Saturday, July 07, 2012

Upaya Dharma Podcasts - Tsoknyi Rinpoche: Using Difficult Emotions to Wake Up

Here are three podcasts from Upaya Zen Center - the first two feature Tsoknyi Rinpoche on using difficult emotions to wake up. The third one Tias Little on the subtle body, expanding on an idea touched on by Rinpoche in the earlier talks.

Tsoknyi Rinpoche: 06-29-2012: Using Difficult Emotions to Wake Up (Part 1 of 2)

Speaker: Tsoknyi Rinpoche
Recorded: Friday Jun 29, 2012

Series Description: In a lighthearted, yet illuminating style that appeals to both beginners and seasoned practitioners Rinpoche explores ways to recognize, make friends with and transform habitual patterns, including those stubbornly recurrent emotions and difficult feelings that we regularly encounter. He explains how the energy and power of our stronger moods and feelings can be skillfully used to wake up rather than be numbed, denied, or acted out. The whole point of this practice is to uncover and re-discover essence love, starting where we are.

Bio: Tsoknyi Rinpoche has been teaching students worldwide about the innermost nature of mind in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition for over 20 years. Rinpoche is one of those rare teachers whose lighthearted, yet illuminating style appeals to both beginners and advanced practitioners alike. He is truly a bridge between ancient wisdom and the modern mind. His fresh insights into the western psyche have enabled him to teach and write in a way that touches our most profound awareness, using metaphors, stories and images that point directly to our everyday experience. He is widely recognized as a brilliant meditation teacher, is the author of two books, Carefree Dignity and Fearless Simplicity, and has a keen interest in the ongoing dialogue between western research, especially in neuroscience, and Buddhist practitioners and scholars.

Click here for Part 2 of this series.


Tsoknyi Rinpoche: 06-29-2012: Using Difficult Emotions to Wake Up (Part 2 of 2)

Speaker: Tsoknyi Rinpoche
Recorded: Friday Jun 29, 2012

Series Description: In a lighthearted, yet illuminating style that appeals to both beginners and seasoned practitioners Rinpoche explores ways to recognize, make friends with and transform habitual patterns, including those stubbornly recurrent emotions and difficult feelings that we regularly encounter. He explains how the energy and power of our stronger moods and feelings can be skillfully used to wake up rather than be numbed, denied, or acted out. The whole point of this practice is to uncover and re-discover essence love, starting where we are.

Bio: Tsoknyi Rinpoche has been teaching students worldwide about the innermost nature of mind in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition for over 20 years. Rinpoche is one of those rare teachers whose lighthearted, yet illuminating style appeals to both beginners and advanced practitioners alike. He is truly a bridge between ancient wisdom and the modern mind. His fresh insights into the western psyche have enabled him to teach and write in a way that touches our most profound awareness, using metaphors, stories and images that point directly to our everyday experience. He is widely recognized as a brilliant meditation teacher, is the author of two books, Carefree Dignity and Fearless Simplicity, and has a keen interest in the ongoing dialogue between western research, especially in neuroscience, and Buddhist practitioners and scholars.

Click here for Part 1 of this series.


* * * * * * * 

Tias Little: 06-30-2012: The Subtle Body

Speaker: Tias Little
Recorded: Saturday Jun 30, 2012

In this talk, which complements Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s talk, Tias deepens the listeners understanding of the “subtle body”, a concept that Rinpoche referred to in his talk, earlier in the day.

Tias Little’s background is steeped in both academic study and physical discipline. He began his yoga training in 1984 in the Iyengar system under the guidance of his mother, Susan Little. He learned the first two series of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga with K. Pattabhi Jois. After practicing Ashtanga Yoga for 10 years, Tias immersed himself in the study of the healing arts, including massage, cranial-sacral therapy and bodywork.

He teaches yoga with a sensitivity and subtlety informed by his anatomical knowledge and keen sense of touch. His teaching is grounded in the structure and precision of alignment from the Iyengar system, while sharing the spaciousness and compassionate wisdom that stems from the Buddhist tradition.

Tias earned an MA in Eastern Philosophy from St. John’s College in 1998. His dharma training has been further informed by teachings from the Zen and Vipassana communities. Tias is currently a student of Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s in the Dzogchen tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.


The Wright Show - Robert Wright ( Speaks with Dan Ariely about "The Honest Truth About Dishonesty"

Dan Ariely has a new book, The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone---Especially Ourselves, and last week Robert Wright spoke with him on his venue, The Wright Show.

About the book, from Amazon:
The New York Times bestselling author of Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality returns with thought-provoking work to challenge our preconceptions about dishonesty and urge us to take an honest look at ourselves.
  • Does the chance of getting caught affect how likely we are to cheat?
  • How do companies pave the way for dishonesty?
  • Does collaboration make us more honest or less so?
  • Does religion improve our honesty?
Most of us think of ourselves as honest, but, in fact, we all cheat. From Washington to Wall Street, the classroom to the workplace, unethical behavior is everywhere. None of us is immune, whether it's the white lie to head off trouble or padding our expense reports. In The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, award-winning, bestselling author Dan Ariely turns his unique insight and innovative research to the question of dishonesty.

Generally, we assume that cheating, like most other decisions, is based on a rational cost-benefit analysis. But Ariely argues, and then demonstrates, that it's actually the irrational forces that we don't take into account that often determine whether we behave ethically or not. For every Enron or political bribe, there are countless puffed resumes, hidden commissions, and knockoff purses. In The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, Ariely shows why some things are easier to lie about; how getting caught matters less than we think; and how business practices pave the way for unethical behavior, both intentionally and unintentionally.

Ariely explores how unethical behavior works in the personal, professional, and political worlds, and how it affects all of us, even as we think of ourselves as having high moral standards.

But all is not lost. Ariely also identifies what keeps us honest, pointing the way for achieving higher ethics in our everyday lives. With compelling personal and academic findings, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty will change the way we see ourselves, our actions, and others.

Robert Wright (, The Evolution of God, Nonzero) and Dan Ariely (Duke University,

Recorded: Jun 18 — Posted: Jun 29  
Download:   wmv   mp4   mp3   fast mp3

Observations on The Ego Trick, Part Five

This is part five of many installments in my process/review of Julian Baggini's The Ego Trick: What Does It Mean to Be You? There is as much personal reflection in these posts as there is review of the book, and there are also philosophical reflections on the material.

Part one and Part two and Part three and Part four are at these links.

I was reading Julian Baggini's The Ego Trick during transit days on my June European adventure. At first I thought maybe I was musing more philosophical due to being tired on the plane trip over, but it has continued since I've been here, so maybe it's the continent.

I've been jotting some random thoughts as I read the book, and here is the fourth installment. Although I am back to my normal life, I plan to continue this process as much as I am able, so if this is at all interesting to you, please stay tuned.

The previous installment ended with a question: If the ego trick is true [First, the unity of the self is psychological; Second, we are no more than, but more than just, matter; And third, our identity is not what matters], then isn’t this whole idea of a self an illusion? 
* * * * * * * 

Chapter 8 of the book examines this question of Just an Illusion?

By this point, Baggini has adopted bundle theory as the best explanation of the ego trick. In Western philosophy, bundle theory is most closely associated with David Hume, and more recently with Derek Parfit (Reasons and Persons, 1986). This perspective holds that the self is simply a "bundle of experiences" linked by our perception of causality and the illusion of similarity - we are a collection of selves, not a single self, that are context-dependent and appear quite similar but are really not continuous over time.
It is plain, that in the course of our thinking, and in the constant revolution of our ideas, our imagination runs easily from one idea to any other that resembles it, and that this quality alone is to the fancy a sufficient bond and association. It is likewise evident that as the senses, in changing their objects, are necessitated to change them regularly, and take them as they lie contiguous to each other, the imagination must by long custom acquire the same method of thinking, and run along the parts of space and time in conceiving its objects. (Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature)
In fairness to Hume, James Giles, (No Self to be Found: The Search for Personal Identity, 1997), among others, argues that Hume was not a reductionist (bundle theory is seen as a form of reductionism), but rather that he rejected the notion of the self in general, an approach that is very similar to the Buddhist idea of no-self (which, as we will see below, may be misunderstood in the West)

Baggini accepts the bundle theory view because it allows us to believe that we are unique individuals who consistently exist over time, but it fervently denies that such individual beings exist. In support of his thesis, he enlists the Buddha as the first bundle theorist, rather than more common eliminative view of the self ascribed to Buddhism.
This radical idea has a history that goes back to the first bundle theory of all: that of the Buddha.

