Thursday, 26 March 2015

Meditation - short term craze or long term opportunity for the growth of Buddhism?




Suddenly everybody’s meditating  - from stressed-out film stars and business executives, to senior citizens trying to slow down the effects of ageing. We’re all suffering from information overload, and a favorite way to bring order to the chaos of our minds is to meditate.

Although most of the meditation techniques are based on Buddhist methods, they are usually presented in a secular manner.  The marketing ploy seems to be: ‘Although the Buddhists have by some accident discovered techniques for calming and healing mind and body, let’s forget about their theories and all that religious stuff, and just concentrate on the practical methods for the here and now’. 

But can such secular meditation lead on to spiritual meditation? Can meditation for mundane purposes introduce people to the Buddhadharma?  Is this an opportunity for the growth of Buddhism in the West?

 

Tangled mind 
People are often motivated into taking up meditation by the realisation that their overloaded thought-processes feel like this…
 

Information overload


What they’re hoping to do is to sort them out into something neat and tidy like this....
 

Tidy thoughts


But what they might eventually experience, as they untangle their minds, is something like this, where they become aware of a clear central core to the mind…


The Core of Awareness


 
 



















 
That central core (the 'root mind' or 'pure awareness') is non-physical and continues onwards when all the other strands, threads and processes of the mind have come to an end.   The core of the mind is like an optical fiber - clear and illuminating. It is the clear, pure awareness that is central to other thought processes.

Secular mindfulness meditations allow the meditator to catch a glimpse of this clear core by parting the tangled threads of peripheral thought processes.   However, only more advanced meditations, especially the Tantric-style ones, allow the meditator to actually manipulate this central core and its contents. For like a clear optical fiber, it carries information onwards from the end of this life to all our future lives



Mindfulness meditation primes the mind for spiritual experiences
From The Huffington Post 
"The practice of mindfulness dates back at least 2,500 years to early Buddhism, and since then, it's played an important role in a number of spiritual traditions.

While the stillness and connecting with one's inner self cultivated through mindfulness are certainly an important part of a spiritual practice, feelings of wonder and awe -- the amazement we get when faced with incredible vastness -- are also central to the spiritual experience. And according to new research, mindfulness may actually set the stage for awe.

Mindfulness is the key element of the spiritual experience in a number of different religions.

Awe is defined as a feeling of fascination and amazement invoked by an encounter with something larger than ourselves that is beyond our ordinary frameworks of understanding. Previous research has shown that spirituality, nature and art are the most common ways that we experience awe.

"You can't digest [the object of awe] with your cognitive structures -- it's too big for you," University of Groningen psychologist Dr. Brian Ostafin told the Huffington Post. "So there's a need for accommodation, to change your mental structures to understand what that is. This is the key element of the spiritual experience in a number of different religions..."
 


Progressing from secular meditation to the dharma
Mindfulness meditation is probably not a temporary craze, but is here to stay, since information overload is not going to decrease, and our lives or not going to get any less busy. Buddhists need to show that the dharma starts where secular meditation techniques leave off.   It will require skillful presentation to introduce spiritual ideas to an increasingly secular audience, without scaring them off with 'religion', and its associated bad vibes.

---

How to meditate on the peaceful clarity of your own mind

Analytical and Placement Meditation

How to meditate
 

Daily Lamrim

What to Meditate on 

Sitting in Meditation 

Preparing for Meditation 

The Meditation Session 

A Meditation Schedule

Meditation Retreat

Kadampa Working Dad 

Kadampa Life

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Could meditation apps help the growth of Buddhism in the West?




The recent growth in the popularity of meditation has given rise to a range of meditation apps for phones and tablets.   Most of these are secularized introductions to mindfulness-style meditations designed for stressed-out commuters (there doesn't yet seem to be a Lamrim app!) . 

Nevertheless, there appears to be some potential here, both in terms of stimulating interest in meditation by way of mindfulness as described previously, and also the development of more specifically dharma-based apps.

So maybe it's time for the sangha to get programming!    I'd do it myself but my programming skills don't extend much beyond FORTRAN, and I haven't yet found a mobile phone with a built-in punched-card reader.



See also
Man behind meditation app goes from monk to millionaire
Ten best meditation apps 
Growth of Buddhism in the West - SWOT analysis

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Buddhism and secular meditation - conflict or cooperation?

Traditional Buddhist Meditation Methods

Meditation is all the rage at the moment in academia, business, the medical profession and also with ordinary stressed-out individuals suffering from information overload.

The clinical and business meditation techniques that have become so popular are based on traditional Buddhist practices. However, they are usually marketed with all the spiritual content stripped out, to make them appeal to a non-Buddhist and increasingly secular public.

From a secular, academic, medical and business viewpoint, the aspects of meditation that are evoking interest are:

(i) Somatic effects - effects on the structure, growth, neuroplasticity and ageing of tissues, cells and cellular structures, such as grey matter of the brain and telomeres of the cell nucleus [1, 2, 3, 4 ] .

(ii) Biochemical effects - effects on hormones and metabolic systems. [1, 2, 3, 4 ]

(iii) Healing - effects on the immune system [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

(iv) Physiological - effects on stress, blood pressure, pain control etc [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]  

(v) Neurological - measurable changes in brain activity [1, 2, 3]

(vi) Psychological - effects on personal well-being, clarity of mind and interpersonal relationships with family, friends and colleagues [1, 2,
3, 4]

Of course what's left out are any spiritual aspects.   The medical profession and academia are for the most part only interested in physical and chemical effects that are measurable under laboratory conditions. As a result of the prevailing materialistic philosophy in academia, spiritual aspects are dismissed as non-existent, or reduced to just another aspect of psychology.
 

