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The Middle Path, One Day At A Time


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The Dangerous Panic Over Painkillers

Is addiction a fate worse than unremitting, agonizing pain? To many people, the answer is absolutely not—particularly if the sufferer is close to death. But that’s not how our policymakers—and even many people affected by addiction—seem to view the issue.

While use of prescription opioids for cancer and other end-of-life pain is increasingly accepted, if you are going to suffer in agony for years, rather than months, mercy is harder to find. Indeed, it seems a given by the media that because addicts sometimes fake pain to get drugs, doctors should treat all patients as likely liars—and if a physician is conned by an addict, the doctor has only herself to blame.

Read more: http://www.thefix.com/content/fake-prescription-painkiller-epidemic9028


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Philosophy and Addiction

Peg O’Connor at the NYT writes:

I introduce the notion of addiction as a subject of philosophical inquiry here for a reason. I am a philosopher, yes, but I am also an alcoholic who has been sober for more than 24 years ― only the last four of them as part of a recovery program. I am often asked how I got and stayed sober for those first 19 years; it was because of philosophy, which engendered in me a commitment to living an examined life, and gave me the tools and concepts to do so. My training in moral philosophy made it natural for me to wrestle with issues of character, responsibility, freedom, care and compassion in both work and life.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/08/out-of-the-cave-philosophy-and-addiction/


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Thou Shalt Not Kill. Unless…

The End of Death Row

A thoughtful, well-written article, by a man who earned the right to his opinion by confronting Texas “morality” at close range.  How many of us have thought this carefully about the homicides committed in our names?

via Thou Shalt Not Kill. Unless – Features – Utne Reader.


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Humanoid Rights

‘…being a civil libertarian requires a sprinkle of paranoia — it means anticipating threats to freedom rather than waiting for them to mobilize, because often, that means it’s too late. “It’s striking how rapidly things move from being science fiction to being true threats to privacy, from face recognition to body scanners,” Stanley says. “It’s important to be ahead of the curve and frame the debate so they know what the civil-liberties issues are.”‘

Humanoid Rights | The American Prospect.


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Reviews of Brad Warner’s “Sex, Sin and Zen” on Tricycle Editor’s Blog

You guys have read my review (which is also excerpted), but the other three give a different perspective. Check ’em out.  Check out the reviewers’ blogs, too.

“Sex, Sin and Zen” on the Tricycle Editor’s Blog


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World Gone Mad — Derrick Jensen

Unfortunately, Jensen tells it like it is…again. You won’t like it. I didn’t either, even though I already realized some of it. But he’s right. And we don’t have to like reality — only be able to perceive it.

I DON’T KNOW about you, but whenever I attend some “green” conference, I know I’m supposed to leave feeling inspired and energized, but instead I feel heartbroken, discouraged, defeated, and lied to….

Blindness to suffering is one of this culture’s central defining characteristics.


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Book Review: Sex, Sin and Zen, a Buddhist Exploration of Sex – by Brad Warner

Apart from their both being Buddhist teachers, one does not often think of Brad Warner and the Dalai Lama in the same context.  Over the years, I’ve come to see that as a mistake.  Warner and His Holiness have one major thing in common: no matter what they write about, at the end you’ve gotten a good education in basic Buddhist philosophy and practice.  They give good Dharma.

One of the things that I find most charming about HHDL’s writings is the way he sticks with the basics.  My understanding of practice is that it is about incorporating the Eightfold Path into my life.  Many writers and teachers, even Zen teachers, get carried away with the details and seem to forget that Buddhism is about living, not about having scholarly discussions.  Both Brad and His Holiness manage to make their teachings accessible — albeit in radically different ways — without getting bogged down in esoterica.  I like that.  A lot of my own practice has been about getting over myself and my IQ, and they both help me a lot when it comes to simplifying my thinking.  Steve Hagen is another favorite for the same reason.

