Archive for Religion

Verbal grapplage

Posted in academia, Buddhism, Christianity, Cults, death, martial arts, Mysticism, Philosophy, Reality Bites, Religion, society, Ultimate Reality with tags , , , , , , on January 29, 2009 by wizardsmoke

Although there might not be any ultimate goal or super high pinnacle, I do think there is a “great death” that one can undergo. How you get there beats the hell out of me, but I suspect it has to do with meditation. That’s my hunch. But then you could meditate on anything you want and not get there, so there must be some kind of specific instructions. Problem is, you’d need to make sure the person teaching you had already been “destroyed” by their awareness and experience, and it’s impossible to prove that empirically. Surprise!

I’ve known a few people who really loathe Christianity and all other religions. Their argument being that religions are the cause of mankind’s greatest evils (Crusades, Holocaust, etc). Any teenager will be glad to share their theory on this. And the logical response could simply be: (A) the evils committed under the influence of religion or religious differences were by people who did not follow the actual religious code (too literal, too loose), and therefore were not actually properly religious and (B) all organizations of all kinds are capable of, and have committed, some sinister practices. Religion is one of many such schemes, of which modern capitalism and consumer culture is quite similar.

Throwing away the idea of salvation, God, and everything else, it seems religion is just another way of socially separating groups and creating demographics; creating differences amongst people. People are separated from each other by their identifications, their labels, their distinctions. And you could attack any demographic of any type of linked assumed identities: sex, social strata, skin color, intelligence, religious association, athletic ability, the healthy, the technological saavy, those born with aggression and natural competitiveness, etc.

The first argument, that religious violence does not represent religion, is also very similar to the belief that systems of practice or belief, as well as tools, are neutral and devoid of moral principles in themselves — that it is the individual who decides the moral make-up of their systems and actions. I.e. the morality of guns, martial arts, religion, science and experimentation, is all explained by the individual approach and not the practice of the thing itself — that people do things for different reasons.

But if we say that the systems and tools of our civilization are neutral, but we set the moral grade, doesn’t that dismiss every practice? That means all large groups supposedly do not speak for the whole group should they behave in a socially unwholesome manner. And so it all comes back down to the politically correct mentality that we cannot make generalizations.

But everything is a generalization. Almost anything out of my mouth is a generalization. Or at the very least, an unscientifically provable assumption. The worst is when we describe a person. How can we do that without generalizing everything? We send off the thought processes of other people in wild directions because we cannot actually hone in a person’s “true” attributes and thusly convey them. The only true statement a person can make is a silent presence.

I do think that people make true statements all the time — statements true to their character. That is, the things we actually say, are not true. But anyway, my point was that social sciences are actually, at the end of the day, chopping stuff up in a very similar way as the actual physical sciences. No point — just more data to combine with lines of reasoning.

No kool-aid for me, thanks

Posted in Christianity, Cults, Happiness, love, Reality Bites, Religion, society, Ultimate Reality, World of Emotions with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2009 by wizardsmoke

For some strange (albeit predictable) reason, religious nutballs are never content to keep to themselves. I mean, they do sometimes; but then they do crazy stuff that goes against national laws, like polygamy, or they infiltrate the government from their affluent, influential-yet-isolated temples. All the rest of us non-religious people supposedly envy their blind faith, which makes everything easy and happy for them. Except if that were the case (them being happy), why are they so dead-set on converting every last one of us non-believers?

It’s not like I could give two smokes about Atheism/Brights/materialists/empiricists and whosits either. I think those guys are possibly just as nuts. But the religious people — their logic just doesn’t add up (ha, big surprise!). They rarely come off as happy, just as pleasantly stoned or something. Which seems to be the marketing trend in convincing people you’re enlightened — act blissed out and stoned and smile with big groups of the kool-aid drinkers.

Crazy thing is how slick some of the religious evangelical-conversion types are at what they do. Some guy in a tie comes up and asks if he can help you move the table out of your apartment complex and the next thing you know you’re sitting in a Mormon Death Star, wondering whether you can get the magic underpants without paying the joiner’s fee (you can’t, and the Mormons are amusingly the closest to happy people I have had try to convert me).

