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Hell, Holiness, Dualism, & Zen


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Hi all,

Been reading and re-reading a lot of stuff on Zen Buddhism lately (I'm liking it...a lot), and I think it has some interesting implications for the classic Judaeo-Christian concept of "holiness."

 

I know that originally "holiness" was understood mostly in the sense of "separateness." What is holy is defined by what is NOT holy, a lot like the absence theodicy of evil... Mikhail Bakunin in "God and the State" notes that by defining God as good/perfect/etc, all that is not God is automatically defined as evil, flawed, so on and so forth. It's the ultimate antagonistic relationship that completely devalues humanity, among other things.

 

Anyway, this reminds me of the problem of the delusion of dualistic thinking condemned by Zen Buddhism. The ideas of "I am I" and "I am NOT anyone/anything else" necessarily causes the individual to view others and the world as in opposition to himself and unconnected to himself. This view paves the way for the individual to treat others badly or carelessly, since their good has nothing to do with me. Life becomes a vicious zero-sum game that breeds suffering.

 

To me, Hell is the natural, if revolting, culmination of the supreme expression of dualism that runs through Christian theology. Hell, the Abrahamic religions look like dualism par excellence, it's their very foundation! God is holy, therefore God is separate from his creation, which is by definition opposed in character to God, so what's not-God must be removed... I find this incredibly ironic, since this position is the perfect antithesis to the Zen view of the Oneness of all things. Hmm... perhaps Yahweh needs to achieve enlightenment! ;)

 

Anyway, that's just my nocturnal ramblings of the moment, hope someone found it interesting. Off to play computer games.

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This is the view that I agree with and think that the only duality that exists is in our perception and agree that it is a degrading system of belief that causes division as a natural by-product. What I find ironic is that in the Old Testament and the Garden of Eden has this turning away from non-dualistic thinking into one of duality (the illusion of) and condems it. As the myth goes, they believed themselves to be separate from everything and each other when it just wasn't true. That is my understanding of it anyway. They became aware of themselves as not-like the other. Or so they thought. :)

 

This is just a natural progression mankind of having to live in a world that is full of perceived dualities. We only think that we know the difference between good and bad. I think it occured when we became aware of ourselves as being not-like the other. We thought different thoughts, liked different things and many other examples. The myth only explains this progression, IMO.

 

There is a person by the name of truegrit that has posted that she agrees with this theodicy of evil. Here is where she just posted that: http://www.ex-christian.net/index.php?s=&a...st&p=245714

 

Thank you for the post, I enjoyed it.

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Anyway, this reminds me of the problem of the delusion of dualistic thinking condemned by Zen Buddhism. The ideas of "I am I" and "I am NOT anyone/anything else" necessarily causes the individual to view others and the world as in opposition to himself and unconnected to himself. This view paves the way for the individual to treat others badly or carelessly, since their good has nothing to do with me. Life becomes a vicious zero-sum game that breeds suffering.

 

While I reject the self-abasing notion that having a concept of self somehow paves the way for the individual to harm other people, overall, Zen is an advanced and useful path to follow.

 

I would be glad if I were to see Zen become as widespread as Xianity, and all Abrahamic paths fade into utter obscurity.

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notblindedbytheblight- Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed my little ramble. :thanks: The irony you point out in Genesis is pretty funny, in a sad sort of way, and you can really see how the mind virus of dualism develops ferociously as the bible progresses. Actually, now that I think about it, wow is it stark. The earliest parts don't really do much explicit dividing up of the holy vs unholy characters, except for the bits about the descendants of Cain in a couple of lines, and then Sodom I suppose. The "good" guys are living embedded in their local cultures without conflict. Then it starts to grow exponentially once you hit the Flood story with the first appearance (I think) of genocidal dividing the population into holy and unholy. After that... the ethnic cleansing of Joshua's Conquest, Deuteronomy/Leviticus making an institution out of a dualistic self/other view, so on and so forth, until it peaks in the NT by moving to the ultimate spiritual dualism with Hell after it's already gruesomly divided up the physical realm. I mean, the "sheep and goats" separation at Judgment Day is the pinnacle! (Or nadir....) Hm, your comments really made that pop out at me, thank you!

