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My personal Internet Usage Policy

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A few people posted some replies and discussions based in part on my recent post on race. I’d just like to clarify that it’s not that I don’t feel that race isn’t an important issue, or one worth taking up. It’s just that for me, I want to avoid it the topic when blogging and on the internet in general. There are some other things I try to steer clear from as well (most notably partisan politics). This got me thinking a bit about how I want to and should be spending my time online, and how my interactions truly reflect the person typing these words as well as the part of me that is trying to embrace wisdom, compassion, and kind-heartedness. This is something I’ve been examining and dwelling on for some time now.

So I’ve created my own personal Internet Usage Policy. These are some rules, guidelines, and reminders about how I spend my time online. I’d like to clarify now that this is MY list, and I don’t feel like anyone should have to adopt any of the following positions. However, it might be a worthwhile effort to create your own IUP, and see what you can do to stick with it.

1. Debate proves nothing other than who the best debater is. Debate exists solely to prop up a ‘right’ version of ‘me’. Therefore, I will avoid debate at all costs. Instead I will look toward discussion when engaging others, as discussion is a means to foster “us” rather than “I”. In a similar light, I should be mindful that my posts are responses to, rather than reactions from whatever their inspiration might be.

2. Regarding blog rolls, commenting, following on Twitter, and feeling “obligated”:

  1. I put up on my blog “roll” blogs that I read regularly, and would like to suggest to others to check out. That is why they are there. I don’t put up blogs simply because they have listed mine in their blog roll somewhere. If I didn’t include your blog, it should not come as an insult. I sometimes get overwhelmed by the number of items in my Google Reader, and can’t keep up with everyone on a regular basis. Also sometimes blogs just aren’t my cup of tea.
  2. I don’t often comment. That doesn’t mean I didn’t read your post, it just means that I didn’t feel compelled to say “nice post” or engage in discussion. Maybe it wasn’t warranted. Plenty of people do the same here. It’s okay. It was probably a great post, and I appreciate the effort you put into it. But this isn’t Little League, and we don’t all need a participation trophy every time we get up to bat.
  3. Regarding Twitter, I have the same policy as mentioned in (1). I follow people because I am interested in what they are tweeting. I don’t feel any obligation to follow anyone because they follow me, nor should you feel obligated to follow me because I follow you. I’m not on Twitter to have the most followers. I’m there to share information and listen to different points of view. If I don’t follow you back, don’t consider it an insult. Some people like mint chocolate chip, other people like pistachio. No biggie.

3. I won’t use the internet as a means simply to promote myself or to become more popular. In blogging the lines between self promotion and discussion/sharing certainly do get blurred at times, but there are boundaries one can adhere to, and I should remain mindful that I do so. When I post my blog or other blogs to reddit or twitter or other sharing services, it isn’t to get more views (I don’t have ads here, so what good do more views get me?) but to drive traffic in order to foster discussion. Understandably, not everyone will have an opinion on everything I write, so I should be okay with that. And when someone agrees with what I’ve written there is no need to comment saying “yup, I agree”. More or fewer comments should not affect my ego and I should be careful to notice when they do (because they will).

4. I will be careful not to get caught up in generalizations. For example, simply because I disagree with most of the GOP’s agenda does not mean I support the Democratic Party’s positions de facto. I should do well to remember the same for the rest of the world when it comes to such dualistic thought. My world is not black and white, I should not expect other’s to be so either.

5. I will always use my real name when applicable and reasonable. I will attempt to use a real photo of myself as well. This helps others to remember that those using the internet are human beings, not just words on a screen.

6. I will always remain skeptical of claims made on the internet, especially those without sources to back them up. Likewise I will only use Wiki as a jumping off point to find more information, never to be relied completely upon. Using just one source of information as a basis for my opinions will leave me more ignorant than if I had never read the source in the first place. Because at that point, I’ve become a parrot.

7. I will examine my motivations for writing a blog post, tweet, or comment at least 3 times before I click “submit”. I will examine the content at least the same number of times.

8. I will avoid commenting anywhere unless I feel that it will really further the discussion, or set some facts straight. However when pursuing the latter, I will do so in a manner that does not result in ad hominem, but only provides information, to foster a greater understanding.

9. I should not assume that a comment or blog post will change people’s minds. I should take into consideration the fact that presenting negative opposing views rather than positive alternative views will probably only entrench the other party more firmly into their view, and me into mine. Mother Theresa said it best:

I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.

10. I will use the internet to engage others, to seek information, and further my understanding. When it becomes a burden, obligation, or addiction, I will shut it off.

11. If I find myself getting angry or upset over what someone has written, I will not comment or respond for at least 24 hours. Then I will invoke #7.

12. At times I will undoubtedly fail to adhere to this list. When I do so, I should examine why, and attempt to clarify or rectify any wrong that I have done. With the vicarious nature of the internet, apologies should come more easily than they do.

I’m sure there are some other things I’m missing here, what do you think? Is a personal IUP worthwhile?

