The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

“Fuck Suffering”, The Buddhist Solution (Part One)

In “Fire From The Gods” I argued that humanity has proven consistently unable to handle new technologies: that we have usually wound up making them do more harm than good. This is a first in a series on looks at past attempted solutions.

Now the people who made these solutions usually didn’t say that they were trying to solve the problems of technology, though it’s implicit in some myths, like that of the eating from the tree of knowledge and being kicked out of paradise. But there is a wave of major solution sets being proposed all at about the same time. This is known as the Axial revolution, and includes Socrates/Plato, Confucius and Buddha. Zoraoaster comes in a bit earlier, Jesus rather later and the Jewish prophets (who spend a lot of time on social issues) scattered around thru the period.

The Buddha was born a nobleman, and during his life his father was conquered. While called a “king”, his father really lead a coalition of nobles and warriors: clans. He wasn’t a powerful king in the sense of having the ability to enforce his will. The Kings who were rising during this period in India were, and it was one of them who conquered his father. Indeed the Buddha’s time was one of huge prosperity in the part of India he lived in: probably this was the most prosperous area in in the world. They were urbanizing and for those who got in on the prosperity, standard advice was to keep one-third of one’s profits for oneself, give one-third to one’s friends and give the final third away.

They were filthy rich.

At the same time they were deeply dissatisfied and a large group of people renounced and tried to find a better way of living. These people were admired: they weren’t considered to be bums, but because they lived with few possessions and were trying to find a way out for everyone, were generally looked up to. It is that group Siddhartha joined.

Now the story of Siddhartha is that he was brought up by his father with all suffering concealed from him: aging, death and disease in particular, because a prophecy said that if he saw such, he would leave. Eventually he did and he left.

But, and this is important, the essence of the Buddha’s question is heroic to the point of being quixotic. Siddhartha saw suffering and instead of saying “well, it’s inevitable, I just have to accept it” instead determined:

Fuck suffering. I refuse to accept it is inevitable and I will dedicate my life to finding a way to end suffering.

Now that’s heroic to the extent of imbecility, except that he seems to have succeeded.

This is the core of all great ideologies, of which religion’s are a subset. The are based on a heroic ideal: a heroic conception of what it is possible for humans to achieve. Something extremely idealistic, often to the point of near insanity.

Buddhism is a heroic ideology, just like Christianity and Marxism and the Declaration of Independence and Confucianism and even Capitalism (to name only a few, but a few we will be covering.)

On a personal note, having done a lot of work and meditation and met a fair number of masters who seem to “have it” I’d say the Buddha succeeded: his way works. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t work for everyone, at least not in one life. (If reincarnation is a thing.)

Buddhist societies have sometimes extended the mandate. Asoka, the first Buddhist King of India had, so far as I know, the world’s first animal welfare laws. Construction in Buddhist Tibet was slow and difficult, because they would dig out the foundations very carefully, sift thru the dirt and remove the insects and worms and so on so they didn’t kill them.

Even when suffering cannot be ended, we can reduce it. The reduction of suffering and, when possible, its end, is the goal of Buddhism.

Mahayana Buddhism, with its Boddhisattva ideal, is an extension of this. Final enlightenment is said to remove one from the cycle of reincarnation (this doesn’t necessarily mean the individual stops existing, but they stop coming back here.) So a Boddhisattva swears to not accept final enlightenment until all sentient beings are enlightened. They’re going to stick around and keep helping, thru multiple lives if necessary.

We’re all ending suffering together

That’s the Mahayana extension.

Now of the great solutions, Buddhism is in the group I consider to have done less harm than good, but it’s definitely been perverted at various times. Like all ideologies, like all great ideals, there are ways it goes wrong. We’ll deal with that in the next article, but I wanted the articles separated, and this will be a pattern, because I want people to focus on the dream, on the ideal, on the greatness of the initial conception and its beauty. That beauty is there in all great ideologies; all of them, or they would not have succeeded.

Sometimes you have to dig a bit to find it, though not in Buddhism, but it’s always there. Just as in dealing with enemies, even when it’s an ideology you have (or perhaps you hate all ideologies) acknowledging whatever virtues there are is important. Great ideologies succeed, in part, because of some seed of great beauty: something wonderful.