 

And I took a look at that post of truegrit's that you linked me to... ugh. I don't even know where to begin with that crap. They jump to the absence theodicy to escape the predicament of a substantial Principle of Evil that's either coexistent and co-eternal with Good (Zoroastrianism's problem that forced them to invent a third, neutral ultimate god, Zurvan), or to dodge the problems inherent in a pure good god creating evil, when supposedly doing evil is impossible as against his nature. But then they just hang themselves on the horns of the dualism dilemma!

 

Varokhar- I agree with you about Zen, and frankly, I'm pretty sick of the us vs. them crap the Abrahamic Three spew, it's just not helpful. They talk a lot about wanting peace and unity, but boy does their rhetoric do fuck-all to accomplish it. I don't find the Zen perspective on self to be self-abasing, mainly because I see it as condemning what I think of as the "disconnected self" view, the idea that the individual exists *completely* independent of others and denying the fact that every individual is embedded in a matrix of relationships that affect him and he, in turn, affects. There's no such thing as the "self-made man." The way I see it, Zen does recognize the individual entity in the sense that "I think, feel, and act differently than others" - it doesn't condemn difference. As I understand Zen, only the selfish form of the concept of "I" is condemned. Kind of like the "get ahead at all costs, look out only for Number One" thing mentioned over in the Morality of Rich & Poor thread. Don't know if I expressed myself well, damn text-only mode of communication.... Anyway, I'm with you in saying "fuck that" to any belief system that tries to say human individuals are nothing but worthless scum - after all, politically I'm an anarchist! Just look at my sig for the Kropotkin quote! :wicked:

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Nicely put, Bluescreen. I have been slowly studying basic Buddhist philosophy (as encompassed in the Noble Eightfold Path) as well as the general Buddhist concept of constant questioning and analysis, and I am finding it very pleasing and acceptable. Zen is definitely something worth looking into for everyone, and certainly more palatable than Abrahamic garbage.

 

The Dharma Wheel is far more edifying and noble than a million crucified effigies of a demon in angel's clothing.

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You are welcome and you have provided me with some insight into Zen. Nice to have you here.

 

after all, politically I'm an anarchist! Just look at my sig for the Kropotkin quote! :wicked:

Isn't all of nature? :)

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Varokhar- Thank you, and it's kind of been the same for me here. I've been going over Zen Buddhist teachings with a pretty aggressively critical eye, as I'm definitely of the "once bitten, twice shy" persuasion. Honestly, I really haven't come across anything that's fatally objectionable. Some of the more overtly mystical stuff like rebirth seems to have a diverse array of lines of interpretation, and they seem to all coexist peacefully. I've watched discussions between hardcore traditionalists who believe in a literal succession of different lives through history and those who favor a more metaphorical approach about "future lives" being nothing more than the effect your actions and thoughts have on others, flowing out from you like ripples in water. It's really remarkable to me, after spending a long time reading Christian flamewars over random points of doctrine that can't be tested in a lab. <cough> Theologyweb assholes <cough>

 

Like you, I also really like how Buddhism encourages questioning, and how Siddhartha Gautama effectively says, "Don't believe it just because a book or some guy tells you, find out for yourself if it's true. If it's not, dump it!" Seems a very mature approach, none of this "Shut up, don't ask questions" Abrahamic shite. Oh, and unlike desert psycho rantings, at least some schools of Zen expressly repudiate sexism!! (Dogen, the founder of the Soto Zen school, if I remember right.) Hell yeah, good to hear as a woman. :woohoo:

 

At any rate, at this point I feel confident enough that I'm not going to run into any nasty deal-breaking surprises with Zen that I'm willing to give it a chance. Cautiously, and with my eyes wide open, of course. Due to some past experiences I've had with meditation, long before I knew anything about Zen, I suspect that there may very well be something to the concept of Enlightenment. To me, it's at least worth testing out - at the worst, I regain and improve the inner peace and harmony I had from daily informal meditation before my practice was disrupted by a move, law school, etc. If that's all I get, it's still a win in my book!

