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Thread: Am I a nihilist?

  1. #1
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Am I a nihilist?

    Greg (ghop) recently referred to me as a nihilist, and I've since wondered if that description might be accurate.

    I don't believe that God or the universe cares what I do one way or the other.

    I don't believe human beings can make a perfect world. I believe we can make a better world, but I believe "better" will always only be a matter of degree--and up to varying subjective senses of what "better" or "good" is.

    I believe that the forces of nature are stronger than us and will ultimately win out over human ambition.

    I believe that killing other people causes psychological suffering and have no desire to kill or harm others, but I don't think that God or the universe punishes people for the act of killing. I believe that killing and violence are parts of the natural order. So I'm not as pacifist as I used to be, though I still generally find nonviolence to be a better, smarter way of doing things than violence.

    As humans, we have learned and found that nonviolence and cooperation allows a more complex society to flourish and I think this is good, but I do not believe the universe cares one way or another what kind of society we choose to create. If we do things that make us suffer, it's because we did something that causes suffering, not because the universe is punishing us.

    While I am an animal lover and hate animal cruelty and suffering, I don't believe that killing animals is necessarily "wrong." I don't believe that anything bad will happen to me because I killed a mouse. I don't believe it's bad or wrong to kill a mouse in order to preserve the hygiene of one's home.

    I don't believe that humankind has a destiny we are meant to realize. It often feels to me like each of us has a fate, but I wonder if this is just the meaning and order I project onto what may ultimately have none.

    But none of this bothers me. It used to, deeply. But I've realized that a lot of the things I desperately wanted to know are impossible to know with certainty. To believe most of the things we believe requires a leap of faith at some point--a leap of faith I'm not willing to make, because I can't consciously lie to myself. The more things I become conscious of, the fewer lies are possible for me to live in or with.

    I used to get very depressed thinking that I might never be able to know certain things or that I and/or humanity might not have some preordained destiny or connection with some ultimate destiny or meaning. These thoughts no longer bother me. I feel at peace. Right now, in my life, I'm frustrated, and tired, but happy.

    What do I believe?

    I believe that the Buddha was one of the wisest and sharpest human beings to ever live and that he saw right to the core of our condition. I think that generations of Buddhist teachers after him have also seen and realized Truth (to some degree or another) and taught others how to see and experience it to the best of their ability.

    I believe that people of all faiths and traditions have woken up to Truth and have tried to express it in the language and concepts at their disposal. But I believe far more people delude themselves about what the truth is than actually wake up.

    I believe that love is one of the most important things that human beings can experience. Love feels cosmic and mysterious to me--if anything were to be coded into the fabric of the universe, I believe it would be love. Though I can't quite make that leap of faith, I can say that without doubt it is love that has saved me from darkness and being lost every time.

    I believe that life is better when it is lived in the light of love, but I don't think this is anything special or grandiose. I don't think asceticism or self-sacrifice reflects a 'purer love.' I believe love is very closely connected to empathy, and, therefore, wisdom--our ability to put ourselves in another's position imaginatively and consider that their perspective and point of view is as important as our own.

    I believe that seeing clearly can and does lead to a simpler, more peaceful life. I believe that all the ways we overcomplicate our lives come from delusion and from trying to escape from our experience.

    I believe that science and the scientific method have been major human breakthroughs and that the findings of science are worth paying attention to for reasons beyond just technological advancement. That said, I think science is limited and that no matter what we discover via neuroscience and physics, it will never answer or satisfy our deeper spiritual questions.

    Am I a nihilist? I don't know. I do know that I'm tired of believing stupid things, of believing anything I can't really know. I'm tired of trying to find the right framework for life and trying to force my life to fit into the story or framework I've chosen. I believe that the Taoists had it right: truth and beauty are found in the natural flow of existence, unimpeded by the deadening constructions of the conceptual mind.

    I hope to live the rest of my life learning to let go, let be, and watch the Tao naturally flow along its course. I don't need to found a great new moral order, or try to change the world or the people in it. People and the world are pretty wonderful just as they are. Thank goodness that things aren't 'perfect' because then they would be stagnant, sterile, and dead.

  2. #2

    Re: Am I a nihilist?

    Hi Stephanie,

    I am not sure if you are nihilisitic (although your loving heart shows you are really not) ... but Buddhists for a couple of thousand years have bent over backwards to emphasize that "Buddhism" is not "nihilisim". Just because we speak of "emptiness" that is not "nothing" ... just because we speak of "no goal" that does not mean there is not a lovely dance.

    Nishijima Roshi, and countless other teachers, say that Buddhism is a positive, even optimistic philosophy (despite all the talk of "suffering", the real focus is not that ... but "Liberation"). For example, when we drop thoughts, what remains is not an empty nihilistic hole, but peace, freedom and fertile possibility!

    I tried to capture this in a couple of things I wrote ... especially this ...

    [quote]
    Gratitude Trust & A Willingness to Yield

    We are not "theists", for we do not ultimately require or cling to a particular 'god' or 'gods' to run the show. (That's not to say that we can't if we wish, and one can be a Zen Buddhist or Zennist while a Christian, Muslim, Jew or the like. We can. We neither require a "god", nor push any god away.).

    We are not "atheists", as we do not see reality through nihilistic eyes, as merely cold, dead, chaotic, random and pointless, without guiding hand, system or path. (Again, one might combine Zen practice with such an outlook, but it might make one's practice something cold and dead in result).

    I sometimes compare our attitude to that of innocent babes with a deep trust in this source and world that birthed us, that feeds us and which somehow allows us air to breathe. Sure, it is not a perfect place as we might always wish it to be (and certainly, if I were in charge of its making, I might choose to do things a bit differently), but it is an amazing place and a miracle that we are here. Do you know all that was involved in allowing that to be, in allowing you to be ... from the stars ... to the flowers and trees ... every twist and turn of history and natural conditions that allowed you to be?

