Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Identitylessness v. Identity Excess

Professor Robert Thurman loves making up words and he's good at it too. Thurman has been translating from Sanskrit and Tibetan to English for 50 years.

Professor Robert (Bob) Thurman
His Holiness the Dalai Lama says that the English vocabulary for describing mental phenomena is limited and that we need more English words in order to be more precise. As an example, the Dalai Lama points out that the term “inner peace” does not depict the broad emotional and expressive range of a mind that has attained or developed inner peace. When we say 'inner peace' we may think of a passive vegetable staring out into space or of a vegetarian pacifist. But inner peace is not necessarily 'vegetarian,' neither literally nor figuratively. Inner peace has great power. Inner peace is not at all indifferent.

Two views of the "I" - Right: Identitynessless; Left: Identityness
I don't remember all the wonderful words I've heard from Robert Thurman, but two stuck. One great word is “identitylessness.”

Typically, 'selflessness' is the most common term that is used, and people who don't understand what it means are afraid that they'll lose their precious self, something like committing suicide.

Identitylessness is a very precise descriptive term that helps to understand what exactly the inner enemy is that we're supposed to conquer, so that we won't have any more outer enemies.
(Is that possible? I wish...)

Identitylessness explains that what we don't have at all is something that we never had to begin with, and only seems to be something we have, namely: a solid, independent and permanent identity, 'identity excess.'

Identity is fine. We all have many identities: first name, last name, extended family, people or tribe, nation, mother / father / parent / son / daughter / brother / sister / uncle / aunt / nephew / niece / cousin, friend / buddy / enemy / stranger etc. We all have these conventional and merely labeled identities.

We also have religion (religious identity, religious identification), or we have no religion, or we have something sort of in between, uncertainty, deliberation, believe a little, skeptical, believe but not religious, or we are religiously secular and have turned secularism into something fanatical, or we are something reasonable, secularly religious – sincerely and honestly adhering to making an effort to help others.

We all have all sorts of identities, some of them good, wholesome and nourishing, and some of them totally unnecessary, like: ugly troll, chronic alcoholic.

But what we don't have at all and what we all walk around with like roosters is: a solid and permanent identity, an excess of identity.

The imaginary, delusional, solid, permanent, independent 'identity excess' is completely extraneous – and, lo and behold, it does not even exist! When we try to find out in what way our solid, permanent, independent 'identity excess' exists, we will find that there is no such animal! 

What is a solid and permanent identity, what is 'identity excess'? In order to understand how such a solid and permanent identity, an 'identity excess' does not exist, we need to understand what we imagine we have, and what we actually do not have at all.
For example, there is no pink elephant in the middle of the room right now. So our solid and permanent identity, our 'identity excess,' is our pink elephant. 

A solid and permanent identity or the feeling of independent identity, our 'identity excess,' arises when someone insults us, when they tell us that we've done something that we didn't do at all, when we are blamed for no reason and are very angry, or when we're terrified without any logical explanation, or when we must have something that we don't need at all – and on top of that, we also feel justified.

A solid and permanent identity, 'identity excess,' is not something that we feel or are aware of all the time, but its potential to jump out is there all the time – until we recognize that it is a complete illusion, a kind of mirage, like the pink elephant that does not really exist in this room right now.

We can bring to mind (imagine, think about) a pink elephant in the room and we can ascertain that it does not exist at all. In a similar way, when our strong sense of identity, our strong and exaggerated sense of "I" that gives us all the trouble arises, when it jumps into our mind despite the fact that it really doesn't exist, we can ascertain, logically, that it is only an illusion, the product of our mistaken perception. 


That is how we can completely conquer our exaggerated sense of identity – when we realize that it is just a bubble in the mind, it bursts and disappears. 

(The object of negation, 'identity excess,' is also variously referred to as 'the true self' or as 'the false self.' In any case, this misperceived self or mistaken view of identity definitely does not exist at all, and is utterly and completely and totally unfindable on examination.)

The realization of identitylessness is a huge relief; it's a huge relief to be free of this 'identity excess' problem.

Another nice word that Prof. Thurman invented is 'psychonaut': the psychonauts of Tibet, he says. Synonyms are: yogi, meditative adept, inner researcher, inner explorer, mind researcher, mind scientist, inner space traveler, inner voidness traveler..

May everyone recognize their identitylessness and also succeed in ascertaining that identity excess, a solid, permanent and independent self, indeed does not exist at all.

