We’ve all been there. An argument with a relative erupts, and on your drive home you relive the experience repeatedly, so when you arrive, you realize you weren’t aware of most of the drive. For the rest of the night, you replay that argument mentally, say the things you wish you’d thought of then, and drill your points home. You can’t sleep because you can’t get off the thought merry-go-round.

That scenario is not only common, but it occurs often everyday.  It’s easy to fall into the habit of living in our heads, in the drama of our minds, in the details of thoughts. But this is a huge source of suffering, and absolutely unnecessary.

Before I go further though, I want to clear a myth that persists in Buddhism. Buddhist practice is not anti-thought. Thinking is an incredibly value tool, and it’s something we need to do. But there is a time and place for thinking, and there are skillful thoughts, and unskillful thoughts. So, how do we escape the unskillful thoughts, getting off the mental merry-go-round?

Buddha taught meditation on the body frequently, and for good reason. Focusing on the body, gets your attention out of your mind. Additionally, through mindfulness of body, you can catch thoughts early enough that they are easier to let go of rather than once they are in full swing.

All Buddhist mindfulness and meditation practices start with focus on the breath. The breath is a part of the body, and it’s a vital function to life. We carry it around with us wherever we go, so it’s a handy as a focal point.

But there is more to us than the breath. Our minds and nervous systems are embodied, work through numerous systems and processes. Our bodies, too, are in constant change, but a much slower pace than the quick mind. Yet, if we are not mindful of our bodies, health issues can sneak up on us, we get old, we change, and this can be difficult to accept for one who has been spending too much time upstairs, in the head.

“Furthermore, when walking, the monk discerns, ‘I am walking.’ When standing, he discerns, ‘I am standing.’ When sitting, he discerns, ‘I am sitting.’ When lying down, he discerns, ‘I am lying down.’ Or however his body is disposed, that is how he discerns it. . . . Kayagata-sati Sutta (MN 119)

In Zen, you may have heard something similar to the above. When washing dishes, one washes the dishes. Or something along the lines of sweeping, etc. This used to puzzle me to no  end. Why would you just focus on the activity you’re doing? How boring! But then I discovered why it’s important to stay with the body, with a task, rather than the mind.

For years I’ve hated weeding my yard. Every time I went out to weed, inwardly I’d grumble over pulling out perfectly good plants and throwing them out. I’d complain about the bending, my back, the effort, and for the hour or so it took me, my mind had one reason after another why weeding was a horrible task.

Then one day I went out again to survey that path of weeds I needed to pull. As I tugged on my gloves, I wondered . . . what would happen if I let all thoughts go, and I just focused on the task at hand? To my amazement, I got to the end of the yard, stood up, saw I was finished, and realized that in all that time I didn’t have a moment of suffering over having to weed the yard. I simply pulled the weeds. It was the thoughts that were creating my misery over weeding. The thoughts  were making the task so miserable for me, not the task itself! I’ve not looked at weeding the same again.

What was happening was my mind was creating all my objections, all my misery, all my angst through thoughts. Because I followed the thoughts, allowed them to lead the way, they stirred up trouble where there need not be trouble. Instead of giving into thoughts that I hated weeding, I focused on the task at hand, didn’t think about it, and instead had a quiet mind without suffering. Ah, Depended Arising!

Many of us use our minds to supposedly escape tasks we don’t enjoy, without realizing it’s the mind that is making the task unenjoyable! Without the trouble making mind, there is only the task.

So, back to body meditation. As with all mindfulness meditations, this is your practice time. Because we have developed the habit of thinking as a means of escape, we now have to work on letting that go and being present by paying attention to the body and the present moment. In doing this, not only will you break the habit of living in your head, that space where thoughts were is filled instead with a feeling of just being, of being free of angst and anxiety.

Of course, there are those times when you need to be thinking. We do have to make decisions; we have to problem solve; we have to plan ahead. My job is thought oriented, so for my work I do a lot of thinking. But we need to let all of that go when thinking is not only unnecessary, but could be problematic or unskillful, like while driving, or even walking. Whenever we perform a physical task, we need to focus on that, not thinking about what we’re going to buy for dinner later. And of course, if you’re always in your head it’s easy for the trouble making types of thoughts to sneak in and ensnare you.

We make smarter decisions we were are not hampered with emotion, with angst, with anger, etc. Practicing body meditation and staying in the body whenever you can helps you learn to let go of thoughts that are not skillful, and then you can decide when the time is right to think skillfully.

Sitting and doing body meditation scans is useful, great practice. Extending that to paying attention to your body when you move around throughout your day will help you develop the practice of staying out of your head until you really need to spend some time there. You’ll be amazed how much suffering dissolves in staying in the body and out of the mind.

For More Information

No Comments

  1. Linda on August 5, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    Good post with many good points.

    “Buddhist practice is not anti-thought.”

    It’s interesting to me how often the skills we are taught that can be used in our practice (ie in our lives) get mistaken for the goal of practice. Being able to, first, become aware that we are thinking and of how thinking works, and, second, that we have the ability to choose to stop thinking about a subject (but it takes practice to learn to do these and strengthen the skills), works in service to locating the unskillful thoughts and being able to short-circuit the process of holding onto those thoughts and letting them continue to feed themselves in cycles that add to our unhappiness. There are productive thoughts, too, as you point out, skillful thoughts, thoughts we should nurture and feed. The idea is to gain the skills to tell the difference between the two, and to be able to do something with that insight: make good choices about which to feed, and which not to.

    Similarly, I think we should recognize that this is not a one-size-fits-every-situation solution either, that should get applied in every situation where there is a task to do. I’m saying it is not a requirement that during every boring task people work on thinking only of the task at hand, though certainly in tasks that have an element of risk tied to inattention, that would be a goal. However, there are boring routine tasks that need to be done for extended periods of time that aren’t that risky and that might not profit from continuous attention. For example, I worked in a data entry job and found that giving it my total attention was useful in learning the skills to begin doing the job (how many times to hit tab between one entry-field and another, how to fire off a macro at the right time, learning the macros) but once I got good at the skills, undivided attention didn’t improve my speed. Learning to listen to music or a podcast while doing data-entry did improve my speed and accuracy (a lot — but it was challenging to learn to do both simultaneously).

    The main point, I think, is to learn to examine the thoughts and see what results they have. In the case of grousing to ourselves about the task at hand, “what arises” (in the mind) during such moments, when looked at closely, and watched as it produces results, can be seen to be the source of the dissatisfaction felt. You did a great job of seeing that, working with it, and being able to communicate it to us to use as a template so we can see parallel processes as they occur in our lives. This is what we want to do: observe the process, watch its results, and choose which cycles to stop feeding, and which ones are skillful and we should nurture.

