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Denis Wallez
«Intentions do matter.»
«Intentions do matter.»


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An article which happens to explain why moderators in the "Buddhism and Meditation" g+ community have to delete most posts (usually images) making long lists of "benefits" from meditation…

Making claims requires "valid" reasoning, in Buddhism… neither just promoting one's own beliefs or preferences as if they were indisputable truths, nor falling for the logical fallacy of anecdotal evidence.

This being said, many results are not validated simply because people try to show that meditation is a "quick fix" (often "8 weeks" quick) to huge difficulties. That's obviously bullsh*t: if it were this effective, this would have been known for a long time, and everybody in Asia and/or "Buddhist countries" would meditate often. Most Asians don't meditate. It's not just that monastics kept meditation techniques a secret (although some did, out of conceit, limiting the practice of laypeople to generosity (towards monastics)), it's just that the appeal of "quick fix" is very human, and meditation is not a quick fix.

If you compare meditation to hygiene (mental instead of physical), you get a better idea: physical hygiene (a bit of exercise, general cleanliness, washed ingredients for food…) is not a quick fix to diseases, yet as a long term strategy it certainly plays a major role in improved health and longer lifespan. And it's only relatively recently (at the scale of human history) that the benefits of hygiene were acknowledged.
Similarly, meditation is mental hygiene (and just like many people no longer question taking a few minutes every day for physical hygiene —from having a shower to brushing their teeth— it's beneficial to take a few minutes every day for it!) and its benefits lie in long term improvements… which is harder to study in a controlled manner, because you need to study people who say they've meditated a lot over the years but who you didn't 'control' scientifically. Yet, studies of some monastic brains suggest major impact.
More Rigor, Less Hype For Mindfulness and Meditation

Dependable scientific evidence has lagged worrisomely behind the rapid and widespread adoption of mindfulness and meditation for pursuing an array of mental and physical wellness goals.

The research is in Perspectives on Psychological Science. (full open access)
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« training protocols specifically addressed three functional domains:
(i) mindfulness-based attention and interoception,
(ii) socio-affective skills (compassion, dealing with difficult emotions, and prosocial motivation), and
(iii) socio-cognitive skills (cognitive perspective-taking on self and others and metacognition)… »

Different forms of meditation affect different brain regions (as expected since different regions have different functions…)
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« In 1960, pioneering American artists Sol LeWitt and Eva Hesse met for the first time and became close friends. In 1965, Eva found herself facing a creative block during a period of self-doubt, and told Sol of her frustrating predicament. Sol replied with this letter. »

Great letter, great reading.
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Avalokiteśvara the Carer, vs. the Buddha’s message on personal responsibility and autonomy

Avalokiteśvara is the most popular bodhisattva, by far… in particular through his sex change, as Guan Yin when travelling to China and beyond…

The reason why the bodhisattva of Compassion is popular is pretty clear: people love to join a school of Buddhism claiming to be linked to a powerful entity full of compassion. Compassion in Buddhism is one’s wish that sentient beings (others as well as oneself) do not suffer, hence joining such a school is akin to entering the realm of a saviour, a being who will take care of us… and this is classic ‘religion’ more than philosophy, and more than personal cultivation with a sense of responsibility. And indeed few followers of Buddhism then really cultivate a virtuous life, few meditate, few cultivate “right views”; they just go on with their conventional lives, and their usual ignorance.

The same wish "to be taken care of" is found in relation to schools linked to Amitābha. But counting on Amitābha ’s or Avalokiteśvara ’s “unconditional” compassion, in order not to have to cultivate wholesome karma, and not to have to refrain from bad habits, is taking their compassion for granted. It’s also contradicting Siddhārtha Gautama ’s teachings…

Yet few masters of Buddhism would reform their schools to minimise the apparent link to such great bodhisattvas. What could be the “expedient means”, the wholesome view, which would justify so?

Bodhisattvas are often associated with 'their' Pure Land, the realm in which it is easiest to “practice” the Buddhist teachings, easiest to spiritually develop, easiest to move beyond stress and saṃsāra. These Pure Lands are not Nirvāṇa in and of themselves, but they’re the most supportive realms one might abide into in order to attain Nirvāṇa.

The funniest part then is that, if Avalokiteśvara 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!

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!

This transition, from a self-centred, lazy and ignorant wish for a saviour (who would save us from doing the hard work of responsibly reforming our lives, of giving rise and cultivating wholesome karma, of reducing and ceasing bad karma — cf. “right effort”) to a realisation of what is the first generosity we ought to cultivate (i.e. offering safety to others from our own delusions), and a realisation of the "perfectible quality" we may cultivate most easily (i.e. compassion, for we have so many opportunities in our world to help others, in small and large ways!), is why Buddhist masters would maintain the religious connection to Avalokiteśvara the Carer, even though it might seem to contradict the Buddha’s message on personal responsibility and autonomy.