Anattā Like any other old and geographically dispersed belief system, Buddhism ceased to be a singular system of thought many centuries ago. It is therefore impossible to say what the Buddhist conception of the self is. Nevertheless, the central concept of anattā– traditionally translated as ‘no-self’ – is important to all schools, and my interest in it is not that of a cataloguer of religious dogmas, but as a seeker for ideas that might shed light on who we are. What I’m interested in is its most credible reading, not its most authentic or popular one.
In his quest to understand the concept of no-self, he spoke with Stephen Batchelor, one of my favorite Buddhists, but certainly not someone who is representative of Buddhist thought and philosophy. Batchelor, author of Buddhism Without Beliefs and Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist, is considered by most Buddhists to be somewhat of a heretic, largely because he dismisses ideas like karma and reincarnation as traditionally understood.

In keeping with his scholarly efforts to return Buddhist philosophy to its rational roots (as he understands them), Batchelor also believes that our current understand of no-self should actually be not-self.
Batchelor maintains that no-self, the hitherto standard translation of anattā, is almost certainly wrong. Many translators now prefer not-self, which may seem almost identical, but the small difference is significant. ‘Attā means “self”, or ātman in Sanskrit, and then the a- is a privative,’ Batchelor explained to me. ‘To understand what not-self is, one first has to understand what is being denied,’ to correctly identify what Tsongkhapa called ‘the object of negation’.

So what is being negated in the word attā? To understand that, argues Batchelor, you have to appreciate the context of the Buddha’s time, fourth-century BCE India, where attā or ātman was very much the central idea of the brahmanic tradition. That tradition thought of brahman as the impersonal idea of the deity, the ultimate reality, the transcendent, the unconditioned, absolute truth of things. There is a spark of that God within oneself. The true core of self is understood in terms of ātman, a unitary, partless, fundamental awareness or consciousness that is ultimately indistinguishable from the reality of brahman. Neither ātman nor brahman, however, has anything to do with the self as a distinct personality or ego.
In the Hindu tradition current at the time of the Buddha, the ātman is a kind of impersonal self, lacking unique personality and identity, while brahman is transcendent, the absolute reality or truth. In order to be free from the wheel of samsara (Buddhist term for the cycle of suffering and reincarnation), we must recognize that our sense of who we are - body, mind, emotions, thoughts, desires, sensations, and so on - is nothing but an illusion, a version of the ego trick. But if we can return to the reality of things, to our ātman, we can achieve union with brahman and be reabsorbed into the divine Godhead.

Batchelor believes the Buddha rejected this model.
‘What the Buddha did was to reject that whole model altogether and declare that such an ātman effectively was a fiction, an illusion. So when he says anattā, he is rejecting the idea that there is an ātman, that there is a brahman, and focusing attention therefore on the phenomenal world. The Buddha’s teaching is really about how we come to terms with the world of appearances. For him there is nothing behind the veil of appearances, there is simply an open field of impermanent and contingent and very often tragic suffering and painful events.’

The self that is denied in anattā is therefore only one very particular conception of self. That is quite different from denying any idea of self at all, which Batchelor claims the Buddha clearly does not do. ‘In fact he uses the word attā in his discourses in a completely common-sense way. He talks of the attā as simply what we consider ourselves to be.’
According to Batchelor, the Buddha believed that self is not so much a static noun as a creating verb - "The Buddha’s idea of self therefore is something that we create." Contemporary Buddhist author,
Andrew Olendzki also sees self as a verb in understanding the Buddha's vision of how we construct our sense of self.
Self is a process. Self is a verb.

How do we go about selfing ourselves? This is something the Buddha looked at very closely, and he left us a trail to follow that reveals the process. The name of this trail is dependent origination, and it starts (in some formulations) with a moment of consciousness, the cognizing of a sense object with a sense organ. Most other thinkers (both then and now) consider the matter to begin and end here, that consciousness is self. Where there is an object, there must be a subject, right? Subject and object define one another.

But at least in the earliest teachings of the Buddhist tradition, all that is granted is that consciousness defines an object. To be aware is to be aware of something. Yet as everyone knows—everyone who has lost themselves for a few precious moments in music or dance or sport, or even sex—one can be fully aware of objects without the corresponding creation of the subject. Selfing is optional.
Baggini refers to this constructing of the self as a "performative conception of self." Who we are, our identity, is not inborn or given but, rather, is constructed through our actions, which is possible because the stable self, self as a noun, is an illusion. 

There is no essence of Bill, no inherent Bill-ness that makes me who I am. As we will get to later, character is not nearly so stable and solid as people have believed, and without a stable character to define my Bill-ness, I am left to create the sense of myself (for me and those who know me) through my actions.As the social constructionists are fond of saying, self (or identity) is a performance.

According to Baggini:
Whether Batchelor’s reading recovers the original intent of the Buddha is an interesting question, but for my purposes, truth and coherence matter more than doctrinal authenticity. When we look for that in Buddhism, we find that the most coherent readings of its teachings on not-self are indeed remarkably congruent with more recent bundle theories. The self is not an illusion. What is illusory is an idea of self which sees it as an unchanging, immortal essence. Strip that away and you are left, in Buddhism, with the ‘five aggregates’: body, feelings, perception, mental formations and consciousness. The self, as Batchelor puts it, ‘is neither reducible to them nor can it be understood as existing independently of them.’ No more than, but not just.
He goes on to present comments from Susan Blackmore (a Zen Buddhist):
So when I say the self is an illusion, that’s what I’m saying. And I think that is what the Buddha was saying – not that there’s no such thing as a self, because in many contexts he would say there is, but that the self is not what it seems to be.’
And then Daniel Dennett:
‘It’s an illusion in the same way the desktop on your computer is an illusion,’ he told me. ‘There aren’t any little yellow files on your hard disc and in fact files are distributed, scattered all over your hard disk. All of the icons stand in for real and quite messy and elaborate processes – you really don’t want to know anything about them. It’s called the user illusion and that’s a good term for it.'
The brain creates a sense of unity and continuity that we perceived as self - it's real and it's really there. Our mistake, according to Baggini is that we "interpret that as a unity and continuity of a single, solid thing."

So, really, the ego trick is not that there is no self, it's that it is not at all what we assume or perceive it to be. The ego's trick is to fool us into thinking we are more consistent and permanent than we really are, not to fool us into thinking we exist when the opposite is true.

Baggini concludes the chapter: "There may be an illusion as to what we really are, but not that we really are." It's a good chapter - though the Buddhist elements are sure to ruffle the feathers of more traditional Buddhists.

7.1.2012 / 7.4.2012

* * * * * * *

The ghost of David Hume haunted that chapter for me - so I have gone back to one of my books, Hume's Philosophy of the Self by A.E. Pitson (2002), as well as to Hume himself in the free Kindle edition of A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-1740).

Here is the extended passage from Hume that was cited above (the original quote is in dark green) - it's worth noting that while Hume speaks about personal identity or simplicity, he is essentially concerned with the idea of the simplicity of the self:

As all simple ideas may be separated by the imagination, and may be united again in what form it pleases, nothing would be more unaccountable than the operations of that faculty, were it not guided by some universal principles, which render it, in some measure, uniform with itself in all times and places. Were ideas entirely loose and unconnected, chance alone would join them; and it is impossible the same simple ideas should fall regularly into complex ones (as they Commonly do) without some bond of union among them, some associating quality, by which one idea naturally introduces another. This uniting principle among ideas is not to be considered as an inseparable connexion; for that has been already excluded from the imagination: Nor yet are we to conclude, that without it the mind cannot join two ideas; for nothing is more free than that faculty: but we are only to regard it as a gentle force, which commonly prevails, and is the cause why, among other things, languages so nearly correspond to each other; nature in a manner pointing out to every one those simple ideas, which are most proper to be united in a complex one. The qualities, from which this association arises, and by which the mind is after this manner conveyed from one idea to another, are three, viz. RESEMBLANCE, CONTIGUITY in time or place, and CAUSE and EFFECT.

