Cheery…Bullshit v. BUDDHISM

31 03 2010


If you read my last post you probably wondered what in the world Buddhists could possibly believe that would have moved some Buddhist monks to burn themselves alive during the Vietnam war.

I will try to explain what I THINK Buddhists believe, based on my reading.

The Buddhist monks who burned themselves alive might well have explained, if asked, that they were doing it as an act of loving kindness.

Yes, I know. Weird, isn’t it? But it’s true.

They weren’t doing it for the glory of God or to get multiple virgins in the afterlife. Gods to them are not very important, and they believe in reincarnation, not a conscious life after death. And they weren’t, unlike today’s Muslim suicide bombers and American malcontents who commit multiple-murder/suicide, interested in killing other people to make a point or to terrorize. No bystanders were ever hurt by the monks’ actions, as far as I know.

To show loving kindness to all those around you is the central ethical tenet of Buddhism. Far more important to them, and forming the predicate for that kindness, is the awareness some Buddhists achieve that in their essence all things and people in the world are one. This is not meant metaphorically. Their meditation eventually leads them to perceive the true reality of the world, and it is One. All the multiplicity is just an illusion.

The Buddha said that once you have direct perception of this Oneness on the deepest level, you will be free of desire and fear, which normally tie all people to the world and make them subject to repeated internal upheavals as the world constantly changes around them, removing or threatening to remove whatever they love or otherwise feel an attachment to.

Having had this perception, one can’t help having compassion for the rest of mankind, still caught in the midst of an  ever-changing illusion that causes constant suffering,  like people having bad dreams who can never awaken.

I’m guessing that the thought of those monks who burned themselves was that they might help alleviate the suffering that we’d brought to their country by making the ultimate statement as to how abhorrent that suffering was to them, and at the same time leaving us Americans so appalled when we saw it on our TVs that we would eventually go away and leave their country alone.

And so we did — maybe in part because those amazing, unforgettably horrifying  images of self-sacrifice shocked lots of Americans into questioning, and ultimately opposing, the Vietnamese War.


To Any Actual Buddhist Who Reads This Post

I know there is way more to it than this! I did my best. Please tell me about anything in this post that’s wrong, and I’ll correct it.


29 03 2010


“There are two big forces at work, external and internal. We have very little control over external forces such as tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, disasters, illness and pain. What really matters is the internal force. How do I respond to those disasters? Over that I have complete control.”
— Dr. Leo Buscaglia

Yeah, right!

“How I respond to those disasters” has got to mean, at least in part, what emotions I have in response to them. How many people do you know who have “complete control” of even their mild everyday emotions? Lots of people may seem to be calm on the surface. Still, I think it’s widely understood that everyone has hard-to-deal-with emotions frequently, and that in harsh situations like “tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, disasters, illness and pain” everyone has particularly intense and unpleasant emotions, most notably fear, perhaps even TERROR — possibly followed later by GRIEF over loved ones (or parts or functions of one’s own body, for God’s sake!) lost in the disaster.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t see myself ever having “complete control” over terror or grief. Perhaps Dr. Buscaglia would care to explain to me how this little trick can be accomplished.

The only thing I’ve ever heard of that seriously claims to allow people to deal effectively with emotions like terror, fury, sorrow, intense pain, or even the continual undifferentiated physical misery that poverty can bring, is Buddhism. I recently read  a wonderful book called The Three Pillars of Zen.

It describes in detail the intense training and sometimes wrenching struggle that aspirants to Buddhist enlightenment go through in order to meditate their way to to the point where Dr. Buscaglia would have us just blithely one day decide to be.

After long, uncomfortable, and single-minded meditation, many of those aspirants to enlightenment do seem eventually to reach a certain understanding about the nature of the world….No, that’s too abstract. The aspirants eventually have a direct experience of the true nature of themselves and the world that allows them to go on to face the uncertainties and occasional horrors of this world calmly.

I believe the arduous path of Buddhism works. For one thing, it’s 2500 years old and still going strong. For another, I can never forget how, for a while during the Vietnamese War, Buddhist monks in Vietnam would occasionally burn themselves alive to protest the war.

Being a suicide bomber for Allah? OK, pretty amazing!

But going to the gas station to buy the gasoline, filling a nice big can with it, lugging it down to the public square and pouring it all over yourself, and then finally lighting yourself and proceeding to experience the most intense agony that humans can know for several minutes, until you finally die — now THAT’S “control.”

Except it’s not “control” at all. It’s the fruit of an arduously-won radical union of the self and the world. Through that deeply-felt union, one, precisely, renounces the effort to “control” anything, internal or external, and so wins a peace that is unbreakable.

Care to shut the fuck up now, Dr. Leo?



26 03 2010


…even though I love what I understand to have been the central ethical teaching of Jesus: Be kind to the weak. This view of Jesus first moved me deeply 35 years ago, as I read this book:

The Nazarene: a Novel Based on the Life of Christ

by Scholem Asch

I confess that I cried my way through much of it, I was so moved. And what I remembered of Bible School teachings of my youth did fit with the view of Christ as having been above all a teacher of a morality of gentleness and forgiveness.

