Saturday, July 12, 2014

Radio, Rains, Robes

Today we'll be on the air with Monk Radio; lots of questions already. One question in my mind is how the video answers differ from text answers, now that I've been active on http://buddhism.stackexchange.com/ - I'm thinking to try to stick to more practical advice-type questions, leaving theoretical questions for the Q&A forum, since they seem to be better suited for that format.

Apologies for no regular videos; I find it difficult to get up any motivation to make videos when I have to be producer, director, cameraman, actor, etc.; it'd be easier to get motivated if I had a team, I think. Anyway, will try again next week.

The rains starts today; three months where I can't go anywhere... sort of. Actually, already have an invitation to visit British Columbia for a few days in September - waiting for confirmation.

As many of you are aware (and participating, awesome!), we're trying to get people together to offer eighty-four sets of robes to Ajaan Tong this winter. Sirimangalo International has set up an Indiegogo project and after only six days, we're already 41% towards our goal. Which is awesome; thank you everyone for your participation, this is going to be great. I've talked with my supporters in Bangkok as well; probably some of them will help and follow me up to Chiang Mai to actually offer the robes - you're all welcome to join us if you can make it to Thailand.

That's all then. Be well :)

Saturday, July 05, 2014

fragments of reality

Just over half-way through Quantum Enigma, a book that comes highly recommended by Amazonians. I should really finish it before I start to write any more on physics and consciousness, but here's just a snippit of thought relating to the defence of an experience-based reality.

The problem with the universe is that it sometimes goes according to linear time, and it sometimes seems to work backwards. Schrodinger's cat only dies (lives) after it's already dead (alive). Steeped in the idea of an impersonal four-dimensional reality, it seems as though the observation of a system creates its past - before observing the black box, the question of whether the cat has died earlier can't be answered. Outside of the context of an observation, it is a superposition of both alive and dead states.

This is what resonates so strongly for me with QM; I hear this and say, "d'uh" (well, not really - monks frown on such language). The problem only exists if you postulate an impersonal third-person universe; postulating such a universe actually necessitates its inexistence according to orthodox quantum theory (i.e. outside of experience, every particle that is postulated to exist doesn't actually exist). Within the framework of experience, there is no quantum enigma; the boxed cat, being outside of one's experiential frame of reference, doesn't exist. Once I observe the cat, then it exists as an experience of a cat, alive or dead. Once you come and see me experiencing the dead or alive cat, then it exists within your frame of reference as well.

It's really a simple philosophy, and if you've done any significant amount of meditation at all it makes perfect sense - the universe is just like the Copenhagen interpretation of QM:
Objector: Damn it! There's a real world out there. I want to know the truth about Nature. 
Copenhagenist: Science can reveal no real world beyond what is observed. Anything else is merely philosophy. That's the "truth" - if you must have one. 
Objector: That's defeatist! I'll never be satisfied with such a superficial answer. You have science abandoning its basic philosophical goal, its mission to explain the physical world. 
Copenhagenist: Too bad. But don't bother me with philosophy. I've got scientific work to do. 
Objector: Quantum mechanics is manifestly absurd! I won't accept it as a final answer. 
Copenhagenist: (She's no longer listening.)  
-- Quantum Enigma, p. 141
I think the authors of the book are among the objectors. I think I'm among the people who have scientific work to do. 

Thursday, July 03, 2014

open response to criticism

In a continuing struggle to bridge the gap between modern science and ancient Buddhism, based on this article (linked), I bring you yet another defence of an experience-based explanation of reality (spurred on by an email criticizing the above article):

The thrust of my argument (if I'm thinking of the right one) was that reality has a basis in experience. Orthodox quantum theory seems to support this, if Dr. Stapp is to be believed.

The only reason for bringing QM into the argument at all was as a means of helping materialists see the potential for a different paradigm for reality. Your arguments regarding the natural sciences are not valid to my thinking, since they don't really attempt to provide a basis for understanding reality in an ultimate sense (an exception is Biocentrism, a theory by Dr. Robert Lanza which basically says the same thing, that reality is based on the individual's experience). Biology and chemistry may work very well in explaining day to day occurrences, but they don't really provide a philosophical framework for understanding reality.

