Saturday, November 29, 2014

Eleutherophobia (Fear of Freedom)

     "A stable social system is necessary, but every stable system hitherto devised has hampered the development of exceptional artistic or intellectual merit. How much murder and anarchy are we prepared to endure for the sake of great achievements such as those of the Renaissance? In the past, a great deal; in our own time, much less. No solution of this problem has hitherto been found…." —Bertrand Russell (who overlooked exceptional spiritual merit, although it is equally applicable here, perhaps even more applicable)
       "I say, let's evolve and let the chips fall where they may." —Tyler Durden, in the movie Fight Club

     They say that history repeats itself. As far as I can tell, computers and cell phones didn't exist in any of the classical civilizations of antiquity, or internal combustion engines or machine guns either, but still, certain human themes tend to be repeated over and over; and it appears to be human nature not to learn very much from these repeated themes.
     One theme is that a nation becomes strong through love of freedom, even through a fierce insistence upon it. Its citizens value freedom more than they value their own lives. This resulted in a few Greek towns, led by Athens, miraculously defeating Persia, the most powerful military superpower in the world at that time. It resulted in the ancient Romans growing from a village of shepherds and farmers into a much greater superpower than Persia ever was, struggling against hardships and enemies again and again, and repeatedly avoiding destruction by sheer refusal to give up. It resulted in England, a relatively small country without a great many natural resources, developing into the largest empire the world has ever seen. America also began as a nation of tough pioneers who valued freedom much more highly than they valued security, comfort, or wealth.
     But the Romans, for instance, became fabulously rich and powerful after winning the Punic Wars, and the seeds of their destruction were planted. They eventually reached the point where desire for comfort and security outweighed desire for freedom, and they traded in their Republic for a thinly veiled totalitarian state. Their decline took several centuries to reach its end, and sometimes it seemed outwardly that they were even more prosperous and powerful than before, in general, but they lost their free spirit and became demoralized slaves—the masses enslaved to a corrupt, oppressive government, and the aristocracy enslaved to luxury, status, privilege, and myopic greed. Eventually they became too weak and selfish even to defend themselves; and whereas their ancestors would not have seriously considered surrendering to the likes of the Goths and Vandals, the degenerate Romans of late antiquity fled before them like sheep. It wasn't so much barbarian invasions that caused the collapse of Rome; it was more a matter of internal moral decay, a loss of backbone.
     Similarly, America became a world superpower, militarily, economically, diplomatically, and culturally, after being on the winning side of both World Wars, and the seeds of American decline were planted with this very success. We Americans became the richest, most powerful, most privileged people in the world (with possibly a few exceptions), so we began having more desire for security in order not to lose the comforts and conveniences that we had won. As the seeds of decline sprouted and took root, we outwardly became even more powerful and successful. But the spirit of freedom was becoming maimed, possibly mortally wounded. Imperial Rome came very near to destruction a time or two long before it finally collapsed (for example during the reign of the emperor Gallienus in the third century), and America may still pull through the impending troubles it is heading into; but the historical theme of material prosperity leading to luxury, weakness, demoralization, and internal decay is repeated. And ironically, increased peacefulness, civilization, and feminization tends to hasten collapse, since these righteous principles are too often used as an excuse for weakness, and for increased anxiety for safety leading to increased law and order, and thus to decreased liberty. The more laws there are, the more crimes there are, and the more crimes, the more criminals. With increased law and order for the sake of security, the country becomes more polarized with "free" criminals on the one side and good citizens enslaved to the system on the other. It is no coincidence that "The Land of the Free" has, or so I have read, by far more prisons and more imprisoned criminals than any other nation in the world.
     But the purpose of all this ranting is not political commentary or even historical reflection. I'm leading up to a phenomenon that I noticed during my return to America recently, and which has really struck me from time to time. It appears to me that most Americans are not only less free than they were twenty years ago, they're also more opposed to the very existence of genuine freedom, generally without realizing this fact.
     The situation arises largely due to a very human character trait that I've already mentioned, i.e. a dread of losing what one has. This is called macchariya in Pali, and in Buddhist philosophy it is considered to be an unskillful mental state, or "bad karma." (Incidentally, macchariya does not signify only stinginess, or a "dog in the manger" attitude, as is often taught; it represents an aversion for any kind of perceived loss, including grief at the loss of a loved one.) So from this angle increased wealth almost necessarily leads to decreased freedom, as people try to protect what they consider valuable, putting up stone walls and restrictive laws to protect it and themselves. Thus freedom automatically becomes less valued. Freedom becomes practically the enemy.
     One little example of this involves the new mandatory health insurance in America, which may easily result in lesser freedom for US citizens to do anything dangerous, since other people paying for (mandatory) health insurance don't want to pay for the mistakes of daredevils that they've never even met. "Why should I have to pay for other people's lung cancer, when they were foolish to smoke cigarettes in the first place? Better to outlaw tobacco, so people won't have to spend their hard-earned money unnecessarily helping reckless strangers." (This is a rather alienated attitude, but perhaps not so alienated as that of political conservatives opposed, as a matter of principle, to any mandatory charity at all—which implies that contributing a fair share to help the poor is more than they are willing to contribute.) 
     However, another cause for loss of freedom is even more universal, common to practically all conscious members of the animal kingdom, yet no less unskillful; and this is, in its broadest sense, xenophobia, or fear of the unknown. Even if we humans aren't satisfied with what we've got (and few of us are), we still tend to fear letting go of it in order to reach out for something else…mainly because we're afraid that what we get may be even worse than what we already have. So we're not content with what we have, yet we're afraid of what we might have instead, and of what might not even exist. This kind of fear seems to be growing in the USA. After being out of American culture for almost twenty years, upon my return it occurred to me that Americans in general are more conformist now, including young Americans. Young people may conform to a politically correct counterculture like New Age, and they may have pink hair, tattoos, and pierced nipples, but still, on average, they seem to rebel less, to be more "clean-cut," and to be more conservative in their approach to life. My guess is that the world they live in has become so out of their control and so potentially dangerous that they feel they have little choice but to go along with what they're told, even though, deep down, they know that it isn't really working. The lives of modern humans are largely governed by herd instinct reinforced by anxiety. This results in more demoralization, which contributes to the overall decline. Fear of the unknown becomes a kind of moral paralysis.
     The trouble is, though, that Ultimate Reality is unknown. Nirvana is unknown. Any wisdom that we don't have yet is unknown. "God" is unknown. The future is unpredictable, not predictable with any certainty anyhow. Thus all of these things, including true wisdom, are potentially very scary.
     Which leads to an interesting point that I've been considering lately. A truly free person is unpredictable, and therefore unknowable and scary. Freedom is, almost by definition, unpredictable; and what is unpredictable may easily be seen as a threat to security. An actively free person, who to the extent that he or she is free is also a wise person, does not conform to a confining system; and thus free people and wise people may be seen by the masses as threatening. A person who follows his or her conscience in preference to the established system is distrusted, because people, particularly those in the modern West, seem to trust the artificial system more than they trust individual conscience, human nature, or human wisdom; and this same confining system is what is causing human conscience, compassion, generosity, and wisdom to grow flabbier and more mediocre. It's no wonder that so many spiritual innovators in history have wound up being persecuted or martyred. People are more inclined to trust Joe Schmoe, the alcoholic grocery store manager who cheats on his income tax and is unfaithful to his wife, yet is predictable, than to trust a strange, unpredictable saint or sage. 
     Common people distrust a really free person, especially when they are unfamiliar with that person, largely because of that person's unpredictability—even if that person is obviously spiritually oriented and has harmed nobody. This is probably the case, to some degree, in all cultures, including the freest ones, because it is simply human nature. People may fear their own insecurity so much that any really free person who doesn't properly play by the rules may be seen as a threat. (This may be a valid interpretation of Kafka's The Trial: Society, "the system," turns against Joseph K. because he has begun to grow skeptical of it and to exhibit some independent thought and behavior.) 
     In a sense, anyone who refuses to play by the rules of society, even if it is an insane society, is viewed as a criminal, or as insane, or both. Thus society regulates and maintains its own anxious mediocrity. Radical non-conformists are arrested and jailed, with lesser cases at least belittled or ostracized. To some degree this is necessary, since no rules at all leads to completely unstable chaos, unless everyone were wise, of course, and everyone obviously isn't. So a wise, free citizen who sees higher than the status quo of society is poised between the horns of a dilemma: Which do you choose, enforced mediocrity for the sake of getting along, or liberated ostracism? Or, if your spirit shines too brightly, maybe even liberated martyrdom? If your understanding is mediocre, or below mediocrity, then by all means follow along with the majority. Follow their fashion trends, take their political correctness standards seriously, base your life on their principles, or lack of principles, use the correct fork for your salad. Pay your dues. But if you are more evolved than regulated mass mediocrity, then you would be better off following your own heart, even if it results in you being lynched by a howling mob, or simply being left alone and ignored.
     Another no wonder is that enlightened spiritual teachers tend to encourage the most serious seekers to drop out of society, for their own good. It's no wonder that the Buddha and Jesus advised their most dedicated disciples to renounce worldliness and live in vagrant poverty. In addition to the worries and distractions of lay life, there is also the plain fact that excess of liberty simply is not tolerated in that world. Even completely harmless, spiritual liberation may be seen as potentially dangerous, largely because it is not understood—it represents the Scary Unknown.
     So what America needs right now, and no doubt what the whole world needs, is more freedom; and since freedom requires deep courage, more courage also. Plus sufficient wisdom and vigilance to bear that freedom and its resultant unpredictability without devolving into the law of the jungle. What we need is more faith in truth and spirit—and in each other—than in material gadgets and laws and insurance companies that don't give a damn about us. The only way to be truly happy is through conscious freedom, not through security. Maximum security is found in prisons. Or, if you prefer some paradox, the highest security is in absolute freedom, which is no security at all. The greatest security against poverty and misfortune is a willingness to accept them. The greatest security against death is not to fear it, even when it comes. Fearlessness is the highest security, and it comes from a willingness to face the unknown, not from hiding from it, or outlawing it. Freedom, especially freedom of mind, with danger—danger to one's body, that is, not one's spirit—is far, far more beneficial than enslaved safety. So go out and break a stupid, unjust law. Share what you have, and don't worry about being rich. Be a radical heretic. Follow your inmost heart. Wake up.   



Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Cult of the Enigmatic Bhagwan

Folly is a more dangerous enemy to the good than evil. One can protest against evil; it can be unmasked and, if need be, prevented by force. Evil always carries the seeds of its own destruction, as it makes people, at the least, uncomfortable. Against folly we have no defense. Neither protests nor force can touch it; reasoning is no use; facts that contradict personal prejudices can simply be disbelieved—indeed, the fool can counter by criticizing them, and if they are undeniable, they can just be pushed aside as trivial exceptions. So the fool, as distinct from the scoundrel, is completely self-satisfied; in fact, he can easily become dangerous, as it does not take much to make him aggressive. A fool must therefore be treated more cautiously than a scoundrel; we shall never again try to convince a fool by reason, for it is both useless and dangerous. —Dietrich Bonhoeffer (a Christian fellow who was arrested and executed for conspiring to assassinate Adolf Hitler; he wrote the foregoing while in prison)
…in the beginning, all religions are obscure, tiny, deviant cult movements. —Eugene V. Gallagher
     As a teenager living in the Pacific Northwest of America, I would occasionally see news reports about the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, and about Rajneeshpuram, a large ashram established by his followers in northeastern Oregon. The news reports tended to be rather sensationalistic, and to be less than sympathetic to the Bhagwan. One image that has stayed with me is of Rajneesh getting out of one of his many Rolls-Royces accompanied by two bodyguards dressed like Secret Service agents, with dark suits and dark glasses, and armed with Uzi assault weapons. I also remember once seeing Ma Anand Sheela, the Bhagwan's second in command and effective dictatrix of the ashram, on a TV talk show called the Phil Donahue Show; I remember that Sheela was saying over and over again, in a strong Indian accent, "You're full of shit! You're full of shit!" Her crude language was coming out faster than the show's censors could push the beep button. So later, considering these predominantly negative images of Rajneesh and his organization, when I heard that Sheela had been arrested for attempted murder, that the Bhagwan himself had been run out of the country on criminal charges, and that Rajneeshpuram had essentially collapsed, I was not surprised. I would guess that most people in America who know nothing more about Rajneesh than what they saw about him on TV and in the newspapers, if they think of him at all, would put him in the same category as Shoko Asahara of Japan, and maybe even in the same category as guys like Charlie Manson.
     On the other hand, after I lost interest in watching television news, I happened to read two books by Rajneesh, and was surprised at the apparent insight and good sense in them. So ever since then I have been unsure of what to think of the man. Was he nothing but a clever fraud and crook, was he an enlightened being (as he allegedly claimed to have become at the age of 21, while still a college student, and as his followers definitely claimed him to be), was he somewhere in between, or was he somehow a combination of all of the above? Whatever he was, he evidently was a rascal.
     Recently, out of curiosity, I read the Wikipedia article on "Rajneesh" with the idea that it might help me to come to a less vague conception of Osho, as he began calling himself less than a year before he died in 1990. The article was surprisingly sympathetic; and although it freely admitted to the Rolls-Royces, Ma Sheela's crimes, and the criminal charges leveled against the Bhagwan, it also indulged in a fair amount of praise for the man; so that it seemed to me that much of the article must have been written by one or more of his followers. Consequently, in order to find more critical information about him, with maybe some juicy details about the more scandalous aspects of his existence, I did a Google search with the words "Rajneesh Uzi Rolls-Royce," to see what would come up. I found two articles that looked promising: "Escape from Rajneeshpuram" by Paul Morantz, and "The Rise and Fall of Rajneeshpuram" by Sven Davisson.
     Appropriately, I suppose, the two articles represent two very different perspectives, the former being emphatically anti-Rajneesh and written by the author of a book entitled Escape: My Life Long War Against Cults, and the latter being even more sympathetic than the Wikipedia article.
     Strangely, although Mr. Morantz is a professional author as well as a successful lawyer (apparently specializing in anti-cult litigation), his article is written in substandard English and contains some odd factual errors, such as calling The Dalles, Oregon (the nearest sizable city to Rajneeshpuram) "Dulle," and referring to the main Portland, Oregon newspaper The Oregonian as "The Oregon." Also, either he was a main contributing author to the Wikipedia articles on Rajneesh and Sheela, which I consider unlikely, or else the authors of those articles were unwittingly co-authors of Morantz's article, as large chunks of it are almost identical to the corresponding parts in the Wiki, and even the progression of ideas is the same—although of course Mr. Morantz emphasized the negative aspects of the story. He evidently was in agreement with Oregon attorney general David Frohnmayer, who very soon after the arrival of Rajneesh in Oregon considered him to be "genuinely evil." In the article he compares Rajneesh/Osho more than once to Charles Manson. To be fair, though, at least he took issue with the common belief that Ma Sheela's infection of restaurant salad bars with salmonella bacteria (in an attempt to sicken county residents sufficiently to reduce voter turnout at an upcoming election) was the first case of "bio-terrorism" in America, since two centuries previously the American military had deliberately infected American Indian tribes with smallpox in order to eradicate them. But that's a completely different story. 
     The article by Sven Davisson is particularly interesting because, although it's primarily about Rajneesh and Rajneeshpuram, as one would guess from the title, the second half of it also investigates the phenomenon of American xenophobia, i.e. mainstream America's negativity toward what is viewed as "deviant." But before discussing that issue I suppose I should give some biographical/historical details of the case. The xenophobic persecution aspects will arise as the story unfolds.
     Chandra Mohan/Rajneesh/Osho was born to a Jain family in British India in 1931. As a youth he was considered a brilliant student, although so argumentative with his teachers as to be a troublemaker; he was expelled from at least one college before taking his degree (with distinction) in Philosophy and becoming a college professor himself. By all accounts he was an extraordinarily intelligent scholar.
     He was also a very popular and thought-provoking orator; and he began making lecture tours around India. At around this time, in the 1960's, he began calling himself Acharya Rajneesh. Soon he was conducting short meditation retreats and training disciples. He dropped out of academia and began his career as a full-time spiritual guide. 
     From the beginning Rajneesh seemed to delight in flouting convention and challenging points of view to the point of offending and outraging people. India favored socialism in those days and venerated Mahatma Gandhi as a national hero and saint, so Rajneesh bashed socialism, claiming that all it socialized was poverty, and called Gandhi a masochist who worshipped destitution. Rajneesh had a thorough appreciation of wealth and luxury even after his alleged enlightenment, and believed that it was better to have one's realization after becoming sated and bored with worldliness. The trouble is, of course, that some people just never get enough of it. But still, he considered it superior to poverty.
     Gradually more and more Westerners came to him; and largely because of his acceptance and integration of spirituality AND worldliness, he became more and more popular with them. Eventually one of his Western disciples, Ma Yoga Mukta, a wealthy Greek lady, bought him six acres of land in the city of Pune, where he established an ashram. The place became like an Indian Esalen, with a multitude of techniques being taught and practiced, including psychoanalysis, as Rajneesh considered it to be very helpful, in some cases almost necessary, for Westerners before they would be able observe their own mental processes and to settle down into clear, peaceful meditation. He also devised "active meditations" for Westerners for the same reason: physical activity, including jumping up and down and yelling, helped mentally hyperactive Westerners to "get it out of their system" sufficiently to sit down and experience some stillness and peace of mind. This phase of "Rajneeshism" included a fair amount of experimentation, including controversial experiments with sexuality and, temporarily, also aggression as spiritual practices. It was shortly before starting the ashram in Pune that he began calling himself Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.