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Article Swap #3 – Buddhist Ethics in Political Dialogue (guest post by Justin Whitaker)

The following is a guest post from Justin of the wonderful blog, American Buddhist Perspective. This is part of the great “Buddhoblogosphere Blog Swap” that was set up by Nate over at Precious Metal. Check out this post for a list of all the other articles being swapped and hosted today. The article I wrote hasn’t been posted yet, but as soon as it is, I’ll post the link up here. I was in charge of assigning Justin a topic, and knowing that he is a Buddhist Ethicist, I asked the following questions:

“How do we apply Buddhist ethics in a secular way to the political dialogue/discourse we currently have in this country? Right now it is dominated by the fringe extremists with the loudest microphones and it is getting us nowhere. How do we combat (without combating) this extremism using Buddhist ethics? How do we make it part of the dialogue?”

Adam has posed some great questions here. I hope they elicit as much thought in you as they did me and that you will join the conversation. First off, we need to identify what “Buddhist ethics” is or are. From there we should be able to launch into engagement with our current political situation. 
 
Let’s orient ourselves. Where are we? If we call ourselves “Buddhist” (and often even if not) we no doubt see ourselves as on a path to awakening. We can think of this as our vertical or “Developmental” Dimension:  our own ignorance and suffering at the bottom, and perfected wisdom and compassion at the top. And we are also living in the year 2010, mostly (for readers here) in America. This is the horizontal or “Relational” Dimension, the world around us right now and on each stage of the path (see Firgure 1*).   

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        In this picture, Buddhist ethics can be seen as our conduct as Buddhists and the reasons we have for that conduct. How do we move “up”? How do we cultivate the twin virtues of wisdom and compassion in a world so dominated by extreme voices and ideas?
 

The Buddha’s own advice to people again and again was to relax their attention on the Relational Dimension and focus on their own development. One of the curious facts about this way of seeing things is that as we advance (upward) toward awakening, we open up more fully (relationally) to the world. Meanwhile, the more caught up in personal delusions, greed, and hatred we are, the more isolated we are from the world. This is what Alan Sponberg has coined as the Hierarchy of Compassion.
 
So this is our starting point. Right here. Not with the politicians or the pundits, but with our own mind and mental states. As laypeople we can begin with the five precepts:
1.   I undertake the training to abstain from harming living beings
2.   I undertake the training to abstain from taking the not-given.
3.   I undertake the training to abstain from harmful conduct in sensuality.
4.   I undertake the training to abstain from false speech.
5.   I undertake the training to abstain from drinking liquor or taking intoxicants.
Each day we can take a moment to evaluate our relationship with these training principles. Our first step in remedying the often contentious political sphere is to ensure that we ourselves are contributing as little as possible to it. Recall Mahatma Gandhi’s teaching, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
 
For some, “ethics” ends there. But I think we can see that the whole of the path is interconnected and that meditation and wisdom are not distinct categories of practice. It is in our meditation that our deepest mental convictions and afflictions become transparent to us, rising to the surface of consciousness where we can make the changes necessary to move closer to harmony with the Dharma. In terms of the political world, in meditation we can let go of divisive labels and self-other duality. In particular, in the cultivation of loving-kindness meditation, we invite to our mind an ‘enemy’ to imaginatively sit with us, seeing this individual as no different from a neutral person, themselves no different from a close friend. We see that all beings “fear the stick and tremble at punishment.”
 
The cultivation of wisdom, too, serves our ethical purposes. While notions such as non-self, impermanence, and interconnectedness can serve as mere intellectual concepts, they can also be applied on the cognitive level to challenge and overcome prejudices. The noble 8-fold path begins with right understanding, and I believe this is not accidental. If we believe in permanent separate souls or that moral actions hold no consequences, it is unlikely that we will follow the next seven steps on the path. While the complete understanding of reality as it is marks the culmination of the path, we cannot even begin if we are clinging to radically false notions.
 
But we are still at a very individual level. How do we ‘reach out’ to others? We begin with those nearest us, friends and family. If you’re anything like me, this group alone contains a very wide spectrum of political views. Generally it’s easiest to talk politics with those who agree with you and at times downright painful to talk with those who appear to be in the extremes. I’ve had conversations with relatives who say they’re “just waiting for him [President Obama] to start taking our guns away” and friends on the other end of the spectrum who lamented how horrible a nation America has become (under President G.W. Bush).
 
Sometimes the best we can do is listen, try to understand where they are coming from. At our best though we can ‘mirror’ the extreme position of a comment to the other person in a way that gets him or her to its extremism clearly. We might remark that Obama is having a hard enough time accomplishing his stated goals, so it might be a bit tough for him to do something that would be so widely unpopular.  Or we might note that America wasn’t exactly Eden before G.W. Bush – or mention a few of the dozens of countries that would be much more ‘horrible’ for our friend. What we see is that extreme positions are often very narrow, both historically and in terms of contemporary realities around the world. 
 
As our own thought and understanding deepens, we are less affected by extreme and misplaced views and opinions; much like H.H. the Dalai Lama as he responded to Chinese claims that he was a devil:

If he were to bitterly argue against such claims, they would only gain strength. But by laughing at them, and making us laugh in turn, we see the absurdity of the Chinese government’s position. The more often this happens, the weaker this extreme voice becomes. Similarly, teaching the history of Tibet, and showing the reality of people there today are other ways to cut through extremist claims.
 
