My answer to one of the last posted exercises also serves as decent summary of the book's thrust:
Q. Explain the link between the "model agnosticism" that Wilson advocates here (and elsewhere) and quantum theory.
A. To me, these eight-plus different models/maps of what quantum mechanics means [detailed in Nick Herbert's Quantum Reality] provide an ideal demonstration of "model agnosticism." You have observations, and then you have the process of interpreting these observations to create their meaning. In psychological terms, each one of us inhabits a perspective from which we make observations and then we create the meaning, the "is" with which we explain those observations. "Model agnosticism" provides some breathing room, some space between the observation and the meaning-creation and can potentially reduce our territoriality and our fighting over the small mouth noises and ink squiggles we use to communicate the meanings we construct.
Unfortunately, there are several groups of people upon whom Wilson regularly heaps scorn throughout the book, undercutting to some degree the power of this book's thesis and reinforcing the same sense of territoriality that "quantum psychology" seeks to relax. For example, every snide comment about Catholicism (rather than about sombunall Catholics!), made me think of counter-examples in Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, the Rev. Jack Ditch, and others, and frankly it rankled a bit. That said, maybe RAW's apparent inconsistencies trigger my own sense of territoriality, and so the tingling means the book is working!
Many have noted this book's relationship to Prometheus Rising, one of his betters works of nonfiction. I plan to re-read this book again, as a whole this time, rather than in 23 small doses, and in tandem with Prometheus Rising to see if my overall estimation of this book changes....more
Reading the Comic Trigger books is like listening to one of Bob's hilarious talks.
In this, volume 2, he lays down his rules for dealing with BS (i.e.Reading the Comic Trigger books is like listening to one of Bob's hilarious talks.
In this, volume 2, he lays down his rules for dealing with BS (i.e., Belief Systems, dogmas, absolute truths, etc.), which are (1) never believe totally in someone else's BS and (2) never believe totally in your own BS.
Bob spikes his observations on a mysterious suicide named Roberto Calvi and musings on a murdered baby in County Kerry, Ireland, with vignettes from his early life in Depression-era Brooklyn, his Irish Catholic upbringing, his contemplated suicide from the Brooklyn Bridge in 1955, and his meeting with and marriage to Arlen Riley.
Cinema and the montage, non-linear, non-narrative quality it brings to storytelling, is central to this work. Bob describes many of the early films that provided his first entryways into what he calls "virtual reality," a meta-programmer of sorts who could mess with imprints, paradigms, etc. The non-linear, interpenetrating way in which the material in the book is presented, particularly in its few explicitly lysergic scenes, makes manifest the model agnosticism he consistently champions.
Along with the "down to earth" material about his life, Bob provides glimpses into some of his breakthrough moments and insights, going as he says from a state of ignorance to a more complicated state of ignorance.
While not as essential as the first volume, this book still shows why the late Pope Bob was the coolest stand-up philosopher ever. ...more
I read this book at the urging of a friend. He figured that as an instructor of comparative and Asian religion and someone who is involved in BuddhistI read this book at the urging of a friend. He figured that as an instructor of comparative and Asian religion and someone who is involved in Buddhist-Christian dialogue, I would find the book to be of interest.
I did find the book interesting, but probably not for the same reasons as my friend. Author Ravi Zacharias and many of his reviewers claim that the book is a dialogue meant to explore these two traditions, specifically how their teachings relate to the suffering of a prostitute dying of AIDS. Unfortunately, as the author makes quite clear in his introductory words, the book is not an objective look at the two traditions, or even a work of Christian apologetics, but is instead a thinly veiled polemic against the Buddhist religion from the perspective of an absolutist and exclusivist Christianity.