    No, as the spring time comes following the winter, and life returns ... I say that we are grateful to that which allows it all to be, and us to be. Thank you.

    (read more here)

    http://www.treeleaf.org/sit-a-long/a...-to-yield.html

    As well, I do not know if there are literal "heavens" and "hells" which await us after we die, but I have seen people create real bits of heaven and hell in this life, for themselves and those near them, by their actions.

    And this below ... trying to describe "emptiness" as 'The Dance' ... 'The Dancing' ... just 'Dancing' ...

    http://www.treeleaf.org/forum/viewto...p=36135#p36135

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 10-17-2012 at 02:00 PM.

  3. #3
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Am I a nihilist?

    I like these posts/teachings and find them beautiful, Jundo.

    To use the language of your "gratitude, trust" post: I see life as "random and pointless, without [a] guiding hand, system or path," but I also feel a deep trust in the way things are, and a sense of the miraculous about life.

    Life does feel like a "dance" to me. And what I most like about the dance is not knowing who the next dance partner will be or what the next musical selection will be. I feel a kinship with the early Taoists that the best life is lived in harmony with the Tao, which is accomplished through noninterference. I feel like I can relate to or understand what a lot of theist mystics have said when they have talked about surrendering to the will of God... I realize that life is not in my control and that this is not sad or scary, but beautiful. The dance is more graceful when something other than me is leading the dance. I just don't think that "something other" necessarily has a will, intention, or plan.

    I don't feel like anyone or anything "Ultimate" in the universe cares. That sounds sad, maybe, but I don't feel so sad about it any more. I'm not sure it matters. Human beings care and can thus make a caring world. And the lack of a code woven into the fabric of the universe frees us from lives of guilt and superstition... we can just live our lives in the world we find ourselves in. We don't need the hand of God to smite us into obedience. We can be kind and good and make a good world without God and without the universe caring at all about it.

  4. #4
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Am I a nihilist?

    If you were really a nihilist, you'd likely be unconcerned with the answer to that question. /funny

    Chet

  5. #5

    Re: Am I a nihilist?

    Stephanie,

    It would stupid for me to ignore this. But not as stupid
    as the comments I made. I am sorry. That doesnt'
    matter. But I am. I admit I got carried away. And I'm
    not trying to save face by writing this. I think I may
    have shown my bad side. Maybe everything I hurled at
    you was just issues that I myself am questioning about
    myself. I was raised in a THICK Protestant environment.
    The things I was told as a child, you don't easily overcome.
    After the divorce, I moved in with my parents while trying
    to get back on my feet. I had a small Buddha statue that
    I kept on a table next to my bed. One day I came home
    and my father had put a pear of men's underwear over it.
    He said it was the reason for all my bad luck and I was going
    to hell if I didn't get things right. By "right" I took it to mean
    stop worshiping idols. I was very serious in church at one time.
    I felt called to be a minister. Then I committed adultery. Typical,
    you are probably saying. But it wrecked my life. More importantly,
    and much more importantly than "loosing my salvation," I lost
    my daughter's love and respect. Only in the past year have I
    begun to get that back. I have gone through alot to "fix" my
    problems. Admitting that I am an alcoholic is one of the steps.
    If I didn't have heroes I'd still be drinking. If I didn't believe that
    human beings have the power to change their lives, even change
    the world, I'd be lost. I still belive in God. But like a growing
    child, whose understanding of their parents evolves with age,
    so too is my understanding of God. But that's just me. And for me.
    I'm sorry to have tried to pull you over to my boat. I don't think God
    punishes people for killing. I used to. I also thought he punishes
    adulterers and alcoholics. He doesn't have to. We do a good job of
    punishing ourselves. I sometimes feel the "old fear" coming back,
    about leaving the church, about practicing buddhism, etc. I know
    these are just thoughts. I am sorry for trying to take your opinion
    away from you. I'm going on and on and none of this really makes
    sense. I just feel bad and am not sure if I'm trying to make you
    feel better or just myself.
    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie
    I believe that killing and violence are parts of
    the natural order.
    If we were animals, yes. I don't feel this is a healthy view. That
    we have the urge and the ability to resist violence, that we have
    the power to choose to do good, to love, proves that these things
    need not be. Just like the fact that you are searching yourself in
    this matter proves that you are not a nihlist. Really it just proves
    that I am an ass for calling you one.

    gassho

  6. #6

    Re: Am I a nihilist?

    Quote Originally Posted by ghop
    One day I came home
    and my father had put a pear of men's underwear over it.
    Jeez. Really? A "pear of men's underwear..." ??? The fruit?
    Sorry. I meant PAIR.

    :wink:

  7. #7
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Am I a nihilist?

    Greg, you are a complicated and interesting man, and seem to easily fall into worry you have caused offense when you haven't, which shows that all of your emotional productions of guilt about feeling like a bad person are misplaced.

    Your "nihilist" comment didn't hurt my feelings. It was very thought provoking and useful. I may be a nihilist, actually. I don't know. I don't really care one way or another--all I care about is that I'm being honest, and truthful.

    What I've learned is that I don't have to believe in a greater meaning or preordained purpose to experience a sense of harmony with "the universe" or whatever other term that awkwardly gets pasted at the end of these statements about 'the matter of life and death.'

    I deeply respect the journey that you've been on, and continue on. From my side and point of view, I don't think the beliefs and ideals and heroes are necessary. I think you'd surprise yourself at how little justification you need to live a good life.

    That was one of my points about killing... I've found that a religio-moral justification is not required to practice a peaceful way of life. The lack of belief in a strict ontological and moral code woven into the universe has made me feel less guilty and compulsive about following a particular code, but hasn't really changed my behavior that much. I generally prefer to be kind. Sometimes I'm unkind, and I don't beat myself up about it as much as I used to--that's really the only difference, how much guilt I feel when I 'stray'--but if I see someone hurting, my natural inclination is still to want to offer some sort of relief. As stated before... sometimes not. But more often, yes.

