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Buddhism is Not a Religion Part 5: Why I Sit

posted by Jerry Kolber

by Jerry Kolber
Jerry is a writer and producer of film and TV based in NYC. His site
about how to cook cheap delicious organic meals is at www.ThreeDollarDinner.com.

It’s hard to believe in Judaism and also believe in Christianity, but you can believe in the Bible, and also believe in evolution. Buddhism does not require you to disbelieve anything. You can be Christian and believe in what the Buddha taught. You can believe in the power of the mind to heal, and also believe in the power of surgery.  You can believe in ghosts, and still believe the earth rotates the sun every 24 hours.  You can be a Jew, and believe in what the Buddha taught.

And once you start to understand the very simple, very basic ideas of what the Buddha taught, you begin to see very clearly that he was really onto something. And that what he was on to was a way to deal with the pervasive sense of dissatisfaction. If your present spiritual practice has you feeling satisfied, and you’re not praying or hoping for an end to your dissatisfaction – you’re truly satisfied, you’re never finding yourself succumbing to fantasy, or retreating into your past – then keep doing what you’re doing! 


But if your present practice to understand reality or deal with dissatisfaction  – religion, journaling,
running as mediation, gardening, nothing, psychotherapy – leaves you dependent on something outside yourself for relief
of your dissatisfaction, I suggest you give the Buddha’s way a try. 
It’s not a cult. It’s not a religion. It’s not even a way of life. It’s
just a way of understanding how things really are.

Because everything else is layers of concept. Perception is another
word for the veil through which we look at reality. And reality, this
present moment, the touch, the sensation, the energy of movement, is
positively exquisite and needs no window dressing. This is the view
that Buddhism offers.  Perception is the window through which we look at the world.  Buddhist
practice – meditation, study, community – makes you aware of the habit
of confusing the window with the view.

And if you feel so compelled to sit for five minutes today, gently
notice the sensation of the breath entering and leaving your nostril,
notice when you’re drifting into thought or losing focus on the breath.
You WILL fail at not drifting into thought or fantasy – and that’s the
point.  That’s why it’s called practice. The cessation of thought is
not the point of Buddhism. The point is the recognition of what thought
is and where it comes from and what control it should and shouldn’t
ought to have over your life.

The Buddha was simply offering an opportunity to use a set of tools to recognize, work with, and step out of the habit of not paying attention
to reality.

Though I have had (and continue to have) many things in my life that might be called “spiritual” or even “religious”, none has been so
deeply effective as my Buddhist meditation practice and study of the Buddha’s teachings at
offering me clarity, insight, and a deepening sense of compassion for
all things in this universe, especially the things I don’t like.

So with our Meditation Marathon approaching this Friday night, I offer you this
reason for why I sit. Our world is filled with an ever increasing
number of ways to throw us off kilter, challenge our basic notions of
goodness, and cause us to wonder “what’s it all about”.  There’s a lot
we have to deal with every day, the thousand tiny slings and arrows of
everyday life.

I consider a hallmark of my own evolving practice to be that I am often able to offer
compassion in circumstances in which before I might have habitually
offered aggression. I also find myself able to be more authentically present more frequently – to stand for what I believe in without having to fight for it.

So, why do I sit (in 140 characters or less)? I sit because the more I sit, the more I can stand.
To learn more about the 24 Hour Meditation Marathon, check out the IDP Site


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Greg

posted November 4, 2009 at 4:53 pm


I would say that being both a self-professed Jew and Christian, or a Christian and a Muslim, is fairly analogous to being a self-professed Christian and Buddhist. If you’re willing to disregard the contradictions therein, you can self-identify anyway you want to.



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Jerry Kolber

posted November 4, 2009 at 6:48 pm


Greg – thanks – I totally agree. Self-identity is a great thing.
Jerry



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Renzo

posted November 4, 2009 at 8:28 pm


Sorry, I don’t agree (with the comment). The message of the Buddha is as simple as the Four Noble Truths (“what the Buddha said”), not as wide, as deep, and as thick as all of the Tipitaka, which is pretty clearly partly things spoken by others. ‘What the Buddha said’ in buddhist life is not equivalent to what-the-Pope-says in Catholic life.



