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A Curse in Miracles

Woe is me and alas! Pity me, for I am a secular humanist and gnu atheist embarked on trying to read the quintessential New Age non-dualistic blueprint for spiritual transformation, Dr. Helen Schucman’s A Course in Miracles.

And it is heavy going indeed. All I’ve done so far is download the free excerpt from kindle (which goes on and on past the 9th chapter at least), I’m 88% through, and I’m not sure if I have the heart to continue. According to the book I don’t, of course – but more on that later.

It’s not that the book is hard to read. Nor is it even particularly hard to understand. I was an English major and now I am old and I have read plenty of books which were far more philosophically and technically difficult, to be sure. But I keep alternating between frustration, boredom, anger, and an almost stupefying astonishment that the book is really as bad as it is. I am, however, learning quite a lot. It’s just not what I am presumably supposed to be learning.

I’m also surprised. A Course in Miracles was not quite what I expected.

This book, you see, is very highly regarded by many good people, including my new-agey neo-pagany spiritual-but-not-religious modern liberal friends, who regularly extoll the peace, acceptance, and insight of this book in suspiciously vague terms. If you look it up (or have already encountered it) it’s a cottage industry of vast proportions. What is it about? Cagey answers – mostly involving something called “nonduality” which somehow entails no right, no wrong, no judgments. Learning to accept yourself and others. It’s about letting go of ego. Forgiveness. Buddhist type stuff, from what I gathered.

Ah, okay. I thought I had a handle on that one: humanist spirituality. Or spiritual humanism. Years ago I had read and enjoyed what I assumed was a similar tome – one which also spun off courses and workbooks and workshops and calendars and positive affirmations to stick on your walls. Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy  was written by a very nice relaxed woman named Sarah Breathnach. And Simple Abundance was a very nice relaxed book you could slip in and out of, one concerned with simplifying your life, slowing down, learning to appreciate, and becoming nicer and more relaxed. Nothing in it was earthshaking or groundbreaking, of course – but I dare say it doesn’t hurt to have some positive reminders on How to Live Well and Concentrate on What Really Matters. You can have a lot even when you have very little. That sort of thing. Not to everyone’s taste and of little worth in a crisis, admittedly, but of good will.

This book was of course ‘inspirational’ so there were plenty of references to Spirit and everything all happens ‘for a reason’. But it wasn’t particularly hard for a metaphysical materialist-type like me to either re-translate those parts (Spirit = Nature) or just skip them and proceed to ‘take what you need and leave the rest.’ That style of ‘spirituality’ works for humanists because it’s less concerned with metaphysics and more concerned with how to live.

Buddhism is a bit like that – or rather, can be in some of its forms. My own brother has recently written a book (shameless plug!) entitled Zen Unleashed: Everyday Buddhist Wisdom from Man’s Best Friend. It’s a simple and basic guide to the principles of Zen Buddhism as told from the point of view of a dog (since “dogs are Zen Buddhist.”) I helped proof an early draft and found little to nothing objectionable and much that was valuable. As he describes it, “Zen teaching emphasizes a daily practice of living in the now, being open to life.” In the short chapter (they are all short) titled “Does God Exist?” the answer is that it’s irrelevant. Buddha

was only interested in talking about suffering in this life, its causes, and how we could escape it. By refusing to discuss the existence of God, the Buddha left belief or nonbelief up to us.

Very well. My friends were all either Buddhist or very sympathetic to Buddhism, so I bravely entered A Course in Miracles not only interested in what it was all about but happily willing to re-translate, skim the bad parts, and take what humanist wisdom I need and leave the rest. I was open. I downloaded. I read as usual on two levels: that of the hypothetical ‘author’s perfect reader’ and also with a more cautious eye.

Jesus. Fucking. Christ.

There is not a thing – not a goddam thing – which is worthwhile about this book. There is not one chapter, one section, one insight, and I deeply fear not even a single word which is useful, valuable, or capable of being taken in and used with advantage by a secular humanist and atheist. In my opinion it is one of the most vile, anti-humanist, passive-aggressive screeds I’ve ever wasted so much time on — but, just like the passive aggressive little piece of gnostic propaganda it is, the book is fine with that. Really. No atheist is capable of understanding the insights and wisdom of the divine revelations within … yet. So all is as it should be. I am not being judged. No. We’re too nondualistic to do that. My ass they are.

Not a high recommend, in other words.

But let me set out not just what I see as the theme and message of the book, but why it’s important for us to pay attention to what it is saying. There is I think a tendency on the part of atheists to assume that the more liberal forms of religion – the New Age, the pagan, the spiritual-but-not-religious – are all steps on the path towards universal humanism. They’re less concerned with God and more concerned with Good. They share our respect for the environment, for human rights, for science and reason. The focus is on the natural world and how to live in it.

Not always true. Sometimes, certainly. Often, perhaps. But when you look below the surface of at least some of these so-called “liberal religions” you can occasionally discern a regressive, repressive, anti-science, anti-humanist stance beneath the benevolent smiles and expressed concerns for peace and tolerance which is every bit as reactionary as the traditional fundamentalism they pretend to rise above. There’s a hierarchical, mystical strain of irrational transcendentalist rebellion against the Enlightenment in this spirituality which is much, much closer to cult-like thinking than to empirical rationalism and the progress it has made in the world.

They are generally lovely people, to be sure, but they are not ‘on our side’ — meaning, they are not following a path towards humanism. Or, rather, they often live like humanists but have the mindset of fundamentalists who cannot, will not deal with dissent — and will drop science in glorious principle at the first sign of a conflict. This book is nothing but an unstinting panegyric to faith, handwaving metaphysics, and a sublimated self-satisfied smugness over that fact. It is woo lived. And if this is taken seriously … it will not cash out well.

If I had to sum up the main point of A Course in Miracles – and if I was allowed to be flip and sloppy and biased about it  – I would say it is a blueprint for How Not to Be an Atheist. Oh, it does not say this clearly (trust me, clarity is not its strong suit.) Instead, it re-defines words so that they mean the opposite of what they normally mean, a technique which I believe is popular in brain-washing (“War is Peace!” “Freedom is Slavery!”) Belief that the natural world really exists and that we can discover truth through reason and science = “ego” (also “dualism.”) Atheism = “ego” (also “insanity.”) The “miracle” in the title does not refer to the conventional idea of miracles (though they actually happen) but – from what I can make out – that which occurs when we encourage other people to just open their heart and recognize that the only reality is a primary and nondualistic one of a Mind God of LOVE.

Which atheism then destroyed… and threatens everyone’s soul unless we constantly fight it off.. No offense, of course — because the book is not meant for us (I had wondered a bit why nobody urged me to read it.)

