Saturday, September 4, 2010

Freeing the Body, Freeing the Mind Book Club: "The Introduction" by Michael Stone

Michael lays out his purpose in conceiving and editing this book in his very first sentence where he says that it is written for those who find themselves “compelled by the teachings and practices of both Yoga and Buddhism” who are “moved to better understand the porous border between them.” He goes on to affirm their “interdependent history,” and their shared goal of “recognizing suffering and bringing it to an end.”

Before going any further, we again need to clarify what it is that we are referring to by the term “Yoga” in this passage. If one is referring to what I call the “ocean” of teachings and practices originating in the sub-continent of India, I’d say to speak of “Yoga and Buddhism” is already inaccurate as Buddhism is a form of Yoga. If, however, one is referring to the so-called “Classical Yoga” of Patanjali, then we can most certainly compare these two Yoga traditions, but for accuracy, I’d write “Classical Yoga and Buddhism” for greater clarity. And, from this perspective, it is certainly true that the Yoga teachings of the Buddha and of Patanjali share both an interdependent history AND are their respective traditions are incredibly porous!

Michael makes a point that I find both important, and personally frustrating at times in its having to be necessary at all: Yoga has been reduced in the contemporary mind to being all about body practice, and Buddhism has been equally restricted to being an exclusively mental practice! Nothing could be further from the truth!

Michael makes an interesting analogy with trees, comparing (Classical) Yoga and Buddhism to an oak and a maple tree. They share many commonalities, and of course have many differences. He takes it through three levels of comparison. I too often make use of the tree analogy, but I have one tree: the Tree of Yoga. And one branch of this tree is Buddhist Yoga, and another is Classical Yoga (and others include Vedanta, Tantra and from that in turn Hatha.

What do you think? Does either of these models seem more relevant to your own understanding?

What may come as a surprise to many readers is just how little we know of the Buddha and Patanjali as individuals. Do you think this makes any difference as to how we should receive their teachings?

Finally, I would love to hear from any of you regarding what may be the most pertinent issue raised in the Introduction: Michael asserts a “fundamental affinity between mind practices and body practices.” What do you think of this statement? How does it relate to your own experience of meditation and/or sitting meditation? Is it accurate to conceive of meditation as being about the mind and hatha-yoga-asana to be about the body? Or do you agree that this is a simplistic reduction at best, and perhaps a broad misperception?


  1. I'm kind of ok doing yoga for physical strength and flexibility, and doing meditation for mental house-cleaning. There are similarities in both: when you're doing yoga, you notice the places where you're tight and need more stretching, or balance. When you're meditating, you notice that you're habitually angry, or worried, or preoccupied. Both are about noticing things that most people don't notice until those things cause major trouble. By noticing them early, you sort of nip trouble in the bud.

    But I don't think it's necessary to make a big deal about yoga being a "mind practice" and meditation being a "body practice," although it's frequently a bit hard to get comfortable in the body while meditating. But not that hard.

    The thing I'm more interested in is the historical relationship between Buddhism and Hinduism, that is, the way that Buddhism revised Hindu thought and religion. I would like to know more about the ways in which Buddhism intersects with Hinduism, and where it differs.

  2. Hi Shannon,

    Perhaps there is still some misunderstanding around what 'yoga' is? Teachers like myself and Michael are not making a 'big deal' about this as much as wanting to correct the western mis-perception that Yoga is merely the physical practice of asana. This is the smallest part of the Yoga tradition, and if we ARE to dialogue about the relationship between Buddhism and Yoga (or Buddhism and HInduism, which is a DIFFERENT dialogue) then we need to be clear about that.

    From the first use of the word "yoga" in the Taittiriya Upanishad (roughly 1,000 BCE) through the time of the Buddha and to Patanjali (200 CE) and up to 1200 CE, yoga was meditation. It would have been (and still is in India, for the most part) ludicrous to speak of "yoga and meditation." As one Indian teacher I studied with 20 years ago said, when hearing a western student say she was studying yoga and meditation, "But, aren't they the same thing?"

    As for the relationship between Buddhism and Hinduism, these are two different cultures that share Yogic foundations. Hinduism, in fact, grew from the earlier Brahmanic/Vedic culture as influenced BY the counter-cultural movement of Yoga (including the Buddha).