On August 22, 2016 10:04 a.m MelahHaaretz ('salt of the earth' 'salt of Israel') wrote:
Excess identity. I've adopted it. [end comment]


Now that you've adopted it, you can get rid of that accursed thing, you can let go of it. It is said that all of spirituality, the entire spiritual path up to enlightenment (everything the Buddha, the genius, scientist, social activist, superb teacher who understood the human mind and all minds) can be summed up in three words: Let it go.

Understand that it's not this label or another, 'the problem' is not this label or another. Our basic problem, the basic problem that all people have, is the emphasis, the excess weight that we give to the label 'mine': “my children (and to hell with all the other children!),” instead of perceiving that all the children in the world are precious.

That's why it is not accurate or not completely correct to blame 'Zionism' – the problem is essentially 'excess Zionism-ness.' If we heal from excess Zionism-ness, from excess Jewish-ness, from excess arrogance, and develop humane Zionism, humane Judaism (for those who are observant) and healthy self-confidence, everything will be just fine, everything will work out. 


In English we see the problem very clearly in the language itself: I is written in capitals, as a capital letter. The problem is not 'I' itself. The problem is the exaggerated I that haughtily and condescendingly towers above everyone else, that perceives itself in the center, cut off and disconnected from everyone. 

No 'I,' none of us, exist in the detached, disconnected, lonely and isolated way that we imagine. We all depend on each other, for our livelihood, our food, our housing, our clothing. Everything we have comes from others. We are very dependent on each other and it is very important that we appreciate the role that we each have by virtue of our mere existence, by virtue of our very existence.

When we understand and internalize the fact of our interdependence, we will also not want to kill others and will not justify killing. We will not want to exploit others for profit. We will be able to make a living from “right livelihood,” i.e., a realistic livelihood, a livelihood that is based on a realistic perception of self and other.

Identity, vs. 'identity excess,' is a correct and truthful view, a conceptual view that brings us closer to the view of reality as it is, the direct perception of ultimate truth, the direct perception of ultimate reality, the direct perception of how we and phenomena actually exist, to a genuinely scientific approach to understanding how self and others exist.

(P.S. The Buddha taught that two truths are both true simultaneously: conventional truth or conventional reality, the way things appear, and ultimate truth, the truth of the absence or emptiness or voidness of inherent, intrinsic, independent existence, which is the way things exist ultimately.)

Thank you.

Keywords [world peace, secular dharma, identity, identity, identitylessness, what's this, secular religion, lasting happiness, ultimate happiness, genuine happiness, happiness]

Original post in Hebrew, The Marker Cafe Current Affairs Forum, August 21, 2016
On Janna's Hebrew blog, The Marker Café
Corrected/updated December 10, 2016 -- I mistakenly wrote 'identitynessless.' The word Bob Thurman coined is: identitylessness. The two are not interchangeable, as identityness might leave some idea of something still existing, where nothing at all exists. I hope I have done identitylessness justice. It is a critical concept to understand. The end of all violence and destructive emotions in the mental continuum depends on our grasping this critical point.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Being Human: The Person

What is a human being? What is a person? How does he or she exist? We'll look at various aspects of the person. First, from a scientific perspective -- not the science we're used to, but a scientific perspective that accords with reality as it is. 

Outdated materialistic view of fertilization of the egg (ovum) by a sperm cell

What Is the Person? Science 
The person or a human being is made up of two main parts, a body and a mind. The body is matter, and consciousness, the mind, is non-matter.
Every person has two lineages, a physical lineage of the physical body -- our parents and all the forefathers and ancestors up until the lake in Africa where the first human being was born, and everything that preceded that lake, up to the amoeba, symbiosis with mitochondria, the formation of the first RNA segment in the primordial soup. 
The second lineage is the lineag of consciousness, of awareness. Our present consciousness, our present mind, our present awareness, is a continuation of the previous mind moment. The first mnd moment in this life (the mind moment that followed its previous mind moment met a fertilized egg (zygote), which is the beginning of the gross physical body. So not only do we have countless fathers in the physical lineage, but we also have countless mothers who raised and cared for us in our various bodies and our many and changing mind moments in our countless previous lives. That's how it is. 

Super-subtle mind (body-mind), 'spirit,' meets fertilized ovum (Image: Dirk Laureyssen)
A model that accords more closely with reality as it is: Meeting of the mind ('spirit' in the model, the most subtle or very subtle or super-subtle mind or body-mind) with the fertilized ovum (sperm + egg).
Dirk Laureyssen's website: http://www.mu6.com/life.html 
Dirk Laureyssen details the fertilization process in the video on karma. Recommended.

