Tuesday, December 6, 2016

the zen teaching of bodhidharma

The Zen teachings of Bodhidharma here.

The Bloodstream sermon is particularly powerful:
Buddhas don't save Buddhas. If you use your mind to look for a Buddha, you won't see the Buddha. As long as you look for a Buddha somewhere else, you'll never see that your own mind is the Buddha. Don't use a Buddha to worship a Buddha. And don't use the mind to invoke a Buddha. Buddhas don't recite sutras. Buddhas don't keep precepts. And Buddhas don't break precepts. Buddhas don't keep or break anything. Buddhas don't do good or evil. To find a Buddha, you have to see your nature.

The essence of Bushido

Tsunetomo Yamamoto (1659-1719) was a samurai of the Saga domain in Hizen Province, under his lord Mitsushige Nabeshima. For thirty years Yamamoto devoted his life to the service of his lord and clan. When Nabeshima died in 1700, Yamamoto did not choose junshi because Nabeshima has expressed a dislike of the practice in his life, so Yamamoto considered it better to follow his lord’s wishes. Yamamoto renounced the world and retired to a hermitage in the mountains. Late in life, he narrated many of his thoughts to a fellow samurai, Tsuramoto Tashiro. These commentaries were later turned into the Hagakure (Hidden behind the Leaves).


I have found the essence of Bushido: To Die!

In other words, when you have a choice between life and death, always choose death. If you die before you hit your target, then it will be the death of a dog. In order to master this essence, you must die anew every morning and every night.

The way of advising others must be carried with utmost care. It’s quite easy to see the evil in othersGet intimate, refer to your own weaknesses and failures, then let him discover your point without mentioning his weakness. How can you reform others if you disgrace them?

On the previous night… make plans for the next day.

Don’t go where you’re not invited.

In order to be called a samurai, you must offer your life to Tao. There is no difference between high and low.

It’s difficult to carry acts of justice.

Onlookers see more than the players. Find your own faults through speculation. Consult others. Read books. Learn from the previous generation. You must throw your own judgment.

There are levels in the course of mastery. At the lowest level, you think of others as poor (needless to say, at this level you’re not useful). At the high level, you pretend to know nothing. You go ahead only with the idea of mastery. You go forward without pride and without humility. Your life you build every day. You’re better than yesterday and but not better than tomorrow.

Think of serious matters in a light manner, but think of trifles in an earnest and thoughtful way.

Those who never make mistakes are in danger.

If your eye is able to see good qualities in others who apparently are (you see as) inferior to you, then they can be your masters, even though they have shortcomings as well.

On your way, you meet a shower. You dislike get wet, so you hurry along the streets under the eaves. Still you get wet the same. As long as you accept that you will get wet, you won’t suffer from being wet.

Normally, most people rely on you when they are in trouble. But they will not think of you once they are out of their trouble.

On a low level, it’s unsatisfactory if you remain unfrightened when you find yourself with disaster and difficulties. On a higher level, you ought to go through troubles with courage and elation. “If the water rises, the ship rises too.”

However gifted you are, people refuse to see it if you are a greenhorn. Build your brightness and give it restrained play; “The slower the better.”

The way to excel above others is to have others talk about and judge you. To consult with others is a spring-board to a higher level.

After a year had passed, everyone said: “He looks a tired and sick man.” A took this as the beginning of my service.

There are many in the world who are eager to give advice. There are few who feel glad for being given advice. And there are still fewer who follow the given advice.

zen techniques

1- Talking silence (Dogen):

"Avoid unnecessary words.
Speak with your mind.
Read people’s minds."

2- Being a fool (Master Ikkyu):

"How to reach out?"
Listen… ask.
"How can I obtain wisdom?"
Be a fool.

"What is Zen?
Nothing special."

A monk asked Ummon: "What is Buddha?" Ummon answered him: "Dried shit."
3- Gentle Face (Shin-Hiu)

"Gentle face means a happy spirit,
Let people know it.
Let people see it.
What if they resent it?
Since they need it, they will come to love it."

4- Compelling mind (Ryokan)

"The compelling mind is peaceful."

"How can I feel my mind?
Look at the mountain…"

"Read minds and look at the mountains.".....

