Justifying Buddhism with Science?

The concept of karma in Buddhism maintains that all actions are conditioned by previous actions and give rise to the actions or consequences that follow. In “Is Delusion Hardwired?” Wendy Hasenkamp says, “ancient ideas about karma…are mirrored with surprising detail in the foundations of modern neuroscience.” She goes on to explain the concept of neural association and how the repetition of these associations creates networks between neurons that become stronger the more often we experience something because the associated neurons are interacting more frequently.

She connects this process to karma by highlighting its cyclic nature: the more often we engage in an activity, the more likely we are to engage in it again in the future because each time we perform that activity its associated neural network is reinforced. Hasenkamp argues that this neural plasticity is what leads us to delusion, or “our inability to see the true nature of reality,” because it determines concept formation. Through these processes of neural associations, conventional beings take patterns and repetitions of and within phenomena to mean they are concrete. We see phenomena as stable and unchanging and as having discernable essences, a perception that renders us deluded and ignorant.

So our delusion and ignorance turn out to be rooted in biological processes, which, as we discussed in class, makes Buddhism’s philosophy on suffering easier to swallow for those of us who put our faith in the scientific method. But while this evidence might present a more believable basis for suffering for skeptics, it makes ending suffering and escaping samsara seem an even more daunting and impossible task. Hasenkamp says that meditation can make us aware of our mental habits and, through that awareness, allow us to form new associations, presumably free of perceptions of essence, and allow us to transcend delusion.

In reading this article, and in our discussion in class, I came to realize that I am one of the skeptics of religion who tends to rely on scientific and mathematic evidence as determinants of truth. I attribute this to my relatively nonsectarian upbringing and education that always favored science and math and hailed them as indicators of intelligence and truth. In Buddhist Thought this semester, I often wondered about whether all of this Buddhist philosophy could be grounded in scientific reasoning because that was where my brain automatically went, even though I never thought I had any particular bond with science. I was happy to read this article and have some of my qualms put to rest.

One thing that I am still uneasy about, however, is the appropriation of Buddhist practices into western culture without a real understanding or respect for Buddhist philosophy. Hasenkamp’s article seems to have been written for the purpose of proving or selling a non-western concept to Westerners through a language and context they would more readily understand and believe. While the piece was certainly insightful and eye opening, I worry that it simply converts Buddhism to science, further taking away from a religion that is already being picked apart and misunderstood in the west.

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Buddhism & Feldenkrais?

Wendy Hansenkemp’s article “Brain Karma: Is Delusion Hardwired?” was very interesting to me because much of what she talks about relates to another class I am taking: Feldenkrais for dancers. The Feldenkrais method involves doing gentle, slow, repeated movements by lying on the floor sitting, or standing. Much of it is self-exploration, as you are required to bring full attention to your body and how each part moves in relation to one another. This awareness through movement allows one to break free from their usual habitual patterns and develop new options, increasing one’s capacity for unconstrained, effortless action. It’s been proven to reduce pain, improve physical function and support one’s general well-being.

This method is based on the teachings of Moshe Feldenkrais, an Israeli physicist who believed that “rigidity, mental or physical, is contrary to the laws of life”. While Feldenkrais himself was not affiliated with any religion, his teachings seem to indirectly lead to the Buddhist concepts of interdependence, emptiness, and even enlightenment. In his essay on health, Feldenkrais questions what it means to be healthy. Biologically, the nervous system controls all of our life functions so naturally, one can measure health by how much shock a person can take without this system being comprised.

He bases his inquires on the realization of the dependent nature of our body’s physiology to external phenomena. Through science, he found that on a biological level our nervous system does not exist independently from the outside world. He explains that visual, external objects aren’t actually objects until we train our eyes and brains to recognize of them as such. As humans, we learn to conceptually process the world by differentiating our senses from feelings. It gives rise to patterns in our neurons and generates learned responses. He believes it’s by understanding the world through our senses that shapes our nervous system. This interdependence of mind, body, and the external world reminded me of the concept of emptiness that is so fundamental to Buddhism. It supports the claim that if everything is interdependent then there can be no permanent essence.

