What is The Brahma Net Sutra Project?

What would it be like to try to live the precepts as a modern, independent lay person?

Independent
If you are an ordained monk or nun, the answer is simple. Practice as your teacher or abbot instructs. Independents have no choice but to reason over if and how to follow precepts.

Modern
It isn’t 600AD anymore, times have changed. Precepts that may have been good advice then might be downright silly or unhelpful today. The rest are wisdom and the path to liberation. Which precepts are which?

Lay Practice (Being an Upasaka)
Full time practice isn’t available to everyone– at many points in Buddhist history Buddhists have believed that liberation can be achieved while continuing to handle money, farm, do business, and take care of family.  The famous Brahma Net Sutra hints at this and the lesser known Upasaka Precepts Sutra makes this explicit.

Which Precepts?
There are many forumulations– BNS, Upaska, the various paths to liberation (the 10 of this and 40 of that)– some are vague, some are rather specific, some require some interpretation do make them into valuable practices. So the project is not only to try to follow the precepts but to develop the precepts.

The Brahma Net Sutra Project

I seem to like forums.
Like a moth to candles, I keep getting involved. But the flame wars, heated discussions, and polite but pointless discussions… there is no way that that is helping anyone. So maybe I should create a new forum.

Blogs should be single topic, or nearly so.
This particular blog is my “everything else blog”, but I think I now have enough Buddhist content that it should be branched off into a separate blog. Sorry to everyone who’s been bored by this burst of religious content.

Forums are cheap, so maybe instead of comments (which just get overrun by spam) I’ll instead set up a forum for commenting.

The Brahma Net Sutra Project
The Brahma Net Sutra is a Chinese sutra written shortly after Buddhism arrived in China and needed to adapt to local conditions. It is one of the few formulations of Buddhism that

* Takes vegetarianism and animal liberation seriously
* Takes the ideal of gun control seriously (and weapon control in general)
* Takes precepts as a means to liberation seriously.
* Specifically mentions independent Buddhism (i.e. Buddhism practiced outside of an institution, without monks, priests, without a temple, meditation class and driving to Sunday service)

It also has rules that are incoherent outside of an institutional monestary, outside of China, or in a world that has learned a lot since this sutra was written.  We are now pretty sure that onions are not aphrodisiacs, but viagra, testosterone, estrogen are aphrodisiacs and things like alcohol and bad-social skills do lead to unskillful interactions with the opposite sex.

In the book, “A Year of Living Biblically” The author makes the point that mindlessly following all the rules is more comedy gold than liberation. But there are 84,000 gates to the Dharma, some include following recipe-like precepts. For those people for whom the Brahma Net Sutra speaks to them, there isn’t really a place to discuss it without getting bogged down in angry and irrational arguments against vegetarianism, in favor of widespread ownership and use of deadly force and against the very idea of using precepts as a means to liberation.

Nonsense

I keep coming across these words in my readings about Buddhism

- subtle: so delicate or precise as to be difficult to analyze or describe.
- ineffable: too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words
- transcendent: beyond or above the range of normal or merely physical human experience

A better word, albeit with some normative connotations would be “nonsense” at best, an attempt to manipulate someone’s behavior for nefarious goals at worst.

What can be said about the things we can’t describe and don’t know? Nothing. Seeing something in nothing is delusion.

If you can’t explain the soul, or prove it or disprove it, all you can say about it is that you don’t know anything. And this should have no impact on any decision what so ever.

So on topic X, we know nothing, therefore … what? We can derive no interesting conclusions. Not Pascals wager, nothing.

If we try something and it works for us, that is something. If we try something and it doesn’t work, it works for you, that is something.

It is time we start telling the ineffable to f-off.

