June 25, 2009

Happiness is virtue itself

I thank my always-great friend Steve Curless for pointing out a blogpost in Bill Harryman's splendid Integral Options Cafe which discusses a modern view of karma via an article by the excellent David Loy that was in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review.

I've snagged a snip from the article that greatly appeals to me, that is both central to the article and relates to the sermon by Jimmy Roughton last night at the mission.
As Spinoza expressed it, happiness is not the reward for virtue; happiness is virtue itself. We are punished not for our "sins" but by them. To become a different kind of person is to experience the world in a different way. When your mind changes, the world changes. And when we respond differently to the world, the world responds differently to us. Insofar as we are actually not separate from the world, our ways of acting in it tend to involve feedback systems that incorporate other people. People not only notice what we do; they notice why we do it. I may fool people sometimes, yet over time, as the intentions behind my deeds become obvious, my character becomes revealed. The more I am motivated by greed, ill will, and delusion, the more I must manipulate the world to get what I want, and consequently the more alienated I feel and the more alienated others feel when they see they have been manipulated. This mutual distrust encourages both sides to manipulate more. On the other side, the more my actions are motivated by generosity, lovingkindness, and the wisdom of interdependence, the more I can relax and open up to the world. The more I feel part of the world and genuinely connected with others, the less I will be inclined to use others, and consequently the more inclined they will be to trust and open up to me. In such ways, transforming my own motivations not only transforms my own life; it also affects those around me, since what I am is not separate from what they are.
I love this snip because I think it is certainly true, even as I stumble often in living up to its sentiments.

Jimmy Roughton, I think, would agree to the core of it, but it would have to be cast in conservative Christian terms. He would not go for the idea of our being punished not for our "sins" but by them. And I think he would see things as Christians achieving the aims of the idea by separating from the secular world.

The whole of the article the snip comes from makes the point that a modern-day understanding of karma can view it not as merit and punishments passed on to a future life, but as the benefits and difficulties we give ourself (and others) near-immediately in our current life.

I have more of a pantheist take on things. I think that we are each "the whole of the reflected moon." Each of us is the complete consciousness package, though we are imperfect in differing ways. Karma is immediately felt in what we do to and do for each other.

Neither I nor David Loy sees karma as a means to rebirth. The stumbling block is that there seems to be no mechanism to accommodate it. But unlike Loy, I think that there is a capital-S Self that we all/each are that prevails.


Nagarjuna said...

I have a simple compound question for you. :-) What do you see as the origin and nature of this Self that "we are" and that "prevails" in us, and how do you reconcile this Self with the Buddhist principle of anatta?

Tom Armstrong said...

Borrowed from the internet, I confess:

The ceaseless of cycles is real but the attachment to our self as being something that was created and will be destroyed is an attachment to our illusion of the cycle. We never had an individual life apart from Nature. If you realize yourself as an expression of Nature you have gone beyond the cycle of life and death. This realization comes from the root of self as Nature and not as the self being filled with nature. So the waves (of individual life)constantly rise and fall but ultimately their source is unborn/undying.

Thus [I'm mySelf, again, and not borrowed internet text] small-s self is what anatta rejects.

The self/Self debate issue goes back to the Upanishads and their relationship to Buddhism.

D.T. Suzuki liked using the idea of self & Self in his books which were popular [or at least available] back when I was first getting my feet wet in Buddhism.

I hold out for "Self" since dimensions beyond those we experience seem to be "out there." A mechanism for Self -- and, I guess, for ANYTHING -- remains possible.

Also, a materialist/physicalist explanation for the conscousness seems impossible to me. We are left, by default, with a Self.

Tom Armstrong said...

Whoops. I should have said "a materialist/physicalist explanation for conscousness experience seems impossible to me. We are left, by default, with a Self."

Tom Armstrong said...

From D. T. Suzuiki here:

The four elements are all empty in their ultimate nature; where could the Buddha's abode be? — but lo! the truth is unfolding itself right before your eye. This is all there is to it — and indeed nothing more!" A minute's hesitation and Zen is irrevocably lost. All the Buddhas of the past, present, and future may try to make you catch it once more, and yet it is a thousand miles away. "Mind-murder" and "self-intoxication", forsooth! Zen has no time to bother itself with such criticisms.

The critics may mean that the mind is hypnotized by Zen to a state of unconsciousness, and that when this obtains, the favourite Buddhist doctrine of Emptiness, Sunyata, is realized, where the subject is not conscious of an objective world or of himself, being lost in one vast emptiness, whatever this may be. This interpretation again fails to hit Zen aright. It is true that there are some such expressions in Zen as might suggest this kind of interpretation, but to understand Zen we must take a leap here. The "vast emptiness" must be traversed. The subject must be awakened from a state of unconsciousness if he does not wish to be buried alive. Zen is attained only when "self-intoxication" is abandoned and the "drunkard" is really awakened to his deeper self. If the mind is ever to be "murdered", leave the work in the hand of Zen; for it is Zen that will restore the murdered and lifeless one into the state of eternal life. "Be born again, be awakened from the dream, rise from the death, O ye drunkards!" Zen would exclaim. Do not try, therefore, to see Zen with the eyes bandaged; and your hands are too unsteady to take hold of it. And remember I am not indulging in figures of speech.