Corporations are interested in practical methods for improving the health and mental performance of their employees as individuals,  and improving their relationships with their co-workers as members of a team. But companies probably don't want their employees becoming too interested in spirituality, or maybe they'll freak out and go and join some New Age commune.

 

Competition or complementarity?
So what are Buddhists to make of this secularisation and high powered marketing of their traditional practices. Have they been plagiarized? Are Buddhists facing competition from an ersatz and inferior product? 

Should they be resentful?  Well that would be un-Buddhist! 

The right response should be to rejoice in the good fortune of all those people who are having their mental and physical health improved by meeting with Buddhist methods, even if they don't know they're Buddhist in origin.

And of course there's an opportunity for spreading the Buddhadharma.  Since all the spiritual aspects have been stripped out of commercially marketed meditation courses, there's a fairly obvious gap regarding any explanation of what's actually going on in the mind of the practitioner.  This is likely to arouse interest and curiosity in investigating meditation further, and exploring the philosophical basis of the practices.     


See also
Updates on Meditation and Buddhism 

 




Monday, 23 March 2015

Buddhist Philosophy





1.Introduction

Buddhism is founded on two fundamental beliefs, from which the rest of the philosophy is derived. These two basic premises are:


(i) The underlying nature of reality is process and change, rather than stable entities.

(ii) Processes can be divided into two categories -  mental processes  and physical/mechanistic processes.

Although mental processes and physical processes interact, mental processes are not reducible to physical processes.  

 

1.1 The process nature of reality.
 
The basis of reality consists of processes rather than static ‘things’.  If any ‘thing’ is analysed in enough depth, and observed over a long enough timescale, it can be seen to be part of a dynamic process rather than a static, stable thing-in-itself.  This becomes obvious when we remember that the universe is itself a process (a continuing  expansion from the Big Bang), and so all that it contains are subprocesses of the whole.



1.2 Mechanistic and mental processes


There are two kinds of processes in the world, mechanistic and mental. Mechanistic processes explain the working of all machines including computers, and all the classical laws of science including biology, chemistry, and physics.

Mental processes consist of irreducible aspects of consciousness that have no mechanistic explanation, for example qualia (qualitative experiences such as pleasure and pain) and intentionality or aboutness (the power of minds to be about, to represent, or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs). 


1.3  The Buddhist viewpoint


This introduction to Buddhist philosophy will review how process philosophy has long been neglected in the West, but has undergone a recent revival due to the process perspectives of modern science.

I will show how the key Buddhist concepts of impermanence and emptiness are logical consequences of a process view of the world.   I will then discuss why  mechanistic processes cannot account for such mental phenomena as qualitative experience, and ‘aboutness’ (intentionality). This inadequacy of a purely mechanistic worldview is known as ‘The Explanatory Gap’, or ‘The Hard Problem'. 

Finally, I’ll examine how delusions result from the failure of mechanistic processes to give a true picture of reality, followed by some techniques for liberating the mind and transcending these delusional constraints.




2 Process Philosophy

Everything is process



For anyone  new to Buddhist Philosophy, the main thing to bear in mind is that Buddhism is process philosophy, in contrast to most familiar varieties of Western philosophy which are substantialist philosophies.  

Process philosophies hold that the fundamental nature of reality is one of constant change and dynamism, and phenomena that we think of as permanent substances or things, are just snapshots of processes at different stages.   


If we observe any seemingly permanent entity in enough detail over a long enough timescale, then we will indeed discover it is a stage of a process or processes. Thus ‘permanent’  features such mountains and hills are stages of processes involving plate tectonics and erosion etc.  Even the most fundamental particles are processes rather than things, as they exist as ever-changing wave-functions that only appear as well-defined ‘things’ at the moment of observation.

Substantialist philosophies, in contrast, hold that things and substances, or their ‘essential natures’, are the primary fundamental basis of reality, with processes being secondary phenomena.

Substantialism is strongly linked to the idea of essentialism - that things and substances have an ‘essential nature’ that makes them what they are. 



2.1  Neglect of Process Philosophy in the West

Process Philosophy holds that the underlying basis of reality is change, process and impermanence. Becoming is more basic than being, and existence is really just impermanence in slow-motion.

The converse view - Substantialism, holds that true reality is 'timeless' and based on permanent ideal forms. Change is accidental, whereas the substance is essential.

Traditional Western philosophy has always denied any full reality to change, which is conceived as only accidental and not essential.

Substantialism has dominated Western philosophy from the time of Plato until the early twentieth century, and is still deeply embedded within our culture.

There were indeed Process Philosophers among the early Greeks. For example Heraclitus pointed out that no-one can step into the same river twice. It's not the same river nor is it the same person.

Nevertheless, the early process philosophers were ignored or forgotten, and the theory of ideal forms propounded by Plato was adopted by the later Greeks and dominated Western thought until the early twentieth century.  As the modern process philosopher Whitehead remarked, most of the western philosophy carried out during the intervening centuries was 'a series of footnotes to Plato'.



2.2  The scientific perspective on Process Philosophy

From the mid nineteenth century to the early twentieth, a series of revolutions took place in science which changed the scientific outlook from substantialist to process-based, and simultaneously demolished the 'essentialist' view of material objects and living things.  


2.2.1 How process thinking became dominant in physics and biology

 

2.2.1.1  Evolution 


 Until Charles Darwin published The Origin of the Species in 1859, almost everyone believed that species are unchanging and derive their forms by reference to a divine blueprint. Theology had long been dominated by the ideas of Plato, who taught that the species were invariant, deriving their characteristics from reference to 'essences' or 'ideal forms' which were fixed, eternal and inherently existent.