     I consider it to be to his credit that for many years he gave an hour- to hour-and-a-half-long Dharma talk every morning, plus interviews in the evenings. His talks ranged all over the spiritual map, referring to various religious and philosophical systems, and during the 70's began including more sheer entertainment, including off-color jokes. In addition to being a guru, Rajneesh also was an entertainer, with considerable comedic talent. For me, giving a brief talk, maybe fifteen minutes long, every morning for two weeks (while I was in Bali) was seriously stretching my capacity for coming up with something to say; so Rajneesh's ability to edify and satisfy crowds with hour-long spiritual talks every single morning for years really impresses me.
     But his talks, as well as the carnival atmosphere of his ashram, quickly became unpopular with the Indian government. In addition to criticizing socialism, Gandhi, and orthodox Hinduism, he also criticized Indian politics and politicians. Plus there were allegations that some of his foreign disciples were funding their stay in India with drug-running and prostitution—not at Rajneesh's orders, but with his knowledge. So the government took measures to be rid of him, mainly by not issuing visas to foreigners designating the Pune ashram as their main destination in India and by retroactively canceling the place's tax-exempt status, suddenly causing the Rajneesh organization to owe the approximate equivalent of five million dollars to the Indian revenue service.
     Shortly after this, Rajneesh came to America with a tourist visa, for ostensibly medical reasons. He had a very bad back. Evidence suggests that he personally was not intending to stay permanently in America, but that his secretary Ma Anand Sheela unilaterally began looking for a permanent settlement after arrival. At any rate, she or her husband bought the "Big Muddy" Ranch in northeastern Oregon, 64,229 acres (more than 100 square miles) of desert land, considered so worthless as to be able to support only nine head of cattle. After a brief stay in New Jersey, the group moved to Oregon and started setting up an ashram.
     Practically upon arrival the group began triggering hostility from the locals. (Even Morantz admits to the immediate hostility, although he seems to approve of it.) It is true that Rajneesh delighted in challenging points of view to the point of offending people's rigid sensibilities, which may be one reason why he collected Rolls-Royces and top-of-the-line wristwatches and had guards toting Uzis, but the very presence of a bearded foreigner with lots of long-haired followers wearing bright orange robes was more than enough to offend the sensibilities of the inhabitants of rural eastern Oregon. According to what I've read, the state attorney general David Frohnmayer immediately disapproved of Rajneesh, before he had yet half a chance to do anything wrong, and began looking for ways to wreck the ashram, as did an organization called "1000 Friends of Oregon," a supposedly environmental group founded, coincidentally, by the attorney general's brother. Furthermore, the editor of the main state newspaper, The Oregonian, had a personal axe to grind against "cults," since he and his wife had formerly been involved in one which had somehow inspired his wife to have an abortion, so that, according to Paul Morantz, he was obsessively determined to expose the "malignancy" of Rajneeshpuram. The Rajneesh people began their enterprise with a spirit of friendliness toward the incumbent population, and even the subsequently notorious Ma Sheela tried smilingly at first to charm the locals at public meetings and so on. The ashram population was very careful in the beginning about obeying all laws and land ordinances which, according to Davisson's article, "infuriated" the Friends of Oregon and the folks at the attorney general's office.
     The 1000 Friends soon initiated lawsuits against the ashram over land use issues. It was declared that the sannyasins could not engage in commercial business, like selling books, on the ashram property; so the Oregon State Land Use Commission advised them to set up any commercial business in the nearby town of Antelope, which is what they did. Antelope at that time was a ghost town with a population of less than 50 people, so it didn't take many sannyasins to form a democratic majority there. When three seats on the town council came up for election, the Rajneesh people won them easily, causing the other three already on the council to resign in protest, being unwilling to sit in the same room with orange-robed, long-haired weirdos. The sannyasins "took over" the local school board also more or less by default. The board had attempted to keep out the weirdos by gerrymandering the school district to exclude the ashram; but they rendered these proceedings invalid by inadvertently causing some of their own homes to be outside the new boundaries, thereby rendering themselves unqualified to be board members. These democratic, more or less de fault occurrences, caused originally by harassment by the 1000 Friends of Oregon and the advice of the Land Use Commission, were seen as a kind of hostile takeover, a coup d'état, by the locals, and by the national media. Davisson also states,
The truth is that the commune suffered an unremitting and coordinated harassment from the local, state and federal government. This coupled with the tide of resentment and distrust in the local communities created a situation of extreme pressure on Rajneeshpuram and its residents. Sheela’s tactics and combativeness rose in direct proportion to the pressure exerted on the commune from outside. Her reactions, increasingly ludicrous, were generally the result of new attacks from authorities.
Which of course leads to a discussion of the notorious crimes of Ma Sheela.
     During most of his stay in America Rajneesh was mostly silent, not giving public Dharma talks as he used to do in India. Management of the ashram was in the hands of Sheela, who in addition to being a rather abrasive person anyhow, was apparently corrupted by the power she wielded, and also exasperated to the point of declaring all-out war against her devoted antagonists. (Although I seriously doubt that I would ever poison anyone, I can relate to some degree to that last point: my personality also is of a kind that if I meet with antagonism, especially if it seems totally unnecessary or unjust, it causes me to "stick to my guns" more and more vehemently, until I may find myself practically in a state of total war. This mainly happens against rodents and insects instead of people, however.) She eventually went off the deep end and became like a minor league Caligula. In all attempted fairness to the Bhagwan, it was he who publicly denounced her. She was not suspected by the police of poisoning restaurant salad bars or attempting to poison certain key members of the opposition until Rajneesh made the public accusation and advised the FBI to conduct investigations, which they did. 
     Meanwhile, the federal government, mainly in the form of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) had been striving for years to come up with anything they could against Rajneesh. The best they could manage was charges of immigration fraud: making untrue statements on his original visa application, especially with regard to his purpose and intended length of stay, and also arranging bogus "marriages of convenience" between foreign disciples and American disciples to allow the former to stay long-term in Oregon. The government began making arrangements for the arrest of the Bhagwan.
     Rajneesh's immigration lawyer Peter Schey attempted to make arrangements to the effect that if Rajneesh was to be arrested he could simply go and peacefully turn himself in to the authorities—yet, strangely, these offers were rejected. US district attorney Robert Turner, who was organizing the arrest, was intent upon "storming the bastille," and had already arranged for 15 armored military vehicles and well over a thousand armed law enforcement officers and National Guardsmen to essentially invade Rajneeshpuram in a surprise raid, much in the same way the Branch Davidians of Waco, Texas were handled several years later. It was as though the authorities intended deliberately to cause a scene of violence, as they assumed (probably rightly) that the Bhagwan's disciples would not stand idly by while their revered and beloved guru was manhandled and dragged away in shackles, and also (wrongly, as it turned out) that the ashram members had been stockpiling weapons. At least one government official later testified under oath that Turner had no intention of allowing Rajneesh to surrender himself peacefully. He was planning on gunfire and "mass arrests," presumably with plenty of sensationalistic media coverage.
     Fortunately, however, the Bhagwan forestalled the battle by taking off with some disciples in a rented Learjet. He was arrested in North Carolina, allegedly without a valid arrest warrant, and didn't put up a fight. The feds played it up as well as they could, and he was shown in chains on the national news.

