Batchelor also tackles the issue, basically shelved by Wright, of whether Buddhism without any supernatural scaffolding is still Buddhism. His project is unashamedly to secularize Buddhism. He insists that reincarnation is just an embedded doctrine in the ancient Pali culture—a metaphor like all the others we live with, a cosmological picture that works well, not unlike the metaphors of evolutionary fitness and cosmology that are embedded in our own culture. Can we really tiptoe past the elaborate supernaturalism of historical Buddhism?
Batchelor, like every intelligent believer caught in an unsustainable belief, engages in a familiar set of moves. Is it fair to object that most of us take quantum physics on faith, too? We take it on trust , a very different thing. We have confidence—amply evidenced by the technological transformation of the world since the scientific revolution, and by the cash value of validated predictions based on esoteric mathematical abstraction—that the world picture it conveys is true, or more nearly true than anything else on offer.
Batchelor tap-dances perilously close to the often repeated absurdity that a highly credulous belief about supernatural claims and an extremely skeptical belief about supernatural claims are really the same because they are both beliefs. A deeper objection to the attempted reconciliation of contemporary science and Buddhist practice flows from the nature of scientific storytelling.
What is mindfulness?
The practice of telling stories—imagined tales of cause and effect that fixate on the past and the future while escaping the present, sending us back and forth without being here now—is something that both Wright and Batchelor see as one of the worst delusions the mind imprints on the world. And yet it is inseparable from the Enlightenment science that makes psychology and biology possible. The contemporary generation of American Buddhists draws again and again on scientific evidence for the power of meditation—EEGs and MRIs and so on—without ever wondering why a scientific explanation of that kind has seldom arisen in Buddhist cultures.
Science has latterly been practiced by Buddhists, of course. What Wright correctly sees as the heart of meditation practice—the draining away of the stories we tell compulsively about each moment in favor of simply having the moment—is antithetical to the kind of evidentiary argument he admires.crocharnenovsmons.gq
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Science is competitive storytelling. If a Buddhist Newton had been sitting under that tree, he would have seen the apple falling and, reaching for Enlightenment, experienced each moment of its descent as a thing pure in itself. The mysterious force of the mass of the earth beneath it?
What made the damn thing fall? The Buddhist Newton might have been happier than ours—ours was plenty unhappy—but he would never have found the equation. Science is putting names on things and telling stories about them, the very habits that Buddhists urge us to transcend.
Both Wright and Batchelor end with a semi-evangelical call for a secularized, modernized Buddhism that can supply all the shared serenity of the old dispensation and still adjust to the modern world—Batchelor actually ends his book with a sequence of fixed tenets for a secular Gotama practice. But does their Buddhism have a unique content, or is it simply the basics of secular liberalism with a borrowed Eastern vocabulary? All secularized faiths tend to converge on a set of agreeable values: compassion, empathy, the renunciation of mere material riches. But the shared values seem implicit in the very project of secularizing a faith, with its assumption that the ethical and the supernatural elements can be cleanly severed—an operation that would have seemed unintelligible to St.
Paul, as to Gotama himself. The idea of doing without belief is perhaps a bigger idea than any belief it negates. Secular Buddhism ends up being. Can any old faith point a new way forward? No doctrine is refuted by the bad behavior of the people who believe in it—or else all doctrines would stand refuted—but the stories of actual Buddhism in large-scale practice in America do not encourage the hope that Buddhism will be any different from all the other organized faith practices.
American Buddhism seems as susceptible to the triple demon of power, predation, and prejudice as every other religious establishment.
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A faith practice with an authoritarian structure sooner or later becomes a horror; a faith practice without an authoritarian structure sooner or later becomes a hobby. The dwindling down of Buddhism into another life-style choice will doubtless irritate many, and Wright will likely be sneered at for reducing Buddhism to another bourgeois amenity, like yoga or green juice. Basically, he says that meditation has made him somewhat less irritable. Being somewhat less irritable is not the kind of achievement that people usually look to religion for, but it may be as good an achievement as we ought to expect.
If Donald Trump became somewhat less irritable, the world would be a less dangerous place. If there is something distinctive about a Buddhist secularism, it is that the Buddhist believes in the annihilation of appetite, while the pure secular humanist believes in satisfying our appetites until annihilation makes it impossible. Dissatisfaction with our circumstances, the frustration of our ambitions, something no bigger than a failure to lose enough weight or to have an extra room to make a nursery out of: even amid luxury, the ache of the unachieved seems intense enough.
It is these dissatisfactions that drive so many Americans—who cannot understand why lives filled with material pleasure still feel unfulfilled—to their meditation mats.
Getting into the Habit of Meditating
Secularized or traditional, the central Buddhist epiphany remains essential: the fact of mortality makes loss certain. The larger problem we face is not suffering but sadness, and the sadness is caused by the fact of loss. To love less in order to lose less seems like no solution at all, but to see loss squarely sounds like wisdom.
We may or may not be able to Americanize our Buddhism, but we can certainly ecumenicize our analgesics. Lots of different stuff from lots of different places which we drink and think and do can help us manage. Every faith practice has a different form of comfort to offer in the face of loss, and each is useful.
Sometimes it helps to dwell on the immensity of the universe. Sometimes it helps to feel the presence of ongoing family and community. Sometimes it helps to light a candle and say a prayer. Sometimes it helps to sit and breathe. A split-screen tour of the same streets in downtown L. Music: Mr. Black - High Roller. The basic idea of meditation is simple. Every time your mind begins to shift its spotlight away from your breath and you get lost in thought, you simply bring your attention back to your breath.
And then you repeat this again and again until your meditation timer sounds. Then, over time your focus, concentration, and attention span improve, in addition to the plethora of other benefits mentioned above. Once you routinize meditation and become more comfortable with it, then I would recommend purchasing a meditation cushion; using a chair at first will help you ease your way into practice.
With a chair or a meditation bench, you may be tempted to slump, which can cause you to lose focus.
Meditation benches also absorb a lot of the weight you would have otherwise applied to your legs, which makes meditation much more comfortable. I recommend that you sit on a chair the first several times you meditate, and then switch to a meditation cushion zafu after you become more comfortable with your practice.
It also takes your body a while to adapt to sitting on one, which will make you sore when you first start out. If you have leg problems, or are just looking for something a little more comfortable than a meditation cushion, I recommend using a bench. Pretty much every phone has a timer built-in, and if you have a smartphone, chances are there is a great meditation app for it too. When I first started to meditate, I remember being dumbfounded at what exactly I had to do after I sat down. Two things especially confused me: how do I sit, and what do I think about?
Those are essentially the only things you need to worry about when it comes to meditation. And a lot of the time, you direct it at more than one thing at a time. Actually, most of the time you do. Six things. My goal with this guide was to give you everything you need to start up a meditation practice.
If you are have questions about breathing meditation, please post a comment below, or tweet at me! I know of a lot of people that follow this hashtag, so if you post a meditation question with it, you are bound to get an answer. Meditation acutely improves psychomotor vigilance, and may decrease sleep need.
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