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Christopher Mohr

posted November 5, 2009 at 4:31 am


@ Renzo – The Buddha’s teaching isn’t simple. He said so himself. In an exchange with Ananda, Ananda marvels at how simple the teaching (of dependent arising, but generally applicable) is.
Buddha rebukes him, saying, “Don’t say that, Ananda. Don’t say that. Deep is this dependent co-arising, and deep its appearance. It’s because of not understanding and not penetrating this Dhamma that this generation is like a tangled skein, a knotted ball of string, like matted rushes and reeds, and does not go beyond transmigration, beyond the planes of deprivation, woe, and bad destinations.”
Later on in the Maha-nidana Sutta, we get an example of why it is so difficult. Try to tease out teh meaning of this passage in any way that is not both religious and difficult.
“‘From birth as a requisite condition come aging and death.’ Thus it has been said. And this is the way to understand how from birth as a requisite condition come aging and death. If there were no birth at all, in any way, of anything anywhere — i.e., of devas in the state of devas, of celestials in the state of celestials, of spirits in the state of spirits, of demons in the state of demons, of human beings in the human state, of quadrupeds in the state of quadrupeds, of birds in the state of birds, of snakes in the state of snakes, or of any being in its own state — in the utter absence of birth, from the cessation of birth, would aging and death be discerned?”
“No, lord.”
“Thus this is a cause, this is a reason, this is an origination, this is a requisite condition for aging and death, i.e., birth.”
Or how about this one from the Mahaparinibbana Sutta:
33. But when the Blessed One came to the river Ganges, it was full to the brim, so that crows could drink from it. And some people went in search of a boat or float, while others tied up a raft, because they desired to get across. But the Blessed One, as quickly as a strong man might stretch out his bent arm or draw in his outstretched arm, vanished from this side of the river Ganges, and came to stand on the yonder side.
34. And the Blessed One saw the people who desired to cross searching for a boat or float, while others were binding rafts. And then the Blessed One, seeing them thus, gave forth the solemn utterance:
They who have bridged the ocean vast,
Leaving the lowlands far behind,
While others still their frail rafts bind,
Are saved by wisdom unsurpassed.
Lets see…so far, what do we have? angels and demons? check. spirits? check. magical powers used by the Buddha? check. doctrines which require faith to accept? check. soteriology? check. Legends and myths and sacred symbols? check. Other unprovable realms? check. Notions of rebirth (prove THAT one scientifically, or in any context that doesn’t require faith). Doctrine and scripture? double check.
Point is, if it walks like a duck and sqwaks like a duck, it’s a duck. Difficult, and proof of religion, all at the same time.
And to get really technical, the DHAMMA, that is, what the Buddha said and taught, as it was memorized and transmitted through the ages, is what we are told to rely on after his passing. That is what the Buddha left us. Rather than installing a disciple as the next leader of the Sangha, he set up the Dhamma as the source we should follow. Were there additions and redactions? Yes. Were there differences? Yes. Can we come to an understanding by looking at these and seeing how they match up? Yes. Imperfect, but the best we have.
You have better sources, real sources that say otherwise, bring ‘em.



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Barbara O'Brien

posted November 5, 2009 at 7:58 am


“Self-identity is a great thing.”
The Buddha taught that self-identity is the primary ignorance that is the source of all evil (akusala). Are you sure that what you are studying is actually Buddhism?



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Jerry Kolber

posted November 5, 2009 at 4:30 pm


Barbara, I am 100% sure that what I am studying is actually Buddhism.
I am not familiar with any teaching in Buddhism that advocates the annihilation of self or identity, or that says that having a self identity is the source of all evil. A self without identity is…what? Understanding non-self is not the same as not having self-identity is it?
Please clarify that for me.
Thanks
Jerry



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Matt

posted November 6, 2009 at 4:47 pm


This post is ridiculous. Most anthropologists today would classify Buddhism as a religion. Do you really think that 95% percent of Thais don’t follow a religion because they are Buddhist? Sorry to burst your bubble, but the way Buddhism is practiced in Asia is very much a religion; people visit temples, perform rituals, and have a firm belief in an afterlife. What separates Buddhism from some self help philosophy is that it isn’t about the self, because the self is fundamentally an illusion.
This whole “Buddhism isn’t a religion” nonsense stems from the assumption that “religion” is some dirty word we dare not utter. People need to broaden their conception of what a “religion” is. Religion does not need to involve the worship of a Creator. The practice of religion does not rule out the validity of personal experience.
Of course, Buddhism is very different from other religions in the sense that it doesn’t require dogmatic belief from the get go. People are encouraged to test out and even question the Buddha’s teachings for themselves; but that doesn’t necessarily rule it out as a religion.
Indian religions are referred to as “dharmic” religions because they seek to help the individual realize the truth of the way things are. That doesn’t make them any less demanding than the Western Abrahamic religions. I was raised Roman Catholic, but I found it tremendously more demanding to practice Buddhism on a daily basis than to attend Church every Sunday. This is not meant to slam Catholicism, I am just saying that as a Catholic I was simply going through the motions.
I am so tired of people talking about Buddhism as a “mind science” a “psychology” or “just” a philosophy. It is those things, but it is also a religion. Please stop trying to put Buddhism inside your favorite box.