     Instead of putting him in prison for five years for immigration fraud, Rajneesh was simply deported. This began a kind of odyssey for him, as no country wanted him. According to Wikipedia,
He stayed for six weeks in Himachal Pradesh. When non-Indians in his party had their visas revoked, he moved on to Kathmandu, Nepal and a few weeks later to Crete. Arrested after a few days by the Greek Intelligence Service (KYP), he flew to Geneva, Stockholm and London Heathrow Airport; however, in each case he was refused entry. When Canada refused him permission to land, his plane returned to Shannon airport in Ireland to refuel. He was allowed to stay for two weeks at a hotel in Limerick, on the condition that he did not go out or give talks. Osho had been granted a Uruguayan identity card, a one-year provisional residency and the possibility of permanent residency so the party set out, stopping at Madrid (where the plane was surrounded by the Guardia Civil). He was allowed to spend one night in Dakar before continuing to Recife and Montevideo. In Uruguay the group moved into a house in Punta del Este; Osho began speaking publicly until 19 June, when he was "invited to leave" for no official reason. A two-week visa was arranged for Jamaica, but upon his arrival in Kingston the police gave his group 12 hours to leave. Refueling in Gander and Madrid, Osho returned to Mumbai on 30 July 1986.
Rajneesh and his followers were of the opinion that the grand unwelcome of his "world tour" was the result of covert diplomatic pressure from the Reagan administration, which is not entirely lacking in plausibility. Eventually he returned to his ashram in Pune, where he received a hero's welcome, and where he lived quietly, with failing health, until he died in January of 1990, at the age of 58.
     In July of 1986 a monument was erected outside the Wasco County Courthouse (the home county of Rajneeshpuram ashram), which says, "Dedicated to all who steadfastly and unwaveringly opposed the attempts of the Rajneesh followers to take political control of Wasco County: 1981-1985." Below this inscription is a quote from Edmund Burke: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." The implication, obviously, is that the sannyasins of Rajneeshpuram were evil, and the people who relentlessly harassed them were good. Well, Ma Anand Sheela and a few of her co-conspirators may have been evil. The case of the Bhagwan is not nearly so clear. And I would imagine that the overwhelming majority of orange-robed weirdos living at the ashram were sincerely trying to live a spiritual life, and striving not for mere convenience, pleasure, or stress reduction, but for enlightenment—probably very unlike virtually all of the people who were against them. The attitude of the opposition reminds me of the red-necked, anti-hippie yokels in the "cult" movie Easy Rider (a movie well worth seeing, by the way). 
     Ironically, Osho Rajneesh is now widely revered in India. According to Paul Morantz, certain Indian scholars have listed Osho among the ranks of Gotama Buddha and that masochist Gandhi as one of the most influential Indians of all time. One Indian newspaper placed him on a list of the most important Indians of the twentieth century. A former editor of the Hindustan Times described Osho as "the most original thinker that India has produced: the most erudite, the most clearheaded and the most innovative." The Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh and former president Giani Zail Singh, both Sikhs, publicly praised him. Osho's complete works have been placed in a special section of the library of India's National Parliament, an honor shared with only one other person—Gandhi. Now in Nepal alone there are reportedly 60 Osho centers with 45,000 initiated disciples. His books have been translated into no fewer than 55 languages, and have been on best-seller lists in Italy and South Korea. In 2002 the government of Germany was held by its Federal Constitutional Court to have defamed the Osho Movement by referring to it as a "destructive cult" with no factual basis. And in 1990 the American author Tom Robbins wrote that he was convinced, even though he personally was not a disciple, that Osho was the 20th century's "greatest spiritual teacher," and also "one of the most maligned figures in history." Oshoism is literally becoming a mass religion. Times, they are a-changing.
     Nevertheless, the xenophobic hostility that initially inspired the persecution of Rajneeshpuram, from the local level all the way up to the administration of Ronald Reagan, is still alive and well in America. I've been exposed to it recently on a rather small scale: A totally harmless Burmese Buddhist organization in Fremont, California has been attempting to establish a Buddhist meditation center on the outskirts of a small town in central California, but hostility from certain members of the city council, based on an alienated "us vs. them" attitude, has indefinitely halted progress on the center, and it may never be completed. I experienced it personally on an even smaller scale in Bellingham, Washington, which is more poignant for me because much of it came from people considering themselves to be Theravada Buddhists, even calling themselves "Sangha." I was unwelcome upon arrival in Bellingham by many members of the local Vipassana group, with some of the senior members apparently being in a mild state of alarm at my potential threat to the status quo (including their own positions as teachers of the group), and with seemingly as much suspicion and disdain as anything resembling acceptance or respect from the group at large. I assume part of this is simply a result of my outlandish appearance in a non-Buddhist country. I would guess that "cult members" in America have it about 50% easier if they just wear ordinary American lay clothing, and have ordinary lay hair. Weird robes and shaved or long hair may put provincials on their guard immediately, regardless of the philosophies they profess. (Also, I'm somewhat unpredictable; and the unpredictable can be menacing.)
     But what exactly is a "cult," anyway? One definition given by The New Oxford American Dictionary is "a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister." Well, as one of the quotes at the top of this article suggests, all spiritual movements, both valid and invalid, start out that way. It is safe to assume that Ammachi of India, "the hugging saint," is viewed by many out there to be a dangerous cult leader. For that matter, Jesus of Nazareth was seen as a cult leader and menace to society by orthodox Jews during the reign of Tiberius Caesar, and likely by some devout Roman Pagans also. In recent decades "cult" has increasingly become seen as a derogatory word along the lines of "nigger" or "fag," a primary purpose of which being to dehumanize its object, thereby justifying hostility toward it. Sociologists have begun avoiding the term.
     Some authors have stated the opinion that most "cult leaders" or unconventional spiritual leaders claiming to have special knowledge or attainment are psychopaths, that is, frauds who deliberately deceive and manipulate their followers. Some such cases seem relatively straightforward, like Shoko Asahara in Japan. I have a friend who I'd like to think was never actually a member of Aum Shinrikyo, but who endorsed Asahara as the real deal (up until the sarin nerve gas incident), and who had some of Aum Shinrikyo's literature, which out of curiosity I read. It struck me as an uninspired, clumsy hash of various religious traditions, including ancient Greek and Egyptian, plus some of Shoko's own mediocre poetry; and there seemed to be a large amount of just plain money-grubbing also, like selling at high prices some cheap-looking "Egyptian" amulets with special aromas and chants to release their full power, etc. Also, I consider someone like Daniel Ingram, who advertises on page one of his website, "I am an Arahant," to be a very fishy case. I can't help but suppose that Arahants don't go around announcing "I am an Arahant." I doubt that even the Buddha did that, even though he is reported to have done it repeatedly in the ancient texts.
     On the other hand, there are some spiritual teachers who are clearly rascals, yet who I consider to be genuine adepts. Neem Karoli Baba is my favorite example of a possibly enlightened rascal: He allegedly supervised a drug smuggling operation carried out by Western hippie disciples (although all the profits were given to charity), he occasionally fondled female disciples, he yelled and threw things, and he was notorious for telling lies. To a person with a completely mundane conception of spirituality, or maybe a traditionalist who follows a system emphasizing the essentiality of morality, such behavior would automatically disqualify him from any high attainment. But the man clearly was extremely highly advanced, a kind of walking miracle. I consider Paul Lowe also to be very highly advanced, possibly enlightened even, despite the fact that, when he was younger at least, he wore his sexuality on his sleeve, and conducted meditation retreats that also functioned as orgies. I read that at one long retreat the rule was that, if you had any uncertainty as to whether you should have sex with another retreatant, you should go ahead and do it. Only if you were sure that you shouldn't, then you shouldn't. For a few years just about every time I heard about him he had a different female disciple as his consort. Yet to me anyway, the wisdom of what he teaches is profound and unmistakable. And then there's J. Krishnamurti, who not only allegedly had a secret affair with his secretary's wife, but wore a toupee! What enlightened being would wear a toupee! I ask you. But even so, he seems to have had some genuine attainment, and he spoke of realization with authority, as from experience, and not as the scribes.
     So I don't think that a saint and a sage are necessarily the same person. A saint is a genius of virtue, and a sage is a genius of wisdom; and it seems possible that one may have one without the other. Traditional Theravada insists that one cannot have purity of mind without purity of moral conduct; but still, I am not so sure anymore. 
     Setting aside full enlightenment for a moment, it is obvious that higher consciousness in and of itself does not imply greater morality. An obvious example is the comparison of a monkey and a sheep. A monkey is at a higher level of consciousness than a sheep, but a monkey is also much naughtier than a sheep. We primates are naughty. Or consider Māra, the Buddhist devil. Tradition asserts that he lives not in hell, but in the highest deva realm. He is an advanced god, with tremendous psychic powers, yet he is a bad guy, too.
     So, what all this rambling amounts to is that I'm still not sure about Osho the Bhagwan Rajneesh. The articles I read about him didn't clear up very much about his spiritual status, although it did enlighten me with regard to the persecution of his ashram in Oregon, with full ideological support of the persecutors by very biased, sensationalistic mass media. Those who know of Osho only from news reports, etc., would have almost no option but to consider him nothing but a clever and maybe malevolent crook, which is pretty much the attitude I acquired toward him as a teenager.
     It is true that his second in command was an attempted murderer who had an ego a mile wide and who cussed like a sailor; but that could possibly be explained by the fact that Rajneesh deliberately adopted a method of George Gurdjieff, namely placing abrasive, difficult people in key positions of the organization, for the sake of continually challenging the patience and acceptance of the spiritual community. Rajneesh, again, delighted in challenging people's preferences and beliefs. This may also help to explain the Rolls-Royces and Uzis in the West. I can relate to this to some degree; it seems to me also that only by prodding people out of their comfort zone, especially their comfort zone of belief, can one really teach wisdom. If one leaves one's comfort zone out of inspiration and enthusiasm, then so much the better, but for most it is bound to be unpleasant. Unpleasant, but practically necessary.
     Almost certainly Rajneesh was a rascal. In addition to allegedly fudging on his visa application, he evidently wasn't celibate, and there are rumors that he got first pick of all the pretty sannyasins. I've also heard a rumor that he smoked dope with some of his disciples. He reportedly dictated three of his published books while under the effects of nitrous oxide. But I very much doubt that, as the monument at the Wasco County Courthouse implies, and as the Oregon attorney general fervently asserted, Osho was evil.
     With regard to his claims to being enlightened, if he made the claims while knowing he really wan't enlightened, then that of itself would be sufficient to qualify him as a deliberate fraud. On the other hand, it is not absolutely inconceivable that he actually was enlightened. Or, what may be more likely, he may have simply overestimated his own attainment. Or maybe he was being only quasi dishonest, since he taught that everyone is a Buddha anyway—so claiming himself to be one wouldn't be as extreme as it was interpreted by many of his followers. Shri Aurobindo may be a similar case, as he also was a brilliant intellectual, he also publicly disapproved of Gandhi, and he also claimed to have attained Nirvana—in his case, though, he declared Nirvana to be an inferior state, and that he wasn't satisfied with it. Shri Aurobindo's spiritual system supposedly begins with Nirvana. Hmmm. 
     Here is the Wikipedia article's account of one aspect of Osho's teaching:
According to Osho, every human being is a Buddha with the capacity for enlightenment, capable of unconditional love and of responding (rather than reacting) to life—although the ego usually prevents this, identifying with social conditioning and creating false needs and conflicts and an illusory sense of identity…
That strikes me as having some wisdom, especially the part about the ego creating false needs and conflicts. Even if Osho was simply recycling the teachings of others, as he is occasionally accused of doing, he chose what to recycle with a fair amount of insight. Back in the 60's, when he still called himself Acharya Rajneesh, someone asked him what were his "ten commandments," and after saying that he didn't approve of commandments, "just for fun" he wrote down the following:

     1. Never obey anyone's command unless it is coming from within you.
     2. There is no God other than life itself.
     3. Truth is within you, do not search for it elsewhere.
     4. Love is prayer.
     5. To become a nothingness is the door to truth. Nothingness itself is the means, the goal and attainment.
     6. Life is now and here.
     7. Live wakefully.
     8. Do not swim—float.
     9. Die each moment so that you can be new each moment.
     10. Do not search. That which is, is. Stop and see.

He underlined numbers 3, 7, 9, and 10 as most important. I cannot help but see some wisdom in this also.
     Then on top of all this, Osho also allegedly had a Howard Hughes-like phobia of germs and disease which would be hard to reconcile with genuine enlightenment. But who knows! I find myself in a strange world, where every possibility may be equally true. Maybe he was a deliberate fraud, and was a fully enlightened being, and was everything in between besides. In an infinite universe, anything that possibly can happen, does happen, and anything that is conceivable, is possible.
     In conclusion, if I had to make a guess one way or the other, I'd guess that the Bhagwan was just a very intelligent man who had charisma, piercing eyes, and a gift for oratory, and who also had a well above average intuitive appreciation for Dharma, and who capitalized on all this to become a controversial, unconventional, and unacceptably thought-provoking teacher…and a rascal. It's only a guess, though. 
     a crook brought to justice,
or a radical spiritual teacher persecuted for his unconventionality,
or neither, or maybe both?


Wikipedia articles on "Rajneesh," "Ma Anand Sheela," and "Cult"

"Escape from Rajneeshpuram," by Paul Morantz, at

"The Rise and Fall of Rajneeshpuram," by Sven Davisson, at

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Why I Keep Bashing Scientism

