Tuesday, 15 March 2016
From the BBC Magazine
"...The practice of mindfulness - which draws on Buddhist thinking - has become increasingly popular in recent years. There have been calls for brain-training techniques, using breathing to achieve mental clarity, to be introduced in schools.
In October, the Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group said the practice should be made more widely available and recommended the Department for Education designate three schools to "pioneer mindfulness teaching and disseminate best practice".
Political author and former head of Wellington College Anthony Seldon has called for daily "stillness sessions" in schools, saying a decline in traditional religious assemblies has left students with little space for reflection in the school day.
So can mindfulness meditation really help pupils concentrate amid the distractions of 21st Century living? A group of BBC School Reporters from Connaught School for Girls in Leytonstone, east London, decided to investigate... "
"... At the end of the two week experiment, the results were positive. Those who had taken part in mindfulness meditation successfully completed the concentration task an average of 2.15 times more than before, while the results of the control group improved by just 0.69 times..."
Full report here
Sunday, 21 February 2016
A simple way to break a bad habit - Judson Brewer at
Can we break bad habits by being more curious about them? Judson Brewer, MD, PhD, Director of Research at the Center for Mindfulness and Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School studies the relationship between mindfulness and addiction - from smoking to overeating to all those other things we do even though we know they're bad for us. Learn more about the mechanism of habit development and discover a simple but profound practice that might help you beat your next urge to smoke, snack or check a text while driving.
Sunday, 14 February 2016
At a time when the old feud between science and religion is flaring up again, and common ground between fact and faith seem to be diminishing, one particular branch of Buddhist philosophy may offer some basis for dialog. That branch of philosophy is ontology - or how things exist. Buddhist ontology clearly defines the similarities and differences between the spiritual and scientific worldviews.
Impermanence and Process Philosophy
Buddhism is a process philosophy; it regards change and flux as more fundamental than ‘things’, or ‘things-in-themselves’.
According to Buddhism, every functioning object is impermanent and constantly changing. In order to produce a change, all things must themselves undergo change. This has of course been familiar to science from Newton’s times, with every action producing an equal and opposite reaction.
Subsequent investigations have revealed that impermanence is pervasive, right down to the interactions of subatomic particles, which can only interact by giving and taking something of themselves, usually photons and gluons.
And as well as going all the way down, impermanence goes all the way up, so things that previous generations regarded as permanent fixtures are now known to be dynamic. Continents move, collide and break up. Stars, like our sun, are formed out of debris of previous stars. They burn themselves out then either explode or collapse
So with regard to impermanence, Buddhism and science are in increasing agreement
The Three Modes of Existential Dependence
‘One single rose arises from its causes, exists in dependence upon its parts, and exists as a mere imputation by conceptual thought.There are not three different roses but one rose existing in three different ways.’
- Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in Joyful Path of Good Fortune p349
This is where the difference between the Scientific Materialist (Physicalist) and Buddhist interpretations of reality become apparent.
Buddhists claim that three modes of ‘existential dependence’ are necessary to explain the world - dynamics, structure and mind.
Physicalists say that only two modes - dynamics and structure - are needed, with the mind being reducible to the first two.
In this context, near synonyms for ‘dynamics’ are ‘causality’, ‘function’ and ‘process’.
Near synonyms for ‘structure’ are ‘mereology’, ‘composition’ and ‘arrangement’
Physicalism is a reductionist interpretation of science, which claims to explain all mental factors in physical terms. (There are also more participatory interpretations of science in which the observer is part of the system - e g Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics - but these, whether they acknowledge it or not, are closer to Buddhism than to reductionist physicalism.)
Physicalism and the Church-Turing Thesis
Fortunately, for the sake of discussion, there is a clear-cut definition of physicalism based on the Church-Turing thesis. To be a purely physical system, a phenomenon must be capable of being completely simulated by algorithms acting on datastructures (without any unexplained remainder).
Buddhists would claim that there is always going to be an unexplained remainder, because algorithms and datastructures are not self-interpreting. Instead, any assignment of ‘meaning’ has to come from outside the system.
So how does this apply to Roses?
