Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Sutra of the Dog's-Life Ascetic.

Is this funny? To me, Punna and Seniya are the Abbot and Costello or Laural and Hardy of the sutras. I find their questioning of the Buddha about the other's future life instead of their own to be touching and hilarious at the same time. I laugh every time I read it.

This is my retelling of the Kukkuravatika Sutta based on the translation by Nanamoli Bhikkhu.


Thus have I heard. One time these two ascetics walked into a vihara where the Buddha was staying temporarily.

Punna was an ox-functioning ascetic who imitated the life of an ox. He moved with slow deliberate motions. He ate only vegetables. Seniya was a naked dog-function ascetic who imitated the life of a dog even to the point of never wearing clothes, always lying on the floor, and eating food that is thrown on the ground.

The two politely exchanged greetings and small talk with the Blessed One. Seniya, naked with his hair uncut and uncombed, sat to the side of Buddha curled up like a dog. Punna sat too beside him.

Punna and Seniya were the best of friends, but they were each jealous of the animal duty they felt called to practice and they teased often each other saying things like, "You dog you will never get to heaven acting like a dog, only an ox is a noble creature who shows the way to heaven." or "You dumb ox, you will never get enlightened acting like a cow, only by living the freedom of a dog will you find true liberation." Though they teased each other, they remained true companions to each other.

As they settled down and knowing the Buddha's reputation for having the power to know people's future lives, Punna asked, with a sly grin, "Blessed One, Seniya here is a dog's-life ascetic. He really tries hard and is diligent to live like a dog. He even eats from the ground when a donor throws his food down. What is going to become of him? What will be his future destination in rebirth?"

Buddha said, "Oh Punna, please don't ask me that! Let it be. People aren't meant to know what their future lives are going to be."

But now Punna was really curious and repeated his request. "Buddha, come on, Seniya is a really good dog. Isn't that going to make his future wonderful? What's going to come of him?"

And again Buddha said, "No Punna, don't ask me this kind of question. Enough, let it be."

And a third time Punna, said, "Honorable One, Seniya does what is really hard to do. And he's done if for a long time, too. He doesn't even wear clothes. He has lived like a dog with no regard for his shame as a human. He really deserves to hear what his efforts will get him."

Buddha said, "Well, since I certainly can't talk you out of it Punna, by saying 'Enough. Let it be.' I'll answer you. Punna, when a person acts like a dog, walks like a dog, barks like a dog, scratches like a dog, eats like a dog, sleeps like a dog, and fully and unstintingly performs like a dog, then on the dissolution of the body after death they will be reborn in the company of dogs. When you live like a dog and die like a dog, then you will be reborn as a dog. That is, at least if you are truly a dog. But if while acting like a dog a person thinks, 'By being a dog I will get to heaven faster, I will be reborn in heaven after my death, because I gave up my humanity and demonstrated the great goal of unattachment by acting like a dog I will be reborn as a greater or lesser heavenly being where the streets are paved with gold and the days are filled with bliss." If a person acting like a dog has these misguided thoughts of heaven, then of course their wrong views about how things work will lead them straight to hell, they will be reborn directly into hell where they will be whipped, kicked, and starved like a dog."

On hearing this, Seniya began to cry and shed great tears. The Buddha said, "See Punna, you had to ask even though I told you, 'Let it be. Do not ask me that.'"

Seniya said, "It's okay Blessed One, I'm not weeping just because of what you have said. These are not just tears of self-pity; they are tears of joy at hearing the truth from the lips of the Blessed One. But now Venerable sir, please tell us, here is Punna the ox-function ascetic who spends all his time living the plain and simple life of an ox. What will be his karmic reward in the next life?"

Buddha said, "Oh Seniya, please don't ask me that! Let it be. People aren't meant to know what their future lives are going to be."

But now Seniya was even more curious and repeated his request. "Buddha, come on, Punna is a really great ox. Isn't that going to make his future sacred and joyful? What's going to come of him?"

And again Buddha said, "No Seniya, don't ask me this kind of question. Enough, let it be."

And a third time Seniya, said, "Honorable One, Punna does what is really hard to do. And he's done if for a long time, too. He doesn't think of wealth, fame or power. He has lived like an ox with no regard for his shame as a human. Doesn't he really deserve to hear what his efforts will get him?"

Buddha said, "Well, since I certainly can't talk you out of it Seniya, by saying 'Enough. Let it be.' I'll answer you. Seniya. When a person acts like an ox, walks like an ox, eats like an ox, sleeps like an ox, and fully and unstintingly performs like an ox, then on the dissolution of he body after death they will be reborn in the company of oxen. When you live like an ox and die like an ox, then you will be reborn as a ox. That is, at least if you are truly an ox. But if while acting like an ox a person thinks, 'By being an ox I will get to heaven faster, I will be reborn in heaven after my death, because I gave up my humanity and demonstrated the great goal of unattachment by acting like an ox. I will be reborn as a greater or lesser heavenly being where the streets are paved with gold and the days are filled with bliss." If a person acting like an ox has these mistaken thoughts of heaven, then of course their wrong views about how things work will lead them straight to hell, they will be reborn directly into hell where they will be whipped, yoked and put to terribly tedious and tiring labor like an ox."

