Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Long View, Transience, Progress and the Profound

I recently attended a lecture at a local Sakya Tibetan Buddhist Monastery titled Dharma Lectures: Buddhism and the Hard Sciences. Lecturer Chris Rebholz did an impressive job presenting the intersection of science and Buddhist practice. Even though I've read Buddhism texts and have a Bachelor of Science, I came away from the lecture with new information that seemed to be operating on me in a way that might reconfigure some of my attitude about the meaning of Life.

I gained a lot from Rebholz's explanation of emptiness. It is not a black void. Rather, it is ultimate transience of everything. Meditating with a mental frame of emptiness is not to achieve a kind of ignorance of the world and objects (nouns) in it, rather it is to acknowledge every last little thing you know and see it through the lens of eternity. Unlike Christian and Islamic concepts of a God with an agenda with eternity being the field in which God is going to actualize that agenda, the Buddhist concept is an inquiry into reality at the level of a scientific physics in which nouns such as tables and even mountains have a limited lifespan, with even Earth having limits to its permanence, much less the whims of social fashion and politics. To meditate in emptiness is to simply grapple with and hopefully be at ease with the transience of all that you know. (or as I like to think of it: every noun you know)

Chris Rebholz focused on a few quotes by Geshe Thupten Jinpa that basically claim objective reality and Buddhism are in perfect agreement, that empiricism is trumps everything else in science and Buddhism equally. The gist of all this was to indicate a strong presence of objectivism in Buddhism.

I'll drop pretentious language and say this lecture made me feel real good about Buddhism. I went home fired up about an objectivist, reality worshipping, Godless religion...no not religion, rather Rebholz stressed it is not a religion but a mode of inquiry expressed socially as rhetorical logic and privately as meditation.

In the days after the lecture I scoured the web using search terms that basically bind Buddhism, Objectivism, Science and Technology. I came up with nothing. Even trying refresh and augment my reference to emptiness I got references less clear than Rebolhz's, such as this Emptiness is Form, which, to me, is silly at best, and an attack on logical language at worst.

But that is one writing, by someone who has a prominent webpage, not endorsed by a set of or even one major monastery in the west or east. Every afternoon in most monasteries in Asia monks meet and present their views of reality, with the listeners harshly attacking whatever weakness the detect. I will assume their is much more vetted and strong argument for Buddhism among those monks than this unendorsed writer with a high profile webpage.

After a few hours, my web based research had these results:

  • 1%    ↳ Objectivist/Science/Technology Buddhism
  • 9%    ↳ Logic-undermining content (e.g. emptiness).
  • 90%    ↳ Equal valuation of all sentient beings.

This is when my excitement for Buddhism began to break down.

The Technium wants what evolution began (WTW page 270) and I'll posit evolution is contrary to Buddhist claims of human delusional sensibilities of superiority and inferiority, in the evolution certain things gain advantage while some other thing has disadvantage. In some cases we can state plainly one group has the winning hand, and by winning hand we could mean greater array of options, luxury, ease, or just plain old ability to stay alive.

Buddhist contests in rhetorical logic have enjoyed a few thousand years in which Buddhist wisdom easily won by calling people's sense of superiority/inferiority foolishness. Evolution -both biological and technological- offers a reality that undermines Buddhist schema of valuation.

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