Monthly Archives: October 2007

Play, Activism, and Buddhism Practice

I don’t know what is activism. I don’t know the meaning of it. But I do want to play. As an adult, playing is to pursue an art for life. As I am pursuing and playing with my art, I also want other people to be able to freely pursue their arts. Seeing too many people not able to do that, I want to do whatever little I can do to help them, and on a larger level, if I am able, to change some fundamental things in society so a higher percentage of people can be engaged in the pursuit of their arts of life.

Playing, to me, is to play to my maximum physical and mental ability, and to interact with other minds. So naturally as I grow bigger, I will be more engaged with society and culture as a whole and make my impact on it.

So for me, the most tragic thing in our society is that many many people are not able to pursue a form of art and thus not able to realize themselves. One way I evaluate a society is to look at how much an individual can fully develop himself/herself in such a society. So one thing I feel about a society is how much potential on average its members are able to develop themselves. If we say in US, on average, people can develop 3% of total human potential, then in China, people can only develop 0.03% of total human potential.

How can people learn freely? How can individuals freely associate with peers and learn from peers? How can great minds get to know each other and meet each other? How can a society provide a wide range of activities for its members to freely engage in and thus learn various things? How does a society preserve its culture and history, and thus people can live in this vertical dimension of space and not cut of from the past and thus the future? How can people move freely and engage freely in culture communication, learning from different cultures, or making themselves?

What are those obstacles that block us from doing all these freely? In the view of Anarcho-Syndicalism, it is the authority. The authority that is in control of a very minority of people always tries to suppress the majority, and deny them their original rights to freely develop themselves. I just throw Anarcho-Syndicalism out here as a “label” that can kind of represent what I mean. I haven’t read very much into Anarcho-Syndicalism. If you want to read about it, I would recommend Noam Chomsky’s talks on Anarcho-Syndicalism. Basically, Anarcho-Syndicalism is about how a free creative human being can be in charge of his/her own activity/work, and freely engage in various organizations to further pursue his/her creativity and to do the activity/work together. I read about the Sarvodaya in Sri Lanka recently (http://www.sarvodaya.org/), which is heavily guided by Buddhism principles and Gandhi’s ideas. It is pretty much the same ideas as Anarcho-Syndicalism.

When I was watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s (https://freestone.wordpress.com/2007/10/12/breakfast-at-tiffani/), that “wild thing” reminded me of many things, about what is really truth and how fake all the moral things are. “Life is colorful!” is the most beautiful sentence I have heard in my life. The girl who said it treated everyone like good friends, no matter who they are (many of them, in my judgment, are assholes, have no talents or are totally evil). Truth can never be taught. You have to feel it very strongly yourself. It takes a lot of efforts to find the truth.

Buddhism practice is to realize the true self. Pursuing a form of art is the way of practicing the true self. As we pursue arts in various domains, we will encounter many things we want to make changes in those domains. Then the issue is how we can connect with each other. Since my art of life is social software, if there is enough needs and some practical models, I am willing to contribute my time to build a website that explores such possibilities.

This, to me, is activism.

Note: I thought that adding the following might be helpful if we don’t want to treat this just as a light subject. You know where I am from. What happened at Tiananmen Square in 1989, in my view, had a very negative impact on the direction of my country. I was very young at that time. But later as I watched some videos and read of the student activists’ words at that time, my conclusion is that those students are very dependent and immature kids. They had no ideas of the consequence of their action. Democracy and human rights are very popular words in China in the 80s. In reality, people enjoyed a lot freedom of speech then. But those students were just following the fashion of Democracy and human rights, and they didn’t really understand what those words mean. The events in 1989 itself were very complicated. The reality is that what freedom we had enjoyed in the 80s was lost after 1989. Political reform, which had been on a good track, became the tattoo of the party. My generation of students thus grew up in a very different environment from students in the 80s.

