Thursday, July 16, 2020

On Hate


It is a strange time to be a Buddhist in the United States.  So much hate.


Buddhist training/practice leads to the development of an accurate perception, an accurate assessment of “self.”  Buddhist training/practice leads to the development of perceptual acuity, objectivity and critical thinking.  At the same time, Buddhist training/practice leads to the development of compassion and lovingkindness.  Buddhist training/practice leads to the development of a moral sense.  For many, Buddhist training/practice leads to the active engagement with the world while renouncing hate.  


So much hate.


There’s a lot of hate being spewed out there.  Hate towards the police.  Hate towards the government.  Hate towards people of color; Blacks and Browns.  Hate towards Whites.  Hate towards Asians.  Hate towards LGBQT. 


There’s hate aimed towards Conservatives, Liberals, Reactionaries, Progressives.  I see/read/hear hate towards Joe Biden; towards Donald Trump.  Hate is being aimed at senators, representatives, state and local legislators, governors, mayors, council-people, and the like.  


Hate is aimed at Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and a myriad of less-well known religious groups.  


Hate is aimed at the poor, and at the rich.  At the homeless and at the mentally ill.  Hate is aimed at the well-educated, and the poorly educated, and at the uneducated.  


So much hate.  Reminds me of some of the lyrics from a 1970-something song by Kris Kristofferson:  


“Eggheads cussing rednecks cussing 

Hippies for their hair

Others laugh at straights who laugh at

Freaks who laugh at squares


Some folks hate the Whites

Who hate the Blacks who hate the Klan

Most of us hate anything that 

We don’t understand.


Cause everybody’s got to have somebody to look down on.  

Who they can feel better than at any time they please.  

Someone doin’ somethin’ dirty decent folks can frown on.

If you can’t find nobody else, then help yourself to me.”


-0- Jesus Was A Capricorn by Kris Kristofferson -0- 


Hate is, as we know, the expression of a strong emotional attachment to a desire for things be a way other than the way they are.  Hate is attachment to wanting things to be “my way,” and not the way we perceive them to be.  Hate is a pattern of thoughts, words, and deeds.  Hate is often a self-justifying mechanism for those thoughts, words and deeds.  And when we dig into hate – the thoughts, words, and deeds – we find hate to be a lot more complex that what I’ve just described.  Hate has sociological, anthropological, biological, psychological and historical aspects to it.  But simplistically, we aren’t getting what we want, and we blame the object of our hate as the cause.  We want things to change and they don’t.  We want things to remain as they are, and they change.  We blame the object/person/people for the reason(s) things aren’t the way we want them to be.  We have some picture of a “better” world, or a “better” society, or a “better” life, and the object of our hate is keeping us from realizing that picture.  We believe things would be “right” if the object of our hate didn’t exist.


As we know, most of the time our beliefs regarding the object(s) of our hate, our situation, our displeasure, are delusional.  Our beliefs don’t accord with objective reality.  But we cling to them anyway.  We cling to our ignorance.  


Hate and fear are often emotional siblings.  We fear something, and we learn to hate it.  Fear operates pretty much the same way as hate.  We want, or expect, reality to be a certain way, and when it’s not we experience that emotionally as a “loss’ or a “threat” of loss.  The hormones kick in, and we feel a strong need to act to rid our reality of the source of that threat or loss.  Of the source of that discomfort. 


Hatred is learned.  We cling to our delusions, we cling to our ignorance because our beliefs are so emotionally charged.  We REALLY want Reality to conform to our wishes, our desires.


Hatred can be unlearned.  Buddhist training/practice can help. 


Something to think about.



Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Words Are Goopy!

Words Are Goopy!


These are troubled times, no doubt.  And while there are lots of contributing factors, one of them is the fact that words are goopy.  Any given word, or set of words for that matter, can have more than one meaning.  And correctly so.  


So maybe if we practice good communication, in Buddhist parlance, “Right Speech,” we might start contributing to lessening the troubles.  For example, there’s a phrase floating around, “Black Lives Matter.”  And it is obvious that not everybody gets the same meaning from that phrase.  For some people it is the name of a movement whose aim is to eradicate white supremacy, a campaign against the violence and racism so prevalent in our society, an effort to bring justice, healing and freedom to black people.  For some, “Black Lives Matter” is an anthem, a rousing and uplifting chant, used to rally the troops, to add energy and momentum to marches.  For others, “Black Lives Matter” seems to be something akin to a slogan, a motto, a memorable phase to advertise a cause.  Sometimes it seems to be “code” in one language which isn’t “decoded” very well in an other language.  And for a lot of people it is a phrase which divides people into “us” and “them.”  It pits one group against another.  It is an aggressive, in-your-face challenge.  Using the phrase, “Black Lives Matter” is a threat.


And for everybody, it points to a problem.  


Might I suggest that good communication is important if we are to solve some of the problems we’re facing right now?  So if I ask you, “What do you mean by ‘Black Lives Matter’ please don’t get upset.  I’m aware that the phase can have many meanings, and I’m wanting to understand what you are saying.  If I ask you to define what you mean by “Fake News,” it’s not that I’m disputing what you’re saying, I’m trying to understand what you’re saying.


