Pyrrho, Buddha, Daosim and Science

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In his book “Greek Buddha” Christopher I. Beckwith discusses Pyrrho, a philosopher who went along with Alexander the Great on his world tour of conquest in the late fourth century BCE.

It seems Pyrrho went native and studied with Buddhist masters. One story is that he made a lot of money as a court poet and then he was called to task by some wise guy, maybe some Buddhist sage. Was Pyrrho just singing for his dinner or was he for real? Pyrrho took the challenge! He went after ‘for real.’

When I say he studied with Buddhist teachers, I mean he practiced. His life was transformed. When he returned to his home island he lived his life as practice. He was beloved. He lived to keep it simple, keep it real.

We have later records of his teachings. He taught things (pragmata) are:

  1. Adiaphora: ‘without a self-identity.’
  2. Astathmeta: ‘not measurable’ (I would say without beginning or end), unstable (as in unbalanced, unsettling, pulling this way and that, per Beckwith)
  3. Anepikrita: unjudged, unfixed.

Those of us familiar with Buddhist terminology will see there is a connection with dharmas as what we perceive, and pragmata, though the latter may have some other, more ethical or philosophical, connotations. Beckwith compares these three with the very basic Buddhist teachings of the Three Characteristics:

1. Anatman: no (innate) Self (Identity) [Beckwith has as third but it seems more like #1 to me]

2. Dukkha: uneasy, unsatisfactory, unsteady

3. Anitya: impermanence, unfixed.

He suggests that Pyrrho’s terms are in effect a direct translation into Greek of the Buddhist terms.

Beckwith also points out that since Pyrrho was writing and studying and practicing Buddhism around 300 BCE, his form of Buddhism is probably closer to the true teachings of the Buddha than many of the even earliest written Buddhist texts. Of course it’s not like we have the original writings of Pyrrho either, we have later versions and descriptions, and the early Buddhist writings are based on a vibrant and robust oral tradition. But Beckwith does  have a point. Pyrrho’s philosophy is certainly based on very early Buddhist teachings as understood at least by some Buddhists who lived maybe a bit more than a century after the Buddha died. The fact that in what the Sutras call the ‘first sermon’ by the Buddha, as well as in many versions of Buddhism 101, the four “noble” truths (as I have done in earlier blogs) are used to introduce Buddhist thought, does not mean they were necessarily the original core teachings. It may be that is how it was later perceived or that it fit later understandings of the Buddha’s teaching (or agendas of later teachers and practitioners, as Beckwith suggests). Beckwith goes a lot further though, and you can read his book if you care about such things. If you are Buddhist, you may take exception to some of his theories. But to me, that makes it fun!

There is a great section in Beckwith’s book on the names Lao Tzu and Gautama being the same. That intrigues me. Clearly Zen/Chan is Daoism (or Taoism; pick your spelling!) meets Indian Buddhism. Not the later Daoism of gods and demons and alchemy and immortals, but the early Daoism of Chuang-Tzu and Lao-Tzu (author of the Dao De Ching). Sometimes I think Chan/Zen is as much a form of a Chuang-Tzu’s Daoism than it is a form of Indian Buddhism! Of course Chan and Zen tradition don’t quite see it that way. And the Chinese Chan masters certainly relished texts from India and the Buddhist kingdoms of the Silk Road like the Lankavatara and Diamond Sutras (they are really great stuff, read them if you haven’t and if you have any interest in Buddhism at all. Red Pine has done great translations).

Interestingly, Chuang-Tzu may have lived about the same time as Pyrrho. Of course they wouldn’t have met. Lao-Tzu lived earlier, it seems more about the time of Gautama Buddha (though dates are controversial for both)! One story in Daoist lore is that near the end of his life Lao-Tzu was said to have left China to travel west. Is Lao-Tzu and Gautama the same name as Beckwith suggests using a linguistic analysis?What does that imply? Very odd for someone who is Chinese to purposely go off to die far away in foreign lands. Very intriguing. Again, read Beckwith if you are interested in the argument.

Anyway, back to the core teachings, however they fit into the historical scheme of things. These core teachings are very scientific. Not only because they can be inductively arrived at by observation and confirmed by experience (the original meaning of the term “experiment”; same root word and that was on purpose), but in their essence.

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Regarding impermanence certainly no composite “thing” lasts forever.

Modern physics does not have a permanency of things as an essential, verifiable teaching. Not particles, not universes. Quite the opposite. There are neither fixed particles (atoms and subatomic particles are basically forms of energy) or a fixed time and space. I am not only talking about relativity theory, which does imply that time and space are not separate, fixed entities, but more basically. Much has been written and discussed on the physics and metaphysics (that is the interpretation of physics, not the study of ghosts and goblins) about time and space. We do not know the extent of time and space, or even if these things are really distinct entities, if the in fact exist other than as illusions of mind. Robert Lanza talks about this in his book Biocentrism, as do others, and I understand Dr. Lanza is writing another book about time, space and the ‘illusion of death.’