I believe it will not be very necessary to prove, that these qualities produce an association among ideas, and upon the appearance of one idea naturally introduce another. It is plain, that in the course of our thinking, and in the constant revolution of our ideas, our imagination runs easily from one idea to any other that resembles it, and that this quality alone is to the fancy a sufficient bond and association. It is likewise evident that as the senses, in changing their objects, are necessitated to change them regularly, and take them as they lie CONTIGUOUS to each other, the imagination must by long custom acquire the same method of thinking, and run along the parts of space and time in conceiving its objects. As to the connexion, that is made by the relation of cause and effect, we shall have occasion afterwards to examine it to the bottom, and therefore shall not at present insist upon it. It is sufficient to observe, that there is no relation, which produces a stronger connexion in the fancy, and makes one idea more readily recall another, than the relation of cause and effect betwixt their objects.

That we may understand the full extent of these relations, we must consider, that two objects are connected together in the imagination, not only when the one is immediately resembling, contiguous to, or the cause of the other, but also when there is interposed betwixt them a third object, which bears to both of them any of these relations. This may be carried on to a great length; though at the same time we may observe, that each remove considerably weakens the relation . . . .

Of the three relations above-mentioned this of causation is the most extensive. Two objects may be considered as placed in this relation, as well when one is the cause of any of the actions or motions of the other, as when the former is the cause of the existence of the latter. For as that action or motion is nothing but the object itself, considered in a certain light, and as the object continues the same in all its different situations, it is easy to imagine how such an influence of objects upon one another may connect them in the imagination.

(David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature: Book I, Section IV)
According to Pitson, Hume offers in the first few sections of the book his version of the mind. To Hume, the mind represents mental activity as "consisting in the occurrence of different sorts of perception related to each other partly by resemblance (as in the case of complex ideas of memory which repeat the original impressions), and partly by causation (so that the perceptions of the mind occur in typical sequences)."

So then what is the relation of the mind to its perceptions? For Hume there are two likely options: (1) perceptions cohere in the mind as objects that are separate from the perceptions themselves, (which he views as a fiction, so it's more probable) (2) that the mind is composed of the perceptions related to each other as he describes them above.

According to Pitson,
Hume’s account of the nature of the mind in T, 1.4.6 is anticipated in his earlier discussion of belief in the existence of body (T,, and his treatment of the view of the mind as a substance reflects the discussion of the Aristotelian and scholastic notion of substance in T, 1.4.3. Perhaps most importantly of all, Hume provides an extended treatment of the rationalistic conception of the mind as an immaterial substance in the immediately preceding section, ‘Of the Immortality of the Soul’ (T, 1.4.5). (p. 17)

From this point, Pitson jumps right into Book I, Part IV, Section VI - Of Personal Identity:
There are some philosophers who imagine we are every moment intimately conscious of what we call our SELF; that we feel its existence and its continuance in existence; and are certain, beyond the evidence of a demonstration, both o its perfect identity and simplicity. The strongest sensation, the most violent passion, say they, instead of distracting us from this view, only fix it the more intensely, and make us consider their influence on self either by their pain or pleasure. To attempt a farther proof of this were to weaken its evidence; since no proof can be derived from any fact, of which we are so intimately conscious; nor is there any thing, of which we can be certain, if we doubt of this.
Unluckily all these positive assertions are contrary to that very experience, which is pleaded for them, nor have we any idea of self, after the manner it is here explained. For from what impression coued this idea be derived? This question it is impossible to answer without a manifest contradiction and absurdity; and yet it is a question, which must necessarily be answered, if we would have the idea of self pass for clear and intelligible, It must be some one impression, that gives rise to every real idea. But self or person is not any one impression, but that to which our several impressions and ideas are supposed to have a reference. If any impression gives rise to the idea of self, that impression must continue invariably the same, through the whole course of our lives; since self is supposed to exist after that manner. But there is no impression constant and invariable. Pain and pleasure, grief and joy, passions and sensations succeed each other, and never all exist at the same time. It cannot, therefore, be from any of these impressions, or from any other, that the idea of self is derived; and consequently there is no such idea.
[Emphasis added.]

Hume is making reference here (I believe) to John Locke, who was mentioned in a previous post regarding the idea that self is continuous (through the mechanism of memory, by Locke's estimation) throughout our lives. Hume rejects the notion that anything, any impression or feeling, is that constant.

Rather, our perceptions and sensations and feelings change all of the time, one following upon another. From this observation, he makes his famous denial of the self, "there is no such idea" (which has earned suspicions of a Buddhist influence - see below).

He continues, with a passage that Baggini had cited earlier in his book:
For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception. When my perceptions are removed for any time, as by sound sleep; so long am I insensible of myself, and may truly be said not to exist. And were all my perceptions removed by death, and coued I neither think, nor feel, nor see, nor love, nor hate after the dissolution of my body, I should be entirely annihilated, nor do I conceive what is farther requisite to make me a perfect non-entity.
There is some vague similarity here to the Buddhist idea of the five aggregates (skandas) - form, sensation, perception, mental formations, and consciousness - the five functions that make up the human being. According to the Mahayana schools of Buddhism, the Buddha taught that there is no "I" to be found in these functions, so if we can explore the nature of the aggregates and realize they are entirely void of independent existence (see The Lesser Discourse on Emptiness), then we may find freedom from samsara (the wheel of birth and rebirth).

It's entirely unclear if Hume knew of these basic Buddhist teachings. However, Alison Gopnik (Professor of Psychology and affiliate Professor of Philosophy, UC Berkeley) has laid out some evidence that Hume may have been exposed to Buddhist philosophy [see Could David Hume Have Known about Buddhism? Charles Francois Dolu, the Royal College of La Flèche, and the Global Jesuit Intellectual Network].

Finally, here is a passage from which, I would guess, we get the term "bundle theory" - and possibly also where Bernard Baars got his "theater of consciousness" metaphor (for his Global Workspace Theory of consciousness).
I may venture to affirm of the rest of mankind, that they are nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement. Our eyes cannot turn in their sockets without varying our perceptions. Our thought is still more variable than our sight; and all our other senses and faculties contribute to this change; nor is there any single power of the soul, which remains unalterably the same, perhaps for one moment. The mind is a kind of theatre, where several perceptions successively make their appearance; pass, re-pass, glide away, and mingle in an infinite variety of postures and situations. There is properly no simplicity in it at one time, nor identity in different; whatever natural propension we may have to imagine that simplicity and identity. The comparison of the theatre must not mislead us. They are the successive perceptions only, that constitute the mind; nor have we the most distant notion of the place, where these scenes are represented, or of the materials, of which it is composed.
Hume's crucial observation, which would remain unverifiable until the 20th century, is that we experience a sequence of seemingly related sensations and perceptions (in our awareness) in the same way we experience an object (perhaps a table) that has a simple and consistent identity. The mind assembles these sensations and perceptions into a linear narrative, but if we actually investigate this experience - "when I enter most intimately into what I call myself," or engage in the introspective practices of Buddhism - we find that there is no "I" in all of those sense perceptions, in any of the emotions, or even in our consciousness.

Thus, the ego trick.

7.4.2012 / 7.6.2012

Friday, July 06, 2012

Dan Siegel, Diana Winton, and Alise Shafer Ivey at TEDxSunsetPark

Here are three nice talks on mind, mindfulness, and metacognition from the TEDx event at Sunset Park. Enjoy!

Dan Siegel - What is the Mind?

Dan Siegel is the co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center and the author of Mindsight, The Mindful Therapist and The Whole Brain Child. Best known for his work in the field of interpersonal neurobiology, Dan discusses how our minds connect subjective human experiences, and how we see and integrate our mental lives.