But what the Dalai Lama’s story also shows us is that in the end, enlightened conduct might not win in the political sphere. This is a fact of the deluded state that most of us dwell in. Even the Buddha had enemies, including an angry cousin who tried on several occasions to kill him. The extremists have always been there and likely always will be. Through our own practice, though, we can develop the wisdom of seeing the context of our political lives and compassion through realizing the similarities we have even with our worst enemies. Bringing this ‘home’ in our own daily conduct and meditation frees us from merely reacting to the latest extremism in the world, allowing us to be creative agents of that wisdom and compassion. The greatest contribution, and indeed the most authentic one, that Buddhist ethics can give to contemporary political dialogue is in its tools of spiritual development.
 
* This schematization and the figures are taken from Sponberg, Alan. (1994). “Green Buddhism and the Hierarchy of Compassion,” in Buddhism and Ecology: The Interconnection of Dharma and Deeds. Tucker and Williams eds. (1997). Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA, pp. 351-376.

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Someone said something about Buddhism!

I suppose I’m a bit late to the party, but life kept me away from the internets this weekend for the most part. It seems as though Bill Maher said something about Buddhism, and now people are upset. So I went over to the post in question, read it, and chuckled a little bit.

Bill Maher is a comedian. Some find him funny, others not so much. No biggie. We can’t all like the same flavor of ice cream either. As of the past few years, Maher has really targeted religion and the religious as the butt of his jokes. His movie Religulous focused on crazy people who believe in the different Abrahamic religions, and was kinda funny at times, but largely disappointing. It also seemed like there was supposed to be a point, but then there really wasn’t one. Oh well. In his bit over at the Huffington Post, he starts talking about sex-addiction and Tiger, making some funny points:

But all this talk about sex addiction now – please – sex addiction is just something Dr. Drew made up because he had no other way to explain Andy Dick. And that’s not just me saying that – it’s also the American Psychiatric Association, which does not list sex addiction in its manual; it does not regard it as a real psychological syndrome, like delirium or bipolar disorder or any of the other things Glenn Beck suffers from.

hahaha Andy Dick and Glenn Beck in the same rip?!?! Comedy gold!!!

Moving on.

But before Tiger moves on there’s one more apology he really should make, and that’s to Buddha, for dragging him into this mess and proving once again, that whenever something unspeakably tawdry, loathsome and cheap happens, just wait a few days. Religion will make it worse.

He’s got a point here. People play the God/Jesus card all the time after they get caught cheating/lying/stealing or whatever. It’s actually really annoying, mostly to the people of that particular faith. Tiger said he was re-comitting to his path. I certainly wish him well. Yet part of me thinks that in his forgiveness speech, Tiger was purposefully targeting the Brit Humes of the world that seemed to think he needed Christianity, and Buddhism was a second-class religion when it comes to redemption. If the public hadn’t gotten involved in his personal religion, I wonder if he would have ever mentioned it?

Maher goes on to make some other jokes at the expense of Buddhism. Most of which are gross exaggerations of a limited, superficial understanding of Buddhism:

And it really is outdated in some ways – the “Life sucks, and then you die” philosophy was useful when Buddha came up with it around 500 B.C., because back then life pretty much sucked, and then you died – but now we have medicine, and plenty of food, and iPhones, and James Cameron movies – our life isn’t all about suffering anymore. And when we do suffer, instead of accepting it we try to alleviate it.

Tiger said, “Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves” makes us unhappy, which confirms something I’ve long suspected about Eastern religions: they’re a crock, too.

Craving for things outside ourselves is what makes life life – I don’t want to learn to not want, that’s what people in prison have to do. Buddhism teaches suffering is inevitable. The only thing that’s inevitable is that if you have fake boobs and hair extensions, Tiger Woods will try to fuck you.

ha. Kinda almost funny. I think better jokes could be made here, even if they did offend more than these. Come on Bill, you’re slipping.

I’ve seen quite a few in the greater “buddhoblogosphere” post about this, and about Maher’s comments are coming from a place of ignorance. Well, yeah. Of course they are. I wouldn’t expect someone like Bill Maher to make informed statements about Buddhism, and then turn them into jokes. Because once someone is well-informed on the Four Noble truths, there isn’t much to laugh at about them.  They were also meant for HIS audience, and if you haven’t noticed, the audience he’s targeting isn’t the religous. So no, I’m not really upset at the comments he made.

One of the jokes he made has brought up the same comments over and over again:

And reincarnation? Really? If that were real, wouldn’t there be some proof by now? A raccoon spelling out in acorns, “My name is Herb Zoller and I’m an accountant.” …something?

People are always debating, is Buddhism a religion or a philosophy: it’s a religion. You’re a religion if you do something as weird as when the Buddhist monks scrutinize two-year-olds to find the reincarnation of the dude who just died, and then choose one of the toddlers as the sacred Lama: “His poop is royal!” Sorry, but thinking you can look at a babbling, barely-housebroken, uneducated being and say, “That’s our leader” doesn’t make you enlightened. It makes you a Sarah Palin supporter.