If you want to understand the ideology, you cannot just look at all the evil it has done, or what you hate about it. You must find the beauty. If you haven’t, you aren’t close to the truth. If I skip some ideologies, it will be because I can’t see the core beauty that obvious exists in them. (Islam perhaps, if I can’t figure it out while I’m doing this series.

We’ll continue with the failures of Buddhism: the ways it either went wrong, or failed to achieve its dream. But understand that failing to go all the way doesn’t mean good wasn’t done, for any ideology, or even that more good wasn’t done than ill, especially for a period of time.

See you soon.

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Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – February 26, 2023


The US Endgame In The Ukraine


  1. mago

    The first of the Buddha’s four noble truths says there is dukkha, which simply translates into there is suffering.
    Attachment is the cause and renunciation the cure.
    Not that I know anything about it.
    Just wanted to make the point that the Buddha Shakyamuni only said that there is suffering and not life is suffering as his first noble truth is often translated.

  2. Curt Kastens

    If there is reincarnation, and the number of suffering beings is huge but FINITE, I could sign up for sticking around and lending a hand. But if the number of suffering beings is infinite I do not really see any point in playing the role of Prometheus.

    None the less I like Buddhism. I like your post. And I like Mago’s comment because I have to wonder, have I always seen the translation as, Life is suffering. Or, have I come across the translation, there is suffering, and just not noticed the subtle difference.
    My favorite insight of Buddhism is that life is an illusion. It corresponds really well with simulation theory. That Buddhists noticed something was off thousands of years before computers had been invented is pretty cool.

    As for Islam, I think that how a secular westerner values it depends a lot upon which Muslims that they come in to daily contact with. More specifically who it is that teaches them about Islam. Remember there are not only Sunnis and Shias with each major branch having many sub branches, there is also the small branch of Omani Islam.
    I have never done this. But I think, or maybe I hope, that if a person were to study all of the different sects of Islam one could find a sect that came up with a reasonable answer to any question that mankind faces. The implication of that of course is, that a Muslim could become a Boddhisatteve, if there is such a thing .
    We should also not forget that organized religious institutions are mostly about social posturing. How seriously people (apparent followers) take the theological part varies greatly. So in their dealing with others, Muslims are no worse than Secularists or Christians. In my personal experience even better.

  3. Purple Library Guy

    Islam must have had something going for it, when you consider the ridiculous speed at which it spread back when Mohamed first came up with it. I mean, from nothing to “all across the Middle East, big hunks of North Africa, and half of Spain” in like a hundred years. And Mohamed was just a merchant, not a ruler or even a noble. Christianity spread far, far slower at least until the Roman Emperor decided to impose it as the new state religion.

  4. Jason

    Does desire cause suffering? If you desire to cease desiring, is that not, in and of itself, a desire? Are you caught in an endless loop? Do you recognize this? If so, you are free.

    If you are hungry, you may want to eat.

  5. Donald

    As best I can tell as an outsider, the appeal of Islam is similar to the appeal of Christianity— in its best form it is about compassion for the poor and social justice. If you enjoy fantasy books you can see this in the Daevabad trilogy by the Muslim convert Chakraborty. One of the main characters is a devout Muslim and deeply concerned about social justice.

    If I were much more knowledgeable than no doubt I could give better evidence than a fantasy series, but since it was written by a Muslim it presumably shows how she sees her own religion.

  6. GrimJim

    Don’t want to get too deep into the weeds, but the issue with finding the Core Beauty in Islam is that the practice of Islam is even more riddled, even choked, with sectarianism and tribalism than Christianity. It comes from having immediate and significant political and secular power upon it’s founding, unlike Christianity, which remained a weak, even persecuted minority for several centuries (upon which it then roared into full omnipower stature in Rome and the West).

    The sectarianism and tribalism in Islam strikes directly at the roots of it’s ideology. You have to cut away all the chaff, especially the cruft of the faked/false Hadith (Words of the Prophet) and all the subsequent tainted decisions found through itjihad (reasoning). The problem with the Islamic fundies like the Wahhabis is that like American Christian Fundies, they only view the original materials through their Tribal lens.