As Hemsklemp said, the dangers of this neuroplasticity are distortion of perception and the creation of self. However, if we formed our perception of self through through movement, contact and relationship, it is by the same means that we can continuously change it. She says,“With awareness, there is space—allowing us to interrupt habitual response patterns and bring intention to our responses, choosing to form a different association” (107). Similar to the effects of mindfulness meditation and yoga, we can train our awareness to the body by focusing on small, slow movements that eventually allow us to become uninhibited. Although the Feldenkrais method has no direct association with Buddhism, much of what goes on, at least on a neurological level, seems to lead to the same outcome. At its core, Feldenkrais promotes a healthier way of being through kinesthetic awareness. This makes me wonder about the relationship between self-awareness and self-transcendence. If we take it further and apply the goal of escaping samsara to Feldenkrais, can it be used as another practice to reach enlightenment?

Works Cited:

Feldenkrais, Moshe. “On Health.” Embodied Wisdom: The Collected Papers of Moshe Feldenkrais, 53-58. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2010.                                           Hasenkamp, Wendy. “Is Delusion Hardwired? Brain Karma.” Tricycle 18 May 2014. Print.

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Searching for Authenticity

Buddhism within the United States occupies a precarious position in our society because of its troubling past surrounding authenticity. Buddhism came to the United States during the 1960s and the 1970s. During this time it became better known through the hippie culture. “No matter how naive these young people were in their desire for a world of “peace and love”, their open mindedness- and even their confusion-created a fertile ground for the arrival of Buddhism” (Midal, 4). Hippie culture ran counter to dominant beliefs during this time such as Christianity. The hippies were focused on openness and the pursuit of something new, exotic, and more in alignment with their values around peace and love, and not the vengeful and jealous god of the bible. They provided a good opening for the introduction of Buddhism into our culture. This led to more mainstream western knowledge about Buddhism, but it also was somewhat negative in its impacts.

Buddhism in the west, or what we think of it, sometimes lacks authenticity. Because of the naivete of the hippies that Midal touches upon, many false monks and teachers spread a mixed up version of teachings. “The situation in the 1970s was like a huge supermarket where you could go in and pick whatever captured your fancy: watered down versions of authentic traditions, drugs, fake gurus and other assorted charlatans, a taste of Zen or Hinduism, even Tibetan Buddhism freshly delivered. Many of the masters of this time, particularly those from India followed this trend” (Midal, 23). When Trungpa Rinpoche first came to the United States he encountered this environment. Buddhism was not being taught correctly, instead people were picking and choosing according to what they found interesting or useful. Buddhist teachings were also being mixed with other eastern religions like Hinduism. The confusion surrounding these mix ups is still present today. This can be seen in the sort of misconceptions many people have about Buddhism. For example, within our Buddhist thought class many people confused Hindu beliefs about karma with Buddhist beliefs. If people do not properly understand the teachings, they cannot perceive the ultimate truth, nor can they escape Samsara. Trungpa realized the dire state the hippies and other western followers were in and sought to clear up these misconceptions and in-authenticity. He succeeded in persuading some to Buddhist thought by making it relatable for western followers. Despite Trungpa’s efforts, he was unable to rid westerners of charlatans and false teachers. He encountered many who had teachers that were not legitimate. Because of this, thoughts and beliefs surrounding Buddhism are still subject to misconceptions, and Buddhism is not taken as seriously as more established religions within our culture, such as Christianity.

The stigma associated with hippies, and the inauthentic nature of early Buddhist teachers within the U.S. during the hippie movement has led to the precarious positioning of Buddhism within our society. It has also led to misconceptions surrounding the religion. If Buddhism had been introduced more widely and not just to hippies, and had been authentically taught, its positioning would be one of stability.

Works Cited

Midal, Fabrice. “Chapter One.” Chögyam Trungpa: His Life and Vision. Boston: Shambhala, 2004. N. pag. Print.

 

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On the Different Uses of Mindfulness in the West

Throughout our discussion of mindfulness and its evolution in the Western world and as a secular practice, I was reminded of an article that came out last year called “Abusing the Buddha: How the U.S. Army and Google co-opt mindfulness,” by Michael Stone. In the past few years, many companies and organizations (Stone names “Google, General Mills, Procter & Gamble, Monsanto and the U.S. Army”) have been adopting meditation and mindfulness practices in order to create a stronger workforce. Stone takes particular offense at the cooptation by military and police forces, which he calls “institutions of organized violence.” Rather than teaching mindfulness and meditation for the purposes of better being able to follow the dharma, the military is stressing the benefits of mindfulness for readiness and awareness in combat—basically, making better fighters. This view of secular meditation echoes the Westernized practices that Chogyam Trungpa brought to the US in the 1970s, not connected religious or ethical principal, but rather giving the individual a feeling of “nowness” (Midal 25). It is this feeling that the military is currently finding incredibly useful.