    And I don't take as much crap off of people as I used to, which actually makes me less irritable and mean. I shoot straight--and somehow, this seems to deescalate things more quickly than my past tendency to be simpering. I'll tell someone I think they're being stupid but I'm also willing to talk with them about it. This is one of the things I'm grateful to New York for teaching me--how to care about my neighbor and try to help them out while still telling them they're being stupid when I think they're being stupid. While also remaining open to the possibility I'm the one being stupid. The point being you don't have to be a fastidious perfect saint with lovely measured language to be a "good person." All you have to do is to care about the other person you're talking to, at least on the level of considering that their perspective and happiness is as valid and valuable as yours.

    I've found that all the stuff I desperately thought I needed to live a sane life was just a bunch of props I could have discarded a long time ago. The drama of the guilt and the searching and the redemption can be compelling, but it's unnecessary. So much guilt and gnashing of teeth for you over... sex. "Adultery." I sincerely hope you aren't beating yourself up over that any more, it's just pointless suffering. By a good person whose parents and religion made him feel like he was "bad." I say fuck 'em and their opinions, it's your caring heart and what you choose to do every day that really matters. Only you know.

    Embracing the love I have in this moment, listening to and acting from it as best I can, is where goodness lies for me.

  8. #8

    Re: Am I a nihilist?

    We are not "atheists", as we do not see reality through nihilistic eyes, as merely cold, dead, chaotic, random and pointless, without guiding hand, system or path.
    Sorry to go on a tangent here, and no disrespect meant... but I really do not like the way atheism is equated with nihilism, or coldness, or seeing life as random and pointless.

    Atheism is merely the belief that (given current proof it is likely that, for "weak" or sensible atheism) God or gods do not exist. In itself, it says nothing about how we should lead our lives, or feel to be our personal purpose. The idea that without a God our lives are cold, dead, random, pointless, and we should be nihilistic is a complete misunderstanding, usually made by people who are not atheists themselves (or by people who are young enough to think that existential suffering is cool).

    The lack of God does not mean that the world does not exist, it does not mean that humans don't exist. It merely means that there is no purpose given to me from an all-knowing outsider. I still love, I still suffer. The mountain is still beautiful and the rain still cold. The miracle of life is equally wondrous when looked at through science - if not more so, when we truly realize it is a mystery, not something made by reason. The puzzle of suffering is as heartbreaking without a God - if not more so, when we cannot assume a master plan.

    Atheism does not equal lack of belief in life.

  9. #9

    Re: Am I a nihilist?

    Greg,

    Listen. People like your parents view their viewpoint as "right" and that yours is wrong. This is something that we all have to live with on various levels. It is difficult to go against what you've been taught to be correct, and, to a point, that is one of the purposes of our practice. Buddha said:

    “Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”

    He also said:

    "I do not believe in a fate that falls on men however they act; but I do believe in a fate that falls on them unless they act."

    If the faith that you were brought up in makes sense after careful evaluation and is to the good and benefit of all beings, then by all means, accept it and live it. If it is not, I believe that it is God's wish that we find something that makes sense. I often have a mental picture of Jesus, Mohammed, Elija, and yes even Buddha, sitting around some celestial table appologizing to each other for the conduct of their worshipers. People are the ones who make religion have the peril of fire and damnation for non-compliance. That fear should not be a part of the decision one makes for either following or disregarding one faith over another, it should be personal. As to the other part of your statement. We all have demons. I, too, struggle with an alcohol dependancy issue, which I am working to eliminate from my life. I believe with the advent of my taking jukai this year, I will have completely gotten rid of it. I have an anxiety disorder that I medicate with doctor prescribed drugs, but I have also self medicated with alcohol for years now. But, like you, I have come to a place where this is no longer acceptable. Did we both "fall off the wagon" for a while, yes. Have we done things we are not proud of? Sure. But are we bad people for it? No, not at all. We would be bad people and bad Buddhists if we never saw the negative of it, and never decided to work toward a better us. You have realized that the path you were on was a path of self destruction, and you have put a stop to it. You are here, practicing, trying to work through your issues. You said that "if I didn't have heroes, I'd still be drinking." I think that it's time you looked at all you have done, and realize that you ARE a hero.

  10. #10

    Re: Am I a nihilist?

    Greg, Stephanie;

    related to what you both said and my comment on atheism above, I think you are sort of both right. Violence and killing are part of the natural order. Denying that would require one to be completely blind and deaf. However, wishing that you do not need to resort to violence is also part of the natural order. Only if you make a distinction between "man" and "nature", or try to separate "godly" from "wordly" you need to try and pick one or the other. I believe (as an atheist) that we are animals, yes, but I also believe that we are animals of the human species, and this species (like many others) is capable of both war and peace, violence and compassion. Neither is "unnatural", or more natural than the other. They just are. It is equally in our nature to be compassionate and loving than it is to be violent and uncaring. And it is in our nature to choose which we want to be, too. Choosing one or the other is not going contrary to "our nature" or "the natural order". It's just choosing.

  11. #11
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Am I a nihilist?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jaana
    Greg, Stephanie;

    related to what you both said and my comment on atheism above, I think you are sort of both right. Violence and killing are part of the natural order. Denying that would require one to be completely blind and deaf. However, wishing that you do not need to resort to violence is also part of the natural order. Only if you make a distinction between "man" and "nature", or try to separate "godly" from "wordly" you need to try and pick one or the other. I believe (as an atheist) that we are animals, yes, but I also believe that we are animals of the human species, and this species (like many others) is capable of both war and peace, violence and compassion. Neither is "unnatural", or more natural than the other. They just are. It is equally in our nature to be compassionate and loving than it is to be violent and uncaring. And it is in our nature to choose which we want to be, too. Choosing one or the other is not going contrary to "our nature" or "the natural order". It's just choosing.
    I agree.

