Brad Warner teaches his Zen students ancient wisdom — Don’t be a jerk |311|

Discussion in 'Skeptiko Shows' started by Alex, Apr 12, 2016.

  1. Alex

    Alex New

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    Brad Warner teaches his Zen students ancient wisdom — Don’t be a jerk |311|
    by Alex Tsakiris | Apr 12 | Spirituality

    Zen teacher and author Brad Warner uses the ancient teachings of Dogen to reinforce a simple idea — don’t be a jerk.
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    photo by: Michelle Grimord Eggers
    There is a Zen monastery not too far from where I live in San Diego. It was established by the wonderful and venerable, Thich Nhat Hanh quite a few years ago and it’s still going strong today. I have visited a couple of times. It’s a great experience. You can enjoy the beautiful grounds while doing the walking meditation Thich Nhat Hanh is famous for. This is usually followed by a question and answer period with some of the senior monks. But the last time I was there the Q & A was preceded by an announcement that questions should not be philosophical, but only practical matters of applying the meditation practice. This peeved me for a couple of reasons. First, most of the questions I have in life are philosophical questions. And secondly, it just seemed like bad form. Why a question and answer period by limiting questions? I sat there and listened for a while and there were some really bad, non-philosophical questions, so I think they could have lightened up and allowed me to ask some of my dumb questions too.

    The takeaway for me — Zen isn’t my path. Of course, it’s not like I was going to go join the Deer Park Monastery and sit on a cushion for the next 20 years of my life, but on another level it’s exactly this kind of spiritual/quasi-scientific decision that defines our lives. We’re all opening and closing down paths of inquiry as we try and untangle the who am I, why am I here, questions. This process of exploring, sampling and questioning is what keeps Skeptiko alive for me and keeps bringing me back to these interviews like the one I have today with Zen teacher and ex-punk rocker, Brad Warner. What makes this particular conversation so interesting is that in talking to Brad I encountered someone who’s trying to make similar distinctions in his pursuit of the biggest of big picture questions. Give a listen and you might discover why he chose Zen and I didn’t.

    Brad Warner: The irony of it is, if you want to believe in reincarnation and I’m kind of an agnostic about it myself, but if you want to believe in reincarnation, this is your future life right here. So if it is about your next life, well, here you are in your next life as viewed from your past life. Are you any less confused now than in your past life? You don’t remember it but I would say you’re just sitting around being confused about everything and getting reincarnated didn’t really relieve that. So obviously, even if there is reincarnation that is not the answer.

    Alex Tsakiris: I like the way you just put that. At the same time, let me jump over to the other side. I do take the scientific method that drives us towards reincarnation. The best evidence we have suggests there’s this very strong case for reincarnation. Jim Tucker at the University of Virginia who’s followed up with the work of Ian Stevenson. Are you familiar with that body of work?

    Brad Warner: No. Not at all.
     
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  2. Zen is not one well defined system. There are different forms within Zen and different teachers with different ways of teaching. Once you are given the okay to teach by your teacher, I think they call it "transmission", you are allowed to teach whatever you want. There is no body of scholars or anything like that to define the teachings and excommunicate heretics. It is good because it allows "academic freedom". But it makes it really hard for people to understand Zen and Buddhism because there are so many different ways it is taught.

    I liked to go to the Zen center to meditate in a group, meet with people, and listen to lectures, but I would meditate my own way not theirs. When I took the five precepts and converted to Buddhism, there was no discussion of real spiritual things like the afterlife and reincarnation. I don't get my spiritual beliefs from Buddhism, I get them from empirical evidence. For me, Buddhism is a source of meditation techniques and a support community for people interested in meditation and the benefits it can provide.

    "Everything we want to know"? I'm not sure I know what you mean by that. In Buddhism the point is to develop equanimity to the point of Nirvana. Along the way one may have realizations about the true nature of consciousness. But most people don't reach the stage where they really can know "everything" simply because they meditated. I think it is a really big mistake for teachers to make promises about what you get from practicing Buddhism. In my view, "increased equanimity" is a fair description.

    A lot of people think if you meditate in your quiet room you will get enlightenment and then all your problems will be over. But most people won't have realizations. And they say "Realizations have to be integrated into daily life." That's a rhetorical trick to hide the fact that realizations aren't as transformative as people think they are. After a realization you still have to do the hard work of bringing your practice into daily life and use the tools you learn from meditation to cultivate equinimity during unpleasant situations. And that's pretty much the same as what you have to do if you don't have any realizations.