    But if you read the Qu’ran and the Sunnah (the original, mostly certainly authentic Hadith), you can find a solid Core Beauty… Especially considering it’s time and place if origin. Original, core Islam was far kinder, gentler, and especially, less misogynistic than Christianity of the day. Very sad what happened so very quickly thereafter…

  7. anon y'mouse

    if you are going to do this, are you going to do it honestly and discuss how these kinds of “eastern” religions/ideologies are misused by westerners (especially elite westerners) to deny or deflect the suffering of their underclasses as “all about your perspective”? po(o)p psychology is already moving in that direction, and even if it is literally true that all you can change is your perspective, it’s a great way of gaslighting the lower classes and turning them into emotionally shutoff good little workers.

    i’ve seen that move among the yogini californians far too long and it stinks so much that it made me a potential convert to the ideology of Madame Defarge.

    fuck useless suffering if it serves another person’s attempts to avoid suffering, is what i say.

  8. Ché Pasa

    Buddhists don’t govern well if they govern at all. Perhaps this is due in part to Siddhartha’s rejection of his role and position in the royal court (so to speak) of his father.

    Followers of the Buddha today may or may not have the necessary skills, but their ideal may fundamentally interfere with their ability to exercise authority. I don’t know.

    Reincarnation? Well, think of it as you will. The sutras tell us that there are an infinite number of beings, worlds and universes all simultaneously existing and interpenetrating… and they’re all an illusion. That material reality isn’t Reality. It’s quite a magical concept, yet it has an obvious ground truth. Does that mean we come back reincarnated over and over until we get it right? Sure. Why not? Or not. The constant is our genetic inheritance that stretches back forever, right? Ultimately, doesn’t it all come from the same original source?

    Suffering: yes, there is suffering. Life is suffering? Um, life is life. I once had a discussion with a Buddhist teacher about suffering, and we went round and round. I asked something about Desire being the source of suffering… he said,no. Desire is Life. Desire is Life. You see where “Life is suffering” can come from?

    And so to fulfill the Bodhisattva Vow to eliminate the suffering of all sentient beings the logical answer really quite unpleasant and in direct conflict with the precepts. These and many other apparent contradictions suffuse Buddhist teaching and thought. Navigating it is nothing if not a challenge 🙂

  9. Trinity

    The past is always with us. So is the future, because we are creating it every day. Past, present, and future coexist in every moment.

    So to me, it’s not just what do we do about all these problems, but it’s also what past do we look to for answers. Ask the English, and it’s all about the Greeks, with an emphasis on an education in those “classics”, and yet look where that’s gotten us.

    I have nothing specific against Buddhism (or the English as a people), but Buddhism is just another religion and there are always problems with religions. As a practice, I understand it. And I get that you are pointing out both sides in these articles, so I’m looking forward to learning more.

    I’ll double down and say again we must know ourselves. Since we bought into the fantasy being sold to us, it’s super important to know, for example, that all of life is NOT suffering. (Although these days, more people are definitely suffering for a larger portion of their life.)

    We must know ourselves, or somehow gain the knowledge of what reality is, what the world really is, what life is and isn’t, what is truth and what isn’t, in order to counteract the lies AND select the best options from the past (and present) for moving forward. And hopefully in a direction that doesn’t promote the worst of our kind, the wetiko.

    “In this way, we are all heirs and inheritors of wetiko.”

    “In other words, any system that is sufficiently infected by wetiko logic will reward cannibalistic behavior. Or, in Jack Forbes’ evocative language, “Those who squirm upwards [in a wetiko system] are, or become, wetiko, and they only perpetuate the system of corruption or oppression. Thus the communist leaders in the Soviet Union under Stalin were at least as vicious, deceitful and exploitative as their czarist predecessors. They obtained ‘power’ without changing their wetiko culture.”

    “This ensures that the essential logic of cultures spreads down through generations as well as across them. And it explains why power-elites self-organize resources to maintain a high degree of continuity in distributions of power, when those distributions efficiently serve their survival and growth.”

    A good read, if you have time.

  10. Ian Welsh

    I am not going to deal much if at all with Western Buddhism’s perversions, and that doesn’t make me dishonest. Buddhism has never been very important in any Western nation.