    The other thought that came to mind while reading your article is how many different ways there are to express the same concepts. You did a very good job of using modern, everyday terms to describe the process of dependent arising taking place in a moment in your life; the Pali suttas describe it a different way, more generically and caught up in the language and worldview of its own time; I restated it in terms half-way between the two — in terms of “what arises” (since that’s what dependent arising is addressing) and in terms of feeding or not feeding what arises (which always calls to mind to me the story the grandad told his grandson about the two wolves). There are so many different ways to say the same thing, and no one of them is “the right way” — all are needed because any one of them may be the one that first helps someone really understand what the practice is about, or each of them may add together to create an insight in someone else.

    • Dana Nourie on August 5, 2012 at 3:25 pm

      Linda, thank you so much for commenting. You bring up some great points!

  2. Linda on August 5, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    So, for example, here are two more ways of looking at your weed-pulling experience.

    (1) Instant karma! In the moment that you felt aversion to the very thought of weeding your garden, you experienced the fruits of that “thought-as-action” — you immediately began to experience further revulsion, which produced more dissatisfaction, so that this tiny little cycle is self-perpetuating. (I like that term, self-perpetuating — packed with meaning in a Buddhist context!) And the moment you realized what was happening, you consciously broke the cycle — more instant karma! (good karma!) — the dissatisfaction goes away. The interesting thing to me is how the cycle feeds itself, how the initial feeling of disgust with “having to weed the garden” feeds grumbling thoughts which keep fueling the disgust. Bad karma breeding more bad karma. And we have both “instant karma” (thoughts creating immediate feelings) and “old karma” in that we know that first thought of aversion is based on past history of experiences. But the “good karma” of recognizing the problem, and interrupting the cycle, eventually leads to “the end of karma” — at least the karma involved with weeding — because one of these days you won’t even get that initial “ugh!” at the thought of weeding, since you’ll have replaced the old bad-karma experiences with new good-karma experiences. That’s what the Buddha is talking about when he talks about three kinds of karma: bad-karma, good-karma, and the karma-that-ends-karma. The practice of seeing accurately and choosing to break the cycle is the karma-that-ends-karma.

    (2) We can also see the whole thing through the magnification of the “ritual” section of dependent arising: first a feeling arises as a result of contact with the outside world (in this case it is something that triggers the thought “I need to pull weeds” — maybe you looked out your window and saw the garden?) and the initial thought was “ugh!” (vedana — feeling) and then detailed with “I hate pulling weeds” (tanha — the fire — the initial feeling of a need to do something about that feeling — “ugh” = “not part of me” = “not something I do to ‘be me'” or “something I do that is not part of who I am or want to be” which then gets translated into a statement about how pulling weeds is not a “me” thing to do) and then translated into a certainty: “I don’t want to do this! I will not enjoy doing this!” and sure enough — you don’t! This last is upadana — the fuel, and it goes right back around to feed the fire some more.

    Long ago and far away when I read books on Buddhism I always wondered why it was the Buddha did this teensy-tiny detailing of our experience from contact to feeling to craving (tanha) to clinging (upadana) — what exactly was the point of breaking down experience into such small steps, and what did he really mean by it all? But when you look at it so closely in terms of a very mundane experience like yours above, it does help to see all the steps. Once we know what is going on, and the order things happen in, we can see how to stop the cycles.

    The cycle runs on and on all by itself if we are unaware of how it works — that’s ignorance (the first step of dependent arising): we don’t understand how what we are doing “just naturally” leads to dukkha, and as long as we remain ignorant, dukkha production continues. The “cure” for dukkha is knowledge — and practicing a set of skills that lets us use the knowledge to intelligently and consciously break the cycle. And that’s where mindfulness and practices that allow us to stop thoughts comes in. But the only thoughts we’re wanting to stop are the unskillful ones, the ones that lead to dukkha. The skillful thoughts are worth keeping/continuing to feed.

    • Dana Nourie on August 5, 2012 at 3:31 pm

      Linda, thank so much. Your comment is really interesting.

      I have to admit my way of looking at the weed experience tended towards #2, but as I read the first, I can definitely see how that is the case with karma as well. I had indeed developed a habit of viewing weeding negatively, and therefore the same types of thoughts came up each time, feeding the cycle of aversion and suffering, the negative karma.

      What finally made that change, caused that thought, “Hmm, wonder what would happen if I just let these thoughts go?” I’m not sure, but I suspect it has to do with my steady practice, my willingness to change things up, and my attempt at leaning towards skillful thoughts over unskillful. It had finally become apparent there was suffering in this situation, and I’d learned quite a few times in the past I am often the instigator of my own suffering. So, we could say I was creating some positive karma there through repeated efforts with mindfulness and skillfulness. The cushion does produce fruit!

      Thank you for these wonderful comments in adding to the article and breaking down the experience in Buddhist terms!

  3. wtompepper on August 9, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    The irony here is astounding. You want to “clear up the myth” that Buddhism is “anti-thought” by writing a piece called “staying in the body and out of the mind,” in which the only kind of thought you depict is senseless obsessing or griping about nothing, and the only alternative is to stop thinking and just live in pure bodily sensation. It is exactly this kind of essay that create this myth, that in fact, insist it is not just a myth, but is really what Buddha taught. Perhaps a better solution to obsessing about a family argument, instead of just putting it aside and trying to become completely absorbed in breathing, would be to actually think about the argument? Instead of angry obsessing, the point of meditation would be to think through the argument, consider how you might have handled it more skillfully, or figure out why it really is you always get so angry at your family’s snide remarks. Putting it out of you mind for a while won’t solve the problem. Fortunately, despite what appears on the bookstore shelves and at many retreats, focusing on the breath is just a very small part of meditation, just the very beginning, and not meant to be the only thing we ever do.

    I don’t know about anyone else, but the only way I would ever be able to focus my entire consciousness on mowing the lawn would be if I had a lobotomy first, or maybe a fifth of vodka. I prefer to wash the dishes and do the yardwork mindlessly, because it take so little mental effort to do it. I think the reason people get so unhappy with mindless tasks is not too much thought, but too little. If you haven’t got sufficient mental resources to have something worthwhile to contemplate while you push a lawn mower in circles of an hour and a half, you need to do more thinking, to get into your mind, not out of it. Read some serious Literature of philosophy, and give yourself something more useful to think about! In many forms of Buddhism, monks were required to spend three to ten years studying before they could begin meditating. The idea isn’t to stop thought and focus the body, but to focus the mind on serious thought.