     Shortly after setting up the website, before this blog was born, one person made the observation that I lament way too much over unquestioning scriptural dogmatism, especially considering that Buddhists in the West are hardly dogmatic at all. With regard to Dharma this turns out to be obviously true; most Buddhists in the West appear to be practically the opposite of scriptural dogmatists, as they freely dismiss any parts of the Tipitaka that they don't have any use for, which is most of it. I can relate to that, as I'm a Westerner too. But in Burma, where I wrote most of the articles now on the website, scriptural dogmatism prevails, not only with the Burmese, but also with many Western monks, a few of whom I corresponded with in a rather frustrating manner. Western monks tend to reject Abhidhamma and other presumably later texts like fable collections and commentarial literature, yet they may be Bible fundamentalists with regard to all the rest of it. So I would sometimes get letters back from a Western monk with remarks like "That's wrong because in M__ (pick a number) the Buddha says otherwise," and generally assuming axiomatically that if anything is stated in the "core texts," then it necessarily is true, authentic, and reliable. My frustration, as well as my intuition that dogmatism is a case of "binding oneself without a rope," occasionally motivated me to attack this point of view. Dogmatism easily forms an entrenchment that is very difficult for the dogmatist to get out of, even temporarily, even just for fun.
     But in America the case is different. Two of the most surprising and obvious (to me, anyway) characteristics of the American Theravada that I saw were lukewarmness and materialism, with little actual mention of Pali texts, American laypeople preferring to read books on Buddhism written by other American laypeople than to read ancient texts, or anything very monastic. In America, Theravada, "the doctrine of the elders," has been transformed into something very Western, modern, and secular. 
     Both lukewarmness and Western-style scientific materialism (let alone several other outstanding characteristics of American semi-Buddhism that I won't belabor here) are serious obstacles to spiritual development, probably more so than the rut of rigid dogmatism in the East. There's not much I can do about the lukewarmness; I'm not fiery enough and motivated enough, and am probably too lukewarm myself, to inspire people to apply themselves deeply and energetically. Or so it appears. But Western-style scientific materialism, or Scientism, is so easy to bash, and such an obvious handicap to anyone trying to practice Dharma, that I figure I might as well. It ought to be bashed. It is good to challenge points of view. Plus there's that frustration issue again. 
     One fundamental point—and if I'm wrong on this, then somebody out there please explain how—is that if Scientism is true, and scientific realism therefore really does reliably explain Reality, then Dharma must be untrue, since true Dharma leads to Nirvana, and is oriented to Nirvana, and Scientism deals only with Samsara, apparently considering Samsara to be the only Reality there is. Scientism attempts to explain all Reality within the context of what the Hindus especially call māya, the illusion. Science deals of necessity only with what can be objectified and measured; and since any Absolute, like Nirvana or "God," cannot really be objectified or measured, it is dismissed by those who dogmatically consider science to be THE correct explanation of the Universe, and that is symptomatic of the faith of Scientism, not of mere science.
     Consequently we have "Dharma" teachers in the West, many of them considering themselves to be Buddhists, who reject any aspect of Buddhism that is not in harmony with a scientistic objectification of Reality. They reject such notions as karma and rebirth, and if they don't reject the notion of Nirvana altogether, they are compelled to identify it with mere cessation, nonexistence. Some Buddhist intellectuals even of the fundamentalist tendency prefer to identify it likewise, for lack of appreciation of anything that cannot be intellectualized. But if Nirvana is nonexistence, then becoming enlightened in this very life becomes rather problematic; and furthermore, if there is no rebirth possible anyhow in a materialistic world, then we all automatically become "enlightened" at the moment of death. Thus if Western Dharma students, teachers, and practitioners who disbelieve in karma and rebirth, yet still consider the First Noble Truth to be true are right, then we would all literally be better off committing suicide. 
     As I've pointed out elsewhere, especially in the article "Buddhism and Scientism" on the Nippapañca website, the scientistic interpretation of Reality relies on several articles of faith which cannot possibly be proved, and which are, as a general rule, universally overlooked by those who endorse such an view. An important reason for this is that one fundamental article of faith of the religion of Scientism is that it is not a religion. Articles of faith should not be accepted. But if they cannot be avoided, then they should not be acknowledged.
     One such article of faith is that the human brain, a material object consisting of organic tissue with the consistency of soft, raw tofu or an overripe avocado, somehow has the capacity to figure out Ultimate Reality. Another is that "figuring out," i.e. symbolic, intellectual thought, can really understand anything in a physical universe, or maybe even in a mental one. A symbol is radically different from whatever it presumes to represent; so symbolic thought, as ancient sages have been wont to say, is more a distortion of truth than a discerning of it. 
     One very big assumption of Scientism is that physical matter, which is mainly what scientists try to observe, exists at all. As I have pointed out again and again, there is no way actually to prove this. The existence of a universe of physical matter is a matter of faith—which is rarely acknowledged as such, since Scientism is supposedly not a religion. What happens every time, as far as I can recall, is that I point out to a follower of science/Scientism that the existence of physical matter cannot be proven at all, and they simply shrug off the statement, like a duck shakes off water, and blandly continue to base their arguments upon the axiom that physical matter exists. This same thing used to happen when I would controverse with Western monks in Burma: I would remind them that I do not consider any particular Buddhist scripture to be necessarily authoritative and reliable, but they would often seem incapable of coping with this, insisting upon clinching their arguments with appeals to revered authorities that I did not consider to be necessarily authoritative. The argument becomes circular, like that of a Bible fundamentalist: X is true because the Bible says so. How do I know that? Because the Bible is the infallible word of God. How do I know that? Because the Bible says so. Scientism likewise involves one humungous case of begging the question. For example: Consciousness is generated by brain biochemistry because a corresponding physical function of the brain exists. How do I know that? Because the biochemicals are observed and measured. How do I know that? Because physical matter exists. But the existence of physical matter cannot really be proven.
     Yet materialism in and of itself is not necessarily an obstacle. Even orthodox Theravada asserts that physical matter is ultimately real, as do many other ancient Indian systems like Sankhya (on which Yoga is based). It is true, though, that most advanced dharmc/yogic systems dispense with the notion of physical matter. Even Roman Catholic theology, or so I've been told, declares that matter is not ultimately real, since only God is ultimately real—all of His creations or "creatures" being only relatively real. The mere relative reality of the phenomenal world seems to have been a fundamental teaching of the Buddha also, although the Abhidhamma philosophers interpreted this along ancient Indian materialist lines. The obstacle arises in insisting that everything must be explainable in terms of objectifiable, symbolizable phenomena, namely in terms of objectively observed matter and energy, of particles, waves, and fields. Or in other words, the trouble lies in the insistent belief that if something can't be objectively observed, counted, and measured, then it can't be real. But the exact opposite of this may be the case.
     Let's return to the idea of enlightenment or Nirvana. Scientism would presumably insist that if enlightenment is real, then it must be explainable in terms of neurophysiology and brain biochemistry. Obviously, an enlightened being could go into a laboratory, consume something containing a radioactive glucose "tracer," sit under a PET scanner (or whatever is state of the art nowadays), and voila! Scientists see the brain areas that are active and inactive and thus "understand" what enlightenment is—without, of course, ever having experienced it for themselves, and without having a flying, freaking clue as to what it is all about. But if Nirvana is explainable in terms of brain biochemistry, then practically by definition it is NOT Nirvana, since Nirvana is unconditioned. It is formless. It has no beginning and no end, no cause and no effect. So it can't possibly be measured. And so, according to the principles of Scientism, there is no Nirvana.
     Furthermore, if enlightenment can be invalidated or trivialized by explaining it in terms of mere neurophysiology, then certainly so could everything that we human beings could possibly experience—love, compassion, honesty, goodness, and every noble and uplifting experience could likewise be reduced to a mere product of brain chemistry. Does knowing how neurons fire in this or that lobe of the brain cause a head-oriented scientist to know what love really is, or compassion? A 13-year-old girl might know better than him. For that matter, scientific knowledge itself could be equally trivialized by "explaining" it in terms of brain chemistry, turning the whole system into a black snake devouring itself tail first.
     Spiritual systems conducive to enlightenment, assuming that they exist, are started (and sometimes maintained) by people who are spiritual adepts, meditation masters, people who have perfected the arts of virtue and of experiencing consciousness directly, not just intellectually figuring things out about it. They are arguably the happiest, saintliest, wisest, best, most trustworthy people who have ever lived. On the other hand, scientists are on average more intelligent than the average person, but are just as emotionally messed up and unhappy. (I've lived in the scientific community myself, so I know that firsthand.) So it should be no surprise if Scientism, a world view conceived by philosophically naïve members of the scientific community, conditions a messed up, unhappy world, despite its satisfying objective explanations and great technological conveniences. It may be said that the primary purpose of spirituality is happiness, while the primary purpose of science is objective, intellectual knowledge—and we live in a strange world where the latter is assumed by many to be more important than the former. That apparently includes even some teachers of "Dharma."
     Science, obviously, can be extremely useful and powerful in a samsaric, worldly context, but it almost necessarily degenerates into vulgar Scientism since people in general must cherish belief in something; and although advocates of hard science claim it to be merely hypothetical, and not religious, even in strict scientific practice only the hypothesis to be tested is really hypothetical, with the rest of the foundation of assumptions on Reality being taken for granted. So if science can acknowledge that it applies only to apparent phenomena, without being able to explain those fully, if it can accept its limitations, then it could still be compatible with deep spirituality—but it should be held within a context of Dharma, not the other way round. Dharma is of wider scope than science, and science cannot fully account for it. What is samsaric cannot account for Nirvana. (Similarly, if there is a Devil, he is an atheist; and when a pickpocket meets a saint, all he notices are his pockets.) So believe in enlightenment first, and in particles and energy fields second, or maybe third, if at all.  
     If one is a scientific materialist first and a Buddhist or any kind of spiritual seeker second (or third, or fourth, or fifth), then one is simply degrading spirituality into worldly, unenlightened rubbish. "Buddha" becomes a brilliant and charismatic social reformer; "Dharma" becomes elementary psychological techniques for stress reduction and the enhancement of a worldly existence; and "Sangha" becomes a group of uninspired people enslaved to their own brain chemistry. If one is a materialist first, then one is a materialist, not a Buddhist or any kind of genuine spiritual seeker. One may amount to a "Dharma hobbyist." That's not a total loss.
     Even if Scientism were true (and I really don't think so, and apparently have some of the wisest beings who ever lived backing me up on that), I'd still probably bash it, since, as Ajahn Chah used to say, even Right View becomes wrong view if one clings to it; and a great many Western "Buddhists" are clinging to it mightily.
     Is bashing Scientism an exercise in utter futility, a lost cause? Well, I've always rooted for the champions of lost causes. I have sympathy for them. For example, Julian "the Apostate" is one of my favorite Roman emperors. He was the last pagan emperor, who strove diligently to prevent Christianity from taking over the Empire. He failed of course, but still I root for him, kind of like rooting for King Kong when you already know how the movie is going to end. I root for the passengers and crew of United Airlines flight 93, too—they fought for their lives, back on 9/11, and failed, but they may have saved hundreds or even thousands of others by doing so. I love them for that. But, if anti-Scientism is a lost cause, then the evolution of human civilization, and of the human spirit, may be a lost cause too. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Accepting Responsibility