    The biggest weakness is that most teachers do not do enough to make sure beginners have realistic expectations about what they will accomplish through daily meditation. Meditation has many benefits but there are also serious risks and the amount of meditation needed for "enlightenment" is much more than most meditators will ever do. The Buddha outlined a six step gradual training. The eight fold path is the last step. Meditation and mindfulness are at the end of the eight fold path. Teachers do not do enough to teach their students that there is more to Buddhist practice than sitting in a quiet room and meditating. Most people would learn more about their ego and do more to reduce it by trying to mindfully practice right speech in daily life than they do by meditating.

    I think the next biggest weakness is that Buddhism does not consider that our mental experience is influenced by physical aspects of the nervous system. When you study Buddhism you get the impression that mental practices like meditation can accomplish everything. I think this is because it is an ancient system and has not really been updated with scientific understanding of the nervous system. The problem is that people think they can cure biochemical disorders with meditation. You can't. Meditation experiences are highly variable from day to day because brain chemistry varies from day to day due to stress, fatigue, diet, exercise, etc, and understanding how different aspects of your life affect your brain chemistry can improve your meditation and the effectiveness with which you use it to develop equanimity.

    Another weakness is that, in my opinion, Zen and Buddhism in general do not put enough stress on the fact that the practices result in increased compassion. Love is the ultimate spiritual realization, it is why we are here. People read about oneness and no-self and think they are nihilistic, but those experiences produce greater compassion. When your ego becomes reduced, selfishness is reduced, and that produces more compassion.

    I can't say why Zen works because there isn't one method of practicing Zen. I can only say that my own meditation practice, which works well for me, is based on my understanding that meditation and mindfulness practices give you tools that you can use in daily life to cultivate equanimity. A high degree of equanimity is equivalent to getting rid of the ego, but it is easier to explain it in terms of equanimity.


    http://ncu9nc.blogspot.com/p/occasionally-i-post-something-to.html#misc_zen_practice
    http://ncu9nc.blogspot.com/p/occasionally-i-post-something-to.html#misc_buddhism_not_mystic
     
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2016
  3. Small Dog

    Small Dog New

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    Meditation is not cure for cancer, and Buddhism is more than just meditation. Your very mention that "meditation experiences" vary is the reason why Westerners find it difficult to meditate. One of my teachers once said: it is not important how you feel during meditation, what's important is what you feel between them. There is some analogy between meditation practice and weight training: one training session means nothing, and you're not going to jump to the mirror every day to check your biceps size. But over the years you will become stronger and bigger. And exercises you use, weights, repetitions and sets are much less important than turning up (for training). Eventually meditation puts you in sync with the rest of the Universe, and this cures lots of problems, including health. But you cannot start the practice with this goal in mind, it doesn't work like that. You sit and watch, and in after time your life will change. Or not. It's like watching a movie or reading a book: you don't do anything, but it may change you. About 20 year long movie that would be.

    I don't think love is not the ultimate realization, and stating you know why we are here smells of hubris. I can make you love everybody intensely in 30 minutes: take one Ecstasy tablet, and you compassion will skyrocket. Ultimate realization transcends emotions and feelings. It is a different kind of compassion than what is defined in dictionaries. Alex had an interview with the Harvard researcher who studied spiritually advanced people. Many of them stated that while they progressed on their path they were dropping negative feelings, but progressing further they also dropped positive emotions for their loved ones, which at first was somewhat frightening. Tibetan Buddhists (curiously most known and most removed from the original teachings of Buddha) meditate by visualizing love, compassion and emptiness. Done intentionally all this is invariably artificial. All you can do is sit and see what comes up.

    Of course, I know close to zilch what I am talking about, and words are as useful for explaining what we get a glimpse of in practice as trying to perform Beethoven's 5th Symphony with two screwdrivers and a broken computer mouse. There is a good reason the title of Brad's second book is Sit Down and Shut Up...;)
     
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  4. Small Dog

    Small Dog New

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    And Brad is a very cool dude. A Buddhist monk who says "fuck" a lot.
     
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  5. north

    north Member

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    What is possible from a spiritual practice?

    What is possible?
    -----------------------------------
    Zen was my introduction to Buddhism and I enjoyed both the humor and the poetry of famous Japanese figures.

    Currently I have a preference for Vajrayana, but that may be just more immaturity on my part.

    Don't be a jerk seems like a good philosophy for internet discussion boards...
     
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  6. soulatman

    soulatman Member

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    Loved the show. Great interview as ever, and thank you for all your hard work Alex.

