Surviving death

The death of a loved one, or having serious health problems oneself, has a way of highlighting the pettiness and pointlessness of much of daily life. What things might survive death? Personal afterlife (liberation, redemption, salvation, etc., depending on your views) and personal legacy (e.g., children and their inheritence, one’s own tangible and intangible contributions to the world, maybe choosing to live/die in a location where one would like to be reborn, etc.) are the main things I can think of. Except as things pertain to either afterlife or legacy, most everything else seems like short-term issues about which one shouldn’t get too stressed or invested.

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Frogs in a well

Usually, I find that being well-educated and/or well-traveled makes people more open/large-minded, tolerant, patient, non-racist, non-nationalistic, peaceful, etc., and that being poorly educated and/or traveled makes people the opposite of those things. People who, mentally or physically, never go far from home usually seem to be the ones who are passionately attached to one (and against all others) religion, ethnic or national identity, sports team, local dialect of a language, and so on. A common metaphor for such people in south and southeast Asian countries is “frogs in a well.”

Early Greek Buddha images

Many Buddhists apparently don’t know that the first Buddha images were probably created by Greco-Buddhists living in Central Asia. For example, below is one of the earliest Buddha statues, from perhaps the 1st-3rd centuries CE in Gandhara (present-day Afghanistan). Notice the European facial features.

stone bust of Gandhara Buddha from the 1st-2nd century AD
By I, Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Early Buddhism was mostly aniconic, representing the Buddha with objects like a footprint, an empty throne, a Dhamma/Dharma Wheel, etc. For example, here is an early Indian sculpture from perhaps the 2nd-3rd centuries BCE in Bharhut, India, representing the Buddha as a garland and Dhamma Wheel. Notice that the Wheel’s spokes look more traditional/Hindu, not the Eightfold-Path Wheel usually seen today.

Bharhut Pasenadi Pillar - Dharmachakra.jpg
By Ken Kawasaki – Ken Kawasaki: Bharhut Stupa In the Indian Museum, Kolkata [1], CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Bodhi Pooja Kavi

The Derana radio station in Sri Lanka plays a nice Bodhi Pooja Kavi (a traditional Buddhist song/chant about the Bodhi Tree) every evening at 6:15pm. Here it is on YouTube, beginning from my favorite musical part at time 15:15:

Did the Buddha ignore God(s)?

One thing I find puzzling about the 10 Unanswered Questions and Poisoned Arrow parable in the Pali canon is that they seem to ignore the existence of devas and/or a personal/interactive creator God. If such beings exist, why can’t we just ask them for the answers to those questions? Why do we have to find the answers ourselves? Is Buddhism saying that such beings don’t exist, that such beings are inaccessible or unreliable for some reason (e.g., they live outside of time in a nirvana-type state, or they might not be truthful), or that the answers are beyond human comprehension? What experiences had the Buddha had that allowed him to make such an absolute “it’s useless to try to answer these questions” statement? Though a great achievement, if the Buddha only (re-)discovered, but did not create, nirvana, how could he be sure that he knew the full reality of nirvana (e.g., that nirvana is truly eternal or how nirvana compares with the rest of the universe)? Why did the Buddha not feel it appropriate or necessary to acknowledge whoever or whatever underlies, supports, etc. nirvana? Was, or is, God(s) offended by being ignored or taken for granted in this way?

Everyone betrays

If betrayal is defined as selfishly pursuing one’s own interests over the interests of others, most everyone betrays each other, at least in small ways, every day. Only large betrayals usually draw personal or social complaints or punishments (e.g., infidelity, theft, treason, etc.). But, as subjective beings with needs and desires, everyone is faced with a kind of inherent, moment-to-moment conflict-of-interest with everyone else, and sometimes within ourselves, namely: do I do what someone else (or a part of me) wants/needs, or what I (or another part of me) want/need?

For example… do I spend more time/energy on a certain person, or not? Do I follow my heart about relationships, career, etc., or do I do what my family or society want? Do I eat what my tongue, nose, or mind most enjoys, or what my body finds most nutritious? Do I help that needy person who looks or behaves differently than I prefer, or do I ignore, reject, or punish them somehow? Which is more important: my life/health, or the life/health of the plants and animals I eat — or, my family or country, or someone else’s family or country? Should I win, even if someone else must lose?

Selfless love is everywhere, but so is selfish betrayal, often in a complex mixture.

From a Buddhist perspective, the current human condition is inherently unfortunate, unstable, conflicted, etc. The point is to feel frustrated by it, to see the danger and pointlessness of it, and to seek a better state of being.

Negating negativity: thinking critically about critical thinking

In the name of “critical thinking,” I have noticed a tendency in the West for intellectuals to become not only reflective and deconstructive, but to frequently live in mentally aggressive/hostile, cynical, pessimistic, etc. states of mind. Although I would agree that being overly positive can bias one in various ways (e.g., to see only what you want to see and miss/ignore challenges, obstacles, etc.), being overly negative can bias one in opposite ways (e.g., to see only obstacles or challenges and miss/ignore what might be possible). So I think it is important to turn critical thinking against itself, and to be critical of becoming too negative of a person. To me, the main value of critical thinking is to acknowledge and let go of biases and assumptions, to become mentally detached and aware, to try to see and think clearly. Mental detachment is perhaps the primary activity/aspect of mindfulness meditation, as is awareness of vipassana meditation.