    I used to believe that violence was "wrong" and that there was some absolute code or meaning in the universe that reflected that, and it was our human destiny to totally overcome violence, etc.

    I still prefer the peaceful way but I no longer believe the above. I'm not as adamantly and ideologically anti-war as I used to be, though I believe we've mostly gotten past the point where we should be having wars at all. I believe we should have better solutions by now.

    I also agree that atheism is not the same as nihilism. I wouldn't really describe myself as an "atheist" or even an "agnostic," the issue of a God is just not one that compels me much one way or the other these days, and I wouldn't define my beliefs or worldview in reference to a God or a lack of one. It's just not what is most important or central for me. I describe myself as a Buddhist, a Zen Buddhist.

    I don't really believe in much of anything right now, and was genuinely curious if that makes me a nihilist. Life does not at all feel cold and meaningless to me, but I don't have any investments in high-minded ideals right now. Some people are going to starve, some people are going to suffer, and it sucks, but I've also started seeing that as an inevitable part of the natural order. I detest the effects of the wage slavery that my society depends upon to function, but I don't believe it's possible to eradicate poverty in the world. I do think things can change, and work toward changes I believe in (supporting treatment as an alternative to incarceration is one, a change that is already happening in society), but I think in the biggest picture things mostly stay the same and that's OK. All of my old thinking around causes feels false to me now. So I guess I sort of do feel nihilistic right now, in an upbeat and "life is beautiful" sort of way...

  12. #12

    Re: Am I a nihilist?

    To answer your question: I am not sure on the definition of nihilism, so I cannot really say if you are one. However, I think there is a crucial difference between accepting the existence of e.g. starvation in general, and accepting the starvation of a particular person. You would cross some line (in my mind) if you were to go from "we probably cannot completely eliminate hunger from the world" to "so what if she starves, starvation is natural". If you see what I mean.

    (I feel sort of bad jumping in to this discussion. I am very new to zazen and definitely would not call myself a Buddhist at this point. Please do tell me if I violate some written or unwritten code of conduct. I wish to respect those of any place I visit.)

  13. #13

    Re: Am I a nihilist?

    Christopher,

    Thank you for the kindness and encouragement. As to your demons, hang in there.
    The have a way of getting bored and flying off when starved for attention. Oh, and
    the quotes by Buddha were priceless. Thanks man.

    Jaana,

    Please do jump in. If you have something to say it is probably because I have something
    to learn. Your definition of atheism was well put. If belief in God or gods was all it took
    to have a meaningful life, then I think history would look a little different.
    Love is a human emotion. We've all got it. But it is so mystical at times that it seems
    almost like a doorway between two worlds.

    Stephanie,

    Thanks for the textbooks. :wink:

    gassho
    Greg

  14. #14
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Am I a nihilist?

    I myself have recently received the lesson about just how compelling our stories can be. Nihilism, in my opinion, isn't the lack of an unnecessary story - it's a story about how other stories are unnecessary, or blind-stupid, or reflective of a childish need for something or other. It can be as ossified and dukkha-creating as that which it is trying to prevent. Nihilism as practiced by many 'used-to-be-idealists' is a reactionary stance - but it's cut from the same cloth as idealism. It's just the dark side of idealism, which was always there but was not owned. In essence, I find it difficult to be an idealist without ALSO being a nihilist somewhere in the shadow.

    To me, Zen is about rediscovering the deep significance of life without developing a meaning-based story around it - or I should say, developing as loose and forgiving a 'story' about it as possible. Sometimes a meaning-based story is a short-cut to short-circuit certain unproductive behaviors or activities, but often they bring as much dukkha-producing baggage as they attempt to dispel. They also produce a sort of 'if only everyone was like ME, the world would be better' attitude. I've been and sometimes still am guilty of this. It's good to be aware of it.

    So idealism is often seen as a valiant struggle against the injustices of life - but it puts you at war with reality by conjuring projections of a certain ideal outcome or way of being. Invariably, this will wear you out, exhaust you, make you very tired. As Byron Katie might say, it's exhausting to fight a hopeless war against the rest of the world. At some point, it is possible to 'lapse' into 'I don't give a shit' nihilism - but that nihilism is a defense mechanism against the exhaustion of an unrealistic war against 'what is'.

    That said, there IS a place for this theater of the mind, and it can produce some good things. It is in a way the currency of our existence. I suspect that the Zen way is not to go to war against reality, but also not to go to war against the tendency to take a position. But when we take our positions, we need not root our feet into the ground like trees, never to move or budge until the cold wind of reality bends us, breaks us, and painfully uproots us.

    IMHO, YMMV.

    Chet

  15. #15

    Re: Am I a nihilist?

    Hi Stephanie,
    I don't feel like anyone or anything "Ultimate" in the universe cares.
    'Ultimately' we are the universe, (what else could we/the universe be?) so if we care about anything, the universe cares.
    gassho,
    Monkton

  16. #16

    Re: Am I a nihilist?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jaana
    We are not "atheists", as we do not see reality through nihilistic eyes, as merely cold, dead, chaotic, random and pointless, without guiding hand, system or path.
    Sorry to go on a tangent here, and no disrespect meant... but I really do not like the way atheism is equated with nihilism, or coldness, or seeing life as random and pointless.

    Atheism is merely the belief that (given current proof it is likely that, for "weak" or sensible atheism) God or gods do not exist. In itself, it says nothing about how we should lead our lives, or feel to be our personal purpose. The idea that without a God our lives are cold, dead, random, pointless, and we should be nihilistic is a complete misunderstanding, usually made by people who are not atheists themselves (or by people who are young enough to think that existential suffering is cool).
    Hi Janna,

    I am sorry for painting all atheists with a single brush.