    All ideologies have sophisticated metaphysics (including economics) and experts who can dance around and pretend the fundamentals aren’t what the founder said they were. Generally these twistings make the ideology less suited to making people better off and a monk or priest who won’t even go with the 4 noble truths when dealing with a beginner is unlikely to be helpful.

    Find the essence: what is the core? The great hope? The great ideal?

    When you can’t even tell what that is, you’ve lost the plot and no matter how sophisticated your metaphysics, you’re no longer practicing whatever it was supposed to be.

  11. Jason

    This is the core of all great ideologies, of which religion’s are a subset. The are based on a heroic ideal: a heroic conception of what it is possible for humans to achiev. Something extremely idealistic, often to the point of near insanity.

    Perhaps ideology and hero worship are the crux of the problem.

    Ideology may be defined as:

    a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture

    But personally I associate it more with “isms” – communism, capitalism, marxism, socialism, feminism – although not all “isms” are ideologies, in fact most aren’t, i.e. nepotism, cronyism, etc.

    I don’t associate “ideology” with the word “culture” – in fact I think it demeans what I associate with the word culture, which is something much more visceral.

    A look at “isms” brings forth:

    suffix forming nouns:

    indicating an action, process, or result: criticism, terrorism
    indicating a state or condition: paganism
    indicating a doctrine, system, or body of principles and practices: Leninism.spiritualism
    indicating behaviour or a characteristic quality: heroism
    indicating a characteristic usage, esp of a language: colloquialism; Scotticism
    indicating prejudice on the basis specified: sexism, ageism


    a distinctive doctrine, theory, system, or practice: This is the age of isms.


    informal, often derogatory an unspecified doctrine, system, or practice

    So, I’ve come to equate the word “ideology” with the negative form of “ism.”

    *no flags, no labels, no heros, no slogans*

    Hat tip for the above to Steven Salaita, who is an Arab Palestinian Christian with Marxist leanings!

    Which is interesting, given that Marx was a Jewish supremacist and vile racist who seemed to hate all peoples, nations, and cultures everywhere, including – allegedly – his own.

    Jonathan Azaziah is one Islamic man who has delved into the history of Marx and his best friend and mentor, Moses Hess, who had quite a supremacist view of the world. Azaziah may not be an easy read for people who are afraid to revisit the history that’s been pounded into them, but he may be seen as a necessary corrective to the bullshit. And please remember, the land and culture his family hails from has been utterly destroyed by the same terrorists who destroyed Palestine:

    “And as if this wasn’t painfully obvious enough already, the origins of Zionism are entirely Jewish, birthed in the mental womb of a hideous supremacist largely forgotten by history. Long before Herzl, there was Moses Hess, or more aptly, Rebbe Moses Hess, a fanatical Talmudist who placed the self-anointed racist rabbinical ‘sages’ on a higher station than prophets and who deemed the Jewish people possessors of a collective, legislative genius that will bring forth their resurgence in the land that they call “Israel.” Rabbi Hess went as far as deeming the Jewish people their own ‘God.’

    Beyond his rabbinic hatred of goyim in general, Hess had a particular rabid, racist dislike for the German people and his landmark book, “Rome and Jerusalem: the Last National Question,” penned in 1862, is filled with venomous rhetoric against Europeans and serves as a call to Jews to recognize their inherent superiority over all other peoples on earth and thus, “the new Jewish state would be a light to the nations showing them how to live in socialist harmony.” This written pronunciamento of Talmudism is the godfather work of Zionism. Why do “leftists” ignore Rebbe Hess? Because he is also the true founder of Communism (and its manifesto), their ideology’s backbone. Hess was the mentor of none other than Karl Marx, who referred to Hess as the “communist rabbi.” Leftists, most specifically those of Jewish heritage who put their tribal interests before everything, would rather dwell in delusion because they don’t want their political dogma tainted. But facts are facts; their dogma is forever linked to Zionism, a byproduct of Jewish supremacism.”

    Ian, I realize I’ve touched on a number of different things here, and if this is too off-point for this post, I understand. I have saved it and perhaps I could post it again at a later date.

