“so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve watched my fair share of Oscar telecasts and Sunday’s agonizing spectacle I could have done without. Seth MacFarland’s sexist jokes fell flat with me, the opening musical number objectifying and denigrating women was offensive, and the sexualization of that 9 year old girl inappropriate to say the least. Ironically, the high points of the show all featured women: Charlize Theron’s dancing, Shirley Bassey’s triumphant reprise of “Goldfinger,” First Lady Michelle Obama, Adele, and even Barbra Streisand, whom I normally don’t care for.

The best comment about the Oscar program was also by a woman, Brenda Chapman, who won for her animated film “Brave,”: “I’m just a little tired of the fifth-grade school-boy humor. It’s running rampant in Hollywood and I’m over it. Can we move on and be intelligent again?”

What Hugo would have looked like if he had to sit through this year's Oscar show.
What Hugo would have looked like if he had to sit through this year’s Oscar show.

“Les Miserables” won only three Oscars, for supporting actress (Anne Hathaway), sound mixing and make-up. I single out “Les Mis” for the reason that today is the 210th anniversary of the birth of Victor Hugo, who wrote the classic novel the film is based on.

I have to admit that I haven’t seen the film, or the stage production, or even read the book. I have read other works by Hugo, most notably The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Ninety-Three, along with much of his poetry. I’ve started Les Miserables a number of times, but its length, and the fact that I know it makes numerous digressions from the storyline usually stifles my desire to read it. One of these days, though . . .

From the original edition of Les Misérables (1862).
From the original edition of Les Misérables (1862).

Now, aside from his greatness as a writer, what makes Hugo an interesting historical figure to me is his commitment to championing the rights of society’s downtrodden. In his personal life, Hugo, a leftist, was politically active and published many pamphlets protesting the death penalty and other injustices of French society. I think it is noteworthy that his two most famous characters were a deformed man, the hunchback, and a peasant hunted by a vindictive police officer.

Since most of you have seen Les Miserables, or read it, you probably don’t need me to tell you that Jean Valjean represents humanity purified by its struggle against opression. He’s a bodhisattva-like figure. After his release from prison, he devotes his life to honest work and helping others.

"Starring David Janssen as Dr, Richard Kimble . . ."
“Starring David Janssen as Dr, Richard Kimble . . .”

I feel confident writing about what Valjean represents because I am very familiar with his modern carbon-copy, Dr. Richard Kimble, TV’s “The Fugitive”: “an innocent victim of blind justice . . .  reprieved by fate when a train wreck freed him on route to the death house, freed him to hide in lonely desperation. . .  to toil at many jobs . . . freed him to run before the relentless pursuit of the police lieutenant obsessed with his capture . . .” It’s the same story. And, each week while on the run, Kimble ended up getting involved in the lives of the people he encountered, and he would help them somehow, often putting his freedom at risk in the bargain.

The preface to Les Miserables is famous, and it sums up the spirit embodied by Valjean and Dr. Kimble, and the writer, Victor Hugo:

so long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation which, in the midst of civilization, artificially creates a hell on earth, and complicates with human fatality a destiny that is divine; so long as the three problems of the century – the degradation of man by the exploitation of his labour, the ruin of women by starvation and the atrophy of childhood by physical and spiritual night are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words and from a still broader point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, there should be a need for books such as this.”

Even now, there is a need for such books as Les Miserables, and one of these days, I’m going to finish it.

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Higgs boson and Nagarjuna’s no-God Particle

The universe may be finite. That what the science team at Europe’s Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest and highest-energy particle accelerator, have been thinking ever since they discovered the Higgs boson particle last year. And that could be bad news. Last week one of the team members, speaking at a science meeting in Boston, suggested that it is possible that tens of billions of years from now, another universe could come along and “slurp” ours up. Damn, and I had plans.

God Particle?
God Particle?

Higgs boson is a subatomic particle that scientists believe is what gives matter mass. The media has taken to calling it the “God Particle,” much to the chagrin of most physicists who say it has nothing at all to do with God or creation.