I actually kind of laughed at this one. Any time someone can make fun of Sarah Palin, I laugh. Also, the whole process is kind of well….. funny when you think about it from an outsider’s perspective, isn’t it? But the bloggers were focusing on this comment quite a bit, saying that this practice is grounded in Tibetan Buddhism, and is mostly cultural anyway, so he’s really way off base here.

But is he? Like it or not, The Dalia Llama is the face of ALL Buddhism in the West to non-Buddhist Westerners. Would a joke about  Amitābha Buddha, Daisaku Ikeda, or Robert Thurman really have really flown on Huffington Post? Doubtful. We kind of have to admit that by making the Dalai Llama into such a celebrity and rock star, we’ve also thrown his brand of Buddhism into the spotlight, which doesn’t leave much room for any of the others out there.

All in all, I think it was a moderately funny post on his part. I can handle someone laughing at my religion. I believe in some pretty unconventional (esp by Western standards) stuff, so I have to recognize that others aren’t going to see eye-to-eye with me at times, and that’s alright. I can’t count how many times I’ve laughed at Crazy Church People, babbling idiots, or Magic Mormon Underwear. To now get upset when someone pokes fun of my beliefs would be pretty hypocritical on my part.

Yet, there is a real problem here. Unfortunately, there are people who base their views off of what a comedian like Bill Maher or Dennis Miller or John Stewart has to say. Bill Maher has his version of the “ditto-heads” that flock to his every word, and spread it like a virus. So while I really don’t see anything to get upset with about his comments in and of themselves, the problem really lies with what happens to those comments when they reach the public.

I’ve already seen this happening in some of the comments:

I worship at the Altar of Maher.

Me too. He is a genius. I heard him last night on Larry King. His comments on Palin and Obama, etc., hit the balls outside the fence.

Hey Bill, You are the best at exposing the lack of credibility and believablity
of these crutches going under the name of religion(s)

This is a tiny sample to be sure, used to illustrate my point. But the fact of the matter is that this piece will give people a reason to hate Buddhism, to spread further misconceptions about the dharma, and might turn people away from ever seeking it out in the first place. Using beer as an analogy, let’s say you decide to be bold, and try one of those new-fangled micro-brews instead of the usual lite lager crap. Now let’s say the first beer you try is Stone Mill Pale Ale. You know, the one that looks like it came from a small town micro brewery in Cali? So you get home and crack one open and, EWWWW. It’s freaking awful. Just a little bit more flavor than your usual can beer, but that flavor is awful. Why the hell did you ever think to try something new? Never again.

Of course, Stone Mill is made by Anheiseur-Busch, and is about as far from a local delicious micro-brewed Pale Ale that you could ever get. Your first exploration into something new and exciting just got you burned because you believed what you were buying was somehow a good representation of what you were looking for. But it wasn’t. This is the same flavor that people will be left with if misconceptions about the dharma are left to propagate unchecked. So yes, we should speak up. But we should also take a moment to realize that Bill Maher is a comedian, and comedians will make jokes at the expense of just about everyone, as long as there is an audience for them. I’m not going to take offense at what was said. His ignorance has been pointed out by plenty of others in the buddhoblogosphere, so I’m not going to list all the ways in which he is wrong.

John has a good thread going on about engaging ignorance in Buddhism. I’m trying to figure out what our role is exactly in all of this. Do we simply confront Bill Maher and his misconceptions? Or do we try to get the correct version (not talking about sects/schools here) of the dharma out there in the public to let people see what the Buddha really had to say about suffering? I don’t know if there is an easy solution here.

As for jokes…..

“Sarah Palin thinks the alphabet has 22 letters. She’s so dumb she thinks the capital of China is Chinatown. Sarah Palin is so dumb, she thinks billboards are postcards from giants. The governor of Alaska is so dumb, she thinks soy milk is Spanish for ‘I am milk.'” –“Daily Show” correspondent Wyatt Cenac

oooooh snap!!!

Cheers.

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The Dharma of Whoopi

So I happend upon this video at CNN today, and thought it was worth sharing.

First, I want to say that Chris Mathews did have the right intent, just the wrong words maybe. It was clear to me that he was trying to say that he saw President Obama as President Obama, not President Obama the first black President of the US.

I think Whoopi brings up some great points here. We’re getting to the point in public debate and discussion where we are taking a step back and really examining our words, and our thoughts. This is what Buddhism does for me. It forces me to look at my thoughts, my intent, my actions and really examine them and their motivations. Of course, 90% of the time this happens in hind sight, but I’d like to think that it’s a start. I’m trying to get to the point where the examination happens before the word or action, but these things take time.

Cheers.

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Just ignorant!

I received this email yesterday, and it just plain blew me away. I couldn’t believe the level of ignorance and hate displayed. But then, I could. Because this is what happens when lies are allowed to prosper, and are fueled by hatred (which of course stems from ignorance). You can read a copy of the email here (yes, this is the same email that I received).

The other day I posted on how extremists are polarizing this country and destroying it from inside. I have no problem when people pick a “side” (Christian, liberal, atheist, Conan or whatever), but when you then identify your side by your hate of the “other” side, we have a problem. There’s no reason to be against the “other” side just because you’ve identified with yours! That’s right! You can actually hold liberal ideals, and NOT hate conservatives! Crazy, I know.

