Central theme in my meditations and writings at the moment is Not-Knowing. I am influenced by The Zen Peacemakers Sangha, whose tenets are:

  1. Not-Knowing by giving up fixed ideas about ourselves and the universe
  2. Bearing Witness to the joy and suffering of the world
  3. Taking Action that arises from Not-Knowing and Bearing Witness

Buddhist meditation teachers often say that the practitioner should not judge, or have opinions about others, either positive or negative. I think that the moral position of Not-Knowing goes even one step further, because when I have the choice of either judging or not judging, that implies that I have an understanding about the other. In taking the position of Not-Knowing, I do not even pretend to understand, because usually understanding comes with preconceptions, e.g. labels or categories that you impose on the other. Therefore, Not-Knowing is more free.

In the video below, the psychotherapist Harlene Anderson explains this concept in a way that accords a lot with my experience.

Second Thoughts About The First World

Photo of an Arabic beggar
Photo courtesy of Fatimeh Nadimi

We live in the first world and we are very lucky. We have more than enough material wealth, we belong to the richest countries in the world. During my upbringing, I was told that the reason that we are rich, is that we are a developed nation. Countries like Ghana are poor and that can be explained, because Ghana is not yet developed as fully as our country.

Recently, I wonder if it is not the other way around. Richness always brings forth development of science and art. The Italian Renaissance was also the time of greatest relative wealth. Later on, in the same country, production of art declined together with the economy.

We are developed because we are rich. Do not use development as legitimization for wealth. Development is equal to wealth. There is only wealth versus poverty.

The Dalai Lama And The Definition Of Happiness

Picture of the robe of the 14th Dalai Lama (red)
Picture courtesy of Christofer Michel

“I believe the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness. Whether one believes in religion or not, whether one believes in that religion or this religion, we are all seeking something better in life. So, I think, the very motion of our life is towards happiness…”

― Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World

The Dalai Lama often writes that all sentient beings strive for happiness. But what is the definition of happiness other than that what one strives for? Therefore claiming that everyone strives for happiness is not usefull, it contains no information.

In the post On The Measurability of Happiness on Philosophy Forums, Phelgm gives an operational meaning of the term.

Subjective well-being is how good a person feels about his well-being: if I feel good about my well-being, then I could be called happy, and if I don’t feel good about my well-being, I can be called unhappy.

I studied psychology in the eighties, when behaviourism was still popular. Our professor of biological psychology, quite minimalistically, explained:

We asume that whatever the organism strives for, is what makes it happy. This is the operational definition of happiness.

So I think that the proposition that we strive to happiness is empty. It delivers no new information

Altruism In Conflict

Photo Courtesy of Riccardo Cuppini
Photo Courtesy of Riccardo Cuppini

I struggle with the concept of altruism. As I understand it from Buddhist literature, the practice of altruism is striving for the happiness and well being of every sentient being. Recently, Matthieu Ricard published a whole book about this subject. It is on my to read list. Matthieu Ricard is one of my favorite authors.

In society however, people have conflicting interests. If I strive for the happiness of the one, often this means the misfortune of the other.

Parable of the Island
An elderly man and his two adult sons are on summer vacation on a beautiful island. They enjoyed their time together and on the last day, their plane back home will depart on 11 AM. The eldest son wants to go fishing with his dad. The youngest son wants to take his father to another part of the island, to visit a village with a old church. There is no time to do both. How can the old man be altruistic? When he endorses the one, he disappoints the other.

Altruism means that you should never decide based on your own interest, but on that of the other (altero). Is altruism still possible when there are two or more opposing others, in a situation of conflict?

At the end of the day, everyone’s friend is no one’s friend.
(Italian proverb)

A solution to overcome the problem of conflicting interests, is to focus on a synthesis, a cause that transcends the opposing parties.

This brings me to the work of Bernie Glassman of the Zen Peacemakers Sangha, who teaches a method of being present in a situation or area of conflict, concentrating (meditating) and then as if by divine inspiration, the synthesis or higher cause reveales itself to you.