    You asked what we make of Zen, and I don't know from your interview if that is the right question to ask. I could not personally identify anything in Brad's language, demeanour, behaviour or attitude that directed my attention towards anything remotely Zen like, or even for that matter even loosely Buddhist. Obviously each of us is going to have a different understanding of what Zen can best be defined as, but regardless of the differences here, I think we would all agree and understand that Zen is a fundamentally Buddhist path. As such, it will adhere to the core teachings of the Buddha, regarding the noble eightfold path. Right view, right thought, speech, action etc.

    I realise it is very judgemental, but my feeling was that very little in Brad's posturing and attitude struck me as exemplifying any of those fundamental prerequisites for moving along the Buddhist path. I actually got the impression that Brad may be yet another middle class westerner, drawn to the coolness of Zen, and rather than allowing himself to be transformed through the practice of Zen, instead may be transforming the path of Zen to fit his version of life. I say this only because listening to his interview for some reason kept making me think of Susan Blackmore.

    I was reminded of the fact that Susan Blackmore also seems to think that she is a student of Zen and has some understanding of Zen, but it is my opinion (and only my opinion) that her assumptions about what we are (meat robots) fundamentally undermine all that Buddhism (of any variety) says we truly are. Stephen Batchelor also sprang to mind as for me. He is another one who I think has lifted the teachings of the Buddha and squeezed them into a framework in which the Buddha's message and instruction are stripped of their vibrancy so that he can fit them INTO his world view, rather than allow them to strip AWAY his world view and see the underlying true nature of reality as the teachings were intended to do.

    I do not mean to be critical of Brad, he came across as an incredibly intelligent and likeable guy, and knows a lot, but he did not strike me as "Buddhist" in the way I recognise it. Only in a loose sense. Don't be a jerk for example (I guess means be nice?) is kind of Buddhist, but for me it certainly doesn't capture any of the force of Buddha's message, nor the scope, nor the goal.

    I hope Brad can forgive me for saying these things. I liked him and the interview, but these are my honest thoughts and feelings.
     
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  7. Alex

    Alex New

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    I didn't get that impression. I think he's a serious practitioner.
     
  8. soulatman

    soulatman Member

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    I did not mean to insinuate he was not sincere, or engaged in serious practice. All I meant was that the Zen, or the Buddhism he was exuding and presenting, while it felt authentic, left me with the sense that here is a guy who has a world view which has no place or need for reincarnation, and as such he can happily move along the buddhist path without it. He honestly said that he is convinced that Dogen did not teach reincarnation, but then if so, then Dogen didn't teach Buddhism.

    Susan Blackmore's particular brand of Buddhism is of exactly this type, as is the Buddhism of Stephen Batchelor, and it doesn't have the right ring with me.

    In hindsight, I think I should have actually posed all of the above as questions, rather than accusations. I.e. Is he just another middle class westerner reinterpreting the Buddhas teaching to fit his world view? Is he cherry picking the Buddha's message? Is his world view, a materialistic world view at heart, with no room for the concept of mind without brain?
     
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  9. Cynthia

    Cynthia New

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    Alex, you keep mentioning seeking the "truth", on one hand, and following the data, on the other. Why must there be a "truth"? How do you define truth? And, if there is a "truth", should that or how should that inform our actions?

    Brad seems to be saying--and I agree-- that it's all about PAYING ATTENTION TO AND ACCESSING whatever is. I think that's Zen.
     
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  10. I gave a link to explain my views about why we are here. I am agreeing with NDErs who claim to know from first hand experience.

    You don't have to give me Ecstasy, I alter my brain chemistry every day with meditation. It's like this.

    Many religions tell us that love is paramount, but they don't tell us how to cultivate love in our heart. It is the mystical traditions that provide the answer: through meditation.

    http://www.kwanumzen.org/?teaching=passionate-zen

    "This story very wonderfully points out that to experience one’s true self, if anything, makes us more human. It allows our natural love and compassion to function freely. The passions that we must extinguish are those born out of our anger, desire, and ignorance, but to vow to extinguish all passions, or to save all sentient beings, is in itself a kind of passion. The difference is that of direction. The motivation behind such passion is not for “me,” but for “others.” The name we give to such passion is Great Love, Great Compassion, and Great Bodhisattva Way."