"The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." —Thomas Jefferson

    Some time ago in America a person told me of a friend of his who had tripped on some uneven pavement in town and had hurt her wrists in the fall. She asked the owner of the pavement to reimburse her for the subsequent doctor's appointments, but was refused. She then sued the owner of the pavement and collected $10,000. The person who told me this story is a devout Christian whose scriptures exhort him to forgive those who have wronged him, but he seemed to endorse his friend's course of action. Blaming somebody for one's own accidents and misfortunes, and sometimes subsequently suing them for it, has become part of the American Way. 
     His account instantly reminded me of the pavements of Rangoon, which are a mess. There are places in the city with gaping holes in the sidewalks, opening up to a two- to three-foot drop into garbage-filled rain gutters. (The monsoon rains are torrential in Rangoon, requiring gutters that deep.) But if one falls into one of these holes, well, that's just too bad. Who is one going to blame? One may blame the government, but is it wise to sue a military dictatorship? (I know, the government is improving in Burma nowadays, but I went back to America just as the improvements started.) If one tries to sue a military dictatorship one is likely to visit a prison even messier than the hole one fell into, and to experiment with surviving on a diet of watery bean soup. 
     In Burma, one must be alert, and walk carefully. One takes responsibility for oneself.
     Many years ago I lived at a large school monastery on the outskirts of the city of Amarapura, near Mandalay, and every morning I walked across U Pein Bridge to the village of Taungthaman for alms. This bridge, a national landmark in Burma, would be condemned and torn down immediately if it existed in America; the thing is antique and rickety, with no side rails, and in some places when one steps on an old teak plank on one side of the bridge, the other end of it flips upwards on the other side. Every year at least one or two drunk guys ride their bicycle off the edge of it and severely injure themselves. But people live with it, deathtrap that it may be, and are careful.
     In the West we have been conditioned to believe that whenever we have trouble or unhappiness it is usually something else's or someone else's fault, if, that is, we can think of something or someone to blame. Our happiness also is supposed to rely primarily on external circumstance. The mass media, including advertising agencies, greatly capitalize on this myth, and strenuously reinforce it. Furthermore, we have been taught to believe that we live in an impersonal material world that is utterly indifferent to us, possibly even in a society that is indifferent to us, that we are shoved around by mindless external phenomena, and thus that we create our reality only in a very limited, almost figurative way. This goes for religious people too, even though the founder of their religion may have taught the exact opposite—"consider the lilies of the field," and all that. So we often do not want to accept responsibility for what befalls us, even when we make a mistake through carelessness.
     As Western civilization continues on its path the members of it gradually become less and less inclined to accept responsibility for personal generosity and virtue also; laws, government agencies, and impersonal institutions take up more and more of the slack, in accordance with the desires of the populace. Our alienation and distrust of one another has resulted in a stupendous proliferation of laws, which tend to supplant personal morals, ethics, and "codes of honor." To some degree this is necessary, as some of the more shark-like among the race, especially now that God is dead, may consider governmental laws and regulations to be the only limitations in making a profit—if it's not positively illegal, then it's permitted.  
     Another example of this trend of passing the ethical buck is that tending to the old, the sick, and the poor is taken care of by the government in a so-called "welfare state," so that we don't have to do it ourselves. (Political conservatives may oppose this mandatory organized charity, but not, it seems to me, for the best reasons.) Many in the West are virtually constrained to go to the extreme of letting an impersonal institution care for their parents when they become very old and incapacitated. A major consideration with regard to such a decision is that a nursing home provides better medical care than Mom or Dad would receive at home; but there seems to be a modern, materialistic superstition floating about that death is the worst possible thing that can happen to a person; and I would guess that many old folks would rather die at home with their family than live a few extra years in a sterile, white-walled institution—unless they also think death is the worst possible thing, or they are alienated from their family, or they are afraid to be a burden on their children and selflessly take one for the team, like elderly Eskimos going out onto the ice. The whole lifestyle in a place like America is so busy and individual-oriented that living with one's incapacitated elderly parents is a feat for the resolute few who can manage it. I didn't take care of my mother when she was very old either, so I shouldn't complain.
     Institutions take care of America's small children lately too, while both parents very busily try to make enough money to live up to an arbitrarily high standard of living. (It used to be that grandparents would look after the children in such cases, but nowadays they live on their own, or are in institutions.) As a peculiar observation on childcare and on general distrust of the world, only after my return from Burma have I ever seen, in America, children playing at daycare centers wearing helmets (either from their parents' fears of their getting hurt, or the daycare center's fears of being sued if they do get hurt—I suspect that it wasn't the kids' idea). I also had never before seen a woman walking her child on a leash (for fear of him wandering away or being kidnapped, I guess). 
     Another symptom of this kind of relinquishment of responsibility and of confidence in Dharma or "God's mercy," is the prevalence and popularity of insurance in the USA. Some kinds of it are even mandatory nowadays. Yet what is insurance? Essentially it's betting against oneself; it is actually wagering that something bad will happen to us. We know that, like casinos, the insurance companies have the odds worked out in their favor, and we also know that they generally don't have much compassion for us and will pay off as little as they can get away with (only as much as is required by law), but even so we often have more faith in them than in ourselves, or in Dharma, or in "God."
     It seems to me, and statistics might bear this out, that having insurance actually increases the odds that something bad will happen to us. For starters, one can afford to be a little careless if one knows that one's back is covered if one messes up; but if we clearly realize that we must take full responsibility for our actions, we tend to be more careful, even to be at our peak performance. And this is even setting aside the karma-oriented notion that we are more likely to experience a damned inconvenience (like lost traveler's checks that get replaced) than a disaster (like being irremediably divested of all money thousands of miles from home). 
     Similarly, medicine and health insurance may increase the odds of illness and injury, for reasons karmic and otherwise. Or rather, it's not the mere existence of these that cause illness, it's the worldly belief that they are one's best protection, and the worry and fear that may urge us to have them in the first place. 
     (And while speaking of sickness and medicine causing each other, I may as well mention, as an aside, that the modern Western preoccupation with "healing" in an emotional or more or less spiritual sense strikes me as somewhat morbid. Really, an emphasis on healing necessitates a perception of some sickness or injury to be healed, right? So emphasis on healing actually emphasizes sickness, and thus, karmically, reinforces it. Better simply to emphasize being well. Or better yet, since that still presupposes its dualistic opposite, better to let it go and not to worry about one's state of health at all. Many people are afraid to let go of their past traumas, that being too radical and scary, or are unaware that it is even possible simply to let go, and so they work out strategies for letting go gradually, after lots of striving and stewing. Oftentimes these strategies don't work. But letting go is effortless and instantaneous if we are really, really ready to stop being unhappy. As you like, though: healing slowly is better than not healing at all.)
     Overall, worry, including worried precautions, increases the odds of something going wrong. From a more karmic and Buddhist perspective, this is because worry is an unskillful (akusala) mental state, and thus "bad karma," and so it actually causes unpleasantness to arise. It literally generates unpleasantness. From a more mundane point of view, it has more to do with the stress, imbalance, and friction worry causes, which results in more strain on the system, mental and physical, and thus also in a greater likelihood of accidents, mistakes, and general misery. Backing away from that mundane point of view, though, I would remind you, if you have ears to hear it, that we are all creating our own reality to a very profound degree; and as Eckhart Tolle says, looking at the world and worrying about it or hating it or being angered by it is like looking into a mirror and blaming our own reflection. Our world is an outward-seeming manifestation of our own mental states, especially the very deep ones. 
     If we protect Dharma, and are courageous and vigilant, then Dharma protects us—or at the very least it gives us exactly what we need to help us to wake up, even though it may be unpleasant, and strengthens us to accept it. Actually, the way karma "fructifies," or works itself out, is that we get exactly what we need to help us wake up anyhow. As the teacher Paul Lowe says, "the system is self-healing"; psychic imbalances, like disequilibria in general, tend automatically to work themselves out, like water seeking its own level. But the thing is that we often struggle against this process, and thereby add to the imbalance, and to the difficulties lying before us. So by practicing Dharma sincerely we become less inclined to struggle against our own path to liberation, and the path becomes somewhat less rocky and strewn with unnecessary thorns. This is a primary purpose of Dharma: to help us not resist our own enlightenment! As I've said more than once over the years, it is a myth that we're not enlightened because we don't try hard enough—we're unenlightened because we're continually trying to stay asleep.
     In conclusion, I suggest that it is very good to bear in mind the Second Noble Truth: that all suffering is caused by desire, which is our own attitude, not by other people or external circumstance. So forgive those who seem to wrong you; and don't struggle against the way things are (it's your own doing anyway); and if you find yourself struggling out of deep force of habit, don't struggle against the struggling! Watch it, and try to understand. And be happy, if that is appropriate.   