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Christopher Mohr

posted November 7, 2009 at 4:32 am


@ Jerry,
Yes, as a matter of fact, non-self or “no-self” is a doctrine denying self identity. The delusion that we have a self is, scripturally speaking, the entire basis for all the dukkhic (that is, of dukkha, which means “unsatisfactoriness”) thoughts and actions. It is this false notion of having a self in any meaningful way that is the basis for karma and rebirth. The Buddha riffed on this topic at basically every chance he got. look up self on access to insight, or google “Buddhist notions of self”. Basically, if you look at what the Buddha taught, the self is a deluded construct produced by the five agregates, which, if you remove even one fails to materialize. here’s a passage from the Pali Canon describing the Buddha’s (and consequently the Buddhist) understanding of self (Girimananda Sutta):
[2] “And what is the perception of not-self? There is the case where a monk — having gone to the wilderness, to the shade of a tree, or to an empty building — reflects thus: ‘The eye is not-self, forms are not-self; the ear is not-self, sounds are not-self; the nose is not-self, aromas are not-self; the tongue is not-self, flavors are not-self; the body is not-self, tactile sensations are not-self; the intellect is not-self, ideas are not-self.’ Thus he remains focused on not-selfness with regard to the six inner & outer sense media. This is called the perception of not-self.
Perceiving this and the other nine perceptions that the Buddha discusses, Girimananda recovers from his illness. This is about as close as early Buddhism came to miracle work. Just by perceiving, Girimananda was cured, or as the Sutta puts it, “As Ven. Girimananda heard these ten perceptions, his disease was allayed. And Ven. Girimananda recovered from his disease. That was how Ven. Girimananda’s disease was abandoned.” I would urge you to read the Sutta in its entirety, and to read other Suttas and Sutras as well. The Diamond Sutra, for example, gives this topic lots of
If you’ve been told that Buddhism, but especially early Buddhism accepts the notion of a self, you’ve been lied to. Later forms of Buddhism come remarkably close to, but do not posit a self, either. Even so-called Nirvana Buddhism (which utilizes the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra), which posits “true self-bliss-permanence-purity” (aka Buddha nature, or tathagatagarbha), does not suggest that there is a permanent self, only a potentiality for Budhahood. Even in Western Buddhism, as it is developing, the self is what one must abandon in order to be liberated from suffering, unsatisfactoriness, or dukkha in short to achieve peace, tranquility, and equanimity.
I really do urge you to read the Suttas and Sutras. If one of your tenets is that Buddhist practice requires following what the Buddha taught, you should by all means read what he taught, as expressed in the Suttas and Sutras.



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J

posted November 7, 2009 at 10:40 am


I believe what you mean to write is that “It is difficult to believe both in Judaic teaching and “what Christianity has been allowed to morph into”, as there are many “orthodox” Christians, who believe in acting like Jesus, similarly to how we try to act like the Buddha.
Similarly, the early members of the Jesus movement were almost entirely precticing Jews who readily took on the belief that Jesus provided a better way to deal with their God.
I’ve always felt that the Buddha provided such inspiration about dealing with others and with our surroundings because he was not hobbled by a trying to maintaina a relationship with God.



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Your Name

posted November 9, 2009 at 2:39 am


Jerry, your point about self-identity/self-identifying is absolutely right and so is Christopher’s, as far it goes. Actually the Buddha mind sees both self and non-self. It appears that Jerry tilted toward the conventional dimension of identity in affirming that “self-identity is a good thing” and Christopher tilted toward the anatman dimension in urging you to read your sutras. I would humbly suggest some koan work, particularly for the absolutist Christopher, and you’ll both transcend any duality. Jerry’s pretty much there when he writes, “Understanding non-self is not the same as not having self-identity is it?” Jerry’s view here is indeed the more subtle one.



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Christopher Mohr

posted November 9, 2009 at 4:31 am


@ your name – I am well aware of Koan work (having studied Zen both academically and briefly as a practice), but I don’t follow the Zen schools, and koan have no particular value to my practice. If they work for you, great.
You make a fair point from the perspective of the Prajnaparamita literature, but even there, it is the “self” which is to be discarded. Your individuality is just another illusion the mind puts up to hide from you the truth. Once you realize that the self, like everything else, is empty of a permanent and fixed reality, you are taught to discard it. The notion of “neither self nor non-self”, as it is taught in most Zen schools is simply used to get one to transcend concepts, to move past the inherent dualities we put up as an evolutionary method of organization and self-preservation.



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Greg

posted November 9, 2009 at 10:48 am


There is nothing wrong, in any school of Buddhism, with speaking about a person conventionally for practical reasons, which is clearly what we are doing here when we say “I am a Buddhist” or “I have brown hair.”
From “Buddhist Thought: A Complete Introduction to the Indian Tradition” —
“A practical way of referring to the bundle, giving it one name such as ‘Archibald’, or as ‘Fiona’, is generally thought to be acceptable. Persons in the everyday sense exist, and frequently in later Buddhist tradition the person is spoken of as the pudgala (Pali: puggala), carefully distinguishing it from the atman which is being denied. The Buddha is denying a particular sort of thing, a Self, which he sees
as being at the root of the suffering of those who are unenlightened (whether they know it or not). . . . .[however] Persons exist as practical ways of speaking about bundles.” pg 62



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Your Name

posted November 9, 2009 at 1:15 pm


Greg: precisely. And this why the narrow and absolutist views of self, such as Christopher’s, reveal themselves in the end to be rather benighted.



