, cf. 4/12 (gplus.wallez.name/U8PuZsJrA1L) of this series).
Many suttas mention rebirth from one realm to another, and "higher rebirth" can even be seen as the goal of many Buddhists (who don't feel they can practice hard enough to 'get' serious spiritual attainments in this life, but do hope to be able to do the minimum in this life for a next life to give them such opportunities!). There are, in fact, entire collections of texts counting rebirth from the human realm to either heavenly or hellish realms: the vimanavatthu and petavatthu are included in the Theravada's Khuddaka Nikaya.
Similarly, there are stories of animals doing a few good deeds leading them to higher rebirth… Sometimes the merit seems improbable, but is nonetheless considered enough to be given a better life, e.g. a frog happens to die while listening to the Buddha's sermon, and attains the Tavatimsa Deva heavenly realm! Other animals in the stories sacrificed themselves, to help others, hence get better rebirth (it doesn't matter if it's some kind of instinct e.g. to protect one's cubs… what matters is that it is volitional, the animal is conscious of endangering oneself to protect the younger ones)…
Having Dhamma in one's head at the moment of dying is the easiest way to get a higher rebirth, which is understandable if one considers the rebirth mechanism I described in a previous post (the rebirth picks up from where one was… without soul, but grasping a context as mine… and if "me, myself and mine" is grasped as "I'm a listener of the Dharma" then the rebirth gives an opportunity to continue doing so). It is also a belief of some Pure Land schools, notably Jōdo-shū (but not Jōdo Shinshū !), that having Amitabha at the forefront of one's mind at the time of death —helped by perpetual repetition of the nembutsu— ensures one's rebirth in Amitabha 's Pure Land.

So… with "If humans can be reincarnated from other animals, does this mean the total animal population on earth has always been constant?", we get closer to Buddhism's view, closer but not yet right.
Might I note that humans (suddenly becoming a lot more numerous than in the previous centuries) are currently causing the sixth "great extinction" of animals (incl. insects)… but are also probably causing their own future major difficulties with climate change, which would probably re-allow animals to flourish… so stability of the total population isn't as foolish as the spammer would like it to appear.
Anyway… We get closer to Buddhism's view, closer but not yet right… The major assumption of the spammer is that no one is reborn from hells or from heavens, but this is obviously wrong (and explicitly rejected) in Buddhism… so reincarnation would not maintain the total population of "animals + humans", but it could maintain the total population of "beings in hell + guardians of hell + ghosts + animals + humans + angels + minor gods + major gods". And this later view would still be wrong…

Buddhism teaches rebirth, not reincarnation: there's no count to maintain in the first place, there's no accounting of supposed 'souls' to do.
Consciousness arises when conditions supportive for such an arising come together, and consciousness ceases when conditions are not supportive.
To the point that a few sentient beings do reach parinibbana by 'luck'… being freed from rebirth, not thanks to having ceased craving, but simply because the conditions for rebirth are not met, in any realm —that's seen as rare but the possibility is not denied.
And to the point that new beings can indeed appear: in fact, that's the very illusion of the "creator god"! He's the first 'being' appearing, i.e. ignorantly introducing duality and 'entities' in the continuum of inter-dependent processes by unwise discernment… then misappropriating what comes next as his creation! Cf. Brahmajāla Sutta (DN 1) from §40. [And for the avoidance of doubt, Buddhism's view on the universe is closer to the "big bounce" than the "big bang" scientific theory… hence the big bang isn't the beginning, it's the continuation from a previous contraction… so, searching for the beginning (or the end) of the world only leads to infinite regress, not to a 'creator'!]

There's no accounting of supposed 'souls' to do, if there's no soul!

#Buddhism #Dharma
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When two of my favorite authors on early Buddhism disagree… fireworks!
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(7/12) Evidence of reincarnation

(intro to the series at gplus.wallez.name/h9qNiAafYx4)
Question 7, and its answer provided by the spam:
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What real evidence do we have that reincarnation is true?

Why is there not consistent evidence for the notion of reincarnation? On what evidence is this idea based, aside from the writings of Buddha? While we have good philosophical reasons to believe in the existence of the soul, what philosophical reasoning brings us to the conclusion that reincarnation is true?
»

So the "straw man" logical fallacy continues! I already extensively addressed (in 6/12 of this series, gplus.wallez.name/4xJR1B54hKX) that Buddhism does not teach 'reincarnation', but does teach 'rebirth', and that these are different: reincarnation assumes the preservation of some identity through change, rebirth only sees continuity from one (conventionally true but ultimately illusory) identity to the next…