And so it goes on and on. Being skeptical of whether or not any of this stuff is true = “fear.” The whole point of life is to “let go of ego” (stop believing in the world) which causes all “suffering” and “renounce fear” (critical thinking.) One must seek to become so certain (“humble”), so pig-sure of our insight that we are all One Spirit (or something like that) that the possibility of being wrong – the possibility that the existence of God could hypothetically go either way – cannot even be entertained. It must become literally unthinkable.

And this book is going to help you with that. My child.

Yes, it’s channeled. Yes, the real author of the book is supposed to be Jesus Christ so that yes, we quite literally have an author who thinks they are God. Or, perhaps, who is content, nay eager, to have the reader accept everything he or she is told as if they were listening to God. Every time the writer brings up the possibility of doubt there are soothing reassurances that no, there is no need to fear. When you are ready you will accept. Till then we cannot hear you, because we come from different paradigms.

And it’s all assertion, assertion, assertion with not even a scrap of an attempt to support anything with a rational argument.

Of course there isn’t. Because there can be no argument. Everyone, deep within themselves, already knows that what the Course in Miracles is citing is the unquestionable Truth. We all know there is a God. Yes. You do. Because I say so, that’s why … and I’m Jesus, after all. Perhaps you are not ready to let go of ego yet, my child. Have no fear. I will not attempt to reason with you. There is no reasoning. There is only Knowing. Arguments — debate — is bad. Ego.

It’s a classic presuppositionalist  argument, beloved by Calvinists and fundamentalists the world over. It reeks of the sensus divinitatis upped to the maximum level (though you also get the advantage of hearing direct from Jesus what he really meant in the Bible — which turns out to be the opposite of what the Calvinists think it is!)

And yet its thin veneer of tolerance (“hey, I don’t proselytize!”) actually masks a deep-seated hostility towards the common ground and human fallibility. This is not a course to travel on in order to unite people: it will only divide. Faith will separate the Saved from the Damned and the Enlightened from the Unenlightened with equal efficiency and as little possibility of appeal. It seems to me that there is nothing more divisive to humanity than pointing to a group of outsiders with whom one disagrees and intoning “there is no point in reasoning with Those People: they cannot be persuaded because they are too different.” As far as I know there is no point in history in which that sort of thing turned out well. And though I could be wrong, I doubt very much it will do much better in personal relationships.

We have no special revelations but  I think atheists always have the advantage of the broader perspective when it comes to finding universal LOVE through God. The insiders have no idea how different this looks from the outside when you aren’t ready to just confuse your intuitions with insights, your hopes with reality — and simply roll over and believe. Or, rather, they do know and don’t care. Our objections are a feature – not a bug. And our resultant resentment of this is simply further confirmation that they are right. Though of course there is no right or wrong, no good or evil: nondualistic, remember. This works. Because I said so, that’s why. Child. Only Love.

Okay. I have yet to quote directly from the book and I know I should. Nor have I finished the course and this is problematic considering I’m doing what amounts to a book review – so do take it with a grain of salt. My lack of discipline opens me up to justified accusations of misrepresentation or misinterpretation (a guarantee anyway though since I lack spiritual discernment.) Plus there looks like there will be an upcoming shitload (I use the word deliberately) of dangerous pesudoscientific advice on healing the body with wishful thinking and alternative medicine (hey, where’s the harm?) Bottom line: it is woo and it encourages very bad habits of thinking indeed.

But when you download a free sample into your kindle it apparently does not allow you to highlight and save into a file (one of my favorite things!) so that means I will have to go searching through what I’ve read and try to remember the best passages which caused me to snort, roll my eyes, sigh heavily, and/or moan “Oh …. hell, no.”

Perhaps you are curious. Perhaps there is nothing you would rather look at less. Perhaps this post has gone on long enough.

You can get a hefty bit of it for free and my guess is that it’s just as good all the way through.

So I’ll end with an interesting observation and a positive. While I have been forcing myself and my ego (Ego thought it could create separately from Love and thus broke apart the original God Unity and this is how the physical material world formed) to wade through this I have simultaneously been taking breaks to start reading Herman Philipse’s God in the Age of Science?: A Critique of Religious Reason. This one is a highly-praised new atheist/ New Atheist book which dissects the arguments for the existence of God with lucid, analytic, academic precision and o my, is the effect of going back and forth … bizarre. It’s like washing down a marshmallow with a bottle of Châteaux Lafite-Rothschild 1869. It’s like channel flipping between a documentary on Einstein and “The Housewives of New Jersey.” It’s like – well, yes – it’s like reading A Course in Miracles side-by-side with God in the Age of Science?: A Critique of Religious Reason. The comparison is extreme but apt.

High recommend on the latter book, by the way.

(from Sastra)

Comments

  1. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Dogs are Zen Buddhists? I remember the dog we had when I was a child, rushing round and round the table making a noise somewhere between a whine, a howl and a scream as the family assembled for a meal, then diving under it and taking out his feelings on an ancient bone; or scratching at the door to go out, then immediately taking offense if you opened it for him, having decided you were sending him out. Or the dog that attacked our late and much-missed Amber unprovoked and got her throat in its jaws. Even Amber herself, when the hoover came out, or our neighbours took their wheelie bin out. On average, I reckon dogs are about as screwed up as people.

  2. grumpyoldfart says

    Do you remember that miracle that happened last year, the famous one that everybody is talking about and nobody has ever refuted?

  3. spike13 says

    That’s one of the problems with E-books…you can’t send it cartwheeling across the room in disgust and boredom. Well, I guess you can,but, it’ll cost you.

  4. Reginald Selkirk says

    In the short chapter (they are all short) titled “Does God Exist?” the answer is that it’s irrelevant. Buddha

    Honors to your brother. Often pop Western Buddhism bears no resemblance to what the Buddha actually taught, but this is smack on.

  5. Reginald Selkirk says

    Yes, the real author of the book is supposed to be Jesus Christ so that yes, we quite literally have an author who thinks they are God.

    Which means that actual Christians should condemn the book as blasphemy.

  6. jolly says

    Does Jesus explain in that book why he supports slavery? Why he told everyone that the world was about to end in a few years? Jesus should write more books but get a better editor.

  7. Ulysses says

    I’d get a copy of Phillipse’s book if it wasn’t $55.55 (Amazon used).