The complete quote from Geshe Kelsang is
‘There are three levels of dependent relationship: gross, subtle, and very subtle. Every functioning thing that we perceive directly is gross dependent-related. For example, a rose arising from its causes is gross dependent-related. However, the rose existing in dependence upon its parts is subtle dependent-related, and the rose existing as a mere imputation by thought is very subtle dependent-related. One single rose arises from its causes, exists in dependence upon its parts, and exists as a mere imputation by conceptual thought’
We can easily see how a rose can arise from its causes - rose bush, water, nutrients, sunlight etc without paying too much attention to the rose itself.
The dependence on parts is a bit more subtle. We need to look more closely at the rose to appreciate the complete anatomy of what it is in terms of its parts, which may not be grossly obvious. We may need a microscope to see the pollen and cells of the petals. And the cells have components and subcomponents.
Dependence on mental designation
The third mode of dependent existence, dependence on the mind of the observer, is even more subtle, and is best demonstrated by examining the arbitrary way that a rose comes into and goes out of existence.
|Not quite a rose|
Is a green shoot a rose?
Is a green bud a rose?
Is a bud showing some petal color a rose?
Has it become a rose when you can see all the petals?
Has it ceased to be a rose when the first petal has fallen?
…or a majority of petals, or all the petals?
|No longer a rose|
Or do you have to wait till it becomes a rosehip until it ceases to be a rose?
There is no rule which tells us at exactly what stage it becomes a rose and at what stage it ceases to be one.
The decision is a subjective one, made by how closely the botanical specimen in our hand matches a ‘generic image’ or picture of a basic rose in our mind. And the judgement will differ from person to person.
|A generic image of a rose in our mind|
There is no fixed specification for a rose ‘out there’ that tells us when an opening bud becomes a flower, or when a fading flower becomes a hip, any more than there is for when a high-sided tray becomes a box, or at what stage of disassembly Milinda’s chariot becomes a heap of firewood.
Neither is there any permanently existing 'specification' , 'divine blueprint' or 'ideal form' of the various rose species that differentiates them one from another, or from other members of the rose family.
Looking back along the evolutionary timeline, the judgement as to when and at what point the ancestral rosoid became a rose, is quite arbitrary.
Looking back along the evolutionary timeline, the judgement as to when and at what point the ancestral rosoid became a rose, is quite arbitrary.
|The Rose Family (Rosaceae)|
The involvement of the observer’s mind in creating reality is very subtle for everyday objects, but becomes more obvious at the quantum scale of reality.
Read more at Buddhist Philosophy
Friday, 29 January 2016
|Censorship was so much easier before books became electronic|
It's a common tactic of many religions, and sects within religions, to attempt to censor all criticism of themselves, and by extension to stifle all competing world views. The motivation for this censorship is the religions' inability to defend their doctrines against both rational criticism, and criticism from equally irrational but doctrinally different religions and sects ('infidels' and 'heretics').
Fortunately, most forms of Buddhism have never needed to eliminate dissenting views by persecution, as the Buddha himself set the example of encouraging free enquiry.
Buddhism has always encouraged a free market place of ideas and vigorous philosophical debate, since one of the best ways to understand the strengths of a philosophy is to attempt to refute it.
Kadampa Thoughtcriminals and Unpersons
However, recently, in a regression from both the enlightened views of the Buddha and the enlightenment values of western philosophy, Reddit has placed a complete ban on any reference to the Buddhist New Kadampa Tradition (NKT).
The enlightenment ideal of a free marketplace of ideas defended the freedom to choose, or the freedom to express one's opinions even if those opinions might be considered unorthodox or unpopular, and it stressed the importance of ensuring the availability of those viewpoints to all who wish to read them.
Censorship is an attempt to remove material from the public domain, thereby restricting the access of others. As such, censors are an insidious threat to freedom of speech and choice.
|If you can't burn it, ban it|
Why target the NKT?
The New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) is a highly successful branch of Mahayana Buddhism that has developed a modern presentation of the Madhyamaka teachings, designed to be accessible to ordinary people living in the 21st century.
The NKT's success and its modernising approach may have attracted the jealousy and disapproval of some of the more hidebound reactionaries within the Buddhist establishment, and because they are not able to refute Kadampa Teachings, they may have decided to censor them with a clumsy attempt to impose internet gagging wherever they have the influence to do so.
