I started making books because I was comissioned to do a book of abstract drawings/mixed media. The books that were commmerically available contained paper that was too thin to allow washes, so I opted to research bookbinnding and fell in love. So here is where the zen comes in – as a tool to allow me to continue to make the drawings (60 [+,-] on 9.75″ x 12.75 paper — ideally to sewn into signatures) when I want to fall into my new obsession and spend all my time there. But the commission comes first, and only then do I get to do anymore bookbinding. Ah, the anguish. All my life I’ve had a problem with impulse control. My impusle is to experiment wildly with bookbinding but my need and promise is to make a hand-made art book. I draw and wait for all things to pass. I don’t need to be impatient. In fact, impatience is best served by breathing and focusing on the art. I’ll post one of the draswings as soon as I decide that one is finished.
Second attempt. Still with the handicap of not having appropriate material. I am using 13 oz duck canvas. The coloured bits are 13 oz. painted with acrylic by the age-honoured method of using a scrap piece for a paint brush rag. My first book was signature sewn. This second book is fan glued (attempted a quarter-joint but the book was too thin and the canvas too thick). The glue on the first book was ordinary carpenter’s glue. I did a test on glues and the carpenter’s PVA glue became very brittle in a dried blob, where as the bookbinding PVA stayed flexible. Today I used acrylic medium to cover some paper. The idea is to paint my endpapers before putting them on the next case.
For the last few days (3-4-5?) I’ve been researching Bookbinding (youtube, Gutenberg Project. And now I’ve made my very first bound book, blank. I had to use what ever was laying round the house as I have none of the specialized tools or materials. But using ordinary paper and canvas from my painting, including an old paint rag, I cobbled together the book in the photos. Now I feel like I can go ahead and make a few more in preparation for a commission, 40 – 60 pages of abstract drawings. The reason that I needed to make my own book is that most books that are blank are not suitable for art. They are mostly used and intended for writing. Thanks for your attention to my joy at doing.
‘Sorry to bug you again Arnie, but I couldn’t help but think of you when I read this, food for thought-’
“All religions, including Buddhism, stem from our narcissistic wish to believe that the universe was created for our benefit, as a stage for our spiritual quests. In contrast, science tells us that we are incidental, accidental.
Far from being the raison d’être of the universe, we appeared through sheer happenstance, and we could vanish in the same way. This is not a comforting viewpoint, but science, unlike religion, seeks truth regardless of how it makes us feel.
Buddhism raises radical questions about our inner and outer reality, but it is finally not radical enough to accommodate science’s disturbing perspective. The remaining question is whether any form of spirituality can.”
Which he extracted from here.
If you follow my blog, then you might anticipate my answer:
“Hi Mr Wawa,
No, a simple spirituality or religiosity cannot accommodate reality because it is not based on any observed reality (and that is all we really have to work with) but is most often opposed to it: deny the earth and gain heaven. But we do not have to engage Buddhism in a religious mode; I think Buddhism serves better as a social/psychological science because it gives a method that allows us to reprogram our minds to escape suffering. The Buddha’s original statements (the four noble truths and the eight fold path: the method) are completely compatible with quantum physics, and in some ways can be thought of as anticipating it (emptiness, illusion of things, and the nature of the void). And so, while I generally agree with most of the statement you provided (above), the first sentence of the last paragraph seems wrong. Buddhism is scientific because it is a system for looking at reality and recognizing what is directly in front of us. Albeit, Buddhism is a science directed towards social and personal problems and not one that studies subatomic particles. In my experience, Buddha’s method steps in after the psychotherapy.
It cannot be denied that many people do make the Buddha into a saint or a god and ignore his ideas in because they need either a metaphysical father figure, who will solve all their problems, or an external source of the validation they cannot give to themselves. At its best, Buddhism, as a religion, does work for many people because it directs ones focus on the awareness of moment by moment reality. But even if people use Buddhism as a religion, it does not negate the Buddha’s scientific approach.
For me, Buddhism as spirituality is unnecessary. On the other hand, science is only useful once we have answered the philosophical questions lumped under the rubric Ethics. With no ethics scientific pursuit can bring us to unlimited destruction. Buddhism is focused on alleviating the suffering of oneself and of others. The big ethical questions are answered in Buddhism-as-a-science in a way not unlike entanglement in quantum mechanics, in that we are all entangled with each other and would do well to act accordingly.