Rules, rules, rules. Roll your own Bodhisatva Vows

Quick recap. Ethics are good, it’s hard to express ethics strictly as themes and complicated algorithms. A short list of rules can be instructive. Traditional rules are good starting point, but the have mixed into them repugnant rules, silly rules and so on. (For example rules about touching flowers, plain misogynist rules from ancient times, rules condoning slavery, rules to support some alien power structure, such as an ancient abbot or an ancient Emperor)

Also, there are may ways for ethics to go wrong, much in the same way that there are many ways for secular legal systems to go wrong.
- Power. Subscribing to an ethical system not so much for one’s own goals, but as a means of controlling others. (I.e. not only do I follow the rules, but you need to follow the rules, too. What a fine coincidence that when you follow the rules, I accrue benefits!)
- Rank. Rejecting ethical systems because you think someone is trying to re-arrange the social hierarchy. For example, I practice virtue & accrue merit. For anyone to recognize that merit, would be to raise that person in rank. If it is important to maintain the social order as-is, then it is important to go on the offensive and attack the do-gooder and the ethical system they subscribe to.
- Complacency. Your desire for inertia encourages your mind to do everything possible to fight any ethical system that requires actually changing anything.
- Antinomianism. The rules prohibit doing what you want to do, but with great mental gymnastics, you’re able to come up with a reason to break any rule, sort of making ethics either unnecessary or at least a sham. These mental gymnastics can be sophisticate or primitive– the brain tolerates cognitive dissonance (thinking contradictory thoughts) better than it tolerates not getting what it wants.
- Rules as magic. You follow the rules because… they’re rules. And why? Because. And why? Because someone made the rules. And why? Because they did. And so on. This sort of reasoning would made anyone get fed up with ethical systems altogether. Where the rules are unmotivated, unexplained, detached from any benefit, then they’re magic rules.

Not addressing the ways that ethical systems can fail is the heart of antinomian thinking. For example, lets take two ethical rules, one controversial and one less so.

“You can’t force me to change my diet! You think you are better than me for being a vegetarian? I’ve always eaten turkey, it’s history and I can’t give up history. Kill animals? No, you vegans are the real violent ones that kill animals and your ethical rules are the way you show your true evil face.”(phew, cognitive dissonance solved!) Reasoning away an uncomfortable ethical rule doesn’t even require an airtight logical thought, it just has to be strongly emotionally felt.

“You can’t force me to stop microwaving babies! You think you are better than me for never having microwaved a baby? I’ve always eaten microwaved live babies, it’s history and I can’t give up history. Kill babies? No, you baby coddlers are the real violent killers and your ethical rules are the way you show your true evil face (phew, cognitive dissonance solved!).”

If you substitute in something neutral like “water drinking”, the example doesn’t work– because there is no cognitive dissonance, no part of you that thinks that drinking water is problematic for anyone (oddities like dypsomania excluded).

So here is an idea. Make your own set of rules, use the traditional set of rules as a starting point. We follow other peoples rules that way anyhow, accepting or discarding rules that are unpleasant or simply wrong. Each rule also has at least two forms in Buddhism, householder style and “professional”  Personal rules can be more like guidelines- if you break them, it’s your conscious that suffers and that’s it. If you are a professional, ie. a monk or a nun, when you break the rules the institution gets to deal with it– so those rules are going to be nit picky precise and influenced by the fact the act happened in an institution that has goals of its own.

“Get your house in order rules”
Metarule—> Keep it simple, simplify your life until it is easy to practice
Metarule—> Try to work within existing secular law.
> Economics, aka, don’t steal/be generous.
> Family, aka, no sex/no sex (ha!). Buddhism has little to offer in this area if we are to look at the traditional rules. You’ll have to generate specific rules from themes, such as compassion.
> Mental Health. Drinking, smoking, over (under)eating, and other health activities that mess with your mind.
> Skillful Communication, aka no lying/be honest. The Buddhist tradition is sort of conflicted about this. Per the Lotus Suttra white lies are okay, variances among sects is “skillful means” (different versions of the Dharma for different folks, not lies for you and truth for me) and everyone older than a child knows that managing information in a socially acceptable way is more difficult that just a policy to always tell the painful truth.
> Death and Suffering. Don’t exacerbate the situation, minimize death and suffering of all sentient beings.

