This Body is a Corpse

One being's journey through Samsara

Deep Green Resistance Bellingham

A Deep Green Resistance chapter is currently developing in Bellingham and the surrounding area. Please contact me if you are at all interested in working to destroy capitalism, end sexual violence, protect the rights of indigenous peoples, and save the land upon which we live.

I will post updates on our activities as they come together.

In solidarity,
Jonah

Checking in

Hello everyone, just updating people on how I’m doing. I’m starting to get into the groove of the day here, cooking in the morning and then spending most of the afternoon doing cycles of reading and meditation. It’s nice so far, and the weather is just warming up. My fire starting skills are not the best, so I’m usually a little colder than I’d like to be, but otherwise things are comfortable.

A woman about my age came a few days ago and I think she’s really struggling. I’m trying to help her get comfortable but I don’t know if she’ll end up staying. She’s very New Age-y, talking about spirit walking and auras and all that. I hope she stays, but it might be better if she comes back when she’s more grounded. I’ll keep trying to support her, but I hope I don’t let it sidetrack my own practice.

I have to go now. I miss you guys a lot. I’ll check in again soon.

 

All that is, it is without Self;

when one sees this with wisdom,

one becomes weary of clinging.

This is the Path to Purity.

Dhammapada 273

First day

Hey guys, I’ve arrived in Thunder Bay and have kinda settled in. There was a screw up with my plane flight when transferring from Toronto to here and that’s always frustrating, but luckily I arrived in one piece last night around 11:30.

Canada is nice. People say “eh” a lot, which I think is funny. The Ajahn, Punnadhammo Bhikkhu, seems to be very wise and I look forward to hearing more from him as time goes on. For the moment, I’m mostly just learning from the previous steward, Karl, and he’s very nice as well. It looks like there are two other people here but they are not speaking at the moment so I haven’t met them.

My hut is very nice and runs on a wood stove, which is a cool little touch. I love the snow. It’s great to see animal tracks and stuff in the morning. There’s a little creek nearby that is just starting to thaw and gurgles a bit.

All in all, things are well. I’ll post next week probably if I get to the internet.

Thanks for reading.

A fool who knows of his foolishness

is wise at least to that extent.

But a fool who thinks himself wise

is the one who is truly foolish.

Dhammapada 63

Headed Out (or oot)

Next week, on the 25th, I’ll be headed out to Arrow River Forest Hermitage up north in Ontario for some time. I don’t know how long I’ll be there, but I may go straight to another monastery afterwards. It’s hard to tell.

Tell me if you want to hang out in the meantime – I’d like to see people before I go. Maybe we’ll have one last bad movie night.

When I return, an anagarika position at Wat Atammayatarama in Woodinville, near Seattle, is probably going to be available. I hope to end up there for the foreseeable future. I can’t explain how excited I am right now – but I keep coming back to this:

There is the case, Moggallana, where a monk has heard, “All that exists is unworthy of attachment.” Having heard that all things are unworthy of attachment, he fully knows all things. Fully knowing all things, he fully comprehends all things. Fully comprehending all things, then whatever feeling he experiences — pleasure, pain, neither pleasure nor pain — he remains focused on inconstancy, focused on dispassion, focused on cessation, focused on relinquishing with regard to that feeling. As he remains focused on inconstancy, focused on dispassion, focused on cessation, focused on relinquishing with regard to that feeling, he is unsustained by anything in the world. Unsustained, he is not agitated. Unagitated, he is unbound right within. He discerns: “Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.”

Even this joy is inconsistent, a barrier to perfect peace, empty, unworthy of attachment. In times like this, when clinging and grasping seem like good ideas, I have to keep repeating the pure teaching of the Blessed One: sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya – all that exists is unworthy of attachment.

I’ll be pretty quiet in the next week before I leave, but please do let me know if you’d like to get dinner or just spend time together. I’m not ashamed of the unwholesome amount of affection I have for so many of the people in my life.

In the meantime, I’m listening to Modest Mouse. It’s probably toolish to say how much this song means to me, but I don’t even care anymore; perhaps that’s a good sign.

I’m walking away to another plan.
I’m gonna find another place, maybe one I can stand.

From the Alagaddupama Sutta

“Therefore, monks, whatever isn’t yours – let go of it! Letting it go is the way to happiness. And what is it that is not yours?

“The body is not yours. Let go of it! Letting it go is the way to happiness.

“Feeling is not yours. Let go of it! Letting it go is the way to happiness.

“Perception is not yours. Let go of it! Letting it go is the way to happiness.

“Thoughts are not yours. Let go of them! Letting them go is the way to happiness.

“Consciousness is not yours. Let go of it! Letting it go is the way to happiness.”

“What do you think, monks – if people were to carry away the grass, sticks, branches and leaves in this grove and destroy them according to their own desires, would you think, ‘These people are destroying us!’”

“No, Lord.” “And why not?”

“Because, Lord, that garbage is neither us nor ours!”

“So, too, monks, let go of whatever isn’t yours! Letting it go is the way to happiness.

“And what is it that is not yours? The body is not yours! Feeling is not yours! Perception is not yours! Thoughts are not yours! Consciousness is not yours!”

“Let go of it! Oh monks, letting it go is the way to happiness.”

Not me, not mine – not much of anything at all.

