Archive for tradition

Victim of Changes

Posted in Daoism, Mysticism, Religion, society, Ultimate Reality, World of Emotions with tags , , , , on June 16, 2008 by wizardsmoke

What are people looking for in a religion? It’s probably true that, if you’re seeking a religion or tradition that you don’t naturally practice (not the same as being one that you were born into) you’re looking for something somewhere else — somewhere outside of yourself.

‘Course, Buddha or Jesus or Lao Tzu or David Blaine or whichever human MVP is your choice, does not speak of mystical stuff in an otherworldly sense. It seems all mysterious to hear a sage say where someone will go upon their demise or how their actions will bear fruit, but that’s just because (at the moment) we’re freaking samsaric stooges! With a clear perception, some of these things become straight-forward insights or observations.

The same realization can be said of great talents. So often you’ll talk to people and hear “buzz buzz, ballet is really hard! buzz buzz” or “blah blah, being an athlete takes so much hard work! blah blah”. Big surprise there! As if getting good at anything doesn’t take serious work. The point is, skills are very ordinary talents that come from hard work (and maybe possession by the daughters of Zeus, hahaha!). Coming into peak awareness of the universe arises from the same kind of dedication. We love those stories about people born to inherit the vessel of supreme realization, but they’re still people who come from prior causes.

In these cases of prior causes we often see the reason some people have natural gifts–people for whom hard work in certain realms of creativity or labor is natural or even necessary to their contentment. Such are the cases of great artists. Hard work is certainly difficult for anybody, but an inspired person finds their work flows naturally. I think this is what Hatsumi refers to as “riding the shinobi winds”. This is what we want to develop from religion/ritual and so on: an ability to flow.

Flow is a primordial skill that comes from practicing serious ritual. At Weakness With a Twist the other day, the point was made that:

Ritual is action taken with out consistent meaning. Ritual practice itself is not a defense against dogma; however, the practice of ritual has the capacity to reveal the way or mind seeks to lock on to a particular way of perceiving our world.

Ritual, particularly early on, can be very difficult to do consistently. But as this quote points out, to practice as such is making one aware of the distortion or discord in the environment or rhythm of one’s life, those things which pull one away from ritual. A ritual composed of weak desires or paths of no resistance does nothing to “enhance” or strengthen the spirit. It will merely contrast one’s weakest desires with everything else.

One more interesting thing from the same post is:

For heaven’s sake, ritual is not a discarding of reason. It is a good thing we use reason to manipulate our environments for pleasure and power. But reason is a form of aggression which itself can cloud our vision. Ritual has the capacity to re-pose the question: How important is reason?

This reminds me of how so many modern atheists or materialists or “naturalists” in modern society decry religious values as being some kind of primitive belief set or pure fantasy. However, religion is not identified as a “religion” or fantasy by those who originally practice it. Religious concerns very often come from past methods of reasoning used to determine meaning or ways of doing things productively and constructively to one’s community and self.

The way so many materialists talk about discoveries of science or the benefits people will receive from modern advancements away from religion, it’s like they miss the objective of doing hard work. Modern scientific advancements which make our lives more luxurious are nice, but they actually can work against us by catering to our basest pleasures and urges. Not a good devotion. It’s similar to the base idea that anyone who converts to Christianity, Islam or Buddhism will go to heaven or be reborn in a better place purely because they associate themselves with the religion (as opposed to doing the hard work of ritual and self-improvement). High-fallutin’ poppycock rubbish tomfoolery!

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Dogma: a dead tradition

Posted in Buddhism, Cults, martial arts, Mysticism, Qi, Reality Bites, Religion, society, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 29, 2008 by wizardsmoke

What’s the deal with rigid fundamentalism in “spiritual” lineages? You know, hard-line dogma sort of stuff; keeping people’s nose to the grindstone without ever letting up or letting their opinions of the doctrine sway. I think there are two ways of interpreting it. One is literal, in which the professeur actually believes the words of their own agenda or party line. The other is that it is strictly an educational policy, albeit a hard-line one (almost propagandistic), where the person projecting the agenda is doing so merely to keep the students’ minds in line or on task.

For instance, in the Yi Quan lineage and with some newer Chinese martial art teachers they might say not to pay attention to qi. I think it is because that’ll distract you from the practices that actually develop qi. But they would not hear of such an explanation and probably would say it doesn’t exist at all. Not that I know these people personally, I’m just speculating. And getting rid of qi in this martial context is probably more of a progressive thing given the mystical Chinese religious implications of the subject.

In much Zen Buddhism they might say not to pay attention to rebirth, or that it doesn’t exist. I figure that’s because it’ll just distract your zen practice, and it really isn’t that important when it comes to practicing. But guys like Brad Warner and his teacher don’t believe in rebirth at all. I realize that’s a tiny faction of just Soto Zen, but my point is they don’t believe in it, they don’t teach it or talk about it. Not that it literally exists like reincarnation, but they could point that out. But they don’t.

