By any other name

marcus

“I’m an author, I wrote a book and got it published. I’m a painter. I am also a musician.”

“I’m a musician. I play the guitar. I play the piano. I play the drums. I am also a calligrapher. I’m also a language learner and teacher.”

“I used to work in a law firm. I was also in the army. I like working out. I should work out. I am going to work out.”

“I’m a martial artist. I also study lots of religions and philosophies. I’m also a philosopher.”

I’ve met people like these who basically spend most of their conversation on their identities. They also talk about the type of skills they possess and even what they do in their personal time to bolster such skills.

To each their own, I say, but I personally do not engage in such talk. To me, this type of talk comes off as bragging. It also comes off as a lot of hot smoke and a waste of time. If you are a painter, why aren’t you painting? If you are a martial artist, why aren’t you practicing martial arts?

In case you’re wondering, I apply that same standard to myself. I don’t call myself a martial artist but I do what I can to practice taekwondo, long fist kung fu, and taiji on my own. I don’t call myself a Buddhist scholar but I do try to make time to read up on Buddhist scriptures and practice Buddhism in any which way I can. Besides, how can I compare myself to the likes of Bruce Lee and D.T. Suzuki when those two accomplished a lot more than I did?

A lot of these braggarts do have some skills to back up their claims, but they only do the bare minimum. The so-called musician only knows how to play 10 songs. The so-called author only wrote one book. The so-called martial artist works out an hour a day , three times a week.

Again, to each their own but here is my issue with them: they are the same people who try to interfere with my free time. They are the ones who try to give me more things to do.

The martial artist used to call me up every weekend just to talk about his political views and video games, and he would keep the conversation going for hours. This one author would try to start a fight with me and her ex-boyfriend, since I was dating her. The workout guy would call me up for beer on a whim. One time I tried to help him with his paperwork for our school, and he would be the one dictating when and where I would help him without a thought of my personal life.

This is where I wonder, is it because I don’t talk about my goals and ambitions that those types of people assume I do absolutely nothing on my free time? For example, I would plan to spend Saturday doing some taekwondo only to have the martial artist call me up and talk to me for hours. One time, I made a plan to do intense sutra reading and chanting, only to have the artist tell me, “We’re meeting in 30 minutes to start the language exchange club. Get over here!”

Should I then just start bragging about myself being a Buddhist martial arts warrior? Should I then litter every conversation about how I am studying both Buddhism and martial arts? If someone calls me up for a beer, should my reply be like, “As a Buddhist martial artist, I shall decline. If I join you for a beer then I cannot practice martial arts nor study Buddhism. Therefore, I will not join.”?

Again, I feel this would be stupid of me for doing so. Do I need to make an announcement that I am going to eat or can I just open the refrigerator to get some food? Do I need to make an announcement that I will take a shower or can I simply take my towel to the bathroom and get myself washed? Do I need to make an announcement that I will practice taekwondo or can I simply wear a t-shirt and a pair of shorts and kick like Bruce Lee?

I also feel that by bragging about the type of person I want to become is a form seeking approval. It’s also a form of seeking permission. I need those people, especially the braggarts, to approve and permit my martial arts workout and Buddhist study. To me, that feels like these braggarts would win and that they are truly the masters of my life. Ultimately, if I want to practice martial arts or study Buddhism, then I shouldn’t have to make noise about it.

Anyways, just to let you all know, I am still going to read Emotional Blackmail. I might even get my hands on Winning Through Intimidation by Robert Ringer.

The only reason why I am writing this post is mainly to think out loud on this problem and see what I can do to live a freer life.

Love,

Capt. Idiotic

A small step towards freedom

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One thing I like about Thailand is that Thai people tend to respect other’s autonomy and right to live. For the most part, I hardly came across any power plays that I experienced back in China, the US, and especially South Korea. For example, in Korea if I were invited to a dinner and I declined, that guy would do everything in his power to make sure I accept that invitation no matter what. However, if someone in Thailand invited me to a dinner and I declined, he would smile and say “All right. Maybe next time.”

In fact it was because of my time in Korea, and the subsequent year in the US, that influenced me to buy Dr. Susan Forward’s “Emotional Blackmail”. While I have yet to finish that book, I did learn a few things here and there.

And here’s where I brag about how my newfound learning saved me.

Like I wrote above, most people in Thailand are not interested in power plays. No one tries to control each other or change other people’s personal lives.

This is a breath of fresh air for me, I tell you.