A quick thought

I’m comfortable saying, “There is no God” in the same way I’m comfortable saying, “Someone didn’t step on a landmine last night in my kitchen” – not only is there no positive evidence for either, but the evidence that should be there is not.

The lack of pulverized linoleum, broken windows, and charred body parts, all things that a reasonable person would assume follow directly from a dalliance with such a device, is itself enough evidence for me that Jody Williams need not worry. I refuse to be “agnostic” about explosions in my kitchen, and in a world that not only lacks one shred of evidence for God, but more tellingly, lacks the evidence that one would have to agree God’s existence would manifest, I don’t need to be agnostic about God either.

Some thoughts on science, Buddhism, and the mind

Meditation the last few days has not been going well. My fat little legs keep falling asleep and compelling me to move and drastically increasing my grumps. No matter how I sit, I can’t seem to keep them from dropping out after about ten minutes; I swear, if I didn’t know better, I’d say that attachment to the body causes suffering.

I’ve been spending the time I should be meditating watching more debates online, which probably just makes my mind even more unstable. But I can’t keep away, especially not with a premise as delicious as Sam Harris vs. Deepak Chopra on the menu. The eminent Mr. Chopra never disappoints one looking for absolutely fucking bizarre statements like, “Consciousness is a dynamic flow of potential existences superimposed by a God-mover” or (I shit you not), “In the absence of a conscious entity, the moon remains a radically ambiguous and ceaselessly flowing quantum soup.” I felt so bad for Sam; how do you even argue against that?

On the whole, the debate went well and covered the normal scientific claims about God, the mind, and science, most of which Sam Harris and his partner Michael Shermer elucidated and defended very well. Especially interesting to me was the discussion on consciousness, thanks in no part to Deepak’s bizarre outbursts regarding “quantum nonlocality” as a base for experience. – but with his inanity as a sounding board, the two skeptics were able to make a lot of really fascinating points about the limits of knowledge in regards to what consciousness really is; Sam in particular should be lauded for his brave (but nervous) admittance that “…we simply don’t know how consciousness forms in the brain, or if it is from the brain at all, and we may never know.” I was reminded of an XKCD comic from a few weeks ago:

The fact that consciousness, the very thing through which the entire world is revealed, remains a fundamental mystery in its origins and operations is a fascinating concept. For a long time, we’ve been fighting to understand and quantify it, whether through neuroscience, biology, psychology, or even spirituality. But, just like the stick figures above, we always keep arriving at a brick wall – the ultimate realities of consciousness, of our brains and our minds, are always studied through our senses, and no amount of scientific rigor or philosophical examination can remove the inherent subjectivity of experience. To use a sentence as complex as the problem itself, it’s maddening to know that you don’t know how you know you know things.

But as I’ve spent more time exploring the Buddhist path, the search for fundamental reality apart from experience has begun to feel a bit like the search for a reflection apart from the mirror. I’ve begun to doubt, as I progress (however slowly) down the path, that it’s wise or even possible to know anything about this world except in terms of sense experience; whereas the modern Western approach seems to regard the exterior world as a true and constant reality accessed through an unreliable and emergent consciousness, I tend nowadays to believe that our consciousness is the true and constant reality through which we access an unreliable and emergent world.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that we can disregard that which we do experience and usher in some kind of epistemological anarchism of relativistic and baseless assumptions, but it does mean that we must come to terms with the fact that even the most concrete scientific, philosophical, and social constructions we have are, at best, an imperfect patchwork of concepts and categories placed over a never-ending stream of pure sense data. When we’re honest with ourselves and admit our fundamental inability to truly know something apart from our experience of it, we become healthy skeptics, capable of admitting the pragmatic benefits that these frameworks bring while still realizing their inherent shortcomings and assumptions. A consciousness-first, experiential relationship with the external world can bring us a much-needed distance from the universals that too often bind both the materialistic and the spiritual into restrictive and dogmatic ways of thinking.

That doesn’t mean we have to rid ourselves of these shorthand expressions; it’s a lot easier to refer to a sunset as a sunset rather than a bundle of sense impressions, or to just compliment a friend’s cooking rather than declare the ability of the meal’s qualia to be conceptually ordered as “delicious.” But there is a real danger when the framework of concepts we use to describe the world suddenly becomes the ultimate nature of the world itself – when we mistake, as the old Zen koan goes, the finger that points at the moon for the moon itself. And as much as I love science, I tend to think that perhaps we’ve already made this mistake any time we talk about “explaining consciousness.”

This isn’t to say that research into the brain is bad or counter-productive, because it isn’t. I just worry that, as we learn more about what makes that three-pound computer inside us tick, we’ll be more and more likely to reduce the fundamental element of consciousness to the conceptual; we’ll turn the light by which we see the world into a product of that world, a fundamental category error and leap of faith that undermines everything we really know about the nature of the world.

I love science, and I hope that we continue to explore the brain, both to improve the lives of those who suffer from neurological disorders and move towards an increasingly simple means of predicting phenomena. But I sincerely hope that with this new knowledge, we don’t indulge in the arrogance assumption that, through an unwarranted shift from the instrumental to the universal, we can subvert the most Properly Basic knowledge we have. Simplifying consciousness down to its materialistic constituent parts in the brain may very well be a great way to make pragmatic advances in the treatment of disease and the development of consistent biological theory – but it is neither a helpful nor accurate summation of the real, ultimate nature of this world.

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