The truth is, religious nutballs are just conspiracy theorists. And conspiracy theorists generally operate under the same set of principles, which are that they have the goods and nobody else does, especially not other conspiracy theorists. But here’s where it gets interesting: rather than shut up about this fact, or reside quietly and self-satisfied, they can’t shut up about it. They have to talk you and everyone else’s ear off about how they figured out this amazing truth that is so incredible, and they want to share it with you. They’re absolutely terrible at keeping a secret.

Aren’t they all like that? The Yogis/Yoginis, religious people, Illuminati conspiracy nuts, New Agers and 2012 people, Alcoholics Anonymous, political nerds, metaphysicists, Athiests, philosophers, psychedelic drug users, teenagers, people-who-read-the-news, and so forth. They cannot shut up. It is amazing, really.

It’s a lot like desperate romantic love. It’s this exciting thing that is cooked up in the mind and becomes this meaning for existence because it has been cooked up in the mind for so long, but in reality it (the person being fantasized about, or in this case, the religious delusion) is just another boring human being or boring fantasy.

The other thing is, religious/conspiracy people will absolutely not be satisfied by everyone chiming in with their story or tune. That’s not the romance of the whole shebang; the romance is found in the valiant, tragic, martyrdom of the lone wingnut preaching to a world that won’t hear of it. But they wouldn’t admit that for a second. Because they’re addicted to the chaos.

If you’re thinking I hate religions from all of this, you’re wrong. I think religious are just fine (or bad) like anything else. But one thing that interests me is what Thanissaro Bhikkhu said: when he went to teach English in Thailand after college and met his future Theravada Buddhist teacher (Ajahn Fuang?), unlike everyone else he had met in life, this guy seemed genuinely happy.

And that’s the clincher, the results of the adopted practice should genuinely be happiness. Not sudden explosive, placebo, faith-healing happiness, but genuine happiness that accumulates momentum over time. If the practice or religion does not produce this, if it is not reflected in the students of the practice/religion, why should I take any interest in it? Even if you smile or laugh or post pictures of yourself smiling and hugging everyone on your website, if you’re desperate to convert people to your way of thinking, you are not happy. And ironically (but not remotely surprisingly), the happiest people I have met were not peddling anything spiritual, nor were they trying to show everyone how happy they were.


Posted in Doom and Evil, Fighting, Happiness, love, Reality Bites, Relationships, sex and violence, society, Stayin' Alive, World of Emotions with tags , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2009 by wizardsmoke

The times in my adult life that I’ve actually cried were not from periods of grief, calamity, extended depression or “sadness”. No, I’ve often found that tears come in times of last-minute catharsis. Sure, you could say an excess of joy weeps, but I think it’s more like, reassurance in the face of impending despair. That is, the happy or joyous things that make me cry do so because I realize suddenly that they almost didn’t happen. Considering how much of life is rough around the edges, cold, lonely, prickly, and so forth — when something really nice happens it’s such a spiked contrast. Really horrible things, they simply rob a person of emotional output — they’re catatonic experiences.

Watching a film like Barefoot Gen makes me want to cry. Ah, I’m no stranger to sad or depressing movies; but Barefoot Gen is like if you combined the two Ghibli films, Grave of the Fireflies and My Neighbor Totoro — both totally heart-rending films — into one horrific account of the Hiroshima bomb blast.

Anyway, truly nice things and people are pretty rare. It takes a lot of strength to do things selflessly, being able to do good things without freezing up or letting oneself become drained or emotional. I admire people who can do that, even if I have trouble expressing it. But I wonder where this all contrasts with the necessities of the world today. Israel/Palestine, Russia/Georgia, US/Iraq, African genocides, indigenous peoples, etc. How nice can you be when you’re forced to choose loyalties between military powers or states or religious conflicts? People talk all big about principles and ethics and morals, but I think everyone fundamentally chooses their family and friends before ideologies.

I guess really nice people have no loyalties to anyone in particular, just a particular set of moral qualities. But that is directly threatening or at odds with nation-state laws. And that’s why some things are so tear-jerking — because they’re so rare. After all, to reign people in, to keep order and live in organized societies, we need brutal laws which punish people inappropriately to their actions.