    Chip Hartranft will introduce some of this in his chapter. But for now, we should recognize that what we now think of as "Hinduism" only began to be conceptualized as such after the time of the Buddha. The term itself was one that was applied to the Indians by the Persians, similarly to how the aboriginal people living in what is now the US were called "Indians" by the Europeans.

    Those living in India at the time of the Buddha and Patanjali referred to their way of life as "sanatana-dharma" and their land was Bharata. The word "hindu" was a corruption of the term the Persians used to refer to those who lived by the Indus River. This term in Arabic became al-hind and into Greek as Indos.

    The word "hindu" was used to refer to any person of Indian origin (including Buddhist, Jain, Sikhism etc). It was only around 1830 that the word "Hinduism" came to be used to refer to the culture and religion of the high-caste Brahmans in contrast to other religions. It was soon appropriated by other Indians as a way of establishing national, social, cultural identity to distinguish themselves from the European imperialists.

    Through time, through this book and blog, I hope to investigate and discuss more the very interdependent history of what we may now refer to as the Buddhist and Hindu Yoga traditions.


  3. Great blog, Frank.

    Realistically and linguistically we have no choice but to accept that the words "Yoga" and "Buddhism" are used to mean a great many different things. We need to just get used to attaching additional labels and/or descriptions when we use them.

    For example, I've started getting in the habit of labeling the Yoga I practice as "Gita Yoga", which is fairly well defined, for my personal meaning, in Gita in a Nutshell.

    Gita Yoga is the most traditional Yoga of all, predating everything, including the ubiquitous Yoga Sutra, except the Upanishads.

    Now, to confuse the matter, the Yoga Sutra is far closer Buddhism than it is to the Gita, so choosing the Yoga Sutra as the point of comparison with Buddhism is kind of taking the easy way out. It's preordained by the direct influence Buddhism had on the Yoga Sutra itself.

    But then there are forms of Buddhism that are much more like the Gita than the Yoga Sutra is!

    All of which just reinforces all the points you made so well above.

    To make things even more interesting, I feel compelled by the expansive philosophy of the Gita to embrace all other forms of Yoga (even Tara Stiles Yoga)and also all other forms of spiritual seeking and other religions.

    Unlike many traditionalists, my personal solution to the conundrum of variety, in both Yoga and Buddhism, is not to restrict, deny and demean, but rather to embrace, define, and educate.

    Thanks again for a great blog.

    Bob Weisenberg

  4. Thank you for taking the time to offer us this space for contemplation and sharing. I am very grateful for that.

    I understand that it can be important in the world at large to have clarity around the borders of things i.e. What are the differences between Yoga and Buddhism and what do they share? However in my own practice there is not this divide. When I sit in meditation or practise asanas there is a whole body (this includes mind) awareness. The two cannot be separated.

    I also love to reflect on the beautiful potentiality of the tree as a symbol. In my life the trunk of the tree is the dharma, pure and simple. The branches are Yoga, Buddhist practice and philosophy, Tao, nature, relationship and on.....each of these forms springs from the same source, formlessness.

    In terms of the absence of information about the individuals Patanjali or Gautama the Buddha I don't feel that this has in any way detracted, in my life, from the gift of their legacy. In the application of their teachings one is invited to validate the truth of what they taught for oneself, in ones particular conditions and context. Both sets of teachings have imbued my life with invaluable richness and I feel most grateful to them both for their diligence in practice and their effort and compassion in writing and communicating their insights to us. What they have contributed to the world and my life is of far more value than whether the Buddha had a stubborn temperament or Patanjali loved to dance. Also in some ways it seems quite poetic that we don't know much about them as individuals, truely in the spirit of their teachings on non-self and impermanence.

  5. Thanks for your comment Bob.

    Just one point; yes, it is true that the Yoga-Sutra, being so influenced by Buddhist Yoga, is closer to Theravada Buddhism than it is to the Gita. The irony is, most contemporary yogis seem not to know or understand this. So, from my experience (and the experience of those who attempted conferences on this in the past at Kripalu, for instance) the dialogue still has to be made.

    When I began to practice both Zen and Yoga years ago, there was little understanding of the commonalities. I'd be told by the Buddhists there was no prajna in Patanjali's Classical Yoga. And the yogis had no real grasp of the philosophical underpinnings of their own tradition!

    Today, there are enough practitioners who, through their own integrated practices, their own embodied realizations, that we can perhaps finally have the long over-due conversation.