Alise Shafer Ivey - Metaphor and Metacognition

Metaphor and Metacognition: the mind when pushed to invention

Alise is the founder and director of Evergreen Community School in Santa Monica, California. Her work with children over the last 30 years sheds light on not only how children think, but also explores the ways in which the thinking of children generates, illuminates, and inspires dialogue and creativity in adults. Recognizing children as vital contributors to culture, Alise shares how children's unfettered perceptions have the power to jump-start the adult mind with refreshing and novel points of view.

Diana Winton - The Science of Mindfulness

Former Buddhist monk Diana Winston is the director of Mindfulness Education at UCLA Mindful Awareness Center, and the author of several books on mindfulness and meditation. With more than 20 years in the study and practice of mindfulness, Diana explains how routinely taking the time to be in the moment can have a profound impact on our everyday lives and relationships.

Jeremy Trombley - Three Kinds of Anthropocentrism

This cool article comes from Jeremy Trombley's Struggle Forever blog (A Guide to Utopia). In this post, he outlines three central forms of anthropocentrism - a very useful guide for those of us who tend to find this aspect of spirituality and science rather annoying.

He makes a great point in the final paragraph - when philosophers (and others) are using the term anthropocentrism, they often have not defined the term adequately to be sure both people are discussing the same idea. This post will help with that for those who care.

I propose a fourth category - and probably a too general version of the word's usage - see below.


Recently there has has been a lot of talk about non-anthropocentrism, and what that would mean for ethics, politics, and philosophy in general.  I think some of the difficulty in agreement comes from the fact that different people have different conceptions of anthropocentrism and therefore different thresholds for what constitutes non-anthropocentrism.  I remember thinking a lot about this during a course I took in the Fall of 2010.  It was a class in environmental ethics, so we discussed anthropocentrism a lot.  What became clear to me through our readings and in our discussions was that my definition of anthropocentrism was markedly different from the conceptions put forward by the authors and my classmates.  The difference made my threshold for accepting a given approach or philosophy as non-anthropocentric somewhat higher than others.  Let me break down a couple of the different approaches to anthropocentrism that I’ve noticed and explain how they affect our reactions to different philosophies.

1) Boundary anthropocentrism – This is, as far as I can tell, the most common approach to anthropocentrism.  It argues that anthropocentric philosophies arbitrarily circumscribe ethical consideration to humans.  Thus an arbitrary boundary is created which limits the ethical consideration that can be given to non-humans.  The solution to this – the way to create a non-anthropocentric approach – is to extend the boundary to encompass non-humans, or at least certain classes of non-humans (i.e. animals).  To take a simple example we can look at the discourse on animal rights.  Early rights theorists limited the ascription of rights to humans – animals simply were not considered to possess inalienable rights, but were treated as utilitarian objects for human consumption.  Animal rights discourse takes the same ethical basis – rights – but extends the boundary of consideration beyond the human such that animals would be thought to have intrinsic value and inalienable rights just as humans do.  The same approach has been used to extend certain rights to ecosystems and other non-human organisms and assemblages.  But it doesn’t have to be rights specifically – it could be any form of ethical argument that’s used for humans (utilitarian, deontological, etc.) that is then extended to non-humans.  Thus, for this type of non-anthropocentric philosopher, the extension of human values to non-human beings is sufficient to create a non-anthropocentric ethics.

2) Agential anthropocentrism – This approach to anthropocentrism is somewhat more stringent than boundary anthropocentrism.  In this approach anthropocentrism is the failure to recognize the active participation of non-humans in the co-construction of relationships.  It’s possible for a philosophy to be non-anthropocentric from a boundary perspective, but still be anthropocentric from an agential perspective.  For example, in a rights based framework, it’s possible to extend rights to animals, but to see them as essentially unable to speak, act, or participate in a relationship themselves.  Thus the extension of rights to animals is a fundamentally human act – that we humans value them, and therefore we ought to give them some ethical consideration.  Instead agential anthropocentrism would recognize that animals, plants, even rocks in some sense contribute to the relationships that we compose with them.  These relationships are often unbalanced simply because we fail to recognize them as active participants and instead treat them as mere matter to be manipulated to our will.  However, it argues that simply extending human values to non-humans is insufficient to overcome that imbalance.  We must instead understand how humans and non-humans relate to one another, how they alter and affect one another, and how they both actively compose those relationships.  Only then can we hope to overcome our anthropocentrism.  This also corresponds to some forms of anti-correlationism, I think, and is the approach I tend to take towards anthropocentrism.

3) Perspectival anthropocentrism – This, I think, is the approach Levi Bryant is advocating, and is even more stringent from what I can tell.  For this approach, anthropocentrism is defined as the inability to see and understand from a non-human perspective how the world is shaped and how they relate to one another.  To use the example Levi was toying with a few weeks back, it’s not enough to extend ethical consideration to a shark, nor is it enough to recognize the shark as an active participant in the co-construction of relationships.  Instead, we must understand the shark’s ethics in order to be non-anthropocentric.  A truly non-anthropocentric ethics would be able to describe the ways in which sharks, worms, jellyfish, bats, iguanas, plants, and maybe even computers, rocks, books, and houses see the world and interact with it ethically.  Such a task is likely to be impossible, and Levi recognizes this, so we content our selves with boundary or agential non-anthropocentrisms, but these will always fall short of the true non-anthropocentric ethics that we need.

I think the differences between these approaches to anthropocentrism make communication between philosophers who follow them difficult to manage.  Often the definition of anthropocentrism, and thus the threshold for non-anthropocentrism, is taken for granted in these debates.  What ends up happening is an argument over how to achieve non-anthropocentrism, when what really needs to take place is a discussion about what exactly we mean when we talk about anthropocentrism and non-anthropocentrism.  I’m not in a position to advocate any of these (though I tend towards the agential approach in practice), but only wanted to point out a discrepancy I’ve seen in these discussions.  Hopefully it makes for better discussion in the long run.

Note: All of this also applies to the concept of ethnocentrism as well, which I take to be a subtype of the broader category of anthropocentrism.  Also, these names (boundary, agential, and perspectival) are not ideal – they’re the best I could come up with in my morning haze.  If anyone wants to suggest better terms, I would wholeheartedly approve. 
My offering:

Consciousness Anthropocentrism - The perspective that humanity or human consciousness is the
most important species or form of consciousness not only on Earth, but for the entire Kosmos (also making sense of manifest reality and the universe only through that human perspective). This version of anthropocentrism is central to many forms of New Age spirituality (including variations of Integral Theory), and even to some schools of Buddhism (see B Alan Wallace's Hidden Dimensions: The Unification of Physics and Consciousness). In this view, human consciousness is necessary (and sufficient?) for the existence of known universe. The strong anthropic principle (SAP) is similar but not identical, offering the belief that "the Universe is compelled, in some sense, for conscious life to eventually emerge." SAP is foundational for notions of intelligent design.

Living Embodiment Conference - An Integral Exploration of Life, Love, and Leadership

A bunch of very cool people are getting together in Boulder this November and throwing a conference - and you all are invited.

When I say cool people, here are some of the folks who will be leading workshops and offering teachings (full list here): Saniel Bonder, Anouk Brack, Willow Dea, Brooke Gessay, Don Hanlon Johnson, Miles Kesler, Robert Lundin McNamara, and Mark Walsh.