Photo of Bernie Glassman

Photo courtesy of Joan Halifax

Some thoughts of Roshi Bernard Glassman:

We bear witness to the joy and suffering that we encounter. Rather than observing the situation, we become the situation. We became intimate with whatever it is – disease, war, poverty, death. When you bear witness you’re simply there, you don’t flee.

My opinion of Loving Actions are those actions that arise naturally when one enters a situation in the state of not-knowing and then bears witness to that situation. It has nothing to do with the one’s opinions or other’s opinions as to whether it is loving actions or not.

My conclusion: the Buddhist practitioner who follows the altruistic ideal, should meditate on how he lives, chooses and acts in the midst of war, chaos and conflict. Altruism is never easy or simple.

TED talk by Matthieu Ricard

Alain de Bottons Sermon on Religion for Atheists

Alain de Botton On Religion for Atheists from The School of Life on Vimeo.

Today, I watched this ‘sermon’ of Alain de Botton, where he teaches us to look at the good things we can learn from religions, even if we do not believe in God. This cermon was an initiative of The School Of Life which I find a very interesting discovery on the web.

Around the beginning of this school year, I attended to a presentation from the teacher of my 10 years old son about the subjects that will be a part of this years curriculum. When I asked them: “What are you going to teach the children about religion?” the teacher replied that this was a secular, public school and that for that reason, they did not teach them a lot about the different religions. I think that even if you are not a believer in all the dogmas of a religion, that does not mean that you cannot learn from the scriptures or teachings of that church. Even if you do not believe in God at all, there is still a lot to learn from religious thought, ceremonies, art and spirituality. We should teach our children that, of all the main religions, also on the so called secular schools.

Mindfulness in Deer Park Monastery, California

Joyfully Together: A Day of Mindful Living from Kenley Neufeld on Vimeo.

This evening, I watched this video three times. It made me feel very happy and centered. Being a practitioner in the same tradition as the monks and nuns in Deer Park Monastery, the tradition of the Vietnamese born Thich Nhat Hanh, I recognized all the songs and rituals. I very much enjoyed a feeling of peace and wholeness.

The video is very well filmed, compliments to the maker, although in Vimeo, the maker remained anonymous.

Meditation practise

A Buddha Statue
Thanks to Cornelia Kopp for this picture

Today, I meditated twice for a period of 20 minutes. Since one week, I have started to do my daily meditation again and I have to say that I can clearly feel it works. Because of a busy work schedule and some private obligations, I did not do zazen for a couple of months. Now, all I can conclude is that I experienced once again that with regular meditation, I feel much more relaxed and happy.

I hereby promise to keep it up! So, Buddha, if you are following this feed…

Inspiring retreat

The retreat was great. I was with a group of Dutch and Belgium people, as well as practitioners from Taiwan, Hongkong, Austria, Germany and Finland. I missed my daily dose of coffee (a bad habit to drink it, I know) so I was a bit sleepy now and then. The location was the European Institute of Applied Buddhism (EIAB) in Waldbröl, 60 km from Cologne.

Vietnamreis 176

Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh), our teacher, was in great shape, despite his 83 years. Listening to his Dharmatalks gave me some new insights because Thay explaines the subjects a bit differently every time.

One day we hiked in the country and woods for a couple of hours and picnicked in the back yard of a small farm house. Of course, the hike was in silence and concentration.

The main building of the (EIAB) is being renovated, therefore the big meditation room was located a tent and the buffets for food and drinks were also in tents. All the (vegan) meals during the retreat were enjoyed in silence.

I know a number of the people of the Dutch Sangha who were there and I also met people from other retreats, which was very nice. I held many conversations that warmed my heart.

Every day, I shared my experiences with a ‘family’ group of about 24 people. The sharing of the group members was deep and intense and gave me some more insights.

All in all I am very gratefull for this experience. (Fotos will follow shortly)