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Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Original Sin and Original Enlightenment

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I think it’s a bit confusing to say that our original-nature is given, while sin or ignorance is an accretion. Every sort of Buddhist account of “the fall” I have known leaves precisely what separates original from fallen nature a bit obscure. What is Original Sin and Original Enlightenment.

The original sin was not an act by Adam or Eve anymore than it was an act by you or me. God’s very creation of Adam was that sin, and not because he was destined to along with Eve disobey God. That Adam and Eve were created separate from God and given the opportunity to subsist forever in this separation through the Tree of Life, is God’s own self-sundering.

Adam and Eve partake of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which prefigures the Law, and throw themselves into sin in the course of ultimately transcending it for Him, but not apart from Him. This is why Zizek is right to see Christ’s rising in Adam’s falling, and why Paul calls Adam (in Romans 5:14) “a type of the one to come” (i.e. Christ).

A great book on sin is the first half of “Lying: A Augustinian Theology of Duplicity” by Paul Griffith. Pair that then with Karl Barth’s “Adam and Christ: Man and Humanity in Romans 5,” which is basically about the samsara/nirvana relationship.

I draw on Karl Barth here, but this is why I think he’s useful for working with the Buddhist terms: our sinfulness, our ignorance of our original nature and the active withdrawal from it (think of Augustine’s shtick about how as a boy he stole that pear just to steal it, just because it was wrong – he didn’t even like pears), is given along with that original nature – not as a later stain upon it.

If you want to use a term like “openness” (Heidegger’s Lichtung) to convey this original-nature, our openness is from the beginning an openness to that very ignorance of it. What is sinful is not apart from that original nature (samsara is nirvana), but sinfulness as sinfulness, ignorance in-itself is not self-sustaining either. It’s temporal; it arises and it ceases. In a sense, it doesn’t even arise /from/ original nature (lending itself to the idea that original-nature is temporally prior to sin or ignorance), but exists from the very beginning with it – co-dependently arising. Co-dependently-arising, our ignorance of our original nature ceases while our original nature remains.

This is what Dogen is getting at when he says in his Genjokoan that

“To study the buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of realization remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.”

To forget the self is tantamount to taking that Adamic fall into ignorance and sinful-nature, but with the wholesome intention of realizing the original-nature heretofore under erasure. Myriad things are not-self (anatta), and the dropping away of body and mind is the dropping away of original sin. Dogen doesn’t just say it happens either, that it’s already there. Instead, it’s a moment in a process. The “no trace of realization [that] remains” is our original-nature, but it is not original nature “before” sin.

The weird idea some Christians have is that our sinfulness (or ignorance of God) is our original nature, which is to say that God created only to condemn us. To get us back on the path, whether we’re getting lost in the first Canto of Dante’s Divine Comedy or stumbling in an Ox-Herding painting, we’ve got to let go of sin, but we have to engage it in order to do that, just like we have to pass through ignorance of our original nature to realize it.

It would then seem that some Soto Zennists or otherwise proponents of shikantaza coupled with a one-sided view of “Original Enlightenment” are latter day Pelagians.

Written by Joe

May 17, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Bacon sizzles, Plates clatter, Light falls

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Bacon sizzles,
The coffee refills
My meals late,

Plates clatter
The check comes,
Got 100 cash.

Light falls
on coffee mugs,
and people sing.


Written at Junior’s diner, in Portland Oregon, 2006. The stanzas’ proximity to one another is merely conventional, and seem at first to be written about the same thing. These are examples of poetry written at the level of Hegel’s “sense-certainty,” which when in Kevin Hill’s Hegel-class at PSU in 2007 was curiously suggested to be some kind of Zen simplicity.

Written by Joe

December 26, 2009 at 2:04 pm

Posted in Buddhism, Hegel, Philosophy

Buddhist Church Inc.

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From Buddhist Geeks:

We continue our discussion with Shambhala acharya, Judith Simmer-Brown, about how we can strategically invest in American Buddhism so that it survives in the long-term. We explored the first three areas of importance in-depth in part 1, which included the translation of core texts, the development of a monastic lineage, and the appointment of dharma heirs.