"Beathe with your mind and think with your heart!"

5- Cultivate Poetry (the koan as a device for enlightenment)*

Language is evoked by the present occasion itself; it is not merely a mapping of the present in terms of learned structures. thus, language has more of a poetic than a discursive dimension. poetry proper is never merely a higher mode of everyday language. it's rather the reverse: everyday language is a forgotten and therefore used-up poem, from which there hardly resounds a call any longer.

6- Doing Nothing

"Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water."

"When you seek it, you cannot find it."

"After enlightenment, the laundry."

*Here a long list of Zen koans.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Taoism: five into 5

Dmytro Didora, via Juxtapoz

chinese civilization would have been utterly different if the Tao Te Ching had never been written. even confucianism would not have been the same, for like buddhism, it did not escaped taoist influence. 

one cannot hope to understand chinese philosophy, religion, government, art, medicine –or even cooking- without a real appreciation of the profound philosophy taught in this little book. 

1- Tao (the Way) is the ONE.  

Natural, eternal, spontaneous, nameless and indescribable

ying yang represents the binary structure of the universe

this reflect the YING YANG principle. 

Yang is the cosmic energy of Heaven, male, aggression, firmness and brightness. Ying is the cosmic energy of earth, a female element that is receptive, yielding and dark. Harmony in nature is achieved through these two cosmic energies. They are both equally important. 

2- Being/Non-being, is a duck/ rabbit relationship. Ziran/Wuji meaning the dialectic aspect of the universe. Ziran is the irreducibility of Tao, which cannot be referred back to anything else. Wuji (limitless, infinite) is the ultimate nothingness. 
Know whiteness, maintain blackness, and be a model for all under heaven. By being a model for all under heaven, Eternal integrity will not err. If eternal integrity does not err. You will return to infinity. 

3- Tao moves in cycles Wu Xing. But the life cycle is an unchanging truth. While everything in nature and all sentient beings follow their respective cycles, so do worldly events. The main lesson here is that there is no rule by which one can foresee the future.

4- if one has Tao, then one becomes Te (virtue). The ideal life for the individual and the ideal order for society and government are based on and guided by it. 

Te = harmony with the natural environment.  
One who understand the the dominating character of the male yet keeps to the passive nature of the female, behaves properly. Te "produces but does not possess, cares but does not control; it leads but does not subjugate." 
5- Tao has a 5-point method: 

1- Simplicity"the ultimate good is like water"

& silence:

"Those who are quiet value the words." 
"Behave simply. Hold on to purity." 

2- Spontaneity"blaze the trail not often followed" 

"Even at the verge of erring, err honestly."  

3- Tranquility: "moon illumines the crystal blue water"

"The quiet horizon amidst the noise. Levelheadedness in crisis."  

4- Flexibility: "be a blade of grass" 

"Dare let the weather lead."  

5- Non-action (wu-wei): "when nothing is done, nothing is left undone"

Because of its importance, I intend to explain wu-wei in more detail in my next post.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Analects (excerpts)

Hold faithfulness and sincerity as first principles. "Have no friends not equal to yourself. "When you have faults, do not fear to fix them."

Tsze-kung asked what constituted the chun-tzu (superior man). The Master said, "He acts before he speaks, and speaks according to his actions."

The Master said, "The superior man is universal and not partisan. The mean man is partisan and not universal."
The Master said, "Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is dangerous."

The Master said, "Yu, shall I teach you what knowledge is? When you know a thing, to hold that you know it; and when you do not know a thing, to allow that you do not know it; -- this is knowledge."

The Master said, "If a man is without the virtues proper to humanity, why would he need rites of propriety? If a man is without the virtues proper to humanity, how would he manage with anything in particular?"

The Master said: "Things that are done, it is needless to speak about; things that have had their course, it is needless to remonstrate about; things that are past, it is needless to blame."

The Master said, "Those who are without virtue cannot abide long either in hardship or enjoyment. On the other hand, the virtuous rest in virtue."