The Religious View of the Person Is Closer to Reality As It Is Than the Pseudo-Scientific Materialistic View

Now we can understand that the religious model of “mother, father and holy spirit” – with all the variations in the different religions and the many terms – is closer to reality as it is than the pseudo-scientific materialistic model of biology as it is taught today.

In the Old Testament we find:

Then the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the soul of life; and man became a living soul.” (Genesis 2: 7) According to the Old Testament, all human beings were created in the image of God; every person has a godly soul, a living spirit, is a living sentient being. The biblical view is more in agreement with reality as it is than the materialistic model. In other words, with regard to the understanding of what a person is, the religious view is more realistic, more scientific, than the materialistic view.

Contradiction Between the Religious (Jewish) View of the Nature of Existence and the Scientific View of Reality As It Is

From a scientific perspective, every being originates in a way that is similar to the above model:

being = body + mind. Animals are also sentient beings. They also have a mind and the basic nature of the animal's mind is no different from the mind of a human being. Animals have the exact same potential to realize the nature of their mind in some future lifetime.

As far as the mental ability to realize the nature of the mind in this lifetime, in this present body, there is an enormous difference between human beings and animals. There is a huge difference between the intellectual capacity or cognitive ability of animals and humans. The essential, true or basic nature of the mind, and the innate potential of each and every mind, are the same for humans and all other beings. While in the limited condition of the animal body, an animal does not have the possibility to improve or transform its mind

The enormous possibility we have in this lifetime to realize the full potential of the true or basic nature of our mind distinguishes humans from animals.

It is a mistake to deduce that because of the marked difference in our cognitive/intellectual capacity and the cognitive or intellectual capacity of animals, that there is also a difference in the basic nature of the mind. There is no realistic basis for such an assertion. An animal's mind can take rebirth as a human being and the mind of a human being can take rebirth as an animal. What kind of rebirth we have depends on what we think and do in this lifetime.

The Place of the Human Being in Judaism

At the literal level of interpretation, the Bible (Old Testament) relates the lineage, ancestry or history of the Twelve Tribes, the Children of Israel. After the Story of Creation, the Bible does not start with Abraham, but with Adam (Man). We are, first and foremost, human beings, children of Adam.

From there, the Bible moves on to Noah – we are a nation or a people as all people, we are all members of one human family, we are all brothers and sisters. Then we come to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the Twelve Sons (and two daughters)....

A Bible Lesson Based on the Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama usually introduces himself in the biblical sequence.

When he talks about himself, he opens with, “I am one of 7 billion human beings.” Therefore, the first priority he dedicates his life to is cultivating and promoting secular science based basic human values, values that every person needs in order to be happy in life.

Secondly, he says, “I am a Buddhist monk.” So the second most important thing in His Holiness' life is to develop interfatih understanding, between all the religions of the world and between the different Buddhist traditions.

At the third level of identity he says, “I am Tibetan.” So his third life priority is to devote his time and energy to a solution for the suffering of the Tibetan people. When the Tibetan problem is resolved, he will not need to dedicate himself to that issue any longer.

What About Us?

Kindness (courtesy, treating others with respect, self discipline) precedes the Torah.” At least six of the Ten Commandments deal with universal basic human values. “Love your neighbor as thyself, where neighbor is any and all people, is a great priniciple of the Torah”. “What is hateful unto you, do not do to your neighbor is the (essence) of the whole Torah” – the whole Torah in a nutshell (“on one foot”).

Do we view ourselves in the right order? In the order in which the Bible presents the issue of identity? Are we first and foremost human beings? Without being human first and foremost, we cannot be good Jews, good secular people, good Marxists, good capitalists, good right or left wingers or good whatever-we-happen-to-be. In other words, to be a good Jew means to be a good person. We can change the identity designation: To be a good x means to be a good person. (Fill in the blank.)

The broadest view, the view that encompasses “all beings,” “all our rebirths,” “all the three times” and helps us to “find the similarities” between all of us, is an excellent habit of mind. Every way of looking at things that decreases a strong view of “self and other”, of “me vs. you” is an excellent way of seeing that increases peace within ourselves and peace in the world.

May all beings be happy. Happiness for all.

More Aspects of the Person and the Mind (that I took out of the main text for easier reading)

The human being or the person can also be divided into three main parts. For the division into three, some say: person = body + mind + name (label) and some prefer: body + mind + speech.