Living Embodiment Conference - An Integral Exploration of Life, Love, and Leadership
Our health and happiness, our intimate relationships, our work, the society around us, and the environment are all hugely impacted by whether we are in touch with our bodies or not. 
For the first time Living Embodiment brings together leading practitioners from the worldwide embodied community, to share and explore this subject. At this integral event, participants will have the opportunity to learn practical, effective tools from innovators and elders, connect with and be inspired by others in the community, and grow personally and professionally. This unique event will consist of interactive, experiential sessions that will enhance your wellbeing, leadership, parenting, ageing, spirituality, creativity and more. Come, reconnect to yourself and be inspired. Build and be part of a vital emerging movement. Embody in yourself the change you'd like to create in the world.  
Here is some more detailed information about the event.
Living Embodiment has two sections. The first part is geared towards both professionals working with embodiment and individuals desiring an intensive, retreat-style opportunity to work with innovators and elders from around the globe. This part of the conference happens Monday through Thursday and employs a spacious schedule with room for sharing, reflection and collaboration. It will be an intimate gathering of colleagues and new friends and we regard connection and co-creation with fellow-participants as central to the conference. It’s what we create together that matters most.
The second section of the conference begins Friday and offers a variety of phenomenal presenters, captivating panels and integration exercises to establish deep connection and personal and professional growth. The conference will be both playful and creative, as well as rigorous and practical, with many applications that address real-world issues. All sessions will be highly interactive and the facilitators are masters in their field or innovative rising stars – the line-up of presenters is genuinely unparalleled.
Evenings will be joyful celebrations and include sessions on play, bodywork and dancing.
Who Will Love This Event
This conference is for those with a deep interest in the lived experience of the body, such as:
  • health practitioners – body-workers, acupuncturists, massage therapists, Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais teachers, etc
  • dance teachers and enthusiasts
  • embodied business trainers and consultants
  • life coaches working with the body
  • martial artists
  • therapists and counselors of all kinds
  • yoga teachers and practitioners
  • those interested in integral theory and practice
Really though, this conference is for everyone who sees that the disembodiment of today’s world is causing problems ranging from stress and ill-health, to alienation at work, to strained relationships and environmental destruction. Any society that ignores the fundamental connection to the body is unsustainable and needs healing. Living Embodiment is for people who know that feeling matters and have a passion for bringing the body back into the world. If this speaks to you, join us in Boulder.
Benefits of Attending
  • An opportunity to experience the breadth and depth of embodiment from many varied practitioners, together for the first time in one gorgeous location
  • A unique chance to connect deeply with others with the same passion
  • Inspiration and rejuvenation through deep immersion in the body and embodied practice
  • Opportunities to share creatively with your fellow participants during the Mon-Thur part of the conference
  • A week/ weekend of practice – the conference is very interactive and practice focused – no speaker will talk for more than 20 minutes without involving other participants
  • Support for practical challenges you may be facing – there are sessions on relationships, leadership, fitness, working online, parenting, trauma, spirituality and more
  • Deepen your understanding of your own work and see new directions to take it in
  • Feel supported in taking new embodied direction in your life, relationships and vocation
  • Gain critical insight into habits that limit your professional impact
  • Enjoy new relationships and opportunities as you network and connect in depth with participants and facilitators
  • Be a part of the catalyst that takes embodiment into the post-modern age
  • Joy

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Leonard Mlodinow - Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior

Leonard Mlodinow is the author of Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior, one of the plethora of books lately exploring how little control we have over what our brain is doing. The other entries in this field include Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow, David Eagleman's Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, and Michael Gazzaniga's Who's in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain.

Mlodinow spoke at the RSA recently - the first video (I highly recommend the podcast, link included below, for the full conversation) - and as part of the Authors@Google series (a longer talk on his part). Both videos are presented below.

Subliminal: The new unconscious and what it teaches us about ourselves

Watch academic and bestselling author Leonard Mlodinow as he unravels the mysteries of the unconscious mind, and shows its remarkable and unexpectedly powerful effect on all aspects of our lives.

Listen to the podcast of the full event including audience Q&A.

Mlodinow also spoke at Google a while back, where he offered a much longer talk than the RSA posted.

Leonard Mlodinow, "Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior"

Every aspect of our mental lives plays out in two versions: one conscious, which we are constantly aware of, and the other unconscious, which remains hidden from us. Over the past two decades researchers have developed remarkable new tools for probing the unconscious, or subliminal, workings of the mind. This explosion of research has led to a sea change in our understanding of how the mind affects the way we live. As a result, scientists are becoming increasingly convinced that how we experience the world--our perception, behavior, memory, and social judgment--is largely driven by the mind's subliminal processes and not by the conscious ones, as we have long believed.

The Spiritual Crisis of Capitalism - What would the Buddha do?

This is a cool article from Adbusters - A previous version of this article appeared in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. When the Dalai Lama admitted his Marxist perspective on the socio-political realm, a lot of people were surprised. "Wasn't Marx opposed to religion?" A question that seems relevant for a man who is so committed to religion.

And the Dalai Lama is clearly well-versed in in Marxist philosophy as it really is, not as it is portrayed in the media. He responded that Marx was not against religion or religious philosophy in and of itself - Marx was “against religious institutions that were allied, during Marx’s time, with the European ruling class.” Basically, Marx opposed the union of religion and capitalism that both worked to keep the working classes subservient and repressed.

The Spiritual Crisis of Capitalism


When the Dalai Lama announced his Marxist leanings last summer in Minneapolis, the only surprise was how surprising it was. The blogosphere was once again stirred up by this non-revelation. Tsering Namgyal, an Indian-born Tibetan journalist who lives and studies in the US, was tagging along when the Dalai Lama met with 150 Chinese students for a three-hour conference in Minneapolis in June 2011. Writing for the online magazine Religion Dispatches, Namgyal posted that the Dalai Lama surprised the students when he volunteered, “as far as socio-political beliefs are concerned, I consider myself a Marxist.” And he went on to clarify that he was “not a Leninist.” Namgyal’s post reported that a student asked about the apparent contradiction in the Dalai Lama’s economic philosophy and Marx’s critique of religion. The Dalai Lama’s understanding was more nuanced than most of the bloggers who jumped on the story: he suggested that Marx was not actually against religion or religious philosophy per se, but “against religious institutions that were allied, during Marx’s time, with the European ruling class.” (That would be the capitalist class.) The three-hour exchange was probably not designed for political sound-bites.

The year before he gave a series of talks in New York at the Radio City Music Hall. The Dalai Lama’s news office included the following report in their summary:
His Holiness said when he was in China in 1954–55, the Communist Party of China was really wonderful, and the Party members were really dedicated to the service of the people. His Holiness said he was very much impressed and told Chinese officials about his desire to join the Party. His Holiness said he still is a Marxist (although some of his friends ask him not to mention that) and he admired its objective of equal distribution (“this is moral ethics”). His Holiness however talked about the clampdown after the [1957] Hundred Flowers Campaign in China itself and said any authoritarian system always subdues any force that has the potential to stand up to it.
You might think he had his thoughts on the 99% and the pulse of an emerging international indignation/indignado movement soon to be focused on issues of inequality and wealth distribution, but the Dalai Lama has said the same thing many times before – including in a 1999 TIME Magazine interview and this 1996 passage from Beyond Dogma: Dialogues and Discourses in 1996:
Of all the modern economic theories, the economic system of Marxism is founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned with only with gain and profitability. Marxism is concerned with the distribution of wealth on an equal basis and the equitable utilization of the means of production. It is also concerned with the fate of the working classes – that is the majority – as well as with the fate of those who are underprivileged and in need, and Marxism cares about the victims of minority-imposed exploitation. For those reasons the system appeals to me, and it seems fair … The failure of the regime in the Soviet Union was, for me not the failure of Marxism but the failure of totalitarianism. For this reason I think of myself as half-Marxist, half-Buddhist.
So what’s all the fuss? Marx might still be an inspirational hero for the odd revolutionary in Peru or Nepal, but communism is generally summarized as a failed system that crashed and burned. So why this repeated hysteria about Marx? And why now?