    I, like you as stated in your first paragraph, attempt clarity by defining my use of terms upfront. Hence my overall use of Yoga Tradition to include EVERYTHING from the earliest Upanishads to yesterday's yin-yoga class I taught. Classical Yoga is the term I use for Patanjali. Hatha-Yoga is any form of yoga that emphasizes asana and pranayama (in particular) that itself arose from the Tantra Yoga tradition. I use the traditional terms Samkhya-Yoga, Jnana-Yoga, Karma-Yoga etc. pretty much as defined/introduced in the Gita.

    Am I right to take your term "Gita-Yoga" to be your personal approach and name for what Sw. Satchidananda called "Integral Yoga" (not to be confused with Sri Aurobindo's use of that term) which he saw as the integration of the major forms of Yoga described in the Gita?

    As for Tara Stiles, we may have to agree to disagree here, but her marketing clearly takes it out of the realm of Yoga for me! :-)
    To be clear again, the reason is I believe her marketing breaks at least three of the yamas!

  6. Hi Frank

    I'd like to express my gratitude for your taking the time to offer this space for us. It's a precious opportunity to contemplate, to deepen and grow in understanding. I really value that.

    I understand that it is important to clarify the similarities and differences between the two forms Yoga and Buddhism particularly in terms of nurturing the evolution of the two, though I'm with the people who wrote the Taittiriya Upanishad, in that my experience is that they are pretty much the same thing. When I practise asana I am meditating and when I'm meditating, 'just sitting' I am practising asana. There are of course significant differences between them and in my experience of the two. I find that is easier for me to remain present in a sitting practice than it is to remain present on my mat where I can become distracted by things around me. I guess the mat offers different challenges than the cushion for me.

    In terms of any split between mind practices and body practices. How could we have a mind practice without a body or a body practise without a mind. I recognise that it is common place to split the two but when you think about it, rationally, it just doesn't make sense. My experience is that the deeper I can inhabit the whole of my human experience the deeper my practice unfolds.

    I also love the metaphor of the tree though for me the trunk is the dhamma, the living truth, pure and simple. The branches yoga/meditation, tao, relationships,poetry, cooking, nature and so on...

    In terms of the characters of Patanjali and Gotama though it may be of historical interest, in terms of my practise it is not important the form that these two people took. The legacy of their teachings has enriched my life invaluably and I feel a great depth of gratitude for their diligence of practise and compassion in taking the time to impart their revelations. The teachings they have offered to us can be experienced here and now in a practical, empirical way. It makes no difference to me to know if Patanjali loved to dance or Gotama was a stubborn type. In some ways I feel that it's quite poetic this absence of personal information, compatible somehow with the teachings on not-self and impermanence.

  7. Hi, Frank. Great observations.

    I personally like the Gita because of its sublime profound simplicity. The Gita, for me, is an elegantly livable philosophy that falls deliciously in between the overly elaborate ritual practices of the Vedic culture that came before the Gita AND the overly elaborate ritual practices of Tantra and Hatha that came later.

    I like it better than the Yoga Sutra and Buddhism because I'm a " everyday wonder of the universe" type of guy, rather than a "meditate to the point of blissful nothingness" type. Just a personal preference, not a right or wrong.

    As for your rejecting Tara Stiles because she violated a few Yamas, I'm sure upon reflection you'll agree that if we invalidated a type of Yoga every time a leading proponent violated some ethical precepts, we wouldn't have any Yoga left! Same with Buddhism.

    If there's one thing I've learned from reading Feuerstein's "The Yoga Tradition", it's that competing schools of Yoga have been trying to invalidate each other since the beginning of Yoga history.

    Historically, the only time something stops being called Yoga is when the school itself decides not to call itself that, as with Buddhism.

    To confuse things even more, I honestly believe that when the history books are written 300 years from now, the person credited with preserving and expanding the original Yoga of the Upanishads and the Gita will be Deepak Chopra, who, ironically is becoming closely associated with Tara Stiles!

    It's a wild world out there, Frank.

    Bob Weisenberg

  8. Thank you Rosie for your thoughtful comments. It's interesting that you point out the (relative?) ease of remaining present when sitting compared to when practicing hatha-yoga-asana. Chip Hartranft makes this point when discussing Patanjali's sutras regarding asana. It's pretty clear (from experience and textural context) that Patanjali is speaking about stability and ease in the sitting posture leading to samapatti. It would be highly unlikely to attain such concentration in the more dynamic postures of hatha!

