Sunday, February 22, 2009
The reason I mention this all is because in my tradition of practise, there are basically two standard types of meditation: samatha and vipassana. These translate (roughly) as "calming" and "clear-seeing" and they have two different though complimentary aims. Samatha, as one might guess, is all about calming the mind and learning to focus undistractedly upon the object of attention (typically the sensations of breathing around the nostrils or in the abdomen). This is very helpful for vipassana, which is the attempt to see, precisely and in real-time, the arising, abiding, and passing away of everything that presents itself to us. Of course, these two types of meditation overlap each other seeing as it is impossible to focus clearly on an object without noticing it changing and vice versa.
But for now, I have been focusing on samatha meditation. Since November, I've been (trying) to do an hour every day, but even if I cannot get an hour in I never miss a day entirely. Fifteen minutes is better than none. It can be really rough at first but after a while you get used to it and actually start to look forward to your daily sit. It's calming and you feel more clear when you do it. It's a lot like brushing your teeth except for your brain.
Anyway, as of late I've been noticing two interesting things about my meditation and how its going:
Firstly, I've noticed that when I meditate soon after I wake up, I recall dreams that I suspect I would not have otherwise. I often don't recall my dreams so this is cool.
Secondly, I've noticed I'm actually paying attention to the sensations of the breath. This might sound weird, 'cause the basic instruction for meditation is "sit down and watch the sensations of the breath at the nostrils." But it's true. As of late I am becoming more and more aware of the fact that although I was trying to follow those instructions before, I wasn't really. While I thought that what I was doing was watching the breath what I was really up to was thinking about watching the breath. But not in words so much. It's hard to explain but it seems like before the physical sensations were mixed up with some purely mental something but now I'm perceiving each independently. I don't know how to describe it better. Anyway, I am very happy about this realization, 'cause I figure it means I'm making some sort of progress. Yaaaaaayhe!
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Of course, if anyone actually read this blog and paid any attention to the sidebars, they might have already guessed that I'm a Buddhist. Yes, it is true, a Buddhist am I. I imagine most people know what that means but I also imagine that I'm the mostest* awesomest guy in the world and everyone likes me. Since that's manifestly untrue, a brief account of what I think.
The basic idea is this. There is a fundamental dis-ease to life. Most of the time we're trying to cover it up, but it's always there in the background, buzzing around your ears like a mosquito when you're trying to fall asleep at night. This dis-ease is called dukkha. Anyway, the reason it exists is because we're fundamentally confused about the way reality is. Basically, everything that we know, everything we love and hate is constantly coming together and falling apart. Impermanence is the name of the game, but we don't know that. Nope, we believe that things are permanent, stable, unchanging (including ourselves). Hence, we think that things (including our selves) will make us happy in a way that is permanent, stable, unchanging. This doesn't work. As a result of the disconnect between the way reality is and the way we believe it to be, deep down inside, dukkha comes to be. It's sort of like swimming upstream.
Therefore, the way to lead a truly happy life is to get rid of dukkha. This is done via the practise of meditation. Basically, we sit around for hours on end trying to directly perceive the utter transience of all phenomena as they arise, abide, and pass away, all in real-time. Simply thinking about it won't work, simply hearing the fact of impermanence doesn't end dukkha, or else you'd already have become enlightened reading this blog post! No, it's a deep belief, this belief in permanence. It's so deep and fundamental that we can't even recognize that we believe it. It's just how the world appears to us. So we practise meditation frequently, every day and try to perceive every sensation, every thought, every single thing arise and pass away.
And at some point, if we've been diligent and done the work, maybe we'll be one of those lucky enough to get it. We perceive the universe for what it really is and how it's really working and we just drop the dukkha like a hot coal. We just get that the universe is constantly changing and nothing's permanent and we stop fighting the way things are and live our lives without that added discomfort.
That's basically it. Everything else (like belief in rebirth, karma, psychic powers, etc.) has just been added on for one reason or another, maybe to appeal to some audience, maybe just because people couldn't be done with those superstitions. But they're really not necessary to practise and they're quite tangental to the truth of things and I don't ascribe much importance to them.
But I'll get to those items in other posts. Indeed, I plan on touching on all the crap that Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike like to believe they must believe about Buddhism (some of which is really funny). And I'll expound further on my views.
* I call this grammatical structure a hyperlative. Yes, I have created a new application of the English language. Who's gonna stop me?