However, there are exceptions and one of them is my Thai coworker “Alice”. This other American coworker warned me against her and for good reason. Alice likes to give work to other people and she especially thinks we foreign teachers have too much free time on our hands. So she tries to take as much free time from us as possible and she always tries to get her way with people. My foreign coworkers avoided her traps . . . . .

except for me.

She caught me one day studying Thai during my free period, so she basically talked me into spending two days a week teaching English to her kids after school. Another coworker, “Jenny”, also had her son join in as well as another Thai teacher’s kids.

They are good kids, and I did have fun teaching them, but I was not happy about the situation. Spending an extra hour that day teaching the kids meant less time for me on my pursuits. This after school teaching gig was one of the main factors in my quitting Zen.

In fact, every time I tried to cancel classes, Alice and Jenny would talk me into keeping my “commitment”, even to the point of making up lost time if I had to cancel that day.

Well, I plugged through and taught the kids as my Thai coworkers wanted. I made the best of it and did all I can to make the classes more fun so that time could go by faster.

Anyways, my contract is about to end. I went up to Alice to tell her that I won’t be teaching that last week of my contract since I wanted to clean my apartment and pack my stuff before I return to America. When I told Alice, and the other teacher, they both accepted my resignation.

It was a couple days ago, when Jenny was in the office and Alice told her of my not teaching anymore after school classes.

They both said something in Thai and then Alice said, “Jenny wants to know why you are not teaching next week. How come you’re not teaching? Why?

(Pause)

Not so long ago, when pushy and manipulative people would ask me why I want or not want to do anything, I would answer them. That was their trap. No matter what answer I would give them, they would always give me a counter argument and keep on giving me arguments until I simply gave up and did as they were told.

For example—

Him: Want to go out with us for drinks?

Me: No, I’m good.

Him: Why not?

Me: Because I have to workout.

Him: You don’t have to workout.

Me: But I want to.

Him: Working out is waste of time. Come on, join us and have fun.

Me: But I’m out of shape and want to workout.

Him: Who cares? Who needs to be in shape anyways. Drinking is more fun than exercise.

And so on and so forth. Then I would begrudgingly go out for drinks.

(Back to the story)

I was a bit flabbergasted by Alice and Jenny’s question, but I knew it was best not to answer.

My reply was basically this, “Come on, you do realize that I don’t have to teach your children. I’m doing this out of the goodness of my heart. Besides—-Hey, wait a minute! Is Jenny my wife? Hey Jenny! Are you my wife? Is your son mine? Is that why you want me to keep on teaching?”

That did it.

Everyone in the office exploded in laughter, including the Head Teacher. Even Jenny couldn’t stop laughing at my question. Alice then teased Jenny about us being secretly married. After the laughter died down, my non-teaching became a non-issue.

It was a small victory, but a victory nonetheless. This was the first time, in a long time, that I was able to successfully defend my autonomy. Before, I would put up a fight to a point I would get exhausted and give in to people’s demands. Before, I would simply capitulate towards other people’s wants while grumbling about it. The fact that I finally was able to protect my freedom makes me feel very optimistic about my future.

One of these days, I’ll look at the mirror and say: Thank you for your service.

Love,

Capt. Idiotic

Experiments in Nichiren Buddhism: Bad “Karma”

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Before I go on, I must state that I don’t think everyone has to practice Nichiren Buddhism or its liturgy. Again, I must state that I think the liturgy is strictly a tool and I’m exploring the many ways I can use this tool. Saying that people can  succeed in life only through the Nichiren liturgy is a lot like saying that you can only get protein by eating meat. There are plenty of legumes and vegetables that provide protein for your diet as well.

There is this view within the SGI that if you start practicing their form of Buddhism, then you will expiate your bad karma. How does your bad karma get expiated? Simply by your life getting worse. You sat in front of your altar and chanted the mantra and next thing you know it your spouse is destroying the living room with a baseball bat. You would chant the mantra on the drive to work only to find out you got fired once you arrived. Any and all bad things will happen to you because that’s how you get rid of your bad karma. You live a shittier life and suffer for it.

In fact Nichiren believed that was why he was getting persecuted by the Japanese government and a lot of people. He was spreading the “correct” teachings of the Lotus Sutra and was suffering for it due to the his past karma being eradicated. Of course, I think he was a bit delusional in some areas.

Consciously and intellectually speaking, I don’t believe that bad things will happen if we practice Nichiren Buddhism. Besides, I believe that the best way to expiate bad karma is to do good instead, not just suffer for the sake of suffering.