As for Buddhism not being radical. And if your purpose is wanting to understand yourself and your place in the universe, Buddhism as an experimental science is a pretty radical idea.
I was just at a zen gathering that was meant to talk to the problem of practising without a teacher. We all sat in silent meditation as we waited for the teacher, a well-known monk, to arrive. He never arrived. After ascertaining that he wasn’t lost to the world, we all carried on. I to run for my ferry, and the others for whatever they would do.
In an email exchange M_ said she was surprised she wasn’t disappointed by the teacher’s no-show.
I loved the irony of the situation: no teacher to talk about what to do when one doesn’t have a teacher.
And then just the other day I found a modern-day, technocratic solution to the problem at issue. Please note that I do not recommend the product, I didn’t pay $2.49 for it (nor will I), nor am I getting paid anything by the company to do any advertizing. But I do like the irony of it (I guess this is my day for ironies): plugging ear buds into your head and listening to Buddhist inspirationals so you can ignore what ever reality is directly in front of your eyes.
Here is the link to the Buddhify app.
Religions can be used to form a dogma of belief for a community of followers. On the benefit side, a religious dogma would be a listing of a set of activities that, if practised, would lead one to spiritual benefit. On the down side, dogma can become a means whereby one group of people oppress others. Buddhism, as a religion, has for the most part been a religion of the former type, allowing the development of communities of people who work together and support each other in their spiritual quest. But even in this positive light, Buddhism as a religion can have a negative side. A sanga can form that supports our attachment to the difficulties we have in struggling with our own psychologies. On example: lots of us get caught up in complaining about the difficulties we experience. Our sanga members treat us kindly, hug us nicely, and listen. We suffer. And while we get support in our suffering, nothing changes; we continue suffering. On the other hand, I remember one spiritual teacher who fought this tendency very nicely. After a weekend meditation, he asked all those present to put up their hand if they had experienced physical pain during the sits. Everyone put up their hand. The teacher’s only comment was, “Good. Now no one needs mention pain again.”
But what if Buddha had been alive today; would he want to form a religion? Looking at what he said ~2600 years ago, I would say that what he brought to the world was essentially a scientific theory, not a religion. Science is a neutral device that lets us look at things analytically. Scientists think up theories, and then they develop methodologies to test the theories. After a theory is proven useful, then a technology is developed to exploit the knowledge that was revealed in the scientific experiment.
Buddhism’s major focus is the eradication of suffering; Buddhism as a science is the idea that there is a systematic way of doing the same. Many people react negatively to the idea that Buddhism could be approached scientifically. And there are two major difficulties in pursuing Buddhism as science: 1) it is hard to be aware of ones moment to moment suffering, and of ones moment to moment, suffer-inducing thoughts; 2) we are fragile beasts that suffer fear of extinction, and as our minds are naturally wired in such a way that we identify ourselves with—we believe ourselves to be—our suffering, we naturally fear to give it up: without our suffering, who would we be?
The first of Buddha’s four major scientific statements is that all is suffering. This statement is translated in various ways, but I think that the simple translation, ‘suffering exits’ is perfectly good to work with. This is a scientific statement because it is a simple observation. Buddha’s second main statement posits that suffering is caused by attachment to desires. This is a hypothesis which can be tested by experimentation: a simple survey could be devised by social scientists to check on the nature of any particular example of suffering (as opposed to pain), and this survey could help in determining the cause of that suffering. In my own experience, I have found that every instance of my suffering (as opposed to pain) was caused by attachment to some desire I had. The self analysis was hard and took a lot of work. And I am still being surprised by the up-welling of suffering.
Buddha’s third statement concluded that suffering can be alleviated by removing attachments to desires. Having made this scientific conclusion, Buddha then described a course of action, a technology that if followed would bring an end to ones suffering. This technology is found in the Eight Fold Path.
In science if you repeat an traditional experiment you get the expected result. If you use a developed technology, you get the expected result, as long as the machine is not broken. We are the machine, our brains are the software that makes the machine perform wonderfully—or makes it suffer.