    I realize too that my first comment was a more practical “zen” type simplification in the face of the “deeper” Four Noble Truths (capitals required?!) which I admittedly am not familiar with other than reading and listening to Alan Watts years ago. Zen masters themselves would put their students through hell to get them to see the obvious, so they weren’t “throwing out the structure without even getting to know it” as you’ve written about in the past (I’m paraphrasing) – though I may well be.

    Zen in fact may be seen as evolving as a more practical “corrective” to the more esoteric nature of the original Sanskrit teachings as they moved eastward.

    My own meditation “practices” if one may even call them that, are probably overly practical.

    Finally, if it garnered some eyerolls and a “he just has to go after ‘Zionism’ every chance he gets,” so be it. I thought, given your piece and the comments so far, that introducing a Muslim believer in “Allah” (Jonathan is a hell of a researcher and writer, even though he may ruffle some feathers) and who is quite adept at showing the monstrously “tribal” nature of the more powerful, organized aspects of the “Jewish community” that they purport to speak for – well, I thought it’d be interesting.

    Jonathan Azaziah, by the way, is “the product of an Iraqi father whose family descended from the holy, resistant city of Kufa and a Moroccan-Hebrew (Mizrahi) and Russian mother.

    Life is fascinating!

  12. Ché Pasa

    Many of us would say that Buddhism isn’t a religion, it’s a practice, akin to psychological repair and renewal. Puts you on a different footing, perhaps better than you had before. It’s very personal. And different between individuals.

    Trinity has pointed out that knowing oneself is key; knowing oneself is fundamental to Buddhism. The why is simple enough. It is in our minds that we create what is. Nowhere else. Knowing ourselves is ultimately all we can ever know. But it ain’t easy!

    The Buddha’s answer to suffering was that of self-knowledge, inner knowledge, understanding, peace, generosity, “non-duality”. He wasn’t a god, he was a man who renounced his inheritance to follow another path, as people in his class used to do quite often, but you hardly ever see it any more. We live in too cynical an age.

    The Mahayana Path is one that is consciously patterned on that of Shakyamuni Buddha’s own journey. It is perhaps followed more in the breach, but oh well! The point is, the Bodhisattva Vow is an aspiration more than a commitment because the truth is, no individual can fulfill the Vows. Not even The World Honored One. That one aspires to do so whether or not one can makes all the difference.

    But perhaps we’re getting too far down the rabbit hole.

    Buddhism is not the answer; it is a practice, a path. One enters on it and sees where it goes. For many, it is toward release and relief. Nirvana, if you will. For others, not so much.

    Release from attachment, clinging — not necessarily from Desire — is really very tricky, isn’t it?

    It’s probably time for another Buddha-like character to appear.

  13. anon y'mouse

    everyone i’ve ever known in the west, who seemed to be trying to practice this or other alternate religions or philosophies, were elites who had choices to be doing what they were doing, often with trust fund in tow or at least lots of systems they could fall back on that wouldn’t make them suffer the “real” world very much at all.

    “giving it up” to have few possessions means very little when there’s always a safety net and when they are “choosing” for some higher purpose to “have” less or make their lives less complicated, to try to get back to some root. is that noble?

    it may seem noble to other people whose lives are still overly complicated, and who are full of doubt and wish they too could renounce stuff, but are enmeshed in striving to do everything our society expects. but the important stuff —the ability to move in the world and make choices, are not given up and this is usually not recognized. you can’t renounce what you never had to begin with.

    it’s a whole different thing from being raised in a ghetto, with nothing already, poor schooling and no social connections to get anywhere better. in fact, this kind of activity (“i am going to cease struggling” “i am going to accept the way the world is” “if we change our attitudes about suffering, we would change the world”) would be the death knell when you come from that kind of background and is a mockery and a slap in the face to those actually struggling and suffering, not by their own choice.

    suffering may be universal to living beings here on earth, but it’s definitely not evenly distributed.

    i have very little time for philosophies put forward by people who have a lot of shit that they dont’ even realize they have, and never truly relinquish it. is it nice that they feel empathy with the scarred, diseased beggar in the streets? yes, but if they say “go and try to be like him”, i think they’ve really missed the point of their own empathy.

    mixing up the product of human social systems, which are changeable, with “the way the world is” is a perpetual problem not limited to religions or philosophies.