 

And I agree with your comparison of the Dharma Wheel vs. crucifixes... speaking of which, I really need to get around to removing that one on my wall that I've been ignoring. I'll just have to put it back whenever my fundagelical mother comes by. Damn double life.

 

notblindedbytheblight- Glad you found my comments interesting, despite my limited learning about Zen! Incidentally, I read the rest of the "Truegrit Lady" thread you pointed me to, and I found that your post #87 in particular was exceptionally beautiful. You have a poetic, yet clear way of discussing nonduality. And I noted your phrasing about formlessness and form... are you familiar with the writings of Laozi (Lao-Tzu) and Zhuangzi (also spelled Chuang-Tzu)? <g> I find early philosophical Daoism to be a rather nice complement to Zen Buddhism, each has a different focus that fills out different areas. Zen seems to cover the internal and ethical stuff better, while Daoism brings out the functioning of the cosmos and social dynamics a little more fully.

 

QUOTE(Bluescreen @ Jan 5 2007, 01:44 AM) *

after all, politically I'm an anarchist! Just look at my sig for the Kropotkin quote! wicked.gif

 

Isn't all of nature? smile.gif

 

<g> Definitely!! Kropotkin would fully agree with you in one of his short essays! Hell, nature's anarchistic down to the sub-molecular level, just ask the chaos mathematicians... Chaos theory.. now that's a mindfuck. But intensely beautiful. Newton can keep his clockwork universe, I'll take the delightfully messy, ever-changing world of chaos! Which actually smacks of the Zen "Void" or the Eternal Dao....

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I hear you, Bluescreen. "Once bitten - twice shy" over here, too. When I left Xianity, I realized what an absolute dupe I had been, and felt beyond stupid at the amount of passion and love I put into something that was harming me - and simply wasn't true to begin with. Not to mention evil. It's hard to totally trust any philosophy after that, especially when your skepticism runs so strongly as a natural defense mechanism.

 

But, as you said, there really isn't anything hideously wrong about Zen or Buddhism in general. It's life-affirming, positive, and full of excellent morals and common-sense approaches to things. It's not perfect, but nothing is - yet it's something one can learn much from.

 

May the cross be ground beneath the Dharma Wheel :)

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notblindedbytheblight- Glad you found my comments interesting, despite my limited learning about Zen! Incidentally, I read the rest of the "Truegrit Lady" thread you pointed me to, and I found that your post #87 in particular was exceptionally beautiful. You have a poetic, yet clear way of discussing nonduality. And I noted your phrasing about formlessness and form... are you familiar with the writings of Laozi (Lao-Tzu) and Zhuangzi (also spelled Chuang-Tzu)? <g> I find early philosophical Daoism to be a rather nice complement to Zen Buddhism, each has a different focus that fills out different areas. Zen seems to cover the internal and ethical stuff better, while Daoism brings out the functioning of the cosmos and social dynamics a little more fully.

 

QUOTE(Bluescreen @ Jan 5 2007, 01:44 AM) *

after all, politically I'm an anarchist! Just look at my sig for the Kropotkin quote! wicked.gif

 

Isn't all of nature? smile.gif

 

<g> Definitely!! Kropotkin would fully agree with you in one of his short essays! Hell, nature's anarchistic down to the sub-molecular level, just ask the chaos mathematicians... Chaos theory.. now that's a mindfuck. But intensely beautiful. Newton can keep his clockwork universe, I'll take the delightfully messy, ever-changing world of chaos! Which actually smacks of the Zen "Void" or the Eternal Dao....

Thank you for the compliment Bluescreen. :)

 

I just read a little Lao-Tzu the other day, but mostly I get it from speakers such as Alan Watts, Joseph Campbell and other spiritual speakers. Yes it's cheating a little, but I need to have some background about the philosophy (or religion) in order to get a head start. I would love to jump in at ground zero, but my western mind wouldn't be able to comprehend it without help.

 

I read into theosophy for awhile with a little religious science and that got me going to all sorts of different places but in the end, they seem to be saying the same thing. It's the understandings that are all screwed up! ;)

 

I love it though...it makes so much more sense than some old guy in the sky!

