How to go from being an animal to a Buddha?

Easy, step #1 “Men who are flesh-eating, angry and avaricious are reborn after death as tigers, cats, jackals, bears, vultures, wolves and son on.” So be an angry, greedy, hamburger eater and poof! You’re now a bear.

ref Lopzen, Buddhist Scriptures

#2 Being a human is supposed to be better because you can study the dharma, whereas an bear cannot enunciate the mantras or sutras. So what to do? Get yourself captured, and hope you’re purchased by a Chinese Buddhist with the the aim of freeing you before you are tortured for the rest of your life as your gall bladder is milked for make quack nostrums.

This is a snippet of the much longer ceremony for the release of animals, which is read to the animals:

“We will now preach for you the details concerning the arising and cessation of the twelvefold dependent origination, so that you may know the doctrine of the arising and cessation of suffering…(heavy metaphysics elided)”

I presume bears will understand this, as bears are smarter than turtles and fish and they got the same lesson.

ref. Lopez, Buddhist Scriptures

#3 Next up is “Does a bear have Buddha nature (can become enlightened)?”
According to the Nirvana sutra yes– all sentient beings can. According to the Zen monks who were reacting to and against fans of the Nirvana sutra, the answer is… mu? Ah, cows yes, but not dogs (the cultural equivalent of cockroaches), maybe bears.

ref. Wikipedia

#4 This is from the Brahma Net Sutra. So now that you are a bear, all you need to do is find a monk and remind them of their vows, vow #45:

“Should he come across cows, pigs, horses, sheep and other kinds of animals, he should concentrate and say aloud, “You are now animals; you should develop the Bodhi Mind.”"

Should the monk demur or say he’d rather not, remind him it’s a 2ndary offense to not teach to all sentient beings. And if that doesn’t work, eat him, you’re a bear after all.


Anyhow, for what it is worth, my cat meditates. I set down the meditation cushion and he’s there. Instant enlightenment. I teach him “low bar” enlightenment, if I set the bar too high, he’d quit before he could succeed.

On the question of right livihood, Buddhism and sex workers.

Two things, one modern, one buddhist related.

Modern sex work is mostly (but not all!) modern slavery. For example, the sex workers in Japan are often foreigners who were tricked into coming, and once in Japan, they can’t quit and don’t get paid (or at least don’t get paid what the corresponding free sex worker would get, say in the US). Slavery is bad, working as a slaver-pimp is bad, patronizing slave sex workers is bad. No one disagrees about this until they hear how much resources it takes to stomp out slavery, or that the likely solution involves decriminalizing sex work. After that though, everyone is strongly in favor of status quo and blowing hot air.

In the place where there is the legal framework for legal sex work, the situation is better, such as the porn business in LA or the strip club up the road. In modern times, with the appearance of VD tests and barrier contraceptives, we have the technology for safe prostitution, but 100 years ago, prostitution was a public health disaster.

Okay, now for a Buddhist angle. I can’t for a moment believe that the Buddha meant that right livelihood meant doing only prestigious & respected, well paid work, nor do I think he meant to create a world where we delegate the creation of goods and services that we will continue to consume as lay buddhists to a non-Buddhist outclass. I can entirely believe that society obsessed with rank, status and face would create such a system. There is more than one Buddha. There is the Buddha who created the sangha for women, a revolutionary idea, and there is the Buddha who didn’t want to and had to be convinced. We have to choose which Buddha is ours.

The Boddhisatva path means thinking hard about what it would take to help all people get out samsara. I think the Japanese (Shin and Nichiren) were on the right path when the noted that Buddhist had to be adapted to the amount of complexity that followers would put up with (hence easy chanting instead of lessons in abstruse metaphysics). Along that line, how can a Boddhisatva help anyone if the first thing they ask is that you quit your job? Especially when you know that if they quit their job, at best, it will be taken by a non-Buddhist?!

I’ve already been accused of being twisted and twisiting Buddhism, which is fine, but I’ll repeat it here: if the job isn’t going to go away, I’d rather have a Buddhist do that job, as a Buddhist, I’d rather do that job so that other people don’t have to. Why ask them to rack up the bad-karma points so that we can enjoy their services and products without racking up our own bad-karma points?

The Buddhist bar tender would dissuade customers from buying too much, the Buddhist butcher would make sure the animals were killed instead of being tortured to death, the Buddhist soldier would not sign up for an unjust war and would not participate in atrocities. A Buddhist porn director would depict sex worth copying, a Buddhist pimp would only hire free labor and run a shop that prevented unwanted children and disease.

On the otherhand, I think there are products and services that have no legitimate use what so ever, hiring contract killers or working as one. Ditto for the sale of military weaponry to people who in practice use them mostly for suicide, illegal murder, legal (in the US) vigilantism, and the killing of animals (unethical to me, but virtuous to most people in the US) The trade in most euphorics- like methamphetamine, opiates, cocaine, etc is a trade in a product that has no safe way to use it. Ditto for the trade in humans, despite vinaya texts (rules for monks) supporting slavery (i.e. banning slaves from ordaining) and monasteries at one point being only too happy to take slaves as donations and keep them as slaves. On this issue, it is a modern moral obligation to twist the vinaya until it is moral again.

On Reinventing Buddhism and Orthodoxy

#1 I am a new Buddhist. No one in my family is a Buddhist and there is no predominate form of Buddhism in this *hemisphere*. Forget about US Buddhism, there is no predominate form of Mexican or Canadian or Paraguay Buddhism. There is no orthodoxy.