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Regarding the lack of innate existence we have seen particles themselves are just perturbations of energy, of the ‘quantum field.’ Modern biology and the earth sciences teaches us that evolution is contingent on the environment just as the earth and its atmosphere has been shaped by life. It is the environment that determines “fitness.” Most of the minerals on earth were made possible by the oxygen released by photosynthesis and exist nowhere else in the solar system. Neither the earth or the life on it, no individual, species, or life itself for that matter is fixed and innate, a fixed separate definable entity.

And while science is about measurement, we don’t know the extent of what can be measured. Is there an eternal set of multiverses and dimensions? Were there “big bangs going back and forward forever? Again, if time and space are illusions, what could a beginning and end possibly mean?

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As for “unstable,” that is why there is anything at all from a scientific and mathematical point of view. I’ve written before about breaking symmetry. An ideal circle encompasses all and everything perhaps, it is certainly infinitely symmetrical by definition, but to have change there can’t be perfect symmetry. I have quoted the quantum field theory text that says that we are perturbations in a field. This is related to impermanency of ‘created things’ (is the field permanent? Is it a “created thing’?) as well. If the field were stable, there would be no things, no dharmas, no pragmata. For anything to change, to come into existence and then as it must eventually not exist, if there is to be what we experience that gives rise to the thought and perception of time and space, the system by definition must be unstable. It can’t be a system with an innate unchanging stability, a concrete thingy-ness.

There is change, evolution. There is the evolution of universes, particles, atoms, minerals, solar systems, planets, sentient beings.

As for Dukkha, unease (including but not limited to ‘suffering’ as in old translations into English), that does seem to be the nature of what happens if you yearn for the safety and reassurance of permanence, which is an illusion at best.

So science is quite compatable with anatman, dukkha and anitya.

I enjoy being challenged in my view of history by Beckwith. I enjoy seeing in the practice, writings and teachings of a poet philosopher who travelled with Alexander, a bit of confirmation that these core Buddhist/proto-scientific views were very ancient and proximate and core to the ancient teachings that underpin my practice.

Not that it really matters, I guess. Reality is reality, my practice is my practice, science is science, we live and die, however you conceive of it or dress it up or whoever may have glimpsed it before. Just kind of cool.

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Ethics 101 and Louis CK

 

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 Bowl by Rengetsu, a Japanese Buddhist Nun who lived in the late 18th and the 19th century. She was a poet, artist and as a youth learned ninja martial arts.

 

I am reading a great book called “Altruism” by the Tibetan Buddhist Monk, a former scientist, Matthieu Ricard. I highly recommend it. It is 700 hundred pages not counting notes (it is well referenced). I’m about a third through it, but I have already learned a lot.

There is a vast literature on the biology of ethics and morality in humans and other animals going back to Darwin.

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There is a vast literature on the philosophical, psychological, political, professional, religious and social aspects of ethics and morality as well. Ricard covers a lot of that ground, but even at 700 pages by necessity he just skims some topics.

But we don’t need all of that to function (thank goodness).

Today I ran into a great summary of how to be, really all you need to know about morality and ethics, in Judd Apatow’s book “Sick in the Head.” In the book he interviews the comedian Louis C.K., who relates how on his show Louis once told his TV kid:

“don’t look into your neighbor’s bowl unless it is to check if they have enough.”

Louis C.K. says he tells his real life kids that “the reason we cut sandwiches in half is so your can offer somebody a piece of your sandwich. You don’t need the whole sandwich. Everybody in your line of sight, your offer it to them and if nobody wants it, then hey, you get a whole sandwich..”

Regarding the political and social aspects of ethics and morality, I’m not a liberal. There is much I do not see exactly the same way as many self-described liberals. But I often find myself on the liberal side of things because being liberal is most often about being fair. And kind.

I can even be kind of conservative about some things, though I am certainly not a political or religious conservative, because that viewpoint seems to me, at least in practice if not political philosophy, most often about greed, fear, and control and quite egotistically delusional. Conservatives generally seem to have an anal view of fair, a selfish view, and kindness seems an afterthought at best.

The conservative religious agenda is also often colored by some form of belief in the End Times, and justifies hate and greed by a appealing to a Father Deity who wants you to exploit non-believers and apostates and the earth with the same hard assed agenda he (or sometimes they) seems to have. What bitter irony.

Some Native Americans taught that we should act in accord with what will create lasting benefit for seven generations. Now that’s ethics.

So look into your neighbor’s bowl. If they have more, don’t get jealous, and don’t harass them either. As I have recently written, comparisons are poison. That’s not why you are looking.

If they have less, well, you’ll know what to do. Maybe it will be nothing, just allow them their dignity. But if you can do something, anything, however indirect, however little, then go ahead do it.

Get quiet and be kind. That sums it up.

And forgive yourself when you blow it. That will make it easier to really forgive others when they do.

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 Love the earth and its magnificent living presence. Photo courtesy of Susan Levinson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s your party, cry if you want to

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Pain for me right this moment is my acute attack of arthritis.