Once we’re clear on that, Avalokiteśvara becomes a role-model, not a saviour… and we’re back to engaging with the world, relinquishing views, and enquiring into the nature of reality, into how dukkha arises, into how dukkha might be ceased! Once we’re clear on that, the connection to Avalokiteśvara helped us relinquish our self-centred concerns.

#Buddhism #Dharma
image: Avalokiteśvara / Padmapani, Ajanta Caves, India © Kunal Mukherjee
Buddhism has no specific guideline on supporting teachers, it simply asks for you to consider causality: if you want this living tradition to survive, how are you participating, in practical terms, to make this happen? Nice words, exposure or social media ‘likes’ might feel good, but they do not actually help with the basic necessities.
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Food for thought on Is The Buddhist ‘No-Self’ Doctrine Compatible With Pursuing Nirvana?
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Ethics are a compass for ourselves, not to judge others, yet many Buddhists feel confident they can —and even should— criticise Aung San Suu Kyi recently.

Sure, we might discern behaviours (by others) that seem unwholesome, but then it's about us taking responsibility to inspire a change towards the wholesome, not about condemning the 'faulty' actor.

« a monk who wishes to reprove another should first establish five things in himself. What five? (1) He should consider: ‘I will speak at a proper time, not at an improper time; (2) I will speak truthfully, not falsely; (3) I will speak gently, not harshly; (4) I will speak in a beneficial way, not in a harmful way; (5) I will speak with a mind of loving-kindness, not while harboring hatred.’ A monk who wishes to reprove another should first establish these five things in himself… » — AN 5.167

Fundamentally, it is unclear that Aung San Suu Kyi's behaviour was ‘ethical' out of appropriateness and wisdom, during her peaceful resistance against a dictature… or if she was just stubborn, and clinging to a particular view of how the world 'should' be. Sometimes, righteous ignorance and wisdom appear the same to outsiders, often simply because we cannot read the mind of others or their intentions.
So we need to question the projections we put on the ‘earlier' political career of Aung San Suu Kyi, and not just whether the Nobel Peace prize laureate has changed.
And even if we think she recently lost it, we might need to reflect on the responsibility we bear in this (e.g. maybe we just failed at getting her out of confinement fast enough to protect her sanity…). It’d be too easy to have unrealistic expectations on her, otherwise, while avoiding to look in the mirror.

But if we care of Buddhist ethics, it seems weird to mention Aung San Suu Kyi, but not Venerable Wirathu! It’s like blaming the witness of an attack, for not intervening (or not enough), but not blaming the attacker himself first and foremost. And a lot of recent positions, declarations, articles, do exactly that: they take the violence of Wirathu for granted, therefore ignore it, while they criticise Aung San Suu Kyi.

And if Venerable Wirathu teaches us something, it’s very much that Buddhism is not a magical, fail-safe antidote against racism or discrimination. No more than Theravada Buddhism prevented dictatures… People do not become enlightened merely by wearing robes, or by staying in the order long enough to gain “venerable" titles.

There’s no reason why Aung San Suu Kyi should be expected to be faultless…
hence the true question: how can we support her, instead of merely expecting her to behave the way we think she should?

Thinking "of course she should intervene, say something…" is too easy. There’s virtually no situation in which the Dharma would suggest an “of course”: reality is ineffable and the context is richer than black&white caricatures of it.
It might seem weird, for example, to call international Buddhist leaders to pressure Aung San Suu Kyi, who is not a religious figure, rather than pressuring the monks leading the mob. And Aung San Suu Kyi is a Theravada practitioner, so Theravada luminaries are more likely to influence her than e.g. secular Westerners (no offence intended)…
But even if we accept a need to speak up as "evident", she has to find a way to speak out without making things worse, without provoking ignorant ‘Buddhists’ to deepen and hasten their oppression (before the state prevents it), it’s easy to assert “she should” from afar, it’s harder to actually propose a speech that would actually help. Merely stating “she should try” is an attempt to push our own responsibility on her; the question for Buddhist practitioners is more akin to “given the situation, what can I do ? what words may we suggest, which she would not have thought about already, and which would be constructive?”.

If we just wash our hands and put all the blame on Aung San Suu Kyi here, then we're still entangled in ignorantly believing our views and preferences about "how the world should be" (instead of "seeing how the world is") and then suffering when we realise the world (incl. Aung San Suu Kyi) does not comply to our wishes.
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Similar points could be made vis-à-vis some Buddhist interpretations, of tales and of sutras… and the key point is that figurative reading does not arise from a desire to fit with what science states, but from a more profound grasp of the distinction between representation, language or narratives and… reality.
It's not just that you don’t have to read the Bible literally all the time, but that for most of the Christian Era nobody thought that you should.
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