But the Eight Fold Path is not merely a technology that gives a recipe for action, it also reveals the major causes of suffering. Where Buddha prescribes Right Thinking, he can be read to mean that incorrect thinking is the cause of one type of suffering. This holds true for all Eight elements.
If Buddhism is a religion then the Eight Fold Path is something to aspire to, attainable only through hard work, allusive insight, and the help of innumerable friends. One is not expected to succeed, one only hopes to succeed.
If Buddhism is a science, then Buddhism is a machine, like a car, that should diligently take one to the destination: the destination is a state of non-attachment and non-suffering. The technology is laid out in the Eight Fold Path. It is as simple as this: if one is thinking bad thoughts about another person, thoughts that if they became manifest would cause that person suffering, then one would do well to think something completely different, something that is positive, that would cause no one suffering. Go play the piano, take a walk. This process, of becoming aware of ones thoughts and then changing their nature by abandoning them and doing something else, will rewire ones brain, recalibrate ones machine into a more and more enlightened state. It is something that one can do safely at home alone.
Luckily, the religion of Buddhism has brought us one extremely well-honed and useful scientific exercise that can help us pay attention to, and to become aware of our moment to moment attachments and desires, and thereby point to the thoughts that give rise to our suffering. This honourable practice is meditation. The scientific companion to the cultivation of awareness through meditation is that when a suffering-causing thought or pattern is identified, then one can take the technology of the Eight Fold Path, think and act in a different way than one usually does, and thereby rewire our beings. All we have to do is have faith in the machine and use it.
It’s as easy as learning to be a software wizard on the computer. Re-hack your brain. One day I might complete the job on my own head.
I know a fellow who had an abscess that made him moan, and groan, and carry on in a pitiful manner. At the dentist he was told in no uncertain terms to stop complaining. The dentist had seen more than one person with a far worse abscess, with half of their face swollen up into an angry red welt, who hardly complained at all. (Technically, the pain of an abscess is caused by pressure being put on the nerve, which then sends out a pain signal to warn of the infection). Years later, this same person was able to fall asleep in a dental chair while undergoing a root canal job. Don’t get me wrong. I can imagine pain so severe that all I’d do is cry and scream. But just last week, I read a news story about a Buddhist monk who lit himself on fire in a protest. He did no complaining while he burned. Not that I am saying that we should all burn ourselves. But isn’t it interesting, the different ways we all respond to pain?
What exactly is pain and what is its relationship to suffering? The other day I heard an advertizement/plea by a cancer research charity. The spokeswoman was speaking about someone who had a severe form of cancer. What she said was, “He suffered the…cancer.”
Odd how English allows one to say things in different ways. Notice that pain is a noun and suffer is a verb. And yet we confuse the two and let them stand in for each other. We say, she suffered a broken arm, rather than, she felt the pain of a broken arm.
In this online dictionary, here, ‘suffer’ is defined as covering everything from pain to loss, from distress to punishment. It also means to appear at a disadvantage. Did the cancer research spokeswoman mean he was a a disadvantage because of the cancer? He undoubtedly was at a disadvantage. But ‘disadvantage’ does not carry the emotional freight of the word ‘suffering’.
The roots of the word ‘suffer’ comes from Latin: “Latin sufferre : … to carry.” She suffered the pain: she carried the pain. At what point did the word start to mean to feel pain?
I like to think that the two concepts should remain separate. Pain is a mental/physical object, and suffering is our reaction to it. I want to define ‘suffering’ as ‘carrying the idea of the pain beyond usefulness’.
The zen story about the two monks going on a journey together: They come across a woman who is having a hard time crossing a swollen stream. One monk picks her up and carries her across. Some while later, the second monk upbraids the first because they have taken vows to avoid women. The first monk replies, “I carried her across the stream. You are still carrying her.”
Buddha said that suffering exists, that it is caused by the attachment to desires. In respect to pain, is it not our desire to be completely free of it? And yet, the reality is that pain happens. You can’t avoid it. But what is pain? If you stick your hand into a candle flame, you get pain. This pain serves a function. It is a signal telling you to take your hand out of the fire. Sometimes, of course, pain can be so persistent there is no way to pull the figurative hand out of the flame. Is the result necessarily suffering?