However, Darwin showed that new species are formed by processes of gradual change from simpler forms. All primates (including humans and apes) have a common ancestor. Going back further, all species of mammals diverged from a common ancestor, and so on into the dim and distant past until we reach one common ancestor of all lifeforms, which originated the DNA coding which is universal for all plants, animals, fungi and bacteria on earth.

Consequently, to evolutionists the biological species concept does not reflect any underlying reality. A species is purely a snapshot of an interbreeding population of organisms at a particular epoch in time, and as time progresses the characteristics of that population will gradually change in response to selective pressures.  The process of evolution is the fundamental basis of all biology, whereas the species of living things are secondary and transient outputs of this process.



2.2.1.2 The non-existent Luminiferous Aether


Just as the theory of evolution emphasised dynamic processes, rather than static species, as the fundamental realities of biology,  a similar transformation of thinking was to affect physics a few years later with the negative result of the Michelson–Morley experiment.

Until the nineteenth century, it was believed that all waves must propagate through matter. In other words, processes such as sound and water waves needed some substance to support their existence.   It was therefore assumed that space was filled with a 'luminiferous aether' through which electromagnetic waves such as light, heat, radio waves, X-rays etc propagated like ripples on a pond.  But the Michelson–Morley experiment demonstrated that this aether did not exist, and thus electromagnetic waves were standalone processes with no supporting substance.   Quantum physics was later to show that the fundamental particles of matter are also processes.



2.2.1.3 Quantum Physics
 
In the early twentieth century, developments in quantum physics revealed that fundamental particles weren't the little irreducible billiard balls of classical physics  The particles, which had previously been regarded as little pieces of matter, are instead processes consisting of continuously evolving and changing wavefunctions.  These processes only give the appearance of discrete and localized particles at the moment they are observed.

So particles are forever changing, and they lack any inherent existence independent of the act of observation.    Consequently, everything composed of particles is also impermanent and continually changing, and no static, stable basis for its existence can be found. 


Process-like behavior isn't just confined to fundamental particles such as electrons and protons, but also applies to their combinations.  Some surprisingly chunky objects such as bucky balls show formation of an interference pattern when a they pass through a double slit.

2.3  Process and Essentialism 

Essentialism is the belief that, for any specific entity (such as an animal, a group of people, a physical object, a substance), there is a defining essence within them that makes those things, groups and substances what they are.

For the best part of two thousand years essentialism held sway over the Western mind, firstly in the form of Platonic essences, then as the unchanging species of the Bible, and finally as nineteenth century atomic substantialism.

Essentialism underpins substantialism, and has no place in process philosophy.  Essentialism has been undermined by the same scientific discoveries that undermined substantialism.





2.3.1  Classical physics

 
The first cracks in the essentialist edifice are apparent, in retrospect, with Newton's discovery of the laws of motion.

Before Newton, the heavenly bodies wandered around the firmament according to their different essential natures as decreed by the 'Unmoved Mover'.

After Newton, the stars, planets, moons, comets and asteroids moved according to the same mathematical relationships.

Before Newton, stars, planets, moons, comets and asteroids were separate entities. After Newton there was a continuity in size and composition from the tiniest 'grain of sand shooting star' through meteorites, asteroids, comets, moons, miniplanets, small planets, gas giants, brown dwarfs and all the different sizes of stars.

Before Newton there was the concept of the 'Unmoved Mover'. After Newton every action had an equal and opposite reaction. As a consequence anything that produced a change was itself changed. Therefore ALL functioning things must be impermanent. These observations were never taken to their logical conclusion by European philosophers in Newton's day, possibly because heresy still attracted severe punishment in most European countries.



2.3.2 Chemistry and Particle Physics

 
Chemistry provided a bastion for essentialism up to the late nineteenth century. All substances were composed of atoms of about 80 (then) known elements. Every atom of a particular element was identical with another atom of the same element, and derived its properties from the essential nature of that element. The atom was fundamental and unchangeable.

The first hint of atomic substructures came from the work of Mendeleev, who published his periodic table in 1869. He left gaps in his table for as yet undiscovered elements and was able to predict their properties.

Work on radioactivity in the early 20th century demonstrated that atoms were not fundamental but were composed of elementary particles - electrons, protons and neutrons. It was found to be the number of these particles within each atom of an element that determined the properties of that element, not some inherent substantial essence.


In addition,  these elementary particles did not act like classical 'things'. They were only knowable by interactions with other particles, and the mere act of observation changed their properties in an indeterminate way.

Even worse, their 'essential nature' seemed to change radically according to how they were observed. If you set up your experiment to observe them as particles, then they behaved as particles. If you set it up to observe them as waves, then they behaved as waves.



2.3.3 Evolution and Genesis

 
'The Origin of the Species' was the first major blow against essentialism in the West. In 'Darwin's Dangerous Idea' Daniel Dennett writes  'Even today Darwin's overthrow of essentialism has not been completely assimilated .... the Darwinian mutation, which at first seemed to be just a new way of thinking about kinds in biology, can spread to other phenomena and other disciplines, as we shall see. There are persistent problems both inside and outside biology that readily dissolve once we adopt the Darwinian perspective on what makes a thing the sort of thing it is, but the tradition-bound resistance to this idea persists.'

So the full implications of the collapse of essentialism have yet to fully permeate the western psyche. But the radical change in the way that science views the world which took place between 1850 and 1950, has brought western thought far more in line with Buddhist philosophy than at any time in the past 2500 years. This may partly explain the rapidly growing interest in Buddhism among scientifically literate westerners.
 



2.4  Impermanence and existence

The impermanence of all functioning phenomena is an inevitable logical consequence of their emptiness of inherent existence.

No functioning phenomenon can be static, because to function it must change and be changed, it must give something of itself or receive something into itself. A truly unchanging phenomenon would reside in splendid isolation and could never even be known to exist. All functioning phenomena are composite and impermanent.  What we term ‘existence’ is really just impermanence in slow-motion.