Like a monkfish out of water…

Posted in Asceticism, Fighting, martial arts, Monasticism, Reality Bites, Relationships, Religion, sex and violence, society, Stayin' Alive, Ultimate Reality with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 26, 2008 by wizardsmoke

It is interesting how monks, nuns, and those who take religious vows learn to defend themselves from social harms and ills. And those vows to abstain from drugs, sex, violence, harmful speech and behavior are all the more possible because of a secluded monastic environment. But the monastic environment is not meant just to shelter the religious from the world, but to create a safe environment in which they can build a base of profound mental awareness. The ordained may not necessarily ever stop practicing or living in their ordained community, just as any martial artist (let’s say anyone who follows the fabled-to-exist practices of budo, chivalry, gongfu, etc.) does not stop practicing or teaching at their school despite their adept level of ability. Furthermore, religious monastics and martial artists  are both ideally practicing to ward off negative elements in their surroundings.

Wait, are they both? The martial artist parallel stops short because of the outcomes of these different methods of practice. An honest religious disciple is learning to see troublesome elements in the mind before they arise, and easily avoids these things. A martial artist is usually learning to sense violence before it appears in their surroundings. On the one hand, a good monk is exempt from pernicious social atmospheres which may result in lust, greed, crime, violence, etc. and intuitively learns how gauge these things. A martial artist might not learn to perceive these elements, but is better poised to deal with violent confrontation should it happen (which is almost always due to stupid social conflicts, but let’s say we’re talking about horror-story confrontations with occasional, random, mean-spirited groups of thugs, Clockwork Orange-style, or even complete psychopathic nutcases). Here the combat training — in a “do-or-die” scenario with no other choice but to fight — becomes useful.

But what has always bothered me about a number of fighters and martial artists is a subtly angry disposition. I’ve met people in this line of practice who are virulently aggressive people with dysfunctional social problems. They’re not the majority of the people involved (a lot of the angry violent types end up in questionable lines of work anyway), but martial arts rarely has anything to curb a penchant for anger — except to let the person go berserk on another person. And even if a martial arts practice does succeed in warding off negative elements, does it have to be done through the practice of violence (even if in a controlled environment)?

So I admire this about religious vows: even if the ordained do not keep to such precepts or vows, the idea of giving up anger, greed, lust — this is very impressive and admirable to me. Because a number of people who take these vows succeed in keeping them. I know from experience that during the periods one gives up these things, so many formerly conflicting aspects in one’s environment, social sphere and daily life just float on by without causing any mental disturbance.

But talk is cheap, and here I am hanging out with the angry people.

Triple Gem Meltdown

Posted in Buddhism, Monasticism, Philosophy, Religion, society, Ultimate Reality with tags , , , , , , , , on November 12, 2008 by wizardsmoke

I seem to be totally obsessed with religions, particularly Buddhism. One reason is because, to me, religions seem to give the initial impression of possessing clusters of virtuous people among their ranks. Obviously virtuous people are socially all over the board (and never mind the fact that any group you think is special will look special to you), but this is the racket. Yeah, I think religions are idealized as clusters of virtuous people.

But then, like every social mechanism — government, law, science and research, business, and so forth, religious hierarchies are easily subject to social and financial corruption. Ah, too bad for us sorry saps who want to place lazy faith in something! So much for that idea…

Again, let me reiterate: the false connection a dopey person like me is making here, is aligning virtuous people with religious people. That’s like aligning artistic talent with financial success, really. It has no basis in reality. Oh, and never mind the whole freaking problem of defining “virtues” of virtuous people in the first place. But for the sake of convenience, let’s just assume virtues are like… classically positive, wholesome, energized character traits in some cosmic reference book.

Yah, the “virtuous people” do seem to exist. And I am somewhat a fan of them. I suppose my confusion as to associating them with religion is the way religions describe their paths to virtue. A religion like Buddhism defines the Triple Gem at the heart of the practice as: faith in the Buddha, the Dharma (teaching) and the Sangha (religious order). In other words, you gotta stick to the Buddhist Sangha if you plan to figure it all out. But don’t all the other religions say the same thing? It’s almost like they naively think their own path is the only path. Ha! Obviously false, but also obvious that it’s dumb to try and take all the different paths at once… I do smite thee, New-Ager!