#2 There are 84,000 doors to enlightenment and 84,000 schools of Buddhism, where pray tell is orthodoxy?
There is a form of Buddhism that swallowed all of Hinduism. (Vajrayana) But it didn’t become Hinduism. I like to imagine sometimes that Buddhism is Hinduism repackaged for export.
There is a form of Buddhism that reinvents pretty much all the themes of Christianity (Shin)
There is a form of Buddhism that reinvents snips and snaps of western philosophy and philosopher cults, sort of how Pythagoras triggered geometry/philosophy/magic cults. (That would be the scholastic Buddhism of India, just before it left.)
There is a religion that swallowed Buddhism (Hinduism).
There is monism, the rejection of monism and the rejection of both. We could reject all three of those and these reject this sentence, too ad naseum. All that proves is that there are logical conundrums like “Everyone from Crete is a liar & I’m from Crete.”

With so many choices, who are we to believe, think well of or rely on?

#3 Syncretism is going to happen, lets just be conscious of it.
I think it is a Buddhist theme that we draw tidy boundaries around things that aren’t tidy things. What is Zen Buddhism, say? Does it entail monism, meditation, or burdock root recipes? What is Shambhala? Does it entail living in Colorado and drinking? We have no choice but to assemble a religion out of the goo that is presented by all the means available.

#4 Something things are *not* negotiable.
The Japanese Emperor God of Shingon Buddhism, is out. It’s settled. I don’t care if you got a clever argument about non-duality, attachment to my pre-Buddhist ideas, or an argument from authority (even if it a well chosen teacher/guru that I’m supposed ot select). The Japanese God Emperor is nonsense. I’ll hear none of it. I’d list the rest of things I want no part of: literal belief in magic, gods, etc. I think calling my conscious by a name (the part of my brain that says, you should have done that or good job!), and calling him King Yama is fine as a rhetorical device.

I am not a re-enactor of ancient societies. I must rumage through the ancient vinaya, Prātimokṣa, the ritual and mudras and prostrations and decide what I want to keep and why. Prostrations are good exercise. Rituals add structure to the day. But if I can invent better ones, I will.

#5 No one knows anymore what the Buddha taught.
The Pali cannon is a mishmash of fiction and the winners rewriting history. The Mahayana canon is a bunch of commentaries int the form of Sutras because apparent that is what it took in China & India to be taken seriously. We shouldn’t judge an alien scholarship solely on how we do it. Someday, a 1000 years form now, physics student will look back and laugh at how sloppy contemporary academics were. Back to the topic: The tantric witch doctors, the mahayana sutra writers, the Tibetan terma writers, and that guy writing pop-Buddhist books, they all have something interesting. The all are going to take some heavy handed editing before I can do anything with them.

I would almost go so far as to say, *everyone* has something worthwhile to say, but some sections of the HUMAN canon (have you read it yet? get back to me when you’re done), are too far afield from the field that I prefer– Buddhism. There is less I have to cut and add here, than I would have to cut and add were I to choose, say the Ohio Revised Code as my foundation for religion or ethics (like the atheist seem to want) or Proust and Isaac Asimov as the postmodernist-obscurantists seem to want.

So while I twist the teaching of a man whose teaching we’ve lost track of, I’m doing so fully aware of it and honestly. I know the risks of complacency (only picking the parts of a religion that support how I happen to be right now) and antinomialism (picking only the dictates and consequences that allow me to do what I wanted to do anyhow). Complacency and antinomialism are real. And that is more honest than any orthodoxy can be.

Apologia for Buddhism

So I’m reading Genn Wallis’s attack on Buddhism. I can’t tell if he wants to shake it up and encourage someone to reform it, or if he wants to burn it like fire like Richard Dawkins and Episcopalianism. I don’t actually understand anything they say, so I’m just reacting to what occurred to me as I read.

#0 Science does it better
This is Dawkin’s thesis, too. Science works fine up to the point where the questions are about surprising things like that I’m conscious and capable of thinking. I see that it’s the end of a chain of events starting with inorganic chemicals ending in clever primates. I don’t see why I can notice it. It’s all tremendously surprising. Science doesn’t have much to say about it, western philosophy has nothing intelligible to say about it, mid eastern religion has nothing plausible to say about it.

Science doesn’t have anything especially effective to say about mood disorders, i.e. unhappiness & depression. Antidepression chemotherapy is about as effective for ordinary unhappiness as leeches. I don’t doubt that antidepressants do work miracles in cases of people who end up in hospitals. The talking cure likewise is primative and what are they talking about? Talk psychology is in the same bed as folk philosophy. Cogitative therapy shows some promise, but it isn’t a club, it isn’t a practice.

#1 Elitism in Buddhism
Unintelligible academic writing is elitist. I’ve read the kindle sample for Glenn Wallis’s earlier book, he can write clearly when he wants to. I’m not sure who the audience is. Are we dissuading smart people from engaging in Buddhism? Is this a reformed sort of Buddhism specifically for really smart people? I like that x-buddhism (to use Wallis’s term for the wide variety of Buddhisms) has a dumbed down version as well as a sophisticated version. For me, the things that religion does can’t be done on my behalf, I can’t leave religious activities to someone who is smart enough to avoid the traps of religion. And I get that they’re there. 1/4 of Buddhism thought is antinomialism* and self serving justification for the individual and organizational status quo. If it wasn’t, the Buddhism world would be a collection of enlightened beings (or more conservatively speaking, they got their act together).