    • Rick Heller on August 9, 2012 at 5:27 pm

      1. I believe that most Western psychologists, as well as thought of a Buddhist bent, would recommend against trying to “think” through an agument just after it happened without first getting some distance from it. Such ruminations rarely are productive. Once you get to an emotional neutrality, perhaps through mindfulness or cognitive-behavioral techniques, then you might be able to think things through rationally.

      2. I totally endorse mindfuly weeding if you can do it. Based on Daniel Siegel’s model of mindfulness, as you pay more attention, the brain takes in more and more sensations, and you experience engaging novelty from the bottom-up flow of sensory information.

      3. I do think the Buddhist dharma talks and instructions I hear (I’m not referring to Ted’s podcasts) can be “anti-thought” in perhaps overemphasizing “being” and undervaluing “doing.” On the other hand, most people I know have no first-hand experience with a quiet mind and only know about doing. I would like to see secular Buddhism integrate these two modes and be less passive than traditional Buddhism seems to be with regard to acting in the world, and at the same present those who are caught up in the rat race of career advancement an alternative that doesn’t require constant doing.

    • Ted Meissner on August 9, 2012 at 5:59 pm

      What post did you read, Tom? Must not have been this one, you’ve utterly missed every point Dana made.

      • wtompepper on August 9, 2012 at 7:09 pm

        Seriously Ted? “What post did you read . . . must not have been this one.” What are you, twelve?

        I utterly understood every point she made–I am disagreeing with her. When the time is right, think skillfully–but since every Buddhist talk and essay only tells us not to think, how would anyone know what skillful thought is? But of course, we won’t need to worry, because the “suffering” will have “dissolved” while we mindfully washed the dishes. The post pays lip service to the notion that of course thinking is good–but the entire focus of it is to remind us that it is always only bad and we should never do it at all.

        I have no doubt psychologists would agree with this post–but they would also have not ability to conceive of thought as anything other than obsessive rumination or negative “self-talk.” Buddhist thought and practice has much more to offer than that CBT nonsense, which is completely antithetical to everything just about every school of Buddhism has ever taught. For one thing, it can teach us how to seriously consider important issues, without resorting to platitudes or silly responses like “you just don’t understand.”

        • Ted Meissner on August 10, 2012 at 6:41 am

          Your tone from start to finish is not acceptable to continue to have dialogue on this site — go start your own, since you clearly don’t like what we’re doing here.

    • Dana Nourie on August 16, 2012 at 4:42 pm

      Tom, your experience with menial tasks is clearly different than mine. That’s fine. We aren’t all the same. I was just sharing what was to me an “ah hah” moment, because I saw how my thoughts WERE making the task miserable for me. There are lots of people who enjoy weeding! It was just an example of how our thoughts can be the cause of a negative experience rather than the experience itself.

      As for the myth of Buddhism discouraging thinking. I was trying to point out that it doesn’t always, but this is one case where there is a valid case for not giving into the thoughts because they can be trouble makers.

  4. NaturalEntrust on August 10, 2012 at 4:47 am

    To Tom,
    Ted is older than twelve. I can see that on that picture.
    What are you trying to do?

    Quote from Tom
    Buddhist thought and practice has much more to offer
    than that CBT nonsense, which is completely antithetical
    to everything just about every school of Buddhism has ever taught.
    /quote

    I am no expert on CBT but both ACT and DBT draws heavily from Buddhism.

    So much so that Steven Hayes need to distance himself
    from Buddhism and say it is science for to upheld some
    academic integrity it seems to me.

    Now being 65 plus over twelve I am maybe too naive
    for your taste but I am skeptical to CBT just because
    it is too much like Buddhism. I want natural science
    evidence for claims that it share with Buddhism.

    • wtompepper on August 10, 2012 at 6:26 am

      I would say that ACT and DBT draw only very superficially on Buddhism, on the most cursory understanding of a few terms sometimes used to translate Buddhist concepts.

    • Ted Meissner on August 10, 2012 at 6:50 am

      Eric, meet Tom. Tom is a constant critic, providing nothing positive in his posts. Tom’s account has been closed because of it, and he is welcome to be a curmudgeon somewhere else.

      • wtompepper on August 10, 2012 at 6:54 am

        Who’s Eric?

        • NaturalEntrust on August 10, 2012 at 7:02 am

          Thanks Ted. I did not know this.
          You two know each other.
          Tom like Ted told you I am Eric.
          I am a loser if that helps you to
          let go of any thoughts on how
          non-skilful that I behave.

          Ted can your or somebody else
          then help getting if what Tom wrote
          about this

          quote
          There would never be “empirical” evidence of the success of Buddhism, because it fundamentally rejects the empiricist epistemology of modern science.
          /quote

          The reason I do ask is that I vaguely remember
          that he may not be alone making that claim
          about Buddhism.

          What tradition have this view could it be.

          “One Mind School” Don’t they claim that
          the only thing that do exist is “One mind”
          and that everything else is misunderstanding
          or delusions of false egoistic minds?

      • stoky on August 10, 2012 at 8:15 am

        Eric, meet Tom. Tom is a constant critic, providing nothing positive in his posts. Tom’s account has been closed because of it, and he is welcome to be a curmudgeon somewhere else.

        That first part is simply ridiculous. While Tom definitely is one of the most rude persons I’ve ever met in a Buddhist context he’s also one of the most positive and constructive at the same time.

        What’s all the metta-meditation for, if not for being able to look beyond harsh words and look how the provided criticism can help us to do a better job?

        Ted: I’m pretty sure that Tom has read Danas post more carefully than you have. In some sense he’s a teacher for reading texts, this is his profession. Why not use his skills to make the content on this webpage better?

        Tom suggests that saying “think better” instead of “think less” contributes to a better understanding of Buddhist thought. So why not consider this suggestions?

        We make smarter decisions we were are not hampered with emotion, with angst, with anger, etc.

        Is that so? Sometimes I make better decisions when I’m angry or fear something. Why not “feel better” (in the sense of using your feelings to help you to act better) instead of “feel less”?

        I even started writing down some of my criticism in a more “consumable” way, but I’m afraid it was a waste of time as most of you again and again show the inability to critically reflect upon those things…

        • frankjude on August 10, 2012 at 8:29 am

          Thank you, Stoky, for articulating this as “thinking better” than “thinking less” and “feeling better” rather than “feeling less.” Excellent re-framing!

          Also, in regard to the quote, which correcting for what I take to be a typo: “We make smarter decisions when we are not hampered with emotion, with angst, anger, etc.” Much neuro-science has shown that the notion that we can make purely ‘rational’ decisions is also a myth; that ALL decisions, including moral ones, are deeply informed and conditioned by emotions, thus all the more learning to “feel better” would be most conducive to making more skillful or “smarter” decisions.