Speaking of which . . . Yesterday I tried twice to leave a comment on another blog and it never showed up. I don’t know if it was a glitch or if the blogger didn’t care for what I had to say, so I guess I’ll say it here.

The Buddha neither confirmed nor denied the existence of God as we understand that concept. In fact, the subject never came up. He had not heard of the God of Abraham and it seems that monotheism was unknown in India 2500 years ago. He was somewhat tolerant of the Indian gods, or devas, which Joseph Campbell described as like impersonal “bureaucrats” presiding over different aspects of nature and human activity. Yet, it is clear that the Buddha was pessimistic about the idea of relying on higher, holier beings for salvation or enlightenment.

Nagarjuna, the Buddhist philosopher who has been called the “second Buddha,” felt that Buddha’s rejection of the God-idea was explicit. In his Hymn to the Inconceivable Buddha, translated by Chr. Lindtner, Nagarjuna states, “Just as the work of a magician is empty of substance, all the rest of the world — including a creator — has been said by You to be empty of substance . . .”

Nagarjuna demonstrated that the existence of a creator god is, as Hsueh-Li Cheng, says, “unintelligible.” Cheng, author of Empty Logic: Madhyamika Buddhism from Chinese sources, explains in this way,

Nagarjuna examined the meaning and possibility of “Something is made or produced by someone or something.” He pointed out that whenever we say “Something is made or produced by someone or something” either (1) x is made by itself, (2) x is made by another, (3) x is made by both, or (4) x is made from no cause at all. Yet none of these cases can be established, therefore the proposition cannot be established, and hence it makes no sense to say that the world was made by God.”

"Ixora [=Ishvara],an East Indian god," by William Hurd, 1781 (columbia.edu )
“Ixora [Ishvara],an East Indian god,” by William Hurd, 1781 (columbia.edu )
Nagarjuna identified the “creator god” as Isvara, the Indian “Supreme Lord.” We don’t know if he was familiar with the God of Abraham, but it doesn’t matter, for the principle is the same. As far as I understand it, if a god did not create the universe, then it cannot be a supreme being. Nagarjuna used his logic to advance further arguments against the very existence of God.

But he was equally as hard on Buddhist concepts. For instance, he demolished any idea that nirvana is a substantial thing (dharma), ultimate reality, or transcendental state. He says that nirvana is neither existent nor non-existent (bhava/abhava), or both, or not-both.  Nirvana is empty, and he says that

There is not the slightest difference between this world (samsara) and nirvana. There is not the slightest difference between nirvana and this world.”

Middle Way Verses, Ch. 25, V. 19 & 20

To some the word “God” refers to a personal, anthropomorphic being who created the universe, while to others it may refer to a non-personal nature and/or force that determines and governs all things. To me, neither side of that coin seems logical. Nevertheless, acceptance or belief in God is not the same thing to all people. My feeling is that regardless of how one appreciates God, or names it – God, ultimate reality, “ground of being”, Tao – at some point, there is a suggestion, a hint, of something outside of our lives involved. Buddhism teaches that when we seek happiness or salvation outside of our lives, or outside of this world, it only makes for greater suffering. That’s why I think it is simpler, smarter, and less confusing to just drop the whole idea. Discover Nagarjuna’s no-God particle.

So, Ananda, you must be your own lamps, be your own refuges. Take refuge in nothing outside yourselves. Hold firm to the truth as a lamp and a refuge, and do not look for refuge to anything besides yourselves. “

Mahaparinibbana Sutta, Digha Nikaya 16

 

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The Searchers

From time to time, I am curious about how people find The Endless Further. One way is through online searches. As I blogged in December, some of the keyword and search phrases used are rather interesting. Here are recent searches I found intriguing:

is thich nhat hanh a buddha nature

In a manner of speaking, he is. We all are. That is, we all have buddha nature. Buddha nature is not just limited to sentient beings. Many Buddhists believe that animals and plants also have buddha nature. Thich Nhat Hanh once said, “Anything that can help you wake up has Buddha nature.”

bob dylan Buddhist” “bob dylan american bandstand

Bob Dylan is not now, nor has he ever been, a Buddhist. He had a passing interest in Buddhism during the mid-sixties when he used to hang with Allen Ginsberg, who was a Buddhist. Evidently, he did read some, and a few Buddhist notions found its way into his songwriting during that period, but that’s about the extent of it. Dylan never appeared on American Bandstand.