  8. sirbedevere says

    #4
    Apropos of Dorothy Parker’s famous line: “This is not a book to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”

  9. brianpansky says

    new age is this abyss where magical thinking and cognitive bias are cranked up to eleven. they go hand in hand because they have magical thinking about our very minds, and may disregard the actual existence of cognitive bias (such as the forer effect).

    you will also see a lot of this magical thinking and superstition which looks like victim blaming. not just “everything happens for a reason” but also the (buddhust?) “we only suffer because we are too attached to this or that” but also I’ve seen “our intentions shape the world, even the weather is a result of US. literally everything that happens to us is because of us”

    I wish I was exaggerating. so, ya, new age stuff has been worrying me a lot recently. I can see what you mean when you pointed out how this is like fundamentalism. It certainly has the fractally wrong anti-science properties…

  10. k_machine says

    Buddhism is shit. Watch the Star Wars prequel if you want to see an accurate portrayal of it. Creepy order of celibate monks press-gang toddlers into lifelong servitude. George Lucas is also the living embodiment of all that is wrong with Buddhism. “Let go of all attachments, that’s the ticket!” (Builds billion dollar media empire.) A Buddhist is either a stone cold asshole whose every response to problems is “go meditate in a cave” or a smug douche bag that picks and chooses which attachments to “let’s go” off. Seriously, what “letting go of attachments” mean is just that: your wants and desires is what causes you to suffer so if you’re being forced to see your loved ones being fed into a wood chipper, the fault is in you for not letting go. Nothing matters, all you should do is to just sit around in a monastery and meditate and avoid that suffering.

    And this is only the problem with theoretical Buddhism, real-Buddhism has a very worldly track record. Back in the Far East feudal era, Buddhist churches ran armies and were secular feudal powers like the Catholic church in Korea and Japan. Tibetan Buddhist ran Tibet so nightmarishly bad that there was a negative population growth, Zen Buddhist Japanese had no problem what so ever with slaughtering the Chinese during World War II, in Sri Lanka today we have Buddhists (oh-so non-violent) urging the death of the Tamils, in Myanmar Buddhists massacre Muslims. So, fuck Buddhism with a long stick.

  11. says

    When I was at school forty-odd years ago one of the books on our reading list was a collection of essays called Twelve Articulate Men. It still turns up in bookshops now and again, and the reaction I has on re-reading it was exactly the same: none of these dudes ever gives the slightest evidence for any of their assertions. I think we often fail to realise just how recently giving reasons for your claims has become a requirement for authors and essayists — and obviously there are still areas like religion and alternative medicine where it still hasn’t gained any traction.

    We know that religious believers tend to be more authoritarian than others; part of that is the acceptance of claims made on the basis of ‘because I say so’. Clearly a lot of mystic woo also relies on this same kind of credulousness.

  12. Jacob Schmidt says

    It’s not that the book is hard to read. Nor is it even particularly hard to understand. I was an English major and now I am old and I have read plenty of books which were far more philosophically and technically difficult, to be sure. But I keep alternating between frustration, boredom, anger, and an almost stupefying astonishment that the book is really as bad as it is. I am, however, learning quite a lot. It’s just not what I am presumably supposed to be learning.

    Oh yes. I know the feeling quite well. IIRC, Lee Strobel’s “A Case for a Creator” was about 90 pages long, with big, double spaced font and plenty of figures. It took me a whole weekend to get through it all. I couldn’t get through a paragraph without being flabbergasted at his insipidity.

  13. Azuma Hazuki says

    The author thinks Jesus used her as a channel. Amazing.

    Two questions for her:

    1) Why did Jesus TAKE so long to tell us this?! It would have been very useful during, say, the Inquisition or the 30 Years’ War.

    2) Why does Jesus contradict his supposedly revealed writing so badly by dictating this to you?

  14. says

    I recently had a similar experience with a book a friend sent me by Eckhart Tolle. It was terrible – lots of “the universe loves you” and “this is how it is” — totally unsupported statements delivered as deep truths. The friend who sent it is a recently recovered christian, so I didn’t stomp on her too hard: I responded with a copy of A. C. Grayling’s The Meaning of Things (which I highly recommend as an audiobook) … She emailed me back and said, “I see! He says something and then says why he said it! Wonderful!” Thank you, Prof Grayling!

  15. says

    Lee Strobel’s “A Case for a Creator”

    I promised an acquaintance I’d read it, in return for her reading a book I sent her. It was excruciating. But I was able to explain to her that Strobel relied on a bunch of “facts” that had been thoroughly debunked prior to his writing the book. Which either meant that he was deliberately remaining ignorant of the science he was claiming “could not explain…” or he understood it and chose to lie. Either way, it’s an overt lie or a lie by omission and what does that say about the strength of his faith and his belief in the merit of his argument? In that sense, Strobel’s book is a great big whacking chunk of own-goal FAIL. (I sent her Grayling)

  16. says

    I haven’t read this book, Sastra, and likely it is as fatuous as you describe; but your characterizing nonduality as assertion, in contrast to rational argument, is an egregious inversion. You have previously attempted to beat me with this same stick, so I’ll take the opportunity to elucidate.

    How did you acquire your present understanding of reality? It has been conditioned by your particular experiences. When you were a child you accepted what you were told by those around you, and even as a preverbal infant you induced further propositions from your own observations. A lot of this was good stuff – flames hurt, etc. – but much of it simply repeated the mistakes of the preceding generation, as with religion. Perhaps you think, “Since I got educated, I’ve corrected all important errors which had accumulated”; but this, in truth, is mere assertion.

    A nondualist enquiry proceeds by investigating and disentangling the unexamined assumptions which have accreted around thoughts and perceptions, applying exactly those tools of rational and critical thinking which you so venerate, retrospectively, to expose the earliest layers of false or flawed supposition which have created the foundations of one’s worldview as it is now. Of course, there are correlates in the emotions and the body, but the enquiry is futile unless it rests upon rational analysis. The enquiry is, perforce, individual and subjective (as well as being arduous), but does gradually lead to a more straightforward perspective.

    Those who have completed such a nondual enquiry cannot make the results available for intersubjective scrutiny, because every other conditioned individual is constrained to misunderstand; even some few, like myself, who have begun their own enquiry. The utterances of such realised beings are therefore regarded as “assertions” by the majority, though as useful hints by the few.

  17. says

    (As an aside: tone-trolling atheists for being “strident” drives me nuts, but there are many people who respond to the tone of writing or delivery. My experience, anecdotally, is that that people who grew up in religious households, who are used to being sermonized, respond well to delivery that is companionable. I consider it immoral to attempt to manipulate someone’s response to an argument by making it in a way that plays on their pre-established patterns of responding to authoritarianism – it’s manipulation, but I believe that carefully and gently delivered argument does work best with some people. I’ve found A.C. Grayling’s audiobooks to be devastating. They’re beautiful, clear, wonderfully written, well-argued and – most importantly – Grayling’s delivery is so friendly that it even takes me a few seconds to realize “oh, he just eviscerated that…” He flays religion with kindness and a very sharp, gentle knife. Uhm, have I mentioned I’m quite the fan?)