Unfortunately, we’ve been ingrained since youth to always “win” and come out on top, and be #1.  We’ve carried this into every aspect in our lives, including public (and private) dialogue. Maybe it’s part of our wanting to fit in and be correct, a little bit of ego stroking. I don’t know. Unfortunately, this desire to be right and to be on the winning side leads to all kinds of unskillful conduct.

I would like to preface this by saying I’m not a huge fan of President Obama. I voted for Nader, but would have voted for Ron Paul if he had made it on the ticket. Yes, I realize how ridiculous that sounds, but I have my reasons.  However, I am able to disagree with someone’s leadership/politics or whatever without making shit up, degrading the faith of millions, and spreading blatant hate speech. Let’s get to that email now.


PLEASE, DON’T USE THESE STAMPS!  NOT FOR VALENTINE’S,

NOT FOR ANY MAIL!!

USPS 44-Cent Stamp Celebrates Muslim holidays Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha .

If there is only ONE thing you forward today… let it be this!
REMEMBER to adamantly & vocally BOYCOTT this stamp, when you are purchasing your stamps at the post office.

All you have to say is “No thank you, I do not want that Muslim Stamp on my letters!”
To use this stamp would be a slap in the face to all those AMERICANS who died at the hands of those whom this stamp honors.

REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of Pan Am Flight 103!

REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993!

REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of the Marine Barracks in Lebanon !

REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of the Military Barracks in Saudi Arabia !

REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of the American Embassies in Africa !

REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of the USS COLE!

REMEMBER the MUSLIM attack on 9/11/2001 !

REMEMBER all the AMERICAN lives that were lost in those vicious MUSLIM attacks!

Pass this along to every Patriotic American that you know and get the word out!  Honor the United States of America !

So where to start? If you clicked on the link above, you’ve already read how factually inaccurate the part about the stamp is, so no need to bother with that as Snopes already did the work. Let’s take a look at the “Muslim” part of this. “To use this stamp would be a slap in the face to all those AMERICANS who died at the hands of those whom this stamp honors.” Really?

Well, first of all, those were radical, extremist terrorists that were also Muslim. And yes, they did perform these acts in the name of their religion, which is absolutely despicable and horrendous. People do stupid shit in the name of their faith all the time (which I am in no way excusing), and have since the dawn of organized religion. It’s something that won’t cease anytime in the near future as the violence and ignorance only continues to escalate exponentially. Secondly, this stamp does not honor terrorists, murderers, or violence in any way. All you need to do is look up Eid Al-Fitr to figure that out. But of course, in the eyes of crazy conservatives, Islam = murder and terrorist. Ugh.

This email and the sentiments behind it clearly indicate more than simple AMERICA! FUCK YEAH! type of jingoistic “patriotism”. The authors intent is clearly to demonize Islam, and further the fear/hate-mongering of all of those that practice it, regardless of the individual. We could just as easily follow this logic and use examples of when Christians have murdered, raped, and tortured all in the name of Christianity, and then call for the boycott of all Christmas/Easter stamps. And then try to justify hate for all Christians and their religion because of the actions of a radical, disturbed few.

I like the “Honor the United States of America !” as if this type of thing honors anything at all.

Then there is the last sentence of the email “REMEMBER all the AMERICAN lives that were lost in those vicious MUSLIM attacks!” Look at what they’ve done. They’ve capitalized American and Muslim. America vs. Islam. Us vs. Them. They’ve created a division between a country and a religion! Muslims are the evildooers! Kill ’em all! This of course neglects the fact that there are millions of Muslims that live right here in America, that are just as much a part of this country as Republicans, Trekkies, Buddhists, and Oakland Raiders fans are. And don’t give me that “but we’re a Christian nation!” BS. People have religions. Countries don’t have religions, especially when there is no state-endorsed religion here in the US.

I could go on and on about how the people who sent this around are just part of the right-wing Christian extremists that are ruining our country and bla bla bla, but that’s been said a million times before. No, the worst part about this is the willful ignorance and intolerance of those that created and spread these lies. In the email I received, there was a link to the Snopes article debunking the whole thing! But no one paid attention to that for some reason. It would have been too much work to actually figure out something for themselves (or click on the damn link I guess…). Instead, they’ll form their opinions based on a fucking chain email, and then vote accordingly. And this email had over 100 addresses on it. Just think about how many other people received this and forwarded it on to their friends and co-workers. But it’s just one of those stupid chain emails, right?