However, there were many times I would do the Nichiren liturgy and then my life would go south in a matter of minutes. My parents or siblings would act all rude to me, people at work would start fights with me, friends turned into my enemies over small matters. Sometimes, negative emotions come up and I have to put in a lot of energy to suppress them.

I don’t really believe that by doing the Nichiren liturgy all my bad karma will come up to bite me in the ass. A lot of the negativity I experience due to doing the liturgy, I feel, stems from SGI conditioning. Through their conditioning, I got myself to believe that my life gets worse when in reality life is what it is, it’s that my subconscious opinions are framing these events as horrible.

Either way, here’s my third experiment I am going to perform: next time something unpleasant or negative happens after I perform the Nichiren liturgy, I will first record the incident in a notebook and then contemplate how I am going to deal with that negative event next time it comes up. Even if I won’t have to deal with that similar type of event ever again, at least I will learn something new and become more skillful in handling difficult situations.

To quote Epictetus in this regard:

With every accident, ask yourself what abilities you have for making a proper use of it. If you see an attractive person, you will find that self-restraint is the ability you have against your desire. If you are in pain, you will find fortitude. If you hear unpleasant language, you will find patience. And thus habituated, the appearances of things will not hurry you away along with them.

I can hear the [hypothetical] SGI lurker tell me, “Wow, you are an idiot, Captain Idiotic! You’re supposed to seek the strategy of the Lotus Sutra and chant about your problem instead of thinking it through.”

To which I will say: When chanting the mantra, if an idea pops in my mind, sure I’ll consider the idea and maybe even implement it. However, it’s better to solve my problems with a bad idea than not doing anything at all.

Love,

Capt. Idiotic

Experiments in Nichiren Buddhism: Beneficial Brainwashing

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Before I go on, I must state that I don’t think everyone has to practice Nichiren Buddhism or its liturgy. Again, I must state that I think the liturgy is strictly a tool and I’m exploring the many ways I can use this tool. Saying that people can only succeed in life only through the Nichiren liturgy is a lot like saying that you can only go to Itaewon in Seoul by taxi. You can take a bus or go by subway as well.

A couple of weeks ago, I came across this Quora post (https://www.quora.com/Is-the-Soka-Gakkai-a-cult?share=1) in which someone asked if the SGI is a cult. One person answered in the positive and said that doing the Nichiren liturgy puts one in a state of mind susceptible to brainwashing. The guy even states that SGI members do the liturgy before meetings in order for them to absorb the crazy messages that the organization gives them.

I’ve also come across other posts over the years which people state that mantra chanting in general does that. Unfortunately, I was too lazy to click on the studies that have been cited.

Still, can I blame anyone who thinks chanting is a form of brainwashing? The way some people from the SGI or the Hare Krishnas act, how can this not be the case?

This is where I have to ask: is it possible to use brainwashing techniques in a more positive direction and improve our way of thinking?

I know this is a crazy question. Brainwashing does have negative connotations from the movie classic “The Machurian Candidate” to stories of how people of one cult believe psychiatrists are responsible for the Holocaust.

Consider this, however, we human beings have been “brainwashed” or conditioned by the society we grew up in. Some of it is good, such as saying “please” and “thank you” when asking someone a favor. However, we’ve also been brainwashed with some irrational beliefs. For example, many deeply believe that we can change another person’s behavior by insulting or condemning him or her, when in reality it suppresses the behavior at best and bolsters it at worst. There are a lot of people who believe making others suffer is the best way to solve their own problems.

So again, why not use the same brainwashing techniques to improve our character?

Here’s also where I come from on this. Two of my favorite philosophical books are The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and the Enchiridion by Epictetus. I cannot recommend these books enough as they have a lot of great advice on how to live a more serene and balanced life.

My biggest problem is that, even though both of these works have a lot of valuable lessons, I couldn’t internalize them for the longest time. Epictetus, for example, writes about thinking of all the bad things that will happen before undertaking a task, such as going to the baths in his case, so that one can be prepared for them. I hardly do that as much as I tell myself that I will do so.

So my proposal is: why not read a philosophical or self-help book after I am done performing the Nichiren liturgy? Since changing myself is the best way to change my life, and changing my thinking is the way I change myself, I cannot see why I shouldn’t try this out.

Since Dharma Master Kim Jae Woong’s writings got me back to Nichiren practice, I might as well start reading his books after I am done with the liturgy. Besides, I wanted to dedicate this blog to his teachings and this would be a good way for me to get back into doing that.

Right now, as the school year is ending in Thailand, I have a lot of paperwork to go through. Once the paperwork gets done, I will get to this “brainwashing” experiment.