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Christopher Mohr

posted November 10, 2009 at 7:47 am


@ Greg and YN –
funny, I’ve read that work as well, and the author there is clearly trying to introduce various schools of thought, such as the Puggalavadin (that is, a school that existed in the middle formative stages of Buddhism), which was and has been rejected by Buddhists as tantamount to denying the anatta doctrine which the Buddha himself taught, and tantamount to saying there is and atta/atman when a cursory knowledge of the five aggregates shows the practitioner that there is not. The puggala is the mind’s grasping for a way to keep us from getting past the ego. The Puggalavada, as a school, died out quickly, because it was shown to be flawed as a system.
Go back and read further in the book. Then look at what the Suttas and Sutras say. You’ll find that in all cases, the Buddha denied the existence of a self in any concrete sense (in the Bhara Sutta, for example, the puggala is the burden which must be cast off), using the term only as a semantic point of reference for people who were not yet capable of understanding the truth of what he taught. The reality is, there is no self which is not a dependent product of the five aggregates. This is one of the few points of doctrine on which I agree with what became and is Theravada doctrine. When the five aggregates form in a certain way, then a certain “self” is formed. remove one of the aggregates, let’s say, rupa or sankhara, and that self does not manifest, materialize, or form. In and of itself, it simply is not there. What you see is the constant reproduction of a series of aggregates forming in a certain way (usually in a subtle, but recognizably similar manner).
And to be entirely honest, I’m simply stating the Buddha’s position on the matter. I can see your point that in a strictly conventional way, talking about the self can be useful in helping beginning students, and those who know nothing about Budhdism. The self is a useful mental formulation in that it provides a conceptual base and informs us of the burden which must be thrown off. I too use this semantic and conventional construct. But in the end, it is just a mental formulation and it must be thrown off.



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Greg

posted November 10, 2009 at 9:39 am


I have read that book – just revisited it yesterday, as a matter of fact. You are mistaken, because in the chapter specifically about the Pudgalavadins and their views, Tribe says their views “contrast with the position acceptable to other schools, like the Theravada or Sarvastivada, that any personhood, any pudgala, is just a conceptual construct (prajñapti; secondary existent), a name we give for practical purposes to the patterned flow of dharmas explained in terms of the five aggregates.” pg 125
So there you have it – using “person” as a referent for practical communication (just as we are doing here) is perfectly acceptable.



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Greg

posted November 10, 2009 at 9:47 am


This is hardly an idiosyncratic view of Tribe’s, either. Here is Traleg Rinpoche, from “The Essence of Buddhism”
“We must understand the self from the point of view of the Middle Way. A Buddhist does not deny the existence of the ego or of the self. The self exists on the relative level, but the self as an ultimate entity, as some kind of unchanging, permanent thing, does not exist.” pg 159
He is considered quite a learned scholar.



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No Identity

posted November 10, 2009 at 12:41 pm


Thanks Greg for clarifying and rectifying Christopher’s errors and obfuscations. I always get a kick out of pseudo-pedants who, in the end, can only resort to “go read the sutras” or go read this or that book.” Hilarious.



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Beobachter

posted November 10, 2009 at 6:10 pm


Well said, No Identity. Cut Mohr some slack–he’s a wedding minister, not a scholar.



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Greg Rocks

posted November 10, 2009 at 9:23 pm


@Greg: You, sir, are a true gift to this blog. I have been reading One City for the last four months, and no one matches your depth of knowledge. Thank you from all of us lurkers Mr. Zwahlen.



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Mu

posted November 11, 2009 at 12:34 am


I was more than a little surprised to see that some folks still need to be directed back to the Madhyamaka school, which is the highest school. The conventional self, what Nagarjuna called “the merely labeled,” belongs to the realm of relative truth and is not to be discarded since we need labels for our ever-changing body and mind. And the point is simply not to confuse the label for some self-supporting, independent, substantially existing entity.
Greg is exactly right to quote the authorities he does. I’ll add another, Geshe Tashi Tsering who writes that “there is no question that self exists; all Buddhist scholars assert that this is so, simply because we have experiences. But the concept of selflessness refutes the common misunderstanding that within the five aggregates there is a substantially existing ‘I’. This kind of self does not exist.”



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Greg

posted November 11, 2009 at 12:46 pm


Thanks, it is really good to know that people read the blog and that I’m able to contribute something helpful once in a while.
Christopher has made some good points in the past – we might disagree here (or perhaps not) but I’m glad that he cares about this.



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jerry kolber

posted November 11, 2009 at 1:40 pm


I am continually impressed by how quickly people reveal their own inherent bias and fears when they automatically assume that the reason I say Buddhism is not a religion is that I have some problem with religion. Even a light, casual skim of my posts makes it clear that I respect anyone who practices any religion that advocates love, peace, and respect, whether it is Judaism, Christianity, or the religious-ized version of Buddhism.
This past week I had a conversation with a respected and well-versed teacher from the zen tradition who suggested that she thought one of the best things that could happen to Buddhism would be for it to disappear – that what the Buddha was offering was a way of liberation, that (as a definiton of it’s success) could work whether you follow another religion or not. She told me that amongst her sangha she counts a Rabbai, a Priest, and many others who have found the teachings of Zen (and yes, real Zendo zen, not the pop-psych b.s.) to be immensely helpful in their lives without giving up their religious practice.
This presents a huge conundrum for the folks who insist that it is a religion. Either it is not, or you have to tell these people that they are frauds because they practice both Buddhism and another religion.