  18. says

    Those who have completed such a nondual enquiry cannot make the results available for intersubjective scrutiny, because every other conditioned individual is constrained to misunderstand

    That amounts to a circular argument: “you’ll understand if you understand.”

    There are ways that nonduality could be demonstrated practically. Otherwise, it’s not possible to know nonduality is true even if it is.

  19. Ulysses says

    So nonduality is good if you accept it but you can’t explain the conclusions you’ve reached using it because no one else will be able to follow your reasoning. One question: How does nonduality differ from faith?

  20. mnb0 says

    @9: I paid the bucks even with my 3rd world salary (I live in Suriname) and I think it’s worth every single penny. Since I finished Philipse’s book I grant myself a 7 on the scale of Dawkins.

  21. consciousness razor says

    How did you acquire your present understanding of reality? It has been conditioned by your particular experiences.

    So experiences (and empirical observations) are the only access we have to the natural world.

    Those who have completed such a nondual enquiry cannot make the results available for intersubjective scrutiny, because every other conditioned individual is constrained to misunderstand; even some few, like myself, who have begun their own enquiry. The utterances of such realised beings are therefore regarded as “assertions” by the majority, though as useful hints by the few.

    We all live in the same reality, no matter how different local conditions in it may be, in terms of one person’s subjective experiences compared to another’s. If it’s possible to communicate with others about that, go for it. No one is stopping you. But if it’s impossible for others to have them or even talk about them, what do you suppose that sort of experience could have to do with the global state of reality?

    I mean, I can talk about how much I’m enjoying a piece of toast, how the experience and the memories and associations it conjures up are all very difficult to describe, but that’s not particularly useful information to, say, biologists or cosmologists or metaphysicians.

  22. says

    BTW – I’m sure you’ll find plenty of people to agree if your argument is that duality is a lie because we’re all part and parcel of the same thing. In that sense – that I am a subset of the universe – I am “one” with it. But, “so what? comes to mind.

    Ever since Hegel, it’s been hard to get away with “my philosophy is so obscure, you should assume it’s really deep.”

  23. Sastra says

    Vijen #18 wrote:

    The enquiry is, perforce, individual and subjective (as well as being arduous), but does gradually lead to a more straightforward perspective. Those who have completed such a nondual enquiry cannot make the results available for intersubjective scrutiny, because every other conditioned individual is constrained to misunderstand;

    How do you know it leads to a more “straightforward perspective” and not to a more distorted one, if you cannot make the results available for intersubjective scrutiny?

    Anyone making a rational and critical inquiry would see this as a very serious problem indeed.

  24. says

    @Ulysses #21
    It’s easy to distinguish nonduality from faith (and from faith-based pseudoscientific positions, e.g. that consciousness emerges from brains). I’ve made no truth claims about objective reality which are unsupported by evidence. I have simply pointed out that you cannot account for your own subjectivity: you know this, and I know that you know it.

    @consciousness razor #24
    What I describe is accessible to any individual who takes the trouble to investigate, but it isn’t information…
    @Marcus Ranum #25, #20
    …nor is it philosophy, and you’re right that it can’t be known: the presence of a knower mandates duality.

    @Sastra #26
    “Straightforward” was a deliberate choice. Recognizing the kinks in one’s own perceptive capacity requires no external validation, in fact the process is utterly intransitive. Let’s imagine that I dream I’m a butterfly, and so do you. Then I wake up and recognize my mistake, while you remain sleeping. Now is either of us really a butterfly? And when you wake up and recognize your mistake, is that realization in any way dependent upon mine?

    Intersubjectivity is a toy. Intrasubjectivity is the gold standard.

  25. bad Jim says

    Isn’t generally understood by now that humans aren’t actually very good at rational thinking, and that rational inquiry, particularly to the extent it’s carried out in natural language, is not at all dependable? The results of thousands of years of philosophy have not been particularly impressive.

    Science represents a break from the tradition of philosophical inquiry, giving precedence to observation and experiment over traditional forms of argument and contemplation, and its results have been spectacular, transforming not only our understanding of the world but every aspect of our existence.

    Instead of asking whether or not a statement is true, whatever that might mean, we now ask if it makes a difference, if it has an effect. We judge a hypothesis by its results. Otherwise it’s very difficult to determine whether we’re fooling ourselves.

  26. bad Jim says

    Vijen, I, for one, would be amazed to learn of conscious entities which lack brains.

  27. brianpansky says

    ” I’ve made no truth claims about objective reality which are unsupported by evidence.”

    then please point out the support for this claim:

    “pseudoscientific positions, e.g. that consciousness emerges from brains”

    sounds like you are claiming that “consciousness emerging from brains” either does not happen, or is a pseudo-scientific position.

  28. brianpansky says

    and this one “gradually lead to a more straightforward perspective.”

  29. consciousness razor says

    What I describe is accessible to any individual who takes the trouble to investigate, but it isn’t information…

    You haven’t described anything. I at least mentioned the experience of enjoying toast, though it wasn’t a description. You haven’t even gotten that far. So what would you describe, if you were ever planning on getting around to your point?

  30. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    I haven’t read this book, Sastra, and likely it is as fatuous as you describe; but your characterizing nonduality as assertion, in contrast to rational argument, is an egregious inversion. You have previously attempted to beat me with this same stick, so I’ll take the opportunity to elucidate.

    What.

    How did you acquire your present understanding of reality? It has been conditioned by your particular experiences. When you were a child you accepted what you were told by those around you, and even as a preverbal infant you induced further propositions from your own observations. A lot of this was good stuff – flames hurt, etc. – but much of it simply repeated the mistakes of the preceding generation, as with religion. Perhaps you think, “Since I got educated, I’ve corrected all important errors which had accumulated”; but this, in truth, is mere assertion.

    What.

    A nondualist enquiry proceeds by investigating and disentangling the unexamined assumptions which have accreted around thoughts and perceptions, applying exactly those tools of rational and critical thinking which you so venerate, retrospectively, to expose the earliest layers of false or flawed supposition which have created the foundations of one’s worldview as it is now. Of course, there are correlates in the emotions and the body, but the enquiry is futile unless it rests upon rational analysis. The enquiry is, perforce, individual and subjective (as well as being arduous), but does gradually lead to a more straightforward perspective.

    What./Citation needed.

    Those who have completed such a nondual enquiry cannot make the results available for intersubjective scrutiny, because every other conditioned individual is constrained to misunderstand; even some few, like myself, who have begun their own enquiry. The utterances of such realised beings are therefore regarded as “assertions” by the majority, though as useful hints by the few.

    Bullshit. Put up or shut up.

  31. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Vijen, I, for one, would be amazed to learn of conscious entities which lack brains.

    …still? After reading those posts?