Buddha said that suffering is caused by attachment. As pain is not caused by attachment, it would be inconsistent for Buddha to say that pain is suffering. Suffering is caused by attachment. Suffering is caused by carrying the import of the event in one’s mind. The second monk in the story above was in no pain, but he was suffering all during his journey because he could not let the event alone. He kept rolling it around in his mind. He kept worrying about the significance of it, about the right and wrong of it. Was he envious that the first monk got to carry the woman and he didn’t? Or, how come the first monk transgressed and didn’t get punished? Or,…. Endless strings of monkey mind.
What is the significance of pain? It is a mere signal. How can it have significance beyond being simply a signal that something is going wrong, and we should do something about it if we can? What if we can’t do anything? Are we attached to the idea that we should be so powerful that we always had the ability to cure each instance of pain, whether it be our own or another’s? Each one of us, in suffering, gives the pain signal, the phenomena of it, extra import. It is when we do this, when we think that life is not fair to cause us so much pain, that we suffer. Pain is unavoidable. Suffering, in the sense with which I am applying it, is (however unconsciously) self-afflicted.
I do a pretty good job of pretending that this sciatica I have shooting down my leg in electric bolts is merely pain. My struggle is in trying not to think that the universe is being unfair to me in giving me this pain. My struggle is to not complain to myself or others. When the pain becomes distracting, I take codeine. I would probably do well if I did more yoga.
What would a life of pain be like if we could see pain merely as pain, as just a sensation, with no significance beyond its message? What would our lives be like if we gave up our attachment to the strange notion that we should live a life that is pain free, that we should live forever, that we should be strong enough to cure all the world’s ills?
1 – I have been thinking that the Occupy (name here) movement is futile in at least one sense: a whole lot of people are asking the very people who have taken all the money to give some of it back. Why would they do that? The 1% have spent a lot of energy setting up a system that make them and only them filthy rich. Take Egypt, a military commander (the top guy in the 1%) acted as dictator for decades. The Arab spring seemed to throw the dictator over at the demand of the people in the streets. But now a faceless military is dictating things. What changed?
2 – The banks, big biz, and the government, or at least the right wing parts of them, have yelled up and down that government should be run like businesses: lean and mean. They are right in a way. Government could be run like a business. But not the kind usually meant by the right wing. Let me explain: have you ever wondered why the biz/bank class want to limit the size of government? It’s because government can provide services at a very competitive rate. Governments compete with businesses. Like SAM of walmart fame is supposed to have said, destroy the competition.
Government is ideally a co-operative where the members (the citizens) pay a fee (based on a sliding schedule – taxes) and receive services in return. Because the co-op has so many members (the total population), economies of scale should make the government supply services better and cheaper than any smaller business – excepting of course that there is a lot of corruption in government, and except for the fact that we keep voting in people who would rather the co-operative business of government fails.
3 – Another thing. Why does it always take so long for rotten things to change? It’s because things work for lots of people and they don’t want to give up the things that work for them, even if they can see that it is not working for the majority. I suspect that even when the system is not working for one, many think that if they only do this or that they can be filthy rich too. And then when things also get really bad for them (or you, or me) we finally protest. But are we protesting so we can get on the gravy train, or so that everyone gets an equal share? Regardless, at some point the power structure hires lots of people who like playing with guns, and they tend to use these types as a military buffer between themselves and the people. We hope that guns in the streets of America will not happen.
4 – But why all this on a Zen blog? Think of the world as one big sanga, one big place where everyone helped everyone who was suffering, where compassion for others was the norm, where anyone who is suffering was listened to, when anyone who was in pain or ill or hungry had their pain assuaged. Can a Government be a sanga? Only if the people who were elected were well-trained in compassion and practised it on an everyday basis. Government based on the four noble truths and the eightfold path? Or, embody the love of Christianity (while forgetting all that mean-spirited hateful advice from Leviticus).
5 – Which brings me to my last point. I feel very positive about all the liberation movements that are happening now around the world – for one very good reason. People in the Occupied encampments are spontaneously setting up self-help resources, and resources to help others. People are being compassionate. And if they, and we, can keep it up, then there is no reason to think that compassion as the basis for government will fail.