This article furthers our discussion of the isolation of mindfulness by involving violence and other unjust behavior that owes itself to a larger political power structure. Many of the points made in class discussion questioned whether it was essential to be aware or follow the monastic or Buddhist tradition in order to benefit from mindfulness practice—if mindfulness and meditation is making individuals and communities a better place, isn’t that essentially achieving the dharma, even if these people do not have a conceptual understanding of it? While the use of other cultural practices without knowledge of that practice is less than ideal, it did not seem to be hurting anyone and in fact seemed to be spreading a beneficial message of compassion and awareness on the international level. It could be seen as part of the idea of pampara—the natural linking and evolution of ideas.

So what happens when these practices are taken so far out of context so as to be used by larger political structures? Stone brings up the incredibly important idea of karma and that most meditation focuses interconnectedness in the world. What is the focus of this meditation if it is not on the interconnectedness and subsequent emptiness of the world, or on loving kindness?

The use of meditation by publicly funded organizations goes against many Buddhist teachings on the importance of community in Buddhism. In the relationship between the monastics and the laity that the Buddha laid out, monks and nuns are supported by the wider community in order to get closer to enlightenment. This relationship implies a sort of “social contract. It becomes [the monks’ or nuns’] responsibility to live in a certain way” (Gethin 94). Thus meditation is part of a wider program of holy living—it is intricately tied to these values. If meditation is seen by most scholars as something that is not by definition a religious practice, I argue that it is still very much an ethical one. In this way, many of the companies with questionable labor practices and the military go against the underlying values and goals of meditation. The fact that mindfulness is strengthening these institutions is at the very ironic and very disturbing.

Works Cited
Gethin, Rupert. “Chapter Four.” The Foundations of Buddhism. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998. N. pag. Print.
Midal, Fabrice. “Chapter One.” Chögyam Trungpa: His Life and Vision. Boston: Shambhala, 2004. N. pag. Print.
Stone, Michael. “Abusing the Buddha: How the U.S. Army and Google Co-opt Mindfulness.” Salon. N.p., 17 Mar. 2014. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.

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Poor Them, Who Cause Harm to Me

Our discussions on Virupa have focused largely on his life: noting its colorful elements; making sense of its moral ambiguity; evaluating whether, based on his actions, we can take any of his teachings seriously as truly Buddhist in the first place. (Incidentally, I’m not sure what “truly Buddhist” means and would like to problematize it as an assumption we’ve been making implicitly all semester). I think this has happened because as a class we have a healthy recognition of the fact that religious figures’ lives and teachings are not a dichotomy but deeply intertwined. I wish to maintain that recognition, but differently. Rather than using his life as a lens through which to look critically at his teachings, what if we start with his teachings and see how they were informed by his life? Specifically, an easy way to discredit Virupa is to accuse him of arrogance.

Other instructions for meditation dictate that one start meditating on those one loves most, followed by one’s enemies, eventually working one’s way out to the whole world (Trizin, 54). Virupa, by contrast, instructs students to start with their enemies. In fact, the bulk of his writings on these meditations concern enemies—why it is important to develop compassion toward them, how to develop it, and how compassion towards all other beings follows from this.

Specifically, when performing this meditation and contemplating one’s enemies, one recites “Poor them, who cause harm to me” (35). This pity looks an awful lot like condescension. Perhaps, though, one first needs a certain degree of arrogance, or what looks like arrogance, in order to reach an attitude of true compassion toward one’s enemies. A person who is completely humble, at least as we tend to understand humility, would think “My enemies deserve my pity because what they have done to me is excusable; harm done to me is not genuine harm and I must not think of them as enemies at all.” There is a short path from not counting one’s own suffering as real to not counting oneself as a real person, which results in its own kind of suffering as the self is trapped in self-pity, “poor me” rather than “poor them.” On the other hand, the implication of “Poor them, who cause harm to me” is “They have caused me genuine harm and I deserve better, but the fact that they have caused me harm makes them deserving of my pity.” This is far more challenging. It requires enemies in the first place—enemies whom one forgives, not abusers whom one excuses through self-negation. It requires self-assurance (or “arrogance”) to believe that one’s own pain is real. Real pain results in real karmic consequences for those who cause it, which in turn makes enemies deserving of compassion. Only through something resembling “arrogance” can one progress to “Poor them, for facing the karmic consequences of harming me.”