We can expand the discussion to the 1. gross, 2. subtle and 3. most subtle or very subtle or super-subtle levels of body and mind. At the super-subtle level, body and mind are indivisible. Levels of Mind http://therealjannaweiss.blogspot.com/2012/04/buddhism-science-of-mind.html

For a more detailed understanding of the mind from a scientific perspective, you are invited to visit Prof. Paul Ekman's Atlas of Emotions. Negative, destructive, i.e., egotistical self-centered, emotions belong to the domain of “mind” and not to the physical body (matter). The mind governs, controls or leads the body. For example, destructive emotions, stress, can cause many diseases.

The original Hebrew post is titled "Jewish Identity Chapter 11: Adam" and has a P.S.: If the title “Jewish Identity” bothers you, you can change it yourself to “Human Identity” or “Secular Identity” or to any other identity that suits you. There's no point in getting upset over nothing.  

Jewish Identity Series - English translation follows Hebrew
Chapter 1: Altruism in Judaism
Chapter 2: Einstein and Universal Responsibility 
Chapter 3: I and Thou -- and We 
Chapter 4: Jewish Renewal
Chapter 5: Universal Ethics
Chapter 6: Reincarnation
Chapter 7: Compassion -- Hebrew only -- a translation of this page on Chabad.org  
Chapter 8: Rabbi "I'll Be Walking" and Mindfulness of Speech
Chapter 9: Meditation
Chapter 10: The Heart
Chapter 11: Adam -- Hebrew only -- this post

Friday, May 20, 2016

Secular Religion

Sikyong Dr. Lobsang Sangay, Doctor of Jurisprudence from Harvard University, speaking on religion, religiosity, religionism and constructive secularism, said that there is nothing bad about religion; religion is all good. Calling for a “liberal interpretation of religion,” he quoted Gandhi, "Like the bee gathering honey from different flowers, the wise person accepts the essence of different scriptures, and sees only the good in all religion.‫"‬

In Toward a True Kinship of Faiths: How the World's Religions Can Come Together (pp. 150-151), His Holiness the Dalai Lama divides religion into three parts. According to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, all religions can be divided into these three parts
1. ethical teachings – moral ethics and developing virtuous qualities
2. doctrines or metaphysics
3. culturally dependent aspects, such as attitude to images
His Holiness also divides humanity into three: theistic believers who believe in God or gods, non-theistic believers and non-believers. 

I will argue that we all also need "religion," a secular science based path for spiritual development that we follow religiously, and once you understand what these three parts of religion are and how a secular religion is possible, you may agree with me.

1. Moral ethics. We all need ethics and positive qualities such as patience, generosity, a positive attitude towards others including the wish that every being have happiness (an altruistic attitude, universal love) and the wish that every being be free from suffering (universal compassion) in order to be good, positive and happy people. To be good or to be happy means to have a clear conscience, without feelings of guilt or shame or blame, and a relaxed mind in which no negative thoughts arise. It is not possible to develop inner peace without moral ethics, honesty, kindness, love, compassion, patience, generosity.

2. The doctrines of different religions are different. There are believers who believe in God and non-theists who rely on the Law of Cause and Effect, a natural law that pertains to all minds and to all interactions between minds in the universe. (The Law of Cause and Effect also governs interactions between mind and matter.) As a basis for secular doctrine we will rely on science, on Western (Einstein's) science and on Buddha's mind science, where both are based on empiricism and logic.

For example, we all agree that the earth goes around the sun, even though it doesn't look like that.

We can all agree that all compounded phenomena are impermanent. We can all agree that things exist based on causes and conditions and therefore do not come into being independently. Someone who believes in God will also agree that making a hard-boiled egg depends on causes and conditions: pot, egg, chicken, water, heat source, a certain amount of time, and on combining all these causes and conditions: putting the egg into the water into a pot on top of a heat source for a certain amount of time. 
Reincarnation has a scientific basis and is therefore included in our secular metaphysics.

The possibility of purifying our mind, of turning a traumatized neurotic and/or depressed mind into a calm mind with a sense of inner well-being has been scientifically proven, and also the entire field of science called neuroplasticity, enable us to accept the capacity of the mind to transform and lead to positive changes in brain function and anatomical structure.

The nature of compounded impermanent phenomena lacking independent inherent existence, is suffering. This understanding liberates from suffering.

3. What is secular culture? Which secular habits and customs are positive and are worthwhile keeping and which are best abandoned in order to achieve happiness? Customs are the recipe for daily life that help us apply moral values (1 above) and the realizations regarding the nature of existence (2 above), and to incorporate these into our lives and our mind.