    Personally, I do not consider myself an "atheist," for "atheism" in my image is another belief and conclusion, often clung to too relentlessly (by some, not to paint all atheists one color again). I prefer to describe myself as a "mystical agnostic" (or "pragma-mystic") who tastes and sees something wonderful in this life, yet prefers not to impose too many names and limiting ideas upon that (and remains skeptical of many exotic ideas about "ultimate reality" that some impose to fill in the gaps in human understanding) and who just "lets that all be". For what is will be anyway! I have some very definite ideas and conclusions about some things (yes, Zen Practice lets one see reality in some wonderfully clear ways ... see below), but other things I keep my nose out of!

    However, one could be a "Zen Buddhist" and be an atheist if one wanted I suppose, just as one can be a "Zen Buddhist" and Jewish, Christian, Tory or Labor, baker or candle stick maker at the same time.

    Much of this is very similar to that wonderful short talk by Anshin Thomas that Taigu posted today ...

    viewtopic.php?f=1&t=2652

    Anshin says "if we know, or think we know, that is probably not spirituality ... there is no fixed point ..." . That is one reason I often describe this practice as dancing. It is "knowing" the fluid movement and freedom of this ever changing dance with reality ... not a fixed and rigid certainty about how things are and what they mean. Some teachers in the Kwan Um school like to say "only keep don't know mind" ...

    I am an agnostic ... I have my reasons to doubt overly detailed religious explanations of how the universe ticks. But I don't know. My Practice does not depend on knowing or not knowing,

    What is more, surprisingly, many "answers" (or, at least, dropping of pointless questions) result from this practice ... There are clear and satisfying answers, but not necessarily "answers" as we usually expect them ... Please have a look here if you have a moment, part of a series of threads on "Jundo Tackles the Big Questions" ...

    For now, I just want to address your main question: "Does Satori provide the answer to the ‘big questions’?"

    Our Practice provides some very specific (and wonderful) answers to some 'big questions'. For example, Buddhism provides very clear guidance for and understanding of the origins of human suffering in this life. The "Four Noble Truths". for example, provide a formula that effectively describes the sickness and provides the medicine for its treatment or cure. (More about that here: http://www.shambhalasun.com/sunspace/?p=15344).

    Our Practice provides some very wonderful answers to other 'big questions' by instructing us to drop the questions as meaningless. Some questions are as pointless as our asking 'how many angels can gather on the head of a pin' or 'what color are the rabbits that live on the moon'. An example of such a question may be "where do we 'go' when we die, and where did we 'come from' before we were born" (I will talk about that in another posting later this week).

    Hand in hand with the above, many questions we regularly ask may just be phrased poorly, biased by our narrow, anthropocentric human understanding. An example of that may be "why do 'bad things' happen in the world". When we change the way the question is asked, answers begin to present themselves (I will talk about that too in the coming days). Hitting the "reset button' on so many of our misguided questions are what most of those old Koans are on about, by the way.

    And sometimes, Buddhism provides no answer to some 'big questions' (although that may be a kind of 'answer' too!). One such question may be whether or not there is actually a 'God' in the Judeo-Christian sense (and whether, for example, Jesus was 'His Son'). To such questions, our Zen Practice allows us to believe what we wish, or to take no stand at all. I often say:

    Is there a "God named 'Jehovah'"? .......... If so, live human life, do as you can not to harm, fetch wood and carry water.

    Is there not some "God named 'Jehovah'"? .......... If not, live human life, do as you can not to harm, fetch wood and carry water.
    viewtopic.php?p=16814#p16814

    Quote Originally Posted by Jaana
    we are animals, yes, but I also believe that we are animals of the human species, and this species (like many others) is capable of both war and peace, violence and compassion.
    Quote Originally Posted by monkton
    'Ultimately' we are the universe, (what else could we/the universe be?) so if we care about anything, the universe cares.
    gassho,
    Monkton
    Taigu and I have given talks a few times on, for example ... Kannon or Jizo as love and compassion (and the same can be said about whether the "devil" really exists or not in the damage that people do) ....

    Actually, I had a hard time, for many years, incorporating into my practice many figures such as Kannon and Jizo ...

    I have some cautions I would offer both to people who say (a) these things do exist in a concrete way, and those folks who say (b) they do not. While both those extremes may be correct (only the universe knows for sure, and I remain an open minded mystic-skeptic), I have come to see "them" as archtypes, representing real characteristics of human life and (since we are just the universe) thus the universe.

    In other words, in a nutshell: When we feel in our hearts and act upon love and compassion, thereby love and compassion exists as a real, concrete aspect of the world which our hearts and acts create. And since, in our view, there is no "inside" or "outside" ultimately, what is inside you is just as much "the universe" and concrete reality as the moon, gravity and the stars. That is "Kannon", in that way a real and concrete aspect and 'force' of the world.

    I believe in Buddhist Heavens and Hells, Buddhas (apart from the historical Shakyamuni) and Boddhisattvas, and all the rest of the Buddhist cosmology, in much the spirit of that famous essay ... "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus". Did you ever read that? A little girl wrote to a newspaper editor, back in 1897, saying that she'd heard from friends that there is no Santa Claus. "Is it true?", she asked. Part of the response ran like this ...

    What? You don't believe in Santa Claus?

    GassHo Ho Ho, Jundo


    VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

    Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

    http://www.newseum.org/yesvirginia/
    Gassho, J

  17. #17
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Am I a nihilist?

    Quote Originally Posted by monkton
    Hi Stephanie,
    I don't feel like anyone or anything "Ultimate" in the universe cares.
    'Ultimately' we are the universe, (what else could we/the universe be?) so if we care about anything, the universe cares.
    gassho,
    Monkton
    Sort of. Smacks of the anthropic principle.