2.5  Emptiness

No phenomenon is a ‘thing in itself’.  The more you look for it, the less you find it. Things disappear under analysis.  A car exists as a conventional truth, convenient for our everyday lives - a kind of working approximation.  But on dissection, logical analysis can find no ‘essential’ car, just a heap of parts that at a certain arbitrary stage of assembly is designated ‘car’, and at a certain arbitrary stage of disassembly is designated 'pile of junk'.

Outside our mind there is no defining ‘carness’ .  Similarly,  if you gradually decrease the height of the sides of a box until it becomes a tray, there is no point at which 'boxiness' leaves and 'trayfullness' jumps into the structure, with the box being automatically transformed into a tray. It’s all arbitrary mental designation.  This arbitrariness is the ultimate truth of how things exist to our minds. And it goes all the way down to the fundamental particles of matter.






2.6  The two truths: conventional and ultimate

Although it may be true that all functioning things are processes, it doesn't help us to find our way around the everyday world. Conventionally, we regard any object that exists relatively unchanged for a long enough duration to be useful, as a 'thing' rather than a process.

This is similar to the situation where knowing that matter is 99.9% empty space is of no use whatsoever when we're building a brick wall.

So reification (regarding processes as things) of functioning phenomena is a conventional truth - a working approximation that allows us to function in, and find our way around the world.

In Buddhist ontology process is primary, substance is secondary. So ultimately the entire world that we function in, and find our way around, is itself a process, and will eventually cease to exist. The world and all that's in it lack any enduring identity that has the power to prevent impermanence from sweeping them all away. That is their ultimate truth.
 

And even the concept of 'existence' is itself a conventional truth. To say that any functioning phenomenon 'exists' is a commonsense approximation to saying that it endures for a relatively long time. 'Existence' is really nothing other than a less blatant form of impermanence.

So both conventional truth and ultimate truth are valid for their respective purposes, in the same way that classical and quantum physics are both valid.

If we want to design and build a bridge, we think in terms of classical physics. If we want to explore the ultimate nature of matter, we think in terms of quantum physics.

Likewise, if we want to build a Dharma center, then we use conventional truths to assemble all the conventionally existing things that are needed - stones, bricks, beams, windows, doors, cables, pipes etc.

If we then want to sit inside the finished Dharma-center and contemplate ultimate truth, we may reflect on how the ultimate truth of the Dharma-center is that it exists dependently upon the causes and conditions that built it, the parts from which it was built, and our mental labelling of it as 'Dharma-center'.

But the more you look for it, the less you find it. If we think that the Dharma-center actually exists from its own side, then we may try to pinpoint the exact stage of its construction at which 'heap of bricks' suddenly ceased to exist and the 'essence of Dharma-center' jumped into the structure to make it the thing that it is.

And of course we'll never find that sudden transformation, because 'essence of Dharma-center' only exists in our own mind, not within the structure of the Dharma-center.




3 Minds and mechanisms 



Alan Turing


"When the body dies, the 'mechanism' of the body holding the spirit is gone, and the spirit finds a new body sooner or later, perhaps immediately."
– Alan Turing on the death of his boyfriend.

There are two kinds of processes in the world, mechanistic and mental.

Mechanistic processes explain the working of all machines including computers, and all the classical laws of science including biology, chemistry, and physics.   All mechanistic processes can explained, modelled and simulated by Turing machines

What Turing referred to as the 'spirit' would be what Buddhists would call the 'mental continuum', a process that knows its objects (generates intentionality) and experiences qualitative states such as aversion and attachment, pleasure and pain.  

Thoughts about things, and minds of attachment and aversion (eg an angry mind) arise as subprocesses of this primary mental continuum, and then dissolve back into it, a phenomenon that can be observed in mindfulness meditations.
 

Mental processes can continue to operate when the mechanism of the brain  has shut down.

These mental processes consist of irreducible aspects of consciousness that have no mechanistic explanation, for example neither qualia (qualitative experiences), nor intentionality (the power of minds to be about, to represent, to give meaning or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs) can be modelled, simulated or explained in terms of a Turing machine or combination of Turing machines.

Mental processes do not appear to be physical, for when we seek to bridge the gap from the processes taking place in the brain to those the mind, we inevitably reach a point where the methods of investigation, explanation and simulation pursued by mechanistic science (in the form of Turing machines)  are exhausted, and 'physical' understanding comes to an end.  Logical continuity between matter and mind disappears, and we are left in a perplexed contemplation of mysterianism. 

This explanatory gap is known as 'The Hard Problem of Consciousness'.





4 Delusions

Are we all deluded?


There are two kinds of delusions - innate delusions and intellectually formed delusions

Innate delusions result from our non-physical mental processes being attached to our bio-physical bodily processes, including those of the nervous system and brain, which have been driven by evolution
to give us a picture of the world that is merely fit for purpose, rather than one that represents some true underlying reality. 

Intellectually-formed delusions consist of pernicious mind viruses, memes and memeplexes such as bogus religions.  Another intellectually formed delusion is that of materialism, which is to some extent inspired as a reaction against the excesses of memetic religions.



4.1 Innate delusions

4.1.1  Reification

To reify is usually defined as mistakenly regarding an abstraction as a thing. It is derived from the Latin word res meaning 'thing'.

Reification in Western philosophy means treating an abstract belief or hypothetical construct as if it were a concrete, physical entity. In other words, it is the error of treating as a "real thing" something which is not a real thing, but merely an idea.

In Buddhist philosophy the concept of reification goes further. Reification means treating any functioning phenomenon as if it were a real, permanent 'thing', rather than an impermanent process.