  14. multitude of poors

    …these kinds of “eastern” religions/ideologies are misused by westerners (especially elite westerners) to deny or deflect the suffering of their underclasses as “all about your perspective”? po(o)p psychology is already moving in that direction, and even if it is literally true that all you can change is your perspective, it’s a great way of gaslighting the lower classes and turning them into emotionally shutoff good little workers.

    i’ve seen that move among the yogini californians far too long and it stinks so much that it made me a potential convert to the ideology of Madame Defarge.

    Indeed, I feel the same way. Silicon Valley and San Francisco, no doubt, are loaded to the gills with the estates of very well to do Budhists™, very unpleasant sorts who must love blaming the ghastly amounts of Sillicon Valley and Los Angeles unsheltered homless on Karma™. .Senator Dianne Feinstein’s horrid, wealthy and powerful as sin husband’s (Dick Blum) extremely close relationship with the Dali Lamma was as repulsive as it gets. You’re likely aware of the precious, blessed™ white scarf from the Dali being passed on to Oboma by Dick and Diane during his innauguration. The tender mecies of the wicked comes to mind about such sorts.

    gotta run …

  15. multitude of poors

    Sorry about that, I messed up the block quotes for the first 2 paragraphs, from what anon y’mouse had noted, and also, in my rush, neglected to include a greeting to anon y’mouse. before the quotes.

  16. multitude of poors

    Sigh, i see I really messed up the spelling too (re a response to anon y’mouse not showing yet), bad keyboard set up, bad eyes, numb hands, in which case review is my friend and I didn’t.

    gotta run …

  17. Jason

    That one aspires to do so whether or not one can makes all the difference.

    This is also a christian path for many, though it does introduce the little complication of Jesus. The jesus story itself, whether true or not, may also hold more appeal to the masses at large because jesus was “a simple carpenter” i.e. one of them, a working man, poor.

    The idea that someone honestly renounced their class is probably very difficult for many to trust, simply because it doesn’t seem to happen very often. And many times when it allegedly does, it turns out that it was simply a con job perpetrated by the rich to keep the masses from recognizing their situation and maybe working together to do something about it.

    I may sound like a marxist now, but as we’ve seen, marx himself was a fraud. He didn’t care one iota about the working classes. He was enacting an agenda on behalf of a given elite sector of society to further their worldwide interests.

    So, one may well imagine a bunch of “lower class” folks in what is now Nepal rolling their eyes at “the buddha” and saying something along the lines of, “Yeah, old siddhartha there evidently sat under a tree for an extended period and realized nirvana or something. Must be nice being the son of gautama of the shahkyas. Me, I’ve gotta work for a living.”

    The “lower” and “working classes” have “street smarts” that are utterly lost on those that don’t.

    The prolem with the jesus mythology, as opposed to the buddha mythology, is that most christians insist on the historicity of the events, which tends to detract from both any larger universal meaning and also from any personal benefit.

    This is not to say that prayer isn’t wonderful for some on a personal level. Many christians will tell you that “prayer” for them is actually much more akin to a form of meditation. When they engage in it, they don’t actually believe that they are communicating with a “higher” being, or that a higher being is listening, or even exists. The christian mystics always insisted on this, but the hardened institutions themselves can’t stand it.

    I remember many years ago reading of a leader of the episcopalian diocese out of Newark, NJ saying something similar to his congregants. He was basically saying, “Look, you don’t have to take this stuff literally, it is a metaphorical pointer to something larger.” A few weeks later, I read that he had been reprimanded and removed from his position for even daring to suggest such a thing!

  18. different clue


    I have a couple of questions, if you feel they even deserve an answer.

    How could Karl Marx be a Jewish Supremacist and a Jew-hater at the same time?

    I have heard of ” Moroccan Jews”. But I haven’t heard of ” Moroccan Hebrews”. What is a “Moroccan Hebrew” and how is that different than a “Moroccan Jew”?

  19. Jason

    @ different clue,

    I don’t believe Marx was a “Jew hater.” Marx came from a long long line of Talmudic rabbis, ran in almost entirely Jewish circles, and was being paid by a Rothschild – specifcally Nathan, out of London, which is where Marx moved to write Das Kapital with Engels.