I can’t sleep. I have a swollen red throbbing joint. Picture stubbing your toe hard every two seconds.

There are worse pains. I have had worse pains. Like when my gut perforated some years back.

And I have had suffering. This is pain, not suffering. There’s a big difference.

I suspect a billion or two billon people right now are in worse physical pain than I am. They are in pain from hunger, thirst, all manners of trauma and injury, illness, medical procedures, exposure, or for that matter, childbirth. Hundreds of people are probably in worse pain within a few of miles from where I am sitting writing at 2:30 AM my time.

Pain, not suffering. Billions and billions are suffering. Many more are suffering than are in physical pain. They are afraid. They are lost. They have experienced some deep loss. They are overwhelmed. They are threatened.

I think suffering for me would be seeing my son or daughter or one of my grandsons in this kind of pain. I am a doctor. Parents come in with their kids who have inflammatory eye disease and almost always they are suffering more than their kids. Even if the kids are going blind, it is the parents who seem to suffer more.

Helpless, worried, not my baby. Very hard.

And yet Buddhism talks about an end to suffering. I don’t think that means not caring or not feeling. I think it means not getting overwhelmed by all of the pain and suffering. Your own, your kids’, your lovers’ your friends’, the world’s.

Unless they were conditioned to need that form of attention, your kids (and lovers, friends and yes, even the world) don’t want you to suffer because of their pain. Unless they are very deluded or very damaged (and some are, of course) or very neglected they will soon figure out that your suffering doesn’t help them very much. It probably gets in the way.

What I see in the kids (or spouses, or lovers, or friends or parents) who are sick is they want their parents (or.. fill in the blank) to be cool, calm and collected. Sure there are cultural differences. In some cultures you need to be loud and demonstrative, but that’s just style.

Whether it’s your kids or the rest of the world, they want your attention. They may need help to navigate whatever they are going through. Maybe they are scared. Perhaps they don’t want you TOO cool, at least not all the time; a bit of coddling can go a long way. Sometimes crying helps. Because, well, it hurts and they want to know you know that. They want to know that you care and will do something to help if you can.

And you will help if you can, wont you? Even strangers? And even not pleasant strangers,real people, not just imaginary needy “deserving” people somewhere out there? Sometimes? Just keep your cool and do what you can when you can? Even if it is just to let them know you are there?

Sometimes you can’t make it all better. You try. You chant, you give, you try, you do something. But samsara, the way of the world, is that shit happens. As a parent, lover, doctor, citizen of the world, I know. That’s harsh. Sometimes you have to let go. “One person, one karma,” as we used to say on the commune. That sucks. You know it does. But there it is. That’s why those of us who do a practice, do it as best we can. Because sometimes it just sucks.

The crazy and greedy few aided by our lethargy and willful ignorance will continue to foster injustice, may destroy human life on earth and create a mass extinction event, but we’ll try anyway, right? At least a little, despite our despair and weakness? Because maybe, just maybe, just in case, we aren’t as useless as we think we are?

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There are stories in Zen about some Zen master crying over a death of someone in their life. Or it could just as easily be crying over a wayward child, lost to drugs or craziness. Or a parent or spouse with Alzheimer’s. Or victims of disasters, natural or man made. Or you name it.

For example, there is a story about a former student of the 18th century Japanese Zen master Hakuin who as a girl breezed through her Zen studies, a real prodigy. When she was older some neighbor took her to task when she cried and mourned her grandchild’s death.

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But you were the prized pupil of the great Hakuin, how can you still know suffering? How can you indulge yourself with such crying and wailing and all that? They asked. And that’s how these stories go. Oh you are so enlightened, why are you crying? Why are you so attached? Isn’t it all a dream, a projection, aren’t you beyond life and death? Haven’t you reached an end to suffering?

These stories always end with the Zen master, or the grandmother former Zen prodigy saying, in effect:

“Fuck you.”

Gotta love authenticity.

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Sometimes the right authentic response to someone who is judging others for suffering and wont try to help and doesn’t care and wont even try to be cool and be kind does seem to be “fuck you.”

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I have had it said to me in that context a few times, though not always in just so many words, and I deserved it. Can be a strong and compassionate teaching.

There is an ancient Chan Buddhist text called “The Ceasing of Notions.” It is some of the oldest Buddhist writings we have the original copies of (early Tang). Among the oldest attested Buddhist teachings, way before this text, going back to Greek reports of early Buddhism when the Greek poet and philosopher (and later Buddhist convert!) Pyrrho was with Alexander the Great cruising India 300 BCE, is basically the ceasing of notions (see Beckwith’s recent book “Greek Buddha” if you are interested; I’ll try to write more about that another time).

To cease notions means don’t limit the universe by your conditioned responses, your concepts of how it is. It means be open and aware.

It can lead to compassion.

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To cease notions also means having no fixed, concrete and conceptual notions about what it is to cease notions. It certainly does not mean creating new notions about notions, like that you should not know a rock from a potato because that would be just a notion to recognize you eat one not the other. Or that  you should not care about the suffering of others because suffering is a notion and we are all one, no separation, no duality, so it doesn’t matter anyway. Or because it is all just your life. Or you do not cry when it is crying time. Or you do cry when it is time to keep it together, because of some notion about crying or not crying.