My country had been through many many bloody revolutions in the recent history. Many many communist party members were actually very sincere in their fights. They sacrificed a lot including their own lives for the cause. But violence is just violence. It doesn’t change the soil.

That is why I was determined to make changes through peaceful and fundamental ways, and through improving my abilities.

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Filantropica

Watched this movie tonight. It is awesome. Although it is a comedy (very good quality in term of comedy) and it happened in another country that I have never been to, it feels so real. It reminded me many things. It made me in touch with life again. Life is complex, which is beyond the reach of words, not even mention bland words taught by moral authorities.

Since I live in this world, all that matters is my action. I have to enrich my life. What can I do? Let me play.

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Some words on social trends

The developed countries face problems that are quite different from the developing countries. Free market and democracy, compared with monarchy and feudal system, are definitely a historical improvement. They have been very effective in fighting state powers. But of course, they are not ideal. And people in the developed countries are still far from being free. So living in the developed countries of course means to point out its problems and work towards a better system that can truly reflect the essential values of human being. But criticizing all the issues of developed countries don’t mean going backwards to the system before democracy and free market. So it will be very helpful if grassroots people in the west are very familiar with the problems in the developing countries.

Of course, history is not strictly linear. It is pretty much intertwined. But still on the whole level or on the average, we should be able to recognize the advancement as a whole. As a human being can keep growing, the human world also keep growing, as long as we don’t kill ourselves and we don’t forget our lessons.

In our time, the theme of development in the east is westernization and modernization. If we can grasp this, we can easily understand a lot of social phenomenons. The theme of the development in the west is realizing the attachment in the western culture and learning from the east. Since the western culture is the dominate culture at the time, the processes have different characteristics in the west and the east. It is very interesting to observe it.

Overall, for the entire human being and for its entire history, the central problem has always been: how originally free human beings organize together and live rich and beautifully.

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Buddhism Practice and Politics

I would like to say something based on a Buddhism discussion yesterday. This is an extremely long and complex topic. I don’t expect I can explain everything clearly here. I will try to make this article short and avoid too many details.

First we need to clarify the meaning of politics. Generally speaking, I guess there are two ways people usually interpret this word. On the broader sense, politics would mean making social changes. On the narrower sense, politics would mean anything dealing with state/government. For making social change, of course, Buddhism is to make social change. Especially for Mahayana practitioners, we wow to save all sentient beings before saving ourselves. In Mahayana’s view, that is the way of practice. Doing activities is at the very center of Mahayana practice. We say doing activity is the only truth. I don’t want to go into Hinayana’s view here. I will leave that to another post. Here I just want to mention that there are a lot of Hinayana schools actually engage themselves a lot in the social changes (such as Sarvodaya movement in Sri Lanka ). Mahayana practitioners also need to have the ease of putting it down sometimes. After all, if the world never changes, why should you care so much about the human being?

As for dealing with state/government, it is a very complex topic. If Buddha said No Politics, the politics here, in my understanding, means no dealing with state/government. If so, Buddha saying No Politics definitely reflected his deep insight into the nature of state/government. Without going into too deep into this, here just let me say that in the future there will be probably no government/state and country. If so, state/government is definitely not something essential.

As regarding the view that Buddhism is an eastern religion and the same as other eastern religions Buddhism doesn’t have much concern of social change, I don’t quite agree with such a statement. If you judge by majority, maybe it is true. The majority of Buddhism schools in the east may have shunned away from social change in the history. But there is another standard to make judgment. if you judge by best quality, I mean judge by the very few Buddhism schools/masters who really understand Buddhism, then such a statement is not true. In the history of Buddhism in the east, I feel quite confident to say that (real) Buddhism has been trying its best to make social changes, although it was very hard. Without systemic change and the timing, what the (true) Buddhism can work with is very limited. This might be something we can look into from the view of western contribution. But that is a big topic. So I won’t go into here. It is however safe for me to say this: although Buddhism always tries to adapt to local culture, the profoundness of Buddhism always go beyond local culture. Otherwise, it is not complete emptiness.