    When I teach hatha-asana, I ask how we can find stability and ease in the midst of the dynamic activity of balancing in Eagle Posture, for instance. But overall, I find the dynamism of hatha useful more for insight practice (regarding conditioning) than for developing the deeper kinds of samadhi.

    And as for your final thoughts, I too agree that there's something of value itself that we do not know much about Patanjali and the Buddha as 'persons.' I remember years ago a teacher speaking about the different place the Buddha had in the Buddhist tradition compared to Christ for Christianity. If it were ever proved that Christ had not lived, Christianity itself could not continue, as it's whole foundation is the life and promise of Christ. But, if it were proved that the Buddha had never lived, it would not make any real difference, as the Dharma (the teachings and practices) would still have merit. I think the same goes for Patanjali.

    Bob, personally, I think you completely miss the point of Buddhist teaching and meditation! I have yet to meet a teacher who teaches that practice is to "meditate to the point of blissful nothingness." The teachers I have studied and practiced with are filled with joy and wonder, and often speak of the awesome miracle of life. The gusto with which they live the simplest moments is inspiring to me. Anyone familiar with the Avatamsaka Sutra would never recognize your caricature of Buddhism either, where each and every aspect of the cosmos is valued and celebrated as both unique and a manifestation of the whole ("the whole universe is a flower").

    And as for Tara Stiles, I referred very clearly to her marketing, not to her personally. I do not know the woman, and make a concerted effort not to drift into ad hominen attacks. Her marketing is very un-yogic, and in fact, anti-yogic and harming. Suggesting that women who wear size 8 should want to be size 00 among other things stated in her marketing material, is irresponsible in a culture and community where eating disorders are so rampant!

    For the last 10 years, in every Yoga Training I have been involved with, a good 30% of the women involved have shared with me their struggles with anorexia and/or bulimia. AND just about all the others have expressed enough concern, dis-satisfaction, unease, and some self-loathing of their body at some point or another. Tara should know this. To market her teachings/practices this way, I will repeat and stand by this assertion, is un-yogic. I can only hope she -- and the women targeted by the harmful message promulgated in her ads -- wake up to this reality sooner rather than later after perhaps years of suffering.

    frank jude

  9. I'm sorry, Frank. I didn't intend to diminish or demean Buddhism in any way. I was just kidding around with the stereotypes of both Yoga and Buddhism.

    I'm fully aware of the beauty and richness of Buddhist thought and practice, even more so now that I've read Feuerstein's extensive treatment of Buddhism in "The Yoga Tradition".

    If you think my remark was inappropriate and/or offensive, please do me a favor and delete it before it causes me any damage.


    Bob W.

  10. Hi again, Frank.

    After apologizing, I went back to better understand what I'm apologizing for, and I really think if you look at my comment in context, your reaction was somewhat unfair, although I still want to apologize if I offended you.

    First of all, I included the Yoga Sutra itself along with "Buddhism". The Yoga Sutra is definitely about "meditating to the point of blissful nothingness", and your whole previous discussion had been about comparing the Yoga Sutra to certain types of Buddhism, so you might assume I was talking about the types of Buddhism that are like the Yoga Sutra.

    Secondly, I already clearly expressed my understanding and appreciation for the variety and richness of Buddhism when I wrote in my previous comment "But then there are forms of Buddhism that are much more like the Gita than the Yoga Sutra is!".

    So I still want to apologize for offending you with my kidding around, but I can't help but feel like you took my sentence out of context.

    Buddhism is great. Some of my best friends are Buddhists.

    Bob W.

  11. Oh Bob,

    Perhaps this is simply another instance of the difficulty of the medium of the message then. It most certainly didn't come across as "kidding around," but had we been speaking in person it most likely would have been clear! I wonder sometimes if emoticons (as silly as they sometimes seem) may help?

    In either event, I was not personally offended by anything you said. My point was that if you believed that "meditating to the point of blissful nothingness" truly and accurately characterized Buddhist Yoga, then I believe you are greatly mistaken.

    Your point about the Yoga-Sutra may be more on target, but folk like Richard Freeman, Chip Hartranft and Michael Stone have gone far in convincing me that the situation may not be so clear, cut and dry in that direction. I think if we take Patanjali as a metaphysics and philosophical model, kaivalya may indeed be said to be an extreme withdrawal from the world. But that may indeed be an inaccurate way to take the Sutra. I think as the discussion continues through this book, this idea may perhaps be one that will warrant deeper investigation and discussion, and I hope you'll continue to join in on that. Perhaps I can get Chip and/or Michael to weigh in on this as well.

    frank jude

  12. Hmmm.... Thank you for your reponse Frank. It has prompted me to reflect on how I am orienting myself in my asana practice? What are my expectations of my practise? Very useful.