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Varokhar- <grins at your last comment> Great timing, as I just finished arranging a little Zen shrine/meditation spot! (What?!?! How dare I!!) The centerpiece is a lovely woodcarving of Kannon, the Bodhisattva of Compassion - her peaceful demeanor is much more beautiful than pictures of mutilated human bodies. (Oh noes! Pagan idol in my house!! ;) ) I'm typing this with some very nice traditional sandalwood temple incese burning. Ahh, the farthest thing from hellfire and DOOOOOOOOOOOM. :woohoo: I look forward to meditating in a bit with a fresh stick lit.

 

On a slightly more serious note, I'd be happy to pass along titles of any particularly good books on Zen I've come across, or good websites, if you're interested. I always love an excuse to have a good chat about Eastern philosophy!

 

BTW, I'm enjoying the fireworks in your Christianity & Revolution thread, you're definitely not pulling any punches!

 

notblindedbytheblight- You're welcome!

 

<g> It's no shame whatsoever to "cheat" as you put it, no such thing as cheating in acquiring knowledge! I can imagine it would be pretty rough to jump in with no background - to this day I'm grateful I had the chance to take an excellent class on Chinese philosophy with an Oxford-educated professor while I was working on my B.A. degree. She gets the credit for the meager understanding I do have. I can't begin to express how much she helped to give me the grounding I needed to begin to understand the Daoist and Confucian thinkers, especially with how many of those works hinge on extremely abstract terms of art. Man, Hegel can jump in a lake, he's got nothing on Laozi for coining special words. And I've found the foundation that course laid to be very helpful in learning about Zen, Watts is right, there's a pretty notable overlap between Zen and Daoism. Too bad I still don't feel confident enough to start tackling the Buddhist sutras themselves, although some of the Zen teachers' essays seem to be making sense. (Probably means I just totally misunderstood them, haha.)

 

Since you mentioned wanting to get in at ground zero, I enthusiastically recommend this particular translation of the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching in the old Wade-Giles spelling - yuck, I hate that spelling system, very awkward) - full title is Dao De Jing "Making This Life Significant": A Philosophical Translation. Translation is by Roger T. Ames and David L. Hall, published in 2003 by Ballantine Publishing Group. ISBN for the hardback I've got is 0-345-44415-9. It's the one we used in my Chinese philosophy class, and has an *excellent* primer in the first 60-80 pages or so to get your bearings, and then has short but helpful commentary for each of the 81 chapters of the book, complete with parallel English and Chinese text. It also has loads of useful footnotes, background historical information, and comments on the recent archaeological finds that helped them to improve the accuracy of this rendition of the text. I think it's the best translation I've read for clarity and neutrality - none of that awful "let's insert Christianity" crap that was the rage with the bigoted 19th Century orientalists!!

 

<is all excited about trying to tempt someone to read more Chinese philosophy, as currently hasn't had a good conversation about that stuff in about 3 years> Damn, once I finish with the stack of books on Zen I just grabbed from the university library, you're gonna make me reread the Daodejing and Zhuanzi for the umpteenth time.... Curse you!

 

I don't argue with the core bit of the theosophists' view that there does seem to be a nearly universal core of thought/morality in most religions. If I remember right, don't they favor a more pantheistic view of the universe? At least they're not preaching fire and brimstone! ;)

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Heh, Bluescreen - feels good to be free and enjoy some genuinely peaceful religious aesthetics instead of the mangled body of Jebus. Such morbid imagery these Xians are so fond of, eh?

 

Yes, please do share anything you find on Zen and Buddhism - I'm always up for expanding my knowledge about this fine path.

 

I'm glad you're enjoying the Xianity and Revolution thread. I don't particularly enjoy butting heads with Xian zombies, but it serves a greater good, so I deal with it. I just hope that non-xians find it helpful, and Xians are encouraged to think their religion over and give it the heave-ho.

 

Ah, sandalwood. My wife is fond of that. Much better than the brimstone of Xianity ;)

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