When this was said, Punna wept and shed tears. Then the Blessed One said to Seniya, "See, I could not persuade you to remain silent,"

Punna said, "Honored One, I am not weeping because the Blessed One has told me this. I have confidence in the Blessed One and know the Blessed One will teach us the Dharma in such a way that we may abandon our animal functions and practice the way."

The Buddha said, "Punna, listen and heed well what I shall say."

"Yes, venerable," he replied.

The Blessed One said: ""Punna, there are four kinds of karma that I proclaim since I have had realization myself with direct knowledge. What are the four? They are dark karma with dark ripening, bright karma with bright ripening, dark-and-bright karma with dark-and-bright ripening, and karma that is not dark and not bright with neither-dark-nor-bright ripening that leads instantly to the exhaustion of karma.
"What is dark karma with dark ripening? It is when someone produces a bodily act with affliction, one produces a verbal act with affliction, or one produces a mental act with affliction. By so doing, that one acting like that reappears in a world with affliction. When that happens, the afflictions of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind touch the person. Being touched by these, one then feels afflicting feelings deeply painful as in the case of beings in hell. Thus a being's own rebirth is due to the being: One reappears owing to the karmic acts one has performed. When one has reappeared, the contacts of the six senses touch one. Thus I say all beings are heirs of their karmas. This is called dark karma with dark ripening.

"And what is bright karma with bright ripening? It is when someone produces a bodily act without affliction, one produces a verbal act without affliction, and one produces a mental act without affliction. By doing so, the one acting like that reappears in a world without affliction. When that happens, the unafflicting contacts of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind touch the person. Being touched by these, one feels unafflicted feelings entirely pleasant as in the case of the the gods of Resplendently Radiant Glory. Thus a being's reappearance is due to the being: one reappears owing to the karmas one has performed. When one has reappeared, the six contacts touch one. Thus I say all beings are heirs of their karmas. This is called bright karma with bright ripening.

"What is dark-and-bright karma with dark-and-bright ripening? This is when someone produces a bodily act both with and without affliction, one produces a verbal act both with and without affliction, and one produces a mental act both with and without affliction. By doing so, one reappears in a world both with and without affliction. When that happens, both afflicting and unafflicting contacts of the six senses touch one. Being touched by these, one feels afflicting and unafflicting feelings with mingled pleasure and pain as in the case of human beings and some heavenly beings and some inhabitants of the states of deprivation. Thus a being's reappearance is due to the being: one reappears owing to the karmas one has performed. When one has reappeared, sense contacts touch him. Thus I say all beings are heirs of their karmas. This is called dark-and-bright karma with dark-and-bright ripening.

"What is neither-dark-nor-bright karma with neither-dark-nor-bright ripening that leads to the exhaustion of karma? As to the previous kinds of karma, any choice in abandoning the kind of karma that is dark with dark ripening, any determination in abandoning the kind of karma that is bright with bright ripening, and any decision in abandoning the kind of karma that is dark-and bright with dark-and-bright ripening: this is called neither-dark-nor-bright karma with neither-dark-nor-bright ripening.

"These are the four kinds of karma proclaimed by me after personal realization with direct knowledge."

After hearing this, Punna, a son of the Koliyan clan and an ox-functioning ascetic, said to the Blessed One: "Magnificent, Master Gotama! Magnificent, Master Gotama! The Dharma has been clarified in many ways by Master Gotama as though he were turning upright what had been tipped over, revealing the hidden, showing the way to one who is lost, holding up a lamp in the darkness for those with eyes to see.

"I go to Master Gotama for refuge and to the Dharma and to the Sangha of followers. From today let Master Gotama remember me as a lay follower who has gone to him for refuge for life."

But Seniya the naked dog-function ascetic said: "Magnificent, Master Gotama!... The Dharma has been clarified in many ways by Master Gotama as though he were turning upright what had been tipped over, revealing the hidden, showing the way to one who is lost, holding up a lamp in the darkness for those with eyes to see.

"I go to Master Gotama for refuge and to the Dhamma and to the Sangha of followers. I would receive the going forth under Master Gotama and the full admission as a monk."

The Buddha said, "Seniya, one who has previously belonged to another religion and wants the going forth and the full admission in this Dharma and Discipline has to live on probation for four months. At the end of the four months monks who are satisfied in their minds give the novice the ceremony of going forth into homelessness and also the full admission to the monks' state. During the probation period, a difference in persons has become known to me in this."

Seniya said, "Honored one, if those who belonged formerly to another religion and want the going forth and the full admission in this Dharma and Discipline live on probation for four months and at the end of four months monks who are satisfied in their minds give them the going forth ceremony into homelessness and the full admission to the monks' state, then I will live on probation for four years and at the end of the four years let monks who are satisfied in their minds give me the going forth into homelessness and the full admission to the monks' state."

Seniya the naked dog-function ascetic received the going forth under the Blessed One, and he received the full admission. And not long after his full admission, after dwelling alone, withdrawn, diligent, ardent, and self-controlled, the venerable Seniya by personal realization with direct knowledge immediately and directly entered and abided in that supreme goal of the holy life for the sake of which relatives rightly go forth from the home life into homelessness. He had direct knowledge thus: "Birth is exhausted, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more of this to come."