    Chet

  18. #18

    Re: Am I a nihilist?

    Jundo,

    thank you for the reply. I think ultimately I completely agree with you, and you speak very wisely (again).

    I used to call myself an "agnostic" rather than "atheist", and stress the "spiritual" side of myself, but then I started to feel that that was not completely honest and true. I do not believe God (*) exists, full stop. If we discuss the existence of God, that's pretty much everything I have to say on the topic, in all honesty. I am an atheist, and calling myself something else did no longer feel honest.

    I hope I do not "cling" to the idea of atheism, though. There is a separation between strong atheism (I am sure gods don't exist) and weak atheism (given current proof, I think gods as described by religions do not exist), and I subscribe to the latter. You could call me an agnostic atheist - agnosticism, originally, actually refers to the belief that the existence of gods is not directly knowable. One can, then, be a Christian agnostic (and indeed the Christian religions often emphasize faith even when you cannot know) as well as an atheist one.

    (*) God, as described by religions as an outside entity. Obviously, experiences on which people base their hypothesis of a God exist. I do not mean to put down anyone's spiritual life.

  19. #19

    Re: Am I a nihilist?

    Sort of. Smacks of the anthropic principle.
    I was thinking more of pages 14 and 15 in my copy of 'Opening the Hand of Thought', the section beginning, "Whether we realise it or not we are always living out life that is connected to everything in the universe", and ending with, "I can't stress enough how essential it is to look very, very carefully at this universal self that runs through everything in the universe. You live together with your world. Only when you thoroughly understand this will everything in the world settle as the self pervading all things."

    Maybe that does express some aspect of the anthropic principle, more than a 5 minute burn through the Wikipedia 'Anthropic Principle' entry while slurping on my coffee has revealed to me, but anyway, Uchiyama and Taigu's talks about Kannon were what was actually at the back of my mind.

    gassho,
    Monkton

  20. #20
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Am I a nihilist?

    'We are the universe' sounds different to me than 'the universe is us' for some reason.

    In my experience of it, both 'I am the universe' AND 'I am but a speck in the totality' seemed utterly true and not in conflict. With the Anthropic principle, or solipsism in general, only one of these views is prominent.

    Chet

  21. #21
    Senior Member Silva's Avatar
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    Re: Am I a nihilist?

    Hi Steph,

    I don't know if the universe or anybody cares, but I know it's certainly affected by our actions. Contrary to what has been said here I believe our actions even the smallest make a big difference and do change things. I think, and i'll go as far as say that I know from experience, that it makes a big difference to a mouse, or a flea, or a carrot,or a bacteria, or a human being to be killed or not to be killed, and that the effects either way affect the universe in ways we can't even fathom.
    I hope my english is clear enough, but Jundo touched this subject recently in his Interdependence day post.
    Not killing the mouse makes already a big difference to the mouse!

    I also think that there's a difference between care and guilt. I believe, although I eat vegetables, fish and meat that it matters to be conscious or care about the implications of taking life, assuming my responsabilities towards life because I am life.
    I don't intend as yet to become a vegetarian, living in a rural area Iv'e raised and killed chickens and rabbits to eat.
    Why should one assume that a carrot is less alive than a rabbit?
    All is equally life, so am I, I'm cheered by the thought that one day my rotting body or ashes may feed a carrot that will then feed a rabbit, that will then feed something else...
    Now I'm wandering from the point perhaps and sound like the old woman who swallowed a fly!

    In a nutshell I believe the universe is affected by the wink of a flea and that it matters!
    And thus I agree with Monkton's quote:
    I was thinking more of pages 14 and 15 in my copy of 'Opening the Hand of Thought', the section beginning, "Whether we realise it or not we are always living out life that is connected to everything in the universe", and ending with, "I can't stress enough how essential it is to look very, very carefully at this universal self that runs through everything in the universe. You live together with your world. Only when you thoroughly understand this will everything in the world settle as the self pervading all things."
    gassho,

    Sylvie

  22. #22
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Am I a nihilist?

    Of course it matters to the mouse... but what doesn't matter to the mouse, is whether or not it contaminates my food, or makes me ill. So why should I privilege the mouse's life and well-being over my life and well-being?

    I went on for years putting everyone and everything else ahead of me. I only knew how to be in relationships where I was the giver. I had horrible guilt about my imperfections and was always striving to be better. But most of that was delusion. I had to go through some terrible suffering in relationships to wake up to the falseness of the story I was telling myself in the guise of "spiritual wisdom." Since then, I've found a much better balance. I still serve others and work to alleviate suffering in my work and my personal relationships (when appropriate) but I don't have any reservations or terrible anguish when there's a mouse in my apartment that needs to go or when I need to look at someone and say, "Bye," because they're a user who is poisoning my life. Let people hang themselves on the ends of their own ropes, I say.

    I share in the perspective that "because we care, the universe cares," because we're part of it. What I mean is that I no longer have any sense of a guiding force or intelligence, personified or not, that cares what we do. It's totally up to us. I mean, I can't know that for sure, but I don't have any evidence or sense that our morals come from something "beyond" our simple nature as human beings. My affinity and appreciation for nature documentaries and time spent in nature has convinced me that this planet is a harsh and ruthless place. I love animals but don't anthropomorphize them. I know dolphins aren't smiling at us and can and will violently attack humans, just as they will also help humans out sometimes, for example. I love dogs but am not stupid enough to reach out to pet a cocker spaniel I don't know, because I might get my hand bit off. I'm not into the lion lying down with the lamb as a utopian vision because I have nothing wrong with the lion eating the lamb.