Continue reading here

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

your turn #7 (the dhammapada)

by oneself evil is done; by oneself one suffers; by oneself evil is left undone; by oneself one is purified. purity and impurity belong to oneself, no one can purify another.

didn't want to leave the dhammapada without a proper comment session. please, participate.

just to refresh some themes:

1- the insistence of the causal connection of evil & life. in the twin verses of 1:1."we become what we think."  then, 1:5: "hatred can never put an end to hatred". this is a novel way of looking at ethics. wrong actions carry moral (causal) consequences = you reap what you sow is not a metaphor, it's cause & effect! of course, 9:119: "the evil doers may be happy as long as he does not reap what he has sown, but when he does sorrow overcomes him." yeah, there's no way out of paticca samuppada.

2- the control of the mind: "hard is to train the mind, which goes where it likes..." 3: 35
the importance of self-governance of the mind. ..."those who can direct thoughts are freed from the bond of mara" (3:37).

and this one: "make your mind a fortress to conquer maya with the weapon of wisdom".

i doubt something this deep has been said with this simplicity.

the beautiful chapter 4, "on flowers". this stands out: "do not give your attention to what others do or fail to do, give it to what you do or fail to do" 4:50.

3- a central lesson in the dhammapada is that good is objective,  it can be perceived: "the fragrance of the good spread everywhere..." 4:54.  good is an essence.

4-  the importance of self-governance. the self is a refuge, not a place to waste. so, we must keep our house in order. these three are key:

"do not give your attention to what others do or fail to do; give it to what you do or fail to do." 4:50
"if you find no one to support you on the spiritual path, walk alone". 5:61
"a solid rock cannot be moved by the wind, the wise are not shaken by praise or blame." 6:81

(that doesn't mean we don't try to build our own sangha):

"make friends with those who are good and true, not with those that are bad and false." 6:78

Tuesday, November 8, 2016


Confucius molded Chinese civilization in general and judging by the Analects, one can see that he exerted great influence on Chinese philosophical development. There is a humanistic tendency in Confucius’ thought. He did not care to talk about spiritual beings or even about life after death. Instead, he believed that we can make the Way (Tao) great.

Confucius concentrated on man. His primary concern is a good society based on good government and harmonious human relations. Confucius believed in the perfectibility of all men and in this connection he radically modified a traditional concept, that of the “superior man” or chün-tzu. How can one be chün-tzu?

One can broadly sum up Confucius system in a handful of principles:

1- T’ien (or heaven) is purposive, the master of all things. Confucius idea of T’ien is that of immanence: “Heaven sees through the eyes of the people, Heavens listens through the ears of the people.” Not necessarily anthropomorphic but anthropogenic. Heaven is embodied in the people and exemplified by the people. Heaven is a principle and that relates to human as that of part/whole relationship.

2- The Mandate of Heaven or T’ien Ming consists of a Supreme Being who institutes a moral principle to operate by itself. That’s the principle of Heaven, T’ien Tao, later on called T’ien-li.

3- Jen (also pronounced as “ren” means indistinctly, altruism, humanity and fairness). “Jen” appears more than 100 times in the Analects. Jen also requires compassion: “Do not impose to others what you don’t want.” This negative form of the golden rule is essential in Confucianism for it tells people what not to do. “If you want to establish yourself, establish others. If you want to promote yourself, promote others.” To be able to apply the golden rule one has to follow a method

4- “Shu” which means to be empathetic, i.e., to be able to understand the circumstances. Shu is the right method to achieve jen. There are certain important virtues that can help in the process. They are:

respectfulness (gong), 
reverence (jing), 
leniency (quan), 
beneficence (hui), 
being quick in action (ming), 
reliability in words (xing) and 
cultivating slowness to speak (yan ren). 

Gong can be best explained as self-respect, self-worth. The Confucian self needs to be cultivated holistically (the mind is as important as the body).

Next there is jing, or reverence, but a better term is estimation. It’s a public virtue. How can one esteem something or someone? When one avoid the short-sightedness of the moment and ponders the far reaching implication of our actions. One becomes socially productive when one leaves pettiness and jealousies behind.

Quan is a principle of charity. It means magnanimity, being able to being thorough with oneself and the others, but suspending judgment until one has all the possible evidence. Quan doesn’t rule out criticism, only that it analyses it more and applies it to oneself. Quan presupposes self-awareness.