    In my post yesterday I said,

    ' I recognise that it is common place to split the two(body/mind) but when you think about it, rationally, it just doesn't make sense.'

    On further consideration this sentence epitomises the head led paradigm of the culture that I am living in. Language is so tricky.... loaded with ideological assumptions and the potential for miscommunication. In terms of my own teaching, my practice is to cultivate a language that is articulate, a craft, an art, one that expresses what it is that I live and feel. How can we create a language, particularly in teaching Yoga/meditation that conveys embodiment? This is interesting...

    To refine....

    ' I recognise that it is common place to split the two (body/mind) and yet the reality of being human, emBODYed is it's own truth.'

    I sense that these questions are really at the heart of our dialogue around Yoga/buddhism. Two distinct forms yet same heart

  13. Rosie,

    I think you've hit upon a key consideration regarding embodiment. I think it's fairly evident that for too long (perhaps under the influence of over-valuation of 'patriarchal' values) spirituality has taken a path that devalues nature, the body and the female (body) in particular.

    Here is where I do have a criticism of Patanjali's split between Purusha (which is a male noun meaning 'person') and Prakriti (a female noun translated as "First Maker" or "Procreatrix", but essentially "Nature" and the whole embodied phenomenal universe). The difference between Patanjali and the western dualism of body and mind is that for Patanjali body and mind are both of Prakriti; Purusha is beyond both!

    I don't think it mere coincidence that with the preponderance of women coming to both Yoga and Buddha-Dharma practice in the west, there has been a re-valuation of the body and nature. One book that explores this is "Being Bodies," (ed. by Friedman and Moon) an anthology of writings mostly by women feminist buddhists.

    A book that has influenced my thinking greatly is "Philosophy In The Flesh" (by Lakoff and Johnson) which makes the point that all our concepts themselves (including the idea of 'out of body experiences') require and are based upon HAVING A BODY!

    Thanks again for your comments and I look forward to you sharing your thoughts as we move ahead into reading Chip Hartranft's contribution this week.

  14. Hi, Frank.

    Thanks you for your magnanimous response to my clumsy communication.

    I never meant to imply that either Buddhism or the Yoga Sutra are ONLY about the blissful void.

    It was actually reading Hartranft that solidified my impression of both the Yoga Sutra and the original Buddhism. Hartranft's book is all about how the Yoga Sutra has been hijacked all these many centuries by Vedanta, Tantra, Hatha and every other type of Yoga to support their particular vision, mis-interpreting and often outright mis-translating it in the process.

    According to Hartranft his translation and commentary returns the Yoga Sutra back to its essentially Buddhist roots, which are agnostic and preoccupied with illusion and impermanence, to the extent that his favorite analogy for meditation is seeing that a movie is really just individual cellulite frames with no intrinsic substance except when we run them through a projector.

    Feuerstein endorsed Hartanft's book and with his characterization of meditation. Indeed, when I first read your blog I happened to be right in the middle of Feuerstein's "The Yoga Tradition" in which he gives a detailed account, with many textual passages (like the Heart Sutra), in which the theme of voidness and nothingness is the primary focus.

    But Feuerstein felt Hartranft had gone too far in his connecting the Yoga Sutra to Buddhism. He believes there is some justification for reading Gita-like concepts into the Yoga Sutra. Some assume Patanjali didn't write about the Gita or Upanishads because he assumed knowledge of those among his students!

    To reinforce your point about compassion, though, according to Feuerstein, the early Buddhists were filled with compassion for all other beings who did yet not know how to reach the state of the blissful void, and so they took the bodhisattva vow to postpone their own ultimate liberation so they could help other people reach the same exalted state.

    Fascinating stuff.

    Bob Weisenberg

  15. Hi Bob,

    Thanks for your comment. I think Georg's background in Tibetan Buddhism (which is the Buddhist vehicle most influenced by later Hindu thought (Vedanta, among others) definitely influences his perception of Buddhism as a whole (which is not a criticism, simply an observation).

    In the traditions I've studied and practiced in, you would NEVER hear the term "blissful void." In teaching about emptiness, I often remind my students that the word the Buddha used, shunya, translates as "empty." Over time, others began using shunyata (emptiness). When one goes from a descriptive adjective to a noun, the troubling issue of reification happens! Emptiness is not a thing.