Smarty Pants
Smarty Pants

how to become smarty

Mel Brooks had an answer for that. Ahem. My answer is: dress like Einstein did.

can one read the lotus sutra instead of chanting it?”

Absolutely, and that, in fact, is the real purpose of the sutra, to be a text for reading and study. There are a number of good translations. For some reason, I am partial to The Threefold Lotus Sutra by Bunno Kato and Yoshiro Tamura.

chanting sutra to win difficult lawsuit

I wish this person lots of luck. Unfortunately, that not how it works. Chanting a sutra or a mantra is not like reciting a magic formula, although some people might like you to believe that. Chanting sutras is a Buddhist tradition. They form liturgy, to be used in ritual services called puja or sadhana. It’s a way of expressing respect for the teachings. Sutra chanting helps embed the teachings of a text in your mind. And it can be a form of vocal meditation.

the latest dirt on sgi ikeda” “ikeda bad photography” “ikeda is king of japan” “ikeda daisaku honary doctorate degrees mean nothing

Daisaku Ikeda, president for life of the Soka Gakkai International, has been accused of a lot of things, but never a bad photographer, as far as I am aware. Because of the power and influence he wields in Japan, he has been called a “King” and kingmaker. Some folks feel that he wants the Soka Gakkai to take over Japan, and frankly, I don’t think that’s such an absurd notion. I don’t know what the latest dirt is. There are some rumors he is dead or in a coma. The SGI is very adept at preventing negative material about Ikeda and the organization from ever seeing the light of day. How they do that, I am not sure, but I think someone should check into it. It would make a highly interesting story.

Now, I don’t want to say that academic honors conferred upon Daisaku Ikeda mean nothing, after all, it got him into the Guinness Book of World Records. But . . . I read a report of a recent poetry symposium in Dubai sponsored by SGI-Gulf. The article noted that Ikeda was “recipient of the World Poet Laureate Award.” What it failed to mention, or perhaps what the writer did not know, is that award was given to him by the World Poetry Society, publisher of Poetry World International Monthly, “Under the patronage of Dr. Daisaku Ikeda, President, S.G.I., Tokyo, Japan.” In other words, he underwrites the society financially. You got to hand it to him, it’s a pretty neat trick to give yourself awards and get away with it.

martin luther king why can’t we all just get along

Several people were searching for this. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not say that. Rodney King did, during the L.A. Riots of 1992.

ufo contact from planet acart

Roonik Landing Base
Roonik Landing Base

I know nothing about this. I do know, however, that for many years aliens from the planet Roonika having been coming to Earth and have targeted the United States, trying to infiltrate America through our public restroom system. To the right is a photo of one of their landing bases. You see them everywhere. People think they are power stations.

how do you handle a hungry ghost

Like this:

hungry

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unless the ghost is on a low-sodium diet.

Charlie Chaplin” continues to be the Number One search term. So, all you Chaplin fans, I hope you have stuck around to read some of the other stuff here. Sadly, no one has found this blog while engaging in searches related to my favorite comedians, the Marx Brothers. By the way, I have recently learned that the Marx Brothers have been reincarnated as High Lamas in Nepal. They are currently residing at the Paadal Hamsa Jhol (Holy Duck Soup) Temple. Here is a photograph of Their Holinesses during a recent dharma talk given in the temple’s main hall.

Guru-Hall

It is amazing how they look nearly same as they did in their last life.

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Sadhana and the Big Fish

I thought that today I would say a few more words about Rabindranath Tagore. I don’t remember how I came to be aware of Tagore. It was probably from some reading on Gandhi, as they were friends, and Tagore was somewhat of a mentor to the Mahatma, even though they had their disagreements. First, I was bowled over by his poetry. Those of you who read last Thursday’s post can understand why. Then I read about his life in Rabindranath Tagore The Myriad-Minded Man by Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson. His multifaceted mind and personality were the products of his intelligence and a certain amount of restlessness. Tagore wore many hats: family man, teacher, poet, playwright, novelist, painter, singer, musician, art and literary critic, businessman, fundraiser, composer of dance and opera, philosopher, political thinker, religious and social reformer.