The basic delusion is that we believe that all substances, objects and people have an unchanging, stable, defining nature ‘from their own side’ that makes them what they are. This delusion of intrinsic nature, is known as ‘svabhava’  (Sanskrit for ‘inherent existence’), and can be refuted philosophically by the 'emptiness' argument, and scientifically by recognising the process nature of reality.

Although we may understand intellectually that inherent-existence is impossible, nevertheless we still have great difficulty of ridding ourselves of this delusion.  The reason that svabhava is so deep-rooted, pervasive and systematic is that our brains and perceptual systems have evolved to use svabhava as a useful working approximation (or ‘conventional truth’) to represent commonsense reality. 

This ‘working approximation’ functions quite well in our everyday life, and only breaks down when we analyse phenomena in depth, either philosophically, or scientifically as with particle physics, where we are forced to realise that the observer is an inextricable part of the system. 


 


4.1.2  Other biologically based  delusions
All animals, including ourselves, have genetically programmed drives to eat, reproduce, fight for territory and mates, kill prey, help our kin and so on. These drives appear to our mind as attachment and aversion.

Manifestations of attachment include sexual desire, hunger and the need for security. Manifestations of aversion include fighting, fleeing and avoiding painful and dangerous situations. All these mental reactions have evolved because they gave our ancestors a selective advantage. They are, or were, essential for preservation of the individual and procreation of its genes.


We humans can to some extent distance ourselves from these drives. We can examine them and if necessary rebel against them. From the Buddhist point of view this is especially significant when these instinctive drives become pathological and turn into harmful 'innate delusions', giving rise to mental states such as anger, hatred, sadism, jealousy, greed, miserliness, sexual abuse and so on.


4.2  Intellectually formed delusions

4.2.1  Viruses of the mind
 'Mind viruses' (otherwise known as malignant memes and memeplexes) are contagious delusions, which harness the three poisons of the mind to spread like infectious diseases.  Jihadism is such a meme, which is 'as dangerous in a man as rabies in a dog', to quote Winston Churchill. 

The study of memes, memeplexes and their mechanisms of infection is known as memetics.


The Quran is the meme that provides the justification for beheadings, rapes, mutilations, genocides etc carried out by the Islamic State and their co-religionists.

The Quran demonstrates the self-reference and circularity typical of many memes. The Quran says it's the word of God, and believers know what it says is true because it's God's word!   Therefore its incitement to rape, murder, extort and pillage the kuffars must be obeyed without question.

Of course any logical analysis shows the Quran's truth claims to be a hoax, but logical analysis, and indeed any forms of rationalism, are strongly discouraged by Jihadists. In addition, divinely sanctioned rape, murder, extortion and pillage provide a very useful excuse for the criminal activities so evident among Jihadists in kuffar countries. No wonder Jihadism is spreading so rapidly in jails: it's a criminals' charter.  Just as typhus was the Victorian 'jail fever', jihadism is the modern prison epidemic.

 


4.2.2 Scientism and materialism.

Materialism is the belief that matter is the only reality in life and everything else, such as mind, feelings, emotions, beauty etc are just the by-products of the brain's physical and chemical activity, with no independent existence of their own.  Once their material basis is gone, mind and consciousness just disappear without trace.   Needless to say, materialism denies the validity of all religions and spiritual paths, not just Buddhism.

The debilitating effects of materialism don't just affect religions; they despiritualise all in their path, degrading art and encouraging brutalism.


Philosopher Roger Scruton believes that all great art has a 'spiritual' dimension, even if it is not overtly religious. It is this transcendence of the mundane that we recognise as 'beauty'.

Although materialism undermines the basis of all religions, nevertheless, materialism is of special interest to Buddhists, because Buddhism is the only religion that has a sufficiently strong philosophical basis to confront it.   Buddhism can argue rationally against materialism, whereas less  intellectually grounded religions can only bury their heads in the sand and ignore it, while their congregations decline and their institutions get taken over by small cliques of extremists.
 

As the Abrahamic religions have failed to tackle materialism, and instead are  degenerating into antiscience, idiocy and bigotry, Buddhism could become the only object of refuge for intelligent spiritual seekers wanting to escape the bleak and barren consequences of materialism.



5. Liberation of the Mind


Get me out of here!

5.1 Stepping outside the system

The concept of liberation from delusions by 'stepping outside the system', or ‘jumping outside the loop’ occurs repeatedly in different contexts within Buddhist philosophy and practice.  The archetypical example is, of course, the Buddha himself, who escaped from the endless loop of Samsara (cyclic existence) when he became enlightened.

In a philosophical and religious context, this stepping outside a system is known as transcendence, but there are also more mundane examples that serve as useful analogies.

 

5.2 Cultivating qualitative states of mind

Both formal meditational practice and a more informal approach using art may be employed to produce beneficial mental states.


5.2.1  Meditation

Many meditations consist of a two-stage process, analytical meditation followed by placement meditation. For example, in meditation on compassion a procedural mental process is used to generate a qualitative state of mind.  The qualitative mental feeling of compassion is what is known in Western philosophy as a 'quale' (singular of qualia).   It is an internal subjective state generated from the observation or recollection of external eventsThe objective of the placement stage is to familiarise and 'mix' the root mind with this beneficial state.

The ultimate and most profound meditation is that of tantric bliss and emptiness.



5.2.2  Art and aesthetics

"The experience of art often fulfills yearnings similar to the inspiration offered by religion. One more profound relationship between art and religion has historically been how it acts as a vehicle for expressing religious teachings. The worldly appreciation of cultural beauty is infused with a sincere belief that the aesthetic of religious art is not for its own sake, but to transmit ultimate truths..."

'Scruton believes that all great art has a 'spiritual' dimension, even if it is not overtly religious. It is this transcendence of the mundane that we recognise as 'beauty'.