Conclusion – There is only one problem. The government/ banks are not going to set up a compassionate government. They are trying to perpetrate the same system that made them filthy rich and bankrupted everyone else. But why play their game? Step aside. Ignore them. Take your money out of the too big to fail banks and put it into people oriented credit unions and other small local financial institutions. Or make up a completely new system and work it.
Oh yes. I asked what has changed? People are starting to realize that they can make things work for them. That they are not powerless.
I’ve been getting a few comments questioning me about suffering and pain, and so that is what my next post will be about.
You’ve probably heard the story of the goose that laid the golden eggs. The version I first heard had it that: There was a serf who had a remarkable goose that started laying eggs of solid gold. The serf in question, having no right to anything at all except the right to do what he was told, inevitably had to give the goose to the Lord. It was either give the goose or have the Lord’s thugs take it from him and give him a beating in the process. So now the Lord has the goose, and it lays a gold egg nearly every day. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the goose lay two eggs a day? The lord starts force-feeding the goose, and indeed, for a little while, the goose lays two gold eggs a day. The lord decides that three eggs a day would be far better, so he ups the feeding. The goose dies of heart failure because it got too fat.
Another ending: The lord decided that if he could figure out why the goose was laying gold eggs he could make all the geese lay golden eggs. Bright idea. He dissects the goose and learns nothing. Dead goose = no gold eggs.
This type of outcome is suggestive of what is happening due to America Capitalism today. In chasing money through the manipulation of money (rather than through making, maintaining or developing things), the country’s infrastructure (the gold laying goose) has been dismantled and the American system is generating less and less wealth. The poorer people of American are having to tighten their belts as they become poorer while the richest plot to corner the biggest share of a shrinking pot. The American nightmare.
Why did all this start running through my head last night at 2:30 a.m.? It was due to the news I had heard earlier, that the information highway was in danger of being sold off to big corporations who want to control your and my access to websites. Internet access providers will increase our upload and download speeds but only if we go to the big corporation sites who pay for faster speeds. Conversely, internet providers will slow down our upload and download speeds if we try to go to small, less wealthy sites that cannot pay the big bucks. Desire for incredible wealth is turning the internet into TV. Soon we will be able to turn the internet on and watch, but we will not be able to get to anything we really need. In China the government wants to control what you think by stopping you from seeing other ideas. In America the corporations want to control what you think you need to buy by controlling the ads you see. It is totally possible that in this new wwworld order, zen blogs will load slower and slower.
Why am I thinking about this in the middle of the night? Isn’t this kind of stuff (people trying to control other people) always the way of humanity? When was it any different?
It’s all about desire. The desire to get the universe to do what we want it to do so that we can have a perfectly pleasant and worry free life. Big corporations are no different in this than individuals because corporations are made up of individuals. Individuals desire impossible things, and so do corporations.
I stare into the darkness and watch my mind trying to plot the perfect blog that will make everyone sit up and become enlightened. But I don’t take any of my metal monkey business seriously. I just watch it flow on by. I know whence comes my desire to make perfect everything in the world, but to analyze it fully here would take pages, novels. At the most superficial level, I can say that my training by the Catholic church included the idea that because Christ, by the age of 32, had saved all the souls of the world, I should have done the same. Doesn’t help that the Bodhisattva vows include the idea that we should save all entities. I tell myself that attachment to Buddhism, or to its rites, injunctions, vows, precepts, and advice, can cause problems with self-worth every bit as deep as the problem caused by that pesky idea from Catholicism. Whenever my early desire-program, to save all entities, pops up in the dead of the night, I try to let it run its course without getting involved, obsessed, attached. Or I get out of bed, which is always tiresome at such a late(early?) hour, and go read a book. Then I can get back to sleep.
But the need, the desire, to save all beings can be traced back to the desire to control the universe and make it treat you (me) in such a way that you(I) will no longer suffer. If everyone was enlightened (saved) then the world would be sweet for me! But we can’t make people enlightened. All we can do is act in such a way as not to cause more suffering. That is the only saving we can do. Be an example of non-desire, of non-suffering, of non-attachment. Ho!Ho! Ho! Another aspiration to get attached to.