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ellen9

posted November 11, 2009 at 3:23 pm


Greg, I’ll throw in a big thanks, too. Super clear.
It helps me to remember the label “buddhism” is being in applied in just such a relative world as the label “self” is.



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Greg

posted November 11, 2009 at 4:04 pm


Jerry, I think there are legitimate reasons for people to be offended when you say categorically that “Buddhism is not a religion.” First, for many people it is their religion, as Matt noted. Categorical statements are invalidated by counterexamples. If you said something like “Buddhism need not be a religion” I would take much less issue with it.
Your assertions are often so broad that they can be misleading. You say “Buddhism does not require you to disbelieve anything.” But in most schools of Buddhism, a crucial part of the practice is developing right view, which does involve abandoning wrong views. And belief in a creator God is traditionally among the wrong views that the Buddha advises people to abandon.
You can reply, “well, many people disregard that.” And that is certainly their prerogative. I’m glad they still find a lot that is of value. But that doesn’t change what Buddhism does or does not advise on the point.



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Christopher Mohr

posted November 12, 2009 at 8:04 am


Greg – That quote there actually proves what I said because the Puggalavadin views as they were expressed, as I said above, were refuted by both the early and the later schools of Buddhism. It’s also why the Puggalavadins as a school died out shortly thereafter – the belief simply didn’t square with Buddhist teachings on the self. If I was misunderstood, that is fine, but that is what I was getting at. The Puggalavadin view of the self was very much in contrast with the other schools, and it failed to hold up to the tests of truth and time. A reading of Vasubandhu tells us that they existed, but if they were right, and there is a person, where are they now? If their doctrine held truth, why is it that all we have are fragmentary writings in Chinese translation from their thoughts? Because no one bothered to keep them up after watching them fail to show any truth.
I don’t see us in disagreement at all. I conceded your point that as a referent or a conditional point of view, we can talk about a self, but in truth, it is just that – conditional. I may well have been guilty of unskillful writing, and I don’t deny that. The point still stands that while the Buddha did not accept the notion of a permanent self, the Puggalavadins did. In the long run, they lost.
As for the other posters –
Refute, if you can, the Suttas and Sutras. Buddha was absolutely clear on the matter.
@ No Identity – Greg was misreading what I had written. I was taking the position (which Tribe holds, and which is historical fact) that the Puggalavadin school held that there is a “person”, or self which does exist. This was refuted by Buddhist scholars then and now, both from the standpoint of doctrine and practice. His reference to Tribe’s work, and the Rinpoche’s work do nothing to distract from the point I was making in reference to the self – namely, that in any real sense (that is, having a permanent essence), the self does not exist. I could bring out a slew of authors, scholars, and venerable learned monks who make the same point. We can talk about the self in a conditional, relative way, but in the real sense, it doesn’t exist.
@ Beobachter –
Is that all you think chaplains do? Minister at weddings? The chaplain, and especially the military chaplain, has been a professional office literally since before this country was founded (June 1776). We do religious accommodation, report in a learned, concise way what the commander needs to know to keep his Soldiers alive in a hostile environment, liaise with local religious leaders, and perhaps most importantly, give counseling to soldiers when they need it (because they’re not going to the shrink unless they have to, they come to us first). Weddings are small, small, small side notes that occur maybe one or two a year. Counseling – chaplains at Fort Campbell are now averaging somewhere between 25 and 35 sessions a week.
Wedding minister indeed. I suppose you have an M-Div or higher that you would lecture me about my education and scholasticism? I could have sat here and quoted the Dhamma and from other scholars to the same effect. I urge those who consider themselves Buddhist to actually read the Scriptures (Sutta Pitaka, etc.) for themselves because that is the only way to really know the Dhamma, which Buddha declared would be what we should follow after his death. And without a knowledge of Dhamma, one’s practice of Buddhism and one’s meditation will be fruitless. That said, once the other shore has been reached, the raft needs to be let go, sent back across the stream so that others can utilize it for the same ends.
My raft picks up those who are drowning, how about yours?
@ Jerry – We’ve been over this point about giving up another practice before. Just because Buddhism is inclusivist rather than exclusivist (see the Abrahamic religions, for example) does not DIS-qualify it as a religion. It just means that, much like the pagan-noepagan-wiccan, shamanic, Taoist (to some degree), Shinto (to some degree), and other forms of inclusivist religion, Buddhism is a religion which practices a wide degree of inclusivism. Hence, you don’t have to give up other religions to be a practitioner of the Buddhist religion, you just have to hold the central tenets of Buddhist doctrine and practice. To paraphrase the Kalama Sutta, Buddhists don’t practice just because someone says it’s good to practice. Question the teachings until you’re blue in the face, and when you find teachings and beliefs that work in wholesome ways, believe in them and follow them.
@ Mu – Tsering, then would be very much surprised by the overwhelming majority of Buddhist scholars throughout the ages from Japan to Sri Lanka who conclude otherwise (meaning, that because the self is NOT permanent, it can only be a construct, not a real, existing thing). The last part of that quote you posted is quite correct. The self as a permanent entity does not exist. what that means is that this conditional “self”, when any of its five aggregates changes, is no longer the same self. The five aggregates are constantly changing, and therefore the “self” is also, constantly changing. Anything that changes, according to Buddhism, cannot be said to exist, except as a mental construct. I respect that the Tibetan tradition (and many Mahayana traditions, including my own) holds otherwise, but the fact of the matter is, Nagarjuna is not the Buddha. He’s but one interpretor among many of what the Buddha taught. And Madhyamika is but one of many Buddhist schools. To ascribe one more value than others is egoic. The Sri Lankans would have us believe that beause they have the oldest copies of the Dhamma that they therefore are preserving the only “correct” form of Buddhism, the highest and most pure form, handed down directly from the Buddha himself. Is this the historical truth? No, but no more or less true than the Madhyamaka or Nagarjuna. Personally, I follow neither the Yogacara nor the Madhyamaka teachings. Does that make me less of a Buddhist? No. Read this quote from the Sabbasava Sutta, Buddha’s words on all the fermentations of the mind, and see how they square with the later Nagarjuna:
“This is how he attends inappropriately: ‘Was I in the past? Was I not in the past? What was I in the past? How was I in the past? Having been what, what was I in the past? Shall I be in the future? Shall I not be in the future? What shall I be in the future? How shall I be in the future? Having been what, what shall I be in the future?’ Or else he is inwardly perplexed about the immediate present: ‘Am I? Am I not? What am I? How am I? Where has this being come from? Where is it bound?’
“As he attends inappropriately in this way, one of six kinds of view arises in him: The view I have a self arises in him as true & established, or the view I have no self… or the view It is precisely by means of self that I perceive self… or the view It is precisely by means of self that I perceive not-self… or the view It is precisely by means of not-self that I perceive self arises in him as true & established, or else he has a view like this: This very self of mine — the knower that is sensitive here & there to the ripening of good & bad actions — is the self of mine that is constant, everlasting, eternal, not subject to change, and will stay just as it is for eternity. This is called a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views. Bound by a fetter of views, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person is not freed from birth, aging, & death, from sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair. He is not freed, I tell you, from suffering & stress.
“The well-instructed disciple of the noble ones — who has regard for noble ones, is well-versed & disciplined in their Dhamma; who has regard for men of integrity, is well-versed & disciplined in their Dhamma — discerns what ideas are fit for attention and what ideas are unfit for attention. This being so, he does not attend to ideas unfit for attention and attends [instead] to ideas fit for attention.”
Enjoy