In Buddhist terminology we would say that true art, even when it reflects samsara (the realms of chaos, addiction, squalor and suffering), shows that there is a path out, and often acts as signposts along the path.' 



'The three main ways of accessing intuitive levels of the mind are symbolism, visualisation and ritual. Symbolism may be used on its own, or in combination with visualisation and ritual.

The concept of symbolism has two aspects - Representational Symbolism and Evocative Symbolism, though sometimes a representational symbol can, with familiarity, become an evocative symbol.

Evocative symbols are interpreted by and affect the more subtle levels of the mind.  Evocative symbolism is associated with art, architecture and poetry, especially where there is a spiritual aspect. Examples of evocative symbolism in the visual arts are icons, thangkas, mandalas, stained glass windows and statues of holy beings.

Evocative symbolism often doesn't use direct representation, reference or explicit analogy. As the symbolist Mallarme said "Don't paint the thing itself, paint the effect that it produces".


"Japanese aesthetic ideals are most heavily influenced by Japanese Buddhism. In the Buddhist tradition, all things are considered as either evolving from or dissolving into nothingness. This "nothingness" is not empty space. It is rather a space of potentiality.[5] If the seas represent potential then each thing is like a wave arising from it and returning to it. There are no permanent waves. There are no perfect waves. At no point is a wave complete, even at its peak. Nature is seen as a dynamic whole that is to be admired and appreciated. This appreciation of nature has been fundamental to many Japanese aesthetic ideals, "arts," and other cultural elements. In this respect, the notion of "art" (or its conceptual equivalent) is also quite different from Western traditions".
 

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Buddhas of Bamiyan - only the beginning...




By V.S. Naipaul For The Mail On Sunday

"The Nobel Prize-winning author V.S. Naipaul has warned that Islamic State are the most potent threat to the world since the Nazis.

In a hard-hitting article in today’s Mail on Sunday, the revered novelist brands the extremist Muslim organisation as the Fourth Reich, saying it is comparable to Adolf Hitler’s regime in its fanaticism and barbarity.

Calling for its ‘military annihilation,’ the Trinidadian-born British writer says IS is ‘dedicated to a contemporary holocaust’, has a belief in its own ‘racial superiority,’ and produces propaganda that Goebbels would be proud of.

A long-term critic of Islam as a global threat, he also challenges those who say the extremists have nothing to do with the real religion of Islam, suggesting that the simplicity of some interpretations of the faith have a strong appeal to a minority.


"Imagine a world in which a young man is locked in a cage, has petrol showered over him and is set alight to be burnt alive.

Imagine the triumphant jeering of an audience that has gathered to witness this. Imagine, also, a 12-year-old child with elated determination on his features shooting at close range a kneeling man with his arms tied behind his back.

Then picture the spectacle of a hundred beheadings of victim after victim in humiliating uniforms, their hands and feet bound, kneeling with their backs to their black-robed executioners who wield knives to cut their throats as though they were sacrificial lambs.

Picture queues of helpless men and women being marched by zealous executioners who nail them to wooden crosses and crucify them, howling and bleeding to death as crowds watch.

Then picture thousands of girls and women, their arms tied, being marched by hooded and armed captors into sexual slavery. And then, if that is not enough, picture men being thrown off cliffs to their deaths because they are accused of being gay.

Yes, all these scenes could have taken place in several continents in the medieval world, but they were captured on camera and broadcast to anyone with access to the internet. These are scenes, of yesterday, today and tomorrow in our own world.

I have always distrusted abstractions and have turned into writing what I could discover and explore for myself.

So I must begin by admitting that I have not recently travelled in those regions threatened by barbarism – the Middle East, the north west of Africa, in pockets of Pakistan and in the Islamic countries of south eastern Asia.
Isis could very credibly abandon the label of Caliphate and call itself the Fourth Reich

Isis could very credibly abandon the label of Caliphate and call itself the Fourth Reich

However, in the 1980s and early 1990s I undertook to examine the ‘revival’ of Islam that was taking place through the revolution in Iran and the renewed dedication to the religion of other countries.

I travelled through Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia attempting to discover the ideas and convictions behind this new ‘fundamentalism’.

My first book was called Among The Believers and the second, perhaps prophetically, Beyond Belief. Since those books were written, the word ‘fundamentalism’ has taken on new meanings.

As the word suggests, it means going back to the groundings, to the foundations and perhaps to first principles. It is used to characterise the interpretation given to passages of the Koran, to the Hadith, which is a collection of the acts in the life of the Prophet Mohammed and to an interpretation of sharia law.

However, the particular fundamentalist ideology of ‘Islamist’ groups that have dedicated themselves to terror – such as Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and now in its most vicious, barbaric and threatening form the Islamic Caliphate, Isis or the Islamic State (IS) – interprets the foundation and the beginning as dating from the birth of the Prophet Mohammed in the 6th Century.

This fundamentalism denies the value and even the existence of civilisations that preceded the revelations of the Koran.

It was an article of 6th and 7th Century Arab faith that everything before it was wrong, heretical. There was no room for the pre-Islamic past.

So an idea of history was born that was fundamentally different from the ideas of history that the rest of the world has evolved.

In the centuries following, the world moved on. Ideas of civilisation, of other faiths, of art, of governance of law and of science and invention grew and flourished.

This Islamic ideological insistence on erasing the past may have survived but it did so in abeyance, barely regarded even in the Ottoman Empire which declared itself to be the Caliphate of all Islam.

But now the evil genie is out of the bottle. The idea that faith abolishes history has been revived as the central creed of the Islamists and of Isis.

