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kottke.org posts about Buddhism

What is the mindful response to a school shooting?

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 20, 2018

In the latest issue of the Mindful Resistance newsletter, Robert Wright, author of the great Why Buddhism is True, explores what a mindful response to a school shooting like the one in Parkland might look like and what benefits might accrue from such a response.

How do you deal mindfully with the emotions aroused by the shooting? For example: feelings like fear and anxiety (which you may feel if you have a school-aged child); or outrage (if you think politicians should offer better policy responses than they’re offering); or despair (if you believe politicians will never change, or you just feel that things are spinning out of control).

A meditation teacher, if asked this question, might say something like: you should experience these feelings mindfully, and this may give you a kind of critical distance from them, so they don’t dominate and distort your thinking.

And a meditation teacher trained in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) might add some facts to facilitate this perspective.

For example: There are more than 50 million public school students in America. So, to judge by the school shooting statistics of the past two years, the chances of a child of yours dying in a school shooting this year are less than one in a million.

And when you read about the “18 school shootings” that have occurred in 2018, remember that this statistic rests on a broad definition of a school shooting: the discharging of a firearm on school grounds. In about half of these “shootings,” no one was shot. Some of the others were either suicides or led to injuries but not deaths. If you define a mass shooting as a shooting that kills at least four people-as this Washington Post tally does-there have been two mass shootings at schools over the past three years (plus one at a college).

Wright’s explanation of what he means by mindful resistance is also worth reading.

When people hear “mindful,” they may think “Buddhism” or “meditation.” Which makes sense: “mindfulness” is the standard English translation of the ancient term sati, which refers to a kind of Buddhist meditation and to the frame of mind this meditation cultivates.

Still, the British scholar who settled on that translation more than a century ago-Thomas William Rhys Davids-was drawing on the simple, non-exotic meaning that the word “mindful” already had in English. And that meaning points to a frame of mind that even non-meditators can cultivate. Namely, a clear, alert, acutely aware mind. Rhys Davids said the Buddhist ideal of “right mindfulness” refers to “an active, watchful mind.”

So what does all this have to do with Donald Trump-and with fighting the dark forces he represents? For starters, an alert, attentive, watchful mind is, obviously, a good thing to go to battle with. But there’s more to it than that. If you delve into the mechanics of mindfulness meditation, you’ll see that the kind of alertness and attention it is meant to foster is a kind that’s unclouded by the sort of feelings that can lead to tactical blunders-such feelings as rage and hatred, and also subtler feelings that can distort our perceptions and color our thoughts.

One reason I started mindfulresistance.net is that I think the resistance to Trumpism is sometimes impaired by such feelings. To take one example: I think we sometimes react to Trump’s provocations with a level of outrage that, even if justified (as it often is), is tactically unwise because it winds up helping him. I’m not saying you have to meditate to avoid these overreactions (though I think meditation helps, and I do it myself). And I’m not saying I always avoid such overreactions myself. I just think it’s good for opponents of Trumpism — meditators and non-meditators alike — to be aware of this pitfall, and aware of how their feelings can lead them into it.

1000 marathons to spiritual enlightenment

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2017

The monks of Mount Hiei in Japan perform a spiritual practice called Kaihōgyō in the form of a 1000-day pilgrimage that’s spread out over seven years. There’s secrecy around the practice so it’s difficult to know the precise details, but the gist is that each year, a monk undertaking the practice spends 100 days (or more!) walking 25 miles (or more!) in the middle of the night (because monks have their regular duties and chores to do during the day), stopping at more than 250 sites to recite prayers. That’s 25 miles each day, mind you.

And then there’s this, thrown in about 2/3rds of the way through, just for good measure:

After 700 days, the Kaihogyo practitioner faces what Mitsunaga calls an exam. He enters a hall and prays nonstop for nine days, without eating, drinking, sleeping or even lying down. It’s a near-death experience, the monk says.

“Put simply, you just have to give up everything and pray to the Immovable Wisdom King,” he says. “By doing this, he may recognize you and allow you to live for nine days.”

The practitioner interrupts his prayers every night to come to a small fountain and get an offering of water for Fudo Myo-o. Toward the end of the nine days, the practitioner is so weak, he must be supported by fellow monks.

Finally, his old self dies, at least figuratively, and he is reborn to help and lead all beings to enlightenment.

You can read more about at Wikipedia, The Guardian, and Nowness.

The glass is already broken

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 24, 2015

“You see this goblet?” asks Achaan Chaa, the Thai meditation master. “For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on the shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.”

From Thoughts Without a Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective by Mark Epstein.

Photographer Justin Guariglia spent eight years documenting

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 27, 2007

Photographer Justin Guariglia spent eight years documenting the secretive warrior monks of the Shaolin Temple.

With the blessing of the main abbot, Shi Yong Xin, Guariglia has earned the full collaboration of the monks to create an astonishing, empathic record of the Shaolin art forms and the individuals who consider themselves the keepers of these traditions. It is the first time the monks have allowed such extensive documentation of these masters and their centuries-old art forms-from Buddhist mudras to classical kung fu-in their original setting, a 1,500-year-old Buddhist temple.

Photos and video here. Watching the videos, especially the one featuring Tong Jian Quan, I was reminded of hip hop dancing (Michael Jackson in particular) in a way that watching kung-fu and other martial arts in Hollywood movies does not.

Also, Shaolin monk Hai Deng was famous for performing a one-finger handstand. The video seems a little suspect but this performance brings the single finger handstand into the realm of possibility.

Bangkok wrap-up

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 22, 2005

Wanted to share a few last things from Bangkok while they’re still (relatively) fresh in my head.