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Christopher Mohr

posted November 12, 2009 at 8:14 am


it seems that what we’re all getting at here, is the same thing. we are just going about it from different angles. Self as a permanent, real entity does not exist in Buddhism. Self as a construct, a convention, does exist in the sense that it is a useful tool for referencing a bundle, but ultimately, it is changing and not “real”, in Buddhism.



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No Identity

posted November 13, 2009 at 3:44 pm


Nice back-pedalling, Christopher. Admitting that Greg is A) much clearer, B) more knowledgeable, and C) possesses a keener, more subtle grasp of the dharma might just be a good way for you to begin shaking off that deluded self you are so opposed to yet carry around.



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Beobachter

posted November 13, 2009 at 4:25 pm


@Chris: you certainly have some opinions for a National Guardsman who hasn’t even yet earned his MDiv from a no less impressive institution than the U of the West (sic).
As for the raft comment: I left mine at the shore years ago, but please go on clinging to yours as you complete your “Intro to Buddhism” long-distance course.



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Your Name

posted November 13, 2009 at 7:05 pm


A Buddhist military chaplain. I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry, so I’ll do both.
1. Laughing: Talk about the margins of the marginal. According to the latest statistics from the Department of Defense Manpower Data Center relating to the religious preferences of military personnel, the demographic category “Buddhist/Hindu” is so small that the figure is indicated only with an asterisk which the notes inform us is “less than .5 percent.” Buddhists and Hindus together, just to reiterate. And Mohr’s little ego trip claiming to be a raft for the drowning is also amusing. Chaplains are low on the totem pole when it comes to the mental health of soldiers, as they should be since they have virtually no specialized training compared to the psychiatrists, psychologists, and clinical social workers who are entrusted with the care of soldiers and veterans.
2. Crying: Mohr’s description of what a military chaplain does amounts to nothing more than being a tiny cog in the war machine. You know, the machine that is responsible for the slaughter of over 150,000 Iraqi civilians, the estimated 20,000+ civilians killed as a result of U.S-led military actions, and so on–you know, THAT war machine. A Buddhist military chaplain is an oxymoron of a kind that only the most twisted nihilist could wave around.
Buddhist chaplains, the ones that practice right livelihood as evidenced in part by the fact that they aren’t supported by the DoD, are wonderful beings, Bodhissatvas even. My sister completed the Buddhist chaplaincy training under Joan Halifax. Buddhist military chaplains are living lies.