  5. Rick Heller on August 10, 2012 at 5:06 am

    Tom,

    CBT has the best evidentiary base of any therapy I’m aware of, including brain scans showing its effect on OCD. So I don’t see how you can call it “nonsense.” It may not do deep enough to address some needs, but it certainly is useful for many people. Deeper psychodynamic therapies have little objective evidence that they actually work, nor is there much evidence I’m aware for “arguing with yourself.”

    Compared to CBT, Buddhism has a very slight evidentiary base. Still, I wouldn’t dismiss Buddhism either. Some aspects of it have promise, others may be wrong or counterproductive. It bears investigating.

    • wtompepper on August 10, 2012 at 6:24 am

      Rick,

      I’ve had this debate many times, for 15 years now, and this isn’t really the place for it. CBT may have the best “evidentiary base” of any therapy, but there remains absolutely no evidence that it works to actually relieve any psychological problem. There is, however, evidence that simply administering the Beck Depression Inventory every week is effective in “curing” depression, when no therapy is conducted. I would seriously challenge anyone to find any single study that meets the APA guidelines for “empirical validation” which shows that CBT works–I have done this many times, and nobody has ever found even one such study. Of course, lack of empirical evidence, or even contrary empirical evidence, will never convince a psychologist. They “know” it works, so it does.

      That said, my larger point is that Buddhism and CBT do not at all share the same goals. Even if CBT were successful at what it seeks to do (strengthening the ego and helping the client adjust to their existing situation), this is irrelevant to Buddhism. Buddhism does not seek to make contented corporate cubicle dwellers. There would never be “empirical” evidence of the success of Buddhism, because it fundamentally rejects the empiricist epistemology of modern science.

    • wtompepper on August 10, 2012 at 6:57 am

      Rick, since Ted is now going to “close my account” for raising questions, if you do want to discuss the issue of the evidence for CBT, please feel free to email me at wtompepper@att.net

  6. Dana Nourie on August 10, 2012 at 5:32 am

    Tom, there is a time and place for thinking and there is a time and place for being with the body or an activity. And as Linda pointed out,and I agree, many tasks can be done while thinking about other things. What I am trying to point out is it is often our thoughts that make a situatation unpleasant, not the actual task at hand, such as the example I gave about weeding. Our minds often build stories that are just not useful. This practice of being mindful to when it’s best to let go of thoughts and when to follow them is key. We learn that through meditation, but we also learn it through experimenting with just being with a mundane task that is not overly emotionally charged.

    If you see this as ironic, ok! Much of life is ironic. I wasnt saying you should always stay in the body and out of your head, just that the body and our action can be a sanctuary to escape from trouble causing thoughts.

  7. wtompepper on August 10, 2012 at 6:36 am

    Dana,

    While I do see the value in talking a deep breath and calming down, this is hardly the same thing as meditation, right? It is just the common sense our mothers tried to teach us.

    I would say that every time and place is right for correct thinking, but there is never a good time and place for senseless rumination on grudges or anger. There is no real point in trying to begin Buddhist meditation if one is still at the stage of obsessing about an argument or feeling angry about having to do lawn care. Those problems would need to be resolved first, before serious meditation could be of any use.

    If what you’re suggesting is just to do some stress-reduction techniques in order to better deal with confused or obsessive thinking, well, it seems to me that would probably help. But it isn’t really the goal of Buddhist meditation.

    My bigger question is, if Buddhism is not opposed to thought, how come there are so many talks and articles and books telling us to stop thinking, to “stay out of the mind,” and so very few explaining how to think correctly? Until we understand the teachings of Buddhism, meditation isn’t going to do much good.

    My other question is, if what we really want is not Buddhism but American-psychology-style stress reduction and therapy, why the interest in calling in Buddhism? Does the word just add some glamor, some smoke and mirrors, that make people more likely to believe in and try these very ordinary stress-reduction techniques?

    • Dana Nourie on August 16, 2012 at 4:46 pm

      Tom, I wasn’t talking about any of that! I was talking about one single incident I had. You are flying off in several directions I wasn’t even referring to. I’m not talking about stress reduction. I’m talking about identifying times where it’s really our thoughts making a situation worse than it need be. It’s a simple concept. The mind can be a trouble maker. In this case I caught making trouble over something that is not that big of a deal, but it alerted me to the fact there may be other instances where that may happen. I was just being mindful in that moment that my thoughts my be the cause of my hating weeding.

      You are running in directions I wasn’t implying. There is a time to stay out of the mind, and there is a time to think. Yes!

  8. Dana Nourie on August 10, 2012 at 6:50 am

    Tom, good grief surely you can’t expect us to put all of Buddhism I one article. This is a a bit of practice I hope can help people. I am not tring to put the entire practice in one article.

  9. NaturalEntrust on August 10, 2012 at 6:55 am

    Tom I know that Ted has told you his views
    on your behavior so I should not compete.

    Hope Ted allow me to ask this:
    Quote
    this is irrelevant to Buddhism. Buddhism does not seek to make contented corporate cubicle dwellers. There would never be “empirical” evidence of the success of Buddhism, because it fundamentally rejects the empiricist epistemology of modern science.
    /quote

    Is that some official version of Buddhism that share your views or is that your own interpretation that is shared by none else? I am not enough informed to understand.

    I know why I fail at both Buddhist meditation and using CBT or ACT
    because both needs talent for concentration long enough to follow practice.

    Ted I hope it is okay to ask this. If not then I accept your take on it

    • wtompepper on August 10, 2012 at 7:00 am

      NaturalEntrust:

      I don’t know if this comment will show up, but just in case you’re interested–this is, of course, a contested issue in Buddhist epistemology. There are some Buddhist empiricists, but the Madhyamaka, for one, strongly rejects empiricism. See Dan Arnold’s recent book “Brains, Buddhas and Believing,” for more on this issue.

  10. frankjude on August 10, 2012 at 8:00 am

    Sad to see Ted feel he has to ban Tom, as here in this particular exchange I think he both makes a really important point and even in what I perceive as an untypical (for him) calm, respectful tone!

    While Dana’s original post mades many good points, it is indeed something that anyone who has read any buddhist commentary has heard before. AND, I do believe it is what contributes to the persistence of the “myth” that buddhism rejects thought.

    As a teacher myself, it is this ‘myth’ that I am confronted with over and over again! So, what would be really useful would be to publish some essays that really look into what is meant by “skillful thinking,” rather then just the passing comment as Dana makes above. As secularists, I know you see the buddha as a practitioner of critical thinking; why not transmit a bit more of that in your posts?