As for the discussion of why a lot of (probably the majority of Buddhist practitioners, even in the west) are not very interested in social changes (dealing with state/government would be another story), during the discussion, I added one reason. A lot of people came to meditation for the purpose of reducing personal suffering, not to be bothered by many nosies and troubles of life. That is why a lot of people came to meditation. People grow up conditioned by society and culture. Throughout the history, the system has always being trying to tell systemic lies and use systemic forces to turn originally free human being into passive, dependent slaves and labors. People occupied by school and TV, dominated by corporate media, haven’t learned anything about the outside world. They don’t know much about society, culture, and history. They are unable to connect the dots. How can we expect them to be interested in making social changes? Making social changes is a natural thing when your ability grows and you become more able to interact with society and culture.

I would agree that if Al Gore really became president in the year 2000, the response and handling of 911 would be quite different from the Bush Administration. The Bush Administration is just way too horrible. But if we compare this difference to the difference we can make at the grassroots level, then different political candidates don’t really make too much difference. Even the political candidate intends to do something good, the system at the top can only allow very little change. Michael Gravel, who advocates abolishing military (or just against military draft and Military Industry Complex?) and income tax, has no hope to be really elected president. NBC even wanted to bar him from the presidential debate.

But if we view human history as a history of how human being organize together, then in our time we will see more and more experimentation of a very wide range of various form of social organizations, with the aid of Internet and WWW technologies. Especially in term of freeing people from systemic lies, we will have a chance to turn the whole society into a comprehensive learning environment so we can return the true face of learning to people. I am working very hard in these efforts. I need a lot of help. So you will be very welcome to join me in these efforts to change the world in a fundamental and peaceful way. We human being are really at the door step of a very revolutionary change in our entire human history. Actually the process has already started. And it is very possible that we can accomplish this within a few years.

If we don’t have Self, then it won’t be a question why we should or shouldn’t engage in making social change. Everyone is yourself. How can you be blind to other people’s suffering?

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Sitting Meditation, Breathing, and Activity of Mind

Responding to some discussion in a Buddhism gathering, here I want to talk a little of my understanding of these things as these are quite common questions of Buddhism practice.

First is the question of whether we should manipulate our breathing in our meditation.

We human being, do many activities. A lot of them are activities of mind. But in sitting meditation, basically we don’t do any mind activities. (Of course, in Buddhism practice, sometime we do certain mind activities intentionally. If there is a chance, I will talk about those kinds of mind activities. Here I just want to emphasize that it is important to be able to not do mind activities for 20 or 30 mins, since it is our original source. When you don’t need to do anything, are you able to do that? This question can be translated to: are you able to put everything down, even just for these 20 or 30 mins?). So when we sit there and no mind activity, we are just breathing. Without control of mind, we just breath naturally. Of course, we are also doing some other activities. For example, we sit on the earth, and together with the earth, we are moving around the sun. Also together with the solar system, we are expanding with the universe. Without fail, we do these activities perfectly! We don’t even need to be aware of it. It is when we come to mind activities, it becomes difficult and we cannot do very well (because our consciousness is not perfect.) So sitting meditation is to settle down our mind activities.

When you wake up after a dreamless sleep, what do you see?

Use of breathing techniques is fine, if it helps us settle down. But eventually if we really settle down, we should just breath naturally.

In learning, we learn step by step. So in term of learning, sitting meditation would be the most basic activity, which is no activity (of course no mind activity). In sitting meditation, you really don’t need to do anything. In our daily life, on the contrary, we constantly need to “Do Things”. When we Do Things, we often need our minds to guide our eyes, ears, and so on. So we are often confused whether we should calm down our minds or stimulate our minds. So sitting meditation, as the lowest level, can be our start of practice. Through sitting meditation, we experience our original source, which is no thinking, and gain insight into our minds. With that experience and insight, we can gradually practice higher level activities, in which we need to let our minds follow the flow of physical activities.