The 'justification' for their censorship is based on completely unfounded rumors that the NKT is funded by the Chinese government. In fact, the New Kadampa Tradition is an international nonprofit organization registered in England as a charitable company (Registered charity No.1015054, registered company No. 2758093), so any such Chinese financial support would be very apparent in the accounts, which under English law must be publicly accessible. Needless to say, the Redditors have been unable to uncover any evidence of Chinese sponsorship.
Poisoning the well
But even if the Chinese government were financing the NKT, this would still be an unjustifiable reason for censorship. If there's something wrong with the NKT's teachings, why can't the Redditors bring them into the open and refute them?
This logical fallacy of banning freedom of expression because the unwelcome information originates from an unpopular source is known as 'poisoning the well'.
Following this line of reasoning, one might equally ban all space exploration, satnavs and communications satellites, because the rocket technology on which they depend was financed and developed by the Nazis .
'Poisoning the well' is a generalised version of the ad hominem debating scam of avoiding discussing issues by launching diversionary smear attacks against the opponents.
Kadampa Buddhism - Forbidden knowledge?
Seeking to ban knowledge has always been risky, because unless the censors can impose a complete Orwellian information blackout, including concealing the very fact that censorship has occurred (as with the notorious superinjunctions which forbid any publication that an injunction has been applied), they risk increasing the public's interest in the ideas they are attempting to stifle. This, of course, goes back to the myth of forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.
Most people have never liked to have information deliberately withheld from them, especially by self-appointed busybodies and thought-police who think they know what's best for everyone else.
In the eighteenth century, the Pope inadvertantly increased the sales of many heretical books in Europe (particularly those of the Enlightenment philosophers and scientists) by placing them on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum.
In the nineteenth century, a big sales pitch for books and theatrical productions in America was that they had been 'banned in Boston' .
In the 21st century, the internet has made the censors' job even more likely to be counterproductive. The computer scientist John Gilmore, said "The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.". But it can go much further and turn into the censor's worst nightmare by making the censored information go viral. This has become known as 'The Streisand Effect', after one of the first highly publicized attempts to gag the internet.
Why is Reddit so keen to censor rather than debate Kadampa Buddhism?
If the Reddit hierarchy don't like Kadampa Buddhism, why don't they refute it, rather than risk exciting people's curiosity by attempts at censorship?
Why don't they bring Kadampa teachings out into the open, discuss them and disprove them? Is it that, like the compilers of the Index Librorum, the Redditors lack the intellectual capabilities and logical reasoning powers to refute their opposing views, or is it that the NKT's Madhyamaka philosophy is logically irrefutable?
So what would it take for the Redditors to refute Kadampa Buddhism? They need to prove that the underlying Madhyamaka philosophy is false, which requires them to refute at least one of the following tenets:
 The Madhyamaka is a process philosophy (a, b), in contrast to most classical Western philosophies which are substantialist. Madhyamaka philosophy regards processes, rather than things and substances, as being the fundamental basis of reality. It states that all functioning phenomena (agents capable of producing other phenomena) are impermanent, and ultimately have the nature of processes rather than things. The Madhyamaka accepts that some permanent phenomena exist, but these are non-functional (a).
 Since all objects and substances are susceptible to change, it follows that they have no stable, permanent internal identity that makes them what they are (a, b, c). They are said to be 'empty of inherent existence', and derive their identity purely from interactions with other phenomena (a).
 Consequently, our normal thought processes of thinking that things exist 'from their own side' are at best only working approximations to reality ('conventional truths'), and at worst delusions (a, b)
 Hence the Madhyamaka's process-view of physical reality leads to a rejection of materialism (a, b ) in the sense that material things are not ontologically fundamental, but are all reducible to temporary stages of physical processes. All particles are processes ( a, b, c) .
 Furthermore, although having no problems with the 'mechanistic' processes of physics, chemistry, biology and other sciences, Madhyamaka regards the laws of physics as being an incomplete description of reality (a, b, c) and incapable of offering any explanation for some mental processes, such as 'mental designation' ('intentionality' or 'aboutness') and qualitative experience (a, b). Thus as well as rejecting materialism, Madhyamaka philosophy also rejects physicalism (a).