In Tibetan Buddhism (and occasionally in Theravada during talks to laypeople) we see examples of teachers warning students of how they had better pay attention to their practice, because if they don’t they’ll be reborn in one of the lower realms or the hells. This sounds especially dogmatic and reeks of Catholicism or some such western practice. So are the fundamentalist guys, like Namdrol over at E-Sangha, just dishing this stuff out to push us to practice until we can be self-sufficient, or do they really believe it?

The conclusion I always am afraid is a two-fold one. (A) these guys really believe their fundamentalism or at the very least will never let it go in public and (B) the masses are not entitled or “healthy enough” to understand or comprehend the totality of being because it would leave them nihilistic. In the beginning I thought that a lot of religious folks just emphasized the fundamentalism to keep the student’s minds on track. Now I don’t think it matters what the teacher believes considering what they teach people.

I suppose, if the teacher reveals everything at the beginning, a lot of people might not stick it out. That’s like a basic business strategy, isn’t it? The tempting existence of mystery and “secrets” in a lineage of martial arts or religious teachings is what probably attracts a lot of people in the first place. Today we expect way too much right up front, way too much information. But even if you desire information, having it all too early can be overwhelming. If you see through everything without the acquired determinism to keep going, or the renewable energy to have continuous faith in yourself, everything becomes empty and without purpose.

This is why I’ve never been much of an academic. I only want experience, I don’t care about facts and information. Academia is only worthwhile to me if I’m going to implement it into some kind of active practice. A lot of academia, like dogma, is dead. Being static and unchanging, it has no place among the living. It belongs in a museum. Sometimes I feel that way about fundamentalism. Don’t you have to change your methods to fit with the times? But how do you avoid changing your tradition to suit modern needs? And if a tradition is no longer applicable in modern times, doesn’t that belong in a museum?

Living up to the Past

Posted in History, martial arts, Religion, Stayin' Alive with tags , , , , , , on January 22, 2008 by wizardsmoke

Let’s take a moment and ponder how traditions survive. Like ones started either in pre-historic or chaotic times: schools of philosophy, martial arts, religion, art or science. It is always amazing to us (or to me, at least) that various things have survived the ages.

I have two lines of thought in this area.

One – most of human culture did not or has not survived because it was destroyed or all its proponents were killed, died or failed to maintain their tradition. I mean that only a small fraction of humanity’s inventions and explorations have been passed on to us. Which brings us to my second point…

Two – traditions can only survive through exceptional diligence and perseverance.

Are the traditions passed on to us the best that humanity has had to offer? We know even from recent experience that the victors of war and political power, the dominating forces of the world, will write and thus censor records of events. However, there are many cases of traditions being passed on “underground”, in secret. Traditions which are thought to be extinct and still yet survive. What is interesting is the importance of historical documents. Historical documentation is the evidence used by third-person parties to recognize the tradition under examination. So without historical documentation from an “authoritative” source, traditions are not usually acknowledged by nations and cultural institutes. Documentation can be dated, a kind of time-stamp we can put on things, which can then hold up under scientific scrutiny.

Which leads us to recognize that gaining recognition of one’s tradition, while prestigious, is not the essential facet of it’s survival. Rather, survival has nothing to do with records, and more to do with day-to-day practice and repetition. Day-to-day practice is the key to mastery in any devotional art, and the real secret to passing on a tradition and lineage. Because here we can also see another similar idea: that each day is actually a generation, and a tradition only survives by being passed from generation to generation. In this sense, traditions are a vividly real link to our ancestors, of which one needs no outside verification. Survival is the message.

When a tradition is placed under the ill-fated circumstances of being persecuted by the country’s law, the dedication to tradition is put to the test. Dedication to tradition is measured by what it means to its practitioners. Which is all that really matters in a modern age. Old traditions no longer are the same key to survival, but their importance or enjoyment can indeed be proportionate to the level of significance they held in securing the survival of human or cultural lineages. In this same line of thinking, modern laws erode cultural artifacts by making them expensive and no longer necessary for the same reasons.

Modern technology puts a new spin on these ideas. As culture becomes more expensive to maintain in our modern life, our awareness of our culture and ancestry depends more and more upon historical recognition. A smaller number of people to uphold traditions in their daily lives means cultural preservation relies upon historical evidence more than ever before. Also a product of the modern world, is the criteria by which traditions are preserved. One can suppose that quality overcomes quantity in the end, which is similar to wondering whether the warrior who survives in battle is necessarily the virtuous one.

The modern era has given birth to an extreme plethora of cultural variety. A higher ratio than ever before is probably junk, and at the same time our methods of data storage are more precarious. It is interesting to consider what a failure or major shift in modern technology would reveal about our traditions and cultural heritage. Because the most important traditions lay beneath the surface of the historical radar and always survive, held the most steadfast by the smallest, most dedicated groups.