Those are some stupid notions. There’s no end to stupid notions, even about no notions!

Be cool. Be kind. There’s a lot of suffering going around. Try, because what else can you do?

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Hmm, just for a while there, there was no joint, no throbbing, no pain, just writing; it’s funny how that works.

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Dear Marc Maron and others: Don’t Judge or indulge suffering

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Michelangelo could render suffering

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And he could mope about it. He felt VERY deeply. He was very repressed I think.  Talented guy though.

In his TV show Marc Maron recently asked the question: what is the relationship between creativity need suffering? He asks it honestly and movingly. I find him honest, funny and intelligent, but sometimes kind of hard to take.

In a sense all activity, all thoughts and motivations, all movement through the world of the senses, derives from suffering, or at least from delusion, from our deep and abiding dream, from our perceptions and projections, our stories about the world and efforts to deal with our confusion, disappointment and ultimately our death. From our karma, our intentions, from our uses of our body, mouth and thought, as the chant goes. From or projections, our concepts, our beliefs. That’s samsara in the Buddhist tradition.

The ten thousand things, the ‘dharmas.’

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Activity that takes a novel approach is deemed creative.

So yes, no drama, well, then no drama.

Marc suggests the “creative person,”  someone who does something self-consciously, and perhaps even professionally, recognized in our culture as an artistic endeavor, is somehow able to profit more from his or her suffering, whereas an accountant (his example) has no outlet other than maybe suicide.

Umm, poets, writers, painters, musicians and comics, the list of suicide, self-destructive behaviors and creating much pain for self and others, really, come on Marc, how long is that list? You know better!

The creative outlet does little or nothing. It might even make things worse by indulging delusion and garnering attention, a form of positive feedback for using talent to create, or at least justify, more pain.

Being talented, smart, cleaver, to be able to craft ideas, words or sounds or objects, in ways that amuse and hold the attention of others, is hardly in and of itself a ticket to decreasing suffering and creating a better world for anybody.

It may be seductive, even special, a potentially useful power, but that doesn’t make it inherently valuable.

As for that accountant, maybe she will use her suffering to learn and grow rather than indulge it and exploit it, justifying the pain she causes herself and others as part of her “process” or her “art”! Maybe she will not just say it feeds her creativity and wallow in it.

By the way, accountants can be quite creative. Ask any rich person or corporation who relies on their accountants’ creative abilities to enrich themselves further.

I hear this all the time, how someone’s problems are more “real” their suffering is deeper or less deep,  more intense or less intense, more useful or less important, more or less of their own making, more justified or just indulgent (“middle class suffering”) than the suffering of others.

It is the judging I am referring to; there is clearly truth in that relative view of suffering, of course. Nyogen recently told the story about the Zen master who at a wedding when asked for a blessing said “grandfather dies, son dies, grandson dies.” The guests thought well, that’s bit morbid for a wedding, eh? But no, there is less suffering if they die in that order! Some pains are certainly more painful. If you can take horrible pain and make it less horrible, that is compassion, that is a good thing. When that is the point, when that is what is in front of you, then it is true. But lets not get distracted by that, it is too obvious and not quite the point here.

Indulgences are indulgences, authenticity is authenticity.

If you embrace suffering for any “good” reasons, including ideas, philosophies, art or love, deserved or not deserved, some pre-fabricated inflexible idea of truth, justice and injustice, you are either trying to justify the pain you caused, wallowing or worse, or you are simply unaware that you are the problem.

In fact, this brings up the whole judging and comparing thing.

What do you know about that accountant? How deep is your perception, how sensitive to other people are you (not just how sensitive to and deeply do you feel your own concerns, that doesn’t make you sensitive, it makes you self centered)?

How easy it is to come to conclusions based on our prejudices, fears and desires.

Do you need others to fail, or simply be diminished in some way, to feel good about yourself? Does thinking an accountant has less resources and less creativity, rather than being less needy and yes, perhaps less funny and skilled with words (but so what?) make you feel more in tune with your Universe?

And this is true even when you are elevating the other. Comparisons are poison. They may spur you on, but only in the worse way. Acting out of jealousy, with unrealistic expectations is a recipe for disaster. It is pure delusion. There will ALWAYS be somebody with… more. Or less. Whatever is that you THINK you want or need. Does that person’s life seem so charmed when seen from afar, is their romantic partner so much better looking than yours, do they get more and better sex, is their salary and house bigger than yours? Are their successes more successful than yours, their failures less dismal and better justified? Will you get trapped feeling bad about it, about yourself, and end up chasing what others have?

You too subtle for that? Not a “materialist”? OK, is their creativity more creative, their genius more genius, their skills more skillful, their tastes more refined and elegant, their ability to meditate more profound, their spirituality more spiritual? Is their joy more joyful, their sadness more elegant and moving? They more of a Bodhisattva than you? More of a Buddha?