  32. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    “Straightforward” was a deliberate choice. Recognizing the kinks in one’s own perceptive capacity requires no external validation, in fact the process is utterly intransitive. Let’s imagine that I dream I’m a butterfly, and so do you. Then I wake up and recognize my mistake, while you remain sleeping. Now is either of us really a butterfly? And when you wake up and recognize your mistake, is that realization in any way dependent upon mine?

    How the fuck is “waking up and realizing you’re not a butterfly” by observing the lack of correspondence of one’s waking memories and body to states consistent with being a butterfly, an example of recognizing something which requires no external validation?

  33. bad Jim says

    Azkyroth, play nice; I was trying to make a serious point. Hey, I think even butterflies are somewhat conscious.

  34. Shplane, Spess Alium says

    Is it just me, or is Vijen not actually saying anything with about 90% of their words?

  35. bad Jim says

    For what it’s worth, Wikipedia has an article on A Course in Miracles. There are hints that it has developed a minor cult, and googling the title presents groups spreading the word in an organized way.

    “Nondual” ought to sound good to us, since we reject various sorts of dualism, shouldn’t it?

    In western cultures the term is also used in modern spirituality and New Age for a “grand tradition” which sees “a primordial, natural awareness without subject or object” as the essence of a variety of religious traditions

    Um. Not the same thing. Restricted syntax, no transitive relations? Doesn’t sound useful. But then, it’s been years since I dropped acid.

  36. Nick Gotts says

    …still? After reading those posts? – Azkyroth

    You’re assuming Vijen is a conscious entity. I’ve long suspected xe’s a newage-parody chatbot. One clue was in xer including the well-known fraud Osho in a list of great spiritual teachers.

  37. Sastra says

    Vijen #27 wrote:

    “Straightforward” was a deliberate choice. Recognizing the kinks in one’s own perceptive capacity requires no external validation, in fact the process is utterly intransitive. Let’s imagine that I dream I’m a butterfly, and so do you. Then I wake up and recognize my mistake, while you remain sleeping. Now is either of us really a butterfly? And when you wake up and recognize your mistake, is that realization in any way dependent upon mine?

    Not if you are sleeping, no, because we are not interacting. But if I begin to walk around relieved that I am not really a butterfly and people suddenly start to react as if I am Gregor Samsa and cry out that hey, you’ve turned into a butterfly! then yes — I would want to check my assumption against theirs. If they start pulling on my wings and messing around with my antenna and holding up mirrors which reflect back my Lepidoptera loveliness, then I might eventually be forced to revise my smug certainty that ah, it was but a dream.

    Your hypothetical scenario places a solution defined as correct into the form of a discovery. Of course it will verify your point. And my adding on that no, it turns out that you ARE a butterfly will show that mental games are no substitute for actual discovery. “Waking up” will likely not involve going deep, deep into the place where the dreams come from.

    Intersubjectivity is a toy. Intrasubjectivity is the gold standard.

    Only if you’re seeking a self-confirming infallible certainty. Are you?

  38. birgerjohansson says

    Never mind buddhism. The only authority worth shit is the Eschaton*.

    *Familiar to readers of Charles Stross**.

    **Since the Eschaton is not a god, it is somewhat closer to the Buddhist worldview, minus the reincarnation.

  39. francesc says

    @37 That’s because you don’t understand. A true believer would “feel” it and “know” it’s true. Ups, sorry, for a moment I forgot that he “made no truth claims about objective reality”.

    So, when he says that

    “I have simply pointed out that you cannot account for your own subjectivity: you know this, and I know that you know it.”

    I know that he knows that either…
    1.- It’s an unsupported objective reality
    2.- It’s a subjective reality for him, and it doesn’t matter the subjective reality of other consciences. I.e: “I know that you know it even if you think you don’t know it”.

    For someone pointing at the fact that your rational thinking is affected by your particular experiences, to confine every review of them within yourself doesn’t seem the best move. How do you know that your review process, wich at the beginning was affected by your particular experience, is going in the right direction?
    .
    Let’s put an example: Imagine that you and me are colorblind. We can’t distinguish between red and green. We both acknowledge our limitation (first question, how?) and we both know that we cannot trust our eyes. So I decide to try and learn the “usual” colours as defined by society (grass and trees are green, apples and strawberries are red…) and memorize the colour of some objects around the workoffice because I’ve heard other people refering to them previously. I’m using intersubjectivity here.

    So, can you get me the green folder? and…
    How can you prove that your solution is better than mine?

  40. Sastra says

    francesc #43 wrote:

    How can you prove that your solution is better than mine?

    Vijen’s response is likely to be similar to the answers to skeptics given by the Course in Miracles proponents. There has been an analogy lurking here lurking in the back of my mind and I finally figured it out:

  41. says

    you’re right that it can’t be known: the presence of a knower mandates duality

    Who said anything about presence?
    But, now that you mention it, the fact that you’re interacting with me might be taken as meaning there’s something other than you. No matter how far you want to shove your head up your ass the fact that you’re interacting with an external world called “the world” via “the internet” shows that you’re refuting yourself with every action you take. The fact that I disagree with you doesn’t just mandate duality, it demonstrates it; I am not a subroutine in your head.

    Anyhow. Have a nice wank. In a contest to see who can spout nonsense best, I’m willing to give you first.

  42. David Marjanović says

    something called “nonduality” which somehow entails no right, no wrong, no judgments

    Advaita Vedānta.

    A nondualist enquiry proceeds by investigating and disentangling the unexamined assumptions which have accreted around thoughts and perceptions, applying exactly those tools of rational and critical thinking which you so venerate, retrospectively, to expose the earliest layers of false or flawed supposition which have created the foundations of one’s worldview as it is now. Of course, there are correlates in the emotions and the body, but the enquiry is futile unless it rests upon rational analysis.

    The same holds for a scientific inquiry.

    The difference is: the scientific method forces you to ask “if I were wrong, how would I know?”.

    Well, Vijen, how would you know?

    I am not a subroutine in your head.

    “One solipsist cannot be wrong.”

  43. unclefrogy says

    all these cults and religious spiritual disciplines really make me nuts.
    so what really is this non-duality stuff what is it they are about this cult of miraculous.
    What is all that word salad all the contradictions all the pointing and not saying it out plainly and bluntly. It is an old trick of “Gurus” to get the conflicted troubled mind into such a state that it actually over loads and shuts down the rational part of the mind (see http://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html) and has a spiritual experience. The “error ” occurs when they decide they can interpret it give it some kind of meaning attribute the experience to a god or they are god or have some special gift from god. The scam occurs when they use this “technique” they have acquired and the “story” they can tell to control and take advantage of the gullible and needy and start charging a lot of money and “founding churches” and cults
    The point of the practice is to have the experience in a conscious way of being without thoughts in words again .
    there are many ways to stimulate or bring that experience on.

    uncle frogy

  44. says

    @bad Jim #29
    There are no “conscious entities”, with or without brains. Entities are parts. Parts aren’t conscious.

