Wednesday, August 27, 2008

An Argument about Arguing

It's rare enough to see outside of an undergraduate logic class, but there is a long-standing and developing thread on argument here:

In my view, it goes inadvertently far in demonstrating many of the typical errors people make once they decide to adhere to a position. Often, the argument moves from discussion of argument---that is to say, dialectics---to argument of the "You're an idiot!" variety.

For the zen folks, it is a happy hunting ground for practice!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Son's Koan

My son scolds me from across the coffee shop table:
Daddy, you never let me talk about anything!!!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Tell Me Why

Having a reason:
Does it change circumstances?
It is what it is.

Change itself happens in an instant, the simultaneous creation of a flash of lightning and the roar of thunder as in one place the atmosphere is locally rebalanced. The effects are seldom so local, though, and, like the storm, change can be destructive.

We make choices and do what is best for ourselves, our loved ones, our friends, groups, communities, employers, nations, and so forth, right up through each person's God. But from one moment to the next circumstances change; the balances shift and what is best is different. When finally the shift is so strong that the inertia of habit and fear of consequence are overcome, we change. Lightning strikes.

Nearby though are the loved ones, friends, groups, communities, employers, and so forth, and among them are those who were also accustomed to your habit. That is their habit, the expectation that the you of today will be the same as the you of yesterday. Depending upon one's proximity to the decisive moment, he may hear the distant rumble and leisurely continue his day, he may count the seconds between the flash and the rumble and move to safety, or he may simply be struck down without notice.

Unless our house is struck, we never seem to ask the sky why lightning strikes here or there, but we do seek explanations when people change. We know that, beneath the outward change, an inward change occurred, and we seek to understand it and perhaps to correct it if only to restore our own sense of order. In some cases, we wonder if there was some deficiency in ourselves that caused our circumstances to change. In those cases that cannot be restored, we may even seek to change ourselves to avoid similar external changes in the future.

But what is the point of all of this?

If you and I live in a manner true to ourselves, then the cards fall where they will effortlessly. You are not acting in a way to appease me, and likewise I am not acting in a way to appease you---we are not acting. Your change affects me, yes, but I do not require an explanation. You would have provided one if it was important to you, but what would I do with it once you have made up your mind? Would I argue that you misunderstood? You would already have asked for my view and considered it if it was an important to you. Would I argue that you were wrong? If you were, would you hear the argument? Should I argue there's another way after you've already decided your new path? Should I attempt to preserve your involvement in something that you did not wish to preserve?

Depending upon the magnitude of the change, these issues are not trivial, and rarely is there a right or wrong approach; after all, even acting itself can be a pure approach. Still, all we can hope for, but cannot expect or demand, is that we are true to ourselves.

Be yourself. And be well.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Mind's Gatekeeper

I recently saw this very interesting quote in another discussion thread:

But what we allow into our minds cannot be erased and so it's in our own best interest to be very careful what we let inside. We're our own gatekeepers, and by taking this responsibility we do not become easily offended.

While we both essentially concur with the words, it seemed clear that he and I hold two completely different interpretations.

From one perspective, "Hear no evil. See no evil. Speak no evil." Experience with evil will tend to draw the person in and corrupt the person. The only possible solution to maintain goodness and purity is to avoid evil. Don't let evil in and you will remain pure. Do not associate with evil people. Do not read material with evil content. Do not look at evil stirring images. Do not visit places where evil might occur. And so forth.

It is clear that many people do live this way. Problem solved, right? Maybe until two people or two groups disagree upon what is and what is not evil---perhaps evolving until one decides the other is evil for not sharing the definition...

But what are the more individual consequences of such a life?

The mind is a very powerful device for labeling, filtering, and selecting things, and it can obviously be trained. The mind can be trained so that, even subconsciously, every thing and every experience is labeled "evil" or "not evil." There can even be trained reactions, such as fainting on hearing foul language or averting one's eyes on seeing what is sexually suggestive. Even higher order impulses might develop, such as, "If I see evil, I must act to destroy it!"

Once all of these layers are in place, how long is it before the mind finds itself in an irresolvable dilemma? How long can it possibly be before a person finds himself on the wrong side of his own rules? How long can it possibly be before the person, with imperfect information and understanding about another's situation, mistakenly applies the label "evil" to another, causing that person harm, or even harming an innocent bystander in the process?

We construct and apply simple models to our lives---everyone does---but life is seldom so simple for long. Eventually the mind faces the fact that whatever model was in place does not fit the observations. What now? This is a point for suffering, a place where the expected does not occur or the unexpected does. So, is a better model the answer to life's problems? Is the model wherein you and your mind are distinct and it is your responsibility to fence off evil from your mind the successful model for life? How could it be?

So, what of another perspective? We have to delve deeper...

What is the gatekeeper of the mind if it is not the mind itself? Can the thoughts "This is good," and "This is evil" live outside the mind? If the mind decides to fence certain thoughts out of the mind, then are those thoughts not already inside the mind's gate?

The thought "Do not admit evil into the mind" in itself admits "evil" into the mind, and it sets into motion the discriminating process. Now you are a machine, finding evil everywhere, deciding right and wrong, dealing with it, or fencing it off, or running from it, or being corrupted by it when you embrace it...

A pure mind does not discriminate between "good" and "evil." A pure mind has no fence and has no gate---there is no need. Seeing things as they are---whether as a manifestation of God's Grace, Buddha Nature, Mother Nature, or anything else---no evil enters the mind and there is no corruption as a result.

To achieve this, it seems then that one of the first objectives of the mind's gatekeeper must ensure that thoughts of a gate or a gatekeeper do not enter the mind... Can this state be found? Think back: There was a time when you saw everything with a beginner's mind, when there was no good, no evil, no fence between them, and no gate to be watched. What happened to your original mind?

Alas, even these thoughts are flawed, but hopefully they point toward the truth.