If Zen doesn’t make us feel better, or make us into better people, is it a total waste of time?
Two years ago I had a sudden bout with a virus. As yet, I still haven’t gotten entirely over it. The acute phase slowly morphed into a long-term, sometimes debilitating, slog through fatigue and general crappiness. I don’t like it. And it has helped open me up to the wide universe. Continue reading “Sick and Useless Zen”
The social science literature is full of claims about the differences between men and women, blacks and whites, rich and poor, and so on. But how can we also examine similarities? This post offers a method.
Men vs. women. Blacks vs. whites. Rich vs. poor. Muslim vs. Christian. We hear a lot, in the social sciences and in the popular media, about how different various groups of people are in their preferences, traits, or behaviors. The finding of a “difference” based on empirical research is considered interesting and publishable! But it also, alas, often leads to much misunderstanding, and even invidious stereotyping.
This is because differences get a lot more attention than similarities. Because similarities are rarely reported on, we have a tendency to slide into thinking that differences are much larger than they actually are. It’s an easy slide from categorizing people under some labels—for example, drawing on people’s self-identification as “a woman,” “a man,” “white,” or “a person of color”—to thinking that traits and behaviors divide easily into the same categories. Continue reading “Index of Similarity (IS): A Tool for Breaking Down Stereotypes”
To stop the economy’s advance towards greed and destruction, we need new metaphors and images that inspire a radically different alternative.
What do you see in your mind’s eye when you hear the word ‘care’? If you search for images on Google you’ll get lots of pictures of white mothers snuggling with their babies. You’ll also see photos of a female caregiver’s hands intertwined with those of an elderly person, and images that show two hands holding a young plant that symbolizes Earth.
We get to choose between being self-interested, on the one hand, or putting the needs of others first, on the other, right? Or maybe not.
I grew up, as a Lutheran preacher’s kid, hearing a lot of negative things about self-interest, selfishness, and self-centeredness. And I heard a lot of positive things about putting others ahead of oneself, altruism, and even self-sacrifice. When I got older and went to college, I was exposed to a different view. Continue reading “Self-Interest and Other-Interest”
Part 1 of a reflection on birth, death, and the Linji Lu
“Once there is right view, birth and death can no longer touch you. At that point, whether you stay or go, you do so as a free person…You should stop the mind that is always wandering around, running to the neighbor’s house to study Zen…[and] achieve the state of having nothing to do…”
–from the Linji Lu (The Record of Master Linji) Parts 3 and 11, translated by Thich Nhat Hanh in Nothing to Do, Nowhere to Go.
The phrase “being free from birth and death” crops up in many Zen teachings. I first took “birth” and “death” as referring to the bookends of a human lifespan. I tended to associate “being free” from them with metaphysical doctrines that tell us that the cycle of being born and dying is a bad thing. Drawing from Hindu metaphysics, some interpretations of Buddhism tell us that the goal of spiritual practice is to extinguish such reincarnation.
When I was young, I thought of age as something “out there” somewhere. I had my healthy, active, young self, with all the things it could do. And I knew that some day, if I were lucky enough to live so long, I would have an old self, with a different set of possible activities. I pictured her with snow-white hair, sitting in a chair. That didn’t seem so bad.
But what I hadn’t foreseen was the nickel-and-diming process of loss that marks the transition between being young and being old. This was for some reason a surprise. Continue reading “Neither young nor old”