    Marx’ grandmother was Nanette Salomon Barent-Cohen of the uber wealthy Barent-Cohen clan of Amsterdam. She married into the Rothschild banking dynasty and one of their sons was Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild, Marx’ cousin, and the first practicing Jewish member of parliament of the UK House of Commons. He was paying Marx to write what he was writing. That bears some thinking on.

    Marx’ best friend and mentor was Moses Hess, a rabid anti-gentile Jewish supremacist (just read some of the stuff he wrote, for goodness sake).

    I do not believe that Marx and Hess were at odds with each other over their shared Jewish history and religion.

    As to why Jonathan Azaziah refers to himself as a Hebrew rather than a Jew, I do not know. Perhaps he feels his Hebrew culture as expressed in a particular time and place has little to do with Judaism as currently practiced by most. But I do not know.

  20. Ché Pasa

    I sometimes think I don’t belong with the current sangha because I’m not rich, not famous, don’t have a PhD or a string of publications to my name, I don’t have political power, nor have I been a dedicated Buddhist scholar. I’m just a hick from the sticks who’s been practicing Zen since the mid-Sixties, post Free Speech Movement/pre-Hippies.

    Yes, Richard Baker was my first teacher; Suzuki Roshi was a tremendous influence. Suzuki Roshi pretty much introduced Zen to the United States in the late 1950’s; Baker Roshi transformed his simplicity and honesty into something that would appeal — and did appeal — to the rich and famous and important people in the San Francisco Bay Area and from there spread all over the country in little cells of Zen practitioners appealing, for the most part, to the same sort of elite clientele.

    By all means, I understand the cynicism toward Eastern religions and practices in a Western context. I share a good deal of it. Suzuki Roshi was asked to leave the Sokoji temple in San Francisco where he’d set up shop as the San Francisco Zen Center. He was asked to leave because he was attracting too many Anglos, too many young people who had no grounding in the practice. By then, too many rich Anglos too. When Suzuki Roshi died, Baker Roshi carried on the legacy in part, but by then the practice had really changed from what Suzuki had brought from Japan and taught.

    I don’t recognize a lot of what is passed off as Zen Buddhism these days. To me, it’s something else, meant for some other purpose, and at least some of the Roshis haven’t renounced anything but live as well as or better than any Evangelical con-man/preacher.

    Avatars of Shakyamuni they are not. But gosh they have the presence and routines and rituals down pat, no?

    Nevertheless, even though I don’t recognize what passes for Zen these days, I continue the practice. No reason not to!

  21. Ian Welsh

    I don’t think there’s much question Buddhism has a strong elite presence in the West. I remember reading an article about a monk who was at Davos, for example. Still, I know plenty of poor people who practice.

    As for Zen, not really my thing, so I don’t know. I came to Buddhism first through Chan, but have been heavily influenced by Theravada and some Hindu traditions, especially Jnani Yoga. Chan and Zen are part of the same broad school (Chan being the predecessor to Japanese Zen, which is what most people mean by Zen) but it’s its own thing.

  22. Ché Pasa

    I’ve long thought that Dogen — who went to China in the 1200s to find “real Buddhism” and came back to Japan to found the Zen practice, based on Chan — was something like an American tourist who goes to the Holy Land and comes back to America declaring that s/he has discovered “real” Christianity/Islam/Judaism, and thereupon founds a sect or cult to propagate it among… the elite.

    Zen was never popular in Japan. It’s not widely popular in the West. It has a stronger presence than actual numbers of practitioners would indicate simply because of who it has attracted. The rich, the famous, the academically tenured, the known artists and authors, and so on. That was not the case when I began Zen practice, though some, like Gary Snyder, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, had gone before me. They were clearly “dabbling” in Buddhism. Gary finally put himself in a monastery in Japan and came back years later to teach Rinzai Zen, settling outside Nevada City, CA, where we’d cross paths now and then. I think he’s still there, wizened and old (must be in his 90’s )ilke an ancient sage. Kerouac drank himself to death, but he wrote a rather remarkable biography of the Buddha for Westerners — but he never seemed to get it. Ginsberg seemed to really revel in Buddhism and yet was very modest about it. There were times he brilliantly embodied “suchness.”