And the venerable Seniya became one of the arhats.


Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Question on Translating the Heart Sutra

This is from my post at E-sangha on a thread about the Heart Sutra. "Bee j" was asking about a line in Red Pine's translation.

bee j,May 23 2008, 09:04 AM

they see through delusions and finally nirvana

the few versions i've read online (for example, yours also Gregory) always mention 'attain nirvana' but here Red Pine has expressedly chosen this wording . he states that he chose to do this to illustrate that bodhisattvas see through not only delusions concerning the existence of samsara, but also of the existence of nirvana. further, they see through delusions concerning the non-existance of nirvana as both terms cannot be applied to that which is beyond duality.

what do you folk make of his choice? curious to know

Basically, whether "attain" is there depends on the Sanskrit source that one uses to translate from. There are two Sanskrit versions, one is the shortest and the other is the longer version. The longer version is associated more with Tibetan sources while the shorter version is associated more with the Chinese. The longer has an introduction setting up the scene with Buddha inspiring and empowering both Sariputra to ask Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva his question and Avalokitesvara to answer.

The shorter version of the Heart Sutra has: viparyasa-atikranto nishtha-nirvanah.
The longer version of the Heart Sutra has: viparyasa-atikranto nishtha-nirvanah-praptah.

"prApta" means "attained to, reached, arrived at, met with, found, incurred, got, acquired, gained."

Some interlinear translations could be:
viparyasa -atikranto -nistha -nirvana -prapta
upside down views- transcend -final(ly) -nirvana -attained
delusion -surpassed -lastly -nirvana -found
error -overcame -in the end -nirvana -arrived at

The question is whether prapta should be included or not. Red Pine says,
"Several copies of the longer version of the Heart Sutra add the verb prapta (attain) at the end of the phrase nishtha nirvana (finally nirvana). Conze also included it in his Sanskrit edition of 1948/1957 (cf. Buddhist Wisdom Books), but he deleted it in his second edition in 1967 (cf. Thirty Years of Buddhist Studies(. Other translators and commentators, either aware of this variant or thinking it must be implied, have taken this phrase to mean something equivilent to 'finally attain nirvana.'"

It shows Red Pine is taking a position when he says several copies of the longer version add the verb, because one could just as well say the short version dropped or lost the verb.

Red Pine feels that including the verb attain after the word nirvana can't be correct because earlier the sutra says "no attainment, no non-attainment." Red Pine adds,
To avoid this problem, I have read both viparyasa (delusion) and nishtha-nirvana (finally nirvana) as objects of the verb atikranto (see through), which is allowed by the vagaries of Sanskrit grammer in the absence of prapta.

Notice that Red Pine makes the somewhat circular argument that prapta doesn't belong there and since it is not there the phrase can be read as a verb surrounded by two nouns as objects instead of a noun-verb and adjective-noun-verb. That argument can be turned around just as well to say that the grammar of having a noun-verb-adjective-noun and read to mean direct object-verb-adjective-direct object with both direct objects referring to the same verb is so odd that the prapta as the verb to the second noun should be there and must have been inadvertently dropped in the shorter version.

In other words, considering the grammar, it is more reasonable to take the prapta as lost in the shorter version than added in the longer version because the longer version is more grammatically correct. This is logical,

Also it is more reasonable to consider the verb dropped in the shorter version because of the natural process of condensation of the Heart Sutra into shorter and shorter versions. But this too is a subject of some controversy because people don't agree which came first, the longer or the shorter.

As Donald S. Lopez, Jr. succinctly writes,
The Heart Sutra exists in two basic versions, a shorter version and a longer, with the shorter beginning with Avalokitesvara contemplating the meaning of the profound perfection of wisdom and ending with the mantra and the longer adding a prologue, in which Buddha enters into samadhi, and an epilogue, in which he rises from the samadhi and praises Avalokitesvara.

Traditionally, a sutra has some basic parts that are all there in the longer version but are not all there in the shorter version. In fact, the shorter version doesn't really qualify for the title of Sutra because it is missing necessary parts. The primary parts of a sutra are (1) the opening statement "Thus have I heard" indicating that the text is the Buddha's words (Buddhavacana), (2) a statement of the location where the teaching was delivered, (3) the statement of the audience of monks or Bodhisattvas present and the identification of the monk or Bodhisattva (or layman) who is the primary interlocutor of the Buddha that resulted in the Sutra being delivered, and (4) the central content of the sutra.

In this view, the longer version of the Heart Sutra is itself a condensation from the very much longer Prajnaparamita Sutras. But some people believe the Heart Sutra was first written as a dharini or long mantra for recitation, not as a sutra. From this view Heart Sutra had later additions of the prologue and epilogue to make it look like a sutra. If this later view is correct then in fact it is not a sutra at all because there is no Buddhavacana, in fact the Buddha is not present at all, and so this is not the teaching from the words of the Buddha. In the longer version, it is stated that the location is the Vulture Peak and the Buddha, in the opening, is in samadhi and the whole interaction between Avalokitesvara and Sariputra. is stimulated and instigated and empowered directly by Buddha from within his samadhi. And in the ending the Buddha arises from samadhi and confirms the teaching as correct. Thus the longer, even though it is not very much longer has all the essential traditional components of a Sutra.