 

Sources:

His Holiness Sakya Trizin. Freeing the Heart and Mind. Boston: Wisdom Publications.

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Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction: Buddhism in Disguise?

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a group program created by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn with the purpose of assisting patients with pain and a range of conditions and life issues that are difficult to treat in the traditional hospital setting.  The program uses a combination of mindfulness meditation, body awareness, and yoga to guide patents in becoming more mindful, and thus, healthier. More specifically, the program focuses upon the progressive acquisition of mindfulness, a concept that is deeply originated in Buddhist philosophy (Kabat-Zinn, 2011). An analysis of the program claims that although the construct of mindful awareness originated in the earliest Buddhist documents, the program is neither religious nor esoteric in nature.

However, Dr. Kabat-Zinn does not shy away from explicitly stating MBSR’s Buddhist origins. He makes it clear that his intention in creating the program was to capture and embody the essence of the Buddha’s teachings, put the dharma into action, and make it accessible to mainstream Americans facing stress, pain and illness. Dr. Kabat-Zinn states, “it was important to me to capture the essence and spirit of the MBSR dharma curriculum as it unfolds to our patients, but at the same time, I wanted it to articulate that the dharma underlies the curriculum, without ever using the word “Dharma” or invoking Buddhist thought or authority” (Kabat-Zinn, 2011). While MBSR has roots in Buddhist teachings, the program itself is secular.

Does Dr. Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness program favor, or pick and choose, just a few highly selected meditation techniques, and thus decontextualize elements of the coherent whole that is Buddhism (Kabat-Zinn, 2011)? Is this the Dharma touching and transforming western society, or in this case, western medicine? Or is Buddhism being turned into a self-help technique?

Dr. Kabat-Zinn states that the intention and approach behind MBSR were never meant to exploit, fragment, or decontextualize the dharma, but rather to recontextualize it within the frameworks of western science, medicine, and health care (Kabat-Zinn, 2011). Further, it would be maximally useful to people who could not hear it or enter into it through the more traditional dharma gates, whether they were doctors or medical patients, hospital administrators, or insurance companies. Because Dr. Kabat-Zinn had previously studied and practiced Buddhism for years, he clearly had a deep sense of respect for the philosophy and teachings; this respect is reflected in his creation of the MBSR program, as he took years and years of studying to ensure the deep cultural roots of Buddhism were not lost in his program, rather they were redefined in western terms, as necessary when bringing the Dharma or any foreing cultural concepts and practices into mainstream settings.

Dr. Kabat-Zinn’s creation and implementation of MBSR can be seen as an extension of parampara in Buddhist thought. (Parampara is Sanskrit for the transmission of cultural or religious traditions and how they evolve over time.) As Dr. Kabat-Zinn took his traditional Buddhist practice and adapted it for a greater cause in a new, western setting, this can be considered as one branch of the evolution of Buddhist practice. By taking the traditional aspect of meditation and mindfulness from Buddhism and incorporating them into western healing techniques, Dr. Kabat-Zinn has effectively grown Buddhist practice beyond its original boundaries in a positive, respectful way.

References

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2011). Some reflections on the origins of MBSR, skillful means, and the trouble with maps. Contemporary Buddhism,12(1), 281-306. http://umassmed.edu/uploadedFiles/cfm2/training/JKZ_paper_Contemporary_Buddhism_2011.pdf

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On Hasenkamp

In her article “Brain Karma: Is Delusion Hardwired?,” Wendy Hasenkamp writes about several revelations regarding the functioning of the brain (as revealed by modern neuroscience) that relate interestingly to Buddhist teachings regarding the nature of human existence. I found this article particularly interesting in light of our class discussion today regarding the Buddhist teachings and wisdom in western contexts. In this post, I will engage Hasenkamp’s piece as well as drawing on our class discussion in an effort to consider what it means to employ elements of Buddhism outside of strict religious practice.

According to Hasenkamp, contemporary neuroscience is developing an understanding of the functioning of the human brain that aligns interestingly with the Buddhist idea of karma. Specifically, scientists have found that “our actions (including thoughts as well as observable behavior) leave a trace in our minds, making it more likely that similar actions will occur in the future.” (Hasenkamp 65) This understanding of human behavior and functioning has striking similarities to the Buddhist idea of how karma functions – including that thoughts and actions are not isolated and discrete events, but influence the course of life long after they have passed from being active.   Hasenkamp argues that “the karmic aspects of neural plasticity have important implications,” (67) because understanding this aspect of the brain helps us to begin to understand the true (and truly connected) nature of things. Says Hasenkamp: “We don’t see interdependence and impermanence, because we crystallize everything into discrete preformed patterns that seem stable over time.” But understanding the process which leads to these misperceptions (whether it be based in Buddhism, neuroscience, or a bit of each) represents a shot at peeking behind this veil.