Let's dispel the idea once and for all that this book is somehow non-biased or objective. One reviewer asserts that Zacharias does not "unfairly tilt this conversation in Jesus' favor" due to his Christian faith, yet the author himself readily admits that his "conclusions must be in keeping with the Truth that can be tested," which is to say, the Christian gospel. He also says, when discussing the possible slant that the book could take, that "some fundamental ideas are inescapable and must be engaged." Some of these fundamental ideas are that "Jesus and Buddha cannot both be right" and that "behind the two symbols [of Christianity and Buddhism:] stand two diametrically opposed faiths" (all Zacharias' quotes here are from p.8). These ideas are assumed in the introduction—accordingly, the "dialogue" that makes up the bulk of the book merely demonstrates its author's assumptions. Zacharias is neither interested in looking at these two traditions on their own terms and in examining their commonalities as well as differences nor does he intend to create an authentic dialogue, where both parties come to the table as equals, each with wisdom to share with the other. Rather, he already knows the "Truth" about the situation, and merely stages a faux-dialogue as a way of demonstrating the assumed superiority of one religion over the other. Perhaps the reason Zacharias finds it "difficult to highlight the deep differences between Buddhism and Christianity and not bring offense" (p.7) is because he is not merely highlighting these differences, but applying an a priori value judgment to them as well. (Although the honesty in his introduction is welcome, his use of the dialogue format is disingenuous; Zacharias hopes to evoke an open, objective feeling while selectively putting words into the mouths of Jesus and the Buddha in order to support his polemical agenda.)
One also needs to address the "research" that Zacharias put into the book. According to him he spent "scores" of hours interviewing monks and teachers from different Buddhist traditions. One reviewer asserts that the "hours and hours of interviews" the author has conducted with monks from different locales afford Zacharias the opportunity to convey "real Buddhism" to the reader, as opposed to the "watered down, American Buddhism that is more a combination of Star Trek and Hallmark than anything that the Buddha ever taught" (this reviewer obviously harbored no reservations about offending!). Another reviewer argues that Zacharias' "representations of Jesus and Buddha are based on the best historical documents of their teachings, and not on modern interpretations or practices." Yet scores of hours of interviews with a handful of monks would no more convey an accurate and complete picture of Buddhism—a 2,500 year old religion with different traditions in dozens of Asian countries—than interviews with a dozen Franciscans and Cistercians would encapsulate the definitive essence of Christianity. And one must ask how these reviewers speak with such certainty of "real" or "historical" Buddhism without explaining their criteria for evaluating "real" vs. "watered-down" or "historical" vs. "modern interpretations." My guess is that "real" Buddhism comprises those elements that support Zacharias' polemic, while "watered-down" Buddhism constitutes anything that would make his case more problematic. (As well, Zacharias' account seems more "historical" because it is in line with the late 19th-century misrepresentations of Buddhism that contemporary Buddhist studies have done much to dispel, with little success. These misrepresentations include the image of the Buddha as a hyper-rational logician or rule-obsessed moralist, nirvana described as "oblivion," etc.)
Finally, the dialogue itself rings false to someone who has spent fifteen years engaged in the academic study of Christianity, Buddhism, and religion in general. Zacharias misrepresents the Buddha and Buddhism throughout the "dialogues"; he frames Buddhist ideas in evangelical Christian terms without acknowledging it, he points out apparent inconcistencies without then allowing the Buddha to respond to his criticisms (hardly fair in a real dialogue, but in this one Zacharias got to write all the parts), and he relies on outdated Western interpretations of Buddhist thought that are, quite simply, incorrect.
While insisting that the two traditions are diametrically opposed, Zacharias repeatedly demonstrates parallels between the two. On pg. 16, Jesus says, "time isn't just a fleeting thing. It never moves forward without engraving its mark upon the heart...[it:] always [leaves:] an imprint." This is a lovely restatement of the Buddhist doctrine of karma, in which the results of each thought and action leave impressions (bijas or "seeds") in the mind. These impressions condition subsequent thoughts and actions, which in turn leave more impressions, and so on. Again, on p.18, Jesus says that "when the imagination is beguiled—which is where it all begins—and the will succumbs, the mind is unwittingly taken prisoner." Compare this to the Buddhist understanding of samsara, cyclic existence, in which the ignorant mind is unwittingly taken prisoner after it grasps onto that with which it comes into contact.