Xing relates to the idea of moral coherence between intentions and words, which amounts to honesty: One is reliable if one is trustworthy.

Yan ren is very close to our idea of prudence.

5- Shu needs “Xue” or learning. Not an achievement verb, but rather a stronger sense of affecting oneself whether by improving one’s sensitivity, understanding or ability. With xue one appropriates what’s learned, a process of becoming transforming. Xue is accompanied by,

6- “Si,” that is, reflecting. “Learning without thinking, one will be perplexed, thinking without learning, one will be in peril.” (A, 2:15).

7- An important theme in Confucian ethics is The Doctrine of the Mean or “Zhong-Yong.” It means centrality, non-deviation: not to be “one-sided.” It doesn’t mean staying in the middle no matter what: “Excess is as bad as deficiency.” (A, 20:1). Enduring, undeviating behavior that includes genuineness on one hand and steadfastness and persistence on the other. Implies non-deviation from this way.

8- There is also Rectification of names (Pinyin). This essentially means that for every action, there is a word that describes that action. The belief is that by following the Rectification of Names you would be following the correct/right path. By calling things what they are, we avoid confusion. RON also presupposes the idea of honesty in our speech acts

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

your turn #6 Bhagavad Gita

pick a topic of the many: action in inaction, sacrifice, maya, faith, selfless action, service, ignorance, fighting the battle, moksha, go ahead.

desire according to buddhism

art by sam yong

Buddha based his entire teaching on the fact of human suffering.*

1- Existence is painful.

The conditions that make an individual are precisely those that also give rise to suffering.

Individuality implies limitation; limitation gives rise to desire; and desire (tanha) causes suffering because what is desired is transitory, changing, and perishing.

It is the impermanence of the object of craving that causes disappointment and sorrow (cause/effect: one suffers because one desires). I'd like to spin this idea of desire with the idea of EROS as an embodied striving for well-being that connects us with things, animals and people, which situates us in the world with others.

EROS is the fundamental energy by which we relate to all that is. SIN might be seen as human desire gone astray, a corruption of the basic potency for relation. SIN is a "desire" in the form of a will-to-control that aspires to secure itself by mastering all around it. Ridden with anxiety about its own lack of control, it reduces what is other to the self, placing a stranglehold on all that is not-I in order to guarantee absolutely its own self-perpetuation.

By effectively closing itself off from the other, a genuine relation is negated in a posture of solipsism. Augustine referred to this selfish attachment "cupiditas," a need-based form of desire that seeks its own satisfaction above all else and therein refuses its genuine relation to creation and the Creator. 

2- By following the "path" taught by the Buddha, the individual can dispel the "ignorance" that perpetuates this suffering.

3- Reality, whether of external things or the psycho-physical totality of human individuals, consists in a succession and concatenation of microseconds called dhammas.

4- Moreover, contrary to the theories of the Upanishads, the Buddha did not want to assume the existence of the soul as a metaphysical substance. Life is a stream of becoming, a series of manifestations and extinctions. The individual ego is a delusion; the objects with which people identify themselves -fortune, social position, family, body, and even mind-are not their true selves. Nothing is permanent.
*Suffering in this context is equivalent to disquietude. The mind is in a state of restless anxiety. Tahna (as mental state) is a vicious cycle (if one's desires are fulfilled it will, of itself, lead to one's lasting happiness or well-being). Such beliefs normally result in further craving/desire and the repeated enactment of activities to bring about the desired results.

Buddhism in a few points

First, the four noble truths and the eightfold path and

The Four Noble Truths: 

1- The truth of misery: Buddhism locates the suffering not in the khanavāda ("fleeting moments") of experience (for these are the "really real" elements in experience and the source of our aliveness and joy) but in the compulsiveness with which people attempt to stop the world and insist upon some kind of security and predictability in their lives.

2- Misery originates within us from the craving for pleasure and for being or non-being: As people become free from clinging and manage a degree of disengagement from their own compulsive drives, they can construct elaborate conceptual systems as instruments for widening and vivifying awareness.

3- Human craving can be eliminated: Freedom from the unsatisfactoriness of existence is found by extinguishing desire, which means the cessation of clinging aimed at self-possession.