Monday, February 16, 2009
Oh well. Expect more soon.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms describes those rights which are inalienable to all people fortunate enough to find themselves in Canada. Those described include the right to free speech, the right to equality before the law and, of course, the right to stage peaceful demonstrations. Nowhere does this venerable document enshrine (let alone describe) the citizen's right to get drunk and light a fire. Make no mistake; this was not an example of principled, disciplined social action. It mas merely social. (And in the shadows a little ways away, there was probably some action happening too. Giggity.)
So to respond to my stony friend... Nah, brah.
It's not really surprising that when you start one big, hella dangerous looking bonfire in the middle of a public thoroughfare, without a permit, the fire department is gonna show up pretty quick to put it out. It's also not all that surprising that the cops will show up too (it is after all, illegal to start a big fire without a permit). Also, one shouldn't be surprised that when someone tries to stop the fire department from putting out a dangerous, illegal fire, the police will exercise their authority to facilitate the putting out of said bonfire. Especially if you're acting like a bunch of drunk yahoos.
And what better a cause to act so stupidly about than the knoll?
Still, weren't the protestors' rights being curtailed? Weren't the police there because the protest was being shut down by the university or the government? Weren't the police there to serve and protect the interests of the global corporotocracy?
No. They were there because they received a call about an illegal bonfire and a bunch of public rowdiness. They were there because a very reasonable and just law (burning permits) had been broken and because the fire department would require their help to deal with the crowd.
But what about the alleged police brutality?
Now we didn't see what events took place immediately before we see the protestor being handcuffed on the ground. But I'm going to guess that this individual wasn't standing aside, being a completely harmless law abiding citizen. I would imagine that this person was probably being less than polite to the police. And so far as I can tell (from the video and the news) there was no baton, pepper spray, or taser involved. Just a little wrestling in the mud. Because this is how the police handle intransigent individuals, those who don't say "oh yes, officer, here you go, I'll just put my hands behind my head now."
Simple fact; if you resist arrest (which includes squirming) they will do what they need to do to subdue you. I once had an experience with the law. Someone had stolen an eighteen wheeler, been chased by cruisers, ditched the thing and ran for it through my neighbourhood. Unfortunately for me, I was walking home from my then girlfriend's house. The police had dogs and guns drawn when they found me they mistook me for a fleeing suspect (whom they expected to be armed). Anyway, one officer had me pinned to the ground (under his knee) while another was cuffing me, while a third read me my rights. I did not resist arrest and was not injured.
There's a lesson there. The police mistook me for an armed fugitive, yet I followed their orders and I was not injured. Obviously, it wasn't kid-glove treatment, but they didn't cause me harm. Now, those arrested last Friday night were pretty upset that they got their clothes dirty, but if you're standing on wet, muddy ground, what else can be expected? Should the cops politely ask if it would be amenable to be arrested here? Or would over there work better?
Furthermore, consider the circumstances. There's a crowd of erratic people. They might be drunk. They are, en masse, interfering with the work of the fire department. They are not listening to you. The situation could conceivably escalate. You're a human being that's having verbal abuse heaped upon you simply for telling people that the fire has to be extinguished. You're on edge. Then maybe someone jostles you. Maybe they spit on you or call you some horrible thing. You react because you're human, because you're nervous, because the situation could get out of hand, and because you're trained to.
We don't know what happened before the first arrests, other than the crowd was trying to stop the fire department from putting out the fire which is illegal. The later arrests were because the crowd then decided to hinder the police in fulfilling their duties. Which is also illegal. Of course a bunch of university kids would interpret this police action through the ideological lenses with which they are so newly and deeply enamoured, seeing this as an assault to democracy itself.
The truth of the matter is, of course, that they were being stupid, acting like child delinquents, throwing a tantrum when they couldn't have something their way. Instead of an inquest, this incident demands a shameful apology from the protestors. They've made the university look bad. And if they're at all representative of the way UBC educates its students then I suppose that rep is well-earned.
Saturday, April 5, 2008
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Anyway, I promised a history lesson. This is kind of important, but only because it's a super pet peeve of mine when someone goes off about something they haven't really researched. So here's the very brief, Wikipedia version of events. 'Cause I'm lazy.