Their determination to deny, eliminate and erase the past manifests itself in the destruction of the art, artefacts and archaeological sites of the great empires, the Persian, the Assyrian and Roman that constitute the histories of Mesopotamia and Syria.

They have bulldozed landmarks in the ancient city of Dur Sharukkin and smashed Assyrian statues in the Mosul museum. Destroying the winged bull outside the fortifications of Nineveh satisfies the same reductive impulse behind the destruction by the Taliban of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan..."  Read it all



See also 


Islam will destroy Buddhism


Islam will Dominate - The Islamic Threat to Buddhism




Saturday, 21 February 2015

Buddhism reduces religious intolerance - even among non-Buddhists.



Monotheistic intolerance

From The Pacific Standard

by Tom Jacobs


"Love Religion, but Hate Intolerance? Try Buddhism
 

New research finds that, unlike those of monotheistic faiths, Buddhist concepts do not inspire prejudice toward outsiders.

Does religion do more harm than good? Considerable research suggests the answer depends upon the type of “good” you are considering. Many studies have linked religiosity with mental and physical health, as well as a stronger tendency to help those around you. Others have found it inspires prejudice against perceived outsiders.

A newly published paper reports this trade-off may not be universal. It finds calling to mind concepts of one major world religion—Buddhism—boosts both selfless behavior and tolerance of people we perceive as unlike ourselves.

Reminders of Buddhist beliefs “activate both universal pro-sociality and, to some extent (given the role of individual differences), tolerance of people holding other religious beliefs or belonging to other ethnic groups,” writes a research team led by psychologist Magali Clobert, a visiting postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University.
“After being primed with Buddhist words, participants reported lower explicit negative attitudes toward all kinds of out-groups.”

In the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Clobert and her colleagues concede that the mention of mantras or meditation don’t impact everyone in the same way. Indeed, they have little if any effect on people with strong authoritarian tendencies.

But for the rest of us, having Buddhist ideas on the brain appears to not only evoke caring, but also reduce prejudice. This dynamic was found in three experiments featuring, respectively, people raised in a Christian society, people raised in a Buddhist culture, and Western converts to Buddhism... more

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Chaplain's Corner - Rev. Scott Kershner




From  The Crusader


'When I was a junior in college, I left southern Minnesota and studied for a semester in Thailand.


The study of Buddhism there changed the course of my life forever. I had been raised as a Christian, but had not reflected much about what that meant to me. My encounter with Buddhism opened expansive, life-giving questions. What did it mean to be selfless? Is that possible? What did it mean to live in community? What is freedom? What is prayer? I found there was much to admire and learn from in Buddhism. I couldn't have named it then, but I had begun to gain what is called "appreciative knowledge".
 

In fact, what I discovered was that Buddhism helped me return to the Christian faith of my family and cultural background with fresh eyes. After I returned, I found, to my great surprise, that the faith tradition under my own feet was deep and life-giving soil if I would give my roots some time to grow. Thus began my journey of return to Christian faith and eventually my ordination as a Lutheran pastor.

Our spiritual lives can be greatly enriched by encounters with other traditions. As we see human lives and admire teachings in traditions and cultures other than our own, we develop appreciative knowledge, and our lives are forever enriched. For the gift the Buddhist tradition has been to me, I can only say: Thanks be to God.'

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Thursday, 12 February 2015

Family Values - Christians and Buddhists meet in Bodh Gaya


Interfaith Meeting in Bodh Gaya

From Vatican Radio  

"Fifteen delegates from the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, and fifteen representatives of the three main Buddhist denominations - Theravada, Vajrayana, and Mayahana - met at Bodh Gaya, a Buddhist site in Bihar (India), on Wednesday  to discuss the family, understood both as the "basic cell of society," as well as the expression of "global solidarity" between the different religions. After the gathering, set to end on Friday, the Vatican delegates will travel to Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh) for a similar event with Hindu and Muslim spiritual leaders.

Mgr Felix Machado, bishop of Vasai, president of the Office for Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC) and of the Office for Inter-religious Dialogue of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI), is present at the event along with Mgr Salvatore Pennacchio, apostolic nuncio to India. "Both of our religious traditions and cultural experiences affirm the beauty of the family," the prelate told AsiaNews. "By reflecting on this, our leaders can examine and propose ways to support and revitalise family life in order to make human society prosper."

"The aim of our bilateral dialogue is to support each other in the work of strengthening the family, the basic unit of society, the nation and global solidarity," Mgr Machado added. The issue of "The family and children does not touch only Catholics," he explained. "In almost all cultures of the world, and in most religions, concerns have been raised about attacks against the institution of the family."

Spiritual leaders are expected to focus in particular on the difficult situations in which many children find themselves. "My thoughts," said the Bishop of Vasai, "go to those born out of wedlock who experience depression or develop long term psychosomatic disorders that result from divorce; not to mention the children victim of human trafficking or abuse." In view of this, "We intend to look for new ways to help our children."

Bodh Gaya is a religious site associated with the Mahabodhi Temple Complex and the Bodhi tree. Here, according to tradition, Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment and became the Buddha."


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Historical Sites Recall When Kazakhstan Was Buddhist





 

By Michelle Witte in Kazakhstan Tourism on 9 February

'ASTANA – Kazakhstan today is a mostly Muslim country, but the Silk Road that crossed it was an important conduit for religions, including Buddhism, and some of Kazakhstan’s historic carvings and monuments are neither Muslim nor animist, but homages to Buddhas, bodhisattvas and the monks who carried their teachings from India and China across the Eurasian landmass.

Buddhism gained a large following in Central Asia between the second century B.C. up to the coming of Islam to the region around the eighth century, and many of the Turkic peoples living in Kazakhstan adopted it. Though now the Buddhist population of Kazakhstan is small – only about 0.5 percent of the population as of 2007 – the country has the largest number of Buddhists in Central Asia. It is also dotted with remnants of its Buddhist past, particularly in the Zhetysu (“seven rivers”) area of modern-day southeastern Kazakhstan, which includes today’s Almaty oblast and historically extended into Kyrgyzstan.

