I was introduced to Pascal’s Wager by my college statistics professor. An evangelical Christian, she placed a short version of the wager not-so-discretely on her professional website: “If God does not exist, one will lose nothing by believing in him, while if he does exist, one will lose everything by not believing.”
In reactions to his post, Secularizing Buddhism–Making it Accessible or Stripping the Roots?, the first comment to Vince Horn was a quote directly from Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s translation of the Kalama Sutta.
I recently posted an article about “karma” that I found on the Examiner that I thought was very well written. As with any concept in Buddhism, describing what “karma” is the length of an article can be very tricky and difficult to do in a comprehensive yet easy-to-understand manner. I thought the author of this article, Emily, achieved both and therefore posted it on my Facebook account.
My friend pointed out that the way Emily described karma diverged from the way another author, Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw, described karma from another article I had posted on Facebook a while back. I reread both articles and she was right, they did conflict in the way they described “karma”. But both descriptions seemed valid. Both authors seemd to know what they were talking about and I never thought twice to think they conflicted until my friend brought it up. So who’s right and who’s wrong? Who has the more accurate description of karma?
Several years ago I decided to sit in on Buddhism classes by Dr. Gregory Schopen. I heard legendary stories about his research and personality, so I had to check it out for myself. Those few weeks had a major effect on not just how I see Buddhism, but also on how I viewed academic research in general. One lecture in particular has stuck with me, and this was about “what the Buddha said.”
We Buddhists love to talk about what the Buddha said. Of course, none of us has ever heard the actual words he said. We usually don’t even quote the Pali or Sanskrit words that he’s claimed to have said. For those of us who don’t speak Sanskrit our Pali, we beg our readers to put their trust in our trust of the fellows who translate from the Pali or Sanskrit texts (and their editors). Sometimes we need to elaborate on the meaning of these translated texts, apparently the Buddha’s words don’t always speak for themselves.
Schopen applied this reasoning to Buddhist texts, and did so much more simply. And of course he uses the provocative abbreviation BS for what the Buddha Said.*
After the Kathina holiday, I made a pact with my friend Rith that we would sit for an hour every morning and every evening. We had shared very personal stories about our meditation practice and discovered many exceptional similarities. The two of us also happened to be stuck in a meditation rut. We were determined to get back on track.
We failed miserably from the very first day. When we did sit, we failed to sit for an hour and never on a regular basis. Many weeks passed without any communication at all.
Recently inspired by a certain Buddhadharma forum, we decided to try again and start sending text messages to encourage each other every day.* At first I couldn’t sit for even an hour. I texted Rith and told him it was harrowing, but I’d try again anyway. It took a couple days before I could sit an hour both morning and night, and of course I’m still struggling. Naturally, he got this news by text too.
Buddhism is filled with a wonderful lyricism stretching all the way back from it’s oral tradition to it’s more modern expressions. The following are just some modes of expression I found interesting in these last few months. Disclaimer: this is in no way meant to be complete or representative.
When discussing the need to defend Buddhism against the impending tyranny of other religions, or even worse, the true Dharma against the backwards teachings of those other Buddhists, I have always taken the position that what is true does not need defending because, more often than not, when confronted with a teaching that leads to peace, to kindness, to contentment, to freedom – it doesn’t need any defending at all.
Over on DJ Buddha, I read about the upcoming Women in American Buddhism convention, something that I feel is getting too little attention in the Buddhist community. Women and “not enough coverage” were the themes of another post I’d attempted to write in June. Cambodian sex workers had staged a protest at a Buddhist temple, taking issue with the government’s recent crackdown.
These news stories were accompanied by comments of disgust and repulsion: Prostitutes and Buddhism don’t go together. But there is more overlap than one might otherwise imagine.
Up late due to a car alarm that won’t go off in the neighborhood (and practicing loving kindness with every ounce of my sleep deprived consciousness).
I’m going to try to avoid just ranting about the Buddhist community for once. Last weekend I noticed a lot of talk about Right Speech at the full-moon uposatha. Those teachings plus all this ranting have got me thinking about where the act of complaining fits into the practice of Right Speech. So here’s some rambling about Right Speech…