    I get that “the whole of buddhism” cannot be expressed in one article, what I’m saying is there’s been a huge imbalance in presenting how buddhist practice can put an end to the suffering of ‘unskillful thinking’ over how buddhism can put an end to suffering through “skillful critical thinking.” What I think Tom means by “thinking through” as opposed to the ruminating obsessive thinking that does indeed do little but add suffering.

  11. Mark Knickelbine on August 10, 2012 at 8:09 am

    Perhaps the reason why there is such emphasis on compulsive, reactive thinking in articles like Dana’s is because, first of all, that’s about 90 percent of the thinking we do. Secondly, that’s the kind of thinking that we tend to attach strongly to and have such a hard time getting unstuck from. Finally, in order to do the kind of thinking Tom is talking about, it helps to develop the clarity and concentration of mind to be able to direct our thoughts skillfully. I cannot tell you how many hours of intellectual contemplation I thought I was engaging in when I was in fact obsessing about my desire to appear superior to someone who had challenged me. For me, mindfulness of the body has been essential to being able to observe and direct my thought process more productively.

    • frankjude on August 10, 2012 at 8:21 am

      Mark, your final sentence leads to my request that you write an article about HOW “mindfulness of the body has been essential to being able to observe and DIRECT thought processes more productively.”

      That’s the kind article I think Tom is pointing out that is missing and really needs to be presented if we truly want to do something about the ‘myth.’ Really, don’t you find yourself having to disabuse those curious about buddhism of the idea that buddhism is ‘anti-thought?’ I know I do.

      And to be clear, I speak as someone who’s written a book called Mindfulness Yoga and really believes in the radical importance of mindfulness of the body. I’m simply arguing for some balance in the presentation of practice. Right/Skillful/Appropriate Thought is, after all, the second limb of the eightfold path.

  12. NaturalEntrust on August 10, 2012 at 8:56 am

    Thanks to all of you.
    Friendly exchanges do work much
    better than me teasing Tom about
    the way he express himself.

    On the other had what I need is SBA
    view on why does he and I and others
    too act in that emotional way when
    we all tell each other that we should
    let go of reactive ways of behavior.

    And I took to heart the question about
    where all the Metta compassion meditation
    goes if we act with punishing people
    like I did.

    So much appreciated for sharing these
    insights in who it appears from that pow.

    I am such a word nerd. Should it not be pov?

    Anyway. Tom support my take that it is not
    easy at all to get what Buddhism really say.

    He points out that some schools of Buddhism
    does not agree that “findings” withing Buddhism
    can be verified by using empiric research by
    scientific methods.

    I have expressed something similar on a less
    abstract level. I lack words for it but I usually
    just say. We are not allowed by our body or
    the way it is set up by nature biologically to
    get access to those parts of the brain and
    body that is highly automatic we may have
    small glimpses but even them are deeply
    dependent on our interpretations and to do
    such interpretation is not easy at all.

    Anyway I trust something good will come out
    of this disagreement in the end.

  13. Dana Nourie on August 10, 2012 at 10:27 am

    Frank, I agree skillful thinking is a great topic to becovered in a variety of ways. I don’t agree everyone knows what’s covered above. We have manyv people new to Buddhism on this site, and others at various levels of learning and practice. And we still are a new site with a handful of writers. We have different approaches. Mine comes from my own personal approach. This is not going to appeal to everyone but will be helpful to some. We are doing what we can and are growing.

    • Glenn Noam Chomsky Wallis on August 10, 2012 at 5:00 pm

      Mark and Dana,

      Mark’s comment (8:09am) raises a question that I have had about the budding secular Buddhist movement. What qualifies a person to speak on behalf of it or of Buddhism generally? I like the democratic nature of the secular Buddhist sites I’ve seen. But by the same token, I have seen many red flags go up. The internet permits anyone with the technical skills to create a presence and offer advice. Whether it’s intentional or not, the secular Buddhist sites are presenting themselves as possessing significant authority. The newcomer to Buddhism is receiving numerous signals of expertise when s/he comes to, for instance, the SBA site. So, this question of what constitutes authority is an important one. Maybe it’s been dealt with here. If so, can you point me to it?

      To put it in blunter terms, in direct response to the post and to Mark’s comment: Maybe people who think compulsively 90% of their thinking time should not be presenting their ideas about practice to others. Maybe people whose thinking is such that it ruins an afternoon of weed-picking should sit a while longer before blogging advice about the nature of thinking. Maybe people who spend hours in “intellectual contemplation” only to discover that they have been “obsessing about [their] desire to appear superior to someone who had challenged” them, should wait a while before s/he offers advice to others. Or maybe the venue for expressing oneself should not be adorned with the trappings of authority.

      The kind of justification that Dana offers in the above comment (and I’ve see her say something similar several times) for not engaging robust criticism (not to mention Ted’s obvious aversion to it) really won’t cut it for much longer. Maybe the authoritative presentation of the site (and podcast) is running ahead of the admins’ desire to be authorities; but, again, many of your viewers, I suspect, see you that way.

      • Rick Heller on August 10, 2012 at 6:02 pm

        Glenn,

        When I listen to the Secular Buddhist podcast, I hear over and over again that its a “grassroots” effort. I don’t hear it presented as authoritative, and in fact, I perceive it to be the most egalitarian and least representative of guru-follower that I have come across in Buddhist circles.

        In most Buddhist venues (even Unitarian Universalist Buddhists) I see a form in which students ask a question of a teacher and the teacher responds. There is no horizontal discussion among peers. This I dislike.

        I am the facilitator of the Cambridge-Somerville Secular Buddhist meetup, and in our discussions we do practice a horizontal form of discussion among peers.

        If this were medical school, say, I might be more inclined to support the model of experts teaching neophytes. However, in my secular view, a lot of Buddhism is wrong (not just rebirth and karma) but a significant amount is right and valueable. Less expert grassroots type with a “beginner’s mind” may have an advantage in this sense, or at least can complement experts who are invested in a certain mode of thought.

  14. Glenn Noam Chomsky Wallis on August 10, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    Rick,

    SBA has a sheen of “grassroots” that obscures authoritative claims. Have a closer look. It’s not difficult to see. “Grassroots” is a rhetorical claim, not a self-evident fact.

    You say, “we do practice a horizontal form of discussion among peers.” You mean: we would like to do so. Group dynamics and hierarchies are unavoidable. Power is not in itself manipulative. But hidden power is. Again, take another look. “Horizontal” is easy to say but impossible to achieve–assuming, that is, that the Cambridge-Somerville Secular Buddhist meetup is comprised of homo sapiens apes.

    “If this were medical school, say, I might be more inclined to support the model of experts teaching neophytes.” I thought x-buddhism WAS a matter of life and death. Should its experts be less adept that physicians?

    “Less expert grassroots type with a “beginner’s mind” may have an advantage in this sense, or at least can complement experts who are invested in a certain mode of thought.”