Sex, Sin and Zen* is not an attempt on Warner’s part to pontificate about what “good Buddhists” are supposed to believe with regard to the beast with two (or more) backs.  What it really comes down to is a very personal exploration of Buddhist ethics and teachings as they seem to him to apply to situations that he has experienced, or heard, or been asked about.  He doesn’t claim to have the answers — is, in fact, excruciatingly careful to make it clear that these are personal decisions — yet he provides a first-class framework to use in thinking about such issues as they apply to us.  I mean, this book includes an entire chapter devoted to examining the practice of well-known porn star Nina Hartley, and how she incorporates Buddhism into her work and marriage.  It would take a writer with a background in blogging for “Suicide Girls” to even dream of pulling that off — but Warner does, and we feel as though we learned something. (I felt a couple of shifts in my attitudes while reading it, and I consider myself about as sexually liberal as you can get.)

Of course the book is written in Brad’s eminently readable — albeit sometimes joltingly non-traditional — style:

We reflect on the effort that brought us this piece of ass
and consider how it comes to us.

We reflect on our virtue and practice, and whether
we are worthy of this piece of ass.

We consider sexual greed to be the obstacle to freedom of mind.

We consider this piece of ass to be good medicine to sustain our lives.

For the sake of attaining the Truth we now receive this piece of ass.

And:

If you’re too goddamned horny to think straight, then perhaps the best way to avoid misusing sex is to log on to Suicide Girls, or whatever website you enjoy, masturbate furiously, be done with it, and then go out into the world more mellow, less sex-crazed, and less likely to misuse sex in a far more damaging way.

See what I mean?

Sex, Sin and Zen may shock you, it may leave you flabbergasted at the idea that an ordained priest of any religion would think it appropriate to write in the way that Warner habitually does.  But you know what?  You won’t be bored; you won’t feel you’ve wasted your time; and — unless you work hard** at avoiding it — it will give you a lot to think about.

____________________

*Available in your favorite bookstore this Labor Day weekend.

**Hee hee, I said, “hard.”

Disclaimer: the writer was provided a complimentary copy of this book by the publisher.


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Should Debate About Religion Be Open And Without Restraint?

Religion should not enjoy a privileged status, especially when many religious people strive to influence politics and public policy based on their religious beliefs. Do I violate some rule of civil discourse if I draw or publish a cartoon lampooning the Catholic Church’s position on abortion when the Catholic Church is trying to influence public policy on abortion? If so, I fail to understand the reason for such a rule. Such self-censorship merely serves to perpetuate the taboo mentality that has protected religion for too long.

http://secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=fi&page=expressing_religion

While I agree with the writer in principle (and the article is well worth reading), I have to reiterate a point that I have made a number of times on this blog.

Religion is not just another subject for debate. It is the foundation of the world view and basis of hope for billions of people.  Its roots go far deeper than belief in quantum theory or evolution, because what are believed to be its effects are discernible by ordinary people without arcane training, if they choose to interpret their world uncritically.

As compassionate practitioners, we owe it to believers to treat them gently. While it is true, as the writer points out, that they attempt to influence policy and government in the direction of their own beliefs, that is also true of other special interest groups, including secularists.

I believe it is fine to debate religious ideas, within reason, but debate is always with the consent of both sides. It is not accomplished with bludgeons on unwilling participants. We need to understand that when people’s core beliefs are threatened, they become defensive and inflexible regardless of the content of those beliefs. To pound, willy-nilly, on issues they find threatening will only stifle debate, not extend it. Furthermore, to attempt to alter someone’s core beliefs without offering something that will adequately replace the framework of his life is to commit cruelty of the first order. Morally, it no different from the acts of those who attempt to force religion on others.

Very few secularists were born to their belief system.  Most of us came to it after many years of searching for a direction that made sense to us.  Furthermore, some of us were traumatized by religious people, and have yet to deal adequately with those issues (which may explain some of the vehemence in discourse). So, let us debate if we must.  But let us also remember that minds are unlikely to be changed, and — above all — that when it comes to religion, logic is never an issue.

And let’s be gentle, understanding that discussion is not battle and that, even if it were, this is not one that we are really equipped to win.  We need to remember that secularist fanatics are no more correct in their behavior than religious ones, regardless of the logic in their arguments, because reasoned discourse requires mutual respect.  How can we demand that of believers if we do not deliver it ourselves?