 Minds are non-physical processes which interact with the neurological processes in the brain, and are correlated with them, but not identical with them (a, b). Minds are drawn to objects of attachment, including repeated associations with the bodies of different sentient beings, human and animal (a, b, c, d), and this cycle of biological rebirth into suffering is known as samsara.
By gaining an understanding the impermanent and delusory appearance of objects of attachment we loosen the grip of samsara, and by realising the true nature of phenomena our minds can ultimately escape from being endlessly captured and recycled by successive biological organisms - see Buddhist Philosophy
Since these tenets are difficult and perhaps impossible to refute, the only option open to the Redditors is to censor them.
Monday, 11 January 2016
All living things need to protect and maintain a minimum functioning structure to survive. An animal deprived of functioning limbs, or a plant deprived of leaves, will soon die.
In addition, all organisms need to regulate a complex set of interacting metabolic chemical reactions.
From the simplest unicellular organisms to the most complex plants and animals, internal processes operate to keep conditions within tight limits to allow these reactions to proceed. Homeostatic processes act at the level of the cell, the tissue, and the organ, as well as for the organism as a whole.
Maintenance of homeostasis requires a continuing input of energy in the form of food for animals, and sunlight for plants. If the energy needed to maintain homeostasis exceeds the energy input, the organism will die once its reserves are exhausted. In terms of energy expenditure, you’ve got to keep running just to stay still.
In addition to maintaining structural integrity and metabolic stability, a juvenile organism will have a secondary priority to grow, and an adult organism a secondary priority to reproduce. But without homeostasis, these secondary aims cannot be achieved.
Conscious and unconscious homeostasis.
Non-sentient organisms, such as plants and bacteria, maintain homeostasis by purely mechanistic processes, using automatic feedback in the same way that a centrifugal governor mechanism maintains a steady speed for a steam engine. Even in sentient animals, many homeostatic processes are unconscious, and we have no awareness of their operations.
|Automatic feedback mechanism|
But the game completely changes when sentience comes into the picture. Two non-mechanistic factors come into play - qualia and intentionality - which allow far more adaptive homeostatic control strategies than purely automatic feedback loops.
Qualia (singular quale) are qualitative experiences including experiences of suffering such as thirst, hunger, fear, pain and so on.
Intentionality is the property of being ‘about’ something, of having 'an intentional object'.
So the quale of thirst forces the mind to become obsessively intentional about water, the quale of hunger forces the mind to become similarly intentional about food, and the qualia of pain and fear force the mind to become intentional about avoiding the causes of these unpleasant sensations (objects of aversion).
Did sentience evolve, or was it co-opted?
Now the interesting thing is that neither qualia nor intentionality are physical phenomena (as was first pointed out by the Victorian physicist John Tyndall 140 years ago). Neither are they in any sense mechanistic phenomena.
Consequently, there is no known process by which sentience could have arisen by Darwinian evolution. Evolution can account for the physical structure of the bodies of sentient beings and their automatic homeostatic control mechanisms, but it cannot bridge the explanatory gap between the physical and the mental.
As Thomas Nagel argues, the materialist neo-Darwinian conception of nature is incomplete, because it cannot adequately explain the appearance of consciousness.
So if sentient minds haven’t evolved, have they nevertheless been co-opted by evolutionary processes to improve the homeostatic behavior of animals? Suffering, unpleasant though it may be for the individual, has survival and evolutionary advantages for the species.
To quote Richard Dawkins:
"The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored."
Mental states such as suffering, unsatisfactoriness and pleasure are qualitative subjective experiences, which carry strong immediate meanings, and do not exist in automata - mechanistic systems such as relay networks or computers.
It is for this reason that complex animals have evolved neural structures which attract and capture minds. Fundamentally, it is the suffering and grasping of their minds - the need to avoid pain and seek pleasure - that provides the driving force for survival and reproduction of complex animals. The physical body enters into a symbiotic relationship with a non-physical mind.