    @Sastra #41

    a solution defined as correct

    is just what you already have. I’m simply suggesting that you seek to become more aware of these unconscious definitions.

    @David Marjanović #46

    If I were wrong, how would I know?

    You need to start further back. You’re mistaken about who you are, and all your knowledge is contingent upon this false identity. As Sosan says:
    “Things are objects because of the subject; the mind is such because of things.”

    @various
    There seems to be a prevailing opinion that my remarks are vacuous, or at best cryptic. Nothing could be further from the truth: I am earnest in my attempts to communicate. I say what my own experience honestly allows me to, with as much lucidity as I can muster, knowing that everyone will try to make it fit their own prepared categories, and that no-one will completely succeed.

  45. brianpansky says

    ” pseudoscientific positions, e.g. that consciousness emerges from brains”

    “There are no “conscious entities”, with or without brains. Entities are parts. Parts aren’t conscious.”

    great, so first you use a common word and then go for a basic quibble…???? like is “conscious” even a useful word to you? how about “thoughts”? “memories”? anything mind related? are you redefining all three of the words ‘parts’ ‘entities’ and ‘conscious’?

    you just made a mess, I’m not going to clean that up for you.

    ‘parts’ don’t “fly”, or “jog”, or “compute” either. words: learn how they work.

  46. consciousness razor says

    There are no “conscious entities”, with or without brains.

    Then what are we? “Conscious beings”?

    Entities are parts.

    Entities are wholes. I can make assertions too.

    Parts aren’t conscious.

    Where’d you get that idea? Lots of super-secret navel-gazing?

    And parts of what? Do you think the whole of reality is conscious and we (as parts) are not?

  47. anteprepro says

    Those who have completed such a nondual enquiry cannot make the results available for intersubjective scrutiny, because every other conditioned individual is constrained to misunderstand; even some few, like myself, who have begun their own enquiry. The utterances of such realised beings are therefore regarded as “assertions” by the majority, though as useful hints by the few.

    “Sure, it’s unfalsifiable, unverifiable, and based entirely on me basically asking myself questions, but it is True and the most important and comprehensive description of reality EVAR”

    I’ve made no truth claims about objective reality which are unsupported by evidence.

    You’ve made the claim that objective reality as we know it is a lie and it is all minds all the way down. If that isn’t “unsupported by evidence” it is because, on top of everything else, you have your own idiosyncratic definition of “unsupported” or “evidence”. In addition to the completely predictable word games you would play with the term “objective reality”.

    There are no “conscious entities”, with or without brains. Entities are parts. Parts aren’t conscious.

    Bullshit. Entities, as the term is normally used, are more or less complete, not parts. Entities aren’t parts except for the purposes of your pathetic and nonsensical word games.

    “Things are objects because of the subject; the mind is such because of things.”

    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

    What the everliving fuck is the distinction between “things” and “objects”? Fortune cookies are not arguments. Vague words connected together with no real intent to actually mean anything in particular is not wisdom. Neither of the above is effective communication. So bullshit on your “attempts to communicate” and “as much lucidity as I can muster”. With you it’s just obfuscation, everywhere, all the time.

    Do you actually want to communicate? Then just acknowledge to yourself that you’re no Zen Master. You’re no clever and witty bringer of indirect enlightenment. Even the cryptic masters of mystery that you apparently aspire to be at least are somewhat coherent in their riddlespeak. But you have given yourself the unfortunate duty of consistently trying to deny science while playing at being the Wise Teacher. That may be your problem right there.

  48. anteprepro says

    Also, gotta say: The main article was lovely. And a bonus entertainment value is that a lot of the points in it, reading it now, apply to Vijen.

  49. francesc says

    I will try to word my question better, Vijen. If you get through the process and you come to a conclusion, and I go through the process and find a different conclusion, given that both of them are subjective and you are assuming yours to be true (and so, I should do the same), it seems necessary:
    1.- To justify that it’s impossible, everyone comes to the same conclusion, or
    2.- to give a process to allow we (at least you and me) to choose between both conclusions.
    .
    The second one seems pretty hard specially as you insist that your knowledge can’t be transmitted.
    .
    By the way, “Gurus” are not that different from “Oracles”. They use sentences that the listener fits into their knowledge, so that them doesn’t mean really anything but “everyone” can twist them until they agree with his sentence.

  50. John Morales says

    [OT]

    Vijen:

    There seems to be a prevailing opinion that my remarks are vacuous, or at best cryptic. Nothing could be further from the truth: I am earnest in my attempts to communicate.

    You are also obtuse; it is perfectly possible for you to be both vacuous and earnest, and as for cryptic, your hopefulness is tragicomic.

    (There is no mystery in your conceit)

  51. says

    @francesc #54
    A good effort: it’s always more agreeable to respond to an intelligent question.

    No-one “gets through the process”. It can only be completed by identifying with the whole. There is only one whole. Such a being does not forget the details of their (mistaken) identity, but except in the most basic respects – this body needs to eat – they do not distinguish that identity from yours or mine; indeed they perceive everyone as being equally and already enlightened.

  52. Ichthyic says

    No-one “gets through the process”. It can only be completed by identifying with the whole.

    Translation:

    As with all religions, nothing is subjective. Indeed, it MUST be objective in order to retain adherents who have “faith” in it. What’s more, it must be objectively distinct, or else everything would be the same religion.

    Buddhism is no different from any of the Abrahamic religions in this regard.

    and it of course is just as wrong.

  53. Ichthyic says

    Nothing could be further from the truth: I am earnest in my attempts to communicate.

    actually, that does nothing to remedy the vacuousness of your comments. it indeed is clear that you earnestly vacuous.

  54. Ichthyic says

    There has been an analogy lurking here lurking in the back of my mind and I finally figured it out:

    yup.

  55. says

    @francesc:
    I can’t make it any clearer from my own experience, so here’s Osho talking on the same subject:

    “I have to take away things which you don’t have, and I have to give you things which you already have. You need not be grateful to me at all, because I am not giving you anything new, I am simply helping you to remember. You have forgotten the language of your being. I have come to recognize it — I have remembered myself. And since the day I remembered myself I have been in a strange situation: I feel compassion for you, and deep down I also giggle at you, because you are not really in trouble. You don’t need compassion, you need hammering, you need to be hit hard on the head. Your suffering is bogus. Ecstasy is your very nature.

    You are truth.

    You are love.

    You are bliss.