This experiment might take awhile for me to determine its utility. If, however, I find that this method is helping me learn more about Buddhism and helping live a more wholesome life, then I can use the Nichiren liturgy in other education endeavors such as language study. I might even go to graduate school thanks to the Nichiren liturgy.

Love,

Capt. Idiotic

Experiments in Nichiren Buddhism: Performance Praying

two man in white shorts fighting using sword during daytime
Photo by ginu plathottam on Pexels.com

I must put in this disclaimer that I do not believe practicing Nichiren Buddhism is the only religion worth practicing. I also do not believe that the Nichiren liturgy is essential and that everyone must do it. The Nichiren liturgy, in my view, is a tool and for now I am exploring the most pragmatic way to use said tool. Besides, my saying that everyone must practice the Nichiren liturgy to improve one’s life is just like saying everyone must use an exercise bike to improve one’s cardio, especially since a regular bicycle or a jog around the block will do just as well.

If you ever been in the Soka Gakkai for an extended period of time, you’ll hear a surfeit of miraculous testimonials and experiences. A guy who couldn’t get a date for a long time starts practicing and then next thing you know it he has a cute girlfriend. A woman was facing financial hardship, she starts practicing, and then she got a raise and promotion in her job. You’ll hear that and many more.

There are those who practice their asses off and wind up with nothing. Sometimes life even gets worse. When those members tell someone else of their frustration, the other person would say things like, “You need more faith in the practice” or “never seek the Gohonzon [mandala] outside yourself” or “You must roar like a lion when chanting.” Those are just the few soundbites people hear. It’s not that the practice doesn’t work, we’re just doing it wrong.

The problem is that these soundbites are what they are: soundbites. They don’t really explain how to make the practice work. For example: if one needs to have more faith in the practice, why did the practitioner choose to do the liturgy over watching a football when s/he doesn’t have faith in the first place?

I do agree a bit with the SGI insofar that a lot of us don’t know how to practice the Nichiren Buddhist liturgy the correct, or pragmatic, way. This all comes down to not understanding the “functions” of the practice. How to practice correctly, however, is the big question and that’s what I intend to find out.

My first experiment in finding one correct way to practice is to pray based on performance over results. That is to say instead of praying for a goal, I would instead pray to do the actions to get to that goal.

Here’s a current problem that I am facing to illustrate this point.

I’m pretty fat and out of shape. Sometimes my joints don’t work as well as they do. For the longest time, I’ve been trying to establish a fitness routine. However, due to many factors such as drama, social events, and even my insomnia my workout regimen gets interrupted. I haven’t worked out since November of last year.

I do want to get back into working out, but I now have a lot of internal resistance. At this point, even if I were to plan a workout session I would then procrastinate and give up. A lot of this resistance comes from my subconscious mind and it takes a lot of willpower for me to overcome my internal resistance.

That’s one of the main reasons I dropped out of Zen, since working out is part of my Zen practice.

So now, for my Nichiren practice, I am praying to actually get off my fat ass and start working out again. I am doing everything in my power to change my subconscious mind through my prayers.

Keep this in mind, I’m not praying to be fit or athletic. I’m praying to exercise so that I can be fit.

I’ve been doing this for the past 3 days. While I haven’t worked out as of yet, I’ve been getting flashes of inspiration and desire to get myself back to working out. Of course, the problem is that I haven’t been working out.

My next phase in my current experiment is to either perform the liturgy, or at least chant the mantra, before I workout as a way to push myself to burn some calories.

If I am successful in this venture, then I can think of other ways I can use the liturgy. For example, I can pray to make sure I write at least 5 good cover letters if I am to look for another job. I can pray to write at least one page a day if I want to write a novel. I can even pray to make sure I read up on hedge funds if I want to go that route of wealth acquisition.

Anyways, I’m still a bit busy with my work at school. Once the paperwork winds down a bit, I will try praying before I workout.

Love,

Capt. Idiotic

Going from here

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At this point I am more or less done with writing about my problems with both the SGI and Nichiren Buddhism. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I spent the past week doing so. Getting back into the Nichiren practice has always been difficult due to the BS I have encountered with the SGI. I look at some of these fanatics and how they act and I don’t want to turn out like them. This is a fear I still have.

However, if I keep going on with my issues for a prolonged period of time, my practice will be stunted. Buddhism in all forms is about self-improvement and the acquirement of wisdom. Spending more time complaining means spending less time growing.

Sure, more issues will come up and I will write about them as time goes on. However, I want to steer myself to a more developing direction.