    I don’t understand what that means.

    • Linda on August 11, 2012 at 4:31 am

      “Less expert grassroots type with a “beginner’s mind” may have an advantage in this sense, or at least can complement experts who are invested in a certain mode of thought.”

      Over the years I read many books by experts on Buddhism (starting with Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind) that, for a variety of reasons, gave me very little actual insight into how to put Buddhism into practice in my life. My practice grew exponentially more beneficial when I sat down with a sangha where peer-to-peer teaching was the aim, and opinions on what the Buddha meant by were solicited from all participants. I’m sure no one in the room had a master’s grasp of Buddhism, and some had better understanding than others, but the collective knowledge provided more useful information than I had found elsewhere.

      What I understand Rick to be saying in the sentence above is that people new to Buddhism are often better at expressing what a beginner needs to know than well-established masters are. Those who have practiced only a little while still remember where their insights came from and how they came by them, and may well be able to describe needed information in a more accessible way.

      The second half of the sentence says that there’s no need to limit one’s learning to those new to Buddhism, either, but that a person can also listen to the masters, and find benefit, even if those authoritative Buddhist masters have a tightly focused perspective. In fact, the greatest benefit probably comes from listening to both.

    • Rick Heller on August 11, 2012 at 6:34 am

      Glenn,

      Yes, Linda articulates what I am trying to get at.

      But I want to throw down one more point, and since Noam Chomsky is your middle name, I think you will get this.

      It seems to me that Asian Buddhism, once you get past the lifetime of Gautama himself, evolved into an elitist, hierarchical project with a few (the 1% ?) seeking Enlightenment and the 99% providing them with material support and putting off their enlightenment for another rebirth. Not so good.

      As Buddhism is coming to the West, it is becoming more democratic in seeing that all people have the potential to pursue enightenment. Fine.

      However, in my experience, all or even most people are not interested in devoting so many hours to this.

      I’m also involved with the Secular Humanist community, and one of my problems with them, and with Unitarian Universalism, which I used to participate in, is that there communities basically cater to people with graduate education (or undergraduates headed to grad school). So I am interested in developing something that is broad and shallow, not deep, in terms of spirituality. That doesn’t mean that someone else can’t work on something that’s deep, but there is also a place for something populist.

      Two of the most powerful “religions” in this country are evangelical Christianity and secular consumerism. They have managed to boil things down into a formula. My project, which may differ from others here, is to try to boil down Buddhism to something with practical use for the average person.

      I think that guided metta practice might be the most accessible way to connect with the average person, because most people at least know what the words friendliness and loving-kindness mean. Once you hook them with that, mindfulness can be explained as extended the practice of metta to a moment-by-moment practice. That’s as far as I’ve gotten as this point, and I’ve been practicing and thinking about this actively for five years, which is about the length of time of a college education. So I suspect that the things I don’t get, which are futher down the Buddhist path, are things that will never resonate with the masses.

  15. Dana Nourie on August 10, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    None of the writers on this site claim to be experts. We are practioners, sharing our practice and tying it in with what we know about Buddhism. Our bios reflect what our experience is. This is a community, a growing community who embraces secular Buddhism. My article is a slice of my practice, and how I came to this realization of how I was creating suffering for myself through thoughts. It was my ah hah moment I felt might be of benefit to others. If it wasn’t to you, ok.

    If you don’t like secular Buddhism, or you don’t like it where the community shares their practice ,then this site Is not for you. Someday we will have secular Buddhist teachers, but until then we are helping and encouraging through sharing of our practice, and our take on the teachings.

    Ted does a great job interviewing experts of many types, and the rest of us bring what experience and practice we can to share. If you need info from only monks and nuns, there are other sites you can go to. We are grass roots, we are not monastics, nor claim to be.

    • stoky on August 11, 2012 at 4:46 am

      What post did you read, Tom Dana? Must not have been this one, you’ve utterly missed every point DanaGlenn made.

      (I’m sorry, I know I promised to go away, but it really fascinates me how immune to criticism you appear to be. Is it so difficult to leave your ego behind for a couple of minutes and seriously think about the raised issues?)

  16. MiyoWratten on August 11, 2012 at 8:04 am

    <blockquote cite:"I want to clear a myth that persists in Buddhism. Buddhist practice is not anti-thought. Thinking is an incredibly value tool, and it’s something we need to do. But there is a time and place for thinking, and there are skillful thoughts, and unskillful thoughts. So, how do we escape the unskillful thoughts, getting off the mental merry-go-round?"

    I’m wondering if the initial confusion over what Dana was trying to say arose out of an incomplete reading of the paragraph quoted above. If you take the sentences that read “I want to clear a myth that persists in Buddhism.Buddhist practice is not anti-thought” and ignore the rest of the paragraph, the rest of what she continues to say may seem to contradict those lines.

    The issue is that in the whole paragraph, Dana explains that there is ‘a time and place for thinking, and there are skillful thoughts, and unskillful thoughts.’ Thus, explaining that it is not thinking that is the issue, but the when, where, what and the how of the thinking that are at issue. Therefore, NOT anti-thinking. Definitely pro-SKILLFUL thinking. Obsessing over an argument, creating stories around why one should be so miserable to be weeding one’s gardens, are definitely NOT skillful thinking.

    I realize some of the key personalities who objected to Dana’s blog post here may not be able to respond, but perhaps a handful of those who were his supporters might be able to speak to this.

    As for criticisms and Ted and Dana’s reaction to them — I would say I disagree wholeheartedly that they object to them. I’ve been involved in many ‘live’ text discussions with both individuals in Second Life, and have seen them “in action”, engaging in discussions with those whose views differ from their own.

    I’ve never witnessed them object to being criticized or having an opposing point of view presented to them. What I do see them doing here, is objecting to being attacked. It is possible to criticize and to present a differing point of view without proffering the barbs of personal attack along with it.

    Give it a try. You’ll see their responses will match your tone.

  17. Glenn Noam Chomsky Wallis on August 11, 2012 at 8:43 am

    Linda, Rick, and Dana.

    I should mention that I wholeheartedly agree with your move to democratize practice and discussion surrounding x-buddhist teachings. I have a similar project at my own blog, Speculative Non-Buddhism. We differ in one way that is so crucial, however, as to put us completely at odds with this business of democratization.

    The difference, simply put: you (“you” = you three, this site, the secular Buddhist movement, teachers like Batchelor and McLeod, and beyond) assume that the Dharma holds promise for the human. For you, the the question is thus how best to get those good out of the Dharma. I assume that the human holds the goods; and that x-buddhist teachings may or may not facilitate their realization. My question, then, is how to create a critical theory that reduces “the Dharma” to the level of (mere) human knowledge claim. Rick, maybe our projects overlap somewhat in that regard.