    You are freedom.” (Osho)

  56. Ichthyic says

    You don’t need compassion, you need hammering

    you vijen, definitely need more hammering.

  57. Lofty says

    Having an out of body experience, vijen? Hint: cut back on the hallucinogenics.

  58. Nick Gotts says

    vijen,

    If we don’t talk a lackwit like you seriously, why should we take a con-artist like Osho seriously?

  59. Nick Gotts says

    Osho:

    In mid 1981, Osho relocated to the United States and his followers established an intentional community, later known as Rajneeshpuram, in the state of Oregon. Within a year, the leadership of the commune became embroiled in a conflict with local residents, primarily over land use, which was marked by hostility on both sides. The large collection of Rolls-Royce cars purchased for his use by his followers also attracted criticism. The Oregon commune collapsed in 1985 when Osho revealed that the commune leadership had committed a number of serious crimes, including a bioterror attack (food contamination) on the citizens of The Dalles. He was arrested shortly afterwards and charged with immigration violations. Osho was deported from the United States in accordance with a plea bargain. Twenty-one countries denied him entry, causing Osho to travel the world before returning to Poona, where he died in 1990.

    Have to give him credit for dobbing in the bioterrorists I suppose, but if that’s what his teaching leads to, those 21 countries would seem to have been wise. And why does even the most enlightened spiritual teacher need more than three Rolls-Royces?

  60. David Marjanović says

    You’re mistaken about who you are, and all your knowledge is contingent upon this false identity.

    So?

    How can I test these two hypotheses of yours?

    As Sosan says:

    The way you present what Sosan says, it’s just an assertion. Explain why you think it’s true.

    I can’t make it any clearer from my own experience, so here’s Osho talking on the same subject:

    That’s a whole series of assertions! Where is the evidence that supports any of this Bhagwahnsinn?

    And why does even the most enlightened spiritual teacher need more than three Rolls-Royces?

    :-D

    What does God need with a starship?

  61. anteprepro says

    Why the fuck are you still playing coy, Vijen? Why the fuck are you still being indirect, using hinting and vague bafflegab to say the same fucking thing, over and over and over? We get it, you think everything is one collective mind. It is not that complicated of a concept but you desperately try to pretend that it is. You have no evidence for your position but want to pretend that it isn’t just a bald assertion, pretend that somehow vague allusions to your own personal experience are supposed to convince us of anything.

    Seriously, either find a way to say something new and stop playing these fucking games, or just shut the fuck up already.

  62. FossilFishy(Anti-Vulcanist) says

    Those who have completed such a nondual enquiry cannot make the results available for intersubjective scrutiny, because every other conditioned individual is constrained to misunderstand;

    And there you have it, the authoritarian mindset as expressed by the left wing, a LWA, as it were.

    I was surrounded by these sorts of folks for years, seekers, questers, ‘enlightened’ folk of all stripes. One major theme was power fantasies like this one, which in a right winger would result in those with perfect knowledge dictating to the lesser beings. But the left isn’t so gauche, so we get these mealy platitudes which always boil down to “I’m better than you.” paired with flowery variations of “You can’t understand.” should they be challenged.

    Bah.

  63. rr says

    “I’m better than you.”

    Vijen’s message in a nutshell.

    Good stuff from Sastra (she shares her results.)

  64. Numenaster says

    This same tendency, to assert things and then draw conclusions based on unsupported assertions, is rampant in Tolstoy’s “The Law of Love and the Law of Violence”, which unfortunately my boyfriend considers to be a major source of Truth with the capital T.

    I borrowed the slim volume one day and read it, and found myself taking notes as if I was reviewing a journal article. “Unsupported assertion” was one of my most common notes. “Does not follow” was another. I found some bits of good stuff in the book, but it required such large grains of salt to separate them from the soup of wish-presented-as-fact that I just couldn’t swallow the resulting mix. Too salty :)

    I swear, if any of these books really tried to tie their “reasoning” up in a bow it would vanish in a puff of self-cancelling illogic.

  65. flex says

    Back on the OT, the description of A Course in Miracles remind me strongly of the old classic, The Cloud of Unknowing. The same giving up your heart to god, and the declaration that no one who hasn’t done so can comprehend the inclusiveness that embracing all of creation as part of oneself can generate.

    Apparently theology hasn’t advanced much in 500 years.

  66. mcallahan says

    Nice essay Sastra. I have been curious about that book but the title was too repellent for a skeptic like me. I had a girlfriend who had a copy who also dumped me for not being “spiritual” enough. I would forgive you for not finishing it. Now that you started, I might be interested in your conclusion if you ever slog to the bitter end.
    The comments have been equally entertaining. It figures that Vigen is a follower of the goofy criminal Bhagwan. I was in Oregon when he poisoned all those people by spritzing the local salad bar with a nasty strain of salmonella that some never recovered from just to sway a local election. Vigen struggles to sound clever but like Deepak Chopra he fails to make a coherent argument that a reader can comprehend. To me it reads like gibberish. He/she could use a few writing lessons.

  67. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Wow, Vijen is still here? By now I would have thought he’d have vanaished up his own whole!

  68. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Entities are parts. Parts aren’t conscious.

    That’s odd; I certainly have one that seems to have a mind of its own ;P

  69. consciousness razor says

    Nick Gotts, #64:

    I see nothing to complain about there. I am one with the large collection of Rolls-Royce cars purchased for his use by his followers. I am the contaminated food. I am one with everything, with the whole. When Vijen mentally masturbates, he masturbates you and me. This is true freedom. Now I can use my hands for something else. Dualists like you have just forgotten what it’s like to be a confused wanker — no, the confused wanker that is reality itself.

  70. sheilathezendog says

    Hi, this is Sheila the Zen Dog, the author of the book “Zen Unleashed: Everyday Buddhist Wisdom from Man’s Best Friend.” I do believe Sastra gave me a plug in her blog. (Her brother only did the typing and the spell-checking — I am actually the author.) I was sleeping and chasing squirrels through the first few days of these comment-posts, so, at the risk of abruptly changing the topic, I would like to respond to two very early posts. The first is that of Nick Gotts (formerly KG), who doubts that dogs are Zen Buddhists and states: “On average, I reckon dogs are about as screwed up as people.” Ah, Nick, you have apparently fallen into the trap of the propaganda “Zen Buddhists are perfect beings.” Whoa! Where did that come from?! That’s barking up the wrong tree. I personally subscribe to the Zen saying, “Zen practice is one continuous mistake.” I believe we can all agree that dogs (humans, cats, supervisors at work) practice this one well.

    The second post I would like to respond to is that of K-machine, who writes:
    “Seriously, what “letting go of attachments” mean is just that: your wants and desires is what causes you to suffer so if you’re being forced to see your loved ones being fed into a wood chipper, the fault is in you for not letting go. Nothing matters, all you should do is to just sit around in a monastery and meditate and avoid that suffering.”