Will you get trapped chasing that, some ideal in your head you will never attain because you made it up?

Does it really mask the pain, to compare, to judge, even for a second?

Or does it become an itch you scratch till it hurts and bleeds?

We’re all dancing, hair just right, make up on, colorful kimonos flying.

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Belief traps: comparisons, stories, phantoms and chimeras.

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Authenticity: simple, not easy.

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Not knowing is most intimate: Neil deGrasse Tyson and Grace Slick and Nagarjuna

I recently watched the awesome Neil deGrasse Tyson’s show “Star Talk” where he interviewed Richard Dawkins and had a Jesuit priest on to discuss religion and science. Despite being an atheist and agreeing with much of what Dawkins has to say I found myself rooting for the Jesuit. Dawkins was so arrogant and sure he had the real story, despite some murmurings to indicate humility in the face of our awe inspiring ignorance about the universe (I assure you that while it is amazing how much we do know, or perhaps one could say, despite that we know anything about the universe at all, we know much less than some seem to think we do), his lack of compassion and insight was astounding. Sure I am an atheist and can’t get behind Catholic dogma, so finding myself trying hard to agree with a Jesuit was a strange intellectual sensation!

At one point Neil spoke about a kind of spiritual experience he had in nature. He just objected to dogma. Well, Nyogen is often paraphrasing the great Chan master Huang Po: we have no dogma in Chan/Zen (only realization and practice).

Dawkin’s smugness reminded me of Hawking’s pronouncement that philosophy is dead because science has supplanted it. Was he being purposely ironic in making a philosophical metaphysical comment about the death of metaphysics? You know, like saying “this sentence is a lie”? Perhaps.

Granted some metaphysical speculations have been laid to rest by modern science, but even within the realm of science others have arisen. At what point is math science? How do you define science, is it still falsifiability or reproducibility (if so there goes Hawking’s M theory)?  Certainly Hawking must get that such a statement is a metaphysical stance, hard to justify in terms of these basic questions about the definition and scope of science, that a statement on the limits (absolute  or otherwise) of metaphysics and philosophy is an evaluation and judgment about the nature of reality that is not established deductively but inductively. It is a speculation about philosophy, an opinion; it can’t be measured or proven. It can be disproven (as per the previous discussion, a less than formal proof admittedly but really..!). Whatever it is, it isn’t science.

But closer to home than M theory, we will never be able to step out of consciousness to prove the nature of consciousness. We do find neurologic correlates of states of consciousness, but it is not clear that is the same as grasping the experience or understanding the nature of consciousness.

The nature of consciousness is awareness, and awareness is a subjective experience. We may, and I suspect will, prove the physical correlates of thought. Will that be enough to comprehend the nature of mind, of consciousness?

Is it science? Is consciousness even at its most basic a scientific question? It is the one thing that is at the end of the day the quintessence of subjective experience. It is subjective experience.

Well, think about what we do know. E=MC^2

Energy is mass. What IS energy? We only know what it does, how we experience changes in energy. What could it mean to really know what it is? Certainly scientifically it is sufficient to know what energy, or consciousness, does but we experience what consciousness IS, by definition, because consciousness is exactly what we DO experience, at some level.

Same with mass. We define it by what it does. We understand it confers inertia, that the Higgs field plays a role. What is a field? IT is something that is measurable at all points. What is this something? That thing which, when disturbed, gives us a Higgs boson and confers mass. This is wonderfully sophisticated and true. This is a vision of reality that should take you out of your day-to-day limited experience and open up the universe; yet kind of circular.

For that matter define a flavor without simply comparing it to other flavors. You can get to the chemistry, see how it lights up a functional MRI, but what about that first lick of your favorite ice cream on a hot day? Can math and an MRI capture that? Except perhaps for some specific biomedical research, do we need it to?

We can only kind of say what awareness, consciousness, experience at its most basic, is, what it isn’t, what it may be and not be, what it seems to neither be nor not be, but not quite. Can’t pin it down intellectually. We can come close, we can dance around it, use mathematical metaphors and measure certain aspects of certain behaviors, certain relationships in the world of the senses, but we are limited intellectually by our evolution, our inability to “get our heads around it” as the saying goes. How do you get your head around your head? Like the old Zen saying: adding an extra head to your head?

So yes Neil, savor experience, don’t worry about dogma.

And how about this: Neil deGrasse Tyson at the end of that show said he could even give up cause and effect, that is has worked well so far, but maybe, just maybe….

Certainly in the world of this and that, the senses cause and effect is the best rule of thumb…..

This is not without Western precedence (the philosopher Hume). Not getting caught up in inductive reasoning. Or Sekito Kisen “cause and effect must return to the great reality.”

And while in Buddhism the twelve links of existence are cause and effect, the great exposition of this by Nagarjuna in the Madhyamaka text “the Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way” beings with:

Neither from itself nor from another.

Nor from both,

Nor without a cause,

Does anything whatever, anywhere arise.