“Take care of others rules”
> Boddhichitta – Sincerely wish that others can find peace.
> Engagement – Actually do something about helping others find peace. In the Buddhist informed view, this isn’t just enabling people to be more materially successful. This is enabling people to achieve Buddhist goals, regardless to if they follow through. If someone is sick, impoverished to the point where they are time starved (or rich in a way that makes them time starved), or wandering and uninformed, then we ought to be obliged to do something about it.

Homemade, vegan, soy yogurt

Okay, I have a salton yogurt machine. It’s just a plastic bucket with a heating element that *very* slowly heats and warms a bucket of yogurt.

So at the co-op, it appears that the nation’s biggest soy yogurt company has production problems or is out of business altogether. So here I am, making my own.

To make vegan yogurt, you need a high protein fake milk. So that pretty much limits you to Eden’s high protein soy milk, which is 12 grams per serving. If you use anything else with less protein, to get it to solidify, you’ll have to thickeners as if it were a sauce (starches, agar agar, gums, etc). I haven’t tried thickeners. If I want to make a vegan custard pie, I’d do that. (Hmm, that gives me an idea, how about vegan-yogurt-custard pie?)

So I made this once and it came out closer to yogurt than kiefer. When I use cows milk, I never know what I will get, sometimes I get yogurt flavored milk, sometimes Kiefer (runny yogurt), sometimes solid, custard-like yogurt.

Some general yogurt tips:

Don’t forget to heat the milk first. Too cold and the bacteria take forever to multiply.
Don’t overheat the bacteria. If it is really hot it kills the bacteria.
Use 1/2 cup of yogurt from the store as a starter. Pick the yogurt with the most different kinds of bacteria listed. I used a brand that listed 6 species of bacteria. If one can’t survive and thrive, maybe one of the others can.
I ran the yogurt machine for about 8 hours before refrigerating the yogurt overnight.

If you are using a plastic Salton yogurt machine, you might want to cover the machine with a cloth bag, or enough towels to surround it. I figure that during the winter, the machine could use some extra insulation. I imagine in the summer it isn’t so important since the ambient temperature is already close to the right temperature.

Cost wise, this is much cheaper than almond or coconut yogurt and probably at least competitive or cheaper than store bought soy yogurt, which I mentioned before, is strangely absent from the shelves.

Buddhist Criticism and Apologia

What a big topic and it is so easy to discuss it poorly. I take the position that criticism needs to be done taking into account the likely performance of people under the secular default institutions of atheism (and anti-theism/anti-religion… the nomenclature gets complicated with Buddhism, which doesn’t believe in an Abrahamic God)– namely, civil government, psychologists, bars and bridge clubs. That covers ethics, what to do when the going gets tough, and socializing.

Criticism of religion seems to be of the following sorts:
Failures of individuals. The monk screwed someone.
Failures of institutions. The monastery didn’t have any means to prevent it or to fix it afterwards.
Failures of doctrine. The monk was doing his job (i.e. there was a doctrinal basis for the bad behavior, or doctrine encouraged it)
(And maybe others, but these are the biggies)

But secular individuals institutions have the same problem. The soldier screwed someone. The army didn’t prosecute. It was part of the campaign to terrorize the enemy. (Failures of individuals, institutions and doctrine again)

Of these 3, failures of doctrine are the most problematic. When someone says, “Joe is a bad Buddhist, a real sociopath”, then well, maybe he is. Ditto for the institution. Both of those can be fixed by following the doctrine. But if the doctrine is broken, the institutions can’t be fix, nor can the individuals.

How bad is it?
To know for sure, we need a natural experiment. Which economist will remind you are hard to find– for example, three similar cities one with just atheists who drink beer and visit psychologists when they are sad, one with Christians who go to Church and pray when they are sad, and one with Buddhists who meditate and read suttras when they’re sad. And observe for a few generations and count how many instances of psychologists we have sexually abusing their clients (how many alcoholics), ditto for how many priests screw their flock, ditto for the monks and meditation teachers. Without that, it’s just people picking a doctrine they like and assuming the people unlike themselves are a bunch of alcoholic, rapists murderers.