While Joe McCarthy was holding Senate hearings in 1954 and fueling fear of a threatening and subversive communist underground that never really materialized, the Dalai Lama was studying Marx with Mao. Before actually studying Marx, the Dalai Lama was also taught to fear “communists” and representations of communism, with little knowledge of Marx or how China’s communist movement related to Marx’s theories. In the 1999 TIME interview, the Dalai Lama reflects on these nuanced differences and possibilities of a “genuine communist movement” in Tibet:
I was very young when I first heard the word communist. The 13th Dalai Lama (1876–1933) had left a testament that I read. Also, some of the monks who were helping my studies had been in monasteries with Mongolians. They had talked about the destruction that had taken place since the communists came to Mongolia. We did not know anything about Marxist ideology. But we all feared destruction and thought of communists with terror. It was only when I went to China in 1954–55 that I actually studied Marxist ideology and learned the history of the Chinese revolution. Once I understood Marxism, my attitude changed completely. I was so attracted to Marxism, I even expressed my wish to become a Communist Party member. Tibet at that time was very, very backward. The ruling class did not seem to care, and there was much inequality. Marxism talked about an equal and just distribution of wealth. I was very much in favor of this. Then there was the concept of self-creation. Marxism talked about self-reliance, without depending on a creator or a God. That was very attractive. I had tried to do some things for my people, but I did not have enough time. I still think that if a genuine communist movement had come to Tibet, there would have been much benefit to the people.
Everyone seems to have an opinion about Marx, communism, or capitalism (and sometimes a strong opinion), but whenever I have been able to have a sustained conversation about Marxism with friends or students they usually admit how little they know about Marx’s thought, while falling back on the view that Marx was an advocate of communism (true), and Marxism – understood as “communism” – represents a discredited and disgraced economic paradigm (sort of not quite true). In the unlikely event that a friend or student had actually read Marx, it was usually Marx and Engels’ very slim thirty-page treatise, The Communist Manifesto. Buddhists in this late stage of global capital might want to get up to speed on Marx.

Marx’s most important contribution was not a revolutionary labor movement, but his monumental 18-year study of the capitalist economic system eventually published in three volumes as Capital (Das Kapital). Anyone interested in working through the text should start young – the three volumes weigh in at about 2,500 pages. Most people know the ending anyway: Marx was less than optimistic about capitalism’s long-term prospects, but how he gets there is why scholars and writers of all stripes have continually returned to his dense, difficult, logical, detached analysis of the world’s dominant economic system. What is perhaps most surprising in the text is the discovery that Marx’s cool and methodical deconstruction of capitalism is almost entirely void of moral argumentation or appeals to conscience. And readers hoping to understand or critique the communist mode that will finally appear when capitalism reaches its conclusion will also find a remarkable absence of detailed discussion about our future world beyond capitalism.

There have been few silver linings to the Great Recession and America’s own “jobless” recovery, but Marx’s return is certainly one of them. Marxists are stepping out of the academic closet in greater numbers, and new life is being breathed into his ideas. Capital is a dish best served cold.

Getting to Know TINA

It was either Fredric Jameson or Slavoj Žižek (nobody seems totally clear on the point) who first suggested that it’s easier for people to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism. It was definitely Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister of Britain who insisted that the world needed to realize that THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE (TINA) to capitalism.

The current version of Marxist amnesia stems partly from the sudden demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the remarkable transformation of the economic culture in China. As the Soviet Union was collapsing, Margaret Thatcher repeatedly declared that liberal democracy and capitalism had triumphed over communism and the historical struggle between the two political systems was over –capitalism, as the last man standing, was the only viable ideology.

But the declared death of Marxism and communism – and the eternal triumph of capital – was perhaps just a wee bit premature. Those who nodded passively to Tina’s declarations (Thatcher was actually referred to as “Tina” by members of her staff and cabinet – but not to her face!) were not unlike the young Dalai Lama before his Marxist tutorials in Beijing. Today the Dalai Lama distinguishes Marx from forms of communism. There are many ways to critique the failed regimes of the USSR and China, but the main Marxist critique simply observes that neither of those historical situations actually fulfilled the conditions of a capitalist phase in which a bourgeois class established its power and control. Some identify the USSR as a brutal form of socialism, while both states seem to be what Marx described as forms of “crude communism.”

Tina was ahead of herself. The world didn’t need the Great Recession to see that structural problems in the economy were becoming more evident, but it didn’t hurt: countries like Spain are currently at about 25 percent unemployment (with youth unemployment at a terrifying 50.5 percent!) Still, the misery generated by the collapse is impressive and continues to unfold, the most dramatic and desperate response being the significant increase in suicides in Europe. For those who have read Marx, the conditions of collapse are a predictable precondition for the cyclical crises that capitalism creates and depends on. But that matters little to those who are left behind. As Marx wrote in Capital (Vol. 1):
In every stockjobbing swindle everyone knows that some time or other the crash must come, but everyone hopes that it may fall on the head of his neighbor, after he himself has caught the shower of gold and placed it in safety. Après moi le déluge! is the watchword of every capitalist and of every capitalist nation. Hence Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the laborer, unless under compulsion from society.

A World Without Work: Nirvana or a Nervous Breakdown?

I recently asked students in one of my classes if any of them had worked in cubicles and if so, how many hours they’d worked on an average day. The results weren’t surprising: First, there was a little guilt and unease about making public confessions – after all, this is America, the most work-centric country in the world. Then, one bright, industrious, and cheerfully determined student reported that the first few days of her job she proudly reported to her supervisor that she had finished all of her work before lunch and asked for more. After a few days she realized that her supervisor was far from pleased with her efficiency and that she was putting her supervisor in an awkward position, forcing her to find more work when there already wasn’t enough to go around. The student scaled back and fell in line with her peers, working about two hours (or 25 percent of an 8-hour business day); the rest was spent on the internet or reading novels. All was well and everyone understood the drill.

Something structural seems to be happening around the problem of work and unemployment that is not necessarily cyclical. Capital is all about leaner and meaner efficiency, and the one area where profit is reliably extracted is through “increased productivity” – producing more with less (labor). So why has corporate capital allowed these inefficiencies to continue? A completely untestable theory might argue that this irrational activity might be the subconscious wisdom of “the Market.” Imagine if 75 percent of cubicle workers were laid off. (I know this is an exaggerated premise, but I’m trying to make a simple point.) What would they do? Would they be passively herded into unemployment lines? Would they wait their turn to be re-schooled in order to be more efficient workers in a new role?

No, I don’t think so. Regardless of the mechanisms behind the action, if too many more people become unemployed, underemployed, and unemployable, some might begin to wonder if they were just unlucky or if the system is actually flawed, if the promise of capitalism and the free market is a rigged game. The secret might get out: capitalism certainly creates jobs, but it also creates unemployment, and in its late stages capitalism produces the unemployed as a new class.

One of the important points made by Marx was that we have every reason to believe that capitalism will succeed in one of its most important goals: lowering labor costs. Capitalism has made extraordinary gains in technology and has applied new technological advances to the means of production. When the media reports that there has been a rise in “productivity” and stock markets cheer the success, one should understand that it basically means that more work has been done by fewer workers, that more profit will be extracted by reducing labor costs – usually by eliminating jobs or driving down labor costs in various ways.

Marx imagined that there would come a time when productivity would reach a point that our needs could be met with much less labor. One aspect of the crisis of capital was to imagine how we would live in a world without work, how would we occupy ourselves when society had advanced beyond the most pressing economic needs.

John Maynard Keynes (no Marxist himself) made much the same point about 80 years after Marx. In an essay, “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” written in 1930 at the time of the Great Depression, Keynes tried to imagine the world of his grandchildren in 2030. He drew the startling conclusion, “assuming no important wars and no important increase in population,” that the struggle for subsistence would be solved by economic development, and what had been thought to be humankind’s permanent problem would disappear.

This wasn’t a necessarily happy event, for he speculated that the “psychological threat of a world without work” would deprive most people of their traditional sense of purpose:
I think with dread of the readjustment of the habits and instincts of the ordinary man, bred into him for countless generations, which he may be asked to discard within a few decades. To use the language of today – must we not expect a general “nervous breakdown?”
To ease the transition Keynes recommended that we spread the remaining work around, so that everybody might have 20 hours work per week and that way maintain some sense of our traditional purpose as workers as we adjust to the new world and try to deal with our freedom.

One truth that history right up to the Great Recession has made clear is how utterly wrong Adam Smith was when he speculated that if the markets were allowed to operate freely and unregulated, then capitalism’s “invisible hand” would take care of everything and most everyone would be happy. As one of my colleagues observed, when there is a hole in your theory, the tendency is to fill it with “God” or some other vague and unproven helper, such as Smith’s “invisible hand of the market.”
Nirvana or nervous breakdown, we’re headed to a world without work, and the capitalist system doesn’t have a solution to the growing number of unneeded workers.