Wrong. This just reaffirms what a few of us bloggers have been discussing lately. A few disparaging, untrue words can cause havoc, and an untold amount of suffering. Minorities become further marginalized when things like this email keep piling up on the collective psyche of the ignorant masses. I must reiterate that people are going to vote based on emails like this. Opinions are formed when people like Anne Coulter and Brit Hume speak, especially when these talking heads bring up topics that their audience (and obviously themselves) know nothing about. They’ll just take their word for it, after all, they’re all on the same side! We put so much faith and trust in other people in this modern age of “MUST HAVE INFO NOW!” that we rarely take the time to discover the truth for ourselves (even though it’s right at our fingertips). Maybe it’s that looking at scientific journals with peer-reviewed studies filled with evidence is a boring waste of time, so why not just have Rush Limbaugh tell me what global warming is really all about. It’ll be fun! I’m sure he’ll tell me what I really need to hear, and we can make fun of the traitorous liberals while we’re at it! Why would I want to see what this Jihadist stamp is really all about when my uncle Rick can just shoot me an email?! Oh right, because then I’d find out it’s just a stamp that celebrates a couple of important Muslim festivals that don’t involve beheading infidels or anyone blowing anyone up, and I’d learn that the stamp is something I’d have to go out and look for and probably special order anyway.

This is why I think it’s important to speak up when any type of hate, ignorance, or misinformation is being spread, and we have the ability to do something about it (but we all have our own niche, right?). I’m a Buddhist blogger, so this is the type of thing I’m going to speak on from time to time. I’m certainly not going to turn into a “wrong speech watchdog” or anything like that, but I can’t help but point out some of these things in the hope that truth and understanding triumph over hate and ignorance. Wrong speech quite frequently leads to wrong action. And when it comes to religious intolerance, wrong action gets really ugly.

Further more, IT’S JUST A FUCKING STAMP!

Cheers.

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The Brit Hume fallout: Victory for The Extremists

I was going to respond to some really stupid comments and posts I saw being made by Christians/Conservatives on some of the links that Kyle provided, along with some others I found.  I had an agenda, and I was going to set them straight and put them in their places. I started to type in some comments, and then just closed down my browser. I realized what the problem was. It wasn’t them. It was the system that we’ve all been caught up in (myself included).

At first I admit I had to agree with some of my fellow bloggers and Buddhists about how this whole Brit Hume thing actually was a great opportunity for us Buddhists to speak about our faith/tradition/religion. If nothing else, there would be tons of people who would at the very least wiki Buddhism and find out just a little bit about it. So overall, this was a good thing, right? No. You see, in Buddhism, we assess situations and take action based on how skillful (less suffering) or unskillful (more suffering) we deem those actions to be (in a nut shell). Overall, I’d have to say that this entire situation has been quite unskillful.

Allow me to digress for a moment. I like people of all faiths (except Scientology. “Fuck L. Ron Hubbard and fuck all his clones”) because I try not to see people as what faith they belong to. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Atheists, Pagans, I’ve known many people of many faiths in my life, and gotten along with them all splendidly. However, there is one group of people who I really can’t stand: Extremists. Extreme atheists, Christians, Buddhists, liberals, whatever. They always speak the loudest, they get in people’s faces, they cause violence and instill fear. Rather than use reason, compassion and logic, they just shout long enough and loud enough to drown out their opposition. And the internet is the best thing that has happened to extremism since Vietnam. It gives it fuel, life, recruitment, new means of manipulation, and limitless open forums with which to spew it’s filth.

Now, I do stand by what I said before. I think one of the biggest problems with what Brit Hume said is that millions of people are now going to have a skewed perception of what Buddhism is. Unfortunately, a larger problem has arisen. While in an ideal world, we would have had an open discussion between Buddhists and Christians (and maybe even Brit Hume), what we instead found was that The Extremists™ took up the cause instead. It was the crazy Christians, Atheists, Anti-Theists and everyone in between that took up this issue. It was blown out of proportion and skewed into a political, racial, 1st amendment, and religious argument rather than any kind of discovery or debate. Now all that is left are angry words, inflated egos, and the now (possibly) more negative vision of Buddhists and Buddhism.

So now we have to deal with the fallout. This really turned into a much bigger mess than it ever needed to. I still agree that something needed to be said in rebuttal, and I think Mr. Hume’s comment was reckless. But I think how the rebuttal and discourse that followed were handled was even more reckless. What we’ve done now is only further polarize the country over yet another insignificant (in the grand scheme of things) event. Much like Janet Jackson’s boob, Bill Clinton’s…. cigar,  or Mark Sanford’s indiscretion, we’ve blown things way out of proportion. I don’t want to get into the “why” of that now, I just want to acknowledge it. We simply love to sensationalize the mistakes of anyone of any type of celebrity status. A little off topic, but something someone said in my sangha the other day kind of relates here. It was regarding the way we treat our Presidents and elected officials. He said “Every four years we elect a messiah, and at the end of those four years, when we find out he’s human, we crucify him.”

This could have been a moment for pause and reflection. It could have been a moment of great understanding and compassion. But we let it turn into the monster that it became because we allow the extremists to control public “discussion” and represent their respective “sides”. We always hear and see the Christians protesting over this and that, going crazy when evolution is taught in our schools, but that isn’t representative of Christianity. Those crazies just happen to have the microphone. Not everyone that is against animal cruelty throws fake blood on people who buy fur coats. They just happen to make the 5 o’clock news. And so we allow those extremists (who are in the minority) to control not only the debate, but also our view of the entirety of whatever side/religion/organization/movement they belong to.

