My son has been reading the existentialists, starting with Camus (of course, The Plague is quite relevant for more than one reason now). He recently moved on to Kierkegaard, who took a form of Christianity as a solution to existential angst. I was reminded of a book I read probably 15 years ago, by Stephen Batchelor: Buddhism Without Beliefs (London: Bloomsbury 1997) which argued that the Buddha was concerned with addressing the existential issue of suffering not with metaphysics and beliefs. I couldn’t find my copy of this, and bought another, which I enjoyed reading even more than the first time.
A few days ago, I was watching Would I Lie to You (WILTY), a BBC panel show in which contestants have to bluff about their deepest secrets…and the opposing team have to find out which ones are true. One of the best things on TV. On this particular episode, a mystery guest Charlotte came onto the show, and each member of one team had to explain how they knew Charlotte. Joe Lycett claimed that “In the evenings, I like to relax by watching videos of her wrapping gifts on YouTube. “
It turned out to be true. Afterwards, I looked up Charlotte on YouTube and found a video of her wrapping presents.
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.
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.
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.
The basic idea of brainwave entrainment is to use an external periodic stimulus to cause brainwave 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.
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
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.
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.