*antinomialism — all those lines of thought that lead to the conclusion that ethics don’t matter

#2 Western Philosophers do it better
Yes, maybe, but they’re unintelligible and don’t entail a practice, nor “club” Somewhere on the site, he suggests Samuel Becket would be a better author to go to, than the historical cannon or the modern commentaries & pop-Buddhism, so on. There isn’t a Samuel Becket meetup group. There aren’t Samuel Becket practices.

I read that some western philosophers sparked cults, but they died out. No business model I guess.

#3 Ancient = Not as good as the new stuff
This is a variation on #2. This happens in economics. There were a bunch of economists before Smith & other & finally Marshall work out the contemporary model. Occasionally people go back to rehabilitate the whimsically strange models of economics who got it wrong. So why should anyone study or use anything but the latest? After all, philosophy can be done with symbolic logic now, a technologically superior tool for philosophy. You can even get the machines do prove theorems.

I would respond to this with the Proust effect. Someone who like Proust notice that Proust had said everything first. Over and over, they would see something and thing, “Wow, Proust said that!” In any large enough body of text, you have stories that match up with everything. I got the same impression with Bloom County. Everything I saw made me think of one or another Bloom County comic. Not all collections of text work equally well. Modern popular Buddhist authors work fine for me as a large body of text that appears to be relevant to everything. I don’t mind that it is the Proust effect. (So why not use Bloom County or Proust as the basis for meaning, morality and so on? No meetup group, no practices, not much to say about the topics of religion that science hasn’t taken over. BUT, if the Buddhist Cannon didn’t exist, we’d be using Proust and Glenn Wallis would be griping about what a lousy choice Proust was for the basis of religion thought)

#4 Ancient & modern Buddhism has a business model
My degree was in economics. Everything has to have a business model. If western philosophy or academic literature is to emerge as a *practice* that solves the same problems that people hope religion will solve, it too needs a business model. An idea without a business model is inert. Ancient Buddhism got the cost of religious practice down far enough so that they could trade a little teaching to the lay community for enough food to do religion full time. That business model isn’t going to work in the US, so we have a bunch of business models: Buddhism-as-therapy, Buddhism-as-anti-anxiety-stress, Buddhism-as-vacation (retreats), Buddhism-as-night-stand-reading (books).

#5 It’s frickin’ magic/There is no frickin’ magic/You say it isn’t magic, but you are practicing magic
Wallis’s books & website are not going to be read by simple devotional followers of Pure Land sects. The audience is secular Buddhists & hybrid Buddhist that borrow from all traditions including the ones that are too much magic (or not enough magic) for their tastes.

I like to define magic as anything that can’t be explained. The questions of religion haven’t been answered by science, else they’d be move to the science category.

Science, prestige literature & modern western philosophers don’t deal (i.e. provide prescriptions) with these:

- birth (… science is rather good at preventing it in the first place, doesn’t explain why we are conscious, nor what the implications are)
- marriage (except as a contract covering the division of the loot upon break up)
- death (except as a means of dividing the loot after death)
- community (sociology is doing a good non-normative job of observing, but doesn’t have much to say what the norms should be.)
- unhappiness (some promising work in cognitive therapy)
- ethics (Kant is unintelligible obscurantism. If there were a rule to prohibit unintelligible obscurantism, it would be a good thing applied universally & with deadly force)

So back to Buddhism.

We are born. We are immediately aware that we exist. We feel pain– often. We get married & have more kids. The cycle continues. We seek peace, but can’t find it. We learn (wisdom), and thus being smart, we see the need for some sort of ethics to bring enough peace to our life to make it possible to practice, we see that others exist and as far as we can tell appear to be conscious too. That other exist has certain implications– you can work hard to ignore their pain, or you can work do to something about it too. It sucks that we know that we’ll have to do some combination of the two, which gets us back to the “we feel pain” part. And the cycle continues, around and around. And if you’re lucky, you find peace, and if we’re all lucky, we find peace.

I took a philosophy class. I found it lacking. I keep coming back to Buddhism. If this vehicle has two broken axles, and a flat tire, it’s the best available. It beats sitting and complaining.

Anyhow, bed time. The thought train has been lost & derailed.

Academic Buddhists

I like reading Donald Lopez– he’s lucid, clear, well researched. I am bemused at what he’s trying to prove. I keep getting the feeling that he feels that someone has serious misunderstood something about Buddhism, which is and was something and has been documented as such and voila, here his the evidence to set the world straight.

Was medieval tibet a nice place? I think Lopez thinks not. But modern Tibet isn’t all that nice of a place either. Before communism, one man exploited another. Now it is the reverse. Actually not entirely. The people that were in tibet, there are a lot fewer of them and they are being replaced with immigrants. I need to read this book, so I may be commenting prematurely.

Does Buddhism have a core that is essentially compatible with secular application, life and science, or is it more like Carol Lewis’s observation about Christ– (he’s a madman & fraud or the son of God– i.e. without the magic, there isn’t much to hold one’s interest). I think Lopez thinks Buddhism is at a core all the magic stuff that a secular Buddhist would like to remove and that the potentially secular stuff is the Asiatic accretions or wholesale imported ideas from the post-Enlightenment west. I could be wrong.

Non-Buddhism and X-Buddhism.
This website is a companion to a book written by a guy, Glenn Wallis, whose hammer is non-philosophy and Buddhism is his nail. With philosophy be written in an obscurantist style, I can never tell if it’s fraud, bullshit or just a hard to read style. I get glimpses of insight from time to time, but I can’t tell if it is just thoughts that occur to me while listening to irreducibly unintelligible words, or if it is actual communication. I got a C in philosophy, I may not be smart enough to read this. That said, I got these interesting insights:

Non-philosophy seems to suggest that all the schools of philosophies are discussing the shadows cast by a pole, and the non-philosopher’s job is to figure out what that pole is. So Plato and Wittgenstein are talking about the same one thing.