Rabindranath-TagoreHe first drew the world’s attention as a poet, then as an essayist. In 1913 he published Sadhana – The Realisation of Life, a collection of essays drawn from lectures he gave at Harvard University that same year. The title explains much about Tagore’s philosophy of life. The word sadhana means “realization,” but it also refers to “spiritual practice.” My feeling is that Tagore’s spiritual practice of choice was prayer and the ways he prayed were as myriad as his mind.

In one of his poems, he wrote, “We live in this world when we love it.” Love is a prayer, song is a prayer, life is a prayer. Tagore revered the Upanishads, the collection of texts that form the basis for Indian religion, even as he felt they did not “sufficiently explore the approach to Reality through love and devotion.” Nonetheless, they left a deep impression and helped form the basis of his unique approach to reality. In Sadhana, he wrote,

The attitude of the God-conscious man of the Upanishad towards the universe is one of a deep feeling of adoration. His object of worship is present everywhere. It is the one living truth that makes all realities true. This truth is not only of knowledge but of devotion. ‘Namonamah,’—we bow to him everywhere, and over and over again.

I do not share his faith in a higher being, a “Him” (or “Her”), yet I am envious of Tagore’s sense of devotion, his reverence for life, his awe of nature, and his appreciation for the wondrous beauty to be found in the world. It comes through in nearly every word he wrote, be it poetry or prose. It makes my own feeling for the same seem puny by comparison.

I first read the following in the biography mentioned above. It’s from Sadhana, and is a simple story, beautifully told, that relates a great and profound realization:

One day I was out in a boat on the Ganges. It was a beautiful evening in autumn. The sun had just set; the silence of the sky was full to the brim with ineffable peace and beauty. The vast expanse of water was without a ripple, mirroring all the changing shades of the sunset glow. Miles and miles of a desolate sandbank lay like a huge amphibious reptile of some antediluvian age, with its scales glistening in shining colours. As our boat was silently gliding by the precipitous river-bank, riddled with the nest-holes of a colony of birds, suddenly a big fish leapt up to the surface of the water and then disappeared, displaying on its vanishing figure all the colours of the evening sky. It drew aside for a moment the many-coloured screen behind which there was a silent world full of the joy of life. It came up from the depths of its mysterious dwelling with a beautiful dancing motion and added its own music to the silent symphony of the dying day. I felt as if I had a friendly greeting from an alien world in its own language, and it touched my heart with a flash of gladness. Then suddenly the man at the helm exclaimed with a distinct note of regret, “Ah, what a big fish!” It at once brought before his vision the picture of the fish caught and made ready for his supper. He could only look at the fish through his desire, and thus missed the whole truth of its existence.

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The Sacrifice of the Bodhisattva

Buddhist nun Palden Choetso
Buddhist nun Palden Choetso (d. Nov. 3, 2011)

This week two more Tibetans set themselves on fire in the cause for greater freedom and the return from exile of the Dalai Lama. 102 Tibetan monks, nuns and laypersons have set themselves on fire since 2009.

I support not only autonomy for the Tibetan region but independence from China. That, however, is not the subject of this post, just my simple statement of solidarity with the Tibetan people.

While some, the Chinese government, for instance, maintain that the self-immolations violate Buddhist principles, there is another side to that. In traditional Mahayana teachings, the sacrifice is a critical aspect of Bodhisattva path. The Bodhisattva engages in altruistic action with all the forces of body, speech and mind, and in the cause for the liberation of all living beings, there is nothing the Bodhisattva should hold back. A Bodhisattva does not acquire anything that “he would have not the heart to let go,” says the Narayana-pariprccha. That includes “his own hand, his foot, nose, head, limbs greater and lesser, son, daughter, wife, love, servant, mind, ease, house, wealth, country, treasure and all that is his,” according to the Bodhisattva-pratimoksha. The merit the Bodhisattva accrues because of altruistic action is up for grabs. Even one’s own body is but an offering to place on the altar of altruism.