Waking Up to Capital: Buddhist Insurrection

What do Marx and the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring and the indignados in Spain and the suffering surplus poor and the unemployed and the debt-ridden college graduates living at home and the consolidation of wealth and the destruction of middle class wealth and the subprime collapse and bail-out of banks “too big to fail” and the working conditions at the Foxconn Apple factory in China have to do with BUDDHISM?

In my classes, at conferences, and in conversation with friends, we have tried to imagine a world without capitalism. We are all swimming in the world of capital. Capitalism is not just an economic system, it is the dominant world culture. Buddhism, then, lives in the culture of capital too.
History has provided numerous examples of political, economic and cultural collapse, including many societies that were in denial about what was happening during the shift. In 1932 the 13th Dalai Lama made a political prediction that proved fairly accurate:
Fighting and conflict have become part of the very fabric of human society. If we do not make preparations to defend ourselves from the overflow of violence, we will have very little chance of survival.
In particular, we must guard ourselves against the barbaric red communists who carry terror and destruction with them wherever they go. They are the worst of the worst. Already they have consumed much of Mongolia, where they have outlawed the search for the reincarnation of Jetsun Dampa, the incarnate head of the country. They have robbed and destroyed monasteries, forcing the monks to join their armies or else killing them outright. They have destroyed religion wherever they’ve encountered it …
While the power to do something about the situation is still in our hands, we should make every effort to safeguard ourselves against this impending disaster. Use peaceful methods where they are appropriate; but where they are not appropriate, do not hesitate to resort to more forceful means. Work diligently now, while there is still time. Then there will be no regrets.
We are beginning to live between two worlds, in an intermediate cultural state. And the point should be made that we need to start imagining a new world, thinking of alternatives to this world, or we will very likely end up with something “very unpleasant”: An alliance of police, military and security interests with the 1% in possession of consolidated wealth. Unholy alliances, like when JPMorgan Chase contributed $4.6 million to the New York Police Department to “strengthen security” in New York just months before the Occupy Movement targeted 1 Chase Plaza as the site for occupation might be foreshadowing our future. No surprise, then, when NYPD protected and fenced off Chase Plaza just days before the occupation. For some reason, NYPD could accept millions from JPMorgan Chase, but not donuts from the OWS protestors.

Income inequality and the consolidation of wealth is also the consolidation of power, and the threat of violence against the people when the people don’t obey. The consolidation of economic power displayed in capitalism is not necessarily a benign event. The “invisible hand” of the market hasn’t benefitted all peoples. Capital, according to Marx, has replaced organic and traditional relations between people with “naked self-interest,” with “naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.” And the people doing the exploiting don’t seem much better off than the exploited. In the 70s Lobsang Lhalungpa (a scholar and translator whose father was the State Oracle of Tibet) stopped mid-conversation while walking with people in San Francisco’s financial district. He surveyed the busy lunchtime scene, looking up, then down California Street, and finally observed: “I don’t see any humans here.” Roaming the streets of the financial districts, it is sometimes hard to escape the feeling that we live in a land of well-dressed hungry ghosts.

My favorite image of Buddhism’s modern challenge as a revolutionary force appears somewhere in Choygam Trungpa’s autobiography when he recounts an important lesson about the subtle seduction of the force of materialism that he received from his guru, Khenpo Gangshar. Escaping Tibet following the Chinese invasion in the 1950s, Trungpa was about to climb into the back of a truck – his first experience with a motorized vehicle – when Gangshar grabbed him and warned, “You know how strong material forces are: Now you are having one of your first direct encounters with them. Study what you are; don’t lose yourself. If you simply get excited about the journey, you will never find out what we are really up against.”

What are we really up against? Cars and trucks are nothing now; faxing is an antique operation. What is the speed and seductive force of a Chinese truck bouncing along a dirt road at 15 miles an hour compared to the internet, smartphones, and the LCD TV? Many teachers and adepts have exposed some of the cultural overlays of imported Buddhism and simultaneously unearthed aspects of the essential teachings. But we need to ask the same questions about Western culture if we wish to “see beyond cultures.” In many respects it is easier for us to see the Tibetan or Japanese cultural components of Buddhism than it is to see the American capitalist realities at work.

No Regrets

Some of the Dalai Lama’s friends asked him not to mention that he is a Marxist. Why?

Regardless of the answer, there is something threatening and potentially discomforting about mixing Buddhism with discussions of money and politics. For some Buddhists the conversation is too profane, while others think it is impolite: They would prefer not to, borrowing the phrase from Melville’s Bartleby. They would prefer not to talk about property, income inequality, structural poverty, permanent unemployment and the structural weaknesses of capital.

For a long time now Wall Street, politicians, and the media have preferred not to talk about these issues. But that wall seems to be breaking down. Republican presidential candidates were especially anxious during the last primary cycle to label any discussion of wealth inequality as “class warfare,” thinking people would drop the issue. But it didn’t work. Even Warren Buffett famously declared: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

The Dalai Lama’s friends would prefer he didn’t, but year after year he reminds us of his Marxist leanings and his apprehensions about capitalism. Buddhists seem to have preferred not to hear him.
Like the Dalai Lama, Occupy’s refusal represents the true spirit of Melville’s Wall Street scribe, Bartleby: Inexplicably, they refuse to do what they are told, they refuse to go away, but appear again and again to the frustration of Wall Street and the mayors and police who represent the non-rocking boat of the status quo.

Americans and Buddhists might want to think about capitalism. It’s difficult, to be sure, and gets very emotional for some. It might seem scary to think about its future, but that’s probably a good reason we should look at it: Why is it scary to think about capitalism? It is as if Occupy has taken on the role of society’s collective therapist, patiently waiting and witnessing the tortured machinations of a society that tries to finally come to grips with its own state of denial.

The movement of the real, the self-liberation of society towards a revealing ideal, presents one option for synthesizing Marxism and Buddhism to realize resistance. The movement of the real appears in the emerging sangha, a secret movement of eros and unification that can only appear in the action of the collective. The action of the collective is to be collected, to come together and deal with whatever arises from this being together. The potential of the collective has always been more mysterious and difficult. Liberty and equality still hold a more central place in France and the United States than fraternity, and the individualism of western Buddhism is a reflection of that reality. Buddhist insurgency might look like a shift to a new leaderless sangha, or a new type of leader and teacher who discovers and understands the vast unrecognized potential of the collective movement of the real. And if the movement of the real lives, it must constantly escape the known, the easily reproduced form:
A general uprising, as we see it, should be nebulous and elusive; its resistance should never materialize as a concrete body, otherwise the enemy can direct sufficient force at its core, crush it, and take many prisoners. When that happens, the people will lose heart and, believing that the issue has been decided and further efforts would be useless … On the other hand, there must be some concentration at certain points: The fog must thicken and form a dark and menacing cloud out of which a bolt of lightning will may strike at any time. (Clausewitz, On War).
This is an image of Buddhist insurgency, of the future sangha. The bolt of en-lightning energy, the sincerity of search for the real, could appear at any moment and from anyone, not just a sanctioned or authorized leader. The dark and menacing cloud is only menacing to the old order, to ignorance and forces of manipulation. The awakening energy of the lightning bolt is nearly invisible in its decent, but becomes visible on the uprising as what is called the “return stroke”: Lightning strikes from the ground up. The thickening collective of the group is the ground for the movement of the real. The new sangha will be nebulous and elusive, but it will appear in moments when the movement of the real is especially concentrated in an individual; at that moment the group will know the presence of the real.

The Dalai Lama lamented that there had not been enough time for a transition to genuine communism. Maybe the time has come to ask him what he thinks genuine communism looks like. Events are happening now that signal, for some, the end of capitalism as we know it. Several critics have suggested that we need to start thinking now about what alternatives we might work toward. We need to remember Khenpo Gangshar’s warning him: Study what you are, don’t lose yourself. The challenge is probably greater than we think. We are facing the same challenge today, even more intensely: We need to study ourselves, and not lose ourselves in the rebellious excitement of capitalism’s undoing.