As applied to Buddhism, we get a list of varieties of Buddhisms (x-buddhism). I like the list. I recognize what he’s saying there. I’m a comparativist. How about you?

What I don’t understand is that like Lopez, he’s trying to prove that someone, somewhere is wrong and needs to be set straight. I actually can’t tell who the audience is. If it’s Buddhist writing popular texts (say Lama Surya Das)– I don’t think he’ll read it. Is the audience people like me? Again, this would have to be dumbed down a bit for me to be the audience. Is the audience other academic writers? Could be. But unlike Lopez, who seems like he’s not a Buddhist in real life (I can’t tell), Glenn Wallis strikes me as someone who is some sort of Buddhist in real life.

In the Academic books I’ve read so far, I get the impression that the author really doesn’t want you to know if he’s a believer, or Buddhist leaning, or flat out anti-Buddhist. I think everyone worries that it hurts credibility.

Buddhist Criticism.
These are academics that really want to disabuse the world of the idea that there is anything *good* in Buddhism. You say Buddhism is a religion of peace, they say, “What about Burma, Japanese warrior monks and fortified temples, WW2 Zen ultranationalist chaplains, lay Buddhist Thai soldiers” You say meditation is efficacious, they say “No Buddhism is about myth, magic and superstition and always was, or it attract madmen, it drives you mad” And so on. I really don’t understand this line of reasoning. It smacks of anti-semitism, but with Buddhist in place of the Jew. I think Glenn Wallis was right when he said of Buddhist Critics “They offer insightful queries, which, given the nature of criticism, often threaten fissure. They are not concerned with ameliorating this fissure.”

I think Justin Whitaker (a Buddhist-Kantian) falls into this category, who contributed to an article in the Washington Post that initially slammed Buddhism as a dangerous cult thanks to Whitaker deciding it was a good time to be a Buddhist Critic. Thanks dude, you knew everyone in DC is well versed in the Suttras (and the Tibetan commentaries in the original) and wouldn’t take you the wrong way about how Buddhism, madness and the murder of random people just go together, maybe like the associations that happened after 9-11 and a certain major world religion.

Medieval Surgery and Contemporary Buddhist Scholarship
Today I would go to a surgeon, not a faith healer. The faith healer would just distract me, although he wouldn’t out and out kill me. In medieval times, it was far safer to go to the faith healer. The surgeons at that time would do fun things like craniotomy (cutting off the skull of a still living woman) and salting the brain. It seemed like a good idea at the time and was based on the best science had to offer.

For modern Buddhism, I’d go to the equivalent of a faith healer [oddly this covers secular authors like Batchelor], which is a biased author of some book on Buddhism that draws on tradition and lived experience.

In this environment, with this treatment, science will kill the patient before it has a chance to live. Science has no obligation to promote religion, but it sure would be nice if it weren’t laying the foundation for repression, slaughter and the relocating of hell to earth.

Laying the Intellectual Foundation for the Next Holocaust
Not withstanding the academics “your/their shit stinks too” points, (Buddhist are mass murdering, genocidal, what-have-yous) which maybe true, but aren’t relevant here… strident Buddhist criticism is laying the foundation, not necessarily for a reform of Buddhism, nor necessarily for the birth of something wonderful to replace it, but it is laying the foundation for the persecution of Buddhists. Like that will every happen, right? Well, let’s see, institutions may corrupt religion & people, but boy do they have memories. Wikipedia lists persecutions of Buddhist starting a few hundred years after his death and leading up to now, the most breathtaking coming from the communists.


And that is real persecution, not the general lack of respect that Nichiren Buddhist complain about. The force of persecution came from the intelligentsia of their time– not because smart people are bad, but because smart people are the brains of these bureaucracies. A mindless mob can only kill a few thousands in a spasm, to real wipe a toxic ideology off the face of the earth, you need trained, smart people. These smart people sometimes they unleash monsters that maybe they didn’t intend– how can anyone hold Marx, a harmless intellectual responsible for no one understanding what he really meant? Or more likely, they unleashed the monster that they wanted to. Sometimes it was Hindu bureaucrats, sometimes Muslim, sometimes Christian, sometimes ex-Buddhists (ex as in, not subscribing to Buddhism).

If this could never happen with modern Buddhist criticisms, them maybe modern academia is inert & unable to influence anyone. But if that is true, then the academic Buddhist criticism project is doomed to fail for being inert. If it succeeds, with a reform-it-or-burn-it-all attitude, we’re literally playing with fire.

Karma by proxy and how it relates to food and the military

So in Buddhism, there is this idea of karma, a sort of cosmic, impersonal judge. In some formulations, it is literally a post mortem judge– King Yama. In other formulations, it’s *you* who judge and sentence yourself for your net balance of positive and negative karma. He take bribes, google “Hell Notes”

So what generates bad karma? Killing sentient beings (things with nervous systems), having a fuzzy mind (via drugs and booze), screwing around, bad behavior executed through misinformation (lies), letting your desire for stuff lead to bad behavior (theft) and up to 250+ more things depending on what list of rules you subscribe to. There are abstract ways to state the principles that generated those 250 rules, but it’s just easier to say, 5, 8, 250 precepts than to summaries the whole ethical system’s foundations.