Since the mind is what's important, clothing is not restricted. You can wear a blue sock next to an orange sock. It's okay to wear a uniform – secular religion is suitable for military people, policemen, prison wardens and guards, doctors, nurses – and politicians, social workers, judges, lawyers and psychologists. It's all right to smell bad and not bathe for weeks or months and it's just fine to bathe twice a day and to use perfume. It's okay for both men and women to use lipstick and nail polish.

Images are allowed: family photos, paintings on the walls in homes. Pictures of enlightened beings are aids to attaining enlightenment. Images of great mind scientists are especially recommended. (The Buddha, Padmasambhava and Je Tsongkhapa are three of the world's greatest mind scientists.)

As much sex as you want is all right, and the more the better – as long as it's by consenting adults – and it's okay to be celibate. Sexual fasting for periods reduces lust and lust is the source of great suffering, like drinking salt water, all the sages have said. It's okay to fill political roles and to be informed about current events, and it's okay and recommended to undertake a “news fast”(according to Dr. Andrew Weil) and to stop consuming commercial media (according to Prof. Michael Nagler, Metta Center for Non-Violence).

Meditation to develop single-pointed concentration is recommended. Without meditation it's not possible for significant changes to take place in the brain. Before one starts meditating, it's advisable to be a good person.

Neuroscientist Prof. Davidson points out four conditions for happiness, for a sense of inner well-being:

1. Resilience – the ability to forgive, to not bear grudges, to let go of grievances and move on, to let it go.
2. Positive attitude, positive thinking, an optimistic outlook
3. Paying attention, mindfulness, single-pointed concentration, concentrative ability
4. Generosity, kindness

Davidson's 1, 2, and 4 belong to Moral Ethics. All four of his findings belong to Doctrines. Number 3, meditation, mind training, paying attention, concentrative ability, belong to the practical or applied area, to Customs and Culture. In this way, secular religion becomes a way of life.

Let us not forget the importance of the teachers – we are grateful to the tradition of Eastern mind science beginning with the Buddha and the Hindu surroundings in which he was raised, educated and meditated. We acknowledge, the lineage of Indian and Tibetan teachers who preserved, practiced and transmitted the Buddha's knowledge, including the 14th Dalai Lama and Prof. Davidson, “the guru of science,” Mind and Life Institute and others.

We will also express gratitude to the contributions of all beings, especially the Western scientific tradition up until the development of the scientific tools that were sensitive enough for Prof. Davidson's Center for Healthy Minds (formerly: Center for Investigating Healthy Minds) and others to carry out their research.

My profound gratitude to Geshe Pema Dorjee, from whom I first heard the expression: “Secular Religion,” that is both absurd and wise.

Secular Religion –

Secular mind training based on Western science and the science the Buddha taught in order to cultivate a compassionate and altruistic mind and to realize the full human potential that is within each individual for a better and more pleasant world for all.

The three aspects of religion also need to be essential parts of a secular person's life so that he or she will be able to realize his or her full potential:

1. Moral values and cultivation of virtues such as generosity, patience, perseverance, enthusiasm and/or interest and/or curiosity regarding the practice, are parts of religions worldwide and are also essential for secular people.

2. Right views (correct perception) regarding the way reality exists are also part of Western science, not only religion. Striving towards an understanding of truth regarding the way consciousness exists, the way the self (the “I”) exists and the way reality exists are a human aspiration that is suitable for everyone, also a secular person.

3. Mind training to cultivate mental concentration has been proven to be one of the essential factors needed for positive changes to take place in the functioning of the mind. and in brain functioning and anatomy. Therefore, it makes sense for a secular person to be interested in engaging in this type of practice.

Respect and appreciation of the customs of the various religions can grow from the practice of secular religion. Secular religion will reduce the tension between religious and secular people, by developing mutual respect and appreciation, through study, practice and dialogue. The religions will flourish in a social environment of human dignity. Religious believers will respect ethical and moral secular people and secular people will develop appreciation, understanding and tolerance for engaging in religion, with all of its peculiar customs.

Dedicated to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, all the great lamas of Tibet, all the great spiritual masters of all time, and to the Tibetan people, whose extraordinary commitment to non-violence is a model for the world. May secular religion flourish for an ethical, compassionate and wise world for all!

Message from Pope Francis on Interfaith Dialogue:

Hebrew translation of Pope Francis' video is here

Secular Religion was translated from the original Hebrew post (with slight changes), published on The Marker Café Current Events Forum, March 12, 2016. (On my Hebrew blog.)