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Your Name

posted November 13, 2009 at 7:10 pm


The phrase “the estimated 20,000+ civilians killed as a result of U.S-led military actions” should read “…Afghan civilians…”



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Josh

posted November 13, 2009 at 7:34 pm


Chris ain’t no Father Mulcahey that’s for sure. Talk about a blowhard.



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Tomas Klepheimer

posted November 14, 2009 at 8:52 am


Pop quiz, hotshot: what would Sid do? What would the World-Honoured One do?
Would he take the kyosaku & smack some sense into CM, to remind him that a couple of Buddhism classes at a fourth-tier school do not make him the next Aryadeva?



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P. McGurk

posted November 14, 2009 at 11:25 am


Let’s get some facts straight here regarding UWest. There is no way to tell if UWest is a “fourth-tier school” because it’s not ranked by the USNews or any other organization. UWest was formerly known as Hsi Lai University, a vehicle for the Fo Guang Sho order, an order which has come under severe criticism for donation improprieties and their building of massive and ornately adorned temples around the world. When Hsi Lai received accreditation in 2005, it changed its name to the University of the West. The university is, however, only regionally accredited (it belongs only to the Western Association of Schools and Colleges), and has no national recognition. I spoke recently with a professor at my alma mater (Vanderbilt Divinity School), and she stated that transfers would not be accepted from UWest. Partly this has to do with the scarcity of quality faculty at UWest, but mostly it has to do with its lack of national accreditation.
Other facts: UWest has 250 students, mostly international ones. Its admission acceptance rate is 95%+, suggesting that, basically, if you can pay tuition, you’re admitted.



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Tomas

posted November 14, 2009 at 1:50 pm


Thanks, McGurk, for the 411. This certainly confirms my suspicion that Mohr filled out his M.Div application on the inside of a matchbook cover.



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Christopher Mohr

posted November 16, 2009 at 9:46 am


Hmm… I seem to have hit a nerve, for such lovely ad hominems to come out. While I’m out counseling our soldiers (42 sessions logged this weekend) and teaching them to be more mindful in doing what they must, you are sitting here trying to stab me in the back. For my part, I will let them go (they are baseless in any case). i have more important things to do.
Pop quiz, indeed. What would Buddha do? What he did in his own time: teach those in charge how to be more mindful. Teach soldiers the path. Make sure their minds are clear, so they don’t create more suffering than they absolutely have to. Much like Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, I focus on helping those in the various hell realms (war really is hell on earth, no doubts there) find their path to liberation. I suppose you people accomplish more?



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Tomas

posted November 16, 2009 at 5:16 pm


@Chris Mohr: 42 sessions logged in service of the killing machine. Quite an accomplishment, and well done for a supposed Buddhist. Don’t dance around the fact that your mission is to make soldiers whole again so they can return to do all the wonderful–ahem–“peace-keeping” things they do. I am sure the Buddha would applaud your counseling soldiers to *mindfully* fire weapons and torture prisoners. It is clear that your staggering level of delusion prevents you from examining the justifications your tiny mind has produced to allow you to support killing.
You’re like the Buddha, huh? I think we all can see the deep connections. Do you mean the Buddha was an obnoxious self-aggrandizing pretender just like you? Blasphemy.



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LD

posted November 16, 2009 at 8:16 pm


I simply love Mohr’s utterly platitudinous “war is hell.” (What sutra is that from, anyway? Hehe) So I guess that’s why Mohr joined the wartime military, so he could help send soldiers back into “hell.” I mean mindfully, of course.



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Greg

posted November 17, 2009 at 10:12 am


We do have to have an army, and I’m grateful to Christopher that he is helping to ensure that it causes as little suffering as possible.
@Tomas, LD, McGurk – This blog has been around for a couple of years now and it has always been civil and free from the sort of personal attacks that make the internet so tedious. Let’s keep it that way.



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Tammi

posted November 17, 2009 at 12:31 pm


“We have to have an army”???? I guess the first precept does not mean much to anyone on this board.



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P. McGurk

posted November 17, 2009 at 1:41 pm


Not sure what you mean, Greg. I posted facts about Mohr’s school. The immigrant Buddhism that founded Hsi Lai University (now known as UWest), and which is dedicated to money-making, is a scandal. (Read, e.g., the article by Jeffrey Toobin, Annals of Law, “Adventures in Buddhism,” The New Yorker, September 18, 2000, p. 76ff.)
Your policing is unnecessary; I trust we will all draw our own conclusions as to the merits of Mohr’s schooling. I think the evidence is overwhelming that it’s a sham; and Mohr’s actual benefit to the military is highly questionable.