In Buddhist philosophy, the mind of a sentient being is not a product of biological processes, but something primordial which has existed since beginningless time, and which will be drawn into another body once the present one has died. But reflecting on Richard Dawkins' description of the horrors of Samsara, it's surprising that sentient minds allow themselves to be co-opted by biological systems again and again. Maybe they've got no choice, maybe they're deluded, or maybe they just don't know how to get out.
The brain is a device which has evolved to delude the mind.
It could also be argued that in addition to biochemical and physiological mechanisms for maintaining homeostasis, evolution has also given sentient beings a psychological homeostatic mechanism by constructing the illusion of a stable self, which can and must be maintained.
This false sense of a stable self is, of course, a delusion, though from the evolutionary point of view, a very useful one.
Survival advantages of sentience
In evolutionary terms, any adaptation or feature must have some selective benefit for the organism that possesses it. Obviously, a physical body equipped with sentience will have an improved chance of surviving to propagate its genes over any mindless competitor which is not deterred by pain or motivated by pleasure.
But what does the mind gain from this symbiotic association? Usually little or nothing.
When the life of the biological partner comes to an end, the mind has to endure the sufferings of death and then leave its home, being unable to take anything with it. It must then enter the unstable hallucinatory state of the bardo, and perhaps soon after find a new body.
Or even worse, if it doesn't find a new body quickly, it may stay in a nightmarish state of karmically induced hallucinations - a perpetual bad trip that lasts indefinitely: 'for in that sleep of death what dreams may come...'.
Parasitic body, parasitized mind?
In Buddhist terminology these minds are wanderers or migrators in samsara (the realms of suffering and delusions). The mind is non-evolved and non-evolving, at least not by the normal processes of natural selection. The body uses the mind for its own purposes, not vice versa as we may like to imagine.
So, perhaps the relationship between mind and body is more one of parasitism than symbiosis. The biological body gets a better chance to propagate itself. But the mind has to endure dukkha - the ever-changing experiences of craving, suffering and attachment, that the body imposes upon it in order to force it to do what is necessary for survival, competition and reproduction.
Homeostasis is a mug's game
Since maintaining homeostasis is like running to keep still, sooner or later the body's systems will wear out, with the inevitable results that the Buddha observed on his ride outside the palace...
|The Four Sights|
and Can you debiologize yourself?
Thursday, 7 January 2016
In a censorship purge that could have been inspired by George Orwell's 1984, the thought-police at Reddit, the self-styled 'front page of the internet', have banned all mention of the New Kadampa Tradition.
As they explain: 'Any content that is directly related to and in support of the NKT will be considered to be political propaganda for Eastasia and swiftly removed.
There will be no ungoodthinkfulness towards Big Brother or favorable reference to unBuddhas.
An exception to this might be in the case of a prole requiring re-education. Explanatory expositions of what is going on are tolerable provided they toe the party line. Support of the NKT will be viewed as a post with a political agenda, intercepted and sent down the memory hole.' (Translated from the original doublespeak at the Ministry of Truth)
The following are also destined for Reddit's memory hole:
|Unperson Number 1|
In addition, all you impressionable proles who are incapable of thinking for yourselves are forbidden from accessing the following Eastasian propaganda from your telescreens:
|Tell that to Reddit|
Friday, 27 November 2015
Sow a thought, reap an actionWhy are the minds of samsaric beings repeatedly drawn into the bodies of animals and humans? If the mind is capable of existing independently of the body, then why doesn't it do so? What drives it to biological rebirth?
Sow an action, reap a habit
Sow a habit, reap a character
Sow a character, reap a destiny
Sow an action, reap a habit
Sow a habit, reap a character
Sow a character, reap a destiny
Why can't we debiologize ourselves once and for all?
If there is a path to enlightenment which leads out of this continual cycle of birth, aging, sickness and death, why doesn't everybody take it? If we all have Buddha nature, why do we always end up in such a mess? Why do we seem to take a perverse delight in spiritual self-harm?
The reason for this endless cycle of suffering is that we always have 'something on our mind'; and that something is karma. The true nature of our mind is clarity, but that clarity is obscured, distorted and weighed down by the imprints of millions of nasty, brutish and usually violently short lifetimes.