    So, given your assumption, each of you can then make the distinction that you do between beginners and experts. I hope you can see the circular nature of that argument as Linda presents it. But I want to make another point. Can you do a thought experiment? Imagine that you would make this beginner/expert argument regarding other knowledge-systems. Imagine believing about, say, heart surgery: A “less expert grassroots type with a “beginner’s mind” may have an advantage in this sense, or at least can complement experts who are invested in a certain mode of thought.” How does it look? Might that “certain mode of thought” of the expert be quite desirable in this case? So, one conclusion that I draw is that you do not see the Dharma as offering such crucial human knowledge after all. Is that a fair conclusion? If, as Dana says, anyone can offer advice because there’s no pretense to formal expertise, then you can’t really see the Dharma as on par with cookie-making (you’d want a reliable recipe, right), much less cancer research.

    Maybe the real question is this: what is your analog for “the Dharma”? What type of knowledge do you see the Dharma as providing such that it can be arrived at collectively, with significant input from beginners (Linda), boiled down to a simple formula for the masses (Rick), and offered in vignette on weed-picking (Dana).

    Again, Dana, I deeply appreciate and share, on a daily basis, your “We work in the dark, we do what we can, we give what we have” attitude. That’s Henry James on writers. But unlike secular Buddhists, he was not (and I am not) claiming to be in possession of any goods that contribute to the well-being of writers or anyone else. Do you see the difference?

    • Linda on August 11, 2012 at 9:39 am

      My metaphor, using heart surgery, would be this: heart surgeons don’t learn only from great heart surgeons. They learn from studying with teachers in school, from working at the bottom end in hospitals, from having a residency and sharing insights into medical practices with fellow residents. No doubt they learn from patients and nurses, too. It takes a village, Glenn.

      If you recognize that your project has a crucial difference that put us completely at odds, why do you keep coming here (other than to advertise your own project)? We recognize that crucial difference, so you needn’t keep coming here to point it out. You have your deconstructive/reconstructive project, and we have our various projects — some interpreting the dharma for newcomers in a secular light, some reconsideration of the language used and what’s being said, some (mine, particularly) archeological and philological.

      You apparently *do* think you are in possession of goods that will contribute to the well-being of others — you possess a certainty that those who have begun to experience the benefit of this path can’t share it with others in a way that is beneficial to those others — and you feel we should be stopped, and that you are the man to make us see the error of our ways. Isn’t that what “…unlike secular Buddhists…I am not…claiming to be in possession of any goods that contribute to the well-being of writers or anyone else” means? You disagree that we can do what we are setting out to do. Fine, we acknowledge that you disagree. Now let’s just agree to disagree, and how about you stop wasting our time with the repeated complaint that we ought not to be doing what you disbelieve we can do. The proof will be in the outcome of our efforts.

    • frankjude on August 11, 2012 at 9:52 am

      Glenn,

      I think this question is a wonderful one and a useful ‘thought experiment.’

      In response to your question:

      “Maybe the real question is this: what is your analog for “the Dharma”? What type of knowledge do you see the Dharma as providing such that it can be arrived at collectively, with significant input from beginners (Linda), boiled down to a simple formula for the masses (Rick), and offered in vignette on weed-picking (Dana).”

      I think David Brazier actually offered a good analogy in one of his books. He notes that we don’t expect ‘certification’ or any ‘authoritative validation’ of grocers. We just check out his/her produce, give the tomato a little squeeze and decide for ourselves if we like it and if his produce is good. BUT we DO expect to see some diplomas on our doctor’s wall.

      Similarly, he compares the buddha to a grocer and his teachings to produce. Test them for yourself. Somewhere along the line (among other reasons to protect ‘precious lineage’ etc) certification became required; professionals were necessary and some kind of validation required (most notoriously in zen with ‘inka’ and ‘dharma transmission.’). What the buddha seemed to imply was obvious became very non-obvious.

      As he points out, however, a system of ‘validation’ or ‘authorization’ is meant to offer some kind of ‘assurance’ or guarantee and it is damn obvious THAT hasn’t worked out!!! I mean, I could name the incredibly long list of ‘authorized’ and ‘validated’ authentic teachers that include Maezumi Roshi, Yasutani, Richard Baker, Eido Shimano etc. etc. Not such a good record of for a system supposed to warrant some kind of authenticity.

      So, to answer your question: the analog for the dharma? Nourishing produce.

      • Ted Meissner on August 11, 2012 at 6:39 pm

        That’s a wonderful analogy, Frankjude. And to extend it further — when it’s the grocer, we’re the ones who actually do the cooking. When we go to the doctor, it’s with the expectation that they’re performing the surgery.

        We’re doing the cooking 🙂

    • Mark Knickelbine on August 12, 2012 at 5:15 am

      “The difference, simply put: you (“you” = you three, this site, the secular Buddhist movement, teachers like Batchelor and McLeod, and beyond) assume that the Dharma holds promise for the human. For you, the the question is thus how best to get those good out of the Dharma. I assume that the human holds the goods. . .”

      Given that “the dharma” is nothing but a human understanding of how the experience of being human works, this statement is a tautology. We believe that the only ultimate authority anyone can have for their practice is their own experience, and that the value of dharma teaching lies in the fact that the embodied nature of human experience is pretty much the same for everybody.

  18. Dana Nourie on August 11, 2012 at 9:09 am

    Glenn, I am a big fan of your book basic Buddhism. I found it lucid and helpful to my practice. That is the last writing of your that made sense to me. No, I don’t understand what you are saying above, and quite frankly, I’m not interested. I have seen your repeated bashing of secular Buddhism and Batchelors. Ok, you don’t like our model and that’s fine. But it is wildly weird you persist in trying to convince us it’s a poor model, that we should ascribe to your x Buddhism.

    We aren’t bashing traditions. On the contrary we are respectful of them, as most of us have traditional backgounds. While we don’t agree with traditional approaches on various levels, none of us would go to their sites and tell them they are doing it wrong.

    Of course we recognize various levels of practice and teaching, but wow your arrogance is truly amazing. I have no desire to discuss secular Buddhism with you as your manner does not come off as in the true spirit of dharma but instead in an x Buddhism cloak of something that I can’t fathom.

    I do agree you are no longer contributing to the well being of writers or anything else. Sangas help foster support, growth, and information. Your posts are not of this feel.

  19. Rick Heller on August 11, 2012 at 9:34 am

    Glenn,

    It medical education, there used to be a phrase, “See one, do one, teach one” to describe a kind of peer education, that more advanced learners help beginners. I see from this abstract that it is being phased out in favor of web-based education and virtual reality simulation

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15528578

    Still, it seems to have been the standard practice for many years.