But, in America at least, modern fundamentalist Christians have proven that man’s inherent meanness always wins. They have actually managed to turn the wellspring of feeling that flows from belief in Jesus’ loving gospel into an instrument for cruelty and domination. It’s like they have picked their beloved hero Jesus bodily out of the gentle New Testament and crammed him back into the Old Testament, and made him into a puppet speaking the lines of Leviticus and his ilk.

Here’s some of the “good work” that they’ve been doing in the world:

From the Inner Civilization blog

How Does This Happen?

In the 1860’s British explorers and abolitionists searching for the source of the Nile River and to “end slavery” entered Uganda. Protestant missionaries entered the country in 1877, followed by Catholic missionaries in 1879. By 1888, the British controlled the country [by royal charter to William Mackinnon’s Imperial British East Africa Company, an arrangement strengthened in 1890 by an Anglo-German agreement confirming British dominance over Kenya and Uganda].

March 2010 – Proposed anti-gay legislation in Uganda has sparked” international uproar.” Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda, but the new bill would impose much harsher punishments, including life imprisonment and even the death penalty for some homosexual acts. It would also require people to report every LGBT individual they know or face imprisonment. There’s a lot of hostility targeting the grassroots people. There’s a lot of homophobia that has been increased because of ongoing demonstrations around the country. These demonstrations are done by religious groups. ~ Frank Murgishia, of the Sexual Minorities of Uganda Organization.

Sounds like some nutty Africans pushing their “primitive ideas” through legislation? Where would a bill like this originate? Let’s see….

The Rev. Kapya Kaoma, Anglican priest from Zambia: Currently, the forces that are supporting the bill in Uganda have all distanced themselves. For instance, we have Scott Lively saying the bill goes too far. Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback in California has also said, no, he denounces the bill. The American conservative churches, which have broken away from the Episcopal Church, are saying they are no longer part of the bill. There is no American conservative who is prepared to say that they are for this bill.

But before this bill was proposed, they were the ones who were, in fact, in the forefront preaching and using homophobia as an organizing tool. Pastor Warren was in Africa doing his so-called purpose-driven project. He has purpose-driven projects in Nigeria. He has a purpose-driven project in Rwanda. He has the same project in Uganda. And ironically, all these countries have been shamed. They have new laws against homosexuality. His friends are Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria. We have Henry Orombi of Uganda. These are the very people who are advocating for anti-gay laws in their countries. So you can see that they distance themselves now because the fire is burning. But their friends in Africa are the same people who are for this bill.

We have a group of Americans, like the Institute on Religion and Democracy, headed by Mark Tooley currently, who is their president. This is a group which has used homophobia as an organizing tool in Africa. It has misrepresented or taken the American politics of gays and lesbians in this country and used it as a reason for them to get Africans on their side. And unfortunately, when the fire now is burning against LGBT persons in Africa, these groups are silent about this bill.

How receptive would European Americans and the Congress be to Ugandan Africans proselytizing their religion in America seeking to influence American society? Why in 2010 do Black Africans think this is acceptable?

H.Q -2:11-12 “And when it is said to them, Do not make mischief in the land, they say: We are but peace-makers. Now surely they themselves are the mischief makers, but they do not perceive.”

Who, exactly did this particularly vicious bit of business in the name of Jesus? For some good information on the 70-year-old semi-secret group of  America’s powerful persons that had a hand in fomenting this Ugandan awfulness, and would dearly love to foment a bunch of it here as well, see this book:

The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, by Jeff Sharlet


24 03 2010

(For background on Miss Magibon, see my earlier blog entry “What Is Magibon”: ‎

(Among other things, she’s a meme more significant than it looks.)


16 03 2010

This quote is so true it’s breathtaking:

“For money you can have everything it is said. No, that is not true. You can buy food, but not appetite; medicine, but not health; soft beds, but not sleep; knowledge but not intelligence; glitter, but not comfort; fun, but not pleasure; acquaintances, but not friendship; servants, but not faithfulness; grey hair, but not honor; quiet days, but not peace. The shell of all things you can get for money. But not the kernel. That cannot be had for money.”

-Arne Garborg, writer (1851-1924)

I must add, though, that for the the terminally socially inept (moi!), the grotesquely ugly, and those who perhaps have never had good health, the things money can buy, though all very much “second bests”, may be the very best of that kind of thing that they can ever hope to obtain.

And don’t forget also the cheering effect of living in beautiful surroundings (which money can buy) vs. the depressing effect of living in impoverished squalor (which I vividly remember from my childhood).

Finally, don’t forget the SECURITY that wealth brings. Of all the many things that the world can do to you, if you are wealthy it at least cannot inflict squalor, grinding labor, and/or homelessness on you.


14 03 2010

When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked me one
day what I did at work. I told her I worked at the college-
that my job was to teach people how to draw. She stared
back at me, incredulous, and said, “You mean they forget?”
– Howard Ikemoto

I vividly remember how when I was little I never got over the time my mom pointed out that you were supposed to keep your colors INSIDE the lines in the coloring book. I never wanted to color after that. It had gone from play to work instantaneously.