Elsewhere in the Narayana-pariprccha, it says,

Even so the Bodhisattva must regard as medicine this his frame composed of the four great elements, and say, ‘Let all creatures take it of me as they require it, a hand, for such as need it, or a foot, for such as need it.”

In the Akshayamati Sutra, the Bodhisattva vows, “I must wear out even this my body for the behests of all creatures.” Because the Bodhisattva understands the impermanence of the body, it is not held dearly. The body is shared in any case, shared as we shared the air and the space around us, through interconnectedness. And yet, even though the body is non-essential, to be shared, “worn out,” renounced, the Bodhisattva is nonetheless enjoined to preserve the body, keeping it healthy and strong:

“O Sariputra, one must preserve one’s self when one intends to preserve others.”

Bodhisattva-pratimoksha

The Akshayamati Sutra suggests that it is important for the Bodhisattva to keep the body free from disease, “out of regard for his fellows.” That’s an interesting thought, to maintain good health for the benefit of others.

Medicine King Bodhisattva
Medicine King Bodhisattva

There are a few stories about this extreme form of compassionate effort, such as the jataka tale of the Bodhisattva who made a sacrifice of his body to a hungry tigress. The Mahayana Nirvana Sutra tells of Himalaya Kumara or the Snow Mountains Boy who leaped into the mouth of a demon to receive a teaching composed of eight characters. There are self-immolations, as well, one being the Medicine King Bodhisattva who as an offering to the Buddha set his body on fire and burned for twelve hundred years.

But, these are myths, and as the Japanese priest, Nichiren once pointed out, “Such austere practices are for saints and sages, but not for ordinary people . . . Yet even common mortals can attain Buddhahood if they cherish one thing: earnest faith. In the deepest sense, earnest faith is the will to understand and live up to the spirit, not the words, of the sutras.”

Faith in this sense is not a matter of belief, but sincerity. For those who follow the Buddha way, more important than offerings of incense or money and the like, is the offering of our sincere efforts to live up to the spirit of the teachings. That means to practice kindness, to respect others, to take care of others, and to take care of ourselves.

Most of us, hopefully none of us, will ever find ourselves in a situation that would demand engaging in the ultimate selfless action of setting our body on fire, or any other sacrifice of that nature. Those living in Tibet, however, are living in the worst kind of nightmare.

Recently, Prof. Robert Thurman, in an article, “The Cry of Freedom,” wrote of the self-immolation of the Tibetan Buddhist nun Palden Choetso:

When you destroy your body, you violate your own life, the lives of what Buddhists call “the 84,000 cells” that constitute it. This does seem violent. Yet in this case, the individual sacrifices herself to appeal to her enemy, to convey the perhaps all-too-subliminal message that they have nothing to fear from her, that she will resist their relationship of fear and harm by removing herself from being the target of their ultimately self-destructive, evil behavior. That is true non-harming—perfect resistance by complete surrender.”

Thurman calls these extreme acts “a final appeal for a change in the iron hearts of their oppressors.”

Some critics of the self-immolations say the Tibet situation is not about Buddhism, it must be about politics or something. However, it seems they are missing one of the prime points of the teachings. The Bodhisattva-pratimoksha says, “in all business of life.” The Anantamukha-nirhdradhdrani, “Wherever conflicts arise amongst living creatures . . .” And the Lotus Sutra, “No affairs of life or work are in any way different from the ultimate reality.” It’s all about dharma. Everything.

How one reconciles these teachings on the sacrifice of the Bodhisattva with conflicting Buddhist teachings is an individual matter. My own feelings about the self-immolations are torn. I believe, for instance, that being outside the region, Tonden (David Alain), the British monk who set himself on fire at Nalanda monastery near Labastide-Saint-Georges, might have had more lasting impact and greater influence had he chosen another way to protest. As far as the Tibetans are concerned, they are inside the tyranny, I am not, and therefore I cannot judge them. All I can do is to support their cause in my own meager and ineffectual way.

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