The news we don’t see

For once, I wish the international news media would acknowledge that over 150,000 people die everyday on Earth for some reason, instead of focusing on celebrities and sensationalism. Heart disease, strokes, respiratory diseases, HIV, accidents, and so forth are often preventable and are much more dangerous than terrorists.

Buddhism & the West need deeper engagement

As a Western academian, it frustrates me that bhikkhu(ni)s (Buddhist monks and nuns) and upāsakas/upāsikās (almost-monastic Buddhist householders) who either come from Asia or train in Asia seem to spend most of their time in the West interacting with New Age, hippy, seeker, etc. types of people, instead of working with more mainstream academians/scientists to reconcile Buddhist psychology with Western psychology. Both Buddhists and psychologists seem to acknowledge each other’s theories and methods superficially, but neither side seems very interested in engaging the other very deeply. Mindfulness is just the tip of a gigantic iceberg. Go deeper!

O ye religious studies scholar, to what degree is Buddhism a religion?

First, what is “religion”? The word has many meanings around the world, far beyond how Americans often equate it with the three largest Abrahamic religions. People usually mean some kind of everyday/mundane expressions or representations of faith in, or past experience of, “numinous” (i.e., somehow going beyond everyday experience) things. The expressions often include traditional concepts, stories, institutions, rules, practices, rituals, relics, statues, images, talismans, etc. To the degree that one actually experiences numinous states of consciousness, it usually is not called religion, but instead is called spirituality, attainments, visions, feelings, trips (if drugs are involved), exploration, or just experience. Religious expressions often have as much to do with mundane things (nationality, culture, history, politics, etc.) as they do with numinous things, and experiences that people call numinous sometimes feature mundane religious elements (e.g., Christians sometimes see visions of Jesus or angels, Buddhists sometimes see visions of the Buddha, etc.). To what degree that back-and-forth is accurate, or is people’s brains/minds constructing what they want to see to some degree, is hard to say. Arguably, like much of science, the mundane vs. numinous distinction assumes a conventionally “normal” or “healthy” human perspective. Some people’s everyday experiences may include what others would consider numinous. Also, what humans call everyday experiences are the result of specific evolutionary processes in land-based environments only on this planet, so other species might consider different experiences normal.

Buddhism is often said by Western scholars to have a philosophical or psychological monastic core, which is similar to (and much more developed than) phenomenology in the West, as well as a more religious pop-culture periphery. People usually encounter the pop-culture periphery first, so get the impression that Buddhism is quite religious. Buddhist bhikkhu(ni)s (monks and nuns) are the people who most often and seriously study, engage, and experiment with the Buddha’s theories and methods in empirical or intellectual ways. Lay (non-monastic) people can be anywhere on the spectrum of more experience- or knowledge-oriented to more faith-oriented. Whereas a monk might only deeply revere the Buddha, a lay person might worship and pray to the Buddha. Like many religions, the pop-culture periphery probably has become increasingly embellished with dramatic folklore, ornate artwork, etc., as non-monastic people have elaborated upon Buddhism over more than 2,500 years. There can be quite a stark difference between a spartan forest monastery, which can feel more like a psychology laboratory, and an ornate city temple, which can feel like a shrine or art gallery. Later forms of Buddhism (Mahayana, Vajrayana, Pure Land, Zen, etc.) seem to have drifted the monastic core in more religious of directions, with the Buddha(s) being made more god-like and salvation-oriented.

What thoughts and feelings are truly your own?

What is there to life, other than re-arranging physical and social things?

Can you think or feel something not in terms of social constructs (i.e., socially agreed-upon words/symbols, styles/genres, conventions, concepts, etc.)?

What about not in terms of physicality (i.e., sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches, pressure, temperature, cravings, pleasure/pain, brain states/moods, etc.)?

Tips for sleep & meditation

I usually sleep deeply, and can go to sleep in 10-15 minutes, even during stressful times. People I have lived or traveled with sometimes have asked me how I do it. Having a genetic health problem that causes chronic fatigue probably plays a large part, but I also intentionally abandon the outside world and focus on the inside world, as I fall asleep. The feeling is similar to diving into a swimming pool — letting go of the land and committing to the water — come what may. Going deeply into concentration/jhana meditation also feels similar to me, though dreaming feels more about letting the mind construct whatever it wishes, and meditation feels more about applying attention and piercing through the muddiness/murkiness of the mind. Sweet dreams.

Another day, another jihadist attack

(In Nice)

In recent years, the West has finally taken notice of jihadism, and started wrestling with the issue, but this kind of thing has been happening around Asia and northern Africa since the mid-600s CE. As one of my Hindu friends from Mumbai said to me after the 26/11 attacks on that city in 2008, “we’ve been putting up with this bull**** for hundreds of years.”

Buddhist-majority lands have been conquered or invaded by Muslims many times throughout history, including to the present day. For example: the destruction of Bactria and Gandhara (in present-day Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan; the word ‘Kandahar’ may be a modification of ‘Gandhara’), large-scale conquests in northern India, the Uighurs in northwestern China, a failed attack against Tibet, recent destruction of Buddhist artifacts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, recent attacks by Bangladeshi Muslims, recent attacks in southern Thailand, and the way that Buddhist and Hindu artifacts are hidden away from public view in Malaysia. India today averages about 14% Muslim, and Hindu-Muslim or India-Pakistan conflicts still are a common theme in Indian mass media.

However, to my knowledge, other than perhaps by Genghis Khan (who was a tengrist who was tolerant of many religions), there has never been a large-scale violent invasion/conversion by Buddhists of any land, including Muslim-majority lands. I am aware of a few domestic, nationalistic, radical movements within Buddhist countries (e.g., BBS in Sri Lanka and the 969 Movement in Myanmar), but not of any radical Buddhist groups that leave their home country to carry out attacks. Globally, Buddhism is relatively small, split into many traditions, and geographically marginalized (e.g., around the edges of mostly Hindu or Islamic India and communist China, or between China and Islamic countries like Malaysia and Indonesia), compared to Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism, so Buddhists often seem to feel self-defensive.

I know that there are peaceful Muslims. I have several Muslim friends in/from West, Central, and South Asia who are very nice people. As Buddhists wish for all beings, I too wish all Muslims wellness, happiness, and peace. However, there certainly is a long history of some Muslims being violent towards Buddhists and Hindus on both small and large scales.