In some of the earlier formulations, if someone else killed on your behalf, and you didn’t specifically ask them to do it, you didn’t get any negative karma points.

This has a problem. I am King Yama as far as the calculation of my own karma goes. Letting someone kill on my behalf is problematic– did I merely not ask them to do it on a Sunday, with a revolver in the city square? Or did I not bother to prevent it? Or was I just hoping it would happen without me asking?

Not a thing in my house was made on my personal request. It was all provided by manufactures who just made stuff hoping someone would buy it. The government is providing services hoping someone will like it and re-elect, continue to pay taxes, not move away, and so on. I didn’t ask them to do anything. But if they commit crimes on my behalf, that karma is both mine and theirs. Karma is a heavy thing, why do I want someone else to bear it for me?

I benefit from all sorts of things where someone is going to rack up some negative karma– animal testing, military defense, agriculture.

In the case of agriculture– I don’t eat the meat.

In the case of the military– it’s a hard question. If no one serves, then bad behavior runs rampant– pirates, warlords, civil wars, and so on. If no one oppose war and the military, it is over used on adventures, bloody, endless wars where civilians and troops are expended like office supplies and firewood. If I don’t participate in the national (tribal or local) defense, then I’m asking someone else to accumulate negative karma on my behalf. And that isn’t right. I favor a universal draft & speedbumps on the way to war.

[I wrote more but it seems wordpress ate it]

Buddhist Groups Near Takoma Park

This list has only one pattern to it: the groups or temples appear to be geographically close to Takoma Park, MD, where I happen to live. The smallest organizations can change times & places fast– please check with a website other than this blog to find out if the temple/group/event still exists. If a group is not on the list, it means I didn’t find them on the internet. NB! if you can’t find them on first try, check for them on meetup, facebook and the website.

Do you need the cheat sheet for the various schools of Buddhism? Here is Wikipedia’s until I can write one.

In another blog post hope to map these various traditions on various axis (like orthodox? accepting diversity? achieved diversity? syncretic (mixes traditions & other religions)? not-syncretic? meditation focused? clear lay/priest/monk divisions? all lay-organization? socially engaged vs inwardly focused? skeptical or faith based? intellectual or not-intellectual? Americanized or transplanted unchanged?), but that so far is a much bigger task than just listing what is locally available. Keep in mind, if you are 100% new to Buddhism, you will want to review wall of them– if you are looking for one end of the spectrum or the other you can probably find both. Maybe if I have time, someday I will track down the secular mindfulness groups.

Modern Buddhism
Modern Buddhism the the name for all the types of Buddhism that have been influenced by the modern world, as opposed to groups that are essentially practicing the same thing that was practiced, say, 500 years go. At risk of oversimplifying 5 very specific and different modern traditions– they are more Americanized/Europeanized, less “religion-like” and more “philosophy-like”, more secular, more interested in picking the parts of Buddhism that are compatible with the parts of the modern world that we like– such as being socially engaged, rational (with respect to the fields of science), etc. *or* some subset of those qualities.

Some Zen groups… to be determined exactly which ones. DT Suzuki was essentially popularizing a “Modern Buddhism”, but it is really hard to tell which organizations are more DT Suzuki like and which are still fairly close to what they were 500 years ago.
- New Kadampa Tradition- Vajrayogini Buddhist Center – Adams Morgan, DC
American Vipassana Insight Meditation Community of Washington Many locations- Rockville, Bethesda, others
Shambhala Tradition (Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche) By Cleveland Park Metro Station
SGI-DCDC Buddhist Culture Center by Dupont Station on the Red Line
SGI-MDMaryland Center
Shinnyo-en This is a lay organization with roots in Japanese Shingon. … I really can’t tell if anything is happening in the DC area.

N.B. these are all similar but unrelated organizations (except the two SGI ones, they are both SGI).
Nichiren Shoshu – Myosenji Temple in Silver Spring
SGI-DC – DC Buddhist Culture Center by Dupont Station on the Red Line
SGI-MD – Maryland Center
Nipponzan Myhoji – Japanese Buddhist Temple

Dharma Drum Mountain Taiwanese Chan – in Silver Springs and/or Culture Center of Taipei in Gaithersburg)
Ka Shin Zendo Genzo-Ji – They practice at the Presbyterian Church in Takoma Park
Still Water MPC Also at the TkPk Presbyterian – Tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, locations in Silver Spring, Takoma Park, etc, etc.
Silver Spring Zendo
Taego Washington Located in Oxon Hill Md. Korean Zen.
Won Rockville, Korean Tradition.
Atvatamsaka Vihara Chan- Chinese Tradition, Potomac Maryland.

Other Japanese, Shin, Judo-Shoshu, Shingon, Tendai, Etc
No Shingon temples in the DC area, AFAIK.
Shin – Ekoji (Fairfax County, VA) – Amida Buddhism
Tendai Great River Ekayana Sangha- Big emphasis on Lotus Sutra, was Arlington, now Alexandria (?) Double check locations.

Vietnamese Tradition: Giac Hoang Buddhist Temple – Chùa Giác Hoàng
Taiwanese Tradition: Vajrayogini Buddhist Center – Adams Morgan, DC
- Sakya Tradition (occasional events?)
- Shambhala Tradition (Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche) By Cleveland Park Metro Station
- Kagyu Tracition Kagyu Drupgyu Chodzong on Capitol Hill in DC
- Gelugpa/FPMT The Guhyasamaja Center (meetup) Fairfax, VA
Mongolian – Announcement of Mongolian Buddhist Society- Can’t tell if it’s currently active.
Russian/Kalmykian Tradition- Mahayana Sutra and Tantra Center of DC Meets in Fairfax, VA at the moment (Associated with a Kalmykian group centered in Washington, Penn)
Nepali Tradition – Byoma Kusuma
Shingon Tradition – None in DC area, AFAIK. See Shinnyo-en for possibilities.