    I still have the same sensitivity to suffering (well, I'm a little more numb these days, but for different reasons, and it's a different story), and feel the same joy at being part of its alleviation. I love the work I do as a social worker and the moments where clients experience relief or freedom or repair in their lives carry me through all the annoying workplace politics and paperwork. I like helping animals out when I can. Seeing a person or animal suffering gives me an almost physical pain in my heart. So the loss of my guiding ideals or sense of God or a God-like force in the universe hasn't caused me to become indifferent to suffering. But it's taken away the sense of guilt that used to come along with it. What it's changed is that when I see a mouse in my apartment that looks sick I don't feel guilty about trapping it, though I still feel a bit sad about it.

    This is what I mean by "Am I a nihilist?" I don't mean "Am I a nasty, cold, uncaring person?" Because I know I'm not, even if I wish I was a little less numb. What I mean is, "Does my lack of belief in any kind of greater meaning or purpose encoded in the universe qualify me to be described by the term 'nihilist'?" I don't think there's anything wrong with the natural order that terribly needs to be changed by us, but I also respect and admire the human effort to create a more functional, kind, compassionate society where people of various strengths and talents are allowed to flourish, instead of just only the most ruthless and physically strong.

    I embrace the Precepts, I just don't think that there is something that punishes us for not following them. I think they reflect and are expressive of wisdom. I believe in karma as cause/effect but I don't believe that a cosmic parent punishes us in the afterlife for our transgressions in this one. So I think if it's a matter of 'my life vs. someone else's' there's not necessarily virtue in giving up my life out of 'selflessness.' I still admire the stories of the saints who did just that, but I don't think it's necessary and in some cases may even be a little stupid. Why let a criminal kill me due to my belief in the ideal of nonviolence, instead of defending myself and killing the criminal instead?

    I mean, we usually don't find ourselves in these situations, so it doesn't really matter that much. But I used to be really into Tolstoy and his teachings on nonviolence--that to be nonviolent is to experience the triumph of the conscience and to refuse to let anyone else force us into compromising our conscience. I think that's really brave, to stand up and be willing to die because you don't want to compromise your morals. But on the other hand... if morals are human constructions only, are they really worth dying for? Might it be best to live another day and do real good in the world, than die for the sake of an idea? Might it be better to not get a disease from a mouse than wring my hands over not wanting to kill it?

  23. #23

    Re: Am I a nihilist?

    "Does my lack of belief in any kind of greater meaning or purpose encoded in the universe qualify me to be described by the term 'nihilist'?"
    Ok, to answer this: yes, and no.

    Because of being the information junkie that I am, I actually checked the definition. Turns out that nihilism can mean various things (in addition to the everyday usage of "a cold person who likes to pretend that nothing matters").

    It can mean that you believe that there is no "higher" purpose or meaning to our lives beyond ourselves (existential nihilism). I suppose in that sense you are a nihilist. It can also mean that you do not think moral values matter, because of them in the end being "nothing but the products of our minds" (moral nihilism). I do not think you are a nihilist in that sense, as I think you believe that the experiences of minds still matter and are meaningful, even if not in a "higher" supernatural sense? There's also various other definitions and meanings of "nihilism" and you match some of them but not all. Wikipedia on Nihilism is a good starter for reading if you really want to.

    That's not really important, though, I think. The question is, what did the person calling you a nihilist mean by nihilist, and why did they thing you are one? That will tell you more about yourself and them than any seeking for a definition.

  24. #24
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Am I a nihilist?

    Your post was actually very helpful, Janna, thank you. I'm an information junkie too :wink:

    Quote Originally Posted by Jaana
    It can mean that you believe that there is no "higher" purpose or meaning to our lives beyond ourselves (existential nihilism). I suppose in that sense you are a nihilist.
    Interesting...

    Quote Originally Posted by Jaana
    It can also mean that you do not think moral values matter, because of them in the end being "nothing but the products of our minds" (moral nihilism). I do not think you are a nihilist in that sense, as I think you believe that the experiences of minds still matter and are meaningful, even if not in a "higher" supernatural sense?
    Yes, this would be correct.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jaana
    That's not really important, though, I think. The question is, what did the person calling you a nihilist mean by nihilist, and why did they thing you are one? That will tell you more about yourself and them than any seeking for a definition.
    Well, yes. The reason it interested me was that while I hadn't before come up with the term "nihilist" to describe my condition, I have been mulling over what it is and how it is that so many of the ideals that used to be precious to me have just fallen away. I lack a belief system or moral framework to guide my actions... a prospect that used to terrify me. But now it's not so bad. And I find, just as you articulated beautifully above, that I still have a moral sensibility without recourse to a "higher supernatural sense."

    This is brave new territory for me, and it's fascinating and scary and wondrous all at the same time. To finally be able to say, "I don't have to believe in anything any more. So what is true?" To be able to say, "Maybe no one or nothing other than other people, just as deluded and with just as many self-serving preferences as me, cares what I do," and see if it changes how I think, feel, or act. The conclusion so far: not much. There are some things I will do without guilt or hesitation that I used to feel guilty about, like having days where I don't give to the beggar on the street, or killing a mouse--but for the most part, there's no difference. The same things still move my heart, it still brings me just as much joy to see and help create the conditions for the joy of others. It still pains me to see others suffer.

    It's very freeing, to realize you don't have to believe in anything--in terms of believing in a "higher" purpose or reason for what you do--to seek wisdom, be kind, and find the experience of life to be worthwhile.

  25. #25

    Re: Am I a nihilist?

    If I learned something from my reading up on nihilism, it is that I will never ever use that word to describe myself or anyone else, because it has so many meanings and connotations that it is about 100 % guaranteed to be misinterpreted.

    I am sort of in the same boat with you, I think. The reason why I am exploring zazen and "Zen Buddhism" currently is that I have a very "materialistic" worldview (I think the universe is what it is and there's no higher power or any such thing) but I do not think that renders things meaningless - actually quite the opposite, like I said above. I would like to write some sort of an "Atheist Prayerbook" on these thoughts one day, actually. Problem is that the thoughts are not very clear yet and the more I explore, the less words mean.