U Pein Bridge

Saturday, November 1, 2014


     It has been observed by philosophers that many disagreements, even among intelligent, well-educated people, are the result of undefined or badly defined terms. Two scholars, for example, may argue for years over the merits of communism, or whether or not Spinoza was an atheist, while their respective definitions of "communism" or "atheism" may be unexamined, vague, and/or very different. And even if they finally come to an agreement, they still may be miles away from each other's point of view because they aren't really agreeing about the same thing.
     People who aren't professional scholars may be even more prone to do this sort of thing. In fact, they may often use words without any clear idea at all of what they mean. I've noticed this lately more often in Western women than in men in general; although men are very capable of it also. For example, as I've mentioned in a previous blog post, male Buddhists in Asia may dismiss Hinduism's qualified acceptance of self (atman) without knowing or caring what the Hindus are even talking about. "Hindus believe in self" is considered to be sufficient grounds in and of itself to warrant dismissing the credibility of Hinduism. And whenever people, male or female, discuss Free Will they are almost always laboring in a state of confusion.
     But getting back to Western women, one term that is used rather frequently by some of them nowadays is "integrity." The word may be tossed around as though it were a very familiar term, but I've found that if you ask for a definition of this term, few are able to come up with one. Does integrity imply living up to one's own standards, or living up to someone else's standards? If the former, then would a person who sincerely considers lying and stealing to be entirely justified have integrity? Or if the other case is true, then is hypocritically imitating the rest if the herd a symptom of integrity? I wonder.
     Another such undefined term, methinks, is "judgement" (with or without an "e" right after the "g"). One can make a general observation, about people especially, and one may hear in reply, "That sounds like a judgement." They say this with disapproval, so I don't quite understand why their own statement isn't also a judgement. I've read too many philosophy books to define "judgement" in a predominantly negative way. For me, even to say "The apple is on the table" is a judgement. Judgements are no big deal. It would seem that in some societies in the West, "judgement" simply means an opinion that somebody doesn't like.
     I really don't mean to pick on Western women in this article. Seriously. But even so……To give another example, many years ago, before my ordination as a monk, I worked with a young woman who was, and I think I'm not exaggerating or making a "judgement" here, a radical militant feminist. In addition to strongly preferring to read books written by women and to watch movies about women, she walked like a guy, dressed like a guy, and swore and punched things when she was angry like a guy—yet she considered herself to be "feminine." It seemed that she made no distinction between "feminine" and "female." Any woman, presumably, is automatically feminine. Plus "feminine" and "feminist" are almost the same word, except for the last two letters.
     Much more recently, I was conversing with a different young American woman, and made the statement/judgement that gentleness and compassion are "feminine" qualities. My friend disagreed, arguing that men may be gentle and compassionate also. This is obviously true; but still….I asked her what qualities are feminine, then, if gentleness and compassion are not—for instance, what qualities would a man have to have in order to be called "feminine"? She was unable to answer. She was totally stumped. She did have the word "feminine" in her working vocabulary, however, especially in terms like "the Divine Feminine." It seems to me that "masculine" traits and "feminine" traits are qualities commonly associated with the stereotypical man and woman, respectively, with the terms used as a matter of convenient communication of ideas; but if it becomes politically incorrect to speak in terms of stereotypes or to make "judgements," then words like "feminine" would become practically useless, and possibly meaningless as well. Unless "feminine" and "female" are simply synonyms.
     Which leads to a term that is much used in the West nowadays, and which definitely has feminine connotations to it, and that is the word "heart." Heart is a big deal nowadays in the West, and is a big deal in Western Buddhism also. Shortly before leaving Bellingham last year I gave a talk on head and heart in Dharma, and it was very well received; then later while in California I gave a very similar talk on the same subject to a group of intellectual Asians (mostly from Sri Lanka), and received plenty of blank stares. It didn't even feel right while talking about the subject to this group. It just wasn't part of the way these people thought about Dharma, or about life. This isn't to say that they don't have gentleness and compassion, but traditionally Theravada Buddhism is a predominantly top-heavy philosophical/yogic system, and gentleness and compassion are present, and important, but heavily intellectualized. For me it was an interesting contrast to see the very different receptions of essentially the same talk.
     Anyway, Heart is considered very important and very good in Dharma circles in the West—more so in New Age than in Theravada, but it's much more of a big deal in Western Theravada than in Eastern. In the West, "heart" has come to have positive connotations, and "head" to have negative. To speak with heart is to speak deeply and well, while to speak from the head is shallow and practically useless—at least in the judgement of many people in the West. But the talk of some "heart people" and their corresponding behavior has often been very confusing to me, and it was only very recently, while unmindfully sweeping leaves in the yard of the monastery's congregation hall, that the whole conundrum "clicked," as though a key piece of the puzzle finally fell into place. "Heart" has two very different meanings which are typically confounded by the people most likely to use the term.
     There appear to be two main ways in which the word "heart" is used by Dharma-oriented people in the West: One is to place more importance on feelings than on the intellect, which I will call a "heart-orientation"; the other is to be deeply, spontaneously compassionate and loving, which I will call being "open-hearted." Many people simply do not differentiate between these two, applying "heart" to them equally. But it turns out that being heart-oriented and being open-hearted can be very, very different, and can, in some cases, be almost exact opposites. 
     To clarify this point I'll use the more obvious example of the head. Obviously, a head-oriented person is not necessarily wise, or open-minded, much less having the "Third Eye" sixth chakra opened (to use some Yoga terminology). A head-oriented person, a hardcore intellectual, say, may be very narrow-minded and dogmatic, practically the opposite of a wise person with an unshackled mind. In fact, one common symptom of an extreme head orientation is a dogmatic, egocentric need to be right, which is certainly not indicative of wisdom or open-mindedness. 
     Thus a heart-oriented person, not only in spite of very sensitive feelings but even because of them, may be fearful, distrustful of others, closed off, and bitter. She may talk about heart this and heart that, and may say things like, "I don't think so, I feel so," yet deep down she may be terrified of wide-open, intense intimacy with another person, terrified of love, terrified of having an open heart—BECAUSE she is terrified of being vulnerable, and very much wants to feel SAFE. So, ironically, she may then develop strategies and work projects, "practices," for opening her heart…while at the very same time, deep down, she doesn't want it open. If she really wanted it open, it would be open, without any need for work projects. The resultant game often takes the form of maintaining a kind of semi-intimacy with another person, keeping that person at arm's length, so to speak—not too far away, because being alone is scary, but not too close, either, because intense intimacy and honesty may be even scarier. As Dr. Eric Berne declared in his classic self-help book Games People Play, most people are simply incapable of deep intimacy with another person, romantically or otherwise. And this is regardless of whether they are more oriented to the heart or to the head. Thus one may be very heart-oriented, yet still have one's heart surrounded by a brick wall.  
     Meanwhile, a manifestly head-oriented person may be without that wall; it may be that his heart is so small and dry and chewy that he simply doesn't feel the need to protect it, or if he does, a small picket fence or a few warning signs may be sufficient. His heart may be smaller or just less in the center of things, as far as he is concerned, but it may still be more OPEN, just as a very heart-oriented person may have a more open, wiser, more liberated head and mind.
     It is true that a very head-oriented person may transcend thoughts of which he is well aware, yet remain stuck in crude, rudimentary feelings of which he is only semiconscious; and that a heart-oriented person may transcend feelings of which she is well aware, yet remain stuck in crude, half-baked beliefs of which she is only semiconscious (I've noticed the former case particularly in Western monks); but aside from this there may be little correlation between -oriented and -opened. Really, in many cases there may be no correlation whatsoever—i.e., between a person who identifies with his cogitations and one with the Third Eye open, and between a person who identifies with her feelings and one who is deeply, compassionately accepting of all the world. Almost needless to say, though, if a heart-oriented person opens her heart, it is likely to be a very big heart, and if a head-oriented person liberates his mind, it is likely to be a very powerful mind. But the choice of words like "head" and "heart" in both cases may amount to a matter of mere convenience, and coincidence.
     So it is good to be clear about what one is declaring, and thinking, and feeling, and it is advisable not to automatically confound "heart" with notions of positivity and wisdom and the great hope of the world, and "head" with something radically otherwise. Either may be positive, and either may be negative.
     Besides, regardless of orientation, it is good to have an open heart AND an open mind, if we can manage it. Both are equally wonderful, and both require a fair amount of courage. And it is good not to identify with thoughts, feelings, or anything else. Even if there is a self somehow, neither thoughts nor feelings, neither head nor heart, ultimately, are you.

painting by Susan Grace