I must admit that I find it hilarious when believers in Abrahamic religions ask for "real evidence" about reincarnation… given they themselves believe in reincarnation (one reincarnation to go to heaven, hell or purgatory… rather than repeated reincarnations… but nonetheless!) and provide no proof whatsoever susceptible of convincing scientists, atheists or even simply agnostics!
And Buddhism won't provide evidence for reincarnation, given that it rejects reincarnation, it rejects the idea of a permanent identity through change, of a soul! Identity is a bundle of stuff, and each part of it can evolve asynchronously… Each consciousness is an aggregate, not a single stream, and it can manifest itself through many activities, not just one. Consciousness at large is an aggregate on many consciousnesses (i.e. you can see consciously, hear consciously, but also do both at the same time and even enjoy the interaction between the two thanks to a third consciousness! And that's before discussing the 6 consciousnesses of early Buddhism vs. the 8 consciousnesses of later Buddhism).

Buddhism might admit that rebirth takes an appearance of reincarnation sometimes, to the untrained mind unable to see the subtle differences. That's the extent of it!

Yes, there are some schools of Buddhism which speak a lot more of 'reincarnation' than the others: Tibetan schools.
But the local dimension of this phenomenon should be enough to indicate that it's a local adaptation, a pedagogical trick adapted to specific circumstances, rather than 'what Buddhism teaches'. And the tulku system has been criticised, at times by tulkus themselves, for being more of a political / feudal system than a spiritual truth (the question however is more complex than it seems: gplus.wallez.name/Wc4FE62FmJv).
Even then, ultimately, Tibetan schools speak of rebirth taking an appearance of reincarnation, and they reject 'real' reincarnation: it's just a figure of speech, simple to follow (more so than the philosophical / psychological view on self-less-ness) when simplicity is valuable (e.g. to teach basic ethics / virtue).


"On what evidence is this idea based, aside from the writings of Buddha?"
"what philosophical reasoning brings us to the conclusion that reincarnation is true?"

Actually, rebirth and reincarnation are the basis of most Indian spiritual traditions, from Sikhism to Hinduism, via Buddhism and Jainism… so there's a lot "aside" Buddhism… and asking for philosophical reasoning is simply the logical fallacy of a call to ignorance ("I don't understand/know about this, so it's not true"): just go read, instead of basking in your ignorance!

Reasoning on rebirth has been provided in the 6/12 previous post of this series (op.cit.), and it's primarily a mental mechanism (of appropriation of the inherited environment and values and ideas which one is born into, as being "my environment, my values, my ideas" i.e. "my world"). The "karmic continuation" series was also pointed to, in that 6/12 post.

For a philosophical enquiry on reincarnation, I'll let the reader enquire into the other Indian religions, since reincarnation isn't rebirth and I teach about Buddhism! But let's be clear Indian philosophers are not just sheep: they don't agree —in between different religions!— for the sake of agreeing. Their evidence might be seen as 'anecdotal' or 'historical', yet they agree on it and have enough cases to continue agreeing on it…

But we can try to avoid the local / cultural nature of this… and point to scientific research actually! Scientific research which does provide much stronger evidence for rebirth / reincarnation than for the existence of the Abrahamic God!
The first scientific research of significant magnitude on the topic was led by Ian Pretyman Stevenson (1918–2007). He has written 300 papers and 14 books on reincarnation, including Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation (1966) and European Cases of the Reincarnation Type (2003).
Further research has been conducted by Jim B. Tucker (who worked several years with Ian Stevenson), who notably wrote Life Before Life: A Scientific Investigation of Children’s Memories of Previous Lives (2005). Contrarily to Ian Stevenson who focused on Asian children, Jim Tucker has mostly focused on American children.
It has to be admitted that, for now, causal mechanisms are not well understood or described, there exists conjectures but no clear answer yet —reductionism might not explain rebirth / reincarnation, but science cannot be limited to reductionism (gplus.wallez.name/ZupYtgBSSMF)!
But that's simply not where the research is at: for now, the research is focused on accumulating proofs that there exists a mechanism, that it's not a mere illusion / story-telling. Once this is established, then and only then can the mechanism itself be analysed.
Many cases in the books cited above do offer compelling hints that there exists a mechanism (without any other explanation found (yet), which would respect Occam's razor criterion of being simpler than the assumption of 'actual' reincarnation).


For the avoidance of doubt, as per 6/12 (gplus.wallez.name/4xJR1B54hKX), I don't think the spammer's statement "while we have good philosophical reasons to believe in the existence of the soul" is true… and I've not seen any "real evidence" that it is, so the spammer fails his own test ;-)
I can see why it's convenient to believe in a soul, in order to separate oneself from the world, from the flesh and from anything we're not proud of (and can thus pretend not to have anything to do with), but selfish convenience isn't evidence. It can be selfishly convenient to lie, that doesn't make it a truth.

#Buddhism #Dharma
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