Within that area are the Tamgaly-Tas (“Stones with Signs”), one of Kazakhstan’s most popular tourist destinations and a UNESCO World Heritage site...'    Full article

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Meditation helps prevent Alzheimer’s disease





Meditation can help ward off Alzheimer’s disease by keeping the mind younger for longer

From the Daily Express


"Research appears to show those practising the technique can boost the grey matter in their brains.

Scientists believe this could lead to a new tool to combat the growing rate of mental illness in an ageing population.

We can start to lose some functional abilities from as early as our mid-20s.

But tests appear to show the process is slowed up by contemplation.

Dr Florian Kurth, of the University of California, Los Angeles, said his team was surprised by the difference in brain volume among participants who had meditated for years and those who had not...."   FULL ARTICLE



This example of 'mind over matter', where thought processes affect the structure of the brain (rather than vice versa), demonstrates the mysterious phenomenon of 'downward causation', which really shouldn't happen if the mind is just an epiphenomenon or emergent property of the brain. 

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Disembodied minds and consciousness without the brain


Does the mind need the brain in order to function?  Can there be such things as disembodied minds?  Can minds exist without matter?

According to Buddhist process philosophy, there is no logical reason why not...




Process Philosophy and the Mind
Process philosophers claim that processes, rather than things or substances, are at the basis of reality.  There are no basic building blocks of the world, because when those potential building blocks are examined in sufficient detail, they are all found to be processes rather than things  (they are dynamic wave-functions which only behave as particles under specially constrained circumstances).

Similarly, minds are not ‘things’, they are processes.  Buddhist meditators claim that the mind is a continuous process which is subtly conscious even in the deepest dreamless sleep. According to Buddhist teachings, the mind is also conscious after death (‘for in that sleep of death, what dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil…’)


Two Types of Process - Mechanistic and Mental

According to process philosophy, there are two types of processes in the universe - mechanistic and mental. This view is known as ‘process dualism’ and should be carefully distinguished from Cartesian ‘substance dualism’, which believes in a body which is inhabited by a soul.

Mechanistic processes are those that can be modelled by a Turing machine, or combination of Turing machines (such as the instruction-set of a computer). Mechanistic processes include all the laws of physics (see the Church-Turing-Deutsch Principle), plus any algorithms you care to mention, whether they correspond to anything physical or not.

Mental processes are those that cannot be modelled by Turing machines or computers, and consist of subjective phenomena known as ‘qualia’ (qualitative experiences such suffering and pleasure) and ‘intentionality’ (meaning, attention, ‘aboutness’ and semantics),  plus possibly also some intuitive mathematical perceptions such as Gödel’s Theorem).



The Hard Problem
Although mechanistic and mental processes interact in the brain and are obviously closely correlated, there is no known mechanism (and maybe there is no possible mechanism)  for physical events in the brain to produce mental events (this mystery is known in the trade as ‘The Explanatory Gap and/or ‘The Hard Problem’). 

Buddhist philosophers claim that the mind is a permanently active process rather than a passive recipient of neural events, and has to actively observe changes of neural states to turn them into mental experiences.  The mind is said to ‘go to’ its object.

This is given credence by the fact that although is seems impossible to envisage any mechanism for the neural events to produce mental events, the converse is not the case.   A plausible (though admittedly controversial) mechanism known as the Quantum Zeno Effect has been proposed for interfacing mental attention (an aspect of intentionality) with neural firings. 

So, in any contest for ontological primacy between the mental and the physical, it could be that the mental has a slight advantage. But anyway, let's not go there in this particular post.   Let's just accept that mental and physical processes are different but equal, though both types have ontological primacy over 'things', substances and material appearances (which are all reducible to processes).




Disembodied Physical Processes.
Nowadays we know that disembodied processes can exist and operate in the physical world. These are processes with no need for supporting matter, medium or substrates. They are standalone processes that do their things with no visible means of support.  

The first such disembodied process was identified in 1887 by Michaelson and Morley, who proved that the luminiferous (‘light-bearing’) aether simply did not exist.   This came as a shock to the Victorians.  After all, light was known to be a process of oscillating waves, and waves had to propagate through some sort of medium like the waves on the sea, or sound waves through the air.   


The acceptance of independently functioning processes caused a major rethink of classical physics and led to the Theory of Relativity.

Another  even worse surprise came when it was found that particles of matter, when examined carefully at a small enough scale, also behaved as waves, and interfered with each other and even with themselves.  But waves travelling through what?  They couldn’t possibly be propagating through matter, because they were matter!
 

Consequently, all notions of matter being a fundamental aspect of the world disappeared from physics by mid twentieth century, and process metaphysics ruled supreme.




Equal Opportunities for Mental Processes!

So, if physical processes can operate in the complete absence of any material basis, substrate, medium or means of support, then why shouldn’t mental processes be able to do the same?  I appreciate this is an argument from analogy, with the use of Occam's razor ("entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity") to cut down the superfluous ontological apparatus of an unnecessary substrate, but it does demonstrate that there’s no logical reason that mental processes need to be embodied in matter (e.g. brains) in order to continue to function.  Indeed, recent evidence suggests that mental activity may continue when the brain has shut down.    


If the brain shuts down permanently, then the mental continuum (the root mind) may have to wander off and find another brain to associate with.    As the Buddhist philosopher and computer pioneer Alan Turing said  "When the body dies, the 'mechanism' of the body holding the spirit is gone, and the spirit finds a new body sooner or later, perhaps immediately."