Here nirvana means the "cooling" or "extinguishing" of the flame of craving that engenders ego-enclosed "I-ness."

Instead of an attachment to being, there is now generated a dis-attachment from being, which accordingly frees the enlightened person from the restless bondage of duhkha --and the wheel of karmic samsara, producing a tranquility untroubled by worldly occurrences.

This is not to say that pain and pleasure are no longer felt; they are simply no longer of ultimate consequence.  

4- The truth that this elimination is the result of a methodical way or path that must be followed

Eightfold Path: How can one escape the continually renewed cycle of birth, suffering, and death (samsara)? Here ethical conduct enters in: 
1- right views (the right perspective of things, not too much, not too little) 
2- right aspirations (one projected into the future) 
3- right speech (words need self-governance, constructive words coming from a constructive mind --- ahimsa)  
4- right conduct (our dharma) 
5- right livelihood (living a life which transpires our purpose) 
6- right effort (action in inaction) 
7- right mindfulness (self-government at the mental level, not allowing destructive thoughts inside, "not in this house") 
8- right meditational attainment (YOGA). 

The term "right" (true or correct) is used to distinguish sharply between the precepts of the Buddha and other teachings.

Nirvana: The aim of religious practice is to be rid of the delusion of ego, thus freeing oneself from the fetters of this mundane world (i.e., the endless round of rebirths). This is the final goal -not a paradise or a heavenly world. Though nirvana is often presented negatively as "release from suffering," it is more accurate to describe it in a more positive fashion: as a goal to be sought and cherished.  

Karma: The belief in rebirth, or samsara, as a potentially endless series of worldly existences in which every being is caught up was already associated with thedoctrine of karma in pre-Buddhist India, and it was generally accepted by both the Theravada and the Mahayana traditions. According to the doctrine of karma, good conduct brings a pleasant and happy result and creates a tendency toward similar good acts. This furnishes the basic context for the moral life of the individual.

Sangha: Sangha refers to the assembly of believers. There are two meanings, the monastic Sangha of ordained Buddhist monks or nuns and the assembly of all beings possessing some degree of realization.

what a midterm "A" test looks like (so you can compare this one with the one you will receive)

an "A" represents the class of --comparatively speaking-- the best-answer tests. here is one example of that class:

p. 1, see that in question 5- "karma," she goes in detail to explain the concept. or in question 7- "ahimsa" how she develops her idea. this student doesn't answer a question just with a one-liner, she actually explains what she knows.

p.2, see for instance in the question 10- "gunas," how the student specifies each one and goes further to explain each one. she doesn't miss one.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

a preamble to the gita

first, the idea of dharma: doing what must be done, its stoic translation is "doing the best we can at all times."

dharma is not passivity. it means pursuing our duty, diligently, intensely. 

which duty? what we have chosen for ourselves; the milieu we've inherited (dna, family, commitments). 

the idea of detaching oneself from the fruits of one's action may seem a bit counterintuitive, particularly in the West. it takes a hierarchical view of things.

krishna admits that one can win or gain, no matter the outcome.

sure, but that's too general. how does it apply to me? the idea of "gain" (profit is a bad synonym) in our post-capitalist times is very entrenched. we're often caught up in a means-to-ends cycle. 

suggestion: how many times one invests and makes money and the general outcome of the investment leaves much to be desired? how many times we've won arguments than in retrospect we wished we had lost? how many actions we choose which we later resent? what cuts through these examples is time. 

we don't have enough time to see the movie because we're in it. only then one can understand krishna's advice.

as we've discussed before, sacrifice (yajna) turns upside-down all received notions of economic exchange: sovereignty. 

yajna is a form of sovereignty. the existentialist metaphor of devenir. in a sense, we're born again every time we choose ourselves. self-rule is a sign of inner development. 

we're born again every time we choose ourselves. self-rule is a great sign of inner development.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

list of terms for the midterm and instructions

find the list of terms for the midterm here.

the test consists of a bunch of fill-in-the-blank questions like this.

atman: _______(your answer here)____________

Try to be as exhaustive as you can.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Saturday, October 1, 2016