1. Green tuk tuks. I read somewhere that a) the locals don’t much care for the tuk tuks (photo) because they’re noisy & polluting and that they’re only still around because tourists use them, and b) supposedly no new tuk tuks are allowed on the street, but that’s more of a guideline than a fast rule. How about this…start regulating tuk tuks like taxis, put a meter in them, stop the unannounced commission-subsidization detours, and require them to be electric (they’re glorified golf carts after all). The crammed streets of Bangkok need more smaller vehicles like tuk tuks, not less, but without the pollution, noise, and the unreliability.

2. Both the Grand Palace and the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho are worth a look. We happened to go to the Grand Palace on the day they were changing the Emerald Buddha’s clothes (done to celebrate the changing of the seasons), so we didn’t get to see him. But the Reclining Buddha made up for it…I was not prepared for how large he was. Quite impressive.

3. We were lucky to be in Bangkok for the Loy Krathong festival, which is a celebration at the end of the rainy season where you float your worries out onto the water in the form of a floating flower arrangement with candles and incense. But it was largely a bust for us…it rained/torrential downpoured most of the evening, and we didn’t really know where to go in Bangkok to participate/experience the event. I think Loy Krathong might be better experienced on a smaller scale (i.e. not in the big city).

4. On Saturday (which seems like forever-ago from my Wednesday vantage point in another country), we went to check out Chatuchak Weekend Market, which IMO is overrated. It’s a completely overwhelming experience, it’s difficult to find anything (they labelled each section with what could be found there, but they rarely matched reality), and is recommended only for really hardcore shoppers. Check out some of the smaller markets instead; the Suan Lum Night Market near Lumpini Park was a good one that we ran across. For food, check out the Aw Kaw Taw market.

Perhaps a bit more if I remember. (Oh, and I’ve got lots of photos from Hong Kong and Bangkok, but posting them will probably happen when I get home…need a proper monitor for editing and whatnot.)

Hong Kong wrap-up

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 15, 2005

Ok, one last wrap-up post about Hong Kong and then we’re focusing on the matter at hand in Bangkok (short summary: having a great time so far here). So, three things I really liked about/in Hong Kong and then some miscellaneous stuff.

1. Octopus cards. I really can’t say enough about how cool these cards are. Wikipedia provides a quickie definition: “The Octopus card is a rechargeable contactless stored value smart card used for electronic payment in online or offline systems in Hong Kong.” It’s a pay-as-you go stored value card…you put $100 bucks on it and “recharge” the card when it’s empty (or when it’s even more than empty…as long as your balance is positive when you use it, you can go into a HK$35 deficit, which you pay when you recharge the card). You can use it on pratically any public transportation in the city: buses, trains, MTR, trams, ferries, etc. It works with vending machines, at 7-Eleven, McDonald’s, Starbucks, and the supermarket. You don’t need to take it out of your wallet or purse to use it, just hold it near the sensor. Your card is not tied to your identity…there’s no PIN, you can pay cash, they don’t need to know your credit card number, SS#, or anything like that. They even make watches and mobile phones that have Octopus built it, so your phone (or watch) becomes your wallet. Mayor Bloomberg, if you’re listening, NYC needs this.

2. The on-train maps for the MTR. Here’s a (sort of blurry) photo (taken with my cameraphone):

MTR map

The current stop blinks red — in this case, Tsim Sha Tsui (blinking not shown, obviously) — with the subsequent stops lit in red. If the next stop connects to another line, that line blinks as well. A small green arrow indicates which direction you’re traveling and there’s an indictor (not shown) which lights up either “exit this side” or “exit other side” depending which way the doors are going to open. Great design.

3. Muji! We located one in Langham Place (an uber-story mall) in Mong Kok (for reference, the store in Silvercord in TST listed on their site has closed). Muji is kind of hard to describe if you’ve never been to one of their stores before (and if you live in the US, you probably haven’t because they’re aren’t any, aside from a small outpost in the MoMA Store). Adam (see previous link) roughly translates the name as “No Brand, Good Product”, so you can see why I like it so much. They sell a wide variety of products (take a look at their Japanese-only online store for an idea of what they carry); at the Monk Kok store, they had snacks & drinks, some furniture (made out of sturdy cardboard), their signature pens and notebooks (a display of the former was completely surrounded by a moat of teenaged girls, so much so that I didn’t get a chance to test any of the super-thin pens), some clothes (including some great pants that they didn’t have in anything approaching my size), dishes, cosmetics, bath products, and containers of all shapes, sizes, and uses. I wanted one of everything, but settled for a couple of shirts (with absolutely no logos or markings, inside or out, to indictate that they are Muji products).

m1. Big Buddha, worth the trip. It’ll better when the tram from Tung Chung and back is built, although then you’ll miss the boat ride (fun) and the bus ride (harrowing at times).

m2. The Peak Tram. Touristy, but also worth the trip. The weird/ugly anvil-shaped building at the top is currently under construction, so the views will be much better when its finished. Go at night for the best view.

m3. The view from the waterfront in Kowloon of the Hong Kong skyline at night is one of the best in the world.

m4. Speaking of, Hong Kong is a night-time city. All the buildings are lit up, there’s a nightly light show at 8pm (think Laser Floyd without the music), and buildings that appear monolithic in the daytime transform at night, either by disappearing into the darkness while leaving a graceful trace of their outline or acting as huge screens for projected light shows. Reminded me of Vegas in this respect.

m5. We had tea in the lobby of the InterContinental Hotel (go for the view, it’s incredible) and the live band played the theme song from The Lord of the Rings. I tried to get a recording of it with my phone (iPod was back in our hotel room), but it didn’t turn out so well. Very weird; we were cracking up and expecting the theme from Superman or even 3’s Company to follow.

m6. Oh, I’m sure there’s more, so I’ll add it here as I think of stuff.