In Zacharias' book, the Buddha discusses karma, not in terms of impressions left on the mind or as the consequences of prior thoughts and actions, but as a debt that needs to be repaid. The metaphor of debts and repayment is a foreign one in my study of Buddhism, but it is quite familiar within Christianity wherein all are sinners, indebted beyond our ability to repay, and Jesus is the one who makes restitution. I suspect that Zacharias used this metaphor deliberately, in order to set Buddhist "works" against the Christian gospel of "grace." My hunch is supported by Jesus' response—"How does one pay? With what does one pay? And to whom does one pay?" The Buddha cannot answer these questions, not because he has no answers, but because karma is not understood as a debt that one must pay; rather, it is a moral law of cause and effect, more akin to Newton's laws of motion than to an accountant's ledgers. The words that Zacharias puts into the mouth of the Buddha in response to Jesus' questions reveal precisely how little the author actually understands about this religion: "But I just didn't arbitrarily make up this philosophy. Years of thought went into it." As any Buddhist will tell you, the Buddha did not make up the idea of karma out of whole cloth, nor was it a philosophy that he thought out over a long period of time. Instead, the doctrine of karma came from his recognition of a moral law of cause and effect, one that the Apostle Paul also understood: "As you sow, so shall you reap."
On page 23, Zacharias brings up a slightly thorny issue for Buddhism, the question of how to reconcile the doctrine of rebirth with the doctrine of anatman, "selflessness." In other words, if there is no essential self, then what precisely is reborn? This is a good question, and one that Buddhist thinkers have wrestled with for 2,500 years. Yet Zacharias simply acts as if he were the first person to think of the question and does very little to explore the substantial answers that Buddhists have given. In fact, on the following page, he brings up the Buddhist idea of "dependent origination" and summarily dismisses it as a "technical term" that's "far too complex to go into." This is ludicrous! The Buddha insisted that understanding the admittedly difficult doctrine of dependent origination (and understanding here means getting it in more than an intellectual way) was the same as understanding the whole of the Buddha's teachings. To write this off in a book that purports to be an honest exploration of Buddhism is akin to blowing off a discussion of the Trinity in a book on Christianity, because the doctrine is "far too complex" to talk about.
I won't even go into the Buddha's petulant complaint about Jesus' insistence on using his birth name, Gautama, rather than the honorific "Awakened One," other than to remind the reader that this is Zacharias, and not Shakyamuni Buddha, who is speaking. Similarly, the discussion between Jesus and the Buddha over which came first is absurd. Jesus' assertion that he predated the Buddha because he was present at the creation of the universe is cute ("So time ought not to be a factor of seniority here, if you don't mind. Those who define truth by the calendar run afoul of Him who created time" p. 29), but no matter how much Zacharias doth protest, the fact of the matter remains that the Buddhist religion is 500 years older than Christianity. This by itself means little, but Zacharias' attempt to refute historical fact seems to be an example of protesting too much. Additionally, Jesus' "argument" will convince many Christians of his temporal primacy, but the Buddha would have dismissed Jesus' claims to have created the universe as nonsensical—for Buddhism, time and the cosmos are beginningless.
Zacharias fills the remainder of his "dialogue" with similar mischaracterizations of the Buddha and of his teachings on karma, suffering, desire, nirvana, prayer, devotion, effort, the spiritual path, selflessness, etc. If this is as much as you will ever read about Buddhism, then Jesus' (i.e., Zacharias') questions and criticisms may indeed be difficult to rebut, and he does not make much of an effort to accurately represent the Buddhist responses to these questions and criticisms. If you study Buddhism, though, you will find that every question that Zacharias raises has been addressed, repeatedly, for thousands of years.
In short, this is a book that seeks to provide just enough information on Buddhism to remind the convinced Christian that they are right and the poor deluded Buddhists are wrong. As Zacharias himself says on p. 31, albeit in a different context, "When you mix falsehood with truth, you create a more destructive lie." A similar book on Christianity—showing its apparent inconsistencies and illogical elements—could be written just as easily, but for the most part, the Buddhists who write about the two religions try to find common ground instead of lording the superiority of their faith over that of benighted Christians. For those looking for more honest and engaging books on Christianity and Buddhism, I recommend Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh, The Ground We Share, by Robert Aitken Roshi and Br. David Steindl-Rast, and the works of Ruben Habito. Those looking for an introduction to the teachings of the Buddha would do well to read What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula.