So cause and effect and yet not form itself or anything else, so implying not caused, no beginning no end, no arising. Nagarjuna says logic comes to the tetralemma: is, isn’t, is and isn’t neither is or isn’t, that is the point where logic and proportion fall sloppy dead (Grace Slick, White rabbit, Jefferson Airplane 1967).

Sounds like bare awareness, emptiness, to me. Wow Neil! And he’s an astrophysicist!

Not knowing is most intimate!

 

Overlapping Science and Buddhism with Cameo by William Shakespeare

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Science and Buddhism at their best address reality without dogma and so they do overlap; summing it up (and throwing in W.S. for fun):

Form is emptiness, emptiness is form
The Heart Sutra

The subjective and objective spheres are related
And at the same time independent
Related yet working differently.

Cause and effect must return to the great reality

Each thing has its own intrinsic value and is
Related to everything else in function and position
Ordinary life fits the absolute as a box and its lid
Identity of Relative and Absolute

Every particle and every wave in the Universe is simply an excitation of a quantum field that is defined over all space and time
Quantum Field Theory for the Gifted Amateur. Lancaster and Blundell

Quantum field theory arouse out of our need to describe the ephemeral nature of life.
Quantum field Theory in a Nutshell. Zee

What is it that breathes fire into the equations and make a universe for them to describe?
Stephen Hawking

We are such stuff as dreams are made on
The Tempest William Shakespeare

 

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Consciousness Primary

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Does it matter if I consider consciousness primary if everything else looks the same whether I do or I don’t?

After all, it does seem like it is all just energy and patterns of energy, and whether Mind is primary or an epiphenomenon vis-a-vis these patterns, I still have my life to deal with. I still have my momentum, my conditions and my conditioning. I still have the perspectives and limitations I inherit from culture and biology. In the jargon, my karma.

Buddha has been quoted as saying that he had come to teach the way to end suffering.

He taught how grasping at our mercurial existence, trying to reify our experience, to make our lives bite size and manageable, we privilege our desires, hopes and fears, leading to suffering.

Practices like meditation and the precepts are to walk us out of our conditioning, our delusional state of mind and our habit of grasping at whatever we think will calm our fears and justify our anger, desires that leads to more suffering.

 

Samadhi is the state of mind of someone not distracted by grasping and delusion.

Compassion is the state of one not in the throes of delusion.

Don’t get lost in ideas and philosophizing, in esoterica and fun facts, the Buddha counseled in some early texts. Don’t listen to authority just for authority’s sake, find out for yourself what you need to do to end your suffering.

And then he gave the tools one needs to do this, and that is the Buddhist practice (meditation etc).

Fine. That does about sum it up.

So then, what’s all this about Mind in Buddhism, in Zen in particular? Why does this seem to overlap with the writings of card-carrying scientists like Thomas Campbell and Robert Lanza who are part of such a “Mind Only” perspective (in Buddhism the Yogacara school or in teachings found in such texts as the Lankavatara sutra), even if they don’t label themselves that way?

Why grant a quality to Energy, to what underlies quantum fields, the scientific foundation, the scientific essence? Why think that quality, its nature, may be consciousness?

Because it seems to be true. It just seems to be that the quality, the state, of being is in some way a state of Mind.

And if true, then it is the opposite of delusion and ignorance, so it just might be something to consider!

In Chinese Chan (Zen) there is the statement that “Buddha is Mind.” (or Mind is Buddha). One ancient Chinese Zen teacher said he stopped saying Mind is Buddha. I get the impression he thought it was unnecessary, redundant, it was something extra to even go that far. Why add the concept of “Mind” to Being? His student, already a Zen teacher in his own right, when told of his teacher’s change of heart (in Chinese Xin=mind=heart), said, meh, ok for him, but I still like Mind is Buddha!

Energy is being. Being is energy. Mind is the closest mirror we have to hold that up to, the part of our being that resonates with the quality of Being.

Yes, I suspect you can do great science, discover subtle truths about nature, lead yourself to deep and profound places, love your family and pets and neighbors, and live an ethical, good and kind life, all without considering Mind as primary.

Maybe it won’t make any difference for you. Maybe if you get too hung up on Mind it becomes just another concept to confuse you and help you to ignore the things you need to do. Another distraction, another way to justify selfishness, greed, lust, anger and all matters of mischief and mayhem.

Or not.

Maybe it does make a difference in some subtle way. If 3 pounds of carbon and water and a bit of other stuff in your skull is primary there may always be that limit, the one that keeps it all so small, so concrete, that such a vision leads to.

That’s fine if that is indeed how it is. So be it, then, suck it up and deal with it!

But maybe that isn’t how it is. Maybe that is an artificial limit. Maybe Mind IS how it IS, maybe Mind is the quality of Being, of Energy.

And that just might make a difference when you get to the hard parts. When you already are pretty responsible, pretty smart and aware, pretty nice and trying so hard, and yet there is still suffering, maybe, just perhaps, a profound appreciation and awareness of the primary nature of Mind can be liberating. Because just maybe it’s true!