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The Banyan Deer — a parable of courage and compassion (Book Review)

It’s remotely possible that even those folks who consider themselves “serious” Buddhists may not have gotten around to reading the Nigrodhamiga-jataka (part of the Pali Jataka, a collection of 500 stories about the Buddha’s earlier lifetimes).  Somehow, I find myself able to forgive such lapses.  However, in addition to being a renowned writer of, among other things, childrens’ books, Rafe Martin has apparently delved into it — at least the first few stories.

Martin’s latest book, a slim volume entitled The Banyan Deer, is a not-too-modernized retelling of one of the Jataka tales (number 12).  The writer has stayed with the common construction of Buddhist parables and allegories, building on the central theme, step by step, until the lesson is completely delivered.  This repetitive form is common in oral storytelling. The repetitive and progressive structure helps listeners learn the stories themselves so that they can pass them along in their turn.

The Banyan Deer
has an archetypical theme that speaks to all compassionate hearts, especially those of children.  Martin tells the story of the deer king Banyan who, through his compassion for the members of his flock, turns the heart of the human king who has been hunting them and convinces him to spare them and their descendants from further hunting.  This teaching and conversion theme is another that is common in Buddhist folklore, and it carries a message that is critical to Dharma in the present day.

Too long have I lived with danger
to let it fall so heavily on others.
How can I abandon them and be
at peace myself, knowing that my
freedom was bought at such a price?

…”Imagine that,” said the young deer.
“Yes, imagine it.”

Rafe Martin has told a story that is especially suited for reading to children.  It has the feel of one of those tales from my childhood that I constantly nagged the adults to read to me again, pleeeeease?  Don’t get the idea that it’s just for kids, though.  Its lesson addresses the major problem in the world today, and its concepts of interbeing and compassion could well be our salvation in a physical sense — no metaphysics required (nor desired).

The Banyan Deer
, by Rafe Martin
Wisdom Publications, Boston, 2010
ISBN 978-0-86171-625-8
Order it from Amazon

Clarification: The publisher provided the writer with a complimentary
copy of the book in return for this review.


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Wealth, poverty and compassion: The rich are different from you and me

LIFE at the bottom is nasty, brutish and short. For this reason, heartless folk might assume that people in the lower social classes will be more self-interested and less inclined to consider the welfare of others than upper-class individuals, who can afford a certain noblesse oblige. A recent study, however, challenges this idea. Experiments by Paul Piff and his colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, reported this week in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggest precisely the opposite. It is the poor, not the rich, who are inclined to charity.

Wealth, poverty and compassion: The rich are different from you and me | The Economist


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The Revival of Musar

A woman writes in her journal every night, focusing on her struggles with anger. Two friends sit down over coffee and discuss their recent efforts to perform at least three acts of generosity every day. A man posts on an online forum about how easily he is distracted by needless concerns but how daily Jewish prayer has helped him to focus his mind. A group studies Jewish teachings on greed, and they commit themselves to taking concrete steps to limit their consumption. Another group pores over a medieval Hebrew text about pride, and they conclude their weekly study session by chanting some of its words out loud to a haunting Jewish melody.

These American Jews display a good deal of moral seriousness, a tendency towards introspection, and a concern with the virtues to a degree that is somewhat uncommon in mainstream American Jewish culture. In describing their behavior, they might refer to the Jewish tradition of “Musar” (“moral discipline”) and explain that they are carrying on the legacy of a nineteenth-century, Lithuania-based movement known as the “Musar movement.” Most American Jews have not heard of the Musar movement, and many, upon learning about it, would write it off as requiring too much self-criticism, too much moralizing, and too much work. And yet interest in Musar has been steadily growing in contemporary America, in part as a counter-cultural phenomenon….

