Friday, September 25, 2015

buddhaphobia

The Dalai Lama said something stupid recently.  I've tried to find a way to defend it, but it seems pretty damn indefensible.  I've turned to thinking about why I want to defend him.

I've never been one to think he's some kind of perfect enlightened being or anything like that.  After all, he seems to hold a number of absurd superstitious beliefs and the like.  He's not so much a beacon of wisdom, in the intellectual sense, but of kindness and compassion.  He embodies the spirit of Tibetan Buddhism, which is not the most cerebral branch of Buddhism, anyhow.

So, my expectations of him are not all that high, but this sinks below even all that.  I can defend it somewhat, first of all pointing out that until we get some clarification, his intent may not be what it seems.  It may have been something he just didn't give much thought to.  It may be an issue that his own culture isn't exactly sensitive to, the way ours is.  Upon reflection, he may realize it was a dumb thing to say, or to be more generous, his weak grasp of western culture, and language muddled his understanding of the question, or his answer.

It feels like a bit of a stretch though.  Even considering all that, and the fact that he didn't appear to be taking any of it very seriously.. it seemed like a terribly stupid thing to say, no matter how I cut it.

(Jump to 5:30, for what I'm referring to)


I'm more inclined to say that he's allowed to say stupid things now and then.  We all are.  To have stupid ideas, like anyone else.  The challenge is not to be perfect in our ideas, but to be willing to reconsider them, when life points them out to us.  So maybe, most importantly, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, in the sense that he might reconsider, when asked what the fuck he was talking about.

What really irks me though, is the way so many people are jumping on this.  See, Buddhists can be misogynistic too, right?  Yeah, sure, this is just like stoning women to death, for getting themselves raped.  An abruptly dark turn, but I'm talking about having some perspective.  Not waving around bullshit false equivalences.  Not all muslims, I know, but you won't find justification for anything like that, in any Buddhist scriptures at all.  This might just have something to do with why they don't do shit like that.

It largely comes from the same people who seem practically giddy, as they point to Myanmar's Buddhist nationalists as proof that Buddhism is just as crazy as any other religion.  Nominal Buddhists, who just so happen to be in conflict with Muslims.  Coincidentally, of course, a religious group that seems to be in conflict with every other culture, almost everywhere they go.  Does this mean Myanmar's nationalists are without blame?  It's all the Muslims' fault?  Not at all.

Much like in the west, it means that admittedly ugly coalitions form, between ignorant racist xenophobes and rational people who are rightfully concerned about the intolerant ways Muslims behave, in so much of the world.  Not all Muslims, but a very concerning proportion of them, with direct lines that can be drawn from that intolerant violently oppressive behavior, and the words of their infallible religious texts.

(See Sura 5:33, for example, 4:89, 8:14, 66:9, or 98:6)

How dare anyone point out that religious doctrines matter, or that the followers of given religions behave differently from each other, I know.  This has been deemed to be some sort of rampant and inappropriate prejudice, to suggest that an ideology matters.  One that clearly states that anyone who opposes it's mythology should be slaughtered, being just the same as another which unequivocally promotes compassion for all living things.  The argument being that no one actually pays any attention to any of that; we all just express violence or compassion for reasons completely disconnected from our ideological aspirations.

Sorry, but I think it's just intellectually lazy and ignorant that this gets conflated with racism.  It is an especially hostile religion, which makes it difficult to believe that it's just a coincidence that it has the most hostile of extremists.  Every religion has it's questionable elements, but every other religion is allowed to be questioned, while Islam is stuck on the idea that doing so is blasphemy.  This creates a vicious cycle of regression, considering what the Quran says should be done to blasphemers.

This criticism is something that Muslim themselves need to face, not be shielded from, by supposed liberals, who think that even discussing these differences is just a distraction from what's really just veiled disdain for "the other."

How is a Buddhist any less "other" than a Muslim?  Islam is the second largest religion in the world, right behind Christianity, the second craziest religion in the world.  Historically, the other side of the same Abrahamic coin, spread through similar sort of violence and oppression.  Unlike every other religion out there, albeit at different points in their respective timelines.

What does any of this have to do with the Dalai Lama saying something stupid?  It's this moral relativism that leads to defense of Islam, that also seems to lead to this oddly enthusiastic loathing towards Buddhism. Often expressed by liberals, who in recent years have turned against Buddhists, in direct proportion to their embrace of Muslims.

There seems to be this view that Islam has been unfairly vilified, while Buddhism is unfairly held in high esteem, and thus needs to be knocked down to size.  One is brought up, while the other is brought down, without any regard for the ideas each espouses, how their followers behave around the world, or which is actually the minority.  It's all reduced to cultural differences between people, like any other ethnic difference.  A belief in bodhicitta, a belief in jihad, all just inconsequential words that divide people, for no good reason.  

Leading to this overblown condemnation of a Buddhist leader for saying something stupid, while being forgiving of extremist violence and practically turning a blind eye to incredibly widespread human rights abuses.  In the name of some sort of cultural fairness.

Yeah, this gets under my skin.  I think it's just so very misguided.  It was a dumb thing to say, but come on.  He's no Ayatollah.  He's still not even as bad as Pope Francis.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Wind, my blanket, earth, my bed

Ok, for real this time.  Looks like I have an apartment waiting for me in Vermont.  Just across the river from Burlington.  Another unfamiliar new land, another chance for another start.  Maybe it will finally work out this time.  I've done this over and over now, each place different.