Bear with me.  Be patient.  Be kind.  


Be clear in your thoughts, words and deeds.  Practice Right Speech.  It will go a long way in solving our problems.  


Thursday, July 2, 2020

Some things to think about . . . 


I was recently chastised for being too “political” in my postings on Facebook.  Well, it seems to me that one function of the saṅghā is to bring the Dhamma to the people.  And if doing so fits in the genre, “political,” so be it.  But before we dismiss it so easily, let’s kick some ideas around a bit.


The Dhamma teaches us that the “Human Condition” is characterized by three distinguishing qualities:  aniccā, anattā and dukkhā.  “Aniccā” is the concept of impermanence and transitoriness.  Nothing lasts forever, and while things exist they are undergoing constant change.  “Anattā” asserts the negation of the Brahminic doctrine of “Atta” (Ātman).  And “dukkhā” is the central problem addressed by the Dhamma.  “Dukkhā” is that state of being in which we find ourselves when our desires and perceptions are not congruent with Reality.  Sort of an academic definition, but what it means is that when we don’t get stuff we want (or get stuff we don’t want), and when our thinking about how Reality is or should be turns out to be inaccurate, we get upset.  The more committed we are to thinking/feeling that we should (always) get what we want, or that Reality should be exactly the way we want it to be, the greater our distress.  That distress is manifest in a whole range of behaviors – thoughts, words and deeds.  


So, how is it we get into this state of dukkhā?  To explain that takes us to a couple of defining characteristics of Human Nature – that is what it means to be human.  


When humans are born, we are totally lacking in knowledge, wisdom, and insightful understanding.  And when we’re born, we are totally consumed with self-gratification.  The Pāḷi word for this first trait is “avijjā,” (ignorance, delusion) and the Pāḷi word for the second is “taņhā,” literally, “thirst,” but desire, clinging, greed, attachment and many other words have been used to translate the concept.  The mechanism works something like this:  the less grasp we have of Reality as it is, as opposed to how we want it to be, or think it should be, coupled with a greater or lesser desire for Reality to conform to how we want it to be, or think it should be, results in an emotional reaction.  When we let our thoughts, words and deeds be controlled by those emotional reactions, we experience dukkhā.  And we create all sorts of difficulties for ourselves and for others. 


“All very well and good!” you say, “But what has this to do with you being political on Facebook?”  Ah, thank you for asking.


“Politics” points to the many concepts, doctrines, practices, activities, etc., associated with how people live in groups.  How we set about to make a particular community, or society, or polity work. In some sense, “politics” is all about the distribution of power within a group.  Who gets to make the important decisions, and who gets to enforce the rules, and who’s will gets imposed on the rest of the group.  There are many forms of political organization: secular, religious, autocratic, despotic, monarchy, oligarchy, theocracy, etc.  In the U.S. we are set up as a secular, pluralistic, representative democracy.  Being secular means we don’t impose any particular set of religious beliefs on how that power is distributed.  Pluralism recognizes the existence of any number of diverse and competing interests and calls for us to be considerate of the interests of others.  Representative democracy points out that we, the people, are the final authority on the distribution of power, and that we pick folks who share our values, views, and ideals. to make the rules and make the decisions about how power is to be distributed.  Being a “good” citizen of such a form of government requires that we a) be informed [look at other postings on Right Knowledge], and b) we participate.  We make our voices heard.  


So, to tie this all together (or to attempt to), as a member of the saṅghā (one who lives and teaches the Dhamma), living in a secular, pluralistic, representative democracy, it is my responsibility (duty perhaps) to point up instances of avijjā and taņhā when they occur in the process of governing, and to make an effort to enlighten and alleviate these conditions.  When political leadership displays ignorance, and the propensity for self-gratification over lovingkindness (mettā), compassion (karunā), and joy in others well-being (muditā), we are obligated to speak up, and to act.  


So, label it political if you want.  Chastise me if you want.  I’m just trying to be a good Buddhist.  A good teacher.  A good bhikkhu.  A good Buddhist monk.



Years ago, when I was teaching at the University level, I would provide the following paradigm for students to use when studying various different perspectives on things.  I would ask them if they could discern the author’s understanding of each of the following: 

1.         What is the human condition?  I.e., what does it mean to be human?  What makes a being uniquely human?  What is both necessary and sufficient to being human?  

2.         What are the principle/fundamental problems humans have to deal with?  I.e., greed, craving, sin, ego, delusion, ignorance, etc.  

3.         Why do these problems exist?  What are their causes? 

4.         What does this author offer as the ideal solutions to the problems?  Discuss in terms of methods, techniques, resources, etc. 

5.         What, in your opinion, is the ideal solutions to the problems?  Discuss in terms of methods, techniques, resources, etc. 

Reading through a lot of the posts on Facebook, I wonder if analyzing them in terms of this paradigm might be useful in understanding other’s perspectives.