So each person needs to determine for him or her self whether they see the longer version as the more appropriate with the shorter version a condensation of it, or they see the shorter version as the more authentic with the longer version adding parts to convert a dharini or mantra into a sutra.

It should be remembered that the Heart Sutra is the only major Prajnaparamita text in which Avalokitesvara appears. There are doctrinal reasons for this because the greater Prajnaparamita Sutras deal with the path and with compassion while the Heart Sutra is totally condensed to the essence of enlightenment. The inclusive presence of Avalokitesvara embodies all the material of the greater Prajnaparamita that is left out, and in fact demonstrates graphically that the wisdom imparted by Avalokitesvara is not separable from the compassion and the Bodhisattva path that Avalokitesvara also embodies.

So Red Pine's strongest argument is not based on the grammar ro the history of the text but upon the view of the teaching presented in the text.
Thus, bodhisattvas do not reach or attain nirvana but overcome all delusions, including those that concern the ultimate goal of nirvana, namely, views taht see nirvana as either permanent or not permanent, pleasurable or not pleasurable, self-existent or not self-existent, pure or not pure. Nirvana is dimply the final delusion. Thus Mahayana sutras never tire of telling us that bodhisattvas do not attain nirvana and even avoid it, that their goal is elsewhaer, namely the liberation of all beings. This is also the view of the Perfection of Wisdom in Twenty-five Thousand Lines, which states that while bodhisattvas lead others to nirvana, nirvana itself is a dream or delusion.

Except for the last sentence, I agree with what is stated but I don't agree that it determines the question of whether prapta is rightfully in the text or not. For example the Diamond Cutter Sutra says the Dharma is no-Dharma therefore it is called Dharma; it doesn't do away with the word Dharma. The Prajnaparamita also says that beings are no=beings therefore they are called beings; it doesn't stop using the word "beings". Similarly the Heart Sutra says the equivalent of attainment is no-attainment therefore it is called attainment. The longer sentence or string of ideas presented beginning with the "Therefore Sariputra" begins with "Therefore sariputra, without attainment, ....." and ends with "... final nirvana attained." This is in fact the view taken by the last sentence of Red Pine's quote above even though he doesn't appear to be aware of it. If bodhisattvas lead others to a dream, then there would be no talk of "leading" or of "nirvana" at all. But beings attain nirvana even though beings are no-beings, nirvana is a dream and they do it without attainment.

So without a convincing historical reason to leave out prapta nor a convincing teaching reason, I'm left with the question of the grammar which I also don't find convincing. We should remember that Red Pine is taking two steps in his presentation: first he says prapta should be out, and then as his second step he is saying that both delusion and nirvana are direct objects of the verb atikranto. I can see no grammatical justification for that. Even without the sentencing-ending verb of prapta, the noun-verb pairing of viparyasa -atikranto (delusion-overcome) has no internal suggestion or grammatical clue, at all, that the verb "overcoming" also includes the following adjective-noun pair of nistha -nirvana.

The point is that when prapta is left out of the line, then grammatically there is a missing verb after nistha -nirvana, and the question remains, which verb should be implied: a repetition of the preceding verb, or the historical verb present in the longer text?

Thus if prapta were left out the line would literally read: "delusion overcome final(ly) nirvana."

To read it as Red Pine does means you have to read into it either the repetition of the verb as "delusion overcome final nirvana overcome" or read into it a missing conjunction such as "delusion overcome likewise final nirvana."

My view is that with the evidence of the longer text having prapta written down, then the obvious historical or traditional implication of the missing ending verb is that it is prapta and not atikranto.

Also the presence of the adjective nistha meaning final or finally also separates the word nirvana as a noun from the preceding verb atikranto. Even when the word prapta is left out the phrase reads, "delusion overcome finally nirvana." There is no purpose for the word final or finally if it did not imply the final result of the whole string of points immediately preceding it: beginning with the "Therefore Sariputra": (1) without attainment, (2) bodhisattvas rely on Prajnaparamita (3) dwelling serenely (4) without obstacles in awareness (5) overcoming delusions and (6) finally nirvana [is attained]." As this is the attaining without attainment., the attainment of no-attainment of the Prajnaparamita, there is no teaching or grammatical basis for leaving out the concluding prapta form the shorter version unless it is clear by the translator's usage that the whole sentence ends with the final realization of nirvana, not the overcoming of nirvana as a delusion.

As a last note, I don't agree with Red Pine that "see through" is an appropriate translation of atikranto. I can find no visual image in either the root ati or kranta:

ari - ind. [probably neut. of an obsolete adj. %{atin} , passing , going , beyond ; see %{at} , and cf. Old Germ. {anti} , {unti} , {inti} , {unde} , {indi} , &c. ; Eng. {and} ; Germ. {und} ; Gk. $ , $ , Lat. {ante} ; Lith. {ant} ; &3473[12,2] Arm. {ti} ; Zd. {aiti}]. As a prefix to verbs and their derivatives , expresses beyond , over , and , if not standing by itself , leaves the accent on the verb or its derivative ; %{as} , %{ati-kram} ( %{kram}) , to overstep , Ved. Inf. %{ati-kra4me} , (fit) to be walked on , to be passed RV. i , 105 , 16 , %{ati-kra4maNa} n. see s.v. When prefixed to nouns , not derived from verbs , it expresses beyond , surpassing , %{as} , %{ati-kaza} , past the whip , %{ati-mAnuSa} , superhuman , &c. see s.v. As a separable adverb or preposition (with acc.) , Ved. beyond ; (with gen.)over , at the top of RV. AV.