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Jennifer Loomis

posted November 18, 2009 at 5:38 pm


I thought I would check out the admissions process at UWest to verify what others on this board have been saying. I called the admissions office and spoke with a nice woman whose command of English was a bit shakey. I asked her some faux questions as follows:
“I never finished my degree, but I want to apply for the Masters of Divinity program, would I have any chance of getting in?”
“No plobem. [No problem.] Everybody get in.”
“I was wondering also, since I haven’t attended any school in a long time, would I be able to get letters of recommendation from my friends and family members instead of former teachers?”
“No plobem.”
“Now I have a lot of real world experience, so I was wondering if I could get credit for it toward my degree.”
“No plobem. We see.”
“How are the professors in the divinity program; are they tough?”
“They vely nice. You have no plobem.”
“Does everyone finish the program, because I am concerned about my ability to finish in a timely manner.”
“No plobem. We make sure you finish.”
“Is it tough to get straight As, because I really like to have a shining report card, if you know what I mean…”
“Everybody get As. No plobem.”
“Well, thank you very much. I will be in touch if I decide to apply.”
I’m reporting, you decide.



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nintendo dsi r4

posted November 20, 2009 at 6:50 am


I was bit aware that Buddhism is not a religion but it is a type of following and now i am very much clear about the term what Buddhism is. it was good to know, it helped me to clear my doubts i was having and get the correct knowledge out of it. It really helps while dealing with different people in day to day life as well. Thanks alot for sharing this with us.



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nintendo dsi r4

posted November 20, 2009 at 6:52 am


I was bit aware that Buddhism is not a religion but it is a type of following and now i am very much clear about the term what Buddhism is. it was good to know, it helped me to clear my doubts i was having and get the correct knowledge out of it. It really helps while dealing with different people in day to day life as well. Thanks alot for sharing this with us.



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Christopher Mohr

posted November 20, 2009 at 2:54 pm


Jennifer –
You probably talked to Grace. Her job is to put people off the scent (and she is good at it – you’re lucky she didn’t forward you to general services), and to be friendly. She has no authority to say anything about the M-Div program or its contents. The real force behind who gets in (to the M-Div program) is a panel of evaluators in various academic departments. The requirements are more stringent than you would guess. Two to three days of on-campus interviews (both individual and group settings), three letters of reference – two from spiritual advisors and at least one academic reference, a background check (as I recall), transcripts from all prior schools, and the standard application. The real rate of acceptance (that is, those who make it past the approval process) is way lower than our friends on this blog would have you believe.
As for those questioning Buddhists in the Military, I’ll include an email I received from a soon-to-retire senior NCO who wanted to be a Buddhist chaplain in the Army (note: name and personal details removed):
“Sir;
Thanks for the input. It is amazing how far things have come. Naropa had a chaplain program when I looked , but they did not endorse people for the military. However it is too little, too late. I am scheduled to retire in ** months and taking on an additional commitment of a chaplain is a little too much. However, I applaud you and the path that you have chosen. There are many, many non-Christians out there in the Army/military that need this avenue to turn to and not get the standard speeches. As I remember from years ago in a debate/argument between a Catholic and a “non-Catholic”…”My God doesn’t like your God!” There has been a desperate need for you and what you offer for years. You will be an inspiration and an avenue that soldiers may use to remain centered and focused in one of the most brutal and inhumane situations that humans willingly place themselves in.
Peace and strength”
There is justification for an army in the Buddhist scriptures. The Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta addresses it this way: “This, dear son, that you, leaning on the Dhamma, honoring, respecting and revering it, doing homage to it, hallowing it, being yourself a Dhamma-banner, a Dhamma-signal, having the Dhamma as your master, should provide the right watch, ward and protection for your own folk,for the army, for the nobles, for vassals and brahmans and householders, for town and country dwellers, for the religious world and for beasts and birds.” Implicit in “providing the right watch, ward, and protection” for the army that the Buddha mentions is that there be an army to begin with. While war is unskillful, it is necessary in the Buddha’s eyes for a wheel-turning king (ideal ruler) to have an army.
Further, The Buddha suggests in other Suttas that war can function as an instrument of karma (King Pasenadi’s victory over Ajatasattu is discussed by the Buddha in these very terms). Harris suggests that Pasenadi’s defense of his nation against Ajatasattu’s aggression is accepted as praiseworthy by the Buddha. As for not killing? Yes, in an ideal world, you should not kill any sentient being. In an ideal world, everyone would practice ahimsa all day every day. In reality, the Buddha was more pragmatic. The Middle Way ring a bell?
If you take the extreme of non-violence, Buddhists suddenly can’t be doctors (“that guy just stuck a knife into a pregnant woman’s gut!!! The horror!” psychopathic killer or doctor performing a C-section, you choose, but both are violent acts), police, firefighters, factory workers, sanitation workers, lawyers, elected officials, bankers, librarians, or any job, really. If you buy a book, you are perpetuating violence through the Buddhist understanding of interdependence. The book requires trees and forest habitat to be destroyed, rivers to be inevitably polluted (chemicals used to make the paper are just a start), fish and water-dwelling creatures to be killed (same chemicals), and humans, yes, humans to suffer birth defects and death (spontaneous abortions to miscarriages to stillbirth to cancer from the chemicals put in the water, see esp. PCB’s). Odd that some of us Buddhists use that very justification to say we should go vegan, but they ignore the fact that their use of the internet and reading of books are causing just as much harm. What’s the right course? The Buddha suggested the Middle Way. You can make up your own way.



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