Thinking about the usefulness of neuroscience in illuminating Buddhist belief as well as the usefulness of Buddhism in illuminating the discoveries of neuroscience led me to think about our class discussion today. Surely, Buddhists do not need their sacred beliefs to be substantiated by modern science to continue to benefit from their wisdom, and scientists do not need to have their discoveries legitimated by religious beliefs, yet what emerges when the two are set into conversation with one another is expansive and rich while defying categorization as simply theology or research. What is striking to me about this, is that is speaks to our collective quandary about the usefulness (even “right-ness”) of Buddhist thought and practice out of context. Using what has been learned by centuries of Buddhist contemplation and scholarship on the topics of karma (cause and effect) and dukkha (inherent suffering), even non-Buddhists who are responding to science-based understandings of their brain’s functioning, can benefit from strategies devised to resist unproductive and/or unwanted patterns of behavior that contribute to human suffering. While this wisdom may not be enlisted with the express goal of escaping samsara, or of following in the path of the Buddha in any manner, it nonetheless contributes to the overall well being of sentient beings, and that cannot be all that bad in this author’s estimation.

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Practical Buddhism

Chogyam Trungpa’s teachings offer a perspective into Buddhism unlike any other that we have learned of in class. Trungpa stripped away the mysticism and unattainability that has dictated so much of the Western understanding of Buddhism. His appeal to the hippy population of the 1970’s is obvious, he cut through the confusion and confinement by offering an authentic, truthful path.

In “Portrait of Chogyam Trungpa in 1970”, the author presented a very accurate description of how Westerner’s view Buddhism and spiritual wisdom, “that wisdom manifests itself as the disembodied calm in every circumstance.” This depiction was powerful because it is a misconception that I have personally held and was sometimes reinforced by teachings about the principles and practices of Buddhism. It often seems so difficult to meditate for such extended periods of time and to reach a point of clarity where one can understand emptiness that the entire process seems like an impossible feat. Chogyam Trungpa’s approach was entirely different, “wisdom derives from a “complete experience” – no matter what that experience may be.” This radical acceptance of the exact situation and feeling of the present moment is deeply refreshing; because although I am sure it aligns directly with Buddhist thought, it is sometimes difficult to see how a homework assignment or job search can align with the practice of Buddhism. Or even more powerfully, how we can accept feelings of anger, jealousy, or fear, instead of judging ourselves for their presence.

Chogyam Trungpa did not only teach radical acceptance, but painfully made his students face that our beliefs and expectations are covering us from seeing any real truth. While we have read many texts that talk about perceived truth and the ultimate truth, Trungpa brought these texts to light by forcing his students to see the blinders within their own lives. He additionally brought this truth to his audiences, “His purpose was to unravel the tangle of beliefs in which they had ensnared themselves. He thus exposed as purely artificial the hidden foundation on which most people’s experience is based.” He methods of arriving late, talking briefly, speaking personally, and not adhering to societal rules made his teachings appeal even more to those who were in search of truth. People are drawn to the radical truth when they find that the path society is leading them down is no longer working. Trungpa offered this to his students in an approach that appears to be a mix of radical, loving acceptance and a slap in the face of truthful awareness.

He spoke often of materialistic spiritualism, which can be divided into three aspects of materialism: Lord of Form, Lord of Speech, and Lord of Mind. Lord of Form are “our efforts to gain comfort and security” and to shield ourselves from the difficulty of life. He associated this with the endless comforts we have created: packaged food, elevators, electronics, and so on. Lord of Speech refers to the intellectual filters that stop us from seeing reality. They are the filters we create to understand our existence for the purpose of comfort. Lastly, Lord of Mind is the abuse of consciousness and awareness for the purpose of reaching a state of sustained happiness. He explained this as being the most devious of the aspects of materialism. This harsh awareness of our states of being is side of Trungpa’s very honest approach to Buddhist teachings, he did not avoid the painful aspects of awareness for comfort – but made them applicable to any interested follower.