Try it on for size. Breathe into the pit of your gut, get very quiet, be with it for a while. See how it fits.

After all, you can always change your mind!

Darwin worm stone

 

 

More Hippy Wisdom, Science and Upside Down Thinking

SONY DSC

On the commune, “The Farm,” I heard (and again I do not know if it originated there with Stephen Gaskin):

“Don’t limit the universe.”

That is something like when Einstein said ‘God doesn’t play dice” referring to randomness in quantum mechanics. Bohr responded by saying: “Don’t tell God what to do, Al.”

Or Shakespeare having Hamlet say: “there are more things in heaven and earth Horatio than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Our senses, including cognition, were evolved to limit the universe so we can deal with it as four-dimensional beings, not to understand the ultimate nature of reality.

It is an assumption of science, and many mystical traditions, that “as above so below,” though often applied very differently in science and mysticism or spirituality. In science, as we perceive ever deeper and deeper into the workings of things and uncover more complex facts about these things and their relationships using the tools of science to organize and extend the limits of our senses, our powers of observation, we believe we are getting closer to the Truth. As we look at and think deeply (and mathematically) about the smaller and the smallest, the subatomic world, and the the larger and the largest, the Cosmos, we see the same processes and so feel confident that science is hot on the trail of how it is.

And of course we are hot on that trail, until we hit the areas on the intellectual map in the middle of the ocean of our explorations that are labeled “Here There Be Sea Monsters.” These are the grand unifications we hope for, the realm underpinning quantum field theory, the play of energy writ large and small, where we start dreaming about multiverses and strings.

Then what?

What is in the spaces, the deep empty spaces between thoughts, between perceptions?

As I quoted Stephen Hawking in an earlier post: what breathes the fire in to the equations?

A recent book I read that Nyogen Roshi had suggested, an 800 page three volume compendium by a physicist, Thomas Campbell, called “My Big Toe.” My take on it sums up to:

Consciousness is the foundation, evolution is the process.

Tom suggests that information is the warp and woof of our perceptions, we have free will, and meditation is a tool to improve the quality of our being by decreasing random chaotic fluctuations and being more compassionate.

He also doesn’t like infinity much, and neither does Buddhism, which is why my GUT had “no beginning, no end” rather than “for eternity.”

Tom may disagree with my couple of sentences summing up his work, but it was 800 pages, so I may have missed something.

And it is not that far from the GUT I started my writing with:

You are the Universe unfolding

Mind evolving

No separation

No beginning, no end

As well as blogs I wrote about evolution, and Mind, Zen, and yes, breathing fire into the equations that create a Universe.

In Buddhism there is an idea that most unenlightened views are “not even wrong” (a statement I like by a physicist deriding a crazy theory, but here more a statement of fact than a put down), but rather are “upside down thinking.”

As a self-taught painter in high school I found turning a canvas upside down was quite useful in giving a new perspective to the work, highlighting asymmetries and abstractions (color, shapes) I may have missed by knowing what I thought the upright painting was SUPPOSED to look like. I later learned that is a pretty standard technique that I stumbled on. You can see the painting anew and learn a lot by doing that. So upside down perspectives aren’t even wrong, just not what you are after. They may even provide insights that set you on the right path!

And science is simply upside down, I suspect, when it limits consciousness to being an epiphenomenon of this incredibly marvelous (in the true sense of the term) brain.

It is not that science is wrong about brains. The complexity of even the smallest brains should astound. More on that in another blog, but as an example I like the teeny tiny brain of a wasp that is less than a millimeter (a twenty fourth of an inch) long (the whole wasp, not the brain!) that allows for complex behaviors like flying, finding the larvae of another insect in a tree, and then injecting it’s wasp eggs into the sac of that larva of the other insect so the wasp’s larva can eat it later.

It is really, as I wrote recently, just a question as to whether consciousness itself is primary or an epiphenomenon.

I know it may be impossible to prove that the former is true using the techniques of math and science. Although considering Consciousness primary, while perhaps implied when we find that turning the canvas of science upside down, answers some deep questions, doing so relies on subjective experience and that is not the rules of science as most commonly understood. We can’t get “outside” of Consciousness to dissect and measure it. We can measure brain function very well though.

Legitimate as many of us feel that meditation and insight and subjective experience are as away to pursue Truth, they are not necessarily the accepted definitions of “scientific method.” Do we need “scientific method? I would answer: Yes, if we don’t want to fall prey to superstition and we want to do any kind of complex engineering. It is a very powerful tool.

I just suggest that it is OK to turn the canvas upside down and then back, that we don’t, a priori, based on an interpretation of science, a metaphysical stance, limit the Universe.

 

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Hippy Wisdom

fractal-design-orange

I am not sure how much of this came directly from Stephen Gaskin who was the original driving force behind the commune my wife and I lived on in the early 70’s and who died last year and how much he was passing on, but these were a couple of things often heard there. Maybe I’ll share more in another post.

“Don’t hold somebody to a place.”