In this part of the discussion we flesh out the details of the fourth area, which is royal patronage. Judith speaks about how, given a lack of that kind of support, most dharma teachers and organizations turn whole-heartedly to the market to sustain them. And with that come all sort of issues–including the pursuit of fame and fortune. We finish the discussion, going back to the question of whether we’ll be able to develop a monastic community in the West, and why that’s important to the healthy development of Buddhism in America.

What better than a Buddhist Church Inc. to supplement the post-modern feudal order? I mean, Nazi Germany was nominally Christian, right? Stalin’s Soviet Union was still haunted by the big Other. What about nationalism is consonant with a vision of universal liberation?

Written by Joe

November 10, 2009 at 9:46 pm

Utopian Abundance and Its Abuses

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From Zizek’s recent appearance speaking at “Marxism 2009”:

“The whole wager of communist revolutionary is: you can make State work against itself.”

This is what you could say is at stake in Jesus suggesting that we “turn the other cheek.” Turning the other cheek means using the impropriety surrounding the using your unclean left hand to force the abuser to hit back with an open palm, which is a gesture of equalization. Zizek’s ideal State, in keeping with his emphasis of class-struggle over social-antagonism, is what Nietzsche would call one’s good-enemy.

This is a society where even the enemy is loved.

Nietzsche and and Zizek, like Jesus before them both, are both philosophers of and *advocates* for (in the biblical sense) the good enemy.

This is the radically liberating equality that Nietzsche strikes at in his support of the agon, what Zizek gets at in his insistence on the necessity of class-struggle for creating a classless society, and is really the only way we can understand why the event of Jesus would lead to something like the Christian tradition, with its Church-state structure. Jesus advocated for that sliver of radical equality which broke with the Lawful (pagan) hierarchy of distinctions – that is, for that moment in equality that was itself freedom. Equality before the (Capitalist/Jewish) Law doesn’t get us very far when it is also the Law that you are untouchable or a slave or property, but it’s in a sense necessary to get as far as we have.

You have heard it said that we should feed the poor, and when the Ayn Randian or similar Libertarian says that is only rewarding or sustaining weakness, we should understand what’s true and untrue about it. It is true that this act sustains poverty, but to be kept poverty is hardly a reward. The latter, to put it as Zizek would, is ideology at its purest. This makes it both a useful example for Leftist ridicule, but perhaps one that has lost its symbolic efficacy. It’s not as distasteful among (at least the American) working-class anymore to suggest, as many right-wing propagandists and their liberal fellow-travelers do, that welfare is something that can in some sense be abused. It functions as both an a condemnation and a defense: a bad-apple doesn’t spoil the bunch. We see its bourgeois-double in the excuse for Capital made by those who sanctify CEOs left and right as “abusers” of Capitalism’ natural bounty. These abusers are really its heros, because we recognize in their abuse of the system their fundamental affirmation of it also: it’s got so few bad-apples that we’ll keep letting it grow. The problem is not simply that Capitalism rewards abusers, at the top and bottom, which must be regulated, but that the abusers are a structural necessity for its functioning.

You will know a tree by its fruits, and cut down the bad ones. We should be clear here though: jesus tells us we should cut down the bad trees, not just the apples. The liberal, pragmatic apology for capitalism is: so what if it produces bad-apples, it produces more apples total and less bad apples porportionately than anything we can imagine.

Cue John Lennon song.

True abundance cannot be abused, cannot be founded on abuse. This is why Ursula K. LeGuin’s short-story “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” is so fundamentally ANTI-Utopian: the choice between a living in paradise founded on a fundamental abuse and walking away from it is a forced one, and choosing to change Omelas (for the better) is impossible unless you want to take away everyone’s happiness and well-being.

OMELAS DOESN’T EXIST.

Written by Joe

July 9, 2009 at 3:28 pm

The Price of Freedom; or Enlightenment and The Market

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“God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose.
Take which you please, — you can never have both. Between these, as
a pendulum, man oscillates. He in whom the love of repose
predominates will accept the first creed, the first philosophy, the
first political party he meets, — most likely his father’s. He gets
rest, commodity, and reputation; but he shuts the door of truth. He
in whom the love of truth predominates will keep himself aloof from
all moorings, and afloat. He will abstain from dogmatism, and
recognize all the opposite negations, between which, as walls, his
being is swung. He submits to the inconvenience of suspense and
imperfect opinion, but he is a candidate for truth, as the other is
not, and respects the highest law of his being.”