So I will continue to talk about activity of mind, which is also a response to another topic discussed: what is really our human nature? Is it more individual or collective?

I want to use this as an example to illustrate how the mind activity works. I am not sure I can explain this very clearly. I will make my try.

When we say whether our human nature is individual or collective, we are raising a concept. Any concept will have two sides. We can call the two sides with various terms: binary, dualistic, plus and minus, and so on. They are all referring to the same thing. So individual and collective are two sides of the same concept in our mind. Our consciousness is able to perceive the force acted upon us and tell the difference. By telling the difference, a distance is created. Thus we have “Individual” and “Collective”. Individual is separated from Collective. We have separation.

The meaning of emptiness here is that either side of the view is OK. Many people’s minds start differently stuck with one side of the view. For some people, they tend to be more individual. For some people, they tend to be more collective. In reality, we have experience of both sides billions of times in our daily life. But usually our minds get stuck in only one side of the view, and tend to only recognize one side of the experience. That is OK. So you expand one side of the view, for example, try to expand your individuality. So you keep expanding. But as you are expanding, there is less and less need for you to expand any more. As you have less and less need to expand any more, you recognize more and more need to contract (in this example, it is to be aware of other people, and start helping other people). The same applies to people who start with a strong mind of collective view. As they keep helping other people, they will also come to situations they realize they have to develop their personal individuality.

So no matter which side people start with, emptiness makes sure both people will come to the same reality. After all, they are just two-sided views of the same thing.

Above is just a description of people’s minds when they have an illusionary self in their minds, and their illusionary self is stuck with one side of the view. But how would the perfect mind function? As our physical bodies are subject to many forces. Our consciousness are also subject to many opposing forces. These opposing forces give rise to concepts in our minds. In this sense, Buddhism is a very scientific study of how our minds function subjecting to various forces. Buddhism teaching, can boil down to this: not inside, not outside, not even in the middle. Or often put another way, don’t be stuck with either end, and don’t even be stuck with the middle. I personally put it this way: separation is for better connection, connection is for better separation. It is like fluid. Or like Bruce Lee said, be water. I will not go into the details here and I will leave that to your contemplation. I am not an academic. So to talk above these theoretical stuff is to just for the purpose of practice, to really experience it for yourself. I will give you a hint, however. Many of you have heard that in Buddhism, it is said that we are born and die billions of times every day. What does it mean? How are you born? How do you die?

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Dumbing Us Down for Mr. Bush and Politicians in the Congress

I read articles of the No Child Left Behind bill on NY Time, and their efforts to renew it. I strongly recommended them to read Mr. John Tayor Gatto’s book Dumbing Us Down. No one can do a good job on education without reading Mr. Gatto’s books or sharing the same understanding on education.

Compulsory schooling is not to teach people how to learn. Instead it is to make people unable to learn.

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Dumbing Us Down for Teach for America and Wendy Kopp

Read Wendy Kopp’s book One Day, All Children: The Unlikely Triumph of Teach for America and What I Learned Along the Way several years ago.

Wendy recently came to Columbia to give a speech, and on NY Times Teach for America was said to be like the peace corp in the 70s.

I would strongly recommend Wendy and young people who plan to apply for positions in Teach for American to read John Taylor Gatto’s book: Dumbing Us Down. No one can do a good job on education without reading Mr. Gatto’s books or sharing the same understanding on education.

Compulsory schooling is not to teach people how to learn. Instead it is to make people unable to learn. They should know this clearly.

Note: I guess the chance for Wendy to read this article is very slim. So I will be a little nasty here. When I was reading Wendy’s book, my feeling was that she doesn’t understand anything about education. Her efforts to build TFA was largely based on personal greeds, although initially there was a small portion of altruism. TFA may not be doing good for American education. It might just do the opposite. Her success is totally based on her marketing and the pretense of education. My eyes popped up when reading her book. Wow, she could build a big organization just by endless marketing and soliciting donations. This is really America!

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