Give people room to grow and learn. This is good relationship and personal advice. In addition, holding anything to a place is not living in the now. If you think you know exactly what and where it is, you are not in the moment and you fall in to the trap the Diamond Sutra warns us about: believing in a permanent person soul or entity rather than the impermanence and foundational role of change which is one of the core understandings of Buddhism (and I would maintain science as well).

“One man [sic] one karma.”

Well this was some 50 years ago and using “man” as in mankind was still common (and avoiding it is still a linguistic challenge some times). Should be one entity or one being one karma. Nyogen quotes Maezumi Roshi as saying kids have their own karma. It’s the same idea. Sure you are an integral part of everyone else’s Universe, especially those close to you as family, friends, co-workers, sangha, but also extending out to fellow citizens, bio-geologic creatures, the earth, the sun and solar system, the galaxy, the galaxy cluster, dark matter, dark energy, the deep quantum energy foam, the brane, the essential information and energy organizing Mind, etc., with more distant relationships having less impact, but still, each has a momentum and so a path of it’s own, it’s own decisions (if sentient) to make. Just be compassionate and do your best, don’t try to own what you don’t, can’t and wont. It is selfish and self-serving. What you do with your four dimensional brain and perceptions is your karma, use it wisely, but I is limited. The relative (as in the Sandokai, the identity of the Relative and Absolute) is, when dealing in the rule set of the relative, well, relative. That’s the trick. That is the proving ground.

Now of course, one could consider One Being, One Karma, as no separation, that in the largest view our puny minds can handle, we could consider this Whole Thing One Thing and Karma is unfolding as a fractal blossom, the Universe Evolving; that kind of works as well.

fractal image

But the context I heard it in from Stephen and Nyogen (and by his comment, Maezumi) is don’t think it is all about your little brain and four dimensional perceived world, your agenda and what you think is best is always best, that the people around you, even those you love and cherish the most, are there as part of your show. Their show must go on as well.

 

 

Colbert’s Dharma Combat

I wrote in my last post that where the rubber meets the road with science/metaphysics and many of various Mind only interpretations, ancient and modern (Biocentrism, My Great Toe of Campbell) is whether Mind is primary or energy is. That is of course a bit conceptual and dualistic, but it does seem to be how the issue breaks down between those who are strictly in the camp of energy (that slippery and dicey idea as i have also discussed previously) and it’s manifestations as matter as all there is and those who think, no, that can’t be the foundation, it doesn’t seem to be as deep as it gets.

Hoping that Mr. Colbert and Comedy Central will allow this now that his show is off the air, I would like to quote from the Colbert Report from June 21, 2012.

The following is from the end of Colbert’s interview with Krauss, the author of “A Universe From Nothing.”

Krauss had explained a bit about his  book “A Universe From Nothing” (which is not really from nothing in his book, but not requiring an outside creator god, which I am fine with, and which seems quite in agreement with Mind only and much Buddhist thought, though some would disagree). Krauss suggested that virtual particles, the energy of emptiness (empty space) and that the math shows that if the total energy can balance out a universe can appear from no- thing, from the quantum field, the void, the vast sea of potential energy (I am paraphrasing here of course). He did a pretty good job for a brief exposition, I thought. It seemed like he had practiced a lot and had his exposition of his viewpoint, the scientific/mathematical materialism school of thought, down.

Colbert (C): You believe there is no god

Krauss (K): I don’t … use the word believe

C: There is no god

K: There is no need for god

C: IS there a god? What would you say

K: There’s no evidence for god

C: So let me ask you something. If there is no god, if there is no “thing” called god, if he is nothing, can’t something come from him?

 

 

Krauss looks a bit stunned for a second, then they both laughed. I liked Krauss, his laughter seemed honest.

 

Now, it seems to me that this is not the standard Catholic god Stephen Colbert would be talking about (Colbert is a practicing catholic and teaches Sunday school), the very dualistic and paternalistic Judeo-Christian-Moslem monotheistic creator god with a purpose and plan outside of His creation. It may be the god of mystics, but not the god of the Book, though Mr. Colbert might disagree.

 

Well, Buddhists don’t need a creator god either. As I’ve said before, such an idea is “not even wrong” just a bit of upside down thinking. I think Mind is foundational, if we want to privilege anything and risk falling into dualism; energy, science and gods evolve from that.

 

Replace God with Buddha Dharma, or Mind, Life or consciousness in the above discussion:

You believe there is no Buddha dharma/Mind? [or that Mind is an epiphenomenon?]

I don’t … use the word believe

There is no Buddha Dharma/Mind? [It is all just energy states? Mind, consciousness, is an illusion?]

There is no need for it. [No need for Mind to be primary]

IS there Buddha-dharma/Mind [is Mind primary, foundational, or an epiphenomenon of energy patterns in energy patterns in concentric iterations?] What would you say?

There’s no evidence.

So let me ask you something. If if there is no “thing” called Mind, if it is no-thing, [just like the void of potential quantum energy] can’t something [everything] come from Mind?

[Just asking.]

Stephen Colbert’s Dharma combat!