How to react- options
Destroy them all! This only works if the person, institution or doctrine didn’t have a good reason to exist in the first place. Otherwise, a new person will be put into an easy to abuse job, a new company will arise to replace the old corrupt one & in turn become corrupt, etc. This is what atheists and self flagellating bloggers would like do to respond to failures of individuals and insitutions. If we shut down all the churches, meditation centers, and so on, where would the unhappy people go? Bars and psychologists for quack nostrums, euphorics and other drugs. (I’m not anti-psychologist like the Scientologists, I just want to remind people about how little science has to offer for unhappiness at the moment & what is does have to offer, is just as likely to go the way of cold baths, Freudian hogwash, and many other scientific cures for unhappiness that didn’t pan out)
Ignore it. This is what institutions usually do and what people who can’t bear any cognitive dissonance do. 7th Day Adventists have better health and Mormons probably commit less crime– things Atheists would like to ignore. Vajrayana seems to actively encourage ignoring defects in teachers.
Call for specific reform. As for sex, I think a good deal of the bad behavior would go away if monks & priests married like everyone else. There would be a new sort of bad behavior to replace it for sure, its never pretty when relationships end, but the shocking and bizzare would probably go away.

What seems unlikely to work
“Don’t overpraise Buddhism!” This appears on Justin Witaker’s blog a lot. A complement to Buddhism can not be left alone until it is complemented with reminders of every failure of an individual or institution in history of Buddhism.
“We are so bad! We are so bad!” Self flagellation is a Christian virtue. I’m not sure where it fits in in Buddhism. Medieval monks beat themselves for others sins. I subscribe to Buddhist doctrine, but I’m not a member of all institutions.
“It all the same, bad, bad, bad” Oddly, normally seeing things all as one would be a Buddhist virtue, but monism works poorly with abstractions. There are different varieties of Buddhism. Some Zen institutions aligned with the nationalist government. SGI didn’t and went to jail. Nyingma priests can have families & I assume are less likely to get involved in sex scandals. I’m a Buddhist and I don’t even participate in an institution. Buddhism plays no role in the US gov’t and it plays a role in the Thai gov’t on account of nearly everyone being Buddhist there.

How to deal with the “No True Buddhist”/”No True Scotsman” Fallacy
When I say, no true Buddhist rapes, pillages and plunders, I mean, Buddhist doctrine (of *my* sort) doesn’t support that. When you counter with “Oh, that’s a no true Scotsman fallacy”, you are attacking the individuals and the institutions and violating a gricing maxim (of listening to the message, not some pedantic obtuseness that seems to advance your case). This is a matter of colloquial English, when I say, No True Buddhist, I mean the doctrine (and when we say no true Kantian, are we not talking about Kant’s obsurantism?). When you counter with the Scotsman Fallacy, you knew I meant doctrine, but want to express your distaste for the individuals, institutions and doctrine. Which would be better served by addressing what part of doctrine you don’t like and what you’d rather have in its place.

And finally, what would Buddha do?
No one knows. He died and didn’t tell Ananda. We do have a bunch of rules lists, among them are “don’t disparage the Dharma, don’t disparage the Sangha, don’t criticize other members of the Sangha” What a nasty self serving set of rules, huh? On the otherhand, what institution can survive ordinary sabotage?

I for one, shall implement this rule as “Don’t disparage the Dharma, sangha or other Buddhists unless you have a specific solution in mind”

Don’t like how ultranationalist-Buddhists in Burma treat minorities there? What is your solution? To disparage the way that westerners have an overly positive image of Buddhism? What a stupid solution. Better to encourage people to write their congressman instead of tweaking their rhetoric about how much they like Buddhism.

Don’t like how mean and nasty people were to each other in Tibet before the communist invaded (and in turn proceeded to be mean an nasty?)? How to fix that? Shall we disparage the way westerners have an overly positive image of Tibetan Buddhism? What is the goal there? Are you afraid that the tibetan meditation center up the road will implement feudalism and haul you off to be a slave at a monestary?

Some controversial thoughts about the 5 Precepts

The 5 precepts are similar to the Christian 10 commandments. They are an ethical system. There are many things that can go wrong with an ethical system. These failures can make the idea of any ethical system unpopular on one hand. On the other hand, every time I point out any problem with the 5 lay precepts, people seem to think I’m advocating alcoholism, rape, lying, murder and theft. Let’s see if I can clarify anything.

