12 Rules for Life – Jordan Peterson (part 1)

In the wake of the New Zealand mosque shootings, one major New Zealand bookshop, Whitcoulls, apparently removed Jordan Peterson’s “12 Rules for Life” from its shelves. This was reported in a range of print and online media, particularly various right-wing sites. For example, the New Zealand Herald on  March, commented in an article mainly about the many positive responses to the massacre that “Contributions to our national wellbeing such as Whitcoulls’ removal of Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Life from its shelves, while Hitler’s Mein Kampf remains on sale, and shutting down debate on the UN’s Immigration Pact are tokenism, and misguided to boot.”

I checked six large New Zealand bookstores (either big chains or online) and indeed Whitcoulls is the only one which does not have 12 Rules for Life available for sale. It does have Mein Kampf, and the Collected Writings of Chairman Mao, as well as some other writings by Peterson. Earlier in February this year, a group called Auckland Peace Action, objected to Peterson’s planned visit to New Zealand, with a “press release” claiming that “Jordan Peterson Threatens Everything of Value in Our Society.”

If you are not aware, Jordan Peterson has become an internet phenomenon, with a massive following, particularly among young men, and there are lots of negative reactions to him from journalists and other commentators. My teenage son has been reading Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules and also watching various videos of Peterson interviews and lectures, and gave me a copy of “12 Rules for Life” for my birthday. So I am going to read it with interest, to see whether it does indeed threaten everything of value in our society, or should be banned as “extremely disturbing material”. As I make my way through the book, I will add review comments to this blog post, starting with the Introduction below.

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Free Solo – inspiring and disturbing

Last week I took my boys to see Free Solo. In case you haven’t heard of it, it is a documentary about Alex Honnold’s attempt to become the first person to climb the 3000 foot cliff of El Capitan without any ropes or other protective equipment. One slip or missed hold and he would die. The documentary not only looks at Honnold the climber, his mindset and attitudes, his preparations and the actual climb itself, but also has two other main threads, the process of filming the feat and the moral dilemmas the filmmakers faced, and the very substantial stresses his loved ones have to deal with.

Alex Honnold free soloing El Capitan. Photo credit: National Geographic documentary Free Solo.

I had actually put the DVD in my shopping trolley at Amazon because it did not seem to be screening anywhere in Geneva, when a friend let me know there was a one night showing at Pathe Balexert. So I deleted my draft purchase and took the boys to see it. If you have a chance to see it, I highly recommend it. It is a gripping account of one of the greatest athletic feats of all time, but is also very thought-provoking. It won an Oscar this year for Best Documentary, and has a critics rating of 99% on Rotten Tomatoes.

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Brainwave entrainment

The basic idea of brainwave entrainment is to use an external periodic stimulus to cause wave1brainwave frequencies to fall into step with it at a frequency corresponding to the intended brain-state (for example, to induce sleep or meditative states). There is good evidence that the human brain has a tendency to change its dominant EEG frequency towards the frequency of a dominant external stimulus. Such a stimulus may be aural, as in the case of binaural or monaural beats and isochronic tones,or light (visual), or a combination of the two with a mind machine.

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This is how things are; what is to be done about them?

It is not profitable to spend time on such questions as whether there was ever a beginning to the succession of universes that have been arising and reaching their end for innumerable aeons, or why sentient beings must revolve endlessly from life to life in this sad realm of samsara. What is needed is to direct one’s attention to the present, thinking: “This is how things are; what is to be done about them?

Bodhisattva of Compassion: The Mystical Tradition of Kuan Yin by John Blofeld, page 88

Zen practice in Japan

My main Zen teacher in the 1990s was Hogen Yamahata, known as Hogen-san to his students, who travelled regularly from Japan to conduct sesshin, and in the late 1990s started to spend more of his time in Australia. I was planning a visit to Japan in 1995 and hoped to visit Hogen-san at his temple, Chogen-ji, near Mt Fuji. Apart from the fact that I found out he was actually visiting Australia at the time I planned to go to Japan, his long-term student Peter Thompson advised me that Hogen-san’s temple was only a small family temple with one or two students at most. and that it would be better for me to visit Bukkokuji, where Hogen-san had trained with his main teacher, Harada Tangen Roshisama. So in 1995, I went to Bukkokuji and spent a week training with Roshisama.

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The entrance to Bukkokuji, a Zen monastery in Obama, Japan.

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Zen practice in Australia

I started practicing Zen with the Canberra Zen Group in 1992 following my separation from my first wife. I had become interested in Zen practice as part of my jujutsu training at black belt level. My jujutsu teacher had been exploring some of the inner (mind, spirit) aspects of budo with his yudansha students, and from around 1989 I had started to sit zazen fairly regularly at home.

The Canberra Zen Group met for zazen several times a week at a Vietnamese Buddhist temple in the north of Canberra, and were also affiliated with the Sydney Zen Group who have a zendo in Annandale, where I used to live, and also have a retreat centre at Gorricks Run, a remote valley in the Northern Blue Mountains.

In 1993 I attended my first sesshin (7 day silent retreat) at Gorricks Run where the teacher was John Tarrant Roshi, the first Australian to be authorized to teach Zen. Tarrant Roshi had been a long-time student of Robert Aitken Roshi, one of the most influential figures in the transmission of Zen to the West.

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Origins — the fascination of ancestors — recent, ancient, extreme

I have had an interest in the history of my family since childhood, when I wrote a short history of the Mathers family that drew heavily on documents and recollections of family members, particularly those of a great-uncle and great-aunt born in Scotland in the 19th century. When I discovered Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy as a teenager, I was fascinated by the genealogical charts in the Appendices to the Lord of the Rings. For some reason, I find the tracing of connections to a larger history deeply satisfying. Over the last ten years, I returned to researching my ancestry using the powerful tools offered by the Internet, with access to databases and historical records that I would not have dreamed possible before.

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