I will focus more on reading the works of Dharma Master Kim Jae Woong as originally intended. After all, despite Master Kim not being a Nichiren Buddhist, he also practices a similar method and obtained a lot of wisdom from it.

Besides reading Master Kim’s books, I am also going to study and focus on the utility of the Nichiren liturgy. Most Nichiren Buddhists and SGI members would say something that doing the liturgy helps activate one’s Buddha-nature or purifies our karma. To me, that comes off as mystical platitudes. I want to understand it in a practical sense and use it in a more pragmatic manner.

For example, doing vipassana helps enable us to choose the manner of our thinking. If a certain thought pops up into our head, we let it go. This helps in other areas of life. Let’s say you have a report to type and all of a sudden you think about the yoga you will take in the evening. Let go the thought of yoga class and you can get your report done faster. Then you can have more time and energy for yoga. That’s an example of practicality I am thinking about.

My next two posts will explain more where I am going with this.

Love,

Capt. Idiotic

Spiritual Bullying, Spiritual Egomaniacs

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I have written on this topic a few times, but I’d like to write something more focused on this matter.

The topic I refer to is the spiritual egomaniac. I did touch upon the Nichiren types on my last post, but I’d like to address this issue in a broader context.

These are people who take up a spiritual practice, got some success out of it, and now feel they have the right to force their views upon others or even mock them. In their minds, they are the elect and only they can receive the secrets of the universe. Not only do they think they are above us unwashed masses, they also think no one is capable of growing or wisdom no matter how hard one tries. When someone is going through a tough spot, they are the last to offer support or help and the first to shame and blame the victim.

Believe me, pals, I have met more than a fair share of them in my life. Those are the people that really make me want to abandon any and all spiritual practices.

There was this Law of Attraction believer who got angry that I resolved an office bully issue without feeling ashamed for “attracting” that bully in the first place. Another guy on wordpress thought I was jerk because a Thai coworker screamed at me over printer paper. This ninja instructor I knew was quite interesting. He used to brag about arguing with people from different spiritual backgrounds and “proved” that all of them were worthless. He would also tell me that people can advance only through the teachings of ninpo, the spiritual teachings of the ninja. However, since I lack the prerequisite understanding or personality to study, I’m screwed.

Most mystics throughout the ages preach of some inner part of us that contains our true identity. Removing negativity and all sorts of mental conditioning helps reveal that about ourselves. That inner part has been called Buddhanature, Atman, or even the Kingdom-of-Heaven-Within. Yoga, meditation, qigong, and all that are the tools to help us find our true identities.

If these tools require the right amount of intelligence, good karma, or even a guru’s blessing to work then these tools and the philosophies behind them are ultimately useless. We would then be better off injecting heroin and spending our time and money at strip clubs than spending 10 minutes in quiet meditation.

However, I can attest that these tools do work regardless of one’s past or level of intelligence. In fact, constant practice of using these tools also help increase one’s capacity for wisdom. Huineng was an illiterate son of a woodcutter who later became one of the most influential figures in Zen history, for example.

Life is full of problems. That is a very obvious statement.

Most people, however, spend more time escaping their problems than solving them. Binge watching TV shows is one form of escapism. There are drugs and alcohol. That’s also the reason why people start drama and conflict with their families and peers. This is a fact most spiritual egomaniacs tend to forget.

However, those who do take up a spiritual practice are actually taking responsibility in resolving their issues. They are actually choosing to do the right thing. If the boss yells at an employee, most people would internalize that anger and then take it out on his or her friends and family. The select few are the ones who meditate first and then choose a more loving approach.

The spiritual egomaniacs and bullies are, unfortunately, too clouded by their egos that their vision of the world becomes myopic. They cannot see the greater picture or even perceive the consequences of their actions.

Again, a lot of people to who start drama with others or even commit do so out of self-hatred and anger. They don’t so out of love and happiness.

Considering that I have encountered more than my fair share of spiritual bullies/egomaniacs, I would like to think I am not one of them. However, I do need to keep vigilant because there are times I could slip.

So I have to remind myself to be grateful that someone is taking up the endeavor of self-improvement, whenever I see one who does. She may chant the Hare Krishna mantra. He may only do Vipassana meditation. They may read up and practice Kabbalah. Either way, I should be grateful that they are doing something to improve society one day at a time.

Therefore, I should also see all spiritual seekers as fellow companions just like the Buddhist monk and Daoist mystic hanging around at the beginning of the Chinese classical novel, Dream of the Red Chamber.