Therefore, I have my own religious interpretation of dogma, one which declares, in order to shine super effing bright (spiritually speaking), an individual takes refuge in (1) virtuous people, (2) virtuous conduct and philosophy, and (3) virtuous peers and habits. Virtuous people are just any people who are wise and really cool and realized. And the last one is really easy because virtuous habits can be found in every person. That’s why we say absolute cock-a-mamey baloney about slimy businessmen, like, “although he’s a jerk, I can respect his drive for business.” Or maybe, “yeah, he’s a malicious businessman, but you have to admit he’s pretty smart.” Except unfortunately, intelligence is not really a virtue.

To admire someone’s positive traits, you don’t have to be all dorky and “New Age” about it, pretending to ignore the person’s glaring flaws, but just make sure the habits that one retains from others are positive ones.

There you go, totally excellent advice and nothing asked in return! Actually, promise me this, dear reader: pull me outta this torturous, illusory existence once you transcend the samsaric waves of all creation, will you? Pretty plz?

Show me what is real

Posted in Mysticism, Occult, Philosophy, Religion, society, Stayin' Alive, Ultimate Reality with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 5, 2008 by wizardsmoke

Although there is probably nothing outside of the universe itself, the material/physical universe is not the only game in town. I’m not an athiest or Bright/”Naturalist” since I don’t subscribe to a strict materialistic view of existence.

Science is pretty popular as the methodology to explain unknown phenomena. But it’s just an academic method of recording data and experiments. To me, science does not actually prove anything beyond a cold, stale collection of data; science just accumulates data used to expand upon human lines of reasoning. And what is reason but an argument for one’s desires? Human reason generally seeks to influence people.

As some religious proponents have mentioned (contrary to what it looks like, I am not “religious”) if scientific analysis says something is true or factual and I don’t understand the explanation but am simply told to accept it as fact, this is no different from accepting religious gospel I don’t understand. Believing in things on blind faith is pretty useless. The only truth is direct experience. Transmission is a form of direct experience.

The only truth is experience –> transmissions can only be made in person, in the flesh, as experiences –> ultimately, enlightenment is self-realized, not transmitted

Which makes sense. All the great mystics and saints and demons and wizards have pointed out: reality must be realized by oneself. I can only show you the door, you have to open it, blah blah. Like the Buddha’s “Alone in the universe I am exalted” idea, for if one is alone in the universe, how can one’s perceptions rely on anyone else’s interpretation of life? Why are people so afraid to trust their own perceptions of reality?

Austin Spare wrote about how all desires and realizations must be done and achieved through flesh — that flesh is reality. And Musashi talked of how true understanding of martial arts and violence could only be learned through direct experience and transmission. Buddha said don’t believe something just because someone told you it’s true — try it for yourself. It is all the same idea: live in your body, live out your ideas, experiment with deep philosophies in your actual life, not just as thoughtful meditations. When people sit around and make speculations about things they don’t do, when they don’t actually go out and experience those things for themselves, they become worthless people. A person has to throw themselves into their experiences to understand life in any worthwhile capacity.

Dogen said there’d be days like this…

Posted in Asceticism, Beauty, Buddhism, Cults, death, Monasticism, Mysticism, Religion, Ultimate Reality, Wizard Quotes with tags , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2008 by wizardsmoke

The flowers, although we love them
Fade and die;
The weeds, although we hate them
Grow and thrive

Dogen Zenji

As I said the other day, at the end of the path, religions are actually obscuring reality, or keeping us attached to the world of suffering. They become like fences in front of the final destination, fences which we can see through but are encouraged to climb over in order to reach paradise or whatever. Yet if we know what we’re doing, we can see reality without putting up a fence to climb.*

But really, I don’t think religions are so crazy. Because all cults are just manifestations of the desire for concrete meaning, the basic impulse for tangible deep understanding. This cyclical search for meaning is a fundamental, natural occurrence — which makes it some kind of mysterious truth or idea in of itself.

Anyway, some obvious facts that have to be realized with the body in order to mean a thing:

  • what’s happening now telegraphs what is happening in the future
  • people die, get injured, and get sick every moment; eventually it will be your turn
  • the simplest things that we take for granted are also often the most mysterious things in life


*Wizard Smoke assumes no responsibility whatsoever for potential spiritual damages incurred by his advice