For example, you say the moon is there whether we look at it or not. From a point of view of Buddhism, the moon isn't ever there, whether you look at it or not, and that which you see as the moon can only be discussed from within a framework of experience. It is this claim that orthodox quantum theory seems to support.

As to QM only applying to a microscopic world, I think this is a red herring. QM raises some philosophical questions about reality that have not been successfully answered by material science, and simply saying that they only apply to the microscopic building blocks that make up the macroscopic world is disingenuous, to my thinking. Also, it is not entirely true any more (google "macroscopic quantum entanglement", for example).

But this is all a distraction from the main argument, that there is no reason to believe in death unless you are committed to philosophical materialism; we have no experience of death to go by; we don't really know what happens at that moment. What we can observe first-hand is the ever-present flux of experience that seems to go on ad infinitum according to strict principles of causality that can be understood and affected by direct observation.

Buddhism doesn't deny the significance of death, just the fact that it is categorically different as an experience. That's what I was trying to argue, and I think bringing up QM to support it simply as evidence of a phenomenological basis for reality is perfectly valid.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

after the trip

Back in Canada, recovering from extended bus-lag and too much caffeine. And thinking happily about the trip down the East coast.

Really, for such a whirlwind trip, it felt like there was a real positive impact to teaching, instructing, and even just visiting so many people in so many places. Absolutely, there is only so much benefit to be had in such short visits, but the impact of meeting and practising with people in their own areas was beyond what I was expecting.

Tampa and Dunedin was the best part of the trip; it's amazing what can be done in a week! The first day I went for brunch at the house of the people who invited me to come to Tampa to teach, then went to my mother's by around noon. That evening my mother took me to the ocean to see the sunset, and the next day I spent at her new home in Dunedin, staying the nights in a tent behind the house.  Wednesday was a down-day, and we went to Honeymoon Island to walk along the ocean.

On Thursday evening I gave a talk at the University of South Florida that was well-received, I think - it's up on my audio page so you can judge the quality for yourself. I've been trying to organize my thoughts on the relationship between Buddhism and the scientific method; along with another Internetizen, I think I'm getting closer here:

http://buddhism.stackexchange.com/questions/1796/in-terms-of-reliability-of-understanding-reality-how-does-the-scientific-method

Which reminds me that much of my down time in the past two weeks has bee on the new Buddhism Stack Exchange site, where I've recently taken up the job as temporary moderator. Check it out; as far as Internet things go, it promises to be a wholesome one.

Friday was another downtime day, and we spent the morning at the farmer's market. In the evening I was drug out to Clearwater Beach, not an experience I'd want to repeat, but it did lead to some nice sunset pictures and a peaceful meditation by the ocean, in spite of all the chaos and activity of frolicking tourists.

Saturday I returned to my hosts home for lunch, some chanting, and a talk, meditation, and discussion about dhamma that ended up lasting until after five pm, on behalf of one of my host's mother, who passed away a year earlier.

Sunday we had an all-day meditation course at the Florida Buddhist Vihara, which I think is the sort of activity I'd want to push for if I do repeat the tour. There was a good turnout, and more importantly, it felt like there was an impact on people's lives even with just a single day of meditating together and meeting one-on-one with people about their meditation.

So, I'm pretty keen on the idea of repeating the tour next year; in fact I'm playing with the idea of starting early May instead, flying to Florida while it's cooler there, and making my way North by bus. I'd try to add some of the stops I missed on this trip - North Carolina and Philadelphia come to mind, along with upstate New York, maybe. But definitely spend more time in each location, plan and advertise better, and focus more on day-long and multi-day meditation courses.

I know it's early and we like to focus on the present, but as a concept to place in the back of everyone's minds, please let me know your thoughts on next year, and whether you want to play host again or for the first time. Maybe if I have enough time I can even make it to Texas next year.

So, that's my thoughts on the trip. I'm back in Stoney Creek, slowly back into the swing of things. Klara is here from Finland to finish her foundation course, and tomorrow Kevin, a Chom Tong alumni, is coming from USA.