Burmese Tradition: Mingalarama Vihara Silver Spring
Cambodian Tradition: Cambodian Buddhist Association Silver Spring
Thai Tradition Wat Thai DC in Silver Spring
Sri Lankan Tradition Washington Buddhist Vihara 16th St NW, DC
Sri Lankan Tradition International Buddhist Center In Wheaton
American Vipassana Insight Meditation Community of Washington Many locations- Rockville, Bethesda, others
Bangladeshi – not represented in DC area AFAIK
Lao Tradition: Wat Lao Buddhavong in Cattlet VA, 40 minute drive from DC

Dharmanet – Huge directory
IBC DC- smaller list, DC centric, looks a bit dated

What I Think – Buddhism Edition

I was going to write, what I believe, but belief seems to be equated to wishful thinking. I believe everything I believe is provisionally true, falsifiable and true to the extent it is supported by reason and evidence. What I want to be true, my hopes, that is a different blog post.

I think we can understand the universe as a net of cause and effect.
I think there really is misery, stress and pain in the world.
I think that if you could get your mind in order, a lot of misery, stress and pain would go away.
I think that training your mind is part of the solution.
I think that ethics is in part about setting rules that make it easy to achieve your goals.
I think part of ethics is not just not doing wrong, but helping people reach enlightenment, too, which means helping people where they are now– poor, hungry, tired, and if they are lucky, well fed, rested, and interested in dealing with that nagging unhappiness that plagues them.
I think that retreat from society, say by joining a monastic order, is overkill and not pragmatic. A monastic order makes it easier to not steal, harder to behave well with respect to women and more difficult to be of service to others.

I think ahimsa (harmlessness) is a good thing and should be maximized. The perfect is the enemy of the good. It is better to eat less or no meat. It is better to favor a peace enforced by police and soldiers than to watch the bloodshed of warlords. I think that instead of holding out for utopia or giving up because our best efforts won’t be enough (i.e. growing grains kills worms, mice, etc.), it would be better to be as ahimsa as we can and always striving to be more so.

There are parts of Buddhism that are detached from what can be objectively demonstrated– I think they are false, but not necessarily worthless. A story can be instructive even if it is fictional.

I think that there is some merit to “skillful means,” which roughly means, you adapt what you are teaching for your audience. If one can, dedicating ones life to philosophy and gaining permanent happiness through PhD level study and contemplation. But if you are a child, have a career you must maintain to keep food on the table, etc, that’s what chanting and the Pure Land is for. It isn’t solely a matter of ranking- it’s about what works for you, what gets you on the path to permanent happiness.

I don’t think there is any link between the self aware part of one living thing and those of any that are born afterwards. Rebirth and reincarnation are fiction. When revolutionary ideas show up, their proponents often out of attachment or accident drag along their favorite ideas like Buddha and reincarnation and Martin Luther and transubstantiation.

I don’t think there are any supernatural beings [devas, demi-gods, bodhisatvas, parallel universes, pure lands, hells full of hungry ghosts, nagas (snake people)], but again, as fiction goes, these myths may be instructive and if for some people who only have time for faith, if it gets them on the right path, (see points about skillful means) there isn’t harm in it.

I don’t think there is any power in amulets, mantras, mudras, statues, printed copies of sutras except in as far as they may change people’s behavior & create a sort of self fulfilling prophesy.

I don’t think enlightened behavior is necessarily eccentric. Cults, cults of personality and borderline madmen should be called out for their behavior.

I don’t think you can spread enlightenment faster than people are ready. Monks used to have to really prove they were serious and wanted to join– in part to discourage malingerers and slackers who just wanted a free meal in return for sitting all day. The sentiment applies to the modern spread of Buddhism, you need to want to do it for it be of help. If Buddhism isn’t what people need, they probably have some other need. [Maslov's heirarchy of needs, with enlightenment at the top]

I don’t think there is anything of interest about the orthodox version of Buddhism. We only have a general idea of what the Buddha said, for all we know, we are getting Ananda-ism (Ananda being one of the Buddha’s disciples).

I think the similarities among world religions are striking, but I think they are not the same. I think science has a set of answers of the problems that lead people to religion and science is lacking. If math and chemistry (or even just philosophy of science) are your only hammers, you are unlikely to solve the problems of too much misery and too little happiness.

I don’t think there is any value to life long monasticism. I don’t think monasticism is required for enlightenment. I suspect the monastic life re-creates the same personal problems, but with smaller stakes. Instead of worrying about the mortgage on your house, you’ll be worrying about your sandals.

I don’t there is any point to renouncing householding (i.e. getting married, having a job, owning property, etc). It may have made sense in a reincarnation cosmology where monastic life was the last chapter before nirvana. Without reincarnation, renouncing house holding is excessive disengagement.

I think to the extent we learn the answers to the questions of religion, we are obliged to teach it to our children.