Our minds are deluded into thinking that happiness can be found in samsara, and though it has never worked in the past, this time we'll finally get it right. So after death we are drawn into another rebirth in the biological realms.
Fortunately, we can accomplish a karmic detox of all this accumulated delusional crap, and bring about long-term mental peace and clarity, leading to release from samsaric rebirth for ourselves and others.
More at Buddhist Philosophy
Friday, 20 November 2015
Recent research has shown that Buddhist meditation can not only affect long-term behavior, but can actually alter the structure of the brain (1, 2, 3, 4).
So how does something as non-physical as the attention developed during meditation affect physical structures of the brain? According to the mechanistic materialist worldview, this sort of 'downward-causation' (mind over matter) shouldn't happen. To a materialist, mental activities result from physical processes, not vice versa.
One possible mechanism for downward causation has been suggested by physicist Henry Stapp, who proposed that the Quantum Zeno Effect allows the observer to hold patterns of energy states in a stable condition where they would normally, if left unobserved, decay randomly .
The Quantum Zeno effect (also known as the Turing paradox) is a situation in which an unstable quantum system, if observed continuously, will never decay. One can "freeze" the evolution of the system by measuring it frequently enough in its known initial state.
|A watched quantum state never changes|
The prolonged processes of attention in Buddhist meditation are good candidates for the kind of mental activities that could affect the physical state of microscopic brain structures.
Buddhism, Quantum Physics and Mind
Sunday, 15 November 2015
To perform this meditation it helps to be in a suitable environment and maintain a correct posture.
Find somewhere crowded, noisy, hot, stressful and generally frustrating. A packed commuter train or bus is ideal.
Check whether you're sitting comfortably. If so, you're doing it wrong. Get up off your ass, hang on the strap and let someone who needs it have your seat.
The correct frame of mind
Concentrate on your own frustration, stress, boredom, discomfort and low-level hostility to the passengers around you who are swaying and bumping into you and crowding you in. Visualize these negative feelings as a cloud of acrid black smoke swirling around your heart.
Next, imagine all your fellow passengers are experiencing the same hassles.
On an in-breath, breathe in all their irritations as black smoke which mixes with and annihilates your own swirling black smoke in a burst of white light.
The light purifies and calms your body and mind. Imagine the irritation of yourself and the irritation of others as antimatter meeting matter in a burst of mutually assured destruction, producing vast amounts of pure positive energy.
As you breathe out, imagine this pure white energy radiating out into the hearts of all those around you, remaining in the form of a globe of white light, an abiding centre of calmness and clarity in their hearts.
Now repeat the procedure, but this time the energy release is going to be HUGE, like a karmic supernova.
Imagine all the problems and sufferings of your fellow passengers: sickness, pain, sick relatives, financial worries, work problems, loneliness, insecurity, fear, relationship breakdowns, legal hassles, mental illness, addictions and so on. Then reflect that you yourself have the negative karma to experience all this, and much worse, for life after life. This negative karma swirls around your heart like a thick cloud of hot, acrid, black smoke.
On the in-breath, breathe in all these present and future sufferings of your fellow passengers in the form of black smoke, which mixes with, and annihilates, the negative karma at your heart in an ENORMOUS release of energy in the form pure white light. This reaction utterly destroys the sufferings of others and your own bad karma like matter meeting antimatter.
On the out breath, imagine that this colossal burst of purifying energy radiates in all directions through everyone around you, cleansing all their negative karma, and their potential for future sufferings, and sweeping it all away, utterly destroying it never to be seen again.
Finally, dedicate any merit you may have created from this meditation to the enlightenment of all sentient beings.
Thursday, 12 November 2015
But how can we prove that there exists at least one true statement?
Well, consider the negation of ‘There is at least one true statement.’
That negation is ‘All statements are false.’
But if all statements are false, then ‘All statements are false’, being a statement, must also be false. So at least one statement must be true.
So we have proved that ‘There is at least one true statement’ by reference to another statement. Which means that the foundational statement of philosophy is not inherently existent, but is dependent for its veracity upon its relationship to another statement.
But the statement which it depends upon has no inherent existence either, because it’s false.