What could go wrong with an ethical system? For example, someone might be smug that they follow the rules. Someone might be a jerk in enforcing the rules. Someone might miss the point of the rules and be a jerk whilst following the letter of the law. The alternative to ethical systems include things like internalized ethics– i.e. you do good because doing otherwise doesn’t occur to you, it just happens naturally. Another alternative is guiding themes, which are vague, diffuse rules making strategies where you kind of make it up as you go along using themes and discretion.

Internalized ethics are difficult to teach. So we get instead, long lists of rules. In the Buddhist tradition, we have the 5 precepts: no alcohol, no (harmful) sex, no lies, no theft, no killing. For lay followers, this mostly means, no alcoholism, no rape, no lies that make matters worse, respect property rights and don’t kill other people unless sanctioned by civil government. For monks, it means something more specific depending on the particular traditional rule list. I in particular have a problem with the lay rules, not so much with the monastic ones.

These particular rules are often the ones that monks say lay followers should follow. I cynically believe it is because these rules ask the least of anyone, at in how they are suggested to be followed, namely, no more strictly than the Ohio Revised Code (i.e. secular law) would require.

Furthermore, imagine a person who is inclined to drunkenness, rape, lying for gain, murder and theft. Are they doing this *solely* because they don’t know the rules? Unlikely. These are exactly the sort of rules (for this level of stringency) that people already are following– there already are merely rational reasons why you wouldn’t want to engage in these behaviors– alcoholism has it’s own punishments, secular governments punish the rest of the crimes just fine. Following these rules asks very little of you. There are two main defects of ethical systems that bother me: antinomianism and complacency. The lay 5 precepts (when taken to mean follow civil law in these 5 areas) is antinomianism and complacency. The former because the rules are limited to things you weren’t going to do anyhow– the rules don’t constraint you, they don’t matter. Complacency because your behavior before and after subscribing to the set of rules has no effect on your behavior. It’s like a fad diet where you eat what ever you want.

FOR EXAMPLE
Every time booze, family (aka sex), and dare I say it, eating meat, owning guns come up, everyone creates a huge dog pile until everyone concludes, it’s just ordained monks that have to teetotal, abstain from sex, skip the meat (well, just in China), and that owning guns, drinking beer (in moderation), etc is fine for a lay follower. In otherwords, following the Ohio Revised Code, the ordinary secular law of the land is lay Buddhism. (If I were to believe the average sentiment on many popular Buddhist forums)

So by the Ohio Revised Code, as I have never, never, never been convicted of a crime in Ohio, I am a lay 5 precepts grandmaster. The rest of Ohio is packed with similarly enlightened beings.

Should we build a new ethical system from scratch?
Again, as a *new* lay practitioner, I have no choice in the matter but to either roll my own or pick an ethical platform. Buddhisms present themselves a bunch of different orthodoxies, not one orthodoxy. If I like my beer, Shambhala seems to tolerate that. If I like sex, extinct varieties of Shingon seem to tolerate that, ditto for post-Meiji Japanese Buddhism. If I like lies– sorry, expedient means– Lotus Sutra has me covered so long as it is a lie for a good cause. If I like killing, I got the Jataka tales, where killing is okay as long as its pirates and we get a utilitarian outcome (potential # of pirate victims < # pirates killed) and the vinaya where as long as butchering is by proxy, its fine.

Am I twisting the teaching? I don’t need to twist, all I need to do is choose, and I can’t avoid choosing, I wasn’t born into this.

I’m convinced that ethical systems are engines of antinomianism and complacency, but they’re handy means for reminding oneself of goals and they are handy ways to instruct kids & peasants while waiting for them to develop some internalized ethics.

As such, a lay precepts list must go beyond obeying the secular law (which may or may not be ethical), but short of renunciation, (i.e. the ethical system of one who owns nothing isn’t going to be the same as someone with a family, job and an estate to manage)

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.

ref: http://www.buddhistdoor.com/OldWeb/resources/sutras/net_sutra.htm

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.