I think authoritarian religion is scam, (that ‘Do what the LORD tells you to do!’ stuff) to serve the bureaucracy. I think authoritarianism in Buddhism is bad, too. I think there is nothing special about unbroken chains of “authority”, I don’t buy the bit about guru-veneration– although I buy into an non-Buddhist idea that if you know you are biased on irrational in a given choice, you should get advice & be willing to follow it. I think that every historical personage in Buddhism, living of dead is a linguistic short hand for the ideas they represented. None of them our are boss that we should follow unquestioningly.

I think religious intolerance is disrespectful. Other religious systems and possibly even secular science may from time to time re-invent elements of Buddhism.

I think proselyzation is disrespectful and arrogant (both pro & anti-religious), but going so far as to be keep one’s religions leanings secret is bad, but I can’t put my finger on why– it feels like giving in to bullies that can’t accept others as they are. (Proselyzation has the same problem, refusing to accept people because they aren’t like you)

I think meditation is efficacious for something, but I’m not good enough to say what.

I think there is no particular magic in Tibetan, Japanese or Chinese or Pali or Sanskrit, except that sometimes meaning gets lost in translation. I’m fairly confident that given the stories are oral transmissions via memorization across hundreds of years– the oldest we have already lost something in translation. It sounds pretty, some choices of phrases are easier to chant and chanting can help stomp on all thoughts thoughts racing through your mind when you want to concentrate on something else.

I think people who say meditation is dangerous or causes madness are up to something and not trying to save you from danger or madness. (See section of respect, authoritarianism)

And finally, hopes. I hope it all works, I hope it works fast, fast enough that I can enjoy some enlightenment for awhile. I hope that everyone finds it, on purpose or by accident.

When a Buddhist wanna-be is a schizophrenic mass murderer

So in my town there was an out of towner who visited and shot & killed a dozen people. The Washington post tasked two journalists unfamiliar with Buddhism to write about the shooter’s religious activities. There wasn’t a debate before, but the article trigger a debate about if the article was … how to put this into words? bad, wrong, disrespectful and many other words. By the comments, it was a very oneside debate, generally it was the evangelitical Christians rushing to the defense of the journalists– they liked the cut of that anti-buddhist jib. In WaPo’s defense, though they hardly deserve defense, the article was re-written to be less inflamatory and another post written from the Theravada standpoint thoroughly repudiated the shooters actions and the possibility that Buddhism had something to do with it. None of that got the attention of the original.

Background.Buddhism is a large religion elsewhere, a small religion here in the US.

Atheists see it as the same sort of nasty superstition as Christianty, Islam and Judaism. Yes, there are scholars like Suzuki (who want to pretend that Buddhism was more secular than it was) and scholars like Lopez (who relish disabusing anyone of that thought and rubbing the readers nose in every instance of superstition and myth as if that was the Buddha’s main message)

Christians view it as Christian heresy (i.e. worshiping an immortal, all powerful Buddha as a means for salvation from hell, free passes on sin and entrance to heaven), because they haven’t taken the time to actually read about what it is. Comparing Christianity and Buddhism is hard because unless you stick to Pure Land Buddhism, such as Shin Buddhism, you may conclude that Buddhism isn’t a religion any more than Cognitive Therapy is. N.B. There are many varieties of Christians, the UU in fact let people use their building for Buddhist Meditation.

People who don’t care about religion, probably confuse it with Islam, Chinese food, the movie The Matrix, Jedi’s and a Seattle grunge rock band. The WaPo could have helped these people and cooled heads who would like to think that Buddhists are mass murdering assassin terrorists.

“Your shit stinks too!”
Why is this important express?

If stereotypes hurt, even positive ones, than having an opinion is a razors edge– dislike something too much and your a bigot. Think too well of something, we’ll, you’re a soft bigot. The implicit solution to this is everyone should just be the same as us so that we don’t have to deal with people who are different and admirable or not. As if all people and all actions and everything will be equally good. (Oddly that is sort of a Buddhist sentament, but it is born from a desire of wanting to pass judgement on those who like the things that you don’t like– a desire to pass judgment on those who would judge anything as good, bad or neutral.)

No true Scottsman…
This is a logical falacy where you refuse to believe that a Scotsman would do such a thing, and if they did, they’re not a true Scotsman. However, being a Scotsman is just tribal membership and doesn’t entail any ethical code of conduct. Buddhism on the other hand, is an ethical code of conduct.

Was this act of mass murder conducted in the capacity of a lay Buddhist to further Buddhist aims? No, no Buddhist would do that. (But what about Burma? What about medivial feudal landlords in Tibet? Well, what about them? Are they maurading my town mowing down civilians? The shooter attended a Thai immigrant meditation center– the WaPo artile is trying to say something about Buddhism in America, not Buddhism during the reign of Ashoka, in pre-communist Tibet or under ultra-nationalist communist Burma/Mjanmar.)

Buddhist acts vs Acts of Buddhists vs Acts of Buddhist Wanna-bes
Buddhism doesn’t as part of its doctrine allow for hardly any violence. There isn’t an Old Testiment with tribal genocide. There isn’t a repudiated chapter on Jihad.

All people seem to want to harp on is that there have been acts of violence in history commited by Buddhists– after all is has been state religion from time to time and the armies of those countries didn’t replace their weapons with flowers. But this article isn’t on how to run a country where *everyone* including the cops, petty criminals and military are Buddhists. This is about a minority religion in the US popular among seekers, asian immigrants and upper middle class (mostly) white people.

The better question is the quantity of violence in Buddhist countries does it exceed those in in communities that are of other religions or largely apathetic or militantly anti-religious? It’s a measurable question, without the numbers, it’s just slander. Did Buddhist doctrine encourage or promote these acts? Do these acts fit in with Buddhist doctrine for any sect?