krAnta - mfn. gone , gone over or across ; spread , extended ; attacking , invading , gone to or against ; overcome (as by astonishment) Ragh. xiv , 17 ; surpassed ; m. a horse L. ; (in astron.) declination W. ; (%{A}) f. N. of a plant (a kind of Solanum) L. ; a species of the Atyasht2i metre ; (%{am}) n. a step (%{viSNoH@krAnta} , `" the step of Vishn2u "' , N. of a ceremony S3Br. xiii ; cf. %{viSNu-krama}) S3Br. Mn. xii , 121 ; (in astron.) a certain aspect when the moon is in conjunction with a planet.

Both roots of the word are movement or spacial images, not visual images. So acceptable translations of arikranto would include: stepping over, going across, overcoming, surpassing, transcending, etc. It should be noted that arikranto, with both of its roots including the meaning element of "gone", becomes a precursor or harbinger of the word gate (from the Sanskrit gata meaning "gone") that is central to the Heart Sutra's tantric mantra.

Nothing in either ati or kranta remotely suggests "seeing" or any other visual function or image. In my view, Red Pine is inserting here his own imagery into the translation for the purpose of making his construction of "seeing through both delusion and final nirvana" seem more plausible.

My conclusion on Red Pine's book is that it includes a lot of valuable material, including his own historical and linguistic commentary, but I have several points of disagreement with his translation, including some I have not raised here.

In my translation of the traditional shorter version I deliberately reinsert the opening "Thus have I heard" to indicate it is a sutra and not a mantra, and I insert the word "attain" (prapta) for clarification and conformation with the larger version.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What Should Obama Say to the American Voter?

[Cross-posted at Daily Kos Diaries]

Fantasy sports' leagues allow the participants to pretend they are team owners, managers, and coaches. To a large degree, DKos and other blogging websites are fantasy political leagues where we get to pretend we are advisors, campaign managers and speech writers.

When Obama becomes the nominee he will have the convention podium from which to launch his campaign. What should he say to the American People? Below, is my contribution as a fantasy speechwriter to the nominee about what I think he should include in his acceptance speech. I'm not offering a polished speech nor a comprehensive speech that includes every item that I think he should cover. It is just my "first draft" suggestion aimed at those important controversial issues that I think should not be left out of his speech at the convention. Is Obama a Muslim? Will he be a leader of "a small minority" of Blacks? Is he patriotic? I think Obama needs to address these questions directly and boldly, and very personally.

Like a good political fantasy league, I'd like to see what others consider to be the necessary additions to what the "speechwriting team" has for what should be in Obama's convention speech. What do you think should be included?

Text of speech that I would write for Barack Obama:

Now, I'd like to speak directly to the American people about some of those issues that you may have heard about me through rumor or whispering campaigns on the internet.

Of course I invite you to read the two books I've written, but I want you to know that just because I've written two books about my life and my vision for America, that I am not an "egghead" elitist. I had help on those books from good editors and others. Yes, I graduated from college and law school, and I am proud of those accomplishments, but a college degree does not make a person elitist. America has realized the dream of higher education for more and more of our people, so it is how a person uses that degree and how it affects their relations with others that shows whether they have gotten the swollen head of elitism from their education. I think my work in community organizing and voter registration drives, as an attorney protecting workers and voters rights, as a representative in the Illinois State legislature, and as a United States Senator show very clearly that I have not forgotten what it means to grow up in our economically stratified society.

To put it another way, there is an inclusive elitism and an exclusive elitism. Merely by being in the United States Senate both John McCain and myself have becomes members of the elites. In fact, Senator McCain has been one of the elites for over 30 years both by virtue of being a senator and by marrying into the wealth of his current wife's family. So what is important when you vote for president is not to think that you are voting for one candidate who is elite and the other who is not, but to vote for the candidate who understands you and is in touch with your situation in life whatever it may be, as I do. I am inclusive and I want every American to enjoy and benefit from the same opportunities that I have had. I'm not the exclusive kind of elitist who claims to represent all the people but who hides his wife's tax returns and refuses to disclose them.

I was born in Hawaii and my parents separated when I was two years old. For a few years I lived with my single mom until she remarried and then we moved to Indonesia where my step-father was from for three years. At the age of ten I returned to Honolulu and was raised by my grandparents on my mom's side. After graduating high school I was fortunate enough to be able to move out to attend college, first at Occidental College then at Columbia University where I majored in political science with a specialization in international relations. If this makes me an elite in foreign affairs, then that is an elitism that I am proud of.

You may have heard the lie that when I lived in Indonesia with my step-father from the age of 7 to 10 that I was a Muslim. This falsehood is not only an insult to me, but this lie is an insult to Islam and indeed even to Christianity. As a child I was not forced to adopt any religion and I did not adopt any religion. I sometimes attended the mosque with my step-father, and so of course I learned more about the faith of Islam than most Americans do. So it is important that Americans know that Islam, just like Christianity, is a religion that says a person does not truly belong to the faith until he or she can make a declaration of faith as a mature person.

