Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The meaning of life, seriously

Hey all. I thought some of you might find this interesing: A biologist / philosopher I know, Massimo Pigliucci, is writing a book using a blog to post rough drafts of his chapters for feedback. The book is to be titled "The Meaning of Life, Seriously" and he intends to cover lots of topics that I assume would be of interests to Buddhists.

I have two reasons for alerting you all to this: one altruistic and one less so. The altruistic reason is I think Massimo's writing is great and his thoughts are loaded with both wisdom and knowledge of the world and the history of philosophy and science. Thus, I figure some of you might enjoy and benefit from reading his posts.

But the less altruistic motive is that he seems far more knowledgeable about western philosophy than eastern (this is an assumption of mine - I could be wrong). By commenting on his blog we have the opportunity to provide him information from the zen perspective - which I expect he'd love to hear. He welcomes all (registered bloggers) to comment. In short, I think it would be a shame if a book that purports to cover this huge topic were to ignore or dismiss the zen perspective (as if all of reality can be explained by western science and philosophy!).

here's the link:

http://meaningoflifeseriously.blogspot.com/

11 Comments:

At March 14, 2006, Blogger Jinzang said...

Getting a group of people who are practcing what lies beyond words to comment on philosophy is like trying to teach a dog to whistle a tune.

 
At March 14, 2006, Blogger me said...

I just read more thoroughly the table of contents for Massimo's book and it includes two chapters dealing with Asian philosophy - so perhaps my fears that Buddha would be ignored are, thankfully, wrong! (As I expect most of all of our fears are...)

I don't know about teaching dogs to whistle but I think it's pretty obvious (from this blog if nothing else) that buddhists use words to communicate and discuss ideas. To argue that one's position can't be defended because words won't suffice isn't very convincing.

I liked jinzang's earlier post about saying "ok" rather than arguing. But what if one enjoys arguing / debating?

 
At March 14, 2006, Blogger Jinzang said...

I liked jinzang's earlier post about saying "ok" rather than arguing. But what if one enjoys arguing / debating?

Okay.

 
At March 14, 2006, Blogger Jinzang said...

You had a serious quesion and it deserved a serious answer. So I apologize for joking about it.

I personally find it hard to argue without making it a big ego thing. If you can lose an argument badly and laugh about it, that's great. If not, maybe you don't enjoy arguing as much as you think.

 
At March 15, 2006, Blogger Jules said...

If reason is what makes us human, Aristotle thought, then if follows that it is the cultivation of reason that is the highest human good. We are happiest, according to the Greek philosopher, when we make the best use of our reasoning capacities.

I am assuming that all the arts are considered to be included in Aristotle's definition of reason (Ah, yes, in reading further I see Mr. Pigliucci addresses that). Even then, I would argue that we are happiest when we make the best use of our entire being. I don't believe separating off 'reason' is valuable except in that it helps distinguish what makes people happy from what makes animals happy. But I believe there is more common ground between animals and humans than most people assume.

Another way to appreciate Aristotle's idea of a reasonable balance is that he even advocated the cultivation of some emotions that other philosophers thought had to be avoided at all costs. For example, the Stoics claimed that anger was always a bad idea, but Aristotle's insights into the human condition convinced him that anger may be appropriate, even beneficial, under certain circumstances (your therapist will likely tell you the same). The key point, of course, is not to let the power of the emotion override our reason, which would bring us by definition to deviate from the broad goal of achieving a balanced attitude about all matters.

That's pretty good. I don't think 'reason' as it's generally understood can overcome anger. The Buddha said only love can overcome hatred (sorry rot-13, don't mean to get all cuddly again. I didn't say it, Buddha did). So when angry, you have to remain aware of your whole being. Aware that you're very angry, and living that anger to the fullest extent you're moved to live it. But also aware that you still love, and so do the people you're angry with. Perhaps that awareness is an exercise in reason, according to Aristotle's definition of the word, but maybe at this point it makes more sense to use another word rather than cramming all this other stuff under the "reason" umbrella.