– Emerson, “Intellect.”

So why return to the market with open hands? I smell Dogen’s koan, but does this Ox-Herding picture function as a kind of apology for liberal-capitalism centuries before Adam Smith?

Written by Joe

July 3, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Posted in Buddhism, Philosophy

Who Thinks Abstractly?

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Hegel’s essay can be summarized in contemporary terms with a response as pithy as his own terse statement: “the uneducated, not the educated.”

Those who think abstractly are those who believe in some kind of metaphysical common-sense: whether the universal rationality that supposedly governs market-actors’ choices or some common-sensical naturalistic “way”. This goes for the fashionable, artificial back-to-nature simplicity of new agers and their western-buddhist, -taoist and -hindu cousins.

“Be yourself” is metaphysical common-sense. The romantic appeal to feelings is metaphysical common-sense. “The invisible hand” is metaphysical common-sense. Ideology as Marx engages and critiques it is metaphysical common-sense. “The way things are” is an appeal to metaphysical common-sense. The super-ego is metaphysical common-sense as an obscene agency shaping ahead of time the contours of how our ownmost convictions even appear to us as our own.

Written by Joe

June 30, 2009 at 11:08 pm

A Holy Man Comes To The Deli

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From an exchange I had with Hannah:

Me: I had an encounter with who I could only call a holy man in the deli the other day, though it was something of a mixture of two separate occasions with the same guy.

[The first time], he ordered a half-sandwich from our list of prepared recipies. However, per some stupid rule, we’re not allowed to sellf half-sandwiches from that list. You have to do the ‘make it yourself’ option to get a half-sandwhich. He wanted it with our soup-and-sandwich special, which is a half-sandwhich with a cup of soup. I started to go into my script of why I can’t do it and why I think it’s still a dumb rule, but I stopped myself and just said, ‘you know what, I’ll just make it for you.’ He then wouldn’t stop applauding me, and said I was a model worker, someone who he’d hire in a heart-beat if he had the money to run his own sort of business (sandwich related or otherwise).

Hannah: lol

i’d applaud you too

Me: A couple weeks later, he came back again, and was chatting up me and my partner. The prior incident kind of came up again, and quickly turned into a conversation about how the management don’t manage properly (i.e. they do it top-down). I can’t remember exactly how he put it, which unfortunately was what I thought was so significant about it, but he said something to the effect of ‘you know how I know when God is talking to me? He doesn’t talk down, but talks up.’ That struck me as absolutely brilliant, and reminded me of something Peter O’Toole said (‘When did I realize I was God? Well, I was praying and I suddenly realized I was talking to myself’). It’s also the basic philosophy I have toward social organization, especially in terms of ‘the work-place.’

This is why I think 1 Kings 3:16-28, the story about Solomon solving a dispute between two women arguing over a baby, is so important.

God’s will does not descend down through Solomon to the women in dispute, but arises from the true mother herself* – i.e. the one who would give up her baby, as well as her utterly vital status in the community as a mother (she was otherwise a prostitute, an under-classling), her life essentially, rather than have it cut in half per Solomon’s judgement).

There is a lesson about collective (political) action in this story, which the holy man brought together for me by connecting it to the way the deli was ran. The key is to view all these characters as actors in a network, and not mere individuals (you are starting to get through to me Levi). My experience in the deli has re-enforced by faith in communism, of collective self-management. The injection of the privative relation, the one which the false mother maintains both towards the child and Solomon’s judgement, that disrupts the flow of this process, is experienced coming from above.

It is not hard to make the leap from this to saying that Capitalism is self-managing, but this self-management is a kind done in bad faith, again as represented by the false mother, who exercises her selfishness by way of Solomon’s (external) judgement. What I am talking about is the self-management of the “You have heard it said … but” sort. Jesus is, after all, speaking within the Jewish tradition, while simultaneous breaking (from) it.

You have heard it said that you may only order half-sandwiches from the make-your-own menu, but…

*I do not know why Adam Kotsko doesn’t get this reading. What he calls “the common-sense reading” I associate with the abstract “common-sense” of “the uneducated” in Hegel’s “Who Thinks Abstractly?”

Written by Joe

June 20, 2009 at 9:43 am