When I returned to Hawaii at age 10 I returned to the Christian culture of my grandparents and when I became a mature young adult capable of deciding for myself what faith I would follow I chose Christianity and the religion of Jesus Christ. Instead of making me anti-Christian, I believe that my early contacts with Islam not only gave me a greater appreciation and respect for the real Islam, but also the knowledge my faith in Christianity could be confirmed by experience and not just because it was the religion of my parents.

So, I'm not a Muslim, I am a Christian, but one thing that my childhood experience with Muslim's taught me is that Muslim's are very much just like us Christians. They have faith in God, they love their families and want to support them with their honest work, they want their children to have a safe world to live in, they want peace with their neighbors just like you and I do. It is very sad for me, having as I do direct knowledge and contact with relatives who are Muslims, to see how the faith of Islam is twisted and perverted by a very few extremists, and also to see how these very few Muslim extremists are played up by our own homegrown right-wing extremists as if they were the majority of Muslims. This we must change together. I ask all Americans to set aside your prejudices and whatever your religion or if you have no religion, to not be taken in by the anit-Muslim propaganda that you may hear. There are bad apples in Islam just as there are in every religion, but if we are to have peace in this world then we must recognize that the overwhelming majority of people of every faith are at heart human beings with the same dreams and love for their families and friends.

There is also a rumor going around that when I am elected I will be a leader for Black people but not for Whites. It has been said during this primary campaign that I will be a leader only for a small minority of Americans. It has been said that I don't' appeal to White voters. My primary victories from Iowa to Vermont to Oregon to Alaska show that there is no issue that this campaign is appealing to White voters.

So let's be clear, these statements come from people who have not resolved their own personal issues about race. Resolving the race issues in America is something that we must change together, and if my personal story of race can help bring about this change in America then I will be most humbled for that. Yes, I am an African American. My father was from Kenya and I was born in Hawaii. In the United States today, there are many people who still judge a book by the cover and the person by the color of their skin. So when people see me they often pigeon-hole me as African American by how I look. That kind of racial prejudice is something I grew up with and have had to deal with.

But I am also proud to be a European American. My mother from Kansas came from European ancestors and that too is part of my life and self identity. In my life, in my body, my blood and my bones, I am both, both African American and European American and I am not ashamed of either. I believe that this personal experience gives me something uniquely suited to the office of President of the United States that no other candidate has offered. I will not be a leader of a small minority but a leader for everyone of every ancestry because I know what it means to have a family in which the ancestral rivers from different continents flow.

And of course there are those extremists who have questioned my patriotism and charged that I am unpatriotic because I don't usually wear a flag lapel pin. It's pretty funny how most of the right-wing pundits who make this absurd charge against me aren't wearing flag pins themselves. Friends, just to be clear, I wear my patriotism in my heart, not on my sleeve or my lapel.

I love this country with all my heart, and I swear to defend the United States of America and our Constitution to the utmost. It is because I take patriotism seriously that I don't believe a flag pin is an obligatory part of what being a patriot is. My fellow Americans, don't be fooled by false patriotism. That is something we must change together.

The false patriot says the President must never be criticized and it is un-American to oppose the President's war. A true patriot, however, agrees with the words of our 26th President Teddy Roosevelt who said,
"To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic, but is morally treasonable to the American pubic."
When I am President, I will invite the criticism of the American people. I know that all people can't agree all the time, but I also know that I will need your guidance as well as your support. I will not be like our current President who never allows criticism and who doesn't even read the newspapers for fear of running into it.

In America, patriotism is not about following the person who shouts the loudest about loving country and saluting the flag, patriotism is following the steady and quite voice of conscience to uphold and defend the democratic principles held dear by a sovereign people.

It is false patriotism to start a war using deliberate exaggerations about fake threats to the United States. I will never do either, lie to you about fake threats nor start a war based on such false .

It is false patriotism to call someone an appeaser just because he would speak to or negotiate with the leaders of opposing nations as every other President has done. Even a person who doesn't have an education in international affairs knows you can't negotiate an end to hostile feelings between you and another if you don't speak with them.

It is false patriotism to claim to love American and the American people and then to leave a large part of a great American city like New Orleans to wreck and ruin, with many of its economically disadvantaged citizens wrongfully displaced from their homes and scattered out of state, and to leave it to rebuild itself without providing necessary federal aid and support.

It is false patriotism that supports unauthorized spying on American citizens.

It is false patriotism that supports torture and kidnapping in the name of national security. Torture doesn't work, and kidnapping in the name of rendition for the cause of national security doesn't bring us security. Immoral actions only bring us the reputation in the world of being immoral actors.

As president I will call false patriotism what it is, and I will ask you the American people to support true patriotism with the courage to stand up for honesty and integrity in the Oval office and for fair play and honest dealings for our international friends and foes alike.


[Please add comments for any ideas for additional issues such as environment, health care, economy, etc. ]

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Responses to David Brooks'"The Neural Buddhists"

David Brooks has recently written an op-ed column about religion in the light of scientific developments. Brooks has two or three good lines in the piece but he wimps out completely in the end and takes the side of Chrisitan orthodoxy by the neat trick of claiming to not take sides. I am most amazed to read a conservative Christian like Brooks have anything nice to say about Buddhism.

