Knowing nationalism, culturism, and racism

You don’t really know nationalism until you’ve lived in a foreign country. People back home often don’t accept/trust things you did in the other country, sometimes even things you did at an embassy, and vice versa. Government officials in the home country ask you questions like, “why would you want to live there?”, and require you to help them spy on you and tax you (e.g., tell them what foreign bank accounts you have). People at foreign company and government offices usually ignore your emails. And locals of the other country often treat you suspiciously. People in other countries are usually nice to paying tourists, but not so nice if you try to live there.

Similarly, you don’t really know culturism and racism until you’ve lived in an area where you are in a cultural or ethnic minority. People constantly stare when you walk down the street, and sometimes comment on how (dis)similar you look to them. Taxis and buses don’t stop maybe half the time, and people are physically pushier with foreigners on buses and in crowds. Customer service people in businesses avoid you unless you confront them, and local customers cut in line ahead of you. It’s harder to get a job and to navigate relationships of all kinds. People often don’t want to hear or see things from your culture. People from both cultures sometimes do mocking/poor impressions of the other culture or ethnicity in front of you, and expect you to find it funny. And people are judgmental and rejecting, if you look or speak in any way that they don’t find beautiful/healthy, humble, thankful, and positive.

In such an interconnected world, it’s amazing to me that many people are still so small-minded.

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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?

Outgrowing the jungle

Most human institutions (companies, governments, schools, etc.) still seem to behave like monkeys: forming into tribes that are led by an (possibly elected or inherited) egocentric dictator, or hierarchical layers of dictators, and that fight with each other. I hope that humans will use the steady improvements in Internet- and travel-related technologies to make societies ever-more distributed, representative of, and verified by everyone.

Mental states usually have multiple opposing states

Mental states usually have multiple opposing states that can counteract them if cultivated/focused-upon. Below are examples.

Like with any medicine, one must be careful not to indulge in any mental state too extremely, or it can become a kind of poison, blindness, or delusion. For example, taking a positive attitude to everything can cause one to miss, or be taken advantage of by, the negative aspects of life (e.g., scammers, thieves, things falling apart, etc.), but taking a negative attitude to everything can lead to anxiety and depression. The Buddha once taught people to meditate on death and decay, and that led several monks to become so disgusted with their bodies that they “sought an assassin” (see Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s footnote on SN 35.88). Therefore, he switched to recommending meditation on the breath (anapanasati), which is more mentally neutral.

Siddhartha heard the musician say, “If the string is too tight, it will snap. If it is too loose, it will not play” (from the traditional Buddhist enlightenment story). A Middle Way is best.

  • For anger: thinking about (or asking) how the object of your anger might have come to be the way it is (e.g., social or natural forces, history, chance, etc.), forgiveness, generosity, patience, tolerance, etc.
  • Anxiety/fear: internal and external detachment/watchfulness/listening, letting go of attachment to outcomes, remembering that the self is just an impermanent construct, etc.
  • Arrogance/ego/narcissism: remembering your impermanence and fragile humanity, acknowledging things you’ve lost/forgotten or that you can’t know/see, having experiences where either nature or people don’t care who you are (riding the bus in plain clothes or a disguise if you are famous, doing a manual labor job, going far away from civilization with minimal supplies, etc.)
  • Depression (an umbrella term for many states): identifying and counteracting the specific state(s) involved (e.g., grief, hopelessness, fatigue, physical discomfort or weakness, etc.)
  • Greed: slowing down and doing less, generosity, remembering the impermanence of all things, remembering that one can’t ever fully own/control either oneself or external things, etc.
  • Laziness: aspiration, belief/trust/faith, effort, flexibility (see also the “eight antidotes“)
  • Lust: asking the attractive person to cover themselves, looking closely at the attractive person until you can see past their facade of makeup/jewelry/clothing, seeing people as just variations on a theme (a little bigger or smaller here or there), reducing people’s bodies to their components (skin, muscles, bones, organs, glands, etc.), disgust at the dirty or infected things inside everyone’s bodies (rotting plants/animals, feces, urine, bile, mucus, viruses/bacteria, small cancers, etc.), imagining the person as the rotting corpse they will inevitably become or looking at images/videos of rotting or burning corpses on the Internet, etc.

Many of these things involve remembering impermanence or that the self is a construct of many components. If there is no stable self, there is no one who can always feel anything. If you can change for the worse, you can change for the better.