    Buddhism — in whatever variety one adopts and practices — offers a path, I think, to self-knowledge, and through that to knowledge of what “is” and to what we can do, should do, with that knowledge. The Mahayana way, the Bodhisattva path, actually requires service to others before oneself. Yes, as Ian suggests, the practice has many strengths, offers on the whole more good than not, yet is by no means perfect. As I say, Buddhists govern poorly and some are quite capable of atrocities as we’ve seen in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and infamously in Cambodia. Pol Pot’s willing executioners were, in too many cases, practicing Buddhists. Humans are capable of terrible things regardless of belief or practice.

  23. Joan

    Late to the post but I look forward to this series! The beauty or original dream of a spiritual path is definitely what draws a person do it. Thich Nhat Hanh (sp) was my jumping off point toward finding my own spiritual path. I ended up elsewhere but am grateful for the journey.

  24. anon y'mouse

    multitude of poors—i get ya on the failing bodily functions, all too well.

    also this—you and i have had similar experiences in this because we are from the same Bat (bad?) time, same bat channel.

    the one and only navel of the computerized world. the enabler of the current Death Star—Sly Con valley & environs.

    be well!

  25. multitude of poors

    anon y’mouse,

    we must be identical strangers, which is comforting to me. I’ve always appreciated your comments. Too bleakly funny, for years, I called it Sly Con Valley also, but gave up because most on line were (many still are) too self absorbed to forgo all of that nefarious convenience carrot.

    You’re likely aware that Husk is now back again (as if he’s ever been gone from this Deep State), infesting the old Hewlett Packard Head Quarters now (remember when that mentally ill™ woman mysteriously fell from that small HP plane?); around the way from Ghastly Wilson Sonsini, in Shallow Alto; and not too far from both that creepy Shallow Alto, Ananda Church ( ), on El Camino Real, and the vile (fellow PayPal Mafian) Palantir building on Alma (of course still infested with palantirians, despite that later Denver headquarters relocation™). No word, of course, on the gifts Newsom and the rest of the politico grifters gifted the Husk with

    I hope we run into each other one day, if you’re still stuck in California, though I hope you’ve managed to escape it. I’m not able to get my tiny family out (nor even myself now if I could bear leaving them behind), so I remain.

    Hope you’re as well as possible.

    gotta run …

  26. Cody Young

    I don’t think Buddhism is heroic at all actually. The Buddha sat under that tree and had an insight into the nature of suffering and the human condition. The subsequent pumping up of that experience was probably more a product of disciples and coverts attempting to attract people to the nascent religion then anything else. But the enlightenment experience is just that – an experience – one that is open to all of humanity – like riding a bike, making love or eating strawberry. The Buddha had this experience and it pointed to a way out of suffering.

  27. anon y'mouse

    “enlightenment” itself is a dubious concept.

    open to all, and perhaps particular to each individual.

    when someone claims they are or met someone who is, i wonder how they know that to be true. perhaps they’re just deluding themselves? perhaps it’s wishful thinking. this is not something you can define nor prove. and the knowledge gained about “what is” is even less certain than those insane physicists with their computations and billion dollar machinery. often i see the same conclusions being drawn out that the Ancient Greek slaveowners came to when they sat around thinking and debating among themselves. so, nirvana optional?

    my meditation is cleaning my house. my nirvana is eating a good meal after being hungry.

    these aren’t any more or less noble than sitting there and blanking out. and i don’t get to shunt my guilt about being an eco-rapist or a jerk off somewhere or delude myself about having had some “mystical” experience.

    what i find is this, with these people—they become LESS empathetic and it allows them to wash their hands of the results of their egocentric behaviors. then they start holding themselves superior to those without such “experiences”. like they know something special about the universe. what they know seems very likely to be the product of their own mind. and often, they don’t behave any better towards others. they just seem more unruffled about it.

    i’m not saying there’s no insight to be found there. just that the claims are about like the immaculate conception and the the rising from the tomb, saying the rosary and all of that. surely not to be taken literally by reasoning adults, but if it helps the believer then congratulations to them.

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