But if one reads his column closely, Brooks doesn't really say anything affirmativly positive about Buddhism as such; he only says that the area of human knowledge where science and Buddhism intersect is the central challenge to Christian orthodoxy. In this, Brooks is only echoing Pope Benedict's endorsement in 1997, when still known as Cardinal Ratzinger, that Buddhism in the 21st century would replace Marxism as the Catholic Church's greatest challenge. The Pope then called Buddhism "a spiritual self-absorption" that "offers a possibility of happiness by touching the infinite, without having concrete religious obligations." Brooks astutely stayed away from any discussion of morals or ethics either in Buddhism or science, for that is quicksand he would surely sink in.

Here are some of my spontaneous comments to Brooks's column, paragraph by paragraph.

Gregory Wonderwheel

May 13, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist
The Neural Buddhists
In 1996, Tom Wolfe wrote a brilliant essay called ““Sorry, but Your Soul Just Died,”” in which he captured the militant materialism of some modern scientists.
To these self-confident researchers, the idea that the spirit might exist apart from the body is just ridiculous. Instead, everything arises from atoms. Genes shape temperament. Brain chemicals shape behavior. Assemblies of neurons create consciousness. Free will is an illusion. Human beings are ““hard-wired”” to do this or that. Religion is an accident.

Comment: This is a strawman argument. No self respecting scientist says “human beings are hard wired. to do this or that.” No sociologist or psychologist says “Religion is an accident” except in the most general sense that the universe is an accident. In human interactions scientists see religion in terms of social dynamics or psycho-dynamics, not as an accident.

In this materialist view, people perceive God’s existence because their brains have evolved to confabulate belief systems. You put a magnetic helmet around their heads and they will begin to think they are having a spiritual epiphany. If they suffer from temporal lobe epilepsy, they will show signs of hyperreligiosity, an overexcitement of the brain tissue that leads sufferers to believe they are conversing with God.

Comment: Here Brooks is confabulating two kinds of “religion”, the spirtiual kind and the psychotic kind. Obviously since the mind is one, there are not literally two kinds of religion, but as there are two kinds of things, those that exist and those that don’t exist, there are two kinds of religion, the kind that exists and the kind that is a delusion. When a person is “conversing with God” it depends on what the words “conversing” and “God” mean to determine whether they are living words or dead words. Brooks doesn’t distinguish between living and dead words.

Wolfe understood the central assertion contained in this kind of thinking: Everything is material and ““the soul is dead.”” He anticipated the way the genetic and neuroscience revolutions would affect public debate. They would kick off another fundamental argument over whether God exists.

Comment: Brooks doesn’t know the meaning of the word “material”. No materialist would say the “the soul is dead” because they would not acknowledge that a soul ever lived. Brooks doesn’t seem to acknowledge that the argument over “whether” God exists is really an argument over “what” is God.

Lo and behold, over the past decade, a new group of assertive atheists has done battle with defenders of faith. The two sides have argued about whether it is reasonable to conceive of a soul that survives the death of the body and about whether understanding the brain explains away or merely adds to our appreciation of the entity that created it.

Comment: Brooks assumes the Christian framing of the “debate.” Since Christians define “soul” in a certain way he says the argument is whether the Christian conception of soul is reasonable or not. Also he presumes that an “entity” created the “soul.”

The atheism debate is a textbook example of how a scientific revolution can change public culture. Just as “The Origin of Species” reshaped social thinking, just as Einstein’s theory of relativity affected art, so the revolution in neuroscience is having an effect on how people see the world.

Comment: Brooks is a textbook example of how rhetoric is used to confuse people. Of course new views of reason and analysis affect culture and socity. But they don’t affect everyone as shown by the anti-evolution supporters of Christian faith and Brook’s political conservatism.

And yet my guess is that the atheism debate is going to be a sideshow. The cognitive revolution is not going to end up undermining faith in God, it’s going to end up challenging faith in the Bible.

Comment: Again Brooks can’t tell living words from dead words. Most people who still have a literal “faith” in the dead words of the Bible arn’t going to be persuaded by any argument by a neroscientist. And those who have a faith in the living words of the Bible and so don’t need to take the Bible literally, also arn’t going to have their faith shaken by neuroscientists.
Over the past several years, the momentum has shifted away from hard-core materialism. The brain seems less like a cold machine. It does not operate like a computer. Instead, meaning, belief and consciousness seem to emerge mysteriously from idiosyncratic networks of neural firings. Those squishy things called emotions play a gigantic role in all forms of thinking. Love is vital to brain development.

Comment: Here’s a paragraph that mixes up several issues. Every development of intellectual technology, from the book to the photograph and computer, has been used as a metaphor for how the brain works. No scientist confuses the metaphor for the reality. When people talked about the mind as a “blank page’ no one thought it was made from tree pulp. When people talk about memory as photographic, no one imagines film in the brain. When people talk about the mind operating like a computer, the computer is a man-made metaphor. The computer emulates the brain, not the other way around. Brooks has no theory of emotions and thinks he has elucidated something b calling them “squishy”. This is the kind of analysis that Bible bangers use in elucidating revelation.