    The root of shunya is svi, meaning 'swollen,' a term used to describe a pregnant woman's belly: most certainly NOT void! :-)

    When the Buddha described phenomena as being empty, the question we must ask is "empty of what?" And the response is "empty of self-nature; empty of any inherent, persistent, autonomous, independent, permanent essential nature."

    Reading contemporary philosophy as well as the most cutting-edge neuro-science, one is moved to the same conclusion: "The self seems coherent and continuous because of how the brain forms conscious experience: imagine a thousand photographs overlaying each other, each one taking a few seconds to develop into a clear picture and then fade out. This composite construction of experience creates the illusion of integration and continuity, much like 22 static frames per second create the semblance of motion in a movie. Consequently, we experience 'now' not as a thin sliver of time in which each snapshot of experience appears sharply and ends abruptly, but as a moving interval roughly 1 - 3 seconds long that blurs and fades at each end (Lutz, 2002; Thompson, 2007)

    Of course, this also jibes with contemporary physics. So, Chip's description of meditation is accurate. BUT, the consequence of a meditation that allows one to perceive this reality is freedom from grasping attachment. One enjoys the show without the clinging sense of identification with it as 'self.'

    I've included below a passage from a paper I wrote on the Avatamsaka school. It's a bit long, so no matter if you skip it, but it attempts to clarify this issue.

    And, one more thing: the flip-side of 'emptiness' is what Thich Nhat Hanh calls "interbeing." The fact that there is no "Frank element" separate from conditions means that "Frank" is the dynamic process of ever-changing conditions and so CAN change! And what are these 'conditions' that cause "Frank?" The conditions of the phenomena universe. So "Frank" inter-is with the universe and all it's processes, including "Bob."

    What appeals to me about this kind of non-dual teaching is that it does not deny individuality and uniqueness. "Bob" is NOT "Frank" and both are NOT some same substance (i.e. Brahman) that is the sole reality underlying the appearance of multiplicity. BUT, because "Bob" and "Frank" are empty of separate self-nature (no "Bob element" no "Frank element") we are not separate, and in fact, are identical in our empty nature! The empty nature of the open heart!

    frank jude

  16. Well said, Frank.

    One clarification. Georg's extensive account of Buddhism in "The Yoga Tradition" is, to my reading, quite varied and comprehensive, and it covers a very wide spectrum of Buddhist thought throughout the world.

    In my comment above I was only relating his description of the original very early Buddhism, which he reinforces with his own original translations of the early texts. I was also referring to a review of Hartranft's Sutra on his website.

    Bob W.

  17. love the discussion, Frank....reminds me of the MYMT at Spirit Rock....

  18. One more thought, Frank. First let me make it clear that I'm describing my personal reactions and choices here, not criticizing Buddhism in any way.

    The point we're at is where I usually end up in my in-depth discussions with Buddhists. They end with this movie clip analogy or your quantum physics equivalents, deeply satisfied that Buddhism anticipated modern science by 2500 years. Everything is illusory and impermanent, and now science is proving it (as in Dalai Lama The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality)

    For me and others, this is where the really interesting discussion begins, not ends.

    The first thing I speculate about is, who or what came up with this incredible system whereby a series of individual frames can be strung together with such fantastic diversity?

    And then I ask you, once you get used to the novelty of the fact that the movie is just made up of a bunch of frames, which do you ultimately care about, the frames or the movie?

    And what kind of wondrous movie-force came up with this whole incredible system of apparent reality and deep meaning from just stringing a bunch of frames together?

    To the Yoga philosopher and some Buddhists, these questions lead inevitably to some concept like Brahman--the infinite unfathomable life-force of the universe. It's not useful to try to define it any further, but we know it's there, and it doesn't seem even logically possible that the frames of the film and all its meaning just emerged by its own accord.

    And since we have no way to define it any further, it seems to be at best a precarious and unlikely conclusion that it is "no thing". In fact, to me it makes far more sense to conclude that it is "some thing", something beyond our ability to comprehend or imagine, but clearly infinitely wondrous and best defined as simply "the infinitely wondrous unfathomable life-force of the universe". And if everything is frames, then logically everything is Brahman.

    This is the Gita.. And that's why I personally prefer it to most Buddhism.