And not only do we allow this to happen, we actually feed it sometimes! We respond to the crazies on those message boards! This is the fuel that they need to burn their fires of hate.  We try to argue with them, to make them see our point. But they won’t. They’re completely stuck in a state of “I’m fucking right and you’re fucking wrong” and no amount of replies in an internet forum or shouting through a megaphone at a Tea Party is going to change their minds. If their minds are to change, it will have to be of their own doing. So now we’re left with all of those extremists shouting, yelling, posting which only further deepens the divisions that we’ve created for ourselves.

Before I get to a solution, I just want to reiterate that I do believe something needed to be said about this. If I had a moment of face time with Brit Hume, I’d simply say “Brit, what you said offended quite a few people. Not because of you being a Christian or saying Jesus on the air, but because you put one religion down while trumpeting your own. We hear enough of this, and this us vs. them stuff has to stop. Wouldn’t it have been a wiser choice to say something like: ‘I don’t know much about Buddhism, but I think right now you need to use what tools your faith has to offer to help yourself and your family heal. I know that when I turned to Christianity, I found great comfort and forgiveness and it helped me through a very difficult time’. See the difference there?”

I think one of the best solutions for us Buddhists to cultivate is something the Dalai Llama has offered:

“The purpose of Buddhism is to serve and benefit all sentient beings, including human beings. And therefore it is more important to think of what contribution we Buddhists can make to human society according to our own ideas rather than trying to convert other people to Buddhism. The Buddha gave us an example of contentment and tolerance, through serving others unselfishly.”

It is in the example that we set for others when we live according to the dharma in which we can overcome the extremists. This is the best and most skillful course of action.

That’s all on this. Cheers.

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I’m not a true Scotsman/Buddhist

I enjoy The Zennist for his commentary on the Pali cannon. He certainly knows his stuff, and I’m starting to learn a bit from his blog as well. However, his latest post “On Being a real Buddhist” really kind of pissed me off. I appreciate opinion, and I expect it when reading a personal blog. But to say something like “Less than this is not real Buddhism nor are its practitioners, I dare say, real Buddhists.” and you’ve really crossed a line.

First, please dont’ try to tell others how authentic or ‘real’ their practice is. It’s insulting, and it is divisive (wrong speech). You’re sounding more and more like a Church-of Christ/christian apologetics “I’m holier than thou” types.

Second, you’ve commited a logical fallacy. It is commonly referred to the “not a true Scotsman” fallacy and it works like this:

If Adam, a Buddhist, does not believe in the “immortal-element”, is proposed as a counter-example to the claim “No Buddhist denies the immortal-element”, the ‘No true Scotsman’ fallacy would run as follows:

(1) Adam doesn’t believe in the immortal-element.
(2) No (true) Buddhist denies the existence of the immortal-element.
Therefore:
(3) Adam is not a (true) Buddhist.
Therefore:
(4) Adam is not a counter-example to the claim that no Buddhist denies the existence of the immortal-element.

This fallacy is a form of circular argument, with an existing belief being assumed to be true in order to dismiss any apparent counter-examples to it. The existing belief thus becomes unfalsifiable. Also, by what guidelines do you define a “true” or “authentic” Buddhist? And, who the hell are you to judge?

We don’t need anymore Dharma Police on the block Zennist. Your insight into the Pali Cannon could be put to better use than to belittle others, create divisions, and prattle on about how we in the West will never be Real Buddhists™. Keep the information coming, but keep the snarkyness in check will ya? There is very little metta in your posts.

Cheers.

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Fox News: now with 10% more proselytizing

For those that haven’t already heard, Brit Hume made some interesting remarks regarding Tiger Woods, Christianity, and Buddhism. I think some of my fellow bloggers have replied quite well enough already, and Kyle has a list going of the posts here. I only have a couple of things to add to the discussion, so here it goes.

I think that the only people Tiger needs to ask forgiveness from are his family and himself. But Hume needs to ask the Buddhist community for forgiveness for such remarks, and if he does so with sincerity, we will act compassionately and give it to him. A simple: “you know, I didn’t really know much about Buddhism when I made that comment, and since then I’ve done a little research. Aparently Buddhism does have quite a lot to offer Tiger in this difficult time in his life” should suffice.

My biggest concern is that he just completely misrepresented Buddhist ethics and morals to his viewers, further polarizing Buddhism here in the US. Now I’m sure there’s a whole new group of Fox News Viewers that have developed even more misconceptions regarding Buddhism, and that just fuels the fire for hate. Thanks.

Americans (and all people for that matter) don’t need Christianity shoved down our throats anymore than we need Buddhism, Judaism, Atheism or any other “ism” shoved down our throats. ESPECIALLY ON A NEWS NETWORK.

My problem lastly is this. If Brit Hume was acting out of compassion, trying to reach out to Tiger, he could have said something like “When my son committed suicide, Christianity really helped me to deal with the pain and loss and move on with my life” and so on. Because, I’m sure it did, and I am glad for him. Instead, he chose to say “He [Woods] is said to be a Buddhist. I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. My message to Tiger would be, ‘Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.”