    "“You don’t understand,” said the master. “My mind and the fawn’s mind are the same. It was very hungry. It wants milk, I want milk. Now it is dead. Its mind is my mind. That’s why I am weeping. I want milk.” Won Hyo began to understand this man’s great compassion and became his student."


    http://www.near-death.com/science/research/life-review.html#a08
    The overwhelming consensus among experiencers is that love is supreme. Love is where we came from. Love is where we will return. Love is what life is all about because love is God. Life on Earth is like being in school - our lessons in life are mostly about love. Thus, during the life review experiencers are often given profound insights about love which they are allowed to bring back to share with the rest of us. Here are some of those insights:
    a. A simple smile has the power to start a chain reaction of love that can spread throughout the entire world and alter the course of history.
    b. Who you are is the love that you share; and that love is God.
    c. The simple secret to improving humanity is this: know that the love you give to others is equal to the love you will have when you die.
    d. Pure love is God's measuring stick that is used to measure all of our actions.
    e. Love is the message we receive from our life review.
    f. Loving others unconditionally as we love yourself is the most important thing we do in life.
    g. We must love ourselves unconditionally before we are able to love others in the same way.
    h. Loving others is really the only thing that matters in life and love is joy.​
     
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2016
  11. Small Dog

    Small Dog New

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    I think love is just another word that sets boundaries, and ascribing it to God is the weakness of human mind that has to decorate and systematise everything. The feeling of love among NDE experiencers is exactly why I think it is the trick of the brain.

    Sometimes when I meditate I get to the state where there are no thoughts, feelings or perceptions. Difficult to describe, but there is not even a thought "Oh, I have no thoughts!" Pure being. I think this is the experience of God. In a way similar when I find myself surrounded by a great nature, such as being surrounded by magnificent mountains or a desert. Or when you dive into the water from a high rock. Everything stops, nothing exists except great calmness, tranquility - words again - but not love. That's where I think we belong.
     
  12. Typoz

    Typoz Member

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    If we move the focus away from the word love for the moment, how do you justify the idea that anything in an NDE is a trick of the brain? I'd say you've chosen a very contentious and weak foundation on which to base your premise.
     
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  13. Far.From.Here

    Far.From.Here New

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    I'm also not convinced that the rush-like feeling of love is the ultimate. I don't discount that it may actually be one of many possible "spiritual states." But I think that humanity's addiction to it may be related to our biology and that folks "on the other side" may be amused at our attraction to this state. We shall see.
     
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  14. Steve

    Steve Member

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    It must be interesting to get into such states using meditation, the 'most' I ever achieve is a sort of sleep state, but I don't think I'm sleeping as when I'm interrupted by someone knocking on the door or something I hear them.

    I think love as we know it is but a taste of the love that 'it's all about', I get a sense of this loves power. There's no real point in saying any more about it, because I really can't.
     
  15. Michael2

    Michael2 New

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    A fierce love. :)

    [​IMG]
     
  16. manjit

    manjit New

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    I really enjoyed this interview, thanks Alex!

    The question at the end, in context of it being on this podcast Skeptiko, reminded of this terrific book I read back when I was very interested in the brain's relationship to "mystical" or "altered" experiences or states of consciousness. Zen and the Brain by James H Austin:

    https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/zen-and-brain

    Looking for this book, I found this Google Tech talk I haven't seen:



    Looking up Dr James Austin's current situation, I notice he has a new book being released in 2016. Maybe a perfect guess for this show, could be a fascinating discussion! :)
     
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  17. Michael Harris

    Michael Harris New

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    Wouldn't "whatever is" be truth?
     
  18. Michael Harris

    Michael Harris New

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    I think you have inadvertently highlighted the inherent contradictions in all of this. On the one hand, you say that "love is just another word that sets boundaries"..... Yet then you define your medititative state as "the experience of God" - which is the very same kind of word that "sets boundaries".
     
  19. Cynthia

    Cynthia New

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    Michael: In my mind, "truth" is a judgment, which people have a need to make and to be right about. Because we only know what we perceive, as we continue to pay attention to and access "whatever there is" by whatever means, experiences, measurements, etc., things will keep unfolding. At which level of the unfolding does one know it is the final fold, aka the "truth"?
     
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  20. Small Dog

    Small Dog New

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    I cannot get quotes from the top of my head, but neither in Buddhism or Hinduism reincarnation is implied as the rebirth of the persona. One of the main premises of Buddhism is that existence separate from the whole is an illusion, and "I" is just a momentary manifestation of the Universe, similar to the existence of a wave in the ocean. Does a wave reincarnate? In the way of Western understanding of the term - no, because it has never existed as an entity separate from the ocean itself. The existence of a human being - as understood in Buddhism - is similar. Buddha himself talks about it in the Diamond Sutra, one of the main texts of Buddhism. What reincarnates is the Absolute, the Brahman, God if you will, part of which becomes you, me and everyone else. Just like the ocean reincarnates in every single wave.

    To be completely honest - and I hope Alex forgives me for saying this - the interview could be fuller and deeper. Alex could ask Brad about his opinion about the nature of consciousness, how ideas about God, the value of personal experience and his own Samadhi, ethics and moral. It is all laid out in his books, and I highly recommend everyone to read them.
     
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