    However, it’s not that I’m against expertise on principle. Rather, I see a lack of expert availability that makes us rely on a more improvised, grassroots effort. Yes, there are dharma teachers that know more than I do, but only some of what they “know” is actually true. The ground I’m standing on is actually naturalism, not “the dharma,” and I’ve discovered in Buddhism some raw material of value that needs filtering in order to be suitable for secular humanism.

    I’ll also add that the reason I’m interested in this is that I do think secular humanism tend to promote reason to a fault, the point where the description of the ideal secular humanist actually sounds like someone on the autism spectrum. I think Buddhism has some skillful means with regard to one’s emotional life that could be of benefit to Humanists.

  20. NaturalEntrust on August 11, 2012 at 10:49 am

    Rick Heller wrote:
    quote
    I am interested in developing something that is broad and
    shallow, not deep, in terms of spirituality. That doesn’t mean that someone else
    can’t work on something that’s deep, but there is also a place for something
    populist.

    Two of the most powerful “religions” in this country are evangelical Christianity
    and secular consumerism. They have managed to boil things down into a formula. My
    project, which may differ from others here, is to try to boil down Buddhism to
    something with practical use for the average person.

    I think that guided metta practice might be the most accessible way to connect with
    the average person, because most people at least know what the words friendliness
    and loving-kindness mean. Once you hook them with that, mindfulness can be explained
    as extended the practice of metta to a moment-by-moment practice.
    /quote

    Cool that sounds interesting to me.
    Can you not start a discussion on it
    in the discussion part of this site.

    That would allow those interested
    to be more active in suggesting things

    This being Dana’s text about …

    I come from Shin Buddhism without
    being one but their texts talked to
    my heart while standard Buddhism
    failed to reach me at all.

    Shin most likely are about Metta too.

    So I am at least very open and curious
    and to learn more about your ideas.
    I also have a Secular Humanist background.

    I have a thread about rebuilding Buddhism
    from ground up. That is too ambitious
    at least for somebody like me but
    what you write here maybe is on a
    manageable level for us together.
    and hopefully others join in too.

    Eric

  21. NaturalEntrust on August 11, 2012 at 11:02 am

    Glenn, do you have a thread here on SBA
    on this Speculative Non-Buddhism so
    one can read and comment on it here
    without having to join some service
    for to be able to comment on your blog?

    Kind of odd choice of name there for your
    project. “Speculative Non-Buddhism”

    What on earth can that be about?

    okay you say
    quote I assume that the human holds the
    goods; and that x-buddhist teachings may or
    may not facilitate their realization. /quote

    Now I feel confused. X-buddhism? Such does
    not exists at all. One can not be an x-buddhist.

    It is a kind of category error or oxymoron 🙂

    Okay my odd humor. If you are a x-buddhist
    then you are the first one I encounter and
    I have actually searched for such a forum
    for to learn why they left at all.

    Every Buddhist that I have talked to here
    say there are no such thing. No way out.

    Maybe I fail to listen deeply to them.

  22. NaturalEntrust on August 11, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    Just a short note to Rick Heller.
    I’ve found your site now
    http://www.seeingtheroses.org/
    http://www.seeingtheroses.org/pages/show/love-within-reason
    http://www.seeingtheroses.org/pages/show/alternative-wording

    Could you please start a thread on the discussion part
    here on SBA so I don’t have to derail Dana’s comment thread.

    Sadly I seems to fail to follow your advice there
    but I maybe can follow Jodo Shinshu Buddhism
    ways of doing it instead so would be cool to talk
    about it with you and others on the discussions part.

    Could be my Asperger Syndrome making it hard for me.

    Eric

  23. Glenn Noam Chomsky Wallis on August 11, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    Frank and Rick,

    Thanks for your replies. What both of you are suggesting strikes me as a fruitful way forward. (All of this is about moving forward as opposed to backwards, right?) I think scuttling the concept of “the Dharma” for a naturalized, “raw materials” approach holds promise. I agree, too, that taking this approach, one will indeed find a “lack of expert availability that makes us rely on a more improvised, grassroots effort.” I suppose that a major reason for the lack of such expertise is that the typical approach to Buddhist “innovation” is to hook your shiny new wagon to a traditional form of Buddhism. That’s what I see secular Buddhism doing. The (over-)determining noun is still “Buddhism.” As long you are operating within the parameters of “the Buddhist Dharma” you are locked into its vast, coercive system of postulation. In that case, no genuine innovation is possible: all you can do is provide some form of exemplification of the dharmic inventory. (That’s what the posts on this site do; that what Jayarava does; that’s what everyone who subscribes to “the Dharma” does or can do.)

    The analog of “nourishing produce” also holds great promise. I do this sort of experiment often. It has radically altered my understanding of whatever I am up to. But it requires diligence and vigilance. Mixing the “nourishing produce” analog with “the Dharma” might, for example, be a losing proposition. Determining that the produce is nourishing does not require a complex system of thought and practice that is, moreover, rooted in transcendence, as is “the Dharma.” One reason that I contend that x-buddhism is anti-humanistic is because it determines what constitutes “nourishing.” Think, for instance: skillful thought, right speech, right livelihood and all those other rights, good friend, proper conduct, and so on. So, the experiment can’t stop at finding the analog. It has to be extended to determining the consequences for that analog. Then, the really hard part: having the courage to act accordingly.

    Dana and Linda,

    Your responses don’t surprise me because I see you as protectors of a system. I even expect the prickly defensiveness that your last replies show. Dana, there is no “true spirit of dharma.” “The Dharma” is an invention of human beings. Those who subscribe to it forget that fact. The result is that they become subjugated by it. The SBA is, to my mind, a living, breathing testimony to the Golem-like quality of “the Dharma.” Anyway, may I pull out my Chomsky speech from my back pocket? It applies yet again here.

    “The system protects itself with indignation against a challenge to deceit in the service of power, and the very idea of subjecting the ideological system to rational inquiry elicits incomprehension or outrage, though it is often masked in other terms.”

    • Linda on August 11, 2012 at 3:44 pm

      I love the flexibility of your stance, Glenn. If we don’t stand up in just the way you prefer, we’re suffering from aversion, if we do stand up in a way you dislike, we’re Defenders of the Norm. I’m not going to waste further time trying to figure out just what tone you need to hear to have a constructive (as opposed to a deconstructive) conversation. Does that make me predictable? No crime in that.

  24. how to be emotionally numb hand book on March 7, 2015 at 1:13 pm

    how to be emotionally numb hand book

    Staying in the Body and Out of the Mind : Secular Buddhist Association

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.