Last semester in a course here at DRBU, we compared William James’ Pragmatism to some of the views in Buddhist Sutras. Looking back on some of the topics of the course, I think it’s fair to say that a lot of people who come to Buddhism are first interested in it for pragmatic reasons.
… but often his answers would address the framing or underlying assumptions of the question, investigating the pragmatic outcomes of the path of inquiry.
As a philosopher, the Buddha is known for occasionally not answering certain questions. Rather, he would direct his disciples towards other paths of inquiry, paths that he saw as having more helpful pragmatic results. He would address his students’ questions, but often his answers would address the framing or underlying assumptions of the question, investigating the pragmatic outcomes of the path of inquiry. Through dialogue, he and his questioner would investigate various ways of looking at important questions, and where the results of these perspectives might lead. The Buddha often emphasises that the time and energy that we invest into inquiry is very important, and so pragmatically speaking, we should choose a path of inquiry that will lead us to the desired results without wasting our efforts. A classic example of this sort of dialogue concludes with the Buddha’s parable of the poisoned arrow:
“It’s just as if a man were wounded with an arrow thickly smeared with poison.
His friends & companions, kinsmen & relatives would provide him with a surgeon, and the man would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know whether the man who wounded me was a noble warrior, a brahman, a merchant, or a worker.’
He would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know the given name & clan name of the man who wounded me… Read More …
Jason Kottke had a short informative post about Michael Lewis’ profile on President Obama, titled Obama’s Way, in the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair. (Lewis shadowed the President for 6 months, observing how he lives and works.) Kottke had two interesting excerpts. One was from the Lewis’ piece:
At play, the president wears red-white-and-blue Under Armor high-tops, but at work it’s strictly blue or gray suits. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make,” he tells Lewis. “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”
This reminds me very much of the monastic lifestyle and some of the principles behind them. The monastics have a deliberately set routine. They eat simple food offered to them at set times, and they wear three sets of clothing. There are many reasons to do this: 1) to live lightly on the earth and 2) as a sharp, visual signifier to their religious commitments. But, one of the big reasons for living a simple, spartan lifestyle (pun intended) is to reduce life’s problem-space, so that they can address the few remaining ones that are more pressing. Read More …
In one instant observing measureless eons
Without going, coming, or dwelling,
Thus comprehending the events of past, present, and future,
Buddhas transcend expedients and fulfill ten powers.
Like unto the infinite worlds in space,
Without coming or going, pervading the ten directions,
Becoming and disintegrating, having no resting place,
So does the Buddha prevade space in the same way.
Awakening by Light
Coming from the perspective of a western scientific mind, I always find it amazing when an ancient sutra describes an experience that seems to correspond perfectly to principles of modern physics. This is the stuff my faith in the Dharma is made of, probably because I rely more on scientific validity than on spiritual experience to verify reality. Albert Einstein, when postulating his special theory of relativity, developed wonderful thought experiments that illustrate and elucidate the conceptual basis of his theories. One such thought experiment came to mind when I was reading the above verse in the chapter of the Avatamsaka Sutra entitled “Awakening by Light.” Read More …
Hi, DRBU and DRBA community. Buddhist Global Relief has announced its 2012 “Walk to Feed the Hungry” fundraising events. BGR is an interdenominational organization comprising various Buddhist groups. With an overarching vision to alleviate and ultimately banish poverty, BGR is involved in projects that build capacity and provide food aid to countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Haiti, India, Kenya, Niger, and the United States.
Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi introduces Buddhist Global Relief
“Happiness in a new size,” reads a billboard on Telegraph Avenue at 40th Street in Oakland. The “New 89¢ 12.5 oz.” bottle of Coca-Cola. In a time when “nirvana” is sold in a bottle, where do I turn in pursuit of happiness? Why am I looking at all?
Since the 19th century, American advertising strategies have associated products with imaginary states of well being. According to Grant McCracken, consumerism facilitates an escapist tendency to attach “displaced meaning” onto consumer goods.1 The displacement results from a gap between the real and the ideal. Unsatisfied with reality, consumers displace hopes and ideals onto objects, which serve as bridges to connect the would-be owner with displaced meaning. Like cultures, individuals seek spaces onto which they can project their ideals and thereby find their personal “golden age.” Objects become the field in which ideals are mapped onto space.
Anticipating the possession of certain objects connects the individual to a larger set of possessions, attitudes, relationships, circumstances, and opportunities.