Researchers now spend a lot of time trying to understand universal moral intuitions. Genes are not merely selfish, it appears. Instead, people seem to have deep instincts for fairness, empathy and attachment.

Comment: That researchers are trying to develop hypotheses about morality, ethics, and fair play has nothing to do with a materialist or anti-materialist science. The concept of the “selfish” gene is a metaphor and another type of straw-man argument. I doubt that Brooks has any analysis of what an “instinct” is or does.

Scientists have more respect for elevated spiritual states. Andrew Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania has shown that transcendent experiences can actually be identified and measured in the brain (people experience a decrease in activity in the parietal lobe, which orients us in space). The mind seems to have the ability to transcend itself and merge with a larger presence that feels more real.

Comment: More respect than who? Certainly scientists have demonstrated more respect for human experience of kind labeled spirituality than most Bible banging church leaders have demonstrated. Such reverends and ministers could care less about anyone’s spiritural experience unless it fits into and is subservient to their own molded interpretation of revelation. Brooks’ declaration of merging with a “larger presence” is an argument that is presuming the conclusion. Saying that the “mind” is transcending itself for a larger presence is presuming that the mind is a small mind not the large mind that is ever present, as well as presuming that the larger presence isn’t the mind itself It is Brooks who is materialistically objectifying his so-called “larger presence.”.
This new wave of research will not seep into the public realm in the form of militant atheism. Instead it will lead to what you might call neural Buddhism.

Comment: One wonders how and where Brooks has come upon his image of Buddhism. Certainly from his politics, he shows little if any personal understanding of Buddhism.

If you survey the literature (and I’d recommend books by Newberg, Daniel J. Siegel, Michael S. Gazzaniga, Jonathan Haidt, Antonio Damasio and Marc D. Hauser if you want to get up to speed), you can see that certain beliefs will spread into the wider discussion.

Comment: Brooks is confirming that he has no personal experience with what he is talking about but is attempting to digest what he has been reading, if in fact he has read these works.
First, the self is not a fixed entity but a dynamic process of relationships. Second, underneath the patina of different religions, people around the world have common moral intuitions. Third, people are equipped to experience the sacred, to have moments of elevated experience when they transcend boundaries and overflow with love. Fourth, God can best be conceived as the nature one experiences at those moments, the unknowable total of all there is.

Comment: That is a good list for beginners who are weaning themselves of Biblical materialism and literalism. However, in Buddhism the self is neither a fixed entity nor a dynamic process of relationships. Self is used only as a term of discrimination not as an assertion of something that exists. So what he is describing should not be called “neural Buddhism” if it asserts a self. Second, the basis for our common moral intuitions is the mind we all share. The one mind is no-mind. Third, people experience strong emotions that are sometimes called “the sacred” or “love” but the experience of the sacred is the medicine for the disease of the mundane, it is not a state in and of itself to be made into a new object to grasp. Fourth, Brooks has stated good conception of God from a perspective where we all have difficulty speaking. Is he prepared to meet this God without objectification in the moment of the now? This unknowable total is totally unknowable. Who can die in this unknowability?
In their arguments with Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, the faithful have been defending the existence of God. That was the easy debate. The real challenge is going to come from people who feel the existence of the sacred, but who think that particular religions are just cultural artifacts built on top of universal human traits. It’’s going to come from scientists whose beliefs overlap a bit with Buddhism.

Comment: In what way does Brooks mean to say that people who defend the “existence of God” had an easy debate? Brooks doesn’t seem to have a clue that the people defending the existence of God are generally the Bible bangers who say the Bible is literally true and that God is a person who speaks to them. How is it easy for Bible bangers to debate Richard Dawkins? By discounting everything he says as only the words of a scientist, and as these Bible bangers assure us, since we all know that scientists went to college and are just elites and liberals, what they have to say is just political not real. Here I can agree with Brooks that the area where scientists overlap with Buddhists is the area that presents the greatest challenge to contemporary Christian beliefs. But the challenge is not to those people holding conventional Christian beliefs because they will continue to claim the world is only 5,000 years old because the Bible says so, no matter what the evidence presented to them says. The challenge will be to those who are not brainwashed by Christian fundamentalism. But this is a challenge that Thomas Jefferson and the Age of Reason brought to the table long before Buddhism was known widely in the West.
In unexpected ways, science and mysticism are joining hands and reinforcing each other. That’s bound to lead to new movements that emphasize self-transcendence but put little stock in divine law or revelation. Orthodox believers are going to have to defend particular doctrines and particular biblical teachings. They’re going to have to defend the idea of a personal God, and explain why specific theologies are true guides for behavior day to day. I’m not qualified to take sides, believe me. I’m just trying to anticipate which way the debate is headed. We’’re in the middle of a scientific revolution. It’’s going to have big cultural effects.

Comment: By saying he is not “qualified to take sides” Brooks is acting the fool. Does he really expect people to accept that he has no position regarding the literalism of Bible revelations? Does he really expect us to believe that he has no opinion about whether or not the Bible is to be taken as literally true? His cowardice is astonishing only to those who do not know is work. Brooks is actually holding onto Biblical revelation in the face of the scientific revelation and by saying that he can’t take the side of reason, he has committed himself to the side of Biblical delusion.