Sadly, for those looking to confirm their own sense of spiritual superiority, this is a good place to start....more
It is difficult for me to be critical of a work by an author whose goal was not egoic, seeking to be a literary star, but rather selfless and compassiIt is difficult for me to be critical of a work by an author whose goal was not egoic, seeking to be a literary star, but rather selfless and compassionate, seeking to benefit all beings.
That said, the two sections of this book that deal with the Prajnaparamita Hridaya Sutra are neither the most informative nor the most clearly presented that I have read. Admittedly, a good part of this criticism has to do with the layout and formatting of these sections, which seem disjointed at times. For example, Tibetan transliterations---idiosyncratic transliterations at that---are interspersed inconsistently throughout the text with brief commentaries that interrupt the flow of the commentary. As another example of the strange composition of the book, glossary-style definitions of terms will often simply appear, wedged between two sections of commentary, even though the book has a complete glossary at the back. ClearPoint Press is obviously not publishing these books to win prizes in book composition, though, so they can definitely be forgiven. :)
Composition and layout issues aside, the book contains a very powerful commentary on anger by the late author, Bokar Rinpoche, and a thoughtful lesson on karma by his primary disciple Khenpo Donyo. Two specific insights from these sections that continue to resonate like a bell within me are "Anger makes us stupid" and "If it impossible for us to immediately give up some aspects of our conduct, at least we can aspire that they will disappear sometime in the future."
All in all, a very worthwhile read, but perhaps not essential in a world increasingly saturated with books on Buddhadharma....more
This slim volume, a collection of talks given by Bokar Rinpoche to his students in France, is a wonderful resource for beginning (and not so beginningThis slim volume, a collection of talks given by Bokar Rinpoche to his students in France, is a wonderful resource for beginning (and not so beginning) Vajrayana Buddhist meditators. As another reviewer has noted, the book abounds with contemporary analogies, yet the material is firmly grounded in the traditional Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. The book includes a brief section on the preliminary practices (i.e., the Four Reminders and ngondro), and it also provides detailed descriptions of proper meditation posture. As well, Rinpoche gives lengthy explanations of the two basic forms of meditation in the Kagyu tradition---shinay (shamatha, "calm abiding") and lhatong (vipashyana, "superior vision")---and also describes different methods of each for the reader/student to put into practice. Finally, and most importantly to this reviewer, Rinpoche continually stresses that diligence in practice is far more important than "good" or "successful" meditation; for me, it is so easy to become discouraged in meditation because of my goal-oriented, perfectionist nature, so these reminders to "just do it" are simply indispensible....more
For starters, this is not a book for reading only; instead, it is a companion to regular contemplative practice (albeit not necessarily one that is "B For starters, this is not a book for reading only; instead, it is a companion to regular contemplative practice (albeit not necessarily one that is "Buddhist").
I was "forced" to read this book as a graduate student at The Naropa Institute (in the same way that all students are "forced" to read textbooks) and found that I got very little out of the book. While at times his presentation was incredibly lucid, at other times Trungpa's turns of phrase made little sense, leading our circle of student heretics to coin the descriptive phrase "Trungpa-babble." (Full-disclosure: One of the reasons that this book appeared so jargon-laden at the time I first read it probably had to do with the fact that my sitting practice was very new and so I had little experience with which to compare Trungpa's ideas.)
On re-reading this book as one of the titles on my guru's reading lists, I was impressed by how much of the same material that had once left me cold now applied directly to my life and practice. Trungpa definitely takes the "romance" out of spiritual practice and reveals it to be as mundane as going to work, eating dinner, or taking a bath. Like those other activities, though, meditation (in this context the basic practice of sitting with oneself and familiarizing oneself with the neurosis and clarity that make up the mind) is essential to a life fully lived....more