Tibet has a long, complicated history with China. Sometimes, for long stretches of time, Tibet was independent. For other equally long lengths of time, Tibet was under the heel of one or another "Chinese" imperial dynasty. Nonetheless, it all looks so cut and dried in Seven Years In Tibet. There were no Chinese soldiers and then there were. True enough, Tibet had had de facto independence since 1912 with the collapse of the Qing Empire, enjoying nearly forty years of the absence of interference. But the government of the new Republic of China never abandoned its claim to Tibet (though it was incapable of enforcement of any of its edicts – an inability mirrored throughout the rest of the territory it claimed to govern). Furthermore, the international community (with the exception of Mongolia) still accepted this government’s claim. So in 1950-51, when the Red Army of the People's Republic of China violently suppressed all opposition to their rule in the territory, the international community acknowledged this only as another stage in the civil war between the KMT and the Communists. In fact, I suspect that the only reason "Western" leaders have been so sympathetic toward the Tibetan plight was that this presented yet another rhetorical device to be used in the Cold War. If the KMT had behaved in the same fashion, we in the “West” wouldn't have paid too much attention. While Beijing is guilty of obfuscation and lies, so is Los Angeles. We simply choose to believe the version that stars Brad Pitt (and casts the commies as the bad guys).
This is the sort of thing that must be understood if activists are ever going to make any headway. It doesn’t help a cause if you can’t express an adequate understanding of the situation. So, in order not to sound like an apologist for Chinese rule in Tibet, following are some of my (very good) reasons to support Tibetan independence:
- The nature of the historical claims by which Beijing claims legitimate rule are insufficient to justify continued rule.
Though Tibet possessed only de facto independence early last century it was independence nonetheless. The Seventeen Point Agreement, which handed over all sovereignty to Beijing, was signed virtually at gunpoint, making it a highly unsatisfactory agreement to accept (especially after the Dalai Lama's exiled government repudiated it in 1959). Further, it is also unsatisfactory to rely upon the justification that because the territory was once part of an empire it should remain beholden to future governments of said empire. Of course, this raises the question of whether the imperial continuity wasn’t entirely broken with the fall of the Qing. And this entire situation seems even more laughable when one considers that this is a communist government arguing for the imperial privilege of the Qing, a dynasty they undoubtedly opposed both in principle and practice. Finally, all this has taken place in living memory, meaning that this is a matter that still matters and is not simply a silly historical grievance.
- Absence of democracy and meaningful inclusion in the political process in Tibet specifically and in China generally.
This matters. There is likely not a single state on this Earth which is free from the issues surrounding the presence of cultural, linguistic, ethnic, or religious minorities. For example, in my own country, Canada, we have several sources of such conflict. As our nationalist friend points out to us (and he's not wrong about the hypocrisy there), there is the question of the aboriginals whom the Europeans systematically drove back and ghettoized in the conquest of this continent. There is also the case of the Quebequois, a significant French-speaking, traditionally Catholic minority that jealously guards its linguistic and cultural identity against encroachment by the English speaking, Protestant majority. And of course, there is the ongoing matter of the integration of immigrant communities into Canadian society.
While the case of the natives probably has more historical similarity, the case of Quebec is more instructive. The province was ceded to the British by the French at the end of a war some hundreds of years ago. The people of the province were not consulted and were not interested in being part of the British Empire. There has been a long history of separatist sentiment in the province culminating in 1995 in a referendum which nearly divided the country in two. However, I do not support their desire to separate from Canada. This is because the Canadian government has made an effort to accommodate and include this minority group in Canadian society and governance. Quebec is self governed under the Canadian federal system. Quebequois participation in federal government has been successfully encouraged at all levels. French has been enshrined as an official language and is a mandatory subject of study for all students in elementary and high school.
This is not the case in Tibet. Tibetan local governance is essentially fiat from Beijing. There are token Tibetan members of the Tibetan Autonomous Region's government, but all decisions are enacted through the office of the Communist Party branch secretary. There is no self-government in Tibet and they can certainly forget about advancing in Chinese national politics.
- Continual oppression of the local population.
Since the conquest, Tibet has been subjected to continual, gross oppression in excess of the same lack of democracy, brutal enforcement of restrictive laws, and police state tactics from which all Chinese citizens suffer. Tibetans have been imprisoned, tortured, or killed for observing their religion, customs, and for failing to observe restrictive laws. Beijing has implemented a program of importing ethnic Han Chinese to the region to shore up their control (the Han are far more likely to listen to Beijing's edicts). This has resulted in discrimination against Tibetans for job opportunities and is quickly making them a minority in their own homeland. Beijing is even trying to extinguish the Tibetan language by prohibiting its instruction in school.
Clearly, there is absolutely a case to be made for the independence of Tibet from China, whose rule is brutal and illegitimate. But we should not be so sanguine regarding the results of Tibetan independence, however. Simple independence would not solve all their problems and might conceivably cause others. But that's for another post.