Different reasons it might work, same old reason it might not.  Wherever I go, there I am.  To ruin it.

I do have to learn to stop doing that, but I also have to keep trying.  As is usually the case, I can't stay here.  It's not working, there doesn't seem to be any way to make it work, and I'm not exactly attached to Montclair, anyhow.  So, sure, I know the score, but still.  Ever the nomadic vagabond, off I go, again.

Well not quite yet, but the apartment will be available circa October 10th.

Looking at Google maps, it looks really promising though.  It's a tiny city, but that also means that it doesn't sprawl out in every direction like other places I've tried to live.  Everything seems to be within a mile or two.  Even what appears to be a decent selection of martial arts schools, within easy walking distance.  Asian groceries, craft beers, even the major hospital, UVM, just a few blocks away.  Bike lanes everywhere, and even a robust public transit system that it looks like I won't even need.

So far, anything I can think of appears to be easily accessible, and I can't say the same of here at all.  Or of Minneapolis, or even Chicago.  Burlington appears to be so much more compact, while still having just about whatever I want to do.  I know, each time I've moved, I thought I was going somewhere that seemed promising, only to find some reason to hate it, but we'll see.

At the very least, I'll have a comfortable little apartment, nestled between a quaint little city, and an expanse of beautiful woodland, rivers and streams, in the heart of liberal New England.  Maybe I will finally find my way home.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

judge.me.nt

Still playing me guitar.  Making it up as I go, can't play the same thing twice even if I wanted to.

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I seriously have no idea if I'm any good. Am I making a childish racket? Is it creative? Musical? Is it weird that I have no idea, or is it pretty normal? Is it not supposed to matter? I'm just supposed to create because I love it so?

I'm mostly just bored. Is that good enough?

Not that anyone reads any of this.  I just like to pretend.  Some day maybe cyberarchaeologists will read it or something.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

paradigm shifts

Taking hallucinogens taught me just how impossible it is convey a scenario between two people who hold inherently different values.  How so much of what we take to be reality is predicated on the different sorts of values we place on all its parts.

Death is a basic example.  Countless millions of lives are extinguished, with every passing moment.  Countless millions more are born.  These numbers can seem impressive, and yet abstract.  Unfathomable.  Essentially, irrelevant to how desperately we value the lives of our loved ones.  Our own lives.

Given a different frame of mind, those countless millions don't seem so abstract.  They don't seem unfathomable, so much as deeply indisputable.  Our place in this vast sea of life, comically irrelevant.  To think we should be happy or sad about that would be to entirely miss the point.

I struggle to remember what it felt like.  In that moment, I realized that even any so-called enlightenment would itself be transient, like anything else.  An awareness that flickers into existence given just the right interplay of circumstances, and then to dissipate, as all things do.

This is not to say that I believe I attained enlightenment.  I don't believe in enlightenment.  Not that it's impossible, just anybody's guess as to what it really represents.  There are lots of possibilities, some more impressive than others.  I only know what I experienced, and that it was rather enlightening.  I also know that no amount of description equates to understanding it as I did at the time.

To feel reality turned upside down, without perceiving anything that was factually wrong.  Just a different sense of values, an awareness of how subjective that is.  How impossible it is to convey what it feels like, to fundamentally place different values on all the things we take for granted as objectively valuable to such a subjective degree. As well as the awareness that every individual is bound to have unique variations in their own value systems, differences in life experiences, and brain chemistry.

Shifts in mood can disrupt value measurements, too.  Especially when they extend beyond the normal range, into what we call mental illness.  When I lost the apartment yesterday, I wanted to attempt to capture how I felt about the entire week, in which I thought of nothing else.  I knew that my value system was out of whack.  Nobody died.  Everything would be ok.. and yet, that's not how it felt.

That is a very difficult thing to convey.  If you tell someone that having a hangnail feels like having your whole arm dipped in hydrochloric acid, that is objectively absurd.  Unless someone has a neurological disorder that makes it absolutely true, but this is damn near impossible to imagine.  At least convincingly enough to viscerally appreciate, even if it were possible to discern the truth of it.  As opposed to just taking their shrieking melodramatic word for it.

We're wired to interpret our perceptions of other people through the lens of our own experience.  We instinctively assume that what we've experienced is going to be essentially the same for everyone, in some basic ways.  When it comes to a whole lot of what we consider important in life, this is not true at all, and when we communicate, I'm not so sure that we're ever really hearing each other.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

tribulations

Sometimes experiences are unpleasant enough that even after going through it, we might want to forget it ever happened.  Experiences which are pointlessly painful.  Where we go through some absurd gauntlet, without achieving anything at all for it.  It feels like it wears on my ability to keep doing it.  It sucks, it wasn't rewarding, what the hell?

but no, maybe I'll have better luck next time.  You fall off the horse, you get back on, blah blah blah.  Maybe with the right drugs or something, I don't know.  I'm really just barely scraping by, here.

Didn't get the apartment.  After obsessing about it all week.  Being a neurotic basketcase over it.  The week felt like months.  For nothing, rented by someone else, while I waited to hear from someone who could help me actually get there to finalize.  Being dependent on people really sucks.

Not going through it again.  Going to try being more independent, head up there to do it all by myself.  Well, catching a ride up to Vermont with my cousin.  but other than that.  Not really sure how it's going to go.