    Hope this makes sense, and again, I'm just describing more fully my own spiritual intuition and feelings, not judging Buddhism in any way. How ridiculous would that be, for me or anyone else?

    Bob Weisenberg

  19. Also, Frank, was there supposed to be an attachment to your last comment above "from a paper I wrote on the Avatamsaka school". I didn't get that.



  20. Hi Bob,

    Yeah, well it's just those kind of speculations I have no real interest in. As the Buddha pointed out, they do not lead to edification. If my life's meaning depends upon getting such answers, it's like the man shot with the arrow refusing to have the arrow removed until he gets all his questions about WHY and HOW he's in such a situation: he'll die.

    I feel no need to postulate a Creator, or any such "force" outside of nature. Check out Capra's "The Web of Life" for a coherent, 'logical' model of the frames, the film and it's meaning can all arise without the postulating of some 'vital force' outside the phenomena.

    As for the film and frames. That's my point: I care deeply about the film (the relative truth) while knowing it's empty nature (the frames) so that I can be fully involved without grasping (which causes suffering).

    But, isn't that exactly what Krishna is also saying Arjuna's relationship to the world and action should be? So I don't see any point in arguing.

    How you get there is different from how I get there. Your way makes sense to you and my way makes sense to me. You see, whenever I meet most people who posit 'some thing' like Brahman, despite all their talk that "everything is Brahman," they tend to valorize the Absolute (Brahman) over the relative (you and me and each particular phenomenon).

    The film/frame two-truths teaching reminds me that the absolute (the frames) is the relative (the film). As the Heart Sutra says:

    from is emptiness; emptiness is form. form is not other than emptiness. emptiness is not other than form.

    Even some Buddhists forget both sides of this equation! There is no emptiness as some 'substratum' (like Brahman) without form. No form without emptiness. The only way to know emptiness is THROUGH form!

    Also, I find that when most people take that step and conceptualize a "some thing" in calling it a thing they already limit it. "IT's" attributes become defining of what is a mystery. Like the Iris Dement song goes, "I let the mystery be" or like Hui-neng said, "To say "it" is already saying wrong."

    For some reason, I was not allowed to cut and paste that paper into this blog. I'll try posting it on my other blog: zen natturalism later today.

    frank jude

  21. Bob,

    In re-reading my above post, I realize you may take it as saying we are 'arguing,' but what I was intending is that such ultimate questions of 'world-view' are pretty much faith questions. My own world-view has changed from much like what yours seems to be to what makes sense to me now. Who knows what I'll be thinking in 20 years.

    All I do know is that over time, through practice, my life has transformed. The happiness, joy and freedom that permeate my life is a direct result of the practice and teachings I now share. Such happiness, joy and freedom are WHY I teach!


  22. Thanks, Frank. I appreciate the value of looking at it your way, too. This calls to mind that fantastic Elephant blog I copied you on just after we met online, the one in which I conclude triumphantly at the end of a similar exchange:

    Now I realize these are just two sides of the same coin!

    I've got to get around to redoing and reissuing that blog. It'll be called, "Bob vs. Buddhism--the Satisfying Conclusion."

    Thanks for all your wise thoughts.

    Bob Weisenberg

  23. Hey Bob,

    Just thought I'd let you know I posted the whole essay on my other blog. The sections I think most pertinent to our discussion are the second and third sections.

  24. Left this response to your marvelous essay:

    This is the best paper on Buddhism I have ever read. It clarifies everything for me:

    --Why I have had a lot of trouble relating to Buddhism.

    --Which type of Buddhism, namely your type, is the Buddhism I would feel most comfortable with.

    --How very close to Gita Yoga your type of Buddhism is, especially in their mutual emphasis on realization (I prefer this term to "enlightenment") as an every moment experience of life, not some separately attained state, and the idea of sudden realization at the point of the first flash of profound insight.

    --That the main difference is in the Gita's emphasis on infinite wonder over Buddhism's emphasis on real and illusion, but that these are not so different as it appears on the surface--they are truly two sides to the exact same coin.

    --That everything you wrote here is entirely consistent with my own "Yoga Demystified", and that, in fact, much of "Yoga Demystified" consists of the sames sort of little mind games and thinking exercises as you describe here to help people understand Reality.

    Wow. Is that enough yet? Reading this marvelous essay has been a truly ground-breaking experience for me.

    A profound thank you, Frank. Please bring your teaching to Elephant Journal.

    Bob Weisenberg