Institute for Advanced Studies In Culture


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The Value and Harm of Religion

People who believe that I am an Atheist sometimes seem nonplussed that I’m tolerant of religion in general.  There appears to be an idea amongst some non-believers that they must either be completely disinterested in religious ideas, or vehemently opposed and outspoken about it.  In either case, it seems, they must be prepared to pooh-pooh “superstition” and point out at the drop of a hat all the evils perpetrated in the names of various gods throughout history, and all of the ways that the shamans take advantage of the folks they’ve hoodwinked.  While I find the former positions distastefully closed-minded, I am indeed inclined to agree with the latter — at least when it involves the religious hierarchy.

My feeling is that those who are obtrusively dogmatic, pro or con, are just as bound up by the chains of their beliefs as any fanatic building bombs in the mountains of Pakistan.  To paraphrase John Bradshaw, a 180 degree turn leaves us in the same rut, only now we’re moving against the flow and annoying the other travelers.  If we want to change things, we need to get off the treadmill for a different perspective.

For the record, I am neither an Atheist nor an Agnostic. The latter claim that they are not convinced of the existence of a god or gods, the former that they are convinced that there are no such entities.  I am Ignostic, one who believes that no discussion about the question of gods’ existence can even be held, because it is not possible to come up with a coherent definition of a god.  To put it another way, I believe that when it comes to gods, no one really knows what they’re talking about, and no one ever will.

But I am not anti-religious.  I try to practice Buddhism which is, by most definitions, a religion.  While I accept that definition, I do not practice for religious reasons, but because Buddhist teachings give me a structure, based on pure logic, around which I can try to live my life and discipline my thinking.

That gets around to my position on religion in general.  I believe it is inevitable, for most people in most circumstances, and that generally-speaking it does far more good than harm.  It provides structure, guidance, community, hope — in short, a framework for living.  It matters not a whit to me whether the underlying beliefs are pure superstition or divine revelation, except when religious teachings are used for ill rather than good; to separate, rather than to draw people together.

The folks who administer religion are usually the problem in that regard.  They are the ones who teach, by their example, inflexibility, lack of compassion (although many of them give great lip service), and who perpetuate the tribal concepts of “us” and “other,” with their implied conclusions that “we are right” and “they are wrong.”  They are the ones who foster self-serving and self-congratulatory, complacent followers who seem unwilling or unable to think for themselves.

This tribal thinking is, perhaps, hard-wired into some people’s brains.  We are beginning to learn that the brains of liberals literally function  somewhat differently than those of conservatives.  There is every reason to believe that such dichotomies are necessary in primitive societies.  They are not, however, appropriate to situations such as those that exist on the Earth at present, with many people in need, and many who are unwilling to share.  This seems often to involve use of force on both sides, and in many circles it seems that two wrongs are presumed to make a right…or, at least, a lot of money for the people who profit from wars and strife in general.

Those are character defects that are engendered and supported by some shamans in the guise of the “will of God/Allah,” and in that respect religion is not a good thing at all.

The troubles in the world today cannot, it seems to me, be resolved by black and white thinking.  The True Believer in the hut is evidence of that, and those who attempt to hunt him down, without regard to the number of innocents killed in the process, are yet another.  People who seem to feel that they must contradict the beliefs of others, and put down the intelligence of those who believe other than they, are a third.  That ain’t how you build togetherness, folks.

Ben Franklin wrote at another critical point in history, “If we do not hang together, we shall certainly hang separately.”  As long as we continue to blame our problems on the other guy, we continue our trek to the gallows. To the extent that religion (or non-religion) supports that journey, it is most certainly at fault.


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Vatican set to issue changes in sex abuse rules

In the latest chapter of the Vatican’s attempt to come to grips with the sexual abuse crisis, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is expected to release a set of changes to the church’s rules for meting out ecclesiastical discipline against abuser priests sometime in the next few days.

Vatican sources caution, however, that the revisions are largely a matter of consolidating existing practice, rather than a dramatic new approach to how sex abuse cases are handled.

Sources also stress that the revisions affect only the internal ecclesiastical status of an accused priest. In a separate set of guidelines published in April, the Vatican said that civil law regarding reporting crimes of sexual abuse of a minor to the police and other authorities should always be followed.

Vatican
set to issue changes in sex abuse rules | National Catholic Reporter