I spent yesterday afternoon trying to get my desktop to boot up, then stayed the night under the apple tree out front without a tent. No mosquitoes yet, so it's nice to be able to take advantage of the pre-rains freedom to sleep outside.

I'm planning to return to Thailand in October, and we're beginning a project to offer 84 robe sets to Ajaan Tong when I go; more on that soon, hopefully we can crowdsource and let everyone join in the symbolism of the huge undertaking.

I may be returning to university in January; Pali studies kind of fizzled out months ago, so I've no excuse to not try to get my bachelor's degree, and some reasons to do it, including a new graduate program at UofT for Buddhist chaplaincy.

That's all the news from here; Monk Radio is probably on for this Saturday and I'll try to get back to more videos next week, including finishing up the Buddhism 101 videos from way back when.

Be well and keep on striving! 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

SC, GA, FL

Sorry, missed a step in my blogging. South Carolina was great; spent two nights in a tent, William in another. Ayya Sudinna was a kind hostess. We each gave a talk on Saturday, and several people came to listen and learn during the time I was there. Two came all the way from North Carolina, and a few others in the area who had been following me on the Internet introduced themselves.

Atlanta was a shorter stop, but still a great time. Stayed at a meditator's house and gave a talk Sunday evening which is now on my audio page. Met with several people individually and conducted a day course Monday.

Now, after an all-night bus to Orlando, we're on our last bus of the trip to Tampa at 5:47 AM.

Schedule for Tampa is an afternoon talk at USF on Thursday, a program at a private residence on Saturday, and a day course at the Florida Buddhist Vihara on Sunday - if I got any of this wrong, apologies... it's been a longish night :)

Be well. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Through the night to South Carolina

Back on Greyhound after one night at the NJ Buddhist Vihara and three nights in Maryland at the Thai Dhammayut monastery outside of DC.

NJ was nice; one talk has gone up on my audio collection, and there was some discussion about Buddhist concepts and meditation afterwards. We also went on a walking meditation trip through the forest. I'm sure I'll be returning there if I make this trip again.

Maryland was nice as well; I didn't realize it was a Dhammayut monastery, but they were quite accommodating and gave me free rein to teach as I would. Gave a few sessions of instructing in basic meditation practice, met with some old and new meditators one-on-one, and had some discussion with some of the lay people, mostly in English. Stayed in a luxury RV in the parking lot of the monastery, which was more comfortable than a tent would have been :)

Next stop is Greensville, SC, to stay with Ayya Sudinna, a Sri Lankan Bhikkhuni who has invited us to visit. Will arrive there tomorrow morning around 9 AM.

Be well.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Long Island to New Jersey

Just finished up two days at the Long Island Meditation Center. The head monk is Nanda Thera, a Sri Lankan monk I know from his visits to Winnipeg. I was expecting a room full of mostly Sri Lankan devotees and was pleasantly surprised to find that the audience was composed mostly of Westerners - not that it isn't nice to teach Sri Lankan people, but it's a rare treat to see so many non-ethnic Buddhists dedicating their time and effort to practice the Buddha's teaching.

We conducted two programs in the days I was there. Friday, we visited the large Thai monastery on Long Island during the day, and in the evening I conducted a guided meditation talk on right view along with a lively Q&A session - this is now on YouTube and in my audio collection. On Saturday, we held a daytime meditation session where we practiced both walking and sitting outside and in the monastery's living room.

Both sessions were well attended and again I was pleasantly surprised as the events exceeded my expectations for the trip. Certainly if I ever am back in this part of the world, I'd be more than happy to include this stop in my travels again.

Today we are making an unscheduled visit to the New Jersey Buddhist Vihara until 3 PM, then off to the Thai monastery in Maryland (Wat Tummaprateip) as originally scheduled. The NJBV is a nice place as well, somewhere I could see visiting again when I had more time to conduct programs here. Sounds like I'll be giving a talk this morning, so we'll see how that goes.

All is well :) slowly making our way down the coast. Again, I'm posting our location on the carika site at http://carika.sirimangalo.org/#usamap in case you're wondering where we are at any given time.

Be well.