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Queer Theory and Buddhist Thought

I want to talk about queer theory this week. It’s on my mind all the time since I go to Smith, but also because I’m taking a SWG class this semester. Much of queer theory derives from the idea that there is no inherent, or “natural” quality in a person that causes them to identify to a certain way of life/being immediately at birth, a mode/representation that they will continue to identify with throughout their lives. The theory presents the idea that identity is fluid and always changing. As the semester progressed and I reached deeper levels of understanding with queer theory, I was simultaneously learning about the concepts of emptiness, interdependence (“no self”, “mind only”, etc) that are so fundamental to Buddhism. I began to draw comparisons between the two–at the root of it, they mirror each other in a lot of ways. Consider this quote from a recent reading I had in my SWG class about queer feminism:

“Feminists of the digital age must refuse the nostalgic discourse of authentic selves, of natural bodies, of fixed communities and instead attend to the ‘structures and relations that produce different kinds of subjects in position with different kinds of technologies’” (Loza).

and later,

“[P]ossession of vaginas in and of themselves are neither what define women nor what bond women to each other. Shared experiences of the world, which include experiences of race, sexuality, (dis)ability, economic class, any number of nuanced vulnerabilities… is what bonds women to each other” (Loza quoting Mia McKenzie).

We see here the Buddhist idea that there is no intrinsic characteristic of a fixed, absolute “self” (essence) that creates a definitive identity of an individual, combined with the queer idea that there is no inherent, necessary characteristic underneath personhood that codes them as either gender; we must let go of characteristics of the self and body that we have held onto so tightly in order to code us into a conventional, binary definition of gender. The perceived identities of people, and in Loza/McKenzie’s case women as a gender, arise interdependently through a chain of lived experiences. Are these queer ideas not reminiscent of the human impulse of attachment and the ultimate truth of   interdependence/emptiness/essencelessness of all objects and beings?! Basically, we are attached to gender. We perceive gender as a kind of conventional truth, whereas the ultimate truth is that gender is empty of any real qualities.

I find this connection to be extremely exciting. Think about it–here we have the age-old ideas of Buddhism being combined and echoed through a extremely new, current, and revolutionary theories on identity. Not only does queer theory’s subconscious application of Buddhist ideas and values validate the timeless/continual logic of Buddhist thought (making it a more innately contemporary religion than religions like Christianity), but it also equally validates the utility and versatility of queer theory in many facets of experience, not limited to social/sexual identity but also religious identity. Understanding the relationship between the two has the potential to be remarkably powerful, and I hope it is one that doesn’t go unnoticed by intellectuals and academics–so far, I haven’t found many articles or journals about their similarities. (In fact, I just read that one of the people writing about it died before he could finish it!) Perhaps that means that I’ll have to be the Queer Buddhist studies pioneer.

Works Cited:

Loza, Susana. “Hashtag Feminism, #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, and the Other #FemFuture – Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology.” Ada A Journal of Gender New Media and Technology. N.p., 07 July 2014. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.

 

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Where do we draw the line?

I found our discussion about whether Virupa was good or bad to be incredibly interesting. At first, I thought that it would be impossible for anyone to put him in a positive light because I could not see past all of the crazy events that were included in his story. It was easier for me to see all of the negative aspects of his life and believe that he was simply a man with a god complex, who scared people and abused his power in order to get what he wanted. In every vignette, I was able to pick out something that seemed to go against everything I understood of what a “good” Buddhist should do, from his trips to prostitution houses and bars, to destroying shrines, and flooding towns.
However, the other group pointed out several things that had me questioning whether or not he was actually bad. Like the Buddha, Virupa gave up a life of comfort for a life of homelessness. He rejected vanity and although most of his actions are, in my opinion, very questionable and wrong, he is mostly doing them for the right reasons. He makes people see the error of their ways. Several incidents occurred which were overshadowed by more obvious, negative interpretations; it was much more simple to look at them on the surface level and not go deeper to understand them in such a way that something positive could be drawn from his actions, but the other group drew my attention to these positive aspects of Virupa’s story.
Nevertheless, I cannot help but question the value of Virupa’s story. While it can clearly by interpreted in both negative and positive manners, there are certain things that jump out at me and I cannot quite get past them in order to say that he is a figure worth all of the glorification he receives, although it is somewhat forced because he intimidates a lot of people into doing what he wants. It does seem to be to their ultimate benefit, but at what point should we draw the line between doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, and simply doing the wrong thing? I can think of several ways in which he could have acted in the situations he is presented with that would not have resulted in people being scared in to liking him. I just cannot figure out whether or not Virupa is supposed to be a role model for anyone, or if he is supposed to be likable in general.

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