“Tiger, turn to the Christian faith”.  It is not Brit Hume’s place to proselyte on the “news” network to which he is employed. Further more, he is implying that only a turn to the Christian faith will allow him to make a total recovery. Personally, I don’t agree with that statement on philosophical grounds, but that isn’t what grinds my gears. It’s the fact that Hume completely ignores the morality and ethics of Buddhism, claims Christianity to be superior, and also assumes to know what is best for Tiger Woods and his family (all in only 3 sentences).

There is no intention of compassion here on Hume’s part; it is simply a shot at a religion that is anything other than the Christian one, and the claiming of superiority of one over the other. His intention was clear. He wasn’t speaking out of any genuine feeling for him or his family, rather it was a plea for Tiger to come on over and join the Yacht club with the rest of Fox News. But, what more should we expect of Fox News? [check out Nathan’s post for more into this] They aren’t exactly the pinnacle of journalistic excellence here in America. I’d rather get my news from Highlights magazine than to watch their white-washed, completely slanted and sensationalized version of the day’s events. I’m not going to write Fox News a letter. I’m just going to continue not watching their crap. I don’t want them to change, I want them to disappear and be replaced by an organization that favors journalistic integrity. I’ll just stick to NPR I guess.

 I leave you with something to consider. In the movie “Ethics and the World Crisis: A Dialogue with the Dalai Lama”, one of the panelists (I forget who, and can’t find a transcript anywhere) asks, when referring to the use of “Operation Iraqi Freedom” as a logo for the 24 hour news networks, “If we DID have a state-run media, how would it look any different from what we already have”? (paraphrased)

Now take Hume’s comments into consideration, and you can see why there has been such an uproar.

Cheers.

*Update:

Kyle from The Reformed Buddhist has been quoted on MSNBC regarding Brit Hume’s remarks. Nice job!

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The Eightfold Path: Right Speech

So the next “step” on the Eightfold Path is Right Speech. Right speech is defined by the Buddha as abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, and from idle chatter and gossip. This one is pretty straight forward. Don’t lie. Don’t demean others with your words. Don’t gossip and talk badly about others in front of them or behind their backs. All of these add suffering to the world.

It’s important that you think about what you’re going to say before you say it(right intention), and the consequences of those words. Our words live on forever in the hearts and minds of those that listen; our friends, family, colleagues, potential employers. Anyone. Your words have value, and you should treat your speech as such. Why should one take you seriously if your speech is filled with sarcasm, gossip, stereotypes, and half-truths? We must be mindful of our speech. Our speech has consequences. When practicing right speech, we should make sure our words are of benefit to others.

So what about when you’re arguing with someone? What if they are being a jerk? If it’s the truth, can’t I tell someone that they’re being a jerk? Hmm….. no. You’ve abandoned right view already. The person isn’t being a “jerk”. Let’s look at an example. Let’s say that I was pulling into the parking lot of Homebrew Heaven , my local home brew store, just about to pull into the front spot and some guy in his Tahoe cuts me off and pulls in to the spot I was going for, even though I had my blinker on. I might honk, flip him off, and call him a jerk or other choice word (what I like to refer to as a Michigan wave) as I went about looking for a new spot. This would be my knee-jerk reaction, and it would be severely lacking in skill (Buddhists talk about actions being skillful or unskillful).

Right speech (and right intention and right mindfulness and right view) teaches me that the Right thing to do would be to find another spot. To allow him to have that parking spot. Maybe he was in a huge hurry. Maybe he was delivering some tragic news to one of the employees. Or maybe he was just not mindful of others. In any case, right view teaches me that he wasn’t being a jerk, because all that happend was he parked his car. It was my attachment to wanting that parking spot that would have caused the knee-jerk reaction. And right speech teaches me to think before I speak, (this includes hand gestures) and make sure my words are words of encouragement, that they are truthful and beneficial. Calling that guy an asshole would have only caused more suffering and made both of our days worse.

And while we’re on the subject, I have to rant just a bit about something that I find to be VERY unskillful. And that is gossip. I can’t stand it. I hate it. I know, I know, I shouldn’t say “hate”. But hey, I’m no Buddha!!! And I really think the worst kind of gossip is celebrity gossip.

This adds nothing to society. There is no benefit from stalking others, and gossiping about their lives, especiallyin public. Another part of the Eightfold path speaks of Right Livelihood. People that make a living off of the suffering of others are doomed to suffer themselves. This is filth. It is literary soul devouring garbage.

People get so sucked in to the lives of others, and what they did or didn’t wear or who they slept with or who’s having a baby with whom…. they loose focus of their own lives. They’re no longer living in their own present moment, but in the fantasy, vicarious life of others. Do I care about Brangelina and if it breaks up? No. I don’t know these people. While I do hope that they lead good lives, and are able to find a way to ease their suffering, I’m not concerned with their lives. Not at all. I find their lives even less interesting than the lives of my friends and family, who are all pretty ordinary. The lives of celebrities are fake, they’re surrounded by a false reality. I want no part in it.

 And quite honestly, those that gossip about their lives, only further the suffering of the celebrities. And before you say “how can someone that rich suffer?”, keep in mind what suffering is. Suffering is what happens when you don’t want the pain or debt or celebrity status or whatever your reality is. So yeah, even Bill Gates suffers. To me, knowing that little fact can be pretty comforting in a weird way. Cheers.

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