Anticipating the possession of certain objects connects the individual to a larger set of possessions, attitudes, relationships, circumstances, and opportunities. Since anticipation provides the special distance that enables the displacement of meaning, one chooses an object beyond his or her purchasing power. If fabulously wealthy, one resorts to ogling rare collectibles to sustain the gap. McCracken explains that no sooner is an object obtained as a bridge then the consumer transfers anticipation to another object. The consumer, then, unconsciously seeks sustained anticipation rather than fulfillment, which due to the gap between the real and the ideal is elusive. Read More …
In a recent post about architecture and education, I explored a few questions about physical space, the space of the mind, what this has to do with learning, and how we might choose to construct educational spaces with these questions in mind.
They originate with all parents’ concern for their children, a concern for our youth to develop capacities not just to survive, but to thrive in the world.
These questions about education have been asked since long before humanity created education as an institution. They originate with all parents’ concern for their children, a concern for our youth to develop capacities not just to survive, but to thrive in the world. These questions have been with us for as long as humans have been concerned about passing on traditions from generation to generation, so that our collective accomplishments will be remembered and appreciated. This is to say that questions about education and the mind have been wrestled with since before the beginning of history. They are fundamental questions about humanity.
One place where the ancient world has passed on its legacy of educational vision is in it’s architecture — and in the case of Borobudur, the ancient Indonesian Buddhist temple, this legacy is literally inscribed on its walls. The temple is built around the story of the pure youth Sudhana, the protagonist of the penultimate chapter of the Avatamsaka Sutra, a chapter aptly titled “Entering the Dharma Realm.” Read More …
Daniel Kahnemann is a Noble laureate in economics and a psychologist at Princeton University. Dr. Kahnemann, in collaboration with others, is a major force in turning the discipline of psychology into the realm of science. In this discipline, the underlying, fuzzy-at-the-edges postulate by the pioneers of western psychology remains fairly intact: human beings are primarily not rational-thinking agents, making disinterested observations and carefully-weighed, calculated decisions. That’s not to say that people don’t make observations, carefully weigh their options and then calculate the benefits of their decisions; instead, streams of mental activities bubbling from the unconscious rush above the conscious surface, setting frames of reference that influence our rational thinking in a fundamental way.
the “smarter” one is, the more prone one is to these biases and therefore thinking errors.
Kahnemann and his colleagues think that these unconscious mental activities create “blind spots” for us, which, in combination with laziness and the inclination to take mental shortcuts, leads to thinking errors more often than not. A recent New Yorker article expanded upon an October 2011 review of Kahnemann’s most recent book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” in the Wall Street Journal and discusses a recent study suggesting that people who are “smarter” in particular ways are actually more prone to thinking errors. Read More …
As I tuned in, I noticed that I was hearing not only Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in C. Major, but a cacophony of noise provided by my own mind.
I recently attended a concert by the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. I went alone, but sat among 500 people. Cellist Amit Peled performed as soloist, but even he was not alone. Peled played beautifully against the background melody provided by the rest of the orchestra. Even though my attention focused on Peled, both the soloist and the musicians playing behind him created my musical experience. As I tuned in, I noticed that I was hearing not only Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in C. Major, but a cacophony of noise provided by my own mind.
Just as the soloist was accompanied by dozens of other performers, my perception of the concert was accompanied by past mental structures. Thoughts, sensations, and images sounded, not always in harmony, with the orchestra. Even though most of my awareness was on the music, it did not take long for my mind to attribute the rising emotions to people outside the concert hall and for my eye to scan the room for familiar faces. Beautiful music, but I was not alone enough to enjoy it. The distractions came from within.
For the past year, I have been preparing for my qualifying exam for a PhD program in South Asian Studies. Almost every waking moment, aside from time to meditate and eat, was dedicating to reading long book lists for the exam and to meeting with my committee members to discuss what I was learning. I spent most of the year in a small studio apartment in the Berkeley hills, but because my mind was constantly mindful and engaged, I never felt alone. Read More …
To describe the meaning of dharmas is the purpose of this blog. The posts draw on genuine experiences of individuals with different backgrounds and voices. They are brief and discrete, and co-arise with the collective consciousness of our time to bring about the “news of difference.” With an open mind, one can look into these reflections to catch a glimpse of our absolute interconnectedness—to each other, to the world of beings, and to our environment.