    This is a common and unfortunate misunderstanding. I would like to quote a passage from my book ZEN UNLEASHED: EVERYDAY BUDDHIST WISDOM FROM MAN’S BEST FRIEND (shameless plug, again, this time in caps) in the essay titled:

    Non-Attachment Versus Detachment

    Since the Buddha said that suffering is caused by desire, you might come to the conclusion that Buddhism promotes detachment—a cold, dispassionate separation from
    the rest of the world, having no desires. Quite the contrary. Buddhism promotes non-attachment, which is very different from detachment. Non-attachment is total engagement and flexibility in the world without being hindered or encumbered by our wants and desires. So when the mailman steps onto our front porch, I practice non-attachment to my cozy nap, jump up, and give warning!

    Hopefully, my comments have been helpful.

  71. John Morales says

    sheilathezendog:

    Hopefully, my comments have been helpful.

                  Wow

    (Bow)

  72. consciousness razor says

    The first is that of Nick Gotts (formerly KG), who doubts that dogs are Zen Buddhists and states: “On average, I reckon dogs are about as screwed up as people.” Ah, Nick, you have apparently fallen into the trap of the propaganda “Zen Buddhists are perfect beings.” Whoa! Where did that come from?! That’s barking up the wrong tree.

    Fair enough. I doubt it on the grounds that dogs don’t have ideologies at all. They’re not Zen Buddhists for the same reason they’re not atheists (even I’m sure though they don’t believe in gods): they’re not engaged with human intellectual culture.

    Since the Buddha said that suffering is caused by desire, you might come to the conclusion that Buddhism promotes detachment—a cold, dispassionate separation from the rest of the world, having no desires. Quite the contrary.

    Tell that to Buddhists who were cold, dispassionate and tried to separate themselves from the rest of the world, especially the ones who were “non-attached” to the point of self-immolation.

    Buddhism promotes non-attachment, which is very different from detachment. Non-attachment is total engagement and flexibility in the world without being hindered or encumbered by our wants and desires.

    Can we get even more vague? How do we tell when we’re “being hindered or encumbered” by ourselves? Even more introspection? Also, to what extent should we have desires which hinder or encumber us? Not at all?
    Generally, how is Buddha’s advice any more helpful than “don’t sweat the small stuff”? I mean, what is the small stuff, what’s big, and isn’t it good to sweat sometimes?

  73. Sastra says

    sheilathezendog #76 wrote:

    Buddhism promotes non-attachment, which is very different from detachment. Non-attachment is total engagement and flexibility in the world without being hindered or encumbered by our wants and desires.

    I suppose one could apply this to the atheist’s engagement with reality in preference to the dictates of “faith” i.e. the world as it is as opposed to the world as we would want it to be.

    consciousness razor #78 wrote:

    I doubt it on the grounds that dogs don’t have ideologies at all. They’re not Zen Buddhists for the same reason they’re not atheists (even I’m sure though they don’t believe in gods): they’re not engaged with human intellectual culture.

    While that may apply to dogs in general, this criticism would not apply to Sheila the Zen Dog who is, I think we can all admit, exceptional (welcome, Sheila!)

    I think one of the advantages of using an animal persona to introduce a reader to Zen is that it takes a lot of the pressure off regarding any assumed requirements for attaining some sort of perfect state of being. As Sheila pointed out above, dogs have few expectations — and we have few expectations for dogs. I am not Zen Buddhist myself, but as presented in this book the doggy version makes a nice enough pet — and is a friendly, relaxed approach to understanding some of the basic principles.

    I, however, am a cat person. So that “makes a nice pet” part is strictly a metaphor.

  74. sheilathezendog says

    Hi, again. Thought I could give a response to Consciousness Razor here (so it didn’t appear that I had run off with my tail between my legs). In case there was confusion, I should say first off that my post was most definitely not to prove anything — it was more to clarify what a Zen Buddhist such as myself might believe. So hopefully I made the points that typically Zen Buddhists don’t believe in perfect “Zen Masters” and neither I nor Master (the human master of mine, that is) know any Zen teachers who take that title, nor would care to. They find the whole idea abhorrent. And it’s also the case that Zen Buddhists don’t believe, as it was suggested in a post, that it’s OK to sit and watch granny being fed into a wood chipper because one should be detached. (Or, a second example, that I should just sit and watch a cat eat my dog food because of some misguided notion of detachment). Master remembers an old friend who used to think that Buddhism’s goal was to become like some fellow named Spock. (And I thought dogs had weird names). That’s just not it.

    I do see that CR you believe there are, or actually know of, Buddhists who are “cold, dispassionate, and tried to separate themselves from the rest of the world, especially those who were “non-attached” to the point of self-immolation.” I can only say, from my life experiences, that I haven’t met any Buddhists who have fit this description, including some who were monks. I imagine there are some. If I met them I would give them a friendly nip and try to wake them up.

    Lastly, quoting…
    “Buddhism promotes non-attachment, which is very different from detachment. Non-attachment is total engagement and flexibility in the world without being hindered or encumbered by our wants and desires.
    Can we get even more vague? How do we tell when we’re “being hindered or encumbered” by ourselves? Even more introspection? Also, to what extent should we have desires which hinder or encumber us? Not at all?
    Generally, how is Buddha’s advice any more helpful than “don’t sweat the small stuff”? I mean, what is the small stuff, what’s big, and isn’t it good to sweat sometimes?”

    I think most of the time it’s pretty obvious when we’re being encumbered by our desires. Procrastination would be a simple example. Sastra’s analogy of “the world as it is versus the world the way we want it to be” would bring up some other obvious examples in our daily life. However, you’re quite right, sometimes it is quite difficult to tell. And I left out even more vagueness. It’s about our desires encumbering us from “what needs to be done.” So how do we know what needs to be done? (Am I driving you crazy yet?) Really, you don’t know for sure what needs to be done. Sometimes it is really obvious, but sometimes it is most definitely not!

    Zen is a focused path of trial and error and observation, with the observation being aided by a meditation practice. There will be mistakes. Hence the Zen saying I mentioned before: “Zen practice is one continuous mistake.” Zen is a path, not a series of answers — believe this, think this, use these exact rules. How could there ever be such a thing?

    Really, if my words don’t jump off the page at you and you think something like, hmmm, interesting, then it would be pretty obvious that the Zen path isn’t your path and I wouldn’t recommend you wasting any time on it. (Which my doggie sense is feeling like you’re probably not, anyway).

    By the way, Sastra, I would indeed make a nice pet, if it weren’t for the constant headache of having to avoid the paparazzi. So I forgive you for being a cat person.