He’s one of us. He ain’t one of us.
The sutras had in mind Buddhism for the monks. Buddhism for the laity was a later thing, an after thought. Monks were expelled from the sangha for un-Buddhist like behavoir. If he was one of us, he ain’t now.

Excomunication in Catholicism is a big deal– someone in a position of power needs to do it and for phenomenal reasons. In the Buddhist system, there is a fairly long lists of things that can get you kicked out of the sangha. And the guy wasn’t an ordained monk, neither robed nor disrobed.

Buddhism will drive you mad! Your madness will drive you to Buddhism! Buddhists are Buddhists because their madness drove them to it!
You actually hear variations of this even from Buddhists, especially those who believe in a strong form of the medico-mystical efficacy of meditation. You also hear this from militant atheists who just really got a chip on their shoulder on topic related to religion. Does it cause madness? It’s a testable question, but without the test, without checking to see if Episcopalianism or strident atheism causes madness, it’s just slander.

The suggestion that mental illness is overrepresented in Buddhism is testable, but without the data it’s just slander. I hypothsize that there is no more link between Buddhism and psychology degrees– I’m sure some percent of people picked that major because they suffered from some mental malady themselves.

What could have been done?
Inform the community of what Buddhism is. I learned more about Heaven’s Gate (the cult that killed themselves for crazy reasons many years ago), than I learned from WaPo about what Buddhism is. They could have figured out right away there isn’t a link between the action of a wanna be and doctrine. (As if Buddhist were debating if their doctrine was the spark of this man’s madness or the blueprints for his crimes? Slander)

Find out what the Buddhist response would be. How do Buddhist deal with madness? (not at all, medicine isn’t part of Buddhism anymore than aerospace engineering is) How do Buddhist deal with murder? (Its against the rules and against the rules in more cases than in cival law and in many other world relgions) How do Buddhist deal with those who have murdered? Oddly they have hopes for the reformation of such people.

If there is hope for Angulimala, there should be hope for these journalists, maybe they too can learn something about the Dharma and can do something to cool their own fear, hate and delusion.

Buddhism for Kids

So I paged through *all* of the items on Amazon with the word “Buddha” in it looking for Buddhist themed toys. Abhidharma (the calculus of Buddhism) is good and all, but it’s not appropriate for toddlers.

Ages 0-3
Books, from which they will likely learn English, but not much Buddhism.
Buddha matroshkas, Japanese Daruma (similar to matrokshka) & kekoshi (sometimes called Kannon Kokeshi they are too generic to recognize as Buddhist themed), Buddha plush toys (usually novelty items marketed at adults)

Ages 3-12
More books, from which hopefully they will pick up the various factoids about Buddhism.
Daruma bento boxes– the Daruma man is sort of like a Buddhist “Hello Kitty” that gets slapped onto a million and one products– bento boxes, rice bowls, etc. (The Daruma man is supposed to be Bodhidharma the founder of Zen)

This is the time when dolls and action figures matter. You’d think there would be play toy suitable buddhas, boddhisatvas, monks and the like but… nope. The vast majority of figurines are Buddha’s suitable for bookshelf display– no articulated limbs and they are sitting cross legged. Not a long of figures in “stick-pose” (standing, arms at side)– not even playmobile style ones that articulate at the waist (but otherwise are pretty stiff and rigid).

I found a few Thai and Burmese puppets– Buddhist monks and the like, but not mass produced– they looked sort of like antiques from a folk art collection.

Toys, but they have to be competitive with mass media toys.
At the moment, Japan seems to have a monopoly on Buddhist pop culture, which portrays esoteric Buddhism– that is the variety we tend to call Tibetan Buddhism, but outside of Tibet, the exact same thing is called esoteric Buddhism. Esoteric Buddhism has gods, myths, magic and personages that act more or less like action movie heros– hence their use in manga and anime. (And the Chinese Shaolin monks- they were Buddhists, too, and Zen Buddhists at that– why didn’t anyone tell me during all those Kung Fu movies?)

Ref- Japanese Esoteric Buddhist figurines, Manga (from the author of Astroboy)
Revoltech’s figurines-
Asura, A low ranking demi-god of Kamadhatu with several arms.
Tamonten, Guardian of the North, 1 of the 4 Guardian Kings, aka Vaisravana
Komokutin, Guardian of the West, 1 of the 4 Guardian Kings, aka Virūpākṣa
Zochoten, Guardian of the South, 1 of the 4 Guardian Kings, aka Virūḍhaka
Jirokten, Guardian of the East, 1 of the 4 Guardian Kings, aka Dhṛtarāṣṭra

TODO: Look up the corresponding Sanskrit names of the following Buddhist personages, who happen to be available in toy-figurine form from Japan.

Age 13-20
I think this is where one sets examples and tries to be available when topics of philosophy come up.

Toys of uncertain play value:
Dashboard Buddha – like a bobble head, except its a Buddha on a spring.
Ah My Buddha Figurines – From the semi-hentai anime series about a monk in training who is surrounded by sexy lady priestesses.
Netsuke, traditional & not so. These are mostly seated buddhas that are like large figurines, but equally inarticulate at the joints.
Masks. Some venders are selling this big, adult sized masks that are fairly faithful repros of Buddhist statues.
Buddhist charms. Tiny figurines & the like, mostly Thai, for wearing on a necklace.
A rubber duck in the shape of a Buddha, Homer Simpson in the shape of a Buddha, etc. Same problem as all the other sitting Buddha statues, they don’t articulate.