    The way you can go is not the real way
    The name you can say is not the real name
    Heaven and Earth begin in the nameless
    Name is the mother of the Ten Thousand Things

    (Tao Te Ching, trans. Ursula LeGuin, quoted from memory)

    All models are wrong, but some are useful.
    (One of my teachers of statistics - unfortunately I forget who.)

  26. #26
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Am I a nihilist?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jaana
    I would like to write some sort of an "Atheist Prayerbook" on these thoughts one day, actually.
    This would be awesome, you should totally do it

  27. #27

    Re: Am I a nihilist?

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie
    Quote Originally Posted by Jaana
    I would like to write some sort of an "Atheist Prayerbook" on these thoughts one day, actually.
    This would be awesome, you should totally do it
    Thanks for the encouragement.

  28. #28

    Re: Am I a nihilist?

    Links to a couple more "Tackles the Big Questions" threads that may be worth looking at ...

    I think that, since I have an oar in my hand, I was meant to row. If you were to press me, I would say that it is no accident, not in the least, that I am in a boat, alive, self-aware, with an oar in hand. In other words, since we are alive, I think that we were placed here to live, we were meant to live. I feel that in my heart. So, I row and row.

    But, if it is all random and meaningless ... still, I row and row. No difference. Each stroke of the oar, like a step up the mountain, is reason enough. Beautiful enough, all on its own. So, I row and row, complete and fulfilled. Thus:

    A - If there is a God, and if she had wanted us to know the details, she could have told us much more clearly (but she did not) ... so, I row row row.
    B - If there is a God, but the details are too hard for a human mind to grasp ... I row row row.
    C- If there is a God, and he did tell us the details (in the Koran, Bible, Upanishads or other old book), but I am just too closed minded to see it ... still, I row row row ... trying to live as best I can.
    D - If there is no "God", but some other mechanism at work that uses us for purposes all its own ... I row row row
    E - If there is no God or mechanism, and no details ... I row row row.
    F - Whatever ... I row row row

    Everything is "manifesting for a reason" (to borrow what you think Suzuki Roshi said) ... whether or not there is a "reason" apart from the manifesting itself.

    If you were asking me to tell you what I think I sense, it is something like A,B or D ... not C or E. But, also I sense that it just does not matter, and I do not care.

    In each case, all is fulfilled and complete.

    Am I saying too much?

    viewtopic.php?p=17297#p17297
    I believe that Zen Practice can let one perceive that all of life is sacred, from the great mountains to the smallest grain of dust. Whether it is all some "God" or not does not really matter ... for that dust would be sacred merely for being the dust. Each damn mosquito biting you on that river is divine.

    Stop seeing the dust grains and mosquitoes as smaller in size than your image of an infinite "God". Then, what is there to compare them?

    ...

    Does a sailor demand that the river give him the exact sailing conditions that the sailor demands? Does the sailor tell the weather what to be each day, or how strong the current? Does the sailor demand that the river have a certain source and end? Or does the sailor merely sail the river with what is, where he is, just as it is?

    viewtopic.php?p=17147#p17147

    Why does the sun rise? Why does the wind blow?

    Do the sun and wind each ask themselves such questions? Or do they just shine and gust?

    Does the absence of an answer "why" make the sun's warmth on your shoulders, and the cool breeze on your cheek, any less real?

    In other words, you were born ... for whatever reason or no reason at all. You were born, that is a fact. So, shine ... LIVE!


    viewtopic.php?p=16840#p16840
    Gassho, J

  29. #29

    Re: Am I a nihilist?

    Thank you, Jundo! Very helpful.

    I guess the main realization of the Atheist Prayerbook would be your rowing example: that whether you believe that there is or isn't a God, sun still rises and sets, wind still blows, rain still falls, the mountains stand and the grass grows, humans care and suffer. Experience is not diminished by your belief or lack there-of into a particular origin, unless you choose to interpret it that way.

    Like you say:
    Does the absence of an answer "why" make the sun's warmth on your shoulders, and the cool breeze on your cheek, any less real?

  30. #30
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Am I a nihilist?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jaana
    Thank you, Jundo! Very helpful.

    I guess the main realization of the Atheist Prayerbook would be your rowing example: that whether you believe that there is or isn't a God, sun still rises and sets, wind still blows, rain still falls, the mountains stand and the grass grows, humans care and suffer. Experience is not diminished by your belief or lack there-of into a particular origin, unless you choose to interpret it that way.

    Like you say:
    Does the absence of an answer "why" make the sun's warmth on your shoulders, and the cool breeze on your cheek, any less real?
    At the risk of self-aggrandizement, I'll say that I'm rather fond of saying, "Reality doesn't care what you believe."

    Chet

  31. #31
    Senior Member Silva's Avatar
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    Re: Am I a nihilist?

    I love this forum for all these provocative questions. Helps me to see how I get tangled up in my mind. Thank-you compagneros and thank-you Jundo.
    What a fool I am and how I laugh to see my convictions, beliefs and affirmations dropping like rain into the ocean.

    I was born with a few tools: a pencil, a pair of secateurs and a ladle so I go back to the workshop, the garden and the kitchen where I can keep my mind out of mischief!

    By the way Jundo, does your wife prepare bento for you and your children ? I was impressed yesterday by a documentary about gastronomy in Japan.

    gassho,

    Sylvie

  32. #32

    Re: Am I a nihilist?

    Quote Originally Posted by Silva
    By the way Jundo, does your wife prepare bento for you and your children ? I was impressed yesterday by a documentary about gastronomy in Japan.
    Well, she does make a nice one for Leon to take to school ... complete with a little smiley face or the like ...




    What I get, however, is usually just the leftovers from last night's dinner. A nihilist bento. :?

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