More later, gotta run now.

 
At March 15, 2006, Blogger grisom said...

jules said:

That's pretty good. I don't think 'reason' as it's generally understood can overcome anger. The Buddha said only love can overcome hatred

I assume you're talking about: "Hatred is not ocercome by hatred at any time; hatred is overcome by love, this is an old rule." I don't think our man Gotama is ruling out "reason" here, he's just making a point about the common notion that, say, if you put a dent in my car and I set fire to yours, it'll put an end to the issue.

So when angry, you have to remain aware of your whole being. Aware that you're very angry, and living that anger to the fullest extent you're moved to live it

I'm guessing you mean something different by "moved" than I would, but my first reaction is: whoah, that's dangerous. If I'm really pissed off at a guy and feel moved (by my anger) to punch him out, and then go ahead and do it just for that reason, I'm straying way far away from the Buddhist path.

I think that's where reason enters the picture: you need to be able to think in terms of what's good to do right now rather than what you feel like doing. Occasionally the right thing to do may in fact be to punch the guy out (if, say, he's about to hurt someone); but usually it isn't, so you've got to take a step back and figure out what's called for.

As to actually being able to take that step back, I agree that you need awareness. From my own experience, if you're paying close enough attention to what's going on in your head you can notice that being angry is a deliberate choice you're making, and you can stop making that choice at any time.

 
At March 15, 2006, Blogger Dan said...

"From my own experience, if you're paying close enough attention to what's going on in your head you can notice that being angry is a deliberate choice you're making, and you can stop making that choice at any time"


yeh i've noticed that too grisom. when i get angry i can seperate the anger from the rest of myself in my head you know? so it's like there's anger present but it's up to me whether i want it to become what i am. or something

 
At March 15, 2006, Blogger me said...

Jules, I agree - I think Pirsig wrote about the source of this problem in his "zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance" in which he describes Aristotle's reluctance to credit the irrational, emotional part of our mind with any value. Pirsig complained that this was the source of all of Western culture's love of technology and rationality and consequent ignorance of wisdom, quality, and the real 'source' of all of our opinions- the irrational mind.

The way Aristotle describes it one would hold back one's anger, say at their child's misbehavior, not out of love of the child, but out of the rational understanding that anger causes problems etc. It's a very robotic, programmed way to live life.

Very, um, vulcan...

 
At March 15, 2006, Blogger grisom said...

jinzang said:

Getting a group of people who are practicing what lies beyond words to comment on philosophy is like trying to teach a dog to whistle a tune.

Hee. There's a bit in Zen and the Art of Archery where the author's archery teacher is trying to figure out why he's having so much trouble. He knows this European student is into something called "philosophy", so he picks up a book on the subject in hopes of finding something that will help--but after a reading a few pages, he closes the book with a cross look. "No wonder he can't understand Zen!"

 
At March 15, 2006, Blogger Jules said...

grisom wrote: I'm guessing you mean something different by "moved" than I would, but my first reaction is: whoah, that's dangerous. If I'm really pissed off at a guy and feel moved (by my anger) to punch him out, and then go ahead and do it just for that reason, I'm straying way far away from the Buddhist path.

I think you understood me right. Yeah, I think allowing yourself to feel the full extent of your anger could be dangerous if you let it obscure your awareness of everything else.

Think about a time when you had a big argument with someone you love a lot. Did you really hate them through and through at the time of the fight? It might have felt that way at the time, but deep down you still love them even in the most difficult times, right? And maybe if you had been more aware of that love right before and during the argument, things could have gone better. I think that's all it takes, awareness.

And sometimes the best thing to do is to compassionately and with full awareness smack them in the face.

 
At March 16, 2006, Blogger grisom said...

I think you understood me right. Yeah, I think allowing yourself to feel the full extent of your anger could be dangerous if you let it obscure your awareness of everything else.... deep down you still love them even in the most difficult times, right? And maybe if you had been more aware of that love right before and during the argument, things could have gone better.

Interesting! I'd never thought of it quite like that. Thank you.

 

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