Wall Street wasn’t built in a day, and its undoing won’t happen in a day either. But as the 13th Dalai Lama recommended in his own period of radical transition, we should make every effort we can “while the power to do something about the situation is still in our hands”:
Work diligently now, while there is still time. Then there will be no regrets.
~ Stuart Smithers is chair of the Religion Department at the University of Puget Sound where he teaches Buddhism and cultural studies. He also directs the Smoke Farm Summer Institute, an art and culture collective in the North Cascades. A version of this article also appeared in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review.

Ban on Drugs Interferes With Brain Research, So Scientists Get Creative

Reuters ran an article at the end of May that featured David Nutt - professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London and a former chief adviser on drugs to the British government - who argued that the international prohibition on psychedelics and other mind-altering drugs over the last 50 years or so has been damaging to brain research and has had "perverse" consequences for our efforts to solve the mysteries of various mental illnesses.

It's important than researchers at his level speak out on this topic - things are shifting slowly in this area, with a lot of new research underway, but it's still exceedingly difficult to get FDA approval in the U.S.

The restrictions on research have forced investigators to be creative. That is exactly what we find in an article from MIT's Technology Review on data mining the internet for users' first-person descriptions of the effects of psychedelic drugs. The obvious resource they tap is, a well-known and popular source of user-generated information about the effects of all kinds of psychoactive substances. Very interesting.

Drug bans hamper brain research, says neuroscientist

The British government's former chief drugs adviser, David Nutt, reacts as he speaks during a news conference announcing the formation of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, in London January 15, 2010. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett
 LONDON | Thu May 31, 2012 
(Reuters) - Bans on drugs like ecstasy, magic mushrooms and LSD have hampered scientific research on the brain and stalled the progress of medicine as much as George Bush's ban on stem cell research did, a leading British drug expert said on Thursday.

David Nutt, a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London and a former chief adviser on drugs to the British government, said the international prohibition of psychedelics and other mind-altering drugs over the past half century has had damaging and "perverse" consequences.
"When a drug becomes illegal, conducting experimental research on it becomes almost impossible," Nutt told reporters at a briefing in London ahead of the publication of his new book "Drugs - without the hot air".

He compared the situation with that in stem cell research under former U.S. President George W. Bush, who banned any new embryonic stem cell studies from 2001 to 2009 - a move many scientists consider held the field back for years.

Nutt said the problem with the current approach to drugs policy globally, which is centered on the banning of substances thought to be most harmful, "is that we lose sight of the fact that these drugs may well give us insights into areas of science which need to be explored and they also may give us new opportunities for treatment."

"Almost all the drugs which are of interest in terms of brain phenomena like consciousness, perception, mood, psychosis - drugs like psychedelics, ketamine, cannabis, magic mushrooms, MDMA - are currently illegal. So there's almost no (scientific)work in this field," Nutt said.

Nutt last year conducted a small human trial to study the effects of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, on the brain.

Contrary to scientists' expectations, the study found psilocybin doesn't increase but rather suppresses activity in areas of the brain linked to depression, suggesting the drug might be a useful treatment for the debilitating condition.

Nutt said he was forced to "jump through hundreds of hoops" to be able to conduct the study, having to comply with a level of complex, expensive and time-consuming security and regulation that would put most scientists off.


The professor, who was sacked in 2009 in a high-profile row with the British government after he compared the risks of smoking cannabis with those of riding a horse, said he was driven to write the book in the hope of improving understanding of drugs - both legal and illegal, medicinal and recreational.

"There is almost no one in society who doesn't take drugs of some sort. The choices you make in your drug-taking are driven by a complex mixture of fashion, habit, availability and advertising," he said.
"If we understand drugs more, and have a more rational approach to them, we will actually end up knowing more about how to deal with drug harms."

Published on Thursday, the book seeks to explore the science of what a drug is and how it works.

It discusses whether the "war on drugs" did more harm than good - Nutt thinks it did.

And it explores why Britain's Queen Victoria took cannabis - apparently her physician J.R. Reynolds wrote a paper in the Lancet medical journal saying that "when pure and administered carefully, it (cannabis) is one of the most valuable medicines we possess". He prescribed it to the monarch to help her with period pains and after childbirth.

The book also has chapters on why people take drugs now, how harmful they are, where and whether the danger lines should be drawn between legal drugs like tobacco and alcohol, and illegal ones like cannabis and magic mushrooms.

Nutt doesn't dispute that drugs are harmful, but he takes issue with what he says are un-scientific decisions to ban one, like cannabis, while allowing another, like alcohol, to be freely and cheaply available on supermarket shelves.

"Drugs are drugs. They may differ in terms of their brain effects, but fundamentally they are all psychotropic agents," he said. "And it's arbitrary whether we choose to keep alcohol legal and ban cannabis, or make tobacco legal and ban ecstasy. Those are not scientific decisions they are political, moral and maybe even religious decisions."

(Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Paul Casciato)
 * * * * * * *

Here is the article on data mining for knowledge of drug effects.

Psychedelic Drug Research and the Data-Mining Revolution

The Web is filled with users' descriptions of the effects of psychedelic drugs. Now neuroscientists are using data-mining techniques to quantify the effects of these drugs on human consciousness.

One of the most mysterious problems in neuroscience is the link between brain chemistry and consciousness. How do changes in our neurochemistry influence our perception of the real world? 
This question is hard to tackle for the obvious reason that experiments on humans are notoriously difficult to perform. Not only are the variables hard to pin down but changing them with psychoactive drugs under controlled conditions is fraught with practical, ethical, and moral dilemmas.

That's why the majority of work examining the role of psychoactive drugs on neuropharmacological signaling mechanisms has been done on rats.

But there's a revolution afoot. Today, Jeremy Coyle at the University of California Berkeley and a couple of pals say they've found a new way to study the role of psychoactive drugs on human perception.

These guys point out that in the contrast to the small amount of formal scientific literature in this area, there are large volumes of narrative descriptions of the effects of drugs posted on the web. Their idea is to mine these descriptions using machine learning techniques to identify common features which would allow a quantitative comparison of their effects.

The obvious place to start such an endeavour is a website called, which is a well known and popular source of user generated information about the effects of all kinds of psychoactive substances.

Coyle and co confine their investigations to ten drugs ranging from
3,4‐methylenedioxymethamphetamine, better known as ecstacy, and lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD, to less well known drugs such as N,N‐dipropyltryptamine, sometimes called The Light,  and
2,5‐dimethoxy‐4‐ethylphenethylamine which has the street name Europa.

They collected 1000 narrative reports on these drugs and mined the text for common words, while screening out some words that are common to more than five drugs.

Having identified signature words, they then tested their hypothesis by seeing whether the results could be used to accurately predict which drug the reports referred to.

It turns out that some drug reports are much easier to classify than others. Ecstasy reports tends to use words such as “club”, “hug”, “rub” and “smile", which reflect the social setting in which the drug is often used and the feelings of love and friendliness the drug seems to produce.

Read the whole article.

You can read the whole paper online for free - here is the abstract.

Jeremy R. Coyle
David E. Presti
Matthew J. Baggott

BACKGROUND: Psychedelic drugs facilitate profound changes in consciousness and have potential to provide insights into the nature of human mental processes and their relation to brain physiology. Yet published scientific literature reflects a very limited understanding of the effects of these drugs, especially for newer synthetic compounds. The number of clinical trials and range of drugs formally studied is dwarfed by the number of written descriptions of the many drugs taken by people. Analysis of these descriptions using machine‐learning techniques can provide a framework for learning about these drug use experiences.

METHODS: We collected 1000 reports of 10 drugs from the drug information website and formed a term‐document frequency matrix. Using variable selection and a random‐forest classifier, we identified a subset of words that differentiated between drugs.
RESULTS: A random forest using a subset of 110 predictor variables classified with accuracy comparable to a random forest using the full set of 3934 predictors. Our estimated accuracy was 51.1%, which compares favorably to the 10% expected from chance. Reports of MDMA had the highest accuracy at 86.9%; those describing DPT had the lowest at 20.1%. Hierarchical clustering suggested similarities between certain drugs, such as DMT and Salvia divinorum.

CONCLUSION: Machine‐learning techniques can reveal consistencies in descriptions of drug use experiences that vary by drug class. This may be useful for developing hypotheses about the pharmacology and toxicity of new and poorly characterized drugs.