Why can’t we see that desire is useless? We can never get what we desire. No body can. The mind is not capable of parsing the infinite variables affecting reality sufficiently enough to allow a plot or a plan to bring about any specific and finely detailed outcome. In other words, any time we try to make something happen, we fail to the exact degree that we try to make the event happen in an exact manner. Yes, we can decide to go on a picnic, but we can’t make the ants stay away, nor can we make our picnic partner fall in love with us over the egg salad sandwiches, nor can we control the weather.
“The best laid plans of mice and men/ Gang aft agley.” Sometimes our plots seem to succeed; but at second thought, the desired outcome never meets up with our expectations. When we finally win that long desired golden fleece, all sorts of worries creep in: will someone try to steal it, how much can I get for it, and is the buyer trying to fleece me? How may people can I beat up to get them to work for me for free before they start a revolution? And why doesn’t he/she love me like I want? If only….
Attachment to any desire is a mug’s game. We can’t think up a sure-fired path to any outcome, and outcomes keep changing long after the attainment. In desiring something we are exercising our imaginations. But our imaginations are not powerful enough to encompass the infinite number of smaller details, small events, that go into making any one thing happen. How then can we work up foolproof plans to save all sentient beings? The only tools we have is to make sure we are not attached to any specific outcome, and to work hard at finding out how not to engage in our own suffering.
And now, surfing backwards through time about 2500 years: Buddha was doing his thing, and the Ancient Greeks, approximate contemporaries, were doing theirs. Socrates was being interpreted by Plato in this book The Republic. Near the beginning of Plato’s long dialogue, Thrasymachus argues with Socrates. Thrasymachus claims that the ‘good’ is what is good for one self and never mind anyone else. Plato tries to argue that Thrasymachus is wrong, that the good is what is good for everyone. As far as I can see, the rest of the Republic is Plato’s attempt to prove Thrasymachus wrong. He never does.
Plato is often cited as the node through which all western philosophy passes. All the philosophical questions that concern us today were anticipated by Plato/Socrates. In terms of how to do the good, no one in the last 2500 years has been able to prove Thrasymachus wrong. And in not being able to be proved wrong, a lot of people act on Thrasymachus’s advice. One possible way Thrasymachus could be proved wrong, and the argument Plato ends up with in the Republic, is to invent a metaphysics. There are only two possibilities of defeating the idea that the good is nothing but self-advancement and self-interest. Either we invent a religion (and you know of the kind of damage people are capable of doing in the name of religions), or we rely on a person’s inherent need for goodness for all. And this completes a circle back to the story about the goose that lays the golden egg. The good never came into it.
In the armed forces there is a principle known as the facts on the ground; only the officer on the ground in the event can interpret the orders as they apply to that event. If necessary, the ranking person can change the orders because orders given at a remove cannot anticipate changing circumstances. Even if philosophy cannot prove that the good is what is good for all, the facts on the ground give us a good idea of what is real.
Capitalism as it is practiced in America funnels wealth into the hands of fewer and fewer people. This means that more and more people become poorer. But instead of talking about the good (it spanks of dichotomy and dualism), let’s change the concept into Buddhistic principles and talk about suffering. The state on the ground in America tells us that large and increasing accumulations of wealth increase the amount of suffering for increasing numbers of people. One would think that the opposite would also be true, that the wide distribution of wealth would help alleviate suffering. In Plato’s terms, to alleviate suffering would be the good.
Another leap of topic, but germane perchance.
Check out The Price of Sugar for an extreme example of accumulation of wealth and what it leads to in terms of suffering.
And now, to get to the point of all the previous: Awareness. How can we really know what the facts on the ground are? If we understand that we live in the new global order, are not the facts on the ground everything that happens on the earth? How can we know what suffering is unless we know how the world works, unless we know how people act towards each other, unless we know why people act in the way they do? And unless we know how people act and why, how can we alleviate their suffering?
The big questions for today, kiddies, are: do any of my actions increase the suffering of others? If I eat sugar from the Dominican Republic, am I increasing the suffering of others? What is the suffering that causes someone to think that by doing harm to others they are doing the good? How can I do the good? (Hint: The Eightfold Path.)
All essays on these and related topics are already long past due.
And now I am going to back to making bread, my task for the day.